Here we are again, time for a seasonal travel post, this time for Autumn, 2019. You can also see my recent series entitled “Start Spreading the Views”, a three-parter on the two week wedding trip I took to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in August, 2018 with updates on Manhattan. It was as beautiful and exciting as ever.
I am re-posting this one I did for New York previously, largely because it is still my top choice for autumn travel, being my home town, but also because I have a new Autumn post in progress on North Carolina, another place I love for the Fall, and it is still developing, just posted on September 30. I will be adding some restaurant recommendations to it over the coming weeks.
By the way, my next post will be about my trip to New York and points east, as I mentioned back in my Bank Shots post. Stay tuned for that any moment. I will also be sharing dozens of new pictures of the city this fall and winter from what was really an indescribably spectacular trip.
A note on my four seasonal travel posts. Some people realize they are “sticky” and always appear on my main page, while my current posts appear on the right, in a column. I put up new posts every two weeks and some of you have found your way to them. Thank you! But others seem not to realize that these seasonal posts are permanent fixtures and miss my newer ones. I appreciate anyone stopping, reading and commenting, but if you want to know what I am thinking and doing lately, please look to the right and I hope I won’t disappoint or offend anyone.
OK, so for now, here is my beloved City, which comes to life and sparkles in autumn
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If there was ever a time to visit New York City, this is it.
Not only is Fall the prettiest time of the year in NY but there is a Mayoral race going on, so the city will be on its toes and putting all the bells and whistles out for the spotlight that this race will enjoy. If you can, visit NY right now. Bloomberg will get everything shipshape for this key election.
There are other reasons. Having lived there for 25 years, this is the best season, in my opinion. First of all, it is usually sunny, dry and cool, not yet cold. There is less precipitation in the Fall and the winds are not unusually brisk, though they can be just active enough to put a sparkle of energy in the air.
At some point, depending on the temperatures, the leaves will be turning. Many people do not realize how many parks and how much landscaping the city has. Everyone knows about Central Park, but there are so many others, like Battery Park, Union Square, Gramercy Park, just to name the most obvious ones. If you do a little Googling, you will get a full list of the hidden pocket parks. If you will be there for more than a few days, you may also want to head over to Brooklyn, which has gentrified considerably and rivals Manhattan in almost every significant way. It’s most famous green space is the second largest in the five boroughs: Prospect Park, as magnificent as Central Park in Manhattan. Another fabulous thing to do is take the Henry Hudson Parkway up along the river and go to Tarrytown and Hastings-on-Hudson, among many old Yankee villages and Washington Irving’s stomping grounds; all points north along the river are pure magic at this time of the year.
The most important decision you will make when coming to NYC is where to stay. My recommendation would be two hotels. The first is my favorite and a secret that almost no one knows about. This is the Hotel Wales at Madison and 92nd Street. One of the prettiest, most convenient and safest, quietest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Carnegie Hill – the 90’s from Central Park to Lexington Avenue. The Wales is right in the middle of it. Built at the turn of the last century, when I stayed there it had elegant lobbies and rooms, good restaurant and room service and not only was immaculate but enjoyed exceptional European-style service, including tea served on the roof terrace with a view of the park. Best of all, it is probably one of the most affordable hotels you will ever stay in (priced below some motels in the vicinity) and considering it is in Manhattan, in the best residential neighborhood, overlooking Central Park, the price is unbelievable.
My other recommendation, if you have a bit more in your budget would be the Waldorf Astoria. I have stayed in almost all the top, established luxury hotels in NY (the Plaza, Pierre, Carlyle). My favorite is the Plaza but I have to say, for visitors, the location and beauty as well as history of the Waldorf would be my top recommendation. All of these hotels are expensive, but you can get a deal at the Waldorf and stay in the hotel choice of kings and queens. It is gorgeous, elegant and the service cannot be topped anywhere on this planet. In the East 50’s you can walk in every direction to many of the best attractions in midtown.
If you are flying in to the NY area, use Newark International Airport instead of JFK or La Guardia. Newark is the newest of the three, it is actually closer to Manhattan than JFK, far safer, and much less hectic. You will get to the city in less time than if you choose JFK. In every way, Newark is a pleasure. In fact, I like it so much and consider it to be so much safer than most airports that even when I am heading to Boston or Philadelphia, I fly into Newark and then take the train or rent a car and drive to those two cities. (Boston’s Logan Airport is a pure nightmare – avoid it at all costs: unsafe, bird strikes, terrible facilities, short runways – it is notorious for its inferiority as far as airports go, just take my word for it).
I do not need to give you all kinds of tourist destinations as there are thousands of places you can find these things. Let me instead recommend a strategy for ‘tackling’ NYC.
When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who worked in South America. He would invite me down to visit and see the sights and so I made some friends amongst the very educated, sophisticated people I met there. When a few of them came to visit in the City, I was excited to take them around. They had been all over the world, in many European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, etc. These were wealthy world travelers. But! When they got to Manhattan they were totally overwhelmed. The longstanding joke thereafter was that I could not get them to go above 34th Street (Macys).
NY has a palpable energy that makes some people thrive and others collapse. I have always said it is far easier to live (if you can afford it these days with one bedroom apartments starting at $800K) and work there than to visit. So how you approach the visit can be critical.
Knowing what I know now, I would not start people off downtown as I had done with my Latin American friends. If you are staying at the Wales, start with the upper east side of the Central Park district and work your way down, day by day until you hit Rockefeller Center. If you are staying at the Waldorf in mid town on the east side, start there, go to Rockefeller Plaza and work your way up Fifth Avenue your first day or days. In this area are also Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and a lot of UN-frequented exotic ethnic restaurants, many of them with excellent costumed performances and shows during dinner, at no extra cost (a way to be entertained without high priced theater tickets).
The upper and middle parts of Manhattan, on the East Side are the easiest to absorb and get acclimated. They are beautiful, loaded with attractions including museums and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the best shopping and restaurants, etc. And of course they are incredibly safe, as is all Manhattan now, thanks to the last two Mayors (Bloomberg and Giuliani).
Toward the second half of the trip or at least after you are used to being in Manhattan, head to the 42nd Street area, stopping in at the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, the Upper West Side (don’t forget to go to the Museum of Natural History), Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, down to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial, South Street Seaport and if you can, take the Brooklyn Bridge by car, cab or train to Brooklyn and eat at the River Cafe, especially at sunset, for the most spectacular view of Manhattan anyone could want and fabulous food.
After that hit the Village (west side, Greenwich Village. If you are adventuresome and like ethic food, go the the East Village or better yet, Queens, but the latter may be for the end of a trip, not the beginning!), Washington Square, Soho and Tribeca. All of these areas are safe, loaded with personality and fabulous food and shops. Usually though, they are not first on people’s lists. I would avoid Chinatown and Little Italy unless you like Chinese food and getting down and basic. You are likely to find better Italian food in other parts of the city, especially Brooklyn. Think Moonstruck. If you are looking for inexpensive theater tickets check to see what is playing at the Barrow Street Theater. (Unfortunately, the Sullivan Street Playhouse that was home to The Fantasticks for 42 years, closed in 2012.)
If you have time left over, go to Bloomingdales on Lexington, Chelsea Pier over on the West side at 23rd, Gramercy Park on the East side around 18th Street, and up to the Bronx Zoo, which is in my opinion, the best one on the East Coast and rivals the famed San Diego Zoo for its quality and scientifically designed attractions.
If it isn’t too cold, take the Circle Line, but be prepared for part of it to be a bit boring – I have taken it when showing guests around the city and I fall asleep as it heads up to West Point. It is a three-hour trip, so take snacks because the last time I was there, the food on the boat was expensive junk. If you do take the Circle Line, you will pass the big luxury liners, Chelsea Pier, Battery Park, a spectacular view of Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty, the UN, as well as the bridges on the East River abutting Queens. You will see a lot that will help you determine whether or not you need to go to those individual attractions separately.
Do this and you will get a real flavor for the city. If you can, give yourself a week. You can do much of what I listed in three full days (with travel days on either side). Take it from a native, even in two weeks, you won’t see it all but if you go now, I promise you, you will have a spectacular experience.
But not I! 😀
Since I put up my Winter travel recommendation sticky-post late, I am offsetting it with an early-ish Summer piece. This is Part One.
It is already summer here in Valencia this week, hovering around 100F, unhappily for me. The minute the weather turns sultry I begin dreaming of cooler climes. If you have been following this blog for awhile, you know I am a cold weather fan. If I were like most people, I would pick Palm Springs or Phoenix even in August. But I am the Vermont in February Un-y-Mooner, if you recall. So …
Now, I have already shared two places that I can heartily recommend for those of you who want to escape the heat. They are the Jersey Shore and La Jolla. See both posts for details. If I knew it better, I would recommend Vancouver/Vancouver Island. What all of these places have in common is beautiful beaches, old, lovely architecture, gorgeous vegetation, elegant upscale vintage towns with places to eat and shop in abundance and, wait for it: moderate, balmy temperatures even in August.
As you know, if you read about my Jersey Shore, there used to be elegant old hotels there. I am no longer familiar with the local accommodations, so I will just suggest using a VRBO or Air BnB (see my Oakland post for winter). As for La Jolla, I do have a recommendation: La Jolla Shores Hotel.
It’s right on the beach, within a few steps of all the attractions. A large, sprawling complex with comfortable rooms and verandas for dining or having an afternoon drink to watch the sun set. It reminds me of those old, gracious, rambling colonial hotels one finds in Montego Bay. It is reasonable by La Jolla standards and the staff are friendly. Q.E.D.!
While you are in La Jolla, make sure you try the ice cream at Bobboi Natural Gelato, 8008 Girard Street, #150 – expect the unexpected in flavors like Charcoal Vanilla or Blood Orange or Meyer Lemon and Mint,
and have one dinner at Osteria Romantica, 2151 Avenida De La Playa La Jolla, CA 92037.
The latter is literally two short blocks from La Jolla Shores Hotel and wonderful, from the menu selection’s authenticity, to the quality of the food, to the service and ambience. A bit of Italy in California.
If you are in the mood for Mexican, and don’t mind rustic, head right to The Taco Stand for hands down the best Mexican food in La Jolla.
Right across the street on Pearl is El Pescador, our favorite fish restaurant.
And yet another absolute must is Oscars, at its four locations for Mexican seafood!
But, if you want to sit and look out directly onto the Pacific, head to Carolines at the famous Birch Aquarium of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
There is no end of things to do in La Jolla: take a snorkeling tour of the coast, go to any one of the dozens of coves and watch the sun set or jog along the beach at sunrise. The shops are too numerous to list, but one of our favorites is Gepetto’s toy store. You can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. There are, of course, many other things to do in the San Diego area that are unique, including the famous kayak tours, the world renowned San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, both of which I have visited several times and highly recommend, Old Town — which from my experience is the best way to get a taste of Mexico, while staying in California — and shopping in Horton Plaza or La Jolla Village.
But, my main tip for a perfect place to spend a summer vacation has to be Woods Hole/Falmouth/Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and that is coming up in Part Two: Summer Came Running:Languor Management.
Images: Chez Bebe Assets/La Jolla, California
Clearly my thoughts have evolved on this blog as to what I can do for you, what I can share to make your life more beautiful after you visit here, and am pleased to have settled on creating a travel sticky page for this website over the past year to go with each season. I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world and so consider myself a veteran. Ideally, I would have had this post up on December 22 of last year, but the holidays intervened and well, better late than clever, right? So, the title of this particular article seems especially apt.
Now, let’s remember that all of these recommendations are subjective and based on three key factors: where I’ve been, what I like, and iconoclasm. By the latter I mean, I am not going to recommend the predictable places that everyone thinks of for each season. Most people’s favorite season is the spring. As you might guess, not mine! My absolute cherished time of year is and always has been the winter. For the first half of my life, I got to be in a four-season climate as my home base and so winter rolled around every twelve months and delivered my preferred weather, notably in Manhattan where I spent most of that time, with cold, clear, sunny, dry days and the occasional snowfall that draped the landscape in its magical glitter.
However, here I am in one-season Southern California, where the temperature is hot or hottest and the skies are cloudless and blinding unremittingly. So, when I tell you my recommendation, I am going to avoid my reflexive wish to suggest Banff or Quebec or St. Moritz. Or to my preferred beach resorts (the rare times I have gone to them of my own accord) like Montego Bay, Jamaica, or Nassau, or Fortaleza, Brazil. We are going to stay local and so, voilà, my choice: Oakland, California.
Whaaaaa? You are going to start to object and recommend that at least I switch this to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge. But, uh-uh. Please do this. Forget about every single thing you have ever heard or thought about Oakland. I know the Bay area intimately (having lived in the East Bay and and visited friends and relatives who have lived there for decades) and SF is not where I want you to pin your protractor. Put it right in the middle of the Elmwood section of Oakland in the up and coming East Bay and then draw a 50 mile (or 25 mile, depending on how much time you have) radius around it. That is where I would head if I wanted an exciting, rain-free, interesting and even exotic at times, winter getaway.
From Oakland, you are within biking, sailing, motoring, walking, boating distance of all the stellar things the lower end of Northern California has to offer. And, you will be able to afford the hotel because you will not be staying in downtown San Francisco. It is mostly first-time visitors and businessmen on expense accounts who stay there anyway.
Because the area is so vast and packed with things to do and places to see, I am going to divide this into two posts. First will be where to stay and eat. In a future sequel, I will remind you of the hundreds of museums, parks, beaches, theaters, aquaria, forests, and special features that the entire Bay area is known for, as well as a few words on shopping. There is no better place to spend a week or a month, than this part of Northern California. You might not want to go home.
First off. Where to stay. I would suggest Elmwood via an AirBnB. Another good option is a VRBO (vacation rental by owner). Check out these videos on my link, strung back to back — there are several, all about the area and worth watching. Elmwood is just off College and above Telegraph Avenues, the main arteries through the best part of Oakland, near Berkeley. The homes in Elmwood are straight out of Nancy Drew or Father Knows Best. They are roomy, well-to-do Craftsman-style homes from the pre-WWII era. In fact, I cannot think of a better neighborhood in all of California, and I have been everywhere in the state in the 20+ years I have lived and visited it. If you stay there, you will be in walking distance of shops, eateries, poetry readings, concerts and lectures and all the marvellous perks for visitors to the UC Berkeley campus.
If you are feeling really flush, you can stay at the Claremont Hotel in Claremont, between the Berkeley campus and Elmwood. You will get the full European spa hotel experience, but you will pay for it. It is an old East Bay institution, now owned by the Fairmont Group and they are the crème de la crème as far as hoteliers go.
My other two suggestions are my personal favorites. I have stayed at both hotels numerous times and would rave on about them if you and I had the time. The first is the Hotel Durant, as they style themselves, a ‘hip boutique hotel’. It is old, maintained beautifully, immaculate and has impeccable service. Its breakfast library room and restaurant are first class. And, you can walk to the campus and transportation from the Durant, effortlessly. Take a virtual tour and you will get a sense of these two luxury hotels. Oh, and the Durant is affordable and they always find a way to give you discounts. I always request room 535/37 on the 5th floor, adjacent to the elevator. It is cheaper and amazingly quiet despite its location. Love the Durant!!
My last suggestion is the incredible, little known, beautiful, sprawling Woodfin now Hyatt House at the wharf in Emeryville. You can get a view of the Bay and San Francisco from some of the rooms on higher floors. The rooms and suites (with bedrooms separated from the sitting area and full kitchen) are beautiful and reasonable — geared toward the business community and people relocating. At the ground level, the Woodfin was planned to be in proximity to a sort of mini mall, old style with food, amenities and little shops. The food store delivers to the hotel. You can get pizza and Chinese takeout or sent to your room. You can walk around the edge of the water and absorb the marine atmosphere. And, best of all, they allow pets! We attended a wedding a few years ago in the area and brought both Psyche and Ollie with no problem. The Woodfin even put a mat and food and water in for Ollie. Can you imagine? All this in a beautiful place, with great parking (a big issue in the East Bay), at a rock bottom price. The Woodfin was sold to Hyatt and so I hope the new owners will keep all these wonderful features and pricing intact. Ssshhh. Keep this on the down low. I don’t want them to jack things up!
OK, so now you have a jumping off place to stay. You want to get out and start seeing, doing, shopping and eating, right? Let me start with the restaurants and other eateries in the East Bay. You will be happy to hear that you are in the midst of what could modestly be called The gourmet ghetto of the Western United States. In every direction for miles and miles are incredible elegant inexpensive (as well as costly, if that is your thing) places to get every cuisine on earth. It would take a year of blog posts to cover San Francisco, Sausalito, Monterey, Carmel, San Jose, Walnut Grove, Montclair, Rockridge, Marin, Solano and greater Oakland/Berkeley itself just to give you ideas of where to go. And a lot of boutique shopping flanks these restaurants, conveniently.
Instead, I will list my personal favorites, which are ethnic, clean (spotlessly so), serving delicious, homemade exquisite food at prices you can afford. They cover: Greek, Indian, Mexican, Israeli, Chinese, Italian, Cambodian and Ethiopian super stars. This is where the locals who know the food scene eat, so you can throw away Zagats and forget about Yelp. I will start with the most popular of them, La Méditerranée on College Avenue near the main hub of Ashby serving Greek/Middle Eastern food that is so delicious, you will want to order another meal or two to take home. You will definitely want to go back, but don’t give in to the temptation as you will need to visit the others before you go. I promise you, whatever Middle Eastern dish you have ever had, it is twice as good here. Trust me — in fact, I have eaten at every one of these places I am recommending at least half a dozen times.
Being a college town, there are no end of Indian restaurants to try. But, if you want the kind of food they eat in India, you have to try the hole in the wall, Vik’s on Fourth Street near the Berkeley campus. It is cafeteria style, no atmosphere (other than brains and politics at every table, if you can hear it amid the din), cheap and delicious, authentic, aromatic Indian food from every part of India. There is a grocery section so you can buy things to take home. Believe me, you will walk out of there with bags of food — so be prepared and bring your totes.
Mexican restaurants are usually two to a block in California. But Cancun on Shattuck — one of the main drags in Berkeley — is special. It is more a take out place than eat in, but you can do that too. Believe me, the cognoscenti in the area come here for authentic, inexpensive, perfectly cooked to order quality Mexican food, Cancun-style. The Saldanas are the family that own Cancun and a farm that supplies its organic, natural products. Farmers and cooks, isn’t that what we would dream of? Having the farmer feed us. Healthy food, expertly prepared as you watch, delicious and fresh. What more would you want? It’s as close as you will come to Mexico in Northern California, in my opinion. From farm to table, what more could you ask?
Ordinarily, who would advise anyone to seek out Israeli food? After all, it is enough like — forgive me, all my Jewish friends — Middle Eastern food that you might think you could just eat at La Méditerranée and get the experience of the region you crave. Well, this is no ordinary town and Holy Land is no run of the mill restaurant. Don’t expect it to be particularly remarkable in appearance. It is clean and pleasant. But! The menu is the thing. If you have never had Israeli cous cous, this is the place to get your initiation. It is fragrant, fluffy, perfectly seasoned and divine. Try the latkes and the Israeli pickles and olives. They have shifted to include the non-Jewish foods of the region as well but you will be able to sample some of Israel’s best dishes, including hummus (pronounced hoo-muss by natives) and other kosher dishes including some that are vegan.
Most of us have had Chinese food from humdrum restaurants all our lives. If you live in NY or SF or Chicago or LA, you have likely had some unusual and very good Chinese meals. But, Oakland has, in my experience, one of the very best. Shen Hua, is a beautifully simple, classic Northern Chinese noodle house, upscale and not inexpensive, but worth every penny. Conveniently located right on College Avenue in Elmwood, it will be steps from your AirBnB. You will want to take home the leftovers, believe me. There are rarely Chinese restaurants that could be termed elegant in every respect. This is one!
While you are in an Asian food mood, you simply have to try the homey but sophisticated Cambodian menu at Battambang on Broadway in downtown Oakland. It is similar to Thai food but a bit more complex, heartier and with banana leaves. Think Siam-meets-Puerto Rico 😀 Delicious, whether you are a carnivore or a vegan as I am — a really unusual menu in a family-run establishment that prepares each dish fresh when you order and serves it in a warm and friendly manner.
There are literally hundreds of Italian restaurants throughout the Bay area so you might wonder why I picked just one. Because, while you can get pasta almost anywhere, great pizza is more elusive. One place that never fails to serve and also deliver, is Lane Splitters, by far the best pizza in the greater Oakland vicinity. The ambience is pure urban hipster black, white and gray. They serve fabulous, handmade pizzas and a variety of other things including lasagna and calzones. Eat there or order for local delivery.
If you are a lover of the exotic, and complex flavors outside the pedestrian, you probably crave Ethiopian food the way I do. The East Bay is loaded with Ethiopian restaurants, but if you want to know where Ethiopians themselves eat, it is hands down, Addis on Telegraph. The atmosphere is basic but it is clean, friendly, and bright, and most importantly, the food is out of this world. If you have never had Ethiopian or Eritrean food before, Addis is the place to start. I just wish we had one in Valencia, anywhere near as fine as Addis.
There are just a few more things I want to recommend here in Part I. First, you simply must take a trip to Mill Valley and stay at the Mountain Home at the top of Mt. Tamalpais. If you can’t manage a stay, then at least have breakfast and watch the sun rise, or have a drink there at the end of the day. Romantic, with breathtaking views, you dine or sip overlooking the entire Bay area. Mt. Tam is exquisite and well worth the trip. Nearby are vistas that you can’t find anywhere else in the San Francisco basin.
Finally, you cannot leave Oakland without visiting Berkeley Bowl. There is no way to describe this indoor fruit and vegetable bazaar. You simply have to go. It is the largest and most bountiful food store I have ever seen anywhere. Its proximity to the fruit basket of the world means items so unique and so varied, that you will be tempted to buy them just for their beauty and singularity.
No matter where you land in Northern California, a trip to Berkeley Bowl is a must. It is 40,000 square feet of gourmet heaven at farmers market prices. Think of a Home Depot for chefs’ quality fresh foods. Cheeses, condiments, olives, fish, breads, pastries fruits, vegetables, coffees, the list goes on and on. So popular in its 40 year history, that they opened a second one. Go to the original on Shattuck and prepare to be astonished. By the way, go early, be nimble (parking is difficult) and arrive hungry. Bring bags, you will want everything you see, trust me.
While you are at it, if you are anywhere near the Berkeley campus, hit the Gourmet Ghetto area and make sure you visit Andronicos, the Rolls Royce of “supermarkets”, since 1929. One thing I love there are the full line of European D’Arbo syrups that can be used to flavor everything from ice creams to cakes to carbonated drinks, ala Alice’s Restaurant nearby. I ordered a case of them and especially like the Elderberry syrup. When you add carbonated water to it, it tastes like champagne! More on Alice’s coming up in Part II.
Images: Public domain from travel sites, Chambers of Commerce and the establishments themselves
Right now, it’s scorching July in LA, but I wanted to update my spring in Los Angeles post with this great article about cool things to do — any time of the year — in LaLa Land. Check it out. LA is hot and getting hotter, LOL! … hugs, Beth
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The weather has been so delightful lately, that I realized it was time to invite people to visit Southern California before it’s too late and we are either roasting alive or dying of thirst, LOL! These are my insider’s tips on visiting La-La land: the only five places you will need to know to party like a native. 😉
New York is the place to visit in autumn, as I wrote last year. Spring is the time to visit LA. When I was reflecting on Los Angeles, and trying to summarize what it is about LA that is so attractive to people — apart from endless sunshine, that is, natch — the word seductive came to mind.
A few years ago, I read this book about France and the French character. It is worth reading just to see how differently the French look at everyday life, relationships, food, tourists, Americans etc. Not to say that they are right or wrong, necessarily but truly it is a culture apart. France is seductive.
Los Angeles is like that. Someone should write a book about it (note to self). Unlike NYC that instantly triggers love or hate, Los Angeles sidles up to you and lures you in with that sultry come hither environment that allows everyone to be utterly, nakedly themselves. And that is no mere metaphor. You have permission to be as uninhibited and as outrageously ‘you’, as you want here — and that is what I love most about this city, its welcoming diversity.
There are three urban hubs that you need to hit if you want to understand California. In some ways it should be two or three states. San Francisco and San Diego are distinctive megalopolises with their own sphere of influence and mindsets. You won’t get to know or understand all three, by just visiting one of them.
People everywhere are drawn to Los Angeles, but not for the beaches, because, honestly, there are others far more beautiful. If you are looking for the ideal beach environment, go to Cape Cod, Monterey, the Northeastern coast of Brazil or the Caribbean. Don’t come to LA for that.
People love Los Angeles because of its gigantic entertainment industry and the allure of being close to the stars. If you are a wannabe, the magnetism of LA is powerful and rightly so. But, I think the true main attraction of LA is that, you can park philosophies and ideologies at the threshold when you land at LAX and step into a completely welcoming, accepting culture that signals immediately: anything goes. Relax, have a great time. Not a Hawaii-lie-around-the-pool great time. A get-out-there-and-have-a-ball. Mingle, go to barbecues, hit the club scene, do a night on the town. Be free to enjoy yourself, however you like. Angelenos are incredibly outgoing and friendly, right away. They don’t need time to warm up to you. For a transplanted NYer it was palpable immediately. Smiles and welcomes, sincere ones, not papier-mâché politeness, characterizes the citizenry.
Last week, my cousin was in Los Angeles on an assignment. She always stays at the London West Hollywood. Claire and I chatted in her sleek ultra-modern suite and then went up to the roof patio for dinner. It was a beautiful clear day looking out over LA on the top floor of the hotel in late afternoon. As we were sitting there gabbing, afloat over the city, evening fell, draping everything with its violet shawl. All around us was a crystal view of the sprawl that is the LA metropolis, its lights flickering on and the stars popping out overhead. Some miles to the east, Downtown appeared as a cluster of glittering stacks that huddled together like intimate giants sharing a secret. Farther along Wilshire, Century City was gazing across the concourse toward Westwood. It was pure magic.
Come to Los Angeles between April and July. Summers here are too brutal now, the autumn is unremarkable and the winters, well, they can be misty and dull.
Here is where I would start. Stay at one of the newly restored more affordable hotels Downtown or on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. There is a lot to do at night on this stretch of the Strip. If you like off-off-off Broadway entertainment, lol, the Strip is the place to go. Start at the Whiskey. You can walk to it from the London WH, and frankly, that is where I would stay. Rooms average about US$350, reasonable by LA standards. The other advantage you would have is being able to get to Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, the Melrose restaurant row very easily, even using LA’s notoriously limited public transportation. I have ridden the Metro bus and train system locally and they are clean, air conditioned, safe and comfortable. Not like London, Paris or NY, not efficient, fast and ubitquitous, but good. You can even get to Downtown and Pasadena using public transportation, from a central hub of West Hollywood. Hollywood itself is also east on Sunset, so you couldn’t ask for a better place as home base.
Not to oversell this location, you can also take Sunset to Santa Monica, Brentwood and Venice Beach. Although, as I will explain in a minute, I would suggest the South Bay or Beach Cities instead. They are far more exemplary of what Angelenos consider beach living, while Santa Monica and Venice are for tourists.
From the hub you choose, I would visit the following places, depending on how much time you have:
- Downtown, LA
- West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose
- South Bay beach cities: Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach
- Beverly Hills/Westwood
As you plan your visit, just remember the LA Golden rule:
Everything is always 45 minutes away from everything else …
Downtown, as I have said previously somewhere on this blog, is really hopping now. If there is a happening place in LA, DT is it. It is packed with restaurants, clubs, bars, loft-hotels and entertainment. The Disney Concert Hall, the Chandler Pavillion complex and other similar venues for traditional theater- and concert-going are at the north end. There are museums and cathedrals as well as the very trendy and cool Grand Central Market that is worth an afternoon of eating and coffee in itself.
There is also a fab Art Walk that takes you around to galleries and the hidden creative underground/grunge that makes LA appealing for millennials right now, from burning men to urban hipsters. The Natural History Museum and the Staples Center are at the bottom of DT LA and both are worth the trip. Just walk up and down the north/south artery of Figueroa and you will see a history of architecture from the 18th through the 21st centuries, rising on either side of you. While you are doing that, make sure to stop at Fig&7th to have a snack or a drink and get in a bit of shopping. Just a block or two north and you can eat at the famous, original Pantry, continuously open since 1924. Or take Wilshire from DT, via the Metros, all the way West to the beach, and watch the progress of the city the automobile built, materialize as you go.
And while you are there, make sure you have afternoon English tea at the Biltmore Hotel. It is an LA institution and I guarantee you will gape at the world’s glitterati parading around you as they stream into DT in droves, snapping up refurbished buildings to re-rent out or install start-ups. It is very reasonably priced at about $200 per night for old world luxury.
When we are DT, we eat at various places. You can always grab a bite at the Grand Central Market, with all its many food stalls. If you are deep in the dough, try the Water Grill for perfect food in a flawless upscale environment. If, like us, you are on a budget, head to the Fisherman’s Outlet. An LA legend is Philippe’s for sandwiches.
West Hollywood/Hollywood/Melrose I probably don’t need to tell you too much about this part of LA, West of Downtown. This is the hub of the night scene. There is shopping, of course, with a robust array of boutiques and galleries. But clubs and restaurants are the main draw. The Viper Room, Whiskey a Go Go, the Roxy Theatre and all sorts of sky bars are strung along Sunset. Just drop your stuff at the hotel and head out in either direction on the Boulevard and you will stumble on them. Whenever I am in this area and I have time, I make my way over to Little Ethiopia for lunch. Not only is it affordable, it is exotic and exquisite food made and served by natives. Try Messob, my fave.
Pasadena may be a bit more staid but for my money, skip the Getty and the LACMA and head straight to the Norton Simon Museum, Gamble House, Asia Pacific Museum and Huntington Library and gardens that stretch from one end of Old Pasadena to the other. There is more shopping and eating in Pasadena, with every kind of food from all over the world, than in any place outside of DT LA. It is a beautiful, pristine, elegant old city that has been updated and now boasts an influx of condo dwellers at an unprecedented rate. Every possible kind of entertainment is available and you can walk to it, from the Metro which has several stations in Old Town. Definitely check out The Pasadena Playhouse for live theater, as well as various cinema complexes up and down the main east-west thoroughfare — especially at The Paseo –, Colorado Boulevard. You can attend free concerts all summer at the Levitt Pavilion or the symphony at the stunning, world class Ambassador Auditorium.
Make sure you stop by the largest independent bookstore in Southern California, Vromans and have a homemade sundae at the 100 year old Fairoaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena. Eat dinner at the incomparable El Cholo, for Mexican food, SoCal style.
Southbay/The Beach Cities This may be a bit out of the way, unless you have a car. If so, head west on Sunset to the 405/San Diego Freeway and points south. Get off at Rosecrans and go west to Pacific Coast Highway, turning south again. You will be in Manhattan Beach, the largest of the three. Turn right on Manhattan Beach Boulevard and take it down to the Ocean. There you will find yourself amid the real coupon-clipping laid back millionaires that teem all over this part of LA. These are the Angelenos who never work. Everywhere around you will be bronzed blonds zipping along in Italian convertibles. There are literally dozens of places to eat, in every price range, as well as boutiques and bars. But, of course, as you rise over the crest of the hill on MB Blvd., you will see the Pacific gleaming and winking ahead of you. Bring a towel and beach wear. This is the place to watch the roller-bladers gliding along The Strand in front of the multi-million dollar manses that perch at the sand’s edge. Take your margarita down there and imagine what life would be like if you had nothing to do every day but gaze out at the ocean liners and Catalina, while your help kept you supplied with refreshments.
MBch is the best kept secret in the Southland. Try the ancient Kettle for lunch and Love&Salt for dinner. Farther down PCH pointing south is Hermosa Beach. Like Manhattan, it is for play not work, but trendier, younger, hipper and more bohemian. Finally, a bit farther down is Redondo Beach. It has the Pier and attracts an older, quieter crowd. You can’t go wrong with any of the three. Hermosa has a comedy club that is actually fabulous. You never know who is going to do a gig there, often well known comics, so check before you go and reserve a seat.
Beverly Hills/ Bel Air/ Westwood I typically avoid the first two. By the way, Century City is in this area but it is largely businesses and residential. There is not much there to recommend you spend time in CC when you could be Downtown, in Manhattan Beach, or Pasadena. Beverly Hills needs little introduction. If mansion-crawling is your thing, just go west on Sunset from West Hollywood, and you will be in Bel Air in ten minutes. It is self-explanatory once you see the sign (you can’t miss it). If you find yourself in Bel Air, visit the North side of the UCLA campus, the old part of this 419 acre magnificat. You shouldn’t waste time looking at houses in BH, the main attraction of which is that Sultanic mecca known as Rodeo Drive. By the way, if you want to stay in this part of LA and actually go to the LACMA anyway, you can stay at the iconic Beverly Wilshire (Pretty Woman). But, it’s pricey.
Don’t bother eating in BH either. Overpriced, overhyped, mediocre food. No celebs will be eating there, just tourists. Eat instead in Westwood, the home village of UCLA, SoCal’s other premiere University (beside CalTech). There are so many fantastic places to eat in Westwood, I would need another post for them. Our favorite is Native Foods.
Ok, ok, I hear you saying, but what if I absolutely must tell people I ate in Beverly Hills and money is no object? Then absolutely, you have to go to Crustacean, if for nothing else, the experience of the place. You won’t be sorry — broke, but happy. If you just need to use a restroom and grab a snack so you won’t faint while shopping, go to Neiman Marcus, located on Wilshire.
Then head over to Westwood, gape at billionaire’s row on Wilshire as you approach the Westwood Village, and rest on the UCLA south campus after all this activity.
By the way, there are three more items you might want to consider: LAX, Burbank Airport and Union Station. If you want to start in the South Bay and see these three beautiful and entertaining beach cities, by all means fly into LAX. They are just 15 minutes south on the 405 Freeway. If you want to start in Pasadena or West Hollywood? Use the very nice, easy, safe Burbank Airport, you will be just minutes away from both. If you plan to start Downtown, consider taking Amtrak to Union Station and see a classic with one of the best restaurants anywhere, Traxx.
That’s it. If you just hit those five key spots, you will be immersed in LA and totally ‘get it’ ever after.
Images: Beth Byrnes, The London West Hollywood and The Examiner
It was the last thing I planned to do. Comment on what has transpired since my previous politically-relevant post, sometime in 2018 or earlier, that is. But, I just can’t help myself.
How much worse does it have to get before the fugue-state MAGAngsters wake up and see this man and his administration for the craven disaster they are? How much longer before those same people call Moscow Mitch on his outrageous grifting? What is wrong with these people?
Recently, some poll was taken showing the GOP is 90% behind these guys. Sure, we can take some comfort in the fact that they are shrinking as a party. However, when you add in the blatant voter suppression, the billions being spent by the Koch network to spread the worst lies in history to keep Americans from knowing about their outright theft of our treasury and our planet, the purging of the voter rolls, the Supreme Court-endorsed gerrymandering, and the help of foreign bad actors, it only takes a minority to put that dangerous fraud back in the White House and his cohort in crime back in the Senate leadership chair.
A consistent stream of lies, crazy conspiracy theories, outright sexual predation (credibly reported), money laundering, fraudulent corporations, bankruptcies, weight-shaming, mocking handicaps, religious bigotry (as if he understands any religion at all, including and especially Christianity), racism, white nationalism, fascism, autocracy, kleptocracy — what have I left out? Hanging around other sexual deviants and rapists, joking with them about the little girls they have molested. It’s exhausting, and every day, it seems, there is a new low, a novel horror. Oh, yes, right, literally telling people we are being invaded to the point that the gun fanatics (don’t get me started on that pathology) act out on his orders and slaughter innocent people for no reason other than they “look” Hispanic. On and on and on.
Let’s not turn away from the most egregious horror in my opinion: taking babies away from their mothers, and forcing human beings to live in filth and degradation, literally starving and humiliating them until the point of suicide.
But, it is apparently not too much for his followers — oh no. They are totally juiced by his ravings at these rambling rallies, where The Dear Leader seems drunk on their adulation. They are not tired of the hate and the fear-mongering. They drink it in. Who was it that said the best way to handle poor white people is to tell them they are better than every other race and ethnic group on earth, so you can continue to pick their pockets and they thank you for it? Are they this stupid?
We should be deeply ashamed of what is happening here. I don’t know who is going to win in 2020 but there are things we can never fix again. We can never again be the moral leader of the world. We cannot repair the damage being done in the UK by the Soviet-instigated exit from the EU. We can’t replace the Amazonian forest that another moral midget is mowing down at a never before rapid pace. We can’t undo the political damage done to our vital and delicate relationship with Israel. We can’t stop the icebergs from breaking up and the snow in Greenland from melting. We can’t save the Inuit and the polar bears. Our children and grandchildren will never know thousands of beautiful and precious species including Monarch butterflies and almost every species of frog.
I am heartbroken by what is happening here. If they would take us, Geoffrey and I would move to Vancouver and still may. I just want those of you who I consider my friends to know, I am not a supporter of what is going on. It is not okay. It is deadly heart-attack level wrong. Some day, maybe, the world will forgive us for abdicating the responsibilities we fought so hard to win.
Forgive me for being so dark. Next post will have pictures, I promise.
Friday, 27 September, 17:28
I just watched MSNBC’s Chris Mathews (Hardball) discuss what is going on with the Ukraine scandal here with Professor Lawrence Tribe, a US Constitutional expert and Professor at Harvard Law.
Professor Tribe said this impeachment, this incident — a US President shaking down, extorting, threatening the leader of another country, one that is fighting off the overt aggression of Vladimir Putin, in a desperate attempt to save their country from being overtaken in a hot war, for his own personal political and maybe financial gain — is exactly what our Founding Fathers designed the impeachment process for. Prof. Tribe said this is THE high crime and misdemeanor and that no previous impeachment (Johnson in 1868, Nixon in 1974, and Clinton in 1998), came even close to this one in gravity and peril.
Trump was not acting on behalf of the American people, or the Western world, he was using his “majestic power”, as Tribe elegantly and incisively phrased it, to manipulate an ally for selfish and narrow interests to benefit him and his family alone. And he had help in his administration and our Republican government to do it.
As Chris Hayes (All In) just said, Trump abused his power (America’s power), people all across his administration tried to cover it up, and they all got caught.
They all need to go down and it can’t happen fast enough for me. Wake up America!
It took a visit from Charlotte to remind me that I owe you all the conclusion to this story, so, finally, here it is.
The drive near the wedding destination was lovely. The entire road is flanked by magnificent estates, some with buildings that have been in place for a century or more, others newly built to the same level of grandeur. All hovering around 100 acres. If you aren’t a billionaire, you don’t even house hunt here.
We dropped the bags at the hotel (I had a bed added to my room for Anna, who would get dressed with me), threw ourselves into the shower and then jumped back into the behemoth to race to the outdoor dinner.
The bride and groom thoughtfully put two bottles of champagne, slippers and robes in every guest room at the inn.
The roads are very small, old and winding. And, of course, just when we got there, the skies opened and poured rain. I didn’t even try to get any pictures of the festivities that night, but it was all a joy. Good food, great family and friends, the best atmosphere right on the water. It was perfect.
The next day we decided to take advantage of nearby shops and grab lunch in town. What a charming village! I purposely left my wallet in the room and took cash to protect myself from what I knew could be a feast of riches to which I am all to prone to indulge. It was a good thing too. All I managed to do was snag a pair of Donald Pliner shoes (he is one of my favorite designers along with Sesto Meucci and Jon Josef.) Naturally I signed up for the mailing list at the store and so now I can walk leisurely through the inventory from home. Sort of defeated my initial admirable discipline, lol.
We still couldn’t decide what shoes Anna was going to wear, being the fussy little fashionista she is. We had to get back and drop her off for the rehearsal and photographers at my soon-to-be nephew’s home.
When in doubt, have several choices, so Anna and her retinue arrived to great applause with a trail of people carrying her outfits. We had to keep reminding her that my niece was the real star of the weekend.
It is hard to know what to expect when invited to a series of events like this one. None of us could anticipate it. Now, I did grow up with people who ran in these circles. I was no stranger to the country club, winter in NYC, summer at the summer beach estate crowd. But nothing prepared us for the scale and imagination that went into this weekend. Suffice to say, we spent a small fortune to go — we could have had a brand new car or trip to Europe for the same money — but we all came away feeling like we were royalty and every penny was worth it.
Why? Not just the sumptuous nature of each element of celebrations, but the warmth, welcome, tender and thoughtful care my new nephew’s family put into the entire occasion. They truly are the epitome of kindness and generosity. I like to think that this is the soul of the progressive movement: sharing one’s success with others, unselfishly. My niece is an only child and she just joined a large, effusive, enveloping family who treat her (and us) as if they have known us all our lives and are meant to look out for us as well. She and we couldn’t be luckier and Deanna, Al and I are so grateful that we decided to go and bask in it all.
As is typical in the summer in the Northeast, it rained off and on that Saturday. I had come prepared with fancy umbrellas and sparkling party shoes that were water-resistant. I nervously asked my niece if they were prepared for rain. Hah! The minute the words escaped my mouth, I knew the answer. She said, calmly, with a twinkle, “Aunt Beth, not one drop of rain will touch you, unless you want it to …”. Hmm. How’s that possible, I thought, as I imagined the long driveway and looked out at the deluge during the party the night before. But, when we pulled up, no less than six attendants rushed to the Murano, each opening a door and over head were the most enormous umbrellas I have ever seen. They looked like mobile canopies. I daintily stepped out, bravely leaving my own coverings behind, donned my original shoes — white and glittering — and was ushered to a long, covered path, festooned with lush flowers and sparkling lights, covered in rich white velvet.
In front of me was a long white line of guests, all of us (save one — more on that later) obediently attired in satins, silks, organzas, linens of every shade of neutral you could conceive. There were hundreds of us and the effect against the white mansion and white foam of the sea beyond the lawns was magical. On those lawns were giant decorative bins equipped with individual oversized silk flowered parasols in white, just in case we wanted to wander around the estate, rainless! Amid the lavish seating areas with — presumably — water proof couches, lounge chairs and oversized cushions — were attendants bearing white and gold platters of food and drinks. Also were flower-twined swings and entertainers. Some on stilts, some with animals, others juggling attired in top hats and bedazzled satin costumes in white, black, and deep blood red. It was a visual thunderclap as we rounded each curve to a new and more astonishing scene.
The family constructed an entire raised building on their rear lawn abutting the Atlantic, just for this one party. It had soaring ceilings, was entirely made of glass walls on all sides, held together by a slender steel frame. The floor was carpet and wood. There were dressing rooms with water closets attached, for ladies and gentlemen and inside were gleaming black and white tables interspersed with full sized game animals from Africa.
It looked like a safari soiree, exotic, mysterious, and celebratory. You couldn’t see one end from the other. And on one side stretched the glittering Atlantic, a calm steel gray but dotted with white foam that made it seem as if the ocean was dancing to the live music all afternoon, as it melted into evening, then a black velvet night when the stars appeared somehow right on cue, the clouds having long swept past.
All afternoon and evening, attendants circulated with beverages and delicacies. It seemed impossible to imagine eating dinner, but when the time finally came to sit down, we were treated to the meal one would expect. Sometimes it is hard to envision how food can be elevated to such a new height as to be memorable, but they achieved it this night. Honestly, despite all the places I have eaten, all over the globe, this might have been the tastiest yet.
People milled around, going in and out, all evening long. As the sun set, there was entertainment everywhere you wandered, on the estate. Of course the bar was open, but beverages appeared at your wrist just as you were thinking about them, no matter where you went. Every need was anticipated and beyond this, there was the clear intention of creating joy and delighting the guests. There was not one mishap through the two weeks over which the events stretched, right up to the time we boarded our plane again, filled with memories of the East Coast and our good fortune to have been invited to what has to be the most lavish and imaginative wedding ever held on this continent.
I can’t even begin to describe the live (of course!) music. To start the evening off there was a full classical orchestra. That was followed by blues singers with appropriate instrumental accompaniment, including two grand pianos. Next up: jazz, hip hop, rap, oldies, rock, pop — the stage changed continuously, and if you slipped outside and made your way back along the covered path, you would be privy to acts lining up and ready to file in and perform. We got to see a lot of them up close and personal this way. Everyone was moving, hopping, snapping their fingers, dancing — the entire place was alive with activity and fun, all evening and into the early hours of Sunday morning. Some people never left.
There were guests of honor, celebrities (some of whom you may recognize in these frames), lots of family and friends. The bride and groom had an enormous retinue with 22 bridesmaids and grooms who had all been treated to a day of pampering in preparation for the multiple events. Most of them in their 20s, it must have seemed like a dream.
At some point during the evening, after the dinner plates (including divine desserts) were cleared away, long tables appeared with a variety of stations serving cheeses, cotton candy of all flavors, ice creams with a wild array of toppings, chocolate truffles circulated on gleaming trays, and there was a coffee and tea bar, along with the ever present aperitif bar. No one seemed to notice the time. Everyone was up and dancing or outside enjoying all the entertainment.
It seems that dancing and celebrating burn off calories effortlessly. I didn’t think I could consume another bite but I did and so all this bounty was welcome. Our hosts thought of everything. There was even a design your own candy area.
When I say there was entertainment, I am vastly understating what took place. After multiple musical groups, Cirque du Soleil appeared and performed a private show, customized to the Safari theme. Everyone stood in a circle and gaped.
Aerial acts dropped from the ceiling noiselessly. On the stage we were treated to snake charmers and contortionists. Out on the lawn were people tossing fire balls into the air and juggling them amid self-illuminated gigantic glass globes that glowed and created an other-worldly environment that is hard to describe in mere words. There were also flaming swords that performers dipped in and out of their mouths, making all of us swallow hard! At least, I know I did.
In the midst of all this excitement, we met with some amazing close friends of the family and got a chance to chat with them. They are such lovely people.
It was a rare opportunity to thank two Presidents (one who served eight years and one who won but was denied the chance to move this country forward, by an unfortunate vestige of colonial political atrophy) for their lifelong service to this country and humanity. Here is the one person (apart from the bride and groom) not attired all in white (above). This was likely so the secret service could identify his whereabouts at all times.
Anna was one of the stars of the evening. She not only led the wedding ceremony, she danced her heart out and the groom announced her to be the evening’s winner. That is just how generous he and my niece are. At one point during the evening, Anna showed off her break dancing skills as a circle formed around her, everyone clapping and laughing uproariously.
I left just before midnight and the party went on until Sunday morning. At some point during the evening, before I left, I watched as three enormous barges appeared on the water. Within fifteen minutes, the most spectacular display of fireworks I have ever witnessed, began. All custom to the symbols the bride and groom designed for the event.
I only had my cell phone camera and could barely do justice to what unfolded. In hindsight, I could have brought my camera — other people did. But, the family’s photographers later shared over 1500 stunning photographs with us. I printed and framed a number of them so Anna would have them for the future when she realizes how fortunate she was to be a part of this blowout revelry.
It was hard to drag ourselves away. Deanna and I left “early”. Al and Anna stayed all night and were up and at it the next morning. Everyone was invited back to the estate for a sumptuous breakfast, laid out on spotless white linens with all the offerings one could imagine. Omelets to order, of course, crepes, pancakes, meats, all sorts of cheeses, fruits, potatoes, breads and pastries. You name it, it was there. We got a chance to tell the groom how touched we were by all of it, but most of all, the vows he wrote to my niece. If I were to identify the most moving and eloquent tribute to a woman ever written, his speech would have to be in the top ten. It was poetry and magic. I hope he will always view her this way. She deserves it.
We had to be at Newark Airport by 3 pm, so we grabbed a quick bite (delicious!), said our goodbyes and rushed back down that tortuous Route 95, again stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. I thought LA was bad! Before we left, we took some last pictures of the spectacular home that my niece will be enjoying for the rest of her life. I cannot tell you how happy I am for her that she will share the long and unpredictable life’s journey ahead of her with these supportive and caring people. The way they embraced all of us, and especially Anna, shows you who they really are. Money does not mean selfishness. Selfish people choose to behave that way. Generous people choose the opposite in all respects. If we learned nothing else, we saw that in real time, vividly illustrated.
As we boarded the plane, exhausted and yet exhilarated, we chattered about the events of the past two weeks. No trip we have planned (one upcoming to France) could possibly match this one. We all got to return home where we feel the most like ourselves. We met people who embodied all the best values in the world (kindness, love, welcome, generosity, compassion, joy, positivity, inclusiveness) and even got a chance to thank people we admired from afar. It was an opportunity to see what the imagination can do when the budget is unlimited — that was just for fun. We all agreed we can take pleasure in simple things. But it’s nice to indulge our fantasies, every once in a while, or once in a lifetime.
I thought I would get back to this set much earlier, but honestly the last few months have been frantic. Just being away during the summer for two weeks made everything else late and I was squeezed for time. I apologize!
Where were we? Ah, at Breads, snagging pastries and sandwiches to go on what was probably the most hectic day of the whole trip. We had planned a series of stops to visit old haunts and eat, of course. After Breads, we were headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right around the corner from where Deanna and I went to school decades ago. Anna wanted to see the Egyptian exhibit. I was anxious to fit in a stop at Zabars, but Breads essentially took the oxygen out of that idea (though they are very, very different).
We snaked through Central Park, trying to eat as we drove (always a bad idea). Whenever I was at a stop sign, I whipped out the cell cameras to take whatever shots I could. For us, it was all very familiar and I am happy to say, little has changed on either the Upper West or East Sides.
Deanna estimated they would be at the Met for about 45 minutes. Hah! It turned into almost two hours, because there were long lines for everything. But, to avoid having to pay $25 for the privilege of one-hour parking up there, I thought I would just double park on 81st Street and eat my sandwich in peace while they whipped around the Museum.
Double parking is not for the faint hearted. You should have obscure license plates (check! New Jersey plates on my chariot) and a small, non-descript, nimble little car. Uh. Not so much. The black Murano looked like a Mafia limo. Wherever I tried to put it, it stuck out into the old, small, patrician street like a German tank. I kept moving it around, trying to be unobtrusive and finally found what I thought was the perfect camouflage by a hydrant, in front of a large “cleaning” company van at the front door of an exquisitely appointed greystone manse.
It would have been perfect, had it not been for a diplomatic skirmish that brought a fleet of black-and-whites to that very spot, not fifteen minutes after I had spread my lunch out daintily all over my very upscale travelling duds — all in black and white silk and linen which enjoyed a suction action for crumbs like I have never known before. I was not only in a darkly tinted suspect-looking armorium, but I was covered in detritus and looking rather wild to boot. For almost 40 minutes, I was hemmed in by police, while trying to crane my neck non-chalantly to see what the fuss was about. I detail it on my Flickr pages for this same series, if you are interested.
Since I had nothing to do but wait for all this to subside, I tried to entertain myself by listening to talk radio. Always a mistake. By the end of it, my blood pressure was circling the cloud-cover over the city, I had mild indigestion for wolfing down a complex combo of Maghrebi delicacies, and I was teetering at all times on the brink of a $300 ticket for doubling parking in a foreign mission zone.
By the time Deanna and Anna came bubbling and bouncing down 81st, brimming with extolations for the exhibit, I was a virtual rag. No time for Serendipity and that vaunted ice cream sundae I had been bribing Anna with all week. We had to hit the road for the 50 drive north to the next hotel and be crisp, rested, and festive for that night’s party. Yes, 50 miles/50 minutes give or take. What could go wrong, right? It was only 2 pm when we hit the FDR Drive for what I assured Anna would be a scenic drive up into New England.
Never promise anything, especially to a precocious and high-demand 7 year old!
The drive had to be diverted off the river-hugging FDR and rerouted up through Harlem. Oh. Dear. No.
Now, I have no real problem driving through Harlem from time to time. But, it can be a bit dicey. Three small women in an enormously obtrusive black monster stopped at lights and trying not to stare nor avert a stare is a challenge. Just saying. We made it through, but my nails were digging into the pillows on the steering wheel.
That was the least of our problems. The I-95 is one of the oldest, narrowest, most residential, and least vehicle-friendly roads on earth. There are no shoulders, no extra lanes, no meridien, nothing. Just two skinny asphalt ribbons (for most of it) in each direction for miles and miles and miles out of NYC, to the Canadian border. Add to this any accident and all vehicles come to a complete stop. There is no place to push the car off to. If there are two cars or hades forbid, a truck, and they stop in both lanes — well, you get the picture.
That’s what happened on this particular Friday at what was now the middle of Manhattan exodus hour. Our GPS stewardess took us off the freeway and onto local roads. That was a double-edged sword. It was the only way around what was apparently a five-vehicle pile-up on the northbound side (ours) that had happened a full two hours before we approached the spot itself. That is apparently how long it takes for emergency vehicles to access and clear the problem. We got to see the breathtakingly beautiful residential neighborhoods that flank the freeway north of the City and into Connecticut. Many of them had names with which I was endearingly familiar from my days headed up to school in Upstate New York. On any other day, I would have relished seeing these places again. But, the 50 minute trip took 3 hours.
We dragged ourselves to the hotel at the last minute and of course, the sky opened up in the process, as we took all our “fancy” bags, one by one, from the very distant spot where we had to park, up the perilously steep stone steps of the historic Inn where we were staying that night. Checking in, we had exactly 30 minutes to transform ourselves into New England socialites and get to the party venue on the water, on the other side of town.
That’s when Anna announced that she could not wear the shoes her mother chose for her dress. Just absolutely could not be caught dead in them. So, on the way, we had to find a store with children’s party shoes that would go with her outfit, fit, and satisfy her princessian tastes.
Are you nervous yet?
Well, from one glorious city to another. Here we are in my hometown, New York City. I grew up in Manhattan on Sutton Place and my parents had a house at the Jersey Shore. So, this trip was a homecoming. I plan to cover this epic celebration in three parts. By the way, I didn’t take a camera (high security events) instead bringing two new cell phones, each with amazing cameras, and took the pictures you will see here and in the next two installments.
As you may recall, my niece invited us to her wedding to the son of a prominent billionaire. It was a hard decision to make at first, whether to go or skip it, but we decided to go after all. And all of us are so glad we did. Deanna, Anna, Al, and I went. Geoffrey stayed home with Kevin and the animals. It worked out well for all of us.
The four of us who went are all Northeasteners (well, Anna is a Tarheel, technically). It was old home week. We flew to Newark Airport (my fave), rented an enormous black 2018 Murano (fantastic SUV), piled a freakish amount of luggage into the back, and headed to the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street at Central Park in the city.
I have already mentioned (and it is in my Fall sticky post) that I love The Wales on Madison and 92nd Street, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, for its European boutique hotel qualities and the gorgeous, elegant Carnegie Hill neighborhood where it is located.
But, the many parties scheduled as part of this two-week extravaganza were being held all over the city and parts beyond, so we picked the Plaza for its central location.
One is never disappointed with the Plaza. We had a luxurious suite on a high floor and enjoyed the sybaritic pampering a great hotel provides. They weren’t nonplussed by the bags either. We all made sure to take the best ones we had, dressed for comfort and glam (well, Deanna and I, anyway), and felt right back at home.
Deanna grew up in Tribeca, so she did the hipster end of things; I made sure I looked very Upper East Side. It was fun. Al was Al, wearing the same sloppy clothes he wore in prep school and like all comfortable professionals who enjoyed the proverbial silver spoon, paid no attention to what he wore whatsoever. Now that’s self-confidence!
The week in Manhattan and environs was a crazy chaotic mix of rushing from one event to another, finding parking, battling traffic, sightseeing, nostalgia treks, and eating. How we did it I don’t know, but we were motivated.
If I were to tell you I had no idea what a billionaire’s wedding could be like, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. Nothing I could have dreamed up could possibly come close to the way they did this, which I will probably elaborate on a bit more in the next post.
Meanwhile, we ate our way through Manhattan.
We went to some old standbys but also to a few new ones like Breads, an Israeli bakery chain with three shops in Manhattan. In addition to having the most incredible breads, including all the usual specialties like Challah and Babka, there are sandwiches, spreads, pastries, cookies, soups and salads — all delicious and unique.
I was dying to try their Tunisian Sandwich and so we all went there and stuffed ourselves, bringing back bags of baked goods jammed into our suitcases.
As we rushed from the tip to the top of the city, we were all struck by how much new building was going on, particularly the stunning new neighborhood that has replaced the run down “meat market” of the Chelsea district of Manhattan on the West Side. It’s now filled with beautiful futuristic architecture and an elevated pedestrian play ground called the High Line that runs on for about a mile and a half.
The High Line is flanked by new co-op and rental luxury apartments, office buildings, and upscale shops and restaurants. All are one story above ground level and spreading. There are views of the Hudson River to the West and proximity to some of the newest urban richster watering holes with all the latest cafes, design-your-own juice bars, sky clubs, rocking music hideaways — the works — that any 21st century sensibility could want. We all agreed, if we were to move back to the City, we would live in Hudson Yards.
And to make matters even more fun, while we were idling waiting for our iced frappucinos to be ready, Michael Avenatti walked right past us! Deanna wanted me to talk to him, but I am not star struck and figured he wouldn’t necessarily like to be way-laid on his brisk walk to some chill destination. It would be just like Avenatti to live in Hudson yards. Dressed in dark slacks and a crisp white shirt, he looked exactly as he does on television but larger than life, somehow.
We sped down to Ground Zero to see the Freedom Tower, then to Battery Park Conservancy so Anna could ride on the SeaGlass Carousel there. Then we visited the Maiden Lane building on Wall Street that Geoff’s father had bought, with his 70th floor penthouse office, so Anna could see that too. Then we raced up Broadway to hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art so Deanna could take Anna to the Egyptian Room there.
And this was just the first few days! I will try not to wear you out all at once. More coming up in Parts Two and Three, so stay with me.
Images: Chez BeBe Assets: New York City
All summer long I have been thinking of all of you and meaning to add a new post. I hope you have all been well.
One of the things that has prompted this post is the fact that our best friends in the neighborhood, who arrived on our street when we did years back, are moving to a fancier, cooler part of Los Angeles. It was funny when I found out, as I saw them bustling around the front yard and trucks pulling up to haul away boxes, that I felt a strange sense of being abandoned.
Probably some of the reason is they are the only other openly progressive people on our block. Another reason is they did so many thoughtful things for us over the years, and we tried to reciprocate. They aren’t selling, but renting the house out for an obscene amount of money — which is a good thing, because where they are going, it will take an equally obscene amount of money.
We had been thinking about moving too. Not to somewhere else in LA (I do plan to move to the Channel Islands neighborhood of Oxnard some day, just to get closer to the water and more temperate climes) but completely out of the country. You probably know why.
One place high on our list has always been Canada, especially Vancouver Island. Another was Denmark, but I have decided being too close to Putinville is not smart. Deanna just got back from a trip to Ireland, screaming its praises. Since we are all Irish (well, half, anyway), that sounded good to me. Our problem is the business that sustains us, Geoffrey and me, is not portable. Deanna and Al can go anywhere. Sigh.
So, then I thought about the places I love in this country (except for the people who apparently think it is a good idea to take children away from their parents and then terrorize them. Why would I want to be around Americans like these?).
Everyone knows how I feel about New York, both Upstate and down. I really like San Diego — truly a hidden gem. North Carolina is gorgeous, but, well, we won’t discuss it right now. Vermont? Used to love it, but can’t stand guns and that is a big gun state. Massachusetts — meh, too expensive. Love Boston but can’t afford it. Washington State’s a possibility, but if I go that far, I might as well keep right on going to Vancouver.
Back to California, the lone state that has its head screwed on straight. Where else do I love in California? San Francisco. Yup, Oakland is where I would live, but there is something special about Rice-a-Roni town that nowhere else can match.
We took a trip this past winter because I had to attend a professional conference. Geoffrey, Deanna, Al, their kids and I piled into my new Volvo and drove up. That was grueling — six hours of flat land and fog.
We were wrung out by the time we arrived, but it is amazing how the sight of the Bay Bridge revived us and we stayed up all that night, eating!
If you are going to travel between Los Angeles and the Bay area, try to take the coastal, not the inland, route. Far more interesting. It adds hours and you will want to stop overnight. I would do that in Big Sur. Stay at the Ventana Inn — treat yourself to a hot tub under the stars and fabulous food.
Just a suggestion. If you are in a super hurry, take the 5 Freeway north all the way, stopping halfway at Harris Ranch for food and fuel.
Clean, lovely (when the wind is in the right direction — it’s a working cattle farm) and comfortable. When we were there, we saw eleven Teslas lined up, charging, as there is a free station there and a lounge just for Tesla owners. It was cool. None of us were smart enough to take a picture, so you will have to use your imagination.
A trip to San Francisco in the winter immerses one in a panoply of atmospheres. It was variably foggy, mizzly (misty drizzle), sunny, hot, cool, dry and soft. Luckily the temperature doesn’t drop or rise too much, so a light sweater and water-resistant shoes will do the trick. No one uses umbrellas in California. Remember that or you will scream turista.
Typically, we stay in the East Bay (Oakland-Berkeley). But, the conference was in Embarcadero, so I chose the Marriott Marquis on Mission Street. Such a fabulous hotel — really a mini-city on about three square blocks above and below ground. All the lectures and meetings were subterranean in a labyrinth of corridors and rooms that the hotel smartly planned so they could maximize their footprint.
There was a fire drill at one point (false alarm, actually) and we were rushed out of our lecture, down winding halls and up a short flight of stairs, emerging at a park blocks and blocks away from the front entrance to the hotel.
What I love about the Marriotts is how customer-oriented they are. You simply drive up and attendants rush out to take care of your every need. We had an embarrassing number of bags and other paraphernalia. It took three of those enormous rolling brass carts to take all our things up to the rooms. We actually got a suite. What luxury (but so reasonably priced, we were sure they made a mistake). If you can, go when your have some affiliation with a group.
The other behavioral specialists who organized the convention/conference, ordered a huge block of accommodations that made it all so affordable that the suite came out to be the price of a regular room. We didn’t have a great view, but we had a full kitchen, huge marble bathroom, and beds galore. Enormous closets, icemaker in the room. It was almost sybaritic, despite being ordinary.
The location in Embarcadero couldn’t have been more ideal. We were surrounded by museums and shops, restaurants, stores, interesting sights, the list was almost endless. There was the usual eclectic architecture, iconic cable cars, China Town, Little Italy, the wharf — all within walking distance.
The hotel itself had three or four places to eat, including a skybar and restaurant with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city that everyone crowds into at sunset.
If you travel to San Francisco, you won’t need guide books or my recommendations. Your phone has it all and no one can compete with the updates. Just ask for, let’s say, Indian food near you or great coffee (Peets is it!) and you will be within a few feet of all the best places, I assure you. Luckily, if you choose this part of town, there will be many excellent possibilities in every category.
What else do I love about this town? Friendly animal-loving people, open-minded, fun-loving, tolerant, helpful, unfazed by anything. No one judges you, just like NYC. What a cultural mecca loaded with libraries and the arts. I cannot think of a single thing it is missing — maybe snow. How’s that for a deal?
Building is in progress everywhere, the old and the new blending seamlessly. Yes, there are homeless people and everyone seems to accept them and not make them feel like freaks. Yes, there are people with blue hair and elbow rings, practically naked, or adorned in haute couture.
You will hear every language imaginable and smell exotic fragrances from perfumed maryjane to frangipani blossom desserts. I’ll stop raving and let the photographs do my talking.
Love you all! More in the fall.
Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Francisco