Wednesday Wanderings – Van Gogh Museum

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Mondays can be difficult, but I always found Wednesdays to be more of a hurdle. Starting today I will be sharing stories from my wandering.

Our first Wednesday diversion takes us to the city with more canals than Venice, Amsterdam!

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I know what you’re thinking. Amsterdam is so high…in the volume of art by the Dutch masters. My girlfriend and I visited in December and booked our tickets for the Van Gogh Museum shortly after arranging flights and hotels. For my local readers, the Art Institute of Chicago just opened an exhibit on the Dutch phenom. The exhibit highlights Vincent’s Bedrooms.

The more I travel, the more I combat sounding like a snob when sharing stories. Continue reading Wednesday Wanderings – Van Gogh Museum

Champagne Tasting in Reims

Champagne tasting in Reims http://thebachelorbasics.com/travel/champagne-tasting-in-reims/

We meet again 2am. This time je suis sans baguette.

Rather than flail around in what appears to be a pillow top mattress in Paris, I will share the highlights from yesterday’s tour at Mumm in Reims.

We had a bit of time before our 2pm train from Reims to Paris and we had yet to sample champagne. We power walked it to Mumm for their morning tour. Most houses run 1-2 tours before déjeuner. We wanted to visit Taittinger and Mumm but logistics proved difficult.   Continue reading Champagne Tasting in Reims

A Beginner’s Guide to Reims

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It’s 3 am in Reims and all I can think about is eating the remainder of the baguette we bought yesterday. My girlfriend is asleep, so, out of courtesy, I would mange in the bathroom or hall. There is no quiet way to eat a baguette. A little of the noise is the crunch of the crust, the rest would be my guttural noises whilst chewing.

Traveling can be incredibly frustrating. Far beyond flight delays and navigating our way in a new city, traveling as a writer or photographer is daunting. There are more beautiful things to attempt to capture than there are minutes to attempt to describe. My recent trips follow a pattern of trying to write some notes on what I saw or did in the first days. Then the desired elements to share stack up beyond what I can write or post in a day. And that’s the taunting of travel. I used to travel vicariously through my friends and am now fortunate to be going on my own adventures around the world.

  Continue reading A Beginner’s Guide to Reims

France in December | Vive La France

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It’s day one in France and I don’t know how long I have been awake, what day it is, what day/time it is back home or how to form sentences in either English or French.

Flying in economy is painful if you are any bigger than a pomme de terre. I wished I were a Mr. Potato Head so I could detach my arms and shoes, stuff them in my trap back door and slump myself against the cabin wall for eight hours. Once the wheels were down, someone could kindly kick me towards the front of the plane and I’d reattach my limbs and go about our trip once out of the fun house. Sadly that wasn’t a realistic option, so I tried sleeping upright, a task that has recently been achieved both at my desk and home. With minimal beauty sleep success, we landed safely in Paris and navigated our way to the RER train. We asked at least quatre information booth attendants and each got us closer to our train.

Team Leandrew’s return to France (affectionately known as unfinished business) has a few goals:

  1. Eat all the foods. Especially the carbs.
  2. See père lachais and Opera Garnier.
  3. See all things Christmas.
  4. Drink toutes les champagnes.

Least common denominator, we are trying to live up to American stereotypes. Continue reading France in December | Vive La France

Best Sandwiches in the World

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In honor of National Sandwich Day, here are some of my favorite sandwiches from my travels around the globe. The best of the best span from funky burgers in Chicago to ham and cheese mallorcas in Puerto Rico to the untouchable bread of Paris.

Share a picture of your favorite sandwich in the comments.

 

Nate Silver Ruined My Burritos in San Francisco

Voted best burrito in the country

I love burritos.

That’s pretty much how I introduce myself to strangers. Some friends have asked me how long I could go without feeding my addiction and I don’t like to even entertain the idea of limiting my burrito consumption. Some friends of mine in med school expressed concern for my well-being and cholesterol, to which I questioned their happiness.

In a given week, I typically get Mexican food once and I’ll put some food in a tortilla at least twice. That isn’t a horrible addiction. Previously, I have written odes to tortillas, even embarking on a self-imposed tortilla challenge where I tried to see how many ways I could use the circular carbs.

During a work trip to San Francisco, the promise of not just burritos, but NEW burritos was beyond enticing. Studying more than I had for some exams in college, I researched the field. Thanks to Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight, a lot of that research was done for me in their gastro-exploration of the Best Burritos in America.

There were a few high seeds from Chicago, but several of the best burritos in the land were from that city by the bay. On a previous trip west, I had eaten at El Farolito. That burrito was good, but I wouldn’t say it was the best I ever had.

On my culinary quest for the best burritos in San Francisco, I ate as many tortilla offerings as my stomach would allow. My first night started with a Yelp search and led me to Tropisueno near Union Square (and my hotel). The place was packed and I was looking for a table for one, possibly one of the most depressing things to ask for as an extrovert. But, Tropisueno had a community table, so I needn’t eat alone. The waiter was extremely friendly and helped fill my need to talk to someone while eating. Eating alone did allow me more time to bond with my meal. I ordered a salsa verde dish, which had chunks of pork braised in a mildly spicy salsa verde. Sadly, I wasn’t able to finish it and I didn’t have a fridge at my hotel. Moment of silence for the leftovers wasted.

The next burrito was from a food truck near the office. Curry Up Now tasted great while I wolfed it down before afternoon meetings. You can read the full review of the aftermath here.

My girlfriend joined me toward the end of the week and we headed to Tacolicious in the Mission area. If you weren’t aware, there is an entire area of SF full of Mexican spots. You’ll never hit all of them. Tacolicious was highly recommended by a friend who lives in SF. He makes my adoration of burritos seem like an amateur effort. To quote Gary when asked for his recommendations, there are burritos for all different occasions and moods. Tacolicious was also crazy crowded. We skulked around the bar waiting for a spot to open. Eventually some women left for their reservation and we pounced. Taking Gary’s advice, we got an array of tacos and an appetizer. The app was a spicy meatball dish with a tomato sauce that made me crave some noodles. The spice level was higher than I think is legally permissible for a pasta dish, but it’d be worth the pain.

The next burrito stop was Garaje, also near my office. I opted for a surfer-inspired offering that had fried fish, guacamole and french fries. The french fries overpowered the flavor of the fish, but added a bacon flavor. I found a park in between the restaurant and the office to soak up some sun while inhaling the cylindrical sustenance.

Our penultimate stop was the Mexican-food mecca and winner of Nate Silver’s burrito showdown, La Taqueria, also in the Mission District. I went with my standard al pastor burrito. With all the build up, all the hype, all the expectations, I found the burrito fell short.

The very last destination was at SFO. We debated directing our Uber to drive through the Mission District for one last burrito prior to returning to the tundra, but we ran out of time. So, I settled for the airport’s burrito and chips offering.

I blame you, Nate Silver, for ruining my burrito experience.

As the piece mentioned, and scholars somewhere stated, expectations can ruin experiences. Labeling something as “the best,” elevates it beyond attainability. We each have our own perception of what that pinnacle is and, often for me, those expectations are unreachable. If a friend tells me a movie was superb (you don’t have friends who use “superb” in conversation?) and I go to see it, I’m going to the theater with a heightened expectation, ready to be wowed. Compare that with your own discoveries: your favorite hole-in-the-wall or the place you stumbled on when visiting a new city. In my travels and dining at taqueria’s, I have found I get more enjoyment and satisfaction for those finds versus taking a friend or hotel’s recommendation.

So, if you find yourself in San Francisco, ignore where I went. Ignore the burrito bracket. See which place is the most crowded. Let your nose guide you. Use the bracket as a guide to get you in the vicinity and neighborhoods. Then, find your favorite spot and savor that delicious burrito.

I may never find the best burrito, but I will certainly enjoy the search.

Why You Need to Slow Down in Napa

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As a kid, time moved excruciatingly slowly. Every classroom in my grammar school had a clock and they all seemed to be in need of winding. The clock in the gym was encased behind thick metal wires to protect it from kids like me who lacked hand-eye coordination. The slowest days were those right before a prolonged weekend or break. One of those days still stands out in my memory.

Mrs. Jensen was my teacher in fourth grade and it was the Friday before spring break. There was a circular clock that hung above the door. It had no hand to measure the seconds. The entire class was fixated on that clock at the end of the day. There was nothing Mrs. Jensen could do but join us, as I’m sure she was eager for the end of the week and being rid of us. How is the clock not moving? It has been at least a minute and it hasn’t moved at all. If I had a watch, I would have been comparing my time and the clock’s.

Then, we heard the click as the minute hand inched forward.

Mrs. Jensen could have been sharing the secret to happiness or how to secure a spot at the popular table, in fourth grade, those were the same thing , but on this day she was inadvertently teaching us about time. My family seldom traveled for spring break. I had nowhere to be, but I was in a hurry to get there.

The time eventually came for us to be set free and we fled out of that classroom like kids instructed not to run at a pool, arms swinging, heel-toe, heel-toe, and the longest strides you’ve ever seen. Olympic power walkers exhibit the same gait.

Many years and schools later, I found myself waiting in a car rental office in San Francisco early on a Saturday morning. Instead of looking around for a clock, I checked my phone for the time. I’d done the same thing as my girlfriend and I hoofed it from the hotel to the car rental. Their office was a bit farther than either of us thought and we left the hotel a bit later than intended.

We patiently waited for the staff to process our reservation. Leann was concerned we wouldn’t make our reservations to tour two vineyards in Napa. Embodying the care-free San Francisco way and knowing everything will work itself out, I aimed to channel our mantra of “Island Time” we picked up in Puerto Rico. Sometimes in life, and especially in traveling, there is simply nothing you can do.

Eventually we got our car and started our pilgrimage to the grapes. Leann called both vineyards to let them know we were running late. I tried to leave plenty of time between tastings, but failed to account for getting to the first vineyard late. Our first stop was a garden tasting at Frog’s Leap in Rutherford. (Read all about that experience here.) They had no issues that we were running late.

The second winery was Silver Oak, which is a few miles from Frog’s Leap. We arranged a tour of Silver Oak’s grounds. The tour included other wine lovers, so they understandably wouldn’t be able to hold back the group for us. We enjoyed our time at Frog’s Leap and took in their beautiful vistas. We abbreviated our deep sighs wishing we lived in Napa before scooting over to Silver Oak.

We ended up about 15 minutes late for our scheduled tour time. We pulled into the large, paved parking area and looked around at the symmetrical rows of barren vines as we entered. We were greeted by Jody and shared that we were there for a tour. The others that signed up for the tour were also running late. She poured us each a glass of their cabernet and we began chatting. After sharing our story from the morning, Jody shared a doctrine she and her husband use on vacation.

“Today is the slowest day of my life.”

The quote is simple, but it resonated strongly with me. Make today the slowest day of your life. It’s a brilliant philosophy to slow down and simply savor all that is; not focusing on what was or what will be, just what is. Knowing I was going to be consuming more wine, I added a note in my phone so I wouldn’t flub her quote. After a morning of rushing, this was the perfect quote to re-calibrate and leave the past where it belongs.

We met Margaret, our grape guide for the afternoon. Silver Oak was recommended to us through a coworker of Leann’s. They raved about Silver Oak and said it was a must visit. I reached out and the vineyard set up a tour. The other tourists didn’t show up, so we began our private tour. Margaret asked if we knew about Silver Oak, and again we came into a winery unaware of its history or product. Only one way to learn!

She poured us some more wine, grabbed a bottle and took us out of the main hall area for our tour. The din subsided as we entered a room full of photos. The framed shots help tell the history of Silver Oak, including shots of the founders, Raymond T. Duncan and Justin Meyer. There are also newspaper clippings and early labels used before the winemakers settled on the water tower logo. In the center of the room is a time capsule that includes a few bottles of wine (naturally) and an iPod. The plan is to open the time capsule in 50 years.

Our private tour continued to their space for large functions before heading to the tanks. If you’ve never seen drums this big before, it’s like you’re either in Willy Wonka’s factory or Walter White’s lab. They are ridiculously large. The novice wine aficionados may fantasize about dropping into one of these vats like Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo. Since these tanks are used primarily for the fermentation process, I would advise against jumping in with your nose plugs and wet suit.

Margaret detailed the process of filling, draining and sampling the contents of the steel silos. Each holds a particular grape and is coded to note the contents. Most wines combine multiple grapes and varietals to compose a blend. Silver Oak has two wines: a cab that is 100% cabernet grapes from the Alexander Valley and the other is a blend from Napa Valley grapes. Having a 100% cabernet cab is rare. Regulations stipulate that only 76% of the grapes need be cabernet grapes and the others don’t need to be listed for a wine to be called a cab.

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The next room was the barreling room. Barrels were stacked to the ceiling and disappeared into the darkness. This room was kept at 55 degrees to simulate the conditions of caves. The key for developing wine is consistency in temperature. Silver Oak gets their oak from a town in Missouri. Recently, they purchased the tree farm to supply their own needs as well as expand into selling to other vineyards. There was a name for where they grow the oak for the barrels, but my memory fades after a few glasses.

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Our tour concluded in the Library where I asked a bunch of questions about wine pairings and distinctions between grapes. I figured the Library is the best spot to find answers to everything I ever wanted to know. The Library also stores different sizes and vintages. 2007 was apparently an extremely good year. We learned about the different size bottles. I knew about the 750mL bottle and the magnum, but had no clue about the others. Could you put these in order of smallest to biggest?

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Cabernet Sauvignon is intended to age. It reaches its peak in 10-20 years after bottling.  The key to storing a wine for years and letting its flavors develop is consistency in temperature. But what if you can’t put in a wine cellar in your studio apartment? A wine fridge is a nice alternative. But the biggest mistake people make is where they store their wine.

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Storing wine in the kitchen is the worst spot.

The kitchen has the largest fluctuations in temperature. So, take your wine away from the stove and store it someplace that’s an even temperature all year.

We got to sample some wine on its way toward maturity. There is an added complexity in aged, or vintage, wine. Something I’d never sipped. I will need to revisit these wines to write more extensively about the differences.

After we exhausted all our questions on wine-related travel and how she got into wine, we left the chilled library. Margaret poured us each another glass and let us know they had two Silver Oak wine glasses for us to take.

A beautiful thing about Napa, other than the bucolic surroundings, is there aren’t clocks. It’s always wine o’clock. Leann and I took our glasses of wine, walked outside to the 70 degree sunny warmth, sat down and sipped our wine watching the time pass slower than it ever had.