Top 10 Things to Do in Berlin

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Me, an unabashed tourist

 

Berlin is not your Busch Gardens Germany. Forget Oktoberfest with its lederhosen and buxom beer maids. Punk rock meets Eastern Bloc: that’s Berlin.

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What wasn’t bombed is beautiful

#1 Bomb accommodations – pun intended

Half of Berlin features centuries-old architecture, and the other half, blown up in 1945 by heavy bombing in World War II, had been replaced by solemn communist buildings reminiscent of East Germany. Try to stay in a place with some history. We stayed in a restored palace, with grand doors the height of the ceiling and frescoes adorning the walls.

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#2 Nazi History

As much as Berlin’s art and fashion scene has taken center stage in recent years, there is no denying that it was the epicenter of Nazi Germany, where the movement started. It’s a great place to see infamous history in 3D, such as visiting Hitler’s bunker.

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Checkpoint Charlie and a piece of the Berlin Wall

3. The Berlin Wall

Even after Germany was defeated in World War II, it was split between East and West, with the Berlin Wall going up to divide the country. Tales of intrigue have surrounded us for decades, regarding the Stasi and German spies. In the 80s we watched in delight as the Berlin Wall fell, to unite a country. Make a point to visit the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.

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#4 A must-dine destination

Dine where Beethoven and Napoleon dined, sit on wood-carved thrones and most importantly, enjoy delicious food. Zur Letzen Istanz serves a cuisine that’s hearty and traditional, yet somehow cutting edge. Everything was delectable.

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#5 Brandenburg Gate

Take in the views at Brandenburg Gate. Built in the 1700s, it’s an architectural marvel and the site endless history. Built on orders from the Prussian King Frederick, it used to be the entrance to Berlin when it was a small, walled city. Both Napoleon and the Nazis stormed the gates, among many others.

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#6 Alexanderplasse

Don’t miss Alexanderplasse, the large, open-air gathering place that goes beyond the local stores. There are outdoor beer gardens serving a wide variety of ales and booth vendors offering exquisite samples of homemade cheese and sausages. There are rides for adults and children alike, and are sturdier and more beautifully lit than the pack-and-go carnival variety. The strong immigrant population is a boon to the area, and highly evident at their booths, where they sell their native wares, from spice mixes to handmade leather shoes.

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#7 Modern Berlin

Though I must admit not having much time to do this, be sure to check out the galleries and boutiques of Berlin’s burgeoning art and fashion scene. This article will help steer you in the right direction.

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#8 SPEED!

I’d say this no matter WHAT city in Germany you’re in, but my advice would be to GET OUT. Rent a car and drive on the Autobahn to live out your childhood fantasy.

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Rochsburg Castle

#9 Castles, because Germany

And while we’re on the subject of leaving Berlin, I must mention that Saxony is nearby. Take a day trip to the countryside, and better yet, castles! What’s a trip to Germany without taking in a good castle? We went to Rochsburg, and it did not disappoint.

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#10 Exploring the outskirts

And don’t underestimate the amazing countryside outside Berlin where you can visit tiny country hamlets. The ancient buildings, the curious neighbors that all know one another, and the wonderful regional dishes they offer. And I’m not above a clown-shaped bologna!

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How could we not? It was delicious.

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Don’t take for grated the variety of beer
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Shout out to Gerd & Gabriela – our German friends & partners in crime!

The Night Princess Di’s Chef Cooked Me Dinner

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Now when I hear people say they’ve had a meal fit for a king, I know that I win because I did, literally. Chef Darren McGrady has cooked for Queen Elizabeth and the Royal family. But most notably, he became the personal chef for Princess Di, and her sons William and Harry.

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He was in her employ on the night she died, and decided to move to America after the tragedy. In the states, he’s been a star chef, writing cookbooks and making appearances. Luckily he came to Richmond this week. I was honored to be a part of an intimate dinner for 20. Before we ate, he charmed us with a food demonstration peppered with royal gossip and funny anecdotes. The talented Catt Levesque snapped these photos while we indulged, and is credited with every amazing photo here.

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In the elegant and newly-renovated Mise En Place, he served recipes from his new cookbook The Royal Chef at Home.  We enjoyed a tangy kale quinoa salad with blueberries. There were Stilton and preserved fig canapes, served with fresh grapes. Fiery shrimp and grits, oozing with cheese. To top it off, a buttery bread pudding that’s so exquisite, my words would do it no justice.

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We ate like royalty, and he made us feel like royalty. This night was one for the books.

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I’m Dreaming of a Vintage Christmas

One of the best things about Christmas is how old-fashioned it is. We indulge in pastimes that we’d never do outside the holiday season. We listen to Bing Crosby, make gingerbread houses, trim a tree and drink eggnog.

The Vintage Home Market celebrates all the things you can do to warm up your home when it’s cold outside. From glittering garland to vintage sleighs, this place will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

BBQ tacos – heaven

Owners Heidi and Jason McNamara threw an amazing VIP opening night, where shoppers could get first dibs. There was live music, kickin’ BBQ, cold beer and a photo booth so decked out, it makes the step and repeat obsolete.

Owners Jason and Heidi McNamara – pros at making magic

Some standout vendors include:

The Naked Goat Soap Company – soaps, lotions, candles and more. The best part? It’s made locally by Heather, who lives on a Hanover farm with her goats and happy family. The Gather-scented candle smells of balsam pine, and is everything.

Burlap, Booths and Southern Roots

The name alone, am I right? It’s a one year-old store run by a feisty blonde and filled with the kind of boots that become heirlooms. They also sell jewelry, farm tables and boho-chic threads.

Then there’s Chocolate Moonshine Company.  Their assortment of chocolates stirs the imagination, with cherry bourbon, dark chocolate pistachio and rum. Free samples and some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had.

There’s still one day left.  Catch the event this Saturday, November 11th from 9a-5p at Richmond Raceway.  Happy Holidays!

Seven Ways To Make Your Home More Inviting

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the welcome wagon

Don’t you love how rearranging a room feels like a fresh start? Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but some just don’t know where to begin. Here are 7 quick things you can do to bring back that feeling, without all the heavy lifting.

  1. Always Have a Spare Toothbrush

Whether it’s a friend who’s had too many Bellinis or a cousin for the weekend, be prepared for overnight guests. Always have a spare toothbrush on hand, leave freshly laundered towels in their room and if you know they’re coming ahead of time, fresh flowers takes it up a notch.

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Our L.A. cabin always looked best during Christmas

2) Firestarter

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t let it sit dormant. Safety first: call in a pro chimney sweep. They’ll make sure the structure is sound, fix cracks and clean out leaves. Once you build your first fire, there’s no going back. The campfire smell, the sound of wood crackling, the mood. Another perk? You can cut down on your heating bill. Even better are the endless posts on Craig’s List, with people practically begging you to take firewood off their hands. Once the fire dies, remember that wood fire ashes are one of the best fertilizers on earth. And speaking of fire…

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Our backyard bonfire featured hot dogs roasted on sticks, s’mores and a blanket on every chair.

3) S’mores. Always.

Keep a s’mores kit on hand, in the case of an  impromptu gathering. Marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars have a long shelf life, not to mention being serious crowd pleasers.

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Don’t toss your mums – place a dying plant in the ground and it will bloom the following autumn. Give it a head start by surrounding it with compost, then mulch for winter.

4) The Eye Has to Travel

Ever wonder why so many homes have bushes flanking their porch? It’s not a coincidence. As Diana Vreeland once said, “The eye has to travel.” The sight of a house jutting from the grass is too stark. You need to soften the lines, and cover up the inevitable dirt and mud on the bottom edges of  your home. Bushes do this, gradually taking the eye from nature to architecture. But don’t stop there. Tasteful greenery adds curb appeal, and will fill you with a sense of pride as you pull up. Flank either side of your front door with an urn, and plant something beautiful. Make sure the plants are symmetrical. If you have a covered porch, hang ferns and burro tails.

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a dimmer with dinner

5) Be Enlightened

Unless it’s recessed lighting, overhead lighting tends to be harsh. I’m talking dressing room harsh.  On low ceilings, LED lights can be too bright, casting an industrial grey glow. Switch to lamp lighting. Use a mix of tabletop and standing lamps to distribute the light evenly. You can customize and enjoy the golden glow.

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my limelight hydrangeas

6) Cutting Garden

Flowers may make a house a home, but a cutting garden makes it an estate. Buying fresh flowers adds up, so decimate the costs with some plantings. I simply step into the yard with scissors and snip what’s blooming. I have roses in full sun, hydrangeas in partial shade and a range of unusual flora in between. From spring to fall, I almost never buy store-bought flowers.

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debutante camelias in vintage bud vases

7) Bring the Outside In

Plants soften corners and bring life into a space. Not only with beauty but with its oxygen boost. Place tall plants in empty corners, put leafy, interesting varieties on dressers and tabletops, and forego standard terra cotta. Place them in interesting pottery that compliments your design scheme.

Once you start making small tweaks, you may find yourself taking on ambitious home improvement projects. Any proud homeowner knows that a house is never “done,” but a constantly evolving quest for beauty, function and comfort. Enjoy the quest!

vintage Christmas lights are kind of my thing

Seven Ways to Beat the Post-Holiday Blues

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Some spend New Year’s Day packing up ornaments. I’d rather sleep in and go to brunch. I’m in the league of defiant revelers that leave their holiday lights up through the first week of January. Why? Because we’re trying to stave off the impending doom of a long, cold winter. In fact, many believe that all the hoopla surrounding Christmas is just a way to distract us from the misery gaining steam outdoors.

Here’s how to keep your spirits up after the holidays:

A Little Twinkle

We’re all a little taken aback at how stark a room looks when stripped of holiday accoutrements. Hold on to a strand of white lights, and wrap them around an indoor tree, or gather them into an oversized glass vase, to keep a bit of sparkle in your home.

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Getting Fresh

Don’t toss those candy canes! Swirl them as swizzle sticks in your hot cocoa or mocha. Smash them to pieces and lay them in an empty Altoids tin to use as mints on the go. And if it really feels like you’re going cold turkey after the holidays, here’s a little-known fact: You can get peppermint mochas at Starbucks year-round, though they don’t advertise it.

Get Moving

It’s no secret that working out is good for your heart, but the endorphins improve your mood and the exertion results in a great night’s sleep. Besides, when you peel off your sweater this Spring, how nice would it be to find a strong, lean body beneath it?

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Busted court aside, my favorite ways to blow off steam are tennis, yoga and dancing

Get the Party Started

Plan a small party! It’s so much easier to corral your loved ones in January than it is at the height of the holiday season. Plus, everyone needs something to look forward to. My go-to this year will be an Oscar party! Since it’s a weeknight and the show runs late, it will be a pajama party. People will be cozy, well-fed and filled with Prosecco. Go LaLa Land!

Green is Golden

If you can’t spend ample time outdoors, bring the outdoors in. Buy a palm and place it by a sunny window.

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Add whimsy to plants you bring indoors, with funny planters and conversation pieces

Doors to Enlightenment

So your holiday wreath is down. It doesn’t mean your home should go unadorned. Have something beautiful waiting for you every day when you return. There are plenty of gorgeous wreaths you can use year-round. You can even create one.

Think Spring

Spring may be a few months away, but now is a perfect time to imagine how you’d like to use the green space outdoors. Whether planning a vegetable patch or a fire pit, enjoy researching the best place to plant, the best deals on materials and read reviews if thinking of buying plants or seed online. My son is obsessed with blueberries, and I’m a fan of raspberries. When Spring arrives, I won’t be making a mad dash to plant these bushes before the heat of summer sets in.

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We added this pergola to our home to accommodate our Concord grapes – Max not included

…and then before you know it, the holidays will be back.

Happy 2017!

 

The Ultimate Eighties Care Package

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After a recent family tragedy, friends and family surprised me with support I didn’t know I had coming. There were bouquets of sunflowers, roses and  pink carnations, homemade batches of chocolate chip cookies from three different families. There was an Edible Arrangement so large, we popped off and froze pieces of fruit for smoothies, else they went to waste. I was overwhelmed by kindness, but not as overwhelmed as I was  last week, when I came home to a large box from New York City.

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Every surface of the box was Hodge Podged with symbols from the happiest era on record.

Beneath layers of bubble wrap, I uncovered The Ultimate 80s Care Package. The painstaking amount of time my friend dedicated to the project still makes me feel unworthy.

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homemade chocolate chip cookies

I should have expected no less from my friend Amber. She used to live in the duplex below me in L.A. and her apartment was a Pee Wee’s Playhouse for girls obsessed with pop culture. The walls were lined with art and memorabilia, there was a karaoke machine, candy, a library of romantic comedies, and mud masks galore.

Her package included pampering…

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It encouraged us to have fun…

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And most importantly for me, it provided escape…

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Even the inner lid of the care package was plastered with images from a happier time…

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I would be remiss to not show off each side of the box…

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She even wrote individual cards to my husband and I…

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We followed this advice and watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High that very night…

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This would describe my friend Amber…

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The Museum Behind Everyone’s Profile Photo

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Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room

Even from 3,000 miles away, I couldn’t resist the lure of L.A.’s Broad Museum. My friends’ Instagram accounts blew up with images from the ethereal Infinity Mirrored Room, which also became everyone’s Facebook profile photo. Overnight. Newly-opened and with a minimum two month waiting list, (even longer for select exhibits), attendance seems to delineate who’s who in the art world of LA. Which does exist, for all you naysayers. Most of the people who say L.A. has no culture simply repeat it because they heard other people say it. They also have an identical eye-roll when someone mentions “the valley.” Sheep.

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The curators at The Broad (pronounced “Brode”- I know) prove that a taste for captivating art is alive and well in the City of Angels. Work from local artists and brooding up-and-comers are mingled with stars of modern art, such as Jeff Koons, along with pop art icons Lichtenstein and Warhol.

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For those of you who are still on the waiting list and hoping for a sneak peek, here’s a smattering of what you’ll see. For everyone else, it’s simply here for you to enjoy.

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Unusual piece by Andy Warhol, featuring Jacqueline Kennedy at JFK’s funeral.

 

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Takashi Murakami

 

The two pieces below by Jeff Koons are always tempting to touch.

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The three pieces below are from my new favorite modern artist, John Currin. He captures the hope and humiliation in our everyday lives in a way that’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes embarrassing, but always provocative.IMG_4464 IMG_4463 IMG_4461