Catch-up: Fall 2017

Alright, whoever guessed that I wouldn’t keep up with the European vacation posts gets their money back and more.  Forward this post to seven friends and in 30 days, a check from a very legitimate source will appear.

I kid, I kid.  Although I will finish the posts, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do a linkback similar to the Switzerland trip from last year.  A lot has gone on this Fall and I’ve done myself a disservice in not keeping up with my blog in real time since the main purpose of this thing is to serve as an e-diary for the places I go.

So.  After an amazing September vacation, it was a bit of an adjustment to realize that the vacation we had been planning for almost a year had come and gone.  It was so awesome and we had the best time.  SMS and I had a wonderful time with his family in Italy, which was sandwiched between a road trip encompassing Germany, Lichtenstein and Switzerland before and Slovenia & Germany after.  Things that happened in October and November include…

Book of Mormon Set
  • I saw the Book of Mormon.  The score was quite good and the musical overall was very funny.  It crossed the line a few times for me but it never approached “must walk out” levels.

    Ceramics in the Peacock Room
  • I went to the Freer Gallery re-opening with my parents.  The new exhibits are well-organized by theme with thoughtful design by the exhibit curators.  I was happy to see The Peacock Room again.  It was also interesting to realize what an amazing American art collection that Freer had collected, presented in a small-ish gallery adjacent to the Peacock Room.  I loved the Whistler nocturnes on display.  They were very moving.
    Sbragia vineyards, seen from the deck.


    Lake Sonoma, the dam and the Dry Creek appellation
  • SMS and I had a day trip out to Sonoma, which was a little ambitious but a lot of fun.  We went to two wineries.  Sbragia had a beautiful view and we really liked the wines at Acorn.  We arrived early to Acorn so we were allowed to wander the vineyards, wine glasses in hand.  I may have pretended we owned the place.  In between the two wineries, we went to the Lake Sonoma dam and walked through Healdsburg.  Next time we go, we would love to stay in Healdsburg.  It is so cute.  There were several great looking restaurants, including the more market/food hall-feel Shed.
    Acorn winery from the top of the hill.
    Hanging in the vineyard
    Near Swan’s Market

    Rodin sculpture, Klimt images
  • The Friday of that same weekend, I went to Oakland & San Francisco on my own.  In Oakland, I went to the farmer’s market outside Swan’s Market, which was awesome.  I was there on the early side, which was good for my wallet since there are several cute stores that all opened at noon.   Another time… In San Francisco, I went to the Legion of Honor Museum and saw the Rodin/Klimt exhibit which was excellent.  I also purchased a pass to an exhibit demonstrating that the white statues and terra cottas of antiquity were often painted and more opulent than we currently see due to deterioration over time.  It was an interesting new perspective.  IMG_2944
    Overlay caption added, if you can imagine

    A favorite painting of Dad’s and mine
  • Dad and I went to the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting exhibit, on display at the National Gallery through 21 Jan 2018.   My sister had told me about it and remarked how the ladies of Vermeer always looked a little peeved and slightly disturbed by their sudden exposure to the light.  So, I was mature and took pictures that I annotated later and sent to her.

    This spot deserves photodocumentation. Notice the no parking arrow only extending away from Dad!
  • I also found the most amazing parking spot ever.  There was room for one car between two separate government parking areas with significant no parking signage.  But this one spot was ok for a commoner.  So I took it!

    Fiona the Hippo!
  • I learned about Fiona the Hippo!IMG_2964
  • Finally, Happy Thanksgiving from SMS and I!

Southern Roadtrip, Day 10: Savannah Breakfast

Good morning Savannah!


We had ordered our B&B breakfast as room service so we could eat on our balcony.  Here’s to somewhat poor life choices since the surrounding beauty was somewhat diminished by the intense heat.


Breakfast was amazing although half-way through, we transitioned back inside.  We split one order of the blueberry bread pudding and one order of the Eggs Benedict.  It was so much food and all so delicious!


We left the beautiful Kehoe House and drove to Savannah Airport.  The trip was amazing and we saw so.much!  We definitely saw everything we wanted.  Maybe next time we’ll try to cut some things out to reduce driving time but knowing us, we’ll still probably try to cram everything in!

Total Mileage:


Southern Road Trip, Day 8: Grayton Beach to Apalachicola

After a night’s sleep interrupted by a door-slamming, loud-talked neighbor (boooooo!), SMS and I had breakfast at the Hibiscus cafe, which was included in our B&B package. We split the multi-grain pancakes and an egg dish and were really happy with the meal.

After breakfast, it was time to hit the road.  About 45 minutes into the drive, we stopped at Seaside, which was an exquisitely cute town.  The beach and water there looked spectacular although we didn’t go in.  There were a lot of Airstream trailor “food trucks” that were serving pretty delicious looking things but we weren’t hungry at all.  I told SMS that this was my ideal beach food- still junk food, but over-priced and artisanal.  SMS and I agreed that this sounded very white to say.

I also checked out Seadog bookstore, where I ended up talking to one of the ladies there for awhile.  We swapped book recs and I walked out with three!  She and her husband split her time between Seaside and Memphis.  She was very interesting to talk to and I’m glad I met her!  We figured out that we shared the same first name so no wonder we thought highly of each other.

I had heard good things about Rosemary, but we drove through and I just checked it out through the window.  In the future, I think a Florida Panhandle vacation centered on Seaside would be pretty awesome.  Maybe I’ll visit my sister when she’s living in Pensacola!  

As we headed for Apalachicola, we were entering oyster country.  We stopped at Indian Pass Raw Bar for a late lunch.  It’s so popular that there was still a long wait but it was worth it!  The local oysters are meaty but with a very mild taste- not particularly briny or butter-y, which is how I’ve always thought of dividing oysters.  We shared oyster, gumbo and a slice of Key Lime Pie.  We also self-served ourselves a draft beer and made our check on the honor system orange tab.  It was a pretty great experience!


We drove through Apalachicola and crossed the two bridges to St George Island.  We drove through the State Park, which had beautiful beaches but some biting flies so we didn’t last too long.  It’s weird- the bites don’t hurt severely but they are pretty annoying!

Our hotel was off of Airbnb and check-in desk-less.  It was amazing!  A beautifully restored building with gorgeous hardwood floors and pretty decor.  We went out and sat on the balcony for a bit while trying to figure out what to do for dinner.  


We decided to head over the bridge to Eastpoint to eat at Lynn’s Quality Oysters, which had rave reviews.  It was also a Southern Road Trip jackpot because our waiter had the thickest regional accent of the trip.  He was a super skinny, super nice oysterman who was waiting tables on the dinner shift.  He told us the back porch was his turf and that if management left him alone, he could manage the whole thing on a busy night.    That night, it was just us and one other table so we talked for a bit.  


We ordered raw and baked oysters.  The raw oysters were so good we wished we had just stuck with those, but I had been interested to try the variation since we really hadn’t had oysters any other way since our grilled oyster experiences in Japan.


We left just as they were closing and took two slices of Key Lime pie to go.  We ate on the balcony of our hotel and they were absolutely delicious.   SMS and I usually share dessert but that night, my slice was mine!  It ended up being a good decision because the slices were medium-sized and amazing.  Sharing would have been hard!


Southern Road Trip, Day 7: Pensacola to Grayton Beach

We woke up in Pensacola and hung out with the Topp family while they got ready for their day.  The nanny came and we offered to watch the littlest one for a bit, but the nanny had her own schedule and decided to take her.  Boo hoo!

We decided to make ourselves feel better by heading to the beach.  It was a beautiful day and we started out at one of the Pensacola beaches near a hotel.  We stayed for about an hour before deciding to explore further East down Santa Rosa Island.

Away from the hotels, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is a nature reserve with incredible beaches.  It would be a great place for road biking since there is a strict 25 mph speed limit for cars.  We stopped at Beach 32 and thought it was the most beautiful beach of the trip.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice but the water was crystal clear, perfect temperature and the sand was a fine, sugar-like consistency.


After a beach morning, we stopped at the Shark Bite food truck, which had a lot of good Yelp reviews.  We were too late for the breakfast menu but the lunch offerings were pretty good.  I had the Jerk Pork tacos while SMS had the Shrimp and Chorizo.  I would definitely recommend this place- the daily lunch specials also sounded delicious.


After a quick stop at Donut Hole Bakery in Ft. Walton beach where we picked up a slice of key lime pie, we continued on to Grayton Beach.


Grayton Beach was absolutely beautiful.  We went down the street from our hotel for an early dinner/late snacks at Chiringo and then we went to the beach to watch the sunset.


After sunset, we headed back to the hotel.  We were a little hungry so we went to AJ’s Grayton Beach, which was pretty terrible.  The oysters were spoilt and the rest of the food was not great.  A definite do-not recommend.

Southern Road Trip, Day 6: Vicksburg to Pensacola

I woke up and went for a run.  If it’s so humid that it feels like you’re running through a shower, do you have to shower afterwards?  (Answer: yes, duh!).  After the run, I showered off and we had breakfast at the Bezinsky House.  We talked to the owners for a bit before heading off to the Vicksburg Military Park.  SMS wanted to check out the USS Cairo, a well-preserved “Ironsides” boat from the Civil War.  It was sunk by a remote-operated landmine and the silt of the river preserved it for many years.  


The reconstruction efforts were extensive and resulted in a pretty incredible display.  The engineering of the ship with the turbine steam engine was really interesting, although there was no reconstruction of the steam engine connection to the turbine for moving the paddlewheel, so I was a little confused.  Also, it was pretty amazing to see the weak spots in the ship design.  Although it looked like an armor-covered large toad, there was definitely an Achilles heel where the turbine was located since it was rather exposed with no cannons stationed nearby.

After the USS Cairo, we drove through the battlegrounds on the way to the Interstate.  We crossed the Mississippi into Louisiana where we were disappointed to learn that the drive-through daiquiri stand didn’t open until 1.  We backtracked through Jackson with another stop at Deep South Pops after lunch at New Southern Food near the hospital.


Then we made the long push to Pensacola where we were staying with friends from my residency.  We had an awesome night catching up over takeout from McGuire’s.  We also “helped” put their kids to bed, which I don’t think was particularly helpful since the kids were all revved up over their visitors.  They were very cute!


Southern Road Trip, Day 5: Montgomery to Selma to Vicksburg

We started the 4th of July with a breakfast of “Crazy Eggs” at a cute Venezuelan cafe in downtown Birmingham.  There wasn’t much open but this would have been a winner any day!  The owner spoke with us for a bit about her cooking approach and Venezuelan domestic politics.  We had a side of arepas, which were delicious.  A group of three women walked in a little after us and one of them had a “Surprise me” meal which ended up being a larger arepa with pulled pork.  It looked amazing!

After breakfast, we went to the Southern Law Center and Memorial.  The building was closed for the holiday but we walked around the Memorial fountain with its engraved Civil Rights movement timeline. 

We also went to the Equal Rights Initiative headquarters, which I really wanted to see after reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.  The building is one of the former slave warehouses of Birmingham. The theme of historical oppression transforming over time to a place of new hope and work for justice was also reflected in Selma later that day.

Our destination that day was Vicksburg, MS.  SMS wanted to see the Mississippi River and that was one of the more convenient places to visit, although “convenient” is relative since it added fair bit of mileage to our trip.  But seeing the Mississippi contributed to the “Southerness” of our trip. 

On the way, we stopped in Selma.  We walked across the bridge and went to the Visitor Interpretive Center. I was surprised that the bridge had been dedicated and named in 1939 after the Confederate Genereal and KKK leader Edmund Pettus. It’s amazing how from those beginnings, a potent location and symbol of the Civil Rights transformed the meaning of that bridge.It is so incredible how brave the marchers were.  I didn’t realize that a large reason that churches and congregations were involved in the Civil Rights movement is that was the only location where African-Americans could gather in large groups.

We stopped in Jackson, MS and had a sweet treat at Deep South Pops.  Although SMS says that I find all the hipster places during our travels, this was his find!  It was awesome- we even stopped by again the next day on our way back.

We arrived in Vicksburg where we stayed at the Bezinsky House.  They were having a party they invited us to.  We hung out for a bit, although I was sad that the hot dogs were boiled, not BBQ’d.  Not to sound like a person looking a gift horse in the mouth but boiled hot dogs!  Yuck!  Ok, ok, it does sound like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth.  The house was so exquisite though that I was fooled- I thought Martha Stewart herself would be on hand for a BBQ grill extravaganza!

SMS and I went down to the riverside park to see the fireworks.  The display was incredible.  It lasted for 20-25 minutes and was spectacular.  The scale of the show seemed more fitting for a much larger city but maybe they were trying to make up for the 83 years they didn’t celebrate the 4th of July after losing the Battle of Vicksburg that day in 1863.

Southern Road Trip, Day 4: Huntsville to Montgomery

We woke up and saw this outside our window:


Yes!  We were right next door to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.  Since Mark is in the industry and I had Space Camp fever in the mid-80s (is there anyone of a certain age who didn’t?), we had decided to make a day of it during our trip.


We headed over after a breakfast at the Marriott hotel, which was good.  Not great, but it did the job.  Then we drove one parking lot over, parked and went inside.  While the “drive” sounds super-lazy (it was), we didn’t know exactly where to go and it was super-humid.


In the museum, we checked out almost all of the exhibits.  There was a room filled with patents and prototypes from work done at the Center over the years.  There was a recreation of Wernher von Braun’s office, which had an interesting citation on the wall discussing how he built the German missile defense in 1937 and, next sentence, came to the U.S. in 1945 to work on the space program.  Well, a there was a pretty major world event during those years which he was very likely complicit in the horrible conditions and workers’ deaths at Peenemünde.  Michael Chabon’s Moonglow, while a work of fiction, explores this issue from the perspective of a man who loved space, worked on Operation Paperclip and then, when he saw Peenemünde during the search for von Braun, became completely disillusioned with his former hero.  I really want to read this book on Operation Paperclip- maybe later in the Summer.


After that, we headed over to the Saturn V building, which is really impressive.  There is an upright Saturn V outside the building and inside, there is one on its side, sectioned into each stage.  It was very cool to walk underneath the rocket while reading the displays on the space race.

At 1230, we had bought tickets for the bus tour, which took us over to the Marshall Space Flight Center.  We went to the International Space Station’s Payload Operations Center, aka the ground support for all of the experiments underway on the ISS.  The full-size mock-up of the ISS lab was pretty cool.  I felt a little sorry for the office workers who had a bunch of tourists stare at them like a zoo exhibit, but they didn’t seem to mind (don’t people say that about zoo animals too?).


The coolest part was seeing the historic rocket stands, where different rockets were tested.  It shows how much more powerful the rockets became over time by the increasing size of the stand.  The Saturn V stand was huge and a little further in the background, we saw the stand for the new generation of rockets.

After five hours in the museum, I think we pretty much saw everything!  We got in the car and drove South.  Although we were staying in Montgomery, we decided to eat dinner in Birmingham, which was an excellent choice.  We drove past the Sloss Furnaces, which were really cool-looking and I think it would be really cool to see a concert there or take some pictures.  We were, however, on a mission and that mission was food.


We went to Saw’s Soul Kitchen and it was off.the.hook.  Oh my gosh, I would be there all the time if I could.  SMS ordered the pork & greens, which is a deceptively simple names for one of the best BBQ dishes I’ve ever had.   There was a bed of cheesy grits with a nest of collard greens and pulled pork.  Crispy shoestring onion rings were the topper.  It was amazing.  But I wasn’t even jealous because I had also ordered well!  I had the sample platter with chicken wings, pulled pork and chicken with the best side of fried okra ever! We shared (yay!) and it was incredible.  I highly, highly recommend the restaurant if you are able to go.


After dinner, because we weren’t hungry, I thought we should get ice cream!  We went to Big Spoon Creamery and split a two-scooper of blackberry goat cheese and buttermilk peach.  It was amazing.  Best dinner of the trip (spoiler alert?!).

Somehow, we weren’t in a total food coma so we drove to Montgomery to stay the night before heading out to Vicksburg the next day.  We explored the city the next day but that will have to wait for the Day 5 recap!