Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Enjoying a Winter Wonderland at Boyne Highlands

I had arrived at Boyne Highlands Resort in Michigan the previous evening with my brother, Mark, and my nephew and niece, Jacob and Moriah. Everyone was excited about a weekend full of activities. Well, almost everyone.

I had broken my arm just two weeks before and wouldn’t be doing anything adventurous. 

I have to admit I was a bit bummed before I arrived, but once I settled into Boyne Highlands Resort, the views and other things I could do had eliminated my gloomy outlook.

We were up early for breakfast in the Dining Room of the Main Lodge. I was impressed by the huge buffet. There was an omelet station, as well as hot and cold dishes, fruits, muffins, pancakes, and more.

We were all full when we left to head outside, where the temperature was hovering around zero degrees. It was, after all, Michigan in the winter, I reminded my Californian family.

I followed everyone along to the Snow Sports Academy Desk in the Day Lodge, where they were checked in and fitted for their equipment.

Moriah and Jacob, who had skied quite a few times at Lake Tahoe, California,, had a two-hour group lesson before they were off to some ski time of their own.

Mark had decided that he wanted to try snowboarding and he too had a lesson. Boyne Highlands Resort is very well equipped for every winter sport in every level.

I enjoyed relaxing and watching them. I hadn’t seen the kids in about a year and the mountain was just beautiful.

Everyone finished up a bit before our lunch and we decided to try tubing. It was a lot of fun, and something I could experience with the cast on.

We then headed to lunch with the entire press group in the Zoo Bar of the Day Lodge. We had pre-ordered lunch so we had a chance to chat and ask any questions we had to Boyne’s Director of Marketing, Erin Ernst.

I had ordered the Slider Trio of Avocado Turkey, Thai Beef, and Black Bean, and it was delicious. Everyone was happy with the other options, including an Ahi Tuna Wrap, too.

Erin had arranged for my spa appointment to be while Mark and the kids went zip lining so we went our separate ways for a while.

I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing Milk & Honey Pedicure and they had a fun time zip lining.

We rested a while before heading to dinner at Petoskey Brewing Company, which was just a few minutes away.

I requested a tour of Petoskey’s facilities, which were bigger than we expected, before we sat down for some beer tasting and warm pretzels, followed by burgers and sandwiches.

Moriah had stayed back at the lodge to study. When we returned, we all went into the hot tub for a while. There’s nothing quite like watching the snow mountains in freezing temperatures while you stay warm in the hot tub.

Despite the fact that I was the only one who didn’t have an adventurous day, I think I was the first one asleep after all the relaxing.

I would get to join in on more of the fun Saturday at Boyne Highlands as we were starting with dog sledding.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Back to Michigan: Traverse City to Harbor Springs for Boyne Highlands

I was really excited about my first trip to Boyne Highlands Resort in Michigan. I was especially thrilled that my brother, Mark, was coming with my niece and nephew (although I wished my oldest niece could come too).

The plan was to all fly into Traverse City Airport, have lunch, and then make a visit to Bowers Harbor Vineyards before leaving town.

This was my third trip to Traverse City and while I didn’t have a lot of time, I wanted to at least get one more of their fabulous wineries covered. My friend Mike Norton, Media Relations Manager at Traverse City Tourism, thought Bowers was not only a great winery, but as family friendly as a winery can be.

You know what they say about the best laid plans. I arrived in Traverse City to find out the family had missed their connection.

I knew immediately I where I was when I was looking for a cup of coffee. After all, where else would the coffee machine offer “Cherry Pie Cappuccino” other than in Cherry Capital Airport!

I collected my things and headed downtown. Mike was away on vacation and I arranged to meet with Jennifer Case for the trip to Bowers, but I was running early so I first stopped downtown for lunch at Greenhouse Café.

My Rueben sandwich and potato soup was a perfectly satisfying pair for the cold day. I finished up and walked over to the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau to meet Jennifer.

It was a short walk and she was ready when I got there to take the drive to Bowers Harbor Vineyards on the Old Mission Peninsula.

I had never been to Traverse City before in the snow and it made for quite a beautiful scene, especially and this winery.  

The tasting room at Bowers Harbor is very comfortable and I was surprised at the huge selection of wines.

I wasn’t driving so I tried quite a few. I was especially fond of their Block II Riesling, Unwooded Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer. Even though I’m not a big red drinker,

 I did enjoy sipping their 2012 Wind Whistle Claret. They also had a tasty Blanc de Blanc Sparkling wine.

On the way back to the airport we made a quick stop at one of my favorite Traverse City wineries, Brys Estate.

I had a wonderful visit there with the owners a few years ago and wanted to stop in and visit. They weren’t there, but I did get to enjoy a glass of their Riesling.  

My brother, Jacob, and Moriah had just arrived, but their luggage had not.

We picked up the rental car, but couldn’t leave Traverse City right away to drive to Boyne Highlands Resort because the family’s luggage was arriving on the next plane.

I suggested we head to the Grand Traverse Pie Company.

My niece, Moriah, happens to be a big fan of pie and the rest of us were more than happy to go along for a little something to tide us over.

We decided on an apple crumb pie, and chocolate cream pie, and the February special – cherry pie with a chocolate ganache topping. They were all great, but I don’t think I have to say how amazing that one was.

Jacob also insisted he was hungry enough for a chicken pot pie and we all tasted a bit of that before we hit the road.

It was about an hour and a half to Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, Michigan, and the ride was just beautiful through the snow covered rounds and lakes.

We arrived just in time for the welcome reception. We quickly dropped our things in our room and headed to meet Marketing Director Erin Ernst and the other journalists and their families at the Slopeside Lounge.

Erin had set up a nice spread for us that included cheese, pizza, hors d'oeuvres, and desserts. I also sampled a Gingerbread Coffee cocktail, while Mark tried some Michigan beers.

It had been a long day for all of us so we were back in the rooms fairly early, but excited for an upcoming day of skiing, snowboarding, and more fun at Boyne Highlands Resort

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Zagreb Stopover Before Heading Home from Croatia

Lynn and I left Split for Zagreb in the late afternoon. The drive was a fairly easy one as highways of Croatia are new and very well kept up.

Zagreb was unlike any city we saw in Istria, Rijeka, or Split. It was filled with tall buildings and contemporary designs.

We arrived at the Doubletree by Hilton Zagreb. It was a beautiful hotel and had a comfortable lobby. It was evening and we had an early flight in the morning so the only thing we had planned was dinner and then an early bedtime.

We checked out the restaurant, but didn’t really want a meal. We were both craving pizza and were curious to see if it was as good as it had been in Istria.

The staff at the front desk unanimously told us to go into the building next door to Al Metro. The building was modern and filled with restaurants, but we followed the smell to the pizzeria.

We picked up a pie and took it back to the room. It had been a once in a lifetime experience in Croatia, especially the first week with the Share Istria group.

There had been so many great meals and fantastic experiences. We were ready for a quiet pizza dinner and some girl talk before we headed to our homes in two different states.

In the morning, Lynn and I left Doubletree by Hilton Zagreb for the airport, where we said our goodbyes. She was going straight from Zagreb to New York and I was flying to Chicago, and then to home.

It was nice to see a familiar Starbucks to start my journey home. 

I was able to get an upgrade on Air France. It was only economy plus, but it was quite nice in the upper level of the plane in a bulkhead. The service and food was wonderful. I got some sleep and did some work. It was time to get back to life.

Although I had been to Croatia before, the experience I had with Istria Tourism and my Share Istria group could not compare to anything else. I am grateful to all.

In the end, I did win as the social influencer in my group that week, but I did not win the Grand Prize (10,000 Euros).

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I still wouldn’t trade that trip for anything in the world.

It was even more special to share it with my friend Lynn, who I have known for 25 years.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Beach Time and Relaxation in Split, Croatia

Travel days where I have nothing to do are few and far between, but this one was especially wonderful since I had a beautiful beach and a spa to enjoy for the day.

Lynn and I had been traveling through Croatia for nine days. Although I wouldn’t have done anything different, we were still exhausted.

The Hotel Split was on a breathtaking beach and, since it was during the week, pretty quiet.

We had every intention of taking advantage of that time in Split.

We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel with an amazing view. It was a pretty typical European breakfast for me of yogurt, fruit, cheese, and a croissant. 

It’s odd how I like variety so much at home, but always seem to stick to this in Europe.

After breakfast, we spent the morning walking and lounging on the beach. The Adriatic Sea was especially beautiful from Split and just gazing at it from different angles was a treat.
When we arrived at Hotel Split, I saw the spa specials and noticed that the Hot Oil Aromatherapy Massage was very cheap (about $30 U.S. for an hour).

My muscles had been taxed during the week and it sounded like heaven.

Lynn agreed, but unfortunately they only had room for one appointment. She graciously let me take it.

I left the spa and was back looking at the turquoise sea when we both decided to take a walk and find something to eat.

We found a Croatian bakery nearby and got some pastries filled with cheese that were more than satisfying.

As much as I like relaxing, I’m not one to just lay on a lounge chair for hours. After a while I got up to explore the rest of the Hotel Split.

I went up to the rooftop and was so glad I did.

The Hotel Split  rooftop has a pool and lounging areas. It also has a view that was even more spectacular than the ones I had seen in the morning.

We had just a little longer before we had to get dressed, pack up, and head to Zagreb. Our Croatia adventure was coming near its end.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

From Rijeka to Split and the Game of Thrones

After an exciting week with our Share Istria group, my friend Lynn and I were off on our own to explore more of Croatia. Our first stop was in Rijeka and we had a great first day there.

In the morning, we had another great and filling Croatia breakfast after a good night’s sleep at the Grand Hotel Bonavia in Rijeka. 

Before we headed back on the road we also had a chance to spend a bit of time in the Grand Hotel Bonavia Wellness Centre.

I was extremely impressed with this spa that was complimentary to all guests. It included a relaxation area with chromo therapy, themed aromatherapy showers, a Finish Sauna, a Turkish Sauna, and a spa area where they offered massages.

By the time we left there we were very relaxed and we hit the road to Split.

Alenka, our guide the previous day, had told us a lot about the beach town of Krk so we made a short detour to check it out.

It was indeed filled with beaches and a quaint downtown area along the water with a marina.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying the scenery, and watching the people at the cafes.

It was a good thing we didn’t stay too long, because the trip to Split, though beautiful, took twice as long as we expected.

As we arrived in the city, I was struck by how much more crowded it was than I expected. I soon learned that Split, Croatia,,was spread out and each area was different.

The spot our hotel was located in Podstrana was actually a bit more residential – and on an amazing stretch of beach.

When I looked out the window at Hotel Split, all I could think about was enjoying the turquoise water, but that would have to wait as we first had a tour waiting.

Our very knowledgeable, friendly, and fun guide was Vjeran Mlacic and he was going to introduce us to this historical city.

We met Vjeran on the other side of the city. This area of Split was filled with locals and tourists, sightseeing and enjoying local food. We were pretty hungry ourselves, but needed to get through the tour first.

He showed us a map of Split to give us a better understanding of the area before we headed inside Diocletian's Palace.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before. From the outside, you could see shops and cafes on the lower level with the remnants of what is the oldest remains from the Roman era above!

Inside the palace was also a combination of souvenir shops among these tall, old, walls. As we got further inside, though, it was all about long ago, and the Roman emperors that had lived here.

Although I’ve never watched Game of Thrones it was easy to see how anything filmed within these ancient walls could look realistic. Vjeran showed us a number of the tremendous rooms used for scenes.

After we went through the palace we stopped at some of the stores beneath it.
Lynn, who designs and makes jewelry herself, couldn’t resist picking up a few intricate silver pieces and I got some souvenirs.

We walked out of the palace area and to the marina toward our restaurant for dinner.

Tavern Varos is an excellent Italian choice. It was quite different than what we had in Istria, with more of this regions focus on vegetables.

After a salad and beets, we enjoyed grilled meats and a wonderful gnocchi in an alfredo sauce.

We walked back to the car along the marina. It was a beautiful scene with people enjoying cafes and music.

We couldn’t resist joining in for some gelato and cappuccinos before heading back to the hotel.

Lynn and I had one more day in <Split and it was going to be something I don’t get to do very often – free time on the beach.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hitting the Road to Rijeka

Lynn and I woke up in Istria for the last time. We had breakfast with the group and said as our rental car pulled up to the front of Hotel Lone in Rovinj.

The Croatia Tourism Board had arranged for us to have this Audi as we hit the road to check out two more areas of the country neither of us had ever been: Rijeka and Split.

Rijeka was first and we had a scenic ride along the Mediterranean Sea to our destination.

It definitely looked more city-like than anywhere we had been in Istria, and Rijeka was in fact filled with plenty to. This has made it a very popular cruise port in the last few years.

We would be staying overnight at the Hotel Bonavia. It was centrally located and looked quite “grand.”

It was raining when Dominik Damis of the Rijeka Tourist Board and guide Alenka Šuljić Petrc picked us up to tour Rijeka, but we weren’t deterred from seeing the sites.

As we went through the city, we saw the cruise terminal, and heard about how inexpensive Rijeka is as a tourist destination. Taxis around the city are around a $1 a ride, and hostels are only about 25 euros a night, making it especially popular with young people.

She told us about the Planetarium and the ferries that you could use to easily visit the small islands in the area. We also learned that Al Capone’s mother lived in Rijeka, as did former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia.

We also passed the Rijeka Synagogue, a small orthodox synagogue that was built and opened in 1932.

We drove up the hill to Trsat, where we explored the Castle and the Franciscan Monastery, which had been honored with a visit from Pope John Paul II. A bronze statue commemorates his time in Rijeka.

Despite the rain, we were able to see some beautiful views of the city and the sea behind it.

We went back down to town to meet Snijezana Papes from the Port of Rijeka for lunch at Gardens Restaurant. In some ways it reminded me of a New York diner, with a big menu that offered a little of everything.

Lynn and I were surprised how different the culture and food in Rijeka was from Istria. It was a little less Italian-influenced, but we found a lot more salads and vegetables.

After an indulgent chocolate fudge cake dessert,  we talked more about the port and the city before the group left us at Korzo, the pedestrian shopping area.

At first sight, it reminded me of a similar area in Vienna, but it wasn’t quite as high end. The prices and selection was quite reasonable.

Korzo also has outdoor cafes between the shops.

Lynn, a jewelry designer, especially loved the mosaics in the galleries. I picked up a few souvenirs to bring home.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were pretty worn out from a long day. We were glad dinner was scheduled for right in the Grand Hotel Bonavia.

The meal was great, but the Berry Crepe finish was fantastic.

Fortunately, it was also light because we were more than ready to head straight to bed.

It had been a great introduction to Rijeka and I hoped to come back, but in the morning, we were off to Split.