Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sky High Vail

Trip date: April 2020

When a friend with a house in Vail say's "come visit", the only correct answer is yes! I'd never been to Vail, hadn't seen my friend in years due to the fact that he lives in Australia and Covid, and was more than happy to get away for a weekend with friends!

Another friend Gail, decided to go as well so we used her Alaska Airlines companion fare. Unfortunately Alaska was having lots of staffing issues at the time and our flight got canceled a few days prior. I was able to call and get them to reschedule us on United for the same price but the different schedule meant we had a while to wait for our transfer from Denver airport to Vail. Luckily my Priority Pass covered us in one of the restaurants so we just did a little work with some wine.

The cost to fly into Eagle County Regional was ridiculous so we booked a shuttle with Epic Mountain Express which runs from DEN to Vail and other surrounding destinations. It's a 2 hour drive through the mountains and we were very happy to let someone else navigate the snowy roads. There was another couple in the SUV with us and we all decided since we were vaccinated that we were ok going mask free for the ride making it much more comfortable. 

It had taken a whole day to get out to the mountains! Our friend David met us at the transfer drop off and we headed to Deca+Bol for drinks and dinner. Deca is a nice bar/restaurant connected to Bol, which is a very swanky bowling alley. Very fun and delicious!

It was the last weekend that the ski resort was open, but none of us were skiing. Instead we spent the first day exploring Vail village. We also spent it trying to catch our breath!! I hadn't realized that Vail is 8150 feet in elevation. That is higher than Machu Picchu by over 1,000 feet! We were all really feeling it, even just going up and down the steps in the house!

It was a gorgeous day in the village, perfect for walking around in the warm spring weather. We had a pretty good lunch at Segundo Mexican and took a break from shopping for some wine on the patio at Pepi's. 

One of the better shops in the village is the high end western store Kemo Sabe. They have a pretty incredible selection of hats made specifically for them by Stetson as well as boots, clothing, and jewelry. David found a gorgeous new hat that they branded with his initials and I left semi in love with a diamond necklace. Definitely not a typical western wear shop!


We continued with some wine in the hot tub back at the house; such great views of the surrounding mountains from their deck! That night we had an excellent dinner at Slope Room. All our dishes were cooked perfectly, the wine list was great, and they even brought out a special dessert for David who's birthday had been earlier in the week.

After dinner we headed to the Four Seasons to check out their cocktail bar Remedy. It was incredibly basic and the bartender didn't have much of a clue about anything other than vodka or gin and tonic. Not recommended. 

The next day David drove to us to Beaver Creek Village to do some exploring. First up was Golden Eagle for lunch where I had some excellent elk tacos! I thought this village seemed even nicer with its outdoor fire pits, lots of public seating, and sculptures dotting the property. We did a bit more shopping before heading back to the house for wine and hot tubbing.
Before we went to dinner I decided I wanted to buy the necklace at Kemo Sabe so I texted the sales guy and arranged to stop in. When we arrived he invited us upstairs to their private bar for a few drinks! 

We had a great time at our little private happy hour! If you aren't in the market for expensive jewelry, the upstairs is able to be rented out for private parties. It's a cool space filled with taxidermy, antiques, and booze!

Dinner afterwards at Mountain Standard was very fun and delicious. But the gem of the night ended up being King's Club! As there were no Ubers to be found, we ducked into the Sonnenalp Hotel to have them call us a taxi. When they said it would be a while we grabbed seats at the bar and were treated to some live music, and great people watching!

I'd definitely head back here and make a full night of it next time! 

What a relaxing and fun weekend catching up with David and having him introduce us to a place he absolutely loves! Gail and I caught our Epic shuttle the next morning for our ride back to Denver. This time we were in a minivan packed like sardines; not a pleasant trip. But the scenery heading over Vail Pass, at elevation 10,666 feet, was stunning and I was very happy not to be driving!


We had Premium Class flights on Alaska Air on our way home, and half way through the flight they announced that the mask mandate was over. An end to Covid? Obviously not, but at least progress!

All photos from Vail here

Saturday, November 12, 2022

PDX Post Covid Weekend

Trip date: March 2022

A full year after the start of the Covid pandemic, I had purchased tickets to see Chelsea Handler at the Keller Auditorium in Portland, and invited my friend Elisabeth to come with me. She lives in Portland and since we only get to see each other a couple of times a year we decided to make a full weekend of it. Roadtrip!

Sleeping: 

We stayed at the Marriott Bidwell Hotel which used to be called the Marriott City Center. Newly remodeled, our double queen bed room was very large and had a modern Scandinavian/ hipster Portland feel to it. The hotel has a little shop in the lobby which sells snacks, wine, and souvenirs. Parking is $45 a night so I left my car at Elisabeth's. The Marriott charges $25 a day for god-only-knows-why but they also give you $25 food/beverage credit to use at their 2nd floor bar/restaurant called the High Horse. We just had rosé and a shrimp cocktail during happy hour (which was very good) but others around us had cocktails and seemed very happy with them. 


I really liked this "new" Marriott and would definitely stay here again, the location especially can't be beat!

Seeing:

Besides attending the Chelsea Handler show, which was excellent, Elisabeth took me to the Lan Su Chinese Gardens. I didn't even know these gardens existed! It was a 10 minute walk from our hotel, and once we entered the gates I felt a world away! 

We had tea and veggie steamed bao while sitting outside next to the pond; surrounded by so many gorgeous plants and trees. It was really lovely with everything just starting to bloom in the warm spring sun. 


We also took in an awesome exhibit of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the PAM. I have always found this museum to have excellent touring exhibits that are very in-depth. 

There were two floors of work from Frida, Diego, various friends and colleagues, outlining both of their careers and their relationship. It was super informational and really well done.

Almost everything was from the collection of Jacques and Natasha Gilman who were not just collectors but personal friends of Kahlo/Diego. The exhibit included paintings, photographs, sketches, and even some clothing. It's a wonderful collection if you see it touring near you I'd grab tickets!

Eating:

I was super happy to revisit some places and to try new-to-me spots. 

Tucked inside of Kachka, is the more casual eatery Lavka. For lunch you enter upstairs in the grocery/deli and order with the cashier. The menu is almost the same but smaller. We both had shots (of course!), pelini and then shared a delicious dark chocolate spread on toast. And we picked up some fun items from the shop!

Elisabeth introduced me to the absolutely lovely restaurant Coquine in the Mount Tabor neighborhood. Dinner was a 4-course menu that was very seasonal PNW and had thoughtful wine pairings. My main of braised lamb shank on a bed of spiced cauliflower was fantastic and served with a 2008 Tempranillo. 

Drinks and dinner at Eem was maybe the highlight of my weekend. This spot gets lots of love from locals, our Uber driver was very excited that we were going here, and for good reason. The food rocks!

We had mushroom friend rice and then I had the white curry with burnt ends. Holy hell! Those flavors are haunting! I feel like I need that curry again as I write this!!

I was really looking forward to brunch at Lazy Susan, but I have to say it was a complete mess. Maybe they were short staffed but it was almost comical at how bad the service was and how inconsistent the dishes were. YMMV.

Drinking:

Portland is always a hotbed of cocktail bars and post pandemic was no exception! I had big plans to get back to a few personal favorites but that didn't happen because of the new spots that held our attention. 

Finding Voysey was no easy feat but that was half the fun. Inside of Loyal Legion beer bar we made our way to the back where we found an unmarked stairwell and followed in down. 
We were able to sit up at the bar and absolutely loved our two rounds of cocktails. I'd say most of the drinks were pretty spirit forward, which is my preferred style, but the menu was super well rounded and had some interesting new-to-me products.

At Eem we had absolutely delicious tiki inspired drinks while we waited for our table. We had these outside in semi-private booths each with their own gas fire pit.

Over at Scotch Lodge in Southeast Portland, Elisabeth and I both felt as if we had gone to heaven in Tommy Klus' (of Multnomah Whiskey Library) den of whiskey. There's a massive list, from very approachable to incredibly rare, that you can order by the glass. And there's also a fantastic cocktail menu (not all are whiskey based). 

Additionally Scotch Lodge has delicious food, is in a super sexy space, and has Instagramable wallpaper. I mean, what else could you want?

Portland never disappoints and this time was no exception! 

All Portland photos here





Saturday, November 5, 2022

Troncones, Mexico

Trip date: February 2022

Some of my vacations are filled with museums, fancy cocktail bars, and Michelin starred restaurants. Others are epic road trips traversing through foreign countries. And some are just for soaking up the sun and lounging in a pool. Let me introduce you to Troncones, Mexico.

Located just 20 miles north of Zihuatanejo, Troncones is a sleepy, 2-road village with some amazing luxury villas for rent in the Mexican state of Guerrero on the west coast. I had never been, but friends of mine were returning to Casa en las Rocas to celebrate a big birthday and I was excited to be invited!


Seven of us had rescheduled the trip 3 times because of Covid, combine that with the cold, wet Seattle winter and you had a group very ready for a sunshine holiday! There are no direct flights from Seattle to Zihuatanejo airport so we had a VERY early flight to LAX and then short layover before continuing on. Most of us had purchased first class seats and the others paid $25 to get into the Alaska lounge at LAX, a discounted price because it was a Saturday. 

The villa manager had arranged a van to pick us up for the 40 minute drive to Troncones. Casa en las Rocas is a 7-room private villa, which sits on a gorgeous property complete with private beach and infinity pool. There is a small staff of 3 who take care of all the housekeeping, did some of our grocery shopping, and live on the property. The rooms are mostly separate/free standing with views of the sea and the common area is a kitchen/living room/dining room open-air palapa.

I had a gorgeous room with a king bed, outside seating area, and huge outdoor shower. It's really a pretty incredible property!

As I mentioned, this was a chill-out and warm-up trip for me; most days I just spent floating in the pool reading my book and keeping an eye on the horizon for whales. The staff made delicious breakfasts daily and in the afternoons would make us nachos and margaritas. 


We had a birthday party for Gail on our first night, and I had the staff arrange both a cake and a pinata. They also cooked dinner and cleaned everything up. One night we had them do a big grilled lobster & prawn dinner for us. It was fantastic! They also made a bunch of side dishes and I mixed up martinis for those who like them. 

In town we had good dinners at La Mexicana (which had great live music) and at Restaurante Costa Brava which is on the beach. One night we went to a really pretty restaurant called Present Moment which is also a yoga retreat. The space is gorgeous but the food was pretty dull. However a few of us stopped in for a drink during the day and that was excellent!

We also had good drinks at Indigo and at a really cute outdoor bar complete with swings called Other Drinks. We generally walked into town either along the beach or the road and then sometimes called a taxi to go back at night as the street didn't have street lights for most of the way.
One day we all headed to Zihuatanejo to go on a snorkel & whale watch cruise. We had the villa manager arrange for a private boat for us and at least in my mind this would be a small yacht or the like. But at the marina we found our boat was a fishing boat, and a pretty bare bones one a that. Very different then what we should have had for the price we paid but we all had a great time snorkeling and the crew was very nice. 
We didn't see any whales but we did see dolphins and there was plenty of beer on board and sunny skies to keep us entertained. The captain took us to a very touristy island for lunch but none of us were feeling it, so we had him take us back to the marina. Gail found us the lovely Bistro del Mar which is inside of the equally lovely Hotel Aura del Mar. 

Lunch was fantastic and right on the pretty beach. I had been to Zihua back in 1999 and it was crazy to see how much it has grown. But being down on the beach and away from the main town is still very tranquil.

Everyone was on a bit of a different schedule; I stayed for 6 nights which was a good amount of time for me considering the low key nature of the trip. I thought the villa was fantastic but would really only consider it 6 rooms for adults. The 7th room is a little apartment that would be great for kids but is too basic if everyone is splitting the accommodations equally.

The manager arranged a taxi to the airport for me since the others were leaving on different days. It cost 1000 pesos in cash. The staff works on tips so I left my share of pesos with the others to pay when they checked out. The town only had one ATM so we had gone the day before to pull out what we needed.

If you are looking for some vitamin D and want a beautiful, low key spot for a small group I'd totally recommend Casa en las Rocas and Troncones! 


All photos from Troncones here




Saturday, October 29, 2022

All Around Valletta

Trip date: January 2022

In Malta's Grand Harbor, January 1, 2022 greeted us with spectacularly sunny skies. After a full day/new year's eve the day before we were all happy to relax on our vrbo yacht for the better part of the day. We cobbled together lunch from leftovers, sat out in the sunshine, and did some laundry at the marina facilities.

Later in the day we took a water ferry across to Valletta. There are a couple of different ways to get from the marina to Valletta; you can drive, you can take a large water taxi, or you can take one of the little traditional dghajsa boats that have been used as water taxis since the Phoenician times! 


I was hesitant at first, as they seem a bit rickety, but it's hard to beat €2 per person and the pick-up was just down from our dock. In the end it was a great way to see more of the harbor and I liked supporting the local owners.

In the capital city we had a great time walking around. We started by heading up the Barrakka Lift which takes you 190 feet up the cliff to a stunning look out. They have been firing cannons at noon and at 4pm here for 500 years. Unfortunately they weren't fired when we there; maybe because it was a holiday?


The 450+ year old city, built by the Knights of St John, is incredibly beautiful. And besides the Knights, the city has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs. This comes through in the language, the architecture, and the dizzying array of monuments, 320 of them in the tiny capital!

Even though most places were closed, as it was Jan 1st, just wandering the streets was really great. I mean, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site!

During our walk we passed by the Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck. Come to find out that in AD 60 St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta and it was then that Christianity was brought to the island. The church was built in 1570 and has some really interesting artifacts including bones from the Saint's wrist and part of the column that he was beheaded on from Rome.

After a few hours of sightseeing we decided that it was time for cocktails and made our way to Strait Street.  Originally this was the place where sailors on shore leave would party, it then became more of a bohemian hang out and was referred as "The Gut". Now, this 5-block long street, and at times not much more than an ally, is the location for bars.We chose the Kennedy Bar and had really great drinks, service and some average bar snacks. 

Afterwards we walked to the south end of Strait Street and had some lovely G&T's alongside delicious pintxos at Yard 32. They have an amazing collection of gins here! Unfortunately they only had outside seating available at the time and it was getting pretty chilly so we only stayed for one round. But I'd go back to both of these cocktail spots!

The next morning was sunny and soooo warm! I headed out solo to explore the area of Birgu which is where our marina was and also where the Fort Saint Angelo is located. It was a nice stroll pass many super yachts on the way to the fort. 

The fort was the Order of St John's headquarters during the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, but the location has had buildings on it since medieval times. It's an interesting walk around to see the old cannons and to take in the gorgeous views. The upper level is by far the prettiest with the palace and a little chapel. 

I continued to explore Birgu by walking up a VERY steep set of stairs to the main square area. Birgu is absolutely charming so even if you aren't staying in the area, I'd highly suggest spending an afternoon here!

I was starving after all my walking around so I stopped for a quick bite of ftira, a traditional circular Maltese sourdough bread, which is used in sandwiches like a baguette. Then I met everyone for a proper lunch at the terrace of one of the restaurants right at the marina.

It was our last night on the boat and we all wanted to enjoy every bit of it! We started happy hour a tad early and finished off the champagne while enjoying the gorgeous sunset. We had gotten incredibly lucky with the weather in Malta!

That night we had a very good dinner at d' Centre, outside in their very cute courtyard. Bonus that it was just a short walk from our boat. 

Forest and I got up early the next morning, grabbed a dghajsa water taxi, and made our way to St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta as we hadn't had time to visit when we were there before. Built in 1572, this was the church that the Knights held communal worship in. As soon as we entered I was floored by the opulence!

We picked up an audio guide and went through the 8 chapels, one for each branch of the Order of the Knights. The floor is laid with hundreds of marble tombstones, they cover the entire floor of the cathedral and each is a commemoration of a Knight of the Order.

Every square inch of the cathedral is decorated, gilded, carved, painted, sculpted, etc. It's an amazing sight!
Before we left we made sure to go to the Oratory and check out Caravaggio's "The Beheading of St. John". WOW.

I was so glad we made the effort to go thru St John’s Co-Cathedral, I would absolutely suggest this is a do-not-miss while in Malta. 

We got back to the boat in time to say goodby to Brian and Anne and then Thibault and I went and picked up one last order of pastizzi for lunch.


The next 24 hours were all travel. We had a 3 hour flight from Malta to Orly airport in Paris where I said goodbye to Forest and Thibault. My flight to Seattle wasn't until the morning and it was out of CDG. The US was still requiring a negative Covid test to enter so I took a Uber to the Moxy at CDG (for €100!). I had used some Marriott points for the room and had brought my own proctor assisted Covid test. It was a relief when it was negative and I knew I could return home the next day.

My flight home was suppose to have been on British Air but they had to cancel and reschedule me because their crew had Covid! I flew Business Class on American to DFW which was quite a bit nicer that the BA flight I took to Paris originally. My seat 5A was its own pod with lots of storage and very comfortable lie-flat bed. Good thing as it was 10 hours to DFW. My connecting flight was delayed 3 hours which made for a long day! I had First Class on the flight to Seattle but couldn't tell you how it was as I was asleep as soon as I sat down. Unfortunately my suitcase didn't join me back home for 2 days! That's travel for you!

Not only was it fantastic to restart our annual New Year's Eve trip, and have new people join us, but Malta is an amazing destination. If you've considered it at all, I'd throw it to the top of your list! And if it hasn't been on your radar, I hope it is now!

All photos from Malta here:


Other posts from this trip:


Country Count #51 Malta

All Around Gozo

New Years Eve in Malta





Sky High Vail

Trip date: April 2020 When a friend with a house in Vail say's "come visit", the only correct answer is yes! I'd never bee...

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