long weekend trips

A Private Island in Georgia

Maybe because it’s freezing in NYC and winter seems endless—but I’ve been finding my mind wandering to warmer places.

Everyone I know seems to have winter escapes on the brain, as well. Yesterday, a friend sent me this link—and I was immediately intrigued!

She and her fiance had stumbled across Private Islands of Georgia via HGTV.

When I think of private islands, I envision poshy enclaves way out in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean. (i.e. places I’d love to visit but are just a tad out of reach, monetarily, at the moment!)

But these islands look way more accessible.

And affordable.

And perfect for a long weekend with a big group of friends.

These snapshots of Eagle Island sold me:

eagle island aerial

eagle island lodge

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The flat, watery landscape is so different from NYC. I find it gorgeous, yet mysteriously romantic. And the lodge looks like the perfect mix of rustic and modern.

One other huge selling point: You can catch blue crabs there! My fave!

Who’s up for a trip to Georgia?

(Photos via Private Islands of Georgia)

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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…and into a cute, makeshift restaurant!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Luckily, it moved pretty quickly.

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

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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!

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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!)

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

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

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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!)

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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.

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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(Royal Ballet photos via the Royal Opera House)

A Long Weekend at the Grand Canyon

Two Tuesdays ago, I returned from my long weekend trip to the Grand Canyon. It was exactly the quick escape I’d been craving, but it wasn’t as idyllic as we’d planned. While I was able to deal with my cold enough to get outside and enjoy myself, poor Mal, unfortunately, was battling some awful ailment that worsened as the trip progressed and kept her hotel-bound for most of the trip.

Peter, his brother, Paul, and I still got in a few hikes, despite felling bad that she couldn’t join us. (Mal insisted that we all go without her.) And luckily, Mal was able to see the canyon a few times from the rim—and that alone, I think, made the trip worth it for her. I think. And in the end, she got all of us sick, anyway, and I was still glad we went!

Anyway, here are some highlights from the trip:

The car we rented.В I don’t even drive, so I feel weird saying that our car was one of the best things about the weekend, but it really was. Before our trip, Mal and Peter had reserved an economy car from Hertz. But when we flew into Phoenix very late on Friday night, the rental agents informed us that they had run out of small cars—and would we mind a free upgrade to a Mustang convertible? Um, you can probably guess what our response was.

After spending the night at the Aloft by the airport, we set out to the GC via Flagstaff with the top down and the music up. Within minutes, we stopped feeling like ridiculous tools and were loving driving in the open air. It kind of reminded me of being in the back of a pickup truck in Guatemala—but way safer and more comfortable!

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It was also a tad windy at times!

Once we left the Phoenix city limits, the scenery became more desert-like, as the highway wound through cacti-covered hills and scruffy, rural land. I am so easily wowed by any non-urban landscape, and really enjoyed the views.

on the road to flagstaff

on the road to flagstaff

Flagstaff. Paul drove to Arizona from Albuquerque, and we met up with him in Flagstaff. We only had a few hours to spend there, but I wished we’d had more time to explore. The historic downtown runs along Route 66 and has lots of funky little cafes, coffee shops and boutiques.

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We were in the mood to sample some local brews, so we opted for lunch outside at Beaver Street Brewery.В I had the (very girly) raspberry-flavored Bramble Berry Brew and a wood-fired pizza. It was tasty—and it ended up being the best meal of the trip. By far. (More about the underwhelming food later in the post!)

beaver street brewery

mal and peter at beaver street

The Bright Angel Trail. On Sunday, Peter, Paul and I met up with Drew and Britney, two of Mal and Peter’s friends who live in Arizona and met us for a day. They only had a short time to hike, so we did a portion of the Bright Angel trail, which descends into the canyon, eventually ending at the bottom.

As a do-something-all-the-way-or-don’t-do-it-at-all girl, I, of course, was tempted to make it to the bottom and back in one day—nevermind that we started hiking a noon. But notices all over the park and the NPS website warn against it, probably because they’re sick of rescuing too many overly ambitious tourists from the canyon. In fact, at every trailhead, there’s a sign that asks, “Can you run the Boston Marathon?” and tells the horrible story of Margaret Bradley, an athletic med student who ran a 3-hour Boston Marathon, but died from heat exhaustion while hiking the canyon in 2004. (The trail she was on was nearly twice as long as she thought and she didn’t have enough food or water for such a long hike.) A fair warning, but, wow, a morbid way to begin a trek. (Though I’m sure tons of people have made it to the bottom and back in one day—Britney’s parents did once! And really—when would you ever see a sign like that in another country?)

can you run the boston marathon?

The Bright Angel trail is well-trodden and people of all ages were walking it. I’ll admit, I was a little unnerved when I first set foot onto it, though. I’m used to hiking mountains and volcanoes without steep dropoffs. Seeing how deep the canyon goes was a little freaky, at first! But within a few minutes, my fears were gone and I just enjoyed the views.

view from the bright angel trail

view from the bright angel trail

Sunset at Desert View Point. We made the 25-mile drive to check out the Watchtower. ItВ was built in 1932 but now houses a.gif"ltr" style="text-align:center;">desert view watchtower

the view near the watchtower

the view near the watchtower

South Kaibab Trail. Honestly, I think we picked this hike because while we were reading all the trail descriptions, we nicknamed this one the “Kabob Trail”—and were more amused at that than we should have been. Plus, a fellow travel blogger, Drew, recommended it because it takes you through a good portion of the canyon. He was right—the scenery varies quite a bit within a short distance, so it was the perfect afternoon hike.

south kaibab trail

south kaibab trail

ooh ahh point

A very aptly named point on the trail!

We hiked down to a point called Cedar Ridge. We’d decided on that as our turn-around point because…there was a bathroom there.

cedar ridge

cedar ridge

Then, we headed back up and out of the canyon.

the grand canyon

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…So what was the worst part of the Grand Canyon? The food! Tusayan, the nearest “town,” where we stayed, is really lacking in good restaurants. Everything we ate was mediocre, at best. (No joke, we had two meals at a place called “We Cook Pizza and Pasta”—though not very well, I might add.) Can someone please open up a good brewpub there?

Have you been to the GC? What was the highlight of your trip?