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Check Out My HipStop: St. Lucia Piece in the New Summer 2014 #HOT Issue of SNAP Magazine

A honeymooner going coconuts in St. Lucia

The summer 2014 #HOT issue of Snap Magazine is live and available for free in iTunes here. It’s filled with stunning images, recipes (chorizo breakfast tacos, anyone?), a hot summer playlist and my HipStop: St. Lucia piece.

The cover of the Summer 2014 #HOT issue of Snap Magazine

Left: Sugar Beach does umbrellas right  Right: squirtguns on the table at Dasheene

I love shooting assignments for Snap. The hard part is picking which images to send in the final edit. In this post I’ve included a few of my favorite images that did not wind up in Snap.

I met this fruit and vegetable vendor at the market in Soufriere.

Left: Diamond Falls Right: The Rain Forest Walk at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort

All the images in Snap are shot using the apps created by Hipstamatic. I shot all of my St. Lucia images for Snap using Hipstamatic’s Oggl app, which allows you to changes the film and lens after you’ve captured the image.

Palm Frond Sunset at Sugar Beach in St. Lucia

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Where to Eat in Florence on a Budget: Trattoria La Casalinga

The bar at Trattoria Casalinga

Eating well in Florence often comes with a hefty price tag. So discovering the budget-friendly  Trattoria La Casalinga was a nice find. Located near Piazza Santo Spirito, it was a nice walk from Piazza Della Repubblica, where I was staying.  La Casalinga means “the housewife” in Italian and focus on local Tuscan specialties. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and caters to a nice blend of both locals and tourists.

The salumi plate was reasonably priced and tasty

La Casalinga fills up and the tables are close a bit uncomfortably close together. Portions of pasta are large enough to split and we preferred the spaghetti pomodoro ( € 7) to the bolognese version. Wine was also reasonably priced and quite drinkable if not especially memorable.

Insalata Misto and Spaghetti Pomodoro

Our waitress was salty in an amusing way and service was fine overall. Since the tables are so close together, you’ll wind up chatting with your neighbors. Many raved about the steaks, although we did not try one. It’s important to not Trattoria La Casalinga serves tripe, pigs feet and some other types of local Tuscan cuts that might not appeal to all guests. Be sure to ask your server if you have any questions about the menu items.

The antipasti plate included Tuscan white beans

There were plenty of options for vegetarians on the menu as well.

Pasta Bolognese

Trattoria La Casalinga is a great option for a low key and budget friendly meal in Florence, and comes with some genuine Tuscan touches.

Reasonable prices at Trattoria La Casalinga

TIP: Reservations are essential for dinner during the summer. Book ahead.

Trattoria La Casalinga

Via dei Michelozzi, 9r (near Piazza Santo Sprito)

50125 Firenze

055 218624

info@trattorialacasalinga.it

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A Stay in a Park Suite at the Park Hyatt Vienna, Austria

Bank, the hotel’s restaurant, is a deco beauty

During my recent trip to Europe, I got the chance to spend the night at the Park Hyatt Vienna, which had been open all of 2 1/2 weeks prior to my one-night stay. Housed in a building that was once a bank, the Park Hyatt Vienna is an Art Deco gem with all the usual understated elegance that one expects from a Park Hyatt, but with the added bonus of New Hotel Smell! The modern interpretation of deco design is a refreshing change from the old world Imperial design choices at other top Vienna hotels.

The reception desk  of Bank restaurant

My husband is a Hyatt Gold Passport member with Diamond status, so we were upgraded to room 430, a Park Suite which was huge, stunning, glamorous and vastly exceeded any expectations one can expect for a €300 hotel room in Europe during the summer.

The former bank’s vault has been converted into an indoor pool

The architectural highlight of the property was the spa and pool. What was the former bank vault has been converted into the Park Hyatt’s indoor pool. You enter through the vault doors. The fitness center is well equipped, open 24 hours, has great air conditioning and overlooks this inspired space.

The living room of Park Suite 430

The hotel’s vibe is Deco glam, but not too flashy. Park Suite 430 featured a large living room with a desk, a lighted vanity, a huge television (perfect for watching the World Cup), a seating area with a sofa and two chairs, and a packed mini-bar. The bedroom seemed a bit cramped for the king-size bed, but the crazy beautiful bathroom was huge and more than made up for the bedroom. The closet space exceeded what I have at home.

Left: a peak inside the Mini-bar Right: A bowl of fresh fruit welcome amenity

When you book a stay at a just-opened hotel, you except there will be some kinks. But when you stay at a just-open luxury business hotel in Austria, you do not expect that the wifi will not work in your room.

Problems are to be expected, and the staff at the Park Hyatt all seemed aware of the problem. Red flag #1: there was no IT person on property who could come to our room  to help us troubleshoot the issue, instead, the IT person recommended I call the service provider. After spending several frustrating minutes on the phone with a service center in the Philippines– who seemed entirely unaware of the hotel’s existence– help came in the form of Park Hyatt Vienna employee Philipp F., whose title I believe was Director of Rooms.

The king-sized bed in the bedroom of Suite 430

Philipp handled the situation well. He both acknowledging the hotel’s ongoing wifi issue, and looked for a temporary solution. He offered to upgrade us again to a Park Executive suite which might have better connectivity, but we declined. We were on a tight FedEx deadline, and we needed send off some time-senstive documents and enjoy the soccer game. Philipp made  the situation far more tolerable by sending up a round of Aperol Spritz (which sounds extra fun when said with German accent).

Left: the vanity in room 430 Right: the desk had ample plus and glam lighting

While the wifi workaround didn’t last long in room 430, connectivity wasn’t an issue in the lobby and common areas of the hotel. I had speedy connections in in Bank restaurant, as well as the cigar and whiskey lounge, The Living Room.

Philipp went above and beyond the call of duty by making sure that our FedEx got to it’s destination that night, delivered via taxi.  The staff at the Park Hyatt is excellent, and as attractive as the hotel itself. They handled the situation superbly.

The gleaming white bathroom

The bathroom was spacious and sublime. In addition to the deep tub, there was a huge shower with both a rain shower and powerful second hand shower, and water stayed where it should. The Park Hyatt Vienna also was my first experience with a Black Mambo hairdryer– which puts all other hotel hairdryers to shame.

Serene marble bathroom in suite 430 at the Park Hyatt Vienna

Breakfast was included (a Diamond status perk) and served in Bank restaurant. The spread was as impressive as the former bank space itself. Food selections ranged from muesli and cheese to all the usually cold and hot dishes as well as a chef making eggs to order. Next time I’m in Vienna I hope to check out Bank for dinner– the space is beautiful and had a few chef’s tables tucked in and around the open kitchen.

Blaise Mautin toiletries at the Park Hyatt Vienna

One thing about the hotel’s design struck me as odd. There seems to be only one elevator for all 143 guest rooms. It wasn’t an issue during the weekend when the hotel wasn’t fully occupied, but it seemed like it might be one during the morning business meeting rush.

A table at Bank restaurant

Left: a table tucked in the open kitchen Right: eggs made to order at breakfast

Cereals and fruit galore at the Park Hyatt Vienna’s breakfast buffet

I wish I was more of a breakfast person when I saw the buffet. The service was good and my English Breakfast tea was quick to arrive and quickly refreshed, my eggs perfectly poached.

Left: juice and dairy Right: dried fruit for breakfast

With a glorious building and great staff, I expect the Park Hyatt Vienna will figure out it’s wifi issues quickly and become one of Vienna’s top business hotels… it’s certainly the prettiest.

Park Hyatt Vienna

Am Hof 2

Vienna,  Austria, 1010

Tel: +43 1 22740 1234

Fax: +43 1 22740 1235

Email: vienna.park@hyatt.com

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Eating “The World’s Best Gelato” at Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano, Italy

Rosemary Baby Gelato under the Tuscan sun

During my recent trip to Florence, I took a day trip to Chianti to go wine tasting. My tour guide recommended a stop in the quaint medieval town of San Gimignano, near Siena, to try some of “The World’s Best Gelato” at Gelateria Dondoli.

Gelateria Dondoli is hard to miss with it’s merits and awards on the doors

San Gimignano is sometimes called the “Medieval Manhattan” because of its towering stone skyline. I would have liked to explore the town more, but I was on a mission to find Gelateria Dondoli. It’s located on the town’s main square of Piazza della Cisterna– just look for the line out the door.

A few scoops of gelato in a cone for a few euros

While waiting in line it became clear that the Gelato Dondoli hasn’t won the Gelato World Cup in several years (Hello… there’s a World Cup of Gelato?). Gelato Master Sergio Dondoli last took the title in 2009 as part of the Italian team. Rumor has it you have to sit out after back to back wins.

According to Coppa del Mondo della Gelateria website, France won the top prize in 2014. It also appears that ice cream makers win the awards as team (much like the FIFA World Cup), which might explain why a few other other Gelaterias had similar title claims on their doors.

The fruit gelatos are gluten free at Gelateria Dondoli

I wasn’t going to back out of line now because of the technicalities of a title win. Selecting a flavor was the toughest part. The fruit gelatos at Gelateria Dondoli come in a variety of flavors including fig and watermelon and are gluten free. Some flavors have fun names– The Rosemary Baby gelato (made with raspberries and rosemary) was my favorite.

Left: Passion fruit gelato Right: Rosemay Baby gelato

The cream gelatos also range from standard to unusual varieties. There is one called “Michelle”– named in honor of FLOTUS. Michelle is made from almonds, orange zest, honey and saffron and was a real crowd pleaser. Other outside the box flavors included gorgonzola and walnuts, and several including Nutella.

Traveler’s Tip: Real gelato isn’t aerated, so the geniune stuff doesn’t tower over the container in puffy heaps

The chocolate gelati are also anything but basic. The Amedi Chua won an award. Other chocolate varieties include edgy combos and ingredients like pink and sichuan peppers. I ordered  the Cioccolata Bianco because when overwhelmed with choice, I default to ordering my namesake gelato.

Scooping away at Gelateria Dondoli

The gelato was indeed delicious and hit the spot on a hot summer day in Tuscany. Was it the best in the world… probably not. But the story is good and it’s worth a stopping by and dropping a few euros on this delicious local Tuscan treat.

Gelateria Dondoli

Gelato under the Tuscan sun = Summer

Gelateria Dondoli

Address: Piazza Cisterna, 4,

53037 San Gimignano Siena, Italy

Phone:+39 0577 942244

 

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A Stay at Ladera Resort, St. Lucia

When your room is missing a wall, it definitely qualifies as Glamping

On my recent trip to St. Lucia, I stayed at two different properties, both in the Soufriere area of the Island. First up was Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort.

Next, I stayed at Ladera Resort for 3 nights, which I covered in detail for the Glamping.com blog (Arrival and Day 1, Day 2, Day 3).

Ladera’s pool sits below it’s bar and Dasheene Restaurant

The two hotels are located close to each other. Ladera even sends guests via shuttle a few times a day to Sugar Beach, since the resort is located in the lush hills between the Pitons, and not right on the ocean.

Not surprisingly, we bumped into some of the same couples we met at Sugar Beach. It makes sense to move around if you’re spending more than a few days on St. Lucia, and the combo gives a nice mix of beach and rainforest and two very different vibes.

Left: Swing over the pool in our room  Right: The indoor “living room” of PR 3 had Piton views

Ladera is the more unique of the two resorts. Since the rooms are all missing a wall, guests are truly getting a 5 star glamping experience. You’re at one with the elements, be it sun, rain, or stars. You’re not exactly roughing it though, the wooden rooms have all the necessary creature comforts (including wifi). But if you’re the type who is going to freak out if you see a gecko in you’re room, then Ladera probably isn’t for you.

Cool in-room amenity: a star chart and binoculars

I love resorts with a non-generic vibe and personality, so I adored Ladera. I also thought the food at Dasheene, their on-site restaurant, was the best of the hotel restaurants I tried. The Caribbean kingfish and jerked shrimp on sugar cane skewers were standouts, and cocktails were a few dollars less expensive than those I drank at nearby resorts.

The mosquito netting is sexy– and helpful when your room is missing one wall

Left: Colorful tiles in the rainforest themed Rainshower Right: The rainshower could easily fit two people… or maybe five

St. Lucia is definitely a couples destination. There were a lot of honeymooners at Ladera, and the hotel is situated for maximum privacy. Missing a wall does mean that you hear the nature outside, the cicadas at night, and the occasional couple in the throes of ecstasy in the next room (good for them!).

Side by side sinks in the wooden bathroom of PR3

Ladera has a top notch staff that can help arrange sightseeing, tours, or any other needs you might have. Their spa is very basic, but the technicians are great (I got a very reasonably priced deep tissue massage that hit the spot).

Ladera’s vibe is eco-chic: wood, boulders, and exposed to the elements

Funky pots and sexy shadows are part of Ladera’s organic charm

Ladera’s social center is the pool, bar, and restaurant area. The bar has spectacular sunset views and saves the best front-row seats for in-house guests. Non hotel guests have to pay a cover fee just to check it out. Local musicians play during brunch and dinner, and the vibe is casual Caribbean elegance and divinely laid back.

Waiting in the bar at Ladera

Lush green landscaping and fun tiled ponds add to the resort’s charm

The Spa might not look fancy, but the treatments are fantastic

The gym is good for working off the rum-based cocktails and fabulous breads served at breakfast

A friendly local in the bar

Peg, a local bird, joined me for breakfast

What I liked most about Ladera was how fun it was. The food was fine-dining quality, but there are just enough local touches that keep it unpretentious and decidedly not stuffy. The guests were also low key and chill. Tables are adorned with madras napkins, and squirt guns meant for fending off local birds who invite themselves to your meals and want in on your tasty bread basket at breakfast.

Left: Drinking a coconut in the bar Right: an omelette made to order for breakfast

Ladera isn’t cookie cutter or generic, and neither are it’s guests. It’s an unforgettable place to spend a few days for a special occasion like a romantic weekend away, an anniversary, or a honeymoon.

A jerked fish wrap for lunch in the bar

Ladera’s bar menu had killer chicken satay, and rum and lime cocktails

Caribbean kingfish for lunch at Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera

The band sets up before dinner in Ladera’s Bar Area

Guests gather poolside to take in the spectacular Piton sunsets

Guests thinking about Ladera should know that it’s not located right on the beach, and while their is shuttle service available, I didn’t even use it as I spend my days at the pool or exploring the surrounding area. There are plenty of taxis available should you miss scheduled shuttle service to Sugar Beach.

Paradise Ridge at night

Ladera Resort

Soufrière,

St. Lucia, West Indies

Resort Reservations: 866-290-0978

reservations@ladera.com

Rates start at $475.00

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