A Perfect Summer Day in Newport, RI

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Pretty soon I’m taking off for a crazy summer adventure that’s a once in a lifetime. While I’m so excited to be participating in the Mongol Rally and seeing one of my travel dreams come true, it’s also bittersweet. You see, summertime in New England is the best season. And I’m a little sad to be missing so much of it. So, in light of this, I decided to accomplish some of my favorite summer things before leaving for the roads of Eurasia. This past weekend, I gave myself the perfect summer day in Newport, RI.

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I enjoy Newport in all seasons but there is nothing quite like it in the summertime. The harbor is full of pretty boats, the streets are buzzing with cars & bikes, and the restaurant patios are full of happy people. No better spot to go for the day and get lost in the sights of summer. EVEN BETTER, the first day of summer!

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June 21st I took a drive from Boston to Newport, with the top down on my Jeep, arriving around lunchtime. I was going out for a sail aboard an America’s Cup yacht with 12 Meter Charters at 3 so I wanted to grab a quick cup of clam chowder and a beer at The Black Pearl – an institution of Newport albeit touristy. You know, it’s the taste of a New England summer in a cup!

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My sail aboard Heritage was actually my second. I went out with 12 Meter Charters last year too. Fortunately, the first day of summer was a gorgeous, sunshiny day, unlike my sail last year, so that made this trip even more special. Our captain was Gus, last year he was Heritage’s first mate. I was thrilled to see him again, it was like seeing an old friend even though we’d only met once before. Oddly, the sail had a small number of people aboard despite the stunning day but I didn’t mind. It meant more room to roam around the boat and a chance to make a couple new friends. Our 2 hours out on the water was awesome. I just love the action aboard a racing sailboat. So much more fun and interactive than a traditional cruise. You can assist in hoisting the sails but I prefer to just hang onto the lifeline and get a bit salty and wet!

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Post sailing I was starving and had my mind set on having a lobster roll. Another “must have” in the New England summer. Pretty soon it will be impossible for me to have clam chowder or a lobster roll so I just had to. I also reallllly wanted to have a cocktail at Castle Hill Inn and watch the sunset. I’d been told of a few places to get a great lobster roll but I needed to get over to Castle Hill pretty quickly. Fortunately, even though Castle Hill Inn is a Relais and Chateaux with a very fancy restaurant they serve lobster rolls at the bar outside. So, problem solved even if the lobster roll was going to be the most expensive one I’ve ever had. Guess what?!? It was worth EVERY penny. It truly was one of the very best I’ve ever eaten. MMMM. Highly recommend!!

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And, I got a picture perfect sunset, on the first day of summer. Thank you Newport, RI. It really was the exact formula for a perfect summer day and even though there will be many more days like this one for my fellow New Englanders, it’s the last one I will have like this until some time around Labor Day. Onto different summer adventures this year in the wide blue yonder, Lola!

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Thank you, as always, 12 Meter Charters for getting me out on one of your beautiful yachts. It made my day!

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Mongol Rally – a very un-Lola-like adventure

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As some of you may know, in 4 weeks I will be taking off for a summertime adventure. I’m making a pit stop in Iceland (more on that later) on my way to the UK where the journey of a lifetime will kick off. I’ve mentioned the Mongol Rally in passing before but more to do with fashion dilemmas than anything else.

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It’s true, I may not seem like the likeliest of candidates to participate in such an undertaking as the Mongol Rally but that is precisely one of the reasons I’m doing it. I actually have a huge adventurous spirit, bigger than many realize, and this sort of challenge is really going to feed my soul. Yes, I’m doing all my prep work just like my teammates, ie, visas, travel doctor, international license, medical insurance, etc. But these things are just small preparations.

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Here are some of the things that wake me up at night AND conversely, other things I’m NOT concerned about with regard to the Mongol Rally that even surprise me!

Concerns

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Packing in only a backpack for almost 6o days and having clean clothes.

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Bug bites. Mosquitos LOVE me. This may have been my #1 concern before going to Cambodia.

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Shaving my legs or lack there of…when it’s hot and I’m donning shorts, well no one likes fuzzy gams.

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Getting my hair dyed pink and having it stay that way for the entire adventure.

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Finding amazing treasures. In doing some research it appears I’m going to like some of the fashion I find along the way. Currently coveting these from Mongolia.

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Having my border booty confiscated. Not only am I bringing it overseas in a “not on the up and up” kind of way but one of my teammates already got his stolen out of his checked bags. It’s a REAL problem.

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Staying connected via internet access. I’m not one to go long without being in touch. I will probably have a breakdown if I cannot be connected fairly frequently.

Anti-Concerns

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Where are we sleeping every night? I have zero clue and this would not usually be the norm for me.

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The lack of a return plane ticket home. Besides when I moved to NYC with a one-way ticket, I have never traveled without a return ticket or a hard return date. PS – it’s exhilarating. Like a story with no known ending.

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Driving a stick shift on the wrong side of the car. I figure, eh…I will work this out. I drove a stick for 3 years.

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Border crossings & border patrol. There are some tales out there that should concern me. BUT if the border guards look like Mr. Moscow, I’m a happy girl. I don’t know. I’m not a trouble maker in these kinds of situations.

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Immunizations. I try to be prepared and even when the travel doctor suggested I get Hep B vaccinated in case I need a blood transfusion due to an auto accident, I was like, that’s not going to happen. I got the vaccination anyway!

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The fact that my visas will cost me at least 5 times more than my share of my rally car. Car $200 Visas $1000+. Who cares, you only live once and the Mongol Rally is just that kind of adventure.

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Making up bullshit dates and forms in order to secure visas. Hello lying…it seems this is par for the course, so I’m not going to worry. Apparently, Consulates accept false info just fine.

Anyway, it’s sure to be a one-of-a-kind adventure. It will likely turn out that I haven’t even thought of the thing that I should be most concerned about with regard to the Mongol Rally. There is really no preparing for it. Soooo I’m just gonna roll with it!

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One Day Stay: Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Amsterdam is such a beautiful city and a major gateway to Europe. I was thrilled to go there for my very first time in November for a girls weekend with Ana aka Mrs. O Around the World, Ashley, one half of The Lazy Travelers, and Mary Anne aka Editor of Jetset Extra. These lovely ladies would make any city visit a treat and did we ever enjoy ourselves in Amsterdam. But seriously, who wouldn’t fall for the bicycles, pretty canals and old world charm this city offers?! While I did have some good ole fun in the Red Light District, the girls and I managed to also find some of the very best that Amsterdam has to offer. Listed here in my One Day Stay are my favorites. I loved Amsterdam so much that I definitely have it on my list to return and explore for longer.

DROP YOUR BAG

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Located on Prince’s Canal and just under 2 years old, Andaz Amsterdam is a 5-Star, 122 room boutique hotel that is fresh and funky. I particularly loved the lighting and pops of Delft blue throughout. Nearby, is the lively Jordaan district and the Nine Streets. So, you will find within walking distance art galleries, trendy boutiques and shops as well as dining and nightlife. We were treated to brunch at Andaz Amsterdam’s Bluespoon and I had the very best cheesecake of my life there. Go for that alone if you cannot stay at Andaz Amsterdam.

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One of the most charming things about Amsterdam are the gorgeous canals. No better way to experience them than with a canal tour aboard a boat. The girls and I took a private tour on Ivresse, a saloon boat built in 1913 for a doctor. Unfortunately, the pretty boat, outfitted with a teak saloon and art-deco woodcarving, was too slow and taken out of service. (The name Ivresse means “weaving like a drunk”) Private Boat Tours fully refurbished her and now up to 12 guests can enjoy cruising the narrow canals of old Amsterdam. Our captain, Yorick, was quite knowledgable and we enjoyed our hour-long tour tremendously.

DRINK

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House of Bols is a unique “museum” where you will learn all about the Dutch spirit that’s the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand in production in Amsterdam since 1575. Not only is the House of Bols interesting but also so well put together. It makes learning about liquor FUN. You will discover the 38 Bols liqueurs, including Bols Genever, and, as part of your admittance price, you get to design your own cocktail at the end of the tour with the ‘cocktail selector’. I went with the Dutch ‘N Stormy since I love me a Dark ‘N Stormy – it was a delish take on one of my favorites! PS – if you are a cocktail aficionado, House of Bols has an excellent gift shop for you.

DINE

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While I enjoyed all my meals in Amsterdam, dinner at Bridges in Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam was beyond outstanding. One of Amsterdam’s top restos that’s Michelin-starred, Bridges offers seafood with an innovative twist of classical French gastronomy. We were treated to a tasting menu during our evening there. AND not just any tasting menu but 2 separate ones so that we were able to sample even more. Paired with delicious wines, I cannot imagine a more lovely evening.

While I booked my own trip to Amsterdam, the girls and I were treated to dinner at Bridges, the House of Bols experience (14.50€ value) and the canal trip with Private Boat Tours ($350 for an hour-long private cruise) All of these experiences were very ‘Lola Approved’ and highly recommended.

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Staying Rustic Cool in Iceland with Icelandic Farm Holidays

Welcome to the magical country of Iceland!

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Iceland has long been on my list of places I needed to see with my own eyes. I was lucky enough to take an EPIC road trip recently with Captain & Clark in Iceland. Even though we had several days to dedicate to driving around the island country, Icelanders kept saying it would be impossible to do everything in our allotted time. So, we decided to focus on the southern & eastern parts of Iceland. In retrospect, this was a very wise decision. Let’s just say things take longer to travel to than expected and especially with the dramatic ever-changing Icelandic weather. Plus, never having visited the country before, we really weren’t sure where to start. Thank goodness for Icelandic Farm Holidays is ALL I have to say!

Not only was Icelandic Farm Holidays able to find us a variety of accommodations to sample in rural Iceland but they were also able to give us guidance and loads of tips on things to do, see and places to eat. I always say finding the right place to stay really sets the tone and I don’t think we could have planned our road trip any better ourselves or with anyone else.

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A little bit about Icelandic Farm Holidays: it’s an award-winning, leading expert in rural Iceland with over 30 years of experience and has a vast accommodation network (183 members) of bed and breakfasts & country hotels to apartments and traditional working farms all around Iceland. In addition to accommodations, they also offer a variety of tours. Bottom line, if you’re looking for an authentic holiday of meeting locals and enjoying the local cuisine and culture, Icelandic Farm Holidays is for you too.

Now, onto where we went and stayed. For our road trip we decided to drive the southern part of the Ring Road to the eastern part of Iceland making stops in Vik, Hofn, Egilsstaðir and back to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. All our stays were cozy & clean and all included breakfast. Three out of 4 had restaurants on property, which was helpful given the touch and go March weather in Iceland.

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On the road to Vik we stopped to see a few spectacular waterfalls, Seljalandfoss, Gljuafrabui and Skogafoss. Each so stunning it’s difficult to pick a favorite.

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Once in Vik, we settled in at Hotel Katla, a friendly 72 room hotel with a cozy restaurant and an awesome hot tub/sauna about 2.5 hours from Reykjavik. Besides spending several hours soaking in the hot tub, drinking vodka and literally having it snow on our heads, my favorite thing about Hotel Katla was my fantastic dinner of local trout.

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As we left Vik, we stopped off at the Vik Wool Factory Store, a perfect place for Icelandic souvenirs, where I purchased my authentic lopapeysa – a traditional Icelandic sweater made from Icelandic sheep wool. We also took in beautiful black sand beaches, the unreal Svinafellsjökull Glacier and Glacier Beach before arriving at our next destination, Hofn.

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Our next Icelandic Farm Holidays stay was with Hoffell, a traditional 8 double & triple room farmer’s guesthouse. Quaint, comfortable and rustic, Hoffell offers private rooms with shared baths and a shared kitchen area. Perfect for a group traveling together to be sure. Oh, and let’s not forget the geothermal hot pools onsite as well. Hoffell was the only property without a restaurant onsite but nearby Hofn is known as the Lobster Capital of Iceland so you can guess what we dined on that evening in town. I had the most delicious lobster pizza at Kaffi Hornid along with a one-of-a-kind local beer, Vatnajökull, only available in that region. MMMM.

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Leaving the Lobster Capital, Hofn, behind, we drove eastward toward the incredible fjords of eastern Iceland. Tucked into these inlets carved by glaciers over time are adorable fishing villages. As charming as they were in the wintertime, I can’t even imagine the beauty of this part of Iceland in the summertime.

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Our next stay was at Guesthouse Egilsstaðira charming country hotel with a very relaxed atmosphere that’s located along side Lake Lagarfljót in East Iceland. This beautifully restored 19th century farmhouse has 18 bright rooms with private baths and was nothing short of perfect. Onsite there’s an inviting restaurant that is a destination not just for hotel guests. I throughly enjoyed my lobster salad meal and especially felt welcome in the cozy bar/lounge area where we sipped cocktails for a few hours keeping warm. I found the decor at Guesthouse Egilsstaðir exceptionally inspiring.

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Leaving Egilsstaðir and heading back south toward Vik, we traveled past the gorgeous fjords of the eastern Iceland once again, stopped off in Brunnholl for the popular farmhouse ice cream, passed by the Glacier Lagoon once more and made a special stop for some elf whispering in mossy covered lava fields where it’s said the elves make their homes. We also visited “The Church Floor” which is a national monument nearby made of basalt columns and is really cool to see as is the Viking cave, Hjorleifshofdi, which was the home to the brother of the first Nordic settler of Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson.

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Our final Icelandic Farm Holidays stay was with Hotel Geirland in Kirkjubæjarklaustur – a spacious country hotel surrounded by stunning cliffs. Hotel Geirland has 40 rooms with private facilities and is an excellent property for groups. The restaurant onsite offers authentic Iceland food and host Erla’s country-wide famous homemade skyr cake. I have to say I really enjoyed my lamb burger and the skyr cake very much. It’s said you can often spot the Northern Lights near Hotel Geirland during Northern Light spotting season from September to March.

As you can see Iceland is full of so much natural beauty. These lovely properties certainly didn’t take anything away from that but only added to the local feel of our road trip. I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything about our journey or accommodations.

Important things to note:

  • Rooms with these Icelandic Farm Holidays properties vary. Their price range starts from 78 € to 114€.
  • Some of these properties are open year round while others are closed in December & January.
  • Iceland high season is from May to September.

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TAKK to Icelandic Farm Holidays for hosting us. We loved the variety of accommodations and, in particular, your above & beyond attention and care. I completely ‘Lola Approve’ Icelandic Farm Holidays AND Iceland. The views here are mine!

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Baking Baguettes in Paris, France

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OUI. You read that correctly. Once upon a time, I went to Paris and learned the process of baking baguettes with a Master Baker. That’s not the ONLY thing I did over my brief visit but it was by far the coolest. Luckily for me, I’ve been to Paris a few times so seeing the typical sights wasn’t the big “wooo oooh” it’s been in the past. I mean, I never tire of the Eiffel Tower but it was so so fun to get inside a real working bakery’s kitchen and bake French baguettes and croissants. Who couldn’t love that?!

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This amazing hands-on tour was put together with WonderTime, a boutique company offering unique behind the scenes experiences with inspiring people in their crafts. My baguette & croissant baking was with Frederic Lalos, the highly awarded Master Baker, who is not only an expert but also an entertaining pleasure to learn from. Frederic is one of the partners of LALOS Paris and together with his partner, Pierre-Marie Gagneux, owns 6 shops in Paris plus provide bread and pastries to the finest Michelin-starred Parisian restaurants.

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While in the kitchen at LALOS boulangerie, you will learn about the history and technical steps of taking various flours and turning that into the world’s favorite loaf and pastry – baguettes and croissants. Frederic’s method is according to centuries-old French tradition and takes over 50 hours to make the bread. Once you learn some of the Master’s secrets,  you will put what you have learned to use and make a few souvenirs of your time as a baker’s apprentice. Fortunately for you, most of the hard work is completed in advance and your time in the kitchen will be only 120 minutes of learning and fun with delicious results! Sampling of some of Frederic’s award-winning pastries are all a part of your visit too. MMMM.

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Not only was this an educational and special one-of-a-kind Paris, France, experience but also spending time with Frederic was extremely inspiring. His passion and love of his job and his enthusiasm to share knowledge is truly quite something. I have a whole new appreciation for bread! As Frederic says himself, “this visit will forever change the way you see – and taste – baguettes and croissants.”

WHY WonderfulTime? Check out this video with testimonials, including le mien!

This WonderfulTime tour, “In the kitchen with The French Master Baker” takes place in Paris at LALOS. It’s for 4-8 people and costs 170€ per person. Other categories of unique tours include gastronomy, wine, arts and fashion. I was a lucky participant of a test tour. MERCI BEAUCOUP!

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