Travels With Lea

November 6, 2013
by Lea Lane

The Art of Flanders: Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent & More

Denn du wirst meine Seele nicht in der Hölle lassen

I love Belgium and have spent many happy times there for so many pleasures. But perhaps my fave aspect is the art.

There’s no better place to begin a tour than the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, in Brussels. At the Ancient Art Museum, somewhat deceptively named, you will find the work of artists dating from the 15th through 18th centuries. Here, just a few steps from the wicked fantasies of Hieronymous Bosch and an entire room full of Pieter Bruegel’s endlessly fascinating allegories, you will find works by Peter Paul Rubens, the Prince of all Flemish artists, as you have never seen them before. Rubens can sometimes feel overpowering, but here, in a room suffused with an ethereal light, an almost mystical communion is possible with the master. A few more steps will lead you to the work of Rubens’s artistic opposite, Jacques-Louis David. The French expat spent his final years in the Belgian capital; indeed, the landmark building that was his home is now a stylish hotel, The Dominican.

Brussels is the Belgian capital, but it was not always its first city of painting; that title, for centuries, belonged to Antwerp, described by the great 16th century art historian Carel van Mander as the “mother of the arts.” Antwerp was the city of Rubens, and it still is: there are traces of him everywhere, from the elegant home and workshop he built for himself (then as now one of Antwerp’s great attractions) to his many paintings, found in museums and churches across the city, Rubens himself rests in a spectacular chapel at the Church of St. James. But he is hardly the only master to be discovered in Antwerp. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts (KMSKA) is unparalleled for its collection of Flemish primitives, in particular Quentin Metsys and Hans Memling. At the nearby Museum Mayer van den Bergh, works by Bruegel and other old masters are stacked, salon style, in an elegant downtown mansion.

Brussels and Antwerp are the alpha and omega of the Belgian arts, but that leaves quite a bit of territory in between. The coastal city of Ostend is worth any visitor’s time, not the least to see the home of the reclusive James Ensor, who imagined himself the culminating genius of the Flemish painting tradition. The historic university town of Leuven makes for an ideal day trip from Brussels. Once the center of learning in Northern Europe, and home to Erasmus, in 2009 it inaugurated the M Museum, a treasure of art through the ages in a crisp modern building designed by architect Stephane Beel. Pride of place belongs to the Seven Sacraments altarpiece, a work of extraordinary devotional intensity by the mysterious master Rogier van der Weyden.

Picturesque Bruges, with its cobbled streets still redolent of the Middle Ages, boasts the Groeninge Museum, a world-class institution with landmark works from the early days of Flemish painting straight through to the modern era.

Finally, no Belgian art pilgrimage would be complete without a visit to St. Bavo Cathedral in the lovely old city of Ghent, home to one of the most powerful and mysterious of works in the canon of Western Art. The Adoration of the Holy Lamb, a twenty-four panel altarpiece by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck has a transfixing power that is altogether unique and a dramatic history befitting its stature. Both Napoleon and Hitler have stolen it, and no wonder: Its central panel suggests that those who stand before it are bathed in the waters of the fountain of life. What better way to end a trip?

photo by: e³°°°
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October 7, 2013
by Lea Lane

Yellowstone Country: Perfect in the Fall

Yellowstone is one of my favorite natural parks in the world. Especially in autumn.Rainbow at Tower Falls, Yellowstone - bummer but the trail to the base was closed

If you see a fat bear lumbering along the side of the road, it might be fall in Yellowstone Country. If sudden-onset yellow is transforming the towering aspens surrounding the town of Cody, it is probably fall in Yellowstone Country. And if Sheridan Avenue – Cody’s main street – is filled with throngs of people costumed in head-to-toe Western bling, you can be sure of it.

“The arrival of fall brings a change in attitude among our visitors and residents – including our four-legged ones,” said Claudia Wade, director of the Park County Travel Council, the tourism marketing arm for Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country. “This is the time of year when we see fewer families and more adults and couples, particularly those who enjoy outdoor and cultural activities.”

Yellowstone Country is comprised of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park.

Here are 20 reasons to plan a fall visit to the region and the town founded by and named for the Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody:

 Style. The most prestigious event of the year, Rendezvous Royale is staged the third week of September. The event includes the nationally known Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale with Western-themed art, a quick-draw event, auction, Western fashion show, seminars, studio tours and a ball.  For more about the rendezvous, go online to

 Bears. Visitors might see them preparing for winter by foraging for nuts and other sources of nutrition so they are ready for the long den-bound winter ahead. Bears are frequently seen along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway – the road to the east entrance to Yellowstone – as well as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway which takes travelers to the northeast entrance. Bears are best viewed with binoculars or spotting scopes, and travelers should maintain at least 50 yards between themselves and any bears they see.

Bull elk. Even if travelers don’t see them, they might hear them. Elk mate in the fall, and bull elk get the attention of potential mates – and warn potential competition – by emitting a distinctive bugling sound.

Other wildlife. In addition to the marquee animals – bears and elk – many other wildlife can be viewed preparing for winter or simply enjoying the moderate autumn days. Among them are pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and eagles.

Blue-ribbon trout. While seasoned anglers will tackle trout action in the streams in and around Cody on their own, novices might want to hire a fishing guide for their first foray. Fly fishing shops also offer maps and advice.

Art. View fine Western art created by local artists at the Cody Country Art League, which shares a historic building – the original Buffalo Bill Museum – with the Cody Visitor Center. Artists with ties to the community display photography, oil and watercolor paintings, sculptures and more.Brews. Cody has two breweries that fuel hungry and thirsty adventurers. Try an award-winning Sheepeater Saison, a Belgian farmhouse ale with a spicy aroma and flavor and pair it with a plate of buffalo meatloaf or some lamb gyros at the Geyser Brewing Company. Or try some tasty snacks and cold unique brews at Pat O’Hara’s Brewing Company. Coming next year is a family-friendly pizza and brewery restaurant.

 Rocks to see. Rock formations along the 52-mile Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway have been dubbed by locals with names like “Old Woman and her Cabin,” “Bishop” and “Chinese Wall.”  The road travels along the north fork of the Shoshone River and traverses the Wapiti Valley through the Shoshone National Forest. Viewing the rocks – and wondering how Cody residents named them – is an inexpensive way to spend a fall afternoon.

Rocks to climb. Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and other outfitters lead classes and rock-climbing expeditions throughout the Cody region. The region is well-suited to climbing, with porous rock creating drainages and rock formations that appeal to climbers of all abilities. Conditions are typically good for rock climbing through October.

Gliding. Airborne Over Cody offers a new way to see fall color – 30- to 90-minute adventures in “microlight” hang gliders.  The trips depart from the Yellowstone Regional Airport, and pilots show their passengers a perspective of Yellowstone Country that few people get to see up close.

Hunting. There are several hunting seasons in the fall – for pronghorn, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep. Dates for each season vary, and hunters should check for details and hunting regulations at

Hiking. A new book, “East of Yellowstone – A Hiker’s Guide to Cody,” features maps, photos and hike specifications such as length, time, difficulty, best season, access and landowner information for 20 regional hikes. The book was authored by JD Tanner and Emily Ressler-Tanner and is available at Sunlight Sports, a long-time Sheridan Avenue shop that provides locals and visitors alike with all of their outdoor adventure needs.

Trolley tours. The Cody Trolley Tour provides a terrific introduction to the destination. This informative one-hour tour covers 22 miles and helps orient visitors to where things are and what they might like to go back to see. The tours are offered two times a day through Sept. 26. Rates are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, $13 for children six through 17 and free for younger children.

History. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at the site of the Heart Mountain Internment Camp offers a glimpse of the lives of some 14,000 Japanese-American citizens who were interned there during World War II. Opened in August 2011, the center explores that difficult period of the country’s history with thoughtful exhibits that encourage visitors to ask the question “Could this happen today?”. The center is open year-round and admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, and children under 12 are admitted for free.

History. The storied life of the town’s founder, Colonel William Frederick Cody, is presented in the recently reinstalled Buffalo Bill Museum, one of five museums that comprise the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. There are also museums dedicated to firearms, fine Western Art, the Plains Indians of the region and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. For more information visit

And more history. Another popular activity is to walk the town’s main street, Sheridan Avenue, and check out the town’s many historic buildings. The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill himself and named for his daughter. Across the street, the Chamberlin Inn was built and operated by Agnes Chamberlin, an employee of Cody’s newspaper. Farther east, there is Cassie’s, once a house of ill-repute and now a restaurant and supper club with live music and Western dancing.

Room-sized diorama. Tecumseh’s Old West Miniature Village and Museum is a massive diorama that showcases western and Wyoming history and features thousands of American Indian and other historic artifacts. The diorama is free and open year-round, but travelers visiting between November and April should make an appointment first by calling 307-587-5367.

Music. Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue continues its performances of cowboy music, poetry and comedy Monday through Saturday night through the end of September.

Indoor fun.  If weather becomes dicey, travelers can visit the Cody Quad Center, a massive complex with an ice arena, basketball and racquet ball courts, walking track, fitness facility and two swimming pools.



photo by: Alaskan Dude
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June 30, 2013
by Lea Lane

150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg: Events to Enjoy

Gen. Philip H. Sheridan 

When I was a child, my Aunt Hilda took me to Gettysburg. And I had no idea what I was seeing. Things have changed, and today there  are loads of fabulous sites and sights, with great info.

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Philadelphia, —a major arsenal, shipbuilding and hospital center during the Civil War, and home to Gettysburg general George G. Meade, —is marking the anniversary with special events and exhibitions at historical sites and attractions throughout the region:


  • Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library – The Gettysburg Trial of the Philadelphia Brigade presentation brings historian David Trout to remember the Philadelphia Brigade, which suffered a casualty rate of 64% over the course of the war, and recount its tribulations during the Battle of Gettysburg. July 20, 2014. 4278 Griscom Street, (215) 289-6484,
  • Fort Mifflin – Built in 1771, this Revolutionary-era fort-turned Civil War prison’’’s bowels were dungeon-like even during the 1860s. On Civil War Saturday, visitors to the prison, now a National Historic Landmark, learn to drill with a wooden musket, cook over an open hearth, and participate in a scavenger hunt. Guided tours highlight the Casemates, once used as prison quarters. July 20, 2014. Fort Mifflin & Hog Island Road, (215) 685-4167,


  • Mercer Museum – The more than 300 artifacts and interactive stations that form the exhibit Turning Points: Civil War, 1863-1864, examine the military, social and political issues that confronted local citizens as the war reached its climax. Visitors spin a draft lottery wheel, listen to the voices of local citizens and soldiers in eight audio stations, explore a camp tent and cast a vote in the 1864 Lincoln-McClellan election. Through August 25, 2014. 84 S. Pine Street, Doylestown, (215) 345-0210,
  • Chester County Historical Society – On the Edge of Battle: Chester County and the Civil War delves into the county’’s deep division over the war and the choices citizens made regarding the military effort. Visitors can digest these weighty questions while reviewing newspapers, letters and telegrams from the battlefront; photographs; medicine and doctors’ log books; interactive kids’ stations; and artifacts from Galusha Pennypacker (the youngest American brevet major general in history). A database searches county records for ancestors who fought in the war or served as abolitionists. Through September 28, 2014. 225 N. High Street, West Chester, (610) 692-4800,
  • Rosenbach Museum & Library – Letters and other dispatches give voice to Voices of 1863: Witnesses to the Civil War, an exhibition that pierces the events of 1863 with Lincoln’’s handwritten notes and speeches about race and slavery and U.S. Grant’’s personal letters to his family. Through January 5, 2014. In addition, the Sleuths & Spies hands-on tour includes an album belonging to a female Civil War spy. July 5, 2013. 2008 Delancey Place, (215) 732-1600,
  • The Heritage Center of The Union League of Philadelphia – Established as a pro-Lincoln Republican club in 1862, this private club opens its heritage center to the public twice a week. Philadelphia 1863: Turning the Tide shows off the podium that Lincoln stood behind when he gave the Gettysburg Address and the desk and chair General Meade used for his council of War on the eve of the battle. Through March 1, 2014. 140 S. Broad Street, (215) 587-6455,
  • Laurel Hill Cemetery – As the final resting place for General Meade, along with more than 40 other Civil War generals and countless volunteer nurses and surgeons, this historic cemetery hosts A House Divided: The Citizens, the Celebrated and the Seditious of Civil War Philadelphia. The exhibit includes a rotating installation at the cemetery gatehouse that spotlights the “Elite Eleven,” a group of military figures and citizens whose contributions to the war effort epitomize the people who lived during the war era. Through May 2014. 3822 Ridge Avenue, (215) 228-8200,
  • National Constitution Center– One of the only surviving signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation hangs in the center for two months. In addition, this fall the Constitution Center is boosting its Civil War treatment, which now contains interactive exhibits on the Constitutional amendments governing slavery and its abolition, to include content that focuses on the Battle of Gettysburg and other events of 1863. July 25-September 22, 2014. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6700,

Permanent Collections:

  • The African American Museum in Philadelphia – The museum’’s permanent exhibition, —Audacious Freedom: African Americans In Philadelphia 1776-1876—, details the journey toward freedom undertaken by African Americans in Philadelphia, and chronicles the stories of the Underground Railroad and black soldiers in the Civil War. 701 Arch Street, (215) 574-0380,
  • Bucks County Civil War Round Table Library and Museum – The museum overflows with objects and books from Doylestown’’s contributions to the war effort, including weapons, musical instruments, photos, a Lincoln Life Mask, a tome written by Jefferson Davis and CDs of the Internet radio show “Civil War Talk Radio.” 32 N. Broad Street, Doylestown, (215) 340-7164,
  • Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library – The museum houses Grand Army of the Republic artifacts, books and memorabilia such as a blood-stained strip of pillowcase on which Lincoln lay dying, handcuffs (intended to use to kidnap the president) found in John Wilkes Booth’s suitcase, Confederate shoes worn at Gettysburg and the preserved head of Old Baldy, Meade’s beloved horse. 4278 Griscom Street, (215) 289-6484,
  • Meade Equestrian Monument – Alexander Milne Calder, the grandfather of the mobile artist Sandy Calder, and the sculptor of many of the works on Philadelphia’’s City Hall, made a huge statue of Meade atop his horse in 1887. It’’s located near Memorial Hall in Philadelphia’’s Fairmount Park, which Meade played a large role in designing. 43 S. Concourse Drive, (215) 686-1776
  • National Museum of American Jewish History – The museum’’s Civil War collection aims to show that Jews experienced the war just like other Americans. Topics and items illustrate Jewish fighting on both sides of the conflict, Jewish soldiers practicing their faith during the war, Grant’s infamous Orders No. 11 that expelled Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri and the commission for the first official Jewish chaplain. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811,
  • The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent– The museum holds a presentation sword awarded to Meade for his victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, portraits of former slaves who purchased their freedom and became abolitionists and armaments belonging to John Brown from his raid on Harper’s Ferry. 15 S. 7th Street, (215) 685-4830,
photo by: dbking
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June 25, 2013
by Lea Lane

Independent Travel: Alone or With Others


Samos Beach Candid - Sept 2009 - I Want to be Alone


I’ve been both divorced and widowed, was a single mom, and then lived alone many of my adult years. And I embraced solo life long before it was considered cool: talked about it on panels, founded and edited a website called, and wrote a book called Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips.

The zenith of my singledom probably came in 2009 when I posted “Why I’m Alone,” a Huffington Post piece that went viral — picked up by Jezebel, CNN and other sites, generating hundreds of comments and even a parody on Fark.

But surprise! The very week that the blog extolling my happy single life appeared, I met the man who would become my third husband.

I did feel a bit like a betrayer, so proud of singledom while secretly falling in love. And when my beau wanted to marry me, I struggled mightily, afraid to give up my hard-won solo identity.

I adapted to marriage mostly because my husband understands my need for occasional solitude. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise, and he knows it.

But I missed traveling solo. As wonderful as it is to share sunsets, coconut drinks with two straws and all those romanticized scenarios, there are times I simply seek walking for hours on a quiet beach, waves lapping at my feet, and no place to have to be at no particular time. Or taking off at the last minute with no plans and no one to worry about but myself.

While traveling on my own I had to be totally open to experience: meeting others, putting myself in challenges I figured out alone, dealing with the unexpected in clever ways.

When I finished my latest book, Travel Tales I Couldn’t Put in the Guidebooks, a collection of travel tales about the most interesting people places and things I’ve discovered traveling to over 100 countries, I wasn’t surprised to note that almost all of the best tales occurred while I was single.

And looking at the tales in my book I can see that even when I traveled with a group or with children, or husbands or lovers, I may not have always been a solo traveler, but I remained an independent traveler: open, alert, curious, and ready for anything.

Those of us in relationships may have to fight a bit harder to retain the spirit of independence that comes naturally to a solo traveler. We may have to compromise a bit more. But the spirit can remain.

And one way is to continue traveling alone once and awhile, even if it’s only for a weekend. At a minimum, when traveling with others you can still find time to break away on your own for an afternoon or even an hour or two. You can go to the beach when your travel partner would rather go to a museum, and then reunite with fresh and interesting tales to tell each other.

Just agree ahead so that you both understand it’s okay to split and do what you want, then come back together and share your adventures.

Something as simple as this may be a compromise, but it can satisfy your need for solitude. Remember, being solo may come and go, but the spirit of independence, even in a small form, can remain forever.

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June 18, 2013
by Lea Lane

Cruise Tips — With Teens Aboard!

143/365  Come Sail Away With Me
When my teen sons were along on a trip I’d often drop them off at a tower with a bag of seeds while I went into the museum. They’d tire themselves out climbing up endless steps,  and then climb down and happily feed the pigeons. It was my way of avoiding the groans of being forced to see great art.
Traveling with teenagers can be challenging, as any parent with a scowling, foot-dragging, eye-rolling, fledgling-adult can attest.  “You’re looking at Ephesus and they’re whining and asking ‘why are we here?’ says Candyce Stapen, a family travel expert and USA Today travel editor.  “And if your teenager is unhappy, you will be too.
”Cruising can be an ideal solution for teens, says Stapen.  However, there are some important things to keep in mind when planning a cruise getaway with teens that the whole family can enjoy:
  1. Get teens’ input up front.  “If you don’t get their input, you’ll get complaints, at least for the first day or two,” Stapen says.  “Maybe your teens just studied ancient history and would love to visit the places they learned about, or maybe they just want to go to the beach on this trip.  In the end, it’s your decision, but discuss it,” she suggests.
  2. Seek age appropriate programs.  “Look for programs that break out younger and older teens,” she says.  Developmentally there are big differences between a 13 year old and a 17 year old.
  3. Give them some free rein.  On a cruise, teens can go out for pizza, plan their own activities and get together with friends without needing to be driven anywhere or ask you for money.
  4. Keep in touch. “My teens didn’t like it when I stuck my nose into the program, but it’s important to be sure there’s some supervision and things are going well,” she says.  Also make sure they have a set time to check in with you — at least twice a day – in person or take your own walkie talkies with you to avoid cell phone charges.
  5. Carve out family time.  Between sports, parties, and all the other teen activities, the hardest part of cruising may be finding family time.  Stapen advises booking a few shore excursions in advance that the whole family will enjoy together.  Often, a big highlight for teens is dining together formally, informally or at specialty restaurants.  It gives them a chance to dress up and flaunt their personal style.
The cruise lines that actively court the family market understand the importance of keeping teens positively engaged and have been meeting the challenge with an ever-growing array of “wow” amenities and activities.“Teens have a strong voice in family vacation planning, so our member lines keep their fingers on the pulse of what they want,” notes Christine Duffy, president & CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
In addition to the dance parties and sports that teens have long loved, the cruise lines continue to add more innovative features to appeal to this growing group of cruisers. Many ships are upgrading their teen lounges with cutting edge technology and trendy décor and adding teen-only sun decks, special spa treatments and unusual activities such as movie making. Teens also are drawn to the creative water parks and other adventurous and indulgent amenities that ships have introduced in recent years.  Zip lining, surfing, basketball, and rock-climbing walls at sea all give teenagers something to tweet about.
Here’s a sampling of some of the special ways CLIA lines are delighting their teenage guests.
COMPETITION AND TEAMWORK take many forms for cruising teens. On Holland America Line, for example, teens can compete at Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and mind-expanding board games, offered via a partnership with Cranium, while on Carnival Cruise Lines, games based on reality TV shows such as “The Bachelor/Bachelorette,” “Fear Factor” and “Survivor” are played daily.  And Disney Cruise Line offers chances for teens to dabble in the world of stage and film.  Depending on the ship, teens might perform as zombies in a blockbuster movie or work together in teams to produce actual films that get screened onboard.
THE LATEST VIDEO GAMES are pretty much a given on a cruise catering to teens. But when it comes to technology, there’s so much more.  MSC Cruises Fantasia-class vessels offer the chance to experience the thrill of car racing, thanks to a Formula 1 race simulator.  There’s also a 4D movie cinema that enhances 3D movies with physical effects such as movement and mist.  Princess Cruises’ new 3,600-passenger Royal Princess features a new teen lounge, Remix.  Here, a Princess DJ booth loaded with cutting-edge tracks invites teens to create their own playlists and relax or dance to the latest club mix.  And with Celebrity Cruises, teens enjoy complimentary access to GoPro cameras and the Celebrity iLounge, which offers computer stations and instruction in filming and editing.
COOL EXPERIENCES — the kind teens rave about to their friends — take many forms.  Teaming up with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society, Paul Gauguin Cruises offers educational eco-adventures such as rainforest hikes and visits to ancient temples (marae), vanilla plantations and black pearl farms.  Crystal Cruises’ “Magic Castle at Sea” program features magic shows and classes on select cruises as well as the chance to learn the art of sushi-making from Nobu-trained chefs, while teens on Cunard Line’s flagshipQueen Mary 2 have access to a sophisticated planetarium at sea where they can take a virtual tour into outer space, view the stars and journey to the moon and learn about celestial navigation.  During the summer and on select holiday sailings, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’signature Club Mariner program provides teen cruisers the opportunity to whale watch in Alaska and even take art classes while sailing the tropics.
TRENDY SETTINGS – often broken out into separate clubs for younger and older teens — are enhancing their chic appeal with designs that integrate technology and sleek, posh comfort. For example, Crystal Symphony recently revamped its dedicated teen space, Waves, to provide a trendy, urban loft-style feel where teens can kick back in a comfy movie screening area and enjoy video games. The Norwegian Breakaway, which enters service in May, introduces the line’s largest youth and teen facilities to date– the Entourage lounge, complete with a large screen TV, video jukebox and an arcade center next door, while Carnival Cruise Lines fleetwide Club 02, developed with the Coca-Cola Company, offers a fun setting for older teens to enjoy “coke-tails” and hanging out. Royal Caribbean International offers special teen-only activities and areas on each of its ships to keep teenagers engaged, social and entertained.  The cruise line offers tweens 12 to 14 and older teens, 15 to 17 unique spaces and activities just for them.  From theme nights to dodge ball and unplugged jam sessions, teens are given the freedom to meet, mingle and be creative.
PRIVATE SUN DECKS—just for teens—are another fun feature.  Princess Cruises now offers an outdoor teen lounge area on new Royal Princess, featuring cool club lighting, a great wading pool and music-perfect parties under the stars.  And most Holland America Lineships offer a secluded teens-only sun deck area that connects via a special passageway to the line’s signature The Loft, a New York loft-style lounge.
SPA TREATMENTS – designed for teens and tweens are popular with the 13 and up set.  On MSC Cruises, teens enjoy the independence of using prepaid cards to arrange treatments including temporary tattoos and make-up sessions.  And on Celebrity Cruises, parents with spa-loving teens might want to look for ships that feature the line’s teen-only ZSPA, where treatments include an oxygen anti-acne facial, invigorating scrubs and boot camp classes.
photo by: martinak15
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June 7, 2013
by Lea Lane

Eating Solo: A Dozen Ways to Enjoy It

 Iced tea at Georgia's

When you’re traveling solo, breakfast and lunch are pieces of cake (sometimes, alas, literally). And I can do dinner at the Olive Gardens of the world without much of a problem. But when it comes to dinner at great restaurants, the ones I don’t want to miss, the ones that satisfy my foodie soul, I have too often wimped out with a pb&j and reruns of Sex and the City.

I like sharing meals with others, but we all find ourselves with the option of eating solo at some time or other. In my book, Solo Traveler, I devote a whole chapter to the topic, and I’ve come up with some snappy suggestions to make the most of dining alone, including these:

Do lunch. Many great restaurants are open midday. Besides being less expensive, eating solo in the daytime is no big deal. You look like you’re on business. Many others will be solo too. Daylight is just less daunting.

Book right. Use a title if you have one, mention that this meal is a special occasion and ask for a specific table. This might not get you the best seating, but it might keep you from the worst.

Look good. I feel better about most things when I know I’m looking my best. And when you dine alone at a fine restaurant, if you’re noticed you might as well be admired.

Come early. For me, it’s easier to be seated already than to walk into a room full of couples. Entering a festive room alone can be a Moment, whether all eyes are on me or not. I’m working on this, because it’s fun to be a minor star, even for that moment.

Get comfy. It’s easy grabbing a burger when the decor is red and yellow and the host is a clown. But when I want to eat a fine meal, eating outside or facing into the room, for some reason, makes me more comfy. Find your comfort zone.

Don’t accept a lousy table. I’ve sat near busboy stations, swinging doors, and toilets too many times. Now I politely hold out. I was once told that a choice table by the window was a “romantic” table and I said that I was a romantic person and wanted to let the manager know. I got the table.

Sit at the bar. Sushi is easy: I kibbutz with the sushimeisters, or the people at my elbows. If you don’t like raw fish, choose a restaurant with bar seating or a communal table.

Offer to share a table. This is commonplace in some foreign countries. I once sat at a small table with an elderly couple at Fortnum and Mason tea room in London. The man fell asleep in his scones and clotted cream and started snoring. I could barely contain my giggles.

Have something to do. If service is leisurely it can feel awkward between courses. (I do tune in to others’ conversations and enjoy the surroundings, but that can become boring when it’s hours.) When I travel to other countries I carry a language book and use alone dining moments to learn new words. Other options besides reading: pen and paper, techie gadgets, even a small laptop. I don’t talk loudly on a cell. (I do sometimes check my calls, or even pretend to). I wouldn’t knit or file my nails. Or sing. I sometimes do kegels and smile.

Time it right. Fine dining can take an entire evening, but you can finesse that if you prefer. Cutting back a course means a less costly meal and fewer calories. Two courses or several starters might be a compromise. I’ve even ordered dessert to go (skip the sorbets) so I don’t miss a thing except the overpriced coffee.

Connect with your server.
 The waitstaff at good restaurants is especially attentive to solo diners, especially if you smile and chat a bit. I’ve conversed better and laughed more with some servers than most of my dinner companions.

Wear my favorite prop: sunglasses.
 When I’m behind cool shades I figure people wonder who I am, not why I’m by myself. Plus, I’m able to watch things without others realizing it. I have several pairs.

Dining solo is not just about the eating. It’s a head game. You can focus on all senses without distraction. You have the freedom to appreciate the polished silver, flirt with the server, plan a new business, or make eye contact with a stranger across the room. You have the time to imagine, and the power to make others imagine about you.

I still enjoy dining with (some) others more than eating solo. I like sharing food and debating if a flavor is fennel or anise. But I’ve learned to embrace dining by myself, following my own advice. I can appreciate that I’m doing something that many can’t, and that makes me feel great. And I’m delighted when I don’t miss out eating at special restaurants.

And observing the faces and listening to the conversations of my fellow diners, I suspect more than a few of them wish they could switch places with me.

photo by: Ed Yourdon
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