Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Nation’s Capital - Can you do DC in a weekend? Here’s our way…

Since Russell had to work in Reston, VA (his company headquarters are located here) this would be the perfect opportunity to extend the trip to include a weekend exploring our nation’s capital.  I met up with him at the Reston Town Center, which has many popular restaurants, bars and shopping. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency, and luckily they provided transportation to drop us off at the closest Metro Station Friday afternoon. Rather than sitting in rush hour traffic, we hopped on the Silver Line directly into DC, passing the stopped cars on the highway.

After a short walk from the Metro station, Russell and I checked-in at the Courtyard Washington, DC/Foggy Bottom by Marriott, and were off to explore! The location of the hotel was ideal. It was a quick 10 minute stroll to reach the west side grounds of the National Mall. This gave us the chance to visit many memorials including:

All the walking worked up our appetite, so we headed back to the hotel to clean up for dinner. Some of our family had recommended Georgetown as a fun area of town to grab dinner. They were right!
Our Uber dropped us off on the bustling M Street, lined with numerous stores and restaurants. We chose Ristorante Piccolo because of their adorable balcony patio. However, this outdoor space was very tight, and Russell’s long legs had some trouble fitting. (Luckily, my short legs gave him the room he needed.) As the sun began to go down, the bugs were coming out. They didn’t bother us, but if bugs/spiders make you nervous, be sure to request a table inside! After saying all this … their food and service was fantastic.  Russell and I shared the Portobello Gratinate to start. For my meal I chose Mozzarella Di Caprese (one of the best I’ve had in a long time) and the Polpeltone d’Agnello (lamb meatballs).  The meat was a bit tougher than I’m used to with beef, but the flavor was delicious. Russ decided on Ravioli Aragosta (Lobster) and the “noodle” itself was exquisite…You could tell this had been freshly hand rolled, as they advertised. We washed our meal down with a rich bottle of Chianti Classico, pretending to be back in Tuscany. After grabbing a cone of ice cream, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep for our packed day tomorrow.

Day 2
With our umbrellas in tow (of course the weekend ended up had rain in the forecast) we ventured out to tour the city. First stop was a quick view of the White House (again, another brief walk from our hotel.)  I always pictured this much larger than it looks in real life! Our next destination was the Washington Monument before starting on the Smithsonian Museums:
  • American History: Enjoyed the First Ladies, American Stories, and Food Exhibits
  • Natural History (our favorite): Enjoyed the Live Insect Zoo (complete with a butterfly nursery,) Mammals (even though it made me kind of sad) and the Gems & Minerals Exhibit  
  • Air & Space Museum: Enjoyed American By Air, Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and Sea-Air Operations
It was pouring when we stepped out of the Air & Space Museum. Russell ordered an Uber and with a quick drive past the Capitol, headed to another recommended spot, Old Ebbitt Grill; a large, historic restaurant and bar located near the White House. We found the perfect spot at one of their multiple bars available and enjoyed their happy hour selection while watching the rain come down. The company around us was friendly, and our bartender was awesome. She convinced us to go for the half off (because of happy hour) Orca Platter. I think this was the first time I have been full from seafood. The lobster, crab claws, clams, shrimp, and 24 oyster were amazing!! The thought of it just made my mouth water! Luckily the rain died down and we could walk off our meal to head back to the hotel.

This was our last day to get in any sight-seeing, so we woke up early to pack and headed out to the National Mall. Our first stop was at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Upon walking in, you’ll claim a free ticket which will provide you a time slot to enter the main exhibit. Unfortunately, with our time constraint, Russell and I were unable to experience it.  Instead we visited the Kimmel-Rowan Exhibit and took a moment of silence in the serene Hall of Remembrance.  This museum is obviously difficult to experience, but something that’s so moving, you’ll never forget. 

Next stop was the Arlington National Cemetery; a 30 min walk, but since the sun was out today…we made our way past the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, over the Arlington Memorial Bridge and entered the cemetery. This place was stunning and sobering.  We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  What an incredible place to pay respect, honor, and remember those who fought for our freedom. This was the perfect way to end our weekend in the Nation’s Capital.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Heavenly; Sublime, delightful, enchanting, divine.

Fitting words to define the Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, CA. I have been fortunate enough to travel here for many years with my family.  My parents are part of the Marriott Vacation Club, and own at the Timber Lodge Resort, which is located in the Heavenly Village and steps away from the Gondola that takes you the 2.4 miles up to the ski resort.

Marriott’s Timber Lodge is located about an hour and fifteen minutes from the Reno-Tahoe Airport. Our family catches the South TahoeExpress shuttle for $53/person round trip. (They are conveniently located near the baggage claim and have restrooms on their bus…always a positive for us!) The resort’s location is superb.Within walking distance you have restaurants, shopping, hot tubs/heated pool, fire pits, a cinema, ice skating rink, ski/snowboard rentals, the lake, casinos and most importantly, the mountain.
Heavenly has spoiled us…the view this mountain provides is breathtaking, and any wait to ride the lifts is almost nonexistent. You get your first glimpse of Lake Tahoe on the 15 minute ride in the Gondola. At the top, is the Tamarack Lodge/Express Lift and Adventure Peak if you’re interested in tubing or sledding. There are not many Green runs at this spot. (If you’re still learning, you may want to catch the shuttle to the California Lodge which provides many more greens.)  Some of my favorite runs have to be: Ridge Run, California Trail, Orion, Comet, and Big Dipper. (You may recall from my Breckenridge blog post, I like the wide Blues!) We enjoyed stopping each day at East Peak Lodge for drinks and a snack. It is located at the bottom of two lifts, Comet and Dipper Express. This helped allow some of our friends that wanted to ski longer to go on a few runs and meet back up with the rest of our group. Even though the snow this spring ski season was lacking to say the least, we had an amazing time on the mountain.
No one will go hungry while on this trip! There are so many restaurants to choose from and something for everyone. Here are the places we made sure to grab a bite:

-Fire & Ice: This is located in the Timber Lodge and my mom’s absolute favorite place to eat. (She usually has it at least twice!) They offer a unique dining experience. You simply grab a bowl, fill it with the ingredients of your liking, ranging from meats and seafood to fruit and veggies, choose the sauce, and head to a large, circular grill in the middle of the restaurant to be cooked by the entertainers, I mean chefs! (They always put on a good show while sizzling your dish.) Since it is very popular, make sure to get your name on the list, and then go enjoy a drink by one of their many fire pits outside. Speaking of drinks…their Fire/Ice Bowls that are literally served in a bowl and have more liquors in them they I can count, are fun to order for the table.

-Base Camp Pizza Co.: We sure love our pizza, and the atmosphere of this restaurant makes it that much better! They have live music, bag toss, and great outdoor seating (with heaters!) The Pear & Gorgonzola was delicious, and their Base Camp pizza was a hit too. Gluten free was offered as well, which my mom and girlfriend enjoyed.

-Kalani’s Restaurant & Bar: I had never been to Kalani’s on our other trips, but sure glad we tried it out this time! The ambiance was more serene than the other restaurants, which was good for a change of pace. Their sushi was mouthwatering, and they offer plenty of other Hawaiian dishes if raw fish isn’t your thing.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, be sure to stop in Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. We are always sure to grab some of their rich fudge. My parents enjoy the casual, American cuisine at Echo during our stay; a restaurant located in the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel next to the Timber Lodge. Or if you’re looking for a relaxing evening in, Raley’s Grocery Store is nearby for your convenience. Our go-to is either a taco or pasta dinner night. This also helps cut cost by cooking breakfast in our room…and they surprisingly offer decent alcohol prices!
When you’re not on the mountain skiing, or grabbing a bite to eat, there is a plethora of other activities. If you haven’t seen the crystal clear lake, it’s only a short walk down to the beach. (This always makes me want to come back in the summer season!) There is plenty of boutique shopping…Earthbound Trading Co., Dog Dog Cat, and Savvy are a few favorites. This was our first year to try out the ice skating rink. My girlfriend has been wanting to go ice skating since her birthday in September, and we finally made it happen! It was a blast! If a good movie is out, the cinema is always an option. (It's nice to sit for a couple hours after a full day skiing.)
Once again, we had an amazing trip in Tahoe with our family and friends skiing on the mountain, drinks by the fire, exploring the town, and staying up way too late playing card games. Tahoe vacations never let us down!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Welcome to Miami...Bienvenido Bachelorettes!

Beach, bathing suits, bubbly, and a bride…makings of a great bachelorette party!

In honor of my friend’s wedding coming up this weekend, I wanted to be sure I captured our trip to Miami Beach, Florida we took at the end of February. Twelve girls headed to the Grand Beach Hotel to celebrate our dear friend Lauren by laying on the beach, sipping champagne, and dancing the night away.

The Grand Beach Hotel was in an optimal location…close enough to all the action, but still offered a low key beach atmosphere. Their cocktails were highly priced, but what do you expect when your view is of the rolling ocean waves? The rooms offered sleeper sofas that helped accommodate a large group, as well as an additional full bathroom.  The multiple floor to ceiling mirrors were also ideal for us girls getting ready at the same time. For our morning coffee fix, there was a Lobby Lounge and Espresso Bar on the ground floor that was crucial due to our lack of sleep. We did get the chance to grab lunch at their Chez Gaston Restaurant and ate outside by the pool. If you’re looking to catch a quick bite to get ample beach time, this works out well. They also allow you to order food to your lounge chair if you so desire.

For the first night out, we grabbed a few Ubers and headed to dinner at SushiSamba. The food was enjoyable as expected, and the Otsumami appetizer (which included edamame, green bean tempura, and shishito) was a hit for our large table. Next time I will be sure to order more than just the Samba Sashimi plate as a meal…it didn’t quite fill me up. Before leaving, our server provided complimentary shots, which is always appreciated by a bachelorette party!
Thanks to our friend Sam and some of her connections at Miami Club Promoters (Mitchell Davis) we went to a couple places – 1826 Lounge and IVY Nightclub- drinking champagne and dancing until our feet hurt. After a stop at Abuela's Cuban Kitchen’s late night window to snag a “must have when you’re in Miami” Cuban Sandwich, we called it a night.
I couldn’t wait for Saturday’s adventure to begin! Lauren’s matron of honor organized a yacht for us to spend the afternoon cruising around Biscayne Bay. Our yacht for the day, “Pier Pressure” was at
the Miami Beach Pier, about 20 minutes from the hotel. We were welcomed aboard with champagne, sandwiches, and a fruit and cheese platter…every girl’s dream. Captain Hery and his first mate were wonderful! They took us all around the bay, giving us a chance to see gorgeous, million dollar mansions, Mark Cuban’s incredibly enormous yacht, and most thrilling were the DOLPHINS!  Many came swimming just a few feet from the boat…it was exhilarating!  Unfortunately a few rain showers rolled in, but that just gave us a good reason to start a dance party. This was an experience I’ll never forget!
After cleaning up back at the hotel, dinner for our last night was at Villa Azur. This place is spectacular…we had stepped into an exquisite garden with multiple chandeliers, drapings, and subtle, glistening lights. It was the perfect combination of vintage and elegance. Their gourmet menu was mouthwatering, especially if you like anything truffle…stuffed burrata with truffle, truffle brie cheese, truffled roasted chicken, and the “must try” macaroni & shaved truffle (you get the point.) Other options such as their salmon with quinoa, scallops, and calamari were delectable as well. I don’t think you could go wrong with any order. We had just as much fun with their cocktail list.  Their “Villa Azur” was my favorite…I stuck with the champagne theme of the weekend.  After a very filling meal, a few of us headed back to the hotel to try to catch up on some sleep.

For us girls with departure flights Sunday afternoon, we had the chance to grab brunch at La Cote in Fontainebleau, which was only a ten minute walk from our hotel. I did not realize how trendy and massive Fontainebleau is…now this is where to go if you’re looking for a party. The pools and music were loud and pumping before noon! (Which also made it a great place for people watching.) La Cote’s food was perfect for curing any hangover with burgers, pizza, wings, and sandwiches, but also had a large variety of seafood dishes. And for those still up for a cocktail, their sangria was delicious and refreshing. Stopping for brunch at La Cote also gave us a chance to sit out in the warm weather for a little bit longer before heading back home to the cold. (I know it’s not that cold in Texas, but still!)

All in all, it was a successful bachelorette weekend, partying in the city where the heat is on...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

BRECK’en Powder

Powder; Loose, fresh snow that is not granular, wet, or packed. Makes for epic ski conditions!

Epic ski conditions is right! Russell and I, with seven other friends, made our way to Breckenridge, Colorado at the end of January. We piled into our shuttle provided by Powderhound Transportation for the two hour drive from the Denver Airport to our “decadent” home that was found on airbnb. (If you have a minute, you’ll have to read the description of this home. It is pretty unique to say the least.)

After a hectic stop at the local grocery and liquor store, which our driver Andres kindly brought us to both places, (Tip: Do not shop for food with 9 hungry people) we were ready to get our vacation started! Our group took a short walk to the bus stop, and caught the local shuttle to head into town to rent our skis at Carvers. (Next time we will be sure to rent our equipment on the mountain. It was a hassle returning our skis on the last day.) The town of Breckenridge is adorable. For me, it’s the epitome of a quaint ski town, with local shops, bars, and twinkling lights lining the trees. You need to remember this city has one of the highest elevations in the US, at 9,600ft (close to 13,000ft at its peak.) Don’t forget the Dramamine!

For the first night, we decided on the local pizza joint, Downstairs at Eric’s. Obviously very popular, the wait had us hanging out in the bar for a bit, which is no complaint for us! I don’t think you could go wrong with any of their pizzas, but the Meat Lovers and Arugula & Prosciutto were our favorite.  

Like kids on Christmas morning, each of us were up and ready to go hit the slopes early. Quickly realizing this is a huge mountain, we decided to stick to Peak 8 on day one. There are many green runs to choose from, and we were still trying to get our feet under us. I’d have to say “Swinger” was our favorite. Back at the house, the hot tub was superb! Since it was Super Bowl Sunday, the Rardons (who organized this awesome trip) made their famous chili…even the spicy and bean hating eaters love it! It was the perfect way to wrap up our first day, staying in at the house with football, chili, beer, and great friends.
Now back to the slopes…this mountain has something for everyone. There were plenty of intense black runs for the more adventurous (and insane) people in our group. The American on Peak 9 is an “easy” black, and the “Bowls” on Peak 8 offer steeper terrain and moguls…so I am told. I stuck with my friends that enjoyed the nice and simple, wide blues. Peak 7 was by far my favorite full of all blue runs (no greens for the beginners though.) It also had my favorite spot to eat, a restaurant called Sevens…fitting name. This is one of their more upscale mountain dining options, with a variety of light and health entrĂ©es as well as delicious pizza and burgers, and I cannot forget to mention their delicious sweet potato fries that our table devoured.  

Another lunch stop for our group one of the days was at Vista Haus at the top of the Peak 8. This was ideal for the skiers that wanted to get in and out back on the mountain. For me, who enjoys relaxing for a bit and having a spiked hot chocolate (or two), this would not be my recommendation. I prefer the restaurant atmosphere over a cafeteria.

There is still so much of the mountain left to explore! I didn’t get to Peak 6, and only hit a few runs on Peak 9. There is a Peak 10, but that’s one I’ll never get to given it looks to be all black runs. I’ll leave that to my husband to explore one day!

Our last night in Breckenridge we celebrated our buddy Jake’s big 3-0 birthday in town at Hearthstone Restaurant. It was as if you were stepping into someone’s elegant, Victorian home. The service and meal was impeccable. Many ordered the elk, which was delicious, and I fully enjoyed my rack of lamb. I’m pretty sure you couldn’t go wrong ordering anything off their menu. We concluded our dinner and trip with a birthday song to Jake and cake and ice cream back at our house. 

The final morning we were woken up to the most snow I've ever seen, which was beautiful, but worried us about getting back to the Denver Airport in time. Fortunately, Powderhound provides an app that allows you to track where your driver is en route...helping to calm our nerves.  Our driver, Andres had us to our flight just in time. 

Already looking forward to our next trip to continue exploring the charming town and sprawling mountain of  Breckenridge!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pura Vida!

Numerous people list Costa Rica as a “must visit” vacation spot, and when given the chance to join a few friends, we took it! They were going to the Guanacaste region, which is only a few hour plane ride from DFW to the Liberia airport, and in the same time zone… “easy” travel destination for us!

Arriving at the airport, Russell and I were picked up by Giovanni (CocoTours.) He was recommended
by a friend of ours (an avid Costa Rican visitor.) We were informed by many that the roads are not well marked and driving can be difficult…I now agree with this! Giovanni took us to the first stop on our trip, Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. (We snagged a great deal on Jetsetter!) On the drive there he explained that November was an ideal time to visit because low (rainy) season was just ending, so everything was still lush and green, yet it wasn’t always raining. He was right! The weather was absolutely beautiful, staying in the 80s during the day and cooling off just a bit each evening. After about 30 minutes, we were dropped off at our little piece of paradise for the next couple days.
The polite and attentive Andaz staff welcomed us into an open aired lobby surrounded by mountain views, and served a fresh glass of juice, while they checked us into our room. A golf cart picked Russell and me up for a quick tour of the grounds before arriving to our room. The ambiance was serene and romantic; just what you need for relaxation. The room was just as incredible…floor to ceiling glass doors opened to our balcony and from the rainfall shower! You truly felt as if you were in your own bungalow nestled in the rainforest. The resort provided a beach bag, complimentary flip flops and hats to take to the beach and pools.

Speaking of the beach and pool…there were several levels of infinity pools, and the beach offered free activities. We made sure to take advantage of the stand-up paddleboarding! I had thought most of our time would be spent at the “adult” pool, but since there were not many kids around, we stayed at the main pool area getting served delicious and strong cocktails. Russell enjoyed the drink that came in a coconut, and I loved their sangria! 
One of the “must do” items on my list for this trip was to zip line…if you are going to zip line, Costa Rica is the place to do it! Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour was a short 5 minute drive from Andaz, and they provided transportation. After some quick training, Russell and I joined another family and started our tour. They took us on 11 different lines…it was exhilarating! I also checked off another “must do” which was to see monkeys. While climbing to one of the zip lines, an entire family was swinging from tree to tree. The instructor mentioned that they usually do not come out this time of day. We got lucky!
Each night, we relaxed with a glass of wine on our tranquil balcony before heading to one of the resort restaurants. (Tip: Russell bought a couple bottles of wine at the duty free store once we arrived at the airport. This helped save us some money!) The first night we chose Ostra, their seafood spot. They welcomed us with a mixed, pineapple cocktail that gave me a new love of their Costa Rican liqueur, Cacique. It has a neutral taste, so you have to be careful…you can drink a lot without realizing! Ostra offered a ceviche bar. I am not a big fan because cilantro is often mixed in ceviche, but this allowed me to make it just the way I like, and it was delicious!
The following night we went to Chao Pescao, which has live music on Saturday nights. This restaurant is known for their array of “small plates” and mojitos. Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of their mojitos, but the waitress quickly brought another cocktail, and ended up not charging for my that’s good service! Even though I didn’t care for their popular mojitos, we absolutely loved their Patacon, which is a popular dish in Costa Rica, and now I know why! This dish is fried plantain slices that you top with shredded beef and guacamole…YUM! Luckily the resort allowed us to extend our check out to 3:00 and we enjoyed the pool and Rio Bhongo restaurant on our last day before beginning the second part of our trip and heading to the house to meet our friends.

After some wonderful downtime and resort life, 
we were ready to experience Costa Rica a different way. Giovanni picked us up from Andaz and had us pulling up to our meeting spot after about an hour drive. The house was located in Playa Flamingo (still Guanacaste region,) and the owners were not kidding when they said you’d need a 4-wheel drive car for the 4km “trek” up to the house, but it was worth it. The views were like nothing I’ve seen before. It was exquisite. We couldn’t wait to take a dip in the infinity pool, and us girls jumped into the hammock with a glass of wine as soon as possible. This was going to be an incredible next few days. (As long as we watched out for scorpions!)

When we weren’t relaxing by the pool, we ventured down the 4km “trek” to explore. Giovanni had told us about Shell Beach (Playa Conchal)…literally a beach composed of billions of tiny shells. 
It was astonishing, and luckily not painful to walk on (actually a great exfoliator!) It was a bit difficult to find; we had to drive on the sand of another beach to get to it, but sure glad we did!  

The grounds keeper at the house, Diego, was extremely resourceful. His family owned a restaurant and market in town, and his father-in-law cooked dinner for us a couple nights. The food was marvelous. This was my first time to have a catered dinner like this…it’s something I could get used to!  We made sure to visit his family’s restaurant, Las Brisas. My friends loved the ceviche, and the large serving size! (I passed because of the cilantro.) We went to Soda Marcell a couple times because of the delicious fruit smoothies, and another restaurant, Sol y Mar was an experience. As we were eating, a family of monkeys joined us from the tree above. It was too cool!
One of my favorite parts of our trip was the Panache Catamaran cruise. They welcomed us aboard a beautifully clean and spacious sailboat for our snorkel and sunset expedition. The drinks were delicious and didn’t stop coming. I was disappointed in the clarity of the water and the lack of seeing any unique fish, but the spectacular scenery made up for it. They served us a good meal after we worked up an appetite swimming. This was the perfect way to wrap up our trip in Costa Rica.
The following morning, Russell and I dropped off our friends at the resort they were staying for the remainder of their trip to attend a wedding. It was probably one of the most difficult things to do knowing our vacation was coming to an end. We then made our way to the airport (be sure to remember the $29 per person exit tax that you have to pay.) 

Until next time Costa Rica…Pura Vida!