September 22 – 24: Logroño

2FFEFDAB-A579-4261-97F5-801BF7650B2DSeptember 22: Logroño – 17 miles, 7 hours

Today we try to outsmart the sun and leave early and by 7:15am we are on our way. We’re on a wide path which starts out sloping gently. The sound of my boots crunching on the pebbles underfoot and my hiking poles hitting the ground, as I take each step, lulls me into a meditative state. I hear a pilgrim singing in Spanish as he passes and I am surprised that an hour has already gone by.

The path continues into the Rioja wine region, becomes steeper and continues on and on. I think of the sandwich that we made to eat today and look forward to enjoying it with a Coke. Funny to think that at home, I am neither a sandwich eater nor a soda drinker.

Logroño is celebrating their wine festival this weekend. It was hard to find a place to stay and we are “forced” to stay in a lovely hotel. The Marqués de Vallejo has an edgy vibe and a great location.

The city is in party mode. People of all ages are gathered at every taverna, in, out and overflowing onto the streets.  Children play with their toys against the buildings. Parents rock baby carriages with one foot, as they handle a glass of wine in one hand, tapas in the other and don’t miss a beat of the conversation. Young and old fill the small streets that look like alleyways. There is such a feeling of joy and happiness in the air. Bands appear from nowhere and impromptu play, as we all clap and dance, following them down the street like the pied piper.

September 23: Logroño- Rest Day

I can hardly walk today. My right knee is in pain. Truth is, yesterday I felt a twinge, then an ache as I walked. There was nothing to do, but keep going or be air lifted out. I felt sad, angry and frustrated as I forced myself to continue on. I am the one that worked out hard five or six days a week in preparation, including adding 50 deep knee bends to my regimen. I always warm up each morning and am so cautious of the terrain. Why me?

The hotel recommends a clinic and we taxi there after breakfast. It’s quiet, with only a few well-dressed people there, none that look ill. The doctor’s diagnosis translates as having knee pain due to over effort. I am told to rest, take an anti-inflammatory drug for five days and should be fine by then. Surprisingly, they are willing to bill my insurance company directly. In less than an hour we are back at our hotel, scratching our heads and wondering what to do now.

I force Mr. Wiz* to go exploring and leave me to write, read and sleep. He surprises me with a compression sleeve for my knee and by seeking out our favorite restaurant when we visited here in 2016. I hobble to Pasion Por Ti, hanging on to him, and we enjoy a wonderful three course meal with a bottle of wine, water and bread for 18 euro each ($21.50), forgetting for a while that many decisions still need to be made.

September 24: Logroño- Still here

We decide to stay one more night to give us time to plan. How lucky that we are in a hotel, rather than an albergue, which does not allow multiple night stays, And, we are also glad to find out that since the wine festival is over, the nightly rate has gone down by 40%.

I’m feeling a bit better, but not great. We breakfasts close by, then sit in a beautiful park and watch the world go by. We head back to the hotel and go into hyper mode, trying to figure out our next move.

We both have a strong feeling that we should stay on the Camino route. I suggest that Mr Wiz walk each day and I meet him by bus. He is adamant that he will not leave my side, so we agree that we’ll head to Burgos tomorrow for a couple of days and take it from there, This is not the Camino we had planned, but we have no choice now but to watch it unfold.

 

* Who’s who? See “Cast of  Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

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September 14 – 17: St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Zubieri, Spain

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Main street – St. Jean Pied de Port, France

September 14: St. Jean Pied de Port, France

This ancient capital of the Basque region nestled in the Pyrenees is a welcoming place to start, The storybook village is crowded with pilgrims from all over the world, excited to begin their adventure.

We stay at the Beilari, one of the many albergues in town, except that this one comes with a recommendation. Albergues are hostels run exclusively for pilgrims, who show their pilgrim passport and receive a stamp (a lovely souvenir by the end of the trip).

All 22 guests are greeted warmly, settle in and later we all congregate around the long, wood dining tables. Our host serves us a glass of port and asks us to introduce ourselves, say where we live and why we are doing the Camino. We are from the U.S., France, Malta, Brazil and Australia and we immediately feel a deep connection to each other.

We set the table together as our host tells us that for this night only, we are a family and will share a home cooked meal together. Impressively, he repeats this all in English, French and Spanish and tells us that he plans to learn German during the off season.

We are told not to set alarms and the next morning awaken to the sounds of a Gregorian chant. After sharing breakfast, we head out together on our first day.

September 15: Orisson, France- 7 miles, 3 hours

It’s a strenous, uphill walk, so we plan to stop in the albergue in Orisson before continuing through the Pyrenees tomorrow.

We sit outside all afternoon, delighting in the travel stories from our newfound friends from the U.S., Switzerland and Australia, even though traveling through India on a motorcycle and hiking in Nepal are not on our bucket list.

Before dinner we are asked to, once again, introduce ourselves, which seems to give you as much insight into others as it does to yourself. I fall asleep wishing I could have given all 38 new members of my new one night family a group hug.

September 16:  Roncesvalles, Spain- 9 miles, 5 hours

This is so much better than our 2016 experience; it’s not raining, the trail is better and the rooms at the monestery have been renovated.

It’s a long, uphill climb, but the scenery is breathtaking and the only sound you can hear is the occasional cow bell. I have a sudden urge to run through the hills, twirling around and singing the words to “The Sound of Music”, but suddenly remember the Camino golden rule: never take an extra step that is not necessary.

There are two bunk beds to a cubicle and we are sharing it with a French couple that speak no English. My French friend and I soon find something we have in common; we both keep hitting our heads on the top bunk, laugh and high five each other.

We enjoy another home cooked dinner, then a big group of us gather to toast a U.S. couple celebrating their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary.

September 17: Zubieri- 14 miles, 6 hours

Of course, things could always be worse. Last time it rained, but today it’s hot and the shale, tree roots and loose rock make the path unrelentingly difficult as we trudge uphill and then descent, over and over again.

At our albergue Palo de Avellano, we meet an older couple who left from their front door in Germany and are now heading home.

Two Tylenol and one power nap later, I am ready for a glass of wine. At the bar, we are invited to join a woman from Holland sitting alone and then run into a couple from Texas.

At dinner, we’re seated next to five men from Denmark who met when they were six years old and travel together once a year. We laugh and talk, almost forgetting that it’s lights out at 10 pm.

Hawaii: Party Like a Millennial

Photo Hawaii

You’ve got to love those millennials. They work hard and they play hard. They are fiercely loyal to family and friends. I’m not sure when they actually sleep, but they always look as if they have just walked out of the pages of a trendy fashion magazine, with not a hair out of place. They have an air of confidence about them and are sometimes blamed for being a bit too self-absorbed. Given the fact that they are the first generation to have so much technology at their fingertips, they are not entirely to blame.

According to Forbes Magazine “…No generation has been as publicly reviled, praised, misunderstood and analyzed as the millennials. And, with good reason. By 2025, millennials (also known as Gen Y or those born in the 80s and 90s), will make up the majority of the workforce…”

Having a millennial for a son and getting to know his wonderful group of friends so well, I feel as if I can speak with knowledge and can safely say that they are a powerful force to reckon with and that I would like to be a millennial when I grow up.

So, it was with much excitement and delight that we (Mr. Wiz*, JC* and I) accepted the invitation to join Big A*, his best friend, Casey and his wife, Hannah, on a trip to Hawaii. The trip would coincide with the Maui Invitational, a basketball tournament in which their alma mater, Marquette University, would be participating. As luck would have it, Casey had lived in Hawaii for a time while growing up, so he would be our official tour guide.

I have to say that I felt flattered that they would want to include us on their adventure. But, then again, JC (aka Nanny and affectionately renamed Nene during this trip after the state bird, the Hawaiian goose) was the titleholder at the beer pong championships held during Marquette’s Family Weekend, back in 2011. Mr. Wiz and I were just riding along on her coattails.

Never having traveled together, we soon found that we were all on the same wave length and really enjoyed each other’s company. The six of us were a well-oiled machine, flying from island to island, making our daily plans and then heading out each day.

In Oahu (Honolulu), we strolled Kalakaua Avenue (Hawaii’s answer to New York’s upper Fifth Avenue) and stopped for a drink at the Moana Surfrider, the island’s elegant, historic hotel. As we listened to the live Hawaiian music, we watched the lovely dancer and the palm trees sway in unison. We toured Pearl Harbor and shed a tear for the lives lost that day. We left our hotel at 6 a.m. to hike Diamond Head and watch the sun rise. Nene opted to explore around the hotel instead and we teased her that she missed all of her favorite things: uneven terrain, plenty of steps and drizzle once we reached the top. Big A did all the driving in our rental car, Casey was the navigator and Hannah was the culinary consultant, making sure we did not miss any of her favorites. We shared in Casey’s excitement as he made sure we saw all the sites, including where he had lived and where he went to school. We jumped in the waves at his preferred beaches, ate at his favorite restaurants and gasped at the amazing views from the lookout points he liked the best.

Kauai is known as “the garden isle” and our hotel, the Kauai Marriott Resort, lived up to its expectations. The exquisite art and sculptures shared the peaceful harmony with the lush grounds and gardens. We fed the koi fish at their early morning feeding in the hotel’s pond. We toured the island by car and agreed with Casey that the charbroiled burgers at Dwayne’s were the best we’d ever had. After visiting the lighthouse and another of his favorite beaches, we strolled through the little town of Kapa’a. We snorkeled off a catamaran and were surprised to hear Capt. Jim thank Hannah over the loud speaker for reminding him to play the theme from Jurassic Park when we passed by its filming locations. There was not a peep from our fellow passengers when the captain asked if anyone could name the state fish of Hawaii. Big A enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame and won a T shirt when he was able to answer the question correctly and respond with humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.

In Maui, while Nene and I stayed poolside (I actually broke my own record, making 12 consecutive trips down the big slide), the others were up early to attend the Marquette basketball games. Fortified with a breakfast of champions, POG Mimosas (passion fruit, orange and guava juices with Champagne), they cheered for their team, who ultimately came in third. We met more of their friends later at the Marquette luau.

On our last day, back in Oahu (Honolulu), we started our turkey less Thanksgiving with a bloody mary brunch, one last swim at the beautiful Lanakai Beach and a short drive to some last spots on Casey’s list.

I’m still not sure how we were able to keep up with the younger three of the group as they ate and imbibed their way through each day. Casey made sure that we tried all of his favorite Hawaiian specialties. I may have shied away from the Musubi (Spam sushi), but I eagerly ate the poke (seasoned raw ahi tuna), edamame (seasoned soybean pods), purple sweet potatoes, butter fish and pork. Casey made a special stop to make sure that we all tried one of Hannah’s favorites, Meat Jun, a thin, batter fried steak. At breakfast, I tasted the Loco Moco (rice, beef patty, eggs over easy, brown gravy and avocado) and feasted on macadamia nut pancakes and fried rice with eggs and Portuguese sausage.

Sometimes forgetting that lunch had already presented itself with a mai tai opportunity, it was Nene that would remind us each day that cocktail hour was approaching. Our biggest dilemma was where and when. We finally realized that we should be buying some wine in order to save on expenses, especially when most of the group were gathering around the fire pit for nightcaps each evening after dinner.

A group meeting was called one late morning before a flight to discuss what was to become of the two bottles of wine somehow leftover. While ideas ranged from pouring the contents into plastic water bottles, drawing straws and having the loser pack the wine and check their bag to just giving it away, Casey came up with a simple solution: let’s just drink it. We all stepped into action as Hannah, who, after asking for plastic cups each evening had a special relationship with the bar staff, ran for cups, Nene and I secured a lovely table with a view, Big A found us six chairs and Mr. Wiz retrieved the ever-present corkscrew from his shave kit. As luck would have it, we were three white wine and three red wine drinkers. We toasted to Casey and the fact that his MBA was important, not only to his career, but to his cognitive decision-making skills in the cocktail category. Nene slept all the way and said it was the fastest 45-minute flight she had ever experienced.

During this trip, we were introduced to some interesting millennial rituals. One night at dinner, we shared a novel experience called credit card roulette, whereby everyone at the table throws their credit cards into a bowl. Then, with lots of fanfare, the waitress picks out the cards one by one. The last one left pays for dinner.

Based on my personal observations, these bon vivants live fast and get all they can out of each day, only slowing down for social media updates. They are hard wired for this life and consider its pace natural. And while I need complete silence in order to concentrate, I know that we all share that same joie de vivre.

While we all wished we could just keep island hopping until our credit cards exploded, all good things must come to an end and our airline tickets dictated that it was back to reality for us all. As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but smile to think that the only Gap that existed between our generations was that we would choose to shop in-store, while our three millennials would always purchase online.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Only: Nashville

Photo Nashville

It was actually JC’s* Idea. Since Mr. Wiz* and Big A* would be totally absorbed in the Formula One Races in Austin for the weekend, she thought it would be a great idea to introduce my sister, Maria, and me to the Nashville she had fallen in love with on her first visit.

The capital of Tennessee, Nashville, seems to be changing its tune. Still known as the Country Music Capital and as Dolly Parton’s stomping ground, there’s now an energetic hum to the city.

It was one of seven U.S. cities to be chosen to begin a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network. Innovative companies are finding its environs a less expensive, friendlier alternative. Foodies flock there in search of the next great new restaurant. New luxury hotels are springing up while historic buildings and neighborhoods are being revitalized. The city’s new slick sophistication remains in harmony with its long-standing southern charm and welcomes you with open arms.

We can’t wait to put on our cowboy boots and see the town, but it’s too early to check in to our hotel. We leave our luggage at the front desk and decide to reconnoiter in the lobby and plan our day. As we are chatting, we notice a well-dressed woman walk toward two of our suitcases, grab their handles and start walking out the front door of the hotel.

JC and Maria sprang to action! They jumped up and ran after the woman, who halted immediately when she heard Maria yell “…Hold it right there! …” There is something about a New York accent that means business. As little girls growing up in a suburb of New York City, we were trained to always be attentive to what was going on around us and to take care of ourselves. On our 18th birthday, our dad gave each of us Mace spray in the size of a lipstick container to carry in our handbags; an emotional right of passage that gave my dad great comfort in knowing that messing with his daughters would result in stinging eyes and being splashed with blue dye.

Apparently, I was the only one that noticed the well-dressed woman’s name tag. So, as the third member of this Keystone Cops comedy, I began running behind them to make sure that they did not tackle the hotel’s manager.

While it took us two days to be able to make eye contact with the hotel staff, our convulsive laughter set the tone for a great time together. Surprised, yet undaunted to find out that neither Maria nor I had any sense of direction (what other sisterly secrets would be revealed?)  JC took over the navigating and we were off.

We enjoyed a free outdoor big band concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We were startled by the sweet-faced youth of Johnny Cash while he was stationed in Europe during World War II in a special exhibit of private photos shared by his family at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Germantown, originally established by European immigrants, has the same vibe as New York’s Greenwich Village and we still cannot decide which entrée was our favorite at Henrietta Red: the braised lamb with pole beans and polenta, the scallops with pistachios, beets, Granny Smith apples, kale and couscous or the cauliflower steak smothered with hazelnut, scallions, shitake mushrooms and nicoise olives.

According to JC, there were two things not to be missed while in Nashville: a mansion tour and an evening at the Grand Ole Opry and she surprised us by planning both. How President Andrew Jackson progressed from a 14-year old orphan to a man of so many accomplishments made his mansion, Hermitage, even more impressive. Though built around the same time, its décor was so much more modern than the Victorian design of the Belle Meade plantation. Known for its horse breeding, racing and deer farm, the original 5400-acre estate became a tourist attraction. So much so that on occasional Sunday mornings, the lady of the house would sneak out and post a hand written closed sign on the front gates for some needed peace and quiet. Touring the homes, then having the time to walk the grounds made the docents’ stories come alive.

It was a Tuesday night and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the Grand Ole Opry. A new band, Lanco, was introduced and we wondered how they felt playing for the first time on that famous stage. We tapped our feet and sang along with Trisha Yearwood and Kelsea Ballerini and were surprised to see all 4 foot 6 inches of special guest, Brenda Lee “strut her stuff” around the stage.

One of Nashville’s biggest draws are the country music honky-tonks on Broadway. While many cities have an area where bars and restaurants line the streets and the musicians play loudly on a stage, open to their patrons inside and to the street, Nashville does it with a style all their own. It’s more fun than seedy and everyone from families to seniors to bachelorette parties and every age group in between share in the revelry.

We seemed to be drawn to Nudie’s Honky Tonk daily. Named after Nudie Cohn, a famous clothing designer (think Elvis’ gold lame suit), the historic building houses many of the costumes Nudie designed, rare music memorabilia and Nudie’s $400,000 Cadillac El Dorado hanging from the wall. But, it was the music and the great bands that transfixed us. We danced and sang at night and then found ourselves back during the day. By the way, each time we’d arrive, JC was quickly led to the dance floor by another admirer!

Only in Nashville can you be sitting on a park bench one minute and then see Kenny Rogers ride right by you in a golf cart the next. We agreed that was a great way to end our visit. We chalked up our newfound feeling of relaxation and our mother/daughter/sister bonding to all that dancing and to singing “Sweet Home Alabama” multiple times together at the top of our lungs. Those southerners really know how to have a good time.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

Visiting Bryan/College Station: Trendy with a Texas Twang

Photo Bryan Coll Sta

I’m feeling a bit confused. I’m still not sure how I went from wishing for a place the four of us (Mr. Wiz*, Big A*, JC*and I) could go over the July Fourth holiday that was not in the $500 – $700 per night price range and landing at The Stella Hotel, a five star, Preferred Hotel with Frette sheets for a little over $100 a night. I think it was a combination of my positive thinking and JC’s suggestion that we take the lead from a recent Austin Monthly article and visit Bryan/College Station.

The home of Texas A&M University, over 66,000 students swell the city’s population during the school year. We wondered why these two neighboring cities were all of a sudden exploding with all types of development; why now? Apparently, social media had opened the doors to all of the campus sporting events and the general public accepted its invitation. Lucky for us, we were visiting offseason.

The Stella Hotel just opened in April and still smells new. The décor has that wow factor. The mixed use of materials, the textures and the interesting touches (saddle bags and iron I-beams mounted on the walls) all send out a sophisticated, yet edgy vibe. We were greeted by the sports jacket and jean clad staff who all had names like Parker and Morgan (no need to apply here if your name is Joe or Sue), who worked from their iPads, rather than standing behind the usual counter; very cool.

Outside was a man-made lake, two swimming pools, a golf course and a series of paths that led to a residential development of mega homes. The sprawling lawn was so welcoming, set up with assorted games, a fire pit, chairs and tables. Complimentary bicycles and paddle boards awaited our use at the front entrance.

JC acted as the official judge, as we filled our afternoons with pool races and seeing who could do the best hand stand in the water (some things never change). In preparation for the Scrabble championship (with a money prize to make it more interesting) and paddle board competition that I had planned, I tried to psych out Big A by boasting that I had trained on a paddle board while reading a dictionary. It didn’t work; he was the big winner of both contests.

In between, we visited the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and the Messina Hof Winery. Though the Campfire Restaurant at the hotel was in the running, we all agreed that our favorite dinner was at Christopher’s World Grille. The renovated historic home was rated one of the top 100 romantic restaurants in the U. S. by Trip Advisor. The next day, the fans and misters kept us cool as we listened to live music on the porch of the Hullabaloo Diner, a transplanted 1940s New York diner. As we waited for our table, we agreed that this was what Sundays were made for.

I’m not sure what Texas’ secret is; it could be the warm weather or everyone’s laid back style, but it has a way of reminding you to slow down. It gave our little family the chance to enjoy each others company and regroup. We all left feeling relaxed and pampered. I felt a bit more hip and happy to have another family adventure to tuck into my memory belt.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Helping to Keep Austin Weird  

Photo Weird

I’m too excited to sleep. I blame you for this, Austin; you overstimulate me. You work hard to maintain your city’s official slogan “Keep Austin Weird” by tantalizing me with the bizarre, the off-beat, and you keep peaking my curiosity. And now that you have recently been named the best place to live in America by U.S. News and World Report, there will be no stopping you.

As I reflect on my first year of living here, it’s been a great ride, made up of interesting experiences that I am not sure could or would have happened anywhere else:

Central Market

On arrival, we need to get our bearings and Mr. Wiz* has a plan. Having visited a Central Market in Houston (shop at this gourmet marketplace on steroids, then dance to live music at night), he logically reasons that locating the Austin store will lead us to a great neighborhood, so he’ll ask at their information desk. Pointing out that the staff may be more prepared to locate a product by aisle than to relocate us, I decide to wait in the car. A few minutes later, I am surprised to see a woman in a cowboy hat and boots walk out of the store with Mr. Wiz and shake his hand. He had seen her on line at the information desk and perused her shopping cart. Noticing an excellent wine selection, he decided to ask her where we should live. He was not surprised at all that she enthusiastically lauded her neighborhood and pointed him in the direction of a new building. We signed a lease there two days later.

Pints and Poses

The Hyatt Hotel and I have accomplished the impossible; we got Mr. Wiz* to attend a monthly yoga class. Studies have proven that if you offer a guy a free beer, he will happily execute a downward dog pose, no questions asked. In the spirit of community (turns out that yoga and beer are great conversation starters), the hotel offers complimentary parking, a yoga class and a glass of craft beer.

Chicken S**t Bingo

The unassuming Little Longhorn Saloon is a tiny place that looks more like a church with a steeple than a bar. The band is loud, the beer is cold and the place is packed, both inside and out. It’s a Sunday afternoon and my family is still shocked that this was my birthday destination of choice. I explain to them that this is a famous venue and we’re going to be experiencing a bit of the original Austin. While we visit the chickens and chat with Ginny, “the chicken whisperer,” we learn that the afternoon will include “chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat.” The $2 ticket has a number on it and will get you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. I’m sure that these chickens have their SAG cards; they are real professionals. They strut around the table, working the room into a cheering frenzy. As luck would have it, the chicken leaves her “mark” on my number and I am the winner of $115 in cash!

Keep Austin Weird Festival

We had so much fun last year volunteering to assist with the 5K check in that we decide to do it again. Known as the “Slowest 5K Race on the Planet,” everyone is welcome to participate and a bizarre costume will win you a prize. Young, old, babies in strollers and dogs all strut their stuff and stop along the way at different stations for beverages (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), ice cream and activities. At the festival, I cheered on aardvarks as they raced and chatted with a woman in a mermaid costume, who explained the story of her tattoos to me.

Weird Homes Tour

I am very excited for tour day to come and even more so now, since I am the winner of 2 VIP tickets that include the tour and the after-party. By the end of the day, we will have driven 90 miles all over Austin, investigating homes that range from a bucolic wonderland in a nature preserve, with quotes from Emily Dickinson poems written over the doorways and pastoral views out every French door to a series of domes lovingly pieced together into an artist’s retreat, rumored to have special healing powers to a traditional home on the outside and a Feng Shui inspired home on the inside with a red velvet lounge room and a royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat-screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood, gaping at the TV).

The owners of the next group of homes, self-confessed pack rats, delighted in the fact that they were living in a never to be completed work of art. Whether it was a police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, doll heads under glass, a wall of salt and pepper shakers, a lamp made from a 1950s salon hair dryer or a hollowed-out armadillo containing guest washcloths, each treasure had a story. Chatting with the enthusiastic homeowners, who were so warm and welcoming, I left the day wondering if there was any room in my perfectionist personality for a little eccentricity. Sensing Mr. Wiz’s concern over the souvenirs I collect during the day, I ease his worries and announce that I am not adopting hoarding tendencies any time soon.

We arrive at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after-party. It’s a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. The surreal setting is right out of a Fellini film: a barefooted band plays on a carpeted stage; as if on cue, a dog drops a deflated ball at the feet of guests, prompting them to throw it on to the stage for him to chase; scantily dressed acro-yoginis glide up yards of silk fabric and perform above our heads. A cocktail seems in order, even though the professionally dressed bar staff looks out of place. We laughingly imagine that this is probably just another day for the owner; waking up to coffee in the morning and greeting some hangers-on at the bar (with bar staff still in uniform) and waving to the overhead performers that continue all day long. Hungry, we peruse the snacks. While, protein is always welcome, tonight it is in the form of bags of flavored crickets and mealy worms. We grab some regular popcorn and eagerly await some daring guests to taste them and offer a critique. We learn from the more adventurous that anything crunchy with a barbecue flavor is edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka.

Austin, you give me the same feeling that I experienced whenever my grandmother would open her coat and let me snuggle in with her. You opened up your big, warm, wonderful, weird arms to me. Your people are so friendly and so welcoming. Sure, the temperature heats up, but living here makes me feel so cool. You have that big city vibe with the twang of Texas mixed in. You seem to bring out the best in me and I feel like this is where I am supposed to be. I only hope I can continue to do my civic duty and generate an accepted level of weirdness.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

Doing the Big D with Big A  

Photo Big D

Happy Birthday, Big A*!

One month after his 28th birthday, our Bon Vivant was finally going to be at home for a weekend, so we (Mr. Wiz*, JC* and I) head to Dallas to celebrate. We take our festivities seriously; after much research and many emails and texts, we come up with our food-centric itinerary. Here are some of the weekend’s highlights:

Friday

The driving rain on our arrival did not deter us and we opt for a visit to the Dallas Museum of Art. We’re already impressed that the general admission is free, but then Jack, the elderly greeter at the entrance, quickly sizes us up, suggests we go see the Coco Chanel exhibit and we are transfixed. Five rooms from Coco Chanel’s Monaco home, Villa Pausa, have been painstakingly recreated in the museum. Once she married the Duke of Westminster, this was to be their home. When plans changed, she kept the house, but always felt a twinge of sadness for what might have been. The home was reborn when Dallas art collectors, Emery and Wendy Reves renovated it and hosted their most famous guest, Winston Churchill, who adopted it as his second home. Investigating all the nooks and crannies and reading all the personal letters and detailed descriptions of their lives there made for a lovely afternoon.

Big A’s furniture looks great in his new apartment. I particularly like his bedroom barn door. He surprises us with hors d’ oeuvres and serves us our favorite wine. A few toasts later, we’re off to Stampede 66 for dinner. We enjoy the braised beef short ribs and honey fried chicken as we peruse the décor, a mix of Texas whimsy and sophistication. Metal horse sculptures surround the TV monitors that feature a rodeo. I’m fascinated by a wall of wooden plaques with the names of Texas towns such as Looneyville and Dicey.

Saturday

It takes a lot to get Big A up and out early on a Saturday, so we are all in when he suggests we meet at 10:15 a.m. to stand in line for lunch at the Pecan Lodge. When lines started to form at their farmers market stall, the young business couple turned caterers knew they had an award-winning barbecue recipe and opened a restaurant. We eat a little of almost everything on the menu and agree the collard greens are the best we’ve ever had. Fortified, we walk around Deep Ellum, the revitalized warehouse district now full of shops, bars, restaurants and music venues.

With Big A as our guide, we get a tour of Dallas. Most people still remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot and the big X on the street marking the spot brings back a flood of memories. We play classical music on the radio as we drive through the Turtle Creek and Highland Park neighborhoods to view the mansions.

Leave it to JC to be the life of the party when she announces that in honor of Big A’s birthday, we will be having cocktails at the Petroleum Club, a private club on the 39th floor of Chase Tower. How did she make this happen? It all started the month prior, when she danced with a spry, 90 year-old retired doctor who mentioned the Austin Club, a private social club housed in a historic building in downtown Austin. Before you could say “sign-me-up,” JC had researched the club, texted me to see if Mr. Wiz and I were available for a complimentary lunch and a tour of the facility (we were!) and then proceeded to join. Now, as a member, she receives reciprocal privileges at dozens of clubs across the country.

The evening continued with dinner at St. Martin Wine Bistro, named one of the top 10 most romantic restaurants by Trip Advisor. We dined on grilled rack of lamb under a twinkling chandelier as we listened to the live piano music and toasted to a great day.

Sunday

According to D Magazine, we are brunching at one of the best spots in Dallas. Boulevardier is a French bistro, simple in décor but complex in flavors. I still dream about the 2 dishes that JC and I shared: the Prospector’s Breakfast (crispy oysters and arugula atop an open face omelette made with housemade bacon) and the Legs and Eggs (a crispy duck leg with sunny-side-up eggs served on stone ground grit cakes with huckleberry preserves). Not wanting to miss anything in this eclectic neighborhood, we head out for a walk-in the historic Bishop Arts District. The store displays are so incredible, we’re not surprised when signs ask that no photos be taken.

There is work to be done, so we head back to Big A’s. Mr. Wiz helps Big A hang some pictures, while JC and I head to the pool to relax. The boys find us one hour later, sound asleep in the shade. It’s Big A’s first time at the pool and I sense a look of panic on his face when I tell him that I’d be happy to introduce him to all of his neighbors that I’ve met (Millennials, no sense of humor!).

We head out on foot to explore Big A’s neighborhood, Knox-Henderson. The area is bustling; every restaurant, bar and shop is busy! Not sure if JC will want to climb all the stairs to a rooftop bar, I discreetly ask the waiter is there is an elevator (there isn’t). It’s then that I notice JC, who has already sprinted up the staircase, yelling down to ask me if I am all right. Big A is determined to have me taste a drink he thinks that I will love and by the end of the day, Deep Eddy Red Grapefruit Vodka, club soda and lime is my new fav.

Our dinner reservation is at a neighborhood restaurant, right down the block. Gemma has received rave reviews for the husband and wife team’s concept of sophisticated dining in a relaxed atmosphere. The blue and white décor combined with the professional wait staff’s control over the dining room create a tranquil setting. We liked the braised rabbit pappardelle and the chicken porchetta the best and were glad we shared 3 entrees (our secret for not overeating).

We say goodbye to Big A and head out of Dallas the next morning, determined to eat only lettuce leaves and ramp up our workouts for the next couple of days. We know we’ll be hungry for another visit soon. There are still lots of restaurants and sights we missed this time around and we want to check them off our list before Big A moves again.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.