Friday, August 28, 2020

Hot and Cold; Palm Springs

Trip dates: September 2019 & February 2020

The annual trip to Palm Springs recently got even better as friends Nathan and Nathan bought a lovely home in the Sunrise Park area of town. And they graciously offered Gail and I each our own guest bedroom!

I used a companion fare on Alaska Air for the two of us and signed us both up for upgrades if available. I was upgraded to First Class and Gail was upgraded to Premium. I mean, not the worse thing to happen but I did think it was a little strange that they split us up even though I booked us together. Free mimosas are free mimosas though!

Nathan picked us up in his very cool Tesla and we headed to the adorable Holiday House for lunch. We sat outside on their patio which is lovely but it was hot. Like 108F hot! They have a small but well thought out menu, the food is very good, great drinks, and the design is awesome. It was my first time here and I really enjoyed it!

Did I mention how hot it was? We finished lunch and headed to Nathan's. While Gail and I got changed for a swim Nathan put icy drinks outside each of our doors. Now where else are you going to find service like that? ❣️

We spent the entire day in the pool with cold drinks and wine. Our friend Jerrell was also in town so he joined too. It was entirely too hot to do anything except for swim, order pizza, and get drunk. Sometimes it is just the simple things!

The next day five of us had a delicious brunch at Wexler's Deli. I always look forward to stopping here, usually for lunch, but brunch was excellent also!

It was another scorcher of a day so we headed down E Arenas Road and settled on Chill Bar for some day drinking in the a/c. Turns out they were having gaybingo hosted by the lovely drag queen Sabryna. We had so much fun! Lot's of daubbing, free shots (also turns out that is the flavor when I asked, haha!), and Gail, Nathan, and I coming up as winners. We even got a free afternoon strip show from one of the guys who was going to be dancing that night! I believe this is a weekly Saturday event if you are interested!

Nextdoor at the Blackbook we had some surprisingly good bar snacks and a few more drinks. Cuz Saturday. I think this is one of the nicer bars on Arenas if you are looking for a good spot that isn't super crazy.

We stopped into Paul Bar that evening to meet some other friends. This was my second visit and I still think they have the best cocktails in town. Great vibe here. 

Sunday Funday! We spent the entire day in the pool except to leave for lunch and dinner. Lunch was at Trio which has a very good menu of classic American sandwiches and salads. Dinner was at Tropicale which I know is a beloved local spot, but I find the food to be really mediocre. It was my 2nd time dining here and I don't really need to go back again! haha! Jerrell and I did have some nice nightcaps at the bar though.

Before the boys dropped us off at the airport the next day Jerrell invited us all for lunch at Farm. This spot is absolutely adorable! I somehow didn't get any photos but check out their website. We had a lovely lunch here, my first time!

And then our quick and HOT weekend in PS was over. Gail and I had Premium Class seats home which is always good for a couple of free glasses of wine. 

It was a great time with our friends but I think I have decided that September is a bit too toasty for me in the desert! Which is why I jumped at the chance to meet Gail at Nathan and Nathan's again in February for a long weekend!

I had just gotten my Alaska Air Lounge pass so was excited to relax with a mimosa before the flight in the gorgeous space at N Gates at SeaTac.

As everyone was working when my flight arrived I grabbed an Uber to... can you guess... Wexler's Deli for lunch! Seriously, I love this place!

Gail met me when her meetings were done and after lunch we walked next door to the liquor store to stock up the Nathan's house. 

Besides hanging in the pool, which Nathan so nicely heated all warm and toasty, we had a chance to check out a few new/new to me places, and hit up a couple of repeats.

It was warm during the day but got pretty chilly that night when we went to Rooster & Pig for dinner. Luckily they now have a bar next door with indoor seating where you can wait for your table. 

Rooster & Pig has been around for a while but each time I had tried to go the wait was ridiculous. So I was super happy to have a cocktail in the bar and then finally get to enjoy their fabulous Vietnamese food. I loved it, as does most of the town.

Having really liked Blackbook on the last trip, we stopped in after dinner for a nightcap outside on the patio. Still a great spot.

One night Nathan was in the mood for tiki drinks so we headed to The Reef inside the Caliente Tropics hotel. There were four of us as Gail's friend Robin drove up from San Diego. This is such a fun and kitschy place! The hotel has been around since 1964 and the bar has changed names over time. 

The menu is very long and filled with traditional tiki drinks. Unfortunately all of the ones ordered were a bit sweet and not very well balanced. Could have been an off night as the spot gets good reviews from some tiki fans I know of.

Next up was dinner at 533 Viet Fusion. Full disclosure, one of the Nathan's works there. We all loved our food, and the space, and we didn't get (too) much special treatment! The menu is mainly Vietnamese with some fusion influences, all the flavors were great and I'd go back for sure.

We finished up the night with cocktails at Seymour's which I absolutely love. It's such a dim, sexy little hidden bar behind Mr. Lyons. I'm surprised that a lot of locals still don't know about it!

The next day was a bit cooler so Nathan, Gail, Robin, and I decided to take a nice long walk into town and have brunch at the Holiday House. Delicious breakfast tacos, lovely morning cocktails, what's not to love about this super chic spot?

Next we headed over to check out the Instagram worthy Azucar located in the gorgeous La Serena Villas. I would love to stay here one day, it's a 21+ resort and the rooms look amazing. It's also $$$$. But the bar and restaurant are easily accessible even if you aren't a hotel guest. 

We grabbed seats on their fun rooftop patio and had some tasty spicy margaritas and snacks. The weather was really getting stormy so we cut our visit short, but this is a great spot, I'd love to try lunch or dinner here next time. 

On the way home we detoured into a new-ish cheese shop, On The Mark. Great selection of cheese, wine, paté, etc. Great for loading up on bougie snacks, and the staff was super helpful also.

That night we had our (now traditional?) Oscar evening of nachos and martinis while debating dresses and winning movies. So fun!

When I found out my food-writer friend Leslie was in town we decided to meet and check out another newish spot; Tac/Quila
This is a great spot with very good cocktails and food, including battered avocado bites! The space was fun and there was even a nice indoor fire for chilly evenings.

With temperatures on this trip being much cooler than the last visit, I resumed my morning walks around the neighborhoods. Exploring Sunrise Park, Deepwell Estates, and The Movie Colony never get old. I even had to wear a jacket a few times!

Gail and I spotted quite a few historical markers around Movie Colony, including Twin Palms which was Sinatra's estate.

So one Palm Springs trip ended up being a bit too hot. The next a tad to cool. Hopefully this damn pandemic will soon be over and I can plan a "just right" visit!

September Palm Springs photos here.

February Palm Springs photos here

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

24 Hours in Reykjavik

Trip date July 2019

Our Scandinavian adventure was coming to an end, but we still had one last stop. We left the Faroe Islands on a quick 45 minute flight to Iceland on Atlantic Airways. It was early morning, and although there are multiple FlyBus that will take you from the airport to the Blue Lagoon or your hotel, there wasn't one that we wouldn't have had to wait an hour for, so we just took a taxi for about $70.

I had made us reservations in advance as the last time I was in Reykjavik the thermal baths were booked solid so I missed out. We arrived at about 9:30am, stored our luggage with their bag check, and hit the locker rooms. 

This was Aaron's first time, in both Iceland and the Blue Lagoon, and I was very excited about my return trip to both places. We didn't book anything special, just the "Comfort" package which includes entrance, silica mud mask, use of a towel, and 1 free drink for $44. We soaked and explored the pool for a while, the water is different temperatures in different sections. There were quite a few people there but it didn't feel crowded. 

We spent a couple of hours soaking, having our mud mask, and enjoying a few mimosas before we made our way to Lava, the onsite restaurant, for our lunch reservation.
The restaurant looks out onto the pools and is casual (most people ate in their robes). There is a 3-course set menu for $50, or you can order a la carte. I think Aaron had the set menu but I wasn't in the mood for dessert so I chose 3 savory courses, which they charged me the same for.

I started with a bowl of langoustine soup which was just about perfect. Then a dish of cured arctic char, with horseradish cream and cucumber. Another winner. We both had lamb as our main course; it was cooked and plated perfectly.

To be honest neither of us expected much from a restaurant meal eaten in a bathrobe, but all of our dishes were excellent! I'd actually really recommend taking some time for a nice meal here!

We took one more quick soak/lap around the pool before getting cleaned up and catching the FlyBus that I had booked us on into Reykjavik. The bus dropped me off near Center Hotel Arnarhvoll where I was staying, after dropping Aaron at his hotel. 

The hotel is right across from the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall and my room had gorgeous views of the awesome architecture as well as the ocean. Besides the view, my room was good sized with a big comfy bed and roomy bathroom. I'd stay here again.

It had been a very early morning leaving the Faroe Islands so I was in desperate need of a nap. After that I went upstairs to the rooftop Skybar for a drink. My cocktail was fine, nothing to go out of your way for except to take in the awesome view. 

Aaron and I met up across the street at Harpa and did a little walk through. Unfortunately there was a private event so we couldn't tour the entire center. It's pretty amazing inside, I'd love to see a concert here! Maybe next time...

Time for a proper cocktail! We made our way down to the old harbor and one of Reykjavik's most well known bars, Slippbarinn. I had a great time drinking here when I stayed at the adjoining hotel last time, and the drinks and service were still great on this visit!

Walking back to the center of town, we were a little early for our dinner reservation but stumbled upon the bar Systir in the same building at Hverfisgata 12. The bar had been known before as the "no name pizza place" but was now a "sister" restaurant to ground floor Dill

The old historic building is full of both charm and artifacts, but downstairs in Dill it is clean and modern, no trace of the old stables that use to be. New Chef de Cuisine (at the time) Carl K Frederiksen had just recently arrived from Copenhagen, and he and Aaron are friends, so we had a great time sitting at the Chef's Counter and chatting with him throughout the meal. 

Dill was the first restaurant in Iceland to receive a Michelin star, but lost that a few years ago. Aaron and I could both tell that Chef Carl was gonna be a part of that star coming back and sure enough it has happened. 

Dinner was wonderful! We had about 10 little one-bite appetizers to start. Lovely little bites like salsify with strawberry, reindeer moss, chicken skin and parsley. We were also presented with a fried bread and skyr-butter. yum.

Seven courses followed these bites, which we chose to have the restaurant's wine pairings with. The restaurant uses locally grown and raised ingredients and also plays with traditional flavors, like this pork belly with rhubarb, lovage, and whey.

The entire meal was delicious, interesting, and fun! My meal, with a glass of champagne to start, wine pairings, and a cognac after came to about $220.

Chef Carl invited us upstairs for a post-shift beer at the Mikkeller pub. It had been a long day though so I said my goodbyes to both of them and headed home in the still-light 1am night. Aaron was off on an excursion to see more of Iceland the next day, while I would be flying home, so our big team Scandinavian adventure was over. Dinner at Dill was a great way to end it!
(Dill is now located on the second floor of Laugavegur 59. )

I had a lovely buffet breakfast the next morning, served at the rooftop Skybar with all those pretty views. I had arranged a late check out, packed my bags, and was wandering thru the streets of Reykjavik by 10am. I had 3 ½ hours before the FlyBus would pick me up for the airport.
There's a ton of construction going on around the city. Lots of new buildings, lots of new tourist shops. I didn't recall seeing this little craft market in the past; seems to be open most days.

Although this was my 3rd visit to the city, I had yet to fully explore the Settlement Museum. The exhibit is free and there is a 20 minute guided tour that I joined that was incredibly interesting. The museum explores the first people to inhabit Reykjavik, how they came to Iceland, and what life might have been like.

The exhibits surround an actual excavated longhouse, dating from 930. The guide was able to point out different areas of the dwelling and show items that were found on the grounds. This museum is well worth an hour stop!

I had just enough time do do a little grocery shopping before having lunch. Black salt licorice, bitafiskur (dried fish snacks), funny flavored chips, etc. Then I got a table at Laekjarbrekka and a bowl of their delicious lobster soup.

The restaurant is very cute, decked out in sheep skins and historic old photos. It was also very quiet on that Thursday afternoon.

And that was about it! One glass of wine back at the hotel while waiting for the FlyBus and then a quick walk across the street to board and be taken to the airport for my 5pm flight home. I paid a little extra for the roomier exit row, enjoyed a pink gin and tonic, and settled in. 

I still love Iceland but honestly it looks a little basic after being in the Faroe Islands! And the construction in the city dulled the charm for me a bit. But I'd still like to go back to explore the country's northern coast. It's on the list!

*due to COVID-19 Syster has closed permanently.*

All Iceland photos here.

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