March in New York: A Few Favorites

The story of New York City in March was thus: the weather was schizophrenic (is it spring? Is it winter? Who can say?) and I brunched a lot.

Okay, there was a little more than that.

To start, I visited the Brooklyn Flea at its indoor, winter location in Crown Heights. The Flea is overwhelming: so much to see, so much to eat. I coveted everything yet bought nothing, indecisive as ever about my home décor choices.

A friend and I were lucky enough to score pretty sweet seats at Madison Square Garden for some tennis exhibition matches: Gabriela Sabatini vs. Monica Seles, and Roger Federer vs. Grigor Dimitrov. While the ladies put on a good show, let’s be honest: I was there for Fed. He – and Dimitrov – did not disappoint; there was some awesome shotmaking for it being an exhibition, particularly an unreal sequence of back-to-back tweeners.

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I spent a lovely afternoon at the New York Botanical Garden for the Orchid Show. The orchids were unreal – just so, so beautiful.

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I also wandered through Soho – an area I don’t think I’ll ever tired of, despite how crowded it can be – one Sunday after brunch. Those distinctive Soho storefronts just don’t get old.

Speaking of flowers, I was delighted to see New York’s many, many corner flower shops take off their covers for the season. It’s such a small thing, but every time I pass one while out and about, it brightens my day just a little bit.

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The return of flowers was quickly followed – but of course! – by confusion, as spurts of good March weather were followed up with snow:

And, as I mentioned, it was a good month for brunching. At Sunshine Co. in Brooklyn, I had an awesome brussels sprout hash with bacon, potato, onions, poached eggs, smoked paprika, and toast.

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At Jack’s Wife Freda, my sister and I braved a long-ish wait, but I didn’t mind: this spot had been on my “must try” list for a while. I ordered the Jack’s Breakfast: 2 eggs, skirt steak, and sourdough toast; the skirt steak was on point, particularly the chimichurri sauce that came with it. We also each had a Pimm’s Cup, thus keeping with my longstanding rule to always order a Pimm’s Cup whenever a menu offers one.

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At The Smith, where my best friend and I headed after an early morning viewing of Cinderella (a cute but not particularly memorable movie), I enjoyed the pancakes with salted caramel sauce at the restaurant that is quickly becoming one of my UWS staples.

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I headed to the East Village to eat at Narcissa, a cute little restaurant nestled alongside The Standard Hotel. We ordered a box of donuts for the table; I was expecting donut holes but was surprised when we received legit donuts (they were delicious). My broccoli and bacon frittata, served piping hot, was pretty good too.

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And perhaps the most exciting event of March was this: I booked a vacation! Norway and Finland, here I come. Cheers to a successful month, and to the next adventure!


Previous months-in-review for 2015: January and February

Two Days in Fair Verona

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As I mentioned in my last post, I adored Verona. For a relatively small town, it’s packed with so much to do, to see, and to eat. Here’s how I spent my two days in the city.

Wandering the Charming Streets

The thing that is guaranteed to be among my favorite pastimes in pretty much any city – walking the streets and admiring colorful buildings – was even better in Verona. It’s hard to explain how much I loved the city without returning, again and again, to adjectives that already get heavy play around these parts: charming, colorful, lovely, and so forth. And yet, that’s exactly what Verona was. I could have very happily wandered around town for quite some time.

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Battling the Tourists at Juliet’s Balcony

The site known as Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House, draws considerable crowds to Verona – despite the small fact that Juliet’s purported balcony was only constructed in the 20th century. Yep, this place is decidedly a tourist trap, with crowds to match. Still, I felt I had to pay it a visit.

A few things about this place stick out. First, the tunnel to the courtyard and the walls of the courtyard are filled with love messages – there is literally no space left empty. What exactly are the love messages on? Locks, scraps of paper, gum (!), and band-aids (!!). It’s kitschy and, quite frankly, a bit gross.

Second, the courtyard is a zoo. Tourists crowd around the statue of Juliet, queuing for the chance to rub her right breast for luck. And getting a picture of the famed balcony without a tourist standing on it, waving to their loved ones below holding cameras? It requires more than a little patience.

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Climbing to the Top of the Roman Arena

The Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheater dating back to the 1st century, is nothing short of spectacular. However, I visited right after opera season ended, an unfortunate occurrence for two reasons: 1) I narrowly missed out on seeing an opera there (add one to the bucket list for the future) and 2) It appeared that they were deconstructing the opera setup, meaning that scaffolding and cranes were everywhere. Even somewhat under construction, though, the arena was an impressive sight.

I visited first thing in the morning, dodging school groups as I made my way to the top of the arena. From up there, I was able to take in stunning views – of the arena itself, and of the surrounding Piazza Bra.

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Visiting Sant’Anastasia

One thing I’ve often said before is that sometimes I just get “churched out” in Europe – even when I know that a church is historical and important, there comes a certain point where all churches start to blend together and become unremarkable. Of course, there are exceptions to this, and Sant’Anastasia felt like one of them. I loved the columns with frescoes on them, the cream, amber, and grey tiles on the floor, and the murals adorning the church’s high ceiling. It was a beautiful space, and it felt like it had that extra something that many churches are missing.

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Taking in the Views from Atop Torre dei Lamberti

“Che bella Verona!” the little girl screamed as she ran up the final steps to the very top of Torre dei Lamberti. “Che bella Verona!”

I had to agree. Verona is a beautiful city, and while the street-level views were impressive, it was just as breathtaking from above. Making my way to the top of Torre dei Lamberti was totally worth it; the 6 euro elevator ride to the top felt like a steal.

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Eating Well at Verona’s Restaurants

I always expect to eat well most anywhere in Italy, just as a general proposition. Yet, I didn’t think of Verona as a particularly foodie-oriented destination, in the same class as culinary giants like Bologna.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved most every meal I had while in town – Verona does food quite well, it turns out. My favorites included pumpkin ravioli at Cangrande for lunch, pasta rolls with scampi and prawns at Cangrande for dinner (yes, I loved the restaurant so much I returned for a second meal), pizza (and a post-meal espresso) at Osteria Sottoriva, a gigantic plate of prosciutto and melon at Torcolo (yes, I swear there’s melon hiding under there), and my breakfast each morning at Hotel Torcolo (amazing grapefruit juice, cappuccino, and a croissant with liberal helpings of Nutella).

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Poking Around Il Duomo 

Unlike the Duomo in Florence, Verona’s own Duomo was – to me, at least – not that impressive; I far preferred Sant’Anastasia when it came to Veronese churches. One cool thing the Duomo had going for it, however, was that the ruins of the old church were contained in a side building. It was interesting to take a peek at those, and to walk around the corner and see the cloisters. If there’s anything that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that I’m a sucker for a good cloisters.

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Surviving a Rainstorm with Gourmet Gelato

Let’s be honest: I would have stopped into Pretto for gourmet, artisanal gelato regardless, but the fact that it coincided with a pretty epic rainstorm sealed the deal. As I enjoyed my gelato (a combination of lemon with licorice and vanilla, hazelnut, and caramel with saffron), I looked out onto Piazza delle Erbe and watched as the rain pummeled unfortunate pedestrians and the gusts of wind toppled tables and umbrellas. A perfectly timed snack, if I do say so myself.

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Strolling Along the Adige River

Another lovely area of Verona: the spot where the Ponte Pietra spans the Adige River. I loved the blocks around this spot – archways, flowers, and cute little restaurants. A walk along the river was the perfect way to work off some post-lunch calories.

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While Verona may not be up there on everyone’s must-see list along with Venice, Rome, and Florence, I found myself taken aback by how impeccable damn near everything about the city was: the streets were gorgeous (freaking gorgeous!!), the food excellent across the board, and the people friendly. Verona was a joy, plain and simple.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 141

The weekly list of awesome:

  1. Nailed it: Serena Williams’s Version of “7/11″ Is a Grand Slam. And isn’t Serena’s Vogue cover fantastic as well?
  2. James Corden is adorable: Mariah Carey Carpool Karaoke.
  3. I found this interview highly entertaining, though I’m sure she would scoff at my own sartorial choices: “Yoga Pants Are Ruining Women” and Other Style Advice from Fran Lebowitz.
  4. Tappin’ my feet: This Mash-Up of Famous Dance Scenes Is Your New Favorite Video.
  5. I can’t: 18 Puppies Looking at Their Futures.
  6. The fact that a Golden Girls crochet pattern exists makes me want to learn to crochet: 20 Amigurumi Crochet Patterns You’ll Want.
  7. Cool idea: This App Makes Your Phone Buzz When You Approach Places Where Women Made History.
  8. That moment when you’re watching the Broad City season finale and get excited because Abbi and Ilana are eating at Kenka and you’ve eaten there too: Pay Homage to Abbi and Ilana with Salon’s Comprehensive Broad City Walking Tour.
  9. Love her: Judy Greer’s Advice for Women in Their 20s.
  10. Take me back: 20 Reasons You Should Drop Everything and Go to Switzerland.

(Image via)

Verona: From Piazza to Piazza to Piazza

Verona

Here is a short list of what I knew about the city of Verona before arriving:

  1. It’s near Venice.
  2. It’s home to lots of Roman ruins.
  3. It contains the tourist trap balcony purporting to be Juliet’s.
  4. It was the setting for one of my favorite cheesy rom-coms, Letters to Juliet.

If I’m being honest here, #4 was the reason that got me most excited to visit, and that’s probably a thin reason for planning to stay a few days in a place.

Almost as soon as I arrived, however, I realized one important truth: I loved Verona, actually. And it had nothing to do with any of the aforementioned things. Nope, it was something even simpler than that: Verona is beautiful. Like, really, really stunning. Like, pinch-me-I’m-in-Italy-is-this-a-fairytale levels of gorgeousness.

One of the reasons Verona is so damn lovely is that it happens to be an eminently walkable collection of piazzas, each one home to colorful buildings and a flurry of activity. And so, in Verona, “piazza hopping” – wandering from one piazza to another – became a simple pleasure of mine, an activity to savor.

My hotel was near Piazza Bra, and so that was the piazza I happened upon first. Piazza Bra lies in the shadow of the Verona Arena – more on that later – and is lined with brightly-hued buildings and cafés with outdoor seating. The piazza is also home to a small park, the perfect spot for a mid-afternoon (or mid-morning; let’s be real) gelato break.

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Of all Verona’s piazzas, my favorite had to be Piazza delle Erbe. Its buildings have a shabby, well-worn quality that reminded me of Rome – they’re not sleek and shiny facades, but that’s exactly why I loved them. Piazza delle Erbe also hosts a market whose stalls are lined with an eclectic mix of foods, drinks, and knick knacks. Need a miniature bust of Pope Francis? I know where you can find one…

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And finally, tucked away just off Piazza delle Erbe, I found Piazza dei Signori: quiet, unassuming, and lovely. In the shadow of Torre dei Lamberti and with a statue of Dante in the middle of the square, this peaceful spot was great for people watching. It seemed that every time I stopped by, the square was dominated by soccer players: groups of small children, with the occasional parent or grandparent joining in.

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Of all the new-to-me spots I visited in Italy this time around, Verona holds a special place in my heart, and just may be my new favorite Italian discovery. Verona is not particularly flashy, but it was just right for what I most wanted to do: stroll around and soak up that fact that I was in bella Italia.

Varenna: A Tiny Town to Remember

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I have always been a hoarder of memories: writing in journals, crafting scrapbooks, compiling photo books, and maintaining (more or less) this very blog. I’m not sure where this obsessive drive comes from, exactly, but if I were to psychoanalyze myself – a dicey proposition – I might guess that it boils down to a fear of forgetting, a need to create some record of the fact that I was here (cue Queen Bey).

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What, then, don’t I want to forget about Varenna, that colorful little enclave on the shores of Lake Como? Well, for starters, the things I’ve already written about: the serene boat ride around the lake and the sublime food at Il Caminetto. But there are other moments, too.

I wouldn’t want to forget Varenna’s waterside promenade, a path I trod many times during my two days in town. The path itself – flower-lined, well-maintained – was lovely, but lovelier still were the views of crystal clear Lake Como, its skies blue and its waters dotted with sailboats.

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I wouldn’t want to forget the tiny, narrow, and, above all, steep streets of town. I got my cardio in while in Varenna, but it was worth it: colorful buildings, cute little balconies, friendly piazzas, and flowers dangling everywhere.

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I wouldn’t want to forget the kindest B&B owner in the world, who enthusiastically offered recommendations about all his favorite restaurants in Varenna, or the gorgeous view from said B&B, looking up into the mountains, dotted with skinny, tall pine trees, just beyond Varenna.

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I wouldn’t want to forget the feeling of utter relaxation that overcame me while sipping an aperol spritz as I sat overlooking the water. After months of bar prep, sitting by the sea in sleepy Varenna was exactly what I needed. Drinking cocktails in Italy, at sunset, when you have literally no other responsibilities and no place else to be? The best.

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And I definitely wouldn’t want to forget the sunsets in Varenna – oh, the sunsets. The stunning colors of the sky and the rich hues of the harbor at dusk were nothing short of magical. When something looks like a painting but is actually 100% real life, that’s when you know you have hit the jackpot.

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Most of all, I wouldn’t want to forget one of my very favorite travel feelings: what it is like to arrive in a place with almost zero expectations – outside a vain hope of glimpsing George and Amal – and be completely delighted with what I find. Varenna is not the most exciting, action-packed destination, but if you’re looking to unwind? It’s damn near perfect.

Among the Orchids at NYBG

NYBG Orchid Show

As soon as I heard about The Orchid Show at New York Botanical Garden, I knew I had to go. Photographs from the exhibit looked exquisite: chandeliers of orchids, in a variety of vibrant colors, dangling from the ceilings. Having never met a flower I didn’t want to photograph (exhibit A), it was clear this was a must-visit.

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I made my way up to the Bronx on a MetroNorth train from Grand Central (the train stops right at the garden, making it a pretty convenient option). It rained all day on Saturday, but being tucked away with the orchids inside the Haupt Conservatory, I didn’t much mind. Plus, anything that dissuades crowds from showing up somewhere is a winner in my book.

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Once inside the conservatory, the magic began. The exhibit is huge, winding its way through the entirety of the conservatory. I tend to think of orchids as purple or pink, but there were more varieties here on display here than I could have imagined. Signs throughout the exhibit were incredibly informative but, to be honest, I didn’t spend much time poring over them: I was more content to wander and soak all the beauty in.

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As is evident from this post, I took a tremendous amount of photos at the exhibit; in fact, the pictures posted here are only a fraction of what is on my camera roll. This was truly one of the most impressive flower displays I have ever seen.

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The Orchid Show runs through April 19 at NYBG. I highly recommend making a trip before the exhibit closes!

Philadelphia: A Snowy Stroll Through Elfreth’s Alley

Timing is, apparently, not my strong suit. I had wanted to visit Philadelphia for what seemed like forever (forever being the time since I learned it was only about a one hour train ride from Manhattan), yet I wound up going on what turned out to be one of the coldest weekends in memory. Bitter wind, freezing temperatures, and snow all made appearances, turning the weekend into a constant battle: the part of me that wanted to visit every spot on my list versus the part of me that wanted to curl up in a coffee shop and hibernate. The latter often won, but I did still manage to visit several awesome places in the Philadelphia tundra.

Perhaps my favorite Philadelphia discovery was, predictably, Elfreth’s Alley. Known as America’s oldest residential street – it dates back to 1702 – Elfreth’s Alley presents a full-on charm offensive: brick buildings with colorful doors and shutters, cobblestone streets, and vintage letterboxes.

I think I wound up photographing every single house. Some might call that going overboard, but I couldn’t help it: not only is Elfreth’s Alley America’s oldest street, it just might also be its cutest as well, even in the freezing cold.

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