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Globe Trotting

jademountain1b.jpgLast week I joined the ĂĽber-elite* ranks of those who carry a Global Entry passport. Consequently, from now on, I will no longer have to wait in long immigration lines or explain why there are so many stamps in my passport or (this is the best part) fill out that annoying blue customs form. I probably only reenter the United States around a dozen or so times per year, but given the fact that (a) it usually takes upwards of an hour to clear JFK, and (b) it’s almost always after a long flight in which I have achieved minimal shut-eye, I deemed it most definitely worth the registration fee, background check, and subsequent interview with Homeland Security. Perhaps I’ll remember last month’s trip to St. Lucia as my last trip without my Global Entry passport. More likely, I’ll remember it for the big beautiful Pitons, the tree house-like spa at Jalousie Plantation, and the utterly mind-blowing architecture at Jade Mountain. Happy traveling in 2012!

*That’s sarcasm! Anyone with $100, a clean record, and a little bit of patience can do it! more»

Architecture is Fun!

nycguide.jpgI’d recommend John Hill’s new Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture even if my photography wasn’t in it. A thorough walking guide of virtually every modern structure worth seeing in the city, it’s also wonderfully written, provides the ever-important public transportation directions, and—oh yeah—features some pretty amazing photos (Amy Barkow’s dusk shot of the Sperone Westwater Gallery is absolute perfection!). Can’t wait to work my way from cover to cover!

Going Bananas

labanane19.jpgI had been in the Caribbean for nearly three weeks straight and, in all honesty, was pretty much working on autopilot by the time I got to La Banane. After two weeks in St. Maarten I had learned little more than the fact that I am not a fan of St. Maarten. And though St. Barts is an exclusive and fabulous respite from the masses clogging every corner of St. Maarten, I’d reached the point where only something truly amazing was going to break the zombie-like workaday way in which I had been going at it for so long. So it’s saying quite a bit that this nine-bungalow hotel had me flipping out over its thoughtful decor, from vintage Eisenhower chairs covered in a funky mint and pink pattern, to mahogany tables stacked high with stuffed parrots and art books from all of my favorites (Warhol and Koons and Raschenberg, oh my!). And who wouldn’t love that little white-and-yellow gum drop sprouting a single palm tree in the middle of the pool? As happy as I was to finally head home, La Banane was one of the few I was actually sad to say goodbye to. more»

Island in the Sun

rr2.jpgrr1.jpgPerhaps the royal couple can be blamed (or credited) with the incredible amount of coverage that Seychelles is getting lately. Or maybe it’s just one of those best-kept secrets that’s no longer much of a secret. Whatever the reason, I’m seeing the African isles everywhere this month—on the cover of Budget Travel, in the latest issue of Islands—and don’t forget my honeymoon destination piece in this month’s Destination Weddings and Honeymoons. And though Robb Report appears to be on-trend by including two Seychelles resorts in its November private islands feature (written and photographed by yours truly), the magazine was actually quite the trailblazer for this of-the-moment destination when they ran my feature on the future of this pristine island-nation back in January. more»

Diario de MĂ©xico

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Snaps from our trip to Mexico last month. It was off to a shaky start in Mexico City, where basically nothing is ever open when it says it will be, resulting in thwarted attempts to see the Luis Barragon home, the Frida Kahlo Museum, and the Diego Rivera studio (we at least got to the see the exteriors of the last one), not to mention a host of unfulfilled restaurant recommendations.

After a flight to the Costa Alegre, a lost (and recovered) credit card, and an illegal U-turn that resulted in a hefty bribe (ahem, I mean fine), things started to look up. Highlights included a shanty town church framed almost perfectly by a donkey on the mend, a distillery where the bees loved the tequila almost as much as we did, a hike filled with spiders as big as your hand and circling vultures and falcons overhead, a DĂ­a de la Independencia sprinkled donut, learning how to roll in and out with the tide like driftwood, feeling like that last two people alive on the appropriately named Bird Island, Virgin of Guadalupe candles, and the best margaritas and micheladas in Mexico—nay—the world. Oh, and we got engaged. more»

New York Minute

nychotels.jpgAnother quickie post! Shot a couple of New York City hotels last week—the sexy Mark Hotel and the spacey Yotel—and the two properties couldn’t be more different. In one corner, we have the cool-as-ice Mark Bar filled with low-slung animal-skin chairs and sparkly glowing orbs. On the other end of the spectrum, Yotel’s Dohyo restaurant serves up punchy colors, pop art murals, and minimalist furniture. Take your pick—either way, a cocktail is certainly in order!

Pancakes in Bed

lpl_whiteface7.jpgAs promised, a break from island photography—and what a break indeed. I’ve always been a lake girl, perhaps due to my Texan roots (no matter how much Austin calls itself “The Third Coast,” the cruel truth is a lack of any substantial body of water beyond the gem that is Lake Travis), and now I have a new favorite in Lake Placid. More specifically: Lake Placid Lodge. You’d never know the property was ravaged by a fire in 2005: an extensive Hudson River School art collection, rustic twig-and-branch beds (each handcrafted by a different local woodworker), and dark wood plank floorboards that creak just the right amount all suggest a family camp that has grown more and more refined over the last century. Throw in the country’s best pancakes (no, really) and s’mores on Placid’s edge, and I’ve officially found my new favorite destination. more»

Postcards from the Caribbean

turksandcaicos.jpgA smattering of random shots from the last few months in the Caribbean, including conch fried three ways, an almost-blasphemous tropical decoration of a Roman bust, a proper English teatime in Bermuda, buoys as the best styling props ever, decadent sweets (of course), and my favorite hotel amenity of all time—a poolside kitty. I’m hoping to ease up on the tropical posts for a while, which may prove easier said than done with upcoming trips to St. Maarten, St. Barts, and St. Lucia. more»

Come On Pretty Mama

bermuda.jpgThis past month has had me bouncing between Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Turks & Caicos. Consequently, I can’t get a certain Beach Boys song out of my head. Anyway, I’m nose-deep in photos but felt shamed into putting something—anything—up as it’s been a while since my last post. So here we have Horseshoe Bay + me sneaking up on little girls like a weirdo = magical golden hour shot. More to come eventually!

Swiss Hit

_dsc4724b.jpgA few highlights from last month’s quick trip to Switzerland: cafes on Lake Geneva; a ski lodge in Verbier; mastering the art of deboning a fish; a facial at Valmont Spa; eating my weight in Swiss chocolate, wine, and cheese; a hike to a glacier; and chasing a herd of sheep until I got the right shot. more»

Ode To Barcelona

_dsc3518b.jpgThe views from Barcelona’s Hotel Arts are, to put it mildly, impressive. Which made it all the more challenging to hit the ground running and see everything I wanted to see in the 24 hours I had between docking at Port de Barcelona and catching a flight home. Nonetheless, my awesome travel companion, Sam, and I managed to make the obligatory stroll down La Rambla, visit the chocolate museum, saunter past my favorite MirĂł sculpture, check out the former-bullfighting-arena-turned-shopping-mall, sip mojitos in El Raval, peruse the boutiques in Born, do handstands on the beach, have a soak in the hotel’s hottub under the famous Frank Gehry fish, and hit a few of the necessary GaudĂ­ landmarks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I want to live in Barcelona! more»

Deeper Shade of Blue

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These types of posts are so time consuming but, really, a collage just looks so much better than any one photo—especially when almost every imaginable shade of blue seems to play into nearly every shot. I surprised myself by enjoying Ibiza the most out of all of the islands visited on my Mediterranean journey. Corsica was just ok, Sardinia was so not my speed, and Formentera and Porquerolles were sweet but perhaps a bit too quaint. I didn’t don any glow sticks or stay out until sunrise, but Ibiza’s street life and sangria were about as good as it gets. more»

Sunday Funday

nyt1.jpgnyt3.jpgHomemade buttermilk banana pancakes are a Sunday morning ritual around here. It’s enough to start the week off on the right foot, even if it means downing more butter and maple syrup in a single sitting than one should consume in any seven-day period. Last Sunday, however, was extra sweet when the New York Times delivered a few of my photos in the travel section for a story on Hangzhou. You can check out the full article online (that is, if you are willing to give up one of your 20 free monthly articles!).

Stuck in Paradise

lacasaisabelexterior1.jpgNot to complain, but there’s a certain level of suckiness when I visit an amazing resort in the middle of paradise and, after three days of non-stop shooting, come to realize that my toes have yet to touch the ocean, my bathing suit remains packed away at the bottom of my suitcase, and every night I pass out the moment I get back to my suite. More than ever before, this was the case at Las Alamandas, where the intensely bright colors of this authentically designed Mexican resort were just too much of a draw for my camera. There’s good news though: I get to go back in September—this time sans camera, with a boyfriend in tow and margaritas on my mind! more»

Privacy Please

ani1.jpgWith winter and spring in the middle of what seems like a never-ending wrestling match here in New York (today, winter is winning), it’s quite a comfort to pick up the April issue of Robb Report and reminisce about my trip to Ani Villas in Anguilla last December. Look at that gorgeous turquoise pool! Alas, my swimsuit hasn’t seen the light of day since. more»

Hello! Hello!

_dsc8817b.jpgSuzhou was—for lack of a better term—a trip. Sure, I heard the same “Hello! Hello!” that white people hear all over China when wandering the streets with their cameras and sticking out like a fly in a bowl of rice. But in Suzhou, the cultural difference was, quite honestly, shocking. People followed me through the streets. Parents pointed me out to their children as some sort of educational lesson. Young girls surrounded me, asking for a picture and my email address. I was even denied service in several restaurants, the reason for which I am still unsure.

Despite feeling like an alien, Suzhou captivated me with its never-ending parade of contradictions. There were the I.M. Pei-designed art museum, the cafes and bars on trend-ified Pingjiang Road, and the main boulevard with its multiple Louis Vuitton and Hermes stores on alternating blocks that pointed to a rapidly Westernizing city. But right there too were the clotheslines drying cured meats next to damp boxer shorts, the ever-present smell of stinky tofu, and, of course, the hordes of people elbowing their friends and pointing and nodding in the direction of the lone white girl. I can’t say I know which is the real Suzhou. Some would be inclined to say the old man repairing shoes on the side of the street has more Suzhounese street cred than the spiky-haired guy shooting a fashion spread in front of a “British pub.” I’m not so sure. I suspect both are authentic in their own way. more»

Heaven Above…

westlake6.jpg More than a few times during my trip, I heard the phrase “Heaven above, Hangzhou below.” Funnily enough, when I got to Suzhou, the saying had changed—this time it was “Heaven above, Hangzhou and Suzhou below.” I think the latter is the correct version, although, after spending several days in both cities, I understand why the Hangzhounese would claim the saying for just themselves. Somehow, even during the busiest of times—whether shopping on Hubin and Nanshan roads, visiting ancient Buddhist temples, wandering from gallery to gallery at the Zhejiang Art Museum, or dodging aggressive shopkeepers on Hefang Street—the city possesses a certain peacefulness that Suzhou lacks. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that even when struggling (usually unsuccessfully) to find a taxi or walking the city’s stone sidewalks until the bones in your feet pulsate with searing pain, the serenity of West Lake is always just a stone’s throw away. more»

Explosions in the Sky

banyan3.jpg By the time I made it to Banyan Tree, the popping of firecrackers was almost incessant as Hangzhou’s locals counted down the days to the Lunar New Year. I, on the other hand, could not have been more sluggish. Having skipped from Seoul to Shanghai to Hangzhou to Suzhou and then back to Hangzhou, I was one weary traveler. With just 36 hours at Banyan Tree before retracing my circuitous path back to New York (via Seoul via Shanghai!), I had no greater desire than to bury myself deep under the covers of the fluffy king-size bed in my suite. But after an eight-course meal at Bai Yun, a two-hour Balinese massage at the spa, a stroll through the sleepy grounds of the neighboring Xixi National Wetland Park, and an invigorating workout in the gym, I was feeling like a firecracker myself, exploding with energy for the 24-hour-plus journey home. Xin Nian Kuai Le! more»

Ambassadors and Ascetics

amanfayun_villa1.jpgWhile staying in Hangzhou, I hit the jackpot and found the one taxi driver in perhaps all of China that speaks perfect English. Jerry, whose business card identifies him as “The Grass Roots Ambassador of Hangzhou,” was full of little nuggets of wisdom, like “wear your napkin from your neck when eating hot pot,” and “take ginseng to relieve menstrual cramps.” But his most valuable piece of advice was this: “If you haven’t been to the lake or the temple, you haven’t been to Hangzhou.”

The temple to which my new friend was referring is the Lingyin Temple, and lucky for me, Amanfayun, the second resort in my Tour de Hangzhou, is located just steps away. Much like the temple, where visitors can watch Buddhist monks in afternoon prayer each day at 3:30, Amanfayun reeks of authenticity from another time. Located on the site of a former tea plantation workers’ village, the resort’s guest rooms, restaurants, and tea houses are the same structures in which workers resided centuries ago. Monks even like to hang out at the Tea House from time to time, most likely on their way to the temple from another nearby landmark, the Buddhist University. But as exciting as it was to mingle with such enlightened creatures, I remembered yet another gem that Jerry shared with me: “If you want to take a picture of a monk, you must first ask.” more»

(Un)Adulterated Diversions

fshangzhou_restaurant1.jpgI ate well and I ate often at the Four Seasons’ traditional Chinese restaurant, Jin Sha, where eight-course meals are not reserved solely for dinner, and lunches can take up to several hours. Aside from the incredible meals, I went nuts over the restaurant’s 11 private dining rooms dotting the edge of one of the hotel’s man-made lagoons and accessible via a glowing, labyrinthine pathway. Each room has a distinct decor, and many include expansive waterfront terraces and plush lounging options. I quickly understood the need for these private spaces as my tour skipped several rooms from which the sounds of drunken carousing exploded. Even more exciting, these private dining rooms have a history as deliciously decadent as the DongPo pork served on their tables: General Manager Rudolf van Dijk divulged that the tradition dates back to the sexy swinging days of concubines! Meow! more»

Snowed In

fsspa1.jpgFollowing Korea, I spent nearly two weeks wandering eastern China. Well, perhaps wandering, which implies roughing it in a rucksack-and-sleeping-bag kind of way, gives an inaccurate impression. Rather, I spent the time bouncing between amazing resorts and hotels throughout the cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou.

First up was the Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, which I would sooner describe as a resort than a hotel due to its stunning lakefront location and out-of-this-world spa. Though one of the heaviest snowfalls in recent Hangzhou history kept me from enjoying the former, it gave me the perfect excuse to spend even more time in the latter, whose vivid use of color—golds in the reception, vibrant pinks in the treatment rooms, and cool turquoises and slates in the amazing indoor pool—had me wishing the snow would never let up. more»

Ms. Diagnosis

chaum.jpgGenerally, I hate the doctor. I pass out at the sight of a needle. I sweat through my clothes while sitting in waiting rooms. I get jumpy just thinking about that tissue paper that covers the examination table. *Shudder.* But after visiting Chaum Center, Seoul’s newest medical center, destination spa, and health club wrapped into one amazing 400,000-square foot facility, I’m ruined for life. A futuristic interior filled with modern art and sleek yet comfy furniture? A gourmet Mediterranean restaurant serving organic cuisine? Cute pink jammies in place of those awful papery backless gowns? Forget it, I will never set foot in a doctor’s office again unless it’s at Chaum Center. more»

Incidents and Incursions

dmz_main.jpgIt is snowing steadily as we walk in two orderly lines to the 38th parallel. I feel like a kindergartner with a safety partner when John pushes me into the opposite line so we can be next to each other. Having stopped at the top of a wide set of cement stairs overlooking the guards—you know, the guards in mirrored glasses and judo-ready poses who stare at the guards in furry hats and long grey coats who, in turn, stare back with their own unwavering glare—we are given specific orders. “Do not point, wave, or make gestures of any kind toward North Korea,” Corporal Casiano, tells us. “Do not get too close to the guards and do not try to pass them. Their orders are to get physical with anyone who does.”

Duly noted. I’m not here to get my ass kicked.

In the distance, the faint outline of magnificent white-tipped mountains trace the edge of the horizon. I imagine they’d make great blue squares and black diamonds; then immediately wonder if such a thing will ever be possible in my lifetime. Ugly blue trailers—equal numbers belonging to the North and South (we can’t have anyone feeling more powerful now, can we?)—line the exact positioning of the 38th parallel. Dated watch towers overhead look more like abandoned shanties than the surveillance headquarters of an evil empire. Little more is visible through the winter’s heavy fog and snowflakes. Nonetheless, the enemy to which I cannot refer is watching—invisible, ubiquitous, omnipotent. Can I feel them watching me? Or do I just think I can feel them watching me? Perhaps, like many Westerners, I am just so obsessed with this place that Bill Clinton once called “the scariest place on earth” that even the slightest strangeness elicits a palpable and unrecognizable fear.

The most surprising thing about the de-militarized zone is the lack of any real action taking place. Despite the feeling of a certain intangible and unspoken threat hanging in the air, the actual physical stimulus remains at an incredible low. Anywhere else, empty trailers, empty train stations, and empty observation platforms would make for a mind-numbingly dull experience. And yet, whether due to expectation or reality, it is this disparate solitude that makes the tension along the border that much more poignant. Its emptiness simply reinforces that my every move—whether I’m toeing the ambiguously-drawn yellow line on the observation deck, which, after crossing, I can no longer take photos; or sheepishly edging near that guard poised in his foreboding ready-to-tear-your-shit-up stance—is under surveillance. Perhaps if I could look them back square in the eye, I’d have less discomfort in knowing that they—whoever and wherever they are—are watching.

Oddly, this part of Korea, the part most Americans think of first when the country is mentioned, is not present in Seoul, which is just an hour-long bus ride away. John and I mentioned our trip to several Seoulites we met during our week in the city, and received widely varied—though generally disapproving—responses: “that’s just a tourist area for foreigners” or “that’s not the real Korea” or (my favorite) “it’s not very nice there.” It made the concept of perspective ever-present in my mind during this trip, though no matter how hard I tried to think like a local—reading their English-language newspaper everyday and trying to understand how calling another country “belligerent” a handful of times in a single article could be considered objective—I just couldn’t fathom how this border with the only wholly closed country remaining on our planet could be regarded in such an incurious manner.

And speaking of perspective, more than a few times, John and I couldn’t help wondering: is there some mirror-image group of North Korean tourists on the other side of this tunnel learning about evil South Korea, and therefore, evil US? Corporal Casiano assured us this was not possible. But I couldn’t help thinking that, not only does such a bizarro-world scenario seem entirely possible, it still wouldn’t be the strangest thing happening at the DMZ. more»

Taking Cover

seychelles_cover.jpg The older I get, the less I care about the holidays. It’s a simple fact of life that a Barbie Dream House just can’t brighten my life the way it once did. That said, I got the best gift ever this year when I came home from my holiday to see a stack of Robb Report’s January issue featuring my cover photo and feature story on Seychelles. Spreading the magazines out on my kitchen table like a nerdy little boy with his favorite Magic cards (remember those?!), I swear I felt a flicker of those elated heart palpitations I used to know so well. Happy New Year, everyone! more»

This Ought To Keep Me Warm

anilvillan_3flmaster1.jpgI’m off on a wintry journey and I couldn’t be less prepared for the freezing Midwestern temps after spending last weekend in the absolute perfection that is Anguilla. Ani Villa, located on the island’s Little Bay, is the first of many spectacular rental villas the company of the same name will be dropping into remote locations all over the world. I’m definitely crossing my fingers that their Sri Lanka property (set to open in 2013) is in my future. Until then, I guess the cold trek home for Christmas will have to suffice. Happy holidays everyone! more»

Upping the Dosage

580carroll2.jpgAnother of my projects for Archidose blogger John Hill’s new book. This is 580 Carroll, a super-sexy residential building in Park Slope by Enrique Norton. Being that it comprises an entire block, I had two facades to shoot and I still can’t decide which is more fun. Although, granted, one facade is open to the street and another is blocked by an imposing (yet ultra-modern and well-designed) fence that required acrobatics rivaling my cheerleading days to get a decent angle.

There will eventually be a good number of these Archidose projects on here. Consequently, I’m curious to see how long I will continue to work the word “dose” into the headline. I’m willing to put an ungodly amount of time into googling words like “dose,” “dosing,” and “dosage” so it’s fair to say I will likely succeed in going the distance. more»

Archidosing

beekman6.jpgI’ve been helping out John Hill whose Archidose blog is kind of a big deal. When I heard that he is putting out a book next year featuring all of the latest and greatest in New York architecture, I obviously wanted to jump onboard in any way that I could. But to be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled when he asked me to shoot Frank Gehry’s Beekman Tower. I had no plan for how to tackle the behemoth, especially knowing that one of its facades was still marred by unsightly scaffolding. Well, after an early rise on a Saturday morning (how else could I avoid the oppressive downtown crowds?) I discovered that, with a little bit of interborough walking and a lot of trespassing, you can accomplish almost anything. More Archidose assignments to come… more»

North Star

NI.jpgAnd now for the second piece I wrote and photographed for Robb Report’s October villa round-up. Now off to enjoy a much-needed vacation in Austin; it’s no North Island, but I’ll take what I can get!

Farm Fresh

TwinFarms.jpgA wonderful surprise arrived in my inbox just as I was making a harried attempt at packing for our 10-day trip to Austin: my two articles (+ accompanying photography) for Robb Report’s Top Villas of the World round-up, featured in the October issue. I’m so happy with both this piece, which is for Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont, as well as the spread for North Island (coming up momentarily). There’s nothing like getting great news right before leaving town!

The Closest Thing to Santa

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That childhood feeling of giddy Christmas morning glee is not easily replicated in the world of adults. These days, my ‘neath-the-tree goodies are of a decidedly more responsible sort: socks, books, and cold hard cash. The closest I come to recapturing that “did-I-get-the-Barbie-ice-cream-shoppe?!” anticipation comes in the form of long-lost rolls of film packed with good times and fabulous long-forgotten moments. Behold! Chinatown dudes! Lonely Red Hook chair! Ravenous twin goats! What more could I ask for?