Indy for the Holidays

15621616_10155017040609050_373750327146942982_n

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…

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.

IMG_6150

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.

IMG_6125

IMG_6153

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.

img_6158

IMG_6154

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.

IMG_6161

IMG_6180

IMG_6176

IMG_6167

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

IMG_6213

IMG_6210

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.

IMG_6195

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.

IMG_6200

IMG_6198

IMG_6202

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.

Food and lodgings in Kenya

Kenya is a place I could easily overstay my welcome. For the past two years, a great deal of my time has been spent traveling across Africa for work. Unfortunately, the Kenya trip was probably my last time in Africa for a short while.

On this latest adventure my time was split among Nairobi, Bungoma and Isiolo in Kenya.

IMG_7982

While in Nairobi, our group stayed in the city center at the Sarova Stanley, an amazing hotel built in 1902. The staff is friendly and accommodating. The hotel is elegant and comes with all of the amenities of a luxury hotel at a decent rate. It’s in a great location surrounded by plenty of restaurants and shopping. The outdoor Maasai Market is about 5 minutes walking distance. The market sells arts and crafts, textiles, jewelry, etc. It is definitely worth going but sellers are aggressive with tourists — be prepared to haggle and have a good grasp of the exchange rate before going in. If you can find a local to go with you, that will make it a more relaxed experience.

IMG_5429

Nairobi has a treasure trove of restaurants, and though my dining experiences were limited to the downtown area, but there were plenty of vegan options.

A favorite casual spot — Java House — not only do they serve great coffee and pastries, they also make full meals. The curry vegetables and Mexican fajita veggie plate hit the spot. They also sell bags of coffee, and I bought a few. My suitcase heading to Africa always includes clothes and workshop materials; the return suitcase is full of clothing, coffee and spices – always!

One night after wandering around downtown, I wanted something quick to take to my hotel room so I stopped at Teriyaki Japan. They sell spicy fast food noodle bowls, with a hint of African spices. Yummy, fast, cheap, and filling.

For breakfast, the Sarova Stanley’s restaurant is a great option especially for business meetings with their spacious indoor and enclosed patio dining. It has a fantastic buffet with hot vegetable options, Indian food, pastries, fruit and typical western breakfasts. The hotel also has a fantastic Thai restaurant; the Thai Chi. The food is traditional Thai, accompanied by options of soothing hot green tea as well as a wonderful wine list. The restaurant also has a masseuse on staff to offer a short shoulder and hand massage while waiting for the food to arrive – yes, please.

 

Outside of Nairobi, we stayed at the Northern Galaxy Hotel in Isiolo, about 3.5 hours from Nairobi at the foot of Mount Kenya. This is a main thoroughfare for those traveling to more rural areas including the savannahs of northern Kenya. The organization I work for held a workshop at the hotel and while the Galaxy is not the Sarova, it is a clean, safe space with an accommodating staff. Myself, and two colleagues have various food allergies and the manager made sure that we all had fantastic food that we could eat at every meal, including Mukimo – a mixture of mashed potatoes, greens and beans. I could eat that all day long…

IMG_5280
IMG_5281

Frequent travelers with food issues will understand how important it is to find hotels and restaurants that will accommodate allergies. I’ve had my fair share of bread and peanut butter or french fry meals. Luckily, in this modern world we have many options for snacks that have some protein. I always bring dried fruits, nuts, as well as spreadable nut butters by Justin’s — they have started making snack packs with pretzels and dried fruits as well, thank you! Many hotels in Africa either have electric kettles in the rooms or will bring you a large thermos of hot water for tea, so I always pack a few Asian noodle soups just in case. I won’t say who…but I will out my friend who travels with a small suitcase dedicated to snacks because of her food allergies. Those with wanderlust do what they have to in order to travel. No one wants to have stomach problems while traveling, especially if there isn’t a hospital nearby.

IMG_5226

Next we headed to Bungoma, which is a full day drive from Nairobi or a short hour, hour and a half flight, then two-hour drive from the closest airport. We stayed at the Elegent Hotel. It’s a nice hotel central to the city. It is quite large, clean, safe and has Wi-Fi. The staff also took very good care of us and made sure there were dishes that we could eat. In walking distance are local street vendors and a large grocery store. Pay attention to where you are walking, as the boda boda’s (motorcycles) have a tendency to zip along on the dirt walking path, it almost ended badly for me one night.

IMG_7921

IMG_5278

Now for a short rant — honestly, as much as I enjoy a luxurious hotel, I am always grateful for a clean, secure place to stay. It bothers me how often the smaller hotels throughout Africa, especially in developing countries are criticized on travel websites for their lack of amenities. For those hoping for a positive travel experience in non-western countries, perhaps adjusting expectations will be of great benefit, and a little kindness goes a long way. That is all.