Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eating roadside: Americas Top 5 diners!

Okay so I've always been a fan of the top 5 list format, or any list of any kind that ranks your favorite stuff in some order. Spending a lot of hours touring through europe back in the days it used to be one of the perfect ways to kill a few hours on those endless drives. So why not adapt it to my blog? Here goes, I give you (drum roll) Americas in my experience top 5 diners!

1. Santa Cruz Diner

This diner is the only diner I would consider planning a trip around to get to eat there again. It's open 24 hours, has an extensive menu with a great selection of vegetarian/vegan dishes and sports and a fantastic interior! It's like a dive bar turned diner and all your cool friends are there. Santa Cruz probably has a lot more to offer but I don't care. This is the sole reason for me to go there!

If the Santa cruz diner had the interior to be proud of Miami's 11th street diner has the exterior! Set in the trendy art deco area of south beach this Paramount Dining Car original is just gorgeous! Food is excellent as well even if it's your average diner menu. A perfect meal after a swim in the ocean!

These guys have a breakfast cocktail menu. These guys have a BREAKFAST COCKTAIL MENU! Off course they make my list. This diner decadence is located in hip Fremont and besides from having an all day cocktail menu they have everything that you would expect in a diner plus some! Go here after vintage shopping on Fremont street or before hitting one of the many clubs and dives in the area.

This authentic 50's diner already made it to my blog once before under the hidden gems segment that I hope to add to in the future. You can read all about it here. It's pretty much a trip back in time to a better place where no one knew of diabetes and atkins! It show's in their menus(portions are huge). Perfectly located on the drive between Los Angeles and Vegas. Check out Calico Ghost town while you are in the area.

This diner style cafe is located in the heart of the hippie mecca right on Haight street. Grab a seat at the counter and watch as they cook up a feast in front of your eyes. Your coffee will be constantly refilled by the friendly staff and you'll get much needed energy to explore on of Americas greatest cities. Watch out for lines on weekends during brunch. Better to be early!

Runner-ups that didn't make the list are any IHOP, Waffle house or Huddle house restaurants! Happy eating and please let me know which is your favorite diner!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Travel stories: Memphis - Taking care of business!

I think it's about time I tell you a story from our second road trip, a journey that was to take us from the megalopolis that is New York to the heart of the deep south, and finally end up on the sunny beaches of Florida. It was a summer of extreme weather with great heat waves in New York city and tropical storms coming in from the Mexican gulf and had us dodging hurricanes by constantly re-plotting our travel route. It was also to be our first encounter with the American south, a destination which holds almost mythological features in the minds of europeans.

We had started out in New York and then travelled by plane to Nashville.  There we picked up a rental car and took a detour to lynchburg & the Jack Daniels distillery before ending up in Memphis. 

Memphis is the largest city in the state of Tennessee and a cultural melting pot that within a few miles has seen the birth of both blues & rock n roll. It is also perhaps most famous for it's uncrowned king, an 18 year old kid that one day walked into legendary sun studios in Memphis to record two songs as a birthday present for his mother and would proceed to become the greatest artist that the world has seen, Elvis Presley.

An occasion that made Memphis extra special for us was that this was gonna be the place where we would celebrate our first anniversary. Exactly one year earlier we had gotten married in Vegas in Elvis style so what better place to celebrate our wedding day than the Heartbreak hotel overlooking Elvis beloved home Graceland! Our room was huge with our own living room and two TV-sets airing Elvis movies around the clock! We arrived at a friday so Memphis was booming with activity as we took the shuttle down to famous Beale street. Beale street is the heart of the Memphis nightlife and has seen giants from the jazz & blues scene such as Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong and B.B King the latter which has his own club located here. A pleasant surprise for us was that every weekend they seal of Beal street from cars and allow you to buy a beer from any bar and bring it out on the street with you. It was fantastic to wander around in this vibrant crowd absorbing all the culture and history that has left it's imprint in every single building. 

We ended up on a bar called Blues City CafĂ© where we caught a great live band on stage. Rockabilly kids in Hillbilly Casino  served up a steaming rocking show that made us drift into the warm summer night. In no way could this first meeting with Memphis started off any better! I ended my night with the southern specialty fried green tomatoes in a nearby fast food joint.

The next day it was finally time for the main event, our tour of Graceland! Graceland is the home that Elvis bought for his family when his growing fame and the gathering of fans outside his house that followed started bothering the neighbors too much. He started looking for something more suitable and ended up buying Graceland that at the time was located several miles outside Memphis. Here he started renovating the mansion with his in my taste wonderful kitschy style and brought his friend and family to stay here with him. This is also the place where he died in 1977 with his long abuse of medications as the probable cause of death. He is also buried here alongside his much loved parents.

A tour bus picked us up and brought us into the well guarded grounds. A well formed line took us through the front the door into the main building. Everything ran quite smooth and it felt like you had plenty of time to see what you wanted without to much people in the way. Out of respect for the family the upper floor where Elvis was found dead that sad day is closed for the public eye. I find this tasteful since we came to honor an artist for what he did in life and not to satisfy any morbid curiosity. The tour continues on outside to the garden where Elvis lies buried and it was quite moving to glare upon his tomb. 
There are plenty of other Elvis themed tours in the vicinity of Graceland. We went to see his private jets, the car museum and the collection of Elvis jump suits. Even if you are not a huge Elvis fan I think you would enjoy Graceland. There is so much to see that not only commemorates his life but the whole era in which he lived.

After a whole day of sight-seeing we went back to the hotel to relax by the heart shaped pool for awhile.  As this was also our anniversary, of course we had some celebration planned. After relaxing back at the room and having a cocktail in the hotel bar we were ready to hit Beale street again. This time we ventured further down to try and find something a little less crowded. We had dinner at the hard rock cafe, perhaps not the most romantic setting you might think but in the context we were in it seemed quite fitting. After that we went exploring and ended up seeing an awesome blues trio in some shabby bar, and even though I'm sure that the locals would disagree this felt much more like the "real thing".  We hit a few more places before returning to the hotel after another perfect day!

Next morning we slept in a bit but then it was time to continue our journey in Elvis footsteps. Sun studios is the legendary studio that not only recorded some of the kings best tunes but also artists such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis & Roy Orbison(one of my dads old favorites). The studio is today a museum and they have really made a great job to give it the feeling of how it would have looked back then. Standing outside you could easily imagine what it would have been like when young go getters like Elvis would have come walking in guitar in hand hoping to be the next star. One of the most touching experiences was to hear the old recordings standing on the same spot where the artists would have been recording them. They still have an X on the floor marking the exact place where Elvis among others had stood.

 Our stay in Memphis was supposed to have ended here since we were heading down to New Orleans, however hurricane Gustav or Ike if I remember it correctly put a stop to that. And maybe that was lucky. For some reason the fact that we could not visit New Orleans or Key West on our second trip to the states left us with a yearning to come back and we so have for the last 5 years. We ended up staying 3 extra nights in the Heartbreak Hotel which cut a big hole in our budget but it doesn't matter since it was fantastic. I so do recommend everyone with an opportunity to go here. Myself I can't wait to go back!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Travel stories: Big Basin Redwoods State Park

This story took part on our road trip in 2010. A road trip that took us all the way up the American west coast from San Diego to Seattle, then inland to Yellowstone and back down through Salt lake city and Vegas until we came back to California. Our trip had started in L.A and we had been driving up the breathtaking coastal highway 1 towards San Francisco stooping just 2 hours short of S.F in the town of Santa Cruz. Driving up the highway 1 is enchanting but something had caught our attention that made us leave the ocean for awhile and pause in Santa Cruz for the night. That something is redwood trees. There is something magic about redwood trees that has fascinated me since I was a kid and first lay eyes on them on a trip to Cali with my parents. Well of course it has something to do with their role in a famous scene in the 3rd Star wars movie(I know it's technically the 6th one but who cares), but that's not all of it. They're like a lone reminder of some ancient time where dinosaurs and giant bugs roamed the earth and people hid in caves and danced around fires all night. A comic book fantasy that I had to share with M, and we had heard that Big Basin Redwoods State Park was just the place to experience it!

So since we wanted a full day in the park we decided to take a break in Santa Cruz since the park is pretty close. We drove around aimlessly until we stumbled upon a motel within our price range. It had Wifi which is pretty much the only thing I care about with a motel. That and coffee in the morning! National 9 motel was the name of the place and though it looked like any of the random thousands of motels across the states it came with a great bonus. It is in walking distance from one of the best dining experiences in the world, Santa Cruz Diner! I mean this diner is open 24 / 7 and it serves one of the most extensive diner menus I've seen. Not to mention all the great vegetarian options. Filled with all kinds of knick knacks on the walls and seemed like it always was packed with regulars both at night when we had a late dinner and in the morning when we came back for breakfast. After our hearty breakfast we decided it was time to hit the road. Having no clue where to start driving we relied on American hospitality and asked a friendly biker for directions.
Driving in to the park entrance takes you up narrow winding roads and I doubt that a RV would make it up there(but don't take my word for it). It was such a cozy drive though. We sang along to a goofy road trip country music collection M had picked up at some Walmart and just enjoyed the drive. Nature was leaning in from all sides of the road as we worked our way further into the heart of the forest in search of it's majestic giants.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California's first national park established in 1902 and is a popular destination for hikers with it's many trails and astounding nature. There are apparently some really neat waterfalls in the park which you can hike to with or without guides on longer day tours but we only had a few hours since we didn't want to be climbing back down those roads after dark. Anyways we were there for the redwoods!
We parked the car and and there they were. You know the expression you cant see the forest because of all the trees, but driving up I couldn't really see any big ones and now we were surrounded by them and man do they make you feel small. Temperatures were rising fast so we brought plenty of water should we find ourselves lost. We walked up to the information center situated in a log cabin to pick up a map and I was struck by that wonderful smell which i can only imagine would be from some kind of combination of tar and old wood. A smell that like Proust(and his famous madeleine cake) takes me back to distant childhood memories. Map in hand we started exploring one of the shorter hikes. Surrounded by these giant redwoods you just feel like you are stuck in some kinda Spielberg adventure movie. I couldn't resist to use my Iphone light saber app with accompanying star wars music but for some reason I found that so much more fun than M.

We spent a few hours walking around and i envied all the people setting up camp in tents when we got back to the car. Spending the night there must be magic! There's not really much more I can say about the park more than if you ever drive close by it make sure to make a visit. I promise you you will love it. We,  however left with joy in our hearts since we were about to revisit our beloved San Francisco which I have plenty to write about some other time. Until then, take care folks and remember that nature like this is not to take for granted. Hope to write to you all soon again!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seasons changing...

I woke up thus morning to the very unpleasant call from a telephone sales person. Not only did he speak without pause for about 10 minutes he also tried to make me agree that i had made a verbal agreement for him to handle my pension funds. When i pointed out to him that I am not in the habit of agreeing for anything over phone, especially not after just waking up he got really rude and since he NEVER stopped talking I pretty much had to hang up the phone on him. Not the best start of the day. Adding to that I've had the second night in a row with really bad nightmares so my mood wasn't the best this morning. However walking out the door to buy breakfast cured me of my disbelief in humanity. It is a stunning autumn day outside. We've had an for sweden unusual indian summer that lasted all through september with high temperatures and still it's pretty warm outside. These photos are taken right outside our door this morning.
I finally had the opportunity to eat breakfast with M who I don't see to often nowadays since she is doing her internship right now at a center for asylum seeking children. Since we slept in till noon we decided for a more sturdy breakfast/brunch and decided for breakfast burritos. Our trips in the U.S have opened our eyes to the mexican cuisine and we're both addicted to a variety of hot sauces by now. I couldn't tell you if the food we consider mexican is representative for Mexico since the only place we've been to is Tijuana. Probably this is more an american take on the style of food deriving from the huge latin american population in states such as California and Texas.
This monster of a burrito is filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, red onions, tomato, salsa, sour cream, salad & tomatillo sauce(which is a new favorite). I finished two of these babies with a large pot of black coffee and now I feel ready to embrace fall in all it's pride as well as my task of the day which is my present course at uni, database design. So time to dig in I guess. More road trip stories will come but for now i have a date with Date!