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Day two on the ranch. Horseback riding.

You can’t get much more Texas than horseback riding past longhorn cattle and sheep. Now, let me preface that I haven’t been on a horse since I was 12…and this was more of a lumbering waddle than a graceful gallop full-speed through the Texas hills. Think more along the lines of City Slickers, before Billy Crystal helps birth a calf and suddenly becomes a cowboy.

 

 

 

 

Even so, still pretty cool. I loped along atop my horse, Spirit, who didn’t seem to realize that there was someone on top of him and liked to cut it close trotting under low-hanging branches. But this didn’t take away from the starkly beautiful views. Rocky hills with serengeti-like trees, dried up river beds and of course, the random livestock sightings.

Cut to the evening. Supper’s on.

Escaping the ranch’s oasis-type feel, we headed into Kerrville for a little local Texas culture: Mamacita’s, a Disney-esque restaurant with a giant Alamo replica in the dining room, complete with Mexican storefronts and a twinkling starry sky. Kitschy? Maybe. Delicious? Definitely. Our group wolfed down blackened snapper, shrimp fajitas, carnitas, chimichangas and goblet-sized servings of margaritas. And for dessert? the restaurant has its own ice cream parlor in one of the faux storefronts.

So maybe it wasn’t the roadside taco hut I was anticipating, but after a few Negro Modelos and a hearty portion of chips and salsa, I was ready to recommend it to anyone who was hungry.

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What do you get when you mix nine New York Jews with Texas Hill Country? Well, I am about to find out.

I just arrived in Kerrville, Texas yesterday afternoon, a small town around two hours west of Austin. So far? I have to say I’m impressed. To be honest before I arrived I had no idea what I was in for. As a “Yankee,” when you hear Texas you think super-sized, T-bones and Republicans. But let me tell you something. Texas is big. Very big. And Hill Country? From what I can tell is not your stereotypical Texas.

Dakota, my aunt’s horse.

Around two years ago my aunt and her husband, both born and raised in Brooklyn, moved from Rockaway, Queens to Tierra Linda Ranch in Kerrville. I was one among many skeptics that they could make Texas their new home. But when I got off the plane and my uncle (a connoisseur of pastrami, seltzer and bagels) couldn’t stop raving about the horses, antelope and sheep, I knew that this was not a place I could so easily write off.

If the gorgeous scenery of rolling, rocky hills and multitude of animals aren’t enough to rope you in (a little cowboy humor for you), maybe the absolutely selfless attitude of people will. Everyone I have come into contact with has been nothing but willing to help, no questions asked and no favors in return needed. Take this for example. I spent last night in the guest house of my aunt’s neighbor. (There are nine of us here for Passover. As close as we are, nine Jews under one roof is recipe for disaster.) The neighbors were more than willing to help. Several just offered up their own guest houses to strangers. Just like that.

My guest house, belonging to the lovely Ron and Cheryl, is decked out in a wild safari theme. I’m talking leopard sheets, zebra statues and wild peacock feathers in the bathroom. Ron and Cheryl stocked the mini fridge with sodas and beer and are installing a brand new TV for me this afternoon. Talk about hospitality.

I’m excited to see what other adventures the Ranch has in store for me. Stay tuned…

I love my city but believe it or not, one can tire of the 3 a.m. nights, constant noise and and endless interaction. I am a firm believer that getting out of the city at least once a month is necessary to maintaining sanity. My go-to city? A nice visit to my family in Woodstock, New York.

A little hike up to Dancing Rock in Shokan, New York.

Okay, we are all thinking the same thing. Woodstock is only good for relaxing because of one “herbal” remedy, and I’m not going to lie to you. The air is ripe with it. But hippie jokes aside, this is actually a pretty cool town. Of course, you can’t walk more than three blocks without seeing a grizzled man in a tie-dye headband and flannel, tapping his feet to some Dead song, but that’s part of the charm. (Note: The Woodstock festival in 1969 took place around two hours from the actual town of Woodstock, in Bethel, New York. A little insider’s tip for you.)

 

I just got back from my monthly hiatus. A nice weekend of hiking, barbecuing and sitting outside, where the only sound is crickets. Now, my family lives a stone’s throw from Woodstock in less-touristy Shokan, but Woodstock and the surrounding area is a great place to go for a day-trip or an entire weekend.

Getting there: If you have a car, Woodstock is exit 19 off the New York State Thruway. If not, and you are coming from NYC, head to Port Authority and take Adirondack Trailways bus service. The bus ride is around two and a half hours and a round-trip ticket costs $50.

My top picks:

Sweet Sue’s Restaurant – If you stay on the bus for a few more stops you’ll wind up in the hunting town of Phoenicia. The main drag (aptly named Main Street) is just a couple blocks but you’ll find some of the best eats. My top breakfast spot is Sweet Sue’s restaurant (try the breakfast burrito – a mammoth-sized roll-up of eggs, bacon, cheese and avocado served with a side of salsa). I’m not a pancake person, but if you are this is your stop. Sue serves up a selection of around 20 different styles of pancakes.
I wasn’t kidding about the pancakes.

Brio’s, also in Phoenicia, is great for pizza, and this is coming from a New Yorker. This thin-crust beauty tastes good with just about any topping. My favorite? Goat cheese and onions.

Saturdays head to Woodstock for the flea market. Peruse old records, toys, clothes and jewelry while some kid tries his luck singing Bob Dylan tunes in the background. I found Led Zeppelin I and Paul Simon‘s Graceland on vinyl for $3 each. Great bargain.

And of course, you can’t beat the hiking. For some of the top-rated trails, click here.

I guarantee you’ll come back to the city feeling relaxed and refreshed. And if you happen to dip into the town’s favorite crop, I won’t tell.

So we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day in a few days and in the spirit I thought I’d share some videos my good friend Becca recorded when we were in Ireland in 2006. Enjoy the craic! (That’s Irish for “fun”.)

This video was taken at the Pikeman Bar at the Grand Hotel Tralee in Tralee, County Kerry. Traditional music is very important to the Irish culture. Common instruments include fiddles, accordions, guitars and flutes (and/or tin whistles).

Now, I can’t stand group tours, but the Musical Pub Crawl in Dublin is surprisingly fun and not cheesy. Professional musicians guide you to several of Dublin’s bars and entertain you with popular Irish tunes. Here we have our musicians playing “A Pair of Brown Eyes” by The Pogues. It’s suggested that you have a drink at every bar, and this was our last stop. Thank goodness I have this video otherwise I’m not sure how much of this great performance I would remember.

No one remembers 9/11 quite like a New Yorker. I was 14, a freshman in high school, and sitting in fourth period Global Studies when the announcement came over the PA system that a plane had gone through both the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. My friends and teachers had parents and siblings in those buildings.

Yes, the tragedy has left an obvious and painful scar across the face of our country, but most Americans aren’t faced with reminders every day – like the giant gap in the skyline where the Towers once stood, or the gaping, debris-littered hole downtown. It’s safe to say we, as a city, are far from being over it…

…which is why I was disgusted to learn today that Club Quarters Inc., a hotel development company, is looking to turn 9/11 into a business opportunity and a tourist attraction, reported the Associated Press yesterday morning.

To me this seems to be the lowest of the low. Capitalizing on a national tragedy? Thinking that enough time has passed that people have forgotten about all the damage that followed?

The hotel, World Center Hotel (which began taking reservations last month!) will feature floor-to-ceiling windows in many of its rooms that open directly onto the construction. The AP writes, “Guests and members will have access to the restaurant patio with views of giant cranes, jackhammers and metal scaffolding.” Are you kidding me!? The draw of this hotel is to watch men and women hard at work clearing off a site where nearly 3,000 lives were taken because of some f*d up hatred towards the United States and the radical, religious fundamentalist thinking of a handful of loons.

I’ve come up with a comparison. During the Vietnam War, thousands upon thousands of landmines were planted in Vietnam and Laos, a surrounding country. To this day the Vietnamese and Laos people are still digging up and detonating the landmines so that they don’t continue to claim innocent lives. Imagine now putting up a hotel in one of these fields, with giant-paned windows, so that guests could watch these men and women undo the damage that was done to their people and their country.

This is not what tourism and the travel industry is about and the fact that there are people who are willing to do anything to make a buck (introductory rates are $99 on weekends and $179 on weekdays), throwing their human decency to the wind, makes me sick.

At least I’m not the only one. The AP article quoted Michael Meindorfer, a tourist on his visit to ground zero from Frankfurt, Germany. “I wouldn’t stay there,” Meindorfer told the AP. “To go everyday and come home and see something like this….It’s sad.”

I welcome your thoughts.

The most I know about Puerto Rico comes from that time I stayed at the El Conquistador Resort with an ex (ahh…memory lane), and getting drunk at the airport on a four-hour layover.

So I was pretty excited to head to a luncheon today hosted by San Juan Marriott Hotel & Casino. I wanted to know a little bit more.

The luncheon was held at Bobby Flay‘s Manhattan restaurant, Bar Americain (a restaurant I had once visited with said ex…what is is about Puerto Rico and Bobby Flay?).  As I scarfed down steak tartare and several glasses of white wine, I learned a few things about the hotel that you may find of interest.

First, the hotel has installed its own “YouTube concierge,” as part of its “Wish You Were Here” campaign. This takes postcards to the next level. Guests can professionally record 30-second clips of themselves at the hotel and stream it on Marriott’s YouTube channel. I’d rather watch my friends getting drunk than read about it on a smeared postcard that arrives two weeks after they have already returned home.

Guests can also book a kayaking trip in one of Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays. These bays give off an eerie blue light created by living organisms. It’s a surreal experience to paddle through dark caverns while your kayak is halo-ed in a shimmery-turquoise glow.

If you’re looking for a little nightlife, you don’t have to go much further than the hotel’s Lobby Lounge. On Thursday nights through Sunday nights the hotel serves cocktails against a backdrop of live music. The director of sales for the hotel put it best, ” The Lobby isn’t the prettiest girl at the party, but gosh she knows how to party.”

Finally, the general manager of the hotel offered me a little tip on a favorite spot of his for travelers looking for a taste of Old San Juan. Mallorca is a coffee shop for an excellent cup of something hot, a great atmosphere, and a tasty Puerto Rican breakfast.

On my next trip to Puerto Rico, hopefully I’ll make it off the resort and away from the airport bar.

Part of my job includes uploading special travel deals onto my company’s website. (Thrilling, I know, but somebody has to do it.) Normally the deals I come across include a complimentary hotel night after a paid three-night stay, or spa vouchers, or a free bottle of champagne upon arrival.

But today I was filing a deal for luxury tour-operator, Tahiti Legends, which was offering a 13-day trip to Tahiti. It included round-trip airfare, luxury accommodations, a three-night cruise, private dinners on the beach, and a whole lot of other stuff that I could never afford. How much did this “deal” cost?…

…$170,000 per couple!

No, you did not read that wrong, and no I did not put a comma in where I should have put a period. It is truly $170,000 per couple. Would we say that’s a deal? Shockingly, for some people, yes it is.

This got me thinking about the most expensive vacations in the world. A quick search on Google and I came up with this:

Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi Offers $1 Million Valentine’s Holiday.

$1 million! So what does this package include?

The package, which was available from February 11, 2010, includes first class roundtrip on Etihad Airways from any international destination; seven nights in a Palace Suite at Emirates Palace, a chauffeur-driven Maybach trips during the stay; daily spa treatments in the Anantara Spa; and private jet trips to Iran, Jordan and Bahrain.

Now that is a vacation….if you can swing it. And I’m not judging. I’m just strongly considering a change in profession.

I just got back from my “doomed” trip up to Syracuse, which in hindsight, really wasn’t so terrible. Maybe I was being a little melodramatic. I’ve returned to you a little more worn out, a little more broke, but also a little more enlightened.

Turns out, I did not go to real college.

NYU students always joke that we didn’t go to a real college. No campus, no center of community, no sports. Turns out the addition of those three things can make for a much different college experience. Especially the sports. Now, don’t get me wrong. NYU was the best four years of my life and I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. But damn…there is something to be said for a real college sports scene. Enter Syracuse University.

This past weekend happened to a huge weekend for college sports. Syracuse was vying for the number one slot in the country for college basketball. They were playing against Villanova and the on-campus crowd expected was the largest in college basketball history. And I was there for it. Now, you may recall from my last post that I was not thrilled about this. But, f*** it, I said, and was determined to make the most out of it.

I headed towards Syracuse’s campus and literally had to fight my way through throngs and throngs of people. Traffic was at a standstill and all you could see were hoards of orange-clad (Syracuse’s color) fans scuttling their way up Syracuse U’s hill towards the Carrier Dome.

I wound up at a bar called Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar on S Crouse Avenue. Picture a dingy beachside hangout, complete with surfboard tables, license plates on the wall and even a lifeguard’s chair. Add to that $3 beers and about 150 college kids and alum decked out head to toe in bright orange, all screaming “LET’S GO ORANGE“. The most sports exposure I ever got at NYU was drinking a 40 out of a paper bag in the bleachers at Chelsea Piers while watching our club hockey team with about 30 other people (mostly parents). Dorothy was not in Kansas anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change my four years in New York City’s scene or nightlife for just a sports team, but it was nice to have a night in frigid upstate New York, crammed like a sardine into a college bar and cheering on a school sports team with fans who were all there for the same reason.