Lake Havasu City vacation rental

Lake Havasu City, Arizona is a town built on tourism. As such, it has its share of the basic hotel chains, along with a handful of resorts and boutique hotels. When I visited, we stayed at a vacation rental we found through VRBO.com. The price was right, the high speed internet was fast and reliable, and pets were allowed. Plus, the owner of the home was easy to work with and on top of every detail. For example, while we were there, the air conditioner failed and she had a workman out to the house as soon as we let her know about it. It was fixed before we got back from our morning walk.

The place itself was clean and perfectly acceptable for our needs. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. We had five adults staying there, so there was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out. We all fit well around the dining table and in the sitting areas, and there were plenty of little nooks to go hide out in if somebody needed the space.

Working on vacation

Hubby was able to set up shop in the front room and work while we were there.

Pets allowed at vacation rental in Lake Havasu City

Pets are allowed! Our guy got comfortable right away in his little bed next to Hubby’s work station.

Vacation rental kitchen in Lake Havasu City

The kitchen needs a good overhaul–the interior of the cabinets is a little scary–but it served our purposes just fine.

Vacation rental pool in Lake Havasu

There is a huge diving pool in the backyard. None of us used it while we were there, but it would be great for families and larger groups.

Vacation rental back patio grill and shade.

The back patio was a favorite spot throughout the day for those who wanted to relax with a book. It also is fully equipped with a massive grill and chiminea.

Vacation rental Lake Havasu City back patio

The back patio was such a hit with us that it deserves two photos.

Lake Havasu City vacation rental perfectly located

Finally, the house is perfectly located–just minutes from the lake and anything you’d want to do in town. If there were more sidewalks around for safe walking, we would be there all the time!

Overall, I give the place three stars out of five. I would give it more, but even though the owner seems to have updated it with new windows and laminated wood flooring in a couple of the bedrooms, it really needs more updating in the kitchen and bathrooms. There was also a musty smell, but it was mostly hidden by the surprisingly loud automatic fragrance sprays. While I’m glad something was there to cover up the mustiness, the sprayers “sneezed” loudly whenever anyone walked in front of them. I never got used to it and jumped nearly every time it sprayed.

If that’s my biggest complaint, then there’s not much to complain about. Cleanliness is number one in my book and this place was clean. I would recommend it to anyone going to Lake Havasu City, especially people with kids who want to use a pool and/or grill out.

Have you visited Lake Havasu City? If so, where did you stay? Post your favorites in the Comments Section below.

5 ways to play in San Diego

A path along the beach on Coronado Island is one of the many places to play in San Diego.

For those who live in San Diego, there is always a reason to get out and play, but for those who are only allowed short visits, how do you pack all of paradise into a single weekend? Below are five ideas on how to get the most out of a weekend of play in San Diego.

1. Take a tour with Another Side of San Diego

If Another Side of San Diego doesn’t have a tour to fit your interest, time frame, and preferred mode of transportation, it doesn’t exist! Whether you’re in the mood for history, art, nature, food, or even beer, they’ve got a tour for it. Not only that, but you can pursue your interests by Segway, on foot, in a hot air balloon, on horseback, on a bike, or even in a boat! As long-time resident of La Jolla, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

To explore their tour options, visit their website. To book a tour, you can use their website or call them at 1-619-239-2111.

Another Side of San Diego tours has tours by land or sea. In La Jolla you can walk, Segway, or kayak to learn about this jewel of a town where seals and sea lions call home.

A tour of Balboa Park will introduce you to the natural wonders of Southern California, but you may also catch a concert at one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs!

2. San Diego Botanic Gardens

To get outside and get away from it all, head up to Encinitas and visit the peaceful San Diego Botanic Gardens. There you can walk to the music of nature: birds chirping, lizards rustling in the brush, lacy bamboo swooshing in the breeze. Find a bench alongside the waterfall in the Tropical Rainforest, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of water carry all your troubles away.

San Diego Botanic Gardens brim with life in all shapes and forms. Some shapes have more form than others, like this incredible statue made up of succulents.

On Saturdays at 10:30am, the gardens provide docent-led tours of the splendid variety of plants living in each section. Also, check their calendar for classes and other events, such as making your own succulent art work or cooking with an opera singing chef.

3. Take in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse

If you’re in San Diego to explore the beauty of their outdoor paradise, but you wouldn’t mind taking in a play while you’re there, you can combine the two by attending a Without Walls play through the award-winning La Jolla Playhouse. Over the last year, their Without Walls program has literally led audiences out of the theater and through garden paths or into the intimate surroundings of cars and martini bars.

“The Car Plays: San Diego” was a part of the Without Walls program and one of many brilliant plays hosted by the La Jolla Playhouse.

If there isn’t a Without Walls program running when you visit, it is still worthwhile to see one of their plays with traditional-style seating. It should be stated, however, that none of their plays can be considered “traditional”. Better words might be provocative, cutting-edge, soulful, and unforgettable.

4. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

With two locations to choose from and plenty of docent-led tours available, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego you can discover just how much you have in common with contemporary art. Take, for example, the current exhibit downtown by local artist Margaret Noble entitled “44th and Landis”. If you’re used to art being oil paintings hung on walls, you may wonder what you can get out of her paper dolls hanging from the ceiling and the wild noises crashing from her handmade speakers. But stop and look at the paper dolls. Listen to the sounds. Suddenly, you see familiar things, like the logo of a Peeps Marshmallow box or the chase of Ms. Pacman through a maze. You hear familiar sounds that take you back to 1982, when you lived for Space Invaders and chased the ice cream truck on your bike until it stopped.

If you didn’t grow up in the 80s, you may still connect with the artists that use light and space to evoke a feeling. Whole rooms are devoted to the sensations and emotions light can have on us. And, if that doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you will marvel at the wall that breathes or connect with the massive iron heart that looks like a prison.

This Light and Space piece by Doug Wheeler is one you participate in simply by showing up and experiencing what shifts within you as a result of this space and its lighting.

5. FOOD!

San Diego is not only charmed with sunny weather and stunning ocean views, it is home to more than its share of talented chefs, fresh produce, and inspired craft beer brewmasters.

If you only have time and budget for one special restaurant, go without delay to Georges at the Cove in La Jolla. Chef Trey Foshee has won tons of awards for his California Modern cuisine, including the San Diego Chefs Hall of Fame and the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”. There’s a reason for all these accolades. His food is consistently knock-your-flip-flops-off delicious; the kind of delicious that you remember and dream about weeks and months later. Even vegetarians can get in on the making of great food memories because they offer an entirely vegetarian menu and many of the dishes can be made vegan.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by calling 858-454-4244.

Georges on the Cove is definitely high-end food, but you gotta love a place that rolls up its sleeves with The People by serving donuts and coffee for desert.

If you go to Encinitas to visit the San Diego Botanic Gardens for an afternoon of peaceful retreat, spend your evening having dinner at Union Kitchen and Tap just down the road. They offer a variety of high-end tavern food (including vegetarian and vegan options) and they offer about 20 craft beers on tap, many of which are locally crafted.

Depending on what time you go, reservations may not be necessary, but if time is of the essence, it may be worthwhile to secure a table by giving them a call at 760.230.2337(BEER).

Where to stay

Hotel Parisi in La Jolla offers elegant and convenient accommodations for almost any sized group and any length of stay. The main sights, restaurants, and shopping opportunities are located just beyond the doorstep of this hotel.

Hotel Parisi also offers Parisi Apart, corporate apartments decked out with full-sized refrigerators, microwaves, silverware and dishes for travelers needing extended stays or those wishing to eat meals in the comfort of their own apartment.

The convenience of this hotel does come at a price, however. Prices start around $300 a night for a basic room and go up to over $400 a night for the extended stay apartments. Parking is an additional $15 per night and other fees may apply.

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These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless.

How do you like to spend time in San Diego? Comment below or email me at srdryja@jetplanesandcoffee.com with your ideas! With your help, we can put together a comprehensive list that will help others plan their weekend at play in San Diego!

Stratford, Ontario: A love story

I have been putting off telling this story for weeks. The idea of uncovering for the world my love for Stratford, Ontario feels wrong in a way. Like a girl finally telling the boy she loves that she loves him, but doing it through a megaphone at a football game. It’s not that she worries the love will not be reciprocated, although maybe that’s part of it. It’s that by telling it, she reveals too much of herself and risks cheapening the love, bringing in too many outsiders into something that should be tenderly intimate. But I’ve got to take that risk, so here goes.

I love Stratford.

There, I said it. I love everything about it: the old shops along Ontario street, the Avon River, the trees surrounding the river, the Shakespeare Gardens, the tour guides who take you around the same routes telling you the same stories with the innocence of volunteers who love their town.

I love The Verandah, our home away from home when we visit Stratford.

I love the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. How could you not love the theater in this town? When I am there, I absorb the plays as if they are one layer deeper than my own skin, and I wear their memory for the whole year after, in some cases, even years to come.

The town of Stratford, alive with life.

This past year was my third time visiting Stratford. It was the longest visit–two weeks. We stayed, for the second time, in The Verandah, the place I dream about during the year when I have a hard day and need something soft and beautiful to remind me of joy and happiness.

Here it is just a storybook card, but I fell in love with the real Verandah.

Stratford is a town of 32,000 or so other people who love their town, at least that’s how it comes across. While I was there this year, we spoke with locals from different aspects of life and they all had the same thing to say: it is a great place to live. It is hopeful and lively. It is small-town life with the kind of world-class entertainment and cuisine that big cities dream of. It is thoughtful with things like recycling and seasonal food and supporting local businesses.

Of course, we cannot ever forget the theater. That’s part of the world-class entertainment and is what brings thousands of people to Stratford every year for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Still, with all the other things going on–music festivals, food festivals, daily visits to boutiques and antique shops, wiling a day away at a coffee house, luxuriating in the pleasures of a meal at The Prune or Bijou–whole days could potentially pass where no theater is experienced.

But it must be experienced.

The majesty of the Festival Theatre is celebrated with lush gardens and public art.

William Shakespeare in stainless steel (or aluminum?) in the gardens outside the Festival Theatre.

I saw a play there this year called Hirsch. Out of the five I saw, all of which were moving and powerful, Hirsch was the most powerful. It was about the Canadian director, John Hirsch, who was originally from Hungary and had been orphaned in World War II. He watched his mother carted off and never saw her again. He watched his uncle shot in front of him. They were Jews and treated the way Jews were treated by the Third Reich in World War II.

Terrifying things happened to this man before he was a teenager. Yet, as the story unfolded–and as I wept from the depths of my humanity that connects with such things–it demonstrated the courage it takes to live a real life. It showed how life grows on, in some ways because of what one has witnessed, and in other ways, in spite of it.

The actor, Alon Nashman, was also the creator of the play. He was brilliant. Brilliant. You know how I know? Because even now as I am writing this paragraph, I can call to mind the delightful laughter and the excruciating tears he pulled out of me with his story and his acting. He connected with me, a white, non-Jewish, 40-something American woman who has never experienced such discrimination, torture, and terror, and who has never been forced to find beauty and strength in that kind of loneliness.

His play and his acting are what stays with me today. The story inspires me to do the work that I do in the world, and it reminds me that nothing can be as scary as what that man experienced in his life. What fears I may have for any venture I take on cannot be half as terrifying as facing the world completely alone and ostracized as an orphaned Jewish boy after World War II. Yet, he found the strength and courage to not only keep going, but to become one of the greatest creative forces in Canada.

This is why I go to Stratford. It inspires me, it pushes me, it nourishes me in ways no other place can. I will carry the messages of the play and the story of John Hirsch for the rest of my life.

Then there’s Elektra. I read a comment someone made on the Stratford Festival Facebook page that it was not true to Sophocles. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know, and I don’t really care. It was a story well told with a depth of emotion, and the emotions fleshed out in the characters (especially Elektra). What happened in that theater to actors and patrons alike far outweighs how it stands up to what Sophocles intended. The physicality of the play, the rhythm of it, the costuming, all the things those actors did, which seemed to me to be flawless and effortless, pulled together to become an enveloping tale about sorrow, loss, fear, and justice that rocked me to my very bones and left me feeling very much alive.

Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two was magnificent. It was an honor to see him perform live, especially given how intimate it was and how the one-man show was about his life. I can’t say it was the most powerful play–the two mentioned above get that nomination. But it was the one that takes my breath away when I think about it because it’s as if I got to see one of the Great Wonders of the World before it disappears. (And please, Mr. Plummer, if you ever read this, which I doubt you will, forgive me for comparing you to a large, ancient monument of some sort, but you must know I mean it with the greatest of humility and respect.)

The Avon Theatre, where we saw Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”.

The other plays, Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing were the two Shakespearean plays we saw out of the five. Of course, it is hard to go wrong with Shakespeare, but these two were not the ones that will stay with me all year. The acting was superb, of course. The costumes, amazing. The staging, incredible, especially the use of that massive door for Henry V, which they utilized in a million different ways to portray different scenes. Both plays were worth seeing. If I was in Stratford all season, I would go see them several times–but Hirsch and Elektra would be my picks if I had only time and budget for two.

When there are no plays to see–the theaters are dark on Mondays in Stratford–there is a wealth of things worth seeing and doing. It is important to point out, however, that part of the charm of Stratford is slowing down and not rushing from one thing to another. I do that all year in my regular life. I don’t need to do it in Stratford.

Summer there is lush with flowers and brimming with life. It is in Stratford that we might pause and enjoy this beauty. Starting at the Avon River, we watch as it lolls slowly under the stone-arch bridge.

What is left of an old wool mill and is now part of The Shakespeare Gardens which sits along the Avon River.

The stone-arch bridge is the oldest of its kind in Canada. It is still in use and is part of a major thoroughfare through the town. The steeple seen in the distance is the courthouse.

The beloved swans parade their regency of the waters and surrounding lands with their little cygnets. The trees dip their knobby elbows and fingers into the river, and their leaves provide a golden curtain to shield land lovers who sit on benches along the shore.

A male swan rests with the female (not shown) and their brood of cygnets by the river.

Chess anyone?

On one of the first days we were there I discovered the magic of sunsets in Stratford. I heard bagpipes coming up to the town from near the river and was drawn to see what sort of group was serenading the sun as it went down.

Two boys, one playing the bagpipes and one playing the snare drum, were in the plaza standing next to a war memorial. Beyond them was the Avon River, peaceful and permissive to their music. People gathered in the plaza, surrounded the boys, listening. Two little girls–about six and four–danced and hopped to the beat of the drum.

The pipes and drums serenade the sun as it sets.

When I arrived, there was a feeling of reverence toward the boys and their music. It seemed the perfect way to end a day. I scooted up on one of the half-walls that lines the plaza and listened. No one wanted to move while they were playing. If we did move, we were slow and respectful, as if we were in church and had just taken communion.

While the boys played, two little girls with bright orange hair came with their mother and sat across from me on the foot of the memorial. Were they put there to make the scene more authentic? Of course they weren’t, but the picture of Scottish music playing over a plaza with two wee girls of that heritage could not have been more complete. How adorably Scottish they were with their rolly cheeks and their shining braids. They sat sweetly in their little dresses, licking delicately at their ice cream cones, and they listened. While I was there, I imagined their souls being drawn to this music of their ancestors. I wondered if it was at all familiar to them. They surely were not out of place. Come to think of it, I have Scottish heritage. Perhaps that is what drew me as well, while my Polish-bred husband went on to the house, unmoved by the sounds.

Finally, I walked to the river. The music followed me there, to a leafy cocoon on the shore. The branches of the massive tree before me bent over and into the river. I imagined I was beneath the arm of a giant boy sticking his fingers out of a boat to feel the water on his fingertips. The stillness, the joy in my heart, the poetry of music and sunset, it all formed this love I carry with me.

A sanctuary built by nature.

When it was time to return home from the pipes and drum, I made my way across the familiar path I had come to know the year before–up the hill to town, across the busy street of Ontario, through a parking lot and down the graveled path of the pastoral Verandah.

Our half of The Verandah.

A warm welcome of hospitality awaits every visit.

Why it’s called The Verandah.

Debbie and Denis Harrison, the owners of The Verandah, clearly love their town and the home they open to others. The house is divided into two. On one side is where they live. On the other side is where we stayed for the second year in a row.

Debbie has decorated it with things she found all over Ontario, many of which had to be given new life with scrubbings, washings, sandings, new coats of paint–whatever it took to make it live again. She has breathed life into The Verandah, both in the structure of the 100-plus year-old home, and the things furnishing it.

Home Sweet Home.

Treasures and trinkets adorn every space.

There are nooks for every fancy. This one is in the master bedroom. That window is a door that opens onto a balcony.

The kitchen is well-furnished with pots, pans, dishes, and welcoming flowers.

The gardens surrounding it are cared for by her and her husband Denis. Even without the plays or the river, I would go to Stratford to stay in The Verandah. It is a retreat and a blessing to be there. If you knew how many pictures I took of their house so that I could look at them over the year when I cannot be there, you would think I was quite crazy. And I am–in the same way that someone is crazy when they fall in love.

Even the back door is a delightful sign of home.

More nooks–even for the birds.

A spot for dinner al fresco, complete with a large umbrella to shade the sun.

Beauty is everywhere at The Verandah.

I told myself I wouldn’t cry while writing this love letter, but it’s too late. And now I realize why it truly took me so long to compose it. I didn’t want the pain of missing it to scrape at my heart like it is doing now.

Times like these call for remembering what I have rather than what I don’t have and being grateful for it, so allow me a moment to be thankful.

Angels shall trumpet my love and gratitude.

I am thankful to my husband for making it possible for us to visit Stratford every year. I am thankful for such a place as Stratford, Ontario. I am grateful to Debbie and Denis for opening one side of their home so we may enjoy their hospitality and friendship. I am thankful for having such memories, for experiencing such joy. I am thankful for being in love and having something so worthy of my devotion that I can make a pilgrimage there every year to renew the wonder and joy it brings me.

That spark of joy you see in my husband’s eyes as he is being silly with one of my hats is another reason I love Stratford. It brings that out in both of us.

I am thankful for having the opportunity to be surrounded by beauty upon beauty.

And I thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me during this love letter. It makes me feel silly to gush, but I can’t help it. I hope you can see why. This is the only thing I will write in this way. Tomorrow we get back to business as I demonstrate how easy it is to walk Stratford from The Verandah, so stay tuned for “Walking Stratford”.

Thank you for allowing me to share my favorite place in the world with you.

Walking Chicago

In many ways, Chicago is like every other city. Generations of people and buildings overlap as reminders of the past, witnesses of the present, and springboards to the future. The city seems to breathe in and out as waves of people and cars navigate its sidewalks and streets. It sings the songs of diesel engines, street musicians, and car horns. Its colors blur in the mirrors of its glass buildings: taxicab yellow, brick red, asphalt black. It has an electricity that gets the pulse racing and can make a person feel charged with life. In this telling Chicago could be any city. Seeing it like this, though, is only a minute of its existence, and this particular city deserves a longer look.

Video by Chris Pritchard from his “Places in Time” series.

It is difficult to nail down just one thing that defines Chicago. Many have tried. They say it’s heart and soul is about architecture, finances, or politics. Chicago is about all of those things, but it is more than that. It is a complex grouping of everything that makes the human race tick, pushes it to thrive, and occasionally causes it to stumble and lose its way. No one thing encompasses this city and holds it still for very long. Therefore, no one visit is enough to completely understand it. Even one visit, though, can be enough to loosen one’s own stale understandings of the world and leave them to feel a little new and green again.

Chicago is a mosaic of history, people, experiences. This public work of art by Marc Chagall is available for all to see in the Chase Tower plaza.

Hubby and I have spent time in Chicago before, but it had been a while since our last visit. It won’t be our last. I went in to this trip thinking I knew what to expect, seeing it as “just another city I had been to before”. I quickly learned how wrong I was. I hadn’t taken into account the vibrancy and inventiveness of the place. Before our four-day visit was over, I was breathless, almost exhausted, by all I had taken in. We did more than just sightsee. We saturated our thoughts into the city, thanks to time spent with a well-informed local. Even then, though, we recognized that it was not enough.

Rolf Achilles

Allow me to introduce you to our well-informed local, Mr. Rolf Achilles. When I spoke with the concierge at the hotel where we stayed, I told her that we wanted to experience as much of the spirit of Chicago as we could in such a short amount of time. She recommended we hire Mr. Achilles as a private tour guide for the city. Her description of him was, “he is like a walking Encyclopedia Britannica on Chicago”. She wasn’t kidding. You can look on his website to see his long list of achievements, projects, and interests. There is also a History of Chicago Timeline on his website, which starts way back in 1673, before any keystone was laid for what is now known as Chicago. It is as impressive as anything else he has done.

When we finally met Mr. Achilles, we discovered that although the concierge’s description was spot-on, there was more to him than just bookly information. He loves his town. His love for it bubbled over in waves until, suddenly, we knew we were in love with his town too.

In the short amount of time we spent traveling around with him, Mr. Achilles quickly became a trusted friend. He is not just an expert on all things Chicago. He is an experiencer of life. He savors rich experiences as well as mundane ones and then he turns to you and offers you a bite.

We were given three bites of Chicago while we explored the city with Mr. Achilles: Public Art and Architecture, the Chicago History Museum and Old Town, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

For these tours, we took cabs to our destinations, with Mr. Achilles indicating to the driver special neighborhoods and spaces we needed to thread our way through so that we could take in the majority of the city along the way.

Public Art and Architecture

Public Art

Chicago is a city packed with public art. On nearly every block there seems to be a famous statue or structure by someone we have all heard of. Mr. Achilles showed us these works of art and spoke about them as if they were offerings of love from their artists and patrons.

The Chicago Picasso is an untitled sculpture, weighing in at 160 tons and standing up to 50 feet tall. It was was unveiled in 1967 and has since become a beloved icon of the city. It was designed by Picasso in France (he never visited Chicago), but it was built by the American Bridge division of U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

At the time, the statue was seen as a bit odd-looking, but then it was Picasso, so it was accepted. In fact, Mayor Daley, who did the unveiling, said in his speech, “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” Not only has this sculpture become so familiar to the people of Chicago that children regularly slide down its base (see photo for evidence!), it is a point of reference for meeting friends, and is a place of celebration and holidays. The Chicago Picasso even gets decked out with hats for different occasions!

The Chicago Picasso is a massive steel sculpture that has, over the years, become both a landmark for the Daley Center and an irresistible jungle gym for kids in the plaza.

Agora is the name of the grouping of 106 cast iron figures wandering the southern side of Grant Park. They are 9-feet tall, headless and armless shells, grouped in clumps, just as crowds seem to group whether they mean to or not. The artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz, hates crowds and described them as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshipping on command and hating on command.” This particular crowd, with its height, texture, and color seems more like a forest of branchless trees, though, and just as harmless.

My take on the grouping was that they were contemplative, as if their arms were folded back behind them, their movement is forward toward better ways of being, and their body shells were waiting to be filled with great ideas. But then, I am an optimist.

“Agora” by Magdalena Abakanowicz is an impressive group of 9-feet tall, headless and armless statues at the south end of Grant Park.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall was unveiled in 1974, when the artist was 87 years old. Unlike Picasso, Chagall had visited Chicago many times and fallen in love with it. The Four Seasons is a mosaic, not only of glass, marble, stone, and brick (some of which was from Chicago herself!), it is a mosaic of the seasons, the people, the experiences which make up the life of the city. Like Chicago, The Four Seasons is complex and difficult to take in completely in just one visit. It is, after all, 70 feet long, 10 feet wide and 14 feet high. All four sides are covered in dreamy scenes of life from all the various walks of life which call Chicago home. It’s colors and happy images make this my favorite of all the public art we saw on our tour.

The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall is located in the Chase Tower Plaza. It is a massive rectangular box covered in a mosaic depicting the four seasons which can be found in Chicago.

UIC Skyspace: The University of Illinois Chicago houses a large work of art at the corners of Roosevelt Road and Halstead Street. UIC Skyspace is by James Turrell and was unveiled in 2006. It is a free-standing elliptical work of art meant to be experienced inside and out, taking note of the interplay of light. To go inside it is to walk into a quieter sanctuary of soft light; a place to sit and read, perhaps, or to experience one of my favorite activities, people watching.

James Turrell’s UIC Skyspace. Hubby and Mr. Achilles walked up to it and looked into its elliptical opening on the ceiling. Venturing further inside, it is meant to create a quiet world in the heart of a vibrant city.

Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I) was locked up tight in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building on the day we visited, but we could still see it by pressing our noses and cameras to the glass. Taut wires of various materials zig zag out from criss-crossing steel rods, giving it the presence of a star radiating out from the dark sky. It was installed in 1957 and was the first abstract work of art to be on permanent display in Chicago.

My photo here does not do justice to Richard Lippold’s Untitled (Radiant I).

We saw many other sculptures on this tour, but I did not get photos of all of them. Below is a list of addresses for everything we saw, including distances from the Four Seasons Chicago hotel, where we stayed, in case you are keeping track of step-counts like we do. More information about each piece can be found by clicking on the links provided.

For even more information about these and other public works of art in Chicago, check out the Public Art Guide put out by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

Architecture

Stand on almost any corner in Chicago, and you will probably be standing in the shadow of a famous architect. This city has developed a reputation for setting the world on fire with its forward thinking architectural designs and designers. Styles and methods born in Chicago eventually become things we take for granted in other parts of the world.

Chicago is known for its architecture of buildings, as well as the engineering of its drawbridges.

Besides the ground-breaking drawbridges, Chicago developed the modern skyscraper using a steel frame. Windows were made larger, thanks to these frames, so light could enter the whole floor of a building, instead of just the outer offices. These days, all around the world, the windows seen in older skyscrapers are called Chicago Windows because they were developed here. Next time you find yourself walking in a town with buildings dating back to the first of the last century, look for windows with a large, fixed center panel and two operable windows on each end. That is a Chicago Window.  A prime example of this style of window can be see in the Marquette Building at S. Dearborn St. and Adams.

The Marquette Building is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

Chicago style windows in the Marquette Building.

Just down the street from the Marquette Building is a whole complex of buildings designed by a man who ushered Chicago and the rest of the world into what is known as the Modernist style. That complex of buildings is the Federal Center Complex and the man is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For many years, “Mies”, as so many call him, was the head of the School of Architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Driving around Chicago, one can see many of his designs and many designs created in the likeness of Miesian design. These buildings are free from ornamentation, they are steel and glass structures with plate glass windows, and which reach toward the heavens with all the simplicity modern technology affords it.

This complex of buildings is located at 50 W. Adams Street, the same location as Alexander Calder’s Flamingo. This means that it is 1.6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 3200 steps.

The Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Photo by Local Hero.)

Out of the Miesian school of architecture grew innovative students, such as Bertrand Goldberg, who designed the Marina Towers to be a city within a city. Completed in 1964, the corn-cob towers contained condos and all the amenities one might need to function in life, such as stores, restaurants, a gym, bowling alley, etc. Now the iconic towers house a hotel, a concert hall, and several restaurants.

Marina Towers are located at 300 N. State St., which is 1 mile from the hotel, or approximately 2000 steps.

Marina City located on the river in Chicago was one of the first mix-use buildings meant to lure people back to life in the city.

Chicago History Museum and Old Town

Chicago History Museum

The second tour we took with Mr. Achilles was to the Chicago History Museum. While there, we talked of the fire that destroyed Chicago, of ties to Abraham Lincoln, stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Magic!

Chicago History Museum. (Photo by AlanScottWalker from Wikipedia.com)

The Chicago History Museum has vivid dioramas which tell the history of the city. Mr. Achilles told us that the dioramas had been there for a long time–well before they went out of style at museums–and they stayed around long enough to come back into style again. They have since been cleaned up and restored, providing excellent visuals for Chicago’s history.

Chicago Fire Diorama. (I could not get a good photo, so I have borrowed from CaZaTo Ma (Tricia J.) from Flicker.com.)

Mr. Achilles is the curator for the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at the Navy Pier in Chicago. He has also helped to curate the windows shown in the Chicago Room at the History Museum, which is flanked on all sides by a gallery of historic windows from names such as Tiffany and Wright.

Tiffany stained glass window from the William Wrigley collection. (Photo by Corey Seeman.)

The Chicago History Museum houses information and artifacts from its complete history. A giant locomotive engine sits on the second floor of the museum next to one of the first rail cars used for city transit (which went on to be what is now called the “L”). Walk through all the halls of the museum to taste every generation’s contribution and inventions, including those from the furniture industry, the brewers, and the meat packers. Even the slaughterhouses contributed to fashion and furniture (leather goods), as well as food preservation methods, such as canning on a large scale.

Pioneer was Chicago’s first locomotive. (Photo by Jeremy A from Wikipedia.com.)

South Side Elevated Car 1 — the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago “L” line.

Chicago has been the site of helping to define human rights and civil liberties. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the struggles which have taken place in Chicago have been felt around the globe. This museum does an excellent job demonstrating with visuals and audio the contributions made and the battles fought.

Some of the quotes found at the Chicago History Museum, with displays providing information about such events as the Haymarket Massacre. (Photo by Aaron Ray.)

While at the History Museum, we were treated to a personal demonstration of magic by Jeanette Andrews, who has been doing magic tricks since the age of six! I thought for sure I would be able to tell how she chose the different cards she did or how she made the rubberbands move in and out from our fingers, but I never got it. I walked away happily mystified.

This video and more from Ms. Andrews can be seen at JeanetteAndrewsMagic.

The Chicago History Museum is located at 1601 N. Clark St., which is 1.1 miles from the hotel. That is approximately 2200 steps.

Old Town

When we had seen everything we had gone to see at the museum, we walked through the tree-lined streets of Old Town, a neighborhood which was settled first by the PotawatomiMiami and Illinois nations before it was settled by German Catholics. We stopped into a Bavarian-styled church in the neighborhood that survived the Great Chicago Fire, St. Michael Redemptorist Catholic Church.

The church has an altar made of silver, gold and onyx, featuring St. Michael the Archangel as, what looks like, a soldier of the Crusades. There are 16 stained glass windows in the church depicting the life of Jesus and Mary, which were designed and built by the Mayer Window Art Institute in Munich, Germany. It is a building quilted with colors and design and well worth a visit. My understanding is that the parish offers tours of the building. Call ahead for information first, though.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church is located at 1633 North Cleveland Avenue. It is 1.6 miles from the hotel (approximately, 3200 steps); or .6 miles from the Chicago History Museum (approximately, 1200 steps).

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the Old Town neighborhood was part of our tour. It is resplendent.


Old Town is also home to Second City, the world-famous comic improvisational theater which has become known for churning out the world’s greatest comedic actors. Some of their alum include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, to name just a few.

Second City is located at 1616 N Wells St. which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Our last stop in Chicago was its world-famous Art Institute of Chicago. We had been there years ago, but not with Mr. Achilles, who opened our eyes to the art surrounding us. We ended up learning so much and getting so much out of our conversation in the Institute that, not only did I forget to take pictures, we ran out of time for Millenium Park! One more reason to return to the Windy City, I think!

The Art Institute is perhaps best known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork. The elite of Chicago were the first to collect these “fuzzy” paintings before they were thought of as anything of value.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat.

Wheatstacks by Claude Monet.

Beyond that, there are some other iconic offerings by Edward Hopper and Van Gogh, as well as one of the most identifiable paintings, American Gothic by Grant Wood.

Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, available to be seen at the AIC.

American Gothic by Grant Wood can be seen at the AIC.

Mixed in with the artwork is art of another kind — furniture and home furnishings, such as tea cups and silverware. They serve to illustrate how the designs of the home can define an era.

In doing research for this article, I discovered a program near and dear to my heart that the Art Institute has started: The Cultural Distance: Half-Mile Tour. The link takes you to a PDF of a tour which walks you a half mile through the AIC, enriching your body as well as your mind! They have other distance tours as well on their website under Mini Tours.

The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 South Michigan Avenue, which is 1.3 miles from the hotel, or approximately 2600 steps.

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Below you can read where we stayed and how we otherwise fared in this very walkable city. As always in this series, the goal is to demonstrate how we were able to achieve at least 10,000 steps a day while exploring a different North American city. All step calculations were taken from the front door of the hotel to the front door of each destination.

Where we stayed and why

We chose the Four Seasons Chicago for several reasons. First of all, it’s the Four Seasons. It’s hard to bicker with a luxurious choice like that. The Four Seasons has a wide range of advantages, not the least of which is access to their concierge services. Karen, Michelle, and Adelina all worked with me at various times to set up our tours, plus, they gave us a long list of restaurant recommendations, and they made sure we got to and from the airport without problem. Besides that, we were able to request an extra, empty refrigerator so we could keep low-calorie options in the room for breakfast and lunch.

Waiting for us in the hotel room when we checked in were several personal notes from the concierge and front desk staff, along with a plate of gorgeous strawberries, a couple of beautiful plums, a succulent peach, and some bottled water. All healthy choices given to us as a thoughtful gift, after I had told them about Hubby’s weight loss and desire to keep it off. Of course, we couldn’t eat all of it right away, so we stored it in the empty fridge to munch on for the next few days.

Ever thoughtful, this is what the Four Seasons greeted us with in our hotel room!

If that wasn’t enough, the Four Seasons Chicago is located within walking distance to everything we needed access to, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and Walgreens.

The Four Seasons Chicago is located at 120 East Delaware Place.

Groceries and other necessities

Potash Market: This little store had everything we needed during our short stay in Chicago. It is located at 875 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Walgreen’s: Located just up the block from Potash Market was a quieter Walgreen’s. It is located at 933 North State Street, just .2 miles from the hotel, or approximately 400 steps.

Coffee

Sadly, we did not drink coffee outside of the hotel. This is a big surprise for someone like me who loves her coffee, but I did think to ask Mr. Achilles where was the place for a cuppa Joe. His response was, without a doubt, Intelligentsia.

There are several locations around Chicago (and New York, Pasadena, LA, and Atlanta). To find them go to Intelligentsia’s website.

Restaurants

The order in which I have these restaurants is not the chronological order in which we ate at them, it is the order in which I rate them. I start with L2O for a reason. It was, without a doubt, our favorite. We met a friend there, which only served to enhance the experience, but we all agreed that between the level of food and the level of service, it was bar none. Two other restaurants mentioned below were fantastic and, if we had only eaten at them in Chicago, our experience would have been great. But L2O took everything to the next level and blew us away with flavor, innovation, and service.

L2O: L2O stands for “Lake to Ocean”, so it is a restaurant heavily influenced by seafood. My experience as a vegetarian, though, was no where near second class. In fact, on a couple of fronts, our friend or Hubby mentioned that, in some way, they wished they had my serving–until they tried their own and decided they were over-the-moon happy with what they had ordered.

Reservations are recommended and can be made on OpenTable.com.

L2O is located at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West. It is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we did not walk there, we did walk back!

Hubby’s dessert had gold sprinkles on it and they poured more gold sprinkles on it after it was served. (Thank you, Mike R., for the photo!)

Blackbird: Don’t let my gushing about L2O lead you to believe that Blackbird isn’t worth your time. Quite the opposite. Blackbird knocked our socks off too. They just didn’t pick them up, launder them, and put them back on our feet when we were done like L2O did.

But seriously, Blackbird was delicious. The waiter who took our orders was very knowledgeable about what was on their menu and what it tasted like. When I mentioned I was vegetarian, he recommended the salad of endives with crispy potatoes, basil, dijon, and poached egg, minus the pancetta. For my entree, he suggested crispy buckwheat crepes with feta, artichokes, maitake mushrooms and ginger broth. I think I embarrassed Hubby as I slurped everything off the salad plate. I am a sucker for poached eggs in salads and this one was better than most. The crepes were outstanding as well; very fresh, spring green sorts of flavors that were grounded in the earthiness of mushrooms.

For what it’s worth, everyone we spoke to in Chicago about Blackbird–and there were quite a few–said they had been to this restaurant several times and they had loved it.

Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Blackbird is located at 619 W Randolph in a skinny building that has a small number of tables. The walk is 2 miles from the hotel, or 4000 steps. Although we cabbed to the restaurant, we walked back to the hotel.

Naha: We met another friend at this fine restaurant–delicious as Blackbird and just as attentive, service-wise. In fact, the waiter was kind enough to realize we were catching up with friends, so he checked in when he sensed a quiet moment, even though we didn’t leave him with many opportunities. We had a lot of catching up to do! The wait staff had the perfect balance between being attentive and letting us enjoy one another’s company. We never felt rushed or interrupted, nor did we wonder where our waiter went, and the food was delightful.

This restaurant was recommended by others we spoke to as well. It got hopping soon after we got there, so it seems like a popular place. Reservations are recommended and can be made at OpenTable.com.

Naha is located at 500 north clark street, which is .9 miles from the hotel, or 1800 steps. We walked to and from this restaurant.

Panera Bread: When we first got to town and just before we left we needed something to eat. Hubby found us a Panera Bread located .6 miles from the hotel, or approximately 1200 steps. We got soup and/or sandwiches and were set for the rest of the afternoon.

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At the end of the day, Chicago has everything a person could want in a city–all of the conveniences and luxuries. Still, Chicago is a city set apart by its richness in culture, heritage, and talents. It has given the world gift upon gift but continues to be looked upon as “The Second City”. Maybe that’s what makes it so special, though. It’s the younger brother to The Big Apple. It’s the kid always having to prove himself. And, in doing so, it changes the world in ways no one ever expected.

As for me, I can honestly say my own world was shifted from four days spent learning this city. I can only imagine what it must do for those who live there.

Have you visited Chicago? If so, what did you see that I didn’t mention here? Share your tips and ideas in the Comments Section below to help others who might be planning a visit to Chicago.

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This article is dedicated to my friend Gabi who is getting ready to start a new phase of her life in The Windy City. Good luck, Gabi! The world is waiting for you!

Walking Washington DC: Part III The Shoes

Just three weeks ago I was traipsing all over Washington, DC, breaking my own walking records. In all that time, over all those many miles, I got nary a blister and neither my feet nor my back complained. Over this last week, though, while merely chopping vegetables for dinner, an ache took over the joints of my feet and crept up into my back. By the time the recipe was simmering on the stove, I needed to sit down!

If you look closely, you can see the top straps of my Naot Kayla shoes, which I wore to walk the Red Carpet at the Library of Congress.

How is it possible that one week I can tromp around a big city like a 20-year-old in sneakers, and just a few days later I’m like an 80-year-old grandma hunched over the kitchen stove? I can’t help but wonder if the difference had anything to do with the kind of shoes I wore.

In the kitchen, I had on loafers–shoes that are cute and easy to get on and off, but which have little in the way of support. Alternatively, I didn’t go anywhere in DC without wearing a pair of Naot sandals, shoes I know to be lightweight and supportive for any test I put them through, even during a hot, sticky Mid-Atlantic summer. I don’t think this is just a coincidence and I’m pretty sure Steve Lax, President of Yaleet, Inc., the U.S. distributor of Naot Footwear, would agree with me.

He sat down with me for a phone interview recently and I asked him right away why Naot shoes are so consistently comfortable. His reply was simply: “It’s the cork and latex insole which creates your own orthotic from the heat and pressure of your foot.”

Naots, he said, start out comfortable and get more comfortable over time. Whether I’m trekking miles over historical brick sidewalks in DC, or hovering over a stovetop in Michigan, my feet and back stay pain free.

I’m not the only traveler who has been lured by Naot’s lightweight and comfortable selections. In 2001, Daisann McLane, then known as “The Frugal Traveler” for the New York Times, deemed Naot sandals her go-to summer travel shoes:

“Over time I’ve managed to find a few styles and brands that rate an A for both fashion and comfort. One is a slip-on sandal made by the Israeli manufacturer Naot, with a comfy black elastic-band upper and a leather insole that molds to the shape of your foot.”

She bought two pairs–one to wear right then and one to wear when the other one wore out, in case the style was discontinued. I also have two pair of Naot shoes–the Kayla style, which I deemed the perfect summer travel shoe in a previous article, and a new pair, the Esteems, which I wear for fancier occasions.

Naot Kaylas — the perfect summer travel shoe.

Back in the late eighties, when Naot started developing their shoe line, the only comfort shoes out there were made in Europe. Those shoes had a break-in period and the soles only lasted a couple of months. Plus, there was basically only one style–wide and clunky.

In Israel, where Naot shoes are made, people wear sandals 12 months of the year. A shoe that had to be broken in and whose sole lasted only two months wasn’t practical. So, the developers got to work and designed a shoe that was comfortable from the very beginning–that’s where the cork and latex insole comes in. They also used a supportive, long-lasting polyurethane bottom sole, as well as soft European leathers which prevent blisters. Naot shoes started out comfortable and got even more comfortable as a person wore it, plus it had a sole that could last. “It’s like the difference between the Model T engine and the jet engine,” said Mr. Lax.

As for clunky, Naot worked to resolve that too. “People don’t want to wear clunky shoes,” he said, so their in-house designers design shoes for comfort and style. Now, he said, “Naot has a shoe for every kind of foot.”

Even the heels are built to overcome the issues of comfort and clunkiness. “Our heels and wedges are angled to be a zero heel. No pressure is placed on the back.” No wonder I could walk a mile and a half to dinner and back in DC wearing my Naot Esteem shoes without feeling like I was walking in a heel.

Naot Esteem in Platinum Leather.

These same in-house designers set the standard for removable, insertable orthotics. “Thirty percent of national labs are using our insole,” he said. What that means is, if you use an insertable orthotic, there’s a good chance it was designed by Naot’s designers.

Over the years, new styles have been added to Naot’s lineup of sandals, shoes, and boots, but they all must meet the standards set by the organization, standards that are shaped with a vision toward making the world a little better everyday. “It’s not all about money,” said Mr. Lax. “We are a very socially active company. We donate Naot shoes to shelters all over the country.” In fact, just the week before I spoke to him, he said they gave away 200 pairs of shoes at a shelter in New York City, and they have similar events on a regular basis in shelters nationwide.

So, now I know. When I’m traveling the globe, wearing my Naot shoes, my feet are held in consistent comfort and support because of a dedication to quality that runs deep within the company. It’s that attention to quality that not only makes my feet happy, but now it makes my heart beat a little happier, knowing I’m supporting a company that supports the community at large in such big ways.

Thank you, Mr. Lax, for your time and your company’s generosity.

Walking Washington DC: Part II, Tours and Activities

American cities may be easy to navigate on foot, but not every American city caters to the walking tourist. For a lot of cities tourists count on buses, cars, and Segways to see the sights. In Washington, DC, though, even Segways have a hard time getting up close and personal with all the memorials and monuments in the area. This capital city, then, is a walker’s dream. Not only is it easy to achieve 10,000 steps simply by eating, drinking, and shopping, it is a city that can truly only be experienced on foot.

The guide below illustrates how Hubby and I strategized our time as tourists with the goal of achieving at least 10,000 steps a day. Our starting point for step calculation was the Hotel Rouge. Distance and step calculations are taken from the front door of the hotel to the meeting point of each activity. The Hotel Rouge is located at 1315 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC.

Things to do

Washington Walks Tours

Thankfully for the walking tourist there are at least a couple of tour companies devoted to seeing our nation’s capital á pied. My favorite is Washington Walks. In fact, we enjoyed their tours so much that we took four of them. Their guides are knowledgeable and friendly. The tours themselves are intimate and in-depth, filled with sights and information you can’t get from riding a bus all day. If we had been in town longer, we would have taken the other tours they offer.

Memorials by Moonlight, around the Tidal Basin 

It doesn’t matter how often I go to DC, there is always something new to see or, more likely, something that changes because I have changed. As a high school student and a young adult I visited DC as a tourist. Plus, when I first graduated from college, I lived just outside of the city in Maryland for nearly a year. Many weekends were spent strolling around Georgetown, the National Mall and the National Gallery of Art. In all those trips and during all that time I had never been to the Jefferson Memorial. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, as well as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial were installed since the last time I visited (which had been a long time).

One thing hadn’t changed, though–the power of these memorials and monuments to move something deep within me, inspiring that longing for their kind of greatness, their kind of far-seeing wisdom, even as they were set in completely human bodies, with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us.

All of these sights, along with the George Mason Memorial, are included in the Memorials by Moonlight tour around the Tidal Basin with Washington Walks. With an exuberance of one who loves what she does, our guide Phoebe introduced us to the stories of these men who had such an impact on American history.

Washington Walks tours are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under the age of 3 have free admittance.

Walking calculations: For this tour, we took the Metro on the Orange/Blue Lines from the McPherson Square station to the Smithsonian station. Walking from the hotel to McPherson Square is .7 miles or 1400 steps, one way. The tour itself was 2 hours long and we walked approximately 1 mile, or 2000 steps around the Tidal Basin from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, where the tour began, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, where the tour ended.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Inside the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

George Mason Memorial.

Mama, Daddy, and Baby ducks hang out on the sidewalk around the Tidal Basin. In the distance is the Washington Monument.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This is only one part of a large, four-roomed space.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his dog.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.

A wonderful quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorials by Moonlight, along the Reflecting Pool 

The Reflecting Pool located in the National Mall may be getting a face lift just now, but that did not stop us from feeling the power of the memorials which sit around it. There’s the newest member, the World War II Memorial, the controversial but deeply powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the equally moving Korean War Veterans Memorial. Seth, our tour guide, took us around all of these memorials, as well as the Constitution Gardens, the Vietnam Veterans Women’s Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial for this tour.

As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge.

Walking calculations: For this tour, we walked to meet Seth in front of the Queen Isabella I statue on Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, NW. That walk was 1.2 miles from our hotel, which is approximately 2400 steps. The tour itself was two hours and included approximately 1 mile of walking (or 2000 steps), from one end of the Constitution Gardens and Reflecting Pool to the other. Walking back to the hotel, we walked from the Lincoln Memorial up 15th Street NW, which was about 2.5 miles, or 5000 steps.

Hubby along the picturesque lake in Constitution Gardens, a memorial to the American Revolution and to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Wreaths hung on posts naming all the states and American territories that contributed to the war effort during WWII.

Eagles overhead in one of the two pavilions marking the two theaters of war: Atlantic and Pacific.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This man’s name is inscribed somewhere on this wall.

Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Korean Veterans Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

The spot on which Martin Luther King, Jr. stood during his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Lincoln Memorial.

Dupont Circle

Starting at the Metro station for Dupont Circle, we were introduced to the spirit of this neighborhood by reading the quote from a poem by Walt Whitman, which is inscribed in the surrounding wall of the Metro station:

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad…

Dupont Circle may have started out as a playground for the nouveau riche in the early twentieth century, but it became the birthplace of the gay community in our capital city. The quote above was written by Whitman after the Civil War, when he served as a nurse to dress the wounds of soldiers and provide comfort to them. The poem became symbolic, then, for those serving the men and women dying of AIDS, and how that brought together the community.

Our guide, Carolyn, took us all around this beautiful neighborhood, telling us stories of a famous architect and his murderous, crazy brother; of rich socialites whose parties outshone those of the president’s; of an 80-year-old church which was burned by arsonists and reinvented itself to serve the changing community; and of a man who single-handedly cultivated the art collection that would become the beginnings for the National Gallery of Art.

There was far more on this tour than I can share here in this one article. Some of the photos below highlight things mentioned above, as well as some of the other rich pieces of history we encountered along our tour.

As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person, except for children under age 3, who are admitted free of charge. No reservations are needed.

Walking calculations: We met just outside the Dupont Metro station, which is located at Q Street NW and Connecticut Avenue NW. The distance from the hotel is approximately .6 miles, which is 1200 steps. The tour was two hours long and we walked all over the neighborhood, about a mile and a half, which gave us 3000 steps.

A portion of a Walt Whitman poem is inscribed on the Metro station wall.

Our guide, Carolyn, showing us what Dupont Circle used to look like. You can’t believe the mansions!

The Dupont Circle Fountain, which has symbols for the sea, the stars and the wind–all important to the naval officer for whom the circle is dedicated. The trash around the fountain is unusual, we were told, left-over from the celebrations of the day before.

A tiny park near Dupont Circle which commemorates the entertainer, the entrepreneur, the statesman, Sonny Bono.

“Toy Theater” mural by Peter Waddell is on the side of a building located at 1914 Sunderland Place NW at New Hampshire.

An Episcopalian church was burned by arsonists in the 70s. What you see here is what is left of the original altar in the interior of the building. As you can see, the congregation is gearing up to rebuild, incorporating the ruins from the building.

A labyrinth to walk outside the ruins of the Episcopalian church.

The Cairo–the tallest building in the city. (It’s not the Capitol Building!) Once it was built, everyone worried that DC would be overrun with massive structures, so a law was passed that says no building can be taller than this one.

Embassy Row 

This section of town is encompassed by Dupont Circle, so part of this tour overlaps with the other tour. Still, what we learned in each was surprisingly unique. It is incredible how much could happen in one 2-mile radius!

As you can imagine, Embassy Row houses a number of embassies from all over the world. Sandwiched among them are historical homes–some of which have since become embassies and private clubs, but all of which have fascinating tales to tell, especially when told by our theatrical guide, Victoria, who happens to be an actress when she is not leading tours.

We took fewer pictures on this tour because so much of it is wrapped up in the stories which took place in the homes we encountered: Rich socialites wreaking havoc on the sanity (and pocketbooks!) of their political and entrepreneurial fathers; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s marital quandaries; and the curse of the Hope Diamond, to name a few!

As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under 3 years of age are admitted free of charge.

Walking calculations: We met near Dupont Circle, close to the Panera Bread restaurant, which is located on 19th Street NW. The distance from the hotel is approximately .4 miles, or 800 steps. The tour was two hours long and we walked about a mile and a half, which gave us 3000 steps.

A statue of Ghandi stands in front of the Indian Embassy, while our talented guide tells us all about the history of this bustling area.

Although this cat wasn’t officially a part of the tour, we thought it was cute, especially when we were told that it is dedicated in memory to an actual cat that used to live there and climb up on that roof to sit.

Other Activities and Things to Do

Library of Congress 

The Library of Congress is a stunning building and definitely worth exploring. We thought it would be a good idea to take a public tour provided by volunteer docents, but for us it was not a good experience. At least thirty individuals were crammed into one tour and a woman who seemed to struggle to get from one place to the next had an equally difficult time projecting her voice over the chaos of the public hallways. We ended up leaving before the tour was over with the promise to one another that we would return and, next time, take a private guide with us or explore using the Passport to Knowledge guides or the iPhone app.

Walking calculations: We walked to the McPherson Square Metro Station, which was .7 miles (or 1400 steps) from the hotel. We then took the Orange/Blue lines to the Capitol South station. From there, we walked to the Library of Congress, which was .3 miles (or 600 steps) and walked through the Library long enough to discover it was too loud and crowded to enjoy the tour. By then, we had run out of time to start a new tour, so we headed back to the hotel the way we came. Overall, I estimate we walked about 500 steps around and in the Library of Congress.

Hubby walking the red carpet at the Library of Congress.

My turn to walk the red carpet in front of the Library of Congress. What is it about a red carpet that makes one feel like a movie star, even when the paparazzi have all gone home?

The Capitol Building is right across the street from the Library of Congress.

The Founding Fathers look out from their pedestals on the Library of Congress.

It is a stunning building.

The one line we did hear our tour guide say was, “If it’s not nailed down or breathing, it’s decorated.”

Capital Pride

As mentioned above, Dupont Circle is the birthplace for gay activism in Washington, DC. As a result, they have a smashing Capital Pride Festival every year. We were fortunate enough to be there the last weekend of the event, but sadly, we got there too late to participate in most of the activities. Since we were staying in the Dupont Circle area, though, we were happy to share in the spirited atmosphere. We even received our own Pride beads, which we wore proudly until the festival ended the next day.

For those interested in attending the Capital Pride festivities, they occur every June, which is LGBTQ Pride month across the United States.

Walking calculations are not included here since we did not get to participate in the actual festivities.

I am proud of the Pride beads I was given!

Many of the restaurants and business establishments around Dupont and Logans Circles were decorated with the Pride colors.

Hubby and I enjoyed a beverage at Cafe Luna, one of the restaurants decorated for Pride in Dupont Circle.

When I go back

Mount Vernon

After reading about Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, on Traveling Chicha’s blog, it became a place I want to go to, but I ran out of time before I could do it. It seems a great way to capture the spirit of the man and the era which helped shape this country. There is a fee for entering the Mount Vernon Estate: $15 for people over 12 years old, $14 for seniors over the age of 62; and $7 for children between 6 and 11. Children under 5 years old are free. Most organized bus tours include the price of admission.

Eastern Market

A friend of mine who spends more than half the year in Washington, DC told me this market is a Must-Do for anyone visiting the city. Not only does she shop there for fresh produce, she goes there for unique gifts and to enjoy the craftsmanship of hand-made artwork, jewelry, and crafts.

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Now that you’ve seen how Hubby and I did things, share your own ways for Walking Washington, DC. Do you know of other excellent walking tours? Do you take advantage of the free entries to places like the National Gallery of Art or the Smithsonian? How do you avoid the crowds and lines? Add your favorite hints and tips in the comments section below to help others plan their future walking adventures in Washington, DC.

Walking Washington DC: Part I, The Basics

America’s cities have some of the best opportunities for those who strive to walk 10,000 steps each day (or about 5 miles). Sometimes cities can be a mixed blessing, though. While a person has walking access to everything he or she could need–restaurants, shows, basics–that convenience can make it difficult to achieve all those steps. For example, if the grocery store is just a quarter of a mile away from home, the round trip only garners 1000 steps total. That’s where strategizing becomes important for walking those other 9000 steps elsewhere.

Fortunately in Washington, DC, it’s easy to have your cake and eat it too. In fact, I spent a little more than a week there recently and, according to my FitBit calculations, I broke a record for number of steps achieved in one day. (For those who can forgive my boasting, I hit over 19,000 steps in one day! Woo hoo!)

As you can imagine, DC is packed with things to do, places to see, history to explore. Because of this, I have broken down this part of the Walking America Series into three articles.

Part I, The Basics: This is the first of the three which lays the foundation for the ways Hubby and I strategized our time to achieve the greatest number of steps just doing day-to-day things. Basics include grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and other kinds of things needed to function on a daily basis. As an example, we hit the grocery stores everyday. This gave us a minimum of 1200 steps round trip from the hotel. You’ll see in these three articles that we picked up the other steps by walking for coffee in the afternoons, walking to restaurants, and taking walking tours.

Part II, The Tours & Activities: The next article is all about how we got our steps as tourists. Thankfully, there is an abundance of walking tours available in DC and we took four of them. You’ll see how much fun we had getting all our steps while reconnecting to our nation’s capital.

Part III, The Shoes: The last article is a revisit of the shoe question from a previous post. In DC I put my favorite pair of Naot shoes to the test and experimented with another pair from that same brand. I also had the opportunity to talk with the president of Naot’s US shoe division to find out why the results of my personal testing turned out the way they did.

I hope you’ll return for each article and provide your own insights as to how you navigate the world on foot.

Approximate mileage and step counts are provided for each location. Please note these calculations are taken from the front door of the hotel to the front door of our destinations.

Where we stayed and why

The Ladies of Hotel Rouge were a big draw to passers by, many of whom couldn’t resist a picture with at least one of them.

Hotel Rouge: Hubby and I chose the Hotel Rouge in large part because they advertised studio suites with kitchenettes and free wi-fi for Kimpton Hotel’s InTouch Loyalty members. Kimpton is known for its quirky hotels. Some can be better than others, but we could not have been happier with having access to a fridge and small sink in our room, along with dishes, silverware, mugs, and glasses–all replaced daily with a clean set by housekeeping.

The kitchenette in our room.

We also chose this hotel because it is located on the edge of Dupont Circle and Logans Circle, lovely neighborhoods peppered with restaurants, coffee shops, and easy access to a couple of grocery stores and pharmacies. Anything else we would want to do was just a couple of miles away.

The hotel is three stars, which I think is very accurate. It has some shabby edges–the elevators could use a good scrub down–but it is otherwise a good place to call home for a week. The staff was friendly, the room was spotless, and it was overall very quiet where we were in room 706.

The hotel room was huge, with the bed on one side and a desk on the other. (That’s me blurred on the side. I was checking things out.)

The desk area on the other side of the room from the bed.

There are other Kimpton Hotels in the area: Madera, Helix, Topaz, Palomar, and Donovan House. If Kimpton isn’t your style or budget, you can throw a stone from the Hotel Rouge and hit dozens of other hotels such as the Doubletree Inn, the Holiday Inn Express, Courtyard by Marriott, The St. Regis, The Jefferson, and Destination Hotel’s The Madison.

Hotel Rouge is located at 1315 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC.

Groceries and other necessities

Whole Foods: Not the largest Whole Foods we’ve ever been to, but then it’s hard to compete with the flagship store in Austin, Texas. Still, this gave us the freshest selection of produce in the neighborhood, along with easy access to yogurt, hummus, and other items we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at the hotel.

Tip: If we had the option, we found it best to go during the day. Once 5pm rolled around, the place became a madhouse and lines to the cash registers snaked around to the back of the store. The lines did move quickly, however, thanks to a long bank of cash registers and an audio/visual system they have in place to tell the next person in line which register is open.

Located at 1440 P Street NW = .3 miles, one way (600 steps)

Safeway: If I had my choice, I would not have stepped foot in this Safeway. It’s a bit on the grimy side, very limited in its selection, and it is somewhat of a Twilight Zone experience to check out there, thanks to finicky technology and absent-minded customers. Still, we went there to quench my husband’s Diet Mountain Dew addiction and once because Whole Foods had already closed.

Located at 1701 Corcoran St NW = .4 miles, one way (800 steps)

CVS 1 & 2: There are two CVS pharmacies located within half a mile from Hotel Rouge. They are equally stocked with the kinds of odds and ends needed during a trip. It came in handy when I ran out of hand lotion and when Safeway was out of stock of Diet Mountain Dew. Like Safeway, though, we encountered some checkout headaches at each location. The lines were occasionally long and the self-checkouts didn’t always work.

CVS 1 is located down the street from Whole Foods at 1418 P St NW = .3 miles, one way (600 steps)

CVS 2 is located around the corner from Safeway at 1637 P St NW = .2 miles, one way (400 steps)

Coffee:

Commissary: We visited Commissary during the one afternoon it rained. We had gone to Starbucks first, but all the tables and chairs were taken with people who had set up remote offices at all the tables there. Commissary was a nice break from the usual, so I’m actually glad Starbucks was full. This place is more of a restaurant, serving lunch/brunch and dinner, but they have coffee options as part of their menu, so we just got a nibbly to munch on and had our coffee with that. The coffee was so-so, but it was a neat place to sit and hang out with Hubby for a half an hour.

Located at 1443 P St NW = .2 miles, one way (400 steps)

Caribou: There are three Caribou Coffees within half a mile from Hotel Rouge. The one we went to was on 18th and M, tucked into the construction happening on the building in which it is housed. Thankfully, no hard hats are needed to enjoy a cup of ‘Bou, but other than that, there’s not much to say about this location that is different from Caribous around the country.

New to me: This coffee chain has started providing options for hot sandwiches for lunch, such as grilled cheese and gouda turkey pesto, in addition to their pastries and warmed breakfast options.

There are three locations very close to Hotel Rouge:

1800 M Street = . 5 miles, one way (1000 steps)

1101 17th Street NW = .4 miles, one way (800 steps)

1156 15th Street = .3 miles, one way (600 steps)

Cafe Luna: This little spot is located down a short set of stairs off the sidewalk along P street. We went there for their adorable patio and a couple of soft drinks. While there, we met a very nice woman who is a regular there, and her dog, Horatio. Inside it had more of a restaurant feel with a fully stocked bar. I’m putting it in the “coffee” category because our purpose was coffee-like, in that we weren’t looking for a meal, but they do serve brunch and dinner. If you meet Horatio, tell him and his mom I said hi.

Located at 1633 P St NW = .2 miles one way (400 steps)

Teaism: If coffee isn’t your cup of tea, a friend of mine recommended Teaism to try. Unfortunately, we never made it there, but she recommended it so highly, I had to share it. There are several locations in the DC area. The ones listed below are equidistant to the hotel.

2009 R Street Northwest = . 7 miles, one way (1400 steps)

800 Connecticut Avenue Northwest = . 7 miles, one way (1400 steps)

Restaurants:

Listed in order of preference.

Nage: Walking up to this restaurant, I wasn’t overly impressed. It’s tucked into the same nondescript building as a Courtyard by Marriott. That’ll teach me to judge a restaurant by its doorfront.

The staff was warm, friendly, and even funny at times! The food was mouthwateringly delicious. I had mushroom baklava as my starter which was drizzled with blueberry compote. Even as I write this, I am craving that strange-sounding concoction. It is a brilliant combination. Hubby had one of their many fish choices and loved it. For dessert, I had a rich, creamy Lemon Goat Cheesecake. That’s when I asked Hubby to roll me out of the restaurant. Fortunately, we had a walking tour scheduled after so I could work off all that food!

If Hubby and I lived in DC, this would become a regular restaurant for us. In fact, by the time we left, we felt like regulars. The staff was so nice and the food was just so good.

Reservations did not appear to be necessary, but we made them to be on the safe side. You can too at OpenTable.com.

Happy Food Note: For those of us who eat vegetarian diets, they have several menu items devoted to meatless eaters. Not only that, but every week they have Meatless Mondays

Located at 1600 Rhode Island Avenue, NW = . 2 miles, one way (400 steps)

Nora: Like Nage, this restaurant had a fantastic combination of friendly, helpful service and delicious food. Also like Nage, they had a fabulous vegetarian menu. In fact, I was able to do an entire Chef’s Vegetarian Tasting Menu! I never have that option when there are “Chef’s Tasting Menus” to sample. I had a refreshing cold cucumber soup, a hearty onion tart, a stick-to-your-ribs mushroom risotto, and pistachio shortcake with macerated berries and whipped cream. By the time I got to dessert, I felt like I might look like a giant macerated berry, but I still somehow found enough room to sneak in about half of the shortcake, most of the berries, and a scoop or two of the homemade whipped cream.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online at OpenTable.com.

Hubby is a bit of a beer connoisseur and he loves IPA’s, in particular. He had this one at Nora and he loved it!

Fun Food Note: According to one of our tour guides, Restaurant Nora is the first certified organic restaurant in the United States. Their website goes on to explain this a little further: “This means that 95% or more of everything that you eat at the restaurant has been produced by certified organic growers and farmers all who share in Nora’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.”

Located at 2132 Florida Avenue NW = .8 miles, one way (1600 steps)

Firefly: This cozy restaurant, located in Hotel Madera, another Kimpton Hotel, is quite good. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had dinner there. My only complaint about it is that it can get loud as guests fill up the tables. We got there on the earlier side, around 5:30, before anyone else had arrived, so we had the whole place to ourselves. It gave us a chance to catch up from the day before the masses arrived. By the time we left, it was so loud I couldn’t hear Hubby, who was sitting across the small table from me. Still, it’s worth trying.

Reservations are recommended and can be made through OpenTable.com.

Located at 1310 New Hampshire Avenue, NW = .6 miles, one way (1200 steps)

Cashion’s Eat Place: We met friends here for dinner one night and had really great food but really horrible service. If Nage was all about friendly, welcoming, attentive service, Cashion’s was the exact opposite. Several times servers brought food to our table that was meant for other tables. Our own dishes took half an hour or more to arrive after we had ordered. The optimist in me wants to believe this was an off night for the place because the food really was worth the trip. Our friends have been to this restaurant several times and assured us the poor service was as much a surprise to them as it was to us, so maybe try it–and then let me know how it went.

The food itself is Mediterranean inspired. I inhaled the Cauliflower Soup and enjoyed the vegetarian dish put together by the chef, which was made up of veggies served that day. Hubby and one of our friends had salads to start and then chose Pacific Sablefish as their entree. We were all pleased with the dishes we chose–just disappointed at the service.

Located at 1819 Columbia Road NW = 1.3 miles, one way (2600 steps)

Other:

COCOVA: Like chocolate? You’ll love this chocolate boutique located in Adams Morgan. They have handmade chocolates, artisanal chocolates, chocolate classes, and, on occasion, they have FREE SAMPLE DAY! Check out their events calendar for what’s happening during your visit.

Located at 1904 18th St. NW = .8 miles, one way (1600 steps)

Staples: While in DC, we had to make a quick trip to Staples to buy a toner cartridge and ream of paper for the small printer we take everywhere we go. The store was very helpful, almost to the point of seeming paranoid to leave us too long on our own.

Located at 1901 L Street = .7 miles, one way (1400 steps)

UPS Store: Also necessary during many of our trips is the need to shred paper we’ve used in our business during the week. The UPS Store tends to have shredding services, be they “drop off and pay by the pound” or “self-serve” at a shredding machine. This one was self-serve and cost all of $2 to shred a stack of papers about an inch thick. It was nice to have access so close to the hotel.

Located at 1718 M Street NW = . 3 miles, one way (600 steps)

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As always, if you have some ideas to add to our list of Walking DC Basics, please add them in the comments below! This is meant as a resource for all of us. Your contributions are always welcome with gratitude.

Now that you have all the basics down, get ready for some real fun touring the city!

Walking Austin

Austin, Texas is a city on the move. Everywhere you look, people are walking, biking, running, and Segwaying around town. And that doesn’t include those in Lady Bird Lake who are kayaking, rowing, and paddle-boating. Sidewalks are prevalent, even across the bridges that span the lake, which divides downtown from the hip neighborhood known as South Congress (SoCo). It’s as if, from the ground up, the city’s planners wanted people to get out and experience the city with all their senses–not just from the isolating seat of a car.

Austin has a myriad of activities, events, and sights to see, all within walking distance of downtown. It has a high walking score of 89, which makes it an easy place in which to get 10,000 steps a day, and a no-brainer for those of us who plan travel with walking in mind.

Hubby and I were in Austin for the week of May 6th through the 13th. Although we ate like kings and sometimes came home looking like wet rats thanks to some downpours, we managed to have the time of our lives and get at least 10,000 steps each day.

A bonus for visiting Austin was the opportunity to reconnect with some friends I hadn’t seen in nearly 12 years. Thanks to my friend Heather, who lives in Austin, we got to enjoy the city from a local’s perspective while reigniting old friendships. (Thanks, Heather!)

Where we stayed and why

The Four Seasons Austin was our chosen destination for this trip. It is located at 98 San Jacinto Boulevard, right on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, and within walking distance to pretty much anything we wanted to do downtown. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the hotel is pure luxury, with a relaxing spa and a team of helpful concierges on staff.

All distances and step calculations mentioned below are measured from the front door of the Four Seasons.

A view of Congress Avenue Bridge from our hotel room.

A view of the tops of trees and Lady Bird Lake from the balcony of our hotel room.

Trails and tons of public green space opened up behind the Four Seasons hotel to the edge of Lady Bird Lake. If you look closely in the trees, you can see a hammock set up for enjoyment on lazy summer afternoons.

Hubby’s office at the Four Seasons. Notice the fridge behind the desk, which the hotel provided so he could have store-bought yogurt, veggies, and fruit!

Groceries and other necessities

Royal Blue Grocery: There are two of these little bodega-style general stores located within a half a mile of the hotel. They carry all sorts of goodies for lunch and breakfast, including specially made salads and sandwiches in the refrigerated section. They also carry all the ingredients to make your own sandwiches and salads, along with pretty much any other kind of food or beverage you’d be in the market for. I preferred the lighter, fresher feel of the one on Congress to the one on 3rd Avenue, but both carry a bounty of grocery goods.

Royal Blue Grocery on 3rd Avenue: .4 miles from the hotel (800 steps one way)

Royal Blue Grocery on Congress: .5 miles from the hotel (1000 steps one way)

For $1 each, these tote bags from Royal Blue Grocery not only made it easy to carry our groceries around town, but they make for cheap, easy to pack, reusable souvenirs too!

Austin-inspired coffee we found at Royal Blue Grocery on Congress Avenue.

Whole Foods Market: Most metropolitan areas in the United States have a Whole Foods these days, but there is only one Whole Foods which can claim flagship status. That store is located at 525 N. Lamar Boulevard and is 80,000 square feet of natural and organic goodness. Their produce department alone makes even the gloomiest of people happy with all its fresh smells and bright colors. We were in the market for fruit, veggies, yogurt, and unique lunch items. Indeed, Hubby found a new favorite dark chocolate while there–Taza stone-ground organic chocolate.

Check out their calendar for special events that happen on their rooftop plaza, such as Sunset Supper Cinema.

Whole Foods Market on N. Lamar: 1.2 miles from the hotel (2400 steps one way)

Second Street Market: It’s not much to look at, but this dingy little store came through for us on a number of occasions. Our first night there, we weren’t sure yet what Royal Blue would have on hand so we stopped in for some sodas and bottled water. Throughout the rest of the week, Second Street was where we went when it was pouring rain outside and half a mile seemed too far to roam for odds and ends. Don’t count on them for a lot of selection. They truly are a convenience store and not meant to supply a household with groceries. They are located at 200 San Jacinto Boulevard.

Second Street Market: .2 miles from the hotel (400 steps one way)

Coffee

Caffee Medici: This cute little coffee shop is located at 200 Congress Avenue, right next door to Congress restaurant (see restaurant info below). It has an urban vibe to it and they pride themselves on providing one of the best cups of java around.

Caffee Medici: .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)

Houndstooth Coffee: At nearly four miles away from the hotel, Houndstooth Coffee is, admittedly, a little too far even for us to walk. Still, I was taken there during my art tour of the city and I enjoyed it enough to pass it along as an option for coffee.

The Coffee Cup: This little shop was located within the Four Seasons complex on San Jacinto Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street. Convenience is what made it so appealing.

The Coffee Cup: .0 miles from the hotel. (Approximately 100 steps one way.)

Other

University of Texas Fitness InstituteIf you are like my husband, and you have been on a weight loss journey recently, you may be wondering to yourself, “What exactly is my body fat percentage”? Look no further than the University of Texas Fitness Institute for a Body Composition Analysis.

For $90 each, we got a full-body scan using a bone density scanner (DEXA). After the scan, we were given printed results and a consultation with a fitness expert, who walked us through our results. The body composition information is broken down into arms, legs, trunk, hips, and abdomen. We also learned how our bone density was stacking up. As a woman in her 40s, I was very relieved to see that my bone density is quite good, but the fitness expert reminded me I will need to add some weight bearing exercises if I’m going to keep it that way.

For Hubby and me, this was a huge affirmation that we are on the right path. Now all we have to do is add some weights to our routine and we’ll be good to go!

The Fitness Institute of Texas: 1.7 miles from the hotel (3400 steps one way)

Car2Go: Although we never needed a car while we were in Austin, if we were in the city for longer than a week, I could see the advantage of registering with Car2Go for $35 in order to use their little Smart Cars parked all over town. For rates and more general information on how it works, check out their website. Their main office is located at 800 W. 5th Street, Suite 100B.

Car2Go: .9 miles from the hotel (1800 steps one way)

Car2Go seemed to be everywhere in the city.

Restaurants

Olivia: My friend Heather has lived in Austin for 15 years and she knows all the good spots. Olivia is one of them. She picked us up at our hotel and brought along another friend of mine for a mini high school reunion! This was the perfect spot–it had big open windows to let in welcoming light and a fun menu to explore.

Next time we’re in town, we’ll return to Olivia. This time, though, I’m going straight to dessert. The entrees were good, but the creme brûlée was sincerely the best I have ever eaten! (Thanks, Heather, for sharing it!) Sorry. No pictures were taken of the creme brûlée. It vanished before any of us could think of it! We did manage to get a shot of Hubby’s beautiful beet and goat cheese salad, though!

Olivia: 2.4 miles from the hotel (4800 steps one way)

Yum! Yum! Yum! Beets, goat cheese, cashews, a miniature pavlova, and chunks of caramel-ly white chocolate. I nearly lost a finger when I stole the last piece of white chocolate!

the backspace: Hubby found this pizza joint online and I’m glad he did. After walking all over the city on a rainy day, this tiny restaurant, with its brick oven glowing behind the bar, was a comforting place to dry off and unwind. We stuffed ourselves silly on delicious appetizers of local squash, pumpkin seed pesto, and pecorino romano, as well as, warmed marinated olives, lemon, mint, and oregano. When our margherita pizza came out we discovered we had just enough room to eat the whole thing! The backspace is located at 507 San Jacinto.

The backspace: .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)

The backspace is a tiny restaurant. We got there right at 5pm to make sure we got a place to sit. It’s a great spot, don’t you think?

The warmth of the olives seemed to bring out their juicy flavors. So good!

parkside: Parkside is the sister restaurant to the backspace. They are located right next door to one another and owned by the same chef, Shawn Cirkiel, an Austin native. Since the backspace was so good, we decided to give parkside a try with my friend Heather on our last day in Austin.

Although parkside is known for its raw bar and oyster menu, we experienced the other side of the menu: excellent comfort food. The spring potato soup surprised me by being cold, but the flavors were so delicious that I couldn’t put my spoon down until I had eaten every drop–and I don’t usually like cold soups. Both Hubby and Heather ordered different salads: the butter lettuce salad for Heather, and the spiced beet salad for Hubby. Both mmm’d and ooo’d over their salads before continuing along that theme with their entrees of Dewberry Farms Chicken (for Heather), and Grilled Salmon (for Hubby). I loaded up on carbs that night by ordering and sharing a variety of sides: macaroni and cheese, polenta, grilled asparagus, and my all-time favorite, fried okra.

The picture below was taken after dinner when we were “fat and happy”, as they say.

parkside: .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)

My friend Heather and I just outside parkside restaurant.

Hubby geared up with his local Austin beer and ready to order!

Congress: This was one of my favorite restaurant experiences outside of the ones shared with friends. The restaurant itself is understated elegance. There are magical teardrop chandeliers swirling and dripping from the ceiling. The chairs and tufted banquettes lend an air of comfortable sophistication as they are clad in what looks to be creamy linen. Warm woods frame the doors and cupboards, grounding the lighter, airier tones around the dining room.

The menu is either three-course or a seven-course chef’s tasting menu. No matter which you choose, be sure to go hungry because, by the time we got through the second course, I was stuffed. I’m still thinking about the tomato, plum, buratta salad I had at Congress. Buratta seems to be all the rage these days, available in nearly every high-end restaurant around the country. Chefs Bull and Meeker, though, separated Congress from the pack with their deliciously salty version combined with juicy tomatoes and plums.

If luxurious surroundings and thoughtfully delicious food weren’t enough, the service at Congress was some of the best we’ve experienced in a long time. It is what set the place apart for us. It made us want to stay and stay. Our water glasses were never empty and our other beverage glasses were refilled regularly with our drinks of choice. We never felt like we were overwhelmed by the service, but we also never lacked for anything either. It was just a very pleasant, delicious evening.

Congress = .3 miles from the hotel (600 steps one way)

Gordough’s: Okay, so I was good the whole time I was in Austin. I split entrees and dessert. I made sure to get at least three servings of fruit and vegetables each day. All that goodness deserves a little bit of bad, which is why I had to go to Gordough’s, the food truck specializing in big, greasy, made-to-order donuts.

Yes. They are good. No. I did not eat the whole thing. Fortunately, I had my friend Heather there with me so we could split it. Even then, though, we didn’t eat the whole thing. The “Dirty Berry” donut, with its grilled strawberries and melty fudge was just too much of a good thing.

Gordough’s = 1.4 miles from the hotel (2800 steps one way)

Heather sits before our Gourdough’s donut, ready to dig in!

We had the Dirty Berry: Fudge icing with grilled strawberries. Man, that’s a lot of donut!

Things to do

Art in Austin

As I mentioned in my previous article, art is a big deal in Austin and it is not to be missed. Below is a list of places I visited, thanks to the connections and coordination of the magnificent concierge at the Four Seasons, Daisy Undercuffler. For more information about these places, please see the article I wrote devoted to Austin art.

(Disclaimer: I am including step information for these art locations, but I did not walk to most of them myself. Now that I know where they are, though, I feel very comfortable doing it next time I’m in town.)

Gallery Shoal Creek is located at 2905 San Gabriel Street = 2.9 miles from the hotel (5800 steps one way).

Davis Gallery + Framing is located at 837 W 12th Street = 1.5 miles from the hotel (3000 steps one way).

Blanton Museum of Art on the UT Campus located at 200 East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard = 1.4 miles from the hotel (2800 steps one way).

The Rapoport Atrium with the “Stacked Waters” tile installation wrapping the walls.

Austin Postcard Mural is located on the building of Roundhouse Relics at 1720 S 1st Street = 1.5 miles from the hotel (3000 steps one way).

This mural was painted on the side of the Roadhouse Relics building.

The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue is located along Lady Bird Lake Trail off of South 1st  Street. That is .8 miles from the hotel (1600 steps one way).

The Willie Nelson statue is located at 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard. That is .1 miles from the hotel, or 200 steps one way.

Willie Nelson statue on the corner of Guadalupe and Willie Nelson Boulevard. (Photo by M. Dryja.)

Following is the continued list of art spaces recommended by Daisy at the Four Seasons, as well as Judith Taylor at Gallery Shoal Creek, and Lisa Rogers at the Davis Gallery. I was not able to visit these places during my time in Austin, so I have not included the step counts. I did, however, include the addresses for each so the next time I visit Austin, it will be easy to look up distances and calculate steps. (Remember, 1 mile is approximately equal to 2000 steps.)

Arthouse at Jones Center provides exhibitions, educational opportunities, and special programs for experiencing modern and contemporary art. It is located at 700 Congress Avenue.

Wally Workman Gallery currently represents 56 local emerging and established artists. It is located at 1202 West 6th Street.

Austin Art Garage has an appealing philosophy: “We’re just two guys that wanted to make it easier to find and purchase original art without entering a world of debt. …[We] aim to expose emerging artists while giving customers a no-hassle system to find and purchase a variety of affordable one-of-a-kind art works.” They are located at 2200 South Lamar Boulevard.

The Visual Arts Center, located on the UT campus at 2300 Trinity Street, is where emerging artists, faculty, and students come together to share their art. (Check their website for hours. At the time of this writing, they were closed for the summer.)

Mexic-Arte Museum is “dedicated to enriching the community through education programs and exhibitions focusing on traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture.” It was designated by the State Legislature of Texas as the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas. Visit it at 419 Congress Avenue.

Flatbed Press is a multi-use space which includes a publishing workshop as well as an art gallery. It is located at 2830 East MLK Boulevard.

Austin’s City Hall, the People’s Gallery is located at 301 West 2nd Street and is “designed to showcase regional artists and to encourage public dialog, understanding, and enjoyment of visual art.”

Central Market is a grocery store where you can see the large mural of local artist, Malou Flato, while picking up some produce. It is located at 4001 North Lamar Boulevard.

East Side Austin Showroom is a restaurant that supports local artists and apparently mixes a great cocktail. Add to that the fact that it keeps to Slow Food standards and this place seems to embody everything great about Austin. Can’t wait to try it out next time. It is located at 1100 East 6th Street.

Other things to do in Austin

Congress Avenue Bridge Bats: From March to mid-November the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tail bats in North America takes up residence under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Each night around sunset, between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats make a mass exodus from their perches beneath the bridge to go hunting for bugs. There are several ways to watch these little night flyers as they head out on their expeditions. Below are my recommendations.

Lonestar Riverboat CruiseAt $10 per person, this is a fairly inexpensive way to get up close and personal with the bats, right in the sight lines of their departure. Hubby and I chose this cruise line because it is family owned and their website indicated that they support local charities. Otherwise, there did not seem to be much difference between them and the other cruise line on the lake, Capital Cruises.

We were not disappointed. Half an hour before the bats were supposed to leave, our riverboat took a jaunt around Lady Bird Lake before heading to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where we watched the tiny little bats drop from their perches and fly away. Both cruise lines are located along the lake just behind the Hyatt Hotel. We walked from the Four Seasons, across Congress Avenue Bridge, down the steps and west along the trail until we came to the Lone Star Riverboat dock. Located around 208 Barton Springs Road, it is .6 miles from the Four Seasons (1200 steps one way).

Lone Star Riverboats have a small fleet of boats to take you around Lady Bird Lake. (Photo by M. Dryja.)

Walk along the lake trail:  All along Lady Bird Lake there is a walking trail. On our last night in Austin, I took a walk with my friend Heather just in time to watch the bats leave for hunting. We were on the north side of the lake and caught great glimpses of bats swooping overhead. It is my understanding that the south side of the lake has an even better view of them, but I was perfectly happy with what we saw.

One recommendation I would make is to stand along the edge of the trail, out of the way of walkers and runners, and look up, along the edge of the trees hanging out over the water. Bats zoom and swoop effortlessly, as if hurled around the tree lines, so we had to keep our eyes open to the skies. If we blinked, we would have missed some. We also knew they were coming because they make a signature high-pitched “peep”. There were several people who sat up on the lawn off the trail and they said they didn’t see any bats, so it seems important to step up closer to the water and keep your eyes pointed toward the zipping blurs in the sky.

Bonus: While we were waiting for the bats to come out, we saw some animal that lives in the water–it looked like a beaver–swim to the shore and dive into the foliage along the lake, so you never know what you’re going to encounter when you’ve got your eyes open and Mother Nature is your guide.

This walk took us back behind the hotel and along the trail, about 100 feet from the bridge. We may have gotten 100 steps for that walk, but it is hard to calculate.

This is a map of the lake trails given to us by the Four Seasons. When Heather and I walked to see the bats, we stood right around where it says “4-Mile Mark”.

Texas State Capitol: Texans are known for doing things BIG and the state capitol is no different. According to the Texas State Preservation Board, it is “the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and is second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C.” It is built up on a hill and Congress Avenue was built such that, for two miles south of it, there is a direct-line view of this massive building.

The stunning capitol building in Austin.

Although Hubby and I did not take a tour of the inside, we did walk around the outside of it on several different occasions and enjoyed the beautiful, lush grounds. On the State Preservation Board website, there are pamphlets available for download for self-guided walking tours inside the building, as well as outside on the capitol grounds. It truly is an impressive structure.

The State Capitol Building is located at 1100 Congress Street, which is 1 mile from the Four Seasons hotel (2000 steps one way).

Treaty Oak: More than 500 years ago, a grove of trees stood in the area now known as Treaty Oak Park. Back then, it was considered a sacred meeting place for the Comanche and Tonkawa tribes. Today, only one tree of the original 14 remains. In 1927, the American Forestry Association proclaimed the tree to be the most perfect specimen of a North American tree. Before it was vandalized in 1989, its branches spanned 127 feet.

Thanks to the preservation and rehabilitation efforts of many, the tree, which was poisoned with a large amount of incredibly toxic poison and predicted to die as a result, survived and has even gone on to produce acorns again. It is a beautiful tree, thick in its natural state.

To see this 500 year old tree, go to Treaty Oak Park on Baylor Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue. The distance from the Four Seasons is 1.2 miles (2400 steps one way).

Beautiful Treaty Oak.

The history of Treaty Oak.

The Spa at Four Seasons: After walking all over town, Hubby and I decided to treat ourselves to massages. I also had a manicure and pedicure. The spa is cozy and relaxing. The changing rooms provide electronically locked lockers, and they have showers and a sauna. The treatment rooms I visited, along with the waiting area, all had luxurious floor-to-ceiling windows that brought in peaceful, natural light, as well as views of the overflowing gardens.

The treatments were just what we needed to unwind. My massage was the 80-minute Relaxation Massage with Janet. Hubby went with a more intense Deep Tissue massage. Both therapists coaxed the knots, aches, and pains from our bodies.

I met Pam for my manicure and pedicure. She did a great job of polishing my nails to a beautiful shine and somehow managed to clean up my cuticles without making them peel the next day. I don’t know how she did that, but I am deeply impressed!

Unfortunately, we did not get many steps for walking to the spa since it is on the lower level of the Four Seasons hotel, but given that we walked more than 10,000 steps a day while we were in Austin, I think a little treat was in order.

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Austin is a city rich in culture, history, natural beauty, and innovation. For its size, it is fairly safe and is incredibly easy to explore on foot. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that a week is not long enough to see and do everything in this state capitol, but one visit was enough to convince me that it is worth returning to.

Do you have a favorite place to go or thing to do in Austin? If so, share the wealth in a comment below! I love hearing from my readers! You always amaze me with your insights and ideas.

Meeting Austin through its art

When people think of Austin, they often think of music:

That’s because Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World. With over 200 live music venues, music is spilling out from everywhere as you walk down the street. That soundtrack of life you’ve always wanted? It can pretty much happen in Austin.

Austin is not just the Live Music Capital of the World, it is the State Capital of Texas, so when people aren’t thinking about music, they might think of Austin in terms of this:

The stunning capitol building in Austin.

Lest I forget, however, football is a religion in Texas. So, it could be that when you think of Austin, this comes to mind:

University of Texas Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns. (Photo by surelyitsjohn.)

It seems that everybody associates Austin with either music, sports, or politics, but did you know they have a pretty rocking art scene too? That’s what I went there to discover last week. What I found out was that a week is definitely not long enough to explore all the art that’s created in this very inspirational, innovative town.

Daisy Undercuffler, the highly connected and helpful concierge at the Four Seasons hotel where we stayed, put together a long list of galleries, museums, public art displays, and studios for me to visit during my stay. There was so much, in fact, that I only made it about halfway down her list!

I started my tour at the Blanton Museum of Art located on the University of Texas campus. Although this museum does not specialize in local artists, this was a good jumping off point. The Rapoport Atrium alone was worth going to check out for its Stacked Waters installation by Teresita Fernández.

The Rapoport Atrium with the “Stacked Waters” tile installation wrapping the walls. Notice the tiny heads at the top of the staircase? Those are school children visiting the museum.

There was 3100 square feet of custom-cast acrylic tiles which lined the walls. The stripes went from dark blue to white as they moved up the wall, creating the reflective experience of water.

You can see the stripes and how swirly and reflective they are as you go up the stairs to the second floor.

The Blanton Museum was playing host to two traveling exhibits when I was there. The first, American Scenery: Different Views in Hudson River School Painting has since moved on. As you can imagine from the title, this exhibit focused on the art of men and women who drew inspiration from the landscape, specifically that of the eastern United States, in the Hudson River Valley. I have always been a fan of Thomas Cole, the founder of this school of painting. His work relaxes me and takes me on the spiritual journey he intended, using light, peaceful rivers, and majestic trees to calm my soul. I had never known, however, how important that group of painters was to the environmental movement, as well as how influential they were on the National Parks System.

The second traveling exhibit, Go West! Representations of the American Frontier will be there until September 23, 2012. Like the Hudson River School of painting, painters from this group also demonstrated the changing landscape, people, and events of the West as it was taken over by the settlers.

My next stop on the tour was Gallery Shoal Creek, directed by Judith Taylor, whom I was told, was the person to talk to in order to learn about Austin art. Ms. Taylor was so kind to walk me through her gallery and talk to me about all the local artists her gallery represents. I particularly loved the art of Katie Maratta, who creates long pencil drawings of West Texas landscapes. The drawings are done on ribbons of paper one-inch high and from 12 inches to 51 inches long! The viewer must get up close to the tiny images, almost stepping into them. The result is this feeling of vast expansiveness so common in the flat land of West Texas. It’s like traveling without leaving the ground!

I can’t say enough good about Judy and Gallery Shoal Creek. She really made me feel welcome to Austin and gave me such a wealth of information to carry with me on my journeys around town. Those resources, along with the complete list I was given from Daisy at the Four Seasons, will be available in my next article, Walk Austin. Judy and Daisy work together, by the way, to curate the artwork found in the lobby and reception areas at the Four Seasons. After my tour, it was fun to walk around the lobby again and recognize the names of artists I had encountered throughout the day.

One of those artists was one I discovered at my next stop, the Davis Gallery + Framing. I spoke at length with Lisa Rogers, the Assistant Gallery Director. Like Judy, she was armed with a wealth of information about local art and artists. She took me around the gallery and introduced me to the stories of the people who created the art in front of us. I particularly loved the art by Orna Feinstein who creates 3D images using paper, fabric and acrylic. Although her style was completely different from that of Katie Maratta at the Gallery Shoal Creek, they both draw the viewer into their artwork to get up close and personal with it.

And that artist whose work I stumbled across in the lobby of the Four Seasons? His name is Philip Durst. The Davis Gallery represents him and has a nice collection of his work on view. He is a collagist whose works are unmistakable as he creates whimsical patterns with the pages of old law books and Dum Dum lollipop wrappers, bright cereal boxes, and other fun finds. His wife is an artist in her own right, creating beautiful quilts, and Mr. Durst’s work was inspired by the patterns he sees in his wife’s work. Knowing these things made it all the more fun to discover two of his collages hanging in the lobby of the Four Seasons when I returned from my visit with Lisa.

Judy and Lisa were the two heavy hitters on my tour that day. They were welcoming and fun to talk with about Austin art. When I left their galleries, I had a longing to visit the city more often so I could participate in such things as the West Austin Studio tour, which is this weekend (May 19-20, 2012), and the East Austin Studio tour, which is sometime in the fall.

By the time I left the Davis Gallery, I was filled to the brim with information. It was time to pull back a little and process everything. So, I chose to check out some public art on my list.

The Austin postcard is a mural painted on the side of the Roadhouse Relics store. It measures 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Roadhouse Relics specializes in handmade, custom neon signs, by the way. Pretty cool. Check out their website.

This mural was painted on the side of the Roadhouse Relics building.

My next stop was the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue located at Auditorium Shores along Lady Bird Lake. Although he was not originally from Austin, his music and his support of the music community in Austin before he died makes him a treasured son of the city.

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue in Austin along Lady Bird Lake. (Photo by Delaywaves.)

Before the day was over, there was one more place I had to go. I dragged Hubby to the Willie Nelson statue located on Willie Nelson Boulevard (previously known as 2nd Street). Mr. Nelson’s statue was unveiled just about a month ago. It sits proudly in front of the W Hotel, which shares the block with Moody Theater. This live music venue, which seats nearly 3000 people, plays host to the award winning Austin City Limits on PBS. All this is important to know because Willie Nelson was the very first artist to play on Austin City Limits back in 1974 when it went on air for the first time. Mr. Nelson has been a great influence and lent his support to Austin’s music scene throughout the decades.

Willie Nelson statue on the corner of Guadalupe and Willie Nelson Boulevard. (Photo by M. Dryja.)

For grins, this is my favorite Willie Nelson song. I think it must be the theme song for every travel blogger, no?

For more information about art in Austin, take a look at Aether, the online visual arts magazine Judith Taylor puts together in collaboration with other gallery owners and directors.

Art Austin is an online guide to Austin art. It has a comprehensive list, by month, of all the events happening throughout the year. You can also click on different gallery and studio names to learn more about them. It’s a great resource.

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My Walking America series continues this weekend with more from Austin! Be sure to subscribe to this blog to receive notification when it comes out!

Walking Toronto

I find rain to be exhilarating. I associate it with splashing in puddles wearing brightly colored rain boots and the whimsy of spring flowers. It can be a trickster, catching you unawares without an umbrella, so that you arrive drenched like a dog just getting out of the lake. In these moments, it levels the playing field, making even the best coiffed among us into just another human being with wet hair. To my knowledge, although plenty have been reduced to humiliation by rain, no one has ever actually melted from it.

During our short time in Toronto in September 2011, we got to test this theory three times: once on the day we arrived, once when we were out running errands, and once when we were trying to get to a restaurant three miles away. Each time, Hubby seemed convinced we were either going to drown in the drops, or that the water was molton lava, because he worried and fretted the entire time we were splashing through the downpours. It was quite adorable, really, to see him so concerned about me. He looked for overhangs that we could walk under and asked me a thousand times, “Are you okay?”

I was. The streets were shiny, the lights above were softened, the colors of the flowers popped through the grayness of the day. The rain made a beautiful city even more beautiful.

Blurry lights in the night rain of Toronto.

Of course, Toronto isn’t all about rain. It is a city that luxuriates in diversity. Even the weather is diverse. What is it they say? If you don’t like the weather in Toronto, just wait 10 minutes. Its motto is “Diversity Our Strength” and everywhere you go there is evidence of all the cultures, peoples, and possibilities that make up Toronto. No wonder I love it there.

Where we stayed and why:

Two identical condos are for short-term rent by the same trustworthy owners, Troy and Maria Sedgwick, at a high rise building located at 30 Grand Trunk Crescent in Toronto. The condos are fully furnished. They both have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and great views of Toronto Island and Lake Ontario. I loved listening to the ferry boats coming in and out of the harbor nearby. You can also see Rogers Centre, the CN Tower, and Roundhouse Park from the windows and balconies.

View of Lake Ontario and Toronto Island. (Photo from the VRBO.com listing.)

Three key features which helped us decide on this rental were:

  • a desk area with high-speed internet;
  • a washer and dryer in the unit;
  • and, of course, walkability to practically everything we wanted to do in the city.

A view of the living area from the kitchen right after we got there. The whole place is less than 1000 square feet, but it feels bigger.

Hubby’s workstation set up and ready for business.

The kitchen seemed well-equipped. I say “seemed” only because we really did not use it for much other than storing the food we bought. We never actually cooked there. It even comes with a Keurig coffee maker and supplies, but we ended up going out for coffee a couple of times a day.

This is a view of the kitchen for the unit on the 35th floor. The kitchen on the 26th floor is identical, but has darker cabinets. (Photo from the VRBO listing.)

One surprise bonus was that, just leaving the condo and walking to the elevator gave us about 100 steps each time. It adds up if you do it enough!

All step and mileage calculations listed below are based from the front door of the building to a particular location.

Groceries and other necessities:

Longo’s: This higher-end grocery store had everything we needed for our stay in Toronto, including a Starbucks for a quick morning coffee run.

Longo’s = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

A view of Longo’s grocery store located about a block from the condo building. (Photo provided by VRBO listing.)

Convenience Store: At the street level of the building was a small convenience store where I bought an umbrella and we picked up soft drinks and juice. Because it is in the same building, it is hard to give the mileage, but I believe it was about 100 steps one way.

Coffee:

Starbucks: If we had had more time, we would have explored the quirky coffee places I have read about in Toronto. As it was, we got a little lazy and stuck with the Starbucks that was in Longo’s, which was the closest coffee we could find in the zombie-like state that is early morning.

Starbucks = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

Here are two places I’ll go for coffee the next time I’m in Toronto:

Balzac’s: First of all, how can you see the name of the place and not at least secretly smile like an adolescent boy? I fell in love with it in Stratford, Ontario, which I have written about in another blog and will be writing about again very soon! I did not make it to the Toronto version in the Distillery District at 55 Mill Street in Building 60. It is definitely high up on the list of “must-dos” for next time.

Balzac’s = 3000 steps (1.5 miles)

Tequila Bookworm Cafe and Books: Located at 512 Queen Street West, this little cafe came to my attention after returning from Toronto.

Tequila Bookworm = 2820 steps (1.41 miles)

Other:

Enterprise Rental Car: We rented a car to drive out to Stratford, Ontario for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It was easy to return from the condo building because it was less than a quarter of a mile away at 200 Front Street West in Simcoe Place.

Enterprise Rental Car = 600 steps one way (.3 miles)

Restaurants:

Scaramouche: In our nearly three weeks in Ontario, Scaramouche was a stand-out above all others. Located at 1 Benvenuto Place, it was our very favorite place to eat. The food was delicious and the service was some of the best we’ve ever had.

We learned about Scaramouche through one of those serendipitous moments travelers rely on. We happened to have been seated next to Morden Yolles, one of the partners of Scaramouche, when we were at a different restaurant in Stratford. We were also lucky to see him again when we visited his restaurant in Toronto.

On the evening we were to trek to Scaramouche, we encountered another downpour. A quarter of a mile into our walk, Hubby decided we needed a cab, so, after much strategizing during the rush hour rain, we managed to get a taxi to take us to the restaurant. Happily, by the time we finished eating and were full as Australian sheep ticks, as my dad would say, we were able to walk the 3 miles back to the condo, enjoying the different neighborhoods and parks as we went. As a result, this was my favorite evening in Toronto.

Scaramouche = 6200 steps one way (3.1 miles)

Volos: This Greek restaurant, located at 133 Richmond Street West, was also a favorite. Not only were we warmly welcomed, we were treated to the bright, bold flavors of a talented chef and staff. We savored the rich earthiness of grilled vegetable orzo and spanakorizo. I had the freshest Horiatiki (Greek) salad I have ever had outside of Greece. It had olives that practically burst with juiciness and feta that melted on my tongue. To top it all off, they had an espresso that had a pleasingly smooth aroma and flavor. For more about our experience at this restaurant, please visit another article I wrote about Volos.

Volos = 1400 steps one way (.7 miles)

Things to do:

Hippo Tours: I took the 90-minute city tour with this company, but I have learned they are not operating in Toronto anymore. If you’re in Vancouver, though, you might want to check them out!

How can you see a bus with a purple hippo painted on the side and not want to ride it?

Me on the Hippo Bus, tooling around Lake Ontario. See the waves out the window?

A beautiful view of the city from the Hippo Bus/Boat in Lake Ontario. See? The rain cleared up! It was a gorgeous day!

With the purple hippos ambling toward Vancouver, allow me to recommend the other tour company I was considering if I hadn’t chosen the Hippo:

Toronto Tours: The Hop On Hop Off City Tour appealed to me because I could customize the tour to what I wanted to see and do, or, I could sit on the bus for 2 hours and catch it all at once. Rates for adults start right at $40US. Children are $20US. This tour picks up from a variety of locations. I chose the pick-up location closest to where we were staying.

Toronto Tours = 600 steps one way (.3 miles)

Toronto Eaton Centre: I am not a mall or shopping kind of person, but I know others make a sport out of it. So, if you’re jonesin’ for some shoppin’, Toronto Eaton Centre will set your cravings at ease. While we were in Toronto, we made the trek to Eaton Centre because it was where the Apple store was and Hubby needed something from there. They have arranged the mall such that, the higher floor you go, the higher the price tags. I thought that was pretty clever.

Toronto Eaton Centre = 2200 steps one way (1.1 miles)

Roundhouse Park, Rogers Centre, CN Tower: All three of these landmarks are just across the street from the condo building. The whole area was sort of magical to walk around at night with the way it was lit. Next time Hubby and I are going to stop into the Steamwhistle brewery located in Roundhouse Park for a tour.

Roundhouse Park, Rogers Centre, CN Tower = 1000 steps one way (.5 miles)

The CN Tower and Rogers Centre.

Nathan Phillips Square houses the modernist Toronto City Hall on one of its corners. We watched a moving memorial in this square, dedicated to those whose lives were lost and those who gave themselves in service during 9-11 in New York. It seemed always bustling with activity and is a great people-watching destination. Bonus: According to the National Geographic Traveler, if you visit Toronto in the winter, you can ice skate on the frozen reflecting pool in the square. How fun is that?

Nathan Phillips Square = 2000 steps (1 mile)

A gorgeous night shot of Nathan Phillips Square and the impressive Toronto City Hall. (Photo by Benson Kua from Wikipedia.org.)

Queen’s Park: This is a lovely, lush park that I found to be delightfully quiet in the heart of such a grand city. It borders parts of the University of Toronto and is home to the Ontario Legislative Building. Free guided tours are available through the Legislative Building, if that is of interest. Call 416-325-7500 for more information.

Queen’s Park = 2800 steps (1.4 miles)

The Legislative Building at Queen’s Park lit up at night. (Photo by Paul (dex) on Wikipedia.com.)

When I go back:

Royal Ontario Museum: If I could spend just one day in Toronto and do only one thing, this is where I would go. The mission of the ROM speaks to a passion of mine. It is “to build bridges of understanding and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures and precious natural environments”. Its exhibits showcase a mixture of natural history and world cultures.

Adult tickets are $15CN. For more information on ticket prices, or to buy them online, visit their website. If you go on a Friday between 3pm and 5:30pm, the ticket prices drop significantly.

If I was there on a Friday night between April and late-June, I would go to the Friday Night Live events where special guests provide sneak peeks into exhibits and activities. You have to be 19 years or older to get in for those events. The cover charge is $8 for students with ID and $9 for everyone else. Members get in free.

ROM = 4200 steps one way (2.1 miles)

Distillery District: The culture of Toronto seems to have been distilled (pun intended) into one place, the Distillery District. There are not just historic breweries housed on these brick-lined streets, there are art galleries, cafes, theaters, restaurants, boutiques, and other facets of culture unique to Toronto. This is where lots of music and art festivals are held. Check the calendar for events happening during your visit to Toronto.

One of my favorite things to do is ride a Segway and you can do that here with a Segway Distillery Tour. Prices start at $69 per person and last 60 minutes. There are also shorter tours and walking tours available in the Distillery District.

Distillery District = 3000 steps one way (1.5 miles)

St. Lawrence Market: Go to their website and try not to drool. It’s almost impossible. This market, located at 92-95 Front Street East, was named the Number 1 Food Market in the World by the National Geographic. It seems practically brimming with local vendors selling local wares to locals.

St. Lawrence Market = 2000 steps one way (1 mile)

Canadian Opera Company: When we visited, the 2011/2012 season had not yet started, but we passed the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts quite often during our walks. It was dripping with gorgeous images of operas to come. The National Ballet of Canada performs in the Four Seasons Centre as well. I’d love to be in town for one of their shows. The Four Seasons Centre is located at 145 Queen Street West.

Four Seasons Centre = 1600 steps (.8 miles)