New York Foodie, Arizona Foodie

Arizona Foodie ! Sarah Goes to Phoenix and Tucson

Story and Photos by Sarah Spigelman

Hmmm….an Arizona Foodie.  We all know that New York is the greatest city on earth – anyone who is born or lives here will tell you that and defend our pizza and subway system to the death.

However…there are times when a little break from the hustle and bustle is necessary. When you want to spend less than $20 on a cocktail and long to see stars for just one night. When you want to look at foliage that isn’t in central park and eat Mexican food that is more than watered down guacamole made by a well-meaning Korean mama in her corner deli.

hotels in Arizona

That’s the time to head to Arizona.

This Southwestern state has everything New Yorkers love – luxury, fantastic food, and endless shopping – with everything New Yorkers need – wide open spaces, plenty of sunshine, and incredible bang for the buck.

Foodie Arizona. Where to stay and what to do.

The two big destinations are Phoenix and Tucson. Phoenix offers metropolitan shopping, sprawling golf resorts, and close proximity to Sedona.

Tucson offers small town charm, authentic Mexican food, and world class spas.

Choose one of these towns and you will have a multitude of places to stay and activities to enjoy.

Phoenix

In Phoenix, you can’t do better than the Fairmont Princess Resort Scottsdale  (editors note: while close to Phoenix, the Fairmont Princess Resort Scottsdale is actually in Scottsdale). This high end resort is Southwestern luxury at its finest. Gorgeous terra cotta buildings surrounding pristine grounds with multiple swimming pools, outdoor love-seats for relaxing with a good book, and fire pits perfect for evening cocktails. The rooms are breezy and elegant, large enough to house at least three people in the smallest option.

The Willow Stream Spa is hundreds of square feet of massage rooms, pedicure stations, relaxation pools, saunas, and steam rooms. Be sure to check out the rooftop pool, adult only and reserved exclusively for spa guests. There is a golf course and clubhouse, a kids program, and a plethora of dining options.

New York Foodie, Arizona FoodieMichael Mina’s Bourbon Steak offers a modern take on a steakhouse, and don’t miss La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval. The guacamole with carnitas is everything your Jewish mother warned you against – porky, cheesy, and spicy. Needless to say, it is exceptional, as is the service at this resort.

The whole point of coming here is that you do so to relax. Once you park your car, there is no reason to leave the resort – there are small shops to explore, a hip happy hour at Bourbon Steak that attracts many of Scottsdale’s beautiful people, and endless places to soak up the sun.

If you do decide to leave, check out the nearby Kierland Commons for shopping and dining, or take a 3 hour drive to Sedona to see the region’s famous red rocks and check out the mysterious vortexes.

Regardless of what you decide to do, this is a one-stop-fits-all kind of trip. Ideal for families or bachelorette weekends, the Fairmont Princess Resort is Phoenix in a nutshell – luxury, cosmopolitan, and full service.

Tucson

If you are more of a do it yourself kind of traveler, Tucson may be more your scene. Stay at the historic Arizona Inn. It was frequented by movie stars filming westerns at old ‘Tucson Studios in the 1930s.

hotels in ArizonaThe entire hotel is quaint and utterly luxurious – riots of bougainvillea wind up the individual rooms, each decorated personally and filled with old books. There is an outdoor table tennis area, a lap pool, and on summer nights, an ice cream social complimentary for guests at the hotel.

If you stay more than once, your preferences for room and newspaper are always remembered and you will be greeted by name. It’s hard not to feel like you have traveled through time at this luxurious yet totally laid back oasis.

When you’re ready to sup, head to the nearby Beyond Bread. This place makes some of the best sandwiches on the West Coast. All the bread is made fresh daily. Varieties range from jalapeno cheddar to focaccia. If you’re like me, it will be hard not to eat a loaf for lunch. Try to save room for the sandwiches. Made from freshly roasted turkey, rare roast beef, and local Arizona produce – these rock.

If you want a high end dinner, head to Janos, James Beard Award winner Janos Wilder’s acclaimed French-Sonoran restaurant.

The shopping in Tucson is best done downtown in the artists district. You can buy everything from hand painted dios de los muertos dolls to exquisite pottery. Also check out Canyon Ranch Spa for a day or even overnight – it is, after all, one of the world’s premiere spa destinations. If you feel the need to escape, take it easy – you are only an hour from Mexico. Just bring your passport, because you will definitely want to return to your comfy bed at the Arizona Inn and without it, you can’t.

Whether you go for full on resort luxury in Phoenix or low key relaxation in Tucson, your wallet won’t be too much lighter, but your mood certainly will be.

NYC is the greatest city on earth, but Phoenix and Tucson are a welcome break in the cold, expensive winter months.

Disclaimer: I stayed at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort on a media rate. The opinions are my own and unbiased.

Moroccan Snowbunnies

What am I doing here? Sledding with Moroccan Snow Bunnies


Ifrane, Morocco
19 DEC 2012

I work too much.  You wouldn’t believe how much time I put into Vagobond with social media, site research, article writing, editing, finding and working with writers, handling guest posts, and searching for advertising revenue.  I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just saying I work too much.  Add in writing, rewriting, editing, and formatting my books and – the answer is that I work too much.

snow in Morocco

So, this week, I decided to take a break. I hired a car and driver to take us on a Middle Atlas Wonderbreak – my wife, daughter, and sister in law piled in the back seat and I took the seat next to the driver. No grand-taxi crowding this time. Just the right number of people to fit comfortably in a nice car for a day up to the mountains.

Lake in the Middle Atlas

We left Sefrou heading towards Midelt and Boulemaine but then turned west towards the alpine towns of Ifrane and Azrou. We passed through the famed Atlas cedar forests where the Barbary Apes reside and stopped to play alongside a lovely mountain lake.

Moroccan Snowbunnies

The real purpose of the day though was some playing in the snow. Yes, there is snow in Morocco. We didn’t go to the ski area but instead went to the big snow hill where we rented a homemade sled for 20 dirhams and began some serious downhill sledding action.

Me and the  snow bunnies.

Snow Sledding in Morocco

We had some great wipeouts that mostly consisted of me getting rolled in the snow, some fun snowball fights, and our little girl got to play in the snow for the first time. She loved it.

From there we went and had a nice tajine lunch in Azrou, walked around the markets, and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere in this incredible little mountain town.

Looking down on Azrou, Morocco

From Azrou, we went to Ifrane town, where the King of Morocco has one of his many palaces. Ifrane looks more like somewhere in the Alps than a Moroccan town, but the cafes are still definitely Moroccan – no doubt about that.

It was an incredibly lovely winter day. I’m glad I don’t work too much all the time because days like this make it all worthwhile.

Ski Bunnies in Morocco

If you want to  ski in Morocco, there are two places Michliffen which is right about where we were. There are ski lifts there that sometimes work, but you can always hire a  donkey to take you up and then rent some old skis.

There is also Jebel Toubkal and Oukaimeden near Marrakech. Oukaimeden has lifts which I hear are more reliable than at Michliffen and some say there is  slightly better snow there. In addition there are some ski lodges there, but I can only imagine what a Moroccan Ski Lodge actually ends up being like.  My recommendation is to go to Ifrane with low hopes and high spirits. You can’t go wrong.

Ferry to Batam from Singapore

Tropical Playground Island – Batam, Indonesia

From Singapore it was only 16 Singapore dollars to get to Batam. I was surprised when I arrived that I had to get a $25 visa, since the last time I visited Indonesia (in early 2001) there was no fee.

Indonesia Whorehouse IslandThe immigration officer was smiling at me in a strange way and kept asking me where I would be staying. I told him at ‘the resort’, he asked me if it was a certain one and I just said, “Yes, that’s the one.”. Then he wrote his phone number down and said “Tonight, you and me.” Frankly that was enough to make me want to leave Batam right away…C R E E P Y !

Anyway, I wasn’t totally decided on whether to stay or go. As usual, I’d come without a plan and without a clue so I figured to wander around. I thought I would be able to find a ferry from Batam to Jakarta, but it turned out that no one could really give me an answer.

Ferry to Batam from SingaporeI went to a nearby mall and sat down in an A & W Rootbeer where I had the first rootbeer float I’ve had in about twenty years and I looked at the web with the malls free wifi. It looked like there were ferries, but pretty much every source said they were next to impossible to get. It looked like if I wanted to go to Jakarta I would need to do it by Pelni lines but there were ferries to Bintan and Sumatra…but I wanted to go to Jakarta.

Batam actually is a little bit creepy by itself since it is known as a sexual playground for businessmen from Malaysia and Singapore who are looking for cheap Indonesian prostitutes. The island is obviously not all prostitutes, but with more than a million residents on the 45 x 25 km island, there are certainly enough. Batam has some special economic privileges which make it a kind of economic experiment for Indonesia, certainly the island seemed more prosperous than I remembered Indonesia being.

Batam IslandI took a look online to see how much a trip to the airport would cost me by cab. It looked like 75,000 IRP was the going rate. I found a friendly cabbie and talked him down to 50K (about $6.50). I told him I was going to buy a ticket at the airport and he informed me I was going to pay twice as much. I usually find this to be true, I don’t know why…it seems like the airport should be the cheapest place to buy a ticket….

Batam Resources
Batam Island Hotels
Batam Hostels
Batam Travel Insurance

Anyway, we dropped by his friend’s travel agency and I got a flight to Jakarta for about $25 on Srivijaya Airlines. Basic, but at least they give you a candy and some water to make you feel like you are welcome.

In a nutshell, I didn’t see much of Batam, it’s prostitutes, or it’s naughty nightlife. I’m sure Mr. Creepy Customs agent would have been happy to introduce me around…but I was pretty happy to miss the notorious sights of Batam. The taxi driver told me it was about 400,000 rupiah to get a girl for the night (in case you are wondering…). He also told me (as Indonesian cab drivers often do) that he had ten girlfriends and a wife. Despite that, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

On the way to the airport, he told me about the other sites I should come back to see including the Grand Mosque (Mesjid Raya) at Batam Center and the beautiful Melur Beach. Frankly, Batam looked like a fun place to hang out for a couple of days. The water around it looked like it would offer some great diving and there were plenty of small islands in the distance that would have been pretty fun to explore. There are also monkeys on Batam, which as you might guess, moves it up in my estimation.

airport in BatamIt was very nice to be in Indonesia. Despite the similarity of Malaysia and Singapore, there is only one Indonesia and the tastes, smells, and sounds are unique. Once at the airport I settled into a Nasi Goreng stand and started drinking thick Indonesian coffee and eating some of the best food on the planet. I totally love Indonesian people because of their smiles, the way they laugh, and the way they deal with everything. In Indonesia, I was still ‘touted’ like I am in Turkey or Morocco or other parts of Asia, but no is always said and responded to with a smile. The smile really does make a difference.

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