Sound of Music Pilgramage (and Such)

5 01 2010

My last night at home, we happened upon The Sound of Music on television. I know this is not an uncommon affair, especially around the holidays, but nevertheless when those von Trapps are on screen I can’t help but watch (and sing along). In a moment of blissful familiarity my sister, parents and I crowded around to watch, only this time we got to pass the love along to my niece Gianna (until her mean parents made her go to bed).

It took me back. To childhood, when I wanted to be Gretl and made my siblings re-enact the cuckoo clock one sunny afternoon in Tahoe (you know you’re the beloved baby sister when you can command four teen/college age siblings to be photographed popping out from behind their father).

It's a terrible travesty that the turquoise shirt on one brother and the pink plaid shorts on the other are hidden. A little imagination goes a long way though...

It also brought me back to Salzburg, which I visited with my friends during our European adventure, for the sole purpose of taking the Sound of Music Tour. After nearly a month of discussing and reminiscing, of yodeling our way through picturesque European hamlets and trying to remember the names of the of “those two other children” (they are, incidentally, Louisa and Brigitta), we found ourselves on a bus engulfed in the soundtrack and seeing the sights firsthand.

I skipped down the very same lane where Julie Andrews sang “I Have Confidence” (albeit somewhat less gracefully) and we stood in front of the gazebo of  “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” fame. The hysterical disappointment of the day was that we couldn’t enter it because some time before an elderly woman on the same tour broke a hip trying to jump the benches as Liesl did. We did, however, get our music fill for the day, and it was also a great way to see a gorgeous city. Added bonus? I got to relive my trip to the beautiful town in the Alps some years later when writing the EuroCheapo city guide to Salzburg (see it for doing Salzburg on the cheap).

Good Luck Foods and Traditions for 2010

2 01 2010

I’m back from a lovely holiday in California. It was sunny and comfortable and full of family and laughter. And food. Lots of food. Remember all those holiday cookies? Mom didn’t make those, but about a million others, and I certainly did my share of indulging. My sister Kristen made our favorite cookies (made only, oddly, at holiday time): Almond Crescents. This was a Gaga recipe, and for kicks I did a little digging, but was unable to find any information on a traditional almond crescent cookie, at least one that looked like ours.

However, since I seem to be so focused on food these days, I thought I’d share this fun little tidbit I found on Delish: Good Luck Foods for New Year’s Day. It’s a little international inspiration for starting a new year off right. My favorite is the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight, but mainly because it came out of a surplus of grapes one wine harvest.

Some other fun non-food traditions I found:

  • In Venezuela, it’s tradition to enact on New Year’s Eve what you want for the year. If travel is the thing, go out carrying a suitcase, or, even better, if love is what you’re after, you should wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. Check out this Venezuelan video.
  • In Italy the red underwear is for luck (noticing a trend) and items are thrown out of windows out midnight as a sort of “out with the old…” thing. Sounds like fun, if you watch out for flying nightstands.
  • In Suriname it’s all about loud noises (think horns honking and drums banging) and the burning of effigies to symbolize a fresh start.

And here in New York we have the thrilling tradition of freezing to death and bumping into millions of strangers while we wait for a shiny ball to drop. (And then there are the smart ones of us who just find a warm place to watch thew whole fun spectacle on TV.) It seems there is a little insanity in every culture when it comes to ushering in the New year.

Sundresses in December: Priceless

3 12 2009

I’m gearing up to head to Aruba tomorrow. I will be scouting hotels there for my friend Alex, who has a great new site,, with budget accommodations and cool guides to the Caribbean islands. I’ve been packed for nearly a week now. Typically I’m a last minute packer, but the prospect of getting reacquainted with my warm weather clothes was just too exciting to warrant procrastination.

Though I’ll mostly be working, I’m excited for gorgeous beaches, warm weather, and hopefully some good Latin musica. Updates on Aruba to follow…

The Travel Tools That Make You Crazy (and How to Prevent It)

22 11 2009

I’m coming to realize more and more how terrible it is to be a procrastinator. And yet I continue on that path. Mostly, I think, it’s a fear of committing—something else may be just around the corner that is better, cheaper, or what-not.

This is how I got into the mess of not buying my Christmas ticket until far later than I should have. I, who pressured my sister two months ago to let me know for certain if she was indeed going to be in the Bay Area for the holiday so that I could get to purchasing a ticket if I needed (I’m terrible, I know).

But things happened: work and not knowing how much time I’d have off, and then there is this little thing called Bing, and its blasted flight predictor. I warn you now: use at your own risk. It looks innocuous enough, charming even, with its little colored arrows pointing every which way, notices telling you “Buy Now, prices are going up!” or, worse, “Wait! They’re going down!”

This is how I fell. I waited, trusting Bing. And then I began the game of obsessively checking every flight search engine Bing had to offer, plus several more from BookingBuddy, which links from Bing but is a beast unto itself. I could count the number of flight search engines that BookingBuddy links to, but I’ve already lost countless hours checking over half of them for flights to California, so I really don’t want to sacrifice any more of my time to such silliness.

And so, since I went slightly insane before finally settling on a ticket (after, of course, thoroughly evaluating the timing, price and mileage earning possibilities of I’d say thousands of flights over the course of several days), I feel my readers should benefit from my new-found wisdom. So here it is:

1) Trust Bing, to an extent. They tell you right on the site to way your risk tolerance (mine, it appears, is rather high). I find that for the most part, in the past at least, it’s been pretty accurate, though over the much-fluctuating holidays it kept telling me to wait when prices were steadily creeping up. There comes a time when you go with your gut, but Bing is a good place to start.

2) Compare a few search engines, but not to many. Pick five good ones (max!) and stop there. I’ve found I have the best luck with Expedia and Cheap Tickets. But Orbitz, my old faithful friend, remains my favorite, for the crucial aspects of flexible date searches and the ability to include nearby airports. (With the others I found my “must know all options” side trying every possible combination of airports in New York and San Francisco. I’m not a mathematician but I know I don’t like that probability.)

3) Stay away from Priceline. I tried multiple times to book the different versions of a given flight, always to get the answer that it was no longer available no matter how many times the screen refreshed to show my desired flights still there. All the while I lost valuable time that I could have been trolling other search engines.

4) Make a decision! At the end of the day, whether it’s because you took too long in evaluating your options or waited too long for something better to come along, you’ve ultimately wasted time, and likely lost the original best case scenario flight in the process. (Some day I will learn to take this piece of brilliant advice myself.)

Washington Square’s Latest “Ghost”

5 11 2009

All this talk of ghost stories and history seems to be (pardon the pun) haunting me. After thinking, just two days ago, upon the literal layers of a historic house in New Hope, this morning I read in New York Magazine about the headstone unearthed last week in Washington Square Park. It’s no secret that the lively park has had many incarnations in its long history, one of which as a “potter’s field.” Last year, the first phase of a renovation project led to the discovery of intact skeletons.

The second phase is now under way, and last week a neighborhood resident reported seeing a crew dusting off a headstone. The stone dates back to 1799 and marked the grave of James Jackson, a grocer who died at the age of 28. Now the quest is on to figure out who James Jackson was. Given that the park was a Potter’s Field, there would not have been headstones in it, but there was also a church cemetery in the park at one time, or, as this blog suggests, some rare yellow fever victims did have tombstones.

Whatever the case, I will be following it, not only because it’s a fascinating sliver of New York history, but because, yet again, it underlines my vision of the city as palimpsest (which, it turns out, is not a vision unique to me), where life and stories are layered upon one another, like the paint covering John Pickett’s landscapes in New Hope or the park covering a former resting place for the city’s poor.



Historic Haunts (and Hauntings)

2 11 2009

I did not dress up for Halloween this year. Not surprising given my dearth of creativity when it comes to costume ideas (and general dislike of the tradition as a result). What I did celebrate, however, was my favorite part of the holiday, the focus on ghosts and hauntings. While I’m not so much obsessed with ghosts, the whole historic aspect of it I find thrilling. Last Halloween, I did a pub crawl of some of New York’s favorite haunted hot spots.

This year, I’m thinking of some of the other haunted places to visit. Every major city, it seems, has its own host of ghosts, and every place worth its salt as a travel destination has a tour to explore them. I’ve been on ghost tours in San Francisco and Edinburgh and New Orleans, to name a few. They are often cheesy but always fun, and the beauty of them lies not so much in the scary factor (for me at least) but for the glimpses of history they provide.

Most recently, I visited New Hope, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest (and arguably quirkiest) towns, where they have their cadre of spooks and spirits who add a little local color to an already colorful place. On a ghost tour of the town we learned about Joseph Pickett, a painter who only received acclaim following his 1918 death, after his wife had auctioned off much of his work. The quirky Mr. Pickett is said to have shown those who made fun of his work but painting one of his landscapes on the outside of his home. While the building has been painted over today, his ghost is said to remain. This is the sort of local color I love, and the ideal ghost story, one that unearths a bit of a place’s history in relation to its sights.

For more fun “haunts” check out Budget Travel’s list of haunted walking tours.

Female Bonding at Tavern on the Green

29 09 2009

blog tavern

Last Thursday evening, the Empire State Building glowed ruby red, the color of the pair of magical slippers that returned Dorothy home to Kansas. I was nowhere near Kansas, though. Instead I was in a bit of a magical, though not entirely Emerald, City of my own, at a gala honoring the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz at Tavern on the Green. It was a beautiful event, made all the more lovely by the whimsical setting, but there were a few things that made it even more exciting for me.

First, I was reunited with a friend I made last year at Fashion Week; Misty and I happened to sit together at one show and then I spent the G Star party drooling over Tyson Beckford with her and her sister. It was one of those fun connecting moments that go along with being both a writer and female, but then, unfortunately, Misty and I lost touch. Until Fashion Week came up again and, though I didn’t attend this time around, we got back in touch and, fast forward a week, I attended the gala with the very same ladies. Such a treat, and yet another testament to those great, fun, female bonds.

Second, we bonded even further over other fun female bonds: the discovery that Lorna Luft, Judy Garland’s daughter who performed that night, happened also to play Paulette in Grease 2. As a grown woman I wholly admit that Grease 2 is a pretty awful movie. But I’ll just as soon admit that, awful though it may be, I still kind of love it. And the reason I love it (and can still belt words and moves to “Cool Rider“) is because that movie represents a basic bond between my big sister and me. Kristen and watched that movie countless times while I was growing up, always over sunflower seeds and chewy Sweet Tarts, and every time I bond with someone else (almost always female) who knows all the words to “Who’s That Guy?,” I do so with those memories in mind.

Paulette (I mean Lorna) was lovely, and paid beautiful homage to her own female role model, with a rendition of one of her mother’s songs, as well as some songs from the movie. (Unfortunately, the video I took did not turn out.) And so, in all, it was a lovely evening, and a great celebration of gal pals, but one that could only be possible in New York City.

A Series of East Coast Explorations

18 09 2009

I moved to New York to study, but also because of a longtime fascination with the East Coast. Its vistas and clapboard houses and history have been an obsession for as long as I can remember. But with the pressures of school and then the lack of a job, the explorations I intended were all to often put on hold. Not so anymore. Lately I’ve been taking quite a few side trips, which is one of the reasons I’ve been a little quiet this past week. But my observations on these fun weekend adventures are soon to follow in a new series of mini-travelogues! Just as soon as I recover from all this travel…

Regarding the Kindness of Strangers

10 09 2009

One of the loveliest things about travel is the aspect of connecting with strangers. This is pretty much a constant in foreign travel, especially when you are traveling solo and even more especially when you are a solo female traveler. But in general, if you are open to “communing with the natives,” locals tend to be open to communing right back. It is my general experience that people are proud of their country/city/home, and eager to share it with those who are eager to really experience the life and culture there.

I came across much of this in South America, and most of the highlights of that trip, not surprisingly, have to do with random conversation or experiences with friendly strangers. This is less the case in the U.S., however. Nice as Americans are, we are generally a bit more closed off, going about our own lives and in general far too busy to show off our homes to folks we do not know. It’s  difficult to imagine, for example, that a strange girl with no place to stay might knock on the door of a vacation rental somewhere in Anywhere, USA and have the family on the other side take her in as the lovely parents of Octavio and Julia did for me in Humahuaca.

Emphasis, here, on in general. Not all Americans are skeptical of random strangers. Especially, it turns out, on the idyllic roads of Long Island, where we recently went wine tasting and were treated not only to lush scenery, but some of the nicest people one can imagine.

Corey Creek

Picture this:

Four ladies arrive in Mattituck, LI after a two and a half hour train ride and decide to walk to the first winery since their bus is nowhere in sight. It’s sweltering, and after a half hour of walking they are sweaty and trudging, but nearly there, when a car pulls to the side and the woman inside offers them a ride, explaining emphatically when the very relieved ladies climb into the car that  she never does this, then gushing over the area and suggesting countless wineries to try, insisting that she drive them further than their original destination and drop them at one of her favorite wineries.

Savior Sasha bids the ladies adieu at Croteaux, a tiny mom and pop winery that rather perfectly for the idyllic setting only serves rosés.

Croteaux bottle

There is much drinking of pink wine, but there is also some petting of Sargent, the resident pup, and best of all some great conversation with the proprietor, Croteaux himself, who shares that he and his wife moved to the property without the intention of making wine, but saved the historic neighboring farm by purchasing it. After much conversation, and in the second act of kindness of the day, Croteaux offers the ladies the use of his family bicycles to make their way to the next few wineries.

The ladies discover there is little more picturesque than biking on North Fork roads. Unless, perhaps, it’s the sight of bikes against rows of grape vines.


As the day passes there is dancing (with strangers), playing the sunglasses game (more strangers) and finally the kind stranger who gives the ladies a ride back to the train station. Long Islanders, it is clear, are some of the friendliest (and most helpful) folks in all the land. Perhaps it’s the wine?

For more on how to wine hop in Long Island, click here (warning: shameless self-promotion link). More of the mayhem, and a clearer idea of the sunglasses game (mind bafflingly complicated) here.

US Open!

4 09 2009
Nice seats, eh?

Nice seats, eh?

In case you didn’t know it, there’s a big tennis competition going on. I know it (even though I don’t know for certain is “tennis competition” is the proper term). I know it because last night, for very first time, I visited the US Open. The great people at Olympus had a nice comfortable box for several members of the press to play with cameras and watch Roger Federer and Serena Williams.


Though I only vaguely understand tennis, it was great fun. I took a camera down to some seats within spitting distance of the court and played a little with photography, gawked at Kim Cattrall just two boxes away (it can’t all be tennis, right?) and even watched (and learned a little about tennis). But best of all, I participated in another little bit of New York greatness, watched at home by the rest of the world. Gotta love New York.

Some thoughts and observation on my first US Open experience:

  • You don’t have to be as quiet here as you see people being in those Wimbledon movies. You do, I learned from another journalist, at the real Wimbledon.
  • The poor ball boys must be under a lot of pressure. The race nervously on and off the court and always seem more than a little bit worried.

ball boy

  • On that note, what’s the deal with the need for so many tennis balls anyhow? The ball boys pick up the balls after each play, and then are constantly feeding the players new balls. It all seems a little absurd to me. But fascinating.
  • Serena Williams is quite fun to watch, but I was distracted by her amazing ability to play so well weighted down with all that bling she has going on (she was wearing huge hoop earrings and a very heavy-looking necklace).
  • Last, the US Open is just yet another very cool thing about living in New York.