weekend agenda — rain room LA

Rain RoomNow open for viewing at LACMA, the famous Rain Room exhibit by London based artist collective Random International. Walk through a perpetual downpour without getting wet! This amazing technology senses the body and stops the rain from falling in your vicinity while it continues to pour all around you. People have stood in line for hours to experience the exhibit in other cities.You can see it with timed tickets now through March 16, 2016 here in LA — but still expect a wait. $30 includes general admission to the museum. Buy tickets here.

image: Jane Hu

weekend agenda: frank gehry

This weekend or any weekend between now and March 20, 2016 you can get up close and personal with some of the many many models representing the work of architect Frank Gehry. It’s like a wander through some sort of miniature land of the future where nary a right angle exists and buildings are more like super-sized sculptures than buildings.

IMG_5239Yes, this is a model of a building, one that actually got built. And what’s nice about the show, videos of the built work accompany many of the models so you can see how it actually came to life, how it scales and relates to a real environment.

Frank’s work is nothing if not stunningly emotional. Arresting even, especially in contrast to our mostly rectilinear world. In fact, i think that juxtaposition is what gives this work it’s power.

At 86 years old, there will only be so many more Frank Gehry buildings to be built. Although there are plenty in the works as evidenced by the show’s room of projects in progress punctuated by an image of the architect’s office — a sea of models:

Office shotWhether you are a fan of “object” buildings or not (admittedly some are more successful than others) there is no denying the genius of this man. It is well worth the $25 price of admission to sneak a peek into his world. And most interesting to hear in his own words and those of other creative geniuses across a wide range of disciplines, how and why he does what he does in a captivating film by Sydney Pollack. On the day i went, there were more people crammed into the little corner where this film is projected than viewing the plethora of models that make up the rest of the show. Say what that may about the show as a whole, just go. And then, because we are lucky in LA to be surrounded by a great many of his built works, take a drive around the city and see the buildings in person.

For tickets and more information on the show visit: LACMA.org

bottom image courtesy LACMA

stamp mania

Rudolph StampsSo I went to the unveiling event for the 2014 Rudolph Holiday Stamp Collection and what I discovered was the amazing Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Why is it that we never take advantage or know about these wonderful places right under our noses?

I honestly never would have thunk to visit the Postal Museum had I not been invited to this event by a talented design firm I employ often whose principal sits on the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee. And as luck should have it, not only were we the first ones able to purchase the new Rudolph stamps (aren’t they adorable?) but we also got an unexpected private tour of the museum’s William H. Gross wing by the museum director himself.

stamp gallery19 Million dollars and I can’t recall how many years to make this gallery come to life. And it is a real treat! Beautifully designed, it highlights stamps and the history of post in the United States and around the world, in ways that are interesting to both the avid collector and your average kid (I put myself in the latter)

  • Did you know that Franklin Roosevelt, an avid stamp collector, used to design his own stamps, supplying hand drawn sketches to the postmaster general to create?
  • Did you know that John Lennon was a stamp collector as a kid? The museum owns his collection complete with little mustaches drawn on the queen’s image and all.
  • Did you know that Amelia Earhart funded her flights by carrying mail on board and signing the letters?

You could spend hours and hours in this museum — for real! Featured items on display include the very first stamp in the world. a letter dating back to the silk road, a letter posted to John Hancock on July 4, 1776, a letter posted on the moon and so much more. But the real gems are in hundreds of pull out displays showcasing more stamps, artwork and history than you could ever possibly get through. A reason to go back again and again.

American Gallery moon mail Interactive DisplayOne little tidbit that I loved learning from the director was about the beautiful window graphics that line the 18 windows across the front of the building — printed scrims of  super large scale stamps that tell the history of America. Being a historic building nothing can be touched or changed without permission of government committees, in this case 3 different committees. Instead of simply asking permission which would assuredly garner 3 no’s, the director put a slew of stamps on the table and asked, “If you were going to pick the stamps to tell the American story, which stamps would you pick?” — and suddenly these government officials were engaged and boom, 3 yeses! Drive by at night and see the scrims lit up across the face of the building and you’ll marvel at their beauty.

Stamps are nothing if not beautiful. So celebrate their beauty and history with a visit to the Postal Museum on your next visit to Washington, DC.

images courtesy the USPS and The National Smithsonian Postal Museum

getting to know julia

julia_childFrom time to time, something will spark an interest in me to read up on someone or something and learn as much as I can. Several years ago, watching The Tudors television show sparked a small obsession with Henry VIII and I found myself reading up on his dynasty for months (The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George is one of the best novels I have ever read as a result). More recently, watching the film Julie & Julia again for the I don’t know how many-th time, I decided I should probably read the book on which half the movie was based — My Life in France. As interesting as it was to hear Julia’s story in her own words, what struck me most in reading this book was how one consciously starts to plan for the end of life as they age — in Julia’s case, placing her ailing husband in a home to be cared for, closing up their house in France for the last time, deciding to write her story . . . This innocent little book certainly made me think in ways that surprised me.

And this book lead me to another — As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. An amazing collection of over 200 letters between Julia and her friend/self appointed book agent chronicling their friendship, the reality behind Julia’s major oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as life’s daily trials and tribulations for two strong minded housewives in the mid-twentieth century. Letters were their way of getting to know one another as they didn’t actually meet for several years after the correspondence began, so it is a very revealing glimpse into a truly special relationship.

Julia Child ImagesAnd that was all it took for me to be smitten with Julia. One movie, two books and to cap it off (just like in the movie) . . . a trip to the American History Museum this past weekend to see Julia’s real life kitchen in person. Small and chock ‘o block full of well-loved kitchen gear it’s a snapshot of American life, a great American life . . .

Julia Child Kitchen

weekend agenda

mazeInside the National Building Museum in Washington, DC you can feel what’s it’s like to be a mouse in a maze. An urban take on the classic corn maze, this plywood structure is oodles of fun for kids or about 4.5 minutes of distraction for adults. Don’t get me wrong it’s a fun activity. But I fault the design for it’s dipped center which while it makes for great views and a social media hot spot, once you reach that point in the maze the way out is clearly visible and the challenge is over. But super fun to watch patrons from above so be sure to venture up to another floor and look down on the activated structure. At $16 a head, it is a bit pricy but you get some added value with the tickets that are all puzzles in their own right — a nice little touch.

ticketsThrough September 1, 2014.

Note: the gift shop at the National Building Museum is very nice with a great selection of gifts, books, toys and more.

three great masters, one great day

The Modern_AndoThe Kimball_ KahnAmon Carter_JohnsonAndo, Kahn and Johnson. The Modern, The Kimball and The Amon Carter museums, respectively. All located in Fort Worth, Texas a stones throw from one another. Each one a masterpiece. And now, you get a fourth for the price of three with a new building by Renzo Piano recently opened as an extension to the Kimball.

I thought I’d died and went to heaven. Who cares about the art — although taking in a little Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, Francis Bacon and Donald Judd always makes me smile (a true modernist at heart) — the buildings are what I came for.Details_3museumsEven the 90 degree heat couldn’t deter me. I could have sat on the concrete loungers, looking back at the silent power of three glass pavillions seemingly floating on water at the Modern all day. But that would have meant not sitting under the shade of a vaulted portico at the Kimball taking in the echo of cascading water and visitors footsteps as they navigated the grove of holly trees that act as transition from lawn, to courtyard, to vaulted building.

The surprise of the day was the Amon Carter Museum. The first built in the area back in 1961. The original museum, a small but arresting monolithic structure, sits up on a hill before a stunning green space with views of Dallas in the distance. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of Acropolis reference. Quite the stretch for the Western art collection housed inside but true to form for architect Philip Johnson who also designed the 2001 expansion on the back side.

views_3museumsIf you are ever in doubt about the power of architecture on the soul, watch the documentary My Architect by Nathanial Kahn, son of Louis Kahn who designed the Kimball Art Museum (along with his mistress Harriet Patterson, mother of Nathanial). If ever a piece of film has moved me more I cannot recall. I wept and wept — not because of the personal story of an illegitimate son piecing together the life of an absent father who had three separate families and died unidentified in the men’s room at Penn Station — but at the sight of magnificent building after magnificent building. True artworks juxtaposing the geometries of built form and nature, in locations all around the world. All by one great master whose calling it was in life to build buildings. Great and powerful buildings. Buildings that will move you to tears.

will you marry me?

i don’t think I’ll ever get enough of Melbourne. If only it weren’t so damn far away. And if only it were possible to move there . . . marriage anyone?  Whilst I wait for that marriage proposal, here are the highlights from my most recent visit:

Stay

My neighborhood of choice this time around was South Yarra. The suburb with it all. Leafy streets with beautiful homes. Shops and restaurants galore. Every Melbournian establishment it seems, has an outlet in S. Yarra. Just two train stops from the city and bordered by some smaller more creative-type neighborhoods, you get the best of all worlds. It’s an easy spot from which to get everywhere. But then again, that’s one of the things I love about Melbourne in general — it’s so easy to get to every nook and corner.

The Lyall Hotel, 14 Murphy Street, South Yarra

LyallA small boutique hotel on a side street with a spa, a lovely lobby bar and friendly service. I’m not sure it’s everything it thinks it is but it was a pleasant place to stay with standard rooms that include small living rooms and kitchens making it more apartment-like than hotel like. A plus in my book. Best feature: Heated bathroom floors.

See & Do

Made Beauty Space, 39 Church Street, HawthorneMadeBeautySpaceDo not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to Made for the bestest, most relaxing facial experience of your life. Enough said!  Ok, maybe not enough. It’s more than a facial. It’s sheer heaven in a heated chair — face, back, feet all get tended to and you’ll be simply glowing & floating on air when you leave.

Ian Potter Museum, Swanston Street between Elgin & Farraday, CarltonTimoty CookA nice little museum that is part of the University of Melbourne showing everything from antiquities to contemporary art. Through July 2014, you too can see The World is Not a Foreign Land exhibit — an engaging look at 6 indigenous artists from different regions with a decidedly contemporary flair.  Well worth seeing. Free admission.

The Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton — If you’re interested in learning about the history of Melbourne or seeing a living rainforest, or one of any sort of traveling international exhibitions, or even catching an IMAX movie this is your place. A large modern structure that sits in contrast to the World Heritage Royal Exhibition Center across the courtyard (open for tours when not housing an exhibition). $10 Admission.

Eat & Drink

David’s Country Shanghai, 4 Cecil Place, Prahan — Traditional Chinese dishes & dim sum served family style in a beautiful space designed by one of Melbourne’s top interiors firms. White washed walls, a stack of blue and white bowls and a container of chopsticks on every table sets a decidedly casual and traditional tone. Unusual dishes like beef made with tea leaves dot the menu. I was there late on a quiet rainy night but can only imagine this place is loud and buzzing most days. Highly recommended and they deliver too.

Tuck Shop Takeaway, 273 Hawthorne Road, Caulfield North — One train, two trams, nearly an hour in the pouring rain to get there. Completely and totally worth the journey. A tiny little burger joint with two tables, 3 counter seats and a school house theme right down to the Principal’s Office sign that leads to the back room. When I arrived it was empty. When I left there was a line out the door, rain and all.

IMG_4044 Voted one of the top burgers in Melbourne, they are large, juicy, messy (I must have used 50 napkins) and truly fantastic served with twice cooked fries and house made catchup. And for dessert, my favorite thing I ate this trip: Jaffa (orange chocolate candy) flavored soft serve ice cream.

D.O.C., 326 Lygon Street, Carlton — I tried to get a table on my last trip with no luck. This time, we nabbed the last table in the very back corner late on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. And now I know why it is always so crowded. Simply the best bowl of pasta I have ever had. The Carbonara was good . . .carbonaraBut the Pomodoro was to die for . . .

DOC Pomodoro Good to the very last drop!

done pastaPinnochio, 152 Toorak Road, South Yarra — In my notes I wrote “Pizza close to the hotel seemingly California Pizza Kitchen-esque.” So imagine my surprise when the pizza was authentic and really really good. With so much on offer in the neighborhood, don’t write this place off.

Jimmy Grants, 113 Saint David Street, Fitzroy — The hippest little restaurant in town just off Smith Street in groovy Fitzroy. And it just so happens it was the cheapest meal of my entire trip and among the best. GaziYummy souvlaki and refreshing feta, cucumber, mint & barley salad for two, $24. I could eat here every day, especially with my favorite gelato shop around the corner to cap off the meal.

Bowery to Williamsburg, 16 Oliver Lane, CBD — Bialy, Lox & Cream Cheese only fancier:  Beet and green olive bialy, dillweed schmear, cold smoked salmon with maxima (greens), capers and red onion. Everything I like but I wish I had substituted a bagel. Bowery to WillimasburgDespite the not so authentic bialy, the combo was lovely in this New York inspired sandwich place tucked down an alley in the CBD. Their version of a Reuben is the number one seller and the portions are substantial by Aussie standards but thankfully, not in that NYC mile high sandwich kind of way. Part of the ongoing American craze sweeping the city but definitely with an Aussie twist.

La Miel Et La Lune, 330 Cardigan Street, Carlton — A sweet little breakfast joint in Carlton full of students and faculty from the nearby university. I don’t know what it is but i always crave a good bowl of granola when I travel. This muesli hit the spot served with poached fruit and yogurt (although I’ll never understand the need for both milk and yogurt that seems to be standard in this part of the world). mieletlalune The kind of place you can cozy up to your computer and nurse a good coffee for awhile.

 Shop:

It may seem like a lot of eating went on and that would be the truth. But what would be a trip to Melbourne without a little shopping as well. Having never ventured into Australia’s department stores before, this time I hit up both Myer and David Jones just to see what they were all about — typical department store fare. The big news in town was the opening of H&M that has taken over the entire GPO building. Just a few days in, lines were around the block with security galore.

When you are in the neighborhood of Made Beauty Space for your facial (because you should go) there are two notable entries to check out: The Woodsfolk (gifts & homewares) & Maiike Store (baby gifts & a small collection of womenswear).

Country Road — with shops around the city including in the department stores, there was a large flagship just down the road from my hotel at the corner of Toorak Road & Chapel Street. I’ve been partial to the home goods in the past but this time around, I spent some time in the apparel department. Style at affordable prices for both men and women. Kind of like the Jcrew of the Southern Hemisphere. Don’t forget, seasons are reversed Down Under.

Country Road FallGreville Street, Prahan — This little area full of small independent shops, is a delight to just walk around and peruse. A nice alternative to the more chain ridden main drag, Chapel Street. Great cafes as well. The Fitzroy of the south with many second locations here in Prahan.

Burch & Purchase Sweet Studio, 647 Chapel Street, South Yarrasalted caramel

A sweet shop with fantastical creations it is also a place to pick up the perfect food gifts for those back home.

Pictured are the two things they are most famous for: Salted Caramel sauce and gold bullion bar chocolates filled with said salted caramel.

There are oodles of fancy chocolates, jams and spreads, freeze dried fruit packets and fluffy meringues to choose from. That is if you can resist the lure of the pastry case. Oh la la!

Et Al, 186 Farraday Street, Carlton — Every trip, I make one great find and Et Al was it this time. Unstructured, Asian-influenced, high style clothing designed locally by a male/female duo. The minimalist shop is located in a small stone cottage you could easily walk by without noticing, so keep an eye out.

Et AlMany of the pieces can seemingly have a lot of fabric but look exquisite on. Other pieces that seem simple can be overwhelming. It really depends on your body. So try, try, try things on. I nearly tried on the entire shop but in the end settled on a coat and a sweater. A special shout out to the shop manager, Silvie, who was extremely patient with me and most entertaining to talk to. She graciously threw in a beautiful scarf as a birthday gift to me. How is that for an unexpected treat?  And she’s made a customer for life. I’ll definitely be back on my next visit.

Of Note:

Phong Chi Lai CatalogEt Al also carries beautiful hand made shoes by Vietnam transplant, Phong Chi Lai. Expensive but works of art. In fact, he recently was included in the the much heralded Melbourne NOW show at the National Gallery Of Victoria. Rumor has it he may have moved to Tasmania and quit the shoe biz. But talent like this is hard to walk away from – or maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. I’m saving my pennies just in case.

wunderkin

In doing research for my recent travels down under, I came across some really talented kids doing super creative things that kind of blew me away. I love when young people are encouraged to explore their talents. And I love, even more, how the internet brings these talents to light all the way around the world. Keep it up kids there is a bright future ahead . . .

Melie's CakesFirst up is an amazingly talented baker and cake decorator in Auckland, NZ, who has a thriving business going at 15 years of age. Just look at her cakes and you’ll understand why. Since I was celebrating my birthday down under I was seriously tempted to order one of her creations that go for $70 a pop but since I was traveling alone, I thought better of that idea. And while she is partial to baking, her culinary skills don’t end there. She won a gourmet hamburger contest that brought her to the attention of some Master Chef judges and she has even worked on the line in one of their restaurants as a result. By sheer happenstance, I crossed paths with her mother while in Auckland (it really is a serendipitous world) and she is extremely proud and supportive of her daughter’s endeavors. I’d say with her talents and that support, this young lady is well on her way to a spectacular career. Visit melieskitchen.com

LuLu's PotteryNext is a 10 year old — 10 YEARS OLD! — from Australia who makes beautiful pottery well beyond her years. I remember doing pottery at summer camp at that age and let me tell you, it is not easy to make something centered let alone beautiful. It really is an art. And to master it at that young age . . . I’m impressed to say the least.

Student Show 14Lastly, the Melbourne Museum was hosting an annual show of student work while I was there. Everything from films, to furniture & lighting, graphic design, web design, and more. The very fact that design is so supported in the secondary schools was wonderful to see. The idea that young students between the ages of 15-17 could have something on display at a big city museum was highly impressive and as one exhibitor’s proud father put it, “A really big deal!” I agree wholeheartedly.

visiting auckland

Framed ViewPeople would probably say Auckland is an odd choice to spend all your time in if you are going to New Zealand, especially with the beauty of the South Island beckoning. And I would venture to guess that most only visit Auckland for a couple of days before they head south for great adventure. But I like a nice city, and had no problem filling my nearly 6 days to the brim. I rather liked it there. If you like a beautiful city that’s easy to get around, full of nice people, with beaches all about, good food, is multi-cultural, and easy going . . . you will probably like it there too. Maybe next time I’ll head south. Or maybe not.

Stay:

I did the AirBnB thing again and I am just absolutely in love with the whole concept. I had booked a hip design hotel in the CBD where most of the hotels in Auckland are located. But when my research started telling me that the bulk of what I wanted to do was not in the CBD, I opted to cancel the hotel and, instead, find a place in what seemed like the best residential neighborhood — Ponsonby. And I wasn’t wrong. Not only was it much more economical but the neighborhood was fantastic. Exactly where I would want to live if I lived in Auckland. And being in a little apartment there, indeed made me feel like a local.BnBMy host, Jennifer, has sectioned off the front of her charming bungalow into a private accommodation with a walled garden, glass double doors, a comfy light-filled bedroom, and a large modern bathroom. The added wall between the BnB unit and the back of the home where she lives, is cleverly disguised by a full length curtain. The furnishings are eclectic and beautiful. There is no kitchen but she supplies the makings for coffee & tea and a small fridge. There is TV, Wi-Fi, a washer and dryer, ample closet space to unpack, extra bedding, a hair dryer, literature on the area, and suggestions for local activities & restaurants. Plus, anything else you might need is within a stones throw. The perfect accommodation, in the perfect neighborhood. I couldn’t have asked for more.

See and Do:

Big Foody Tour — right off the plane I was picked up and whisked off on a little tour of some of Auckland’s foodie destinations. We went to a charming farmers market, the fish market, a local cookbook shop and stopped to take in the stunning views high above the city at One Tree Hill and Mt. Eden and even visited the north shore beaches for a look-see. My favorite part was meeting Elle, the proprietor. She may just be the friendly type but I felt an instant kinship. Following the tour, she emailed me a list of places to go based on my interests, we kept in touch via text throughout the week, and we even met up for dinner one night.

Hobsonville Point Farmers Market — While I visited as part of my above food tour, you can take the ferry right to the door of this farmers market, making it easy to get to, not to mention, a beautiful and uniquely Auckland-esque experience. The market is small but every vendor is special. Award winning olive oils, Manuka honey, sausages, cheeses, hand made crackers, jams, produce, baked goods, and prepared foods as well — don’t miss the cinnamon ginger tea at the Asian Pancake stall. Every Saturday and Sunday from 9-1.farmers Market

Tip:  Definitely pick up a jar (or better yet two) of Manuka Honey. Not only is it delicious but it has amazing healing powers (Really! The anti-biotic nature of this honey is well documented and each batch is tested and rated on a strength & effectiveness scale from 5 to 25) and it’s unique to the North Island of New Zealand. First day hesitancy kept me from buying the Earthbound Raw Manuka Honey 250 I enjoyed at the market. But thankfully Elle tracked it down for me at Little Bird Organics, 1A Summer Street, just a block away from home. I only wish I would have bought more even at NZ $32 a jar and added weight to my suitcase.

Cook the BooksCook the Books Cooking Workshops, 139 RIchmond Road, Grey Lynn — another stop on my foodie tour was this lovely little cookbook shop run by a husband and wife team that live upstairs. Most weeknights they offer cooking demonstration classes for up to 8 people that include a hearty meal and drinks (beer or wine) for NZ $55-60. I’ll choose an experience with locals any day over dragging home a heavy book and so I quickly signed up for an Indonesian/Malaysian class on a Wednesday night at 7PM. I am now a new fan of Malaysian food with its balance of sweet and spicy flavors and promise to actually cook the recipes we sampled. Fantastic food, new friends, new recipes and great memories all in one night — highly recommended!cooking classThe Black Sand Beaches — There is plenty of natural beauty to behold in and around Auckland, from volcanoes, to green pastures, to beaches, waterfalls, and sub-tropical rain forests but for my money, the black sand beaches take the cake. You’ll need a car and no fear of narrow, curvy roads, or left side driving to get there. Or do what I did and take the full day Auckland Adventure tour with Milestone Tours. On this tour you’ll take in all the beauty of the Western Coastal region but the highlight for me was definitely the black sand beaches. They are simply breathtaking.Piha BeachRose Hellaby House — this was a stop on my West Coast tour but just in case you are traveling on your own, be sure not to miss it. By far my favorite view over the city was from the cliff-side deck behind this lovely home in the Waitakere Ranges that now acts as an antique shop open to the public on the weekends, while the grounds are open daily. I can only imagine what it would be to live there and look out the bedroom window to that view everyday.

Auckland Art Gallery, Kitchner & Wellsley Streets, CBD — Funnily enough, the gallery was hosting a special exhibit of modern Australian Aboriginal Art when I was there. Australia being my next stop, I found this keenly interesting and paid for the exhibit while the rest of the smallish museum was free. Recently re-opened after a huge redesign project, the building is a beautiful modern timber and glass structure that looks out over neighboring Albert Park — a treat in itself. TOI Spectacular views abound  — over the park, into the city. It’s worth going just for that if you ask me. But i was impressed by many works on display as well. A very rewarding and rich experience. And if that’s not enough, my absolute most favorite thing I brought home with me from this trip were 4 paper kangaroo masks that were a free kids activity associated with the Australian art exhibit. Go figure!

Tip: Because the museum is free, it is a great CBD bathroom stop if needed.

Auckland War Memorial Museum — don’t be put off by the name of this museum. The main draw here is the indigenous Maori cultural exhibit and show. I left this until the last day not sure I was that interested in spending $45 to see a staged performance that I was sure would be cheesy and touristy. I would go only if i had the time. But let me tell you, this was one of my favorite things. First off, the walk through the Domain (park) to the museum was beautiful. The 30 minute show was really well done, informative and super entertaining. I was blown away by the voices of the 7 cast members, especially the girls. I skipped the picture taking session with the cast in native dress following but did wander through the exhibit (included in the price) that traces the history of the Maori people and includes an impressive collection of cultural treasures.

Eat:

Little & FridaysLittle & Friday, 43 Eversleigh Rd, Belmont— this was undoubtedly my most favorite stop in Auckland. Not only for the food but for the entire experience. Located on a residential street in a suburban neighborhood inland of Takapuna Beach on the North Shore, you’ll wonder how anybody finds this place. Yet it has become a true destination. Here’s the trick about getting there that I learned on the way home — there is a bus stop immediately across the street that connects you to the Bayswater Ferry Terminal with direct service to Downtown Auckland once every hour. After finding my way to the cafe through a much more circuitous route, indulging in a Mediterranean frittata, lemon meringue tart and house made hibiscus soda, talking with my expat American communal tablemates, soaking in the atmosphere and grabbing a raspberry jelly/custard combo donut for later . . . taking my first ferry ride towards the downtown skyline on a sunny afternoon, was the icing on the cake.

Depot Eatery, 86 Federal Street, CBD — the hottest restaurant in town at the moment with communal tables, shared plates, a casual atmosphere and flavorful, wood-fired food. No reservations are taken so expect to wait. What we ate: Yorkshire pudding, bone marrow on toast, Kingfish belly with eggplant kasandi on toast, and brussel sprouts. All wonderful!

IMG_3797Best Ugly Bagels, Wellesley & Nelson Streets, CBD — I was warned these bagels were nothing like what I was used to — as they are sweetened with sugar water after baking. But loaded with cream cheese, lox, capers & onions, I didn’t find them sweet at all. The vibe of the place in a converted warehouse complex, was relaxed and kind of hipster. When you place your order over the loud music, the entire staff yells it back in confirmation. $12 for my order (called The King) might be a little higher than a bagel joint in the states but every bit quality and just as good.

No. 1 Pancake, 38 Lorn Street, CBD — for a cheap street food fix in the heart of Auckland University territory this little joint is a students dream. Asian style pancakes stuffed with melty cheese and other fillings (I chose veggies). They’re greasy, gooey, delicious and just about $5.

moustacheMoustache, 12 Wellesley Street, CBD — milk & cookies in a cute milk bottle and moustache laden CBD storefront. I had read the cookies were nothing special — more like those you might make at home than pay top dollar for in a shop. However, my large chocolate cookie with a soft peanut butter & melted chocolate center was pretty special right out of the oven. Cookies are $3.50 each plus $1.50 for dunking milk.

Bird on a Wire, 234 Ponsonby Road — just my kind of place. Spit roasted chicken and an assortment of side salads. Nothing fancy but simply delicious. The kind of place i could eat at every night. Generous portions, good prices, and just around the corner from my apartment.

mince pieThe Food Room, 250 Ponsonby Road — you must have a “pie” when down under. Savory fillings of beef, lamb, chicken or vegetables in various flavor combinations surrounded by a flaky crust served with “sauce” (tomato ketchup). This place makes a mean pie and was my perfect first night early dinner to welcome me to New Zealand. Also located just around the corner from my apartment.

Little Bread & Butter, 136-8 Ponsonby Road — one of many restaurants at the Ponsonby Central Market complex, this little bakery is a great breakfast or lunch stop. But you could hardly go wrong at any of the restaurants in the market. In fact, you could probably eat at the Market every day, experience plenty of variety and be perfectly happy. Just a hop, skip and jump away from the apartment. Seeing a pattern here?

Shop:

On my very first afternoon in town, after my food tour, I decided to take a little walk to buy a bus pass at a local grocers. I grabbed some cash, left my phone (and therefore camera) at home and wouldn’t you know, I happened into my favorite little shopping strip of the entire city — the far end of Jervois Road in neighboring Herne Bay. No photos but here are the highlights:

Simon James Concept Store, 230 Jervois Road – my absolute favorite shop offering a well curated selection of international and local homewares, art, clothing & accessories, and Aesop toiletries (of course!). The nicest woman was working when I happened in. We chatted about travel and she offered a list of restaurants I shouldn’t miss. Rumor has it they also take appointments for the city’s best facialist who has her studio out back. I just loved this place!

Father Rabbit, 232 Jervois Road — a real point of view this shop has. Homewares and cleaning supplies of the natural and simple material variety. All white surrounds, the shop just makes you take a breath and soak it all in.

Novel, 202 Jervois Road — the perfect little selection of just the books and magazines you want to read. Interesting fiction, cookbooks, travel books, design magazines. Not much more. Lovely.

Kathryn Wilson Footwear, 236A Jervois Road — local womens shoe designer with a quirky yet stylish point of view. As the girl at Simon James put it, “Sometimes she’s off but when she’s on, she’s really, really good.”

In addition to these lovely shops, my walk home through the residential streets (a challenging uphill adventure) took me by beautiful home, after beautiful home. Because of the unseasonably hot weather, each had their front door wide open revealing a common style central hallway that consistently lead to gorgeous modern additions out the back. I honestly could have moved into any one of them. It was like my own private house tour and had I had my camera I could have shared this unexpected treat.

department storeThe Department Store, 10 Northcroft Street, Takapuna  — this store was the thing that started me thinking about going to Auckland to begin with. Can you imagine, a shop inspiring a trip to the other side of the world? But that’s the way I roll. Multiple venues under one roof:  A cafe, a beauty bar, a hairdresser, children’s shop, various mens and womens wear boutiques including Karen Walker (who also owns the place) and Top Shop. Think of it as a kind of poor mans Dover Street Market, although the stock is not cheap by any means. Located in Takapuna Beach, it’s a bit off the beaten path for tourists but easily reached by a 40 minute bus ride. Worth it if you want to take in the beach or venture to Little & Friday as I did. But otherwise, this concept shop that may be the only place of its kind in New Zealand, really isn’t so unique in the end. Although they do have a great website that is worth a regular read.

Dry & Tea, 90 Wellesley Street, CBD — part tea shop and part salon you can buy a lovely pink and gold Limoge teapot for $500 or get your hair done. Tempted by the first, I opted for the latter as is my newest luxury when I travel — having somebody else blow out and straighten my hair so i don’t have to pack a hairdryer. My stylist, did a wonderful job and it was NZ $45 well spent. Book ahead online and ask for Sam.

Ponsonby Road Favorites:

everydayEveryday Needs,  270 Ponsonby Roadowned by a young interior designer this special shop (and I don’t say that lightly) emphasizes well crafted items for the home and personal use. Together they make for a beautiful collection with a decidedly minimalist flair.

Karen Walker, 128 A Ponsonby Road– This local designer has shops all around the city including the Department Store (above) & Britomart. However, this location was the nicest and carried the best assortment from her extensive line in my view.

Zambesi, 169 Ponsonby Road — a local upscale designer shop that I discovered first in Melbourne. It is always nice to see the home turf version.

The Stockroom, 2/282 Ponsonby Road – a tiny little shop that carries very nice, casual imports from Australia, Europe, and the USA.

Superette 3/282 Ponsonby Road — This funky shop for men, women, and home has a little bit of everything and a casual relaxed atmosphere.

Flotsam & Jetsom, 86 Ponsonby Road — an interesting assortment of vintage oddities, books, classic homewares and on Saturdays only, Little & Friday’s amazing donuts are on offer as well.

Despite all these lovely shops, I didn’t find anything I needed to buy in Auckland (except some wine & honey). So I launched plan B — search out the reproduction Crown Lynn mid-century ceramics I had seen on a local design blog.  crown lynnKitchy yet beautiful I love the entire collection, especially the swan vases. I stopped in every kiwiana shop in hopes that they would be there and found lots of Tikis and Kiwis, but no swans. Then on my very last day I found a small assortment of pitchers at The Texan Art School, 95 Ponsonby Road. Content with my purchase of a large pink pitcher emblazoned with Made in New Zealand, I headed off to the museum that I had saved for the last day. Wouldn’t you know, the gift shop at the War Memorial Museum had a large selection of Crown Lynn reproductions on display in the window. As tempted as I was to buy a swan, too, I had no idea how I was going to get it and a pitcher home. So I decided one great souvenir of my trip to New Zealand would be enough.

 Odds ‘n Ends:

Travel

  • I flew Air New Zealand from LAX to Auckland using miles and the taxes were only $17. A pretty great deal. My first time flying Air New Zealand, I really appreciated the sense of humor the airline has. Our campy safety video featured scantily clad Sports Illustrated models on the country’s beaches while others reported their safety video starred the cast of Lord of the Rings. The bathrooms (which were kept immaculate for the full 13 hour flight — my biggest pet peeve on long haul flights is the filthy bathrooms after so many hours in the air) had fancy chandeliers wallpapered on the walls. I got a kick out of that.
  • I flew Emirates Air from Auckland to Melbourne and it was extremely economical. A four hour international flight on an A380 for US $175. You could easily swing over for a weekend at those prices.
  • My beloved car service Cars On Demand out of Australia, also operates in most New Zealand cities.

Getting Around:

  • If you read about the public transportation in Auckland it sounds dismal. But I found just the opposite. Buses go everywhere and ferries are a great compliment, not to mention kind of romantic. Both modes of transportation are extremely reliable and take the AT Hop Card, providing simple touch on access and discounted prices for every trip. So be sure to pick up a transit card for $5 that you can load with any amount of credit. For 6 days as my only transportation source, I spent apprx. $60 and I ventured out pretty far including a round trip ferry to Waiheke Island which accounted for over half of this amount.
  • There are two bus routes that loop around the city both clockwise and counter clockwise — the Inner and the Outer. Unless you are traveling far outside the city, one of these buses will take you anywhere you will probably want to go. $1.90 per ride or less with your AT Hop Card.
  • Download the AT Public Transport App for on the go transit directions and schedules. Having this information at my fingertips was a lifesaver.
  • Always exit out the back door and say thank you to the driver on buses. And if you’re using the AT Hop Card, don’t forget to touch off.
  • Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Auckland. So to further complicate the look left, look right thing to accommodate left side driving, don’t ever expect a car to stop for you. Always proceed with extreme caution.

Lay of the Land:

  • The CBD is geared primarily at the tourist and there are throngs of them everywhere, from all over the world. In recent years a renaissance of sorts is taking place downtown with shops and restaurants moving in (led by the Britomart redevelopment which sounds like a big thing but is really very small). But this area still has a long way to go. I am extremely happy I opted out of staying in the CBD as I felt much safer and a part of local life in Ponsonby. One full day was more than enough to do what i wanted to do down there, other than connections to transport or the occasional destination restaurant. Stay off Queen Street as your number one rule. Better shopping and restaurants are on High Street (which runs parallel) and the small alleys and side streets.
  • Auckland is the land of volcanoes and is therefore very hilly. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a little huffing and puffing.
  • Humidity rules bringing with it mosquitoes (although mosquitoes in New Zealand do not carry threat of diseases) and curly hair if you are so inclined. Be warned.