The Best of the Best: Travel Edition

When you travel as often and fabulously as I do, it’s important to sneak small moments of reflection and gratitude somewhere between the time zones. I want to remember how wonderful it is to wander this world.

I usually relax into this reverie just as soon as I’ve organized my Diane von Furstenberg toiletry bag into the seatback pocket, loosened and buckled my seat belt low across my hips, and laid an airline blanket over my legs as if tucking myself into sweet travel. Mark is usually busy firing off last minute emails or reading some depressing world-news, so my brief contemplation of the places we’ve been hardly garners notice at all. To him, I simply look like a young woman blissfully sipping her champagne. And he’d be right about that; I am quite happy that our airline offers preflight bubbly to get into the jet-set spirit.

On this occasion, relaxed and ready to return home from an engagement excursion to London, my gaze fell upon my drink. Like the golden bubbles rushing to meet my greedy lips, memories of some of the very best bits of our travels sprang to mind.

The Best Spa Facial Treatment:

Prepare to raise your brows in disbelief. The very best spa facial treatment I’ve ever had, and I’ve had easily a hundred all over the globe, was inside an Embassy Suites Hotel in Huntsville, Alabama. I’ll pause for a moment; allow you to blink your eyes back down to size. In all seriousness, I mean, this is beauty we’re talking about here. I’m not joking or exaggerating about this in the slightest. ‘Bama brings the beauty.

Let me paint you a picture: Huntsville is a relatively small, but notable city due to its U.S. Army affiliation and southern sensibilities. Every meal resembled Thanksgiving Day and my lengthy bar tab was possibly the cheapest I’ve ever seen it. The Embassy Suites is the nicest and highest rated hotel for miles. It’s located downtown and has pretty adorable views of a large geese-filled pond. The “spa” is located on the 2nd floor and while its lobby area made me feel like I was waiting to see the dentist, the treatment room was warm, quiet, dimly lit, and expertly enhanced with soothing music that didn’t make me want to pee. I have no idea what product line graced my face; all I recall is the movement with which she applied, massaged, and removed everything. It was as if she had an orchestra in her mind and her hands were performing its exquisite sound on my skin. What’s more, I was radiant for days. Should life ever send you to Alabama, pack your fat jeans and book a spa facial.

London Bridge bath time

The Best Bath:

Beginning to see a theme of relaxation here? Yes, I’ll admit; I am fully committed to chilling out. Consider me a lady of leisure. But back to the bath: It’s not every trip that I take time to relax in the bathtub. Considerations like the country’s water quality or my tired tourist desire to hit the sheets usually thwarts the tub’s calling. However, a Japanese style soaker tub overlooking 48 -floors of London’s skyline just couldn’t be ignored.

The view came complete with one of those cup/book racks and bath salts. My clothing hit the floor faster than the salts could sink. Hair up, butt down, this was some of the best sight seeing I’d ever done. The Tower Bridge was even more marvelous from here than it had been from a safe selfie distance. As if on cue, Mark strutted in with bubbly, binoculars, and that generous grin. Channeling my inner Bond Girl, I spied on the royal city, sipped expensive champagne, and began this very blog thanks to that handy book-turned-iPad rack. All details considered, I’ve never had a better bath in my life. Get yours at the Shangri-La Shard, London’s tallest building — boasting brilliant bathtub views.

The Best Hotel Staff:

Constantly checking in and out of hotels, as glamorous as they may be, can be a little daunting at times. True jet-setters come to appreciate things like quality toiletries, turndown service, a high-end well-stocked minibar, and prompt dry cleaning service. To us, it’s so much more than just a place to crash; it’s our home away from home. Which is why a professional, courteous, and well-dressed staff offer the awesome ability to make it more than just a hotel stay; they can make it feel like home sweet home.

Our sweetest stay to date was at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong. We decided to squeeze in a 32-hour layover on our way home from Malaysia since I’d never been before. We arrived starved and sleepy so imagine our satisfaction when hotel staff was prompt to greet us outside of customs, handle our bags, and escort us into a spacious executive hotel car that smelled clean and was stocked with cool water. The china-clad tea and fresh fruit that was hand delivered to our room only accentuated the spectacular city and harbor views that stunned me from the comfort of our bed. Room service was divine. The executive breakfast lounge was the best I’d seen since Bangkok. Doors were opened, cabs were fetched quickly, and staff was always accessible, which really helped make the most of every minute. In Mark’s early corporate days, he lived in this hotel for four months. Ordinarily I’d be baffled by a living arrangement like this, but two sleeps later and I could see why he felt so at home inside this high-rise. Upon our departure, sitting pretty in another luxury hotel car, I whispered a little promise to myself that should life bring me back to Hong Kong, I’d be checking into this JW once more.

Hello Hong Kong

The Best Layover:

When it comes to international travel, layovers are unavoidable. Even a lot of domestic ventures will have you held up in some city for a short time. Consequently, frequent fliers discover their own airport comfort zones across the time zones. The Charlotte airport, for instance, is wonderful for getting your rocking chair-on and enjoying “flights” of wine at a surprisingly trendy bar conveniently located between gates; I’ve done my taxes over a steamy baked potato inside Houston’s Pappadeaux; and sweet Mark satisfied my sweet tooth when he gave me a cupful of skittles to pair with my cold, complimentary beer inside the Dulles United Lounge.

While we do our best to make the most of our ground-bound travel, nothing beats having enough time to ditch the airport and explore where you are. It feels like stealing time and playing hooky simultaneously – a truly fortuitous adventure! When you visit a place briefly you have to take care to take it all in quickly. Rush to visit various landmarks or relax with a view. Either way – experience it. Listen to the language, savor the cuisine, study the architecture, feel the weather on your skin.

Come to think of it, the 32-hours we spent in Hong Kong was the most eventful and exciting layover I’ve ever had. The city was loud, colorful, and crowded. The architecture was stacked and eclectic. The nightclub was surprisingly familiar and its music was on point. Aside from Arabic, this was the biggest language barrier I’d met. High-end and knock-off brands shared the same block. But the champagne cocktails were exquisite and the views were unparalleled. Honestly, sky, water, greenery, cliffs, rolling hills, modern and historic buildings, ships and yachts, old and new – it all combined to be one of the most scenic memories I’ve ever made. Life may never return me to this financial metropolis, but I’ll always have my post card-worthy memory.

The Best Meals:

In the past five years, I traveled to 11 beautiful countries as the Marketing Manager for a defense company, and four more by Mark’s side just for fun. But none of these places ever stood a chance, because I’d already been to and eaten my way through Italy. In 2008, my mama, “nonna”, and I – dubbed the “3 generations” – toured and tasted Italy for two weeks in celebration of my college graduation. When I tell you that we ate pizza, pasta, gelato, and drank wine daily, I am not exaggerating. In fact, I gained back the five pounds that I’d lost the year prior when I nearly starved in Ireland. Everything about Italy is enticing. Its food, its language, its history, its picturesque sights, its people, its arts and culture – it’s all flirting with you. And who doesn’t like a little flirtatious fun?

mj Paris love lock

The Best Sightseeing:

The more you see the world, the more you fall in love with it. I’ll never forget the crashing waves and eroded cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, or the grassy knolls of Ireland – they were perfectly manicured by sheep and highlighted with a rainbow. Talk. About. A. Sight. To. See. Most destinations can offer something special, but truthfully, only one place continues to enchant me: Paris, France.

I’ve been twice and I can’t wait to go again. I’ve seen most all of the landmarks, galleries, and museums, and I’d see them all once or four times more given the opportunity. But there’s something about Paris – it’s like you’re not just seeing the sights, you’re living amongst them too. Take, for example, the time I winked at Mona Lisa over top the heads of Chinese tourists. They flashed a million photos of her iconic face, while she and I simply made eye contact. I wondered if they saw her at all. Or the late afternoon I spent strolling the gardens of Versailles. Sure, I snapped photos, because it’d be negligent not to, but I also paced about imagining what it might have looked like if all the tourists were replaced with 12th century Parisians, making me a member of the court, quite worthy of the crown. Mark and I have taken leisure like the locals, people watching at a street-side café with wine and cheese while embracing as if we were the only two people in the city – Paris belongs to the lovers. We’ve hopefully, and rather cutely I might add, attached a love lock to the Pont des Arts bridge and slipped into lesser known museums and enjoyed the space to gaze. But perhaps the most beloved Parisian experience to date was our early afternoon picnic underneath the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know which I enjoyed more: the fresh baguette with jelly, the bottle of bubbly, or the good-looking American laid out next to me like a Greek god, but I instantly became a big fan of picnics – and Paris.

The Best View:

I’m not the type to willingly stay somewhere that looks like it could be just anywhere, because you have to admit it, this wide world has a lot more beauty to offer you than just some alleyway. I’m talking about a view. To me, it’s absolutely necessary. Just to put how pivotal I think something like “location, location, location” is, realize this: when I watch House Hunters -which is pretty frequently because I’m obsessed with homes, travel, and the competition of guessing which one they’ll choose – nine times out of ten, I forsake all other “wish list” needs and choose the property with the best view. Personally, I’ve signed a lease and even bought a home because they provided me with a majestic mountain view. I wanted the beginning, middle, and end of all my days to be influenced by that scene. Perspective matters!

My hotel homes are no different. The only thing better than slipping on kicks to explore the city is being able to open the curtains and see it bustling right below you. No shoes required.

As far as the best view I’ve ever squinted at – Mark is constantly opening the curtains earlier than I’d prefer – honorable mentions go to: The JW Marriott in Hong Kong, but you already know all about that post card appeal and top-notch staff; the Shangri-la Shard in London, because there’s something powerful about being inside the tallest building in the city, and the Shangri-la in Sydney, Australia, because with sights like the world-famous Sydney Opera House glistening in an orange sunset, sail boats and cruise ships navigating in harmony, and a harbor bridge that normal, everyday humans can hike over like a mountain, the Aussies put on a good show. But ultimately, and with much deliberation, the best view goes to the W Hotel in Washington DC.

All right, I might be a little biased here. After all, this is the place where Mark and I fell in love over a rather tasty room service club sandwich. Or perhaps it’s the career girl in me who will always hold DC in a special place in her heart. Either way, I’ve always felt privileged to be within its walls.

As a guest, I spend nights at the rooftop bar, appropriately named POV, toasting champs with direct view into the White House. I especially like raising my glass when I’ve noticed that the porch light has gone off. “Good night, Mr. President!” I broadcast with drunk-girl enthusiasm. And in the morning, I wake to the sun shining on the Washington Memorial. Its fifty encircling American flags wave good morning, beckoning me to rise and shine. I know it sounds sentimental, but being there makes me happy to be an American.

And that’s what it really comes down to. I’m proud to be an American; grateful to have the opportunity to experience the very best of this world; thrilled to be sharing a life and love with this hunk checking his emails in the window seat; and oh so glad that the flight attendant has just refreshed my glass of champagne. Again.

10 Life Lessons My Mama Taught Me

This year, not unlike last, I was out of town on Mother’s Day. At a global rate of $1.99 per minute, I phoned my mama from Istanbul, Turkey to show her the love that had been promised to her back in 1914. You see, thanks to a mother-loving American woman named Anna Jarvis and, according to The University of Virginia, a self-described mama’s boy, President Woodrow Wilson, Mother’s Day is a bona fide national holiday that we Americans celebrate on the second Sunday of May. But let’s be real here, with things like clashing calendars or procrastination in shipping her gift, Mother’s Day could just as easily be celebrated on the third Sunday as it could on a Tuesday. It could even be recognized in an extremely tardy blog post on June 25th. Simply put, the month of May (or June in my case) belongs to the moms. And I’m cool with that; after all, every other day of the year is (insert creepy voice) consumed by the children.

My mama and I rarely talk on the phone; we’re more into the “how have you been?” or “leaving the country again!” texts. Sometimes we FaceTime, which is really awesome now that I’m living on the opposite side of the country and Mexican food lunch dates just aren’t possible anymore. However, it was her holiday so I wanted to hear her voice, and she seemed grateful to hear mine, too. We chatted about my Istanbul sightseeing and how much room service I’d devoured, and her upcoming travel to the Philippines. I warned her of the typhoons and cyclones threatening her next destination and urged her to stay safe and dry – who was the mother here?

After our 20-minute and $40 USD phone call, I scrolled through my Facebook to see how everyone else in my world was honoring their mother. Nearly every single friend took time away from their usually political, travel, partying, or culinary posts to wish their mother a happy day and proudly proclaim that their mom is “the best;” “the kindest;” “the most amazing;” “the most beautiful.” And while that was very thoughtful of them to declare, if it were me and I had to pick just one attributing adjective to describe my mom, it wouldn’t be any of those ordinary words. She isn’t basic, so I’d never assign her a baseline descriptor. She’s complex and charming. She’s fun and funny. So instead, I’d tell you how inspiring she is.

Our relationship is unique. Looking back, I think she was my best and first friend. As a child, I mostly just remember my mom as a beautiful, young person who played and laughed. She had long hair and wore bold lipstick. Her teeth were perfect. Even at such a young age, I could see how persuasive her smile was – I’ve been faithfully brushed my teeth for as long as I can remember. She would put the cereal low so that I could make it myself while she got ready for her day or caught up on her beauty rest. She most definitely molded me into the anti-morning person that I am today. I think my desire to pay people compliments began with her, because whenever I told her how pretty she looked or how great her earrings were, I got to stay up later or she’d play a game with me. We watched soap operas and played hockey in the street. On rainy days, she played Barbies with me and taught me how to write my name in cursive. There’s never been any doubt in my mind that my mom was one of the cool moms.

Time ticks on…the very act of aging alters perceptions…reality rolls right over you. As an adult, we have this ability to look back and see things as they were, not as they seemed. It’s been recommended that I remove my parents from their pedestal. I’ve been informed that they’re just people, not super heroes. With a nose crinkle, I ponder the cool cloud I had her floating in all these years:

In the third grade, three grades beyond the rainy day cursive lesson, I discovered that I’d been doodling a cursive G instead of a J. I was, of course, teased for this error because I had been, of course, bragging about my cursive skills up until that point. I wondered if she hadn’t corrected me because she thought it was cute or because she wasn’t really paying attention. My mother has always been very interested in her own life. She wasn’t one of those moms who drove you all around town or took you to the mall everyday or prepared envied lunches or even baked a birthday cake of your liking – there was a span of a few years where she gave me chocolate with chocolate frosting because that’s what she liked. But, she was one of those moms who painted your nails and put curlers in your hair. She was trusted and well liked. I could tell her my secrets and was never embarrassed to have her around. In high school, my girlfriends and I would put on skits and my mom would video tape them for us. We were never shy of what she’d think because she’s never been a judgmental person. I also appreciated that I could shop in her closet whenever I pleased because she has never ever worn mom jeans.

Sure, I probably could have used more of a mom than a friend during those formative years. I mean, I don’t know how to sew or French braid my hair. And the only real meal I can cook with confidence are her tacos. But based on how damn delicious those are, I wouldn’t trade that one recipe for seventeen.

My mother – the friend, mama, college-graduate even with two children, talented TV producer, and the girl who still sometimes snorts when she laughs – isn’t a conventional parent. But somewhere along her wayward path of parenting, she managed to offer me snippets of unique support and advice that left me inspired enough to actually do what she said.

Of all the things she did and didn’t teach me, here’s what I have come to value most:

NEVER REFUSE SPONSORSHIP:

This wasn’t bestowed upon me until I was old enough to enter a bar, so kudos to that moral compass. She explained that if someone, particularly a friend amongst a group, wants to buy you a drink – let them. Note that creepy men are exempt from this party lesson. Roofies are bad – all moms know that. Right now, as I’m typing, I just paused to consider my financial commitment to one of most beloved hobbies, that being partying, and I can honestly say that I have invested very little in myself. I can also promise that I have smiled and said “thank you!” for every single beverage that my wallet didn’t pay for. No one likes an ungrateful bitch.

DRINK AND MOVE:

Keeping with the party theme here, this rule is really very simple. Why sit at one bar all night long when you could pick a few in the area and visit them all? Note that this is only recommended when you utilize something like Uber, a taxi, or your own two feet if you’re lucky enough to have a cozy bar scene in your neighborhood. And when the bar-merry-go-round has concluded, finish up where you began and see how different everyone looks there. They’re likely to be bellied-up to the bar telling the same story with a slur while you’ve just sashayed into the place with windblown hair and might even make a cameo on the bar top.

ALWAYS HAVE FRESH FLOWERS BY THE FRONT DOOR:

During my mom’s second marriage, she started filling our house with fresh flowers. Perhaps it was to appear more domesticated? Maybe she suddenly discovered that their mere presence made our house more of a home? Either way, it really impacted me. I enjoyed walking through her front door to be greeted by a colorful and fragrant bouquet. My college living arrangements always sort of had a scent of Taco Bell or beer, and I never really felt at home. As an adult, I take a lot of pride in setting flowers by my own front door. It seems silly, but I take a moment to look at them whenever I leave the house. They make where I live my life seem real and beautiful – and who wouldn’t appreciate that?

GO TO COLLEGE:

This was actually mandated. She didn’t care what I majored in so long as I went to and graduated from a university. When I moved into my dorm at Arizona State she mailed me a letter cheerleading me on, but also recommended this: “don’t let your education get into the way of your experience!” I saved that letter somewhere in some box, and even though I haven’t looked at it in years, I can see it perfectly. She wrote in all capital letters with a dull pencil on an ASU letterhead and personalized it with a lipstick kiss at the bottom. Throughout college, she helped me with math homework and laughed as I told her spring break stories. I think it was a healthy balance. And when I was all done, she toasted me with champagne.

IT’S JUST A BREAK-UP. YOU’LL BE OK:

This is pretty self-explanatory. But just in case it’s over your head, this is where resilience comes into play. Break-ups suck, but they’re a process. Just go through the motions. Be angry. Be sad. Be wild. Be open to new things and new people. And then, one day, you’ll be happy again without even having to focus on it. That’s the “ok” part. But I can always take solace in the fact that if my mama ever sees that one ex-boyfriend, she’ll “run him over” with her car. See, you’ll be laughing in no time at all.

YOU ROCK ‘EM, YOU WEAR ‘EM:

This is referring to the generally uncomfortable shoes we women wear. Strutting your stuff isn’t easy when the balls of your feet are numb or your toes are pinched, but if you make that fashion commitment early in the night, you had better keep them on all night. There is nothing tackier than a shoeless chick zig-zagging her way through a casino at 4 am because her little feetsies just couldn’t take it anymore. Let’s be honest, we all know that you had them off inside the club too. You want to know how I know this? I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have been walking through a nightclub and literally tripped over a high-heeled shoe. No foot. No body. Just one shoe. Disgusting!
Didn’t your mama teach you better than that? Here, borrow mine.

THAT’S KARMA FOR YA:

I can’t even count how many times this phrase was declared in my house growing up. Whether it be some bully brat spreading a rumor about me one day and then getting benched from the team for poor grades the next, or my mom leaving a generous tip to our lunch server only to be rewarded with an even more generous tip during her next shift, or my failure to hold the front door for her and then immediately tripping over the dog, she always sang, “that’s karma for ya!” Big or small, what we do and how we treat each other matters. Karma’s only a bitch when you are.

BOYS ARE DUMB. GIRLS ARE PSYCHO:

This is fact. If you were to really magnify the problems, almost any problem, that arise between a man and a woman, you will see that a single indifference can run amuck because he’s an idiot and she’ll take it to crazy town. I wish this weren’t true, but I’ve also learned that it’s better to date a dumbass than a lunatic. Guys, leave the wickedness to the women.

COLOR COORDINATE YOUR BRA AND PANTIES:

Even if no one will ever see or know you made the effort – you will, and you’ll feel damn pretty for it. I’ve been matching my unmentionables since I was 16, and while I can’t say for certain if anyone has ever appreciated it, it’s always made me feel fashionably in control.

AND FOR GOOD MEASURE, THOU SHALT NOT KILL:

That’s it. She never elaborated beyond that. But what kind of a mother would she be if she hadn’t at least taught me that?