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!

6 Tools for Integrating Walking into Your Travels

It’s here! My article 6 Tools for Integrating Walking into Your Travels has been published on Traveling Chicha’s blog!

Be sure to check it out, but don’t forget to return to her blog–follow it even–for lots of helpful tips and ideas for those of us who like to call the road (and sea and air) home.

TravelingChicha

This is a guest post by Sherry Dryja. Sherry blogs at Jet Planes and Coffee  and is most at home when traveling the globe, meeting new people, and exploring their communities. She and her husband spend half the year visiting places near and far. Each location is experienced to the fullest by taking tours, eating where the locals eat, and soaking in as much culture as can be found in museums, theater offerings, markets, and festivals. Jet Planes and Coffee documents her travels while sharing what she learns along the way. I have truly enjoyed reading her articles and have gained both knowledge and inspiration from reading them! 

Forget about renting a car. Book your stay in the heart of a city and get walking! Walking is one of the best ways to learn about a place and get fit at the same time. Below are six tools to make…

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Coming to a blog near you

For a while now, I have been reading, learning from, and living vicariously through the adventures of fellow travel blogger, Traveling Chicha. She always has great ideas and advice for living the life of a road warrior. Her writing style is part-journalist, part-storyteller, a style I strive for on my own blog here.

You can imagine how honored I feel, then, to be a guest blogger on Traveling Chicha! Tomorrow is the big unveiling of the article I wrote for her blog, to be published while she is out gallivanting the globe. I hope you steer your browsers there with me tomorrow to read my article, Six tools for integrating walking into your travels.

And don’t worry. I’ll provide a reminder in case you forget. (grin)

Seven tips for taking care of traveling feet

Feet need love too. (Photo by JG.Hampton.)

Whether you’re leaving footprints in the sands of the Sahara, meandering through the market in Florence, or navigating the broken sidewalks of your own neighborhood, feet take a beating, especially in summer. Last week’s article provided tips on finding the perfect summer travel shoes and, although choosing the right shoe can help keep your feet energized and blister-free, we all need to take some time to thank our feet for their hard work with a routine of regular maintenance.

For this, I turned to the expertise of a hand and foot care specialist, Ms. Patsy Mulvihill of Patsy James Exclusive Nail Spa in Bellevue, Washington. With her bright blue eyes, her ready smile, and those hard-to-miss golden curls, she may look like she’s only 25, but Ms. Mulvihill has been taking care of the hands and feet of celebrities, dignitaries, and VIPs for the last 19 years.

Before starting her own exclusive nail spa, she was Head Trainer and Department Manager at Gene Juarez, a popular salon and day spa in the Seattle area. She also spent many years building up retail shops for butter LONDON before being endorsed by them as the flagship service provider for their famous butter LONDON Waterless Manicure and Pedicure. Knowing all this, and having experienced her renown TLC first-hand, I knew she would be the perfect person to give me advice on how to take care of hard-working, traveling feet.

1. Moisturize

Ms. Mulvihill says moisturizing is the key to keeping your feet healthy. “After a nice shower, dry your feet thoroughly. Don’t forget in-between your toes! Afterwards, massage on some yummy foot cream.”

She recommends the FC5 Cooling foot creme from Arbonne, which, as an Arbonne consultant, she carries in her spa. She says it is important to moisturize your feet everyday, especially at night, so the moisturizer has a chance to do its magic under the cover of cozy cotton socks. This also keeps it from rubbing off in your shoes before it has a chance to work.

Arbonne FC5 Cooling Foot Cream

2. Exfoliate

Every other day, or as skin gets dry and flaky, it’s a good idea to exfoliate your feet as well. You can do this after your shower, once the skin on your feet has had a chance to soften up. “My favorite tool that I have used since beauty school is called the Swedish Clover™ Fot Fil.” Use it to work away the flaky skin and hardened callouses, but not so much that your skin becomes raw and overworked. Between exfoliation and moisturizing, your feet will be ready for action whenever you are.

Swedish Clover™ Fot Fil. (Photo from Spilo.com.)

3. Get those toenails in shape

Skin isn’t the only concern when it comes to foot care. Toenails need to be kept trim and shaped so they don’t cut into your socks or dig into the skin around your toes when you walk. For this, Ms. Mulvihill recommends Mehaz Professional Slant Toenail Clipper. “It has a slanted edge so it makes it very easy to get under the nail without cutting the skin. It also makes life much easier when cutting thicker nails.”

Mehaz Professional Slant Toenail Clipper (Photo from Amazon.com.)

Washable files, such as the 100/180 grit Purifiles Disinfectable Files, work well to shape and shorten the nails, she says. For a healthy looking shine, without any nail polish, reach for her favorite nail buffer, the D-File™.

Purifiles Disinfectable Files. (Photo from Spilo.com.)
D-Files™ Buffer. (Photo from Spilo.com.)

4. Don’t forget the cuticles!

Cuticles are a vital part of healthy nails and feet, too. They protect the nails from dirt and bacteria, which can lead to infection. Keeping them healthy is just as vital as anything else you do to take care of your feet. To do this, gently push them back with wood manicure sticks and then trim off the dead skin with Ms. Mulvihill’s favorite cuticle tool, the stainless steel Tweezerman V-Cuticle Nipper. Don’t tug or pull at cuticles when they loosen up and pull away from your skin. This can damage the cuticle matrix and allow dirt and bacteria underneath the nail. Just trim the unsightly and agitating dead skin with the cuticle nipper.

Tweezerman V-Cuticle Nippers (Photo from Amazon.com.)

5. Spice up your routine with a seasonal treat

If you really want to knock your socks off (pun intended), Ms. Mulvihill recommends using any of the body sugar scrubs, shower gels, and massage oils or body lotions from the Skin Organics brand to create a multi-sensory, at-home pedicure. At her nail spa, she is currently offering an anti-aging pedicure using the Cherry Marzipan line. Skin Organics is the perfect brand with which to do this because of the different variety they offer. Each season brings a new idea to keep things interesting and fresh. In the fall, she does a Spicy Pumpkin pedicure and, in the winter, she indulges her clients with the Chocolat line.

Chocolate Sugar Scrub. (Photo from Skin Organics.)

She also speaks highly of Arbonne products as well. “I will be adding the Arbonne SeaSource Detox Spa line for my pedicure services very soon.”

Arbonne SeaSource Detox set. (Photo from Arbonne.com.)

6. Splash on some color

Now that your feet are feeling soft and fresh, your toenails may be hankering for a little splash of color. While Ms. Mulvihill has seen a lot of people opting for natural fingernails these days (“Falsies are out”, she says), color is still very much in for both fingernails and toenails. According to our expert, you can’t go wrong with the many colors butter LONDON offers. Always start with a clear base coat, then do a couple of rounds using your chosen color, and finish with a top coat.

butter LONDON Girls Night Out Gift Set. (Photo from butterLONDON.com.)

For those who like a little color on their nails but hate the upkeep and drying time, Ms. Mulvihill suggests a “power nail polish” using Creative Nail Design’s Shellac™. “It looks like regular nail polish but what is so amazing about it is that, when your service is over, your nails are completely dry and they will last without chipping for ten days to three weeks!” She says her customers love it because they can immediately put on their closed toe shoes without worrying about smudges. She does recommend letting a professional do it, though, and warns that Shellac is a product name, not a service itself. “I see a lot of other nail salons that advertise that they do Shellac but, in fact, they are using a knock off brand.”

7. Leave it to the professionals

Of course, the best way to give your feet a real treat is to take them in for regular professional pedicures. Ms. Mulvihill suggests doing this every four weeks. “It is very relaxing, keeps the callouses at bay, is great for your circulation, and it keeps your nails healthy and nice looking.”

If you’re in the Seattle area, the only professional hands for your feet are, of course, those of Ms. Mulvihill herself. At the Patsy James Exclusive Nail Spa, pedicure services start at $40 with either a butter LONDON Signature Pedicure or a mini-pedicure. The Classic Pedicure is $65 and includes “a warm foot bath, skin exfoliation, nail shaping, cuticle care, mini reflexology massage, callous care, and lacquer application”. And, for an even greater indulgence, enjoy the Spa Pedicure, which is $75 and includes everything from the Classic Pedicure with the addition of a warm paraffin treatment.

Ms. Mulvihill provides peace of mind and one-of-a-kind, luxurious service when it comes to taking care of weary traveling toes and feet. Even though she has worked with a lot of celebrity and VIP clients, you don’t have to be Angelina Jolie to be treated like her. Ms. Mulvihill is a master at making every client feel like a VIP. To book an appointment, it is advised to do so as far in advance as possible. You can view all of her services and even book them online at her website.

Whether you keep your routine simple at home, or leave it in the hands of professionals, keeping your feet happy and healthy is an important step for any road warrior.

5 tips for finding the perfect summer travel shoes

Several weeks ago, I began a search for the perfect summer travel shoes. Good travelers know that shoes take up way too much packing space, so it was important in my endeavors to search for that one pair that could do it all, without leaving bleeding blisters to contend with. One challenge for the summer, however, is finding sturdy, comfortable shoes that are fashionable, can be worn without socks, and can transition from a walking tour to a sit-down dinner.

Many suggestions were made, lots of shoes were tried, and now I have the results of my often painstaking, blister-inducing research. Below are five tips for finding the perfect summer travel shoes with my final recommendation for the one.

1. Look for suede or soft leather uppers

Suede and soft leather mold to the foot rather than rub against it. Patent leather, hard leather, and stiffer, coarser fabrics located anywhere near the heels or ankles may start off feeling comfortable, but when heat, perspiration, and miles combine, blisters are sure to follow.

As an example, I wore the Merrells pictured below for a two-mile walk for coffee. At first they seemed fairly comfortable, but by the end of the first mile, I had blisters on the backs of both heels and the undersides of my ankles. The fabric on these shoes is very coarse. The stiffness and height of the ankle collar and heel support dug into my skin. By the time I finished the second mile, my feet were bleeding. I have not worn them since.

Merrell’s Mimosa Emme Mary Jane are cute, but they rubbed some of the worst blisters I’ve received all summer.

2. Avoid slingbacks and thin straps on sandals

Slingbacks and thin straps not only cause blisters, they can dig into toes and heels, leaving the skin with terrible gashes. Ouch!

I love these heels from Aquatalia, but I can’t wear them very far before the cut-outs start to dig in. The shoes themselves are comfortable, but the longer I walk in them, the more my skin rubs against the cut-outs in the leather. Within a half-mile walk to the theater, I had blisters the shape of some of the cut-outs in these cute shoes–but trust me when I tell you, my foot was far from cute when it was all over!

I love these shoes, but the cut-outs in the leather, which make them so unique, dig into toes and cause painful blisters.

3. Make sure the shoe is flexible

The stiffer the shoe, the more likely you are to develop blisters and callouses at the points where the shoe should naturally bend (near the joints of the toes and ball of the foot). If you cannot bend the toe toward the center of the shoe without a lot of effort, that shoe is stiff and inflexible. Put it down and walk away.

One example of this was a pair of TSUBO brand shoes I tried. The support and cushioning inside the shoe were good, but it was incredibly stiff and unbending. As I foolishly walked two miles to dinner in them, the plasticky top of the toe box creased over my big toe and created a nasty blister. Sadly, they were also stiff around the ankles and heels, so I got blisters there too.

I liked the sportiness of these TSUBO’s and envisioned wearing them all over town. Sadly, they are quite stiff in the toebox and rubbed blisters onto the tops of my toes, as well as on my heels and ankles.

4. Give your toes some wiggle room — but not too much!

Toes shouldn’t squeeze together into the shoe, nor should the shoe be so large that it dangles off your foot when you walk. A tight toe box can rub your toes and cause blisters and callouses, if not also other aches and pains, whereas a floppy, wobbly shoe (such as a flip flop or a shoe that is too large) is not stable enough for two-mile walks over uneven terrain. Make sure the shoe fits secure, but not tight. Don’t wear flip flops or other shoes that you have to hold on to with your toes.

Although the leather is super soft on the 1-inch pumps by Cole Haan shown below, they are just narrow enough to pinch my toes and cause discomfort over the course of an afternoon. If your foot is particularly narrow about the toes, this style of shoe might be just the thing for you this summer. My toes, on the other hand, had to cram themselves into a tight space. Although the leather has some stretch and give, I still ended up with a blister on my smallest toes because it was too tight.

Cute 1-inch sandals from Cole Haan pinch the toes.

The ECCO sandals below are some of my favorite shoes for wearing when I know I’m not going to be going very far–less than a mile. Beyond that, though, they require too much effort to keep them on. My toes start to ache and the strap that goes in between my toes starts to rub.

For flip flops, these are very comfortable and fairly stylish. Unfortunately, they aren’t secure on my foot such that, when I walk long distances, I have to hold them on with my toes.

5. Look for rubber soles with texture for traction

Textured rubber soles grab the earth and keep you steady, unlike smooth, inflexible wood or some other hard materials out there. Rubber soles are also the best for cushioning the hard earth beneath your hard-working feet.

The Ecco Yucatan sandals are the near-perfect specimen for summer travel shoes. If they weren’t so sporty I could wear them inside restaurants and other fancy establishments. Still, they come so close to perfect that I chose them as a summary example, before revealing to you my final choice for THE summer travel shoe.

First, notice that they are made of soft leather and fabric uppers. Their straps are thick and padded–no blisters. They are also adjustable at the heel, the top of the foot, and the toe areas, so I can tighten or loosen them depending on what my foot needs. The soles are made of lightweight rubber and the bottoms are textured so I never worry about losing my footing, whether I’m walking down a broken sidewalk to the Farmers Market or along a gravelly trail in the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The only thing keeping them from being perfect summer travel shoes is that I wouldn’t wear them with a dress or skirt to a sit-down restaurant in downtown Toronto, St. Paul, or Austin.

Ecco’s Yucatan Sandal.

My top pick for the perfect summer travel shoes

It is without further ado that I introduce you to the most versatile summer travel shoe I could find: the Naot Kayla sandal. It’s not the most gorgeous shoe I’ve ever owned, but it is the one I pack when I am packing the lightest. They rank up there as the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn.

The leather straps are soft enough and thick enough that they do not dig into my skin. There is an adjustable strap that goes over the top of my foot, so I can secure it tighter or loosen it up. The leather gives way to my feet and hugs them gently. I have walked miles in these shoes and never gotten a blister. The footbed is made of cork, latex, and suede, so it molds to my foot, providing personalized support. The soles are textured EVA, so they are shock-absorbing, as well as stabilizing.

My feet have also never felt fatigued or achy after wearing these shoes. My biggest complaint about them is a complaint I make about any sandal: they are masters at collecting rocks when I walk over gravelly pathways. Still, they can truly go the distance when walking all day. Their style is as flexible as their soles. I can go anywhere in them and experience pretty much any activity under the summer sun. And that is what sets them apart: the Naot Kaylas are a pair of shoes I can wear in a variety of situations.

The Naot Kayla comes in a variety of colors. The ankle strap is adjustable, the footbed molds to my foot, and the sole is a textured EVA that allows for flexibility while providing stability.

Now it’s your turn

Have you found a perfect pair of summer shoes that can walk the miles and see you through lots of situations? Post the information here and help us compile a better list for travelers around the world.

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 St. Paul: Planning a footloose and car-free vacation to Minnesota’s seductive capital

We eloped at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota!

More than 15 years ago, Hubby and I lived in a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. It never occurred to me until recently that, back then, we walked everywhere because of the Skyway system which connects most of the downtown buildings. Those little “high rise habitrails” keep the cold out in winter and the humidity out in summer, and I knew them like the back of my hand. At the time, though, we didn’t have pedometers or a weight problem. We were fit and fabulous in our mid-20s, just settling into married life.

Having just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, we are, of course, 16 years older. And, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that we’ve made lots of changes in the last year which have taken us back in time somewhat, to bodies that are fit and free from the rituals of “middle aged medicines”. In fact, we both weigh less today than we did when we first met!

As a result of these positive changes, we’ve been drawn to traveling to places where we can get 10,000 steps a day (or 5 miles) simply by walking to places we need to go, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural sites. Over the next several weeks, this blog will be devoted to sharing everything we learned on those trips, city by city.

The series is called “Walking America” and it takes us across the United States and into Canada. Each adventure will demonstrate the car-free travels we took with resources for planning a similar trip. Just imagine the cash you’ll save not having to rent a car!

Let’s get started.

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Walking St. Paul

In early July of last year, we hitched a flight from steamy Phoenix, Arizona to the cooler but more humid Twin Cities in Minnesota. It was the first of several trips we took that summer, but we were not headed to our old stomping grounds in Minneapolis. Our destination was St. Paul, the other sister of the Twin Cities.

St. Paul Power Plant at sunrise. (Photo by JT Miller Photography.)

St. Paul rarely registered on our list of places to go when we lived in Minneapolis. My impression back then was that it was the boring sister of the two twins. Minneapolis seemed vibrant, sexier. Take, for example, Nicollet Avenue, a long pedestrian-only road in the heart of Minneapolis which, during the summer, boasts a thriving farmers market. Year round, there are shopping and dining options open for shoppers and diners of all financial means. It is protected from hard summer sun by the mirrored skyscrapers. And, on all sides are options for entertainment of all shades and varieties.

Nicollet Mall: The corner where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air in the opening credits of the vintage television show with the same name. (Photo by jpellgen.)

St. Paul, on the other hand, was always a jumbled mystery for me. It seemed fragmented and confusing. What I didn’t understand in my youth, however, is that, while Minneapolis is attractive with its youthful glitter and nouveau sophistication, St. Paul is all slow-simmering seduction. It unravels itself to you in quiet, sultry come-ons, keeping hidden under the lushness of her old-growth trees all of her delicious secrets.

St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota. It has inspired famous states men and women, radio essayists, cartoonists, musicians, artists, and novelists. To name a few you may have heard of, there’s Garrison Keillor, known for his tales from “Lake Wobegon”, who still owns a home and a charming bookstore in St. Paul. Charles Schulz, creator of the long-standing Peanuts cartoon, grew up there. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of such Jazz Age books as The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, was born and raised there. In fact, you can find a couple of the places he lived still standing and commemorated with a plaque. It seems like everywhere you look you come across another familiar voice inspired by St. Paul.

This city is perhaps best known by its seedy gangster history from the 20s and 30s, when tough guys like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson hid out there. There are even tours in St. Paul based solely on the exploits of such criminals and, when visiting certain watering holes and coffee shops, if you tap the right shoulder, you’ll get an earful of myths and mysteries associated with this past.

In the two weeks we spent there Hubby and I were seduced by St. Paul’s cool limestone mansions, its smoothed cobblestone alleyways, the stories  and myths of its juicy past, and innumerable  buildings brimming with character. We were drawn by the delicious aromas wafting down Selby and Grand, and smitten by the intellectual murmurings carried on over meals and cocktails. It is a place with its own rhythm, one which is punctuated by a slow, sultry Jazz saxophone, and it is easy to get lost in the flow of it. Before long, you find yourself tapping your finger and swaying to that rhythm. Then, when the spell is cast, you find you simply can’t get this daring twin out of your head.

Where we stayed and why:

Front of The Berg House in St. Paul. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

The Berg House is a vacation rental located at 128 Saint Albans St. N in St. Paul. We stayed there because it is within about a half a mile to almost everything we wanted to do. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with extra futons and pull-out sofas for  larger families and groups. It has a kitchen equipped with enough essential tools that I made Breakfast Cookies for Hubby when the need arose. All I had to do was buy the ingredients.

Kitchen equipped with lots of great tools for cooking and baking. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Also important to our stay was access to high speed internet and a desk or table on which Hubby could do his work. The Berg House actually has high speed and wireless, along with two office areas with large desks to spread out computer equipment and papers.

Third bedroom upstairs with perfect desk for getting work done. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)
Having a choice of desks meant we were able to work while we played in St. Paul. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

My favorite space was the upstairs bathroom. It was recently redone with a claw foot tub and separate shower. The vanity was charming. It appeared to have been a dresser at some point, but was repurposed for the sink and its fixtures.  The morning light filtered through white shutters onto the sage colored walls and white tiles and, when listening to Carmen Cuesta’s Mi Bossa Nova album on my iPhone, the outside world melted away.

Upstairs bathroom--very spa-like. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

During our two weeks there the sun shone brightly almost every day. Temperatures flirted with 90-degrees Fahrenheit. We kept cool with plenty of window air conditioning units located throughout the home, and in the late afternoons, we chatted under the trees on the patio.

Sunny days were lovely in the shaded backyard. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Groceries:

Mississippi Market on Selby. (Photo provided by Mississippi Market website.)

Just a couple of blocks from The Berg House at 622 Selby Avenue was the Mississippi Market, a natural foods co-op that provided us with fruit, veggies, milk, and all the other necessities we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at home. The Bergs gave us their member number so we were able to get membership rates at that store.

Mississippi Market = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

Drug store:

Because this was early on in our walking experiment, Hubby was still taking cholesterol medication. We ended up extending our stay but one of his prescriptions ran out while we were there. I was able to fill it about half a mile away at the Walgreen’s at 734 Grand Avenue.

Walgreen’s = 800 steps one way (.4 miles)

Coffee:

On my return walk from Walgreen’s, I stopped in to Caribou Coffee for two Americanos and took them back to The Berg House for both of us to enjoy.

Caribou Coffee is a Minnesota-born chain, which I believe has expanded its territory beyond the confines of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This one is located at 757 Grand Avenue.

Caribou Coffee = 800 steps one way (.4 miles).

Other coffee places nearby:

Nina’s Coffee Cafe: This is my favorite coffee shop to visit while in St. Paul. It is located in an historic building and named for Nina Clifford, a woman famous for the brothel she ran in the late 1800s. It is also known for being a great place to write and, while sitting back and watching the ebb and flow of its visitors, I can vouch for it being an inspirational place. It is located at 165 Western Avenue N.

Nina’s Coffee Cafe = 1200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Nina's Coffee Cafe. (Photo by Jordon Whitney.)

Caffe Latte: This cafe has a coffee shop further into the building, on the back side of the cafeteria style restaurant. I have eaten in the cafeteria twice for lunch and had coffee there after dinner elsewhere on Grand. It is a sunny place to enjoy coffee, dessert, and/or breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One thing I appreciate is the variety of options on their menus. There are sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizzas available to people with all eating habits: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and meat eaters! It is located at 850 Grand Ave.

Caffe Latte: 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

There is often a long line at the cafeteria because the food is so good! (Photo from the Caffee Latte site.)

Dunn Bros.: Dunn Bros coffee is another favorite place to stop for some java, but it is, unfortunately almost two miles away from The Berg House. We didn’t take any integrated walks there, but it is worthwhile stopping in for a growler of iced coffee should your adventures take you past one. The closest one to the Berg House is located at 242 W 7th St.

Growler of iced coffee from Dunn Bros.

Other:

Had we wanted to cook more while we were there, my friend Rhonda showed me where the Coastal Seafoods market was with all things fresh fish. It is located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Snelling at 74 S. Snelling.

Coastal Seafoods = 4,000 steps one way (1.9 miles)

Restaurants:

Visiting St. Paul is always a culinary delight. We are lucky enough to have friends in the area who know St. Paul’s restaurants very well. My friend Rhonda is an expert in great food. During an earlier visit, she introduced me to Salut and La Grolla, which I, in turn, introduced to Hubby. Fortunately, both of these restaurants are within walking distance to The Berg House. See below for descriptions and distances for these and other restaurants we enjoyed during our stay.

W.A. Frost's patio at night. (Photo by Sharyn Morrow.)

W.A. Frost: Located at 374 Selby Avenue, across the street from Nina’s Coffee Cafe, is a restaurant which describes itself best on its website: “casual upscale American cuisine”. The reason to go there is not only the amazing soups, but the patio. (The other food is good too, but the soup was a stand-out.) Oh! The patio! It is wonderfully shaded all around and a great place to unwind after a long day. The service was so-so. One time we went there, the service was impeccable. The next time it was carelessly slow. Still, we go back because the food is good and the patio is divine.

W.A. Frost = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Pazzaluna: This yummy Italian restaurant, located at  360 St. Peter Street, is just on the outskirts for the distance Hubby and I will walk for a restaurant. My friend Rhonda took me there during a separate visit a year or two ago. I discovered that, not only could I find many delicious vegetarian choices, I might run into a celebrity! My friend’s husband stood side-by-side in the restroom with Prince once.

Pazzaluna = 3,800 steps one way ( 1.9 miles)

Salut Bar Americain: Located at 917 Grand Avenue, this little brasserie will make you feel like an American in Paris. It offers hearty French-style food and lots of it. For those of us watching our waistlines, it can be a little tricky, but all of their fish items have the option of being cooked “simply grilled”, which is what Hubby opted for. At the time, there was a delicious watermelon-mint salad on the menu that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maintaining weight loss tip: order items you can split with one another so you don’t eat the whole thing by yourself.

Salut = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

La Grolla: This restaurant is located at 452 Selby Avenue. It is, as you can guess from the name of it, Italian cuisine. I usually had one of their vegetarian pasta options (staying away from cream-sauced choices) and a side salad. They offer some great fish options as well.

La Grolla = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles away)

Punch PizzaThis is good, quick thin-crust pizza on 769 Grand Avenue.

Punch Pizza = 800 steps one way (.4 miles away)

Chipotle: This build-a-burrito-style Mexican chain is a staple for Hubby and me. It’s fresh and, because you choose what you want every step of the way, it is easy to make the meal Weight Watcher’s friendly. The one closest to the Berg House is at 867 Grand Avenue.

Chipotle = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

Broadway Pizza: There is really only one restaurant in the area for which I would break down and use a car. It is Broadway Pizza. I have loved their pizza since we lived there so long ago. The location at 2025 West River Road in Minneapolis is the original (and my favorite). It has the whole kitschy railroad theme still intact after all these years. Left to my own devices, I would eat a whole cheese pizza on my own. Thankfully, I’ve always gone with others so I could keep my discipline in check.

Broadway Pizza = In case you do eat the whole pizza and need lots of steps, it is worth 16,400 steps one way from The Berg House (8.2 miles).

Things to Do:

Tours

Human on a Stick Magical History Segway Tour: If you have never taken a Segway tour, I highly recommend it. I’ve taken two tours with this company–the St. Paul tour and the Minneapolis tour. The next time I’m in town, I’m going to do the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden tour too. For the St. Paul tour, the meeting location was at the parking lot behind St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. We got our helmets and our Segways and were off! Had this been our first tour, we would have also gotten the safety instructions and about half an hour to try it out before heading onto the streets and sidewalks. For $80 per person, plus tip, we got the gear we needed and more than six miles worth of up-close-and-personal history.

Segway Tour meeting location = 1,400 steps one way (.7 miles)

Look closely to see me on my Segway under the War Memorial for those who served in Korea.

Twin Cities Tours: Doug Rosenquist customized a tour of St. Paul for me a year and a half ago when I was doing research for a book I’m writing. I can’t say enough good about his personalized, private tours. If you’re uncertain about what to see in St. Paul, check out the themes he proposes on his website, or talk to him about what is important to you. He will help you customize something that will leave you with lots of great memories of your time in St. Paul.

Doug’s tours are set mostly in his comfortable tour van. To get your steps in, see if he would be amenable to a walking tour. Or, he will pick you up wherever you ask, so have him meet you at a location that you walk to. One suggestion? Ask him to meet you at the Minnesota History Center located at 345 Kellogg Boulevard West. Then, when your tour is over, you can eat lunch at the cafe there and go explore the exhibits at the center.

Minnesota History Center = 2,800 steps (1.4 miles)

"Vision of Peace" by Carl Milles was seen on my tour with Twin Cities Tours in the St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse. It is three stories tall!

If you do any of the tours mentioned above, you will either come across and/or go into all of the below, so I will not spend a great deal of time detailing what they are and why you should go there. In fact, you could use the list below to take your own walking tour since it is the “basic” list of what to see in St. Paul. But if you’re like me, you want to know more about a place before visiting there, so check out the links to each one for more information. Step counts from The Berg House to all of these locations are provided.

Brain Candy

Ax-Man Surplus: Once you’ve skimmed the intellectual side of St. Paul with great historical and architectural tours, give your brain a party by taking it to Ax-Man Surplus. This is something you might want to do on a day when you have time to walk there and spend the rest of the afternoon looking at all the cool stuff they have. It is located at 1639 University Avenue West.

Ax-Man Surplus: 5,400 steps one way (2.7 miles)

Shops on Grand AveFor retail therapy, a good place to eat, or just in the mood for strolling and people watching, Grand Avenue is about half a mile (1,000 steps) from the Berg House. If you walk it, starting at Dale Street South and walking all the way to Lexington Parkway, you will walk a mile, or 2,000 steps one way.

This list, of course, is in no way exhaustive for what there is to do in St. Paul. Each season brings its own set of ideas too. For July 4th, go to the 7th Street Bridge and watch the fireworks going off at Harriet Island. In the winter, you cannot miss the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which celebrates the cold out in the cold.

No matter when you go, St. Paul is sure to lead you in a dance of seduction you will never forget–especially if you remember that this dance requires walking shoes.

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Coming up: Walking Toronto