Sunday, May 24, 2020

When You Have to Travel for Work

I am occasionally asked to travel for work.  At my job we have a volunteer list and a double secret forced list.   For some reason, one never knows where one falls on that list, even when you think you should know.  Hmmm...  Anyway, I digress.

Listen, I love to travel, but I usually like to choose the destination.  But, if you're in the professional work world, I'm sure this has happened to you.  One day you are told you are going to spend an all expense paid week in Hartford, Connecticut.  What do you do?  Well, you can't quit because then you would not be able to take that non-expensed trip to Paris.  So, you suck it up and go.  You go to Hartford on the morning that you are supposed to report.  Thank heavens' that it is only about a two-hour drive from Boston (depending on the traffic).

You've probably guessed by now that the scenario I just described happened to me.  Just last week!  I went, I worked, I photographed, and I ate some really decent meals.  While I don't really want to criticize Hartford, I would say that this not one of my favorite destinations.  Urban blight and poverty have subsumed parts of the city.  Even though I didn't always feel safe, I ventured out on the mean streets in my car with camera in bag.  I didn't always feel comfortable enough get out and photograph in some of the more challenging areas, but I got some good shots in downtown Hartford.  I also ventured out to Farmington to see historic sites dating back to the 1700s.

When I learned that I had to travel there for the week, I tried to prepare as best I could.  I scoped out restaurants, and fun things I could do after 5:00 p.m.  I only came up with dinner venues, but that's okay. (They sort of roll up the sidewalks in the downtown area.)  It was only 5 days.

Anyone who knows Hartford will tell you that most of the nicer restaurants reside in West Hartford.  I was amazed at the hard, bright-lined demarcation from Hartford to West Hartford.  Passing through an impoverished area I saw women carrying their groceries down the street from the Family Dollar, police surrounding young boys, and daily survival, but when I crossed the magic line, I saw Whole Foods, Crate and Barrel and joggers in Lululemon spandex stopping at the Starbucks, or one of the many eateries for takeout.  These markers exist in every large city, but they seem starker when you are not familiar with surroundings.

So, alas, I spent most of my free time in West Hartford.  I sampled Tapas and sipped Rioja at Barcelona Bar, grazed on passable Thai food, and savored delectable Mexican food at Besito; washing it down with the best house margarita I've ever had.  I wandered into Arugula, a Middle Eastern restaurant, only to decide on the highly recommended hipster restaurant, Vinted, where the servers were too sexy to offer me a good seat (That's how I ended up in the Mexican restaurant. I left after being told that the promised table was 'on waters.' What?  Is that on trend?  After dinner water?  Too pretentious for me, in that town, so I voted with my feet!)  I rounded out the week at a quaint Italian restaurant, Treva, where I feasted to  on succulent scallops and polenta as smooth as mashed potatoes.  West Hartford's restaurant scene is quite diverse.  I saw two Japanese restaurants, Irish pubs, a steakhouse and a Spanish taco joint.

Someone told me that the captives from the Amistad had lived in Farmington during the trial and the period before their repatriation.  Later, this town would become a "stop" on the Underground Railroad, where many of the abolitionist families hosted runaway slaves.  In my research (Internet), I learned that the famous prep school, Miss Porter's was there, as well as other sites relating to the Amistad captives and their abolitionist hosts.  Farmington is about a twenty minute drive from Hartford.  At rush hour, up l-84 it may take a little longer.  Entering the scenic road you get a sense of how affluent this area really is.  It made West Hartford look like the banlieues of Paris.  Wow.  How the 1%'ers do live.  

It was a nice diversion and somewhere I didn't feel I'd be mugged.  I didn't check the crime statistics, but the vibe I felt at times matched the bleak and dreary weather.  The weather wasn't the culprit because the sun did shine for one half of one day.  The buildings are very old and well-kept.  Miss Porter's school was exactly what I expected.  Quaint, prim and proper.  The meticulously groomed grounds were huge, and still pretty lush on the day before spring.  Jacqueline Onassis went there.  If I had a daughter and an extra $55,000/yr., I'd be tempted.

The meat of the Amistad historical tour was inaccessible because they were on property privée.  I called ahead to Miss Porter's and to ensure that my after hours visit wouldn't ruffle feathers.  I was welcomed to visit, and the woman at the Stanley Whitman house even left me fliers.  I enjoyed photographing the colonial buildings and wondered how the Amistad  captives moved around this town and what they felt.  Google maps is a great way to locate all of the venues. They're all pretty close together.

Back in Hartford, I visited the house of Samuel Clemens, who was better known as Mark Twain.  It was closed before I left work at 5:00, so I walked the grounds.  Impressive architecture, beautiful grounds next door to the Beecher-Stowe house.  The surrounding apartment houses in the neighborhood were named after Mark Twain.  

The capitol building is absolutely gorgeous with its gilded dome and impressive Eastlake Movement architecture.  I visited the inside years ago when a colleague out of the blue suggested we go and visit the then governor.  We went over, but he was out of the office.  I remember being gobsmacked at the suggestion, and even further amazed when we were actually standing in his office.  He was an old friend of my colleague, so it wasn't unusual for him.  Me, on the other hand could not march over to the State House in Boston and ask to see the governor, my old friend.  

After a long five days, my time was over there.  Thank goodness for small miracles.  It wasn't that bad, but I wouldn't really want to repeat it any time soon.  I did get to catch up with an old friend, but aside from venturing out to Farmington, that was the highlight of the trip.  

I suppose the takeaway is to try to scope out some interesting activities, do your homework on restaurants, and if you are a coffee drinker, on coffee shops.  I think the people in the Hartford branch don't drink coffee, because no-one seemed to know or care where the nearest Starbucks was, or even where was an indy coffee house.  Notice I skipped mentioning lunch?  I was mildly pleased about dinner and was happy to gain some time to "sleep in" since my commute was whittled to about eight minutes.  Try to make the most of your temporary assignment to wherever.  With Netflix, the internet, and cell phones, life is much easier on the road.  Try not to alter your daily workout too much since you're eating more caloric meals.  And please do try to meet people, although it's hard on a Tuesday night in a Thai restaurant, and I didn't (except for that photography group I crashed on their night crawl), but try all the same.  One of the mantras of a workout DVD that I do is, "You can do anything for 60 seconds."  Well, you can do anything for one week.  It sucks, but if travel is a part of your work life, enjoy the food, enjoy the hotel and enjoy being away from your normal work location!

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Just learned that TripAdvisor published my edited review yesterday.  Hmmm🤔.  The timing is interesting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Review that Trip Advisor Refuses to Publish

I'm not usually a review writer, and I realize how unfair it is for me to rely on reviews on TripAdvisor, AirBNB (which I always leave a review), and Yelp without ever contributing.  So, I vowed to contribute more.  I wrote the following review shortly after I return from my visit to Paris. I duly submitted it to TripAdvisor. It took a couple of weeks for me to get the email copied below that asked that I not use profanity. I purposefully used asterisks to denote the profanity that was showered upon us.  My use of coded profanity was not to titillate, but merely to report what happened. Nonetheless, TripAdvisor gently asked for a revision.  Since I wanted this review published, for the greater good, I complied and edited out the asterisked words. I believe I referred to the words generally as expletives.  ⏳is what is happening now. It's now August... Not confident that they will publish it. Is it that TripAdvisor doesn't publish negative reviews?   What's the issue?   Shouldn't people know? This review is not embellished.  It is what happened. There were maybe two other tables occupied when we were there.  So, it wasn't even busy when we allegedly made the proprietor "work."  They are also witnesses.

Here's a few thoughts/entreaties to Mr. Fulvio.  Maybe publish a menu so you don't have to "work" to read the menu to each customer.  Perhaps take some classes on mindfulness, with an emphasis on being kind to your neighbor, even in the face of adversity.  Also, don't chase your customers down the street yelling expletives at them.  Incredibly aggressive. That might possibly send a chill down the spines of your other customers who may step out of line.  Just suggestions.

Thus, since TripAdvisor is hedging, I decided to publish it here, along with TripAdvisor's email to me.  By the way, Yelp published the review, but relegated it  to the depths of "We Don't Know You/Can't Vouch for You" because you have only written one review.  Okay, I get it.  Finally, I received an email from TripAdvisor to say that my reviews have been read by 573 people in 7 days!  Go figure.

Full disclosure:  the review was edited for typos and grammar.  Other than that, it's what was submitted to TripAdvisor.

Dear TripAdvisor Member,

Thank you for taking the time to write a review of FULVIO on TripAdvisor.

We value your contribution, and would like to be able to post it to our website. However, we are unable to publish your review because it violated the following guideline(s):

No profanity, threats, prejudiced comments, hate speech, sexually explicit language or other content that is not appropriate for our community.
NOTE: We do not publish explicit or implied profanity. This includes acronyms which contain intended profanity and profanity that has been masked using symbols.

If you'd be willing to edit and resubmit your review, we'd really appreciate it, and so will your fellow travelers! Your original review is included below so you can easily copy and paste it into the review form and make the necessary edits. You may view a comprehensive list of our guidelines here:

Best regards,
TripAdvisor Support Team

------original review-------

Subject: FULVIO
Location: Paris, Ile-de-France, France, Europe
Title: Incredibly Rude Proprietor
ID#: 390993647

We visited this restaurant on 4 July 2016, based on some of the positive reviews posted on Yelp. What a disgusting experience because the proprietor, who some have described as delightful, was the most narcissistic, rude, and aggressive person with whom I've ever come in contact. The chalkboard menu was largely illegible, and needed to be deciphered. Without pleasantries, the proprietor came over our table with the blackboard, and very aggressively asked whether we wanted to share an appetizer. When my French friend responded to him in French to ask a question, he immediately responded to her rudely in French, and then in English, that he would explain the menu. There were probably close to 30 items on the menu that he read through in lightening speed, and at the end, we were expected to spit out an order. When I said we needed a moment to digest the menu, we received an exasperated shrug. 

At this point, my friend and I, weary of the poor behavior and attitude, decided to leave and spend our time in a less aggressive environment. 

As we exited the restaurant, the proprietor berated us with expletives in French, and then I guess for my benefit, called us f****** a********, stupid, and f****** dumb. Happy Independence Day! 

He followed us halfway down the street yelling at us, telling us that his reading of the menu was work for him. What aggressive and self-demeaning behavior towards two women. Wow. All because we exercised our right not to spend money in a restaurant where we felt unwelcome? If I had been any of the diners there witnessing that, I would have surely left. Why would anyone want to eat there with such potential erratic behavior? 

Happy to report that we found a beautiful little Italian Restaurant called Le Petit Italien, also in the Marais, right behind Place des Voges. Friendly service and delightful food. I will definitely return there. 

The takeaway: avoid Fulvio unless you like a slice of vitriol with your antipasto.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our Nation's Capital

I took a short trip to Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, DC for work last week. It had been a few years since I visited this nation's capital, and I want more!! The DC monuments and museums close down pretty early, and the 50 minute ride into DC didn't leave much time to explore. The hotel, Crowne Plaza, curiously (apparently no staff has taken this tour) recommended a rather no frills, "Sanford and Son" styled tour (as one of my colleagues remarked) where you're picked you up in a beat-up conversion van by a rather talkative gentleman, who drives you to the "coach," that really wasn't a coach. It looked something like this:

It was a mini-bus that had seen better days. The weather was quite warm and humid, and the air conditioner on-board felt more a swamp cooler cool than dry crisp, filtered air, that is so needed in the near 100% humidity.  Our tour guide, Ali, was tall, dour, and taciturn until he began the introduction on what a fun-filled tour we were in store for.  He didn't really speak until the wheels were rolling and he was driving.  I rode along with 4 other colleagues, three of whom, I did not know, but by the end, felt like I had known them for at least a few weeks. Once we were underway, Ali would not shut up! His rapid fire regurgitation of the history of DC was at first, impressive, but soon the almost robotic sing-song drone left me just tuning him out. My colleagues confirmed that some of his facts were not accurate. I interrupted him in mid-sentence to ask a question, and like a recording, he picked up exactly where he left off. This was a hop on, hop off tour of sorts. But soon, we found ourselves synchronizing our watches to Ali's so that we could be back at the bus by his proscribed departure time.  It was little scary... As all good tactical teams are formed, an official time keeper emerged in our group, as well as an orienteering advisor/enforcer, when there were multiple monuments to visit. We literally were giving each other two-minute warnings when we lingered too long. This was more of a boot camp tour, where the object was to burn as many calories as possible.  So much for a relaxing evening.  It reminded me of supermarket sweep when you're trying to get to the register.  We were running through sites like it was the end of the world to get our photos taken and history lessons learned in the time Ali allowed.  Ali would be a good drill sergeant.  He even us told the order in which to visit the Korean, Vietnam, and Lincoln Memorials in the 23 minutes he allowed.  When someone tried to deviate, we quickly reminded each other that, "Ali said..."  Amazing how much power he had gained within 15 minutes of meeting us.  Did I mention we were in DC in August?  Steamy!  Good thing we had that quick margarita before we were picked up.

Even though Ali's tour wasn't the best, it was a really fun time.  What do you want for $39? A taxi ride would have cost more! With all its deficiencies, Ali's directives, which I obviously made sound much more dramatic than it really was, well, not really, it made us all belly laugh and bond at every monument. It was a good time, and while I wouldn't recommend this tour to anyone, I would recommend taking a night tour, even if you've already visited these monuments during the day. The lighting on some of the monuments makes it challenging for iPhone photography, but I brought along my smaller, trusty and phenomenal Canon G16, and was able to get some good night shots.  Nighttime in DC is amazing!!  Imagine Arlington cemetery with only the van lights casting subdued illumination.  Magic!

The monuments are amazingly pristine and well-visited at night. The marble at the Jefferson memorial (apparently has its own history) is gorgeous. Like the moon, the Washington Monument is beautifully ever-present in the background. The Iwo Jima site really shows the artist's mastery of detail.  It was powerful.  The Korean and Vietnam memorials were somber and funereal.   The names.  The cast images at the Korean memorial were eerily real.  It was dark, and my camera's flash illumination reminded me of the battleground.  In that instant, a soldier in combat appeared right as he would have in the rapid flash of battle.

I came away really loving my whirlwind visit to DC. The city seems very different from the last time I visited, and it makes me want to return to see the DC slow side. Another evening, I went to the U Street district to meet a friend for dinner at Dukem, an Ethiopian restaurant. I loved the food and the vibe of the neighborhood. People seem friendly and willing to stop and give you directions.

There's simply not enough time on a business trip!!

Personally, I think every American school child should have an opportunity to visit our country's capital, gratis. The area is so rich with history!! The Smithsonian, the monuments, and the White House are amazing places to visit. How can one know what it means to be an American, if one doesn't understand our government, how it works, and what it looks like.  When I say visit, I don't mean a somewhat superficial photo-taking tour, but an in-depth visit to Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court.  Every child should go.

I know that I have been an advocate for going West, but DC is definitely must-see destination that is easily accessible. Flying into Reagan National is a breeze, and the subway is clean, safe, and efficient.    For older visitors, the restaurant and nightlife scene is great.  I'm thinking a short trip is in order in the coming months.

Remember, that DC is as sexy at night as Paris!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Spring! Or, Ode to a Daffodil

This is what I hope to see once the snow melts and and the ground warms.  My beautiful daffodils and tulips.  

Daffodil, O Daffodil
Where art thou?
Beneath the layers of snow and ice
below shallow dirt that has lain fallow 
for eight months or more
To love thee is to know you do not stay
Your petals en Jaune et Blanche
No Haiku can do thee justice
Thy beauty is beyond compare
Your glory is fleeting
but a reminder of how precious and brief
life is.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

San Antonio, Texas

From the Alamo to the Missions of San Antonio.  San Antone.  I've read some blogs that say that you’re a tourist if you call it San Antone.  They called it San Antone in the TV western, Rawhide, so if it’s good enough for Mr. Favor, it’s good enough for me.  

I have mixed feelings about San Antone.  The River Walk is lively and bright, but for me, it was too much of a tourist trap.  It was hard to tell if any of the restaurants were good.  I stopped for Tex-Mex, and it was mediocre.  It left such an impression; I forgot the name of the restaurant.  Venture off the trail, and you’re in the land of meth-heads.  It was really disquieting when you’re just trying to find and buy some skim milk from the local CVS.  Wandering around the mean streets of downtown San Antone like Navarro, Commerce and West Market, you may stumble upon the prostrated bodies of the addicted.  Barefoot and glassy-eyed, my greeters were barely aware that they were conscious.  I felt that running the gauntlet wasn’t worth being able to eat cereal in my hotel room. I wondered why the hotel didn’t warn me, especially when the bellman knew I was going out alone.  It also left me wondering what the downtown area would be like if the River Walk didn’t exist. 

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the streets were full.  There’s safety in numbers, I suppose.  I managed to find the Alamo and the cavalcade of souvenir shops on the Alamo plaza without much effort.  The Alamo was smaller than imagined, but everyone had warned me.  It’s nighttime illumination made the white stone glow.  The endless stream of selfies or couples posing on its patio made for an interesting people watching experience.  Unfortunately, my trip was too short to include a tour of the Alamo, but seeing the outside of the structure was just as fulfilling.

The highlight of my stay was my tour of the other four Franciscan missions around town.  However, my tour began at the Alamo, not really known for being a mission.  The Alamo, or the Mission San Antonio de Valero was the first mission established in 1718 on the San Antonio River following the establishment of Mission San Francisco de Solano near the Rio Grande River in 1700.  The purpose was to convert and assimilate the Coahuiltecan Indians.  The mission at its present location was built in 1744.  The mission provided protection and community for the converted, but by 1793, the Indian populations had been so reduced that the mission became a secular institution in the community.  From 1794-1821, the Alamo was a military garrison held by the Spanish, which was locally called the Pueblo de la Compañía del Alamo.

The four other missions that I visited were like Phoenix rising from the ashes of some sketchy neighborhoods and urban/suburban sprawl.  Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission Nuestra Senoria de la Purisma Concepcion de Acuna, Mission San Francisco Espada, and Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo are beautiful 18th Century missions designed by the Spanish and laboriously built by the local Indians.  The history of each mission is similar to the beginnings of the Alamo, so there is no need to regurgitate it here.  The National Park Service has a great website full of resources for learning the history of the mission system.

The National Park Service employees are eager to tell you the history of the mission where they work.  There was a pride behind their words that was borne out of the beautiful artistry and masonry that was flawlessly executed by the Indians who constructed these behemoths.  From what I’ve researched, the privileged few who were allowed live within the mission walls helped develop self-sustainable organized communities, which contributed to the formation of the city that exists today.

As I drove around San Antonio trying to squeeze in a visit to each mission before heading to Austin, I realized that in the 18th century, these missions were worlds apart when they contemporaneously existed.  While only 9 miles separates San Juan Capistrano to Mission Concepcion via the modern, paved Mission Road, I suspect that on foot or on horseback it probably took at least a half day to travel between these missions because of natural land barriers and other obstacles.   I was able to enter each of the sanctuaries, with the exception of Mission Espada.  The interior of San Juan Mission was small and rustic, but very beautiful, as were the others.  When I travel to the Southwest, I love visiting old missions and churches.  To me, that is where the soul of the community continues to reside, so many centuries later.  I was happy to end my visit to San Antonio there.

In addition to the missions, I loved the Pearl Brewery district, and enjoyed Rosario’s Mexican Café y Cantina restaurant only minutes from the River Walk.   I would have to pan (no pun intended) Mi Tierra Restaurant.  Much too much hype--I was told that it was amazing in the experience and the food.  Well, the décor was an amazing morass of kitsch and chaos, and it did look like it would be a fun dining experience.  However, that all changed upon entering the dining room.  It was, well, a bit messy.  There’s nothing more appetizing than sitting next to un-bussed tables of dehydrating refried beans. The food also left a lot to be desired.  I am a vegetarian who eats fish (no comments, please), and usually have no problem finding a great meal in a Mexican Restaurant.  Mi Tierra’s vegetarian menu was uninteresting and unappealing.  The waitress’ attempt to cobble a meal together was admirable, but resulted in cheese enchiladas topped with Velveeta substitute.  With the exception of a small restaurant in Pearsall, Texas, I have not visited a Mexican restaurant that didn’t offer some sort of vegetarian bean.  I nearly walked out in the middle of my meal, but didn’t have the time to go searching for a new place to eat.  Rosario’s, on the other hand, was modern Mexican cuisine.  Loved the service and loved my meal! The Margs were great!!

At Pearl Brewery, I ate at La Gloria, Il Sogno Osteria, and enjoyed coffee at Local.  I nearly ate at Green, which is a vegetarian eatery, but loved La Gloria so much, I darted in there at the last minute.  Local’s coffee was so awesome. Il Sogno…Mama Mia!  It was one of the best upscale Italian restaurants that I had ever eaten!   If I go back to San Antonio, I will spend more time in this area.  The salvation of San Antonio, for me, was the Pearl Brewery district.  Admittedly, I came to the area for work, so I had very little time to explore, but was able to see a lot, considering.   Pearl Brewery is a funky, hipster retail and restaurant district that saved the day for me.  If there are other areas of interest, share them with me!

Lastly, I went to Pearsall, Texas.  Nothing to say except the cattle auction I went to was a little shocking.  I’m surprised they allowed photos.  That’s all I’ll say.  

From what I experienced, San Antone seems to be a city in transition.  That is a good thing.  I hope there is more of the Pearl Brewery sort of transitioning in San Antonio.  Generally, I oppose gentrification that displaces poor people, but from what I was told, these new hipster areas saved the city from urban blight.  While the River Walk is a great idea and has certainly revitalized that area, it just wasn’t my thing, but it does appeal to most tourists.  It’s easy and safe, but I only went once.  I prefer to travel like a local.  But that’s just me.  Go and see for yourself, and then drive an hour to my fave, Austin!

To see photos, check out my website:  Newest posts are under, "The American Southwest."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Addams Family Thanksgiving

I find this scene from Addams Family Values a light-hearted and hilarious First Thanksgiving myth-buster aside from King of the Hill's version in "Spin the Choice."  AFV shines a light on stereotypes about both groups, and cleverly infuses anachronisms and history that are just plain wrong.  But, that's just the point.