Category Archives: Travel

Oh Canada…

Spent a wonderful week in Canada.  It was my second visit, but my first in the summer.  A few random thoughts:

  • Canadian money is colorful and thus more functional, however, one and two dollar coins are a little annoying.  My purse got heavier and heavier as each day went by.
  • 86 degrees, oops I mean 30 degrees in August is what I call a beautiful summer’s day.
  • I forgot how much I enjoyed constantly hearing other languages and accents when you’re in a big city (Toronto). Here in Frederick, MD I only hear English, Spanish and see Sign Language.
  • I’m always surprised at how much folks from other countries are tuned into our news.
  • Talking politics with Canadians was interesting as well.  Apparently they don’t mix their social issues with fiscal ones.  They would never waste time debating gay marriage when fiscal problems need to be solved.  They think we’re insane for constantly allowing our differing dogmas to distract from what needs to get done.  They’re right.
  • They say, “pop” not “soda” which is not only awesome but correct, damn it!
  • I found a grocery store called Longos which is my Mom’s maiden name so I not only shopped there, but we also had dinner there which was delicious.  It was like the Wegman’s of Toronto.
  • A small coffee is actually “small” as in 1/2 the size of a kid’s drink in the states.  Kudos to them for portion control.  Paying the American price for a small, however, kind of sucked.

Seeing my gorgeous friend Michelle, her husband Steve and their daughter’s Alex and Josie after 10 years was the highlight of our trip.   Having lunch made by Michelle who’s a fabulous cook was delicious.  The fact that the kids got along after a decade long break was wonderful.

Friends Again!

  • Michelle tried and failed to open a bottle of wine via the trunk of a tree.  This is how it’s supposed to work:

  • But Michelle’s can-do attitude along with a pen knife and ink-pen, got the job done.  Kudos to her for her tenacity.

See how happy we look after splitting a bottle of wine on a beautiful summer's day?

Our trip consisted of visiting Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls from the Canadian side.

It’s definitely worth the passport hassle to see Niagra Falls from the Canadian side.  The views were amazing.  Looking back toward the US and not seeing a bunch of commercial shit behind the falls was a relief.  Imagine this picture with golden arches, casino lights and giant hotel marquees in the background?  That would’ve been awful.  Kudos for the people of Niagra Falls, New York for allowing nature to remain the star.

I was surprised at how much cheesiness was just beyond the beauty on the Canadian side.  It was a cross between the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk and the bright lights of Times Square.

Commercialism at it's best!

On a side note: Sadly, it appears that visitors to the Falls like to urinate from a distance.  Thus along with taking a ride on The Maid of The Mist, my husband came dangerously close to becoming “The Man of The Mist” on quite a few occasions. Luckily he has quick reflexes.

We then explored, Niagra On The Lake, an adorable and picturesque town 30 minutes north of the falls.  You can hang out on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Niagara On The Lake

Or explore the Ma and Pa type shops while enjoying the flowers in town.

Then we headed to Toronto which was a blast.  Loved the Hockey Hall of Fame:

We love you Mario…

And Crosby..

And Malkin.

But Stanley, you're our favorite!

Right outside our hotel was the ferry to the Toronto Islands.

You get a great view of Toronto from the ferry.

We spent the afternoon on Centre Island, opting not to explore the “clothing optional” beach at Hanlan’s Point.  Instead we enjoyed walking around

as well as hanging out at the beach.  This was the first time I have ever relaxed on a beach, under a tree, which is now officially my favorite kind of sun bathing.  If all beaches had shade trees, I’d probably go more often.

The view from my beach towel - sweet!

We saw Billy Elliot. Great show.  Piss off! is my new go-to cuss word when yelling at the kids.  It’s fun and communicates that I mean business without being personally degrading in any way as opposed to Fuck Off! which is too harsh and raunchy to use as a parenting device if you ask me.  Leave it to the British to come up with a more civil way of cursing at each other.

And of course, no trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the CN Tower.  One of the world’s tallest towers and a great example of how you can take something a city needs (i.e., better radio communication) and turn it into a money making attraction as well.

I don’t like heights.  Well, I don’t mind being up high, if I’m going fast, like on a roller coaster, but looking off the side of a giant building, really doesn’t do it for me.  Standing on a plexiglass floor 360-some meters above the ground, also seems like a bad idea.

Paige was the brave Pruce that took these pictures, not me.

And if you asked me to go OUTSIDE this tower and walk around?

Not like this. I can handle being outside and looking out through a metal, safety grate.

I’m talking about this craziness…

Who thinks this shit up?

From inside the tower, you can watch via a live cam all of the adrenaline junkies that pay $150 to walk on the outside edge of the CN Tower.  These fellas were enjoying the view from the outside, while I was getting a little sick to my stomach on the inside.

When we were safe on the ground, we decided to sit a spell before heading back to the hotel.   Before leaving, I took one last look up at the tower, only to see 5 asses staring down at me…

Are they mooning us?

This was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

Canada was great and even though Gary and Jarin didn’t get to enjoy a traditional beach like they wanted, we got time in and around water while Paige and I got to explore a big city.  I will say that being in Canada both during the winter and now the summer, I remember a lot more from this trip.  Not freezing our asses off, we meandered more, walked everywhere, opting often to simply sit and people watch.  We spent a ton of time outside as opposed to spending all of it in their underground PATH system that allows you to explore the city without having to brave the elements.

My kids loved Canada.  My youngest wants to move there.  In all fairness, she would move anywhere, but still, I told her she might want to come back in say, February and then decide if Toronto is the place for her.  Being on the water when it’s 30 below, just might have her saying, Piss Off! or worse!

Shh…

We’ve already celebrated Christmas here at my house.  My kids woke up Sunday morning and opened all of their gifts.  Because some of the neighbor kids as well as classmates still believe in Santa my kids were told to lie from Sunday until Christmas and tell no one about the new Wii games, books or music.  To do this and maintain my “good parenting” certification, I’ve convinced my youngest who someday wants to be an actress, that she’s in training.  She’s not lying – she’s merely method acting.  My eldest who’s more altruistic in nature isn’t telling tales but rather “saving Christmas” for the toddlers that live close by.

I’m prepared to get in on the act as well.  Because shiny new Rock Band instruments are now sitting in our living room, we leaked word on the street that various illnesses have sprung up inside our home such that it’s off limits until after the holidays.  If anyone stops by I’m prepared to open the door just a crack and scare any kids from my porch with a mythical, Ferris Bueler-like coughing attack if need be.

As I revealed last year in this blog, to avoid tipping off others we call our gala “Festivus” which allows us a family gathering with just the four of us before we meet up with our extended families.  It also simplifies our life in terms of not having to bootleg presents across state lines.  You might wonder why we don’t drive north to visit relatives on the 26th, a reasonable alternative that many families do this time of year.  By moving up our holiday and getting there on the 24th, we can see all important family members in one swoop:  His side Christmas Eve and my side Christmas Day with time left over to squeeze in friends as well.  Driving up on the 26th and traveling to 9 or 10 different homes individually would be a logistical nightmare.

It’s odd, but it works.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a shot of wine posing as Nyquil waiting for me in the bathroom.

Happy Festivus Everyone!

Ode To Frederick

Sometime in late 2001 I logged on to Find Your Spot, a web site that helps you figure out where you should live. After answering a ton of questions I was given a list of 40 cities that I should consider. My number one spot was a town called Frederick, Maryland.

Since I was living in Jersey and looking for communities within a reasonable commute of Manhattan I had no reason to move to Maryland, especially a town I had never heard of, so I rolled my eyes, closed out of the site and moved on. A few months later when my husband’s New York office was closing and we’d needed to either move to Long Island or Bethesda, I remembered that town in western Maryland and started to investigate.

Six months later we were settled in Frederick. We’ve been in love ever since.

It really is our spot. I’m shocked that a web site could be this accurate. I get the small town, “everybody knows everybody” atmosphere yet I’m less than an hour from both Baltimore and DC if I need an urban fix. But since downtown Frederick is host to an expanding array of cafea, boutiques, antique stores and restaurants I don’t feel the need to go urban as often anymore.  

What I like the most about this town is their attention to community and how smart the community is to take advantage of that.  The public library is always packed with lots to do.  The promenade will start to host it’s monthly happy hours soon. The first Saturday of every month is a themed event designed to lure folks downtown to shop and eat.  

If I don’t want to walk to town, I can walk to Baker Park, a 35 acre spread that houses walking and bike paths, Culler Lake, Carroll Creek and is the primary destination for many of  Celebrate Frederick’s free summer events like the concert series, family theatre, and outdoor movies.

Art is also big in Frederick. Known for it’s clustered spires and early 18 century architecture, you can find various trompe l’oel murals along Market Street amidst the art galleries and antique shops.  However Frederick’s famous Community Bridge has become a huge tourist attraction as well.  Artist William Cochran took a plain concrete bridge and over five years turned into a beautiful “stone bridge”. He made it a public art project by asking the residents of Frederick to tell him what symbols represented the spirit of community. He then took these symbols and painted “stone carvings” on the bridge. Word spread and folks from all over the world submitted ideas for this project.

communitybridge1.jpg

It’s no wonder that Frederick was a Great American Main Street winner back in 2005. 

If you head to my flikr page on my side bar you can see my photos of Frederick, although I found this site online with a ton of really, wonderful pics. With the exception of the minor league ballpark, I can walk to any destination shown which is probably what I love the most about living here.

If you ever get the chance to visit, stop by and say hi.  

Vegas Baby

I have just woken up after my first night in Vegas and can now see why the tag line to this town is “What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”. Money has been pissed away, an expensive dinner has been scarfed down, drink after drink after drink has been gulped down and we have 2 more days to go.

Since I recently spent a long weekend in New Orleans, another city known for its excess and sinful living, I was curious how these two place would compare. My take…

New Orleans is a visceral place that satisfies one’s core need for pleasure: Food, Music, Sex. Their offerings are a fusion of raw traditions which have been passed down, experimented with and improved upon over the years. Tourists come to experience these traditions while surrounded by locals willing to share a little piece of themselves with the outside world.

Las Vegas on the other hand is a cerebral place that satisfies one’s food, entertainment and sexual fantasies. You don’t come here to capture a vibe – you come here to create one. For a town that only turned 100 in 2005, it’s still in the process of creating itself, thus tourists create their own experiences to satisfy their needs while surrounded by folks more than happy to serve them. If you can imagine it, you can have it. And if you never could have imagined it, don’t worry, someone else already thought it up for you.

For instance, tonight I could go to the lobby of my hotel, walk to the Fleur de Lys restaurant and order Chef Hubert Keller’s $5000 Fleurburger made from Kobe beef, foie gras, and black truffles along side a bottle of Chateau Petrus 1990 served in imported Brunello stemware that they would ship to my home after the meal. And that’s just a food fantasy that can be fulfilled. I’m sure with just a few google searches I could find me a $5000 sexual option or an over the top entertainment option. Hell, I could enter the casino right now and in no time flat blow $5000 on gambling and booze – if only I were rich and decadent enough to fly by the seat of my pants.

Since I’m not, I’ll eat at Chef Keller’s Burger Bar, spring for the $16 Kobe Beef burger and be just as thrilled. I’ll also spring for some spa services and if I’m really feeling saucy, upgrade from the quarter slots to a few $1.00 machines.

I know what you’re thinking – SLOW DOWN SISTER!!!

Speaking of flying by the seat of my pants – I think I’ve just about worked up the courage to take a shower. It’s one of those glass showers which always freaks me out – but to make matters worse, there’s a window in the bathroom! A fucking window! Right above the bathtub with a direct view of the glass shower!

Jesus!

No wonder what happens here stays here. If a maid or a room service guy happens to walk in while I’m shaving my legs – I could scar them for life.

New Orleans

I’m sitting here in Algiers Point, across the Mississippi River from The French Quarter, relaxing while my long weekend away winds down. My aunt and uncle graciously allowed me and my best friend from college to stay with them. Besides having a great visit with them, we had a great time touring the Crescent City.We learned about the origins of voodoo at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and then ate the most delicious gumbo and red beans and rice at Evelyn’s Place “where the bitch holds court”. And I’m not being mean – that’s the slogan, written all over the bar. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet the old bastard that owns the place. Again, I’m not being mean – apparently everyone calls the owner, Frank, the old bastard.Saturday was a day of deliciousness starting out at Cafe Dumonde for cafe au lait and beignets. Lunch took place uptown at Juan’s Flying Burrito where I had the Bacon Azul Quesadilla and some kick ass margaritas. Dessert was vanilla ice cream with shaved Italian chocolate at Bracato’s.Back in Algiers Point I had an interesting breakfast on Sunday – scrambled eggs, sausage and home fries layered in a “to go” cup from Tout de Suite Coffeehouse. Delicious and ingenious. Finally I tasted my first Mufaletto at the Dock Cafe & Bar.The saddest and most astonishing part of the trip was touring the 7th and 9th wards, destroyed by the levees that broke and seeing home after home after home in disarray, disrepair or just flat out gone. Besides the FEMA trailors still around, countless neighborhoods are completely empty or marginally populated.We were told that each month the quarter seems to get more crowded and tourism picks up so that’s good news. I’m happy to report that the people were friendly, the weather was amazing and the company/conversation was wonderful. New Orleans is a city battling back. If you can get there, go and spend your cash. Besides enjoying great food and music it’s also the right thing to do.

Trip Planning

It’s always fun to plan a trip.  Having something to look forward to is exciting, not to mention the interesting tidbits you pick up researching your destination before you go.  I have 2 trips planned and 1 big maybe trip on the horizon:

New Orleans (the big easy that’s hopefully making the big comeback ) in November.

Vegas (what happens there stays there) in December.

Oberammergau (huh?) next summer.  I’ll give you a hint.  This German city is famous for it’s production of the Passion Play every ten years and the NATO school is housed here.  Located in southern Germany, it would give us easy access to northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria and if we’re lucky, we can talk our Danish friends into coming down to see us.  We’re trying to decide if we should go.

My oldest is completely on board and up for tours, trying new foods, and navigating unfamiliar languages.  My youngest is the wild card as she’ll only be ten at the time of the trip, but frankly, sometimes you gotta do what others want to do and make your own fun. Every family vacation can’t be Disney World or some overly priced water park.  Besides I think we’re underestimating her because she’s the “baby” of the group.  Perhaps a vacation traipsing around Europe is exactly what we (and she) need to see exactly how grown up she really is.

My last hurdle is the possible itinerary.  Our neighbors are renting a house for the month.  We could stay in Oberammergau and take day trips back and forth, always returning to the same bed, town, and routine thus squeezing in some down time to just hang out and relax.  Or we could start at point A, pass through Oberammergau on to our final point B before heading home. I’m trying to figure out what would be the least taxing. Checking in and out of hotels and lugging all my shit to a million different places, or factoring in lots of travel time to return “home” every night. My problem is that I hate to travel until exhaustion. I tend to go places (with the exception of Disney World) with the understanding that I’ll be back and not have to see it all while I’m there so I leave content with what I did see and not too concerned if I missed some highlights. Considering that I’m not independently wealthy and can’t possible see everything I want to see in the world twice this is ludicrous, or is it?

When I went to Italy I specifically decided not to travel outside Rome because I really felt deep in my bones that I would go back and explore Northern Italy/Tuscany another time.  Here I am two years later, possibly planning a trip to Northern Italy so I guess I was right.

Truth be told, I’m not a big ball of fire when it comes to traveling and I should plan accordingly. It’s been working so far and if I hate moving and grooving from place to place, I can’t imagine dragging my kids with their Lazy Linda DNA floating through their systems around to too many places either.

So I’ll research it, think about it, price it out, think about it some more and decide eventually. Oh, and I’ll daydream. Picturing myself cooling off in a crystal clear lake in Switzerland in July, or taking the world’s greatest chocolate with me to Italy so I can enjoy it with an espresso while I watch gondolas float by is definitely a hell of a motivator.

Friends, Flatulence and Forgiveness

If the universe honors intentions rather than outcomes – I’m in the clear. But if outcomes are more important than well-meaning ideas – I’m screwed.

A few years ago my friends, The Burgh Babes, and I went to Manhattan for a weekend. Since we’d be splitting up and doing different things while there, we wanted to at least share one nice meal together. I checked out Tavern On The Green for Sunday brunch, only to discover that omelets ran twenty-one dollars and a yogurt parfait would set us back ten bucks. I was getting discouraged until I had a flash of brilliance. The Natural Gourmet Institute hosts Friday night dinners in their Chelsea location. For the bargain price of $32.00 (tip and tax included) you can enjoy a healthy, yet delicious, four-course meal. And bonus, the school was located only one block away from a comedy club that we had tickets for that evening.

How cool was I? Good food that’s good for us, great for our wallets and close to our secondary destination for the night. I made the reservations and smugly noted to myself how smart and fabulous I was. I should have splurged on the overpriced eggs.

Health Foods Sometimes Backfire
The menu included cannelloni bean soup; an arugula, artichoke, fennel and orange salad; Italian style eggplant stuffed with more beans, corn and whole grains; fried polenta; finished with fresh figs wrapped in phylo dough and smothered in an almond cream and port wine sauce. After all four courses and a few bottles of wine, we left and hit the comedy club. Two-hours later we emerged into the dark night of mid-town Manhattan and headed for the subway. That’s when the real fun began.

Stink City
New York is a city of smells. Sewer fumes plume upward and out from manholes to mix with curbside garbage covered in dog urine that decorates every side street. Vendors selling incense along with New Yorkers wearing too much cologne assault your olfactory center at every turn. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING prepared us for the revolt our gastrointestinal tract was going to lead against the healthier than thou food we had consumed. Smells that I have never experienced before began to emerge from our behinds.

At first we thought it was the sewer smell, then we realized it was us. You could see the folks on the V train, wrinkling up their noses in disgust. NYU students in large crowds parted like The Red Sea as we walked by. People everywhere began to stare and point. Our stench had taken over the Village and frankly it hasn’t been the same since.

I’ve smelled beer farts, singed hair, and changed the diapers of small children suffering from the stomach flu, but I’ve never in my entire life smelled anything like I did that night in New York. Seven friends with flatulence sharing 800 square feet is a bad idea no matter how you slice it…the cheese that is.

The fun continued the next day. We walked along the crowded streets of China Town tooting and scooting past kiosks of fake designer handbags and watches, leaving a silent but deadly stench in our wake. And when our meal finally made it thought our lower intestines, it cleaned us out like a coffee enema after a week on the cabbage diet.

Okay, Okay – I’m Sorry
Did I mention how much money we saved? Did anyone thank me for clearing out their colon? Not a chance. They eventually forgave me and I haven’t been asked to make dinner reservations since. I meant well. Really I did.

An edited version of this article was previously published in November 2004.

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