Monday, March 25, 2013

Los Angeles, Boston, Barcelona, New York, New Orleans

 

Looking over my trip report entries (ZERO!) for 2012, one would think I got hit on the head and decided to hang up my suitcase and stay home last year. Never! I think I was still struggling under the heavy burden of grief from the tragic deaths in my family the previous year and so I lost the motivation to put my heart into journaling the trip experiences at the time.

Our travel adventures in 2012 started with a trip out to Los Angeles to visit my Uncle Lucien and Aunt Hazel. They live in Upton, California and invited us for a weekend of family time. While we were with them we enjoyed a few fabulous dinners out on the town, a few scenic jogging sessions around the neighborhood, and visited the tar pits and associated museum. FYI, the tar pits are pretty damn cool. One of my favorite activities was when we visited a farmer’s market so lovely I was ready to uproot and move to California on the spot. The asparagus was so fresh and vibrant and the blood oranges were heady and delicious. What a wonderful pleasure it must be to live so close to where most of our food is grown. What I especially loved about the trip was the chance to spend time with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Lu has the same hands, exactly the same hands, as my father. Every time I looked down at his hands I wanted to cry and hug him close. I settled for wistful glances instead, missing my father so deeply in those moments I thought my heart would break. He has a larger-than-life excitement about him too, my uncle, just like my father did. Just like I do. I see that now, that joie de vivre we carry as a family tradition.

Besides the time well spent with my family, hubby and I took a trip down memory lane into his childhood when we ventured into Redlands to see Jon's childhood home and then took a road trip down to Hadley's for a date shake (these date shakes were the joy of Jon’s childhood and I have heard many a story about their greatness over the years). When we pulled up alongside Jon’s (former) home, hubby was content to admire the property from the street. Well, nuts to that! I didn’t come all the way to his childhood mecca just to gaze at it from the outside. So, in my typical extroverted fashion, I sauntered up to the front door and rang the bell and explained that I’d like a tour of the house. The sweet lady who answered the door was revealed to be the very same one who bought the house from hubby’s parents all those years ago and she was more than happy to accommodate my request and showed us gracious hospitality and kindness and we had a lovely time of it.

Jonchildhoodhome

Jon stands before his childhood home.

After leaving the house, we drove past Jon’s elementary school, past an orange grove hubby used to cut through in his neighborhood, and over to the home of the parents –the Grammars - of his childhood best friend, John. We spent some time catching up with them (they had not seen Jon for many years) and then we were finally on the road to Hadley’s, the date shake headquarters for California. While I’m not a raving fan of dates, you know what I am a fan of? Seeing my husband’s eyes light up as we approached Hadley’s and watching him down a date shake with nostalgic passion. It was a great day to crown a wonderful trip. We hope to make it out to LA again in 2013 if possible.

In February, Jon and I took a romantic excursion up to Boston to experience the famed Chocolate Bar at the Langham hotel. Hubby had read about the event the previous summer and we had decided once the weather was conducive (for obvious reasons the chocolate bar is offered only during the cooler months of the year) we would give it a try. You know what’s awkward? Realizing while you are at a luxury all you can eat chocolate buffet you flew to Boston to enjoy that you don't *really* like chocolate that much – at least not enough to consume anywhere near enough to get your money’s worth. Still the trip was favorable in that I picked up a great pair of boots on sale at a DSW store in downtown Boston and Jon and I were introduced to possibly one of the greatest Chinese dishes ever: soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao). It takes a bit of practice to eat them correctly. First you balance a dumpling on your wide, flat spoon. Then, you lean over the dumpling and delicately bite the top off and suck out all the hot broth. Finally, you wrap your lips around the spoon and eat the dumpling and meat filling, along with any residual broth left on the spoon. Delicious! The spring onion pancakes that are typically served alongside are fantastic as well. Since this Boston trip I’ve tried soup dumplings in Manhattan and Washington D.C., but I cannot find a place that makes them as good as we had in Boston at the little soup dumpling specialty restaurant near the hospital brilliantly named ‘Dumpling House’.

Also in February, Jon and I traveled to Barcelona with a couple of our friends for a weekend excursion. While I had flown into Barcelona and spent the night there a few years ago en route to Andorra, I had not spent any decent amount of time in the city or toured it before this trip. We stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona, which was situated overlooking the Mediterranean. It was such a nice view from our hotel room. Even better, one of our friends we traveled with works for Hilton, so we got a great discount on the room, a room upgrade, and a beautiful welcome gift. Team Hilton all the way!

We spent our first full day in Barcelona walking the Gothic district, which is the historic center of the city. The architecture is lovely and the culinary side stops are not to be missed. We sampled churros, hot spiced chocolate, and nougat for our sweet tastings of Spain and a host of tapas and other delicacies for our savory tastings as we made our way through the scenic old-world architecture. With regard to the attractions, there were classical art museums, beautiful old churches, and expansive plazas to take in. Oh, and the market, whoa the market! You’ll probably never see anything like this in the United States. Brace yourself for the market shot below.

barcelona market

skinned sheep heads and reproductive organs in the market on sale

Alright, moving on….

We rounded out our first evening with a visit to the Turkish baths offered at Rituels d'Orient Spa Hammam. It was a perfectly acceptable experience I suppose, but we’ve been so spoiled by the over the top treatment at Cemberlitas Hammam in Istanbul that everything else just pales in comparison.

Our second day in Barcelona we spent in the newer part of town, soaking up the art scene. We started at the Picasso museum where I learned that Picasso actually had real talent as an artist and could draw and paint the most beautiful pictures -he did so as a young artist- but simply chose not to later in life because he wanted to be his own man or whatever. All this time I just thought he drew ugly things because he was talentless. Also I learned that all the cruddy art he painted during his famous phases (the ugly art stuff with weird faces) started with him looking at a famous masterpiece and screwing around with it to mess with people- moving the eyes and nose around, distorting the shapes, etc. They show you his paintings superimposed on the original masterpiece he was toying with and you can see his method. Interesting, very interesting. After dabbling in Picasso we moved onto Gaudi. Now this man, he was a genius and a visionary. We toured Casa Mila (an apartment building he designed) and the Sagrida Familia Cathedral (also his work). The Sagrida Familia was started in 1882 and is scheduled for completion in 2026. Each side of the cathedral represents a different story in Christian history (for example the side completed first represents the nativity). Since the building, like many famous cathedrals, has taken so long, multiple architects and artists have been involved in the work and as such the architecture of each face of the building is very different with regard to visual features and artistic style. There’s to be a grand worship service when the work is finally finished and I’ve got it in mind to attend. Words cannot begin to describe how beautiful the cathedral is; unfortunately we took most of our pictures on this trip with hubby’s phone which was subsequently stolen on a weekend trip in NY before we had a chance to download the pictures from the camera. Boo. But pictures from our camera could hardly do justice anyway compared to standing before the building in person. This is why it’s important to travel and to see things with your own eyes that you’ll never forget. Also of note from this second day of sightseeing was our lunch spot: La Pepita. Just a fabulous cozy little sandwich shop with a specialty gin menu and exquisite fresh side dishes such as roasted spring onions in romanesco sauce. If you’re dining in Barcelona, make it a point to stop at La Pepita for lunch.

Our last day in Spain was spent at Montserrat which is a short day trip from Barcelona. For trip planning purposes, expect to spend about 24 euros including the round trip train ride from Barcelona plus the cable car and funicular to get you to the monastery at the top of the mountain. It’s a Benedictine monastery offering a scenic worship space, tranquil views and hiking trails from the mountain, the oldest boys choir in the world (beautiful voices), and a host of fresh cheeses, honey, wine, and other treats from mom and pop traders outside the monastery. It was a nice way to wind down our trip and come away with a taste of Spain (we brought a few wheels of goat and sheep cheese home).

Rounding out our first quarter travels in 2012 was a weekend trip to New York City to see Alan Rickman perform on Broadway in Seminar (so good I repeated the trip the next quarter to see it again) and a weekend trip I led for a group of six friends in New Orleans. The trip was nearly a moment by moment repeat of our previous New Orleans excursion, except that we stayed at a different hotel (this time in the garden district) and visited Oak Alley Plantation instead of the Laura Plantation. A great trip other than the culinary disappointment that is Cajun food (ugh).

Second quarter 2012 travel preview: Amsterdam, Portland, OR, and Glacier National Park

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