Friday, May 30, 2008

My First Request for Advice

How exciting! I got an email today from the daughter-in-law of a friend who shared my blog. She is going to NYC in June and wanted some hotels suggestions. My biz partner (and most often, my personal advisor) Kimberly taught me all about never giving people advice unless asked ("unsolicited"), so when asked for advice… my flood gates open!!!!

This new fan of my blog (okay, gross exaggeration) noticed I like 70 Park Ave in my Top 35 list, but what about The Muse? I told her they were owned by the same company, the Kimpton Group, and from my experience always do a nice hotel. A few of my friends have stayed there and liked it, but I did warn her of the extremely small rooms associated with Manhattan if you are a newbie. I always suggest asking for square footage. FYI - a 100 square foot room looks like a walk-in closet, just ask Paul, our agency Senior Art Director, who had the "single" room at The Paramount one year. Kimberly and I still are still brought to tears when thinking of poor Paul trying to maneuver between the bed, the wall and the microscopic bathroom. My rule of thumb, if two people are in a room, look for a minimum of 200 square feet, 3-4 people go for at least 325-400!

Once a year, our agency trekks to the big apple to collect our loot at the annual Adrian Awards for tourism marketing. This has given us a chance to explore hotels from Times Square to the east side, boutique to chain. So far our take - not really to The Paramount, yes to Marriott Marquis, Grand Hyatt, Courtyard Midtown East, and anything Kimpton. That's all we've gotten to so far, but next on our list is something artsy in Soho. So stand by for next January's trip.

January 2008 Adrian Awards - Paul, Susan, Kim, Me and Larry

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Girls, Girls and More Girls

Ahead of my time or just one of the girls? It's all over the news… girlfriend getaways are booming. Search the internet and you will find articles proclaiming such as recent as last week, to 4 and 5 years ago. The deduction is simple, women like to travel and women like to spend time with their gal pals. A match made in heaven.

I have been one of those women for as long as I could afford to get out of town! Some of my trips… My 30th birthday with the girls in South Beach,… reconnecting with 2 high school girlies in NYC after finding each other on,… my Tuesday night dinner group escaping to the Florida Keys,… my sorority sisters converging after nearly 20 years (again in NYC),… and my daughter's 14th (okay, and 16th) birthdays (you know where).

According to Stephanie Oswald, editor-in-chief of travelgirl magazine,"…this is a phenomenon and not a trend. It's here to stay." A recent AAA survey found that 24 percent of American women have taken a girlfriend getaway in the past three years, and 39 percent of American women plan on taking one in the next three years. So if you are wondering if I have one on the books, of course! This September at my alma mater, Syracuse University, with the afore mentioned sorority girls… we're planning a weekend of football and reminiscing among the collegians during homecoming.

My idea of some great places for a girls only trip – New Orleans, Bahamas, Boston, Miami Beach and it goes without saying, my all-time favorite, NYC.

Cheryl, Annie, Taryn, Me and Chris at Ruby Fu's

Chi Omega Alumnae in the upper west side

Courtney, Taryn, Alyssa, Karen, Me and Chris at Ono

Connecticut Christine, Me and Florida Christine in NYC

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

To Bike or Not to Bike

As I prepare for our next summer trip - this time to Maine - I am busy finding bike routes online. Last year, we vacationed in Norwich, Vermont… which is now at the top of the list for a second home. We found a charming, organic farm in East Thetford having its annual strawberry festival, and it soon became our favorite stopping place on our ride up and down the Connecticut River. 

When you find a ride you like, you have a tendency to claim it, and the places you stop, as your own. By the time we left Norwich, not only was Dan & Whit's ("If we don't have it, you don't need it") our personal general store, the farm by the bridge was ours too. The route we took was through the village of Norwich toward the river, turning left before Ledyard bridge and heading north on scenic Route 5. We hung a right onto Pavillion Road, and made a half way stop at the Cedar Circle Farm for a piece of fresh fruit. After refreshing and chatting it up with our farm friends, we head east over the Fairlee-Orford bridge and travel south through Lyme, along River Road on the New Hampshire side. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking until you hit the more populated town of Hanover by Dartmouth College. (I have to warn of a pretty steep hill that caused me to turn into a hotel parking lot about midway up and do a couple flat land loops before finishing the ascent.) We ride into town on Route 10 and it's a little ordinary for a bit until you arrive at the center of the campus, where students and visitors are a civilized juxtaposition to the past 25 miles of river views. A bit of relief is found exiting the campus on a downhill glide back toward Norwich. Riding on vacation is, for the most part, indescribable - it gives you an up close look at the destination in a way a car can never do. And somehow, it becomes personal.

The Stigma of Boxed Wine

Hi, my name is Marianne… and I drink boxed wine. 

I'll admit, I was a bottled wine snob until recently. I'll even confess to re-gifting a box of wine that was given to me one Christmas. But that was before my discovery of Black Box wines. It all started when my dear hubby decided to add the obligatory glass of red wine for "heart health" to his daily diet, and I was complaining to him about wasting my "good" wine (I say wasting because he hated the taste and would basically plug his nose and chug the wine out of a plastic cup).

During one of our regularly scheduled weekend tennis battles at chateau Chow, Kai's son Michael turned us on to the black box. I was skeptical, but I have to admit, it has turned me into a boxed wine girl. Now, I have to say, not ALL box wine tastes fine. Just like not all bottled wine tastes fine. But Black Box is an 8-time Wine Enthusiast best buy. 

For red wine drinkers, the advantage of boxed wine - it lasts up to 4 weeks after opening versus 1 week in the bottle. The disadvantage - without the ability to see the bottle emptying, you can't tell how much you are drinking! So be careful!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Small Gestures Mean Alot

I was thinking about typing the next journal entry I wrote from our trip to Charleston, and I remembered the special gesture the Governors House made for our anniversary. They had made reservations for us at a restaurant called Slightly North of Broad, commonly known as SNOB (which, incidentally I heard they also own another called South of Broad - SOB). Upon being seated and then greeted by a very friendly waitress, who happened to remind us of my college pal Gwen, we were congratulated with two glasses of champagne compliments of the Governors House. Awwww! 

This isn't the first time we had been on a special occasion trip (my agency calls this niche "Splurge Travel") and been touched by the extra efforts of a hospitality professional. On our ten year anniversary, we arrived at the airport without my husband knowing where we were headed. When the airline employee at check-in asked him what his destination was and he said had no idea because it was a surprise (thanks to my biz partner Kimberly), she was so touched she upgraded us to first class! In Taos at the abode style bed & breakfast, the young lady Consuela - 17 year old girlfriend of the owners' son, secretly placed a homemade carrot cake on our dresser for us to find after a day exploring.

These gestures, some small and some large, all happen to make a huge impact, and I hope I always take the extra time to thank the people and businesses for their gestures. It makes for special moments that burn a memory in my heart.

Friday, May 23, 2008

NYC Top 35

I opened my crisp new June issue of Budget Travel this morning and found their "Top 50 Reasons You Love New York City". Of course, I dove right in to see if they had any of my top reasons on their list. Only one - #17. Which is why this is my FAVE city. There are always more reasons to go back! So here's my own Top 35 Reasons (random order):

1. WoHops downstairs, Mott Street, must have: wonton/eggdrop soup
2. 70 Park Avenue, Kimpton Group, fresh green apples in the lobby
3. Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center, must see: view of Central Park
4. Carmine's, W 44th Street, by Times Square, must have: stuffed artichoke
5. The Subway, fastest way around NYC, must buy: combo pass
6. MOMA, W 53rd between 5th and 6th, like Disneyworld each floor can take a day
7. Trump Tower, 5th Avenue, must have: $16 chocolate martini in the bar, just to say you did
8. Mark Joseph Steakhouse, Water Street, must have: slice of Canadian Bacon and Steak!
9. Brother-in-law Billy's office, listening to these real New Yawka's trading money
10. Angelo's of Mulberry, Little Italy, must have: their sauce, you can take home a jar
11. Carriage Ride, Central Park, must see: ice skaters on the pond
12. Brandy's Piano Bar, E 84th between 2nd and 3rd, must see: Kenny and Bobby
13. NYC Marathon, November annually, must see: the inspiring handicapped athletes
14. 5th Avenue, Tiffany's fo sho! must do: make over at Mac Makeup
15. Saint Patrick's Cathedral, 5th Ave between 50th and 51st, must do: light a candle
16. Today Show, Rockefeller Plaza, must do: act like an idiot to get on TV
17. The Theatre, TKTS South Street Seaport, must do: half price tickets shorter lines than TS
18. Blockheads Burritos, multiple locations, must see: giant sock monkey murals
19. Ellen's Stardust Diner, Broadway corner of 51st, must see: singing wait staff
20. Late Show with Letterman, must do: clap loudly and follow all instructions
21. China Town purse shopping, only IF you must! must do: go upstairs with them
22. Max Brenner's, Union Square, must have: make your own smores
23. Strand Bookstore, Union Square, must do: get lost in books
24. Swarovski, Rockefeller Center Shops, must do: buy something shiny
25. Dean & Deluca Soho, Broadway at Prince St, must do: marvel at the cheese
26. Balthazar, Spring St between Broadway and Crosby, must have: breakfast
27. Back & Foot Massage, China Town or Soho, must do: 10 min massage between shopping
28. Radio City Rockettes, 6th Ave between 50th and 51st, must see: Christmas Spectacular
29. Stage Deli, 7th Ave between 53rd and 54th, must have: an overstuffed sandwich
30. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 5th Ave at 82nd, must see: the art and the neighborhood
31. Pearl Art & Craft Store, Canal St, must do: don't go to the top floor after a late night
32. M&M Store, Times Square, must do: sample the colors till you are ill
33. Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Grand Central, must try: oysters from all over the world
34. Junior's Diner, Times Square, must have: piece of cheesecake and a "bowl" of coffee
35. Strawberry Clothing Stores, multiple locations, must do: if you have a teenager

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Time to be a foodie

Whenever I am tempted to over indulge in the culinary arts, my very healthy husband says, "You should eat to live, not live to eat." He's done a great job of working that philosophy the last few years, but I, on the other hand, am not as quick to convert. 

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to spend every day strategizing and being creative about my favorite topics, travel and food. With more than 50% of travelers inclined to consider culinary-driven vacations, our clients at Florida's Gulf Islands were the perfect candidates for a culinary niche initiative. What I love about this place is that on the 7.5 mile island of Anna Maria, there is only one chain restaurant (Shells next to the Publix) on the island. There are more than 50 independent restaurants in the destination - many boasting award-winning chefs and one-of-a-kind cuisine and atmosphere. Among my favorites, Mr. Bones BBQ, an eclectic little joint with a skeleton on the sign and a self-serve coffin filled with beer inside. The mix of creole style ribs and Indian dishes are totally unique and unforgettable. Another notable visit, the lobster bisque at the end of the Anna Maria pier - to die for. Gotta stop now, I'm getting hungry. Check out the latest brainchild of our gang at Insight, My favorite parts… my friend Doug at Van Gogh Vodka mixing up the official cocktail of the destination, the Gulf Islands Blue, in the ingredients video, the recipes we accumulated (so I can give to Gene to make for me), and the very awesome vacation packages our industry partners whipped up for the months of May and June!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

South Beach Insanity

I'm taking you back to September 2006 for a contrast to the quiet, romantic weekend in Charleston in my first post. This is "the crew" and we are standing in front of Miami Ink in South Miami Beach. We are here for my 40th birthday bash, and our first order of business is the obligatory mid-life tattoo from my favorite tattoo artist on t.v. Chris Garver.

After waiting in line (on line for New Yorkers), a less than enthusiastic employee unlocked the door (10 minutes late) and the crowd filed in to the tiny shop and signed up for tattoos. With no celebrity artists in sight and a $200 minimum, we decided to find a place recommended to me called Lucky Tattoo. As luck had it, it was around the corner and empty - which worried us at first. But after meeting Lucky himself and seeing the extremely clean shop, the bravest of us began working with Lucky. I had already planned a very small chinese symbol of friendship to be placed on the back of my neck under my hair, where I could hide it when circumstances deemed "appropriate". Two of the girls, Cheryl and Chris, joined me with the same tattoo (in varying locations), which had been hand drawn by the father of one of my dear friends, Kai. And so the artistry began. We took over Lucky's shop with tattoo after tattoo, and you can see from the photos the progression of my daughter's waning interest.

Later that weekend we ran into Lucky on the street heading to a little Cuban restaurant Craig's mom recommended. Craig is our Miami Beach raised buddy and knows all the ins and outs. He taught Gene how to properly load and eat a bagel on this trip. If you'd like to know the secret, just ask and I'll find out straight from the source. Lucky checked on all our tat's, it's funny how a few thousands penetrating needles bonds you with a person.

We got an insane price at the Miami Beach Loew's, a Florida resident special. I think the rate was about $199, which I have tried since to find again, to no avail. Those days seem to be over. But it still is a favorite of mine, especially the proximity to Lincoln Road, and the memory of a fabulous red gown with Swarovski crystal straps that mysteriously made it into my suitcase.

There are a few questionable moments, which we won't mention… but that is par for traveling with "the crew". You know who you are and what you did. I just want to know, who put those drink charges on Chris and Mike's room?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My First Post - it only took 20 years of marriage!

My first post on my blog is actually the beginning of a travel journal I wrote on my 20 year anniversary trip last month with my husband Gene to the charming southern city of Charleston, S.C. It's a bit long, but hopefully worth the read.

April 19th 8:30 am
It's the morning after our first night in Charleston. I've taken to the porch with a cup of coffee and a book while Gene gets his beauty sleep. It's about 70 degrees - maybe 65 and sunny, and the sound of the fountain aside the drive is doing its best to drown out the traffic. The Governors House Inn is everything I'd hoped it would be, a southern gracious old home built in the late 1700's. It faces Broad Street, which is one of the few negatives, as the street is busy and the cars are audible from our room. We are staying in the only first floor guestroom (Gene's knees), the Wagoner Room. It is part of an addition built in the 1800's by the owners. The room is deep red with a canopy bed and hardwood floors, and other than the more contemporary marble and glass shower, takes you back in time. The side porch where I am rocking is about 30' long by about 10' wide, scattered with white wicker seating and wrought iron tables. The yard boasts manicured greenery and fountains with huge oak trees. The tall black painted shutters and potted plants are a charming backdrop to the flowered throw pillows, pineapple lamps and ceramic pottery. 

Yesterday afternoon when we first arrived in time for wine and cheese, I made friends with a tiny bird who trotted along the porch rail and back of my chair. The sound of constant birds tells me his home was nearby. The interior of this grand house is much more formal, with a grand curving staircase, library, living room and formal dining. Mary, who checked us in yesterday at a large mahogany desk by the front door, showed us the portrait of John Rutledge, former governor of Charleston. The room rate ("tariff" as Mary called it in her southern drawl) is $305 nightly, and was confirmed to us on a hand-written index card. Our keys are the old-fashioned kind, one for our room and one for the front door of the inn. After our wine, we strolled the property and I took photos of brick walls, old doors and landscaping. Then, of course, Gene chatted it up with a young couple from CT who recommended visiting the Aiken Rhett House, which we notably remembered by associating Rhett Butler and Clay Aiken. Upon a suggestion by Mary, we strolled up King Street past art galleries and posh shops to Jim & Nick's BBQ joint. We split a rack of baby backs and each ordered a different local brew. The meal and atmosphere were just what we wanted, the onion rings were awesome but the mac 'n cheese a bit mushy for me. The owner J.J. stopped by our table, even though the place was packed with a wedding rehearsal (the couple had their first date here - awwww). I took notice of how many people "dressed" for dinner here, men stood waiting for tables in jackets!

We cut down another block on the return, where we met a black & white cat hanging around a small church cemetery. Gene commented that the street would be creepy after dark. The architecture here reminds us of the garden district of New Orleans, but there's more brick. As is customary for Gene and I on our first night of a trip, we were room-bound by 8 pm. We've decided we are party-poopers when left alone, which is maybe why we always travel with friends. I passed the offer of sherry in the study on the way to our room, but enjoyed the Godiva mint on the bed.

As I write this, couples appear and retreat from the porch where the breakfast looks to be a fruit salad with some sort of egg casserole. My coffee has been refreshed already by Linda and I think it's time to wake the sleeping beauty.