travel

2018 in review.

2018 is over and in the books, and as I alluded to yesterday a bit, I’ve got mixed feelings about it as a whole. It was a year with abundant positives, but equally abundant negatives that, I’m afraid, left me a bit sour at times. That said, if I learned anything in 2018, it was that I am gifted at keeping on keeping on even when life is kicking me in the proverbial teeth.

That said, looking back on this year was pretty damn sweet. How can you complain about a year with lots of travel, lots of friend time, and lots of Schwegmanigans? Just the way I like a year. Favorites:

Traveled:

New York City in February with Michael to celebrate our February birthdays! We packed so much into a long weekend - my first Met Opera trip for “Parsifal,” my third (and his first) time seeing “Hamilton,” adventures all over Brooklyn, staying up all night at underground jazz clubs, and WAY too much champagne. It was a truly exhausting joy of a weekend in a city where I definitely never slept.

Tahoe in March, for a much more successful ski trip than our family trip over the holidays last year! Dave and I nearly died on a blizzardy drive up - it usually takes 4 hours, and it took us 12 - but it was more than worth it for two bluebird days with over a foot of fresh powder. Honestly some of the best skiing of my life.

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Minnesota, several times! In March to see Leslie Odom Jr. with the Minnesota Orchestra, in May for a gala, in August for Labor Day (and my fourth time seeing “Hamilton!”), and in December for the holidays. Lots of lake time, the State Fair, my beloved orchestra, and of course Spoon and Stable…because why wouldn’t we?

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Colorado, a couple times, for quick little mountain getaways. Despite the complete lack of photos, I loved exploring Boulder and Denver, eating and drinking our way through amazing breweries and restaurants, and falling for the mountains…plus watching a Notre Dame victory over Wake Forest with bottomless champagne (and a Wake Forest fan!).

The absolute number one highlight of my year was my family’s trip to Tuscany over Thanksgiving. I could (and will) write volumes about it - the small, charming towns, the amazing pasta and wine, the history, art, and architecture - but for now, all I’ll say is that it was truly the best experience of the year. I already can’t wait to go back to Italy!

Celebrated:

my 29th birthday, in Sonoma and San Francisco in high style. We enjoyed private tastings at our favorite vineyards, cruised to Alcatraz to spend my actual birthday in a federal prison (as one does), and toasted at the Top of the Mark with - what else - champagne cocktails. Special thanks to Dick and Jodes for making the trip!

the Minnesota Orchestra’s annual Symphony Ball with a stellar crew of friends! Bonus to get to be home over Mother’s Day and spend it with my mama bear (over brunch at Spoon and Stable, naturally!).

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Cinco De Derby, in May, and Litmas, in December, with a ridiculously absurd cast of characters. One fact remains incontrovertible: I throw a damn good theme party. Case in point: in May, I oh-so-cleverly built a wall of Jell-O Shots to divide the “Mexico” half of the party from the “Kentucky” half of the party, and we filled a pinata with miniatures. I win.

Highlights:

My first Ring Cycle, at the San Francisco Opera in June with Michael! It truly surpassed my (very high) expectations - I’m definitely a convert to the Wagnerian cult.

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Living with this absolutely ridiculous delight of a human, who has truly become my best friend in the Bay Area. He’s taught me beer, ensured I’m conversant in any sport, and makes me laugh legitimately every day. Now if only he could get his toothbrush out of the shower in the morning… ;)

So many of my best friends made trips to the Bay this year to visit me! A wild St. Patrick’s Day weekend with Kaitlin, to Kelsie’s spring break full of adventures, Michael’s opera sojourn in the Bay, Hal’s mad sprint through DCI and Pride, and Nate and Margaret’s quick post-engagement trip…it’s so special that the people I love and care about are willing to come out here for me, and I love few things more than getting to show them around my new state!

Lots and LOTS of Napa and Sonoma time - with friends, family and my favorite wineries, of course! I’ve cultivated a taste for California cabernet, and love exploring the region…so much great food, spectacular wine and stunning scenery to enjoy. Getting to share it with the people I love just made it that much better, too.

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Best of all, another year with these people. I love my family more than anyone, and I treasure how amazing their presence makes any experience - whether it’s Spoon and Stable followed by “Hamilton,” sweating our asses off at the State Fair, yelling at each other over an aborted Michelin dinner in Florence, or even just getting drunk at 10am in our pajamas in Lakeville. They’re the best people in my life, and I’m so happy they’re mine.

life lately

Hi campers! Like I said Tuesday, my family spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Tuscany and it was the undisputed highlight of my fall. That said, I’ve gotten up to plenty of shenanigans since I last really regularly posted around here. I’m slowly going insane at work and all my free time is devoted to binge-ing on Hallmark holiday movies and the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018 - because of COURSE I can combine the highbrow and lowbrow effortlessly. While I had the best intentions of recapping most of these things in a lot more detail, realistically December’s not going to be when that happens - and I want to share so, so many of my sister’s insanely gorgeous Italy photos with y’all next week, so, that’s my priority.

Quick peeks of a frenetic/fantastic California fall:

Bita, Andrea and I achieved peak basic with a trip to the Museum of Ice Cream, where we took approximately 500 photos, ate approximately 500 grams of sugar, dove in a sprinkle pool…

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…and I celebrated my life ethos, “eat dessert first.” Duh.

Dave and I continued our streak of falling in love with dogs all over the peninsula, including this sweetie-pie at Alpha Acid. I went in to pet her on the head and she immediately flopped onto her back, gave me the doofiest tongue-out, begging-eyes grin, and before I knew it, I was kneeling on the floor of the brewery in seventh heaven making both our days.

Rob and I made a trip to Berkeley to see The National perform at the Greek Amphitheatre, and it was easily one of the coolest combinations of venue and artist I’ve ever experienced. Amazing live performance, all their hits, and photos like these - not zoomed at all.

The evening’s low: my front tire got slashed while we were at the show, and I didn’t find out until it went flat suddenly on the 101, at midnight. Fortunately, I am resourceful and badass and capable et cetera, and with the help of several Youtube videos, I got my spare tire on ALL BY MYSELF. Next stop: world domination.

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One of the cheapest nights of entertainment in the Bay Area is the San Jose Barracuda, our local minor-league hockey team. Dave, Laura, Drew, David (yes, I need to diversify friends’ names) and I went to $2 Beer Night on a Friday shortly before we moved - there’s truly nowhere else in San Francisco/the surrounding area where for under $20, you can enjoy (bad) sports and (bad) (but cheap) beer:

Damages were done, campers, and I had a ball. Bonus: The Cudas won in epic fashion.

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Shortly after moving, Dave and I lucked into 3rd row, $40 rush seats to “Miss Saigon” at the Orpheum downtown. I had never seen it, and I cried embarrassingly hard and frequently. The production was outstanding for a touring company, and our seats were amazing - I really need to get to the theater more regularly, it’s one of the things I miss the most about the Twin Cities.

One of our first houseguests was four-legged - Charlie and Tiny Tina joined us for a Notre Dame gamewatch the weekend after we moved! While we still didn’t have a couch, they were champs and I for one fully credit Tina’s lucky Notre Dame bandana for the win we got that weekend.

Francesca, a couple of her colleagues, and I went to the San Francisco Symphony for “Jurassic Park: Live” in early November…I had never seen the movie, somehow, because I’m weird, idk. It was unbelievable, crew. Give me a live symphony, a John Williams score, and a bunch of dinosaurs running around and I’m a happy camper.

Snuck off to the mountains for a quick weekend trip before Italy. While I wasn’t expecting it, getting to see snow when we woke up on Sunday was such a surprise and I couldn’t have been more delighted. I ended up going for almost an hour-long walk outside - frozen toes and chilly fingers were well worth the (mercifully short) burst of winter wonderland.

Sadly, I left Colorado and came home to a Bay Area blanketed in smoke from the Camp Fire. While the Napa and Sonoma fires last year were terrible and I’m definitely not downplaying it, the Camp Fire’s impact on the Bay was way more severe. I went into the city to pick up a suitcase and go to a benefit with Kevin on Thursday, the night before I left for Italy, and this was the view where the San Francisco skyline is usually visible. Gut-wrenching…I’ve donated to relief efforts through the Red Cross and entreat any of you with a little spare cash and Christmas spirit to consider doing the same.

Post-Italy, I laid low for a week or so getting over let lag and catching up on mountains of work, but last weekend, Dave, Bita and I went to Sonoma - Dave’s first time actually wine tasting in wine country! He fit right in with the crew at La Crema:

…and a trip to Sonoma would never be complete without a stop at Iron Horse for the best views and bubbles in the state. Dave actually liked sparkling wine, guys - this feels like a major victory for yours truly! Such a fun day with my two favorite Californians - can’t wait for more shenanigans as Bita moves INTO our building in just two weeks!

Speaking of that building - it’s looking extra merry and bright in Apartment 630 these days, as my mama bear so sweetly mailed me my Christmas ornaments early in the week. It’s made me so happy all week to see my sentimental favorites hanging on our tree, even if there are palm trees outside the window instead of Minnesota snow.

Cheers to a great weekend ahead, campers! Stay tuned for lots of Italy talk, a little more merriment, and general debauchery to come…

101 in 1001: The International Travel Edition!

Ciao campers! As anyone who follows me on IG or Twitter knows, I spent this Thanksgiving in Tuscany with my family. The trip was a complete dream and I can’t wait to share more about it in the coming weeks, but for now I’ve gotta share two quick checks on the 101 in 1001!

First up: #14, send postcards from a vacation.

I had the best intentions of actually doing this properly on our trip, but I sort of failed epically. I purchased a slew of postcards in Florence on Wednesday, the fourth day of our trip, but the store I bought them at didn’t sell stamps. I assumed I would stop at a “sali e tabacchi” (“salt and tobacco,” so named because back in the day the only two staple goods that weren’t taxed in Italy were salt and tobacco) to pick up stamps, but completely forgot to do so until the last day of our trip, in Cortona. The woman at the sali e tabacchi sold me a specific kind of stamp that can only go in a yellow post box (versus the standard-in-Italy red ones), but I couldn’t find a yellow post box and - topping it off - hadn’t written the cards yet.

So the end of our trip found me sitting in Fiumicino Airport in Rome, running on three hours of sleep in the last 24-hour period, writing postcards on a four-hour layover to the group of friends whose addresses I had handy in my phone. THEN I couldn’t find a post drop box in the airport - which for some reason blew my mind, as all American airports have spots to send mail - so I ended up just taking them home with me…

…where I slapped on some American stamps (apparently upside down, oops?) and mailed them from the “Outgoing Mail” slot in my building’s lobby. And that, my friends, is the story of how I basically checked this one off the list but actually pretty much failed, and failed hilariously, in classic Lizzie fashion. Allora!

Fortunately, the other item I checked off was a much bigger success - #80, "upgrade my luggage!”

I’ve had hand-me-down suitcases from my parents legitimately since college - two-wheel fixed-wheelie soft-sided cases that were mismatched and, in the case of my smaller bag, missing a zipper pull. This fall, with international and domestic travel coming up, I decided it was time to make the leap to grown-up girl suitcases. I’ve lusted after Away bags for awhile now, and pulled the trigger upon the release of their beautiful “sky” color:

This fall, my parents gifted each of the kids a “Bigger Carry-on,” which I love for its hard sides, internal compression and organization system, included laundry bag, and four-wheel 360-degree spin. My favorite feature, though? The built-in USB charger - I’m notorious for never having my phone fully charged, oops, and this was a godsend for me on a recent Colorado trip when I landed and needed to get an Uber with 3% battery left. Plus, that color - ugh, it makes me so happy, and nobody ever tries to take my bag!

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Before Italy, I purchased the “Medium” size - it was perfectly roomy for ten days of clothes and had ample space for souvenirs (including wine - the hard sides made me so much less paranoid about bottles breaking in rough transit!). I also bought Away’s packing cube system, which has completely revolutionized how I pack - truly unbelievable to see how much can fit in the cubes and how well-organized my suitcase was (and stayed throughout the trip).

Perhaps most exciting of all is knowing I’m going to get to check another travel item off the list - while in Cortona, my family decided (over several bottles of Barolo!) that our next trip is going to be to London…which means I get to check off #9, Plan a trip to the UK for my family, soon!!

101 in 1001 #7: Go to New York to see an opera at the Met!

I have wanted to see an opera at New York's Metropolitan Opera pretty much since I got into opera (my freshman year of college), and Michael and I finally made it happen for our birthdays a couple of weeks ago! 

I hadn't seen Michael since shortly before I moved, at, of course, an opera...he's my go-to classical music/opera friend, and I had missed him (and the opera world!) terribly since heading west. We planned the trip way back in October when we found out the Met was staging Wagner's "Parsifal." Wagner is Michael's favorite composer, and I've rapidly been seduced by his lush orchestration and larger-than-life operas. "Parsifal," a 6-hour telling of a Holy Grail legend sung in German, is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I couldn't have been more excited to go balls-to-the-wall on my first Met experience. 

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A rookie mistake on our parts: after staying up way too late on Friday drinking champagne and eating doner kebab post-"Hamilton," we were moving a bit slow on Saturday morning. Add to that a snafu with the subway ("you have to go downtown to get uptown today!") and you have the two of us arriving with only twenty minutes to curtain and no breakfast in us. YIKES. 

Nothing could dull my joy at finally being at Lincoln Center, however - especially with bright sunshine and beautiful views! (Please also note that I am incredibly on-trend and wore a jumpsuit to the Met - dressing for a daytime opera is no mean feat!)

Of course, a selfie with the famed Met chandeliers was necessary. 

The moment that the chandeliers in the theater rose as the overture began was, to me, the perfect culmination of months (years) of looking forward to this experience. The atmosphere at the Met is one of indescribable luxury and opulence - velvet walls, the sparkling crystal, the gilded boxes. I could not wipe the grin off my face!

As for "Parsifal:" the production we saw was DARK. The sparse staging, elaborate background projections, and monochromatic color scheme kept my focus on the stunning vocals and orchestra (we were incredibly lucky to be the first audience to see Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct after his appointment to serve as the Met's music director next year!). Seeing famed bass (and Michael fave) René Pape sing Gurnemanz was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and demon-woman Kundry and Parsifal were also masterfully sung. 

The second act took place on a stage flooded with "blood" as Parsifal wrestles with temptation surrounded by a horde of demonic women, splashing eerily through the river and thoroughly saturating themselves in the process. It is DARK, and evocative, and incredibly riveting. The entire production held me spellbound, but the second act seemed to fly by just because I was so gripped by the visual spectacle coalescing with the opera itself. 

After all that blood, the second intermission called for a little bubbly...

As the opera ended, leaving me thoroughly euphoric, we exited the theater to see a picture-perfect snowfall framed by the Met's dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows. I just about up and died - this was the first snowfall I had seen all year, and it just seemed too fairy-tale serendipitous to be real, on top of the whole day of dreams coming true. 

Naturally, we importuned a fellow opera-goer to snap a photo for us, and I think it speaks for itself - it's kind of hard to miss the utter delight in my squinted-up-with-laughter eyes. 

Thoroughly ravenous, we hopped across the street to Epicerie Boulud, where we killed time with a bottle of champagne before getting seats at the Bar Boulud "family table." An utter delight of a meal followed: chatting en Francais with the couple on one side of us, discussing opera with the couple on the other side and their grandkids, and exchanging information for this summer's San Francisco Ring Cycle, which they are also attending! Not to mention Michael enjoying "the best duck a l'orange he's ever had" while I died over the perfect orecchiette. 

After dinner (and another bottle of wine, oops) we had the bright and brilliant idea to enjoy the snow and walk from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side through Central Park for a post-dinner cocktail at Bemelman's Bar (thanks for the tip, Shannon!). Only issue? Yours truly, who is already known for her grace and poise, was wearing heels - three-inch suede stilettos with no platform, to be specific. Needless to say, we had an adventure slipping and sliding and taking our sweet time on the walk. By the time we reached Bemelman's, we were soaked through and I couldn't stop laughing at how utterly ridiculous the situation was. Those (brand-new) shoes? Pretty much ruined, and they dyed my feet a shocking shade of hot pink in the bargain...it may not have been "Parsifal" blood, but it looked ridiculous for the next four days before I finally got the stains out with nail polish remover. SO WORTH IT, THOUGH. 

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At Bemelman's, we enjoyed a little live jazz before heading downtown to catch one of my faves, the Gerald Clayton Quintet, at the Jazz Standard! Once they wound down, we traded champagne cocktails for tequila at a little cocktail bar around the corner, and headed home, still in the snow, around 2am. All in all, an absolutely ridiculous, amazing, fairy-tale first Met experience...thinking it may need to be an annual thing going forward! 

See more 101 in 1001 here...and for more opera love, check back in June as we attend my first Ring Cycle with the San Francisco Opera!! 

SFO-NYC, BRB

it’s 4:45am and I’m standing in the longest security line known to SFO-kind en route to New York City for a long weekend! 

Michael and I haven’t gotten together since my move, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t missed my opera-and-orchestra buddy (and, of course, the operas and orchestras themselves!). We both have February birthdays and we both get Presidents‘ Day off, and have both been wanting to get to the Met...his second time, my first. When we found out René Pape was performing in Wagner’s “Parsifal” this weekend, we were in faster than you can yell “NERRRRRRDS!”

 

In addition to THE MET OMG, we’re going all out and seeing “Hamilton” for good measure...because of course I can’t go too long without a little A.Ham in my life. Apart from that, I’m looking forward to lots of champagne, plenty of museums, catching up over good dinners, some shopping...and hopefully a liiiiittle sleep on this flight! 

 

Catch you all on the flip side...