Summer is not the San Francisco Treat

July 17, 2019
About a week ago, we decided to switch things up and check out San Francisco during the summer. Typically, we wait until winter to take advantage of crab season. The White Sox were playing in Oakland and Spirit had flights dirt cheap so we figured why the heck not? We convinced our friend Chris (also originally from Chicago) to join us. There was little arm twisting, for the record. I snagged a good deal on Hotwire for Intercontinental one of our favorite hotels in San Francisco.

Even if there is that old quote, "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" (Mark Twain often gets credited with it, but I believe the author is unknown). Let's go! The forecast looked promising highs mid to upper 60s and lows in the 50s. I can deal.



I cannot deal. It is stinking cold. I went to Burlington Coat Factory immediately upon it opening so I could buy a warmer jacket than the one I packed. I have experienced the micro-climates before, but never with swings like these. Depending on your location it felt like a a sunny summer day but then a 5 minute uber ride could teleport you to a bleak wintry day. If not Mark Twain, whoever said it, got it right!

Fortunately it was warm and sunny in Oakland. So, the weather was beautiful for the baseball game. Unfortunately, it was a horrible showing for the Chicago White Sox. I've been to the coliseum for Raiders football, but this was a first for the A's. It's definitely in need of improvements, but the staff is very friendly. They have a huge area for family fun and I particularly enjoyed the Tree House. It was a good time despite our huge loss.





With the game out of the way we got down to business. The business of eating, of course. We filled up on favorites like the Crabhouse, Golden Boy Pizza, Hot Cookie, Saigon Sandwich and Salt & Straw. We also checked out Tony Gemignani's Chicago style pizza joint, Capo's. I mean where else would we go after a CWS game?



Don't let the giant Old Style mural fool you. They have a great booze selection and the food menu will have you salivating. It was hard to narrow down the options because it all sounded amazing. We did finally settle on the stuffed Old Chicago and a small order of spaghetti and meatballs to share. It was fantastic. Tony delivered yet again.





We were feeling a bit burned out on the crowds; summer brings hoards of visitors. Homelessness has always been predominant but it never posed concern before. It seems drug use was wider spread this visit and it was complete zombieland in parts of the city. We were harassed a good amount, we encountered many that were unpredictable and aggressive. Rather than spend another day in the city, we made the last minute decision to rent a car and visit Napa and Sonoma. It's been a few years since Frank and I have been and Chris had not been before.







The Golden Gate Bridge is usually hard to miss, but even when crossing it this time it could barely be seen. We made a pitstop at the viewpoint across the bridge. You'd never know that perspective often provides a stunning view of the skyline and the bridge. It was a complete white out.





Shortly after crossing into Sausalito the fog lifted and we had sunny blue skies the rest of the day.



Breakfast was at Sonoma's Sunflower Caffe. Eggs with farm fresh veggies was served up and they have lovely patio dining. Lunch was Palisades Saloon in Napa. The lamb burger and cheese curds are mighty tasty. The trip did not disappoint.







I learned summertime is not the best time in San Francisco. I'll stick to visiting during crab season. The weather is warmer and the crowds are thinner. Which is much more my speed. On the hand, summer is a beautiful time to visit Napa and Sonoma. The weather was perfect!

Remember me?

July 10, 2019
I'm the one that was filled with false promises of updates and sharing travel tales. There is no good excuse. Life has been on fast forward, the past year has been insane. Work days are long and tiresome, once home the computer is the last thing on my mind. I spent so much time wishing it were different. I miss writing and my blogging was always such a good way to document travels, special occasions, milestones and even the mundane. I've come to realize that time spent wishing was wasted. Wasted?! Yes, because honestly, It boils down to not setting aside the time to make it priority. I. No one else has control of how the hours of my day are spent.

The bottom line is that I need to learn to prioritize the things that fill my cup and feed my soul. I haven't found that balance. Yet.

I've committed to all sorts of things in the past year like exercise. Intermittent fasting, quitting diet coke, making better choices, traveling… heck, even binging Game of Thrones to catch up with the rest of the world before the finale. I guess FOMO is real, but I digress. See how far behind I am? You get the point, right?! I just need to get it together.

So, here we go. Attempt #3732.

This is 39

March 26, 2019
While you wait for me to get my act together and finish our European tale. Allow me to share, this is 39. No filter, no make up, just all those perfect imperfections. Those freckles are reminiscent of every sunburn. The wrinkles are reminders of times of worry and also the best spurts of laughter. While I'm eager to leave the braces behind I'm so grateful for the pain relief this TMD treatment provides. Most of all, I'm thankful for everyone and everything that's gotten me here. As I begin my final year of my 30's. I think of Rob Thomas' new song "One Less Day (from Dying Young)" If you haven't heard it give it a listen.

We will celebrate with dinner on the strip later in the week. Last night, we watched the Knights at Gold Mine Tavern and grabbed dinner at Juan's Flaming Fajitas. I so badly wanted the Knights to earn their place in the playoffs with a win. It was all I wanted for my birthday. They had one job. It's OK - they get it done later this week. It will be another reason to celebrate.

The Skinny on Amsterdam

March 13, 2019
After only a couple hours of shut eye. We flew KLM Airlines from London Heathrow to Amsterdam. Our flight departed at 630AM. It was rather quiet at that hour, which made our short time at Europe's busiest airport trouble free. We touched down in Amsterdam by 9AM so we had a full day to see the sights. We were warned that the taxis can be a rip off so we used Uber and public transit during our stay. Travel tickets can be purchased on board by card. It couldn't be easier. The most difficult part is remembering to tap to board and again to depart.



We reserved our stay at Hotel JL76, but they did not have a room available for early check in. Sleep would have to wait! We stowed our bags and went out to brave the weather. It was chilly and raining steadily; we opted to pass the time at the Van Gogh Museum. I wasn't aware that tickets are reserved for a particular time; so we had time to kill before we could enter. Frank went to a cigar lounge and I went to the Stedelijk Museum for modern and contemporary art.





By the time, we toured both museums we were beyond exhausted. We were complete toast and wandered back to the hotel like the walking dead. A room was now ready for us on the fourth floor. "Oh, by the way, the lift is broken." GRRREAT. Of course, this is the one trip we didn't pack light. We each had a suitcase to lug up a tiny steep stairwell. The steps were so narrow my foot barely fit. Nevermind, Frank's 15 shoe! We were told it would be repaired the following day but we had our doubts. Elevator repair on the weekend seemed like a fantasy. We were not wrong. The elevator was purely for decoration during our stay.



About Amsterdam...







Canal homes are extremely slender and tall. Why? To save on taxes! Stemming from the boom in the 16th century, Dutch authorities levied taxes from citizens based – among other things – on the width of their house. Most are equipped with hooks to enable residents to bring in furniture and other bulky items - like our suitcases (I wish) - because (as we learned) staircases are narrow, steep and winding.



This is the one place Frank is short. He stands at 6'3" and people tower over him. I barely came to some people's knees. No joke.



There are bicycles everywhere. I've never seen anything like it. They start kids on bikes very young and without helmets - heresy! It seems bicyclists earn the right of way in every instance, so, keep your eyes peeled.





A weekend was all we needed to explore this famous city in the Netherlands. We weren't terribly lured by the sirens call of this adult playground. I prefer my coffee shops to serve coffee and the red light district was amateur hour at its best, or, um... worst.







Don't get me wrong, I have no qualms when it comes to prostitution. I support it as long as all parties are willing. As the kids today, say... you do you, boo. I was surprised by how robotic the ladies were. I compared them to Austin Power's Fembots. However, the only spell they were under where that of their social feed, the bulk were glued to their cellphones.

The Venustempel sex museum and the Holland casino both charge 5 Euros to enter. There is some punchline there about getting screwed. I'll let you find it.



Look at that queue waiting to pay to enter. Shh! Don't tell Vegas.



Food was definitely my love language in Amsterdam. The dutch apple pancakes and the pomme frites were something to behold. The chewy pancake dough was light and not too sweet despite the syrup that was more like caramel topping than the maple variety known so well in the states. Fresh apples and serve yourself powdered sugar. No devils dust for me - Thanks!



The fries were perfectly crisp on the outside with fluffy centers. Plus endless sauce possibilities. Frank's preference was the classic ketchup with mayo.



The other regional dish that wooed me were bitterballen which are fried balls of roux and meat. The tastiest of bar snacks! The best, though, were at Foodhallen.



Oh, and let's not forget the cheese. I mean come on, now! Gouda is heaven sent.



Stroopwafels are a bit too sweet for my liking, but it was an interesting battle between my braces and the strings of caramel.



Travels with Frank has led me on a tour of cigar lounges around the globe. My favorite, by far, has been Freddy's in Amsterdam. Named after Freddy Heineken. The dark wood and rich leather ooze class. The air filtration is quite impressive. I don't mind lingering for hours sipping on craft cocktails or fine bourbon while noshing on barrel snacks. The wasabi peas and cereal crisps were personal favorites. The bitterballen was quite delicious too. I'd return in a heart beat. Sunshine in the Rain (my cocktail of choice). All day.

Next stop, Stockholm.


Cheerio!

March 5, 2019
Ready to chew the fat? I am dishing about my travels to London in Fall (November, 2018) and Winter (Feb, 2019). This will take a bit so get cosy.

First of all, flying Norwegian is by far the cheapest option to London. Economy flights start around $175 for one way fares. The airline is timely and it covers all the necessities. I also flew West Jet on my first trip across the pond. It was more attentive and comfortable. However, you cannot beat the convenience of Norwegian's non stop flight LAS-LGW. However, the West Jet layover in Calgary was minor so it's not a bad alternative. British Airways is another option, but it is much more expensive.

My first impression of London accommodations was the Royal Horseguards. It's a bit of a splurge but the location is quite nice and I'm still dreaming of the heated floors. While it had its perks I'm not enticed to repeat a stay. I would, however, return to our hotel in Vaux Hall, Staybridge Suites. It's a bit out of the way but perfectly accessible to all the attractions via the Tube. The neighborhood is cozy, mostly residential with some nice pubs like the Black Dog. I rather enjoyed it. The room suited our needs just fine and the convenience of self serve laundry was especially desirable.

Around the block, at the Rose Pub, I sampled the classic staple, fish and chips.



Of course we didn't discover it until our final night, but there was a small pub under the tracks near the Vaux Hall station named Mother Kelly's. We really enjoyed the selection and the vibe.



This most recent trip, however, we stayed at Citizen M London Tower. It made the most sense since Frank was visiting for a convention and the hotel is literally above the underground and it allowed the most direct route. While still connecting me to the most lively parts of the city. The room itself left much to be desired. It was extremely close for comfort. Although, I did enjoy the roof top bar. It was a nice way to unwind with a nightcap and take in the city lights high above it all.





My first visit I took time to see all the most popular sites. I repeated some favorites and explored areas missed previously upon my return. Big Ben was undergoing renovations on both trips so it seems I'll save that icon for a future visit.





















My preference is to wander the city by getting lost in its streets. Exploring each neighborhood led by the coordinating underground stop. The multi-day pass or Oyster Card is the best way to get around. Driving takes longer than walking to most destinations so Taxi/Uber are only viable options with luggage or wee hours in the morning when traffic finally improves. The Underground is so vast it gets you anywhere you need to be.





Notting Hill is a fun neighborhood to wander. Between Portabello Road market & antiques and all the pretty ladies in row - there is much to discover.











Hammersmith is a bit out of the way, but it is my preferred neighborhood. Dartmouth Castle has particularly delicious bangers and mash, ciders and honestly, nothing is bad here. We ate here a few times and we always walked away satisfied and jubilant.



Mothers Mash in SoHo is another I found worth repeating.



However, the single best highlight is the Indian Food. Curry is the national dish for good reason. Dishoom receives the most fanfare. We waited about 30 minutes for a table in Covent Gardens.




However, my favorite is Veraswamy. Frank completely agrees. Frankly, it has been his favorite part of London and our recent travels to Europe. The business lunch is truly outstanding. Make a reservation, you will not regret it. We returned again and again.




I learned that I do not fancy an English breakfast. We ate at Kennington Lane, which comes highly recommended. However, the blood sausage, beans and runny eggs are just not to my liking. And the bacon, is nothing more than a slab of ham. At least, the single sausage got me through until my next meal.



Turkish Bakery's were a new treat. At least to me. The simit is bagel like served with feta and tomato. Perfect for take away, midday snack or when breakfast is a bust.



A large group of us had dinner at Quaglinos. Tasty bites and live entertainment. It was a bit too loud and service was sluggish. I've learned that I'm positively spoiled by the level of service and attentiveness received in the states, particularly in Las Vegas. There is just no comparison.

Coming from a city with no last call. Late night is always an adjustment. In London options were pretty well limited to private social clubs. We were fortunate to experience this nightlife as invited guests. Members pay a monthly fee for the privilege to wine and dine into the wee hours. Otherwise, you're left with pubs that literally spill into the streets and they are far too crowded to enjoy. At least, in my opinion. Maybe I am biased since the outdoor urinals do not benefit me.

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One exception is Duke's Bar. Sir Ian Fleming’s chosen watering hole. This is where “shaken, not stirred” was born. The appropriately dressed public is welcome; first come, first served at this iconic Martini lounge. It is what inspired the character we know and love as Bond. James, Bond. The martinis are great - the dirtier the better. However, the shining star. At least in my world was the Bullshot. Think bloody mary without the tomato juice. Instead, replace the juice with beef consomm√©. All the savory boozy gloriousness without the acidity. I met my match. I fell deeper in awe with each perfectly cured olive and salty sesame cheese crisp. Yes, I am a fan of their bar snacks.



Another favorite hang out was the Wellesley in the Knightsbridge neighborhood. They have an superb cigar lounge that offers a great cocktail menu. You certainly pay for the luxury, but it is an experience.



Theater is big business in London and it should not be missed. We saw "Everyone's Talking about Jaime" on the first trip, and I saw "Home, I'm Darling" most recently. The former was a bit more fun, but both are entertaining and put on by a talented cast.





No trip is complete without a visit to the local market. If I am not mistaken the Borough Street market is London's most popular.







The sheer volume of shopping is impressive. London especially around SoHo, Picadilly and Oxford Circus it put the states to shame. The shops go on for miles and miles. Anything you've ever heard of and even more you have not can be found Fashion Show Mall on Las Vegas Blvd, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or the Miracle Mile in Chicago are nothing to squawk at, but they felt like small blips by comparison. I've never experienced this level of consumerism. It was next level on my trip in November. I'd be curious how the holiday shopping numbers compare. It was quite calm this trip, the hoards of shoppers were replaced by construction crews. The streets, sidewalks and buildings were all undergoing renovation and/or repair.



London in the fall is a spectacular display of color. We experienced more sun than rain, though we still got good use of our umbrellas. Winter is mostly rain showers, a bit bleak and frigid wind. It didn't stop me from exploring. Admittedly it wasn't as enjoyable as last trips wanderings.







What I love most about London is the old and modern architecture. You have splendidly old attractions and skyscrapers offering the latest and greatest. And a bit of everything in between.



The best views are from atop the Tate Modern Museum. You can gain entry for free. Special exhibits have an admission fee. The artwork and installations are worth the visit alone. I didn't even know about the bar and viewing area until checking the map inside the museum. I couldn't have had better timing. The light before sundown was beautiful.











London was never high on my Wanderlust list. However, I am so grateful for these opportunities that have allowed me to explore this capital city of the UK.

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