Saturday, December 24, 2011

Another Corner Turned

Winter solstice has passed, the saternalia is in midswing and the sun will be travelling north a little further each day. It all means long, sunny days are just around the corner.

How do you picture the calendar year in your mind? In my mind's eye, I actually see it rather like an oval shaped race track with January and February at the top and July and August at the bottom. The months of March, June, September and December are all at the curves of the track, while October and November and April and May are along the sides.

I'm always happy when we "round the club house turn" where December sits and we head into the top of our calendar oval. It means, up here in the Pacific Northwest, that we are getting near the end of our winter. Sometimes in mid-January dear little snowdrops bravely show their faces and by February the green spears of daffodils are poking through the ground.

Those long, dark days of November and December are difficult to get through and it's easy to understand to some extent why our pagan ancestors living in northern climes instituted the Saturnalia to add some winter cheer. I often wonder if that is not what modern day winter festivals are all about.

Whatever your thoughts are about the Saturnalia, be safe and happy in the new year. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review of "The Last Ride of Billy the Kid"

The windup to the wine tour of the Okanagan Valley gets put on the back burner for another week. Last week my husband had an angioplasty which meant an overnight stay in St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. St. Paul's as one of the foremost heart centers in the world, so he was in good hands. But it rather took my mind off my writing, as he had to take it easy for the past week and I was looking after him. Well, it all comes under the heading of Senior Moments.

So here's a book review for a new book being released this month that I think a lot of seniors will enjoy. Back in the day we all knew about Billy the Kid, and my friend, John Aragon who is a defense lawyer has written an exciting book about him. Gives us a different perspective about the lad, as I say in the review. Here it is: "The Last Ride of Billy the Kid"

This really is so much more than just about Billy the Kid, although he makes a wonderfully pitiable, albeit flawed main character. It’s a true saga of the west and is wonderful in its scope.

In spite of the violence, I enjoyed reading John Aragon’s fascinating version of Billy’s life, which provides the reader with a different perspective on what made the young man the bad dude he was. Mr. Aragon, a trial lawyer, is able to take this flawed young man and make him a likeable character who stuck by his friends. He also shows how the circumstances of his life forced Billy off the narrow path and into a life of crime. One has to feel empathy for the lad. As I read, there were so many places where I wished his life had taken a different turn—that  he could have pursued his dream to ride south to Mexico, with the woman he loved, and live peacefully ever after.

I was 15 years old when I first saw the movie “The Outlaw.” starring Jane Russell who was quite famous at the time. The man who played Billy the Kid was a virtual unknown, but he was extremely good looking, and I had a crush on him for a long time. Consequently, although history has often told us that Billy was a bad dude, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him.

Mr. Aragon’s wonderfully descriptive narrative transports us into the sun-filled, blue-sky country of southwestern United States. His settings carried me back to the four trips that my husband and I made through Arizona and New Mexico. I remembered how much I loved the terrain of that dry, pinion-studded and mesa filled land. There’s even a special smell to it.

I also liked how the author interweaves the story of the milquetoast, New York reporter, Percival and his search to know Billy as well as his obsession with Rosa. It adds comedy and breaks up the tension of the constant violence in Billy’s life. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the episodes with the steer outside the outhouse, and the encounter with the rattlesnake while Percival goes about his “business” were hilarious.

Mr. Aragon is a gifted writer and I think we will be seeing more of his work.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

There’s nothing that pleases an armchair traveller more than a good travel guidebook. And Fodor’s 2012 book on “San Francisco with the Wine Country” is as good as it gets. This book has everything one needs to know for a fantastic vacation centered in the ‘city by the bay.’

As with other Fodor books, it has excellent sections on ‘Great Itineraries,’ ‘Top Walking Tours,’ ‘Top Attractions,’ as well as info on ‘Where to Stay’ and ‘Where to Eat.” But San Francisco is an exceptional city and this book lists all the exceptional sights including the waterfront, the Presidio, the Haight-Ashbury center of the 60’s hippy era, Alcatraz, and Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in North America.

The book also gives an interesting rundown on both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes along with historical notes.

There is also a section on Cable Cars where you can still ‘climb half way to the stars’ but at a pretty hefty price without a pass. Fortunately, San Francisco’s Muni system offers a three-day pass for unlimited rides including cable cars for just $20.00. A definitely must to purchase.’

As to nightlife, I well remember my first visit to the Golden Gate city in the 1960s. The historic, old Purple Onion, where my girl friend and I mooned over such folk music favourites as the Kingston Trio and the Smothers Brothers, is still there; although, as the book explains, it has seen better days.

For a more elegant evening, one can still get a mai tai at the Hotel Fairmont’s Tonga Room, and watch a man-made rainstorm, as musicians on a floating bandstand play the music of the 40s and 50s. Or you can spend a romantic night dancing at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room in the newly renovated Sir Francis Drake Hotel.

The book includes a wonderful section on the wine areas of Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge. As the book explains, Napa is ‘almost wall-to-wall wineries,’ while Sonoma is ‘more rural.’ There’s a great map of the area with a list of ‘top reasons to go there’ along with the best places to taste, to eat, and to stay.
This San Francisco Guide Book is so packed full of enticements to visit the area, that I’m already making plans to visit next spring. That city will always have a piece of my heart.  

(Next week: the promised blog on Okanagan's Wine Country. I hope!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Goodbye, Regis. I'm Going to Miss You

Putting off the third section of my Okanagan wine series for another week for a couple of reasons. First of all, I bent over the other day to pick something up and out went my back. I knew immediately I’d done the wrong thing when I heard a little “snap” and immediately felt the pain as I straightened up. So with this painful situation, it’s difficult for me to concentrate on my writing this week.

I’ve done this before and go regularly for Shiatsu treatments to keep it in check. However, this time, I forgot to bend from the knees and now I’m paying the price. It will take a few visits to the chiropractor as well as few ice packs to get it right again. I guess you can truly say it was a “senior moment,” although some of my younger friends tell me they have the same problem.

The other thing on my mind this week is that I’m saying “Good bye” to an old friend. I’ve spent time with him almost every week for more than twenty years, but he is now “moving on.” Of course, I’m talking about the one and only Regis Philbin—King of the morning talk show hosts. I discovered his entertaining show shortly after the death of my mother, at a time when I was experiencing a great deal of depression. I had quit my job to look after her in her last stage of pancreatic cancer, and had not yet gone back to work. Having my morning cup of coffee with Regis and Kathie Lee (his co-host at the time), gave me a great many laughs and got me through the day.

Even when I went back to work, I was usually able to catch the first twenty minutes of the show that Regis called the “Host Chat.” They were always funny together and I was sorry when Kathie Lee decided to call it quits. But along came the delightful Kelly Rippa who brought a completely new edginess to the show.
Over the past ten years, the two of them together have helped me survive two bouts of cancer, my husband’s heart attack, and a move away from the city I lived in for over sixty-five years. Even though Regis is a bit of a curmudgeon, one could always count on them for a great deal of fun and some entertaining stories about their lives in New York City.

One of the stories Regis would never tell, but often hinted at, was something that happened to himself and his wife, Joy on their wedding night. Kelly would frequently bring up the subject and he would say, “No, no. I can’t talk about that here.” Now, he has promised that, this coming Friday—on his very last show-- he is going to tell us the story of his wedding night. Regis has always been extremely skilled as a storyteller, and it looks like he will finish with a great finale.

Kelly has just been given a 5-year contract with ABC and I’m certain they will come up with an impressive co-host for her. But I’m also sure that it will be different. Regis always steered the show back to satisfy the people in my age group. It was as much about the stars of yesteryear as the introduction of new kids on the block. There isn’t much entertainment directed to us older folks anymore. And that’s an element of the show that I will be sad to see gone.

Come Friday morning, I will probably shed a tear or two. I’m really going to miss my morning coffee with Regis Philbin.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Whistler Ski Season Opens November 26th


A little off the topic of wine tasting this week, but a shout out to all you skiers out there waiting for this.

The autumnal equinox has passed, the frost is on the pumpkin, and the cold rains of winter are falling on the city of Vancouver. But high on the slopes of British Columbia’s Olympic playground, the snow will soon fly, and excitement is in the air. Mark your calendars; the 2011/12 ski season is scheduled to begin on November 26th.

Whistler, B.C. is a gorgeous little village nestled at the bottom of two world-class ski mountains. In the valley around Whistler Village, there is no end of accommodations. Anything from delightful Bed and Breakfasts, to luxury resorts such as the beautiful Four Seasons Whistler, one of North America’s top year-round mountain resorts.

Down in the village, from early spring to the end of summer, there’s always the chance of a bear sighting. On an early morning walk, you’re quite likely to run into one or two feasting from the resort garbage cans. Even though these receptacles are made of metal and have self-closing locks, the bears have figured out how to get what they want. Recently the diners at one village pizza parlour, were surprised and delighted to find their dinner companion was a black bear who sauntered in through the front door, stood up over the counter, grabbed a pizza off the display and started eating it. The crowd laughed as one of the customers yelled “you better give a good tip, bud.”  The noise evidently scared the bear away.

Two things to bear in mind, (no pun intended) never purposely feed them, and never get between a mother bear and her cub.

Of course, it goes without saying that the skiing is great here. After all, Whistler did host the 2010 Winter Olympics, but the number one attraction at the moment is the absolutely, breathtaking ride on the “Peak to Peak” Gondola. Suspended over fourteen  hundred feet above the valley floor, this ride swings between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, allowing skiers to change from one ski area to the other without the hassle of descending and ascending the slopes. The views of the surrounding mountain range and the delightful valley are out-of-this world lovely, and something you’ll remember the rest of your life.

(Next week: More wine on B.C.s Golden Wine Trail)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Seeking Sun and Wine in the Okanagan Valley

                                             The Town of Penticton on Okanagan Lake

Heading south from Kelowna on Highway 97, you reach the second great wine growing area in British Columbia. High on benches overlooking the beautiful blue lake, as well as some which stretch back into small, sunny valleys towards the coastal mountains, grape vineyards have taken over many of the lovely fruit orchards that once were the valley’s mainstay.  

The first small village you pass through along this western shore of Lake Okanagan is Peachland, just 21 miles southwest of Kelowna. The town stretches along the lakeshore for about a mile. It is a serene and picturesque community dating back to the late 1800s, when pioneer fruit grower, John Moore Robinson arrived from the Canadian prairies in 1897. He quickly recognized the agricultural potential of the land along the lake. As well, he claimed and sub-divided the bench land above the lake, eventually establishing the town.

Peachland is said to be the home of Ogopogo, Lake Okanagan’s famous prehistoric monster. It is at Squally Point, just across the lake from Peachland that many sightings have taken place and therefore is thought to be the creature’s habitat. The aboriginal people have believed in this lake monster for centuries, although many scientists have discredited the idea.

There are two wineries established here: the Greata Ranch and Hainle Vineyards. Both wineries have a tasting room, and Greata offers a wonderful veranda with wine and cheese pairing and unmatched views of the lake. Open from April through October.

Just 18 miles south of Peachland, we come to the lovely town of Summerland. Blessed with warm beaches, bright blue skies, and the perfect climate for orchard or vineyard, it is a virtual Garden of Eden. Some of my earliest memories are centered in this paradisiacal area, and it was here that I attended my first two years of school.

Old Summerland is down on the water, where they have recently built a beautiful resort, Summerland Waterfront Resort Spa. I haven’t tried it yet, but it is getting good reviews on Trip Advisor.

Outside of being at the lake level and having a very nice pool and access to water sports, there isn’t much to do down here. But it’s only a 5-minute drive to uptown;  and Penticton, with its numerous restaurants and shops, is only 15 minutes away. Most of the town’s business now thrives on the upper benches.

 To the west of town, lies fertile Prairie Valley, where I was fortunate enough to live during the 1940s, and now is resplendent with vineyards. Driving up into the hills behind Prairie Valley, you can experience the fun of the old Kettle Valley Steam Railway, while you traverse ten miles of beautiful, vistas along the only preserved section of this historic railway. You’ll enjoy the sights of the old reservoir, lush orchards, and new vineyards until reaching a spectacular view of lake and land from the old railway bridge, two hundred and thirty eight feet above the floor of Trout Creek Canyon.

The sight and sound of the restored 1912 locomotive, the ‘KVR 3716’ will bring the era of steam travel alive, as you ride along on this ninety minute journey in a vintage passenger coach or open air car. On certain trips throughout the summer months, one can experience the ‘old west’ as the notorious Garnett Valley Gang raids the train and ‘robs’ the passengers all for the benefit of local charities. The outing includes a delicious BBQ and musical entertainment.

From Prairie Valley Road, you also get a magnificent view of Summerland’s major landmark, Giant’s Head, an extinct volcano that is now a mountain with a face that resembles the profile of a man. The stump of the volcano’s cone remains in the form of this monolithic rock Reminders of the cataclysmic volcanic explosion that created Giant's Head Mountain are regularly found in the area. These are examples of lava bombs, volcanic material that spewed into the air and cooled in round shapes in the Summerland Museum.

Summerland is home to 10 wineries, from the premier Sumac Ridge winery north of town, to my favourite boutique winery, Dirty Laundry Vineyard, set in a perfect location between Giants Head Mountain and Trout Creek Canyon. Many of them now have their own viewing verandas for tasting and lunches.

Directly across the lake from Summerland are the village of Naramata and the famous wine growing Naramata Benches. The only way in, is through Penticton and you’re better to overnight in that vacation center. While there is the Sandy Bay Resort with lovely cabins for those who want to make their own food; as well as some lovely B&Bs, there are not many restaurants to choose from in this small village.  You probably will decide to drive back to Penticton to eat in any case.

But the views are well worth a day trip along the east side of the lake, and the wines are excellent no matter where you travel in the Central Okanagan Valley. My suggestion is after visiting a few of Naramata’s 19 estate wineries, take a break with a patio lunch at the excellent Rooster Winery where you get a fabulous view of Giant’s Head across the lake and an equally great glass or two of chilled Rosé wine.

Top: Giant's Head Mountain, Summerland, B.C.  Bottom: Red Rooster Winery, Naramata Bench

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Annual October Influenza Strikes

Hi Folks:

Sorry not up to writing about wine touring this week. Hopefully will stop the sneezing and coughing by the weekend. More on the beautiful Okanagan by then.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kelowna and the Okanagan Wine Industry

                                                                    City of Kelowna

The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia has long been known for its scenic beauty and its orchard covered hills. In years past, from April through May when the fruit trees burst into bloom, it was a sight to behold. I lived there from the time I was three years old until I was seven, and some of my very first memories are of life in an apple orchard, where my father managed to get a job during the great depression of the 20th century. I still love the aroma of a wooden box full of freshly picked apples in September.

But over the past twenty or thirty years, the fruit trees have slowly been replaced by lush vineyards and the fruit packing plants by wineries, each with their own unique character. Because this area is near and dear to my heart and because it produces some of the best wines in the world, it is here that, I am starting my series on wine producing tourist spots.

The region, not unlike the Mediterranean, is known for its sunny climate and dry landscapes. In fact, some parts of the valley actually have desert microclimates. It falls in the same latitude as the European wine regions of Champagne and Rheingau.  

Around the chain of lakes, which includes Lake Okanagan, Skaha Lake, Vaseux Lake and Lake Osoyoos, are many lakeshore communities; and, even before the wineries, it was a magnet for tourists. Much of the economy is retirement and recreational based, with outdoor activities such as boating, water skiing, hiking as well as winter sports in the surrounding mountains.

The actual wine producing area stretches from Vernon, at the north end of the Okanagan Lake, and follows the river and chain of lakes to the US Border. At that point both the river and valley change spelling to become Washington State’s Okanogan Valley. South of the border, the river eventually flows into the mighty Columbia.

There are a few wineries north of Vernon around Salmon Arm, but Kelowna is truly the heart of the Northern Okanagan Wine Country. There are 24 wine estates around that city alone. Many of them offer beautiful lake and mountain vistas as well as excellent white and red vintages. Both Ehrenfelser and Gewürztraminers do especially well in the fertile soil of this region as do Rosés and Pinot Noirs.

It is difficult to choose the best wineries around Kelowna, but I have two favourites. Gray Monk, in the hills north of Kelowna, is my first choice and comes with the most intoxicating views. Their Grapevine Restaurant gives you time to enjoy these amazing scenes along with creative cuisine and the estate’s award winning vintages.   

Next on my list, is Cedar Creek Estates, which is south of the city-center, and also boasts gorgeous views across to West Kelowna. Cedar Creek specializes in the usual North Okanagan aromatics such as Gewurztraminer, Ehrenfelser and Rieslings plus the more full-bodied whites; Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. They also have vineyards in the hotter climes of the Southern Okanagan dedicated to Merlot, Syrah, and Meritage. However, that wine growing area is for another week.

Across the lake in West Kelowna, there are several very fine wineries; too many to list here, and one can easily spend two or three days of wine tasting centered here in the north. There are numerous beautiful Bed and Breakfasts; hotels for every budget; as well as condominium rentals such as the luxurious Discovery Bay Resort.
* * *
Next week we’ll head to vineyard estates in the towns of Summerland, Penticton, and Naramata, all located in the central Okanagan Valley area.

Okanagan wines may not be as well known as some of the famous wine growing areas of the world, but the vintners here claim their wines are as good as any made in the world. They invite you to come and see for yourselves.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wines that Gladden the Heart

Since we are now past the autumnal equinox, I have noticed there’s a definitely crispness in the night air, and already tinges of colour on some of the maple tree leaves. A sure sign, that in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, as well as wine growing areas all over the northern hemisphere, it is grape stomping time.

I guess it’s my French Huguenot blood, but I truly love wine. Good wine; in moderation. Today, when many people think of Calvinism, they picture the dour-faced, hellfire and brimstone preachers of the reformation, thumping their pulpits with their messages of retribution.

“Lips that touch wine, will never touch mine,” was the lesson my Scottish mother was taught by her Calvinist parents, as a child. At the age of five, she was forced to sign a pledge that she would never drink alcohol. Even though she learned to take the occasional small drink, the guilt was always there. Surprisingly, neither John Calvin nor the Bible were ever against the drinking of wine in moderation.  A recently discovered quote by Calvin reads, “It is nowhere forbidden to laugh or to eat one's fill or gain new possessions or enjoy oneself with musical instruments or drink wine."
As for the scriptures, in Ecclesiastes 9 verse 7 the admonition is “.Go, eat your food with rejoicing and drink your wine with a good heart.” Of course, one of the psalmists does add the warning “Do not be staying too long with the wine.” Very good advice for everyone.
Recently, our local Vancouver Sun newspaper, offered a free 8-week Home Schooling segment by wine expert Anthony Gismondi on “Educating Your Palate.” Each week he suggests a different wine type for us to buy and sample as homework. This is one piece of homework, I don’t mind doing in the least. So while I’m concentrating on sampling, for the next few weeks I’ll discuss some of the wine areas I’ve visited and the wines they offer. And I may have a few guest bloggers discuss their favourites as well.

Friday, September 30, 2011


My Huguenot Family Tree 

Shows the relationship beteen myself and my 9th 

cousin-once-removed in France.



Didier Pothet is a son of a 9th cousin of Catherine Elisabeth Sharpe.
  • Indeed,
    • Mathurin Gastineau and Élisabeth Audée ; Audeer (2 relationship links).
    are at the same time
    • ancestors of the 10th generation of Catherine Elisabeth Sharpe
    • ancestors of the 11th generation of Didier Pothet

Mathurin Gastineau ca 1600-/1692
& Élisabeth Audée ; Audeer ca 1600




Isaac Ga(s)tineau ca 1638-1704
&1662 Marie Garnault ca 1638-1708

Pierre Gastineau /1642-1682/1692
&ca 1660 Elizabeth Herbert



François Ga(s)tineau 1670-1704/1714
&1697 Suzanne Vadier 1680-1719

Mathurin Gastineau 1666-1746
&1692 Jeanne Chaboussant



François Ga(s)tineau 1705-1757/1776
&1733 Marie Macouin 1714-1776/1788

Charles Gastineau 1702-1780
& Rebecca Terrier







Louise Gatineau 1743-1781/1793
&1762 Jean Pot(h)et 1738-1814

Marie Gatineau ca 1745-1780/1788
&1765 Louis Potet 1741-1802/

Mary Gastineau 1733
&1763 Edward Barnard




Jacques Pot(h)et 1766-1825
& Marie Macouin 1767-1817

Izaac Pot(h)et 1768-1814 &1794
Magdelaine Bruneteau 1769-1837/

Mary Barnard &1790
William Deeble 1758-1796




Marie Pot(h)et 1798-1858

Izaac Pot(h)et 1798-1862

Edward Barnard Deeble 1794-1845
&1819 Sarah Ann Fenton +1852







Jacques Pothet 1837-1905
&1874 Marie Bertin 1843-1907

Eliza Lees Deeble 1822-1904
&1847 Arthur Sharp 1808-870



Jacques Pothet 1875-1945
&1908 Marie Caillet 1885-1951

Herbert Alfred Sharp 1854-1935
&1884 Emma Greenslade 1852-1928



Rosny "Georges" Pothet 1909-2000
&1936 Simone David 1917-2003

Arthur Herbert Charles Sharp 1890-1963
&1920 Agnes Elliot Nancy Hart 1901-1986



Rémy Pothet 1939-
& Claudine Carcenac 1936-

Catherine Elisabeth Sharpe 1936-
& Allan Edward Kales


Didier Pothet 1964-
& Laurette Quatrus

Friday, September 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel – Part 1 – Why I’ve Written “The Silk Weaver’s Daughter.”

In a very short time now, my novel about a French Huguenot family entitled “The Silk Weaver’s Daughter,” will be published by CreateSpace and available on in paperback, as well as on Kindle. It has been a labour of love now for over five years. 

When I was a teenager, my aunt, who knew the family history much better than my father did, informed me that we had Huguenot ancestors. I was always determined to find out who they were; so in 1976, I began my search for my Family History. It was a lot more difficult in those days. Without the internet, one had to travel to, or write letters back and forth to the various repositories in England and Scotland. There were also, of course, the local Family History Branches of the Mormon Church. These were open to all Family Historians regardless of their religion. However, even if you found a source, the local branch had to order the microfilms from Salt Lake City. Even then, you could run up against a blank wall. So it was all very slow. Of course, the internet and its multitude of Family History sites today have made it a lot less complicated. 

I was fortunate that shortly after I began, I made contact with an unknown second cousin in England; who previously only knew that my grandfather had taken his family to Canada, and was hardly ever heard from again. It was a great reunion when I was able to go to London to meet the descendants of my grandfather’s brothers.

To make a long story short, eventually I was able to make the French Connection, and discover just who my particular Huguenots ancestors were. They were brave people who left  hearth and home in the 17th century, and make their way, through many dangers, to London to start afresh in the area known as Spittlefields. While there are many non-fiction books written about that historical event, there is very little in the way of novels about Huguenot families and what they experienced. 

I also was fortunate to “meet” on-line, a Frenchman in Lyon, who was the descendant of my ancestor’s brother. His ancestor had chosen to stay in his beloved country as a secret Huguenot, an equally dangerous thing to do. It was discussing with him the different choices that each brother made, that I began finally to have the idea of a plot for my novel.

They say, “If you can't find the novel you would like to read, write it yourself.” Which is the reason, I have written a novel based on this research. It is founded on the few facts I have about my Huguenot ancestors. The rest is purely fiction. Before I started to write my book, I visited the ancestral places in France and England and saw with my own eyes the village where my people originated. It was a very beautiful spot that touched my heart.

“However they did it, my ancestors  managed to make  their way to London where they shaped admirable lives for themselves. In the novel, the hero, Pierre Garneau, tends to be typical of Huguenot philosophy in his beliefs and behaviour. I am happy to say that over the period of the story, he learns moderation in his judgments and enough wisdom to realize his own shortcomings.

As I say, the story is completely fiction, but many of the events did happen to some Huguenots. I feel that, in a time when there are still places in the world where a man can't follow his own conscience, the bravery of these people has an important message for us all. I hope others find it interesting and informative. 


Friday, September 16, 2011

Senior Moments: An Italian Treasure

Senior Moments: An Italian Treasure

An Italian Treasure

I don’t often recommend a destination I’ve never been too, but this looks like such an ideal vacation spot, I’m going to suggest it anyhow. I met Alessandro Zullo, the man who represents the property, online at the LinkedIn website, where I associate with other travel writers and bloggers. He is a delightful man who speaks from his heart about this wonderful vacation spot.
The Dimora Del Prete Belmonte, built in the 16th century is an enchanting Bed & Breakfast in a beautiful, historic house located in Venafro, Italy—an excellent centralized location for tourism in the Molise region. It is centrally located for tours to Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi coast, and Capri and is easily reached by both railway and autoroutes.

The Palace of the Del Prete di Belmonte rises in the center of the old city of Venafro. Next to it, on the Piazza del Cristo, stands the church of the same name. The Parco Oraziano behind the cathedral became the Regional Agricultural Historical Olive Park of Venafro. A regional law aimed at establishing a protected area to preserve the heritage of Venafro’s olive trees. The Regional Agricultural Historical Olive Park of Venafro is the first park in the Mediterranean area with an olive theme. No doubt, it is spectacular in early spring when the olive trees bloom.

The palace itself, built on one of the cardinal roads of the Roman town, was restructured in neoclassic style around 1860. The ground floor, once used to keep carriages, has been transformed into a beautiful hall available for small conferences, private meetings and other social events.  On the main floor, guests enjoy breakfast in an elegant drawing room decorated with frescoed ceilings depicting views of the town and the Del Prete country estates. Outside, there is a courtyard with charming central garden, in the middle of which stand two very old palm trees and a rose garden with old-fashioned fragrant roses.

The rooms in the upper floor of the palace are furnished with period furniture and are available for guests. All are air-conditioned and have private toilets. Breakfast is included in the price of the rooms.

The owner of the estate is offering courses in Italian, as well as cooking, archaeology, canoeing, etc. It could also be used for weddings, as there is a beautiful chapel inside the palace. The staff at the estate are able to book tours for you to all the well-known sights. As well, they will make suggestions about equally beautiful, undiscovered places they tell me are even more worthy of a visit than the regular tourist spots.
Trip Advisor ranks it as #1 of Venafro B&Bs and many of their readers gave it 5-star ratings. One reviewer, from North Wales had this to say in July of this summer:

 “We stayed for a week in this wonderful place in the centre of the old town of Venafro. Our host, Dorothy was so helpful & welcomed us as part of the family. We have stayed in various places in Italy over the past years but none compare with this special B&B.
The town & surrounding area have a lot to offer with historical sites & dramatic mountain scenery . If it's the real Italy you want (away from the tourists) - this is certainly the best we've found.”
Alessandro Zullo is extremely enthusiastic about this special place, and is hoping to attract the senior cliental to a very different Italian encounter. If you are interested in experiencing something a little different the than usual glitzy, American-style hotel, Del Prete di Belmonte may be just the place for you.
You can book your vacation at The Palace of the Del Prete di Belmonte through, with Travel Advisor, or directly with Mr. Zullo at

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Book Review "Becoming Marie Antoninette"

In this first of a trilogy about the life of Marie Antoinette, we are introduced to ten-year-old Antonia, the youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, autocratic co-ruler of the Austrian-Hapsburg

Antonia is an impetuous child, more prone to chasing after butterflies, or tumbling in the garden with her pet dog, than gliding through the mirrored halls of the celebrated Versailles. Yet, her mother is determined that she shall marry the French Dauphin, the young grandson of King Louis XV. No effort or expense is spared in the empress's race to transform this sweet, boisterous, little girl into a sophisticated beauty, able to deal with the intrigues and treacheries of the French Court.

In order to meet the French standard of elegance, she must learn the special Versailles walk on two-inch heels, and wearing skirts wider than a door. Her hairstyle is considered wrong; her figure at twelve years of age, too boyish; and even her teeth are too crooked for their standard of beauty. She must undergo the rigors of a crude form of braces to straighten them. She is not by nature a student, so must undergo constant, rigorous lessons in the French language as well as the geography and history of that country.

The author gives us a detailed account of the young Antonia growing into the glamorous Marie Antoinette under the demanding eye of her ambitious mother. It is character-driven and through the author's beautiful and skilful writing, we are able to watch the young girl's metamorphous before our eyes, rather like the butterflies she loves.

Since it IS character rather than plot-driven, it is not a page-turner in the sense of a thriller or even a cozy. But through wonderful word pictures and delightfully poignant scenes, the writer has done an outstanding job of drawing the lover of historical fiction into the life of this remarkable young girl. I can hardly wait for the release of the other two books in the trilogy of France's last queen. Like the author, I am growing very fond of Antonia. I wish that her story could have a happy ending but, sadly, we already know what her fate will be.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

Or in my case--cat days. Too lazy these days to do much but sit on the patio with a nice glass of white wine and a good book, while my husband manages the barbecue.

Ah, summer is so good while it lasts. Hope you all are enjoying yours. Back soon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Cozy Mystery Series set in France

Recently discovered a new writer who writes about a fascinating French hero; a Chief of Police in a small village in Southwestern France. Have read two books of the series and will definitely be looking for more. Here is my Amazon Book Review.

Benoit Courrèges, better known as Bruno, is the Chief of Police in the small village of St. Denis in Southwestern France. Having held this position for the past ten years, Bruno is a definite part of the village scene, and he loves the life and the friends he has made for himself there.

He remodelled his own house on a plateau overlooking the Dordogne River Valley, where he grows his own veggies, raises his own chickens, and with his dog, Gigi, hunts the elusive Black Diamond truffle. He knows his way around his kitchen, where he whips up some succulent French dishes.

When Bruno discovers his good friend and hunting buddy, Hercule Vendroit has been murdered after being horribly tortured, he is suddenly up to his neck in government red tape. Turns out his friend was a high-level intelligence agent with roots going back to France’s colonization of Vietnam.

This is the third book in the series and the second that I have read. The author does include a lot of French political history, particularly regarding its military actions in places like Algeria and Bosnia. A real Francophile will no doubt appreciate these references, but I found them a little boring. It tends to slow down the pace of the present plot.

Nevertheless, Bruno’s interactions with the residents of the village, the descriptions of his culinary skills and the intrigue of his several “affaire de Coeur” all ensure that I’ll be reading more of this endearing French police officer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Alaska Cruise - Part 2

Glaciers viewed from aeroplane

Ship in Glacier Bay National Park

One of the top ports of call for almost all Alaska cruise lines is the town of Skagway, situated at the top of the Alaska Panhandle, on the north end of Lynn Canal. It is most famous for being the gateway to the Yukon or Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99.
As the news of the discovery of a mother lode in the Yukon, men from all walks of life headed there from as far away as New York, South African, the Great Britain, and Australia.

From Skagway, the prospectors traveled the dangerous Chilkoot Trail and crossed the Chilkoot Pass, or hiked up to the White Pass and proceeded to Bennet Lake, the headwaters of the Yukon River. Here, some 25 to 35 miles from where they landed, they built rafts and boats that would take them the final 500 miles or more down the Yukon to Dawson City, near the gold fields.

The gold stampeders were forced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to carry a year's supply of goods — about a ton, more than half of it food — over the passes to be allowed to enter Canada. Some realized how difficult the trek ahead would be on route to the gold fields, and chose to stay behind in Skagway to supply goods and services to miners. Within weeks, stores, saloons, and offices lined the muddy streets. During the spring of 1898, with approximately 1,000 prospective miners passing through the town each week, the population was estimated at 8,000. By June 1898, with nearly 10,000 residents, it was named the largest city in Alaska.

Today, many remnants of that historic period remain for the adventurous at heart. Just walking down Broadway, the main street is like a journey to another century. You can pick up a walking tour map that shows some of the original spots and gives an overview of their history. A good example is the Red Onion Saloon, one of Skagway’s most infamous watering holes. It’s well known for its provocative past and the upstairs has changed little since the time when it was frequented by turn-of-the-century working girls.

Another adventure reminiscent of the town’s history is a trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. The "Scenic Railway of the World" links Skagway with Yukon, Canada, a 41-mile roundtrip offering an unforgettable journey to the summit of the White Pass, a 2,865-foot elevation.

Perhaps the hi-light of any cruise to Alaska is sailing as close as possible to the beautiful glaciers that make their slow journey to the Pacific Ocean, and watch them as they "calve" into the sea. You stand in amazement, as, with sonic booms, great chunks break away from the glacier; sometimes causing tsunami like waves. The excitement of those watching nature at work, is palpable.

With climate warming, these glaciers are fast retreating and one wonders how much longer we will be able to experience this marvel of nature.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

North to Alaska

We’re now a month into summer, so perhaps it’s time to talk about some vacation ideas for the next few weeks. Since most of North America has been suffering the effects of a heat dome, an Alaska Cruise might seem like a nice comfortable way to spend a week or ten days. Personally, I don’t think the beauty of the Pacific Coast inland passageway to Alaska can be surpassed.

There are a several choices in where you can board your ship. For example, in 2011, ships sail out of Vancouver, B.C. for either a return trip of seven days on Holland America, or a one-way sailing to Anchorage (Seward) on Princess Cruises.

Out of Seattle, return sailings of seven days are offered by Carnival, Norwegian, Holland American, or Princess. In addition, out of San Francisco, Princess offers a return sailing of ten days.

For the very adventurous, there are ferry sailings to Anchorage on the Alaska Ferry Line out of Bellingham, Washington, where one can take their automobile or travel trailer, and wend their way home along the Alaska Highway, through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia.

Most of the sailings offer the three main ports of call in Alaska, outside of Anchorage, these being Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is located on the Gastineau Channel midway up the Alaska panhandle. (The Gastineau Channel was named after John Gastineau, an engineer who surveyed the area in the late 1800s, and just happens to be a distant relative of mine. Of course, we never met.) There are some fabulous tours to be taken here including a tram ride up Mt. Roberts or a helicopter ride to the Juneau Icefields, with a landing on one of these glaciers. Or while-away the afternoon in Juneau’s famous Red Dog Saloon, founded during the town’s mining era. For a time, "Ragtime Hattie" played the piano here in white gloves and a silver dollar halter-top.

Ketchikan is at the bottom of the panhandle in the southeast corner of Alaska. It boasts a temperate climate and the highest rainfall of any place in the United States—15 feet per year. Ketchikan is best known for its Alaskan Native culture and great salmon fishing. In addition to native villages where you can experience a smoked salmon barbecue, they have more totem poles than anywhere else in the world. Like most cruise-port towns, there are some great duty free stores near the harbour, where you can buy anything from Gucci handbags to Movado watches.

Next week: Skagway, Anchorage, and cruising Glacier National Park