So Many Choices!

Yesterday morning I woke up to my long list of favorite blogs in my Google Reader. Seems my "favorite reads" keep growing and growing and growing. One blog leads you to another great one, and so on. You know the story. It's sensory overload! So much to read and absorb, so many wonderful stories, images...hardly time to leave comments.

I would have completely missed these whimsical paintings (yes, paintings!) by artist, Will Cotton, via Lisa Golightly's blog, had I not spent a great portion of the day going through each blog on my list, careful not to miss a thing -- something I usually don't have the luxury of.

With the millions of wonderful blogs in the "blogosphere," how do we edit our selections with so many favorites? How do we juggle blogging with our jobs? Do any of you have the same issues?

Friends, please stop coming up with these incredible blogs!!

photo credit Will Cotton

Marseilles: Gateway to Provence

Marseilles, located in the South of France on the Mediterranean Sea, is a popular stop on a Western Mediterranean cruise. Founded in the 6th Century by the Greeks, Marseilles today is France's oldest and third largest city behind Paris and Lyon. If you visit here by cruise ship, you will dock in the New Port, one of Europe's largest cruise ports. Last year alone it hosted more than 600,000 cruise visitors. The New Port is situated north of Old Port (Vieux Port). Vieux Port is a major commercial port also teaming with restaurants, shops, galleries, and boats of all sizes, and the place where visitors to Marseilles often find themselves. Walking into the city or Vieux Port from the cruise terminal is not feasible; plan to take a cab or an organized excursion during your stay.

Although many who visit Marseilles find it to be a city of little charm, it serves as the gateway for Provence and for this reason, it is a wonderful launching pad to explore the magnificent countryside of Southern France. We recommend using your day in Marseilles to tour the ancient city of Avignon and the famous wine region of Chateauneuf-du-Pope.

Avignon has a rich history. Here, the famous Pope's Palace stands. Overlooking the scenic Rhone River, the Pope's Palace is an imposing structure that dates to the 14th Century. Its history is a fascinating lesson in the Papacy. In 1307, the first non-Italian -- Clement V, a Frenchman -- was elected Pope. Clement V left Rome shortly after his ascendancy and took up residence in Avignon to escape the continuing conflicts in Rome. A succession of French Popes thereafter eventually led to a schism in the late 14th Century within the Catholic Church, with the Pope (Italian) and Anti-Pope (French) both claiming their status as Pope of the Catholic Church.

Built during the reigns of Popes Benedict XII & Clement VI, the Pope's Palace is amazingly well preserved. It is the biggest Gothic structure built in Europe. During its time, the Palace was adorned with elaborate frescoes on the walls and beautiful hand-painted tile floors. Today, much of this is gone with a few exceptions. For example, the original frescoes in Benedict XII's bedroom are still visible, and the Pope's private office, called the Deers Room, is painted with elaborate hunting and fishing scenes with the deers on the walls symbolizing Christ. Also gone from the Palace is the original Popes' furniture, sold in the late 19th Century after the French Revolution. Nevertheless, a walk through the amazing structure, with its towering ceilings and room-after-room of living space, is more than worth the visit.

After touring the Pope's Palace, Avignon itself deserves a tour. Avignon is surrounded by walls constructed during the reign of Pope Innoncent VI, also in the 14th Century. In June and July, the international theater here attracts 60,000 people. Avignon offers a plethora of outdoor cafes and restaurants, and shops galore famous for table linens, French soaps, and other items unique to Provence. Before moving on, dine here in one of the many fine offerings and simply watch the scenes unfold around you. For budget conscience travels, find a cafe that offers carry out, choose one of the many delicious sandwiches available on a French beget, and park yourself on a bench or under a tree to enjoy simply being in this ancient city.

Once you are ready to leave Avignon, a short ride will take you to the famous wine-growing region of Chateauneuf-du-Pope. The region served as the summer residence for the second French Pope, John XXII, which led to its name. There are 220 winery owners in Chateauneuf-du-Pope. The average vineyard size here is 20 hectares, and all of Chateauneuf-du-Pope combined comprises 3,200 hectares (approximately 780 acres). The wine production in the region consists of 90% red wines and 10% white wines. The vineyards' soil is covered completely with rocks; these rocks take the heat of the sun during the day and return it to the vines at night. The grapes are all picked by hand, one of the many rules that govern the production of wines in the Chateauneuf-du-Pope region.

There are many fine wineries to visit in the region. All offer stunning vistas overlooking the rolling hills of this beautiful countryside. We visited Mousett, a very old winery in the region. Its grounds and structure offer a uniquely French experience, with a large onsite tasting bar. Here, we tasted five of the winery's excellent offerings, along with a selection of light foods and olives, another major commodity of Provence.

When the day was over and we returned to the ship, we all felt like we had gotten a true taste of Provence, and look forward to our visit here next year. If you would like to join us on next year's wine cruise aboard the River Royale of Uniworld along the Rhone River, please click here for information. Then give us a call for additional information.

Do you know Melissa?

Melissa at her wedding in a Wearkstatt gown, vintage rhinestone earrings and alternated between two pairs of shoes, rhinestoned Vera Wangs and her favorite pink Prada peep toe pumps!

Melissa Davis is the creative mind behind the PR agency, Ruby Press in Northern California. I’m thrilled to call her a friend, and felt that it was about time to share some fun facts with you!

Melissa was a fashion editor in New York (at Harper's Bazaar and Mademoiselle) for 8 years before moving to California in 2000 and starting her own PR agency.

Melissa & Sam's first dance

Melissa and husband Sam’s magical wedding was featured in Martha Stewart Weddings. The talented Melissa planned every detail of the wedding herself, although the “Martha team” helped with some extra details, such as stylists (we all could use those, right?), extra flowers, and their own photographer. Be sure and check out Melissa & Sam’s wedding spread here. It’s amazing.

The menu card was tied atop a box of sweets...

Guest sign in- with John Derian paperweights and an antique turquoise vessel.

A vintage Rolls Royce (with a turquoise interior) that they used to leave the reception!

Ruby Press represents style-related companies, from fashion designers & boutique shops, to the hippest restaurants and spas. Melissa is one of the most talented publicists around, a delight to work with, and has an amazing client list!

Hand-lacquered cupcake boxes – Viv & Ingrid

Custom stationery – iomoi

Melissa loves vintage. She frequents flea markets, antique shops and used bookstores for eclectic treasures. "My day trip to Brimfield was one of the best days of my life, hands down!" -Melissa

Melissa’s fun-filled blog is brimming with the latest trends, what Melissa and her team is currently obsessing over, what’s happening in their office, and what their clients are up to.

And speaking of offices, I’m crazy over Melissa’s. Perhaps a bit envious. (You know I am Melissa.) Impeccable taste with touches of fancy stationery & candles.

Melissa has a sweet tooth. Cakes, candies, cotton candy, ice cream... Guess we have that in common!

Ruby Press Bridal Soiree

Ruby Press’s events are the best ever. Not a detail overlooked!

If you're looking for a top notch publicist, you need to check out the Ruby Press website and blog. Plus, Melissa's such a fun gal to follow!

Melissa Davis

photos from Ruby Press

Bastille Café & Bar

This clock (above) once adorned a Paris metro station

Gosh, I love Seattle! Charming neighborhoods brimming with eclectic shops & restaurants.

I was thrilled to hear from the folks at the Bastille Café & Bar. Proprietors, Deming Maclise and James Weimann, recently opened up this "gem" of a café in the historic Ballard District of Seattle. Inspired by their favorite places in Paris, they scoured flea markets & shops from France to the Pacific Northwest to find the marvelous fixtures that now adorn the Bastille Café & Bar.

These fabulous Art Deco sconces were salvaged from a Seattle mansion, circa 1930.

This c. 1903 bar was made by French craftsman who came to Washington in late 1800's. The large capsule pendants are from a church in the south of France, circa early 1900's.

The Back Bar is painted a rich dark chocolate. Above it all are two paintings recreated from the originals by French symbolist painter Pierre Puvis de Chavennes, figures representing both the terror and inspiration of the French Revolution.

A crystal chandelier hangs from an arch, salvaged from a French church

I love the fact that the owners used their combined restaurant experience and savvy to give these salvaged items a new life, while creating a vintage-modern feel. They maintained the integrity of the historic 1914 building in which the Bastille Café resides.

Between the gorgeous decor and the delicious-looking menu selections, I can't wait to make a trip up to Seattle to try this charming neighborhood café!

Bastille Café & Bar
5307 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98117


All photos ©Bob Peterson

Casting Call!

Porter (above) all dressed up for casting

Anyone a fan of AMC's Mad Men? Well, AMC and Banana Republic are holding a cyber casting call for a walk-on role on the show, and fellow blogger/photographer, Porter Hovey wants to win badly! The stylish Porter is currently in second place! Doesn't she look amazing? Totally deserving of this.

To vote for Porter, click on this link, and under Porter's photo, click on the 5th star. Walla!


Travel Insurance: Some Real Stories from Real Clients

We often have clients ask whether travel insurance is really necessary. Our answer is always and unequivocally yes! To underscore our point, we thought it would be insightful to offer some real stories from our own travels and our clients where the return on investment for travel insurance paid off handsomely.

  • 2006 Mediterranean Cruise. We led a small group of 10 people aboard a Princess Cruise sailing Venice to Rome in late October/early November. We were all booked to travel aboard Alatalia (our mistake -- don't recommend flying Alitalia). Altalia changed our flights repeatedly. Long story short, rather than our original direct flight to Milan with a short connection to Venice, we were routed instead and at the last minute through Paris on United, with a connection to Air France to Venice. The connection time: only 45 minutes. Needless to say, we missed our connection and Air France had no available flights to Venice the rest of the day. We ended up flying to Bologna, Italy, about 2 hours drive from Venice. In Paris, we quickly had to arrange a private large van to transport us from Bologna to Venice in order to make our cruise. When our flight arrived in Bologna, our luggage did not. Travel insurance paid for our transfer from Bologna to Venice (flight delay and interruption coverage) and provided us a daily allowance for our delayed luggage.

  • South America 2007. Our clients had booked a cruise aboard Holland America Line with another couple. Both couples purchased travel insurance. Sadly, 8 days before the trip sailed, the wife of the other couple passed away. The three remaining travelers/clients were able to cancel their cruise and receive full reimbursement for the expensive cost of their cruise. In 2008, another woman who had not booked her cruise through us but had booked through another agency on Holland America Line also sadly lost her husband days before the cruise, but had not purchased travel insurance. She lost the entire cost of her cruise, but is now a client of ours and purchases insurance on every trip.

  • Mediterranean 2008: Our clients booked airfare through an online provider. The airline, Austrian Air, required paper tickets. Our clients did not have them when they arrived at the airport on a Saturday evening, and Austrian Air remarkably refused them boarding and offered no alternative solution. They watched the plane depart from the gate. Travel Guard insurance has a dedicated flight assistance department. Travel Guard stepped in, immediately went to work, and rerouted our clients to get them to Europe and their cruise, one of the many supplemental benefits to buying travel insurance through a company like Travel Guard.

  • Caribbean 2007. A client booked on a Caribbean cruise. She purchased travel insurance. After final payment but before departure, she broke her arm and was unable to travel. The insurance reimbursed her the full cost of her trip.

  • Baltics 2008. We led a group of about 30 aboard Oceania Cruises on a 14-night Baltic cruise that included three full days in St. Petersburg. On the first day in St. Petersburg, as we were walking along the pier aside the ship to make our way through Russian immigration, a client made a mistake and one of her legs fell through a gap in the pier scraping her skin from her shin and causing significant bleeding. The cruise line's medical personnel escorted her from the line to the onboard medical facilities, baddage her wound, and she was good to go for that day. On day three of our visit in St. Petersburg, the same client fell from a stool the tour guide used to assist people's entry onto our van. This time, she scraped her skin off to the bone, and needed emergency medical treatment to suture her wounds. The ship's doctor stictched her wound and provided her medication for the injury. Travel insurance picked up the entire cost of the medical treatments.

  • Baltics 2008. On the same Baltics cruise, another client lost her wallet with credit cards. She immediatly called Travel Guard, who handled cancelling her credit cards and provided spending cash to assist the client on the remainder of her voyage. Travel Guard, like many independent travel insurance companies, offers remarkable assistance that goes beyond just the basic coverages.

  • Mediterranean 2009: We led a group of 84 on a remarkable cruise of the Mediterranean aboard Oceania Cruises. Much of our group was booked on British Airways, routing through London Heathrow. On the return flight, nearly all of our luggage got left at Heathrow because of a baggage system failure (10,000 bags were left in Heathrow that same day). Because of the enormity of the problem with British Airways, our bags were significantly delayed in being returned to us. Travel Guard insurance offers a baggage tracking service that takes the burden of regularly calling the airline off the traveler. Travel Guard took responsibility for tracking my luggage, and sent me an e-mail every day on their efforts and provided a status update. I received my luggage 5 days later.
These are a sampling of real stories that provide an overview of the many benefits of travel insurance. As these examples show, travel insurance goes well beyond just covering you for the cost of your trip should you have to cancel. Good coverage also protects you against baggage loss and delay, flight interruptions and missed connections, lost wallets, medical treatment, and medical evacuation should that be necessary. The best companies, like Travel Guard, also offer invaluable incidental services like luggage tracking and a dedicated flight department that will assist you 24 hours a day with last-minute flight rerouting if you flights is cancelled or you miss a connection.

Cruise Holidays of Alexandria strongly recommends travel insurance, and offers our clients insurance through Travel Guard, who we firmly believe is the best in the industry.

Most Relaxing Holidays – Cruises

Cruises are a great way to get to see a variety of holiday destinations in a short space of time. They are (perhaps unfairly) often perceived as being, well, abit boring – but it completely depends on what you are after in a holiday. If you want non-stop excitement and adrenalin rushes, yes – cruises probably aren’t for you. Or if you want a great beach holiday – then likewise, cruises won’t really fulfil your needs. But if you just want to get away and unwind then a cruise may just have what you’re looking for.

So what is a cruise? Well there is a large variety of different companies to choose from, but the general idea is that you stay onboard a large cruise ship for around two weeks, and you visit several destinations in various countries along the voyage. Passengers have the option of disembarking at these locations and heading off for a daytrip to see what these places have to offer. Back on board the ship, there are a variety of activities to indulge in such as sunbathing, pool games, golf, gambling, nightlife and of course great food (usually). There is a lot to do, and most of it is enjoyed at a nice leisurely pace – perfect to get away from it all.

P & O and Princess are two of the two biggest luxury cruise operators. Their cruises cover several different continents – many start in Southampton and venture into the Mediterranean sea, stopping off in the South of France, Italy, Greece and many other locations. Other cruises may require you to fly to the Caribbean where the ship will embark on a voyage around a selection of sun-drenched islands.

A Caribbean Cruise

Cruises have typically been regarded as being very expensive affairs for the middle classes – however sue to the current economic climate sales are down and operators are offering outstanding deals to fill up their rooms. Barter with the sales people on the phone for an almost guaranteed further discount – if you don’t ask you don’t get. I would recommend a cruise as something to do at least once during your life – you may love it and go every year from then on. Cruises are definitely the basis of highly relaxing holidays, allowing you to experience many of the best holiday destinations in a short time span – you may discover somewhere you love and decide to turn it into a much longer trip at a later date.

Livorno: Italy's Gateway

Livorno Italy is a popular port on a Mediterranean cruise. It's no wonder. Livorno provides easy access to so many popular, historic, and famous sites in Italy. Among these are Florence, Pisa, and Tuscany.

For our recent wine cruise with Pearmund Cellars, we chose -- what else -- Tuscany and specifically the Chianti Wine Road. This excursion was perhaps the best excursion I have ever taken in my life. Many of our fellow cruises shared that assessment.

Although the bus ride from the port into Tuscany and the wine region was long -- about 2 1/2 hours -- it was well worth it. Our first stop was Castello Di Verrazzano, a famous winery that sits high atop a hillside. The setting is absolutely picture perfect, with vistas of the rolling hills of Tuscany below, dotted with Cypress trees, wild flowers, and all the colors you associate with Tuscany. The day of our visit was a Sunday, and the winery, normally closed, openned especiallly for us. Filipo, one of the winery's employees, served as our humorous and knowledgeable guide. After a tour of the winery, complete with a look at its 800+ year old cellar, enormous collection of wines, and production facilities, we came to the highlight of our visit -- the lunch.

Oh the lunch! Castello Di Verrazzano has a full restaurant onsite with stunning panoramic views from the windows that line all three sides. What awaited was nothing short of a veritable feast. From 10 courses that consisted of proscetta, brusetta, cheeses, pastas, salads, and desserts, to 5 varities of wine with unlimited supply, it was truly delicious and delightfully unexpected. After lingering over the views and the good company, we reluctantly left more than an hour behind schedule to visit our next winery, Castello Vicchiomaggio.

Regretably, we only had a short time to enjoy our second visit. Nevertheless, we made the most of it. From a quick tour of the stunning grounds, to being served yet more food, to a marvelous tasting of premium wines, our group left full, satisfied, and regretting we had to leave.

Collectively, I believe we all agreed a return visit to Tuscany is high on our agenda.

Have a Fun Weekend!

fashionable ladies in Paris during the occupation, photo from here

Hope you have a glorious weekend!

Jewelry for the Home

I've always loved turquoise, and summer makes me want to wear it and decorate with it.

You may have seen this fabulous turquoise Empire chandelier before by designer, Marjorie Skouras. Made of authentic turquoise beads draped in a classic southern style, it retails for $6,900. It may not be vintage, but I'm crazy for it!!

Check out more of Marjorie's fabulous creations and her beautiful portfolio here.

Portofino, Italy: A Western Mediterranean Port.

Portofino is another stunning port along the Amalfi Coast of Italy. It marked Day 5 of the Pearmund Cellars wine cruise.

As you sail into port, you will be struck by the picturesque harbor that anchors this small town. The quaint setting, with boats of all sizes, serves as a backdrop as you sail close to shore. Tendering into shore is essential here; there is no port to handle any size cruise ship, not even the mid-sized 30,000 ton Oceania Nautica.

Outdoor cafes and restaurants line the horse-shoe harbor. Dining here is definitely for the view and the experience, but be prepared. The cost for a modest lunch can be substantial. We chose instead a small bakery on one of the few side streets for a reasonably-priced slice of focaccia bread followed by gelato at an ice-cream stand.

Portofino requires mobility. There are numerous paths and walkways, steep at times, that take you to vantage points where the views are amazing. There also are numerous small public beaches you can visit along the way. Here again, the beaches tend to be rocky, not the sandy beaches to which many Americans may be accustomed.

A few of the sites to see during your visit to Portofino include the lighthouse, reachable by walking a trail, portions of which are steep. Located about a 15 minute walk from the harbor, the lighthouse, and the route to it, offer excellent opportunities for photographs and simply taking in Portofino's beauty.

Trails from the opposite end of the harbor lead to the lavish Hotel Splendido. One of Europe's premier resorts, the hotel offers incomparable views, with its least expensive rooms starting at about 552 Euro per night (about $811 per night). If you want a taste of the experience, consider lunching at the hotel, or simply walking through its grand lobby.

Perhaps the best thing to do in Portofino, however, is to simply grab a seat, relax, and soak in the impressive scenery. After all, chances are Portofino's landscape and shear beauty are unlike any place you will have visited, and you should make the most of its tranquility and beauty.

Precious Historic Monuments In Delhi

travel india

Precious Historic Monuments In Delhi

Vintage or Repro?

French street signs (above) Do you know which one is vintage?

Before I go into my "Buyer Beware" banter, let me preface this by saying I don't mind reproductions. In fact, some are done quite well and are more affordable than their vintage counterparts. You can still get the look without paying the higher price tag of the real thing.

With that said, now I'm going to rant...

One of my first mistakes many years ago was purchasing a Royal Dux Art Nouveau vase, similar to this one above. I was at a flea market and ecstatic to find the vase. I listed in on eBay with great anticipation, only to be notified from a fellow eBayer, that it was a reproduction. I was devastated. Knowledge is power in this business, and I had know idea what I was doing. Had I known how to identify the correct Royal Dux markings on the bottom, as well as the quality of the porcelain, I would have not purchased it.

Reproductions have been done for centuries, ie; a vintage Louis XVI chair made in the 1940's is still considered "vintage" even though modeled after a piece from the 18th Century.

There are so many reproductions, that I just wanted to focus on some that I've been seeing a lot of lately.

antique French crowns

French crowns: I have been collecting and selling these for 14 years now. They were once used to adorn saints in churches and sometimes used in the theatre. The originals are brilliant in person with fine detail and a nice weight to the metal. There are reproductions being made now that you can purchase for about $80. Some are passing these off as vintage, but they are not. They are manufactured in China. As long as you're paying a reasonable price for a repro, that's fine... you can get the look. An authentic French crown will run from $250 and up. Sometimes in the thousands.

This is an antique French crown. Note the detail in the metal work and brilliant stones.

More detail on this close-up view...

This is a reproduction crown (above). Made from a mold, it is very "tinny" in person, lightweight and the stones are dull.

c. 1860-90 mercury glass chalice with applied glass "jewels"

Mercury glass: This glass was hand blown, double-walled, then silvered between the layers with a liquid silvering solution, and sealed. "Mercury" silvered glass was produced originally from around 1840 until at least 1930 in Bohemia, Germany, and England from 1849-55. Companies in the United States, including the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co., New England Glass Co. and the Boston Silver Glass Company, made silvered glass from about 1852-80. Vases, goblets and all form of tableware were decorated with a variety of techniques including painting, enameling, etching, and engraving.

These antique mercury glass vases and candleholders (above) have ornate detail, aging, and painting.

These are modern reproductions. Note the "ribbing" and the one-layered glass. These can be purchased for as little as $10 and up. Just make sure that you know what you're buying and that the price reflects it. The antique pieces generally sell from $75 and upwards into the hundreds. Look closely!

Antique Santos - Italy circa 1860-1870

Reproduction Santos

Vintage and antique items have a rich history. The patina, nicks and bangs on antiques reveal a full life of use and allow you to imagine where the piece was and who had it. The quality and workmanship is detailed. Whether you choose to purchase an antique or a reproduction, that's up to you. Just be sure and know who you're purchasing it from and look at the price. Make sure the price reflects the age and authenticity. Ask questions. If you're at an antique show, know your seller. Make sure if you're paying $500 for that jeweled crown, that it's a real one!

Have fun!