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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Avengers Half-Marathon @ Disneyland

I am a true proponent of wishes, goals, and dreams. Erin has a goal to complete a few more half-marathon races and I'm there to cheerlead her on her way. Of course I love visiting Disney any time of the year.

Disneyland and RunDisney sponsored the inaugural Avengers Half-Marathon last weekend and we scuttled over to participate and enjoy the first weekend of the holiday season. So much fun!!

We stayed in the Grand Californian for the weekend and it is absolutely beautiful. It's quite reminiscent of the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World, one of our favorite hotels ever. The dramatic wood-paneled great room with fireplace, rockers, and comfortable seating impresses upon check-in. As does the incredible service (it's the Disney way!) The Grand Californian (www.disney.com) is located in the heart of Downtown Disney within easy walking distance to the entrance of both parks and the starting line for the race. I highly recommend a stay here if you can swing it!

Up early at the crack of dawn for the run - brisk weather and a peaceful Downtown Disney. All the lights in the trees and on the buildings are twinkling and Disney music trills in the background. Rounding the corner to the start of the race the adrenaline and pre-race jitters kick in with the booming music, bright lights, and swarms of runners in various costumes. If you're gonna run a 10K or a half-marathon - go Disney. They are so much fun. Erin loves Hawkeye, so she went all purple!




 Even with the horrible wind for 1/2 the race, she's all smiles when we get out to the parks.


Disneyland and California were festively be-decked for the holidays with lights, décor, and costumed characters. It truly is the Happiest Place on Earth, especially at Christmas.






Even Santa makes an appearance flying high over the parade route!

 
We love both parks and all our favorite rides were available. The Haunted Mansion becomes the Nightmare After Christmas Mansion and It's a Small World turns on the holiday charm. Even the Jungle Cruise becomes the Jingle Cruise!





California Adventure turns on even more of the holiday charm with some groovy Christmas trees.

 
 
 
 
 
We tried a couple of new (to us) dining adventures while visiting. The Storyteller's Café in the Grand Californian has a nice buffet for dinner, but we opted for something from the menu. Loved the hand cut pasta with duck and the linguine and roasted veggies. The bread is hot and fresh, and service was quite good. We also tried Flo's V-8 at California Adventure and really enjoyed it. Motown music blaring from the stereo and I'm wanting to sing and dance along with it. The food was very tasty - loved the half chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies and the turkey sandwich with gravy and a pasta salad. We couldn't skip a sundae at Ghirardelli - it's our tradition. The black cherry vanilla ice cream with dark hot fudge is delectable!!
 

 


Here's wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. I'll be chatting with you very soon!!

:) Deb

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's All In the Planning...

Half the fun of travel is the planning and here I stand in front of my computer doing just that. I can't seem to get enough of researching and fine-tuning the details of my future gamboling. I've researched some trips up the wa-hootie and come away completely satiated and fulfilled. Other times I've floated along on a whim and made the most amazing discoveries not only of the place I'm exploring, but also about myself. There are quite a few things I've learned and I'll share a couple of tidbits here with you.

1. Good planning (usually) = a good travel experience. There are historic sites that require timing, adventures that require a visa, amusement parks that require tickets, transportation that needs to be arranged, and dining that requires a reservation. Super important if you have an agenda. If you don't... not a problem!! A surprise along the way can be most welcome. That little cheese shop in Charleston made all the difference to two hungry travelers wandering the city.








2. Go directly to the source. I mean it - go directly to the source. Book direct for hotels, airfare, cruises, and the like. You may get a smokin' good deal on a discount travel website. But you may be sitting in the last row of the aircraft (near the stinky toilet) or on the backside of a noisy airport hotel, or even in a cruise cabin below sea level. Not a problem - if you're in it for the deal. Save money, get a deal, go for it! I'm all for saving money in so many different ways when I travel. But I need a little legroom on my airplane, and want a bit of a view from my hotel or cabin.




 
By the way... my neighbor has booked through a large travel website for a trip of a lifetime to Europe and her air itinerary has been changed three times to three different carriers... SO frustrating for her.

3. Embrace the culture, sample unique foods, check out local haunts, and experience a new you. Isn't that what travel is all about? By the way, I'll sample anything but meatloaf and the stuff that doesn't like me back (mushrooms, onions, and calamari ... damn it.)

4. Go ahead and read the reviews for hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, and public spaces. But remember that everyone has an opinion and it may not match yours. You be the judge and do what moves you. In the end you may agree with them or be glad you forged out on your own.

5. Be open to surprises and photo ops along the way.

It could be a chance cemetery that catches my eye in South Carolina,




or a great looking cow in Switzerland,




a family of sandpipers racing in the Pacific Ocean near Carmel,

 



or Mary Tyler Moore tossing her beret in downtown Minneapolis.




Relax and enjoy - whatever you choose. We do.
:) Deb

Friday, November 7, 2014

Three Days (yikes!) in the Big Apple

I debated long and hard about whether or not to write here about my whirlwind weekend in New York City because I forgot my camera! I love to post pics of my travel because they say so much more than words do in many cases. So if you aren't in the mood to read, skip this one.

What the hell ... here's what I've got.

Friday: Early morning flight out of Phoenix with arrival in Newark at 2:30pm. We boarded the Air Tran to the train station and took the train into the city, toted our single bag down 5th Avenue past all the gorgeous shops and a single slice of NY-style pizza, arriving at our hotel at 4:00pm.

We checked into the Marriott East Side NYC (www.marriott.com) and then boogied out for the evening. Rockefeller Center beckoned with its shops, crowds, and ice rink. The line to ride to the top was way too long for us - next time (and with a pre-purchased ticket.) Royce Chocolates were next up after reading about their delicate confections - on the money!! Super rich, creamy, delightful little nuggets of cocoa. So glad we stopped (www.royceconfectusa.com) in for a sample and a little bag of chilled chocolates with a chiller!

Dinner you ask? Reservations were made at Momofuku Ma Peche (www.momofuku.com.) Try saying that incorrectly! Teeny little location with friendly upstairs bar service and a very cool local who regaled us with stories of working as a designer for Macy's menswear collection. Fascinating - just like Project Runway (almost.) The scent of delicious food wafted upstairs and we couldn't wait to be served the Lamb Ribs with white grapes and peppers, the soft pork belly buns, a substantial broccoli salad, and the dim sum cart strolling by. Dim sum along with a smallish menu of divine goodness ... yes please. No dessert here - looking forward to our Royce chocolates later.

Saturday: Up early and ready for a walk uptown and through Central Park. We have NEVER seen so many dogs!! Dogs of every size, shape, breed, color, and temperament and most of them off-leash in the park. It was amazingly cool. Chill little Chihuahuas and groovy old Afghans pouncing with sweet Bernese Mountain Dogs and tons of poodle-mixes. Such a great vibe on a cool October morning. We're from Phoenix so we're not used to boots, jackets, hoodies, gloves and the like in October ... but there it was and it was gorgeous. I especially loved seeing the Alice in Wonderland statue but had to turn away when a couple of toddlers were straddling the top hat of the Mad Hatter. It was sooo high up there! My mommy-self just couldn't watch.

Across the park and past the gorgeous apartments (including the Dakota where John Lennon lived and died) to our breakfast treat - Good Enough to Eat on the upper west side of Central Park. (Get that NYC lingo ... upper west side?) Loved my pumpkin bread French toast and amazingly thick crisp bacon. Service is terrific here and worth the line out front (30 minutes guys.) Loved the choice of coffees and teas but way too full to try those luscious desserts in the bakery case. Next time.

Weaving our way back towards the theatre district and our afternoon entertainment at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre - "It's Only a Play" starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, F. Murray Abraham, and Rupert Grint. Hilarious - absolutely hilarious. You must know Broadway to enjoy this one and the cast is superb. I read that Martin Short will be joining the cast the first week of January. Not sure who he will replace. Anything you see in NYC on Broadway is a treat and this show was no exception. Delightful!!

A quick stop into Beer Authority for a sampler of our choosing. Loved the Nebraska Brewing Brunette Brown, and the local Brooklyn selections. Good service, nice vibe, and on to our dinner reservations.

You gotta have Italian in New York and we settled on Carbone Ristorante on West 38th Street. SO happy we chose this place. Fresh red vine-ripened toms on the crispy bruschetta. Sturdy spaghetti and meatballs and a luscious piece of fish - Branzino Mediterranean Style. Oh My Gawd delicious. Fresh, flavorful, lightly seasoned in the Italian style. Tremendous! That and the limoncello were to die for.

Wandering through Bryant Park on our return to the hotel and visited all the little pop-up shops and dessert shops. Perfect weather on a perfect night.

Sunday: Early to rise and we headed out for bagels. Thick, New York style bagels with (no kidding) Tofu Cream Cheese!!!! So happy for this non-dairy treat on my bagel. This place was seriously crowded with everyone in the neighborhood picking up their Sunday eats. Ess-A-Bagel (www.ess-a-bagel.com) has what you need and you won't be disappointed. Honest.

This dream day had us taking the subway to Brooklyn to visit the original Jacque Torres Chocolaterie (www.mrchocolate.com) for the richest hot cocoa ever. We could barely finish it because it was so velvety (even with soy milk!) Then a short walk to the stairs for a lovely walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Did you know that the area below the Brooklyn Bridge was known as the "DUMBO" neighborhood? Neither did I. I'll let you look it up and be surprised as to what it stands for. I've wanted to make a trek across famous bridges for awhile now. Two years ago we biked the Golden Gate Bridge and last weekend we walked the Brooklyn Bridge. I am so lucky. Gorgeous sunny day with a hint of a breeze  - Lady Liberty and Ellis Island sharing space with sailboats floating in the bay. Along the way, I was enlightened regarding a disease called "Primary Immunodeficiency Disease" by a mom who was walking for her son. This disease is closely related to horrible allergies and a lack of immunity for colds and flu. If you'd like to find out more or even make a donation go to www.primaryimmune.org for more info. Thanks Lakeshia for sharing your story with us.

We stopped into Anthony Bourdain's restaurant "Les Halles" for lunch. I'll save you money and time - skip it. The best thing about the place was that the bathrooms were clean.

But ahhh.... the World Trade Center Memorial. There is nothing quite like this emotionally riveting spot. Erin and I first visited New York City about 6 months after the bombing and never saw the towers in their glory. We saw the broken windows, boarded buildings, construction tape, and the pervasive sense of sadness throughout the area. This time around we encountered a peaceful space with waterfalls and engraved names surrounding the site of the brand new tower. I don't want to go into too much detail because I think it is a space that should be felt in person. Go and visit, you'll understand what I mean.

Brooklyn to Mid-town ... 5 chocolate houses, 5 brew-houses, 5 neighborhoods through Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village, the FlatIron District and along the Hudson River. Such a great way to see the city and all it's vibrant parts. I do recommend that you walk this city. Sure you can take the subway or a taxi and you'll have to do that eventually. But to really get a feel for New York, you must walk. I especially loved the Marie Belle Confectionary (www.mariebelle.com) and Neuhaus Chocolates (www.neuhauschocolate.com) as well. As for beer, you can't take a step without wandering into a great place for beer but we especially loved The Ginger Man (www.gingerman-nyc.com) for it's great beer selection and local beers too. The crispy potato chips were impeccably seasoned with a creamy dip. Yum.

Our last NYC meal was a little Jewish Deli called Second Avenue Deli (www.2ndavedeli.com.) I can't possibly visit this city without hitting up a new deli. They too are found just about everywhere. I had probably the best matzo ball soup I have ever tasted with the dilliest and butteriest (like those words?) pickles. Smacking my lips just remembering them. Jeff's liverwurst sandwich did not live up to our expectations and that was disappointing. But service was excellent - just like your grandma serving you dinner... if your grandma cooks!

New York City is crowded and dirty and gritty and bright and shiny and delicious. I love this city for a visit - and once a year wouldn't be a bad thing IMHO. But money is always a concern and this city is expensive. Plan ahead and make a visit. You CAN do it in a weekend. I did.

Bring out the hoodies people - it's Autumn!!
Deb :)



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Minneapolis... But Why?

October Break and school is on hiatus for a blessed week! My daughter (the teacher) and I took off for Minneapolis to enjoy the weather and multitude of museums. But every single person we told about our little vacation asked, "Why are you going to Minneapolis?"  I'll tell you why....


 
 

The Land of 10,000 Lakes appears to be the land of the Mississippi River and all its glory. Oh sure, there are plenty of lakes too but we crossed that famous river about 15 times in the week we visited.




The Courtyard Marriott Downtown was our home base for the week and could not have been better situated. Just across the street from the University of Minnesota and it's sprawling campus and close to all the downtown fun. This is a city of highways and byways and county routes and the like, but getting around was not a problem at all. Coming from the west coast, I'm used to people driving like fools in their spiffy little cars. Not so in Minnesota! People drive the speed limit, use their indicators, and let you merge with ease. SO surprisingly different on the highways. By the way, the whole place was surprisingly different. I've heard of Midwest Hospitality, and we experienced it ten-fold here. We chatted, we made new friends, we had our questions answered and shared lively conversations. Truly a lovely experience. A great place to visit for sure, but their winter would kill me!

First night in town and we headed to the Town Hall Brewing Company next door. Service was personable and the beer hoppy! Very hoppy in fact and I'm pretty sure Zach would have loved it - high in ABV too. Some of the choices were pretty flavorful and the food not bad either.

Our first full day was met with the same gorgeous weather we experienced all week long. Crisp clear sunshine and bright blue skies with highs in the 40's. Yep, the 40's! A brisk walk took us into the downtown area where we met Stephanie from Fit Tourist for a 3-hour bike ride filled with anecdotes on the history of the Minneapolis environs.

The only falls on the Mississippi River...

 
 
The Mary Tyler Moore statue and me!



The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden




And Target Field where the Minnesota Twins play.


 

One of our favorite stops was to Kramarczuk's Deli - a Ukranian Sausage fest that smelled like heaven on earth. Half the place is a deli where you can grab your own delicacies and take them home to your family. The other half is a cafeteria-style eatery with home-made sausage, cabbage rolls, pyrogis, kolache, and the like. What a treat ... their lamb sausage put me over the top! Check it out if you find yourself in the downtown area - you won't be disappointed. (www.kramarczuks.com)

We had no idea that Minneapolis was the heart of the milling industry. Washburn, Pillsbury, General Mills, Gold Medal and about 26 others during their heyday in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The Mill City Museum (www.millcitymuseum.org) was a wealth of historical information, a ride in the flour tower, and interactive exhibits that intrigue visitors of all ages. It made me hunger for Cream of Wheat and a big stack of pancakes!!




There's a little spot for home-churned ice cream called Izzy's that served up about 20 different flavors of ice cream, 2 different soy concoctions, and a couple of sorbets. Their claim to fame is the "izzy scoop" which is a teeny-tiny little scoop of something extra on top of your regular scoop. You can try something you'd never try on it's own or pick something that flatters your original scoop. Creamy, flavorful, friendly, and oh-so-good. Dessert for dinner! (www.izzysicecream.com)

One early morning stroll took us over to the University of Minnesota campus to wander about the grounds, shop in the bookstore, and breakfast like a college student. That meant bagels & cream cheese for both of us. Interestingly, the campus has a covered walkway for winter weather - very much in use even in mid-October.

Now, I can't attest to its meaning but the most fascinating piece of urban art on campus was the 'shoe tree' mid-campus. Help me out if you know the history - I don't... but a very cool sight to see.





Tons of culture in The Twin Cities but our need to see the biggest mall around took us to the giant Mall of America. Oh my goodness! Three stories of stylish, contemporary, and outrageous stores; an amusement park; theatre; eateries; and more. Of course we rode a few roller coasters. Why wouldn't we???

The American Swedish Institute is a lovely refurbished mansion on Park Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. This historic sight is the former home of Swan, Christina, and Lillian Turnblad. The French Chateau style home was completed in 1908 along "The Golden Mile" with about 40 other mansions of the same fortune and ilk. The building is impressive as are the tiled furnaces, uniquely decorated rooms, and art exhibits. 






 



Most impressive was the Swedish dinner served only on Wednesday evenings. So lucky for us! Pan-fried brussel-sprouts, potato dumplings with minted peas, smoked salmon, fried cauliflower, and cardamom bread pudding. More walking required!! This was one of our greatest surprises (www.ASImn.org) in all of Minnesota.

We love art museums and The Minneapolis Institute of Art beckoned. We wandered through the 8-acre campus of art which houses some spectacular sculptures, paintings, and a variety rotating exhibits. It is a government-funded museum so it's free! Yep, free ... donations accepted. Our only disappointment  - their café was closed for refurbishment. No food during the middle of the day and that was sad for us. They had some great cookies, but even for a couple of dessert-o-philes, that wasn't enough. We always plan ahead but never saw that coming and we always look forward to lunch in museum cafes!!

 

 




 



 

We also stopped into the first Basilica in North America, the Basilica of St. Mary (www.mary.org). This impressive piece of art and architecture has been a cornerstone of the community since 1914 and continues as a working Catholic parish to this day. Absolutely stunning, open to the public, and well worth your time.







Stillwater, Minnesota is situated along the St. Croix River and a stone's throw from the border of Wisconsin. Yep, we crossed the river - two states in one day!
 





The 30-minute drive was peaceful and easy through the smaller cities outside Minneapolis-St. Paul. Fall is just getting started so there were some yellows, reds, and gold colors to be seen. Stillwater is a sweet little community with shops, restaurants, saloons, candy stores, antiques, and friendly people. A few hours spent wandering here and then we took off for Grand Avenue in St. Paul. This 30-block street is also filled with shops, eateries, and gorgeous old Craftsman-style homes. Porches decorated with scarecrows and pumpkins, delectable delights at Caffe Latte, and a very cool shoe store with loads of Birkenstocks!

If you've read my blog (all three of you!) you know how much I love cemeteries. We found a great one in Minneapolis - the Lakewood Grand Cemetery. An older cemetery with some famous burials, namely Hubert Humphrey and Charles Lindbergh. We drove through ever so slowly to capture a few pics of fall. Enjoy...











No visit to Minneapolis would be complete with seeing Minnehaha Falls located just outside downtown. This park is most definitely the hot-spot for photography. We encountered about a dozen families, high school seniors, and engaged couples all posing for portraits. It really is gorgeous!





 




The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have a lot to offer and I'm so glad we visited in the fall. As the leaves are changing color and the temperatures chilled us (really chilled us) we wandered, we ate, we laughed and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I'd check it out if I were you!!

One more thing...
The Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport (MSN) is a smallish airport with two distinct terminals and the friendliest TSA people around. But, if you're flying into this airport I have some advice for you. Be sure you check your connections. The two terminals are about 15 minutes apart from each other by shuttle or train.

Sample the richness of our diverse world,
Deb :)