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Oh ski culture, perhaps I was too quick to judge you. For years I have adamantly cursed this winter sport. Who would voluntarily rocket down a mountain strapped to two boards, thighs burning, wind smacking your face, only to reach the bottom of the mountain and do it all over again? But after trip up to the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, I have discovered that I am actually quite a big fan of the ski culture…minus the actual skiing.
This awkward time of year, when the ski season is over and it’s not quite warm enough for summer activities, is the perfect time to revel in ski culture sans ski: Eat, drink and relax, three things that I am very, very good at.
The lodge sits all the way at the top of Mountain Road, about 10 miles off the main drag in Stowe – perfect for isolation and mountain views. In fact, on the drive up we were hit with a fresh sprinkling of snow, just to make our arrival that much more picturesque.
If you should find yourself in Stowe in the early spring or late fall months, I highly recommend a stay at this resort. The majority of its rooms have views of the mountains and slopes (which are very nice to look at, especially when you know you won’t be going anywhere near them). The lobby/lounge area has several fireplaces, which are perfect for cozying up next to with a beverage and a book, and the food is out of this world. We were lucky enough to have the executive chef whip up a selection of the menu’s top sellers (flatbreads, pot roast, mussels, fried brussels sprouts and a variety of sorbets).
When you aren’t eating (which will be rarely), you should be at the spa, where it is easy to get lost for about three hours. If you book a treatment, which are incredibly affordable ($150 for a massage), you have all-day access to the Healing Lodge – a room with lounge cabanas, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and cold showers.
The town of Stowe is…quaint, but definitely intended for tourists. We made the trek in to check it out, purely for research purposes, but found that there was just more fun to be had at the resort. However, we did manage to find Frida’s, a small Mexican restaurant that seemed to be the only joint in town selling brunch on a Saturday. Mexican food in Vermont? Yes. Seriously – the lengua and al pastor tacos were slamming.
So what did we learn today? Watching the snow blanket the mountains, drinking by the fire, eating until you need to unbutton your pants, and getting rubbed down with aromatic oils in the spa is everything about ski culture that I can get on board with. And the getting on anything stops there. Sorry skis.
Stowe is about a five-hour drive outside of New York City, or a one-hour flight from JFK into Burlington.
Stay tuned for my next non-ski adventure in Aspen in July.
In Moby Dick, Ishmael starts out by telling us that whenever he grows grim about the mouth, and he feels like knocking people’s hats off, he gets to the sea as soon as he can. Well, Ish, I hear you. Except for me, I take to the road.
It’s been a rough few weeks, friends. Yours truly hasn’t felt quite like herself, and frankly, has felt quite grim about the mouth. So, it seemed like as good a time as any to take to the road. I’m off to Stowe, Vermont for the weekend to clear my head, catch up with one of my oldest friends and to check out the Stowe Mountain Lodge. It promises to be full of mountain vistas, a touch of pampering, and some tasty eats – everything you need at the end of a long journey to make you forget why you left in the first place.
So here, my friends, is my essential guide for road trips. In my years of road trip experience, I’ve found that this is everything you need to make sure you get from Point A to Point B in true chilled-out style.
1. Perfected Playlist
There is an art to a road trip playlist. The key is to not try to impress anyone. Now is not the time to show off your alternative taste. I don’t need to hear your bootleg Velvet Underground track off the B side of a record that no one ever heard of. Stick to the classics: ’80s, ’90s, classic rock, and a few guilty pleasures. And you need a balance of fast and slow. It can’t be all about bringing the party up to speed. There must be a few sappy ballads or emo contemplative melodies to bring you and your companions into a pensive mood. Because what is a “find yourself” road trip without a little contemplation?
2. Physical Maps
I love my iPhone as much as the next girl, and yes, in the days of GPS travel has certainly become more convenient. But let me tell you: cell reception sometimes fails you, and your GPS does not have everything. Printing out or buying physical maps allows you to see the roads laid out in front of you. If you want to take a scenic detour, you can actually see where the two-lane highways join back up with the interstates. Let’s take a trip back to the Stone Age, friends. Join me. It’s quite comfortable.
Sometimes, sh*t happens, and when it does it’s always best to have cash on hand. That gas station in Eastern Middle of Nowhere may not have a pump that accepts credit cards. ATMs could be out of service. Anything, really, is possible. It’s always best to be prepared. Note: I’m going to lump “jumper cables” into this category as well. The point is, just be ready for anything.
4. Crank-Reducing Snacks
I can’t stress the importance of this. I could tell you about the time I got lost driving through the Battle of Vicksburg site in Mississippi, on the brink of starvation, and I almost tossed my companion out of the car until we made it through and found a Cracker Barrel. This could have been easily avoided by the presence of snacks. When on a road trip, you need something tasty that will stay delicious at room temperature, and not cause you to become overly thirsty (which results in numerous bathroom breaks). You also need to be able to eat it with one hand, assuming you are driving. Nothing sloppy or runny. Sorry BBQ chicken sandwich on a roll..you need to stay at home.
5. Comfy Clothing
If you are going to be sitting in the same position, possibly eating, for more than three hours, you can leave the skin-tight jeans and heels at home. A flexible material and flats (or go barefoot!), along with a somewhat baggy shirt is the optimal driving uniform. Guys have it a little easier, since they seem to dress more comfortably anyway.
6*: This addendum is for the true road tripper. I’ve said it before, but the book Road Trip USA is the ultimate driving companion. It has a list of America’s most picturesque two-lane highways, and where you can stop along the way for local culture, flavor and color.
There is a hidden gem up the block from my apartment which doesn’t quite fit in Astoria. It’s dimly lit with candles, sporting rustic furnishing and oddly shaped ceramic jugs. It’s kind of like a shed in upstate New York, except that it serves excellent wines and tapas and is a perfect spot to bring a date. This is Rèst-âü-Ránt.
I love this little establishment because of its wide selection of wines and small plates. There is nothing more perfect than sharing a bottle of Pinot Noir and one of their meat/cheese platters. (I opt for the No Commitment, which is a combination of charcuterie, cheese, bread and roasted red pepper spread. A small is more than enough for two people.)
I really thought this place could do no wrong, until I found myself in a precarious situation the other night. Out for a little romance and atmosphere, JP and I found ourselves being annoyingly cute over a bottle of wine, complimenting each other in only the most sickening of ways. Almost on cue, our corner canoodling was interrupted by a man on a microphone announcing he had arrived to entertain us with some gentle comedy.
I have no problem with stand up comedy. In fact, I think taking a date to a comedy club is a sure fire way to score. However, if you are an intimate wine bar catering to couples who want to gaze longingly at one another and forget that they ever fight about anything, you really should not devote one night a week to profane jokes about awkward sexual encounters and male genitalia. It’s just not the right atmosphere. And when the restaurant seats less than 20, it’s just plain awkward. Plus, there is only one exit – and it just happens to be right where the comic stands, so making a graceful getaway is just not an option.
I love you Rèst-âü-Ránt, but I will not be back after 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night.
Rèst-âü-Ránt is on the corner of 35th Avenue and 30th Street in Astoria.
Is there anything greater than a nice hotel? I mean a really nice hotel – the kind with 27 throw pillows on the bed and heated bathroom floors (because god forbid your feet get cold). Having said that, there are certain aspects to even the best hotel that, when lacking, can render the journey more of an annoyance than an indulgence. Here are my top five hotel pet peeves.
I understand that the vacation is supposed to begin immediately upon arrival - I really do, and I appreciate that. But perhaps the bellman culture is one that society can gracefully retire. My bag has wheels. It’s really not that much of an effort for me to drag it into the elevator and then into my room. If the bellman is insistent, I’m usually then waiting 25 minutes for my luggage to arrive and then on top of all of that, I need to tip the guy who brought me what didn’t really need to leave my sight in the first place.
2. Access Denied
It’s time to upgrade the technology of room keys. Some of these keys are so sensitive that they need to come with instruction manuals (and therapists). “Don’t put the key next to a credit card, or near a hot surface, or in your pocket.” Thank you for making the key so slim that it could fit into my wallet, but if everything in my wallet is going to deactivate it I’d rather just have a regular key. I’m not a fan of wandering to the front desk in the wee hours of the morning because my room key decided it didn’t like the way I spoke to it.
This may seem small, but no outlets near the bedside table is my number one pet peeve. I am sure that 90 percent of you bring your laptops into bed (for whatever late-night browsing you may be doing – I’m not here to judge). Having a spot to plug that puppy into that is close by is essential. And even if you aren’t a late-night laptopper, having your cell phone within arms reach is just a given in this 24/7 digital world. No one wants to walk across the room to respond to a text message.
This will surely receive a resounding “duh.” First and foremost, if a hotel doesn’t even have wi-fi I’m not sure I would even stay there (unless it’s one of those ‘unplugged couples-retreaty’ resorts meant for gazing longingly at one another. But I’m 24; that ain’t happening). So let’s assume that most hotels do have wi-fi, in which case, the problem would be charging for it. If it’s a luxury hotel, my issue is that I’ve shelled out an arm and a leg to be there. Certain amenities should be included. Even if it is your regular mid-market brand, how much does wi-fi really cost that you need to charge me $30 a day for it (at least)?
5. Ever-Present Housekeeping
I used to think I just had poor timing, until I chatted with other avid hotel visitors who share a similar gripe. Housekeeping is ALWAYS around! First they are knocking on my door at 8 a.m. (I’m on vacation…go away.) Then they come back around at 10 am. (I’m still not up.) When I do leave my room, perhaps to go to the pool, and then come back to change, there they are detailing my entire bathroom with a Q-tip. How dirty do you think I made this bathroom in the two days I have been here? I really just need the bed made and the trash taken out. That will earn you a lovely tip. No need for the above-and-beyond.
Call me crazy, but I genuinely enjoy an airport experience. Honestly, if you budget your time well, what’s not to like? Get there early, go through security stress free, park yourself at the bar to get your buzz and snack on before boarding. Boom. Easy…
…most of the time.
It’s a good idea in theory, but unfortunately for most, airports are a frenetic mess of neuroses and paranoia causing otherwise intelligent individuals to turn into bumbling, confused morons. Here is a look at some of the worst airport behavior. If you are a culprit, you have been warned.
1. Security Sh*t-Storm
This encompasses a myriad of behaviors, none of which will come as a surprise to most travelers. What in theory is a simple concept becomes a harried nightmare. The plan is simple: 1. Grab bin. 2. Remove shoes, outerwear, laptop and metal from your person. 3. Proceed through metal detector. 4. Grab your belongings and move on. It’s your basic assembly line mentality, and one that is uniform across all airports. But somehow, that guy leaves his iPad in its case, the fashionista is wearing shoes with padlocks that take forever to remove, and the little old couple couple doesn’t realize that belt buckles are made of metal. All of this said, the number one issue on a security line is the guy (or gal) who puts all of their belongings back together without moving aside, causing a backup through the metal detector of epic proportions. Please be kind and remove your bins to dress yourself at one of the numerous benches provided outside the screening area.
2. The Moving Walkway Controversy
I have nothing against the lazy. I am the lazy. But if you feel the need to stand on the moving walkway…I just don’t know how to deal with you. I understand that it may feel luxurious to begin your vacation at the airport, but seriously. Have a cocktail. Spring for the business lounge. If you need to stand still on a flat surface and be transported Aladdin/Magic Carpet-style across a 50-foot stretch, I will judge, mock and wish heavy delays upon you.
3. Respect the Zone
I know many of you feel that boarding with your designated zone is too much like living in a dictatorship. We’re all going to the same place, right? What’s the big deal? I’ll tell you. When people board outside of their designated zones, the overhead space fills up. When it comes time for those to board who actually waited until the appropriate point, there is suddenly no more overhead space and those that specifically packed carry-on luggage are forced to check their bags. Having said that, if you have already checked your bags then go ahead. You cut that line. You won’t hear a peep out of me.
4. A Solitary Activity
Is anyone else nervous when waiting to see who they are sitting next to on a flight? Do you wait with a strange anticipation to find out if the seat next to you will be occupied by the attractive, young stranger or the chatty elderly woman with a small phonebook of grandchildren? For me it’s always intriguing to see who I will be sharing the journey with. But that doesn’t mean I want to talk to whoever sits down next to me. I’ll make due with the pleasant “Hi, how are you?” with a nice smile. But beyond that, there’s no need for chitchat. Sometimes it works out well (like that time I sat next to NHL rookie Ian Cole). Other times…not so much (I’m thinking of you drunk business man with two failed marriages dating the “hot” Latina woman, whose picture you could not resist showing me multiple times). The bottom line: there’s no need to make new friends. In the words of the great, late Patrick Swayze in the classic film Dirty Dancing, “This is my dance space, this is yours.”
5. Aisle Denial
Undeniably the best seat in the house, the aisle seat comes with responsibility. It’s not all stretched legs and easy bathroom access. That guy next to you gazing out the window, marveling at how farmland can be so geometric will inevitably have to go to the bathroom as well. If you take the aisle seat and go to sleep immediately after take off, you will be interrupted at some point during the flight. Unfortunately, you just have to be okay with this. Grumbling is not an option. You are on the aisle seat. You are the gatekeeper. If beauty sleep is more important to you, forgo that leg room, my friend.
Street food. Am I right? Is there anything better? Ubiquitous across all cultures, street food is a beloved part of any society, whether it’s a burrito at lunch time, or a more questionable meat at 4 a.m.
Arguably the best place in the world for street food is Singapore, where sellers (known as hawkers) are taking the art to the next level. (Think ikan bilis (Singapore style fried anchovice) Pizza and Duck Confit; French food in a street food setting; or a sous vide bath next to a kopi stall. Yeah…this is for real.)
Here’s a roundup of some of these “new age” hawkers.
Bringing haute French cuisine down to humbler levels, Saveur’s young upstarts, Joshua Khoo See Sen (27) and Dylan Ong Shun Ping (24) are serving up salmon and duck confit and beef bourguignon, all for under $12. You can find them at Ali Baba Eating House, Stall 3, 125 East Coast Road.
Here in New York, a typical lunch salad can cost you anywhere from $10 to $18, depending on the toppings. Yeah, for a salad. But at Greens, owner Celeste Tan is serving up robust salads at street food prices. ($4. Much better.) Customers can choose a range of ingredients like lotus root, banguang, duo miao and enoki mushrooms. Greens sits at #01-98 Golden Mile Food Centre.
Happy Family Pasta & Pizza
As a rule of thumb, pizzas and pastas are typically overpriced in Singapore. But at Happy Family, customers can satisfy their Italian cravings for just around $5. Popular menu items include funghi pizza, linguini bolognese, linguini seafood marinara, and some kind of fusion known as ikan bilis sambal pizza. Find Happy Family at #02-39, Block 127 To a Payoh Lorong 1.
Okay…so it’s not really 80…but it is a substantial amount. I realize not all of you live in New York, so my posts on the New York restaurant scene can become a bit tired. Should you find yourself in these necks of the woods, here is where you can go to get some tasty snackage.
There are few places that I liken to Heaven: Ireland, anywhere with Anthony Bourdain, and a restaurant that would serve me both tacos AND sushi. But where oh where would such a place exist? In Murray Hill of all places. Allow me to introduce Zengo.
Murray Hill is one of New York’s “douchier” (it’s a word) neighborhoods. Frat boys who refuse to accept that college is over tend to flock there. But I’ll forgive the ‘hood for its sins thanks to this restaurant, which I was introduced to last night.
The tapas-style menu features a fusion of Asian and Latin flavors, such as chipotle yellowfin tuna rolls and achiote-hoisin pork arepas (both of which I had, and devoured). A selection of about five small plates is enough for two people.
Make sure you leave enough sobriety to sample a flight of tequilas. The Library downstairs is a great spot to sit and sample a whole menu of tequilas. Unfortunately it was closed for a private party but we were still able to do some damage from our booth.
Note: Lovers of the Asian persuasion will love the sake bar upstairs.
Today, I pay for my crimes as I feel the alcohol seeping from my pores. Oh drunk Meagan, you and your ways.
I’m not a big fan of “cocktail culture.” I don’t need a fluorescent liquid in a martini glass with some sort of Japanese flower arrangement for garnish. Give me a cold beer, give me a glass of wine, give me a classic Dirty Martini, and I’m a happy girl.
But every once in a while I like to branch out and see what New York’s elite is drinking. Again, I do this for you.
Last night, après-shopping in SoHo, I decided to investigate The Daily, a new “must try” cocktail bar (so says New York Magazine), attached to Public Restaurant on Elizabeth Street.
The lure: A rotating daily menu of small plates and fancy elixirs. Sounded cool enough.
I’ll admit that while the decor was alluring (votives, vintage mirrors and mason jars), the portion size-to-price ratio was less than impressive. If you’re charging over $15 for a martini, it better be one to knock me on my ass. Instead, what I was served was a thimble-sized sip, which left me more thirsty than it did buzzed.
The fried oysters (of which there were supposed to be six), was more of a mess of tempura heaped on the plate: Fried oysters mingled among fried basil leaves and to be quite honest, I had no idea which was which. It was more batter than anything else.
I will be fair, however, and admit that the lamb burger was exceptional. (Be forewarned: It’s $13 and the size of a slider.)
So let’s cut to the chase, shall we? It’s no secret that I can delight in a pricey dinner. It doesn’t have to all be $3 tacos. I don’t minding spending $80 on a small meal, but it should at least live up to the hype. Be a fiesta in my mouth; an orgy for the senses, if you will. Tiny plates of pretentiousness need not inquire.
Let me paint you a little picture: Manhattan skyline, sunshine on the East River and a vacant lot packed with outposts of some of New York’s most delicious restaurants. Hello Summer in New York! Hello Smorgasburg!
Every Saturday for the rest of the summer, vendors will congregate between North 6th and North 7th street in Williamsburg at the East River, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., serving up a smorgasbord (get it?) of bite-size snacks. Think stuffed Indian roti, mini DuMont burgers, papusas, tacos, sesame noodles, barbecue…the list goes on…and on….
Here’s a tip: Although vendors are there until 6, try to get there sometime before 3 p.m. Yours truly was too busy sitting on a friend’s roof drinking champagne and by the time I got there, around 4 p.m., many of the more popular stalls were sold out of food. Damn you, New York and your rooftop scene! (Yet another fantastic aspect of Summer in the City.)
Another note: Smorgasburg is a part of the Brooklyn Flea phenomenon.