Paleo & Primal Food, Wine, Travel & Living

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My Top Tips for Travel to Lisbon

Dear Readers, Happy New Year!

Andy and I just returned from our first ever journey to Europe. We traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for 5 days, and I am still rubbing my eyes like it was a dream! I’ve come up with a few lists about the trip…. why we chose Lisbon, how to pack for Lisbon, what to expect upon arrival, and the must-do activities and recommended restaurants in Lisbon. After reading this, it is my hope you are further inspired to travel to Lisbon, or even to travel to a place you have never visited.

Why Lisbon?
Of course, you might ask why I did not choose Paris, Rome, or London for my first excursion across the Atlantic. Somehow, I knew Lisbon would be perfect for us. Here’s why:

1. Lisbon has a very moderate climate in the winter months like San Francisco (which we are used to), and doesn’t rain a lot in winter.

2. Lisbon has a very strong culinary and wine scene. (Important to me, because if the food isn’t good, I’m not interested!)

3. Lisbon has a magnificent history, and is manageable to see many things/places/landmarks in the amount of time (5 days, 4 nights) we actually had to visit.

4. I had a primer on Lisbon thanks to the Somebody Feed Phil documentary hosted by Phil Rosenthal. I modeled a lot of our trip on places I had seen on the show, but at the same time, we went to a few places we found on our own. You can watch the show here. #NetflixandPhil 😛

Phil Rosenthal explores Portuguese cuisine in Lisbon on Season 1 of
“Somebody Feed Phil” (Courtesy of Netflix)

5. Lisbon is on the Tagus River (aka Tejo River) and we love places that have a view/are located near a body of water!

6. Lisbon was the closest place to get to in Europe from Sacramento. If you wait until summer of 2019 to book your trip, lucky you! TAP Portugal will be offering non-stop service from SFO to LIS!

7. Many Portuguese speak English and it is easy to communicate, especially with people who work in restaurants, shops, and hotels.

8. Lisbon is less crowded than other major cities, especially during December.

9. Lisbon has a very good public transit system and you really don’t need a car! Just your legs to take you to a subway, bus, tram, or train stop/station.

10. Lisbon is the perfect mix of old world and new world. It’s an upcoming and modern city, but has the beauty of monuments and cathedrals that are hundreds of years old. You will see evidence of this everywhere. Especially on the beautiful sidewalks!

 

Preparing and Packing:

1. Speaking of the sidewalks, leave your heels at home. The sidewalks and even some of the roadways in Lisbon are made of limestone tiles (aka Portuguese pavement or calçada portuguesa) and are very challenging to walk on, especially in heels of any kind. Don’t worry about looking unhip. I didn’t see any other women in heels, either. Most of the time, I wore these Clarks with a rubber wedge and they were awesome. I also wore these shoes (also Clarks) when I wore a dress.

2. Purchase a converter plug. I found this one and bought it because it converts to EU, Australia, the US, and the UK and it has four USB ports for easy charging.
3. Select a place in your purse or carry on bag to put your passport (preferably a pocket that is inside of the bag and zips up) and always keep it in that place!

4. Pack snacks like nuts, trail mix, protein bars, beef or turkey jerky (my go-to right now is Nick’s Sticks), or pretzels in your carry on in case you get hungry and need a pick-me-up. Sometimes you’ll have to walk farther than you thought in the airport and sometimes the escalator or the elevator will be broken and you will appreciate the extra energy.

5. Pack a travel pillow in your carry on luggage. If you are traveling from the United States, your flight will be long enough to rest. I bought this travel pillow and got a lot of use out of it!

6. Use a backpack for your personal item on the plane and use it when you are sightseeing. I packed a purse (that I never ended up using during our trip). Instead, I used this Pacsafe Intasafe Anti-Theft 20L Laptop Backpack on the plane and to carry my items around Lisbon securely. I stowed both my camera and my wallet in it. I chose this backpack because it is theft-resistant. It is made with slash-proof material in the body and the straps. It also has a pocket with RFIDsafe blocking material for credit cards to safeguard against hacker scanning. It also has locking zippers. I love it, and the peace of mind I had carrying it around and knowing my items were safe was worth the expense. Bonus: the backpack has two pockets for water bottles on the sides.

7. Bring plenty of cash (you can convert to Euros at the airport when you arrive). Most of the non-touristy, local restaurants DO NOT accept credit cards. If you are afraid your cash will get lost or stolen, another alternative to packing a bank roll is to use your ATM card to withdrawal cash. There are several all over the city.

8. Download an app like Duolingo and learn a few phrases in Portuguese. It goes a long way if you can say “please” and “thank you”. Which, by the way in Portuguese is: please “por favor” and thank you “obrigado”.

9. Pack clothing that you can wear in layers. Since Lisbon is on a body of water, it can get windy, and you might get cold. Sometimes you’ll be walking and get too hot. What I am saying is, it’s easier to wear a T-Shirt and jeans on the bottom layer, a sweater or sweatshirt over that, and in winter, possibly a coat over that. You can always take layers one by one off if you get too hot.

10. Invest in a power bank to charge your phone/iPad/laptop. Sometimes you won’t be able to charge your phone on a long flight. Since you’ll definitely want to have a decent amount of power when you land to check your messages, check in with loved ones, and map out the area, it’s a good idea to have a back up power source.

Upon Arrival to Portugal:
1. Expect to wait at least an hour in line to get through customs and into the country.

2. Keep your passport and any important documents in place easy to access, because you will be showing them many times during travel into and out of the country.

3. You will have several transportation options out of the airport. Decide beforehand which one you will choose to get you where you need to go.

4. Before you leave the airport, there is a kiosk near the airport exit to exchange USD to €, and you can exchange as much money as you would like for a flat rate of €5. Again, get as much as you can, because many activities and many of the really good restaurants don’t take credit cards, and you’ll be spending a € here and there, so it’s just more convenient to carry some pocket change.

5. If you only have carry on luggage, you can most likely take the Metro to your destination. The Metro system is mapped out clearly at the airport, and it’s quite easy to figure out.

6. If you have large bags/luggage, invest in a cab to get to your hotel.

7. Be patient. The airport is very crowded–a lot of people who are different nationalities and speak different languages than you do. Practice kindness and don’t be the ugly “in-a-hurry” American.

8. If you are using the Metro or another form of public transit, you can buy a Viva Viagem card. It costs €0.50 and can be reloaded an unlimited number of times during one year after purchase.

9. It can be confusing at first when you land in a new place, but take a deep breath. You’ll figure things out and laugh about how confused you were later. I am hoping to demystify some things with this article, so if you go you will already be a pro!

10. Get ready to have a blast!!

Must-Dos While in Lisbon:
1. Eat at Ponto Final. Take the ferry (from Cais do Sodre in Lisbon to Cacilhas) across to Almada to Ponto Final. If it’s cold outside, wear extra layers and eat outside on the pier. You’ll enjoy phenomenal views of Lisbon across the Tagus (Tejo) River!


2. Visit the Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei. After Ponto Final, you can walk to a lift that takes you up to a 2-mile path up to Cristo Rei (Christ the King). The Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei was completed in 1959 after ten years of construction. The statue was built by the support/approval of Portuguese bishops at the Portuguese Episcopate conference in 1940 as a symbol of peace to both plea & thank God for the absence of Portugal in World War II. It’s quite the journey to get there from Ponto Final, but worth it once you get there!

3. See a Fado show with dinner. Fado is a style of Portuguese music that is both beautiful and haunting. It is associated with the word “saudade” or longing, and sort of represents to me a kind of sad hope. It’s kind of described like when you love someone and they go away you miss them and feel sad, but it is a good thing that you miss them.

We found a restaurant with FREE Fado every night beginning at 7pm. The food was fabulous and the Fado singer (or Fadista) was even better! We chose Pastel do Fado, a restaurant Andy happened to find when we were walking around Almada. (It’s near the Lisbon Cathedral). Remember, sometimes when you are seated at a table, there will be food already on the table. It is NOT free. If you eat the bread, butter, olives, you WILL be charged on your final bill. 😉

4. Ride Tram 28 and get a scenic view of the city. Make sure you get on at Martim Moniz (or Campo Ourique) so you’ll have a better chance of getting a seat! You’ll enjoy a memorable ride through Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela screeching and rattling up and down the narrow streets.

5. The Santa Justa Lift: A top tourist attraction, but also a transportation device that takes you from the lower streets of Baixa, up to a platform connecting to Carmo Square. Tip: Get a Viva Viagem card and use it to ride the lift, metro (subway), buses, trams, and funiculars. You can pay €6.15 for 24 hours, or choose the re-load option. You can also pay the extra €2 to climb the observation platform. It’s totally worth it!

6. Go to Time Out Market Lisboa for a meal. Even a picky eater will find something they will like. Time Out Market is like a giant cafeteria, except that there are little food stalls all around the perimeter and the food doesn’t suck. You can find everything from sushi to hamburgers, octopus, several different takes on bacalhau, piri-piri chicken, gelato, chocolates, and the ubiquitous pastry of Lisbon, the Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria.


7. Go to Sintra to see the castles! Take the train from Rossio Square to Sintra (runs every 20 minutes). If you are paying for one-way tickets, make sure you buy two zones or you won’t be able to exit the station. (This might have happened to us!)

8. Enjoy Portuguese Wines! If you are in Portugal, you might as well drink like a local! There are so many wines to choose from, they are very affordable (about €12 average per bottle in most restaurants), and nearly everything is good. Here are a few bottles we polished off:

9. Eat bacalhau! Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, and if you come to Lisbon, bacalhau is EVERYWHERE on restaurant menus. The bacalhau in question is salt cod, which has been preserved by drying/curing with salt. Before it can be eaten, salt cod must be rehydrated by soaking in cold water for a few days, changing the water two to three times a day. This also helps remove most of the salt content. My favorite way to enjoy bacalhau is in a pastel de bacalhau from Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau! It’s basically a cod fish fritter filled with Serra da Estrela cheese. Downright decadent and one of the best bites of food I tried!

10. Stop for a shot of ginjinha! GInjinha is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherry) in Aguardiente (an alcoholic beverage that contains between 29% and 60% alcohol by volume). There are several places to try ginjinha. We tasted it at Ginjinha do Carmo, (a stand in Comércio Plaza) exactly one block away from our hotel (so that we could stagger back to our room). The liqueur is sweet and powerful, and sipping it slowly while we talked about our trip was a perfect way to cherish the last moments in Lisbon while standing in the plaza.



Thank you Lisbon, for being so lovely and delicious in every way possible. Andy and I enjoyed everything about our vacation, and we are so glad we chose to travel there to spend New Year’s holiday. The food, wine, and weather were all so perfect. And now I know what it is like to experience saudade…but this time to long for a place. I miss Portugal already, but each day that goes by brings my closer to our next visit, and next time we will visit Porto for more adventures!

Lastly, I want to thank Anthony Bourdain, Phil Rosenthal, and Mark Wolters for giving me a template for travel to Lisbon. Mark Wolters of Wolters World especially gave a lot of tips of what to expect when in Lisbon, and I’m pretty sure Portugal would not have been on my bucket list without all of your influences, and I know my visit to Lisbon was enhanced by all of you.

Saude!

PS: If you liked what you saw on this blog post, there’s more pictures from this trip over on my Instagram page. Be sure to visit and follow me there!


Bourdain and His Impact on Me


Like so many people across the world, I am still processing Anthony Bourdain’s untimely death. Honestly, I feel a little strange to be mourning someone I never met. It bothers me that I am so sad about a celebrity’s passing. Bourdain was not just a celebrity, but a kind of ambassador to all nations, reaching out and breaking bread to make a deeper human connection with all cultures and ethnicities. A role that he never initially intended to play, and quite possibly took its toll on him.

I was much more a follower of Anthony Bourdain long before Parts Unknown. Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the show that much because I thought it got too serious. I preferred the lighter, more food-centric shows like No Reservations and The Layover. But I first became an AB fan when I saw his first TV show on Food Network called A Cook’s Tour. The book of the same name was a follow up of Bourdain’s wildly successful Kitchen ConfidentialThe A Cook’s Tour TV show was born when in addition to an advance from his publisher, Food Network execs threw money into the ring for permission to follow Bourdain around with a camera crew and film his travels. Bourdain reluctantly agreed to allow Food Network do their thing. The first time I saw the show I was hooked. I also bought the book A Cook’s Tour, then I quickly circled back to pick up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. I wanted to read everything Anthony Bourdain wrote, including his first two novels Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. Never before had I read an author’s work that made me chuckle out loud so many times, while opening my eyes to faraway places and different cultures.

Anthony Bourdain made such an impression on me and made me excited to see the world outside of the small town of Franklin, Ohio (my hometown). Even though he was no longer working at Les Halles, I traveled to New York in 2002 to dine at the restaurant. I also tried Dim Sum for the first time in Chinatown (though I skipped the chicken feet that time). I went to Jacques Torres Chocolate. I was all of a sudden a developing (though I loathe the word) “foodie.” I was ready to open my mind to go beyond American staples. I wanted to experience different cuisines and regional specialties, and try dishes you can only get if you go to THAT particular restaurant. Like Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. BEFORE you could order the Devils Food Cheesecake online. 🙂

The New York trip was not just because of Bourdain, but a big thanks to a long-time friend of mine who had moved to New York much earlier and was able to curate the perfect culinary tour for me during my visit. But Bourdain definitely influenced me to try things I would not know if I liked or not.

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
-Anthony Bourdain

After the excitement of the New York trip I was ready to leave Ohio. Or at least travel more, but pretty much that was the beginning of the end for me in Franklin. In 2003, I went to Boston, Washington D.C., and to Honolulu, as well as San Francisco, the Napa Valley, and to the city I would eventually call home: Sacramento.

Sacramento? Hey, it is close to San Francisco and to Napa Valley, two cities I love but could not afford to live in at the time. Not to worry, there would be several jaunts to the City and to Napa or Yountville after I started this blog (formerly at cakegrrl.blogspot.com). There were also restaurants of all cuisines to be found right in Sacramento. I was beyond excited. Right away I found a dim sum place, a Persian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean… I was hungry for it all. I also fell in love with wine around the same time and frequently visited regions like Amador and El Dorado in addition to my beloved Napa to try all the wines I could and then report back on my blog. My life would never be the same again.

And all the while I lived vicariously through THE travel guru, Anthony Bourdain, eventually tuning in to No Reservations in 2005 and sometimes downloading the episodes to watch on my computer in patches when I did not have a TV or cable. I remember thinking, “God this guy is so cool and so funny, down to Earth and no BS–of all celebrities, he’s the one I would like to meet someday.”

In September of 2010, Anthony Bourdain came to Sacramento and I was lucky enough to see his show as a media guest with pretty decent seats. During the show (towards the end) there was a small audience Q & A session, but I felt like I would not even be close to coming up with an interesting (or original) enough question for AB, so I sat cringing and embarrassed for others as they asked some really dumb stuff. I decided that yes, it would be cool to meet him (but not be cool to act like almost everyone else in this auditorium), so I decided I would see him again on TV, and my guest and I left after the show instead of creeping outside the venue. Can you imagine how many people did this to him? Awkward for everyone involved, so no thanks. 🙂

In 2013, local (Sacramento) chef Adam Pechal appeared with Bourdain on The Taste. I’m slightly jealous not only because he has a picture together with him, but because he got to cook for AB. Via Facebook, Pechal is in the process of planning an event to honor Bourdain that will take place closer to the end of summer/beginning of fall and the proceeds will be donated to a charity (most likely a suicide prevention organization). I will definitely share with readers here when I find out full details.

The first time I saw Parts Unknown, I happened to also be traveling. My husband and I were in Carlsbad, California for a race, and I tuned into the show when were came back from dinner that Sunday evening. It was the first episode, and I was eager to see the new show. I didn’t fully understand the concept and I was surprised the show was different and a little darker, as AB began traveling to places that had been/still are going through poverty, war, and overall turbulent times. I confess I had never really given Myanmar a second thought, and never considered Libya on my bucket list of travel destinations. I would occasionally tune in to some episodes that featured places I did want to visit such as Spain and Las Vegas (which is one of my favorite places in the world). I missed a great deal of Parts Unknown throughout its 11 season run, and now thanks to Netflix deciding to keep the show on its roster for the foreseeable future, I can go back and enjoy each one from the beginning (LINK HERE).

I thought Anthony Bourdain would be around forever, and I guess that’s why I am so sad. Half asleep on the morning of June 8th, waking up to turn off my alarm on my iPhone and then peering into it for the latest news. This time it was “RIP Anthony Bourdain.” What? How did this even happen!? How could he do this? What a nightmare. Why? I can’t imagine where he was in his mind at the time, I can only say I am sorry he was feeling insurmountable pain. I am sorry he felt so alone.

Details are still emerging on his death and the toxicology report has come out, but none of the TMZ stories have made me feel any better or more resolved. My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, his coworkers, and anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Bourdain. The world has lost an iconic storyteller, but those close to him have lost a son, a father, a brother, a spouse, a comrade.

The time we have on Earth is so precious and finite. Hug the ones you love tightly and remind them how much they mean to you. Make people feel like they matter, even if it’s your server or your barista. If you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents alive, call him/her/them, you’re probably overdue for a hello. Tonight, Andy and I get to meet some friends for drinks/dinner at a place I haven’t been to in ages, and that makes me so happy. I’m also buying this Zamir Vodka Tshirt for myself so that I too, can spread peace through the message of vodka!

Now I am gonna go watch some more Parts Unknown episodes. I am looking forward to the future and traveling with my husband as much as possible. Besides our annual trip to Mexico, Greece and Spain are definitely getting closer to happening, and thinking about Spanish pintxos makes me giddy. This Tony’s 13 Things I Won’t Leave Home Without made me smile.

Anthony Bourdain, thank you for your contribution to the world. May we all be a little less ignorant about/afraid of people who don’t look or live the same as us.

Photo credit: Travel Channel website, Mozambique journal.


California Hilton Hotels Have the Key to an Unforgettable Summer Escape

Here’s a press release from my friends at Hilton Hotels, California, announcing a special offer for guests this summer!


California Hilton Hotels Have the Key To an Unforgettable Summer Escape

From San Diego to San Francisco, Collectible Hilton Key Card Unlocks Exclusive Experiences and Discounts Throughout the Golden State

CALIFORNIA –  Hilton hotels in California are offering guests the key to splash into summer with the launch of a California Road Trip package, designed to let travelers experience the best of this iconic getaway destination. Travelers who book the California Road Trip package at over 70 participating Hilton hotels will enjoy complimentary breakfast or premium WiFi as well as exclusive discounts to popular attractions they can “unlock” with a collectible key card.

Designed by Kelsey Quitschau, a watercolor artist, each California Road Trip Hilton key card depicts the distinctive destination in a beautiful painting. Guest can collect all four cards as they travel up or down the coast, enjoying endless sunshine, amazing cities, best-in-class beaches and incredible natural beauty of California. These collectible cards can also be used to receive discounts at local dining, entertainment and attractions.

In San Francisco, guests who book the California Road Trip package can benefit from free Bi-Rite ice cream and sandwiches, a complimentary drink at DOUGHP SF, and discounts at the Exploratorium, GoCar and Anchor Steam Brewery. In Los Angeles, receive exclusive offers on the Catalina Express, the Aquarium of the Pacific, The Jazz Bakery and more. In Orange County, guests can enjoy discounts at select retailers in the Anaheim Packing District, The CAMP and Center Street Anaheim. Guests staying in San Diego can explore diverse cultural offerings with exclusive Hilton discounts at over 20 local museums, as well as unlock a complimentary harbor cruise with Flagship Cruises or a discount at Everyday California, offering the “Original La Jolla Kayak Tour.” There are other opportunities to explore exclusive Hilton discounts on unique local experiences throughout the Golden State.

Participating hotels include some of Hilton’s most iconic properties as well as hotels from the company’s upscale brands like Embassy Suites by Hilton and DoubleTree by Hilton and quality, value-driven accommodations like Hampton by Hilton and Homewood Suites by Hilton. Travelers can soak up the sun at Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton, celebrating their 130th anniversary, catch Disneyland’s nightly fireworks at Hilton Anaheim, see and be seen at The Beverly Hilton, and look out onto the Golden Gate Bridge from Hilton San Francisco Union Square.

The California Road Trip package is available for travel between April 23 and September 30, 2018 and can be booked by visiting Travel.Hilton.com/HiltonRoadTrip.

About Hilton
Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company, with a portfolio of 14 world-class brands comprising nearly 5,000 properties with more than 812,000 rooms in 103 countries and territories. Hilton is dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the world’s most hospitable company by delivering exceptional experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time. The company’s portfolio includes Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton and Hilton Grand Vacations. The company also manages an award-winning customer loyalty program, Hilton Honors. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to instant benefits, including a flexible payment slider that allows members to choose exactly how many Points to combine with money, an exclusive member discount that can’t be found anywhere else and free standard Wi-Fi. Visit newsroom.hilton.com for more information and connect with Hilton on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram and YouTube.

 

 

 


Make the Hilton San Francisco Union Square Your Home for the Holidays!

amazing skyline

A few weeks ago, I was planning a business trip to San Francisco, and I did not want to hassle with driving back to Sacramento after dark. The event I was planning and would be working in the city was a catered food and wine event at a major car dealership, and I knew I would be exhausted by the end of the evening. That’s when I decided to stay overnight in San Francisco, preferably close to the dealership.

Lucky for me, I have been and stayed in San Francisco several times and have a bit of a history and relationship with the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. I have been invited to past events, such as the opening of their 46th floor lounge, CityscapeCityscape is located inside tower one of the Hilton (which also happens to be the largest hotel on the West Coast).

The Cityscape has a 360-degree view of San Francisco and beyond. Through it’s 14ft floor-to-ceiling windows, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, Chinatown, AT&T Park, the Marin Headlands, Nob Hill, Oakland, and giant barges on the Bay. Now that Cityscape Lounge is open to the public, it’s at the top of my list for must-see sites in the City. Below is the video I took inside the Cityscape last year. I am using it because the Cityscape was closed (for a private event) the evening I stayed at the Hilton, and I was not able to obtain any new footage. Enjoy!

I connected with the marketing team at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, and they were able to place me in a beautiful tower room with a patio overlooking Union Square. I was happy to be back and able to check in and relax in my room before I headed to the event at the dealership that evening.

Of course the rooms inside the Hilton SF Union Square are spacious, modern, and the beds are beyond comfortable, but it was the new amenities since my last stay that were really impressive. First, there is a touch pad tablet in the rooms that is personalized to each guest. You can basically explore the entire city and find things to do during your time in San Francisco. There are recommended activities and restaurants, and you can see several menus to check out exactly what a certain restaurant offers before you make a reservation.

tablet

Not only can you become a San Francisco travel expert from your room, you can also workout at any time of day or night (with just a swipe of your hotel key) in the newly-renovated fitness center on the bottom floor of tower one. It’s a 2,800 square feet Precor®-equipped fitness area with a Cardio Theatre personal viewing system, ellipticals, treadmills, and free weights. There is also a towel and water station so you can stay fully hydrated during your workout. I really enjoyed being able to tune into Food Network and watch live time as I put in seven miles on the treadmill, and I can proudly say I didn’t miss my gym in Sacramento the slightest! Can I move in with you, Hilton San Francisco Union Square? 😉

front of gym

 

gym 1

gym 2

gym 3

 

sauv blanc

There are refrigerators in the rooms, and you can purchase wine and snacks (like the ones below) at the lobby café/store (Herb N’ Kitchen, click for menu). I also tried the Turkey Cobb Salad for dinner that evening, and it was very satisfying.

If you are looking for more of a full service experience, you can head over to Urban Tavern which features a full menu of locally-inspired cuisine (click here for menu), and highlights 50 wines within 50 miles, Bay Area beers and indigenous spirits. I dined there during my last stay, and here are some photos of the delightful dishes Andy and I sampled!

Here’s the part where I post a bunch of pictures I took from my 44th floor room 🙂

skyline 2

 

skyline 3

skyline 5

IMG_2404

tree in hotel

This is the most wonderful time of year to stay at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. The lobby is fully decorated with Christmas trees, just like the one above on the main floor of tower one.

poached

breakfast two

breakfast one

After my workout, I enjoyed the breakfast buffet at Poached, (click here for PDF menu), located on the lobby level of the Hilton. Below is a You Tube video of items available (everything!) on the buffet. I was really impressed by the Congee bar with several toppings, as well as the availability of healthy items. (There’s also lots of pastry, cereal, bread, bagels, too, if that’s your thing.)

union square

Things to do this season!
There are lots of activities for the whole family during the holiday season, and the Hilton San Francisco Union Square welcomes you during this festive time of year. As you can see in the photo above, Union Square is fully decked out with lights and a Christmas tree, and they have their Holiday Ice Rink open for business! There’s even a package rate that includes accommodations, 2 ice rink tickets, and a Bloomingdale’s 15% savings certificate! Follow this link for full details/to take advantage of this offer!

A Charlie Brown Christmas LIVE!
A Charlie Brown Christmas—LIVE!
 at Davies Symphony Hall is an experience you won’t want to miss. The performance begins with a reception in the lobby, so make sure to arrive early. The lobby will be filled with festive decorations and activities, including gigantic Christmas trees and special Peanuts décor. There will be several performances beginning this Thursday, Dec 21st and running until December 24th, 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

A Christmas Carol
Over at the American Conservatory Theatre, you can enjoy a performance of A Christmas Carol. Performances run Wednesday, Dec 21st-Sunday Dec. 24th at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street. For more information, click here.

A New Year’s Event with Seth McFarlane and the San Francisco Symphony
Sunday, December 31st, at 8:00pm, Davies Symphony Hall
Celebrate in timeless style with Academy and Grammy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, actor, producer, and director Seth MacFarlane, who brings a winning combination of rich crooning and cool pizazz that would do Frank and Dino proud. Watch him light up the stage with the San Francisco Symphony in a dazzling concert of finger-snapping jazz standards and holiday favorites conducted by Edwin Outwater. For tickets click here.

door

parking

Another amenity I found impressive is the valet parking service. As you are checking out, you can text the code (ten minutes before you are ready to leave) on your valet ticket to the valet number (see above) and they will fetch your vehicle for you so you don’t have to wait for it.

With its state-of-the-art amenities and breathtaking views, it’s no wonder the Hilton San Francisco Union Square is my go-to place to stay in the City.

Cityscape Lounge is open seven days a week from 5pm-Midnight. You can find the Hilton San Francisco Union Square on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter here. Tag them on social media with #hiltonfunionsq. Much thanks to the marketing team at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square for your hospitality. I’ll be back soon!

*I was given a one night stay, breakfast, and parking in exchange for this informative blog post.


We’re Married! (Part One)


I feel slightly guilty about not writing anything for this website since November. To be honest, there wasn’t much to write about over the holidays, and pitches in my inbox have not been very interesting or have not been a good fit. So I decided to come back with something very personal which I would enjoy writing about and definitely love reading many times over the years. Please indulge me as I recall the most perfect weekend of my life (so far), March 17-20th, 2017, our trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Andy and I got married.

We flew out on St. Patrick’s Day (Friday) on Southwest Airlines directly to Las Vegas from Sacramento, which is probably one of the easiest and shortest flights in existence. I ran 10 miles that morning (it was weigh-in day) and I was doing everything I could do look good for the ceremony (planned for Sunday), so I didn’t have the free cocktail offered to us on the plane (it was only about 3:30 when we took off, and a little early for me anyway).

Thanks to a late(r) check-in, we didn’t get to sit together––Andy was sitting directly in front of me––and I was sandwiched in between two guys in their twenties, passing the time by doing a crossword puzzle (which is one of my go-to things to do to occupy myself on an airplane). People are so weird with their window/aisle seat obsessions. I was admittedly overly annoyed with having to sit between two “bros” and not be able to sit beside Andy. It’s just that I love our time together and know that it’s finite. I already don’t spend enough time with him because we both work so much. I love the person he is while we are on vacation. Andy really likes to have fun when it’s time to have fun. I love that about him. I love sitting beside him and looking over at his profile and his face and I love holding his hand. I love it that he kind of ribs me about stuff. But, I love that he makes me laugh sometimes when I least expect it.

Anyway, I just sat there in my seat and prayed that the flight would be done soon and that my wedding dress (which I had checked in the larger of the two suitcases we checked) would arrive with me along with my designer dress I rented and all of my cosmetics and skincare products. See, it takes a lot to make me look like a girl…I mean, Industrial Light and Magic would shudder at the job. I was on the verge of hiring a team for hair and makeup for this trip, but ultimately I decided I had enough faith in my own skills.

We landed soon, and I was reunited with Andy. We were able to find our luggage right away and get the rental car fairly quickly. Our trip to Las Vegas was a package deal with flight, hotel and rental car all rolled into one cost. I think it was around $1500. I tell you that only because I want to look back ten years from now and laugh/cry about how affordable this trip was.

Our hotel reservation was for the SLS Hotel and Casino, mainly because we wanted to see a show at the same hotel on the next evening. And not just any show, but Saturday Night Live alumni Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. We figured it would be so great to have dinner at our hotel, then walk across the casino into the nightclub to see two of our favorite comedians, and then be able to walk back to the elevator to head up to our room. We stayed on the 19th floor, room #311933.

We checked in around 5:30 or 6:00, and huddled on where we might go to dinner. The only criteria I had was that I wanted to eat at a celebrity chef-owned restaurant (that night). We had already made plans for Saturday and Sunday night dinner destinations, so this was the only night we weren’t sure where we would end up. We decided to try Guy Fieri’s Las Vegas Kitchen and Bar at the LINQ. Aaaand cue the food and beverage pics!! 🙂

We arrived at the restaurant around 7:30-7:45, and there was probably a 30 minute wait. We really didn’t give a damn. We were both so happy to be in Las Vegas and all checked into our hotel, and to be at Guy Fieri’s restaurant.

To all the Guy Fieri haters, I don’t know what you’re mad about. Maybe you’re just extremely jealous. For me, I find Guy Fieri’s story extremely fascinating. Andy and his mother actually met him during the Tex Wasabi days in Sacramento. I saw him live at a food and wine festival and thought he was very entertaining. I am not sure what all the negativity is about. At the bar, we were actually excited to wait for a table amidst all the St. Patrick’s Day partying and shenanigans of others (which were actually entertaining to watch, as we could see a lot of people were having bachelor/bachelorette parties). While we waited for a table, I had a vodka and diet coke (came with one of those giant ice cubes I like), and Andy had a white wine blend.

We were seated fairly quickly and again, I just remember being so excited about the weekend to come (and all the food and beverages, OK, that, too)! We decided that we would order the Triple T Fries (because I am obsessed with Truffle flavored anything). The description on the menu is as follows: Julienned-cut fries tossed with black truffle & truffle infused gouda, served with a creamy white truffle dip.


For my entrée, I ordered the Italian Deli Salad (crown of prosciutto-wrapped smoked provolone, imported Italian meats and cheeses, romaine lettuce, olives and pickled Italian veggies with chicken breast added). The prosciutto was the largest piece I have ever seen and very thick. I thought I was taking the light way out by getting a salad, but I can imagine Guy himself laughing in my face at my attempt.

Andy ordered the Flat Iron Steak and Smashed Potatoes (8 oz. prime flat iron steak, seared and sliced with garlic smashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, onion straws and chimichurri sauce).


And to pair with our meal, we ordered a Red Wine Blend by Hunt and Ryde Winery, produced by Guy Fieri and named after his sons, Hunter and Ryder.

We had to call it a night fairly early because we had business to take care of the next day (workout, wedding license, tuxedo rental) before dinner and the show we had come to Las Vegas to see: Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz: Reunited, so we headed back to the SLS Hotel immediately after dinner.

The next day, we were off to the Clark County Courthouse to get our marriage license. And that’s where I will pick up with Part Two of We’re Married!


Exploring Russian River Wineries and a Stay at the Applewood Inn


Paleo Dining: Speak up! Ask questions! Take charge!

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Dining out can be a little tricky on the Paleo diet. Standard restaurant menus are a gauntlet of gluten, sugar, and dairy laden dishes, not to mention the cheap seed oils that are used to prepare them.

The above slide show is from a restaurant at which my Paleo partner and I dined called Coyote Bar & Grill.

In the title I say, “Speak up!” because in order to stick to the principles of a gluten-free, sugar-free diet, you are often times going to find yourself in need of certain menu substitutions to make restaurant meals work best for you. And THAT IS OK! You are the customer, and you are paying for your meal. You should enjoy it and not fret about what the server or the chef will think of you if you ask for something special.

Of course, substitutions and modifications might not work so much in a chain restaurant (especially fast food) because food is not made to order), but typically most restaurants are glad to accommodate a customer with special dietary needs. Especially if they ever want to see that customer ever again.

When we dined at Coyote, we were very hungry from running in the Carlsbad 5000 5K race. Directly after the race, my boyfriend had conquered a half chicken at Pollos Maria, but it was 4 hours later, and his appetite had come back with a vengeance. And I was ready to eat, too, after running harder than I ever have in my entire life.

For our appetizer, we ordered the “Guacamole Especial”, which on the menu is listed as “homemade guac, cheese, salsa fresca, tortilla chips”. All I had to do was ask if they could substitute some sort of raw vegetable for the tortilla chips, and please leave off the cheese. They were very agreeable and the BF and I were able to enjoy a perfectly Paleo prelude to our entrees. 🙂

For my main course, I ordered the Grilled Seafood Salad: Grilled scallops, prawns, fresh fish, mixed greens, Feta cheese, tomato, baby corn & Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette. To make it Paleo, all I had to do was ask the server to leave off the dressing, and I picked around the cheese and the baby corn. Everything else was perfect!

BF ordered the Grilled Salmon and asked for double grilled vegetables instead of the wild rice. The dinner also came with a mixed greens salad. We also ordered 4 shrimp skewers ala carte. After my salad, I could only eat one of them. I also wanted to note that instead of dressing, I often mix in guacamole into my greens. That way I avoid sugars and soy oil blends (often GMOs) that are notorious ingredients in salad dressings (even house made ones).

So, remember when you go out to eat, you’re in the driver’s seat. You can choose where to go and several details about your meal (in many cases down to how it is prepared). Don’t worry about being a pain if you ask for something that’s not exactly spelled out on the menu. Ask how things are prepared and stay away from adjectives like “breaded, fried”. Words such as “grilled, raw, steamed” are your new best friends!

Happy dining to all my Paleo friends out there!

PS: If you have any Paleo/Primal dining tips/tricks please feel free to share them below! 🙂


Ukiah Super 8: Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Dear Readers, 
Sorry about the lack of posting. I have been a very busy girl lately. I am currently working three part-time jobs, and between those and keeping a steady fitness routine, that gives me little time to devote to writing.
But, while I have a moment to spare, I wanted to let you know about some events happening in Mendocino and Ukiah during the month of March, and a great place to stay while you are there.
Last month, I was hosted by the Super 8 in Ukiah while my boyfriend and I attended the latter weekend of Mendocino Crab and Wine Days (an annual Mendocino two-weekend long festival featuring a series of events including a cioppino feed we attended at Barra of Mendocino Wines), and tried a restaurant in downtown Ukiah called Patrona.

What is so special about Super 8 Ukiah and why did I title this post the way that I did? These awards on the wall begin to paint the picture. Super 8 Ukiah uses modern techniques of being nature friendly by using recyclable papers to for cleaning, electrically economical lights, healthy practices of waste and resource management. They also offer complimentary electrical vehicle charging for hotel guests.
You can find the Super 8 Ukiah on this list of Eco Green Hotels. They are a member of the Green Hotels Association, and here is the audit information on everything they do to maintain their unique environmental status.
You can read more about their environmental efforts and practices and what they do to maintain the awards bestowed on them here on their blog.
Car charging station.

Watching Ocean’s Eleven (a treat because I don’t have a tv at home) from the comfy bed and snacking on dates, almonds, and strawberries. 🙂

This is the breakfast nook area in the check-in lobby where complimentary breakfast is served every morning from 6:00am-9:30am.

Room 224 where we stayed. 🙂

You can find Super 8 Ukiah on Facebook here and on twitter here.

March 3-4, 2012: Mendocino Village Whale Festival
The 30th Annual Mendocino Whale Festival will see the area’s top chefs serve up their takes on New England clam chowder, as well as Mendocino County wineries pouring their unique vintages for tasting at historic Mendocino Village shops, galleries and inns.

March 10-11, 2012: Little River Whale Festival
During the 3rd Annual Little River Whale Festival, visitors will savor bites from the kitchens of the town’s noted chefs, sip wines from Mendocino County vintners, get their art and adventure passport stamped for the chance to win a fabulous prize, take a history or a whale watching walk, go on an artist studio tour, sit down to a fireside talk with local historians, or take advantage of a “Whale of a Sale” at various Little River inns (stay two nights, get the third free).The Festival benefits the Mendocino Area Parks Association (MAPA) and the jewel of Little River, Van Damme State Park.

March 17-18, 2012: Fort Bragg Whale Festival
The festivities are endless at the 30th Annual Fort Bragg Whale Festival, which features flavorful microbrew beer, chowder and wine tastings for adults and arts and crafts fair and “sea-life” kiddie parade for children. The Whale Run and Walk, Whale Cruises out of Noyo Harbor, Whale-Watching Excursions on Horseback and more round out the weekend of whale-tastic fun for all.

Other March Mendocino Events

March 3rd-4th
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Whale Watching – 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, free, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse in Mendocino, 800.262.7801 www.pointcabrillo.org

March 3rd
Mendocino Whale Festival Concert: An Evening of Wood and Steel – 8:00 pm, $20 in advance & $25 at the door, Crown Hall in Mendocino, 800.585.0095

March 10th
Pt. Arena Crafts Show and Bazaar – 9:00 am, free, Point Arena City Hall in Point Arena. For more information call 707.785.3538

March 10th
Second Saturday Wine and Food Tasting – 9:00 am, free, Milano Winery, 707.744.1396.

Mendocino Stories and Music Series “Braet and Brown Jazz Duo”: 7:30 pm, $10 to $15 per person, Hill House in Mendocino, 866.937.1732.

The Unauthorized Rolling Stones – 8:00 pm, $18 adults/$10 youth, Arena Theater in Point Arena, 707.882.3272.

March 12th
Dahlia Tuber Sale– 9:00 am, free, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg,707.964.4352 www.gardenbythesea.org

March 17th-18th Saint Patrick’s Day Sale and Wine Tasting: 10:00 am, free, Milano Winery in Hopland,707.744.1396.

March 24th Mendocino Stories and Music Series “Mendo Bobfest” – 7:30 pm, $15 in advance/$20 at the door, Hill House Inn in Mendocino, 707.937.1732.

March 25th Orixa-Inspired Dance Workshop – 1:00 pm, $20, Mendocino Ballet Company in Ukiah, 707.468.5338

March 30th Mendocino Stories and Music Series “Hit and Run Theater Improv Comedy” – 7:30 pm, $10 to $15, Hill House Inn in Mendocino, 707.937.1732www.mendocinostories.com

March 31st – April 1st Learn to Kayak Weekend – 9:00 am, $160 to $200 per person, Liquid Fusion Kayaking in Fort Bragg, 707.962.1623 www.liquidfusionkayak.com

Ongoing Events throughout March
Mendocino Art Center’s Marine Wildlife Show– Free, Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Mendocino Art Center in Mendocino, 707.937.5818.

“Introductions”: Devore, O’Feral, Sandberg and Lawrence – Free, Open Thursday thru Monday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Partners Gallery in Fort Bragg, 707.962.0233

Whale Graphite Objects by Agelio Batle – Free, Open Friday – Monday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, Studio 391 in Point Arena, 707.884.9065

Taco Thursday – Prices vary, Mendocino Hotel in Mendocino, 707.937.0511

Farmers Markets – Free to the public. Visit www.mcfarm.org for city locations, dates and times.

Wine Pairing Host-Table Dinner– 6:00 pm, Sunday, Monday and Saturday, $90 pp w/wine pairing or $65 for non-drinkers, Glendeven Inn in Little River, 707.937.0083.

Sunday Brunch – Every Sunday starting at 8:00 am, prices vary, Mendocino Hotel in Mendocino, 707.937.0511.


Hyatt Renovation Celebration


So, if you haven’t been to the Hyatt Regency Sacramento recently, you must swing by and take a peek!

A little party was held there last night to celebrate the newly renovated lobby, lounge, Vines Restaurant, second floor meeting space, 12th floor suite and the amazing 360 degree view of the 15th floor Capitol View Room. I felt like one of the luckiest girls in the world–sipping wine at the top of the Hyatt with my sweetie, and taking in the absolute best view in town of Sacramento and the State Capitol.

Me and my date! 🙂

The Hyatt Sacramento applied for and received a Hyatt Community Grant
which nominates and honors local non-profit organizations for funding
built around the Hyatt’s philanthropic pillars–Environmental
sustainability, education and personal advancement, economic development
and investment or health and wellness. Hyatt Sacramento is one of only
27 Hyatt properties worldwide to be recognized to receive a grant. Their
nominated non-profit organization, the Stanford Settlement Neighborhood
Center received this honor and a $15,000 check at the event. KCRA’s footage of the new space is here.


Another reason to check out the Hyatt? It’s Dine Downtown week through January 18th, and Dawson’s Restaurant is one of the participating restaurants. You can check out their menu here, and make a reservation on Open Table here.

Built in 1988, the Hyatt Regency Sacramento was considered a key pillar in the redevelopment of the central downtown business community and a vital part of the future of Sacramento’s tourism industry.

You can like the Hyatt Regency on Facebook here and follow them on twitter here.

Pictures of guests were taken by Tia Gemmell. You can see her full set of photos here.
Snaps of the view from the top were taken with my iPhone.


Seattle’s Historic Mayflower Park Hotel

Ah Seattle. Good times. We’ll definitely be back. And most likely, we’ll again stay at The Mayflower Park Hotel, a 75 year-old gem in uptown Seattle.
The hotel began as the Bergonian Hotel on July 16th, 1927 and has been in constant operation ever since. It was designed by B. Dudley Stuart and cost $750,000 to build. The name “Bergonian” came from the hotel’s then proprietor, Stephen Berg, who was a prominent builder at the time. 
Opening prices for rooms at the hotel ranged from $2.00 to $3.50 for one person and $3.00 to $4.50 for 2 persons. Rooms with twin beds were $4.00 to $5.50 and suites were $5.00 to $10.00 per night.
Here’s a picture of the lobby and reception desk inside the hotel, which has been restored with crystal chandeliers, brass and period
antiques.
In 1974, Birney Dempcy formed a limited partnership to purchase the hotel. At the time, it had been foreclosed upon and was very run down. Birney renamed the hotel The Mayflower Park awaiting the development of the city’s Westlake Park.
Following major renovations in 1976 and 1988, the Mayflower Park is always being upgraded and refurbished to keep it as beautiful as it was when it opened in 1927. Recently, the hotel was recognized as one of the Historic Hotels of America because of it’s history and architecture. The Mayflower Park prides itself on being “quite simply, one of a kind” which has become their marketing slogan.
Their logo and marketing pieces are quite beautiful, and here is the
little welcome present that was waiting for me in the room.
Tea, fruit and nut mix, and chocolate truffles were in the bag.
Our room was so comfortable, had 2 televisions, and had the option of converting into two rooms by a sliding door. The couch in our suite’s main room could be pulled out for extra guests.

We stayed on the ninth floor, and it provided a fantastic

view of holiday lights and activities going on below us.

 

One amenity I always look for in a hotel is the fitness room. And Mayflower Park’s is located on the third floor. It is equipped with 2 treadmills, a stairclimber, and 2 stationary bikes, as well as a set of free weights I found very useful. The BF would run outside and I would retreat to the workout room so that later in the day we were free to enjoy our meals at Andaluca, Place Pigalle, and Fall Line Winery.

Here’s another shot of the lobby. There was a Christmas party
in the room upstairs on one of the evenings of our stay.

This is inside Oliver’s, the bar in The Mayflower Park. The spot used to be one of the first Bartell Drug Stores, since the hotel was built during Prohibition and no areas were designated to serve alcohol. The dining area of the hotel was a coffee shop located where Andaluca is now, and in part of that area, Andaluca once lived as a barber shop. Prices in the 54-seat coffee shop ranged from 10 cents for coffee, to 20 cents for chicken broth, and $2.00 for a sirloin steak. Oliver’s (shown below), opened in 1976 and became Washington’s first “daylight” bar. Prior to that, Washington had “blue laws” that prohibited anyone from looking into a lounge where hard liquor was sold.

The huge windows and lights outside made it such a romantic place to be.
Here’s another shot from where I was sitting.

Oliver’s features a special cocktail called The Golden 27, honoring the year the hotel originally opened as the Bergonian. Here’s the recipe:

Golden 27

Half fill a mixing glass with ice, then add 1/4 oz. Lemoncello Lemon Liqueur, 1 1/4 oz. Ketel One Vodka, 1 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin, and a pinch of Gold Luster Dust. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Following dinner on one of the nights of our stay, we had dessert in our room. I found just what I needed on the room service menu… my favorite: fruit and cheese!!
So many happy memories and so much fun in Seattle. Thank you to all my advertising partners!

If you are planning a visit to Seattle, please consider the Mayflower Park hotel. They’ve got a few ongoing specials including one for New Years and in 2012, they are teaming up with the Seattle Art Museum during their showcase of Paul Gauguin.

You can find The Mayflower Park Hotel on twitter here and their Facebook page is here.


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