Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sweepstakes Giveaway for Tuscany, Bali and Costa Rica Vacation

Flip Key just started their first sweepstakes giveaway and as the site states, it is pretty flippin’ cool.  Offering three top vacation destinations, Flip Key is going to award a grand prize that includes:

-7 nights at one of three luxury resorts
-$3000 in spending money
-10 invites for friends to accompany the winner

All that amounts to a party at your house! 

Flip Key will allow the winner to choose from three of its properties—a tough choice when you see these digs.

The Villa Les Rizieres in Bali
This high-end resort features golf, tennis, and both indoor and outdoor pools within a lush garden setting.  Bali is synonymous with exotic spices and tropical weather.  So this property offers a getaway from the norm.

Punto de Vista in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a crossroads of flora and fauna.  It’s the meeting point of animals flying in from the northern hemisphere and germinating flowers from the south, making Costa Rica a kaleidoscope of biodiversity.  In the middle of this paradise, Punto de Vista’s property has 10 bedroom rainforest mansions for a city escape like no other.

Villa Ferraia in Tuscany Italy
By uttering the word “Tuscany”, you conjure images of ancient empires, rolling vineyards, and olive groves.  The property prize for Tuscany is a country estate complete with stone house and manicured grounds.  An outdoor pool, roman baths, and restaurant-grade kitchen make the house a relaxing choice.

The Flip Key Flippin’ Amazing Vacation Giveaway will continue until January10, 2012.  Enter through Facebook or via their site.  Share the sweepstakes offer on your Facebook status and earn extra entries when friends enter.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Heading over to World Winder

My husband and I have decided to leave New York and take up the nomadic life.  We're headed to South America, starting with a press trip to the Galapagos Islands.  After that, we'll travel the spine of the Andes.

With a need for a more versatile platform, we've a new domain!   Come visit us at our new site: 


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Break in NYC

Most people conjure images of tropical islands and frosty drinks when the words "spring break" come to mind.  But in New York City, there are so many excellent bars with ethnic themes that you can save your flight fare and swing through midtown for a drink and a sunny patio.

Two of my favorite places would be the Peculier Pub in the Village and Heartland Brewery.

The Peculier Pub is obsessed with beer.  They've over 300 international brews.  Fifteen are on tap, including the Belgian Strong Ale called Deilirium Tremens.  Peculier's been around for 30 years so, they've the beer business down to a science.

Heartland Brewery is great because there are so many of them.  Midtown, Theatre District and even on the South Street Seaport.  I'd recommend the South Street Seaport for great views and access to the Bodies Exhibit.  For late night happy hour, the Union Square location is clutch!

Happy Spring, Beer Lovers!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Lovely Laze on the Island

Excited for this one!

It's great beer, green lawns, and live music at Brewers PicNyc on Governor's Island.  During Memorial Day Weekend, tickets are available for admission to the festival grounds starting at $25.  Microbreweries from NY and Illinois will sidle up alongside some of Manhattan's best culinary mages!  Read on for more information!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fun Times in New York City

I've lived outside of New York City almost my entire life.  I've ridden the trains into Penn Station and buses into Port Authority.  I've flown in and out of JFK Airport.  For a very long time, NYC was a departure point, just a place to regroup, see family, and recoup from my last trip.  I've only looked at Manhattan as a city that's out there, a city that's always been there.

Until recently.

I guess you take for granted what you see everyday.

After changing careers, I'm a travel writer that can't help but think--wow, NYC is pretty cool after all.  Before, the city was a labyrinth of bad parking and potholes.  Now, I'm eating at cool little eateries like Cafe Iguana and visiting sites that I've never even thought twice of, like Strawberry Fields.  When my friends suggest fun stuff do, I don't really hesitate.  One of the best events that I attended was a Gotham Writers' Workshop.

Now that I'm working for Weekend Notes, I've all new ideas to write about.  My notebook is busting with lists of reviews that I need to write, places I want to praise, and foods that everyone has to eat!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why have One when You can Have Two

Networking has gone digital.  Never before would I have imagined that I'd be a blogger on a Sci-Fi e-zine or get a job by responding to a forum post.

Schrodinger's Mouse features stories of tomorrow today.  What I like about SM is that the site is not limited to short story.  Schrodinger's Mouse publishes poetry and hopefully graphic novel soon.

Personally, I like balancing out my writing via travel and sci-fi.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Frozen Thousand Islands

Frozen Pier, Canada Travel by Melissa Ruttanai
A sheet of ice slates over the river.  Little houses dotting the islands look lonely and almost ready to shiver against the wind cutting through the trees.  I'm on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River, camera in hand, ear muffs, double-scarves, and thick gloves poorly insulating me against winter thrash.

My fingers gnarl from the cold and the hot tea my cousin Elyse had made for me that morning seems like a pathetic dream.  On the frozen pier, I couldn't even believe Gananoque was only 15 km away.

Her house sat next to an old cathedral.  But it wasn't scary.  It was serene, like the little town with its tea shop and second hard book store.  

Gananoque, Canada Travel by Melissa Ruttanai
Parked on the street, we meandered up one side of town, crossed the street and came back on the opposite sidewalk.  People chattered on their way to wherever they were going and the little town seemed to be just cracking out of hibernation.  Elyse laughed when she showed us the two ethnic food options in town:  a Chinese restaurant right next door to... another Chinese restaurant.  Hysterical.

Heritage Home on The Thousand Islands by Melissa Ruttanai
The tea shop was a warm reprieve from the wind. Black canisters lined the shelve and we sniffed our way through shelves of herbals, oolongs, green teas, and chamomiles.  

Herbal Tea Ball, Canada Travel, by Melissa Ruttanai
Back at the heritage house, Elyse made a flowering tea ball to  wash down fresh salads, salmon, breads, and veggies.  It was a vegetarian feast.

Summertime rentals are popular on this side of the river.  Vacationers flock to the area, setting up holiday homes in buildings like Elyse's. With high ceilings, big windows and the water so close, I can see why.

This is a shot I took 4 years ago, during summer on the American side of the Saint Lawrence River.  What a difference!  But...still both are equally beautiful!

American-side, St. Lawrence River by Melissa Ruttanai

Canadian-Side St. Lawrence River by Neil Friedman

Friday, March 11, 2011

Organics and Family Day in Toronto

We drove north on I-87, a direction most people would think to be ludicrous during a snow heavy winter.  And it did snow, in fat flakes and sideways drifts.  My brother-in-law Dave kept the speed steadily at 60 MPH even in the storm and all the while Neil, my husband yelled at him to slow down, use two hands, watch out for crackpot drivers.  But Dave continued in his own vein, according to his own mental checklist of what is safe and what is not.

After 12 hours, we pulled into Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto.  After shakily unfastening my seatbelt and praising some deity for sparing me a snowy-death on the side of the road, we grabbed the bags and rushed into the well lit house of our Canadian cousins, the Schliefmans.  Miriam and Aimee had come home to meet us.  Theresa couldn't wait to introduce us to her dog.

Food is the mainstay of any family visit.  The Schleifman’s set the bar high with fresh organic salads, homemade bread still warm from the oven, and sulfite-free wine bottled by cousin Steven himself.  It didn’t matter that it was 11pm.  It didn’t matter that they’d been waiting around all day for us.  We talked into the night, past midnight and almost to dawn.  Steven retrieved more bottles from the cellar.  The little dog Daisy got friendly with Dave.  And although we don’t get to see each other too often, we picked up where we'd left off without delay.

With 5 hours of sleep, we woke up to a bright sun and a national holiday:  Family Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shopping the New York Outlets

Woodbury Commons, WikiMedia
In a car packed with teenagers, my cousin wove in and out of FDR traffic on our way to Century 21.  When the weather is glum, my husband and I take refuge at the Jersey Gardens Outlets.  It's human nature to love a good sale, human nature to want the best price.

But when it comes to outlet shopping, the queen of designer deals remains my sister.  She has mastered the art of kamakaze-shopping.  Dress in layers.  Map out a course of attack.  Scout the line.  Do a lap before commiting.  Take no prisoners and never settle for second quality.  This article's for her, the humid back-to-school days at Woodbury Commons, and the insane deals in and around New York City:  Shopping Holidays at New York City's Premium Outlets

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Metropolitan Museum as a Job

Metropolitan Museum.
Photo Melissa Ruttanai
People go to museums to meander, to walk halls and view exhibits at their leisure.  And visitors can enjoy the slow pace that most museums emit.  At the Metropolitan Museum, I spent two days researching a podcast travel guide app for Visual Tourist Travel Tours.

After twenty minutes, I knew that I couldn't just wander like I usually did--from sculpture to sculpture and room to room.  With 5000 years and 2.5 million objects housed in the museum, I was supposed to represent it all in 75 pictures and a slim 3500 words.  How?  How, in all fairness?

Metropolitan Museum.  Indian Dancer.
Photo Melissa Ruttanai

The Met has two floors and a labyrinth of corridors, wings, and interlocking chambers.  The American Wing abuts European Sculptures.  Ancient Greek and Roman Art swings right into Africa Oceania.  Ancient Egypt splits at the Tomb of Perneb and crisscrosses at Horemhab.  And while it all makes sense to the visitor's eye, for me it was a calamity.

Director Phillipe de Montebello said that he had immense difficulty choosing the highlights of the museum for his 470-page guide to the Met's masterpieces.  He wrote about the arduous process of choosing three Vermeers while omitting 2 others.  He had to think more than twice when looking at 30 Monets, knowing he should only include four.  Then there's Arms & Armor, Musical Instruments, and five millenia of Asian art history.

Metropolitan Museum. Dante's Inferno.
Photo Melissa Ruttanai
I've been to the Met several times.  I thought I knew its exhibits and treasures.  Not so.  This trip was the first that I made it through the majority of the halls, spending the most time lost in 19th Century Paintings.  The rooms flow one into the other with a Van Gogh here, two Rembrandts there, and a smattering of Manets throughout.  I'm sure I passed the same guard three times before I asked him how I could find Renoir's Madame Geroges Charpentier and Her Children.  Without thinking twice, he pointed the way, giving precise directions.

Most people would think I was all set.  But now the task was to follow those directions without getting lost again, without passing the same guard watching me with masked amazement as I walked around in circles.

I pressed on, taking notes and angling my shots.  Compiling the pieces for my tour, I stuck close to Montebello's guide.  Home now, my shins still ache from the countless loops I made past the security guard.  But the biggest challenge awaits.  Now that I am about to finalize the images and manuscript for a guide to the Met, I wish I could include more.  I wish I could tell a more fair and complete story.  I feel but a fraction of what Montebello must have felt.  So, sorry.  I tried my best.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cold Weather Reminiscence of Warm Long Island Wineries

Tasting Room, Bedell Cellars, Long Island Winery

It's been too long.  In this cold weather, I wish it were springtime on a Long Island vineyard: the sun on my face, the perfume of flowers surrounding me, and an uncorked bottle of Chardonnay to share.

I suppose this article is homage to those memories:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Latest in Harry Potter News

Harry Potter Theme Park,
Melissa Ruttanai

I lived it.  I loved it.  I want more.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a simple must see.  I was there in November 2010 with my family and I felt steeped in the magic.

I particularly liked how they didn't serve soda and had lots of fruit and veggie snacks!

Much like a Renaissance Fair, the workers help to cast the magical world, dressing in wizarding threads and using faux-UK accents.  I love Olivander's but Hogwarts Castle was just flat out overwhelming.  Inside, holograms of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Dumbledore speak to the the crowd as well as a fire breathing dragon and sinister Salizar Slytherin portrait.

Read on:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Lookout...for Wine?

It always amazes me how prolific the internet can be.  My article:  Beyond Napa and Sonoma, Wine Regions of California made top feed for this Switzerland-based newspaper.  Ha!

Follow me there:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Asia Becoming a Strong Presence in Wine Sales

Grape Creek Winery, Texas

Asia has its liquors, some include Sake, Shoju, and Lao Lao.  People have enjoyed them for centuries without complaint, without a feeling of longing or need.  Asians were content.

Until now.

According to statics for 2010, the US is now exporting more wine to Asia than any other place in the world.  Things look serious.  Young, middle class professionals across Asia are looking for more variety in their libations--and are willing to spend money to get it.

In 2002, when I lived in Japan, a bottle of cheap Sutter Home table wine cost $50 and came in a 500ml bottle.  Wine was expensive and came with temple-throbbing headaches.  During my months traveling, I went without.  So much so that when I returned home after almost two years overseas, I refused to buy any wine except American.  Some people thought it was naive, resigned to beliefs that American wine was somehow inferior.   Please.  I knew what bad wine tasted like and it wasn't in any of the bottles I was getting from Mendocino County.

Now with demand on the rise, China and Hong Kong seem to be at the front of the checkout line, acquiring and consuming massive quantities.  This got me thinking about where all this wine came from.   Of course the answer is not simple.  American wine comes from a myriad of valleys, vistas, and mountain sides.  And I'm not going to lie...some surprised me.

Check out my articles about American wine regions.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Trappist Beer

Football and beer meld together into a season of strong safeties like Troy Polamalu and strong ales like Rochefort 10.  This fall, I've developed a curiosity over Trappist beer.  The long history and strict regulations are fascinating.  To top it off, only six breweries in the world can make Trappist Beer.

Isn't there always a magnetic draw between a consumer and a product hundreds of years old and in limited supply?

My article sums it better:  What is Trappist Beer?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Traveling in Japan on a Budget

Temple View at Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, Japan

If I asked Neil how much a bowl of kishimen soup cost us at a now-closed noodle shop in the small town of Kozoji, under the train station, in 2003, he'd know the answer.  If I asked him how many hours we spent on the slow trains from Nagoya to Nagaski, he'd have the time down to the minute.  My husband is like a crazed ninja-bookkeeper of travel.  If he can't recall a name, date, or menu price, he has it written down in one of his notebooks, stowed carefully in a box on a shelf in the basement.

His mind never ceases to amaze me.  When I'm ready to give up, he says, "Wait.  Let me find my notes."

On our computer, Neil maintains a folder called <NDF> with a subfolder <Travel> and a sub-sub folder called <Japan>.  Logically organized.  In these files, he and I have compiled our memories of Japan, our adventures, mishaps, and lessons learned--sometimes painfully.  

Some files don't mean much to anyone except the two of us.  Other files we've edited and farmed out to people who needed information on Japan.

In the quest to share, the following article accounts for some of our best lessons learned in Nippon.  Click here:  Traveling in Japan on a Budget.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On the Whiskey Shelf

The Whiskey Ward, New York City
Photo: Neil Friedman

“What’ll you have?”  The bartender at the Whiskey Ward takes position at the bar, hands pressed against the wood, arms flexed and his face patient.  Behind him, the wall is covered with lovely bottles of whiskey—Bourbon, rye, Scotch, Irish, Japanese.  Like little soldiers, they sit under long menus that list single barrels and malts and batch.  The bartender is probably used to it but I’m taking my time, enjoying the sheer breadth of the options.  There are over 100 bottles alongside the usual lineup of libations.

Whiskey can be a hard sell for women.  The heat and rush of this spirit can overwhelm the senses.  In 2011, people have their choice of drink.  Fruity drinks with crushed ice.  Sparkling drinks in tall flutes.  Dark beers crafted by Belgian monks.  Wines from vineyards centuries old.  So why should anyone consider this distilled delight?

Woodford Reserve, Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Photo: Neil Friedman

Let’s talk Bourbon.  Regulated by law and location, sour mash is made from corn and aged in charred oak barrels that can only be used once.

Bourbon Barrels, Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Photo: Neil Friedman

At the risk of being called vain, I also like whiskey because it's weight friendly: 40 calories. 

It mingles well with others.  Makers and ginger ale is a year round favorite.  Mint Juleps are nice too, extra mint please.  During winter, hot toddies are perfect with lemon and a shot of Blantons.  The citrus tickles my nose.  The tea feathers across my eyelashes.  And the whiskey takes all the warmth straight to my toes.

Maker's Mark, Kentucky Bourbon Trail

It’s indigenous.  Bourbon is American.  Scottish distillers immigrated to America in search of the Great Dream.  They moved to Kentucky for good water to make their libations and bad roads to keep authorities out.
Aging Process, Bourbon Distillery
Photo: Neil Friedman

Kentucky summers make Bourbon unique.  Stored in warehouses, the barrels expand and pull the liquor into its charred staves.  As winter comes, the wood contracts and squeezes the whiskey back into the cask.  The years pass and the process continues until the Bourbon is ready with its caramel spicy flavors and smooth finish. 

So when the bartender asks what I’ll have the first thought is everything.  My answer: How about a flight?