“…one small step…”

Funny thing about space. It’s a void, measurable only by using objects found in its borderless arena. You can’t see it, but you can travel through it, aiming for something that’s actually visible. Like the next gas station. Or maybe an all night diner. Or perhaps the moon…

This July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic landing on the surface of our Earth’s only natural satellite. Through September 2, the traveling exhibit Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, has set up camp at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

With a friend’s recommendation, my husband and I made the trip across town to see the creative inventions of yesteryear’s ambitious would-be air and space travelers. Just what was their inspiration? How did they manage such a monumental feat? Time to find out…

Fiction’s future

The Museum of Flight is a popular attraction any time of year, so I purchased our tickets online several days in advance. Selecting our target entry time for a morning slot, we queued up with the rest of the AM arrivals.

Once inside, we headed straight for the Apollo 11 exhibit. While I did expect to see NASA equipment, I was entertained by the inclusion of everyday memorabilia from the 1960s—and pleasantly surprised to see the representation of two famous authors: American born Ray Bradbury and French born Jules Vern.

First published in 1865, “From the Earth to the Moon” shared the incredible imagination of Mr. Vern with science fiction fans all over the world. Given the premise and details of his story, it seems to me like he was predicting the future.

Mr. Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” published first in 1950, gave sci-fi fans the chance to imagine what life would be like on the surface of Earth’s next door neighbor long before NASA’s InSight touched down on the Red Planet.

Seeing the acknowledgment of these two authors at this exhibit reminded me just how important a factor imagination is to the science of discovery. How much these and other stories inspire space exploration. But to accomplish that, we needed inventions. And guidance. And a little motivation…

Future’s past

There’s nothing like a friendly (?) competition between Cold War countries to inspire a race into space. In October of 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit—surprise! Not happy about not being the first to do so, the United States introduces the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the world the following summer.

Three years later, President Kennedy declares when the US will reach the moon: within ten years. But—how? Time for NASA to roll up its sleeves…

When planning an expedition to some great unknown, sending a scout—someone or something—ahead first to gather a little intel can prove very helpful.

When scouting the moon for possible landing sites, NASA sent a total of five different lunar orbiters (built by Boeing) to photograph the surface up close. In August of 1966, Earth photobombed one of the pics. Us earthlings had our first glimpse at our home planet from the moon’s point of view. Less than two years later, three astronauts would experience that lunar viewpoint too—and plant a US flag on the moon’s surface…

Thanks to the Saturn V Rocket—and a whole lotta designing, planning, engineering, training, construction and practice, Neil Armstrong would become the first person to set foot on the moon. Buzz Aldrin soon joined him, while Pilot Michael Collins maintained the mothership in lunar orbit for their return.

Four days after the astronauts’ boots made their moon marks, the trio’s return capsule splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. And the world would never be the same…

Seeing famous artifacts that returned at the end of a mission—like the Apollo 11 command module—or things recovered from the seas years later—was truly amazing. But my favorite item (aside from the moon rock) had to be the framed front page of the Seattle PI’s August 26, 1966 sunrise edition: THE EARTH AS SEEN FROM THE MOON. Transmitting photos via satellite is a pretty quick trick nowadays, but back then—from the moon?

Tomorrow’s present

Leaving the exhibit, we launched ourselves into the museum’s main building. A two-level metal and glass hanger, this structure features various forms of air transportation from years gone by, now suspended from the ceiling or parked on the floor. Other than the mail delivery prop planes, my favorite item had to be the flying car. Sadly, this prototype never got off the ground, so to speak…

Attached to the glass hanger stands a bit of history all on its own. The Red Barn, Boeing’s original airplane factory, now showcases equipment once used to construct canvas and wood framed wings, along with other early aircraft parts.

Photos, promo posters, and lots of memorabilia, reflect the hard work, dedication and dreams of yesteryears’ factory workers, engineers, pilots and their passengers. This part of the museum helped me remember that no matter what the current year is or the available technology, timeless qualities—like dreams and dedication—are what will fly us into tomorrow. Always.

Neil Armstrong’s “…one small step…” truly was and remains today “…one giant leap for mankind.” What will our future giant leaps represent? One can only imagine… J 🚀🌝

 

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Portland’s rosy glow

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s Juliet makes an interesting point when talking about her Romeo. After all, we don’t choose where we’re born—or to whom. And names are something someone chooses for us—or for something—like cities. Take Portland…

Now known as the “City of Roses,” this Oregon town was named by its founding fathers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove on a coin toss. Each wanted to honor their East Coast home towns. Pettygrove won the toss. This means the West Coast almost had a Boston.

Nicknames, on the other hand, are something we have a say in, or something we earn as the result of an event. Portland’s rosy nickname comes from Episcopal Church convention visitors—waaaaay back in 1888—enjoying the gardening skills of the newly formed Portland Rose Society. And now? Time to bring you up to speed on my recent adventures to Almost-Boston…

Rails

Wanting to opt out of a Friday night traffic jam via the freeway, my husband suggested we take the train. Great idea! He booked our tickets on the Amtrak Cascades Seattle-to-Portland route. We boarded at Seattle’s King Street Station, then sat back and watched the scenery while noshing on items from the dining car.

From Portland’s Union Street Station, we took an Uber to the Courtyard Portland City Center, our hotel for the weekend. After checking in, we headed to our room and closed our eyes for the night.

Saturday morning’s light of day revealed a wonderful convenience to our weekend residence: the MAX Yellow Line’s pick-up stop just across the street. Portland’s light rail system made our travels around town super easy, and at very reasonable rates. But one other discovery I made across the street lead to some additional—very rosy—activities for the day…

Roses

What caught my eye, exactly? Colorful roses in beautiful bunches, decorating an antique cart and wooden bench outside the Geranium Lake Florist—just waiting for customers like me to happen by. The gorgeous display did its job, drawing me closer for a better look. So pretty and fragrant! I couldn’t leave without making a purchase.

Inside the shop, Chris very kindly wrapped my selection—what instantly became a gift for my daughter—and asked if we were in town for the festival. Naively, I asked, “What festival…?”

After I let him know we were participating in a 5K event later that day, he let me know that Portland’s Festival of Roses was taking place all weekend. In fact, the Rose Parade was happening one block away. Wait-what? Right now?!

Collecting my family members, we headed up the street to the parade route, and found our vantage point. In addition to cleverly decorated, rose covered floats, we enjoyed the performances of local high school and alumni marching bands, and parade-waved back at dressed up dignitaries, costumed business people, and of course, the royal court.

Soon after, it was time to patronize local businesses by doing a little shopping. Clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and a city block of books…

Books

Some stores are like giant magnets, pulling you through their doors and lining up your purchases with amazing efficiency. Others fold you into their walls, displays and shelves, giving you lots and lots to peruse while you lose all track of time. And then there’s Powell’s City of Books. Inside its many floors, the world’s largest used and new bookstore manages to accomplish all these shopping options.

Traversing this travel destination’s many nooks and crannies requires stamina. Looking to boost our energy levels, we meandered our way between the bookcases to the World Cup Café. The coffee drinks and baked goods are excellent! And the tables are great for reviewing books while enjoying your chosen treats. This combination makes the café a veeeeeery popular section of the store, any time of day.

Lucky for us, my daughter applied her NYC skills for spotting available seating, and we soon had a place at a shared table. Freshly energized, we continued our bookstore shopping until our time pieces reminded us we needed to get going…

Bites

I’m sure you’re familiar with the word brunch (breakfast-lunch); maybe less so with the word linner (lunch-dinner). Well, you can have them both, along with breakfast, lunch, dinner or nightcaps—at The Original Dinerant.

An upscale diner-restaurant combo attached to our hotel, this eatery quickly became an addition to our list of favorites. Along with great food and excellent service, The Original has a vibe with a pep all its own. Locals and hotel guests alike packed this place.

For our brunch time meal, all of us chose one of the signature house dishes: chicken and waffles. This southern dish features an Oregon spin: the addition of Tillamook cheddar, along with fresh jalapeños, tossed into the waffle batter. Out of this world! The chicken was crispy, flavorful fall-off-the-bone stuff; sooooooo goooooooood!

For our weekend linner option, we went with a friend’s recommendation to try out the iconic Jake’s Famous Crawfish Restaurant. A mainstay in Portland since 1892, this locale has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re looking to sample seafood fresh from the Pacific, you’ll find it here, along with many other delicious options.

It’s a great place to celebrate special occasions too. Warm, friendly, professional service, along with excellent food in a fine dining atmosphere, we vowed we would return dressed at little more formal than we were. You see, we’d already prepped for our 5K. And it was time to head to the race…

Bubbles

Aquariums. Dishes. Bathtubs. Champagne. All see their fair share of bubbles. Sprinklers experience kids running through them, and cannons usually fire ginormously heavy objects, aimed at destroying a target of some sort. So…how is it these items come together? At the FoamGlow 5K of course!

These sudsy run-or-walk events, benefiting various children’s charities, are a blast to experience. Nothing like wading through mountains of foaming bubbles cascading down on your head to put a smile on your glowing face.

Taking MAX to the 5K’s location (Portland International Raceway), we arrived a little early to pick up our registration packets. The crowd gathered as the pre-party began, just before sundown. All of us enjoyed the cannon fire of colorful bubbles raining suds onto our noggins. Many participants accessorized their white T-shirts, adding a little bling or glow paint to their 5K gear.

Once the race began, black lights illuminated the waves of people as they ran or walked by. The foaming stations assured all that the opportunity for head-to-toe bubble coverage was possible. Too fun! Crossing the finish line, we happily received our medals of participatory honor…

While taking MAX back to our hotel, we realized there was just enough time before The Original closed to have a nightcap. Bellies up to the bar, we enjoyed a fancy Bloody Mary, a whiskey on the rocks—or rather one big rock—and for me, my first boozy shake. Yummy stuff!

I always enjoy weekend trips to the City of Roses. Forever something new to discover and something tried and true to revisit. If you plan to spend a little time in Almost-Boston, be sure to try the chicken and waffles, then pick up a bunch of roses. And a good book or two…J🌹

 

Tea and whimsy

I love afternoon tea—love-love-love it! A cuppa warm, loose-leaf goodness poured from a fun tea pot, into a fancy cup and saucer… mmmmmmmm… Alongside this wonderful beverage stands a tower of tasty treats, both savory and sweet. And to top it all off: a lovey glass of bubbly. Heaven—and worth finding the time for this little something special.

While there are many wonderful and unique tea rooms all over the world, one of my favorites just happens to be in my neighborhood: Seattle’s own Queen Mary Tea Room & Restaurant. There’s a fancy yet fun ambiance to this place: intimate, but full of celebrations in progress. And loads of tiaras…

Teas & cups

It’s easy to notice the tea room’s whimsical ambiance the moment you approach the front door. Along with a colorful board displaying the day’s specials, tea cups, mugs and a few other related items await the surrendering curiosity of a passerby. A birdcage just behind the entryway holds a few feathered friends ready to greet entering patrons.

As a recent Mother’s Day gift from my daughter, our girls’ group trio was greeted immediately by friendly servers as they made their way to and from the wonderful source of all things deliciously fragrant: the kitchen. Waiting a few moments before being seated, I couldn’t decide where to rest my eyes: on the amazing dessert case? Or on the beautiful tea cups & saucers (and mugs, and infusers and timers…) for sale? Tea party accessories just waiting for a celebration?

All caught my eye, along with the clever British décor. But what I really zeroed in on were containers of Queen Mary’s very own creations: several flavors of loose leaf teas, all in a row along the shelves and above the dessert case. This amazing lineup of choices reminded me that deciding on just one tea for today’s event would take me a few minutes…

Savories & sweets

Amazing soups, quiches and other hot dishes, along with sandwiches, salads and deliciously sweet treats are all made from scratch, right here. Each menu item for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea honors the British tea rooms and Victorian style of service.

But no worries about keeping your pinky finger in the air, or knowing which fork to use. The staff is smiling and friendly, and very eager to walk anyone through the menu’s courses and choices. And trust me—your selection is worth a few moments of assistance.

And the most convenient part? My tea mates and I didn’t have to partner up. For instance, two of us could order from the lunch menu, while one of us chooses afternoon tea. As in a tower of treats for one! And of course, tea selections are individually brewed. This visit I picked Mango Passion Fruit Black Tea. Very flavorful!

In the end, all three of us chose Queen Mary’s delectable afternoon tea (along with a glass of Bellini🥂), but their lunch items are very wonderful as well. I enjoyed the Vegetarian Quiche and salad on a previous visit—and a ginormous sugar cookie too, along with the Queen’s Royal Afternoon Black Tea—and a glass of Prosecco.

If you find yourself eager to try other tea flavors, not to worry. Servers meander between the tables every so often sharing tea samples with restaurant patrons. It’s a great way to discover a flavor to enjoy at your next visit. Or pick up at her tea emporium across the street…

Crowns & wares

Less than a block from the Queen Mary Tea Room & Restaurant awaits a very special store. Not only does the Queen Mary Tea Emporium sell all teas featured on the restaurant’s menu, it sells the whimsy too.

Items such as children’s tea party sets, festive celebratory accessories like tiaras or fancy small hats, hair combs and handkerchiefs, books, tea pots, cups and saucers, travel mugs, and of course tea—lots and lots and lots of Queen Mary’s finest—await eager tea enthusiasts: flavored black teas, green, white, rooibos, chai–and many more.

Once inside, it’s easy to lose track of time, but you won’t mind too much. I never do, and I always find something I didn’t know I needed until then… be it a gift for a friend or more tea for me, it truly is a fun store to shop. But if you swing by the store before your restaurant reservations, heads up: keep an eye on the clock. You don’t want to be late for tea… J ☕️

Awaiting grape things

Ah, springtime… Well into the season, everything’s abloom. It’s fun to happen upon flowers, fully awake from their long winter’s nap, sporting vibrant colors as the birds and bees do their thing, performing for Mother Nature.

Fields, on the other hand, seem a little quite. Cleaned up and seeded, they play a bit of a waiting game before taking center stage in autumn. For me, grapevines fall into this category.

Branches trimmed, far from sprouting their signature coils and marbles of fruity goodness, appear rather dormant. But when I take a closer look, I can see the subtle beginnings of their amazing journey…

The wine

East of the Cascades, Interstate 90 and the Columbia River meet up very near a favorite place of mine: Cave B. Next door neighbors to the Gorge Amphitheatre, Cave B’s 100+ acres of AVA vines enjoy one of the best views in the state.

Conveniently, Cave B has two tasting rooms where you can sample the fruits of their labor: one in Woodinville—quite the hub for wine tasting—and one in Quincy—nestled in full view of their vines. Wanting to hit the road for a girls weekend, their vineyard locale in Quincy was an easy choice…

Pulling into the property, I noticed how well the buildings—rounded and earth toned—blend in with the rocky, sage covered hillsides. Beautiful! Entering the large, circular tasting room, we found a lively group of patrons enjoying their wine flights. Before approaching the bar, we perused the merchandise.

Wine selections complete, we carried our glasses outside. What an amazing view! Sipping our vino as the sun was setting behind Cave B’s own Stage B Amphitheater, we couldn’t think of a better way to relax. Ah—but time to check in…

The inn

Just down the hill from the tasting room sits the Cave B Inn & Spa Resort. Elegant and unassuming, the lobby, restaurant—and each room—face the Columbia River and accompanying desert terrain. For the adventurous, hiking trails will take you all the way to the water. But for a little relaxation and pampering, there’s always the spa.

Talk about picturesque! The rooms blend in beautifully with the rocky hillsides. After checking in, we drove down a narrow road to our Cavern Room and dropped off our things. Floor-to-ceiling windows allowed us to continue enjoying the view. But we were getting hungry, so up the hill and through the grapevines we walked until we came to the restaurant…

Just off the lobby, we found Tendrils. Matching the inn’s motif, the restaurant and bar feature delicious food and beverage choices, which made narrowing down our selections a bit of a challenge—a good problem to have. We enjoyed chatting with the staff, trying their recommendations of wine pairings when we just couldn’t decide…

Tendrils also features a sit down breakfast Monday-Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. The bar also serves coffee drinks. I loved sipping my hand crafted latte on their patio!

The terrain

Between meals (and wine tasting), we walked the property and hiking trails for a bit of exercise. There’s something very relaxing and peaceful about the desert spring air and rocky hillsides that surround the vineyard and inn.

The vines, looking more brown than green at this stage, still proved fascinating. Signage helped us identify wine grapes “in progress” nearest to the inn, which gave our imaginations something to look forward.

In a world of instant gratification, the wine grapes remind us that they will take the seasons they need to prepare for their own showtime. It’s as if they were saying to us, “Please be patient. Good things come to those who wait.” Sound advice from our vineyard friends… J 🍷

The Wild West

“Wide, open spaces.” “Riding off into the sunset.” “Go west, young man.” When you hear these old familiar phrases, what comes to mind? For me—rugged terrain, dusty trails, ghost towns, saloons, wooden facades, careworn faces, tumbleweeds…and land. Lots of land, as far as the eye can see. Over the last couple of centuries, the quest to defend or claim the land “out west” has flavored our history books, stage and TV shows, and of course the silver screen.

Legends—part truth, part romance—helped immortalize the historical events that shaped this southwest corner of today’s United States. My recent visit to southern Arizona gave me a chance to see for myself how this desert way of life preserves some of its past in the present..

Whimsical history

Ever heard of the O.K. Corral—or Boothill? Well, a shootout near one lead to a few burials at the other, all in the city of Tombstone, “The town too tough to die.” A three-hour drive south of Phoenix placed us squarely back in time—1881 to be more specific. Our first stop: the Boothill Graveyard.

It’s first official name was the Tombstone Cemetery, giving a final resting place to many of the town’s early inhabitants. From 1878 until the late 1880s, law abiding citizens and criminals alike were buried here until a new cemetery opened in a different part of town. Very soon, the incoming population of what became known as “the old cemetery” slowed down considerably.

After decades of neglect, tremendous effort on the part of many local individuals and historians brought this burial site back to life (so to speak), replacing what was left of the old wooden markers with stone lookalikes. The name Boothill, most likely a product of the early western cinemas, stuck.

Walking the cemetery, plot guidebooks in hand, we learned a bit about how and why some of Boothill’s occupants met their demise. The harsh terrain surrounding this place was a grave reminder to me of just how tough day-to-day living could be, all those years ago.

Our guidebook indicated a few slightly familiar names located in Row 2: the Clantons and the McLaurys. Three of them died October 26, 1881—shot to death—in a vacant lot just behind a rather famous landmark: the O.K. Corral.

In 1877, Tombstone became a boomtown, thanks to its founder Ed Schieffelin and his discovery of silver. Even in the days before cell phones and social media, news traveled fast—that is, when instantaneous potential wealth was at stake.

Prospectors and other opportunists arrived by the hundreds, ready to seek their fortune. And this eclectic collection of people, massed in such a concentrated area, experienced their fare share of trouble. Enter, stage left, a trio of brothers: the McLaurys and the Clantons—the cowboys, and the Earps, along with one Doc Holliday—the law.

Weeks of heated arguments between the two sides culminated in a gunfight that somehow became famous. The location: a vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral. After just 30 seconds, Frank & Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were dead. We timed our visit just right…

Entering the O.K. Corral’s arena, we purchased tickets that also included a 24-minute multimedia presentation of the town’s history, along with a live outdoor stage re-enactment of the gunfight. We climbed into the grandstands and took our seats, awaiting an infamous fight.

As instructed by “the law,” we cheered for Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil & Morgan, and Doc Holliday. And booed “cowboys” Frank & Tom McLaury, and Billy & Ike Clanton. Before the first bullet flew, Ike managed to run to safety, but the rest of his clan were not so lucky.

Post “gunfight,” we enjoyed the theatre and the museum grounds, as well as walking around Tombstone, visiting its many shops and other attractions. We even stopped by their local newspaper office—now a museum too—with plenty of printed history and items to peruse.

Leaving town, we had a newfound appreciation for our automobile, giving us the opportunity to ride off—comfortably—into the sunset…

Wild beauty

Have you ever seen a saguaro cactus? As in up close? Found only in the Sonoran Desert, this monumental symbol of the Southwest can grow to over 40 feet tall and live close to 200 years. Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Peak Park fast became my favorite way to walk among these beautiful giants.

Entering the trail head, we began our climb toward the peak. Expertly maintained, the path wove us through a terrain featuring several different cactus types, along with many other desert dwelling plants and shrubbery. The trail also provided our mini hike with rock formations, informational placards—and one stunning view after another!

But, for me, the stars of the show were the saguaro. Striking in every way, their stillness was almost statue like. Given their height, they could very well dominate their surroundings—only they didn’t. Instead, saguaros were living in harmony with their trail neighbors—flora and fauna alike.

Western eatery

Whenever I’m in this part of the world, I use my internal divining rod of hunger (and my phone’s GPS) to locate the nearest In-N-Out Burger. This restaurant chain of fresh deliciousness has fed hungry burger fanatics “out west” since 1948. And—yippee!—there’s one in Scottsdale!

It’s a simple menu too: just three combo meals offered, but served up perfectly every time by a truly friendly and professional staff. And their eateries are always clean, inside and out. My go-to order: Combo #2 Cheeseburger, fries and a drink—usually iced tea for me… as always, it hit the spot.

There’s something magical about Arizona’s wide open spaces. The rugged beauty, the wild history and the sheer grit people needed (all those years ago) just to survive. Be it silver, lots of land or other opportunities, I wonder—in the 1800s—what did the residents think of their surroundings? If only the old saguaro could talk… J 🌵

 

 

Fins in Phoenix

If anyone would have told me I’d find some of the world’s largest known sea creatures in Arizona, I would’ve said that’s quite a fish story. But I was set straight one soggy afternoon when an outdoor baseball game gave us a rain check, leaving us to visit more indoor options. Like water…

While this corner of the world is well known for hot sunny days, it is—after all—part of a desert. So the nights can be chilly. And when it rains, it pours. A rainy March day in the Phoenix area means spring training is benched, leaving baseball fans to seek out other activities. For me, visiting family, I was in good hands. Their plan B? The OdySea Aquarium.

Flippers & fins

Because we weren’t the only sports enthusiasts seeking an indoor something-to-do, there was a bit of a line for tickets. But we didn’t queue up for long. The booth was fully staffed, and ready for our spontaneous purchase. When we entered, the first thing to greet us was a monster fish.

Suspended from the lobby ceiling, this monster gazes upon all who dare enter its domain. Kind of hard to miss. Making our way to the escalator, we climbed up a floor to begin our visit with other giants, as well as sturgeons, piranhas, paddlefish and rays.

As we made our way around the tanks, I noticed superhero themed information cards at several viewpoints. Up to this point, I’d never compared an Archer Fish to The Green Arrow. Rather clever! And then there’s the sharks. Wow. Teeth. Lots. And some intensely cold hard stares…

I love sea turtles. And freshwater ones. And I most definitely appreciate the rescue efforts being made on their behalf. In other tanks, it was fun to watch the Asian Small-clawed Otters in action, as well as the sea lions and penguin clans. Soooo adorable!

Fur & feathers

Serving as ambassadors to their water based buddies, some tropical birds have made a home for themselves in OdySea. Attempting a staring contest with the macaws proved futile; they won. The shyness of the cockatoo was adorable, but the toucan had no problem showing off.

Sometimes it’s tough to see a critter who’s snoozing, but the super cute two-toed sloth was kind enough to take his nap in a basket near the glass wall. What an excellent vantage point! There’s something about an uber fuzzy sleeping ball of fluff that made every passerby utter “Awwwwwww!”

We continued our visit to each window, easily navigating our way around. We soon found ourselves at the dive tank, and watched a few brave visitors—wearing ginormous dive helmets—interact with some very curious fish.

The escalator took us back downstairs to the larger exhibits, such as OdySea’s Voyager rotating theatre, where we could see the bigger critters like sharks, sea turtles and sea lions do their thing.

Having enjoyed the last tank, we headed through the gift shop to the exit. My favorite exhibit? The jellyfish. So gracefully elegant…

Fun & flavors

Our aquatic visit over, we met friends at a very “green” themed locale: Irish Wolfhound Pub. Arriving just in time for the Irish folk band’s opening number, we enjoyed dinner from the game room—but within earshot of the band—allowing us to hear our own lively conversations.

I chose the Irish Wolfhound Burger, which included one of my favorite cheeses: Irish Cheddar. My drink of choice? An Irish coffee. Not your typical burger beverage, but delicious nonetheless.

Even though our day in the Phoenix area didn’t include an afternoon at the ballpark, or a game-delectable hot dog, it did include an excellent plan B combo: a wonderful aquarium visit and a yummy (cheesy!) burger. And just a few puddles in the parking lot… J 🦈

 

My Big Apple favorites

Dining out? Facing a googolplex of options? Italian, French, Korean, Slavic, American, and so on…? Enjoying a ginormous park in the middle of a vast metropolis? Perhaps discovering a quaint, beautifully maintained zoo (or two) inside the park? You just might be in New York City.

Home to hundreds of restaurants and scores of parks, NYC’s theatre district showcases dozens of on-and-off Broadway productions. Finding yourself in The Big Apple also means plenty of bars, pubs and fancy cafes where one can enjoy a favorite coffee or nightcap, or a fancy new boozy beverage.

So many options! Only your available moments limit your choices. Let me share with you a few of my favorite discoveries…

A ghost

Open year around, the Central Park Zoo is home to some very special critters. Like playful sea lions. Fancy peacocks. And the elusive snow leopard. Referred to as a “ghost cat” in the 2013 movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, this beautiful hunter seemed in sync with its wintery surroundings.

Visiting the zoo in early March meant cold weather for us, but also smaller crowds. Bundling up, we were able to visit each group of animals with ease, having great vantage points at every stop.

When we were ready to warm up a bit, we ducked into the Tropic Zone. Adjusting to the immediate climate change by removing our coat-glove-scarf combos, we discovered the occupants to be just as welcoming as the temperature. They seemed just as curious about us as we were about them.

A legend

Still inside Central Park—just outside the Tisch Children’s Zoo—stands a very special statue: Balto. Famous for leading his sled team in the final 53 mile stretch of snow-blinding wild Alaska wilderness (destination Nome) January 1925, this Siberian Husky and his pack won the hearts of people all over the world. Their cargo? Medicine, desperately needed to battle a diphtheria outbreak.

Their successful impossible mission inspired New Yorkers to commission this statue that very same year; a beautiful monument to all the sled teams—all the people and dogs who saved the lives of Nome’s children. Having enjoyed the 1995 animated movie “Balto” that featured a cameo of this statue, it was exciting for me to see it in person.

A queen

In step with our winter theme, we headed for the St. James theatre and Disney’s production of “Frozen” on Broadway. Having enjoyed Disney’s movie version—and its cruise line musical version—we were curious; how would it transition to this world famous entertainment capital? Answer: beautifully!

Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and all their friends took to the stage, sharing their story in both familiar and new ways. Similar to Disney’s at-sea production, this bold version adds new songs, and tells the tale in a way that appeals to Frozen fanatics without leaving any Frozen newbies in the cold. We absolutely loved it.

A plate

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many an afternoon tea, but the Russian Tea Room provided a unique first for me: caviar atop a mini pancake. Delicious! Another first: sour cherries to flavor the tea. Also delicious! RTR has treated NYC restaurant patrons for almost one hundred years. We truly enjoyed wonderful food and fantastic service in this beautifully appointed room.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a plate of linguini and a glass of vino to sing my soul to sleep. Biricchino Italian Restaurant—definitely a Chelsea neighborhood gem—features flavorfully fresh ingredients woven into pasta perfection. Lots of other amazing dishes too, but my favorite is the linguini with clams…ahhhhh…

And sometimes there’s nothing better than simplicity. A simple menu, a perfect cut of beef and a side of crispy French fries. And in this case, the fries really are French. Entering Le Relais de Venise and glancing at the paintings, you might think for a moment that Italian is the cuisine. Even the name might suggest so, but it’s only a nod to a street in Paris. The menu is set; the server asks only how you’d like your meat prepared.

Enjoying our green salads with a glass of beautiful French wine, and awaiting the main course, we began to relax in this place of clean and simple elegance. The price is no nonsense too; very reasonable. Wonderful food and excellent service, Le Relais de Venise is a fun place for me to revisit every time I’m in The Big Apple.

In search of something hot and nourishing one chilly evening, we headed out for a big bowl of soup. Thankfully we found our savory broth at Miss Korea. Just a block from the Hyatt Herald Square—our very comfy hotel—we didn’t wait long for a table, despite the restaurant’s obvious popularity.

Each of us ordered the beef bone broth. Soooooo gooooood! That, along with delicious house barley tea and fresh sides; we ate like royalty.

When you’re in the mood for something sweet—a ginormous something sweet—I suggest paying a visit to Levain Bakery. Lots of delectable goodies, and coffee drinks too, but you owe it to yourself to try their signature item: the chocolate chip cookie. Quite possibly the biggest chocolate chip cookies in the city, this bakery doesn’t just go for size; it goes for quality too.

The line is always out the door here, no matter the weather, so be sure to pack your patience as you wait for your turn at the counter. It will be worth the wait. Trust me.

In addition to purchasing one cookie each to enjoy right away, we picked up a dozen to share with friends and family back home. And by some miracle, two chairs freed up at their small dining counter just as we made our purchase, allowing us to enjoy the atmosphere (as well as our lattes and cookies) as we awaited our pink box of take-home goodies.

A drink

When it’s time for a spirited beverage (before, during or after dinner), I recommend Crimson and Rye. There are tables available, but our preference is to take a seat at the semicircular bar. We love to watch the mixologists in action as we nosh on bar food while enjoying our libations. This visit, I chose an Irish Coffee. Yummy stuff!

As you might have guessed, narrowing my favorites list for NYC was not easy. Not a bad problem to have… J 🍪