Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl

Are you ready for some... bowling? Sure there's a football game on Sunday evening, but I'll have to catch the recap on SportsCenter. I'll be in Reno for the USBC Masters of Bowling which kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday (get it?), and runs for the entire week, culminating in the championship match the following Sunday. That's right, a full week of the best professional rollers on the PBA tour - along with some great pro-am and amateur events mixed in - with a top prize of $50,000.

Hey did you know that bowling dates back over 3,000 years, and maybe even further? That's right, it is thought by some to be - in one form or another - the oldest continuous sporting pastime of human kind. Although "kill the guy with the sheep's stomach" and all of the other pro-football variants can probably make a similar claim. Nonetheless, ten-pin bowling is presently enjoyed by over 100 million people in more than 90 countries, making it far and away the most popular form of recreation on the planet.

But it took a long time for the ten-pin, wooden alley form we recognize today to take its present form. In fact, for most of its colorful history, bowling games were outdoor affairs where the bowler threw the ball at the pins (or other objects), and involved far fewer targets. Italian bocce, French petanque, and English lawn bowling are all early forms of the game, none of which involved ten pins or an alley. Even in the U.S., nine-pin lawn bowling was the norm for almost two centuries. "Bowling Green" in lower Manhattan is presently a small urban plot, but is thought to be the site of America's first lawn bowling green. By the late 1890s, the indoor, ten-pin variety we know came to dominate. One very strange exception still exists in Edinburgh, Scotland. There, the bowler swings a fingerless ball between his legs, before hurling it down a lane, culminating in a flop upon his stomach. I am pretty sure there was a fair amount of whiskey involved in the evolution of the "Edinburgh Flop," but it sounds fun enough.

This year's championship event is being held in the National Bowling Stadium in "The Biggest Little City in the World": Reno, NV. Reno is the birthplace of legalized gambling in the U.S. with the original Harrah's Entertainment opening a bingo parlor in 1931. It also enjoyed a brief period as the "divorce capital" of the U.S., with some of the most liberal divorce laws in the land. In fact "I'm going to Reno" was for a time synonymous with "I'm getting a divorce". But times have changed and Reno now sports all of the gaming and entertainment options one normally associates with Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but at a much smaller scale. Plus, it is in close proximity to both Lake Tahoe and world-class skiing. Did I mention the bowling? Both Club Lakeridge and Plaza Resort Club get high marks from RedWeek members, and right now you can get a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom timeshare rental a Lakeridge for $136/night. It's just four miles from the stadium, and I will be using it as my base throughout the tourney.

Well, I am off to visit Sierra Sid's Casino/Truck Stop in nearby Sparks, NV. Sid's has a reputation for being an indigestion inducing hell-hole, and a sorry excuse for a casino (a handful of slots in a back room). But it is world famous for The Guns of Elvis. That's right, they have the largest collection of firearms previously owned by the King himself. Along with rings and jewelry owned by Elvis, Sid has guns owned by John Wayne, and even a pair of Roy Rogers's spurs. But the item I have my sights set on is the pistol Elvis purportedly used to famously blast his television set, rather than get up and turn the damn thing off. Man, you don't know how many times I've wanted to do that. Fortunately I don't have the kind of money Elvis did, and have taken to keeping a nerf football next to my Lazy-Boy, to satisfy such impulses. It's a good thing for Betty White I won't be watching this year's game.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gut Check Time

So I know a lot of you resolved to lose weight, quit smoking, get in shape, etc., just three short weeks ago as you rang in 2011. So how's that working out for you? I know, it's hard. Frankly it's a lot easier to grab a pizza and watch the big game than it is to cook a healthy meal and go for a hike. But did you know that going on vacation can actually make you healthier? It's true. Numerous scientific papers have been published indicating that more frequent vacations make you healthier, happier, and more productive, and that most Americans don't take enough of them. Now, by that logic, I should be healthiest, happiest, most productive S.O.B. on the planet! So clearly there is more to it than simply getting away and indulging your pleasures. Instead, think of your next vacation as a week (or hopefully more) to actually follow through on all of those things you promised: eat less, walk more, stop and smell the roses, etc.

The first step to getting your vacation off to a healthy start is to rent a timeshare. Almost all timeshares are equipped with full kitchens and dining areas. This is not only more economical than eating out three times a day, but also gives you control over how many and what type of calories you take in. Now I know you don't want to spend your whole trip cooking and cleaning, but you don't have to. Yogurt, granola, and fruit are quick, healthy breakfasts; brown bagging a sandwich and a banana is great lunch on the go; and grilling up some seafood and veggies is a quick and easy dinner. If you want to indulge, have a sensible dessert like a small ice cream cone while taking an evening walk. Another leg up you can get at most timeshare resorts is a fitness center. I am not talking about the lame swimming pool and putrid "whirlpool" you get with most hotel brands; I'm talking a full-on, health-club-style workout. Lastly, many resorts offer instructor-led classes in all types of activities: aerobics, dancing, swimming, and even rock climbing. Take advantage of these during your stay and maybe you can make your cone a double scoop!

Another good tip is to pick a destination that is known for healthy lifestyles. So maybe skip Vegas or Branson this year and hit Santa Fe, NM, instead. That's right, Santa Fe has the cleanest air of any U.S. city according to the American Lung Association, and the CDC reports that it has the lowest incidence of obesity as well. If you like the visual and performing arts - brain fitness - this place is an arts mecca. From Native American traditional arts to American 20th century realism - and everything in between - this town has more galleries per square foot than any place I've every seen. Plus most of them are clustered downtown, where you can walk from one to the next, burning calories and expanding your mind as you go. Just outside of town are the Rocky Mountains and Santa Fe National Park. Not only can you enjoy breath-taking scenery and wildlife, trails of every difficulty from leisurely to psychotic abound. RedWeek members seem to like Villas de Santa Fe, where you can rent a 1-bedroom for $128/night.

Or how about San Francisco? With its hilly terrain and famous trolley cars, you can see just about everything "the City by the Bay" is famous for, without ever getting in your car. And if you do feel like a meal out, San Francisco has more restaurants per-capita than any other city in the U.S. - over 3,500! Surely you can find some healthy options in a selection that size. The Donatello Resort gets 5-stars from RedWeek members and is priced as low as $150/night for a 1-bedroom. You'll likely not find a typical hotel room for that price.

If your tastes for activity run a little more extreme, try Smuggler's Notch. Vermont is rated the 2nd healthiest U.S. state, and Smuggler's Notch has been voted by SKI Reader Survey as the #1 resort for family programs 12 years in a row. Their 78 trails range from bunny trails (my speed) to East's only triple black-diamond (whatever that means). And if skiing is not your thing, this is a full-season resort with hiking, biking, horseback riding, miniature golf and more. What's more, it is home to a brand new zipline canopy tour. Do you know about these things? Yeah, they strap you into a climbing harness and shoot you down a glorified clothesline suspended above the tree canopy at speeds up to 30 m.p.h. Are you kidding me?! Whatever your speed, this place has you covered, and it is no wonder RedWeek members rate it so highly. Rentals start at just $129/night.

Well I am off to my belly dancing class with the resort's instructor. I know what you're thinking and you can keep it to yourself. Belly dancing is not only an ancient Middle Eastern art form that is really good exercise for the entire body, but lots of men do it. Besides, I have to do something to pre-empt the triple scoop of Chubby Hubby I see in my not-so-distant future.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Star Struck

So did you catch the Golden Globes last night? Wow that Ricky Gervais is a naughty boy, isn't he? Or, as the Brits would say: a real cheeky monkey. But for my money he's as funny as they come, and if you can't make fun of Charlie Sheen, who can you make fun of?

I can't say I was all that thrilled by some of the winners last night. I don't know about you, but I am pretty sick of FaceBook at this point. It's bad enough I can't go on the Web without being barraged by "friend requests" from people I've never heard of, but now I am going to be subjected to it at the multiplex as well? I go to the movies to get away from day-to-day tedium, and the only thing I can think of that would be worse is "The Social Network 3-D". Seems like every other movie that came out this year was 3-D, which is fine in-and-of itself. But it seems like the money they spend on 3-D is in inverse proportion to what gets spent on a good script and quality actors. Although I guess I wouldn't really want to be looking at Paul Giamatti in 3-D for two hour either.

I was happy to see Natalie Portman acknowledged as best actress for "Black Swan". While I wasn't crazy about that movie, she's a fine actress whom I've liked since I first saw her in "Garden State". If you get a chance to see her in "V is for Vendetta" you'll know why she's a favorite, and why I celebrate Guy Fawkes Day every November 5, much to the consternation of my British neighbors.

How about that Christian Bale winning best supporting actor for "The Fighter"? He's just an amazing actor whom I think doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. He literally starved himself for the lead role in "The Machinists" which was unfortunate, since I was probably among the handful of people who actually saw the thing. Regardless, I've been a fan since "Empire of the Sun" way back in 1987, and recommend anything he does; although I probably wouldn't start with "American Psycho," especially if you are on a date.

And did you hear what happened to Al Pacino? Seems that after winning best actor for "You Don't Know Jack" (the Jack Kevorkian biopic) he went home to tuck his young children into bed, with plans to return for the after party. And while we won't get into how creepy it is that a 70-year-old man has young children, he returned to find out he was not on the guest list -- and denied entry. I imagine whoever was in charge of security is wishing for a ride in the Kevorkian Death Bus this morning.

If you want to hobnob with the stars in Hollywood, you're going to have to start making a lot more money than you do now or, rent a timeshare in nearby Anaheim (about 30 miles away). The WorldMark Anaheim gets 5 stars from RedWeek members and you can get a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom unit with a full kitchen and living room for just $183/night. Plus it is just steps away from a little place called Disneyland. If star-gazing is your thing, make sure to slate one full day for touring Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. You'd be surprised who you might run into if you are the star-struck type. Me, I am more of a laid back…

OHMIGOD, OHMIGOD, is that Puck from "Glee"?! It is, It is! I gotta run… see you later… bye!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Escaping the Snow

After some wild weather in the northeast over the New Year, and more on the way, I decided to get the heck out of its way. While one might normally flee to Florida this time of year, even the sun belt is seeing snow and freezing weather. So I set my sights a little further out to sea... Bermuda! That's right, 640 miles east of Cape Hatteras, NC, is the British territory of Bermuda where it is 61 degrees and sunny. Hey did you know that St. George, Bermuda, was the third successful British colony in the Americas? Yeah, after St. John's, Newfoundland, and Jamestown, VA, it was claimed by the Virginia Company in 1612. That's eight years before the Mayflower voyage folks, and unlike St. John's and Jamestown, it has been continuously occupied since. So in that regard, it is the oldest English settlement in the New World and it is beautifully preserved, without being a "living history" attraction. Real people inhabit these centuries-old buildings - along with real businesses and modern conveniences - while preserving the authenticity of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And did I mention it is 61 degrees and sunny here?

One of St. George's top attractions is its protected Tobacco Bay Beach. There is a small hill separating the town from the beach, and it is a short walk to this beautiful spot. Now I won't lie to you, the water and air temperature tend to be about the same this time of year. So if swimming in 65 degree water is your thing, then you are in store for some fantastic snorkeling, scuba diving, and reef exploration. I'll save my "polar plunging" until next year, thank you. But there is plenty to do out of the water, and well worth your time to visit even in winter - if you can even call this winter. Then of course there is the great history of this place, and I would suggest Fort St. Catherine, the Olde Towne Railway Tour, and the Unfinished Cathedral. The fort provides beautiful views of St. George, a nice self-guided walking tour, and helpful staff to answer questions about Bermuda's rich history. The train is a small-scale railway that somehow manages to make it up the steep hills and through the narrow lanes of St. George. The conductors are very knowledgeable and entertaining. The cathedral (a.k.a. the folly of St. George's) was intended to replace the older St. Peter's (also worth a look) in 1874, but it was beset by poor planning, insufficient funding, and ultimately a rift with the church hierarchy. But it has a beauty nonetheless and is an entertaining and worthwhile stop, just the same.

My favorite spot, however, is the Bermuda Perfumery. A relative newcomer to the island, it first set up shop in 1928 offering its signature fragrance Easter Lily - which is still offered today. Although not on its original site, it is located in a historic building right in St. George, and still fills each bottle by hand. A knowledgeable staff member will give you a personal tour of the building and gardens, where many of the flowers and plants used in the perfumes are grown. Then you can work with a perfumer to test and find a scent that is just right for you. Now I know what you are thinking, but outside of the U.S. it is perfectly acceptable for men to where perfume. Cologne is likewise not gender-specific. Rather, it is a single layer of scent, while perfume has multiple layers, like a cake. No matter your preference, the staff here has on average 25 years of experience, and can create a scent that is tailored just for you. Or, you can continue to go around smelling like a bus terminal, assured in your manhood. Your call.

During my stay I am renting a timeshare at The St. George's Club, located on the northeastern tip of the island. It has three swimming pools (one heated), three tennis courts (one lighted), and during the warmer months, a private beach club about a mile away. You can even rent a moped on-site, if you dare, and take in the sites on two wheels. Rentals start as low as $100/night.

Well I am off to get a pair of spiffy new Bermuda shorts. Although started as tropical attire for the British Navy, these snazzy shorts became wildly popular in Bermuda, and are now standard business attire for both men and women. Now, one should not confuse Bermuda shorts with "cargo" or "capri" pants. The former are a baggy mess and should only be worn by skateboarders and the homeless, while the latter are pants terminating just below the calf, and should never be worn by any self-respecting man under any circumstances. Even in the smelly bus terminal type.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year

Well, 2010 is in the books and 2011 is upon us. I hope you had a safe and happy holiday season. I had a wild time with the blizzard of '10 and some high drama at the airport last week, but it's all good now. In 2010 I experienced some great timeshare destinations, was able to share some wonderful stories with you and, aside from my dust-up with that bull in Pamplona, nobody got hurt. I can't wait to see what 2011 will bring.

Hey, did you know that January 1st has not always been the day to celebrate the new year in Western civilizations? Yeah, the first new moon after the Vernal Equinox (spring) was the traditional start of the new year for ancient Babylonians - which makes a fair amount of sense if you think about it. Spring is when you plant new crops, blossoms form on trees, and many animals start having their babies. It's a time of birth and renewal, so why not hatch a new year? But the Romans didn't see it that way, and tinkered with the calendar for decades until settling on January 1st under Julius Caesar, which ushered in the Julian calendar. That lasted until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, which remains the official civic calendar of the world to this day. I guess if I had been pope or emperor we'd be on the Seymourian calendar. But I digress...

Changing the date did not interrupt the traditions and superstitions associated with the start of a new year, however. If anything, it probably made for some new ones. Did you know that in many cultures the first visitor you receive on New Year's Day is an indicator of the type of luck you will have for the year? Yeah, a tall dark-haired man is a harbinger of good things to come, while blondes, redheads, and women are bad luck. Hmmm, I think if I receive a unannounced, blonde, female visitor on the first of the year, I am going to take my chances - but that's just me.

It's also considered bad luck to work on New Year's Day, which I personally observe, as well as loaning or borrowing money, doing laundry, or removing anything from the house - even the garbage. The loan business makes a fair amount of sense, and is probably where the bank holiday tradition comes from, but not putting out the garbage? That just seems like an invitation for bad luck to me - not to mention bad odors - and I won't be adhering to it any time soon.

Some traditions, especially those involving food, are purely regional. For example, in the southeastern United States it is common to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. Throw in some ham hocks, cabbage, and collards (all lucky), and you've got yourself a year's worth of good luck in a bowl. Rent a timeshare in Colonial Williamsburg, Charleston, SC, or the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee in 2011 to learn more about southern traditions.

In Italy, lentils are the lucky legume and are to be consumed in healthy portions for the new year. If you wish to celebrate this Italian tradition, why not rent a timeshare at Borgo di Vagli, the only fully restored 14th century Tuscan village timeshare resort? If beans aren't your thing, how about grapes? In Spain's wine growing regions it is traditional to eat one grape for each month of the outgoing year. This tradition followed everywhere the Spanish empire spread, and you can now enjoy twelve grapes on New Year's Eve from the beaches of Puerto Rico to the Mexican Riviera of Mazatlan.

I guess for many Americans, two relatively modern events represent New Year's more than any others: the Rose Bowl & Parade in Pasadena, CA, and the ball dropping in Times Square, New York City. The parade of roses started in 1895 and the first football game was held in 1902. Legend has it that many of the recent eastern and mid-western arrivals in Pasadena were so enamored with the mild California winters, that they wanted to rub it in a bit with the folks buried in snow back east; which is a little mean-spirited, really, but what a beautiful spectacle it has become. You can rent a timeshare in Anaheim, about 45 minutes away, and hit Disneyland while you are at it.

If the folks back in New York were put out by the flowery display, they didn't let on. Right around the same time, 1904 to be exact, the tradition of the ball drop began. Every year since, millions of people ring in the new year by watching the Waterford Crystal orb make its 77-foot decent upon Times Square. You can take in Times Square and all NYC has to offer, without breaking the bank, by renting a timeshare at The Hilton Club New York.

Well, I am off to put the finishing touches on my Hogmanay fire ball. Do you know about these things? It's a traditional New Year's practice I picked up while traveling in Scotland. And while it may sound like a flaming glass of whiskey you drink at midnight, it's actually a giant ball of chicken wire that you stuff with paper, sticks, rags, and other flammable items. You attach it to a nonflammable rope or chain - a very important detail - light her up, and take to the streets swinging the thing over your head like a maniac. In Stonehaven, from where this tradition originates, thousands of people turn out to view this annual spectacle. To my knowledge, I am the only person on my block who partakes in this particular practice. So I am either going to start a new trend here, or I am going to get arrested. Either way, I am going to start 2011 off with a bang!