Road Trip Checklist

We’re about to head out on a serious road trip. And by “serious road trip,” I mean 16-ish hours in the car. Thank god we upgraded to a gas-guzzling SUV recently; at least we will be comfy.

I embrace road trips, though. You’d think I’d banish them seeing as how this was the only way we ever went on vacation when I was a kid (and we did not have a comfy SUV then). But I actually enjoy them. Or maybe I just like the idea of them. Talk to me a week from now and I may be singing a different tune.

We’re driving from Chicago to Sea Grove Beach, Florida on Friday. And according to trusty Google Maps, we’re looking at a drive of about 16 hours or so.  Needless to say, we won’t tackle it in one day but stop a little more than halfway on Friday night.

Having taken more than my fair share of road trips, I have my road trip survival kit down to a science.

  • GPS – duh. No-brainer. One can’t always rely on Google Maps — trust me. Because while all-knowing Google knows most streets, it doesn’t know them all (and we’ll be traversing timbuktu — not where I want to get lost).
  • Atlas – just for extra backup. And preferably the State Farm version. My family has had these in our cars for as long as I can remember. (You’d think with a brother-in-law for an agent, I’d have a recent copy, but no…)
  • Snacks – unless you’re one of those weirdos who forbids eating in the car. I like a good mix of salty and sweet. As kids, we always had Pringles which I suppose was genius because of that handy crush-proof can. Now I prefer some kind of Chex-like mix, trail mix, peanut M & M’s and Jolly Ranchers. And of course gum.
  • Literature – no Oprah’s Book Club selections here, only the most high-brow publications for me. In my defense, I get nauseous if I do any serious reading in the car, so I save that for the beach and stick to things that have pretty pictures and few words instead.
  • Sunglasses – there are few things as annoying as driving into the direct sunlight with no eye protection.
  • Port-a-bowl– one of the two necessities for Daisy, the port-a-bowl is great for eating or drinking on-the-go. Or, nearly on-the-go. Usually when we stop we fill this little bowl with water for her, which she surprisingly laps right up; I was skeptical that she wouldn’t drink out of it at all.
  • Hammock – we don’t go anywhere with Daisy in the car without this lifesaver. Best $50 we’ve ever spent on her. (Actually, it’s a toss-up between this and her custom-made winter parka.)

Hot Town, Summer in the City

The temperatures have consistently been in the 80 – 90-degree range as of late; I think it’s safe to say that summer has officially arrived in Chicago.

Chicago lakefront

Few can argue with the fact that summertime is simply the best season in Chicago. And I will not be one of those few. It’s a beautiful city to begin with, but it’s even prettier in the summer with everything in bloom and the boats lining the lakefront.

One of the greatest things about summer in Chicago is the festivals. You’d be hard-pressed to find a weekend when there isn’t a festival of some sort going on. And most of them revolve around food, natch.

Take Ribfest, for example, which is this weekend. For a mere $5 (suggested donation), you can get your fill of ribs and other summertime yumminess (ice-cream, beer, grilled corn on the cob).

Take your dog at your own risk and beware of the stray bone within his/her reach. (For the record, she is eating a dog-friendly treat here.)

Maifest is another good one but I’m sorry, it already happened. Mark your calendar for next year and go enjoy some German oompah music, beer and brats in Lincoln Square.

Thank goodness someone else came up with an exhaustive list of all of the Chicago summer festivals for you so you don’t miss the next one based on my tardy information.

Happy Anniversary, London!

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

Today marks the four-year anniversary of my move to London. I was sent there for work for six months, but managed to squeeze one more month out of the deal and returned to the States just before Christmas in 2008.

So in honor of this momentous occasion, I share with you the top 20 things I miss about lovely Londontown.

1. My office and home away from home were both in Soho, which is such an eclectic and energetic part of the city. I’ve been told time and time again how no “real” Londoner lives in Soho, but I’m not a “real” Londoner, nor have I ever claimed to be. Soho definitely has an edge. Some of my neighbors just so happened to be sex shops (but a church, too!).

Soho, London

2. itsu and I had a borderline dangerous relationship. Really. There was one at the end of my block, which meant it was close to home and work. Sometimes we’d get takeaway from there for lunch and I’d also get it for dinner on my way home. And this would often happen multiple times per week. Luckily I didn’t end up the way of Jeremy Piven.

3. Black cab drivers put U.S. cab drivers to shame. These brilliant folks spend years studying to be a cab driver and it’s worth it. They literally know every single street in London and they never play the, “what route should I take” game.

4. Carnaby Street is a great little area that was within blocks of my flat. There are loads of restaurants, cafes and shops and they have the best Christmas decorations.

Carnaby Street Christmas decoration

5. The Crown and Two Chairmen was a popular after-work spot for my colleagues and me. The used to have a Tuesday special, Two for a Tenner. That’s two bottles of wine for 10 GBP. Don’t mind if I do…

6. Another favorite spot for my work colleagues and me was Couch, just down the street from Soho Square. I believe it was torn down to make way for a bigger, better Tube station in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

7. Wahaca is the best Mexican restaurant in the city. Period. The food is fresh and fast and the margaritas go nicely with a Friday afternoon lunch. I went there way too many times when I lived in London, most often indulging in the delicious Sonora salad with chicken. I make sure to stop here every time I’m back in London.

8. The Green Park is essentially Hyde Park’s little sister. When I first moved to London, I was living in temporary corporate housing right on Hyde Park, in Knightsbridge. And everyday (okay, most days) after work I would go for a run through the park and tell myself how incredibly lucky I was to be living in such an amazing place. Then I moved to my flat in Soho and thought, now where will I run? The Green Park became my alternative.

The Green Park

9. Admittedly, I didn’t even know Ben’s Cookies when I lived in London, but discovered them while visiting there the summer after I moved back to the States. There are Ben’s outposts in Covent Garden, on Oxford Street and I’m sure elsewhere. They’re best when they’re still warm and the milk chocolate is nice and gooey. (And they deliver! Sadly, not to the U.S.)

10. Living on the top floor of a four-story walk-up, grocery delivery was a must so Ocado and I began a lovely relationship. It only got weird the one time when the delivery man asked to use my toilet.

11. I’m not a big museum person, but every gal needs a little culcha now and again. And whenever those moments struck, I usually went to Tate Modern.

Tate Modern

12. The National Portrait Gallery was another go-to for when I was in the mood. Before I left London, there was a pretty incredible Annie Leibovitz exhibit that I’m glad I got to see.

13. The Sanderson Hotel is one of the coolest hotels I’ve stayed at, but the bars there are equally impressive, especially The Purple Bar. It’s a chic spot for a glass (or two) of bubbly, as is Long Bar.

14. When we were feeling fancy, friends and I would go to Refuel Bar at Soho Hotel for bubbles after work.

15. By no means am I a connoisseur of dim sum, but Royal China Club gets high marks in my book. Not only is the dim sum delicious, but the service is superb. I have many fond memories of this place, but one from a sunny Friday afternoon when some colleagues and I had a nice, leisurely lunch, then made our way to Charlotte Street for bubbles al fresco. I’m certain our office was closed for the afternoon and we weren’t just ditching.

16. Scribbler is a great little shop with some really cheeky cards. Always fun to send a little U.K. humor to friends and family across the pond.

17. Why oh why don’t more cities have something like Heathrow Express? It’s a genius way to get into central London from the airport — and fast.

18. Christmastime in London is unlike most places in the U.S., at least in terms of how they dress up the streets. Decorations are spectacular, but not in a tacky, Clark Griswald kind of way.

Covent Garden

19. I think it’s safe to proclaim Maynard’s Wine Gums as my favorite candy ever. And it’s the particular Maynard’s variety that are the best. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of others and they’re just not the same. Between my friend in Soham and my husband’s work trips to London, I’m kept in wine gums without even living in London anymore.

20. Whenever I started to seriously think I might get mercury poisoning from the number of times I ate at itsu any given week, I would mix things up by going to Hummus Bros instead. A whole restaurant devoted to one of my most favorite foods? Don’t mind if I do.