New Discovery: Campanile Wine Tasting

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On the third Sunday of every month, Campanile holds a large-scale wine tasting.  Approximately 30 wines are available for sampling, along with a little bit of food to keep you steady (and it’s excellent).  According to their website, the best of these sampled wines will be available on their wine list in the weeks following that particular tasting.

This was my first time at Campanile (Pen knows all the great places I need to try). The restaurant space is gorgeous– I was really taken by the design and the feel of the place. Now that I’ve had a sampling, I definitely want to go back for a full meal some time soon.

This Sunday’s tasting was billed as “Australia Rediscovered.” There were 10 tables set up with a wide variety of options (taste-wise, as well as price-wise) with the pours offered by K&L. In addition to discovering Campanile for the first time, I discovered the 2007 Turkey Flat Grenache Barossa Valley. I thought it was tremendous and the expert on hand doing the pours said that the source vines were more than 90 years old. It was very smooth. I personally thought there was a lot of “berry” going on, but I’ll let you try it and make up your own mind.

The next tasting isn’t until September 16, but if you are into wines from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico, get your tickets now.

Recommendations Near and Far

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Today brings two recommendations: one near and one far (to me).

Near: K A N A MANGLAPUS (1346 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, CA.)

Nestled amidst the shops and fabulous restaurants in Venice is an art gallery that you might miss if you aren’t paying close attention. The place is small and unassuming, but it boasts a selection of photographs at the moment that you don’t want to miss—particularly if you are a fan of 1970s/1980s music. Photographer Brad Elterman has an exhibit up showcasing rock star photos (literally) from locales around Los Angeles.

The prints are for sale, and, as these things go, not outrageously priced. Of course, I’m a broke girl wandering the city, so my checkbook wouldn’t do much good in this situation. Still, there is a candid of Duran Duran that one of my friends would die for (or at least she would have at 16)! Joan Jett’s photo made me laugh and the photo of the Grease after-party made me feel like I was watching fame happen (the awkward crush of people surrounding the leads is uncomfortable, yet compelling).

The exhibition is open until mid-September, so the next time you are strolling through the streets of Venice, be sure to stop.

Far: Il Vecchio (110 Central Ave, Pacific Grove, CA)

All the paintings in Il Vecchio were pained in Queens, NY in 1941. The chairs were collected from all across the country (the restaurant has a message up above the door that mentions that some were built as far back as 1840). You have to love the ambiance.

I’ll admit that this is a place I never would have found on my own. I had gone to the tasting room for Carmel Ridge Winery (700 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA) and got into conversation with the men running the tasting room (highly unusual for me, I know).  Pablo asked me where I was headed for dinner, and when I told him I had no plans, he recommended Il Vecchio (http://ilvecchiorestaurant.com/). Because I didn’t know the area, I was initially reluctant to make dinner plans in Pacific Grove, thinking that it was too far away, etc. Not so!

I went pretty traditional with my choices. I had tagliolini alla carbonara which I quite liked and a tiramisu that put a smile on my face (Pablo also highly recommended the pollo con marsala). The wine was excellent and plentiful (“sad” girl dining alone bonus pour!), and I was sat in a section that had windows overlooking the water.  To top it all off, the service was terrific—friendly and helpful without being intrusive.

As a tip: do make reservations for the restaurant because even if the tourists don’t know it exists, the locals definitely do.

Enjoy!

Malibu Arts Festival

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In keeping with my current theory that the wonders close to home can be as much fun as the wonders far away, I hit the Malibu Arts Festival on Sunday.  This particular festival has been put on for the last 41 years—naturally, this means that this summer was my first time there. How I have missed this in previous years remains a mystery. The festival was wall to wall artists as well as local businesses, many a food truck and some great entertainment. Plus, it was free. You can’t beat a free day in the Malibu sunshine.

Sadly, I’m still broke, so none of the artwork (or amazing silver jewelry) made it home with me. I did, however, indulge in my most recent pastime: envisioning what kind of home would be best to showcase artwork I love. That probably sounds strange, but the reality is that I live in a small, one-bedroom apartment, and it just wouldn’t do justice to some of the large-scale art pieces that had me mesmerized.  For instance, an eight foot painting of Venice, Italy really captured my imagination (and my deep desire to return to the city), but none of the walls of my home would do it justice.  I saw a fascinating sculpture called “The Decision” (sadly, not pictured) that I seriously contemplated– but my apartment isn’t much of a showcase. There are mounds of paper everywhere, so unless I bought it to use as a very expensive paperweight, it wouldn’t really fit. Yet.

Something that I think everyone should watch out for is Wanawake Handbags and Accessories.  Ever since my hand-woven, colored straw summer bag died, I’ve been on the hunt for something to replace it. Wanawake’s colorful bags were very reasonably priced and gorgeous!  One warning of caution, some of the bags that were on display were huge, so be sure to check out the dimensions before you purchase.  I’m a very short person, and some of the display bags would have been larger than my entire torso. That didn’t stop me from wanting them, of course, but then I like to pretend that I’m actually 5’10” so….  The good news is that there are smaller bags that are just as fabulous for the more diminutive among us.  Their new website isn’t up yet, but keep an eye out for it here: http://www.wanawakehandbags.com/

To check out photos of the artwork and ambiance, head over to the Malibu Arts Festival Facebook page!

 

Favorite Color Photos from the Road

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It should come as no surprise that I have an entire folder full of random (and not so random) color photos from the road.  These are really snapshots of mood, for the most part. While a few of them are clearly identifiable as being a particular location (like Hearst Castle or the Carmel Mission), there are some that are just images from along the road (or bridge I was traveling)– and yes, I mean this literally.

Enjoy!

Five Things I learned Road Tripping

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I took a spur of the moment trip to California’s central coast last week—no itinerary, no reservations (at first) and no real idea of where I was going other than “north.”  I was just a girl in a jeep. Over the next few days, I’ll be uploading pictures and telling you about some of the amazing vistas, but first I want to tell you that if road tripping to the central coast is in your future, you might want to keep the following tidbits in mind.

  1. Always bring an Ethernet cable. I know what you are thinking, “but my laptop is wireless enabled and every place has Wi-Fi, and I’m traveling to get away from it all.” Yeah, I thought that, too.  I dragged my way too big to be called a laptop (but it is) computer with me because I knew there were some things I needed to get done online, and I wanted to be able to write (and potentially post) from the road. Great intentions. Alas, my computer was never able to talk to any of the establishment’s Wi-Fi set-ups: small motels, cafes or big chain business hotels—it didn’t matter.  You know what did finally work? One of the hotels had an adapter box that took the wireless signal and converted it, essentially, to a wired signal using an Ethernet cable. Voila. Even one of the small places I stayed in had an option to plug in, if you had a cable of your own. So, if there is a chance that you will need to upload something and your iPad might not cut it, bring the cable with you. It doesn’t take much room in your bag, and it will save you some frustration.
  2. Don’t assume that the small hotels/motels aren’t for you just because you are a woman traveling alone

    Bluebird Inn in Cambria, California (image provided by motel).

    I used to joke that my idea of camping was a four/five star hotel. This is still true; however, my budget these days is decidedly “sleeping bag in the backyard.” My solution? For a couple of my overnight stays, I checked into small motels with a family-run vibe. They still had AAA endorsements, but not the big time amenities. They were clean, safe, had friendly staffs and under $100 a night mid-week. One of these places was the Bluebird Inn in Cambria http://bluebirdmotel.com/  Staff was incredibly helpful and the location was perfect—walking distance to some great restaurants and less than 20 minutes from Hearst Castle (which ended up being a destination for me). It’s not glamorous, but it was perfect for what I wanted (and if your budget allows, you can upgrade for things like fireplaces and balconies, etc).
  3. Do make reservations if you decide to go to Hearst Castle. This trip was a very “I’m going to go and see where the road takes me” kind of thing. Hearst is a tourist destination that should not be missed—and a lot of people agree with me on this apparently given the number of buses headed up the mountain. Make a reservation. If you can, make the reservation several days in advance for the more popular tours (grand rooms tour is frequently sold out). Keep in mind that the night tours are only in the spring and fall, but all the other tours are open with some advanced planning and do allow you to wander the grounds). Again, if your budget allows for it, the annual fundraising gala is September 22nd, and I can’t imagine how magical that place is at night: http://www.friendsofhearstcastle.org/index.asp
  4. Don’t assume it will be warm because it is July. I took summer clothing—I live in Los Angeles, and I was staying in the same state, so I didn’t fret overly about packing (I’m a very light packer generally, and packing for this trip took all of 6 minutes). It turns out that Monterey doesn’t tend to get above 70 on even the hottest day. The sun is warm, but the wind coming off the water isn’t, so plan for that, particularly at night. The most useful thing I packed for this trip, other than underwear, was my fleece (yes, even in July).
  5. Do chat with the locals about food and tour options. I’m not a social person, and a solo road trip sounded like heaven. But the best advice I received during my wanderings was from a local who gave me some great “off the beaten wharf” dining advice. I’m not saying don’t do the touristy stuff because the touristy stuff can be a lot of fun (people are going there for a reason), but chat up the locals in the tasting rooms if you are looking for dining options (more on that tomorrow).  You’ll get great stories about the cities you are visiting and some not-so-crowded (and often cheaper) ideas for the day.

Bonus tip:  The trip from Cambria to Monterey on the coast highway (1) is breathtaking (particularly if you are afraid of heights, as it turns out I am), but it is under construction. That means it is one lane at least twice during that run.  They have traffic lights to clear the cars (because let’s face it, you can’t back up, you’ll end up in the ocean), but it’s slow going. I’m thrilled I did it, but if you need to be somewhere at a particular time, this route may not be the one for you.

100 Places to Visit Before You Die

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A great travel site called 100 Places to Visit Before You Die (http://www.100placestovisit.com/top-100-places-to-visit-before-you-die-list/) has compiled an impressive list of MUST travel destinations.  If you haven’t checked out their guides or tips, and you are planning on traveling soon, you should definitely visit ASAP.

I did a lot of traveling in college, so I went into the list feeling pretty confident. Alas, I’ve only visited 13 of the specific locations on this list. Clearly, I need to get moving!  Of course some of the countries I visited back in the day, don’t exist anymore. And I’m entertained that I’ve been to Moscow, but not Las Vegas.

How did you do?  What’s your next destination?  I’m thinking of putting this list on a cork board and throwing darts to pick mine.

Happy travels!

Top 100 places to see before you die list

(In no particular order)

1. Los Angeles (Yes)

2. Lake District | England

3. Ngorongoro Crater

4. Loch Ness

5. Republic of Seychelles

6. Ibiza

7. Patagonia

8. Great Barrier Reef Whitsunday Islands

9. Nine Hells

10. Ring of fire volcanoes

11. Stockholm

12. Bermuda

13. Atacama Desert

14. Ayers Rock

15. Bali

16. Kazakhstan | Asia

17. Douglas

18. Madeira

19. Kerala Waterfalls

20. Greek Islands (Yes)

21. La Paz

22. Leaning Tower of Pisa

23. Seattle

24. Puerto Rico | Caribbean (Yes)

25. Space | Virgin Galactic

26. Singapore

27. Easter Island

28. Darwin

29. Havana

30. Key West Florida

31. New Orleans

32. Democratic Republic of Congo

33. Melbourne

34. Whistler

35. Prague

36. Iguazu Falls

37. Goa

38. Angel Falls

39. Perth

40. Grand Canyon

41. Spitsbergen

42. Walt Disney World | Florida

43. Bora Bora

44. Edinburgh

45. Maldives Islands

46. Dublin

47. Victoria Falls

48. Krakow

49. New York (Yes)

50. Dead Sea

51. Washington DC (Yes)

52. Seoul

53. Rome (Yes)

54. Niagara Falls | (Yes)

55. Martinique Island

56. Bhutan

57. Paris (Yes)

58. Hong Kong

59. Amsterdam

60. Taj Mahal | India | Asia

61. Panama City

62. Auckland

63. Colombo

64. Republic of the Fiji Islands

65. Petra

66. Republic of Cape Verde

67. Barcelona

68. Tibet

69. Buenos Aires

70. Madagascar

71. Chichen Itza

72. Machu Pichu

73. Las Vegas

74. St Tropez

75. Venice | Italy | Europe (Yes)

76. Giza

77. Ulan Bator

78. Galápagos Islands

79. San Francisco (Yes)

80. Nairobi

81. Toronto (Yes)

82. Reykjavik

83. Athens

84. Jakarta

85. Waikiki | Honolulu

86. Mumbai (Bombay)

87. Bangkok

88. Marrakesh

89. Nuuka

90. Beijing (Peking)

91. Juneau

92. Dubai

93. Mexico City

94. Moscow (Yes)

95. Tokyo Metropolis

96. Cape Town

97. London (Yes)

98. Sydney

99. Rio de Janeiro

New York, New York

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New York and I have a delicate relationship. I’d like to say it is “Love/Hate,” but in reality it has often been “Frustrated/More Frustrated.” So, no one was more surprised than I was when I agreed to take a quick trip (very quick—only two days in the city) across country for an alumni meeting.

And I had quite a good time. Shocking! I felt like the experience had to be shared.

The first step in the right direction was something no one could have predicted: spring-like weather in February. The day I landed it was 55 and the day after it was 62. This might not seem like a revelation, but I used to work in NYC. I remember what February could be like there. This was a blessing.

I also have no doubt that one of the reasons my stay was so pleasant was the hotel: The Surrey located on 76th between Madison and 5th. I chose it because I went to the University of Surrey for a year (and the name brought back memories) and for the location. I didn’t think it was possible to merge old-world hospitality with modern accommodations, but The Surrey does it. It can be pricey, but there are deals to be had (Hotels.com runs some on this hotel, and you can always check the hotel’s website directly). They make a concerted effort before your stay to contact you and get any preferences you might have and the concierge can get you anything you want. Plus, the location is ideal for people in town for theater and shopping (UES Madison alone was a huge temptation).

While I did not eat in the hotel’s well-recommended restaurant, I did stop in at Bar Pleiades. I had been hesitant at first because I was traveling alone, and feared the assumption that I was an ugly hooker looking for work. I quickly got over the concern. The staff was very nice—even going out of their way to go down to the cellar to open another bottle of a Cote Du Rhone so that I could have my wine preference (believe me, I’ve been in places that just thank you for playing and tell you to choose a different wine). I decided to go the extra reward for the long flight, and enjoyed an amazing chocolate molten lava cake with French vanilla ice cream. Completely reasonable prices for a hotel bar, and it was the perfect place for me to unwind. It seemed quite popular with both the dating scene and the business set, and while the staff is attentive, they do not hover. Bonus points!

I continued my tour of the Upper East Side establishments the next night with my friend El. At her recommendation, we hit Uva Wine Bar & Restaurant at 77th and 2nd. It had terrific ambiance for dating, and yet completely comfortable for two friends catching up. Everything there is good, but I can particularly recommend the bruschetta and the tirami-su. In fact, I wish I had it right now!

As will become incredibly evident, I spent a lot of quality time sampling the baked goods of Manhattan. When I met a friend in a hidden lunch place off of Wall Street, Financier Patisserie, I headed straight for the pastries. It’s clear that I planned to fuel all of my meetings with chocolate. It’s hidden on Stone Street, but judging by the lines, the locals love it.

My final tour breaks all the assumptions you now have of me. I hit the Candle Café on 3rd near 75th for lunch one day. Now, I’m not vegan, so I was a little hesitant to try this place, but I was really pleasantly surprised. I ended up having the Mezze Plate (the hummus was amazing), but I saw a number of things on the menu that were really appealing. It’s a casual place that does get quite crowded when the lunch hour is in full swing, but no one rushes you out. It’s a great alternative for people who have mixed dietary lifestyles. Now I just wish I could go back to try their stir-fry!

For the first time, in a long time, I wish I had more time to spend exploring. Alas, the morning I left, the temperature was only 33. Obviously, it was time for me to head back to Los Angeles.

Glamping

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Do you ever learn a new word, or concept, and then find it popping up everywhere? That was my experience with “glamping.” When my friend Robbie first told me that she was going glamping, I started to laugh. A fabulous word, definitely, but not something I had ever run across previously.

I feel I need to preface this post with the fact that I don’t really enjoy the whole camping experience. I did much of it when I was younger, and because it was a family thing I do have fond memories of it. However, I haven’t really gone camping since I was in my early teens, and I can’t say I’ve been missing it. I was the cranky five year old who looked at pit toilets with light bulbs in them and complained that if they could string in electricity, surely running water should have been a possibility. And I’m not kidding.

So, even though I took delight in the new word, I can’t say when I heard the word “tent,” that I was entirely on board with the idea. Not to be deterred, Robbie pointed me toward El Capitan Canyon Resort near Santa Barbara, and I started to re-think.

Now, while the safari tent brings to mind all sorts of decadence and Ralph Fiennes at sunset, it does still have the word tent in the description. I can appreciate the wisdom of having a four-poster bed appear in that tent, and I have a fondness for the wine and soft lighting package that might accompany it. But unless the package comes with a dashing prince and a secret shower/running water toilet room in the tent, I’m probably not signing up. However, my more adventurous friends should definitely do it and take many, many pictures because it does look pretty fabulous.


All is not lost for those of us who are not quite up to “roughing it.” The Safari Cabin Suite is calling our names: soaking tubs, lofts, full kitchens and soft beds appear to be my answer. Also, just in case you feel like you aren’t quite back to nature—the bathroom (with dual sinks) has a skylight. In my book, if you can see the sky, you are now in the great outdoors (but with heat, running water and a spa). So civilized!

Have any of you gone glamping? I want to hear stories!

Holiday Travel Tips

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Anyone who travels at this time of year knows that winter holiday travel can bring some less than glad tidings. Personally, until I make my destination, I’m more inspired by The Grinch than anything else.  Being a bit of a control freak (cough), winter and increased flying traffic makes travel even more unpredictable. I’m always looking for ways to turn the odds in my favor.

My favorite winter travel tip involves the shipping of luggage. Rather than checking a bag (and playing “will it arrive with me” roulette), I pack my clothes and gifts and ship them to my destination. I know the cost can be daunting, but it’s likely to cost you just slightly more than what your airline is already going to charge you to check your bags in at the airport. Obviously, this works best if you are heading to friends or family who are available to accept delivery, but a heads up to your hotel destination works surprisingly well. In fact, many upscale hotels are now offering a “fedex your bags” option. Yes, this requires me to plan ahead, but nothing puts me in a more relaxed mode than being able to stroll into an airport unencumbered with anything more than my purse. And if you have ever seen me before getting on a plane, you know how important that can be.

Do you have any tips that make travel (particular travel during the holidays or in iffy weather) easier or more fun? Sound off in the comments.