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Charleston Fun

Posted by eemilla on October 20, 2013

For every vacation (aside from oblications) we work out an itinerary which is often overly ambitious, and for Charleston I continued the tradition.  I scaled it back to allow for nap-times (which didn’t occur for the most part), but I still failed to get down to the Battery to spend more time than our trip a few years back.  We did, however, enjoy a quick stroll through Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art along with a stroll around King and Meeting Sts.

The Children’s Museum of the Low Country was the best value with all of the great things for LB to do; admission is $10 per person, and if your little one isn’t walking or is toddling I would wait as there is a huge castle exhibit and a boat that are difficult to navigate as an adult.  However, there is a huge water table and an area with blocks that a could be fun for a less mobile baby.

The South Carolina Aquarium was less enjoyable as it pretty small, but it charges the same admission as much larger and much better aquariums (Vancouver Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences).  The touch tanks were fun albeit crowded, and the boat play area was a crowd pleaser for the toddlers.

We also took the drive down to John’s Island for the Angel Oak Park.  It was a bit sad to see the beams supporting the tree (although it was more sad to see people ignoring the signs about not climbing on the tree), but I was quite happy to be able to get so close to such an awesome living thing.

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Of course we loved being so close to the beach.   I took a morning run, and we had multiple beach days with sand castles and boogie boarding.

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Charleston Area Dining

Posted by eemilla on September 29, 2013

Much to my delight I had better dining options in the Charleston area than I had anticipated.  After Savannah, my expectations were pretty low, and I had some meals that were truly memorable.  Below I’ve given my quick thoughts.

Wasabai came into our sites after wondering around the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and some of the King Street and East Bay Street shops.  The basil rolls were tasty as were the standard veg sushi offerings of cuke and avocado makis, and all of the portions were fine.  My vegetarian pad thai tasted less than vegetarian, and our service was a bit slow.  The restaurant overall is a bit dingy, and it just doesn’t look like it belongs in a busy downtown area (more like a strip mall that has lost its anchor store).  However, it does have a good selection of draft beer.
Wasabi Sushi & Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

One night my honey joined a large contingent of my family to eat at The Wreck, LB and I decided to try Mustard Seed (which my honey and I had failed to check out last time we were in Mt Pleasant).  The service was exceedingly fast in all regards, but the food was not anything to write home about.  Both of our pasta dishes were super cheesy with generous portions and low cost.  The pecan pie in the dessert case looked as if it might be a science experiment, and the key lime pie was not to my liking with its sweetness.  However, the price was very reasonable if you are looking for vegetarian pasta dishes with lots of cheese.
Mustard Seed on Urbanspoon

For a weekday lunch LB and I found Lana Restaurant & Bar in the cute Radcliffeborough area; it reminded me of the Virginia Highlands of Atlanta and Montford of Asheville.  We shared some french fries and a wonderfully delicious puttanesca pasta, and our service was fine.  The portions and prices were in line with each other, and the atmosphere is upscale casual.
Lana Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Puree Organic is right beside Mustard Seed in Mount Pleasant, and it was a much better food experience.  The service was considerably slower (from taking the order to bringing the check) than Mustard Seed even though there are far fewer seats in Puree.  However, the food was leaps and bounds better.  The prices are overall higher, but they are in line with the quality increase.  The portions were generous, and they have kid sized smoothies on their kids menu in addition to the usual kids menu suspects of quesadillas, nut butter and fruit, and fried protein strips.  I loved my seitan chimichurry  wrap, and my honey’s veggie bahn mi was also delicious.

Puree Chimichurry wrap Puree bahn mi Puree kid black bean quesadilla

Puree Organic Cafe on Urbanspoon

My favorite drink deal was at Bacco; I enjoyed a huge $6 Tanqueray up with a twist, and I was rather tempted to have another.  The mixed olive appetizer was a hit with LB even though my husband and I grew tired of pitting olives.  My eggplant dish was just a bit less than both LB’s pizza and my honey’s sandwich combined, and it did not warrant the cost in either quality or quantity.  The pre-meal bread and the pizza crust were great.  Our service was fine, and overall the food was okay.

Bacco $6 Tanqueray Bacco Eggplant Bacco Margherita Bacco Salumi Panino

Bacco on Urbanspoon

Triangle Char and Bar was selected for proximity to our current location and a decent number of vegetarian selections.  Our food was fine even if the menu descriptions oversold it; the hummus beat the caprese salad by a mile.  The table was sticky and the open windows allowed flies unfettered access to one’s food.  Our service was prompt and attentive.  It is a bar, but one of the family friendly sort.

Triangle Char & Bar kid grilled cheese & fries Triangle Char & Bar side salad Triangle Char & Bar fish tacos Triangle Char & Bar hummus Triangle Char & Bar caprese

Triangle Char and Bar on Urbanspoon

My mom wanted to visit Fort Moultrie, and Taco Mamacita was right on the way.  Some other members of our party had recommended it although they seemed to favor another place at Folly Beach.  The service was slow, and the drinks were expensive and weak.  The food was fine, with the best value being the guacamole and salsa bowl appetizers.

Taco Mamacita Veg Jerk Taco Mamacita margarita

Taco Mamacita on Urbanspoon

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Family vacation

Posted by eemilla on September 21, 2013

For the past few years I’ve been lobbying my maternal family to forgo the end of the year gift card exchange in favor of a family vacation, and last year everyone finally seemed to agree it was time to do something different.  Then interest dissipated for about four months so my honey and I planned a trip to Manhattan thinking we would not be taking a vacation with the extended family.  An almost collective itch to travel brought the idea back to the fore after our vacation had been booked for months.

My idea was to travel somewhere new or exciting or exotic which was in direct conflict with economic concerns and comfort levels that limited us to the Charleston area or the Savannah area.  As we’d just visited Savannah and Tybee Island last year and only I wanted to visit the Outer Banks, my honey and I were all for Charleston.  After spending hours searching for houses in both locations that met all of the various needs of everyone (pool, close to the beach, large kitchen, bath for every bedroom, enough bedrooms) the group decided the Charleston area had better large house options for the money.

Once we narrowed it down to the Charleston area we had to find a large enough house available and in our price range.  While the task sounds easy enough it required hours of searching between three or four members of our group.  My frustration was that there were multiple folks who were non-commital about if they would be joining us or how many people would be in their party.  Without having one person footing the entire bill another concern was the best way to distribute rooms without having to haggle over different pricing, and fortunately everyone acquitted themselves admirably.

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great room panorama great room panorama from dining area
bar in need of an icemaker 2nd floor alcove laundry room
king sans daybed one of 2 jetted tubs walkin shower
king bed with day bed king with daybed bathrom king with shared bathroom shared bathroom twin room twin room bathroom
view of screened in pool from twin room balcony 2nd floor balcony with view of twin room balcony spiral staircase to rooftop rooftop

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Including the couches in the living room there was enough room to sleep 20 adults based on double occupancy in each of the king beds, and there were enough areas for everyone to mingle or retreat as needed.  The crows nest or rooftop was a favorite place to escape the noise, and the patio chairs were comfortable even though a few were worse for the wear.  The second floor balcony was sparse without any furniture, and the balcony off the twin room was so small it seemed superfluous.  My honey and I didn’t want to have to spend the extra money to rent a house with a pool, but we were certainly sold on the benefit of having the pool to float around in especially after the ocean.  I believe the house came with two separate gaming consoles, and there was a nice flat screen over the fireplace in the great room.

For a house with a 20 person capacity, the refrigerator/freezer/icemaker was the feature that everyone agreed to be insufficient; it was a double door deal so there were narrow shelves which made it difficult to accommodate groceries.  Even after the ice maker was replaced it took about eight hours to make a tray or so of ice which left of us purchasing bags of ice for the sodas, iced tea, and blended adult drinks.  There is a nice wet bar with a wine cooler, and a stand alone ice maker would be perfect there.  The maintenance man said the freezer’s ice maker had repeatedly been an issue.  The large gas range was more eye candy than functional; all five burners had two temperatures: on and off (which for a gas stove is really irritating and unexpected).  We also had to have a towel rod and a door knob replaced on the first day, and although we mentioned the additional three of the five (in addition to the one that was replaced) atrium doors had alarmingly loose handles they were not replaced.

With so many cars it was difficult to juggle them as the two driveways were a car’s width, and the street was much too narrow to park on.  The golf cart created most of the tension as people wanted to pocket the key rather than leave it in the lockbox, but it was an even better feature than the pool as we could cart our gear to the beach rather than lug it the few blocks on foot (especially as any parent knows the kid will want to walk then insist on being carried whilst you juggle the beach bag and/or chairs).  The key to main house also had a lockbox which really came in handy as we had about fourteen adults sharing three keys.

The house was a few blocks from a public beach access point, but we were so far down on the Isle of Palms that the beach was never crowded even though we were there during the high season.

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Grandfather Mountain

Posted by eemilla on September 19, 2013

On our list of things we’d like to do was to visit the Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain.  Our day ended up being a cloudy and overcast day with moments of sunshine, and I found that I am more disturbed by heights than I had previously thought.  LB also found the heights scary, and she was quietly insistent on returning to the parking lot and putting distance between herself and the mile high bridge.  The entrance fee is steep ( at $18 per adult), but overall we did enjoy the vistas and the small zoo.  I left my wrap at home so we had to lug LB around on our hips which dissuaded us from hiking from the parking lot or doing much hiking on the far side of the bridge.  It was quite laughable to encounter the below sign shortly after the admission gate.

It is my understanding that you can hike from the parkway and avoid the entrance fee, but even with the wrap my stamina is quite insufficient for any sort of steep grade traverse.  We packed a picnic lunch to enjoy at the ample tables at various locations.  The otters and eagles were the crowd pleasers of our zoo visit, even though the bears were pretty active too.

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The trees on top of the mountain reminded me of oversized bonsais.

I didn’t think that the bridge would scare me or make me feel so grateful to return to the mountain as I love roller coasters and the like.   I made it across, and if I had felt so anxious about it on my first few steps I wouldn’t have complete it; however it wasn’t until I was on the last portion that I began to feel uneasy.  I didn’t notice any severe wind or some clown jumping on the bridge so I cannot say why I had a sudden urge to get back across and be done.  Maybe it was LB’s fear.   Needless to say, I did not take any photos on the bridge.

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Victory Garden flop

Posted by eemilla on September 18, 2013

We started the year looking forward to another productive victory garden, but we were undone with the rain and the slugs.  Below are the photos before we gave up after green tomatoes sporting rot before ripening.  One out of four our basil plants survived, and we’ve harvested a dozen leaves once.

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Avoid the lines at brunch and enjoy dinner

Posted by eemilla on September 17, 2013

After our return from Manhattan, we dined at a few favorite spots like Reza and Chai Pani.  We also decided to stop in and say hello to one of my honey’s former co-workers at Sunny Point Cafe.  My last visit was a few years back when we were a one car household and I drove my honey to his job on Sunday before 8am.  I figured surely so early on a cold winter morning the wait wouldn’t be that mad, but there were enough people to pretty much fill the restaurant as soon as they opened the doors.  The free coffee was pretty tasty, and the food was good too.  However, I hate waiting to eat so I never returned.

On my second visit we went for dinner so there wasn’t a wait, and they serve breakfast all day.  LB had carrot pancakes, and my honey enjoyed egg rolls and hush puppies.  I had a nice fresh salad with delicious rice cakes.  My visit reminded me how much I love a simple salad alongside dinner.  The patio was nicer than I recall it, and our service was good.  I loved the cute signs about the rules for the playground.

cut up carrot pancakes

fluffy biscuit

egg rolls

hush puppies

the rules

rice cakes with salad

Sunny Point Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Brooklyn Bridge and More Sights

Posted by eemilla on July 17, 2013

Our walk across the Brooklyn Bridge was the last thing we all did that I really enjoyed doing since we didn’t make it to MoMA, and The Empire State Building was a let down.  We had fine weather, and even though it was a Sunday and there were plenty of other people enjoying the views.  Originally I had wanted to rent bikes and ride across it from Manhattan to Brooklyn then back, but my husband wanted to ride the train into Brooklyn then walk back to Manhattan.  With the costs of the bikes approaching $100 for  a few hours (including a seat for LB), I conceded, and it was a lovely walk.  There were so many pedestrians that the bike lane was frequently overcome, and it was also the same day as the Five Borough tour which meant there were plenty of cyclists needing the use of the full lane.

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We followed up our walk across the bridge with a train ride to Washington Square Park; LB got out of the stroller and ran around and burned off some energy while we debated where to eat.

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After striking out on lunch we returned to the apartment for nap time, and I laced on my running shoes to complete my first 5k route since high school.  I completed a couch to 5k training program, and I saved my first complete run for Central Park.  I really didn’t plan on any particular course; I just ran and followed the signs to the Reservoir, and I ended my course running a loop around it.  I felt really good to run a full 5k especially within one park without having to loop and repeat sections or run on concrete or pavement unless I wanted to.  I love green spaces!

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We wrapped up our awesome day getting a photo of the Flatiron Building for my collection.  The area that we walked to from the Flatiron Building to the wretched John Dory Oyster Bar was the dodgiest I’d seen in New York.

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Skyscrapers

Posted by eemilla on July 16, 2013

We purchased the City Pass thinking that we’d be able to get our money’s worth out of it so it meant we had passes to Top of the Rock and The Empire State Building.  Of the two I prefer Top of the Rock, and maybe only because we saw The Empire State Building on our last day after a manhunt shut down the four closest subway lines forcing us to walk several blocks while trying to figure out if the whole system was down or just every train near us.  The subway shutdown and our late start ate so much of our time we had to decide between seeing the MoMA and The Empire State Building, and as I had never seen the latter it is were we went.

Both skyscrapers had unbelievable amounts of velvet ropes, and I cannot imagine waiting in all of those lines.  It took over two hours to visit each building as it was, and at the top of each it was really crowded making it difficult to enjoy the views.  Again I cannot imagine going during peak times.  We went on a sunny day to Top of the Rock so our views were better, but the pictures didn’t work that well being behind plexiglass.  The Empire State Building also had a lengthy exit line for both the elevators and the stairs to catch the larger elevator on a lower floor, and it just seemed to add insult to injury considering the observation decks were smaller than at Top of the Rock.  With the City Pass I don’t know how admission compares, but Top of the Rock seemed to be managed more professionally and to be more tourist friendly.

Top of the Rock Top of the Rock

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Pho 32 saved my crappy mood after we left The Empire State Building.  The food was tasty and plentiful with fast and friendly service, and as an added bonus it was a good deal (less than $35 before tip for at least two beers and two entrees).

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Pho32 & Shabu on Urbanspoon

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A few more thoughts on our NYC dining experiences

Posted by eemilla on July 15, 2013

Living in the suburbs neither of us thought we would have to figure out the best way to change a diaper in a bathroom without a changing table, because every time it has happened before we’ve just gone to the car.  Riding the subway didn’t give us that option, but overall it was less terrible than I would’ve imagined it (not that I want to practice my skills anytime soon).  I believe the only changing tables we encountered were in the museums; I cannot think of a single restaurant we visited that had one.

Our second delivery was Polash Indian, and it was good and cheap (less than $40 before tip for the three of us) and greasy and filling.

Polash Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

AperiTIVO was were we grabbed some lunch after a morning of busy sightseeing.  The portions were good, and the pasta was delicious.  Our server was a bit overwhelmed as she seemed to be splitting the huge dining room and patio with one other server so it took a while to order and pay, but as we were outside under the bright red umbrellas LB was more distracted and thus cooperative.

eggplant parm seafood pasta spinach ravioli

Tivo Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

On another day of sight seeing I wanted to go to a vegan sushi restaurant fairly close by, but it ended up not having any seating aside from barstools which wouldn’t work with a toddler so we ended up not wanting to put off lunch any longer and eating at Bravo’s Pizza, and it tasted just like the crappy pizza served in every single mall in America.

Bravo Pizza on Urbanspoon

Our worst experience was at John Dory Oyster Bar.  My honey has a love of oysters, and it was fairly close to some sight seeing that I wanted to do and a restaurant that I thought would be more suitable for vegetarian LB & me.  After one weak drink with enough ice for five more and a half dozen oysters, we were out $45 dollars.  The rolls that were ordered while LB and I walked downstairs for a diaper change (in a bathroom with plenty of space for a changing table or a counter but with neither) never appeared except briefly on the bill before they were removed at my husband’s request.

John Dory Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

After wasting almost an hour in John Dory’s LB was in no mood to find somewhere else and then sit and wait for food.  We treked back to the apartment only to discover that finding delivery food in Harlem on a Sunday night after 9:30 is harder than finding it our sleepy little mountain town.  The city that never sleeps my foot.

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Two Expensive Dinners

Posted by eemilla on July 13, 2013

For our nice dinner out my honey selected Candle Cafe, and we were on the westside.  Fortunately we didn’t really encounter any waits to be seated in any of the restaurants we dined at. With our toddler we have about an hour or so to eat in peace before LB is done being confined and quite.  The lighting is dim and evocative of the low light of a candle, and the tables are squeezed together.  Overall our food was enjoyable.  The one exception was LB’s pizza from the kid’s menu; it was over sauced, and the vegan cheese was wholly unappetizing.  The other downer of our meal was my dark and stormy which I only ordered after reading seeing their house made ginger ale; the drink was a hefty $13.75, and it tasted much too much like sour mix so that I hardly finished it.  I do concede that I made an amateur dining mistake as the waitress relayed that the bartender didn’t want to make this drink so I should’ve stuck with water.  Finally, it took too long for us to get our check and get out the door; otherwise our service was fine.  The appetizer, steamed dumplings, and the main courses, portobello steak and morel tofu, were good with fair portions and good execution.  Sadly, the negative details are sticking out more than the positive, so I cannot elaborate on what I enjoyed about our dinners.  We all three enjoyed the desserts, a chocolate peanut pie and three scoops of ice cream, but again I cannot recall the three flavors my honey selected.  Our before gratuity bill was over $100, which is what we expected for our nice dinner.
Candle Cafe West on Urbanspoon

 

 

For our second expensive meal, I don’t recall if my honey had picked out the restaurant or we were looking for something else when we decided to eat at Cilantro.  This was a much better dining out experience than the previous night as all of the food was great and the service was fast, and yes the drinks were expensive but absolutely fabulous too.  LB ordered a quesadilla of the kids menu, and I ordered the mushroom quesadilla off the appetizer menu.  We also had an order of guacamole and chips to between the three of us, and I left full.  My honey had a steak.  The room was loud and bright, and the seats were comfortable.  The tables were somewhat closer than I prefer, but definitely not uncomfortably close.  Our bill (before tip) was one margarita away from breaching the $100 mark, but after two I was toasty (and quite happy to be catching a train back to the apartment).
Cilantro on Urbanspoon

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