Australia Awaits

Since I was barely the size of an emu I have wanted to visit Australia. No one in my family had been there and aside from The Rescuers Down Under I wasn’t exposed to much about the country. In college, I flirted with the idea of studying abroad in Sydney. Post-college, I researched community media in Australia for my application to be a Fulbright scholar. Spoiler alert: neither attempt to study in Australia proved successful.

All that changes tonight! Leann and I embark on our longest trip yet. We will explore Sydney and Melbourne before flying to Queenstown and finally Auckland. These four cities are new to both of us and should add a new flavor to our Christmas around the world tour we’ve been on the past three years.

The next two weeks include day trips to serene coasts, caves, mountains, museums, volcanoes, wineries, rainforests, and beaches. Pretty wild surrounds compared to the tundra that is Chicago in December.

I have yet to accept that we are going to Australia and New Zealand. The good thing is I’ll have 20 hours in the air to let it sink in!

As always, I will do my best to share our adventures here and on social media. It will be a trip of a lifetime!

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

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

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

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