Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Travelling Aunt Visits Washington DC

The Travelling Aunt Visits Washington DC
(I cannot make the fonts match no matter what I do.  Just saying.)

The Travelling Aunt had occasion to travel to Washington DC in January.  I would recommend another season of the year for your DC travel.  However, I was provided an opportunity to enjoy the city a bit while being flexible in my plans.
First you have to go to San Francisco.
Is travelling with a screaming baby worse than travelling one seat if front of it?  Is boarding your shuttle on the trip to your connecting flight, only to find yet another screaming baby, a guarantee that you can of skip perdition?  What precisely is perdition?
You’ll be happy to know that once off the shuttle, and having climbed (yes climbed) actual stairs, The Travelling Aunt’s first sighting in the San Francisco Airport was Yankee Pier, a seafood restaurant.  Never mind the prices.  Truly.  A waiter comes to your table and takes your order.  And the wine arrives in an actual wine glass.  The only plastic present is the knife, which, since 2001, has been plastic inside most airports I have frequented.  And I promise not to refer to myself in the third person again.  In this post.
There is something to be said for a 2 ½ hour layover.  Thanks, Honey.  Did I mention there is a book store just outside the Yankee Pier?  Did I mention that the fish and chips are $17?  Did I mention that you just need to get over yourself,  enjoy the “no-cry zone” and tip the nice waiter?
A travel advisory here:  If you are in a hurry or have scheduled your arrival in late evening or during a chilly time of year, arrange for one of those little blue vans ahead of time (or for a local with a car) to pick you up at the airport.  My 10:00 arrival, a subsequent wait for tardy luggage, allowed me to enjoy the crisp curb at the Reagan airport for 20-30 minutes in a line that went on for ever and ever.  Fortunately I was properly coated and gloved and the temperature was mild.  For DC in January.
Chefs serenade us at the Du Pont Circle Farmers' Market

I love surprises.  Most surprises.  How delightful to find the DuPont Circle Farmers Market on Sundays included an orchestra of chefs (see picture above).  Those who do not play actual instruments use pot lids as cymbals.  Oh, and you can buy apples and grass fed beef too.

I encourage you to use a map and explore the city.  The underground is the Metro.  It can be confusing to figure out how to buy a ticket.  A gentleman in a glass cubicle came out, locked his cubicle, and used an automated ticket dispensing machine to buy my ticket.  You insert said item into a slot whenever you encounter a turnstile.  You pick it (or its replacement perhaps) up a few inches into the turnstile.  Thank you, sir.
My exploration took me to the Building Museum.  It was thankfully located at the exit of my metro, not the 1/2 block away that MapQuest had insisted I would have to walk. And east?  Which direction would that be?
I was satisfied with my visit to the Building Museum even though it is not really a museum.  They've taken a very old building that was formerly used to process benefits for serviceman and women and created a few areas of interest, including visiting exhibits which change every few months.  I was delighted to have a private tour as I was the sole guest for the docent tour.  You can see for yourself here:  The Building Museum.   I might be being generous with praise here because 1) I loved the gift store and 2) I was very proud of myself for finding my way to The Building Museum.
Having said that, It is time to insert here a couple of "being a tourist in DC" caveats.  1) Always decline to give  the guy who wants change as in “Do you have a 20 for two tens?” even when he holds out the two tens.  Giving him the 20 enables him to take the tens, turn away and come back holding a $1 as in “You made a mistake and gave me a one.” 
This enables you to say quite loudly “I gave you a twenty!  Are these counterfeit???”  Whereupon he will walk away as your train enters the station and you can get on and feel dumb and slightly proud at the same time.  
I did say a couple of caveats and I'm sure I'll think of more.
Walk when you can.  Especially in the lovely snow, the kind that falls in big fat flakes.  
Encounter pleasant surprises, as the building below evidences.  My daughter is a foreign service officer and unmarried.  Imagine my pleasure in discovering the building shown below quite by accident:

Go up to the roof.  If you are not a city dweller, go up on the roof of wherever you are staying.  

The building in the background is the Washington Cathedral from my daughter's roof.  Which is quite spacious and has a barbecue and lots of outdoor furniture which will be quite handy if it ever stops snowing.  Her apartment's roof, not the Cathedral.  Of course I can't be sure about what is on the roof of the Cathedral, which probably shouldn't be capitalized in this context as a noun anyway.  But you never know.

I highly recommend all of the Smithsonian museums as they are free and quite nicely put together.  I did not visit any of them on this trip but have done so previously.

My favorite thing to do, aside from George Washington's house which I found incredibly small, is to spend a day in Alexandria,

where I chose not to have a fish-eating-my-feet-skin pedicure and I have always regretted it, but I did dine in a restaurant that totally convinced me I was in Morocco and then discovered The Torpedo Factory

where you can not only see art of all kinds, but often watch the artists create.  It's at the end of the lovely main street, on the Potomac, if I'm not mistaken, and easily accessible by public transportation, which I know because I went there all alone without having to get a ticket salesman to come out of his booth to show me how to buy a ticket there.  I really do insist that you go there.  And try the fish pedicure.  I really do regret to this day that I did not.

Note:  I cannot go back and correct the spelling mistake because the page on which I'm writing this is showing nothing but complete black where I'm typing.  Just so you know.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Travelling Aunt Visits Claremont California

When my daughter opened her gift Christmas morning she appeared puzzled.  I had presented her with a weekend in Claremont (with me).  "I have never heard of Claremont, but if we're going there for two days, I'm in."  The mother of two teen-agers, she took little convincing.

An hour's drive from our home in the San Fernando Valley, Claremont is not just the home of several colleges, but of the delightful Claremont Village, a four-block square of art galleries, restaurants, at least one live music venue, and specialty shops.  While our favorites included a gourmet olive oil/liqueur (Vom Fass, only two doors down from our hotel), the Cheese Cave, and A. Kline Chocolatier, you will likely find venues that reflect your interests.

We chose to stay at the Hotel Casa 425, a boutique hotel located across from the Packing House shopping area.  After checking in on Friday afternoon, we took off to explore the village.  Vom Fass caught our attentions first.  Vom Fass means "From the Cask" and that's how you taste the oils, vinegars, and liqueurs from a tiny disposable spoon.  Daughter Lisa, an adventurous cook, delighted in finding new flavors to take home to try.

Having wandered two or three blocks we discovered that we were hungry and I had left the handy Village map in my car, we caught sight of Aruffo's Italian Cuisine on Yale Avenue.  Lovely ambiance - perhaps we were fortunate that we were nearly the only patrons.  I wish I could regale you with specifics on what we enjoyed (besides the wine) but you'll have to trust me; it was a delightful lunch.

Are you a knitter?  Find Phebie's NeedleArt in the Packing House.  If it's Friday, the Friday knitting group will have gathered at the table near the front door.  And don't miss Colors, 91711 a short walk away at 248 Harvard Avenue.  I especially like the way it's laid out in several rooms - probably used to be a house.

A rest was in order, so we returned to our pleasantly large room at Hotel Casa 425.  I purposely chose this hotel for its small feel and location.  It also included a seating area (so one needn't read one's newspaper and drink coffee in one's bed) and a balcony.

An evening of fondue and live music being in order, we walked across the street to the Hip Kitty, where we enjoyed very live hip music courtesy of Catfish & The Hollywood Hound Dogs.  We chose non-fondue dinner items (so don't be put off by the fondue-only vibe).  I am not one for note-taking in dark jazz clubs, but whatever we had was very fine.  We could not resist fondue for dessert which, I believe was in the chocolate family and quite tasty.  Four martinis, a bottle of wine, two dinners, and dessert (hey, we were there a long time and were walking only across the street to the hotel) cost about....$170?  Really?  Oh, and $5 each cover charge which was so worth it because we were seated near the dance floor and enjoyed watching quite an eclectic group of folks work the dance floor.  Catfish and his Hound Dogs did not disappoint.

Daughter is a big spa fan, so I wisely booked our massages at a larger venue than the day spas offered in Claremont Village.  So that night,  back at the hotel, I pulled up the internet site for the Claremont Hotel and Spa, a luxury resort where we would enjoy soft robes and pampering in first class surroundings.  Sadly, and you really must pay attention here, the Claremont Hotel and Spa is located not in Claremont, but in Berkley.  As you may know, Berkley is about a 7-10 hour drive north from Claremont, depending on your route.  Discovering this error at 10:30 in the evening allows for little if any chance to cancel one's appointment for the next day.  The next morning I was successful in explaining that my current location in Claremont prevented us from keeping our appointments; I was, happily, charged no penalty and therefore hope you will, if you have the opportunity, patronize  this fine establishment on your next Berkley visit.

I can recommend the Ambiance Day Spa at the Claremont Club.  My persistent daughter found it and while it is not a luxury venue a la Burke Williams or The Four Seasons, our massages were marvelous.  And SURPRISE.  Before leaving we were given complementary wash/blow dries in the hair salon on site.  Just because.  This was the only venue we had to drive to but we agreed it was worth the short trip.

A quick lunch at Casablanca Mediterranean Bar & Grill - also across the street in the Packing House was OK but someone needs to tell the staff to clean used tables, especially when one is located next to two ladies on a getaway weekend who don't intend to clean up after themselves,  much less other people.  Service was poor although we could find only one other table occupied. 

The afternoon was spent visiting shops we'd missed Friday and catching Nebraska at the Laemmle movie theatre only 1/2 block from the hotel.  The 4:40 show allowed us to enjoy a cocktail in the hotel courtyard (carful of the later-than-happy hour prices unless you don't mind $10 and $12 martinis).  Happy and tired, we retired to our room to watch Anchorman 2 with leftovers from lunch and a bottle of wine we had found earlier in the day at Packing House Wines.  Yes we are early birds.

I have a rule involving outdoor events:  Lower your expectations.  You are unlikely to be disappointed. From the brochure, The Claremont Farmers & Artisans Market would be awaiting us the next day between 8 am and 1:00 pm.  The weekend had gone so well, I anticipated showing up to the Second Street and Indian Hill Boulevard location to find three card tables of limp produce.  My expectations could have been higher and Daughter and I would still have been delighted.  The closed-off street offered a plethora of goodies, including jewelry and art.  She was intrigued by the mushrooms, raw honey,  blood oranges, and herbs.  The Market was a delightful conclusion to our Claremont getaway.  Be sure to talk to the vendors, ask questions.  You won't be pressured to buy.

I've not noted breakfast spots because ours was included with our hotel room.  Hotel room - See the website for rates; we chose the large with two queen beds, sitting area with sofa, large soaking tub and balcony.  Depending on the season, the room runs $235 and up per night.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Introducing The Travelling Aunt

I decided some time ago that I would be an excellent house guest.  I would bring a hostess gift, refrain from blowing my nose in my napkin, tidy up after myself, and write a witty and sincere thank-you note. Lacking food allergies, I would welcome any and all meals with enthusiasm.   I would not stay longer than three days unless my hosts were absent, in which case I would house-sit.  I would have a meal awaiting them upon their return, along with watered plants and happy, fat cats.  

My role model is my late Aunt Fern.  When she, at age 83 and with a bad hip, announced she was flying from her Florida home to visit me in California, I asked her if she had any food issues.  After considering the question, she indicated that if I could leave both okra and yogurt out of the week's plans, she'd be good. She successfully changed planes in Dallas and we had a lovely week.  

My travelling aunt plans have been postponed over the years due to responsibilities I will not outline here as they are mundane and will interest you not at all.  In the past few years they have either fallen away or I have grown less obsessive about them.  

To that end, I welcome you to The Travelling Aunt.  My first installment will appear in a timely fashion.  Perhaps with photos.