The Joy of Travel

Lately there has been quite a bit of talk about traveling from your living room, eating your way around the globe from your kitchen, experiencing the world in a video, in short knowing the joys of travel while we stay at home. The ask is that we fulfill our desires to travel while sheltering in place, while under COVID-19 restrictions. While I do appreciate the enthusiasm and the let’s all look at this as the glass is half full perspective, and not usually one to be the Debbie Downer, those of us that are in our hearts a traveler find it a poor substitute. Perhaps even a dismal substitute. After all it’s the process of going and being there, anywhere, that is what we crave. The chaos of a new place, the blissful confusion of a new language, the foreign smells of new foods, the beautiful lines found in new faces are all elements of getting lost in the sensory overload know as travel, and the wanderer thrives on the bedlam. From the misadventures that starts seemingly the minute you walk through the over processed air of an airport, we are in our happy place. We are not creatures of daily routine, we are creatures of chaos theory or the seemingly random occurrences which create interconnectedness. This is the key, interconnectedness. Our differences bring us together, and we know this. Curiosity propels us forward, brings out our brave and begs us to seek more. The more we seek, the more we learn and know and understand. Cultures offer insights into humanity that you simply can not know intimately from the TV or iPad. Traveling is truly one of the greatest means to get to know your fellow humans, opening your heart and mind to differences and seeing those foreign worlds as germane, equal, and fabulous, because it’s while we are in those new places we feel our most vulnerable and as a result more accepting. Something the world definitely needs more of right now.

As we all strive to understand exactly what is happening to humankind, and these seemingly random and challenging events continue to well, challenge us, dig deep and consider the butterfly effect. That butterfly flapping its wings in China, may not bring the hurricane, it may bring a tide of change that after this storm has passed, we find a new clarity and deeper understanding for all cultures and people. A simple lucidity that most will be able to grasp from the comfort of their couch, and perhaps it will instill a desire to know more and travel and in turn connect.

Bewitched in Florence, Italy

Lately I’ve been having more than a few wistful days thinking about my perfect Florence, Italy. The perfume I bought while there last year is half empty and I’m afraid this is definitely not a case of the glass is half full vs. half empty. It most assuredly is half empty. This makes me panic a little. So, while I mentally travel back to this most fabulous of cities, and have effectively relived every place I visited, I thought I would create my version of One Perfect Day in Florence, Italy. True, it would be hard to have a bad day in Florence, but I have always found it helpful to read what others have to say. As someone who seeks out perfumeries and cocktails wherever I travel, if you are also inclined, be certain to check these off your list if you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Florence.

Put on your walking shoes, we have ground to cover!

While there are a number of wonderful hotels directly in the heart of Florence, we found a sweet little rooftop apartment just north of the core on a quiet street, and we look forward to our daily stroll into the fray. I have found great comfort in having a place to land at the end of the day, with room to spread out, and an outdoor place to take it all in and recount the day’s events. Our hostess and temporary neighbor owns a little boutique close to the Arno, and she and her little dog, Livio, walk to and from daily, it’s a part of life here in Florence, and helps balance out the pasta and gelato you are certain to consume! 

Enjoying a spritz at La Ménagère in Florence, Italy

We begin our day with a light breakfast and coffee at La Ménagère. We happened on this spot on our second day, and returned a few times for coffee or an afternoon Spritz. Grab a spot up front to people watch. Here you’ll find not only mouthwatering pastry, but you can also order something slightly hardier if that’s what you’re after. It’s a beautiful restaurant that opens to a brightly lit sunny room in the back. Be sure to walk all the way in and check out the home goods for sale. They also have a wonderful bathroom, something I am always on the lookout for! Female. 

Once fortified and caffeinated, we’re going to make our way east to the Santa Croce area. If you’re following along on a map, you’ll find a number of different routes to take. Pick any! This is the beauty of Florence, and travel in general— the leaving a little something to be discovered along the way. The destination is AquaFlor Firenze. Heaven. Nirvana. Bliss. Be sure to walk through the Piazza di Santa Croce and take in the Basilica for which it is named en route. This is the burial place of many notable Italians such as Bartolini, Da Vinci, Galileo and Machiavelli to name a few. This is a half a day in and of itself, so for now enjoy the people and performers in the square. AquaFlor is located up one of the smaller streets just off of the southern tip of the piazza. Trust me on this however, you will smell AquaFlor before you lay eyes on the little wooden door that steps into Mecca. Outside the heavy glass door are two small shelves, perched upon each is an enormous room diffuser. It’s the street diffuser and it lures you in like the Pied Piper. Breathe in deep. It doesn’t get better than this. You’ll be greeted by high ceilings, club chairs, walls of glass and an overall swank apothecary vibe. Pause to swoon. Apparently, you are able to sign up in advance for perfume classes or to have a custom scent made for you. As this was my first time, I didn’t discover this with enough advance notice and sadly could not partake. I did however have a gloriously fun few hours sniffing, discussing and trying out fragrances while I whittled my way down to what I consider to be in my top 5 favorite fragrances. If you are an aromachologist (yes this is a word) this is an experience not to be missed. Give yourself ample time to truly immerse yourself. If you haven’t abandoned the rest of your day at this point, pull yourself away and head west.

Tell your travel buddy to pop a squat while you take it all in here at AquaFlor Firenze

Our next stop is La Prosciutteria Firenze for a glass or carafe of wine and a charcuterie plate. You’ll need time to recover from your life altering experience and might find yourself a little peckish. You can also order a sandwich here, but I do suggest you grab a little table in the back, pop your wine glass into the crafty wall mounted glass holder and dig in to a sampling of cheese, meats and all the trimmings for a proper snack. Be sure to try the truffle cream on anything. Your travel buddy will forgive you the hours spent trying perfumes.

Continue in a west-ward direction, either by route of the river or weaving your way through the streets. I don’t tend to over plan my days, as you will always see some place you want to pop in to or take photos of. These streets are filled with photo opportunities! 

The next destination is the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. This is one of the oldest and possibly most breathtaking pharmacies to behold. The Dominican monks of Florence were developing medicinal remedies and scents in 1212 using herbs from the monastery gardens and the perfumery still uses its renowned scents developed today. I strongly recommend you give yourself a strict budget before entering. This is a great place to grab gifts for friends back home and then some. I’m certain many have blown their shopping budget here. As you walk back out, pass by the Santa Maria Novella as well.

At this point your nose might be shot, so backtrack east to a little boutique called Marie Antoinette of Florence. This is for the fashionistas in your group. It’s a wonderfully curated little boutique filled with vintage Italian couture and new up and coming designers. The two women that own it are fun and clearly have a great eye for fashion. This is a one-of-a kind boutique if you’re looking to bring back a little Italian something something for yourself.

Italian spirits on offer at Manifattura

By now we’ll assume your feet are sore and you are ready for a drink. Don’t worry, the next stop is just a few doors down. It’s a little cocktail bar called Manifattura and prepares drinks made only with Italian spirits. Settle in at the beautiful bar, and put yourself in the hands of the capable and very knowledgeable bartender. Personally, I’m a Negroni girl, and was taken on a journey of next level proportions. Suffice it to say that Campari is only the very tip of this iceberg. We were introduced to numerous small batch brands of herbaceous and bitter amaros, tantalizing liquers and digestifs of such depth I almost cried. Not one to go without, we found the location where we could purchase some of our very own. We discovered our inner Italian here, and once we were ready, we were sure to hit the next stop before closing.

Enotecca Alessi is home to all of these spirits, wines and so so much more. You might consider a return trip here another day once you’ve taken it all in. They also host tastings and have a small bar to sit and sip some of their splendor. We found the particular bottles that led us here in the first place, and perhaps an extra or two. My suitcase was certain to hit maximum weight.

If you have paced yourself and spent the entire day on this route, a large extravagant dinner might not be an option. In which case, I suggest heading up to the Mercato Centrale upper level for a convivial and casual dining experience. There is something for everyone, a few bars serving beer, wine and cocktails and food options to please most. Walk the complete lap around the large dining hall before committing or better yet divide, conquer and share. It’s a fun experience and a great way to wind down your day!

Below you’ll find a link to my Google Map of all of these places! Buona giornata!

The Transportive Powers of Scent

I’m mindlessly pushing my grocery cart down the produce aisle, and mildly distracted by the broken wheel that refuses to roll straight. I need but a few items and am in a hurry. I’m always in a hurry at the grocery. It’s my basic M.O. Seek, retrieve, purchase, get out. Seven perfect lemons, smooth skin, juicy feel, then it hits. A wave of fragrance so intimate, I pause my focused pursuit to look around. For that brief moment I fully expect to see my grandmother standing next to me. It’s Coco Chanel. Unmistakable, and in my mind she’s the only person to ever wear this iconic scent as I have always felt no one wore it like her. It’s the fragrance of love and delicious kitchen smells, dragon breathing irritation and all things she was and continues to be to me long after her passing.

Scent has the power to send you catapulting to another time and place like no other. It’s the sleeper time machine that you didn’t see coming, and a huge piece of my world from my earliest memories. I often identify perfume shops as a destination when planning vacations, and in the processes of locating these often obscure locations, amazing discoveries are made adding to the memory bank.

You see, I grew up surrounded by strong women, each with their own personal fragrance. To this day I can still send my world into a minor tailspin when one of those eau de parfum wafts past my nose, thus the power of olfactory memory. I came to believe that your scent was as unique to you as the rest of your style. The particular perfume will likely change as you grow into yourself, but it will become clear, if only you pay attention, to what type of scent best melds with your being. It’s a marriage. The wrong scent would be akin to having the wrong shoe size on, uncomfortable and perhaps slightly unpleasant. It will certainly not feel like a second skin, as your scent should be something that envelops you in more you-ness.

Perfume itself is thousands of years old. The word itself comes from the Latin per fume, or “through smoke.” Evidence of perfume making began in Egypt and Mesopotamia, for use in rituals both spiritual and sensual, or maybe they just wanted to smell great. Either way, these floral, woodsy and spice notes were a part of their culture. The earliest use of perfume bottles dates back to around 1000 BCE also by Egyptians who also happened to invent glass. Perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for it, but the oldest recorded perfume vessels found comes from the island of Cyprus made of painted ceramic. Upon further analysis traces of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond and parsley, all native to the region, were discovered as preferred scents.

Perfumery in Pyrgos, Cyprus — 4,000 years old

With hopeful determination to find something new and more amazing I will set off in search of the next great discovery in each destination. I am never disappointed. If I don’t find THE perfume, I always find something, a scented lotion, soap or room diffuser with a bouquet that will forever remind me of this particular moment in time, and quite possibly a part of the city or town I may never have seen. This is worth its weight in gold, and will certainly give me the warm and fuzzies every time I lay nose to it. This is the loot I plunder and lug home in my oversized suitcase without fail.

Long after I have forgotten the name of a particular cathedral visited, or what I may have eaten at a particular restaurant, I can count on the smells encountered and more specifically the perfumes sampled to bring me right back. It’s the ultimate souvenir.

Life’s Twisty Turns

He’s a half switchback ahead of me. Hanna is running back and forth between us in some attempt to either speed me up or slow him down, thus bridging the gap between us. She doesn’t like when her people aren’t immediately around. She stops halfway between us and gives me that look. “Really?” She sits, almost patiently, waiting. Her breath is little clouds in front of her wet nose. I’m not in a hurry though. I’m in a winter wonderland and enjoying every kind of sensory overload. The sun filters down from the tops of the aspens, through ice crystals and loaded snowy branches to meet me in dazzling brilliance. The air is crisp. Sparkling lights pop all around. It could be millions of little diamonds, and I’m a pirate drooling at my loot. I watch my steamy breath in front of me, more little clouds from the little engine that could. I think I can. 

We’re snowshoeing up a favorite trail, Elbert Creek, which is just a few miles south of Purgatory Ski Area. It’s a quite vertical two miles up to a Forest Service cabin. Cabin is a bit of a stretch. We’ll call it a Forest Service structure, our usual destination. This will take us an hour. For the moment there is a trail, but soon we will be breaking new ground. It’s early in the season and with only a few snows to date, the path is still fresh. Crunch, crunch, crunch. My aluminum shoes slap a rhythm. You would think I’d know exactly how many switchbacks until we hit the top and head up the valley, but I don’t. Maybe eight? This track feels a little off from the hiking trail, off-piste, but whoever gets there first gets to set it, and the rest follow. I catch a glimpse of his yellow jacket ahead. He rounds the corner. 

I like this alone time. It’s good noodling time. I watch Hanna. I think about making an animation of her running willy-nilly ahead, her little feet post holing every once in a while. She stops to smell something. I think about little characters that fall out of the sky around her as she trots along. First a snow bunny, she jumps and lunges at it above, then a Christmas present floats down with bubbles. A large cat stealthily crosses her tail, she sits comically quiet pretending it’s not there. I think about a large stag leaping over her head, and a little bluebird companion that sits on her head. Larger than life blue snowflakes drifting down, bouncing off of her. I have the entire animation scripted. I ponder an overlay of the actual trail, so I stop, take off my gloves and take a few photos. He’s another half a switchback ahead. 

Crunch, crunch, crunch. I continue up. A light breeze swirls around me and up through the trees. It lifts a dusting of snow, forming a faint white whirl through the remnants of dried autumn leaves. The whites and icy blues merge with the pale grey and white trunks. Black eyes peer out from each tree. I ponder the aspens. What an amazing tree.

Fun fact: Did you know that one aspen tree is actually part of a larger organism? An entire stand is considered a singular organism with an extensive root system, and there is a stand in Utah where an estimated 47,000 aspen are all part of one stand. It may be one of the largest singular organisms in the world.

I crest the top of the switchbacks and ahead I start to see the collection of aspens of unusual shapes. Some have a perfect loop in the trunk. One grows straight up then turns a 180 and straight back down. One can’t decide which way to grow and makes a zig-zag. He’s waiting for me at these trees, because each time we get to them we discuss what the heck. Was it a massive snow year, and the juvenile and noodly trunks were twisted this way and that? Were they underground, part of the root system then decided to be trees? It’s curious. We discuss how like life these insane trees are. One day you’re going straight ahead and then something happens that causes a course direction change. You get pulled this way then that, and again you’re moving in a straight direction. Or you’re doing one thing then have a complete reverse decision and head in an opposite direction. But guess what? You’re still a tree, and you’re still growing! You can choose to be the best at everything you do and just keep adjusting as you go. It makes me think about how we are truly all connected, all of us organisms. I smile, drink some water and put my gloves back on. We’re close to the turn around point.

Hanna is sniffing frantically under the snow. Does she smell the roots that spread across this hillside, all connected in one big happy life structure. We’re more resilient in packs. She knows this. It takes many of us a little longer to figure this out. As soon as there is movement, she snaps out of her reverie and is on her way with us, closer together. A little organism of three, but with roots that reach in many directions to the rest in our little pack. This makes me happy to think about. 

We’re on untracked ground now, and the going is a little slower. We stay together as we work our way up into the shadows. The sun has dropped behind the ridge and with it the temperature. The colors shift to darker blues and greys, my breath becomes more opaque. We quietly observe a variety of animal tracks. Maybe a rabbit here, a deer there. This one could even be a cat. We’ve seen frighteningly large scat up here before, and there’s no reason to think she has moved out. I assume this cat is a female, and this is her turf. The scat a little reminder to all who pass that she’s here and aware. On your way, nothing to see here. Keep it going. I wonder what I would do if she strolled across our path, and I run through my inferior knowledge of what you’re supposed to do. Act larger than you are? Wave your arms or do you play dead? I can never keep them straight. Strength in numbers.

We reach our destination, and I slog off through deeper snow to try and find a place a little more packed down to pee. Always an issue with us hydrators. He’s waiting for me, adjusts my constantly twisted pack straps and we’re off back down the trail again. The down will be quicker, but not that much. We pass the aspens of unusual shapes, we pass the tracks, we make it back to the packed trail, and down through the grove. The sun is off of this hill now and there are no longer sparkly ice crystals to distract me. 

My head turns to food and warmth in the near future and I pick up my pace. Maybe a little barn sour to get back. Hanna senses my pep and matches me, thinking I’m playing. She pogos up and down a few times inquiring if I have any snacks. I offer her water from my tube. We both trot along, trying to keep pace with the longer legs ahead that slowly are pulling away. She takes off after him, and for one more moment I am alone, breathing in new awareness of all we have. We’re billionaires.

5 Favorite/Necessary Travel Aids

Are you traveling home for Thanksgiving? Or possibly taking off for Thanksgiving! Having just returned from two weeks away, I thought I’d share a list of my most necessary travel and packing items. I’m getting it down to something maybe slightly less than absolute packing mayhem, but not quite to pro-level. I can’t go quite as nano as my guy does, I just have more stuff I want to take. At least I can have it organized and not resemble something that looks like it was hit with a bomb.

  1. Packing Cubes!!
    Where have you been all my life? They’re the giant zip-lock bags that OCD packers dream of. There are quite a few out there on the market. Tending to over-stuff these little fabric boxes, I opted a nicer version with bomber zippers. I have multiple sizes, for everything I want to keep separate and use the larger version to store dirty clothes for the trip home.

    Eagle Creek makes a solid version. Sold here.

2. Backpack/Handbag
I actually use this all the time, and have a smaller version of this in a different color, but for travel I always use my large black leather one. Yes, I have a handbag thing. SO what. You can throw this on the floor, wipe it down, stuff it with extra shoes, and all your travel items that you need handy. And it looks damn good.

Rebecca Minkoff, Julian Backpack. Sold here.

3. Snacks
This is sort of a duh, but you’d be amazed how often we forget to pack some and then buy overpriced ones at an airport. My current snacking favorite are KIND bars. They’ve been a favorite for a while in all honesty, but they’re light, healthy and NOT messy when you open it squished between two people that maybe take up more room than you do. I’m partial to the Almond & Coconut and you can buy case packs on Amazon.

KIND bars. Sold here.

4. Sleep Aids
If you’re blessed with amazing sleep- good for you. When I’m not in my own bed, sleep can elude me. I’ve tried a number of mild options, and most leave you feeling slightly hung over. I love this CBD micro-mist from Nuhumun. It’s easy to use, not a bottle of pills to lug around and works perfectly for me, and I like the science behind what they’re doing.

Nuhumun Vanilla Micromist SLEEP. Sold here.

5. Moisturizers of ALL kinds
I don’t care where I’m going, or what the climate is, I need moisturizer. Lip balms, lotions, face creams etc. I could dedicate many pages to my research of this, but I’ll give you my all round favorite source for all of the above.

I’ve been on the Osmosis Skin Care train for some time now. I live with the Quench face lotion, and Replenish serum. They also make an amazing lio balm!

Osmosis Skin Care : Quench. Sold here.
Osmosis Skin Care: Replenish Sold here.

I am not a Water Girl

Last spring my girlfriend emailed about a week long paddle boarding camp in Mexico. My kneejerk response bordered on nausea as paddle boarding in Mexico had to mean OUT IN THE OCEAN. To clarify, I’m not a water girl. I always wanted to be, but it just hadn’t worked out so well. She was clear that where we were going is quite calm, and so in the spirit of facing my fears to move forward in life and blah- blah blah, I mustered up an enthusiastic– hell yasss. (Side note: I was reading Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass at the time and vowed to walk the walk…) Fast forward to November and four of us have landed in Puerto Vallarta for our week long SUP boot camp with Performance Standup Paddle Board with Mia Stockdale and Shane Sluder.

After being jostled here and there, stand in line for this, go there to get your bags, stand in line again for that, we were spit out to the warm embrace of that familiar wet dog called humidity. Breathe. More jostling, wide eyed gringos, taxi?, cerveza?, cardboard signs with names printed in sharpie. When do we get a margarita because only an ice cold, in a glass chilled heavy with condensation and a healthy pour of blanco, and limon can ease you into the arms of Mexico. 

We found our mark, or more correctly Mia found us. Our fearless boot camp leader for the week. Our destination is Punta de Mita the small town next to the Four Seasons, St. Regis and other notable resorts located “inside the gates” or Punta Mita, which effectively claims the entire peninsula at the Northwestern tip of the Bay of Banderas. It’s a short 30 minute drive from the PV airport. Our town, Punta de Mita, is maybe 10 blocks by 8 blocks and like many towns in Mexico is that wonderful mélange of free range chickens, roosters, cobblestone roads, some roads you aren’t sure are roads, dogs lazing in the shade, children selling candy out of a little box, music and smells– good and bad. We catch our first glimpse of the bath water we will spend the week in learning fast turn over strokes, pivot turns and how to get back in to shore without a thorough may-tagging. I’m breathless. After a quick provision shopping and peso gathering we have reached our destiny… The program includes accommodations right on the beach where you will have every opportunity to watch this fickle female called the ocean, attempt to learn her ways and find some semblance of companionship. I take my first of many margaritas out to the veranda, sit with my girls and have a silent commune with the sea-goddess, asking her to be kind for the week to come.

Picking your meal at The Blue Shrimp
The bar view at La Pescadora, sister restaurant to The Blue Shrimp.

Our first morning, after a short beach jog we are standing in the quickly rising heat, sweat dripping off our bodies practicing our stroke and how to properly hold a paddle. This is dry land training, stretching and probably a quick sussing up of our enthusiasm or fear level. We’re all game and while we all have some experience with SUPing on lakes, we are different skill levels and certainly of widely different opinions about the ocean. I sit squarely at the bottom of the comfort meter. I let Mia know that I’m really not a water girl, but I am athletic and feel strongly I can get closer to something along those lines. We leash up and head out.

The morning proved to be the most difficult of the week. The wind started blowing and the water quickly grew choppy. A perfect first day to effectively get it all out of your system, whatever it may be. Face your fears. We paddled, we talked, we practiced,  we fell, and we drug ourselves back up and repeated it all again, and by all things considered good and happy we were doing it and reaching a distant destination stroke by stroke. Day 1 down. We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool with smuggled margaritas and snacks, in total confidence we had made a really good decision.

We explored other areas. We spent one morning at an outdoor market in the close town of La Cruz buying saltwater pearl necklaces and drinking fresh juices akin to what the gods must drink. We hiked through the jungle, facing the heat and humidity, vines, lizards and mutant leaves to the top of Monkey Mountain for views of the peninsula, the bay and distant Puerto Vallarta. At night we filled our souls with fresh caught mahi mahi, fish tacos, shrimp aguachile and tequila to a gorgeous sunset in sweet exhaustion. 

Looking out from the top of Monkey Mountain.
The cemetery decorated for the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Sayulita

Each day we got stronger. Each day we became more confident. Each day we came together closer as a group and found a piece of ourselves that had been tucked away. I never learned how to get back on the board gracefully and certainly swallowed over a gallon of saltwater, but I am proud to say that I am confident to call myself an ocean paddle boarder and would do this again, as soon as possible.

Mexico is a treasure chest of many beautiful places and people. Punta de Mita now claims a piece of my heart. If you think you might want to try this, go. Go fast and with an open mind. Mia and Shane will be your guides into this brave new world and become good friends in the process. 

PRO TIP Coming from the high desert of SW Colorado, going to heat, humidity, intense sun and salt water would present some beauty challenges. Here are a few of my most cherished and used products:

Fish, Love & Grit

This is a love story. Like many love stories it begins with that first moment. The first time you lay eyes on; the first time you bear witness to the inherent contradictions, the full scope, the full range, and the challenge… Moab, was love at first sight. My first time was in college on a climbing trip with my brother, my old green 1987 Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo and a maiden voyage into the world of slick rock riding. I was literally breathless by the shades of red in that swirling sandstone candy-scape. I was breathless with fear of riding on that same rock and generally in awe at the feeling I had deep in myself in this place of extreme beauty. Years later, my brother is fortunate in owning a home there and me the beneficiary of a bed in Moab. We have watched this little town grow bold under the guiding hands of many pioneers turning it into a bike mecca, and with it comes really tasty places to eat, water up and drink coffee. 

Winding through Little Wild Horse Canyon in Goblin Valley State Park, UT
Is it rock or is it wood- a stunning display of nature in action.

Most recently on a long weekend to Moab Outerbike, an annual trip to see our good peeps in the bike biz we discovered a few more places to eat! We often start our morning at the Love Muffin – a double cappuccino and the Verde, a pile of brisket, green chili and eggs sets the day. Grab a muffin for your pocket. If you don’t get around to eating it, it might provide extra protection against any future crashes. Sabaku Sushi has long been a favorite for us, and many others. If it’s a busy weekend in Moab, it will certainly be busy there. Go early and sit at the bar. They are quite used to serving us common bike trash and have a delightful cocktail menu to heal your aching muscles after a long day in the sun and gritty sand. This time around, we found ourselves at La Sal House and Doughbird. La Sal House brings a next level dining experience to the scene. My beloved and I are critical cocktail enthusiasts and sometimes a large crystal clear rock is all you need to know you’re in good hands. The food is fabulous too! Doughbird is, well, doughnuts and chicken. Enuf said. Which really all this means is you best be riding a good deal daily, because last I checked you’re not allowed to return from an epic biking trip with an extra few pounds…

In the Belly of a Dragon

Slow indulgent evenings abound in Taipei, a city of 7 million +. Taipei is an urban experience of controlled chaos, manicured canines, smoky incense filled alleys and surprises around every corner, but amongst all the bustle of the evenings and endless food markets, little pockets of calm can be yours. On such an evening, my partner in crime and I wandered up a dark, slightly bending street. Our destination, Indulge Experimental Bistro, a winner in the William Reed, This is a tall order, and it was our personal goal to determine for ourselves the veracity of such a bold statement. I am here to tell you- it is well deserved.

A fascinating element of Taipei is the very new mixed with the very old. You smell the incense first in the warm humid air, then round the corner to a temple.

Located in the Da-an District, in what feels to be a quiet residential neighborhood you’ll find yourself standing in front of a large frosted glass wall and blonde wood door of similar height. You are not lost. Keep going. Inside is a welcoming buzzy room of modern hued light and creamy tones. We grabbed the last two seats at the end of the bar, our preferred post to better observe the orchestration of the mysterious goings on behind the scene. As we watched as our bartender perfectly shape a sphere of crystal clear ice with no more than a pitchfork ice pick we sent our telepathic happy dance. 

and the gardens…

The bistro does offer a beautiful dinner specializing in the 4 distinct culinary regions of Taiwan, and we did eat, however this article is about Stanley, the barkeep, mixologist and voodoo maestro manning the helm of the Indulge bar. He is indeed master of his domain. If you’re wondering why his name is Stanley and not a Chinese name, we’ll save this curious topic for another story. Suffice it to say for those tongue tied westerners, this courtesy is a saving grace. Back to Stanley.

Stanley effuses calm, cool precision. From his crisp attire to his perfectly poised hair, he is decidedly put together. He commands his team with calm detailed instruction and delivers one masterful tipple after another. However, as often as not we chose to order off menu. It had been a full day and I needed to set my calm with something familiar and warming. I wanted brown liquor, possibly a Manhattan or Boulevardier- classic and fulfilling. My feet hurt. And he delivered, a perfect Man. Not particularly extraordinary as in unique, but you don’t want extraordinary with a Man—you want perfection. It’s not complicated yet many don’t deliver. The Manhattan delivered, the Boulevardier delivered and the world was rosy and round once again.

Thus lubed and somewhat fed, I was emboldened and wanted to know what they would do with a Sazerac. I hear you now, unfair unfair you holler, you’re in Taiwan not New Orleans, but oh ye of little faith, this lady of the south desired a Sazerac, and what an exquisite one it was. 

…these felt like wishes blowing in the breeze, but I honestly don’t know.

Did I mention they won a spot in the Here is where Stanley stole the show. He spoke to us for a while about our tastes and would we consider something with a decidedly Asian twist on a classic. Why yes please. He set down in front of me pure art; a paper-thin crystal orb, with that same perfectly clear sphere of ice and a subtly sublime Sazerac. Hints of anise, a face of Rye, a touch of citrus all sweet-hot a coiling dragon and love all in one. He then presented a small smoking cedar box in front of my beloved. Inside was a cocktail of a different type of beauty, and mystery. A personal spa steeped in cedar smoke performing reflexology on your feet all while you sipped Oolong tea in a garden of lush greens. It was whiskey and an infused tea bitters with a hint of the orient. Mic drop. We are forever loyal Stanley, and will Indulge every time we visit Taipei.

Should you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering the streets of Taipei, do yourself a solid and go see Stanley at Indulge Experimental Bistro. He will make your world a better place. Indulge Bistro. Da’an District, Lane 219, Section 1, Fuxing South Road

Written from the comfy bed of our room at the Eclat Hotel, Taipei.