26 October 2012

Baker's Dozen: Friday Favorites.......... in Chicago

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Chicago? When a good friend mentioned she
was going to be there next weekend with her daughter, and asked me about some favorite
places in the Windy City, I decided to put together my top ten spots. But then it morphed into a dozen... plus. At which point, I stopped and figured a baker's dozen it is. In no particular order:
P.O.S.H. : The window displays are enough reason to make a visit here--but inside,
lots of great stuff--new intermixed with vintage, flea market finds--all with a French kind of flair.  In fact, maybe that's it, it reminds me of the little one-of-a-kind shops in Paris.

Intelligentsia Coffee My son got me hooked on this coffee when he was going to med school
in Chicago. I still adore their Black Cat classic espresso coffee. (I think it helped get my son through med school.)
Lou Mitchell's It's a little ways from downtown, but soooo worth it. They give you free donut
holes if you have to wait in line. Even if you don't. A classic Chicago institution for breakfast since 1923.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate This is a short cab ride away from downtown, but a very sweet delicious place for lunch and of course, d e s s e r t.....anything chocolate. Mindy was a pastry chef before she opened
her place here.

Chicago Cultural Center  I love this building because it used to be the old library and it has the most beautiful mosiacs. These days it often has free concerts during the afternoon, among all sorts of other events. A nice stop if you have been out shopping in November and need a place to warm up, with some culture.

The Green Door Tavern  This is said to be the oldest tavern in Chicago--in the River North area of downtown. It's loaded with signs, antiques, old photos and a friendly cozy old-time vibe. The beer is good, the food decent, but the best part is just the place.

Mr. Beef It's cheap and good and you don't have to dress up. And it's real Chicago.
Garrett Popcorn Chicago Mix. Say no more. I did a complete post on this way back when.
Last time I was there (they have several downtown locations) a local guy was ahead of me in line (it was early in the day)and he bought several big bags of Chicago Mix. He said it's the only reason he comes downtown.
Burnham Hotel One of my most favorite places to stay in Chicago--I love the rooms on the historical floor that look out on that neon lit Chicago sign.

Lori's Shoes This is one great shoe store. When my three gfs and I were there last, we all bought at least one pair of shoes here.
Sable Bar at the Palomar Hotel When I was here last year I wanted to steal ask for the drink menu which is like a little book. The whole thing is online but it's not the same as the ACTUAL little menu book that one can flip through. The drinks with each "chapter" are fun and amazing. Mixology at its finest.

Hendrickx Belgian Bakery: this place is irresistible--it's downtown and a very tiny place, kind of hard to find even with its bright orange door. They make their own croissants (you can watch if you're there early) and also other delicious pastries and fantastic breads! I love their sugared Liege waffle.

The Art Institute of Chicago
I visit here almost every time I'm in Chicago and never grow tired of it. The Impressionists' section is probably the most popular...
but if time permits, visit the  exhibit of Thorne miniature rooms in the lower level.  Grown-ups and kids alike find these magical.
These rooms are tiny!!
And one more fave--just for good measure:
Rick Bayless and his XOCO should not be missed for 
breakfast. Especially the warm churros. And hot chocolate.

23 October 2012

Sweet stay: Parador de Santo Estevo

I will be leaving for Spain in another two weeks--and will be staying in some paradores again. 
The paradores of Spain are lodgings that have been incorporated (in many cases) in ancient monasteries, medieval castles and palaces. One of the most beautiful that I have spent a
night at was Santo Estevo --located in the Galician region of Spain. A former Benedictine monastery, it  dates back to the 10th century (and further). 
The road into the monastery is so narrow that our little van had to stop atop a hill and we
had to roll our suitcases down to the monastery entrance. Not an inconvenience at all when you consider the view one has before walking down the narrow lane to this parador. You overlook a grove (or is it an orchard?) of chestnut trees. And when I was there in the autumn, there were nets set up below each of the trees to make it easier to harvest all the fallen chestnuts. There was also a little chicken coop set up on the side of the lane--and all I could think was that those chickens had the best view of any chicken anywhere. Ah, to be a chicken in Galicia, Spain!

The 77 some rooms  within the monastery are set amid the three cloistered areas and all are different but lovely (with beautiful bathrooms) --I loved the little shuttered windows in this room--and the facing  window seats next to a fantastic view. Oh, to be a monk meditating while overlooking such a setting!

One of the places to have an espresso or a light lunch was in the walkway with the view
of the courtyard. Oh, to be a monk having an espresso in such a place. (Wait, did
monks have espresso?)

Or a cheese plate like this one, above, or cake like the photo below? (Were monks allowed whipped cream?)

The other best part about staying here is just exploring the entire premises. Styles from
Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance abound. The three cloisters are amazing. It's noted that its origins could date back to the 6th and 7th centuries. The monastery is located in the heart of what is called the Ribeira Sacra ("holy river bank"), which refers to the lands that border the meeting of the rivers Sil and Mino.  Along with gorgeous scenery, the area is rich with vineyards (bodegas and wine cellars have won international awards),  small picturesque villages and a haunting charm that is addictive. 
For more information check out Spain's official paradores website