36 hours in phoenix & scottsdale

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Phoenix is hot.

Literally and figuratively.   Phoenix has been one America’s fastest growing cities over the years, and it seemingly hosts every major sporting event possible (BCS bowl games, Super Bowl, Final Four, etc) because of its world class stadiums and ample hotel facilities.  No doubt it’s in part by having the tony suburb of Scottsdale and college towns of Tempe and Glendale nearby adding to its metropolitan area mix.

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is your perfect desert getaway for a weekend, that’s why so many snowbirds head south to Phoenix, especially in the winter.  And for the rest of us: there’s spas, shopping, golf and fabulous chain restaurants.  Jk there’s obviously great local stuff including a rich art and cultural scene (so many murals!).

phoenix is rising

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weekend in krakow

When I was in fourth grade, one of the books required for reading was called The Trumpeter of Krakow.  This was a tale of persecution, crystals and alchemy, a haunting brass pronouncement, and arson.  Things that every child should learn about.

Flash forward some years, who’d have thunk I’d be standing in the middle of Pope John Paul II’s hometown, staring at that very tower where the Trumpeter was murdered?

Not 10 year old me, that’s for sure.

Poland is one of those former Eastern Bloc countries that typically flies under the radar, which I guess is a good thing for them because it’s not yet completely overrun by tourists.  I really loved visiting it, from the metropolitan and bustling capital Warsaw to the low key and casual Krakow.  Of course, there is a very storied history of this country because of role as the incendiary event of WWII (when the Germans invaded) which then lead to them being occupied by USSR from then until the end of the Cold War in 1989.  Lots of history.  Don’t sleep on Poland, I guarantee you it will be one of Europe’s must visit destinations in the next few years.

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3 days in New York

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As I spent a lot of this Labor Day weekend watching the US Open, I got serious green tennis ball colored envy.  I need to go to Flushing, NY stat (my friend goes every year, I have no excuse).  I mean, what a perfect way to spend a long weekend, exploring the last few days of summer in the city and then enjoying Primetime tennis!  Until I make it there, all I can do is dream of past New York adventures.

concrete jungle where dreams are made.

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24 hours in florence

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Florence is the Renaissance city of all Renaissance cities.  Sitting in the cradle of the Tuscan region, Firenze is the locale that probably best encapsulates all of which Italy is known.  It’s a delightful mix of old world and modern Italy, with its cobblestone streets juxtaposed with industry and high fashion.  There is more art than you’ll know what to do with and the food and culture is spectacular.  Take a poll of people who have been to Italy, and I think 8/10 will say Florence is their favorite.  There’s a reason for that, it’s an enchanting, captivating place.

the dog days are over…

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3 days in Toronto feat. Niagara Falls

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Well, the NBA is making moves.  Toronto is a bit cooler than San Antonio, so be like Kawhi and start planning your trip up north.

As far as bucket lists go, Niagara Falls is typically a popular featured destination, for good reason.  It’s one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world, and it’s right in our own backyard.  *Whispers: the Canadian side is better. Sore-y, not sore-y.

Oh Canada…

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capital cities: 36 hours in D.C.

IMG_8678.jpgOur nation’s capital is a fantastic destination, but for the fact that it is located clear across the country from us West Coasters.  Guess that’s just more reason to make the most of any visit to the District of Columbia.

There are SO many museums and monuments, it’s impossible to fit them all in one short trip.  That’s what directed 8th grade tours are for; not sure if they offer those anymore, but I went on my middle school’s, and it was a blast.  Highly recommend.

But I digress, let’s DC Talk

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once upon a midnight dreary: day trip to Baltimore

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Baltimore is probably not the first place that pops into your head when you’re planning a vacation.  It’s probably not in the top ten…but they didn’t self-anoint it Charm City for nothing!  Find yourself not weak nor weary, and set out on an adventure filled with fantastic art and forgotten lore.

It’s certainly a gritty city (there’s a reason why the Wire was based here), but underneath the surface, there is a ton of history and culture just waiting to be found.  I mean, Edgar Allan Poe was inspired to pen some of the most suspenseful, fantastical thrillers while living here, so say no to Baltimore?

I bid you nevermore…

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that’s amore: 36 hours in venezia

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What is there to say about Venice that hasn’t been said?  It is the pre-eminent beautiful destination of the world.  A city made up of thousands of tiny islands, its canals are the vasculature to the heart of the city, Piazza di San Marco.

With great beauty comes great tourism, and I think that is the main detractor from the city itself.  There’s too many people here, and in turn, the culture has turned outward rather than inward.  Of course, there is still great art, food and history, all things Italians are most proud of, but you have to push through the crowds and dig deep to find it.

It’s worth it.  Just live in the moment, enjoy the fact that you have the privilege of being surrounded by gorgeous scenery.  Che bella e la dolce vita…

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weekender in LA: the sequel

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Living so close to LA, I feel privileged to be able to enjoy the culture and attractions of la la land without having to actually live there.  I get it, you really have to let the place grow on you and you have to be patient.  Let it in.

My friends from the midwest dislike visiting LA a lot.  Like a lot, a lot.  It’s because it’s so hard to get from point A to point B, and near impossible if you want to cross town to do anything.  But…you can get a ton done if you plan things out well (yes I’m a nerd, but we get the job done).

Here’s another itinerary for an LA weekender

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day trip to Louisville: Derby time!

Derby City has a long, illustrious history of horse farms, and of course, the Kentucky Derby, but there’s so much more to the city.  It’s the hometown of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger and great southern eats like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Come on, you know you love those 13 spices.

I only got to drive through this city, but the roadtrip through this part of the country is serene and beautiful.  There’s fields of bluegrass for as far as the eye can see and pastoral scenes of horse farms and billboards advertising bourbon distilleries and caves.  It does not get more southern than this.  If you’re coming from the South, you will pass Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, too.  Louisville sits on the banks of the Ohio river and for that, was/is considered the gateway to the South.  And in fact, if you cross the river, you’ll be in Indiana.

Louisville, even though steeped in Southern history, seems very vibrant and young, maybe in part due to the college atmosphere.  There are a lot of trendy coffeeshops, I really liked Quills and local chain Sunergos.

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My first must see in the River City was the Muhammad Ali Center, a cultural museum dedicated to Cassius Clay, the man who would become the greatest American boxer of all time.  This center has interactive displays, movies and even a boxing ring.

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There’s tons of paintings and art featuring him, including this gorgeous piece by LeRoy Neiman.

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It’s not for profit, and celebrates the life of a man who inspired so many.

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The center sits on Louisville’s waterfront, which features a large lawn and green area, with playgrounds, paths and an outdoor event venue.

Louisville’s downtown is actually larger than I expected, with the center being the KFC YUM Center, where the Louisville Cardinal NCAA team plays basketball.  You are in Bourbon country, so there is a Woodford Reserve Club in the arena, and just down the street is one of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, Evan Williams.

The buildings in the West Main District and Whiskey Row have facades in the cast iron revivalist style, similar to those in SoHo in NYC.  There are tons of art galleries and museums, hotels in this walkable area.  It’s also home to the arts district of Louisville, with the Center of the Performing Arts and Actors Theatre.  Inside the Actors Theatre is MilkWood, one of severeal Top Chef allum Ed Lee’s dining experiences in the city.  I wanted to try this place so badly, but it was closed when I was passing through.  Louisville has a ton of high end dining options: maybe you’ll run into Tom Brady at Decca or the Fat Lamb, you never know.

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Behind that large gold replica of Michelangelo’s David (not sure the reason for that), lies Proof, a funkily decorated dining room that features everything from catfish dip to bourbon pie.  And of course, they’ve got juleps, which you’ve got to try when you’re in Kentucky.

Just a few blocks down is the Louisville Slugger museum.  You can’t miss it, it’s the one with the 120 foot tall baseball bat in front of it.

IMG_7115.JPGThis museum also serves as an active factory and you can take a 20 minute tour where they show you from start to finish how the bats are made.  Everyone gets a free mini-bat, but just remember not to put it in your carry on if you’re flying (it will be confiscated).  There’s a wall of famous “slugger” autographs and batting cages, of course.  There’s also famous bats that you can hold.  It’s kitschy, but I’m into baseball, so I liked it.

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This was a super quick trip, but that’s a good starting point to your Derby weekend.  Even though Churchill Downs is the main event, don’t forget to explore the other amazing attractions this city has to offer.

Famous Louisvillians: Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence, Hunter S. Thompson, Diane Sawyer, and Rajon Rondo (a motley crew if there ever was one)

Listen to: Nicole Scherzinger, My Morning Jacket, Patty Loveless and Bryson Tiller (Louisville gets more and more interesting as this list goes on)

Souvenirs: umm, Bourbon and a Louisville Sluggers — that should make for a fun night?