Monthly Archives: December 2015

2015: A RECAP OF A GOOD YEAR!

Standard

The year 2015 was a good one! First, I am grateful for good health and a deepened spirituality. I am grateful for family and friends, and I’m grateful for new opportunities. This was a year of treading new territory — new vision, new habits, new friends and even a new business! I found myself in the midst of enjoying many new adventures. “New” was the operative word.  Below is a recap of my 2015.

High Speed TGV at Gare do Nord

The High Speed TGV at Gare du Nord, Paris, France!

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France!

The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France!

INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC TRAVELS

At the onset of 2015, I was only slated to take a trip to Northern California to hang out with my best friend for our birthdays in January, along with 11 cities in France. Normally, two trips, especially where one would be spent overseas, would leave me satisfied, but in making a commitment to remain open to what the universe delivered,   Here is what my 2015 travel itinerary looked like:

  1.    January — traveled to Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco;
  2.    March — traveled to New York City;
  3.    June — traveled to Montreal and Oka, Canada;
  4.    September — traveled to 11 cities in France*
  5.    October — traveled to Cincinnati and Oberlin, Ohio;
  6.    November — traveled to Sydney, Australia
Me, happy as can be, at The Eiffel Tower, Paris.

Me, happy as can be, at The Eiffel Tower, Paris!

Avignon, France!

Avignon, France!

A Youth Hostel Near My Hotel, Sydney, Australia!

A Youth Hostel Near My Hotel, Sydney, Australia!

In all of these destinations, I got to eat well (I had delectable macarons from Laderee), visit some of the most iconic tourist attractions (The Eiffel Tower, The Sydney Opera House), and I met incredible people everywhere I went!

In St. Tropez

In St. Tropez, France!

Street Cafe in Monaco!

Street Cafe in Monaco!

Iconic French Street Musician

Iconic French Street Musician, Arles, France!

SAMPLED NEW RESTAURANTS — You don’t have to have known me a long time to know that one of my favorite pastimes is to sample a new restaurant.

In 2015, the new restaurants that I visited were Greek Islands in Chicago’s Greek Town.  I am not normally a big fan of Greek food, but I must admit the The Lolipop Lamb Chops, along with a most delicious and uniquely seasoned skinless baked potato was out of this world!  It was also a  great place for an annual gathering of former co-workers.

I truly dined sufficiently at Mexique (French and Mexican Fusion) on the west side of Chicago!  As a matter of fact, this eatery was my favorite find in 2015.  I, along with a small group celebrated the birthday of a friend during the restaurant’s Sunday brunch.  Although all of the food was outstanding, I am still dreaming often of their crepes and their Tres Leche served with a scoop of peach ice cream.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

St. Tropez Market, Olive Stall

St. Tropez Market, Olive Stall

Batter and Berries was another major culinary surprise! Can you imagine lemon, strawberry, carmel or my favorite blueberry French Toast?  I couldn’t at first, but can’t imagine life without it now.  If you want to try out all of the favors, order The Flight of French Toast.  I promise you that you won’t regret it.  Owned by two fraternity brothers, Batter and Berries has expanded its reputation as a breakfast hot spot, so be prepared for a long, yet quickly moving fast line. I can’t forget my dining experience at Jaime Oliver’s restaurant in Sydney, Australia.  His polenta fries were outstanding!

Breakfast at QVB, Sydney, Australia

Breakfast at QVB, Sydney, Australia!

To round out my dining experience, I revisited some of my favorite restaurants — Salpicon! (Upscale Mexican) in Old Town, Chant (Asian Fusion) in Hyde Park, Francesca’s in Little Italy and Maggiano’s (Classic Italian) in River North.

THEATER OUTINGS — Chicago and New York

There is nothing like seeing a live theater performance.  I saw some awesome plays in 2015.

In Chicago, I saw Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s “Get on Your Feet.”  The music was great and brought back memories of their days with The Miami Sound Machine.  A Conga Line was even formed and traversed the entire theater.  I also saw a riveting production at The Court Theater of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” a moving and riveting performance of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” an absolutely fun production of “Gotta Dance” and “Kinky Boots.” Oh, I almost forgot the ever classic August Wilson play “Two Trains Running” staged at the Goodman Theater.

In New York City, I saw “Brothers at The Bottom” at The Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Broadway rendition of “Kinky Boots.”

DANCE PERFORMANCES — 2015 brought the annual appearance of the phenomenal Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  As in years past, the company debuted some new works, but no performance would be complete without seeing their iconic “Revelations.”  As many times as I’ve seen that piece, it’s always delivered in a fresh way.  I never tire of it.

2015 also brought The Dance Theater of Harlem back to Chicago after a 16 year absence. I had almost forgotten how superb they are!  Known for performing classical pieces, DTH introduced some contemporary numbers thus showcasing their versatility.

A Ballet Performance

A Ballet Performance


A Bouitique in Aix-En-Provence

A Bouitique in
Aix-En-Provence, France!

MUSICAL PERFORMANCES — January afforded me the opportunity to see the wonderful jazz guitarist Bill Frisell in Oakland at Yoshi’s.  April brought Ellis and Delfeayo Marsalis to the Reva and David Logan Center.  September delivered the well organized Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago — I saw Regina Carter and Maggie Brown!  In October, phenom Cecile McLorin Salvant treated Chicago jazz lovers to a whimsical evening, also at the Logan Center.

From a Performance with Violinist Regina Carter

From a Performance with Violinist Regina Carter, Chicago!

LIVESTREAM PERFORMANCES — I have grown more and more amazed at how many live performances I have seen right in the comfort of my home on my iPad or my desktop.  Thanks to Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) under the leadership of the great Wynton Marsalis, I have been introduced to new artists (e.g. Alicia Olatunja, Briana Thomas and Denzal Sinclaire), reintroduced to well known artists (e.g. Dianne Reaves, Rubin Blades), and we are always graced by the sounds of The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALCO).

CD, JALCO in CUBA!

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra! CD Released in 2015!

I even watched The Harlem Book Fair in July and Rick Steves Travel Conference in November via Livestream.  Wow, what we are able to do now given the wonders of technology — we can be there and yet not be there!

I am looking ahead to 2016 with a renewed mindset, an eagerness to try new things and to look at the old with a new set of eyes!

Shopping at The Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, Australia

Shopping at The Queen
Victoria Building,
Sydney, Australia

Iconic Provence Lavender

Iconic Provence Lavender

#thisidoforme

———————————————————————————–

*Paris, Avignon, Arles, Aix, St. Tropez, Lyon, Nice, Monaco, St. Paul de Vence, St. Balme Maxime and Cannes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA! PART 3

Standard

This is the 3rd and final installment of my posts on Spectacular Sydney, Australia!

I have been back from Sydney, Australia for a little over a month, and like with so many things, the impact of that experience continues to unfold. Most notably, the main thing that will always be at the forefront of my mind are the friendly people that I encountered and how open Sydneysiders were to converse, ask and answer questions.

image

Photo:  The Famed Sydney Opera House

 

Take Mayleen, who I met while eating breakfast at The Queen Victoria Building (QVB).  Noticing that I was obviously not from Sydney (maybe looking more African American than Aboriginal was a dead give away) nor from England (my American accent often mistaken for being from the southern states versus the south side of Chicago),

Mayleen had just sat down across from me to enjoy a pastry and a cup of coffee before she reported to work at a boutique in the building.  She immediately asked where I was from, and when I responded “Chicago,” she wanted to know more about me and specifically more about the churches in my city. She explained that she was a member of  the Pentacostal faith, and she truly hoped to visit the churches led by Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen someday.

We discussed and even lightly laughed and joked about some of the craziness going on in the world and how we must pray for its healing.  We exchanged information so that once either I returned to Sydney or she traveled to Chicago, we could connect.  We said our goodbyes. I remember thinking how pleasant the experience was and really feeling good about taking this trip.

Then there was a young (in her early 20s) woman named Tanta, who was of Balinese descent but had grown up in Sydney.  She was passing out chocolate samples outside of Haigh’s, a premium chocolatier.  Once I detected that she was friendly and would be open to questions, I said, “I’m just going to come out and ask you, why does Sydney have so many Asian citizens.”  It’s important to note that from the time I step off of my flight in the airport, I noticed that it seemed that every seven in ten people I saw were of Asian heritage.

image

Photo:  Inside The Sydney Opera House

 

Tanta chuckled and explained that 44% of the people in Sydney were not from there and that many of that 44%  were primarily Chinese.  Tanta attributed it to the development of new economic markets.  She, too, wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing in Sydney.  She told me about her desire to visit the U.S., and maybe even experience living in either NYC or San Francisco. She seemed so excited while chatting with me that another layer of Sydney was embedded in my heart and consciousness.

She wished me an enjoyable experience and urged me to do The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.  Needless to say, I had no intention of doing that climb, so I smiled and thanked her for her kindness but not before I went into Haigh’s to purchase some salted caramel chocolates.

 

image

Photo:  In The Rocks Section of Sydney

image

Photo:  Life is Good in Sydney!

 

In the midst of meeting friendly Australians, I encountered some very friendly North Americans —  Ryan from San Diego, Savannah from Montreal, both of whom I spent an entire afternoon with on a city tour and a group of three lively young men from Hawaii and Los Angeles.

When I  spotted them, I went right over and struck up a conversation with them at the QVB.  I also met a super friendly couple from Seattle at The Sydney Wildlife Center.  In each encounter, we were all happy to meet each other and readily shared some of our awesome Down Under experiences.

image

Photo:  At the Sydney Wildlife Center with New Friends Visiting From Seattle

 

So, if you have been hesitant about traveling to Australia, because its just too far away, the flight is too long, you don’t know anyone interested in traveling there with you, or a whole host of other excuses, no worries, mates. You will be amongst some of the friendliest people in the world, and there is plenty to see and fun to be had. When you go you must explore:

  1.   The Sydney Opera House — I saw a ballet performed by the      Australian National Ballet Company.  Be sure to take the tour of the Opera House — you won’t regret it;
  2. Bondi Beach — just gorgeous;
  3. Manley Beach — access by ferry;
  4. The Taronga Zoo — access by ferry;
  5. The Sydney Wildlife Center — get to know Erica and other Koalas
  6. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb — This I Did Not Do!
  7. Darling Harbour and its many restaurants, stores and boutiques;
  8. Sydney Harbour — sit, sip, eat and enjoy music along The Opera House Promenade; take a cruise along the Harbour;
  9. The Rocks;
  10. The Central Business District (CBD);
  11. The Queen Victoria Building (shop, chat with the locals and admire the beautiful architecture;
  12. Visit Chef Jaime Oliver’s Restaurant — you must try the Polenta Fries

image

Photo: Beautiful Christmas Tree Laden With Swarovski Crystals at The QVB

 

 

image

Photo:  Train Stop in The Central Business District

image

Photo:  A Trainer at The Sydney Wildlife Center

image

Photo:  “It’s Your Shout” (An Aussie Phrase Meaning This Round of Drinks Are On You).  In This Case, It’s A Pimms Cup!

 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, I LOVE YOU, AND I WILL BE BACK SOON!

 

 

 

 

 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA! PART 2

Standard

 

Here I was relaxing in my hotel room having completed my first day as a solo traveler in Sydney.  While I was relaxing in my room inwardly gloating about having traveled some 9,200 miles from Chicago to The Land Down Under, I decided to unwind by going on Facebook.  Magically a post appeared on my stream (without me searching for it) from Allison Smith (aka The Sydney Fashion Hunter on her blog of the same name). image.jpegPhoto:  Allison Smith (The Sydney Fashion Hunter) and Robin (This…I…Do…For…Me!) Hanging Out in The Pub at The Great Southern Hotel.

 

Although I can’t remember, at the moment,  what she posted about, I do remember, however, that I posted on her thread that I was currently in her city and was loving and enjoying it to the hilt. Allison, who immediately responded to my comment, checked to see if I was available for drinks and dinner  for  the following evening.  It was at this point that I could see my trip really taking form, and as excited as I was to see Sydney solo, I was grateful for this new connection in the form of Allison.

Allison met me the following evening at my hotel which conveniently had within its walls a really nice pub with the best drinks (their fruity Pimms Cup was out of sight) and great pub food (later in the week I had the Prawns and Spaghetti).  During our first visit, we talked about life in both Chicago and Sydney.  We talked quite a bit about racism in the United States and its impact on the everyday lives of its citizens.  I also asked a lot of questions about the Aborignal population.

As the evening ended, Allison checked to see what activities were on my agenda for the next day, and after I ran down a litany of my activities, she said that she planned to check her itinerary for the week so she could show me some other areas of Sydney.  When we connected again two days later, Allison took me to the 47th Floor of an office building that also housed a revolving restaurant. Sipping some of the best Riesling I’ve had, I was given another opportunity to soak in another and even more panoramic view of Sydney Harbour.

Not knowing that I am a fan of Chef Jaime Oliver, Allison and I (to my great surprise) walked over to Oliver’s restaurant.  I was blown away by the food and dessert.  To top the evening off,  Allison presented me with a large gift bag of Aussie candies and other delectables — Tim Tam, various kinds of Cadbury Chocolates, Malt Teasers and other sweet treats that make you want to move to Sydney just to have easy access to these. Oh, a jar of  iconic Vegemite (a healthy Australian  food paste) was also included.

As exciting as solo travel was proving to be, I still found that there is still nothing as exhilarating as a native showing you around.  Sure, the trip I planned was exciting, and it encompassed most of the sites I wanted to visit, but there are just somethings you won’t get to experience without the caring and historical knowledge of a native.

An example would be the section in downtown Sydney known as Martin Place where in 2014, several hostages were held at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe.  Allison showed me how Martin Place was turned into a field of flowers. During the crisis, Sydneysiders, in a steady procession, brought hundreds upon hundreds of flowers to show love to the hostages.  Imagining all of these flowers, I could feel the passion of Sydney citizens.  Being shown this area by a native had a greater impact than either stumbling across it or planning a touristy trek could ever be.

By this point, Sydney had sealed a place in my heart and memory.

image

 

******************************************************************

In Part 3 and final installment of this Sydney, Australia blog series, I will share some of my most memorable aspects of this wonderful city, its fun words and names to describe funny situations and people and some of the other great people I met.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sydney, Australia! PART 1

Standard

Me at The Sydney Wildlife Center With Erica the Kaola!

image image image

Photos: Robin at The Sydney Wildlife Center; on Bondi Beach; the Queen Victoria Building Clock; the famed Sydney Opera House

 

At the beginning of 2015, taking a trip to the continent of Australia was the furthest thing from my mind. Even though the country was on my bucket list, it was way down on the list — mainly because I knew very little about that continent. It seemed like a whole other world.  I just assumed that I would get there, sometime before I left this earth, not in 2015, however.  I hadn’t even identified a particular area (e.g. Melbourne, Perth, Tasmania, etc.) that I wanted to visit.  The mantra? JUST GO TO AUSTRALIA! JUST GO TO AUSTRALIA!

Ironically, though, my mind always went back to the many New Year’s Eve Day celebrations I watched on television over the past 10-15 years.  It is at this time that I, like many Americans, get to watch the New Year arrive first in Australia.  You always see the iconic Sydney Opera House, its beautiful architectural sails displaying some celebratory image, along with a fire works show that had you longing to be right there in the middle of all of the festivities.

Even though one could easily visit Melbourne, Perth, Cairns or even Tasmania, Sydney and its many beautiful sites — Darling Harbour, The Taronga Zoo, The Rocks, Bondi and Manley Beaches — was embedded in my subconscious mind to the point where I didn’t even think about other destinations in Australia.  Besides, even the name Sydney has a sophisticated ring to it!  Then the most serendipitous happening occurred — I came across an incredible fare (flight, accommodations and excursions) with Qantas Airlines!

At the time the opportunity to visit Sydney came up, I was already a month away from going to 11 cities in France. As  I began to mull this Sydney travel opportunity over in my mind,  each time I would try to convince myself to take advantage of that trip at another time. I said to myself,  “After all,  one major trip (France) a year should be enough for you, Robin.”

I continued to go back and forth, back and forth until…I finally decided the price and the amenities were too good to pass up.  Once again, I began talking to myself “Besides,  you only live once.”

I wouldn’t allow myself to think about Sydney, until I returned from France.  Even though it took me three weeks to recover from France jet lag, I still managed to muster up the energy to create an imminent dream trip that would be taken in less than two months. And a Dream Trip it was!

I must also mention that with all of the traveling that I’ve done, both domestically and internationally, Sydney was my first solo trip!

I know a few people that have traveled solo for many years, and they always touted that they loved these trips because they could awaken when they wanted, eat where and what they desired, be open and available to meet new people, and set their own schedule of daily sites to be seen. I have to admit, this was a new way to travel for me, but I was game!

Here is what I did:

DAY 1:  After getting settled in my hotel room at The Great Southern on George Street, I immediately ventured out for the first of my scheduled excursions — A Captain Cook Sydney Harbour Cruise.  This allowed me to see a panoramic view of The Sydney Harbour Bridge, along with the stunning Sydney Opera House.

I happened to befriend a group of Monks from Thailand, who were as friendly as they were serene and soft-spoken.  We took turns taking pics with each other’s cameras and/or cell phones.  We all stood on the ship awe struck that we were “Down Under” and grateful for having crossed each other’s paths.

I then enjoyed a delicious meal Al Fresco at Rossi’s, also on the Harbour.  The Italian food offerings were mouth watering.  Ironically, the eatery was Russian owned and operated.  It is important to mention that 44 per cent of Sydney’s population is not from Sydney.

DAY 2:  I awoke highly rested and energized to take on my next Sydney site — The Queen Victoria Building (QVB).  After The Opera House, The QVB, was my second most desired site to visit.  Talk about stunning — the architecture, the six domes atop of the building and the elegance of its interior was breath taking.  It was already decked out with Christmas decorations, and each store and boutique was beautifully organized and receptive to its customers.  Because my hotel was only seven blocks from The QVB (also on George Street), I ate breakfast there every morning.

Afterwards, I went back to Sydney Harbour, grabbed some good street food, and listened to the musicians situated at various points there.  Sydney is a great place to people watch, and again, I was struck by the amazing diversity of the city with its huge concentration of Asians.

I struck up a conversation with one of the musicians who hailed from Liverpool, England (the home of the Beatles). He specialized in the music of American folk artists.   He asked me if I had any musical requests, and being a big jazz fan, I couldn’t think of one folk artist or song in that moment. So he delighted me and all the others on The Harbour with tunes from Tracy Chapman, James Taylor and Joan Baez!

*****************************************************************

In my next post, I’ll talk about the surprise new friendship that I formed.  Chat with you later, mates!