travel

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!

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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

The Argentine Experience

A few years ago, I was in Beijing for a travel story, and one highlight of that trip was going to Black Sesame Kitchen. At the cooking school/private dining space, I met chefs and then watched them make knife cut noodles, stuffed my own dumplings, and chatted with others in my group over good, paired wines. The meal was one of the best I’d ever eaten, and a hell of a lot of fun, too.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do something similar in another country. And while researching stuff to do in Buenos Aires, I found what looked like an equivalent.

The Argentine Experience started out as a puerta cerrada, but has since moved into a large, new space in Palmero Hollywood. It emphasizes that it’s not a cooking class, but rather a dining experience where people participate in a few key steps.

So basically, they have chefs who do all the hard work (mixing, measuring, seasoning), and guests do one or two things at the end. (i.e. stuff that can’t mess up the meal.)

As a New Yorker who rarely cooks, that sounded fine to me!

I went to the Argentine Experience on my third night in BA. Upon entering the space, I was given a welcome cocktail that I quickly gulped down once I saw that we all had to don crazy-looking checkered aprons and chefs hats. (Luckily, glasses of Malbec followed!)

Once again, I was lucky to have a diverse group of dinner-mates. Besides me, there was a Brazilian couple who lived in Switzerland, two Australians, a travel agent who was from Peru but lived in BA, and an American who was interning in BA. Our hosts for the night were a Brit and an Argentinean.

They introduced the first task at hand: Making empanadas.

empanadas of argentina

We each received a round of dough…

empanada dough

…which we then stuffed with stewed beef, cheese, veggies and Malbec-reduced onions.

empanada fillings

Everything smelled so good that I overstuffed mine—I could barely pinch it closed. (You can see a little of the filling spilling out!)

uncooked empanada

Once we’d stuffed them, they were whisked away to an oven somewhere behind the scenes. We were then given another piece of dough—but this time, our empanadas had to be in the shape of something, and our hosts would select the best one as the winner.

…they assured us that they’d already seen X-rated empanadas formed to look like every possible body part.

Once we’d all finished our entries, they, too, were taken to the oven.

Then first empanadas we made reappeared. They were delicious.

cooked empanada

And soon, our funny-shaped empanadas returned, as well.

Because I have zero artistic talent and a one-track mind, I made a pointe shoe empanada. The winning entry was a crab.

My pointe shoe might not have been the most attractive, but it was certainly tasty!

pointe shoe empanada

The main course didn’t require any work, on our part. We just had to choose how rare we wanted our steak.

steak

After eating the steak (every bloody, juicy bit) with potatoes, carrots and more Malbec, I was ready to fall into a food coma. But there were two more components to go.

First, we learned how to prepare and drink mate, the traditional Argentinean tea-like beverage. We filled our mate cups with leaves, shook them a few times to get the dust out, put the straw in, and poured in water. (I only had a few sips because it’s very caffeinated, and enjoyed its bitter taste! Normally, mate is a social drink, where everyone sips from the same straw, but due to the nature of the dinner, we all had our own.)

mate

For the grand finale, we made our own alfajores: cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched between. And rolled in shaved coconut and dipped in chocolate.

…can someone please open an alfajores shop in NYC? We have specialty food places for practically everything else!

alfajor

Before saying goodbye, we posed for silly group pictures. Here, we’re saying, “Que te pasa?”—or, “What’s wrong with you?”—with feeling!

que te pasa

(I actually ended up having dinner with the Brazilian couple the next night! I needed a break from all the meat I’d been eating, so I went to Osaka, a Japanese place across the street from the Argentine Experience. As I was sitting at the bar deciding what to have for dinner, the couple was seated right next to me. We ended up having the bartender select an array of dishes to share, and chatted as we each sampled all of them. It was one of those serendipitous moments that tend to happen when you’re traveling, but rarely at home!)

(Group photo via the Argentine Experience)

NOLA Buenos Aires

The second puerta cerrada I visited was NOLA Buenos Aires—and I was glad I did! It ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.

NOLA’s chef, Liza Puglia, grew up in the Big Easy. She lived in NYC for a few years, attending the French Culinary Institute and working as a line cook at Hecho en Dumbo. While backpacking in El Salvador, she met her boyfriend, Francisco, a BA native. Three years ago, she moved to BA, and for the past year and a half, they’ve been running NOLA out of their gorgeous Palmero Viejo home.

I had apartment envy from the minute I walked in. The space has a high ceiling with exposed brick and beams, and a gorgeous open kitchen.

nola ba

Liza and Francisco were lovely, and the perfect hosts—so warm and welcoming that I felt like I was visiting old friends. I was first to arrive, and I chatted with them over a glass of champagne, as we waited for the other guests.

Soon, an Aussie solo female traveler, a few years older than me, arrived, as did the British couple I’d met at Casa SaltShaker the night before. (Like me, they were making the rounds of BA puerta cerradas!) Five American women on a girlfriend getaway rounded out our group. (The Americans, I might add, were almost an hour late. Note to anyone planning to visit a puerta cerrada—please come on time! Otherwise everyone ends up waiting or starting without you!)

True to NOLA Buenos Aires’ name, the flavors are inspired by Liza’s hometown, along with her affinity for Mexican cuisine.

Everything was fantastic.

soup, tartare, pork shoulder

The first course wasВ gumbo with homemade bread. As a nod to the local cuisine, the gumbo hadВ chorizo instead of andouille. Next cameВ salmon tartare with avocado and roasted corn on a sope—it was a perfect, refreshing palate cleanser. The main course was slow cooked pork shoulder over grits.

Dessert was one of the best I’ve ever had: bananas foster bread pudding.

banana foster bread pudding

As each course was served, Francisco introduced the paired wine. Each one was local, mostly from Mendoza, and all were fantastic.

rose

NOLA also hosts a weekly beer night on Thursdays, featuring Francisco’s home-brewed beers and Liza’s southern recipes.

I was bummed I wouldn’t be able to make one of those events—but it’s on my list of stuff to do the next time I’m in BA!

nola

(Liza also has an awesome blog—check it out here.)