Monday, August 24, 2015

The Best Bars & Lounges at Heathrow Airport

Passing through an airport can be an extremely stressful part of traveling, an issue that a myriad of airline and airport operators attempt to counteract with sleeping capsules, yoga lounges, and kid-free zones. San Jose International, LAX and Miami Airport even have therapy dogs to de-stress passengers, but sometimes all you airport that supplies a wide variety of bars is London Heathrow.

The UK’s busiest airport continues to impress in all areas, from the delectable options for food and beverages to the convenient and ever expanding parking services that Parking4Less offers visitors -- long and short stay parking at all 5 terminals, all of which ensure a relaxing and hassle-free journey. If you’re traveling through Heathrow any time soon and in need of time to unwind during your time in the airport, here is a list of recommended pubs and lounges.

London’s Pride by Fuller’s, Terminal 2
Just last year, the centuries-old brewer opened a gastropub in Heathrow to offer passengers premium ciders as well as local provenance food to supply them with something slightly different from the typical airport restaurant experience. They even have a Terminal 2 lager called Wingman.

The Flying Chariot (Wetherspoon), Terminal 3
The Flying Chariot celebrates all things Heathrow with designs inspired by the airport’s rich history, boasting its own ‘control tower’ observation deck that overlooks the runway. In addition to the Windsor & Eton Brewery craft beers, the pub also serves organic ciders, artisan gins, and an extensive selection of exquisite dishes.

Fortnum & Mason Champagne Bar, Terminal 5
Open from 5:30 am until the last departing flight, Fortnum & Mason Champagne Bar is a classy establishment with a beautiful island bar serving a diverse range of bubbly, along with cocktails, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages. Travelers may wish to pair their drinks with crumpets, caviar or other snacks from the menu.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

More Water Fun and Mississippi River Exploration

It’s not easy to sleep in a room with three kids, but the rooms at Grand Harbor Resort in Dubuque, Iowa, was a nice size and we were all pretty exhausted from the previous night.

In the morning, we stayed at the hotel for breakfast thanks to the Dubuque Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

They set us up at the Tony Roma’s in the hotel and I found out they do breakfast as well as they do ribs.

I had the Banana Nut Pancakes and the kids also enjoyed pancakes with chocolate chips, while friend Amy went the low carb way and ordered a loaded omelet. We were all full when we left the restaurant.

While Amy and the kids stayed at the waterpark at Grand Harbor Resort, I headed over to check out Betty Jane Candies.

When I had mentioned on Twitter that I was heading to Dubuque, I got a few different messages about stopping at Betty Jane’s. I have to say that some of my best places have come from Twitter recommendations so I had to follow up.

Walking into Betty Jane Candies is a bit overwhelming for a chocolate lover like me. Luckily, I had already come with a specific purpose in mind.

I was told to get the Gremlins, which is Betty’s version of a turtle, complete with nuts and caramel. 

They were so popular they were even put in the Academy Award gift bags this year.

After sampling one I agreed they were the ones to get, and bought a box for my Mom, and for my friends at CI Living, whom I usually brought a special Midwest chocolate during my television appearances.

I also wanted to bring something back for the kids. There were bags of old time favorites such as Nonpareils, and non-chocolate candies like licorice, but I settled on some chocolate lollipops. 
Back at the Grand Harbor Resort, I took a turn on the lazy river myself, and splashed around in the water with the kids until it was time to go.

Directly across from the hotel is the Diamond Jo Casino. In addition to casino games for adults, they have a bowling alley and sports restaurant which are both family friendly.

We didn’t have time for bowling, but we did have lunch at Mojos Sports Bar. My burger wasn’t anything special, but the kids enjoyed the nachos and chicken tenders.

After lunch, we went to the National Mississippi RiverMuseum and Aquarium. There was a lot to see about the environment, land, and marine animals in and around this area. The displays also included a lot of history.

The best part was the large selection of hands on activities for the kids. They had a lot of fun with it and I think they learned a bit too.

By the time we left the museum, they were exhausted. It was a quiet ride home from a great trip to Dubuque.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Waterpark and True Italian in Dubuque

I’ve loved living in the Midwest because I can get to so many different states within a few hours. One of the (very) few things I don’t love about Champaign, though, is the lack of good Italian food. 

Coming from Long Island, you could find a pizzeria with great Italian on every corner. I have yet to find one place within two hours of Champaign that I can compare to those.

On a recent trip to Dubuque, Iowa, I was happy to discover a new city and a restaurant that makes pasta like my aunts used to.

I felt comfortable as soon as I walked into Vinny Vanucchi’s in downtown Dubuque.  The checkered tablecloths and family photos were very welcoming and I knew instantly it was a great family place. 

That was what I was looking for as I had brought along my friend Amy, her two kids, and a third child.

Amy was driving, but I tried one of their martinis from the cocktail menu. The Chuck Berry was simple and perfect, with vodka and raspberry liqueur.

We got a pizza for an appetizer. It was quite good and we probably could have finished it if we hadn’t ordered entrees too. It was packed up to take back to the hotel for the next time the kids – and adults – got hungry.

Vinny Vanucchi's also served a family style salad with Italian dressing, of course.  It was served with a garlicky bread.

I had Uncle Paulie’s Baked Mostaccioli. It is made with baked penne, tomato sauce, and three different cheese. I always find it funny that they don’t have Baked 

Ziti in the Midwest because there’s no ziti in the macaroni aisle! Baked pasta is made with rigatoni or penne. One of these days I’m going to find out what the Midwest has against ziti!

Amy got Fettuccine Seafood. It is fettucine with scallops, shrimp, and crabmeat in a cream sauce. She said it was fantastic.

The kids shared the ravioli with Alfredo sauce and kept enjoying the pizza, although it seemed like we didn’t make a dent in it.

It was ice cream for dessert for the kids while the adults shared a chocolate cake.

We went straight to the Grand Harbor Resort and checked in quickly. The standard room was a nice size, and also had a small refrigerator.

It was just minutes later that the kids begged us to take them to the waterpark and we were curious to check it out too, so we headed downstairs.

I don’t know that the Grand Harbor indoor waterpark would have been enough for teenagers, but it was more than enough for the kids we had with us, who were six and three. They loved the slides, lazy river and the kiddie play area.

I don’t think we would have gotten them out of there if the park hadn’t been ready to close for the night, though I have to admit we were having a lot of fun too.

Everyone was more than ready for bed by the time we got back to our room at the Grand Harbor Resort. We needed to rest up for a full next day in Dubuque. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Milwaukee Summerfest Finale

I had a full schedule for my final day in Milwaukee and had a new friend to share it with.

It turned out Roberta, who I had met the previous day, and I had a lot in common, including our desire to check out some of the highlights of Milwaukee for the first time.

Roberta picked me up at the Hilton Milwaukee and we took a scenic drive to Lake Park Bistro. It was a quaint restaurant with a view and we both new immediately we’d love the French brunch.

We started with the pastry assortment. It was tough not to finish the Croissants, Banana Chocolate Chip Bread, and Blueberry Scones, but I wanted to save room for the rest of the food.

We shared a wonderful beet salad, which had feta cheese, fennel, and pistachios in a red wine vinaigrette.

For a main course, Roberta loved the Crab Eggs Benedict and I was satisfied with my Vegetarian Omelet, though I couldn’t understand why a vegetarian omelet was topped with two thick slices of bacon.

Both dishes at the Lake Park Bistro were served with Dauphinoise Potatoes. They were excellent, but too rich to eat a lot of.

We were too full to order dessert. The waitress still brought us some refreshing fresh fruit sherbets to finish our meal with.

After brunch we went to the Pabst Mansion for a tour. The former home of Captain Frederick Pabst, founder of Pabst Brewing, and his family is a must-see in Milwaukee.

The mansion has been preserved and restored by a local historic preservation group, who took it over in 1975 after it had been sold to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and used as a home for their priests.

The tour is quite complete and includes history of the items as well as the family who originally built it. It’s also safe to say it’s the only historical mansion you can buy a PBR cap in!

When the tour was over, we were off to the Harley-Davidson Museum

I confess that I am not a huge motorcycle fan and expected to be in and out quickly, but we found it very interesting with tons to see.

I had never been on a motorcycle in my life. A family friend had been severely injured when I was a kid and I just never had the desire, but it was kind of fun sitting on one that I knew wasn’t going anywhere.

Roberta also enjoyed trying out a few bikes before finding one that was just right.

We ended up spending a few hours learning about the history of yet another Milwaukee family who had become known throughout the world, the Davidsons.

I took some time to head back to my room at the Hilton a bit before Roberta picked me up and dropped me at Summerfest. We said goodbye, knowing we would meet again.

Before I even got inside, there were vendors with food, drinks, and other items. 

I stopped to sample some Cupcake Vineyards wine. I liked their Riesling and Pinot Grigio.

When I was at Summerfest on Friday night, my friend Lisa and I arrived just before the Doobie Brothers concert so I didn’t have a lot of time to explore. We had also just eaten a big meal so food was not on my mind.

This all changed when I arrived on Sunday evening with $40 in food gift certificates from the Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau and an appetite.

I had mixed feelings on the Solo Pizza Cone. Thanks to gravity, the sauce had dropped to the bottom and it was a bit dry on top.  

I heard great things about their Mac & Cheese cone, though.

I enjoyed the King and I Thai Egg Roll, a bargain at $1.75, as were the Potato Chips on a Stick.

The Chicken in a Waffle Cone with maple and cole slaw was delicious, as was the

I finished my food tasting with an amazing dish of Brownie Cascade from Wisconsin’s Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream. It was chocolate ice cream with pieces of brownies, caramel cups, and fudge.

Despite the fact that I didn’t finish anything I ate, I was stuffed and the only thing I wanted next was an iced tea (I always get half sweet, half unsweetened), but there were plenty of other eating and drinking options at Summerfest.

Lots of Wisconsin beers had tents selling their products, including Water Street Brewery and Lakefront Brewery.

I also walked around and checked out some of the different stages at Summerfest between food venues. There were 11 stages, each with a different band. It was so wonderfully put together that you didn’t hear any of the music interfering with anything else that was on.

The bands ranged from country to rock, without a little pop and hip hop thrown in.

It was nice to see all the families enjoying the activities, or just picnics along the lake.

I met up with friend and fellow travel writer, KristineHansen and her husband. We had a glass of Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio – it was, after all, mostly a beer festival -- to celebrate the reunion.

We had fun catching up, but they had tickets to the Neil Young concert in the Amphitheater and had to head there.

I had planned on sticking around to see Kansas and Smash Mouth, but decided to head back to the Hilton instead. It had been a long, but wonderful, first trip to Milwaukee – a place I definitely plan on returning to. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Exploring Milwaukee and Uber Surprise

It was day two in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with my friend Lisa and the day would definitely end much differently than it started. It just goes to show you that you never know what’s going to happen next.

Lisa and I were up early to head to the Milwaukee ArtMuseum. This museum had become as famous for its design as its exhibits. 

The main feature was a set of “wings” that would open at 10:00 am when the museum opened, “flap” at noon, and close when the museum did at 5:00 pm.

While we obviously couldn’t stay all day and watch the wings go, it was quite interesting to watch them open. 

We then went inside and saw the phenomenal exhibits, which included art from Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, and even Andy Warhol. It was fascinating and I hadn’t seen so many of my favorite artists since I was in Vienna.

When we left the Art Museum, Lisa and I decided to take a long walk back downtown to the Milwaukee Public Market

We admired a few buildings along the way, but we had worked up quite an appetite and were anxious to see what the Milwaukee market had.

I think it would be easier to say what the market didn’t have.

There seemed to be every food imaginable, though, ironically, the lobster that had been recommended for Lisa to try was the only place that was not open.

We finally decided on a sandwich at Green Kitchen. We asked what their most popular item was and were told it was the #Thirteen, turkey with avocado, sprouts, tomato, Swiss cheese and mayo. It was a good choice.

We figured we’d share it and then look around for something else, but the sandwich was huge.  

We were more than satisfied when we finished it and figured we would come back for some cheeses before heading home from Milwaukee on Monday.

It was at this point that the weekend and the schedule came to a dramatic change. Lisa had an emergency at home and had to leave me, so I put the rest of the day’s activities on hold.

Instead of the original plan of the Harley-Davidson Museum and a brewery, I did some exploring of downtown, finishing up on Old World Third Street, known for its German heritage.

Mader’s Restaurant caught my eye and I decided to go inside. It was very quiet when I got there and the bartender recommended an excellent Gewurztraminer (PJ Valkenberg Rhein).

I decided I should try a few German specialties. Although I wasn’t thrilled with the Pretzel Crostini, I loved the Potato Pancakes. 

Also, a nice couple came in and ordered the Giant Pretzel and gave me a piece to try. It was perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

I took the long way back to the Hilton Milwaukee and took a rest for a bit before I showered and got ready for the evening. 

I was excited about going to the Smyth Restaurant at the Iron Horse Hotel, but disappointed Lisa wasn’t coming with me.

I called for an Uber car and within a few minutes Roberta appeared in front of my hotel. She greeted me with a big smile and we immediately started chatting. 

She told me how she had always wanted to go to the restaurant she was taking me to and I told her that my friend was supposed to come with me and had to leave last minute.

By the time we arrived at the Iron Horse Hotel, Roberta was more like an old friend than a driver. I invited her to join me for dinner. She signed out of her Uber duties and was thrilled to accept!

We took a tour of The Iron Horse Hotel before dinner. I was quite impressed. 

It had a very casual rustic feel, yet it also had a bit of elegance in the presentation and clientele. I definitely could see staying in this transformed warehouse at some point in the future.

The menu at the Smyth looked fantastic and we couldn’t decide what to order. 

I started with a Fleur De Violette Cocktail, made with local Rehorst Gin, Creme de Violette, simple syrup, and topped with rosewater and absinthe. It was very refreshing.

The Mushroom Chevre Cheese Soup was quite refreshing and Roberta, who loves grits, loved them combined with the Pork Belly.

In addition to what we ordered, the chef also sent Cheese Curds (amazing), Rabbit Meatballs, Bison Tartare, and Halibut, so we pretty much sampled everything on the menu! It was a great meal.

Then came dessert. Roberta and I had just took tastes. 

We were so full, but I can say the Blackberry Crumble with vanilla goat crème and the S’Mores were both scrumptious treats.

Roberta drove me back to the hotel after dinner. We had such a great time I asked her if she wanted to join me the next day for brunch and museums. She agreed and we made plans.

You never know where or when you’ll make a new friend. For me, it was in Milwaukee