Sunday, May 15, 2016

Birthday at the Ferrari Estate

To celebrate her husband Sam's birthday, Lauren rented a huge house in the Woodside Hills, with a beautiful background that had a pool, hot tub, tennis courts, ping pong table, cabana, and more, and invited a group of their friends to join in the party.  Two of Sam's best friends from college, Nick and Kyle, even flew up from L.A. for the occasion.  Thank goodness I made the cut because it was a seriously fun day!


We found out the estate owner's last name was Ferrari, and based on the looks of the place, we're pretty sure that's not a random coincidence.  There were fountains everywhere, a bar larger than most of our kitchens, and light switches that automatically eased on and faded off.  Check it out:

Having a day to just enjoy a glorious yard, eat BBQ, and hang out laughing with friends in the hot tub felt like the ultimately luxury.  I don't even have one blade of grass where I live, so having that much space to spread out in was incredible. 

We danced, we lounged, some sports were played.  Inevitably, the boys set up beer pong.  Below is the team that talks a big talk.

And then there was my team, who walked the walk (I think I drank one cup for every five of Nick's-it played to our strategy).  ;)

In the evening, we danced around the kitchen island to Justin Bieber and Luke Bryan while prepping for dinner.  After eating delicious chicken gyros (Sam's favorite), we played extreme charades (aka fishbowl), and were then regaled by a lip-sync battle between Nick and Maryana (the girl killed it with Hot in Herre and Bye Bye Bye).

It was so much fun!  We did not want to leave in the morning.  Thank you Lauren for including us all!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Nashville: Best Workweek Ever

In mid-April I went to a work conference in Nashville, TN.  Okay, enough about work, let's talk about the trip!  Here is my top five countdown of what I experienced and enjoyed the most in Music City.

5. Country Music Hall of Fame

One afternoon the conference got out early, and I decided the Hall of Fame would be the best use of my time.  Seeing the progression of country music from minstrel shows to Elvis to today was quite the musical education!  As soon as you get off the elevator and emerge into the museum space, you see the "Taylor Swift Education Center".  For those who think like me, no, it is not a place to learn everything there is to know about T. Swizzle (too bad), but instead, it's an interactive space to engage children in the museum.  There was also an interesting exhibit about Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash's relationship with each other and Nashville.  The museum was really well-done and interactive, and ended at the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame Rotunda, which only has 130 inductees to date.  The best part of the afternoon was when the ticket lady told me to "boot scoot" around the corner to start my tour.

4. Opryland Hotel

I was staying about 20 minutes outside the city center at the gigantic Gaylord Opryland complex, where the conference was being held.   With almost 2900 rooms, it is the largest hotel in the U.S. that does not have a casino.  As the airport shuttle driver, Al, drawled through missing teeth on the way in, "You will  get lost."  And I did.

I called the place "Disney Tennessee".  You can hang out in one of its many lands: The Cascades, Magnolia, Garden Conservatory, or the Delta.  Below is the Cascades, my hotel rooms' land, unto which I had a balcony view.  Each land is atrium style, with thousands of panes of glass letting light in for the lush interior landscaping (they don't just have gardeners, they have horticulturists).  There's a golf course, a spa, multiple pools, and even a country radio station on-site.  And there's a boat ride on the Delta that passes by a steakhouse modeled after a Louisiana plantation home and around a "street" that mimics New Orleans, complete with restaurants and shops.

3. Food, obviously

Nashville is nowhere to go on a diet.

May I present Hot Chicken, chicken that is fried and then dipped in hot sauce.  I ate this at The Stillery while sitting at the bar, watching the Giants game and getting the low-down on the music scene from a local couple.

At Puckett's (below), I ate what they called "Piggy Mac", which is essentially BBQ pulled pork covered with macaroni and cheese and baked in a skillet.  I think you can sense a trend in my culinary leanings.  

2. Talking to strangers at the bar

At Puckett's, I sat down at the bar to order dinner, and ended up in a wonderful conversation with the man next to me.  Before you get any ideas, he's a 60-something married black man from L.A.  We connected immediately and had an extremely pleasant, real conversation for well over an hour.  By the end of the meal, Freddie and I were sharing cobbler (he said I can call him by his "family name"-most people just call him Fred, but by then we were besties).  I learned a lot from my time with him, and we've kept in touch since!  It's amazing how a chance encounter can have such a positive impact on your life.  I sound super corny, but seriously-Freddie's the man.  

In general, traveling alone, I was forced to step outside my comfort zone for socialization.  It was great to push myself to start conversations with various people, and reminded me how much we can learn from breaking our circle and engaging with new people that differ from us.

1. The Grand Ole Opry (and the live music scene in general)

Everywhere you go in downtown Nashville there is live music.  Bars, restaurants, street corners-music is pouring out from every crevice.  I even heard a twangy rendition of Tupac's California Love.  To check out the different scenes, I visited several bars throughout my stay, including Robert's Western World, Layla's, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, and a couple others.  What they all had in common was extremely talented musicians!  And the people watching was pure gold.

For Tuesday night, I had bought a ticket to The Grand Ole Opry, which essentially felt like a music church.  It's auditorium style, with cushioned benches reminiscent of pews.  And once the music starts, you feel completely on board with the spiritual musical journey they're taking you on.

Beforehand, I was very ignorant of the Opry, and didn't know the whole thing had started as a radio show 90 years ago, and is still a live broadcast today (650 AM WSM)!  When the curtain went up, my jaw dropped. To the left of the stage there was a podium behind which stood a radio announcer who was our host for the night, narrating the entire show for radio, complete with advertisements ("Our next performance is brought to you by Cracker Barrel!").  It was an epic concert concept.

A veritable pu pu platter of country music, there were seven different performers in one night.  Among others, Maggie Rose, Chris Janson, Brothers Osborne, and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers performed, all culminating in the headlining set by Rascal Flatts.  It was a fun mix of more traditional fiddle and banjo with modern pop-country.

Chris Janson
(my favorite performance-he's adorable and has an unlimited store of energy)

Rascal Flatts

Nashville was a boot-tappin' good time with such friendly, welcoming people!  It felt very come as you are and kept me well-fed.  Now if only I had had more time to eat and two-step my way through more venues!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Boston: Land of Lobster, Baseball, and a Firm No


In early April, Lauren, Maryana, and I headed to Boston, which effectively felt like going back in time because a) it was still winter there, in our opinion, and b) well, you know, history.   Lauren went to BC so she was an ol' pro showing us around, but for Maryana and me it was our first time in Beantown.  

Staying at an Airbnb in the North End really helped us feel like locals.  Boston's Little Italy, the North End is filled with vibrant restaurants, cute boutiques, and perhaps most importantly, Mike's Pastry, where we indulged on multiple occasions in cannoli, and tried zeppole for the first time.  The place is an operation, with a line at all hours, and balls of twine hanging from the ceiling with which they deftly tie up your box of sweets.  Lauren commented that the North End is the safest zone in Boston.  I'll let you guess why the Italian neighborhood has no crime (it may have something to do with not shitting where you sleep). 

That first night we ate just a few blocks from our place, at Giacomo's, a quaint spot with a line out the door.  The place was known for great food, but we quickly learned the service was pretty no-fuss.  When I asked Donna, our waitress, if I could have potatoes instead of spaghetti on the side of my veal marsala, she responded with a flat, "No."  Guess that settled that!  We quickly learned that a) you don't mess with Donna, and b) in Boston, no means no.

Our first full day we thought we'd get our sea legs by starting with the Freedom Trail, a brilliant wayfinding concept created in the '50s that allows you to "follow the yellow brick road" (fine, it's red) from one significant site to the next through Boston's most historical neighborhoods. 

We basically bounced from cemetery to church to government building and back again.  It was a great way to weave our way through the city and get the lay of the land while learning about Boston's roots.


The churches we visited were very unusual, because instead of pews, they had a grid of pre-paid boxes like one would find at an opera house.  Prominent families received their own box upon adequate donation to the church.  I'd never seen anything like it! 

We stopped for frequent snacks, of course.  We were pretty excited by the apple cider and doughnuts from Red Apple Farm in the Boston Public Market, and it made Lauren feel right back at home.  Maryana was squealing over fresh oysters at the farmer's market (that girl can seriously eat her weight in oysters)!

Foodies make great travel buds

Some of our other stops on the trail included Paul Revere's house, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church (where Paul Revere warned that the British were coming) and Boston Common.  Near the shopping halls, Maryana and I noticed some very potent smells, and narrowed down that some areas of town are trash-forward, with a distinct scent of wet brick, and a hot dog finish (this joke continued for some time).

Throughout the trail, we experienced what felt like 9 months of weather in one day: warmth, rain, blustering winds, cold, sunshine, and hail.  Later in the afternoon we ended up at Boston Public Garden, which may have been my highlight of the day-you can tell it had really cleared up by then! 

Who's that guy?
George Washington, duh.

I really enjoyed him a lot.

And finally, we strolled through Beacon Hill, which is an adorable neighborhood that I will be moving to as soon as I have three million dollars.

That night, we had dinner at Eastern Standard before heading to a couple bars.  Top of the Hub, a restaurant and bar with 360 degree views at the top of the Prudential building, and Clink, a cellar bar inside a jail-turned-hotel, were both really fun with music and fascinating people watching, but the highlight of our night was the girl on the train platform, below.  We come down the subway stairs to find her playing an amped up violin accompaniment to Justin Bieber.  We stood there dancing with her and some other lucky bystanders, even letting our train go by in favor of listening to her longer.  We dubbed her Angel, for the miracle of music she had brought to our lives, but I later found her on Instagram to be one Vivian (@hobovogue).  So, Angel Vivian it is.

A big joke of the weekend was "Boylston".  Get it?  No, you wouldn't, because no one thinks it's funny except me.  Say "Boylston" out loud.  It's hilarious!  You automatically have a Boston accent when you say it.  I liked it so much (oh, how it made me laugh) that we decided I needed to find a Bostonian Boylston to marry, which led to us calling out "Mr. Boylston!" in crowded areas, hoping an attractive doctor would respond.  Needless to say, we never found my Mr. Boylston (on this trip anyway), but wouldn't that have made a good story for the grandkids? 

The next day, we headed to Copley Square for high tea at the Boston Public Library's Courtyard, because I couldn't resist the punniness of having an actual Boston Tea Party.  The room was just off the courtyard, and was decorated in subtle shades of purple.  Menus were nestled inside old books, and as we relished in champagne, finger sandwiches, and lemon curd, we decided we could really get used to this.

Afterwards, we explored the library, and the obvious favorite spot was Bates Hall (below), which has the names of famous historical writers, artists, scientists, philosophers, and statesmen etched around the walls.  It oozes erudition; in fact, it felt wrong just walking through and not at least sitting down and cracking a book (we considered it). 

Afterwards, we stopped by Trinity Church across the square, and I stepped inside to take in the unique architecture and stained glass.  I learned that Trinity Church is the only church in the United States and the only building in Boston on the list of the "Ten Most Significant Buildings in the United States" by the American Institute of Architects.  It's neat, because the architect's work on this church was the start of what became his own architectural style, Richardsonian Romanesque.  It felt like quite a melting pot of different styles, and the stained glass work inside was stunning. 

Finally, we grabbed some delicious New England clam chowder on the harbor, and walked back home trying not to freeze to death.

That night, Lauren's Maid of Honor, Emily, came to stay with us and we went to one of their favorite old college haunts, Sunset Grill and Tap, where we indulged in nachos, sliders, and potato skins, and really got to feel what college life in Boston would be like (well, Lauren and Emily got to relive it).

The next morning, we went to Beehive for their live jazz brunch.  Lauren had requested a good table, and boy did they deliver (our table was literally on top of the stage rug).  Maryana and I both ordered the tasty North-African Eggs Shakshuka, and we spent a lot of the morning hypothesizing what the musician's day jobs were.

Afterwards, Emily headed back to her family, and the three of us made our way to the train station for our day trip to Rockport.  We passed through Salem without noticing any smoke, and saw some gorgeous waterfront homes along the track.

The town is so cute, it's as if it's right out of a movie.  Oh wait, it is!  The Proposal used Rockport as the filming site for Ryan Reynold's small hometown in Alaska. 

We meandered around the town, popped into some shops, and visited the Fudgery, where they gave us a bag of free taffy.  How is everyone so nice?


By and large, the highlight of the trip was Roy Moore Lobster, which is a no-frills shack filled with crustaceans and three generations of men that serve 'em up.  I can't exaggerate their hospitality.  We sat freezing but at peace on the back patio, scarfing down hot clam chowder and cold lobster rolls, and then ordering more.  The three men were watching golf on a small TV in the shop and kept exclaiming excitedly at it.  When Maryana asked John, the younger one, who was winning, he said he didn't even know.  That's how much people in Massachusetts love sports; they'll watch any of them and get worked up no matter what.

On our way out, they let us have some fun with their friends, and even joined us for a group picture (minus grandpa!).

Do I have a huge crush on John the lobster fisherman?

That night, obviously, we went home and watched The Proposal.

Monday, our last day, and the whole reason we booked the trip for this particular weekend, was Opening Day at Fenway Park!  This park was all nostalgia: it felt like the way baseball is supposed to be experienced.  

They pulled out all the stops for Opening Day: DJs, a fly over, a guy on stilts, and their MVP, Papi, shedding a tear as his daughter sang the National Anthem.  Someone even got a home run over the near-impossible Green Monster wall.  I can't imagine what this place was like when they won the World Series.

I basically ate that entire bag of popcorn

Our last night we spent back at the North End, at Neptune's Oysters, eating some of the most incredible seafood.   We tried fresh sea urchin, johnny cakes with honey butter and caviar on top, and a hot lobster roll to die for.  It was a great way to wrap up the trip!

I was really taken with Boston.  I'd always had the impression that I'd love and fit in there, and even with that in mind it exceeded my expectations.  I don't know if it was the delicious food, the spattering of brick and nostalgia everywhere, or the charming people (both strangers and the ladies I was traveling with), but I loved it.  It's the only other place in the U.S. I've visited where I could actually see myself living.  Now, excuse me while I go buy a parka!