Sunday in New York – The Met

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There are few finer places to start a day than at a museum, especially if that museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Crowds tend to be a bit lighter early in the morning allowing more time with the art and unincumbered wandering.

Pro tip: The Met is a pay-what-you-want setup, so it’s up to you to put a price on priceless works of art. (Suggested donation is $25, but they don’t scoff at you if you give less.)

After gawking at the Grand Hall and getting our tickets, we ascended the central stairs and consulted the map to devise our plan of attack. The Met is enormous–the largest in the U.S. if you’re into superlatives. We intended to spend an hour or two focusing on periods we like. Those intended two hours turned into four hours and we barely scratched the surface of their offerings. We tried to catch the free guided tour at 10:30 but were a few minutes late and not gifted with the tracking capabilities of a bloodhound. We meandered the wing devoted to Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

We met under the clocks at 11:30 for the guided tours. What happened next was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a museum. For the next 70 minutes, a guide took us around the world for an exploration of Art and Power. Continue reading Sunday in New York – The Met

New York on foot

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I’ve never been a huge fan of New York prior to this trip. New York is a fantastic city, but it’s overwhelming. Manhattan is massive. Chicago is also large, but Manhattan is like someone took Chicago and replicated it a ton of times across a large island. There are always people on the street. There’s always a cacophony of noises. Don’t get me started on the smells. One breeze carries grilled meats from a corner food stand. The next wifts are of sour garbage.

This is the first trip to NYC where I had influence into the agenda. The first trip was when I was a kid visiting my aunt and uncle. The second was visiting a friend while she finished law school. Leann cobbled together the recommendations from friends and must-visit museums, much like she would for our other adventures. Continue reading New York on foot

Visiting Biltmore: The French Connection

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During my quest to find a house, Lookie Lou was the nicest name realtors gave me. In four years, I saw 70+ properties and worked with 5+ realtors before buying my current house. After seeing that many homes, I’m certain realtors have a poster with my face and a red line through it. If I combined viewing all the bedrooms, all the bathrooms and all the basements of those properties, it doesn’t come close to matching the grandiosity of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Before diving into our House Hunters: Biltmore Edition, there are a few things you should keep in perspective. Calling it a house is like saying New York is quaint. If there are “You are here” maps, it ceased being a house long ago. When it has wings, it is no longer a house.

If you don’t know of the Biltmore house, it is the largest private residence in America (and that includes the combination of all homes on my block). Calling it a residence or estate seems more appropriate to me. It’s staggering when you look at the stats: Continue reading Visiting Biltmore: The French Connection

A Night at the Staatsoper

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In a city known for its music, an evening trip to the opera is a must. Prior to Vienna, I’d only been to one sampling of the operatic arts for a preview show at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. That program was 90 minutes and featured selected works from all of their upcoming operas.

On our first night in Vienna, after a flight full of aspiring baby opera hopefuls, we decided to go big and see Macbeth performed by one of the preeminent opera companies in the world. 

Looking at available tickets a few weeks ago wasn’t encouraging. Opera is expensive, especially when going to see one of the best in an opulent setting. There are tickets for 20€, but those were long gone. The available tickets were in the 60-300€ range. A bit more than we intended to spend.

Have no fear; Rick Steves is here! For tourists, or those who just want a sample, there are standing room tickets known as Stehplatz. Turn up to the theater 90 minutes before curtain, wait in line and then grab standing room tickets for 3€ each. Rick’s book on Vienna has full details on where to go to get your stehplatz ticket.

Once inside, we followed the custom and roped off two spots with our scarves. The scarves serve as placeholders so you can wander around the opera house before showtime. When I travel, I often wonder if certain customs would work in the US. I can almost guarantee this polite claiming of space would result in a Macbethian death match in the US. You’d lose your scarf, space or both. For a moment, I considered swapping my scarf with someone else’s for a more advantageous view.The opera was beautiful. Alas, after a long flight, a disco nap and wandering the streets of Vienna, my ability to remain awake was tested. Without shame, I admit I fell asleep to some of the most luscious sounds. At intermission some of the tourists cleared out so Leann and I moved up a row. After my opera nap, I was ready for Act II. We lasted a bit longer before calling it a night. Upon looking at our phones for the time, we discovered we’d only been at the Staatsoper for about an hour. There were two more hours of Macbeth.

Thankfully for me, Leann’s knowledge of Shakespeare meant I could be filled in on the ending on our stroll to find dinner.

Visiting Vienna: First Thoughts and Photos

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Pro-tip for anyone traveling: if your eight-hour flight is littered with crying babies, going to the opera can be simultaneously the best and worst decision you make for things to do on day one.

Leann and I are in Vienna, Austria; the city that seems to have invented classical music and fried meat cutlets. The weather was dreary today, but far warmer than Chicago. As has become our tradition, we spent our first day wandering the city to get oriented on landmarks and get a sense of the city’s pulse. My first thoughts are Vienna loves Christmas and commerce. There are tons of stores, many clothing brands from the US, and huge Christmas decorations on most streets.

Thanks to a disco nap post-babies on a plane, we were able to wander around and see some of the attractions. The city’s layout is reminiscent of Rome, with cobblestone streets, winding roads and huge churches. The upside is there are great discoveries as you wander. The downside is it’s difficult to stay on target with your destination since the streets often are rings and angle away from where you want to go.

We did a large amount today, especially considering we got less than an hour of sleep during the flight. We checked out an impressive baroque church, got schnit-faced with a huge pork cutlet, took in “Macbeth” in Verdi’s operatic account at the Shakespearean thriller, ate sachertorte and goulash. 

Fun fact: don’t order water in restaurants. We tried unsuccessfully to request tap water and received bottles of water that cost more than our food. I told myself I’d let it go. But I can’t.

In happy news, the city is pretty and has a lot more discoveries in store for us tomorrow.

Braised Pork with Cider and Tomatillos – Recipe

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Fun Fact: I can guzzle a lightly chilled bottle of apple juice in one sitting.

Despite my love for apple juice, I never explored the world of ciders. It wasn’t until dating Leann that I started sipping the alcohol version of apple juice. With my limited exposure to the boozy fruit juice, I didn’t know about distinctions between styles of distillation or variations in the amount of sugar.

Leann and I escaped to Michigan for a quick trip before I started my new job. The area surrounding Holland, Michigan, offers the perfect amount of activities for a weekend. After a few Google searches for “Things to do in Holland” we compiled our own list. I’ll post our guide as soon as I can decide which pictures to share.


High on our list was visiting Virtue Cider in Fennville. They have a treasure trove of info on their site showing how cider is made. But I’ve never been one for reading. I’m more of a visual and experiential learner. Plus, it’s a real farm with pigs! So, Leann and I reached out to setup a tour (I highly suggest you do the same). It was a roaster of a day when we visited the farm. Thankfully, Virtue had plenty of beverages to curb the heat.
I’ll write more about the tour experience later, but while there, we chatted with the staff to learn about different ways to cook with cider. Did I mention they have pigs? And apples. Nearly a month later, Leann and I opened the mini growler of Percheron cider to braise pork loin. Continue reading Braised Pork with Cider and Tomatillos – Recipe

Tastes of Barcelona at Home

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In Barcelona, they eat dinner late. That’s what all the guide books advised. Fearing that we wouldn’t be able to eat when our stomachs expected food, we shifted our lunch to later in the day during our exploration of Barcelona-by-foot last December.

One of my supreme joys when traveling is experiencing new food and flavors, the museums and cultural attractions are an added bonus. That joy is a stark contrast to my frugality and indecisiveness. Unlike some travelers, I don’t travel for the food, willing to spend whatever it costs to have the finest meal in each city. Instead, I wander the streets looking for restaurants that have the perfect balance of star ratings and dollar signs.

The Barcelona nightlife in December may not have been the zenith of the summer club scene, but the streets were still full of people enjoying food, drink and temperate weather. We stuck out as tourists largely for our sporting short sleeve shirts while locals donned winter coats and scarves to brave the frigid evening winter temps in the low 60s.

Early this summer I received a bottle of Beronia wine from the Rioja region. The Rioja region is a major wine producing region in Spain and worth exploring. The bottle sat on my shelf as I debated what to pair it with. After a few weekends of uninspired dinner creations, it was time to revisit the tastes of Barcelona and uncork the Crianza. That varietal was not one I knew. Continue reading Tastes of Barcelona at Home