My husband and I were fighting over the last tube of Shanghai Tang lotion. Little did we know that the last time we mindlessly took home a couple of miniature amenities from the Conrad, one of our favorite hotels, that we would be cooped up and quarantined for months and months like the rest of the world.
Little did we know that it would be more than a year before we could check in to another Conrad again, when we typically stay at a Conrad location at least twice a year, from Tokyo to New York and a few other places in between. Little did we know that one whiff of that scent will take us back to the pre-pandemic days, when we meticulously planned for our vacation days, when we would save up dollars and Delta miles, when my biggest complaint about our day was room service forgetting to bring up the extra mayo for our late night fries. Of the many things I learned during this pandemic, I’ve never been more grateful for the life we have and will have in the future.
We haven’t been on a plane together this year, and I’m not sure when we can fly for a vacation again. I took a few work trips in January and February to Chicago, Detroit, and New York, but work trips – while they can be fun and memorable – don’t hold a candle to when I travel with my husband. Matt, who never once laughed at me when I first showed him my travel spreadsheet (itinerary, outfits, and packing list in one), who lets me pick restaurants from hole in the walls to Michelin stars, who patiently reminds me which baseball team is playing whenever we’re visiting a new stadium to catch a game (since I’m usually distracted by each stadium’s ballpark franks and soft serve game).
Since we didn’t get to travel together anywhere this year, I figured I’ll re-live last year’s trips instead. Between the Summer and early Fall, Matt and I travelled to six cities (including an international flight) in five months: Pittsburgh, Raleigh, New York, Atlanta, Manila, and Nashville. Here are a few of my favorite memories. Get ready for a long blog post.
Most of our summer travels include a baseball game because Matt is trying to visit all the baseball stadiums and I like saying I’m a baseball wife. Last year, we picked Pittsburgh as our first summer destination and went there during Memorial Day weekend. We checked out the Andy Warhol museum, which was conveniently within walking distance to downtown and PNC Park. I love that they close the Roberto Clemente bridge during games so people can easily make their way from downtown to the stadium. We had a beautiful view of the bridge and the skyline from our seats.
Most importantly, we tried a Primanti Brothers sandwich, a cultural icon in Pittsburgh, which features coleslaw AND fries inside the sandwich. We shared a pastrami sandwich before ambling over to our seats, and when I started getting antsy (second inning) I got up and got a soft serve. Kudos to PNC park for having the tallest soft serve I’ve had in a baseball stadium. I consider myself a stadium food aficionado now since I’ve been to eight: Fenway Park here in Boston, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Citi Field in Queens, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Camden Yards in Baltimore, and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and Truist Park in Atlanta (more on Atlanta below).
Raleigh, North Carolina
During the 4th of July weekend, we went to Raleigh to visit some of Matt’s family and we had such a great time. We stayed right downtown and even though it was gray and rainy that weekend, we were able to walk to so many places. Our group loved Trophy Brewery – even though I’m not really a beer drinker, I still enjoyed their blueberry beer. Then we sauntered over to Beasley’s just a couple of doors down. I ate fried bologna for the first time (amazing), fried chicken with mashed potatoes (perfection), and the best slice of blueberry pie I’ve ever had (seriously, the best).
New York City, New York
We go to NYC regularly and often stay at the same hotels midtown, but this time, for our anniversary, we stayed at The Beekman downtown. My gosh, that hotel is so beautiful, filled with old school glamour – I can’t get over their incredible tiled floors – and just the best customer service. We would absolutely be going back there, and as an added bonus it’s a stone’s throw away from Joe’s Pizza. Matt and I don’t always agree on pizza. I want a super cheesy pan pizza (give me a bar pizza anytime), and he likes a classic New York pizza with a thin, hand-tossed crust, but we both agree that Joe’s is our favorite and that we can eat it (almost) every day.
We met up with our dear friend GP at Momofuku Ssam Bar specifically to try their famous roast duck ssam – a whole rotisserie duck that stuffed with sausage, deboned, roasted, and served with rice, greens, pancakes, kimchi, lettuce, hot sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger scallion sauce. We had to make reservations and order it in advance (haha remember restaurant reservations huhu) and it was this massive, immersive, joyous meal that the 3 of us finished (it is typically for 4-6 people). Just looking at that picture and typing this all up made my mouth water. And then, even though we were stuffed (like that duck, ha!) we strolled over to Milk Bar and got cereal milk ice cream. I loved eating with two of my favorite people and that day is cemented as one of my favorite meals ever.
I’ve stopped over at the Atlanta airport dozens of times but this was my first time actually going out to the city. We spent Labor Day weekend there to see a Braves game, which is where I learned my lesson to never eat a giant tray of Fox Bros brisket before a baseball game because I definitely fell asleep at my seat. However I still daydream about that glorious plate of fried pickles and fried jalapenos, and when we go back to Atlanta, we are definitely getting that again.
We also went to the Coca-Cola museum, and spent a few hours at the Ponce City Market, where we met up with my friend Leia, who was working at Madewell at that time. Leah introduced us to Hop’s chicken and for a hot minute, I seriously considered moving to Atlanta. (Not closing our doors though!)
The best thing I ate in Atlanta, however, was the She Crab soup at South City Kitchen. So velvety and rich, with fresh cream, a touch of sherry, and a drizzle of an herby oil. It was flawless.
Also in Atlanta: we had a couple celebrity sightings! While we were having breakfast at the Four Seasons, Jack Quaid strolled past our table a couple of times. I really wanted to approach him and tell him how much we LOOVVEEEE The Boys (and also how much I love his mom’s romcom movies) but then I thought maybe celebrities stay at the Four Seasons to avoid weird fans like me? So I decided not to bother him and while I was focusing on my eggs benedict, Matt discreetly pointed out Karl Urban! Most people probably don’t know who Jack Quaid is (son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, played Marvel in Hunger Games) but more people would be familiar with Karl Urban (LOTR, Thor, Star Trek). Superhero/TV addicts like me would be familiar with both of them because of the Amazon series. We saw Butcher and Hughie!!
We went back to Manila in September for a quick trip. We celebrated my mom’s birthday, my dad had a successful surgery, and because it was sort of an impromptu trip, we didn’t have a jampacked itinerary, and instead just spent our days hanging out with my family. My friend Fe (my first travel buddy) introduced me to some new local and artisan brands like Zarah Juan, which makes me even more excited to go back and do some serious shopping. Of course no trip to the Philippines is complete without overindulging in all things ube, like this ube shake from Manam.
By the time October rolled around, we wanted to squeeze in one more fun trip before we hunkered down for the Fall. We’ve both been wanting to visit Music City for a while, and the perfect opportunity came when I went there for work, and Matt followed afterwards so we can spend the weekend together. We made the trek to Loveless Cafe where we gobbled up the most adorable biscuits and jams. We did a tour of the historic Ryman Auditorium, where Johnny Casy met June Carter, home of the Grand Ole Opry, where luminaries from Elvis to BB King have performed. It seemed like sacred ground, and I wish we could have seen a live show.
We also waited in the long lines for Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. There were different heat levels, from Southern (no heat) to Shut the Cluck Up (burn notice), and I went with Hot! (feel the heat), with a side of pimento mac and cheese and southern greens. (Plus some banana pudding which I brought back home to our hotel.) True to its word, Hattie B’s had HOT chicken – toeing the line between perfectly spicy to a little too spicy, it was addicting and I easily finished my order. 100% worth the wait in line.
Now, a year later, we are yearning for the day when we can travel again. Until then, we’ll be waiting and staying home, reminiscing with tiny toiletries and our memories.