Jetlagged in Berlin

My big news is that I’m relocating to Berlin for the next 6 weeks so I can try out living as a European expat.

This is possible for me because I’m not working for the next several months and I don’t have a home base since i’m always on the road with work. Since i can live anywhere it might as well be somewhere interesting and I’ve recently wanted to live in Europe for a chunk of time. Living abroad is a challenge and I feel like I’m ready for it. I looked through the European cities and decided on Berlin because it had a relatively low cost of living (for Europe) and I hadn’t been to Germany. Plus Berlin seemed like a cool city with lots of artists and expats and it was near Eastern Europe where I’ve never been either.

While 6 weeks isn’t much time in the scope of a life, I’m hoping a get a feel for the city and the community. I have a bunch of goals for my brief expat life, the top few of which are:

1. I want to get into the community enough to meet local Germans and get invited to someone’s house for a party or dinner or something.

2. I want to take German classes and make a solid effort to get by in a language besides fractured English/charades.

3. I want to get into the expat community, meet people, have regular hang outs, see things in Berlin I wouldn’t see as a tourist.

I’m setting a rather low bar for myself, I realize, but the hard part for me is all the change, the newness and the challenge of meeting strangers. I’ll get all my feelings about these subjects later in the week.

I flew direct to Berlin out of Chicago. It’s the first time I’ve ever flown overseas on a direct flight and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Air Berlin

Especially on a half full plane with dozens of empty rows. Air Berlin has sketchy food and a strange selection of ancient movies including Titanic, Gone with the Wind and You’ve Got Mail, but we flew to meet the sun

Air Berlin

And arrived in Berlin at midnight Chicago time, which was 7am Berlin time.

I don’t sleep well on planes (or cars or buses or trains) but I had my whole row to myself so I took a little disco nap during the flight and felt pretty good when we landed. The Berlin airport is small and the entire Customs process in Europe is so relaxed that I wonder why we bother. No one asks questions, nothing is declared, they just grab your passport, stamp it and shuffle you through. Welcome to Berlin, whoever you are. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Next! I get 200% more hassle just driving over the Canadian border!

My taxi driver regaled me with Berlin history on the drive in to town. He moved here in 1987, 2 years before the Berlin wall came down. He said on new years eve 1989, everyone in Berlin came to the destroyed wall for a giant block party to drink “sparkly wine” and cry at midnight. The first new year for reunited Germany. Incredible. And incredible that it was all within my lifetime. I remember being back stage prepping for a college production of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when I heard the wall had come down. As momentous as I knew that act was, I really had no idea of the scope. I’m sure the Berlin of today is so dramatically different as to be unrecognizable.

I’m staying in the Mitte district, down in the center of Berlin and very near Checkpoint Charlie, the original crossing point of the wall between west and east. I had no trouble finding the apartment but a fair amount of trouble finding the check-in girl to let me in. Jet lag, early morning and not having a working phone all combined to an hour’s worth of hassle followed by a 4 floor walk up with 2 suitcases. At least it’s 6 weeks before I have to haul them back down…

The apartment is darling with incredible views over the rooftops

Berlin Mitte

It’s bigger than I expected from the pictures online and sparkling clean. Sometimes Air BnB does a really great job. Exhaustion set in once I got into the apartment so I took a couple hour nap and then rousted myself up. There’s no good way to handle jet lag but I know that if I don’t nap and I push myself thru the day, I’ll crash around 6pm and be wide awake at 3am. Hopefully a nap will stave that off and I can stay awake until closer to 9pm tonight. let’s see how it goes.

The weather today was PERFECT, low 70s and beautifully sunny.

Berlin Mitte

Everyone was outside in the parks so I ate a late lunch outside at the Ballhouse Gipsy Restaurant, a rather incredible biergarten and dance hall with a lovely garden

Ballhouse Gipsy restaurant

German weiners and potato salad with dunkel beer. What else am I going to eat my first day in Germany?

The rest of the afternoon involved buying groceries via charades (always a good time) and orienting myself to the neighborhood

How Long is Now BerlinSo much beautiful graffiti and street art, the apex of which is this artist squat called Tacheles. I’ll post a lot more about it later.

In the words of my flight attendant today “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the entire crew I would like to say goodbye to you now.”

More Berlin tomorrow.

Greenville and the Biltmore Estate

I had such a great time in Greenville. It’s a charming city with good food and a scenic river. And while there’s plenty to do inside the city, if you’re only in town for a few days, you must take the hour and a half drive to Asheville and see the Biltmore Estate.

Start with breakfast at the Tupelo Honey Cafe

Tupelo Honey

Tupelo is an institution in the Carolinas with cafes in Greenville, Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh. They’ve even branched into Tennessee. Their food is fresh and delicious, their biscuits are made from scratch so they do the South proud and if you love it, you can buy a cookbook to take home with you. This local restaurant chain started in Asheville and their produce still comes from Sunshot Farms nearby but the location in downtown Greenville is delightful as well.

Alternatively, try Homegrown in Asheville

Homegrown

That’s a breakfast pot pie with scrambled eggs, sausage and country gravy topped with a biscuit. Awesome and amazing. There’s no getting away from biscuits in the South so just embrace it! As their name suggests, Homegrown makes locally sourced slow food and does it “right quick.” They support local farmers while also making fresh food affordable and delicious. Their quirky little restaurant is a treasure so pay them a visit.

If you’re driving up from Greenville to see the Biltmore Estate, be prepared to make a day of it.

Biltmore Estate

Built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s, the estate has 250 rooms on 3 floors, 65 fireplaces, an indoor bowling alley and pool. The surrounding 8,000 acres of land back up into the Pisgah National Forest and include a village, a winery and an inn, so there’s plenty to see. You can choose from several guided tours as well as audio tours that last around 90 minutes. The $60 tickets are not cheap but include a tour of the winery and unlimited tastings at the bar

Vanderbilt wine

What with the priceless Singer Sargent paintings, the gorgeous landscaped gardens and the general Gilded Age excess, I found the Biltmore to be intensely glamorous. It feels like a house built by happy people who loved living there and a house with a happy history has a very different feel from some of the tragic mansions I’ve visited in the past. I would put this estate in my top 10 tourist experiences for the year.

We stopped at Cedric’s Tavern in the estate’s Antler Hill Village and I recommend you do the same

Cedric's Tavern

The tavern is named for a beloved family dog and serves rich Southern food (try the pub cheese). There’s likely to be live music while you’re there so get one of the Bilmore beers brewed specifically for this pub and hang out for awhile.

There are many scenic driving routes around Asheville that will take you through parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains so you want to take a leisurely route either coming or going, check out this website for recommendations.

Back in Greenville, take a walk by Reedy River to stretch your legs.

Greenville river

The Swamp Rabbit Trail runs for 18.7 miles long this river and is a multi-use greenway good for bikes, runners and strollers. This waterfall is right in the middle of town and can be easily seen from several vantage points. It’s lovely place to spend the early evening and parts of the trail are well lit even after sunset.

Greenville has a number of great restaurants for dinner. For great burgers in a casual setting, go to Grill Marks

Grill Marks

That’s pimento cheese all over that burger, in case you were curious. Mark and Larkin Hammond own several restaurants in the Greenville area and this upscale burger joint is really tasty. The burgers are perfectly cooked and come piled high with luscious high end cheeses, bacon, mushrooms, barbq sauce or whatever suits you. They also offer adult milkshakes with booze in them and a kind of indoor/outdoor seating with a large covered patio.

For something less casual, go to the The Lazy Goat

Their location on the edge of the Reedy River makes for perfect dinner time views and their food is Mediterranean and inspired. Make a reservations and definitely try the roasted mussels and chorizo.

If you have more time, stick around Greenville and have brunch at the Green Room (try the  Crab Benedict) and definitely go eat Thai food at Lemongrass Thai. I spent two weeks in Greenville and could happily have stayed for two more. I hope you enjoyed your day in the Carolinas!

A Day in Oklahoma City

Is Oklahoma a Southern state or a Western state? It might take you all day to decide and when you do, let me know. But while you’re thinking about that, how about breakfast at the best restaurant in downtown OKC?

Kitchen 324

That’s green eggs and ham with prosciutto and arugula over an english muffin topped with poached eggs and pesto and it was just the right combination of fresh and salty with no greasiness. The chefs at Kitchen No. 324 make everything from scratch using fresh local produce and as far as I can tell, this is the only farm to table restaurant in downtown OKC. They also have killer pastries, cold pressed juices and great coffee and they’re open for dinner 5 days out of the week. I ate here three different times and everything I had was stellar.

After breakfast, gear yourself up for a sobering experience and visit the Memorial Museum of the OKC bombing in 1995.

OKC Memorial

I know this sounds like a grim adventure, but the museum is a gorgeous memorial space to those who died in the blast and the bravery of all the responders who worked for weeks to uncover bodies and sort out what happened. They deserve to be remembered and it’s heart wrenching to walk through the Gallery of Honor where photos of the people who died are accompanied by little mementos their families created to represent them. I appreciate that the museum designers focused more on the memorial aspect of the museum and less on the whys and wherefores of the bombing since it’s difficult to absorb the senselessness of  this kind of anti-government protest.

Memorial Fence

This bombing helped shape Oklahoma City and anyone who visits here will see the city differently after visiting this memorial. The Memorial museum is open every day and adult tickets are $12.

If you want something less emotionally rigorous, the OKC Museum of Art has an incredible Chilhuly glass exhibit

Chilhuly

They’re also featuring a “Gods and Heroes” exhibit of Renaissance pantings from the Parisian Ecole de Beaux Arts. This museum is open Tues-Sun with a $12 admission fee but it only costs $5 on Thursdays after 5pm.

The Memorial Museum and the Museum of Art can each be seen in an hour and they’re easy walking distance from each other.

After your morning museum, take a walk over to Bricktown, the entertainment district of OKC.

Bricktown OKC

There’s quite a bit to do in this neighborhood including the ballpark where you can watch the RedHawks play and the banjo museum. There’s also a one mile long canal with water taxis and several restaurant options for lunch. I’d recommend Tapwerks with an extravagant beer list including over 200 beers on tap.

Tapwerks

Get a taste of some of Oklahoma’s finest beers in the sampler above (I was partial to the Dead Armadillo) and order a burger made with pure Oklahoma beef. This is a pleasant pub in which to spend an afternoon drinking way too much beer but I’d recommend getting out before that happens and walking down to the Bricktown river landing along the canal where you can see some incredible full sized sculpture commemorating the pioneers crossing the plains.

Bricktown exchange

And catch a river boat up the Oklahoma River.

Riverboat Cruise

This cruise is about 3 hours long in it’s entirety and traverses several miles of the Oklahoma river through a couple of locks where you can watch the mechanisms control the river depth. The boat cabin is air-conditioned and beautifully appointed with little tables and a bar and it’s very soothing just to watch the water drift past. You could take the cruise in a big loop or get off at any of the 4 landings and pick the boat up again on the way back. Each landing costs $6 for adults and $3 for kids.

We stopped at the Exchange landing and went to see Stockyards City, the Western district inside OKC. In nice weather, walk the 2 mile trail along the river from the landing into the city.

Stockyards City

Stockyards City is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the place to buy western wear, saddles, dreamcatchers and turquoise jewelry. It’s also home to the world’s largest cattle market with livestock auctions every Monday and Tuesday morning at 8am. If you want to hang out here and eat dinner, go to Cattleman’s Steakhouse and try a true Oklahoma Steak.

But I’d recommend getting back on the boat and getting off at the Bricktown landing and walking up to Ludivine at Hudson and 7th (or seriously, catch a cab because it’s already been a long day!)

Ludivine menu

It’s a close call as to whether Kitchen 324 or Ludivine is my favorite OKC restaurant. Both are farm to table restaurants that support local farmers and ranchers and serve seasonal food prepared in unpretentious atmospheres.

Ludivine

That’s the roasted striped bass dinner for 2 with seasonal veggies, roasted jalapeños and homemade tortillas.

I think I might come down in favor of Ludivine where the chefs change their menu up daily depending on the market and their bar serves a blue plate special every Monday night for $10 and donates some of the cash to charity. I really enjoyed my meals at this place and I would recommend ordering the bone marrow and then asking the bartender to give you a “bone marrow shot.” Don’t worry about it, just try it! And make sure someone gets video…

If you still feeling like getting out on the town after dinner, go a few streets north to 16th where the Plaza District is revitalizing an old neighborhood.

Plaza District

During the day the vintage stores and one-of-a-kind boutiques in this neighborhood are worth a look and at night Pie Junkie is open until 9pm on Fridays and the recently renovated Lyric Theatre has a year round season including works by new playwrights. If you feel like a nightcap, The Mule is open late and has a great cocktail list.

Fall is the perfect time to visit Oklahoma City. Try some great local food and get a taste of this Southern/Western city!

Kid Friendly Boston

Boston has a lot to offer visiting families. It’s an extremely walking friendly city and the train line – the T – has an extensive web throughout the city. If you’re only in town for a short time, here are some of the high points your kids will enjoy.

The Paramount

Boston is a little bit short on good breakfast places downtown, unless you want to eat at a hotel. Fortunately, The Paramount is situated in the Beacon Hill neighborhood and is open 7 days a week. It’s a tiny place with an open grill so you can eat and watch the cooks at work and they cleverly control the crowds by requiring everyone to stand in line to order food  cafeteria-style before sitting down at a table. The food is fresh and delicious and even crowded I still enjoyed the experience and the breakfast sandwich. Parents can get a mimosa and the banana caramel french toast is pretty incredible.

The surrounding Beacon Hill neighborhood is charming with lots of shopping if you’re up for that; and if you’re staying at a downtown hotel, you probably walked through the Boston Common or the Public Garden on your way to The Paramount.

Boston Common

Take some time before or after breakfast to enjoy this park because it’s small enough to be thoroughly enjoyed in a short time and provides a shady respite from the sun during the Boston summers. The landscaping is lovely, the children’s carousel and the swan boat rides each cost $3 and last about 15 minutes and if your kids were into the book Make Way for Ducklingsthey’ll enjoy seeing the duck statues commemorating the story.

Ducklings

After breakfast and the park, I’d recommend visiting one of Boston’s great museums. Perhaps the Museum of Science?

Science Museum

That’s a huge kinetic sculpture designed like a mousetrap with balls that roll down sliding boards, dislodge clock gears and start chain reactions. It’s also one of the few non interactive exhibits at this Museum of Science, which was designed with elementary and middle school kids in mind. The interactive exhibits include an exploration of nanotechnology, a wind lab, fossils and skeletons to touch and put together, scientific studies on perspective and light projections, a butterfly garden, live animals, map creation and so much more. There’s a lightning show several times a day where high voltage lightning is simulated to demonstrate the principles of electricity. With the IMAX theatre and the planetarium as potential add ons to your admission ticket, it would be easy to spend the whole day here. However, you can also spend a couple of hours, see some highlights and catch a lightning show and be on your way. Tickets will run you between $20-55 per person, depending on how much you want to see, but you get a lot for your money.

Alternatively, you could spend the morning at the Museum of Fine Arts

MFA

The MFA is vast with gorgeous curation, I especially loved these red walls, and a collection of world renowned works by Jackson Pollack, Renoir and Van Gogh. It’s not an easy museum to navigate in a short period of time, however, with stairs and elevators only in a few designated spots; so, if you go, be prepared to spend a couple of hours wandering the floors. Kids under 17 get in free and adult admission costs $25 unless you go on Wednesdays after 4pm when all admission costs are voluntary.

How about lunch?

Back Deck

I like this restaurant called the Back Deck. It’s right by the Boston Opera House, their salmon cobb salad – above – is fantastic as are their grilled chicken wings and their macaroni and cheese. They have an extensive kid’s menu with small salad options and a whole alternative gluten-free menu as well as gigantic windows that they open in good weather so it feels like eating in the open air.

Alternatively, if you want to eat somewhere that’s classic Boston and on a lot of tourist “must see” lists, you could check out this place:

The Union Bar

The Union Oyster House is one of Boston’s oldest restaurants, it’s right on the Freedom Trail and in a beautiful old building . To be honest, I think the main appeal of this place is historical. The building is on the National Historic Register and and they claim to be America’s oldest restaurant, established in 1826. However, their raw oysters come on a plate with no frills and not a lot of care in the preparation (chips of shell in the oysters…) and I haven’t heard many good things about the rest of their food either. I would recommend this place as a novelty visit only or perhaps for a beer in the late afternoon so you can try the Samuel Adams Colonial Ale brewed only for them.

In the afternoon, try one of Boston’s biggest attractions, the Duck Tour:

Duck Tour

You’ll see these rolling boat/trolleys all over Boston, run by two companies, the Duck Tours and the Super Duck Tour. Each company does a driving tour of some historical sites including Faneuil Hall, Boston Common, Copley Square and Qunicy Market and then the trolleys splash into the Boston harbor and become boats so you can continue the tour from the water and see sites like the USS Constitution. We had a great guide on our Super Duck Tour and it was novel to see Boston from land and sea. The tour takes about 90 minutes and tickets range from $22-23 for kids and $33-35 for adults. Check each company’s website to see their itineraries so you can decide what you’d like to see.

Either before or after your Duck Tour, go to the Marriott’s Custom House Tower for the best aerial views of Boston

Clock Tower

There’s a “donation” of $3 to go up into the tower unless you’re a guest of the hotel (the money goes to the Children’s Miracle Network), but the views are worth the price, especially on a sunny day. If you go at 4PM there’s a tour of the clock tower and some historical information included, but you can go up into the tower at any point in the day just to see the city.

I recommend one of my favorite Boston restaurants for diner, the Barking Crab.

Barking Crab

Set in a red and gold striped tent right on the edge of the water, the Barking Crab serves gloriously fresh seafood at long communal picnic tables with rolls of paper towels and paper plates. I had a warm lobster tossed in drawn butter and served on a roll and it was incredible. Families can order whole lobsters, buckets of crab legs or clam bakes that come with chowder, potatoes and corn. This is a super casual restaurant with views of the harbor and it’s one of the best places in town to eat fresh seafood.

Boston has a lot of attractions and this blog features just a small portion of what’s available in town. It’s the perfect city for a families who like historical monuments, buildings and activities and in the summer the weather is beautiful and the water activities are great fun.

A few things in Philadelphia

Some days you get started late and then breakfast happens at noon.

It’s totally ok because Green Eggs Cafe has you covered. They serve breakfast until 4pm, and not just any breakfast but elegant perfectly proportioned breakfast like the pancetta, spinach and sun dried tomato benedict above. The food is delectable, the atmosphere is calm and easy, it’s like Sunday morning but better because it’s Monday afternoon and you have nowhere to be all day. Take your time. Order a tempura fried “twinkie” cake, cream filled homemade sponge cake served with strawberries as an homage to the soon-to-be-vanished-forever (maybe) Hostess twinkie. Breakfast dessert. It’s what I’m saying.

Then because it’s Philadelphia, birth place of our American government, walk off some of the twinkie calories and go visit the Liberty Bell

Yes, it looks exactly like the pictures. Yes, it’s cracked and it will never ring again. Yes, you should see it anyway. As my friend Corey said, “it’s so fitting that we revere an ill-made cracked bell as the symbol of liberty and justice for all.” An imperfect symbol of an imperfect idea but they both endure.

The Liberty Bell Center is built on the foundations of George Washington’s house, with sketched out windows and doorways and views down into the basement where his slaves lived

America has a lot of dirty laundry and it’s good to revisit it every now and then, to take a good look at the past so we don’t repeat it. I think this space is beautifully curated. There’s a lot of information here about the beginnings of the United States and the fight against slavery and it’s winnowed down to some key highlights and displayed well in this architectural format.

Independence Hall is across the road and since you’re right here and it’s free, you should visit. There’s not a lot to recommend the tour since all the rooms in the Hall have been renovated and filled with reproduction furniture but take a second to think about the men that created our constitution in that space. Somehow 13 different colonies all sent representatives and they stayed in these rooms until they’d hammered out an agreement everyone could sign. Imagine that happening now. I can’t. It’s borderline miraculous that we have a working government now, even with all its faults.

Now that you’re overloaded on history, do an abrupt 180 and cleanse your viewing palate with a visit to the Mutter Museum.

Skulls, conjoined twins, preserved human organs in formaldehyde. Yes, not kidding. This is the Museum of Medical Oddities and if ever you’ve wondered what typhoid does to your intestines or how many things people “accidentally” swallow, all your questions and more will be answered in this curious place. I wouldn’t recommend it to kids under 10 but for the rest of you, go visit. To honor the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, there’s an exhibit about fairy tale creatures and how they could actually be real. Fascinating. Also, there are books bound in human skin. I’ve run out of words. Just go check it out.

Now you need a drink? Of course you do

Village Whiskey’s Erin go Bragh flight of Irish whiskeys should be just the thing. It’s not cheap but it is delicious. They serve bar snacks but they’re only ok. It’s really all about the whiskey. And it’s a small little place so don’t bring a big group.

Dinner? Alright then.

How about hot pink walls and all you can eat tacos at Distrito? The neon lighting and funky decor remind me of Boca del Lobo in Quito Ecuador but the food at Distrito is so much better than Boca. Tiny tacos of pollo (ok), carnitas (good), lengua (really good), hongos (amazing) and mahi mahi (mind blowing) just keep coming to the table one after the other. When they say “all you can eat” they really mean it. Check out the wall of lucha libre masks, the swing chairs upstairs and get your picture taken in the taxi car table. This place is really fun and the food is really good. I’m a huge fan.

Now maybe a movie? See Skyfall and watch James Bond go off the reservation and loose his 007 status before roaring back to save the day in the nick of time. He’s getting old, that Bond, but he’s still got it going on. Same goes for Daniel Craig.

More Philly next week. Stay tuned.

In and Around Pittsburgh

If you ask about breakfast in Pittsburgh, you’re going to hear about DeLuca’s

They’re famous for big sloppy piles of diner food and long lines out the door to get at them. There’s nothing fancy here and no attention paid to presentation but the service is fast and warm, the food is good and if you sit at the bar, the cooking show at the grill is quite a sight to behold.

I wouldn’t recommend Bikram directly after this breakfast, but if you want to sweat out some of the calories an hour or so later, try Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh in their big studio space on Penn Ave.

I happened to be in town on the weekend Mary Javis was teaching (one of Bikram’s very first students and now one of his most senior teachers) so I dropped in on her class and 2 hours later we had just completed the standing series. It was intense. She talks a lot. But she lives and breathes Bikram yoga and she’s incredibly approachable and informative. If you get a chance to take her class, do it, and if you get to Pittsburgh, check out this studio. My only complaints are that they don’t encourage water bottles in class (which is rough during a Mary Jarvis class) and their bathrooms and showers aren’t very well laid out so there’s a lot of congestion. Otherwise, it’s a great space.

After a 3 hour Bikram class you’re probably ready for lunch so head over to Meat and Potatoes for a sandwich.

Sit at the bar, talk to the bartender, order the beer of the day and chow down on one of their massive delicious sandwiches. I got the Cuban style torta with smoked pork, pickled cabbage, avocado and cilantro and I couldn’t finish it. I love the whole vibe of this gastropub. It’s got just the right balance of lots of windows, dark wood, open space and mirrors and everything on the menu looks amazing. They open for lunch and their kitchen stays open until midnight, which is perfect for the theatre crowd right across the street.

If you want to stay in town, I’d recommend a trip to the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum near the Warhol (which is also worth a visit). They have a couple of outstanding permanent collections, including this one by Greer Lankton that is by itself worth the price of admission.

Make sure you also walk down Jacksonia street to check out Randyland

and talk to Randy if you get a chance. He’s an interesting guy and he loves visitors.

But really you should get out of town because the most worthy attraction in all of Pennsylvania is only a short drive away.

Fallingwater. One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous houses. There aren’t many online pictures of the interior of this house because they forbid photography during the tours and it’s probably just as well since pictures do it no justice at all. The magic comes in standing inside the living room and looking through floor to ceiling windows at the rushing waters of Bear Run right under you. The narrow hallways and ingenious window tower up the center of the house, the story of how Mr. Kaufmann wanted to build on this location because it’s where he proposed to his wife (Frank Lloyd Wright built their house around the boulder where they stood), the airy guest quarters, the eclectic art work and the thousands of acres of conserved forest all around the house. It’s brilliant and you need to go visit to really get it. Smithsonian magazine named it one of the top 28 locations to visit before you die, so believe them if you don’t believe me.

Even better, on the way to Fallingwater you can stop in at the Big Mac Museum and get your picture taken in front of the 14 foot Big Mac sculpture

Just like I did. There’s also a small display of vintage McDonald’s merch and a timeline of the Big Mac evolution, a sandwich that was “invented” right down the road.

But there’s no need to actually eat a Big Mac, just get all educated about them and then drive back to Pittsburgh for dinner at Sharp Edge Bistro, the Belgian beer bar that isn’t just for beer nerds

Get the mussels with bleu cheese and bacon (amazing) but take a pass on the frites (not quite crispy enough) and have a Palm with it. The bartenders are knowledgable, the glassware array behind the bar is mind boggling and their kitchen stays open late. I’ve also had belgian waffles here that were killer.

For after dinner cocktails I suggest Salt of the Earth, a Kevin Sousa restaurant

Communal tables, an intriguing chalkboard menu taking up one whole wall that lists dishes by their main ingredient, hand mixed cocktails and attentive table service. The bourbon cocktail I had was incredible with hints of apple and cardamom but I didn’t know quite what to make of the food we ordered. I didn’t love anything I tried but I feel that I might have been in the wrong state of mind. I’m intrigued enough to go back for dinner and I unhesitatingly recommend them for drinks and conversation.

And that’s a little taste of Pittsburgh, a town in which I always seem to find something new and interesting whenever I visit. For other suggestions, check out these posts from earlier in the year.

A Day in Washington DC

A few suggestions:

Start with Bikram at Bikram Tysons in McLean Virginia.  They have a large lovely studio that’s just hot enough and big bathroom facilities with 3 showers. Carol led class with just enough fuerza and vigor but without some of the stridency that can accompany the Bikram dialogue. We got icy lavender scented towels during the final savasana and they had a $20/first week special for new students. It was my first class back in about 5 months and I loved it.

Locolat Cafe for Breakfast
Locolat is a Belgian cafe in Adams Morgan specializing in waffles and beer and things you might put on waffles (like smoked salmon and asparagus) or eat while you drink beer (like chocolate). It’s a cute little place with a big glass case of luscious pastries and a very decent Belgian beer list. I’d recommend avoiding the “red hot mimosas,” which were overpriced and badly mixed with cheap champagne but the waffles were stellar and the portion sizes perfect. The service was a bit absent minded but we weren’t in a hurry so it wasn’t an issue. They’re closed on Mondays.

National Postal Museum
When I said “Let’s go to the National Postal Museum!”, 2 friends said “Why?” That’s probably the reaction most of you had . However, you should go anyway and here are the reasons why:

1. It’s free.
2. It’s interesting. Mail has been shockingly important to the building of American communities.
3. The mail trebuchet. Yes, it’s a mail flinging device. No, I won’t describe it. You have to go see it.
4. Washington DC has A LOT of museums. Most of them are focused on art. This one isn’t. It’s worth a visit for that reason alone.
5. It’s small so it won’t take long and you’ll feel interestingly educated afterwards. Plus, stamps are beautiful.

Busboys and Poets for Lunch
Classic Washington DC establishment with a couple different locations. Hipstery, organic, good with the vegetarian/vegan/gluten free selections and also an art gallery/homage to political revolutions. If this is your kind of place, you’ll love it. Come for the paninis, stay for the poetry slam.

Renwick Gallery – Best 40 Under 40 exhibit
2 museums, Kaitlyn? Yeah, I know. But it is DC and there are SO many museums, most of which are worth visiting. I always enjoy the Renwick because it’s the perfect size and can well experienced in under an hour. Their permanent collection is on the top floor and I particularly like the giant salon with pictures hung in groups. If you’re in DC sometime soon, go see this temporary exhibit of the top 40 Craftsman in America under 40 years old for a glimpse into the past and future of American Craftsmanship. Pieces range from a meditation room (definitely go in) to a room covered in knitted pieces called “Knitting is for Pus****” and a set of fierce sculpted metal talon gloves. If this is America’s craft future, I think technology will only become more involved in the artistic process but it won’t replace the need for real artistic technique. That makes me hopeful.

Georgetown Cupcakes for a late afternoon sugar jolt
Is the cupcake craze ever going away? I keep thinking it might but then nothing arises to take it’s place. I’m waiting for the cake pop revolution. Until then, these are the best cupcakes in DC. No question.

The Hamilton for pre dinner drinks
Upscale, classy joint with well mixed drinks and late night food. Makes you feel like maybe you might want to get involved in politics or have an affair with a politician. Very DC.

Firefly for dinner
Part of the GussiedUpComfortFood movement. In a good way. The restaurant interior is charmingly wooded, literally, with a nice tree swing for photo ops. The menu has a great selection of small plates they call Urban Picnic. The deviled eggs were spicy creamy bites of heaven, as were the pimento cheese fritters. I cleansed my palate with a chopped kale salad with smoked pumpkin seeds that was flavorful and with a bright vinaigrette to offset the kale’s natural bitterness. The vegetable risotto with goat cheese might have been the best risotto I’ve ever tasted and I also liked the shrimp and grits, which made up in flavor what it lacked in photogenic appeal. The firefly/outdoor theme was consistent but not overwhelming and they gave us our  check in a little mason jar with a light in it. Cute, right? We got there early and had no trouble getting a table but it filled up quickly so I’d recommend reservations.

For dinner you could also try Burger, Tap and Shake where they serve a Southern Comfort burger with pimento cheese on it and adult ice cream shakes with booze in them. Order the sides to share though, everything’s big here. Or District Commons, which is right next door and has an amazing (though expensive) seafood cobb salad.

Or perhaps EatBar in Arlington for dinner (if you want to get out of the city)
EatBar is the best kind of Gastropub because they have a nice selection of vegetable dishes and over 40 bottles of wine on tap. On tap! The Bang Bang Broccoli was fantastic as were the fried green tomatoes. I’d take a pass on the roasted cauliflower, were I you but definitely try the Cheasapeake Clam Roll (that’s how they spell it. Don’t ask me.) This is a cozy little bar with great food and killer atmosphere. They have movie nights too.

51st State Tavern for post dinner drinks
We watched the election returns here. Can you tell? Foggy Bottom has a fair number of great neighborhood bars and 51st State is one of them. Late night food. Good drink prices. Upstairs/downstairs. Fun times.

I’d also recommend Lindy’s Red Lion home of the beer helmets and sandwiches and chips served on paper plates, Froggy Bottom Pub with it’s sticky floors, basement bar and $6 doubles (more like quadruples…), and Old Ebbitt Grill with the half off raw bar after 11pm.

Now go back to your hotel and get some sleep. You’ve had a busy day!