This was our fourth trip to Chicago and Royce’s second. Bryan’s sister Shannon graduated from the French Pastry School, and the reception after the graduation ceremony had a buffet filled with everything they learned to make during their six months of study. Can you guess why we came?
We flew into Chicago late on Thursday afternoon. We took the train into the city and walked to Dana Hotel where we stayed. It was centrally located, (and there was a Whole Foods around the corner!) but not really our style and had really annoying elevators. For dinner we all met up at Frontera Grill (it was our second time eating there because it was darn good mexican food). It is not your run-of-the-mill Mexican consisting of different combinations of rice, beans and cheese, but rather the more inventive, more interesting and more authentic kind with menu items featuring varied ingredients and more unusual flavors.
Friday, we went to the Chicago Cultural Center on our way to the Graduation Buffet & Reception. It was a neat building, but the art installations were mostly terrible. There was one interesting exhibit of photographs from crumbling American buildings that stirred our imagination for remodeling old buildings. Then we headed over to the French Pastry School for the Buffet. It was awesome, crowded and there was too much to eat! We couldn’t possibly taste everything. Cakes, Macaroons, dinner desserts, candies, nougats, breads and pastries galore. Yum! Yum! Yummy! In the evening we dined at Shannon’s new place of employment: The Pump Room. Once a famous Chicago hotspot for celebrities, has now been remodeled into what is a beautifully designed and hip space inside the equally cool Public Hotel, which we originally had wanted to stay in. We were seated at “Table 1″ the table where all the VIP’s sit, at least that is what they told us! The food was delicious and after the meal Shannon’s future Pastry Chef co-workers came to our table and presented us with nearly all the deserts they serve in the restaurant. They were all delicious! Shannon will be in good hands! After the restaurant we went to go see Shannon’s apartment around the corner and her incredible roof top view.
Since we are training for the Portland Marathon in October, we had to go out for a 5 mile run on Saturday. Starting off we ran from our hotel through the city to Lake Michigan’s shore. Along the shore there were many people out exercising, despite there being zero shade, and hot, humid, stagnant air. Even though the terrain was mostly flat, Megan was about to pass out. We had to rehydrate many times due to the heat and fortunately we came across the Green City Market, a farmers market in Lincoln Park and a spice shop called the Spice House, where we stopped and looking around at their offerings. Both were very cool places to go and highly recommended. Megan survived the run, but it was an exceptionally hot Chicagoan day so we decided to go somewhere cool and air conditioned, so after showering off the whole clan headed over via long bus ride to the Shedd Aquarium. Royce was asleep for the first half of the aquarium experience, but once he woke up he was overjoyed to see penguins, Beluga whales, sharks, fish, monkeys and other sea creatures (monkey’s were not swimming…). It was a joy to watch him get excited. That evening we ate Indian Food at Jaipur, which was good, spicier than normal and made everyone poop more than normal the next day .
On Sunday, Bryan and his dad took a bike ride around Chicago for their Father’s Day gift from Royce. The bikes were rented from Bobby’s Bike Hike. Before heading to the airport to fly home, we all had a wonderful Italian lunch at Quartino, also recommended as it is surprisingly authentic and they even have Italian language papers in the front!
It is always good to come back home, but we had a great little trip to Chicago and it was one of the rare happenings where all the food we had was great! When that happens, it tends to leave us feeling like the trip was a major success.
This past weekend we went to attend Bryan’s sister Jimi’s graduation from UC Santa Cruz. We stayed with Bryan’s family in a home they rented near the beach. Our first stop was at Staff of Life, a health food store to stock up on food for the weekend. We loved this store, and a few others we happened to pop into while walking around the downtown area. Santa Cruz is very health conscious, made evident by the many organic restaurants and grocery stores, completely putting Southern California to shame. Every restaurant even if not “organic” seemed to make an effort to use organic ingredients on the menu. To us this seemed huge, because you are lucky to even find a health conscious restaurant in Orange County offering organic salad greens on the menu. Our first night we went to La Posta Vecchia to celebrate Bryan’s 26th birthday. La Posta is an Italian restaurant specializing in house made pasta, and all the food was quite well done!
Our second day we drove down to the downtown area and walked around all the shops. It was a breath of fresh air to be in a shopping plaza that was not full of chain stores. Taken by surprise by all the unique offerings we returned to feed the meter about 4 times after realizing each time that we were not done yet. We spent a few hours reading various books in the Bookshop Santa Cruz, delighted by their unique selection of titles. Afterward we ate a late lunch at Chocolate Cafe, where we had some delicious mediterranean food and split a chocolate truffle.
The next day Jimi’s graduation took place in a beautiful setting on the University’s campus overlooking the ocean. It may have been beautiful, but it was also midday and very hot! Luckily we thought ahead to bring a large beach umbrella and there we various people trying to mooch off our shade. After the ceremony we headed over to Pearl of the Ocean, for a Sri Lankan dinner. Unfortunately Megan felt ill and had to leave with out trying the food, which was wonderful. The whole family is quite fond of Indian food and we found Sri Lankan food to be similar, but incorporating flavors from South East Asia. Later we discovered the restaurant was named the best new restaurant in Santa Cruz and we can’t disagree that it is worth stopping by. Sunday evening we flew back to Orange County via Southwest Airlines, thankful to be skipping out on the 8 hour drive back.
“Just when you think your going on vacation… BAM! Food poisoning!” – this is how one sympathizer described our situation this weekend. Sadly, Bryan was on the receiving end of a quick and dirty case of food poisoning the night before our departure. Once again we spent the entire night before a trip completely awake, but this time with a lot more diarrhea and a about a gallon of barf to top it off. Assuming he had gotten it all out of his system and beginning to feel better, we decided to re-hydrated and head to John Wayne Airport. It was less than a minute from entering the security line that we realized that it was not all behind us. Right in the middle of the security line blocking the entrance to the metal detector, Bryan leaned over and hurled into a plastic bag. He spent a few minutes in a bent over position as people tried to squeak by in disgust. At this point we were just thankful that it wasn’t coming out the other end. After disposing of a bag of pure liquid puke we boarded the flight and Bryan endured a long and torturous trip.
Arriving in Seattle around noon all we felt like doing was sleeping. So while our travel companions Drew and Allison explored the city the rest of the day we were unfortunately confined to our hotel room trying to sleep and watched a movie. Despite her lack of sleep, Megan was a trooper and waited on Bryan hand and foot. But we know too well that Megan gets very cranky with lack of sleep and it began to come out that evening as she began cursing every detail about the W hotel that we were staying in. The hotel was nice but some of her complaints were valid such as the lack of black out curtains, lack of sound-proof windows and hallway noise. Others were just the crankiness talking such as the low sheet thread count and shower-tub existence, but preferably those things could also be fixed. Bryan got so used to Megan as a slave-wife that at one point when he was feeling better he began using her as a human cup-holder with out knowing it. Forcing her to hold his drink in between sips.
The next day we walked around the city visiting Pike Place Market and some shops before taking the ferry to the nearby Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge had a small little town named Winslow that we stopped in before walking along the shore trail back to the ferry. The best thing about the town was Churchmouse Yarns & Teas (I guess the owners just couldn’t decide which to sell so they sold both!) and a delicious ice cream place called Mora Iced Creamery with 48 flavors of homemade ice cream. Later that night we went to Canalis Restaurant, where we had an enjoyable meal, however, Bryan was still unable to put down much food and if you know Bryan’s love for fine dining you can imagine his frustration. The dinner was also filled with some memorable laughs. First, we had an incredible awkward bread boy who insisted on escorting Drew to the restroom, where he somehow recounted to Drew the whole of our dinner conversion (spooky). Then as Drew was exiting the restroom another patron was trying to push the door open while not looking he mistook Drew’s left pectoral for the door knob, creating a groping story that Drew could not wait to share when he returned tableside. The meal was finished eloquently with Bryan’s rendition of MJ’s classic, “Man in the Mirror.” Some of the other dinner guests may have commented that it sounded as if the whole song was performed in high notes MJ only achieved mid crouch-grab, however Bryan stands behind is performance.
Our final day was Easter Sunday and Drew and Allison headed out to an church service with a friend while we opted to sleep in and try to explore the city a bit more. We took a useless and rip-off of a street car ride to nowhere and the rip-off and mostly useless monorail down to the Space Needle. Combined it was nothing but a total waste of $9 in transportation that took us only 1 mile to the pointless area around the space needle. Plus there were some major creepers riding the monorail. From there we took a cab over to the Pioneer Square area where we walked around a bit and found that we quite enjoyed that area. It was the more historic part of town. The old city that was mostly destroyed in fire years ago is buried below street level. There is not much to see other than a cool toy store , book shops and a Utilikilts which is a hardcore kilt store attempting to make kilts mainstream clothing for men. We got the impression that in a few years it will become a hip thriving neighborhood.
So all in all sadly Seattle was a downer for us. We were really looking forward to this trip and given the circumstances we did the best we could but it is truly difficult to enjoy a vacation when you are tired, feel like crap, and repulsed by the thing you looked forward to most: food. We didn’t get to see a whole lot outside of the downtown area but here are a few things we learned: Even though we only spent about 10 minutes in Pike Place Market it was no doubt one of the best things to see in the city and we wish we would have been able to go back. The busses are free, but don’t pay for monorail or the street car; taxis are useful as is the light rail to the airport. The W hotel is not as hip as they want you to think it is. Most importantly: Don’t get food poisoning before a trip.
We spent the weekend housesitting for Megan’s aunt in Hollywood. Megan was feeling a little under the weather but we managed to have an excellent meal at Osteria Mozza and took a trip to the Getty Villa in Malibu.
This weekend we flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a wedding. Megan was the Maid of Honor in her friend Jackie’s wedding that took place in her husband Peter’s hometown of Hudson, Wisconsin. Friday night we had a rehearsal at the wedding location which was followed by an early dinner at Peter’s parents home. Once we got back to our hotel Bryan decided that the night was still young and his tummy had room for more food. So we headed over to 112 Eatery by cab where we had some good food.
Saturday was unusually cold for early October making it very unusual for an outdoor wedding and reception, even snowing in the early morning. The wedding still took place outdoors along the lakeshore in Willow River State Park, but the reception had to be moved indoors to an ugly church. Jackie was pretty disappointed, and spent the last hours before the wedding trying to decorate it. During the ceremony Bryan acted as the unofficial photographer, and a car pulled alongside the guests acted as a stereo system due to the parks power being out. The wedding was very budget and very interesting to say the least. After the reception we drove through St. Paul and took some pictures of the Capitol and other buildings. It looked like a pretty cool city. It is just weird that it is so close to it’s twin. Like somehow if they would have merged into one city, they would have felt more like a city city. Anyway after seeing St. Paul we headed over to Lucia’s Wine Bar, where we had a very reasonably priced and good dinner. Bryan’s favorite was the pumpkin soup, claiming it was one of the best soups he has had and Megan loved the Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato and cookie desert.
After dinner we headed back to The Ivy Hotel, where we had been staying in downtown Minneapolis. After finding out that the newlyweds were also staying the night here we had room service send them some chocolate covered strawberries. The hotel was really nice, probably the nicest hotel we have ever stayed in and came ate an Expedia bargain for only about $100 a night. It seemed like there were also quite a few perks that we enjoyed. Each morning room service sent us complimentary tea and newspaper. The room had complimentary Fiji water, magazines and plenty of well proportioned bathroom items from the spa. The hotel also had on demand movies that were still in theaters, which was something that we had never seen before. We watched Sunshine Cleaning, which was pretty good. There were two downsides to the hotel: the internet was not free and neither was the parking. Megan thought she had secured a coupon rate for free valet parking only to discover that it was not free and we paid $24 a day, when there was $5 a day parking next door. Other than that we loved the hotel. The room was really big, everything was new and the bathroom had a large tub and shower. The bed was really comfortable and it made us really wish we had a king.
Sunday morning we walked around downtown Minneapolis, which was almost completely devoid of human life. We attributed to it being a sunday and that the people who live here are indubitably devout because there were about 2 churches on every corner and another reason was that it was cold and nothing was open. However, everyone appeared to be hiding at Key’s Café, which was one of the only places in town open on Sunday. Our outing in town allowed us to experience the Minneapolis Sky way, which is a network of bridges that connect buildings to each-other so people can get around town and escape any harsh weather. How it works is each building’s second floor is like a public space connected to the bridges and it feels very much like a mall in there. One building made you walk through a Macy’s to use the sky way. Pretty smart we think. Megan debuted her wool purse she bought in Portugal this weekend and to her delight she was getting compliments on it left and right from different women in Minneapolis. Its popularity made us wonder if we should begin importing them.
Our last stop was at the Mall of America (how could we not?) which is right by the airport. We were expecting to hate it, but some how it was completely fascinating to us and we really had fun there. It didn’t hurt that Bryan found a whole store dedicate to the art that is Frisbee. It was a tri level loop of stores and the mall changed looks as you walked around for some reason. Like different sections looked like different malls. It was also packed like the week before Christmas, which we suspect is normal. We heard the mall employs 12,000 people and we can only imagine how much money it brings in. Our flight back to Orange County was very comfortable in first class. Two flights to Europe in 2009 and a flight to NYC in 2008 has granted us preferred status which now grants us automatic first class upgrades. Apparently in the eyes of US Airways we are now “frequent fliers” which is hard to believe considering that our first flight to Europe this year was cheaper than our flight to Minneapolis.
This weekend I went to Chicago to see my friend Jackie and to attend her Bachelorette Party. I flew on Southwest where I had my personal space completely raped by not one but two obese creatures whom I had the luxury of sitting next. I fumed for hours in my seat, squirming and thinking unkind things until my personal space bubble was restored upon exiting the aircraft at Midway airport. Friday afternoon, where I quickly made my way to Jackie’s neighborhood of Logan Park via the L-train. After changing trains downtown, I noticed I was heading toward what appeared to be the city’s outskirts, I became confused because I thought she lived in “the city.” I soon learned that my idea of “the city” which included tall buildings (over 4 stories) was inaccurate and actually the urban Chicago landscape was more sprawling consisting of various neighborhoods and boroughs. It took some convincing to get me to believe that more was going on in these neighborhoods than in the area with the tall buildings that I could see in the distance. After dropping off my stuff at Jackie’s apartment we grabbed some late lunch at the Earwax Café before heading over on bike to an engagement party her friends were having for her and her fiancée.
I didn’t sleep well on the foam pad in the living room, and after the second night in a row of poor sleep, I awoke Saturday morning with a headache that I could not shake until my plane landed in Orange County Sunday evening. I had a feeling that this headache would not mix well with the thumping beats coming from whatever night club we would end up at that night for the Bachelorette Party. Before the party started we rode our bikes a few miles to Karyn’s raw food store and restaurant where we ate lunch before going to the Renegade Craft Fair. The Renegade Craft Fair was really cool, and just happened to be going on the weekend I was in town not far from where she lived. It was made up of hundreds of tents lining a blocked off street with local artists selling creative goods ranging from clothing and jewelry, to glass and pottery. It was very youthful and hip, and not at all the type of craft fair where grandmas sell country quilts, wreaths and applique vests.
After the craft fair we rode the bikes back over the rough streets of Chicago to Jackie’s apartment to get ready for the Bachelorette Party. I can’t say I was completely at ease with riding helmet-less, in traffic, on pothole-filled asphalt in a city I was unfamiliar with. But somehow I made it out alive, even though I never managed to find a balance between avoiding potholes below and watching for cars and red lights above.
Later we headed over to Blue Fin Sushi to begin the Bachelorette festivities, before heading via taxi to The Sky Bar nightclub, where I seemed to make the most of the whole nightclub scene without alcohol and with a headache pounding louder than the speakers.
I realized that there are a lot of creepy people who hang out in night clubs. Besides the bouncers and their awkward comments, the weirdest people ‘up in the club’ were a couple who didn’t dance at all. They were a good 15 years older than anyone else in there and they just stood in the corner in an awkward embrace watching everyone else. The woman looked straight off the Mormon compound with no makeup, hair to her butt and a conservative long lace-accented floral dress, while her man looked like Native American chief complete with braided hair and a Adidas tracksuit.
Sunday morning we slept in and took the L-train into what I call “the city” to see Millennium Park and the Bean before I headed to the airport to fly home. All in all I had lots of fun on this trip. I had been to Chicago before, but this time saw a totally different part of the city. It was a short trip, but great to spend time with a good friend. I like Chicago, but still feel confused by it, and maybe confused by the Midwest in general. I left this trip having no idea how to return to see all that I had missed without a resident tour guide.
The city’s sprawl seems to have multiple points of interest spread all over, leaving me with the impression that I would be clueless about where to go and where to stay if left on my own. It reminds me of what I imagine Brooklyn, NY to be like, with endless 4-story old brick buildings and various hip neighborhoods. Although since I have not been there I could be completely inaccurate. The neighborhoods were urban, but not cramped and there was a surprising amount of old buildings still standing and being occupied. Jackie and her friends all lived in apartments in old brick buildings that all seemed to have envious features such as original hardwood, moulding and fireplaces, large windows bringing in lots of light and roomy unique layouts with extra space. All these things and that they enjoy low rent makes the idea of living in Chicago very appealing.
After all the exciting and beautiful new places we have been this year, Big Bear pales in comparison. Having only been there as kids we soon realized that it offers far less to amuse us as adults, especially in summer. We drove up only for two nights to visit with Bryan’s parents who were vacationing at (uh-oh) another timeshare (previous timeshare experiences have been interesting… think Costa Del Suck, Spain and the Trailer Park in Napa)!
Our time was spent hiking and biking in the nature surrounding the lake and on a rented boat where Bryan’s dad hooked various parts of the boat but zero fish. Bryan was so busy ducking out of the way every time his dad tried to cast the line that he kept pouring beer all over the boat. It was pretty hilarious actually. First dumping 7/8 of a large glass all over Megan’s legs, and then emptying another 1/2 of a glass all over his own seat. We are still not sure how he kept turning his glass completely horizontal in such gentle waters, but we will let is slide due to the fact that his dad was hooking more seat vinyl that bait.
After the dangerous and messy boat ride we stopped off for some beef jerky before heading out to dinner at the Sweet Basil Bistro, both of which were truly gourmet by Big Bears standards. Overall the trip was pleasant, but not thrilling. There isn’t much more to say about it.
We went down to San Diego with our friends Drew and Allison to watch some of the Tour De California. Drew and Bryan had the pleasure to run with Lance as he was going up a climb. In the process Bryan accidentally clobbered another spectator in the midst of all the excitement. The sheer force of Bryan’s impact disoriented the man forcing him to miss his one opportunity of getting Lance’s photo. Needless to say, he was not happy about it, and his frustration turned into something amusing for us when his wife asked, “Honey, did you get your photo of Lance?” He emotionally replied, “No! These bozos ruined it, and I could not see anything!”
Bum Bags and Fanny Packs by Jeremy Smith is a essentially a dictionary that attempts to translate American English into British English and the other way around. I purchased the book out of a desire to know more about the language differences between the native English speakers of the world. During this quest I also purchased and read Brit-Think, Ameri-Think and Knickers In A Twist. Each of the books have their own slant. Knickers in A Twist is strictly a dictionary of British slang and Brit-Think, Ameri-Think focuses on describing the cultural contrast and difference in thinking. Bum Bags and Fanny Packs on the other hands is a good reference book and if you are planning to become an American expatriate somewhere in the UK or spend extensive amounts of time among British people it would be wise to pick up a copy. The book can be a bit repetitive at times but I am sure it would come in very handy if I moved to the UK.
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Knickers In A Twist by Jonathan Bernstein is a dictionary that translates British slang into American English. I purchased the book out of a desire to know more about the language differences between the native English speakers of the world. During this quest I also purchased and read Brit-Think, Ameri-Think and Bum Bags and Fanny Packs. Each of the books have their own slant. Bum Bags and Fanny Packs is a dictionary that covers all translations to and from British and American English and Brit-Think, Ameri-Think focuses on describing the cultural contrast and difference in thinking. Knickers In A Twist was interesting, but I found myself wishing it wasn’t just slang and had more stories to tell or away to apply my new found knowledge to a real scenario. Without ever knowing anyone who uses phrases like “done up like a kipper” or “all fur coats and no knickers” it was hard to get much humor out of it. On the other hand if I did know someone who talks like that, I would finally understand what the heck they were saying all this time. So if you hang around lots of Brits and you have no idea what they are saying, you must get this book! But if you don’t ever plan on needing to know what it means to be “rough as a badger’s ass” then I this book is not for you!