Sunday adventures

The day started off with a trip to the Vegan Pop-up at the grand bazar on the upper west side.

While there I purchased quite a few snacks to take home  — green and red chili hot sauces from Kick Sambal, and baked peanut puffs by P-Nuff. The Culiraw peanut butter cups and the raspberry chocolate cake were delicious.

I also tried Jessie’s Nutty Cups, which makes two vegan versions. The funny thing is at the time I had no idea that I purchased so many peanut butter items.

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The other snacks included two different types of Indian samosas from food truck Mysttik Masaala, and a vegetable roll that reminded me of a place I used to frequent off the Strand while living in London. Perfect for a rainy day in New York.

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One of my favorite vendors that makes the rounds on the Pop-up/Shop-Up scene is local fave Freakin’ Vegan, their breakfast empanada is the bomb.

The rose and lavender soap and wellness bomb from Loid Noble smell glorious.

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After a soaked morning in the city, I headed to Brooklyn to experience the Sakusura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and though a little chilly, the sun finally came out. The cherry blossoms and flowers throughout the garden were gorgeous.

The festival also has entertainment stage, tea ceremonies, origami making sessions and shopping.

The next blog will be a return to Bangkok, Thailand, which I have visited twice since December. With a new job, two households to move, a house to sell, and a wedding to plan…I haven’t had much downtime.

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The Splendor of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya, Thailand’s former capital boasts a magnificent set of temples and is deservedly a UNESCO world heritage site. For those visiting Bangkok, it’s an easy day trip, even for the solo traveler, and a must see.

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After researching ways to reach Ayutthaya, I chose the train. It’s an authentic way to visit, probably more comfortable than the bus, and packed with locals. The trains leave from Hua lamphong Station in Bangkok’s city center, (a stop on the BTS MRT line) roughly every hour, with local and some express trains. Seats on express trains cost more. The journey is about two hours and costs about 20baht ($0.50) for the 3rd class seat, 1st and 2nd class are more expensive.

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The train takes around 2 hours and when you arrive in Ayutthaya tuk-tuk drivers are waiting to take you to the old city with the temples. I negotiated a four-hour tour at 200 baht an hour. It was enough time to visit the main sites. Some people opt to rent bicycles especially with just a few people but it was very hot out and I was on my own, so the tuk-tuk was a better deal for me.

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Most of the temples cost 20-50 THB (roughly $1) and I visited 7 temples — Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Wat Na Phra Men, Wat Suwan Dararam and Wat Thammikarat. They are all different and extraordinary in their own way.

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There are plenty of places to stop for lunch but I wanted to make the express train to Bangkok so I went temple to temple. Then I had my fabulous driver take me to the station. Once at the station, I realized that I had a bit of time and stopped in their café for a snack and a little quality wifi time.

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The thing about the express trains is that they are packed and standing room only. I had been standing for at least 40 minutes when I felt someone grab my arm. I turned and it was an older woman. She had one foot in the booth where she was sitting and one in the aisle near me. She grabbed my other arm and in one move placed me into her window seat, then gave me a big smile. I responded with wai (hands pressed together) and a head bow. She was very kind to this stranger on a train. This was my overall experience with the people of Thailand — whether it was making sure I had food to eat, or drivers who didn’t speak English and still managed to get me to my destination — I always felt safe and looked after, by complete strangers. Hospitality and kindness are the two words that best describe my impression of the Thai people. I was very grateful for the experiences that I had and look forward to returning.

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* For the culture lovers out there please check out my friend Saadia’s new podcast: The Alien Chronicles. “It is a weekly podcast that focuses on peoples’ journeys to America, specifically in NY and surrounding areas. Every week, the podcast invites people who are unique in their own right, global citizens of sorts. Guests talk food, fashion, politics etc. in the context of different cultures and ethnicities.”  Visit: https://anchor.fm/thealienchronicles

Weekend getaway in Boston

There are so many choices when visiting Boston, historical sites, museums, culture, sports, and food.

The weekend we visited it was extremely hot out but I was determined to make it through the freedom trail. We walked the trail without a guide and stopped at key spots along the way.

A few of my favorite highlights included Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Quincy Market, Boston Public Market, Boston Common, Paul Revere’s House, Granary Cemetery, China Town, the Old South Meeting House, and Bunker Hill monument.

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I was pretty overheated by the time we arrived at Bunker Hill. Pocky climbed to the top on his own while I headed over to the museum. It’s a fun trek around the city and a great way to learn about Boston’s history.

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We also visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, her mansion that she filled full of art. Her personal collection is still displayed how she curated it. The Mansion has a garden courtyard, a café and a store. While alive, she resided on the top floor of the building. Fun fact — a heist happened in 1990. Men dressed as police entered the museum, tied up staff, and made off with works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Flinck. The artwork has never been found.

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Boston is a great town for food – even for a vegan. Here are a few highlights from our trip. Bon Me at the Boston Public Market offers spicy tasty Asian fusion. Taza Chocolate has plenty of options for those that enjoy extremely dark natural chocolate. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the Marriott at the wharf now has the Beyond burger on its menu. All star pizza bar is a great option for a low-key meal – vegan pizza.

One night we ventured over to Terramia Ristorante in Boston’s North end. They make a fabulous vegan ravioli. While we were there a parade of musicians went passed the restaurant – it was a playoff between the Roma and Italian American bands.

For those staying in Boston and visiting Salem or Cambridge, skip the rental car. It’s a walkable city with public transportation, car services etc. Boston is a great weekend excursion.

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A quick trip to Salem

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Salem, MA. Witches, authors, Bewitched – what more could one want.

So when Pocky and I were trying to come up with a long weekend getaway that was relatively close to New York, it seemed like a good opportunity to visit Boston and Salem, MA. We stayed in Boston and decided to make Salem a day trip.

We took an early morning ferry from Boston to Salem, which was a nice way to start the day, and learn a little more history about the harbor and surrounding area. Once in Salem, it’s about a 15-minute walk from the dock to the downtown area.

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We ended up paying for a guided walking tour to hit the historical highlights in a few hours, since we only had one day to look around. I learned a bit more about the witch trials, historical buildings and some of the famous people who once lived in Salem.

One of the stories our guide shared was about the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery/Samantha from the TV show Bewitched. I have to confess, I loved that show when I was a child. Some of the episodes were filmed in Salem. In the early 2000s a statue was installed in the center of town.
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The Salem Witch Museum should definitely be on the list for those visiting Salem. It’s an interesting space, the audience in the middle of the theater, with life-size stage sets, a 360 view, figures, lighting and a narration about different experiences of the Salem Witch Hunt.

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The House of the Seven Gables is probably my favorite Nathaniel Hawthorne book. In Salem, there is a seaside estate known as The House of the Seven Gables, with an interesting history. It was built in 1668 for Captain John Turner I, a successful mariner. A wealthy ship captain, Captain Samuel Ingersoll, later purchased it. His daughter Susanna Ingersoll, second cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne, inherited the property. Hawthorne was inspired by the appearance of the house when he wrote the novel. Also on the property is the house Hawthorne was born in; it was moved to the property in 1958. The tour was very informative and definitely worth the time.

I was pleasantly surprised at all of the vegan food options in Salem. We had breakfast at Jodi Bee bakes; they make a tasty BeeLT with tempeh. Highly recommended. For lunch we stopped at Life Alive Organic cafe, they make amazing and healthy warm bowls, salads, and wraps.

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For those with only one day to spend in Salem, take the 7:00pm return ferry to Boston. The view of the sunset and Boston harbor are gorgeous.

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Take a trip through history at the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York on 5th Ave is an eclectic treat. It’s right across from Central Park at 103rd St, and an easy stroll to my favorite hideaway in Central Park. They have a nice café with indoor seating, as well as a courtyard in front of the museum with seating, and a great shop with unique items. Make sure to walk up and down the stairwells, they are covered with funky photography murals.

The main gallery showcases Henry Hudson’s voyage into New York Harbor and tells the story of how it became the empire city and the Western Hemisphere’s busiest harbor. They have interactive exhibits featuring Alexander Hamilton, Chinatown legend Wong Chin Foo and anarchist Emma Goldman.

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The second gallery covers the modernization of New York — financial growth, cultural and social life, poverty and urban crowding and more.

The Beyond Suffrage exhibit was a comprehensive look at a century of political women in New York. It spans the1920s through 1960s and depicts causes such as health, labor, the liberation movement, equality, women’s campaigns and roles in government. It showcases political documents, garments – think Rosie the Riveter, photographs, and audio-visual materials.

My favorite Notorious RBG has a section.

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Stanley Kubrick’s Through a Different Lens features more than 120 photographs from the Look Magazine archive from his time as a staff photographer. This exhibit captures everyday life in NY.

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The Activism exhibit spans 17th century to current citizens in NY advocating and protesting together on issues such as civil rights, LGBTQ, wages, and religious freedom.

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Final theater roundup of 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.

While visiting family in California in December, I broke my left foot and severely sprained my ankle. One would think that would lead to loads of free time to write and it did, but I didn’t think complaining about being stuck at home for months unable to walk would make for interesting reading.

Instead…this seemed like a great time to discuss the final two Broadway shows I attended of 2017.

It’s hard to believe that I hadn’t seen the musical Wicked before last year but since there are always so many amazing shows to see in New York…Wicked is one of those musicals that have been playing for quite awhile, so it was lower on my must see list. The top of that list usually features limited engagements or performances featuring particular actors that I want to see perform on stage at least once.

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A friend came to NY for a visit and Wicked was on her must see list – and voilà, now checked off the list. For the show we attended, Jackie Burns was the extremely green (color) Elphaba and Amanda Jane Cooper was the glittery Gliinda. For those unfamiliar, Wicked is the alternative version of the Wizard of Oz, and the story is told from the perspective of the witches. The singing voices of the two leads were fantastic and the show was pure fun.

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Farinelli and the King was the final show of the season for me. It was my favorite play that I’ve attended in at least two seasons. The spectacular Mark Rylance, known for performing Shakespeare and other period pieces on the stage and screen, played the lead. Rylance portrayed King Philippe V of Spain, whose mental health was questionable. Renowned singer Farinelli was hired to live with and perform for the King in the hopes that he would have a calming effect. Two individuals played Farinelli, Sam Crane was the actor, and in the scenes where Farinelli sang countertenor Iestyn Davies stood behind him and performed signing duties.

The first performance of 2018 that I will attend, the American Ballet Theater, is in May. Many of New York’s theatres do not have elevators, which ruled out most performances until now. Looking forward to seeing Misty Copeland and cast perform. If that goes well, fingers crossed, there will be other happenings to share soon.

Austin TX weekend getaway

What’s a girl to do on a snow day? Catch up on the blog…

At the end of November, Pocky and I attended an event in Austin, TX, and we planned a vegan foodie/culture adventure around it.

When most people think of Austin they probably imagine barbeque, craft beer and music — totally on point. But it’s also become a vegan comfort food and gastro pub kind of town.

We arrived on Thanksgiving, which can be an interesting time to travel as a vegan in the US. So we were grateful that the Sichuan River restaurant was not only open, but made great food. They served us tasty, spicy vegetable tofu dishes. We also had a great conversation with one of the owners who used to live in NY.

The next morning began with treats from Voodoo doughnut on 6th street, a short walk from our hotel. It’s a funky spot with great music, a stage in the front corner for bands to play, merchandise for sale, and a nice selection of vegan doughnuts. The maple, chocolate glazed, and strawberry doughnuts were delicious. They also had non-vegan options for the traditionalists.

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Since we needed to walk off breakfast before heading to lunch…we ambled around the downtown area, looked at shops and some of the historic buildings, then headed over to the state capital. We strolled around the grounds for a while and then walked over to Arlo’s for a quick lunch before the planned evening extravaganza (reason for our weekend visit).

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Our first Arlo’s Food Truck experience was at vegan fest in Toronto, Canada. It ranked in the top two favorite vendors that day, so we knew it had to be on the list for this weekend.

Austin doesn’t seem to have a lot of roaming food trucks, but instead four or five trucks are grouped together in parking lots next to bars and clubs and in the downtown business area off Congress Ave.

We stopped at the Arlo’s food truck, or as they call it, “curb-side kitchen,” set up in a permanent space on Red River. We opted for the Bac’n Cheeze Burger made with seitan bac’n and melted cheese and the Chipotle Chik’n seitan patty. It was filling and more than enough food since we had eaten doughnuts a few hours before.

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On our final day, we went to Counter Culture restaurant for brunch. We ordered the tofu rancheros, which was yummy, but the country biscuit bowl was a must have. They make the best vegan gravy I’ve ever had. I’d pour their gravy on top of almost anything. Good thing brunch was filling because we had a packed schedule planned for that day…

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After brunch, we drove to the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Presidential Library, situated on the University of Texas at Austin campus. The library offered a detailed history of his presidency through photos, documents, and the gifts he and Lady Bird received. There was a 7/8th scale replica of the Oval Office set up as it was during LBJ years, and loads of phone systems. I had no idea how much he loved to use the phone…there were old phone booths, and all of the displays included kiosks with phones and a screen to choose which old recordings to listen to. I selected a few conversations between LBJ and Thurgood Marshall, and LBJ and Martin Luther King.

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There was a nice section for Lady Bird, including a replica of her office. I’ve visited a few presidential libraries, which isn’t necessarily an endorsement of a specific president. I’m fascinated by history and find the libraries as a way to time travel in a concise visual way.

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After the LBJ Museum excursion, we returned to Congress Ave to check out the petite Mexicarte museum. The day we visited they had two fantastic exhibits – Love to Death: Community Altars to celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Diego y Frida: A Smile in the Middle of the Way, with photographs of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo by Guilermo Kahlo, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Edward Weston, Peter Jules, Ansel Adams, Nicholas Muray, Leo Matiz, Guillermo Zamora, and Juan Guzmán. They also had a nice gift shop full of day of the dead and Frida items, and other art for sale. So happy we stopped.
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Next we headed over to Rainey Street to meet up with friends. The Rainey Street Historic District is a street with historic bungalow style houses in downtown Austin. Once a quiet neighborhood, it’s now a popular hang out spot for locals and visitors because of all of the houses that have been converted into bars and restaurants. We ended up at Unbarlievable. It has a nice patio in the front, an inside space, and a back patio where bands play. The bar had a very relaxed atmosphere.

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For our final meal we went to the Beer Plant, a vegan gastropub in the residential Tarrytown neighborhood. It’s a good date night spot. Not too loud, with low lighting. They make upscale plant based items and have about 40 craft beers on tap. We started with the ploughman’s plate– a house-made cheese board, tomato chutney, and house-made cultured garlic butter. I know vegan cheese just doesn’t sound appetizing to the traditionalists but it’s come a long way, especially the artisanal soft nut cheeses. We both ordered the big ben – BBQ smoked seitan and a side of mac n’ cheese. I have to admit – aside from doughnuts, mac n’ cheese is my overindulgent guilty pleasure. They are vegan so totally low calorie, right…in my dreams. Anyhow — we finished the meal off with the sticky toffee pudding with coconut whip cream.

Thanks for a great weekend, Austin.