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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

Marsha and Matt Take Manhattan

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This was a trip where the stars truly aligned.  After a lot of searching and effort, we got tickets to both Hamilton and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  So off we went to New York, New York.

Okay, here is the answer to the question everyone asks.  How did we get tickets to Hamilton?  Well, it is not that you can’t get tickets.  What you cannot get are tickets at the regular price unless you are willing to wait about a year.  My policy is that I do not buy anything a year in advance.  My life changes too much, my mind changes too much, to make that kind of commitment.  Heck, for all I know, in a year I could be living in Tahiti.  (I wish.)  But there are plenty of tickets for sale by resellers. The issue then becomes, how much are you willing to pay?  My answer was, not more than I ever paid to see Prince.  Plus, you need to be flexible and be willing to go on a Wednesday or some off-day.  Forget the weekend.

I went on-line and started going through the tickets for sale day-by-day, month-by-month until I found two we could afford.  Some of the tickets were going for as much as $1000 a piece.  Yeah, I am not paying that kind of money.  I have some dignity and I am not going to be extorted.  I finally found tickets that were under $300 a piece, which was a bargain.

Having secured those, I started shooting for Colbert tickets.  Why not try to do both?  Getting tickets to Colbert is not an easy task either.   I had applied for tickets many times and so I started searching every day to see if a date had opened.  Finally, one night as we were enjoying our after dinner repast, and I was playing on my iPad, they let me into the queue and I got them.  It worked.  See, the stars did align.

But wait, there’s more.  We love a good meal.  I’m very much into table pounding a la Harry Met Sally when something is gosh darn good.  When we last visited New York, we had dinner at The Modern, the restaurant associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.  It had good reviews and we are foodies so we decided to try it.  The food was surprising and imaginative and our taste buds were most pleased.  So we thought, let’s go again.  Turns out the chef had left and started his own restaurant–Gabriel Kruether.  Well, Gabriel darling, we made reservations and we are on our way.

And let us not forget Aquavit, our favorite Nordic restaurant.  After our trip to Norway we became fans of Nordic cuisine, and we have eaten there many times.  So we had to stop there too.

Plans all made, we set off on a cold February day riding the train to New York for a four day holiday.

First stop, Colbert.  Hey, there we are on the telly:

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There are very strict rules about attending one of these shows.  We have to get in line to get a ticket and a hand stamp, even though we already have reservations.  Then we are told to return at a specific time and if we are not there, we are out, even with a ticket. Then we get into another line and wait and wait and wait.  The first line is interminable.  The show tapes at five.  We start standing in line at around two.  It is raining and cold and miserable. We are early enough that we are standing under the theater awning so we are not soaked but after two hours, the toes are decidedly frosty.  But we persevere.  We go away and come back at the appointed hour.  We get in line again.  When they finally let us in, we stand some more.  Finally, doors open and we end up pretty close to the stage.

So what happens?   It starts with a comedian warming up the audience.  A not very funny comedian who seems to be a throw back to the 1950s.  He is actually telling ethnic jokes about the Irish.  Um, okay. This guy’s job is to get the audience fired up.  We practice yelling and cheering.

Next Colbert comes out for a Q & A.  They tell you not to ask him any personal questions.  He takes my question.  I am so excited.  Actually, I have a comment.  I tell him that I really think he could be the next Johnny Carson but he needed to have someone from a zoo bring an animal to maybe pee on his head.  Then he’d really be Carson.  (I will never ever forget that Carson moment.) Yes, I suggest that Colbert have an animal pee on his head.  He makes a joke about my comment, he is flattered that I compared him to Carson, and that was that.  Then Jon Batiste and the band come out to play some for us.  The show starts, Stephen comes on and we watch a t.v. show being made.  It is all over in about 90 minutes.  The entire ordeal took about six hours.

We have reservations for a late dinner at Aquavit.  I opt for the three course traditional Nordic meal, which, of course, includes house-cured herring and potatoes.  It ends up being about seven courses after they brought all of the chef’s surprises like porcini mushroom soup with rabbit and a venison tartar with a raw quail egg.  We pair dinner with an aquavit flight.  What is aquavit?   A Norwegian spiced liquor, a vodka or whiskey depending on whether it is made from grains or potatoes.  Linje Aquavit is by far the best and most traditional.  In the olden days of yore, sailors would put the aquavit in casks and take it with them around the world. They realized this process gave it a more complex flavor.  So Linje mimics that by putting their aquavit into oak casks and giving it a world tour on a ship traveling to the far reaches of the Pacific and back.  The aquavit matures with help from the gentle rocking of the ship.  I assume the house-made aquavit we were tasting did not go around the world on a ship but it was still tasty.  Three shots of it and I am feeling pretty good.

After dinner, simply stuffed to the gills, we flag a taxi and head back to the hotel to begin planning for our next adventure–Hamilton.

Here is the other answer to the often asked question about Hamilton, is it really that good?  Yes. Yes, it is.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  In fact, Hamilton has ruined musicals for us.  As Matt says, there is a time before-Hamilton and a time after-Hamilton. For example, we recently saw Evita at the local theater.  Yikes!  So BH.  Now that we are AH, that musical just does not meet the test for a great musical.  I am not sure if it ever did.  But I can say that, after Hamilton, it seemed flat and dull.

The theater where Hamilton plays is quite small,  built at a time when men must have been as tall as James Madison.  Matt, like most other men in the theater, is squeezed into the seat, knees practically under his chin.  I am even uncomfortable. But the music and the story are so engrossing, we just ignore it.  The show is a three hour extravaganza of music–pop, rap, traditional musical numbers. It has it all.  It is just exhilarating to watch.  Yes, watching two men have a free-style rap off (if that is what it is called) about how to pay for the debts of the States after the Revolutionary War is ridiculously fun.  We are watching the original cast, too.  Afterward, we walk back to the hotel happy about what we have just witnessed and vowing to see it again someday.

And now the day had come for us to dine with Chef Gabriel.  We save ourselves all day for the tasting menu extravaganza that is to come.  We are warned the tasting menu takes three hours and has twelve courses.  Twelve?  Bring it on.  It has it all.  Fois gras, caviar, venison, lobster, and more.  It ends up being more like fourteen courses with the add-ons.  Once again, groaning as we leave the table, we waddle back to the hotel.  We must have consumed two days worth of calories in that one meal.

The next day we packed our bags and headed home, another adventure coming to an end.

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Marsha and Matt go to Sweden

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The aurora over Mt. Nuolja and the Aurora Sky Station

In January, as a blizzard was bearing down on Washington D.C., Matt and I flew away from the two feet of snow that was on the way and headed to Sweden to see the Northern lights.  Seeing the Northern Lights is not an easy thing.  Seeing any natural phenomenon is very hard and planning a vacation around an attempt to see a phenomenon can be risky.

So I did what every modern dreamer does.  I searched the internet  for the best places to see the aurora.  A place in Sweden, Abisko National Park, kept coming up.  Sweden?  Not Norway or Iceland?  No.  Abisko.  Why?  The theory is that Abisko is located in an area with a microclimate that creates a very good chance of clear skies. Abisko is also in Swedish Lapland, far north of the Arctic Circle and very near Sweden’s northern border with Norway.  So we were pretty sure it was going to be dark and cold.

I bought it.  So I started obsessing about taking a trip to Sweden.  I called my sister Michele and said, let’s go.  She said, sure, why not?  So off we went.

We started in Stockholm of course, where the weather went from freezing cold, a bit of snow and then rain from day-to-day.

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We took in the sites including the ABBA Museum and I am here to say that it is utterly ridiculous that there is a museum dedicated to ABBA but people sure were paying to get in, including us because my husband is a devotee.  But they had some stuff that was completely campy too, so you just had to go with it.

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The clothes were really ridiculous then, weren’t they?

 

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Matt singing along with the group in the sound booth

Matt will never forgive me if I do not mention that we made a pilgrimage to the brewery opened in conjunction with Brooklyn Brewery, Nya Carnegiebryggeriet (Carnegie Brewery I think).  They had some good beer, good atmosphere and good food.

But Stockholm did not detain us long because we had to go north to the Lapland frontier.

We stayed in Bjorkliden, a resort in the middle of nowhere.  There was nothing there but the hotel we were staying in, but it was a beautiful spot.

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The view from our hotel room at around noon.

The sun was coming up for about five hours.  All of that night time atmosphere just made us want to sleep all the time  We were fighting off the need to hibernate and not really doing a very good job.  Our goal was to be awake at night to see the auroras so it was actually okay for us to sleep.

Our first attempt to see the aurora was a visit to the Abisko Sky Station.  That is the tiny dot of light at the top of the mountain in the opening picture to this blog.  We opted for the dinner and stars package.  They have a small restaurant at the top and it serves a very fine gourmet meal to help with the energy needed to sit and wait for an aurora.  The trip to the sky station was by ski lift, a mile long ride up the mountain in the fresh air  Remember, it is night time above the Arctic Circle in January.   They gave us survival suits to wear and none of us said no.  I am glad because it was COLD on that ski lift.  Holy smokes.  It was so cold and we were moving so fast, neither of us got out the cameras.  I was afraid I was going to drop it because of frozen fingers.

At the top we found–clouds.  Yep.  Clouds on the one place that the internet guaranteed their would be good weather.  Stupid internet. The weather changes on a dime, we are told, and maybe, just maybe, the sky would clear. So we went inside for a lovely dinner with about 50 strangers.  All of the meal preparations are brought up on the lift as well.  And given that it was all prepared and brought up in lift chairs a little at a time, it was an amazing dinner.

It started with smoked Arctic char, then mushroom soup with pork belly, an entree of roast moose with a sea buckthorn berry sauce and for dessert, vanilla pana cotta with cloudberry sauce.  Yes, that was very yummy.  We had a drink selection of local schnapps, beer, wine and a dessert wine.  Yikes, the beer was not really very good.  The schnapps, homemade with a sing-along, went down fine.

But that great meal did not change the weather and after a short wait, we headed back down the mountain, disappointed the Gods did not favor us with a solar flare.

But we had another chance that we almost gave up on.  We woke the next day to find that it was snowing and would probably snow all day.  We went snowmobiling in the morning and spent a few hours watching a herd of reindeer.  We had scheduled to go on another aurora photo safari and we figured we might as well just bag it.  But we could not cancel without eating the entire cost of the tour.

Then a miracle happened.  We had gone back to take a nap and I saw a glint of sunlight peaking over the mountain.  This made me re-think it.  We flipped a Kroner a few times–heads we go, tails we don’t–and it kept telling us to go.  I told my sister the Kroner had spoken so we got ready for a night in the cold.

At a small park that served as an interpretive center to the Sami people, we waited.  The photo guide had an app that told her when coronal flares were being shot off the sun and when they would arrive in Swedish airspace.  Too cool.  But there was nothing.  We were allowed to use the hut (really a tepee) to keep warm.  We sat on the reindeer skins  in front of a fire and had a spot of hot toddy of some sort (warmed lingonberry juice) while we waited.

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And we waited and waited and waited some more.  It was very, very cold.  I can’t tell you the temperature because if they said it, they gave it to us in Celsius and I am an American so that is meaningless.  But it was probably in the teens.  It was so cold that after more than an hour my toes and fingers were in distress.  But we soldiered on.

Matt and I were standing in the field waiting behind our camera tripods and we could hear the others talking about packing up.  We had to walk back to the van waiting to pick us up.  And suddenly, there it was.  The green curtain, dancing in the sky.  We were yelling, there it is! We went into emergency mode, just snapping and snapping away until the guide insisted that we leave.  We did reluctantly.

But a funny thing happened.  When we saw our pictures on the computer, they were blurry.  Why?  It was so cold that the cameras were covered with frost.  At some point, the guide wiped off my lens cover.  Unfortunately, she left behind spots that are crystal clear in the picture,  The lens focused on the spot.  Oh well.  We saw it anyway.  Some of the  pictures are here:

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Mission accomplished.  Lesson we have learned again and again. Never question the toss of the coin. When the coin speaks, follow.

On to the Ice Hotel.  We were in the far north and not far from the Ice Hotel so we took the opportunity to visit. No, we did not sleep in an ice room.  I am a sensible person and I have no intention of sleeping on a block of ice covered only with reindeer skins.  We stayed in the warm rooms.  We did go to the Ice Bar and drank way too much out of ice glasses that were shaped out of water from the clean Torne River.  We kept the glasses and we drank the melted water the next day.

Another slide show:

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The Ice Hotel rooms are designed each year by artists who enter into a competition to give each room a theme or personality. For example, the elephant was a gorgeous sculpture in one of the rooms, that I believe was about memory.  Another room had the arches, another the peacock.  And yes, it is all sculpted from ice.  The Hallway was beautiful, like an ice castle you would imagine in a fantasy.  A chandelier and vases and columns all glowing white and blue.

Now for the review.  Nice hotel, very unpleasant staff.  We travelled to a lot of places in Sweden and this hotel by far had some of the rudest people we came across.  We could not figure out why.  They seemed either bored and really could not be bothered.  Or so harried that they just did not care.

We ate at the Ice Hotel restaurant, Jukkasjorin.  When the chef found out there were Americans there, he came to our table and talked and talked.  He had worked in the U.S. and loved it.  We had the Ice tasting menu which included bleak roe, salmon, and a smoked ptarmigan with porcini consumme, which bowl licking good.  Gosh, that one was good.  Smoked right on premises, the bird was cut into small pieces which were presented in a jar.  Opening the jar let out a waft of smoke and the flavor permeated the nostrils.  Into the soup and viola, heaven.  Then finally, reindeer with chocolate sauce and lingonberries.  For dessert brambleberry gelato.  Holy smokes, that was good too.  But it was way too much food.  The serving sizes were too large and we were absolutely stuffed.

We did not stay long at the hotel.  It was time to head back.  Off to Stockholm we went for another trip around the city, touring the things we had missed.  The Nobel Museum was surprisingly interesting.  Shopping in the Old Town led me to some wonderful sheep inspired gifts.  We had an early dinner at Den Gyldene Freden. This was going to be our truly traditional Swedish meal–herring, meatballs, and homemade schnapps, and they did not disappoint.    We tried all of the herring–traditional, mustard and herb.  The homemade schnapps was crisp and went perfectly with the fish.  The meatballs were flavorful and substantial and they came with mashed potatoes so it was hard to complain.

A short mention of the food.  We ate well everywhere we went.  For the record, we ate reindeer–both steaks and uncooked carpaccio, moose, ptarmigan, artic char, herring, cloudberries, brambleberries, sea buckthorn, lots of smoked salmon.   The Swedes have something called Fika, the Swedish coffee break.  But I would think of it as similar to a traditional afternoon tea but they have it any time they want.  There are cakes and cookies and sandwiches involved, but they drink coffee instead of tea.  You can find afternoon tea too, but fika is the tradition.  We liked fika.  How can you not like an elaborate coffee break?

I had one last Swedish goal–to have a sauna and then jump into cold water.  We searched and consulted and the only place where they opened a hole in a frozen lake for a plunge was too far from town.  Instead we went to the spa a the Grand Hotel.  They had a cold water pool.  Yes, I was going to do this.

The spa separated the ladies from the men for some of the activities.  The sauna and cold bath were in the segregated areas.  We signed up for a  massage and then parted into the changing rooms.  I said to Matt as he walked away, “You better jump into that cold water!” He assured me he would.  I know I did.  I steamed myself for a few minutes and then took the plunge.  Gaahhh!!!!.  After that steam, it was cold!  And while I tried to ease myself in, it really is not worth it.  Like tearing off a bandage, you just have to fall in.  So I did.  I did this about four times–sauna then another jump into the cold pool.  Needless to say, I was the only person in the changing room doing this.  Then I went for my massage.  The masseuse told me not to jump into the cold water after she worked on me.  But I did anyway.  It was invigorating.  When we met again, Matt said he had gone into the cold water too.  I have to believe him.

And that was our trip to Sweden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to the beach – New Years in North Carolina

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I needed a break.  So a few days after Christmas, we drove to North Carolina to spend a few days contemplating the ocean, resting, and not doing anything in particular.  We did just that.

The trip down took 10 hours because I-95 is nothing less than Satan’s punishment.  A miserable black hole where your life gets sucked into interminable traffic jams for no apparent reason except that there are too many cars and not enough lanes.  it took us 3.5 hours to get to Fredericksburg, a drive that should have taken maybe 1.5 hours.

We were well behind schedule so we had to stop in Wilmington for dinner.  I got on the phone and started looking up barbecue joints and found raves about Jackson’s Big Oak Barbecue, home of the authentic Eastern Carolina style barbecue.  Their motto?  “We ain’t fancy but we sure are good.”  Amen, brother.  Carolina style barbecue sauce is our favorite.  What does that mean?  It means a thin, vinegar based sauce with lots of spices.  It is nothing like the ketchup thick, tomato, sugar sweet stuff they use in Memphis and beyond.  Rather than a thick consistency, Carolina BBQ sauce is thin and it permeates the meat as it cooks giving it a flavor that makes you pucker.  Well, we went right for it and had pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw on top.  The coleslaw had a mustard based dressing that just set off the BBQ sauce.  On the side, we had hush puppies and collard greens.  Lord, you should not eat this stuff every day but for a treat, there is nothing better than a hush puppy done right.  Matt was so enthusiastic he then ordered ribs to see if they would be as good.  Well, the sauce has been thickened and that kind of killed it for us.  I got the banana pudding for dessert, made fresh every day.  That was a fortuitous stop and I am pretty certain we will see them again.

By the time we pulled in and got unpacked it was late and we were exhausted.  I slept ten hours the first night.  The next few days we did not do much of anything except rent movies from the Redbox and look at the ocean.  I cooked some dinners, one day we had stuffed cabbage, one day we had buffalo half-smokes with a black-eyed peas salad.

We watched “The Conjuring,” which I did not think was all that scary.  We watched “Stories We Tell,” a documentary about family perceptions and hidden lives.  We tried to watch “Anchorman.” I must confess, I did not find it funny and we turned it off after about 20 minutes.  I knew I would not like it but so many people told me to watch it.  Yeah, I’m not a big fan of Will Ferrell.  Sorry.  We watched “Admissions” with Paul Rudd because we love Paul Rudd who I do find very funny and charming.

On New Year’s Eve, we did the things we like to do.  I cooked a dinner of lobster sautéed in butter and olive oil served over a black truffle pasta with roasted asparagus and a salad with baked goat cheese.  Add to that a little champagne and caviar and viola, great New Year’s Eve dinner.  We watched the movie “Up,” because we love Mr. Frederick, Russell, Doug and Kevin.  This movie makes me laugh and weep and sigh.  It is truly one of my all time favorites.  If I am sad, I watch it.  If I want to laugh and  be happy I watch it. The sky was kind of clear and using my ipad, and my 3-D star map we looked at the constellations and the stars.

New Year’s Day, January 1, 2014.

We woke to a cloudy, cold New Year’s Day.  I was determined to go into the ocean.  It was in the mid-40’s outside and the water was just COLD!  I donned my bathing suit and flip flops.  Matt put on his swim trunks and we walked to face the water.  The wind was blowing and it was really cold.  But I took off my sweat shirt and pants and made a dash for it.  Matt cannot run so he took pictures while went in. It was not a polar bear plunge.  It was more of a run in and out as fast as I could because yikes! it was cold and my feet and legs went numb.  Then it was Matt’s turn.  He can’t run so he walked in and splashed with water.  YAYYYY!!!!!!!!!

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COLD!

Okay that woke us both up.  Now it was time for breakfast.  We love eggs benedict.  I made it with smoked salmon and lemony hollandaise.  It was yummy.

We had been watching a weather front coming so we decided to pack it up and drive home a day early.  We managed to get home in 7.5 hours, which is how fast you can travel the distance without any traffic.

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