November 27, 2011

Playing Tourist in San Francisco

Two years ago I moved from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Recently I returned to the city by the bay to visit a friend and some of my favorite places in the bay area.

Since I no longer live in San Francisco my visit gave my friend and I a license play tourist for a few days. At my friend's suggestion we participated in a Victorian homes walking tour led by local guide Jay Gifford. We met Jay Saturday morning at his prescribed meeting spot and headed off to explore history and Victorian architectural design in the Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow neighborhoods.

The tour was interesting and we saw some fabulous architecture. In addition, the weather was beautiful - a perfect day to be out enjoying the city!

After walking around for an hour and a half, our tour ended at the intersection of Union and Steiner Streets in Cow Hollow. We crossed the street to Rose's Cafe for lunch. This cafe is located in a yellow house at the corner and has tables wrapping around the sidewalk. Due to the fantastic weather there was a long wait for these outside tables, so we opted to sit inside. Soon we were sharing a salad and a pizza with cherry tomatoes, artichokes, and feta. The salad was good - fresh greens and a very light gorgonzola dressing. The pizza had a thin, crispy crust and was also very good.

Soon, we were back outside walking along Union Street. Before leaving the neighborhood we stopped in two of my favorite shops here - an accessories and home store called ATYS and clothing shop called Uko. Both have great designs and are uniquely San Francisco.

Walking around enjoying the city of San Francisco and the sunshine was the perfect start to my trip.

November 20, 2011

Traveling via Chocolate

I think between the writings here on my blog and the articles I have written for The Travel Belles, my obsession for chocolate and travel has been well documented. And yes, while I do enjoy traveling to find chocolate, it is not my only motivation to explore. For me traveling is about seeing something new and having experiences that are unique to the destination. If that involves chocolate, it’s even better!

When I am unable to travel to get fabulous chocolate, I sometimes stop by Cocova (formally Biagio Fine Chocolates) here in Washington, DC. This shop sells a variety of artisan chocolate bars from all over the world. This is good, but it is not the same as discovering something new at a shop in some foreign city. For that, I have to wait until my next vacation - or relay on family and friends.

Recently, my friend (and author of the Good Global Citizen blog) Beth, has been traveling extensively for work - flying Germany, China, Kazakhstan, Australia, and more. I have followed her journeys and discoveries via her blog - and I have also been the lucky recipient of some interesting and delicious chocolate she found along the way.

The first time she sent me a package I opened it up to discover three items - a small bar of milk chocolate from Kazakhstan, some milk chocolate flavored with green tea, and a chocolate bar from Lauenstein Confiserie in Germany.

So what does chocolate from Kazakhstan taste like? It is just average chocolate. However I still think the fact that I got to try it - on the opposite side of the planet - is cool. The tea flavored chocolate was unique. The texture was a bit gritty, but the green tea flavor was delicate and grassy (in a good way). It was different than any chocolate I had tried previously and I enjoyed it very much. The last bar I tried was the German chocolate... This bar was fantastic - 67% cacao with pink peppercorns.

A little while after I finished enjoying the contents of the first package, a second arrived. This time it had a Kimberley Chocolates bar from Australia and cookies dipped in chocolate from Hawaii in it! The cookies were the perfect Hawaii treat and brought back memories of sandy beaches and warm breezes. The chocolate bar was dark chocolate with chili and was good. It was a tiny bit on the sweet side, however the spice balanced that out perfectly.

Of course, I hope to be able to travel to Almaty, Kazhakstan, Beijing, China, Koln, Germany, and back to Hawaii sometime, but experiencing them via chocolate is fun too! Thanks Beth!

November 13, 2011

The City by the Bay

Looking back at the city from Potrero Hill.
San Francisco, California

November 11, 2011

A Place to Reflect

In October, I visited Arlington National Cemetery for the first time. It was not that I had been avoiding it, I had just never gone.

The day we went was beautiful - bright blue skies with puffy white clouds floating by. Even with a lot of people visiting, the cemetery was a very peaceful place.

November 10, 2011

Across the Cafe Table - A Coat from Hong Kong

It is time again for The Travel Belles monthly discussion, Across the Café Table. This month we are all blogging about this question:


As always, I can think of several different ways to answer this query. However, this month one item sticks out – a coat I purchased in Hong Kong three years ago.

In November and December 2008 my husband and I traveled to Hong Kong and the Philippines. It was my first trip to Asia. We spent a weekend in Hong Kong, a week in Manila, a week at the beach in Boracay, and finally another weekend in Hong Kong before flying home. I was overwhelmed, excited, and intrigued by the experience. The crowds in the cities and on the streets were nothing like I had experienced in the western world. The traffic was nuts. The food was both intimidating and delicious. And the shopping was amazing!

In Asia, customer service and appearance are extremely important. And in Hong Kong shopping seems to be a national pastime. The city is filled with high end international boutiques and sparkling local shops. There were so many clothes shops and styles that were not available in the United States and at the time the exchange rate was in my favor. On our last day in Hong Kong, we went shopping. I purchased gifts to bring home and clothing for work. Near the end of the day we were wandering around the shops in the Admiralty Building. I walked into one shop and found the perfect wool coat. It was black with three-quarter length bell sleeves and an A-line cut. It was adorable. I already had several bags – and probably already had depleted my allotted shopping budget – but I wanted it. I tried it on several times. I walked back and forth in front of the mirror. Finally as the dinner hour approached my husband insisted I buy the coat. I wore it out of the store and it has been my favorite coat ever since…

November 6, 2011

Of Biscuits, History, and Gardens

Earlier this fall my husband and I took a weekend road trip to Charlottesville, VA to get out of the city and explore Virginia wine country. I wrote about most of our adventures in my article on The Travel Belles, Sipping Wine and Soaking in Scenery around Charlottesville, Virginia. But, there are two parts of our adventure that I I want to share with you here - my favorite meal in Charlottesville and visiting Monticello. Normally my favorite meals involve cheese, wine, and chocolate, however on this trip my most memorable meal was brunch at the Bluegrass Grill and Bakery.

I read about this cafe on Yelp and immediately wanted to eat there. When we arrived there was already a line of hungry customers waiting to be seated. We put our name on the list and sat down to read the menu and wait our turn. About thirty minutes later we were sitting at a table in the corner of the restaurant placing our order. My husband Jonathan got corned beef hash and something he read about in Yelp reviews called pig candy. I ordered an omelet called Joan Marie’s Special with a biscuit.

Our waiter brought out the pig candy and beverages first. Pig candy appeared to be chewy bacon that was cooked with sugar and spices. (Jonathan said it was quite delicious, albeit a bit rich.) The rest of our food arrived soon. My omelet was filled with herbed cream cheese, Swiss cheese, spinach, and tomatoes and was very tasty. However, the biscuits were the star of the meal. These flaky buttermilk biscuits were made with whole wheat flour and were absolutely wonderful!

After our biscuits we headed left downtown Charlottesville and headed towards historic Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (a principle author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States of America). Monticello is perched on the top of a hill. Visitors are required to park by a visitor’s center at the bottom of the hill and then walk or take a shuttle bus to the estate. The walk looked quite nice, however it was raining off and on so we opted for the bus ride.

Soon we were walking through the house learning how Thomas Jefferson and his family lived. Life at Monticello was obviously comfortable for the primary residents - however this was made possible by the labors of slaves. The house was designed by Thomas Jefferson is impressive at first sight and is
surrounded by beautiful gardens and orchards.

Vegetable garden, vineyards, and pavilion at Monticello.
Inside the house the first floor rooms have high ceilings and are elaborately decorated. There are unique conveniences, like a dumbwaiter to bring wine from a cellar below to the dining room. After touring the first floor we went to the level below where there is a wine cellar, a beer cellar, an ice house, the kitchen, and several storage rooms - everything Thomas Jefferson and his family might need to entertain in the house upstairs.

Before we left we spent some time exploring the gardens and area around the house. The gardens at Monticello are amazing. Around the house there are flowers, trees, and ornamental bushes. Further away, down a hill is the vegetable garden - rows and rows of organized beds with different varieties of local vegetables thriving on this idyllic hilltop. Beyond that there are orchards and vineyards before the wild forest takes over. During Mr. Jefferson's time, additional crops produced by his plantation would have covered the countryside that is now dominated by trees.

Having grown up in New England, I find it difficult to fathom a lifestyle that required the labor of slaves to maintain. And the fact that a house - like Monticello - was specifically designed with a place for this work to go on below the main living quarters. This is a part of history that I see, but do not understand.