Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wisconsin...America's Dairyland

That's the state motto, and it says so right on their license plates.  I had never been to Wisconsin in my life, and now I've been twice in the past two weeks.  On my first trip, I drove across the entire state from Minneapolis, MN to Milwaukee.  That trip took me from the upper, western border down to the lower, eastern border on Lake Michigan.  On this trip, I flew into Green Bay and have driven north up to the border of the upper Michigan peninsula.  That pretty much covers the entire state of Wisconsin, save for the northernmost region on Lake Superior. 

It's a beautiful state with lush, green farms and an abundance of rivers and lakes.  And cows...lots and lots of cows!  I guess if you are going to be America's dairyland, you've got to have the livestock to back up the claim...and they definitely do.  They also make famous cheese, and I've tried lots of it on my visits.  I had cheese curds, a local specialty, for the first time today.  I think they're the leftover byproduct after cheese is pressed into blocks for sale.  They're little nuggets of cheesy goodness that are chewy, a bit salty, and can be eaten plain or deep fried.  And they're on every menu in Wisconsin as far as I can tell.  Definitely a local favorite!

Today I was in a local Menominee restaurant for lunch and the waitress asked me what part of the South I was from. 
I said, "Was it trying to order sweet iced tea or my accent that gave me away?"
"Well," she replied, "those were definite hints, but it was the 'yes mam' and 'no mam' that really gave you away.  That's a southern thing."
I guess that's true, and Tanya has told me the same thing many times...the use of "mam" and "sir" is a southern thing that you don't hear as often in other parts of the country.  Maybe so, but it's one of those things so ingrained in me that I don't even think about doing it.  I love traveling all around, and I like to consider myself a citizen of the world, but I guess I'm a southern girl through and through...and there's no hiding it!

Here are some pics from my travels around Wisconsin...

This is the beautiful little town of Hudson on the St. Croix River, right across the Minnesota border.
This is the First Unitarian Meeting House in Madison, WI.  It was designed by one of its members, Frank Lloyd Wright.

This is the inside of the sanctuary.  A camera just can't capture the beauty of the way light fills this space.
Gotta love the Unitarians!  A beautiful sentiment, so simply stated.

This is the walkway around the addition to the church.  The addition was added after Wright's death, but they did a wonderful job of keeping the same qualities of organic design and lots of natural light.
This is inside the Wisconsin Cheese Shop in Milwaukee.  My friend Margo, a Wisconsin native, once told me that Wisconsin cows were fashionable cows.  She was dressed in a cow costume and high heels at the time (long story), but apparently she wasn't kidding!

This is along the River Walk in Milwaukee.

I'm just strolling along the river and who do I bump into...the Fonz!

This is the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Spectacular architectural design!  One of the most interesting buildings I have ever seen.  Those wings at the top span 217 feet across and they fold and unfold twice daily.  It's hard to tell in this photo, but the walkway across the street is a suspension bridge.

This is the museum from the Lake Michigan side.  Amazing design...just beautiful.
This sign in a Milwaukee stairwell made me laugh out loud.  I agree - prowling should be totally frowned upon.  I'm glad Milwaukee City Ordinance 106-31 is taking care of that.

Wisconsin is filled with these little dive restaurants that serve butter burgers and frozen custards.  In most towns I visited, locals were divided about which one was the best and people were passionate about their favorite.  In Marinette, this little joint, Mickey Lu's, was one of the local favorites.  Don't be fooled by the BBQ sign.  They don't have what we southerners consider BBQ (something slow smoked, usually involving a pig, with a tasty dry rub or sauce).  I've found that up north, BBQ just means cooked on a grill.  I'm not sure why they can't just call that "grillin" like we do and avoid the confusion.  I went in, but did not end up eating here.  They don't serve any sides, not even fries.  And the burgers only come with a pat of butter and a pickle on them.  No lettuce, no mayo, no tomato, etc.  As the waitress explained to me, they are "burger purists."  That's fine, but no matter how good a patty you make I want mine with some condiments and a side of fries, or onion rings, or slaw, or something. 
To be fair, this is the marina on Lake Michigan in Menominee, Michigan, not Wisconsin.  But it's just across the bridge from Marinette, WI.

Another shot of Lake Michigan.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Love is all around...

This week I'm doing double duty in Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

I was in Minneapolis today and completely fell in love with it.  It's the kind of town I could live in!  Well, in the summer anyway...not too sure about those MN winters.  I spent some time in the area called Mill City along the banks of the Mississippi River.  It's an old industrial area that's seen a renaissance and renovation over the last few years.  I strolled across the lovely Stone Arch Bridge, which is exactly what the name implies...a bridge across the Mississippi made of granite and limestone consisting of 23 arches.  It was built in 1883 for the railroad, but today it is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that crosses just beyond St. Anthony Falls.

I then went into the middle of the city to search out the location of one of the most iconic scenes in television history.  The title of this blog is a hint...can you figure it out?  If not, the pics below will give it away for sure!

I learned today that Minneapolis has more theatre seats per capita than any other city in the US besides NYC.  Who knew?  This is the big one in town: The Guthrie Theatre along the bank of the Mississippi River.

This is the Stone Arch Bridge.

You may have to zoom in to see it, but I love that they left the crumbling ruins on an old mill building around the newer, sleeker building inside.

The mighty Mississippi.

Most of the old mill buildings still have the original signage on top.  Very cool!

We don't have these signs where I come from!

Here she is!  This statue was erected on the very spot where Mary Tyler Moore stood and threw her hat joyfully into the air in the opening of one of the best shows ever on television (in my humble opinion).

The plaque at the base of the statue.  I sooooo wish I had worn a hat.  I wanted desperately to stand there and throw mine into the air, too!

The downtown area of Minneapolis is clean and lovely...made all the more so with these huge flower arrangements that are on every street.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A gem in central Maryland...

I'm currently working in central Maryland, and staying in Frederick, MD.  It's a lovely little town and boasts some great eats!  Tonight I had the chef's tasting menu at Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant, Volt.  It was so good that I had to blog about it and post some pics.  For those who watch the show Top Chef, Voltaggio was the runner up in season six, placing second to his brother Michael.  The food was absolutely delicious!  Every plate was a fabulously complex blend of complimentary flavors.  If you're ever in central Maryland, it's a MUST!
Here are some pics of the town and my entire meal...

There is a small waterway that runs through the middle of town with several cool walking bridges.

A duck in the waterway.

Pretty church on a side street.

This place offers ghost tours and witchy souvenirs.
This is the exterior of Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant, Volt, on Market St. (the main thoroughfare in Frederick)
They have a formal dining area, a patio, and these tables in the kitchen where you can watch the chefs in action.

This plate is a "welcome" from the chef.  From left to right - a beet macaroon filled with fois gras mousse, beef tartare on a broccoli gratin with a truffle cream, and a fried pickled ramp with tomato coulis.  All delicious, but the macaroon was, literally, melt-in-your-mouth fabulous.

This is a beet salad with mulberries, a homemade cocoa "soil," and Greek yogurt frozen in liquid nitrogen.

Morel mushrooms with steel cut oats in kombu and brown butter, sea lettuces, pickled ramps, and an emulsion of beer and fresh yeast.

Arctic char over wilted green cabbage and wild mustard leaf, turnips, and a Spanish sherry and chorizo vinaigrette with pickled mustard seeds and green apple juice.

Corn dumplings with fish pepper, charred leeks, fava beans, gulf blue crab, and purslane.  This was one of the BEST things I've ever put in my mouth! 

Katahdin lamb braised with barley roasted in the drippings, lamb loin slowly cooked and basted with rosemary and garlic, fresh chickpeas, flash-fried kale, and a sauce finished with juniper and laurel.

Ruby beet sorbet with roasted sunflower seed granola, cocoa, goat’s milk powder, and scattered petals of wild violets

A finishing plate of petit fours.

And finally, a coffee cake gift to take home.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On the road again...

I am back on the road!  This time I am traveling for work, not pleasure, although I always think traveling is pleasure.  At the very least, it is always an adventure. 

After being unemployed for 7 months, I finally have a job.  Not just any job, but a great job.  I am working as a freelance installer and trainer for a library automation company.  So far, I'm loving it!  For one thing, I really like the company.  I worked closely with them in my previous job and had developed a great deal of respect for them...their products, their philosophy, and their employees.  I'm ecstatic to be working for them now.

In my new job, I get to travel all over the place visiting libraries.  That combines two of my favorite things: travel and libraries.  Plus, it pays really well and all of my travel expenses are reimbursed.  I'm a very lucky and very happy girl!  I already have jobs scheduled in NYC, Quincy (Indiana), and Tulsa (Oklahoma).  It looks like in addition to being lucky and happy, I am also going to be a very busy girl.  But, that's how I like it.  Being unemployed is booorrrrrring. 

This week I'm in Largo, Florida.  It's just a few miles from Clearwater on the Gulf coast.  It's beautiful here.  I've never quite understood why people live in places that are prone to hurricanes, but now I understand.  It's a lovely, quaint, clean city with palm tree-lined streets and only a few miles from the coast.  From my hotel, it takes about 10 minutes to get to Belleair Beach or Indian Rocks Beach.  I got off work around 2:30 this afternoon and within 30 minutes I had run back to the hotel, changed into my swimsuit, swung by the CVS for sunscreen, and was lying on the beach at Indian Rocks.  Did I mention that I love my new job?

Here are some pics of Largo and the surrounding areas:

The sunset over the ocean at Indian Rocks beach.

I was driving on West Bay Dr. and saw a shop called William Dean Chocolates.  You know I had to stop in and get Tanya some truffles.  They were so fancy.  I had one (just one, really) and it was as tasty as it was pretty.
Well, unfortunately, those are the only pictures I can get to load.  For some reason, all the others are only loading 1/4 of the photo.  I don't know why that is...given the number of pics I loaded from Europe with no problems, I feel like a pro when it comes to uploading photos.  Still, it just isn't working.  I'll try again tomorrow.  I really wanted to get them to load, because the headquarters of the Church of Scientology is in Clearwater and I went by and made a few pics of it today.  It is beautiful, but scary.  It's heavily guarded.  I mean h e a v i l with armed guards who are apparently part of the church's para-military wing.  Personally, I think if your church even has to have a para-military unit, that should tell you something!    


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Back in Dublin...

I'm back in Dublin...and it already feels a little like coming home.  It is so refreshing to be in a place where everyone speaks English!  All the signs in the airport are in English, all the TV stations at the hotel are in English, and everyone around me in the restaurant where I had dinner were speaking English.  I don't think I realized how much I'd missed that until I had it again.  Not understanding anything said around you does tend to make one feel a little isolated after a while. 

Although I rarely turned the television on anywhere that I stayed, the few times that I did provided quite funny entertainment.  I'm not sure what was the most surreal; seeing SpongeBob Squarepants speaking Polish, or hearing the Fonz, in a Happy Days rerun, speaking Italian.  Actually, the funniest may have been something I heard in Prague.  I walked by a shop and heard the song La Bamba being sung in Czechoslovakian.  That's a bizarre cultural shift to try and wrap one's mind around!

It also feels a little like coming home because I love the Irish people.  They are warm and friendly, and when I said in an earlier blog that they have the gift of gab, I meant it.  My flight out of Athens was about 40 minutes delayed taking off.  That left only 10 minutes to make the connecting flight from Copenhagen to Dublin.  About 30 minutes before we landed in Copenhagen, the pilot on our Scandinavian Airlines flight came over the speaker and said if you were connecting to Dublin, please let the flight attendant know.  They moved the 6 of us trying to make the quick connection to the front of the plane so we could get off first and make the mad dash across the Copenhagen airport to our next gate.  I was re-seated with two girls from Ireland: Sinead, from Dublin, and Kathleen, from Cork.  Before I even sat down, they were talking my head off.  I loved it!  By the time we landed I felt like I had known them all my life.  The three of us stayed together right through Copenhagen (where it turned out all our running was for naught since our second flight was also delayed) and were happy to find that we were seated across the aisle from each other on the flight to Dublin.  Even this late in my trip, I'm adding new friends to the list of wonderful people I've met in the last 5 weeks.

This morning I left the hotel in Athens at 11:30am (Athens time) and arrived at my hotel in Dublin at 8:00pm (Dublin time).  There is a 2 hour time difference, so that's 10.5 hours traveling.  For some reason, all that time spent just sitting is more tiring than the days I spent walking around all day.  Tomorrow will be worse.  I'm leaving my Dublin hotel on the airport shuttle at 9:30am (Dublin time) and will arrive in Charlotte around 7:30pm (local time).  There is a 5 hour time difference, so that will be about 15 hours traveling.  And although it will be 7:30pm in Charlotte, after over a week in Greece my body is still on their time, which will be 2:30am.  In another weird twist, I have a layover in Chicago, which is an hour behind Charlotte.  So, in less than 40 hours, I will have gone from being 7 hours ahead of east coast time (Athens), to 5 hours ahead (Dublin), to 1 hour behind (Chicago), and then finally back to eastern standard time (Charlotte).  It gets very confusing!  I'm going to be beat when I get back.  Although I'm anxious to see everyone, I may need a couple of days to recuperate and acclimate first.                
Now that I have English TV, I've been able to watch some news about the Boston bombings.  It's just awful.  Such a senseless tragedy.  At the Athens airport, they were announcing that all flights to the US had been delayed.  I wondered if they had beefed up security and delayed flights because it was taking longer.  I flew through Boston coming to the UK, but I'm flying back through O'Hare in Chicago.  Even so, I bet security measures will be at their highest.  And, frankly, as an airline passenger flying into a major US city, I'm happy about that!

This may be my last post for a little while.  The big adventure is coming to an end.  But, stay tuned because I do still have some thoughts and observations that I will post after I return home and have a chance to rest a bit.  I also plan to write a post about the traveling I did it, where to book different things, pics of my bags, ways to stay safe, tips for easier traveling, etc.

Many thanks to all of you who have been reading and traveling along with me.  I hope it's been fun for you, too!     

Boston Marathon....

I wrote that last post before I heard the news about the Boston Marathon.  It's terrible.  I can't imagine what makes anyone do such a thing.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families, and to the people of Boston.  When will such madness ever end? 

Coming home....

Today I will leave Athens and begin my 2-day journey home.  Yes, it's a little earlier than I had originally planned.  I had intended to stay another week, visiting Istanbul and then flying to London for a few days before heading back to Dublin for my return flight home.  But, I have heard nothing but horror stories from people over here about women traveling alone in Istanbul.  To a person, everyone I've talked to about my trip has warned me against it.  I've heard stories of women being drugged with something in their drinks at cafes.  I've heard second-hand accounts of women traveling alone being pulled into dark alleyways, the backs of stores, and even cars going down the street.  One woman told me her daughter, who lives in Budapest and has traveled all over Europe alone, was so terrified in Istanbul that after going out one afternoon she stayed locked in her hotel eating room service for the rest of her trip.  She went into a store to browse in the middle of the afternoon and the man who worked there kept trying to get her to come into the back room of the shop to show her some "discounts."  When she tried to leave, he grabbed her and tried to pull her into the back of the store.  So, although it was a place I really wanted to visit, Istanbul was crossed off my least until I can return with a travel companion.  I then began trying to figure out where to go between Athens and London.   Nothing really presented itself as being either easy or affordable, so I made the decision to scratch London and head home early. 

To tell the truth, as much fun as this trip has been, I'm ready to come home.  I am road weary!  One of the reasons I booked a 6-night stay in Athens was that I was tired of moving around every 2-3 days.  I don't regret doing it that way, as I got to see a lot of different places.  I would have liked to have stayed longer in a few places...Amsterdam, Krakow, Venice (because of Vera and Antoanella), Ravenna, Rome.  But what places would I have given up to stay in those locations longer?  No, I don't regret the crazy, exhausting's been a blast.  That said, I'm happy to be winding it down.  I'm looking forward to getting back home and being in one place for a while.  I'm excited about seeing all my friends and family.  I've missed you guys!  There will be lots of get-togethers with everyone when I return. 

I sat last night thinking about my trip and compiling some statistics in my head.  I used an online distance calculator to figure out how many miles I've traveled.  By the time my plane lands back in Charlotte, I will have been gone 37 days and traveled 14,136 miles.  That doesn't count the number of miles I've walked in each city.  I wish I had worn one of those pedometers so I could have measured it.  A LOT is the only calculation I have for that!  I will have visited 12 cities in 8 different countries, not counting cities in which I just had a plane layover or change of trains.  I should probably count Bologna since I stayed overnight there and then several days later had to go back for a train transfer, but I'm not because all I really saw of it was the airport, one hotel, and a few blocks around the train station.  I will have slept in 17 different beds in a variety of apartments, hotels, and hostels.  I will have been on 12 different airplanes and 9 different trains (not counting airport transfer or local trains).  I can't even count the number of buses, trams, and subway cars I've ridden in.  In fact, I think I have used every type of transportation known to modern man on this trip: planes, trains, automobiles, buses, trams, boats, and subways.  If only I had taken a hot air balloon or horse & buggy ride, I could have covered them all.

This morning, I have to walk 1/2 mile to the closest metro station, take it to the city center, and transfer to another metro line that will take me to the airport.  Then I will fly to Copenhagen, have a short layover and then on to Dublin.  I will spent one night there and then tomorrow I will fly from Dublin to Chicago (I'm dreading that one...8.5 hours cramped in a small space) and then my final flight from Chicago to Charlotte.  I'll stay at Tanya's in Charlotte Wednesday night and drive back to Spartanburg sometime on Thursday.  And I will be home, sweet home!  Where I plan to stay for a while. 

I have had a spectacular time on this trip.  I've learned so much and seen more incredible things than you can imagine.  I've eaten delicious foods, some of which I had never even heard of before.  I've had experiences that I'll remember for a lifetime.  I've met some amazingly wonderful people.  People who became my friends.  People who through their kindness helped me navigate in so many places where I couldn't speak the language.  People who wanted to know my story and tell me theirs.  People who made me feel welcome in the most foreign of lands.  Of everything I've seen, done, and experienced, it is the people I will treasure most and never forget.  We may come from different places, we may look and speak differently, but we humans are more alike than not.  We should never let our differences divide us.  We should never forget the common humanity we all share.

During my travels, I have often thought of Maya Angelou's poem, The Human I will end this post with her words, because they capture perfectly how I feel:

The Human Family by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land.
I've seen the wonders of the world,
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike