Stephanie Abrams' Travel Blog
Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams Blog – Nationally Synidcated Radio Show Host
Muppets Travel by Map. . . Let’s Travel by Film! Suggests Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams
June 1st, 2020

The Red Balloon

You may have more distractions than ever trying to deal with surviving in both your personal and business life during these most unusual and very stressful times but you may also find some quiet moments to put to good use by sifting through destinations you might want to plan to visit at some future time while being entertained by a well produced film in the comfort of your home. I’ve promised my radio audiences at Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams and Travelers411 a list of films I’ve enjoyed so much that (1) I’ve watched each of them at least a dozen times and (2) have planned trips to some of the destinations featured in the films because  I found the destination so delicious on the  screen.

So plan you snacks and order in packages of ready-to-make popcorn while you snuggle into your favorite comfy spot to ‘Travel by Film!’ Please note: check the ratings on each film before sharing it with children in your life as many of them I’d deem inappropriate for family viewing or viewing by anyone made uncomfortable by viewing the undressed human body or hearing less-than-polite language. Many or “G” or “PG” rated but  some are definitely “R” films. Also note that the list is presented alphabetically as all of them are favorites so putting them some ‘order of favorites’ would be impossible for me to do! So get the popcorn and prepare yourself to enjoy ‘Traveling by Film!’

  1. Amelia. . . Visit France and global destinations.
  2. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The. . . a comedic romp in India
  3. Book Thief, The . . . filmed in Goerlitz in the Saxony region of Germany (Did you know I’m Ambassador to North America for the Saxony region of Germany?)
  4. Bride of the Wind. . .Based on the life of Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel in Vienna
  5. Bullets Over Broadway. . . ah, New York City!
  6. Calendar Girls. . .based on a true story set in the English countryside
  7. Cinema Paradisio. .  filmed in Sicily, this film has a cult following. . .a Really Must See!
  8. Crazy Rich Asians. . .filmed in Kuala Lumpur, Langkawa & Penang, Malaysia & in Singapore, the title emphasis is on “Crazy-Rich” Asians and not a slur on that region’s population as ‘not all there!’
  9. Diner des Cons-filmed in Paris with subtitles in English, the film is hilarious.
  10. Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, Howards End, Remains of the Day. . .all set in glorious manor houses/castle-like properties in the English countryside and are period pieces with great costumes and pomp and circumstance. They are all character studies with Howards End and Remains of the Day being a bit more intense that the first two listed. If you’re into the “Pride & Prejudice” realm of films, these are all four up your alley and give wonderful views of the region.
  11. Enchanted April. . . a real charmer, this film was shot at Castello Brown in Portafino, Italy
  12. Full Monty, The . . .shot in Sheffield, England
  13. Girl with the Pearl Earring . . .While this story based on the life of the artist Vermeer was only partly filmed in Delft where Vermeer lived, and you will see his actual home and studio and entry to his home in the film, most of the film was shot in Belgium, Luxembourg and Amsterdam. If you are planning to watch this film, you MUST see the film (buy the dvd if you have to) “Tim’s Vermeer” about the creator of “Lightwave 3D” and other digital software who read that Vermeer used mechanical/technical means to produce his paintings. This is a whistle-blowing film proving that you, too, can paint just like Vermeer the very first time you pick up a brush!
  14. Grand Hotel Budapest. . .Like ‘The Book Thief,’ this film was shot in Goerlitz, in the Saxony region of Germany. Goerlitz is walking distance into Poland! None of this film was shot in Hungary!
  15. Haute Cuisine. . .You must eat before you watch this film! Based on the true story of a woman hired by Francois Mitterand when he was President of France to be his private cook. An amazing story that will make you feel you spent a couple of hours in Paris with a side trip to Antarctica!
  16. Holiday, The. . . Shot in the English countryside on the exterior as interior shots  of  that cute English cottage couldn’t shot there since the “house” was only a façade, a front wall only, for photography with nothing behind that  front door but woods. The rest was shot in Hollywood. But you get some very good contrast between the feel of the English countryside and Los Angeles in the film. And it turns out to be an infomercial for HomeExchange.com which was the inspiration for the film when a Hollywood director was surfing the web looking for an opportunity to go away and stay in someone’s home. Contrary to a newer company that started up 12 years AFTER The Holday debuted and boasts that  you can now swap homes because the film inspired this newer company, Home Exchange started in 1992 after its founder had a house-swapping experience.  After years of printing booklets and guides and brochures that had to be printed and mailed those who become members of the organization,about 7 years later, Ed Kushins, Home Exchange’s founder, moved the company onto the internet and the concept really took off with The Holiday playing a strong role in keeping it growing! Not only was Ed a guest on radio with me, he and his wife came to visit us  in Pittsfield, MA and went with us to the Berkshire Irish American Club’s St. Patrick’s Day Party! No, we didn’t swap houses!
  17. Human Stain, The. . .partly filmed in NYC, Williamstown, MA, and Montreal. The college in the film shows the campus of Williams  College. Based on the book by Philip Roth.
  18. Last Holiday.. . We went to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic because I HAD to visit the Grand Hotel Pupp (the hotel’s real name) after seeing this Queen Latifa film. Casino Royal with Daniel Craig was also shot in Karlovy Vary. You will love this comedic romp in this marvelous town.
  19. Lost in Translation. . .Sofia Coppola wrote & directed this film shot in Tokyo which appears to be infused with autobiographical experiences. The aura and ambiance of the jetlagged American in Tokyo is so authentically portrayed. Word has it that the blond character in the film who takes the lead characters husband on a photo shoot in Japan is based on Cameron Diaz whisking away Sofia’s husband and the male lead played by Bill Murray, it is strongly conjectured, is based on  Sean Connery as only 2 actors did promotions of Japanese booze and the rumors certainly fit the storyline.
  20. Midnight in Paris. . .Ah, Paris. All of it. In sunshine & in rain. In the 21st and 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Mingling with the cultural greats in every sector in a genius comedy that is described as a “love letter to Paris.” This is one you will want to see again and again!
  21. Miss Potter. . . based in London, Scotland, the Isle of Man and England’s Lake District and is the author and illustrator of the  story of children’s books that include the characters Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle  Duck. The story provides insights into the life and times of the the author and stars Rene Zellwegger.
  22. Only You…My first trip to the Amalfi Coast & Positano were because of seeing this film. Also included are visits to Rome and Venice with stops at two hotels I have visited and love. In Venice, the room that Marissa Tomei looks at for clues as to where the character, Damon Bradley, is going next is “my” suite when we stay at the  Hotel Danieli in Venice with the best view of the Grand Canal. And the hotel they track the fellow they think is Damon Bradley to in Positano is Le Sirenuse. . . both places you’ll want to visit. If your budget doesn’t allow you to overnight there, plan to stop in for coffee or a drink or lunch if dinner is a budget breaker as you must experience these places as soon as the world reopens.
  23. Paper Clips. . . an incredible documentary you MUST see filmed in Whitwell, Tennessee  at the Whitwell Middle School where this homogeneous community, spearheaded by the middle school, set about to teach the children why love and acceptance of those whose backgrounds are different from their own, in a town where everyone went to the same schools and the same churches and all looked the same and share a ‘sameness’ history, is so important and what happens when people choose hate as the path to dealing with those of different backgrounds. This film could not be any more meaningful today. It is incredibly timely and should be embraced in homes and in schools even if that means schools sharing the film thru Zoom assembly programs. The results of the school project are available to visit, view and experience at the Whitwell Middle School. In fact, there is an entire library at the entrance to the school with material related to the subject matter of this film. This is a film that you will want to invite the children in your life to see and pay attention to.
  24. Red Balloon, The. . . Shot in Paris and debuted in 1965, ,this is another film you’ll want everyone in the family to see, especially the children in your life. While you get to meander through the streets of Paris in this film and experience a bit of French life that has not dramatically changed, the film focuses on Pascal, a young boy, who has been lucky enough to find a red balloon that is like a good puppy and follows him everywhere he goes. There is almost no dialogue in this film and what dialogue there is is translated with English subtitles. But the film is all a visual adventure in Paris that you will never forget. The film is 34 minutes long and, lucky you, it is now available on Netflix and at YouTube. I think I’ll watch it tomorrow!
  25. Red Violin, The. . . What a film! You’ll visit parts of Italy in the 1600s to witness the handcrafting of a violin by a master violin maker and from there you’ll follow that violin’s story over centuries to Germany, France, Austria, China and Toronto, Canada where the violin is being auctioned off. The construction of the film provides the unique story of what happened to the violin and the people who came in contact with it. The only parts of the film that are in English are when the story bounces back and forth from the past to the present in Toronto. Subtitles are provided to translate the German, French and Chinese portions of the story. It took five years to produce this amazing film and you truly get to travel the world in the process but the story is intense and masterfully edited as you learn why the violin is named the Red Violin and what happened to the people in due course of owning and learning to play that particular instrument. This film is a masterpiece. Note that it is a bit over 3 hours long and has a built-in intermission! Don’t start watching if you are getting hungry! And have some snacks nearby  just in case you need sustenance to get you through. It’s an incredible story and a fabulous film AND a whirlwind global journey!
  26. Roman Holiday. . .This Audrey Hepburn classic takes you to places in Rome that have not changed in about forever! In fifty years, The Coliseum in Rome will be 2000 years old. It’s almost unimaginable! But this romantic romp with a very young Hepburn takes you visiting those not-to-be-missed places one must see when in Rome which, for now, you can do from your den, living room, bedroom or wherever you have a TV or other gizmo to watch films on!
  27. Saving Grace (with Tom Conti playing the Pope traveling to an Italian town. . .not about the one about a woman growing weed in her conservatory of her house!) This is a beautiful and touching film about a pope who feels he is moving away from the people and needs to reconnect with those he serves in order to better understand the  state of the world. When a deaf child comes to a Wednesday Audience at the Vatican and signs to the Pope who understands sign language that her village is in trouble and needs him, he decides that circumstances have presented themselves to him and he is compelled to make his way to that village to learn more about their condition as well as his own condition and spirit. Tom Conti plays the Pope in this film but he is also Kostas in Shirley Valentine (see below) and does as great job as both!
  28. Scent of a Woman. . . Shot at the Emma Willard School, educational roots of Jane Fonda and so many other successful women, located in Troy, NY,  this Al Pacino films also takes viewers off to NYC. It is an amazing film whose intense scenes capture NYC and the Hudson Valley, upstate NY regions as well.
  29. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The. . .and its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. . . a trip to India with the most incredibly talented and amazing group of actors to hit the  screen at the same time.
  30. Shirley Valentine . . .You’ll get a sense of residential England with parts of this film shot in Liverpool as well as Twickenham, Bloomsbury, Oxford Circle and St. Pancras train station in London but only a small part of the film is based in England as the story’s focus is on why Shirley leaves England to run off on an escape to Mykonos, Greece with a girlfriend who wins a two-week stay in Mykonos in a contest and invites Shirley to join her on this holiday. The combination of feeling underappreciated by her husband and used and abused by her adult children, Shirley decides to throw her cares in the air and take off for Mykonos. This is  one of those films that you want to see with other adults only and without little ones present as both language and at least one nude scene swimming in the buff off of “Kosta’s brother’s boat” in the clear sapphire blue waters of the Aegean Sea. It is a lovely film provided you don’t have a problem with ‘impolite’ language used as a general form of expression nor panic as Shirley skinny-dipping!
  31. Woman in Gold. . . California, Washington, DC and Vienna, Austria are the key backdrops for this film based on the true story of a woman who fights the Austrian government and one of its most prestigious museums to get the return to her family of a painting of her aunt called, “Woman in Gold,” that was commissioned by her uncle of Gustav Klimt in the style of his paintings of the period reminiscent of one of his very famous paintings, “The Kiss.” Interestingly, you might want to watch ‘Bride of the Wind’ first as Anna Schindler, the lead character about whose life this film is based, had an affair with Gustav Klimt and was the model for the curly red haired woman in the painting ‘The Kiss.’ Anna never married Klimt as she was about 16 years old when she an Klimt were an item but then went on to break up the marriage of composer/conductor Gustav Mahler and then to have affairs and ultimately marry other culturally high achieving men who excelled in art, architecture, and music and film. So you’ll get some insights into Klimt through Bride of the Wind that will put you in a better place to appreciate the true story behind Woman of Gold starring Helen Mirren.

Now, go line up your viewing plans and make notes of the places in these films that need to be on your Must Visit list.

Note: We’ll do this again sometime soon as my list of films worthy of your viewing and dreaming-about-traveling time is quite long!

Stay well. Stay safe. Travel Richly,

Slan agus beannacht from County Antrim in Northern Ireland,

Your personal travel expert,

Stepanie Abrams


Lawrence O’Donnell’s Reference to John Hume Quote was Paraphrase of Oscar Wilde, says Media Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams
May 31st, 2020

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams with Nobel Peace  Prize Winner John Hume at Marine Corps Memorial at Beech Hill Country House in Derry, Northern Ireland

I have a great appreciation for the honor and privilege bestowed upon me whn Patsy O’Kane, then owner of Beech Hill Country House in Derry, Northern Ireland, made an appointment for me to meet with John Hume, a national treasure from the region.  We were supposed to meet for an hour at 5pm about eleven years ago. We met in the lounge of the hotel and chatted for a while so I could get to know more about this icon of political acumen who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Peace prize for his significant and persistent work to bring about a peaceful resolution to The Troubles in Northern Ireland. That amazing meeting lasted to the point that  we recognized we were very hungry and went to dinner, later being joined by the Mayor of Derry, Helen Quigley, as word got around Derry that we were at the hotel engaged in a most memorable conversation. So, after cocktails at 5pm, a recorded interview for radio, John driving home to leave his car and take a taxi back to assure his return home, by taxi, would be safe, and meandering into the dining room for dinner at 8:30, having after dinner drinks in the lounge and being joined by the energizing personality of the Mayor of Derry at 10:30pm, our tete-a-tete broke up only because it was half-past midnight and still a civilized time to say goodnight. A year later, our ’second annual’ meeting, took place in the same spot in front of the first of two fireplaces in the lounge at Beech Hill Country House which was just as memorable but it was clear that the perils of age were at very early stages of setting into John Hume’s life. A small portion of those two lengthy encounters with John in that relaxed and comfortable setting, are immortalized in the archived audio that you can hear at sAbrams.com along with show notes and photos. So, as I watched a YouTube video last week of MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell’s evening broadcast from Corner Cottage, a 1700’s farmhouse in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, about 90 minutes from Derry, it felt like the closing of a circle between me, John Hume, and the US where, when we are not marooned on the island that is Ireland, we live in Massachusetts. And that circle closed as Lawrence O’Donnell paraphrased a quote he remembered John Hume saying to him.

While I have no reason to believe John Hume didn’t speak that words that Lawrence O’Donnell found memorable, in the interest of assigning authorship accurately, and because of my great affection for the remarkable man who is John Hume, and my admiration for the actual author of the quotation O’Donnell referenced, let first ask you if you know who the author of the quote actually was. So here is the quote:

Q. Who is the creator of this cogent thought:

“The problem is the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it.”

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams awaits John Hume’s arrival where, in front of the fireplace in the lounge they chatted.

A. The quote, among so many quotable quotes, was from the body work of Irish genius, Oscar Wilde. How incredibly well his work holds up in the 21st century.

Note: I don’t leave the house without Oscar. A little mini-book of his quotations accompanies me in my purse wherever I go. It’s a tiny little lightweight thing packed with wit and charm and incredible insights and it has saved me from moments when the need to get away from the present, even for a few seconds while smiling my way through a few pages of his thoughts, has been like being rescued by a lifesaving tube in a sea from which I need to escape.

So as a little ’set the record straight’ matter, while John Hume’s compendium of work, achievements and accomplishments are undeniably great, invaluable, and noteworthy, this little gem of thought, while spoken by John with good reason, is, nonetheless, originated by the genius of Oscar Wilde. All of which goes to prove that you don’t need to invent something that is already there as long as you are clever enough to recognize you can put it to your own good use.  And that’s a meeting I would have loved to have been at in the lounge of The Beech Hill Country House in Derry. .  .Imagine! John Hume, Oscar Wilde and me! Wow. Now that would have been an evening of memorable fireworks. Lucky me for have gotten to interface with half of the twosome!


“Dania Beach, Florida is Re-Opening with Pizzazz!” says Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams
May 30th, 2020