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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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.
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  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.

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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.

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. 

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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,

 

 

 

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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Flower or Fiction?

This past weekend for my last couple days in Boulder I had been dying to go to the Chihuly Glass Exhibit at the Denver Botanical Gardens. I have been a fan of Dale Chihuly’s amazing glass blowing since I saw an exhibition of his in Sacramento in 2002 and subsequent exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and permanent installment in the Bellagio Hotel.

The Denver Botanical Gardens was my fist time seeing the glass sculptures incorporated into the natural landscape. The pieces fit so beautifully with the flora and fauna that it was sometimes hard to tell weather you were gazing at a plant or stalk of Chihuly glass. Seeing the gardens in bloom accentuated the flowers because you could see that every shade of the glass matched the surrounding growth. The two water installments were beyond gorgeous with the old carved wooden boats contrasting the light and modern glass. The reflection of the glass in the pools of water was also stunning, as it added to the natural fluidity of the glass. Our attempt had been to see the gardens at the gloaming period so we could see them transition from light to dark. We saw a few pieces lit up but came a bit to early to stay for the overall effect. I have heard it is magical so if you take a trip down to the gardens I strongly encourage you to go around 7 o’clock.

But enough talk, words cannot really do the Chihuly exhibit justice so I’ll highlight a few photographs from the gardens that should inspire a visit. The glass will remain in the gardens until November 30th so make sure to check it out if you are in Denver.

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Brooklyn Baby Part 1

I’m going to borrow Lana Del Rey’s crown for just a moment after my three day quest around Brooklyn last weekend. After spending many winters, falls, and  Labor Day weekends in Manhattan my latest trip called for a change. Brooklyn turned out to be the most beautiful change possible with a more relaxed feel and less scene-y environment. I toured around a majority of this borough, beaming with excitement. Here is my Brooklyn Breakdown.

Brooklyn Heights

My base for the weekend lied in Brooklyn Heights, on Clark Street, steps away from the new waterfront promenade. My most excellent hostess, Maddy, has become quite the local after living in the city for only two months. Her coffee shop and subway knowledge was most impressive and she made the perfect guide. The promenade which I explored on my own is a very exciting addition to the neighborhood and was packed with people enjoying the riverside. The renovation of old piers into athletic fields, basketball courts, water parks adds a cool texture to the landscape and your normal recreational activities becomes literally elevated above the water. Brooklyn Heights is a bit blissful and is is so quiet and calm, it’s shocking. My tour de Brooklyn was marked with countless cups of coffee, too many to do a review for each but I’ll mention my caffeine stops in each area. For Brooklyn Heights, Vineapple is an elongated, elegant coffee shop that is dark and cool during the summer heat. Most coffee joints here seem to be serving Stumptown Roasters, so this can be assumed unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, Stumptown a Portland-based company is not my favorite coffee and I think there are probably local roasters that are more suitable.

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Dumbo

Dumbo is teensy tiny and it is hard to to tell when Brooklyn Heights ends and Dumbo begins. The easiest indication is that D-U-M-B-O is an acronym for “down under the Manhattan Bridge,” which directly points to its size. Nicely nestled under the bridge Dumbo’s  narrow, cobbled streets and arching underpasses evoke an almost European feel. I was immensely disappointed with the popularized Brooklyn Roasting Company, whose enormous flagship location offered up a weak cold brew coffee and an even more mediocre peanut butter cookie. The antique and thrifted atmosphere felt very forced in the enormous Starbucks-like space. One evening, we chose to do prepared food roof dining, as the Clark Street Studio offered up a nice view of “the other”  (Manhattan). Stepping into Foragers, a quaint speciality store we walked out with a nice vegetable medley and Lentil soup.

Bushwick

Getting to Bushwick from Booklyn Heights does require a tedious trip into Manhattan, subway transfer, then move back into Brooklyn. In Bushwick I met up with a friend, Julian, an artist I have previously written about (here). I certainly could not have navigated this area without some pro supervision so I was very happy to meet up with Julian. We first stopped for a pair of good cappuccinos at Kave. This super interesting spot is tucked away behind a wooden gate, making it appear to be quite secretive. The courtyard behind the gate was smartly curated and felt very calm and cozy. Strolling on from Kave and the recycling plant there are rows of old factories, now transformed into studios, sound stages, and other creative spaces. However, the outside of these cracked buildings displays little indication of what lies inside. For brunch we headed to Cafe Ghia, a petite spot packed with diners. The highlight was the Ranchero Benedict, a twist on the clasic composed of poached eggs on corn griddle cakes with avocado and Huancaina sauce (yellow pepper and Feta). Bushwick is well-known as a sort of ‘artist’s colony’ with it’s most prominent group being The Bushwick Collective which is advertised an an outdoor street gallery. Julian explained it succinctly as a bunch of graffiti artists that decided to unionize. The work is now, ironically the opposite of street art with building faces as approved canvases, semi-regular turnaround, and often less gritty depictions. Some of muralists are extremely talented and others are less successful but still, the covered walls bring a lot of vibrancy to the streets.

Still to come… Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope

 

Denver Emerging Artist: Serena Louise

Recently I sat down with my friend and extremely talented artist Serena Louise Williams. I have had the pleasure of working, learning, and hanging with Serena for the past couple years and her personal style as well as artist aesthetic is vibrant and inspiring. What started as a coffee catch up at St, Mark’s Coffeehouse (see review) in Denver became a stimulating conversation about Serena’s art.

While she received a BA in Visual Arts K-12 Teaching at the University of Northern Colorado and has contributed  improved art curriculums in schools Serena’s heart lies in fine art. With her drive and creativity she definitely has the potential to realize her aspirations and follow her dream of living abroad in order to spread her artistic spirit.

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You are HERE (YAH): I want to talk about the inspiration behind the three series you are featuring in your portfolio on Art By Serena Louise.. When I look at “The ‘Unorthadox’ Series” you chose to examine the fascinating form of octopi. Growing up in Colorado I want to know where this very fluid seaside influence came from because it seems unexpected from an artist living in a land locked state?

Serena Louise (SL): The Unorthodox series began as a color study for my final semester of college. I wanted to go big and bold with little concept. The symbol of the octopus is a fascinating one. For those who don’t know, they have the ability to remove their limbs. This could be a tool for escape in time of danger, they grow them back with no harm to themselves. My father grew up in St. Petersberg, Florida. He spent a lot of his youth visiting the islands of the Caribbean. He told me a story once, where he was diving around old shipwrecks and found an octopus stuck inside of a toilet. He watched amazed as this octopus literally ripping itself apart to escape the porcelain prison. The octopus showed that it easily lets go. They are said to be independent and choose their own paths. In a personification of the octopus, they are “unorthodox” doing things in an alternative manner and achieving similar or better results. I feel that I am, in a way, that alternative in my life. Therefore, I am the “unorthodox” creature.

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YAH: Moving onto “Face” I see the subtle reference to the artist St. Vincent in “St. Vincent Polka Dot.” Are all of these almost caricatures based off figures in popular culture or is St. Vincent in inspiration to you?

SL: “Faces” started out as sketching exercises and I soon developed a style with pen. Some of the faces were from my own imagination. Most of the faces in the series are from references, however, I always take my own liberties when creating them. I change their facial structure, or expression, and give them a new name. Most, honestly, are models in the fashion industry. “St. Polka Dot” is indeed St. Vincent. She has not become an inspiration for me, but I adore the aesthetics of her face.

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YAH: Who or what does influence your work?

SL: My childhood has influenced my work in a very deep way. Being an only child, I was left to my own imagination for my adventures in entertainment. My dad had created such a unique home with all his handy skills. The entire house was his work and the yards were filled with magic. Thus, the style of whimsy within my work. Secondly, the concept of “Wabi Sabi”, a term coined by the Japanese. It means to find beauty in the imperfect. After creating pieces for more than half my life, I have found that my art is so far from perfect. There is something always quirky or slightly off about it. Wabi Sabi has become a purposeful act in my life. I am also inspired by the German Expressionists of the early 1900s.

YAH: I see “The Bird Hause” as very bright and playful work, tell me about this?

SL: “The Bird Hause” was the start of my obsession with watercolors. I was learning to gain control over the pigment and the water ratios. I am proud to say that watercolor is the one major skill in the mediums of art that I am completely self taught. It is one of the most difficult forms of painting there is, at least in my opinion. “The Bird Hause” was my door to the wonders of that medium. Birds are the most naturally whimsical animals on the planet (besides fish). They possess colors and patterns out of this world. They have the ability to walk, fly, and swim. How could I not go there? The series began with “Fran” the swan. I began to imagine all the species of birds, how each one was so different and presented a different level of control. Giving them all names made them more relatable and almost personified them. “The Bird Hause” is like a family portrait.

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YAH: I know a lot of people like to ask where you see yourself as an artist in the future but I want to know what direction do you see for your art in the future coinciding with your development as an artist?

SL: I see my art growing outward, bringing with it the continued themes of life paths, animal symbolism, and never forgetting the playfulness. I never want to take myself too seriously, and always have fun creating. I see my art taking on new forms, becoming larger, grander, and maybe even changing dimensions.

YAH: Do you think there are specific challenges or advantages that come with being an artist in Denver versus say an over saturated urban art center like New York or San Francisco?

SL: Yes! Oh my word, challenges are endless, I think being in any city. Denver may not be as large as those saturated cities, but it already holds its established groups of artists. When being an emerging artist, finding your niche in a community that shares the same values as you is a huge obstacle. I have a photographer friend that lives in San Francisco and his advice is to carve your own niche. I think being entrepreneurial today is the best way to go about being an artist in a city. The advantage of living in Denver is the exposure you have to all the art and life styles, but there is still room for your own look.

YAH: Speaking of San Francisco, the last time we talked you were doing a sort of combined piece with a friend living there. This is really interesting, how does this “shared piece” work?

SL: My friend Marcos and I agreed to do a collaborative project in hopes of sparking our own individual works. He is a photographer and I am kind of a jack of all trades. We have been mailing a 12″ by 12″ canvas back and forth, for about a year now, adding images each time. For each canvas we choose a theme and a medium. This one we are about to complete was themed “Action” and we used photography and painting to collage. After each “turn” we write a small response on the images we chose and why. Developing literature with art is vital. We usually have a loose deadline of completing our “turn” in 3 days and then mailing it back. But life happens, and things get pushed aside. I am hoping that we can develop a large portion of collaged canvases and start a blog. Someday we hope to even do a show in the Bay Area and in Denver.

Find out about Serena Louise’s latest project “Finders Keepers” and check out all of her work online. I can’t wait to see more from this artist in the future, definitely a creator who will never stop growing and pushing her limits.

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The Long Exposure Lens of “Artificial Paradise”

My dear friend and Venezuelan artist, Juan Esteban Usubillaga also known as Onecho, debuted his new series of paintings last night at madelife in Boulder, Colorado. The crowd was intimate and composed of all of our friends celebrating Juan’s work.

The show, “Artificial Paradise” featured around 20 works spread over two rooms. The focal room was completely black and the works had spotlights focusing in on them. This dark setting made the colorful and glowing pieces pop and created exceptional contrast. The show was all about exploring the duality of urban and seaside life in Venezuela and also the complex process of transferring felt energies to canvas. The paintings were a rich layering of acrylic and spray paint that seemed to both, chaotically and fluidly, glide across the canvas.

What impressed me the most about Juan’s work was the haze and glow they had. The lines of paint that streaked across looked like moving light captured by a long exposure photograph at night. It was amazing to see this very specific look captured by the artist. Eager to ask Juan questions I re-toured his work and discovered even more intricacies and his words made the show even more complex. Chemical compounds etched into the canvas turned out to be different neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serration. This information gave more depth and creativity to the painting, which were now alive with physical energy straight from Onecho’s head.

The atmosphere of the show was great and madelife was a wonderful host for the event. The eclectic shop which was new to me is filled with a range of works from local artists, modern and mid-century furniture and awash of unique fabrics, paintings, and other pieces. The event was also sponsored by Suerte Tequila and Sanitas Brewing. One of the founder of Suerte, Lance Sokol, is an acquaintance, and this is one badass Tequila company. I, myself, have never been a huge tequila fan but Suerte is incredibly smooth and has slight sweet notes that make it  delicious in cocktails. I sampled a little bit of a Sanitas Black iPA and it was also very good. The beer had a nice richness along with a distinct citrus flavor.

Check out madelife and “Artificial Paradise” on display in the gallery from June 14th-July. 14th.