Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 museum and memorial.

Joseph and Meredith

My goal was to write a long blog post about our experience at the 9/11 Museum and Memorial from last year, but that didn’t quite pan out. Instead, I will just share some photos of our visit and a big thank you to Joseph DeRenzo. He will more than likely never see this, but his time shared with Meredith and I left such an impression that day. Joe spent the days following the 9/11 attacks removing and sifting through debris, either at Ground Zero or at the Fresh Kills Landfill. After his work was finished, he left the island and did not return for almost 10 years. He came back to become one of the first docents at the museum. After meeting him and hearing stories about other docents, it seems like that job has become a healing process for many. Our hearts goes out to them, and the friends and families that lost love ones. This includes Joe, who lost a friend working for Cantor Fitzgerald in One World Trade Center (North Tower).  To America’s finest that risked and/or gave their life that day, and continue to deal with the aftermath. May we always remember 9/11 for those that were taken too early, and for the strength and courage displayed by our country in the response. 

 Slurry wall and the Last Column 

Columns from point of impact on North Tower (floors 96-99)

American Airlines Flight 11 fuselage section, which struck the North Tower

South Tower bent column 

 Floppy discs

Section of the 362' tall North Tower antenna

Ladder Company 3, which lost 11 firefighters

While leaving the museum, you look up at these base columns

Saturday, May 28, 2016

west coast trip 2015, day 1.

After visiting the Northeast earlier in 2015, we made a goal to see the West coast later in the year. After debating on quite a few itineraries, the two of us agreed on this:
Monterey, CA – 2 Days
San Francisco, CA – 2 Days
Redwood Forest (somewhere in CA) – 1 Day
Jacksonville, OR – 1 Day
Portland, OR – 2 Days

Just like our trip to Europe, it was straight up Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Over an 8 day stretch, we flew 3,500 miles, rode a train for 50 miles, and drove close to 1,000 miles with 18 hours behind the wheel, and managed to get only one speeding ticket. While I love metrics, I won’t bore you with anymore…at least for a little bit.

Taking a morning flight to San Jose help give us plenty of time on our first day. The two extra hours allowed us to get there, grab a rental car, and drive all the way down the Monterey all in time for lunch. We were starving upon arrival and went straight to
Compagno’s deli to pick up some sandwiches. Mere had found this local gem which is frequented by the nearby military base and is adorned in all sorts of personal photos, flags, caps, and even model replicas of helicopters and fighter jets given by our nation’s finest. The owner was there and knew most of the customers by name, so this wasn’t a big tourist spot. We picked up some enormous sandwiches and a ridiculous slice of cake to go. Driving straight down to the trail along the ocean, we found a bench to begin our feast. It was definitely a memorable moment as we satisfied our hangriness, listened to the waves crash against the rocks, and breathed the awesome ocean air from the Pacific. It was time to begin our vacation!

Our lunch spot

The most amazing cake

After taking in the view for a bit, it was time to hit the road and drive down to Big Sur. Driving down Highway 1 has been a goal of mine for so long, and it was exactly how I pictured it. Absolutely beautiful. The only thing that could have made it better was having a driver, so that Mere would not have been so nervous about me taking in the views while also navigating the curves. I could drive that stretch one hundred times and not get bored. It was one of those bucket list items that makes you sad to cross off. We found a spot to pull off the road and dangle our legs over the ledge, and even got to see some seals and whales. As it began to near evening time, we headed to check in at the Portola Hotel. While I was underwhelmed by this hotel that seemed to be built around a conference center, it’s what I expected from throwing caution to the wind on The hotels I wanted were already booked up, so I let it pick a deal for me. While it was nice to have a room with air conditioning and an awesome patio, the maze of hallways to find our room was a bit ridiculous. I swear it was a mile and one panic room experience to get to the front of the hotel. 

After changing, we took a short Uber drive to Cannery Row. This is where we were a bit disappointed with Monterey. While beautiful, it is definitely more touristy than we had imagined. For dinner, we ate at the Cannery Row Brewing Company, which was nothing to write home about. Afterwards, we grabbed a drink at the C bar which is attached to the Intercontinental Hotel. It’s a good spot to unwind, but we were pretty tired and headed out after one drink. Before calling it a night, we did walk down to the water and listen to the waves in the darkness for a while. It had been one great day.

Monday, January 18, 2016

new york city trip 2015, day 4.

Ugh, Sunday is already here and we must leave NYC. Luckily we scheduled a late flight allowing us to see just a little more of the city before heading back to Houston. On the agenda today was more walking, eating, and sightseeing. We went to a nearby (8th and W 53rd) bagel shop called Pick-A-Bagel to get a quick breakfast before heading down to Chelsea to check out the High Line. On the way there, we chose a roundabout way to walk through some of the Easter Parade. Do not let the parade part of the name fool you. Maybe I read a little too much about the popularity of this event in the past, because we were a bit disappointed. It was basically 5th Avenue closed to traffic and flooded with people walking around. The only attractions were several groups of people dressed up for the occasion. There were some dressed up in period clothing, fancy hats, and all the way to extremely elaborate costumes. This might have been more enjoyable if it wasn’t for the snail’s pace crawl involving many selfie sticks, and other oblivious picture takers. We managed to grab a few pics when the movement was halted.

After about 3 miles on foot, we arrived at the High Line. I was really excited to get there after having read about all of the panning and effort involved to make the project a reality. What a great asset for the residents and another attraction for tourists. It’s such a unique experience which offers a different perspective to view some of the city. After descending back down to street level, we did a little more shopping. One store worth a note was called Story. This store is unlike any I have visited, and I wish I could be around to watch the concept. Every 4-8 weeks the store reinvents itself to bring a new look and merchandise. I definitely suggest popping in to see what they are about during your visit, and I would love to see something like it in Houston. 

Frank Gehry's IAC building in the background

This is how we feel about NYC!
This is how we feel about leaving NYC...

What do you know…it is time to eat again. Sadly, this is our last stop before heading back home. Mere chose The Park, as it checked off our two most important boxes (atmosphere, and tasty sounding food). This restaurant had such an amazing vibe. The main dining area was a whimsical greenhouse, or some sort of atrium in a trippy dream. As I frequently half joke with Meredith, “This is how I want our next house to look like”. I had a stack of the vanilla buttermilk pancakes with berry butter which I would have married if I wasn’t already taken. I wish this place wasn’t so far away, because there were just too many things I wanted to try. And with that, we packed up at the hotel and hit the air back to Houston. It was one of our favorite trips, and something tells me we will go back soon. Thank you NYC for an amazing adventure!

The Garden room inside The Park

The Main room

See you later NYC!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

new york city trip 2015, day 3.

It’s Saturday morning, and our last full day in NYC….tear. For breakfast we had planned on starting the day off right by walking through SOHO to Dominque Ansel’s bakery for the famous Cronuts. My God, just looking at pictures of Cronuts (come on, click on it. You know you want to see the deliciousness too) can make your mouth start watering like crazy. Just think of standing in the bakery smelling them, watching others eat them, and seeing them fresh on the rack. Well, then think about them running out just a few people before you. Ya, that happened to us. What a bummer, but we hit the street to find a good bagel. We ended up at Baz Bagels which was really cute and I went straight for the Baz Bagel which was complete with Nova Scotia lox, scallion cream cheese, and tomato on an everything bagel. It was perfect with a hot coffee to wash it down. After being fed, we made the rest of our journey towards the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I have to say, out of everything we did in New York City, this was the favorite on the list. It made such an impact that it will be in its own post. That’s the only way we see appropriate. 

Mmmm, Baz Bagel

Freedom Tower

So, that whole 9/11 Museum and Memorial experience ended up taking way more time than we allotted, which was fine by all means. We had planned on spending half of the day in Brooklyn, and even walking the bridge across. Those were great intentions, but we didn’t get out of the museum until 4PM, and had not even had lunch. So, we grabbed a cab and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and headed straight to Jim Cramer’s Bar San Miguel. It was a great spot for lunch…or maybe first dinner of the day. The guacamole was awesome and the short rib tacos were even better. Mere had the empanadas which were also outstanding. It was a fun experience going to a restaurant owned by someone I watch almost on a daily basis, but even better that the food was actually good. The only disappointment was not having more time to spend in Brooklyn. Oh well, for another trip, right?!

Bar San Miguel

Next up, we ride the subway back and wander around Little Italy. It didn’t take us long to find one of our favorite stores ever. A little background….my birthday is on Christmas day, and my wife and I both love the winter and the holiday. The store is called Christmas in Little Italy, and was 13,000 square feet of Xmas awesomeness! How are we going to fit all of this in our carryon luggage?! Luckily, we settled on just a couple cute ornaments that they even custom painted for us. One of my favorite nostalgic moments during the Christmas holiday is staring at the tree and looking at the older ornaments with years and names on them. They always stood out to me and I love getting to add some of our own to the small collection we have from other family members.
On Mere’s NYC to do list was a bar in Little Italy called Mullberry Project, which sounded perfect for a pre-dinner drink. Turns out that finding it on the internet was much easier than finding this subterranean speakeasy in person. It happens to be unmarked, and you just have to know where to find the red door. Once inside, the bar has an interesting street vibe mixed with swankiness. We had a tough tattooed Russian chick mixing up some craft cocktails, and an eyeful of street art to look at. I could have spent a bit longer there, but we had to keep moving. Our neighbor spent some years in NYC while going to college and recommended that we check out Rubirosa. Being a pizza place, we didn’t need any arm twisting. We split the Rubirosa Supreme and were very satisfied. This would turn out to be our last pizza in NYC, and we didn’t have a single one that disappointed. The restaurant was cramped (we got use to that during our trip to Paris), but still had an intimate and romantic vibe to it. We would also recommend it to anyone venturing through Little Italy.

Mulberry Project

Before getting on the subway, we made a pit stop at the SOHO Cigar Bar for a drink and to get out of the cold for a bit. This little bar provided us with our most funny trip moment, which in text form will never live up to the experience, but I must try. At some point during the pit stop, Mere attempted to use the ladies’ room. As she went to open the door, surprisingly to her (and most surprising to the occupant) is that the door had not been locked and she just exposed this poor women to the whole bar. The seated victim let out a scream, which only drew more “exposure” to her unfortunate situation. Mere promptly walked back to our table, sat down, and looked as if she had seen a ghost. The poor girl made it back to her table and her party left pretty shortly after. We let our waitress know about the incident, and she kind of blew it off saying that the lock on the door hasn’t really worked in a long time. Ha, maybe that could be looked into or addressed to the management. This now makes two trips in a row that Meredith has had a funny bathroom incident.

It was time to get on the subway and head back up towards the bars that my Grandparents use to frequent many decades ago. First up was Bill’s Gay Nineties, or what is now just Bill’s Food and Drink. While the owners have changed, much of the atmosphere remains the same. This building began as a residence in 1850 and went on to be a popular speakeasy in the 1920’s. The bar in the basement was dark and filled with relics from days past which could keep my attention for way too long. Before leaving, we walk up a couple of floors to check out some of the rooms. Just to be a little mysterious like the place itself, I will leave it at that. Try to check it out when in NYC. Our last stop of the night would be right across the street at the Monkey Bar. Check out the history if you are interested. This is just another unique New York bar that has a lot of history, and to our luck it was lifted out of disrepair back in 2009. It looks just as fancy as I pictured it being in eras past. While drinking my Scotch, I couldn’t help but picture my Grandparents there having the time of their life, or getting into mischief. It’s funny how I usually picture it in black and white, just as I see them in old pictures. Cheers to them!

Bill's Gay 90's

My Grandparents at Bill's Gay 90's. (Papa at left, Nana second from right)

Monkey Bar