Miami Lakes, Collections and Humidity

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My wonderful journey around the USA continued with me dragging the heat and humidity behind me. I apologise to all those afflicted by my weather curse!

I stayed with Louis and Carol, who were wonderful hosts. I was yet again treated like family. The consideration I have been shown during my trip has humbled me and I hope to be able to return the hospitality if anyone ever visits me in Australia.

We had a great time on the first day, heading out on an air boat ride in the Everglades. I got to see a handler with a snake and an alligator and even got to hold one! The air boat ride was exciting, those guys know how to give you a thrill and we saw a gator in the wild – it came right up to the boat to check us out.

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The Everglades are both spectacular and eerie at the same time. In some parts you can see forever and at others it is closed in by tall grass and plants. The species there are well adapted but developers keep lobbying to fill it in and expand east. I hope they never get the chance! We ate at a little BBQ shack on the way back. Lovely food and it seems as if the “shackier” the place the better the food. I wimped out at having the gator but the pork was perfect. I forgot to take a photo 😦

The parts of Miami I saw driving in were beautifully landscaped, with the overpasses grassed and landscaped with the suburb names on them in huge white letters. The place looked generally well looked after. Overall, the south east cities of the USA are lovely, with old world charm and care taken to preserve their history and culture.

I then took a rest day as I had been going non-stop and we settled in at home. I helped Louis with a computer issue and he showed me his wonderful collection of comics, figures and memorabilia, including a Wurlitzer jukebox that plays 78s! Beautifully restored in full working order. We talked about writing, editing, publishing and promotional work and I passed on some of my ideas for the future. We headed out for dinner, with me taking them to a tandoori restaurant. They had never been before and the food was delicious (I was secretly relieved the place was good).

The next day Louis took me to see his friend, Nick Perdomo, of Perdomo cigars. We went to his distribution centre and office in Miami Lakes and I was just blown away by how friendly everyone was. They gave us a tour of the humidor, packing area and storage room and I sat there and had a cigar and talked with some of the guys. It was amazing.

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The next day we went to a Cuban restaurant and, yet again, I forgot to take photos but the food was lovely and I have fallen for the black beans with rice. These aren’t like our black beans, these are BLACK like pitch in the cooking water, which is like ink and tastes amazing.

I went to bed early that night as I had the big drive to New Orleans the next day. Hugs and goodbyes and promises of keeping in touch followed the next morning and then I was off North then West. Florida is HUGE by the way, it took me a long time to reach the border but that is in the next entry. More pics below.

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Atlanta, in a capsule

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Well, due to being busy and with friends I didn’t get to write the Atlanta blogs I intended.

I had a great time there and used the CityPass booklet to see stuff. Depending on the city it can save you heaps (well, it always saves you heaps but some cities have better booklets than others).

I went to the Coca-Cola museum, an amazing display of the power of merchandising. It is truly mesmerising the way that the company has successfully produced a product and marketed it world wide. “Coke” is the second most recognised word in the world after “okay”. Well worth a visit. On the same day I also visited the aquarium. that is an amazing place with great displays and wonderful areas for children. The dolphins were lovely.

Atlanta itself is beautiful in that certain southern way. It is hard to describe in words.

That night my friend and her son took me to a lovely rib place where I had another full rack if wonderful ribs. This time the sauce was nice and fruity which complimented the ribs very well.

On the second day I did the CNN tour which I can’t really recommend. It is all just viewing through windows and lots of stairs. It feels rushed and there is no hands on component. The gift shop is also massively overpriced.

I then caught up with some online friends for a great lunch at Fat Matt’s rib shack. Great ribs and great conversation for hours! Got home late 🙂 to Chick-fil-a. Love their ads and the food is nice but not exceptional.

The next day I drove to the Fernbank Natural History Museum and saw the IMAX film on the Madagascar lemurs. My first IMAX experience and it was great. The museum is not large but extremely well laid out. Got some of my presents for friends there, which are great.

Next stop was the Atlanta History Centre. A wonderful place that has a display on the production and research for “Gone with the Wind”. Well presented with great detail and original artworks and photos.

The main centre is a short walk away and has another 6 displays, including the native peoples of the area, the Atlanta Olympics, a display dedicated to the only golfer to ever achieve the Grand Slam and one permanent and one temporary display for the civil war. The permanent exhibition is very detailed and pulls no punches about causes and actions. The temporary display was from a private collection and an extensive array of weapons from the war with descriptions of the manufacturing and industrial capacity of the two sides. It was extremely interesting for me from an engineering point of view. Both displays, Similar to my experience in Richmond, were emotionally trying.

That night Nardy and Brett invited some of their friends over with their kids and we had a big dinner of grilled quail which they had personally hunted. Lovely food, wine and company finished off with a nice cigar.

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Meh, dinner

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Well, that wasn’t spectacular. The cider they had was very nice. I ordered the dinner special which was a half rack of baby back ribs.  The ribs were not that tender and the sauce was tangy but had no real depth. The coleslaw was that dry one again but this time seasoned with way too much coriander leaf (cilantro). The fries were okay but I have been spoilt on those this trip.

The place itself is lovely and the service was okay. I think if I had gone for a normal menu item it may have been better.  Some of the food I saw served to other diners look great.

Recommended for the environment, the amazing beer list and the lovely location.

Tomorrow is the drive to Georgia. Looking forward to being back with friends again. Been a lonely two weeks.

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Museum of the Confederacy and a lovely lunch and dinner.

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Richmond, Virginia. A stunning city. Even the derelict buildings were beautiful. The city had artists do murals in and on them! Driving into downtown this morning, there were city workers fixing up a flower bed, on a Sunday morning!

I walked along some of the canal area before my phone decided to chew battery, damn you google maps and ingress. So I went back to the car, headed to a Best Buy and grabbed a Mophie, like I had been planning to do for ages.

Then I drove back to the downtown area and parked closer to the places I wanted to be. I grabbed lunch at the Southern Railway Taphouse. I had the Crabcake sandwich (burger to an Aussie). With fries (proper chips this time) and some extra cut fruit, cos I was hot and it was humid. I also got a blackberry and pear cider, which was stunning. The Crabcake was very well prepared, with a lovely mix of herbs and spices and the bun was grilled just right to give it some caramelisation. The chips were excellent.
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Note the name burnt into the bun, lovely touch 🙂

I then headed over to the Museum of the Confederacy. An amazing place however I became quite emotional. As I have stated before I react strongly to the loss of life through war. Many of the displays are superbly presented, detailing the battles with no punches pulled about tactics and tragedy, then next to that is a display that always hits home showing an individual soldier’s gear with details about what happened to them. I have placed a few photos here but see my Facebook page for a complete set. I had to stop a few times to compose myself before continuing through the museum.

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I then did a slow walk back to the canal and river area to find a place for dinner, choosing a place I had walked past before, The Hardshell, a seafood restaurant with a board outside saying “Crab Night”. How could I refuse such an offer 🙂 I started with a lovely cider and some water and then ordered a bottle of the wine of the day, a Chilean cab sav “Alba” from Santa Luzon, 2012. It needed decanting to get rid of some of the harsher aromatics but after that it was lovely.

Forgoing the possible disaster of having the crab legs (that can get messy) I went for the surf and turf, sirloin steak with crab chunks accompanied by mash and brocollini. The steak was perfect, the crab chunks lovely. The mash was slightly lumpy, intentionally I think as it still had some potato skin as well and the broccolini was nicely crunchy in the stems. I then chose the chocolate pecan pie for dessert. Now, I am a well known chocoholic. This was as close as I have ever come to saying that something is too chocolatey. Which means it was perfect! The chocolate sauce was not too sweet, heavy with cocoa flavour and complimented by some whipped cream and the pastry case was light and delicate. Often with pecan pie I find the pastry can be heavy and overwhelming with the caramel but not in this case. And it was warm, beautifully warm.

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I ate while watching the 49ers get back into winning form, moving ahead through the preseason. They should be easy for the regular season and on to the Super Bowl!

Tomorrow I drive down to Georgia to stay with family friends.

Journey to Richmond and a sort-of birthday dinner

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Well, my Virginia accommodation was a fiasco, my fault. Didn’t organise it properly. I think I had the right number (it may have been cigar forum related) but the people on the other end of the line either completely forgot or didn’t pass on the message.

So I am staying at the Hyatt Place in Richmond for a couple of nights and I’ll get to do the historic sights around here.

The trip down was awesome in the literal sense – awe inspiring! After I left NJ the weather followed me from NY and it rained most of the way. Now, on an American highway, on a Friday, heading south, there is a lot of traffic (both ways actually) and the spray was like a fog. Driving at 60 mph relying on the taillights of the cars in from (who sometimes didn’t have them on) was “interesting”. Plus a lot of the time we were only doing 20-30 mph. Took a long time to get here.

I drove through Baltimore, again avoiding toll roads. I recommend that, it takes you through some interesting places. Baltimore, in general, is a bit of a hole. Sorry guys, but it is true. Richmond is BEAUTIFUL! Parks, water features, lovely roads, proper buildings. Not those flat sided tar roofed abominations.

So, arrived at the Hyatt Place here and it was like coming home. They are laid out the same in every place so you know how to set up, unpack and relax.

The recommendation for dinner was Hondos across the lot. “Great food but a bit expensive.” Made for me 🙂

I ordered the prime rib, which came with a salad and a side.

The bread arrived in a lovely basket, and then the waiter laid down a small plate and proceeded to pipe out the softened honey butter. Yes, he had a cloth icing bag and PIPED OUT 4 rosettes of butter. I had a huge grin on my face and he looked at me and grinned back.

I chose the house salad. Never, in human existence, has a house salad been this good.IMG_0509.JPG
The balsamic vinaigrette was so superbly balanced with the feta and the vegetables that it melded invisibly. The only criticism I had was that there weren’t 20 more croutons. The were perfectly baked and fried, crunching and then melting in you mouth. Everything was complimented by the thin radish slices.

Then the main and vegetables arrived. Yep. In Australia, prime rib is generally served with the rib bone (hence the name). Not here, noooo. 16oz prime rib, is SIXTEEN OUNCES OF PRIME RIB MEAT! Perfectly medium rare, crusted in a rosemary hard edge. There was a horseradish sauce that was lovely, but I never adulterate my steak .

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The vegetables were great, lightly caramelised and sweated with garlic and butter. A lovely mix – I especially appreciated the squash, an often neglected or abused vegetable.

I chose a Californian red to go with it and was pleasantly surprised considering its youth, 2011. Obviously produced to be drunk a bit young it was a great “Syrah” for those that can’t spell Shiraz. It really complemented the main course and the dessert.

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The dessert was a lovely creme brûlée, with a wafer like layer of toffee over exquisite, delicate custard, presented on a plate with a rosette of unsweetened whipped cream and bitter sweet chocolate. Lovely in every way. (Yes, I had dessert because BIRTHDAY!)

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The coffee (proper espresso, thank the FSM) came with a tray of sweeteners including some lovely rough squares of raw sugar.

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Enough for a family of 6 🙂

All in all, a wonderful dinner, worth probably more than what I paid if I was in Australia. 4 thumbs up! The cover photo is of the wine cellar.

NYC Lunch, Dinner and Other Stuff

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After a late start today (slept in after an extended night) I grabbed lunch for breakfast. Had a marvellous Juicy Lucy for the first time at Iron Bar & Lounge. The music was a tad loud for me but as the windows and doors were open to the street it actually helped. The fries are probably the best I have had in the USA so far – more like string cut chips that had been lightly battered. The burger was great. Served on, surprisingly, a not too sweet brioche bun, the patty cooked to perfection stuffed with a mild cheddar that didn’t overwhelm the taste and fresh lettuce and tomato. Had a nice cider with that, like the last one not too sweet.
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Then I wandered up to Central Park. Got some nice shots of the south end of it but didn’t really feel up to wandering the whole length of it, way too far for today. Got some squirrel shots so you know which buggers are carrying the zombie virus.

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Then I hit the big one – the Empire State Building, 86th floor observation deck. Stunning; it takes you breath away. The travel up the building and down, however, is very regimented and a bit show off-ish. The building seems to want to shout out what it is. A bit of a shame.

The views from the observation deck really impress on you that this is a modern wonder. How it was built in 1930 to 1931 I will never know. The great engineering project of that era stagger the imagination. I hope the pictures do it justice. I actually had to stop up there for a second as I suddenly realised Poppy wasn’t there with me. That brought tears to my eyes. That has been happening a lot lately and I think it is because I have now been travelling since Vancouver and staying alone. Being around other people, especially those with kids gives me such emotional support I feel a little lot without it.

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After the big guy, I headed over to my favourite building, The Chrysler. Unfortunately the building is now offices and there is no viewing platform but I did get some great shots of the Art Deco work in the lobby. This building just sits there and says “Here I am”, it doesn’t shout, it lets the wonderful detailed work say it all. It is breathtaking.

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After that I had to find a place where I could charge my phone while eating. There are a LOT of fine dining/silver service places around there but none batted an eyelid at my T-shirt and shorts. However, none of them had what I wanted until it found this lovely sushi place, Shinbashi (and my shins are fine, thanks for asking). The service was impeccable, especially as the place was very quiet. I wasn’t that early but the waitress commented that even the SUNY had been quieter than normal, possibly due to the holiday weekend. I ordered the chef’s sushi and sashimi selection and I wasn’t disappointed! Beautifully prepared and presented, with a lovely soy sauce and a huge slab of wasabi, most of which I left 🙂 I had this with a small carafe of lovely cold sake. I then had a coffee jelly dessert, which is apparently a big thing in Japan now, served with whipped cream, ice cream and HARD chocolate pieces. I love the Asian food theme of texture – chewy, soft, smooth, hard, all working together. I also had a coffee which was quite nice for America!

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Then, to walk off the meal and the sake, I started working on my new addiction, Ingress. A fun game but I think it would be easy to get carried away with it. I was so tempted to just keep walking around…

Anyway, there are lots more photos on my Facebook feed if you are interested.

Tomorrow I am off to Virginia if I can track down the friends I am supposed to be staying with. I forgot to put a name against the phone number in my contacts. Everything has gone so well so far that this seems minor. After that staying with a family friend in Georgia and then on to Miami.

Ground Zero, cigars and Lovecraft Bar NYC

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My first day in NYC was mostly walking. I took the bus in to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and then walked down to the Ground Zero memorial. Look that up on Google Maps – long walk…

I took a lot of photos on the way there, mainly to try and illustrate how some people tried to put some nature back into the concrete jungle by growing plants on their building tops. There was also some amazing architecture.

Ground Zero was moving, the names around the pools evoking strong emotions, especially where someone had left a flower in a name for the lost one’s birthday. I was distressed at how many people were there smiling and having their photos taken by friends and family at the memorial. It was a solemn occasion for me and felt that some of the people were a bit disrespectful, seeing it only as a spectacle. I stood for a minute in silence at each pool, cap in hand, meditating on the loss and senselessness of religion fuelled conflict.

I wanted to go into the museum however the lines were very long as it was still school break for some people in the USA and there were lots of other foreign tourists.

I then went to find a cigar place as I hadn’t had a cigar since Portland. Found a lovely place but they didn’t serve food. They pointed me to a place around the corner and there I found The Dubliner. A lovely little pub-like place where I had some nice fish and chips and wonderful draught cider. The fish was Atlantic cod in a lovely crisp batter and the chips were flavoursome and slightly soggy, proper Irish chips :-).

I returned to the cigar bar and there was a lady from Ashton Cigars there with a deal of 4 for 3. Never the one to turn down a free cigar I added to my stock and proceeded to the smoking room. There I struck up a conversation first with an African American lawyer. Lovely guy and we chatted through the first cigar. I then went and bought another, an Ashton VSG (for only $14) and headed back to the room. I was feeling too relaxed to head back out into the city. I then ended up chatting with two NY Jewish guys. A great afternoon.

Looking at the time, I realised I needed to head over to the bar. Google maps took me through a couple of neighbourhoods that I felt REALLY uncomfortable walking through as a white Australian tourist carrying an obvious camera case and messenger bag.

Another long walk from the financial district to the East Village. I popped into the bar, found out they didn’t have food yet (starts next week) so I got some advice and headed up to a place a few streets away.

Now, it had rained the night before. NYC was a bit of a sauna. I think I was starting to get a bit dehydrated from all the walking and I only had a cider and a glass of water with lunch. My walking was started to take its toll.

I won’t bother to talk about the place I ate at, it was average.

I then headed back to the bar (more walking). I took some photos of the ground level, nicely steampunky and well laid out, and then headed downstairs. This is the place to be, people. Check out the second part of the photos. Lovely murals, nice slightly creepy vibe. They are still working on the place and will have a VIP area with private booths, etc.

The service was great, probably because they were light on and the bartender was fun. I had absinthe for the first time, and in the USA it has wormwood in it. There goes my brain. As it was a bit quiet we all talked for ages about the bar, myths, Australia, drinks and other stuff. A great night all in all. There was live music, not my style but I was tipsy so it was okay.
I left around 10 to walk back to the bus station and a storm started to roll in. Lightning and thunder in the Big Apple are amazing. Unfortunately it started to rain a bit on the home stretch to the bus station so I got a bit wet and it was still raining when we got to the stop near the hotel. I was still a bit wet when I got back (after midnight) but a shower and a decent sleep has seen me good. Almost lunchtime here now and I am going to head back into the city soon to see the Empire State and Chrysler buildings and a Central Park.

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