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I know I haven’t posted here in forever and everyone keeps telling me to catch up. I need to…and I will… just as soon as I’m settled into my new home after the honeymoon. I spent January 2010 in Austrailia with my BFF that’s posted on here before. She started her own blog and has blown mine away. From there I traveled a lot domestically last year and all over the place – Nashville a couple times, stayed at the Breakers in Palm Beach (which I promise to write a review about because it was amazing), week at the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando (not so amazing) and many various trips in between.

I promise, promise to write all about our honeymoon (this year at least, ha.) Here’s the itinerary…….

Day 1 Portland
Day 2 Portland
Day 3 Portland -> Lake Quinault, WA (Olympic Peninsula)
Day 4 Olympic Peninsula -> Seattle
Day 5 Seattle -> San Juan Island, WA
Day 6 San Juan Island
Day 7 Day trip to Victoria, BC
Day 8 San Juan Island -> Seattle
Day 9 Seattle -> Banff, Alberta, Canada
Day 10 Banff
Day 11 Banff -> Lake Louise -> Icefields Parkway -> Jasper
Day 12 Jasper
Day 13 Jasper -> Icefields Parkway -> Lake Louise -> Banff
Day 14 Banff -> Home

Here’s a little taste of Banff:

It should be amazing. I definitely can’t wait!

Oh, and I was doing some research and saw that the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be traveling in Banff just a few days after us…. great minds think alike!

Literally.

Apparently I don’t know how to walk down a short flight of stairs because Saturday morning, sober as a judge, I was walking down crzybeautifullife’s front stairs and my legs decided to not work. So nearly 4 weeks later, I still have a huge reminder on the front of my shin.

I really have a lack of new material from this trip, and I would like to say that it was because we “laid low,” but that was not the case at all. But the things that we were doing were mostly local stuff. A trip to Milwaukee to see the Braves beat the Brewers, Wicker Street Park Festival and whatnot.

I will mention that, as I fell down the stairs, we were on our way to the Cortiva Institute to get one-hour student massages for $40 and they completely rocked. I wish we had a Cortiva institute in Atlanta.

The purpose of this blog is really just to highlight our trip to Topolobampo on North Clark Street. At the demand of one of my travel snobs, we walked from the Cortiva Institute to Topolobampo for lunch. (Well, brunch really). And we were not disappointed. “Topolo” is part of the Frontera Kitchens group which focuses on farm raised yada yada and organic blah blah blah, supporting local farms, you know the drill. We walked into a packed restaurant and were told that it was going to be an hour and 45 minute wait. We sat ourselves at a crowded bar and hunkered down. But then some people that came to the bar afterward were paged within 5 minutes of arriving. So we opted to put our name on the list and, sure enough, were paged 5 minutes later. Score!

Since we had just gotten morning massages, and were in the middle of a 7 mile walk, we kept up with the clensing, “detox” mentality and skipped the alcohol. We opted instead for fresh squeezed juices. YUM. And this is where my first disappointment comes in. Riddle me this, Batman:  They had fresh orange juice. They had fresh pineapple juice. They had fresh lime juice. They EVEN had pineapple/lime juice. SOMEBODY please tell me why they refused to serve me an orange/pineapple juice. Anybody?  ANYBODY?   Charge me ten dollars. I DON’T CARE. Just give it to me.

We started with the Queso Fundido Classico hoping that it would be, well, queso. And it was. Sort of. It was baked cheese. I think what we both wanted then was fake mexican food. Something that we could scoop up with tortilla chips. What we got was a small baked dish of congealed cheese with small tortillas. Voila! Cheese taco. Bleh. I have to say though, that crzybeautifullife was very upset. And I don’t blame her. The poor girl can’t find real, fake-mexican queso anywhere in Chicago. What is a girl to do!?!  I would fly to Texas just to fulfill the craving. Oh wait…….

I had the Tacos Al Carbon. And this is how it is printed in the menu:

Tacos Al Carbon wood-grilled meat, poultry, fish or mushrooms sliced and served with roasted pepper rajas, two salsas, frijoles charros, guacamole and homemade tortillas

This is where my second (and last) moment of confusion came about. Same scenario: They have steak. They have chicken. They have fish. And they have mushrooms. Could someone please explain to me why they would not sell me Tacos Al Carbon with 1/2 steak and 1/2 mushroom? I didn’t even get a “let me check with the chef,” I got a flat out “NO.”  Now, this might just be the financial planner in me, but wouldn’t it be more economical for them to charge me for an order of steak, only give me 1/2 the portion and give me the cheaper mushrooms?  Again, charge me $20 more than the price. I DON’T CARE. Just give me what I want, ok? I mean, I wasn’t asking them to go find the rarest white truffle and serve it to me on a platter, right?

Ah yes, one last thing. They gave us 3 different salsas with our cheese tacos. (NO TORTILLA CHIPS, MIND YOU – but salsa nonetheless). Our waiter was telling us about the flavors in his broken English and asked us if we liked hot hot salsa. To which, of course, I replied, “Yes! Bring it on.”  So he substituted out one of our salsas for the hottest thing I have ever put in my mouth. I mean, thank goodness he warned us. All you have to do is put less than what you can hold on the tip of a fork onto your food and your mouth explodes. It was great!  …..until we saw the $2.75 tacked onto the end of the menu.

So I just realized that it sounds like we had a bad experience. On the contrary. Yes, it was a $50 lunch. And yes, the service sucked. And Yes, the waiter and hostess were mentally incompetent. But you cannot go wrong when you have the freshest ingredients and pair good tasting foods together. Aside from the cheese tacos, my meal was D-E-licious.

Topolobampo on Urbanspoon

Planning this itinerary has been one of the most frustrating processes of my entire travel history (my whole life), for the following reasons:

1. It is not possible to see either Spain or Portugal in one trip, never mind the two together.

2. Some hard decisions must be made on cities to include in the itinerary: There are too many tempting destinations to decide from. This is also difficult because they can be hundreds of miles apart from one another

3. Train travel can end up eating a good portion of the day

4. Trains do not connect cities that would seem like a logical connection, and if they do, they are S.L.O.W. trains

Apparently Spain and Portugal do not like each other very much, because in order to pass into one from the other via train, you must connect from Madrid to Lisbon. This is usually not convenient for any Spain/Portugal itinerary because Madrid is in the middle of the country and will have to be crisscrossed at least twice on any sensible itinerary. It reminds me of that riddle that they used to tell children about a farmer that is trying to cross a river with a fox, a chicken, and some grain and you had to get them all across the river without leaving the chicken and the fox or the grain and the chicken together. The same logical process that is used to solve that riddle is the same mental exercise that you must perform in order to create a viable Spain/Portugal itinerary. Here’s a riddle: How do you get from Seville to Lagos by train? Well, seeing that Lagos is 170 miles due west of Seville, you would think that there would be a direct train. Right? Wrong. So let’s see how to get there. Well, you must first take a train from Seville to Madrid (2 1/2 hours) and an overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon (10 hours) and then take a train from Lisbon to Lagos with one connection (nearly 4 hours). Or 908 miles total.  Oh that is only, let me see….738 miles out of the way. And I thought MARTA sucked. Ha.

So here is the final itinerary (unless someone out there has a brilliant suggestion and we make a change). So I suppose we should call it the tentative final itinerary then.  I am going to post the itinerary in three different formats since I know that some people are incapable of processing information in the same way that others do.

Portugal / Spain 2010

May 27th      leave Atl

May 28th      Arrive in Lisbon in the morning and sightsee all day

May 29th      Day trip from Lisbon to Sintra and Cascais (Sintra is 39 minute train from Lisbon and Cascais is 25 minutes from Lisbon)

May 30th      Take the morning train from Lisbon to Lagos (4 hours on train)

May 31st       Take a midmorning train from Lagos to Lisbon and spend the day in Lisbon. Take the 10:30 p.m. overnight train to Madrid.

June 1st         Madrid – Arrive at 9:00 a.m.

June 2nd       Take the morning train from Madrid to Seville (2 1/2 hours)

June 3rd        Take the mid-morning train from Seville to Granada (4 hours)

June 4th        Spend the day in Granada and take the 10:30 p.m. overnight train to Barcelona (arrive at 9 a.m.)

June 5th        Barcelona

June 6th        Barcelona

June 7th        Barcelona -> Atl

Here is a map…. but you will probably have to ZOOM OUT

Where the Days will be Spent

Thursday, May 27th           Flying that nightFriday, May 28th                 Lisbon

Saturday, May 29th            Sintra and Cascais

Sunday, May 30th               Lagos

Monday, May 31st                Lagos/Lisbon

Tuesday, June 1st                Madrid

Wednesday, June 2nd        Seville

Thursday, June 3rd            Seville/Granada

Friday, June 4th                  Granada

Saturday, June 5th             Barcelona

Sunday, June 6th                Barcelona

Monday, June 7th                Fly back to Atlanta

Where the Nights will be Spent

Thursday, May 27th   PlaneFriday, May 28th   Lisbon

Saturday, May 29th   Lisbon Sunday, May 30th   LagosMonday, May 31st   Overnight Train

Tuesday, June 1st   Madrid

Wednesday, June 2nd   Seville

Thursday, June 3rd   Grananda

Friday, June 4th  Overnight Train

Saturday, June 5th   Barcelona

Sunday, June 6th   Barcelona

Monday, June 7th   Plane Here are a couple more highlights….

Where the Nights will be Spent
Thursday May 27th Plane
Friday May 28th Lisbon
Saturday May 29th Lisbon
Sunday May 30th Lagos
Monday May 31st Overnight Train
Tuesday June 1st Madrid
Wednesday June 2nd Seville
Thursday June 3rd Granada
Friday June 4th Overnight Train
Saturday June 5th Barcelona
Sunday June 6th Barcelona
Monday June 7th Plane

So this series seems to be pretty popular. I guess everyone wants to see it from “the ground up.” This series shall hereafter be known as Planning: Spain and Portugal 2010.

 Well, the itinerary that I had previously come up with is lovely, but I feel like I could do it with my eyes closed. I need to wait about 5-10 years to head in that direction (or until I am no longer sick of the french riviera). Then we played with the idea of doing Istanbul (which I am dying to see), the Greek Isles and Cairo. But my theory on Africa in general is that I will wait until I can pay for 5 star accomodations (and safety) and not have to worry about contracting some virus because of the filth. (This does not make sense, I know).

So I think newtravlr and I have settled on backpacking through Spain and Portugal. Very exciting! So far I have devised this tentative itinerary: *you must zoom out

 

I can’t decide if we should begin in Lisbon or Barcelona but we will figure it out.

Here are some initial thoughts:

- In Portugal we will see Lisbon and head down to Lagos to party for a few days

 
Lagos

Lagos

 
- Apparently to get to Lisbon, you have to train to Madrid and then into Portugal (which means that what should be a couple hours of train time easily turns into an overnight train ride).
 
- Madrid will be awesome.
 
- Barcelona will be so much fun as usual. In the past I have stayed at the Ritz Roger de Lluria (but I doubt we will be able to afford that this time) and it was a spectacular place to stay.
 
                                                                
 
 
 
- One of my trusted travel  comrades insists, no demands that we stop in Marbella.  (Fine, fine…if we must….)
 
 
 
 
Marbella

Marbella

 
- I would also like to take a 2 day trip from Barcelona to Ibiza if possible.
 
 
 
 
 

So the best way that I can possibly show people how I put these trips together is to let everyone see the planning process from beginning to end. Everyone around me knows that I am itching to backpack again and so planning on one trip has begun. I am still trying to figure out a fall trip and a new year’s adventure for this year, so stay tuned. But if people are willing to go, then I am not going to pass up the opportunity to plan. Here is the start of Backpacking 2010:

An e-mail:

newtravlr and crzybeautifullife,

So I am itching to backpack as you both know. newtravlr and I came up with the idea to backpack for about 10 days over memorial day weekend in 2010. Tentative dates that I came up with are May 26th – June 3rd which would end us up with 7 days from work. These are odd dates should any of us choose to play airport roulette and non-rev. However, if we bite the bullet and purchase our tickets, we could go from May 28th – Sunday June 6th. Assuming that we take evening flights to arrive the morning of the 29th then we would technically only miss 4 days of work (unless we are all jet lagged and choose to take off Monday the 7th).

The itinerary needs some work. The crazy plan that I drew on a napkin at the amazing creperie in Geneva seems to be more of a pipe dream that would ideally need to be spread out over 2 1/2 weeks, not 10 days.

Originally, I had wanted to start in Barcelona partying all night on Las Ramblas and take the overnight train (drunkenly of course) to Bordeaux country and drink our way through a vineyard (one that is actually open crzybeautifullife, not like Rivaz) and take another night train to Geneva (day trip to Mont Blanc), then head over to Zermatt and finally see the Matterhorm, train to to Lake Como and spend the weekend playing rich, and then end up in Milan with empty backpacks, shop and head home.

*sigh*

But, alas, the train network between these cities resembles more of a MARTA set up than the convenient direct route paths we have become accustomed to. Bordeaux is entirely out of the way for us – so I picked Marseilles on the French Riviera (although I am a bit burnt out on the Riviera as a whole) and then stopping over in Geneva. The problem is that it will take us a good 5 hours to get from  Barcelona to Marseilles and we can’t even sleep b/c we will have to change trains. Also, it will take us about 4 hours to get from Marseilles to Geneva because there are apparently these things called mountains that we have to go around. Same deal with Geneva to Zermatt (which we learned last year after studying the maps for hours) but Zermatt is definitely worth it. Lake Como will be amazing and we need to either stay at Bellagio, Menaggio, or Varenna (all actoss the lake from one another) and there is no direct train route, Milan is easy to get to from the lake.

I am not happy with this itinerary. Let’s get creative. The world is open for possibilities. So go to Google maps and play.

the shrewd wanderer


To a travel junkie, hoping on a flight that was paid for entirely by those dusty old skymiles that were just sitting in an account accruing is the equivalent of walking into Target and finding out that they must liquidate their entire inventory for .50 cents an item. Or stealing that pottery barn living room set that was priced at $4,000 for $200.

Nothing irks me more than hearing my clients complain that they have 200,000 + skymiles and calling them “worthless.” If it weren’t so expensive to transfer miles, then my Christmas wish list would be made up of 1,000,000 skymiles. People who think they are worthless are lazy and do not know how to use them.

Not only that, but sometimes delta will suprise you with little presents. My facebook news feed blew up last week with friends who magically had 10,000 skymiles deposited into their account. Did I? No. But Delta, I love you none the less.

Here is the point of this blog: You need to accrue skymiles. And. Use. Them. What a concept. But don’t use them on crappy domestic flights. UNLESS, you are simply taking 10,000 skymiles to knock $100 off the ticket price (which is sometimes a great deal). Thank you Pay With Miles program. yes!

A great way to accrue miles, that I just discovered, is Skymiles Dining. Google it. Some places will give you 3 points for every dollar. And right now they are offering a special for double miles. An example: I had a lunch meeting this week and spent $16 including tip. I earned 3 miles on the dollar and double miles… so I earned nearly 100 skymiles just for lunch. Be smart. Rack up miles.

Update: After posting this, I read this article on Foxnews.com  – good tips

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,532516,00.html?test=faces

Oh Texas. How I love you. Let me count the ways. Hill country, barbeque, tex mex, armadillos, “Texas country” music, long roots seeded in a southern heritage that is truly unique to the state. I could go on for quite awhile.

Dallas has never really felt like Texas to me. But I have started embracing the fact that it is indeed very much a lonestar city, it just has a personality of it’s own.

Friday night was uneventful. Catching up with my long lost best friend and falling asleep halfway through a movie. But Saturday morning we were determined to go sailing. Or shall we call it “sailing.” I have always dreaded Texas heat, even compared to Georgia’s sweet humidity. But this weekend broke heat wave records even in Dallas. Oh boy. At one point the car’s dashboard was telling us that the beautiful weather outsidewas approximately 111F +.  (Yes, that is a plus sign). So after a not-so-quick stop at a local convenience store sandwich counter, we threw our bologna and cheese sandwiches and three bottles of Dasani into the car. If only we knew what was ahead of us, we might have stayed indoors all day. It took us awhile to get the boat rigged but before we knew it, we were off. “Sailing.”  With <5 mph wind. It reminded me of the “speedboat”  that we rented on Lake Geneva (that story will come in later posts). I decided that my $5 sunglasses needed to be cleaned. So I removed my croakies from my neck and dangled the glasses over the side of the boat. And then for some stupid reason, I just let go. I let go. For one split second my glasses looked like they were going to float so I reached out my hand and, deciding that going in the disgusting looking lake would not be a good idea, just watched them sink to the bottom of God knows where. Eww. I don’t even care about the sunglasses so much as I do the croakies. I mean, they had lasted me an entire year. Whatever.

We almost passed out trying to de-rig the boat. Honestly, we were both dizzy and had to take a break. Not just that but somehow I got 50spf sunscreen in my eye. BURN. That kind of heat will really make you sick.

After recovering from our near heat strokes, we ventured to Victor Tango’s for dinner.

victor tangos 1

 

We started with the Beer Braised Mussels with French Buttered Toast. D-e-licious. The butter on the toast did not taste any fancier than normal buttered toast, but the mussels were superb. I couldn’t exactly distinguish if the beer taste was coming from my lovely Fireman’s #4 Blonde Ale or from the mussels, but for the sake of giving credit we will agree that the flavor came from the mussels. YUM.

The next course was a venture into the newly popular trend of eating bone marrow. Looking back now, I have no idea what I was thinking. Since all of the “foodies” are doing this now, we thought that we were obligated to at least try it once in our lives. The fancy, non-savage name for the dish was Roasted Marrow Bones with Onion Confit and toast. It tastes like you think it would. The first bite was all right but the larger pieces were much too gooey for me. While we were trying to stomach this stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder, “At what point did the culinary trend setters decide that we don’t have enough variety in our foods that they started looking at other areas of the animal to eat.” Was someone just chewing on a bone one day and realized that there was stuff inside? Definitely glad that I tried it, even if it was just to see what the hype was about, but I don’t expect to put that stuff into my mouth again.

I have to admit, when John insisted on the Lollypop Lamb Chops with Honey Balsamic, I was not excited. While I have only ever eaten finely prepared lamb, I cannot say that it is my favorite thing in the whole world. In fact, I tend to be a beef eater. But these little “lollypops” were awesome.  And when I mean awesome, I mean that they tasted like BEEF. These were cooked to medium rare on a grill and the honey balsamic crusted the edges to form a cripsy outer shell, perfect for preparing you for the soft and yummy meat. The mashed yams underneath were a nice suprise as well.

But what came out last was, by far, one of the most delicious things that I have ever had the pleasure to consume. Crab, Mac & Jack Gratin with Pancetta. Oooey gooey and oh-so-tasty, the best mac and cheese ever. The crab was finely grated into the dish but you could definitely taste a hint of the crustacean.  The cheese had been thickened so that it was a hot gooey mess, drowning the perfectly al dente elbows. I don’t know where the pancetta went, but perhaps it was hidden like the crab? We had to box this up and take it with us because we were so full from everything else. But I can attest that at 2 a.m., after a great night of drinking good beer, it tastes just as good warmed up in a microwave.

For lunch on Sunday, I attempted to visit the hyped up tei/an for lunch but it was closed :(  Perhaps I should have checked the internet before I left, but I was on vacation. Since we had already had the valet take the car, we just went across the turnabout to Jorge’s (tex mex). Great suprise. I had the brisket tacos with avacado salad. The waiter served it with a smokey barbeque sauce that I wanted to bottle up and keep forever. Must say that it was a first for barbeque sauce on my tacos (esp. with guac) but it was delicious. We also discovered that they have bottomless mimosas for $6 (we didn’t see it on the menu so not sure when this offer is valid except for before 2 p.m. on Sundays – possibly Saturday’s as well??).

For our touristy event of the weekend, we decided to check out the 6th floor museum. The exhibit started out well. It was packed, some relief from the heat although it is a warehouse and hard to keep cool with a massive crowd and being so high up. The background of the election was well reflected and the audio guide was very to-the-point. In fact, there were a few times we had to stop the audio guide because we wanted to read the panels and look at the pictures. If only every audio guide could offer the just-enough-info-i-know-that-your-attention-span-is-short format. The exhibit is laid out in timeline format and halfway through the museum is when it discusses the assassination JFK was shot. For some reason, all that I could do is feel an overwhelming sense of sympathy for Jackie. I couldn’t help but think of a quote that she said once on a documentary: “The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship.” (Even though she never married the third time) Such a jaded perspective from someone that had every right to be jaded. We flew through the last 1/4th of the museum because it seemed to be exhibiting what JFK would have accomplished in office. We dropped off our audio guides and stopped by the gift shop for a cold Coca-cola (to our great surprise and happiness they were in glass bottles).

The rest of the weekend we avoided the heat and stayed in doors. We did play trivia that night at Trinity Hall but lost terribly because one whole round was on 70’s TV.

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