Destinations

Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining

BACK IN THE WINDY CITY

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I absolutely love visiting Chicago.  It is a world-class city with great people, shopping, culture, baseball (none for us this trip) and fabulous food.  I have visited many times, first due to working for a company headquartered in Chicago (from their L.A. office), then for a variety of reasons — an All-Star game at the ballpark formerly known as Comiskey; another baseball trip for Wrigley; a trade show; a conference, etc.  It doesn’t take much prodding for me to visit.

This year’s road trip stopped first in Cleveland and Detroit, so the proximity to Chicago was an easy decision as the place of choice to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary (previous posts and links in bold).  Below are two different views from our hotel — of Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan.

So what was on the itinerary for the 3-night stay?  Pretty much everything listed above, plus a first:  a boat tour on the Chicago River to view the city’s stunning, historic and iconic architecture. Chicago is known for having some of the most interesting buildings, and many of the great talents in the field have contributed and continue contributing to this day.  Among those greats are the names Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and Skidmore, Owings, Merrill.  (Click here for more about the buildings.)  And the weather gods cooperated by providing a perfect day in Chicago; timing is everything as they say.  Neither cold nor hot nor humid nor windy.  If only there were more of these days. Some of the photos from the tour:

Above — 333 West Wacker Street; below – Willis Tower (110 stories)

Above – Marina City complex; below – Wrigley building

Eating and shopping were next up on the agenda, even if the latter was mostly of the window type.  As for the eating, a great deal of advance research was done in order to savor each meal (three lunches and two dinners).

RL Chicago was first up.  Ralph Lauren has a penchant for doing everything “just so,” and that includes his namesake restaurants (NY and Chicago).  While it may be considered a “scene” by some, we found the service very hospitable and welcoming and the food is delicious.  Finding Pigs in a Blanket on an “upscale” menu might be surprising, but they were perfection which is not surprising in hindsight.  The other dishes we tried followed suit.  And, yes, it was fun taking in the scene.

A tried-and-true spot is Shaw’s Crab House, part of the epic group of restaurants from Lettuce Entertain You. It is amazing that they can do so many different cuisines so well. But they do, and we’ve tried enough of their restaurants to know that is the case.

Searching for Chicago’s “best” pizza might result in a debate over thin crust (my preference) vs. a classic deep dish, and many other types in between.  I read about a place called Spacca Napoli and decided that was the winner for us.

For our anniversary dinner, a Chicago stalwart was selected — Le Colonial — recently relocated from Rush Street to fashionable Oak Street (think upper Madison Avenue and all those glorious boutiques).  I loved the food in Vietnam and thought this would be ideal.  And it was.  Just a word about the dessert — it is up there in the annals of dessert perfection.  A chewy and crispy base of oatmeal and coconut and chocolate with a perfect scoop of vanilla gelato on top.  I’d make a trip back just for that (hence the top billing below).

A last lunch was squeezed in en route to O’Hare and recommended by an LA friend who is often in Chicago.  Gibson’s Italia combines the best of their reputation for steak with surprisingly delicious Italian food.  Both were excellent and a terrific way to bid the city goodbye (but hopefully not for long).  And that view of the river from the restaurant is just beautiful!  Separately, did you ever see two happier people around food?  I think not.

If the fondest visual is saved for last, then this shot of Michigan Avenue taken from our room qualifies.  I could just stare and stare ..

 

 

 

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

MICHIGAN FOR A DAY

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Of the U.S. states not previously visited, I can now check Michigan off the list.  What are the others I presume you are asking?  In no particular order: Maine, Alabama and Mississippi. So nearly there.

After spending a couple of days in Cleveland (click here), the principal reasons for going were twofold:  attending a Detroit Tigers game and seeing Kalamazoo, my mom’s birthplace.

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn was the location for our overnight hotel.  The town is synonymous with one word — “Ford” — as it adorns nearly every building.  And if not “Ford” then “Henry.”  Seen below is merely one of countless buildings that comprise the world headquarters.

Random sighting in Dearborn!

We took the opportunity to view some other areas, especially the grand homes in Grosse Point Farms along Lake St. Clair, half of which body of water is in the U.S. and the other half Canada (bordering Windsor, Ontario).

Lakefront family viewing in Grosse Point

As for Comerica Park, it is another of the classic ballparks right in the city that one can access by foot.  I’m so used to Dodger Stadium’s car-only access (or shuttle bus) that it’s really a pleasure to visit a park situated as Comerica is or Progressive Field (Cleveland) or PNC (Pittsburgh) or many others.  And Comerica was the final piece for visiting all 30 current MLB stadiums.  Checkmate.

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After leaving the game, the hubby insisted we see one more sight before heading on.  It is a great one and well worth the short detour — the birthplace of Motown.

 

We set out on the 4+ hour drive which traverses the lower part of Michigan through Ann Arbor, Battle Creek and then Kalamazoo.  But the traffic Gods were not on our side with road closures, so we diverted south.  Sorry, mom.  I’ll have to come back another time to see the city of your birth.  We proceeded through the northern part of Indiana (South Bend) with a stop for dinner in Michigan City, Indiana, and then on to an all-time favorite city — Chicago.  Stay tuned.

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

HOMETOWN ROOTS

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If it’s summer, then there’s likely a road trip happening — mostly baseball related — as was the case for a recent trip.  The significance of this particular trip was a personal milestone — visiting the two remaining current MLB parks on my list.  The list is now complete together with a slew of older ones and foreign ones.

This is the “third time is the charm” for me when it comes to seeing a game in Cleveland.  I was at the original (Municipal) stadium eons ago, but is the first time at Progressive Field (formerly “the Jake”).  Not to mention seeing the Indians before they become the Guardians.  (I keep wanting to add “of the Galaxy” onto that name).   Since the hubby grew up in nearby Shaker Heights before his mom moved the family to Southern California, it is likewise an opportunity to meet up with some remaining family and friends as well.

Homes along Shaker Lakes

Our first lunch was with an elementary school friend of the hubby’s, Stuart Muszynski.  After a successful career in the insurance business followed by a health scare in the early 90’s, Stuart recognized that having a sense of gratitude played a significant role in his recovery.  This led to he and his wife Susan founding a remarkable organization called Values in Action where the focus is on teaching kids and adults kindness, anti-bullying, gratitude and love.  Please click on the link to see the remarkable work being done.  viafdn.org

Lunch with Stuart

Two other significant get-together’s happened, the first strictly by chance.  While showing me the various places he lived, the hubby invoked “nothing ventured; nothing gained” and knocked on the door of a duplex his family (parents and two brothers) lived in for three years — more than 60 years ago.  A very nice woman graciously invited us in to take a look — she lives there with her two sons.  Her mother has owned the duplex for 30 years and occupies the lower level.  She commented what great schools there are in Shaker Heights, then and now.  The duplex will pass to her when the time comes, hopefully many years from now.  Below, as Bruce knocks on the door.

With hospitable Kareemah

The second gathering was at Geraci’s, a Cleveland landmark established in 1956.  We had lunch with Bialosky cousins and one relative who has traced the Bialosky/Shapiro family back to the late 1700’s.  Amazing conversation and a deep dive into how small the world is.  Below from left: Bob (family historian) and Sandy Barnes; Jack and Ronnie Bialosky; and us.  Jack is a second generation Cleveland architect whose firm has worked on innumerable structures.

Speaking of homes there, this So Cal native is always stunned at the enormous difference in cost of homes elsewhere (SO MUCH LESS) compared to my state.  Like the magnificent property below.  Most condos in Los Angeles and certainly San Francisco cost more.  I’m reminded each trip to Cleveland that the weather — mostly the humidity — would be a deal breaker.  But that won’t keep me from always wondering, “what if …?”

Next stop:  My first trip to Michigan — specifically the Motor City.  And baseball, of course.

Perfect baseball weather at Progressive Field
Snippets from the RoadThings You Should Know

ALILA — EVER HEARD OF IT?

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No?  Neither had I until I got wind of a new property recently opened in Encinitas (north San Diego area).  In the course of looking for a fun getaway befitting a special anniversary, I explored Alila Marea Beach Resort.  This is a separate brand under the Hyatt umbrella where one might expect premium pricing from Park Hyatt or even Hyatt Regency.  I definitely was not expecting a room cost approaching $1,000 per night (includes breakfast!) on a AAA rate.  I will continue to look.

When considering where else where else to go, I decided to look into an old favorite from early in our marriage — Ventana in Big Sur.  Turns out that property is also now an Alila, and only the third one in the US.  All of the other locations are scattered around Asia and the Middle East.  Ventana was always a splurge, but nothing like it is now.   At least the rate is basically “all inclusive” — per the website:

Each Ventana booking now features the following inclusive offerings: Dining in-room (all meals), poolside on your dedicated chaise lounge (lunch), or at The Sur House (breakfast and dinner). Convenient, healthy, and inspiring snacks to take on the day’s adventures, along with complimentary keepsake reusable water bottles. The Ventana Big Sur picnic program. Access to indoor and outdoor fitness studios. Volvo chauffeur service within a three-mile radius. The Excursion Outpost, featuring complimentary items for your use on picnics, hikes, and more.

The cost for the above (lowest rate and you best sit down) :: $1,650 per night, plus tax of course.  Onward I go.

Then there is Napa, site of the newest Alila.  Scratch that for the desired timeframe (end of August). But we can go earlier in August with rooms starting at just under $1000.  I’m feeling rich.

Thus I look forward to sharing all the stories and photos of the settled itinerary :: Cleveland (the hubby’s hometown) for baseball plus seeing friends and family; Detroit (baseball only) and some glorious days in Chicago for eating, shopping, exploring and celebrating.  Sounds pretty ideal to me.

International TravelSnippets from the Road

BERMUDA BLISS

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Here’s a key piece of advice:  Factor in downtime for your travel, especially if your itinerary includes going non-stop in order to “see it all.”

One of the things the hubby and I truly appreciate is having a few days to do nothing.  That means no plans, alarms, or advance decisions on how to spend the day. Not only is that a true luxury but something one really needs.  Plus there’s the added bonus of returning home just slightly less tired.  It can be a time to reflect on the trip highpoints/lowpoints.  Since time is obviously so precious, it makes sense to evaluate what works best for you in order to mitigate mistakes or unforced errors.

Bermuda has always been on the to-do list, but it’s minimum two flights from the west coast.  With our post-Africa route through Heathrow, getting to Bermuda was just one more flight.

There are some 70,000 residents collectively in the 150+ islands, but most principally reside on the five largest.  I was surprised at the number of native Bermudians we met with families that had been there for generations.  Most other people — especially those working in hospitality — were an international mix.  Not surprisingly, tourism is the main source of revenue along with insurance and Bermuda onions (not kidding).

Below — the Rosewood Bermuda.

Bermuda is colonial in feel and sometimes in attire where men don pastel Bermuda shorts with loafers and button-down shirts.  Golf is huge; at least eight courses on the main island.  Many hotel guests send their clubs in advance via Ship Sticks.  I used them to send resort clothes ahead as African flights were limited for luggage, but the recommended timeframe to send the bag seemed ridiculously early (shipped from LA on April 16 for our May 4 arrival).

It wasn’t early at all.  The bag in fact made it to the island around April 26 but only delivered to our room on May 5.  With major custom delays (Covid strikes again), copious emails resulted between the shipper, the resort and me.  In the end, in our room there was a sight for sore eyes and a source of clean clothes.

So we took our own advice and did pretty much nothing.

At the main pool
At the beach pool
At the beach
Simple and perfect nightly dessert. Homemade.

The one big adventure consisted of a “car” from Rugged Rentals and driving to the other side of the island.  Seen below is a golf cart disguised as a Hummer with no power steering, brakes or shock absorbers.  Factor in driving on the “wrong” side in Bermuda, and my arms got a workout.

And, as with all good things, this trip came to an end … after 24 days, 3 countries, 15 flights, 6 covid tests and endless memories.  What a blessing to be on these adventures together.

Bye, Bermuda .. Until we meet again.

 

International TravelThings I Love

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DESTINATION

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In just a week’s time, the hubby and I got a true taste of Uganda — from the bustling international Entebbe airport to the Congo border, the vast Queen Elizabeth National Park  and even crossing the Equator.  It is a country with spectacular landscape, welcoming people, adorable children eager to waive hello plus countless species to view.

But, there’s also considerable government control as evidenced by the banning of Facebook.  And, were it not for citizens planting small crops to take to market or consume at home, hunger can be a challenge for much of the population.  With that, we were very happy to do whatever we could to help those dependent upon tourism with their livelihoods.

Wide load — but not the widest by far!

We had two more animal encounters, both unique in their own way  ~~

MOTORBOAT SAFARI

The 40 km Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park flows between Lake George and Lake Edward through the heart of main game viewing area.  The different perspective of water viewing versus the previous land viewing was enjoyed for a relaxing couple of hours.

Above and below:  Many have asked if I ever felt nervous or scared on safari.  The short answer is no.  But, one must be VERY careful around these massive creatures — especially when there is a calf in tow as pictured here.  One could caption this:  “Proceed at your own peril.”  We backed the hell up.

Below is the ingenious work of the black and white Kingfisher birds who dig holes to protect their eggs from any prey.

One of many crocodiles seen in the area.

Co-existing seen everywhere among the species.

WARNING! BABBOONS …

CHIMPANZEE TREK

Unlike the mountain gorilla trek covered in the last post (click HERE), our descent into the Kyambura Gorge was relatively short, significantly less steep, and ultimately very manageable.  While the hubby opted out midway upon arrival at a difficult passage (below), I proceeded with a park ranger and our driver/guide William.   After immediately spotting a group of fast-moving chimps, we went quite a bit further to have an up-close encounter that made the trek and completed our trip sightings.

On the lookout — flat and muddy.
The help is greatly appreciated.
Barely visible at first
Camera shy

That face ..

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION MOMENT

I was laser focused on not slipping in the muddy and wet (but flat) terrain.  My glasses fogged up from humidity and my phone (used for photos) was in my pocket but was somehow very dim, so basically I have zero visibility.  And then I hear “Hello?  Hello?? I can’t hear you!”  And I look at my phone and realized I accidentally dialed my sister Margie in Los Angeles, who came through clear as a bell.  In a deep gorge in Western Uganda near the Congo border.  But try making a call from Coldwater Canyon in Los Angeles and there’s no reception.  No, we didn’t actually speak.  In a panic I disconnected from just being baffled at the whole incident.  We’ve of course had many a good laugh since via text.

At this point, our formal itinerary from Africa Travel Resource came to an end at the (literally) picture perfect Ndali Lodge.  I encourage you to click on the link to read the story of this amazing place, which land dates back nearly 100 years.

The open air gym
With gracious owners Aubrey & Claire Price

There’s just one caveat for staying at Ndali :: Must love dogs.  Or at least not mind them.  Personally they were a sight for sore eyes having been away from our three for so long.  Two were mere puppies — not more than 10 weeks at the time.  One of the older ones slept on our porch all night.  How can you not love Basil, the brown guy upper left.

Cocktail hour

And, finally, two last incredible views.   Next post :: Africa Hits & Misses plus R&R in Bermuda