Category Archives: holidays

Traveling While Hungry

One of the first things I do when planning a trip is to explore to culinary offerings where ever I am going. Food and travel are my two favourite ‘past times’ and I combine them whenever possible.

Lately, I have another way to combine them. These days, I am quite often found – on a Monday morning – down at the Puritans Radio studio talking with Peter Evan Jones about food on the ‘Jones on Food and Travel’ program.  On a recent Monday, my topic was food worth traveling for. CNN Travel made some bizarre choices – including ketchup (not a food, in my opinion, much less a food worth traveling for), buttered popcorn (another head scratcher) and potato chips (honestly?) which is what prompted this segment.

What food is so good that you would tackle traffic, airport lines and baggage restrictions to reach it? And yes, my better half – I mentioned the tapas from Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria in Barcelona. 🙂 When do we leave?

If you’re a fan of food and/or travel, the show is on every Monday from 10-12 (UK time) and I will be posting links to past programs  for those who prefer to catch it later on. This week’s whole show can be heard at

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Looking Around Lichfield

A few weeks ago, we took a “staycation” and ended up doing more sightseeing and exploring than we have done on many trips to far more distant locales. It was fabulous. I’ll be writing it all up (been slack on that, I know) but in the meantime, a summation of our day trip to Lichfield, Staffordshire, UK. That’s without a “t” for those of you who might confuse it with Litchfield, CT.

It was as lovely as I had heard it would be. The people were delightful, the cathedral impressive and full of helpful guides, the streets and sidewalks almost bizarrely tidy and we experienced what may have been the world’s greatest chips at Pom’s Kitchen & Deli.

Until I get a chance to go into more detail, have some pics from one of the lovelier days (all pics courtesy of and belong to dungeekin, Modern Parlance’s fave photog)

Summer in Brittany

We wandered over to Britanny – lounged about, saw Benodet, Quimper, Oceanopolis Aquarium in Brest and Parc Branfere, did more lounging. Many pictures were taken (dungeekin was a camera fiend and all these pictures are courtesy of and belong to him) but these are some of my favourites.

cherries

Chocolate Cherries, Quimper

huts

Beach Huts

icecream

Holiday Ice Cream

solitude

Shared Solitude

Take Note of Americans Abroad

I’ve often observed that people of different nations and cultures vacation VERY differently. The word vacation is one way – Europeans “holiday” and “go on holiday.” Americans go “on vacation” and almost always as a noun, less so as a verb. But never mind. We can overcome these minor cultural differences and learn from each others.

This was the idea behind my latest piece “We think… we could learn a thing or two from American tourists” – it’s part of the We think …  opinion series in The Club, a monthly digital magazine sent to British Airways’ Executive Club members.

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So take note of the Americans abroad. If you look beyond the cliches (and aren’t there cliches about all sorts of tourists?) and you might learn something about maximizing your vacation experience.

March in Marrakech

Marrakech – one of many places I never considered as a holiday destination until I moved to the UK and found them within easier reach (logistically) than from the States. So, when we found a great all inclusive deal to Marrakech – off we went. Me with my ebooks and dungeekin with his camera.  All pictures courtesy of and belong to him.

Festive, Foodie Banbury

While I was just back to NYC for a visit, it was a bit too early for a tour of the annual 5th Avenue Christmas windows.  That’s OK, I did the NYC Christmas windows from a distance last year and I can do it again this year, thanks this time to Time Out New York who have done a lovely round up of these annual holiday spectaculars. But it IS holiday time once more and I’m at home in Banbury and Banbury is all dolled up for the festivities. True, we don’t have anything like the windows at Barneys in NYC. But we have windows. Behold!

banbury_xmaswindow2

And not to be left out of the holiday fun, our new local Mexican eatery has Christmas burritos on offer. How can you say no to that? Can you get a Christmas burrito in NYC? I’ve never seen one.

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In any case, it’s holiday time and a whole SLEW of new places have opened up in Banbury – some to keep everyone’s energy levels up for the last push to Christmas like Little Amsterdam (pictured below) and some to make finding gifts for even the hard to buy for, like Pink Pig, a recently reopened record shop- yes, RECORDS! The round vinyl things we use to have to slip in and out of cases. More on all these soon. Right now, I’ve got some gift wrap to organize. And maybe a pancake in the near future.

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Other places I’ll be checking out or checking in with over the next few weeks (especially that almost two weeks I’ve got off work at the end of the month). Some new, some established favs:

  • Books & Ink – because I can’t NOT stop in this store every time I am in town.
  • Naomi’s Cafe Bar – a cafe, art space, reading nook and performance venue all in one.
  • The Whistling Kettle – my favourite kind of coffee shop, a local one and one that tweets things like, “Writing a book? Our cafe has a cosy corner for creative customers.” How could I not love that?
  • Fresh Air Junkie – an outdoor store just opened relatively recently on Parsons Street, because a girl can never have too much fleece this time of year.
  • Buzzy’s Emporium – ’cause I saw an old tin advertising sign that REALLY spoke to me.
  • Abraxas Cookshop – because this baking thing is apparently not JUST a phase and I might as well do it right if I’m going to do it.

There are tons of other places too – many independents, well-stocked representatives of chains and – that’s even BEFORE we mention the whole mall thing.

Yes, I miss New York City this time of year – but I’ve got all new holiday habits and ‘go to’ spots here now.  And these days – with new places to try all the time – I’ll have more choices than ever.

Christmas in NYC – from a distance

Ah Christmas in NYC – the windows, the crowds, the Chinese food and a movie that makes up the traditional Jewish New York City Christmas. Sure, having moved across the Atlantic means I didn’t get to see the windows in person but did I miss them? I did not. The web is full of the Christmas windows – wanna see the Lord and Taylor windows (always some of my favorites)?  Here ya go.

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Want a movie of the whole thing instead?  YouTube is an amazing resources in this way now that everyone and their brother has a smartphone and a compelling need to record everything they do. The L&T 2013 windows are no exception.  Moving so far from NYC also means I don’t have to deal with the crowds of people who flock there every December. Don’t get me wrong – I was never a tourist-hating New Yorker. But in certain spots in December it was IMPOSSIBLE to move and you’d do anything to avoid those spots. Banbury doesn’t get nearly as crowded ever on it’s biggest day (which I suppose it Canal Day).

I do still get Chinese food and a movie though the Chinese food is homemade (seriously – everything here closed for Christmas. Even the Chinese restaurants). Once again, dungeekin did his best to turn TransAtlantic Towers into a first rate Chinese buffet. It was delicious – more on that can be found over on Fabulous Foodie. In related news (that will no doubt inform Chinese food meals of the future), we have found two well-stocked Asian supermarkets nearby and it took ALL my considerable persuasiveness to prevent SOMEONE from buying everything in sight. We do plan a major shopping excursion soon but there was already a considerable amount of food in the TransAtlantic Larder so there was, culinarily speaking, “no room at the inn.”

Meanwhile, we look forward to another year of exploring the area, experimenting with food and – DEFINITELY getting back to New York for a visit or two. Happy New Year, one and all. No matter which side of the pond you’re on.

Links-O-Gotham Holiday Fun

snow.jpgAt last it is cold. And for two days in a row. Does this mean winter has finally overcome its commitment issues? I hope so. I hate wibbly-wobbly weather. Still, while I love a winter wonderland as much as the next person and I can’t wait for snow — I don’t particular want to wander out today. Cold for cold sake is not my thing.

So to rationalize my decision to stay put, I bring you a links round up!

What if you aren’t a fan of winter and would rather think summery, beachy thoughts of sailing away to exotic locales. No problem. The New York Boat Show is running from Dec 13-23rd.

What if all that holiday cheer is so not your thing? What if your idea of holiday happening is a more angsty, emo thing with a vampire thrown in for good measure and cultural relevance. Never fear – the city has something for you as well. While everyone else is decking the halls, you can head over to FIT and check out their latest exhibits including Gothic: Dark Glamour. Don’t assume this is all heavy eyeliner and swathes of black stretch velvet (in fact, let’s not ever assume black stretch velvet). This is so much more – the origins of gothic style, a look at the Victorian cult of mourning, a main gallery designed as a labyrinth with themes such as Night (black evening dresses) and Ruined Castle (fashions inspired by gothic images of the Dark Ages) and Haunted Palace (drawing on Edgar Allan Poe). This is Gothic gone glamorous! And you can check out their online gallery as well

rock_tree.jpgOK, but what if you want your entertainment a bit more mainstream seasonal? No problem. Still plenty of holiday fun to be had. I know I’ve mentioned the Rockefeller Center tree and the Metropolitan Museum’s tree several times. But I may not have mentioned the American Museum of Natural History tree, decorated with more than 500 origami animals. Also at the AMNH (new this year) is The Polar Rink – a new state-of-the-art skating rink made from a recyclable synthetic surface, now open through February 28, 2009. It’s gorgeous and well worth checking out even if you aren’t interested in skating

More downtown than uptown? Don’t forget the South Street Seaports Singing Chorus Tree – a 50-plus-foot tree, complete with caroling by the Big Apple Chorus

l_t.jpgFinally – you may still have shopping to do and there’s nothing wrong with not being done already. I am not done myself. But you can go do some shopping and enjoy some holiday cheer at the Time Warner Center! Sounds crazy right? Why do that to yourself – the crowds! Well, I’ll tell you why – because where despite bizarre jumps in weather it will snow every single day. Yes, it’s time again for the Time Warner Center annual “Under the Stars” light show. The Great Room of The Shops at Columbus Circle becomes a winter wonderland every half hour with a fifteen minute “snowfall” Fridays through Sundays (through Dec. 21st) all beginning at 5pm.

So, no matter what the weather does (or what you want the weather to do) the city has holiday fun to fit whatever your holiday mood and energy level. Enjoy! I intend to.

Holiday Happenings City-Wide

Oh the weather outside wasn’t quite frightful yesterday but it was fearfully windy and quite cold. Nevertheless, out-of-towners MUST be shown the sites and entertained. I consider this to be a sacred duty and one I embrace at the drop of a hat. So I bundled up (in one of my fabulous new wool coats – scored an earth-shattering bargain Friday on not one but two magnificent examples of au courant outerwear) and headed out to entertain, inform and amuse. I think it went pretty well. I even ended up taking some of my own holiday advice.

  • Went to brunch at Vynl. Had fab omelets and hash browns
  • Went to see annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Hustled from the Met to Grand Central to meet up with The Fed and his posse and catch the Christmas Kaleidoscope Light Show
  • Shopped Grand Central Holiday Fair (bought cutest hammer and pliers set. Hard to explain but trust me – A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E.)
  • Met up with Fed & crew again at Comfort Diner. Was still too full from Vynl to join in actual food but hung about a chatted a bit
  • Popped home to drop off packages and regroup
  • Cabbed down to 60th and 5th.
  • Went into FAO Schwartz. Don’t ask. I don’t know what overcame me. Probably desire to see Giant Piano. Saw it. Laughed at antics. Left.
  • Walked down to peruse Christmas windows along 5th Ave (with a pause to admire Rockefeller tree from across the street). The winner window-wise this year – Bergdorf Goodman. If you search “Bergdorf Goodman Christmas Windows 2008” on flickr or similar site, I’m sure tons of people will have pictures up. In fact, here – this link will do it for you

Naturally, some windows led to actual entering of retail establishment and purchasing from said establishment.

  • Winner for Most Stunning Packaging and Display of Knicky-Knacky Things You Don’t Need But Suddenly MUST Have Simply Because They Look So Wonderful: Henri Bendel.
  • Winner of Best Bargain on Things I’ve Been Meaning to Get and Keep Not Getting Because I Never Write Them Down: Hue tights from Lord & Taylor
  • Winner of Best In-Store Decorations: Saks Fifth Ave. That ceiling rocked like a gorgeous, glittery rocking thing

Naturally after all that, I was exhausted and after reading for a whopping 10 minutes, fell asleep – book askew and lights on. Woke up a few hours later with a crick in my neck but managed to get myself, the lights and the book all squared away before dozing off again. Will have to make another tour of windows and holiday stuff with the camera but not today. Today is too cold for venturing outside. I shall stay in and make cocoa.

Holiday Giving Gotham-Style

rock_tree.jpgSilver bells
Silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city….

Oops! Sorry. I tend to spontaneously burst into seasonal song these days. Not out on the streets or anything. Just at home when puttering about, folding items to be taken to Housing Works or trying to remember where I put those holiday cards I got such a deal on last January. The reason I tend to carol this time of year, I tend to be caught up in activities I only find myself doing at this time of year.

This is the time of year I gather up my offering for the New York Cares Annual Coat Drive. Each December I take the coats out of the closet and give each one a long hard look. I put them on, facing up to the fact that it no longer fits — or worse that it didn’t fit last year either and despite promises to self, I didn’t lose enough weight to change the truth of the matter. Or maybe it does fit but it is one of three almost identical coats. I can’t help it. I see a great price on yet another single breasted car coat and I think, “Well, it’s not exactly like the others. This one goes all the way down to my knees.”

Anyway, I got the coat cull out of the way this week. Pulled them out, sorted them into two piles (no ‘maybe next year coats this time around): keep and give. The give pile, I am happy to report, was quite substantial this year. So I folded them up, put them in my oversize grocery cart (one of the greatest possessions a New Yorker can have) and trundled off to my local police station (the nearest drop off point for the coat drive). The men in blue are always gracious and entertaining when one enters laden with coats. Last year two of them began trying the coats on – and may I say that it is not every beat cop that can get away with a deep purple swing with dolman sleeves.

Still on the “gently used” portion of the list is packing up my donation for Housing Works I meant to do it earlier – along side the coat sorting – but then it realized that I might want to add a few more things so I put it off a bit. I plan to finish going through The Back Closet (and if you’d ever seen it, you’d know why it was Title Caps) by the end of the weekend. Actually, I’ve got quite a lot of non-clothing things as well and if I can get enough of them sorted out, I may have them come pick it all up. I mean, if it’s just clothes they won’t do a pick up (and frankly I can get them there just fine). But maybe some of these other “Lord, why on earth am I keeping this silly thing” items can be used by someone else. I can’t quite recall why I felt I needed a rice cooker but once the joy of it’s arrival wore off, it went to live in the back of the furthest kitchen cabinet and I haven’t opened it (much less used it) since.

The other reason to get down to Housing Works and donate is to do a little shopping. What? Just a little shopping. It is, after all, the holidays. And they sometimes have really cute stuff. And the bookstore? One of the best! Oh and you can shop housing works online now.

snow.jpgAnother great annual city tradition is the door staff holiday bonuses. Last year, I put together my “Tips on Holiday Tips” to address this ritual – this delicate dance of envelopes, diplomacy, and hard cold cash – that for some reason gives many New York City apartment dwellers an anxiety attack. It became a very popular landing point on the blog. It has been again this year so it occurs to me that people are still struggling with what to give, when to give and of course, how much to give. I suspect in these current economic climes, how much to give the doorman and/or your building super looms large in everyone’s worried mind.

My advice remains the same – you know what these guys have done (or haven’t done) for you all year. I know the economy sucks right now but if these guys went out of their way for you back in April when that couch you ordered almost didn’t fit through the doorjamb – they deserve more than a holiday card with a “Maybe Next Year” where the cash used to be. Did they look the other way all summer (while your wife and kids were out in the Hamptons) each time you came home accompanied by your “niece?* “Consider that your wife and kids are now home and have much more face time with these Up To Know Silent Gatekeepers.

I don’t mean to say that your building staff will turn on you or anything if you stiff them. But you might notice the dry cleaning takes a little longer to get to you or your packages might end up under something else for a day or so. Such a shame when that happens but what can you do? It’s a busy time of year.

But let’s not end on what nervous note. Let’s consider some of the best and most holiday-infused of New York’s great holiday traditions

  • the Rockefeller Center Tree: all lit up and waiting for you to come and shove your way through the massive crowds to gaze upon it. Not only that but on December 13th, a mass of tuba players will be there as well
  • The Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Sitting gorgeously in the Medieval Hall, surrounded by Gregorian chants and bathed in warm light, the tree and its surrounding wait to welcome those who thought better of going to the Rockefeller Center Tree and who have a more delicate design sensibility (besides, the gift shop at the museum has some great holiday stuff and this year the discounting has started earlier than usual).
  • The Ceremony of Carols at St. John the Divine: I know this piece of music is not for everyone but there are times during the piece that it is like listening to a vocal version of renaissance tumblers. It falls on the ears in a cascade and sweeps over you. Marvelous. And in such a magnificent space, the sound is even more impressive.
  • The Nostalgia Train – yes, go back in time riding in Vintage subway cars along the V line. With luck, you’ll get on one of the cars from the 1930s! Depression era subway cars. Just what the doctor ordered with recession looming. Hmmm. Maybe that’s not the way to look at it. Oh I know. Think of the show Annie. Yes, the one where she sings about ‘Tomorrow’ and the orphans are mysteriously well fed. After all, it all takes place during the Depression and right around Christmas.  So go on! Deck your kids out like orphans, teach them the words to ‘Hard Knock Life.’ I’m sure your fellow riders will love it.

* what? oh, come on. you know it happens. or if you don’t you’ve never been down in the lobby when these guys come in – a hilarious combination of slinking and cock-walking. Or maybe it’s like people having affairs with the doorstaff. It may be more an East Side thing than a West Side one.