Thursday, May 30, 2013

I'm back: Palm Beach, FL

Holy crap--May's OVER?? SINCE WHEN???  I swore that no month could fly by faster than April did, and then this happened: May is GONE.  I started the month with Portland, then finals, then Leslie's graduation from law school, a baby shower here, seeing a friend or two there, a 48-hour trip to Palm Beach, the beginning of a new summer semester, Memorial Day ... and here we are, all ready (sort of) for June.

I need to get all of my pictures together and my posts organized, so I'll just post my Palm Beach pictures now and see what else I can pull together later.

Ron had a conference at The Breakers in Palm Beach last week, and if my friend Marcie has taught me anything it's "to travel with my husband whenever possible because THAT is an easy way to see the world" without too much hassle.  We had heard that The Breakers is fabulous beyond FABULOUS and (lucky me!) his trip didn't interfere with my teaching schedule (rare).

We were--hands down--the poorest people at this place.  It was divine.  It was a really short trip, so I left my big camera at home and only brought my tiny point and shoot.  But, that's ok because it gave me room for an extra pair of shoes.

Look carefully: that's a TV in the bathroom mirror ... now that I think about it, I never turned it on.

I want my own little succulent arrangement so bad.  This one was half dead, but all it needed was a little water and it perked up by the time we left.  How come no one takes care of little things like this?
View from our window
Some of the courtyards around the hotel

This was lit so beautifully at night.

This pale blue color was an accent on just about everything--love that.

Walking to the pools ... the sun was so bright that most of my outdoor shots were totally overexposed.

... but first a view of the beach.

I spent most of Thursday right here.  I love a cool (borderline icy cold) pool, but it's so hot here that the water felt like bath water.  Still, it was gorgeous.  Waiters run around fetching all kinds of drinks for people.  People would order tons of stuff all day ... I was like, "Maybe they're already too drunk to read the drink prices on the poolside menus???"  I couldn't bring myself to pay for one.

All of my favorite colors in one frame.

I had never seen turquoise water before. I've never been to the Caribbean or Hawaii or the Mediterranean, so this was a particular thrill for me.  I love the Jersey shore and all, but "opaque dark green" just isn't the same thing.

On Friday morning I woke up early, but I was not the first one at the pool at 8:15am.  Another lady beat me.

Most hilarious comment overheard during our stay: "Oh yeah, we're just staying here for two weeks and then maybe we'll head home."

After Ron finished all of his meetings, we had time for lunch before leaving for the airport.  If you come here, get the arugula and lemon flatbread: They use a mandolin to shave raw lemons so thin that you can see through them, and these go on top of arugula, shaved parmesan, and prosciutto.

Oh, but these were the best: cucumber lemonade frozen cocktails.  They blend ice with cucumber, lemonade, and gin ... probably the best thing I've ever had to drink. I've already looked up five recipes to recreate it.

And that's it!  The best 48 hours I've had in quite a long time.  I can't believe I almost didn't go with Ron.  If you get the chance to stay here, GO.  Pretend you're a 1%-er for a day or two in your life.  (Or, maybe you don't have to pretend in which case: Yay for you!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Portland, OR: Pt II

While I had a lot of time to explore Joan's little town outside of Portland, I didn't get a chance to see the city itself until Friday.  I've been dying to visit this city for some time if only just to go to Powell's Books once.  Since Powell's is on the southern edge of the Pearl District, we started at the bookstore and then worked our way around the rest of the neighborhood.

The only picture I took at Powell's.  I spent a lot of time in the kids' section looking for an out of print book which apparently is not available in a single bookstore or warehouse in the entire U. S.  I really wanted that alphabet banner too.

I did hit the jackpot with one item at Powell's: An illustrated children's book of St. Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures."  (See it here--I've also mentioned it here.)  It was on clearance for less than $10, and I nearly bought five copies so I could keep one and give the rest away as baby gifts. But then I thought better of it, and I only bought one copy for myself because I don't feel like explaining to each of my friends that this is not a religious gift but a poetry gift and St. Francis is my hero and yadda yadda yadda ... Plus, I would have to fit them all in my suitcase, so that's no good.  Powell's is such a cool store--not to be missed if you're in the area.  It really made me miss Chester County Book which only recently closed its doors.  I hope Powell's is around for awhile despite any crap from the economy.

The Pearl District is really adorable--lots of little shops, tons of cafes, bars, and restaurants.  You might be able to cover this part of the city in a day, but you could also just spend the day at Powell's and save the rest of the neighborhood for its own day.  And that doesn't include all the other pockets of town that are worth exploring on their own. (I heard a lot about Alberta Street on the other side of the river, but there was no chance that we would make it over there.)

This and the next few shots are at Porch Light on NW 11th Ave

This is next door at Eden.

Their back room is dedicated to everything vintage wedding.  Love the pink lace on that one dress.

Thea's Interiors on NW Glisan Street

Also Thea's

Moule' on NW Everett Street--omg, can I tell you how I could wear this head to toe outfit every day of my life and never complain about it???  My dream outfit--I didn't even look at the price tags ... just snapped my picture and made myself move on. I can't get over the leather detailing on that skirt.

Oh God, and I would pair that outfit with these shoes ... again, didn't even look at the price.  Didn't want to know.

Rather than stay for dinner in the city, we headed back to the 'burbs and went to the Blue Goat in neighboring Amity.  Joan warned me that the food is great but the service less than stellar ... sure enough, I loved loved loved the farro salad and veggie burger I ordered, but Ryan was less than thrilled when his medium burger turned out to be rawer than rare.  Oh well.  He refused to send it back which to me is pretty smart: My grandmother worked as a waitress for 25+ years ... only an idiot sends their food back.  Never send your food back.  (For the record, my grandmother didn't do anything to people's food, but she can't say the same for the kitchen staff she worked with.)  So Ryan enjoyed his fries and was a really good sport about it, but I did feel bad for him.

At the Blue Goat

The next morning, I was at the airport by 645am for my 820am flight back to Philly. The plan was to fly direct and arrive around 430pm. I didn't think this flight would be too bad because Ron used miles for my ticket and spent $50 to upgrade it to first class. First class! Yay! Haven't done that since 2004.

You know where this is going, right?

At 840am, I had just ordered my breakfast like a female Thurston Howell--everyone's in their seat, but we're twenty minutes behind schedule still sitting at the gate.  It turns out the crew can't get the F-ing door to the plane to shut.  Our flight gets delayed to 930 and all hell breaks loose because most people are catching connections in Philly--in the blink of an eye, a sardine can full of people just missed their next plane.  Before you know it, the flight's cancelled and I'm hyperventilating on the phone to Ron who has been through this same scenario maybe 5,000 times.

Don't you wish you could have heard me on the phone with him? Here--this is what it sounded like:

Me: "theycancelledustheycancelledustheycancelledustheycancelledus!!!!"

Ron: "Ok, you need to calm down."

Me: "I'mnotspendingthenighthere I'mnotspendingthenighthere I'mnotspendingthenighthere."

Ron: "No, you are NOT spending the night there.  In the worst case scenario, you'll be flying the red eye home from Phoenix and you'll spend the night on the plane. Here's what you need to do: Get in line at the ticket counter and call the number I'm going to text you while you're in line. DO NOT GET OUT OF LINE."

Me: "Ok."

Ron: "You're not going to get a direct flight home and you can probably forget about first class.  Just forget those things: They're not happening anymore. Here's what you need to do: GET YOUR BUTT ON A FLIGHT TO PHOENIX OR CHARLOTTE. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? PHOENIX OR CHARLOTTE. If you get to one of those two places soon, you will get on a flight to Philly and probably get home before 7am tomorrow, ok?"

Me: "Ok."

Ron: "Now hang up and call the number I just texted you."

So I did. And the semi-impatient man on the other end of the line said: "I can get you on a flight to Phoenix at 1130am, you'll land at 201pm, take off to Philly at 249pm, and land in Philly at 1014pm." I said, "DO IT. BOOK IT. DO IT."

I seriously looked and sounded like the crazed mom from Home Alone. ("I'VE GONE FROM CHICAGO TO PARIS TO DALLAS TO ... where the hell am I?"  "Scranton.")

"Ok ma'am.  You're leaving for Phoenix in two hours.  Go to the counter and get someone to print your ticket."

So I did. And I didn't even care that he called me "ma'am."  Waiting in line, I quickly realized that my situation was hands-down THE BEST SCENARIO that anyone was dealing with in that line.  Want to hear some of the crap people were dealing with? I know you don't, but listen anyway:
  • One stunned woman was told at (9am on Saturday) that there was no way out until Monday morning. And she would have to go find the bag she checked because it was being dumped off the broken plane as we stood there.
  • One guy had planned an extensive vacation with five branches of his family tree. He was flying from Portland to Dublin and then to Paris to meet everyone, and he had a bunch of corporate meetings thrown in just for kicks.  His personal travel agent told him to just screw it and go home--she couldn't get him out of there until Monday or Tuesday. This same guy was also wondering how to get his checked luggage back.
  • An older couple managed to get new arrangements back to Baltimore ... with four connections. I didn't even know that was possible.  Four connections.  God help them if they checked any bags because they will probably never see their bags again. EVER.
I walked up to the counter with my confirmation number and the gate agent pulls up my info ... and laughs.  I'm going, "WHAT? WHAT???!!! I DON'T GET THE JOKE!!!"  And she says, "You are LUCKY!!! WOW!! ARE YOU LUCKY!!!" and she prints out my tickets and hands them to me. "You're going home TODAY.  Good for you!!  NEXT!"

I look down at my new tickets, and what do they say? [drum roll please]

First class!!  First class all the way back!!

The flight to Phoenix was uneventful (thank you Jesus).  The older lady next to me from Pittsburgh thanked me for defending Pittsburgh to Philadelphians (something I do all the time), I scarfed down some free first class snacks, and before I knew it I was sprinting down the hot-as-all-hell jetway into the PHX airport to somehow find gate A18.

A18--where is it?? Is it here? I'm coming off of A23--isn't it right here? NO! Wait, what would Ron do?  Follow the signs! A18 A18 A18

I sprinted past all the teenage girls in cowboy hats and boots, past the old people on the golf cart things, past the businessmen with their tiny carry-ons all the way to my gate.  We boarded and took off on time AGAIN.  Suddenly, all of this felt too easy.

Two hours into our flight I realized I was STARVING.  Now I had been awake for twelve hours and I had only eaten a 100 calorie pack of pretzels and this really fantastic fig bar thing.  All I can say is: Of ALL the flights to spring $50 for a first class ticket, this was the flight where it came in handy (because my middle-class ass might never do it again).  I had no idea if we would get dinner or not, but I knew I would at least get more pretzels and fig bars if I was patient.

They served us dinner.  Oh my God: It was the best dinner EVER because I was starving and had spent a solid hour contemplating how to sleep in an airport earlier that day.

Hummus plate with salad for an appetizer--yes, real plates and silverware.

Chicken enchilada with rice ... Ok, don't judge me: I hardly ever eat meat at home let alone at restaurants LET ALONE on a freakin airplane.  I fully admit that I inhaled this.  I realized at one point that the older lady next to me was watching me out of the corner of her eye as I tried so hard not to eat this like a total animal.  Literally, it was gone it 15 seconds.

Carrot cake--also inhaled in maybe six bites, but I could've done it in two or three if no one (ie, lady to my left) had been watching.

Once I wasn't starving anymore, I fell into that "commuter sleep" where you cross your arms and tilt your head down and then your head painfully bobs around like some kind of toy.  I once perfected this for the train, but I've been out of practice for a long time. I'm pretty sure that my mouth stayed shut the whole time, but who knows at this point.  Who cares.

When I woke up at 9pm (eastern time at this point), I looked out the window and tried to guess where we were. It's hard to tell at night, but the view is so gorgeous anyway.  Everything is dark blue-black, and civilization is lit up below in clusters like decadent diamond jewelry. I knew we had to be getting close to western PA--I tried to look for the golden triangle to identify Pittsburgh (because that would be visible from 30,000 feet, right?).  I definitely saw Brunot Island in the Ohio River when we flew over it, but I focused on it so intently that I missed the triangle itself to the south.  The next thing I knew, we were definitely tracing a path directly above Rt. 30, and then there was the Schuylkill River with River Drive bending around it, and then the iridescent blue Cira Center ... and then the whole skyline. I couldn't believe I had made it.  All I kept thinking was that it was 7pm on the west coast and that several of the people who were supposed to be on my morning flight were probably still there waiting things out.

When I turned my phone back on, I saw that Ron had responded to my "Made my Phoenix connection" text with, "Wow! You did it! I'm really proud of you!" which made me laugh out loud.  Because if anyone should have been unnecessarily stranded at the Portland airport twelve hours after the initial cancellation, it should've been me ... but this time, it wasn't.  I wasn't in Portland anymore. Or Phoenix.  I love you Portland (not you, Phoenix ... you're too frickin hot), but I was done with you when I left.

The humid stink of Philadelphia was hands-down the most gorgeous thing I had smelled all week.  Well, maybe not as gorgeous as the airplane enchilada but almost.

So the moral of the story is: If your domestic flight gets cancelled, you might not be screwed, and if you get in line AND call at the same time you can probably get new tickets.  If a bumbling idiot like me can do it, you can do it too.  (And if you're flying internationally, good luck because you are screwed.)  And if you're friends with me, you can call Ron and he'll tell you what to do.

And you should go to Portland! Because it's super cute and gorgeous out there, and maybe your flights won't get messed up ; )

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Portland, OR: Meant to be

Last Tuesday, I hopped on a plane and flew to Portland, OR to visit my friend, Joan.  The whole thing was pretty thrilling to me because I read so much about Portland in my most favoritist blog ever.  Plus, the west coast has never disappointed me once (specifically, California has never disappointed me), so why would Oregon?  I hate airplanes and there's nothing fun about flying (my return trip home confirmed this), but the west coast is worth it.

That being said, I'm the kind of person who is easily plagued by crippling homesickness.  I hate leaving the Fluffs behind, and I hate leaving behind my own bed and my own linens and my own bathroom and my own everything.  But, somehow I manage to drag my ass out of the house and onto the plane without too many doubts or regrets.  This time, I had so many weird but good omens on the journey west.  The first one greeted me at the airport: After suffering the indignities of a security check and wandering through the B terminal for my gate, I saw this poster in our waiting area:

See that church in the center?  Ron and I sat on the steps of that church for an hour when we were in Rome in March.  There are (there have to be) a thousand churches in Rome, and of all the churches to put on a travel ad "they" picked this one. My last trip had followed me to my present one in an extremely specific manner, and I just figured that had to be a good thing.

On the plane, I spent the entire flight reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild.  The book culminates with Strayed's arrival in (where else?) Portland, Oregon.  She spends a lot of time discussing what it was like to arrive at Mt. Hood after three months of hiking there on foot.  As I'm reading the final pages of the book, the woman next to me in the window seat lifts the shade ... and there's Mt. Hood directly outside the window.  Come on: THAT'S weird, right?  The only reason I picked Wild was because it just happened to be at the library when I was there, and a few days after I grabbed it Joan invited me to fly out to see her.  Strange timing.  Come on, that's a sign too, right? (Well, I think it is.)  So I hit the ground in Portland totally convinced that there was no other place I supposed to be that week.  Typically, I hate any kind of thinking that's remotely deterministic, but I just couldn't help myself this time.

You can't see Luke the bunny, but he's in this wood hutch that Joan built herself.

Joan lives in a little house an hour outside of the city.  The drive to and from the city sorta reminded me of driving through California wine country: You drive through rural farmlands and then you pass right through the center of a small town, and then through more rural farmlands, and then through the center of another small town, etc.

I had a lot of time to myself since Joan still has a few more weeks to the semester, but her town is walkable and I got to see quite a bit of her community.

Apparently, a TON of people show up for the UFO festival every year. I came a week too early. Oh well.

There are UFO references all over town.  I think the story goes something like this: Back in the 50s, someone photographed what they believed to be a UFO and to this day, the photo still has not been proven to be a hoax.  HENCE, the fascination with UFOs.

I'm pretty sure that this was just a drugstore--how cute is their window display??

A small appliance store--so cute.

Wednesday was also Joan's birthday, so she arranged for us to have drinks and dinner at one of her favorite places with some of her other friends.

This is Thistle--their pre-prohibition era bar did not disappoint.  Dinner was fabulous too.  They have a very short menu day to day, but everything we ordered was fantastic.

The Crusta cocktail

On Thursday, we started our day at the Crescent Cafe where Joan's friend Jared works.  One of her colleagues from the communications department joined us too.  I'm not a breakfast person, but the sandwich I ordered was to die for ... Leslie would have agonized over their menu for sure.

Later in the day, we went to Joan's friend's farm.  Cindy has goats, chickens, and an alpaca, plus a long hiking trail through the woods.  Joan brought her dogs and we enjoyed the gorgeous property that sits on a secluded hillside.

Cindy discovered these teeny tiny orchids not long ago.  Joan's a major orchid buff, but she couldn't name it off the top of her head.

See the gorgeous alpaca (Rio) in the background? Cindy's sister in law sheers his coat and makes her own yarn--don't laugh: Do you know how much alpaca yarns goes for? Ask anyone who crochets!

Goats are the only creatures with square pupils--isn't that weird?
We had a really unusual dinner planned for Thursday night: Joan's friend Jared is friends with a couple named Neil and Clara.  I have no idea how Jared met them or whatever, but they apparently throw fabulous dinner parties all the time, and Jared had been trying to get Joan to go to one with him for awhile.  So we went to Neil and Clara's on Thursday night ... dinner at a total stranger's house. I had no idea what to expect, and I even texted their address to my mom and Ron just in case they turned out to be psychos and we were never seen/heard from again.

Not only were Neil and Clara not psychos, they were beyond completely awesome and their house was gorgeous.  Neil is some kind of genius mathematician and Clara's a CPA, and they know how to cook a dinner AND pair it with some incredible wines from their vast collection.

First course: Swiss chard frittata with spring greens

Second course: Warm lentil stew with kale

Third course: French buckwheat cakes from Red Fox Bakery with kumquat jam and orange blossom water ... sorta devastated that I (most likely) will never get to eat these again.

After dinner, they gave us a tour of their super green/eco-friendly/gorgeously constructed house ("It'll be the only thing standing in town when we get the 9.0 earthquake," says Neil).  Neil has a vast book collection spanning every topic you can imagine and many copies of autographed books.  I love looking through other people's books, and their collection didn't disappoint.  This whole scenario was very bizarre to me: Typically, I would never accept an invitation to drink so much as a glass of water at a stranger's house, let alone in a strange suburb of a strange city. Seriously, this is some pretty crazy rule-breaking in my book.  And I lived to tell about it which is beyond mind-blowing to me.

(I need to get out more.)

In the meantime, Joan's husband had arrived from PA and bought two dozen donuts from the famous Voodoo donuts on his way into town.

A picture is worth a thousand words ...

For the remainder of my stay, these guys were just hanging out on the counter staring at me.  Completely ridiculous.

We went into Portland the next day--I have a bunch of pictures from that, but I'll save them for a second post later on.

More later.