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When I first told friends I was headed to Wyoming when school got out everyone assumed I was Jackson bound and seemed disappointed to learn that in fact I was headed just north of the Colorado border to a ranch near Laramie.  All those folks can keep feeling sorry for me and that way I can keep this under-the-radar-heaven-on-earth to myself.  I have never had a more relaxed vacation nor such a back-to-nature beautiful one.

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I’m not much for horses and therefore dude ranches aren’t much on my mind, but when my close friends begged me to join them on this trip, I was so overwhelmed with their love of the place that I couldn’t say no.  They had visited the A Bar A the summer before and were besotted with its 100,000 acres, its charming staff, limitless trail rides, hikes and tubing, and the way the ranch welcomed the town for a BBQ and fireworks on the Fourth of July.  America exalted.  Truth is I had convinced myself this would be a wonderful experience for my seven year old daughter and I was happily surprised when I loved it every bit as much as she.

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Mornings began with the breakfast bell at 7:30 where we would join our friends at a table assigned for us during our stay.  Huevos Rancheros and fresh berries were how I started most days.  Then it was off to the Gopher Hole for my daughter where she would while the day away riding the horse assigned to her for the week, making bracelets and paracord key chains, hunting treasures, snacking on s’mores in the teepee, cooling off in the pool, fishing, or racing her homemade cork boat.  After a single ride on sweet Bubba across two rivers and up a mountain side, I informed my wrangler that I would not be riding down (which he already knew, of course).  That meant fishing mornings and afternoons and with that I found my bliss.  It was warm enough to wet wade, which I happily did wearing a borrowed pair of tube socks and my Teva sandals.  I loved the open spaces and the quiet run of the river underfoot.  Nothing beat the thrill of getting a fish on my line.

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I also got some hiking in and one day I made my way up the cross (my iPhone clocked the height as the equivalent of 68 flights of stairs), where I sat in contemplative solitude watching the storm clouds rolling in to meet me and taking time to meditate and just be.  I cried spontaneously half a dozen times on the trip, moved by the kindness of the staff, the purity of the cowboy life, and the majesty of nature.  An hour long lazy tube ride down the river with two American bald eagles circling overhead and green as far as the eyes could see and that was it, I never wanted to go home.  My daughter felt the same, tears streaming down her face on our last evening.  But go on and feel sorry for us if you want, we are happy to keep this as our little secret.

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I consider myself to be a pretty responsible human, therefore, when a good friend suggested St. Barths in January at the exact moment I should be in Dallas debuting the spring collection, I declined. Clearly, I hadn’t heard her offer to share her room in St. Barths in the freezing new year? Oh yeah, Dallas would have to do without me as a too good to pass up adventure was in the offing.

GETTING THERE

I worked the ENK Accessorie Circuit show ‘outside’ for three days in temperatures in the high teens, causing a chill in my bones that wouldn’t leave even upon arriving in Atlanta for another show, where again temperatures were unseasonably frigid. I started to think I had acute bronchitis or walking pneumonia as I couldn’t get warm for days, and wondered if hopping a flight to the Caribbean was the right thing to do. Well of course it was, as I needed the Vitamin D and the sun to warm my bones and brown my skin, and the warm salt water to heal me, right? When we arrived in St. Maarten, I looked up at the monitors and saw numerous flights scheduled for St. Barths. The only problem was we weren’t on one of them. Why were we taking the ferry? Because my friends don’t take prop planes. We missed the first ferry and ended up waiting two hours for the last boat. Finally, we were headed to paradise on a thirty minute ferry that quickly felt like thirty hours, with workers passing the aisles with paper towels and clear baggies. Within 10 minutes, the hacking and vomiting all around me was enough to have me put my ear buds in and blast ‘Waves’ so loud as to not hear any of my sick fellow passengers. We survived but all agree it ranked up there as one of the all-time worst experiences. In short, take the plane.

STAY

All was quickly forgotten, however, upon arriving in paradise. The Eden Rock is a storied boutique hotel in St. Jean, sandwiched between the runway at Gustavia Airport and the raves at Nikki Beach. Its location only adds to its charm as you swim in turquoise waters and watch the planes fly so close you can see the passengers smile from their window seats. Another plus is the short walk to town where you can shop for pearls and caftans, and to the restaurants Nikki Beach and Kiki-e Mo.

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Le Sereno on the Grand Cul de Sac is a quieter getaway but still offers some local dining options just a short walk away on the beach. A pool located just steps from the sandy beach also gets my vote. Further down the beach, I happened upon Les Ondines, a lesser-known and simpler resort with large efficiencies and couldn’t-be-closer-to-the-water rooms.

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that St. Barths is ‘tres cher’ (that’s French for crazy expensive.) The restaurants are no exception with a burger costing as much as $36 Euro. I like a gourmet meal in a beautiful setting as much as the next girl, but I also like a more casual and authentic local flavor. We tried Bonito, with great views of the harbor, blue and white batik print cushions and simple wicker hanging lamps, delicious fare, and a giant chess board, and all agreed it was a winner. Cheap it was not. A dinner at L’Esprit left us wanting more food options and better service, although the garden setting is lovely. Try Tamarin for a knock out garden setting and menu. Le Ti is a must, a serious fun night out in an intimate clubby atmosphere where the burlesque, rhinestones and Indian feather headdresses entertain. We tried the black truffle pasta at the buttoned up Le Toiny and marveled at how black the night was looking out from the terrace. Far and away, our decided favorite for dinner was Eddy’s. A favorite among the locals (our Budget rental car guy gave us the tip), nestled in a secret garden behind a fence in Gustavia with a South Pacific vibe, we agreed we could have eaten there every night.

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For lunch we got hooked on walking into St. Jean and getting the most simple and delicious (and well-priced) salads at Kiki-e Mo. Hard to beat fresh avocado salad with red onion, kale and cranberry, local beet, mango, and caprese. Do Brazil was another sunny spot in the sand at Shell Beach with gazpacho and satay. Or reserve a table ‘in’ the water at O’Corail on the Grand Cul de Sac beach. For a sweet afternoon treat go to Barts Gourmet in Gustavia and get one (or two) of the mini tarte tropezienne.

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If you must shop (and you can afford it!), I loved Lili Belle in St. Jean and Clic in Gustavia where I bought my daughter a very detailed large format coloring book of all the treasures St. Barths has to offer. The hotel gift shop at Eden Roc is a winner too with Ancient Greek sandals, local espadrilles, caftans and jewels galore.

Absolutely rent a car and explore the beaches. My favorite afternoon was a drive to Flamands Beach where I hiked a short goat path to the beach at Columbie. I saw an iguana the size of a monkey jump from a tree, too many lazy turtles to count, goats (of course), and pelicans dive bombing for their lunch. And oh yeah, I caught a glimpse of the super yacht Venus too (it is St. Barths, after all).

If nude sun bathing is your thing, try the end of the beach at Gouverneur and feel free to go topless on any beach. Saline is yet another gorgeous beach surprise.

Thank you to my sweet friend for bringing me to my senses and taking me to paradise. I am so lucky to have such generous (and sane) friends with whom to share life’s adventures.

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I’ve written about HK before (here and here), but each time I go I manage to discover something new. Sorry, but I won’t stay anywhere other than the Upper House, so you will have to be satisfied knowing that it still is simply the best hotel experience ever. This time I arrived after a 16 hour flight feeling a bit queasy and maybe a bit blue (feeling far away from my daughter). When I arrived at the hotel they told me they heard I was not feeling well (my driver had called ahead) and even though my upgraded room wasn’t ready yet, they wanted to get me into a room immediately so I could rest. Rather than the extra large room I usually take overlooking the Harbour, they temporarily housed me in a large room overlooking the velvet green mountains of the peak. I felt so cozy and happy that I recovered rapidly and decided not to change rooms. Arriving at the Upper House is like arriving home to a family that has missed you. Hand written notes and gifts wrapped in ribbon from the staff are a special touch. Bliss!

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It’s hard not to return to favorite restaurants but Hong Kong always has something new and delicious to try so I make sure to include the best recommendations. On my first night I didn’t want to travel far from the hotel as I was easing my way back into life at ground level, so I tried The Continental in Admiralty. Loved the atmosphere and my perfect sirloin. My favorite meal was a toss up between Chom Chom and Chachawan. I loved the relaxed local street vibe of both and had seriously delicious and inventive food at both. The owner at Chom Chom recommended several dishes that were all perfect, including Vietnamese fried chicken and  grilled corn. At Chachawan, I watched the 26 year old chef prepare their specialty Som Dtum Goong right in front of me. It is a papaya salad dish with tomatoes, chili, prawns or pork and it was five alarm spicy and crazy good.

Hard to believe I have never walked the ‘women’s market’ or the ‘goldfish market’ before. Expect copies of handbags from Chanel, Mulberry and Issey Miyake, as well as hundreds of iPhone cases (including a copy of the Moschino Golden Arches red and gold case), miniature wind up toys, silk dresses, backpacks, hair barrettes, and games like Mahjong. I loved walking the goldfish market and was maybe a little freaked out to see a giant box of very loud crickets as food for some of the fish. I would tell you which fish but my Chinese is limited (AKA nonexistent) and I would show you photos of some of the most unusual fish and sea creatures I’ve ever seen but alas no pics allowed. You will have to go and see for yourself.

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No trip to Hong Kong is complete for me without a trip on the Star Ferry. I love the wood benches and old school vibe as much as the breeze on my face. It’s a relaxed way to visit the other side or see the Harbour lights at night. The Hong Kong Observation Wheel, a giant ferris wheel with individual enclosed gondolas, seems to have just opened offering sweeping views of Central and Kowloon, but I missed it. And I’m afraid of heights, so someone will have to report back on their experience in the comments.

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