Changing San Francisco, CA

I can be annoying to travel with.  I’m usually the first to shower and get dressed because I’m itching to go, walk, and explore.

But, when something slows me down, I’m probably also reaching for the camera.

This happened on a recent October morning in San Francisco, when the view from the hotel room pulled me away from the door. See the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and Alcatraz? Now, imagine watching them rouse as the light changes from grey to pink to white.

Seeing San Francisco from this point of view gave me a whole new appreciation for the city. It also reminded me to stay in the moment.

6AM, from the window of Loews Regency, 40 floors up

6AM, from the window of Loews Regency, 43 floors up

7AM, pink and blue hues paint the sky

7AM, pink and blue hues paint the sky

8AM, bright lights means time for work.

8AM, bright lights means time for work.

Just Go: St. Petersburg, Russia

If you haven’t been to St Petersburg, I encourage you – and even those vaguely interested – to get up and go. National Geographic Traveler recently named the city a top spot to “see now” based on the increased problem of flooding that affects a low-lying downtown. While this is a sound reason, and flood-control precautions are in place, it’s a beautiful city to visit just for the richness of culture. Travel for travel’s sake.

In my opinion, any time is a good time to go, but you’ll be able to fit in more during summer’s White Nights.

I wrote the following itinerary for The Daily Telegraph but please let me know if you’re planning a trip! The best things to do in four days in St Petersburg | DailyTelegraph

St Isaac's Cathedral

Cafe Cubano in Little Havana, Miami

Cubans like their coffee short and sweet.

It’s called cafe Cubano, that shot of coffee covered with a rich layer of crema, created when beating in sugar renders the liquid smooth and syrupy. And yes, it packs a punch. A shy, young girl on our culinary tour had a headache, but after a couple of shots from the local ventanita on Calle Ocho (Little Havana’s “Main Street”), she was fluttering like a social butterfly. Coffee does that to you. Or maybe Little Havana was rubbing off on her. All I know is that I’d like to return for an empanada.

On the main street, Calle Ocho

On the main street, Calle Ocho

Cafe Cubano for 75 cents

Cafe Cubano for 75 cents

Smooth, syrupy, and layered with crema

Smooth, syrupy, and layered with sweet crema

A picadillo-filled empanada

A picadillo-filled empanada

Along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, about 10 minutes away from downtown

Along Calle Ocho in Little Havana, located about 10 minutes from downtown

Swamping Around Lafayette, Louisiana

Today’s sweltering temps in LA remind me of an especially hot day my sister and I experienced while trawling a swamp in Lafayette.

Cajun Country Swamp TourIt was midday and 16 of us were seated in a crawfish skiff, melting under the sun, but eager to spot some wildlife. I was just dying to see alligators, maybe because I’ve never seen a crocodile in the wild. The cold-blooded creatures sun themselves on land to warm up, said the guide from the back of the skiff, because their temperature drops after months of not eating. Today, however, they were proving elusive. Perhaps it was just too hot for them.

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We cruised the swampy swamp for an hour, spotting egrets, owls, American lotus flowers, dragonflies, and even two full-buttocked cypresses, some 300 years old. Fanning myself with a flimsy piece of paper, I hoped the clouds would give shade us from the sun’s rays. I itched to stand up and was growing agitated that I hadn’t seen the reptilian beast yet.

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Full-bottomed cypresses

And then… two beady protrusions, a ‘gator’s chartreuse coloured  irises, surfaced above water level. They flicked with ambivalent curiosity as we all stared back. I tried locking eyes, but the ‘gator wasn’t having it. While taking photos, as if on cue, he gave us a peek of his scaly back. As the scarediest cat of all, I was hardly fazed. The mind is good at playing tricks like that. Apparently, it’s only when provoked that alligators attack.

Back of a gator

Back of a gator

The alligator grew bored of us, disappeared, and we set off in search of more treasures: croaking frog, multi-coloured lichen, blue herons, and as luck would have it, sunbathing baby alligators. By the second hour, I was rather restless and hoped the boat would pick up speed to cool us off.

Spot the frog

Spot the frog

When the tour finally came to an end, I noted three takeaways from the experience:

One: Overcome fear by staring it in the face. See you later, alligator. (If it makes you feel better, apparently the alligator brain is the size of a peanut.)

Two: When in the Deep South, carry SPF at all times and reapply continually.

And, three: In summer, wait until sunset to take a swamp tour, otherwise you’ll be sitting in a swamp of your own.

swampy swamp

swampy swamp

Scenes from Sin City

It doesn’t seem like it from up here, but over 110,000 people visit Las Vegas every day. With views like these, who needs a crowded casino floor?

Looking at Caesars Palace from the Cosmopolitan Hotel

Looking at Caesars Palace and Bellagio from The Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas

Spot the tourists...

Spot the tourists…

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The High Roller at The LINQ Hotel & Casino is bigger than the London Eye

The Fountains of Bellagio. When the lights come on, the fountains “dance” every 15 minutes until midnight.

The Fountains of Bellagio. When the lights come on, the fountains “dance” every 15 minutes until midnight.

A Mother’s Day Dedication

How amazing — after three years this post is more beautiful and emotional than when I first published it. Happy Mother’s Day!

Marina Chetner

My mum, in 10 words: elegant, beautiful, warm hearted, creative, caring, humanitarian, shopaholic, pet collector.

My mum – mama, in Russian – loves animals and got attached to each pet any of us kids ever owned. At one stage, a dwarf rabbit, a couple of guinea pigs, two cats, a dog, goldfish, and (caged) mice were under our care. You can imagine what a lively and entertaining household this turned out to be: I walked the rabbit on a leash, the dog stood guard by the guinea pig cage, the cats kept an eye on the fish, while mum would play midwife to the crazy-breeding mice.

Despite the oceans and lands that temporarily separate us, I know my mama is someone I can always count on, no matter what.

I never met my paternal grandmother as she passed away a few months before I was born. I did spend…

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A Local Takes on Touristy Sydney, Australia

For me, one of the best things about coming home after a long period away was feeling like a tourist. Suddenly, I wanted to do the touristy stuff listed in guidebooks. I managed to coax various family members into strolling the sights with me. Ultimately, some of my favourite moments were spent on, or in, the city’s landmarks including: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the botanical gardens, the Pacific Ocean, and hotel lobbies. I absolutely love the Westin Sydney’s lobby — it’s a microcosm of everything that is good about the city: spacious and sunny thanks to the glorious high-ceiling atrium, with great food, wonderful service, beautiful traditional architecture married with modern touches (it’s part of the redeveloped former General Post Office in Martin Place) and a high tea fit for two mad hatters –or chatterers — like us Chetner girls.  Enjoy the views.

SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE

If Bridgeclimb is too pricey, climb its sandstone pylon. Thirteen dollars, plus 200 steps, later and you’re treated to  270-degree views that span the North Shore, Sydney Opera House, Circular Quay and The Rocks — a historic precinct.

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Pool of the Park Hyatt in the foreground. This was taken on the pedestrian walkway leading up to the pylon.

Pool of the Park Hyatt in the foreground. This was taken on the pedestrian walkway leading up to the pylon.

THE ROCKS

My dad, sister, and I were led by the experts of The Rocks Walking Tours on a rainy Monday morning. That didn’t dampen our spirits, however. Over 90 minutes, we learned so many quirks about this 1788-established settlement — also the site of Sydney’s first Chinatown — that to this day, my dad continues to rave about it.

Fact: Had it not been for a green ban instigated by residents in the 70s, this precinct would’ve been demolished.

The Rocks in the foreground. This photo was taken from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.

The Rocks in the foreground. This photo was taken from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney.

ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

By the harbour, smack-bang in the middle of Sydney’s CBD, and a quick stroll from the Opera House rests Australia’s oldest botanical garden (it will be celebrating it’s 100th birthday in 2016). This bounty of natural beauty is a sensational spot to get some fresh air, traverse flourishing gardens, relax on the lawn, and just take in the city views. After getting some sun, I recommend hitting the city for a spot of high tea at the Westin in Martin Place…

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After so many years of popping in for after-work champagne and cocktail peanuts at the Westin, my sister and I opted for the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. White-gloved service, Ruinart champagne, a bustling lobby bar, and much to catch up on… it was a wonderfully drawn-out day tinged with lots of nostalgia.

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Though I went school and university oh-so-close to this area, my return heralded my first-ever walk from famous Bondi Beach to Coogee. No wonder it’s the site of the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. The oceanfront stroll is stunning! A good couple of hours were spent musing, photographing, and scribbling notes. It’s a must do, and I wonder why it took me so long to get there.

Start the walk with a swim and a beverage (champagne?) at Bondi Icebergs Club

Start the walk with a swim and a beverage (champagne, perhaps?) at Bondi Icebergs Club

A little way past Bronte Beach...

A little way past Bronte Beach…

The clifftop Waverly Cemetery has waterfront views.

The clifftop Waverly Cemetery has waterfront views.

SAMSUNG CSCTwenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did… so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain