Monday, May 28, 2018

Sisters in San Diego (cont.)

Day 5

On our last full day in San Diego, we decided to walk to breakfast. We'd been passing Dunedin, which claimed to offer New Zealand eats, all week, and our curiosity finally got the better of us. It was a delight! We enjoyed a mix of eggs and pancakes al fresco. Staff was knowledgable and prompt, and we loved the flavored lemonades!

Sated, it was time for our next adventure - a trip to the Carlsbad Flower Fields! This enchanting attraction is about a 45-minute drive from San Diego, but it's worth every mile. Acres and acres of gorgeous ranunculus in riotous bloom. It's the dream of both photographers and gardeners. We had checked the website ahead of time, and we were there for 85% bloom, with perfect weather.

When we arrived, we hunted up a parking place, flashed our tickets at the gate, and headed in. We decided to walk all the way around the fields. Near the entrance, it's quite busy. But if you walk to the far end of the attraction, you'll have fields of flowers all to yourself. The blooms are color coded, so great swaths of pink, red, yellow, and white dominate the hillside. Amazing views. We took tons of photos and admired the beauty of the day before heading back towards the entrance.

There, we delighted in the poinsettia hothouse, the orchids, and the sweetpea maze. They have some beautiful formal and educational gardens to offer as well. We ended our day with scrumptious strawberry treats from a vendor at the entrance.

Strawberry yumminess notwithstanding, we were hungry, as it was late afternoon. We decided to drive up to the small town of Carlsbad and see what kind of lunch we could rustle up. We found culinary bliss at a little place by the ocean - Vigilucci's Steak and Seafood. Luckily, we arrived just as happy hour was starting, so we ordered some drinks and appetizers and decided to split a place of pasta.

It was then, then my friends, that I found the meal of the trip - the pappardelle con fungi e capesante. Think house-made wide ribbon pasta, studded liberally with a variety of mushrooms and large-pan-seared scallops, drenched in a white truffle brandy cream sauce. I was in heaven. HEAVEN. We enjoyed appetizers, pasta, wine and conversation, chatting for a bit with a nice gentleman who was so hospitable and proud of Carlsbad that he bought us a round of drinks! We were sitting outside with a view of the ocean and the glorious day, so we took our time.

When we were finished, we realized that the restaurant overlooks one of Carlsbad's beautiful public beaches, so we tooled down there, parked, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking along the surf, people-watching, and soaking up the sun. After the sun dipped below the horizon, we were hungry again. What to do?

I'll tell you. Go right back up the hill and have pasta again at Vigilucci's! I'm not ashamed. I know something good when I've found it. So, we indulged again. Full, happy, and with oodles of vitamin D circulating through our veins, we then headed back to San Diego and to bed.

Day 6

My older sister left town early that morning, but my younger sister and I had some time before our flights. We decided to have breakfast in a new neighborhood, which is how we ended up at Fig Tree Cafe in Hillcrest. We had literally the happiest waiter I think I've ever had. Like, EVER. He seemed absolutely thrilled to be serving us breakfast. After the pasta-palooza from the day before, I opted for the granola and yogurt, served with tons of fresh fruit. It's a huge serving (we could have split it), but what I ate of it really hit the spot!

After eating, we headed down to the Embarcadero for a stroll. We admired the public art and the green spaces, as well as the historic ships. We walked the length of it, from the Star of India all the way down to the (ghastly) Unconditional Surrender statue. Went out on a pier or two to admire the views and take in the air. Then, it was back to the car and off to the airport!

This was my second trip to San Diego, and I fell in love with this city all over again! Just a beautiful, beautiful place, with so much history and so many fun things to do!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sisters in San Diego (cont.)

Day 3

The next day, we awoke fairly early and headed to nearby Breakfast Republic. We LOVED this place! I chose the delicious and filling San Diego benedict, Grace got the crab cake benedict, and Laura had the veggie breakfast tostado. Throw in some OJ and bottomless cups of coffee, and we were some very happy campers! Portions were HUGE (I could only finish half of my benedict.), and prices were definitely reasonable for what we got. (For everything, the tab was around $45. 

After filling up the tank, we hopped into our rental car and headed for the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. I'd really wanted to swing by here on my previous trip to San Diego, but I hadn't been able to make it happen. I was thrilled to make it there on this trip! The place is gorgeous! Because we arrived a little later in the morning, there were no parking spaces to be had further in the park. After paying our admission fee, we parked the car in the lot at the base of the cliffs and hoofed it up the main road to the trailhead.

Views from the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
We started with the Guy Fleming trail, an easy loop that offers stunning views of the cliffs and the water, as well as up-close encounters with the reserve's namesake trees. We found that it was warmish on the trail when we weren't fronting the water, and chillier when we were, due to the lovely ocean breezes. Then, we made our way to the head of the beach trail an hiked down it to the water. Again, lovely vistas.

When we made our way to the water, we kicked off our shoes and let the surf tickle our toes as we made our way down the beach to the parking area. We took time to examine smooth rocks, their edges worn off by the tides, and marvel at the sea, the sun, and the air. Lovely.

On the Torrey Pines beach trail
After we finished our hiking, we took a quick drive to Del Mar. Once there, we found a public parking spot (small fee) and pointed our feet towards Poseidon on the Beach for a bit of lunch. We got a seat by the window and sampled a mix of shrimp cocktail, calamari and tacos. Delicious!

Sated, we ambled along the beach at Del Mar, near Powerhouse Park. There was a lovely little park with some green space, plenty of sand and sun, and great people-watching. We decided to lie in the sun a while and enjoy the fine afternoon. Kids flew kites in the park. We walked along all the beach trails. After a few hours, we climbed back into the car and headed back to the house for a nap.

Nibbles at Figaro!
We weren't too hungry that night, but we felt the need to get out and about for a bit. We decided to explore the main drag in North Park. We ended up at Figaro Dessert Cafe, inhaling fruit tarts, opera cake, and other yummies. We walked around the neighborhood, stumbling across Bottlecraft, a great beer and spirits shop with a lovely selection of cheeses and meats. We couldn't resist buying the ingredients for a first-rate meat and cheese board, along with a bit of wine, for later.

Then, it was home to bed!

Day 4

Up, up, and away!
The next morning dawned EARLY for Laura and I. I'd booked us a sunrise hot air balloon ride in the wine country north of San Diego. That meant we had to get up before dawn to make our way there. When I'd booked the experience with California Dreamin', they'd told me that, due to safety regulations, pregnant women weren't allowed to ride in the hot air balloon. So sadly, we had to leave Grace behind.

At any rate, Laura and I made our way there in the dark. After navigating to a very deserted winery parking lot, we called the company. It was then that we learned they'd forgotten to account for the recent time change, so they'd told us we'd need to be there an hour before was actually necessary. Facepalm.

We'd passed a Starbucks a few miles back, so we headed there to warm up and get some coffee. We then arrived back at the rendezvous point at the *correct* time, joining two other couples in the van that would take us to our flight.

Aloft. Scenery was gorgeous.
Our pilot worked with his crew to determine the best place to inflate the balloon. We ended up in a small field with several other balloonists, and it was beautiful to watch them all inflating their airy ships as the sun began to rise. Then, we climbed into our balloon, and with a few quick blasts of fire, we floated heavenward.

I don't know how to explain this experience. It's silent. You're gliding over the scenery noiselessly, watching your shadow trail you on the ground far below. People saw us above them and waved happily. We waved back. At one point, during the highest point of our flight, we were above the clouds. Up there in the rare air, the gentleman in one of the couples we were flying with proposed to his girlfriend. I filmed the whole thing on his phone!

And when we flew close to the ground, we saw sweet little bunnies, coyotes, and other wildlife. It was such a treat to watch them from above!

After about an hour, it was time to land. Our pilot and his ground crew brought us to the earth smoothly and expertly. As they packed up the balloon, we loaded back into the van, which dropped us back off at Vindemia Winery for a delicious breakfast. Fruited breads, Brie with crackers, hot coffee, mimosas, fruit, and more. Complimentary glasses of wine and slices of chocolate cake were also served, as one of our flying companions was celebrating a birthday. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience, and I'm so glad we did it. I can't believe I waited this long to fly in a hot air balloon!!

A progressive dinner in Little Italy!
After breakfast, Laura and I did a little shopping in Old Town Temecula. We found some souvenirs and a lovely lavender shop. (Their linen spray is divine. I sleep like a rock when I use it!) Then, it was back to San Diego to reunite with Grace.

After a little cheese-noshing, showering and a short nap, we dressed up for a night on the town. We planned to eat our way through Little Italy! I'd downloaded their official app for self-guided walking tours, which we decided to cover as we went. First, we learned about Juan Cabrillo and Little Italy's roots in the fishing industry. Then, we enjoyed appetizers and drinks at Mimmo's, where I had two Italian cream sodas: one that literally attacked me, and another that I attacked. (Apparently, if you stir an authentic Italian cream soda too vigorously, there's a chance it can erupt like a high-school science fair volcano! Luckily, my lap napkin was water-resistant!) We also shared a quick plate of calamari. (FYI - We learned on our walking tour that Mimmo's was once a horse stable! History is everywhere!)

This is the second drink. The one that didn't attack me.
After that, it was more learning - market culture and the impact of WWII on the area. The view of the harbor and its encroaching ocean. The fishing nets, some of which still hang on a forgotten fence at the end of a parking lot.

We stopped at another little restaurant for some al fresco wine, pasta and bread - clams, shrimp, and other seafood studded a plate of noodles in a light sauce. By this time, Laura and I were a bit toasted. We sang a quiet rendition of Bella Notte with harmony before paying our bill and taking our leave.

More history - We learned about the impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the area and peeped at some community gardens and wine cellars. We also practiced some basic Italian phrases.

We ended the evening at Barbusa, a lovely place with delightful staff. We managed to slip into three seats at the bar with no reservation, and we had more wine and a few desserts - the deconstructed cannoli and a creamy lemon confection. Bursting at the seams, we waddled back to the car, drove home, and hit the hay!

More to come . . .

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Sisters in San Diego

WOW! What a waffle!
Last year, my two sisters and I went on our first sisters' vacation, to San Francisco. Before it was even over, we'd already decided we'd travel together again. When the time came to plan an 2018 trip, we once again headed for beautiful California. But this time, San Diego.

I'd been to San Diego once before, on a family vacation with hubs and little man. We'd brunched on Coronado Island, visited the pandas in the zoo, built an awesome sand castle, toured the USS Midway and the Birch Aquarium, and kayaked out to sea lions in La Jolla. Since this was an adults-only trip, though, we planned a decidedly different flavor for it.

Day 1

My older sister Laura and I arrived first. We picked up our rental car at the airport and made our way to the cute, spacious Air BnB rental (a cute 2 bedroom, 2 bath house in the North Park area) that my younger sister Grace had reserved for us. We were about 30 minutes early, but the space had already been cleaned, so in we went! It was a great fit for us! Lots of room to spread out, a lovely kitchen, and a pretty little back patio for relaxing.

I loved the way the painter captured light in this piece at the
Timken. Seaport at Sunset, by Claude Joseph Vernet.
After unpacking a bit and cooling our heels, we headed out for dinner at Urban Solace, which was nearby. By the time we were seated, my younger sister Grace had arrived, straight from the airport. She found us in the al fresco dining area, and after hugs and kisses and exclamations, we settled down to the serious business of choosing our dinner.

We picked the cheddar-chive biscuits as a starter (delicious, and I preferred them with the orange-honey butter rather than the tomato jam). Then I got the duck confit (on the recommendation of our waiter - an excellent choice), Laura chose the meatloaf, and Grace got the Duckaroni (a doctored-up version of macaroni that featured duck, blue cheese, and bacon breadcrumbs). Soooo yummy! We ate as much as we could reasonably hold, with Grace getting a to-go box for some of the extras. Then, it was back home for an early night.

Laura and Grace in front of the iconic Botanical Building
Day 2

The next morning, we were up and at 'em early for breakfast at Wow Wow Waffle. We loved this charming little place! You order when you walk into the outdoor eatery, and then you find a seat at one of the shaded picnic tables. (A re-purposed Airstream serves as a bar of sorts, and upcycled stadium seating is clustered around picnic tables, too!) Then, a server comes out with your order on a simple, rectangular metal tray. The waffles are delicious! They are made with dough, not batter, and you can get them with all kinds of toppings! I chose the parfait (yogurt, fresh fruit, and raw honey), Laura got the health nut (almond butter, bananas, cinnamon, and coconut), and Grace got the number seven (bacon, avocado, and goat cheese). The waffles aren't huge, and you can eat a whole one without feeling overstuffed. Add a cup of coffee, and you have a perfect breakfast! In addition, prices are very reasonable.
Beautiful blooms at Balboa Park

After we'd sated our hunger, we headed for Balboa Park. We started with a stroll past the organ pavilion to admire the architecture. (We tried to poke our noses into the international cottages, but they were all closed.) Then, we stopped in the Timken Museum of Art. I'd missed this free little gem on my first visit to Balboa Park, so it was nice to spend some time appreciating its small, well-curated collection and taking in its elegant rooms.

Afterward, we set our sights on the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, where a street musician played as the orchids swayed. We admired all of the tropical plants in the building, snapped a few iconic photos, and strolled down to the large fountain at the east end of the park. Then, we crossed the pedestrian bridge to explore the desert and rose gardens, taking in some views.

By this time, we were growing hungry again. We made our way back to the car via the Alcazar Garden, then headed for Liberty Station, a mixed-use development in the Point Loma area. Laura had heard that there was a fun brew pub there, and she was itching to try it. We walked right into Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens. We were almost immediately seated (the place is VAST) in the beer garden. We opted for several small plates that we could all share, choosing the tuna poke, the steak tartare, and the wild arugula and burrata salad. They were all excellent selections, and all very different. (I could have swum in the tartare. Velvety.) We finished by splitting the coffee and mascarpone mousse cake. While Laura and Grace both got beers, I'm not much of a beer drinker, so I settled for water.

Laura takes the wheel!
Worth noting: the service here is great - friendly, prompt, and knowledgeable about the menu and the beers. If you sit outside, expect to hear planes frequently flying above, as the airport is close by. Also - they have outdoor bocce ball courts! So fun! We really enjoyed our visit here.

After lunch, we explored Liberty Station more, peeking into some of the shops and art galleries. And then we found the Liberty Public Market. Oh. Em. Gee!! Think Chelsea Market in NYC, but on a smaller scale. I was frankly sick that we weren't hungrier, as I could have sampled something from each booth! As it was, we purchased some jewelry and souvenirs (as well as some ground coffee, since we were running low back at the house), and tearfully bid it adieu. (We kept trying to find our way back there to purchase picnic fixings during our trip, but could never seem to swing it. On the list for next time!)

Lazy sea lions on the pier!
Next, we headed towards the marina so we'd be close to the next item on our itinerary, a sunset cruise with Sail San Diego. We were still a little early, so we found a place to the park the car and laid on the grass near the ocean for a while. Quiet. Breezes blowing. Waves. Sunshine. Palm tree fronds against a blue, blue sky. Heaven.

Then, we ambled across the street and down the pier to meet up with our sailboat and captain. We'd booked the 3-hour sunset sail, and we sprung for an extra bottle of champagne. (The sail already comes with wine and snacks, as well.) On our boat, there was Captain Art, one other couple, and that was it! We had a great sail. The weather wavered between cloudy and sunny, so we didn't get too hot or too cold. Capt. Art showed us all around the bay, telling us about the history of San Diego, sharing tidbits about the navy, and pulling our legs with other interesting stories! We got great view of the Del from the water, waved to other sailboats, and had a great time. Capt. Art even let us try our hand at sailing the boat!

Grace and I at the front of our sail boat!
Toward the end of the sail, my stomach started tying itself in knots. Capt. Art took such good care of me, giving me an aromatic to dab behind my ears and showing me to the steadiest seat in the boat. The feeling passed quickly, and then, we were back on dry land!

By this time, it was 7 p.m., and we were starving! We scooted into Humpreys, a local eatery, to scare up some dinner. I inhaled the steak Diane, and Grace got the lobster risotto. Laura chose scallops. They were all yummy! Service was impeccable, and the dining room was elegant without being stuffy. As we'd been in the sun for a bit, we all gratefully gulped our water.

More to come . . .

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merrying in NYC! (cont.)

Bethesda Terrace in the snow
The next day, we headed for the New York Public Library, stopping for a quick breakfast near Bryant Park. We had our photos made in from of the glorious tree in the lobby, felt the hushed silence of the reading room, and poked through some of the free exhibits on display. Then, we went to Winter Village for lunch! The food here is varied and soooo yummy! We enjoyed hot apple cider, crepes, raclette, hot chocolate, and donuts, tucking away some macarons for later. 

The lobby tree at the NY Public Library
After a quick break at the hotel, we ventured back out that evening, taking in the windows at Bergdorf Goodman (a brilliant partnership with some of NYC's top attractions) and Tiffany's (small, glittering and exquisite). We also made the mistake of walking the extra couple of blocks to Barney's to see their windows. Won't be doing that again. I've tried it two years running, and I haven't liked their display either year. Off the list. 

Then, we caught a car to Broadway. We ate a quick (forgettable) bite in a nearby restaurant and then headed to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre for Beautiful! I've been wanting to see this show for a while now, and it didn't disappoint! Wonderful music, a tender story, and solid performances. I loved how the plot was both about Carole King and her husband, but it was closely followed by another songwriting couple that "grew up" with them in the business. Lots of laughter, and when they sang "You've Got a Friend," the whole audience choked up. We took selfies in the lobby!

Tapping our toes at Beautiful on Broadway!
Jonesing for a bite on the way home, we stopped at a hotel bar/restaurant for a quick (and again, forgettable) nosh, then made our way back to the hotel.

The next morning, we awoke to snow! We walked the two blocks to Herald Square and had brunch at The Harold - benedicts, mimosas, and other lovelies. Then, we took a car to Central Park South. It was a winter wonderland! We strolled up past the Wollman Rink, stopping at the visitors' center and proceeding to the literary walk. Then, we made out way to Bethesda Terrace, where a choir was singing carols. The whole time, the snow was falling, and everything was covered in a blanket of white. Magical.

The Bethlehem Tree
We eventually cut further north, making our way to the street for easy access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Melanie wanted to see the Bethlehem Tree, so we ducked inside and unloaded our winter wear at the coat check.

We got a bite to eat in the cafeteria (all of the cafes were absolutely PACKED), and then we were ready to explore! We saw the Bethlehem Tree, the Egyptian collection, the Temple of Dendur, and some contemporary photography. (There were some really cool photography exhibits. A couple of them showed photo exchanges between two different artists. They'd each send one another a photo a day. Like an epistolary novel, but with photos, and happening now. Interesting to see the conversations they were having through images.) We also spent time in the sculpture courts and swung by the armory.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art
By this time, our feet were aching! We took a car back to the hotel for a break. By dinnertime, though, we were anxious to venture out again. We slipped into Delmonico's for steak and wine. We both chose the steak frites, and I had a mushroom soup to start. We chatted with the owner and our server, who both asked questions about our accents. Before we knew it, the owner had sent a free baked Alaska to our table! We were already full, but I'm not gonna lie - we ate every bite! Turns out that baked Alaska was invented at Delmonico's! So, how on Earth could we turn it down! And it was delicious!

With full tummies, we waddled back to the hotel. The next morning, we had a light breakfast at the hotel and headed back to Rockefeller Center for Melanie's last NYC experience - the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, featuring the Rockettes! We showed our tickets, went through security, got our 3-D glasses, and found our seats. What fun! Just as wonderful as it was last year! We loved the show!

The Rockettes!
Afterward, we made our way back to the hotel. Melanie had a slightly earlier flight than I did, so she headed to the airport. I used my extra time for one last turn through Winter Village, purchasing a few last lovelies and eating amazing dumplings and chocolate chip brioche!

Then, it was pack-uber-flights-home! I so enjoyed spending some time this Christmas season and New York City, but most of all, I loved sharing it with Mel! Merry, merry! 

Merrying in NYC!

Dinner at Keen's! Scrumptious!
Last year was the first time I'd ever visited New York City at Christmas, and I LOVED it. For my 2016 trip, I'd asked several folks to tag along, but no one could make time. (Sad face.) But after I returned last year, some of my friends told me they wished they had come with me! So *this year,* I had some takers!

Melanie, one of my dearest friends, let me know she was up for it. I set to planning her a first-time trip to NYC that she'd never forget! I flew in just before her, on a Wednesday, and checked into the Best Western Premiere Herald Square hotel. We'd chosen this property due to its location - right near the flagship Macy's - and price point. 

All the Christmas feels at Bryant Park's Winter Village
It was late afternoon, and I was starved. So I started my trip at Keen's Steakhouse, which was right down the street from our hotel. Oh, joy! Rapture! I had a rare filet with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes, washed down with a glass of red. It's a high price point, but the food was amazing, as was the service. I settled into my cozy booth, chewed slowly, and let the moment sink in. 

Drunk Shakespeare is a HOOT!
From there, I walked over to Winter Village at Bryant Park. It wasn't very crowded, so I browsed the booths (Strand Book Store had some hilarious merchandise! I couldn't resist a few gifts for friends!) and admired the skaters whirling around the rink. Then, I walked to Times Square. There was a little holiday gift shop there, as well, with a gingerbread version of the NYC skyline! After enjoying the hustle and bustle for a bit, I walked a little further to my evening entertainment - a production of Drunk Shakespeare at The Lounge (a hidden library of over 15,000 books, right in the heart of Broadway). 

I'd meant to catch a performance of Drunk Shakespeare the last time I was in the city, but the dates hadn't lined up right. This time, I'd planned around it a bit. The show's premise is this - One actor in the evening's cast takes 4-5 shots right before the show starts. Then, madcap hilarity ensues. Though the show is from the Shakespeare canon (on my evening, they were doing MacBeth), it's been cut down a good bit; sprinkled liberally with pop culture references, ad libs, and audience participation; and then, of course, influenced by the general alcoholism. 

Remembering at the 9/11 Museum
The audience gets in on the fun A LOT during these shows. The production is performed in the round, in an oblong library, and the performers are nearly in your lap. In addition, you can order drinks and snacks throughout, adding to the general feeling of abandon. Frequently, there are opportunities for audience members to briefly become part of the show. In addition, audience members are selected to become the king and queen of MacBeth's world. 

In short, I laughed so hard I could barely breathe. Whit Leyenberger and Mike Sause were standouts that kept me in stitches! Absolutely worth checking out. All of the performers are incredibly versatile, with stand-up comic tendencies. Tequila and laughter are free-flowing. You will LOVE IT!

The last column at the 9/11 Museum
After the show, I ambled back to my hotel and turned in. After a light, quick breakfast the next morning, I caught a car to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Though I'd been to the plaza outside the memorial, I hadn't had the nerve to go inside on my last trip to NYC. And it's definitely not a "Christmasy" place to visit. But it's an important one. So in I went. 

I highly recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time, so you can skip the (loooong) line for that. Then, you can get in a quick line to show your ticket and move through security. I'm not sure what else to tell you about this memorial. It's incredibly moving. It's difficult. The lives of both the victims and the survivors are made very real to you via multimedia, artifacts, personal effects, letters, audio recordings, and just amazing storytelling. The juxtaposition of huge pieces of twisted steel near small, intimate items, like a pair of children's pajamas recovered from one of the planes, will break your heart and bring the tragedy into sharp relief. 

Communing with our first president at
Washington Square Park
I spent the better part of the day here, stopping for a quick bite in the on-site cafe before finishing my tour and making my way out. Before I left the area, I stopped in at the historic St. Paul's Chapel (Trinity Wall Street) for a moment. The church was the site of an extraordinary relief effort in the days following 9/11. The last time I'd visited the chapel, the museum across the street wasn't yet complete. Now, I imagine that the exhibits that had been in the chapel are either part of the museum's collection (though they weren't currently on display) or stored away. The church yard is lovely and green, featuring very old gravestones. 

It was cold, but clear, so I walked to Washington Square Park. The arch was lovely, the sky was blue, and a group of policemen in uniform treated me to a quick concert of carols! I snapped a few quick photos of the statues and people-watched a bit. My feet getting a bit sore, I got a car back to the hotel to rest a bit and prepare for Melanie's arrival. 

The holiday windows at Macy's!
Once Melanie got to the hotel, we rested for a bit and then headed out to Herald Square. I wanted to introduce her to NYC in a big way, and there's no better way than the six gorgeous holiday windows at Macy's, lighting up the night! We marveled at the animatronic displays, then headed in to Stella 34, an Italian restaurant inside Macy's, for dinner. Because it was Mel's first NYC visit, the restaurant staffers seated us by a window with a lovely view of the Empire State Building! I had a fantastic dish of ravioli, and Mel had a hearty beef ragu pasta. 

St. Patrick's Cathedral
After dinner, we made our way to Rockefeller Center (checking out the Lord and Taylor windows along the way), where we saw the Sak's windows (which told the story of Snow White), the gorgeous tree, and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Because it was a Thursday night, these attractions (while still crowded) weren't quite as packed as they'd be during the weekend. We walked the perimeter of the cathedral, craning our necks to appreciate the gorgeous ceiling.

On the way back to the hotel, we made a quick stop at Grand Central Station so Mel could take it in, then refreshed ourselves with a drink and a snack at the Campbell Apartment, which is now gloriously re-opened for business (and packed)! 

More to come . . . 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Traipsing through Texas (cont.)

Our fun, funky hotel pool!
By this time, we had used all of our City Pass coupons and had a GREAT time! Looking for a low-key day, we spent the next day at the arty hotel pool. We had the place nearly to ourselves, so we enjoyed the sunshine, the aesthetic, and the solitude.

Good barbeque was also on our Dallas must-list. After a day in the sunshine, we bellied up to a table at Off the Bone Barbeque. Yuuummmmmm!! We had ribs, greens, macaroni and cheese, and rolls. And, oh! It was good!! We ate and ate and ate, and then we positively ROLLED out of there! Then, we spent the rest of the day in a barbeque coma.

Barbeque at Off the Bone
On our last full day in Dallas, we chose to visit the Dallas World Aquarium. We'd heard good things about it, and we also wanted to see the penguins up close! This place was so fun! We started with the penguins, and we got to see the keepers feeding them! Then, we explored the aquariums on level one and the Orinoco Rainforest. we saw manatees, stingrays, chameleons, and spooky spider crabs! Then, it was down to the lower level, where we saw reptiles, bats, and all kinds of birds. (A toucan ate a blueberry right out of my hand!) Little man LOVED the underwater tunnel, with sharks swimming all around you on the other side of the glass. 

When we got hungry, we ate lunch in one of the on-site cafes and explored a bit more. We checked out the panther, saw poison dart frogs, and communed with some sloths and monkeys.

Once we'd covered it all, we walked to a nearby souvenir shop for some goodies to take home. Then, we stopped for an ice cream at Kokopelli Candy. Not only was the ice cream great, we found tons of cute little gifts at this shop! In addition to ice cream, I bought pins, mugs, books, all kinds of little interesting things. I definitely recommend stopping here! I brought lots of sweet treasures back for my friends from this store. 

Up close and personal with the sharks!
And that, folks, was pretty much it! The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and headed home. (Not gonna lie. The drive seemed longer on the way back!) We loved our time in Dallas, and even though our visit there was a bit unexpected, we made the most of it! We'd recommend spending some time in this city to anyone!

Traipsing through Texas (cont.)

Photos aren't allowed inside The Sixth Floor Museum.
This is one of the only photographs you can take there.
The next morning, we had a lovely, giant breakfast at Ellen's Southern Kitchen. I had the mushroom toast, hubs got an omelette, and little man had the breakfast enchiladas. Portions were HUGE here, and I think my favorite out of all the plates we tried were the enchiladas! Just divine. We ate our fill (You could easily split plates here.) and drank tons of coffee. Service was quick and friendly, and prices were super-reasonable.

Bellies full, we decided to check out the recommendation of one of our cyber-friends who used to live in Dallas - The Sixth Floor Museum. This museum explores the life, assassination, and legacy of President John F. Kennedy within the context of 1960s history and culture. The multimedia exhibits are housed within the old book depository from which the presidential motorcade was fired upon that fateful day in Dallas. Exhibits are organized in chronological order and feature films, interviews with those involved (or eye-witnesses), a recreated crime scene (in the exact spot of the sniper's nest) and stirring artifacts.

The Texas State Fair is HUGE and wonderful!
Particularly moving - From the motorcade, JFK was supposed to head to a luncheon, where a group of people awaited him. Of course, he never made it. On display sat his place setting from the event - the untouched plate, silverware, glass, and napkin that were never used. Those little, unfulfilled, expectant things like that broke my heart and spoke to all the what ifs of a life cut short. A really powerful way to tell this story.

We met Big Tex!
Next, we spent some time in the general area. We stood on the grassy knoll and observed at ground level the spot where JFK was shot (marked by a small green "X" on the street). Then, it was back to the hotel for some relaxation and dinner at the on-site restaurant.

Our fourth day in town dawned bright and sunny, but not too hot. We decided to check out the Texas State Fair, which is one of the biggest, oldest state fairs in the United States. It was a week day, and the weather was perfect. We arrived around lunchtime, got in for a steal (They had an entry deal running that day.), and got tickets and a map at a visitors' booth.

The fall display at the Dallas Arboretum is unreal.
This place is HUGE. And spendy. (Get way more tickets than you think you'll need. You use them for everything - food, rides, etc.) But it ended up being one of my my favorite activities of the trip. Rides! Corny dogs! A huge, talking Big Tex statue! The giant Texas Star ferris wheel! The bodiless carnival barker! A butter sculpture that was 6-feet tall! Rope tricks and longhorn cattle! A plant conservatory! A lake with swan boats on it! Taffy for days! Wine tastings! Landlocked surfing demonstrations! We had the BEST time!! So much to see, do, and eat! We went back to buy more tickets twice, and we used nearly all of the tickets we bought. Just go to the Texas State Fair. Just. GO. You won't regret it!

After spending most of the day there, we headed out, just as the evening rush in started. We'd hit the timing and the weather just right. Back to the hotel we went, where we tumbled into bed.

The next day was another beautiful one. We'd heard that the fall display at the Dallas Arboretum was not to be missed, so we piled into the car and set the GPS. Wow. We were greeted with 66 acres filled with 150,000 mums and more than 90,000 pumpkins. This year's theme was The Wizard of Oz, with a show-stopping fanciful garden inspired by the classic story. We walked down the yellow brick road to houses fashioned entirely of pumpkins, encountering the tin man, the scarecrow, and other classic characters along the way.

City views from Reunion Tower!
And once we explored that part of the gardens, we were delighted by the rest - fountains, pocket gardens, perennial beds, a lovely rose garden, koi ponds, a huge and playful children's garden with educational exhibits and play areas. (We loved the secret garden, a maze filled with puzzles to unlock!) We tried to get a late lunch within the gardens, but were stymied by both private events and restaurant closures. We finally grabbed something quick on the way out, at the very last place that was serving food.

We took a rest at the hotel, then ventured back out. Night had fallen, and we decided to check out Reunion Tower for some night-time city views. (If you know me well, you know that I can't resist going to the top of a tall structure in any city I visit. It's a need, people.) A quick hop later, we were parked and headed up! It was a clear night, and we were treated to panoramic vistas of the city, lit up at night! We took our time at the top, enjoying the breezes and pointing out landmarks we'd encountered previously during our visit. We got a cheesy tourist photo (which I absolutely love) and stayed until the tower closed.

More to come . . .

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Traipsing through Texas

Back in October, I had a super-fun, super-educational trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, planned for our little family. We were going to learn about the birth of America, zipline through the treetops, and eat tons of good food.

BUT, at the last moment, Hurricane Nate was spotted in the Gulf. Due to work, I had to cancel my trip just two days before departure. When it became clear a day or two later that we'd side-stepped any serious impacts from Nate, I was looking at a week of vacation time, but no flights, hotels, or car rentals. (In addition, re-booking the flights to Virginia was now cost-prohibitive. Plus, a full week of rain was in the forecast for Williamsburg.)

What to do? We decided to prop our vacation back up, but instead of going to Williamsburg, we set our sights on Dallas, Texas. It was close enough to drive, and I booked us a hotel room at literally the last minute. We piled our bags in the car, and we were off!

We typically fly to our vacation destinations, so it was interesting to drive for a change. We saw tons of wide, open spaces and lots of cows! We made one stop for lunch along the way, at a little Greek place call Athena Restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana. We ordered sampler plates and dug in to grape leaves, hummus, spinach pies, pita bread, and more. The food was delicious, the service was quick, and prices were reasonable. Recommended.

When we arrived at the hotel after hours on the road, we were beat! We'd found the Lorenzo Hotel on Instagram. It looked fun, the location was close to downtown (though not as walkable as my usual choices - but, hey, we had the car this time), and most importantly, they had availability at the 11th hour! As we checked in, we discovered one of the nice staffers at the front desk was from our area! She gave us tons of tips and ideas for our unexpected week in Dallas, and then we went up to our room.

The Lorenzo Hotel is super-arty and really gorgeous. It has a fun, funky vibe (We were easily the least-hipster people there.), comfy rooms, and a nice on-site restaurant. (The restaurant serves good - but pricey - food. Service is friendly but slow. Go there when you're hungry, but not when you're on a tight schedule.)

We checked into our room, which had fantastic views of the Dallas skyline. We could see Reunion Tower and all the tall hotels/office buildings. We were pretty beat that first night, so we dinnered in the on-site restaurant and turned in early.

The next morning was a rare experience. Generally, when we take family vacations, I've done a lot of pre-planning. I have an itinerary, I've purchased tickets in advance, etc. But due to the unique circumstances of this trip, we awoke with no real plans. After a quick check on the internet, we decided to purchase a Dallas City Pass for each of us and let it help us decide what the must-see attractions were. It ended up being a GREAT idea! We purchased them online, and we were ready to go!

It was a warm, pretty day, so we decided to head out to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  This would make the third presidential library I'd had the opportunity to visit, having toured both the Clinton and Carter ones previously.

Before stopping in, we had a huge, indulgent breakfast nearby at The Knife. It's a steak house, but I'm thrilled to report that their Brioche French toast, their pancakes, and their bacon are all out of this world! Spendy, but fantastic, and the portions are HUGE!

Sated, we headed to the library. As this was our first City Pass attraction, we picked up our booklets here at the visitors' desk. The library is a large, beautiful facility. In the entryway atrium, there's a gorgeous show that's projected on the ceiling, showing beautiful panoramas of Texas. Also during our visit, they had a stirring exhibit of Bush's portraits of veterans on display. Incredibly moving. As you walked through, the audio guide featured the stories of the portrait subjects, read by Bush himself.

Other exhibits included a section on No Child Left Behind, an amazing 9/11 multimedia experience, and an Oval Office in which little man got to sit in the important chair and pretend he was in charge! There was also a really cool interactive section where you got to step through different crisis scenarios to discover how difficult it can be to make important decisions.

We ended our visit in the courtyard with a quick snack before heading to Pioneer Plaza to gape at the larger-than-life cattle drive statues, situated dramatically in a small park. Little man hopped up on a steer or two, and we followed the huge bronze sculptures all the way up the hill for a more complete view. Then, we poked around the adjacent cemetery for a while. Some of the graves there date back to the 1800s! After exploring a bit, it was back to the hotel for a break.

That night, we ventured out to City Hall Bistro for an early dinner. The beautiful blonde dining room and tasty small plates hit the spot! We tried the paella, the prawns, and a few other dishes, washed down with some yummy cocktails. This place was a little spendier, but the food was really good, and the service was so friendly and knowledgeable. After dinner, it was back to the hotel for some shut-eye.

The next morning was positively chilly! Searching for an indoor activity, we fell upon the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. What a mind-blowing attraction! We spent the next several hours learning about birds (and "creating" our own - complete with a custom song), ogling dinosaur bones, playing games of predator vs. prey, watching cool 3D movies, exploring space, feeling the shake of a major earthquake, seeing how a snake sheds its skin, running experiments on our own cheek cells, and programming robots to perform simple actions. Honestly, we did not want to leave. I can't recommend this place highly enough. You can easily spend a whole day here, and you still won't do everything. Just an amazing, amazing place.

When we finally left, we were starving. We decided to walk the scant two blocks to El Fenix for some yummy Mexican food. We weren't disappointed! We were seated as soon as we arrived, and then the deliciousness began. Chips and salsa, margaritas, quesadillas and more. Service was incredibly quick, and we gratefully filled our tummies. Prices were very reasonable, and soon, we were on our way back to the hotel for a lazy afternoon.

More to come . . .