Weekend Highlights: Street Art, Rain, Rosé and my Cat in a Hat

It was another rainy weekend 😦 I’m sure you’re just as tired of this dreary weather as I am. We did get a bit of a break on Friday so I jumped at the opportunity to rosé (that’s a verb right? lol) with a few girlfriends on my roof. With #LanguedocDay coming up on May 27th, I thought it would be fun to focus try different pink wines from that part of France. 

Rosé from the Languedoc region

I already had a bottle of Chateau Lascaux AOC Languedoc rosé 2015 and a La Tour Boisee 2015 Minervois rosé that had been sent to me by a publicist and I picked up a bottle of Domaine Sainte Eugenie 2015 Corbieres rosé at my local wine shop Eye Street Cellars to round up the tasting. I love rosé and I’m especially biased towards those from Provence (I mean, my grandparents lived in Bandol afterall…) but I also  very much enjoy those from the Languedoc Roussillon region, which also borders the Mediterranean and extends from Provence to the Spanish border and the Pyrenées mountains. Most of the wines produced in the regions are great value wines so you should definitely pick up a bottle this week and open it on Friday to celebrate #LanguedocDay!

Saturday was another rain-fest but I did venture out to NoMa to check out the opening celebrations for Pow! Wow! DC. Pow! Wow! is a curated murals festival and global network of artists that started as a street art festival in Hong Kong and Hawaii. Under the direction of local creative Kelly Towles, 19 street artists from all over the world like INSA from London or Caratoes from Hong Kong will bring 7 new murals to walls in NorthEast Washington over the next week. I can’t wait to see all the finished murals so let’s hope they all get a bit of a reprise from the rain! 

Pow wow street art festival in Washington DC

 

I didn’t stay too long at the opening celebration since it was outdoors (not super fun in the cold rain) and I had plans to meet up with Mardi Michels from eat. live. travel. write. Mardi is one of the very first blogger I really followed, especially on social media, and it was super fun to finally meet her in person after all these years of online friendship. She was in town for a fun conference on writing your own cookbook organized by Smithsonian Associates. They always throw the best events, like the really cool panel and wine tasting for the 40th anniversary of the “judgement of Paris!” We had a few cocktails at China Chilcano (the five spice old fashioned is my fave there!) and it was so lovely to hang out with her. She’s walking parts of the camino de Santiago this summer, which my husband and I are planning on doing in 2019 (yes, I’m planning that far ahead!) and I can’t wait to follow along her walking adventures!

I went from meeting someone I felt I have known for years to celebrating with a friend I have actually known for years. Colleen is one of my oldest friends here in the District, we met in grad school at the George Washington University, around the same time that I met my husband and she was a witness at our civil ceremony. Well, she recently got engaged to a guy that’s not only great, but also happens to be French! He proposed during a recent cruise of the Mediterranean and it was lovely to celebrate the happy news with both of them and some of their other close friends. 

Colleen and Tarek are engaged!

 

I may have celebrated a little too much and Sunday I did NOTHING. Except watch the rain from inside my warm apartment and give my cat way more attention than she wanted. But I  mean, how cute is that hat? 

Cat in the hat
And I’m obsessed with the cat filter on snapchat filter!! Speaking of snapchat… are we friends yet? My username is laetitiabrock (<– click here!).

cat

How was your weekend? How tired of all this rain are you? 

Postcard from NYC: “Bird Watching” in West Harlem

Audubon Mural Project: Roseatte Spoonbill by Danielle Mastrion

Let’s be honest, I’m a city baby and any flying animal that’s not a pigeon is a pretty exotic bird for me! Bird-watching is not an activity I typically engage in… unless the birds in question happen to be drawn on urban walls that is 😉 Thanks to the Audubon Society and the Gilter & ____ Gallery, the Washington Heights/West Harlem neighbourhoods is just the perfect spot to catch a flock of colourful birds! All in graffiti of course… 

Right now there are a few dozens murals of varying scale scattered around uptown Manhattan, and eventually the goal is to have street artists and muralists paint over 314 different species of North American birds that a sobering 2014 Audubon Society report on “Birds and Climate Change” identified as being at risk because of global warming.

Here are some of the birds I spotted during a recent street art “birding” excursion:

Audubon Mural Project: Swallow-tailed Kite by Lunar New Year

The Swallow-tailed Kite, located at 575 West 155th Street, was painted by artist Lunar New Year and depicts 12 different climate-threatened species

Audubon Mural Project: Tricolored Heron by Iena Cruz,

Tricolored Heron, by Iena Cruz, appropriately located next to Audubon Hall at 432 West 163rd St.

Audubon Mural Project: Endangered Harlem, by Gaia

Endangered Harlem, by Gaia, located at 1883-7 Amsterdam, between W. 153rd and W. 154th streets

Audubon Mural Project: Fish Crow, by Hitnes

Fish Crow, by Hitnes, can be seen at 3750 Broadway between 155th and 156th streets

Audubon Mural Project: Bald Eagle by Peter Daverington

I love how colourful this one is! The Bald Eagle by Peter Daverington brightens up 3623 Broadway

Audubon Mural Project: Allen’s Hummingbird by Socky Chop

Allen’s Hummingbird, painted by Socky Chop, is at 101 Edgecombe Avenue, between 139 & 140 St

Audubon Mural Project: American Redstart, by James Alicea

American Redstart, by James Alicea, at 3612 Broadwaybetween 148 & 149th streets

Audubon Mural Proejct: Black-throated Blue Warbler, by minusbaby

Black-throated Blue Warbler, by minusbaby, at 3637 Broadway between 149 & 150 streets

If you’re not familiar with Jean-Jacques Audubon, you should know that he was a Franco-American ornithologist and naturalist who painted, cataloged, and described the birds of North America in his famous book Birds of America.  Most of the murals are concentrated in the upper East Side neighbourhood where he once resided and is buried (in the Trinity Church Cemetery, on the south side of 155th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.) If you feel like going on a little bird watching excursion of your own, check out the Audubon Society’s website to map out your route. And if you want to spot some actual real non-graffiti birds, check out the New York City Audubon’s quick guide  to birding in the city! I think I’m good with the mural versions for now 😉

Postcard from the District: Mr Brainwash Mural at Union Market

You know the first lady is pretty cool when you find out about new murals from her instagram feed 😉

Michelle Obama and Mr Brainwash at Union Market

 

Michelle Obama marked International Women’s Day and the first anniversary of Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative aimed at educating girls around the world, at Union Market. She was joined by famed Los Angeles-based French street artist Mr. Brainwash, who had been commissioned by The Girls Lounge to do a mural on the theme of women education.  The murals are full of colorful hearts, similar to the bleeding hearts/love wall graffiti by James Goldcrown, portraits (including renderings of Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein) and inspiring slogans like “Life Is Beautiful,” “Follow Your Heart” and “Love Is The Answer.” 

Mr Brainwash Mural at Union Market

Laetitia Brock at the Union Market Mr Brainwash mural

Mr Brainwash Mural at Union Market

 

 

 

 

 

Union Market Celebrates International Women's Day with Michelle Obama and Street Artist Mr. Brainwash; Photo Credit: Gary Williams

Union Market Celebrates International Women’s Day with Michelle Obama and Street Artist Mr. Brainwash; Photo Credit: Gary Williams

Unfortunately, some of the art is already gone, like Einstein’s legs or the bottom half of the Life is Beautiful pink heart above.

Thierry Guetta, aka MBW, was quoted saying that he’ll be back in the District because he feels that “Washington, D.C. needs it.” I agree! Apparently, we have many “blank walls that could have messages for people to see life more beautifully.” Again, I agree and I can’t wait to see more of his murals pop up all over town!! 

So You Wanna Visit the White House…?

I’ll always remember the first time I toured the East Wing… it was the morning after I met my now husband. I told him I had to make it an early night because I was supposed to be at the White House at 8AM. You know, a typical D.C. excuse 😉 I’d only been in the U.S. and in Washington for 6 months and it was all very exciting for me.

I’ve been fortunate to go inside the White House a few more times since then. And while bowling at the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley at 1600 Penn* is still on my DC-to-list with slim to no chance ever getting crossed off, I did get to go to the West Wing once and tour the building once during the holiday season. Here what you need to know if you want to visit the White House too. 

THE WEST WING & BOWLING ALLEY

Unless you’re invited by the White House or know someone who works there (and has West Wing access, which isn’t everyone), the personal residence and the West Wing are pretty much off limit. Because they are led by staff, West Wing tours visits typically happen in the evening or on weekends, outside of office hours. If you’re lucky enough (like I was) to visit when the president is out of town, you’ll get to peak into the Oval Office. Not go into it, but peak into it. Photographs, of course, are strictly off limits except in the press room, which is why SO many people have pictures of themselves at the press secretary’s podium. Well, at least so many people in DC… If you do have the opportunity to tour the West Wing, clear your schedule and go! Ahead of time, you’ll be asked to provide your full name, birth date, social security number, and possibly other personal data so that the secret service can run a quick background check on you. Obviously, I passed the test and I wasn’t even a permanent resident back then so being foreign won’t prevent you from being able to do a West Wing tour. Bowling at the White House requires the same kind of “friends with benefits” which I clearly do not have anymore 😉 They only get to book the lanes once a quarter so again if you’re ever invited to the most exclusive bowling alley in the country, clear your schedule and make it happen! Also, don’t forget to bring your own snacks and booze… I already have my sparkly all picked out… I just need an invite now. 

THE EAST WING

white house tours are self guided

So I toured the East Wing the first time right when I met my husband, on a traditional tour that had been arranged by my graduate program at the George Washington University. I toured it a second time during the holiday season in 2011 when the White House hosted one of its first tweet up ever. Most of our time at the tweet up was spent in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where, interestingly enough for a tweet up, we couldn’t get a signal and where there was no wifi. The White House has learned a lot since then and frequently hosts tweet ups like the one recently for the arrival ceremony for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The highlight of that tweet-free tweet up for me was meeting with and getting to ask questions of White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and White House florist Laura Dowling about what it’s like to plan and prepare for Christmas at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (planning typically starts in March.) Getting to see the end result from all of their hard work during a tour of the building afterwards was really amazing. SO many Christmas trees and gingerbread houses!

Gingerbread White House

white house 4 white house 5

Christmas season at the White House White house 6white house 1

There currently are no tweet up or instameet planned but you should check the White House Social website periodically and follow them on twitter and instagram to get alerts for the next one. Here as well, you also have to go through a quick background check, which non-Americans like myself can pass. The other way to get to tour the East Wing is, of course, through your congressional representatives, though that process is currently being revamped.  I will update this post as soon as the new information is official on April 18. 

THE WHITE HOUSE GARDENS

The easiest way to get inside those gates is the bi-annual White House Garden tour. No, you don’t get to go inside the residence, but you get to see Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden and take a really cool picture like this from the South Lawn: 

Laetitia Brock at the White House

White House Garden Tours happen in the fall and in the spring, and mark you calendars right now because the next ones are next week, on Saturday April 16 and Sunday April 17 2016. On either of those days, show up at the Ellipse Visitor Center (kitty corner from Pinea at the W at 15th and E NW) to get a free, timed ticket. Those are distributed on a first come first serve basis and the visit is obviously really popular so I recommend getting there at 8:30AM since tours begin at 9AM.
White house 10

The grounds will be less crowded earlier in the day. Bring as little with you as you can and selfie sticks are strictly prohibited, as are bags (small purses might be fine but play it safe. Diaper bags are not allowed), food, weapons (duh!) and animals other than service dogs. You’ll go through metal detectors but no background check or advance planning is required for those… White House Fall Garden Tour

You can read a little all about my 2010 White House Garden Tour right here and if it doesn’t make you want to get up early on Saturday or Sunday, remember that it’s one of your best shot at getting in before Obama’s term end. Another alternative for the gardens, if you have kids, is to enter the lottery for tickets to the White House Easter Eggs Roll. 

* Wondering what is it like to bowl at the White House? Check out this lucky Deutsch Art Director’s account on the agency’s blog! Wondering what it’s like to visit the White House for a special event hosted by the First Lady? My friend Olga did just that a few weeks ago.

Helping Raise/Raze Come to Life at Dupont Underground

Volunteering to build Raise/Raze at Dupont Underground

 

I had a ball – lame pun intended – volunteering at the Dupont Underground with some of my friends this morning. This was actually my first time in the abandoned trolley station which plans to open its doors to the public on April 30 with its first art exhibit, “Raise/Raze.” 

“Raise/Raze” was the winning  project of Re-Ball!, an open design competition for a site-specific installation in the underground space using the more than 650,000 translucent plastic balls from the National Building Museum‘s “Beach” installation. So today we helped built the installation by glue-ing a bunch of these balls together. 

Dupont Undergound

Volunteering at the dupont undergroundDupont Undergound

 

 

The making of Raise/Raze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We basically spent three hours in a small portion of the tunnel (it’s over a mile long in total) hot-glueing the balls in sets of three. Another station then turned these into bigger squares while a final station added velcro to it. Eventually, groups of up to 50 people will travel through different spaces within the tunnel and interact with the exhibit by moving the velcro-affixed 3x3x3 cubes around to create various shapes. And while I had a ton of fun with the hot glue gun there’s still a ton of work to be done… so if you have three hours to spare between now and April 24 you can help out too (sign up to volunteer here!)

Hot glue-ing the balls at Raise/Raze

Raise/Raze

Eventually the space is supposed to look like this:

Rendering courtesy of Dupont Underground and Hou de Sousa

Rendering courtesy of Dupont Underground and Hou de Sousa

Right now, that seems pretty abstract and kinda hard to visualize…. but I’m sure it’ll get there eventually and I can’t wait to see the final result! I really do hope that Raise/Raze will get the ball rolling on turning Dupont Underground into a hot cultural destination in Washington, DC. Just had to close on a lame ball pun too 😉 

For more background on the Dupont Underground revitalization project, check out this USA Today article. 

5 Things I Ate While I Was in Chicago

Another week, another express work-cation, this time to Chicago in the mid-west. I’d been to Chicago a few times before, including for a hot 16 hours last July 4 and back in 1994 during one of my very first trip to the United States. Despite having a lot of meetings, I tried to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as I could in 36 hours, including catching the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. And eating of course… Here are some of my favourites from my express “work-cation” in Chicago: 

LIQUID ENERGY AT INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE

First things first after a 6AM flight from Reagan to O’Hare, I needed caffeine! But not just any coffee would do. I wanted some Intelligentsia Coffee since the roasting company started and is still based in Chicago. Bonus, their location at 53 East Randolph Street is around the corner from Millennial Park so I got the chance to squeeze in a little sight-seeing too! 

Intelligentsia Coffee at the Bean

Intelligentsia Coffee has many locations across town, including 53 E Randolph Street, 1609 W Division Street, 3123 North Broadway and 2642 N Milwaukee Avenue.

 

POTATO DUMPLINGS AT PIEROGI HEAVEN

As many as 1.5 million Chicagoan claim Polish ancestry and Chicago bills itself as the largest Polish city outside of Poland. Pierogis, delightfully doughy Eastern European dumplings, are pretty easy to find around town. For a quick lunch, I headed to Pierogi Heaven in the loop, a hole in the wall kinda spot that’s popular with nearby office workers. You can choose from 11 different pierogi fillings, all of which come with fried onions, bacon and sour cream. I polished off a plate of potato cheddar dumplings, with extra sour cream and a cup of hot red borsch. 

Potato and cheddar dumplings at Pierogi Heaven

Pierogi Heaven is located at 169 North Wells Street

GARRETT MIX AT GARRETT POPCORN

On paper, cheddar cheese and caramel popcorn don’t sound like they’d mix well together. But in a bucket of Garrett Popcorn, the salty-sweet combo known as Garrett Mix® is one of the most addictive thing you’ll ever eat. This staple Chicago food counts a lot of fan… Oprah listed it as one of her “favourite things” on a couple of occasions, President Obama gave a tin to Vice President Biden for his birthday and Beyonce herself declared it Deeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrricious” on instagram. I never leave Chicago without a bag 😉 

Garrett Mix at Garrett Popcorn Garrett PopcornThere are many locations of Garrett Popcorn, including one at151 North Michigan Avenue by Millennium Park, 625 North Michigan Avenue and 2 at O’Hare airport (there’s one at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City too…)

CONFIT GOAT BELLY AT GIRL AND THE GOAT

Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat inevitably comes up every time I ask anyone for restaurant recommendations in Chicago. So this trip, I actually made my way there! Forty five minutes and one “my little kumquat” cocktail later, I finally snagged a seat at one corner of the bar. I definitely blew my per-diem on that meal, but it was SO worth it. Everything I had from the kohlrabi salad with fennel, evalon, toasted almonds, autumn crisp apple and shiitake mushrooms to the goat carpaccio and the goat cheesecake with pretzel cream and beer caramel was amazing. But the real standout of the evening can be summarized in 4 words: Bourbon. Butter. Poached. Lobster. As if that didn’t sound amazing enough, that was just the side for a confit goat belly, which also came with a fennel puree and fennel salad (I’ve been really into fennel lately.) No wonder everyone and their mothers has been raving about Girl and the Goat 😉 

Bourbon butter poached lobster and goat belly confit at Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat is located at 809 W Randolph street. There’s now a Little Goat Diner right across the street too that offers more casual food, as well as breakfast all day.

ROASTED BONE MARROW AT THE PURPLE PIG

I talked my colleagues into squeezing in a late lunch/early happy hour at the Magnificent Mile gastropub The Purple Pig, I couldn’t convince them to try the roasted bone marrow with sicilian sea salt and herb salad (with Italian parsley, thin-sliced white onions and capers) smear. More for me right? Right!! It was a beautiful, warm day in Chicago so we ate outside, sorta overlooking the river. And of course, warm sunny days call for rosé, and the bone marrow paired perfectly with a glass of Scea Andre Roux Clos Cibonne côtes de provence. Sadly, my colleagues are not as adventurous eaters as I am and I really couldn’t justify ordering the pig’s ears on top of the bone marrow… I guess I’ll have to go back and eat my way through more of the decadent meat-centered menu at The Purple Pig

Roasted Bone Marrow Smear at The Purple Goat

The Purple Pig is located at 500 N. Michigan Avenue.

I also found a little time to swing by the stunning Palmer House. Now owned by Hilton, it’s the oldest hotel in the city and claims to be where brownies were invented. The Palmer House Brownie with walnuts and an apricot glaze (check out the recipe in Epicurious) is still served at the hotel’s restaurant and bar. 

Palmer House ceciling

Since I can’t eat chocolate, I settled for another local favourite, a quick Goose Island Honkers Ale, which I enjoyed under the magnificent ceiling fresco by French muralist Louis Pierre Rigal. Not a bad spot to wrap up the trip!

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I think I did pretty good in less than 36 hours Where would be your five foodie stops or top foodie bites if you were to spend a few days in Chicago?

♬ Magnolias for Ever ♪

Des magnolias par centaines | Des magnolias comme autrefois

 Je ne sais plus comment faire | Les magnolias sont toujours là

 

Saucer magnolias in the Smithsonian Castle Garden

 

Current mood today: Claude François for ever! Magnolias will do that to ya 😉

I was looking forward to the beginning of peak bloom for the Washington, DC cherry blossoms this weekend, but the National Park Service has revised the date and pushed it Wednesday March 23-Thursday March 24. Currently blooming, however, are the stunning saucer magnolia trees at the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden (right behind the Smithsonian castles.) I think these will hold me over for a few days 😉 

Tips for Enjoying Cherry Blossom Season In DC


Spring is coming! Every year the highlight of the season in Washington is, of course, the annual blooming of the district’s 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees. The whole town gets cherry fever and hundreds of thousands of tourists (and locals too) descend on the Tidal Basin and the National Mall to admire the delicate white and pink flowers. This year, peak bloom will hit between March 18-23, 2 weeks earlier than originally anticipated due to the recent warm temperatures. This means most of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 20 to April 17, will probably happen sans-blossom. Regardless, here are a few tips for navigating this huge Washington, DC event.

DC Cherry Blossoms

 

SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK EARLY

The Cherry Blossom trees were a gift of good will from Japan to the United States in 1912 and represent the budding relationship between the two countries. They’re scattered around the city, but the prettiest, most picture perfect pink concentration is around the Tidal Basin, just off the National Mall. Avoiding the stroller pushing, selfie snapping crowd during peak bloom around there is impossible, but your best bet for some quiet cherry blossom time will be early in the morning on a weekday. Like 7AM early, right at sunrise. The evening is also a lot quieter and you can even join a ranger on a lantern walk from 8-10PM (Fridays/Saturdays 3/18, 19, 25, 26 and March 1 and 2nd.) Don’t forget to check the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website for a full schedule of events. The day of the parade (April 16), of the kite festival (April 2) or of Cherry Blossom 10 miler race (April 3) are likely to be even busier than usual.

Cherry blossoms at MLK memorial

LEAVE YOUR CAR AT HOME 

Seriously, don’t drive to the Tidal Basin if you can avoid it. Traffic will atrocious and there’s NO parking out there! The closest metro to the Tidal Basin is the Smithsonian metro stop on the blue and orange lines, though the circulator’s new national mall linedeparting from Union Station, will also get you pretty close. I always walk there from my place, but my best advice is to grab a cab, lyft or uber, especially if you’re going early in the morning. Capital Bikeshare is a great option for your trip back from the Tidal Basin. On your way there you might not find an empty docket for the bike. Make sure to be on the lookout for one of the pink #bikeinbloom bike too! However you get there, make sure to wear comfy shoes since you’ll be doing a lot of walking regardless.  
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

LEAVE THE TREES ALONE 

This really should have been tip number one. Don’t pick blossoms from trees or hold on to a branch. These are big no-nos and if you see someone doing this, you should yell at them. Don’t yell at tourists though for standing on the wrong side of a metro escalator 😉 Rookie mistake, just kindly let them know that we have rules here, and that they should be standing on the right, walking on the left. 

DC Cherry Blossom trees

BRING SNACKS… AND ALLERGY MEDICINE 

Bring some snacks if you’re planning on walking the whole tidal basin. Even better, bring a blanket, some food and have a picnic. Just remember don’t litter (there aren’t a ton of garbage cans down there) don’t drink alcohol in public. In the United States, there is such a thing as open container laws so you can’t openly drink alcohol in public places like sidewalks, parks or the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Womp womp… leave that bottle of rosé at home! Finally – take or pack allergy medicine. All over the city all sorts of trees are booming too so even if you’ve never suffered from seasonal allergies before, you might still want to pack or take a zyrtec!

TAKE TO THE WATERS! 

In addition to the tidal basin and the Washington monument area, you can also find cherry blossoms along the shoreline of East Potomac Park, extending all the way to Hains Point. A great way to appreciate those trees is by taking a DC water taxi from Georgetown or from Old Town Alexandria. If the water temperatures are warm enough, you might even be able to rent a kayak from Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown and paddle your way to the blossoms. Perks, you also get a good workout! But one of my favourite things to do during peak bloom is renting a pedal boat at the Tidal Basin for a picture perfect view of the monuments and the dusty pink blossoms reflecting on the water. If you’re headed to see the blossoms on a weekday, you can even book your boat in advance to reduce wait time.pedalo sur le tidal basin a washington

 

THINK BEYOND THE TIDAL BASIN

While the trees along the Tidal Basin are definitely the most striking, there are other pockets of cherry blossom action in other locations across the city. Here are some alternative spots to see the pink-and-white blooms:

  • There’s  more than 20 varieties of cherry blossoms at the 95-acre Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia which is a great option if you don’t want to come all the way into the city. Bonus: the Korean Bell Garden, while not Japanese at all, makes for a very pretty backdrop.
  • Rather than risk having your dog(s) trampled by hordes of tourists at the Tidal Basin, bring your furry friend(s) to the dog-friendly National Arboretum. You and your pup(s) will be able to enjoy cherry blossoms without being overwhelmed by crowds. 
  • For families, Stanton Park in Capitol Hill is both lined with pretty cherry trees AND has a playground for your kiddos. 
  • Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown is great for off-the-beaten path cherry blossom viewing.  General admissions there will set you back $8 though.
  • Take a drive through the wealthy suburb of Kenwood near Bethesda where the streets will be lined with cotton candy trees. 

IMG_6366_2

 

EMBRACE THE SEASON AND THE PINK

Peak bloom only lasts 4 days and odds are, if you’re not from DC, you’ve had to plans your trip including book your hotel and travel WAY in advance. And odds are it might not coincide with when the blossoms are out. And that’s ok. There’s still SO much you can do. The White House might be blooming with tulips and the capitol ground with magnolias. You can get tickets to the DC United home opener on March 20th (there are additional home games March 26, April 9 and April 16) or the Nationals home opener on April 7 (or one of the follow up games April 9-14 as well as pre-season games April 1-2).

The whole town also turns pink during cherry blossom season, and while it might seem cheesy, I love the way restaurants celebrate with special menu items. I typically stick to the desserts and cocktails though and also use the festival as the official kick-off date for rosé-drinking season. This time of year is also the perfect excuse to discover or re-discover some of the best japanese restaurants in town. Finally, if you’ve never done afternoon tea at the The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, now’s your chance! The original Japanese delegation to America stayed there in 1860 and the hotel goes all out that to commemorate, with spring décor, a cherry blossom afternoon tea and cherry-inspired cocktails. 

Cherry blossoms inspired eats

Cherry rose cookie from Momofuku Milk Bar in Washington, DC

Whether you’re a veteran cherry-blossom festival goer or this is your first time in DC, I hope these tips will to help you navigate cherry blossoms season. Washington is truly pretty in pink and while the Champs de Mars’ cerisiers are very lovely too, short of going to Japan Washington’s cherry blossoms are truly some of the most beautiful in the world. If you’ve got any tips to share about cherry blossoms time in DC, let me know in the comments!

Postcard from New York: Going to A Late Show Taping

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen ColbertHere’s something free and unique to do if you have a spare afternoon in New York City: attend the live taping of a late (or late-late) night talk-show! I say afternoon, because a) while the shows air in the evening, tapings typically happen earlier that day b) even though you have to book your tickets in advance, there’s a lot of waiting around in lines involved before you can actually take your place in the audience. Here’s what my experience attending a live taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” was like.

But first, why The Late Show with Stephen Colbert? I actually watch the show every day and I absolutely love Stephen Colbert. I love his smart humour, and think his guests tend to be more interesting than those on other shows. Also, I was busy all week with work commitments and his late show is the only one that tapes on Fridays when I finally had some free time 😉

The first step if you want to see any late night talk-show  (Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah also shoot in New York City) is to go online and get (free) tickets. I knew exactly when I would be in New York and stalked the Late Show’s website for available tix, which are typically released a month in advance and go REALLY fast. I booked my spots for February 19th on January 11 to give you an idea of the timeline. Once you’ve got the tickets, you should clear out your calendar for that entire afternoon. Attending a live taping is a BIG time commitment and involves a lot of waiting around. Even with your pre-reserved tickets, you still need to queue to physically claim said ticket on the actual day of the taping and seats are first comes first served starting at 2PM. My ticket instructed me to get in line “no later than 3PM” but I showed up at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway (between 53rd and 54th) at 1PM to get decent seats. Each show is overbooked, and reserving a spot is no guarantee that you’ll get in. At 2PM, the line started moving, as Late Show staff checked my reservation and my I.D. They gave me a numerical ticket (111/400… not bad!), stamped my hand with a black CBS logo and instructed me to come back at 3:45PM. 

CBS logo

That gave me about an hour and half to grab a late lunch. Luckily, I knew of two great options in Hell’s Kitchen, within a 5 minute walking distance: Danji and Totto’s Ramen, both on 51st street between 9th and 10th avenue. After standing an hour outside in the middle of February, ramen seemed like the best option to warm up!

Pre Stephen Colbert Late Show RamenTotto's Ramen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my assigned time, I headed back to the Ed Sullivan theater and waited another 10 minutes lined up in numerical order based on my ticket. Our bags were scanned before we got to queue some more, this time at least in an indoor area inside the theater. Another pro-tip: if your bags are too large, they’ll make you check them so pack light. And I was able to go in with a bottle of water. That time of the waiting was possibly the worse because you’re crammed into a rather small room with 150 other people with 2 TVs cranking out old Stephen Colbert skits as only distraction. FINALLY, a young lady with a microphone welcomed us and reminded us of a few things: mainly, we’ll be filmed (duh!) and we’re not allowed to use our cell phones. I’d attended a few tapings of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart before so I knew the drill. No tweeting, snap-chatting, instagramming and NO photography whatsoever in the studio! Womp womp! 

Attending a taping of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

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Finally, I sat down at my seat, on the fifth row, right in front of the band area. There’s pros and cons to sitting on the main level of the theater. The main pros are proximity to the stage, the host, and the guests but on the con side cameras do get in your way and you can’t see the beautiful projection on the ceiling of the theater. Around 5PM, comedian Paul Mecurio came onto the stage to get us pumped for the main show coming up. He reminded us quickly of our purpose today as audience: to laugh, preferably loudly, at Stephen’s jokes. He made a few jokes of his own and pulled a few people onto the stage, including a software engineer from Google and his friend who was an opera signer and had an absolutely beautiful voice. Then Stephen Colbert came in for a quick Q&A. The questions weren’t riveting but he did mention that his wife was in attendance with some of her girlfriends, which was pretty cool.

At around 5:45PM, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band, came onto the stage to play a few tunes and before I knew it the taping was finally starting!! I will say Jon Batiste and Staying Humans are pretty awesome in person, even with an extra human tap-dancing in the “percussion” areas. I took a couple of screen shots of the show afterwards, which included special audience members from the Coast Guards, Chelsea Handler in a tight little white number, an awesome segment on Marco Rubio’s “Morning Again in America” ad that included references to some of my favourite Canadian things like DeGrassi and Poutine, Zosia Mamet and a performance of The Lumineers’ new  song Ophelia. 

Coast Guards members in the audience of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
IMG_5790Chelsea Handler on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

About the guests – when you book tickets to the show, you have NO idea who the guests are going to be. Like, when I saw Jon Stewart in Washington, D.C., I had no idea that President Obama would be his guest… the day AFTER I got to be in audience. I don’t even remember who the guest was when I went… I just remember that it wasn’t Obama 😉 I’m pretty happy with who I got to see, though honestly I would have been happy with anyone, as just getting to be in the audience was quite the treat. One of the highlights of the show that evening though was the cute interaction between Colbert and his wife (“darling”), either during the taping or during the commercial breaks as well as his interaction with us the audience the few times that he had to re-tape a segment (quite a few times actually). Otherwise, the guests pretty much just ignore the audience 😦

After the show wrapped, Colbert did a few reshoots, including Zosia’s name, which he had mispronounced. He explained to us that earlier in the day, the building next to them had a sewers issues that had prevented them from being able to do their rewrites in their typical offices and that was one of the reasons the show’s taping appeared a bit frantic and disorganized. He chatted up with his wife a bit, asking her where she and friends were headed for drinks afterwards and that was that. I myself headed to Casellula for a post-Late Show glass of vino. Overall, I had a blast at the taping, it was so fun to see behind the scene of a show I watch everyday though it was a lot of waiting around, and definitely required some advance planning. Here’s my last pro-tip if you’re planning on being in the audience like I was: wear warm clothes! The theater is FREEZING so much that the staff is walking around in their coats. I definitely wished I’d worn a warmer sweater 😉

Have you ever attended a show’s tapping, whether in New York or Los Angeles? How was that experience for you? 

Postcard from Philadelphia ~ 5 Free Things To Do in the City of Brotherly Love

We’re spoiled here in Washington that most of our museums and historical attractions are completely free, making DC a very wallet-friendly destination for tourists and locals playing tourists. Like Washington, and just a quick bus or train ride away, Philadelphia is also rich in history and pretty affordable to explore, so long as you’re willing to put up with some lines 😉 Here are a few budget-friendly things to do in America’s former capital… 

VISIT AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT HISTORICAL SITES

Bonus: they’re all conveniently located within a square mile. Between 1790 and 1800, while the Federal City (<– DC) was under construction, Philadelphia got to be the temporary capital of the United States. Before that, it played a key role in the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers gathered there to sign the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (though of course, to actually see those, you have to come here to DC!) . The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Congress Hall are all right there, right next to one another, and yes, they’re all free to explore, though you’ll need a timed ticket to get into Independence Hall, so get there early in the busy summer season (like 8:30AM).  

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

Not as related to US history, but pretty cool nonetheless, is Dream Garden, a stunning mosaic made of 100,000 pieces of Tiffany Glass that graces the lobby of the Curtis Center, just a block away from Independence Hall along Washington Square. Since it’s in an office building, you have to visit it during business hours or before noon on Saturdays. 

 

WALK MURAL MILE

With over 3,000 public murals, Philadelphia is one of the top city for street art in the US. There’s a concentration of 17 of them over a 2.5 miles route downtown that’s known as Mural Mile. You can check out my blog post for more information on doing a self-guided tour. The recommended route starts at 7th and Chestnut, steps away from the independence visitor center so you can easily combine it with a visit to the city’s most famous monuments like the Liberty Bell. While on tour, make a detour and swing by Rittenhouse Square Park, where you will find the original La Colombe coffee shop location. Grab a glass of still or sparkling water… it’s free there!! 

Mural Mile in Philadelphia

CATCH A FREE PERFORMANCE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST FULLY FUNCTIONING PIPE ORGAN

Located in the Grand Court of a former Wanamaker department store (one of the oldest chain of department stores in the country) the 111 years old, 7 stories tall and 287 tons instrument is now one of the main reason to go shopping at the Macy‘s City Center. Grand Court Organ concerts are performed twice daily, Monday through Saturday (at 12PM and in the evenings). I found out about the organ in this Smithsonian Magazine piece and I’m definitely glad I did. 

CLIMB THE ROCKY STEPS 

If you’re not up for the exercise of the 72 steps hike leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you can at least snap a pic with the statue of Rocky near the bottom of the stairs. Admission to the museum is a steep $20 but you can save a few bucks if you visit on the first Sunday of every month and after 5PM on Wednesday, when the museum charges a “Pay What You Wish”  admission fee. Also more affordable on the first Sunday of every month is the Barnes Foundation down the street on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, though tickets are limited and given on a first come first serve basis, so you’ll want to get there before 9AM. Next door to the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum has a $10 suggested admission but is actually “Pay What You Wish” every day so you can leave less than that if you’re on a tight budget. The garden around the museum is free year round too. I know, it’s not as good as our Smithsonians here, but at least there are a few ways to see the art for free or close to free 😉

Rocky Statue in PhiladelphiaBarnes Foundation

Rodin Museum in Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXPLORE ONE OF THE GREATEST FOOD HALL IN THE COUNTRY. 

I hesitated to add Reading Terminal Market to the list because while it’s free to walk around and see all the different food stalls, you’ll have a hard time not reaching out for your wallet to purchase a bite or two or five. At Reading, you’ll find pretty much every type of cuisine you can think of, from Asian to Cajun but the most interesting are obviously the only-in-Philadelphia options like the family-run restaurants offering traditional (and very cheap) Pennsylvania Dutch fare (try the apple fritter at Beiler’s Donuts!), authentic Philly cheesesteaks at Spataros’ or decadent cannolis at Termini Brothers Bakery. And if the food isn’t free, the wifi is… so at least there’s that 😉 

Termini Brothers Cannoli

Reading terminal market

 

BONUS: SNAP A SELFIE WITH ROBERT INDIANA’S FAMOUS LOVE SCULPTURE.

Yes, there are LOVE sculptures all over the world now (including one, en español/Italian, right here in DC), but this one, installed in 1976 is probably the most famous one of them all! The park where it’s located, which everyone calls Love Park though it’s official name is JFK Plaza, is currently undergoing a major renovation. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s done! For some more great instagram snaps, head down to Elfreth’s Alley, America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street.