Friday, June 27, 2008

Beat the Prices HUB now on

Hey everyone...

I am really excited to announce that my new page is up on! I am working on all things on a budget on our Beat the Prices web area. So, please jump on the discussion boards and talk to me!

My weekly web series will also launch on this site in the coming weeks! The series will feature all of my favorite travel tips. Also, be sure to look for my daily vlog coming soon.

Heading out to NY for vacation in the morning. I am heading to bed.
Travel on.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pittsburgh! WHO KNEW?

When I was asked to participate as a panelist at the Public Relations Society of America's annual Travel and Tourism conference, I was thrilled but a little unimpressed with the location. Pittsburgh, PA. Huh? You are inviting travel and culinary journalists from around the country and you take them to Pittsburgh? OK.

I received my travel information and to be honest... I was just so busy with my other projects that I forgot to do my usual research on a new city. I have my new Sam Brown show premiering this week, the Cash and Treasures crew is out in the field and I am preparing for a (hold your breath...) a personal vacation! (I know, I know... I travel for a living... but this is our annual family trip to the Adirondacks and it is the only time all year that I will NOT be available. (Unless I find a good cyber cafe and get inspired...)

So, for my trip to Pittsburgh... I decided to wing it. The day before I left, my boss... who worked for WQED in Pittsburgh for years came into my office for a chat and I told him that I was heading to Pittsburgh for a conference. He quickly replied, "I love that city!" Now, LOVE is a very strong word and in my book reserved for places like Florence, Italy. A city name that immediately has my mouth watering for fresh Buffalo Mozzarella. I had to know how he could be in love with Pittsburgh. Admittedly, I was a little glazed over as he started to tell me about the ride trough the Pitt Tunnel, the bridges, the confluence of rivers and the incline to Mt Washington. Yeah, yeah.. sounds great.

I arrived into Pittsburgh the morning of the conference and was greeted by a large and very modern International Airport. I almost stopped at Godiva Chocolates as I made my way through the mall-like atmosphere to the baggage claim area. The conference arranged a car to pick me up and drive me to the hotel and I was quickly greeted by a man named Oscar who had a sign with my name on it. We walked over to get my bag and he asked me if I liked Washington, DC and all of the politics right now. I told him that I try to follow it as much as I can... but, my background and beliefs were a bit mixed. I call myself a deep purple... a fair mix of red and blue. However, a little more red because of my religious beliefs and the fact that I could never forget what happened on 9/11. Oscar, a retired Marine and Vietnam Vet, was a true Republican and opened a spirited conversation about the benefits of McCain over Obama. I was taken back by his background... raised on welfare and was forced to be the man of the house at an early age; he then joined the Marines and served in Vietnam before returning to the States. The images and sounds in his head never went away and he went through a hard time before marrying his wife and settling into a good job with nice pay. He told me about his struggles as an American black man. He also explained to me how naive people can be about the security of our country.

We were deep in conversation when I looked up and realized that we were about the enter the Pitt Tunnel. OK... it looked like a tunnel... nothing too spectacular. And suddenly, it ended and POW... Pittsburgh! The view of the city almost pushes you over as you drive over the Fort Pitt bridge over the beautiful Monongahela River. The bridge gives you a great view of how the river below you meets up with the Allegheny right up to the north to form the Ohio River. Beautiful. Oscar took me on a brief scenic drive up Fort Duquesne Boulevard so that I could see the beautiful new PNC Stadium where their Pittsburgh Pirates play. We also drove past the home of the Steelers. I was amazed by the number of bridges that straddle both the Monongahela and the Allegheny all around this city. It is beautiful... almost an American version of Stockholm.

Oscar dropped me off at the Westin Pittsburgh, which is also attached to the convention center where the conference was being held. I checked in and went right up to my room. Overall, the hotel is fine... it definitely could use a makeover... but it is a Westin, so it smells good and it is a Starwood which is great for us collecting points. My room was fine... heavenly bed, heavenly bath, Starbucks coffee... and a great view. Nice.

I decided to order some lunch from their room service menu. The menu was very elaborate and I was impressed with the amount of choices available. I chose the Ahi Tuna salad that was over a bed of mixed greens with haricot verts, green beans, artichokes and a hard boiled egg. It was delish... I mean ... lick the bowl yummy. A very nice surprise.

My panel was taking place at 3:30, so I headed down to the ballroom at 3:15 to meet up with the organizer and the rest of the panelists. When I went down, I found out that one of the gentleman that was speaking with me was John Mariani. THE John Mariani. If you do not know who he is... he is one of the best food critics/ writers in the country. I love reading his work and I was a bit star struck when I was seated next to him. The panel was a fascinating discussion about what we look for when researching our next story or concept. We talked about authentic experiences, the effects of social media in our industry and the powerful word... GREEN. It was great to listen to all of the different perspectives and to hear others talk about what their audience is looking for. I also will say that it was an honor to be seated up there with the other panelists.

After the conference, I was invited to go to the Pirates game with some of the other speakers and guests. How exciting... all this and a baseball game hotdog! Fab! We walked from our hotel over the Roberto Clemente bridge to PNC park. I noted the clean streets, the new lounges and restaurants that lined the side streets. What is going on here? Is this a scene??

Our group had a suite (LUX #1) at PNC park and WOW... what a way to see a baseball game! We had a huge suite with two rows that felt like they were part of the park. The behind the two rows was a glass enclosed living room with couches, a fully-stocked bar, bathroom and a huge spread of food. (Yup... grilled hotdogs with sauerkraut ready for the taking!) Other dinner choices included rosemary chicken, and steak sandwiches with plenty of sides to choose from. The highlight of the night was the dessert cart that my mother would have called a "Viennese table." One of the suite attendants came around with the cart to all of the suites. It had at least a half dozen multi-layer cakes, ice cream, brownies, candy, and cookies. One word... heaven.

One entire wall of the suite was lined with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Allegheny River to the south and the beautiful skyline of Pittsburgh. (Did I just say beautiful?) At the end of the game, the baseball team put on a fireworks show that was choreographed to summer themed music... "summertime", "Summer Lov'n" get the idea. It was amazing and probably the best fireworks display I have ever witnessed outside of "Wishes" at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. (It's my favorite... and a must-see if you are there.)

After the fireworks, we all walked over the Pirates Club on the other side of the park for a nightcap. We heard that a group called Bon Journey was playing and nobody could resist a little 80's kitch. It was awesome and a great way to end my first night in Pittsburgh.

The next day, I was up at the crack of dawn for the car to take me back to the airport. I checked out of the hotel and was really sad that I did not have a few more hours in this new place. As we made out way back into the Pitt Tunnel, I looked out through the back window of the car and watched as the best kept city in America faded back into its hiding place. I really loved Pittsburgh. Who knew?

Do you have a secret American city that you want to tell me about? Send me a comment.

ALSO - my new VLOG will launch on in a few weeks! Stay tuned!!


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Emmys and Fathers Day in NYC

It's true... I am a full week behind in my blogging. So, I am going to give you two this weekend. Can you handle it? I know you are just biting your nails waiting for this next installment! Just lie to me and let me think you are up at night wonderding where I am and what I am doing. OK, so let me take you back to New York City and the Emmys.

I left you all in Manhattan at The Benjamin Hotel . Peter, Eva and I took a walk in the morning down Lexington Avenue from 50th street to 26th. It was a perfect morning in the city... not too hot, no humidity and you could smell the dirty water dogs being loaded into their carts for the busy day ahead. I was in the market for a spray tan... a fake and bake... I needed to look "goddess" for the evening ahead and I found a place down on 26th that had California Tanning for $15! I pay $24 at home... so, I wanted the bargain. Peter took Eva to a nearby park to play while I stood naked being sprayed with self tanner. (Good visual... huh?) I have to say... the results were amazing. The only problem was that unlike Mystic Tan, this one was sticky and I could feel it seeping onto my clothes. Oh, well.. at least I was not staining good clothes!

My cousin, Melissa hooked me up with a girl from her work to babysit Eva while Peter and I went to the Emmys. We dressed and headed over to The W Hotel on Lexington and met my friend Dov for a little pre-game cocktail. We then hopped in a car and headed to Jazz at Lincoln Center for the main event.

We were first ushered into a room for a cocktail reception and light dinner. The room was amazing with floor to ceiling windows with great views of the Park and Central Park South. We all mingled and had another few drinks before making our way to the theater. It was fun to see who was there... Alex Trebec, Christopher Llyod, the guy from Cash Cab and Oscar the Grouch. You heard me right... Oscar the freak'n grouch was there! (Which might be one of the coolest star spottings of my career)

We were nominated in three categories and we lost all three. Kind of a bummer... but it was super cool to be there again. I think when you start to expect a nomination or if you take any part of this business for granted... is when you start to lose sight of things. I still have one of the coolest jobs on the face of the earth and it affords me a ton of opportunities and plenty of cool travel and things to do. Who am I to be bummed? (And did I tell you about my shoes!!! Diane Von Firstenberg... gold... to channel the Emmy gods. They did not work... but, they looked good.)After the Emmys we went out for a few drinks and snacks and then Peter and I turned into pumpkins to relieve our babysitter back at the hotel.

The next morning, we all got up bright and early and grabbed some Starbucks as we made out way to Central Park. Eva and I planned to take Peter on a carriage ride through Central Park for Father's Day... and it was special! I highly reccomend it... its just one of those quintessential New York Experiences. It cost me $40 and the ride was around 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes you are really done and ready to walk on your own.

After the ride, we took Eva into the park to ride the carousel. Another true NY experience.. and I am so glad that she is getting these opportunities to experience New York.

After a bit more playtime, we decided to walk over to 74th street for a little pizza at Patsy's on the upper west side. We love this place because it has great pizza and it is family friendly. (Translation... big enough to sit at a table and enjoy some air conditioning and a clean bathroom) We ordered a yummy cheese pizza that came bubbly with fresh mozzarella and dark green basil leaves. Peter and I ate the entire thing... what did I care? The Emmys were yesterday!

That night we met my Uncle Art, Aunt Jill and cousins Melissa and Adam for dinner to celebrate HER Emmy win! Yes, my cousin's show beat MY show in the Special Class category. She works on MADE and I have to say... its a great show. If you have not seen it... check it out on MTV. We all met at TAO on 58th between Park and Madison. I have to say... YUM-mmm-MY! I think we ordered EVRYTHING on the menu! The girls all ordered Lychee Martinis which were awesome. We also had ... well, seriously everything. We ordered a ton of food and not one bite was not delish. I highly reccomend it. Another great part about Tao is the ambiance. This place is just huge and Eva loved watching the fish in the koi pond under the giant buddha in the back of the place. Just amazing... and totally worth the splurge.

The next morning, we took the subway up to 77th Street and took a walk over to EAT on Madison. This cafe is new from the owners of Zabars on the upper west side and for our last meal in NYC... we wanted real home cooking ... Long Island Jewish Princess style! I ordered bagels lox and cream cheese that cost me $24! Peter had blintzes and we took a couple of cookies home with us (including the best cookie in the world... the black and white). My bagel came with a side order of cucmbers in a dill dressing that were so fresh and yummy... I almost forgot that I was eating a $24 bagel!!

We decided to walk back to the hotel and we stopped into my favorite hotel for a sniff of the good life. When we walked in, we found that they have a Madeline Brunch for kids every Sunday morning in Bemelman's Bar! Bemelman's is named after the artist who drew Madeline and Eva has one of the videos and she just loves her! So, we made a point of stopping in to see what was going on. The place was empty... but they had a woman playing kids songs on a piano and they had a full brunch display with a cupcake bar! Very fun and it will definitely be on my list for our next Sunday in New York.

On our way out of the city that afternoon, Eva said to us from the backseat of the car... "Mommy and Daddy, are we going to the big city now?", and we replied, "This is the big city, Ev. We are going home now." To which she replied, " I want to stay in the big city!" That's my kid.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

LIVE from New York City!

Yes, I am once again back in the big apple! My home town... the city that never sleeps! It is always so exciting to come back to this city. The tip of the Empire State Building, the lights of 42nd Street, the taxis blaring their horns... oh, yea.. there is no place like home, Toto.

This is a very special weekend for us! Not only is it Father's Day... but, it is also the weekend of the Daytime Emmy Awards! I am very proud to announce that the team from Pineridge Film and Television is once again nominated for their work on the Samantha Brown Passport series for Travel Channel! We are nominated in three categories... single camera editing, directing and Special Class show. It is really exciting stuff... this is my fifth time at the Emmys and I am still nervous and excited to be going! It is not just another event... this is the Emmys! I remember when I was in High School... I used to work at a popular hair salon on Long Island as a nail technician (aka... manicurist) and I had a client who used to be a seat filler at the Emmys. Her job was to run and sit in the empty seats as people left the ceremony to either accept their award, go to the bathroom or just sneak out for a smoke. i just thought that was so cool... and I wanted to do that too! Dream big, my friends!

Peter, Eva and I left Maryland at 4pm today to drive up to Manhattan. We decided to drive his Honda Civic because it always gets the best mileage! It took us over 4 hours to get here tonight and I think we only used a quarter of a tank! Its crazy! BUT, the good part of traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike is that the gas is CHEAP! Well, in this day and age it is... $3.89 per gallon! That's $.19 cheaper than what I paid yesterday in Maryland!

We made it into NY at around 8:30 last night and Eva just loved the fun ride through the Lincoln Tunnel. Peter and I thought about what the tunnel would look like if you were to scuba up to it. Could you even do that? I mean could you even imagine the sludge of the Hudson? Was that river ever clean? Oh, the stories that sludge could tell... and imagine how many open murder cases would be solved...

Anyway, we chose to stay at The Benjamin for this trip. The Benjamin is a great choice if you are coming into NY as a family. Their one bedroom suites are moderately priced for Manhattan and they all have small kitchenettes. NOW, I will not say that this is the most budget option out there for a small family. I will always tell you that the best accommodations on a budget is a rental but, for this trip... we decided that we wanted to stay at a hotel and I found a nice rate for us through Orbitz. (Another example of how the best price is not always through the hotel website!! Do not believe what they say... shop around!)

So, now we are here and we are looking forward to a nice weekend in NY... more to come.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Taking a STAY-Cation... and loving it!

These days everyone is talking about how the price of everything is just skyrocketing. From our gasoline to our groceries... everything is just more expensive these days. It really hit me when I heard that Delta decided to start charging for the first piece of checked baggage! Oh, how else can they suck us out of every dime we make? All of this stretching of our under-valued dollar had me thinking about the summer ahead and how many of you told me that you decided not to travel this summer to save some cash. What is a summer without travel? There has to be a way for all of us to break free from our everyday lives to spend time with our families and refresh. I say... get out there. There are plenty of places to see in this great country and most of never thinking of just staying local and finding the cool things that are right around us. The last two weekends were busy for this family. We always head to Ocean City, Maryland for Memorial Day weekend to kick-off summer. Ocean City is about 3 and a half hours from our house... just enough to make it feel really "away" from our everyday. Our friends have a condo right on the beach and they have graciously invited us to join them for the long holiday weekend. They have two little boys... so, our kids get along great and just have a blast all weekend. To keep costs down, we always bring lots of staples with us so that we did not have to pay the "beach prices" for things like cereals, breads, coffee and snacks. We just picked up some dairy products for the fridge and we were set for breakfasts and lunches. Dinner for the kids is easy... they are so wiped from the day on the sand that they tend to eat lighter while they are there. So, the adults just ordered in some pizza or some fresh seafood. Yum and really cheap. The one thing that was a BIG find this year was a pizzeria/ restaurant called Lombardi's right down the street from the condo. I think it is on the main drag in the 90's... and it is on the opposite side of the street from the beach. The pizza at Lombardi's is amazing and totally worth the trip up to the Northern part of the beach. The owner was really friendly and once he realized I spoke Italian, he treated us like family. He even brought over his own balsamic vinegar for my salad and told me in Italian.. that it was not what he gives the normal patrons. I love Italian men... they are good looking and realize how good food is really all you need to keep your woman happy. (A Prada bag every once in a while is always nice too) But, I digress... My friend and I also took a few hours and made our way up to the Tanger Outlets up in Rehoboth Beach in Delaware (only a 10 minute drive from OC) to do a little outlet shopping. There are great sales over Memorial Day and we stocked up on kids clothes for the fall! Be sure to check online before you head out for extra coupons! This is always a fun weekend for us because it gives us real time with Eva. For us, getting away from the house and the computers gives us some real time to enjoy our girl. I loved giving her three meals a day without her nanny being there. I also loved playing with her on the beach and acting silly! I loved watching her ride the rides on te boardwalk for the first time. It was magic and a memory of my daughter that I will never forget. Again... only a few hours from home... and definitely on a budget.. but, it can be done. The very next weekend had us back on the road for another "stay-cation"... only this time... we were heading for a camping trip in the mountains of West Virginia. We felt that camping would be a little too much for a 2 year old, she stayed back with her Aunt and Grandma for the weekend. Again, 3 and a half hours away from our home... and we were in the middle of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. Now, most of you know me... and you all know that one thing I am not is "one with nature." I hate bugs and I just do not deal well with not having the proper amenities (ie. bathrooms). However, with all of my third world travel... I have to say that I think I am cured. I mean, if you were to see the bathroom situation in China... you would think that all campgrounds in the US are like the Ritz. I promise... it is that bad. Anyway, so we went out to Seneca Rocks to tent camp for two nights. We went with our other friends, Fred and Ethel and their son... little Ricky. You might have remembered them from a previous blog when their dog had the issue on the airplane... yes, their dog came too. They are all experienced, we knew that we were in good hands. The boys left for camp a few hours before the girls (me, my friend and the dog) which was great because camp was already set up when we arrived. Our campsite was on a dead end and it was really clean with a beautiful view of the main mountain in the area. Another plus was that the bathroom was only yards away. Now this is my kind of camping! For our first night, we grilled up some nice steaks and asparagus and drank some nice cold beers. When the sun went down, the boys made an amazing campfire and we just roasted marshmallows. OK... stop the blog!! I have to tell you that I never knew love until I tried a s'mores!! You know, I always heard of them... but, for some reason... I just never tried one before... and OH MY GOD! I love them. The graham crackers, the milk chocolate and those yummy gooey marshmallows! I must have had 6 the first night! Delish! OK... back to the action... That first night in the tent was fine. I fell right asleep in the cool mountain air and the sounds of the crickets in the woods. The problem was that damn ball of fire that came up at 6am the next morning. Nobody told me how HOT tents get! Holy cow... it was like a sauna. I guess it was a good thing because it got us all up bright and early. After a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs, we all got dressed and went out on a 5 mile hike up to the top of the mountain. There are several trails at Seneca Rocks, and this one brought us out to the main area where there is a general store and then right into the mountains. The hike to the top took us about an hour and a half and it was just awesome. It is amazing to get out and just enjoy your surroundings. Take a look at the pix... it was just incredible and I highly recommend it. We are already planning our next hike when we go up to Lake George for our family vacation next month. After the long hike, we came back and grilled up some lunch and just relaxed at camp. There is really no way that you can nap at in a tent... again, the blasted sun will roast you. So, you just have to chill... I sat in the shade of a tree and read my book for a couple of hours... something that I never have time to do at home. That night we grilled up some chicken and veggies and enjoyed another night under the stars around the campfire. I think I had 6 more smores before I forced myself to go to sleep. That is my new obsession... forget ice cream... I am buying a fire pit and I will be out in my backyard all summer roasting marshmallows for smores! Let me give a quick shout out to the bathroom attendant at this campsite. I will say that it was a typical bathroom. Nothing really special.. but, they did add some special touches that I really appreciated. First thing... it was very clean for a camp bathroom. Second thing... there was always plenty of paper products and liquid handsoap. Lastly... there were flowers on the counter! The little touches! You see, and you thought I was a high maintenance biatch from Long Island. Please. I appreciate!! The one mental note I did make while I was showering in that bathroom is just how little I really need to be comfortable. While I love a clean hotel and nice amenities, this experience made me realize how nice it is to have the simplest things. I think my next hotel stay is going to be great because I am going to appreciate all of the basics so much more! After breakfast we cleaned up camp and made our way back to Maryland. Again, another cool 3 and a half hours and what a beautiful trip it was. The scenery is spectacular and it made me realize how amazingly beautiful this country is. Yes, the dollar is in the shitter and the price of gas is through the roof. Yes, you would need to take a loan out to travel to Europe. But... why bother? Everything that you need to have to make this summer memorable is right in your ow backyard! Get out there and explore your American cities... go to the places that you reserve for when you have out of town guests. Take local road trips on weekends... try something new... but, get out there and enjoy.