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THE MOMENT I GOT REALLY EXCITED ABOUT MY UPCOMING TRIP — a Mediterranean Eurail sojourn, long in the planning — was when a friend asked where I was going, exactly. I said, “Madrid, Malaga, Cordoba, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Girona, Collioure, Arles, Nimes, Aix, Marseilles, Nice, Menton, Turin, Milan, Verona [that’s it, above], Vicenza, Lucca, Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento,” and realized how amazing that list sounded. Some of those places will, of necessity, be pass-throughs, and others day trips from a base city — I only have a month, after all. The list is subject to change according to whim and weather, so we’ll have to see how it plays out in reality, but that’s the general outline.

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Arcade in Turin, Italy

Three more days and I’m off. Senior travel to Europe is hot, have you heard? The New York Times ran a piece last week about a Seattle couple who have been air b’n’b-ing it through Europe for the past year-and-a-half (with no desire to return to the U.S., apparently). The ‘solo women travel’ category has blogs aplenty, and it won’t be long before the Times does a piece on that, I’m sure. But I’ll scoop them right here on casaCARA, and I hope you’ll follow along.

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One of the historic cafes that abound in Turin 

You don’t even have to go through the packing and paperwork (hotel & train reservations, travel insurance, Verizon data plans, etc.) that have consumed me for months. I spent two hours yesterday just organizing pills and toiletries.

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Zaragoza, Spain; Cathedral of San Salvador, Zaragoza

I got the ‘pack light’ memo, and I’m prepared to spend the next month rotating three pairs of pants and five tops. My travel wardrobe is built around a single color, as they advise: black (can’t take the New York out of the girl). It’s all going in a 22″ carry-on (a hard-sided rolling suitcase), plus a small backpack. The hardest decision: what devices to bring. My laptop, iPad and iPhone are all coming with me; point-and-shoot, too. Second hardest: shoes (I’m taking black ankle boots and a pair of pewter-colored flats). If by Naples it’s warm and I’m sick of my footwear, why, I’ll just order a pair of sandals from L’Artigiano dei Sandali (a tiny shop “Jackie Kennedy had a soft spot for,” according to guidebook spin).

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Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza

I couldn’t take 11 travel guides, so I copied notes about places that sounded intriguing (restaurants, especially) into a small Moleskin notebook. Yes, I could have put it into Evernote or another app, but I’m not ready to give up actual paper notebooks when I travel.

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Menton, France 

It was interesting to note, as I transcribed from guidebooks, which restaurants I chose to include, and which I skipped over. “Since 1802″…yes! “Be sure to book in advance…” NO! “On a verdant square…” yes! “Local Piedmontese…” yes! “See and be seen…” NO! “Tiny 1920s”…yes! and so on. I’ll be lunching large and dining small, most likely.

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Someone asked me if this trip was a pilgrimage, and it is: an architectural pilgrimage. All I have to do is stroll the streets, no worries about opening hours. Are you on board?

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Photos, top to bottom: italia.it, johnmariani.com, thetravellingeditor.com, spaininfo.com, spainisculture.com, yourguidetoitaly.com, destination360

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PARIS IS STILL PARIS, as these atmospheric photos, taken last weekend by my cousin Susan, show. She reported the streets were ‘normale,’ with plenty of shoppers (the semi-annual sales are on) and heavier police presence in the Marais.

My month-long, late-winter European sojourn is on, and I’m in trip-planning mode once again. I’m flying into Madrid, heading south from there to visit friends who live in the mountains near Malaga, then riding the rails toward the South of France and eventually into Italy, ending up in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. (Paris is not part of this trip, by the way; I’m hoping for warmth and sunshine.)

When I got realistic and started thinking about timing, I cut out ‘detours’ like San Sebastian, Lyon and Switzerland, and will more or less hug the Mediterranean coast, so I can spend more time in fewer places. Still, it will be a whirlwind. I’m aiming for at least two nights (Cordoba), sometimes three (Arles, Nice) or four (Milan, with side trips), at each stop. I’m making a few key reservations, mostly at modest but hopefully charming hotels, hostels and B&Bs. My budget for accommodations is $100/night, but I’m finding there’s plenty available and in many cases, I won’t even have to spend that much.

Working on the logistics, consulting schedules, figuring out how to hop from one place to another in half-day, three- or four-hour train increments. Overnight trains are out. I have enough trouble sleeping well in a bed, and I want to see the scenery I’m passing through — at close to 200mph, I’m afraid. The European rail system is largely high-speed trains now, though I’ll take local trains when possible.

Your encouraging input on my previous post and suggestions for places to go and see are much appreciated. So let us continue. I’ve been to Barcelona and Valencia; this trip will mostly be about seeing places I have NOT been. I’m considering spending time in Zaragoza and/or Giona. Anyone been to either of those?

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Photos: Susan Rosenthal

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I’VE BEEN BUSY PLANNING a solo trip to Europe for the month of March — a more mature version of the Mediterranean Eurailpass journey I wanted to take in my 20s, but never did. A week ago, I was excited, deep into guidebooks, reading about Zaragoza and Aix-en-Provence and Vicenza, all places I’ve never been before (that’s the theme of this trip). I was spending time on YouTube, watching ‘how to pack for a month in a carry-on’ videos.

Then came Charlie and Hypercasher, and now I’m deep into articles about anti-Semitism in France, where I had planned to spend two of the four weeks. I know the history of the Jews in France; I’ve written about it for The Forward and elsewhere. So no surprise there, and there’s so much else about France I do love (art, food, language).

I’m still going, but I’m thinking of shortening my time in France, cutting out Marseille and Lyon; I’ll probably avoid synagogues. I have friends with trips to Paris and the Dordogne in the planning who wouldn’t dream of canceling (which crossed my mind). In fact, one is especially eager to go and proclaim ‘Je suis Charlie.’ Not me. I’m trying not to be a nervous nellie, but I’m afraid my joie de voyage got up and went.

Any words of advice, support, en(dis)couragement? They are welcome. What would you do in my sensible walking shoes?

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WILLIAMSBURG IS A NEIGHBORHOOD I’ve never known well, even after 37 years in Brooklyn.

I know it slightly better now, after a few hours spent wandering its streets with a friend who moved there recently and scoped out some intriguing shops and cafes. I hope such little pockets of funk and charm survive the onslaught of new residential development and shopping that threatens to make the area indistinguishable from any other city.

Wander along with us, won’t you?

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Above:  fading signage. Below:  graffiti and garbage they haven’t cleaned up yet

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Above: “The new Williamsburg,” building lobby on N. 5th St.

Lunch at House of Small Wonder,below, could not have been cozier on a bitterly cold and windy day.

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Possibility for another day, belowBakeri on Wythe Avenue, which has a pleasant garden.

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Ditto the garden next to the stainless steel diner, above, now a Mexican restaurant. File that one away for springtime.

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Heavenly sight and scent for those weary of winter already: flowers at Sprout Home, below. 

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Grand building on Grand Street, above, so far put to no purpose.

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Below, the six-month-old Sharktooth, repository of vintage textiles, from antique rag and Caucasian carpets to quilts and bedspreads dyed navy and black.

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Is it happy hour already? Let’s pop in to Miss Favela, a Brazilian ‘botequim’ (watering hole), practically under the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s owned by the same people who own the popular Felix on West Broadway, said Pablo, our chatty bartender, below, as he muddled lime and sugar for our capirinhas. The place hops (or rather, sambas) on weekends, but we had it to ourselves this Wednesday afternoon.

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Nice finally getting to know you, Williamsburg.

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‘GRANDEUR’ is not a word I pull out very often, but it certainly applies to Untermyer Park in Westchester County. Who knew? I didn’t know, until recently, that there’s a lavish, beautifully designed, meticulously maintained historic garden in Yonkers, on property once owned Samuel Untermyer, a prominent New York lawyer, and his wife Minnie. They bought a 99-room pile called Greystone, and the riverfront acreage surrounding it, from Samuel J. Tilden in 1899. The house is long gone and won’t be coming back, but the splendiferous gardens, happily, have.

In 1915, Untermyer hired William Welles Boswoth, a Beaux Arts-trained landscape designer, who proceeded to create a 3-1/2-acre walled garden based on the Indo-Persian ‘paradise garden’ model, with Neoclassical elements like a Corinthian temple with a mosaic floor, a dramatic flight of steps down to the river inspired by the Villa d’Este near Lake Como, and a Romantic folly, the Temple of Love, on a promontory overlooking the Hudson.

The park opened to the public about three years ago, after decades of neglect. The last weekend in October, I visited with my friend Mary-Liz Campbell, a Rye, NY-based landscape designer. Not only in trees, but in berry-full shrubs and bountiful container plantings, we found all the autumn color that seems to have gone missing in NYC this season.

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A great deal has been accomplished in a few years, but there’s still lots of clearing and planting to be done in the outer reaches of the site. Go here, to Margaret Roach’s indispensable blog, A Way to Garden, for an in-depth interview with Timothy Tilghman, Untermyer’s first full-time gardener in 75 years (!)

Untermyer Park is open 7AM-sunset, year round.

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