Category Archives: travels

How to Research Your Travel Destination

I’m so behind on posts – I haven’t even finished telling you about my exciting adventures in Las Vegas – but I wanted to quickly share a tip for finding places to hit while traveling. Of course there are review sites like Yelp, plenty of periodicals, and even just a virtual walk down the street with Google Maps’ street view. But sometimes I want more personal advice.

I follow a lot of blogs on Google Reader and have many well-traveled friends who post photos on Flickr. When I’m getting ready to travel, I like to  search those two sites to see whether my friends (real or virtual) have visited my destination. Here’s how I do it:

Flickr:
If you don’t use Flickr, you can simply head over to flickr.com and search for your destination (maybe add a keyword – like ‘food’ or ‘park’). But if you do use Flickr, and want to search your contacts’ photos, click ‘More Search Types’ after you type into the search box on the top right and choose ‘Your Contact’s Photos.’


Google Reader:
If you’re not familiar with Google Reader, it’s a RSS reader – a tool that allows you to follow blogs (the benefit: no need to visit each blog to look for updates). Simply search at the top and your  results will show you whether that search term was used in any of the blogs you follow. Sometimes, it’ll be a surprise to see which of your friends have visited your destination.

What about you?
How do you research the places you’re going to visit?

Rhode White & Blue

My in-laws visited last weekend and we crammed as much sun, ocean, and seafood as possible into four days. This is almost the perfect Rhode Island holiday weekend, so I had to share our itinierary.

On the beach Oysters
Fried Oysters IMG_1189

Saturday

  • Sailing lesson in the morning (just J & I, it was our first)
  • Wine tasting at Newport Vineyards
  • Polo (our picnic of choice is antipasto from Federal Hill)
  • Walk for an ice cream cone

Sunday

  • Beach day! First to Scarborough. Swam in the ocean.
  • Lunch at Matunuk Oyster Bar
  • More beach time at Matunuk beach.

Monday

  • Eggs benedict at home
  • Bike ride to the nation’s oldest 4th parade in Bristol (40mi round trip)
  • Sushi
  • A drink at the neighborhood bar
  • Watched Providence fireworks from the comfort of our street

Tuesday

  • Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast (a Rhode Island tradition, ha)
  • Tennis at the Intl Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, a historic building with grass courts
  • Lunch between matches at The Mooring, where we were drawn in by the seafood donuts on the menu. They were as good as they sounded – Bag of Doughnuts: Lobster, crab & shrimp fritters with chipotle-maple aïoli

Do you have a favorite Rhode Island (or local to you) 4th of July tradition?

Weekend in Washington DC

We took a whirlwind weekend trip to DC.  The timing was perfect – leave at 6am on Friday, return late Sunday night.  The price was also perfect at $98 round trip!  It’s such a short flight from Providence, just a little over an hour.

Pink Puffy Flower Lights
Chinatown Gates The Silk Rainforest
Fairy Duster flower at the Botanical Gardens, lights at Birch & Barley (fantastic brunch)
Chinatown gate, The Silk Rainforest by Sheila Hicks at the Renwick Gallery

We walked at least 12-15 miles a day, visited every museum we could find, and ate some memorable meals (I promise you’ll see another post or two about those…)

Memphis BBQ

We went to Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, and took every opportunity to sample some barbecue…

Memphis BBQ

The first photo was actually in Nashville, coming from the airport – stopped at at Jack’s for lunch (http://www.jacksbarbque.com).  I had a pork shoulder plate and enjoyed trying all the sauces (there were at least 6).

Exhibit B, a rack of ribs from Rendevous (http://hogsfly.com), a bustling joint that people have been walking down an alley to dine in since 1948.  Second barbecue of the day for us, and my first rack ever in the dry style.

And last but not least, a chicken plate from Corky’s (http://www.corkysbbq.com), one of the few places open for Sunday lunch. I’m glad fate led us there!

London on the Cheap

Budgeting for a vacation in Europe is tough. The plane tickets are enough of an investment, and once you’re there, the weak dollar means even a “bargain” is comically expensive.

Here are a few ways we managed to get out of London without going broke:

1. Museums, museums, museums! Most of the museums in London are free, and there are enough to provide days of sightseeing. We saw the Wallace Collection, the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. And we only had time to see a small part of their enormous collections.

2. Cheap transport. Most of the time, we walked – probably at least 5 miles a day. But we also bought Oystercards, which are a LOT less expensive than cash tickets- a ride costs £1.50 instead of £4!

Belgo Centraal Beat the Clock special
Beat the Clock specials at Belgo Centraal

3. Food specials. My favorite was at Belgo Centraal, a large underground Belgian beerhall featuring robed waiters and co-ed bathrooms. Between 5 and 6:30 on weekdays, you “pay the clock” for an entree and a beer. (In other words, come at 5 and pay £5.) The dishes were great – we had wild mushroom puff pastry and roasted vegetables in a pastry shell topped by a delectable slab of goat cheese.

Another good low-priced option is The Stockpot, with affordable fixed-price and a la carte options, and the kind of food you’d imagine eating on a Sunday night at home growing up in England. The restaurant has several locations.

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Staying Warm in Maine

We spent the weekend in and around Portland, Maine – the perfect last-minute getaway at less than a three hour drive. The weather wasn’t prime for tourists (except skiers), but we drove up to LL Bean in Freeport, bought down jackets, and spent the rest of the time alternately walking around in the cold and warming up with some delicious food.

First, we took a short trip from LL Bean to Brunswick, where we ate at Richard’s German American Restaurant. Located in an old brick building in the center of town, the restaurant has a great atmosphere – brick and dark wood paneling, beer steins and antlers decorating the walls. We drank Ayinger Celebrator on tap and enjoyed buttery rolls with sweet peppery mustard. I had Wiener Gulasch and Jeremy had the Schlactplatte, with sausages and smoked pork. We couldn’t help trying the desserts either (Sachertorte and an apple dumpling swimming in vanilla sauce). It was all delicious and piping hot from the kitchen!

Food at Richard’s in Brunswick, Maine
Celebrator, Wiener Gulasch and Sacher Torte at Richard’s, photos by Jeremy and I

Later that night we had a light dinner at Gilbert’s Chowder House on Portland’s waterfront Commercial Street – clam / seafood chowder and a shared lobster roll. The chowder was thick and slightly sweet, and the roll was filled with big pieces of lobster.

Poutine and beignets at Duck Fat
Poutine and Beignets at Duck Fat, photos by Jeremy May

Sunday morning we went to Duck Fat on Middle St. for an early lunch. As their name hints, Duck Fat specializes in Belgian fries fried in duck fat. We had a bowl of poutine (their fries topped with duck gravy and cheese curds), beignets with chocolate sauce and a giant french press pot of coffee.

We also browsed some great shops, including Le Roux Kitchen, a two-story cooking and gourmet food store. I couldn’t resist a bottle of their 18-year balsamic vinegar. We also passed Rabelais, a book store dedicated to food writing, but unfortunately (or fortunately, for my very full bookshelves) it was closed.

NYC Chocolate Show

In my two posts about my trip to New York last weekend, I somehow neglected to mention why I was there – the 10th annual Chocolate Show!

Chocolate Fashion at the Chocolate Show
Chocolate Fashion at the Chocolate Show

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a 40,000 square foot exhibition hall full of chocolate. Visitors shuffle through in a daze, tasting samples from international chocolate makers, buying bars and truffles, watching cooking demos and more.

Our favorite this year was Comptoir du Cacao from France. They served up chocolate in several forms – solid pieces, pralines, and “croustines” – little clusters. I was also pleasantly surprised by the new “Crave” bar from NewTree. The pairing of apricots and milk chocolate almost didn’t interest me, but it was great (I should have known – I love their milk chocolate lavender bar).

Before my chocolate high wore off, I picked up some retro bars from Chocolate Bar and the new Chili Cherry bar from Chocolove. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention my favorite purchase (and undoubtedly the one which will last the longest) – a chocolate-scented Chocolate Show hoodie!

The entrance fee is $28: a bargain for chocolate enthusiasts, and for everyone else, a good excuse to go at least once. But if you missed it, why not pick up $28 worth of chocolate and have a tasting at home?