Author: Jill Kozak

Secrets from the Shore- New Jersey beaches Pt. I

I’m in Tom’s River, New Jersey, just about to follow NJ Route 37 over the bridge and into Seaside Heights. This is my first trek to the New Jersey Shore, and it would have been a lot sooner if only winter weather hadn’t overstayed its welcome so long. It’s Memorial Day, my first real day off with the “real world” worker bees. I sigh at the prospect of fighting them for lane-changing at my discretion and wonder how many times I will get turned around in a traffic circle. The answer is only once, and before I know it, I’m in ocean city paradise. A cool and refreshing sea breeze blows through my hair as I cross the bridge over the Atlantic Ocean. I gaze at sailboats, yachts and the occasional jet-skier. I have already determined: Life on the shore is damn good.

This will be an on-going series about the New Jersey Shore beaches. First impressions are everything, and I’m going to do my best to point out the good, the bad and the ugly of these nationally-known and certainly internationally recognized stretch of beaches.

Part I: Seaside Heights, NJ

Getting there: From Philadelphia, PA the drive took me about an hour and a half. It’s not hard to find if you utilize Google Maps, of course. I obviously drove there and took 70 E most of the way until I hit 37 E. Believe me when I say, Google Maps enjoys a laugh at your expense: always remember to double check your directions. Google directed me to take 37 W, wherein a roundabout circle driving scenario reminiscent of the Truman Show ensued. Once landing safely on the other side of the bridge, make sure to follow the signs for Seaside Heights, not Seaside Park. Once in Seaside Heights, it is unbelievably easy to find the boardwalk and scour for parking.

Getting around: Like I said, if you have any basic navigation skills, going straight and finding the water should be relatively easy for you. The boardwalk, about a mile stretch of restaurants, rides, arcade games and beach access is laid out in front of you like a weekend-long debauchery smorgasbord. The town is fairly small and is very pedestrian friendly. Don’t avoid walking because vehicle traffic can be a nightmare. You’ll notice there are plenty of cross-walks- just be a considerate pedestrian, not an asshole who walks into traffic. You know, there IS a thing called natural selection. There are all sorts of rental shops for bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, wave runners, you name it. Oh yeah, there’s also the Sky Ride, a cable car ride that takes you roughly from one end of the boardwalk to the other for $3 or $5 for a round trip. Check it out!

Guidos ruling from their rooftop fortress

Atmosphere: Walking down the street and eventually past the house The Jersey Shore cast members stayed in  made me wonder if I was undergoing some rite of passage. Was I witnessing the inevitable downfall of this once family-oriented, home-grown beach town? Does El Guido officially rule as King of The Jersey Shore? Was all of humankind doomed to wear their hair spiky, their skin orange and fall over drunk at shitty dive bars? These are the questions I asked myself as I saw the old fighting to stay alive amongst the new.

The boardwalk was alive with food vendors, including the famous Three Brothers Pizza shop, Rita’s Water Ice (like Italian or shaved ice if you, like me, find no real significant meaning to a dessert called “water ice.” Isn’t ice just frozen water? Whatever.), old and new school arcades (check out Flashback Arcade for some old-school games like Ms. Pacman and and Sinistar), and some pretty good restaurants.

Beach-goers in Seaside Heights, NJ

The beach was the beach. People screaming about cold water, crowds soaking up the rays, brave souls paddle boarding a wave up to the shore. Beautiful coast!

Good times: Nothing shocks and excites like a too-cold wave catching you off guard. The water had to haven been less than 70 degrees, but it somehow felt so good to lose footing because of the water’s salty push. If you are going to make it all the way to the shore, you better get in that water! Locals say that the water isn’t swimmer-friendly until about August. Don’t let that stop you!

Dinner at Spicy’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina was memorable. Throw out your misconceptions that the boardwalk only has carnival or junk food. Me, my sister, her boyfriend and his mother had an extraordinary meal from a table over looking the Atlantic. My pork carnitas stuffed chiles rellenos were great and the gimmicky table-side guacamole presentation was actually enjoyable, not cringe-worthy. I always feel a server’s pain, being one myself, but she seemed to genuinely like preparing our guacamole table-side. Whether she did or not is another story, but if not, she was a great actress, which usually means a great waitress.

Walking the boardwalk at night had a sort of Vegas Strip-esque quality. I sat, half-buzzed, watching an Elvis impersonator on a Monday night feeling pleasantly entertained. There’s a certain amount of fun that you involuntarily have while being with so many other people letting loose, dancing to Elvis classics and downing cheap specialty beach drinks. You are right there with ’em, so make the most of it!

Lastly, try to make time to head under FunTime Pier (where the amusement rides are located) to escape the beach crowd and watch the waves crash against the wooden pillars holding up the pier.

Whatchu say?! moments: Minutes within leaving my car parked at a local lot, cursing aloud for allowing myself to get raped by lot prices, a carload of guidos pulled up next to me and tried their luck at holla-ing at me. They told me to get in, asking if I want to go for a ride and told me I was lookin’ good. I told them to get lost with a flick of the wrist and darted off behind the car, so as not to be seen or bothered.

Beach access is not free during the “in” season from Memorial Day through October. You can purchase beach badges about every block or so for $5/person. OR you can ask whatever resort you’re staying at to provide you complimentary beach badges.

This one  boardwalk game has the right idea

In a nutshell: If you can try to ignore “The Jersey Shore” goings-on, from Aztec Ocean Resort churning out Guidos like an assembly line, the MTV “favorite” locations and the arcade crane games whose prize selection consist of shade sunglasses and booty shorts, then head over to Seaside Heights. Ride some rides, soak in the rays and walk the boardwalk. It’s great for kids, pre-teens, and I’d argue for adults at least for a day or two. If you’re looking for a quiet beach get-away, Seaside Heights New Jersey is not for you. If you want to see and be seen, get out to The Shore!

About Me

It’s come to my attention that I’ve yet to properly introduce myself to my own blog. As comfy-cozy it would be to give you my resume introduction, I would surely hate to bore you with those details. Instead, I would like to think of my accomplishments as second hand to my mission.

Why Travel Writing?
I crave travel and have been struck with an awfully good case of wanderlust. Stephen King says that when writing a word, be as concise as possible; when trying to convey a specific idea, why would you choose a mere cousin word to the word you really meant to use? Words, in their basest form, are only a representation of their own true meaning. I believe travel to be the same way. A destination is only a sliver of a place’s true essence. When you go somewhere, whether seeing it for the first time or having had traveled there many times, it is always evolving. It’s your job, as a traveler, to decode your destination’s message. These messages can be lost, sorted to the furthest enclave of your mind as a distant recollection. Or your experiences can be immortalized- shared through the median of writing to enchant, inspire and breathe new life into a memory.

Me, Raymondskill Falls, Pocono Mountains

Literature for the same reason is equally important. A wise professor once told me, “Literature is an evocation of reality.” So is traveling. While you can never grasp any location’s full meaning (even if it’s home!), it’s in us day in and day out to try and make sense of this life. Why not grab a journal, write it down and share your observations? To touch and be touched by an experience, no matter how domestic or exotic, is my inspiration. Life is a balance, and I intend to focus on that and where I fit in.

This is why I travel. This is why I write.

Inspirational Folk
Well Known: Anthony Bourdain, Hunter Thompson, Stephen King, Randy Pauch, Roger Ebert

Most assuredly Soon-To-Be-Well-Known in their own regard: Marjie Woolard, Colleen Godin, Rachel LaPorte, Melissa Kozak, Ruston Grosse, The Fitzgeralds, Anyone who has shaped and touched my life in the past. That means you.

Where I live
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Home Is
Chicago, Illinois

Wish List Destinations (Domestic)
Boston, Mass., Burlington, VT., Portland OR, The Grand Canyon, AZ, Maine, Anywhere/Everywhere

Wish List (Internationally)
Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile (anywhere Central/South America), British Virgin Islands, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Papau New Guinea, Zanzibar, The Cook Islands, Tokyo, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Anywhere/Everywhere

Most memorable moment
Driving down Highway 1 from Miami to Key Largo

Moment I wish I could forget

Tijuana, Mexico

In the meantime
Freelance writing, blogging, reading, cooking

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila….

Well, you know the rest. Or do you?

Since starting work at a Spanish Tapas Restaurant in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on the Main Line, I have become a student of tequilas. Makers, classifications, production methods, aging process, you name it. Here’s a little rundown of what I’ve learned so far and what information you can take with you next time you’re itching for this south-of-the-border spirit.

The Basics

The Blue Agave- A cactus-like plant that produces tequila

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, grown most exclusively in the highlands and the lowlands of the Mexican state Jalisco. Those who harvest the agave plants for production are called  jimadores, still adhering to a specific manual technique to produce the juices necessary for fermentation. The juice is allowed to ferment in stainless steel or wood vats for a few days to convert the sugars to alcohol. The liquid is distilled twice and even three times more before being transferred to barrels for the aging process.

Generally speaking, there are 3 major “types” or classifications of tequila:

Blanco– Spanish for “white.” This tequila is young with a ripe, peppery bite. Blanco tequilas are usually bottled immediately after distillation or have only aged up to six months at the most. The flavor profile for Blanco tequilas is very masculine. These are typically the best tequilas to order in your margarita.

Repasado–  Spanish for “rested.” Repasado tequilas have been aged anywhere from 2 months to one year. The taste here is smoother and more feminine. Richer and more complex flavors are characteristic of repasado tequilas, as they rest in wood barrels with unique flavor attributes.

Anejo– Spanish for “aged.” Aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels, these tequilas usually offer the richest colors and flavors. These tequilas usually rest in the same barrels the repasados have. They are best enjoyed sipped from a snifter so you can detect and appreciate the complex flavor overtones

Most importantly: Ways to Drink

Tequila shot with salt and lime

Shot: Tequila shots are best served with lime and salt. The salt’s job is to lessen the burn of the tequila, and the lime enhances the flavor. Not to mention, it’s a fun process: Lick, shoot, suck!

Margarita: You’ve no doubt enjoyed a Margarita or two in your day. This traditional drink combines tequila, triple sec and fresh squeezed lime juice. I prefer mine on the rocks, but frozen or straight up is just as well. Rim the glass with some salt and you’re golden.

Snifter glass: This is the way to do it if you want to appreciate the tequila’s subtle nuances. Shooting tequila means missing out on the complex flavor profile your palette craves. Next time, instead of ordering a shot or a margarita, try sipping from a snifter and let your palette explore the tequila’s fragrances and tastes.
It’s a good idea to know a little bit about what you’re buying so you can get the best taste and bang for your buck. Plus it doesn’t hurt when your knowledge impresses bartenders, your server and your dining companions.

P.S. Don’t limit yourself to Patron. There’s so much more out there! Start with Chinaco, Corralejo, El Mayor or Herradura. Happy drinking!

5 Reasons to Trek the Road Less Traveled

Deciding to spend the entire day hiking at Wissahickon Creek, somehow nuzzled beautifully right in the outskirts of Center City Philadelphia, was the easiest decision of the day. The hardest part of the day was when I was forced to decide whether or not my companion, Marley, a blind 9-year old Pitbull/Boxer mix, could make it up the slippery shale rock en route to Devil’s Pool, a deep swimming hole surrounded by cliffs. What we accomplished breathed new life into our afternoon excursion.

Without further ado, 5 Reasons to Trek the Road Less Traveled:

1. The payoff will always trump your initial doubt.
Marley and I were rather tired after hiking up and down Forbidden Drive along the Wissahickon Creek for about 2 hours. Faced with the decision to soldier on or call it a day, I almost pulled the plug early to head home. I thought to myself, “Why come all this way if you haven’t even found what you’re looking for?” Eventually we did find the swim hole called Devil’s Pool which was the whole reason for the trip. Any doubts I had about continuing on and finding the swim hole deep in the woods were squashed once we arrived.

2. You are probably going to meet some cool people.
Around Devil’s Pool I was greeted by a friendly tourist who wanted his photo taken. I did, and he took mine in exchange. We chatted briefly, and then I moved on to talk to a couple of kids who were picnicking on the rocks nearby. They were fun and full of information on the swim hole. Apparently it’s safe to dive off the nearby cliffs  because the water is about 10 feet deep. From a distance, I never would have thought that to be possible. But I stand corrected: moments later, kids were jumping off the cliff, one after another, like brave lemmings. Not to mention when I was leaving, a couple of guys offered me a beer and some conversation. They suggested I stay and hang out, and I did for a while. These are friends I met in the middle of the woods! That’s to say, if you get out there and take a chance and strike up a conversation, you’re likely to be welcomed and treated warmly.

Devil’s Pool Swim Hole, Wissahickon Creek

3. You’re going to see some great things.
My day could have taken the inevitable turn for the same. I may have cruised around the city, scouring for something to do, maybe buy a cup of coffee and read the paper. More than likely, though, I probably would have spent too much time at home, online, doing mostly nothing. But, I decided to get out of the house and GO. Sometimes that’s all you need to do to have the great day you never expected. Isn’t that wonderful?

4. You will always have a story to tell.
Imagine your frustration when faced with a situation of story exchanging, maybe when catching up with an old friend, you discover you don’t have much to say. There’s only so far the question “So what’s new?” the answer “Not much” is going to get you. Do you want to subscribe your world to the sentiment of Not Much? Me neither. So then, get out there and go!

5. Prove to yourself that you dare to be different.
Sounds a little cliche, but think about it. Do find comfort in taking the same vacation every year? Following the same routine day in and day out? A wise friend told me that stability is what we crave but it also makes us feel trapped. While you must adhere to a lot of consistency in life, whether it be work, your relationships or maintaining your home, there is ALWAYS wiggle room. Try spending a day off doing something you normally wouldn’t. Decide that what you have done today isn’t enough and forge on. You won’t regret it if you do.