Tag Archives: travel

British Invasion

761b5062-704f-4c4a-a74d-5caf5bc09baa-8606-00000790a696a8a7_tmpOn my very first trip to Europe, in 1988, I made a new friend, A. He was wearing leather bike gear, with a scruffy face and charming English accent. The attraction was immediate. We made a connection that led to numerous transatlantic flights and were lucky enough to explore a few amazing cities together. It’s a time in my life that I recall warmly.

The last time I saw my friend, A, was almost 25 years ago, in London. He helped sort out accommodations for my brother and me and we got to spend an afternoon or two together, along with his towheaded two year-old son. He was married then and seemed contented. Again, happy memories of a lifetime ago.

We maintained a correspondence, old school, with paper, envelopes and stamps, for quite a few years after that last in person visit. Although the details are hazy after so many years, I recall receiving a letter telling me he was sick, maybe a brain tumor and the prognosis was dire. It was goodbye.

Life was wild with young children and new careers, and I accepted the news with sad resignation, too busy to immediately follow-up. Of course, I’ve wondered over the years about him, and his family, and have taken half-hearted stabs at trying to locate him in the digital age. I looked for an obituary online but never found a word about them. Until last week.

After happening upon a memento from a trip I had once taken with my departed friend, I impulsively searched Facebook for his name and came up empty. I changed my search to the name of A’s son. Immediately, a photo appeared – A’s face, but a version far younger than I ever had known A to be. His son.

I clicked on the link and found the obituary, not of A, but his son. Oh, no. The tow -headed boy had grown into a too young to die young man. Almost 7 years ago A’s son had died while serving in Afghanistan. There were photos of the funeral and I saw an older than I had ever imagined A. I struggled with sadness and relief.

Sometimes the real heartbreak comes long after the breakup.

 

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Filed under aging, Europe, friends, love, Random, travel

Whole hog at The Purple Pig

img_0489One of the best parts of being a runner is the license it gives one to eat. Believe me, pushing through a ten mile run is a lot easier when you know that the evening’s meal is a reward worth working towards. My second Chicago run led me along the lake, north of the Navy Pier and then back down Michigan Avenue and finally, to my hotel. I was in no rush and genuinely enjoyed the experience, wrapping things up with some time in the sauna and a relaxing shower.

Ready to eat, I headed up town to The Purple Pig, planning to make my way to the bar in a restaurant that I imagined would be busy during prime time on a Saturday night. Once again, I got lucky and scored a prime spot (at the far left of the bar – a lefty’s dream) within minutes. The interior was a bit more casual than The Girl and the Goat and the style of ordering was also different. My server suggested ordering a single course at a time, which offered more flexibility to change my mind as I caught glimpses of dishes being served around me. Menu in hand, I consulted with the bartender about how hungry I was and for what I had a hankering.

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fullsizerender-2Breaking with expectations, I ordered a bottle of Clos Normand Brut cider from Normandy rather than wine. It was the perfect accompaniment to my meal and gave me a pleasant buzz without the fogginess that I get when I drink more than two glasses of wine. It was particularly tasty with my first course – a liver pate served with crostini and a small mound of greens on the side. The cider cut through the creamy and delicious fat and danced on my tongue with happiness as the flavors reminded me of my time in France last year. It was the ideal way to start my meal.

fullsizerender-3I followed the pate with Patatas Bravas, the Pig’s take on tater tots. These were really good, but didn’t give me the same level of joy that the potatoes at Brava in Lenox had provided a couple of months ago. I think I’d try a different veggie next time, especially if I was going to revisit the octopus which is served with fingerling potatoes and green beans. The octopus was beautifully charred, smoky and tender and matched with a salsa verde that radiated freshness. It was a stellar preparation and I absolutely housed that plate. Fantastic.

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fullsizerenderBecause a meal out is incomplete without dessert, I indulged myself with their version of a lemon bar and was thrilled with my plate. Tart and refreshing with a wonderful texture, it was truly memorable and went surprisingly well with the last of my cider. Dinner, including tip, was a $100, which I found reasonable for the quality of the meal and service. If I lived in Chicago I could see myself becoming a regular at this spot, like the man who sat next to me at the bar. Just like the city itself, there were lots of things on that menu left to explore. I can’t wait to go back.

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Filed under Chicago, Dinner, drinking, Eating, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel

Finding my rhythm in Chicago

img_0798I started this post the day I returned from a quick weekend away at the beginning of a week that ended up feeling really long. I’ve got a folder full of these aborted writings, but I decided to revisit this one after catching up on last Sunday’s New York Times. The featured magazine was about travel and the editor’s letter grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Her words kept kicking around in my head and joined my own thoughts with a serendipity I couldn’t ignore.

Deborah Needleman said:

“Why is it that we can’t just do nothing anymore? Somehow “nothing” equals guilt….”

“I slept as late as I wanted, exercised when I felt like it, ate alone at restaurants…”

“It certainly was a journey, in the personal sense of the word, not just to another part of the world, but to another part of my psyche.”

Now, my own words…

My body aches and I’m about as tired as I recall ever being, but it is a sweet exhaustion. It was a great weekend. I highly recommend 72 hours of alone time in a new city as a means of recharging and getting back to a rhythm that is solely your own.

Traveling solo is both an exercise in self-improvement and an acknowledgement that you’re ok. From the reaction I received each time I explained that I was going to Chicago, alone, and my plans were basically to eat, run, nap and see some new things, I don’t think enough people are comfortable, much less excited by, the prospect of a loosely defined personal escape. Not being dependent upon any one but yourself is a condition that can be interpreted as freedom or a burden and I guess it depends upon perspective. I suspect you know how I perceive it.

We have lives that are busier than ever, connected to multiple platforms and constantly within touch. Taking some time for our own pursuits shouldn’t be a luxury that is too often perceived as foreign. While this trip had originally been conceived as a trip to celebrate a number of my friends and I achieving a milestone birthday, when schedules and commitments didn’t allow that to materialize, I continued to approach the weekend with excitement. I felt remarkably fortunate* to be able to spend three days exploring a new city, but even just two hours at the mall, or in a museum or outdoors can seem like a getaway. It isn’t about how far you go, it’s more about how close you get to yourself and your personal pace. Do it.

*I can’t tell you how many times I wondered to myself how I ever got to be so lucky.

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Filed under aging, Chicago, ideas, musings, Observations, Recommendations, travel

The Girl and the Goat and I

img_0454Heading into Chicago I had only a few intentions – to run, to eat and to nap, all on my own schedule. Knowing that the city had no shortage of great restaurants, I decided to do my best to make it to a couple of them, without making reservations or arrangements in advance. I didn’t want to be pinned down to a specific time, preferring to satisfy my appetite when it demanded attention, and I was fairly confident that as a single I’d be able to belly up to the bar for a meal without too long of a wait. It worked.

I made my way uptown to the Girl and the Goat on the train, deciding my nearly 11 mile run was enough exercise for the day. Upon arriving, I was greeted and shepherded to the hopping bar area. As I prepared to order a drink, my veteran restaurant eyes assessed a soon to be open seat and I quickly swooped in to grab it. Seated in less than 5 minutes, I settled in with menus and consulted with a bartender to come up with an order. alsace

After determining that I was free to take any remaining wine with me, I selected an Alsatian Gewürztraminer, a wine that I enjoy and find to be food friendly. With my server’s guidance, I selected a number of items from the menu, ordering everything at once as is the preference in the restaurant.

sweetFirst up were the blue cheese sweet potato pierogis accompanied with a mushroom ragout, mushroom crema and fried capers and finished with microgreens. The flavors were beautifully balanced – earthy, pungent, salty and sweet and the texture of the pierogi was firm in a way that reminded me of samosa more than pasta. Delicious.

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I followed with some vegetables – green beans with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. I’d say these were the most perfectly cooked green beans I’ve ever had in my life – firm, yet with an easy give, the bowl disappeared into my mouth with barely restrained haste. Again, the textures were spot on and the portion size was generous.

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My final savory course was the crispy pork shank, which was served on an individual cutting board along with a buttermilk dressing, grilled spring onion kimchee and naan. There was also a hot sauce and pickled carrot ribbons rounding out the plate in a cheeky nod to Buffalo style chicken wings. As I was still finishing up the green beans (I’m a slow eater!), the pork was placed slightly to the left of my bar space and after a few moments a server came by and “cracked” my shank open to reveal the moist and tender insides of my meat course. I was starting to slow down a little, but managed to eat nearly all of the pork appreciating the server’s instructions to use the naan to make mini sandwiches. I think I scarfed down 3 or 4 before deciding I really needed and deserved dessert.

dessertThe caramel corn and malt balls – vanilla malt gelato, popcorn caramel and chocolate magic shell, was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. There was crunch in abundance along with sweet and buttery sensations which had my mouth popping – fantastic!

Service was attentive without being invasive and my wine was kept chilled with my glass never empty. The view of the kitchen added to the meal and I enjoyed watching the kitchen crew working through what appeared to be a perennial slam. Satiated, without being stuffed,  my remaining wine (nearly a half bottle) was bagged and I happily paid my check ($120 with tip and a $44 bottle of wine) and called for an Uber. Well done, Chicago.

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Filed under Chicago, drinking, Eating, Food, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel, Wine

Chicago – where I slept, primped and posed

Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline

I’m just back from Chicago and I wanted to share a few places while they’re fresh in my mind. My trip was really exceptional and, other than my response to Chicago style pizza,* all positive.

First – where I stayed. Using Hotwire I booked the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place for less than $100 a night. It was a tremendous value and I was very comfortable in my spacious room, complete with lake view. The location was exactly what I prefer – in a quiet part of town with great access to transit and trails for running. If you like to be in the midst of everything, this would not have been an ideal spot for you, but I’d much rather feel like I can get away from the fray. There was a nearby small market, complete with alcohol, and a couple of restaurants, although I didn’t eat in the neighborhood. Where I ate is a whole ‘nother blog post.

Tip for you: always call your hotel directly in advance of check in and request a room with a view or inquire about having a bathrobe and slippers made available. It can’t hurt to ask and not packing a bathrobe definitely lightens luggage and leaves more room for shoes and workout clothes. Oh – and always pack a swimsuit. This hotel had a sauna which I enjoyed each day of my stay.

I was in desperate need of a pedicure when I arrived in Chicago. I did a Yelp search in my general area and located a number of places. My first choice didn’t have availability that suited me, but my second choice was able to get the job done in fine fashion OMG Nails on Michigan Avenue provided me a quality pedicure in a clean, comfortable and relaxing space. My nails really look great (OPI Lincoln Park after dark, natch) and I managed to get out of there without a smudge, which I have to attribute to the nail tech spraying my nails with something and then sliding plastic baggies onto my feet for my trip back to the hotel. $45 + tip.

On the morning of my departure day I was committed to getting a yoga class in before getting on a plane, since I had run close to 20 miles during my visit and probably walked another 10. The nail technician had mentioned Core Power Yoga, a studio that offered a free week of classes for new registrants.  In a few minutes time, I had myself digitally registered and ready for a 60-minute yoga sculpt class gratis.

The studio was on the top floor of a five-story building and had a terrific view east. I went to my mat with two sets of light weights and an intention – to stretch my muscles and sweat and after an hour of sweaty effort, I accomplished both. The class was challenging and left me drenched and still sore two days later.  It was an excellent class.

I really, really liked Chicago.

*call it something other “pizza” and maybe I can get on board.

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Filed under Recommendations, travel, yoga

Is Chicago my kind of town?

image: Flicker by ph4nn1 Chicago Skyline Panorama

image: Flicker by ph4nn1 Chicago Skyline Panorama

Last summer I made plans to go to Niagara Falls and Toronto with my kids for a few days. We’d never been and it seemed like a cool and economical getaway. I made hotel reservations and enthusiastically crowd sourced for some tourist recommendations. Then my two older sons got jobs. Plural. Not one to complain about employed children, I cancelled the trip and instead took my youngest down to NYC for a couple of days. That slacker doesn’t have a job, but I suppose he is only 11. Soon enough, little man.

A few weeks after the change in plans, I ended with both a Southwest voucher and a credit on my credit card, a situation which I immediately interpreted as a sign from the universe to buy a plane ticket. I reached out to my posse of friends, a number of whom were also celebrating a milestone birthday this year, to gauge interest in taking a weekend trip somewhere. While there was interest, it didn’t translate into action, so I decided it was time for me to take my first ever multiple night solo – Chicago, here I come!

So, I’ve got three nights in Chicago coming up in a few weeks and I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of the things there are to do! The luxury of traveling alone means I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to, which is pretty amazing. Knowing myself, I see my days being structured kind of like this:

  • Wake up, get out and do something.
  • Go back to the hotel for a nap.
  • Take a run.
  • Take a shower.
  • Go out and eat something tasty.

I imagine there will be alcohol involved, at times, too.

The two things I definitely want to do are the architectural boat tour and an art museum or two. I know there are a million places to eat, but I’m most interested in places where I can eat at the bar.

What can you tell me about Chicago?

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Filed under art, drinking, Eating, ideas, Recommendations, Restaurants, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Wine

Deutschland on the Hudson

Last week I was lucky enough to host my Uncle and Aunt. They were touring New England in that wonderful way that tourists seem to do, but most Americans don’t, visiting cities and sites scattered around multiple states and racking up more than 2500 miles on their rental car.  Because of my crazy schedule, we didn’t spend as much time together as I would have liked, but we did get around a little over the weekend. Saturday was Oktoberfest in Albany and we had a great time checking out the Seen downtown.  My family definitely liked Wolff’s Biergarten – especially after seeing their team’s competition being dealt a loss, and were entertained by the crowd and the activities.

Sunday we did a driving tour on the other side of the river with stops at Golden Harvest for cider donuts and some spirits sampling, Olana, and Hudson for a walk about.  One of the coolest coincidences was my finally meeting, after nearly a year of placing orders electronically, one of the people who distills the applejack we use at Lark + Lily .  Turns out that Derek lived in Stuttgart when he was a student and it was a joy to hear he and my relatives speaking German together.  I think we can all appreciate a little bit of home when we’re on the road and this was a perfect dose of familiarity for my family.

It’s always hard to see far away family go, but Quinn and I are excitedly looking forward to meeting up with them again next spring when we’ll travel to Germany to visit. I bought our tickets last week and our loose itinerary includes three nights in the Black Forest, two nights in Nuremberg and four nights in Berlin.  Bis dann!

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Filed under Albany, beer, family, Germany, Local, road trips, upstate New York