Archive for May 2011

30 May 2011

Revamping the Memorial Day plans

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: Chicago, Food, Friends

On Friday, I made a list of things I hoped to do during Memorial Day, because I’m a planner and need some kind of list of what I’d like to do, even if I achieve nothing.

Yeah, it was one of those weekend when the best laid Memorial Day plans went awry, but in a good way!

I got my mani/pedi and saw Something Borrowed (review here!) but that was it from my list. The French Market and architecture boat tour will wait for another day.

But there were two fun things that also unexpectedly happened this weekend that I had to share!

Next!

Chicago is quickly becoming a well-known food town and right now, the hottest ticket here is Next Restaurant, the new brainchild from Grant Achatz. You don’t get reservations, you get tickets and can only get them online. Ticket competition is intense and with it’s current menu, Paris 1906, ending in early July, the demand is more intense.

I’ve been trying in multiple ways to get tickets for more than a month and on Thursday, the stars aligned and I snagged a last-minute ticket for a 10 p.m. reservation that night. I cannot even explain how perfectly everything worked out, it was just clearly, meant to be.

And in a very difficult decision, I did not photograph one piece of my meal. I opted to savor the experience with three good friends and enjoy the amazing food served to us. Yes, I wrestled with whether or not to photograph, but in the end, I was fine with it. I had a wonderful meal with great conversation, lots of laughs and attentive, non-stuffy service.

The entire six-course experience was 100% worth the cost (tickets range from $60-$110) and was the perfect way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend. And when I go back, I would love to steal the place settings because the plates were to die for.

I can’t even list what dish was my favorite (although the duck got very high marks) but it was truly a great experience.

Below is YouTube video that shows some of the dishes we ate. Really, it was so delicious.

PIE!

In prep for a BBQ/housewarming party Saturday, I had an impromptu pie-making class with the lovely Jessi, who not only had a cutting board set up for me when I arrived, but also let me be the “flour girl” when I was observing.

She made the first pie and then let me get my hands dirty and work out the dough for the second pie. It was easy, fun and she was more than patient with me as I rolled it out. And giving a rolling and lattice-cutting job to a perfectionist like me, is the best thing ever. I’m not bragging (or being too modest) but my pie was awesome.

Check it out (mine is in front):

That lattice work is FLAWLESS.

This weekend was another perfect reminder that even when the best laid plans go awry, that’s not a bad thing :) Also, I need to make my own homemade pie, it tastes so good!

How was your weekend?

27 May 2011

Looking forward to a long weekend

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: Chicago, Random

Yesterday was Thursday but I was playing Rebecca Black’s song “Friday” in my head because that’s what it was for me. FRIDAY. My company closed our office today so I get a four-day weekend, and let me tell you something, I need it.

Yes, it’s officially my Memorial Day weekend and I will be staycationing it in Chicago because, well I have to save money to travel again. And after a crazy two week trip, I’m ready to lay low.

So what do I have planned for a four-day weekend since I’m not leaving Chicago? Well, not much actually and I couldn’t be more excited. But, since I’m a planner, I do have a few things I want to get done:

  • First mani/pedi of the season. This is a MUST!
  • Hit up the Nordstrom Women’s Sale (yes, I have a list of what I need to get)
  • See the movie, “Something Borrowed” (even though I know it will be bad)
  • Visit the Chicago French Market (oh la la!)
  • Grocery shop (naturally)
  • Get some good BBQ (pulled pork get in mah belly)
  • Maybe do one of the Chicago Architecture Boat tours (but it has to be warmer than 40 degrees out during the day)
  • Keep catching up with friends

So nothing too strenuous but lots of things to look forward to. That sounds like exactly what I need. But I’m definitely excited about that mani/pedi, my cuticles are a total mess.

Anyhow, I hope you all have a safe and happy, Memorial Day weekend! Are you doing anything fun?

24 May 2011

Upcoming travel adventures

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: travel

This weekend is Memorial Day, the official kick off for summer (even though it barely feels like spring in Chicago). And after looking back at my Italy photos to recap my trip, I’m slowly getting ready to start looking ahead to my next batch of travel adventures!

Yes, since I started my travel adventures a year ago, I have officially been bitten by the travel bug. I love Chicago, being here with my friends and enjoying my surroundings but the urge to get out there and see new things is SO strong.

So to keep the momentum going, I’ve made a list of places I plan to visit during the rest of 2011 and early 2012. Why make a list? Well, I’m a planner so me and lists are BFFs. Plus, it helps me organize my vacation time and figure out when I need to start budgeting.

Let’s take a closer look at solo travel 2.0:

Summer/Fall 2011:

Los Angeles - Most of my California travels have taken me to San Francisco but this time, I’m off to LA to visit the lovely Jenn and be a tourist (proudly!)

Seattle/Vancouver - I’ve NEVER been to the Pacific Northwest but I hear it’s gorgeous! And I’ve never been to Canada so I’m excited to see two new parts of the country (and our neighbor to the north)

London or Paris - That’s right! I’m going back to Europe. I haven’t decided which one I’m going to yet but it I am so excited!

Early 2012:

Hawaii – Another place I’ve never been! And the history buff in me is dying to see the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu and get lei’d (TWSS)

Europe - Potential locations include the South of France or Barcelona

Yes, this is a bit ambitious but I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen. And the one thing that will be different from these other trips? I won’t be going for another two weeks or if I do, I won’t do the entire thing alone again.

Going alone to Italy was such an amazing time and a great challenge, but it was also VERY lonely at some points. I don’t regret it, but I learned a lot from it, including how I would do things a little differently next time.

What about you? Any big travel plans this weekend, summer or over the next few months?

22 May 2011

Italy adventure: Venice

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: travel

Yes, I promise this is the last part of my three-part Italy adventure. Hopefully you aren’t sighing dramatically as you see another update about it in your Reader. Kidding!

Anyhow, after Florence, I entered the last leg of my trip, which was two nights in Venice and then returning to Rome for a final day before flying home to Chicago.

In talking to friends before I left, the verdict on Venice was split. Some said they loved it and one friend in particular said she hated it (she was very vocal about it too). But I’ve wanted to see St. Mark’s Square for a long time and, well the city is on water so I wanted to mix up the places I was visiting throughout the country.

Here is my verdict: Venice is beautiful but really, two nights there is enough (partially because it is so expensive)

I’ll get back to the cost stuff but first, let’s focus on beauty. Living in the Midwest, along Lake Michigan, I love water. I have always loved looking out at it because it’s soothing for me. And Venice has LOTS of water. When I walked out of the St. Lucia train station I was greeted immediately with a) burning hot sun and b) the Grand Canal. Yes, it’s not natural but it is stunning.

The main way to get around the city is by water too (or walking). I rode the Vaporetto several times down the Canal to sight see and get to my hotel. It’s a little nerve wracking at first (and bumpy) but it is a great way to see the city, especially the Rialto Bridge and get a great view of St. Mark’s Square/Doge’s Palace.

Here is the other thing about Venice: it’s very narrow. The streets are narrow and windy and honestly, you feel like a hamster running through a maze sometimes, but it’s awesome. I loved wandering around, getting lost, and finding myself sometimes going in a circle. The architecture of Venice isn’t as stunning as Rome (in my opinion) but it is very beautiful and fairly clean. But the canal does smell badly at times so I can only imagine how bad and crowded it is in summer.

Let’s get a closer look at the sights!

This is literally the only picture of me in Venice. Grabbed it while at a vaporetto stop en route to the train station

Gondola rush hour on a side canal

St. Mark’s Basilica/Square (so crowded)

Doge’s Palace (look closely and you can see it’s white and pink!)

View of St. Mark Basilica’s roof and Venice from above

View of St. Mark’s Square and Venice from above

Lovely live evening music from Quadri in St. Mark’s Square

Postcard Venice scene: gondola, bridge and bright buildings

Doge’s Palace (to the left) and prison (to the right) with the Bridge of Sighs in the middle. It’s currently under reconstruction and ads placed over the restoration scne

Approaching the Rialto Bridge on the vaporetto

View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

Wedding party in St. Mark’s Square. Why they want to put pigeons on themselves, I don’t understand

As I mentioned, Venice is VERY pricey. Holy cow. And it’s not just hotel that’s expensive, everything is. Coffee, bottled water, food (especially) and entrance fees to museums. But, it was worth it and I’m glad I got to see it in person. And if/when I ever have money to literally burn (w/o consequences), I will go back!

So that is the end of my Italy journey. I’m still uploading a lot of photos from my trip to Flickr and created an Italy set for them. Some things that will be posted there that aren’t here are: day trip to Siena and my cooking class in Chianti. Those (and more Venice photos) are being uploaded tonight and more from Rome are coming soon.

Movie Review: Bridesmaids, time for some gross girl humor

18 May 2011

Italy adventure: Florence!

By: Jessica B.
Tagged: travel

While I was editing more photos tonight, I decided to mix it up a bit and make this post solely about Florence because I have MORE than enough photos to share! The next installment will be Siena/Venice and the end of my trip. Okay, let’s get started!

The second leg of my Italian adventure included getting from Rome to Florence and testing my skills at reading European train station signs, something I haven’t done since 2000. The whole Rome Termini experience and getting on the correct train (and being in the correct seat) for Florence was a little dramatic, but it all worked out :) Leaving Rome was tough but I was ready to slow down on the all-day, force march tourist stuff and relax.

Well, that didn’t totally happen because once I was done sight seeing, I went in to full on eating mode.

Literally, I ate in Florence like I have never eaten before.

Here’s a sample of my daily eating schedule:

  • Light breakfast (cappuccino and croissant)
  • First lunch (sandwich or focacia)
  • Second lunch (same as above – but from a different place)
  • Mid-afternoon snack (gelato and/or red wine)
  • Dinner (appetizer, pasta and optional dessert – plus red wine)
  • Post-dinner treat/second dessert

Yep, that is literally how I ate almost every day for five days in Florence. Sure, I was still walking around a lot but not as much as Rome, so I got a little tired at times :) I blame the red wine on that.

There was great food in every place I visited but I definitely sampled the most in Florence.

Oh yeah, and in between eating, I also saw some gorgeous sites. Let’s take a closer look.

Me at the Duomo – Yes, it makes me look MORE petite

Full frontal Duomo. The beauty and size of this place literally knocked me back

View down Via dei Calzaioli (main road in Florence), love the flags!

Palazzo Vecchio (which greets you at the end of Via dei Calzaioli), I mean, wow

Hi postcard scene at the Piazza San Marco, I mean, really?

Me in front of the Ponte Vecchio (yeah, it’s gorgeous)

The hill of stairs to climb for San Miniato – aka where I got sunburned

Me at the Piazzale Michaelangiolo (oh yeah and a killer view behind me)

Yeah that view is so gorgeous, let’s get a closer look (without me in it!)

Yeah that’s pretty damn gorgeous

And then when I got back from the Piazzalo, I ran in to a random parade, literally.

See!

The vibe between Florence and Rome was totally different. Rome is very fast pace, big city, lots to do and see and Florence is a bit more laid back. Things open later, it is smaller and honestly, more crowded with tourists. This isn’t a bad thing, but I found it harder to find those little off-the-beaten-path places I wanted.

But, similar to Rome, it was tough to say goodbye when I left. I found some amazing places to eat and saw some really beautiful things, but alas, it was time to move on.

Side note: Jersey Shore is filming their latest season in Florence right now, which has been VERY unpopular with the locals (even the American students). Sadly, I missed their arrival by four days (actually, I’m not sad). Next time Snooki, it is ON.