Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thursday Night

Now we hit the road hard... no more lolly gagging on the West Coast :( 

Next Destination Las Vegas-- but on the way we needed to book a hotel room for the night.

I'm still resistant to having my own smart phone, but I don't think we could have completed this journey without Matt's iPhone in hand. We booked just about everything from the car. Unfortunately we forgot to bring the car charger, so we had to conserve the battery. Watching the battery wane away just added more risk and excitement to the adventure.

Google: Zion Natinal Park -- only one option for lodging popped up and... the lodge inside the park! I called and they meet all of our criteria: 1) Arrival between 10PM & 1AM 2) Less that $100 3) Clean

So we booked the room and drove on down the road. Neveda here we come... As we crossed the border we found an exit lit up like it was Disney world... all you needed was the ability to gamble and all of a sudden hotels and roller coasters arrive decked out with millions of blinking lights. They even had slot machines in the gas station...

We were headed to Vegas and arrived at 6:52PM-- Our goal, eat dinner and be headed out by 8PM-- could we do it? Well, good news for us there is a FREE parking deck next to the MGM Grand. So, we pulled in and headed to Craft Steak.

**Another Top Chef Favorite** Head Judge Tom Colicchio's place. Would we be able to get in?

No problem! We walked striaight up to the Host Stand in our sweat shirts and asked if we could sit at the bar... sure thing... we found two vacant stools and ordered some drinks and a 'few' items off the menu... scallops, snap peas, mushroom assortment and a flat iron steak!

The steak melted in my mouth llke nothing else, creamy yet meaty at the same time... How do they do that? I will say the service wasn't that great, but the food made up for it and we got to plug in the phone, which gave us just enough juice to make through the cliffs into Zion by Midnight.

8:10PM, enough time to cruise down the strip before hitting the road again.

We were lucky enough to pass the Bellagio while the fountain show was going off. 

2-3 hours more to drive... getting a little sleepy, but determined to make it. We were hitting a lul when the full moon started bouncing off of cliffs all around us. It was mesmorizing! I felt like I was riding a roller coaster through the cliffs and Matt enjoyed stearing the Jetta through the twists and turns.

The last hour had us on the edge of our seats. In the middle of nowhere, gas and iPhone battery dwindeling down and the temperature quickly dropping from the 80+ earlier that day to 30 when we climbed out of the car to check into the lodge.

To our room to plug in our electronics, turn on the heat and get some sleep...

On our way to Zion

At this point, our plan only included returning our rental car to the Denver Airport by 6:30PM on Saturday, but not sure what adventures awaited us on the way... Grand Canyon? Skiing? Tijuana?

Robin & Rob steered us away from Tijuana (We were only 15 miles away, but safety changes dramatically as you edge towards the border). We were sad not to use our passports, but thankful for the adventure we got to have.

We were also thinking possible Grand Canyon, but a few things deterred us from there. 1) My parents were going just a few days after us and it would have been sad to just barely miss them & we would get to see their pictures. 2) We learned that it would have taken us a half day to drive in and then not be able to see everything we want 3) We mapped a route through southern Utah that took us through Zion National Park, a one of a kind treat! 

We will take a trip to the Grand Canyon at some point... anyone want to go with us? 

The water was FREEZING!!
So, out of the zoo we headed North towards the La Jolla area of San Diego to say good bye to the beach for the last time. 

Thanks to the iPhone we found a route that wound our way towards Las Vegas and passed through the Torrey Pines Golf Course (only a slight 30 minute detour)-- 2PM and about 8 hours of driving to go. 

Heading back East... still a lot to do!

In the OB neighborhood of San Diego credit cards are almost non-exitant and chain stores are no where to be found. It is truly a gem. So, Robin & Ron walked us down the street to a quaint beach cafe for breakfast. We ordered 'to go' and walked another block to sit on some benches overlooking the Pacific Ocean. What a glorious morning!

We had quite a bit to accomplish before heading East so we needed the nourshiment... Matt's breakfast burrioto was stuffed with everything from avacados to french fries and my breakfast scramble mixed potatoes, eggs, and veggies! Yum!

See my tip toes :) I keep trying to get taller.

Life time friends!
Breath taking views
Delicious food!

After breakfast we headed to the San Diego Zoo. Thankfully Robin had some day passes to spare for Matt and I. That was a big treat since we only had an hour and half to spend before moving to the next location.

We arrived at the zoo at 10:30AM and picked up a map. One of the fun things for me to do is plan... so I devised a route for us to make it through the entire park and be out the door by noon. -- We did it... jumped in the car at 12:15 after seeing all of the exhibits. Seriously, a whirlwind, but so glad we did it.

The camels were my favoriate. They had a bunch of different kinds.

Real Elphants!

We can't go anywhere with out Matt asking me to climb on something for a photo op!

On our way out of the park we rode the Sky Train back to the Entrance. 

On a mission! 

Lions, Tigers & Bears Oh MY!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday's adventures Continue

What should we get into next? 
Can you tell how windy it was? 
I needed to add another jacket before we headed down the Venice Boardwalk. 

Its hard to put into words what you see walking down Venice beach, but I enjoyed the people watching.

One thing that stood out was all of the places to get diagnosed for a prescription of medical marijuana. All you have to do is pay $40, check a few boxes on a 'medical assessment' and there you go to get your toke on!

We opted to pass at this point... and headed down the Pacific Coast Highway towards San Diego.

It took way too long to get out of the LA area around 4PM, so we eaked down "The 1" and stopped for some breathtaking photo opts...
Laguna Beach at Sunset melted our hearts (and thats a good thing, because my patience was wearing out and an irritating fight was just about getting ready to start)... something about the awe of creation (and the chance to pee) brought me out of my funk.

Then, onto San Diego where we met up with Robin and Ron. Robin and I were roommates when Matt and I met and hadn't seen each other in years. We got to meet her fiance and they graciously hosted us at the last minute and showed us a great time in OB Sand Diego.

I think this night's Cerviche tacos actually competed with the butter poached lobster from Chicago.

After dinner were spent the night hanging out their brand new hot tub! Another amazing evening full of great conversation and reconnecting with good friends. But, we must press on to the next destination...

Food Truck App

One thing that you might not know, is how much my husband loves food trucks... the few twitter accounts he follow include 2 friends and 3 food trucks (Klausie's Pizza!)... so, we discovered a new App: "roaminghunger"-- bad news for the Raleigh folks-- none of the trucks in our area show up, but in LA there are lots! 

After a slow morning and a Rowe stroll down Rodeo Drive we started to get hungry... lets check the app... then look directly to the left... GRILLED CHEESE FOOD TRUCK... 

Matt waited in line for about 45 minutes to order his two sandwhiches (honey, pear & brie and gueyre on french) with tots... it was a little breezy in the shade, so I went exploring to find my favorite meal... a gormet salad. 

Once we picked up or dreamy lunch, we walked back to our hotel past the movie trailers out front to sit on the balcony over looking the studio and enjoyed a delightful meal in the sun. 

Matt's art

Sunny California

As we headed out we asked the valet driver why there were all of the movie trailers in front of the hotel and found out that Season 4 of Castle was being filmed in the hotel. We are now determined to figure out which episode we were close enough to touch. Unfortunately, we didn't meet or see and famous people, but we did see some folks walking out of the elevator carrying a suspicious piece of artwork... we think it might be a clue! 

Enough of dreaming that we were celebrities... onto Venice Beach

First Evening in California

After loading up the Jetta, we trusted Matt's iPhone to take us to Dona Rosa's in Pasadena to meet up with the Myers. It wasn't too far from the airport, but we had to merge on what seemed to me (as the navigator) like a zillion highways, so after a few detours and recalculations later we made it to Dona Rosa and were greeted by a sweet Mariachi band!

Negro Modelo-- yes please!! Good food and great conversation. We got to meet the little Myer and catch up with Shannon and Dave. I love that we were able to connect on substantial topics and share real life even when not seeing our friends over long stretches of time.

Then onto the Hotel (we were ready for sleep!) This time we were able to score an amazing deal on priceline... Century City Intercontinental Hotel about a mile from Rodeo drive and in the middle of production studios.

Opening the door to our room was like walking into a litle slice of paradise. I don't even know what the thread counts on the sheets were and I'm pretty sure that both Matt and I were able to go completely spread eagle on the gynormous bed without touching each other.

Glorious Sleep!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The first snafoo

We learned a few lessons about planning trips last minute. Lesson 1: Its tons of fun and totally worth it!

Lesson 2: When booking multiple things in a rushed fashion online while trying to get the best deals possible, some details are hard to catch.

The rental car... We were surprised that we could book a rental car so cheaply from Long Beach and drop it off in Denver. This was actually one of the main reasons that we decided to abandon our Craigslist search. We thought that Alamo & Priceline worked together to offer us an affordable driving adventure... well, not so much!

Apparently, when we booked the car we failed to double check that the drop off destination was Denver... oops! So, when we went to pick up our cute back Jetta and said "Denver on Saturday, right?"... the nice man behind the counter said, "Um, what? No, you are returning the car here..."

The email verification did not include drop off cities, but now we already had a flight out of Denver on Sunday... options... pay double the price? others?? we couldn't really come up with any other options at that point and Alamo worked with us quite a bit to get the price down as much as possible. What can you expect... picking up a car in Long Beach and Returning it Denver 5 days later and only expecting to pay $50 a day for unlimited miles?? That was reach, we know... but we thought we could have done it.

So, we sucked it up and reminded ourselves that this is vacation and we could afford it, just didn't want to. Jumped in the Jetta and headed up to Pasadena to see our friends Shannon & Dave Myer.

I should add that one of the reasons why I love my husband so much is that he remained calm during all of the negotiations and did not let this change of pace interrupt his Spirit. I'm thankful for his calm and cool demeanor and his ability to negotiate in seemingly stressful situations.

Day 3: Off to the West Coast

Backpack full and ready to move on to the next city. 

Beautiful views from the river walk. We had to take in the last bits of scenery before riding the L to O'Hare.
We woke up Tuesday morning and got ready to say Goodbye to Chicago. Our hotel offered free breakfast and then we took one last walk down the river to see the sights during day light, then onto the L and out to the air port where we hopped on our plane to Long Beach California.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 2: Chicago-- lunch and beyond

As I mentioned before, I hadn't eaten any gluten or dairy for about 8 months prior to this trip... but I was taking a break from my new reality and what better way then to get some Chicago Deep Dish Pizza... I had never experienced anything like it.

You order and then wait about 45 minutes for them to cook it to order and it comes out like an actual pie. Sausage and Mushroom? Yes Please!!

I am still recovering from the shock to my system... but it was O so delicious! 

After our relaxing and satisfying lunch we headed back outside where it felt like it already dropped about 10 degrees. We weren't sure how that was possible, but apparently it was... so on to the Art Institute (inside to get our culture and heat on).

The museum is huge and full of delightful artifacts, but we weren't really sure what was what so we walked through in a bout an hour and took in the sights that we could. Some of it was pretty amazing and some of it looked like I could have done it when I was in first grade. Sometimes I wonder who gets to decide what counts as 'art'??

After the museum we headed straight for the L to make it to the Oak Park Neighborhood before the sun went down. We wanted to see the prized architecture created by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a long ride, but well worth it and gave us a chance to see some of the city on our way there.

The museum was closed when we got there, but we still got take it some of the famous houses from the outside. Apparently, at one point in the year, you can pay a lot of money to get tours of the inside of the houses. If you are into architecture and design, that would be a great treat!

Matt is a great photographer! (And this was taken with an iPhone)

Back to the hotel to change our clothes and then another night of adventure at Lula Cafe. Lula is another local joint where they have farm fresh food and a more casual atmosphere. We had found out their our server (Chivan from Spiaggia)'s husband was the wine buyer for Lula! Small World.

My favorite part of this meal was the dessert. Some type of lemon custard and fresh berries, refreshing and delightful! I think I must be into lemon these days??

After dinner we weren't quite ready to head back yet and decided that we needed to walk... so we headed down the street that paralleled the L line. What you might not know is that all of the neighborhoods in Chicago aren't super populated, clean or safe... but, we headed down the road regardless. This time I had on a coat and gloves, so I was much more ready for a walk!

We safely made it passed multiple thrift stores on portions of il light streets with trash blowing around  until we found the more populate section... trendy and hip neighborhood of Wicker Park. This is where we spent a little bit of time exploring. We were still too full to stop in anywhere so we headed back on the L to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 2: The morning... and so much already done!

Matt and I got started slowly on Monday morning. We still hadn't figured out what we were doing post Tuesday at 11AM (when we needed to check out of the hotel) so, we got some coffee from the lobby, ordered room service and spent the morning on the computer mapping out routes across the country.
On our way to Spiaggia... dressed for snow right?

After being frozen to the core the night before we were feeling a hotter climate coming our way... LA here we come!! We booked a one way ticket to LA and signed up to rent a car that we could return in Denver 5 days later... I didn't know you could do that... but it was easier then finding a car to buy on Craigslist LA--

The initial plan was to buy a cheap car and sell it at the final destination, but after an hour or two of searching with no luck we opted for the rental.**Lesson Learned... buying a cheap car on Craigslist at the last minute does not always work... (BIG BLUE VAN WAS AN EXCEPTION!)

Now it was time to explore Chicago... it was so cold! We walked out of our hotel, around the block and quickly found ourselves in Macy's. Matt bought some gloves and I bought some tights. Then to Caribu Coffee to put my tights on and grab some warmth for the soul.

Millennial Park was the next stop. Looked at the lake, took some awesome pictures, walked and talked, watched people and then ice skating!! This happened to be one of my favorite parts of the trip, but Matt didn't love it as much as I did. The last time I had that much fun was at my niece Shiloah's 5th Birthday Party!! (Roller Skating) Its so relaxing (at least for those of us with a lower center of gravity and not as far to fall if you scrape on the ice.

For those of you who are getting tired or reading this post... I will adjourn and pick up with lunch next

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 1: Chicago Night Life

We arrived in Chicago around noon and headed on the L to Hotel Allegro down in the Theatre District. We walked around dawning our packs until we found a spot for lunch and headed to check in to the Hotel. Hotel Allegro is part of the Kimpton Hotel group and was a fun way to go... they gave us free drink tickets and breakfast tickets for $1, have a complimentary wine hour each night, and are super modern... some of the couches were like foam blocks shaped like a wave and the work out room had a dark black city scene painted on the main wall. 

After a nap... it was off to dinner... it was only about 30 degrees out and on the verge of snow, so I figured my light grey jacket and shiny silver open toed shoes would be the perfect outfit to wear as we walked a mile and a half to Spiaggia. 

We almost made it and it started snowing... so a great place to stop was at the top of the John Hancock building to have a pre-dinner cocktail while overlooking the city. We warmed up just in time to head another 3 blocks to Spiaggia... 

Butter Poached Lobster with black truffles and some kind of really fancy sausage (Course 3)

Antelope with duck liver, mushrooms and of course more black truffles (Course 6)

These delicious treats were a part of our meal at Spiaggia. Thanks to the Lavins, Top Chef has become one of our favorite TV Shows. One of the guest judges, Tony Montuano is the chef/owner of Spiaggia, a fine dining restaurant on the corner of Michigan Ave. in Chicago. We opted for the tasting menu... all 7 courses, and the first 6 topped with shaved black truffles (apparently it is truffle season in Italy. 

I'm not sure what my favorite dish was, but I think it may have been course 1-- celery root moose with truffles and myer lemon. It was only one tiny bite, but it popped in my mouth like a creamy tangy zesty marshmallow. I've never had anything quite like it. 

**Also, I should inform you that I have been gluten and dairy free for the past 6-8 months and decided to take a break for the week... my digestive system did not thank me (and still is working on recovering), but the tastes were so worth it.

I'm not a huge fan of Italian wines, so when I asked for some recommendations for a bottle of wine, and had to pick off a list at $400+ a pop.... I felt a little pressure, so I opted for the wine pairing and Matt just ordered a glass... we were splurging, but I don't like to make big decisions spur of the moment. 

Anyways, the wine pairing was a treat because I have never gotten a true sense of flavors changing when a good wine goes with the meal. Seriously, one of the glasses completely transformed post fettucini. 

I've never spent that much money on a meal before and probably will never again, but it was an experience that I enjoyed with all of my being, great company, great conversation, great service, deliciousness on my tastebuds... truly a once in a life time treat! 

After dinner we headed to Blues Chicago to hear some traditional blues music. I must admit that I was a little over the top after my 7 courses with wine pairings and slipped on the snow a few times, so we only stayed long enough to enjoy  a few great songs and let our food digest before cabbing it back to the Hotel to sleep... 

Another Adventure

So it appears that I only blog when I go on vacation... I've got to work on this, but ever since August and starting a full time job, I have not made the time to let my thoughts pour out through the computer screen.

But, Spring Break for Wake Tech just ended and Matt and I embarked on a great adventure. I love the fact that we travel together so well. We definitely experience tense moments, but the fun and adventure of it all makes those laughable at worst.

This past week we splurged to enjoy much of the US. We had initially considered traveling overseas somewhere, but couldn't come to any decisions, so we just decided to wing it... booked a one way ticket to Chicago, two nights in a hotel room and two dinner reservations, the rest of the week was up in the air (just the way Matt wanted it)!

Spontaneity is something that I love, but it does not come easy for me. I'm thankful that he pushes me past my comfort zone, and I'm glad that my ability to form a schedule out of chaos is impeccable so that we made it home with time to spare.

Thank you Kim & Michael for letting us borrow your packs. They made the transition from city to city much easier.