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With Memorial Day Weekend fast-approaching, it is time to formally introduce the Summer of Fun 2012 list. For those of you unfamiliar with Summer of Fun, it is that time in New York when we go out and explore just why this is arguably the best city in the world (and we also go out in search of justification for the ridiculous rent prices we all pay to be here).
Summer of Fun officially kicks off Wednesday, May 30, with Manhattanhenge and will run through Labor Day.
So for those of you looking for things to do in NYC this summer, here is what I will (be attempting to) do and report back on. Feel free to join in on the journey.
Okay, so maybe this is five months overdue. But I swear I’ve been productive. I’ve hit up Mexico, Ireland (twice!) and….New Jersey (trust me, a journey all its own). But the creative juices are flowing once again, my friends and I am back. Oh yes, I am back…
…most recently from Vienna, Austria, a city that can be summed up with classic, imperial and elegant. I was in town for a short three days attending the first Austria Destination Summit, a trade show for travel agents looking to learn more about the destination. I could bore you with tales from the private Vienna Philharmonic rehearsal, or the nighttime tour of Shoenbrunn Palace (which ended with a lavish banquet overlooking the city)…but I think I’d rather tantalize you with tales from the table.
Night one: Champagne and hors d’oeuvres in Vienna’s iconic Ferris Wheel (the oldest in the world). The Viennese absolutely love their smoked salmon, cheese or ham on bread. And as basic as it sounds, it does the trick. Creamy, salty smoked salmon with a dollop of creme fraiche on a soft slice of baguette. Sold. Then it was wienerschnitzel (lightly breaded and fried fillet of veal) with a squeeze of lemon and a side of scalloped potatoes, with a never-ending glass of crisp, white wine at Wagon 31, the restaurant adjacent to the Ferris Wheel. Did you know Vienna has a booming wine industry? Me neither…but I was not disappointed.
Dessert was loosely translated on our menus as a chocolate-filled dumpling with strawberry sauce. I’m not a girl with a sweet tooth, but man that sounded like a drug that I had to get my hands on. Diabetics: Avert your eyes. Picture a fluffy white cake ball filled with oozing, molten chocolate, crusted in shredded coconut and topped with gooey strawberry sauce.
Night two: A private dinner in the wine cellar of Klosterneuburg Monastery, a Roman Catholic monastery just outside of Vienna on the Danube river. The working monastery is home to not only a cellar chock full of delicious Viennese wine, but it is home to the largest cask of wine in the world (56,000 liters!). Hey, heaven. The monastery capitalizes on this by offering guests the opportunity to literally slide down the barrel. Needless to say, I could not resist after I had sampled a few glasses of the onsite libation.
Night three: A feast for the senses and a true taste of Vienna. Our hosts rented out Cafe Gloriette, part of Schoenbrunn Palace, the summer residence for the Habsburg family. It was built in 1775 as a ‘temple of glory’ for Empress Maria Theresia. In 1780 it was transformed into a breakfast room for the Emperor Franz Josef I. Today it is an elegant restaurant boasting breathtaking views over Vienna. Arriving at night was an experience all its own as the building was set aglow with dramatic lighting. We entered to a quartet playing delicate Mozart (which later erupted into some sort of hypnotic blend of house beats with electric Mozart – odd, but it grew on me. Or maybe that was the wine). In any event I tucked into a Viennese staple: beef broth with soft dumplings, similar to matzoh balls. Following this we were served flaky cod and saddle of veal, all culminating with my favorite: oh yes, those chocolate-filled dumplings. What a gloriously calorie-filled bookend to an already overindulgent trip.
Despite my waistline’s better judgment, Vienna has not seen the last of me.
Roaming Memphis in the bright of day is sobering. At least, that’s how we felt on Monday as we readied to head back to New York. Our last stop on our list was the National Civil Rights Museum, and I don’t think there could have been a more appropriate way to spend our last few hours.
In the blur of Blues, ribs and beer it is almost easy to forget that Memphis was the city in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. He was killed on the balcony of The Lorraine Motel, which has been turned into the museum. It is eye-opening and, in my opinion, a must for anyone.
Before you enter the exhibit you watch a screening of the Oscar-nominated ‘The Witness,’ narrated by Rev. Billy Kyles, who was with Dr. King the night he died. If at the end you aren’t holding back tears then you missed the whole point of the film.
Wind your way through the history of American civil rights. What makes this exhibit that much more meaningful is that it is located in the South. I don’t think it would have hit me as hard were it located in New York.
The museum takes you up to room #306, Dr. King’s room. Here you can look out a glass window onto the balcony where he was murdered. There really aren’t any words to capture this experience – at least none that wouldn’t sound forced and corny. Just go for yourself. Adult admission is $13 and I would carve out three hours to do it properly. You do not want to rush.
We meandered down to Beale Street and although a good handful of people roamed in and out of the blues clubs and restaurants, it looked more like a ghost town compared to the past two nights. We even made an attempt to get back to Ground Zero to find out the name of Johnny’s band (I feel stupid that I can’t remember), but seeing it empty and silent was eerie and another reminder that the journey really was over.
I’ll be raving about this trip for a very long time. I cannot wait to get back and I will recommend Memphis to anyone.
The whole drive here whenever we mentioned we were going to Memphis we got one of two responses: skeptical looks (which, after last night’s insanity we are still confused about) and “You into Elvis, or something?”
Ok…yes, we went to Graceland. I know I like to pride myself on not being a tourist but, come on. I think if an entire Paul Simon album bears its name it really is worth a visit. And also…it’s Elvis.
I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the King or his palace before my visit, but I was told by my friend Becca (an avid Graceland visitor) to opt for the Platinum Tour Tickets, which cost $34 and include an audio-guided tour of the Mansion; access to his airplanes; access to the Automobile Museum; his Hollywood Exhibit; a pop culture exhibit; access to a wardrobe exhibit; and a self-guided tour of the ’68 Special exhibit.
Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 for around 100 grand. He was 22. I’m 22 and I think I’m making it through the rest of this weekend on $61. It’s good to be the King.
“There’s a pretty little thing waiting for the King…down in the Jungle Room.” – ‘Walking in Memphis’ by Marc Cohen.
The tour of the mansion takes you through the lower floors. The upstairs, Elvis’ private quarters, remain off limits out of respect. You get to see the living room, dining room, kitchen, basement and of course, the Jungle Room. Holy 1970s decor. Shag carpet on the ceiling? What were people thinking? The tour also includes the grounds of Graceland, including displays on his movie career and his many, many awards.
Getting there: If you don’t have a car there is a free shuttle service that leaves from the Memphis Rock’n'Soul Museum every hour on the half hour. I’d carve out a good three hours to do Graceland right.
Not into Elvis? There is still plenty to do. We also checked out the Beltz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art and tomorrow we plan on hitting the Civil Rights Museum. Memphis is also a prime location for people watching. Grab a stool at one of the many bars with front windows and watch the local color pass by. Check out the giant decked out carriages that leave from The Peabody Hotel. While you’re there, see the March of the Ducks, which happens at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Get there an hour early to get a good seat. It’s a little kitschy but the ducks are so damn cute.