Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fun in the sun in the USA

Best holiday ever?  Pretty much.

We've just returned from nearly four weeks in the States.  Chicago, The Hamptons, NYC, Cleveland (!) and finally Laguna Beach in the OC to chill out before heading home.

We loved every last nano-second of the trip and each city/area wooed us with just how divine they all were.

Chicago ..

We started out in Chicago to celebrate our great friend Doug's birthday.  Three days of the Festival of Doug included much hillarity, gorgeous lunches and dinners, shopping with the girls and attending an obligatory game of baseball to watch the Chicago Cubs in action.  Dinner at the Rancic's RPM Italian was a highlight as were our many visits to Eataly - what an amazing food emporium it was - please open one in Sydney!

Hot Mamas actually!


The Hamptons ...

After saying a fond farewell to our Sydney buddies we headed to The Hamptons for a few days.  What an amazing area it is.  I so understand why people rave about it, it's such a pretty part of the world.

Our abode for the time we were there - so divine.

Everyone was in total 'get ready for July 4th weekend' mode.  Gardeners were working all over the area with interior decorator trucks parked outside many of the mansions - it is a massive weekend for sure.

The hedges were clipped into a cm of their lives - some were worked on every day we were there - over and over! 

Beautiful blooms everywhere - made us miss our own garden.

We stayed in East Hampton, in a gorgeous BnB, which we loved.  I'd leave the boys snoring away and go walking each morning, strolling down the different lanes, admiring just how beautiful the village was.  The BnB had a huge kitchen area where you could help your self to their array of homemade organic lemonades and iced teas, not to mention six different types of cookies they baked each morning.  They were so sweet - and had bought in some gorgeous gf ones for Moo and I from the local deli - and they had a hamper of our favourite drinks and cookies ready for us when we left to drive up to NYC.  Such gorgeous hosts.

I think I counted four different Ralph Lauren stores along the main street - huge in the Hamptons!

Dinner in the early evening sun at Sag Harbour

An afternoon strolling on the beach admiring the gorgeous houses was the perfect way to end our time there.  I hope we get back there again sometime soon as I loved the area so much.

Next stop ....

NYC ...

Amaze alright!

Wow - I have NO idea why I had never managed to get to the East Coast before - especially to NYC.  I fell deeply in love with the city the moment we arrived as did B and Moo.

We walked and walked and walked Manhattan - from dawn to dusk we were out and about exploring the different areas and sampling the most amazing gf food wherever we went. Ohh and a spot of shopping and art gallery dipping in and out of.  Not to mention sitting in parks just taking it all, enjoying hanging with the locals throughout the city.

Foodie highlights started with The Butcher's Daughter in Nolita, which a blogger I adore, Anna Watson Carl from The Yellow Table had mentioned many times on her blog as she lives next door and eats there regularly.

We LOVED everything about it - the menu, the atmosphere, the gorgeous staff - I wish we had a chance to return as it was soooooooo yummy and divine.  Sadly Anna was out of town when we were there - cooking her way across the country to publicise her amazing cookbook that she self published!

Risotteria in the West Village was a gf foodie's idea of heaven, with its extensive menu of amazing risottos and gf paninis and pizzas.  The gf bread sticks were out of this world and we loved it so much we returned the very next day - if only they were in Sydney too.  David's Teas across the road was divine as well and yes we bought loads of tea home - I'm sipping his Queen of Tarts right now and regretting I didn't buy more as we have nearly finished it already - it is so divine..  Eataly NYC was pretty amazing as well  (but we thought Chicago was better - sorry NYC)!  ABC Kitchen was also a firm favourite - what an amazing place and the store along from it was pure heaven.

We heart Risotteria!

It went without saying that we spent many hours exploring The Stand - what an incredible bookstore!!! I think we managed to pop in there at some stage nearly every day!  Needless to say we needed extra luggage to get us home as we bought such a swag of books.  The three of us are as addicted as one another to book shopping!

Leaving NYC was hard - we could have easily stayed another week. Moo us already planning how he can go to college there - B and I would move for a year or so in a heart-beat, although leaving the dogs and Exeter behind would be a struggle.  We need to think that through some more!

The silver lining on the dark cloud of moving on was out next stop - Cleveland Ohio.

Cleveland ...

Our travel agent did a double take when we mentioned going to Cle - it's not on everyone's 'must must must visit' lists after all.  No - it isn't however great friends of ours had moved there from Sydney and we were on our way to see them and explore their new city.

It was so lovely to spend time with them, go to yoga, which I had been missing dreadfully and slow down to a leisurely pace - no up at dawn to explore the city all day etc.

Sara took us up to Amish country for a visit which was incredible to see and explore.  Such a different way of living and the quilts the women made were incredibly beautiful.  I bought an Amish bonnet which I keep threatening Monty I'll wear around Sydney or to his school for his teachers' meetings to really wind him up!  I haven't yet - but there is still ample opportunity to spring that on hi!

Monty loved hanging out with Patrick, Belle and Tildy and the trip to the theme park went down a treat no end.

Our visit went too quickly and leaving was so hard and sad - Cle is a v long way from Sydney - and it's hard when you miss your friends so much.  Luckily they were planning on coming down to Australia for our summer over Christmas so I know it wouldn't be too long before I saw my BFF again.
The last leg of the trip was upon us and B had smartly booked for us to spend some time down at ...

Laguna Beach ...

Right in the heart of the OC - it was such a contrast being back on the West Coast after so much time of the East.  The colours are so bleached out - and the pace down in the OC is so much slower - a perfect way to end our jam-packed holiday.

We lay by the pool, swam, went for coastal walks and I popped to a yoga class or two.  It was such a lovely area and yes, we saw three of the Real Housewives looking not so very real!  Hysterical!

Such a beautiful view - we spent a lot of time loving that pool!

Leaving was hard in some respects but not in others - we were looking forward to being back home and to seeing the hounds again.  They had been on holiday with a mad older couple who adore them to heaven and beyond down in the country near our place in Exeter.  It was their first time having Sooki stay - and man did she princess it up for them.   Apparently she would only eat if sitting on Rae's lap and she liked to be hand fed!!!

Little minx - that came to a crushing end for her on her first evening back with us.  Bootcamp 101 Jossie-style!

Woody rolled his eyes in disgust at her i am sure!  Then again - he sleeps on their bed when he stays with them - he is one of their favourites - so I guess that's his version of a Princess moment too!

Friday, July 18, 2014

'Amaze' pretty much sums up our trip to the US.  Chicago, The Hamptons, NYC, Cleveland, Laguna Beach ... as you do!

We packed a lot in and have memories to last a lifetime!

We started out in Chicago, celebrating the Festival of Doug - our dear friend was having a special birthday and it would have been rude not to celebrate it!  And celebrate we did!  Three days of activities - including hanging with his wife - my bestie - Mary.  Hot Mamas we were - !

Doug and Mary took their festival on the road while we high-tailed it to the Hamptons and explored the area for a few days.  It was stunning - we were there just before July 4 so we witnessed foffing on a major scale - think meticulous hedge pruning, catering preparation and party planning!

We stayed at the most divine B and B which I wanted to retire to.  The bed was one of those types that you absolutely sink into it and struggle to get out - which is a big call for a hard core insomniac such as myself!  The home-made iced teas and lemonades were out of the world, as was the travel pack they gave us for our drive up to NYC - Hampton's hospitality at its best.

NYC was ok.

{No-one ever said - jokes.}

We heart NYC, big-time - what a city. We walked the streets of Manhattan from dawn to dusk, exploring every nook and cranny we could.  I had a list of gf-friendly eateries to try - and try them we did.  We ate so many delicious dishes.  Monty and my favourite was gf stalwart Risotteria.  OMG - we swooned to gf food heaven and loved it so much that we returned the next day for another lunch!  Their gf breadsticks were beyond heaven!

It's s shame it's a mere 20 hour flight to enjoy the pleasure!  Look at how good this menu is.  

We also loved the Butcher's Daughter.  I remember reading about it on one of my favourite NYC food blogs - The Yellow Table.  Anna lives next door - the lucky duck - and we were wandering by when we were in Nolita, so we popped on in.

OMG - yum!  Everything about TBK was beyond. The food, service, staff and decor - all memorable.  If they could open up around the corner in Woollahra my life would be complete!  I have been stalking them on Instagram, pleading that they take me seriously.  So far, no TBA but I feel it in my bones that they are scouting for a location!

Top of the list for all of us was a visit to The Strand - NYC's largest bookstore. We had high expectations and it delivered on all levels, and then some.  I think we probably ended up visiting 5 or 6 times as we could not get enough of the place.

Needless to say an extra travel bag was purchased and we returned to Sydney laden with literary treasures!

If it weren't for the fact next on our travel list was a visit to gorgeous friends who had moved from Sydney to Cleveland, Ohio two years ago we would still be in NYC!  It was the only thing dragging us to the airport as we had more adventuring we needed to do, including visiting Brooklyn, which we didn't quite manage.

While at the Greens we drove up to visit an Amish village, which was a complete and utter contrast to where we had been for the previous week or so!  You sure don't see horse drawn carriages, quilts for as far as the eye can see and such conservative attire in The Hamptons or NYC.  Chicago?  No.  Not there either!

Sara and I bought bonnets - and I am still threatening Monty I'll waltz into one of his school functions wearing my one - she is a corker and I look extra special in it.  I'm sure he'll dig it out and toss it one day soon!  

Spending time with Sara and talking the day away was a tonic.  We miss one another dreadfully and Skype is a poor cousin to the real deal. We explored the city together, sipped may cups of tea, went to yoga and sipped more tea!  

It makes such a difference to see where they now live and to have a visual snapshot of their new city.  You need a visual context to truly understand friends' lives when they move away.

Leaving them was hard, so thanks be to B that he added in one last travel diversion in the name of Laguna Beach in Orange County for a few days r and r before the long flight home.

The contrast between the urban vibe of NYC (where nearly everyone's accessory seemed to be a small cute dog) to Laguna Beach (where no-one hurries, everyone was in beach attire and the accessory of the moment was a yoga mat) did not escape us!

We lazed by the hotel pool, swam, read from the massive pile of Strand books, and I went to yoga. Perfect!

Looking back, we packed a huge amount in during our time away and had such a great time together as the tight three - everytime I look back over the photos I smile at the memories.  It had been a few tough years leading up to going away - too many funerals and not a lot to laugh about.  We all desperately needed to get away, re-charge and find new inspiration and this trip ticked all those boxes.

Coming home was a treat too. I'm not one to ever think the grass is greener anywhere.  Life is what you make of it - so appreciating what you have and where you I've is as equally important as travelling and adventuring overseas.  

No surprises that those hounds of ours know how to give a rousing welcome! They couldn't decide who to lick to death the most so gave all three of us a jolly good going over.  Sooki kept running around in circles in excitement, while Woody tried to play it cool, but then broke into joyous barking and lickety licking again! 

They had a gorgeous time down in the country staying with the elderly couple who sometimes look after them. True to form, Sooki milked it for all her worth and would only eat if sitting on Ray's lap while being hand fed!  She is the limit.

I can tell you with my hand on my heart she has NEVER been fed that way by us. Man she knows how to milk it when she thinks she's onto some special treatment.  She was born a flirt and has worked tirelessly at perfecting her art.   That all came to a crashing halt when she was offered her first meal back at the ranch!  She tried to slouch away from her bowl but Woody gave her a nudge and a growl, clearly giving her his stern, big brother routine.  "The party is over stupid - it's back to boot camp so make the most of it - eat up or she'll take it away and then we'll see who is cute?!!"

I wonder if she has managed to send a smoke signal to Ray and book in a return visit ASAP?!!!!