Relaxing in Luxury on Exotic Little Palm Island, Florida

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Tired of run-of-the-mill luxury vacation destinations? Looking for something extraordinary and exotic for that very special occasion? We have found a world-class tropical resort – in the United States – that will have you talking about your getaway for years to come. Here’s the story of Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys.

Driving south from Miami, it took us about 2-hours to cover the 120-miles to Little Torch Key and to reach mile marker 28.5 on scenic US1. There we found Pirates Road and the Little Palm Island Welcome Station (aka resort check-in and transport dock).

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The vibe for this destination resort is South Seas Island elegant and the Welcome Station fits right in. The Station building is a high-peaked thatched roof structure that is nestled against a lazy mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is where passengers board the shuttle boat to the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

As we entered the door of the Station, we were greeted by a Little Palm Island employee who quickly and efficiently arranged for our luggage to be removed from our auto and placed on a bell cart to await transport to the island.

Registration was an unfussy affair that was made enjoyable by a complimentary beverage – we chose a refreshing rum punch – very tasty. Check-in went quickly – no doubt attributable to the fact that there are only 30 guest quarters at the Little Palm Island Resort.

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We parked our rental car in the lot adjacent to the Station, and proceeded to the Gift Shop, which was chock-full of interesting objects including sundry headgear and upscale clothing.

It was a beautiful day, so we lounged on the outdoor patio while waiting for our motor launch ride to Little Palm Island. There are just two ways to get there – boat or seaplane. The island is only 3-miles from the Station, and the launch departs hourly, so the choice of transport was an easy one.

Everything done in style

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At first glance, we thought our transportation to the island was a sleek 1930s Chris Craft motor launch – but it wasn’t. In reality, it is a 1990s built replica that looks and sounds like the real thing.

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Before we knew it, we were being whisked away by a uniformed four-stripe captain in a classic motor yacht to an offshore island paradise.

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As we approached the dock of the lush palm-laden island, we would not have been surprised to see Tattoo in his little white suit shouting “De boat, de boat.”

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Instead, we were greeted by a very cordial island guide in smart tropic attire. He told us that our luggage was already waiting for us in our elevated thatched palm roof “Sandpiper” suite. The bungalow suites are harmoniously named after tropical birds – and that is so very fitting in this Audubon haven.

Speaking of birds

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One of our first introductions was to “Spencer” a dominant gray heron and distinguished character. Spencer lords over the shallows of the island.

Our guide told us that Spencer could be occasionally cranky and territorial when it comes to other “big” birds eyeing his island for a roost. Later in the day, we were privileged to witness Spencer doing a ceremonious roust of a very big and lanky white crane.

Five acres of paradise

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We toured the entire Little Palm Island in about 45-minutes. The meandering manicured white sand paths and thick tropical landscaping are ingeniously designed to ensure bungalow privacy.

During our walk, we passed by the Spa Terre, the Library, the Zen Garden, the splendid outdoor pool, the outdoor chess set, the island gift shop, and the bar and restaurant.

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Guests have free access to fishing rods, kayaks, beach boats, small sailing crafts, and romantic double umbrella shaded lounges that are strategically placed throughout the island.

Harry and Bess

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There is much ado about the Trumans on the island, including two full-length oil paintings of the famous couple in the Library. The pride stems from the president’s affinity for the isle when it was a private fishing resort.

Admiral Bill “Bull” Halsey was one of the many famous island guests of the Trumans after the War.

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Another president and Navy veteran, JFK was on Little Palm in 1962 to watch the filming of PT109 – a movie about his heroic exploits aboard a PT boat in the Pacific during WWII.

Cue the deer

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Just when we thought we had seen everything imaginable on this contemporary Fantasy Island, a tiny-toddler of a Lilliputian creature walked onto our white sand path. Here before us was a Key Deer fawn – so cute – and quite tame.

Before long, the fawn’s mom came along, happy to join in the photo op.

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The Key Deer is an endangered species native to the Florida Keys, and the Little Palm Island mini-herd swims over from a neighboring island – maybe to nuzzle the various celebrities that populate the resort from time to time. It is illegal to feed these little guys, but a joy to commune with them.

Photographing our hut-suite

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Each room in the Palm Island bungalows is like a character in a play. When combined, all the clever little things inside the suite add to the ethos of high living in paradise.

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Our suite was #23, The Sandpiper Suite, and it is very much like the other bungalow suites on Little Palm – a good thing because all 30 bungalows were occupied. We only had an opportunity to photograph the inside of the suite where we stayed.

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All the bungalows are South Seas castaway dream homes with a dash of British Colonial charm.

Each thatched roof suite-hut is outfitted with a well-appointed living room with comfy woven-seagrass sofa and chairs, a softly humming ceiling fan, military style birding binoculars, a stand of old-fashioned umbrellas, and a replica antique telephone with which to communicate with the Quarterdeck (Concierge).

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In the evenings, the large bedroom in each bungalow is softly lit by a simulated-candle that enhances the romance of the lavish room by casting exotic shadows on the wooden beams above.

Your sleeping comfort is guaranteed by an elegant and uber-comfortable king four-poster bed complete with decorative netting and zephyrous ceiling fan.

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Our suite also had a soaking tub, a large modern shower, and an attached outdoor bamboo shower room.

Of course, all the suites are fully air-conditioned. This is what present-day tropical luxury is all about.

Relax

Little Palm Island is a place of leisure. Go fishing, kayaking, listen to the birds or the quiet lap of the sea against the shore.

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Wait for a Key Deer to entertain while you sip a soothing beverage on your veranda, in the garden, or by the pool. Lounge on the beach or on one of the wooden walkways overlooking the sea – there are no bad choices on Little Palm Island.

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Relaxation sometimes requires help. That is why the suites do not have Wi-Fi service, TVs, or off-island telephones – and there are no children allowed on the island.

If you must

If you are a tech-junkie some of the above might make you nuts, so there is limited Wi-Fi service in the Library, which is also called the Great Room. If you look hard, you will also see a flat screen TV among the books and games – it is the only one on the island.

The Spa Terre

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Unlike many spa experiences that are a singular event in a busy day, the Spa Terre experience becomes an essential part of your total day on Little Palm Island.

We selected the ancient and deep Sacred Stone Massage – but perhaps you would rather a soothing massage on a table in the shallow water of a secluded beach.

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Whatever your choice, you can continue the bliss by immediately entering the warm and tranquil sea or nearby island pool.

Follow your dip with a shaded rest on one of the islands many comfortable lounges or couples hammocks.

Now is the time for a contemplative assessment of the joys of living. Little Palm Island is about Elysian serenity – your personal Shangri-La.

Dining on the Island

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Food plays a role of cardinal importance at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.

Savor a focused cuisine of Latin ingredients and French techniques. The menu created under the influence of Corporate Executive Chef Luis Pous, and enhanced and orchestrated by Executive Chef Brendan Mica and his team is nothing less than superb.

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Need we say more than Zagat rated the Little Palm Dining Room as the third best dining facility in the United States, and number one in the state of Florida.

The menu choices are both sophisticated and approachable, and reflect the location and relaxed atmosphere of Little Palm Island.

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For our appetizer, we chose a uniquely presented shrimp cocktail.

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Our main courses consisted of Key West Lobster accompanied by sweet corn, apples, fennel, onions, and Caviar Beurre Blanc and

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Rosemary Braised Short Ribs with a lavish medley of aged white Cheddar, creamed potatoes, mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots.

The night is young

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As guests opened and closed French doors between the restaurant and adjoining lounge, we could hear barely audible conversations and laughter.

Even with the doors closed, we enjoyed the faint familiar tunes being played by an entertainer on the lounge piano.

An after dinner digestif, accompanied by the murmured tinkling of piano keys in another room – and a sky full of seemingly touchable stars – it does not get more romantic than this.

The late Paul Newman, and Marvin Hamlisch relaxed in this restaurant – we suspect they were equally captivated by the setting.

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If you go

Little Palm Island Resort is the Florida address of the elite traveler. It has a cachet that will appeal to those with discriminating travel tastes. We recommend it to anyone wanting to experience the luxury of exclusive private island vacationing.

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For more information about availability, services and rates, look at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa website at http://www.littlepalmisland.com/

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Discovering a Luxurious Hideaway in the California Gold Country

Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California in 1848 and inquisitive tourists have been exploring the old mining towns of California ever since.

Today, striking it rich in the gold country means finding luxury vacation accommodations at reasonable prices. We staked our claim at the Eden Vale Inn B&B, and this is why…

Location

We drove from San Francisco to the Eden Vale Inn in about two hours.

The Eden Vale Inn is located in the heart of the Gold Country in Placerville, California. It affords a superb base camp for tourists interested in gold history and exploring the many sites of beautiful El Dorado County.

The Inn is just minutes away from the Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma, the location of Sutter’s Mill.

The Inn is a quiet retreat nestled in the foothills and surrounded by acres and acres of picturesque landscapes and gardens.

Entering Eden

Entering the long wooded driveway, our instincts told us we were headed for a splendid retreat. What we did not know was the level of quality and comfort that awaited us beyond the trees.

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The driveway ends in a circle, just a few feet from the countrified entrance to the main building.

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As we stepped from the car, we were summarily greeted by the Inn’s inquisitive cat. He lingered just long enough to satisfy his curiosity and was off to resume his place in the sun.

A warm welcome

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Innkeepers Mark and Gayle Hamlin welcomed us from the wooden doorway of the hay barn – now converted into a chic auberge for discerning guests.

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After unloading our luggage, we were treated to a tour of the well-appointed public spaces and the strategically positioned guest facilities on the estate.

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The innkeepers are justifiably proud of the evolution and utter transformation of their property from laboring farm to country elegant B&B. They have created a very comfortable vacation getaway.

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At present, there are seven tastefully decorated sleeping quarters to choose from, each is unique and features all the updated modern amenities such as computerized lighting, fireplaces, free telephone and internet connections, large showers, private outdoor patios, and spa tubs.

The spa

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The Inn has a charming Spa Studio located in a separate building just to the right of the main lodge. If you are seeking a place to rejuvenate your mind and body, this is it.

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Treatments are combined with the latest relaxation and wellness techniques, and all are personalized to suit individual tastes and needs. NOTE: To avoid disappointment, be sure to schedule your spa treatments in advance of your visit.

A most appealing attraction

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We have not had the pleasure of staying at a B&B that included the prospect of a cool dip in a country watering hole – until now. The Eden Vale pond complete with trout and a colorful rowboat, is most inviting and harkens images of early-times, skinny-dipping, and basket picnic lunches.

Time for dinner

After touring all the sites around the Inn, we were getting hungry and decided to dine at the Café Mahjaic, which is not far away in the tiny town of Lotus. The Café came highly recommended, and as it turns out – for good reason.

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Like most everything in the area, this restaurant has a familiar gold country ambiance. Located in a brick building constructed in 1855, the vibrant eatery exudes a comfortable atmosphere and a culinary reflection of many ethnicities. The eclectic menu emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients that will satisfy the fussiest of palates.

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Check out their Pork Tenderloin roasted with a chili cashew crust and a mango-lime chipotle sauce, and served with garlic-mashed potatoes.

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Another unusual offering is Chocolate Chipotle Prawns sautéed in a Scharffen Berger chocolate, brown sugar, and chipotle sauce, served with avocado and a white cheddar lime risotto cake – uh, huh!

For reservations look at their website *here*

Evening by the fire

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After a long day of exploring, it was nice to return to the Eden Vale Inn to sit around the crackling outdoor fire-pit and talk about the day’s discoveries and tomorrow’s agenda. When the wine was gone, it was off to slumber-land in paradise.

Outstanding breakfast

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A healthy and robust breakfast is included in the price of lodging at the Eden Vale Inn. There is an ample assortment of start-your-day home-cooked goodies to satisfy the health conscious and pickiest foodies.

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Many of the ingredients of our gastronomical morning delights were grown right there in the Inn’s extensive garden. Everything was delicious – and the fresh brewed coffee was divine.

If you go

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If you like your lodging full of local color – and more like an elegant mountain retreat than a downtown hotel – this is the place for you. Full of rural splendor, we highly recommend the Eden Vale Inn, and anxiously await our next opportunity to visit.

Like gold, the Eden Vale Inn it is not easy to find, but well worth it when you do. It is situated less than an hour east of Sacramento just off California Highway 50 – the frequented route to Lake Tahoe. For specific directions look at their website at www.EdenValeInn.com or call Mark or Gayle toll free at 866-914-8445.

A unique area

We suggest taking the time for a family or romantic getaway to El Dorado County. It’s a pleasant drive from San Francisco and offers a special vibe only available in the Gold Country of California.

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Gold helped make California what it is today. It’s fun to see how it all happened.

For more information about beautiful El Dorado Country and its attractions, their website is *here*

If you like this story, and want to learn more about the California Gold Country, sign-up to follow our articles.  In the near future, we will write about, and present photographs of more Gold Country adventures – including the annual Gold Discovery Day celebration, and a gold mine deep inside a mountain.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Enrich Your San Francisco Vacation with a Stay at the Unparalleled Inn at the Presidio

The Inn at the Presidio

The Inn at the Presidio

Part of our job is to find and tell you about worthwhile one-of-a-kind luxury lodgings that will provide you with an exceptional vacation experience. Our work is even more fun when we come across unusual accommodations that offer something extraordinary. The new Inn at the Presidio in San Francisco is just such a rare find. Here is why.

Location

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The Inn at the Presidio of San Francisco is situated in one of the most fascinating vacation and ecological settings in the world. It is a short distance from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower, Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and North Beach.

Environmental time capsule

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Being located within the old Presidio military compound, the Inn sits among indigenous plant species that no longer exist on other parts of the San Francisco peninsula.

It was not planned, but because the Presidio was a military installation for over 200 years, its ecological environment became a refuge for flora and fauna that were otherwise unprotected from the commercial development that consumed many parts of San Francisco.

Today there are several organizations dedicated to the preservation of this horticultural treasure, and many plant species that are not native to the Presidio area are systematically being removed and replaced by native vegetation.

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Long absent birds are also making their way back to the Presidio – there are over 50 species of our feathered friends now nesting in its nearly 1000 acres.

Historical significance

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The Georgian Revival style building that is now the Inn at the Presidio was constructed in 1903 in the heart of the settlement.

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General John “Black Jack” Pershing

The building was splendid bachelor officers’ quarters during the time the site was under the purview of the U.S. Army. It was named Pershing Hall, after the great US Army General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who was stationed in the Presidio, and went on to become the Commander of the Expeditionary Forces in France during WWI.

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The Army departed the Presidio for good in 1994, and the Presidio Trust* completed a painstaking renovation of hundreds of historic buildings and grounds culminating in the opening of the Inn at the Presidio in April 2012. Every effort was made to keep the military authenticity while providing all the modern creature comforts for the Inn’s guests.

Today, the first ever Inn in the Presidio is a National Historic Landmark located in the vast Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

* The Presidio Trust is unique among federal agencies. It has transformed the military Presidio installation into a financially self-sustaining national park – amazing.

Hotel furnishings

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The public rooms are replete with Army memorabilia and historic photographs. The surroundings manifest a sense of dignity and honor – no doubt attributable to the many decades the building served as home to officers before they were sent off to war.

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Many fallen heroes have undoubtedly graced the rooms of the Inn. For many, the old BOQ was probably the last place they slumbered in America. We are indeed in the company of great spirits when we stay at the century old Inn at the Presidio.

Hotel amenities

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The Inn features 22 historically inspired accommodations, including 17 roomy suites with gas-operated fireplaces. There is a distinct military presence and order about the guestrooms and furnishings – a credit to informed interior decorators. Army history is evident throughout, but the quarters are also luxurious and comfortable – no small achievement in a martial environment.

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There are uber-comfortable beds, free Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs, a mini-fridge, bathrobes, and all in a smoke free environment.

You can even bring Fido, but be prepared to pay a $40 non-refundable cleaning fee. It’s so worth it.

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A stay at the Inn at the Presidio includes an evening wine and cheese reception for guests and a nice continental breakfast in the original officers’ mess. Ten-hut!

Out of doors

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Not all the unique creature features are inside the Inn. Outside there is a grand old porch with rockers; a pastime enjoyed no doubt by decades of officers in their off duty hours.

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In the back of the building there is an inviting gas fire pit surrounded by outdoor tables and chairs and providing warmth on those chilly San Francisco evenings – and sometimes days. Very cozy indeed.

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There is also an extensive network of trails throughout the Presidio. We stopped often to admire the amazing views. One of the trails starts right at the back of the Inn.

In addition – let us not forget the prestigious 18-hole Presidio Golf Course that is open to the public.

The Presidio is home to one of America’s National Cemeteries

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The San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio was the first national cemetery on the west coast. It has breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay.

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On a slope surrounded by majestic trees, the quiet cemetery is a fitting resting place for the 30,000 Americans buried here. Among the interred, are Buffalo Soldiers, Civil War generals, Medal of Honor recipients from various wars, and a woman Union spy. Be sure to spend some time here when you visit.

Parking

There is ample parking for guests of the Inn. At the time of our visit, there was a nuisance six-dollar overnight parking fee, but hey, that’s better than the more irritating – and more expensive – resort fee, now extracted by many upscale hotels.

The spa

The Inn does not have an in-house spa, but the well-known SenSpa, is located in the Presidio, just a short distance from the Inn. They have a full array of spa services to detox and relax the body, mind, and spirit.

If you go

The Inn at The Presidio was the first hotel to open in the historic Presidio, and the only new hotel to open in San Francisco in 2012. The Inn is also a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

With outstanding views of the San Francisco Bay, the Presidio is a picturesque venue that is hard to beat. The surroundings are breathtaking, and the vibe is green and pastoral. We recommend it highly.

Find out more about the Inn by clicking *here* to see their website.

Like to view more of our photo gallery of the Inn and Presidio, look *here*

Another San Francisco Gem

If you like the Inn at the Presidio, we encourage you to consider a stay at an equally elegant and recently transformed military installation directly across the bay in Sausalito.

Old Fort Baker - Cavallo Point

Old Fort Baker – Cavallo Point

Old Fort Baker is now home to Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate, which opened in 2008. Like the Presidio, this old fort was meticulously renovated to offer the public an accurate depiction of military history in a modern luxury setting.

The views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Cavallo Point are stunning.

Both the Inn at the Presidio and Cavallo Point Lodge are ably managed, by innovative Waterford Hotels and Inns. Cavallo is also co-managed by Passport Resorts.

You can see pictures and read our story about the Cavallo Point Lodge *here*.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

On Being Pampered at the Bath of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul, Turkey

Exquisite pleasures by Ayasofya Hamami

Exquisite pleasures by Ayasofya Hamami

In the year 1556, the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ordered a royal bath to be constructed over the ruins of an earlier public bath destroyed in 532 AD.

Easy walk to bath from Blue Mosque

Easy walk to bath from Blue Mosque

The new bath came to be called the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam because of its close proximity to the famous Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) – the 6th century Byzantine cathedral/mosque that is now a world-renowned museum. We were invited to experience this celebrated bath, and this is the story.

Years of service

The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam pleasured Sultans and their guests from 1556 until 1910 when the baths were abruptly closed.

The building was repurposed on several occasions between 1910 and 2011 when it was finally restored to its original glory and prominence as an opulent Turkish bath. One of its more interesting functions after 1910 was as a place of confinement for inmates during times of “overflow” at the nearby Sultanahmet Prison.

Coincidentally, the Sultanahmet Prison is now a luxury hotel and the place we stayed during our visit to Istanbul. The exquisite Four Season’s Sultanahmet Hotel is the subject of a future story.

The bath as hamam

The Turkish hamams are all natural baths that generally provide mind and body therapies similar to those offered in tony spas around the world. Ottoman style all natural baths, like the Ayasofya Hamami, are as much in vogue today as they were in antiquity.

Entering the hamam

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The front entrance to the bath opens into a reception area. This is where the vitamin bar, rest area, and boutique shop are located.

Select from a wide array of services

After signing in, each customer is asked to select a bath program. There are many hamam packages to choose from and we opted for the Pir-i Pak or “Full Cleansing Program.” We chose the Pir-i Pak because it offered the standard services of a traditional Turkish bath. Here is what happens after you make your selection.

Separate facilities

Private dressing rooms

Private dressing rooms

Men and women are separated and guided to their own private dressing rooms that are small, but tastefully furnished in exotic woods and well secured. The customers are left to disrobe and don the traditional silk and cotton bath wrap, called a “pestamal.” The pestamal is usually worn during the entire bath process; however, the choice is left to personal preference.

First room

Dressed in our pestamals, we exited our dressing rooms and walked to the first of three rooms where the treatments are performed. This first chamber is of lustrous white marble and tall ceilings, and has the appearance of an ancient Roman steam room. Guests sit on Marmara marble slabs next to alabaster sinks with hot and cold gold faucets. The purpose of the room is to acclimate the body to the heat and to begin the detoxification process. The temperature is about 100F degrees.

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An attendant provides each guest with a replica Ottoman period gold plated bath bowl with which to help with the preparation of the body with alternative drenches of hot and cold water. After an ample amount of self-soaking, muscles start to relax and pores are open and receptive to the next passage – each guest is led into a very large white room.

Second room

This next room is still warmer (116F) and is also elegantly appointed in marble and fine woods, and contains individual white marble bath stations with sinks. In the middle of the room stands an immense multi-sided heated belly marble platform about 30 inches high, and perhaps 40 feet in circumference.

Each guest is seated at a bath station and his or her same-sex attendant commences a vigorous full body scrub with an exfoliating mitt.

by Ayasofya Hamami

by Ayasofya Hamami

When the invigorating body scrub is complete, guests are rinsed and requested to recline on their back on the marble dais in the center of the room. Each customer is positioned head to toe in circular fashion around the edge of the stone.

The magic foam

by Ayasofya Hamam

by Ayasofya Hamami

With an easy flick of what appears to be a towel laden with warm liquid, the attendants engulf the guest’s body from neck to toe in a gentle cocoon of luxurious foam. They then commence a full body massage under the cover of the soothing bubbles. The full body massage includes everything except private parts.

Celestial refrains

During the rigorous deep massage, the men’s attendants cantillated ancient Turkish chants that resonated in the tall 80-foot ceilings and added an entrancingly mystical component to the already lavish experience of the bath.

Several dousings of warm water followed the massage, and when all the foam was entirely extinguished, each guest was invited into a warm fluffy towel wrap, and led to the third (cooling) room. It is at this point that we were truly engulfed in a sublime feeling of cleanliness and complete rejuvenation.

Finishing room

The final room was also the reception area where the journey originally started. There we laid motionless on chaise lounges as we savored the sensation of uber-relaxation, and contemplated the history and cultural significance of what we had just experienced.

It was here that we were offered soothing and delicious teas, and enjoyed a chat among the other participants of this most enjoyable event.

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At our will, we returned to our private lockers, dressed and prepared to rejoin our partners and re-enter the busy world outside the magnificent Sultan’s Bath of Istanbul.

One final thought

There is one downside to this experience. It is hard to imagine that another Turkish bath can compare to the spotlessly clean architectural marvel of the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan’s Bath, so we may be spoiled for life.

Consider a holiday in Turkey

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Turkey is a country whose history is at the center of human civilization. A country where tourists are welcome and the locals are eager to show visitors their beautiful nation and treasured antiquities.

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Turkey is also a land of extraordinary diversity and wonder – and a fantastic place to vacation.

If you go

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Should you find yourself in Istanbul, and you want to enjoy a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam is one to savor and put in your diary or memoirs. For more information, check out the Bath’s website *here*.

Check *here* to see more of our photo gallery of the Ayasofya Hamam.

Happy travels.

Click on any of the following titles to read our other stories about fascinating getaways in Turkey.

Turkish Airlines and their new International Club

Bodrum, a vacation paradise in Turkey

The Kempinski Resort and Spa

Exploring Ephesus

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – photos of models in the bath provided by Ayasofya Hamam

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Reliving the Privileged Past on Waikiki Beach

Beach at the Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort & Spa

Beach at the Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort & Spa

This is the first in a series of articles about luxury accommodations in the Hawaiian Islands. Our series begins with a story about the very first elegant hotel to be built in Hawaii, the Moana (now the Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort and Spa). It is located on Waikiki Beach on Oahu, and is aptly nicknamed “The First Lady of Waikiki.”

Early Waikiki

In the later part of the 19th century, not a single hotel was to be found on beautiful Waikiki Beach. There were however, a number of stately beachfront homes owned by successful families. One such owner, Walter Peacock, theorized that the location of his seaside abode would be the perfect spot to build a hotel that would attract moneyed people from North America.

Committed to his belief, Peacock moved his home and began construction on the Moana Hotel – it would be the first luxury hotel on the most famous stretch of beach in the Pacific.

The Moana Hotel by Starwood Hotels

The Moana Hotel

The 75 guestroom Moana opened its doors to the public on March 11, 1901.

They came

Moana Surfrider beach view of Diamond Head

Moana Surfrider beach view of Diamond Head

The Moana Hotel was designed to appeal to the rich and famous who could afford to sail to Oahu on steamships. In those days, only the affluent could manage the time for the long sea voyage to reach the paradise that was Hawaii.

Before the advent of the Moana Hotel, the wealthy were obliged to stay with friends or in one of the few minimally acceptable hotels in nearby Honolulu.

Vacationers of independent means sought out Waikiki to enjoy the sandy beach, tropical climate, and stunning vistas of Diamond Head. The new beachfront Moana Hotel suited them perfectly; it was a fashionable structure with élan that fit nicely into a simple tropical setting – a tribute to astute architects and builders.

A pleasant aloha

Sporting tall ionic columns and a fashionable porte-cochère to greet carriages, the Moana was indeed an elegant lady.

Entrance to registration lobby

Entrance to registration lobby

The inside of the hotel was every bit as inspiring as the exterior. Arriving guests were welcomed in a spacious lobby that was full of colorful native plants.

Unusual for the time, almost every guestroom in the Moana had a telephone and private bath.

Hawaii’s first electric elevator was put in service in the Moana to lift the hotel’s early lodgers between the lobby and residence floors. The historic elevator is still in use today.

Be sure to explore the Moana Museum at the top of the magnificent white wooden staircase that greets all visitors in the Banyan Wing of the hotel entrance.

Edward before Wallace

In 1920, the young Edward, Prince of Wales, reaffirmed the hotel’s standard when he stayed at the Moana as part of his world tour. The list of distinguished guests that came before and followed Edward included many other royals and iconic figures from all fields of endeavor – names such as, Amelia Earhart, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Joe Di Maggio, Frank Sinatra – and scores more.

Time and change

After decades of sometimes-dramatic physical changes, the Moana was closed for restoration in July 1987 and reopened in March 1989. The objective of the exercise was to restore the hotel to its original appearance. It took 20 months of painstaking research and care to bring the hotel back to its 1908 glory. The rework also restored the 1918 addition of two elegant wings – what an exquisite revival! It was so successful that we are able to use recent photos when depicting the look of the hotel in earlier times.

Banyan Court

Banyan Court

In 2007, there was yet another multi-million dollar renewal – this time the hotel re-entered the anxiously awaiting tourist market as the Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort and Spa.

Click *here * to see our complete photo gallery of the Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort and Spa.

Today's Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort & Spa by Starwood Hotels

Today’s Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort & Spa by Starwood Hotels

With the increase to 726 guestrooms and suites, and the addition of enhancements and amenities that brought the Moana up to contemporary luxury standards, it is every bit the grand and glorious hotel it was 110 years ago.

The guestrooms

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The original guests of the Moana Hotel would be envious of what is available to vacationers in the 21st century. Each room is outfitted with premium pillow topped Westin Heavenly Beds, and traditional décor with a relaxed touch of the islands. Of course, each room has a large flat screen TV, fitting bath amenities, and wi-fi access.

The famous Banyan tree

1904 Banyan tree

1904 Banyan tree

In 1904, a Banyan tree was planted immediately to the rear of the new Moana Hotel. The hope was that the ficus species, native to India, would prosper in the beach soils of Hawaii – and indeed, it did.

The Moana Banyan Court tree has been the centerpiece of hotel and Hawaiian history as so many activities and events have been sheltered by its gigantic 150-foot canopy.

The majestic old Banyan has been an onlooker to two world wars, witnessed the incoming aircraft during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and celebrated generations of weddings and important social events.

Moana Surfrider Banyan tree, pool, and beach

Moana Surfrider Banyan tree, pool, and beach by Starwood Hotels

The tree also provided the backdrop for the Banyan Court “Hawaii Calls” radio show that aired across America for 40 years from 1935 to 1975. That’s quite a resume for one tree.

World War II

The Royal Hawaiian

The Royal Hawaiian

By 1941, the Moana had been joined on the beach by the bigger Royal Hawaiian Hotel built just to the west. The Royal Hawaiian, (the subject of a future article) is often referred to as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific.” During the war, it was leased to the U.S. Navy as a Rest and Recuperation Center for submariners, while the Moana remained a commercial hotel for the duration of the conflict.

During the war, Moana guests wanting to take an ocean plunge had to navigate rows of barbed wire that stretched across all of Waikiki beach. Nevertheless, these were busy and prosperous days for the hotel.

Only oceanfront spa on Waikiki

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There are spas, and there are spas, but we have found few that can compare to the 18,000 square foot Moana Lani Spa, at the Moana Surfrider – it is a destination within a destination.

Couple's therapy room overlooking beach

Couple’s therapy room overlooking beach

Before being indulged with a Hawaiian style deep massage in a breathtaking ocean view couple’s therapy suite, we took a tour of the fabulous facility.

The tranquil Moana Lani Spa is decorated in pleasing colors and is complete with comfortable post-therapy relaxation rooms that overlook the beach below. What a pristine meditative setting.

Guests are invited to luxuriate in separate male and female state-of-the-art facilities. We concluded that with steam rooms, saunas, soothing whirlpool tubs, and 16 treatment rooms – including two oceanfront couple’s massage rooms with large soaking tubs, this spa would be the ideal place to gather for the morning after a big event, or the perfect spot to just unwind and re-balance.

Each treatment in the Moana Lani Spa is preceded by a beautiful Hawaiian ritual designed to relax the incoming guest. Each spa visitor is invited to leave his or her worries in a ceremonial wooden bowl filled with Alaea salt. The salt remains in the therapy room soaking up cares and woes until the guest departs. It is then collected, and at the end of the day thrown into the ocean so it and the guest’s troubles are simply carried out to sea.

The entire experience will afford you with a quintessential touch of deep relaxation and peaceful indulgence.

Eating at the Moana Surfrider

Relaxing on the Veranda

Relaxing on the Veranda

The period Veranda that spans two sides of the Banyan Court and overlooks the hotel’s freshwater pool is a great place to enjoy breakfast and afternoon tea. We learned that tea at the Moana is an enduring Hawaiian tradition enjoyed by guests and locals alike. We can add that comfortable seating and relaxing views are enhanced by the refined Victorian setting.

The Beachhouse at the Moana

Al fresco dining at its best

Al fresco dining at its best

The Moana has always been a preferred dining spot for locals and vacationers with discriminating palates. Over the years, the hotel’s extensive menu has evolved with the tastes of its patrons, and today the Beachhouse Restaurant serves some of the best regional dishes in Hawaii. Led by talented Chef de Cuisine, William Chen, the Beachhouse kitchen features both fresh and seasonal ingredients from paradise – true epicurean delights – each with its own unique identity.

Our dinner experience

Authors preparing for dinner

Authors preparing for dinner

We stepped across the threshold of time and were seated at a most satisfying table at the end of the familiar veranda that overlooks the Banyan Court and blue Pacific. This is the scene of countless historic photos – and we are happy to report that the exceptional setting was only exceeded by a truly spectacular meal.

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Our appetizer consisted of a uniquely prepared Caesar Salad that was immediately followed by a main of tender Moyer Farms Filet Mignon and Wailua Asparagus with citrus hollandaise sauce. D-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!

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The desert was a trio of mini Hawaiian chocolate pot de crème with Chantilly, macadamia crusted carrot cake, and vanilla bean gelato. It was hard to choose between that and the guava cookie crust lemon cheesecake, with roasted pineapple star anise relish, and caramel sauce. OMG!

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As we savored desert, we watched the sun slip slowly below the far horizon and listened to the island music and the waves lazily curling along the sand. It occurred to us that anyone having an opportunity to experience a dinner such as this, in a place so famous and outstanding, was indeed fortunate.

Avoid disappointment – be sure to make a reservation.

Great place for a wedding

Wedding heaven

Classy wedding venue

During our visit, there was a seemingly endless parade of beautiful brides and handsome grooms walking the wide hallways of the great hotel. It is obvious that wedding planners appreciate the Moana Surfrider as a perfect venue for a never to be forgotten tropical wedding.

Stay at the Moana Surfrider

Originally, the Moana catered only to the very wealthy, but today the Moana Surfrider a Westin Resort and Spa is available to anyone who appreciates fine living.

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by Starwood Hotels

The Moana Surfrider is the grand dame of Waikiki Beach – just as she was over a century ago. New hotels spring eternal in Hawaii, but none can match the majesty, style, and sophistication of the First Lady of Waikiki. She alone can reflect on the indelible vistas of the once remote white sand beach that rests at her doorstep and under the gaze of the ageless Diamond Head.

To spend even a very small portion of one’s life in one of the guestrooms or suites at the Moana Surfrider is to become part of the legend – and an opportunity to appreciate Victorian elegance meticulously restored and maintained. This is an idyllic hotel for discriminating travelers with a taste for history. On Waikiki Beach, it is simply the place to be.

If you go

Chic Kalakaua Avenue

Chic Kalakaua Avenue

The Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort and Spa is located on fashionable Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach and nine miles from Honolulu International Airport. For more information check out their website *here*.

Want to learn more about the historic Moana? We recommend a short, but informative book by author Stan Cohen entitled, “The First Lady of Waikiki.” The book is available from Amazon.

You might also enjoy our recent article about Pearl Harbor *here*.

Special thanks

A special thank you to Marcia Wienert and Diana Su of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Hawaii, without whose knowledge and help this article would not have been possible.

Happy travels!

We flew from San Francisco directly to Oahu on Hawaiian Airlines.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © by Wayne and Judy Bayliff – unless indicated otherwise.

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

The Curtis House Inn has Welcomed Wayfarers Long Before the American Revolution

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The Curtis House Inn in Woodbury, Connecticut was established as a public lodging house in 1754. We decided to visit and see what it would be like to sleep in a 250+ year old colonial inn.

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Before checking in, we looked around and wondered what famous men and women over the centuries had walked these venerable creaking halls and climbed the splendid staircase that leads to the guestrooms above.

If the Curtis House walls could talk, perhaps they would convey tales of passionate debates about freedom and taxation. They might also speak of later voices boasting of a newly elected first President who visited the area and promised to nurture and preserve a fledgling Republic.

Keeping confidences

It is certain that the Inn’s now treasured crooked walls hold many secrets that today’s guests will never discover. However, they know that the room where they peacefully slumber is inside a cherished inn that has survived the turbulent growth of a great nation – and that makes a stay at the Curtis House Inn very special indeed.

Blending the past and present

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The old main building where we stayed has fourteen guestrooms – each with its own individual flavor. The robust historic atmosphere is obvious throughout the inn, but especially in the guestrooms.

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We enjoyed the ambiance of the antique furnishings including a classical canopy bed and colonial desk, but we also appreciated the modern conveniences of cable TV and wireless internet access.

The pub and dining 

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The rustic and comfortable City Hall Pub is right on the premises. Here again, we mused over what topics might have been the center of conversations over the past centuries in this historic setting.

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The Curtis House has two dining rooms and a kitchen that prides itself in serving sumptuous and hearty meals – at reasonable prices.

The extensive menu features Yankee fare like chowders, potpies, roasts, seafood, and delicious homemade baked desserts.

Beauty abounds

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Woodbury is situated in the foothills of the picturesque Berkshire Mountains in western Connecticut – a town well known for its abundant antique shops.

We have visited Woodbury on several occasions, and we always seem to covet a fantastic “something” that is always too large to ship home to California!

The area also provides abundant hiking, biking, boating, and golf opportunities.

An evening in Bethlehem

Our visit to Woodbury was in conjunction with a plan to write about “Christmas in Connecticut.” We arrived in Woodbury just in time for the annual Christmas tree lighting in nearby Bethlehem.

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Each December this quaint hamlet takes on special holiday significance as thousands of visitors make the journey to the little town of Bethlehem to mail 200,000 Christmas cards with the famous postmark.

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Also in early December, there is an annual Christmas Town Festival with dozens of vendors offering crafts and foods. It is quite a party as the locals gather for the lighting of the 75-foot tree on the town green.

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During our visit, we enjoyed an opportunity to assist Santa in selecting who was naughty and who was nice. There were not many volunteers for “naughty” among the crowd of kids beseeching Santa’s favor. Go figger.

Stay at the Curtis House Inn

Stay here if you would enjoy a lodging with a counterpoint of timeworn simplicity and Yankee character – a property steeped in colonial history and tradition. The Curtis House will provide you with an unforgettable experience that melds an early American past with a contemporary New England present.

If you go

The Curtis House Inn is located 90 miles northeast of New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. Take the Woodbury exit (15) off Interstate 84 and Route 6 to Woodbury. For more information about the Inn click *here*

To read more of the journalists’ articles about Connecticut and other great places to stay, click on the abbreviated titles below:

Plan a storybook “Christmas in Connecticut”

Enjoy the fall colors of New England

Visit Kent Falls, Connecticut

A family budget hotel in Shelton, Connecticut

A historic inn in fashionable Westport, Connecticut

An intimate B&B on the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

The countryside elegance of the Mayflower Inn and Spa

The Delamar luxury hotel in the Greenwich harbor

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

How to Plan a Storybook “Christmas in Connecticut”

In 1945, Hollywood coined the phrase “Christmas in Connecticut” after the movie of the same name. Since that time, romanticists around the world have dreamed of spending at least one winter holiday in a quaint Connecticut hamlet complete with a town common crowned with freshly fallen snow and carolers strolling by storefronts and elder homes.

The scene that is presently in your mind’s eye is not a figment from a Currier and Ives print – it actually exists – and we found it.

Our research

We spoke with tourism friends and officials in Connecticut and asked for the names of small towns and villages that would fit the homey Christmas characteristics of Bedford Falls, a fictitious town in another popular holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Arriving in winter

We landed at JFK airport on a cold day in early December. We rented a car and headed for nearby Connecticut at a time when many small towns and villages throughout the area are preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Janet Serra, the Executive Director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Anne Lee, the Executive Director of the Central Connecticut Regional Tourism District provided us with valuable holiday tips for our project. They also gave us several places to consider. After reviewing what each location had to offer by way of Christmas spirit and activities, we settled on the little town of Madison.

Driving to Madison

First settled in 1650, Madison was renamed for President James Madison and incorporated in 1826. Madison is a pleasant little community along historic Route 1, the Boston Post Road in the “Connecticut Shoreline Area.” The town lies approximately equidistant between New York City and Boston. Yale University is just 20 minutes away.

By the time we arrived in Madison, the small shops that make up the bulk of retailers in the village center were ready for the holidays. Most were sporting holiday decorations and touting special sales – many to benefit local charities and civic projects. 

The Tidewater Inn

Before we walked the entire town, we decided to check into our chosen lodging for our time in Madison. We had searched for a place that was like a relative’s warm and inviting home – an inn that properly fit into our pastoral Christmas picture. The Tidewater Inn (circa 1928) is a bed and breakfast that proved to be exactly what we wanted, and it was an easy walk to downtown Madison.

Meet the Innkeeper

Congenial Victoria Kolyvas, is the owner of the Tidewater Inn, and she was the perfect personality to help us with an itinerary that would give us a flavor for all the seasonal activities and events that would be taking place in and around Madison during our brief stay. She pretty much planned our visit for us, and we could not be more grateful. We will also mention right here and now that Viki is a superb host and cook!

Innkeeper Kolyvas already had the Tidewater spruced up for the holidays. A beautifully decorated tree sat next to a cheery fire in the hearth in the dining/tea-room.

We ate some bountiful breakfasts and had friendly afternoon chats accompanied by local wines and cheese at a large table in that same room.

Staying at the Tidewater Inn is very much like going to grandma’s house for Christmas. It provides a feeling of sanctuary – of returning – coming home. Each of the nine guestrooms is pleasantly decorated with beautiful antique furnishings and other tasteful décor. Our room was cozy and warm, and we slumbered each night in luxurious comfort.

The events of Madison

After a sumptuous gourmet breakfast at the Tidewater, we took our air with a brisk walk to the center of Madison. We visited a number of shops and craft fairs and found one event particularly delightful – the “Décor Encore” at St. Margaret’s Church. It was advertised as the place to find “previously loved Christmas decorations revived and ready for a new home.” The fair also featured beautiful homemade quilts for sale. What a treat!

Parade day

In early December, the Madison Chamber of Commerce has a homespun Holiday Parade that brings out the entire citizenry.

Some colorful participants and unusual costumes and floats gave us big smiles. It was a wonderfully crisp winter day, perfect for this wholesome family entertainment.

Santa, his wife, and a comely elf stopped by a local café to chat with the kiddies. Donations for the needy of non-perishable food items were accepted to help the Madison Food Pantry.

We also dropped by the local bookstore to watch Santa Letter Writing – great fun.

Tour of Madison historic inns

During parade day, the Tidewater Inn, along with one other local inn, provides a Christmas Open House and Tour of Madison’s Historic Inns via a horse drawn wagon that clops from place to place, and stops for passengers to imbibe on Christmas cheer and sweets – all for the benefit of local charity.

On to the Shoreline Soul Concert

Later that afternoon, we enjoyed the “Soul Concert” at the local First Congregational Church. It featured holiday songs sung by an accomplished volunteer choir in a beautiful church. The entire scene was truly inspirational.

The singers were led by a highly talented conductor who had the choir and audience hand clapping and singing along. This is an annual event you do not want to miss. Any freewill offerings from the event went to support the Village Mountain Mission. 

The tree lighting

As dark descended on the expansive town green, it was time for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Three, two, one – Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

Families and friends gathered around the lighted tree to drink complimentary hot cocoa and watch the children wonder at the magnificent tree and colors.

Everyone was holding candles and having fun talking with their neighbors. It was a scene right out of Norman Rockwell, and we could not help thinking that once upon a time, much of America celebrated Christmas in just such a grand manner.

Saving the best for last

Victoria told us that we would run out of time before we ran out of things to do in and around Madison – at any time of year. We found that during the holiday season she was most certainly correct. Fortunately, she planned enough time in our itinerary for a wonderful event.

Ahavah: A Christmas Mystere

We had never heard of Ahavah, which is the Hebrew word for love, and we soon learned that it was also an original ballet about a young girl’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. It is performed annually in early December by the Christian Academy of Dance at the Morgan High School in nearby Clinton. Do not be put off by the venue. This is excellent entertainment professionally written, choreographed, and directed.

Photo: Ahavah by Christian Academy of Dance

The talent that appears in this ballet is exceptional. We found this Psalm written in the program handout:

“Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people.” The young performers in this ballet seemed to take the ancient words to heart.

A bittersweet farewell

We hope we can return to Madison and the Tidewater Inn for another holiday season one day very soon. It was everything we had hoped.

If you go

The website for the Madison Chamber of Commerce is www.madisonct.com

Look *here* for more information about the Tidewater Inn.

To learn more about Ahavah – A Christmas Mystere, click *here*

Happy Travels – Happy Holidays – Remember our troops!

To read more of the journalists’ articles about Connecticut and great places to stay, click on the abbreviated titles below:

Enjoy the fall colors of New England

Visit Kent Falls, Connecticut

A family budget hotel in Shelton, Connecticut

A historic inn in fashionable Westport, Connecticut

An intimate B&B on the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

The countryside elegance of the Mayflower Inn and Spa

The Delamar luxury hotel in the Greenwich harbor 

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Ahavah photo by Christian Academy of Dance

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Returning to December 7,1941 on the Pearl Harbor Tour in Hawaii

The USS Arizona Memorial is a national monument honoring those who served in the Pacific Theatre during and after the Japanese naval assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The memorial structure is built on and directly over the rusted remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona. This is the final resting place of 1,177 Americans killed when a bomb penetrated the deck above the ship’s munitions magazine during the Japanese air attack on Battleship Row.

The loss of life on the Arizona represents more than half of all the Americans killed on December 7, 1941. It also represents the greatest number of casualties on any American warship in history.

Now a garden setting

If you have not been to the memorial lately, you will be much impressed with the park like setting at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center.

While at the Center, be sure to see the 23-minute film and audio tour that brings that fateful morning at Pearl Harbor to life.

Well done

The exhibits at the Center are designed to pull visitors deftly into that specific moment in history, as they relive the politics and events leading up to the Japanese attack.

The presentations are poignant – be prepared for a holistic experience you will not forget.

A solemn journey

When their background education is refreshed, visitors board a launch operated by the Navy and are ferried across the harbor to the waiting memorial. It is a short and quiet ride.

After pulling alongside the monument, passengers disembark and walk up to the cenotaph resting on the Arizona.

At the far end of the memorial, look for the Wall of Honor with the names of those that gave their lives on the ill-fated Arizona. They are now resting beneath your feet.

Visitors speak in whispers, tears are visible, eyes are cast downward into the entombing water, and minds imagine the confusion and utter chaos of that December morning so long ago. It all seems surreal to the observers who now stand in the gentle Hawaiian breeze – safely atop the remains of the Arizona.

The ultimate sacrifice

One can only wonder what life might have held in store for the one-thousand plus soldiers and sailors below – if they had not been aboard the Arizona on that fateful day. Had they lived, what famous Americans might they have fathered for our generation, what greatness might they have achieved? America moved forward, one-thousand heroes remain at their post.

The tears of the Arizona

Seventy-one years later, oil still seeps from the sunken battleship. It randomly appears on the water’s surface – then like a spirit – it floats slowly away. Observers have named the oil manifestations “the tears of the Arizona.”

Be sure to visit the USS Arizona Memorial

Save a day during your vacation on Oahu and take your family to see the USS Arizona Memorial. For some, it is an awakening and first time realization about the many Americans that have sacrificed everything to keep our nation free.

The USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial is now symbolically guarded by the ever-vigilant USS Missouri battleship. “Big Mo,” is permanently docked in Pearl – just up-harbor from the Arizona. The Missouri fought in and survived WWII and her deck was the historic site of the official surrender of Japan in 1945. It seems fitting that a battleship that participated in ending the war in the Pacific, should rest near the dreadnought that was the earliest casualty of the conflict.

Be sure to view the iconic video of the surrender of Japan that accompanies this article. It can be found *here* The famous allied heroes in the film are no longer among us, but their courage and sacrifice will be remembered as long as there are free people.

The great Missouri went on to fight in Korea, and Operation Desert Storm. She was decommissioned in 1992, and took up her post as silent sentinel for the Arizona in 1999.

The USS Missouri has the distinction of being the last active battleship in the world.

If you go

The USS Arizona Memorial is located in Pearl Harbor, which is two miles west of the Honolulu International Airport.

Look *here* for more information about the USS Arizona Memorial, and *here* for the USS Missouri Memorial.

Heroes are still being interred on the USS Arizona. This video explains – http://youtu.be/MgE2KiPd3xg

Happy travels – Remember our troops, not only today, but always.

We were in Hawaii to do stories about several exceptional hotels when we decided to make a side trip to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. We are very glad we did. 

The first hotel article will be about the grand and historic Moana Surfrider on Waikiki.  It will appear here soon.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Finding a Great One-Day Catamaran Cruise in the Caribbean

Antigua is a beautiful tropical island in the West Indies situated east-southeast of Puerto Rico. This is an isle with an assortment of extraordinary leisure pursuits for vacationers of all ages.

One fun activity worthy of consideration by every age group is an all-day catamaran cruise. Here’s what we experienced when we signed up with Antigua’s #1 tour operator, Tropical Adventures.

Selecting the activity

We had just arrived in Saint John’s, Antigua aboard the Celebrity cruise ship Silhouette. One of our shore excursion choices made available by Celebrity Cruises was a day sail on a 65-foot catamaran named the “Mystic.”

The offer

We wanted to get wet, and the promise of a remote sandy beach accessible only by boat was romantic and appealing. Picturing ourselves on the bow, with a gentle sea breeze wafting through our hair as we sailed to paradise was most alluring. The fact that a lobster lunch and beverages were included, and all we had to do was sit there and enjoy the experience – sealed the deal.

Welcome aboard

It was a short walk from where our cruise ship was docked to the Mystic’s small wooden pier.

The Mystic catamaran is quite roomy and can hold about 90 guests. There are two bathrooms aboard, and the center of the spacious deck is dedicated to a well-stocked open bar.

There were about 70 passengers aboard our excursion. Our fellow sailors hailed from a mixed bag of island accommodations including vacation rentals, hotels, and several cruise ships. Ages ranged from the low 20s to the mid-80s. We wondered how the mix would influence the outing.

A quiet start

We did not know any of the other passengers and that appeared to be true of most of the guests. On our outbound sail, people kept to themselves as they enjoyed the warm tropical sun and sea.

A remote beach

After about an hour of passing small islands with flowing palms, we approached a charming cove with a white sandy beach and the absolutely clearest turquoise water. Our captain pulled the Mystic close to the sand and we all waded ashore.

The passengers stayed with their familiar groups and took off in all directions to enjoy beachcombing and swimming in the warm and inviting ocean. For those interested in snorkeling, the equipment was available aboard the Mystic at no extra charge.

Just when we started to get a little hungry, the Mystic crew enticed us back to the boat with the promise of grilled lobster and champagne.

One by one, the passengers returned from their swimming and shore explorations. Once aboard they selected places to sit and have lunch.

The crew did a marvelous job of passing out the lobsters and corn – and champagne. Within the hour, everyone had their fill of food, but apparently not – champagne.

Heading home

As the Mystic pulled away from the beach, a metamorphosis overcome the guests. The heretofore-soothing island music seemed to grow in dimension and volume, and there was a definite repositioning of people on the deck of the boat.

Dancing ensued

Energized by champagne and a delicious rum punch, some of the younger folks began to strut their limber stuff on the makeshift dance floor in front of the now busy bar.

This was followed by somewhat older passengers and the merry Mystic crew engaging in a limbo contest upon the bouncing sea.

Beverages for all

Beer began appearing alongside the rum punch cups that covered the bar, tables, seats, hatch covers, and deck. Water, fruit punch, and soft drinks were also available – but not in great demand.

Some elders found a loose case of champagne among the empties, and were happy to share their bounty with their juniors.

A gathering of spirits

Smiles turned into laughter, and quite miraculously, everyone seemed to find long lost friends across generational lines. All over the boat, new entrants to ongoing conversations were greeted with handshakes, hugs and hearty slaps on the back.

Good things do end

Before long, we were back at the Mystic dock. The roughly 6-hour day sail had ended all too soon for everyone on board. As the passengers carefully disembarked the boat, they all gave high-fives and tips to the wonderful Mystic crew.

Memories

On our slow and cautious walk back to the Silhouette, we could hear our fellow Mystic passengers singing the now familiar tunes that we shared all day. In fact, we could hear them singing in the passageways of our cruise ship throughout much of the early evening. We just smiled – along with the other 50 or so new best friends that we met on the Mystic.

If you go

Information about the fabulous “Mystic” sailing catamaran and other excursions and tours run by Tropical Adventures in Antigua can be found *here*

This tour is definitely worth the price of admission. Be sure to bring a swimsuit and camera.

Happy travels!

Here is a list of other Caribbean stories written by the authors. Click on the title to read the article.

Fun at Labadee on the Island of Haiti

A vacation aboard the Celebrity Silhouette

The most exciting vacation starts in the Bahamas

Service aboard the newest Celebrity cruise ship

Best of the Sans Souci Resort  in Jamaica

A submarine adventure in Grand Cayman, BWI

Couples only Tower Isle Resort in Jamaica

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

How to Have the Most Fun on a Scenic Coastal Drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco

Many people we meet in our travels tell us a drive on the coastal road between San Francisco and Los Angeles is on their Bucket List. Do it once, and you too will sing the praises of the beautiful California coast.

The one disadvantage of motoring on scenic California Route 1 is that it takes a few more hours than the faster alternatives. Nevertheless, enjoy the coastal route at least once in your lifetime.

Consider this to enhance the journey

We frequently drive the 450 miles to Los Angeles from our home near San Francisco to visit friends and attend travel conferences. Recently, we made the trip to catch a direct flight on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul.

On this occasion, we left a day early, which allowed us the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the vast Pacific and the ocean-centric surroundings.

Diversions along the way

We stopped for a late breakfast on the wharf in Monterey, made a slow drive through tony Carmel, and took in the magnificence of Big Sur.

We didn’t do it on this trip, but we also enjoy an occasional visit to San Simeon and Hearst Castle to marvel over how William Randolph Hearst and his early 20th century pals lived the good life in California. Touring the Castle is like reliving scenes from “Citizen Kane.”

When we had driven about 250 miles toward our destination, we stopped for dinner and a good night’s sleep at one of several fine lodgings located at the roughly halfway point in our journey.

On this particular occasion, we pulled off the highway for a visit to the quaint town of Paso Robles, and the famous Paso Robles Inn.

Special attraction

The Paso Robles Inn was constructed in 1864 to take advantage of the town’s artesian mineral springs. Since its beginning, travelers have stopped by and immersed themselves in what many believe to be therapeutic and magically curative waters.

Jesse James bathed here

One such believer was the infamous outlaw Jesse James. Jesse had been shot in the lung, and was in great pain. Seeking relief by mineral baths, he boarded a steamer and sailed around the Horn to San Francisco. He then took a stagecoach to a ranch near Paso Robles, where he sought, and received refuge from an uncle. According to local folklore, Jesse was driven twice a week to the mineral baths until he recovered from his wound. He left the area in the summer of 1869.

Hotel with a hundred chimneys

The original hotel building was replaced in 1891. The new inn was much bigger and made of all-brick construction with a fireplace in every guestroom. The hotel was thought to be fireproof. From the late 1800s forward, the Paso Robles Inn became a world famous health spa.

Sports history

Through the years, sports teams and personalities made the Inn home for a time. Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey was a regular at the hotel. The San Francisco Seals, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates all made Paso Robles their spring training camp at one time or another.

Because of its famous springtime inhabitants, Paso Robles built one of the finest baseball fields in the country. The mineral springs and ball-diamond apparently paid off for the Pirates. They won the World Series in 1925.

End of an era

The magnificent El Paso de Robles Hot Springs Hotel burned to the ground in December 1940. Only the bathhouse and dining room wing were spared the destruction.

A new beginning 

Investors wasted no time in making plans to replace the destroyed hotel, and in 1942, the current Paso Robles Inn was introduced to the public. With its unusual central garden theme, it was an immediate success.

Over the years, the hot springs went from high popularity to not so much. In the 1990s, there was a resurgence in the interest of mineral spring therapy, and in 1999, the owners of the Paso Robles Inn re-drilled the famous hot springs well to the high satisfaction of its guests.

Today, 30 of the hotel’s 100 guestrooms boast private spa tubs fed by the famous mineral springs – a truly unique feature – and not available at other local lodgings.

Wine country quiet

One of our greatest delights is writing about historic inns and B&Bs. They are generally quiet places, and after a long day on the road, that is exactly what we want.

This inn is also a member of the Historic Hotels of America, and that automatically puts it high on our list of places to stay.

The hotel is situated right in the heart of Paso Robles, and directly across from the town park.

Walk the town

Circling the town park are a series of restaurants and local interest food, antique, and specialty boutique shops. There are many places to sample a tasty cheese along with your favorite vintage, pick up a bottle of locally produced olive oil, or a wine country souvenir for the dog sitter back home.

Pet friendly

That reminds us – as of May 2012, the Paso Robles Inn is pet friendly. They have dedicated guestrooms for folks who like to travel with their four legged chums. So next time, call ahead, and plan to bring Rover or Daisy along.

Tired and hungry

We finished our walk around town and decided it was time for a libation. We headed back to the hotel, and lucky us, it was happy hour.

The second floor Cattlemen’s Lounge was buzzing with a friendly crowd – a much different scene from the picture we took earlier in the day. We grabbed an end of day relaxer, and dropped down at a small table on the lounge’s outdoor balcony to enjoy the night air and view of the town park.

It was a perfect evening and a great location for a light dinner, so we ordered up a couple of the Cattlemen’s famous hamburgers and fries. We were not disappointed.

The next day

 

We continued to explore the hotel grounds and found a relaxing babbling brook and Koi pond that is watched over by aged oak trees in the hotel’s central garden.

A perfect wedding venue 

With its expansive lawns, the Paso Robles Inn is an ideal setting for a wine country wedding. The old Grand Ballroom has been completely restored, and is the perfect venue for a gathering.

Chef’s garden

During our walk, we ran into Paso Robles Steakhouse Chef Kevin Fryburger surveying his on-site herb and produce garden. You cannot get fresher tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and other seasonal ingredients than when you pick them by hand in the garden behind your kitchen! We were impressed.

Other goodies     

Each room has complimentary Wi-Fi, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and specialty bath amenities.

The fresh water pool and spa are heated, and there is ample free off street parking.

For the golfers, check out the four championship level golf courses that are within ten miles of the Inn.

Wine tours

There are some 200 wineries in this region. We did not have time to indulge in a wine tour during our visit, but a fellow guest raved about what the Inn provided by way of a wine package that includes accommodations for two, a guided tour of up to six wineries, and a memorable picnic lunch in a scenic wine country setting.

Delicious breakfasts

Our final breakfast at the Inn was also a culinary pleasure. After downing the better part of a huge carafe of coffee, we were ready to continue our journey south to Los Angeles.

Summary

Our visit to the Paso Robles Inn was a pleasant break in the long, but lovely drive from San Francisco. Because of our overnight in Paso Robles, we were in great shape when we reached our destination in Los Angeles. This is a relaxing way to do the California coast drive, and we recommend it highly.

If you go

The Paso Robles Inn is just off US 101 at exit 230. From State Route 1 it is about 25 miles to the hotel. Take State Road 46E from Route 1S to reach US 101N. For more information click *here* for the Paso Robles Inn website.

A beach alternative

If you prefer a hotel on the beach at the “halfway point,” check out our article about the Avila Lighthouse Suites.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – historic photo compliments of Paso Robles Inn

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

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