11 Festive Things to do in San Francisco During the Holidays

No automatic alt text available.

Santacon at City Hall, SF.

  1. Join in on Santacon, a citywide Christmas themed pub crawl that happens the second or third weekend in December. Don your Santa gear, fill your flask with some peppermint schnapps and get ready for some holiday shenanigans that may or may not involve one of the following: secret service elves, a Giant Gingerbread man, and lots of, dare I say, Santa’s slutty helpers. NOTE: Must love crowds. 
  2. Yes, we have ice-skating in California AND you don’t have to break out the parka and snow pants. You might get lucky and be able to skate in a short sleeved shirt. Check out Justin Herman Plaza or Union Square ice rinks.
  3. Head to the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish Coffee, Nutty Irishman or hot chocolate for the youngsters. Yes, I know, I’m always recommending this place, but if you go you’ll see why.
  4. Watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on the big screen or enjoy the Gay Men’s chorus as they belt out Christmas classics with a colorful twist. They are both featured at The Castro Theater.
  5. Visit the Fairmont Hotel for their huuuuuge Gingerbread mini-mansion (no you can’t eat it) and don’t miss the gingerbread dog house(no, you can’t bring your dog).
  6. No matter what your religious affiliation, if you go to a Glide Memorial Church service during the holidays and don’t sing or at least sway a bit to the joyful noise, you must be a zombie.
  7. Puppies and kittens in the Macy’s window in Union Square–and they are available for adoption. They are the perfect size for your favorite someone’s stocking.  Oh and bring a few buck to donate to the SPCA.
  8. Make it a day in Sausalito-take the ferry across the bay, get some Christmas shopping done, do some wine tasting at Bacchus and Venus then enjoy the Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks.
  9. Sexy, fun and festive, the Smuin Christmas Ballet is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit.
  10. Check out the big balls at 111 California–don’t ask questions, just go. Great photo op.
  11. Get tickets to the Dickens Fair at the Cow Palace. You don’t have to get dressed up but if you happen to have a spare renaissance costume in the back of your closet, you will fit right in.

Have any to add or a question? Please feel free to comment. Thanks for stopping by and happy holidays from San Francisco!!

Laurie

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Travel Talk with Laurie

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. – Pico Iyer

What motivates you to travel? Why are some people content to stay put while others have the inexplicable urge to move about the globe? I have a friend that admits he’d rather buy stuff than travel, while I save every penny for airfare and hostel accommodations. One option is not better or more superior than the other but I’m always curious about the motivating factors behind those inclinations.

In this new blog series, I am interviewing some of my well traveled friends (and possibly some strangers) to get their experiences and thoughts on travel. The first interviewee in this series will be yours truly. I know, kind of weird to interview myself but I thought it would be a good place to start…..so here it goes!!

goreme

Exploring the caves in Goreme, Turkey. September 2015

What is your favorite part of travel?
Laurie: I love all aspects, from finding the best flight deals, to learning some of the language, researching neighborhoods I want to explore and special dishes of the place I will be going. I actually don’t mind the airport and one of my favorite places to hang out is the airport bar–talking to random strangers about travel and adventure over a cocktail. Don’t tell me you’ve never had a beer, glass of wine, Bloody Mary or champagne at 9 am while waiting for your flight?

What is the first thing you do when you get to a new place?
Laurie:
I travel solo so I have a lot of freedom when I head to a new destination. I usually book the first night of the place I’m visiting and then kind of wing it from there. After I drop my stuff off at the hostel I usually find the nearest restaurant/bar and settle in to do some serious eavesdropping and people watching to get a feel for the neighborhood.

What has been your favorite destination and why?
Laurie: It’s a toss up between Paris and Istanbul. I live in San Francisco so I love pulsating, vibrant city scenes. I had dreamed about going to Paris since I was a teen and all of my conjured up fantasies of cafe au laits and charming French men were fulfilled when I visited in 2009. From the cobblestone streets to the chic cafes, it was the first time I felt a city bury itself in my soul and blossom.
Turkey caught my attention in 2005 when I went to Greece and almost took a two day excursion to Turkey, but time got away from me and I never made it but promised myself I’d get there ‘someday’.  It stayed at the top of my travel list for years but from some reason, whether it be fear or another destination to distract me, it took a while for me to get there. But I fell in love with Turkish music, language and food long before my trip in 2015.

What places are on your travel dream list?

Laurie: My list is long and ever-changing but Spain, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua and Croatia are on the top right now. My family background is a mix of German, Scottish, English and Finnish, so I hope to visit the birthplace of some of my grandparents and great-grandparents.

What inspires you to travel?

Laurie: I’m naturally curious so I’m always interested to know about other cultures; how other people live their day to day lives, what a traditional meal is, the social scene. I know I take up a small space on this planet and I want to see as much of this wonderfully diverse world as I can in this lifetime. Travel is my drug and I will happily be an addict all my life.

Name a favorite meal or type of food you’ve had on your travels?

Laurie: I love street food–whether in Thailand or Turkey, I always find the cheapest and freshest meals at the street vendors. I’m a huge fan of the great Anthony Bourdain and while I’m not as adventurous as him, the more I travel the more open I am to trying something new. I check out alot of food blogs and get recommendations from friends that have traveled there. I usually stick to the cheap eats but I do splurge on a fancy dinner at least once when I am exploring a new country.


Name a favorite travel themed movie, book or quote that inspires you to travel. 

Laurie: I think I’ve watched ‘Midnight in Paris‘ about 30 times. Like the main character, I would have loved to experience Paris in the 1920s.  Long Way Round is a compelling documentary of two mates (one of them famous) taking a motorcycle trip through Europe and parts of Africa. ‘Wild‘ is also at the top of my list for the solo travel/women empowerment aspect.

Any advice for those who have yet to stamp their passport?
Laurie:
If you want to travel don’t let excuses get in your way. Start a travel savings account. Go to a lesser known place and interact with the locals. Learn the language.  Make travel a priority in your life instead of just a dream. And always go with your gut!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review- A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.

–Author Unknown

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

I’ve been running a travel themed book club in San Francisco for the past three years so people often ask me for recommendations in the genre. While I have a post that lists all of the books featured in the book club, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites on my blog. If you have any questions about the book club, feel free to message me.

A House in Fez:Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke was published in 2007 and is 263 pages long. I admit, books are my religion and the library is my church. The first section I go to in any book store or library is the travel section. Although I have over 250 books in my tiny San Francisco apartment, some begging to be read, I still skip on over to my local library and check out books by the dozen. I’m not sure what the limit is in other areas but in San Francisco, you are allowed to check out 50 items at a time. Yes 50!! Oh the possibilities. I get a little rush when I’ve been notified that one of my book requests is on hold for me at the Chinatown branch. I also can’t just walk by a bag of free books plunked on a lonely corner, calling my name, waiting to be fondled. Hmmm, maybe I do have a problem….

But I digress. This post is about one book. I am particularly drawn to stories told by travelers, especially females, who have put down roots in countries they have fallen in love with. Have you ever visited a place and had the fleeting fantasy of staying for a while? Maybe buying a house or a plot of land and making it a permanent getaway?

fez.jpg
This book gives us a glimpse into the process that Suzanna and her husband went through while building their dream house in Fez, Morocco. In the same theme as the wildly popular tale told by Frances Mayes when she purchased an Italian villa in Under the Tuscan Sun, Suzanna and Sandy take us along as they find the right riad–the name for a traditional Moroccan house with a courtyard–assemble a team of workers and figure out how to get supplies without getting ripped off every step of the way.  They hit plenty of road blocks, language barriers and painfully costly delays. As they make progress, they also enlist the help of neighbors and their lives slowly weave into the fabric of the community. She shares her frustrations and triumphs with honesty and humor. Slow in some spots but easy to read.

If you like this theme you can also check out A House in Corfu by Emma Tennant and the wonderful anthology A House Somewhere-Tales of Life Abroad with stories about the meaning of home to nomads and well traveled souls such as Pico Iyer, Peter Mayle, Jan Morris and Frances Mayes.

Happy reading and thanks for checking out my blog.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

October is National Book Month

For me, one of the great pleasure in life is to get lost in a book and my favorite genre is travel.  I can walk the streets of Istanbul with Orhan Pamuk one day and the next I can ride the railways of the world with Paul Theroux.  Maybe traipsing through Chile with Sara Wheeler or taking a walk in the woods with Bill Bryson. Studies have shown that reading daily helps with mental awareness, reduces stress and possibly can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. Aside from those benefits, it’s fun and you get all smart and stuff. 🙂

In honor of National Book Month, I’m going to share a few of my favorite books. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid reader. No matter where I go, chances are, I’ll have a book with me. I may not be able to talk about what housewife did what to whom or the newest update on the Kardashian clan, but ask me about my favorite book or author and I could talk for hours.

The first book I want to share is  Tales of a Female Nomad: Living At Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman. Before the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ craze, there was this book, which was published in 2001.  I read it cover to cover on a two layover flight to New York City and was not even annoyed with flight delays. Now that is the sign of a good book!! Rita brought me along on her journey as she faced some major changes in her life at 47. She rediscovered her buried desires to travel authentically, get out of the five-star hotel circuit and live amongst the people in a Mexican village. This was the first time I read about someone who sold all of her possessions and embraced the nomadic lifestyle in their late forties. She had never eaten alone or had her own credit card. She wrote about her travels through Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Israel, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand and gives vibrant, colorful details about her travels. I don’t want to give too much away but below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I did not ask for permission to live this new life, not from my kids, not from from my parents, and not from my friends, many of whom are convinced that I’m avoiding the real world.”

“What I’m feeling is a deep psychological fear with lots of roots in adolescence: fear of being seen alone. Alone means unpopular. Alone means that you are an outsider. ”

She also has published a book titled Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World, which has recipes and stories from female nomads all over the world.

Happy reading!!

 

 

Posted in Travel, Travel books | Tagged | Leave a comment

Good eats in the Mission

The Mission district of San Francisco is known for its lively bar scene, beautiful street art and a variety of popular restaurants. You will also find a number of shops on Valencia Street with vintage boutiques and galleries that specialize in local art and clothing. My favorite thrift shops are on Mission and 17th. Treasures galore!
 If you are in the mood to go bowling you can check out Mission Bowl but beware–it is a hipster bowling alley with just six lanes, but they do have killer cocktails and delicious fries. You can also check out the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse Cinema where you can order cocktails and food while watching a new or classic film.
Many locals hang out in Mission Dolores Park. It’s great for people watching or letting your food digest after gorging on all the yummy food in the area. Below are a few favorite places in the Mission, but there is a lot more to explore.

The Armory Club– With its leather and lace vibe, beautiful people, dim lighting and sumptuous cocktails this is a fitting place to be frisky, or just get a drink after work . Also the home of kink.com, but that is another story…..for another blog.

Blondie’s Bar – They’ve got martinis, martinis and did I mention, they’ve got martinis. And they are all served in 16 oz glasses so watch yourself. Whether it’s “The ‘G’ Spot” or “The Almond Mocha”, I’m sure you’ll find your favorite, but I don’t want to see you barfing in the alley and promise me you’ll get an Uber home. 🙂

Cha Cha Cha’sSpanish tapas at its best. I do like the one on Haight Street just a bit more but this is a nice space with delicious small plates. My favorites are the chicken paillard, steamed mussels and their tasty empanadas.

Dolores Park Café – A staple of denizens in the Mission. Fun decor and delicious organic and local food cafe.

El Farolito Mexican comfort food (aka best burrito in town) open late and cash only. They are so good, they don’t have a website. The Mission is the land of good burritos and theirs is on the top of the list–good and cheap. They are at 2779 Mission Street at 24th so easy to get there by BART.

Etcetera Wine Bar Go for the charcuterie plates and stay for the banana bread pudding and Chilean win

Foreign Cinema – In my opinion, one of the best brunches in The City. Sticky buns and organic Pop Tarts…Champagne Omelet, Duck Liver Pate, do I need to go on? 

Hog & Rocks – Three words….cocktails and pork.

Humphrey Slocombe – I scream, you scream, we all scream for uniquely flavored ice creams such as Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt, Bacon or Cucumber. Raise your hand if you want Foie ice cream–fyi, my hand is firmly down, but whatever works for you.

La Palma MexicatessenChicharrones, Pupusas and Tamales, oh my.

L’Emigrante Wine Bar & Bistro – Leave the kids at home and don’t worry, there won’t be a TV blaring while you sip your Turkish wine–you heard me–wine from Turkey. Or do you prefer some Hungarian bubbly? Well you can have both here. What a treat!!

Limon – It doesn’t get much better than free-range chicken slow roasted over an open flame–pair that with a queso empanade and you’ve got some Peruvian goodness.

 

Lolinda – They have some darn good Argentinean grilled meats and one of the greatest rooftop bars in the city El Techo, perfect place to have a margarita or some sangria.

Mission Cheese – I love that they have cheese flights. They also serve great local wines and meats to go along with it.

 

Mission Minis– They are known for their mini cupcakes with flavors like Swiss Almond Coconut, Cinnamon Horchata and Meyer Lemon Creme.  They also have adult sized and gluten-free cupcakes.

Mission Pie Sweet and savory pies made with locally sourced ingredients.

The Monk’s Kettle -“Our aim is to have a beer for every palate” they say. Fun and casual atmosphere.

Pig & PieThe diet is out the door at this place with buttermilk, poutine and homemade pies on the menu, you can skip entering any of this on your My fitness pal app and do an extra four hours of cardio, it will do you good.

Revolution Café – Cool café vibe with beer, wine, small bites and music.

The Sycamore – Here I go, telling people what to do again, but you MUST try the pork belly doughnuts with Maker’s Mark glaze–if you’re into that stuff. And they are pretty heavy handed with the bottomless mimosas, bonus!! 

Tartine Bakery & Cafe – You’re in San Francisco, land of tasty food and orgasmic, errrr organic desserts. Their sandwiches aren’t bad either. 

The Tradesman – It’s a bit out there in Mission Creek but worth the trek to this great neighborhood beer and wine bar.

Trick Dog  I’ve heard this is a hip, happenin’ place. They specialize in craft cocktails and trendy bites. Recommendation from friends– must try the thrice-cooked fries. 

 

I will warn you that is gets a bit crusty at times with homelessness people and the like, so always be aware of your surroundings, but don’t be scared, just be smart. Enjoy!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My first poem – The Ocean

This is a poem that I wrote when I was 21(ish). It was my first ‘real’ poem after my first heartbreak. I copied this in the exact syntax and format as I originally wrote it. I have a very strong urge to fix the punctuation but for now I am leaving it as it is.
In 1992, I did not know what a blog was and or how the internet really worked but here goes nothing:

The Ocean

The cool sand slips through my fingers as I stare
into the ocean
Thinking I am alone I release the emotions that are
trapped inside
My shattered heart and tears stream down my face

I look up as I hear a soft voice and I realize it is the 
ocean calling to me
wanting me to join it in eternal companionship
I rise
and brush the sand from my skin

Walking towards the surf I already feel a peacefulness
wash over me
My feet sink into the wet sand and I long to become
one with my old friend
but I feel I am no longer alone and I glance over my
shoulder

He stands in the distance looking like a Greek God
his strong arms
urging me to come share his warmth I am confused
I need him
but he has hurt me deeply

The ocean has been nothing but a friend I know what 
I must do
I run to him only to give him one last kiss his lips are
soft and warm
and I wish to stay with him but the waves call to me again

and I turn my back on him to join my one true friend
The Ocean

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Women’s Travelfest 2016 – New York City

In the days of cat fights on The Bachelor (yes, I watch it) and the self obsessed Kim Kardashian (don’t get me started on that clan), it was incredibly empowering to be a part of the 2016 Women’s Travelfest at the Angel Orensanz Center  and Wyndham Garden Chinatown in New York City. I went to last year’s event in my home base of San Francisco and with keynote speakers such as Patricia Schultz, Felicity Aston, and Laura Ling, I knew it would not be the last one I attended.

Kelly Lewis, the creator of The Women’s Travelfest and Founder of Go!Girl Guides, had a vision of getting kick-ass women travelers (that’s my description of the women at this conference, I hope Kelly would agree) under one roof and she has successfully done it for the past 3 years. Below is a review of the event through my eyes. (Disclaimer: All of the women that spoke at this conference were awesome, I’m just highlighting a few of them.)

This California girl was excited to wake up to snow on Friday morning, so after a frosty day of walking The High Line and hanging out (aka drinking) at the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park, it was a treat to attend the Travelfest’s kick-off cocktail party at the Wyndham Garden Chinatown.  I enjoyed sipping a glass of wine and mingling with other women who shared a passion for the transformative power of travel.

2016 Women’s Travelfest
Helping Women Conquer the World 

Day 1 – Saturday was a full day event  at the Angel Orensanz Center from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm with coffee, 10 minute breaks between speakers, an on-site lunch and a cocktail hour at the end. To warm up crowd we all got a goodie bag which included  Clinque Lip Balm and a Go! Girl Guides: Mexico: A Woman’s Guide to Traveling to Mexico. We could wander among the booths while thawing out with some coffee and checking out vendors such as  Servas.org, HIUSA.org, ThinxClothing Arts and Fuhwe. Then the speakers took the stage.   

Annie Griffiths–First off, I’m going to give her the best dressed award, she looked very smart in her gold accented top and trendy black booties. Annie is the one of the first women photographers to work for National Geographic. She had a slideshow of some of her wonderful photography and described the backstory of how she captured the shot. While with National Geographic she broke barriers by bring her children along on her shoots all over the world and paved the way for others to do the same. She shared some helpful tidbits on good photography such as, shoot after the sun goes down, don’t put the sky in the middle of the frame and how the human brain likes things in thirds. (I hope sharing these tip doesn’t get me banned from future Women Travelfests.) 🙂 She is also the Founder of The Ripple Effect Images

Miki Agrawal— The minute she got on stage, rockin’ the hat, she brought us into her world of questioning assumptions and getting sh*t done. She is a very engaging speaker, the author of Do Cool Sh*t, the co-founder of Thinx and Tushy and the owner of gluten-free restaurant Wild (two in New York and one in Downtown Vegas). She talked about non-sexy but important topics such as period management and bidets….not your typical cocktail conversation.

When visiting South Africa in 2010, Miki discovered that girls in developing countries sometimes had to take a week off from school, known as their week of shame. Each month when they had their periods, since they didn’t have access to pads and tampons, they would stay out of school due to shame and embarrassment. This leads to girls dropping out of school, sometimes getting pregnant early and not continuing their education. From this discovery,  and the fact that there hasn’t been an improvement in period management for women in developed countries for decades, Miki and her team created Thinx and they work in partnership with AFRIpads. For each pair of Thinx sold, the company funds a pack of AFRIpads that goes to a girl in the developing world so she can stay in school and further her education. Yes I ordered a pair of Thinx and don’t be surprised if I talk about periods next time I see you. 🙂

A panel discussion with Megan McDonough, Geraldine DeRuiter and Kae Lani Kennedy was a sobering and enlightening talk about the reality of travel and how it’s not always ‘sunshine and selfies’. They touched on the topics of death, depression and loneliness and how it effects the tone of our travels.

The day ended with a much needed wine hour where we could continue to peruse the booths and mingle with fellow participants and speakers.


Day 2
Sunday was a half day from 10:00 am-3:00 pm and was held at the Wyndham Garden Chinatown on the 17th and 18th floors, so the view was a little distracting. This was a casual format with smaller groups and a more intimate setting. Unfortunately we had to choose which workshop we wanted attend so I did miss out on a lot but the ones I chose were very informative.

Kae Lani Kennedy – At Saturday’s panel Kae Lani shared her struggles with her father’s suicide and how it effected her life and her travels. On Sunday she discussed the daunting and sometimes confusing world of social media.  Kae Lani is the Social Media Director for Matador Network, so she knows her stuff. Her warm and engaging presentation style made the topic a bit less complicated. She encouraged us to connect with her on Facebook and Twitter, email her with questions, tweet her–she pretty much did everything but give us her home address, probably because she doesn’t have one.

Nikki Vargas – As a fledgling writer, travel addict and wanna be entrepreneur, I had to listen to this talk on how to leave the 9-5 like she did and be successful.  She was very honest about her life, her struggles and how she found her passion and made it work.  She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Pin the Map Project

Kirsten Alana – This discussion was about supporting women-owned business while traveling and how much power our dollar had when we are on the road. We broke into groups and brainstormed on ways to support women-owned business and also how to raise awareness about where we stayed, what shops and restaurants we gave our money to and how we could spread the word to other women travelers. It made me think about my home base of San Francisco and how I can highlight women-owned businesses in my area. I have some research to do. 🙂

Annelise Sorensen–UC Berkeley grad and NYC based writer, Annelise encouraged us to find our voice, get out there and observe, find our story and shared tips on how to write them. She gave us valuable information on how hone our ideas, frame the story and use a unique pitch.  And how to wander, write and woo.

And that was a wrap. My heart was full of gratitude for the women involved with this event and all the ideas that were shared. It was fantastic to see women of all ages, colors, shapes and sizes come together. 

Random bullet points from the notes I took:

  • Get out there and make it happen
  • You need to make peace with your loneliness
  • You can use toilet seats covers as beauty blotters
  • Find your travel tribe
  • The more you travel, the more you want to travel
  • People who have nothing give everything
  • 40% of the world does not have toilets
  • Give the right amount of fucks
  • You are the average of the five friends you keep
  • Be comfortable with what is uncomfortable
  • Plant milkweed for the butterflies

One stat that was quoted a few times from the Girl Effect Study: If you give an educated women a $100 in the developing world $90 would go back into the community and her family, as opposed to $20 to $35 if a $100 was given to a man in the developing world. As quoted in the study, “In the developing world women are our greatest resource to elevating those communities out of extreme poverty.” Something to think about as we conveniently turn on our facets, drive to work, wait in line at Starbucks, or purchase food at our local market. 

Can’t wait till next year. 🙂

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wine Bar of the month – Belle Cora

Sorry for the gap in posting my monthly Wine Bar Wednesday blog. Have no fear, I am back on track. 🙂 🙂 🙂

I wanted to cry in my wine glass when I saw the shuttered doors and news-papered windows of my beloved Dell’uva Cafe this past summer. There were whispers and rumors about what would take its place. North Beach has a ban on chain restaurants so I knew it wouldn’t be a Starbucks or Chipotle. I would stop and peek in from time to time as workers were making her pretty for her debut. A little buffing here and sanding there; she was primed and ready to be adored.
In July of 2015, there was a new moniker on the door and Belle Cora was revealed. Belle Cora is named after a famed madame in the 1850’s that shook up San Francisco society along with her husband Charles. As noted on the back of Belle Cora’s menu “Belle’s story is a truly San Franciscan saga–full of life and love–elegance and intrigue–indecency and despair…..in her brief yet tumultuous 35 years she solidified herself as one of San Francisco’s most vibrant characters of the Gold Rush era”. If you want to read more about San Francisco’s bordello history, click here.

Belle Cora is in a prime location on Green Street between Columbus and Grant where neon signs mingle with a few lush trees. Across the street is the famed Gino and Carlo, the newly opened Massawa Restaurant and good old standby Golden Boy Pizza ($3 for a ‘square’ of thick crust pizza). If you are so inclined, there is a tattoo shop in case you want to get that tiger tattoo you’ve been thinking about. 


As I settled in and looked over the menu, I opted for the Domaine du Tariquet($8), a light and fruity white blend of lesser known grapes–Ugni Blanc and Colombard– from the Gascony region of France which paired well with my visually stunning Crab Tower($15).  This dish had layer after layer of crunchiness and decadence–avocado at the base, followed by a bed of seaweed, jicama, mango and crab, wading in a lusciously delicate pool of coconut, ginger and sriracha sauce and served with won-ton chips. The mouthwatering scent of my neighbor’s German bratwurst and fresh baked pretzel($12) was so distracting, I almost introduced myself so I might have a taste, but good manners prevailed and I left him alone–although I did see him eyeing my Crab Tower so he might have had the same idea. I will save that for the next trip.
With spacious outside seating and heat lamps, this is the perfect place to have brunch with friends or a glass of wine after work. It is also a perfect first date atmosphere, casual and fun–and you can quickly dash if your date is a dud.  For you fellow solo travelers out there, this is a good place to go it alone. You can plant yourself at the bar and chat up the bartender, or sit outside and enjoy the scene. 
Although they are not touting themselves as a sports bar they did have a football game on when I was there so it might be a nice alternative to a crowded and stinky dive bar if you want to watch a Patriots (or insert favorite football team name here) game. Wine and football always go together.

If you are a local looking for a new favorite spot, or a visitor that needs a rest from sightseeing, stop by Belle Cora and get recharged. Although I didn’t sample any of them, Belle has a great selection of beers.

Belle Cora: 565 Green Street between Columbus and Grant.
11am to 1 am Monday-Friday
10am to 1am Saturday-Sunday
415-872-5451

As a side note, if you are a Mrs. Doubtfire and/or Robin Williams fan, across the street is 520 Green Street, which is the apartment where Robin’s character stayed after getting kicked out of his posh digs on Steiner Street.

Wine quote of the month: “Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.” Aristophanes

Wine book of the month: Like to cook with wine, while drinking wine? I’ve got the book for you- Perfect Pairings by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein. Want to know how to cook Moroccan Lamb Barbecue and what wine pairs well with it? Evan will fill you in.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned…..

 

 

Posted in San Francisco, Wine, Wine Bar | Tagged , | 2 Comments

4 reasons to love Göreme

Göreme, in the Nevşehir Province of Central Anatolia, Turkey, is a small, cave-dwelling town with a unique landscape dotted with fairy chimneys and ancient rock formations. Whether you are soaring above the dusty brown foothills, in a multi-colored hot air balloon, sipping wine while perched on a hilltop, watching the mustard yellow sun sink below the horizon or riding Angelina Jolie-style on a ATV, Göreme is paradise for budget travelers, adventure junkies and zen seekers. With its mix of rugged terrain and chilled out vibe, you are bound to find a heart-pumping activity–or is hanging out in a cave hostel and drinking local wine more your style? Below are a few fun experiences you could have if you decide to make a stop in this beguiling borough.

Hot Air Balloon-Why would you wake up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am while on vacation? It might be for the chance to see terrain littered with jutting, and yes, somewhat phallic-looking rock formations that volcanoes, wind and rain have created over a millennium. Your red, blue and green striped balloon slowly inflates as the heat and flame from the burner slowly fills it. As it billows and starts to rise off the ground, you are instructed to hop in the basket*. You are packed tight with about 15 other travelers and need to do some Houdini moves to get your camera set for the perfect shot.  A few hundred feet off the ground your camera is poised to take as many pictures as you can. You spy a gray fox slinking through the crevasses and pathways–you take ten pictures of him while your neighbor’s elbow is in your ear and someone’s knee is on your bum. Red poppies dot the rocky mountainside, there’s another seven pictures. Balloons everywhere–click, click, click; but the camera cannot record the ethereal beauty of Cappadocia. Everyone feels the need to whisper so not to disturb the tranquility of the moment–there is a collective reverence for the landscape and history. You’ve found your heaven.
*
a few tips–for the ladies, I would recommend not wearing a skirt, the climb into the basket is not very graceful and if you don’t want strangers to see your underwear, opt for pants. Also the landing can be a bit rough, nothing too drastic but the basket may drag a bit before coming to a complete stop. But after you recover from the landing, there is a celebratory sparkling cider toast and keepsake ‘Certificate of Flight’ to commemorate your experience.  

Note: The company I used was Sultan Balloons but there are dozens of other companies to choose from. Keep in mind that due to weather, rides can be cancelled at any time, even the morning of the ride, so be prepared. There are many package deals out there but I opted to plan it myself–flight, hostel and balloon ride separately. I probably paid a bit more but I wanted the freedom to stay at the hostel of my choosing and not have a set agenda.

ATV ride–Your ill-fitting helmet seems useless as it wobbles to one side and your teeth chatter as you bounce and jostle on your four-wheeled monster. You might feel like a bad ass as you blaze through jagged lands and rocky paths. You whiz through canyons and ravines with names like Love Valley, Fairy Valley, Pigeon Valley and Rose Valley. You can’t keep the goofy grin off your face as the 15-year-old guide looks back to make sure you haven’t gone rogue or run over anyone.  Varying shades of brown, green and gray are all around you; the rock formations are so other worldly that all you can say is ‘wow’. The guide stops to give everyone a break. You shake off the dust, get your bearings, walk around, take a drink and admire your surroundings. You see a large, flat rock and walk through the knee length shrubbery to get to it. You sit, breath deep, close your eyes and take a meditative moment to let Göreme seep into your soul. After a few minutes you open your eyes, hop back on your ATV, haul ass and do a fist pump as you head to the next valley–it seems only appropriate.

Note: Helmets are provided but they have no face shields, so don’t forget your sunglasses or you will get a face full of dust.

Wine and Sunset Tour–When one thinks of Turkey, wine usually doesn’t come to mind, but in Göreme, vines are everywhere. You float over them in a hot air balloon, ride through them on an ATV or take a Wine and Sunset Tour and have a knowledgeable guide take you through the vineyards so you can touch the vines and taste the grapes.  The terroir is rocky beneath your sandals as the guide tells you the 4,000 year history Turkey has with wine. Wine was used as an offering to the gods and was as common in the daily diet as fish, olive oil and bread.
These vines are different from the manicured rows of the top growing vineyards of the United States or France, but they have a wild character all their own.
Then you may be whisked to one of the local tasting rooms for a sampling–Turasan is one of the most popular wineries in the area, where you will taste about 5 different wines in the no-frills and somewhat sterile tasting room. After the tasting, you will be shuttled to a mountain top, where you can sip wine and ponder your next adventure as the sun sets.
In the town of Göreme there is a place called the Red Red Wine House, where they serve local wines. If you want to get more of a taste of Turkey, settle in, order a few glasses and an apple-mint water pipe and keep the wine theme going.

Note: The tour I took was through Urban Adventures and my engaging guide made the tour very personal and fun. From the informative walk through the vineyard, to the winery tasting and a sunset finale, it was a great evening of wine history and epic views. If you have the time and interest, I would highly recommend this tour. It’s great for a wine enthusiast but also a good option if you want to do something a bit more low key.

Cave hostels/hotels–You might fall in love with Göreme and possibly soup (more on the soup in a separate post) if you book a bunk at the the Stay at Peace Cave Hostel. Yes, these are hostels and hotels that were cave dwellings long ago, where the Christians hid from persecution. They were then converted into homes and now, unique accommodations for visitors. They range from bare-bone hostels to 5-star hotels with air conditioning, sauna and massage services. The town of nearly 2,000 residence is about an hour shuttle ride from the Kayasri airport. After the frenzied pace of Istanbul you feel your shoulders relax as you let the tranquil and relaxing setting of this tiny town wash over you. As you settled into the Omurca Art Cafe you notice there is a bearded local on the balcony across from you who is lightly tapping a hang drum; the harmonic sounds swirl and whirl around you, relaxing you even more. The barefoot chef talks to you about the day’s soup and he pours you a glass of his homemade wine. With its mountains of pillows and sultan-ish style, the hostel and cafe is a nice respite between excursions.

Note: When I booked this trip, I had no idea there would be a swimming pool option. You can learn from my mistakes. Book a hotel or hostel with a pool so you can “de-dust” yourself with a refreshing dip.

If you are planning a trip to Turkey, take a detour to the Cappadocia region. You can do a few of the above activities but there are many other options. You could horseback ride, take a guided tour through the caves, see the whirling dervishes or rent a car and drive through the other regions. I only saw Göreme but the surrounding cities of Urgup, Uchisar, Ortahisar, Cavusin and Avanos are also options. Happy travels and thank you, Göreme, for showing me a lovely time!!

     

Posted in Travel, Turkey | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Cats of Turkey

Get ready for cat overload–and some views of Istanbul, Goreme and Ephesus. Cats are everywhere in Turkey; hanging out in parks, sitting on chairs at outdoor cafes, lounging around ancient ruins, following me around town, nestling in my lap and looking for a little love and attention. Cats many not have conquered the world(yet), but they have almost taken over Turkey. Although these cats are not owned by anyone in particular, may not have a name or a designated cat bed, the community takes care of them by leaving bowls of food and water on doorsteps and alleyways. If it’s super hot out, everyone is on alert and puts out extra provisions. Below are a few furry friends I met on my trip to Turkey. The cute one to the left was all by himself and just wanted me to pet him. I had the strong urge to take him home with me since he would fit perfectly in my carry-on.

This fancy cat was hanging out in Sultanahmet, the old city. On the recommendation of a friend I stayed at the Ararat Hotel, which is a very lovely and affordable hotel in that district. From their rooftop patio you can snap a selfie with the Blue Mosque over your shoulder. I was steps away from Hagia Sofia, a 10 minutes from the Grand Bazaar and many others historic places. It is also close to public transportation and if you choose the right place, you can get a view of the sea. It is a great place to experience the city.

Found this cutie lounging in the shade when I took a day trip to Ephesus. The ruins are not near a community so there is no one to take care of them but the local guides bring water and food when they do their tours.

I was on my way to Bebek, one of Istanbul’s seaside neighborhoods(stay tuned for a blog post about that) and saw this clowder that was lounging in a tiny park. I couldn’t help but snap a picture.

I went on a street food tour in the cosmopolitan Beyoğlu district, filled with art studios and chic wine bars–you guessed it, I’ll be doing a blog post about that also. This daredevil wanted to get to the other side of the street where there was a bowl of food, some shade and a few friends to play with.

This little one was dazzled by the gold fish and attempted to get his own dinner at the Omurca Cafe atop the Stay In Peace Cave Hostel in Goreme(#blogpostintheworks). He almost got one.

I named him Oscar and he happily followed me as I explored the cave dwellings when I first arrived in Goreme, one of my new favorite towns.

I don’t blame this one for trying to get some scraps–Turkish breakfasts are simple, (somewhat) healthy and delicious–tea, sliced cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, olives, processed meat, freshly made ekmek (Turkish bread), a hard boiled egg and Nutella.

I was rarely far from cats at play. As I went off in search of a morning ATV ride before I headed back to Istanbul I watched with these guys wrestle in front of my hostel.

  

Pinky enjoyed some time with me in Goreme, after an exhilarating balloon ride. Oh yes, there will be a blog post about that.

I randomly stumbled upon Macka Parkl while trying to find a respite from the craziness that is Taksim Square and found a public tram that took me across a suburban valley. I was pleasantly surprised by this green space with running trails, a plethora of flora and some outdoor restaurants including Fua Cafe and Restaurant, On Numara and Sutlu Cafe.

As I tried walking off my jetlag I took a stroll along the Golden Horn, the strait that separates the two European districts of Istanbul. Cats and people climbed the rocks to enjoyed the sun, sea breeze and the view.

I saw this beauty as I explored the side streets of Istiklal Caddesi, one of the grandest outdoor shopping districts in Istanbul. Cats slink through alleyways and hang out near the döner carts to get a morsel of meat.

#bunk is a hip hostel I stayed at when I was in Taksim Square, this one escorted me as I went to the corner market. He may look lazy in this daytime picture but he was diligent in making sure I got to my destination after the sun went down.

This is just a cute, fun post I did for my cat loving friends. Turkey is a country filled with tantalizing food, exhilarating adventures, beautiful people and a complex history. I will be doing some more in-depth posts but for now, enjoy the cats.

Okay here’s one more…..I waited at Kardesler Kebab to meet my street food tour group and he decided hop up and see what was going on. This is the neighborhood where one of the most famous Turkish novelists, Orhan Pamuk, lives.

Posted in Travel, Turkey | Tagged , | Leave a comment