Category: trip report

Take me to the river………..San Antonio style


Got a break from the winter that wouldn’t end with a late March trip to San Antonio. Trip was business related but I had planned my flight home after the meeting to allow most of a day exploring. I love visiting San Antonio anytime, but the beautiful sunny days and 80 degree temperatures were a bonus. This is part one of a two part trip review, focused on the Riverwalk and Alamo. Part two will cover the Botanic Garden.

I began walking along the streets of downtown heading towards the Alamo.  As usual bike related things caught my eye. From the sign reminding drivers bikes have rights (and the unfortunately empty bikeshare rack) to the biking police.

Upon arriving at the Alamo,  I spent quite a bit of time wandering the grounds, taking in the architecture and the landscape.


Most visitors to the city are familiar with just a small area of the Riverwalk – the semi-circle restaurant and bar lined section called the Paseo del Rio.

While the Paseo del Rio may be what everyone knows, and is a great place to people watch; you’re short changing yourself if you don’t venture beyond. The riverwalk continues both north and south from this area along the main river. Leaving the Paseo del Rio provides a less crowded but still delightful place to explore.

The city has done an incredible job of providing signage all along the Riverwalk – showing both explanations and locations of points of interest, and also mileage between them. On my last trip to the city, I focused my walks south to the King Williams area, this trip I headed north towards the Art Museum, covering about 2 miles of the river.

Exploring this direction answered one question I’ve had about the San Antonio river – how the river flow and level stayed so constant. Was a tad disappointed I didn’t get to see any boats go through the locks.
This northern section was under construction when I visited 18 months ago. As with the signage, the city has done themselves proud in this area. Just beautiful. From the varied pavement textures, to the art under the street overpasses, to the unique sitting areas and landscape plantings.
I could have spent much more time exploring, but I also wanted to head to the San Antonio Botanic Garden. More on that in part two, just click here…..

Laissez le Bon temp rouler…a weekend in NOLA

 As many times as I’ve visited, as much as I love New Orleans, I’ve never been there for Mardi Gras. I’ve always been intrigued by the Krewe parades, but worried about my reaction to the crowds. A recent visit over Valentine’s weekend confirmed that fear – New Orleans had about as big of a crowd as I can handle.

One local guide provided by the hotel defined Mardi Gras as being from Epiphany (Jan 6th) until the day before Ash Wednesday, which is Wed. Mar 9th this year. However, that seems a bit of a stretch. The weekend I visited would have been part of Carnival, but was the week before the first Mardi Gras parade. Still the city was crowded, maybe the most crowded of anytime I’ve been there. The Rock-n-Roll marathon/half marathon was on Sunday, and the streets were filled with folks obviously in town for the race.

Mardi Gras decorations seemed to be just going up. Some balconies, homes and businesses were already fully adorned in purple, green and gold. Others were in the process of being decorated. Kinda like the first week or so of December and Christmas decorations. In fact, I saw evidence that just like the companies that will hang your outdoor Christmas lights, there were professional Mardi Gras decorating companies at work.

I love New Orleans for it’s mix of the beautiful and the decadent. From the balconies of the Quarter and the mansions of the Garden District to the drunks on Bourbon Street and the wonderful food (and drinks which of course lead to the drunks on Bourbon St). Only in New Orleans would someone give directions with a perfectly straight face that included “From Lafitte’s walk west on Bourbon St, turn right at the first street past the big dildo shop”.

Of course, we indulged in quite a bit of that food and drink. I knew we’d hit old stand-bys: Camellia Grill, Cafe du Monde, K-Paul’s, but I’d reached out to one of the MKE tweeps who seems to know not only a bit about food and restaurants but also New Orleans. @Im_X1 (Christin) strongly recommended we try Green Goddess (@greengoddessFQ or http://www.greengoddessnola.com/). So glad I listened to her advice!

One of the best and most memorable meals in a long, long time. Green Goddess has an eclectic menu, not to mention staff, that blends a variety of ethnic cuisines with ingredients from all over the world; including Wisconsin’s own Nueske’s bacon. Christin even tweeted ahead for us to tell the folks at Green goddess to treat us well, and gave me a little DM’d tip which lead to a yummy fig and blue cheese amuse-bouche described on the menu as Armagnac-Soaked Mission Figs: These boozy morsels are stuffed with Strathdon Blue Cheese,wrapped in Serrano Ham, quick-roasted, and finished with Leonardi Balsamico aged 20 years in Cherrywood Barrels. Oh. My.

 The restaurant is tiny, with maybe room for 25 diners inside, perhaps another 15 outside. We were seated along a bar/counter giving us a great view of all the action in the kitchen. Chef Chris DeBarre takes an active role in interacting with the guests, explaining courses as they are served, but it was the expediter at work directly in front of us that we found most fascinating (even if I did joke that he scared me just a bit). We ate far too much, beginning our meal with the chef’s choice cheese platter accompanied by a Pecan Nut Brown Ale from Lazy Magnolia Brewing, moving to an amazing caprese salad, followed by Shrimp in a grass skirt and Cochon de Lait/Lei pulled pork wrapped in banana leaves (you *must* try this entree). The wine list offered several options of great wines by the glass to pair with the dishes (my memory is a bit hazy on that part of the night).

But that’s not all…remember I mentioned Nueske’s bacon? We ended the meal with Vietnamese pressed chicory coffe and their  “Notorious” Bacon Sundae. Praline ice cream, caramel sauce, bacon, sea salt. Sweet, salty, rich goodness. I still dream about that sundae.

Other dining highlights were a dinner at K-Pauls (where somehow I took no pictures) and Camellia Grill – both of them – breakfast at the Camellia grill in the French Quarter, and lunch another day at the original one a street car ride away down St Charles Avenue at Riverbend.

We also did a bit of drink touring. A stop at the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone, Pimm’s Cups at Muriels by Jackson Square, Hurricanes at Evelyn’s. And of course, I had to have  blue Moon or two along the way.

We stayed at Wyndham Vacation Resorts’ La Belle Maison, located at the corner of Magazine and Gravier, a block and a half west of Canal. Great location, one of Wyndham’s timeshare resorts (we own points, acquired on eBay, in the Wyndham system). Stayed in a 1 bedroom “Presidential” Suite. Loved the room, the location. Would give rave reviews except for the incident where the valet lost our rental car. Could not find it for over 2 hours, long story involving a cab to the airport, the car finally recovered (they forgot which garage it was parked in among 5 or 6 options), returned to the agency by the hotel valet service. Something in all my traveling for business and personal I have never heard happen to anyone before.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with the traditional photos of the accomodations:

A trip to paradise………

When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.
 
And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away
–John Prine, Paradise
After 10 years away from Kentucky, I found myself once again back in the Bluegrass state for the second month in a row. The first trip is written into two blog posts – Lexington and Lousiville.

Ok, so maybe we weren’t in Muhlenberg county, but it was a trip back to Western Kentucky, a visit to Mammoth Cave along the Green River and a stop at Paradise along the way. Not the Paradise Mine referred to in John Prine’s song, but Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, in Louisville.

Last time we were at this fun and eclectic (not to mention yummy) restaurant was to celebrate Kiddo’s 1st birthday. He’s now 11. It’s been a while. First discovered when I was working for a wine & spirit distributor in Kentucky. Occasionally had lunches there with customers, or bites with co-workers when I was in town for a meeting. When we moved to Louisville, we discovered how great a place it is for brunch. Bobby Flay did a Throwdown with Lynn. (WTF, my second Bobby Flay mention in two days, and I’m seriously not *that* big of a fan)


Don’t let these pictures fool you. The place is usually packed. This was mid-morning on a Monday. Not exactly prime time. As we were leaving the lunch crowd was beginning to arrive. Love how every inch is decorated. Even the bathrooms! Fun touches (and puzzles on the tables). Kiddo and I enjoyed a nice game of Would you rather…

 
Kiddo, Mom and I had fun from the second we pulled in the parking lot, right through brunch and a trip to the gift shop. The gift shop seems to be an addition (to the building) since we moved from Kentucky. Kiddo couldn’t resist the fun Christmas hat.
 
After brunch we began the last leg of our drive to Nashville (this is the post on that part of the trip). Along the way we made a stop at Mammoth Cave. Kiddo has been asking to visit a cave…swears he’s never been to one. Doesn’t seem to remember that he did visit Mammoth Cave as an 8 month old in one of those baby pouches.Looks like they are re-modeling the Visitor’s Center. Mom hung out in the Mammoth Cave Hotel while Kiddo and I enjoyed the 2 hour “New Entrance” (new in 1921) tour.

The tour is marked as moderately strenuous due to about 500 steps. Pace was leisurely, but we were always going up or down steps or ramps. Kiddo was suitably impressed. Which makes me glad.I love visiting caves. Kiddo and I want to go back and do one of the longer spelunking tours – a bit of crawling and climbing and exploring.

 
Who woulda thought such unassuming entrances and exits would hide such natural wonder. If in the area, a must visit. Because despite what John Prine sang, Mr Peabody didn’t quite haul off all of Paradise!

Thanksgiving, It’s all about the food….and the family…and friends…and……

Just back from a Thanksgiving trip to my brother’s in Nashville. Great city, great company. Love visiting them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my brother hit the jackpot when he met his wife, Gina. In fact I said exactly that last year, when I wrote about the Thanksgiving 2009 trip here. The confirmed bachelor is now married, and a father. Last year my nephew was a newborn, this year a new walker.
Adding to the enjoyment, Gina’s aunt is a great hostess – and from day one has welcomed us as extended family into her gatherings. For most of these gatherings, we are in charge of bringing the drinks – beer, wine, a bit of spirits. For the Thanksgiving feast, Jeff and Gina do prepare quite a bit of the food. Last year I did my part entertaining 2 week old Jack while his parents cooked, this year, kiddo had that duty….providing me an opportunity to help with the cooking.
Preparations began Wednesday evening and continued through Thursday morning with an eye on our 1 pm deadline. Thursday morning found four of us in the kitchen, and we quickly developed almost a dance…weaving between each other, passing ingredients, stirring while another measured, one manning the sink – washing the dishes. Lots of mumbling under our breaths, reading the recipe’s next steps, thinking about what we needed next. 
 
I’d suggested to Gina that we do the Roasted Brussel Sprouts with pomegranate I’d seen on the Thanksgiving edition of Throwdown when Bobby Flay took on one of my favorite bloggers, Pioneer Woman. Gina put me in charge of making this dish. Highly recommend. Very highly recommend this dish. Even folks who think they don’t like brussel sprouts will love it. As delicious as it is beautiful.
Also on the menu was a homemade version of the classic green bean casserole. Created without a single can or bit of processed food. the best green bean casserole I’ve ever tasted, and tons of fun to make. From sauteeing the fresh mushrooms to creating my own onion straws. So good, so worth the effort.
 
Gina and Jeff (with the help of her young cousin) made a fabulous pumpkin cheesecake- which had all of us licking the bowl. The bourbon laced sauce really, uh, topped the cake.
 
When the cooking was done, it took two cars to load up all the goodies and head to Gina’s aunt’s house for our feast. (Yep, plenty of my fav, Blue Moon)
We started with appetizers of artisan cheeses, homemade pumpkin hummus and babaganoush, spinach artichoke dip and lots of crackers and veggies to dip them with.
Then quickly moved onto the main course which even my little nephew loved!
After dinner, in a slight food coma, we all retired to the family room. Some watched the football game. Though electronics also came into play – folks in the same room texting each other, “Angry birds” being played simultaneously on the iPad, an iPod and an iPhone. Even the little ones got in on the fun.
 
Through it all, I was very impressed with kiddo and how good he did with his cousin. Makes me proud to be his mom.

I like shiny, pretty things….or Chihuly at the Fredrick Meijer Gardens


I regularly travel to Grand Rapids, MI on business. Of the cities in my usual travel rotation, it is one of my favorites. Pedestrian friendly downtown, good restaurants, nice hotel….not to mention productive business meetings (which after all are kinda the point of my being there). My first few trips I explored the downtown area in the evening, even doing this little photo essay. On a cab ride from the airport, I’d noticed a billboard for the Fredrick Meijer Sculpture Gardens. Hmmm, told myself that some trip I’ll need to work in a visit. What finally spurred me to action was  this post from Garden Faerie about a Chihuly exhibit at the Meijer Garden.

Sold.

I have been a fan of Chihuly for years. Made it to several exhibits – from indoors at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum to outdoors at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and several visits to the installation at the Missouri Botanic Garden. The “someday I need to try and work in a visit”, turned to “I *must* work in a visit”. Was glad to discover they were open late on Tuesday evenings, and could take advantage of the long sunlight hours in June for my first visit.  Took hundreds of pictures, added that trip to my mental list of future blog topics…but never quite got around to putting up a post.

Another post by Monica, the Garden Faerie, mentioned the exhibit being extended through the end of October, which got me thinking about a second visit. Finding an opportunity to see the sculptures and the gardens in another season. Fate would have it on a recent trip I’d have a few late afternoon hours, between meetings and plane flight home for another quick visit. 2 hours and 300 pictures later, so glad I’ve discovered the Meijer Sculpture Gardens, and made a return trip.

Perfectly planned for strolling, on my first trip my pedometer showed I’d walked over 5 miles and over 3 on the second. Don’t worry there are also trams available to tour you around; I’d done some large loops more than once to get in some fitness mileage. The gardens include an exceptional children’s garden (love the Great Lakes shaped interactive water feature!!!), an outdoor amphitheatre, natural and man-made water features, shade/woodland garden area, glass houses/conservatories, a Michigan farm area. Nicely maintained plants – primarily woodies – both deciduous and evergreen. Not what I would call a “botanic garden”, but that’s not what they are going for. This garden is designed as a showcase for the art, a goal I would say it has met or exceeded!

The Meijer Garden is designed around the sculpture.  A few pieces stood out, really spoke to me. Some due to their interesting concept, others because I was familiar with the artists’ other work (Rodin, Calder), and a couple for sheer whimsy.

But it was the Chihuly sculptures I had come to see. His traditional glass, the neon he’s been doing the last few years, and the newer polyvitro forms:

Seeing not only the Chihuly but the entire gardens in two seasons was a treat. Often an entirely different look to the art because of the surrounding, the change in light. And in nearly every case, found the fall colors, fall foliage enhanced the art.

Two seasons of Chihuly:
Two seasons of other sculpture:

Visiting a botanic garden across the seasons is a lesson I learned while living in St. Louis. A very wise horticulturist suggested visiting Mobot (Missouri Botanic Garden….or as I wrote it up “The Garden”) monthly to help the home garden develop a full season, year round landscape. I made a point of doing this then. And suggest if you live near a public garden to do the same….break out of the habit of only visiting in the mid-summer flower power glory. See what you can see in the other seasons. It may surprise you!


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