Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Google recently announced that they are shutting down Google Reader on July 1, 2013. Reader is a popular rss (really simple syndication) service that allows users to see which of their favorite blogs have published new content since their last visit. Rather than visiting each blog separately, users subscribe to all their favorite blogs and visit one site to find new stories.

RIP Google Reader July 1, 2013

RIP Google Reader July 1, 2013

I know many of my readers come to me through Google Reader, so I did a little digging to find alternatives and found Bloglovin’. It offers a really clean, easy to browse interface and it’s free, just like Google Reader. Even better, it provides a painless way for you to import all the blogs you are currently following in Google Reader into Bloglovin’.

If you use Google Reader to follow Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel, it’s a good idea to choose another service as soon as possible, as Google is already taking steps toward the shut-down (you may notice that the link to Reader has already disappeared from the black menu bar at the top of Gmail). Click here to follow my blog with Bloglovin

It’s also worth mentioning that when you sign up for Bloglovin’ the default display will “frame” my site within Bloglovin’. Read More

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The arrow on my discomfort meter didn’t move up much in Paris. True, Parisienne women were exquisitely dressed and coiffed, but there were enough tourists around that I didn’t feel too out of place in my khakis and hiking boots. My spartan traveling wardrobe raised no eyebrows when paying my respects at the Normandy beaches, touring Mont Saint Michel abbey, or visiting chateaux in the Loire Valley, but when I stepped off the train in Bordeaux I became painfully aware that France had succeeded where all other countries had failed; I officially felt like a slob.

I rode the tramway four stops to Place de Bourgougne and walked half a block to The HomeAway holiday rental apartment that would be my home for the next week, courtesy of HomeAway.co.uk.  The property manager, Charlotte, peered down the stairwell as I wrangled my luggage to the third floor.

“Do you need help?” she offered.

I shook my head and plodded on, thinking that the day I can’t handle my own luggage is the day I need to stop traveling. I struggled up the last few steps, gratefully shed the heavy backpack that holds all my camera and computer equipment in the front hall, and followed Charlotte into the living room. The apartment was drop-dead gorgeous! Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on beautifully restored 18th century buildings and the serene Garonne River.

My HomeAway apartment enjoyed lovely views of the Garonne River in Bordeaux Francei

My HomeAway apartment enjoyed lovely views of the Garonne River

In the unlikely event that I grew tired of the view, a flat panel TV mounted to the wall offered hundreds of channels. The kitchen was superbly equipped and the bedroom, with a double bed topped by a faux fur comforter, looked oh so tempting. I perused the tasteful contemporary French furnishings and then looked down at my boots and cargo pants; once again, I felt shamefully under-dressed. Read More

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Last year I was contacted by author Mark Chimsky, author of 65 Things To Do When You Retire, an anthology of short essays by prominent retirees such as President Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, and Mort Greenberg which The Wall Street Journal called “one of the year’s best guides to later life.” On the heels of that widely acclaimed first effort, Chimsky was planning a follow-up book named 65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel. He asked if I would be willing to provide a story for this second anthology. Since the royalties generated from the sale of this book will be donated to nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and curing cancer, I agreed to do so.

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel benefits cancer research and prevention

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel benefits cancer research and prevention

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel was released last week. In it, more than 65 writers and travel experts reveal their own personal adventures and offer practical advice about how retirees can have the time of their lives, whether traveling with a group, spouse, partner, or on their own. The essays describe glorious getaways, the best places for retirees to visit (or relocate), how to plan for a “great escape” without breaking the bank, or, as in my case, how to enrich your travel by making a local connection. Other contributors include Andrew McCarthy, actor, director, and award winning travel writer and author of the travel memoir The Longest Way Home; Elizabeth Berg, best selling author of Talk Before Sleep, and Open House, an Oprah’s Book Club Selection; and John E. Nelson, co-author of What Color is Your Parachute For Retirement. The essays cover fascinating trends such as taking a “golden gap year,” going “glamping,” and living a nomadic lifestyle.

65 Things To Do When You Retire: Travel is a 5.5″ x 8.5″, 400 page, softcover book is available in bookstores or through Amazon.com.

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In the latter half of the 15th century, events conspired to create a perfect storm in France. The Hundred Years War with England drew to a close and, in 1494, King Charles VIII returned victorious from his invasion of Italy, bringing with him the Italian Renaissance. The mighty Medieval fortresses of the Loire Valley, no longer required for defense, were converted into stunning chateaux designed for recreation and pleasure. Embracing the Renaissance philosophy that valued culture above all, monarchs and noble families filled these palaces with stunning artworks and furnishings and threw parties that spared no expense.

France-Loire-Valley-Chateau-de-Chenonceau-Bridge

My favorite French castle in the Loire River Valley, Chateau de Chenonceau

Hundreds of these chateaux still dot the Loire Valley, many of which are open to the public. With only three days in Tours, I opted for back-to-back morning and afternoon van tours that would allow me to see four of the most famous. We began at the smallest, Chateau de Clos Luce. Though not stunning in the manner of a grandiose, multi-turreted chateaux, this castle is notable as the place where Leonardo da Vinci, who had been induced to leave Italy by King Francis I, spent the last three years of his life. It was the perfect setting for da Vinci, who wanted to be away from people, in a peaceful atmosphere that allowed him to pursue his scientific work. Today, the low buildings surrounding the gardens contain reproductions of da Vinci’s inventions and his Mona Lisa, one of three painting he carried upon leaving Italy for France, hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Read More

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Macarons. I first saw them in Paris, but it wasn’t long before I realized these small round, garishly colored cookies were available in every French gift store, bakery and cafe. The problem was, my brain immediately confused them with the American macaroon, which is a dollop of baked coconut. Since I had no interest in coconut confections, I kept passing them by. Until I landed in Saint Malo, that is. This small village on the Brittany coast had not been on my itinerary but when I decided to take a bit of a break at Au Bon Accueil Bed and Breakfast, the owners, Jane and Paul Cunnison, convinced me to set one day aside to explore the charming town.

Beautiful square in the Intra-Muros old walled city of St. Malo France

Beautiful square in the Intra-Muros, the old walled city of St. Malo

Braving chilly late October temperatures, I bundled up and hopped on the train for the 15-minute ride to Saint Malo. Another quarter-hour walk brought me to the gates of the the old walled city known as the Intra-Muros. For hours I wandered around the cobblestone streets, following round brass markers embedded into the streets and sidewalks that led me on a historic walking tour. When my fingers finally turned numb from the cold I stumbled into the nearest place where I could get a hot cup of coffee, Macarons Chocolats de Luxe Philippe Bouvier. Wouldn’t you know it, I had landed in the shop of one of the most famous macaron makers in all of France.

The woman behind the counter, Sylvie, greeted me with a broad smile and between my practically non-existent French and her limited English I managed to make myself understood. Gratefully, I wrapped my frozen hands around a piping hot cup of coffee and perused the little shop. Vividly colored macarons were displayed in the bakery case, in tall crystal vases, and in exquisite gift boxes tied up with pretty silk ribbons. Read More

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I never know what is going to ignite my travel curiosity. It can be an article in a magazine, a documentary, or a discussion with a friend. In the case of Mont Saint Michel, it was the latter. Some years ago, I was lying on a massage table at Balance et Harmonie Massage in Sarasota, Florida, as owner Nancy Bouffigny-Enmeier worked her magic on my sore muscles. Out of the blue, she began talking about her childhood in Normandy, France. She told me about a Medieval church, built on a rock, just off the coast of France. When the tide came in, water completely surrounded the tiny islet, but outgoing tides laid bare miles of sand. Her family would spend warm summer days romping on the sand beneath the fairytale castle. By the time I rolled off her table I was itching to know more, so she pulled up a photo of Mont Saint Michel on the Internet. I was hooked; someday I would have to see this amazing place.

When I finally decided to tour France, Mont Saint Michel was at the top of my list. I hopped on a train to Pontorson, where I was met by one of the owners of Au Bon Accueil Bed and Breakfast, a lovely old three-story stone house in the country. The owners, Jane and Paul, are Brits who relocated to France a couple of years ago to escape the rat race. Paul’s story is much like mine. He was the manager of a large grocery store, working horrendous hours and never spending time with his family. Paul’s moment of clarity came one Christmas day, when he received a phone call from the police that someone had broken into the store. At the end of the day Paul realized that his devotion to his employer was not reciprocated. His company didn’t care that he’d missed Christmas; they only cared about money and achieving goals. Not long afterward the couple decided to move to France and buy Au Bon Accueil.

Mont Saint Michel emerges from the mists in Normandy France

Mont Saint Michel emerges from the fog in Normandy France

Jane promptly made me feel welcome and showed me to a lovely room under the eaves on the third floor that had a nice view to the hills. After settling in I rejoined them in the dining room for a briefing on the area. My three day stay soon grew to four, and then to five, not only because there was a great deal to see and do in the area, but also because I connected so well with Jane and Paul. Once in a while, I meet people who are so warm and welcoming that they feel like extended family; that’s how Paul and Jane made me feel, so I took a much needed break from hurry-up traveling. Read More