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Puerto Rico - Babymoon Bliss in Winter

posted Feb 11, 2011, 9:25 PM by Richard Lee   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 10:10 AM ]

We’re on our way to Puerto Rico for our babymoon!  Living in Boston and Lisa being 20 wks preggers, we wanted to find somewhere to get away from this horrific NE winter (70" already this year), and it had to be warm, have a nice beach/pool, a direct flight, we preferred to go somewhere outside the US, and ideally somewhere we hadn't been before.  PR is perfect, 4 hours on a direct Jet Blue flight (yay for tv!) and we’re there! Ok, so 3 out of 5 ain't bad!  Plus, even though we're technically in a US territory, it sure feels like we've left the country - except we don't need our passports, don't need to go thru customs, and still use good ol' US greenbacks.  Even though we'd been to PR before, we stayed in Old San Juan, which was great - but not really the beach/poolfront relaxation my preggers wife was looking for...

We stumbled upon the new  St Regis in Rio Grande - it's only about 30 mins from San Juan airport by car (we rented a car for $100 for 4 days).  I had never really heard of St. Regis, even though I'm a tried & true Starwood Preferred Guest member - I guess I usually tend to focus on the Westin & W as they're more our style & price range.  The St. Regis is SPG's top-of-the-line chain, with rack rates over $1000 a night!  Ouch!   The resort opened in Oct 2010, so was only open a few months and some of the early reviews on TripAdvisor weren't that flattering... but they had started to improve and responded to alot of the more recent posts.  And you figured it couldn't survive at those rates with those kind of reviews... as it turned out, we were right!  Fortunately, we also were able to mostly use SPG points (20K per night for $2000 of value), which is actually a pretty good utilization of points / miles if you compare to getting a free flight (typically around $350-500) for 40,000 points / miles.  But this place is worth it - when we checked in, we were given champagne, and the butler is now coming over to our room to mix me a mojito and bring Lisa a chamomile tea!  Why are we only staying here a few nights?  Oh yeah, we went dry with our points!

beach palapas at st regis

Beach palapas at St Regis - this will do for now... but pls come back in 5 mins to spritz me.

Lisa for poolside lunch

Lisa for poolside lunch - Mahi Mahi with spicy mayo!

Beach in the background

Beach in the background - Most of the guests stayed by the crazy nice pool, but the beach is so close too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re halfway through Babymoon, 2011, and we’re having a wonderful time down here! This morning, after a light breakfast on our balcony, we went kayaking for about an hour,  where we saw lots of turtles/coconuts, iguanas (here Lizard, Lizard!) and golf holes. Richard was practically salivating watching the golfers out there, but the whole purpose of a babymoon is to spend time together, so he didn’t play (thanks Sweetie, I appreciate it!).



A large iguana

Then we got on a tandem bike, which I’ve learned is one of those things that looks more fun than it really is! Maybe it’s just cause I was in the  bike and couldn’t see anything, plus I missed the feeling of freedom and adventure you get when the wind is whipping through your hair. The property isn’t that big, so we only biked for about 30 minutes. There are a couple famous people (Oscar de la Hoya, Carlos Beltran, J-Lo) with homes here, which we shamelessly took pictures of  (see below).

Lisa in front of Oscar de la Hoya's $14.5MM vacation home

The afternoon was spent at the pool, where our lounging was interrupted a few times by sudden but brief rain showers. Its amazing how fast they swoop in and out, most only lasted for 5 minutes. In between, we managed to fit in a quick came of boule, but out of respect to Richard I can’t tell you the outcome (only that it was practically a shut-out and he was not happy at the end of it!)

For food, we ate at Seagrapes (restaurant by the pool) and Molasses (by the golf club) once.  All of them were pretty pricey ($20 sandwiches, $16 cocktails), but generally good.  We never ate at Fern, which is their "fine dining" Jean George restaurant.  We opted to use the car we rented to check out the "real" PR food.  We had dinner at  Pasta & Pueblo – which is supposedly one of the best restaurants in PR – run out of a shack by a few former surfers.  It's technically in Luquillo, which is very much a beach area - it's teeny, so you may drive by it a few times before you actually recognize it (as we did!).  We got the Coconut Shrimp and Flank Steak, which were fairly basic, but solid... nothing mind-blowing, just good fresh food.  We loved the low-key beach bum atmosphere, where there were literally rocks on the floor.  Also, I love their motto "Food made with love" and the fact that Beer ($1) costs less than Water ($1.25).

We also ate at La Estacion, which is a super cool restaurant in Fajardo we stumbled upon last time we were in PR - it's a great carribean BBQ restaurant - all outdoors.  Hit this up if you're doing the BioBay in nearby Fajardo.  We started out with chorizos on a skewer, and a yummy green papaya salad - for our main courses, I had BBQ pork spare ribs and chicken - while Lisa had their famous Mofongo - which is mashed plantains stuffed with BBQ chicken.  Everything was great - as last time - we will be back, oh yes, we will be back.  Interestingly, the place always seems to have a lot of tourists which is odd since it's in a bit of an out of the way location.  Oh well, we like it nonetheless!

On our last day in PR, we hit up a strip mall of "Kioscos" or Kiosks in Luquillo.  Very gritty (in a good way) - we hit up El Jefe Burger Shack - supposedly the best burger in PR.  We'll be the judge of that!  First impressions were good - I liked the atmosphere and it had a good mix of locals & tourists - this is the type of place that lets you write on the wall "Eggy was here!".  Now, for the food - the waitress was really nice, but I think pretty disappointed when Lisa ordered her burger plain with American cheese and none of the fun condiments they offered (as I am every time she orders her boring burgers ; ).  Fortunately, I came to save the day and got the sampler of sliders - one with short ribs, another with chorizo sausage, and lastly one with jalapenos... all sounded amazing and I was psyched when they finally came - 90 minutes later!  Even our salad took about an hour.... we understand island-time - we really do... and in fact we weren't in any rush - but this was a bit ridiculous since the place wasn't super-crowded.  Think they just need to expand the kitchen - as the grill is teeny!  Sadly, the length of time overshadowed the food.  My sliders sounded great in theory, but were too well done for my tastes.  I could kind of taste the ingredients, but not enough to do them justice.  I would give El Jefe another try - as I liked the place and hope that it was only an aberration... Lisa liked her burger, but nothing to write home about.  Maybe its just that our standard for burgers is so high with our Cloudland meat ; ).





Providence for Water Fire

posted Aug 16, 2010, 5:02 AM by Richard Lee   [ updated Aug 20, 2010, 8:43 PM ]

Spur of the moment trip down to Providence... known for it's art and food due to proximity to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Johnson & Wales University.  Tried to see one of our favorite artists - Mike Bryce - we bought one of his oil paintings many years ago in Block Island, but unfortunately, his studio was only opened until 2PM.

Coffee and bread from Seven Stars Bakery - amazing lattes and pretty damn good bread.  Then hit up Atwells Ave (Italian Section) - saw some nice al fresco cafes including Venda Ravioli, which reminded us of an Italian market or any European Square. Good Italian grocery which had amazing looking homemade pastas, desserts, meats, etc.

Strolled down Wickenden Street - stopped by some cool little boutique stores.  Then hit Thayer Street by Brown University and checked out some of the shops / restaurants there.

Tried to eat at Al Forno - but the place was a zoo, even at 6:30PM!  Having come from a recent trip to Spain, it was mind boggling that this many people were eating so early!

Settled on New Rivers Bistro, an America bistro-style restaurant - we ate at the bar, which we love doing.  There was a jazz concert right outside, which shockingly we couldn't hear, but could only indulge with our eyes.  Food was decent - we started with some quiche, then I had the homemade pasta with ham, while Lisa had the Squid.  Dessert looked amazing, but we were late for Water Fire!

Gotta say that Water Fire was a little disappointing - not sure what I was expecting, but it was a little more than a few mini fires on the Three Rivers.  I did enjoy a few things about it:  (1) they attracted a TON of people to the Providence waterfront, so great for businesses; (2) it was young and old alike... and stuff for everyone - balloons, fire, cotton candy for kids and wine/beer for adults.  However, the show itself was nothing special - we didn't stick around for all that long.

Biking in Needham / Dover

posted Aug 16, 2010, 5:01 AM by Richard Lee

Rode mostly down South Street - but it was a lovely ride, with some big beautiful houses.

Biking on the Minuteman Trail

posted Aug 1, 2010, 6:41 PM by Richard Lee

The Minuteman Trail is an 11-mile bike / running / walking / rollerblading path that runs from Bedford to Cambridge (near Alewife Station).  It's not an overly strenuous ride, as the inclines are pretty moderate so it's pretty good for a casual ride, or even rides with kids.  I don't really get why any cyclists ride their road bike here - it's not really much of a workout, but they seem cool flying by screaming "on your left" as they pass the kids and families ; ).

Bikeway Source


It can make for a nice half-day or even full-day activity as it rambles thru some lovely historic towns (Bedford, Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge),

We rented bikes from the Bikeway Source in Bedford right at the start of the trail - they rent Hybrid or Mountain Bikes for $20 for a half-day or $30 for a full-day.  Not too shabby.  

Stop by Avenue Deli for a lunch and have a nice picnic anywhere along the Trail.  There are some decent mountain biking trails off the Minuteman you should check out if you're adventurous.  Here are some pics from a marsh stop.

Cochituate Lake in Natick / Framingham

posted Jul 26, 2010, 8:48 AM by Richard Lee

We had friends in town for the weekend - they have two adorable boys (aged 2 & 4), so obviously many of our activities involve family-friendly things.  On a hot and sweltering Sunday, we drove out west to Cochituate State Park in Natick / Framingham.  It was only 30 minutes and only cost $5 to park (a BARGAIN compared to some of the North and South Shore beaches).  I have to say, it's also nice to have so many other activities and facilities, making it a low-stress and easy day trip.

Cochituate State Park


Crowded on the beach (they supposedly have 6 beaches!), but still plenty of room for our group
Plenty of picnic tables and BBQ area.
Lots of people playing soccer, frisbee, etc.
Bathroom facilities for the diaper change
Roped off swimming area and lifeguards for watching over the kids
Charles River Canoe & Kayak rents boats for CHEAP (we rented a two-person kayak for $20 for the hour). There are plenty of places to explore, as the lake is HUGE.  Only negative for me is there are alot of power boats out there causing waves.

Overall, great value and we'll be visiting again soon (probably next week when Lisa's parents visit!).

Things to Do in Woodstock VT

posted Jul 7, 2010, 7:14 AM by Richard Lee   [ updated Feb 11, 2011, 9:09 PM ]

We love going to Woodstock VT - in fact, we've done long weekends up in that part of VT 3 times this year!  There are so many great restaurants, activities, and just great people in Woodstock.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Getting to / around Woodstock VT
By car, it takes about 2 1/2 hrs from Boston - mostly highway.

Where to Stay in Woodstock VT
Farmhouse Inn at Robinson Farm - Lisa & I spent NYE 2010 at the Farmhouse.  It's about 5 miles out of the Woodstock town square, but you pretty much drive everywhere in Woodstock so it's not a big deal.  Plus you get the benefit of checking out the amazing property that Barry, Torry & Hannah have!  We've stayed at many B&Bs throughout New England and this has to be one of our favorites! Barry, Torry & Hannah were amazing hosts - inviting us to family game night, offering tastes of locally-made sherries (the egg nog / maple sherry combo was amazing!), giving us tours of their barn & hen house (where they get eggs every morning), and letting us snowshoe on their unbelievable 17-acre property. We're already planning a visit in the summertime when they show project movies on their big red barn!

Lincoln Inn - we stayed at the Lincoln Inn over the 4th of July... it's a cute little B&B about 3-4 miles outside of Woodstock Green.  It also happens to have one of the higher-rated restaurants, Mangowood (see review below) there - so quite convenient!  Our main purpose for the weekend was to pick up our 1/4 cow from Cloudland Farm, but we never miss a chance to stay at a B&B and enjoy Woodstock!  The place is very intimate, cozy, rates were reasonable, has a cute babbling river in the yard, and serves some amazing breakfast (the stuffed french toast was my favorite).  

Where to Eat in Woodstock VT
Cloudland Farm - So, we first got introduced to Cloudland Farm via their beef - a group of friends bought a quarter share of a cow - and divvied up the meat.  It was delectable - somewhere between the price of beef at Shaw's & Whole Foods, but a big step up in quality.  Seriously, even the ground beef was amazing - I had friends seriously beg me to make more burgers for them!  Here's what 118lbs (otherwise known as 1/4 cow) looks like:


Anyway, while picking up our beef in July 2010, Cathy Emmons mentions that they're starting up Farmhouse Dinners later that fall - so we plan to try it out on our next visit to Woodstock which happened to be New Years Day 2011.  We were NOT disappointed.  The place is very rustic - it is a working farm, after all... and you sit family style with random folks.  We weren't really paired with "randoms" at our New Years' brunch - it turned out to be Bill Emmons (Cathy's husband and owner of the farm)  & his kids.  So, we may have been fortunate to have better service, but honestly the food is best described as "comfort food", but doesn't quite do it justice.   Our menu:

- Vermont blueberry-buttermilk scones & brioche rolls
- Caramelized onions, Cloudland ham & Grafton cheddar frittata
- VT blueberry pancakes with local maple syrup
- Spring brook cheese potato gratin
- Braised Cloudland pork belly with black currant sauce
- Roasted root vegetable  with leek hash
- Sparkling currant soup with champagne & cassis sorbet

Here's pics of the pork belly and blueberry pancakes... I'm hungry just looking at it again!


Everything was delectable, amazingly fresh, and the conversation with Bill & family was a perfect complement to the food... it was great to hear the story of how they've built the farm and where they get all the ingredients.

The price was high for family-style ($35 for brunch, $50 for dinner), but for the quantity and quality of food, it can't be beat.  We're definitely headed back to sample dinner next time we're in Woodstock!

Mangowood Restaurant (at Lincoln Inn) - so because we were staying upstairs and because Chef Tan gets great reviews on TripAdvisor, we ate at Mangowood for dinner.  Following the suggestions of TA folks, we got the fried fish, tofu fries, and chicken wings.  By the time we realized everything we ordered was fried, it was too late - but it was beautifully presented.  Personally, we enjoyed the tofu sticks the best.  We liked the meal, but it was a bit too heavy for our tastes.  We would go back there, but aren't in any rush.  Honestly, I preferred the brunch Chef Tan prepared for us - although I hear good things about the "Chef's Table" she offers where you eat in the kitchen with her.  Here's a pic of Lisa about to attack the Red Snapper!



What to Do in Woodstock VT
I guess it depends on whether you're there in the winter or summer, but we like outdoor activities - so in the summer we hike - like Mount Tom - it's a pretty small mountain, but there are some steep climbs - probably only 30-40 mins to the top - but some beautiful views from up there.


In the winter, we like to snowshoe, we hit either Billings Park or the trails behind Farmhouse Inn.  We also like to get a winter sleigh ride at the Billings Farm (it's free, with $10 admission, but you also get to check out the rest of the Farm museum grounds).

This isn't technically Woodstock, but Quechee is only about 10 minutes away and has some great things to do / see as well.  You gotta check out Simon Pearce - which has amazingly beautiful yet overpriced glassware - you can also see them create all the pottery / blow the glass right there - it's pretty amazing to see in person.  Eat lunch at the restaurant there too - it's pretty friggin' good and alot cheaper than the dinner there!  Also, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, try to get a hot air balloon ride - they take off at dawn or dusk right next door to Simon Pearce - we did one with Balloons of Vermont for my birthday in Oct, so got to experience foliage from about 1000 ft above the earth.  Darrek and Lisa made sure everything was perfect - and would recommend this to anyone!

Watching a ballon get filled up is truly spectacular!


Stay away from the flame though!  That'll leave a mark... 
Once you're airborne, everything else melts away and you just stare at beauty.


Things to Do in Block Island, RI

posted Feb 17, 2010, 9:03 PM by Richard Lee   [ updated Jul 26, 2010, 7:35 PM ]




My wife & have been going to Block Island for the past 6 years - it has quickly become an annual summertime tradition for us to spend a long weekend in a place that still feels "undiscovered" and "unspoiled" in many ways.  Here's an overview of our favorites when we're on our favorite New England island.

Three Sisters Restaurant


How to Get There / Getting Around Block Island

We take the Block Island Ferry from Point Judith, RI (which is about 30 minutes SE of Newport and 90 minutes SW of Boston).  The nice part is that typically the traffic isn't nearly as bad as Cape traffic from Boston.  We take the traditional ferry which costs us $11 / per person each way - total time about 1 hr.  You don't generally need reservations if you're not taking a car - but if you're planning on bringing a car, make sure you book reservations months in advance!

When you're in Block Island, it's pretty easy getting around (especially if you're staying at a hotel near the downtown area).  The entire island isn't very large (less than 10 square miles!), so getting around is pretty easy especially if you have a bike (plentiful to rent).  Personally, we stay about 1-2 miles from downtown, so we like to bring our car over (cost is less than $100 on BI Ferry).  Parking is VERY easy in town and at beaches, since there are so few cars on the island.

Where to Stay in Block Island

We always stay at the Flounder Inn (401-465-2614) - one of our favorite B&Bs on Block Island and anywhere really!  Mike & Becky Ballard are amazing hosts and have two adorable bedrooms in the main house, plus a small cottage on their lovely property.  We've only stayed in the main house (cost is about $135/night) - but the cottage would be perfect for small families (only rented by the week).  The Ballards have an amazing yard, with nice views of the BI Sound, a relaxing hammock, and an enviable garden.  



Best of all, Mike makes the BEST breakfasts with fresh vegetables and herbs from his garden.  He whipped up this masterpiece this year - a sausage, egg & cheese soufflé that was literally the best breakfast we've EVER had.  


We prefer B&Bs and prefer more peaceful, relaxing vacations - but if you're looking for a little more action, there are plenty of hotels in-town.  Best to check out the Block Island Chamber of Commerce - they're always up-to-date on room / house availability.  It's how we originally found out about the Flounder Inn!

Where to Eat / Drink in Block Island

Block Island has some great restaurants - here are a few of our favorites haunts:

We love to eat at Eli’s (but the place is small and usually crowded, so not the most kid-friendly).  But generally considered one of the better places to eat on the island – definitely get the tuna nachos appetizer (it's a classic!).  Make sure you get there early, as they don't take reservations (or just put your name in and do some window shopping).

Go to Winfield's - one of the nicer restaurants in town - their Beet Salad was amazing, and their Grilled Pork Chop was a thick, juicy, perfectly cooked piece of meat (with an amazing shaved fennel and radicchio side with texas caviar).

We also like to eat / grab a hot coffee drink at the Hotel Manisses – they’ve got a great patio for cocktails and they also do a really nice after-dinner drink (coffee cocktails).

Grab a mid-afternoon cocktail at The Oar (West Side Road)  – drink a mudslides or a 'Gansett (only $2!), play some corn hole and watch all the pretty boats! 



Get a picnic lunch from Three Sisters 

What to Do in Block Island

We like to swim in Fresh Pond – there’s a small place to park your bike right on Lakeside Drive – you have to look for it closely…

You should also try to hit the Mohegan Bluffs – it’s on the south side of the island near the lighthouse – not a great kid-friendly beach since you have to walk down some crazy stairs, but an amazing view – biggest waves on the island if you like to body surf.   

A kid-friendly beach is one we found down Champlin Road that we like too – it’s pretty quiet and secluded down a long dirt path – if it’s too wavy or cold, we also hit Cormant Cove, which is down Champlin Road, but actually part of the Great Salt Pond where the kids can definitely go in the water safely.  Just watch out for the marine wildlife - if you look closely, you can see the skate in the water below Lisa's feet!  

Get a picnic lunch from Three Sisters and bike ride around the island – like I mentioned, it’s a VERY hilly island so there are some difficult climbs – a nice ride is actually going all the way up Corn Neck Road (it’s a long slow climb).  Park your bike at the end and do a little walk to the North Point… or ride your bike down West Beach Road (about halfway up Corn Neck) to get to another secluded part of the island. 

There’s also some decent hiking up this way which isn’t overly strenuous…  we usually also rent kayaks by Trim’s Pond and do a half-day of boating


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