10 Questions For (21): Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip

Happy to present to you another pro travel Writer: Nancy D. Brown of the “What a Trip” blog.
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1. Who are you?
I’m a wife and a mom to two teenagers (Kendall 17, Evan 13) living in Northern California. I write the “What a Trip” column for the Contra Costa Times Lamorinda Sun newspaper and the “What a Trip” blog.  I’m the Lodging Editor at Uptake’s Lodging Blog (see Nancy’s posts here ed.). I’m also a public relations consultant for food and wine clients.

Before kids (bk) I owned Brown Miller Communications, a public relations agency.

Currently, I live in the East Bay, 20 minutes outside of San Francisco with my husband, our teens and a yellow Labrador retriever. I love that we are surrounded by hills with cows mooing in the distance, yet the City is only a BART ride away.

2. What do you like about what you do?
As a journalism graduate, I love that I’m paid to write about travel. I enjoy traveling, blogging, going to new places and meeting the people that make things happen in the industry. My kids have entered the independent stage, so they don’t mind when I’m gone for a few days. I have a dream job.

3. What don’t you like about what you do?
I’m sure this is a familiar battle cry, but travel writers and journalists, in general, don’t make a lot of money. I’m sad to witness the demise of quality magazines and newspapers.

4. Please tell us about your blog and your aims for it?
My What a Trip blog began as a place for me to showcase my freelance writing. The blog morphed into a resource for my newspaper readers and then reached a global audience when it was selected for Travel @ Alltop.

I enjoy attending events such as the Luxury Travel Expo, the Book Passage Travel Writers conference, as well as conferences like Blogher so that I can share what I’ve learned with my readers. It’s also wonderful to meet my online friends in person.

My goal for What a Trip is to contribute fresh, informative content while increasing traffic and RSS readers. It’s also time for me to accepting advertising on the blog.

5. Your top three destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
Switzerland was a magical trip for me. During a summer tour of Europe while I was in college, we arrived in the mountain village of Wengen at night. The next morning I opened the hotel shutters and there stood the magnificent snowcapped Jungfrau. With cows grazing in the distance, their bells clanging to the rhythm of their hoofs, I vowed to return to this paradise with my future mate. It should be noted that I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time. However, I did return to Wengen, Switzerland to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary.
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I read in a glossy travel magazine of an Alaskan fishing lodge that served the guests warm chocolate chip cookies upon arrival via float plane. Pointing to the dreamy picture in the magazine, I said to my husband, “We should try that!” Several years later, when we could financially afford the trip, I was disappointed to hear that owners Carl and Kirsten Dixon had sold Riversong Lodge. We met new owners Randy and Robin Dewar and had a fantastic fishing weekend. I am hooked on Alaskan fishing lodges.

Give me a warm Pasteis de Belem tart from Lisbon, and I’ll return to Portugal in a flash. As a San Francisco area native, I marveled at the similarities with this coastal, cosmopolitan city. Late fall is an ideal time to visit. Save time for a Eurail day trip to the charming town of Sintra where a UNESCO world heritage site awaits your fantasies of what a European castle should look like. In a word: charming.

6. Your top three accommodations you’ve ever stayed today and why?
The Tu Tu Tun Lodge in Gold Beach, Oregon is a family run resort on the Rogue River. It’s got it all; gorgeous grounds, great fishing and jet boating, amazing food and friendly staff. I need to get back there.

St. Helena, California’s Wine Country Inn oozes romance. Perhaps it was my in-room massage overlooking the vineyard that set the stage. Then again, it could have been the bubble bath in the bathroom with the surround sound speakers and stained glass window streaming rainbow colors over the tub. But it was probably the breakfast in bed room service that put this family-owned inn at the top of the romantic list. Any day in wine country is a good day in my book.

In doing this interview, I’m noticing a theme of family run properties. Mendocino, California’s Alegria Inn is no exception to the rule. Owners Elaine and Eric Hillesland make every trip to the Inn and Cottages special. The property is located within easy walking distance to the historic village of Mendocino with some rooms offering ocean views. Perhaps the most memorable part of my stay at the Alegria was the fact that I came home with a bed from the Inn. Not just any bed, a Flobed made in nearby Fort Bragg.
As a travel writer, I sleep around a lot. This eco-friendly natural latex mattress had me at hello or should I say, good night? My husband and I love our Flobed mattress. Both of our teens covet the mattress but custom beds don’t come cheap. Until I win the lotto, the prince and princess will have to sleep with the pea in the mattress. By the way, the Princess and the Pea is a Hans Christian Andersen fable for anyone wondering about the reference.

7. Your top three most memorable food experiences to date and why?
The Sardine Factory in Monterey, California is a special occasion restaurant located off Cannery Row. We were seated in the arboretum, surrounded by glass windows. The sommelier came over and helped us select a bottle of pinot noir. We had the signature abalone bisque and I had the best piece of swordfish I’ve ever tasted. They brought a sorbet palate cleanser between courses that was served in a swan ice sculpture. After sharing a chocolate lava cake we had a flaming coffee drink for dessert. It was served tableside and everyone was looking at the waiter as he lit our drinks on fire. The waiter and sommelier called us by name all evening. It was very decadent, but as you can see, I remembered every detail. It was fantastic.

Some 20+ years ago and my boyfriend, now husband, and I were backpacking through Europe. A Parisian magazine editor and his wife befriended us and took us to this neighborhood bistro in Paris for a typical French meal. We had steak tartar, pommes frites, haricots verts and a wonderful Beaujolais Nouveau. I still have the label from that bottle. The meal and the company were magnifique.

Café Beaujolais, situated in the tiny coastal village of Mendocino, California is like a cat with nine lives. Opened in 1969, the Pitzenbarger family lived in the upstairs of the house & served dinners. In 1977 Margaret Fox turned the cozy bistro into a culinary destination and eventually added a bakery. The restaurant landed in the hands of loyal customers Steve and Ashley Jenks in 2000. Current Chef David LaMonica and co-owner Kristy Bishop purchased Café Beaujolais in 2006 and continue the tradition of organic produce and locally sourced food.
I love Café Beaujolais for its homemade soups and breads. If I lived in this town, I’d be waiting at the back door of the brickery like a galavanting hound dog returning for his daily meal.

8. Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation/food experiences to date and why?
Home to Christopher Columbus, Genoa, Italy is not a friendly town. My husband and I had slept through our train stop and when we awoke, we were in Genoa. Assuming this was a Mediterranean beach-front town; we hopped off with our backpacks and started looking for cheap lodging. During our visit in 1986, I remember the place as dark and not at all friendly to tourists. I couldn’t interpret anything on the menu at the café and our waiter was not happy with my questions. Finally, I ordered what I thought was seafood pasta; instead I received a small plate of tiny fried smelt. We also learned that the beach access in the town is by private club entrance. Somehow we managed to get to the beach and were reprimanded at every place we tried to place our towels. After one night in Genoa, we were happy to return to the train.

Last spring break we decided to visit the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas with our teens. I decided to use a travel agent for this trip as I was not familiar with Las Vegas. She recommended Circus Circus. What a mistake. Our room was in the older tower with paper thin walls, aging furniture and a screenless window looking down to the RV parking lot. My daughter jokingly called it the suicide room because of the easy access out the window. We attempted to visit the swimming pool and were temporarily trapped in the elevator.
Unfortunately, we were booked here for two nights and when I tried to cancel the room, which was priced at rack rates, I was told this wasn’t possible because we had booked a discount package from our travel agent. Our location on the strip was horrible and the closest dining was a very crowded Denny’s restaurant with a long wait. Lady luck was not shining on us in Vegas.

I landed in the hospital one time when I contracted Campylobactor from a dim sum restaurant. Looking back, our positive travel experiences have greatly outnumbered the bad times. Afterall; travel is an adventure and one never knows what waits around the bend.

9. Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
Born and raised in the Bay Area, I consider San Francisco my city. My friend Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler magazine asked for layover recommendations while in San Francisco. For foodies, I recommend a Woz-Wiz Chinatown tour with Shirley Fong-Torres. For those preferring Italian, GraceAnn Walden offers Mangia North Beach walking tours. Take a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf and stay at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square. See my post Say Yes to Airport Layover in SFO.

10. Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
As the mother of two teenagers I thought you might ask why it is important to keep young adults traveling. While many youth in our community have passports, I feel these documents come with a responsibility to represent our country; open our eyes to how others live and to give back to communities we visit. Mission trips are an affordable way for teens to experience different cultures without iPods and cell phones.
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Thank you Nancy! As a two finger typist the editing of these interviews always take me more time than I would like.
You mentioning Wengen brought back a memory of years ago, especially as I am editing this in Bettmeralp which is located approximately 20 miles south of Wengen on the other side of the trio Jungfrau Eiger and Monch where the Aletch Gletcher (Europes largest Glacier) originates from and also because they are having the Lauberhorn Rennen there this very week: 35 years ago I was skiing from the Lauberhorn and broke my ski (luckily nothing else) and had to walk down the hill in very deep snow for hours to arrive home long after dark…..By the way, the Swiss are very happy to see some of their countrymen taking the podium:-)

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4 Responses to 10 Questions For (21): Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip

  1. I’ve worked with a lot of travel writers, and never get tired of reading interviews with them! It’s both inspiring and eye-opening for young writers trying to get into the business, and just plain interesting for civilians living vicariously!

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