Sunday, June 30, 2013

Just A Minute In June

Now that I've finally finished blogging about our trip to the USA, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things. It's almost time to say goodbye to June so I thought I'd do a little update on life lately.

Reading...The Potato Factory by Bruce Courtenay, although it's taking me a while to get into it.

Watching...Friends! I've never actually watched the full series, having only caught bits and pieces when it's been on TV. I'm currently up to Season 3 and absolutely loving it. When I was younger I didn't find it very funny but I think that's because I probably didn't get the jokes! Such a great show. Ben and I are also watching the new season of True Blood which has been pretty awesome so far.

Eating...I feel like we've been eating out or ordering take-away a bit too much lately so I just did a massive grocery shop and stocked up for the week. I've just put a vegetable and chickpea curry on using my slow cooker (first time!) so we'll be having that tonight. It already smells amazing. For the rest of the week we'll be having things like pasta, burritos, veggie schnitzel wraps and homemade pizzas. Feels good to be stocked up and not have to worry about going to the shops every night.

Listening to...The new City and Colour album, a bit of Matt Corby and Of Monsters and Men.

Loving...The fact that Ben and I have been getting out a bit more lately, spending time with old friends and making new ones and also that we are feeling a bit more settled in Sydney. There are exciting things on the horizon for both of us :)

Hope you all have a great week ahead. Fingers crossed the rain stops in Sydney. Seriously...8 days and counting!!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Chicago Part Two: Cake Flavoured Vodka plus more

Gosh, it has taken me long enough to finish sharing the rest of our time in Chiacgo and the States in general. We've been back for a month now - how sad!
The weather took a little turn for the worse on our second day in Chicago, with heavy rain and wind settling in. We decided to use this as an opportunity to boost the American economy and take a trip north near the Wisconsin border to the Gurnee outlet malls. We spent the whole day at the mall and all came away with multiple bags of goodies. Still can't get over how cheap shoes are in the US. We're being ripped off down under, folks.

That night, my cousin Denise took us out to a vegetarian restaurant in Evanston called Blind Faith. We shared the most amazing vegan chocolate peanut butter cake. Still salivating over it now.

The next day was absolutely FREEZING. We all rugged up and decided to head back downtown. I made a quick stop at Urban Outfitters to buy a beanie - my ears thanked me. We headed to Millenium Park to take selfies in the bean (or Cloudgate) and had a look at some of the public art. The clouds cleared so we decided to head up Willis Tower but when we got there we found it was closed due to the strong winds. Dang, was really looking forward to scaring myself silly on the glass viewing platform! Next time.
It was still pretty damn chilly so to warm up we took the train north of the city and found a dive bar called Friar Tuck. My sister's boyfriend Al had recommended it for its super friendly staff. We had an awesome afternoon sitting at the bar and chatting to the (super friendly) bar tender. She gave us multiple free drinks and also got me to try cake flavoured vodka (!) which was amazing. I seriously wish I could find some here. By the way, they also had buttered popcorn and glazed donut flavoured vodka, among about 10 other obscure ones. We had the best time there and couldn't believe how dang friendly the staff were.
Across the road was a hot dog shop called Flub-a-dub-chubs (also recommended by Al). We headed there for a dinner of delicious Chicago-style hot-dogs (vego for me) and fries. At the bar we got chatting to some people who told us about a new arcade/bar (Beercade, to be precise) that was opening that night nearby. We headed there after dinner for some more drinks and unlimited games of pinball and old school video games. Ben is a pretty keen gamer so he was right in his element! I also met a really lovely bar tender here and I swear we could have been great friends. If only I knew her name. Would have to say that this day was one of the highlights of our whole trip!
On our last proper day in Chicago, we decided to go to Six Flags! I wasn't too keen on the idea to begin with, but I'm so glad we went. We had an absolute blast riding roller coasters all day. So proud of myself for going on some of the really scary ones, too. It had been so long since I'd done anything like that and I had forgotten how amazing adrenaline feels! I would definitely recommend visiting Six Flags if you ever get the chance. That night, we were invited over to Denise's house for cocktails with the people she lives with. They also took us out to Blind Faith again for an amazing meal and lots of wine. Again - the mid west hospitality is incredible. We certainly felt the love. Before we knew it we were heading to the airport for our long journey home. It was great to meet up with Soph and Al again and hear all about their time in New Orleans. I have to say that even though it was my third trip to the States, I still can't wait to go back!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Chicago Part One: Architectural River Cruise

The last stop on our American adventure was Chicago, Illinois. A few years ago when I was living in the States, I visited Chicago to spend Christmas with my Mum's cousin Denise who has been living there for nearly 15 years. It was Winter, of course, but you haven't experienced Winter until you've spent it in Chicago. I loved my first visit, despite the cold, but was pretty excited to visit the Windy City in Spring.

On our first afternoon we made the most of the clear weather and went on an architectural river cruise through the city. This had been highly recommended by a few friends as well as Denise. Chicago is such a beautiful city with so much history and the architecture is pretty amazing and so diverse. The tour we did was with Wendella Cruises and I would definitely recommend it. It went for about an hour and a half and the guide had lots of information and stories to share about pretty much every single building we went past. 

Now, I'll always stay true to my one and only love (New York), but I have to say, Chicago falls pretty high on my favourite U.S cities, so far. I honestly couldn't get over the rows and rows of tulips lining the streets downtown and the large amount of parks and greenery. Plus, the mid-west folk are so darn friendly!
Deep dish pizza was a must-do on all of our itineraries. Denise took us out to Giodarno's in Evanston, near where we were staying. It was certainly worth the food coma, let me tell you. We were a little bit ambitious and ended up with heaps left-over. Who would have thought 'serves two' actually means 'serves a large family'?

More from this lovely city coming soon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I love you, long weekends

1. A beautiful sunset over the suburb where I used to live in Newcastle.
2. My sister treated me to some pancakes on Monday morning. Green juice expertly juiced by me.
3. We went for a drive to the headland and turned up just in time to spot some whales migrating. Very exciting!
4. A blog post wouldn't be a blog post without mentioning food. We made some veggie mince pies for a late Monday lunch. Pie-makers are the bomb.
5. Green juice for everyone!
6. I miss the seaside.
7. Think I found my dream house.
8. One thing I miss about Newcastle is the amount of awesome cafes and how accessible they are.

Just a few snapshots from my long weekend which I spent in Newcastle with my family (minus big bro). I got to catch up with a couple of close friends, finally saw Gatsby (LOVED it) and generally had a very nice relaxing time with my loved ones. Hope yours was equally as nice!

Monday, June 3, 2013

NYC Part Three

This is the last instalment of my adventures in NYC. On the Saturday we headed out to Williamsburg to eat ourselves silly at Smorgasburg. If you're ever in NYC on a Saturday (during warmer months) I would definitely recommend checking it out (that's if you like eating). The Smorgasburg markets are part of the Brooklyn Flea, which is on every Sunday at the same place. The choice of food is quite amazing and you'll see things you've probably never heard of before. My sister and I started by sharing a passionfruit doughnut from Dough. Isn't there some kind of saying about eating dessert first? Anyway, next I had a vegetarian hot dog from Asia Dogs. They have so many interesting varities of hot dogs with all sorts of toppings. Mine had a mango coleslaw and peanuts! Next I had some eggplant dumplings - also great. I would have liked to stay the whole day and eat but I'll probably have to do that another time. 

We walked around Williamsburg for a little while until it started to rain. We found a coffee shop/bar on Wythe Avenue (I think it was called Kinfolk) and huddled there to try and wait out the rain. The rain stuck around but we realised we were right near Brooklyn Bowl. Can't think of many better rainy day activities than bowling! Brooklyn Bowl is a really cool music venue and bar and has about 15 or so bowling lanes. We played one game (I came second last - thanks to my sister for being worse than me hehe) before heading back to Manhattan.
On the Sunday morning I met my friend Amy for brunch in SoHo. Amy was also visiting from Australia and fortunately our itineraries just overlapped. We had brunch at Balthazar which is a really popular French restaurant and bakery. If you go on a weekend you can expect a wait - it was about half an hour for us. It's a beautiful old restaurant and the food is excellent. I had the most amazing waffles! After brunch we had a look around some of the shops in SoHo and met up with Amy's friend. As I was super broke by that stage I left them to do their shopping and headed back to the hotel.

That afternoon I got to catch up with a couple more of my NYC friends. I met one friend at The Smith which is a bar and restaurant near the hotel where we stayed. I wish I'd discovered it sooner at it was very cool. They also have a restaurant in the East Village. That night, Ben and I went for dinner with two other friends on the Upper West Side. It was awesome to be able to introduce Ben to my friends and also see their new, beautiful apartment. They invited us back for a drink and a round of a board game called Blokus. It was a perfect way to spend our last night in NYC!

On our last morning there we made a spontaneous decision to visit Top of the Rock. I'm glad we did this as even though I've done it a few times now it's always so amazing to see the city from above. Before long we were headed back to the airport to make our way to Chicago. As you can probably guess, I had an amazing time in NYC and I'm glad I got to share it with my siblings, Al and Benny. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

NYC Part Two

Next on our itinerary was to catch the (free) Staten Island Ferry for a view of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Seeing the new World Trade Center from the water really put things into perspective. That thing is massive! It was a pretty grey and cold day and we weren't too sure what to do next. In the end we caught the 1 train up town to the Upper West Side and had lunch at one of my old favourite haunts, Peace Food Vegan Cafe. I wish I'd had more time to spend up there - definitely one of my favourite neighbourhoods. 

That afternoon we found ourselves back in Times Square (I can't really remember why) and the boys (Ben and Al) ended up getting hassled into buying tickets to a comedy show while Sam, Sophie and I managed to escape. They had a great time, thankfully, but it was a very frustrating experience. Being heckled is one of the not-so-fun parts about being a recognisable tourist. That afternoon, the boys went off to see a movie (it was a pretty miserable day) while Soph and I did some girl things like visit the Mac makeup store and eat Magnolia cupcakes. 

While Al and Ben went to the comedy show that night, Sam, Soph and I headed back down to the East Village to another old favourite of mine, S'mac. This place specialises in Macaroni and Cheese. You can choose from lots of different combinations and toppings. They even do gluten-free and vegan! We eventually rolled ourselves out of there and while Sam headed back to the hotel, Soph and I went for a couple of drinks at a rooftop bar in midtown called 230 Fifth. You can see the spectacular view of the Empire State Building above!
Ben and Al had a little too much fun at the Comedy Show so the next day we all did our own thing while they slept it off. Okay, that was just Ben haha. It was a lovely day and I decided to head out by myself to the Upper East side where I spent a few hours strolling around Madison, Park and Fifth Avenues admiring the amazing apartments and thinking about the entirely different world some of those people live in. 

I had heard about the Dean and Deluca store in SoHo so was really excited to find they have a smaller one on the UES. I spent a good half hour or so salivating over all the cakes and bread before eventually settling on some sushi to take to Central Park for lunch. It was really peaceful sitting in the park with my lunch. There were a heap of people sun baking because it was so warm that day. I then spent a little time window shopping along Madison Avenue and convincing myself that every well-dressed person was famous. I stopped at the Aesop store and bought some moisturiser and scored a few samples from the lovely sales assistant. Before heading back to the hotel I decided to treat myself to a manicure. 

That night was the baseball! Ben had been looking forward to this the whole trip and we had so much fun. My brother Sam came with us too. Ben managed to pick really good seats and we were only a few rows back from the field. I was actually kinda paranoid about being hit in the face by a ball! We drank a few beers, ate some terrible food and had a great time. Unfortunately the Yankees lost, but it was a close game!
We made the most of the good weather the next day and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. The highlight of course was eating pizza at Grimaldi's on the other side! Ben's face above says it all.

That night was a highlight for me. Some Australian friends of mine who live in NYC invited Ben and I to a competitive story-telling event in a bookstore in SoHo. The event was called 'The Moth' and happens regularly around the country. Storytellers are given a theme and the opportunity to put their names down on the night. They are then called up to tell a five minute true story which they are then scored on. It was so much fun and felt like such a 'only in New York' thing to do (even though it happens elsewhere hehe). The theme that night was 'envy'. Some of the stories were hilarious while others were quite serious and powerful.

Following that our friends took us to the West Village for dinner where we crammed into a hole-in-the-wall Indian joint for some delicious Kati Rolls. Because we weren't quite bursting at the seems yet, we walked a little further to a gelato shop to seal the deal. It was great to see my friends again and a perfect night of laughs and food.

I've just got a few more days to write about but I'll do that in another post as this is long enough!

Photos by me.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

NYC Part One

Despite scoring the worst taxi driver in the world for our very slow journey from JFK to Manhattan, I couldn't contain my excitement as that familiar skyline came into view. We spent eight nights in NYC and stayed at the The Pod Hotel on 51st Street. It's a pretty hip hotel with basic modern rooms and an awesome rooftop (first pic). 

Ever since I left NYC after my short stint living there a few years ago, I've been wanting to take Ben with me to show him why I love it so much. To be honest I think he was a bit overwhelmed to begin with and couldn't quite get his bearings but by the end of the trip he was feeling more comfortable and starting to know his way around (or at least the difference between Uptown and Downtown hehe). We both agreed that the next time we go we'll stay in an apartment and not worry about doing the touristy things.

The afternoon we arrived we took a walk from our hotel to 42nd Street, past my old office and into Grand Central Terminal to watch the comings and goings for a little while. From there we made a mandatory visit to Times Square (never again! haha) and had dessert at Ellen's Stardust Diner where the waiters and waitresses are aspiring Broadway stars and sing to you while they serve. Lotsa fun!

The next morning we had breakfast around the corner from our hotel at a diner called the Morningstar Cafe. It's just your standard American diner but it has a special place in my heart as I stayed at the same hotel when I first moved to NYC and my Dad (who accompanied me for the first week or so) and I would go there every morning. The food is cheap and the servings are huge.

From there we walked up 5th Avenue to Central Park and spent a few hours wandering around and admiring the Spring blooms (okay, maybe that was just me). Exiting the park we walked down Central Park West to Columbus Circle and had lunch at Whole Foods. Oh how I miss that place! We then took the subway to the Meatpacking District and walked the High Line. It was super chilly that day so we were stoked to find a Blue Bottle Coffee stand along the way. I've now experienced the High Line in Winter, Summer and Spring with the latter being my favourite for sure.
There's me navigating the busy NYC streets and a family of tracksuit enthusiasts. 
The next day Ben and my brother and I went down to the East Village in search of pizza and pizza we found. I enjoyed being back in the East Village as that's where my friend Jess and I stayed when we visited last year. We wound up at Artichoke where we grabbed a slice (or two in Ben's case) and ate it out the front. SO GOOD. After wandering the leafy East Village streets for a little while we decided to head further downtown to the World Trade Center memorial. I hadn't done this before and I'm glad I did. The memorial is really beautiful and standing underneath the new One World Trader Center building is just awe inspiring. That evening we had dinner near out hotel then grabbed a few beverages to enjoy on the rooftop.
More to come!

Photos by me, my brother and my sister.