Los Angeles – The City of Lights

This is a pretty awesome video of Los Angeles in time-lapse mode from angles all over the city. The theme involves light, and the views are breathtaking.

  

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Watkins Glen International: Why NASCAR fans have the most fun

Impossibly fast.

With a revolving mixture of amusement and awe, those two words became a chorus in my head, going off like clockwork as each lap unraveled and 43 of the world’s best NASCAR drivers roared past the finish line and screamed into turn 1.

I was leaning against the railing of Zippo’s viewer-friendly suite in Watkins Glen, New York, for the annual NASCAR event that consistently draws tens of thousands of gung-ho fans. Aside from checking out Zippo’s current endeavors (which are stellar) and cataloguing the races themselves, an additional chunk of my focus at the Glen was to find out exactly what it is about NASCAR that has propelled it to remain an absolute juggernaut in the world of spectator sports.

Is the hype justified? Do the legions of diehard fans, movies and media coverage actually represent a sport deserving of such a pedestal? Many would scoff and issue a flippant dismissal, rebutting that NASCAR is simply a redneck obsession that has nonsensically acquired its popularity.

Having avoided any groundless perspectives, I was an unbiased sponge before my arrival; ready to soak in the scene and hammer out some concrete conclusions. To make a long story short: the naysayers have it wrong – very wrong.

“The Glen”

Watkins Glen International is by all means in the country, which for us meant a rolling and scenic cruise from the Buffalo Airport.

Fate had bestowed our driver with two notable characteristics: an encyclopedia-deep knowledge of upstate New York, including the Glen, and a superhuman ability to maintain unbelievably casual conversation despite vigorously tailgating any car that deviated below the assigned speed.

Given our empty stomachs and the familiar anticipation that any traveler feels before arrival, I wholeheartedly appreciated his quirks.

You begin to sense the immensity of the Glen even before you enter the gates. Signs that designate parking and directions slowly start to pepper the side of the road, tirelessly providing a first wave of guidance and defense to the most assured calamity that was already coalescing.

Gate 2, our drop-off point, was bustling with the quintessential festival entrance proceedings, complete with walkie-talkie clad workers, stop-and-go traffic and lots of chatter. Above us, in the distance, mammoth grandstands loomed.

After bidding farewell to our driver, our Zippo rep, Hunter, arrived moments later and we transitioned ourselves into his Jeep for the final voyage to camp, or as I like to call it, Ground Zero.

It didn’t take long to realize Hunter was friendly, down to earth and adept – a great ambassador for what was to be a hearty weekend.

Upon entering camp, which was at non-event dates a sprawling grassy area, crisscrossed by dirt roads and encompassed completely by the road course, I realized several things almost immediately. For one, my North Face and loafers, indiscernible at SFO, were now about as out of place and impractical as Hannah Anderson’s pajamas bottoms amidst the Montana forest. Too soon?

Also, I had widely underestimated the degree of revelry and madness, which reared its head wildly as we slowly rolled towards our spot. I found myself rubbernecking, hastily trying to take it all in.

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The Wonderful Wine Regions of South Australia

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Consisting of over 200 cellar doors and featuring many of the best drops in Aus, the South Australian wine trail is a must-do for every wine lover. Best of all, everything is in driving distance from Adelaide, meaning that arranging airport transfers, organizing transport and booking suitable Adelaide accommodation is exceptionally easy. The following is a guide to five of the best areas on the South Australian wine trail, with tips on which cellar doors and wineries you must visit.

Barossa

The Barossa Valley is where Aussie wines were born and is home to some of the oldest vines in the country (160 years!). Located approximately 70kms from the heart of Adelaide, it’s a beautiful area, full of history and architecture from the original German settlers. Best known for its big, bold shiraz, Barossa is home to some of the most famous names in the Aussie wine industry, including Wolf Blass, Jacobs Creek, Yalumba and of course, Penfolds. The nearby Eden Valley is also part of the Barossa region and is a quaint spot known for its award-winning riesling production. Not only is the Barossa known for its top drops, it’s also a haven for foodies. It is home to a range of wonderful restaurants and some amazing cheese companies. Check out the Barossa Valley Cheese Company for a complete food and wine experience.

McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale is a red wine lover’s paradise. With over 70 cellar doors, it is best known for its deep, dark shiraz, flavoursome cabernet sauvignon and prizewinning grenache. Some of the must-sees include Chapel Hill Winery, Geoff Merrill Wines, Rosemount Estate and Zimmerman Wines. The boutique Chalk Hill is also a must-visit with a proud history of wine-making dating back six generations. If you have a more organic preference, check out the Battle of Bosworth and Spring Seed Wines. Finish your trip with a follow-up beer at the Vale Ale Brewery.

Coonawarra

Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon is a staple of the Australian wine industry. The biggest wine area on the Limestone Coast, its terra rossa soil is credited for the region’s success. Although it sits 375kms from Adelaide, it’s worth the jaunt. Out of its 24 cellar doors, some of the best include Bowen Estate, Brand’s Laira Coonawarra, Wynns Coonawarra Estate and Redman Wines. Another highlight is the Coonawarra Wine Gallery, where you can various range of local wines and treat yourself to cheese platters and coffee.

Clare Valley

Located approximately 120kms from Adelaide, Clare Valley is home to some of the best in Aussie riesling. Another of Australia’s oldest wine regions, it’s full of attractions and activities including restaurants, art galleries and events, making it a hot-spot for tourists. The area is generally made up of boutique producers. Some of the best names on the riesling trail are some of the most renowned producers in all of Australia, including Jim Barry Wines, Tim Adams Wines, Edredge Wines, Taylors Wines and Annies Lane.

Adelaide Hills

Sitting 20 minutes from Adelaide, the gorgeous scenic views offered by Adelaide Hills makes for a lovely afternoon excursion in the crisp midwinter weather. Being a cool climate region, Adelaide Hills produces chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and riesling. The region’s style is elegant and premium, which has led to its national and international success. With over 40 cellar doors, Adelaide Hills offers something for everyone, regardless of palate and preference. K1 by Geoff Hardy is a must-see, as are Bird in Hand, Leabrook Estate and Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard. Adelaide Hills is also known for its fabulous food, wine and music events. Look online before you go to see if anything coincides with your trip.

Photo credit: badjonni / Foter / CC BY-SA

About the Author: Dale McKenzie is a passionate wine drinker, wine writer and occasional wine judge. His dream is to retire on a seven-acre vineyard block in the Margaret River.

  

Three Days in LA: A 2013 ESPY Awards adventure

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I knew it was going to be an interesting trip to Los Angeles when I met actor Colin Farrell at LAX baggage claim upon arrival. Minutes later, I bumped my shoulder into Olympic legend Michael Phelps’ tightly toned torso while wildly retrieving my luggage from the baggage carousel.

Here is the actual transcript of our meeting:

“Whoa. Hi Michael, excuse me. That bag kinda got away from me there for a second.”

“No problem, how are you?”

“I am good, nice to see you.”

Turning my attention, and body, towards the exit, I again saw Farrell, this time attempting to lay low in the shadows as people began to recognize him as “that one guy from ‘SWAT.’”

Suddenly, five punky paparazzo exploded off the elevator and surged towards the helpless Farrell, who was now pacing back and forth, alone, waiting for his luggage, while having a conversation on his cell phone that was going nowhere. He was adamant about needing a ride immediately, but his urgency was neither acknowledged nor reciprocated.

A pair of 50-something (but don’t tell them that) Latinas spotted him, exclaiming with glee to everyone within earshot that Farrell was, in fact, “right by them.”

The ladies bum rushed him and made their jerky husband take several pictures while they posed, Farrell maintaining a state of disinterest throughout the experience. 30 people stood around and watched, mouths agape.

Metaphorically, Farrell was naked in front of his high school assembly, with no publicist or agent in sight to deflect or protect, and the verbal potshots began to pile up.

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Scootering Around Roma: The best way to see the Eternal City is on two wheels

Last month, my wife and I went on a mini European tour for our honeymoon that comprised of stopovers in London, Paris and Rome. But this story starts a little earlier than that, roughly two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, when I suddenly got the itch to research Vespa tours in Italy. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but for some reason, failed to include in our original plans. Thankfully, after trading a few emails with the wonderful couple that runs Scooteroma Tours, they graciously agreed to take us around Rome to experience what makes seeing the Eternal City from a motorino (that’s “scooter,” in Italian) so extraordinary.

Annie, the self-titled Scooter Maven, was unfortunately unable to join us on the tour due to a bad case of bronchitis (though she stopped by the meeting point to introduce herself anyway), but her husband and business partner Giovanni arrived with one of their many other English-speaking tour guides, all of whom have years of professional experience in the tourism and hospitality industries. As a couple of Yanks with only a phrase book-sized knowledge of Italian, I can’t begin to explain how much of a relief it was to have tour guides who not only spoke English, but spoke it fluently. (Annie herself is American-born, but you can read all about how she came to live in Rome here.)

With the pleasantries and introductions out of the way, it was time to hop on the back of a Vespa and get to scootering. While Giovanni drove a newer Vespa model (red and shiny, and clearly the pride and joy of the Scooteroma family), his cohort Stefano arrived on a gorgeous vintage Vespa in order to give us a taste of what it would be like riding on both. That’s because Scooteroma offers a variety of different tours, as well as different ways to experience them. In addition to their half- and full-day tours, the company also does vintage Vespa and foodie tours, as well as a few other non-scooter variations. You can also either rent a scooter (up to two people per bike) or chose to ride on the back along with a guide, and although driving might sound like a lot of fun, it was actually much more enjoyable just to sit back and soak up the sights as Giovanni and Stefano zipped around the busy streets of Rome.

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