Dressing for the Arctic

Going to the Arctic is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. However, it is incredibly cold so the most important thing is to make sure you have plenty of warm clothes!

This video covers all the best materials and brands you can buy to keep you warm in the Arctic. Here are 15 excellent options for clothing including color, comfort and style! 

Next in Our Imagine Series: Morocco


you hear the muezzin’s call to prayer, you can almost smell the ginger.  You are lured down the sloping Tala’a Kbiraf  into the crumbling medina, deep in the heart of Fez.

The mayhem of this Moroccan souk quickly swallows you.  It’s a teeming and twisting warren where tables of goat heads and homemade soap are crammed alongside crates of chickens whose squawks compete with the clang of artisan tools from the ceramic studio.   Mules laden with gas tanks plow through the narrowing pathways, as shouting schoolboys careen between them, their backpacks swinging. You melt into a stream of humanity between djellaba-clad mothers and shopkeepers, and, alongside your Berber guide, you begin to market.

Today you are on a journey to learn the art of tagine cooking.  The market’s scents of rosewater and white artichokes fresh from the earth envelope you as you sort through quince and test aubergines for ripeness.  You select a chicken from the feathered flurry of the pen, then gratefully accept the vendor’s offer to deftly slice the neck and de-feather it for you in the nearby boiling pot.

Wafting scents of fiery cumin and warm cinnamon draw you to the neighboring stall where you weigh out grams of spices to create your own Ras el Hanout, a blend translated as Top of the Shelf that will be the secret to your delectable tagine.   Back at your guide’s Ottoman-style home, called a riad, you chop and sauté all your new ingredients and the kitchen fills with an exotic aroma.  You know that this dish will be unlike any beef stew you have ever made.

And then there’s the khobz, or flat bread.   You knead the dough, but in an ancient neighborhood where homes rarely had their own ovens, you take your tray out into the bustling medina, to the nearby community oven.  For a few dirhams, the baker shoves your bread into the wood-fired oven, to bake next to your neighbors’ cookies.

During your week in Fez, you mingle with bidders at the rug auction and meet with a seamstress to have a caftan custom made.  You sip steaming mint tea as your foot taps to the alluring beat of a drum circle, and you treat yourself to a steam bath in the communal hammam.

You have practically become a local!

That was a trip of a lifetime!”, you say.   “Let’s do it again next year!”

If Morocco is not your dream destination, then join me next month for a sail through the Galapagos Islands.

Til then,

Rare Finds Travel Design

…sometimes rustic, often luxurious, but always unique!


Nancy’s flight-seeing adventure over Denali

My client Nancy had one of those kismet travel experiences…

She and her friends splurged on a flight seeing adventure out of Talkeetna, Alaska and over Mt McKinley in Denali National Park.  They soared over glaciers and took in expansive views.  In the snowpack at the peak of the mountains, they saw a line of fresh footprints from a mountaineering expedition that must have occurred earlier that day. Intrigued, she snapped a photo.

flight plane over Denali finds mountaineer's trail Alaska

flight plane over Denali finds mountaineer’s trail

A week later, as she lingered at a breakfast table of a family-run fishing lodge on the Kenai peninsula, she shared these photos.  Unbelievably, her breakfast companions were those very same mountaineers!

Want to experience her flight over Denali?

nancy photoAs Nancy later said:

“We had a trip of a lifetime in a mere 12 days and (Melanie) made that possible!  I never could have put that together.  We are very grateful.”

If you want to experience Alaska with the help of a true expert, contact Melanie & Rare Finds Travel here. 

I learned about Trastevere, one plate at a time

food walk thru Trastevere Italy

food walk thru Trastevere

Even though ’twas only one bridge over the Tiber from Rome’s historic center, I felt like I was in a different town altogether when I walked over Isola Tiberina and into Trastevere. Translated literally as “on the other side”, Trastevere was historically outside the city of Rome, but today you can get there in a 6-minute walk from Circus Maximus. If you want to explore on your own, the rules for good restaurants are:

  • No spots in big squares
    No outdoor menus
    No menus at all is ideal!

basement wine cellar shows centuries of the city on its walls Italy

basement wine cellar shows centuries of the city on its walls

But to get intro to the small family shops and to learn some background (one basement wine cellar was literally in the walls of the original city, with the walls of the rebuilt city – doorways included – in view 1/2 way up to the current ceiling), I’d recommend a food crawl with Eating Italy. Here’s how it went…

STOP 1: da Enzo

toasting with Prosecco Italy

toasting our wonderful guide Eric with Prosecco

A top choice for Jewish-style favorites, our group of 9 filled up 1 alley front tables where we cheered our tour with a sip of prosecco and then I tried (but won’t be my last) fried artichoke and some creamy burrato.


STOP 2:  11th century wine cellar

Spirito di Vino Trastevere ItalyDating back to the Republican Age, the Sprito Di Vino represents 22 wine regions of Italy, and we sampled the Sicilian bottle called Nerello.

We heard a funny tale of the McDonald’s attempt to franchise in Rome, where under Valentino, a protest rose, taunting “Slow Food”.   In keeping with this slogan, we sampled age-old staples like lentils, sheeps’ milk cheese, and small meatballs from Piedmont cattle.

Innocenti's Bakery Trastevere Italy

the owner of Innocenti’s

STOP 3:  a no-sign bakery

Owner Stefania explained that all cookies in Italy are nicknamed “biscuits”, and our favorite at his Biscottificio Innocenti bakery was made with egg whites and hazelnuts.  She called it Brutti ma Buoni – her Ugly but Goods!

slow roasted ham atop white pizza! ItalySTOP 4:  Tacorilli

At this petite deli, we sampled very roasted ham atop a white pizza.

STOP 5:  Rumis

This bottega organic, on the shop-filled Via di San Francesca a Ripa, is another slow market where we tasted fresh goat, peorino cheese, and I even purchased a curry cauliflower turnover – my lunch snack for the drive to Amalfi the next day.

risotto balls - the perfect isuppli!  Italy

risotto balls – the perfect isuppli!

STOP 6:  isupplis!

To go food!  Right on the sidewalk, we stood and sampled typical Roman street food.  My favorite?  The risotto rice balls with ragu (not to be confused with bolognese meat sauce) center.

STOP 7: Enoteca Ferrara

Any upstanding food crawl in Italy must include pasta, and sure enough, at Ferrara’s front bar, we shared family-style gnocchi Sorrento-style, a ravioli dish, and a pasta called Cacio e Pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper).

STOP 8:  Gelato, of course!

For my walk back along the moon-lit Tiber to my guesthouse, I chose a Pear & Gorgonzola frozen concoction from Gelateria Fatamorgana!  Fantastic!

small moon over rome

I made 8 new friends, spent an evening escorted through this un-trafficked neighborhood, to hidden spots that I would never have found on my own.  This moving-dinner-party treated my tastebuds to some of Rome’s classic dishes while teasing my other senses with sights and scents which I can recall now, weeks later as I write this blog.

PLUS I learned something NEW about Rome too.  Wanna know what it is?  Tune is to the next issue of Tales of the Trip, to find out!  Or email me now.

The Fall Congregation in Haines

Ever seen him up close?  Stern beak, piercing eyes, scaly talons as sharp as arrowheads.  Wings so grand, they’ve been seen swimming to shore with a heavy fish, using their 7′ wings as paddles!

Now imagine 3500 of them!

The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is a 50,000 acre park in Alaska, located where the Tsirku and Chilkat Rivers converge, near the town of Haines, at the top of the Inside Passage.

Eagles are abundant throughout Alaska, so…
Why do such huge numbers converge on the Chilkat River in late Fall?

There is a unique upwelling of warm, percolating water that keeps the river mouth of the Chilkat from freezing!   This allows the eagles to feed on the late run of chum salmon in free-flowing water, and to make this area their winter home!
It also has allowed, for centuries, the river tribes of the Tlingit to thrive.  Their name for Chilkat means “storage place for salmon”, and for as long as anyone can remember, they called this gathering of eagles the “Council Grounds”.

This is the river mouth today.

Want to spend the week in mid-November with him?   You can roadtrip over on your own from Anchorage, or fly in and join a tour — let me show you how!

Photo credit to Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve 

Marguerite talks about MARRIED TO A BEDOUIN

Marguerite was a young Kiwi backpacker, on a trip to the Middle East, when she ended up in Petra, sharing tea with a handsome and — it turns out– irresistible bedouin named Mohammed.

She hiked and listened around campfires and marveled, then tried to continue on her walkabout.  But Petra and the charming bedouin tugged her back, and within a week or so, she was ensconced in a cave, in love, in what was to become her new life.

That was 1978, and for 30 years, she created a family and shared her medical skills as an integral part of this desert community.
You’ll have to read the book to learn the rest of her story!

Today, you can travel to Petra, stop in Marguerite’s souvenir shop, and meet her bedouin community (and some of her actual family members!).

Here is Polly (from Monday’s interview), who enjoyed an intimate tea in Petra with the sister of Mohammed (Marguerite’s husband, seated far left).

Marguerite tells such a compelling memoir!  Surprisingly, she had a challenging time, getting it published.   Here, she talks about writing about her life, and honoring the man who so profoundly changed her life, and the love of 2 people from such different backgrounds.
Read Marguerite’s interview!

The Artisans of Katchemak Bay

Down south of Anchorage, at the end of the Sterling highway, on the 4-mile spit of land that reaches deep into Katchemak Bay, you’ll find Homer’s community of fascinating artists!

There’re potters!
A short ferry takes you out to Halibut Cove, an abandoned herring fishing village.  After dinner on the stilted deck, stroll the boardwalks to different galleries.  You’ll find ornamental vases and statuary – but check out these plates!  Dishwasher-safe and so pretty, these uneven plates are hand-formed and pressed with local flowers.

There’s weaving!
Many years ago, I bought my favorite sweater on the Spit.  It is heavy handknit wool, with a large daisy on the front, and a heavy-duty zipper, and hood!

There’s jewelry!
Although beautiful jewelry is designed from glacier glass, other artists use fine metals for “wearable art”,

and still others make fun, funky pieces, like halibut earbone earrings!

Local craft
You’ll meet locals who take regional products, like antlers, and create souvenirs which are both functional and beautiful… like hair combs and one-of-a-kind jewelry!  In case you were wondering,  these antlers are shed naturally each year by the caribou, and this artist walks the Seward peninsula to collect them for her art!

There’re painters, and photographers, too!   Credit below goes to Alice Thaggard and Jim Lavrakas, respectively.
Art in art galleries in Homer, Alaska.      

For a real touchstone to AK, consider bringing home the craft of Homer!

Interview with Emma, the Truffle hunting K9!

Meet Emma, who works at Tartufi Bianconi in southern Umbria.
Q: How did you become a truffle hunting dog?

Well, for starters, I was born a poodle.  That’s important – only a few breeds are good for truffle hunting.  Farmers also work with german shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and even these funny looking brothers called Belgian Malinois.
Q:  Are you scared about being put out of business by a pig?

Actually, I’m a lot easier to fit in the backseat of a car than a pig.. plus im cleaner and smell better!
The inside “pig” story is..
Many truffles produce a scent that mimics a male pig sex hormone. It is for this reason that female pigs have been used historically in Europe to help find truffles. More recently, dogs have become the preferred truffle hunting companion, mostly because they can be trained to find, but not eat the truffles!
 Q:  In your own words, Emma, tell us exactly what thrills you about this sport, or should we call it a “career”…

The treats! When I’m out truffle hunting with my farmer/master,  I smell the booty, and start to dig it up.   The things are pretty valuable, though, so the farmer doesn’t want me to eat it.. by mistake!   So as soon as he sees me digging, he calls me off.  I’ve been taught to roll over, belly up (no idea why this demeaning pose is necessary, but..)  and I’d do ANYTHING FOR A TREAT!
It’s just a little bite, but I do this about 25 times each morning, so my overall take is pretty good!
Q:  Is truffle hunting seasonal, or do you have a favorite season to “hunt”?

Fall is my favorite!  In October and November, there’s the Alba White Truffle – the call is the Precious Whites.
The Winter Black Truffle – sometimes called the Perigord – is harvested all the way thru early March.
The Burgundy, or Summer truffle is not really harvested in summer.. rather in September.
For me it’s all the same though — running, barking, eating…
Q:  What special education do you need?  Do you have a graduate degree, or need Continuing Ed to stay abreast of the latest trends?

I was trained alongside drug dogs, bomb detection dogs, cadavar dogs, and search and rescue comrades.   It was a little scary, and—frankly – I’m glad I landed here on the farm, instead on in the NYPD!
 Once a K9 like me enters a truffle training program, he generally receives two to four months of scent training, obedience training, and search work before going out “on the job.”
Q:  Do you hunt up other stuff, too – like shoes, or squirrels?
No, I learned the hard way – it’s truffles or nothing!  Actually truffles have a unique smell.  In fact, each KIND of truffle has a unique smell.  I was taught all that in school.  So I go after only the REAL  mccoy.
Q:  Did you watch the “60 Minutes” piece about truffle crimes?
I did, and it was true!  I stayed up that night, trying to sort it all out.  Since i’m a fully-trained truffle dog, I’m worth about $12,500.  But truffles cost $300-$600 PER POUND!   I tried to do the math, and compute my REAL value since i weigh about 30 pounds, but it was so confounding, it made me pee on the bathroom rug! 
Q:  What would you like to tell the many guests and tourists who come to your farm for a visit?  (besides to remember a K9 treat for a tip)?

I’d tell them to not leave the farm without doing a cooking lesson.  My “Mom” makes truffle-stuffed chicken rolls, shaved truffle over souffle, truffle sauced over tagatelle, and the precious white truffles sauteed in butter! 
Q:  Do you live in a kennel with other dogs, or in the house with your master?

A kennel?  YIKES!   No, I have a built-in couch in my farmer’s sunroom, and a chair in the TV room that I’m not happy to share!  Plus, I get the middle of the bed, as long as I get there first!
Here I am with the gal who interviewed me.  I think she likes me!

2011 Holiday Gifts for your Favorite Traveler!

An Ulu Knife! 
For centuries, this uniquely designed knife was a basic tool of the Unupiat culture, used for everything from skinning seals to cleaning fish.

Today, any cook on your list will appreciate it!  You can buy it, paired with a wooden bowl which cradles the nuts or herbs so the curved blade can do its job.  
I have one of these!  They’re priceless, but you can get one for about $20.  Shop here for Ulus!

CD of African Children’s Choir
Have a music lover on your list, who’d enjoy this spirited collection of songs by some of Africa’s most talented but also most vulnerable children?
Started in the ’80s as an effort to help Uganda’s starving and helpless orphans, the choir has since grown to incorporate South Africa, Southern Sudan, Ghana, and many other African nations.

They tour the US, and perform to raise money for schools and social programs back home.
Their fame has been infectious — they’ve performed with celebrities like Queen, starred at Live8, and even sung in the White House.

They have about 6 CDs — including a holiday one — and they’re easy to order.  
Around $15. Order CDs here! 

A Travel Journal 
Have a friend who’s getting ready to leave on a trip?
Think of someone who’d love a blank book for a diary?  A recipe book?   An exercise log?

These classy leather-bound books with refillable blank pages come in a variety of sizes — the smallest is only about  5″ tall and perfect to fit in a travel bag! 

The company — a private leatherworker out of Michigan — also makes ipad cases, menu covers, eye glass holders, luggage, and a host of other beautiful leather crafts. 
Around $22.  See and order all their products here!

Pottery — hand created, custom glazed!
This Mother-and-Son pottery from the hills of Barbados is a true favorite of mine!  What’s so special?  Unique glasses.  Colors that take you back to the Caribbean.  Useful items, both in and out of the kitchen.  Hardy designs, durable and even dishwasher-ready!

I’ve known them since 1986 and have collected many items:   dinner plates!  serving dishes!  lamps!   Just check out their designs…

My all-time favorite is their Sun design 

But there’s also a magical Moon scene

Their most popular glaze is the turquoise blue-green
but they’ve introduced a melon glaze now, also!

Prices start at about $10.  From mugs to plates to small bowls for jewelry, check it out!

Would the reader on your list like:

Venice is a Fish, by Tiziano Scarpa : a sensual guide to Venice.   Not really a guidebook, this cleverly written narrative is a series of essays on different parts of Venice’s unique culture — the life of the gondolier,  perspective on the columns of St Marco Basilica, glassblowing, gastronomy!

Bear Man of Admiralty Island, by John Howe:  a biography of Allen Hasselborg, who lived in the Alaska wilds in the early 1900s, as a homesteader, hunting guide, photography expert, and friend of the Bears of Admiralty Island!

Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton:  This heavy story of Apartheid is a classic in South African literature.

Istanbul, Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk:  An enchanting novel of Istanbul and the Turkish life.  If you like this book, try this others also (Snow and The Museum of Innocence are particular favorites!)

Photo items
Trip photos make a great photo album, and online versions like  iphoto (Mac) and Shutterfly are as easy as they are popular. 
But there are other items too:
Photo mugs!    Photo tote bags!   Photo ornaments for the tree! 

They start at $12, and there’s still time to order CUSTOM photo products for Christmas!  It’s all in Exposures Catalog!

A Subscription to National Geographic Traveler magazine
Out of all the glossy travel mags, I find National Geographic Traveler the most enticing!  The articles range often focus on food trips, range from city stays to outback excursions, but always have a slightly unique angle.  Off the beaten track travel, is, after all, my real love! 

1-year subscriptions go for only $10!  Order a Subscription here!

Gift Certificate for TRIP PLANNING with Tough Love Travel!
Give the gift of a dream!   
There’s a world of options…   Contact me to set it up!