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Archive for February, 2010

All that glitters (or, as Shakespeare originally wrote in The Merchant of Venice, glisters) is not gold. But while Willie was going for a life lesson, here at Flyover America, all that glisters is not gold because it could be a shark tooth or a super shiny pebble or a crocheted necklace or, well, or a lot of things.

We like to shop for jewelry when we travel. Jewelry souvenirs make it easy to take your travels with you throughout your work-a-day week–and, if you don’t have room in your suitcase on the way home, you can just wear the purchase. But some jewelry glisters brightest because we didn’t buy it. And the memory of that bauble can burn a girl’s brain in a bad way for a long time. So, this week, some pieces we bought, others we were gifted, some we left behind.

Joining us for the glistery good times is Cathleen McCarthy, a writer who lives at the intersection of travel and jewelry. Based in Philadelphia, Cathleen writes for magazines including Town & Country, Art & Antiques, and US Airways, as well as her website, The Jewelry Loupe, and The City Traveler, which she runs with two other swell writers.

Bernd Munsteiner's son, Tom, carries on the cool pendant ($18,500) tradition. Photo courtesy of the Aaron Faber Gallery.

I obsess over jewelry wherever I am–craft shows, movie theatres–but what I covet is usually hand-fabricated and out of my reach. I’ve passed up many treasures but if I could time-travel with a pocketful of cash, I’d head for the Tucson Gem Show, c. 1998, where I fell in love with the elliptical-shaped pendants carved by Bernd Munsteiner: all stone and about 1.5″ long. I almost splurged on the rutilated quartz. Five years later, I spotted three more at the Aaron Faber Gallery in Manhattan and tried on the fiery Mexican opal (oh! painfully beautiful), now $2,000. Faber warned me Munsteiner wasn’t making them any more, but (drat!) I was saving for a house. Alas, he was right.–Cathleen

Sophia's getting her friend’s money’s worth out of this little souvenir.

A friend got me this shark’s tooth necklace in Corpus Christi, as thanks for driving her to the airport. I appreciated the gesture but didn’t think I’d wear it. I pictured it hanging on a rack in a souvenir store, next to key chains and tawdry postcards.

But when I divorced the necklace from that image, it became one of my favorite pieces of everyday casual jewelry. It’s a staple when I travel, since I don’t like to travel with anything expensive, and it perfectly suits my style, which is a little bit hippie, a little bit tough chick. It’s all about context, isn’t it? I look at souvenir shops differently now.—Sophia

Poor things aren't much to look at anymore. They could use a little reshaping.

OK, my choice is actually gold. I think. They’ve never turned my ears funny colors or made my lobes hurt so, yeah, I’m fairly certain they’re gold. They were my first purchase at a Nashville store that I now count as one of my favorites anywhere in the U.S. Whoever does the buying for Fire Finch just loads the place up with all sorts of crazy pretty goodness. It’s totally girly but, though I hate this word, I will use it, it’s got a bit of an edge. So these super simple earrings were there and they were on a super sale. When I put them on, cue the music, I just felt pretty–and ever so much slightly sassier than I did one second before. For that, I would have paid full price.–Jenna

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Peace in America

Americans are sooooo stressed out these days. Yeah, things are kind of tough. So let’s take a moment to meditate on some peaceful scenes of our beautiful country.

http://sophiadembling.com/soothing/soundslider.swf?size=1&format=xml&embed_width=465&embed_height=428&autoload=false

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Don't hold the dingy sign against them.

Though I found plenty to love at the small plate and I wish it was in my neighborhood! restaurants I dined my way through in Philly last weekend, I never felt more me than at Little Pete’s. As I’ve mentioned a time or two before, I grew up Jersey. Diners aren’t just a nice novelty for me. I need them–and their absolute lack of snootiness–as much as I need coffee and oxygen. The first meal in a good new-to-me diner gets me (internally) giddy. And I can be a harsh judge: diners get about five minutes to make me fall in love with them.

Now, Little Pete’s coffee could have been better but I’ll forgive it. The place is wee. A novice staff would be in the weeds within seconds if just one too many people came in the door. But the Little Pete’s staff has it down, shepherding customers to one of seven tables or a seat at the trapezoidalish counter. And though that counter, at first, felt a drop too high, I soon realized that it was the perfect height for propping up a book and an even better height for getting that coffee (good or not) into my system all that much sooner. The cup didn’t have to go very far before I could tip it back. Considering the head discomfort I was in from sipping menu items at Village Whiskey the night before, that counter height made my Sunday morning. And the egg white lox and onions omelet English muffin dry jam on the side was damned good, too.

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Dreams of Summer

We had a foot of snow in Dallas last week. A foot! Of snow! In Dallas! Texas!

Wintry enough for you?

Of course, it’s in the 60s here today and the snow is mostly a memory (except for cleaning up the extensive tree damage), but I feel for my friends in northern climes. While a big snow in Texas is a delightful novelty, the white stuff is a lot less wonderful by February in other places. So for today’s Three-fer, we’ve decided to think about summer. Ahhh, summer. Well, except in Texas, where the hot sun is a lot less wonderful by August than in other places. (And by October … don’t ask.)

Our guest writer this week is the very delightful Deborah Gaines. Who says you can’t make friends on Facebook? We met on Jenna’s page, trading witticisms about Jenna’s witticisms. Deborah is a recovering travel writer who now works in the corporate world, but as soon as she gets tired of actually making money, she hopes to hit the road again.

***

Argh.

I live and work in the vicinity of New York City, where politics and pretension go together like caviar on toast points. So it’s no surprise that my perfect summer escape involves something a little less PC. My guilty pleasure is New Smyrna Beach, Florida, ten miles south of Daytona (best known for its raceway and Nascar Museum), with its go-karts, wide swathes of drivable beach, manatees, and hot and cold running barbecue (try Piggin-N-Grinnin or Lil Neals). No one calls the Coast Guard when my eight-year-old takes the wheel of Grandpa’s speedboat. And did I mention I’m one of the skinniest people on the beach? –Deborah

My friend K. found these goggles at the Treasures & Trash Barn in Searsport. No way can you find that kind of fun on a beach.

My skin takes one look at the sun and, suntan lotioned up or not, surrenders. All my pale lights up like Rudolph’s nose. So, let’s just say that a nice beach sit doesn’t really do it for me. Instead, I’ll take a good summer wander through the woods or some crap, er, antique store and, most of all, a long lazy greasy breakfast any (and every) summer day. Deer Isle, Maine serves it all up in fine style. A few summers back, I rented a house in Stonington for a week. It rained most of the time. I didn’t even have to pull the SPF 73,000 out of my bag. There was no ripping that smile off my face. –Jenna

Can you say Mayberry in Yiddish? Me and my big brother, little. Photo by Merwin Dembling.

My summer daydream requires time travel: Reynolds Hills, circa 1960s. This summer bungalow colony in Westchester County, New York was formed in 1929, one of a number of camps established along the Hudson River by radical, left-wing, working-class Jewish immigrants like my grandparents. There, along with about a dozen other children (these folks weren’t big on procreation) and a hundred self-appointed grandparents (plus two real ones), I spent Utopian summers running free, getting toast-brown at the swimming pool, riding bicycles, playing Barbies, and doing Jewish folk dances every Friday night. Reynolds Hills is still there, as are some of my friends, though the founders are long gone. And those summers live deep in the hearts of all of us. —Sophia

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Am I being too prickly? Photo by Jenna Schnuer shot at The Boulders Resort.

A funny thing happened on the way to my looking-back-on-luxury hotel list: I realized that, when it comes to luxury, it really takes something special for me to remember it. I love a plush king-size bed layered with high thread count sheets. I adore a soft and oversized bathrobe. I go ga ga over a deep bathtub (though I kind of draw the line at bath concierges–I can pour my own salts, thanks). But, unless the hotel that houses the goodness has a little sumpin’ sumpin’ extra–like, oh, personality–it all just….blends together. That’s why I love a place like Boston’s Liberty Hotel–it’s got it going on in the luxury department but also gets big style points and huge sense-of-humor bonus points. (Yes, I’m watching Olympic figure skating as I write this up.) So as I looked through Virtuoso’s Best of the Best hotel experiences list, I had several “I think I stayed there. Did I stay there moments?” Here, the ones that stood out for their sumpin’ sumpin’ extra (even when I didn’t get to test the beds):

Though I get a good giggle out of The Boulders Resort‘s website photo of bathrobe-clad women walking the meditation maze, I echo Sophia’s take on the place. And it has a killer cactus collection. Oh, yeah, it gets bonus points for its Carefree, Arizona location. What place wouldn’t?

I didn’t get to stay at The Arizona Biltmore. I just got to lunch there. And that made me sad. The place put my brain into overdrive. I started fantasizing about a life holed up in one of the rooms, post-writing evenings spent walking the grounds. I don’t know what came over me. But there it was.

A hike up nearby Pinnacle Peak and a post-hike meal at the hotel’s outdoor restaurant: at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale, that was all I needed to understand that they do luxury in quite the memorable way. It’s a durned pretty place, too.

OK, just another lunch–I do luxury cheap, eh?–but a memorable one: San Diego’s US Grant is a stunner. I felt more elegant just for walking in the door. (Though it lost points for the odd art gallery off the lobby. Eesh.)

Let me make one thing clear: if you want to pay for me to live at Santa Barbara’s Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore, I will let you. The Spanish-tiled bathrooms are a bright and lively start to the day and the beds are the perfect place to end it. And the beach across the street? Its sunsets pair beautifully with champagne.

Photo by Jenna Schnuer shot on a balcony at the W New Orleans-French Quarter.

It was all about the French Quarter balcony. Though I hit New Orleans during that crazy-bleep cold snap a month ago, I immediately opened the French doors on my W New Orleans room and stepped outside. Flags snapped around in the wind but I just pulled my sweater closer to my body and enjoyed the view.

I love a little excess. The Bellagio does it so well.

Again, meals only. But what meals they were! Twist at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas served up an elegant night. It jumped to the top of my (elegant) restaurants-I-want-to-live-in list. (Yeah, I do have lists like that in my head. What of it?) It was a very good night. Very very good. (Oh, like The Biltmore in SB above? If you want to pay for me to live in the MO LV, feel free. The Dynasty Suite is lovely this time of year.)

I had a good day of horseback riding at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico. I’d love to go back for more.

One of my favorites anywhere: Nashville’s Hermitage Hotel. What’s it go? A way cool public men’s bathroom–ladies, find your way in there somehow–so worth the trouble!–and very very very good room service oatmeal (which, by the by, is an easy thing to screw up) and deep bathtubs and a long and interesting history. And it’s just so very pretty.

Oh, one last note: while looking though the list, I developed a little crush on The Resort at Paws Up. I hate myself for wanting to go to a place with a tagline that reads “If a tree falls in the forest, the butler will handle it,” but there you have it.

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Sophia's Luxury Sampler

Though I’m always game for a kitschy motel, I am not immune to the charms of luxury. Not at all, especially if someone else is paying, which is usually the case when I’m ensconced in 1,200-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets.

Virtuoso, a network of “if you have to ask you can’t afford it” travel agents, just released its Best of the Best: 2010 Guide to the World’s Best Hotel Experiences and I paged through to reminisce about the hotels I’ve visited. Look for Jenna’s luxury memories on Wednesday.

The Boulders Resort, Carefree, Arizona: The first time we met (after being online buddies for ages) Jenna and I shared a very luxurious luxury villa here for a writer’s conference. The setting was spectacular and so was the villa, but otherwise I mostly saw conference rooms. Liked it.

One of the Biltmore's "Sprites". Photo by Sophia Dembling.

The Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix–The Frank Lloyd Wright connection is the big selling point here. It was more family friendly and bustling than I expected, but my friend and I enjoyed finding spots overlooking  gardens or pool  where we just sat and felt fancy. Liked it.

Enchantment Resort, Sedona, Arizona –The sun setting over the red rocks as seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the resort’s Yavapai Restaurant. That’s what I remember best. Liked it.

L’Auberge de Sedona, Arizona –Also set among those glorious red rocks, but with the added attraction of Oak Creek, tumbling through the property. I spent some time lazing by that creek and listening to its music. Liked it.

Hotel Casa del Mar, Santa Monica, California – This grand old dame, built in the 1920s, overlooks Santa Monica beach. We had cocktails with friends in the grand lobby bar, surrounded by shiny, well-toned women in little black dresses. Liked it a lot.

Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica, California—Mmm, right on the Santa Monica boardwalk and all fresh, beachy whites and blues. Lots of trendies and movers and shakers who seemed too tightly wound for such a spot. Loved it a lot.

The views at Keyah Grande are as luxurious as the rooms. Photo by Sophia Dembling

Keyah Grande, Pagosa Springs, Colorado –Killer mountaintop views, pampering service, internationally themed rooms (kinda quirky–mine was the Japan room) and the best hot tub view in the States. Loved it a lot.

Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, Florida—If I must be stranded on a tropical island, I choose this one. A private island resort, thatched-roof bungalow suites in upscale rattan chic with outdoor showers, dining on the beach…call me Ginger. Loved it a lot.

The Tamaya's great-looking lobby. Photo by Sophia Dembling.

Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico—Native-American owned and very family-friendly. I loved the great-looking lobby, excellent art collection, round Kiva pool, and desert setting. Liked it.

El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa, Taos, New Mexico—My favorite things: gorgeous indoor pool adjacent to the “Biolarium” indoor garden, the big leather couch and gas fireplace in my room, and the swingles scene at the Rattlesnake Bar. Liked it a lot.

Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas, Texas—Mostly I’ve interviewed celebrities here (Martha Stewart, Carl Bernstein) but Tom and I stayed here on the (relatively) cheap once. Our low-end room had a sort of grandma’s house charm (well, not my grandma) but after-dinner drinks under the lanterns on the patio were memorable. Liked it.

Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas in Las Colinas, Texas—I spent one night here and felt like I’d been away a week. A room with a view (such as this area can offer), a long wine-soaked dinner, a morning yoga class, and I was fully refreshed. Loved it.

Sundance Resort, Park City, Utah—Yes, I saw Robert Redford. He looked very small and large-headed. I particularly enjoyed a water color lesson in the resort’s Art Shack. Loved it.

Lake Austin Spa is summer home a la perfect taste. Photo by Sophia Dembling.

Lake Austin Spa Resort, Austin Texas – Once funky, now redone in exquisite taste to look like a gorgeous summer home.  A little too precious, but an all around great experience. Loved it a lot.

Of course, all these places have the requisite spas, fine dining, swimming pool and blah blah blah. But it’s funny the things you remember best … not always what you’d think, eh?

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There is but one activity that takes less planning than a walk…and that is a nap. We’ll celebrate the joy of a good travel nap in the coming weeks but, first, we look back on some memorable moments of putting one foot in front of the other. It’s a low effort, high reward kind of thing.

For this week’s Three-fer, we’re joined by Kelly Kealy (and if there’s a name that’s more fun to say, I haven’t found it). A travel guide editor who holds an MFA in poetry–“one of the world’s most practical degrees”–Kelly’s (way in the) past work experience includes a summer as an elevator operator at Monmouth Park Race Track. (A job that sounds like it came straight out of the extremely excellent flick Adventureland if, say, Adventureland was at a horse track. OK, it’s different.)

Kelly's shore thing. Photo by Steve Kealy.

I grew up a fifteen-minute drive from Sandy Hook, New Jersey. My birthday is in January and, the year I turned 16, some friends and I held a mock Polar Bear outing at the beach. We ran around in bare feet,  jeans cuffed high, surf up to our calves. I like to get back to the Hook in winter and walk until I can’t feel my face anymore.  There’s a neat beachfront holly forest; its roots keep this erosion-prone sand spit from ending up in New York Harbor. The way the birds take to the winter berries–like cats to catnip–and spread the seeds to wherever they fly next, I’m guessing holly propagation  isn’t an issue. During visits home, I like to get in a couple of salt-sprayed, mind-clearing miles near the water line. I think about what it is we take with us when we leave a place.–Kelly

Silence of the rocks. (And insanity of the climber ... see that tiny orange dot?) Photo by Sophia Dembling.

The travel writing racket frequently requires traveling with groups of other writers. For this introvert, that’s exhausting. So I’m always relieved when a hike provides the opportunity to escape the gang for some me-time. That’s why, when my group arrived at the outcrops and hoodoos of Vedauwoo, near Laramie, Wyoming—a spot popular with rock climbers (are they INSANE? But I digress…)—I leapt from the van and with swift step, forged a path to solitude. Lest I sound churlish, let me assure you that I was not alone in wanting to be alone. Occasionally I came upon another from my group perched on a rock, in tranquil contemplation of the view. I tiptoed past without a word.—Sophia

A carnival treat for riders on the N and W lines. Photo by Jenna Schnuer

With my doc appointment over and my evening plans hours away, I decided to skip the subway ride from Astoria to Chelsea in favor of a walk under the elevated N and W tracks and over the Queensboro Bridge. Along the way, gas stations and car repairs and industrial this and that and international markets filled with pickled herring and jarred olives and feta cheese by the pound and then…a church carnival. Make that, a carnival in waiting. The rides were up but, on that Friday afternoon in May, local kids were still at their school desks. So, for a brief time, the carnival was all mine. Until, at least, it was time to get back to my walk.–Jenna

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