Saturday, December 29, 2007

The end is near

A year ago, I was piling into an Amtrak train with a handful of friends, preparing to ring in 2007 in New York City.

A year later, I am packing to leave for Fort Lauderdale, FL, and while away it is highly unlikely that I will add anything to my blog so I wanted to extend my wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2008 to all who read this.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Viva La France

I love the new French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. I'm not sure what his politics are like, but I love the press he generates. Yesterday he was seen arm-in-arm with his model/singer girlfriend, Carla Bruni, landing in Luxor Egypt for some rest and relaxation.

The ability of the French to differentiate between a leader's intelligence, ability to lead and personal life is a subtlety the United States has yet to appreciate. Our current President is a man who stands on very high moral ground. Yet, he has not shown himself as a man of intelligence or capable of leading.

Americans chose our President because he expressed fidelity to his wife and praised God. The public's fixation on these issues has resulted in a President who has remained faithful to his wife, but has little else to show. Given the choice, I'll take Sarkozy. Presumably he was elected because people thought he was smart and capable of leading... who cares if he is sleeping with an ex-supermodel.

Christmas Hangover

Today I came back to the office after being out for the past few days to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

The sheer gluttony I showed overeating at nearly every meal the past couple of days is sickening. Suffering from chronic food coma, I have come back to the office seeking solace from my refrigerator which has so much food it could feed an entire African village.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

We hosted our first Christmas Eve dinner party tonight. The company was excellent, and I could not have been more pleased with how delicious everything turned out. If there was a criticism it was that we purchased far too much meat and fish. No doubt most of the salmon will be tossed and we will be eating pork loin for the rest of the week.

In honor of the Christmas holiday, I thought I would end tonight's blog entry with an excerpt from one of my favorite holiday tales...

...The Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood
puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came
without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and
puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he
hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store?
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Victoria's Diner

Victoria's Diner is one of my favorite places to grab breakfast on the weekend.

Recently this diner in a doublewide was remodeled, menu revised and hours extended (open now 24-hours on the weekends). The waitstaff told me that a male couple who recently bought the diner were responsible for the changes. Aside from the change in decor in the front room (which still is a bit off in my opinion), there must have been a change in the kitchen as well because everything being served looks far fresher and has much more taste.

Because the new owners have not changed the affordable prices and large portions Victoria's regulars can still be seen lining up in the cramped foyer of the diner waiting for a seat every weekend. Lines tend to get a bit long by 10:30am but everyone always seems to be quite friendly about the wait. Victoria's clientele boasts a large cross-section of Bostonians. On any given weekend you are likely to see young, old, gay, straight, latino, black and asian. My favorite patrons are the African-American women who come after church decked-out in their Sunday finest. They add a touch of elegance if not over the top fashion 'a la roxbury' which I never was exposed to growing up in the suburbs.

An added bonus previously not mentioned if you happen to be a 30- or 40-something is that the music played during weekend brunches is 80s only. I'm sure for the younger clientele, this retro feel fits in just fine with a dining room in a trailor but for someone like myself who grew up during the 80s it is an unexpected and pleasant touch not overlooked and definitely appreciated; brunch always tastes better listening to the likes of Prince, Madonna, and Cindy Lauper.

How to get to Victoria's
Victoria's is located on Mass Avenue on the Dorchester / Roxbury line, at 1024 Massachusetts Avenue. It is easily accessible off of I-93 and as the address indicates, on Mass Ave.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Visit with Nana in the hospital

My grandmother - Nana - suffered a stroke in February and her health in recent months has been sliding. For weeks my mother has been indicating that Nana has been having trouble focusing and not always been 'present'. I had not seen my grandmother since I visited her in mid-October. At that time, she looked weak but was still very much aware of her surroundings so when I was told she had suffered another mild stroke earlier this week and had been admited to the hospital, I decided to call in sick and pay her a surprise visit.

The 20 minute drive into the suburbs looked like a winter wonderland and provided me time to contemplate what I would say when I saw her. I was concerned that due to the stroke or medications she might not be alert, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that nothing was further from the truth. We had a wonderful conversation reminscing of stories from the past, talking about family members and the current holiday season.

At times the conversation was tinged with sadness, and it made me realize how very aware she was /is of her mortality. When sadness would enter her voice, I would acknowledge what she said and let her know I shared her sentiments, but I did not let her dwell on the moment or forget about how lucky we both were to have our family so close (both in proximity and emotionally). That was what our morning together was like; conversations about nothing in particular and enjoying our moment alone together. If I noticed she was sad, I would use my humor or wit to lift both our spirits.

However, when it was time to leave, I could not help but notice that the vivacious grandmother I knew most of my life has in recent years seen her spark dim. My grandfather passing away a decade ago followed by an accident a couple years ago that resulted in her taking a bad fall and now most recently her faltering health has changed the grandmother I have known most of my life. Today's visit made me long to be back in my grandmother's house like when I was a child. My memories of those years bring me tremendous comfort, and I will continue to wrap them around me like a thick blanket to ward off the cold feeling I had when I turned my back to leave her room in the hospital earlier today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What A Cool Bank

I love this story which my mother just e-mailed me and immediately wanted to post it. I wish more of these stories were shared so people could hear about all the great things companies do in their communities. My employer has never done anything on such a large scale but they make an honest effort to give back in meaningful ways too. Too often stories of corporate greed and deception come to mind so kudos to Michael Solberg and State Bank & Trust. Here is to hoping that their efforts are acknowledged and others will follow their lead.

Bank to employees: Pay it forward

FARGO, North Dakota (AP) -- A bank is giving its full-time employees $1,000 each and part-time employees $500 each. There's one condition -- use it for people in need. State Bank and Trust Chief Operating Officer Michael Solberg said each full-time employee will receive $1,000 and each part-time employee will receive $500, as part of a $502,000 "Pay it Forward" initiative. "We're going to really see some huge impact on our community," Solberg said.

Employees were told not to use the money for themselves, their families or families of other bank employees. The bank asked each employee to document the good deed with a video camera. The deadline is June 30. The employees were told they may choose an individual cause, pool their money for a larger project or collaborate with donors outside the bank. The privately owned bank has more than 500 employees, he said. The bank made the announcement over the weekend.

In previous years, the Fargo-based bank has taken 5 percent of the company earnings and divided it up at holiday time among employees.

Winter Blues

I returned to Boston approximately 2.5 weeks ago, but the weather has been so awful that my vacation seems like a distant memory. Since returning, I've been cold; I'm cold in the morning when I get up to take my shower (the tile in my bathroom floor is so cold that I actually hop into the tub); I'm cold walking to and from my work (not to mention slipping and sliding - I'm sure to fall face first any day now); and I'm cold when I get into my PJs at night which now consist of socks, sweats, and a long sleeve shirt.

All this has proven too much and resulted in a bad case of the winter blues. I can't wait until I will be warm again - maybe then my stiff neck will finally go away.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

8th Annual Santa Speedo Run

Each year hundreds of Bostonians participate in a short road race in nothing but tiny little speedo bathing suits to raise money for charity in something called the Santa Speedo Race. Now if Boston was in a more temperate climate this might be considered quite festive, but anyone who has ever visited Boston in December knows this is not the case. Earlier this week our fair city received a sizeable snowstorm and since that time the mercury has not ventured far above the freezing mark. Despite the frigid temperatures spirits were high (as were some of the runners no doubt -- or at least a bit buzzed to be able to brave all the ice and snow), when they took off yesterday in the 8th Annual Santa Speedo Run. If you would like to see pictures from this year's race visit Edge Boston.

According to the Santa Speedo Run website, the run has raised over $150,000 over the past 7 years for the following charities:
September 11th Children’s Fund
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
Children’s AIDS Program at Boston Medical Center
Children’s Hospital Boston
The Ellie Fund
Eliot Community Human Services

No estimates for the number of runners or the amount of money raised for this year's charity, Women's Lunch Place,was published initially but you can check the Santa Speedo Run website in a few days and I'm sure the information will be available.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Earlier this fall I set up an account on TripAdvisor, and recently I added some reviews about my trip to Brazil so I thought I would note the activity here on my blog. I have not written reviews for most of the cities tagged on my TripAdvisor account, but I do plan on revisiting many of these destinations and in the future I hope to take better notes about my trips so I can add more entries. It seems like a great way to document and hopefully remember all the great things I experienced.

You can check out my account by linking here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Moving on Up - Boston Ranked 8th Busiest Travel Destination in U.S. by Orbitz

According to a recent survey conducted by Orbitz, Boston jumped two places in their annual ranking when they were named the 8th busiest travel destination in 2007. In 2006, Boston was ranked the 10th most popular place to visit. Orbitz bases rankings on bookings from the website. This leads me to conclude either more people are travelling to Boston or those who liked travelling to Boston in 2007 preferred to use Orbitz. Regardless, I think it gives Boston bragging rights - our little city or big town (depending on your perspective) ranks as the nation's 24th largest by population so to crack into the Orbitz top ten is impressive.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Morro de Sao Paulo, Brasil

Morro de Sao Paulo

After leaving Salvador we flew to the beautiful island of Morro de Sao Paulo where we stayed at Pousada Villa dos Corais which is nestled between beaches three and four.

About Morro de Sao Paulo
For those unfamiliar with the island, the beaches are numbered and while most of the activity on the island is centered around beaches one and two, you can easily walk to these locations (10-minutes by beach) from Pousada Villa dos Corais. The island does not allow cars and most of the foot traffic can be found on the beach as people explore the pristine island. Our pousada and many of those out on beach four provide transportation into the town, but we opted to walk along the beaches each evening. The island is extremely safe and clean so walking even late at night was common. I would highly recommend anyone considering a trip to Morro de Sao Paulo to stay at Pousada Villa dos Corais (pre-season rates were $150 / night and includes breakfast). The grounds are meticulously maintained, accomodations are spacious and secluded, service is impeccable and the food delicious. For those who like to treat their stomach when they travel, we found that most of the restaurants on the island were somewhat lacking, but our Pousada did not disapoint. Next door to the hotel is a delicious restaurant (only open for lunch) that has beautiful views of beach four called Pimenta Rosa and next door (about 100yards away) is a large two story bar that looks like a Brazilian version of a log cabin. I've included both in the picture gallery above for visitors to see. The bar is open until about 11pm each night and is a great place to go grab a drink. We actually split our time fairly evenly between the beach and the inifinity pool with the swim-up bar at Villa dos Corais.

Cars are not allowed on the island which is probably a good thing because the roads (what few there are) are in horrible condition. However, it is very easy to get to the island and it is equally easy getting around once you arrive. Most people who arrive opt to take the boat which leaves from Barra in Salvador. The boat ride is relatively cheap (approximately $25 each way) but takes 2.5 hours. We opted to fly which is more money (approximately $100 each way) but it takes only 15 minutes. Flying is not for the faint of heart. Although one can hire a pilot to fly them to the island (there are two tiny landing strips) most who fly use the services of Addey Taxi Aereo or AeroStar (we used AeroStar). Personally, I loved the flight and had a good time but on both legs the weather was beautiful - I'm not sure I would feel the same if we were flying in bad weather.

Salvador, Brasil

Dois Dias em Salvador, Brasil

We spent two days in Salvador Brasil, which according to Wikipedia "is a city on the northeast coast of Brazil and the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. The city is one of the oldest in Brazil and the New world." The city, founded in 1502, is large by American standards with a metro population of approximately 3.5M. Pelourinho, which translates as pillory (a horrible device used to shame and punish slaves), is high above sea level and the oldest part of the city. The neighborhood offers visitors an excellent example of Portuguese colonial architecture and is very well preserved. Pictures of the churches and architecture above show how beautiful this neighborhood remain despite its shameful name.

Salvador claims to have 365 Catholic churches (one for every day of the year), but easily the most impressive must be the Church and Convent of St. Francis which was built in the early 1700s and includes 37 beautifully tiled mosaics and a profusion of carvings covered in more gold leaf than I have ever seen in my life. The affect is awesome (to use a truly Bostonian adjective).

Truthfully, Salvador was not one of my favorite cities to visit, but it was one of my favorite places to eat. While in Salvador we ate at two restaurants that anyone visiting should try. The first and more famous restaurant is Sorriso da Dada (loosely translated as Dada's Smile). Located in the Pelourinho district, the restaurant is not fancy but provides a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. The woman for whom the restaurant is named leaves a lasting impression and represents the best of traditional Bahian cuisine I have ever had. We also ate at a newer restaurant in Barra (pronounced ba-ha) called Pereira. The restaurant is across from the beach and provides a more modern take on Brasilian cuisine in a very cool setting. Here you will see tourists mingling with young, wealthy Bahians enjoying an evening out. It is next to a Japanese Sushi restaurant (same owners) called Sato which we did not eat at but also looked fun. Sato was busier at night but Pereira always had people out on their beautiful patio / deck.

While in Salvador we stayed at Grande Hotel de Barra. The hotel was conveniently located across from a small beach, and while the accomodations were clean I found the rooms lacking in almost every creature comfort. The rooms were spartan and old (despite being assured we were in a newly renovated room). However, for two days - it was easy to deal with and the location was both safe and seemingly fairly central. Moreover, the hotel was quite affordable costing approximately $90/ day (keep in mind when I was in Brasil the US dollar was quite weak - the rates in Brasilian currency was 190 / night). If one were to book a room at the Grande Hotel de Barra, I would strongly recommend requesting a room facing the beach. We stayed in room 511 which was a corner room, closest to the beach and five stories above the street noise and smells. While walking through Barra, we stumbled across Pousada Manga Rosa which looked beautiful from the outside. According to the B&B website, rooms range from $70 - $100/ night.