On the edge of seventeen

FullSizeRender

He’s on his 3rd passport and has visited 5 countries, so far.

A little more than 17 years ago, I was expecting my second child. At the time I thought I was living a busy life with a husband, a 2 year-old, and a full-time career. Little did I know what the future would hold, right? As my due date approached I had three items to take care of before I would feel ready to birth this child of mine – there was grout to scrub from the new bathroom floor, a professional conference to attend and a religious ceremony in which I would be sponsoring a special young woman as she made her confirmation.

Midweek, I managed to wedge myself into a pew to attend the service and witness Alexondra receiving the sacrament. One box checked. On Thursday, a beautiful and sunny day, I made it to the Century House for my annual conference after which I went home, changed clothes, put a chicken in the oven to roast and got down on my knees to start scrubbing grout. At which point, naturally, my water broke. Griffin was born Friday afternoon.

Flash forward to Thursday, April 29th, 2016, seventeen years later, another beautiful spring afternoon. My now 6 foot tall son and I were in Lisbon after a few days spent in Barcelona. The trip had not been without adventure as we negotiated with mixed success around an unfamiliar foreign city and sampled a cuisine which was new to us. There was that missed flight and subsequent 20 hour bus ride, but I was more focused on the novelty of having him map out our route on the metro and his bold approach to the tapas menu, trying items I never would have imagined him tasting – grilled octopus and fried pig snout to name two.

As the planets aligned in a manner that could never have been predicted, we were joined by none other than Alexondra who had flown  from Rome to join us for the weekend. Along with her was a Spanish friend and the four of us went out for a typically late southern European dinner. There was sangria and my boy ate quail for the first time, an amusing to me echo of the days when he would only eat “big chicken,” as he called a roasted chicken.

IMG_8786

This was one weird place – I recommend it!

On the way to our Lisbon digs, we stopped for a nightcap and to allow the clock to push past midnight marking Griffin’s 17th birthday. It was a bizarre little dive bar that invited us in with a soundtrack of terrific music and we sat with another pitcher of sangria and toasted this kid who has both challenged and delighted me every single day of his life. He’s now precisely half of Alexondra’s age.

I can’t wait to see where both of them are in 2033.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

8 days in Europe on 80 euros

imageMaybe I’ve gotten a little too blasé about traveling. What was once approached with actual penned lists, which were meticulously cross checked, has become a much more casual affair. I select a few favorite items of clothing and then flesh out my travel wardrobe while trying to remain committed to a color scheme. Navy blue has been my go to palette one last couple of trips. I toss in toiletries and any necessary electronic gadgets or chargers and go. Simple.

Getting out of town for my most trip was complicated by home and business responsibilities. There were some banking tasks that would need to be accomplished in my absence so I went through my wallet to leave ATM cards for those taking care of business while I vacationed. It seems I should have paid more attention to what I was doing…

We arrived in Barcelona Saturday morning after what had been a long day of work and travel. I approached an ATM in the airport and fumbled for my bank card to make a withdrawal…and it wasn’t there. I checked again, looking in compartments and pockets where I knew it wasn’t going to be and tried not to panic. Hmmm. Somehow I had left all of my ATM cards at home.  How was I going to solve this problem?

I had 80 euros in my wallet from last year’s trip to France and both a Visa and an American Express card. On a European vacation many years ago my ATM card wouldn’t work at most of the bank machines I encountered and I resorted to taking cash advances on my credit card. I’d just do that again. I’d get dinged for some bank fees, but whatever.  Simple.

Except, it was the weekend and there weren’t any banks open. Not a big deal, we’d just wait it out until Monday, right? My credit cards should cover us, I thought, as we grabbed a cab to get us to our accommodations. No problem. I was so confident that come Monday we’d be able to access cash via a cash advance which I could pay off immediately electronically, that I went ahead and spent 40 euros cash on the cab when the driver balked at my Visa card. It’s all good, except…

Monday came along and none of the banks I went into (there were 4 attempts on my part) would perform a cash advance transaction. My only option was to use an ATM, but I had never bothered to set up a pin, which once again left me high and dry. Now, though, I had even less cash. We were down to my last 20 after an indulgent cab ride home on Saturday night. Yes, we had spent 60 of our 80 euros on cab rides.

What did we do? We basically charged everything, which was fine because I had expressly obtained my Visa card because it came without fees for international transactions. As a matter of fact, I was earning cash back on my purchases. Not having cash definitely was a crimp in my style, but by no means was it the end of the world. We figured it out and ultimately a lack of cash didn’t translate at all to a lack of fun. Lesson learned. It won’t happen again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Spain, travel, Uncategorized

Sketches of Spain

imageHave you ever listened to this album by Miles Davis? It’s one of my favorites and sets the mood for so many things – a romantic dinner, a quiet conversation, time alone with your special someone. Add it to your playlist and thank me later, ok?

Now that you’ve got that going, let me share some of my impressions of Spain, or more accurately, Barcelona.

  • The dogs here are rarely on leashes, although their owners always seem to have one slung over their shoulders. The dogs are very well behaved and never run into the street or approach strangers even when a stranger is missing their own dog and more than willing to give a pat.
  • Fashion observations: women wear tights and stockings far more than at home.  They also rock tight, little leather jackets, while people of all ages have those super light down jackets in a rainbow of colors. Happily, I haven’t seen a single pair of Uggs.
  • Far too many people smoke cigarettes, just like in Paris.  The only other unpleasant aroma has been a vague sewer smell that wafts around in a mild, yet noticeable way.
  • Speaking of smells, it’s weird – the Mediterranean doesn’t have that briny smell that announces its presence like the Atlantic.  There’s no “sea air” that I could discern.
  • Children seem to be very well loved here.  Parents are affectionate and attentive without resorting to that helicopter approach which is so prevalent in the U.S.
  • Everyone has either a scooter, a bike or a soccer ball.
  • Scarves are oversize and wound repeatedly around the necks of both men and women.
  • Running seems to be a pretty big activity here and I got lucky with a boardwalk of sorts and parks super close to our apartment. I ran every day.
  • Chefs use a generous amount of salt and pastry is far more delicate than I imagined.
  • I’d like to come back here again.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Food, musings, Observations, running, Spain, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Getting on the bus – Barcelona to Lisbon

When I travel I hope to gather experiences. Sampling local cuisine, seeing new places, absorbing the flavor of a previously unknown culture, is what I’m all about. This trip has certainly provided those opportunities – and more. The nearly full moon over the Mediterranean, the Park Guell, white anchovies and jamon washed down with sangria, it’s all been wonderful and appreciated.

All of those good things have made the new experience of missing my flight a bit easier to swallow. I don’t really know how it happened. I can only say it was a combination of a leisurely lunch and a couple of missteps with transit that led to us arriving at our gate only to be turned away as too late to board. Plan B, as in bus, became our best option.

I don’t often ride the bus at home, preferring the train for trips to NYC and opting to drive or fly to other destinations, but the bus was our only play to get from Barcelona to Lisbon. At about the time our flight was scheduled to land in Lisbon we got on the first of the three buses required to get us across Spain and into Portugal.

Bus travel is weird. I don’t know why the vibe is so different from flying. It isn’t as if planes are all that much more luxurious these days than a decent coach bus. The bus has individual entertainment monitors, wifi and reclining seats just like a commercial plane, yet somehow it seems to magnify the sounds and scents of its passengers in a way that an airplane fails to do, generally at a fraction of the cost. Bonus?

The smells on the bus were sobering – food and farts and foreign scents. I took my shoes off both as a means to get comfortable and self defense as I added my own aroma to the potpourri that filled the air. You’re welcome, bus riders. Our overnight travels allowed for a bit of sleep and when I awoke, we were nearing Madrid. My alarm at the state of my feet upon our arrival, swollen perhaps from the surprisingly good Chinese food we had consumed prior to our 7 hour ride, was completely trumped by the sight of my fellow passenger brushing her hair in the bus station bathroom. See, she had removed her hair attachment completely, revealing a much more staid coif than the Charo style hair she had been rocking when I last saw her in the seat behind me.

It’s been a weird morning. Time to find the next bus and continue our journey – Lisbon or bust.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Europe, Uncategorized

Eating up Barcelona

image.jpegIt’s been amazing how quickly I’ve adjusted to Barcelona’s late night schedule. I can only explain it as a magical alignment of being an early person and having the advantage of a six hour time difference. Whatever the reason, it’s working for me and I haven’t struggled at all with this temporary life of sleeping until 10:00 a.m. and beginning dinner at 11:00 p.m.

We’ve been doing our best to try new things and eat as much traditional food as possible. For Griffin this translates to jamon, while I’m more inclined to sample as much seafood as I can get in my mouth. Here are few particularly tasty items we’ve enjoyed – and one we determined was not for us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dinner, Eating, Europe, Food, Spain, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

The wisdom of Antonio Banderas

imageAfter spending my first day in Barcelona, I can say I understand exactly what Antonio’s talking about. This place just stimulates the desire for languid pleasure and beautiful people and food are everywhere.

With blue skies above our heads and cobblestones below our feet we wandered around quite a bit yesterday. When it came time to eat, we approached the task of finding a restaurant with an attitude of nonchalance. It all looked pretty good and we were willing to try something new. For Griffin, it was a plate of meat for a late breakfast. He shared a bite of the brightly colored and flavored sausage, but gobbled the rest, saying that the tiny ribs were his favorite but everything on the plate was delicious and cooked perfectly.image

For dinner, which we began eating at 11 p.m., we wandered into a neighborhood spot that contained only 6 tables, although it appeared that the large table filled with either regulars or family, may have been a couple of small tables pushed together. Not being able to read Spanish wasn’t really a problem because we wanted traditional fare – jamon and paella.image

The ham was phenomenal and buried any other ham I’ve ever had. It was sliced beautifully thin with the perfect meat to fat ratio. It was tender, yet firm and had an overwhelming rich flavor of butter. Fantastic. The paella was exactly what I’ve always imagined paella to be – presented in a beautiful low pan and served to us at the table, it was an eye pleasing medley of shrimp, langoustine, mussels, slivers of squid with rice and small bites of red pepper. The fish was mind blowingly fresh and the shells on the shrimp were incredibly tender as we picked them up with our hands to suck every single morsel of deliciousness out.image

Good food was had and the wine I sampled – an intense rose in the afternoon and a simple white of unknown origin with dinner, was pretty damn good, too. From what I observed as we walked around, it seems that romance and sensuality is very much present with young and old couples showing affection and passion freely. Good sex seemed a distinct possibility. As for me, there was good sleep in the form of an hour long nap and a longer overnight rest. Antonio Banderas, and Spanish people in general, are on to something. Viva Espana!

Leave a comment

Filed under Eating, Europe, Food, Observations, Spain, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Wine

The gift of giving

We call it Leather & Lace.  You'll call it delicious!

We call it Leather & Lace. You’ll call it delicious!

For 3 months now at Lark + Lily we’ve been offering a cocktail special with 50% of the price earmarked as a donation to a not-for-profit organization. We determine the recipient with a good old fashioned system – you order a drink, you get to vote for one of the three organizations which we’re featuring for a particular month. Whomever has the most votes at the end of the month gets a check. Simple.

I have to say, it has been a remarkably successful program. The creativity shown by my staff, has been tremendous – lavender infused dry vermouth? Anise flavored simple syrup? Fresh basil? Oh, yes, we’ve had some very special and tasty cocktails recently and I intend to keep this special going for the foreseeable future. It just feels good for everyone, I think. Seriously? Drinking for a cause? Sign me up!

This month’s potential recipients are Capital Roots, The Albany Pine Bush Preserve and Parks and Trails New York. You see, I like to have a bit of a theme. It’s a pretty close contest currently, with Capital Roots slightly ahead of the other two organizations as we near the end of the month. I’ll be sad to see our Leather & Lace Cocktail (Walthen’s bourbon, lavender infused dry vermouth, simple syrup and fresh lemon juice) depart, but writing that donation check is my favorite business “expense” every month.IMG_8424

For May, we’ll be focusing on organizations which support girls and women and Girls on the Run, Strong Through Every Mile and the Perrin House in Schenectady will be on our board vying for a donation. I’d like to think our guests will be challenged to pick just one and may perhaps be inclined to make additional personal donations to worthy organizations which could use some financial help.

Our May cocktail has not been finalized but we’re thinking about something a little spicy, maybe a white rum base and a chipotle infused simple syrup.. I promise it will be tasty and that drinking one will make you feel good in numerous ways.  Cheers!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized