Friday, May 27, 2011

New Lights

I found this light in Minneapolis. It's now at the top of my "What I'd like to purchase for the home" list. The design is almost the reverse of the light I have in the living room.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spanish Holiday

We arrived Thursday morning, May 6, in Madrid. After taking a break from the flight, we took a trip to the Metro station “Sol.” The old part of Madrid is great- as is the Metro. It’s extremely easy to get around. The 3 day tourist pass let us jump on and off the trains like a breeze. We attended a milonga on Thursday evening (Milonga Abrazo) which I’ll describe in another post. On Friday, we went to the Prado museum where we admired Diego Velázquez “Las Meninas”. During the evening, we attended the first of 2 wedding parties. The event was held in the basement level of a restaurant. We were served a seemingly endless supply of drinks and various tapas. It was a great way to meet everyone in a casual setting before the wedding.
On Saturday, the 14 hour wedding started with the ceremony at noon. After the ceremony and flower petals were thrown, a bus took the guests outside of town to a beautiful estate that appeared to be specifically designed for receptions. A horse coral was at the entrance. Nearby, three canopy beds covered with pillows promised guests rest if needed. Behind a row of trees was a large yard that had 2 bars set up serving drinks. At another table was a man carving jamon- dry, thinly sliced ham. As guests chatted in the yard, plates of appetizers were continuously brought out- pates, gazpacho, fish, and others. A table near one of the bars displayed a beautiful collection of cheese. Everything was so delicious. After an hour or so, we were beckoned to take a seat inside. Tables were set up with flowers and labeled with different city names. We sat at Reykjavík. Dinner was not a light affair- a 3 course dinner followed served with both red and white wine. After eating as much as possible, we danced the night away.
On Sunday, we continued our tour of the city via metro. In the evening, we hopped on a train to Toledo. The train station in Toledo is a beautiful building built in 1919. We had booked a hotel that Lonely Planet suggested. With address in hand, we started our walk. After a very uphill hike with our luggage, we stopped and took a break over coffee, fresh lemonade, and churros con chocolate. We then entered the gates into the old part of the city- which is surrounded by a tall wall. Our journey continued to be uphill. The buildings become more beautiful and while the cobblestone didn’t make dragging my suitcase any easier, it added to the charm of this city. With the help of several locals, we found our hostel- a charming little place called “Casa de Cisneros”. The room was small, but had a lovely wood beamed ceiling and newly remodeled bathrooms. That night we had dinner at a nearby bar. I ordered a tasty ration of Pulp Gallego, Galician style octopus. At the bar, we watched the last 20 minutes of the Euroleague basketball championship which was played this year in Paris. The two teams were Barcelona and Olympiacos (a team from Greece). Barcelona won, which made us happy since their player Ricky Rubio has been drafted by the Timberwolves. We stayed 2 nights in Toledo. Lots of tourist shops selling the same things- swords, pottery, plates. The narrow streets and beautiful architecture make this a rewarding destination. The Cathedral of Toledo was built between 1226 and 1493. The cathedral’s massive presence and intricate detail is jaw dropping.
On the third day, we took the train back to Madrid and then got on a train to Segovia. Due to the lack of signage, we took the wrong train. Luckily, we quickly found this out. After having to go back to Madrid and buy another ticket because the Renfe train company does not reimburse tickets when passengers miss the train, we eventually made it to Segovia in time to see the setting sun shine on the Aqueduct. What a site to see. The Aqueduct was built sometime during the 1st Century by the Romans to transport water into the city. Next to the Aqueduct is a very modern tourist center. The staff wasn’t allowed to recommend a place to stay or eat, but they gave us a helpful map and showed us where hostels and restaurants were located. While we quite liked Toledo, Segovia was even more special. It’s full of shops, narrows streets, bakeries, restaurants, and beautiful architecture. In the near distance, the fields are very green. At one end of the walled city is the Alcazar which dates back to around 1120. The Alcazar is said to have influenced Walt Disney’s design for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

While in Segovia, we had our favorite meal at the traditional restaurant Duque. We ordered the “gastronomic menu,” a three course meal which included a very savory cochinillo. Across from our hotel, I found what quickly became my favorite tapas restaurant- Casares. Their bar serves gourmet tapas- I tried them all- at reasonable prices for the quality. Inside the restaurant and next to the bar is a mini library section with two tables. This was a great place to read my book over a glass of vino tinto (red wine). There is plenty of walking to do in Segovia. The Alcazer is a must. The rooms that are available to the public each display beautiful paintings and spectacular ceilings. The ceilings are the highlight actually, so don’t forget to look up! The cathedral in Segovia is similar in architecture to the one in Toledo, but it is worth seeing as well.
We stayed 2 nights in Segovia and on the third day we took a bus to Salamanca. We were able to find a simple hostel with the help of the Salamanca tourist center. We took a long walk around the city which contains several monumental churches and a university. Most of the shops sell the same tourist items as Toledo and Salamanca, but we came across two notable places- a meat & cheese shop and a bakery. We bought several types of cheese and feasted on them paired with chorizo from Segovia and a can of gourmet mussels. If I were staying in Spain longer, this way of eating would definitely become a staple. The bakery I most enjoyed in Spain I found in Salamanca. I ordered this incredible dessert. It had a chocolate shell base with a thin layer of a honey-like filling topped with surgery meringue shaped like an ‘ice-cream’ scoop and covered with a hard white chocolate shell.
We spent our last night in Madrid. We attended a bull fight- which I will write about in a separate blog post. We then searched for another tango milonga and took the metro to the stop “Tribunal”. This is quite a bustling area on a Friday night. Lots of bars, including an “Australian bar”. We found a small bohemian creperie. The food was delicious. The train ride home- around 1 AM- was very crowded. As I stood holding onto the hand railing, I looked down to see that the small pocket on the front of my purse had been unzipped. I had never been pick-pocketed before- at least that I know of- and it’s a horrible experience. I’m 99% sure the man in front of me with widened eyes staring at me was the culprit, but I couldn’t be sure. This uncertainty contained by strong desire to angrily react. Sure enough, he and the woman he was with exited on the next stop. Luckily, nothing was stolen. This incident did not taint my Spanish experience, but provided the lesson to keep valuables safe.  
As I write this, I’m in the air on my way home to MSP. My trip to Spain was wonderful. I’ve renewed my enthusiasm to improve my Spanish and I look forward to visiting again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Top 5 Seattle Recommendations

1. La Fontana

Small Sicilian restaurant with very attentive staff. Excellent food.

2. Boat Street Cafe

Small, French bistro. Very good Eggs Benedict. If you sit outside, be careful your utensils don't fall through the holes in the table.

3. La Creperie Voila

An outdoor stand for a cheap, quick snack.

4. Rose's Chocolate Treasures

Very unique chocolates (like bacon chocolate). Close to Pike Place Market.

5. The Crab Pot

Chain restaurant with great seafood. They dump the food on the table (seafood, potatoes, corn), and you eat with your hands.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Becco: NYC

Becco puts a whole new meaning to "when you're here, you're family." I was with a group of 6 colleagues when we stumbled across this restaurant near Times Square. We arrived late and at first thought the place was about to close. However, the wait staff smoothly ushered us to a large table, took our coats, and after a few words to the head of our group, quickly started bringing us plates of food. We had ordered their pre fix dinner which included antipasti, bread, ceasar's salad, and 3 different types of pasta. The professional staff were attentive without being overly so. A wonderful experience and great food. Nice place to bring a group.

Sala: NYC

If you are looking for a Spanish restaurant in New York City, Sala is a nice choice. As I walked past their Bowery location one day during lunch time, I was lured in by their sidewalk "lunch special" sign. The place is quite dark inside and on that day, empty. As my eyes adjusted to the candle light and I helped myself to the delicious sangria, I easily forgot what time it was as well as the work I had yet to do. The lunch special was excellent, inexpensive, and quite authentic. I recommend going on a day you don't have a lot going on at the office.

Butcher and Singer: Philadelphia

Butcher and Singer is a great place to get a steak- albeit an expensive one. The restaurant may remind you of a bank with its tall marble pillars or Wall Street with its bronze bull statues. The decor provides insight into the building's history. Around 1900, it started out as the The National Bank. It then moved on to become the "Butcher and Singer Stock brokerage." It's a very large space, but the low, warm lighting and leather seating gives it a cozy feel.

The website states "you are sure to feel like a celebrity" and indeed you do. Their staff hound you like the paparazzi, though they are quite respectful. Our attentive waiter told us of the remaining bank vaults in the basement. He also told us of the restaurant's claim to fame- on a fully booked night, the owner turned away Bill Clinton during Bill's term as president.

The portions are large and are enough for two- even though our waitress (yes, we had a waiter and a waitress) told us otherwise.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

NYC Tango

I've only gone tango dancing in NYC once, and I went to the Thursday night milonga at Tango La Nacional, located at 239 West 14th Street. The atmospher was very nice- low lights and lots of tables for sitting. However, I was disapointed with the dancing. As a visitor, few leaders asked me to dance. Compared to other East coast cities such as DC, Philadelphia, and Boston, the dancers in NYC weren't nearly as friendly. I do look forward to dancing in NYC again,  but will check out a different milonga next time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Icelandic Paradise

My short 4 day stay in Iceland was difficult. I had packed for a Minnesota August only to find that sweaters and mittens were a must. The only affordable place we could find to stay was a hostel with a communal bed that could fit around 20- to which I instantly called "I get the wall!" We waited almost an hour for a bus only to learn that we were told to wait at the wrong stop. I admit that I did enjoy walking around Reykjavik- after buying some warmer gear- and I enjoyed watching the Olympic handball final with the locals at the library. They were going crazy- and ended up getting the silver medal. But, overall, I was anxious to get home and relax in a more comfortable bed. Then, we stopped at the best hot springs I've ever been to- The Blue Lagoon. It was so wonderful that I've completely changed my mind about Iceland and would love to go back- even if I had just a few hours - to relax in the brilliantly hot aquamarine waters.

Famous Hot Dog Stand

Iceland was freezing during the month of August. In Reykjavik we came across this hot dog stand whose claim to fame was that Bill Clinton, while president, bought a hot dog here. They were quite tasty, and compared to Iceland's overly high prices, this was a nice inexpensive lunch.

Stockholm Tango

In August 2008, I attended a wedding in Sweden. While there, I stopped in Stockholm for a milonga. Great atmosphere. I liked that the space had two areas (divided by a row of chairs): one for dancing and one for practicing.

Court of Neglect

I had a brief stay in Iceland last year and couldn't help but feel sorry for this neglected basketball court.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Philadelphia Tango

While in Philadelphia, I attended a wonderful milonga on Friday at the Buttonwood Studio. The studio is about a mile from the central part of the city. The surrounding area has a dark and deserted feeling at night, so I don't recommend walking there alone. The entrance way thankfully has a sign clarifying that this indeed is the place for the milonga. You walk upstairs into an apartment space with a large cleared off space and wonderfully smooth wood floor. A kitchen sink and cabinets line one wall, the other is lined with velvet covered seating and in the corner was the DJ with laptop. To your left you'll find a hallway for hanging up your coat and seats to assist with shoe change. The hallway leads to a more brightly lit room with chairs and a table with food. I did not investigate this area but headed directly to the velvet covered chairs along the dance floor and observed the dancers. I was greeted by ladies and gentlemen alike, who made me feel very welcomed. The hostess, Lesley, introduced herself and was delighted to have a visitor. Such a wonderfully welcoming community! I danced the next two hours with highly competent and gracious leaders. While I did not have high expectations on the way to this milonga, it has become my favorite milonga as an out of town visitor.

DC Tango

When I travel, I make a point to observe the local tango scene and attend at least one milonga, practica, or lesson. While in Washington DC, I attended the Tuesday milonga at the 18th Street Lounge. What a wonderful place! The entrace way is a bit hidden- next to a mattress store (in the image, it is behind the tree). You walk upstairs find the door to a space that feels like an art studio with high white walls and some paintings. The light was low and small lights lined the floor along the walls- very hip. The leaders were quite friendly, and I was asked to dance all night. The Washington DC tango leaders are a joy to dance with. I highly recommend attending this milonga, it is one of my favorites in the U.S.