Lisbon, Portagul

Another guest blog by my daughter, Allison Malecha. A recap of the second part of her summer trip to Spain/Portugal.

Lisbon, August 2015

Last year, I went to a personal finance workshop sponsored by the startup LearnVest, thanks to a cousin who is a client. The part that stuck with me was a lecture by a Harvard professor who spoke about happiness. He discussed a survey where children were asked a fairly standard question: What do you want to be when you grow up? The children responded in expected ways: a doctor, a lawyer, a what-have-you just like my mom/dad. But the professor was not completely satisfied with these answers. The children had named career goals, professions. They had not said: “When I grow up, I want to be happy. I want to be fulfilled.” They had not been taught that these were things worth striving for.

New York, where I live, is a city where most everyone is trying to be something, or someone. We are future writers, hedge fund managers, ad agency executives, Nobel Prize winners. When I arrived in Lisbon, I had the feeling that perhaps, there, a few more children might wish to be happy when they grow up. To be fair, I spent three days in the city, and one of those days mostly on a sad little ferry back and forth across the Tagus. But the air had a different quality, people’s faces were more prone to smiles, and I felt, even looking up the three flights of dirt-studded white stone stairs up to our street, inexplicably, deliriously happy.

Lisbon is not counted among National Geographic’s “Top 10 happiest cities” nor was Portugal named one of the Top 20 happiest countries in the recent United Nations World Happiness Report. It is entirely possible that my perception of the place is more attributable to the fact of being on vacation than to the place itself.

We didn’t have the most obvious start to what turned out to be the highlight of the my Spain/Portugal trip. My travel mate and I missed our train to Lisbon. We were coming from Porto (Portugal) with tickets purchased online and sent to my Brooklyn mailbox. It turned out that we had bought vouchers, not tickets, and the ticket collector was kind enough to tell us so—4 minutes before the train’s departure. So I waited in the 20-minute ticket line and we caught the next train. My first experience of Lisbon was running through it, a backpack slamming against my spine and a camera drumming my chest as we followed the blue dot on my friend’s iPhone to the front door of our Airbnb. We were about to make our temporary landlord late for a work meeting, but she gave us a tour: roomy bedroom, a kitchen of mint-green cabinets, a corner bathroom with gas-lit hot water, a washing machine and clothing lines out the window, a fifth-floor view onto, on one side, a church courtyard, and on the other, a view of the entire red-roofed and white-spired city. She pointed out the square where we would find the train station to take us to Sintra. She didn’t look a bit like she was already late to somewhere else.

My friend in our Airbnb kitchen.

My friend in our Airbnb kitchen.

The Sao Cristovao Church, on our street.

The Sao Cristovao Church, on our street.

The view from our Airbnb apartment.

The view from our Airbnb apartment.

That night we zigzagged our way to Mesa de Frades, a place my friend had recommended to me to listen to live fado, a type of folk music specific to Portugal. We arrived at 10:40 and were told to come back at 11. We made a few loops on the cobblestone streets and returned to be seated in two extra chairs pushed up to a four-top, where a middle-aged couple and their in-laws had just finished dinner. A hush fell over the tiny, mural-wrapped dining room as the restaurant door was pulled closed and the musicians positioned themselves in front of it: a mandolin player, a guitarist, and a singer. All younger than I expected, quick to laughter in the moments between songs. But what happened during those songs was pure magic—not a single fork tine scratched, no iPhones lit up, no one whispered. The brunette clasped her hands in front of her and lavished her voice upon the room: rich and mournful, resonant without the help of a microphone. After the first set she was replaced by an older vocalist, with a deeper, more dexterous voice and a leopard-print poncho, clearly recognized by some in the room. My travel mate and I walked home afterwards in a bit of a trance, not yet wanting the spell to be broken.

One of the many tiny, beautiful cobblestoned streets on the way to Mesa de Frades.

One of the many tiny, beautiful cobblestoned streets on the way to Mesa de Frades.

Mesa de Frades, Lisbon.

Mesa de Frades, Lisbon.

Our first full day in Lisbon we rented bikes from bike Iberia (word to the wise: budget bikes are exactly what they sound like) and hopped onto the Poetry Bike Lane, which was more of a series of pedestrian paths and sidewalks and parking lots than a bike lane. It also left the poetry up to the riders but hugged the broad and glittering Tagus all the way to historical Belem. Things got dicey when we wheeled our bikes onto the aforementioned ferry. We missed the stop we were supposed to get off on, so instead of a beach, we found ourselves staring at a large hill with only one way to go: up. We narrowly avoided turning onto a freeway and I was close to tears after my gear got off track, but even this misadventure had a happy ending—on a long, winding downhill back towards the (correct) ferry port, self-made wind in our hair and a vibrant palette of green and blue before us. Back on the bike lane, we made our way to the Monument to the Discoveries, a striking mass of carved stone aimed out toward sea, and ended at Belém Tower, with a pit stop at the sumptuous National Coach Museum.

Along the Tagus, Lisbon.

Along the Tagus, Lisbon.

A pit stop along the Poetry Bike Lane for sardine sandwiches and beer at Sol e Pesca.

A pit stop along the Poetry Bike Lane for sardine sandwiches and beer at Sol e Pesca.

A happy ending to an unintentional detour.

A happy ending to an unintentional detour.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon.

In front of Belem Tower, Lisbon.

In front of Belem Tower, Lisbon.

On our last evening, I stood in our kitchen slicing chorizo and ladling olives into a bowl. My friend took her glass of port out onto the balcony and called me over. A crowd was gathering around the church steps, and two chairs appeared from somewhere. A mandolin player sat in one, a guitarist in the other, and the singer stood behind them—an impromptu fado concert to send us on our way.

Fado graffiti near our Airbnb.

Fado graffiti near our Airbnb.

A plate of incredible grilled octopus at Solar 31.

A plate of incredible grilled octopus at Solar 31.

 

Madrid on a budget

This summer found my daughter and a girlfriend of hers taking in the sights and sounds and flavors of Spain and Portugal. This post is a recap of their time spent in Madrid. A testament to the abilities to eat well and live well on a budget.

Madrid: a real-life grown-up vacation by Allison Malecha

View of Madrid from Tartan Roof (completely worth the 4 euro entry fee).

View of Madrid from Tartan Roof (completely worth the 4 euro entry fee).

During college, the Barcelona-Madrid duo was popular among the study abroad crowd. The general post-trip consensus was: Barcelona—so fun! Madrid—so much art! (but kind of boring.) This year, as I was planning a trip with a friend who’d traveled around Spain the previous fall, I was a little skeptical to only have Madrid and (in Portugal) Porto and Lisbon on our itinerary. But from my first morning in Spain’s capital city, I loved it, and I soon realized that my priorities weren’t to “go out” or meet fun new people. I do enough of that in New York. I felt tired. I wanted days spent walking along gorgeous old streets instead of sitting at my desk; evenings full of cheap, delicious food, even cheaper, more delicious wine, and comfortable conversation; and a bedtime several hours before dawn. Madrid was happy to provide.

We upgraded from college hostels to an Airbnb, and stayed in a spacious second-floor apartment that doubled as a gallery space for the artist-owner. Mixed media sculptures and moody paintings on the walls. Tea sachets and little bowls of brittle biscuits on the kitchen counter. Fresh, not-entirely-absorbent towels neatly folded in the bathroom. An Ikea-outfitted space right near the center of everything.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Madrid.

Our beautiful Airbnb in Madrid.

My traveling partner and I are both serial snackers, so we easily slid into the eat-and-mosy-and-eat-a-little-more pattern of tapas dining. Tapas (derived from the Spanish verb “tapar,” to cover) are strongly associated with Spanish cuisine in general, but the tradition originated in the southern region of Andalusia, and is not as deeply ingrained in the north, where Barcelona is. In Madrid (Spain’s belly button geographically), many dishes are offered in either small-plate portions (the traditional tapas) or meal sizes (“raciones”), but why have one when you can have four (or five or seven)? We consecrated the beginning of our first morning in the city, a Sunday, with slushed sangria and huge hunks of toast topped with iberico ham and olive oil-soaked octopus from El Capricho Extremeno. My traveling partner taught me her favorite Spanish word, “bacalhau” (cod), and I fell in love with saying it too—the way the l opens into the h. At some point in the day, we stopped for bacalhau with a smear of olive oil on toast and a less-than-two-euro glass of house vermouth on ice at Bodegas Ricla, operated by a mother and her two sons. We ate 2-euro (lightly, barely, beautifully fried) calamari sandwiches just off the scaffolding-smothered Plaza Mayor and a 15-euro skillet of luscious paella at La Barraca. We did the traditional food-march along Cava Baja: vino tinto and queso at Tempranillo, vino tinto and jamón and teeny sardines at Txakolina, vino tinto and tomato-rubbed toast at the place across from a place that ran out of empanadas. For good measure, we ate a plateful of salty ham, with pork haunches hanging all around, at Museu del Jamón. The menu prices in Madrid are reasonable, cheap even, but at each tapas place, with each drink, you also get a freebie of sorts: a tea plate filled with dry sausage slices and pretzel crackers, a dainty wedge of manchego on toast, or patatas bravas (which we never actually got, but apparently they’re everywhere). By bedtime, we had inevitably consumed a small pig and a loaf or two of pure carbs.

From El Capricho Extremeno.

From El Capricho Extremeno.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Seafood paella at La Barraca in Madrid.

Seafood paella at La Barraca in Madrid.

Museu del Jamón.

Museu del Jamón.

Pre-dinner reading break around the corner from La Barraca, Madrid.

Pre-dinner reading break around the corner from La Barraca, Madrid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To let our stomachs settle, we saw art. Goya, Velázquez, and the deliciously imaginative Bosch at the Prado. A Vogue-sponsored exhibit of waifs in saturated states of dress and undress, in gilt Versailles halls and algae-wrapped bathtubs, in the basement of the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Paintings made melancholy by age and a gorgeously show-offy staircase at the Cerralbo. We rode the glassed-in elevator and played a high-brow version of I spy with the Reina Sofia’s Salvador Dalí paintings (. . . a Hitler mustache . . . . a swarm of ants . . . two tiny humans on the horizon).

"Vogue, Like a Painting" exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

“Vogue, Like a Painting” exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

I started day three with a 9 a.m. run through Retiro Park (the full Spanish name translates to “park of the pleasant retreat”). Un-hungover, ready for another day of flexing our legs and stomachs and consuming all the wonderful culture of a grown-up city.

Vermouth and vacation reads at Café de Ruiz, Madrid.

Vermouth and vacation reads at Café de Ruiz, Madrid.

Martha’s Vineyard

Earlier this summer I crossed another item off of my bucket list. I have always wanted to visit the New England islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. To experience what has drawn the local population of the nearby mainlands to summer at these challenging to get to destinations. Because we love traveling by train and wanted to experience the ferry ride from the mainland to the island(s), we were limited to visiting only Martha’s Vineyard. We went on Memorial Day weekend and the ferries from the mainland and the ferries between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were not in service yet.

For a four-day weekend, Martha’s Vineyard served up plenty to do to fill our days and nights. The island is small enough to drop your bags in one location and see the rest of the island from wherever you choose to make base camp. Since we knew nothing about the island, and didn’t really know anybody who did, we chose the town based on the accommodation that drew us in. And for our wants and needs we chose well.

We began our journey on an Amtrak train from New York, arriving 3 hours later into New Bedford, Rhode Island – the suggested port for easiest access to Martha’s Vineyard. The sun was beginning to set as we neared the island and the air was crisp and clear with a hint of sea salt. Having no idea where we were going we relied on one of the many island buses lined up along the end of the dock ready to take the ferry passengers to their destination of choice. Driving by a spot on the island used to film part of Jaws, we made our way to our lodging for the weekend, The Charlotte Inn, in Edgartown.

The sun setting as we approached Martha's Vineyard on the ferry.

The sun setting as we approached Martha’s Vineyard on the ferry.

The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. Lodging at it's finest.

The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Lodging at it’s finest.

The stay at the Charlotte Inn was a treat in itself. We could have easily spent every hour of our trip at the Inn and been content. Service is definitely job 1 at this place that has been owned by the same couple for over 40 years. They bought a dilapidated old hotel and spent years creating a homey, warm, inviting space that is full of character. In the ensuing years the owners bought four surrounding buildings, turning them all into uniquely, spacious, comfortable rooms. Every room has a library of interesting books and comfortable seating – indoors and outdoors. The immaculate condition of the Inn and the rooms was as I could as I have experienced anywhere.

The old carriage house, one of the buildings at the Charlotte Inn, providing beautifully unique lodging on MV.

The old carriage house, one of the buildings at the Charlotte Inn, providing beautifully unique lodging on MV.

The collection of books in our room, sitting on the steps of a stairway to nowhere.

The collection of books in our room, sitting on the steps of a stairway to nowhere.

The main building houses several sitting rooms, one with a roaring fireplace that we finished our days in, sipping on a cocktail, reading our books. The Inn’s restaurant, appropriately named The Terrace for its old world terrace look with French and Italian accenting, is a high-end dining experience of American cuisine. The owners live on the property and still work the reception desk, unloading delivery trucks, and walk the property to make sure their guests needs are being met. But our favorite part of our whole stay was our regular visits with the mascots of the Inn, the brother and sister Golden Retriever duo, Nicky and Bailey. They have free reign of their owner’s property and were always up for a good belly rub.

The Terrace restaurant at The Charlotte Inn - a fine dining experience of American cuisine.

The Terrace restaurant at The Charlotte Inn – a fine dining experience of American cuisine.

Nicky, the Inn Mascot enjoying a nice pat on the head while sitting in her favorite chair.

Nicky, the Inn Mascot enjoying a nice pat on the head while sitting in her favorite chair.

As for Edgartown, one needn’t leave this little village to be fulfilled. We started every day with a coffee or tea from Espresso Love, 3 blocks from our hotel. Then it was back to Main Street to make our way through the local independent bookstore, the boutique shops and the gallery showcasing local artists in a building that is 250 years old with original flooring and used to be a boat making building. For lunch we headed across the parking lot to take in some fresh seafood at the Seafood Shanty where we could watch a specialized mini-ferries transport 3 cars at a time from the Edgartown port across about 100 yd channel to Chappaquiddick Island – of famed Teddy Kennedy history.

The newly opened gallery selling works of art from local artists, housed in a 250-year old boat house.

The newly opened gallery selling works of art from local artists, housed in a 250-year old boat house.

Two mini ferries take turns taking vehicles and people back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island.

Two mini ferries take turns taking vehicles and people back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island.

As enjoyable as Edgartown is, there are other island destinations that are worth checking out. On Sunday morning, we rented bikes and made the 3-mile ride down to the long expanse of beach at Katama Beach (aka South Beach). The island is full of bike paths – from flat paved easy level trails to off-road dirt trails for the experienced rider. I’m sure in high-season Katama Beach is full of beachgoers – but on this weekend it was isolated and we enjoyed a nice private stroll before heading back to town on our bikes.

My daughter walking the Katama Beach, on the southern edge of Martha's Vineyard.

My daughter walking the Katama Beach, on the southern edge of Martha’s Vineyard.

Another option to getting around the island is to rent a car. The rental places stock all kinds of fun rentals, from Jeep Wranglers to Mini-Cooopers to Mustangs and Camaros – and even a Ferrari or two – all convertibles of some sort. We ordered a Jeep Wrangler, but were given a Mini-Cooper – which was way roomier than we figured and even my 6’3″ husband squeezed into this snazzy little car. Two-lane roads wind around the island linking all the little towns together. With the wind blowing in our hair, we headed out to our first destination:

The little Mini-Cooper we rented to tool around the island!

The little Mini-Cooper we rented to tool around the island!

Chilmark – we headed directly to the north end of town to the fishing village of Menemsha, where we stood in line at Larsen’s Fish Market to order up a plate of fresh lobster – literally. You are given a freshly boiled whole lobster on a paper plate and a small cup of drawn butter, and not enough napkins. If you’re lucky enough to score one of three picnic tables, it’s a big help – it’s a messy undertaking getting at that sweet fresh lobster meat, but oh so worth it.

No respect! - as we 'patiently' waited in the long line for our freshly boiled lobster.

No respect! – as we ‘patiently’ waited in the long line for our freshly boiled lobster.

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Aquinnah – situated on the farthest point on the west end of the island, this area is known for its untouchable clay cliffs, and for the Gay Head Lighthouse – no access is allowed to either. One of the first whaling ports in the US, this raw windy corner of the world has to be amazing for storm watching.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah, on the western tip of Martha's Vineyard. They are protected and untouched by man.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah, on the western tip of Martha’s Vineyard. They are protected and untouched by man.

The Gay Head lighthouse, used as a marker by some of the country's earliest whaling boats.

The Gay Head lighthouse, used as a marker by some of the country’s earliest whaling boats.

After a pit stop back at the Charlotte Inn for a rest and change of clothes it was off to dinner in the center of the island, at a working farm that doubles as an Inn with a fine dining restaurant, just outside of West Tisbury. The Lambert’s Cove Inn is tucked back into the deep woods of the island on a tight windy road that would be a tight fit for two cars to pass each other.

The next morning we hopped into the Mini-Cooper to check out the two remaining main towns on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland:

Vineyard Haven – located on the northern tip of the island, this is one of the more populated towns on the island and similar to Edgartown has a few main streets lined with boutique shops, another great independent bookstore and wonderfully unique restaurants like the Waterfront Market. This is also where most of the larger ferries port, especially the ferries carrying vehicles.

The Bunch of Grapes independent bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard.

The Bunch of Grapes independent bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard.

The outdoor time clock in front the bookstore - "Time to read"

The outdoor time clock in front the bookstore – “Time to read”

Oak Bluffs – the largest town on the island, is home of the country’s oldest working merry-go-round and a collection of quaint gingerbread houses creating its own little unique neighborhood, covering several blocks. There is a large green space across the road from the port to sit and relax while waiting for your ferry. A great town to stay in for a younger family.

The Flying Horses Merry-Go-Round at Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.

The Flying Horses Carousel at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the many 'Gingerbread' houses creating a unique neighborhood of these quaint small colorful houses.

One of the many ‘Gingerbread’ houses creating a unique neighborhood of these quaint small colorful houses.

Martha’s Vineyard is a long way to go from most parts of the country, and not easy to get to from anywhere. I certainly understand why most people who go there, plan to stay for an extended period of time, many for the whole summer. Understandably a great draw for people who love to write, read, paint, love seafood and long walks. Sounds like heaven on earth to me!

Check my most recent food review post for reviews on island restaurants.

Check the Global Gallery to see more pictures from Martha’s Vineyard.

Books (creative), books (travel), books (journal)

To continue on the path attributing the affect my father had on my life, I would be remiss to omit the two most major influences he had on me – reading and writing. I am lucky enough these days that I can travel on a regular basis, to see and experience all that our amazing world has to offer. But for most of my childhood years my travel came in the form of reading. The public library was my portal to destinations near and far, real and make-believe.

My father gave my daughter and I matching nightgowns for Christmas - "So many books, so little time"

My father gave my daughter and I matching nightgowns for Christmas – “So many books, so little time”

Reading wasn’t just about pretty illustrations, or interesting tales, or something to fill my hours. But a way to be transported to a different location, a new world, an enchanting culture. Reading brings the meaning of escapism to a whole new level – via creative travel writing. I think so often when people read, they may get so caught up in the story line they don’t appreciate the setting.

Think of Gone with the Wind – set in the deep south on beautiful plantations. Or The Thorn Birds set in the Australian outback. Or The Sound of Music set in the hills of Austria. Reading was the catalyst that in later years would entice me to a love of traveling the world around us. My father and I were/are not big chit-chatters. We would spend hours sitting together, not saying a word, our noses in our respective books. In my early years I climbed on to his lap with a book every chance I got. Initially so he could read to me; then when I got older I either read to him or we read our own books. It was just a very special bonding time.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800's.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800’s.

And then he carried that tradition on with his grandchildren, and even had the chance to do that with his great-granddaughter before he passed on. The pictures of he and my daughter sitting side by side reading are priceless. And her love of reading has undoubtedly lead to a deep love of travel for her. As I write this, she is off to Spain and Portugal for nine days – wondering how she was going to manage bringing all of her reading and writing materials. Most girls worry about managing their travel wardrobe.

Great-grandpa reading to his great-granddaughter.

Great-grandpa reading to his great-granddaughter.

Grandpa, once an English and History teacher, sharing with his granddaughter one of his favorite historical novels.

Grandpa, once an English and History teacher, sharing with his granddaughter one of his favorite historical novels.

Now before I go on a trip, I head to the closest book store and buy up every book I can on my intended destination. In the past that meant mainly guide books. But in the last decade or so, travel writing has taken off and now it is common to find a creative non-fiction account of so many of the major destinations. And with the success of these books are coming more books about the hidden gems of travel. Books are being lauded as much for their setting as their thematic content – and not just being cast into a certain genre. I find it rare that I pick up a book that doesn’t create in me a desire to visit the area it is set in, and experience the culture, the people, the visuals that inspired the writer to create a story utilizing all of these aspects of a location.

Many of favorite travel books are:

Anything by Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here Nor There, At Home

Anything by Frances Mayes – Under the Tuscan Sun, Every Day in Tuscany, Bella Tuscany

Brad Newsham – Take Me With You

The Best American Travel Writing – an annual anthology of short travel stories, with guest editors

The other element of the influences my Dad had on me – is writing. My father journaled every day for nearly 40 years, and probably long before that at some level. But he saved his journals from his decades of writing in them, and bequeathed them to me in hopes of reading through them to either write his life story, or pick and choose from his experiences and memories to create a fictional depiction based on a certain part of his life. So looks like I’ll have plenty of writing material to work from in the coming decades – many from some amazing travel experiences he had while in the military and as an adult who had a similar love of culture and golf and all the amazing places both can take you. Now if I only I can decipher his writing!

Grandpa reading to Eli, while looking out of Lake Superior on a beautiful spring day - which he will journal about early the next day.

Grandpa reading to Eli, while looking out of Lake Superior on a beautiful spring day – which he will journal about early the next day.

I have not been the best at daily journaling, but where his influence on journaling has taken hold is journaling where I travel. I try to find a small chunk of time every day while traveling to jot down my experiences of the day – or using the long flights home to relive the whole travel experience. Utilizing the 5 senses to fill my journal with reminders of what stood out to me in what was special about the place I was visiting. Journaling captions to go along with the pictures I take has also become a big part of remembering a place so that when I am ready to write a post I am not lost looking at a picture with no recollection of why I took it.

Journaling sitting riverside in the Rocky Mountains of Big Sky, Montana.

Journaling sitting riverside in the Rocky Mountains of Big Sky, Montana.

So next time you are stuck as to where you want to travel to, pick up a book and see if that doesn’t get your travel juices flowing! Or better yet, take the book with you on your travels to enhance your existing travel experience.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

Husband reading on the patio at the Charleston Inn on Martha's Vineyard.

Husband reading on the patio at the Charleston Inn on Martha’s Vineyard.

My daughter reading while waiting for a massage at the Glenmere Mansion in New York.

My daughter reading while waiting for a massage at the Glenmere Mansion in New York.

"Don't bother us, Eli and I are reading!"

“Don’t bother us, Eli and I are reading!”

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My husband reading while looking out over the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

My husband reading while looking out over the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

My daughter reading at the base of Low Library on the Columbia University campus.

My daughter reading at the base of Low Library steps on the Columbia University campus.

My daughter reading in a Parisian cafe' - oh there's that glass of wine!

My daughter reading in a Parisian cafe’ – oh there’s that glass of wine!

Life is a Journey – a tribute to my father

After a long hiatus I am back to start a new chapter in the writing of my travel blog, Nomadic Narrator. On June 24th my father passed away after a long valiant battle with cancer. He brought new meaning to the words ‘fight for life.’ I have never in my 51-years witnessed a stronger will to live than what my father showed, especially in his final days. It is this passion for life and living that feeds a new inspiration in me to be more aware of my surroundings, take more pictures, ask more questions, journal my thoughts and ideas, and fully enjoy the journey that is life.

In February of this year (2015), my father was told his cancer was in remission. Words we had all been hoping to hear since he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in April of 2011. After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer (cells that flowed through his bloodstream and on occasion metastasized to bones and arteries and grew into tumors), was finally whipped into submission. For two glorious months my Dad was cancer-free.

Then, in April, he began to have leg and lower back pain. A new scan showed the cancer had returned – with a vengeance. There were 11 new tumors: a large one in his liver, several in his lungs and the rest in his bones. The doctors felt he could not weather any more rounds of chemo or radiation and recommended he try a newly approved treatment that boosts the bodies immune system to kill off the cancer cells. At the very least, the idea that his doctors were willing to try something, anything, gave my Dad encouragement to push for more days to continue his life journey. As he said, “I’m not going to come 98% of the way, and then throw in the towel.”

This time around, we knew his days were numbered, and my three brothers and I dedicated the next weeks to spending more concentrated time with Dad. Two of my brothers and I live in AZ, while my other brother lives in MN where my Dad resided. It was a logistical challenge to create time together with Dad. Luckily, we all have flexibility in our schedules and on the weekend of May 30th, my three brothers and I gathered in Minnesota to experience a weekend that brings happy tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

We loaded Dad up into my youngest brother’s car, which meant dealing with a wheel chair and enough oxygen tanks to get us through the day. With my brother driving, Dad playing co-pilot/navigator/story-teller, and my two brothers and I wedged into the back seat, we headed ‘up the avenue.’ Our first stop was in Farmington (MN), where my Dad was born and raised. Thus began the day of Dad regaling us with stories of his youth, some we’d heard, a lot we hadn’t.

Our first stop was at the cemetery to pay our respects to his Mom, Dad, and grandparents. Then we wound our way through town: past the creamery where his mom once worked; along the Vermillion River where he swam, fished, read books and kissed many girls; by the railroad station where his step-father started his days as a caboose engineer; to the spot where his mother and step-father lived and where we all shared in years and years of Sunday dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy; this house backed up to the old Ford Motor shop where my Dad’s Dad (who died when my Dad was 14-years-old) worked as a mechanic; past the diner where his Mom worked a second job. Dad’s memories of setting pins at the bowling alley, working beside his Dad at the mechanic’s shop, shooting pool at the billiards hall, working the printing press for the local newspaper were all part of helping to create the man we grew to love and spend time with.

After a trip down memory lane of his youth in Farmington, it was off to Northfield, 15 minutes further to the south to relive memories of his next phase of life – marriage and the birth and upbringing of his four children. We routed the car past the multiple (6+) different homes he/we lived in over a 20 year span, from the first place in ‘hungry hollow’ near the river to the house on the hill on Wallstreet Road; past the golf course we spent our weekends playing golf together as a family of 6; to the high school he taught at and we all attended; the location where his one and only restaurant venture began; the office where he built a successful business career with NML; the Cannon River where we fished.

We ended the day by picking up broasted chicken at the locally infamous Quarterback Club, a favorite hang-out over the last 40+ years, and headed up the hill on the west side of town where St. Olaf College sits. Dad graduated from St. Olaf and was a proud Ole’ for life – so it was fitting we found a picnic bench on campus and enjoyed a summertime meal and recounted the amazing journey we had just embarked on. The tiredness in his body may have been real, but smile on his face was priceless.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

The only way to eclipse a weekend like this one, was to have a weekend where all of the family – kids, spouses, and grandkids gathered together. And how fitting it was that Father’s Day was right around the corner. Dad had some setbacks in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day weekend, and we were worried he may not make it until then, but he dug deep – “mind over matter” – and was so mentally strong and physically tough over Father’s Day weekend it was beyond inspiring to all of us.

We began the weekend with all of the kids and grandkids (18 of us) taking in a Twins game, while Dad rested up for the weekends events. With Dad tiring so easily and being on oxygen 24/7 we decided to take advantage of the usage of the party room at his apartment complex for a place to gather. That way if he became tired, it was a mere matter of wheeling him upstairs for a nap. But he apparently was determined to not miss out on a minute of family time and he never even dosed off during the two 10-hour sessions of family bonding that took place over Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday began a lunch buffet with al lot of Dad’s favorite foods; followed by watching the men’s U.S. Open golf tourney while working on puzzles and playing board and dice games; great-grandpa reading a book to his one and only great-granddaughter; next came a collective toast from all the grandkids to their grandpa – where grandpa signed the lids of all the grandkids mason jars that were used to make the toast; topped off with a slide show presentation of Dad’s 81-years of living life to the fullest.

Dad's grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Dad’s grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Sunday was spent in similar fashion, 22 of us gathered back in the party room to pick up where we left off. Grandpa propped up in his chair, oxygen tank by his side, watching golf while being waited on hand and foot – being served his favorite foods and keeping his glass of Bushmills topped off.

Many years ago, my Dad wrote a monthly newsletter to his grandchildren telling the tales of the adventures he had on the north shore of Minnesota, specifically Tait Lake, with his ever faithful companion, a 100-lb. yellow lab he named Darby O’Doul. My Dad’s dream was to see these stories in print. Several years ago I took creative license and churned these adventures into a children’s novel, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. After several years of failed attempts at getting this published, I knew my days were numbered in getting my Dad’s stories into print. Thanks to the help of today’s technology and creativity of some very talented people, I was able to self-publish this book as soon as we understood my Dad’s days were numbered and have it in his hands in time for Father’s Day weekend.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

On Sunday, his final Father’s Day, my Dad personally signed a copy of the book for each one of us and had our picture taken with him and his book. A moment I know we will all cherish, because of his life long love of reading and writing and the special relationship he had with his human-like dog, Darby. Then we all settled in to watch a very exciting finish to the men’s U.S. Open golf championship – a premium way for a golf-crazed family to spend their final hours with the patriarch of all that was good and true of the family he nurtured and loved unconditionally all of his years. We could not have asked for or consciously created a more poignant weekend of activities to celebrate his life and give us closure to his passing.

Happy Father's Day, 2015 - from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

Happy Father’s Day, 2015 – from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

The next morning, Monday, found Dad exhausted and a little out of it. By noon, he was getting very sleepy so we propped him up on the couch for a nap that he would not wake from. Appropriately, at approximately 5:30 am, on Wednesday, June 24th, Dad/grandpa/great-grandpa took his final breath. For 81-years he had been trying to get everyone up at the crack of dawn to enjoy what he felt was the best time of day – his only taker in 81-years was his ever faithful companion Darby. But on this day we all arose as the sun rose and shed a tear for the man who touched so many lives in so many ways.

Dad’s legacy isn’t what he achieved career-wise or financially – his legacy is what he achieved at the family level. An unconditional bond so deep and so strong, the driving goal of our whole family surrounds the ideal of making sure our paths cross often. We love being together and can’t imagine a better way to spend time than with as many members of our ever-expanding family, whenever we can.

Cheers Dad! We love and miss you!

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40's.

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40’s.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

Travel is not something we do only when we are on vacation or holiday. Everyday we ‘travel’ through life. It is up to us whether we make these daily trips challenging or fulfilling.

Please check out Amazon.com for copies of Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. All proceeds will go to Dad’s favorite charities.

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 2

Picking up where I left off, leads me to share our dining and drinking experiences from NYC and Martha’s Vineyard. ‘Our’ being whoever I can bring into the ‘foodie’ fold. It’s not hard to find takers.

As I curl up in my big comfy chair, laptop where else but in my lap, sipping a Manhattan created loosely from the Manhattan on Felidia’s of NYC cocktail menu – I resurrect the tastes of the delectable cuisines that have passed my palate in recent months. Okay, enough fluff talk – time to get down to the details:

NYC:

I lost count a long time ago, as to how many NYC restaurant reviews I have posted – but the one thing I have not lost count of is how many negative NYC restaurant reviews I have written – 0! And that is not because I have chosen not to write those reviews, it is because I have not experienced any sub-par dining experiences in NYC. That is remarkable seeing how many restaurants exist in this magnificent city – but it is that competition that keeps all of these restaurants on their shoe tips, trying to out-create each other, but yet knowing when to reign it in so their dishes remain edible enough to entice customers to return.

Tavern on 51, New York Palacelooking for a great place to end the busy day or grab a night cap? This is the place. In the New York Palace hotel, the ambience is inviting, the seating plush and comfy, the drink menu expansive, and the drinks mind-altering if you imbibe too much in these tasty beverages.

Tavern 51 at New York Palace. Check out the fun cocktail menu - lots of 'bourbon choices'.

Tavern 51 at New York Palace. Check out the fun cocktail menu – lots of ‘bourbon choices’.

Billy’s Bakery –  across the street from the newly opened Whitney Museum on the west side of lower Manhattan, this ‘bakery’ is a great place to grab a tasty and generous breakfast and a great cup of coffee while watching the lines grown while waiting for the museum to open.

Billy's Bakery serves up a great cup of coffee, as you sit and watch the action at the Whitney Museum across the street.

Billy’s Bakery serves up a great cup of coffee, as you sit and watch the action at the Whitney Museum across the street.

Via Carota – when you think of a fun dining experience in NYC, this is kind of place you think of. Interesting dishes served by waitstaff who ask you what kind of foods you like and creates a dining experience based on those tastes. Even with the place overflowing with people, they are willing to make any drink or any dish to fit your palate. A must return!

Roasted quail with garlic and rosemary served on a bed of mushroom and bean risotto.

Roasted quail with garlic and rosemary served on a bed of mushroom and bean risotto.

Ray’s Pizza – truth be told Famiglia’s has our favorite late night pizza, but in a pinch if one of these pizzeria’s can not be found, Ray’s can feed that 2 am hunger. The flavors and quality of toppings are good, the crust can be a bit dry and crunchy – hard to fold and eat proper NYC style.

Never short on ingredients - Ray's is a great late night pizza spot after a night of hitting the streets of NYC.

Never short on ingredients – Ray’s is a great late night pizza spot after a night of hitting the streets of NYC.

Extra Fancy – what a fun unique display of menu choices, in a neat boutique style setting, in Brooklyn. There is a large cool bar inside and an outdoor courtyard in the back dotted with trees. And the food trumps the setting – must tries are the oysters, deviled eggs and fried brussel sprouts.

Deviled eggs topped with trout roe is a tasty way to start off an evening of tasty seafood dishes at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn.

Deviled eggs topped with trout roe is a tasty way to start off an evening of tasty seafood dishes at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn.

Martha’s Vineyard:

A place that has held a place high on my bucket list, Martha’s Vineyard, met my main expectations of being a place rest and relaxation, but the restaurants did not disappoint. My next post will be about the activities available in all the quaint little towns dotting this amazing island, but for now I will focus on how we were able to keep our belly’s full and our thirst sated.

Atlantic Fish and Chophouse – a recommendation from our concierge at the Charlotte Inn for great drinks and great food. Such a good recommendation we made return visits. Sits on the waterfront, with great seafood choices and refreshing and flavorful drink choices. A happening bar come the evening hours.

One of the most interesting and unique cocktail menus was found at Atlanta Fish and Chop House on Martha's Vineyard in Edgartown. Like this Manhattan served with a bacon garnish.

An interesting and unique cocktail menu at Atlanta Fish and Chop House on Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown. Manhattan served with a bacon garnish.

The Seafood Shanty – sit upstairs, on the deck if you can. We sat at the bar and had a blast watching the bartenders going 100 mph serving up drinks, beers, wine and food – professional waitstaff and who have fun at their jobs. The seafood is fresh and they have their own twist on certain faves like the lobster rolls.

Two things draw people to a restaurant - ambience and food. Come watch the bartenders do their thing, sit outside on the deck overlooking the bay, while taking down one of their amazing lobster rolls.

Two things draw people to a restaurant – ambience and food. Come watch the bartenders do their thing, sit outside on the deck overlooking the bay, while taking down one of their amazing lobster rolls.

The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn – a quiet indoor garden-like setting, the knowledgeable but patient professional waitstaff, serve up a dining experience that I’m guessing is not replicated any where on the island. And the chef serves up a menu that has us putting The Terrace on our must revisit list.

Fine dining at The Terrace at The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. These lamp chops were so tasty they didn't need the mint sauce.

Fine dining at The Terrace at The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. These lamp chops were so tasty they didn’t need the mint sauce.

Larsen’s Fish Market – now obviously when you are this close to the sea where lobsters abound – all you have to take notice of is there is not a restaurant, 1-star to 5-star, that does not include a lobster dish on it’s menu. But Larsen’s is where you go to stand in a long line to get a whole fresh lobster to eat at one of the few thrown together picnic tables or barrel and upturned crab traps. Doesn’t get much better than that!

A full lobster served up fresh at Larsen's Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard.

A full lobster served up fresh at Larsen’s Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard.

Lambert’s Cove dining – another fine dining option in one of the many quaint little towns that dot Martha’s Vineyard. Lambert’s Cove is an Inn, that sits at the end of a very long and winding narrow road to a beautiful little working farm setting that many of the menu ingredients come from.

Halibut with a panko crust served on a bed of mash potatoes and a light creamy sauce at Lambert's Cove Inn, Lambert's Cove, MV.

Halibut with a panko crust served on a bed of mash potatoes and a light creamy sauce at Lambert’s Cove Inn, Lambert’s Cove, MV.

Waterside Market – while waiting for our ferry to arrive to take us back to the mainland we searched out a breakfast spot in one of the little quaint towns we had yet to visit on Martha’s Vineyard – Vineyard Haven. We walked the streets, and came upon a market, that sold high quality, beaucoup flavorful dishes that you ordered at the counter. A fun little find!

Tex Mex breakfast consisting of two sweet corn cakes on a bed of housemade pico and topped with black bean hummus, two eggs, avocado at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard.

Tex Mex breakfast consisting of two sweet corn cakes on a bed of housemade pico and topped with black bean hummus, two eggs, avocado at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard.

With so many of these restaurants being so busy, all the time it’s often hard to get a reservation short-notice – which can be tough when you don’t know your schedule. We have taken to sitting at the bar, that is first come first serve, and are learning to enjoy this dining experience even more – as you really get to watch the place in action – dining and a show all rolled into one fulfilling evening out.

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 1

Even though I missed submitting a food review in the end of April and now May, I did accomplish one very important task – getting my family and friends trained to not take a bite of food before I take photos of their delectable plated food whenever we head out to taste test a new restaurant. I do get a few curious looks from other patrons or wait-staff wondering why I am taking pics of every course of food – I’ll have to get better about dropping my business card on the table so restaurants can check out my reviews.

Because it’s been such a long time between food review posts and my daughter and I have eaten at several great restaurants in that time period, I am just going to get down to business and get right into the reviews and tantalizing pictures!

First off is my daughter’s review of several of her favorite sandwich haunts in NYC:

Despite the cultural cachet the deli sandwich has in New York, I’ve always had a hard time justifying $10 for two pieces of bread and various toppings when I could buy a whole loaf, a packet of prosciutto, and a block of cheese for not much more and eat for a week at home. Last week, Cheeky Sandwiches (35 Orchard St, between Canal and Hester) forever changed my mind on the matter of the sandwich. First off, their menu items are not $9 to $11–all too pervasively the norm–but $6.50 to $8.50, no tax added. Chicken, beef, pork, grass, veggie, sea (that last one a choice of po boy done with shrimp, oyster, or half and half). That’s all you get, and that’s all you need. I started from the top: an idyllic proportion of fried chicken breast, crunchy coleslaw, and thick gravy on a homemade flaky biscuit. The place has a thrown-together look: a narrow wooden bar painted the kind of white that’s dirty before it dries, one low communal table, and a few bright blue accents. But the service is casual-friendly, and that sandwich so good I dragged my finger across the paper wrapping to capture every last drop of rich-but-not-too-rich gravy. Though Cheeky is out of my way both from work and home, by the end of the summer I imagine I’ll have worked my way pretty far down that menu list.

Mouth-watering, finger licking chicken sandwich from Cheeky Sandwiches.

For all my slavering, Cheeky isn’t the only sandwich shop in New York that’s convinced me to return for round two. My college favorite was a classic, if more upscale, Italian deli in Morningside Heights called Milano Market (2892 Braodway, between 112th and 113th streets), which, horrifyingly, garnered a small amount of internet fame after an employee followed Forest Whitaker around the store [LINK:TK]. The real draw here is the variety of gourmet bread: rosemary and sea salt focaccia, caramelized onion, a crackling ciabatta. In terms of unusual fillings, I steer towards Num Pang’s (various locations, including Chelsea Market and 28 East 12th Street) Cambodian take on the bánh mi. With an orange chalk-drawn rooster for a logo, this lunch spot serves up coconut tiger shrimp, ginger barbecue brisket, or five-spice glazed pork belly with cucumber, pickled carrots, and sheaves of fresh cilantro on a fat baguette. It’s messy desk eating, almost always worth it.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang's in lower Manhattan.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang’s in lower Manhattan.

If you are visiting any of the locations listed in the title, you won’t go wrong checking out any of the following restaurants:

Phoenix:

The Herb Box – simple. fresh. unique. is how they market themselves – and I’d say that is right on. Their lunches are great, but my favorite dishes are served for brunch/breakfast. Sit outside and take in the ambience and people watching at DC Ranch Marketplace. Scottsdale.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box in DC Ranch.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box.

Que Bueno – authentic Mexican food in a casual setting. Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two-fisted margaritas are tasty and their award-winning salsa is bursting with flavor. Fountain Hills.

Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two fisted margaritas are tasty and their award winning salsa is bursting with flavor.

Tilapia tacos in soft shells served with rice and beans.

The Vu – light of day or dark of night, the Vu Bistro offers one of the valley’s most spectacular views of the Phoenix valley. Sip a glass of wine from their minimal but strong wine list, while nibbling on their loaded cheese plate and watch the sun go down over Eagle Mountain, in this casual setting. Fountain Hills.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Kansas City:

Fritz’s Meat Market – they have ‘smoking’ meat perfected. How often have you bought pork chops that become dry before you get them from the oven or grill to the table? Fritz’s double thick cut smoked pork chop only needs to be warmed through – all that’s left to do is savor the flavor and texture.

Kansas City's oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Strouds’s – the name is synonymous with ‘pan-fried chicken’ – the ultimate flavor in down home comfort food. Come hungry! All portions are large and to be shared. Start with a half order of fried liver and gizzards. Dinners come with a mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a basket of cinnamon rolls.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud's in KC.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud’s in KC.

Gram & Dun – sophisticated. soulful. unique – is how they market themselves. In a prime Plaza location, with a large outdoor patio area, be prepared to sip on fun libation concoctions and dine on flavors ranging from uniquely paired salads to savory southern comfort plates.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Naples:

Edgewater Beach Resort – if staying at one of the few oceanside hotels, you won’t go hungry or thirsty. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice – whether it’s a thick cut of grouper or blackened fish taco’s, be sure to check out their unique beverage menus – refreshing fruity poolside choices or bourbon based bar choices.

It doesn't get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort, Naples, FL

It doesn’t get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort.

Cafe Lurcat – ‘…old world style with a nouveau twist.’ A hip, expansive restaurant with patio seating and more upstairs seating, the focus is on high-end American comfort food. The Fifth Avenue location is a great pairing to enjoy a before or after dinner stroll and take in all the high-end shopping found in Naples.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the 'Voyage' part of the menu.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the ‘Voyage’ part of the menu.

Campiello – this is place to be seen in Naples. The large square bar – half inside/half outside – is always packed, and is flanked on each side by indoor dining and patio dining. Italian fare featuring a traditional Tuscan flavor using dry and fresh pastas paired with great sauces, meats and seafood and specialty items.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Next week I will finish off with food reviews from NYC and Martha’s Vineyards! I know it’s hard to overload on good food, but didn’t want you to overload on good food reviews! I will also create a food review gallery to see more pics of the yummy dishes we’ve been indulging in!