DC Free Date Ideas

Following up on the list I created for London Free Date Ideas, I crafted a list of some unique things to fo in the District. Let’s face it, DC is expensive, we enjoy paying 10% sales tax and $4 for a single taco. Lots of people get stumped on free things to do beyond going to Smithsonian Museums and cherry blossoms at the monuments so hopefully, this list can help you out.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties on a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also, it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

1. Museums, there are more museums out there than the Smithsonian’s it’s true I promise! However, starting with the gems so generously run by the government my favorites that are a little lesser known and might woo a potential interest are the Hirshhorn, Sackler Gallery, Renwick, and the National Building Museum.  Currently, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition is about to open at the Hirshhorn and it is going to be an incredible interactive exhibit. Beyond the Smithsonians are the donation based private collections and gardens that can be tricky to find but worth the research. I recently just learned about the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which can dazzle with their manicured, beautiful landscaping and quirky art collection. The Phillips Collection also likes to sprinkle surprise free days throughout the year so keep alert for those.

img_1275-1img_1282

2. Art Galleries, on top of all the museums and art collections, commercial art galleries can be a great place to score some free food, wine, and see not priceless but very pricey works of art. You and your date can pretend to peruse for your humble DC shack which can add to all the fun. Some great galleries that consistently hold receptions are Longview Gallery, Morton Fine Art, Foundry Gallery and Transformer.

3. Franciscan Monastery, way out in Brookland, not Brooklyn (see entire post here), is the Franciscan Monastery. You can meander through the beautiful buildings and wooded gardens for hours. The roses are absolutely beautiful when in bloom and the monastery is so serene and peaceful. It is the perfect location for a calm stroll.

4.  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, while out in Brookland make it a catholic themed date and head to the basilica which boasts a less humble gorgeous church with a very interesting crypt free for exploring underneath.

5. Washington National Cathedral, I know these three locales are feeling very religious for dates I think most people are comfortable absorbing beautiful architecture and buildings rich in history. Even though I am not Christian, I find churches very spiritual and impressive in their holy stature. Nearer to downtown resides the National Cathedral, a gothic inspired cathedral that really rounds out the entire church tour of the District. It is best to catch the cathedral at sunrise or sunset because the arches cast the most beautiful shadows on the small passageways.You can splurlge on a cup of coffee at the Open City at the National Cathedral and wonder around the petite Bishop’s Garden.

img_1311 img_1313 img_1312 img_3294

6. National Arboretum, this not-so-obscure spot is classic first date material. There is just enough nature, history, and bonsai serenity. The arboretum can get crowded on the weekends so try to pick a weekday to visit or arrive nice and early. The fields and paths are perfect for ambling and the columns from the original capitol building are especially photogenic when the wildflowers are in bloom in front of them. For an arboretum, there is not an overly impressive amount of tree species but the bonsai collection is quite divine.

img_4800 img_4798

7. Capitol Tour, as I mentioned in my previous date guide there is nothing wrong with geeking out a little bit when going out, in fact, it’s highly encouraged. You can make arrangments with your state’s representative to go on a guided tour of the capitol with a political savvy intern and see the impressive Capitol in all it’s splendor A capitol tour is a nice alternative to the tired old stroll around the mall–looking at monuments you and your friend have probably visited on numerous occasions.

img_4970

8. Meridian Hill Park, one of my favorite parks in DC is a great place to have a picnic or rendezvous. The fountains (when on) are spectacular. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and intimate places to find around the park. Meridian Hill is also a hotspot for dog watching and who doesn’t love a cute pup to cuddle with?

img_2608img_2424

img_2064

9. Roosevelt IsIland, a naturally romantic spot and a romatic nature spot. Roosevelt Island is a hidden gem that is great for trail runs and walks. You can access it via a jaunt along the waterfront and over the Key Bridge or by weaving past the Kennedy Center. The Georgetown Waterfront way is more picturesque but there is something a little thrilling about the narrow walkway on the Memorial Bridge. There are so many cool views of DC and Rosslyn that you can’t get from anywhere else and the dense thicket of trees makes you feel for a moment that you have escaped the slabs of marble and concrete that envelope DC. Bring a snack and sit on the wooden boardwalk in warm weather for an added bonus.

img_2571 img_2573 img_2572 img_2463

10. Thrifting at Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop, not entirely, but always free to look is some antiquing and thrifting. Georgia Avenue has racks and racks of clothes that are perfect for a little game of dress up and laughs about bad fashion over the decades. You might also venture to the back to see what odds and ends are for sale including random bits of furniture, parts of china sets, lamp shades and other wonderful artifacts. Try hunting for the strangest items you can find or relics of childhood–these are great conversation starters.

11. Union Market Sampling, it’s like going to a farmer’s market that you can enjoy year round. Union market has dozens of vendors (68 to be exact)  hawking their food and wares each day and offering up tasty samples of everything from olive oil to chocolate and soap to cheese. There are so many interesting things to try and it’s a great spot for intriguing people watching. It is quite possible if you hit the sampling right to not spend any money and get a decent meal in, or at least get some creative ideas for your own cooking. Union Market makes for a colorful culinary adventure and they market also has pop-up events such as live music or painting classes.

12. Dolcezza Factory Tour, like gelato? Enjoy seeing the mechanics behind how food is made? Crave fresh made soft serve? Well all your dreams can come true with a tour of the Dolcezza Gelato Factory. Located right behind Union Market, the factory holds tours on the weekend so you can make the most of your NoMa adventure and do Union Market sampling in the morning and gelato in the afternoon. It’s always a treat to have those cool how it’s made moments and witness them with someone else who has a sweet tooth or is an avid fan of production processes.

13. Brewery Tours, since I am from Boulder, the land of microbreweries I can’t say that DC is a beer town but the District is no slouch when it comes to having enough breweries for a create your own brewery tour. My favorites are 3 Stars, Right Proper and DC Brau. 3 Stars has beautiful large format beers in a cute small space with bright exposed lightbulbs and a no-frills atmosphere. Tours are Saturday at 2pm, 3pm, & 4pmTours and are free and open to the public c with valid 21+ ID. Right Proper has a very great date spot in their Brew Pub and Kitchen in Shaw but you can go see where the magic happens for free at their Brookland Production House and Tasting Room. Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm and are completely free with tastes. They describe their tasting space so aptly that I am going to leave the quote to them, “our tasting room offers a view of the brewery in a cozy space filled with reclaimed cherry wood and a slightly disturbing chalk art mural.” Who can say no to disturbing chalk art? It is sure to make anyone at least more interested in you. Tour of DC Brau (not my favorite beer but local and fun) are free and on Saturday at 1, 2. 3 and 4pm. Their brewery space is awesome and filled with great merch, decals and has rotating guest food trucks in the back.

14. Congressional Cemetery, it may sound morbid to go to a cemetery on a date but I actually find graveyards so peaceful and relaxing. You can have your own Harold and Maude moment while learning about some interesting history. The grounds are very well-maintained and sometimes they host movie nights with spooky classics. For a first date or excursion best to visit in the day time but if you want to go at dawn or dusk that adds to the mystery and quiet solemness.

15. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, see full post here. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a rare nature retreat within the city limits. When the lilypads are in bloom, the swampy wetlands are incredible. The gardens show an adventurous, sensitive side all wrapped into one.

img_3394 img_3379 img_3393 img_3380

Guest Post from Jesse Hartman: The food we missed in Amsterdam

The travel posts return after a long hiatus. Back with my brother, Jesse Hartman taking a quick trip to  Amsterdam from Tel Aviv, his current home base. He really did the food game right so visit my post here and combine for a complete travel plan for the proper Dutch culinary and cultural experience.

A cut-rate round-trip flight on Turkey’s finest offering, Air Pegasus, served as the perfect backdrop for a quick trip to Amsterdam, and the craziness departing from Ben Gurion Airport complimented the journey nicely. Shortly after learning that my roommate Aaron and myself would not be on the same first leg from Tel Aviv (though we were reunited in Istanbul several hours later), a wildly irresponsible fry cook at Burger Ranch decided it would be a good idea to start a grease fire in Terminal 3, delaying Aaron’s flight to dangerously close to missing the final leg from Turkey. With that behind us, along with a decent döner we landed and sped off to our hotel in the heart of Amsterdam.

Arriving around 11:30pm would usually pose challenges, but a quick check in and we were off to our first coffeeshop and food encounters. A quick disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and bore you good reader with perpetual pot talk, nor would foul up a very nice blog, so it happened, joints were smoked, let’s move on. Just a 10-minute walk from our rooms was Burger Bar, part of a small chain that stays open until 3am! I went for the Angus burger topped with cheddar, mushrooms and jalepano, and of course their house sauce, complimented very nicely with a side of fries, that would be the first of many consumed throughout the trip.

Our first full day began with a quest to find a golden-brown holy grail of street food: the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel is basically a honey and syrup sandwich with two freshly griddled waffle cones as the bread. We strode over to Lanskroon Bakery where Aaron housed a normal offering and I sampled the coffee caramel version. On the back of the near diabetic shock and a pleasant cappuccino, we head off to Vondelpark for lounging and enjoying the mid-spring sun. Around the corner is Peperwortel, a small deli-like storefront with prepared foods that the cashier kindly heated for us. We enjoyed quiche, lasagna and some chicken wings on the side of the café, deliciously refueling for our next trek and a trek it most certainly was. At the end of the half-hour wind through the canals and beautiful architecture, we arrive at Brouwerij ‘TJ, a local beer maker housed in an old windmill. We each imbibed a flight and I thought the Columbus Amber Ale was the pick of the 5 from an interesting brewery that offers only beers that are unfiltered and unpasteurized and several organic options as well. After the beer, it was on to Skek, a cozy student-run bar, for amazing bitterballen (fried mince-meat croquettes) and delightful live music. The final nightcap was a stumble to the hilariously named Manneken Pis from Flemish-style fries, where Aaron went with a more classic sauce choice and I opted to combining saté and curry sauce.

Our middle day got off to another fantastic culinary start as we walked to Winkel Café for the best apple pie in Amsterdam. I had been on my first trip, but it was no less tasty the second time. Heading to Winkel put us in the hip and slightly less mainstream Jordaan neighborhood, where we each spent a wise 5 euros to spend some time at the Tulip Museum. After a quick and humorous discussion with a museum employee, Aaron and I were convinced to take a decently lengthy 90 minute trip out to Keukenhof, one of Europe’s largest flower gardens. Of course, we had to get properly supplied and quickly found ‘t Kuyltji, for one of the better sandwiches I’ve had the good fortune of tasting. Along the way, FEBO catches my eye- a Dutch fast-food takeaway shop where for a two-euro coin you open the display case and chow down on a small kroket or hamburger. Once at the gardens, we dove into our sandwiches. Aaron sprung for the pastrami and cheese, and I decided on the prime rib: Salty, simple and delicious, as well as filling for coming in a smaller portion. Upon our return, it’s another trip to Manneken for an afternoon snack of fries before some down time back at the room.

IMG_4421

On a recommendation from other American friends from Netanya, we attempted to go to Café de Klos for ribs, but were rudely greeted at the door. Look, I understand 90-minute waits happen, but at least tell us where to stand or get a drink or take our name down… This setback turns into an excellent turnaround as we decided on Sampurna for rijstaffel, an Indonesian cuisine consisting of several small plates fired out at us in almost overwhelming fashion. Roasted meats, fresh vegetables and different styles of peanut sauces all merged perfectly together as we plucked them off the hot plate. The evening only went up as we went to Bourbon Street for live jazz, highlighted by a superb rendition of “Get Down on It”. Some late-night pool and foosball back at the hotel was in order before recharging for our final day.

IMG_4422

With a pretty glaring hole in my food plans for a final breakfast, Aaron came through in the clutch by finding Omlegg, a small restaurant about 10 minutes walk away. After a quick wait, we ducked inside just before the drizzle outside turned into something more ominous. An omelet for Aaron and a croissant-egg sandwich for me and we were off to the Albert Cuypmarket, a large open-air farmers’ market brimming with food options and tchotchkes. I go in for a 3-euro open-faced smoked herring sandwich, which truly was one of my favorite foods of the whole trip and both of us couldn’t resist another crack at a stroopwafel. After a final burger at The Butcher, which honestly wasn’t spectacular- I thought Burger Bar was better, we head to the museums with a cold, gray day serving as the perfect motivation to do just that. We explored the Dutch arm of St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum and caught an exhibit on Spanish masters, including El Greco, Velasquez and De Goya. From there, it was on to the beautiful Jewish History Museum at the former site of the Great Synagogue and then to Amersterdam’s Museum of Modern Art which had bizarre monochromatic canvases side-by-side with more famous names such as Van Gogh and Mondrian.

IMG_4423

One final stop at Winkel and another perfectly convenient train ride and we arrived back at the airport to return home. It was a splendid trip; Amsterdam truly has a little bit for everyone. A few stones remain unturned; I’ve still yet to see the Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House, and perhaps I can return again some time. Meanwhile I’ll have to settle for dreams of stroopwafel and street herring as I await my next traveling adventure.

London Free Date Ideas

Recently, my friend was complaining on how expensive it was to take someone out on a date in London. I challenged him that this city was full of wonderful free date ideas that ranged from art to food, parks to museums, and so much more.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties in a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

  1. Go to a posh open house. Think strolling through Ikea in 500 Days of Summer is cute? Try touring a beautiful flat pretending to be a perspective buyer or my personal favorite-daughter looking on behalf of a rich aunt. You will typically find free food, drink, and entry to a neighborhood you would otherwise be seen as riff raff in. It’s a good laugh.
  2. Museums, duh, this is an easy one as almost all the museums in London are free. Spice if up by going to a free late night event. The Tate often offers free snacks and even artsy activities and/or live shows.
  3. Hampstead Heath and Highgate Cemetery, see some deceased legends and some beautiful scenery. Pack a picnic for bonus points and also listen to this brilliant episode of my favorite podcast, the Moth, about a spooky vampire who scares an unsuspecting Aussie to get you in the mood.
  4. Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, what is better than jogging up to the top of Primrose Hill and taking in a good view of London? Once you are done stroll down the slope to Regent’s Park for a walkabout or maybe even the Zoo. Catch the park in Autumn when the leaves are golden and it will be extra breathtaking. IMG_3487IMG_3555 IMG_3488
  5. Saatchi Gallery, feeling classy and arty? Head to Chelsey and take your date to the Saatchi Gallery for some cool modern art and additional window shopping. A friend once told me it is great to gauge a date’s reaction to modern art to see if you are compatible. Maybe you both think it’s kooky and out there or maybe it is totally inspiring.
  6.  IMG_3929 IMG_3928 IMG_3923
  7. Bike Ride, this is a good one if you both own bikes, otherwise it becomes less free. Take your wheels out on a ride in Hyde Park where there are good paths and you are free from the treacherous London streets.
  8. Go to a toy store and/or a department store, this one has been recommended to me by a friend who had the most amazing time jumping on a giant piano at Hameleys with her date. The gags are truly limitless and why not exude some of your inner child? Harrods and Selfridges are another fun one. Harrods for samples and the endless knick knacks to explore and Selfridges for the window dressings alone.
  9. Farmer’s Market, another pretty obvious one. London is filled with markets from Borough to Spitalfields, Exmouth to Dover Street. Nosh, sample products and produce, feel hipster, shop for a potential dinner party, the options are limitless. Pro tip, if you go to a market at the end of the day they will literally throw free stuff at you.
  10. Play tourist and see the sites. Don’t discount that people travel from all over the world to see London. You might forget about all the monuments and historic sites in your own backyard. If you have never seen the changing of the guard, why wait? You might be surprised to learn what touristy things you and your date have not done and it always fun to spot the obnoxious tourists in a crowd of attractions. IMG_3499 IMG_3496
  11. Arrange a House of Parliament tour via a MP, this is an above and beyond addition to the idea above. After recently going on a tour of Parliament I was blown away with just how cool it was. There is a plethora of neat facts, architecture, and countless stories that make up the British Government’s rich history. It’s relatively easy to reach out to your local MP and arrange a tour with an aid, you will look very smart and distinguished while also expressing your inner political geek (plus and plus). If you don’t feel like going to the effort of arranging a tour you can always sit in the public galleries during a debate. This will also make you come off as intelligent and politically aware while maintaining the fact that you can heckle from the balcony if you so choose.
  12. Free shows and recitals are abound in London. You can catch shows at the London School of Economics and various cathedrals throughout the city. The Southbank Centre also hosts free lunchtime concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. Additionally, at any odd weekend in the year you are sure to catch some free event hosted by the Mayor of London in Trafalgar square. Such as Diwali, St. Patrick’s Day and Vasisakhi.

I have no doubt missed a ton of some of your favorite free date ideas so feel free to leave a comment so I can update the list.

A tale of two cities: Three Days in Berlin

Ra ra Berlin. This historically rich, techno infused town has a wide range of activities and outings to cater to every traveler, especially those operating within a budget. A couple of things that make Berlin such a bargain. First, transportation if free. Well…errrr…not free per say but payment is optional. There is no turnstile or tap in/out system so you can get away with using the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Street Cars, and buses for free. If you get caught there will be a fine so ride at your own risk. Food and housing is also more affordable in Berlin than in other parts of Germany because it is still developing and emerging from its soviet or half GDR shell.

To Eat: Berlin has a very diverse population which is very favorable for food finds. A must in Berlin is doner, essentially shawarma and a famed great place to check out is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap. We stayed in Kreuzberg so a majority of our eats were in the Middle Eastern hood with a growing food scene. The first place we dined was Baraka. A fantastic Moroccan restaurant with great spiced dishes and tea. You can reserve seats in advance to get a table on the floor with cushions for the full experience. Another great place off of Goriltzer Park is  Bar Raval, This tapas joint brings surprisingly great Spanish cuisine to Berlin in unique dishes. Bar Raval is known for their extensive wine list and weekly paella nights. The vibe is very lively with a sleek ‘canteen-like’ feel. I’d recommend the shishito peppers and homemade flan. For authentic German food that is served on plates as big as your torso check out Tiergartenquelle. It is literally underneath a S-Bahn stop which makes the restaurant convenient although off the beaten bath. Try any dish they have with spaetzle, that’s their thing and make sure to get a giant liter of beer to accompany your meal.

For brunch and coffee I have three recommendations. First, Bateau Ivre is a kooky breakfast spot that sports vibrant art and a large array of mismatched lanterns. The cafe serves up classic European breakfast which consists of an array of meats, cheese, and fresh basket of bread. The meal is simple, hearty and a good start to the day. Next, Factory Girl! (exclamation included in the name) is located in a great part of the city called Friedrichshain. Here you’ll find lots of cafes and small boutiques. Factory Girl! is great for breakfast and lunch but most famous for their sweet treats. I got a deconstructed cream pie, which was basically fresh clotted cream with bits of dark chocolate bark all served over macerated berries. I’d also recommend the Sicilian sandwich. Finally, Neumond for a breakfast buffet that will make you believe in the concept of a buffet again. At first, you are going to think I am crazy for recommending Neumond because it is in a hotel but you have to trust me. For about ten euros you have an all you can eat breakfast where everything is homemade and they will make perfect farm fresh eggs to order. Plus the cappuccino is pretty good too. The brunch serves up fresh bread, spreads and great jam (so good that I even bought too small mason jars of it). Fresh salads and fruit are also on the laden banquet along with a great meat and cheese selection.

To Visit: Berlin is known for it’s checkered history and there are powerful reminders throughout the city. Two world wars have left the city with a host of interesting cultural sites and several should not be missed. To begin with The Wall business we found that the Black Box (History of the Cold War) mini museum next to Checkpoint Charlie had a great interactive history of the time during the divided city. One must also check out the East Side Gallery, while touristy it is a impressive strip of beautifully decorated murals on The Wall from artists all around the world. The backside of the “gallery” also has some amazing graffiti and a solid view of the River Spree.

IMG_3781 IMG_3780 IMG_3783 IMG_3782

 

Mitte is aptly named and contains the heart of the government and Berlin’s cultural sites. The area is marked with the beautifully ornate Brandenburg Gate. We did a cheap hop-on hop -off bus tour that took us around Mitte and our favorite spots were the Vicotry Coulmn, which was actually moved by Hitler’s urban planners and boasts a mini musum that pays tribute to monuments around the world. You can also climb up to the top for a good view of the Tiergarten. The Holocaust Memorial and museum underneath is very moving and the memorial pulls you into a maze of grey that is chaotic and very moving.

IMG_3787IMG_3776

For two incredible views of Berlin that have awesome audio guides that provide an incredible amount of information check out the Reichstag and Berliner Dome. Both contrast each other very well and provide quality sites. The Reichstag Dome is a modern glass globe that is an incredibly enormous indoor-outdoor space designed by the famed architect Norman Foster. the audio guide is timed as you work your way up the curved walkway of the dome and gives commentary on each point of interest in the 360 degree view. The Berliner Dome is a classic cathedral dome with a steep winding staircase and a narrow indoor and outdoor passageway. You get a great view of the church itself looking out to the spires and gargoyles as well as inside to the alter below. We went at night and managed to capture a great sunset over Berlin.

IMG_3785IMG_3797IMG_3794

Some final tour stops include a free show at the modern Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester. The Symphonie puts on free lunch time shows several days of the week which are a fun informal gathering of tourists, businessmen, and art patrons. Also, depending on when you visit Berlin it is absolutely necessary to hit up a traditional German Christmas market. Drink gluvine (mulled wine), eat tasty baked goods and be merry. We fit in three markets in our three days in Berlin.

IMG_3799

To Drink: There are a lot of places to get beer in Berlin, make sure to consult a local for their favorite beirgarten. For some alternative choices I’d recommend Roses Bar, Prinzipal Kreuzberg, and SO36. Roses Bar is tiny gay bar that was perfectly described by my flatmate as “the inside of tacky 70s furniture.” Why this odd description? Because the bar is literally vinyl, studs, and pink furry walls all put together. The place is also electric, not just with the friendly crowd but the literal electric hum of fluorescent lights and other colored bulbs that cover entire walls. Prinzipal is a burlesque bar that has high quality drinks (be warned they have high price tags attached as well). Stop in for one drink to feel fancy and see the speak-easy style decor, very 20’s and Baroque inspired. Finally we stumbled upon S036 accidentally when coming out of Roses. Turned out it was a dance hall that hosts a variety of different events each night. Once a month they have a Roler Disco, which was, you guessed it, the day we went. Grab Roller Skates and stumble to the bar, have a drink for courage then skate around the disco ball lit rink to German techno and old R&B because what could be better?

946455_10207870984003142_6522881957566016227_n

To Party: While we were on too much of whirlwind trip to put in the time to enjoy Berlin’s famous club scene. I will pass down some words of wisdom from a fellow ex-pat who took up residence in Berlin for a year. According to Mathew Jones “if you wanna dance to some great techno music; Check out Sisyphos (if its open) it is the best club in the world in my opinion. If closed I would also recommend Greissmhule or Kater Blau. As with most clubs in Berlin, doors don’t open till after midnight Friday and are open till Sunday or Monday, but be ready to wait in a line.”

Who gives a muck about an Oxford Comma?

Spontaneous adventures are almost always a good idea, especially if they are during a rainy reading week. Last Thursday’s trek consisted of a coach ride to lovely Oxford. There was something very refreshing about speeding away from London town and out into countryside. Getting to Oxford is so zippy and cheap via the (protip) Oxford Tube Bus. The bus runs every 15 minutes and costs 14 pounds roundtrip, that’s right folks throw those train timetables out the window and get yourself to Victoria Station for an adventure.

Half an hour into the ride it started to pour which made for a dreamy trip to the college town. I was glad I had by rain boots (see pun in post title) for lots and lots of walking. I am going to guess that my friend Peter and I lapped the little town about four times. It’s really easy to go to Oxford with no plans because a. there are maps with points of interest everywhere and b. every side winding street is interesting in and of itself.

Hopping off the train there was a flea and food market beckoning us forward. So after steamed pork bao, samosas literally folded together and fried in front of us, and bowl of mixed dumplings I could have gone back pleased, but culture I guess. As we wandered we walked around the grounds of the iconic Bodleian Library before heading to Christ Church where the leaves were enormous and, had it not been for rain, perfectly crunchy.

IMG_3594 IMG_3595 IMG_3598 IMG_3602

Before heading into the church we got sidetracked by science and took a detour to The Museum of the History of Science. The name gives a good indication of the mishmash of items presented in no particular design with no particular sense of editing. However, the kitschy effect was actually enjoyable and it felt like walking through a good curio shop where you could admire everything with no salesman pressure. Back to Christ Church we paid our student (protip) entry fee and toured the cathedral and great hall. Seeing the inspiration for Hogwarts was definitely worth the charge.

More wanderings brought us to the Bridge of Sighs and the outside of the botanical gardens. Had it not been Fall and raining the gardens looked worthy of a visit. Our second church stop was University Church which boasted some vibrant stained glass and balcony views. Due to increasing rain we headed back to the bus depot with our final stop being a stroll/brisk walk around Trinity College which was incredibly green and had some extremely interesting architecture.

IMG_3604

 

 

 

 

 

Some takeaways from Oxford are first, don’t forget to dress for the weather, second, always look at your bus options, and third, when you get the chance to take a break from the urban scene–run after it.

IMG_3603

A Little Something Something

My poor forgotten blog, I am revisiting you at last. First, let me say that the past month has been absolutely craziness but I am proud to say You are HERE has officially moved international! It’s safe to say I am settled in London by now so ya’ll can look forward to cheeky posts from England’s hustling and bustling capital.

My overall impressions of the city are as follows: traffic, drinking on the sidewalk (yes, it’s cooler to be outside the bar than in), queuing, so much queuing. and green space. The royal parks alone are out of this world. (Look for individual park breakdowns in the future). I’m going to get to coffee shops, ramen, museums, and fashion in a minute but first I have to acknowledge the amazing jewel in my own ‘hood-The Somerset House. 

IMG_3552

The Somerset House is a sprawling complex on The Strand that houses galleries, cafes, a massive courtyard, and so much more. I can’t really do the history of this grand manor justice so I’ll leave it to the comprehensive history page on Somerset’s site.

When you step into any part of the Somerset House it is as if you have stepped out of contemporary London and into Vienna in the early 1900s. The air is rich with bourgeoisie knowledge from the King’s College students criss crossing with arts enthusiasts. The “house” is enormous and the exhibitions are constantly changing so it is impossible to grow bored. There are five eateries and countless galleries to traverse along with terraces and special events.

So far I have found Fernandez and Wells to be an amazing spot to curl up and do work with a coffee and a delicious sandwich or bowl of soup. Full on review to come soon.

I have made my way through Out of Chaos Ben Uri: 100 Years in London an awesome exhibit celebrating London’s rich immigrant communities. The exhibit was nicely curated with works that were thoughtfully put together in each small room. This made for a very intimate look inside the lives of London’s multicultural landscape. The range of works spanning many different time periods is very dynamic and is supported by crisp graphics portraying the climbing number of immigrants in London.

I also walked through Courtauld Gallery which houses a permanent collection of medieval and impressionist works, as well as, revolving exhibits. On display currently is Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat.  In this show, Riley copied Seurat’s famous Bridge at Courbevoie and than created her own works. Riley’s new perspective on pointillism is quite vibrant and striking. It was refreshing to see an artist celebrate a classic painter rather than hide behind murky plaques that say “he/she was inspired by…” and hen produce a grim modern copy.

The permanent collection includes paintings, drawings, and sculptures residing in stately rooms that are artful in their own right. The collection has a surprising amount of classics but doesn’t overwhelm the visitor with volume. Each painting has room to breath on well-lit walls. Some of my favorites included Nevermore by Gauguin and Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder,

I have just scratched the surface of all there is to explore at the magnificent Somerset House but it is right down the road so I am sure to return a couple dozen times this year. However, this quick review of a cafe and two galleries should be enough to entice anyone to take a look. There’s something in Somer for everyone,

 

 

 

Green Thumb

Sometimes when we live in cities we forget about the big green and blue world around us. Urban cityscapes create a dense thicket of concrete and stone that can simultaneously contain inspiring design and harsh lines. It is really important to remind yourself what the natural world looks, feels and smells like to stay buoyant in an urban jungle.

This summer i devoted a lot of time to searching for green space in and around DC. While a lot of people point to the National Mall as a sprawling green campus, it is not quite the same as actual unplanned wild nature. So for my last adventure in DC I ventured to the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens with my friend Seth.

The Kenilworth Gardens lie on the Anacostia River in Northeast DC and are accessible from the Orange Metro line (going green really is that easy). Kenilworth sits on a marsh and is full of lush water based plants. The lotus flowers and water lilies were vibrant and colorful. The tall lotus flowers were our favorites with green leaves and stalks sparked with huge white flowers and giant seed pods that were as interesting as the blossoms.

IMG_3396 IMG_3395 IMG_3394

The winding paths in the gardens guide you over marshes so you can look straight down into the swamp. Strolling in the garden is so calming and it is hard to imagine that you crossed over an expressway to get to the entrance. Kenilworth is a quiet retreat from the city but also a very interesting reminder of the the District. Seth pointed out that it is interesting to imagine that all of DC probably resembled something similar in the 1800’s.

IMG_3379IMG_3392

The Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens are almost hidden in plain sight, waiting to provide a kind break from the city.

IMG_3380

It’s Brookland not Brooklyn

Some local DCers and travelers alike may be aware of all the confusions that DC’s latest up and coming neighborhood is sparking. I’m talking about Brookland, DC. Although it is often confused for Brooklyn, NYC in pronunciation the new destination is just a quick 15 minute metro ride away from Dupont Circle on the Red Line. I really encourage locals and visitors alike to make sure they get out of the downtown bubble and check out places like NOMA and Brookland. These two destinations contain many cool spots, flying under the radar, i.e. those actually from Brooklyn would definitely approve.

I wrote about Monroe Street Market in a post that is already almost two years old! So much development has happened in the area since. After an afternoon trip this past weekend I have a couple new places for you to check out,

First, head from the metro to the Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery on Quincy Street. This holy site reminds me of the missions along the California coastline, as well as, old world places in Spain and Italy. The monastery is awe-some in this way and has beautiful tranquil gardens. The church itself was far bigger than I anticipated and was beautiful and ornately detailed. I would definitely recommend going on one of the guided tours held every hour so you can explore the catacombs underneath the monastery. The monastery is self labeled an “oasis of peace” and I think this is a very fitting name for the structure and grounds that provide a modern pilgrimage site for not only Catholics but anyone looking to be inspired by faith and nature.

IMG_3296 IMG_3297 IMG_3298 IMG_3300 IMG_3301 IMG_3302 IMG_3305 IMG_3306

IMG_3307

After uncovering the hidden monastery my friend Seth took me to Saturday night mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The name is quite a mouthful but the basilica is  is another breathtaking site. next to Catholic University You don’t need to attend a religious service to walk around the basilica and I would make sure you give yourself an hour to get the full experience. The sheer size of the place is almost overwhelming but the collection of side chapels devoted to saints and different cultures creates an exceptionally intimate feeling. The basilica is another church where you mustn’t forget to head underground to the crypt below the church. The crypt is cool and calming with even more small shrines and alcoves devoted to the various manifestations of the Mother Mary around the world.

IMG_3309 IMG_3310

True Grit

The city of Philadelphia has long been allusive to me as I have ranged up and down the east and west coast. Unlike my native connection to Chicago, I really had no reason to check out the inland City of Brotherly Love. Curled on the Delaware River, the city does not have appeal as a coastal destination, making it a unique outcrop of urban culture in a somewhat dull landscape. As I slowly make my way to and from Philly I’m picking up the lay of the land and a few key sights to see.

I call Philly True Grit because it’s definitely rough around the edges. Philly has not had the dramatic force of Chicago and New York City mayors who have aggressively polished their cities up. In Philadelphia, it seems like there is a layer of history and grime that has been better brushed away in some spots rather than others. What I’m getting at is a little friendly caution to Philly that it can’t rest on it’s liberty bell laurels any longer.

I am a Philly novice at this point and very much open to suggestions but here is what I have found so far that gives the city some cultural edge.

Coffee Shops: Elixr Coffee Roaster (see review here), and La Colombe (review on the way).

Museums and Cultural Sites: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a must. They stand as a good example of when city grit is correctly buffed up into something sparkling. The Barnes Museum is also a must. Classics, upon classics, hung in the most eccentric way in a beautifully designed building.

11150368_10205573195642577_7055071957883596884_n 11164794_10205573196042587_3244768724682123618_n 11028378_10205573196682603_5418694263266636887_n 11162464_10205573197482623_5946983744053836342_n 10377524_10205573198602651_6490669050949472092_n 11168590_10205573199082663_1249873568274899779_n

Food: The Redding Terminal is a great food hall next to the convention center. The amount of stalls make choosing your meal quite difficult. Finally Federal Donuts are a must. They rival top donut shops such as Doughnut Plant and Doughnut Vault if I do say so myself. The donuts are made hot and fresh right before your eyes and fall into two categories: Hot Fresh and Fancy. The favors are have some variation and are very unique. The Hot Fresh selection includes Vanilla Spice, Strawberry Lavender, and Cinnamon Brown Sugar.  The Fancy include a mix of classics. It’s best to get a mix of the two and the the great thing is Federal always has some samples out. The freshness and subtle flavors push the donuts to the next level. The West Philly location has cute desk like chairs that make you feel even more like a giddy child when gleefully enjoying your treats.

As I said, this is just a start and I expect more in-depth reviews to follow. Readers: I am definitely seeking suggestions of where to go next.