Sunday, March 30, 2008

The WESTIN just smells good






I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to get a new blog up here. My travel has been crazy again and sometimes... I think I just need a break from it. Then, I get to the airport and take my shoes off for security... and I love it again. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the TSA.

Anyway, after breathing in asbestos in Philly and that weird airport.. I found myself in Atlanta. Hartsfield can be a real pain in the a$$, but it was a welcome pain after the agony of Philly. For gods sake, they have a Starbucks! Brilliant!

After picking up a rental, we made our way to our hotel: The Westin in Buckhead. I nearly teared up when I walked into the place. It was big and sleek and I could just feel the service permeating from the reception desk. Ahh.. .this was more like it.

As you may or may not remember, the last time I was in Atlanta I was transported to Piedmont Hospital with a stomach flu. I was not thrilled about coming back to this town... but, I was determined to get in and out of this city with my health. So, I took all of the necessary precautions... no Ritz Carlton, no red wine, bottled water only... check, check, check.

So, the Westin. I was so looking forward to her. I checked in and the gentleman at the desk introduced himself as Patrick and he promised to put me in a nice room. He did... he gave me a corner suite on the 4th floor and it was yummy after that wreck the night before. What really stood out for me when I was waiting for the elevators was that this place smelled really good. It was a sweet smell... maybe jasmine? I was not sure... but, it just made my entire life relax. I also loved that while the lobby was very sleek and modern with lots of glass and black lacquer... it also had enormous vases of amazing flowers. There were hyacinth and Lillis and the most amazing orchids. I guess you really notice these differences when you stay in a "budget" hotel one night and a "higher end" hotel the next. BUT... here's the kicker... this hotel was $48 cheaper per night than the Embassy Suites in Philly! Its true... I paid $239 per night in Philly and my rate at the Westin... $191!! Here's the tip... ALWAYS call the hotel directly for better rates! Front desk managers can see with a click of their mouse how full the property is and can almost always work with you on rates! It is definitely worth your time!

The next morning, I met my ex-brother in law (yes... follow it now... He is my sister's ex-husband) for breakfast. And you ask why... well, he and I practically grew up together. I think he and my sister started dating when she was 16 and I was 13... so, he was there through my first years in high school on Long Island and that is a lot to ask of anyone. I had big hair, a red camaro and a big mouth. Now, to be fair... let's just say that he screwed up his marriage to my sister. (He's a subscriber... so, I'll keep this nice)AND, nobody would ever blame me for hating the sound of his name for the rest of my life. But, if you know me... you also know that I am a firm believer in never holding a grudge. My motto is that life is way to short... and not worth the agony of trying to remember why you are mad at someone. So, forgiven... but, not truly forgotten. Right? (Unless you are LC on The Hills when she told Heidi... I want to forgive you and I want to forget you. - Might be one of the single best lines in all of TV.)

After breakfast, I made my way back to the hotel and jumped in a cab to head back to the airport for my flight back to DC. It was great to come home on a Friday afternoon knowing that I had a whole two days before I had to pack again. That night I received a call from my sister telling me that I was lucky to have gotten out of ATL that morning. She told me that a freak tornado ripped through downtown and some of the windows of that sweet smelling hotel were blown out. How incredibly lucky was I to get out of there before a big storm!!?? And from what I could tell from the news reports... no injuries on the ground. Amazing.. but, so frightening.

On Monday of the following week I found myself back at National Airport heading up to New York for an overnight. I decided to try the Westin again just to see if the service (and smells) were consistent with my pretty friend down in Georgia.

The Westin New York definitely feels like a New York hotel. When you walk into the street lobby, there are two ginormous escalators that whisk you up to the main lobby. There is a lot of hustle and bustle and there are three banks of elevators... each designated to groups of floors. What is really amazing about the elevators in this building is their speed! It felt like we were not even moving and the only other way I knew I was on my floor (beside the "ding") was that my ears popped!

I found my room on the 29th floor without a problem and when I walked in... it happened. The smell was there! This must be a Westin thing! And I loved it. My room smelled clean and it was nicely outfitted with a flat screen TV, a generous bathroom and a huge desk. But, the best part was the view! I had a huge window overlooking the back of 7th Avenue. The building is closer to 8th... but, because I was on the 29th floor.. I could see the heart of 42nd Street! God, I love this city! And the rate you ask? $329 per night in NY! That's a pretty good rate for this time of year in Manhattan. I would put the average rate at $350...so, just under average... but, with the amazing view, size of the room and the overall comfort of this room... I would classify this rate as a steal! I once paid well over $400 for a room so small that the bed actually brushed up against the other furniture. You literally had to climb onto the bed to put something in the drawer of the dresser.

I am back in DC now and enjoying a few more days at home before my travel kicks in again. I am here now through the 13th and then I head out to meet Sam and the crew in San Francisco before meeting up with Kirsten and the Cash and Treasures team up in Napa where we are renting a house for some pre-season fun. I'll be sure to post and tell you all about it.

HEY - Be sure to watch Travel Channel on Wed night! I have all new premieres of Made in America with John Ratzenberger and Cash and Treasures starting at 9pm! (Note to self... plugs are fine when they are on your own blog!)

Keep Travel'n
Lori

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Someone... please just get me out of Philly





Three days after my trip to NY I found myself packing for another trip. This time I was heading up to Philly and then out to Atlanta to work on some focus group testing of Cash and Treasures. Focus group testing is when a network hires a company to go out into malls around the country and approach people to watch an episode or two of a show. Then, after the show... we ask them some questions to see what they thought. The second part of the testing is where we bring in groups of people and have them watch the show and then ask them some questions. I love that part of the testing because you can watch a group of people argue about your work. All of the producers sit behind one of those two-way mirrors. Its sneaky... and I love it. Its kind of hilarious... and you need a thick skin to hear what people really think about your work.

Anyway, I took the Amtrak Acela train from Union Station in DC to 30th Street Station, Philadelphia. The trip took about an hour and a half and what I love about the Acela service is that there are outlets at every seat so you can work as you travel. The other thing I love is the guy that comes around every so often with the snack cart. I felt sorry for the guy though... he had to walk a train with a weird apron. The poor sap.. that job kind of sucks.

When we got into 30th Street station, we battled a crowd to get a cab. I was traveling with one of our big shots and he commented (and I quote...) "Homey don't wait in line." Not sure what was more fun...watching him wait in line or the fact that he called himself "homey" He's a white Canadian who wears cuff links. Not such a "homey" - I bet he's never even heard of Baby Phat and forget knowing FUBU.

We took a cab over to our camp site called The Embassy Suites. Kidding... it appeared to be fine and we chose this hotel because it was literally steps from our testing site. As we made our way to the reception desk, we realized that this hotel was going through a bit of construction. They told us that some of the floors were bring remodeled and that the fitness center was also closed. They did hand us free passes to the Philadelphia Sports Club... so, ok.. I think I can deal.

My room was on the 17th floor and I have to say... it was more of a small apartment than a hotel room. It had a small kitchenette area with a microwave, coffee maker and a small fridge. The living area was spacious with a small dining area, couch and TV setup and work desk. Then, off of this room was a small hall that lead to a private bedroom and bathroom. If you can get past the fact that you are in an Embassy Suites... this is a great room. Especially for a family... and a steal at only $239 a night including breakfast.

I dropped off my stuff and met the rest of the team downstairs in the lobby. We were testing tonight from 5pm-10pm... so, we planned to order dinner at the office. Nothing worth mentioning... all you need to know is that we ate.

After the testing, we went back to the hotel and I have to give props to them for the bedding. That bed was YUMMY. It might have been that I was exhausted... but, who really cares. The fact is that it was a great night of sleep! It was so good that I did not mind when they forgot to give me a wake up call for the gym. Oh, well...right. The intention was there.

The bathroom was nice and the shower had great pressure. The products were infused with rosemary and they smelled wonderful. Uh oh, am I becoming a fan of the Embassy Suites? I even enjoyed a bad cup of Maxwell House using the coffee maker in the kitchenette while I got ready for the day. Enjoyed is a strong word... but, I didn't have to leave the room and it did not cost be an extra $25 for room service.

I met one of the other producers at the free breakfast and it was not too bad either. Its what you would expect from a free breakfast. A buffet with all of the normal choices. They even had an omelet station. So, overall... a good value. Again, great for a family trip.

Today we are flying to Atlanta for the next round of testing. So, we all checked out and took to the street to find a cab. As we walked out of the hotel, we were approached by a guy who looked to be like one of the construction workers. He walked up and handed us a flyer telling us that the "remodeling" that they were doing... umm... that was an asbestos clean-up. What? Yeah, maybe they should have told us that when we checked in? (Note to self... if I have a kid with 4 heads... call it Embassy Suites)I will be writing a letter and for the record... I am NEVER staying in one of these again. Family vaca or not.

We made our way to the Philadelphia Airport and I smelled something. It smelled like someone was baking a chicken... and not a yummy smell. Kind of like an herb-y weird ... I forgot the lemon juice sort of smell. Strange.

We all checked into our flights without a problem and made our way to security. I have to say.. something felt weird in this airport. Almost like they hired a bunch of delinquents and put them to work for the TSA. The guy checking our IDs had a serial killer look to him. He also took his job super seriously... (and I guess in this world that is not such a bad thing)...he looked at my license with a black light and then with an eye loop to make sure that it was real. Maybe it was me... maybe I looked like I had something going on. Whatever... better safe than sorry. Then, the line stopped suddenly and it was like they were all playing kids game where they all switched spots. So, by the time we were up at the metal detectors... the serial killer was the one checking us through. Whatever. Then, he stopped me and yelled at me for not having my lipsticks in a baggy. He said that he would have to take them. OVER MY DEAD BODY! That's my favorite lip color and its $40! I pulled out the lipsticks and ran them through separately and he backed off. That's right... do not try to come between me and my MAC lipstick.

Now, I was ready for some cawff... so, I walked to the gate and found the only place that appeared to have coffee. So, I ordered a coffee with milk. The girl answered, "You want a latte?" "No", I replied. "I would like a coffee." "Oh, no latte... just coffee?" "Yeah, bitch... caawwffeee." What the hell is up with this airport??

Did you ever notice the people sleeping on the chairs in airports? I mean, have you ever been THAT tired at like 11am to full-on lay across 4 seats at a gate and just snore your head off? Now, I will say that I have had plenty a hang-over at airports and I will acknowledge the occasional snooze after puking. BUT, this was different. This was like 20 people at our gate sleeping. My question was... where were they partying last night? AND... what the hell is that smell?? This baked chicken odor is following me. Could it be... yup, its me. Remember that damned rosemary infused soap at Asbestos Palace? Yeah, well... now I smell like a baked chicken. Great. Just what I need. Someone just haul my ass to Atlanta, plllleeezz.

*L*

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New York and an Inn Keeper Named Fergus




I arrived at the gate for my flight to NY with time to spare. So, I grabbed a coffee and headed back over to the gate to wait to board my flight. About 10 minutes before were supposed to take off, they announced that the flight was cancelled and that we were all being re booked on the very next flight to NY in an hour. Here's my question... Why? The weather was clear... the crew was on board and the plane was there are ready to take off. Do you think they gave an explanation? Nope... they just said sorry. Well, thanks Delta. So, I sat my butt in a chair at the gate and went to work rearranging my morning schedule.

I arrived in New York THREE hours later (yup... another delay on the runway) and I took a cab to downtown Manhattan to meet up with the Passport team at their office. I was really excited to meet with the other producers because today was the day that we were going to see the new Samantha Brown in her new series called Great Weekends. We have all been working really hard on our new prime time look and I could not wait to sit in an edit suite to see the first batch of footage from our Miami shoot. I am not going to give too much away here... but, even if you are a huge Sam Brown fan.. this is going to feel all new to you. Really exciting stuff.

I really love ordering lunch while I am working with this team because they have a great local deli to order from and we SWEAR that they add crack to their food. Its addictive and delish! Its called Columbine and it has some really good soups, salads and sandwiches. I always order the turkey sandwich because their turkey is roasted and juicy fresh. Its that kind of turkey sandwich that you dream of as your mom is baking the Thanksgiving day bird. You just imagine a nice roast turkey hero with a little leftover stuffing, cranberry and some drippings from the pan. Ummmmmmmm.

After the meeting, I headed to the Upper West Side to check into my lodgings for this trip. I was really not in the mood to check into an overpriced stale hotel. I wanted something that made me feel like I was back home... not on a business trip. So, I rented an apartment! Sound impossible? Its easy... and its CHEAP! There are plenty of rentals in the city and I chose one on the Upper West Side on 77th Street. It is called Country Inn the City and you can find more information on it at www.countryinnthecity.com

When I arrived, there was a sticky on the door of the building that looked like an old brownstone in the middle of the street. The sticky had my name on it and it said to ring the buzzer for apartment 5 when I arrived. So, I buzzed apartment 5 and a burly guy came bounding down the stairs. This was Fergus, the keeper of the Inn. I could not place his accent... but, it sounded British (don't hold me to it tho...) His breath had the distinct smell of Listerine and he had beads of sweat on his brow.... and I was about to realize why. This building is a walk-up (translation: NO ELEVATOR) So, Fergus grabbed my 50 lb bag (we already discussed my packing issue in previous blogs... keep up) and we headed up to the 4th floor to apartment #6.

The building is very nice and has an old English B&B feel to it. It has cranberry walls with dark woods and hints of forest green. Kind of charming... kind of stale. It almost felt like a B&B you would find in Vermont or New Hampshire during a ski weekend. It felt warm... but, odd. Definitely not a 5-star ... but I was looking for something different, right? Now, the moose head on the wall... was a little freaky. I am not into dead animals on walls. Just not for me.

Fergus lead me into the apartment which was a studio with a small kitchen, bathroom and sitting area that was also a bedroom area. It also had a huge walk-in closet and it just had a lot of living space. The coolest feature of this apartment is that it has an outside terrace that would be great in the spring and summer.

The apartment was nicely outfitted. The kitchen had a small fridge, stove top, microwave, coffee maker, toaster and all sorts of pots, pans and dishes to use. Fergus even left some milk, coffee, butter and jam in the fridge to get me started. He also left me a beautiful big bowl of fresh fruit... which I loved.

The linens were all clean and fresh and had a nice smell of being freshly laundered. The room also had a nice TV with satellite and FREE wifi! Are you ready for the price? $250 per night! AND this is in the high range! Fergus usually can go a lot cheaper on the rate depending on the demand for the apartments. Just for the record... the average daily rate of a NY hotel on the Upper West Side in March... $350.00. That is a $100 savings per night... and I did not have to pay all of the random fees that end up on your bill. Like did you ever see a Javitz Center tax on your bill? What the hell is that?

That night, I met a friend at Bettola - a small Italian cafe on Amsterdam Avenue (sebastianoitaliano.com). I found this to be a charming little place that was really relaxed and warm. They had a brick oven pizza stove at the back of the restaurant which just made the whole place feel cozy. We decided to share a salad with grilled calamari and a white pizza with mushrooms and truffle oil. The crust on that pizza was super thin and crunchy. Just perfect and a total find if you are up in that neighborhood.

After dinner, I walked over to Fairway, one of the local grocery stores to get some food for my apartment. I just picked up some yogurts, bottles of water, ice cream (again... hubby is reading this and knows me too well) and some other snacks so that I could stay healthy and not have to run out to the deli in the morning.

The next morning, I took the #1 train down to 42nd street to attend the Travel Channel Academy (see blog below...) In the afternoon, we had a shooting assignment so I went back up to the upper west side to shoot at Zabars. I love Zabars because it just reminds me of home. They have the best coffee and I just LOVE their chocolate babka and mashugana cookies. So, it was great to spend the day there with their staff. I even had the opportunity to meet Mr. Zabar himself. It was great.

I stopped in at the Zabars cafe for lunch and I ate at the bar in the middle of the place. It was great to sit between an old woman eating a white fish salad sandwich and a guy next to me with a cup of coffee and a rugalah cookie. I love that. After the shoot, I went back to the class where I almost cried (see blog #1) and then I trekked back up to the apartment to sulk and eat ice cream in my pajamas.

The next morning, I hustled my ass back downtown to start editing the piece of shit footage I shot at Zabars the day before. I edited all day and by the time 7pm rolled around, I was ready to go out and have a drink. So, I met my friend David out at the SOHO Club. This is a club in the city where you have to be invited and escorted by a member just to walk in the door (www.sohohouseny.com). David is a big shot up at the History Channel... so, he is a member. Oh, this was perfect and certainly what I needed after not having a hotel staff to serve me after a long day. All I had was Fergus and the road kill hanging on the wall. Yuk. I realized that all this girl needs is to feel a bit fabulous and I recover rather quickly.

After our drinks, I decided to meet another friend out for some dinner at Lupa (see blog #1 - where I refer to the crazy ass menu). It was fine and after dinner we wandered over the Red Lion on Bleeker (151 Bleeker Street) to watch the NY meatheads pick up chicks. I love a Friday night in NY. There is really nothing more entertaining. Well... that was before Saturday night.

The next morning, I walked over to H&H Bagles which is arguably the best bagel shop in all of Manhattan (hhbagels.com) The best part of H&H is the fact that all they do is bagels. They do not put a drop of cream cheese... they do not butter. They just hand you a fresh warm bagel and it is delicious. I chose a sesame bagel and a water and jumped in a cab for another day at the Travel Channel Academy.

Today was another shoot day for us and I ended up documenting my cousins monthly color and cut out in Hoboken. (God, the more I write about that... the more god awful it sounds.) Anyway, after I pretended to make art... I hopped back on the bus for the 10 minute ride back to the city. I was anxious to get back to the class to start digitizing my new footage.

That night, I was meeting friends out at Koi at the Bryant Park Hotel. I was trying to recreate the religious experience I had at the LA version of this sushi heaven. I ordered the exact same meal and I have to say... it was more like purgatory than heaven. It was trying to be that meal... and it just never made it. The best part was the cosmos with ciroc vodka. Just the perfect mix... and they went down nice and easy... which made my 9am class in the morning almost deadly.

Oh, wait for the next blog where I sleep at the Embassy Suites in Philly... where they are cleaning asbestos out of the building. Ummm... what?

*L*

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sleeping off the Travel Channel Academy


Sometimes I forget why I am in this business. I never get the butterflies anymore when I am on a shoot and I never feel like a rockstar when I am wearing a headset and watching a monitor while on set. I just do it and think about the next shot... the next line... what I am going to eat for dinner. Then, something happens that makes the hair on my neck (I have a few short strands there FYI...) stand on end and shows me how lucky I am to do what I do for a living. This past week I was fortunate enough to be invited to take a class called the Travel Channel Academy up in NY. Yes, I have some travel tales to tell... my Delta shuttle flight was cancelled on the way up and I chose to rent an apartment instead of stay at a hotel. I'll get to all of that. The big story here was the Academy and if you are reading this blog... I URGE you to go sign up and take the class. It was that good. Of course you all know that I work for Travel Channel and you probably think I am just saying this because I work for them and I get some kind of kickback. Well, for the record... I don't. I suck at sales and I am just telling you so that you have the opportunity to check it out. If you decide that it is not for you... well, that's better for me because then I can submit my films and I will get paid and you will just go back to whatever it is that you do. OK... that's the end of the rant. The class is run by Rosenblum Associates; a NY based production company who produced a ton of programs for Discovery and other nets. The guy who teaches the seminar is Rosenblum himself... Michael Rosenblum and he might just be the most fascinating character I have ever met. He's a short Jewish man...maybe from Queens who dresses in all black - head to toe. Even his Prada glasses are black rimmed. He talks with a thick NY accent that reminds of a guy that I dated from Brooklyn. (Note to self... husband is a subscriber... move on) Michael starts the class with a basic shooting lesson that shows any idiot how to shoot. Close up on the hands... close up on the face... wide shot... over the shoulder and then from the side. Sounded like a simple assignment... so, I was psyched to get out into the city and shoot my first film with my little HD handycam. I went to Zabars on the upper west side and went to work. I scouted the place for like 20 minutes. I then chatted with the managers, talked to some butchers, a few fish mongers... the girl who packed the cheese. This was going to be a great piece. So, I took a break for lunch and created my shot list. Two hours later... close up on the hands, close up on the face... I was done and I was excited to bring my footage back to show Michael and the rest of the class what an Executive Producer can shoot all by herself. I went back to the class and we all started screening the student's footage. Most of the footage was great...some a little shaky... but all in all... not bad for first timers. Then, it came time to screen my footage and I was so proud to show Michael my stunning footage. Twenty seconds into the screening Michael stopped the tape and channeled his inner Simon Cowell and said. (I will never forget the words)... "You do this for a living, right?" I nodded. He continued, "Well, its not bad... but its not good. Its a little raggedy. Its too shaky and it just looks amateur." I started to feel a lump in my throat and knew that I was the face of the very network that was running this class... my inner voice began to chant DO NOT CRY... DO NOT CRY. After the screening some of us decided to go back out for a reshoot. So, I grabbed my camera and took the 1 train back up to the upper west side. I went right back to Zabars and just started shooting. Close up on the hands... close up on the face. No, No... its not good enough. I know, I will just shoot something else. So, I went across the street to a diner. I told them that I was from the Travel Channel and they all looked at me like I was NUTS. So, I went to a dance studio who had an 8pm salsa class. That would be great. I spoke to the owner and she asked that I come back at another time when she could have her hair colored. No go. No close up on the hands... No close up on the face. So, I put my Executive Producer business card away and took my sorry ass to Fairway and picked up some salad for dinner. (And ice cream... again, the hubby is reading this and knows me too well.) The next morning, I went back to class determined to make Michael see my shining talent. I started editing my piece and all in all it was not too bad. It was not my best work... but, I managed to make a weak chicken salad out of chicken shit. That night I met my friend Kelly out at Lupa downtown for dinner. Lupa is a Batali restaurant and it was jam packed! The food was nice... a bit too earnest of a menu. They had beets as an appetizer and there was far too many bizarre choices for an Italian restaurant. I ended up asking our waitress for a recommendation and she told us to order the octopus, the sweet breads and she absolutely loved the tripe. Eww.. no bitch... I'll stick with the fresh pasta with the pulled pork ragu and skip the nastys. All in all.. it was all very good and worth a try if you want something less pretentious then Babbo. The next day I was back at the class and Michael had another lecture for us. Now we were going to shoot characters. We had to have real people as the focus of our short films that will be submitted to the network as our "graduation videos." Not too hard... more close up on the hands, close up on the face... but, now we had to put action into the shots. When you take the class you will get the lecture. I cannot get into detail in the blog. At around noon, we all took to the rainy streets of Manhattan to start shooting our second piece. My first idea was to shoot with a NY cabbie. I would sit with one cabbie for a couple of hours and just get the story. Then, I had this image of the couple at the very beginning of that movie the bone collector. They grabbed a cab on their way home from the airport one night back to NY and I think they were both chopped into little tiny pieces. So, I abandoned the cab idea and called my cousin who lives in Hoboken. She was going to get her hair done today... perfect... I'll do my piece of her getting her hair done. She is a 26 year old casting director for MTV... she would be a great character. I took bus 126 out of Port Authority and in 10 minutes was out in Hoboken, New Jersey. Eww. But, it was fine. I met her at the salon and we started shooting. Close up on the hands... close up on the face. Ok... now I am cooking. No shaky cam... read through all of my class notes. I was going to get this right. After about 3 hours of documenting her color and cut; I jumped back on the bus to start digitizing the footage. I worked for about 2 hours and then decided that I needed some rest. I needed to walk away and come back in the morning to finish it. The next morning, I went back to class and started editing. We only had until 3pm and then we were going to screen the final videos. I worked right up to the deadline and just took to my seat to wait to be creamed by Michael. He went through the videos one by one and I was beginning to squirm. I was not thrilled with my finished product... I should have stuck with the cabbie. Why did I not trust my first instinct? Oh, well... Finally it was my film to be screened and it was fine. Most of the class laughed on cue and overall it was fine. Was it art? Not by a long shot... I was upset that I was not the teachers pet. Oh well... not this time, Lori. After the class ended, I jumped into the black sudan that was ordered by my company to take me to the airport. I looked like an EP.. but I felt like a film student. I could not wait to purchase my own mini-DV cam and MAC to practice my new craft. The butterflies came back and I felt an inspiration that I had not felt in a long time. That all said, I am now dedicating myself to working on these videos. I will post them when they are ready so that you can see for yourself... close up on the hands, close up on the face. More tomorrow. Lori
video

Saturday, March 1, 2008

It's ALL about the Sushi in LA


Within hours of arriving into LA, I found myself sitting at the bar at Sushi Roku (corner of La Cienega and 3rd) waiting for a friend. I ordered a glass of wine and just watched the world go by. There is always something going on here. The last time I was here I sat at the counter and that dude who plays Angel (David... with that crazy long last name) was sitting next to me. The sushi is great here... but, you are paying for the scene too. We had a fabulous dinner... loads of fresh sushi including toro, yellowtail and some of the best salmon sashimi I have ever eaten! The one big thing that I noted here was that this is soooooo California. My dinner date asked if they had gluten free soy sauce... and ya know what? They did! That is the heart and soul of dining in LA. You want whole wheat rice around your rolls... no problem. Ya gotta love it.

The next morning I found my way to the gym at the Sofitel which was nicely outfitted with a bunch of cardio machines (all with their own personal TVs), a full weight area and a bar where anyone could help themselves to chilled bottled water, towels, headphones, and fruit. I also loved that they had two computers already on the internet so that you could check email after your workout. Really nice.

After the gym, I walked (yup... it was already almost 65 degrees!) to Starbucks for a coffee. The Sofitel offers a free coffee service in the lobby, but I really wanted to get outside and enjoy the weather a bit. After my walk, I came back to the room and ordered an eggwhite omelet and it CAME with coffee and juice! I'm not sure why that was so unbelievable, but it was... I guess I am used to paying $50 for breakfast! Imagine only paying $25 for a full breakfast delivered right to my room! (I know what you are thinking... Lori, you must be crazy... $25 for an omelet is ridiculous and my Italian neighbor would slap me and ask for the chicken that laid the golden eggs before paying that much!) But, I thought it was well worth it.

The Sofitel is a hotspot (WIFI) ...so, your high speed internet access is only $9.99 a day. That is typical for a big hotel. So, again... did not feel like I was being robbed. After working for a few hours, I made my way up to the Universal area to meet the Made in America crew for lunch. This was the first time I was going to meet John Ratz and I was a bit nervous. We dined at Casa del Sol... a very nice Italian restaurant right outside of Universal. The weather was spectacular, so we dined al fresco on their patio. It was so nice to sit in the sun and have an iced tea. Man, the Mid-Atlantic winters are hard to get through!

I ordered a pear and prosciutto salad with a bit of balsamic as a starter. I then had a seared tuna over canneli beans for my main course and some sorbet for dessert. Yum! Everyone really enjoyed the food... so, check it out if you are in the area. I also really liked the staff who were super accommodating. (I guess with a large party and a big check... they should be nice, right?)

The meeting with John and the crew went really well. I found him to be really funny and very passionate about the state of the American economy. Especially in the manufacturing industry. One of the main issues he is dealing with is the fact that high schools across America are not offering shop class anymore. Its true... kids are just not being encouraged to try some of the professions that we need everyday. Plumbers, electricians, factory workers... and the real issue is that those kids that may not be college material are not getting the opportunity to try their hands at one of these crafts that could land them a job once they graduate.

John also told me about his other projects. He does voice over work for Pixar... In fact, he's been in every single one of their animated features! Did you also know that he was in Empire Strikes Back? I mean.. how cool is that?

After lunch, I made my way back to West Hollywood and stopped off at Loehmanns for some retail therapy before my next meeting. Loehmanns in LA is great... it always has the best brands... and while it may be a bit pricier than what I would find in DC... its worth it! I picked up a pair of True Religion jeans for $125! They usually sell for $260... so, I was super excited.

That night, I met my meeting at the Chart House in Malibu. This is another great option when you are in LA. This is a great restaurant and it is perched right on the bluff at the end of Topanga Canyon... right on the beach. All of the tables by the windows overlook the beach and it is just a really great spot to enjoy the beautiful Pacific. The food was pretty good too. Not the best meal... but, the ambiance is worth the trip. I had scallops and they were nice... the best part of the meal was the classic Chart House chocolate molten lava cake. Its yummy.

The next day, I went back to the gym and walked over to Starbucks again. I then did some work before meeting a friend out for lunch on Robertson. I made sure to stop into Lisa Klein and Kitson before walking over to the Newsroom Cafe. I bought Eva a shirt and touched the merchandise at the other stores. It was great. I then met my friend for lunch. The Newsroom is another great Hollywood haunt. The food is good... but, the best part is that it is located directly across the street from the Ivy. So, as you dine you can watch the paparazzi stalk the celebs and wanna-bes as they sip their mimosas. FUN!

After lunch, I drove up to Griffith Park to meet the Made in America crew for a shoot. This is another great secret of LA that is a must-see when you are here! This park is lined with majestic redwoods and the drive up to the Observatory is a windy road up to the top of the mountain. When you get to the top, their is the historic observatory... and the best part... a clear view of the Hollywood sign! In fact, on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean! Its amazing... so, plan some time to hike around the park and enjoy the views. It is well worth the time.

The shoot was great and we wrapped around 5pm... so, I hit some traffic on the way back to West Hollywood. I still had time before my dinner meeting, so I stopped off at Bliss Spa on La Cienega for a mani-pedi. Just what this girl needed!

Dinner was sushi again.. but this time, I went to Koi. You know what Koi is... this is the place that you always read about in the rags. This is where Lindsay, Paris and Nicole come to hang. Its a real celeb hang-out and I was thrilled to have on my new size 6 True Religions!!

Now, I have to tell you that dinner at Koi might have changed my life. It was THAT good and totally worth the money you will spend here. We started with some great sashimi... one dish was albacore with these fried onions over the top. They also had this great spicy tuna dish... but, instead of the tuna being in a roll.. it was on top of a hash brown like disc. It was FAB! They then brought out rock shrimp tempura that was tossed in this sauce that was a like a light mayo with a kick. They also brought out some kobe beef and then another fish that was pan seared in soy. All I can tell you... is that it was all GONE and every piece was heaven in my mouth. To die for... so, make your reservation and be sure to ask for James as your waiter. He took great care of us... in fact, we never even looked at a menu. He just brought everything out for us. Really nice.

The next morning, I hit the gym one last time before driving back out to Long Beach for my flight back to DC. Another successful trip to Los Angeles... filled with great meetings, fab shopping and delicious food. God, I love that town.

Next week I am off to New York to attend the Travel Channel Academy. I am staying at a place called Country Inn the City on the Upper West Side. This is supposed to be the best kept secret of New York. We'll see.

Travel On...
Lori