Posts Tagged ‘travel’

My 12-year-old daughter’s at the age where she’s fascinated by the world of music. Working in radio, I’m lucky that I’m able to offer her some great experiences. Thanks to my boss, Rob, the man with all the connections, she got to meet her favorite band, AJR. She went backstage and met the guys from Imagine Dragons. She received a hand-written birthday greeting from Brendan Urie of Panic! at the Disco.

I saw my first concert at the age of 17. It was Three Dog Night and T.Rex at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. My daughter has already seen more concerts than I did in my teens.

As touristy as they are (and as mediocre as the food is), Hard Rock Cafes and their walls full of pictures, guitars, photos and other memorabilia, offer a glimpse into the world of music that fascinates my daughter. Once she visited her first Hard Rock, the world’s largest at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, she was hooked. If we were traveling anywhere near a Hard Rock Cafe, we had to go.

The Hard Rock at Universal was followed by New York City, Washington DC, the Cayman Islands, Paris, and Reykjavik. Yet we never made to the one in Boston, closest to our home in Rhode Island. It was time to go.

Hard Rock Cafe, Boston.

 

Our stay in Boston began with lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, near Fanuel Hall. Nothing particularly amazing about the venue, but we could now scratch it off the list.

I clearly don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

 

Because our main point of going to Boston was to visit the New England Aquarium, I chose to get a room at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, located right on the water and literally a few steps from the aquarium. The area around Long Wharf includes many restaurant and shopping choices.

The Marriott Long Wharf is a huge hotel, and I was surprised at just how clean the property was, despite the vast numbers of people who were moving through the lobby and hallways. Our room was clean and technologically up-to-date: everything you’d want in a hotel room. Beds were comfortable, towels were plentiful.

The only complaint I had about our hotel is one that I have with most of the Marriotts and Westins that I’ve been to recently. They’ve decided to make the move away from old-fashioned room service with carts, real plates and silverware, and decent food. Now they all offer what amounts to take-out service. You get a bag full of cardboard boxes that contain your meals….paper napkins…plastic utensils…and crappy food. I highly doubt all of this gets recycled. So in a world where we’re supposed to be thinking about how not to overload our landfills, these guys came up with the idea to make everything disposable. Really dumb. Goes without saying that we didn’t eat at the hotel.

No carts. No fuss. No thanks.

 

The New England Aquarium is a great place to take the family and see penguins up close. We arrived at feeding time, and it was fun to watch them eat; some of them fussy, some of them devouring their offerings of fish. The center of the building is a spiral, and inside the spiral is a huge 4-story aquarium. So as you slowly walk up the spiral, you get a constantly changing view of the aquarium and the thousands of fish and other sea life (manta rays, tortoises, sea horses, jellyfish, starfish, eels, seals, and lots more that thrive there. Again, you might be lucky to catch them at feeding time, when workers in scuba gear swim down to the different groups of fish and make sure they get fed.

One note: buy your tickets online before you go. The outdoor line for last-minute ticket buyers was huge, and we visited on a bone-chilling winter’s day. Those people standing in line were very unhappy. We just walked right in with our online printed tickets.

 

The Red Lantern in Boston.

 

We don’t have many great Asian restaurant choices in Rhode Island, so when we go to Boston, it’s almost always on our list. This time, we decided to skip Chinatown and go to a restaurant that was as much about the atmosphere as it was about the food: The Red Lantern. Great music, cool lighting, awesome design, very good food and a huge cocktail menu. My daughter had miso soup and a massive delicious bowl of beef lo mein. I shoved a few large chopstick-fulls into my mouth “for blogging purposes.” Really good. I started with a plate of boneless ribs, sweet and sticky. My main dish was a huge spicy tuna toro maki roll: a tempura fried roll with avocado, cucumber, chili soy and toro tuna, slightly torched. Over the top. The Red Lantern has a beautiful bar, and my original mai-tai was well-made, though very sweet.

Dessert selections weren’t what we wanted…and we needed a breather…so we Ubered over to Newbury Street, where we found a wonderful gelato shop: Amorino. It’s an Italian chain, and they know how to do gelato!

I suppose if I wasn’t hanging out with my daughter, I’d take this opportunity to go to a bar for one last cocktail, but instead, we just went back to the hotel and focused on the next day, thinking we’d hit the indoor pool. Turns out it wasn’t a great idea, because the pool last the Marriott Long Wharf was really small and full of screaming little kids. Plan B: find a really great Sunday brunch.

Mooo, in Boston.

 

Mooo is a steak restaurant inside the beautiful XV Beacon Hotel, on historic Beacon Street. As I was searching for brunch possibilities, I saw the tempting list of freshly-baked treats on their menu, very different from those offered elsewhere, and I knew this was where we needed to go. We were not disappointed!

Ordering the cinnamon buns was a no-brainer. The moment they say on the menu that you “need to give it a little extra time,” you know it’s going to be worth the wait! as we slowly pulled apart the gooey rolls, shoving them into mouth, I moaned like Patton Oswalt in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “Cinnnabonnnn……” (Though it was way better than any Cinnabon I ever head!)

The incredible cinnamon buns at Mooo.

 

My daughter knew almost instantly that she was going to have the chocolate chip pancakes…with a side of bacon, of course. I was contemplating the lobster eggs Benedict (I’m a huge fan of bennies), but then I said to myself: “Wait…this is a steak restaurant. They have half-a-dozen steak and eggs offerings on the menu. Have a steak, for crying out loud!” My inner voice served me well.

I had a choice of 2 ribeyes: either a 12-oz. American corn-fed ribeye, or a 14-oz. pastured, grass-fed Australian ribeye. I’m a grass-fed guy, so the larger Australian ribeye (which was also less expensive) was a no-brainer. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and was one of the best steaks I’ve had in a very long time. A couple of eggs and a side of perfectly cooked potatoes made for an ideal meal.

Brunch is served!

 

Mooo was such a great choice for brunch that I will keep it in mind for dinner on a return trip to Boston.

 

We returned to our hotel after brunch, simply to pack up and head home. A nice 24-hour getaway with wonderful food and a fun time with my daughter. I know my daughter and I will be back in June to see a Billie Eilish concert at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, so we’ll have more opportunities to hit a couple of restaurants, this time in the Seaport District, which, sadly, is being overrun by so much new construction that you can’t even see the water anymore. It’s sad because Boston’s traffic has just been rated the worst in the country, and this will only add to a crumbling infrastructure that is already overloaded.

 

 

 

Before our daughter was born, my wife and I traveled the world. We got engaged in Paris. We honeymooned in Thailand. We swam with dolphins in Moorea. We rode camels along the Mediterranean in Morocco. So when our daughter was born, many of our friends thought our traveling days would be over.

At the Kaikoura Lavender Farm, South Island, New Zealand

 

One of the biggest sources of inspiration for me, personally, was a moment on our honeymoon in Thailand. We left our luxurious resort on Koh Samui to spend a few days on a remote island called Koh Nang Yuan, a destination for adventurers and serious scuba divers.

While waiting for our ferry to arrive, a bunch of us were packed like sardines in a small area. Around the corner came a young man, carrying 2 very large duffel bags–clearly a scuba diver with all his gear. But a moment later, his wife appeared from around the corner, and she was pushing a baby in a stroller. She whispered something to her husband, and he unzipped one of the large duffel bags to reveal a huge stash of diapers! He pulled one out, handed it to his wife, and she headed toward the restroom.

In that moment I realized: you can travel with a kid…and you can still have the adventure of a lifetime! It changed my attitude toward travel forever.

Snorkeling in St. John, USVI

 

It’s understood that not everyone can do this. Traveling is expensive. We gladly trade material things (that fancy SUV will have to wait) so that we can share some amazing memories.

In the crown of the Statue of Liberty, NYC

 

By the age of 12, my daughter had traveled to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Lithuania, England, New Zealand, Iceland, Canada and the Caribbean.

London, England

 

The first time our daughter’s feet touched salt water, it was as an infant in the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, Italy. The first time she had a steak, it was steak frites in Paris.

Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain

 

Though she didn’t always realize it, her travels gave her an incredible education. The people she met, the foods she (sometimes) ate, the places she saw that her friends would only read about. It has made her wise in ways we never could have expected.

A mountain top view of San Sebastian, Spain

 

Swimming with stingrays at Stingray City in the Cayman Islands

 

Sure, once in a while my wife and I still travel alone for a romantic getaway. But to see the world through our daughter’s eyes has been a real joy for us, especially now when I can share my love for music with her.

Hard Rock Cafe, Paris

 

Hot dogs in Reykjavik, Iceland

 

We have friends that tell us they can’t afford to travel the way we do. Then they blow thousands on a Disney vacation or cruise.

Washington, DC

 

Everyone needs to make that choice on their own, but we decided a long time ago that we’d skip places like Disney World for the real world.

Sharing an artsy moment with Mom in Santorini, Greece

 

…and a silly moment with Dad in Vilnius, Lithuania

 

 

Even local trips can make a tremendous difference in a child’s life.

Block Island, RI

 

Fishing off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

 

Camping in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.

 

Rafting on the Kennebec River in The Forks, Maine

 

Never underestimate the power of travel! It’s not just great for the kid…it’s great for the whole family!

 

Iceland is a land of extremes. In recent years, its remote, untouched beauty has lured tourists in vast numbers. But this tourism, which is the lifeblood of the country, is also the very thing that’s destroying it.

Back in late 2008, Iceland suffered a major financial crisis, the largest experienced by any country in economic history. To add to the damage, two years later, in 2010, the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull ejected so much smoke and ash into the atmosphere that the airspace around Iceland and Europe was closed to air traffic for an 8-day period, accounting for 48% of the world’s total air traffic and about 10 million displaced passengers.

This devastating combination caused prices in Iceland to plummet and word got out that it was an inexpensive, somewhat unexplored, destination for adventurers.
Fast forward a few years later: Icelandair announced cheap airfares and no charge for layovers in Reykjavík, making travel to Iceland more attractive than ever. However, as the economy recovered, prices in Iceland started skyrocketing. Despite this, tourism has increased from 200,000 people a year 10 years ago to 3 million a year currently. Quite a huge change for a country with a population of only 300,000!
There is no way this beautiful country, and the small city of Reykjavík, can handle this onslaught of tourism for very long. In fact, the Icelandic government has now started reducing new construction and putting a tax on hotels in downtown Reykjavík, trying to get people to do use lodgings that are outside of the city limits.

But it’s going to take a lot more than that to slow down the massive number of people who are finding Iceland the new “in place” to go.

The Sun Voyager. On the Reykjavik waterfront.

My wife and I first visited Iceland 16 years ago, and to say that things have changed is a huge understatement. Everything was so different, so built up; it was completely unrecognizable.
Our recent 3-day, 4-night trip to Iceland happened in between Christmas and New Year’s, where the winter weather remained in the 30s and 40s during the day, with on and off rain. We only had 4 hours of sunlight: the sun rose at 11:30AM and set at 3:30PM!
Despite that this is the prime season to see the aurora borealis, the lack of clear skies made it impossible for us to see it on our trip. In fact, there are very few clear nights in the winter months, so it’s a chance every traveler takes. The aurora borealis is usually visible between the months of September through mid-April. A good idea is to download a free app that lets you know when visibility will be at its best. You may not get to see the aurora, but at least you won’t lose money reserving a spot on a trip that ends up a disappointment…like I did!

Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church, and one of the highest points in all of Iceland. Take the elevator up to catch the view!

 

Reykjavík is a great walking city, and for the longer jaunts, there are plenty of taxis to take you where you need to go. There is no Uber in Iceland…yet! Locals will tell you that the Reykjavík bus system is spotty at best. We found that walking was a great way to work off some of the calories of the very rich foods we were eating.

This is what you get if you’re trying to get an Uber ride in Reykjavik.

 

Like all of our travels, we came for the food…

Restaurants in Reykjavik feature mostly Icelandic menus. That means a lot of lamb dishes and lamb soups. After all, there are three sheep roaming the grassy fields of Iceland for every one of the 300,000 people living in this country. Beef can be found on just about every menu, but, like everything else that is imported, it comes at a very steep price. Icelandic seafood is spectacular, but just because it’s local, it doesn’t mean it’s a cheaper alternative.
Alcoholic beverages are another huge expense in Iceland. For example, my Hendrick’s gin and tonic cost $25 US, and all I got was 1 ounce of gin in my glass! Hard to get a good buzz at that price! My advice is: if you can buy a bottle at the duty-free shop at the airport…do it! Then have a cocktail in your hotel room or apartment.

An expensive–and rare–treat: A Hendrick’s and tonic at Sushi Social in Reykjavik.

 

The homemade solution to high alcohol prices: buy it and mix it yourself!

 

Although some restaurants do have vegetarian menus, vegetables in general are hard to come by in Iceland, and all fruits must be imported. Root vegetables can be found on some dishes: carrots, parsnips and potatoes. If you’re craving a salad, greenhouses in Iceland grow the cooler weather greens like arugula and spinach. You’ll also find small greenhouse tomatoes in some dishes. (Electricity is the one thing that’s cheap in Iceland, thanks to geothermal power, so greenhouses can make a profit here.)
Reykjavík does offer sushi restaurants as well as noodle shops. You can also find Italian restaurants and pizza joints.
And if you’re craving a hot dog, nothing beats a lamb hotdog with “the works” at the world-famous Reykjavík hotdog stand, that has been in operation for over 80 years. “The works” means: ketchup, mustard, fried onions, raw onions, and their special remoulade.

 

The famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik. That’s my daughter’s hot dog: ketchup only!

 

Other than KFC and Taco Bell out in the suburbs, we didn’t find any fast-food restaurants in Reykjavik, which was fine by us.
For finer dining, the general rule is this: whatever you think an expensive dinner should cost in the US, triple that price and you’re pretty close to what you’ll pay in Reykjavik! It’s important to keep this in mind when budgeting for a trip, especially if you’re a food nut like my wife and me, and you want to eat everything.

Lamb soup, a staple in Icelandic cooking, and our first taste on our food tour.

 

If you want to learn about local foods, I highly recommend you sign up for the food tour as one of your first things to do in Reykjavík. We went with a company called Wake Up Reykjavík, and they are full of wonderful information about the food and history of Iceland. It’s a walking tour, and you get to sample all kinds of interesting Icelandic foods, from lamb soup to skyr (their version of yogurt), from cheeses to cured meats, and homemade seafood dishes as well. Of course, the famous lamb hot dog stand is on the tour as well. Do the food tour on your first day, and you will already be ahead of the game as far as knowing the lay of the land in this wonderful town.

Our food tour guide was Eyglo, from Wake Up Reykjavik. Here she’s giving us samples of Icelandic cheeses, and cured lamb, horse (yes, horse!) and goose.

 

Icelandic comfort food: a baked cod dish on our food tour.

 

Where and what we ate in Reykjavik…

Staff Kitchen & Bar: a local gastropub on Hverfisgata, one of the main roads in town, with small shops and restaurants. Great burgers, craft beers. Had a wonderful duck risotto with mushrooms and excellent leg of lamb. www.facebook.com/staffkitchenandbar

Duck risotto with mushrooms at Staff Kitchen & Bar.

 

Hofnin: On the waterfront, this homey seafood-based restaurant also has many satisfying meat dishes. Burgers, open-faced roast beef sandwiches, shrimp cocktail with Icelandic shrimp, naan pizza with langoustines. Good solid comfort food. www.hofnin.is

Hofnin, on the waterfront in Reykjavik.

 

Bad lighting, but great open-faced roast beef sandwich at Hofnin.

 

Delicious Icelandic shrimp cocktail at Hofnin.

 

 

Apotek: Keeping the theme of the former apothecary that previously occupied the building, this hip dining establishment is a great place to stop in for a cocktail. But dinner is also a good move: beef tenderloin, Icelandic langoustines and shrimp, minke whale (if you dare), duck and waffles, and an excellent trio of waffles with cured sea trout, lamb and duck. Though the service was a bit lacking, it was still one of our favorite meals in Reykjavik. http://www.apotekrestaurant.is

A beautiful plate of langoustines and shrimp at Apotek.

 

Sushi Social: This is where the beautiful young people hang out. Loud and fun, it’s less about the food and more about who you’re with. A full cocktail bar and sushi that’s fresh, but just OK. And though the prices are high (as everywhere in Iceland) you don’t get a whole lot of fish on your sushi rolls. Still, a fun place that’s packed every night. http://www.sushisocial.is

A front-row seat at Sushi Social.

 

The Icelandic sushi plate at Sushi Social. (See? It’s on a cut-out of Iceland.)

 

Ramen Momo: the original ramen in Iceland and excellent. Great stop for lunch. www.facebook.com/ramenmomoreykjavik

Hard Rock Cafe: There was a Hard Rock in Reykjavik many years ago, and then they shut it down. But as the tourists started coming, it was a wise move to open a newer, bigger and better one. The menus at all Hard Rocks are about the same, so if you’re craving a cheeseburger, mac and cheese, a Caesar salad, ribs, or any other American dish, this is the place to go…with a side of rock and roll. Given that salads are hard to come by in Iceland, it was a welcome change.

 

Jomfruin Scandinavian Kitchen: This was my best meal in Iceland by far. It was also my last meal! Had I known about it sooner, I would’ve eaten there every day. Growing up in a Lithuanian family, herring and smoked eel are in my blood. So when my wife told me there’s a restaurant serving this and more right next door to the Hard Rock, I had to go in. The herring is from Iceland, and marinated in-house. The smoked eel, imported from Denmark, is fatty and absolutely delicious. Washing it down with a shot of Icelandic aquavit…it was like paradise!

Right next door to the Hard Rock…and so good!

 

This meal was so good, it deserves a close-up! House-marinated herring, smoked eel, and Icelandic aquavit: it doesn’t get any better than this!

 

…and don’t forget the original hot dog stand: on Tryggvagata, near Kolaportio. http://www.bbp.is

 

 


Getting around Iceland…

Because it was winter time and we were basically staying in Reykjavík, we found no need to rent a car. I hired a car service online that took us from the airport in Keflavík to our rental apartment in Reykjavík…and then back again at the end of our vacation. (It’s about a 1-hour drive each way.) There is an airport in Reykjavik, but it’s for domestic flights and helicopter trips.
There are buses that will take you to Reykjavik as well, but if you pack as heavily as we do when you travel, having a private driver will be worth every penny–I mean–kronur!

The Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik. Many tours use this location as a meeting place.

 

We chose to do the Golden Circle tour, which includes the famous Blue Lagoon. Again, we hired a company to drive us on a very comfortable small bus to all the sites: Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur Geothermal Area (home of the famous Geysir hot spring) and Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall.) We also had a nice meet-and-greet with Icelandic horses, a stop at Kerið Volcanic Crater, and of course, the Blue Lagoon.

Icelandic horse were brought over by the Vikings and have never interbred, making them the purest breed of horses in the world.

 

We went with Nice Travel, and our driver, Marek, was courteous, knowledgeable, and very skilled in winter Icelandic driving, where the weather can and will change every 15 minutes. We went from rain to snow to sleet to hail to sunshine, and back again in every combination possible.

Just before sunrise…and the only time we saw the moon all week!

The Golden Circle is a 190-mile road, not counting the extra drive to the Blue Lagoon, and if you take the tour, you’ll meet your bus around 8:30AM, and you’ll return around 9PM. It’s a long trip that is really worth a full day of your time.

Gulfoss Waterfall.

 

Our tour stopped for lunch at Geysir, where (besides the geyser!) they have a very large souvenir shop and several restaurants with a variety of food choices…none of which was there when we first visited 16 years ago.

Yes, they even allow dorks like me on this trip!

 

Reykjavik has many museums, some ridiculously small, others substantial. My wife, being an artist, checked out all the art museums in town in one day. My daughter and I, less interested in all that, spent our time at the Hard Rock and Perlan, a futuristic-looking museum and planetarium, with amazing panoramic views of Reykjavík. The outdoor observation deck on the fourth floor of this massive dome is breathtaking, as is the enclosed fifth floor restaurant, offering even better views.

The dome at Perlan.

 

Scultpures outside of Perlan. The dome sits on top of massive, repurposed water tanks. You can see them in the background.

 

So is Iceland worth the trip, even in the winter? Absolutely. Will you pay through the nose (or other orifice) for everything? Yes…yes, you will.

Our first trip 16 years ago was in the summer, when we had barely 3 hours of darkness every day. This time, we had 3 hours of sunlight. It was a totally different experience, and one we won’t forget.

Next time–and there will be a next time–we’ll visit in the fall, and take a few remote excursions far outside Reykjavik city limits. There’s much more beauty to see.

ICELAND PIC OF THE DAY 4

Posted: December 30, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Our vacation has been great, but sadly, it is time to go home.  This very cool sculpture on the waterfront in Reykjavík says it all.

ICELAND PIC OF THE DAY 3

Posted: December 28, 2018 in Uncategorized
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We took the Golden Circle tour, checking out techtonic plate boundaries, volcanoes, waterfalls, geysers, and ended it all with a soak in the famous Blue Lagoon. On the way, we met a few friendly Icelandic horses, one of the oldest pure breeds in the world…originally brought over by the Vikings.

 

ICELAND PIC OF THE DAY 2

Posted: December 27, 2018 in Uncategorized
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23934D9B-DB97-4BEF-9F07-CF8C9B37A333Having a lamb dog with everything is a must at the world famous 80+ year old Reykjavík hot dog stand!

ICELAND PIC OF THE DAY 1

Posted: December 26, 2018 in Uncategorized
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For me, 2-for-1 Moscow Mules means just that: 2 for 1 person! Fun meal at Staff in Reykjavík

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PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 5

Posted: December 25, 2018 in Uncategorized
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Merry Christmas!

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PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 4

Posted: December 24, 2018 in Uncategorized
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What makes Paris so special is the quality of the ingredients they use,  from a Michelin star restaurant to a sandwich stand.

Nobody here settles for the cheap way out.

A simple sandwich: fresh baguette, Iberico ham, and a generous slathering of raclette cheese. Three ingredients, one incredible sandwich.

Almost didn’t get one. My daughter turned to me and said: “Dad, if you keep looking at it, you’re just going to torture yourself more. “ After all, what was the point of going to Paris if I wasn’t going to eat everything?

Not a bit of guilt. Not before and not after!

 

 

PARIS PIC OF THE DAY 3

Posted: December 23, 2018 in Uncategorized
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My daughter’s continuing quest to go to every Hard Rock Cafe possible. So far: Orlando, New York, Cayman Islands, Washington DC…and today: Paris! 615D46BC-88EB-4749-9F76-2B3BE87BD2CE


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