Indy for the Holidays

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Almost every year part of our holiday merriment happens in Indianapolis. It’s become a tradition. The visit is typically a winter wonderland filled with snow and single digit temperatures. Growing up in California, I did not experience that type of cold often, but since living on the east coast, I’ve adjusted my definition of cold. A secret about me – every time I emerge from a warm dwelling into the, let’s say, 2° weather, I automatically giggle. True story, no explanation, it just happens.

While in Indy, we visit family and friends for a few days, visit museums, theatre and other cultural events, and venture out on our own for a few meals. There are favorite restaurants we frequent with the family and those we frequent independently by form of habit and comfort. I’m a fairly adventurous person, though experimenting with food is not very easy because of my allergies. Though, every year it seems easier as vegan friendly options appear on menus and more vegan restaurants pop up outside of my metropolis.

This year the family outing was the Indianapolis Ballet performance of the Nutcracker at the Old National Center. The Nutcracker is one of my favorite ballets from childhood and it’s nice to see it when possible. Although I am grateful to live in NY where I have easy access to Broadway, dance, opera, and more, I love being able to take in and support local arts in other communities as well. Following the Nutcracker, we had a family dinner at Saigon Vietnamese restaurant, which is climbing my list of favorite Indy restaurants. It is a traditional menu but they always make sure my vegetable option is vegan.

While in town we also stopped at Cafe Patachou, which has a little something for everyone. It used to be a place we frequented for lunch but after trying their Vegan Cuban Breakfast, I’m always angling for a morning visit now. In the trying something new category – we went to the Sinking Ship for lunch. The website drew us in with its substantial vegan menu and the establishments snarky rules, including what will be playing on the TV and no kids allowed. They have a couple of locations, one of which might allow kids. The location we visited is a proper bar meant for adult beverages and adult conversations…It has a college vibe, good music and fantastic vegan comfort food. They do have a full menu for carnivores as well. Recommendations – chili mac, mac & tease, buffalo seitan wings, and star tots.

Until the next time…

New York touristy attractions for the local and visitor

Last month my uncle Ken visited me in New York, which presented an opportunity to explore the city in new ways.

Normally, I spend a lot of time walking in Central Park, but had never taken a pedicab before. Our driver was very knowledgeable of the statues and other landmarks in the park. It’s a great way to see the park, especially for those who cannot walk long distances. My recommendation is to pay cash at the park, instead of purchasing tickets online, and haggle over the price.

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There were several bus tours on our itinerary. First, we took a Brooklyn tour, which was okay but as someone who spends time in Brooklyn, I recommend just taking the subway over and walking around the neighborhoods that you want to see. We also took a bus tour through Harlem and Queens. It’s a good tour and worth checking out, it even stops at Yankee stadium for a photo op. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain the day we went, which made it much harder to see from the bus, and taking good pictures was impossible. On a sunny day, it would be great though.

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During this visit we also went on a few harbor cruises. This is actually the main touristy go-to item on my list when I travel to places along a coast, near a river or lake. We settled on a full loop harbor cruise. For the architecture and bridge lovers – this is your tour. This 2.5-hour tour also offers a great historical journey of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn skylines.

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We took the boat tour to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Honestly, my photos of lady liberty were much better from the boat than the island. It is definitely worth doing but with limited time, I’d take photos from the boat and go straight to Ellis Island, otherwise plan on this as your all day experience. The museum on Ellis Island is fantastic; many of the people who passed through the island have donated personal items to the museum. There is also a computer area where visitors can pay a nominal fee and look up and print or email their family records. We had limited time to spend looking up records but luckily the public can access these records from the comfort of their home as well, which is on my list of my new projects.

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For those who appreciate architecture, take the Ellis Island hard hat tour. It’s a 90 minute guided tour of the abandoned immigrant hospital buildings; the proceeds are going toward renovation.

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I love architectural photography, especially abandoned urban structures and old houses. The buildings are amazing and the history of the hospital was fascinating. A word of warning — it’s hot in summer and there isn’t anywhere to sit, so make sure you are up to doing the tour. I’ll probably go again so that I can take more photos.

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We visited the 9/11 Memorial and took the walking tour of the neighborhood. Our guide told her own personal story about her experiences on that day as well as describing how the tragedy unfolded in the neighborhood and throughout the city. Our group walked to the small church that was the only building in the neighborhood without damage, we went to the memorial pools, and then the museum. It’s a somber tour but part of our history that should be talked about and remembered. The memorial pools include the nearly 3000 names of the victims of 9/11. Every day a single white rose is placed next to the names of those with birthdays on that day.

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One night we went to see the Book Mormon on Broadway. I had seen it before, but it has been a few years. There were even a few references that had been updated since I watched it the first time. Another night we checked out Terra Blues club. It was my fist visit and definitely not my last.

I can’t seem to write a blog without talking about food. Here are a few highlights of restaurants with a little something to satisfy a carnivore and vegan. Benares Indian near central park in midtown has a great lunch buffet, Yum Yum Thai in Hells Kitchen is a great post-Theater spot, Pelligrino is classic Italian in Little Italy, New Malaysia is my favorite hidden gem in China town, and Maz Mezcal Mexican, Bangkok Thai, and Agora Turkish are local Upper East Side staples. Finally, a couple of cocktail spots — Gotham west market is a popular artisan food court on the West Side near the Hudson river (think Pike’s Place in Seattle) – inside, GENUINE Roadside serves food and great cocktails. The Penrose, a hidden treasure on the Upper East Side makes a splendid pickle martini.

Finding food, nature, and art in Chicago

A recent weekend getaway to Chicago, was full of relaxation, exploration and visiting with relatives who I rarely have the opportunity to spend time with.

Most of my time in Chicago was spent in the downtown Loop area. While walking through Millennium Park, I heard a live band playing Frank Sinatra and big band staples, a favorite genre of mine. So, I wandered over to the bandshell and found a party for seniors going on – apparently my age group now…it was a fun time.

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I continued wandering around Lurie Garden, took the BP Pedestrian Bridge to Maggie Daley Park (rock climbing and tennis), walked to Grant Park (Buckingham Fountain), and then walked the Lakefront trail.

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After sitting and watching the sailboats, I walked to Native Foods Café in the Loop for lunch. Whew, that was a bit of a trek.

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Next up: Navy Pier for a relaxing afternoon including a boat tour of the shoreline, taking in the sights from the pier and a short break at Harry Caray’s Tavern to enjoy a beer on the patio and a little reading.

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My niece showed me around her neighborhood, and we spent time chatting and people watching at Chicago Riverwalk.

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We also ventured out to some great cafes and restaurants. My top picks for coffee/tea spots in the Loop are the Goddess and the Baker and Peach and Green, which both also have good food options. As for food, Silver Spoon Thai is a new favorite, along with low key and affordable Flaco’s Tacos, and Naf Naf Grill.

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One afternoon, we went to the wondrous Kerry James Marshall exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. His work depicts everyday scenes from a barber shop, a bedroom, to housing projects in Chicago’s South Side, where he where he has lived and worked since the late 1980s. As we moved through the exhibit the diverse themes were clear. His work is poignant, full of symbology and images that add another layer of meaning to each painting. This is the most excited I’ve been about a living painter in a long, long time. Marshall’s work travels to New York next, the Met Breuer. I’ll be going again.

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My final day was spent with family catching up. Over the past few years I have become more interested in genealogy. This trip was also an opportunity to learn more about my family history, specifically those who came from Eastern Europe, and when they arrived in the USA. Hopefully, I didn’t make my relatives too crazy with all of my questions.

Exploring the coast of Maine by land and sea

DSC05515//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsAfter finishing my master’s and three extended work trips in Africa, a quiet weekend exploring the coast of Maine sounded inviting. Usually weekend getaways come with a list of things to see and do but not in this case. It was a very spontaneous trip. We headed to Portland, ME with the intent of exploring the coast and we did but mainly spent four days in Portland, which is a relaxing, funky and fun harbor town. It’s an interesting mix of fishermen, artists, university students, locals and tourists. When visiting, make sure to also head into the center of town because there are plenty of things to do away from the harbor with far less of a tourist feel. There are plenty of opportunities for boat tours, the twilight lighthouse and island tour is highly recommended.  DSC05510//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

11951813_10153531849146730_3472350113653556864_n//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsFor the shoppers there are a lot of great choices. The Warf is a tourist extravaganza with maple flavored items, blueberry everything – in a good way, local soaps, kitchenware, clothing and more. Walk a few blocks up the hill and there are other local shops worth checking out with toys for kids, housewares and several artisan shops and jewelry stores. Se Vende Imports is a new favorite. For more locals shopping head over to Congress Street for vintage clothing, antiques, bookstores, cafes, restaurants and live music venues. Longfellow bookstore is a new favorite of mine. Walk a few more blocks and there is a massive statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Ferdinand is a great shop for cards, clothing and other trinkets. The owner also has an etsy shop.     One morning we drove up the coast to Camden ME, a small town that is a great place to stop between Portland and Bar Harbor for lunch or to spend the night. One main street packed full of shops – my favorite – Glendarragh Lavender shop.   DSC05572//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We also drove down the coast to Cape Elizabeth, ME, where we stopped at the Portland Headlight lighthouse and Fort Williams park, which also has a small beach and some ruins – great for photographers. Gorgeous views of the water and coastline. DSC05568//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Looking forward to scheduling a trip to Bar Harbor…

Foraging for food in Portland Maine when you don’t eat lobster…

The coast of Maine has a cornucopia of food options for those who don’t eat lobster – but it takes a little planning. While in Portland we had wonderful fresh organic food daily. For those staying near the harbor, the restaurant options are seafood, traditional American, pubs and a few Japanese restaurants. However walk up the hill a few blocks and there are more restaurants frequented by locals.
IMG_3775//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsWe stayed at a hotel on Commercial Street (on the waterfront), which was a great location. Local Sprouts Cooperative and Silly’s serve a mix of organic dishes with an equal mix of meat and veggie options. It would be great if more restaurants were this balanced. Pom’s Thai Taste and Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro make delicious Thai and Pan Asian cuisine. For Green Elephant, definitely make a reservation for the evening. Hi Bombay Indian is a jewel of a find and only a few blocks away from the warf.   IMG_3777//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Even the health conscious need to have a day where they veer from the plan, right? A food item that they secretly covet – a guilty pleasure of sorts. For this vegan — it’s donuts. Imagine my joy when I stumbled across the holy donut on all the tourist websites as a do-not-miss experience. The donut batter includes mashed potatoes – one of my other favorite food groups (potatoes). I was even more excited when I realized I could actually eat them. The holy donut makes two vegan donuts – cinnamon sugar and a berry glazed, and oh are they worth it. But get there early and be prepared to join the queue. They also make great coffee. I recommend grabbing the donuts and coffee, and walking the two blocks down to the Warf to people watch and look at the water.

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For those who enjoy micro brews, there are plenty of options for beer tasting in walking distance but my favorite was shipyard brewery. There are also numerous bars with outdoor patios, where bands play on weekends.

My favorite eclectic east coast town

Lately, it seems as if I need a passport to leave New York. So, a few weekends ago a friend and I hopped into the car for a North East weekend getaway.

Our intent was to visit a craft and antique fair in New Hampshire, close to the Vermont border, so we ended up staying in Pilton, NH the first night. We had an extraordinarily long drive in Friday night traffic, compounded by state police blockades. FYI – driving in the direction of a manhunt for two escaped murders from prison – not the best idea.

IMG_3303 The next day we drove to the craft fair, which was in the middle of nowhere. When we finally found it we noticed it was rather small. In fact, it was on a small bridge that spanned a river and only had crafts and food. Not what we had hoped for, so we took a few photos and sped off toward Vermont. Along the way we shopped at a few antique stores, which was more along the lines of what we had envisioned for the trip.

IMG_3339As we drove across the bridge into Brattleboro, VT– we spotted the Whetstone Station Brewery and decided to stop. They have great pub food and some healthy choices, including veg options. We sat on the roof deck that overlooks the river. It was a nice place to unwind. Afterward, we did a little shopping and then tried to find a hotel. Since we didn’t know where we were going to end up we didn’t book a hotel for the night. Thinking how busy could it be…

We called and stopped by at least five places before one of the hotel representatives directed us to the Riverside Hotel in West Chesterfield, NH. The hotel is only about a ten-minute drive to downtown Brattleboro. It was wonderful — and situated next to the river with gorgeous views from the rooms.

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After checking in, we headed to Main Street in Brattleboro. We stopped at Mocha Joes for coffee; the Maple Latte is the best. After a little caffeine we settled on Thai Bamboo — really flavorful food and great ambiance. We had a wine break at a local spot and called it a night.

The next day we got up early and went for breakfast at the Superfresh Cafe. They have vegan, vegetarian and raw choices. I had a breakfast burrito, my non-vegetarian friend had a veggie bowl and she also loved their brownie-esk bar. After breakfast, we wandered the shops and then hit the road.

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On the drive to NY, we stopped at a few more antique stores. My favorite – Freight House Antiques and Restaurant in Erving, MA. Two stories full of hidden gems and sit down at the restaurant counter for food and some coffee.

Looking forward to my next east coast adventure.

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Sisterly Adventures

Admittedly, once I am mid-semester in my graduate program, everything that isn’t graded or mandatory — moves lower and lower down the to-do list. To say that grad school is busy is an understatement. I also recently added an internship to my schedule, which means that anything resembling free time has evaporated.

Internships seem to be a western phenomenon. For those who do not know what that means — it is volunteering to acquire experience in the field you hope to have a career in. I am interning at an organization called GNWP; the organization focuses on programs that assist in the implementation of UNSC Resolutions to promote equality for women around the globe. So far, it has been an amazing experience. I started a few days before I had a weekend getaway planned with my sister, who lives fairly close to the Canadian border. We decided to explore the area over a gorgeous fall weekend.

We headed to sleepy little Clayton, New York – population 5,000 giver or take…

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They have a Halloween tradition called Pumpkin Chunkin where pumpkins are catapulted across the St. Lawrence River. We wandered around the local street market that had food, local wineries, hard alcohol, apple cider and crafts.

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After some quality pumpkin time, we took a ferry to Wolfe Island, Canada and a second one to our final destination — Kingston, Canada. It was a little chilly when we arrived and most people seemed to be relaxing in coffee houses, pubs and restaurants. We walked around for a while and decided to have lunch at a local pub, the Toucan. They have a great beer selection, so I went with that and a veggie burger. We continued exploring and found a great little shop with handmade organic soaps — 1000 Islands Soap Company. We drove over to Fort Henry but unfortunately it was the wrong season for taking a tour. Instead we went to Curry Original Kingston to grab food to take home. The restaurant has its own cookbook for sale.

Kingston Canada 1The next day, we got up early and drove to Thendara Union Station in Utica, NY to catch the Fall foliage train through the Adirondacks. It was a chilly but relaxing day on the train – it even snowed for part of our journey. We packed a picnic lunch and purchased wine on the train. We did manage to take some photos. It’s definitely a nice adventure, but a little sleepy. If you like trains and are interested in visiting the Adirondack’s, it’s worth it.

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And we had some quality sister pumpkin carving time.

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