travel

Where Are You Going in 2014?

cape town

Maybe it’s because I closed 2013 with two trips, or because I’ve been so crazy with life, recently. But I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be going, this year.

It’s kind of funny to be in this place: completely replenished with vacation days, and clueless as to how I’ll spend them.

Not that I’m lacking in inspiration! Since the start of the new year, I’ve been perusing all the travel porn “Where to Travel in 2014” round-ups everyone’s been putting out. The NY Times released an especiallyВ gorgeous one, last week. It included several places I’ve considered over the past few years: Ecuador, Uruguay, Scotland. As well as others that have long been on my hit list—Cambodia, Vietnam, Cape Town (in the photo above)—but I’ve yet to visit, due to lack of vacation time.

It’s a big world out there, and there are so many options. Where are you headed, this year?

(Cape Town photo via NY Times)

A Long Weekend of Great Eats in London

Whenever anyone asked me how my trip to London was, my automatic response was: “It was amazing! I ate sooooooooo much!!” Which prompted most people to respond: “Really? I thought the food wasn’t that great over there.”

I can’t speak to how London’s overall dining scene is, since I was there for such a short time. But everything I ate was fabulous. Reen planned an awesome itinerary for my trip, which revolved around two of my favorite activities: eating and wandering around. Each day, we trekked for hours, getting to and from every restaurant.

I couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement. Along the way, I saw tons of the city and walked off a fraction of the calories we consumed. And, best of all, we got to catch up on everything that’s been going on with us on opposite sides of the ocean, for the past year!

Some highlights:

Despite flying in on a red eye, I was still game for a long walk from Reen’s Marylebone apartment to Spitalfields. We had a late lunch at the English Restaurant, a wonderfully old school place. It’s housed in building from the 1670s, and the interior has gorgeous wood floors and dark wood booths. The restaurant has a lovely menu, which includes some refined takes on British standards. We shared a delicious salmon roulade and an omelet.

IMG_1106

Later, we had drinks with some of Reen’s co-workers. I don’t remember either of these two things from my previous trip to London, but I’m convinced we need both, in the States: The ability to stand outside a bar and drink. (As long as you’re in a designated area.) And mulled wine. Seriously, it’s one of the most amazing drinks I’ve ever had. How has it not infiltrated bars on this side of the pond?

The next morning, we embarked on another long walk to Maltby Market. Along the way, Reen led us down Drury Lane, which she knew I’d love for one reason:

IMG_1129

…there are a bunch of ballet shops within a few blocks of each other! Of course, we stopped into a few.

IMG_1119

The Bloch store was my favorite. It was new and pretty with all their shoes displayed on the bottom floor. At Bloch, and the other stores, women and girls were getting fitted for their pointe shoes. It’s funny—and comforting—how ballet rituals are similar, no matter where in the world you are.

IMG_1121

After crossing the Thames and walking along the south bank for a while, we came to what appeared to be a row of garages under a bridge. We’d arrived at Maltby Market.

IMG_1157

On weekends, each of the garages houses a pop-up restaurant or food stall—but they’re only open until they run out of eats, usually between 2 and 4.

Reen had chosen Bea’s of BloomsburyВ for brunch. When we arrived at their garage, we were dismayed when we saw their door down—we’d thought we’d missed our window of opportunity!

Then we realized you could walk in through a small door within the door…

IMG_1142

…and into a cute, makeshift restaurant!

IMG_1141

Bea’s has a simple brunch menu with staples like pancakes, french toast and poached eggs. I opted for both the pancakes and a poached egg and a side of smoked salmon.

IMG_1138

Bea’s also has maple bacon, which is the most amazing bacon I’ve ever eaten—sweet, salty and crispy, all at once. Sadly, I was too busy chowing down on it to take a pic!

Afterwards, we stopped into the other pop-up shops. My Cup of TeaВ had gorgeous-looking blends and elegant accessories.

IMG_1145

A few steps down, Comptoir Gourmand was selling some of the prettiest pastries I’ve ever come across.

IMG_1151

IMG_1147

I wished I could have sampled everything, but I was so stuffed, that I just opted for one of their Portuguese egg tarts, which I devoured a few minutes later. So delicious! The filling was thicker and richer, and the crust more flaky than the Chinese ones I’m used to eating.

IMG_1149
On the other side of the bridge is Maltby Market’s Ropewalk—which meant even more amazing-looking food and cocktails!

IMG_1159

Again, I wanted to try everything. Reen highly recommended the Bad Brownie Company, so we got one to go.

IMG_1160

To return to Reen’s place, we walked back along the south bank of the Thames, passing sights like Tower Bridge.

IMG_1173

We eventually hit the Southbank Christmas market. Unlike Maltby, this place was packed—a complete sea of wall-to-wall people! It had a German theme, so all the booths looked like little wooden chalets. We purchased cups of mulled wine to sip as we walked. Though, thanks to the crowds, I could barely drink it!

IMG_1196

We crossed the river right near Big Ben, which looked gorgeous in the sunset. So much so, that we asked someone to take this touristy photo of us!

IMG_1203

The following morning, we walked to Notting Hill for brunch at Granger & Co. Reen had warned me that we’d have to get there early, because there’s always a line. She wasn’t kidding!

IMG_1265

Luckily, it moved pretty quickly.

I loved the aesthetic of the restaurant—the big windows and wooden ceiling.

IMG_1271

Everything on the menu looked fantastic, as well. Since I was already doing a great job of eating my way through every place we hit up, I opted for the full Aussie breakfast. It was great, especially the eggs—though I wasn’t able to finish it!

IMG_1269

Even though it was drizzling, we walked around Notting Hill. The neighborhood is adorable, with pretty little houses and boutiques.

We stopped into Ottolenghi, the deli/patisserie from the chef/cookbook author of the same name. (He wrote that Jerusalem cookbook, that’s been everywhere!)

IMG_1279

The salads looked so good, but at that point, I was stuffed nearly to the point of self-loathing.

IMG_1274

So Reen and I got a few treats (a cupcake, chocolate-dipped macaroon and lemon tart) to go.

IMG_1277

I was still full on the walk back to Reen’s place, but since I was so hooked on mulled wine, I couldn’t resist the chance to stop for a glass. We ducked into the Swan, one of Reen’s go-to spots. The owners of the pub were super-friendly, and they gave us two very tasty mince pies to go with our drinks. (I think we could use some more mince pies, here in the States, as well!)

IMG_1282

That evening, we went to St. John for dinner. The restaurant features local, seasonal ingredients, and its menu is comprised of small plates for sharing. Reen and I each selected two. I chose the kohlrabi, brown shrimp and cucumber salad. It ended up being my favorite dish of the trip—and that’s saying a lot! The salad was light and refreshing and perfectly dressed. I also chose the whole crab with mayonnaise, which was among the most popular dishes at the restaurant, that night. Nearly all the other diners were eating it, too. I don’t think you can go wrong with whole crab. We ate ours sans the mayo, and were glad we did, a few minutes later.

IMG_1286

Reen’s two picks came out next, and they were probably the two richest plates on the menu. The fois gras and duck liver toast was amazing, but also the heaviest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. After just a few bites, I was stuffed to the point of self-loathing. Reen was, as well. We were nearly in pain when the Jerusalem artichokes came out—covered in a creamy sauce. Yet, we still managed a few bites.

At that point, we were ready to explode. Still, we got two of the puddings, anyway—because we had to try dessert, as well!

IMG_1288

The next morning, Reen had work, so she recommended I get breakfast at the Providores and Tapa Room, a cute restaurant in her neighborhood.

IMG_1296

Even though I was meeting her for lunch just a few hours later, I had to try the Turkish eggs:В poached eggs on yogurt with hot chili butter. I would happily eat that for breakfast every day, if I could!

IMG_1295

My last meal in London was at Spuntino, another awesome place Reen knew of. It’s nondescript from the outside; I’m don’t even remember seeing a sign. Inside, it has an underground feel, thanks to the distressed subway tiles, exposed brick and bare lightbulbs.

IMG_1315

We shared a pulled pork slider, the slaw and the mac and cheese—one of the creamiest and most delicious I’ve ever had. It was more than enough to fortify me for my tube ride to the airport and flight back to NYC.

IMG_1312

…I also cannot thank Reen enough for being the best host (and friend!) that I could ask for! Thank you, thank you, Reen for making my trip so wonderful!

Holiday Highlight: The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker

As you may have noticed, from my lack of posts, this holiday season has been nutty! But as hectic as it’s been, I’ve enjoyed every minute: spending a whirlwind long weekend in London with my best friend. (Highlights coming soon!) Seeing Ailey during their annual City Center run (Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma” was the highlight of the program I saw) and ABT’s Nutcracker. And celebrating Christmas with all my loved ones, yesterday. (Mal and Peter are the best hosts, ever! They plan the menus, do all the cooking and somehow manage to mix and mingle with everyone.)

In a month filled with great times, one experience especially stood out as a highlight: Seeing the Royal Ballet,В in London.

Like I’d mentioned, my best friend, Reen, and I both tried to get Royal BalletВ Nutcracker tickets weeks ago, but they were sold out. My parents (who I already knew were the world’s most awesome parents), however, surprised me with tickets before my trip.

nutcracker envelope

They’d purchased them via Stubhub. And in an additional surprise, the seller included this beautiful note when she mailed the tickets. (I’ve also transcribed it, below, since it’s a little hard to read.)

nutcracker ticket note

Dear ‘Kevin,’ [my stepdad]

I see that you have my tickets and I just hoped that if they are for you that you have a wonderful time and if not then someone else enjoys them.

Just so you know, I am not a [illegible] and this is a special show for me and it is years since I have managed to get tickets to the Opera House—where I saw the Nutcracker with my divine late husband—also called Kevin!

This year, I had a later opportunity to visit a goddaughter in Jersey, one thing the past, one the future. Decisions, decisions, rather than do my usual toss a coin, I costed the Jersey trip and put the tickets up for sale. If they sold, Jersey, if not the Opera.

You know the rest.

Merry Christmas.

Anison (really quite sane!)

…I nearly cried after reading that! (And, to be honest, got a little teary while typing it up, just now!)

Dressing up and going to the Royal Opera House was so exciting. For such a renowned theater, it’s surprisingly nondescript from the outside.

royal opera house exterior

I was also shocked at how small it was, in the inside! I suppose I’ve become accustomed to the massive proportions of the Koch Theatre and the Met Opera at Lincoln Center.

royal opera house

Our seats were in the center of the balcony, but it felt super-close to the stage. Since the theater is so intimate, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The performance, itself, was great—I really enjoyed watching a production that was new to me.

Elizabeth Harrod as Clara in The Nutcracker В© Johan Persson/ROH 2009

Unlike in Balanchine’sВ Nutcracker, the version I’ve seen the most, Clara is a company member, rather than a child. She dances en pointe through most of the performance, and is featured in most numbers.

Francesca Hayward as Clara with Artists of The Royal Ballet in The Nutcracker В© ROH / Tristram Kenton 2013

Plus, it was interesting to see how the company still keeps the tradition of putting most dancers in wigs. I can’t recall a U.S. company that does the same!

Laura Morera as The Sugar Plum Fairy and Federico Bonelli as The Prince in The Nutcracker В© ROH / Tristram Kenton 2013

One particularly special moment, for me, came at the end of Act I, during the “Waltz of the Snowflakes”—my favorite part of the ballet. I’d forgotten that the version of “Snow” that I’d performed last year was partially based on the Royal Ballet’s choreography. So when the snowflakes came out and started dancing, I remembered that I had done many of those steps, myself. I felt truly lucky to see the Royal Ballet perform it live. I’d watched this low-quality YouTube versionВ many times in the past. It majorly pales in comparison to seeing it in person!

During intermission and after the performance, Reen and I went to the Opera House’sВ Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar, which is in a gorgeous glass atrium.

opera house bar

At the bar, you can pre-order food that would be set out for you during intermission. So Reen treated us to champagne and plates of smoked salmon andВ charcuterie, which we ate between acts. (Thanks Reen!)

I can’t thank my parents (and Reen!) enough for such an awesome night. You can just tell, from this photo here, how thrilled/thankful/happy I was. And still am.

heg and reen at opera house

(Royal Ballet photos via the Royal Opera House)

Off to London!

20131212-205055.jpg

As we speak! I’m sitting in the plane on a runway at JFK, waiting to take off.

The past few weeks have been nutty—hence, the lack of posts! But don’t worry; life has been crazy, though with all good things.

Considering how little I’ve been sleeping, a mellow beach vacation would seem more in order. But I’m so energized for this quick jaunt to London. In fact, having it to look forward to kept me feeling upbeat and optimistic for the past several months.

I’ll be visiting my best friend, who moved to London about a year ago. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see her! She’s planned a fabulous weekend: lots of Christmas markets, hearty brunches, mulled wine. I told her that I want to see her London, and I’m so excited to see the city from her local perspective.

My stepdad also surprised me with tickets to see the Royal Ballet perform The Nutcracker—he procured then long after it had sold out and I’d deemed it a lost cause. As you can imagine, I was over the moon when he told me.

I’m a lucky girl. рџ™‚

And if you have any London recs, please let me know!

Photo via Pinterest

Adentro Dinner Club

I spent my last night in Buenos Aires at Adentro Dinner Club, another puerta cerrada. This one was in Palmero, and run by Kelly, another American expat, and Gabriel, her Argentine boyfriend.

Adentro’s defining characteristic is that the evening revolves around an asado—a BBQ. Similar to American BBQs, asados are an Argentine tradition where friends and family gather and hang out for hours, drinking wine and eating an array of grilled delights.

There are few things in life more appealing to me than a good BBQ. After reading about Adentro, I immediately made a reservation.

adentro

The evening started in the back of Kelly and Gabriel’s house, near the grill. Sausages and a few dishes of cheese were already being fired up…

cheese and sausages

…and heaping platters of veggies and meat sat nearby, awaiting their turn on the flames.

veggies

mushrooms and asparagus

In addition to having an outside area for the grill, Kelly and Gabriel also have a rooftop space. We headed up there, and I sipped a cocktail of champagne and passion fruit liquor, snacked on empanadas and the grilled cheese, and chatted with the other guests who were arriving. I met a couple who were in BA celebrating their third anniversary—and, coincidentally, live just a few blocks away from me in Washington Heights! There was a travel writer who was working on Lonely Planet’s BA content, and a group of three American women, two who lived in BA and one who was visiting from the States.

empanadas

After we polished off the empanadas, we headed inside to the dining room. Once we sat down, the food kept coming—and it was all delicious and super-fresh. We started with grilled shrimp and salad…

shrimp and salad

…followed by sausage, blood sausage and intestine, accompanied by chimmichurri and potatoes. (This was my first time eating intestine and I really enjoyed it!)

sausages

Unlike at the other puerta cerradas, Kelly and Gabriel sat down and ate with us. While all puerta cerradas have a dinner party vibe, this one especially did, thanks to that. As we chatted, I learned that they both have day jobs (he as a chef and she as a graphic designer), and that’s why Adentro is only “open” once a week, on Wednesdays. Kelly is also a vegetarian, which explained the abundance of veggies on the menu—something I appreciated, after so many days of meat. Though I did eat plenty of meat, as well!

I thought the sausages were the main course, but it was actually the veggies I’d seen waiting to be grilled earlier—and lots of steak. (I must have been too excited to dig in, since I didn’t get a shot of it!)

grilled veggies

The meal concluded with not one, but two desserts: black cocoa creme brulee…

creme brulee

…and a grilled poached pear with marscapone whipped cream.

poached pear

Even though I was beyond stuffed, I ate every bite of both desserts. Afterwards, everyone lingered for a while, just talking and sharing stories. It seemed like a fitting meal to end my time in BA.

Palermo SoHo

As pretty as Recoleta was, it wasn’t exactly a shopping mecca. Sure, there was a pretty boutique here or a nice chocolate place there, but I didn’t stumble upon an area where there was row after row of cool, local shops.

At the puerta cerradas, I started asking people where to go shopping—and everyone suggested Palermo Soho, especially around Gurruchaga and Armenia.

So on one of my last days in BA, I took the subway to the Plaza Italia stop and started walking down Gurruchaga. Within a few minutes, I was loving the neighborhood. The streets were pretty, tree-lined and quiet, and I started seeing sidewalk cafes and cute shops.

Lots of cute shops. Enough to keep me browsing for hours.

I wandered into a number of cool places, including:

Bonito Portezuelo, on Gurruchaga, which sells handmade pillows, woven toys, chairs made from cacti, and other items crafted in the northern part of the country.

bonito portezuelo 1

bonito portezuelo 2

bonito portezuelo 3

…I couldn’t quite figure out what you were supposed to do with those pom-poms on strings. If you know, please tell me!

Also on Gurruchaga was Elementos Argentinos, which sold beautiful, handmade rugs, blankets, shawls and other textiles, also from northern Argentina.

elementos argentinos 2

You could even commission them to create a rug in the style and colors of your choice.

elementos argentinos 1

I was tempted to buy a few pillows, but didn’t want to deal with the hassle of bringing them home. I came close to picking up one of the gorgeous llama throws, as well.

elementos argentinos 3

Reina Batata Bazar Boutique, a showroom of stylish home goods, was a few doors down: Think Anthropologie-esque plates, flatware, serving bowls and the like, all crammed into one bright, airy shop. I don’t know what they were spraying in there, but the air smelled like amazingly sweet baked goods. (They, unfortunately, wouldn’t let me take pics, though you can see their wares on their website and Facebook page.)

I’m a sucker for locally made soaps, so I was drawn into Sabater Hnos. They had soaps in what appeared to be every scent, size and color. I picked up a lavender bar for myself. (After using it, I wish I had gotten more! The fragrance is fresh and light, and the lather luxurious.)

sabater hnos

On Gorriti, I stumbled down a sunny alleyway brimming with plants.

galeria paul

I followed the path and ended up at two awesome stores.В TealosophyВ had some of the best-smelling teas I’ve come across. After sniffing spoonfuls from half the store, I purchased a bag of Monsoon Wedding, a lemongrass/mint chamomile tea.

Paul French GalleryВ was a few feet away. Its space was filled with stylish, minimalist home goods—lots of clean lines, stark white and neutrals. The kind of stuff I’d buy for my apartment, if I were in the market for such items.В (Neither place allowed me to take photos.)

Later in the day, I found Seco Rainwear. I was immediately smitten with their whimsical patterns…

seco 3

…and cute shoes.

seco 2

But I was most excited when I saw an array of bikinis in what appeared to be my size. Within minutes, I was trying on and buying one—the perfect souvenir for a beach bum like myself!

seco 1

By the end of the afternoon, I’d walked up and down nearly every street in the neighborhood. Though I stopped into dozens of stores and was thrilled with my purchases, I didn’t do nearly as well in the food department. I was starving by the time I got to Palermo, so I ate at the first outdoor place I saw—Bartola Corner. The food was underwhelming and the servers surly. And it’s unfortunate because I was too stuffed after that to sample the sweets or eats at any other nearby places that looked way more appetizing!

Maybe next trip…

plamero street 2

(P.S. — If you’re visiting Palermo any time soon, check out mapasbsas.com for more info on where to shop and eat.)

Teatro Colon

One thing I really wanted to do in BA was see a ballet performance at Teatro Colon, the city’s famed, opulent theatre. Its ballet company has a great 2013 rep, including Don Quixote, Symphony in C, Swan Lake and Cinderella.

Unfortunately, my visit happened to fall between performances.

But I still wanted to check out the theatre, and was excited to learn that it offers guided tours (110 pesos for non-Argentines) every day of the week.

teatro colon ticket

The tour starts in the lobby, where you can see sketches and costumes from past operas.

costume sketches

costumes

Then it moves to the main staircase, where you see a ground-level view of the ornate other levels.

entry hall

entry hall, second level

Along the way, we got an overview of the theatre’s history.

entry steps

The original Teatro Colon was located on the block where the Banco Nacion now stands, from 1857 to 1888. В The construction of this second Teatro Colon started in 1890 and was completed in 1908. The first performance in the theatre was Verdi’s Aida—which is why there’s a bust of Verdi above one of the doors on the second floor.

second floor

The Golden Room, also on the second floor, is the grandest hall I’ve ever seen, with soaring ceilings, glistening chandeliers—and, of course, innumerable gold details.

golden room

The entire theatre recently underwent a major renovation, which was completed in 2010. A small square on the wall of the Golden Room and a bit of gold trim was left untouched to show what the entire theatre looked like beforehand. Pretty scary that all the gold was once that blackened!

untouched molding

Finally, we were led to the theatre entrance…

entering the theatre

…and shown inside.

teatro colon stage

I’ll admit, I nearly got a little teary when I stepped in. The theatre is that regal and magnificent. I could only imagine all the performances that took place on that stage. The acoustics are said to be amazing.

(Apologies for the terrible photos—I only had a point and shoot and no tripod, and couldn’t get a good shot in the darkened theatre.)

teatro colon balconies

And a very cool fact: There’s seating for musicians in the theatre’s dome. That way, they can play before the show starts and it sounds like the melodies are wafting down from the heavens.

fresco