St. Louis 2018: Day 2

First item on the agenda this morning: breakfast at Rooster in downtown St. Louis. Given that one of its breakfasts was named by Food Network as the best breakfast in Missouri, it had to be on the list. The Finnish pancake I ordered was interesting… a custard pancake with jam and syrup. It’s probably not something I would order again, but it was good. Unfortunately, the restaurant had a pervasive smell of grease, and I realized after I left that every piece of clothing I was wearing smelled like bacon.

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Finnish Pancake at Rooster

After breakfast it was off to the Illinois side of the Mississippi River to get a picture of the Gateway Arch. There is a park that supposedly has a great view of the Arch with the St. Louis skyline. I read that the area is a little run-down, and that’s definitely a good way to describe it. Think pothole laden streets and long-forgotten factory buildings. I quickly took a couple of pictures and headed back to the city. Next was a quick visit to the St. Louis Science Center, but it was overrun with families and was definitely geared towards young children. So I made the decision to come back to the hotel and rest for a couple of hours. Besides, I needed to shower and change into something that smelled a little less like bacon grease. Luckily my suitcase was filled with Gators gear for the weekend, so I had plenty of options.

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Gateway Arch

The SEC championship is broken into two sessions, with the four lower ranked teams competing in the afternoon and the four higher in the afternoon. I went to both sessions, though I don’t have any strong feelings about any of the afternoon teams. In between the two sessions there is a two hour break, so I wandered over to Urban Chestnut Brewing Company a few blocks away from the arena. Urban Chestnut is a small brewery operation (bonus: they also brew their own cider!) with casual bar food. I settled into a table and enjoyed some warm pretzels with Bavarian cheese dip and butter (the mustard was way too spicy for my taste) before heading back to the Chaifetz Arena for the evening session.

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Urban Chestnut Brewing Company

I wish I had better news to report on the gymnastics front, but alas LSU took home the championship. They would have been hard to beat, so it wasn’t unexpected. Florida had a rough floor rotation that was their undoing.

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A well deserved win for the LSU Tigers

I am exhausted tonight and I have a flight back to Boston at 9:45 tomorrow morning, but just wait til you see what I have planned for tomorrow’s breakfast… 🙂


St. Louis 2018: Day 1

You’re probably wondering why I picked St. Louis for my latest weekend escape. I’ve been a huge gymnastics fan all my life, and for the past several years I’ve been following NCAA gymnastics pretty closely. When I found out that the 2018 SEC Gymnastics Championship was being held in St. Louis, it quickly got added to my “year of travel”. Plus, I’ve only ever passed through the St. Louis airport, so it was a good excuse to explore a new city. I wasn’t sure I was going to do any blogging this weekend because I didn’t think I’d have much to write about. As it turns out, St. Louis has some pretty amazing food. So if you’re hungry (or even if you’re not), prepare to salivate.

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Butterfly Garden at the St. Louis Zoo

It was pretty late when I arrived last night, so it was a quick trip to the rental car location and then I high-tailed it to the hotel and into bed. My room has a distant view of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis, but I’m staying on the outskirts of the city. Since most of my weekend is going to be taken up with gymnastics, I didn’t plan too much in the way of sightseeing. This morning, I spent a few hours at the St. Louis Zoo, then made a quick trip through the St. Louis Art Museum before stopping back at the hotel for a snack and heading to the Chaifetz Arena to watch the practice sessions for tomorrow’s gymnastics championship. I’m a Florida Gators fan through and through, but considering all 8 SEC teams are ranked in the top 25 in the country, it’s a pretty amazing sight to see all of the teams in action.

S’mores French Toast at Half and Half

“But Laura, I thought you were going to talk about all this amazing food you mentioned?” Don’t worry… I’m getting to that right now! I started off the morning with breakfast at Half and Half in Clayton. I always research the best breakfast places around because it’s my favorite the most important meal of the day. Once I saw a picture of the incredible S’mores French toast at Half and Half, I added it to the top of my breakfast list for this weekend. Half and Half is small cafe tucked into a nondescript block of Clayton, Missouri, just a couple of miles from St. Louis. There is a mixture of counter seating, communal tables, smaller tables, and booths. Very homey and welcoming. I immediately set about ordering my S’mores French toast and settled in with my weekend reading material (“The Flight Attendant” by Chris Bohjalian – a great book if you’re looking for a good read). I could hardly believe my eyes when my French toast arrived. It was two enormous slices of bread smothered in chocolate sauce, graham cracker crumbs, and marshmallows. I wish I could say I wasn’t able to finish it, but… of course I did!

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Imo’s Pizza

I skipped lunch and saved room for my next culinary adventure in the form of St. Louis style pizza at Imo’s Pizza for dinner. What exactly is St. Louis style pizza? My research shows it is a cracker-thin pizza crust topped with sauce and Provel cheese. Until a few weeks ago, I had never even heard of Provel cheese. According to my internet sources, Provel is to provolone what Cheese Whiz is to cheddar. What may sound a bit unappetizing is actually pretty awesome. The pizza is cut in what I like to refer to as “Connecticut-style”: a round pizza cut into squares. I wouldn’t say it was the best pizza I ever ate, but it had a completely unique and weirdly delicious flavor. I ate the whole thing.

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Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery

Next up: dessert. “But Laura, how could you possibly have room for dessert after you just ate a whole pizza?” I know. I planned to have just one single scoop of ice cream as an after-dinner treat. I ended up eating AN ENTIRE PLATE of ice cream. I kid you not. I discovered Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery advertised on a map I picked up at the hotel. A quick Google search told me I couldn’t possibly NOT try it. Clementine’s bills itself as a “microcreamery” and serves only small-batch, handcrafted ice cream. Once I got there, my one scoop turned into two and I decided to try a scoop each of Gooey Butter Cake and Salted Crack Caramel. But then the nice girl behind the counter offered me a sample of Toffee Butter Brickle and the next thing I knew, I was sitting at a small table by the window indulging in a full 3-scoop plate of ice cream. It was seriously the best ice cream I have ever tasted. If you’re ever in St. Louis, just take my word and go there. You will not be disappointed.

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Butterfly Garden – St. Louis Zoo

Alas, the clouds of the day finally decided to turn to rain, and I fear my plans to visit the Gateway Arch tomorrow morning may be thwarted. My backup plan is the Saint Louis Science Center and then, of course, an afternoon and evening filled with gymnastics!

Turks and Caicos 2018: Day 0

So it’s off to Turks and Caicos this week. I wish I could say it was a quick, easy trip, but that wasn’t in the cards. Yesterday morning, I learned my flight from Boston to Charlotte for this morning was canceled. Had I acted quickly (and decisively), I could have taken a direct flight to Miami and then on to Turks later tonight. Instead, I called hoping to get out to Charlotte last night and by the time I found out I couldn’t, all the seats on the Miami flight were gone. So I ended up making a white-knuckle drive to the airport in the snow first thing this morning to catch a (delayed) flight to LaGuardia, followed by another (delayed) flight to Miami, and eventually a final (on time) flight to Providenciales. I had a first class seat the whole way, so food and drinks certainly helped. But 12 hours in airports and on planes is still 12 hours.

Flying into LaGuardia over Lower Manhattan

I was the first one off the plane tonight, and since I only brought a carry-on, I sailed through immigration and customs, only to find that there was nobody at the rental car desk. A nice woman from another agency tried to call to no avail. I ended up grabbing a taxi to the resort and don’t even know if I will bother with a car at this point. Pretty much everything I need is within walking distance of the resort and it looks like my favorite “hidden” beach is only about 3 miles away – close enough to get to using one of the resort bicycles.

Arriving in Miami

I honestly have no idea what kind of blog this is going to be this time around. After the last few weeks, I’m ready for long hours of relaxation, interspersed with walks on the beach and plenty of reading (seriously, I brought 4 books with me on this trip!). I may do more of a photo blog this time. Anyway, it’s now off to bed so I can get up to enjoy the beach first thing in the morning!

Sunset flying out of Miami

Washington, D.C. 2018: Day 3

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Ted’s Bulletin

Homemade Pop-Tarts. I’ll just leave that there for a minute. If you’re wondering why I’m bringing it up, well… I may have indulged in one with my breakfast this morning. Ted’s Bulletin is basically a D.C. area institution. Picture an old-timey, throwback diner-ish place tucked into a nondescript block of Capitol Hill and you’ll have Ted’s (they also have a couple of other locations). The back dining room even has a large screen showing old black and white movies! Well-known for these delectable treats, Ted’s also serves down home comfort food. In addition to a blueberry cheesecake Pop-Tart, I also had the biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and hash browns. So good, this place deserves two photos in today’s blog post!

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Ted’s Bulletin

The other highlight of my last day on D.C. was a visit to the Newseum. The Newseum was recommended to me by two different friends, so I decided to make it my final stop. It’s not cheap; most D.C. museums are free and this one costs $25. But it was totally worth every penny. The museum is basically a series of exhibits documenting the media’s changing role in history and highlights some of the most notable contributions of news outlets during significant points in history. There are 7 floors of exhibits, including ones dedicated to the Berlin Wall’s collapse, the FBI and cyber crimes, 9/11, and a daily gallery of newspaper front pages from all 50 states and around the world. Seriously, if you’ve never been to the Newseum, put it on your list. It was an incredible museum and I wish I had had more than 3 hours for the visit.

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Today’s Front Pages Gallery at the Newseum

After that, it was back to the hotel to pack up the rest of my stuff and head to the airport. A quick one hour flight and I was back on the ground in Boston and on my way home. It is amazing to me how much can be done in just 2 ½ short days away!

Washington, D.C. 2018: Day 2

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I was a trouper today. I’m proud to say the cold and miles and miles of walking (I walked about 6 miles today) didn’t keep me from tackling the city head-on. I thought I might just take my time and eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but I woke up with a new resolve to be a cold-weather person for the day. It was 15 degrees when I set out from the hotel for the ¾ mile walk to Founding Farmers. Their latest claim to fame is boasting the most Yelp reviews in D.C. And deservedly so… I had a French toast that was basically like a deep fried Twinkie. I kid you not, they literally pipe the custard inside the bread. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. I was simultaneously thinking, “this is amazing” and “how did they come up with this?” the entire meal.  Anyway, I obviously had a lot to burn off after that feast (which I couldn’t even finish).

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From the Lincoln Memorial

The monuments weren’t a top priority for this trip. I’ve been here before and seen all the monuments multiple times. But after breakfast I decided I would do them again. In the freezing cold (the high temp was about 25° today). So I set off and visited the Vietnam, Lincoln, Korean, Martin Luther King, Jr., Roosevelt, and Jefferson memorials. If that sounds like a lot, it was. Trust me, my legs and back are not happy with me tonight. As cold as it was, I still enjoyed seeing all of them again. But, wow… was that a long walk for a cold morning!

After all that walking, it was time for a change of pace, in the form of a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had been there once before, many years ago when it first opened, when you still needed to stand in line early in the day for timed tickets (they still do that, just not during the “off season”). The museum documents the details of the Holocaust, from Hitler’s rise in power to the liberation of the concentration camps. At the outset, you pick up a small “identification card” that tells the story of a member of one of the concentration camps so you can follow along with his/her journey as you move through the exhibits (mine was Liliana Guzenfiter from Warsaw, who survived multiple concentration camps but lost all the members of her family). Sounds impressive, right? And it was. Just not when you are sharing the cramped space with hundreds of other visitors. Seriously, it was so crowded you could barely see the information boards and look at the artifacts without standing on tip-toes to see over other people. Meanwhile, the people who don’t really care to be there are pushing their way around everyone to get through. So, while impressive, it wasn’t exactly a highlight of the trip.

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Shoes confiscated by prisoners at the Majdanek concentration camp

Next up was a visit to the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. By that point, I was tired and had very little stamina to walk around the museum. I walked through several of the exhibits before calling it quits. I then had the dilemma of it being about 3:30, and needing to decide what, if anything, I felt like doing before dinner. I walked to the World War II monument and then stopped at the Renwick Gallery (very small with eclectic exhibits including one special exhibit of miniature murder scenes) before heading to Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont Circle for dinner. I had been to the one in Georgetown before, and this one was just as good. The pizza and cider were a perfect end to a LONG day.

In other news, I was able to change my flight to an earlier time tomorrow afternoon that will put me home before dinner. It’s not that I’m not having a good time; I’m just tired of the cold and walking and ready to curl up on the couch and catch up on my DVR tomorrow night! 🙂


Washington, D.C. 2018: Day 1

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Lavender Hot Chocolate at Open City D.C.

Lavender hot chocolate, anyone? Yep, that’s how I started my first morning in D.C. Of course, the weather forecast earlier this week was calling for mid-50s today; the reality was 35 degrees and plenty of wind. I hate the cold. I gamely made it through my weekend in NYC in November because it was the first really brutal cold of the season. It’s now 2 months later, and I’ve had my share of cold for the winter. First stop of the day: Open City D.C. for the aforementioned lavender hot chocolate and a stuffed French toast breakfast. Open City is kind of a loft-style diner that manages to be both open and cozy and was only a few blocks from my destination: the National Zoo. A great way to start the day!

I was never really a fan of zoos until I went to the Los Angeles Zoo several years ago and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it. The National Zoological Park is part of the Smithsonian and has over 1,800 animals from around the world. It was cold, overcast, and windy, and not really my cup of tea weather-wise, but I managed to fill a couple of hours visiting the gorillas, orangutans, giant pandas, and miscellaneous reptiles and amphibians.

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Mei Xiang taking a nap at the National Zoo

Then it was off to the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. The museums share one building and sort of alternate sides of the building by floor. I visited here on my last trip to D.C. a few years ago and loved it. I’m not usually an art museum person, but as soon as I entered, I was reminded of why I love both of these museums so much. There’s something for everyone. The floor plan is centered around an enormous indoor courtyard and the rooms are laid out in such a way that you can look in from the hall and decide whether you want to see more or keep moving. My favorite exhibits were “Experience America” and a special exhibit called “The Sweat of Their Face” about American workers. All told, I probably spent an hour and a half wandering around the various galleries and exhibits before calling it a day.

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Electronic Superhighway (Nam June Paik) – American Art Museum

I headed back to the hotel to go for a swim in the pool and relax before heading to Alexandria for dinner. (Oh, I may have done a little shopping on the way back to the hotel… support the local economy and all that. 🙂 ) Dinner tonight was at Il Porto in Old Town Alexandria. My stepmother and I stumbled upon this tiny Italian restaurant many years ago, and I’ve made it a point to have dinner here on every visit since. I had a cozy table by the window tonight to enjoy my chicken parmesan and tiramisu. As always, it was delicious to the very last bite! I had originally planned to walk around some of the monuments after dinner, but I just couldn’t handle the cold anymore and decided to call it a night. The temperature isn’t supposed to get out of the 20s tomorrow, but thankfully I have all indoor activities planned for the day!

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Il Porto Ristorante – Alexandria, Virginia

Washington, D.C. 2018: Day 0

Continuing (or “officially beginning”) the “Year of Travel”, this weekend I’m hitting up our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. I’ve been to D.C. several times, so there’s no pressure to see and do everything in three short days. D.C. is close enough for an easy long weekend trip, yet far enough away to feel like a mini-vacation.

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Logan Airport Terminal B

My travel didn’t exactly start off easily. My first clue that this day might not go as planned came in the form of an email from American Airlines (sent last night; I didn’t see it until this morning) alerting me that there was a travel advisory for Logan Airport and I was welcome to change or cancel my flight without penalty today. I had booked the flight with points and already tried unsuccessfully to change to an earlier flight. But this morning there was a seat available on the flight an hour earlier, so I made the change. I watched the flight tracker all day as flight after flight from Boston to Reagan National was delayed, diverted, or cancelled. But somehow when I left home my new flight was miraculously still listed as on time. Luck was not on my side, however, as the flight was soon delayed. In fact, the plane hadn’t even left Washington by 5:00PM, our scheduled departure time from Boston (it’s a shuttle flight that just goes back and forth between the two airports).

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Reagan National Airport

Fast forward 5+ hours, and I am finally settled into my hotel in downtown Washington and ready to collapse into bed. I’ve been fighting a “mini-cold” all week that hasn’t really gotten me down but has managed to settle into my sinuses and generally be a nuisance. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will help to refresh me so I’m ready to take on the city in the morning!