Woodstock Chalet Weekend!

Relaxed chalet style: Built by Wendy jacket, cable knit sweater made by my mom, Mavi jeas, Swedish Hasbeens boots, vintage Coach purse (and unfortunately long hair!)

Imagine a place, not far from every day life, where you can let down your guard and truly be yourself. Imagine a place where you can dwell in a liminal space where you can give into your whims and be cocooned in warmth, friendship and peace. This place exists, on the map as well as in the imagination, in a tradition my friends and I have come to call “Chalet Weekend.”

View from my bedroom window

The place is a rental chalet that sleeps twelve in the storied town of Woodstock, New York. Woodstock has been a place of escape and a home to artists and counter cultural visionaries for over 100 years. The chalet on Happy Cat Lane is quirky in layout, with lots of impractical architectural details and exposed wood. Most importantly there is a fireplace and two huge, seductively soft couches, an open kitchen and comfortable beds. It’s on a quiet dirt road not far from the artist’s colony Byrdcliffe, which itself offers another kind of retreat from the world.

Wood fire, Bloody Mary, happiness

Hah hah.

Morgane makes cookies from locally made cookie dough, an easy dessert!

These pancakes I am making are somehow really funny (and I get to show off my Petit Bateau shirt, bien sur)

Two birthday girls means two birthday cakes (made by moi)! Tres leches with caramel whipped cream and coconut and lemon cake infused with Rosemary with Rosehip and Lavender frosting.

I used to hate on upstate New York, but now I’ve completely fallen under the spell of its gauzy light and rural charm. After the hectic grind of city life it feels a little bit like cheating to escape to the quiet woods for a few days. For me there is nothing better to combat the winter blues than a fire, cooking huge meals, celebrating birthdays and getting so absorbed in my friends and the present moment everything else just falls away.

Where do you go to escape the daily grind?

Hudson River, by Saugerties

Saugerties Lighthouse

Kayaks at the Saugerties Lighthouse

For the practicalities: you can find plenty of amazing homes for rent upstate (or anywhere) on Home Away, Air BNB, or VRBO (which is connected to Home Away). The cheapest car rentals in New York City tend to be from All Car Rent-a- Car and there is also the affordable and convenient Adirondack Trailways bus. My three stops in Woodstock always are: Sunflower Natural Foods Market, Bread Alone bakery (amazing organic bagels, pastries, bread, sandwiches and coffee), and Woodstock Meats, a butcher shop with artisanal meats and cheeses and chalet essentials like firewood.

Chalet weekend crew! (sans K.)

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Culebra Tropical Escape, Part 1

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, PR

New York winter is terrible. It grinds on and whether it snows or not, it feels like it never ends. To survive it you need to plot your escape. Our escape all started with the a flyer for the “Bruisecruise” – an indie rock cruise that features bands, DJ’s and plenty of sun starved hipsters. A. and I seriously considered it for awhile – three days on a boat with rock bands and warmth. We were thiiiis close to buying a ticket when we realized 1. the bands that were playing play in New York frequently and 2. do we really want to be stuck on a cruise ship with half of Williamsburg? and 3. for the money we could create our own tropical getaway.

Swimming at Flamenco beach

First we defined our criteria: direct flight from New York, easy, but not something that was just an all inclusive resort or tourist trap. Not too pricey. We decided on Puerto Rico because we don’t need a passport to go there and would not have to change money. I remembered when SMH and I were doing research for our tropical vacation last year we seriously considered Culebra, a small island to the east of Puerto Rico. It features one gas station, one ATM, and nary an all inclusive resort. Perfect. We mustered the troops: SMH, S., A. and myself and a few weeks of research and a few conferences calls later and we were set.

Waves, Flamenco beach

Here’s why you go to Culebra: you love beautiful beaches with hardly anyone on them, nature, and a slow pace of life. You don’t go there if you want all inclusive packages or jumpin’ nightlife or high fashion.

Beach essentials

Flamenco beach from the air as we approach Culebra

The flight itself is worth it. While there is a ferry from Fajardo, we were advised not to take it and I can see why. It was cancelled two out of the four days we were there. Instead we flew Vieques Air Link (you can also take Air Flamenco) from Isla Grande Airport in San Juan to Culebra – a half an hour flight. Limited to 30 pounds of luggage a piece before we got on the plane we joked that there would be a public shaming ritual where everyone was asked their weight. It turned out to be true! The plane is small enough it needs to be weight balanced and I felt like we were in van that happened to fly. For the landing we flew right over Flamenco beach, one of the world’s best beaches and where were staying. After the beach it looked like we were headed right for the trees! We flew in between two mountains, banked hard to the left and landed. I admit it, I was whimpering. As we were getting out the pilot was laughing and said, “Someone back there was scared!” I sheepishly admitted to it. At the airport we sipped a perfect cafe con leche and waited for our rental jeep to arrive.

Coming in for a landing in paradise

Culebra is a small island, but not so tiny that you can walk everywhere. The roads are narrow and twisty and it’s helpful to have some kind of transportation. After looking into the three car rental options available S. found the perfect one for us: Dick and Cathie’s Jeep Rental, which features the very strange Volkswagen “Thing,” a car that has a cultish following in the US. It’s got 4 gears and feels a little like driving a riding lawn mower, but with speed limits that max out at 35 miles an hour who needs a sleek jeep with frivolous features like windows and a roof? Cruising around in the Thing, top down, made it clear we were on vacation. We adored the Thing and “thinging” became a verb for driving somewhere in our vacation parlance. Dick also showed us where to park in town, where the super markets were, pointed out the vegetable seller that came to the island once a week (score!) and warned us about a pothole so big it tipped over a cement mixer. Dick and Cathie also offer bike rentals. We rented mountain bikes for 2 days, but were so busy with doing nothing, we never used them.

Driving the Thing

Party in the Thing!

Trunk in the front

For lodging we stayed at Culebra Beach Rentals on Flamenco beach, which has been rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world. The rentals featured everything we needed, and have full kitchens, so it was easy to prepare our own food. The highlight of our place was the huge porch with rocking chairs, a hammock, a dining table and grill. We prepared our dinners and ate family style every night, joined by a group of feral cats who seduced us with their sweet ways and were treated to a gourmet diet of chicken, fish and beef while were there.  Of course the best part was that the beach was steps away and we walked out at every hour to soak in the sun, sunset or stars.

The "villas" at Culebra beach rentals - so cute!

Porch friend. The mellowest one-eyed cat ever. I almost brought this one home.

Flamenco beach was wide, vast and even though some grumbled it had been “discovered” at maximum we counted 35 people there. There’s also a cluster of food stalls you can walk down to that feature homemade mofungo, shark kebabs, and from the “Mexican” themed one the best pina colada we had on the island.

Showing off my new Esther Williams suit on Flamenco beach

Thanks to the Thing we also explored some of the island’s other beaches: Zoni beach, which was the locals secret 10 years ago, but is now well known to locals and visitors. These included some nudists, who we were surprised to discover far down the beach.

Zoni beach, Culebra, PR

Enjoying the beach life

We also went to Tamarindo beach, which features a reef full of sea life that is perfect for snorkeling. You have to be sure not to touch anything though – Culebra was used by the US Navy for training exercises and there are still unexplored bombs on the ocean floor! Tamarindo is also one of the few beaches on the island that faces west, making it prime real estate for sunset watching.

Sunset from Tamarindo beach, Culebra, PR

Tamarindo beach, before sunset

Beach chickens

For the inside scoop on beaches and snorkeling we asked at the dive shop on the main street by the ferry dock. They also recommended Captain Sebastian to us for a boating adventure, but I’ll write more about that in part 2.

I’ll leave you with a few more scenes that I hope will transport you out of winter for a moment. I remember my former dubiousness about going to the Caribbean, which I have since shed. I think it’s really about finding the places off the beaten track that are strong on local flavor and pride. It’s about respecting the unique culture of a place and appreciating the rhythm of island life. In addition to the sun, sand and time away I appreciated that we found a place that felt so “us.” For a getaway from winter with some of my best friends I couldn’t ask for more.

Frozen mojito at Mamacita's

Bakery in downtown Culebra. Delicious pastries!

Culebra Dive Shop

Hotel Kokomo, downtown Culebra

Note: This was the inaugural trip for my new digital SLR camera – a Canon Rebel T3i. These photos are mostly taken from this, but the airplane shots are from my trusty Canon PowerShot (and taken by SMH) because I needed something quickly at hand (and he had a better view in the plane).

Note 2: For more information on all things Culebra visit this sweet website.

Winter Weekend Getaway

Growing up in Maine I looked forward to winter. I couldn’t wait for the pond to freeze to skating, the first snow that was enough to go skiing, and days inside baking and drinking hot chocolate. While my enthusiasm for winter has faded a little, mostly because it just seems to drag on a few months too long, I’m not a winter hater. However, every year I feel like I have to come up with new strategies to make the winter enjoyable, and go a little faster. When M. suggested a group getaway with some research and advice from friends we found the perfect solution: a weekend rental chalet in Woodstock, New York complete with a hot tub. Sold.

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Walking up the snowy Overlook trail

After a month exchanging a flurry of emails a group of 14 of us had planned a menu and a spate of activities. The best part of going out of town in the winter is that you don’t have to do anything. And we didn’t. The Woodstock chalet was an invitation to step out of our daily routine immerse ourselves in the secret world of the weekend. A curated selection of bad movies opened the weekend, followed by board  and classic NES games, cooking, hot tub soaking, and a walk up a mountain that some took all the way and others just enough to soak in the snow, quiet, and wind in the trees.

Chalet

Chalet Interior

It’s been a little hard to come back, because the weekend seems to be its own world with its own rhythms. But I think a tradition has been started and I’m already looking forward to next winter! There’s more pictures on Flickr.

Stew, Bloody Mary, Banana Grams!

Chalet Life: Homemade stew, bloody mary, Banana Grams

Winter Footwear

Trial run of Vivienne Westwood Anglomania for Melissa spakly galoshes