Archive for the ‘Things to See’ Category

Staycation! Tourist in your own town

October 27, 2015

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income.  kansas-city-missouri-downtown_at_twighlightWe certainly didn’t have money for camps or family summer vacations.  That doesn’t mean I had a boring childhood – quite the opposite.  One year McDonald’s gave out a cartoon type map of Kansas City showing both local landmarks and of course, their restaurants.  My mom took that map and used it as a “Tour KC Guide” and each week we went on an outing.  Again, we didn’t have the funds to “eat out” – even at McDonald’s – each week so she packed picnic lunches for us.  What a great time we had and what wonderful memories!

McDonald'sYou can do the same thing even without the help of a McDonald’s map!  Before you say “I’ve already done everything there is to do in this town” you may want to think about it.  Likely there are new museums, galleries or attractions that have opened.  Others I suspect it has been a LONG TIME since you visited.  Maybe it’s time to go back to the aquarium, the science center or Northwest Trek.  Do you have a friend who moved to your town in the past few years?  Invite them along.

 It’s always fun to play tour guide.

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Great WheelMy Seattle list includes riding the Great Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel on the waterfront in downtown Seattle.  The harbor seals have a new home at the Seattle Aquarium I might have to check out.  Northwest Trek has added a zip line and I do love zip lines.  I’ve never made it to Wolf Haven but it interests me – anything with animals interests me.  Which makes me wonder,  what might be new at Woodland Park Zoo.  Fall is a great time to visit a zoo or wildlife sanctuary where the animals are more active in the cooler temperatures.  There’s also the Chihuly Garden and Glass which I got a glimpse of as we rode the elevator up to the Space Needle for a special dinner.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

When you don’t have to factor in the cost of transportation and accommodations, a vacation gets much more affordable making a “Staycation” an attractive idea.

There are lots of great memories to be made right in your own backyard.  With a little internet research and a spirit of adventure you can make this a year to remember no matter what your budget.

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Black is the New Black

October 14, 2015

I’m a huge consumer of entertainment in all forms and fashions.  Sometimes the best entertainment is right in your own home – on television!  Like many Americans, my husband and I have become “binge watchers”.  It all started with 24, the first all consuming,addictive television show that turned not only us, but all of our friends into television watching zombies.  It was not unusual for us – or someone in our circle – to spend an entire weekend in our sweats binging on Jack Bauer.  My husband did a fabulous homage parody of 24 that you can watch on YouTube.

There have been others over the years such as Downton Abbey, The Last Ship and Strike Back where we had to watch “just one more episode.”  In the olden days (better known as a few years ago) we waited for a season of a favorite show to be available on DVD.  Even though that meant we were always a season behind we could take a DVD with us and watch wherever we might happen to be.  We weren’t even aware of the actual day of the week our favorite programs aired on because we didn’t watch that way.  Then Amazon Prime and now our Amazon Fire Stick gave us that same portability without the season delay.

orphan-blackSo what are we “binging” on right now?  Orphan Black.  How did I not know about this show sooner?  It’s a Canadian show produced by BBC America and it’s AMAZING!  It’s billed as a “science fiction” show but don’t let that put you off.  It’s not aliens and other planets type of sci-fi – rather it’s science based fiction.  Without giving anything away that isn’t in the promo material, the main character, Sarah, sees a woman commit suicide and the woman looks just like her!  An attempt to steal the now dead woman’s identity leads Sarah to learn she is a clone.  (See, human clones are currently science based fiction – or so we’re told…).

The show has millions of loyal fans known as #CloneClub.  They even had devotees show up at the San Diego Comic Con in costume as their favorite of the clones and the cast did a panel taking questions!  Okay, we’re not ready to dress up as our favorite clone but hey, Halloween is coming…OrphanBlackFans

So what do we love about the show?  Sure, the story is unique, compelling and continually surprising.  The cast “works” and that’s a big part of the magic.  But perhaps our favorite part of the “magic” is the flawless performance by Tatiana Maslany who plays Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena and Rachel.  (She portrayed Beth but since she’s the one who committed suicide in the first episode, most of what we learn about Beth is from other characters, same with “the German”.)  Both my husband and I are fascinated by the technical masterpiece that is Orphan Black.

Sure, we’ve all seen bits in movie or television where one performer plays two roles and body doubles are used to allow both characters to appear in the same scene…but what about FIVE?!?  It’s more than just that, each of the clones has a very unique personality to comes through in everything from speech to gestures big and small.  Everything from the way they stand, walk, move – even roll their eyes – is unique to that character and utterly believeable!  They are all so distinct that you never get confused as to which clone you are watching.

Part of that comes down to the unique talents of Tatiana Maslany but also to the behind the scenes coaches.  John Nelles is the genius who helps her nail all those different accents.  Other tidbits that have added to our fascination with the “magic” of Orphan Black:

  • Tatiana created a playlist for each of the characters to help her get into the unique personalities
  • A continuity team keeps her from mixing up the characters. For instance, if she’s doing a scene that has both Alison and Sarah in it and she’s playing Alison, if the script tells her to roll her eyes, they make sure it’s an ‘Alison’ eye roll and not a ‘Sarah’ eye roll.

Need more reasons to watch?  The first TWO seasons are FREE on Amazon Prime.  I understand it’s also on Netflix if that’s your vehicle of choice.  We’re currently through the first two seasons and part of the third.  Yes, we’re thrilled season 4 is in production but there’s no way it will be available fast enough to supply our next fix….

Out of the Blue

October 7, 2015

The FIRST EVER “Cruise for Wildlife” fundraiser for Liberty Wildlife took place Saturday night on a stunning houseboat on Lake Pleasant.  Nautically dressed Scottsdale residents (just less than 60) were treated to a very memorable evening!

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

Start with the houseboat “Out of the Blue”–  It’s fabulous!  Elegant, gorgeous and comfortable for your family or a group.  You don’t have to wait for a special event, you can rent this gem for your friends and family. What a great vacation option!  Plenty of space, a lake in the desert for swimming and water sports – a perfect formula for great memories.  Getting married?  Why not have your special day aboard this special vessel?  Company events? Charity events such as the one I attended?  Reward your staff or raise funds in style!

Then cruise miles of hidden canyons and the scenic shoreline of Lake Pleasant on a perfect desert evening.  The beauty doesn’t end when the sun goes down – look up.  Yes, you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye.  Stargazing away from the light pollution of the city and have some wishes handy, look – there’s a shooting star!

But this special evening was a fundraising event for Liberty Wildlife.  If you live in the Phoenix area and don’t know Liberty Wildlife, you should!  This wonderful organization rescues injured, imprinted or orphaned birds and other native wildlife (yes, even snakes and Gila monsters) with an eye to releasing rehabilitated animals back into the wild.  Megan Mosby was on hand to share information about the great work done by Liberty Wildlife as was Carol, the volunteer coordinator and of course,  handlers for “Aurora”.  20151003_183706_resized

John, Sunny & Aurora

John, Sunny & Aurora

How about getting up close and personal with Aurora, one of Liberty Wildlife’s resident bald eagles!?!  We’ve all seen pictures, eagles on television or movies but nothing prepares you for the size and majesty of standing next to one of our national treasures!   Even though she’s not a “night owl”,  Aurora seemed happy to stay up late and sail with us for the evening.

The food was plentiful and delicious – from wraps to shrimp to hummus and roasted veggies.  Great wine, beer and cocktails too.  A nice sweet treat to end the evening?  Personalized cookies!

Please, please, please make this an annual event!  But if you missed it and are interested, there are other wildlife events throughout the year open to the public and you can access the calendar here.  Stay connected to Liberty Wildlife as they prepare to move to their new facility next spring.  Once there they will be open to the public – something you’ll surely not want to miss!

Aruba-doo

August 4, 2013

Aruba is blessed with an average of 20 mph wind ALL THE TIME.  It can be more, sometimes less and aruba-doo95% of the time in an easterly direction.  What that means is that it’s more comfortable (less humid) than most of the rest of the Caribbean in the summer.  It will mess your hair, but we grew fond of what we came to call our “Aruba-doo”.

The wind and their location beyond the typical hurricane belt is why we selected it for our annual July honeymoon this year.  There are a lot of other pluses to Aruba as well.

Aruba signIt’s billed as “One Happy Island” and indeed, the people are very nice.  English is spoken EVERYWHERE.  The electric outlets are the same voltage and configuration as here in the US so you don’t need converters or special plug adapters.  US dollars are also accepted everywhere and many prices are even quoted in US dollars.  They drive on the same side of the road as we do here in the States so if you rent a car, for a day or for your entire trip, you won’t have trouble driving.  It’s clean – we didn’t see a restaurant we would be afraid to eat in and we found the food to be both familiar enough and still different enough to be interesting.  There are also a number of casinos so there is adult entertainment for after dark and various musical entertainment at the different resorts as well.

A great resource if you want to plan an Aruba vacation is called “How to Enjoy Aruba”.  It’s a free booklet full of practical, useful information on everything from where to stay to what to do and even where to eat.  The author was raised in Aruba and visits several times a year so it’s like having a local show you around.  I took much of his advice and found it helpful.

Here are the LAND BASED things we did that we especially enjoyed:

The caves.  There are 2 you can visit and we went to both.  They are both in the Arikok National Park so once you pay the Guadirikiri Cavesadmission, plan to visit both.  You can do this on your own with a rental car or you can book the tours with one of the local tour companies.  We went on our own but did see the tour group as we were leaving the first cave.  Fontein features both Indian paintings and a natural spring “fountain”.  There is a local there to show you around and answer questions.   The Guadirikiri Cave  didn’t have a guide but there was a sign that it is home to bats.  Yes, we saw some but they didn’t seem to pay any attention to us.  This cave is large and you can visit 2 chambers.  We used the flashlight apps on our cellphones as our torches and that was sufficient to see in the dark passages between the chambers.  We didn’t see any lizards or iguanas in the park but they were in abundance at our resort.

Iguana

While in the park you can visit the sand dunes.  Not the most impressive dunes you’ll ever see but hey, you’re there so you might as well take time to appreciate them.

Casibari Rock FormationsCasibari Rock Formations.  These natural rock formations are interesting and there are paths to let you explore them.  Some stairs and not handicapped friendly but worth a visit if you can appreciate them.

Same is true for Mt. Hooiberg.  Sure, calling it a “mountain” is a stretch – more a hill but it is the highest point on the island Stairs up Mt. Hooibergso it’s their “mountain”.  Not for the weak kneed, it’s 587 steps – yes, actual STAIRS – to the top.  There are a couple of places to stop on the way and catch some shade and have a sip (be sure to bring water).  It’s still a LONG steep uphill climb.  You’ll be grateful for the wind.  Great view (and even more wind) from the top.  Not a good place to sit and take it all in but we managed.

Top of Mt. Hooiberg

Donkey Sanctuary ArubaAfter your visit to the top of Mt. Hooiberg, stop at the Donkey Sanctuary.  For a donation you can make friends with the donkeys and even have them eating out of your hand!

Nearby (at the coast) is the “natural bridge” – the big one collapsed a few years agoBushirbana Gold Mine Aruba but there still is one to see though not as impressive.  Also the Bushirbana gold mine smelter ruins dating from 1825 are a fun place to explore and take some creative photos.

Lastly, the Ostrich Farm.  It was a little pricey to visit and the only big attraction was getting to feed them for a photo opp.  We had planned to have lunch there, the cafe shown on their website looks great and hey, an ostrich burger at the ostrich farm sounded just wrong enough but when we arrived we learned it had burned down earlier in the year so there was no place to eat.   No, to date they haven’t updated their website…

Ostrich Farm Aruba

You can skip a visit to the California Lighthouse unless you are just checking off Lighthouses around the world.  Someone jumped from the top a couple of years ago so you can no longer go inside.  There’s a great Italian restaurant in the shadow of the lighthouse so you can snap a quick picture when you go to dinner if you are so inclined.

Caspari "signage"In the booklet I mentioned earlier he stresses how little signage there is along the roads.  THIS IS TRUE.   We had to “feel our way” a lot – we could see Mt. Hooiberg but the road that leads you to it is not marked and takes you though a neighborhood.  The locals have made their own sign to point you to the Casibari Rock formation, no doubt tired of pointing the way to countless lost tourists.   If you go prepared to make wrong turns and consider it part of the adventure, you’ll not only be fine, you’ll have fun! 

PNVY: Mackinac Island

July 19, 2013

PNVY stands for Places Not Visited YET.  Like most of you, I have a list of places I’d like to see.  My friend, Marcia Brixey is a big proponent of “dream boards”.  She believes that what you see you make happen.  Rather than photos on poster board, I am writing a blog and posting links on a Pinterest board for my PNVY.

Mackinac Island scene

Mackinac Island is one of those places.  A small island (3.8 square miles), part of Michigan and located in Lake Huron, there virtually NO motor vehicles on the island and 80% of the land is a State Park.  Intrigued?  I am!

Imagine getting off the ferry and traveling to your hotel in a horse drawn carriage.  If you saw the classic Christopher Reeves film, “Somewhere in Time”, it was filmed here at the Grand Hotel.  Sit on the 660 foot porch (said to be the longest in the world) and just unwind.

Round_Island_Lighthouse_Michigan

That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do here – quite the contrary.  You can take a several hour cruise to a lighthouse or any number of other cruises offered.  There is a renown butterfly house, a historical fort plus plenty of shops, galleries and restaurants.

For 10 days in June, there is a lilac festival and how could you NOT want to visit a place that each August hosts a Fudge Festival!?!  Even if you don’t happen to visit during the annual Fudge Festival, there are 6 – count ’em – 6 fudge shops on this tiny island all making delectable, irresistible fudge.

There’s also a lot of entertainment on the island from comedy to music.  Several music festivals take place at different times of the year and there is music in the park in the summer.

Can’t get away in the summer?  Mackinac Island has something to offer any time of year and HGTV named it a Top Ten Christmas Town.

No doubt you’ve probably just added Mackinac Island to your travel wish list.  Look around when you are there, you may just see me, your Travel Queen!

 

Tourist in Your Own Town

July 12, 2013

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income.  kansas-city-missouri-downtown_at_twighlightWe certainly didn’t have money for camps or family summer vacations.  That doesn’t mean I had a boring childhood – quite the opposite.  One year McDonald’s gave out a cartoon type map of Kansas City showing both local landmarks and of course, their restaurants.  My mom took that map and used it as a “Tour KC Guide” and each week we went on an outing.  Again, we didn’t have the funds to “eat out” – even at McDonald’s – each week so she packed picnic lunches for us.  What a great time we had and what wonderful memories!

McDonald'sYou can do the same thing even without the help of a McDonald’s map!  Before you say “I’ve already done everything there is to do in this town” you may want to think about it.  Likely there are new museums, galleries or attractions that have opened.  Others I suspect it has been a LONG TIME since you visited.  Maybe it’s time to go back to the aquarium, the science center or Northwest Trek.  Do you have a friend who moved to your town in the past few years?  Invite them along.  It’s always fun to play tour guide.

Great WheelMy summer list includes riding the Great Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel on the waterfront in downtown Seattle.  The harbor seals have a new home at the Seattle Aquarium I might have to check out.  Northwest Trek has added a zip line and I do love zip lines.  I’ve never made it to Wolf Haven but it interests me – anything with animals interests me.  Which makes me wonder what might be new at Woodland Park Zoo.  There’s also the Chihuly Garden and Glass which I got a glimpse of as we rode the elevator up to the Space Needle for Christmas dinner.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

When you don’t have to factor in the cost of transportation and accommodations, a vacation gets much more affordable making a “Staycation” an attractive idea.

Kenny LogginsThere are lots of free concerts in parks and plenty of other outdoor concert venues where you do need a ticket.  Many let you bring a picnic meal while others have food for sale at the venue.  For the over 21 crowd, the outdoor concert space at Snoqualmie Casino is my personal favorite.

There are lots of great memories to be made right in your own backyard.  With a little internet research and a spirit of adventure you can make this a summer to remember no matter what your budget.

Beyond the Opera House

June 14, 2013

Sipping the great Australian wines from Red Earth Wines last week brought to mind the two trips “down under” that I’ve taken.   Many people mentally lump New Zealand in with Australia and try to do both countries in one trip.  Given that Australia is roughly the same size as the United States, I think there is more than enough to see and do there alone.

Sydney Opera HouseMost trips down under start in Sydney.  The Opera House is iconic and certainly a “must see”.  You can take a tour of the facility (offered in multiple languages), a backstage tour or even get tickets to a concert to fully appreciate the acoustics.

 

As visible as the Opera House is the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  Did you know you can climb it?  Don’t worry – it’s probably  the safest, most well-run operation I have ever encountered.  It takes about 3 1/2 hours to complete the climb.  You only need to be able to walk and climb a few ladders and stairs to be able to enjoy the spectacular views from the top of the bridge.

John & Sunny Sydney Harbor Bridge

You are given a jumpsuit to wear over your clothes, an attached jacket – everything you need to stay warm.  Everything will be attached to you(even your sunglasses) and you will be attached to the bridge.  Safe, safe, safe.

Don’t worry about not being able to bring your own camera or cellphone with you.  There are cameras strategically mounted along the route and you can get plenty of photos of you and your group.  They will be available in the gift shop at the end of the climb.  You can book your climb on line and buy your photos at that time to both save money and be sure to get a spot for this unique adventure.

Family on Bridge

It’s an amazing experience and one not to be missed when in Sydney!

Another unique opportunity is only about 30 minutesSunny with koala outside Sydney.  Koala Park Sanctuary lets you get up close and personal with native Australian animals.  Yes, koalas, kangaroos, wombats and more!  Our family of 5 booked in advance, had a private guide.  With that, we got to go inside the koala enclosure (lots of other tourists looking puzzled as to how we got there), hand feed kangaroos, hold the wombat, participate in sheep shearing and drink Billy Tea.  Yes, you want to do all that!

John feeding Kangaroo

Without a doubt, the bridge climb and the close encounters with the animals were the highlights of Sydney for our group which ranged in age from 17 to 74. These are sure to be some of your favorite memories from your visit down under as well.  G’day!

Fore and More

May 31, 2013

Scotland is known as the birthplace of golf with roots dating back to the 15th century and nearly 600 courses dotting the landscape.  So needless to say, if you are a golfer or have a golfer you like to travel with, Scotland is a dream destination.

Now I don’t play golf and my husband can take or leave it so this is aimed at the non-golfers who visit Scotland.

Bagpiper at Turnberry

Let’s focus on Turnberry.  One of the top rated courses in Scotland and a Starwood Luxury Collection property with lots to offer beyond golf.  Sure, there’s a great spa, a bagpipe player to enjoy with sunset cocktails and an outdoor activity center for archery, fishing or off-road driving.  But my favorite feature at Turnberry is the falconry!  Educational and exhilarating, various raptors you can work with, hold on your gloved hand and yes, even have them fly and land on your arm.  An amazing experience!

 

Falconry, Turnberry Scotland

Falconry, Turnberry Scotland

Abbey ruins, Scotland

Abbey ruins, Scotland

Then there are old buildings such as Abbeys and Castles.  Lots of Castles.  Some ruins, some intact.  A worthwhile day would be a visit to Culzean Castle less than 4 miles from the Turnberry resort.  There is lots to see from the building to the walled garden, the swan pond, even caves!  You can go on a ranger walk, have lunch and even do a little shopping.

Culzean Castle, Scotland

Culzean Castle, Scotland

Scotland has some colorful tartans and fabulous cashmere.

Begg Cashmere, Scotland

Begg Cashmere, Scotland

We saw a display of great scarves in the boxed displays in the lobby of Turnberry.  Alas they were not sold in the hotel boutique, but with the help of the concierge, we found the nearby Begg Cashmere factory store and left with some incredible bargains!  Yes, you now know what everyone on my shopping list got for Christmas.

Isle of Arran

Isle of Arran

If you have a car at your disposal and want to venture further afield, you can take a ferry to the Isle of Arran off the coast.  There you can, of course play some golf,  visit the local creamery where cheese is made and exported all over the world as well as local distilleries.

The roads are narrow and a bit harrowing, especially for those of us not accustomed to driving on the left so be sure you have a designated driver if sampling the wares from the distillery!

Friends in Scotland Pub

Friends in Scotland Pub

Speaking of drinks, no visit to Scotland would be complete with visiting the local pubs.  A great source for local fare such as Haggis, Bannocks and tatties, they are also a warm and cozy place to enjoy a pint with friends – or make new ones!

Sunday in Scottsdale

May 24, 2013

Lots of Northwesterners head to the desert this time of year.  Sure, its starting to heat up but hey, its a dry heat and there are lots of golf courses.  Rates have dropped at many of the resorts so its perfect for a weekend – or longer getaway.

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If you find yourself in Scottsdale on a Sunday, be sure to book a table at Davanti Enoteca on Scottsdale Road at Lincoln.  The “build your own” Bloody Mary (or Virgin Mary) is amazing!

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They have all the usual items, Bloody Mary mix, limes, celery and olives.  But they also have a HUGE assortment of hot sauces and house-pickled items from cauliflower to actual pickle slices.

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There are also hot, snap peas, prosciutto wrapped asparagas and bacon!  How can you NOT love a Bloddy Mary with a thick slice of bacon down the inside of the glass!?!

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After a great brunch you can stroll next door and do some shopping at the Scottsdale Marketplace.

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This unique collection of over 35 shops features new, vintage and antique treasure in all styles and price points.  You are sure to find an irresistible treasure to remind you of your great desert getaway.

Tovrea Castle

Looking for something else to fill your afternoon in the desert?  Why not visit Tovrea Castle?  This unique home and cactus garden are now part of the Parks Department and are open to the public for tours.

Sure, you can also catch some rays by the pool at your hotel or play some golf like most of the desert visitors do, but these “gems” will make your getaway something special and most important – memorable!

 

Hidden Gems of Paris

May 17, 2013

Okay, they may not actually be HIDDEN, but far too many Louvre Paris people miss them none the less.  Everyone goes to the Louvre‘, the Eiffel Tower (though last week’s post told you how to skip the line and get more out of the visit), the Arc de Triomphe and you should too, but some of my favorite places are a bit less known.

Catacombs of ParisThere are catacombs in Paris.  BIG catacombs and you can tour them.  You’ll need to take the subway, there are no restrooms there and plan to stand in line but it’s well worth it.   Believed to be the source of infections in the 1700’s, bodies were exhumed and moved to old quarries outside (at the time) the city of Paris.  So many skeletons were moved an in an effort to honor the dead, patterned walls were constructed from the bones.  A bit macabre perhaps, but we loved it!

Are you a fan of the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera?  Paris Opera House LobbyThen a visit to the Paris Opera House is a must!  Even if you are not, it’s one of the most spectacular buildings.  The outside is impressive, but so many buildings in Paris are beautiful.  But inside!  WOW!  We even got to sneak a peak inside the performance hall and saw the actual chandelier that is replicated in the Broadway musical in rather spectacular fashion.

Concerts in ParisIn many neighborhoods, you will find flyers posted outside decommissioned churches advertising classical music concerts.  I’ve been to these in Rome, Venice and Paris and they are always lovely evenings in beautiful settings.  The posters are never in English but you should be able to make out the date and time as well as the composer’s music being performed.  There are few (if any) tourists and it’s a great way to spend a Paris evening.

Get the museum pass either online before you go or at one of the less busy monuments to save yourself a lot of line time.  The line at the Louvre’ and other tourist hotspots is to buy tickets.  There is usually an express entrance for those with the museum pass.

Invest in a week long (or however many days you will be there) Paris Metro pass.  The system is easy to use and you will feel like a Parisian in no time!  The larger stations take credit cards for the purchase and that will give you maximum flexibility.

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Do your research ahead of time and plot out your days to make sure you capture as much of this beautiful city as you can in the time you have.  But also be sure to allow time to sit at a sidewalk cafe and sip a chilled Rose’ and watch the world go by.


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