Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Three Cities and a Wedding

This blog details our trip to Dashiel and Stephanie's wedding in California, followed by trips to Washington DC, New York and Ireland (not quite a city I know but close enough).

We arrived in Los Angeles on Monday 26 May, drove down to San Diego where we spent two nights with my sister, Wendy, and her husband, Randy.  On Wednesday we drove to Solvang, California; famous for the location of where the film Sideways  was made and the home of Pinot Noir production in the Santa Barbara wine area.  Solvang was founded by the Danish emigrants in 1911.  They were looking for a warmer place than Minnesota.  The curator at the museum had never heard of The Killing or the Bridge but we let that pass when her assistant had heard of Borgen.

We stayed at the Wine Valley Inn in a cottage which was very spacious.  During the day we did some sightseeing (Ostrich farm + mini-horses).  The two highlights were coffee at the Corner House Cafe in Los Olivos and tapas at the Terravant wine Bar at the end of Industrial Way in Buellton.  The address sound terrible but it is a great place and the Pinot Noir rose by Lucas  & Lewellen is probably the best I have ever tasted.  Thursday night we had dinner with the prospective in-laws at Cecco Osteria which is a good Italian restaurant  Friday night we had the pre-wedding dinner for 150 guests at the Alisal Golf club.  Described by the prospective groom at a short 10 minute walk we luckily picked up by two friers of Wendy and made it to the golf club after a 15 minute drive.  Saturday was the wedding at the Foley Wine Estates.  It was very well done, 7 bridesmaids and the same number of groomsmen who did the couples dance into the dinner.  Highlight of the night was Randy's speech who told Stephanie to first put her hand out and then told Dashiell to put his hand on top of hers.  He then told Dashiell to remember this moment as it would be the only time during his marriage that he would have the upper hand.   The audience erupted into laughter.

The next day we drove to Los Angeles to recover.  Vivienne and I stayed at the Jonathon Club in the CBD.  On Monday we walked around the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry followed by a lunch at Kendall's Brasserie which is an excellent pseudo-French restaurant.  In the evening we went to Chinese Tea ceremony + banquet hosted by Stephanie's parents.  We had tea served by the bride and group and handed over the red envelopes.  The one dish I never had before was creamy shrimp with walnuts.  The shrimp were poached and not fried with honey as is typical in the US.  Interesting night to see the Chinese extended family (80+ including guests from Thailand in action).

Early next morning we got up to fly to Washington.  One tip -  there are no garages open before 6am near LAX.  So we had to leave our rental car with some  gas missing.  Of course we get on our plane only to be told by the pilot that there was crack in one of the engines and even though the plane was passed as suitable to fly he was refusing to do so.  Finally 3 hours later we took off for Washington DC. where we were staying at the University Club, just three blocks from the White House.  We were too bushed to go out and instead had a fantastic seafood buffet at the Club.  The oysters were superb.

Washington is a great city for the tourist.  We started with an Old Trolley Tour which is highly recommended.  Very big windows and you are protected from the sun.  It was hot and sunny and you felt for the people in the top deck of the double decker buses.  The tour was great and the guides were very funny and filled with lots of stories about Washington characters.  In the afternoon we had first had lunch at the National Art Gallery and then spent the afternoon wandering around.  You need at least 3 hours and the collection is unbelievable.  That night we had dinner at Founding Farmers which I had received as a recommendation from a LinkedIn connection and we entertained Uday who had helped run my first EQ webinar for Six Seconds earlier this year.  Buzzy restaurant and Vivienne and I did our usual trick of doubling the average age when we walked in.

The next day we went to the Capitol Building where we queued for five minutes for the tour and then using our Australian nationality went to a sitting of the Senate. This was followed by visits to the Library of Congress and the Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian.  Absolutely rooted by the end of the day.  For dinner we were planning to go to the Old Ebbit Grill but were so tired we only made it to the Woodward Table where we had an excellent meal.

On Friday we took the second Old Trolley Tour where which goes north to the Catheral, Georgetown and Embassy Row.  We had a great meal at the Tackle Bar and that evening went to the the JFK Centre to see the Pennsylvania Ballet perform A Midsummers Night's Dream.  Great location.  Go on the metro and catch the shuttle.  It is really efficient.  Thank you Uday great tip.  See a performance in the JFK Centre if you can.  It is very impressive.

Saturday the club was not serving breakfast so we ended up at a cheap little spot for brunch known as the Willard Hotel.  Great brunch and service but at the price (US$130 for 2) it should have been.  To recover we then went to the Museum of American History.  Another excellent museum and some of the exhibitions such as the one on the American Presidents were excellent.  That evening we caught up with an old School friend John Muir, his wife Kerri-Anne, along with two other couples where we had an excellent if somewhat drunken BBQ.  Post the BBQ Maggie Muir kindly took us on a tour of the Einstein, Vietnam War and Lincoln Memorials at midnight.  Unbelievable to see at night and a memory to live forever.

The next day we took the train to NYC.  Hopped in the taxi at Penn Station, gave the driver the address only to be told he did not know if he could get there.  It turns out the biggest parade of the year, Puerto Rico day was marching down 5th Avenue.  The Club where we were staying, The Lotus Club, was on E66 Street next to 5th Avenue.  We got there eventually and then had dinner at Tony's Di Napoli which served the biggest portions I have ever seen.  Luckily the waiter warned us and we had appetiser portions which were still big by Sydney standards.  However great Italian food.

The next day (Monday 9 June) my sister joined us for 4 days.  We planned to start day with a good breakfast, then a museum, light lunch, nap, good dinner and then a show.  Today we started at Guggenheim which was showing an exhibition on the Italian Futurists.   I did not know anything about them but they were a group artists in the period 1909-1944.  The secret to the Guggenheim is to catch the lift to the top and slowly walk down the spiral;  that was how the architect designed the building.  Unfortunately the curator started at the exhibition at the bottom and worked up so we engaged in time travel backwards.  This was the first group that tried to get motion into painting  see for example
where you see the first photographs of people in motion which inspired the movement.  However I would argue that these photographs could be the inspiration for the Cubist movement particularly the moving heads.

Instead of a light lunch Deirdre and Alan Ross organised for us to go to a great restaurant Amaranth for lunch.  The epitome of all the best that is New York, great food and great viewing.

That evening we went to see "Heathers" which is a musical based on the cult 1980s film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Sutherland.  Wendy had got the tickets via the new lead, Dave Thomas, who often stayed at Wendy's house and who she considered to be her third son.  Pretty dark subject matter for a musical but quite amusing.  We met Dave afterwards, who was quite exhausted as it was his opening night and he had been rehearsing all day.

Tuesday we started with the Museum of Natural History.  This is a must see if you go to New York if only because it has the finest collection of dinosaurs in the world.  However there are lots of other things to see.  I liked the Cosmic Pathway which is another spiral pathway which depicts the 13 billion year history of the universe.  Human existence is depicted by a human hair at the end of the walk.  I kept wanting to go to people and ask if they were creationists?  Supposedly 46% of Americans are creationists.  To complete the theme for the day after going to the E&E grill for dinner (not bad) we went and saw The Book of Mormon.  Very funny but as the writers are Matt Parker and Trey Stone the creators of South Park it is what you would expect.  The theatre was packed again it appeared with God fearing people but it was an interesting experience particularly for someone who is both an atheist and unfamiliar with the Mormon faith.  Read the Wikipedia synopsis - it is a bizarre musical.

Wednesday saw us to The Highline walk.  Again this is a must do in New York.  It takes about 90 minutes to walk the Highline, which is a park built on a former elevated railway line.  Start at West 30 street and walk to West 10.  That way you are going down hill.  When you reach the end you are in West Village which is very interesting.  We spent the morning looking for Joes Coffee House which we finally found as it supposedly makes the best coffee in the USA - my sister pronounced it good if lukewarm.  We then wandered around Greenwich Village including Bleeker street.   Unfortunately both the Peculiar Pub which serves beer from every country in the world and the Vingt on Vingt wine bar were both closed.  That night we went to the Lincoln Centre to see the American Ballet Theatre performing Cinderella.  Absolutely brilliant.  Before we ate at Boulud Sud which was also fantastic.  If you have only one night in New York try that combination.  Boulud Sud as a fixed price $60 3 course menu (choice of 3 items for each course) which was sensational value.

Thursday was Wendy's final day.  We started at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Again an unbelievable museum.  We decided to split up at meet at 1:30 at the cafe (great value and people watching)  I started with a 1 hour tour and got talking to a resident New Yorker who visits the Met monthly.  She told me every guide has their own special items and she always starts with the general tour.  It was fascinating.  They have what must be the finest collection of whole Greek vases that I have ever seen.  When I mentioned this to the guide she said that was nothing compared to the Egyptian collection which was built during 1880-1920 when New York was the richest city in the world and the museum was sending across several expeditions every year to Egypt and they just plundered the place buying everything they could.  The Impressionist Art collection is huge.  That night we went and  saw Matilda.  Wendy had again got the tickets - she knows the mother of the actor who plays Mr Wormwood - Matt Harrington. He kindly invited us backstage.  Guys I have made it to Broadway.  Matt was brilliant (he has performed for the RSC in London and Stratford) and he has great career ahead of him.  Matilda was easily the best musical we saw.  The first song Miracle is one of the funniest numbers I have ever heard.  The lyrics by Tim Michen are brilliant. For dinner I had booked us into Sardi's but the concierge at the Lotus Club said there was a much better place for dinner Angus McIndoe and he was right.  Half the price and very good american grill food.

Friday we went shopping.  I topped up my supply of Tommy Bahama T shirts and we then went for lunch at Balthazar in Greenwich Village at the recommendation of my daughter Laura.  Another very buzzy New York/French Bistro and highly recommended.  I left my wife to keep shopping while I went back for a nap.  Vivienne then got caught in a very heavy thunderstorm and we decided to have a quiet night in.

The next morning we went to the Frick which was just two blocks away from the club.  Another great museum.  I liked how Frick collected in the paintings in couples.  The Thomas Moore and Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein (Wolf Hall in pictures!!), the first and last portraits done by Rembrant  You can do the Frick in 2 hours and the free audio guide is very good.  Finally on Saturday evening we were off to JFK to fly to Dublin arriving Sunday morning.

We were staying at the Hibernian Club on St Stephens Green and after a nap decided to do a literary tour.  We only managed half of it as Virginia and Pierre (Vivienne's sister & brother-in-law) arrived on time.  We had eaten before at a put but then went to an Indian with them.  The next morning we met up with Sea, pronounced shay and short for Seamus, who took us on a tour of the main sites namely Kilmanen gaol, the Jameson Distillery (Irish whisky is triple distilled) and the Glasnevin Cemetery.  Irish history may be summed up as follows.  They were living quite peacefully until the Danes arrived in 800 AD and introduced red hair.  Finally at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 they managed to defeat the Danes but lose their best leader Brian Boru.  The English in the form of Henry II arrive in 1171 and for the next 750 years every Irish revolt is met with defeat by the English.  Finally after another failed revolt in 1916, there is another revolt started in 1919 led by Michael Collins which in 1921 leads to a treaty negotiated by Collins with the British and the creation of the Irish Free State.  This is the green part of the Irish flag.  However the six counties of Ulster (the orange part of the flag) being Protestant wish to stay with Britain.  Collins agrees but De Valera does not and this starts the Irish Civil War which rages 1922-23 with Collins shot, the IRA finally giving in and De Valera becoming President of Ireland twice and every year at Christmas a violent argument between family members who are either pro Collins or pro De Valera.  At the cemetery the grave of Collins was loaded with fresh flowers but there were none on the grave of De Valera.  The white central bit of the Irish flag is meant to symbolise peace between Eire and Northern Ireland.  It was a fascinating day and puts into perspective the current fighting in the Middle East.  When religion is involved you just have to let the two parties slug it out.
We ended up going back to the same Indian Restaurant in Anne St South which was not as good the second time.

The next day we set out for Kinsale on the South coast, known as the gourmet capital of Ireland.  It was a long drive because we went down the east coast through the mountains of Wicklow, Waterford, Cork and finally Kinsale.  We stayed at Actons Hotel.  The first night we were in hell, staying at the hottest room in the hotel above the kitchen.  The next day we were in heaven, put in the Bridal Suite.  Kinsale is a good place to visit.  Our first meal was at Fishy Fishy which was good and an icon in Kinsale and second was at The Black Pig which was a tapas bar and excellent.  We went to the Charles Fort which was build on the Vaubin model and the site of another English victory over the Irish (Elisabeth I).  The Charles Fort was the largest building project in the 17 Century in Ireland but unfortunately was build below hills which meant in could not be defended if artillery was placed by the enemy in the hills above it.

On Thursday we drove along part of the Ring Of Kerry stopping at Moll's Gap, coffee in Killarney and finally making to Limerick driving up the river Shannon.  The Pier Hotel was basic and cheap but did have parking in the garage below it.  That night we went to the best restaurant in Limerick, Freddy's Bistro which was terrific.

Friday we drove to Currarevagh House on Loch Corrib via the Cliffs of Moher which are spectacular and very well set out for tourists.  We also drove through the Burran and stopped at Gus O'Connor's pub in Doolin.  We arrived around 6 pm at Currarevagh House which is an old county house that serves unbelievable  4 course dinners and great country breakfasts.  Saturday we did a very scenic drive   around the Sky Road around Cliveden and down the Lough Inagh Valley finally stopping at The Quiet Man Bridge.
Sunday we drove to Dublin Airport returning the car on empty fuel but the airport was chaos.  We finally got on our Air Lingus Flight and made it to London at 9pm.  The high spot of the trip - even though I had packed gloves, a scarf, a beanie and a cold weather jacket we had no rain and glorious weather the whole week.  Stuff the no snakes - that was truly an Irish miracle.

The next 3 nights we stayed in Chiswick.  Monday I went to a cocktail party at the top of the Gherkin followed by another Indian with the Mayers and Sorensons.  Tuesday I went to the Global Leadership Summit organised by London Business School followed by yet another musical Forbidden Broadway.  Having seen three musicals in New York I got some of the jokes.  Finally on Wednesday we had a farewell dinner at Annies off Strand-on-the Green with Jane Taylor and  John Hamer.  A "full" month and certainly one for the memory banks.

Chris Golis Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence website: www.thehummhandbook.com Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/chrisgolis blog: blogs.bnetau.com.au/aussierules/category/improving-your-eq/ mobile: +61-418-222219