Monday, October 31, 2011

BOSTON

Photo Courtesy Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
The heart of downtown Boston may be the greatest walking-running place in the U.S. Whether it's a 6 mile run along the Charles River or a long afternoon walk through Boston Common. There are so many interesting historical spots, distinguished homes, churches, cemeteries, old taverns and pubs to be enjoyed.
Photo Courtesy Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
It wasn't a typical day when I recently walked through downtown Boston. There were 2,000 plus people singing and speechifying everywhere. The group was Occupy Boston - part of the greater Occupy Wall Street movement. The Boston group is now marking their one-month anniversary with an open No Talent Talent Show and a Corporate Zombie March. The passion and fervor the group shows is undeniable. I imagine that in this same location there was a very similar scene going on during the time of the Revolutionary War 230 years ago.

Durgin-Park Restaurant
I stopped in at Durgin-Park restaurant, a Boston icon whose motto is, "We serve history." For me this meant a kind of generational history. My father tells me that he bussed tables here when he was a student at MIT. The restaurant had its beginnings when Peter Faneuil, the top merchant in 1742, built a large market house near the waterfront. The market vendors needed a place to eat, so a small dining room was set aside. Over time, it turned into a full fledged restaurant that serves up regional specialties like Boston baked beans and Yankee pot roast.
Photo Courtesy Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau
Making my way through Quincy Market, I walked through a blended cacophony of Boston brogue and various tourist accents engaging in conversation about local products and wares. Eventually, I made my way to North End of the Italian section where I came upon an old friend - Regina's Pizza, a must experience pizza house. Pizza pie fanatics don't seem to mind standing in a 75 person line to place an order at one of he best pizza houses in New England. I got a kick out of Ginnia, the thick Boston accented woman who juggles the phone, beer and pizza orders behind the bar. She barks, "Watta yah waant?" And, you better be ready to reply to her command - no idle chit chat tolerated here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

SANTA MONICA

A little known book called Santa Monica in Vintage Postcards depicts several images that show why people used to flock to Southern California to buy up Santa Monica property. Postcard titles include Moonlight on the Pacific, Sunset Point, Pleasure Pier and Where the Mountains Meet the Sea. Today, Santa Monica still holds a small sense of old fashioned charm infused with a steady stream of urban trappings.

Map from historic66.com
This was my first time in Santa Monica, and I walked a good portion of the usual suspect tourist spots. I ventured down the pier, walked along the beach, saw Hotel California (not the Beverly Hills Hotel on the Eagles album cover) and made it to the final destination stop on legendary U.S. Route 66 where a sign reads, "66 End of trail."

Photograph by Michael Ontiveros
City planners skillfully mapped out Santa Monica with a concen- trated downtown shopping area that sits on a bluff overlooking the Santa Monica Bay. If you like to walk, you can get there from the beach by taking one of several staircases that are linked between the beach and the bluff. Once I got to the top, I ventured out to the Third Street Promenade - 30 city blocks of retail shops and retaurants. On this day, I saw a stylistic mix of American and European shoppers. I think the shopper's fashions were much more interesting than what I saw in the Third Street shops.
Stefanosnewyorkpizza.com
I did find one outstanding slice of pizza at a place called Stefano's. They are currently carrying a unique promotion in recognition of the Seal Team 6. Anyone who specifically asks for a "Seal Team 6" will get a free slice of Sausage, Egplant, Apple smoked bacon and Leeks 6" pizza. Once I tasted the pizza, I discovered that it was as good as any NYC pizza joint I've been to. It is interesting to note that Stefano's states that each pie they make is expertly tossed - the East Coast way. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

After leaving Stefano's, I found two very interesting retaurants. The first one is a celebrity dive where locals and famous folk have been showing up for over 44 years. When you walk into Chez Jay, it feels like you're in a time machine - fascinating clientele, hard drinking and great storytelling. In fact, they have a saying that is often repeated, "Nothing much changes at Chez Jay."

Misfit Burger by Da Xu of Buy Local Market
Finally, the second retaurant I stumbled into was The Misfit Restaurant and Bar. It has a curious decor of red velvet and old wood. They carry a welcoming selection of Farmer's Market picks, along with a mix of Edna Lewis' fried chicken, lobster club sliders, and burgers. On the wall there is a cryptic quote from a 13th century writer that reads, "Now is the time to turn your heart into a temple of flames." I'm sure it isn't true, but it made me wonder if it is was a prophetic nod to the very weird but popular British television series with same namesake -
The Misfits.

Wiki Commons






Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CHINA WONDER

Photograph Courtesy of Diego Frios
It's not every day that you have the opportunity to see one of the Seven Wonders of (Medieval) World. So, when I was invited to be a guest speaker in China, I joined my hosts in visiting the Great Wall of China. It is an imposing man-made structure that sits like a majestic stone dragon on the top of a seemingly endless mountain ridge. It gives one the illusion that it could probably be seen from as far away as the moon. In fact, in 1932, one of Ripley's Believe It or Not! cartoons claimed that the Great Wall of China was the only work of man that was visible to the human eye from the moon. It turns out that Ripley's helped perpetuate an ongoing urban myth. American astronaut Neil Armstrong debunked the myth when he came back to earth, so did Yan Liwei, China's first astronaut who said, "The scenery was very beautiful. But, I did not see the Great Wall."

Photograph by Juan FRIAS VELATTI
During my visit to China, I toured several places in Beijing including The Forbidden City - the center of ancient Peking, the 2008 Olympic stadiums, Tiananmen Square and the contemporary part of the city. This section of Beijing is definitely much more modern and cosmopolitan than I imagined. Of course, along with the urbanization of China, I also saw a heavy blanket of smog and a sea of people everywhere. This might be explained by the population of 22,000,000 that is estimated to live in the capital city.

Photograph by Ana Reg
One of the more well-known markets in Beijing is the Hongquiao Market, sometimes called the "Pearl Market". Over 1,000,000 visitors come to the Hongquiao Market to buy pearls that have been imported from all over the world. In addition to the famous pearls, the market also boasts a 5-story shopping paradise for anyone looking for electronics, clothing, souvenirs, silk and seafood.

Photograph by Istolethetv
The seafood market is located in the basement of the Hongquiao building. Here, there are hundreds of fish and shellfish including snails, turtles, conchs, crabs (20 varieties), mantis shrimp, frogs and basically anything that lives in both fresh and salt water - all of them sold exclusively live. I would imagine that some of the street vendors shop here as well since you can find fried sea cucumbers, starfish, sea horses and a multitude of other exotic fare out on the street. Even landlubbers who have an aversion to seafood can get their own unusual tastes satisfied with a variety of tidbits including lizards, snakes, grasshoppers, donkey meat and camel paw.

Photograph Chowtimes.com
Street food in Beijing is obviously strangely curious, but definitely reserved for the adventurous. When my hosts took me to a restaurant called "Gou Bu Li Bao Zi", which is translated as "Even the dogs ignore", I did not know what to expect. It turns out that Gou Bu Li Bao Zi is one of the best bazoi (steamed buns) establishments in Beijing. The founder of the shop named his son Gou Zi (Doggy). Many stories have been circulated about the chef. The official version reads taht when young Gou Zi started his own bazoi shop, he worked so hard that people started saying that "when Gou Zi is at work he ignores everyone." Hence, the interesting restaurant bill, "Even the dogs ignore."

Monday, October 3, 2011

THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT

Photograph by Alice Grulich-Jones
In Albuquerque the sun shines 310 days out of the year in a high desert setting complete with cool nights and crystal clear days. The combined effect of the altitude, low humidity and clean air has actually helped me get a great deal of the east coast crud out of my lungs. The area has also proved to be as perfect playground for outdoor activities.

Amatueurs and top-notch athletes alike take advantage of the endless trails that traverse the city and surrounding areas. In fact, for the past several years, Men's Health magazine has been ranking Albuquerque amongst the top 10 fittest cities in America. I can attest that the trail running, biking, and hiking paths are both challenging and simply fun.

La Luz Photograph by David Worchester
I've found that hiking with friends between speaking events is a terrific way to unwind and stay grounded. One of the more popular, but difficult hikes is the La Luz (Spanish for "light") trail on the west side of the Sandia Mountains. It is a strenuous 7.5 mile hike that starts at 7,050 feet and slopes up to a final elevation of 10,678 feet. Every year in August, La Luz is blocked off for a 400-runner race. It has been dubbed one of the 12 most grueling trail races in North America (Runner Magazine). However, if your desire is simply to get to the top without the wear and tear on your body, you can always take the tram.

Sandia Peak Ski and Tramway
The Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is a breathtaking 2.7 mile trip that you won't soon forget. The picture perfect panoramic view is well worth the $20 ticket. And, if you go during the annual Balloon Fiesta (Oct 1-9, 2011) you can make your own special collection of postcards. It's a great place to watch the 700 plus hot air balloons that adorn the New Mexico Skyline during this event.

I love Albuquerque, but what I have found best about the region is the people. Every one that I met seemed to always have time to stop and talk whether over coffee at a local biker cafe, a glass of wine at a local winery or a beer at the corner tavern.

Photograph by JHarrelson
For the next few months, business ties will be taking me back to the East Coast where the cold gray eastern winter is sure to arrive soon. And, when it does, it will be hard to forget the mountains, hiking, dining, and wonderful people of the "Land of Enchantment".