Tag Archives: Travel

Highlights of San Francisco, CA

After we flew in, the first thing we did after checking into our hotel (Park Central Hotel) is head to Chinatown for lunch, as we were starved after a six hour flight from New York. We ate at the Z & Y restaurant. It’s known for it’s Szechuan delicacies but we opted for more traditional non-spicy food which was also on the menu. President Obama has eaten here and the restaurant has good reviews- the highlight of our meal was ordering the Jasmine tea, you’ll be amazed at how it’s served:

That day a street fair was going on so it was interesting to see all the wares and food, but also crowded. We learned that 100,000 Chinese live in this 12 block area, that’s out of 800,000 total population in San Francisco.

Chinatown leads right into the North Beach neighborhood which is the Italian section. Numerous Italian restaurants, bars and cafes selling gelato dot the neighborhood. As we had just eaten, we walked through it until we got to Washington Square, also the location of Saint Peter and Paul’s Church where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio got married.

We turned right towards Telegraph Hill to climb to the Coit Tower.

This was the beginning of our climbing adventures that day. San Francisco is known for its rolling hills, and while there are several modes of transportation on our first day it was an experience to trek the hills on foot and feel the swell of the ground underneath our feet.

It was a steep climb to the Coit Tower, then numerous steps to get to its base, but it’s worth it for the stunning 360 degree views of San Francisco. Admission for adults is $9, the wait about 10-20 minutes, then an elevator takes you to the top.

View of Oakland Bay Bridge

View of Alcatraz

Climbing down was easy, so we decided to keep going past Washington Square straight over to the other side of town and climb up Lombard street.

The top of Lombard street is a series of steep curves made famous in the movies. The neighborhood is also one of the most exclusive in San Francisco.

View of the winding curves of Lombard street

You are rewarded at the top with amazing views of the San Francisco streets with Coit Tower in the distance.

The sensible thing to do next is to take an Uber back to your hotel. We, however, were soaking up every minute of the gorgeous views and wanted to keep going ….so we headed towards Grace Cathedral . Our trek turned into a near hour walk up and down some of the steepest hills in San Francisco, located in the affluent neighborhoods of Russian Hill and Nob Hill.

Grace Cathedral is beautiful, built in the image of the Notre Dame in France.

Finally it was time to head back to our hotel and get some much needed rest!

The next day we purchased a 2-day ticket for one of the several hop on and off bus tours that are a great way to get around the city and see the highlights.

Golden Gate Park and the Japanese Tea Gardens

There are several things to do in Golden Gate Park which is bigger even than Central Park in NYC. We chose to see the Japanese Tea Garden, a delightful refuge from a hectic day of touring. Adult admission is $9, and buys you as much time as you would like strolling through the intricate gardens designed to promote a sense of tranquility and zen.

Zen moment: stopping in front of the lush gardens and being still for a moment – absorbing the organic forms of the leaves, grass and bush while hearing the stillness, feeling the damp foggy mist on the face, breathing in deeply the crisp, clean air full of life force.

Zen moment: standing on the curved wooden bridges overlooking the ponds full of Koi fish, watching their smooth, swirling movements ripple the water and at the same time reflect the very movement of the water.

A highlight are the Japanese pergolas nestled among the garden.

After refreshing ourselves with tea and coffee at a nearby snack shop, we walked through the eastern half of the Golden Gate Park towards Haight street, where we caught a guided walking tour that was part of our bus package.

Haight Ashbury

Taking this guided walking tour down Haight street helped me to understand more of what the 1967 Summer of Love was all about, and gave me insight into the culture and historical context of San Francisco itself. During a brief period of less than a year in 1967, thousands came to this area to celebrate love and experiment with drugs that were meant to broaden the mind and increase compassion. When it became more of a drug party, the leaders of the movement called it to a close.

Some of the biggest names in sixties music lived here during that time period, and part of the tour shows you where they lived. Only the house of Jimmy Hendrix has been left in the original condition of what these Victorian style houses would of looked like back then – very run down. Many have since been purchased and restored.

Jimmy Hendrix lived here

Address for Janice Joplin

Evolution Rainbow, the oldest mural in Haight Ashbury

Mural depicting Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead

Where the Grateful Dead lived

Once done with the tour, I recommend heading over to 601 Divisadero Street to the Bean Bag Cafe for lunch. They have crisp and fresh sandwiches, salads, savory and sweet crepes as well as burgers. We seated ourselves by the window and enjoyed people watching as we ate.

The Painted Ladies and Alamo Square

A must see is the row of seven beautifully restored Victorian row houses nicknamed “The Painted Ladies” that can be best viewed from Alamo Square. On a clear, sunny day you can take pictures of the houses with the San Francisco skyline in the background.

Fisherman’s Wharf

One of the best ways to travel up to Fisherman’s Wharf is by Cable Car. We started at the 5th and Powell stop and watched the fascinating way they turn the cable cars around by hand.

The trip up and down the hills is a lot of fun for a $7 one way ticket, and takes about 20 minutes . The best views can be had standing on the sideboard but you have to hold on tight to the rail and no pictures are allowed while in transit.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a little touristy but it is also a good place to get seafood with the number of seafood restaurants and shacks here.

First, you may want to head up Pier 39 to check out the seals basking in the setting sun.

When you’re ready for dinner, a popular stand-by is Alioto’s Restaurant on 8 Fisherman’s Wharf. We purchased gifts at the Safe Harbor gift shop and got a 10% discount for a meal at the nearby Cioppino’s restaurant, so decided to have dinner there.

Alioto’s claims to have invented Cioppino back in the day when fishermen would haul in their catch and whatever would come in that day got thrown into a brothy tomato soup. However, Cioppino’s is a family owned restaurant who has made the dish their namesake, so we ordered that dish, of course. I found it to be a decadent, buttery version of the tomato broth with ample amounts of calamari, clams, shrimp, white fish and luscious chunks of Dungeoness Crab in it. My only complaint is that it was too rich to finish all the delicious broth in the bowl.

Another place to check out while in Fisherman’s Wharf is the Boudin Sourdough Bakery and Cafe near Pier 39. We had a great lunch here eating clam chowder in a hollowed out freshly baked sourdough bowl. They also have a lovely gourmet food gift shop, tours of their bakery, and higher end dining upstairs, where the oyster bar comes highly recommended.

A visit here is not complete without visiting the original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. It has been converted to a cafe where you can enjoy everything from hot chocolate to decadent sundaes and a gift shop alongside.

Golden Gate Bridge

We couldn’t wait to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of our bus package included a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge into the town of Sausalito. The weather that day was foggy, cloudy and on the chilly side. The wind gusts as we crossed the bridge sitting on top of the bus were very strong and made us wish we were doing it on a milder day, but we still enjoyed the trip.

We were surprised by the town of Sausalito, a wealthy community of charming houses nestled into the mountain bedrock with amazing views of San Francisco in the distance.

We found the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge when we returned back across the bridge, and got off the bus to take a break at the cafe. They have a outdoor lookout location right there.

Ferry Terminal

A pleasant morning can be spent at the Ferry Terminal with its shops and markets. A farmer’s market is there on Thursdays. Benches line the Harbor and offer pleasant views while eating take out. We got a couple of well made tortas from Mijita along with scratch made chips and salsa.

On our last night we enjoyed a great steak dinner in a comfortable atmosphere at the historic John’s Grill, located near our hotel in the financial district. Established in 1908, it gives you a sense of historical San Francisco with jazz music playing every night.

Zen moment: The next morning we spent a relaxing few hours wandering through the Yerba Buena Gardens. The esplanade offers lovely shaded areas to sit at and ponder your trip. Standing in front of the Martin Luther King memorial and fountain there, I reflected on the inspiring words of one of the driving forces of cultural revolution and change that are so much a part of what San Francisco is.

San Francisco has a lot to explore and we saw a lot in the few days we were here. Yes, we left a little tired and those hills can take a lot out of you, but the memory, beauty and contrasts of the historic city of San Francisco will linger with us for a long time.

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A Day in Montauk, NY

The forecast for cloudiness and scattered showers gave way to sunny skies this Labor Day weekend, so my boyfriend and I decided to explore Montauk, NY and see if we could do it in one day. Whether you’re getting up at 4am like we were to catch one of the early trains out of Penn Station, or leaving from the city, the three hour train ride along the coast dissuades some from making a trip to Montauk a day trip, but it can be done and it’s well worth the effort! Get the LIRR Montauk train schedule here.

Montauk is the last stop on the LIRR and the end of the Hamptons, at the tip of Long Island, and so is affectionately sometimes referred to as “The End”. The train station is about halfway between Montauk Harbor and the downtown village area. It’s easiest to get around by car or bike, however taxis and other on call car services are readily available. We took a taxi for $20 to the lighthouse and started our day there.

Montauk Point Lighthouse

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Blatna, Czech Republic

Gazing out at the view of the pond Desolate (Rybník Pustá) from my window, one would think I’d feel melancholy. It did make me long for a past when I visited the Czech Republic as a child – back then there were less people, zero commercialism and the quiet peacefulness that comes with feeling safe with ones family. I felt some of that here in the Czech town of Blatna, a small town in Southern Bohemia about an hour and a half drive from Prague.

I found a two week stay in Blatna very pleasant. It took me a few days to adjust to the slower pace, and where I stayed helped. The Penzion u Rybníka Pustý (Penzion at Pond Desolate) is a bed and breakfast run by the family Sheinherr. A spacious and immaculately clean three story house with Bohemian architectural touches and views of the water and charming neighboring Czech homes.

Hana will make you tea, coffee or cappuccino as you sit down to the generous breakfast buffet that is offered daily at a modest additional charge. It includes fresh rolls and Czech pastries that Hana picks up each morning from the local bakery, and a selection of sliced ham, cheeses, honey and jams, a plate of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, bowls of assorted fruits including ripe plums when in season, cereals and yogurt. While I sip my tea Hana gently asks if I would like a fried egg that day which she will make for you while you wait. There is also lovely outdoor seating.

Well fed you are ready to plan out your day. While it is easy to get bus connections to Prague, and I did so several times, it is a two hour journey each way so exploring in Blatna in between trips to Prague is the perfect way to relax and recover.

Blatna Castle

The must see attraction in town is Blatna Castle, along with the adjacent grounds which are a combination forest and deer garden.

Admissions is free – the baroness who lives in the centuries old castle asks only that you not walk on the grass, and to make sure to shut the wooden gate to the park behind you as you enter or leave the grounds, so that the deer that roam freely don’t escape.

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Dining – Newport, Rhode Island

Following is a list of the places we dined at on our three day trip to Newport, Rhode Island.

Friday

The Black Pearl

1 Bannister’s Wharf, (401) 846-5264   www.blackpearlnewport.com

Good place for lunch, if taken outside at The Patio, located right on the water.  The Black Pearl also has The Tavern, a pub space, and The Commodor’s Room for elegant events.  The clam chowder is notably stated as the best in Newport.  I found it to be delicious if a little heavy on the cream.  I also enjoyed their Swordfish sandwich, a special that day.  The fish was Continue reading

Newport, Rhode Island

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The Elms Mansion

Newport surprised me as being accessible, historic, fun and upscale all at the same time.  I had heard about it being a nice getaway where you can tour some mansions, so I was expecting a quiet, maybe even sleepy, seaside town.  I then heard about the annual jazz festival being one of the country’s best, which sounded like fun as jazz has become a recent interest of mine after going to a few concerts at Jazz at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

That was the initial plan: spend a few nights at a moderately priced B&B, do the jazz festival the first night, and then get to know the town a little bit.  I had no idea what a whirlwind of activity the trip would be, yet at the same time peaceful.

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View from Rosecliff Mansion

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A Morning in Old Greenwich, Connecticut

I went to Old Greenwich, Connecticut for the first time in April, to cheer on my boyfriend Raj who was running the Greenwich Cup Half Marathon, something he’d been planning and dreaming about.  The day started early at 4:00am, as we rushed out the door in our sneakers to catch the Metro North train on the New Haven line.  We got to the Old Greenwich train station about 30 minutes later, and gazed nervously around us in the cold wondering how we’d manage the long walk to the starting line.  As luck would have it, someone was getting a ride and invited us to jump in.  That’s the camaraderie that is found so often among runners.  We chatted with the driver who had run the half marathon before and gave Raj tips.  We all got to the starting line just in time to register before the start of the race at 7am.

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The race began and ended on the beach on 1 Tod’s Driftway, so I stood in the sand while the runners lined up at the starting line.  Time ticked by as the sun rose, and then suddenly they were off!

I had about two hours to spend by myself, as my honey sweated and toiled up and down a winding path for twelve miles.  I decided against walking back towards the train station; there had been a downtown area on the way to the beach but it seemed too far to walk.  I was wearing a warm coat, but my sneakers unfortunately were not keeping my feet very warm.  Should have worn my Uggs, but too late.  I decided to make the best of things and enjoy the ocean view.  A pair of Adirondack chairs perched nearby welcomed me, and I snuggled into one of them for a peaceful hour.

As the sun climbed the sky, I went for a leisurely stroll along the beach.  Gradually, the runners started coming, their loved ones cheering them as they dashed past the finish line.  I strained looking for Raj, and finally saw him!  I got a great picture of him jumping over a puddle and giving me a thumbs up as he crossed the finish line.  He got his medal and I joined him in devouring the free bagels and orange wedges the race volunteers had set up.

Then we walked together down Shore Road and Sound Beach avenue in the direction of the train station, looking for coffee and breakfast.  We were happy to find a wonderful little bakery in the quaint downtown area called “Sweet Peas’s Baking Company”.  We had a great brunch there, a veggie omelette and smoked salmon toast with capers.  The best part was the take-away:  we got a carrot cake muffin brimming with chopped nuts, bakery fresh donuts, and a crisp baguette to go.

A lovely morning in Old Greenwich.  I would come back to Sweet Pea’s Baking Company just for the donuts!

 

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Prague in 48 Hours

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The golden city of Prague – it is many things to me:  my birthplace, my heritage, the first foreign country I visited as an American, a place to come of age in after the Velvet Revolution, and an old friend that I go back to visit time to time….just to keep in touch.

This past August I made another one of my visits, this time staying two nights in a modest hotel near Namesti Republic and stopping by all the typical tourist attractions.  It amazes me that no matter how often I do the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge etc. it feels like an exploration, a new discovery.  Perhaps because each time I go time has passed, life has happened and I’ve changed so the experience is always different.  To me that is the beauty of travel.  It is much less about the destination than how you weave your experiences back into the journey of your life.

DAY 1

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I’m sure you know about flying into the Vaclav Havel airport, taking a taxi into Prague and the hundreds of hotels in every price range located all over Prague.  I encourage you to get a room for around $100 a night, because that price goes far there and you might as well be walking distance from the places you want to see.  Walking around Prague is half the fun of seeing it.

“Prague – A Guide to the Golden City” by Harald Salfellner is a great comprehensive guidebook which can be purchased at a convenient bookstore on Wenceslas Square that also sells other English title books.  I got a map too.  I like walking around with my map like a tourist, and hopefully getting lost and winding down some unexpected street in the process.

The statue of St. Wenceslas on a horse is a popular meeting spot for those going out for a night on the town, and of course there have been several historic events at this square.  I love the lavish architecture of the hotels lining the square that have stood the test of time.  A walk through a short underpass below the National Museum brings you to Vinohradska street, and for me a passage back into time when I used to live in an apartment in the section called Vinohrady.  My grandmother used to live in Zizkov.  This used to be my life I ponder, as I walk up the incline.  I take a nice break in the park at Namesti Miru, then continue on.  Zizkov is now a trendy place both for living and nightlife.  There is also a new movie and shopping complex by the metro stop Flora.  If you plan to explore either of these, I recommend you take the street cars, which are fun and cheap,

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imageor take the metro, which is also cheap and easy to navigate as there are only three lines (A,B,C) which are clearly marked at every station. Tickets can be purchased at shops or ticket machines in the stations at a flat rate for 30 min, 90 min or for 110 Czech crowns (about $5) you can get a 1 day pass for unlimited public transportation.

 

Day 2

I stayed at the Clarion Hotel located on Hradelbny and practically around the corner from Starometske (Old Town), so I saved the Old Town for my last day and spent day 2 trekking to the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge.  I started out the day with breakfast at “Opapa” on Revolucni 7, a modern and tourist-friendly place where you can get breakfast or lunch at good prices and even pay with your debit card.  While the Czech Republic is part of the European Union, it does not use the Euro, so you need to either bring Czech crowns (Koruna) with you or scale the many exchange places scattered throughout new and old town for a good exchange rate.  Most hotels and restaurants, such as Opapa, also take credit cards so that makes it easier on the traveler as it’s never a good idea to carry around a lot of cash on you.IMG_1632

Here is a more complex than usual, but exciting, route for heading out for the day to see the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle:

  1. From Old Town head down Karlova to the Charles Bridge.  One of the best statues on the bridge to see is the one of St. John Nepomuk, who was famously thrown off this bridge to his death.IMG_1751
  2. Cross the Charles Bridge.  At Malostrana, make a right and visit the Kafka Museum on Cihelna.
  3. Have lunch somewhere here – restaurants with scenic views of the river are everywhere, with prices pretty much the same at each.IMG_1747
  4. Using your map, wind your way left through Mala Strana, a romantic neighborhood in the shadow of the castle not often explored by tourists.  Find your way to Ujezd and the place where you can take a ride with a trolley car up to Petrin Hill.IMG_1727
  5. You will need to buy a ticket for the ride up to Petrin Hill, however your reward is that you did not have to climb a hundred steps up to see the castle.  Enjoy the beautiful view of Prague from Petrin Hill; take pictures.IMG_1732
  6. Visit the Strahov Monestery and maybe take a coffee break at a nearby cafe overlooking Prague.  Then make your way in the direction of the Prague Castle; there will be signs.IMG_1720
  7. Enjoy the amazing Prague Castle; you will need to purchase tickets. Hopefully by now it is around 3pm.  The castle grounds will close around 5pm but there are less crowds now.  The lines for the tickets will be shorter, you can get an audio guide and take your time touring the church,IMG_1737
  8. as well as the Golden Lane, the old Jewish ghetto where Kafka used to write.IMG_1738
  9. The best part:  walking DOWN the castle stairs back to Malostranska.  Return across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town where you began.

Day 3

This is fun shopping day and wandering around the Old Town.  Plenty of time to browse all the gift shops, outdoor markets and modern shopping malls that have sprung up all along Namesti Republik and down Na Prikope towards Mustek.  I was in the mood for pizza for a quick lunch, and I recommend Pizza Nuova, located right on Namesti Republic.  It is a modern pizzeria with wood-burning ovens and excellent customer service.IMG_1621

Ham and Artichoke Pizza, at “Pizza Nuova” on Namesti Republik

 

 

 

Now that I was fueled up, I could tackle the many historical sites of the Old Town:

The Astronomical clock, dating from the medieval times when the clock mechanism was considered a modern day marvel, and it still works.

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The Jan Hus monument, leader of the Hussite revolution:

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The Church of our Lady before Tyn, where the Hussites would gather, The inside of this church is gilded with gold and extraordinary; it can be viewed by the public for free (closed on Mondays), but no pictures are allowed of the interior.

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and the site of the 27 crosses, where 27 Protestants were executed after the Battle of White Mountain.

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The Old Town Square is lined with outdoor cafes.  While on the pricey side, it is worth stopping by at one for a refreshing Czech beer and to do some people watching.  I did so to wind down on my last day and also to have one of my favorite traditional Czech foods, a hearty goulash with knedlicky (bread dumplings).  The sauce is beefy, savory and just a little spicy – so delicious and the bread dumplings are perfect to soak up every last bit of the sauce with.

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Beef Goulash and Knedlicky (bread dumplings) – Czech traditional speciality

 

 

 

I finished my trip with a concert at the Municipal Hall.  Concerts play every afternoon and evening here, and tickets can be easily purchased inside the day of the concert for a reasonable price (around $35 for mid-range seating).

Before the concert I browsed through the Kotva department store, which has been around in Prague from Communist times (although certainly renovated a few times since then!), and snacked on one of my favorite traditional Czech snack foods, “Chlebicky”, which are open face sandwiches made of various combinations of potato salad, ham, pickles, roasted peppers, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, herring etc.

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and then I stopped for a refreshing cup of tea at a new cafe that has become very popular with expats, “Cacao” on Celnici 4 about 1 street down from the Municipal building.  It has a large tea, coffee and snack menu plus free wifi.  Then it was off to the concert.

The municipal hall is located at Namesti Republic, where you can see the Powder Tower, and the Mucha mural at the top of the Muniipcal Building itself,

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At this particular concert, which lasted about 45 minutes, they played J. Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, J. Pachelbel’s Canon, A. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and some gypsy tunes that seemed to play to the heart of the lead violinist.  It was an intimate concert hall filled with only about 40 people, so you had a great experience of hearing classical music in a salon setting much like it was originally heard in.

I went to sleep that night in my hotel with the melodic notes of Vivaldi’s concertos playing in my mind, and dreamed of another season when I can return to this magical city.