Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Las Vegas Trip Report

NoVA Travelers made it to Vegas in October!

 
 

We arrived in Vegas the first Friday night in October just after 11pm and made our way over to Caesar's via airport shuttle. We checked in, having booked a simple classic room and with a smile and little persuasion were upgraded to one of the 1200 square foot executive suites. Last time we came to Vegas we were successfully upgraded to a bigger beautiful room than originally booked, but never anything this amazing before. I guess I am honing my persuasive skills each time. Our suite had a beautiful marble foyer, a baby grand piano in one of the main sitting areas (there are 3 separate sitting areas, a wet bar, a dining area, a master bedroom and 2 marble bathrooms with separate glass enclosed showers, tubs, and WC with bidets. We were very satisfied with our accommodations to say the least. After check in, we were hungry so we grabbed a quick bite at Augustus Cafe and then headed back to the suite to sleep.

 
 

Saturday morning we had a rough to do list to plow through. First we spent the morning going up the strip to see the lions and the NEW ADORABLE baby cubs at the MGM habitat. The afternoon was frivolously passed in the spa as we meandered from the 4 different roman baths (giant marble jacuzzis) to the sauna, steam room, arctic room, and tea lounge (20 varieties of fresh tea made to order). That was followed by an hour long full body massage and time outside at the Garden of the Gods pools. Finally, we capped off the night with an overindulgent steak and lobster dinner at Nero's. Letting my tummy recover from the vast quantities of food I camped out in the room Sat night while my roomate Bridget headed out to walk the strip and see the sights.

 
 

Sunday we enjoyed a grand brunch on the property, more spa and pool time (of course), a walk past some of the strip's notables (Bellagio atrium display, TI pirate ship, Circus Circus acrobats), and then eventually sightseeing down on Freemont street. We had an overpriced (but good) dinner at the Asian restaurant in Caesar's before catching the redeye flight home to DC early Monday morning.

 
 

All this adventure *could* have been yours, if you'd only come with us. :)

 
 

Pics are up on my facebook album as usual. (http://facebook.com/jenniparks)

Maine Lighthouse Tour Trip Report

The second week in Maine NoVA Travelers hosted a scenic lighthouse tour. I had not been up through Maine in roughly 10 years so it was really refreshing to lead the group on this trip.

 
 

The plan was to fly to Boston on a Friday afternoon and rent a car for our adventures and everything fell into place as it should. Since there were only a couple of members that signed up for this particular trip, I was able to insert a slight detour on the way up to Maine to stop for dinner with a college friend of mine. She was very gracious (Thanks Helen if you're reading this) and her enthusiasm for …well for just about everything…is infectious and joyful. She steered us to a great dinner spot and we had a lovely time.

 
 

Once dinner was over, we said our goodbyes, and headed for Camden - the furthest point on our itinerary. We made it to the Whitehall Inn (http://www.whitehall-inn.com/) pretty late and found our room keys waiting for us at the check-in desk. This inn gained its fame through multiple events- first in that it served as the backdrop setting for the movies Peyton Place and Thinner, and second in that a famous author - Edna St. Vincent Millay - spent most of her time writing her work on the property. Heartwarming only begins to describe the property- with clear views to the ocean and charming historic photos and antiques throughout the Inn, this is a place to come back to. Leilani has posted many pictures from the Inn (and the trip in general) on facebook. If you're a member of facebook and friend me on the site (http://www.facebook.com/jenniparks) I can point you on your way to the pictures.

 
 

Saturday morning we woke up to a fantastic breakfast spread in the Inn's dining room. I love it when the thoughtful touches are in place such as the tiny gourmet jam and marmalade jars or the delicate tea selection. Once we had the car loaded up and we'd taken our fill of pictures in Camden we began to wind our way down the coast along Route 1, stopping at lighthouses all along the way.

 
 

Our first lighthouse stop was Curtis Island. The original light station dates from 1836, present lighthouse and keeper's house date from the late 1800's. We stopped at a small park in Camden to get the best views. Then we moved on to the Indian Island light. It was decommissioned in the 1930s and privately owned since then. We got a distant view from shore at the Marine Park in Rockport. Our third lighthouse stop was one of the most beautiful - Rockland Breakwater. At this location, a small lantern was placed at Jameson Point at the entrance to Rockland Harbor in 1827. As Rockland became a leading port in the late 19th century, it was decided that a lighthouse should be built. The townspeople kept moving the light out further along a jetty as the jetty was constructed. Finally in 1902 a permanent lighthouse was built at the breakwater's end. It was almost destroyed in the 70s by the govt who felt it was no longer necessary but eventually concessions were made, ownership changed hands and the lighthouse has been preserved.

 
 

We took a break after that, following a tip I'd received to seek out one of Amy Upham's pies at Thomaston Grocery. Apparently she is a stay at home mom famous throughout all of Maine for her fabulous pies. It was quite a drive out to the grocery but SO WORTH IT. Absolutely the best blueberry pie I've ever had hands down. We found an Irish pub nearby the grocer and brought our pie in. The staff were nice enough to bring us plates and whipped cream for our pie after our lunch so we cut them in on the pie and they seemed to appreciate that very much.

 
 

After lunch we made our way to Owl's Head light, another beautiful and historic lighthouse in Rockland. Then onto Marshall Point light at Port Clyde Harbor.

 
 

We eventually arrived in Portland where we checked into our hotel for the night and headed to dinner at Caiolas (a highly recommended seafood restaurant http://caiolas.com). The food was excellent and the bartender proved to be good company for the evening.

 
 

Sunday was our final day of the tour. We stopped at Cape Elizabeth lighthouse - the most powerful light in Maine (a 4 million candlepower flashing white light visible for 27 miles) before moving on to Portland Head light which is probably the most photographed and most famous lighthouse in all of the United States. It's so beautiful it's easy to see why it is a popular site for weddings. In fact there was a wedding party taking pictures while we visited.

 
 

We tried to make a stop at another well known lighthouse (Spring Point) but were thwarted at every turn by barricades setup for a fundraising 5k run. Instead, we compromised on our afternoon itinerary and found a local ice cream shop to indulge in summer's treat.

 
 

We stopped over at an oceanfront seafood shack for a fresh lobster lunch (yum) and then drove back toward Boston, dropping in on the historic town of Salam (which Leilani promptly fell head over heals in love with) before making our way back to the airport.

 
 

Maine is known for many regional delights - blueberries, moose, wild forests, rugged ocean coastline, scenic lighthouses, seafood and historic inns just to name a few. I'm very glad we were able to enjoy some of these on our trip. Especially if you enjoy seafood (lobster was under $5 a pound!) you owe yourself a trip to Maine.

 
 

You can read member reviews of this trip to Maine here: http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9812969

NYC Trip Report

The first weekend in August NoVA Travelers sauntered off to NYC for a Broadway weekend. These short weekend jaunts to NYC have proved popular with the group and I always love spending time in the city myself.

 
 

We stayed at the 70 Park Avenue, a Kimpton property that is fast becoming one of my favorite hotels. What I love about this hotel chain is how special they make guests feel. They greet us by name, they give us a gift from the minibar everytime we stay, and they throw in freebies now and then like a full breakfast when we've had a rough day. Pretty good treatment for a customer that has averaged less than 10 stays in my first year with them. At the big chains like Hilton or Marriott you're a nobody until you've stayed 30 times. Because of this I will give Kimpton all of my business (and of course the travel group's business) whenever they have a property available in the city I happen to be traveling to. Here's a link if you're interested in learning more: http://www.70parkave.com/. They've got properties in most big US cities, with fabulous restaurants and really modern chic décor. The whole luxury boutique experience, including in room spa treatment is available.

 
 

Saturday Penny, Louise and I flew dca-jfk, took the subway to Grand Central and strolled the leisurely 2 blocks to our hotel. Although I had planned to highlight one of Manhattan's pizzerias for lunch, on the spur of the moment we decide to indulge and dine at Per Se for lunch. Per Se is the legendary sister restaurant of The French Laundry in Napa Valley. (Take a look at their amazing menus here: http://www.tkrg.org/upload/ps_menu.pdf) The other ladies ordered the lunch tasting menu while I chose the more expansive dinner tasting menu (might as well go all the way when you've come this far right?). The food was AMAZING. Course after course after course of deliciousness. The presentations were very lovely- we started for example with these adorable 'ice cream cones' where the cream was cream fraiche with chives and the scoop was salmon tartare. It sounds sort of strange but it was fantastic. I'm finding my appreciation for raw foods like tartare is increasing as I frequent posh restaurants and feel compelled to at least try every course set before me since I'm paying for it. There were delicate fish courses, robust entrees like beef and lamb, and no less than 3 dessert courses brought to us in succession. The courses are portioned perfectly- enough to enjoy but not enough to stuff you so full you can't enjoy the next. I took some great pictures to share (but that was with my cell phone camera which was eventually stolen in Zurich before I ever got the pictures transferred).

 
 

I'm a bit fuzzy on what we did after lunch but before dinner and Broadway and I'm going to attribute the loss of memory to the gourmet food induced stupor. I'm pretty sure it involved shopping in Chinatown as that's a usual staple on every NYC visit.

 
 

For dinner we dropped in on my favorite local restaurant- Paesano's - in Little Italy. If the fresh pastas and savory sauces weren't enough of a draw, we are always treated like royalty at this cozy house of pasta so they always get our business.

 
 

After dinner we made our way over to Broadway area to take our seats for '9 To 5'. The play was outstanding and I didn't know until I arrived that the actress from the West Wing (Allison Janney) had one of the lead roles. She was very good, as were her fellow cast members. One thing I found interesting is that they weren't just playing the characters but were playing the actresses who played the original characters in the movie. You know how Lily Tomlin has a distinct way of dressing in those long jacketed pantsuits that can't just be dictated by the screenplays she's in because she wears them in EVERY movie? Or how Dolly Parton has her distinct accent that persists through every movie because it's not part of the role, but her own persona? Well the cast picked up all of these subtle and not so subtle character traits when performing. I can't decide whether the play would have been better or worse if the cast had made the roles their own.

 
 

After a great night's sleep back at the 70 Park Avenue, we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and then spent the *very* rainy Sunday at the Met. I've always wanted to visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and here we had the perfect rainy day that dictated we spend our time indoors. The museum was a hit according to all and a nice finishing touch to our weekend.

 
 

Sunday evening we were supposed to head back to DC on a particular flight but made it to the airport 5 minutes after the check-in time (we got there 40 minutes ahead of time and policy at JFK now dictates 45 minute cut off for check-in). It was the first, and hopefully last, travel group disaster. I had to cough up $50 per member for the change fee to put us on a later flight and the only available flights were out of LaGuardia so we had to cab it over there from JFK as well. But I took care of my members and we returned to DC no worse for the wear.

 
 

NoVA Travelers typically schedules a Broadway trip each spring, and sometimes again in the summer if there is enough interest.

Monday, October 19, 2009

List of Upcoming Trips

For anyone interested in joining my travel members (or if you're just interested in where I'm going), and for those who may not have had a chance to check out the full meetup calendar of upcoming trips (at http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/list/), here is our listing of all currently scheduled upcoming trips. Find the one that peaks your interest and sign up to join us! Spaces are limited.

 
 

Nov 14 6:00 AM Historical Philly Tour

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11635555

 
 

Nov 19 7:00 PM Thanksgiving Holiday in Greece 2009

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/8467503

 
 

Dec 3 12:00 PM Budget Weekend in San Francisco

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11466810

 
 

Dec 10 5:00 PM Aspen Winter/Ski Retreat

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11277267 

 
 

Dec 20 6:00 AM NYC Christmas Spectacular

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11582005

 
 

Jan 2 2010 1:00 PM Turn over a new leaf dinner party at Jenni's

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11122701

 
 

Jan 14 2010 5:00 PM Winter Wanderings in Rome (5 days)

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/10209065

 
 

Feb 11 2010 5:00 PM Magic in Madrid (4 days)

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11388470

 
 

Feb 20 2010 11:00 AM Snowtubing Retreat in PA

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9578938

 
 

Mar 13 2010 6:00 PM Jenni's Fabulous Fifties (Birthday) Party (come help Jenni celebrate her 34th)

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11395819

 
 

Mar 19 2010 4:00 PM New Orleans Culture and Cuisine

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11432272

 
 

Apr 23 2010 5:00 PM Fiesta Weekend in San Antonio

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11432097

 
 

Jun 18 2010 5:00 PM Weekend in San Diego

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/10641750

 
 

Jun 26 2010 5:00 PM Alaska Adventures

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11505466

 
 

Jul 16 2010 6:00 PM Relaxing Weekend by the Lake

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9579108

 
 

Jul 22 2010 3:00PM National Park Series: Mount Rainier

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11497697

 
 

Sep 11 2010 8:00 AM Chowhound Weekend in Chicago

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/10825987