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What I have always loved about this job is, despite the loneliness of being in some of the world’s most beautiful places alone, you usually meet other solo travelers and for a brief moment you are able to connect with people who completely understand how comfortable it feels to be anywhere but home.

After debarking in St. Maarten, I was able to tag along with a couple of friends I have made along the way in this biz. They were renting a car and driving around the island with no real destination in mind. The point was to just see.

It’s easy to rent a car from the cruise terminal – a station is literally right at the pier. So we made our way, sans GPS and new-fangled technology (just a shitty little road map) all the way around the island, stopping periodically to gape at the water – a perfect gradient from aqua to sapphire. But anyone who has ever been to the Caribbean admires the water, so for me the real joy was having no plan whatsoever, tooling around the island’s dusty back roads with three other victims of wanderlust.

St. Maarten is divided in two: the French side and the Dutch side. The cruise ships and the main airport are both on the Dutch side, but it is less than a half hour’s drive to make your way over to the French area, which is much more beautiful and charming. On your way around the island you will pass through Oyster Bay, which is quite trafficked as you come upon it, but slowly becomes more and more desolate the further you go down. Stop by Boo Boo Jam (yes…that is the name) for an ice cold Presidente beer and a few glimpses of the topless lades (because, yes, that is allowed on St. Maarten).

Stop for lunch in Grand Case, a tiny community flanked with beach-side restaurants serving up the local catch and grilling ribs on giant outdoor racks. We stopped at The Rib Shack and for $9 each sucked on juicy ribs and devoured plates of side dishes. A beer is also a lovely $1.50. (Prices are in Euro and Dollars, but the ratio in St. Maarten is one-to-one, so it’s favorable to pay in dollars.)

Unfortunately my companions had to embark back on the Oasis of the Seas to finish up the conference we were covering. I hung back in St. Maarten for the night and I’m writing to you from my balcony at Simpson Bay Resort & Marina, bottle of wine, loaf of bread and cheese at my side. I need to be well rested for my early flight to the British Virgin Islands tomorrow, where I will give Richard Branson a run for his money in the meaning of luxury. On to Villa Aquamare.

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Oh ski culture, perhaps I was too quick to judge you. For years I have adamantly cursed this winter sport. Who would voluntarily rocket down a mountain strapped to two boards, thighs burning, wind smacking your face, only to reach the bottom of the mountain and do it all over again? But after trip up to the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, I have discovered that I am actually quite a big fan of the ski culture…minus the actual skiing.

This awkward time of year, when the ski season is over and it’s not quite warm enough for summer activities, is the perfect time to revel in ski culture sans ski: Eat, drink and relax, three things that I am very, very good at.

The lodge sits all the way at the top of Mountain Road, about 10 miles off the main drag in Stowe – perfect for isolation and mountain views. In fact, on the drive up we were hit with a fresh sprinkling of snow, just to make our arrival that much more picturesque.

If you should find yourself in Stowe in the early spring or late fall months, I highly recommend a stay at this resort. The majority of its rooms have views of the mountains and slopes (which are very nice to look at, especially when you know you won’t be going anywhere near them). The lobby/lounge area has several fireplaces, which are perfect for cozying up next to with a beverage and a book, and the food is out of this world. We were lucky enough to have the executive chef whip up a selection of the menu’s top sellers (flatbreads, pot roast, mussels, fried brussels sprouts and a variety of sorbets).

When you aren’t eating (which will be rarely), you should be at the spa, where it is easy to get lost for about three hours. If you book a treatment, which are incredibly affordable ($150 for a massage), you have all-day access to the Healing Lodge – a room with lounge cabanas, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and cold showers.

The town of Stowe is…quaint, but definitely intended for tourists. We made the trek in to check it out, purely for research purposes, but found that there was just more fun to be had at the resort. However, we did manage to find Frida’s, a small Mexican restaurant that seemed to be the only joint in town selling brunch on a Saturday. Mexican food in Vermont? Yes. Seriously – the lengua and al pastor tacos were slamming.

So what did we learn today? Watching the snow blanket the mountains, drinking by the fire, eating until you need to unbutton your pants, and getting rubbed down with aromatic oils in the spa is everything about ski culture that I can get on board with. And the getting on anything stops there. Sorry skis.

Stowe is about a five-hour drive outside of New York City, or a one-hour flight from JFK into Burlington.

Stay tuned for my next non-ski adventure in Aspen in July.

So young, so innocent.

In Moby Dick, Ishmael starts out by telling us that whenever he grows grim about the mouth, and he feels like knocking people’s hats off, he gets to the sea as soon as he can. Well, Ish, I hear you. Except for me, I take to the road.

It’s been a rough few weeks, friends. Yours truly hasn’t felt quite like herself, and frankly, has felt quite grim about the mouth. So, it seemed like as good a time as any to take to the road. I’m off to Stowe, Vermont for the weekend to clear my head, catch up with one of my oldest friends and to check out the Stowe Mountain Lodge. It promises to be full of mountain vistas, a touch of pampering, and some tasty eats – everything you need at the end of a long journey to make you forget why you left in the first place.

So here, my friends, is my essential guide for road trips. In my years of road trip experience, I’ve found that this is everything you need to make sure you get from Point A to Point B in true chilled-out style.

1. Perfected Playlist
There is an art to a road trip playlist. The key is to not try to impress anyone. Now is not the time to show off your alternative taste. I don’t need to hear your bootleg Velvet Underground track off the B side of a record that no one ever heard of. Stick to the classics: ’80s, ’90s, classic rock, and a few guilty pleasures. And you need a balance of fast and slow. It can’t be all about bringing the party up to speed. There must be a few sappy ballads or emo contemplative melodies to bring you and your companions into a pensive mood. Because what is a “find yourself” road trip without a little contemplation?

2. Physical Maps
I love my iPhone as much as the next girl, and yes, in the days of GPS travel has certainly become more convenient. But let me tell you: cell reception sometimes fails you, and your GPS does not have everything. Printing out or buying physical maps allows you to see the roads laid out in front of you. If you want to take a scenic detour, you can actually see where the two-lane highways join back up with the interstates. Let’s take a trip back to the Stone Age, friends. Join me. It’s quite comfortable.

3. Cash
Sometimes, sh*t happens, and when it does it’s always best to have cash on hand. That gas station in Eastern Middle of Nowhere may not have a pump that accepts credit cards. ATMs could be out of service. Anything, really, is possible. It’s always best to be prepared. Note: I’m going to lump “jumper cables” into this category as well. The point is, just be ready for anything.

4. Crank-Reducing Snacks
I can’t stress the importance of this. I could tell you about the time I got lost driving through the Battle of Vicksburg site in Mississippi, on the brink of starvation, and I almost tossed my companion out of the car until we made it through and found a Cracker Barrel. This could have been easily avoided by the presence of snacks. When on a road trip, you need something tasty that will stay delicious at room temperature, and not cause you to become overly thirsty (which results in numerous bathroom breaks). You also need to be able to eat it with one hand, assuming you are driving.  Nothing sloppy or runny. Sorry BBQ chicken sandwich on a roll..you need to stay at home.

5. Comfy Clothing
If you are going to be sitting in the same position, possibly eating, for more than three hours, you can leave the skin-tight jeans and heels at home. A flexible material and flats (or go barefoot!), along with a somewhat baggy shirt is the optimal driving uniform. Guys have it a little easier, since they seem to dress more comfortably anyway.

6*: This addendum is for the true road tripper. I’ve said it before, but the book Road Trip USA is the ultimate driving companion. It has a list of America’s most picturesque two-lane highways, and where you can stop along the way for local culture, flavor and color.

Okay…so it’s not really 80…but it is a substantial amount. I realize not all of you live in New York, so my posts on the New York restaurant scene can become a bit tired. Should you find yourself in these necks of the woods, here is where you can go to get some tasty snackage.

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Photo courtesy of Lonely Planet

I’m cheating. This weekend I was so swept up in Passover/Family land that I just didn’t have time to get into some kind of adventure for you people (unless you want to hear about how awesome I am at reading the Haggadah…anyone?). Anyway, today’s post is credited to Lonely Planet.

I love road trips. Put me behind the wheel with an excellent playlist and you may never hear from me again. I’ve done San Diego to Seattle, New York to Memphis, Memphis to New Orleans, the list goes on. For those of you with a similar affliction, Lonely Planet has rounded up some of the most picturesque drives in Colorado…as if I needed something else to add to my travel wishlist.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/usa/travel-tips-and-articles/76626?affil=twit

Enjoy!

Note: For the true road trip junkie, such as myself, I recommend the book Road Trip USA. It’s a compilation of America’s two-lane highways along with where you can stop along the way for some real slices of Americana. It’s my road trip Bible. Never leave home without it.

I’m a Yankee. Born and bred. I love sushi, New York City, and about a hundred other things Northeastern and bourgeois. But, like most great country love songs go, the South has a very real piece of my heart.

I fell in love with what is often said will “rise again” a year ago in Memphis. Since then I made a trip down to Birmingham, and most recently I drove from my beloved Memphis to New Orleans, which only solidified the obsession. Personally, I don’t see what about the South has fallen. For those of you who are not yet Southern converts, I must ask you: why the f**k not? What do you have against the Blues? Or Jazz? Or a pulled pork sandwich oozing with spicy barbecue sauce and mounted, almost pornographically, by a dripping, cold heap of fresh cole slaw? God…take me back where I belong!!

But I digress.

If you should find yourself on a similar soul searching journey to parts of our country below the Mason Dixon, I am a firm believer that you must do so in August. August, she says?! In the South? Madness. And yes, my friends, yes it was hot. But also…cheap. And when you are a writer on a road trip, cheap is always ideal. But August just happens to be the time of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarkswhat? If you haven’t heard of Clarksdale, it’s that spot right at the crossroads of Highway 61 and 49, where famed Blues virtuoso Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his panty-dropping musical ability. Clarksdale is also the hometown of Sam Cooke (of Chain Gang fame). What better spot to enjoy some out-of-this-world Blues and Gospel music from a bill of no-names who sing better than anyone I have heard on the radio.

The Festival is free and runs for three days on a grassy field right next to the Delta Blues Museum (admission is $7 and completely worth it). Food stalls line the field selling everything from rib tips to chili cheese fries. And the beer is flowing. And the music will haunt you in the best way possible as local librarians or waitresses get up on stage and belt with all of their might the songs that they have heard for generations and generations, and no one will ever know their names. But their fans are local, and that’s all that seems to matter.

Barbecue, Blues and Beer. The South holds its head high still.

There has been a lot to fret over lately. The headline in today’s Daily News mentioned something about 401(k)s taking a hit after the Dow plunged 512 points. What’s happening with the debt crisis? What the hell is going on in Syria? But most importantly….what happened to Meg D?

Rest assured, friends. It has been a long (…okay VERY long…) hiatus, but I can say with confidence that I am back baby. Inspired by my good friend Lauren E., who has her own successful food blog (seriously, check it out www.laurenfoode.com, it’s pretty great), I thought I’d take some time to revisit with you fine people.

Next week I embark on a clash-of-cultures, all-you-can-eat-and-drink, groove-to-the-music road trip from Memphis through Delta Blues country and down into New Orleans. Can you smell the BBQ sauce and beer oozing out of my pores, yet? I sure as hell can. Anyway you may be interested to know that both the party-heavy Beale Street in Memphis and the streets of New Orleans are pretty lax on their open container laws. For the rest of you lushes out there, I’ve rounded up some other places in our great nation where you can do what our fore fathers set out to establish: drink freely, which, in effect lends itself to a good life and the pursuit of happiness. Forget the New York Stock Exchange and Representative John Boehner. America must be doing something right.

Where to Drink Freely

Butte, Montana
Power & Light District of Kansas City, Missouri
The Las Vegas Strip
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Savannah Historic District, Savannah, Georgia
Fredericksburg, Texas

Where to Drink Less Freely That Other Places, but More Freely Than Most Places (aka, where open container laws are tolerated)

Duval Street, Key West, Florida
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Roaming Memphis in the bright of day is sobering. At least, that’s how we felt on Monday as we readied to head back to New York. Our last stop on our list was the National Civil Rights Museum, and I don’t think there could have been a more appropriate way to spend our last few hours.

In the blur of Blues, ribs and beer it is almost easy to forget that Memphis was the city in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. He was killed on the balcony of The Lorraine Motel, which has been turned into the museum. It is eye-opening and, in my opinion, a must for anyone.

Before you enter the exhibit you watch a screening of the Oscar-nominated ‘The Witness,’ narrated by Rev. Billy Kyles, who was with Dr. King the night he died. If at the end you aren’t holding back tears then you missed the whole point of the film.

Wind your way through the history of American civil rights. What makes this exhibit that much more meaningful is that it is located in the South. I don’t think it would have hit me as hard were it located in New York.

The museum takes you up to room #306, Dr. King’s room. Here you can look out a glass window onto the balcony where he was murdered. There really aren’t any words to capture this experience – at least none that wouldn’t sound forced and corny. Just go for yourself. Adult admission is $13 and I would carve out three hours to do it properly. You do not want to rush.

We meandered down to Beale Street and although a good handful of people roamed in and out of the blues clubs and restaurants, it looked more like a ghost town compared to the past two nights. We even made an attempt to get back to Ground Zero to find out the name of Johnny’s band (I feel stupid that I can’t remember), but seeing it empty and silent was eerie and another reminder that the journey really was over.

I’ll be raving about this trip for a very long time. I cannot wait to get back and I will recommend Memphis to anyone.

The whole drive here whenever we mentioned we were going to Memphis we got one of two responses: skeptical looks (which, after last night’s insanity we are still confused about) and “You into Elvis, or something?”

Ok…yes, we went to Graceland. I know I like to pride myself on not being a tourist but, come on. I think if an entire Paul Simon album bears its name it really is worth a visit. And also…it’s Elvis.

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the King or his palace before my visit, but I was told by my friend Becca (an avid Graceland visitor) to opt for the Platinum Tour Tickets, which cost $34 and include an audio-guided tour of the Mansion; access to his airplanes; access to the Automobile Museum; his Hollywood Exhibit; a pop culture exhibit; access to a wardrobe exhibit; and a self-guided tour of the ’68 Special exhibit.

Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 for around 100 grand. He was 22. I’m 22 and I think I’m making it through the rest of this weekend on $61. It’s good to be the King.

“There’s a pretty little thing waiting for the King…down in the Jungle Room.” – ‘Walking in Memphis’ by Marc Cohen.

The tour of the mansion takes you through the lower floors. The upstairs, Elvis’ private quarters, remain off limits out of respect. You get to see the living room, dining room, kitchen, basement and of course, the Jungle Room. Holy 1970s decor. Shag carpet on the ceiling? What were people thinking? The tour also includes the grounds of Graceland, including displays on his movie career and his many, many awards.

Getting there: If you don’t have a car there is a free shuttle service that leaves from the Memphis Rock’n’Soul Museum every hour on the half hour. I’d carve out a good three hours to do Graceland right.

Not into Elvis? There is still plenty to do. We also checked out the Beltz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art and tomorrow we plan on hitting the Civil Rights Museum. Memphis is also a prime location for people watching. Grab a stool at one of the many bars with front windows and watch the local color pass by. Check out the giant decked out carriages that leave from The Peabody Hotel. While you’re there, see the March of the Ducks, which happens at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Get there an hour early to get a good seat. It’s a little kitschy but the ducks are so damn cute.

Smoky barbecue goodness wafting out of a small alley off Union Ave. between Second and Third streets can only mean one thing. It’s time for a Rendezvous, arguably the most famous (and best) barbecue joint in Memphis. Our night started with a full order of pork ribs, cole slaw, chicken nachos and Heinekens and it only got better from there. By the way, the wait at Rendezvous is very, very long. We waited about an hour, but it was very much worth it.

Feeling sleepy from full bellies we were about to call it a night. Yes, we were sleepy and were considering passing out in our very comfortable beds at The Westin Memphis Beale Street. (Guests should ask for Joan, the concierge, who is a fountain of Memphis knowledge.) But first we wanted to see what all the fuss was on Beale Street. Oh my. The cop-guarded street is closed to cars and revelers are stopped on their way in for a quick ID check. That’s right. We got carded to walk on a street. Why? No open container laws on Beale Street. I knew we were in for an adventure.

We donned the Beale Street badge – a giant cup of Bud Lite (there are beer carts all along the street and most giant beers cost $5). From there we walked up the block as the soulful sound of Blues poured out from every venue. If you’re thinking Beale Street is just for tourists, think again. Packed with locals. And everyone wants to hear who is performing. To play on Beale Street is really to have made it.

We were lured to a small stage in a small pavilion. After watching the guitarists and sax player jam for a while one of the two guitarists motioned to me…to come up on stage. Now, I am not into being in front of people, but I thought ‘what the hell’ and headed up the steps. The guitarist handed me his instrument and I held it flat out in front me as he proceeded to pick and play it while it was in my hands. Probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Saskia and I waited around after the show to say hello to him. Turns out his name is Johnny Holiday (not his real name, but I promised I would keep his real identity a secret). Why Holiday? “Because I’m always on vacation,” he told us. He is the unofficial mayor of Beale Street. Everywhere we went with him folks were calling out ‘Hey Johnny! How you doing?’ We felt like Memphis royalty to be in his company.

Slipping past cover charges (I was introduced as his wife) we made our way into Ground Zero, a club on Beale Street owned by Morgan Freeman. This was to be our hangout for most of the night, as Johnny was to play there at midnight. A voluptuous woman belted out the Blues on stage as we knocked back beer after beer (and maybe a shot or two of Jim Beam, after Saskia opted for that over tequila).

As the night got fuzzier and we all got friendlier it was revealed that Johnny actually held a role in the 2005 movie, Walk the Line. He plays Carl Perkins, if anyone is interested.

The night ended in haze of dancing, singing and some killer solos by Johnny. Memphis, you may have climbed your way into my Top 5 Places in the U.S.

 

 

Check out the videos of Johnny at Ground Zero