Where’s Al’s License

Our goal for the day was to hike Mt. Pisgah elevation 5800 feet and finish the day with a rousing tubing trip down the French Broad River.  After a hearty breakfast and a walk with Matilda  (I was afraid this outing might do her in), we were off; we thought.   Now for any of you who depend solely on Google maps to navigate unfamiliar areas this may sound familiar.  Sarah and I rode in various versions of a circle for 45 minutes before Siri decided to get us in the right direction.  The only credit our little nemesis deserves is the beautiful drive we had down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We finally arrive at our destination, Mt. Pisgah.  The hike started off pleasant, cool and beautiful under the canopy of trees.  About 15 minutes in it was straight up, climbing rocks like a Himalayan billy goat until we reached the top.  This stretch of the hike was approximately 1.25 miles in distance.  Needless to say, when we reached the top we thought we were dying, but the vista of the Great Smokey Mountains was absolutely breathtaking.  As  I went to remove my phone to take a few shots you guessed it my driver’s license fell out of my pack and through the slats of the observation deck.  It was a slow-motion moment that I could not stop.  Thanks to a young man on the deck he was able to go below and retrieve said license.  Between the license incident and the obnoxious kids that arrived on the deck right behind us our lunch plans quickly changed.  We made our descent down the mountain which was as precarious of the ascent.  We took our lunch to a lookout point which was as beautiful as the mountaintop and so quiet and peaceful.  I guess our goals were a little loftier than our stamina.    We opted out of tubing and checked out the outlet mall that we discovered on one of our many circular paths earlier in the day.

IMG_9838

After a day of 14,774 steps, 86 flights of stairs, near catastrophe with my driver’s license, and some seriously excellent retail therapy, Sarah and I headed back to the Mermaid Cottage and a very unhappy dog.  We will say goodbye to Asheville in the morning and head our separate ways – me to Ft. Bragg to visit with Josh, Amanda, Robert and Izzie and Sarah to Atlanta to resume her classes at Mercer.  It has been a great trip.  However, Son the way home today Sarah and I discovered the River Arts district, so we have decided that another trip to Asheville is warranted to check out the art, have our tubing trip and indulge in a few of the restaurants we were introduced to on Sunday.  Goodbye, Asheville.

IMG_9840

Mellow, Asheville!

The last time I was in this town, I was fifteen years old playing basketball at a Christmas tournament. We never ventured outside the gym, had pre-planned meals, and our ONE outing was the Biltmore house. Which is spectacular, but it didn’t make the cut for this vacay.

Yesterday was a day of driving. Nothing much to report besides sore bottoms and the guilt from using McDonald’s bathrooms, but never purchasing food. Girl, I am on Weight Watchers and I’ve splurged enough. McD’s is not on my road trip plan. However, today we did splurge a little with an awesome walking/eating tour of Downtown Asheville.

We had a quasi-lazy morning with no alarm clocks to wake us up. It was a steamy day, but we managed to squeeze in a nearly five-mile walk along the French Broad River in Carrier Park. We drug Matilda along. My mom’s overweight dog who has slept the day away after the excursion this morning. As I type this blog, she is snoring on a large green velvet sofa. I promise she is alive and breathing in the photo.

IMG_9811

After getting showered, I realized I read the tickets wrong, so we were 15-minutes late for our tour of Asheville. We had an awesome guide, Anne. She was chill and completely understood. We started our tour in a cool cafe/used-book store called the Battery Park Book Exchange. Anne explained the history, served up some bubbly, and two appetizers of local pimento cheese dip and smoked trout dip. Both excellent and a perfect start. (No pictures, I was even tardier as I tried to find a parking spot. Asheville is a kicking place!)

Our first stop was Baba Nahm, an awesome middle eastern spot, where all the ingredients are locally sourced and pitas are made daily! The loose translation of the name is father provider or caregiver. The owner has deep childhood memories of family meals prepared by his mother but provided by his dad. We had a mini-falafel pita with amazing carrot relish! It was fresh and perfectly balanced with hints of mint.

Then we walked to Zambra, a local’s favorite Anne told us. It is a tapas hot spot with small little romantic cushioned caves to dine in. We drank their winter sangria. Mom wants to make this for our next holiday throw down. It was tasty. And the food was a pulled pork and pomegranate spring roll with avocado orange puree. I did try it…a very small bite. BUT I CAN’T…there is something with the stringy-ness of pork. I ate the avocado. Delicious. I passed the remainder of my egg roll to my mom.

IMG_9809

We then moseyed to the Blind Pig for a potato pancake chorizo meatball sampler with a Cheer wine cocktail. I gave the meatball a chance, but passed the meat mom’s way and inhaled the fried potato cake!!! If you don’t know me that well….I don’t really like meat. I sometimes eat chicken, turkey, and fish. I don’t care for red meat or pork. I was a vegetarian for most of high school and undergrad. BUT with that being said, I still LOVE food and this TOUR WAS THE BOMB DOT COM! We looked at every menu at each restaurant, and even though I don’t do pork…there were plenty of options. I saw sooo many tasty treats that I would have loved to experience on another vacay to Asheville.

Our final entree spot was an Italian spot, Strada. We had an awesome red wine and a GRILLED ravioli with cherry tomato sauce, aged balsamic vinegar, and arugula. It was remarkable. The chard grill marks. The sweetness of the balsamic. The pepper-y arugula. I could have lived in this dish! SO GOOD! During service hours at Strada, the appetizer is served with two and the entree is served with three ravioli. They were nearly the size of my palm. If and when you are in Asheville stop here for one or maybe two meals 🙂

The sweet treat at the end was provided by Asheville Chocolate. They supply the Biltmore with all of their tasty treats. I tried to secure tickets for my mom and me for the chocolate wine tour of the Biltmore, but they were sold out! Glad we were able to sample the finest chocolate with a dark chocolate truffle and then two amazing gelatos: cookies-n-cream and mint chocolate chip. A perfect end to a fun afternoon.

If you are traveling to Asheville sign up for an awesome walking food tour. Anne said they work with over 30 restaurants in the area, so no two walks are the same!

We are chilling and I have ideas of an ice cream float for a late night snack. My overall step count today is 12,821. So I think the Asheville eating tour didn’t bust my diet!

IMG_9810

 

“Goodbye Chicago!” from Al

Sarah and I said goodbye to Chicago and hit the road early. It was interesting that an hour outside of Chicago we were on the prairie of Illinois, unlike Atlanta where you are in the burbs.   We had a short detour planned to Starved Rock State Park. It was a great little side trip. The legend states that the area was the site of a skirmish between two tribes of Indians the Ottawa and the Illiniwek. The Ottawa fled to the high ground and outlasted the Illiniweak until they starved to death hence the name Starved Rock. True or not it was some of the most beautiful real estate I have seen.

On the road again destination Indianapolis for the night. The ride was not bad just long. Pretty sure Sarah had a different opinion being the driver. The countryside is beautiful. It is one emerald green cornfield after another. It makes me happy to see that there is still so much open land. We will arrive in Asheville tomorrow for the next leg of our road trip.

IMG_9771.JPG

IMG_9772

Chicago Wrapped

Two days! Two different missions.

Yesterday, we explored and walked just over 11 miles, explored Millenial Park, and the iconic Chicago Theater. While today, we were lazy, walked less than 2 miles, did some laundry, and ate, and then ate some more!

IMG_9751

On our long journey through Chicago, we loaded up with an amazing breakfast at Xoco, Rick Bayless’ restaurant. We ordered three entrees and two pressed coffees. The avocado toast, scramble bowl, and french toast were spectacular. The only evidence was the empty plates. AND the COFFEE…amazingly caffeinated with a rich chococlately undertones.

We hit the pavement and walked along the river walk. I got us slightly lost, but we arrived at the Chicago Theater on time for an awesome 1-hour walk with Peter, actor, director, and theater expert. He encouraged us to walk through the Macy’s building, eat hot dogs and deep dish pizza, and swing by Garret’s popcorn for the cheese/caramel mix. (We accomplished three of the four suggestions.)

We had packed turkey wraps, purchased some drinks and fresh fruit, and then headed to Millenial Park for picnic lunch. I had downloaded a walking tour, so we didn’t miss the awesome art and sights of the park. The breeze from the lake was cool made our walk relaxed.

IMG_9753

Prior to heading back on the subway, we walked through Macy’s and purchased Garret’s popcorn, which would later be a side item for dinner. This was the start of our eating demise.

Today, we woke up casually with intentions to walk down to the Lincoln Park Zoo, but our stomachs had a different plan in mind. We waited until the pizza joint opened. EVERY NIGHT, they have a line wrapped around the corner. Pequod’s has pretty good reviews and good lunch deal for a 7 inch “Chicago” style pan pizza for $4.95. We popped over to Barnes and Noble to get a few steps, but then thought about how delicious frozen yogurt would be…and it was! Now that we are home, we have snacked and worked on laundry. We head to Starving Rock state park in the morning for a hike before we hit the road toward Asheville.

Go team Food Vaca!

IMG_9754

Frank by Al

Our adventure today took us to Oak Park to visit the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. We opted to drive in lieu of using our Ventra passes, and so glad we did. We were able to see several facets of life in the Chicago area. As Sarah and I left Lincoln Park, we traveled through Wicker Park and several less fortunate communities to arrive in the affluent Oak Park. It was crazy to be driving past Family Dollar stores, check cashing shops, pawn shops, and many run down or boarded up building to then simply turn a corner and be among some of the most beautiful homes, vintage architecture, and green spaces.

IMG_9722

We arrived at the home of Frank Lloyd Wright and his first wife, Catherine Tobin. As we entered the house the first thing that caught my eye was the detail to trim work. The staircase treads were carved with dentil trim, which was also throughout the house from the crown molding to the headboard in the master bedroom. We moved through the house from foyer to living room to formal dining room upstairs to girls and boys rooms, master bedroom to Catherine’s room, children’s playroom and final down the back stairs to the kitchen. Throughout the entire house, the colors were muted shades of brown, the furniture was minimal and all made of solid oak with clean lines. The attention to detail such as acoustics and cross ventilation was ingenious. The grillwork over the lights, the leaded windows and stain glass panels were all exquisite and also marked the extreme detail of the Wright design. While Wright was not the most honorable of men he was a true artist and engineer. Upon completion of the home tour we toured the studio and again the same minimal and functional approach to every aspect of the space was evident. The last site on our tour was a 130-year-old gingko tree in the courtyard of the home that was absolutely beautiful.

IMG_9721We left the home meandered down the streets of Oak Park taking in the beautiful homes, had lunch in Scoville Park, did a little browsing in the shops of Oak Park then headed back to Lincoln Park. This was a day of seeing all walks of life. It made me appreciate my little corner of the world.

IMG_9723

Cloudy with a Chance of Chicago

It was our first official day in Chicago, and I was most excited about the schedule involving NO driving and ALL public transportation. Our day began with a fifteen-minute walk to the closest subway station to purchase a 3-day pass for our Chicago explorations. Great deal for $25 per person, we can use both metro and buses unlimited and it included a purchase of a reloadable Ventra card.

Knowing the unpredictable schedule of Marta in Atlanta, we arrived nearly two hours before our first activity started. Which again, I was reminded that in the south subways are horrible and in real cities they are efficient. I’ve experienced several metros worldwide, London, Mexico City, New York…and Chicago gets the quietest ride award. You could have heard a pencil drop and we were packed in there like sardines. The train was calm and perfectly scheduled. My mom was most impressed with a girl who worked on her eye makeup, liner and mascara, without a flaw.

It was our hope the weather would work in our favor having spent the previous day driving from Nashville in the rain, but the morning proved difficult with a chance of drizzle. Knowing the unpredictable beast of global warming, we were somewhat prepared with umbrellas and raincoats. However, the wind was more cutting than anticipated, but travelers gotta travel! And walking always helps keep the body warm.

IMG_9682

The only scheduled activity was the Wendella architecture tour, a recommendation from a friend of my mom. It was fun and just like magnets, we were on board with 85 school kids from Powell Academy. I think they were 7th graders. My mom and I chatted about how these could have been students from our respective schools that geography does not change too much in middle school life. Cell phone rule, SnapChat is always a must, and Jordans are always on lockdown! It was a great ride with fantastically cloudy sites. Although the weather was not great, it was still a fun excursion.

After our tour, we hit the streets seeking warm coffee. After a minor debate, we crept into Stan’s Donuts near Michigan Avenue calculating the point value of sinful fried dough before us. My mom and I are both active members of Weight Watchers. She has been working the plan since 1992 and me more recently in 2017. The guilt was minimal and I’d guess we ate about 20 points in Stan’s amazingness!!! I picked our treats. Yes, for all who know today I made a decision! We devoured a lemon pistachio old-fashioned and a chocolate peanut butter banana pocket!!! Of course, you can’t eat like this every day, but damn they were amazing!

IMG_9679

After our doughnut indulgences, we headed down the Magnificent Mile to window shop and site see. Making my Grandma proud, we explored the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. It was beautiful. Picked up some copies of sermons to bring home for my grannie.

IMG_9683

We checked out some more shops and stops along the mile of awesomeness, grabbed a salad, and copped a seat near the super cool Apple store to watch boats and people. People watching is always fun!!! I observed a young man taking a SnapChat making a fitting gesture in front of Trump Tower. I love people, they are always entertaining and good for a laugh.

I am now sitting in our awesome AirBnB in Lincoln Park, waiting for laundry, and contemplating dinner? Do we go with some deep dish pizza to top off my doughnut-rific-day?!?

Big Al’s Road Trip Report

After a good night’s sleep, we woke to coffee, breakfast tacos and fried green tomatoes on the deck. Peter and Lindsey have a backyard that is peaceful and pastoral. Great place to start the day. We headed out to the high dollar part of town, Green Hills, for some retail therapy and we were all quite successful.  Sarah was on the hunt for a Dooney and Bourke handbag in black. She nailed it on the first stop. Beauty and bonus – – ON SALE.  We stopped for a mid-morning iced coffee before moving on to more browsing on our side of town.  Of course you cannot come to Nashville without a stop at the Calypso Cafe. With our bodies refueled we finished up our shopping and headed home. Spent the afternoon reading and napping what other way should you spend a vacation. Topped off the day with Cuban cuisine courtesy of Chef Peter and a nice evening walk. GREAT DAY!!!

Left Nashville in the rain. Thank you Sarah for driving as I hate driving in the rain. We are definitely on no time schedule. On our journey down 65, we stopped for a mid-morning snack in the country and walked Matilda. Back on the road we stopped for afternoon coffee finally arriving in Chicago around 5. We are on the north side of town in a quaint area known as Lincoln Park. Our Airbnb is above a breakfast restaurant, across the street from a popular pizza spot, across the street from several neighborhood bars and a movie theatre. What more could you ask for. Tomorrow we are off on our first ChiTown adventure – – architectural boat cruise.

IMG_9625