Burlington, Vermont

We visited Burlington, Vermont on the coldest days of the winter. And from what we’ve heard those cold temperatures were rare even for Vermont standards. It was like we hit the lottery of the coldest days. Yay. Despite the chill, we managed to survive and enjoy ourselves in this town on the shores of Lake Champlain.

We drove north on Wednesday, the first day of the year (Happy New Year!), and we made it to Burlington in four hours. We kept the driving speed low, and we had to stop a couple of times to clear the windshield, as the Golf’s washer nozzles weren’t working–they were either frozen, or the pump had died. The mountains we were driving through were covered with snow. The sky was pale blue with interesting cloud formations. And it was cold, about -1F by the time we reached Burlington.

H. had kept the place we were staying a surprise for me; he kept saying that it was sort of a Motel 7, as in “a slightly better version of a Motel 6”. Of course he was joking, as he has excellent taste (I mean, seriously, look who he is dating *cough, cough*), and he booked us a room at this amazing bed and breakfast called Made Inn Vermont (okay, the name is not that amazing, but anyway…). The place was beautifully decorated in a whimsical way, free of floral patterns and other decor associated with your typical inn. Our room was pretty big, and it featured a record player with a decent record collection, a guitar and a ukulele, books, a black wall where you could create your own chalk art and LED lights around the bed.

We spent a little bit of time at the inn, there were so many cool things to see and explore. Everything was tastefully put together. I really liked the art on the walls, made by the owner’s daughter: acrylic/ink drawings with a screen over them which gave them a ghostly character, same with the monochrome grey/black framed rectangulars along the hallway by the staircase. Slightly spooky and dark. The common sitting room downstairs was beautiful and it was connected to the breakfast area. Linda, the owner (who by the way also decorated the inn) offered us sangria, Heady Toppers and other snacks, which was nice.

We braved the -1F, feels like -19F temperatures and walked the couple of blocks to Church Street, a pedestrian way lined with stores and restaurants. Since it was New Year’s Day most places were closed. But we did check out the record store, the book store and another store selling all things Vermont. We had tea at Dobra Tea (I had the excellent herbal tea made from local herbs). We then went to dinner at Leunig’s, a French bistro and had an amazing meal. We drank some Glug, their warm holiday punch, which was perfect for the cold weather. I had the salmon with the roasted beet risotto, and H. had the macadamia and yuzo crusted mahi mahi. Both were delicious, and when H. asked the waitress for the recipe for the mahi mahi, she responded with a curt “we don’t give out our recipes”. Oh, well. Leunig’s was one of the dining recommendations from my friend Ryan who grew up in Burlington, so thanks Ryan.

Walking back to the inn in the cold was not pleasant. I was alright overall, but it was difficult to breathe in the cold air. And despite the two pairs of socks and tights, my toes were numb by the time we reached the inn. Our room was warm and cozy, and we chilled out listening to records, despite the owner’s repeated reminder about the available HBO on our TV (I don’t watch TV when I’m home, I am definitely not going to watch TV when I am on vacation).

The second day in Burlington was even colder than the first. Everything outside looked frozen. We had a delicious breakfast to fortify us for the day. We wanted to explore around despite the -11F, feels like -32F temperature. The original plan was to go skiing, but we wouldn’t enjoy it in this chill. We drove to Shelburne Bay Park, and walked for a little bit around in the woods, but it was impossible to stay outside in the brutal wind for longer than 10 minutes.  I sort of liked the look of the frozen bay, looking desolate and devoid of any sound.

We went to Shelburne Farms and our visit was limited to the store, where we sampled cheeses, jams and mustard. I bought the clothbound cheddar and the smoked cheddar, as well as a delicious strawberry rhubarb jam, a spicy honey mustard and maple syrup, all locally produced at the farm. Then we checked out the Shelburne Museum, where only one gallery was open. Since we were the only guests the guide graciously gave us a tour and talked about the exhibits, which included old signs, carriages, doll houses, toys and paintings. The most interesting thing to me was the pentimento effect on one of Browere’s paintings about the adventures of Rip van Winkle: you can see the faded form of the girl behind the dog, pretty neat.

And then it was beer tasting time! Our first stop was Fiddlehead Beer Company, a small and new brewery, where we tasted their three beers, the AltBier, and their two IPAs. Although I am not a big fan of IPAs, especially in the winter, I liked all their beers, and bought some AltBier for myself. After that we headed to Magic Hat, which of course is a much larger brewing company. We took the tour and then tasted some of their beers.  There were a couple of more breweries along the way we could have stopped at, but we were pretty tired. For dinner we went to Trattoria Delia, yes, exactly, an Italian restaurant, that had a beautiful fireplace, and stone and wood interior. By the end of the day I felt like I had gained ten pounds, as we were seemingly eating and drinking the whole day. But then again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Thus concluded our second day in Vermont, which also happened to be my birthday. Nice to know I can handle extremely cold temperatures, although being from the Mediterranean I am certainly not designed for them.

And just like that the next day came and it was time to head home. Another good breakfast at the inn, another bloody cold day outside. We drove along Lake Champlain, where we witnessed the pretty neat effect of steaming fog. A little bit more driving around Burlington and the University of Vermont. Then we hit the I-89 south, and that was it, so long Burlington, Vermont. You are beautiful and interesting. We shall be back, some time in the Spring or the Summer when everything around us will be green instead of frozen, and when we can stay outdoors for longer than ten minutes at a time. Au revoir.

(See here for more photos from my trip to Vermont.)

Worst (potential) customer service

I go out to lunch, dinner or brunch at least three times a week, and thankfully I do not have many restaurant horror stories to share. Of course, I have had my fair share of indifferent or forgetful waitstaff, or rude hosts, or bland dishes. But overall when I go out to eat the level of service I get is decent.

Last night I had my worst restaurant experience, and I didn’t even have to step a foot in the restaurant! It was around 5 p.m., and as we were driving back to Cambridge, we wondered where to go to dinner. I suggested going to Strip-T’s in Watertown. I had been there once before, and I liked it. With all the snowstorm interruptions, I thought  I’d check their website to see if they are open before we drove all the way to Watertown. I googled the restaurant name on my phone, and the search result was their website, which showed on my phone as http://www.stripts.com “Strip-T’s Restaurant… 93 School St Watertown, MA 02472. WELL WILL [sic] BE CLOSED…” I clicked on their website, but it went to a general page without any updated information. I clicked around to other links to see if there was any information related to the “WELL WILL [sic] BE CLOSED”, but since I didn’t see anything I decided to call to see if they were open.

A man answered the phone. I said hello, and asked “are you open for dinner tonight?” And this is how he responded: “No, we’re not, I just like coming here and sitting around and having beers with the boys ’cause I don’t have anything better to do.” Pause. What. The. Hell. Then he said: “I am being sarcastic.” I said “Yeah, very funny”, and hung up. Wow.

Dude answering the phone, really?! Whatever the hell your problem is, I am pretty sure it wasn’t me. So, when I ask if you are open, just say “yes, we are” or “no, we are not” and that would be it. The end. Simple, isn’t it? If you think you are being clever or witty, you are not, you are just being rude. If you are not in the mood to answer the phone, have someone else answer the phone, or have an automated phone system with options for hours, reservations, etc. If you want to be sarcastic, you can do so with the boys while drinking beers. I didn’t call to ask if your restaurant is open because I didn’t have anything better to do, or because I wanted to chat or experience your talent for sarcasm. I called because with all the snowstorm interruptions plus your crappy website that shows no updated helpful information, I thought I’d better check.

Seriously, what the hell. Who interacts with strangers like that, let alone potential customers?  That was the most rude and uncalled for response I have ever received. But if that was their plan, they surely found a pretty effective way to turn away potential customers. Well done.

Sometimes Things Get Busy

The work week is over and you feel you need a break; then the weekend comes and goes and you feel that you didn’t get a break: the story of my life. Monday’s here and the weekend had been pretty enjoyable, but wicked busy.

After two weeks of working long and stressful hours, I finished my project last week. I was done with work by midday Friday and was ready to start my weekend. The weather has been awesome thankfully. I walked a lot on Friday, especially along the waterfront and checked out the Tall Ships. Beautiful vessels, and lots of people out and about. Later I saw the new Bigelow movie “The Hurt Locker“, which I found pretty good and highly recommend it.

Saturday was another beautiful day. Rode my bike and had breakfast picnic at the Powderhouse park: egg and cheese bagel & apple muffin from Magnificent Muffin & Bagel in Teele Square, and half moon cookie from Lyndell’s and coffee from True Grounds. The apple muffin was tasty, moist, had pieces of apple in it, on my, it was just perfect! Oh yes, I’m a strong believer of spreading my money around; you know “spread the wealth”, and of course support independent local businesses! It was quite nice at the park, until it wasn’t:  the Somerville DPW guys decided that 1pm on a sunny Saturday when working people can enjoy the park is the best time to mow the lawn and give a live demonstration of the term “noise pollution”. Thanks overtime-hungry jerks! Somerville, you (sometimes) disappoint me… Anyway, after that I got my hair done, saw the movie “Moon“, which was a little strange, with some good points, but tedious at times. Then we checked out the relatively new restaurant “Tory Row” at Harvard Square, I really liked the chevre stuffed peppadews. We then got cupcakes from “Sweet”. The cappuccino one was delicious, but, yeah, at $3 per cupcake I don’t think I’ll become a regular. I liked the design of the store and the impeccable display of the cupcakes.

Sunday we had brunch at Mr Crepe in Davis, which I find pretty average and I don’t really understand why some people love it. No, actually crepes are not supposed to taste like that, but whatever, we can’t really bring the french crepe making way in Somerville, so we’ll get what we can. Actual crepe FAIL, if you ask me… After the underwhelming crepe and a delicious half of a boston creme donut from Lyndell’s, we went downtown, walked around Boston Common and the Public Garden. It was quite neat to see five airplanes do the skywriting thing! Shopping around wore me down, gosh, I used to like shopping, now it’s just a major drag. For dinner we went to Craigie on Main, which was very very good and quite pricey. And the meal was a little bit adventurous: I had the scallops (too bad they had run out of the sea bass), and found a piece of something metal in my food; I was pretty sure it wasn’t something edible, and wasn’t really supposed to be there, it was like a very thin strip of twisted aluminum foil… The waitress and maitre d’ handled it very professionally, offering to prepare another dish for me or whatever I wanted. I got the seafood sausage, which was delicious, and they also got us another round of wine. When the check came they had taken the scallops out, and the second round of wine and seafood sausage were on the house. Although the experience wasn’t perfect, I would definitely go again.

So basically this weekend the goal was not to stay home, and stimulate the economy. Success, I congratulate myself on both. Well done. Now just looking forward to Wednesday, and two solid weeks of vacation, yeah!!!

Biting Fingernails

I just cannot stop biting my fingernails; it’s gross, it’s unhealthy, it’s unattractive. But I cannot stop it. Oh, yes, I have tried the bitter nail polish, and it’s not working, because I end up liking the bitter flavor. It’s a stupid, compulsive habit that I just can’t kick. HELP

Also, I don’t know, but to me, if you eat something you’re not supposed to eat and then get sick, you only got yourself to blame.

All Over The Place

Friday I was in the mood for something different. I wanted to be music related, so I was between Monteverdi’s Opera Poppea, Boston Gay Men’s Chorus: Boys Just Wanna Have Fun: Totally 80s, or Stile Antico’s Renaissance music. Well, the opera was sold out, and then I was thinking that I wanted something mellower than 80s music. So I went and saw Stile Antico at the Emmanuel Church.

The concert was part of the Boston Early Music Festival. The ensemble performed songs from the courts of Renaissance Europe. It was magnificent. It sure helps performing in a church, and I was feeling chills going through my body. Majestic songs, beautiful voices. I felt really good afterwards, slightly elevated in spirit.

Came back home around 11:30pm and I remembered the whole thing with the facebook usernames, which some started calling vanity URLs, and writing essays about. What was the big deal? Facebook was fueling the hype with a count down clock to 12:01am Saturday which was when you could claim your username. So f*ing what? I mean I did claim mine, just because I happened to be on-line, but why was it thought to be a big deal? After Saturday, I haven’t heard or read anything about it, which makes me wonder how many people actually bothered to do it. And actually who cares. I just find it very interesting how easy it is to create a hype.

What else? Tomorrow is a holiday for me, Bunker Hill Holiday. The weather’s supposed to be nice and I should find something interesting and outdoorsy to do. Meanwhile I have a f*load of work to do, and keep daydreaming. Staying focused is sometimes hard to do.

Oh, yeah, I also saw the movie “Away We Go”. Bloody hell, another movie that I was expecting it to be better than it actually was. Can’t somebody make a good, honest movie? Can’t filmmakers get over their unbearable pretentiousness, the unending conformity, the toning down? It’s like they wanted to make a funny movie, but not too funny. And they used so many lines that were supposed to be funny, but they weren’t, cause they weren’t bold enough. The movie was full of characters that are caricatures, but the main characters (Verona & Burt) aren’t. Verona and Burt are so much better than anybody else. Balance, anyone? Another detail that was irritating was that when Verona was supposedly crying, she was wiping away invisible tears. What’s the flippin’ matter? Can’t somebody get the fake tears? Oh, yes, and don’t let me forget the scene on the trampoline,  so sticky and ineffective. And it got tiresome and so painfully mediocre, so fake, so bloody pretentious. Now that I think about it the only thing I liked about the movie was Alexi Murdoch’s songs and “Ellen’s” name, which was spelled L N.

When the movie ended I was really hungry. It was around 9:30pm on a Sunday, and around Kendall Square there was nothing compelling to eat. The newly opened Friendly Toast was closed (as I learnt later they close at 3pm on Sundays), and Emma’s was closed too. What’s going on people? Kendall Square, you suck. We ended up going to Chez Henri and splitting a delicious veggie cuban sandwich, and I had a perfect Periodista.

On Food

I wouldn’t call myself a “foodie”. I don’t really care about food. I can live for days eating junk, say potato chips for lunch and pop corn for dinner. And I don’t have to eat a lot either. We don’t really need all the food we eat. Less would be enough. There is this misconception that we need breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner is the most useless meal of the day, since  most of the time you don’t burn the calories you get from it. You stuff your gut and then go to bed; all the fat sits nicely in your butt and gut. We should be good with a good breakfast and lunch, and I can allow you fruit and yogurt for dinner. 

Having said that, I can really appreciate good food. I was brought up with mediterranean home-cooked food, you know, good olive oil and fresh ingredients. There was almost never candy or soda at home: the way it should be. Alas, I never liked cooking and, no, I don’t cook. So when I go out to eat, I really want to have something special, something that I cannot easily make on my own, like pasta or hard-boiled eggs.

Last Friday we went to dinner at Addis Red Sea in Cambridge, a supposedly authentic ethiopian cuisine restaurant. To be honest, ethiopian restaurant sounds a little weird to me: I grew up in the 80s with TV images of starving ethiopian children and humanitarian aid in my brain. So what food are you talking about?  But I am sure as a country they have authentic cuisine, as it was before it was turned into a european colony.

Anyway, I was willing to give it a try, and boy, was it a mistake. First of all the service was the slowest ever, I think it took them like 30 minutes to take our order. And then it took them forever to bring our drinks. I got the ethiopian medium-dry wine, which was apparently a euphemism for vinegar. We got the lentil sambusa for appetizer and it was OK. Then our main course came. You are supposed to eat with your fingers, scooping food with the spongy bread. Yes, spongy, but also moist and cold, like it had been accidentally tossed into water and then quickly served. I had ordered atakil, allegedly “mixed vegetables, green beans, potatoes, carrots and onions, sauteed in a blend of exotic herbs” (that’s a quote from their menu). What actually came was the blandest mix of, most likely steamed, carrots, potatoes and green beans. No onions (which is OK with me), no other mixed vegetables, and certainly no exotic herbs. I’d say no salt either, nothing. I put a bit in my mouth, and I thought I was going to spit it out. It was so awful, I had to chew it 100 times before I was barely able to swallow. That was worse than english boiled vegetables. I don’t think I’ve ever had worse food than that at a restaurant. 

On Saturday we went to brunch at the newly opened Friendly Toast in Kendall. A place so hyped, mainly because of the first one in Portsmouth, NH. I’d never been to the Portsmouth one, and so many people were raving about it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I talked about the kitschy decor before, which doesn’t really blend well with the hardwood floor and the generic ceiling. I wouldn’t call it cool, no. The place looked tired, it was already 1pm on a Saturday and as the waitress said the kitchen was running behind. I got the greek scramble, and I have to say scrambles are better than omelets. I was really starving and after I had finished 3/4 of my food, I realized there was no feta cheese in it, which explained the slight lack of flavor. But otherwise was good. Their bread comes in big slabs and it is delicious! We split the drunkard french toast with creamy Grand Marnier and raspberry sauce, which was too sweet and too artificially flavored. In summary, this is a good brunch place, but not verygood. Soundbites is still the king of the brunch.