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Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

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I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.

 

International TravelThings I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. Travel

OUT WITH THE OLD; IN WITH THE NEW

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It’s that time to look back at where we’ve been in 2018 and look forward to what’s ahead in 2109.  Click on any of the bold type to view that post!

Where we went:

Texas Hill Country

Eastern Europe (Helsinki/Tallinn/Riga/Vilnius)

Moscow & Paris

Pacific Northwest (Bellingham, Lummi Island, Seattle)

Road Trip:  CA/NV/UT/CO/KS/MO/OK/TX/NM/AZ (in four days)

Greece (Athens/Mykonos/Santorini)

Las Vegas

Where we’re going:

New York City (BIG birthday)

Asia (Taiwan/Vietnam/Cambodia/Kuala Lumpur)

Wedding celebrations in Puerta Vallarta, Philly & Boston 

And I think more to come … 

 

Thank you for reading.  I wish everyone a healthy, happy and prosperous 2019!

U.S. TravelWining/Dining

WINTER BASEBALL MEETINGS … IN LAS VEGAS(!)

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Kevin Millar and Chris Rose live

Las Vegas is the destination for this fun annual event was a quick getaway for me (with the Hubby and son Sam) — little more than 48 hours there.  For lots of folks (myself included), that is the right amount of time in this crazy town. Cool temps were definitely a plus as the last time I was there, it was at least 110 degrees .. but, you know, “dry heat.”  Ugh.

This is an opportunity to mix it up with fellow baseball lovers, folks who work in the industry and likely some players.  We didn’t go into this “cold,” but rather at the urging of friends who are regular attendees and would help us navigate the landscape.  The home base is Mandalay Bay, but I opted for accommodations at the nearby Aria Resort.  I must say, the rooms are very  reasonable — Deluxe King for $160/night including taxes.  Yes, there’s probably better deals, but I was happy with the rate and the hotel is close to where we needed to be.

My kind of slot machine
View from the room

I even signed up for “MLife” which is the loyalty program/booking site for anything related to MGM Grand properties. There are 14 alone in Vegas (not to mention elsewhere in the US and Internationally).  Will I ever use it again?  Who knows.  But it certainly made it easier to have a site where I could look at all the restaurants and activities.  Of the former (places to eat), one could go brain dead making that decision.  Good lord, the choices are overwhelming.  Not wanting to spend a ton (saving that for next month’s big trip to the Big Apple for the BIG BIRTHDAY), I opted for Rivea at the nearby Delano.  “After Saint-Tropez and London, Rivea finally comes to the Las Vegas restaurant market, offering a renewed take on a French and Italian influenced cuisine from internationally celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse.” 

Paccheri pasta with short rib ragu (amazing)
Loin of Venison

The restaurant is on the top floor of the hotel with gorgeous views of the city.  The menu is a bit small, but the food is delicious and the wine list is excellent.  We were quite happy with the meal, after which we headed to see the action at Mandalay Bay.  The good news with consuming lots of food in Vegas is getting anywhere requires a tremendous amount of walking, so there’s little guilt involved.  Just walking the ground floor of most properties is a trek, not to mention getting to the parking garage for a cab or ride share vehicle.   There wasn’t too much happening but Sam did see Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and Dodger president Stan Kasten was dining nearby.  Hmmm, what trades were being discussed?  The rumor mill was on full throttle.

Swarovski Christmas tree on display at the Crystal Shoppes — 55 feet tall

We strolled the event during the day but couldn’t talk our way into the massive exhibition hall.  After learning the only other way was shelling out $150 per person to get credentials, we passed.  Without a doubt, the high point of the trip was a wonderful dinner at Carbone, chosen by Sam.  This classic Italian eatery out of Greenwich Village still does a table-side Caesar salad, which few places bother to do. 

Just stop right there ..
Veal parm divided four ways
Carpaccio with mushrooms and capers
Spicy rigatoni a la vodka and gemelli with spicy sausauge
Fork poised over the Nutella tiramisu

Our friend found out a large group would be taking one of the private rooms, and we happened to be seated right in their path.  Wearing one of my Dodger t-shirts under a blazer turned out to be a good idea as my bona fides were established when I stopped first Joe Torre followed by Orel Hershiser for brief chats and photo ops.  In fact, Orel commented: “I can’t believe this woman just flashed me!” He was talking about the t-shirt, of course.  Getting his attention by calling him Bulldog — his well-known nickname — certainly helped.  Both gentleman were very accommodating before moving on.  

With MLB exec and former Dodger manager Joe Torre
With Hall of Famer (now announcer) Orel Hershiser – aka “Bulldog”

Alas, Vegas is just not for me.  Too big, too flashy, too everything … and certainly the last location in the U.S. that allows smoking indoors!  I do see the attraction for many travelers who seek more of everything, especially a good bang for their buck — not unlike going on a cruise ship with 3000+ people.  To each his own, but I’ll stick with a bit of “less is more.” 

 

The colors of Italy — and really delicious cake

 

 

Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

UNEXPECTED (EMERGENCY) TRAVEL

Judy car

Those of us in the wonderful state of California mostly have it pretty good.  Our weather is enviable (I would prefer more cold), we have virtually every activity — beaches, mountains, desert, culture, sports — at our fingertips.  But it’s well known we have had our share of disasters — most recently epic fires in both the northern and southern parts of the state.

Residents watch as the Woolsey Fire burns in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley Friday night. (photo by Andy Holzman)

That brings me to a thought:  What if you had to travel VERY QUICKLY as though your life depended on it?  Would you be ready to go at a moment’s notice?  A longtime friend/business colleague told me that she and her husband thought they were ready to go with the essentials packed:  medication, water, computers and back-up devices, snacks, pets and their necessities, clothing, etc., so they were feeling pretty confident.  When the evacuation order came, two issues occurred:

  1. Neither of their cars had more than 1/4 tank of gas; and 2) they didn’t know where they should go.

Fortunately everything worked out in the end for them even though it meant spending a night in their cars (along with three cats) at a safe destination.

So what’s the takeaway?  Have a go-list ready so you don’t have to think about it if this happens to you.  If you keep cash in the house (and everyone should, particularly smaller bills), grab that along with jewelry and portable valuables.  Have a list of prescriptions you need plus a one-week supply ready to go.  Make sure all your photos are backed up! Prints can be reproduced but don’t forget those priceless photo albums.  Extra cords you’ll need. Don’t let your cars get too low.  Finally, move faster than you think is necessary.  My friend was stunned at how quickly the winds shifted and their situation became urgent.

Finally, below is an excellent list provided by FEMA.  Find your own version and use it.  I would even suggest modifying a list of must-haves when you’re traveling.  Your carry-on becomes your go-bag with things you absolutely need.  Most importantly, be safe out there!

International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

SANTORINI, GREECE — Last stop for a milestone birthday

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Thank you to the Greek weather Gods for allowing us to arrive in Santorini to glorious sunshine.  Beautiful blue skies against the white abodes literally built into steep hillsides provide gorgeous contrasts.

Every room has it’s own terrace.

Dining area at the resort.

Our last resort for this trip was in the town of Oia (pronounced “e-a”), about 40 minutes from the ferry in Fira.  Naturally the resort — Mystique — is steep as well, just like pretty much everything else on the island.  The view of the caldera is quite stunning.  “Caldera” refers to the vast opening from the long-ago volcano eruption which formed Santorini itself along with several much smaller islands.  One could sit facing the water and do nothing else.  Of course, navigating up and down the steps required to get anywhere provides added incentive to stay put.  And there’s no “ADA” provisions; it’s simply climb or else.

Our resort with another right above it.

50 steps so far; about a million to go. No handrails.

We did walk into the town to browse around and have lunch at Mezzo Cafe.  It was like the U.N. there with very close tables that lent to conversation.  French folks (from Lyon) to the left and a group of Aussies to the right provided a wonderful opportunity to chat and hear respective impressions of the landscape and life in general.  Our French neighbors immediately asked if I was ok sitting next to their dog.  My response:  “As long as he doesn’t smoke,” which is hardly guaranteed in these parts of the world — especially sitting at an outdoor cafe.  We lucked out on all counts and had a thoroughly terrific time.

Mezzo Cafe

Go-to lunch: Chicken sovlaki with tzatziki, pita and “chips”

Much like our arrival in Santorini (described in the previous post), we experienced a similar “your driver was delayed” challenge upon leaving for a particularly ideal spot to view the sunset.  In this part of Greece, sunsets are like a religious experience.  But they must be well-timed.  We were booked at Ovac, a beautiful spot we were told was best for viewing.  We had a pre-arranged pick-up at 6:15 for a 6:30 arrival at the restaurant, giving us a solid 30 minutes until the sun fully set.  And then it’s 6:20, 6:25.  Tick tock.  Two hotel courtesy cars were waiting, but both had other commitments.

Mind you, I am not walking back down to get to the main office, because I’ll have to walk back up!  Three phone calls later (from a borrowed cell), one of the cars finally took us (ours was still “delayed”), driving at breakneck speed around the curves and we arrived with enough time to get our photos, but not nearly as relaxing as we had hoped.  We did have a delicious dinner and were glad for the experience.

Amazing salad at Ovac.

That view. That sunset.

I’m now convinced not much runs on time in Greece.  In fairness to our two other stays, both had excellent staff and great service (King George Athens and Bill & Coo Mykonos).  But Santorini had some issues to say the least.  Is it Greece in general?  Hmmm.  The country is not exactly stellar in many aspects.  Maybe with this exquisite location, the expectations are lower.  Good question to ponder.

The final day of our stay in Greece was spent at the resort — reading, spa and a wine tasting in their cellar — really a cave of sorts.  Greek grapes are interesting; they are grown without any water other than rain, humidity and/or mist from the sea.  The volcanic earth retains the moisture.  We tasted four local varietals:  sparkling, white, red and a dessert wine, accompanied by various cheeses, fruit, nuts, etc.  It was a lovely experience followed by a small dinner.

Wine tasting a deux.

Fortunately we were back in the room before the anticipated rains came for we would have not been able to negotiate either the steps or steep slope to our room.  It positively gushed water — and it supposedly only rains 20 days per year on the island.  Timing is everything.

Moderate rain flowing past our room.

The deluge a bit later.

For the journey home, American/British Air booked us via our miles from Athens to an overnight at Heathrow then nonstop to LAX.  I’ve complained before about really disliking BA’s biz class (Club World) configuration of front/back seating and having to climb over the aisle seat from the window seat.  However, we were on a brand new plane and it was really “quite lovely” as the Brits would say.  Next year that seat configuration goes away, and everyone will be facing front.  Hopefully staggered.  Better yet, single seating next to the window.  That is the best!

My cubby for 11+ hours. Plenty of room.

That privacy screen was up after the photo!

International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

GREECE FOR A MILESTONE BIRTHDAY – Part 2 Mykonos

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It takes a grand total of 20 minutes in the air to fly from Athens (visit in previous post) to Mykonos.  Other modes of arrival are by cruise ship or ferry from a neighboring island (most likely Santorini, our next stop) or via one’s yacht (sigh).  But flying was the least amount of total time required and the ticket is very reasonable via Agean Air.

Bill & Coo Resort in Mykonos

Anyone else wonder why every building on the island is white?  Aesthetics?  A means of keeping buildings cool in hot weather (yes, that’s a main factor).  How about because it’s the law?  Yes, every building is required to be painted white.  Best part about that is touch-up’s are a cinch because your neighbors all have the same paint!

From the resort toward Mykonos town.

Sunset view from our balcony

The island population is a mere 10,000, but approximately one million visitors experience Mykonos annually during “the season” — April through early November.  Obviously the bulk visit during the true summer months which is precisely why a late September visit was ideal (for us, anyway).  Mykonos town is a series of very narrow, pedestrian-only streets — more like pathways.  It’s hard to imagine navigating during the height of the season when it’s really hot and really crowded.

Classic Greek style

I checked the weather from home and saw mid-70’s.  When we arrived, however, the winds were really strong — gusts up to 35mph and the temp more like the high 60’s.  Planes and ferries were canceled for two days due to the rough waters and winds.  Sitting by the pool was out so that allowed for more time for pure relaxation which is the point of being on vacation.  Fabulous massage, reading, walking to the nearby town for shopping, great food, people watching, etc.  Then there was following the news at home — baseball and hearings.  We didn’t leave the planet after all.

Choppy waters all around

Justin Turner (separated-at-birth) lookalike, complete with Dodger cap

Deep contemplation at sunset

Fortunately, our scheduled ferry to our next and last destination, Santorini, was available, more or less as planned.  The ferry itself was very nice with spacious seats on the top level.  When we departed Mykonos it was quite rainy.  But all that gave way to glorious sunshine upon arriving in Santorini.  Hooray.

Our Mykonos departure with some soggy travelers.

On the ferry

 

Hip, hip hooray! On approach to Fira in Santorini.

Alas, the sunshine was about the only good part of the arrival.  Our luggage was stored in the ship’s lowest level, right next to where the cars park.  Everyone was crowded together, gathering their bags, and tightly packed in waiting to exit.  Curiously, they were boarding passengers at the same time we were exiting.  Total chaos even before we all were on land searching for our respective transportation — either large groups finding buses, or individuals like us looking for our drivers.  An absolute mass of travelers all trying to get out.  Total travel time door-to-door:  Seven hours!  Most of that was spent on the Santorini end.

The traffic snafus as a result of the over-crowded ferries were remarkable.  The line of vehicles to get their passengers was backed up probably a good two hours.  There’s only one very steep road (think California’s Highway 1) to the ferry dock area with continuous hairpin curves, usually with two enormous buses passing simultaneously — one down and one up.  We saw quite a few people obviously so concerned about missing their departing ferry that they gave up and WALKED down the road with their luggage.  They deserve a lot of credit for that!

But we made it to a beautiful resort.  My report on our Santorini stay in the next post.

At Kalita Restaurant in Mykonos, absolutely empty at 8pm except for us (the Americans!)

Fabulous fresh sea bass with zucchini ribbons in foamy sauce. Yum!

Below — what I’ve read so far.  Two wonderful books.  Two wonderful love stories.  Lots of tissue required.