Scottsdale Sunset

The Sanctuary on Camelback

The Sanctuary on Camelback

I was lucky to spend nearly two weeks at home in Scottsdale over Christmas. I hadn't spent that much time at home in almost two years, and it made me realize how much I miss it. Scottsdale is known for its hotels, spas, hikes, sunshine, golf courses, culture of healthiness, and mountain views - all things I love (ok, not golf). But for me, there's a memory on every street corner, the desert air is actually healing, and life just feels...easier.

March is the most magical time in Scottsdale - for a couple of weeks, the air smells like perfume because of the orange blossoms blooming. It's like a sunny, suburban eden. And if you find yourself in Scottsdale, head to The Sanctuary hotel on Camelback Mountain to watch the sunset. It's pretty magical too.

Merci 2014

Thank you, 2014, for giving me great adventure, tremendous love, challenges that sometimes felt insurmountable, new and familiar friendships, extraordinary laughter, and always - magical moments of synchronicity and serendipity.
See you next year!

Bike Ride From Stratford-Upon-Avon to London

Bike Ride From Stratford-Upon-Avon to London

Favorite pub in the Lakes District of England!

Favorite pub in the Lakes District of England!

Bath, England

Bath, England

Beatrix Potter's farmhouse in England, Hill Top

Beatrix Potter's farmhouse in England, Hill Top

St. James's Park, London

St. James's Park, London

View from room at Hotel Del Coronado - San Diego

View from room at Hotel Del Coronado - San Diego

Santa Monica Farmer's Market

Santa Monica Farmer's Market

Los Angeles hills

Los Angeles hills

Virtuoso Symposium - Berlin

Virtuoso Symposium - Berlin

On assignment with Catherine Karnow in Dublin for National Geographic Traveler

On assignment with Catherine Karnow in Dublin for National Geographic Traveler

Photographing for our piece on coastal Dublin

Photographing for our piece on coastal Dublin

Adare Manor, Ireland

Adare Manor, Ireland

Morans Oyster Cottage, Ireland

Morans Oyster Cottage, Ireland

The room I never wanted to leave at Ashford Castle - Ireland

The room I never wanted to leave at Ashford Castle - Ireland

Uncle John & Aunt Colleen - a beautiful day on the Aran Islands

Uncle John & Aunt Colleen - a beautiful day on the Aran Islands

Rathbaun Farm, Ireland

Rathbaun Farm, Ireland

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands

Marin County - More fun work with Catherine Karnow for National Geographic Traveler

Marin County - More fun work with Catherine Karnow for National Geographic Traveler

Auberge du Soleil - Napa Valley

Auberge du Soleil - Napa Valley

Kiawah Island - South Carolina

Kiawah Island - South Carolina

The Sagamore Hotel on Lake George

The Sagamore Hotel on Lake George

Montauk - Hamptons

Montauk - Hamptons

Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico

Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico

Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

National Geographic Expedition to the Galapagos Islands

National Geographic Expedition to the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Hike

Galapagos Hike

Sea Lions lounging in the Galapagos

Sea Lions lounging in the Galapagos

The Marylebone Hotel, London

The Marylebone Hotel, London

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall - Berlin

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall - Berlin

Sunset at Berlin's former Tempelhof Airport - now a city park!

Sunset at Berlin's former Tempelhof Airport - now a city park!

Paris - Luxembourg Gardens

Paris - Luxembourg Gardens

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Viking River Cruise - Douro Valley, Portugal

Viking River Cruise - Douro Valley, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

Nazaré, Portugal

Nazaré, Portugal

Sunset on the coast of Portugal outside of Lisbon

Sunset on the coast of Portugal outside of Lisbon

ILTM Cannes - Hotel Majestic Barriere

ILTM Cannes - Hotel Majestic Barriere

Pinnacle Peak Trail, Scottsdale, Arizona

Pinnacle Peak Trail, Scottsdale, Arizona

A Non-Crowded New York Christmas

Jefferson Market Library - West Village

Jefferson Market Library - West Village

Are visions of "Christmas in New York" dancing in your head? My vision used to look like this: I would wander merrily up Fifth Avenue, stop to admire the department store windows, pop into Tiffany for a dose of glitz and glamour, find a cozy cafe for a hot chocolate, and of course soak up the holiday spirit at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

HA. I quickly realized that "Christmas in New York" can be atrocious. Midtown in December is INSANE. You're battling hordes of people and walking at a snail's pace because you can't find an opening to get ahead of anyone.

BUT - there are some are great spots that feel very festive without the massive crowds.

Minetta Tavern - Just perfect for a long Christmas brunch with wreaths, garlands, and twinkly lights aglow.

Minetta Tavern

Minetta Tavern

Gotham Bar & Grill - Power lunch spot in the Village that is bedecked beautifully.

Claudette - A new restaurant (same owners as Rosemary's, another favorite) on the corner of 9th Street and 5th Avenue in the Village - feels like you have stepped into a Nancy Meyers movie! Love the Christmas tree.

Via Quadronno - One of the city's best cappuccinos - feels especially cozy at Christmas.

Madison Avenue from 59th St to 93rd St - This is such a lovely walk on the Upper East Side with the best window shopping. End at The Corner Bookstore (the most adorable bookstore in Manhattan) for some non-Amazon shopping.

IFC Center - It's A Wonderful Life - This independent movie theater in the Village, which feels charmingly stuck in the 1980's, shows It's A Wonderful Life on repeat every December. I see it every year on the big screen - and I dare you not to cry when Harry Bailey says - "A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town."

And worth it despite the crowds...Radio City Christmas Spectacular - I LOVE THE ROCKETTES. And when they start singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing at the end? I am a goner.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Plus - ten cozy NYC spots I wrote about for National Geographic. I especially love Marc Forgione and Tea & Sympathy in Manhattan and Black Mountain Winehouse and Dujour Bakery in Brooklyn.

The Book I Lugged Around The World

Here it is, The Goldfinch. In some fancy hotel lobby around the world. At nearly 800 pages, lugging this beast around the world has not been easy on my shoulders. It has come with me everywhere this fall - Mexico, Ireland, the Galapagos, London, Berlin, Paris, and now Lisbon, where I finally finished it.

I've had some pretty heated discussions with my friends over this book. I loved it from page one, and was completely sucked in. Then I let it go for a few weeks. I didn't even open it in Ireland. Towards the end, I lost interest and then it came roaring back. The final paragraphs completely slayed me.

I will never forget Theo Decker, or any of the characters. Hobie, Pippa, his mother, his father, Boris, Andy, Kitsey, Mrs. Barbour...and so on. They are all burned in my mind, as real as anything.  Through it all - a characterization of New York City that absolutely blew me away.

"That life—whatever else it is—is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it.

That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch."

To love what Death doesn't touch - he is referring to artwork that passes on from one generation to the next. Beautiful writing make my heart beat fast, like when you're falling in love.

What are you reading? I also just finished This is Where I Leave You in about three days. Roaringly funny and poignant.

A Quick Note on Why I Love Social Media

This week, I am sailing aboard the Viking Hemming through the Douro River in Portugal. I love river cruising - you can explode in your room for a week and everything is taken care of for you as you watch the world go by.

Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

But today, I was reminded why the benefits of social media far outweigh the negative aspects. For the past several years, I've traveled the world, often alone. While I love it, managing loneliness on the road is something you deal with.

I always say the point of online is to go offline. Social media has changed my career, it's made me meet people that have become seriously good friends - some of my best friends even. It's made the world smaller in the best possible way. I have my "Little Black Book" for travel - friends that I've made all over the world that introduce me to their friends and friends of friends. It absolutely helps when I'm writing my stories, but it makes me feel at home in the world, especially when I'm missing my kitchen and my own bed.

We are in Porto, Portugal today which is a beautiful Old World European city on the river. I decided to take the morning to roam around myself. I had heard from a friend that I had to see The Yeatman Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property that has an extensive wine program and spa. So I wandered over, ordered a cappuccino and read another 50 pages in The Goldfinch. And I also tweeted the incredible view from the hotel's terrace, mentioning their Twitter handle.

About 15 minutes later, the wonderful director of marketing, Richard Bowden, appeared and said "Are you Annie?" He had seen my tweet, and had come to find me and offered to give me a tour. How amazing is that? He even ended up driving me back to the ship. This hotel, which just so happens to be stunningly gorgeous, gets it. 

The point of online is to go offline.

Here are a few shots I snapped at The Yeatman today - Click the photo to scroll through the gallery!