2014: A Year of Travel and Food in Review

Well, 2014 is now for the history books.  Lots happened in this crazy world of ours and, likely, lots in each of our worlds.  My year started planning my big trips for the year:  Iceland and doing the Camino de Santiago in Spain (the latter with Trekking for Kids, a charity I am involved with and with whom I do a yearly trek somewhere around the world to improve the lives of orphaned children).  But the year brought me a few unexpected destinations and a return to some favorites.

Lake Placid – winter wonderland

But my first trip of the year was to wonderful Lake Placid, New York best known for hosting the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.

Lake Placid, Olympic museum, New York, Olympus

Welcome to the museum!

There, I explored local food and beverages at great places like the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, the bar at the Whiteface Lodge, and at Lisa G’s (with its delicious chicken wings!).  I also got to skate on the Miracle on Ice skating Herb Brooks arena (after over a decade of not ice skating!), and got to do a luge run in the indoor training facility for the U.S. Olympic team!

 New York City

Business took me to NYC but only for an overnight visit.  I managed to squeeze in seeing my cousins A and Z and enjoyed a great meal with them.  One great outcome of this trip was this neat photo from my business partners’ office.

Empire State Building, New York City, NYC, Manhattan, blue sky, clouds, architecture

Picture perfect day!

I might add that the photos/videos from my airplane window seat upon takeoff from La Guardia were pretty neat thanks to the blanket of snow on the ground.  I shared some of them here but here is one example of the great opportunity I had on this flight.

winter, snow, New York City, Manhattan, Hudson River, view from plane, New Jersey, photos, window seat

Right after take-off

Washington, D.C.

I worked in DC for two years right in the heart of the city.  I so enjoyed being in the center of power, arguably, of the world watching people, exploring the various museums and monuments (surprise find:  the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery right by the White House, which I got to visit!), enjoying great cocktails (especially at Le Bar in the Sofitel) and savoring all the great food around town (like at Granville Moore’s or Café Mozart).

German food, Washington, DC; Cafe Mozart, delicious, food, foodie, foodporn, travel, Smsung Galaxy

Delicious German fare at Café Mozart!

I got to return on a winter weekend in 2014 as I just love the town and I got to attend the travel show held yearly in town.  I got to visit my former workplace and say hi to my former colleagues as well which was a nice touch.  I finally got to do a slow “walkaround” of Lafayette Square, a place I often went to to eat my lunch during workdays but that I never paid close attention to.   And then I got to hang out with a couple of friends and fellow trekkers from Trekking for Kids – icing on the proverbial cake!

White House, Washington, DC, snow, winter, photo, travel

A pile of snow in front of the White House

Finally, I love when taking off from Reagan National airport affords me a neat view!

Pentagon, Washington, DC, takeoff, Reagan National, airport, view, airplane seat, photo, Samsung Galaxy, travel

A “close” look at the Pentagon

Traverse City

I had not heard about Traverse City ever until a couple of months before I went.  How could it be that this world traveler who had also seen a good bit of the States had never heard of this place??  I was pleasantly surprised at all there was to see and do around Traverse City.  From good food, great local beer, plenty of nature and outdoors, and excellent drives.  On top of it all, I actually ran into Cuban pork (one of my favorite dishes) at a local winery in the Leelanau Peninsula while exploring the area’s wine with the Sip & Savor festival – an event I greatly enjoyed.  Traverse City, Michigan, wine, food, festival, Sip and Savor, Leelanau Peninsula

But my favorite part of the whole trip was driving around the peninsulas, taking in the vistas and checking out the architecture of the area.  I did not get to see the dunes that are not far from Traverse City but that, my friends, will be for a future visit.

Iceland

My trip to Iceland was special.  It is a place I have always wanted to explore but I got to do it with dear friends and their two kids.  In addition, one of them had second (or was it third??) cousins there and she connected with them.  They hosted us for a great evening of food and wine and, more importantly, warmth and great company!

Iceland, dinner table, photo, Olympus

Sadly, I didn’t take pix of the great spread but here is the table we ate at!

I enjoyed seeing the diverse landscapes of the island.  There are not enough posts I could write about it to convey how majestic it is and I am not yet done writing about it (I did write about the South Shore, Reykjavik and its main church, the site of its first parliament, and the Blue Lagoon).  But here are a couple of the sights I enjoyed.  In the meantime, stay tuned for more posts about Iceland!

Akureyri, Iceland, view, mountains, water, travel, photo, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel

The view from our house in the northern town of Akureyri

Puerto Rico

As some of you may know from prior posts, I moved to Puerto Rico when I was 2 years old until I finished high school when I came back to the mainland U.S.  This year I went back to P.R. for a high school reunion.  Given many commitments, I had to keep it to a 2.5-day weekend visit centered on the reunion activities and my classmates.  Of course, and it goes without saying (or typing), that EVERYONE looks the same.  (You never know who is reading these things… best to be careful and say that.  LOL).

Sagrado Corazon, Santurce, Puerto Rico, reunion

OK, not a typical travel pic but I wanted to honor my classmates. Me? The one front & center!

We stayed at a resort in Rio Grande which was OK but did not compare to other resorts in terms of service, cleanliness, or quality of food and beaches.  But, what made the weekend perfect was sharing with so many wonderful people – I truly was happy to see them and try to catch up.

I did enjoy two things about this trip besides the reunion:  sunset at the resort and the landing in San Juan which was like a trip down memory lane seeing all the places I knew (on my side of the plane), so  much so on the latter that I dedicated a post to share the views from the landing!  Check it out here.

Puerto Rico, sunset, palm tree, ocean, silver, grey, photo, travel, Samsung Galaxy, silhouette

The start of sunset. Picture perfect.

Santa Barbara, California

There are so many places you hear about constantly and sometimes you just never think anything of them.  Santa Barbara is a name I have heard so much yet never made it a point of going there.  That is, until  my friends Chris and Wendy invited me to join them on a trip to Cali.  I only could take a long weekend not the whole week of their trip but I decided to go with them and explore Santa Barbara with them.  I am so glad I did, even if the trip was so short. The trip started with lunch at The Hat in Simi Valley where I enjoyed a delicious hot pastrami sandwich and an obscenely (and deliciously) large bag of onion rings!

pastrami, The Hat, Simi Valley, onion rings, California, food, foodporn, foodie

Look at THAT!

The food, the wine and the company were excellent.  But the sights of Santa Barbara were indeed worth the effort:  the Presidio, the Old Mission, and -of course- the beach!  This is a place I would love to get back to just to relax!

sunset, Santa Barbara, pier, California, photo, travel, Olympus

At the pier, ready to watch the sun set

Spain:  Madrid, León, Santiago and the Camino

Oh, Spain!  Where to begin.  León, where the trip began?  Any of the number of towns along the Camino de Santiago, where we walked and experienced a millennial pilgrimage?  Santiago de Compostela, where the pilgrimage ends and near where my great-grandfather was born?  Or, Madrid, the grand dame of Spain?

Leon, Spain, España, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, travel, photo, Camino de Santiago

León captivated me

Madrid, Plaza Mayor, Spain, España, red, sienna, color, Samsung Galaxy

Detail of the massive Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid

beef, steak, sea salt, Madrid, cafe, Spain, food, foodie, foodporn, Samsung Galaxy, travel, photo

Well, I can’t talk about Spain without talking food!

Morocco

Unfortunately, my visit to Morocco was short as I was headed to Spain to do the Camino de Santiago.  I got to experience a little bit of Marrakesh but the bulk of the visit was spent in Essaouira, a town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco – quite an unexpected vibe to a Moroccan city for me (I knew little about Morocco before this visit!).  It is a little weird that I am writing about Morocco in the year in review before I have even finished writing about my visit there last summer!

As is usually my reaction to Arab countries, I loved the architecture.  The red of Marrakesh was a stark contrast to the white and some blue of Essaouira.  And just the same, Marrakesh was intense whereas Essaouira was relaxed – another sharp contrast.  I felt like I could live in Essaouira quite easily though Marrakesh would require a significant adjustment.  What a neat experience to see these big differences within Morocco!

Marrakesh, Morocco, red, Olympus, travel, photo, architecture, bicycles

The red of Marrakesh in the city’s walls

Essaouira, Morocco, blue, fort, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Essaouira and its blue

The Florida Gulf Coast near Tampa

I visit Tampa where I have a good bit of family a few times a year.  Usually, this means hanging out together or doing things nearby.  But I rarely go beyond the area of Tampa where they all live.  Christmas 2014 was the time, given the length of my visit, to go beyond.  We did a couple of day trips to “sample” places like Naples (about 2.5 hrs away from north Tampa), Lido Key, Longboat Key, and Anna Maria Island.  The latter seemed like a great community to live in but otherwise, not that charming.  St. Armand at Lido Key did strike me as a neat place to go and walk around and sit back and relax.  We checked out the park at the southern tip of the key and walk to the beach.  Later we drove the length of Longboat Key (pretty long indeed!) but we “broke it up” by stopping at The Lazy Lobster for an outdoor lunch centered on, guess what, lobster!

lobster, Longboat Key, seafood, foodie, delicious, travel, food, Samsung Galaxy

This delicious dish is called the lazy man’s lobster – served all cracked up!

But 2014 was also a year of exploring not only far off places but also places near my own hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

The Power Capitals: Washington, D.C., Beijing and London

When I was a kid (some would argue I am still one), I was fascinated with knowing capital cities and flags.  Not really sure why, perhaps it was an early predictor of future sanity.  I was pondering the other day that there are countries that I have visited whose capital cities I have not than I thought.  So I started thinking which capital cities have I visited and could there be some common thread to some of them.  That led me to think of a new series to briefly chat about the capital cities I have visited.

White House, Washington D.C., DC, center of power, President's residence, US flag, photo

The White House, literally and/or figuratively, the world’s center of power

In this group, I’d thought I’d include some capitals that represent power centers.  While I could add a few others, those fit better within future categories I will be sharing.  For this post of power centers, I have chosen to include:  Beijing, Washington, D.C., and London.

Entrance to the Forbidden City Beijing, China bicycles cars pollution

Entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing just north of Tiananmen Square

These are certainly global power centers for financial and political reasons.  But they could not be any more different from each other.  The following statements, of course, are up for discussion and challenge but they sort of indicate how I “feel” these power centers:

  • Whereas London exudes history, D.C. has it but as a secondary or tertiary theme to its power center persona, whereas Beijing seems hell-bent on destroying its fascinating history.
  • Whereas Beijing is exotic to me, D.C. exudes a vibrancy that is uncommon for me and that thrills me, and London exhibits a self-assured calm that almost makes it familiar, yet not exotic nor vibrant.
  • While London feels cozy as you spend time in its neighborhoods (despite its incredible size), Beijing feels large and cold.  And D.C. … well at times it feels just like a large political amusement park until you explore what’s behind “public D.C.”.
  • All three can feel impersonal, but I think once you get to know London and D.C.  that changes with the only difference being that D.C. seems more transient than London does, making London more of a place where one can grow deep roots.

Where I would live?  I would say D.C. hands down.  In fact, in any list, this would be on my top three places to live.  I feel the energy and it transcends the political activity-related energy.  I love walking the treed streets of the city, admiring architecture new and old, and discovering places to hang out (London does offer some of this.)

Where I would learn the most?  I would say Beijing with its long history and fascinating culture.

Where I felt people warmth?  London would have an edge on D.C. but, in reality, none, I’d venture say, excel at people warmth.  Not sure if that is related to the power center nature of the city, the culture of the country/city, or some other factor (like it just takes time to feel it).

Any big gripe on any of these?  The pollution in Beijing is about the worst I’ve experienced.  I got sick from it, putting a big damper on my time there.  And no “nearby Rio de Janeiro” (as Sao Paulo has) for me to go “heal.”  🙂

Where would I love to return?  Sure, I’d enjoy going back to London but D.C. would be it.  Beijing… Been there, done that.  I’d rather learn about China through other places.

The City, London, England, United Kingdom, power center, capital city, financial center

London is a power center, especially in global finance

Of course, different strokes for different folks – what’s delicious to me may be bland to another so take it all with a grain of salt and share your impressions of any of these cities if you have visited them!  Regardless, these are fascinating cities to explore.

Photo of the Week – A Storm over Washington, D.C.

No, I am not referring to the government shutdown or any of the infinite number of incidences of stupidity that emanate from the politicians who make a career in DC at our expense and to our detriment (soap BOX!!!)…  This is a literal storm caught from my hotel in Arlington, Virginia looking towards Reagan-National airport and the Potomac River right behind it.  If it were not raining, you would see in the distance the silhouettes of the famous buildings around The Mall.  But that is not to be in this moment.

I love the clear outline of the core of the storm as it seems to hang over the Potomac.  Quite a sight!

Washington, DC, Potomac River, Reagan airport, National airport, storm, rain, weather, photo, grey

Photo of the Week: The Mayflower Hotel Decked out for Christmas

I wrote in an earlier post about this grand hotel of Washington, D.C.:  The Mayflower, a Renaissance Marriott hotel.  I just stayed there again and got to see it decorated for Christmas.  I’d though I’d share this beautiful photo of its lobby area decorated for the holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all!

Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. decorated for Christmas

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