Category Archives: Uncategorized

Exploring Retiro Park and Letras and Malasana neighborhoods — Madrid

Amazing day. The sky cleared, going from gray to blue. the fog lifted, the sun came out, all of which we witnessed from on high through the windows of our friends’ 13th floor apartment. Suddenly we could see the mountains in the distance beyond the brick, stucco, concrete and tile building rooftops.

Best tapas bar

Our day of wandering around Madrid was greatly enhanced by the kindness of strangers, one of whom insisted on paying for our lunch. Our friends too were a huge help. Merida and one of her two big white dogs walked us through Retiro Park, through formal gardens, along dirt paths lined with large trees, past the shimmering glass of the Crystal Palace, grand plaza with sculpture and a big pond where the ducks stole bread bits that merida was throwing to the huge carp. People were out and about enjoying the 50 degree temps on a Monday at the end of a holiday weekend.

Inside best tapas bar. The two women in the top photo, right side, are the Noels who insisted on paying our tab.

Merida pointed us the direction of the Prado Museum and we were off, stopping first at Vincens, a candy maker since 1775, (where we picked up gifts for friends after sampling several cut up soft chunks of what tasted like nougat, fudgy bits, toffee.

San Antonio de Los Alemanes and the storybook facade of a bookstore/printer

And then we dove into the old Letras neighborhood narrow lanes lined with elegant apartment buildings, cafes, tapas bars and the occasional fun little boutiques. We found a cheerful shop called Santacana that has made gloves (1 de las Huertas) since 1896. We bought gorgeous handcrafted knit, leather and felt gloves as gifts. I then asked the stylish shopkeeper if she knew of a good place for lunch.

She sent us to Bodega il Ardoso, in the bohemian Malasana neighborhood, around since the late 1800s. It turned out to be a somewhat famous local secret, a small dark tapas bar, lined with old bottles, photos, paintings. It was filled with people at 2 pm, the start of siesta when shops close and people eat, but the waiter rather brusquely nodded at us and said something in rapid Spanish that seemed to mean “See this opening underneath the bar counter? Duck under it.” And so we did, finding ourselves in a smaller room, slightly less packed with people. We found a spot to stand along a narrow wood counter and got to talking with two women who were eating a gorgeous plate of grilled artichoke. They recommended this and another tapa, the famous potato tortilla, which turned out to be a delicous omelette with egg and potatoes. I later learned the place is famous for Czech beer, which dirck drank.

The women turned out to be mother and daughter locals, both named Noel. They spoke English well, were well-traveled art lovers who knew Chicago and Detroit and even Rochester Minnesota, and operate Airbnbs in Madrid and Pamplona. They were astonished we’d found the bar, which is off the tourist track. We shared a table after another party left and the elder Noel insisted first on buying us drinks and then paying for our meal, which included another delicious dish they recommended, a bowl of crispy curlicues of potato topped with fried eggs. We exchanged email addresses and Airbnb links and they recommended several places to go nearby. Their kindness made our day!

We tried to visit a nearby church with art treasures (San Antonio de Los Alemanes) and cafe (cafe Ruiz) that they recommended but both were closed. The good part was the cool neighborhood around them, with shops like El Moderno concept store on and near corredera Baja de San Pablo. We had coffee at an outdoor cafe in a sunny little plaza. Our new friends also recommended visiting San Antonio de le Florida church for more art.

Dinner in our friends’ Retiro neighborhood was at Taberna La castela, which also turned out to be superb (thank you WaPo for your travel story I chanced upon). We had delicious seafood…grilled sole, tuna, a risotto of sorts with black squid ink, calamari/octopus. Grilled tiny sardine-like fish called whitebait arrived as a free appetizer along with excellent bread. The croquettes had a delicious fishy flavor inside.

Leave a comment

Filed under Spain, Uncategorized

The stray Dog – New Buffalo,Mi

Early January (at almost 2 pm) proved an easy time to get a table for lunch at The Stray Dog, which is usually packed during peak summer tourist season here in southwest Michigan. Cute place, decorated with dog pictures and dog commands (SIT, STAY), good service and well cooked burger.

Many restaurants are closed in early-to-mid January in these parts, including froelichs in Three Oaks. Viola’s was open but not at 2 pm. Fair enough.

Leave a comment

Filed under Michigan, southwest, Uncategorized

Mazet Antiques, Bella Amici, Alapash, Journeyman Distillery, Froelich’s and Acorn Theater – return to Three Oaks, MI – and cheap gas in NW Indiana off I-94, exit 16.

We continue to enjoy visiting southwest Michigan and shopping/dining in the little village of Three Oaks. This time, we went to a concert in the intimate little Acorn Theater, next to the Journeyman whiskey distillery, which has also offers some rentals in town (see journeyman.com/lodging).

In the shopping department, we visited some new places including Bella Amici, which has fun Michigan stuff, and Mazet Antiques, which has gorgeous, one-of-a-kind and very pricey rugs from foreign lands (the kind you hand on your wall, not throw on your floor). We also visited old favorites including Alapash (where we did buy a less-expensive rug to throw on the floor) and had a good brunch at Froelich’s.

For future reference: The gas prices in southwest Michigan are significantly lower than in Chicago but our best bet was in northwest Indiana, off I-94, at exit 16, where we found gas for $2.99 ($1.50 less than in Chicago.)

Mazet Antiques

Leave a comment

Filed under Michigan, southwest, Uncategorized

Wu’s Wonton King, the new LaGuardia — NYC

When we heard (from our favorite private chef) that Wu’s Wonton King is the place professional chefs eat, we were there! We found it on an unglamorous corner in Chinatown/the Lower East Side on East Broadway and were not disappointed, although we probably should have asked what the house speciality, fried crab, cost ($84) before ordering it. Then again, if we had asked, we wouldn’t have ordered it and it was delicious. This will sound familiar to members of the $317 Club. (Inside joke explanation: years ago we got a surprise dinner bill of $317 after eating with friends at another Chinatown restaurant post-Thanksgiving.)

Our other entrees were in the $18 ballpark (which suddenly seemed like a bargain) and also excellent including the #1 wonton soup, stir fried chicken with veg, and pork dumplings. All very fresh, quality ingredients and well seasoned.

On to LaGuardia where we were delighted (not something I’ve ever written about LaGuardia) by the spanking new terminal C, all white walls, wide white corridors, clean modern design, appealing restaurants. And our delta flights were on what felt like new planes with well-upholstered seats and screens to watch TV and movies.

Leave a comment

Filed under New York, New York City, Uncategorized

Changes at the airport and in the air – international travel

Several airport and flight procedures have changed since I last traveled overseas, pre-pandemic, in 2019. (Fortunately there are no longer Covid protocols , for now at least. ) Here’s a few I noticed as a US citizen during our recent trip to London:

No more entry stamp in our US Passport for the UK: sadly, this is no more, thanks to today’s person-less immigration procedure (aka automatic epassport) involves interacting with a computerized machine, not a human. I don’t miss the sometimes hostile questions from the old human immigration officers, (how long you’re staying? when you are leaving?) But I still find it spooky to have to stand in front of a facial recognition machine, bleary-eyed after a long flight, to check while scanning my passport atop a screen — to check my identity by making sure my face matches my passport. Fingerprinting is also spooky…I watched some people, presumably not American citizens, doing this when entering the US.

King and Queen of the (Ludlow) castle (can you spot us way up top by the flag, waving?)

No more paper forms to fill out before (or after) landing: this includes the once-standard form for entering the UK, which required you to give the address where you are staying during your visit. Upon returning to the US, we actually conversed with an immigration officer in a booth who took our photos, looked at our passports and gave us a form to declare our purchases for customs, if need be. (No need.) In the past you needed to fill out a customs form and do so in the plane. Bn

Older, less perfect-looking or polished flight attendants – Not that there is anything wrong with this but our flight attendants this trip appeared to be in their 50s or 60s, and dressed more casually. One female attendant was full of good humor; another looked downright unhappy, like she hated her job…Or maybe passengers.

King and Queen of Ludlow Castle.#2

More passengers with carry-on luggage, although still plenty of overhead compartment space – We gave up a rare chance to check our bags free of charge and instead lugged our suitcases onto the plane in order to avoid our bags being lost amidst other checked luggage and/or to shorten our journey out of the airport.

We are easily spotted, mid-castle.

Leave a comment

Filed under flying, Uncategorized

Ferry from Putney to Battersea Power Station & Park, over the Albert Bridge to Chelsea (Cheyne walk, Kings Road, Partridges), Hare & Hound Pub/East Sheen – London

On a foggy morning that later cleared, we took a scenic river ferry (and pricey ride: about 11 pounds, using our Oyster card) in southwest London from the pier in Putney to Battersea Power Station, a towering brick Art Deco landmark that operated from 1933 to 1983, powering buildings including Buckingham Palace and Parliament. It was once known as “the Cathedral of Power” due to it enormity. St. Paul’s would fit comfortably within its footprint, one of the many helpful signs around the revived station informed us.

Boat ride to Battersea

The station has recently been reborn, after decades of inertia, as the dominant feature (and main draw) of a new 42-acre tourist destination. It was fun to walk inside the station, admiring the original industrial structure, but I soon realized we were, in essence, inside a glitzy shopping mall with chain stores and restaurants (Ralph Lauren, Tag, Lacoste) often found elsewhere, including Chicago. Many are high-end, although there is a Uniqlo, Swatch and Pret. And some of the restaurants have cool designs, reminding me of Las Vegas offerings.

Inside Battersea power station

So one visit may be enough, although we might return when the new glass lift that goes up 109 meters through one of the four (rebuilt) circular chimneys opens. We were a day early for the opening of “Lift 109,” which promises great 360 degree views and should, given the cost (about 12 pounds). Some of the development’s future offerings, scheduled to open in 2023, including a food hall, might also make it more interesting. A seasonal riverside ice skating rinkmall Ferris wheel (“vintage funfair ride”) and outdoor sculpture add things to do and see.

The Battersea Power Station

The power station/mall is surrounded by huge new glass and steel luxury housing developments, adding a certain soullessness, compared to the edgy industrial-chic charm of the Tate Modern, another converted power station further east on The Thames, which is home to a fantastic art museum (rather than ritzy shops), plus surrounded by a mix of buildings, new/sleek/striking and old/gritty/full of character.

Albert Bridge

There is one gem near the Battersea Power Station — lovely Battersea Park, with its river views, small ponds with graceful trees and colorful gardens. We found a surprisingly good charcuterie board at what looked like a workers cafe near a put-put golf course.

Walking over the Albert Bridge, we landed on Chelsea Embankment, including posh Cheyne Walk, home at one time or another to many famous people (Keith Richards, Catherine Middleton George Elliot, Bob Marley, Margaret Thatcher….) as a helpful, detailed map in pretty little Ropers Orchard Garden reminded us.

The Kings Road was even posher than I remembered. We found a tower of classic American canned and boxed foods (Nestle’s Chocolate Chips, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, canned cranberry sauce, Stovetop Stuffing) on display for Thanksgiving shoppers at Partridge’s, the famous English fancy food shop. (I used to have to search far and wide for chocolate chips in London during the early 1980’s.)

Thanksgiving supplies in London

Back in Mortlake, we had drinks at the cozy Hare and Hounds pub in East Sheen, followed by takeaway fish and chips, so I could check off another food item on my to-eat list. Next trip: cream tea at the Petersham Hotel in Richmond Park.

Leave a comment

Filed under England and U.K., London, Uncategorized

Burgh House/Hampstead Heath and Tapestry/Mortlake – return to London

Usually when in London, we spend quality time with our English friends. This trip we’ve gotten to do that again but also reconnected with a surprisingly number of American friends who are living here, as students or journalists.

Today we had a wonderful long overdue get together with friends from a paper I worked at in Connecticut during the mid-1980s. We probably hadn’t seen each other in 33 years. We spent the afternoon wandering around Hampstead, where they live, especially the Heath and 18th century village, with its narrow winding lanes dotted with cafes, posh shops and pretty homes (including Boy George’s). Lunch was excellent on the patio at Burgh House, off the Heath…toasted sandwiches with mature cheddar and sausage, robust soup, hearty quiche.

Tonight was delicious paella at The Tapestry, which we learned harkens back to Mortlake’s famous 17th century tapestry makers, whose handiwork can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Leave a comment

Filed under England and U.K., London, Uncategorized

Castle/Ludlow, The Rodd and tour of country homes/Herefordshire – English countryside

The 11th century castle at Ludlow is spectacular, surrounded by stone walls, and almost intact in a few places with a circular tower you can walk up (only 50-some steps, one quarter of the number at the Ludlow church) for some fantastic views of the town and rolling green countryside with sheep dotting pastures.

Armistice day in Ludlow

As part of our sentimental journey/tour of charming country homes, Jemima drove us along narrow curvy roads lined with hedges to Presteigne, on the welsh border, where we dropped by her family’s former ancestral home that is now a public property showcasing artwork by Sidney Nolan. I visited what was known as The Rodd and the nearby Little Rodd about 40 years ago when it was a private home in Mima’s family. Still spectacular.

On the way back to Ludlow, we stopped briefly in the “black and white town” of Pembridge (so called due to its abundance of white stucco with black timber framed buildings) and then onto an enormous old farmhouse mansion in Herefordshire (near Shropshire) where my friend’s sister lives. Dinner was back in Ludlow at CSons, overlooking the river.

The Rodd, little and big

Before leaving town today, we loaded up on sandwiches and florentines at Watsons, the bakery in town (there was a line out the door) and then took one last walk through town, past the market and castle , down to the river and then back to Ludford and the bridge leading into Ludlow.

Tillie’s

Leave a comment

Filed under England and U.K., Uncategorized

Rhayader, Elan Valley Dams, Presteigne – Wales

We drove a scenic hour west of Ludlow to Presteigne and soon after entered Wales, where at first I couldn’t detect much difference between Wales and England except of course for the signs in unfathomable and unpronounceable (for yanks) Welsh. In another half hour we landed in the Elan Valley, outside the town of Rhayader. Elan Valley is famous for its dramatic dams that supply the water to the big English city of Birmingham. The scenery is also spectacular, a bit like Scotland, with mountains towering above the water, clad in vegetation in full autumnal glory, which here means browns, yellows, oranges (not red).

We started at the visitors center with sausage and bacon Baps (sandwiches), apple juice and tea, then browsed through the Wales-made goods in the gift shop, Then we ventured into the drizzle, which fortunately proved off and on, with dramatic bursts of sun that lit up patches of the mountains in the distance. We spotted at least three rainbows. Glorious.

In Rhayader, which bills itself as the outdoors capital of Wales, we stopped for a drink at the pub and then drove for dinner at the cool house of Jemima’s brother Francis, in Presteigne, where the England/Wales border runs though his back garden.

An agronomist who knows his seeds (and sells them), Francis and Dirck had lots to talk about. Francis has an interesting stone and wood cottage that used to be an old mill. The millstone and gears remains in the house, between the between the kitchen and dining room.

Leave a comment

Filed under England and U.K., Uncategorized

medieval Church with the vicar/barista, Market – Ludlow, England

TakeBetsywithyou

Medieval church with a vicar/barista, Market, shops – Ludlow, England

betsyrubiner

Nov 10

Church tower view

How lucky to have a friend from London who moved to Ludlow, a beautiful medieval 11th century town, in the Midlands, just east of Wales in Shropshire. And where else would you find an ancient parish church, St. Laurence’s, with a 201-step circular tower that leads up to the top, with spectacular views of the town’s castle…and that has a cafe inside with vicars trained as baristas? Also a very nice gift shop, as well as stunning stained glass windows. (More on the famous castle to come…)

Lots to see and good shopping, with an outdoor market on Thursday with local cheese (Cheshire!), bread and sausage. Among the lovely shops, a butcher (a favorite of Jemima’s sweet pup Winston), the Index bindery with gorgeous leather and marbled paper found books, and the Silver Pear. Amidst the medieval timbered buildings (some with 18th century Georgian brick and stucco front), are some lovely pubs. I finally found a ploughman’s lunch at The Blue Boar pub, as well as an excellent sausage plate, with three sausages, fried eggs chips and peas. We also enjoyed drinks at another pub, the Wheatsheaf inn.

Ludlow shopping and pubs

Beautiful narrow lanes with cobble stone and brick pavement are lined with pretty cottages and the occasional shop. We walked across an old stone bridge to the neighboring village of Ludford, with its smaller, beautiful church, graveyard and several timbered homes, then along the river which was rushing with water (no otters sighted yet but they’re in there!) Jemima tells me Lud means water and ford means crossing and lowe” means “sound” in old English.

parish church at St. Laurence’s
Vicar/barista behind counter of the church’s Icon Coffee cafe

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized