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 . . .

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Hotlanta for One, Please (cont.)

A walk through history at The King Center
After another day and a half of conference sessions, I was ready to do a little more sight-seeing before flying home. The last conference event ended around lunch time. After a quick walk, I found Alma Cocina and settled in for a bite. I had the fried squid tacos with rice and beans. Quick, reasonable, and delicious. This place was hopping! Very busy, but the servers were quick and turned the tables expertly.

Which was important, because I had a place to get to - The King Center. It's a sprawling complex that includes a museum, the crypt of both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, King's birthplace and boyhood home, the church where both King and his father once preached, and more. The center had been on my list for a while, but I hadn't been able to get to it. I was eager to explore, and I had a lovely day in which to do it! 

I started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site Visitor Center. It's full of moving exhibits about King's early years, civil rights advocacy, and impact on American history. They have the wagon that carried his casket on display, as well as a moving, walk-through reproduction of the Selma march. There's also a section that explores the relationship between King and Jimmy Carter, both Georgians and both advocates for civil rights. 

The wagon that carried King's casket
Outside, I stopped to smell the flowers at the International World Peace Rose Garden, then popped into the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both King and his father once preached. A few steps away is the eternal flame, the reflecting pool, and the crypts of both King and his wife. It's a wonderful, meaningful place to stop and think a bit.

Lastly, I was fortunate to get a free, timed ticket to walk through King's childhood home, which is only a few blocks away. Though these tickets are free, they are limited and run out quickly. I recommend booking ahead if possible. The tour is brief (about an hour), but you get to see the house that built a man who shaped our nation. No photos are allowed inside.

Afterward, I had a little bit of time left to poke through Freedom Hall, where some of the personal effects of both King and his wife are on display. By then, the center was beginning to shut down, so I practically closed the place!
Vivid color at the High Museum of Art
Not to worry, though. It was the one night a week that the High Museum of Art was open late, and I was meeting Atlee, a local friend, there for dinner and perusing. A quick car ride later, I was settling in at Twelve Eighty - the on-site restaurant - for cocktails, nibbles, and catching up. I met with with my friend Atlee, who relocated to Atlanta several years ago, and it was so good to see her again! We originally met as part of a moms' group, but our friendship deepened through shared political views and a love of New York City. She was a sight for sore eyes!

We chatted over drinks, calamari, and pasta, trading anecdotes about our kids, our lives, and how old we've gotten!! Then, we had 2-3 hours to explore the art before the museum closed at 9 p.m. I love going to museums with Atlee. She was an art history minor, and she can always explain the pieces (particularly the modern ones) that stump me. We spent significant time in the contemporary wing, chatting, observing, and admiring. We loved some of the more interactive pieces.
We left when they threw us out, with hugs and promises to not let it wait so long again!

Meeting old friends . . . !
The next morning marked my last full day in Atlanta. I breakfasted at the hotel, then caught a car to the Center for Puppetry Arts. Just after college, I was a puppeteer for a local artist who did shows for schoolchildren throughout Mississippi. It was such fun work, and I had (and have) immense respect for him as an artist. On several occasions, he mentioned this place, so I was interested to see it.

It was wonderful! I started in the Worlds of Puppetry galleries. So much to see! Puppets from all over the globe are on display, and so many of them are intricate works of art. You can also see some of your old Jim Henson favorites in these galleries - Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Bert and Ernie, the Fraggles. Even Big Bird!! It was like meeting old friends. They also had masks from the Broadway production of The Lion King and famous figurines like Gumby and Pokey. Such fun!

I'd bought an entry ticket that also included admission to a puppet show. That morning's show was Charlotte's Web, and I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I was seated at the very back of the theatre. The theatre door was to my right as I faced the stage, and one of the main avenues for seating traversed directly in front of me. Needless to say, with a full house of children, someone was constantly coming in and out of the door and walking between me and the production. If I had it to do over, I would
Brunch perfection at Bread and Butterfly
have skipped the show and saved a few dollars, as I didn't really get to see it.

After the show, I went to a special exhibit that the center had on display. It was all about the movie Labyrinth! I loved the movie as a child, and it was delightful to see the props, some of the puppets, and the costumes up close. If I'd only known, I might have dressed up!!

Once I had my fill of puppets, I caught an Uber to Bread and Butterfly for lunch. It was a Saturday, and they seated me on the open-air terrace, where I could watch passersby going about their shopping. For lunch, I selected the avocado toast, served with a perfectly poached egg on top. Delicious, delicious. A hot cup of coffee and a small baked dessert rounded out the meal. Service was friendly and prompt, and the ambience here is lovely. Worth a visit.

My hunger sated, I walked to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. I'd only ever been to one other presidential library (Bill Clinton's in Little Rock, Arkansas), so I was interested to see what Carter's would be like. I started in a long hall, which stepped me through Carter's life chronologically. I learned about his early years, his marriage, his service in the navy. Then, his political career, starting in Georgia and growing into an unlikely presidential campaign. 

I took in Carter's Oval Office, while a recording of him speaking about his priorities as president played. Then, a large, open atrium allowed you to experience one day in Carter's presidency via a multimedia exhibit. There was a nice section on the Camp David Accords and a large collection of gifts of state on display. The last part of the museum revolved around Carter's current charitable work, Nobel Peace Prize, and other distinctions. I finished the day on the lovely grounds and gardens.

Walking out of Carter's library, I resolved to visit more presidential libraries during my travels. It's fascinating to view the presidency through the lens of one individual this way, and I really enjoyed the visit. 

Jonesing for a steak my last night in town, I stumbled upon Max Lager's Wood-Fired Grill and Brewery. I was seated at the bar immediately, and my steak came out exactly as I'd ordered it. (The red wine wasn't bad, either.) The bartenders were fun, and the other diners at the bar were good company. I headed back to the hotel, ready for a good night's sleep and an uneventful flight home the next morning.

Shame on me for taking so long to re-visit Atlanta! I've been using it only as a place for connecting flights for far too long! There's plenty to do, see, and eat, and I'm looking forward to a return trip. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hotlanta for One, Please

 I had to be in Atlanta in September for a conference, and I decided to trot up a few days early and see the sights. It had been such a long time since I'd been a tourist in Atlanta. I was excited to revisit it!

After my flight arrived, I checked into the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown. I chose this hotel for its central location, attractive price point, and free breakfast. Throughout my stay in town, it was a comfortable home away from home, and the staff was super friendly and helpful. (The front desk staff and those keeping the breakfast buffet stocked were particularly attentive.)

Then, I changed clothes and caught an Uber to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Oh, what a wonder it is! I had an absolutely gorgeous day to tour it, and the gardens did not disappoint! They showed off in the sunshine for all of the visitors! After entering, I started in the Trustees Garden, with a lovely courtyard and some views. I took a quick detour in the playful Children's Garden before admiring the striking Chihuly in the elaborate parterre garden (a formal garden, banked on two side by halls, with a lovely raised overlook. Then, the rose garden, the Japanese garden, the expansive great lawn.

I stopped for a quick bite of lunch at the LongLeaf Cafe, which is on-site, before continuing my tour.

Fried goat cheese at Ecco
There is so much to see here. The conservatory and orchid center are packed with interesting and exotic specimens, and I loved, loved the wood walks and the Goddess. (She was being restored at the time, but still cool to see!) I spent the better part of the day here, stopping in the gift shop on my way out for some treasures to take home.

I made my way back to my hotel and took a well-deserved break before venturing out for dinner that night. I'd heard good things about Ecco, and it was in close proximity to the Fox Theatre (where I had a 7:30 p.m. curtain), so it was a deal.

And, boy, was it a good one. At the suggestion of my waiter, I started with the fried goat cheese. Oh. Em. Geeeee!! Think balls of goat cheese, which are doused in a light tempura batter, then flash fried. They are placed in a bowl, drizzled with honey, and dusted lightly with black pepper. I got other things (the grilled squid, the deeply satisfying walnut cake), but the fried goat cheese was the find of the night. Just scrumptious! Service was good, prices were pretty reasonable, and they got me out the door in plenty of time to make my show.
The lovely Fox Theatre!

The Lincoln Center production of The King and I was touring, and I just happened to be in Atlanta during one of their nights at the Fox. It had been YEARS since I'd been to this theatre. Myself and a group of girlfriends had last visited to watch The Phantom of the Opera when we were in high school. On that long-ago night, I remember stepping into the gorgeous Fox Theatre and thinking that I HAD ARRIVED. The interior of the theatre is just beautiful, designed to look as though spectators are sitting outside, underneath a starry sky. I clearly remember thinking, "Look at all these sophisticated grown ups at this fancy theatre. And I AM ONE OF THEM."

Centennial Olympic Park
I can now report that the theatre is just as gorgeous as it ever was. I was a little worried that a big show like The King and I wouldn't travel well, but I shouldn't have. It was a brilliant production. The principals were so strong, and the emotional attachment of the theatre community to this classic is a powerful force. (When Anna and the King began to dance, her hoop skirts swirling, I admit to getting misty.) It was a wonderful production, and I was glad that I got the chance to see it!

The next morning, I enjoyed a day of conference sessions at Coca-Cola Headquarters. The interior of this building is completely brand-consistent, and you are never more than a few steps from an ice-cold Coke. (It was uncanny to see soft drink machines that didn't accept money. You just pushed the button, and whatever you selected popped out.)

Bison burger at Ted's Montana Grill
Once my conference activities were over, I headed to Centennial Olympic Park to stretch my legs. The park was constructed for the 1996 Summer Olympics, and it's still beautiful today. I entered at the Fountain of Rings. After a quick stop at the visitors' center, I walked down through all of the quilt gardens, which are shady and cool with water features. After stopping to admire the Paralympic Legacy, I walked back up the other side of the park, stopping to admire skyline views and art pieces.

After my turn through the park, I was hungry! I ducked into the nearby Ted's Montana Grill for dinner, ordering a bison burger with Gruyere and caramelized onions. Paired with fries and a huckleberry margarita, it was completely satisfying and a great meld of flavors.

Lovely views from SkyView Atlanta
Finished with dinner, I had one last activity on my must list. I walked a block or so to SkyView Atlanta and hopped aboard for sweeping views of Atlanta at sunset. So, so pretty. The giant ferris wheel punctuates the city skyline in this part of town, both day and night, and it's a treat to see all the landmarks from above!

Then, it was off to bed! More to come . . .

New Orleans delights!

The Copper Bunny at Compere Lapin
I've been in New Orleans for business quite a lot lately. It's given me the opportunity to try some new restaurants that are worth a stop if you're in town!

First of all, Compere Lapin (AKA Brother Rabbit). It's sort-of like a cross between French, Italian, and Carribbean food. Wildly inventive. If you go, you MUST get the steak tartare. It comes with a gremolata and an honest-to-goodness layer of beef fat on top. I could hear my arteries hardening as I chewed it, but it was AMAZING. I'd also heartily recommend the Copper Bunny cocktail, which comes in a HUGE glass shaped like a copper bunny. Our waitress had tons of personality, in addition to being prompt and making great menu suggestions. 

We also tried Maypop, a great place for Asian-inspired small plates. The salads, the noodles, and the cocktails were fantastic here. It's a small place, but we were lucky enough to visit early, so we didn't wait for a table at all. By the time we left, it was filling up.

Small plates at Maypop
Another place we loved - Cavan. A colleague of mine discovered this place online, and we couldn't resist stopping by for dinner. YUM. It's housed in a really cool, old mansion. The dining room is lovely, and the food is delicious, too. 

On my last trip, the find was Public Service, which is located in the NOPSI Hotel. The hotel has been reimagined in the old New Orleans Public Service headquarters building, and it nods to its history with clever artifacts and architectural details throughout the
Cavan's lovely dining room
property. In the restaurant, glass insulators decorate the tables, and the salt and pepper shakers look like inverted light bulbs. Artistic prints of electric infrastructure decorate the walls, and in the nearby lobby, the payment table still stands, featuring old streetcar tokens and company literature under glass. 

The restaurant serves delicious food, and we selected a few small plates and one entree to share. The pork belly and bone marrow small plates are indulgent and rich. To balance them, we also ordered a side of roasted vegetables. We rounded it off with a pasta entree (the mushroom tagliatelle) and the peanut butter banana pie (because we had to). Service was great, and the atmosphere was particularly appropriate! 
The view from Above the Grid!
Afterward, we poked around the public spaces of the hotel a bit and went up to the rooftop bar - Above the Grid - for a quick drink. Great views! I highly recommend a visit!