I cannot think of Christmas without reminiscing on the time we went to the Arctic Circle in Santa’s hometown of Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland. As soon as you step off the plane you can tell that you are somewhere magical. The whole town is in character from the shop owners to the bus drivers, ensuring you feel the Christmas spirit. I hadn’t even left the airport when I made my first purchase of a gorgeous reindeer coat with a fox hood. You must be fashionable when we go to see Mrs. Claus, of course. Also, I needed to be sure I would stay warm during our stay at the ice hotel!
We stayed in Santa’s Village in a cute little house right on the property.
The illuminated blue line on the light posts marks the beginning of the Arctic Circle.
I know what you are thinking, we have all seen Santa sitting in his big chair in the middle of the mall with lines of children waiting to sit on his knee. That is not the experience here. When he calls you by name you enter into his living room and you get to spend some time with him, chatting and asking any questions that you’d like. He even told us that his favorite cookie is not a cookie at all but that he prefers porridge!
As with all my travels, I like to plan a little extra adventure while we’re there. I had never been on a snowmobile so I decided this was the perfect time. It was so much fun and the scenery was beautiful. We did this in the middle of the afternoon but as you can see in the picture, it looks like dusk. This was the most light we saw all day and it didn’t last long. Winters on the Arctic Circle are spent mostly in the dark. If you are wondering if it is cold the answer is YES! I was wearing snow gear from head to toe with another outer layer of coveralls provided by the tour guide.
The reindeer in Finland are highly respected and are raised in the wild. They are only hunted when the people need food and clothing. Our guide let us know that it is customary in Finland to use boots made of reindeer pelts because it keeps your feet warmed than any shoe we use today. I had hoped we would see the Aurora Borealis on our sleigh ride, and although we didn’t, we saw more stars that I knew the sky could even hold. They seemed close enough to touch! Our night came to a perfect end with a warm fire and hot cocoa.
Next, we left Santa’s village for a night in the snow hotel! This is a once in a lifetime experience. We ate dinner on an ice table, drank from an ice cup, danced on an ice floor and slept on an ice bed. I was expecting it to be uncomfortable but it was the best night of sleep I had all week. The walls of each room are made of packed snow three feet thick. It was a quiet that I had never experienced before; I mean TOTAL silence. The sleeping bags kept us warm and toasty.
If all this wasn’t enough, I had just one more item on my bucket list, dog sledding! This was more adventurous than I was expecting. These dogs mean business and they take their jobs very seriously. Driving the sleighs takes focus and courage. These dogs can really move and they must stay equal distance from the sleigh in front of them or you get slack in the line and the dogs get all tangled up. It was amazing to witness!
After all this rugged outdoor adventure I was ready for the flight back to Helsinki to stay in a five-star hotel with crisp white sheets and a stocked bar. It was the perfect winter wonderland experience.
I found myself standing in the center of Rome, looking around and imagining all that this mega city has seen. It was hard to even wrap my mind around it. The never-ending stream of Vespa’s weaving through the narrow lanes of traffic gave the city a fast-paced feel. Still, there is something ‘easy’ about it, almost like a flow.
We spent several days in the heart of Italy; hitting the necessary tourist attractions before making our way to the coast for some much needed “r and r.”
Janette and I travel together, along with our families, and prior to our adventures we would fantasize about being so inspired during the vacation that we’d whip out our sketchpads and start creating new lines of jewelry on the footsteps of monuments. We have come to discover that is not how it works for us. Of course, new adventures inspire newfound creativity, just not always in that exact moment. The truth is that traveling takes us out of our daily routines and our familiar environment and turns our senses back on, even elevating them to new levels. We are able to store the inspiration and we can access those memories at anytime. We will pull from this knowledge when we are back in the office, our kids at school, husbands at work, and we have the conveniences of home at our fingertips.
We may not always have the breathtaking view of Italy in front of us but we will always have the memories.
As soon as I feel the first dip in the weather my mind switches over to all things Fall. I’m ready to pull out my boots and sweaters, eat heartier comfort foods and drink something that will warm my soul. Nothing does that better than a “wee dram” of Scotch Whiskey. I was educated on the topic while living in Scotland. I toured many distilleries and learned the intricacy of a well- made Scotch.
Every Autumn, Scotland hosts the Speyside Whiskey Festival in the heart of Whiskey Country. You can ride the Whiskey Train from Keith to Dufftown viewing the beautiful Scottish Highlands along the way.
Arriving at this century old rail station was as though I had stepped into the scene of an old, romantic movie. The trains were all original. Our conductor was friendly and wore an old hat and pocket watch. He spoke to us freely but we just smiled as we could only understand a few words through his thick accent.
The first distillery we toured was Strathisla, pronounced Strath – eye – Luh. We know this distinctly because we were having trouble locating it and when we asked for directions no one understood these crazy Americans who were saying Strath – is – luh.
Just look at this architecture. Stunning. Obviously, the form followed the function of the space needed in the distillation process but the beauty of the architecture was one of the things I loved most about Scotland. Even the simplest of structures were beautiful because of the stone artisanship.
I can honestly say I had never really thought of what went into the process of making Scotch Whiskey. Just as wines gain their character from the region the grapes are grown, or the type of barrel they are aged in; Scotch Whiskey gets it subtleties from the malting process. Peat that has been dried into bricks is used as the heat source for drying the damp malt over the fire, which brings the smoke into the barley grain. The more time drying, the more smokey flavor is achieved.
After the tour of the distillery we had an official tasting. Scotch is always served with a side of water. This drastically changes the taste. Next time you order your Scotch on the rocks taste it neat then add splashes of water until you find your desired flavor.
Our last stop was the Glenfiddich Distillery. Right next door was a field with Highland Cows and a castle in ruin. We could not help but to go explore.
We ended our day with a short walk into Dufftown where we wandered into a local pub for some fish and chips and of course Scotch!
It would take a novel to recap the experience I had in just one week of being in Israel. The layers of these lands are literally, figuratively and spiritually entangled in history, mystery and controversy. Unlike my other travels where I painstakingly researched every detail to know the best place to stay and what to do, this vacation was planned by a group of my friends and I just showed up really not knowing what to expect. Let me tell you, they did not disappoint!
The view of the ocean against the stark white architecture is stunning. The ruins we saw imprinted a new picture in my mind of how the people lived. We saw their homes, marketplaces, temples and bathhouses. We could even walk on the same streets they walked on over two thousand years ago. Grooves from the carriage wheels have been worn into the stone. There was true artisanship in making things not only functional but also beautiful.
We visited tombs dug out of the rocky hills. They ranged from simple to ornate depending on the families financial means. We also spent a day on the Sea of Galilee. I imagined it to be a vast ocean but in reality you can see from shore to shore. After cruising the serene waters we went to a local restaurant and had fresh caught fish!
This was my first time in the desert and I could see no other logical thing to do than to ride a camel. It was also the last time I wore those adorable African Horn Teardrop Earrings since I somehow lost one getting off of it. Israel will forever have a little piece of NEST jewelry somewhere in the sand. Hope it doesn’t throw off the archeologists. ?
After a quick dip in the healing waters of the Dead Sea, we went to see where the Dead Sea scrolls were found at Masada National Park.
The Garden Of Gethsemane is at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It has a handful of ancient olive trees dating back to 1092 A.D.
The market was a lively place full of color and scents of fresh baked bagels. These are traditional bagels, which look and taste completely different from what we call a bagel in the states. These are more like a French bread with sesame seeds on top. And there is no cream cheese! They top it with olive oil and dried hyssop (which is similar to oregano). Delicious! I enjoyed my bagel with a tall glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.
My advice for anyone seeking a trip to Israel is to find a good guide. Without the knowledge of the history and the different religious beliefs one could really miss the essence of this amazing place.
I have had the privilege of traveling to some of the most beautiful places in the world. At the very top of my list is Holland during tulip blooming season. There are rows and rows of gorgeous flowers in every color imaginable. Pictures just don’t do it justice! The perfume from the hyacinth is almost intoxicating.
When I go to Holland I love to stay in the quaint town of Delft. This village was made famous by the Royal Delft Blue pottery that has been hand painted there since the 16th century. The last of these factories is still operational and open for tours.
Architecture of the Netherlands is distinctive and Delft is no exception. During the Dutch Golden Age, canals were dug and many tall narrow homes were built with intricate facades to show the wealth of the merchants living there. The name Delft actually stemmed from a word meaning “delving” or “digging.”
I stayed at a friend’s apartment right in the center of town. From the front windows we watched the merchants set up their wares and the people riding in on their bicycles to grab some fresh bread, cheese and flowers!
Sitting on the balcony in the back we had views of the old church steeples. This was a perfect respite after a long day of walking the city or exploring through one of these old churches.
We also saw the city hall, shopped for some Delft Blue pottery and encountered street performers of all sorts. If you turn the corner, you can visit the Vermeer Center and see beautiful works of art in the traditional Dutch style.
There isn’t a need for a car in the city. We did all our exploring by foot, bike or train. It’s all part of the ambiance.
Now the day we have all been waiting for: our experience at Keukenhof Flower Garden in Lisse. It is one of the largest flower gardens in the world and in April there are flowers blooming as far as the eye can see.
First we walked through millions of bulbs planted in the garden. They had everything from formal gardens to natural areas and even creative touches like old cars filled with flowers.
After spending hours strolling through the fields, it was time for the parade. This is a special treat since they only have it once a year. The year we went the theme was musicals. We saw Lion King, Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland and so many more. This year the parade will be on April 26, 2016.
The floats were beautiful but nothing compared to what we did next. We rented bicycles and rode through the fields of tulips and hyacinth. You cannot even imagine the aroma. Smell evokes such a strong memory. Now if I experience anything similar it takes me right back to that moment in time.
I hope you all have a chance to visit one day soon. I suddenly have the urge to plant some flowers. Guess I am headed to the garden center!
It won’t be long until summer is here so now is the time to plan your next vacation! I highly recommend Stonewater Cove. It is truly a secluded oasis on Table Rock Lake. The landscape is lush green forest, rocky hillsides and crisp, clear water. This part of Missouri isn’t overdeveloped yet so you will feel a sense of peace that you just can’t get at a crowded resort.
We brought the entire family and every single one of us had a blast! Stonewater Cove offers luxurious accommodations, five-star dining and more activities than you could ever do during one stay. They have boating, fishing, hiking, zip-lining, bocce ball and mostly importantly a spa!
We were ready for some adventure so we took the ATV’s out the first day to go zip-line through the forest. The food at the end of the day was definitely the highlight. Unique and beautifully presented, each meal brought smiles to our faces. The following day we hit the lake for some skiing and wakeboarding. After a few wipeouts we decided to recover at the spa where freshly made snacks and a wonderful massage awaited us. Every evening after a competitive game of bocce ball, we would gather around the fire and roast marshmallows while reminiscing on our day. It’s like camp but with gourmet food and Egyptian cotton sheets!
I can’t wait to go back!
For my niece’s 21st birthday the family headed out to Napa Valley to explore and learn about “all things wine.” We flew into San Francisco and spent a few days touring the city before renting a large van and heading out to the valley. I have been to vineyards before and I know that a good experience comes from more than just the wine. You want to be pulled into the romance of the entire process: to see how the vines are grown, where it is stored, the wine maker’s philosophy, and most of all you want to hear a great story.
I discovered Long Meadow Ranch and immediately fell in love. They offered a full experience that started with an open-air ride up to Mayacamas Estate, where we toured the facility and of course tasted some wine.
After the tasting, we headed back down to the farmstead for a private wine and food paring. Delicious! They have the oldest olive grove in Napa, as well as fruit orchards, honeybees, chickens and cows.
We all had such a fantastic time that we decided to go check out their organic garden the following day. The restaurant manager was making his morning rounds, checking to see what fruits and vegetables were available for the chef to use in their restaurant. We got lucky; instead of running us off (we hadn’t exactly scheduled a tour…we’re a spontaneous group!) he took us around the property and even allowed us to do a bit of sampling. He also told us more about their full-circle farming technique. The term “going green” is trendy right now but at Long Meadow Ranch they use sustainable farm methods because it yields a better product at a better price. The gardens, farm, orchards and animals work together to contribute to their holistic approach.
As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to stay in smaller boutique-style hotels. I enjoy the little things they have to offer that make the experience different and exciting. Napa Valley Lodge had that homey feel I was looking for. There was a large outdoor fire pit that the family gathered around in the evenings, a champagne breakfast that was absolute perfection and beds that seemed to curl around me like a cloud.
Now time for some adventure! If you are willing to wake up early (and I mean before the sun rises) then I highly suggest taking a hot air balloon ride over the valley. It was SUCH a tranquil experience.
The best part about waking up early for the balloon ride was that we had the entire afternoon to stroll through more vineyards. Castello di Amorosa caught our eye because of the Tuscan village exterior. We also stopped at Bale Grist Mill to get a lesson on how the water wheel was used to grind grain into flour “back in the day.” After our long day of exploring we were ready for a lovely dinner where we reminisced on our incredible trip. Napa, we will be back!
Traveling is a necessary part of the design process. When we’re in a new environment our senses are heightened. Shapes, textures and colors get our creative juices flowing and even the light itself seems to have more sparkle. We almost always bring our families along when we travel and the love we experienced in Greece was like no other place we had visited before.
I had a Greek salad every. single. day. The Mediterranean diet is perfection. Everything is fresh and the olive oil flows as freely as the wine. Vendors along the street had local honey and sun-ripened fruit that was offered along with a warm smile.
We stayed in the suite at Athens Gate Hotel overlooking the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
This was the view from the balcony outside my room. Unreal!
Athens is so rich in architecture, music and food.
Even the graffiti is beautiful.
I highly recommend a private walking tour to bring this ancient city to life. I went with Paige Moore, a native “Houstonian” who was living in Athens at the time. As we walked from site to site, she told us the stories of ancient Greek mythology in such detail that you could almost see the scene playing out before you. Paige is now back in Houston and offers consulting on all things Greek at www.mythkafe.com .
And of course, I had to dip my toes into the Aegean Sea.
We often reference the simple yet mystical feel of Greece when we’re creating a new line. It was an experience that we will never forget.
If you are stateside and haven’t seen the news, you may not know that Scotland has recently experienced terrible flooding. It is heartbreaking. I had the privilege of calling Scotland home for two amazing years and during that time I immersed myself in all things Scottish. From the coast to the Highlands, I explored castles, whiskey distilleries, went to the Highland Games, and even attended two Burns suppers (a yearly celebration filled with traditional foods, clothing and literature of Robert Burns). The experience was life changing. Today I want to take you along one of my favorite drives up A-93 from Aberdeen to Ballater, where the Balmoral Castle is located and is still a retreat for The Queen and the Royal Family in the summer months.
The Cambus O’May footbridge built in 1905 is nothing short of breathtaking. The first picture I saw of the destruction caused by the flooding of the Dee River was of this bridge. It was always our first stop on our way out of Aberdeen. After crossing the bridge, we would hop out of the car to explore the majestic forests that stretch alongside the river.
If we were lucky, we’d get to see the legendary highland cow grazing in a pasture along the narrow, winding road. To sound like a local you will need to pronounce it “HEE-LAND COO.”
Once we reached the town of Ballater, it was like stepping back in time. The train station where Queen Victoria would arrive to take a carriage to her castle is still there and a perfect symbol of traditional royalty. The local shops, such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker, are dotted with signs that show The Queen’s approval. This is considered the highest honor.
After grabbing a cup of tea in this adorable, Victorian-style town we’d head to the main attraction: Balmoral Castle.
On the castle grounds there is a marvelous, expansive garden that supplies all the food served to The Royal Family and the entire staff. They also have chickens, both for their eggs and to help naturally reduce insects that could be harmful to the plants. I love that they take the time to organically and naturally grow, fertilize, and harvest their food. It’s not always the fastest way but it’s the right way and we have always made sure that Nest operates under that same philosophy.
Having had a long day filled with adventures, we were pretty worn out so we decided to unwind at the quaint Darroch Learg Hotel. They have the best “caviar starters” paired with a “wee dram” (a.k.a. a small shot of scotch whiskey). And of course, a dinner that was to die for.
Although the recent floods have been damaging, I am certain once the repairs have been made that A-93 will be as beautiful and charming as ever! Safe travels!