Wined and Dined…

I recently returned from a way too short visit to Napa Valley in which I immediately learned – or rather confirmed – two things about myself:

1) I love wine.  Not just in a superficial “I like getting a buzz on” way but in a much deeper way.  I love the smell.  I love the way holding a wine glass feels in my hands.  I love the intimacy of sharing a glass of wine with people I care about. I love the atmosphere of wine bars. I love spending a glorious sunny day at a vineyard touring and tasting.  Oh and coincidentally, I also love cheese, chocolate, pasta, steak and pizza, all of which go amazingly well with wine. (You think I’m kidding about the pizza but there’s nothing better than some Pinot Noir and a pizza topped with mushrooms and green peppers…) There’s   also just something awesome and calming about nearly everyone I’ve ever met who works in the food and wine industry. They all seem so relaxed and happy. They take pleasure in the simple things in life as well as the finer ones. They take time to stop and smell the roses so to speak.  I’ve begun to start channeling my inner “tasting room liaison” whenever I’m super stressed out and have been reminding myself daily to not take everything so damn seriously all the time. And yes, that’s an actual title of one of the awesome fellows at Flora Springs Winery.

2) Being outside instantly improves my mood.  So yeah, I should probably do that more often. I already knew I was a certified beach-lover for life but I’ve expanded my outdoor obsession to now include, mountains, valleys, pretty much any area of picturesque landscape, nature-y smells and sunshine will do in fact.

In case you’re planning a trip to Napa Valley yourself (and I bet you will be after reading this), here are some AllieZog endorsed “Napa in a Day” recommendations:

Ehlers Estate for some classy tastings with a majestic setting and expert staff.

Robert Mondavi for the views and to say you’ve been there.

Flora Springs Winery and Vineyard for their cool tasting room, outdoor patio/deck area and fun social media savvy staff!

Ad Hoc for dinner. It’s a Thomas Keller restaurant which admittedly meant little to me before, but once I was briefed on his other restaurants I was all “ohhh fancy.” It was pretty amazing in all seriousness.  The chef sets a 4 course menu each night and they are very accommodating to food allergies and vegetarians etc.  They had a cheese course.  A whole course dedicated to cheese!  This course came between dinner and giant family style ice cream sundaes.  Also, they made cauliflower taste not just ok, not just good but actually delicious – and twice!  Once in a tiny little cup of creamy cauliflower soup and once as a grilled entrée.  There was also pork belly, veal, polenta, and a famous fried chicken which unfortunately wasn’t on our menu that night. Are you salivating yet?

Until I can return to wine country for an extended stay, please enjoy my photos and have a glass of wine for me tonight friends!

Miami – Let’s Recap…

This past week my very generous bosses took our entire company to Miami for a few days for a work retreat.  It was a great time and left us all focused and excited for the future – but that’s not what this blog is about!  Let’s get to the good stuff – since I’ve never been to Miami before – and as you know by now I live for beaches – below is a review of how Miami as a beach town stacks up against some of my favorites (current favorites include Newport, RI; Montauk, NY;  San Diego, CA; and Block Island.) Note, we stayed at the Clevelander in South Beach on Ocean Drive so this review is for that area only!

Actual beach – very nice!  I’d give it 4 umbrellas out of a possible 5. (editors note, this is a patent-pending rating system for beaches everywhere.  5 umbrellas means the absolute bluest water, the whitest softest sand, easy accessibility and availability of amenities such as beach chairs, food and drink.)

Restaurants/bars – there were many – and we didn’t sample enough for me to give an official rating here.  The places I did eat had good food and drinks aplenty so no complaints there. One random thing about the restaurants at least right along Ocean Drive was there aggressive tactics to lure you in by way of their “5 dollar breakfast special” or “happy hour 2 for 1’s.”  Pretty much cafe along Ocean Drive had a barely dress hostess  shoving a card in your face and saying something to the effect of “join us for lunch?”  Also worth noting is that every place pretty much had the same special, making it errrr – not so special!

Pools – don’t get me started on this one!  Apparently in South Beach, pools aren’t meant for swimming but rather are there to serve as a tempting tease of cool refreshment that often times you are literally not allowed to go into.  I envisioned the pool area of our hotel (which was heavily promoted on the hotel’s website) to be a sprawling oasis of cool water fun. I even penciled in “lounging by the pool” as a group activity for our team.  Little did I know that the “pool” (and that’s using the word loosely) was roughly the size of an oversized bathtub and partially covered by a makeshift dance floor (very safe).  Because of this, you actually weren’t allowed to swim in it even if you could find a little corner to dip into (which didn’t exactly stop my group, but I digress…).

Town – Among the pluses was easy to walk to lots of stuff, easy to get cabs to further areas, plenty of restaurants, bars and stores and palm trees and ocean views made for a nice area to stroll.  My favorite time of day for “exploring” the town based on the 3 days I was there was roughly 8am on a weekday.  At that time, the town was quiet and all the Miami meatballs (we’ll get to them later) were definitely not awake yet.  The only people up were the pleasant locals serving up coffee and breakfast (for a cute local coffee shop check out Pinocchio cafe just off Ocean Drive for homemade pastries and a friendly Italian owner).  Among the minuses was a lack of unique shops (most shops were chain stores or cheesy souvenir shops) and the lack of a good old-fashioned ice cream parlor (a MUST in any beach town if you ask me).  Luckily we were able to satisfy our ice-cream craving with some surprisingly delicious Gelato from Lecca Lecca cafe.  Not familiar?  It’s the same place Snooki and friends works on the Jersey Shore’s Miami season.  Nuf said.

People/Scene – Now here’s where South Beach just can’t stack up to my most beloved beach towns.  Without stereo-typing, the crowd that frequents SoBe is for the most part…how should I say this…ummm, not my type.  Some (ok a lot) of them could have very easily been a castmate on the Jersey Shore.  The general vibe of Miami was not laid back like other beach towns but actually pretty fast-paced with a big focus on drinking giant margaritas the size of your head (literally) often with two Coronas as “garnish.” The bar scene echoed this same sentiment with most drinking establishments being fist pumping dance clubs.  My perfect bar (especially in a beach town) encourages drinking while comfortably seated in a booth, on a bar stool or better yet on a comfy outdoor couch on a patio (this is due largely to my recent revelation that I am in fact, a TERRIBLE dancer and being 30 comes with the added bonus that I no longer have to pretend I’m good or even dance at all if I chose not to).  My perfect bar also ideally has a juke-box packed with country music, oldies and other fun hits to sing along too.  A live band or opportunity for karaoke is equally acceptable.

Cool Activity Alert – Miami is a really beautiful place from a scenery standpoint. Clean, blue-green waters, pretty art deco style buildings and palm trees and waterways galore. It’s actually a pretty large city and there is much more to it than just the South Beach strip area.  We were able to see a good chunk of it on our way to and from the brand new Marlins stadium (awesome) and then going on a boat tour around Miami and particularly Star Island.  We took a Thriller Miami Speedboat tour and I’d highly recommend for a pure adrenaline rush and for some celeb mansion scoping.

As a whole, I’d give Miami 3 our 5 umbrellas.  A nice place to visit with some beautiful beaches but not going to creep into my top 5 any time soon!

I’m curious, what are your thoughts on Miami?  Is it one of your favorite vacation spots and if not, what beach towns are?

(Note – I wrote this post from an airplane but I will add photos to it soon!)

Back from Vacay…

I’m back! Back from a week of relaxation in the mountains of Arizona, where my biggest concern was how I wanted my eggs prepared each morning and whether I would prefer to ride bikes, go sightseeing, do something “sporty” or just lounge on the patio reading my new Kindle all day. It was a lot a different from life in the big city so for that reason, it was truly a vacation.

That being said, I realized the beauty of vacations – they are an escape from your normal everyday life and are meant to be temporary. When I lived in Newport, RI people used to tell me my life was like a permanent vacation (which was kinda true) but that got me thinking…what’s so wrong with that??

I think you can determine where your truly meant to live by where you’d vacation if money were no object. My vacation destination preference always, always, always would be a beach. It could be argued that if I lived by a beach I might choose to explore big metropolis’ or jungles or deserts on my vacations – not true. When I lived ON a beach, I still vacationed to other beaches. To me, beaches are like snowflakes in that no two are exactly alike. I dream about experiencing new beaches and beach towns and comparing them all one-day in some giant interactive info-graphic… (the nerd in me speaks)

Sure I want to see other cities (London, Paris, Sydney and Rio De Janiero top my international list), sure I love escaping to some fresh country or mountain air and there are definitely a few non-beach places on my list of must-go’s (Alaska and Central America’s rain forest region to name a few) but my ultimate win vacation destination is beach.

I understand why living at the beach may not be the most practical. I get why people flock to big cities. I obviously appreciate how “lucky” I am to live and work here. I just think that people who do live here aren’t always outwardly honest about how it really is (unless their rich, then yeah, their life probably rocks). If you’re like me and don’t have a trust fund, a rent-controlled apartment or a driver, then you probably do that thing NY’ers do where you convince yourself that your life is really awesome and it’s totally normal to spend $2000 plus a month to live in a glorified closet because yeah, you can tell all your friends that you live in “the city” (because to NY’ers there is only one!). <– *Editor’s note – I sometimes do this too…

I know how after a glorious NYC filled weekend of brunching and central parking and frolicking or even an excitement-filled weeknight adventure (complete with bar-hopping and bomb scares on a Tuesday night) you start to feel that “I love it here and could never live anywhere else” feeling. Despite all my whining on this blog, I’ve felt it often – I promise! My one difference is when I leave the city I am not filled with that “omg I miss it and need to go back” feeling that I hear others are (or claim to be). I am more often than not thinking how I could be happy in X-place and how if I lived in X-place I’d probably be able to have all the things I dream about but can’t afford in NY (little things like…say…a closet, or outdoor space, or somewhere to store my beach chair…)

So what do you think folks, is life meant to be a beach or should I stick it out in NYC just a little bit longer? Comments please!


An escape…

Rich greens, deep blues birds chirping and ocean breezes-things I rarely (ok never) see from the confines of my 15th floor NYC apartment were all just part of the norm at a place I like to call paradise. Nope, not the Carribean or even Hawaii, my slice of heaven can be found in the wonderful little state of RI, and most recently on Block Island, RI.

Life in RI is so simple and peaceful and when my boyfriend and I recently visited ‘the Block” we honestly felt like we were on some fantasy island. People were friendly and said hello as they passed you by, cab drivers were jovial and helpful and chatty in the good way not the-I’m on my phone speaking erraticly in a foreign language-way. Ironically both cab drivers that we had while visiting (you only needed a cab to and from the ferry, the rest of the time you strolled or rode a bike-ahh sighhhh) were people that lived on Block Island year-round and loved the peaceful picture perfect setting. One guy told us he came for a job as teacher and never left. At this point I was convinced that I should cancel my return trip and apply for a job at the Block Island Times but my cab driver just laughed and agreed that they “probably didn’t pay much.”
After a lovely and relaxing trip of seafood, beaches, coronas, moped-riding and pretty sunsets, we headed back to NY and I found myself wondering “Am I really a city girl, or do I belong in a tiny little beach town?” I’m constantly torn between the desire to be really successful in my career which probably requires at least a few years in a big city and the desire to live in a quaint town near the beach. Unfortunately I’m not sure there’s much of a market for a Social Media Marketer, blogger or otherwise-at least on Block Island. In fact, I kinda got the feeling that if I tried to explain what I did to any of the locals, they’d be confused in the way that my 80-year grandmother is.
For now, I’m back to city-girl Allie, but I can’t wait for my next vacation! I highly recommend a visit to Block Island for anyone looking for a relaxing and perfect little beach getaway in the Northeast.