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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Making Waves: Japanese Fashion’s Petite Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum

In Shock Wave, the Denver Art Museum carefully curates Japanese fashion design from the 1980’s-90’s in a magnificent yet humble display.  This was a pivotal time for Japanese fashion designer that features the likes of Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Junya Watanabe. The designers reinvented classics from European designers such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior whilst also inspiring contemporary fashion designers including Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, John Galliano, and Dries Van Noten. The exhibit did a fantastic job displaying the Japanese designers next to their counterparts–intermixing in a sensible way by style and form rather than randomly throwing in European designers against the Japanese greats or trying to press a forced chronology.

Shock Wave is also a mixed media exhibition that smartly adds video to fill the small, almost awkward museum. space it absorbs.  The four video installations highlighted different runway shows, bringing the clothes on display to life with simplicity and displaying the theatrical quality and movement of the clothes as was intended be the designers. The most captivating is Miyake’s show that featured models walking a square “runway” reminiscent of a sumo wrestling ring. Another video shows the backstage dressing of models so the viewer can examine the subtle complexities of the flowy, boxy Japanese garments and you would probably want to purchase a copy of the informational video with your couture.

The final highlight of the exhibit are the “invisible” dress forms created by Allison McCloskey, associate textile conservator, especially for Shock Wave. Almost every garment is hung on a hand-shaped dress form that is made from soft materials (either foam core or a  soft polyester felt that is molded than hardened with heat). These completely customized mannequins serve many purposes, including, providing the actual softness of a live model. In many fashion exhibits, clothes are stretched over mannequins and appear lifeless but with this new technique it actually looks like someone is wearing the clothes because the pleats, boning, and other structural elements can fall in the correct place. It was critical that these dress forms were created because there is an entire section of the exhibit devoted to oversized garments that are near impossible to display on a standard mannequin. The museum created a fascinating behind-the-scenes video where you can watch the shaping and dressing of the forms. It is always true that small shifts, have an incredible impact.

Shock Wave is Florence Muller’s first exhibition at the Denver Art Museum after she curated the traveling Yves Saing Laurent Retrospective with mediocre success. Shock Waves closes May 28th so if you are in Denver in the upcoming months and have a passion for fashion and an appreciation for its history make sure to visit this exhibition.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.”

A River Runs Through It: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

The title should be several canals run through it but this was more catchy. Living close to mainland Europe has it perks, mainly quick, cheap flights to little European treasures. Amsterdam provides a great setting for a quick getaway as it is small and very easy to get around. Here’s an insider guide to my perfect trip to this Netherlands staple.

To Stay: There are some great hostels in Amsterdam that have been personally recommended to me although I stayed with friends. For excellent location check out the Hotel Van Gogh , right in the heart of the museum quarter. This budget hotel has a youth section that serves the function as a hostel and is simple and clean. For a more communal, party vibe check out the The Flying Pig. This funky hostel has a few locations and serves up some unique decor and a youth-centered vibe.

To Eat: In Amsterdam there are “coffee shops” and there are cafes. Don’t confuse the two or you’l end up eating an edible for breakfast and your day will take an odd turn. A great cafe to start the day is Coffee and Coconuts. CT is in the very trendy neighborhood of Die Pijp, right by the Heineken Factory. The cafe is in a converted cinema and has three spacious floors with low beige seating. The feeling is sophisticated beach resort and they hit the nail on the head with the nautical decor and wood touches. The food is spot on and very health conscious. Coconut are incorporated in many of the sweet dishes, I had an amazing coconut sponge cake with lime mascarpone icing. My friend had a packed acai bowl with palm berry puree,  raw buckini, blueberry, banana, & dried coconut. On the savory side, we enjoyed two Le Croissants, a grilled croissant with bacon, cheese and tomato, CT’s mustard and garden cress. The mustard was grainy and went well with the tangy tomatoes. The bacon was real American “stripey” bacon which is hard to find in Europe. The croissant was a touch over-grilled and turned out to be a bit smushed so maybe ask for light on the panini press. Our cappuccinos were perfection, make sure you indicate you want a double shot so they are not too weak. Another thing you must try in Amsterdam is Rijstaffel, which translates to “rice table”. Rijstaffel is a collection of small Indonesian dishes served tapas style. I’ve been told that this you’ll get more of a variety of Indonesian food in Amsterdam because when visiting Indonesia the cuisine is highly region-specific but Rijstaffel lets you try it all. We were recommended a great place by CT that we didn’t get a chance to try called Albina, a tiny restaurant that’s hard not to confuse with the kitchen supply store next door. Our host had a great quote about Dutch cuisine that went like this “The Dutch don’t do food very well but they do get desserts right.” What she means is that you MUST visit street vendors for authentic Dutch desserts usually consisting of fried dough, waffles and caramel. Another dish that the Dutch do get right are Dutch pancakes duh. Our favorite place was a tiny upstairs joint called Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. Make sure you check google maps for their very strange hours.

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Museums, Museums, and more Museums: Amsterdam is oversaturated with museums and the thing about their museums is that they are NOT cheap. So you have to get strategic. All art tastes are different but I’m going to go ahead a lay out the path that worked best for me and I think ticked a lot of art and cultural boxes. First, the Anne Frank House cannot be missed. It is beautifully preserved a very moving tribute to the Jews persecuted during WWII. Without giving too much away I will say that flowing through the eerily preserved house is powerful and after the capture of Anne Frank and her family the museum architecture shifts to emulate a concentration camp in a very unique way. Ajacent to the Anne Frank House are two (shockingly) free museums that will make you smile after your sombre experience. The Cheese and Tulip Museum are definitely cheesy (har) but worth a trip to a. nosh on some cheese samples and b. learn about the Tulip trade in The Netherlands which is actually quite interesting. Next, the Rijksmuseum provided the biggest bang for your buck. The museum houses everything from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch to various works by Van Gogh, as well as, contemporary works and baroque artifacts. The design of the museum also gives is an edge as it is very grand and ornate. The public garden in front tops it off and you can take a quick jaunt over to the “I Amsterdam” sign. I always need a reprieve from serious classic paintings and a perfect place to get your modern fix is Foam, a photography museum that is smartly curated and designed.

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To Drink: Once you are wiped out from walking in parks, touring museums, and canal biking (paddle boating on canals is a must) then you will need a drink (or two, or three). So beer is the name of the game in Amsterdam and theire are two great places to get it. One, Brouwerji ‘t IJ a craft brewery in a windmill, need I say more? Make sure to get there before 5 PM for flight tastings of their amazing selection of hoppy brews. Second, TAPROOM, they have over 25 beers on tap that are all craft brews from all over the world. They have some killer stouts and porters. The atmosphere gets funky in the late evening when the Justin Bieber comes on.

Sigh, one trip done. In Britain “Lateness is Rudeness” so I’ll try to be more one it for future postings. Look forward to Berlin, Norway and Turkey coming up.

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.

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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.

This is Bowie to Bowie

For those who don’t know the obscure reference to the band The Flight of the Concords and their even more unknown song Bowie a few lines of the poignant pun filled song do a great job of capturing David Bowie’s essence:

“This is Bowie to Bowie
Do you hear me out there, man?
This is Bowie back to Bowie
I read you loud and clear, man, ooh yeah man”

“Do you have one really funky sequined space suit, Bowie
Or do you have several ch-changes?”

Recently, I went to the exhibit David Bowie Is at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This comprehensive exhibit also did a fantastic job of profiling David Bowie’s eccentric and incredible career. David Bowie Is is the vision of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago as the only US venue.

The retrospective spanned six rooms at the MCA and included a diverse range of artifacts including letters, handwritten lyrics, videos, stage costumes, posters, and even original paintings by Bowie. The content of the exhibit painted a rich picture of David Bowie and included not only, the inspirational figures in his life, but also, how he inspired others, leaving his own mark on pop culture.

One of the most phenomenal parts of the exhibit was the audio companion that was motion activated. Your headset would start playing as you approached certain objects or entered rooms then fade out as you drifted from one place to the next. The effect may sound chaotic and a little disorienting but it proved otherwise. The audio system made the exhibit almost envelope you and created a visceral experience.

The pieces included in the retrospective seemed thoughtfully chosen and I didn’t feel inundated with stuff as I sometimes find in larger exhibits. The path and chronology of David Bowie Is was clear and pretty focused. Overall, I think the first retrospective of David Bowie’s life was hugely successful. I strongly encourage a visit to the MCA or wherever the show might be rolling to next. Going through the entire exhibit does take time and I would recommend at least a two hour tour to absorb all the content.

While photography was not allowed in the museum we snapped a few pictures outside the grand entrance banner and side poster. In the photos I am rocking my new-found love of street style with my full flowy skirt paired with a crop top and new  Supra kicks. On another (rare) men’s fashion note, my father is sporting some Cole Haan’s with colorful soles that we are all in love with and he exclusively buys.

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Brooklyn Baby Part 2

And the Brooklyn outings move on to new locations…

Greenpoint

After spending time in Bushwick it was time to meet back up with Maddy in Greenpoint. Maddy had told me she had a secret surprise that combined two of my favorite things.  We met at McCarren Park, a comprehensive green space that has a track, football field, work out areas and that is opposite the street of the physical park with paths and trees. We ambled along bustling Franklin Street looking at unique boutiques and cafes. We grabbed macaroons at Cookie Road, which we both agreed was a stupid name for a cute bakery. Since the macaroon is my favorite dessert I had to see how it stacked up against the many other samplings I have had. Cookie Road’s macaroons were decent but were a bit too chewy for me. However, a bunch of the other cookies and pastries looked quite good. We stumbled upon Alter, a boutique that mixed vintage and new pieces. The clothes and shoes were very clean and simple, featuring a nice array of niche designers.

After going in and out of a few more stores we arrived at the big surprise, Budin. Budin is a nordic coffee bar and their in lies two of my beloved items-coffee and anything Scandinavian/nordic. I have grand dreams to live in Stockholm or Copenhagen one day, two truly extraordinary cities. Budin was quintessentially nordic with a sleek slate bar and simple Ikea inspired wooden tables and chairs. If you continue to the back, you are greeted by a small offering of accessories and an outdoor patio with delicate wooden folding chairs. The extra special-ness we were trying to be there for was a free cupping of Norwegian coffees that had occurred the previous week. While unfortunately the tasting was not happening this weekend the super kind barista let me sample the cold brew before I purchased it to make sure I approved. All the offerings were light roasts and this one was an Ethiopian rosted by Tim Wendelboe out of Oslo, Norway. The brew was crazy fruity and aromatic, it was almost slightly acidic too-so interesting, different, and good. I absolutely must revisit Budin in the winter so I can sample some more of their imported offerings.

Williamsburg

A short walk from Greenpoint takes you to the allegedly ultra hip Williamsburg but after the neighborhood’s four predecessors it seemed less than impressive. The trying too hard Greenwich Village snobby art students seemed to be reincarnated as adults who are not any more or less cool than when they had started. We did find a lovely bakery, Caprice, that had fresh baked goods and a flakey, buttery croissant as big as your head.  along with delicious pastries. There was also gorgeous backyard to relax in that is walled off from the outside world.

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Park Slope

Sunday, brunch day brought us to Park Slope, a neighborhood very reminiscent of Brooklyn Heights. We spied the Brooklyn Public Library from the subway stop, an impressive building flecked with glimmering gold leaf. We headed down Union Street to Rose Water, which blew us away with an exceptional brunch. The prix fixe menu including a drink and entree was a very reasonable $16. Maddy got the Challah French Toast with fresh fruit, creme fraiche, pistachios and cherry chutney. The sweet dish was a very harmonious melding of all the different sweet, nutty and tart flavors. I decided to go savory and ordered the Roast Chicken sandwich with tomato, swiss, bacon, lettuce and a basil aioli served on ciabatta bread. The dish also came with pimenton herb fries which happened to seal the deal on this choice. While seemingly basic the dish was executed flawlessly and the basil aioli and french fries with homemade ketchup were a huge hit.

Before heading off to the airport I again ventured to Park Slope in hopes of visiting the Botanical Gardens and Brooklyn Museum, both being closed on Monday I had to adjust my plan but I did take time to walk around the “mini-Metropolitan” Brooklyn Museum. I headed to Breukelen Coffeehouse to get one last cappuccino before I left. Technically in Crown Heights, the cool, narrow coffeeshop was again serving up Stumptown so my drink was pleasant but not outstanding. I grabbed a slice of bacon and gruyere quiche that was incredibly smooth and rich due to the use of local duck eggs. Wandering on, back down Union Street. I was craving something refreshing and light after my heavier breakfast so I stopped into Union Market and grabbed a Bruce Coast Ginger Ale. Ginger Ale has become my most recent obsession and the unfiltered pomegranate with hibiscus version  from Bruce Coast is a new favorite of mine. I have tasked myself to try some others and will begin some diligent reporting. Bruce Coast is based in Brooklyn so it was a rather fitting selection. I turned on “the other” 5th Avenue where there are also many clothing stores but ones that are far more economical than their Manhattan counterparts. I stepped into Mavi, a premium denim store, Mavi, which is the word for blue in German was started in Istanbul and has a few stores around the world. At Mavi, I found a denim shift dress that was is going to make the perfect transition piece from summer to fall. The shirt dress is easy to wear now with simple wedges and will be smashing with thick tights and a scarf.

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Long Weekend Escapade #1 Taos, New Mexico

To kick off summer and rev up the convertible I went on a girls’ long weekend trip to Taos, New Mexico.. We went from Thursday-Sunday but Sunday was an all driving day so anyone from anywhere could pack in this lovely 3-day weekend tour of the Southwest.This it the first of a segment I hope to continue with other mini adventures perfect for a work or school escape.

Stay: We stayed at the absolutely immaculate Palacio De Marquesa. This Bed and Breakfast was bought last year by Heritage Hotels and Resorts  and received a serious makeover. A B&B that probable once resembled the vast assortment of kitschy, tired inns and hotels in Taos is now a stunning white, modern palace. The rooms are refined while still keeping the best Southwestern touches such as adobe style fireplaces and carved columns. We stayed in The Romantic room which had two gorgeous studded leather white chairs and an amazing, firm king bed. With heated floors, state of the art giant shower, and operable skylights , the room was even better than what we imagined from the pictures.

IMG_2132The innkeeper Chad, was an absolute delight and was full of excellent dinner and activity suggestions. He showed off his new puppy and told us all about the details of the renovation. Breakfast in the morning was simple and delicious. There were a variety of choices and  fresh orange juice and coffee were excellent additions. I really can’t see myself returning to Taos and staying at any other place. I am anticipating when I can return and try out a different exceptional room and see the completed garden and fire pit.

Relax and Activate:I was surprised to find that there was a lot do in Taos and the surrounding area. Everyone will tell you to check out the main plaza and see all the dinky mercantile shops. Poking in and out of various stores yields some interesting finds and unique artifacts. Make sure to stroll through the square on Saturday when the Farmer’s Market is occurring and sample some yak cheese, choke cherries, and other local favorites. Relax at Ojo Caliente, which lies north of Taos. We stopped on our drive into town and checked out the mud and mineral pools before getting excellent and extremely rejuvenating hot stone massages. Skiing in the Winter and hiking in  Spring-Fall provide your dose of active adventures in Taos. We met up with some friends staying in santa Fe and hiked in Bandelier National Monument.  To avoid taking the nauseating shuttle to the park national visitor, enter after 3 PM in your own car. Driving your own car is much more convenient then waiting for said shuttle that departs every half hour from the White Tail Visitor Center to the Bandelier Visitor Center. The Main Loop Trail and Alcove House extension is a leisurely 2 miles and involves climbing cliffside ladders and a very nicely marked self-guided tour.

Galleries,: Off the main plaza we found two stand out galleries featuring contemporary artistes from Taos. First, David Anthony Fine Art or DAFA features some hidden portraits of The Beatles, that are iconic and intimate gems. The gallery also hosts rotating contemporary artists, which are a refreshing break from the repetitive landscape galleries, composing most of the tourist art culture. My second recommended gallery stop is more of a hybrid home/studio/gallery. The Howell Creative features, founder and artist in residence, Robert James Payne. The ex-football player has some very unique pieces of acrylic on different mediums. We were enthralled by a new black and white portrait using interesting shadows painted on a large piece of aluminum. Seeing Payne’s art grace the walls of his loft was a very clever way to display how works will hang in ones own home, a sense of character and place that a white, bright gallery wall cannot capture.

Museums: There are many tiny museums dotting Taos and it is hard to determine which small building deserves the exorbitant entrance fee. The Harwpod Museum of Art turned out to be an excellent and displayed a wide range or traditional and contemporary New Mexican artists from a large time span. Upon entering, we were also informed that if we filled out a survey at the end of our visit, admission was free!  I particularity loved the modern artist Larry Bell, who has a diverse body of work that includes modern pieces using refracting light, mirrors, and various other illuminating mediums. The museum features many galleries that are constantly being rotated and refreshed with new pieces and exhibitions.

Other Attractions: A pleasant walk from  Palacio De Marquesa.is The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Now an inn the house of the famed art patron and salon hostess can be toured through and stayed in. The house features creative design and has a rich history.The grounds provide a pleasant stroll and innkeeper was very informative.

IMG_2150 IMG_2151 IMG_2152 IMG_2153 Another great site, unique to the area, are the Earthship Biotecture  communities. These intriguing homes are made from all recycled materials and are completely self-sustaining. These  “homes” are are a modern marvel and seeing is believing so trust a trip to the visitor center is definitely worth it. The Taos community also offers nightly rentals which I am curious to try on my next visit if I can tear myself away from easy B&B living.

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 Eats: (Detailed reviews of the following fine dinging restaurants to come). When staying in Taos The Love Apple is an essential fine dining stop. Joseph’s in Santa Fe might also be worth the drive down to Taos’ sister city.. For authentic Northern New Mexican fare check out the quaint and local favorite, Orlando’s.

Flock to the Photographs

Recently I have been on a tear through photography exhibits occurring around DC. Back to back weekends hosting out of town guests brought me to “American Cool” at the National Portrait Gallery and a Gary Winogrand retrospective at The National Gallery of Art. Both exhibits boasted an impressive amount of photographs but the size became a bit overwhelming. I often find that larger institutions have a less rigorous editing process which could be due to the fact that they have more walls to fill as compared to a small gallery.

Focusing on “American Cool,” I was almost more impressed by the introduction stenciled across the front wall then the photographs themselves.  Defining the word “cool” might be one of the hardest things to attempt and curators Joel Dinerstein and Frank H. Goodyear III concocted a simple definition that completely captured the elusive word. The iconic pictures complimented the definition but seemed very expected. I think it would have been interesting to see images of unknown individuals who were demonstrating inexplicable concepts of “cool” via their clothes and fashion. The exhibit was laid out very well and spanned through the grand history of trendsetters in the States. Each room captured an era very well in terms of images that conjured up the popular culture of the time. The chosen photographs also had a heavy emphasis on individuals in the entertainment industry, seemingly ignoring other concepts of “cool” that could be displayed in figures such as John F. Kennedy or Andrew Carnegie.

Zooming in on Gary Winogrand, a very different side of portraiture is exposed.  The landscape of humanity was what Winogrand captured in his photographs and he did this exceptionally well. His photographs were first very raw and wrought with emotion and then moved to images that captured movement and interaction with physical location. The exhibit did a great job of showing this transformation in the photographer’s style and provided simple captions to accompany the photos. 

Accompanying the Gary Winogrand retrospective was a rolling screening of Cheryl Dunn’s Everybody Street. The film was an epic photographic adventure through New York City that caught the street life of Manhattan masterly through an incredible high resolution, slow moving hybrid of photography and video recording. The vivid images were mesmerizing and incredibly beautiful. I certainly recommend a trip to The National Portrait Gallery to catch this pair of extraordinary visual excitement.