Weekend in Vermont

I often get asked the question, “What is your favorite place to travel to?” or “What is your favorite Starwood hotel?” Well, this past weekend could arguably answer both of those questions:  Manchester Village, Vermont at The Equinox Resort & Spa.

Here’s the deal.  I’ve written about this place before, calling it New England’s Hidden Gem and everything I said then was true and it’s the same thing I would say today.  GO THERE!  And read the aforementioned post to get the full deets and a few random other thoughts, per usual.  For now, for my weekend in Vermont post take two, let me share with you the highlights of my latest girlfriend getaway with my best friend, Eileen!

One of my favorite parts of going to Manchester Village is the drive from Albany Airport to the hotel.  It’s about an hour and 15 minutes, it’s beautiful and, well, interesting.  Eileen and I stopped off near Bennington, Vermont (seems fitting given that’s my maiden name) at Potters Tavern and it was actually a meal highlight for me.  Seeing a giant PBR truck wasn’t too bad, either.

Ahhh, The Equinox Hotel.  It’s cozy and luxurious and comfortable and magical.  It is in my top five favorite hotels of all-time…I feel super-duper blessed to get to experience this property!  And I was able to reconnect with Astri, one of the incredible concierge at the hotel.  She’s the best!

weekend-in-vermont-ann-ueno-4 weekend-in-vermont-ann-ueno-5And right behind the hotel is Mt. Equinox.  A grand mountain that offers all sort of hikes and adventure.  Eileen and I did a two-hour hike on Saturday afternoon with the sun shining through the giant trees and the 75 degree weather just perfect.  So perfect that I felt hand stands were a better way to hike vs. walking.  Naturally.

weekend-in-vermont-ann-ueno-6One of the many great things about Manchester Village is the shopping.  This quaint town, which is all of one main street, has outlet shopping combined with antique shopping combined with mom and pop stores.  They are all walkable and cater to all of our different shopping desires.  Need some fall clothes for work? Done.  Want some 1954 Stage Magazines to spruce up your coffee table?  Done.  Never been to a Marimekko outlet store?  Yeah, me neither.  Done and done.  And here’s proof below because obviously having brightly colored bean bags in front of their store makes sense.

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At The Equinox’s casual bar and outdoor area, they only serve cheese and chocolate.  Yeah, only.  I know, it’s awful, right?  This is basically my stomach’s dream.  A glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc paired with some local Vermont cheeses with a gorgeous sunset over the mountain.  I will forever hold that moment in my memory…and let’s not tell anyone I basically devoured this cheese plate below all. by. my. self.

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There is a 6-table restaurant in Manchester Village called The Silver Fork that I had heard about the last couple of times I was there, but couldn’t get in for obvious reasons.  Well, Eileen and I lucked out, thanks to Astri, the amazing concierge, and were able to get a reservation to eat at the bar.  We were happy and the food was outstanding.  weekend-in-vermont-ann-ueno-9

This happened on the last morning.  Sitting in the sun, drinking coffee, reading some of my favorite editorials and munching on their famous apple cider donuts.  Ahhhh!!

weekend-in-vermont-ann-uenoAnd similar to our drive from the airport, our drive to the airport, we had to stop at this amazing Dairy Farm for some real-deal soft serve ice cream.  It was sad to leave, but all good things must come to an end.  Thank you, Vermont and thank you Equinox Hotel for yet again, providing amazing hospitality, delicoius, local food and many memories I will carry with me forever!

Friday Round Up: Boston, Instagrammed.

This may be completely contradictory to my travel woes post on Monday, but, I’m doing it anyways.  Why?  Because it’s my blog and I can 🙂  Isn’t that the beauty of blogging?  We can write whatever we want, whenever we want and even have spelling errors and it’s fine.  Free speech at it’s finest.  Why else?  This was one of those travel high weeks for me.  Those do happen.  Yes, traveling for work can be fun and not so sweaty and awful as I noted in the aforementioned post.  So let’s get to it.  I have an office in Boston and therefore travel to the great beantown once every 6-8 weeks, give or take.  I have been to Boston so many times and always enjoy it but this time it was that. much. better.  Why?  Let me show you through Instagram!  And to oversimplify, if you travel to Boston, here are 5 recommendations for your next trip.

  1. Stay at W Boston.  It’s a little off the beaten path, but 100% worth it.  Amazing design, delicious food, incredible rooms and most importantly, top-notch service and staff (just check out the hand-written note from the Director of Operations below as a little surprise and delight).  #whotels
  2. Eat at Neptune Oyster.  This is my all-time favorite restaurant in the world (yes, in the world).  Get oysters.  Then get the steamed clams.  Then end with a lobster roll, with butter.  Wash it down with a glass of their Sancerre (ask for it, it’s not on the menu). You will thank me later.
  3. Shop at Acquire.  It’s a boutique in the North End that has everything from super unique jewelry, hostess gifts, well-designed pillows, books, candles, etc.  It was a design dream for me.  Hopefully Mike will be working.  He’s awesome.
  4. Pamper at Bliss.  Whether it’s a quick hot-cream manicure or a full spa day, Bliss continues to be the best spa around, in my humble opinion.  I squeezed in a manicure at 8:30pm with Nancy and she rocked.  It’s wicked ‘spa-some,’ as they say at Bliss 🙂
  5. Eat at Douzo Sushi.  Located in the Back Bay area and introduced to me by my dear friend Alex, this sushi spot is not to be missed.  I have tried a bunch of things and would recommend it all.  But, most importantly, get salmon and tuna nigiri.

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Friday Round Up: Our Hotels in Italy!

Alright my beloved readers, T minus one week until Rick and I board an AA flight direct to Rome.  I am so excited I can’t stand it!  And the best part?  I am not taking my work computer.  Oh and the next best part?  We have no set plans, schedule or agenda.  Oh and the next best part?  It’s ITALY!  My homeland!  Okay, fine, a few generations removed but still! Pasta is practically my middle name.

I have been to Italy once before, Rick hasn’t been.  His vision for this trip?  We will see what we can see and what we don’t, we will go back.  Um, can I get an amen?!  I am understanding more and more why I married this smart man.  And since he and I have not planned one thing for this trip, apart from the flight to and fro and the hotels, I decided to spend a little time on the trusted world wide web this week getting amped up about our hotel stays and the #spglife we will be living for some of the trip.  Being a hotelier, the hotel stays tend to be the highlights of our travel.  And unless these images are lying, I think an Italian highlight awaits!

Rome:  The St. Regis Rome (courtesy of one of our best friends, Rey)
(Photo Credit:  http://www.stregis.com)

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ann-ueno-st-regis-romeann-ueno-st-regis-rome-3ann-ueno-st-regis-rome-4Oh and they have a St. Regis Rome champagne ritual every evening at 7pm in Le Grand Bar.  Si, si, per favore!
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Florence:  Hotel Brunelleschi
(Photo Credit:  http://www.brunelleschihotelflorence.com)

ann-ueno-hotel-brunelleschiann-ueno-hotel-brunelleschi-2Livernano: The Winery and Vineyard at Livernano

ann-ueno-livernano-5ann-ueno-livernano-3ann-ueno-livernanoann-ueno-livernano-6ann-ueno-livernano-2Milan: The Westin Palace, Milan
(Photo Credit:  http://www.westin.com)
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I’m pretty sure we will sleep well in these hotels, right?  And eat well.  And drink well.  Praise God for vacations!  🙂

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

If you have been following my blog, you know that I love a hand-written note.  Well, to be honest, I actually love any kind of note whether it be an email, a card or a text message to say hello, thank you or I love you.  Hence “Ann Written Notes” as the name of this bloggy blog.  Anyways, this past week, Rick and I received a few great thank you notes that I wanted to share.

Being in the hotel business, Rick and I want to make sure that our friends and family have great hotel stays and overall, a memorable and inviting experience while in Chicago.  And it’s a perfect tag team:  Rick knows how to take are of people at his hotel (I guess being in the business for 30 years has taught him a few things).  And I know how to take care of people in our home (ahem, we have an extra bedroom and I love having dinner parties and serving Moscow mules…come on over!).   Getting notes like the below is exactly why we love doing what we do.  God didn’t make a mistake when he brought us together…we LOVE the hospitality business!  And we love making people happy 🙂

And to that, I wanted to offer you a little challenge for this weekend:  Write someone you love a card.  Write a note to your boss to say thank you.  Write a note to an old friend just to say hi.  I promise they will love it and you will bring a smile to their face 🙂

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Birthday Highlight #2: Weekend in San Diego

IMG_3620It is becoming a tradition that for my birthday, Rick and I get out of dodge, as my best friend Eileen likes to say.  As I get older, travel and experiential “gifts” are becoming more and more important to me so any chance I have, I will jump on an AA Boeing 737. And since my birthday falls right around the time in Chicago where we’ve all had more than enough of the snow, 30 degree temperatures and gloomy days, San Diego was a more-than-ideal destination to escape that madness.  Plus, we have some great Starwood hotels there, amazing friends and oh, yeah, the sun exists there on a consistent basis.

Here are some highlights of our weekend in San Diego and a few travel tips for your next trip out west.  First things first.  Rent a car.  In my opinion, San Diego proper is just a small part of the experience in going to San Diego.  I think the neighboring towns and beaches are actually what makes going there worth the experience.  So having a car to get around, get to/from the airport is critical.  If you’re feeling really Californian, rent a red convertible.  We had a hot full-sized Chevy sedan.  Oh yeah!

Now, onto the fun stuff.

Stay at the US Grant Hotel.  Why?  It’s in a great location near the Gaslamp district, a short walk to the water and um, the hotel is beautiful and the beds are absolutely to die for.  The linens are like butter.  In fact, I met the Director of Operations and hope to order the sheets and duvet cover for our bed at home.

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How bad do you want this couch?  Ahhhh…a designers dream!

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Have lunch, shop and visit the seals in La Jolla.  La Jolla is a quaint town about 10-15 minutes from San Diego and features breath-taking views, boutique shopping and a slew of restaurant options.  This was one of my favorite parts of the trip!

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Spend the day at Coronado Beach.  This was such a nice day with our friends!  We enjoyed some bloodies at Hotel del Coronado, played in the sand and cherished the beautiful views.  Coronado Island is also about 15 minutes from San Diego and the drive is really pretty.

This is the famous Hotel del Coronado.

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Have brunch at Cafe 21 in the Gaslamp District (which is a few blocks from the US Grant Hotel).  Seriously.  Do it.  The menu is outrageously organic and ecclectic and the outcome of the food was dee-lish!  We wanted to go back there so bad!

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Take a drive down (and up!) Highway 101.  I’ve always wanted to do this…sort of a bucket list item for me and it was worth it!  I still want to do the full coast one day but for now, I will take the short drive we had from San Diego to Carlsbad.

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This is our dear friend, Mrs. Eisenberg.  She’s 92 going on 70 and is a truly a remarkable woman!

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Eat dinner at Bencotto Italian Kitchen in Little Italy.  Being from Chicago, I was admittedly a little skeptical to eat Italian food in San Diego.  But, our dear friends recommended this place and they have great taste (pun intended) so we went with it.  And I am SO happy we did.  Apart from the company and conversations being amazing, the wine I had there was unforgettable, especially because I took a picture of it.  Also, the seafood squid ink pasta was to. die. for.  I ate it too fast and didn’t get a picture…sorry!

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Visit friends.  If you don’t have any that live there, make some!  🙂  Gladys and Dom, thank you for making my birthday so special!

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Office Space Before and After

It’s rare that as a Director of Marketing you will get {politely} asked to evacuate your office, find new office space for your team, figure out how to sign a corporate lease, speak IT speak (aka combo of Japanese, Taiwanese and Swiss), understand corporate finance, hire an architect, design a space, curate art and move into a new space within a calendar year.  Yeah, pretty sure that wasn’t on the job description when I signed up at Starwood almost 9 years ago.  But, I must say, having the privilege to lead a project like that was truly a career highlight for me.  There are many reasons why, but let’s focus today on, well, admittedly the main reason…because I got to pretend I was on HGTV and design an office space people!  How fun is that?!  It’s like a dream job within a dream job.  Domino magazine, here I come!  Design Sponge, here I come!  Extreme Home Office Makeover, here I come!  (For those of you who know me well know that I am actually pretty serious…sort of…yes, I am…100%.)

Anyways, I won’t bore you with the details of how I had to spend 45 minutes on the phone figuring out how to expense a refrigerator.  Or the time when I had to interrupt all of the really smart IT people and ask them to speak in English as I had no idea what they were talking about and really just wanted to know if we could get some wi-fi.  Or the time I called our VP of real estate early on and essentially told him I had no idea what I was doing…we had a good laugh…and then signed a lease…it was so fun {sarcasm}!

Okay, I will stop for real this time.  Just here to share with you some fun before and after pictures of our new office space (plus some fun photojournalism of when my team saw the space for the first time!). While it’s not 100% complete, it’s pretty dang close and for my first big gig as a pseudo interior designer, I’m happy with the outcome.  A humungous thank you to OKW Architects (loved working with Amber!), Synergy Construction Group (Phil and Sam ROCK!), Henricksen (Emily was really helpful finding affordable and chic furniture solutions!) and Cushing (Sheldon, Liz and Matt were great…loved the outcome of the art and wall quotes!).  Enjoy 🙂

Mood Board

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Entryway

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The Separation Solution (having a loft office is great, but it creates a need for separation and this turned out to be a perfect solution…hence, the separation solution!)

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Collaboration Area

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The Art Column (if I told you how many hours I spent curating the art you may make fun of me for a very long time)

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Kitchen

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Loved leveraging our existing brand photography.  These shots are part of the Westin SuperFoods program…perfect for our kitchen!

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Conference Area (how bad do you want to go there?  Talk about inspiration during a meeting!)

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Vinyl, inspiring quotes on walls (think company brand messages, taglines, etc.) are an easy and low-cost way to perk up a space!

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Here’s another quote that is located in one of our hallways.  It’s all about being inspired and proud to work for Starwood!  Oh and for some reason the picture is showing it looking crooked…weird…it’s not crooked at all in real life.  Hmmm…

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The Details (aka the super duper fun part for me!)

In each person’s office, I curated art that has some sort of meaning to the people on my team.  I had asked them their favorite Starwood Hotel, their favorite travel destination, their dream vacation, etc.  My goal was to make them feel inspired and give them some visual eye candy throughout their workday!

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I’ve had a personal goal to learn graphic design so the last 4-5 months, I did just that.  And I took my new skills and brought them to life in a personal way for my team.  I asked each person their favorite quote as well as their personal passions.  With that, I made each person an 8 1/2 x 11 print for their desk, as well as signs for the front of their door.

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Always important to have your CEO’s book on your desk, right?  I worked with our corporate office to get books sent in time for the opening.

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And it’s only perfect that since we are in the hotel business that we have do-not-disturb signs for our doors!  I had our corporate brand teams send these so each office door has one.  Let’s just hope that nobody is actually sleeping at their desks 😉

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The final product!  Can you tell I’m happy?

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Vacation in Cabo, Part 2: Top Ten Things to do in Cabo

As far as vacations go, I have to say Cabo is up there for me.  And so I thought I would share with you the highlights of our time there.  And of course, because I love numbered lists, it is my top ten things to do in Cabo.  Let’s get started, shall we?

1.  Stay at an amazing resort (hard not to in Cabo!).  We stayed at Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Los Cabos and had a very memorable time and loved the resort.  Here’s why:

  • The staff is unbelievably kind, personal, accommodating and friendly.  They truly were happy making customers happy.  I watched this happen all around me each day and it warmed my heart.  These guys get hospitality (kudos to Anna Lilia, Angelina, Guillermo and many others on staff!).
  • The location.  You feel like you are in another world there because of it’s exclusivity.  However, it’s just about equidistant from Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo, roughly 10-15 minutes to each of those towns.  #bestofbothworlds
  • The rooms.  Oh my gosh.  Our room was outstanding.  Not only was the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper lush and inviting, but the fact that from that bed I could see and hear the ocean.  Or I could have coffee on one of my THREE huge outdoor terraces overlooking the pools and ocean.
  • And speaking of the ocean, the hotel is literally on the ocean.  The waves crash up and are about 40-50 feet from the resort.  Heavenly.
  • And if you aren’t a beach-goer, they have, I don’t know, at least 5 pools to choose from.  And the pool boys are super duper nice, too!
  • Cactus Spa – let me just say that I got two pedicures in a 7-day time period.  And these pedicures weren’t cheap!  But my feet needed the pampering and it was worth it!
  • The beauty and architecture of the building is truly breathtaking.  It gives you that feeling that you are away, in Mexico, living their culture.  The photo ops are endless.

 

  

2.  Drink Corona(s).  Okay, for some reason I had a minor lovefest with Corona while I was there.  I usually never drink beer.  I am a wine-with-dinner type of a gal.  But Cabo made me a cerveza-with-lunch type of gal.  When in Rome Cabo…

3.  Engage with the locals.  Everywhere Rick and I travel, we really do try to connect with the locals.  It’s fun to ask questions, learn about their culture, build relationships and make memories this way.  Here are some of our favorites from the trip.

The wonderful Anna Lilia who works at Sheraton!

A local artist in San Jose Del Cabo

An amazing cook at Mi Casa in San Jose Del Cabo (the tortillas were delish!)

It was La Dia de Muerte (the day of the dead) while we were in Cabo. This picture speaks for itself.

El nino hermoso. The beautiful child.

Our boat driver and a local professional fisherman.

Angelina and Guillermo, the wonderful concierge and our new friends at Sheraton!

4.  Dine at the following places (these were our favorite dinners of the trip):

  • De Cortez Restaurant at the Sheraton (even if you aren’t staying there, which I hope you would be per point number one above, make a reservation here).  We went twice.
  • Edith’s Restaurant in Cabo San Lucas.  Just by the looks of the homepage of their website, how could you NOT go there?  This was top-notch Mexican food and service.  Oh and P.S. the owner, Edith, closes the restaurant for 6 weeks each year to renovate and takes her ENTIRE staff all over the world so they can learn about food, service, etc.  Yeah, if you move to Cabo, get a job there.
  • Baja Cantina Beach Restaurant right on the main beach in Cabo.
  • Morgan’s Restaurant and Cellar in San Jose Del Cabo – great spot in San Jose del Cabo serving seafood and fantastic Mexican food.  The wine list there was one of the better of the ones I came across.

De Cortez mouthwatering stacked salad.  Oh and the filet was pretty darn good as well (had it twice in one week).

Caesar salad that they make and serve table side. It’s a must.

They also make and serve bananas foster table side. It’s also a must!

Cabo is known for their ceviche and Baja Cantina did it RIGHT!

The bar at Baja Cantina…how fun are those swings?!

5.  Pay $10 and take a glass-bottomed boat tour to El Arco de Cabo, Trip Advisor’s #1 ranked tourist attraction in Cabo (justifiably so).  This area is where the Sea of Cortez meets with the Pacific Ocean and the views of the arched rocks and rock formations are impeccable.  From our experience, you don’t need reservations.  Just go the marina and someone will offer the tour to you in around 14 seconds.  Rick and I had a boat to ourselves (which felt special but I have a feeling this is quite normal), it was about an hour and the views and history are worth seeing.

6.  Get guacamole served table side at least once, if not 5-6 times while you are there.   #avocados #themexicansknowhowtodoit #overserved

7.  Take amazing shots of the beach and post them on Instagram to make your friends jealous inspire others.

8.  Drink an amazing Mexican Coffee at French Riviera Bakery & Cafe in San Jose Del Cabo.  What is Mexican coffee?  It is amazingness, that’s what it is!  Okay, it’s coffee, Kahlua, tequila and whipped cream.  I am sure every restaurant has its own variation, but that’s the gist.  This is something America needs to bring to our breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, STAT!

9.  Spend at least a day walking around the quaint and historic town of San Jose Del Cabo, known as the sister town to the party destination of Cabo San Lucas.  There are so many cute shops, markets, restaurants and art galleries.  We ate at Mi Casa for a late lunch and actually loved it, despite it’s known allegations of being a tourist spot.  I would also recommend an evening there for dinner as there are so many local restaurants to choose from.  Ask your concierge for a recommendation, create your own food crawl or just stumble upon something.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

10. Similarly, do all the same in Cabo San Lucas, with the caveat this is duly noted as the spring break type of town so if you are in the mood to get your party on, perfect.  Rick and I aren’t the taking shots of tequila types, per se, but we did stop at the marina to eat some nachos and I, of course, drank a Corona.  Yeah, we got pretty crazy.  There are also many markets and local shops to buy gifts and such and it’s definitely worth going for the views!

By the looks of this post, it may be perceived that we were busy exploring, meeting people, etc. And yes, we did get out and about while we were visiting Cabo.  But I have to say, the number one thing to REALLY do in Cabo is relax, enjoy the sun and let the sounds of the waves put you to sleep.  Can I get an Amen?!  Thanks for reading and I hope that I have inspired you to go to Cabo one day.  I promise you won’t regret it!

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