The Big Welcome

red-carpet-by-fabs_photosI may just have found the perfect contest for someone who loves to travel as much as I do.

It’s Hyatt’s The Big Welcome.  And when they say big, they mean BIG.  The winner will get 365 free room nights at any Hyatt worldwide, plus a million frequent flyer miles to help get them wherever they want to go.  And they’ll even include enough cash to help you pay the income taxes on your winnings.  Three people will be selected as winners: one each from North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

Here’s what you do.  In 250 words or less, answer the question, “How would you spend 365 free nights at Hyatt to create an unforgettable experience?”  Hyatt is giving you permission to create the trip of your dreams.  So, take a walk in the park, talk to your muse, and write up your answer.  I did.

Photo credit: flickr/fab’s_photos

Dream job available

blog-reefBeing a luxury lifestyle writer is about as good as it gets. I travel the world, writing about fabulous food, fabulous wine, fabulous destinations.  Really, how much better could it possibly get?

$150,000 better.

And so I would happily take a sabbatical to explore more of what the world has to offer. Yes, I will be applying for what must surely be The World’s Best Job.<cross fingers>  Before you go getting all worked up about how some people have all the luck, know this: It could be you, instead of me, that gets this gig.  Keep reading.

Position: Island Caretaker Great Barrier Reef

Contract: Six months

Working Conditions: Based on luxurious Hamilton Island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  A live-in position with flexible working hours. Key responsibilities include exploring the islands of the Great Barrier Reef to discover what the area has to offer.

Reporting Requirements: You’ll be required to report back on your adventures to Tourism Queensland headquarters in Brisbane (and the rest of the world) via weekly blogs, photo diary, video updates and ongoing media interviews.

Job Perks: You’ll receive return airfares from your nearest capital city (in your home country), accommodation and transport on Hamilton Island, travel insurance for the contract period, computer, internet, digital video and stills cameras access, plus travel to a number of the other Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Start Date: July 1, 2009

Education/Experience Requirements: A broad range of experience will be considered, but the successful applicant should posses:

  • Excellent interpersonal communication skills
  • Good written and verbal English skills
  • An adventurous attitude
  • Willingness to try new things
  • A passion for the outdoors
  • Good swimming skills and enthusiasm for snorkeling and/or diving
  • Ability to engage with others
  • At least one year’s relevant experience

For more information, and to apply, click here.  Tell them Denise Reynolds, Luxury Lifestyle Writer, sent you.

And no more whining about how confining your cubicle can be.

Fabulous @ The Regent

Last night, while waiting for the valet to return my car at The Regent Bal Harbour, I was chatting with a hotel staff member.  A minute or two into our conversation, he asked if he could get me something to drink.  When I requested water, he returned with a chilled bottle of Voss, one of my favorite still waters.  It was such a lovely gesture, and made me feel that their guests are truly cared for every moment of every day.  Congratulations to GM Guenter Richter for assembling a staff that never misses an opportunity to make guests feel genuinely at home.  I look forward to experiencing an overnight stay at this newly-opened property.  And I was thrilled to hear that Chef Mark Militello will be in the kitchen at the hotel’s 1 Bleu, starting this weekend.

MacGorgeous

I have a pair of Mary Jane-styled Manolo Blahnik pumps in bubblegum pink patent leather.  Unabashedly sexy, and supremely suited to their purpose.  Just pulling them out of the closet puts a smile on my face.  Wearing them makes me happy all day long and sparks conversations everywhere I go.

My new MacBook Air is a lot like those precocious shoes. Guaranteed to garner glances of admiration, it makes working a pleasure.  Of course it’s not my primary system, or even my primary notebook.  I don’t expect it to do everything they do, not any more than I’d expect those fabulous pink patent pumps to stand in for my basic black heels. They’re not even the only pair of pink shoes I own.  The MacBook Air and the bubblegum Blahniks were both designed for a particular purpose, and each one fulfills its unique role in a way nothing that attempts to be something-for-everyone ever could.

Neither one was purchased on a whim. Like the shoes, the MacBook Air is the perfect accessory for something else. Something that was the driving force behind the accessory buy. Oddly enough, I didn’t really want a Mac at all.  I wanted Scrivener, a piece of software for writers that only runs on Mac.  Scanning the Mac display at my local Apple store, it was abundantly clear that only the Air would meet my need for fluid creativity and uber-portability.

Everyone I asked tried to talk me out of the MacBook Air and into the more practical MacBook Pro.  What they just don’t understand and probably never will, is that sometimes I just want to dance through my day in a pair of pretty pink patent leather shoes.

Gnocchi nirvana

Crackers and a Coca-Cola.

That’s all I really wanted. Something to settle my stomach. Hugging the occasional guardrail, crawling along the exceedingly narrow roller-coasterlike roads that twist through the tiny towns dotting the shore of Lake Como had left me feeling lightheaded and somewhat queasy. But it’s Sunday, and essentially everything is shuttered: groceries, gelaterias, even gas stations.

As fate would have it, the torturous ride was worth the wait. My reward: the most memorable gnocchi I have ever wrapped my lips around. A sumptuous sauce of Camembert, studded with walnuts and enriched with truffle. That dish will haunt me for years to come. Eventually, I will succumb to its siren song, returning to Nuova Capannina for yet another taste of the plate that rescued me from the drive that almost put me over the edge.

Wine down

vinovolo_image.jpgIt’s about time something good happened on the concourse.

Yesterday, on my way to gate C-1 at Washington’s Dulles airport, I stopped in at Vino Volo. These wine rooms have landed at half a dozen airports, and I hope they become as ubiquitous as airport Starbucks stands. Vino volo, loosely translated from Italian, means wine flight. And I’m sure you’ll agree that flying, or waiting to fly, is infinitely more enjoyable when you can pass the time in the company of some good wine.

Sip in, or carry out. A thoughtfully written wine list includes crowd pleasers like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also offers an opportunity to taste lesser-known grape varieties like Virginia’s Norton and Majorca’s Callet. A menu of small plates allows you to pair like a pro, savoring selections like Braised Pork Tacos or Smoked Salmon Rolls while you wait to make your connection. Whether you order a tasting flight or a single glass, you’ll love the comfy living room feel of these welcoming wine sanctuaries.

Finally, flying has become civilized once again. Cent’ Anni!

Icing fight

german_chocolate_cake.jpgEveryone has a childhood favorite.  Cake, that is.  Mine’s German Chocolate.

When I went home this weekend to celebrate my mom’s birthday, I wanted to present her with one.  Trouble is, her recipe is so fabulous, I was a bit hesitant to bring someone else’s to the table for fear that it might not measure up to the memories.  But when a friend tipped me off to Jean-Jacques Bakery, and I discovered they do a German Chocolate, I rolled the dice.  Good roll.  We literally fought over the extra dabs of icing.

The bakery’s on a fabulous strip of Richmond’s Cary Street, a stylish swathof one-off shops known as Carytown.  I picked up a reverse-painted Robert M. Weiss Shih Tzu coaster at Janet Brown, oogled a Rebecca Minkoff bag at Que Bella, and lunched at Can Can Brasserie. — Hats off Skirts up to their Parsnip Soup with Apple Butter, Hazelnut, and Rosemary Oil.

Foxy lair

hunt-country-june-2005.jpgMaybe it’s the fox that’s prominently featured in his family crest. Or maybe it’s because he’s married to a foxy lady.

Whatever the draw, I was definitely delighted when my dear husband booked us into the Hunt Country room at The Foxfield Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. And I was even more delighted when he scheduled us for a repeat visit this past weekend.

Southern hospitality abounds at this cozy bed and breakfast. Contemporary by Charlottesville standards, this 50-year-old B&B has been thoughtfully designed by innkeepers John and Mary Pat to include amenities that would have been unthinkable in Thomas Jefferson’s day. From the remote controlled gas fireplaces to the couple-sized Jacuzzis, everything at the inn has been arranged to allow guests to enjoy gracious living only a few miles from Jefferson’s Monticello and his beloved University of Virginia.

Mary Pat is a wonderful cook, and this morning we enjoyed her fabulous Pumpkin Cranberry Coffee Cake along with perfectly poached Eggs Benedict, steamed baby asparagus, and the company of fascinating fellow B&B guests.

To bring the fabulous aromas of autumn into your home, try Mary Pat’s recipe.

Pumpkin Cranberry Coffee Cake

1 1/4 cups flour
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 c. fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8-cup ring mold.

Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs at medium speed of electric mixer until foamy. Beat in sugar, oil, and pumpkin. Add dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Gently fold in cranberries. Spread batter evenly in mold.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in mold set on rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around edge of mold to loosen. Cover cake with upside -down serving plate and invert to release from mold. Continue to cool on rack. Dust with powdered sugar to garnish.

Yield: 12-16 servings

Spa shop to the rescue

LV Train CaseI know it’s for my own good. But I still haven’t gotten used to the 3-1-1 TSA carry-on requirements.

A girl likes what she likes, and my various lotions and potions don’t all meet the one-baggie-fits-all requirement. So this morning when I was in the throes of my packing madness, I neglected to pack my face wash. It’s over the three ounce limit, you see. So it should have traveled in my checked luggage. But splitting up my necessaries into two batches is a pain in the derrière and I invariably forget something.

By now, you’d think the cosmetic companies would have figured out that selling travel-sized versions of their skin care lines makes good business sense. But they haven’t. So I, for one, am still revamping my packing strategy. The bottom line: my face wash didn’t make the trip to Colorado.

So, when I unpacked my Louis case at the fabulous Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, I discovered my faux pas and headed to the spa shop for reinforcements.

I love spa shops. I love seeing all the fabulous goodies that they have. It’s not your everyday stuff. Somehow spa managers find the really sweet things that you just don’t see at ordinary shops. Of course I found a replacement face wash—YonKa’s Gel Nettoyant—but I also picked up a few things to help me navigate the TSA maze more effectively next time I fly.

Pitotubes are the best way I’ve seen yet to be sure you have your personal favorites with you when you arrive—and that they haven’t leaked en route. Designed by a former flight attendant, these classy little dispensers are as well designed as they are beautiful. And they allow you to use your cosmetic counter faves rather than settle for drug store brand toiletries. The travel kit contains six tubes—two each of 1.7 oz, 1.0 oz, & .5 oz. sizes—and comes in a sparkly silver mesh zippered pouch. Kits include cute little labels to help you identify what’s what.

The aspens are still glorious here, their golden leaves shimmering in the gentle lakefront breeze. It’s no surprise then that my eyes were drawn to the display shelf that housed The GOLD Collection by Linden Leaves. This New Zealand body care line was included in the celeb goodie bag at this year’s Emmys. Gold has long been a symbol of decadence, luxury and sophistication. Ancient civilizations attributed healing properties to pure gold and often included gold in cosmetic preparations and medicinal remedies. This line combines the highest quality ingredients with pure 23K gold. My favorite: the Gold Shimmer Dust Brush. Deliciously decadent shimmer dust to brush over your body, face or hair to impart a subtly alluring glow.

And just when I thought I was ready to ring up, I spotted a must-have happy hour tonic. Virtual Buddha by Elixir Tonics is just what I needed to banish those TSA blues. This peach flavored concentrate mixes with still or sparkling water to promote peaceful, serene feelings. Om…

Random act of chocolate

broadmoor_chocolate_small.jpgWhat better welcome than an unexpected piece of chocolate?

Today, when I checked in at the courtesy desk at the Colorado Springs airport, I thought I was just arranging ground transportation to The Broadmoor, a luxury resort where I’ll have the pleasure of spending a few blissfully sunny autumn days.

Imagine my delight when I received a sweet silver-wrapped square of chocolate along with my shuttle ticket. Five-star service, just five steps from the point where I claimed my bag.

Would that more hospitality desks greeted their guests with random acts of chocolate, making the world a sweeter place—one bite at a time.

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