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Posts Tagged ‘mexican food’


According to most online reviews, one of the biggest benefits of staying in our St. Louis accommodation was the size and quality of the breakfast. And our landlady, Magretta, advised us on our first evening, that, such was his talent, she referred to her mild-mannered Japanese husband, Chuck, the “Egg Master”.

But it was Magretta herself who was responsible for our important first meal of the day on our first morning. The elegant dining table was laid out immaculately with the best china as the first course of melon was delivered. This was followed by scrambled egg and bacon, presented in an unusual and attractive way, and topped off with unlimited supplies (if we could have eaten them) of aebleskivers (Danish pancake balls). We joked at the time that, for the first time on the trip, we would not be in need of lunch – and we were proved right!

Throughout the meal we were watched over by Spike the terrier, though he had been trained not to beg for food. Mind you, I am sure he would have pounced gleefully on anything accidentally dropped from the table.

Although there were two other rooms in the house, we were the only occupants for the first two of our three night stay. So we enjoyed the full attention of our hosts.

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We were already aware of the Gateway Arch, the reputation enjoyed by its world class zoo, and, of course, its key role in the history of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll (Chuck Berry was born there), but St Louis was probably, of all the cities we were visiting, the least familiar.

And it was a dull, drizzly morning when we climbed into our Uber car to head downtown. In view of the much improved forecast for later that afternoon, we decided to spend the morning exploring an indoor attraction, namely the City Museum, which had been recommended by Magretta.

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We didn’t know what to expect, so were astonished by this former International Shoe building, whose exhibits consisted principally of repurposed architectural and industrial objects.

Opened in 1997, the museum, described as “one of the great open spaces”, attracts three quarters of a million people per year, and it was not difficult to see why. Whilst we were unable to access the rooftop theme park due to the intermittent rain, there was plenty of interest and entertainment in the remaining four floors of this eclectic, quirky space.

We spent the first part of our tour underground in the “enchanted caves”, a maze of tunnels which was a child’s paradise, judging by the number that ran around squealing with delight and popping up unexpectedly from below or through walls as we walked around.

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Every corner turned, every staircase mounted, revealed something new and surprising.

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Amidst all the industrial exhibits, including bank vault doors and machinery used to make fuselages for small airplanes, there were many more frivolous pieces such as a circus school, the world’s largest pair of men’s underpants (seven feet high by seven feet wide) and the world’s largest pencil (76 feet).

I did say it was quirky, didn’t I?

Another was an approximately seven foot high statue of the mascot of the Big Boy hamburger chain – a chubby boy in red and white checkered overalls holding a double decker cheeseburger.

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True to the forecast, the day was taking a turn for the better as we left the museum and walked down Washington Street towards the waterfront. But it was time for a drink (not lunch – Magretta had seen to that), which we had in Tigin, a friendly Irish pub, before heading to the Gateway Arch for our ride to the top.

Clad in stainless steel and built in the form of a weighted catenary arch, it is the world’s tallest arch and the world’s tallest man made monument in the Western Hemisphere. It was built as testimony to the westward expansion of the United States and officially dedicated to the “American people”. Unsurprisingly , it has become an internationally recognised symbol of St. Louis, as well as a popular tourist destination.

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The Arch was designed by Finish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947 and built between 12th February 1963 and 28th October 1965 for $13 million ($77.5 million in today’s currency). It opened to the public on 10th June 1967. 

The first part of the tour, as so often in the United States, was a movie, Monument to the Dream, detailing the history of the Arch’s construction. We were astounded  to learn that there had not been a single fatality, not least as the film showed men, cigarettes poking out of the corners of their mouths, casually strolling along girders hundreds of feet in the air without the hint of a safety harness.

The tram ride to the top lasts four minutes, a more manageable journey than the 1,076 emergency stairs. Alighting at the top, passengers climb a slight gradient to reach the observation area with its sixteen narrow windows either side.

The views are exhilarating, especially those of the Mississippi River, Busch Stadium, home to the St Louis Cardinals baseball team and the beautifully restored federal courthouse.

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By this time, we had resolved to devote our second day in town, which was forecast to boast a clear blue sky, though cool, to a visit to St Louis Zoo, but allow us enough time to return to the Arch to take some more photographs, from ground level on this occasion.

Once down on terra firma, we spent a fascinating hour or more roaming among the exhibits of the outstanding Museum of Westward Expansion at the foot of the Arch.

Aside from the excellent information videos and displays, the recreations of a covered wagon and a full size buffalo particularly impressed me.

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Magretta’s ample breakfast was, by now, finally wearing off, so we began the search for a dinner spot. We found a modern Mexican restaurant, Gringo’s, a couple of doors up from the National Blues Museum, which had unfortunately closed for the day. Once again, the meal (mine was a satisfyingly chunky burrito) was excellent and the service hospitable without being effusive.

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We called an Uber to return to the house, where we found Magretta and Chuck diligently packaging items for their online crystal sales business. Spike and Haley were dutifully sat at their feet.

One of the many other nice touches about this accommodation was the communal room on the floor below us which contained reading material, snacks and decanters with port and sherry in them! It had already become Janet’s habit to take a glass of port back to our room to watch the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which had itself become part of our daily routine (when we not still out on the town of course).

We had throughly enjoyed our first day in St Louis.

And we were going to the zoo tomorrow –  how about you?

 

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For years we had avoided San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood.

On our second trip we had walked from 17th Street along Mission to 5th where, leg weary, deafened by traffic noise and not a little relieved that we’d survived the ordeal, we slumped into Lori’s Diner on Powell and Geary. All I can really recall from that morning was a wary wander down Balmy Alley, home to the largest collection of murals in the city.

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And for several trips after that, we kept away from the area, spending our time in the northern and western parts of the city, with only occasional forays into the adjoining Castro district and Dolores Park.

Why?

It was not as if we did not like the culture or food of the area – indeed, burritos, enchiladas and margaritas might just be our favourite culinary combination.

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No, our reluctance to set foot east / south of Market stemmed from an anxiety that we might not be as safe, especially after dark, as in other parts of the city. Violent gangs and gun crime were – and remain (a man was killed near 16th and Guerrero only three days ago) – a constant feature of life in the Mission.

So we stayed away.

We actually considered renting an apartment on Valencia three years ago, because apart from being edgy, the neighborhood was also meant to be “hip”, San Francisco’s party capital. But, once again, we were deterred by its negative reputation.

So we stayed away.

But this continuing omission on our San Francisco CV was no longer tenable, especially as we have rented apartments in the adjacent neighborhoods of Noe Valley and Bernal Heights in recent years.

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How could we convince ourselves, and others, that we were locals in spirit if we did not embrace the Latino and Hispanic heart of the city on our doorstep?

So, finally a year ago, we ventured tentatively into the area again by taking a delightful sunny Sunday afternoon stroll down Valencia from 24th Street, crossing to Mission at 16th and walking back up to 28th Street and our apartment.

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A political demonstration outside the BART station on 24th Street was winning the battle for the attention of passers by with a handful of religious preachers on the opposite corner, but the atmosphere was restrained rather than confrontational. Cafes and restaurants were overflowing and Latin rhythms abounded. Coffee at the Borderlands bookstore was followed by a margarita at West of Pecos, where we were tempted to reconsider our plans for dinner that evening. A mariachi band serenaded the sidewalk diners.

We marveled at the murals on Clarion Alley, many of which reflected the current tensions in the city over gentrification (not least in the Mission), sky-rocketing housing prices and the closure of public parks at night.

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We repeated the expedition again this year, starting with a hike over Bernal Heights Hill, descending Alabama Street to the vibrant Precita Park Café for a Mitchell’s ice cream before crossing Cesar Chavez Street and into the neighborhood.

Next year, we will be staying in the same Bernal Heights cottage for a total of six weeks, and look forward to renewing acquaintance with the Mission district regularly. Several restaurants, including Taqueria La Cuembre and Cha Cha Cha, have taken our fancy. 

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We might even eat there after dark too.

And it is time we met the Tamale Lady.

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“Road Trip” – is there another phrase that better exemplifies the heart of the American experience? Apple pie perhaps? Have a nice day? Manifest destiny? No, none of those come close to capturing the same sense of freedom and adventure that is synonymous with the American Dream.

Well, dear reader, as you are a valued friend, I am inviting you to join my wife and I on our very own road trip of the American southwest over the next three weeks. Come with us as we criss-cross five states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) and three time zones.

We’ll hear the siren song  of the slots in Vegas casinos, listen to the mournful wail of country music radio as we glide the endless highways, and gasp at massive, multi-coloured incisions in the earth’s surface.

We’ll meet peoples from the rich diversity of American culture, including Mormons and Native Americans.

We’ll take juddering jeep trips with Indian guides into the heart of their reservation where we will purchase Navajo and Zuni jewellery.

We’ll stand at the only point on the North American continent where four states intersect, and have our photo taken like the dutiful tourists (I prefer the word travellers) we are.

We’ll eat at authentic cantinas and  tacquerias and sleep in beds where once slumbered the the Hollywood stars of yesteryear.

We’ll even find ourselves standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, waiting, or at least I will, for a girl in a flat bed Ford to slow down and take a look at me.

The itinerary?

I write this in our hotel (Mandalay Bay) room where we spent last night after a tortuous 15 hours on a Virgin Atlantic plane and equally frustrating wait in line for the car hire. But a fine meal and live swing band in The House of Blues, followed by a solid night’s sleep, has us ready for the road this morning.

Today we drive to Hurricane, Utah for two nights, the base for our exploration of Zion National Park. We then move on to Panguitch, Utah, close to Bryce Canyon for a further two nights. Staying at Page, Arizona for another two nights will enable us to visit Lake Powell and Glen and Antelope Canyons.

The highlight will be our trip to Monument Valley in the heart of the Navajo Nation, iconic location of so many westerns directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.  A stay in Kayenta, Arizona that night will predate two nights in Moab, Utah, our base for Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

On the premise that we will be “red rocked out” by then, and that our hiking boots might have earned a rest, we will wind down a little at this roughly mid point. The sightseeing will become more leisurely as we move on to Durango, Colorado and then into New Mexico for stays in Santa Fe (two nights), Albuquerque and Gallup before driving Route 66 to Flagstaff, Arizona.

A two night stop there in which we will “pop over” to Sedona and the long drive back to Vegas, sixteen days after we left it, for the final four nights, the second of which will be my sixtieth birthday.

The rigours of the road will dictate whether we might take short detours to Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Mesa Verde National Monument.

Sounds fun?

So jump in the back seat of the car, tip your hat over your face, but not before grabbing a couple of Buds (or rather Sierra Nevada or Anchor Steam beers), kick off your cowboy boots, sing along to Hank Williams and Toby Keith, and enjoy the ride. It’ll be a blast!

Time to head out on the highway.

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Well, by train from San Francisco we do.

Today we attended our first National Hockey League game, the pinnacle of the sport.  In the early nineties we had followed the Medway Bears, a team in the second/third tier of UK ice hockey who played in front of around 1,000 admittedly passionate fans in a small, tired ice rink.  This was a very different experience.

After yet another lazy morning we caught the no. 5 MUNI bus to Market and walked to the 4th and King Caltrain station for the 2.07pm train to San Jose.  We disembarked the double decker tin can at 3.38 on another hot afternoon and collected our tickets from the box office before wandering into what we thought was downtown to find something to eat.  I’m not sure that we found the real city centre, but we did stumble on what was a decent Mexican chain restaurant, La Pinata, where I had the biggest (shrimp) burrito I have ever seen in my life whilst Janet had shrimp fajitas.  This was washed down with a pitcher ($30) of Top Shelf Margarita.

The area in which we ate, though only a few minutes walk from the arena, struck us as a little seedy, not least because of the shady characters dotted around the streets aiming to buy and sell tickets.  There were also a surprising number of Los Angeles Kings fans around, not I hasten to add that they added to the seedy atmosphere (sic).

We entered the impressive HP Pavilion, which is reminiscent of the O2 Arena in London, around an hour before face off and explored the wonders of the Sharks Store.  Janet confined herself to a t-shirt and an SJ Sharkie (the mascot) soft toy.  We took our fabulous seats in the fifteenth row of the lower tier of the arena to the right of the goal.

 At 7pm the San Jose Sharks emerged from the giant, smoking shark’s mouth to tumultuous applause.  A win tonight would clinch their place in the end of season play offs, so expectation was high.  The LA Kings. who were also in play off contention, were roundly booed as they entered the ice around thirty seconds later.  Any tension was dispelled when the Sharks took a 2-0 lead in the first few minutes, a lead they held until the end of the first period, despite the Kings having the most shots.

The Kings pulled a goal back at the very end of a powerplay at the beginning of the second period, but this only inspired the Sharks to a four goal blast, several of them spectacular, in the remainder of the 20 minute spell.  Aside from a fight or two the final period was an anticlimax as Sharks consolidated their position without much trouble.  It was a very impressive performance by the Sharks, both offensively and defensively, although it should be noted that LA were missing two star players.

A number of things struck, but didn’t necessarily surprise, me about the experience:

1. Aside from the obligatory fights, the discipline of the players was so impressive, with far fewer offisdes, icings and penalties called than we have been used to in the UK. 

2. The number of fans who were wearing either replica shirts or t-shirts, sweatshirts or jackets with Sharks colours, at least three quarters and far more than you would see even at an English football game.

3.  The noise and fanaticism was intense.

4.  The regular interruptions to hold competitions and provide prizes for the fans is something that UK sport could do well to follow, though the latter’s historic antipathy to stoppages in play will probably prevent that happening – either way we could learn a lot about looking after the fans from US sport.          

All in all, a great experience – but I still prefer baseball!  A 45 wait for the return tin can to San Francisco at 10.30pm was made bearable by the balmy conditions and high spirits of other passengers.  I should add that although the train was basic and the journey not particularly comfortable, both outbound and inbound services were on time leaving and arriving at their destination.

In view of the fact that it was midnight when we came out of the Caltrain station we hailed a cab back to the apartment.  The driver spent the majority of the journey on the phone to Nigeria in his native language, but turned at one point to apologise in perfectly modulated English for his rudeness!  Despite his distraction he did return us to the apartment in very quick time.

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