Upstate New York: Turquoise Barn

Just a three-hour drive north of New York City, in Bloomville, New York, is Turquoise Barn, a vegan bed and breakfast. Now, as most of you know, I’m not a vegan, but I wanted to find a bed and breakfast that had organic food and great breakfasts (sometimes even the nicest B&Bs break out the packaged pastries from Costco and coffee from a machine). From the amazing breakfasts and beautiful surroundings to the completely relaxing atmosphere, I found exactly what I wanted!

I left NYC late Friday night of Memorial Day weekend, so I sat in some hefty traffic making my arrival time much later than it should have been (it took me 5 hours!), but once I was out of the city, the greenery around me made it all worth the hassle. Also, the rental company gave me a brand new SUV, so I wasn’t roughing it on the drive. ;-) Upstate NY is so close, I don’t know why I hadn’t made the trip out until now…eight years later!

From the moment I arrived until the day I left, Michelle and Michael, the owners of the barn, welcomed me and treated me like a member of their family. I was thier only guest for the weekend (things don’t get started up in that area until after Memorial Day typically), and so I was set up for a relaxing and quiet weekend. Breakfast was served at 8am and each day was something different—my favorite was the chia seed parfait, but I also was served a tofu scramble and a dish that I think was version of oatmeal. And, there was always a green juice with nettles (see health benefits of nettles)and tea or coffee! Yum!

Each day I took the opportunity to visit a different city—I saw Oneonta, Delhi, Stamford, Andes, Woodstock—and each place I went was about a 30-60 minute drive, which was somewhat far, but each drive was beautiful. The only downfall of staying in the middle of nowhere is the restaurant quality, so other than the superb breakfasts I had in the mornings, every restaurant I tried was just "okay." If you are a vegan or vegetarian, there are definitely some options, and Michelle was really helpful in sending me in the right direction.

If you're up for exercising on vacation, which I for sure am, there are lots of hikes to do around town. Also, TB does have bikes if you want to take a ride to the neighboring towns or just near the B&B. I was nursing a foot injury so I opted for a short hike up a farm road for about 3 miles—other than being on the lookout for bears (yes, seriously), it was serene and actually a fair workout with the incline.

Turquoise Barn was truly a glorious find—it's a beautiful place to stay with great hosts and the food was awesome! I loved waking up to roosters crowing, sun shining in my room and just loved the overall relaxed atmosphere. If you're looking for a weekend retreat, I would definitely suggest taking a trip to Turquoise Barn.  In the future, I would also like to try Hills Country Inn, Brookton Hollow Farm, and The Golden Guernsey, which are vegetarian.

In my hunt for a place to stay, the two websites I looked at were Happy Cow and Vegetarian USA: http://www.happycow.net/travel/bb_united_states.html, http://www.vegetarianusa.com/vegetarianbedbreakfast.html

Las Vegas: Red Rock Canyon

When you hear the word Vegas, it typically invokes images of all night parties, strippers, bachelor parties, massive buffets, pool parties, and all that "fun" stuff, but when I go to Vegas, I'm usually seeing my family. Yes, I have 8 family members who reside in Sin City and they seem to lead pretty normal lives however close they are to all the action of The Strip. I even have adorable, twin baby brothers who I get to see! Don't be jealous. :)

I still enjoy a crazy 5am night, a good hangover and a sun burn once in a while, but there really are other things to do in this town of hedonism (trust me). For example, there is a huge National Park that you may have heard of called Red Rock. Sounding familiar? With 19 hiking trails, bighorn sheep, gila monsters, agave roasting pits, natural springs and geological wonders encompassing 197,000 acres of the Mojave Desert, Red Rock is definitely worth the 15-minute (or less) drive from The Strip.

As I said, there are 19 hikes to choose from, ranging in difficulty; I picked the White Rock / La Madra Springs trail, which is the longest (6 miles).  According to the trail map, this hike should take approximately 3.5 hours with moderate difficulty. We started out at around 4pm, so I was hoping we would finish a little sooner, as to not be hiking in the dark (the sun starts to set around 7pm).

The hike starts out relatively steep and gradually rises to an elevation of 5,440 feet. We didn't really know what to expect, but I wanted to go fast, even though it was about 90 degrees and the sun was beating down. It was a steady incline until the 2-mile point, when the major decline started and was intermixed with some flats. When there was a downhill or small uphill, we ran, but maintained a steady pace overall; it was beautiful out and the rock formations were amazing (I still remember geology from way back when)!

There was one crossroad where we though the hike was complete, but after reading a map and looking around at where our car might be parked, realized that we still had 2 miles to go! Being 2 of about 6 other hikers and watching the sun begin to set, we started wishing that we brought a trail map because the signs were slightly confusing. This was about the time we envisioned mountain lions and looters attacking us and my dad was pretty sure he could take the mountain lion. I was pretty sure there was no place to hide and I was going to be dinner.

For most of the hike, the view is of rugged sandstone and tiny lizards all over the place, but near the end, the rocky ground became red, moist sand and we began going uphill again and around our last mountain before the home stretch (we hoped). Once we rounded the curve, we began to see cars and civilization (a couple of people) and I felt extreme hunger. All I wanted to do was get in the car and go eat, (yes, the hike was awesome and I did feel a sense of accomplishment)! This is the longest hike in Red Rock, but Turtlehead Peak, which is 5 miles, is termed strenuous and I want to try that next!

I guess I'm a fool for not visiting Red Rock sooner, because it's truly a wondrous place. It only took me about 50 visits to make it here and now I'm determined to conquer every hike (hopefully with the help and support of my family!). I suggest doing a hike during the fall, or if you must go in the summer, do it early in the morning or toward the evening, because otherwise, you will be toasted like the agave fruit.

Happy trails!

Travel Fitness: Hong Kong & Malaysia

stairs The two most difficult times to stay in shape (for me) are traveling and holidays. Do you agree? I just got back from a two-week trip to Hong Kong and Malaysia and man, it’s really hard to maintain a routine while exploring new horizons!

Many hotels have an in-house gym, but when you’re in another country, do you really want to spend an hour indoors, confined to a treadmill? Usually the answer is no. Now, for me, I was lucky enough to stay with my friend’s family, which meant early mornings of eating, followed by long days of sightseeing and more EATING (and no gym included). I couldn’t turn down the delicious food and I also couldn’t skip off to the gym.

Lucky for me, Asia is filled with a lot of stairs and hills, which make for a nice fitness playground. Have you ever seen an amusement park in America with huge hills, escalators and stairs…on top of mountain? Well, Hong Kong is filled with settings of this nature, so I couldn’t get away from a little bit of exercise each day (translation: eat more wonderful food!). I've found that the easiest and most effective travel exercises are lunges, walking and push-ups. Also, abs, but with hardwood floors, this wasn’t attainable for me on this trip.

Stair Lunges For a great workout to strengthen your quads, glutes and hamstrings, try using stairs outdoors (or indoors, if your hotel has more than four floors)! I found a great hill near the apartment complex I stayed at and started with three stairs at a time for around 75 stairs. Remember, walking lunges, in addition to the incline, are more difficult and require more stability than a typical lunge. Perfect!

Execution Start at the bottom. Take a step up with your right foot to your destination stair (start with two stairs). Then complete the lunge. While keeping your balance (tighten your core!), take your left foot and go up another two stairs to complete the left side. Keep switching off until you reach the top! You can do this on the subway stairs, hotel stairs, bleachers, or really anywhere that has a long flight of stairs. And always remember to refuel with water, especially in hot and humid climates. Once you master two stairs, try for three (three is the max for me, given my height!) Remember! Maintain good posture throughout movement Contract back glute during stretch Do not let front knee slide past foot Do not let back foot touch the ground as you step into next lunge Keep chest up as you step

When you incorporate a quick and effective workout into your sightseeing, you can be unexpectedly sore. Even though I was walking around 3-7 miles per day,  I was definitely sore from my lunges - I consulted my fellow traveler and her buns weren’t sore, so yay for stair lunges!  I also did around 20 push-ups every two or three days and upon my return to the States, I didn’t feel as though I skimped out on my workouts! Try incorporating a workout into your next travels and let me know your stories!

San Diego: The Sporting Club at The Aventine

Located in La Jolla, California, The Sporting Club is actually one of the more expensive gyms in San Diego, but I guess coming from New York City, it seems pretty inexpensive for what you get. To be a member of this luxurious little gym, it costs $100 per month with a $300 initiation fee. Because this gym is part of the Hyatt, the property includes tennis courts and an Olympic-sized swimming pool where you can get poolside service. Shaped like a circle, The Sporting Club has an open layout; on the mezzanine, where the cardio equipment lies, overlooks the entirety of first floor of the gym, so you can look down on all the southern California hunks who are pumping iron. HA! Everything at this gym is clean, clean, clean. This was my second visit to this gym (the first was about two years ago when I attended a kick-boxing class), but on this trip my girlfriend, Jodi, and I stuck to the usual elliptical machines and then some abdominal work. I loved that I was looking outside at an 85-degree day with beautiful blue skies.

Once we finished our gym session, we went down to the locker rooms, which have the most serene sauna and steam room I have ever scene, outside of a spa. I didn't go in, but they looked lovely. The lockers were the lockless type where you can type in your own code. The showers had all the normal shampoo, conditioner and body wash, but the shampoo smelled a bit like Band-Aids (don't ask why I know this smell), but the conditioner was yummy and smelled of mint/eucalyptus. Jodi told me that there is a private locker room area that serves food and drinks the VIP members. Excuse me.

My second visit to the gym entailed lying by the pool with two of my best friends and some beers (woops!).  Although I didn't work out, I got to watch an incredible fit swim instructor hold a private lesson—it was at that time I was regretting my choice of beverage.

A guest pass will drain your wallet of $20, but if you sneak in the back door as a guest—it won't cost a thing. ;-)

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Hot tub in the locker room