Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weird Places to Sleep: Hezen Cave Hotel

In my last blog, I showed you a place where you could sleep in a tree. Not everyone likes heights, so I found this place where you could sleep in a cave.

The cave hotel I found is located in Cappadocia, Turkey -- and very cool looking. It only opened in May 2011 so it's brand new.

If you haven't heard of Cappadocia, you're not alone.  I had no idea it existed until I found this hotel either.  But now that know about it, I think I may have to go.

Cappadocia is famous for its rocky landcape. And while I thought finding a cave hotel would be unique, apparently it's not -- if you live in Turkey.  There are cave hotels everywhere in the region, but this one looks amazing. Believe me...you won't feel like you're living like Fred Flintstone.

The Herzen Cave Hotel overlooks the Ortahisar Castle and the city. It's this incredible combination of cave living with lavish Turkey comfort.  I'm telling you...this is your cave away from home!

There is something about the Herzen Cave Hotel that is almost magical.  From watching the sun go down over the castle from your terrace to walking through the ancient stone city, it's as if you've been transported to another time and place. Don't even get me started Turkish food or the market.

Cave church
 The area is also famous for hot air balloon rides, so if sleeping in a cave AND taking a hot air balloon ride are both on your bucket list, you can cross two things off at once. Bonus!

But what drew me in was the cave churches of the area. Filled with tunnels and brightly painted, some of the cave churches date back to the 10th century.  They are part of the Goreme Open Air Museum, and you can check out more about the cave churches on their website.

I admit, sleeping in a cave wasn't on my list of things to do, but now that I've seen this place, I'm tempted.

If sleeping in a cave while living in luxury is on your bucket list, then check out the Hezen Cave Hotel website.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weird Places to Sleep: The Treehotel in Sweden

A lot of people ask where I get my ideas for my bucket list and if I have any recommendations for them. 

I get my ideas from everywhere.  My list is constantly evolving as my life evolves.

Everyone has their own dreams, goals and personal achievements.  And everyone's dream is different. So while I can't tell you what to put on your list, I can share some of the interesting things I've come across to see if they inspire you. 

Not all of these are on my bucket list - in fact, many of them aren't.  However, they are interesting and you never know...you might see something you absolutely MUST do.


Over the years, I've come across some strange hotels. There are the infamous ice hotels, but there are some other accommodates that are just as unusual -- and not as chilly.


If visiting Sweden is on your list, you may want to check out the village of Harads. It's located in the north of Sweden and is the home of the Treehotel.

Yes, that's right. You get to sleep in a treehouse. I wonder if this idea came from that 70s series, "The Swiss Family Robinson"?  I used to love watching that as a kid.

I checked out the photos online and it's a little rustic. I can only describe it as camping meets IKEA.

But it is interesting. When you visit the Treehotel, you'll find five individual treehouses built among the native pines of the Lule River Valley. Each treehouse is one-of-kind and has been uniquely designed by a different architect. There is even one that looks a bit like a UFO.

The philosophy behind the Treehotel was to have a group of unique rooms created in harmony with nature, and with strong ecological values. But it's not just about sleeping a tree.  They also have great outdoor activities such as village walks, horseback riding, kayaking and for the more adventurous, they have a highland cattle safari.

If hanging out in a tree isn't romantic enough, they do offer a midnight ride with snacks and they have a tree sauna.

If you want to find out more, you can visit The Treehouse in Sweden's website.



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vegas: One man's nightmare is another woman's dream

I have a friend who absolutely detests Vegas, but the strange thing is he’s never been there and refuses to go to see what’s it is like. I’ve told him you can find anything in Vegas. If you want great wine –it’s there. Great spas – they’ve got it. World famous chefs- they are there. Amazing entertainment – yup, they’ve got that too.

Instead he’s got this perception of what the place is like based on what he’s seen on television—and from movies. He assumes Vegas is completely artificial and cheesy.

So while going to Vegas would be a his holiday nightmare, I LOVE Vegas.

How could I not?

First of all, they’ve got the Vegas strip full of lights and extravagant hotels. Yeah, some of the stuff is tacky, but taste is subjective.
I think the designers were allowed to let their imagination go wild and create the hotel of their dreams. Sure, you can stay in a Travel Lodge or Super 8 if you wanted to have the same vacation you can have anywhere in the U.S., but why would you when you’ve got the Bellagio, Caesars and The Venetian?

Like many Vegas fans, I do have my favorite Vegas attractions.

I adore the luxurious sophistication of The Wynn, but the dancing fountains at the Bellagio stole my heart years ago. My favorite place to watch them is from the terrace of the Picasso Restaurant inside the hotel. It doesn’t matter whether I’m enjoying a leisurely lunch or a late dinner, I can watch them for hours.

In addition to the dancing fountains, the other Vegas-area landmark that I never tire of is the Grand Canyon.

Regardless of the season or time of day, it always takes my breath away. The colors are always changing and the rock formations are incredible. There is nothing artificial about it. It's real, rugged and beautiful.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. There’s a certain Zen quality to it. Remember, Vegas is the place of extremes – and the Grand Canyon is the extreme opposite of the strip.

It’s quiet, peaceful and somehow untouched by Sin City. It commands respect – and deserves it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hold the bacon, please

Over the last few months, I’ve seen bacon mayonnaise, bacon and asparagus, bacon, bacon cupcakes and even bacon crème brule.

This is all well and good – if you happen to like bacon.

If you’re a non-bacon eater like me, it’s starting to become intrusive when you see that your favorite vegetarian items are now smothered with bacon. I’m sure they taste great, but when my pancakes are served with maple syrup with chunks of bacon in it, then I start to get annoyed.

Of course, I’m sure some of you reading this blog are thinking, “Mmmm…maple syrup and bacon...that sounds delicious” – which I’m sure it is if I ate bacon.

Then there’s this item in the photo that I saw in a sushi place.

Yes, that’s right. It’s bacon sushi. Now, that’s just wrong.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Training Secrets - REVEALED

I've been getting lots of emails about my training program for the NPC Bodybuilding Show I did in June, so I thought I would post the basics in case anyone else wanted to check it out.

Basically, I owe everything to Vanessa Campbell and Shannon Dey from Team Bombshell.   You can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teambombshell.

While they look intimidating as all the girls look fabulous and are professional NPC Competitors, the
group is great and super helpful.

Shannon is the founder of Team Bombshell and does these Bombshell Bootcamp weekends in Daytona Beach. These are optional, but it's good motivation to start your journey. It costs $249 for three days of intense training.

It's worth every penny. You learn the exercises and will meet some other women who beginners, too. My weekend group had 8 girls and two of us were over 40 so that made me feel better.We all hurt at the end of the weekend (even the young girls) - which made me feel even better. I guess it's true that pain loves company.

After that weekend, I signed up for a 1 year online program. It costs $99 a month (it is cheaper if you can pay it all upfront). They also have 6 month and 3 month programs, but the shorter programs are more than $99 a month.  If you go to the Team Bombshell Facebook page and leave a message on the wall, Shannon will email you all the information.

Once you sign up, you'll get a weekly workout and a meal plan emailed to you. The food is all normal food and they don't make you take any crazy muscle building powders. They do recommend vitamins and stuff like that. You also get one cheat meal a week which I totally looked forward to.

Because this was an online training program, every week I had to take a photo of myself and email it Shannon so she could see my progress. She would send back tips, advice and sometimes tweek my workouts and meal plans depending on how my body was responding. Vanessa was also there helping out with workout questions and advice whenever you needed it. 

Shannon also picked out my first NPC show to compete in. She choose one in San Diego for me to go to that wasn't too big and then helped me get ready by doing everything from picking out the color of my suit, to what makeup I needed and even how to wear my hair.

For 8 weeks, all I had to do was follow her advice and the plan exactly and I knew I would be okay (although, I did cheat a bit at the beginning). It was hard work, but I felt great and I love how strong I feel now that I've been with the program for a few months.

I'm not going to lie to you.  It was hard. 

While Shannon and Vanessa will do everything they can to make sure you have a winning plan, it's still you who will have to go to the gym 5 days a week and make the meals on the plan. It takes dedication as you will be tempted to go out drinking with the girls, eat chips and chocolate when PMSing (or when you had a bad day at work).  You'll also be tempted to sleep in and skip your workout.

But if this is something you want to do, stick with it. The results are worth it.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Cycling the Vineyard and Valley Scenic Tour Route

As soon as I heard about Oregon’s Vineyard and Valley Scenic Tour Route, I knew I had to cycle it. There was only one problem – none of the bike rental places in the area seemed to know how to get on it.


But I wasn’t about to give up. The Vineyard and Valley Scenic Tour Route was created in 2009 to showcase the viticultural, agricultural and historical region of Washington County in Oregon. It’s a 50 mile loop that takes you past farmland, wineries and rolling countryside.

They don’t recommend cyclists do the whole route because of the narrow winding roads and bridges could make it dangerous, but some of the areas are pretty good - or at least the section I cycled on was safe.  I also came across a lot of cyclists along the way - so it wasn't just me out there. 

Plus, it's beautiful and I found because you are on the sideroads where the speed limit is lower, the drivers were courteous.

However, I will warn you that the route is hilly so you're going to get a great workout.  The road shoulders in some areas are also non-existent so you'll have to be as courteous to drivers as they are to you -- in other words, pull over and let cars pass and be extra careful when it comes to turns.

I started by driving to Forest Grove where I rented a bike from Olson's Bike Rentals (but you could also rent bike from Banks Bike Rental).

From Olson's, I rode down Elm Street and turned right onto Highway 47 and continued riding until I saw the signs for Montinore Estate Winery (about 4 miles). 

There's a paved bike path that follows the highway so you won't have to cycle with the cars for the first three miles. Bonus.

Once you turn onto the road for Montinore, you'll be on the Vineyard and Valley Scenic Tour Route.

I'd love to tell you that it's got great signage, but the signs are a little far apart -- especially if you're cycling.  So there will be many times where you'll wonder if you're lost or not. But eventually you'll see another sign and feel relieved.

The wineries are also far apart or at least farther apart than they are in Napa or the Niagara Valley region in Canada. 

I rode to Montinore and then to Plum Hill Vineyards. These were only a few miles apart, but going from Montinore to Shafer Vineyard Cellars is a good 5 or 6 miles. 

Then there's David Hill Winery. 

If following the vineyard route, you won't see a sign for the winery, but you will see a sign for the David Hill Road.  The winery is up this road, but I'm going to warn you that may want to drive up the hill rather than cycle.  That's what I ended up doing. 

Yes, I admit it.  I wimped out.

But when you get there, you'll see why. 

I starting biking up the steep hill and about half a mile up, the pavement ended and I was cycling on loose gravel (while still trying to pedal up hill).

That's when I gave up and rode all the way back to the bike shop to pick up my car.

And I was glad I did.

David Hill Road IS one massive hill. After the pavement ends, you'll still need to climb another two or three miles up the winding road on the loose gravel.   Along the way, there is no sign of the winery and you'll start to wonder if you've made a mistake.  But it does exist. You just have to be patient.

Just when you are about to give up, you'll see a break through the trees and will get a glimpse of the grape vines in the valley below.  The view is incredible.

From there, it's maybe a quarter mile to the tight turn that will take you to David Hill Winery.

Again there is no sign. You have to be looking for the gates to see it.

But if you're not a wuss like me and make it up the hill on your bike, you won't be disappointed and you will have well-earned your wine treat.

The winery is relaxing and has picnic tables outside for resting.  For $5 you can choose seven vintages to sample in their tasting room.  They also will ship wine to your home so you won't have to bike down the hill while trying to carry your bottles.

But even if you drive, I highly recommend David Hill Winery.  It's the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Going to Sonoma for Champagne

On Monday, I unexpectedly had a day off. Whoo hoo!!

So did I waste it and do nothing?  Not a chance.  I drove to Sonoma to check out a vineyard,known for their sparkling wine.  Nope, it wasn't Mumm or Chandon.  I figured those would be way too crowded and I wanted to relax on my day off. 

Instead of hitting the ones you see all the time on the shelves, I decided to visit Gloria Ferrer -- and it was lovely. 

"I think it adds a year to your life by being a member of Gloria," said Ed and Jessica, who were enjoying a glass of the bubbly on the terrace.

Like me, they were relaxing while taking in the view of the grape vines and hills.  But unlike me, they weren't a first timer. They had been coming there for years and lived only 20 minutes away (it took me a little over an hour to drive there).

But I wasn't the only one out for a drive that day.

"We were on our way to Bogeda Bay on vacation. I asked him if he wanted to check out wineries or see the ocean. He said wineries. There was no hesitation," said another couple on the terrace.

Gloria Ferrer has a number of champagnes for you to try by the glass...and they have baguettes, cheese and other snacks you can buy to go with your wine. Bonus!

My glass of sparkling wine was delicious.  I tried their Blanc and Blanc.  It had pear undertones, wasn't sweet, but it also wasn't super smooth. I would get it though as it was reasonably priced at $28-- so not bad for what you pay.

Liking my sparking wine, I decided to be adventurous and try a few of their other wines.  Mainly because I had come all that way, but also because it was cheap to taste - only $2 for a tasting.
But before I tell you what I thought, I just want to remind you that I'm not a sommelier so my opinion is only my opinion. Plus, wine is like art; what I like, you might hate.
Anyway, now that we got that out of the way, let the wine tasting begin.

First up was their Pinot Noir Rose from 2008. I'm not going to really judge this one as the wine tasted a little corked -- which I'm hoping meant it was a bad bottle and not the entire vintage. This was the cheapest wine on their list.  If you like it, you can get 3 bottles for $25.

My second vintage was their 2007 Chardonnay for $18 a bottle. Now, Napa and Sonoma aren't known for the white wines.  They are famous for Pinot Noir, so I wasn't expecting much- yet I was hopeful just because the champagne wasn't bad.

I took a sip and...oak. It tasted like oak. If you like tasting the barrel then this is for you. I don't mind a little bit of oakiness in my Chardonnay, but this was all oak and no fruit.

I decided to give it another sip.  Yup, still oak -- with some buttery tones. It's as if they wanted to reach for the extremes of both flavors and got it. I'm not sure this one is for me, but for $2 for a taste, I'm glad I tried it.

The final taste on my list was the 2006 Rust Rock Pinot Noir.

I was worried about this one even though the woman told me this one was the red wine she would recommend. What made me worried was that she described it as "earthy." This is usually code for muddled flavors and no clear Pinot taste.

So I swirled my glass, sniffed...and swirled again.

Okay. Only a tinge of earth and a tinge of jam. Some real fruit coming though. I swirl again hoping to open the wine up more.

I sipped. Not bad. Not the best Pinot Noir, but not bad and much better than the two others I tried. This one is $40 a bottle.

But if you come here, I still think the champagne is the best.  And that's what they are famous for, so that's a good thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

La Jolla is pronounced La Hoy-ya

The coast at La Jolla
Embarrassing lesson of the day: La Jolla is pronounced La Hoy-ya.

Who knew? Well, apparently lots of people as I was the only one pronouncing it wrong.

The good thing is I picked the place because it sounded “jolly” and it is kind of a happy place. I mean, how can you go wrong with the ocean right there?

Looking for a weekend of rest and relaxation, I decided to drive down the coast and check out the La Jolla scene which is completely different from the San Diego vibe even though they are next door to each other.  I admit, I totally loved it.

I ran each morning along the path by the ocean, rented a bicycle to ride along the coast down through Del Mar and watched the sun set while drinking wine on restaurant patios.  It was a lovely getaway.


The entrance to the B&B
I stayed in this historical old house called The Bed and Breakfast Inn at La Jolla.  It was built in 1913 and really chic for a bed and breakfast. 

They serve you wine and cheese at 5 p.m. each day, the breakfast was nice and you have a decanter filled with sherry in your room to help you sleep at night.
This place is perfect and I totally recommend it if you like bed and breakfasts.  It's clean, has friendly service and is cute. They are also located 1 block from the ocean. What else can you ask for if you love B&Bs?

You know how some people think bed and breakfasts are romantic and play into their lovey-dovey fantasties?  Well, sadly, I am not one of those people.

I always feel like I'm staying at Grandma's house and have to be extra good. But I will keep trying them out every once and a while just in case I change my mind. 
So it's not the B and B by the sea -- as that place was really adorable; it's me.

What I need to relax is the fake man-made resort with the manicured lawn, big pool and room service menu.  I know it's completely not authentic, but whatever. Maybe the complete escape from reality is what I need to feel like I'm finally on vacation.