Wanderlust Wednesday: Nice, France

Nice, France
Nice, France
2009

It’s spring break season, which means flying any place warm and beachy will cost a small fortune at the moment. Still, I can’t help but reminisce of hot, sun-drenched days and my toes in the sand, or rocks, as the case may be. Heck no, I never went to Nice on spring break (more like Negril, Jamaica or South Padre Island, Texas!), but Nice is what comes to mind when I think of my favorite beach experiences.

Wanderlust Wednesday: St. Thomas, USVI

Today marks three years for my love and me. We said our I Do’s on a hot, sticky August evening amongst our dearest family and friends in Southern Illinois.

Mr. and Mrs.And while the wedding was lovely, everyone knows the best part is the honeymoon when it’s just the two of you and nothing else.

Ours was in St. Thomas, USVI, and at the risk of sounding cliche, I must admit it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. Maybe the supreme stress of wedding planning makes the R & R that much sweeter?

We splurged and stayed at the Ritz Carlton, which was mostly worth it. The pros: just as luxurious as you’d expect, the location on the island/proximity to St. John, the decadent spa (best. massage. ever.) and the poolside/beachside drinks, served by the most diligent staff. I witnessed cocktails served to guests in the ocean. Yeah, the staff walked right in, tennies, fully dressed and all. That’s service! The cons: some clueless staff members, nickel and diming for silly things like printing boarding passes and lots and lots of kids (yes, I feel differently about that now but at the time, not so much!). Still, it’s hard to find fault in much when this is the view you wake up to on a daily basis:

Ritz Carlton St. Thomas

When we planned our honeymoon, we debated between St. Thomas and St. John. Ultimately, my husband pushed for St. Thomas because he felt like there would be more to do, more restaurants, etc. Um, it’s a honeymoon. I had no plans to do much of anything in that respect. But I was cool with either place. Plop me on a beach anywhere and I’m pretty much content.

Plus, we went on two different sails to St. John, which was so easy to do from where our hotel was in St. Thomas. One was a day sail complete with snorkeling — a wedding gift from a friend who travels to St. Thomas annually. Despite the fact that I was super high-maintenance about the snorkeling at first, that ended up being probably my favorite day of the trip. Granted, the boat ride over included plenty of cocktails. Rum punch, anyone? The other was a sunset sail aboard the Ritz Carlton’s catamaran, Lady Lynsey, also lovely, also booze-filled.

Not that I’d done much studying up on St. John prior, but I didn’t realize that only 20% of the island is inhabited. The other beautiful 80% is protected by some law that prohibits anything from being built. So there’s a stretch of beach, some restaurants and a few hotels, but otherwise that’s it. That is precisely why St. John got my vote when we were planning the trip, but that just gives us a reason to go back.

St. John

Pardisus La Perla, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

By the time you turn 35, you can do pretty much whatever you want to celebrate your birthday. You can go all out, or you can let the day pass with little fanfare. Being a fan of my day, I prefer the former. So this past year, I decided we were going on a beach getaway for my birthday. After all, 35 is a bit of a milestone in my book. And a milestone demands a notable celebration.

So we cashed in our Capital One miles and booked a long weekend to Playa del Carmen. And after not too much debate, we decided to stay at Paradisus la Perla, an all-inclusive luxury resort in Riviera Maya. R & R, here we come!

The resort is about 45 minutes or so from Cancun International Airport. I highly recommend using one of the many shuttle services and booking it before you even arrive. Otherwise, you’ll have to go with one of the vultures waiting to attack you the second you leave the baggage claim area at the airport. It actually reminded me a little bit of when we first arrived in Hyderabad, India. We went with Best Day which seemed reasonable enough. They were on time, nice enough and got us to our hotel in one piece.

Paradisus is nestled in its own little secluded area and there is plenty of security (you’ll see them lining the tall brick wall out past the resort grounds). The grounds are really well-manicured and it feels like a tropical paradise.

Pardisus la Perla

Our room overlooked the pool and the beach, and it even had a balcony with a jacuzzi tub.  In theory, it seemed like a swell idea when we first checked into our room, but we didn’t end up using it a single time while we were there.

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Given that we were escaping the cold, Chicago winter, we spent pretty much the bulk of our days on the beach or at the pool. In December, it was a nice, hot 90 degrees or so on the beach. So our days consisted of waking up (shockingly early on most days), “claiming” chairs at either the beach or the pool (Paradisus has a stretch of private beach with chairs and towels, but you have to stake your claim early in the day) and then grabbing breakfast before sitting in the sun.

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By midday, we typically transitioned to one of the pools on the property and had lunch. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, but my favorite meal we had while at Paradisus was the daily poolside lunch, which was a grilled chicken wrap for me every single day (and for the record, mine’s a virgin pina colada).

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Although it was downright steamy most days, the pool water was still a little too cold to enjoy. I forced myself in a few times because it was just so hot, but I couldn’t handle the chill long enough to get prune hands. Had it been summertime, I might’ve been jealous of the swim-up rooms where you can take a dip right from your patio, but not the case in December.

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If you can’t handle the heat, there are also these cabanas lining the perimeter of the pools. But again, you have to get up bright and early to claim one before they’re all gone for the day.

DSC_1390Good to Know

Make your life easier. Book your transfer from the airport to the hotel in advance of arriving in Cancun.

Explicitly request a room with a queen or king bed if you’re traveling with your schmoopie. We were stuck with two double beds which is a little too close for comfort for a pregnant gal and a 6’2″ fella.

Treat yourself to Yhi spa. I had one of the best massages ever (and it was a pre-natal massage, to boot), which I don’t always find to be the case at hotel spas.

Take advantage of poolside drinks and food. The first day we didn’t even know it was offered because we didn’t see any servers, but it is. And the food is very good and the drinks very refreshing on those hot days.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Oahu, Hawaii

Halona Blowhole in Oahu, Hawaii

Several years ago, I had some very lucky friends who had to live in Honolulu due to the husband’s job. I know, terrible, right — had to live in Hawaii. I piggybacked on their luck and made myself the lucky girl who had friends to stay with when she visited Hawaii. (I still have the friends, they’re just not quite as lucky anymore as they now live in Chicago, just like me. Not that Chicago’s a bad place to live. Most of the time.)

Halona Blowhole

One of the super cool things they took me to see was Halona Blowhole, this natural wonder (okay, it isn’t really a natural wonder but it does occur naturally), which, under the right conditions, can spew water up to 30′ in the air. Pretty impressive.

A Lilly Pulitzer Kind of Weekend

Cape Cod

My weekend was spent in the land teeming with blue bloods sporting Bermuda shorts with embroidered crabs and Polo shirts — collars popped, natch. There’s no place quite like Cape Cod in the summertime, and I mean that in a good way.

The occasion was a bachelorette weekend for one of my close girlfriends. No, the Cape isn’t exactly the place for stereotypical bachelorette debauchery, and thank goodness for that. It was sunny and wickedly steamy, though, which was the perfect setting for two of my favorite things — sunbathing and day drinking.

Lunching, Shopping and Day Drinking in Chatham, Massachusetts

Although we stayed in Harwich, we spent a lot of time in adorable and quintessentially Cape-esque Chatham. We had a leisurely lunch at The Blue Coral, which we sort of stumbled upon after we passed over the wildly popular Chatham Squire. Although it’s on Main Street, The Blue Coral isn’t really on Main Street; it’s nestled behind some boutiques (all of which sell a healthy dose of Lilly Pulitzer). The setting is borderline tropical. The restaurant and bar only offer outside seating but the patio is filled with trees and lush flowers and greenery, and brightly colored stools line the small bar.

Being a former New Englander, I was longing for a lobster roll so my lunchtime selection was a no-brainer. Interestingly, they offer a chilled or hot option and although hot sounded intriguing, I went with chilled. And I loved every bite.

Just across the street from The Blue Coral are a bunch of cute little shops, including Violets, a clothing and jewelry boutique. So the girls and I did a bit of shopping so as not to appear as complete lushes going bar-to-bar. Violets has way too much to choose from, but I landed on a few pieces. Think J Crew style at slightly better prices.

Back to the drinking. This was a bachelorette weekend, after all.

Our next stop was Wild Goose Tavern which is in the Chatham Wayside Inn. It was kind of dead inside but despite that, we couldn’t get a table if we were only going to drink. What kind of establishment enforces such nonsensical rules… So we took our drinks and went out on one of the side patios. I was disappointed that they didn’t offer any frozen drinks. It just felt like that kind of an afternoon. But they do offer some equally appealing options, like their “Goose Tini’s” and “sassy sangria.”

Change of plans. Mid-drink at Wild Goose we got an invite for a boat ride. And what better way to mix up an afternoon of drinking by throwing in an impromptu boat ride?

Chatham boat ride

We got an offer for a cruise around Little Pleasant Bay so we obliged. Good call on our part. It was a gorgeous day to be out on a boat and we even got to see a few seals.

Post-boat ride we put on our fancy pants and had our final round of daytime beverages at Chatham Bars Inn. The outside patio that spans the entire front of the inn not only offers a beautiful view of the bay, but some top-notch people-watching.

Jim Who?

The pinnacle of our weekend revolved around more day drinking, but also seeing Jim Plunkett at The Improper Bostonian in Dennis Port. Tiny secret — despite having lived in New England for four years, I had no idea who Jim Plunkett — or simply, “Plunkett,” as my friends referred to him — was. But to say he is a legend is apparently no understatement. He’s been entertaining the Cape and Boston for decades, apparently. And he is seriously entertaining. I had so much fun that I almost forgot for a second that I was standing in a bar that very very closely resembled some of my college haunts, complete with a sticky beer and sweat-drenched floor.

Sunbathing at Red River Beach in Harwich, Massachusetts

Alas, all of those libations sucked the energy right out of us so some beachside R & R was required. We spent a balmy afternoon at Red River Beach in Harwich.

Red River Beach

I liked Red River Beach because it has a bit more of a residential feel to it. It wasn’t quite as touristy and crowded — we got parking, after all — and we didn’t have other beach-goers sitting right on top of us. My favorite part? The ice-cream truck.

Seven Days in Seagrove Beach

I’m back in Chicago, much to my chagrin, after spending seven super relaxing days at this beautiful beach house, appropriately dubbed “Brown Your Buns,” in Seagrove Beach, Florida. And no, my buns aren’t brown now, but the rest of me certainly is!

Brown Your Buns

We road tripped it there and thank goodness for the GPS. I don’t know what Google was thinking, but their directions took us way off the beaten path in Alabama on Friday night when we were trying to get to our hotel. Let’s just say we took the scenic route to Decatur, Alabama… Thereafter, it was GPS or bust.

We landed on Decatur simply because it was a good middle ground stopping point. And although hotel options aren’t particularly limited in Decatur, we needed a place that accepted dogs and wanted something close to the freeway. So we wound up at a Microtel to the tune of a very economical $67.00! It did the trick for a night’s rest and one of my biggest guilty pleasures was right up the road (hint: “Eat Mor Chikin”). Daisy happily got our money’s worth for us for her pet fee.

After getting our Starbucks fix on Saturday morning, we were back on the road to finish up the drive. While the first half of Alabama was actually very pretty (yes, I say “actually” because I wasn’t expecting it to be), the second half was less so and there was an overabundance of rubber-neckers on the road that day. And the closer to Seagrove Beach we got, the worse the traffic became. I know this is nothing profound, but beach traffic is a beast! Thank goodness for diversions like Betty’s for a little comic relief.

Betty's Fireworks

We finally arrived in Seagrove Beach early Saturday evening, but it was well worth the journey. The many pictures we found online don’t do Brown Your Buns justice — it truly surpassed our expectations. How lucky are we?!

Brown Your Buns
The back of the house overlooks the community pool.

The house is huge — three stories with multiple outside balconies/decks and an elevator. Off the second floor wet bar, there is a great screened-in porch which is key with all of the hungry mosquitoes. That quickly became our morning coffee spot. Of the four bedrooms, one is handicap-accessible and another is essentially a kid’s dream come true. It’s a room full of bunk beds with an air hockey table in the middle of the room. And it’s the only room on the third floor (except for two bathrooms) so it gives kids their own space (and more importantly, it gives the adults their own space!).

Brown Your Buns is part of Greenway Park, a small neighborhood of ecological homes. Right now, I think there are only three homes in the subdivision, including Brown Your Buns, and they all share a community pool which Brown Your Buns butts up to. So pool access couldn’t be more convenient. And we spent nearly every single day there. There’s a beautifully landscaped yard with a gazebo and patio which is where we spent most of our nights (along with the pesky mosquitoes and geckos). The day that we left the next group was coming in for a wedding that was going to be held on the grounds.

Brown Your Buns gazebo

Brown Your Buns gazebo

We went to Seagrove Beach — the actual beach — a handful of times. It’s just across 30-A and down May Drive, which is a little rocky road directly across from Brown Your Buns. The sand was so soft and the beach wasn’t miserably crowded.

Seagrove Beach, Florida

This vacation was truly all about rest and relaxation. Although, I don’t think I ever managed to sleep in much past 7:00 a.m. But that’s okay. My past seven days pretty much consisted of getting up, slipping into a bathing suit and either hitting the pool or going to the beach. Life doesn’t get much better than that, as far as I’m concerned. I even read two books which is monumental for me — “Every Last One” by Anna Quindlen (loved, loved, loved) and “Heart of the Matter” by Emily Giffin (meh, quick/easy but unimpressive read), and started on a third — “Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat” by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (so far, so good).

Brown Your Buns

Is it any wonder that the thought of going to work tomorrow makes me want to cry?