Disney, all grown up

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida has never been on my must-see list. In general, I try to avoid places that are filled with children.

However, when my best friend, Dona, invited me there for her birthday to stay in a timeshare that her family owned, I couldn’t really think of a reason to say no. I wanted to celebrate Dona’s 25th birthday with her, I wouldn’t have to book a hotel room and I could go for just a portion of the week that Dona was staying for with her college friends, so I could only take two days off of work. Plus, things have been stressful lately, and I figured I could use a few days away to decompress.

For only $250, I snagged a round-rip flight to Orlando. I can’t remember the last time that I felt so relaxed.

Dona (left) and I.
Dona (left) and I.

Continue reading “Disney, all grown up”

Durham: Feeding its tourists with dignity

As a classic clutcher of a glass-half-empty, I’m always aware when visiting a new city that I’m probably not going to eat quite as well as I do at home in New Jersey, where I know my fair share of hidden gem restaurants as well as what spots are grossly overrated.

Unfortunately, when traveling, I don’t have this kind of advantage. Instead, I’m at the whim of what restaurants are within walking distance of my lodging, passing recommendations from Uber drivers and how many stars a particular eatery as garnered via a quick Google search.

However, during my recent stay in Durham, North Carolina, for a wedding, I have to say that for one of the only times in my life, every restaurant that we sampled was simply fantastic. Here’s my recap.

Carolina-style ribs.
Carolina-style ribs.

Continue reading “Durham: Feeding its tourists with dignity”

When I was a Phish head for the weekend

Although I’m a seasoned backpacker, I’m definitely not a camper. After a long day of traveling, getting caught in the rain, being stuffed into crowded bars and wandering dirty streets, I appreciate a hot shower, a warm bed and indoor plumbing.

The only time other time I went camping before last weekend, I went with three other people and we all stuffed ourselves into a two-person tent and ate hot dogs for every meal. It wasn’t exactly ideal. So, I was a little hesitant to go camping with my boyfriend, Mike, and his friend Adam to see Phish for three days in Saratoga Springs while camping at Lee’s Campground, about seven miles away from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

Mike and I before the show.
Mike and I before the show.

Continue reading “When I was a Phish head for the weekend”

A traveler’s home is her stuff

Today, I was hanging out in my kitchen when my roommate, Alex, came home after going on a hike with our friend Megan. As only roommates can do (because no one else cares enough to listen), we began chatting about the most minute details of our day.

“I hadn’t seen Megan since before I got back from vacation (about one week ago),” Alex said. “And, of course, even though I put it in my bag, I forgot to give her the bracelet I got her.”

I told her how much that drove me nuts too. I hate having other people’s stuff in my house, I hate it when people leave things behind and, of course, I hate leaving my own things behind.

I like knowing that everything I need can fit in this backpack.
I like knowing that everything I need can fit in this backpack.

Continue reading “A traveler’s home is her stuff”

New passport, same me

The average person has several coveted milestones in their life – the prom. The graduation. The first job. The wedding. The baby. For those who travel, there is also another important milestone – the first time that they must get a new passport.

Since I got my passport when I was 16 years old rather than 15, I narrowly missed the five-year-renewal mark, and instead, I got to keep my horrifying passport photo for an extra five years, leaving airport security to seriously question my identity when they saw a photographed face slightly similar to mine, only much more pimply, braced and skinny (thankfully).

However, upon my return from my trip to San Juan in early March, I knew it was time – with a bit more than six months left on my current passport, it was time to renew.

Continue reading “New passport, same me”

Around the world with a silver spoon

Today, part of my job at MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com is to write for our weekly Table section, where we feature restaurants, food news and the like. So, basically, I live the dream – I visit new local restaurants, try out cool dishes and hang out with like-minded people who don’t eat to live, but live to eat.

Although I do get to meet lots of friendly restaurant owners and chefs whose mouths literally water as they describe their favorite meals, I also meet a lot of food snobs. These people generally believe that the best wines are those you can’t pronounce and the best restaurants can only be found in the hidden corners of the world.

Continue reading “Around the world with a silver spoon”

An Adult’s Right to Travel

When you’re living in your childhood bedroom as a 24-year-old and basically using a 12 x 9 space as your entire living area, you start to get a little wacky. This is only accentuated by a one-and-half-hour-plus traffic-ridden commute and a mind-numbing office job. You start to dream – big.

Throughout my time living in northern New Jersey, Morristown was always the place to be. Even though we hadn’t been to many of the restaurants and bars there, we knew they were cool. We knew that there, in what seemed to be an alternate universe 45 minutes away, there were people our age who had cool jobs, modern apartments, new cars, tons of boyfriends and always had something to do on a weekend night.

Thus, once I saved some money, ran out of sanity and secured a roommate, I was out. I was going to Morristown.

One year later, I’m not sad that I did. Even though I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when friends who live with their parents tell me how much money they’ve saved and the awesome meals that their mom cooks for them, I know that’s not what my life at home was like and I’m pretty psyched with what I created – a new life in a small city with a cool job, a short commute and a nice apartment.

Photo by Jenna Intersimone
Photo by Jenna Intersimone

However, to no fault of its own, Morristown didn’t crack out to all I hoped it would be. The restaurants aren’t as good, the bars aren’t as fun and I don’t have a ton of new friends as originally planned. Thus, when my roommate heads off to graduate school next year, I will probably venture somewhere else.

Throughout the last 25 years of my life, my real estate mogul father has endlessly harassed me to buckle down, save some cash, make a commitment and actually purchase a home. With the promise of impossible rents ahead of me, I finally thought about it – maybe I would actually purchase my very first abode.

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However, not in Morristown. Instead, nearby small cities with better restaurants, better bars and more things to do are luring me in. I didn’t anticipate my father’s reaction, a helicopter dad who lives only a few minutes from Morristown.

“Dad, I think I’m going to try and save money to buy a house soon.”

“Really?! That’s awesome! I’m so excited. I can help you fix it up, and I’ll give you my realtor’s number, and – ”

“Well, I don’t really want to live around here. I was thinking of a place maybe 45-minutes or so away.”

*Silence*

Photo by Jenna Intersimone
Photo by Jenna Intersimone

Dad wasn’t thrilled. He went on a tangent about how I just can’t go that far away, and where I was thinking was a crappy area, and if I did venture that far, he wouldn’t be able to help me fix anything up. (Side note – my three-years-younger-sister moved to North Carolina about a year ago).

At first, I was SO ANGRY. Deanna moved to North Carolina and no one said a word! Where I wanted to go wasn’t even far away, and is very up-and-coming! How could I possibly do all this work on my own! And Dad, why are you still texting me real estate listing of houses in your neighborhood!

But then I stopped. And I thought about it. And I came to a very strange realization.

I am an adult. (A 25-year-old adult trapped in a 16-year-old’s body). And I can figure out how to do any work myself, or pay someone to do it like a normal person. And I can live wherever I want. Just like I chose to move to Morristown one year ago, I can choose to go somewhere else, and if I feel like it, then I can go somewhere else still.

And no helicopter dad is going to stop me.

Baltimore for the nonsports fan

Operating as the minority in my Courier News, Home News Tribune and Daily Record newsroom, I am not a sports fan. I probably couldn’t name 10 professional athletes, I have never had a proclivity toward a certain team and I’ve been hopelessly bored at every game I have ever been to.

For this reason, my co-workers were confused when I told them that I was taking a weekend trip to Baltimore, which is widely known for its long and storied sporting history.

Was I heading to Camden Yards, they wanted to know? Were the Ravens going to be home? Would I be checking out any sports museums?

All of this talk made me nervous. Would there be enough for a nonsports fan to do in a city where one co-worker drove over four hours there and back in a single day to see an Orioles game?

Luckily for a nonsports fan like me, Baltimore has a lot more to it than a few games.

Baltimore has a lot more to it than a few games – even if those aspects tend to be a little more on the quirky side. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)
Baltimore has a lot more to it than a few games – even if those aspects tend to be a little more on the quirky side.
(Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

Baltimore is a hub of American history, and it is also the site of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, which was the home and business place of Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the garrison flag Francis Scott Key witnessed flying over Fort McHenry that inspired him to write our national anthem.

Check out the house, which was built in 1793, from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and hop on a self-guided tour for $8.

Baltimore is the site of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, which was the home and business place of Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the garrison flag Francis Scott Key witnessed flying over Fort McHenry that inspired him to write our national anthem. ~Courtesy of baltimoreheritage.com
Baltimore is the site of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, which was the home and business place of Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the garrison flag Francis Scott Key witnessed flying over Fort McHenry that inspired him to write our national anthem. ~Courtesy of baltimoreheritage.com

According to the belief of some, Carminantonio Iannaccone, owner of Baltimore’s Piedigrotta Bakery, is the inventor of tiramisu, making it a must visit for those with a sweet tooth. Iannacone said that while he was living in Treviso, Italy, in 1969, he opened a restaurant, also called Piedigrotta, and created a dessert based on the “everyday flavors of the region” — coffee, mascarpone, eggs, Marsala and ladyfinger cookies.

Piedigrotta, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays until 6 p.m., started business in 2002 in Baltimore’s Little Italy and remains a popular stopping point for dessert lovers visiting the city.

Chris LaChall/Staff Photographer Piedigrotta, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays until 6 p.m., started business in 2002. ~File photo
Chris LaChall/Staff Photographer Piedigrotta, which is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays until 6 p.m., started business in 2002. ~File photo

If you’re looking to get a taste of the wilderness while still staying in the city, then head to the National Aquariumwhich features a living collection of more than 20,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and marine mammals living in award-winning habitats, along with periodic talks and shows held throughout the day.

Through October, the Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, but hours change seasonally. Adult tickets cost about $40 a person and reservations are recommended.

Through October, the Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. ~File photo
Through October, the Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. ~File photo

The largest city in Maryland is crazy about Edgar Allan Poe, who called Baltimore home at both the beginning and end of his life. Besides countless restaurants, bars and trinkets adorning the city featuring Poe’s likeness, including Annabel Lee Tavern, which celebrates the author with a kitschy flair, fans can visit his home and museum in the city.

The National Historic Landmark, which is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends from May 23 through Dec. 27, costs $5 and features a self-guided tour that takes visitors through the celebrated writer’s home. They can also head to his grave site at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in the city.

The largest city in Maryland is crazy about Edgar Allan Poe, who called Baltimore home at both the beginning and end of his life. ~File photo
The largest city in Maryland is crazy about Edgar Allan Poe, who called Baltimore home at both the beginning and end of his life. ~File photo

The city districts that cater to tourists, such as the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point and Little Italy, are very walkable areas, but there is also a much more interesting way to get around — the Baltimore Water Taxi. Even if you’re more than happy to wander, grab an $8 single ride ticket or a $14 all-day pass to travel to 13 stops on the Water Taxi’s trail to get a different view of the surrounding area.

Plus, just as they have been doing for the past 35 years, the Water Taxi employs locals who can give you the insight that you need on what to do, where to stay and where to eat during your visit.

Even if you’re more than happy to wander, grab an $8 single ride ticket or a $14 all-day pass to travel to 13 stops on the Water Taxi’s trail to get a different view of the surrounding area. ~File photo
Even if you’re more than happy to wander, grab an $8 single ride ticket or a $14 all-day pass to travel to 13 stops on the Water Taxi’s trail to get a different view of the surrounding area. ~File photo

Baltimore may be known for its sports, but it’s got a lot more under its baseball cap — including American history, a famous horror author, lots of sea animals, a trip around the Harbor and the world’s first tiramisu.

Stormy skies hath no fury on Seneca Lake

As serious weather warnings sent New Jerseyans flocking to their nearest grocery store to stock up on batteries, water and canned goods during the weekend of Oct. 3, I was on a four-hour drive to Seneca Lake to stay in the one place you don’t want to be during a storm — a cabin.

Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, theoretically is a very pleasant place to be as fall sets in on the Northeast. Surrounded by gentle autumn breezes, the passing waves of the lake water and the changing colors of the leaves, Seneca Lake is an ideal place for fall-lovers to kick off the festive season.

Since my camping trip to Seneca Lake was booked months in advance and the weather looked unfortunate yet not tragic, we embarked, with some hesitation, on our planned getaway.

Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo
Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo

However, staying in Burdett in a Seneca Secrets cabin, a collection of three rustic yet updated cabins on the east side of the lake for $150 a night, in 40-degree weather with only a wood stove to keep warm, wasn’t the way I envisioned waiting out the storm, which, granted, hit New York a lot less hard than it did New Jersey.

Turns out, though, it wasn’t so bad after all, as Seneca Lake’s attractions need a lot more than a few drops of rain and chilly weather to shut down.

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Obviously, the most practical activity to do on the worst day of weather was to cruise some of the area’s 32 wineries, which make up the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Each winery is a three-minute drive or less from the next alongside various roads running parallel to Seneca Lake and generally charge $5 to taste about six wines of your choice.

Although the weather didn’t lend itself well to hanging out on many of the wineries’ lush grounds or exploring their vineyards, it did work for relaxing in the tasting rooms, which reflect the personality of the winery. Plus, knowledgeable winery employees enthusiastically share stories and facts about their house-made wines and sometimes host tours of the production facilities.

Most wouldn’t think of a farmer’s market being the go-to place for a rainy day, but luckily, the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, about 25 minutes from Burdett through a relaxing country drive, primarily houses its vendors indoors within four buildings.

Vendors include those that sell baked goods, produce, antiques, home goods, clothing, jewelry and food items to 8,000 to 10,000 people every week, and have been doing so for the past 28 years.

Rain or shine, everyone needs to eat, and a full day of wine tasting and shopping will make any tourist crave a hearty meal. Restaurants and wineries in Seneca Lake love their local goods, and the Stonecat Café, an acclaimed organic regional restaurant nested in Hector, is no exception.

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Open for lunch, brunch and dinner for the past 17 years, the Stonecat Café regularly hosts live music within its homey restaurant, including a jazz band during their weekly Sunday jazz brunches. As the season changes, the menu does as well, making for a truly unique autumn meal at its tables. Before you leave, make sure you check out their herb, flower and vegetable garden in the backyard, which remains bright and buzzing no matter the weather.

Although Watkins Glen State Park, the third-place pick in the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice Poll for Best State Park in the U.S., is best enjoyed in pleasant weather, there was no way that I was missing the 19 waterfalls of the park descended from the 200-foot cliffs along the two-mile gorge trail.

Through the trail, visitors can wander over and under waterfalls and through the cool spray of the Cavern Cascade. In the autumn, the surrounding forest is in full effect, presenting an enviable and colorful backdrop to the flowing waterfalls.

Right around the corner from Watkins Glen State Park is downtown Watkins Glen, which contains a few charming streets of turn-of-the-century homes as well as little shops such as O’Shaughnessy Antiques, a quirky vintage shop with antiques, estate jewelry, vintage designer clothing, vintage books, home furnishings and other odd finds from Louise O’Shaughnessy.

Other shops on the strip include the Fingerlakes Fiber Yarn Store, O Susannah Quilts and Gift, Watkins Glen Sporting Goods, Putty Jug, an antiques dealer, Coins Bought, a coin dealer, Country Haven Treasures, a furniture store, and Village Variety Shop, a used book store.

Seneca Lake, a haven for all things autumn with its changing fall foliage, quiet drives, independently owned wineries and shops and quaint cabins overlooking the lake, is a place best enjoyed in the pleasantry of sunshine. However, a little rain didn’t get in my way of getting my first taste of the season in the Finger Lakes — and since you won’t have a storm blocking your trip, nothing should get in the way of your visit to this haven of fall.

SENECA LAKE ATTRACTIONS

Stay at Seneca Secrets, a collection of three rustic, yet updated cabins located on the east side of the lake in Burdett for $150 a night, which include two rooms, two full-size beds, one bathroom, a kitchen and living room. Visit senecasecrets.com or call 908-922-8518.

Taste wines on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which include 32 wineries that are generally located about three minutes from the next. Prices vary per tasting, but usually, wineries charge about $5 to sample six wines of your choice. Visitsenecalakewine.com or call 877-536-2717.

Shop at the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, which has over 200 vendors selling baked goods, produce, antiques, home goods, clothing, jewelry and food items. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every Saturday until Dec. 12. Visitthewindmill.com or call 315-536-3032.

Hike through Watkins Glen State Park, which features 19 waterfalls descended from 200-foot cliffs along a two-mile gorge trail. Vehicle entrance fee is $8 and park is open year-round. Visit nysparks.com/parks/142 or call 607-535-4511.

Wander through downtown Watkins Glen, which contains a few charming streets of turn-of-the-century homes as well as little shops. Visit watkinsglenchamber.com or call 800-607-4552.

Lowcountry goes luxe at Palmetto Bluff

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

With some of the best beaches in the country, combined with a laid-back, classic Lowcountry vibe, it’s no surprise that 2.5 million sun-hungry visitors flock to Hilton Head Island every year.

What many of these tourists don’t realize, however, is that there is a much friendlier and alluring hidden gem of a town less than 10 miles away.

Bluffton, South Carolina, on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining understated.

Many resort communities have an aura of tackiness, filled with obnoxious colors, loud music and crowds. However, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage resort, which contains an inn, cottages, cottage suites, vacation homes, a church, restaurants and a plethora of outdoor life bounded by the May, Cooper and New rivers, sets itself apart in a reposition of functioning as its own village.

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Winding, quiet streets in a centuries-old maritime forest filled with live oaks and red cedars, the classic Southern homes in the Inn at Palmetto Bluff operate as a neighborhood with amenities and activities.

Palmetto Bluff certainly hasn’t gone without recognition. It was ranked in 2014 as the No. 1 hotel in South Carolina and No. 2 in the country by the U.S. News and World Report, as well as Conde Nast Traveler’s No. 1 resort in the U.S. and No. 11 resort in the world in 2013, among many other awards.

The accommodations, which feature touches such as vaulted ceilings, fireplaces and verandas with views of the surrounding Lowcountry, are priced from $1 million to $3 million for purchase and from $425 for a cottage stay that sleeps four to $1,170 a night for a village home stay that sleeps eight for rent.

Although this does price out many visitors, you don’t need to be a Palmetto Bluff guest to enjoy some of the resort features.

The accomodation at Palmetto Bluff include an inn, cottages, cottage suites and vacation homes. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)
The accomodation at Palmetto Bluff include an inn, cottages, cottage suites and vacation homes. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)

Buffalo’s, a corner café open for breakfast and lunch across from the community chapel in Wilson Village, sits parallel to the May River, with a menu offering salads, sandwiches, pastries and bar items.

Other restaurants in the community include RT’s Market, a neighborhood general store, and the River House Restaurant, a farm-fresh eatery with a deep Southern feel.

Perhaps the biggest draw of Palmetto Bluff, however, isn’t what visitors can find indoors but what they can find outdoors in the 20,000 acres of the property. By hopping on a bike, horse or by foot, tourists can explore the Bluff trails or waterways by kayak, canoe or paddleboard.

While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout.

While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)
While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

Palmetto Bluff also houses a 1913 60-foot antique motor yacht that is one of the last remaining pre-World War I gas-powered yachts, restored and available for tours and private charter at any time.

Back on land, Longfield Stables is home to the community’s equestrian facility, a 173-acre farm surrounded by 15 miles of trails.

Besides getting a workout outdoors, visitors can also check out the Bluff’s fitness centers, movement studio, heated horizon lap pools overlooking the May River and award-winning day spa.

No resort community is complete without a golf club, and May River Golf Club, a par-72 course, holds sand from Ohio at Jack Nicklaus Signature Course along 7,200 yards running on the banks of the May River. Golfers of all skill levels in a state-of-the-art practice facility can play at the Bluff’s course, consistently ranked among the best in South Carolina.

Bluffton, South Carolina, right on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining peaceful. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)
Bluffton, South Carolina, right on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining peaceful. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)

However, it’s not all about taking from the land — it’s about giving to it, too. The Palmetto Bluff Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that protects the natural resources of the property, funded by every home sale on the site.

To showcase and protect other forms of community beauty such as local artists, public art shows are also routinely held on the property in a medium that allows visitors to interact with artists, as well as blues, jazz, Southern rock, Lowcountry stomp and bluegrass artists and performers.

Although tourists looking for the laid-back, timeless feel of South Carolina tend to head to Hilton Head Island, a more genuine Southern experience can be found just a few miles away in Bluffton — and thanks to Palmetto Bluff, the same resort element of luxury found on the island can be found in the small town, too.

Palmetto Bluff

Where: 476 Mount Pelia Rd. in Bluffton, South Carolina, about eight miles from Hilton Head Island

Rates: Accommodations currently are priced from $1 million to $3 million for purchase and from $425 for a cottage stay that sleeps four to $1,170 a night for a village home stay that sleeps eight

Contact: montagehotels.com/palmettobluff/ or 843 -706-6500