I flew to Austin the other week for a quick work trip. Did you know that British Airways flies direct from London to Austin? That made my life significantly easier, let me tell you. Also easier…I was upgraded to business class at the gate, which was especially awesome because I was flying on my birthday!! (Long ago, I vowed never to do anything for work on my birthday. It is a sign of the times that I have not been able to hold myself to this vow in 2015 or in 2016.)
The weather in Austin was particularly weird while I was there. Blazing hot on Day 1, cloudy and cool on the next day, and then warm and then hot again for the rest of my visit. And while I was primarily there for work, the beauty of a work conference is work dinners! So while I didn’t hit the Salt Lick or any of the other famous barbecue places — not enough time — here’s where I ate while I was in town:
Jacoby’s. Image borrowed from Jacoby’s Instagram feed.
Jacoby’s Restaurant: This peaceful little general mercantile-like restaurant has a lovely outdoor area on the river. We enjoyed heaping platters of particularly good brisket while we were eaten alive by mosquitos the size of, well, Texas. (This was my first trip back to the US since December and let me tell you…Zika fears are at a high.) Loaded with atmosphere and with a sweet little gift shop attached, this is a pretty little slice of Texas. Visit their website.
Yellow Jacket Social Club. Image borrowed from GirlsonFood.net
Yellow Jacket Social Club: In a sign that the world is more connected than ever before, I got off my flight at Austin airport, picked up my luggage, walked through the customs doors, and an old London friend saw me! Her sister-in-law was on the same flight. A few days later, Steffi and Stuart picked me up from Jacoby’s and took me to the supremely atmospheric Yellow Jacket Social Club, were we sat outside under the trees and solved all the world’s technology problems. Visit their website.
El Naranjo. Image borrowed from El Naranjo’s Facebook page
El Naranjo: Within one hour of arriving at my hotel, I was at El Naranjo to meet my friend Amy, who just happened to be in town that weekend for a wedding. We stuffed our faces with nachos and delicious tacos and then I passed out with jet lag. The end. Note: The servers here are really friendly and nice. Visit their website.
La Condesa. Image borrowed from Starchefs.com
La Condesa: While El Naranjo offered a more traditional, homey version of Mexican food, La Condesa was all hot, hip, modern and buzzy. A bit more of the west coast of Mexico perhaps because at La Condesa, it’s all about the ceviche. A few of my colleagues had never had ceviche before, if you can image that. No worries, that just meant more for me! The staff here were a little too busy for their own good — and ours — but it was an enjoyable meal nonetheless. Good if you need a scene. Visit their website.
The pool deck outside Geraldine’s. Image borrowed from Hotel Van Zandt. We sat in the first row of pool deck chairs.
Geraldine’s: OK, somewhat cheating. I was staying at the Hotel Van Zandt for my birthday and Geraldine’s is the restaurant in the hotel. I met up with my friend Amy to hang by the pool and read trashy magazines. And have brunch! Some short rib, some poached eggs. Done. The restaurant at the Hotel Van Zandt was always buzzing during my stay — popular with both hotel guests and locals. Definitely a destination. There was also live music on Sunday while we relaxed by the pool, which was great. Visit their website.
Gabriel’s Cafe at the AT&T Executive Education Center
Gabriel’s Cafe: This was the surprise of my stay. For the last few nights of my visit, I moved into the AT&T Executive Education Center for my work conference. I was starving when I checked in, so I dropped into Gabriel’s Cafe. My server heartily recommended the smoked brisket sandwich with homemade potato chips so that’s what I had and it was really, truly melt-in-the-mouth amazing. This is a pretty soulless hotel restaurant really, but whoever is in the kitchen knows what they are doing. I liked it so much, I went back on my last day before my flight. Visit their website.
Not enough time for all that I wanted to do, as always. It was a super quick trip, so being in a jetlagged fog for the first two days didn’t help either. Austin is a fun city, and the fact that you can get there directly from London is a huge bonus. Go visit! Have some brisket for me.
Florida is a destination full of sun, fun and rum, but Orlando is where the state gets truly magical. If you’re looking for a place where you can find everything from alligators to acrobats, it’s definitely the city for you! Here are just a few stops you should make during your trip to Orlando.
1. La Nouba Home to the Cirque du Soleil show, La Nouba will offer you an unforgettable night filled with lights, music, gymnastics and gravity-defying stunts. There’s nothing else on Earth quite like a Cirque du Soleil show.
2. SeaWorld Home to literally thousands of species of aquatic life, SeaWorld is perhaps most famous for its whale shows, but it also has everything from sharks to dolphins. It’s a great place for your kids to get a little education with their entertainment!
3. Orlando International Premium Outlets Shop ’til you drop at Orlando International Premium Outlets. If your money is burning a hole in your pocket, this is the perfect place to load up on souvenirs for your trip home. Just make sure you have enough room in your bags for all of them!
4. Wakoola Springs Wakoola Springs is one of the biggest water parks in Florida, housing all kinds of pools, slides and hot tubs across a staggering 75,000 square feet. Many luxury resorts are located nearby, as well. You’ll never be far from a bed in any direction!
5. Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary You don’t have to be religious to appreciate this gorgeous, spiritual shrine. It’s a wonderful piece of architecture and an even greater place to get away from the bustle of the city, so stop by when you need a break from all the chaos of your vacation.
6. Discovery Cove If you’ve ever wanted to swim with dolphins, this is your chance. Just be prepared for colorful fish, coral, seals and sting rays to also join the party! When you go diving in Discovery Cove, there’s no telling what marine life will want to say hello.
7. Walt Disney World You didn’t think there would be a list of famous Orlando attractions without Disney World, right? One of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet, Disney World offers light-hearted fun for the whole family. It doesn’t matter how old you are as long as you’re still young at heart.
8. Gatorland Like the name implies, Gatorland is full of alligators! The good news is that you’ll be quite protected by the marshes, and you can also throw them hot dogs under the careful supervision of the guides. How many times in life do you get the chance to feed an alligator hot dogs?
9. Paddleboard Orlando Get your heart pumping with Paddleboard Orlando. In addition to the promised paddleboarding, you’ll also have the chance to swim, dive and jump off small cliffs into the water below. It’s perfect for both the athlete and the couch potato who just wants to try something new.
These are just a few of the attractions you won’t want to miss in Orlando. To really take advantage of your trip, consider researching attractions online. Many vacation companies, such as Bluegreen Resorts, for instance, offer information available online that can help travelers choose their favorite destinations. Whether you’re there for the thrilling adventures or the relaxing beaches, Orlando is a city that has a little something for everyone, so all travelers should enjoy it.
A note about sponsored posts: Occasionally, to cover my hosting, domain and back-up costs, I accept sponsored posts that fit within the context of my site. Running a self-hosted blog is not cheap. Given my annual pilgrimage to Orlando every Christmas, I was okay with this accepting this post.
After some time out in the suburbs with my cousin and her husband, I headed back into the city for the final few nights of my stay. Do you know what I noticed about the New York City subway system? There are barely any escalators and the stairs are very steep. Now of course, London’s underground is much further underground, so escalators are necessary. But the steepness of the stairs? As I schlepped my fairly large suitcase around New York City, I nearly broke both legs a number of times. We are talking stairs that are seriously on a 45 degree angle. London does a better job at planning for volume.
The Viceroy is on W 57th street, just two blocks south of Central Park. There’s a Duane Reade right on the corner in case you need to stock up on essentials. (I always do.) And most importantly, The Viceroy has an awesome rooftop bar with a great view northwards across Central Park.
I liked my room here A LOT. The cabinetry alone was gorgeous. The tilework in the bathroom was also gorgeous. In short, this is a gorgeous, gorgeous hotel, and it smells gorgeous too. (Although there are many people online who complain about the signature scent, I kinda liked it.) Here’s what else I liked and disliked:
What I liked…
I liked the doormen and the chilly blast of AC that greeted you when you stepped within 10 feet of the hotel entrance.
I liked the gym a lot. It is a great, fully equipped hotel gym.
I loved the rooftop bar.
I loved the room decor.
I really loved the location and the proximity to the subway.
What I didn’t like…
I did not get the warm fuzzies from the hotel staff at all, unlike The Thompson where they seemed like hip, interesting people that I’d like to hang out with.
I didn’t like the hotel restaurant. I had a late lunch there one afternoon and my pasta dish was distinctly unmemorable.
I didn’t like the nightclub atmosphere with the separate entrance for the rooftop bar.
All in all though, this was a high quality hotel and I would be delighted to stay here again. I would just make sure I ate elsewhere!
I booked my stay at The Viceroy New York on Booking.com, which is rapidly becoming my new favorite place to book hotels. (The information seems better organized than what you find on Expedia.) This was an all-in price of $285 USD, which again is a great value for Manhattan. Note that this was one of those non-refundable rates.
I had a couple of things to do inside and outside of New York City back in July during my stay, so I spread my visit across two different hotels, one downtown and one uptown. You might know that I’m also quite in love with hotels and struggle with more than four or five nights in the same one — I get bored — so variety is key!
My first hotel was The Thompson Guiildhall, down on Wall Street, which turned out to be very convenient to the Women’s World Cup Parade. (Yey Team USA!) It was also convenient to the World Trade Center Memorial, where I spent a couple of hours one morning. (And then returned to the hotel and had a glass of wine.)
Although The Thompson was a tiny bit worn around the edges and the bathroom wasn’t my favorite — it was super small — I loved the decor of my room and the huge ass TV. I don’t normally watch a lot of TV when I travel (or at all, really), but I am totally in love with the Property Brothers and was eager to do a little gorging. (The amount of HGTV I watch when I’m in the States suggests that maybe I should get into property.)
What I liked and didn’t like:
The glass of prosecco they poured me upon arrival.
The location and the little coffee shop on the corner.
The proximity to multiple bagel shops.
The convivial bar.
What I didn’t like:
The bathroom was a tad basic for my tastes. I like a bit more space. I know this is NYC but…
They do this thing where they have mini gyms on each floor. One treadmill and one elliptical and some free weights. I like how they are trying to maximize their space, but it’s a little weird to be in such a small room with one other person. I felt like I was invading on their workout.
In general, everything was a little run down and worn and torn. Not by a huge amount, but dings on the walls, scratches on the furniture, etc.
Wine at the bar was not cheap. (This may be a greater New York City problem, of course.)
It was practically impossible to get a taxi to Penn Station when I left the hotel on a Sunday afternoon, and I made my train by the skin of my teeth. The doorman and I were both at our wits’ end. He promised it’s never normally like that but…
Would I stay here again? Maybe…while the hotel was convenient for my needs at the time, I probably would stay more in Greenwich Village/Soho next time or more midtown. It’s definitely a quality property though so if you have a lot of business to conduct in the Wall Street area, I’d give it a go.
I booked the Thompson Hotel on Hotwire at the bargain price of $183 USD before taxes. With fees, it was $232 USD, which I think is extremely reasonable for a hotel of this quality in Manhattan. Read my post on how I save money on hotels using Hotwire.
I am the most disappointing New York tourist. “Where are you from?” they ask me at the beginning of every tour and every interaction where I haven’t had to say the word DAWN. (The only word that still give me away.) “Long Island,” I say. And then they look away because they know I won’t spend any money!!! They’d rather that I was from Omaha. They want me to buy a t-shirt. Or a key ring. Or something.
But I don’t care. Because I LOVE NEW YORK. And I am in it! And I am LEGIT. It’s a always a little weird when I go back. Because I know where I’m going. Even though I really don’t know where I am going because I haven’t spent much time in New York since like 1992, I still know that Penn Station and Macy’s are at 34th Street. I still know that Grand Central is on 42nd. I still know that Central Park starts at 59th. These are small things to know, but they are important landmarks on your mostly north/south traverso of Manhattan Island.
One week was not enough time! I need to go back Here’s where I ate and drank and cried while I was in town:
Where I ate and drank…
Long Island Bagels, Wall Street: OK, these weren’t my favorite bagels — Lou’s were better — but their jet-lag friendly opening hours and relative proximity to my hotel, The Thompson, made Long Island Bagels a no brainer. (And, well, I’m from Long Island so there’s that.) Free wifi too! I went here twice for salt bagels with veggie cream cheese. The Verdict: Good. But not the best.
Lou’s Bagels, Wall Street: One morning, when I had a little more time on my hands, I went to Lou’s Bagels. The queue was out the door and down the street. Great sign! I had — surprise — a salt bagel with veggie cream cheese. (I sweated the salt out while I was in town, I promise.) The Verdict: Very, very good.
Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central: My first time. Totally not what I expected. It’s like one big dive bar. The staff fights with each other in front of you, for real. It’s WEIRD. I should have remembered what it was like to hang around Grand Central when I was a kid. Slightly scary. (It’s really much improved now.) BUT! I still stuffed my face with oysters and wine, although I wanted it all to be a little more — how shall we say — neat and tidy and calm? The Verdict: You should probably go here and maybe you’ll like it here and maybe I’ll like it more the next time I go.
La Villetta, Midtown East: My friend Monica knows the owner so we caught up over low-carb entrees while Monica told us about her upcoming triathlons and her 3rd child, born just a few months earlier. I mean, I know I’m pretty lazy, but I felt really lazy after this meal because I do not plan on running any triathlons anytime soon and I haven’t even had one child yet, forget about three. So I ran for 20 minutes on the treadmill the next morning and went clothing shopping for my cousin’s kids later in the day. That’s about as close as I will get.
Five Senses, K-Town: Kristin was in town from LA so Shin and I met up for lunch with her in K-town. Korean pancakes…they get me every time. And this was an excellent version thereof. Stuffed — and I mean stuffed — with seafood. I was going to order a main dish but decided instead just to eat all the pancake. The Verdict: Loved it.
Bar at Bergforfs, Midtown West: On a hot day, I needed some cool shopping. I popped into Bergdorfs, conveniently located around the corner from my 2nd hotel, The Viceroy, and massaged the expensive candles that Leonid from Bob Bob Ricard loves. (I like them too but the budget right now sadly does not allow.) Given my “Summer of Krista” financial situation, I did not buy anything except one glass of Albarino in the very pleasant bar upstairs. (With free wifi.) The Verdict: Expensive, but good if you need a breather.
Gramercy Tavern, Flatiron District: After stocking up at, uh, all the same stores they have in London, I dropped into The Gramercy Tavern for a late lunch. The staff were awesome. My food was good and the vibe was good but…I don’t know. I had higher expectations of the food and the atmosphere. I expected there to be more flowers? The Verdict: It’s nice.
Excellent Dumpling House, Chinatown: Heh heh heh. After my foot massage (keep reading), I wanted a snack so I got some pretty excellent dumplings from the aptly named Excellent Dumpling House. I ate them back at my hotel while watching reruns of The Property Brothers. Bliss. The Verdict: Cheap. Not so cheerful. But I liked my dumplings.
John’s of Bleeker Street: My college friend Doug and his wife met me for the real deal New York pizza at John’s of Bleeker Street. This place is a little scuzzy — I really can’t recommend the loos at all — but the pizza did the trick. Terrible beer and wine selection. Cash only. Totally suspect ATM in the back. The Verdict: Great pizza. Just wish it was nicer.
Where I cried…
9/11 Memorial: I organized a tour of the facility through the official 9/11 memorial museum and I cried. They do a great job with negative space. Negative space I think says it all. The Verdict: You should go here and you should take the tour but be ready to be overwhelmed by all the things left behind. And the negative space.
Renew Bowery Foot Massage: Because I can’t write about 9/11 and leave things on a sad note, I also cried when I went to Chinatown for a foot massage after a long day of walking. William — apparently the teacher — realigned my spine but only touched my feet. It HURT so bad — I cried — but it hurt oh so good I felt like a new person the next day. I was bummed when a regular came in and William left me with his student to do my other foot. The student did a good job, but William was much more awesome. The Verdict: Go, but be ready to cry if you ask for and get William. (Who you really should ask for.)
I love New York! I feel like I am among my people there…when I don’t feel like my people are in London, that is. I need to get back more often! Much more often!
I made a quick trip to Chicago last month. Very last minute. It kinda cracks me up that I’ve been back to Chicago THREE TIMES since leaving the city last June. Out of all the places my new job could have sent me…seriously??
To be fair though, this third trip was more about me than about work. I knew I had some leftover holiday to take and I knew I wanted to see some people and celebrate some things so I went. And I had a nice time. But I don’t think I need to go back for a while now…
I stayed at The James hotel off Michigan Avenue, an excellent location if ever there was one. My room was all white and modern BUT it was also a bit scuffed up. I used Hotwire to book my room and saved A BUNDLE. I forget now if I’ve written about my Hotwire arbitrage skillz but if not, I will in a later post. I like The James BUT I don’t like the food at The James, even though it is David Burke. Every sandwich came with too much untoasted bread and too many undercooked fries. Also, every sandwich was pretty expensive. So stay at The James if you want a nice central location, but eat elsewhere. Also, book via Hotwire. I saved $100 a night off the regular rate at time of booking. With taxes and fees, my room cost $153.87 a nght, which is a great rate for a hotel of this caliber and in this location. The Verdict: A good choice, but in need of a facelift. Try The Thompson instead.
Eating & Drinking
I wish I could tell you that I did some good eating and drinking while I was in Chicago, but honestly…I didn’t. I don’t know if it was bad luck or just laziness on my part. (OK, it was laziness.) I didn’t even go to Eataly, for the love of God! Here’s where I ate and drank…
Kanela Breakfast Club, Wicker Park: I met my friends Amy and Larissa at Kanela Breakfast Club in Wicker Park for a Saturday brunch/lunch. Kanela is in a beautiful space largely kitted out by the oyster bar that was there before Kanela. I liked that oyster bar, but when they opened, I thought to myself “People in Wicker Park don’t eat oysters.” I was right. They didn’t last long. Judging by the crowds at Kanela, people like it here. I did not enjoy my chorizo breakfast burrito at all, and that was after waiting an hour to receive it. The Verdict: Skip it. But I don’t know…everyone else seems to like it here so there’s that.
O’Callaghan’s, River North: My friends Bob & Aileen were celebrating their 10 year anniversary so I popped over to O’Callaghan’s with them for some Guinness to kick off the festivities. Super friendly bar staff, although very dark interior. It was quite empty when we visited but I am sure it gets packed during the week. The Verdict: If you want a nice Irish bar in downtown Chicago, you could do worse than O’Callaghan’s.
Star of Siam, River North: I used to walk by Star of Siam every day on my way to work, but yet I had never been. Well, a sudden craving for curry led us here during my visit and boy am I glad we stopped in. I loved it! I loved the decor! (All warehouse-y and spacious and nice decorated with Thai things.) I loved the service! I loved the food! Why have I not eaten here before? Star of Siam is in a bit of a strange location…you have to walk down a flight of stairs to get there from Wabash…but it seems to be a destination in its own right. The Verdict: Go if you’re craving Thai in downtown Chicago.
Lou Malnati’s, Rush Street: I woke up on Sunday morning and was kinda jonseing for a pizza. Don’t ask. I am ashamed of myself. I was there as soon as they opened and enjoyed my deep dish mini pan pizza in silence. UNTIL…I ran into my old colleague Leslie who caught me stuffing my face at 11 am on a Sunday morning. Lucky for me, her and her dad were planning on doing the same. The Verdict: A guilty pleasure.
Soho House, West Loop: I met Karen out for some drinks and snacks at Soho House and she gave me the grand tour. Amazing how much it feels like Shoreditch House. I mean, I guess that’s not amazing because it is the same owners and everything but they’ve really got this design thing nailed. The ground floor of Soho House was packed, the upper levels less so. The ladies’ room on the pool floor was flooded, so that was kinda gross. Also, I ordered almonds and pickles to snack on and the dish came with just three pickles. (Granted, when I pointed this out, they brought me a WHOLE BOWL of gherkins.) The Verdict: I like Soho House. Despite The Pickle Incident.
Joe Stonecrab, River North: Joe’s was right around the corner from The James so we popped in here for dinner one night. I order the ahi tuna and kicked myself later. I should have stuck with what Joe’s does well…stonecrab or steak. My ahi tuna was straight out of the fridge. No sign of searing but maybe they did sear it…in a very cold, cold pan. Many people like Joe’s, but after eating here many times with those many people over the years, I’m just not a huge fan. The Verdict: Meh.
So there you go…that’s my last trip to Chicago for a while, I think. Unless I become a property magnate and then maybe I will maintain residences around the world. That would be awesome.