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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gratitude Friday - Music

Gosh, I realize that I haven't posted a Gratitude Friday post in such a long time. It's not that I'm not grateful for's just that sometimes I just don't get the inspiration to write about anything in particular and I don't want to ramble about just anything. But today, as I was driving to work and I was listening to my iPod in the car, I realized that I am truly grateful for music. Music can move me to tears or bring a big smile to my face. I have a really good memory for music and so I remember times in my past when a particular song was playing. When I hear the song now, it will instantly bring me back to that place. For instance, when I hear "Harbor Lights" by Boz Scaggs, I am transported back to my Senior Prom so many years ago and being in heaven slow dancing with my then special guy. Or when I hear "A Bridge Over Troubled Water", I remember sitting with my cousin in Italy and feeling so special because I could sing along to an English-speaking song. All those memories come fleeting back to me whenever I hear those songs.

I like all sorts of music, except maybe classical and opera. I'm not sure why I never really gained an appreciation for these, but I just didn't. And for me, music is all about the emotion that it imparts. Classical music makes me nervous. The changes in tempo and rhythm leave me feeling on the edge and jittery. I enjoy pieces that are melodic, those that have meaningful words, and those that have a great beat. Yes, even rap and hip hop!!

I have an extensive collection of Italian music as well. I think Italian lyrics are always so romantic and beautiful. I can picture myself having someone sing those beautiful words to me!! At times, I can even daydream about it. Whenver I am on a plane, I have the iPod earphones in my ear and I will seldom be moving along to the beat in my seat! I call it "seat dancing"!!

Music is all about memories for me, as smell is for lots of people. It reminds me of places, people, events, and so many other things.

Here's a special Thank you to all the musicians for their contributions to my happiness!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Willow Stream Spa

Now, I'm not much of a spa-goer, but when I do go, I want to be pampered!! That is exactly what I got at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont hotel in Scottsdale, AZ! The facility is absolutely beautiful and peaceful. Just upon entering, you can "smell" the relaxation coming!!! Aromatherapy is definitely put into effect here, and the scents they use will immediately give you a sense of peacefulness! The spa can be "booked" for the day by paying a daily fee for use of the facilities, or is yours to experience with any spa treatment. My first day there, I decided to get a pedicure. Now...the pedicure was $90!!! Astronomical!!! But, then I realized that not only was I paying for the Fairmont name, but I was getting the use of the spa facilities for the day, so I was able to justify it a bit more. The pedicure was very nice - I sat in a massage chair while my feet soaked in a warm bath. I was given a warm neck roll to help me relax as well. The experience lasted one hour! I walked away with beautifully pampered feet just in time to show them off while I lay by the private pool. The pool is on the rooftop level - there are about 100 lounge chairs and some of them can be made private by pulling the curtain closed around the chair groups. There is also a fireplace to add a bit of ambience.

Besides the pool, there are several other very nice "activities" to enjoy. There is a warm mineral pool with a waterfall which splashes into the pool under which you can stand and get a sort of massage (if you don't mind getting your hair wet!). This is coed and is situated between the entrances to both the women and men's locker rooms.

Inside the women's locker room, there is a very hot jacuzzi tub which resembles a roman bath. There is also a cold plunge pool, which some people enjoy after soaking in hot water! There is a dry sauna, a steam room, a swiss shower, and a room temperature aromatherapy room infused with eucalyptus. This is the perfect spot to clear all the nasal passages!! The second day of my spa extravaganza included a hot stone massage! The therapist was very professional and did an excellent job. The therapy room opened up to a small courtyard which allowed for fresh air to seep into the room as well as the sound of the running water from the waterfall.

The masseuse used the hot stones to massage me, as well as her hands. She used bindi oil which smelled wonderfully. The towels were all infused with lavender to create just that much more of a relaxed experience.

The spa also offered a fitness room for a great workout and aerobics classes. They had a small snack area with teas of all kinds and orange infused water. There were muffins in the morning, and organic cookies in the afternoon. Apples were available all day! There was a beautiful teak outdoor eating area with infused sun where all the spa goers sat in their plush white robes awaiting their treatments. The locker rooms had giant shower stalls and all the amenities to primp after your treatments - hair spray, styling brushes, blow dryers, and much more.

Fairmont Hotel in Scottsdale, AZ

The Fairmont in Scottsdale, AZ is truly a remarkably beautiful hotel with all the amenities that a hotel of this caliber should offer. The service and the facilities are impeccable. The grounds are very beautiful, and they incorporate the beauty of the desert landscape with cactus gardens, earth colored buildings, and pathways covered in clay like stones.

Of course, they have added green grass and swimming pools to the mix to accomodate lounging by the pool in the warm Arizona sun.

Bougainvillea and red geraniums also brighten up the scenery by adding just the right splash of color.

At night, the atmosphere becomes romantic and dreamy with all the fires burning throughout the property. Fire and water features are found strewn throughout the hotel, from the giant fountain in the main courtyard to fire-illuminated walkways. All the bars offer fire pits for those cool desert evenings.

The rooms in Building E are suites featuring a living room and eating area, a generous sized bedroom with walk in closets, and a gorgeous bathroom with a separate shower stall, water closet, and sunken tub. They even have a wonderful espresso machine for making that perfect cup of espresso in the morning!!! The crema made by this machine is wonderful!

On the whole this hotel was scrumptious....but there were a few little things which rubbed me the wrong way. First of all was that there was nothing to eat to be found after 10 pm!!! Granted that by 10 pm, you should not be looking to eat dinner, but we found ourselves in need of finding nourishment at this late hour after having arrived from California. Therefore we were forced to order room service! And, after having seen the romantic atmosphere that was all around us at the hotel, we would have loved to have experienced it with a glass of wine and a nibble of food - instead of cooping ourselves up in our room!!

The other drawback to this hotel was the silly little charges they added to the bill - there was a luggage fee of $12 per person per day, irregardless of any luggage handling done by the staff, and a $2 per day per person maid fee! the $250 to $500 price range of the rooms at this hotel, couldn't they just throw that in? Or, if they were smart and had to add that, they should have just included it in the fee charged and not tell you that they were nickel and diming you with these extra charges!! Whenever these luxury resort start adding these extra charges, it irks me to no end because it cheapens the experience.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ditty in Dialetto

My parents, having come from Italy right before I was born, always spoke Italian to me from the beginning. But between themselves, they often spoke the Lombardian dialect. I came to understand it completely, but never really learned to speak it. Every time I'd go to Italy, I would hear the dialect spoken and I felt like a snoop because others thought I couldn't understand it, but I comprehended everything!!! And whenever I heard it, it made me happy - it always seemed so comical. Even when the people were having a "discussion", it never seemed like they were angry or upset with each other!! This little "ditty" was one that I learned (one of the few things I can actually say in "dialetto") and it is one of my favorites!! To the foreign ear, it all sounds the same...but it really does mean something!!! Who can figure it out?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Things to Do in and around Portland, OR

On a beautiful sunny day, Cathedral Park in Portland, along the banks of the Willamette River, is a perfect spot for a casual picnic. The park sits underneath the St. John’s Bridge – a green colored suspension bridge with towers that resemble Gothic cathedral spires. The bridge was begun in 1929 and dedicated in 1931. It is the only suspension bridge spanning the Willamette, and also the tallest bridge in Portland. This area is peaceful and a wonderful spot for just relaxing.

Right across the Columbia River from Portland lies the old British outpost of the Hudson Bay Company called Fort Vancouver. In 1825, the HBC (a large fur trading organization) set up headquarters here. For the next two decades, Ft. Vancouver became the fur trade capital of the Pacific coast. Many people of all nationalities worked and traded here.

In the 1830’s and 1840’s, American settlers came to the Willamette Valley to farm and live. The HBC made supplies and credit available to these new settlers. This influx of Americans resulted in a division of the Oregon Country and left Ft. Vancouver on American soil. For a few years the HBC continued to trade with the settlers and Indians, but trade diminished and the company abandoned the fort. By 1866, the Fort was abandoned because of fire and decay destroying all the structures.

In 1947, archeologists began excavation on the site of the original fort recovering many artifacts and allowing for reconstruction of the original structures. Touring this wonderful place harkens the visitor back to life in the Old West. Many docents, dressed in period costume, work the facility in the blacksmith shop, the bakery, the kitchen, the general store, and the fur trading outpost.

Seeing the fur pelts hanging from the walls and on the floor is very interesting, even though a bit sad because of all the animal slaughter that went into this trading business. But this is how life was like in this part of the country in those days, and the authenticity is amazing.

The visitor can experience life as it truly was in the 1800’s.

The Best Pizza I Have Tasted So Far

Ken's Artisan Pizza in Portland, OR, is truly one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten, and being Italian, I am pretty particular when it comes to pizza. This wood-fired pizza delivers that crunchy, slightly burnt, and never soggy thin crust that, for me, is the epitome of a great pizza. And then, when it is topped with fresh and savory ingredients, DELIZIOSO!!

The restaurant is located in Portland’s quaint South East neighborhood. It is a fairly small place which, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for lots of seating. Therefore, there is ALWAYS a long wait – sometimes upwards of one to two hours. They do not take any reservations, but they do allow you to have a glass of wine from the bar while waiting to be seated. The ambience is simple – lots of wood!! Supposedly the wood was salvaged from the Giant Dipper roller coaster in Jantzen Beach!! Nice to know that the vintage roller coaster lives on!! The giant wood oven in the center of the restaurant is fascinating to watch as the pizza artists put their creations into the burning inferno just to have it reappear as a super-culinary delight.

This restaurant did not disappoint in any way – even the long wait was well worth it!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Nines Hotel in Downtown Portland

This Luxury collection hotel is located across the street from Pioneer Square in Downtown Portland. The Nines is located on the upper 9 floors of the historic Meier and Frank building (therefore the origin of the hotel’s name!). The lower floors are occupied by Macy’s.

The hotel boasts a very chic interior consisting of gray, aqua, black and taupe color schemes with crystal chandeliers and marble bathrooms. The d├ęcor is a beautiful mix of modern and classic design elements. Even though the rooms are a bit on the small side, all the amenities are included. Charging stations and Ipod plug ins for listening to all your Itunes favorites are found in the room as well as free wi-fi. When the turn down service occurs in the evenings, you return to soft music playing in the background and some pseudo chocolate brownies. The brownies aren’t great – they taste too healthy to be good but the thought is appreciated!! The beds are absolutely wonderful – plush duvets and soft, but not mushy, pillows – which make for a very restful sleep. The rooms on the top floor, facing the street, are extremely quiet.

The hotel proudly displays a contemporary art collection from local artists, and the art is not only found in the public spaces but in the guest rooms as well.

There are two dining establishments: The Urban Farmer is located in the downstairs lobby (which is on the 8th floor) and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It looks to be a typical hotel restaurant, and not too exciting.

But, on the 15th and top floor, is the very chic Departures bar and restaurant. The atmosphere up there at night is electric. It is dark, but the twinkling lights of the city below create an exceptional aura. There is a lot of life up there. The clientele tend to be on the younger side, but not to say that an older person would feel out of place. Even though it was very lively and crowded, it was also very romantic. The cuisine is Asian-flaired with a modern twist.

The Nine’s location is very convenient for walking the Downtown area and for hopping on Portland’s extensive public transportation system. Many stylish shops and boutiques, as well as exceptional restaurants, are all within easy access to the hotel’s location. All in all, for a Downtown experience, the Nines is a wonderful and luxurious escape.