A Night at the Met: an After Hours Visit with Michelangelo

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people! A review of an after hours VIP visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Michelangelo exhibit.

Metropolitan Museum facade at night during the Michelangelo exhibit
My After Hours visit to the Michelangelo exhibit: very special! Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people!

Michelangelo's sketch of Masaccio's fresco Expulsion from the Garden displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Michelangelo’s sketch of Masaccio’s fresco Expulsion from the Garden. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Met show, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, contains over 200 works of art by Michelangelo and his colleagues (133 drawings by the master himself), including chalk drawings, paintings, and works of charcoal on paper, along with bronze and marble sculptures.

The exhibit was eight years in the making. The exhibition’s curator, Carmen C. Bambach, started with a tour to Europe to visit the different works under consideration, and once a list was developed — then came the arduous process of soliciting the artwork.

Many of the drawings are rarely seen at all, and certainly not together. On the left is a very early sketch — the young Michelangelo’s Study of Adam and Eve after The Expulsion from the Garden fresco by Masaccio. It’s fascinating to see drawings from this period in the artist’s life.

In an interview with Artsy, Bambach said, “This is a drawing that hardly anybody has seen in the original other than the specialists,” says Bambach. “Though it’s housed in the Louvre’s collection, it is rarely seen. Having that very powerful drawing in red chalk and in the company of all [other] late 15th-century works…is really a first,” she says.

The exhibit is an extraordinary opportunity to see Michelangelo’s evolution from a young artist into a sculptor, then into a painter, and finally into an architect, through works of art that have never been displayed together at one time. Sadly, the exhibit runs only three months . . . and the clock is ticking: the end is coming quickly. It closes February 12, 2018.

In late January, about three weeks before the exhibit is set to close, The Met announced that over 500,000 people had already visited Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.

This is, of course, the problem.

My daughter Catherine went to see the exhibit in the fall, and although she was there when the museum opened, the Michelangelo exhibit was quickly swamped. It’s hard to feel a personal relationship with a work of art when you’re standing eight people deep trying to look at the same drawing.

And the crowds aren’t just for the Michelangelo exhibit. According to the New York Times, over the last 13 years attendance at the Met has soared from 4.7 million to over 7 million annual visitors.

Entrance to displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Entrance to the Michelangelo Exhibit. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

One of the most beautiful rooms in the exhibit was the space devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The illuminated copy of the ceiling in a 1:4 scale is displayed along with the master’s sketches of many of the figures in the fresco.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As our world becomes more crowded, and more people travel, personal and quiet access to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the things I value most highly, and that I am willing to pay to have.

Second to last room in the displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
In an increasingly crowded world, access and quiet may be our greatest luxuries. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A closing photograph from the Michelangelo exhibit, the Young Archer.

If you are not going to get to see the exhibit before it closes, consider getting the catalogue, which is one of the finest I’ve ever seen: you can find it here in the Met shop online.

Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information about my After Hours viewing

Wonderful story about two children who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum. As an adult, I STILL love this book! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The ticket I purchased through Viator granted access to both the Michelangelo and Hockney exhibits. I arrived twenty minutes ahead of my 6:00 admission, and entered the museum at a street level door at 81st Street, an area reserved for groups. They checked the After Hours ticket holders off the list, and whisked us up in two elevators.

We walked through a couple of rooms on the way to the Hockney and Michelangelo exhibits. No, you can’t just go rambling through the museum! All side rooms were cordoned off.

I have to admit, I was having twitchy feelings about sneaking away and trying to spend the night at the Met 🙂 . If you’ve ever had a desire to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you haven’t read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it’s wonderful.

Empty Rodin gallery on my way to A Night at the Met with the Michelangelo exhibit
I passed through several galleries on the way to the Michelangelo exhibit. Here is the empty Rodin gallery that I enjoyed looking around on my way out of the museum.

The night I went, there were three entry times to choose from: 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 pm. At each entry time, according to what I read, entry was limited to 150 people over the whole evening — staggered out fifty at a time, so that not everyone entered at once.

After Hours Viewings at the Met  — Availability for this will come and go. The After Hours viewing nights of the Michelangelo show are finished, but look for them to happen from time to time for exhibits that are particularly popular and crowded.

Viator VIP Empty Met  Regularly available: a 1.5 hour tour before the Met opens to the public. Note, you will be with a guide for the tour, but then you can stay for as long as you like, and see anything you like on your own, once the museum opens.

Viator VIP: Mornings at MoMa  A similar tour is available at the Museum of Modern Art.

Other Tips for Visiting the Met

While the strategies listed below may not work as well for special exhibits like Michelangelo, the entire Metropolitan Museum is SO HUGE that you can definitely have a quieter experience without paying a premium price:

  • Go on the weekdays, not the weekend. A no-brainer, right?
  • Go early, or stay late –Be there when the museum opens, or choose to visit one of the several nights each week that the museum is open late. Check out the Met’s hours.
  • Become a Met member . . . did you know that there are special early hours and evenings, only for members of the Met? Check out the schedule for upcoming members-only hours and events.
  • Try a concert — yes, you will have to pay extra for these, but there are always interesting performances happening at the Met and the Cloisters that allow you experience them in an entirely different way.
  • Dine at the Met. Somehow, there’s something pretty special about wine, food, and art. Take a look at the different eating and drinking venues at the Met on Fifth Avenue.
  • And really all of this means — do your homework. If visiting this amazing museum is an important part of your visit to NYC, look at the Met calendar as you are planning your trip!

Disclaimer: While I paid to take this tour, I do have an affiliate relationship with Viator, which means that if you book through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you, my reader. I use Viator’s services — and I particularly love the VIP access to museums, which I’ll be buying again. I never recommend things that I don’t love, believe in, and do. Thank you for your support! It makes this my work and this web site possible.

Additional info: I first found Viator VIP experiences when I was in Rome a couple of years ago. My friend Joyce had never been to Italy, and we had to do all of the crowded Roman sights. Since we were going to be there in the summer, I started doing research to find ways to see the Colosseum and the Vatican without lines — and without dying of heat.

The VIP experiences I have had with Viator in Rome have been very special: Breakfast at the Vatican, and Night Tour of the Coliseum with a rooftop dinner, both so good I did them twice: once with Joyce, and then the following year when my sister and I were in Rome. You can read about those here — Rome: Beating the Crowds.

News and Tips from the 2018 New York Times Travel Show, Part One

I’ve just visited the 2018 New York Times Travel Show: a review of information, tips, and trends for travel in 2018.

I spent my weekend at The New York Times Travel Show — which was celebrating its 15th anniversary. This was my second visit to the NYT show; I attend to listen to and to network with top travel bloggers, PR professionals, and other people in the travel industry, and to learn more about trends in travel.

New York Times Travel Show exhibit: Getting a hug from Soohorang, the mascot of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, is a white tiger -- the guardian animal of South Korea.
Getting a hug from Soohorang, the mascot of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, is a white tiger — the guardian animal of South Korea.

The show lasts three days: Friday is always industry only, but as a travel blogger, it is my industry now 🙂 . Then Friday and Saturday are for the general public: the trade show with more that 560 exhibitors and 170 countries represented, seminars, book signings, and cultural presentations of dance, music, and food.

I’ll be sharing some of the things I learned in a two-part series, since there is so much information, a single article simply won’t hold it all!

The Frugal Traveler with Lucas Peterson

Lucas Peterson writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times — giving tips for traveling on a tight budget. He arrived late for his session, with a funny story about relying on public transportation in New York.

Peterson is an entertaining and humorous speaker, and the 45 minutes we did have with him was well worth the time.

Lucas Peterson, who writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Lucas Peterson, who writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

“I am the Frugal Traveler, not the Luxurious Traveler. But — It’s not about a race to the bottom! I’m not looking to find the worst hostel in Paraguay to sleep on a dirt floor and be miserable. It’s about getting the best experience possible for the least amount of money.”

He went on to say that frugal travel frequently gives travelers more rewarding experiences. Americans often use “money like a body guard.” While it may insulate you from bad experiences, it also insulates you from the culture and the opportunity to have authentic interactions in the country.

When you are trying to save money on a trip, lodging is the big key — prices vary greatly, experiences vary greatly. The Internet has democratized getting the best airfare out there, so the place you stand to save the most money is with where you choose to stay.

Where does Peterson stay? A combination of hotels, Airbnb rooms, and the occasional hostel — though fewer of those than in the past.

On the subject of hostels, Peterson said, “I don’t do the bunk bed thing where there are six to ten people in a single room. What I like to do is to get a private room. These are often only $18-$20 a night.” You get privacy, but you also get access to the common room where you have an opportunity to meet other travelers.

Airbnb? Peterson said that many of the complaints about the company are justified — because “it wrecks the rental market in some cities because many owners aren’t doing it the way it was intended.” This happens when companies buy up whole sets of homes and apartments and run a rental business, rather than it being an owner leasing their own apartment, or a room in their home. When Peterson does Airbnb, he likes to rent a room in a house, which ensures he isn’t supporting the kind of behavior he described. He particularly loves renting rooms from retired couples because they have more time to spend with him, and they often show him around their city or town.

Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building
Trend: with foreign travel to the USA down by more than 4%, travel in the US should be a good deal in 2018. Photo by Brian Sugden on Unsplash

Travel Trends

What does Peterson see as the biggest travel trends? Travel today is all about experiences: cooking classes in someone’s home; learning to surf with a professional in Malibu. Experiential travel has been trending strongly over the last few years, and he only sees it becoming a stronger part of the travel market. Peterson’s favorite sites to find experiences:

The other big trend Peterson discussed: overseas travel to the United States is down by more than 4% over this last year. Regardless of what your politics are, Peterson said, Trump’s policies on immigration have had an impact on how other nations view the U.S. in its friendliness is towards foreign visitors.

The upside for American travelers? Travel in our country should be a good deal in 2018, so if you are brainstorming where you might like to travel, consider things like our own National Parks, or a trip to one of our amazing cities, like NYC.

Biggest Travel Myths

Myth One: “There is secret to getting upgraded on a flight. Every click-bait article that says there is, well, there isn’t. It’s not that it never happens, and you can always ask for an upgrade, and hey — you might get upgraded from Cattle Car to Cattle Car Plus, but there is no secret method. You get it by having status with your airline.”

Free upgrades happen less than ever before, and when they do happen, it’s generally to elite members of their loyalty programs. New Flash: Airlines don’t like to give things away.

Peterson quoted stats from Delta saying that the company used to sell only 14% of first class seats just a few years ago, while it now sells almost 70% of them. Often this happens when they offer to sell those seats to passengers who booked the main cabin — perhaps in an email, or as the person is checking in online. Tip: you can often purchase an upgrade at this point for less than if you bought that Premium Economy or First Class at the outset.

Delta flight leaves Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.
Delta flight leaves Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Myth Two: “If you buy your ticket at 4:38 in the morning during a full moon, it’s going to be magically less . . . .  No. No, it’s not true. It doesn’t matter when you buy your ticket, but it does make a difference which days you  choose to travel.” Know the high season, low season, and shoulder season. The key to getting the best price is being flexible (Note, Pauline Frommer contradicted this in her talk the second day of the show — will report her findings in the next article in this series on the NYT Travel Show).

Lucas’s favorite sites to search for airfares are listed below, and of course he recommends setting alerts on these sites so you know when a flight price drops:

One of my favorite things that Peterson said in his seminar: If you have even a modest disposable income right now, you can afford to travel.

He gave an example of a friend who he was trying to get to go with him on a trip. “Oh, I just don’t have any money for that,” she said. He pointed at the sunglasses perched on top of her head . . . “How much did those cost?” — $300.

It’s a priority. What do you want to spend your money on?

Peterson talked generally about OTA’s (online travel agent sites, like Expedia). While you may think there are many competitors, there aren’t. Expedia owns: Travelocity, Orbitz, Trivago, Home Away, VRBO, Hotels.com, Hotwire, and Egencia. Priceline owns: Booking.com, Kayak, Agoda, CheapFlights, Rentalcars.com, Momondo, and Open Table. Trip Advisor owns: Airfarewatchdog, Booking Buddy, Viator, Holiday Watchdog, Jetsetter, and GateGuru.

Peterson’s top reasons to use OTA’s:

  • easy-to-use interface,
  • one stop shopping,
  • the ability to shop across multiple airlines and hotel chains with only one log-in and password
  • reward systems with points that you can use at many hotel brands

His top reasons to avoid OTA’s:

Peterson ended his talk pretty quickly as he ran out of time, since he’s gotten a late start. His final points had to do with credit cards, but I didn’t see any new or interesting information here. I find the Points Guy to be the most knowledgeable source for comparing cards, points, and a person’s travel needs and habits.

So — I leave you with an overview video from the NYT Trade Show hall:

 

Never heard of the New York Times Travel Show? It’s hit its fifteenth year, and I’ve learned so much both years I attended, that I’ll be back in 2019.

Wondering whether there are similar travel shows in your area? You might try the Travel Adventure Show Expos that take place in 8 different cities around the country, starting on February 10, 2018, and the last one finishes on March 17, 2018.

 

Fixe Restaurant – Southern Charm in Downtown Austin Texas

A 2018 review of Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin: Upscale and down-home — a hopping, somewhat noisy ambiance — like grandma’s back porch has been dressed up and adopted by the coolest city in Texas.

Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin: Upscale and down-home — a hopping, somewhat noisy ambiance — like grandma’s back porch has been dressed up and adopted by the coolest city in Texas.

Bar at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas
Bar at Fixe restaurant. Reclaimed wood, tall leather chairs, and grandma’s plate collection on the wall in the background. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Chef James Robert and co-owner Keith House opened Fixe in 2015, with the concept of transporting guests to home-cooked southern Sunday dinner. Chef Robert, a native of Opelousas, Louisiana, used family recipes as a starting point for his menu, but don’t expect simple Cajun soul food — either in terms of food OR price. The dishes are innovative and often surprising takes on traditional preparations.

My first visit to Fixe was in the fall of  2016 — while I was in town for the Austin City Limits Festival. After a great afternoon of music, my sister and her friend cleaned up and headed to Fixe for cocktails and dinner — one so memorable I asked to go back.

So here we are back on a warm December night — sisters and friends celebrating the end of 2017.

It’s as good as I remembered.

Barrel Aged Manhattan at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas great craft cocktail with: Woodward Reserve, Carpano Antica, garnished with candied bacon and a dried cherry.
Barrel Aged Manhattan at Fixe: Woodward Reserve, Carpano Antica, garnished with candied bacon and a dried cherry. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Beet A-Rita cocktail at Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin
The Beet A-Rita: Milagro tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and pickled beet juice. Calvin says — not again.

Happy Hour at Fixe is a good deal — a selection of their hand-crafted cocktails at $7 instead of the usual $14. Of course, my favorite, the Barrel Aged Manhattan — isn’t offered on the Happy Hour menu 😦 .

From the Happy Hour selection: Calvin ordered the Beet A-Rita.  He rates it as good, but not outstanding — and would go with something else the next time around. Carolyn and Karolina both opted for wine — Fixe regularly features very good ones by the glass.

We ordered the smoked trout from the Happy Hour appetizer menu. After a very light lunch much earlier in the day, we were ready for something to go along with the cocktails. Smoked trout with buttermilk, trout roe, and fermented leeks crispy, topped with a togarashi-seasoned trout skin — outstanding. The crisp black chips made of Carolina rice and seeds paired well with the mild smoky flavor and creamy texture of the trout, with a few drops of the hot chili sauce to give it a kick.

Smoked trout dip at Fixe restaurant's bar in Austin Texas
So good! Smoked trout dip with crispy rice chips. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.
The central section of Fixe restaurant in Austin makes you feel like you're sitting outside on a screened porch.
The central section of Fixe makes you feel like you’re sitting outside on a screened porch. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Once we finished our cocktails, we moved on to our table.

The central part of the dining room at Fixe is a framed space made to feel like a big wooden porch, with outdoor light strings running back and forth across the ceiling (see above). Seating in this area is a collection of different kinds of comfortable leather chairs and banquettes, and wooden tables are set simply, with no table cloths, in keeping with the casual theme.

There are private rooms along one side of the porch area, and these feel like you’re in the house looking out onto the porch. As you can see from the picture, you might be at Aunt Mildred’s dining room table — but it’s just family, and she hasn’t pulled out the formal linens. Creative design touches include a distressed wall, a collection of trays used as wall art, and a nouveau-industrial chandelier suspended from a formal plaster ceiling medallion.

Low pass table in the kitchen at Fixe.
Low pass table in the kitchen at Fixe. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our table was near the kitchen, which is open — and watching the activity can be a great part of your dining experience at Fixe depending on the location of your table. From my seat, I had a good view.

I loved the design of the kitchen. The low pass tables feel more like a big island in a home kitchen than an industrial space — building on the feeling of being invited to someone’s house for Sunday dinner.

Fixe Biscuits — the restaurant is rightly famous for them, and the recipe is a secret!

One must-order at Fixe. The BISCUITS — which are perfect, and are always on the list of the best in Austin. Golden brown on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside — could not be better. They are made fresh to order, so put your order in the minute you sit down. The biscuits are served with seasonal preserves and a savory nduja (a spreadable spicy salami), but I think they’re much better with just butter.

Our server was highly competent and knowledgeable of both the menu and the wine list. He was funny but not obtrusive, and it’s obvious that Chef Robert does regular food and wine tastings with his staff so that all of them know what is coming out of the kitchen — almost as well as the line cooks and the chef.

We ordered the beef tartare as a starter for the table. This was wonderful, and unlike the tartare I’ve eaten anywhere else. The quality of beef is outstanding, and we cut the oysters into smaller pieces so that we could all make bites that combined all of the ingredients. The beef, accompanied by the acidity of the gooseberries, and a little texture variation from the crisp oyster — all wrapped in a tender cornmeal pancake — so good!

Beef Tartare served with two crispy fried oysters, pickled gooseberry, celery root remoulade, and corn meal pancakes. Fixe Southern restaurant in Austin Texas
Beef Tartare served with two crispy fried oysters, pickled gooseberry, celery root remoulade, and corn meal pancakes. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Grits play a major role on the menu, served three different ways: Herbivore (kale, farm egg, garlic, romesco, and salsa verde); Carnivore (Texas quail, pickled pears, pecan granola, and BBQ consommé); and finally, Pescavore (Texas shrimp, freeze-dried corn, shrimp butter, bottarga).

However, as a girl who grew up eating too many grits in Mississippi (I nearly turned into a grit) they aren’t my favorite thing — so I rarely order them. If you are a grit connoisseur, you should try them here: they are supposed to be very good at Fixe.

On this evening, our main dish selections were the duck breast, the braised Duroc pork shoulder, the blackened red snapper, and as a side, we chose the charred broccoli. All of the main dishes were outstanding.

What was the best dish of the evening? Impossible for me to say.

My braised pork was wonderful, and I would order it again. Incredibly tender and flavorful, with a slight counterpoint of bitterness from the mustard greens. The potlikker beans? Cooked in the pot liquor of the pork — well, let’s just say they are well-named, in both senses of the word.

After tasting Karolina’s blackened red snapper, the poaching liquid was so good, we all wanted to drink it out of the bowl 🙂 . Carolyn loved her duck breast, so the entrees were a big hit all the way around.

The one thing I wouldn’t order again: the charred broccoli with blue cheese. This was a table consensus. Two members of our party actively disliked it . . . and while I love blue cheese, I wasn’t a big fan either. I felt like the strong flavors detracted from my braised pork, and we left most of this either on our plates or in the serving bowl.

The dessert? We were all SO full we almost passed it up, but ended up ordering one for the table to share. We chose the brioche donut with a creamy vanilla bean custard-ice cream. So glad we did — it was outstanding — one of those desserts that tastes as good as it looks.

Brioche donut dessert at Fixe restaurant in Austin, Texas
Brioche Donut, vanilla bean custard, sunflower seed streusel, preserved fruit, honey ice cream. Pretty thing, isn’t it? 🙂 Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information

How much? Menu prices at Fixe in January 2018:

  • Most of the appetizers range from $8 to $12, but there are two more expensive choices: the ahi tuna and the beef tartare at $18 to $19.
  • Most of the entrees range from $21 to $30; the higher priced menu items are the dry-aged ribeye at $48, and the expensive dish, a massive 32 ounce tomahawk ribeye at $85.
  • Sides run from $8 to $18.
  • Desserts are from $8 to $10.

Could a vegetarian or vegan eat here? This is a very meat-and-fish-centric restaurant; however, a vegetarian would be able to create a good meal from the sides and a few of the starter options. I would not bring my vegan friends here.

Find current menu options, prices, and Happy Hour menus for Fixe here.

Location and parking: See map below, and valet parking at the front door solves the parking question.

Inside the kitchen at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas
In the kitchen at Fixe restaurant, where they showcase just a few of the many local farms they work with on their menu that emphasizes locally produced meat and produce. Photograph, Ann Fisher

 

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Do You Remember the End of Prohibition? The Esquire Tavern Does

On December 5, 2017, The Esquire Tavern celebrated their 85th birthday AND the 85th anniversary of the END OF PROHIBITION! What a great night! Here’s my review of one of the best bars on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Esquire Tavern craft cocktail Quiet Little Voices
Craft cocktails? You’ve come to the right place! Here is Esquire’s Quiet Little Voices: cognac, Jamaican rum, Italian vermouth, sherry, and chicory-pecan bitters. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

What? Don’t tell me you don’t remember the day booze became legal again in the United States?

Geez — what was Congress thinking, outlawing alcohol? Then the depression hit, and everyone needed a drink!

On December 5, 1933, Americans everywhere celebrated the end of Prohibition and the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
On December 5, 1933, Americans everywhere celebrated the end of Prohibition and the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

The day we came to our senses and repealed the 18th Amendment, drinkers everywhere rejoiced and took to the streets to raise a glass legally again.

That day was December 5, 1933, and that’s the day the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio opened its doors for business.

On December 5, 2017, I swung into the Esquire Tavern to help celebrate their 85th birthday AND the 85th anniversary of the END OF PROHIBITION! It’s several years since I visited San Antonio, but I remember this bar fondly — and they continue to make amazing drinks and great food.

Prohibition ends on December 5, 1933!
Prohibition ends on December 5, 1933!

Tying One on at The Esquire

The Esquire is the oldest watering hole in San Antonio, and it sports the longest wooden bar top in the state of Texas. The ambiance at the Esquire has a vintage quality in keeping with its 1933 beginning, including great jazz playing in the background. On some evenings, you’ll find live music and burlesque entertainment.

The long, long wooden bar at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio.
The long, long wooden bar at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Their cocktail menu boasts ten house-created drinks with catchy names like The Texecutioner, as well as all the classics we know well.

Boar's head decoration the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio
The boar gets festive for the holidays!

I felt a personal challenge here, and decided to visit the Esquire Tavern twice in one day to maximize the number of libations I could sample and write about for my blog . . . . without ending up lying in a flowerbed along the Riverwalk.

I know. Sigh. It’s a tough job, but I just had to put on my big girl panties and get the job done.

Seriously though — my approach to writing about restaurants and bars when I travel alone is to go more than one time, if at all possible. I get to try more things, and I also have a chance to check on consistency in service and the quality of the food. Otherwise, I have to order a selection of dishes, knowing I’ll only be able to eat a little of each one. Wasting food is not something I like to do.

Esquire Tavern's Wonderlust King cocktail
The Wonderlust King. Yes, I know it looks the same as Quiet Little Voices, but it’s not. And it’s my fave! Photo, Ann Fisher.

I started with Quiet Little Voices (cognac, Jamaican rum, Italian vermouth, sherry, and chicory-pecan bitters — see top image) and went on to the Wonderlust King (rye whiskey, Amaro Nardini, Italian vermouth, Xocolatl bitters, and orange bitters).

These are both inventive variations on the Manhattan, and it was fascinating to see a drink with no rye whiskey, Quiet Little Voices, made to emulate the flavor you’d expect from a Manhattan. Both cocktails were outstanding, but my fave was the Wonderlust King: the Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with its combination cacao, cinnamon, and spice, along with a touch of Amaro Nardini, citrusy with a hint of licorice — makes this drink really special, and different.

Food at the Esquire is creative, but unpretentious — so right for one of the oldest bars in Texas. The chef focuses on making everything in-house, with organic, locally sourced ingredients, and the resulting quality of the food is outstanding. There’s a reason their bar program earned a James Beard nomination this year. You’ll find great bar nibbles, burgers, salads, and big plates. Find the current Esquire Tavern menu here. I took a look at all of this, and chose to focus on the small plate bar food.

Prices? Appetizers range from $6 to $12, Burgers, salads, and almost all mains run from $11 to $19. The most expensive item on the menu is the Texas Wagyu Beef Ribeye at $32. You’ll spend most of your tab on the craft cocktails at $10 to $14 apiece.

Chalupitas at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
The Chalupitas were outstanding!
Riverwalk entrance to the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio
Riverwalk entrance to the Esquire.

My first choice out of the gate: The Esquire’s Chalupitas. Classic chalupas are a fried corn tortilla covered with a savory filling — and these little chalupas are wonderful. Organic chicken, chipotle refried beans, chimichurri, white cheddar, salsa verde, and a dollop of sour cream with fresh cilantro. Fresh, bright flavors — smokiness and a little heat from the chipotle pepper, without enough to be hot. I loved the unexpected combination of chimichurri, which has a bit of vinegar in it, with the salsa verde. It’s hard to write about them without wishing I could order them again — right now please!

Two drinks and one appetizer filled me up at lunch. I left the oldest bar in San Antonio, and headed to the Menger Hotel, the oldest hotel in Texas, to do some writing and to take a nap — and get ready for round two at the Esquire.

One of the Best Bars on San Antonio’s Riverwalk

If you find yourself in San Antonio, and you’re a visitor, then you will hit the River Walk.  Problem: many of the River Walk restaurants are either national chains or stale local restaurants slinging mediocre queso to capitalize on the tourist traffic. Do not despair! There are some wonderful places to eat and drink in downtown San Antone, and the Esquire Tavern is a fine place to start.

The Esquire Tavern has two entrances: one on the Riverwalk for the tourists, and one on Commerce Street, which more locals tend to use. I love the classic neon sign over the street side door. If you have difficulty with stairs, you’ll want to enter on the Commerce Street side.

I was lucky to be able to reserve the last available table this evening, since the Esquire was having a major party to celebrate its 85th birthday.

First Note cocktail at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
The First Note — often I associate pink drinks with overly super-sweet — something I don’t care for, but First Note is nicely balanced.

My second foray into the Esquire’s cocktail menu started with their First Note, made of Aguardiente de Cana, Amaro Ramazzotti, guava, honey, lime. Enough citrus from the lime, along with some bitterness and spice from the Amaro to offset the sweetness of the guava and honey — resulting in a nicely balanced drink.

As part of the birthday party festivities, wait staff were passing hors d’oeuvres, one of which were the Esquire Deviled Eggs — which was great since I’d planned to order them. These free-range eggs were perfect, creamy concoctions topped with pink peppercorns and garnished with arugula.

So good!
The Texecutioner - one of the many craft cocktails at the Esquire Tavern on San Antonio's Riverwalk
The Texecutioner is aptly named. Too many of these, which are very, very easy to drink, and you’ll be sleeping under a bridge on the Riverwalk . . .

Second drink of the evening: The Texecutioner. With a name like that, I just had to try it. This is a combination of Espadin Mezcal, Xtabentún (a Mayan anise flavored liqueur), Cocchi Americano, and fresh grapefruit juice. Another great cocktail — very refreshing. I think it would be particularly nice on hot summer nights — something San Antonio has a lot of!

In addition to the deviled eggs, wait staff were passing chicken-fried oysters, which are NOT on the menu at the Esquire — but available in their second bar (Downstairs at the Esquire). The oysters were so good, that I have no pictures. Sorry 😦 .

About the same time, I ordered the Esquire’s Shrimp Toast, envisioning a couple of little bite-sized appetizers, you know, like you’d expect shrimp toast at a Chinese food restaurant to be.

Instead, I got shrimp TOAST. Texas-sized SHRIMP TOAST.

Wow! Crispy, fresh, perfectly fried — it’s like a Monte Cristo sandwich lost its ham and cheese, cavorted with fresh shrimp mousse, and ended up settling down in San Antonio. A crunchy bite of the toast, with a smear of chèvre, some chives, and a drizzle of jalapeño jelly syrup: this stuff is good. Wickedly good.

Shrimp Toast at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
Shrimp Toast at the Esquire .Tavern is HUGE! And yes, I returned to my favorite drink, the Wonderlust. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Well, the Shrimp Toast finished me! But the next time I’m back in San Antone, I’ll head back to the Esquire and give you an update on other dishes here. I finished up my evening here, and headed back towards the Menger and a good night’s sleep — pausing to catch the square in front of the Alamo all dolled up for the holidays.

Merry Christmas from Texas!

Alamo and a Christmas Tree
As a sixth generation Texan, the Alamo is mighty important to me — lovely to see the mission at Christmas. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 


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Weekend in Fort Lauderdale: A Great Getaway

We all need a break from work and the status quo — and a chance to walk on the beach, to clear our minds, to connect with ourselves. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, then Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, might be your perfect ticket.

Ft. Lauderdale Getaways: Sunrise on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Sunrise on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We all need a break from work and the status quo — and a chance to walk on the beach, to clear our minds, to connect with ourselves. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, then Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, might be your perfect ticket.

Upscale, American

And surprisingly affordable.

Ft. Lauderdale is a quick and inexpensive flight from many locations around the U.S., as well as the United Kingdom — making it a wonderful place for a quick get-away.  With a broad range of restaurants, and multiple activities available, you’ll have the opportunity to do as much — or as little as you like.

Right in the middle of Florida’s Gold Coast, an area on the Atlantic that stretches from Miami up through West Palm Beach, you’ll find Ft. Lauderdale more laid back than Miami, its neighbor to the south. As the morning sun turns the sand golden and warm, it’s natural to think that this is how the area got its name, but you’d be wrong. Florida’s Gold Coast derives its name from the Spanish treasure galleons that wrecked just offshore.

Attractions and activities in the Ft. Lauderdale area include gorgeous beaches, surfing, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, shopping, a wide range of great restaurants, opera, and an arts district.

Ft. Lauderdale has a lot to offer — so get ready to get your beach on!

Stone crab claws, fresh lobster, and raw oysters at Blue Moon Seafood Company, Ft. Lauderdale.
Blue Moon Seafood Company, Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Average monthly temperatures for Ft. Lauderdale Florida
Connect to the U.S. Climate data site for more information about weather in Ft. Lauderdale.

Weather in Ft. Lauderdale, particularly in the winter and spring, is sunny and temperate. It’s a wonderful place to escape freezing days and snow in other parts of the country.

There are two seasons: rainy (June through September) and dry (October through May). During the rainy season, Ft. Lauderdale is hot and humid, but definitely helped by the steady breeze blowing off the Atlantic Ocean. During the dry season, I’d say Ft. Lauderdale is close to perfect.

But what about Ft. Lauderdale’s history of being a spring break party town?

After the 1960 film, Where the Boys Are, Ft. Lauderdale had a certain reputation for a long time, but in the 1980’s, the city chose to walk away from spring break madness. It outlawed alcohol on the beach, and the craziness migrated elsewhere. Today, this is one of the loveliest beach cities in Florida.

Beach Time

You may simply be looking to wiggle your toes in the sand and listen to the sound of breakers on the beach.

Whether you’re a late sleeper, or an early riser, beach vacations are the ultimate in relaxation. Watching the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean, sipping coffee, and getting in an early walk were at the top of my favorite things in Ft. Lauderdale.

Sun on the sand on Ft. Lauderdale Beach
Sun and sand on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Yachting Capital of the World

With hundreds of miles of navigable waterways, Ft. Lauderdale is often called the Venice of America. You really haven’t seen the city unless you see it from the water: cruising the Intracoastal waterway, New River, and Millionaire’s Row.

The dry dock facilities here are capable of handling some of the largest, most expensive mega-yachts in the world — and you’ll certainly be looking at some of the most amazing boats you’ve ever seen.

One way to get off dry land and onto the canals is to use the Water Taxi. There are several routes to choose from, so you simply find a Water Taxi stop, pick a direction, and go exploring. We were in town right before Ft. Lauderdale’s massive boat show (the largest in the world). We had a wonderful trip through the mega-yachts, found a dockside restaurant for lunch,  then took a regular taxi back to hotel.

Aerial view of Ft. Lauderdale's waterways - the Venice of the United States

About Ft Lauderdale: All you have to do is look at a map to see what a significant network of waterways this city has.

Airboat Ride into the Everglades

Florida is home to 20% of all wetlands in the United States. The Everglades National Park comprises more than 1.5 million acres which includes vast sawgrass marshes, sloughs, wet prairies, cypress swamp areas, mangrove forests, and hammocks of hardwoods. Did you know? There are only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States, and the Florida Everglades are one of them.

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the Everglades.
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the Everglades. I was lucky, and we caught this big girl out sunning herself on my trip into the Everglades. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Ft. Lauderdale is a perfect home-base for exploring the Everglades, whether you head to the one of the National Park Visitor’s Centers, or choose to do an airboat tour from one of the many tour operators.

I booked a two-hour private airboat tour with Everglades Swamptours. On our first meeting, they were unable to take us out due to a malfunctioning starter on the airboat. We were fortunate to meet a couple of guys with a private airboat, and Bob and David got us out into the Everglades — such a kindness!

Because I was staying several days in the area, I was able to get back out to meet the Swamptour folks another afternoon, and that time everything went perfectly. If you’re interested in checking out different Everglades tour operators, start with Hello Sunny! (Ft. Lauderdale Tourism Board) and read through their listings.

Airboat ride into the Everglades
Airboat ride into the Everglades, then drifting. Wind in the sawgrass, play of light & clouds on the water. It’s easy to visit the Everglades from Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Two hours was SUCH a short time here! A twenty-minute ride in, then time looking for gators and then checking out some of the small islands and sawgrass marsh areas. It seemed barely a snap of the fingers and we were headed back towards the car.

Amazing Seafood

Stone crab at the Blue Moon Fish Company
Stone crab at the Blue Moon Fish Company. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We knew we wanted to eat along the Ft. Lauderdale waterways, and the Blue Moon Fish Company came highly recommended. It was a quick drive from the Sonesta, and before long, we were at a table right on the water. Sunset, stone crabs, and a dry rose wine — perfect end to the day. There’s a wide range of just-caught fish to choose from — a seafood lover’s paradise, along with great beef, lamb, and chicken dishes.

Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District

Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District of Ft. Lauderdale at night.
Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District of Ft. Lauderdale — so beautiful at night with the lights on the water. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Ft. Lauderdale has a vibrant arts and entertainment district along the Riverwalk. An afternoon in a museum can be a cool break from the beach, and there are several choices. You might choose modern paintings and sculpture the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, or head over to the Museum of Discovery & Science and learn about the Everglades — including hopping on the airboat simulator that will take you on a very immersive trip into this important ecosystem.

The Stranahan House on the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale.
The Stranahan House on the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Want to catch a theater or opera performance? Take a look at the calendar for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

History lovers will appreciate a tour of the Stranahan House which was built in 1901, making it the oldest house in Ft. Lauderdale.

Port Everglades Cruise Terminal

Port Everglades Cruise Terminal in Ft. Lauderdale
Port Everglades Cruise Terminal in Ft. Lauderdale. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Perhaps you’re looking at a stay in Ft. Lauderdale because you’re considering a cruise. Port Everglades regularly ranks in the top three cruise ports in the United States, and what this means is that the finest, newest ships of every major cruise line sail from this port, vying for your business.

The Ft. Lauderdale airport is smaller and less frenetic than the Miami International Airport (which I think earned its call letters MIA for a reason), and it’s just minutes from the terminal. Flying in for a cruise doesn’t get any easier than this. At the end of the cruise, rather than hopping on a plane and hurrying straight back to work, a couple of nights in Lauderdale is a nice way to ease that transition back to your daily grind.

 

Sonesta Ft Lauderdale Beach
I loved my morning walks while staying at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Where to Stay: the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale Beach

We spent our weekend at the Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach, and I loved it. One key factor for choosing a hotel: location, location, location.

For me, this was perfect. The Sonesta is next to the Hugh Taylor Birch state park – a pristine, undeveloped stretch of beach that’s an important site for sea turtle nests. This means there is a mile or so of empty beach to the left of the Sonesta. There is also a buffer zone to the right of the hotel, before you reach the next hotel further down the beach.

Sonesta Ft Lauderdale Room
Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale: Preferred Ocean View Double — perfect! Loved the floor to ceiling view of the ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I love this! If you like long beach walks, if you’re into photography, or hey — if you simply like the feeling of A LITTLE SPACE away from people — this location is like hitting the lottery. I felt like the beach here was my private space.

The Sonesta room was lovely: floor to ceiling view of the changing greens and blues of the ocean, and super-comfortable beds with high end linens. As part of the amenity fee each room has daily bottled water, lounge chairs waiting for you on the beach, and a friendly welcome drink down at the bar.

View from the Sonesta Ft Lauderdale
View from our room. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Pool at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale
Pool at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale.

While Ft. Lauderdale offers a great selection of restaurants,  sometimes you just want a quiet meal at the hotel. It’s nice to know the food is good enough that you have that option.

My breakfast each morning at the Sonesta was their egg white frittata, with sautéed spinach, peppers, onion, and mushroom. In addition to their a la carte menu, they serve a full breakfast buffet as well.

I also had lunch at the Sonesta one of the days we were there — and found the conch fritters with a local beer from the Funky Buddha Brewery to be very tasty. The first night in Ft. Lauderdale, at the end of a long road-tripping week, I wasn’t in the mood to go out. The Sonesta bone-in tenderloin and a nice cabernet – great end to the day.

When I think about a relaxing escape, a good massage is often at the top of my list. The Spa services at the Sonesta have you covered there with a selection of massage options, as well as hydrotherapy tea-bath soaks. What about shopping? The Sonesta is less than a mile from the Ft. Lauderdale Galleria, so if a little retail therapy is on your weekend getaway list, it’s all right here.

Aerial view of the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale.
Aerial view of the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale.

Whether you’ve got a whole week of vacation, time for just a quick getaway, or you’re looking to extend a cruise vacation — Ft. Lauderdale is a great choice.


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Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale for hosting both myself and Pat Wetzel of Cancer Road Trip for our Ft. Lauderdale stay, and to Hello Sunny! – the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau for their warm welcome and assistance. As always, opinions and experiences expressed on AnnCavittFisher.com are honest and my own. I’ll never recommend anything I didn’t love myself.

Cats, Key West, and Ernest Hemingway

Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Lauren Bacall, and Howard Hughes pop out from basement grates, stroll through shrubs, and pose for guests visiting a certain Spanish Colonial home in Key West.

Who are they? The Hemingway cats, all descended from Ernest’s original tomcat, Snowball, who had six-toed paws.

Hemingway six toed cat
One of the Hemingway polydactyl cats. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Lauren Bacall, and Howard Hughes pop out from basement grates, stroll through shrubs, and pose for guests visiting a certain Spanish Colonial home in Key West.

Who are they? The Hemingway cats, all descended from Ernest’s original tomcat, Snowball, who had six-toed paws.

Ship’s captain Stanley Dexter gave Hemingway Snowball as a gift, after the author admired his polydactyl feet. Hem gave Snowball’s many children the names of famous people, and took great amusement in being able to say things like, “Look what a fine, fat rat Winston Churchill left on the doorstep this morning!”

Their massive paws are unlike any I’ve seen. I’d have adopted one of the cats the spot, had it been possible.

The Hemingway House in Key West.
The Hemingway House in Key West. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hemingway and his second wife Pauline called Key West home for 11 years (1928-1939), which means a quarter of the author’s adult writing life was spent here.  While in Key West, he completed and published:

  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Death in the Afternoon (nonfiction)
  • Winner Take Nothing (collection of short stories)
  • Green Hills of Africa (nonfiction)
  • To Have and Have Not
  • The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls

Hemingway often drank at Sloppy Joe’s with his friends (the Mob) after sword-fishing on his boat, the Pilar.  The ice house next to Joe’s leaked in a constant stream of water that Joe didn’t clean up — so the floor was always a wet, dirty mess — hence the bar’s name. Originally on Green Street, Joe’s moved to its location on Duval in 1937.

Captain Tony’s Saloon, current resident of the original site, retains the stinky dock-bar funk that Hem and his Mob enjoyed.

The original Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West.

In 1936 Martha Gellhorn met Hemingway at Sloppy Joe’s, and in 1937, when Hemingway went to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, she was there doing the same thing. Their experience inspired Hemingway’s next novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is dedicated to Martha.

Their very public affair also spelled the end of Hemingway’s second marriage, along with his time in Key West. With Gellhorn, Hemingway moved on to the Cuban period in his life, and he would never write as much or as well again . . . the one fine exception being The Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway and Gellhorn.

I’ve loved Hemingway’s work since I was fourteen when The Sun Also Rises was at the top of my summer book list. On my first trip to Paris at seventeen, reading A Moveable Feast cemented this feeling. Loving Hemingway in the 1980’s was unfashionable, and I was told frankly, by two high school teachers and three professors, that E.H. was a sexist, misogynist asshole who aggrandized bullfighting, big game hunting,  — and that basically at by the end of the 20th century, we no longer had any need of his sort — and that there were other writers of the Lost Generation that wrote better anyway.

I disagree.

Hem wasn’t an easy man. Charming and intense, given to the highs and lows of his bipolar disorder, he drew people to him like a magnet — only to abuse those close to him when he was on a deep down. He had the reputation of being incredibly patient and giving as a teacher, only to turn quicksilver mean in a fight. Poorly suited to marriage, he married four times — and loved deeply, but was inevitably unfaithful, and the marriages inevitably over.

I think Hemingway could only feel safe for a period before restlessness took over. Before it took someone or something else, someone new, to make him feel safe and whole again.

Deeply damaged and deeply personal, Hem was brave enough to take us in there with him: to feel things intensely; to be self-aware; to write about it ALL. To write the truest sentence he knew, without flinching, without cheating the note.

And as he did it, he re-invented the way novels and stories might be written.

Typewriter in Hemingway’s writing studio. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

So if you find yourself in Key West, you will see tourists come and tourists go, and you will know that Duval Street is not what it once was.

But if you are looking for Hemingway, go to his garden surrounded by walls on an early morning. A cat will come find you, and you can still feel him here.

 


This and That

Letters between Leonard Bernstein and Martha Gellhorn in 1959, concerning Hemingway.

Letter from Leonard Bernstein to Martha Gellhorn, 1959:

“I met Ernest Hemingway at Sun Valley last week, and was taken totally by surprise.

I had not been prepared by talk, photos, or interviews for a) that charm, and b) that beauty. God, what goes on under his eyes? What’s that lovely adolescent tenderness?

And the voice and the memory & the apparent genuine interest in every living soul: fantastic.

We spoke tenderly of you: he said you were brave . . . . His present wife seems to be a professional Ja-sayer, though simpatico enough.

The question is not: How could you have married him, but how could you have done anything else?”

 

Letter from Martha Gellhorn to Leonard Bernstein, in response.

“Interested about Ernest [Hemingway]. Tenderness is a new quality in him; but people do luckily change all their lives and the luckiest ones get better as they grow older. His main appalling lack was tenderness for anyone. I longed for it in him, for myself and for others. I’d almost have settled for others. I do not remember his voice as being anything much, but I always was thrilled by his memory.

He was interested in everyone but there was a bad side. It was like flirting. (Like you, in fact, he has the excessive need to be loved by everyone, and specially by all the strange passing people whom he ensnares with that interest, as do you with your charm, though in fact he didn’t give a fart for them.) So he would take people into camp; they became his adoring slaves (he likes adoring slaves) and suddenly, without warming, he would turn on them. That was always terrible to see; it made me feel cold and sick and I wanted to warn each new conquest of what lay in wait for him. But one couldn’t; they wouldn’t believe; they were on the heights of joy—for he can be a great life-enhancer and great fun, and his attention is very flattering.

By the time I did marry him (driving home from Sun Valley) I did not want to, but it had gone too far in every way. I wept, secretly, silently, on the night before my wedding and my wedding night; I felt absolutely trapped. When I fell in love with him was in Spain, where for once he did have tenderness for others (not me, he was regularly bloody to me, lustful or possessive, and only nice when he was teaching me, as if I were a young man, the arts of self defense in war. And also he liked being the only man in Spain who took his woman around with him, and I was blonde, very helpful in brunette countries, raises one’s value.)

I loved him then for his generosity to others and for his selfless concern for the Cause. That was all gone by the time I married him. I think I was afraid of him though I certainly never admitted it to myself or showed it to him. You will also be surprised to hear that I have never been more bored in my life than during the long long months when we lived alone in Cuba. I thought I would die of boredom. But it was very good for me. I wrote more with him than ever before or since in my life, and read more. There were no distractions; I lived beside him and entirely and completely alone, as never before or since.

I am very glad he now speaks pleasantly of me. I never speak of him one way or the other with anyone. The whole thing is a distant dream, not very true and curiously embarrassing. It has almost nothing to do with me. What I write you here is, as you can understand, secret and between us only and forever.

He ought to be happy and he ought to be gentle; because life has showered gifts and blessings on him; and I hope he is.”

 

Practical Notes:

Open 9:00 – 5:00 most days. The Hemingway House does NOT take credit cards for the entry fee of $14 (adults) $6 (children)  — but will take credit cards in the gift shop for purchases of books, t-shirts, and other Hemingway memorabilia.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

Visiting The Mouse

Our 2017 high school graduates, Anna, Kate, and Cat.

Catherine, you’ve just graduated from high school! What are you going to do next?

“I’m going to Disney World!”

My daughter Cat graduated from high school in May, and we’ve been planning a graduation trip with two of her friends and one of their moms since last fall. When I saw the Class of 2017 Mickey Ears from Disney, I knew they’d make the perfect trip-morning present. Cat and Anna and Kate jumped on the ears — which became props in numerous selfie and video shots. The five of us had a great four-day visit, and a fine time was had by all. Here’s the fun video overview:

(Video by Anna Costantini; editing for short version, Ann Fisher).

Catherine and I go way back with Mickey.

We’ve been to Disney so many times that my daughter and I could give tours. In essence, that’s what we did in May. I was the concierge — arranged all fast passes and meals, and my daughter and I ran the “Disney Experience” for Missy, Kate, and Anna.

Catherine and I are lucky that my sister has been in the advertising business for a long time. She’s a MadWoman. We were guests of Buena Vista for a number of years.

Catherine and Mickey Mouse strolling Disney MGM Studios
Catherine visited Disney World in October of 2001. We were guests of Buena Vista, and since 9/11 had been so recent, not many children were in the group. Mickey spent nearly an hour with Catherine – it was quite an evening. Here, they’re strolling up and down the backlot streets in what was then Disney’s MGM Studios.

October of 2000 was my neophyte visit at Walt Disney World — my first time there as an adult. My sister was there on a advertising exec trip. I arrived, and Carolyn introduced me to her ad friends, one of whom had played concierge for all of us.

I can remember saying, “Disney World Reservations? You need dining reservations at Disney? Seriously?”

Catherine and Stitch ride Cinderella's Carousel in 2004.
Catherine and Stitch ride Cinderella’s Carousel in 2004.

Yes. Oh, yes. If you don’t have them, you’d better like counter-service meals, because you may not get in at a sit-down restaurant.

I was properly trained to “do Disney” by this super-savvy mom from New Jersey. I was well-schooled on Cindy’s castle.

“Okay, darling. Now, when you’re ready to take Catherine to have dinner at Cinderella’s castle, this is what you do. You wake up super early 6 months from the day you want that reservation. Get your coffee, and get settled in, and you start calling Disney World thirty minutes before the switchboard opens at 7:00 am Florida time. And you keep calling until you get someone. Otherwise, the reservations for that day will be all gone within fifteen minutes of opening time.”

Really?” I said. “I’d never do that.”

Well, um. Yes, I did.

When we decided to take a family trip to Disney World during the month of September 2004, we made plans a long way out, and I did indeed go through the rigamarole to get dining reservations at Cinderella’s Castle. Catherine was six. Big smile. And I’m glad I did it. (If you’re wanting current tips on snagging this reservation, check out the Birnbaum Guide to Walt Disney World to Disney World. — Also, it’s one of only restaurants at Disney that requires this much effort. I always find reservations somewhere, sometimes not my first choices, even a couple of weeks ahead of a trip).

On that trip, as an extra-special experience, we weathered Hurricane Jeanne at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Jeanne was a strange hurricane. After hitting Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it dissipated, headed out into the Atlantic, then looped back and smacked Florida. We saw Disney planning at its finest. The entire hotel was on lockdown as the hurricane blew through. It was the most original hurricane party I’ve ever attended — and I grew up in New Orleans. The staff was amazing — there were ongoing activities all over, and periodically characters like Tigger and Pooh appeared to entertain the kids.

The next day, we were in the Magic Kingdom, with only the Jungle Cruise down post-hurricane.

Cat Gassiot and the Cinderella mosaic
My princess and their princess. Cat and I sure love Disney. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

You May Love it — You May Hate It . . .

 . . . but it’s impossible to be complacent about Walt Disney World.

A good friend who took his family at Christmas 6 or 7 years ago couldn’t stand Disney World. Hated it. I mean really hated it. All he could see was the commercialism and the crowds.

I’m in my fifties now, but my inner child is still alive and well. I went to Disney World for the first time when I was seven. The year was 1972, and Disney World was having its first birthday. I’ll never forget — ferry across — seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time.

Part of me is still seven when I’m in Disney World.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) gives Mary Poppin's writer Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) a personal tour of Disneyland.
In Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) gives Mary Poppin’s writer Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) a personal tour of Disneyland. She was not amused. My friend disliked Disney World just as much.

Yes, there is a gift shop at the end of every ride. I barely see it anymore. We never had a problem with Catherine and the stores. Each trip, I set a limit — you can buy one small to medium stuffed animal + spend an additional limited dollar amount. She was happy and we weren’t crazy. This year the teenagers were much more interested in shooting selfies and video than in buying things.

When my husband was still alive, his impressions of Disney were from the perspective of a CFO. Drew was fascinated by the way things work in Disney World — all of the systems that it takes to run such a massive enterprise successfully. If you find this part of Disney World interesting, and I do, then doing one of the behind the scenes tour might be right up your alley.

When I was in Disney World last year, I did the full day Keys to the Kingdom Tour, which I loved. The tour took us everywhere — through the costume design building, props and sets, to one of the laundries — which was way more interesting that laundry ever has been at my house! We had lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge. We went behind the scenes at Epcot into the American Experience and learned all about set design and the use of forced perspective — and of course, we did a tour of the utilidor system under the Magic Kingdom. If you’re a big Disney geek, you’ll have a wonderful time!

Lagoon at the St Louis World's Fair
St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904.

Epcot of course, is based on Walt Disney’s concepts of what a permanent World’s Fair could be. Walt grew up in the age of great American World’s Fairs, and each time I visit Epcot, I think about the American love affair with this kind of entertainment.

American Experience and Walt Disney

Want to know more about Walt Disney as a person? American Experience did a two part documentary of the man behind the mouse in 2015 “An unprecedented look at the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential storytellers.” I learned many things I didn’t know about Walt — giving me further insight into how much this man changed both the film industry and American business.

If you subscribe to PBS, you can watch a high-quality version there, (link to PBS to watch Walt Disney on the American Experience) otherwise, look for both parts of the documentary on Youtube, but low quality. It’s fair and well-done, covering both the positive and not-so-positive aspects of Walter Elias Disney’s life and career.

Geodesic Sphere — Planet Earth at Epcot on a foggy morning. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Thinking about a trip to Disney?

Cinderella's castle in Disney World with Christmas lights.
The Christmas season at Disney World is magical. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Over the years, I’ve stayed at the Contemporary Hotel, the Coronado Resort, the Animal Kingdom Lodge a couple of times, then the Boardwalk, the Beach Club, the Yacht Club, and the Swan Hotel. Cat and I stayed off-property once, in December of 2006 when I was in Orlando for a conference — and we’ll never do it again. I’ll be in a Disney World Resort, or I’m not going.

Our strong preference now is to stay at one of the Epcot area hotels since we spend more evenings there than any other park.

I hate the heat, and I really, really dislike being at Disney World in the summer. We did it August about four years ago. I don’t know what I was thinking — and it won’t happen again. Our preferred time to visit is in the fall. We love the Not So Scary Halloween party, the cooler weather, and the international wine festival at Epcot.

Disney during the Christmas season is gorgeous, just be sure not to visit the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve — when there are always record crowd numbers — something I avoid. I did, however, meet a woman who comes every year for New Year’s Eve. Everyone is different :-).

In my opinion, Birnbaum’s Guide To Walt Disney World is the most comprehensive guidebook available. Whether you’re going for the first time, doing Disney as a family, or going it alone — this guide covers EVERYTHING, in more detail than most normal people will need — and in enough detail that most obsessive-compulsive types will be satisfied.

Blogging about Disney is a massive cottage industry. My favorite Disney blogger — I call him Mr. Disney — is Tom Bricker. Bricker constantly updates his information, so it’s as current as it gets, and he gives great photography tips and lessons away for free.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World within the next year, I’d recommend subscribing to Bricker’s site, Disney Tourist Blog. He sends updates whenever Disney changes something, or when there’s a really great deal going.

So, in my family, we love us a little Mouse. And it won’t be long before we return to get down with Stitch and all our other Disney pals.

Rockin’ it with Stitch — one of our favorite characters.