Leaving my heart in San Francisco…

Want the truth?

It is dangerously easy to fall in love with this city…

I had the teensiest of legs up coming to San Francisco for the Dance/USA conference in that I was born in the area and had family I could stay with.  Because we’d often come back to visit, I’ve seen the major sites already: The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, Lombard Street, and the list goes on.

So, knowing I had limited time outside of a conference room during my three days here I didn’t want to revisit things I’ve already seen.

I chose, instead, to just walk.

Even though I’ve been here a countless number of times, this is the first time I’ve visited as an adult.  I was surprisingly disoriented, being used to a really strict grid system, but SF is quite small by comparison to Chicago and after I got my bearings I really started to enjoy my walking tours and trips on the BART.

Produce market in The Mission

Without any goals or preconceived destinations, I feel like I got to walk among San Franciscans as if I was one of them, and, I gotta tell you, I could get used to that.  In both neighborhoods I visited (Union Square and The Mission) I found happy accidents such as live music performances, farmers markets, and fantastic murals to gaze at.  Not to mention the fantastic weather and interesting mix of Victorian and Spanish Colonial architecture.

In most cities I feel like I have to squeeze it all in. I have to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time, and take the city by storm.  Rarely do you get the opportunity to sink in and go at a normal pace, and maybe it’s for that reason that you start to miss home or feel like “it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”.

San Francisco was dangerously different.  I never felt like a tourist (even when I was wearing a big conference name tag).  I fit right in.  I didn’t feel like walking the bridge or hitting the nightlife; I felt like shopping for deli meat and bananas.  It felt like home.

Does San Francisco have this effect on everyone, or is it just me?

Starbucks Around the World: Springfield, IL

I certainly didn’t need coffee in my state’s capitol. This store just off the expressway showed little to no evidence of the Land of Abe Lincoln, but made for a great place to pee.  My travel companion got me a bottle of Tazo iced tea while I paced nervously in front of the retail shelves waiting for the lady in front of me to finish. This was the first time in quite awhile that a barista tried to upsell me a pound…

“I see you looking at some of our coffees there.”

“Oh, I’m just waiting for the ladies room” I said.

“Well, you should pick up some anyway!”

I’ll think that over, guy, but really, I just need to pee.

All retail attempts aside, the staff at this Starbucks were lovely.  They were friendly and it was a nice, cool respite from a hot and sunny Route 55 to St. Louis…. and so I give it a thumbs up.

Starbucks Around the World: South Loop, Chicago

Ok.  So, being two blocks from one of my five jobs, I visit this Starbucks quite frequently.  But this particular visit was purely for personal gain and healthy snacks from the adjacent Jewel prior to a day’s car trek to St. Louis.  I made it one of my standards… Iced coffee with a pump of peppermint and soy milk (try it! it’s delicious!).  I was delighted to find one of my former students behind the counter, who not only gave great service but informed me he was running four races this season (2 of which are half marathons).  Way to go, Alex! And way to pick an honorable place of employment that gives nice benefits, free coffee, and a snazzy apron.  Even though it was packed when I walked in, the line moved fast and overall the South Loop store gets a thumbs up from me.

Cleveland does, in fact, rock.

It’s been awhile since I’ve travel blogged.  You know, I mean, for REAL travel blogged.

Cleveland rocks!! At the Lava Lounge in Tremont

I guess that’s probably because it’s been awhile since I travelled.  A menacing schedule and many, many recent life changes have added up to a rather dry spell in the world explorations.  However a number of mini-trips have shaped up this summer and so I’m once again stretching my traveling legs starting off with a weekend in Cleveland.  This simple little road trip kind of blew me away and Cleveland proved itself as a new and surprising place that actually does, as they say, rock**

Or, I should say, Lakewood rocks.

Here’s the thing…. while I did make it into the city limits of Cleveland, it wasn’t the focus of the trip.  On this approximately 36-hour vacay, Julie (my lady friend) and I stayed with friends in the charming suburb of Lakewood.  Typically, charming and suburb are not two words that would ever share a sentence together, however Lakewood is a delightful walking town that purports big trees, chirping birds, unique old homes, and surprisingly the largest gay population per capita in the tri-state area.

Cleveland was all about friends, and food, and wine, and good conversation.  It was a chance to escape from the chaos of life and the NATO summit in Chicago to slow down a little bit.  Expecting something akin to Indianapolis, I found Cleveland to be a more progressive, unique, and hip experience than I ever could have anticipated (in other words, not at all like Indianapolis).  Add to that good, honest, and honestly hip people and there’s not much else to report.  I will, however, say that if ever in Cleveland, I have two off-the-beaten-path recommendations:

Sangria at Properity Social Club

Be sure to make a stop in Tremont at either Prosperity Social Club or Lava Lounge.  Better yet, visit both.  Within a block from one another, these two establishments are locally owned and make for a great evening when packaged together.  Steamed mussels and sangria at Prosperity were followed by a beautiful waldorf salad, mac and cheese, and a substantial wine list at Lava Lounge.  Let it be known that Greg, our server, was hip, chillaxed, but simultaneously attentive and suave.

Good job, Greg.  And good job, Cleveland.

** Apparently, Instagram, my new favorite iphone app, also rocks.  I do believe that iphone photos come out infinitely hipper and better this way, as evidenced here.

Travel Bug: Civitavecchia, Italy

 

Travel to Europe is long and at times stressful, but the journey to Civitavecchia was totally worth it.  A somewhat worn-out seaside town, the views from almost anywhere are beautiful here.

Upon arriving in Rome, you board a train out to Civitavecchia, usually for the express purpose of docking a cruise ship a day later, and this trip was no exception.  Having traveled for about 30 hours without sleep, we walked from our charming bed and breakfast up into the town for take out pizza (post-afternoon nap, of course).  The shop was filled with locals, which meant that this was going to be great pizza.  In fact, we hadn’t encountered any American tourists in this town at all.

We stayed the night at Bed and Breakfast Casamica, which has only two rooms.  The other room was occupied by a friendly family from Madrid, who we ended up chatting with for a couple of hours over a bottle of wine and a slab of prosciutto as the sun set.  Our room lead out onto a patio shaded by an overhead lattice of grapevines and a beautiful view of the Mediterrean Sea.  Unlike the other seaside port areas I’ve been to, this town appears to be unaffected by the influx of American tourists that take over every summer.  Maybe I’m just deluding myself, since Civitavecchia is the main port to Rome after all, and, I’m assuming, innundated by tourists during the high season.  But this particular day, I saw few people who looked American (i.e. wearing Nikes and fanny packs), and heard virtually no English.  Although the local venders and business owners don’t appear overly annoyed if you don’t speak more than five words in Italian, they also don’t cater to tourists…. There are no golden arches jutting into the sky over the red roof tops, no run-of-the-mill cheap souvenir shops with stupid t-shirts reading “I got drunk in Civitavecchia”…. you get the idea.   The point is, I’m sure there are far more charming and “Italian” small towns out there, but the view and close proximity to Rome definitely make it worth a visit, perhaps during a few week days that all the cruise ships are at sea.