Everybody loves a beach. And in my job I’ve nestled my toes into the sand of the best of them. From Hawaii to Greece from Jamaica to Bali and all over the Americas: North, Central and South. My highest rated beaches range from Frenchmen’s Cove in Jamaica to a small tiny crescent shaped thing at the end of a long road on the island of Mykonos. It was the locals’ beach and the locals didn’t bother with bathing suits. Then there was the beach that knocked me off my feet it was so beautiful. Zoni Beach on the Island of Culebra in Puerto Rico. It was as beautiful as those that I had to rub my eyes to believe in Thailand and all the more incredible since it came without the 17 hour flight.
We all have our own personal idea of what makes a beach the best and they can be as varied and diverse as why you find someone attractive. Some people like their beaches to be the scene of an endless party a place to see and be seen while others think that heaven on earth is a secluded beach all to yourself. I have a more Goldilocks view on this one but if given the choice between packed and desolate — I’d go with the crowd. I’ve been on quite a few empty beaches and that’s how I feel on them: empty, alone, the sound of the waves crashing getting louder and louder turning from a soothing track on a let’s-go-to-sleep DVD to something sinister and menacing. Why the heck is no one here? That’s what I want to know. Pirates? Shark infested waters? Contamination? While I’m looking out at the horizon is someone or something watching me? Nope, I’d rather be on the shores of Jersey helping a sober challenged Snookie walk upright across the sand than alone.
But for me, my favorite beach is the type that I grew up on along the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine: rocky, the air thick with salt where the fog sometimes doesn’t lift til 10am. The sand is not milky white or soft as silk. It’s more of a brown- sugar beige that’s clumpy and course but makes great building material for the bucket shaped sandcastle. To build an earthy fortress in the silky soft stuff is nearly impossible and you have to get up close to the surf where the moisture of the water gives it some binding qualities and yet there’s always that one strong wave, even when the tide is receding that comes along and wipes out all your efforts. But in NH being 3 feet above sea level gives you the luxury of time to sculpt tiny windows into the towers, construct circling ramparts with crenellations and collect rocks to build a wicked cool bridge over the moat.
The water also happens to be 50 degrees in August so swimming doesn’t really factor into your beach time. It took me years to realize that oceans were for swimming as the memory of my frigid ankles left such a permanent mark that even when I’m staring at the brilliant aquamarine waters of Jamaica or Thailand, my very last thought is to actually go in. In fact the only time you’ll find me in the water is when there is a camera pointing at me and a producer telling me “go in.”
So what are you looking for in the perfect beach? Do you want a commitment or a fling? Do you want it to be the endlessly entertaining club atmosphere of South Beach in Miami or something more emulating a Mexican beer ad. Waves or no? And when do you like to go to the beach? I personally head there around 3pm when the sun isn’t that harsh and I can read and if there’s a slight chill and I need to wear a big sweatshirt — I’m in heaven!
I have yet to go through a full body scanner. Is it wrong that I’m disappointed?
Unbelievably, by mid-January, I hadn’t been on a plane since before the holidays thereby missing not only the “Don’t touch my junk hysteria” but two major snowstorms. Do I know how to plan a hiatus or what? So I was, I’ll admit, a little excited about getting back in to the swing of things. I was traveling on Tuesday morning January 18th and I even had an icy mix snowstorm to contend with so I left plenty of time to get to the airport and signed up for all my alerts from flight stats to Delta’s own. Once in the security line I looked at the screeners to see if they were “the ones” and I peek at them in the same way I used to sneak glances at the 18 and older section of Spencer’s, that perennial mall favorite where you could buy Andy Gibb posters, lava lamps and apparently as I later found out having turned 18, cherry flavored undergarments.
LaGuardia airport in NYC supposedly had them but not at the Delta or American terminal where my TSA experience was the normal metal detectors (BO-RING!). I was sure that Orlando’s MCO would have them but nope. And then … Eureka! I saw them while at the end of a security line in Columbus airport. Finally! I would experience what has caused such a fuss.
After putting all my things on the belt to go through the x-ray I waited and watched the man in front of me. When it was my turn I stepped up to the guard who then waved me passed through to the metal detector!
“Wait,” I said to the TSA officer looking at my boarding pass. “What did I do wrong? Why can’t I go through the full body scanner?” He of course was surprised by this protestation. “You wanna go through?” “Yes!” “Well, you can’t because you’ve already gone through this one.”
At this point I just feel like I can’t call myself a professional traveler without going through one. The full body scanner has become so controversial, so distressing of what it shows that it’s sort of like skinny-dipping for the road warrior set.
The other big controversy with the full body scanners is what happens when you refuse one: the new improved pat down! As we all know by now it’s not the traditional search, which was about as sexually suggestive as being measured for a suit but one in which real crevices, and mountains are explored. I’ve never had one and don’t want to so I guess that puts me in the “Opt-In” crowd.
Do I like the idea that a very graphic picture of me is being taken? Not really. But this is coming from someone who has to be in a bikini on camera and where on YouTube you’ll find a compilation of my “bikini work” which has over a million views. I’m no exhibitionist, just used to feeling slightly humiliated in public.
So when they say that the person or person’s scanning is in a remote spot with no way of matching a face with the scan, I choose to believe them for now, of course, until something proves that to be otherwise. For me what’s important is that my airport experience is as efficient and safe as possible.
I will say though that it’s hard to convince people how important it is to travel when they have to first suffer through what has become a List of Indignities. The media certainly plays these up so that watching the news you wonder if the airports themselves aren’t places of complete anarchy. I can tell you from personal experience that they are not. But I am only one traveler and I should in no way discount the truly frustrating hardships caused by volcanoes, blizzards and an airline industry that has cut back so fiercely in machines and personnel that they are woefully unprepared for the inevitable blips, big and small, that come their way.
So who or what, in your experience, do you think are the worst offenders in the indignities of air travel?
You may find it surprising but there are places I haven’t been, many places in fact –entire countries actually! I love to travel so much that I even dream of travel WHILE traveling. For instance last year at this time I was on my way to Vietnam (a dream of mine) and while on a layover in Hong Kong I walked the entire airport terminal checking out all the gates and what exotic destinations they were steel and glass portals to. I’m used to seeing places like Rome, Brazil and Prague but now I was staring in wonder at the names of Phnom Penh, Mumbai and Jakarta. “Jakarta,” I mused. Wooooooow. And I actually found myself a bit envious of the people lining up to get on the plane. Like they were a group of VIP’s invited into the hip club of the moment and I wasn’t.
That’s the thing about travel. When you start, the world doesn’t get smaller, it increases in size. And the list of places you want to see and the cultures you want to experience in dress, food and way of life only grows. So here’s what my list looks like now:
1. A river-cruise through Europe, preferably through France. Stopping at small unpronounceable Hamlets like Les Andeleys and Chalon sur Soane. Exploring by bike adorned with a large woven basket in which only decadent or highly caloric items would be allowed.
2. Africa. Yes I am deeply embarrassed to admit it but I’ve never been. My husband, Kevin, and I had plans to go to Cape Town for our honeymoon back in 2006 but when I was only given 5 days between shoots we changed the itinerary to … wait for it … Key West, Florida! Really it’s hard to differentiate the two, don’t ya think? South Africa has Safaris to view wildlife; Key West has the Fantasy Fest where wildlife comes to you. Africa has Lion Kings, Key West has Drag Queens … okay, I’ll stop.
3. Bike the Whites. This is a bike tour through the White Mountains in my home state of New Hampshire. I’ve always wanted to do a Bike tour through one of the countries of Europe but know due to time commitments and weakening knees I will never make it. So as I always recommend when it comes to bucket list travel, don’t make it all “climb Mount Everest” big. Think about something you’ve always wanted to do and see if it can’t be accomplished closer to you — even in your own state!
4. Lapland, Finland, to see the Aurora Borealis. I want snow, I want reindeer, I want to see what happens when charged particles riding on the speed of polar winds crash into electrons and protons!
5. Kurdistan, Iraq. The incomparable New York Times travel section describes this as a visitor friendly stable corner of Iraq. So that would be a great place to start in a tour of the so dubbed Axis of Evil countries. I’m sort of exposing myself here but I always thought my purpose in this travel world was to be that bridge that connects the known to the unknown. To shine a light into what we fear and see if we don’t both have misconceptions about one another that can be rectified. It’s a bit lofty, I know. Idealistic, sure, but I think I have it in me. My mom will never sign the permission slip though.
6. Boat trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. I did this with my dad and sister. It was the 7-day camping trip on motorized pontoon boats and it was glorious! This time I would actually like to attempt the 14-day trip on the original Dories with only oar power. I’m a lot tougher than you think!
7. Zanzibaaaaaaar. Just for the warm, lulling, exotic sound of it.
8. Toronto, Canada. For no other reason than once I go there I can officially cross off my list my very first grand dream of travel hatched back in 1984 with my best friend. We both had perms, loved Wham and thought it would be wicked cool to travel the world going to all the destinations immortalized on a Hard Rock Café T-shirt. If a Hard Rock Café was there, my god, it had to be awesome. Elaine, in the words of you know who: Let’s Go Go, and I’m not plannin’ on going solo.
I’m sorry; I should probably have a 9 and 10 since lists always work in top 5s, top 10s and 20s. So just think of it as my top 5 with 3 extras thrown in.
Now for your part, cuz I can’t stand one-sided blogs where people Blah, Blah, Blah in some egotistical monologue about their self. I would love to know your traveling dreams big and small, crazy and totally sincere. Do you want to change the world or chug frozen drinks? Is it a place you’ve been dreaming of since you were a kid or some whim that won’t go away. It doesn’t matter that you can’t go there, sharing it, talking about it, allows you to BE there. So let’s Go Go!
The heat is unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s so hot here that it invades your insides and attacks all organs. My stomach is sour from it so that I can taste heat in my mouth. Picking up my hand is like moving through water. It’s a heat index of 110 degrees, which by lunchtime makes me and everyone I work with feel completely broken. When we stop shooting and drive to the next location, I pass out in a deep slumber and pray we hit traffic that will delay our 15-minute drive to 30 minutes. When we’re finished shooting for the day, I don’t head out to experience some of the most inventive Asian food, but instead head back to my hotel room where I drink a beer for dinner and go to bed.
One of my non-beer meals was Chicken Rice, which is considered to be Singapore’s national dish. When the heat drives me inside to the safety of an air-conditioned mall, I realize how starved I am so I head to the food court. Food courts in an Asian mall are completely different than ours, meaning less artery-clogging fried fat and more fresh food made from scratch. I saw that one stall specialized in the famous Chicken Rice, but I hesitated. Do I really want to have this iconic dish from a food court stand right next to a Hello Kitty shop? Again, I was hungry and it seemed like the comfort food that would be good for my stomach and soul so I went ahead and ordered it. My goodness! It was amazing. The chicken was tender, succulent and almost melting in my mouth, the rice pillow-soft and whatever sauce that was served with it, some sort of syrupy soy fish sauce, brought the whole plate to life. Every bite I appreciated, every taste remembered. It was that good. But there was still this matter of having eaten it in a food court which I would imagine wouldn’t sit well with the foodies, which Singapore is full of. So when I was with Seetoh, one of the predominant Singaporean food critics, and he asked me where exactly did I eat my Chicken Rice — famous place A or famous place B. I said, “Um, yeah the second one.” So only you know.
It’s pretty amazing staying at Raffles, one of the most well-respected and beloved hotels in the world. I feel like a big shot, like I’ve made it. My room is overlooking the lobby so at night I go to bed to the sounds of the grand piano belting out tunes from the American songbook. My husband, Kevin, is joining me, as he had work in Asia as well, and is capping off his trip with me. We sit in our living room (yes, I have one) and eat chocolates and marvel at our lives. “Did you ever think you would stay in a suite in Raffles?” I ask. “Nope, not in a million years.” he says.
I will point out that the Singapore Sling is just disgusting. I really didn’t have high hopes, but I have to admit I couldn’t come to Singapore and not have THE drink. Even if it was 15 bucks. It’s sweeter than a Shirley Temple, like drinking liquid candy. I don’t remember if it made the show or not, but it was created at Raffles as an acceptable drink for ladies who were now coming to what used to be an all-male bar. What women had to endure! No vote, little opportunity, and crappy cocktails.
I would like to point out to all the people who won’t believe me or interpret the scene in the show negatively that I actually in all honesty LIKED the fish eye. I was totally thrown off by it being offered to me and knew that this being something given to the guest of honor, meaning that I could not turn it down without severely disappointing my hosts, and I would never do that. I was completely grossed-out by the size, which was about as big as a jawbreaker, but when I put it in my mouth the experience completely changed. It went from a solid to something more gelatinous and soft like silken custard until it just finally dissolved. To feel it transform was what I thought the joy and honor of the experience was all about. And I truly enjoyed it. I am, however, glad they didn’t offer me the second eye.
Malaysia is my first Muslim country. I am excited about this as it adds a certain exotic mystery to the trip as well as being a change from the predominantly Buddhist countries we have been visiting. The difference is immediate as while checking in to our hotel in Kuala Lumpur or “KL” we hear the Call to Prayer. It’s a haunting beautiful sound that throughout my trip affects me. I am not religious but the chanting being sent out over a loud speaker turns into a reminder to me to give thanks, to think about my family and to remember all that is good.
In all my travels, I’ve never seen a woman in a full Burka with the face completely shrouded. It’s a shocking scene, and I try to divert my eyes but the real sight of this is like a punch to the stomach. There are only a few women in the hotel in the full dress, but the sight to me is a grim reminder of how the fate and rights of women are so different in other parts of the world. What is more angering is the husband of one of the women who struts by in a Western-style outfit of long basketball shorts, a t-shirt, gold chains and flip flops. He can’t be more than 30 years old. The woman is covered head to toe, and it’s a heat index of 105.
KL isn’t the most interesting city but making things more difficult is an intense heat that about 1/2 hour into my “getting to know you” walk I decide to give up and surrender to the nearest mall. The malls are amazing in KL, where ours have 200 stores there’s have 500, we have 2 stories, they have 8. While down in the food court, which to me is more like a kingdom, I am approached by an Asian woman holding a Western baby. “Are you British?” she asks. “No, I’m American.” Then she says, “Oh, this baby’s father is British.” At this point, I’m wondering where this is going. She continues, “The father has been gone for a whole week, and the baby has been in a bad mood and cries all the time. I think it’s because all he sees are Asian people so I thought I would walk over here and show him someone who looks like him!” I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in my life.
We are on the 8th hour of a 12-hour bus ride from Sapa to Hanoi. The ride down the mountain is a steep and curvy one; each turn reveals another gorgeous terraced field vista. My pure enjoyment of this trip is brought to you by Dramamine. The roads here are as sinuous as the curvature of the rice paddies and I realize the chance for me to work on my computer will be next to impossible so I let the Dramamine lull me to sleep. It’s been a trip of bad fitful nights’ rest. The night before I was on a straw bed that is only slightly more comfortable than ice, an experience I have actually had while shooting ice camping in Ely, Minnesota. Two nights before that I was on an overnight train and now the bus curled up in a semi fetal position with each turn being tossed back and forth, back and forth, like a small stone in an oncoming tide.
As incredibly monotonous as a long ride can be, this one is not without its staggeringly beautiful views. Life here seems to be lived either on the road or close by so where most car trips are void of people on featureless highways, here we have to swerve not to hit them. I am amazed how fearless people here are of automobiles. Here 3 and 4 year olds play feet away from whizzing scooters, cars, and barreling trucks. Our large bus speeds by a group of 5-year-olds who walk purposefully along the busy road far away from any home with no adult in sight as well as some 8-year-olds who were all learning how to ride a ten speed … together … at the same time. One boy stood on the pedals his body so small he fit in that triangle of a space created by bars with one hand on the bar above his head and the other slightly touching the handlebars. His two friends running alongside steadying the bike with their hands. They had large smiles across their faces, their youth and joy much enjoyed by the passing bus of worn-out television crew.
Just like parents who “equally” love all their children, as a traveler I don’t like to admit that I have a favorite, but I do. Out of the eight countries visited in the Asia series, Cambodia was my favorite. I knew from the beginning that this was a different place.
Landing anywhere in Asia makes a recess of an elementary school look like naptime. It’s just that chaotic. When you leave the airport you might as well be walking onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange right before the closing bell. As I leave the shelter of the airport I always brace myself for the onslaught of people asking if we need a ride or a guide. My attention is more focused on navigating an errant luggage cart topped with four heavy pieces of baggage plus a tripod or lens case while following the other 5 members of my crew with equally temperamental carts as we try to locate the person who is officially our guide and ride. Whew. But as we left the airport terminal in Cambodia in Phnom Penh the glass door slid apart to reveal a scene of utter calm — just as many people who are always congregated outside an airport but they all stood there with soft eyes and slight smiles. That’s when I knew I was going to love it here.
I had some advice to brace myself for Cambodia, a country just coming out a vicious and cruel civil war still showed a lot of scars physically and mentally. I was told that adults and children missing limbs having been victims of land mines would be begging in the streets. I thought I was walking into a country depressed and floundering and that the only reason to go would be to see the great city of Angkor with its now famous temple Angkor Wat. I was wrong. I never saw those with missing limbs although I don’t doubt they’re there and as for homelessness and those very down on their luck? Sure, but that’s a problem we all have. In fact, as I write this I am back home in Portsmouth, NH where for the first time in 30 years I saw a man with a cardboard sign at an intersection. Travel teaches you that there’s always a difficult side to any destination and that you never look down on another person (or country) but show compassion. There’s no reason to pity Cambodia, the people have an amazing sense of themselves and that they are finally going places.
I found the Cambodians to be the easiest people to talk to. I call them the Irish of Southeast Asia. On the whole they speak a lot of English, which I wasn’t expecting and an overwhelming curiosity about Westerners since it’s only been recently that we’ve been allowed to come. That’s not to say the ancient city of Angkor isn’t a showstopper. I’ve seen it from pages of my National Geographic but really just had no idea what an amazing place it is. Experts say it’s on par with the Pyramids of Egypt (I wouldn’t know, unfortunately I’ve never been — hint, hint Travel Channel) but I would say its worthy of the bucket list. I should mention in the interest of full disclosure that I did not spend the night in the tent on the beach. As awesome as it was after seeing that spider and then being told by the guide that a jaguar or some large Travel Channel-host-eating cat was walking the beach the other day I thought best that I just go back to the hotel. I know my limits.
I arrived in Hong Kong with the energy of a bag of cement. Our shoot in Vietnam was an extremely ambitious and strenuous itinerary that left me physically and emotionally empty. With Vietnam, I gave everything I had so coming to Hong Kong gave me the feeling of being through a tough break-up where emotionally you just don’t want to start “dating” again.
I had big plans for my day off. Like the rest of the Asia series this is the first time I have been to this destination and there were restaurants and shops I wanted to try, and hiking I wanted to do. But I bagged it all and just walked zombie-like through a city of jackrabbits. Shooting this Asia series reminds me that my travel muscles have gone soft. For the past two years I’ve been working on Great Weekends and traveling throughout the U.S. is a cakewalk. Two weeks in Asia and just coordinating the time to talk to my husband and family is enough to make me wish for my next series to be Samantha Brown’s Florida.
Days off have two purposes 1. To rest and 2. Get prepared for the next show. It doesn’t look like either is happening so I do what I never do on a day off — I get a massage. I ask for the 2-hour massage and when they hand me that clip board where you are supposed to check off problem areas — I mark every box.
I love where we are staying which is a few neighborhoods past the tourist areas and in more of a residential area. The fact that I can drop off my laundry to a small closet of a shop around the corner and pick it up after 5pm is the type of mundane everyday task that I truly enjoy. I know it sounds strange but this for me is what anchors an experience. I don’t do well in totally foreign environments but like bits and pieces of familiarity here and there. Also the fact that we are in one place for 6 days as opposed to 8 places in 10 days makes me feel like normalcy will be returning to my life soon.
One of the best trips we made was to Lantau Island, which is considered Hong Kong yet a world away. The highlight was the fishing village of Tie O. Around for over 300 years, it still holds the traditions of the past. Homes built on stilts line a main waterway. The narrow streets uncover even more gems of traditional life: wide shallow baskets with layers of lime skins drying in the sun. Storefronts seem to be empty, but in the back healthy loud games of mah-jongg are taking place. Men only play with men, women play with women. Time goes on in Hong Kong while time stands still in Tie O.
Thailand is one of those places everyone dreams of going to. Even its slogan sounds alluring: “Land of 1,000 Smiles,” although, the recent events in Bangkok might put a small question mark on that statement. We started off in the capital city, moving on to Chang Mai and then Krabi Province. So we start with chaos and end on a beach. Sounds good to me.
When it comes to an overwhelming sense of chaos, Bangkok doesn’t disappoint. Asian cities’ brand of metropolitan are far different than their Western counterparts but even in the craziness there’s an orchestrated choreography that you begin to marvel at as if you were watching some spectacle that even the geniuses of Cirque du Soleil couldn’t pull off.
The Grand Palace is certainly grand and so Disney-like in its veneer that it would fit right into Epcot, which has both China and Japan but no Southeast Asian pavilions. Let’s start a petition! It really is quite pretty with every inch of it decorated like a wedding cake but I did found myself a bit disappointed with how “new” it looked and actually wished it had more of a patina of age to it. And yet that is what is so impressive about the Thais who unlike a lot of their neighbors just finding their way in the land of tourism have been doing this for 30 years. The Thais are polished and have their act together.
While taking a break on one of the benches I began to realize something rather odd: everybody was dressed … awfully. They were the worst dressed travelers of all time. I’m no fashion icon myself (need professional help to look good) and never turn my nose down on how people dress but the questionable outfits en masse were embarrassing and unavoidable. The Grand Palace is the number 1 attraction in Bangkok receiving visitors from around the world. How could it be that collectively the whole world was just one big fashion faux pas? Surely there were some impeccably dressed Italians in the mix? But just about everyone regardless of origin was wearing strange pants with loud patterns and colors, sort of the Thai version of the Hawaiian shirt but in britches. Then I figured it out: they HAD to buy the pants outside the gates of the Palace to be considered appropriately dressed enough to enter. OOOH right. It’s a Buddhist temple so you have to cover bare knees and shoulders. OOOH right. At that point I thought what was worse?
Moved to Chang Mai and staying at the unbelievable Dhara Dhevi Resort, a replica of an entire ancient Thai Kingdom with a working rice paddy field in the middle. Kevin my husband is joining me and we are so excited to find our accommodations is a two story Villa where the bathroom is larger than our Brooklyn kitchen and living room combined. We have a great day off exploring Chang Mai, eating too much and going for a swim. The next day is going to be even better as we are shooting at an Elephant orphanage and sanctuary called Patara, where I will get to take care of an elephant, bathe it and go for a ride.
At about 5:30 in the morning Kevin’s cell phone rings. He answers it and immediately jolts up breathing very heavy. Our house is on fire. Back in September, Kevin and I bought a beautiful 180-year-old farmhouse in upstate NY. It was not only to be an escape from the city but a promise to ourselves, to slow down and start a family. And those dreams were literally going up in smoke. In my mind I just went to the worst case scenario that our house was gone knowing if I could come to terms with that then I could handle anything that came after and so as Kevin was deciphering the news I got into the shower and got ready for the day. There’s nothing quite like having to go on camera while part of your world is crumbling, but this is why I love my job. As we were driving thru Chang Mai and the country side on our way to meet elephants I began to cry not for my house, it’s fate still unknown, but because I realized how damn lucky I am. That even with this very bad news I was still in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and as our crew van made its way every person I locked eyes with whether they were people opening up their stores, women sweeping pavements and children hanging onto the backs of mopeds all smiled. I also got to spend the day fawning over an elephant named DoDo, feeding it bananas and scrubbing its toupee of brillo hair on top of its big knobby head. Goodness knows I needed every one of Thailand’s one thousand smiles that day and I got them, even from a teenage elephant.
(Note: the house was saved! It suffered fire and extensive smoke damage but we should be able to live in it by August. Fingers crossed.)
Napa Valley (as well as Sonoma) is home to some of the most beautiful, heart melting landscapes in the world. It has a slight European flare due to the wineries emulating old world chateaus but it is unmistakably American in its spirit of True Grit ambition. I was therefore very excited to meet Bo Barret of Chateau Montelena Vineyards which made history in the famous “Judgement of Paris” when its Chardonnay won a blind tasting against other supposedly superior French Chardonnays single handedly putting California wines on the map.
I’ve met many people in the wine biz — in France, Spain, Chile — and what I love about California wine people is their laid back, unpretentiousness. It’s almost as if they can’t believe their own luck; yet we all know that the wine business is literally back breaking as well as an unrelenting world to be in. I found Bo Barret to be a personable highly affable man with a Joe Biden smile who looked like he had just stepped off the pages of a J. Crew catalogue (although it may have been his adorable brown labs). At the end of our conversation he handed me a bottle of his wine, which I immediately had him sign.
My next stop was just as fun at Judd’s Hill, a winery that lets you be “winemaker for the day” forgoing the back-breaking work and total stress of a true wine maker to mix, slosh and slurp. We were absolutely starving having missed lunch and their Chef made us the most amazing dinner of grilled meats and vegetables that we ate up like the orphans in Oliver. I think we all sang “Food Glorious Food.” They put on a great party for us as well to show all of us (viewers included) how life is celebrated in Napa Valley, which from my perspective I would say is very well and all the time.
On a sad note the Judds’ lovely father Art who proclaimed my “Hail Me a Cab” to be among the best wine he has ever drunk passed away the day before the show aired. The Judds sent me a beautiful note saying how the whole family watched the episode and what an honor to his life it was.
The highlight of this episode for me was going to the Andretti Vineyards. My dad has raced cars even before I was born, summers were spent on a race track in Lime Rock Connecticut and for me, Mario Andretti was the first name in racing. Not only did I get to meet Michael and his son Marco, but Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick as well. How you cannot be impressed with that woman is beyond me and I was very excited to be able to talk to one of the few women to break the barriers and help change the usual start of a race — “Gentleman, start your engines ” — to include the ladies as well. She was absolutely lovely on and off camera and I asked her for a personal favor: I wanted her on camera to tell the Travel Channel that they should allow me to be in the driver’s seat of a race car. Due to insurance, they refuse to pay for me to be in a sport deemed too dangerous. I had to sit shotgun at the NASCAR experience in Las Vegas, something that left me completely humiliated and fuming more than an open-wheeled car in the Indianapolis 500.
When I asked Danica if she thought their attitude towards my safety wasn’t utterly ridiculous, her answer shocked me: she said Travel Channel was right and that it’s too dangerous for me to be in the driver’s seat. Of course, I had that part edited out.