Ah Chicago…

I love this city. The people are friendly. The architecture, amazing. The food, delicious. It’s one of the few places I can actually see myself living. Well, at least 9 months out of the year, I’d likely make a hasty retreat during the winter.

I’ve visited almost every year for the past five, and try to see different neighbourhoods on each trip. This time I was there for a conference and so I spent most of my time in The Loop.

The city is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan from which the Chicago River flows. Bridges crisscross the city along the path of the river and walking along them allows some of the best views.

Miles and miles of man-made beaches run along the shores of the lake. How great to have them right in the city. And not that crowded at all. I can imagine if we had anything like this in NYC they would be packed full at the first sign of sun.

Chicago has a large amount of green space, which, along with all the water flowing around and through it makes it feel bright and open.

Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”, has been in Millennium Park for a few years now and is pretty popular. It reflects the surrounding buildings really beautifully. Along with the Crown Fountain (below) it’s one of the interactive art installations in the park, you’ll see people walking around and under it taking photos of their reflections.

Kids have a great time splashing about in the water that runs down from the towers of the fountain.

View of the skyline from Lake Michigan. It’s not difficult to see why Chicago is one of my favourite places in the country – there is always something new to discover and I could never tire of this view.

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Bandelier National Monument

Last post about New Mexico, I promise.

We took a day trip from Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument where a number of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings have been preserved.

Most of the area is made up of volcanic tuff, a soft material that the Pueblo Indians were able to carve in to.

There are miles and miles of trails throughout the monument, some with steps and footbridges, but for the most part it’s flat.

All of those large holes above are caves and some of them connect to each other. They’re rather small inside, and most not high enough to properly stand up in, so I assume the majority of them were used for sleeping.

They have ladders set up at the mouths of some of the caves so you can climb in to have a look. They’re really easy to get up, but not much fun on the way down…

We didn’t spend much time here, as it was way too hot and there wasn’t much in the way of shade, but I’m sure it would make for a great hike in the cooler months. There were hardly any visitors around the time we went, which added to the beauty of the place, it was unbelievably calm and peaceful.

Not surprisingly, the drive to and from was my favourite part, I will never tire of turning a corner and seeing this:

On to Santa Fe

We picked up Zippy here and saw a few more things in Albuquerque before heading on to Santa Fe.

Petroglyph National Monument is not too far out of the way and makes a nice stop before getting on the highway.

The monument is actually made up of a series of dormant volcanoes. There are four trails you can take, with one of the shortest have the largest number of view-able petroglyphs. We managed to see quite a lot in the couple of hours before we hit the road.

Although it wasn’t our original plan, renting a car was one of the best decisions we made. So much of what we loved of New Mexico we were only able to see on the drives. Curving, steep mountain roads with gorgeous views and plenty of lookout points so you can stop and take it all in.

We arrived in downtown Santa Fe in the early evening and saw a notice for a walking tour leaving from our hotel, we decided on that to get our bearings and learn a bit about the city.

Santa Fe as it is today was planned mostly in the early 20th century when New Mexico became a state, but its history stretches back hundreds of years to the Spanish and the Pueblo Indians before them. By city ordinance all new buildings must be built in the Pueblo (adobe) style, and for the most part that’s what you’ll see, the main exception being the St. Francis Cathedral.

Downtown Santa Fe isn’t all that large and you can see a lot of it in a couple of days. There is a lot of history so having a guided tour can be helpful. The majority of places are a short distance from the plaza – galleries, art studios, restaurants, market stalls, and shops – so I recommend staying close by if you can.

On Holiday

Another accidental hiatus. This is where I’m supposed to say I’m not going to let this happen again, that I’ll be on here all the time posting at least once a week and all the rest of it. But that would just be a lie and I usually confess immediately after telling a lie (what?). Usually the reason I don’t write is because I haven’t been doing much of anything and have nothing to write about; no pretty pictures to post. But recently I’ve just been lazy.

Now that’s out of the way…

A few friends and I decided we needed time away from the city and chose to make a quick escape out to New Mexico for some of its famously fresh air and beautiful scenery.

Most of our plans went out the window on the first day. Flight delays, a layover in Dallas that resulted in our having to take separate flights to Albuquerque, and arriving at the hotel close to midnight meant that we lost an entire day.

The next morning we planned our walking route to cover Old Town, Downtown, Nob Hill and a few other places nearby. We started out on the old Route 66. And we walked. And walked. And then walked a bit more. Thought we might be lost, when finally, we saw this:

It appears somewhat out of nowhere, surrounded by major roads and strip malls, so it’s understandable that we thought we might be lost. Old town is the historic district of Albuquerque and dates back to the original Spanish settlement of the area in the early 1700s. It’s a few blocks of traditional adobe buildings surrounding a central plaza.

Today it’s comprised of lots of shops, galleries, restaurants and a few museums. Depending on what your interests are you should be able to explore all of it in an afternoon.

After seeing that it would be almost impossible to explore this city on foot we decided to book a rental car. We walked back to the hotel through downtown Albuquerque which is supposed to have lots of great restaurants and is considered an entertainment district. If all that was there, we missed it. The only place that stood out to us was the old Kimo Theatre.

It’s a pretty interesting building, built in a style that combines art deco with traditional adobe pueblo designs, unfortunately there were rehearsals going on that day and we weren’t able to look around inside.

Thankfully, getting a car gave us a lot more to explore. Eventually I’ll get round to writing about it…

Travel: Kansas City

S and I had worked together for all of about 3 days when we knew we’d be friends forever. Just over a year and a half later the crazy girl decided to move back to Kansas City (her hometown). Cut to me crying for days on end…

A couple of months ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that along, I’ve really been neglecting this space!) I took a quick weekend trip to visit her.

Kansas City is known as the City of Fountains and comes second only to Rome in number. The one above is the JC Nichols fountain which was originally located on an estate in New York, but was shipped to Kansas City in the 1950s. Its four horses are said to represent the four mighty rivers of the world, which reminds me of Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers. Not the fountain itself, as you can see, but the theme.

This is little Lu, she only likes the girls if there are no boys around so it was difficult for me to get a good photo of her.

Do I smell barbecue??

Why, yes Lu, you do. My only ask for this trip is that I get my fill of great barbecue. And the lovely S delivered.

Somehow these were the only food pics I managed to get the entire trip, disappointing… But it was just too hard to resist this stuff, you want to dive right in and there’s no time to stop and take photos. I don’t think a day went by when I didn’t have barbecue in some form. They do it really well, and we just can’t get this in NY, so why not?

A baseball game and some quality time with my Kansas family and it was time to come home.

Travel: DC Cherry Blossoms

Spring has come early to the East Coast this year and I couldn’t be happier about it. My mother’s birthday just passed recently and my sister had planned a weekend in DC to celebrate. Most of her plans went out the window when the cherry blossoms bloomed early. Mum loves flowers and there was no way she was going to skip a look at these gorgeous blooms.

This year is the centennial of the planting of the cherry blossom trees. The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington DC in 1912. Today some 3000 trees surround the Tidal Basin and envelop it in fluffy pink clouds each Spring.

The blooms hang over the path around the Tidal Basin, slightly obscuring your view. Cherry blossom-tinted glasses if you will. Above is the Jefferson Memorial seen through the trees, quite a contrast to the winter.

Saturday was the most beautiful day, almost 80° and perfectly clear skies. Lots of pedal boats out on the water, people bicycling around the city, and of course plenty of ice cream.

Whirlwind Weeks

Yesterday was the most beautiful day – almost 70° with the sun shining brightly. B and I stepped out to get some lunch and I realised how much I’ve been looking forward to the summer. People filled the streets and with no coats and scarves to drag them down there more smiles than frowns. I felt lighter, and for a while forgot all my troubles.

The last week or two have been pretty busy and I don’t know where all the time has gone. First, there was a quick trip to Philadelphia, so quick in fact that the only pictures I managed to take were around 30th Street Station.

Then J broke the news that she had found another job. We’ve been a team for the past 2 years and our relationship has grown so much beyond work, so it was pretty hard to take. It’s a strange feeling to be happy for someone and so sad all at the same time. I just hope that I was able to teach her something that will prove useful in her career. All the best J, I miss you already!

Next, I was off to a volunteer event that had us taking a group of under-12’s to the Met. We had to get the kids to the museum on 2 subways and I was exhausted by the time we got there. The idea was that we would explore two wings, but we barely got through the one. I thought children had limitless reserves of energy? Most of these kids just wanted to find somewhere to sit down. Fine by me, I could have used a nap.

And if spending almost 6 hours walking all over NYC with a group of kids wasn’t tiring enough, the next day I had plans to go house-hunting in Brooklyn. What was I thinking? I spent most of the morning just counting down the time until I could finally go and have lunch. This banh mi was perfect – spicy and rich with perfectly crusty bread and lots of pickled veggies. The house hunting was a bust, nothing felt right for me, and so the search continues.

That Monday I was set to fly out to St. Louis for some meetings – all IT stuff, and pretty boring. I was there for 3 days but spent most of my time in a conference room. They ordered in lunch every day so there was little opportunity to escape and take a wander. Luckily we were really close to the Gateway Arch, so I at least got to see that.

I then luckily had a couple of much needed days off work, and instead of doing anything constructive I decided to sit around and eat a lot. Here we have a breakfast risotto full of porky goodness, delicious.

I ended the mini-holiday with a visit to Princeton. Nice to get away to somewhere quiet and spend time wandering all over those old buildings with their hidden passageways.

And now it’s back to reality and routines.

Excursion: Chinatown, NYC

Bunked off work early yesterday (well, not really, I’m fairly certain I was the last person in the office) and went down to Chinatown to meet a friend for some dim sum. Mistake. There was hardly any food even though they were still serving dim sum for another 2 hours. So we decided to take a walk and stop in a few places for some snacks.

Doyers Street. This tiny little street reminds me of a movie studio backlot. All of the buildings are very short – mostly just two or three storeys – the sidewalks narrow, and the road barely wide enough for one car. You’ll see a lot of salons and barber shops on Doyers Street. A lot. But there’s also Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles where you can get a delicious bowl of fresh noodle soup for around $5, and the old Nom Wah Tea Parlour (unfortunately obstructed by the truck in the photo above) that is almost 100 years old.

Doyers Street leads out on to Pell Street where you’ll see a lot more beauty salons and barber shops along with those famous massage parlours.

Yunhong Chopsticks on Mott Street. They carry all kinds of chopsticks ranging from just a few dollars to well in to the hundreds. It’s nice to stop in and have a look round at the various designs. Unfortunately they don’t allow pictures inside.

We then made our way to Tai Pan Bakery on Canal Street for a couple of egg tarts. Need to fight off the crowds in this place no matter when you go, it is always packed.

Street vendor selling cherries.

Lots of activity at the fish market. People prepping for their new year’s meals perhaps?

Then it was back home for us, navigating the crowds in Chinatown can get very tiring.

Travel: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Last weekend, I took a trip to visit Ann Arbor. The campus is gorgeous and there is just so much energy there, I now realise that it’s just the kind of school that I always hoped I had gone to. Every time I go I wonder about all the things I missed out on by going to a much smaller school.

The campus has really grown over the years and it has essentially taken over the majority of the city, as evidenced by the old houses and churches that are now university buildings.

You know all those amazing, fun, exciting campuses that you see in movies and on television? That’s the Ann Arbor campus! If you know someone that’s studying there, I highly recommend going to visit. The weather can get be bitter cold for a lot of the year so it’s best to go in the Spring, but if you want the full experience you need to go during football season. Trust me when I tell you there is nothing else like it.

Travel: Washington DC

After close to 9 months of studying I finally have my life back. This past weekend I took a long overdue trip to Washington DC to visit my sister and brother-in-law. I can’t believe it had been almost a year since my last trip.

Left work early on Friday afternoon and arrived at Union Station at 8pm. I had never seen the station before as I’d either driven or taken a bus in to another location. The architecture is gorgeous and it’s hard to believe it’s only been around for 100 years or so.  Since they live in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood we were able to walk home. Walking from the Senate side of the Capitol we passed the Supreme Court, and then over to the House side and the Library of Congress. It was so amazing to see all these places with almost nobody else around. I wish I had taken some pictures, but it was freezing and I had no plans to take my hands out of my pockets.

Saturday we went over to Eastern Market for some lunch before heading in to Georgetown for the afternoon to do some shopping. This place is crazy on the weekends, just take a look at this picture of the line outside Georgetown Cupcake, it was this long every time we passed by. They’re just cakes people.

 

To get away from all the tourists, we stopped in the garden of the Old Stone House – the oldest private residence in Washington DC. Even though the house is right on M Street, the little garden is surprisingly quiet and there were a few people sitting in the sunshine reading.

Sunday we decided to go and see the new MLK memorial. It sits on one side of the Tidal Basin, opposite the Jefferson Memorial and next to FDR’s. I wasn’t really that impressed, I don’t even think the statue looks like him. FDR’s memorial on the other hand, is lovely.  It’s set further back away from the edge of the water and cannot be seen from a distance.  It’s much lower to the ground than the other memorials and far more accessible. You walk from one side to the other (his first term to his fourth), reading quotes, looking at statues and listening to the sound of waterfalls.

We ended the weekend at the National Gallery of Art to see the Chester Dale collection, no pictures unfortunately, even without a flash I don’t feel right taking photographs in a museum.

It was so great to get away from the city, even though it was just for a short weekend.  I need to remember to do this more often.