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140 Character Overview:

Sexy, sleek digs in LA’s Koreatown with an industrial-chic vibe by trendsetting Sydell Group. Views of Hollywood Hills. F & B by Roy Choi.

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The Vibe:

Ultra modern with exposed concrete walls, California cool design flourishes and contemporary art pieces. A trendy spot with plenty of dining diversions, the rooms are nurturing abodes with high tech amenities (like electronic curtains for the floor to ceiling windows) perfect for luxuriating.

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The Sydell Group is also responsible for Miami’s The Freehand and New York’s Nomad Hotel.

The Location:

Los Angeles’ Koreatown is an up-and-coming destination for exotic dining with an energetic nightlife scene. I only stayed one night and didn’t have the chance to experience the neighborhood, but I’d love to check it out next time. This NY Times 36 Hours in Koreatown video and article paints a pretty great picture, though.

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I loved waking up to this view.

 

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Be sure to book a room facing the Hollywood Hills.

 

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Funky, Navajo-style prints and furniture added warmth to the industrial design.

 

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I loved the juxtaposition of the exposed concrete with the feminine, floral, plush carpeting in the hallways.

F & B:

Chef Roy Choi, the man who¬†singlehandedly ushered in LA’s food truck craze with his¬†Korean taco truck¬†Kogi BBQ, heads up the F & B at The Line Hotel¬†(3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; 213-381-7411) with four distinctive dining destinations. Pot and Commissary serve as its two marquee eateries.

During my stay, I enjoyed room service for dinner (which they’ve branded as “Delivery”) and breakfast at Commissary inside a light-filled greenhouse by the pool. Oddly enough, they were¬†out of the first thing I tried to order at each venue, but I’ve forgotten what those selections were because everything I ate was so damn delicious.

For dinner delivery, I had pot stickers and a corned beef sandwich that was more like a tangy roast beef melt with buttery toasted bread, juicy, tender beef and ooey-gooey cheese melted inside.

Breakfast at Commissary was such a delight. My chorizo and eggs had the most perfectly crisped hash browns I think I’ve ever eaten, tying the whole dish together with great crunch and flavor.

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The greenhouse dining room of Commissary.

 

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I love the silver and gold flatware and the eclectic, multi-colored glasses at Commissary.

 

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The amazingly delicious chorizo and eggs. The hash browns are hiding beneath. So yum!

The Specs:

388 rooms
12 stories
4 restaurants & a lobby bar
Outdoor pool
Gym
Poketo lifestyle boutique
Free WiFi
Meeting & events space
Rates from about $199 per night

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Poketo was a super cool shop where you could easily find a little something something worth splurging on.

The Verdict:

I loved my stay here. The room was sexy, luxurious and comfortable and the food was delicious. Overall beautiful environment to be in while visiting LA. Service and hospitality was great.

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I love a pretty bathroom and this golden picture frame did the trick. The shower was sleek and minimal with gold fixtures and a small wooden bench for products.

Shayne’s Checklist:

Bathrobe: Yes. A karate-style cotton robe with a white belt (as opposed to, you know, a black belt).

Conditioner: Yes. Made for The Line by Baxter of California, the packaging was fancier than the actual product, though.

Bed Comfort Level: 4 Stars (out of 5).

This destination gets Shayne’s¬†“I’d like to live here for at least one month”¬†seal of approval. Obviously, I’m from Southern California originally, so this was a sort of homecoming.

The main event.

The main event.

 

Let the endurance eating begin! South Beach Wine & Food Festival kicked off last night and goes all weekend long. Al Roker is in town, Martha’s here, Giada’s here,¬†all those judges from Chopped¬†are everywhere.

It’s a fun time of year in South Beach because you get to stuff your face at party after party where the main point of being there is EATING! Like, you never have to apologize for going back for seconds or grazing by the buffet, you’re supposed to be power eating. I discovered last year that food comas are real. All that food and ¬†booze over the course of a few short days can really incapacitate you. It’s the only time of year when I’m actually not hungry for a couple days afterwards.

Chopped selfies at Tacos After Dark last night. Marc Murphy, Ted Allen & Aarón Sánchez.

Chopped selfies at Tacos After Dark Thursday night. Marc Murphy, Ted Allen & Aarón Sánchez.

 

I’m trying to pace myself this year. Last night, I attended Tacos After Dark¬†(click the link for my recap) hosted by Aar√≥n S√°nchez and Casamigos tequila. Tonight, I’m off to Burger Bash (where I hope to be confused for Rachael Ray and win a burger eating contest) and finally Saturday, I’ll attend a dignified League of Their Own lady chef brunch at the Thompson Hotel.

And that’s it. I think. I mean, I might swing by a few other parties.

Rachael! Let's be best friends. I'll split that shack burger with you. Oh, you want your own? Me too!

Rachael! Let’s be best friends. I’ll split that shack burger with you. Oh, you want your own? Me too!

 

It’s funny, it only took me three years covering this event to realize that all these famous faces are household names because of Food Network shows. I mean, I’ve always known and loved Rachael Ray (Yum-o!) because the promise of 30-minute meals is the only way to get me in the kitchen, and I know Bobby Flay because his name is kind of funny and he likes to run my route along the beach walk when he’s in town (high five!), and I know Guy Fieri because he has crazy hair and Bobby Moynihan impersonates him on SNL, but I never actually started watching the Food Network until last year. Now, whenever I see that there’s going to be 100 episodes of¬†Chopped¬†in a row, I fall into a serene, peaceful trance in front of the TV. So I’m excited to hit the town this weekend for some celebrity chef spotting now that I feel as intimately acquainted with them as the rest of America.

Anyway, the Miami Herald is your source for great up to the minute coverage, so be sure to check out the Uncorked blog throughout the weekend. Happy #SOBEWFF!

“Have you ever eaten pizza for all three meals in a day?” I asked Ted as we walked up Broadway. We’d already decided we were having pizza for brunch and dinner that day.

“I don’t think so,” he laughed. “Have you?”

“Yep,” I answered. It was back in college. I tried to recount where each pizza came from, but could only guess that one was a frozen pizza, one might’ve been delivery and I was pretty sure one was from Schlotzky’s Deli.

Hop aboard the pizza train! We're you're conductors Ted & Shayne. Final stop: Bushwick.

Hop aboard the pizza train! We’re you’re conductors Ted & Shayne. Final stop: Bushwick.

 

After a night at Flaming Saddles (basically the coolest gay cowboy bar that anyone could dream up) capped off by three too many Painkillers (man, they’re just so tasty!) at Reunion Surf Bar, Ted and I awoke intact and ravenous. I was in town for his going away party. After more than a decade in New York City (we moved there together back in the day), he was off to LA, and I had to have one last hurrah with him before it was all over.

All aboard the pizza train!

First Stop: Marta

When Ted suggested we hit up Danny Meyer’s new pizza joint Marta in the Flatiron for brunch, I said, hell yeah! We arrived to this sleek, sexy, yet still warm and cozy restaurant in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel and snagged two seats at the bar where we proceeded to execute the perfect order starting with two Bloody Marys, our bartender was even taken with us!

First Course:¬†The kale salad we manifested on our walk over, craving some restorative greens, was on the menu! We ordered the small Cavolo Nero Salad with kale, meyer lemon and parmigiano. It was bright, acidic and savory, and perhaps the most perfectly textured kale that I’ve ever had. It was so soft, yet crisp, you could almost describe it as fluffy.

We also ordered the Suppli Alla Terrazza, green risotto croquettes with mozzarella and mixed herbs. It was basically the ultimate mozzarella stick, crispy on the outside with fresh mozzarella oozing from within the rich risotto.

Main: We opted for a pizze bianche, the Cavolini with Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, pickled chili and parmigiano with a fried egg on top. Talk about the ultimate brunch pizza!

The masterpiece that is Marta's Olive Oil Affogato

The masterpiece that is Marta’s Olive Oil Affogato

 

Dessert:¬†Two cappuccinos and then one of the most emotionally evocative desserts to date, the Olive Oil Affogato. Allow me to paint the picture: a dense ball of vanilla gelato is topped with a crumble of honeycomb candy and encircled by delicate slices of kumquat and slivers of blood orange. The waitress pours a beautifully verdant olive oil on top and sets the plate in front of us. Our bartender boyfriend coos, “It’s a very special dessert.” And advises us to strive for the perfect bite with all elements on one spoonful. It’s an exquisite symphony in your mouth.

Second Stop: The MoMA

"Memory of Oceania," summer 1952- early 1953, Photograph: Succession H Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“Memory of Oceania,” summer 1952- early 1953. Photograph: Succession H Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. This was one of my favorite pieces. It’s meant to represent a boat and Matisse described the orange paper in the right corner as the Tahitian sky at sunset.

 

Okay, admittedly there was no pizza involved in the second stop on the pizza train, but catching Matisse’s Cut Outs exhibit before it closes February 10, was a high priority stop on this trip. While the MoMA was positively swarming with people, the entire exhibit was such a delight. Matisse has been one of my favorite painters for years and it was fascinating to learn more about the process involved in creating these elaborate cutouts towards the end of his life when he was wheelchair-bound in Nice, Paris and Vence.

We learned that he worked with assistants who painted the pieces of paper with gouache to achieve the rich saturated colors (clearly a precursor to construction paper and collage!) that we associate so much with his paintings. He’d cut out the shapes, often organic and amorphous, and then have his assistants pin them to the walls upon his direction, creating entire worlds surrounding him. And they weren’t fixed creations. He’d constantly direct his assistants to change the configurations in a sort of slow capture animation, and when you view the works, you can see all the different pin pricks in the pieces of paper.

By the end of the exhibit, you’re enchanted by his worlds of swimming pools, his signature nudes, goldfish, pomegranates, seascapes and depictions of his own studio. The exhibit is expertly curated taking you on a journey from the small scale and commercial work on magazine covers to all-encompassing, abstract large format pieces. As Matisse put it, it was in a quest of resolving “the eternal conflict of drawing and color.”

Third Stop: Roberta’s

As we journeyed on the L train deep into the heart of Bushwick, I said to Ted, “I want to eat so much pizza that I’m completely stuffed, not just enough that I’m merely full, okay?” He laughed and agreed. He’d long waxed romantic about this place Roberta’s, so I demanded that he take me there, not just for the pizza, but also for the Bushwick experience.

It was dusk as we got off the train and took in the graffiti art on our short walk to Roberta’s where we met my brother Brett and my friend Rebekah. With exposed concrete cinder block walls, long wooden picnic bench seating, wood-planked ceilings and a cozy back bar all strewn with knick knacks and funky art, the place has a sort of hipster ski lodge vibe to it. We put our names down for an hour wait and then proceeded to the patio bar that was “fully winterized” where we were able to snag a first come, first served seat and ordered right away.

Here’s what we had:

First Course: Brussels Sprouts with apple, bianco sardo, sunflower and egg to sate our restorative greens craving. And the Kyoto Carrots with grilled mussels and lime. Pretty delic!

Pizzas: These are the pizzas we had in order of favorite. At the end of the meal, we each weighed in on this order, and the list below represents my opinion only. Please note: They were all the bomb!

Behold, the Good Girl, Speckenwolf and Lamb of God. Bee Sting was already eaten at the time this picture was taken.

Behold, from left to right: the Lamb of God, Good Girl, and Speckenwolf . Bee Sting was already eaten at the time this photo was taken.

 

1. Bee Sting- This item was not on the menu, but Ted knew to order it anyway. It had spicy soppressata topped with honey over melted mozzarella and tomato sauce on a crisp, slightly charred, yet chewy crust. It was melt-in-your mouth divine. Like an elevated pepperoni pizza.

2. Good Girl- This one was my contribution to the order. Made with taleggio, pork sausage (I love a good sausage pizza!), garlic and chili, it was topped with copious amounts of crispy kale (restorative greens). Yum!

3. Speckenwolf- A classic-a pizza pie-a! Speckenwolf had mozzarella, speck, mushrooms, onion and-a oregano-a!

4. Lamb of God- This one was sort of like a salad pizza: tomato, ricotta, parmigiano, lamb sausage, escarole, onion and chili.

In the end, I achieved my goal of being totally stuffed and Roberta’s is an experience I’d recommend to anyone.

Sorry there’s not more pictures! Remember, I lost my iPhone!¬†All photos in this post by Ted Donath¬†(except for Matisse). Follow him on Istagram, duh!

Will you please tell me about your favorite pizza in New York City or otherwise? Please be as passionate as possible in the comments below!

We got to Cake Shop right before 11 p.m. just in time to see my brother Brett take the stage as headliner with a solo singer/songwriter act.

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The whole Benowitz family was there, along with my friend Rebekah and a bunch of Brett’s friends. Every time I see him perform, I’m reminded of just how talented he is. He played an hourlong set of all original music along with the occasional guest artist, which he calls “Friends with Benowitz.” It’s hard to describe his sound. It’s acoustic, melodic, indie, folksy, bluesy and his lyrics are thoughtful and weave fascinating tales of places near and far.¬†He’s altogether unique, but to really get it, you just have to listen, which you can do by clicking¬†here.

Brett performing "Thank You Sam" with his Friends With Benowitz guest artists.

Brett performing “Thank You Sam” with his Friends With Benowitz guest artists.

 

Some of my favorites songs are “Thank You Sam,” “Long Ride Home,” and “Isabella.” He also performed a new song that evening called “Valerie,” in memoriam of my mother’s sister that left us all in tears. But we wiped them away, and when his set was over, we headed out on Ludlow to celebrate an awesome show.

Pianos- First stop was Pianos, a cool (and apparently classic) spot down the street with an upstairs and downstairs for different music acts. That night, there were DJs playing house music downstairs without a cover, so our group headed in to dance it up. We stayed until their set was over and it started to clear out and then checked upstairs, which was pretty dead too, so onto the next stop.

Nitecap- After a little trial and error, we made our way to Nitecap, apropos for a group of people trying to get a drink when many bars were closing for the night. It was pretty empty, but they welcomed us in where we proceeded to order shots. Then, the friendly bartender suggested we hit up their sister lounge across the street on Rivington at 151, promising it would be more lively.

One Fifty One-¬†And it was. We joined forces with another group upon entering and had a blast, creating a mini dance party in this tiny, laid-back bar. My sister Kristy and I were rolling with a crew of 20-something-year-old dudes, so when they ordered a round of beers, I requested a vodka drink. That’s when the bartender got all mixologist on me, asking about the flavor profiles I liked, and he whipped up a tasty gingery concoction with muddled lime and soda, similar to a Moscow Mule (maybe it was a Moscow Mule?), with a candied ginger garnish. He wanted to know how the cocktail was, and I said: “Great!”

That’s when he explained, “We just opened. We’re by the same guys who made Death & Co. Have you heard of it?”

“Yes!” I said. “So cool!” I’ve heard of Death & Co, but admittedly I’ve never been there. They opened in 2006, the year I bounced from the city. I just know they’re on the vanguard of the modern mixology movement and everyone thinks they’re cool. “I think I just read about you guys in¬†The New Yorker,” I told him.¬†”Were you written up in there?”

“I don’t know,” he yelled over the music. “Probably.”

Okay, cool. I’ll drink to that!

Turns out they were, and you can read all about it here. I love the way the writer characterizes One Fifty One and Nitecap’s patrons as rowdy late 20-somethings who can’t appreciate the expertly mixed drinks whereas Death & Co is a more refined drinking establishment for dignified patrons in their mid-30s. Either way, I can hang. It was a super fun night with my bro and sis¬†at these super fun cool new bars on the LES. Peace!

And look dude, sorry there’s not more photos in this post. Remember, I lost my iPhone.

As if Core Fusion and its various iterations aren’t “extreme” enough (Core Fusion Boot Camp, Core Fusion Cardio, anyone?), the good folks at Exhale Spa have created an even more challenging class with Core Fusion Extreme (CFX). It’s more bootcamp than the traditional “mind body” core and yoga experience you’ve grown accustomed to at Exhale, and it’s the only class where sneakers are required.¬†But the emphasis is still on form, results and keeping your muscles guessing.

I had a chance to take a class at Exhale’s Flatiron location in Manhattan this week.¬†It’s perfect for the yogi who wants to amp up the intensity from time to time or the bootcamp devotee who wants a gym where you can compliment your routine with the occasional yoga or core class.

In addition to New York, it’s already rolled out in LA, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and other cities with more set to debut in the coming months. And it arrives in Miami at the downtown location at the EPIC Hotel on March 12, so get ready!

So what’s a CFX class like? Well, it’s no joke intense–or should I say extreme! The studio is set up into five stations–plyo box, core ball, gliders, heavy hand weights and TRX suspension training–and you rotate throughout the class repeating two different exercises twice for about 40 seconds each.

Here’s what we did in my class:

That's me demoing the wonders of the core ball.

That’s me demoing the wonders of the core ball. Photo by Matt Roy.

 

1. Core ball-¬†I started at the core ball station doing a twisting lunge while swinging the core ball into the air above my head. The second exercise was a sort of teaser crunch with the ball. Then, we repeated both of those moves. Not bad, I’m hanging in there.

Get your glide on!

Get your glide on!

 

2. Gliders-¬†Next was the gliders. I’d never seen these contraptions before except on episodes of Broad City (which I just started watching) at the fancy gym Soulstice that Abbi works at as a janitor (lol)! Anyway, they’re little discs you put your feet on to glide around on the floor. We pushed back to plank and then forward into a squat. The next exercise involved some side leg action like a speed skater. Repeat.

Check out the ten pounders!

Check out the ten pounders!

 

3. Heavy hand weights- Okay, still hanging int there. Now, onto the heavy hand weights. With eight pound weights we did this extravagant burpee-like routine, curling the weights up to stand, pushing them above the head, back down, jumping back to plank and then rowing each one. Next, we did these crazy plank runs pulling a leg forward and out in a hip opener. These nearly killed me and required major cardio exertion. Repeat.

Warning: This is not easy.

Warning: This is not easy.

 

4. TRX suspension training-¬†Okay, what’s next? These straps hanging from the wall that I’m supposed to put my feet into? Okay, fine, got it. We did a sort of suspended leg kick looking up at the ceiling and then flipped over for the second exercise, a suspended plank, pulling our knees up to our elbows in a twist. At this point, I can barely move.

Jump around! On the plyo box!

Jump around! On the plyo box!

 

5. Plyo box- Next up? The plyo box! We did a little jumping routine up and down and side to side on and off the box. Then, we got into plank with our feet up on the box to do push ups. What?

At this point, I’ve made it through the circuit, and even though my body is maxed out, I’m thinking, that was awfully quick, the class can’t be over quite yet, what can possibly be next? The whole circuit one more time! The only difference was that in between each station, the whole class comes together for “active recovery,” that means a few more exercises thrown into the mix. At the end of class, we do a little more core work on the mats and then some restorative stretches. Also, the exercises at each station change every month, so you never get bored or know what to expect. You leave feeling totally spent, but also strong and with a nice endorphin rush.

The next day, my legs were sore, especially my calves, but also my quads and glutes, which rarely happens when I work out. My core felt tight and strong and my shoulders were also sore. It’s definitely an awesome total body workout and I’m psyched for it to debut at the EPIC in March. See you in class!

A picture from the weekend taken in Central Park by my dad with my Sony a5000 camera. The lake was frozen.

A picture from the weekend taken in Central Park by my dad with my Sony a5000 camera. No smart phones were involved in the making of this picture.

 

I picked the most inopportune time to drop my iPhone in the toilet. I’d made it past security at MIA with my phone and ID in the back pocket of my new J. Brand jeans–you know, because we use our iPhones for EVERYTHING now and at the moment mine was acting as my boarding pass. When I went to use the restroom, it leapt from my back pocket and into the toilet bowl, proceeding to conk out immediately thereafter.

Great! I thought. I’m off to New York without a phone. How am I supposed to coordinate with my mom when I get to LGA and communicate with my friends over the weekend? After the requisite freak out, I accessed my Zen and said, oh well, whatever, I’ll just have to get a new one.

Look, I’ve had more iPhones stolen at Miami nightclubs than I care to admit, and I know the song and dance that comes with replacing these $600+ contraptions that we can’t seem to live without. The fact is, of all the things you can lose, an iPhone is the easiest to replace. Just throw down a cool $199 deductible from your insurance policy and voila! your phone is restored to its former glory in about 48 hours with all your contacts, apps and pictures still intact. Meanwhile, Apple is raking in the cash. Did you know that their iPhone profits alone are more than all of Microsoft and Google combined (heard it on NPR this week, okay)?

Of course, there’s stress involved in being without your device, and I was definitely aided by other advances in technology to make connections over the weekend (not to mention other people’s iPhones), but there was something kind of liberating in going analog in NYC for a long weekend. Sure, it meant I wasn’t going to be Instagramming or live tweeting my experiences while in the city–something that might send bloggers and travel writers into a cold sweat–but, I mean, whatever. I do not abide by the sentiment, “I tweet therefore I am” (even if I do tweet).

Being without a phone makes you a little less available, but it also makes your plans a little more crystalized. You kind of have to meet up at the specified time and place. Also, give your number to a guy at a bar? Just explain you’ve lost your phone and then it’s no biggie if you can’t text him back. Not able to coordinate plans with every single friend you have in the city? Sorry guys, I lost my phone! It also makes you a little more present in what’s going on around you. I wasn’t obsessed with who was liking my Instagram or composing seemingly witty tweets in my head. I was just hanging out.

Coincidentally, I was reading The¬†Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer, an essay published as a slim book by TED, on the flight to New York. The book questions the benefits of being so “connected” by technology today and advocates taking time out of our lives for stillness to achieve true happiness and appreciate the mysteries of the world. Is it really so great that anyone can contact us at anytime no matter where we are? But we’ll meditate more on that in a later blog post…

Fortunately for me in New York, my new MacBook Air has iMessage (something I was initially annoyed by because like Greta Garbo, sometimes I want to be left alone), so I was still able to message people from the hotel and jot down phone numbers into my little notebook for when I was on the go. In fact, I came to call my little purple notebook my iPhone because that’s where I stored phone numbers and addresses I needed for getting around, just like I used to do back in the day when I lived in New York, navigating the city streets without a virtual pocket map (remember asking for directions?). I also packed my new Sony a5000 camera, so I still managed to snap a few pics.

I tried to pitch the idea of the anti-smartphone to my friends. I mean, obviously, I guess they already exist, but what about a cool, smartly designed, sort of hipster, steampunk version that can only be used for talking and texting? It could be a companion to your smartphone for when you want to disconnect and be less distracted. Overwhelmingly, though, everyone’s response was an emphatic, “No! Why would anyone want to do that?” Okay, fair enough.

Oh, and what about the blizzard? My flight home was Monday evening and the snow started falling at dawn. Fortunately for me, I changed my flight to mid-afternoon and got out just fine–all without an iPhone. But I did get a taste of New York’s biting cold (18 degrees, anyone?), snow flurries, winter storm hysteria and my first time in a plane getting de-iced during a blizzard before take off. When I touched down in Miami, it was at sunset with clear skies and palm trees.

Stay tuned for more on how I spent my weekend in New York without an iPhone in the next couple of days, including “A Night Out on the LES” and “All Aboard the Pizza Train: Manhattan to¬†Bushwick.”

And look man, sorry there’s not more pictures in this post. I didn’t have my iPhone.

So, I’m curious, do you ever feel overburdened and distracted by the demands of modern technology and constant connectedness? Would you (could you) trade it in for an anti-smartphone?

I made my annual pilgrimage to Key West last weekend for the 33rd Annual Key West Literary Seminar “How The Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit.” Amongst the many highlights of the long weekend was a discussion held on the final morning of the seminar by authors Pico Iyer and Barry Lopez on the topic of “Wonder: Entering and Exiting the Great Mystery.”

KWLS - Day Three Morning-0750

Barry Lopez and Pico Iyer. Photo by Nick Doll.

 

Both men have made careers out of travel and write about what they’ve discovered in humanity and culture as outsiders.¬†When the subject of wonder was addressed, Iyer explained that wonder cuts through knowledge, noting the tremendous difference between these statements: ‚ÄúI know‚Ķ‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI think‚Ķ‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúI wonder‚Ķ‚ÄĚ He joked, ‚ÄúAll you need to travel is wonder and a Swiss army knife.‚ÄĚ On the same note, Lopez agreed that he’d rather approach a place with awe over analysis.

And perhaps that’s what I’ve always loved about Key West (and any destination that I truly fall in love with), an ineffable sense of wonder and awe that the island seems to cast on me whenever I’m there.

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Not Your Average Hotel, Key West. All you need in Key West is wonder, a conch cottage and a beach cruiser.

 

Their conversation was a delight filled with so many sentiments that get at the heart of the traveler. I was also delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Iyer briefly as he signed a copy of his latest book for me The Art of Stillness. We talked journalism, travel and making a living as a writer, and he was incredibly engaging and kind.

For my full recap on Iyer and Lopez’s discussion on wonder, please head to Littoral, the online journal of the Key West Literary Seminar.

ExhaleSpa.CoreFusionJanuary 14, 2015-9423

This week, I had the privilege of hosting some of my favorite media pals at Exhale Spa at the EPIC Hotel in downtown Miami for a super-charged Core Fusion Bootcamp class followed by a nutrition session, both led by Alexandra Shepherd. It’s an intense class combining cardio intervals, sport strength training, flowing yoga stretches, heat-building plyometrics, hardcore ab work and more plank runs than you ever thought were humanly possible in one 60-minute session. It was a super fun night and as all of these familiar faces started filing into class, it kind of felt like a sleepover!

During the nutrition session, Jugofresh provided us with their signature fresh pressed juices and healthy snacks to refuel. And Whole Foods Market Downtown had the hookup on gift bag goodies, as they just opened down the street the same night!

Read on for highlights and pictures from the evening shot by the one and only Matt Roy.

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Core Fusion always starts with this body heat building leg lift and twist move.

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Josie Llado and Jackie-Gutierrez Jones working it out with free weights.

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Arielle Castillo and Ashley Brozic.

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Lynette Joselly.

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Nice form Jackie!

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Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, curls with a smile.

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Josie and Jackie demonstrating the perfect plank. Now, just imagine holding this pose for a couple of minutes.

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Erika Thomas with the uneven pushup.

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Yes, we can hold plank forever and balance on medicine balls!

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Still planking!

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Yep, holding that plank and smiling!

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Air born!

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That’s better. Roll downs with the medicine ball with my sister Kristy by my side!

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Eunique Fowler and Megan Pope have medicine ball prowess.

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Work it Vanessa James!

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Ashley Vaccarino demonstrating leg lifts with a weight balanced at her knee.

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Martha Dominguez working it!

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We’re not done yet! Now it’s time to perfect that Core Fusion curl.

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Still holding it. The strength is in the stillness.

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Time for a little spine stretching and cool down. That sweat is for real!

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Jugofresh to the rescue with their delicious Summer Chia, P.A.M.pered Ginger and El Greengo juices to refresh!

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And these incredible treats to refuel: Tienes Huevos? made with coconut meat, turmeric aioli, dill, red onion celery grey sea salt and massaged kale wrapped in a collard green, Banh Mi Maki with marinated carrots and walnut paté wrapped in nori, and El Grande Macro made with veggie burger, coconut jerky and pickled cucumber wrapped in a  collard green. Delicious and nutritious!

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Our fearless leader Alex talking to Eunique post-class.

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Martha and Ria Michelle enjoying the jugo!

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We circled up with Alex post-class and she led a “belly bootcamp” nutrition session teaching us the foods to eat and not to eat to maintain a flat belly and a healthy lifestyle. Stay tuned for her tips in another post to come soon!

My dear friend and fellow fabulous writer¬†Galena Mosovich¬†is on her way to Paris for the winter. And I could not be more excited for her! I spent two consecutive winters in Paris years ago and, needless to say, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Paris is my absolute favorite city, and I’m thrilled that Galena’s off to experience it for an extended, life-changing stay. I’m also thrilled for an excuse to return for a visit! As someone who’s been there before, here’s my advice on how to enjoy Paris fully and completely on a long stay.

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All you need are these two French words to survive:¬†√áa va. Yes, √ßa va, it’s so simple. Short for comment¬†√ßa va, it’s most common meaning is: How are you? But it also means, I’m good.¬†Use it as a greeting,¬†√ßa va?¬†As a response:¬†√ßa va.¬†At the¬†patisserie to confirm your¬†pain au chocolat¬†order,¬†√ßa va.¬†When in doubt,¬†√ßa va.

Don’t go to language school.¬†You’re only in Paris for three months. Don’t waste any portion of any day sitting in some depressing classroom with other foreigners practicing how to conjugate verbs in French. You’re not going to be fluent in such a short amount of time anyway. Now, that doesn’t mean don’t attempt to get at least a handle on the language. Buy a little lesson book or download an app. Try to learn the pronunciation and common conversational phrases.

Look at message boards at anglophone haunts like Shakespeare & Company (more on that below) for locals looking for a language exchange partner. I met a whole group of friends this way. Even if you don’t learn a lot of French, you’ll get to know them!

Here’s a few more phrases that will go a long way:¬†The French are far more persnickety about social graces. Whenever you enter a store or establishment offer a:¬†Bonjour madame!¬†And when you depart a:¬†Merci Monsieur!¬†Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with French after that. They’ll appreciate your effort and you’ll feel like you fit in just a little more.

At restaurants:¬†Je voudrais le…¬†“I would like the…” is how you order.¬†You’ll learn your food words faster than anything else. Je m’apelle¬†…¬†”my name is.”¬†Je¬†suis… “I am.”¬†Je¬†suis desolais¬†or simply¬†desolais… “I’m sorry.” And¬†je ne comprend pas… “I don’t understand…” will go far.

And if you want to sound really cool, throw in a¬†√áa¬†va ma poule?¬†or √áa¬†va ma¬†poulet?… “What’s up my chicken?” I’ll teach you some good curse words privately!

Also, you’ll notice the French like to say “typical” and “cool” in English a lot.

Disconnect. I spent my winters in Paris pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook (at least for me) and pre-constant barrage of emails. It makes me sad to think of a Paris with all of these things, but there are plenty of benefits to traveling with them too, I suppose. I would just caution you to not be ruled by them. Sit at a café table on the boulevard Saint-Germaine without scrolling through your Instagram. Simply enjoy the parade of Parisian passersby. I went a couple of months without a cell phone altogether and it was incredibly liberating. The only reason I eventually got one was so I could call my Parisian boyfriend!

Don’t watch TV.¬†Don’t watch Netflix. Don’t watch Youtube. This is in a similar vein to disconnect. Read books in your spare time! Just get lost in books! Read for hours in your flat when it’s rainy outside. Read for hours bundled up at the Tuileries by a fountain or on the steps of Montmartre. Take your inspiration from George Whitman. That’s what he did when he came to Paris post-World War II when he founded Shakespeare & Company (yes, more on that below!).

Ça va pont des Arts--before people started putting those ugly "love locks" on it.

√áa va pont des Arts–before people started putting those ugly “love locks” on it.

 

Discover Paris by foot one arrondissement at a time.¬†The City of Lights all to yourself for three whole months! It just doesn’t get much better than that. In the beginning, get to know your own neighborhood. Then, attack each arrondissement one day at at time, and get oriented (or lost) in what makes each of them special. Places I love, the: 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 4th, 11th, 9th, 2nd. Okay, I love it all!

The beautiful chaos of books at Shakespeare & Company.

The beautiful chaos of books at Shakespeare & Company.

 

Get lost in Shakespeare & Company. Often.¬†Just do this. It is the world’s best bookstore. Or at least my very favorite. Look into joining one of their writer’s groups in the loft for camaraderie and creativity. Make sure you get any of the books you buy there stamped with their logo.

Shop the¬†soldes!¬†You’ll be arriving just in time for the annual state-mandated¬†soldes¬†(that’s sales en Anglais). That means all the shops in all of Paris will have incredible sales for weeks (now through February 17). Head immediately to either Le Bon Marche or Galeries Lafayette and feast your eyes. And that’s just for orientation. The city is bursting with incredible boutiques and designer flagships–like, the original ones, √áa va Mademoiselle Coco?

Oh hey, Chanel!

Oh hey, Chanel!

 

Shopping in Paris ruined me for life. It’s just not as good anywhere else. In addition to the¬†soldes,¬†designers will also be previewing their newest collections. Maybe pick just one dream item to take home with you. For me, it was fancy ballet slippers that I still wear today. I also snagged a Prada bikini for like 40 Euros–you can take the beach girl to Paris, but you can’t take the beach out of the girl!

The good news is in addition to sales, you can also get a tax rebate when you return to the states, so save your receipts and inquire about the necessary paperwork (consult your guidebook about this too).

Buy French makeup.¬†Here’s an instance where American makeup sold, like Revlon, costs as many Euros as Chanel or Dior. So buy the Chanel and Dior. Also, peruse the counters of Parisian pharmacies for fancy beauty products. They’re far more chic than CVS or Walgreens. Just look for the neon green cross on the facade.

Save money on food and shop at the markets.¬†Admittedly, I think I’m the only person who can’t appreciate farmers markets even in Paris, but I know you will. There are so many good ones. Buy up your fresh produce at the market, get your¬†fromage¬†from the¬†fromageries and your baguettes from the¬†boulangeries and your mille-feuile from the¬†p√Ętisseries. Or, if you’re like me, just buy everything at the discount grocery store Champion.

Make yourself a giant omelette stuffed with fresh veggies and¬†comt√©¬†cheese, a baguette with jam and a pot of French press to serve as breakfast and lunch.¬†Oh, and stock up on¬†C√īte du Rh√īne.¬†It’s only like four Euros at French grocery stores. And¬†Cr√©ment d’Alsace¬†is an affordable alternative to Champagne. Mais bien¬†s√Ľr, drink Champagne too (if only to practice the proper French pronunciation–you’ll never get it right!)!

You don’t have to try the tasting menu at Jo√ęl Robuchon to eat well in Paris.¬†After all, I’m pretty sure the French coined the term¬†prix fixe. Most caf√©s and brasseries will offer lunch and dinner prix fixe menus at varying levels of affordability. Also, it’s impossible to eat too many cr√™pes in Paris. They’re equally good from street vendors as they are inside cozy¬†cr√™peries, and both options are relatively affordable. You’ll notice the approach is far more simple than the way we do cr√™pes in the US. My favorite dessert crepe in Paris is a simple¬†miel et citron (honey and lemon). Always order with a bowl of brut¬†cidre.¬†Also, you’ve got to eat falafel in the Marais. L’As du is the famous place. I think Lenny Kravitz’s even eaten there (and I have too), so you know it’s cool!

Falafel with Lenny!

Falafel with Lenny!

 

Save the Bonnard retrospective for me.¬†I know you’re going to devour the¬†mus√©es¬†and¬†galeries while you’re there. I can’t wait to see what you discover! But save the Pierre Bonnard retrospective at Mus√©e D’Orsay for my visit. I first saw his work and fell in love with it there. Let’s also hit the Centre Pompidou, one of my very favorites! Okay, okay, that’s more of a request than a piece of advice.

Get acquainted with the bobos and their haunts.¬†Bourgeois Bohemians, or bobos, are basically the equivalent of hipsters in Paris. You’re living in Montmartre, so you’ll be surrounded by them. Do your legwork so you can take me to all the cool bobo spots when I come visit.

Challenge: A Moveable Feast. See if you can drink your way from Montmartre to Saint Germaine on foot in one night. Hint: It can be done.

Reinvent yourself.¬†You’re in a foreign city on the other side of the world by yourself. There’s perhaps no more exhilarating and freeing feeling. You can be anyone you want to be. Think about what that means to you and seize the day! For me, it meant wearing red lipstick on the daily and straightening my hair. It also meant mustering up the courage to stroll into bars and caf√©s by myself and relishing in the thrill. Be bold. No one knows you.

Hemingway, table for two.

Hemingway, table for two.

 

Find a famous ghost to follow. For me, it was Ernest Hemingway. I made a point to walk past every former apartment he lived in and, at the very least, have a drink at every cafe he frequented from Saint Germaine des Pres to Montparnasse. Along the way, I also ran into Picasso, Apollinaire, Simone de Beuavoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Emile Durkheim, George Sand and others. Good company.

Go here!

Go here!

 

Have a kir royale at Le Fumoir.¬†This simple act was a life changing experience for me. Seated at the bar, after the first sip, I locked eyes with a mysterious stranger and that would set the wheels in motion to meet my Parisian love; it’s the stuff of fairytales.

Swoon! Aim for this!

Swoon! Aim for this!

 

Look for love.¬†Yes, do this instead of looking at your Instagram. Look for it! Because it’s there everywhere in Paris. It’s no exaggeration that Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Just hope that you’ll find someone to kiss on a bridge over the Seine–and maybe even someone to whisk you away to the Alps for a long weekend!

Go your own way! From L-R: Me & some of Miami's finest freelance writers Sarah Greaves-Gabadon, Alex Britel, Yined, Liana Lozada and Kara Franker.

Go your own way! From L-R: Me & some of Miami’s finest freelance writers Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, Alex Britel, Yined Ramirez-Hendrix, Liana Lozada and Kara Franker at Wynwood Walls.

 

During the holidays, my friend and fellow freelance writer Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon of JetSetSarah.com organized a little holiday luncheon at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar. The idea sprung from a conversation we had this time last year about how we, as freelancers, don’t get invited to holiday office parties because, well, we don’t work in an office. For me, that’s just one of the things I blissfully love about working independently, but Sarah missed the camaraderie she had in her former life as a magazine editor. Either way, we thought throwing our own holiday lunch with fellow freelance writers would be a nice way to celebrate the season with our peers.

It was a perfect mild, sunny December afternoon to dine outside amongst the murals, nosh on tapas, chit chat, and talk shop and travel. Towards the end of the meal, Sarah suggested we go around the table and share one thing we learned this year from our work and one piece of advice we’d give to fellow freelancers.

After a moment of reflection, my lesson and piece of advice sprung to mind rather quickly. In 2014, I learned just how much I value my independence and the opportunity that freelancing affords me to constantly reinvent myself creatively. I think I knew that all along, or at least that was the hope, when I started freelancing full time four years ago, but it was something I fully realized in 2014. I work best when I work independently, and when that’s compromised, I’m not as happy or productive. That’s not to say that I don’t have clients and editors and deadlines and expectations to meet, but I know I work best when I work on my own terms.

The opportunity to constantly grow and chart your own course based on what inspires you is what I truly love about the freelance life. It’s a long journey and it’s a lot of hard work, but I think if you keep your eye on the horizon and listen to your inner artist (something I want to honor more this year), the possibilities of where you can go and what you can do are limitless.

My one piece of advice to freelancers is to quote high. Be expensive. Always negotiate for the highest rate you can secure. This life isn’t easy, and in order to survive we have to make a living. The only person who’s going to advocate for your rate is you. At the same time, save your money when you can. This work can be fickle. You can lose an account at any moment and with that, a chunk of your income. Do what you can to normalize your salary from month to month, and save that extra cash for lean times and the chance to recalibrate. Finally, understand your contracts and make sure they work for you.

Here’s to health, wealth, happiness and love in 2015… and, of course, doing what you love! Here’s to the mighty freelance life!