BootsnAll Travel Network

Eating our way through Nashville

December 10th, 2010

The purpose of our weekend trip to Nashville was to see the Blackhawks take on the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.  We figured we’d spend some time in the honky tonks, too, listening to some live music.  But what we – or, I should say, I – didn’t expect was the abundance of dining options, and I definitely did not expect the food to be so good.

We stayed at the Sheraton in downtown Nashville and it proved to be the perfect location for a weekend trip sans vehicle.  It is walking distance to Broadway, which is where the honky tonks, bars, and restaurants are, and to Bridgestone Arena.  We arrived on a Saturday morning, too early to get into our hotel room, so we left our bags with the hotel valet and walked down to Broadway in search of some breakfast.  Our breakfast came in the form of live music and bloody marys at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, since no restaurants on Broadway were open, and none serve breakfast.  We waited until 10:30 when Jack’s BBQ opened up and, judging by the line, plenty of others couldn’t wait for the restaurant to open, either.  I ordered the beef brisket plate which comes with two sides; I chose macaroni & cheese and hot apples (it was all fat free, by the way).  That brisket was probably the best bbq I have ever had.  Perfectly tender, lean meat, incredible smoky flavor. From the array of self-serve bbq sauces, I went with the Kansas City, and it was a perfect match for my brisket.  The mac & cheese and apples were incredible, as well.  We visited Jack’s again two days later and did not have quite the same experience.  We all were quite disappointed with our food.  I ordered the brisket plate again (it was too good the first time; I had to), with mac & cheese and cream corn (both were delicious).  The brisket, however, was fatty and a little tough.  The employee cutting and carving the meat wasn’t the same guy from our first visit so maybe he had something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, I was seriously disappointed.  I’d still recommend Jack’s, though.  We might have just caught them on a bad day on that second visit.

Some other dining highlights from our weekend in Nashville:

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A day & a half in Boston

November 18th, 2010

Spending any time in Boston was not part of our original Cape Cod vacation plan, but neither were Lucia and Felicia.  Life and travel share many of the same principles, two being the ability to be flexible and the ability to adapt.  So when Felicia and Mom expressed how badly they wanted to spend some time in Boston, I had to fight my initial reaction of “no”, and listen to their proposal.  And it’s not that I don’t or didn’t want to see Boston; I figured since there is so much to see and do in that city, it warrants a trip of its own.  I didn’t want to be rushed and forced to hit all the highlights in a short period of time.  Furthermore, I had a hard time justifying any one of us paying for a hotel room on top of what I’d already paid for the condo in Provincetown.  Alas, I’ll do anything for my family, so they were able to talk me into leaving Provincetown a day early and spending our last day and a half  in Boston.

Felicia offered to pay for a hotel room for the night and found an affordable rate at a Comfort Inn in Woburn, just minutes outside Boston.  The woman working the reception desk at the hotel was extremely friendly and helpful, and was able to direct us to inexpensive parking in Boston (we still had the rental car and public parking can be expensive in Boston, just as in Chicago).  We parked in a public lot off Seaport Boulevard, near the World Trade Center, for $12.  Yes, $12 for the entire day.  That’s a steal.  Once we parked, though, we honestly had no idea where we were going, so we just started walking.  And we walked.

At the top of our “must see” list was Boston’s North End, that city’s own Little Italy neighborhood.  All we had was the tourist map given to us by the hotel employee in Woburn.  We were able to plot our route but the scale of the map was distorted so we weren’t sure of the distance.  Turns out, it’s about two miles from where we started to the North End, but it was an enjoyable walk and didn’t seem to be that far.  The route took us through what seemed to be Boston’s financial district, which is dotted with historical markers, so we stopped a few times for pictures and history lessons.  When we finally did make it to Hanover Street, the North End’s main drag, I felt as though I were taken back in time.  It looked and felt a lot like my neighborhood in Chicago’s Little Italy when I was growing up.  The first person we encountered on Hanover Street – this cute, little Italian man – greeted us with a “buon giorno”.  I was so happy that I almost cried.

Our first stop was Modern Pastry for some sfogliatelle – yum!  Afterward, we weaved our way up and down Hanover Street, stopping in the various shops, talking to some of the locals.  The North End also is home to some historical markers, stops on Boston’s Freedom Trail, so we had to take those in.  Another highlight was St. Leonard Roman Catholic Church.  It looks a lot like my parish church, The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii; it really took me back.  We lit some candles and “talked” a bit to Santa Lucia (after whom my daughter is named), and made our way down to Caffe dello Sport for an Aperol spritz.

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Day trip to Martha’s Vineyard

October 15th, 2010

There are two ways to get to Martha’s Vineyard: by air or by sea. Since I’ve neither unlimited income nor a private jet, “by sea” it was.

At this time of year (late September), ferry schedules and options are not as plentiful as during the summer months.  The schedule and location that worked best for us was from the Steamship Authority departing from Woods Hole, which is about a two-hour drive from Provincetown without weather or traffic delays. The trip is not all four-lane highway driving; plenty of time is spent on winding, two-lane country roads. Read: allow extra time when making the trip to Woods Hole and don’t “almost” miss the ferry like we did. We had allowed ourselves enough time to make the 9:30am ferry, but we ran into some construction along the way.  We made it to the port just in time; it was maybe 9:26am, only to find out that we could not park our car in the lot there.  We would have to drive four miles to the Steamship Authority’s remote lot and take the shuttle bus back.  Excuse me, what?  I must have looked at and examined the Steamship Authority website three dozen times before departing for Woods Hole, and nowhere was the parking situation mentioned.  I breathed deeply and was about to resign to the fact that we’d have to wait for the next ferry (departing at 10:45am), when the Steamship Authority employee said to me, “Or you can park in that private lot right across the street.  I don’t know how much he charges….”  I peeled out of the parking lot and into the private lot, where we learned it was $20 to park for the day.  Deal.  We parked, unloaded the car and Lucia, and made a beeline for the ferry ticket window.  Reservations are not necessary for the passenger ferry so we were able to get our tickets on the spot.  The round-trip cost for three adults was $53 (Lucia sailed for free).  There is also a car ferry – now THAT is another story.  Before I learned differently, I figured a car would be necessary on Martha’s Vineyard, even for a day trip, so I began looking into car ferry information.  I started having second thoughts when I saw the price.  It would cost over $300, round trip, during the off season!  That is way too much money to spend for a day trip.  If we were staying on the Vineyard for a longer period of time, say, a week, it might make more sense.  We decided to nix the car idea and just use public transportation once we arrived on the Vineyard.  One more note about the car ferry:  reservations during the off-season are not necessary but are recommended.  During the high season, however, reservations for the car ferry are an absolute must.

The ferry ride itself was rather enjoyable.  It was a Tuesday morning and it was easy to find seats.  The deck, on the other hand, was packed.  It was a gorgeously sunny day so I don’t blame those dozens of passengers for wanting to be outside, enjoying the pleasant temperatures and bright sunshine.  Plus, there’s just something about being on a boat, no matter how big or how small.  It was Lucia’s first boat ride so of course I had to take her up top.  She ooohed and aaaahed, and was so not afraid!

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Where to go and what to see in Provincetown

October 5th, 2010

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Provincetown.  We chose the city as the base for our Cape Cod adventure simply because it is one of the largest on the Cape.  Aside from that, all I knew prior to departure is that Provincetown is extremely vibrant and colorful, and there is a very large gay & lesbian community.  When we arrived in Provincetown, I was immediately captivated by the centuries-old homes and buildings, and by the narrow streets with no sidewalks that had to accommodate both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, for the city was planned and laid out long before automobiles were invented.  Yet, this does not seemingly impede the flow of visitors and residents within Provincetown.  Commercial Street, the center of it all, is always moving and buzzing; there is constant action.  It’s surprising how well the historic, old Provincetown meshes with the modern, new Provincetown, the latter being defined by gourmet eateries and by bars hosting drag queen karaoke.  I loved it.  The cedar shingle-sided, compact domiciles delighted the history and architecture geek in me, while the city girl in me marveled at the constant activity and vivacity of this seaside town.

The walking and people-watching opportunities are endless in Provincetown; however, there is plenty more to see, do, and taste!  Here is the list of my top 4 favorites:

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How we ended up in a condo in Provincetown

October 1st, 2010

Provincetown is one of the largest “cities” (the word used loosely here) on Cape Cod.  Coming from Chicago and having never been anywhere else on the Cape, I figured staying in Provincetown would be a safe bet for us, that the dining and entertainment options would be more plentiful than in the smaller towns.  Since we were planning to stay for a week, I didn’t even consider looking at hotels or inns for our accommodations.  A rental, whether it’s a house or a condo, with a full kitchen and laundry facilities has way more value than a traditional hotel could ever offer.  I used in the past and with great success, so that was my first stop when looking for a place to stay in Provincetown.

After a few days of searching and getting into contact with property owners, we decided on a two-bedroom condo with an assigned parking space.  The price for the week was the same as maybe three or four nights at a local inn or bed and breakfast.  We’d also be able to cook  some, if not most, of our meals and not have to spend a fortune on dining out.  We discovered an added bonus when we arrived:  the condo was in a prime Provincetown location, just a short walk from the lively Commercial Street, the town’s shopping, dining, and nightlife hub.  It was the perfect spot.  We’d need to use our rental car only if and when we wanted to leave the center of Provincetown.  The condo itself was on the top floor of a typical, old Provincetown house that had been split into separate units.  It has two decent-sized bedrooms, a loft as an extra sleeping area, laundry facilities in one of the bedrooms, and a full (albeit small) bathroom.  It was quite comfortable for the three adults and one child in our party, and the cable television and wifi were appreciated.

Our condo rental proved to be a near-perfect base for our Cape Cod adventure.  The only drawback is that Provincetown is at the very tip – the very end – of Cape Cod.  The drive to get anywhere else on the Cape is a bit long, and since there is only one main highway across, we’d be passing and seeing the same stuff over and over.  Because of this, we ventured away from Provincetown only once (not counting our drive back to Boston prior to our departure), to catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard in Woods Hole.  It was a two-hour drive one way just to get to the ferry.  I did want to visit Nantucket, too, but I did not want to spend another day driving a total of four hours just to get to and from the ferry port.  Keep this in mind if planning a trip to Cape Cod; consider staying somewhere more centrally located if visiting the islands is a priority.

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My travel bucket list: Everyone else is doing it so why can’t I?

August 26th, 2010

It’s not news to anyone that I like to travel, that I plan trips months in advance.  It’s what keeps me going; I can’t help it.  Some folks think I have traveled extensively – and I have.  I’m not ungrateful for the trips I have taken; however, there is still so much of this world that I want to see!  When I think about certain trips or destinations, my thoughts are always followed up with, “Yeah, I’ll get there someday….”  But what if I don’t?  What if I run out of time?  What if life really gets in the way?  I was thinking about that the other day and it really depressed me.  It’s not the fact that I haven’t been to some places already, but that I may not get to experience them at all.  On a related note, I have been seeing a lot written lately about “bucket lists” as they pertain to travel – places that people must see before they die (or “kick the bucket”).  It got me to thinking about my own bucket list.  Do I dare compile such a list, put it in writing?  I’m afraid it’s going to be really long!  And what if I don’t make it to all these places?!  Nevertheless, here it goes:

1 – Spend at least one month in Calabria and at least one month in the area around Napoli to explore and learn about my family’s roots.

2 – Go to Bhutan.

3 – Go fly-fishing in Mongolia.

4 – Go to Argentina and visit vineyards, drink lots of malbec, listen to tango music, and just take it all in.  (Side note:  Argentina is my current travel obsession.)

5 – Return to Africa.  At the top of my list to visit in Africa are Mozambique, Ethiopia, and South Africa.

6 – See Dry Tortugas National Park

7 – Travel around Scandinavia.  I’ve been obsessed with the region, specifically Norway, since I was a young girl.

8 – Visit Isle Royale National Park.

9 – Go to Alaska, and not via cruise ship if I can help it.

10 – Western Canada, namely Banff and Vancouver.


12 – Finally make it to Glacier National Park

I think that about covers it.  Of course, all of the above will be in addition to returning to Yellowstone with my daughter and then taking her to Disney World… Oh dear, I see another list in the making.

What’s on your bucket list?

Posted by Francesca

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Wild animal encounter (and why I am terrified of alligators)

August 18th, 2010

Every Thursday, I try to participate in Travelers’ Night In (TNI) on Twitter.  It’s in the middle of my workday so sometimes it’s difficult.  TNI basically is a global discussion about, well, travel (read more about it here), with different topics each week.  This week’s topic is “animal encounters” and that got me thinking…..

I’ve had a few animal encounters in my life, most of them occurring in or around Yellowstone.  But my most infamous animal encounter story goes a little something like this:  I was 10 and with my family on our annual Florida vacation.  The five of us were bike riding on then-undeveloped Sanibel Island.  We were biking for hours on narrow trails that bisected swamps and cut through heavily wooded areas.  Dad led the pack, followed by Mom, then me and Felicia, and Frankie was taking up the rear.  When it was time to start heading back to the bike rental place, we left the scary trails in the woods and rode out onto a residential street.  We were happily biking along, admiring the big, new houses on that particular street, when all five of us came to a screeching halt.  I swear, it was like something out of a cartoon.  A whole line of Folinazzos on bikes braking and skidding because of the massive, greenish/blackish reptilian figure that appeared a little ways down the road.  My breath was lost somewhere between my diaphragm and my mouth; all I could muster was a breathless, “Is that….. an alligator?!”  By golly, it sure was an alligator.  At the time, in my 10-year-old mind, that enormous alligator turned its head, looked at my family, and said to itself, “Oooh, lunch.”  At the same time, a disturbing thought penetrated my paralyzing fear:  a few days prior, in a one-day-when-you’re-on-Jeopardy!-moment, my father informed us that alligators are capable of running up to thirty-five miles per hour.  All I could think of was my then-four-year-old brother at the back of the line being unable to pedal his little legs fast enough to outride that alligator.  I was snapped to by my father’s voice instructing all of us to slowly and calmly turn our bikes around and begin pedaling in the opposite direction.  I thought I was going to pass out.  That alligator almost ate my whole family!

True story.  Well, almost.  The reality is that the alligator was crossing the street about thirty yards down.  Now, in my thirty-six-year-old mind, I’m pretty sure it didn’t even turn its head and see us.  But that doesn’t make for a very fun story now, does it?

Posted by Francesca

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Mimi & The Blue Angels

August 14th, 2010

This weekend is Chicago’s 52nd Annual Air & Water Show.  I look forward to this event every year, but not because I want to head down to the lakefront to jostle for position and sweat with thousands of suburbanites and tourists.  My reasons are far more sentimental.

My paternal grandmother (Mimi, as we called her) loved the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, one of the highlights of the Air & Water Show.  Because we lived so close to the Lake Michigan, we got to witness essentially four days’ worth of mid-air maneuvers by these skilled pilots.  (Four days = two days of practice + two days of actual Air & Water Show.)  Without fail, Mimi pulled out her rickety, metal sunbathing chair and set up in our backyard to watch the Blue Angels fly, twist, dive, and roar overhead.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was the highlight of her summer.  And, our backyard – if you want to call it that – was no more than an 8×8 patch of grass behind our 6-flat apartment building on West Lexington Street.  But when I was sitting out there with Mimi watching those planes, and watching her face glow ever so slightly with delight, I could have been anywhere in the world and it would not have mattered.  My Mimi pretty much was my best friend until she passed away in 1988, when I was 14 years old.  I miss her like you can’t imagine, even more than twenty years later, but getting to see those Blue Angels every summer makes me remember those days in our little backyard, and a whole host of other happy memories from those brief fourteen years I had with her.  I hope the Blue Angels keep on flying forever.

Posted by Francesca

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Thoughts on the Blackhawks Convention

August 4th, 2010

I knew this year’s Blackhawks Convention would be insanely crowded since they’re total studs now for winning the Stanley Cup.  I also knew that I probably shouldn’t even think about going because those insane crowds would just annoy me and be the source of severe anxiety for me.  But when a friend of mine said she’d scored some passes and a one-night stay at the Hilton (the site of the Convention), and the price was reasonable, I just couldn’t bring myself to say no.

I should have just said no.  Actually, I take that back.  If I hadn’t gone, I would not have met Denis Savard again, and he would not have signed my jersey for my daughter.  But I promise that I will not attend another Blackhawks Convention if I can help it.  Some issues I had that need to be rectified:

1 – Crowd management and control.  This is needed especially for people waiting outside the various ballrooms to gain entrance to the scheduled panels.  Once the doors to the ballroom open, people start pushing and shoving.  I’m surprised I saw no fights break out (Lord knows I wanted to knock out a few people….).

2 – Signage indicating entrance/exit into/out of the ballrooms.  This kind of goes along with #1.  People not knowing by which doors to stand and wait caused some of the pushing and shoving.  True story:  there was a panel in progress in one ballroom and we wanted to get into the next scheduled panel in the same ballroom, so we were waiting outside the doors.  We were toward the front of the line and a pretty good line of people had formed behind us.  A few minutes before the on-going panel was to be let out, a Hilton employee told us we had to move out of the way because the doors we were standing near were the exit doors for the people in the ballroom.  That meant we had to go and stand by the other doors where another long line had formed.  It was unfair that we’d been waiting there so long, unknowingly at the wrong doors, and then we had to go to the back of the other line, thereby putting in jeopardy our admission into the ballroom.

3 – Fan questions for the panels.  I’m all about fan/player interaction, but some of the questions during the panels were so irrelevant, some even inappropriate.  This was especially true during the 2010 Olympics:  A Golden Moment panel, which was made up of Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Patrick Kane – ya know, the young studs on the team.  It was mostly girlfans asking ridiculous questions, not even about the Olympics, one even asking to present Keith with a gift from her and her sister.  If fan questions can’t be omitted entirely, then at least have someone there to first screen the questions before the fans are allowed in front of the microphone.

4- Player inaccessibility.  One of the draws of the Convention is the opportunity to see the players up close, in regular clothes, and to interact with them.  The current Convention set-up allows for no interaction at all, outside of the autograph singings for which attendees must first obtain a wristband.  Before and after the panels and autograph sessions, the players are ushered in and out by a security entourage, as if they are dignitaries or major Hollywood celebrities.  That just made the players seem even more distant and inaccessible.

I still love my Blackhawks and always will.  Since it’s near impossible to get game tickets, too, I guess I’ll just have to settle for watching the games and seeing the players on television.

Posted by Francesca

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Highlight of the Blackhawks Convention

August 1st, 2010

Cherish forever, originally uploaded by Francesca….

The 3rd Annual Blackhawks Convention just wrapped up. I attended for the second, and probably my last, time – but more on that later. The highlight of the entire event, for me, was getting to once again meet my childhood hockey hero, Denis Savard.

I had to first wait in line to get a wristband for the scheduled Savard autograph signing, and then later on, I had to wait in line again for the actual autograph. Kind of annoying but it was better than having to deal with people pushing and fighting to get ahead of me in line (again, more on that later). Others in line had photos or hockey cards of Savard that they wanted him to sign; I had my very first Blackhawks jersey, which is a good 20-25 years old. My parents bought it for me when I was about 10 years old because Savard was my idol. I wore that jersey constantly; I probably would have slept in it if my parents had let me. I’ve long outgrown the jersey but held on to it for sentimental reasons. When Lucia was born, I decided I’d save it for her – it could be HER first Blackhawks jersey, too.

After waiting for over two hours, it finally was my turn to go up on the little stage to the signing table. I unfurled the jersey and placed it on the table. Savard and his security buddy seated next to him had the same reaction when they saw it: “Wowwwwww!” I said to Savard, “This is my very first Blackhawks jersey. My parents got it for me when I was like 10. Now I want to pass it on to my daughter.” He asked me, “What’s your daughter’s name? I’ll sign it to her.” So I told him “Lucia”, and of course I had to spell it for him. He signed with a silver Sharpie on the 8 (of 18) on the back of the jersey, “To Lucia / Good luck / Denis Savard 18 / HOF 2000”. As he was signing he said, “Now when Lucia has kids, if I’m still alive, I’ll sign it for them over here [motioning to the 1 on the back of the jersey].” When he was all finished signing he said to me, “Good thinking to keep that jersey. Keep the tradition going. You’re a good mom.” I wanted to cry when he said that to me. That is the ultimate compliment for this new, hockey-crazed mom, even more so coming from my all-time favorite player and childhood idol! Savard stuck out his hand to shake mine and then I just about floated off that stage. Denis Savard still is my hockey hero.

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