Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 8 – Siena and the Open Air Market

While Siena is a great medieval city to sightsee as it was once Florence's rival and has great churches and piazzas, we did none of that today. I have been to Siena once before, though I don't remember it that well beause I was 13 at the time. Today we strictly shopped and dined. So much for sightseeing.

However, we were unable to do either until we found parking. It took us over 45 minutes to find parking but once we did, we realized we had discovered the best parking place in the entire city. We parked at a pay lot for San Franchesco which was dauntingly downhill from the main part of the city. Fortunately, as we started walking up the hills to the market, we discovered a covered escalor. We took it up. Then there was another escalator, and we took that up. And we kept taking escalators up until we were just outside the San Francesco church and it's lovely open piazza! A short jaunty though the closed to cars medieval streets and we were at the market! And in the end, the four hours of parking cost us only 6.40 Euro.

The Wednesday market in Siena is an event not to be missed. Like the market in San Lorenzo in Firenze, there are souvenier shops and leather good shops, but the Siena market also has fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, and fish, and in terms of souveniers and leather goods, it has a much larger selection. I can't post what I purchased though as they are gifts, but I will say I got a great deal on them! I love open air markets.

After getting my shopping fix at the market, it was lunch time. The restaurant we chose was called Il Biondo, and rememer that name if you ever go to Siena, because it was amazing! Easily the best meal I've had since I've been in Italy on this trip. Everything that was brought to our table was delicious. Now I'm going to make your mouth water and your stomach rumble just a little bit. We had a spaghetti alla vognole (clams), ravioli “il biondo” that was stuffed with a spinach pesto, and lasagne with a meat and red wine sauce and a souffle top! But the best part of the meal by far was the anti pasti! We ordered a prosciutto e melone which had the ripest melon I've ever tasted and the most prefectly salted and sliced prosciutto. Then the real winner of the lunch was the eggplant parmesean that I will dream about for years to come and try to replicate for even longer. The sauteed eggplant was layered with cheeses, alternating between fresh mozzarella and pecorino. The top layer was a marinara sauce covered in a thick layer of pecorino cheese. Oh. My. Goodness. When I figure out how to replicate this dish, I will share it with you all, and you will fall in love just as I have.

Tomorrow I am traveling back home. I have to take the train from Firenze to Roma, then from Roma to Roma Termini, then get on my plane to Montreal where I will have a three hour layover, then head into Newark where I will land at 9pm. Because I've got such a long layover, I've decided to go ahead and check my bag. I am so looking forward to sitting on planes all day! Can you sense the sarcasm?

Until then...

Day 7 – Firenze on Foot

Florence to us English speakers if Firenze to the Italians, and it still baffles me why we change the names of cities and countries. Would Firenze mean something diferent than Florence if used in the same context? I don't think so.

We arrived in Firenze at about noon knowing that we would have plenty of time to see all the major sights before leaving for our dinner party at 7:00pm. I've been to Firenze two times previously, so I've seen most of the sights, but it's always amazing to see them again, I just can't get over how old and ornate everything is!

The first stop was Piazza Signoria outside of the Uffizi Gallery. I've never actually been inside the Uffizi or the Accademia where the David is housed, in all the times I've been to Firenze. Is that the sign of the bad traveller? Maybe, but I think it's just that I'm not a giant museum person and there are replicas of many of the famous statues in Piazza Signoria anyway, not to mention you can see the collections in countless art history books and in photographs all over the internet. Personally, I enjoy seeing the replicas outside in natural light. My favorite is Michaelangelo's David (of course). But, I especially love that this sculpture is so well thought out that it is meant to be viewed looking up at it intead of looking forward at it. Michaelangelo designed David improportionate so when you look at it head on it looks like David has some really short legs. But, when you are looking up at him, he looks long, tall, and muscular the way he was meant to be viewed. I took a picture of him in his proper viewing state, which I will show you later.

Next we went to the Piazza della Republica while passing the Orsan. Michele church (there are so many of them in Firenze), the site of the original Roman Forum in Firenze. Then we headed up the main street, Via de Calzaiuoli, toward the Duomo. We sidetracked off to eat lunch at a small restaurant off the beaten path called Mangiafuoco Bracerie where I decided to have a very Italian lunch. I had bruccetta alla pomodori and spaghetti alla carbonara. From our table we were able to wath the futbol game on TV, how very Italian.

After lunch we headed to the Duomo. I decided not to climb the 463 stept to the top of the dome since I had already done it twice. I figured the view hadn't changed much in four year's. I did go into the church part of the Duomo and admire the frescoes on the ceiling though, not that I could see them clearly from 463 steps below.

After not climbing the Duomo we ventured through the market in San Lorenzo where street vendors sell souveniers and lots of Italian leather goods. It's your typical European street market with lots of the same stuff from stand to stand. The Italian leather goods did look enticing though...

Before we continued on our historical walk of the city, we explored the train station as I will have to navigate it when I leave from Firenze to Roma to catch my plane back to North America. I learned where to buy my tickets, which is always a good thing to know ahead of time.

Before continuing our historical walk of the city, we stopped for gelato outside of Piazza Santa Croce. I enjoyed half a cup of crema di limone that had candied lemon chunks in it and half a cup of fragole (English translation: strawberry). I sat in the piazza and admired Santa Croce which is painted in the colors as the Duomo (and other churches in Firenze as well).

Then we walked along the Arno River away from the center of the city toward one of the parts of the original wall that was around the city. After we saw the wall, we turned around and walked along the river towards the Ponte Vecchio, the famed bridge that has jewelry stores built on it. I'm not sure if they were always jewelry stores or if they were something else before (I've heard they were meat shops). When walking on the bridge, you can see it literally sparkle and shine from every angle in the light. It is bellissima.

One thing that you have to watch out for in Firenze is the motor bikes and scooters! They will run you over if you get in their way, and they zip along quite fast, though luckily they are not allowed on all the roads Motor scooters even have their own special sized parking spaces, which is good because there is not a lot of available parking in Firenze. Speaking of two wheeled vehicles, there are also a ton of bicycles in Firenze, and they are parked all over the place. I really enjoyed that this small city had such consciencious residents and commuters. I weren't it weren't so scary to ride bikes in Manhattan!

After nearly seven hours of exploring the city (for the third time) it was time to head to the dinner party at Cindy's (link). Of course my blister joined us as well.

Tomorrow we are going to Siena, a smaller Tuscan city, to go to their market which is much better than the market at San Lorezne in Firenze.

Until then...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 7 – I don't want to write about Firenze and Italian and American Dinner Party

You know how after a long day where you've done so much all you want to do is go to sleep? That's where I a right now. It's just midnight here in Tuscany and I am exhausted. I spent five hours exploring Firenze aka Florecene (and I didn't even go into any museums!) and then attended an American and Italian dinner party. I think I'll write about the dinner party now and about Firenze tomorrow, because that's what I feel like doing and gosh darnitt it's my blog and my vacation.

Cindy is the woman my dad is renting the apartment from in Barberino Val d'Elsa. She is an American ex-Patriot who married an Italian and now lives in Firenze, after moving there from living in this very apartment in Barberino. They have two sons who are my age so it wasn't just me and seven people twice my age. Andrea (the older son) and I even exchanged facebook information. Cindy is a cook! She teaches cooking classes in Italy, so needless to say our dinner at her Firenze penthouse was quite delicioso. We started with fresh tuna ceviche and chicken liver pate toasts (two different kinds, not together, that would be interesting). Then we had home made cheese ravioli in a pommodorro sauce with lots of fresh garlic. After that we enjoyed pork wellington, sautteed eggplant and zucchini, porccini mushrooms, and a green salad with arugula, radicchio, and corn. For dessert we had fresh fruit, a seasonal grape pastry (with San Giovese grapes and LOTS of seeds), and biscotti. Food heaven.

Both Cindy and her friend Jane are American born girls who came to Italy and fell in love with debonaire Italaians and subsequently moved here, got married, and had children. Supposedly, there is an entire “American girl who marries Italian man” community in Firenze and they all know each other and actually have meetings and get togethers, like a book club.

All in all it was a fun dinner party with great food, lively conversation, and an interesting mix tape filled with 70's and 80's American pop songs. I admired these American women for coming to a foreign country on vacation and then essentially never leaving. I've visited many places that I felt I could never leave, but I think that may hae been the “I don't want to go home” string pulling on my heart. I don't think I could ever move anywhere too foreign, Canada maybe, but not Europe, no matter how much I love it.

Tomorrow I will write all about my five hour exploration of Firenze.

Until then...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 6 – Coastal Exploration and Mirko

Every time I explore Italy I am introduced to a place I have never been before. Italy is such a huge country, and even though this is my fifth visit here, I still have not seen all of what there is to see in this beautiful country.

When you think of Tuscany, you think of hills covered with vineyards, olive groves, and sunflower fields, correct? Me too, you are not alone. But, today, for the first time I was introduced to a part of Tuscany that I had never seen before, the Marremma region of Tuscany.

We first ventured to a seaside village by name of Talamonte at the very tip of a tiny peninsula where there is a beautiflu cape and harbor to go along with it. Of course there is a very old walled village as wel, where every apartment has a view of the sea. Net, we ventured south to a mountain named Argrentario off the western coast that is conneted to the mainland with three thin strips of land that form lagunas in between them. On the northern coast of the island is Porto San Stefano where we stopped for lunch overlooking the harbor. Then we ventured to the East of the Island and marveled at Porto Ercole which is guarded by two forts on two hills overlooking the harbor. Luckily it is the off season in Marremma which meant less tourists to navigate through and less seagulls to worry about becoming roadkill.

After exploring the coastal marinas at Monte Argentario, we drove uphill to the little midieval mountail villages with spectacular views of the Mediterranean and Isola d'Elba. We drove through Maglinao, Pereta, and Scansano, all beautiful terraced hillside towns with medieval walls and stuctured. Every time I go to Italy (or anywhere in Europe really) I am awed by how old it really is. In the United States of America we don't have structures or towns or cities half as old as the ones in Europe, and seeing them in Europe (and espeicially when I was in Isreal) reminded me of how old “civilized' human life has existed. It's really fascinating.

After returning back to the apartment in Barberino Val d'Elsa we ate dinner at a restaurant where I dined on wild boar and tagliatelle. The wild boar was caught on Sunday morning with the restaurant proprieters shotgun... The pizza chef at the restaurant, Mirko, is moving to New York City in October to move in with a friend of his and look for work. He wants to make arrugula pizza in Brooklyn just for me (or so I'd like to think), and I think I know just the place for him to create his pizza magic.

Tomorrow we are off to Florence.

Until then...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 5 - American Backpackers Brandon and Nick

Sunday is the day of rest in Italy. Nothing is open, and I decided I would embrace the custom of doing nothing, and do nothing. I came to the Piazza in the morning and caught up on my e-mails (thanks for the comments on the recent entries!) and just as I was preparing to leave and go back to the apartment, I was approached by two American backpackers looking for a winery with an open tasting room. I explained to them that it is Sunday! and that nothing is open, but better luck next time. I told them about Bustecca down the street with yummy pasta and house wine, and they said, "Let's go!" and offered to treat me to lunch in exchange for my knowledge. Count me in.

Brandon and Nick of Reno, NV, a tattoo artist and cabinet maker respectively, both business owners, were happy to share their traveling experiences with me. Highlights so far included bar hopping in London in between flights and meeting and congregating with travelers from around the world (Poland, Canada, and Egypt) at their hostel in Tavarnelle. They are most looking forward to Oktoberfest in Munich and bathing in hot beer while drinking beer in Austria (apparently you can do that?).

Talking with them made me wish I had the guts to go backpacking through Europe. I've thought about it so many times but there is some little fear in me, I think of being alone in the big bad world. Anyone want to go with me? But seriously, I really want to go backpacking in Europe and sleep in hostel beds and carry my big back pack around and use it as a pillow on overnight trains.

Until then...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day 4 – Panzana Wine Festival and Unlimited Calories

If there is one thing the Italians love more than their food it is their wine. Or at least the tourists do. Today we went to the Unione Viticoltori di Panzano in Chianti other wise known as the Panzano Wine Festival. Essentially, the festival is a huge wine tasting event where intead of taveling from vineyard to vineyard to taste wine as you would do in Napa Valley, California or the North Fork of Long Island, NY, each taster purchases a wine glass with carrying pouch (think kangaroos) and hops from booth to booth tasting wines from various wineries. This festival has 17 wineries with booths, most booths have more than one wine to taste, so one person could taste about 34 wines, which equates to about seven glasses of wine in total. That's a lot of wine. And all for 12 Euro... for TWO days!

I tasted at eleven booths (I discarded lots of the tastings after one or two sips). This was my first experience of a wine tasting festival. At first I thought all the wines tasted the same, but then I was able to discern what I thought were good wines from the rest. My three favorite vineyards were: 1) Chianti Classico Reserve at Cennatoio, 2) Chianti Classico Reserve at Panzanello, 3) Rose at Vignole. For ambience, there was a band playing Pink Floyd and classic American rock'n'roll covers at the festival as well as wine inspired art painted by Luca Carfagna (with whom I am now in love with) displayed and for sale.

After the wine festival we headed to Badia a Passignano for dinner at La Cantinetta di Passignano where I must have ingested over 2,000 calories, all of which were well worth it. We started with a antipasti platter of Italian meats, cheeses, bruchettes, pates, tomatillos, jams, and arugula. For the primmi piatti we had the “Linguine Chef” which our waiter informed us was always fish based and that no matter what it was we would like. He was right. We were served fresh linguini in squid ink with tomatoes and little clams. I've always strayed from squid ink because it smells so salty in American Italian restaurants, but this was not too salty at all, it was perfect, so perfect I wouldn't let our waiter clear it from the table. For secundo piatti we had beef with fresh truffles. Oh. My. Goodness. And that is all I have to say about that.

Today was a day for my stomach, and tomorrow, with any luck, I will walk it all off. It is raining now (bad for the grapes but good for my allergies) so hopefully tomorrow will bring clear skies perfect for strolling around.

Until then...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 3 - Exploring Barberino

First I'd like to say, that is it so unequivolcaly Italian that the wifi hotspot in this village is at the wine bar. But of course! Where else would the proper spot be? Also, that I can't post photos from here as my memory card is not compatible with my dad's computer, but once I return to NY I will add the appropriate pictures to each entry. Until then, use your imagination.

I took the morning to explore this midieval village of Barbino that I am staying in for the week. The walled part of the town, the medieval part, is teeny tiny and takes about 10 minutes to walk a full loop. There is a front gate and a back gate to get in and out of the town. Once inside there is a church that rings it's bells every hour and half hour from 6am until midnight (do they sleep around here?), a wine bar, a little grocery shop, a library, a hair salon, a few artisanal shops, a butcher, and a baker, but no candlestick maker that I can find.

I walked outside the city walls and found the new apartments and homes all with great views of the Tuscan hills. Every diretion there is a view to die for. That's one of the things I love about Tuscany.

A few other things that I love about Tuscany are the flower pots on every balcony and doorstep in town and all the fresh laundry hanging over balconies and on lines. Every once in a while I found a little old lady (the average age here is about 80!) out watering her plants or hanging her laundry. Also these old women sweep their porches and steps what seems like all the time, trying to get rid of the never ending dust and dirt that accumulates in a midieval town. Lastly, I love the cloths that hang over the heavy wooden front doors. Since it's rare to find a European dwelling with screens on the doors and windows, these clothes supposedly keep the bugs out.

Lunch in Italy lasts from 1pm to 3pm, and all the shops are closed. Only restaurants and bars are open. I kind of feel bad for the waiters and chefs that have to work during this designated time off, but not really, because I get to eat the yummy food. Today I ordered homemade pasta in a pear and gorgonzola cream sauce for only 7.50 Euro at Bustecca. It was tutto bene! The pasta here is really something else. I'm sure it's the reason why even thin Italaian women have little soft pasta bellies. I can anticipate having one before I head back to New York. I will just have to walk it off every day, because there's no way I am going to stay away from the pasta while I am here. But it will be so worth it.

Until then...

Italy Day 1 and 2 - Transatlantic Travel

The only aspect of traveling to Europe that I dislike is the actual traveling part. Once in Europe it's great, but getting here is a pain. It's bad enough taking a flight that is supposed to be “overnight” when it feels like staying up into the wee hours of the morning and then, viola!, you find yourself in a foreign country and it is early morning when it feels like bed time. Add on all the travel to and from the airports and it has become a 24 hour trip, most of which has been spent awake without proper meals or showers. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

My trip began in my hometown boarding a bus to Manhattan at 12:30pm. I disembarked from the bus at 2:30pm then took the subway to Penn Station where I proceeded to walk in circles until I found the New Jersey Transit and bought a ticket. The train was conveneiently waiting for me and left soon after I boarded. I rode the train to the Newark International Airport stop where I was able to catch the Air Tran which took me right to my terminal. Because I'd been so lucky with catching trains one after the other, I arrived at Newark a good two and a half hours before my flight departed. After checking in at the TAP desk and securing a window seat (score!) I headed through security with no problems at all with my expertly packed one quart clear plastic bags with 3oz or less bottles of liquid inside.

I was one of the only passengers to wait patiently at the gate for my row number to be called. Most people crowded around the boarding area thinking “I'm going to be the first person on the plane!!!”. This makes no sense to me since boarding is by row and all the seats are assigned and there is no need to rush into the plane to get a good seat. But, what do I know?

My plan was to get comfortable in my seat, wait until we took off to take a sleep aid pill, and pass out for the next seven hours until arriving in Lisbon. Of course, my plan didn't go as... planned. I did manage to get as cozy and comfortable as you can get in an airplane seat and then took a sleeping pill right after take off when I could recline my seat. But, I was so rudely awakened by a steward pushing the button to un-recline my seat when the meal was served. He explained to me that everyone was eating so I had to put my chair up. Did it look like I cared? No. I did not want to eat. I wanted to recline and pretend that I was sleeping through the night so that when I arrived in Portugal and later Rome, it would feel like I had slept all night and woken up in the morning. But as I said, my plan did not work, all because this Portuguese airline required that I had my seat in it's “upright and locked position” while everyone around me ate their food (which smelled surprisingly seasoned for airplane food) despite the fact that I preferred to sleep.

We landed in Portugal when it was still dark outside so I didn't get to see any of it from my window seat, but I did manage to see the lit up arch of a McDonalds as we approached the runway. Once in Portugal, I got my passport stamped (woo!!!) and then headed to my next flight, where I had to go through security again, which irritated me. The line was short and I thought it would be no problem. The security officer wouldn't let me take my huge bottle of water through so I stood there and started drinking it before I went through the security check point. She decided that while I was standing there anyway it would be a good time to get out my little bags of liquids and check to make sure they passed security tests. I graciously offered both my baggies to her for inspection. Well, apparently I and Newark security officials had failed to see that my very favorite Boscia face wash was actually 5oz instead of the required 3oz or fewer. This is expensive face wash, and I love it, I cannot live without it. The security officer told me I had three choices. One, throw it away (never!!!). Two, mail it to myself (this would have worked perfectly expect to do so I needed Euros and I was without any), Three, go through customs, go to the airline counter and check my bag with the liquid inside of it (this is what I wanted to do but then they told me if I did this that I would likely miss my flight). So, none of these options were working for me. I had to get clever and creative. I had packed a 3oz bottle of shampoo which I decided wasn't as important (or expensive) as my face wash, so I emptied it out in the garbage, washed it with the remainder of what was left in my water bottle, and filled it with my beloved face wash, most of which made it into the 3oz container. When I washed my face this morning it smelled a bit like the shampoo but didn't have any of the pink color so I think I did a good enough job.

I made it to the gate for my flight from Lisbon to Rome in plenty of time, and then the plane ended up being delayed because people's luggage was not on the plane yet (probably people who had the same problem as I did and decided to go back and check their bags). I should have gone with that option... Oh well. I slept again on that flight (three hours) though the person behind me decided that he wanted to kick and shove my chair frequently enough so that I would understand he was not happy about my reclining my seat. People (especially tall men) need to understand that seats on airplanes recline, and anyone is allowed to recline them! If anyone has problems with people reclining chairs in front of him, he should buy the seat in front of him. Harumph.

When I arrived in Rome, I didn't get a passport stamp (sad face). I didn't have any checked baggage so I was able to get out of the airport easily and find my dad and his friends. We got in their rented car and started driving to Tuscany where they are renting an apartment and I am staying, by way of a coastal highway with great views of the Mediterranean sea. After having lunch in a small town called Santa Marinelli (I have to check the name on the map later) I promptly fell asleep in the back seat of the rented Fiat and missed pretty much all of the scenic drive. Oops?

We arrived in he medieval city of Barberino around sunset. I was much too tired to do any exploring or even notice that I was in an over 1,200 year old city. But I'm sure I will have time to adequately explore the area tomorrow.

Until then...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to Track Down Stolen Luggage - Dominican Style

Unfortunately on our recent trip to the Dominican Republic, my darling Mike's bag was "lost" as the airlines like to say. Here is my comical rendition of "How to Track Down Stolen Luggage".

First: Conveniently sit next to the person who will ultimately mistake your bag for his. This is a key element if you need to use face recognition.

Second: Get off the plane quickly and get to the luggage pick up area before the carousel starts moving.

Third: If you see someone walking away from the luggage carousel with a bag that looks oddly similar to yours, he is probably leaving with you bag. This would be a good time to run up to that person before they go through customs to avoid the following steps. If you don't run up to him (d'oh!) then make sure to get a good look at his face to realize he was the person sitting next to you on the flight.

Fourth (optional): Hope that customs does a search on them and that someone realizes the bag is not his!

Fifth: In the event that the fourth step doesn't occur, you will have to wait until all the luggage comes around the carousel and find the bag left behind that looks most like your bag. Note the name and address on the luggage tag.

Sixth: File a claim with the airline lost baggage people and make sure you mean business! Tell them you know the name and seat number of the person who took your bag because you are so observant. Also see if they can look through all the customs sheets for his name so they can contact the stealer instead of waiting for the stealer to contact the airport. Also, try your best to take the stealer's bag with you. You can use it as leverage in the future.

Seventh: Inform the people at your hotel about your lost luggage and have them call the airport and customs and if necessary the embassy and work their little behinds off to get your bag back.

Eighth: Meanwhile, go on Facebook and type in the name you noted from the luggage tag in the fifth step. Try to use face recognition and cross reference with their location (should be close to your departure airport). When you find the stealer, send them a message indicating the problem. Now they know you know they stole your luggage! Muahahahaha.

Ninth: When the airline finds your luggage only an hour after you have sent the Facebook message (and 6 hours after you landed), feel confident that your Facebook stalking skills were the reason of luggage return and not the good graces of the schmuck who didn't realize he had the wrong bag for 5 hours?! Yeah, I don't think so.

Tenth: After profusely thanking the people at your hotel for working so hard to find your luggage, take off those stinky clothes you've been wearing all day and change into your nice clean ones that were hanging out in someone else's hotel room for the entire day.

****Reminder**** Never pack valuables (jewelry, electronics, money, documents) in your checked luggage! Always put those in your carry on bag.

Thank you for tuning into this edition of "How To" on Tamara's Travels.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Domincan Republic - Packing Whoops

I returned from my glorious six day five night trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on Saturday. We stayed at the Club Med resort which was absolutely perfect. I highly recommend it. Besides the rooms being comfortable and spacious with a balcony and a view, the food being delicious and all inclusive, the activities provided were the best! We took sailing and windsurfing lessons, tried our hand at archery, and even endured the heat on the tennis courts. The night-time activities are fun too with live music nights and a DJ nightclub on the beach. We never had to think of anything to do, everything was already planned for us. We just chose the activities. No stress.

There were only two disappointments on my trip and neither one of them had to do with the actual trip, but mistakes I made myself.

The first, I completely and utterly over packed, which is usually not a problem for me. But this time, I failed. Want to know what I packed too much of? Clothes to wear during the day! Who wears clothes in the Caribbean during the day?! I wore a bathing suit with a cover up every day. I brought two bathing suits and two cover ups and alternated them between the days so I wore each one twice. Did I wear any of the three pairs of shorts I brought? No. Did I wear any of the tank tops I brought to go with them? No. Did I wear any of the three sweaters or two pairs of jeans I brought (apparently I forgot what 90 degree weather feels like)? No. I'll tell you what I DID wear (other than the bathing suits and cover ups). I wore each of my five dresses/skirts for night-time (dinners and dancing always call for dresses) and I wore half of the exercise clothes I brought (it was much too hot for me for most of the exercise classes). I only brought four pairs of shoes and wore all of them; night wedges, night sandals, flip flops, and tennis shoes. I even managed to wear all the jewelry/accessories I brought to go along with my night outfits. Bathing suits and night-time clothes only from now on. Lesson learned.

Of course, to go along with my over packing, I under packed a few things (or just plain forgot them). I have horribly uncomfortable reactions to bug bites. I remembered to bring my prescription anti-itch cream (good last minute toss in the suitcase) but completely FAILED to bring bug spray! Luckily, the gift shop had bottles for sale... for $17.00!!! I sucked it up and bought one, because I desperately needed it. Lesson learned.

I also thought that bringing the book I was currently reading (Haruki Murakimi's Norwegian Wood) and another book (Barbara Kingsolver's Pigs in Heaven) would be enough reading for the plane rides and the beach. I was wrong. I finished the Murakami on the plane before we even landed in the Dominican Republic and I finished the Kingsolver the day before we left. I really tried to put the book down, but I just couldn't. I was forced to buy a trade paperback that I didn't have much interest in reading at the Punta Cana airport for $10 when they usually cost just $8 in the US. Le sigh. Lesson learned.

If you're planning on sitting on the beach for the majority of your vacation, don't pack clothes to wear during the day and bring enough reading material. Oh, and hot and humid equals MOSQUITOES. Bring bug spray to spare your skin and your wallet.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Purse for Traveling

Every fashionable girl wants to travel with a cute purse. Unfortunately, suitcase space and practicality often get in the way. But, it is possible to travel with a lightweight bag this is fashionable and functionable.

My pick, LeSportsac's Deluxe Every Day Bag. I have traveled to four countries with mine; France, Spain, Italy, and Israel.

Top five reasons why I love this bag:

1. The material is lightweight so it is easy to pack as well as carry around all day. It's also super easy to clean.
2. There are a variety of patterns and colors to chose from. Have fun viewing the colors on their website. Also every season this bag comes in new prints and colors.
3. The adjustable strap means you can wear this bag as a cross body bag or as a shoulder bag.
4. Two main pockets (one that is expandable) and three smaller outer pockets allow for easy organization and access to your belongings.
5. The zipper closures ensure that no one can get into your bag but you, take that pickpockets of Rome!

My mom also has this bag (as per my suggestion) and we both used ours on our trip to Europe. While we were at Campo de Fiori in Rome, we spotted a man lingering behind us, obviuosly observing our pockets to see if they were bulging with something in them. Of course he didn't find anything because we had our LeSportsac bags, across our body, with our hands over the zippers. He got really close to me, I turned around, and then he disappeared into thin air. He knew not to mess with the LeSportsac bag.

Here we are at the to of Notre Dame. We used the tiny outside pocket to hold our water bottles (smart, smart!)

This is me on my most recent itnernational trip in Israel. I am in the DESERT!

Don't forget to get a bag for your guy too! You don't want to be lugging around his stuff the entire vacation, do you? The Men's Small Crossbody works great. I recommend this one over the messenger bags because they have zipper closures whereas the messenger bags only have flaps over the main pocket.

Safe and happy travels!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Traveling To Do List

In an attempt to procrastinate getting ready for my upcoming St. Louis departure on Saturday I am going to share with you a "to do" list before embarking on any excursion, no matter how long you are away. I tend to let this slip for weekend getaways, but I am going to try to be better with this in the future. Since my St. Louis trip to see my dear dear friend, Tanya, and my cousins Mike and Skip and their families is a full week long, I really need to get my to do list completed. These can be started and completed in any order. This is just my preferred order (though I tend to jump around from task to task).

1. Make a packing list. Packing lists eliminate forgotten items such as toothpaste and socks (cough cough Mike). I tend to itemize my packing lists like so (I'm probably putting too much on here, but I don't want you to forget anything!)

  • Clothes: day, night, pjs, outerwear, socks, undergarments (undies, stockings), seasonal and/or activity clothes (beach resorts or ski resorts for example - updated from comments)

  • Shoes: day, night, pool/beach, athletic, slippers for extended stays, weather appropriate shoes

  • Toiletries and bathroom supplies: hair care (I always forget extra hair ties), dental hygiene, skin care (including sunscreen), makeup, hair removal (tweezers and razors, ladies), nail care (toe nail clippers, boys), medications (preferably Excedrin and Benadryl), band aids

  • Accessories: jewelry (nothing too fancy), handbags (one for day and one night - no need for more), sunglasses

  • Electronics: iPod/headphones and charger, cell phone and charger, camera and charger, mini battery operated alarm clock (I use my cell phone for this)

  • Extras: gum, postcard stamps, earplugs and eye cover, notebook and pens, reading material, mini flashlight (for camping and stuff....)

  • Definitely don't forget: drivers license, passport if necessary, all necessary tickets, confirmation numbers, vouchers, etc., money including cash, traveler's cheques, and credit and debit cards. *Call your credit card companies before traveling to another country to avoid your card being denied once there - the CC companies might think it's stolen.*
2. Put everything away! I am notoriously bad for letting clothes pile up on my desk chair, books pile up next to my bed, laundry pile up in the corner, shoes migrating outside the closet, the bed going unmade, empty water glasses living next to the bed... I could go on. The point of this step on the to do list is so that it will be easier for you to pack. Once you've gotten everything put away into it's rightful organizational mode (or as close as you can get) move on to step...

3. Lay out what you are bringing from the packing list on your now made bed and cross them off the list as you put them there. I organize everything into piles like from the packing list, this way it's easier to fit into suitcases and/or balance weight if bringing more than once suitcase while trying to stay within airline bag weight maximums. Also, make sure all the clothes are folded neatly. When actually packing, save the small things like socks and undies for last as they fit into those tight spaces on the side that nothing else fits into. I also put my hair dryer in the middle so it doesn't bang around. And of course, always put liquids in a Ziploc bag to avoid a complete and total disaster. At this point I also...

4. Make a special pile for things going in my carry on if I am checking bags (not including my purse which I won't include here). In my carry on I always have; sweatshirt (planes are cold!), iPod/earphones, earplugs and eye cover, reading material, notebook and pens (make sure they're not the exploding kind, Mom), the jewelry I'm bringing (don't want to lose that in checked baggage), my laptop, all forms of ID and travel documents. In that little quart sized plastic bag for liquids I put travel size bottles of lotion (3oz), chap stick, face cream, and toothpaste (the toothbrush usually makes it in there too). If I am traveling with a carry on only I have to remember to NOT bring a razor or other sharp objects. I once traveled with my friend who forgot there was a mini pocket knife of her keyring, and security took it away. That was a sad day.

5. Put the bags near the front door, or better yet in the car. I usually end up finishing packing right before I leave so they usually go right into the car when I take them out of my room. But, packing is not the only part of preparing to go on vacation. You have to remember to...

6. Take out all the garbage. Especially remember the kitchen garbage. I have been traveling so often that the only times I take the garbage out of my room and bathroom is right before I leave for a trip. Hey, don't judge. They're just filled with tissues anyway as I'm a chronic nose blower. Speaking of being clean and not nasty...

7. Wash the dishes. Running the dishwasher two minutes before you walk out the door to get in the car counts! If you already ran the dishwasher the night before because you were eager, please hand wash the dishes you use before you leave. You don't want them stinking up your kitchen and awaiting your return.

8. Don't leave laundry in the dryer. You'll just have to re-dry it again when you get home because it will be all wrinkly.

9. Hydrate if you are traveling via air. If you are traveling via air and going to a higher altitude than you are leaving from, start hydrating a few days before.

10. Pack snacks in your carry on, especially if you are spending a lot of time traveling. I'm really bad about this and usually end up buying gross airport food.

11. Make sure someone like a neighbor or friend has access to a key to your house in case of an emergency.

12. Make sure someone back home has your itinerary of hotel locations and phone numbers in case they do need to get in touch with you. This might also be a good time to suggest getting an international cell phone if you're traveling internationally.

13. Plants and pets, make sure you have arranged for someone to water the plants, feed the pets, and change the litter if necessary. When my mom, brother, and I went to Hawaii for three weeks we prepared for my cat by leaving him lots and lots of food in bowls and having our neighbor come once a week to refill/change his huge water bowl that we left for him. He decided that our leaving was not OK so he just moved to the neighbors for three weeks. Silly cat.

14. Double check the list before actually leaving your house. Go through the packing list and remember putting each thing in your suitcase. Double check for your cell phone, ID, and documents.

Did I forget anything? Probably. What is one thing you can't travel without? Let me know what you always make sure you do before leaving.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Brief Reflection on Living Out of a Suitcase

I have a lot of stuff. I have bookcases filled with books, closets filled with clothes, and a medicine cabinet full of toiletries, just to give you an idea. While in Utah, I forgot about all of my stuff. I had what I brought, and that was all. Nothing more. Yet, I had everything I needed. I had plenty of books to read, enough clothes to wear, and every toiletry I brought was used at least once.

Now I am home, and the first thing I thought when I walked in my room was, "It's so massy." But, it's not even that messy (discounting the desk and the third shelf in the second closet and the cabinets underneath the sink, and let's not even talk about the stuff I have in the basement). Ok, maybe it is a little messy, but on the surface it doesn't look so bad.

I immediately realized that I don't need so much stuff. In my defense, I have been actively trying to sort through my things and would like to have a huge yard sale this summer.

Sometimes it takes living out of a suitcase (for six out of the past 10 weeks between Israel and Utah) to realize that one doesn't need so many things. Welcome home to me anyway, and I guess it's time to start planning that yard sale...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Final Day - 22,584 Vertical Feet

Tomorrow is going to be a great powder day at Park City Mountain. I would be excited, except that today was my last day of skiing in Utah for the season and I am boarding an airplane back to New York tomorrow. However, I can't complain because I did get 23 great days of skiing in at four different mountains during my stay here.

Today started very early with Shane and I waking up at 7:00am for the power clinic. Now, for those of you who know me, you know I am not in any way, shape, or form a morning person, at all, ever, no way. Me and mornings don't get along, but if there is a reason to greet the early morning, I will. The power clinic at Park City Mountain starts at 8:45am, 15 minutes before the lifts even officially open. It lasts for two hours, until 10:45am, which is about the time more people start to get on the mountain. At $45 a person, the power clinic is a great option for advanced skiers to get helpful pointers from an instructor without paying for an adult group class ($90/person) that lasts only an hour longer and is usually more crowded, even though the lessons max out at five participants per instructor.

Allen Woods was our instructor today. Shane and I were two of three people in the class. The third person was a young woman just a few years older than Shane, so the vibe of the group was young even though our instructor was 78 years old! Yes, you read that right, he is 78 and still skiing. Allen from Stowe, VT is a very interesting guy. He was the head of ski school at Stowe for 30 years and came to Park City 10 years ago. He has multiple ski instructor certifications, including certifications that allow him to certify others. But, the most interesting thing I learned about Allen was that he was the first American ski instructor to be permitted to take the Austrian ski instructor exam. Pretty cool, right? Allen gave me some great pointers for carving on ice because I mentioned to him that I was headed to Stowe in 2 weeks. Stowe, and other mountains in the East, are notorious for having icy conditions all winter long. Allen wanted to make sure I was ready. If you are ever skiing at Park City I highly suggest waking up early and taking the power clinic with Allen Tuesday through Friday. He is a very neat person and I am glad that I had the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Mom met us at Cole Sport after the lesson. While in Cole Sport, I was introduced to charismatic Cindy, a competitor in the Special Olympics. I had the opportunity to ask Cindy some questions, which she was very excited to answer because she wanted to be on the blog! Cindy is a downhill skier because she thinks that cross country skiing is too difficult. She began skiing a couple of years ago and loves it (me too, Cindy, me too). Cindy was also a regular fashionista wearing her Sundance Film Festival jacket which she was proud to show off. And, she is a very big Lilly Tomlin fan. You can watch Cindy in the following video.

Shane and I led Mom down some trails that we went on with Allen during the power clinic. It was nice to change up our routine a bit. It had already begun snowing when we headed up with Mom, but during the time skied together it started snowing much harder. And then it got really windy. It very quickly became a "snowy and blowy" day, Mom's LEAST favorite kind of ski conditions. In order to protect ourselves from the blustering wind we opted to ride the Motherlode lift the majority of the time, even though it is a frightfully long lift with no footrest. We got bored while on the lift so Mom started singing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall". I then joined in and we belted out the song, getting down to 55 bottles of beer before we got off the lift. Mom must have been influenced by going to the brewery last night.

It got too windy for our liking and the snowflakes hitting our faces actually started to hurt, so we headed back to the base around 3:00pm, about an hour earlier than we usually do, after 22,584 vertical feet of skiing, 5,792vf of which were accumulated during the power clinic. We needed to get back to the condo anyway to pack up.

"All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go." I can't believe this amazing adventure is coming to an end. I am so glad that I got to experience "mountain life" first hand, improve my skiing, and spend time with my family. I am sad to leave Utah, but at the same time I am excited to go home. I know that I will come back to Utah though, so it's really not "good bye" but "see you later".

Thanks to E and R for renting us their condo. It was the perfect space for my family and we felt like we were staying at a friend's place instead of just renting. I know that we have made life-long friends in you.

Also, thanks to Vic, Kyle, and the rest of the team at Cole sport including Ryan, Brett, Will, Mike, and all those whose names I didn't mention. Your expertise, good attitude, and apres ski conversations made our time here that much more fun.

Special thanks to my mom, Judy for making this trip possible and for being the best mom that anyone could ever ask for. You will never know how much this trip has meant to me and I am so glad that I got to spend all of it with you.

Stay tuned for upcoming travels to Stowe, VT and St. Louis, MO. Until then...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Birthday Pie etc. - 15,161 Vertical Feet

Yesterdays five vertical miles skied really took a lot out of me. I didn't want to wake up today. I would have been perfectly content to burrow under the sheets for as long as I wanted. But, with tomorrow being the last day, I knew I had to take advantage of situation.

The day stared with the three of us heading into Cole Sport with a surprise for Vic and Kyle, two of our favorite "ski bums" who work there. This past week it was both of their birthdays, Vic turning 25 and Kyle turning 20. In our family, we have a "birthday pie" tradition that started with, of course, me. I am not to keen on cake, and my mom makes the world's best apple pie, so one year I asked for birthday pie instead of birthday cake. I got a pie with my age worked into the pie crust, I think the first pie was the year I turned 20. Anyways, we decided that we would give birthday pies to Vic and Kyle that they could share with the rest of the crew at Cole Sport. We did, however, refrain from singing happy birthday because my mom can't carry a tune if it had handles on it. They were so appreciative of their birthday pies, and when we got back to the shop at the end of the day they said they enjoyed them very much. Well, who doesn't like a birthday pie?!

Vic, Mom, Kyle, Me and birthday pie!

After presenting the guys with the pies (I'm a poet and I don't even know it), we headed up the Payday lift to start our second to last day at Park City Mountain. Little to our knowledge, it had snowed four inches that morning, so we were able to get some nice fresh, soft, buttery snow. Our warm up run on Sunrise off of McConkey's lift was absolutely perfect.

The weather alternated between snowing and sunshine all day. It was mildly schizophrenic. Sometimes the snowflakes were so big and wet that we needed "windshield wipers" for our goggles. Sometimes the snow was like pellets flying at us. Other times the sun shone down on us. But, you can't worry about the weather because the weather doesn't worry about you.

Riding the Pioneer lift in the falling snow.

After skiing 15,161 vertical feet, Shane and I were feeling pretty beat up from the insanity of the previous day, so we ended a little earlier than usual. Mom was very pleased with herself that she outlasted her young energetic children. Point for Mom.

When we got back to the condo, we decided that Albert the shopping cart should be returned to the parking lot before we left to go back home. I did promise that we would return him. But, of course we couldn't resist having a photo shoot with Albert! He is quite photogenic if I do say so myself.

I went to return Albert and then of course I got sidetracked and ended up in the TJ Maxx in Redstone. I have a SERIOUS weakness for TJ Maxx like you can't even believe. I ended up with a few new purchases, one of which is a bottle of Ahava lotion from the Dead Sea in Israel. We couldn't find matzoh ball soup mix in Smith's but I found Israeli lotion in the TJ Maxx. Some things never cease to amaze me.

On the way to dinner we stopped into Jupiter Bowl, a brand spankin' new bowling alley named for the bowl at Park City Mountain that is deemed experts only. I don't think you need to be an expert bowler to go to Jupiter Bowl though. Jupiter Bowl had not only bowling lanes, but a full bar, a video arcade complete with Dance Dance Revolution, air hockey, and a photo booth (we did take a strip of photos!), pool tables, lots of TVs playing sports games, and a sit down restaurant. I definitely want to hit up Jupiter Bowl the next time I come to Park City.

For dinner we headed to the Red Rock Brewery. When we got there it was very busy with families, but the exposed ceiling and open kitchen made it feel less crowded. We got a table in the corner and enjoyed our time there without feeling like there were too many people around. But most importantly, the food at Red Rock is AMAZING. We split an order of spicy buffalo wings to start with that were finger licking good. They were even so spicy that Shane, the king of spicy, had to drink water while eating them. Mom ordered the pink trout which was so flavorful and tender. Shane ordered the chicken schnitzel. I ordered the sweet potato cannelloni. Um... YUM! It's a good thing there were only two cannellonis, because I would have kept eating them. I also ordered a Honey Wheat beer which was delicious. It gave John Harvards and Southampton Publick House brews a run for their money! Mom and Shane each ordered a Red Rock homemade cream soda which I have to admit, was ridiculously good. Mom, the queen of cream soda, said it was the best cream soda she had ever had. Now, that's saying something. I highly recommend eating at Red Rock Brewery because the food is delicious, the drinks are thirst quenching, and the price is oh so good. Dinner and drinks for the three of us cost under $70!

Shane, Mom, and Me at Red Rock Brewery.

When we returned to the condo after dinner, we walked into the garage and were upset by the absence of Albert... I guess he is with his family of other shopping carts now.

Tomorrow it's back to Park City for our last day. Shane and I are being crazies and waking up for the 8:45am Power Clinic. I don't think I'll survive very long after that. Until then...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Last Day at Deer Vally - NASTAR - Five Miles Vertical Feet

My month long Utah excursion is coming to a close. Thus, today was the last ski day in Deer Valley. Of course, I decided to go out with a bang.

First, Shane and I decided that we would do the NASTAR race today. I remember doing the NASTAR races when I was a kid in ski school and thinking they were so much fun. I had a skier troll that my mom had given me and decorated it with all my NASTAR pins. I had medal pins in bronze, gold, and silver. Ultimately, the NASTAR medal-ed troll got relegated to a box in the basement, but I think I will have to take him out of toy storage land when I get home because I earned a bronze medal on the NASTAR course!

I remember when I was kid I thought the NASTAR race was very long and steep and super duper fast. Today, I realized it's actually not that steep, not that long, and it's pretty hard to go that fast. Mom says it's because I grew but I think it's because the mountains shrunk...

Mom took a video of Shane and I earning our bronze medals, which we were very pleased to receive. However, my technologically challenged mom rotated the camera so that the videos all appear sideways. So I won't be posting them here, unless I get in comments that you all want to see the sideways videos.

Mom also embraced her inner child when noticing the lift operators snowmobile was smiling... She is being brainwashed by American Express commercials.

In videos we can actually view without turning our computers sideways, Shane took a video of me skiing one of my favorite runs at Deer Vally, Wizard on Bald Mountain. I love this run because I can go really fast at the beginning and there is rarely ever anybody on it.

Shane also captured one of Mom coming down after me. She didn't know she was being videoed but she was still excited about it. Can you believe my mom had never seen herself skiing on video until this trip? Oh the generation gap...

Since we were kids, Shane and I (and I'm sure other ski schoolers) were obsessed with being on chair number one on the chair lifts. The best time to be on chair number 1 is when you don't plan it and it just happens. That is exactly what happened to us today.

Shane on Chair #1 on Lady Morgan Express

Finally, our most amazing feat yet... drum-roll please... Shane and I skied just over FIVE MILES in vertical feet with a total vertical feet of 26,790vf which is 5.07 miles to be exact. Not only did we ski five vertical miles, but we did so on five of the six peaks at Deer Valley! And, we didn't even start our first run until 11:00am or so. Now, this didn't just happen this way. When we realized how much we were skiing we decided to overtly try to hit five vertical miles. We did so by completely ditching Mom after lunch and going up and down the Northside lift on Flagstaff mountain until the lift closed. At that point, we were only 810vf away from reaching our goal. Knowing that the Carpenter lift at the base stayed open until 4:15, we headed that way to ensure that we would be able to accomplish our goal. On the way down we ran into Mom who gladly joined us on the Carpenter lift and took our last run with us. It was a great way to end the day and this season's time at Deer Valley.

I will miss Deer Valley, really I will, and I plan on returning as often as possible. I'm even considering applying for a mountain host position. After all, I do know the mountain backwards and forwards, and I like to think I am a pretty personable character. But, I am speculating too far into the future.

Tomorrow we are going to Park City where we will finish up the remainder of our skiing here in Utah. I highly doubt we'll be able to ski five vertical miles there. Until then...

Two of the most gorgeous houses visible from the slopes in Deer Valley.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Snowbird and Burning Popcorn - 14,756 Vertical Feet

Variety is a good thing, especially when vacationing in one place for an entire month. To add some spice to our lives, we decided to go to Snowbird today, another ski resort in the Wasatch Mountains just 12 miles from our condo. If you look at the map of Utah ski resorts, you will find they are all quite close together. In fact, from Park City Mountain you can see Deer Valley. Snowbird and Alta share a mountain, only they are on opposite sides. It's quite incredible really. And, if you think about it, with so many mountains for skiers to chose from, there is always something "new" and the mountains don't get as crowded. It's quite brilliant. Thank you Mother Nature for creating such ski conducive mountains so close together.

Unfortunately, Snowbird is not easily accessible from Park City via public transportation. To do so, one would have to take a shuttle from Park City to Salt Lake City airport and then transfer there to another bus heading to Snowbird. Being people who dance to our own drum, we decided to rent a car for the day, easy peasy. We rented online with Enterprise last week anticipating our Snowbird trip. The great thing about Enterprise is the door to door pickup. They picked us up at our condo (albeit an hour late) and took us to the rental car center. When we got there, Shane (who was driving) signed some forms, they gave us the keys, and we were off! Shane brought Mom's Garmin from home so we were able to have GPS in the car, even though it was quite easy to get to Snowbird from Park City.

To get to Snowbird from Park City, one must first go down the mountain and into Cottonwood Canyon, then back up to Snowbird. The view is absolutely breathtaking. Coming from a flat island, it always amazes me how spectacular mountain ranges are, even though I've seen them quite often in my life.

The GPS announced our arrival at Snowbird and we parked the car in the free lot and walked to Snowbird Center where there are lockers, shops, restaurants, a pharmacy, and a mini grocery store. We headed up to the top floor balcony to get Mom's ticket (we already had two discount tickets purchased from Canyon Sports) and then headed to the waiting area for the Aerial Tram which holds up to 125 people, has a vertical rise of 2,900ft (my ears popped on the way up), and is 8,935ft in length. The tram these days isn't much needed because of the added tunnel and Mineral Basin Express lift, but it's still a treat just the same. I've had my fair share of tram rides in my life. Of course I rode the tram in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last year and for the two years I lived on Roosevelt Island in NYC, I rode the tram there on a frequent basis. You might remember the Roosevelt Island tram from Spiderman 2... maybe?

Video of the two trams crossing, one goes up the other goes down.

As we were waiting for the tram I spotted a family that I recognized from the previous day at Deer Valley. Creepy? Maybe. But I distinctly remembered the two children's ski outfits because they were a glorious color of green. The "green girls" totally stuck out in a crowd, so I said "Hi" to them and we got to chatting. Then of course Mom got to chatting with them. All the chatting on the tram led to a huge photo shoot on the top of Hidden Peak at 11,000ft elevation.

The family on top of Hidden Peak

Panoramic from the top of Hidden Peak

We opted to first go down a short ways on Peruvian Gulch and then catch the "magic carpet" through the tunnel to Mineral Basin on the other side of the mountain.

Shane in the tunnel.

Riding the Magic Carpet

The tunnel is relatively new with it's completion in 2006. Mineral Basin, the "back bowl" of Snowbird is also relatively new with it's opening in 2000 just two years before the Olympics came to Salt Lake City. After we rode the magic carpet to Mineral Basin, we skied to the bottom blindly, not because of visibility, it was in fact a perfectly sunny and warm day, but because of the lack of signs and postings telling skiers where the trails were. Alas, we think we missed the run we intended to do (this happened a few times throughout the day) but all is well. We mostly wanted to explore the mountain and sample a little bit of everything. And let me say, the sampling has got me wanting more. I fully intend to spend multiple consecutive days in Snowbird in the future.

Snowbird is unlike any mountain I have ever visited. Everything is wide open, the complete opposite of The Canyons I'd like to point out. The front AND back of the mountain are in "bowl" formations, and multiple ones at that. The expanse of Snowbird is huge with 2,500 acres of ski-able terrain. One of the unique features of Snowbird is their 40 year old chair lifts. For those of you who don't ski or snowboard, this might not mean that much to you, but for those of you that do ski or snowboard, appreciate those comfortable chair lifts! Two of the lifts I rode today, Little Cloud and Gad 2, were 40 year old two seater chair lifts with seats that literally resembled beach chairs. The seats were plastic slats on a thin metal frame that had teeny tiny armrests and a completely awkward footrest (but at least it had a footrest). I actually got anxiety on these chair lifts, especially when Gad 2 stopped for 5 minutes over a huge bowl. I'm a complete wuss when it comes to chairlifts, it is true. However, I survived the chair lifts enough to continue skiing. And ski I did! We skied a total of 14,756 vertical feet. Not bad considering how much time we spent taking pictures and videos and just staring in awe at the expanse of the mountain.

Me in awe of the mountain, babbling of course.

My favorite thing about Snowbird, however, is their dedication to safety. The trail map for Snowbird is called a "Trail Map and Safety Guide". They have a poster at every lift stating the Skier Responsibility Code. Upon entering Snowbird Center there is a ticker screen ticking off the Code as well. On the tram ride, the operator announcement references the Code as well. This is my kind of mountain! And my observations proved that skiers and riders at Snowbird take the Code to heart. I only once got passed by a fast skier, but that was on a super narrow run. And, since Snowbird has many catwalks cutting through expert terrain, it is especially important to follow the rules of the Code including yield to downhill skiers and observing slow zone regulations.

After out day of skiing came to a close, we headed back to the car to journey back to the condo. Of course, this journey included a requisite stop to 7-Eleven (our favorite convenience store - in fact, on the February 21st episode of Undercover Boss, you can see me in the turquoise sweater purchasing coffee at our local 7-Eleven). Mom and I were overjoyed to learn the 7-Eleven we stopped at had steamed milk, a staple in the perfect cup of coffee. The employees were even nice enough to make us a fresh pot of hazelnut coffee, our favorite. When we questioned the employees about steamed milk (because not all 7-Eleven's have steamed milk much to our dismay), they mentioned that it's mostly people from the East who get the steamed milk. Well, that makes sense! Almost all the 7-Eleven's where we live have steamed milk and hardly any when we travel have it. Go figure. East Coasters sure know how to drink their cheap coffee.

For dinner, we ordered take out Japanese from Shoyu right near where we got our nails done that one time. I learned while waiting to pick up the order that Reef's used to be in that location. This is significant because Reef's was a restaurant we were told to go to because our very close family friend's son's friend's parents owned Reef's. Got that? Well, we weren't able to eat at Reef's because it's not there anymore, but at least we were able to pay it homage by getting take out from the restaurant that occupies it's former space.

After our Japanese food, Mom decided she wanted popcorn... Well, needless to say I gave mom the incorrect microwave cooking time for the popcorn and it started to smoke, heavily I might add, all throughout the apartment. Mom and I were fanning the front and garage doors open trying to get the smoke out while Shane busted open the sliding glass doors in the living room. So, E and R, if you smell any residual burnt popcorn, don't fret... we got it all under control...

Tomorrow it's our last day at Deer Valley. After Shane returns the car to Enterprise and hitches a ride home from them, we're heading the mountain early (why am I awake?). Shane and I want to be sure to hit up the NASTAR race track like we did when we were kids. It will be our fun memory from this trip, that is assuming I don't crash and burn like I did when I was a kid. Until then...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Math Lesson - Running in Ski Boots - 17,920 Vertical Feet

Today we only did a half day of skiing at Deer Vally. I must say once again that the accessiblity at Deer Valley is pheonomenal. We got on the first lift at 12:20 and got to the base of the mountain at 3:55 for a grant total of three hours and thirty five minutes on the mountain. Figure in our 30 minute "brownie" break and 95 minutes waiting for and on lifts, we only actually skied for about an hour and a half. But, in that hour and a half I skied 17,920 vertical feet. To continue our math lesson, that comes out to almost 12,000 vertical feet an hour. I skied more today in a half day than I did on other full days. That's pretty impressive if you ask me.

We opted not to have lunch on the mountain since we only skied a half day, so instead we went to Cushing's Cabin at the top of Flagstaff Mountain. It's a small eatery stocked with baked good and coffee all day. For lunch they make sure to have chilli on hand, something usefull to know if we don't wan't to head to one of the bigger eateries.

Me and Shane outside Cushing's Cabin

Like I said before, we got to the base of the mountain at 3:55, which coincidentally is only three minutes before the bus leaves! It's either three minutes or 33 minutes. We decided NOT to wait for 33 minutes and rushed instead of slothed. Mom and Shane carried the skis and left the poles for me while I scurried down the stairs to the locker room to get mine and Mom's cat-tracks then back up the stairs to get the poles and dash across oncoming traffic to get to the bus stop. But you know what, I made it! I suggest never running in ski boots, it's quite difficult.

All in all it was a good day. We didn't work too hard (hence the half day) because we are going to Snowbird tomorrow, which is going to be quite an adventure. Until then...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snowboardless Wonderousness - 21,390 Vertical Feet

I failed to include in yesterday's post what happened AFTER The Canyons. Please backtrack with me a little bit.

Last night the three of us went out to dinner in Old Town Park City at Cafe Terigo. Mom had eaten here before on previous trips to Park City and liked it so much she wanted to share the experience with me and Shane. The 22 year old restaurant resides in a brick building right on Main Street. The menu boats both French and Italian cuisine. I consider Cafe Terigo a fine dining establishment without the fuss. Families are welcome here, as is casual dress. I enjoyed the artichoke appetizer and the lamb chop entree, Mom had the Utah trout which she thought was delicious, and Shane had the chicken fettuccine which was good enough to doggy bag. When my glass of wine came with dinner, I immediately appreciated the big full glasses of wine I get back in New York. Silly Utah drinking laws.

Skiing in Deer Valley today was the polar opposite of The Canyons yesterday. As you all know by now, I am a big fan of Deer Valley. The comfort level is fantastic. Every chair lift has a foot rest, there are multiple tissue boxes on every lift line, the food is amazing, the accessibility is superb, just to name a few. It is safe to say that Shane's first experience of Deer Valley was a good one, and luckily for him there were no fires in any lodges.

After skiing both Deer Valley and Park City many times in the past few weeks, I have discovered what I like about skiing each of them. Deer Valley always grooms runs rated green circle, blue square, and double blue square. There is usually one single black diamond (not including Stein's Way which is always groomed) that is groomed (today there were two, Evergreen and Oriental Express). At Deer Valley I can either ski an easy cruising run or a difficult bump run, but not much in-between since blacks are rarely groomed and blues are rarely left ungroomed. I can't get a steep cruiser or a not steep bump run.

At Park City, the grooming report every day is wildly different. There are groomed runs, day old groomed runs, not groomed since last century runs; blue, double blue, black, Park City doesn't discriminate with it's grooming process which means I can get a less steep bump run and a steep cruiser, which I rarely get at Deer Valley. I can also ski less steep groomers and steep bump runs at Park City in addition to Deer Valley. The variety in types of runs at Park City can't be beat. But, the snowboardless wonderousness (sorry snowboarder friends, I still love you) of Deer Valley is unparalleled. In fact, there are only three snowboardless mountains in the entire USA; Deer Valley, Alta (also in Utah's Wasatch Mountains), and Mad River Glen in Vermont. The lack of snowboarders makes the snow less scraped and the noise level lower. And let me defend myself here and say that I have nothing against snowboarders in general, just the bad ones who don't know how to turn and scrape off all the snow who are also oblivious to the people around them (and yes, there are skiers like this too).

Today's 21,390 vertical feet was the perfect amount to ski. I wasn't so exhausted that I was not functional upon returning to the condo, yet I definitely felt worked out. When I returned to the condo I spent a seriously long time in the hot tub, then took a bubble bath, then a shower. My skin seriously misses hydration. It could be that time in the trip where I start to miss things back home (humidity, for example). My plane leaves in 6 days and I am going to enjoy my time in Utah all 6 of those days.

Tomorrow it's back to Deer Valley to stay away from the Park City weekend crowd. Until then...

Me, Mom, Shane at the top of Bald Mountain on Stein's Way

The Canyons Fail - 13,354 Vertical Feet

I arrived at The Canyons with a positive outlook, and I promise that I tried to keep that positivism up, but it was truly a feat.

My first impression was good. I thought the Cabriolet ride from the bus stop to the Gondola and base was cute. I even managed to find an $8 off coupon to use towards the lift tickets. The base area was charming like most ski areas are. The walk to the Gondola from the Cabriolet was a cinch. The gondola ride was pleasant and the Red Pine Lodge area was bustling and full of energy. Then we skied down our first run, Chicane, and it all went downhill (literally) from there.

Instead of going into everything we did today, which will bore you because I was bored doing it, I will tell you the pros and cons of The Canyons.


Comfort: None of the lifts have a footrest, and some of them are very long! Maybe I'm spoiled, but I enjoy having a footrest, and while I understand they can't be on every lift, at least the newer lifts should have one. Also, there are no tissues at the lift lines. Nonsensical! Spoiled? Maybe, but I think tissues in a ski area are common sense. Also, the bus stop is after Park City Mountain resort so when you get on at the end of the day, there is no sitting room and you have to stand in your ski boots holding your skis/poles/gear. How frustrating is that?

Food: Dining gets a below average rating for ski resort fare. The food was likely the worst ski area food I can ever recall eating.

Accessibility: There isn't any! Getting around The Canyons is a nightmare. I probably spent more time on cat-tracks than on actual trails today. The Canyons is a big place, and whoever designed the area certainly did not take into consideration how to get around. We even found ourselves side stepping up hills just to move around the mountain. Not cool my friends, not cool. It's also hard to ski the left and right sides of the mountain in the same day. Because it was so hard to get around, we didn't actually do much skiing today, even though our vertical feet skied comes out to be 13,354vf. I think most of that was on cat-tracks though. The only good run we found was a black diamond called G-Force.

Courtesy: Snowboarders and skiers alike were exceptionally rude at this mountain. The trails are narrow here but yielding to downhill skiers (a rule in the Ski Patrol Responsibility Code) wasn't given much consideration by others on the mountain. I was consistently cut off without so much as an "on your left/right".

Not only that, but when my mom was cut off by a skier, she pulled over to the side and stopped. So did the other woman, though I'm not sure for what reasons. I was stopped on the side of the trail where the woman was and my mom was on the other side. I asked my mom if she was ready to go and she said she was waiting for the other woman to go because my mom felt she was slower and didn't want a faster skier coming up behind her. Then, the man who was with the woman says to my mom, "Do you have a problem?" Seriously, dude. Our problem is your attitude acting like you own the mountain and are better than everyone else.

Another "totally awesome dude" was behind my mom at Towin, literally a tow rope that you hold on to to take up up a small hill, and got agitated when my mom needed assistance from the operator because of her less than perfect left shoulder. He could have walked faster up the hill than waiting for my mom to get help, but instead he chose to give an attitude reflecting "If you have a bad shoulder then what are you doing here." What a douche-y dude.

In my opinion, the people who usually ski at The Canyons are NOT the tourists. The tourists come for the day and never go back, because they either a) can't figure out the mountain b) get hit by a rude rider c) get food poisoning. The people at The Canyons are the locals claiming their territory. They don't want the visitors there, and they act like it. Well let me tell you something locals, we tourists are bringing you money so you better be nice. If tourists don't ski your mountain because we don't like it, your mountain will close because it won't have any money. So, there.


Watching the insane hiker skiers go up for fresh tracks.

The view from the top of Sun Peak Express.

The waffles at the Bruges Waffle house. It was SO completely delectably delicious that it might have been worth the $176 lift tickets and the $4 for the actual waffle. Ok, maybe not, but it was absolutey the best part of the day. We even opted to eat waffles rather than going down a trail.

All in all, The Canyons was a TOTAL FAIL and I am so glad that we didn't buy more of the discount tickets when we got off the airport. Today made me really appreciate how awesome other mountains are and how privileged I have been in my ski vacations over my life.

Tomorrow we're off to Deer Valley, THANK GOODNESS! Shane will get his first taste of the Deer Valley, the complete opposite of The Canyons. I'm sure in his eyes it will look that much sweeter after a day at The Canyons. He said the best part of his day was going down the Cabriolet back to the bus stop. Until then...