Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Planes, Trains & Automobiles!!: My Cross Country Vacation- Day 2

Day 2

Our second day of our amazing cross-country adventure stared with me waking up around 5 am and more energized and excited than a kid on Christmas Day. It was still pitch black out and I had no idea exactly where we were, (I was assuming somewhere between Cleveland and Chicago), but I was staring out the window to try and get a feel for the landscape and figure out what time zone we were in. As the sun started to come up from the east, I could definitely we weren't anywhere near the east coast anymore…we had made it to the Midland States.

Changing Landscapes in Ohio/Illinois 

Changing Landscapes in Ohio/Illinois 

We made our way down for breakfast before we had to pack all our stuff and arrive in Chicago for our layover before the next train adventure. We sat with another older couple, where at this point we started to see a pattern- Pete and I were probably the only ones in the Sleeper Cars Section that were not either retired or over the age of 55. No bother to us, we just had our breakfast and headed back to pack.

Chicago’s skyscrapers finally came into view from our windows and although it seemed very much like your typical large, capital city, it still had a different vibe. We got off at Union Station, last stop for the Lake Shore Limited and proceed to find the nearest area to drop off our bags and explore Chicago for the limited time we had.

About an hour outside of Chicago

Me viewing the landscape


The problem with being dropped off in a major city, or any city for that matter, is if you don’t know where you’re going… you’re going to lose valuable time and probably walk around in circles like we did. Luckily for us, the couple we had met the night before at dinner, helped us out a lot when it came to directions of finding Lake Michigan and other points of interest. We took their advice and walked down Adams St. towards the “Magnificent Mile”, (doesn't Oprah live there?). While making our way down there, we saw the famous Sears… I mean, Willis Tower with the famous observation deck. Unfortunately, the line was out the door and probably about 2 hours deep, so we decided to save Willis Tower for another trip.

Willis "Old Sears" Tower

Willis "Old Sears" Tower

Me out front of the Art Institute of Chicago
Once we had made it to the “Magnificent Mile”, aka, Michigan Ave, we spotted The Art Institute of Chicago, a beautifully built Art Museum and garden which I’m sure has amazing exhibits inside… but with less than 4 hours to explore, we had to get a move on and once again, save this place for another trip.

We only had to walk about 6-7 blocks before we hit Lake Michigan, a more spectacular sight than I had imagined. I imagined some sort of big lake that you could see the other side, but this lake seemed to go on forever, like the ocean, except a lot less waves and a lot calmer.

Lake Michigan & view of Chicago!! 

Lake Michigan & view of Chicago!! 

Lake Michigan & view of Chicago!! 

Lake Michigan & view of Chicago!! 

After strolling around a couple blocks around Chicago, we headed back to the train station to grab some lunch and wait for the California Zephyr, the next train that would take us to Denver. What was really good about Union Station was the variety of places to grab food, (most being fast food), but we did find a sport restaurant of sorts, Metro Deli & Café, where you ordered food, paid and sat down at a table, so yes, like a restaurant, minus a wait staff.

After lunch, we boarded on the California Zephyr, the Chicago to San Francisco train, to our next stop Denver where we would arrive early Sunday morning. This train was a lot larger in size compared to the Lake Shore Limited with one, rather large difference… this time we had a Roomette Sleeper, a smaller version of the Bedroom Sleeper, which consisted of a bunk bed and two recliners that turned into a bed…a more intimate room so to speak. Although the room was small, it was still much better to have our own space than sit and sleep on a chair for an entire ride.

Smaller quarters than before...lest we had a bed

Smaller quarters than before...lest we had a bed

Smaller quarters than before...lest we had a bed
As we made our way into Iowa, I kept noticing the change of landscape to becoming more flat and farm (I could see how they called the area ‘tornado alley’). It was pretty amazing to see how the land changed and I could only image what it would be like to see the Rocky Mountains and Arizona dessert all on this one trip. We also made it another amazing landmark, the Mighty Mississippi River, which was a quite a sight to behold. One thing was for certain, we had officially made it to the Midwest and the gateway to the Wild West.

Mighty Mississippi River!

Mighty Mississippi River! 

Unlike our last train ride, the California Zephyr had very short stops few and far in between. We did stop off at one area, Galesburg, Iowa for a quick 20 minutes- not much to view but at least it was good to stretch out the legs.

Farms of the Mid West in Iowa (it's very flat!)

Farms of the Mid West in Iowa (it's very flat!)

Galesburg, Iowa

Galesburg, Iowa
Dinner had arrived soon after and once again we really lucked out with the people we sat with. They were a couple who recently retired (again, only young people on the sleeper train adventure), and decided to travel cross country via trains. The guy we talked to was a long time Harley Biker, so he knew exactly where the best spots were to drive when we got to Denver. He mentioned that when we got to Denver and planned to drive to Santa Fe, that we should skip the Interstate and go through Bi-way 24 through Pikes Peak, it would be a more scenic travel. We took his word for it and added the route into our travels.

After dinner it was time to lower the top bunk and get the recliners turning into the other bunk. Space was tight, but we were able to get some sleep before our 6 am wake call to get ready for the next stop on our adventure: Denver, Colorado. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Planes, Trains & Automobiles!!: My Cross Country Vacation- Day 1

It has always been a dream of mine to drive cross-country to see what the entire USA has to offer. Well, that dream is becoming a reality by way of trains, planes and automobiles. There is an actual reason why I’m traveling, but I’ll get to that part of the story later on. To be honest, my travels have been so-so; I’ve traveled far north as Quebec, far east to London & Dublin and south towards the usual Disney World, Florida, and of course, different parts in between North and South. However, my travels out west haven’t been the greatest journeys- do western Massachusetts, North Adams count as being ‘out west’? Well, thanks to this amazing vacation I’m currently having, my ventures out west will now include; Chicago, Denver, possibly Santa Fe, Arizona and final destination of Nogales, AZ. And, yes, like the title says, I’ll be getting there by plans, trains and automobiles…and I’ll be accompanied by my wonderful travel partner/boyfriend, Peter.

Day 1

We stared out travels out west via Amtrak Train on the Lakeshore Limited from Boston to Chicago, IL. We booked one of those ‘sleeper bedrooms’ and as you can imagine, or prefer not to, the bedrooms are of adequate size for a train, but nowhere near where they once were during the Golden Ages of the early 20th century where everyone traveled via the train system. However, for our train ride, it did just fine! (Better than being in a coach seat and having to sit for almost 22 hours!) LaShondra was our ‘concierge’ Sleeper Attendant who assisted us with all our needs and gave us some knowledgeable advice about riding the train.

Our Sleeper Room &
saying 'goodbye to Boston!'

Our Sleeper Room &
saying 'goodbye to Boston!'

Our Sleeper Room &
saying 'goodbye to Boston!'

We boarded the train at South Station at 12pm and set off for Chicago. Along the way, we had about 10 or so stops to make in between to let people off and on. 

Lunch aboard Amtrak! Wraps & Cheesecake & Brownies! 

Lunch aboard Amtrak! Wraps & Cheesecake & Brownies! 

Lunch aboard Amtrak! Wraps & Cheesecake & Brownies! 
One stop we made was in Albany, NY, where we had a two-hour layover before we started back on our destination again. We decided to get out of our bedroom, stretch our legs and explore for a bit. We didn’t have to go that far to explore…mainly because there really wasn’t anything at the train station…but we did find an old fire station that was converted into a lounge to have a couple of drinks.

June's Restaurant at Albany Amtrak Stop
Yuengling Larger Beer from PA 

June's Restaurant at Albany Amtrak Stop
Yuengling Larger Beer from PA 
New England Scenery 

New England Scenery 

New England Scenery 
Once we boarded again, it was almost time for our dinner reservation, (one very nice perk of having being a ‘Sleeper Passenger’ is that all of your food is complimentary, you get to sit in the nicer dining car and all your dining reservations are made for you). We sat with an older couple that was just coming back from their vacation of New England and we discussed all about each other’s vacation plans. They gave us some great advice when we were to stop at Chicago for our 4 hour layover before the next train: as soon as we get to Union Station in Chicago, head towards the Adams St. side and head towards Michigan Ave., there we would be able to see Lake Michigan.

Dinner with couple from Wisconsin

Dinner with couple from Wisconsin

Dinner with couple from Wisconsin
To my surprise, not only was the conversation great with this couple, but the food was quite delicious, as well. We stared with heated rolls and a small salad, followed by our entrees- I got the vegetarian pasta, Pete go the half chicken- and for dessert, Pete got a scrumptious New York Cheesecake and I got a chocolate chip brownie (warm, of course!)

After dinner, we settled back in to our bedroom, where LaShondra showed us how to maneuver our bunk bed…and show us the apparent “seat belt” that went with it. Needless to say, we decided to sleep in the bottom bunk together.

Well, that concludes Day 1 of our trip… yes, it seems a little stale…but I promise to have some better updates each day. I plan on blogging my entire vacation each day, so I hope you’ll join me and continue on with me on what will be, a vacation to never forget!!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Behind the Scenes at wagamama!

Recently, I attend a very cool event for wagamama's Pre-Grand Opening Dinner & Blog Event at their new location at  Marketstreet Lynnfield in Lynnfield, MA, their first suburban location (and original home of me!) This was quite a different type of event for me because I've never been invited to go to a pre-opening of a restaurant- I felt very much like a Queen Bean.

wagamama’s originated in London, England, which is rather odd being that it is Japanese inspired Noodle Bar; their philosophy is having fresh, fast food while in a cozy & relaxing atmosphere. Their first U.S. restaurant opened in Faneuil Hall in 2007, (I do remember when it first opened in the area and thought it seemed like a little out of place and the food seem quite different). However, much to my knowledge, wagamama’s was in the right place at the right time and the food is deliciously good.

This new location is no different; the restaurant is quite spacious, it has cafeteria styled tables and an open kitchen lets you view the chefs’ work their culinary magic. We began the evening with a little meet and greet from other bloggers and were given a culinary lesson on some of the different dishes wagamama's creates.

Honestly, I thought that this was what the event was going to consist of, a little meet and greet, little lesson on the food that and maybe sample what they had already created… oh, boy, was I ever wrong!! I took a seat with other bloggers and my cooking adventure began- all 7 courses and then some…

We were offered to try just about everything on the menu, starting off with their Miso Soup & Japanese Styled Pickles, Edamame (soybeans), Chili Squid, Chicken Gyoza (dumplings), Ebi Katsu (fried shrimp) & Lollipop Shrimp Kushiyaki. 

Next, it was Yasai Cha Han (tofu dish), Firecracker! (chicken covered in red hot chilies and fiery sweet & hot sauce) and Wagamama’s #1 selling dish (and my personal favorite), Chicken Katsu Curry. 

Next up, (I wasn’t kidding), Chili Beef Raman & Teriyaki Salmon Soba. 

Last up, (as if I could eat anymore!), was Coconut Reika (ice cream and mango sauce) and of course wagamama Chocolate Cake.

In all, we had about 14 different samples of wagamama's delicious food, (unfortunately, I was eating and chatting so much, I forgot to snap a few pictures and mention some of the dishes…I think after dish #8, I was officially in a food induced coma…but it was soo worth it)!

Of course, the wagamama's Event saved the best part for last…swag bag full of goodies!

The entire event was amazing, the food was delicious and I was able to once again, meet some great bloggers… did I mention the food was DELICIOUS!!

Well readers… if you like what you just saw and read, (seriously, how could you not?!), how about entering to win a $25 to any wagamama's of your choice! It’s simple:
  • Retweet my blog to be entered
  • “Like” my blog on Facebook to be entered

It’s that easy!  I’ll be pulling the lucky winner on Sunday, November 24th, so be on the lookout for your name to pop up! So until then, re-tweet and share away! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Sweet Treat at Harvard Sweets!

A few weeks back before I hit the road for my vacation out west and the Red Sox were just beginning their battle in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, I was invited to another @BlogandTweetBos Bloggers event at Harvard Sweets… in Hudson…(yes, you will need to Google this one, it’s out between 495 & Mass Pike).

Although a little reluctant, I decided to make the journey out to Hudson in hopes of having

lots of tasty goodies to try and take home. The ride to Harvard Sweets wasn't bad at all, about 40 minutes from the city on a Saturday morning and they were actually located right next to The Horseshoe Pub, (I recognized the name from the number of commercials that play during the Phantom Gourmet). Harvard Sweets recently renovated with a cute store front look inside and bright, cheery colors welcomed us bloggers into their bakery.

We met with Susan who founded Harvard Sweets in 2007 who greeted us with sticky buns and cups of gourmet coffee- a perfect way to start any event. She told us more about the bakery and introduced us to a few of her bakery partners: first up was Joanna from New World Biscotti. She first met Susan at a local farmers market and began partnering together to sell Joanna’s biscotti. Personally for me, when I see biscotti, I think of two things: 1. Eww 2. I need to put my dentist on speed dial in case I break a tooth. However with Joanna’s biscotti, I was more than surprised about how delicious and soft they were for being biscotti. She had many different types of flavors to sample from Chocolate Sea Salt, Gingerbread Molasses to Frosted Lemon Coconut & Orange Date Nut.  These biscotti’s were great to dunk in coffee or have on their own… your teeth won’t regret it!

Next, we met Patrick of Gracenote Coffee located in Berlin, MA who had us sample a few of his coffee brews with beans from Mexico & Kenya. Patrick explained about all the different types of coffee beans, how to brew different types of coffee and why each area that grows coffee beans provides different types of flavors. I admit, they whole coffee explanation overwhelmed me a bit; who knew that there was so much to learn about being a coffee coinsure like a wine or beer coinsure. It would be great to go to a place that did explain more about the types of coffee, especially if  you could try sample after sample…until then I’ll be sticking with the *gasp!* Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee & my Keurig.

As the other Bloggers and I walked around behind the scenes of the store to see how the delicious sweets were made and boxed to go, we were kept being offered more goodies to sample and take home with us; which I was more than happy with. We sampled everything from French Macaroons, to brownies and sandwiches…and of course, more sticky buns!
 As the event was winding down, we were treated with a sample box of Harvard Sweets goodies and I snagged a few sweets for home. If you’re in the Harvard/495 area, I would suggest stopping by Harvard Sweets, or, if you’re like me and can’t contemplate why people would drive so far out, you’re in luck… Harvard Sweets sells their delicious goodies online. Unlike the $3 cookie I purchase sometimes in the city and it’s only so-so, Harvard Sweets prices are very reasonable, perfect excuse to purchase a few of their goodies, so make a trip or go online and try for yourself and taste exactly what I’m talking about! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mobile Monday + Mobile Startup Showcase = A Very Techy Night

A few weeks ago, I attended and lived tweeted at Mobile Monday Boston’s Event that coincided with Mobile Startup Showcase. The event was held at the MIT Museum, a smaller yet ‘geek-tastic’ science & tech museum, which showcased many products developed by MIT Alumni, a great collection of Polaroid Cameras and quite the Holography exhibit. Needless to say, this was a great location not only to have a Mobile Monday event, but to also show new startup companies and their products.

After a lot of walking and a lot of talking, I was able to chat with just about every company that was in attendance to discuss more about what their companies offer. I broke down this list below between Mobile Monday’s Sponsors & Mobile Startup Showcases Exhibitors.

 Mobile Monday Boston’s Sponsors

Boston Human Capital - Located in Woburn, MA, Boston Human Capital partners with businesses to help solve hiring needs by leveraging staff referrals and extensive candidate networks to find the best-fit people to strengthen your team. 

Embarcadero - Providing the industry’s broadest and deepest set of software tools for developers, DBAs, and architects, Embarcadero enables customers to work more efficiently with the industry’s major database platforms, operating systems, frameworks, and programming languages which enable customers to design, build, and run their databases and applications in the environments they choose -  free from the constraints, costs, and learning curves associated with multiple platform-specific tools.

HireMobile - HireMobile is a mobile development company assisting clients to expand by developing successful apps on various mobile and web platforms. Some of HireMobile’s strengths include; development of an app/software/system/website, Social Networking, Games & complex graphics/animations & E-commerce set-up.

Mobiquity - With locations around the world, Mobiquity is an innovative firm that simplifies mobile for hundreds of companies. They push the envelope of innovation to deliver the right solution to address business challenges or surface business opportunities by designing, building, deploying and managing mobile solutions that work for your business. 

WinterWymanA leading recruitment firm headquartered in the Northeast for more than 40 years, WinterWyman has helped thousands of companies, from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups – identify, attract and recruit talented professionals. 

Mobile Startup Showcase Exhibitors

Ask Beatrice - Ask Beatrice is a parking ‘widget’ located on a business’ website to help motorists find parking within walking distance to the particular business and help to avoid costly parking tickets. 

Canary - Calendar app that lets you manage/edit/schedule all of your appointments and events from Google & Facebook calendars all in one convenient place.  

CO Everywhere – Social Media App that lets you find out what’s happening in one particular area  via social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook & Instagram, conveniently organized on one app. 

CoachUpCoachUp is an app that lets you find personal coaches in your area to train and practice with on any particular sport.

Filosync  - Software product that allows you to turn your Amazon Web Service account into your personal file-sync system.

good2gether - Company that uses smartphones to connect businesses that ‘do good’ to consumers who care about the causes that they both support.

HeyWire  - App that provides free texting for businesses, combining SMS and Twitter, send and receive messages across smartphones, tablets and the web.

THE MEME  - A mobile phone app that creates ‘Organic Parking’; a transaction system of exchanging information for swapping car parking spots throughout the city of Boston and surrounding areas for a fraction of the cost.

Mobee - An app that allows users to be mystery shoppers at participating venues and are rewarded the more they shop/dine.

HubEngage - Created by the folks from Mobinett, HubEngage is a social app that allows users to ‘check in’ participating venues and use their app in the same way a loyalty card to redeem offers and earn points for every visit.

NeuroCrunch – Although still in development, Big Hippo is the first app created by NeruoCrunch that will allow you to instantly recall and remember personal information of people you interact with by way of voice recognition technology.

PitchPrep – Mobile app that allows you to record, share, critique and perfect your sales pitch or message.

Playrific – Mobile company that creates apps for a younger audience, as well as, work with other business partners an alternative way to using a mobile platform to create and develop apps for kids.

PreApps – Website dedicated to getting the word out on new apps to users and the marketplace prior to release.

QuadWrangle – App that allows you to connect with other alumni, which lead to better connections and organization of reunions & donations.

Quantra – A subsidiary of Taiwan-based Quantra Computer, INC, the world’s leader in the production of laptop computers, Quntra Research based in Cambridge has developed an app that allow an easier use of the creation and sharing of location based services.

Roomzilla – Creative software that allows a company to easily book, confirm and organize meeting space fast and efficiently.

Salespod – An efficient web app that allows small and medium sized businesses manage field activities, coach and provide their team with relevant information on the spot, all while tracking their team’s activities in real time.

SessionM – Developed an innovative mobile loyalty and advertising platform that connects consumers with mobile content and advertising in fun and rewarding new ways.

Skimbox – A wicked smart app that organizes email for busy people on the go by creating one box for important email you need to view and another for all other email that can wait.

Snaptiva – An interactive personal style app that allows consumers to snap a picture of anything with a specific color, search thought millions of products and find products that match their item’s color, such as finding shoes to match a bag.

Sold.Service app that took over the burden of selling by adding a few photos and a description, the pricing calculator determines the perfect price for the item. From there the app handles the selling, the shipping, and the payment in one convenient place.

SoundFest – A revolutionary app dubbed “RealClarity”, this app helps people who have difficulty understanding speech in noisy situations, clarifies voices and other sounds people want to hear, while filtering out distracting noise.

SpogoThe ultimate mobile sports app that allows sports fans to win rewards for making real-time predictions while watching their favorite teams play.

Tap n’ Tap - Software solutions and leading Android expertise that enables manufacturers, operators, and retailers to launch profitable mobile devices.

The Tap Lab – Creator of Tiny Tycoon, the first location-based tycoon game on the App Store that turns real life into an interactive game board consisting of everyday people and places to compete with and take over your favorite real world places.

Thyme Labs – in production software company that is focused on time management tools and personal data analytics.

Timebre – A cool new app available for Apple & Android, Timbre is a free location-based service app that allows you to find concert venues in your area to discover live music and concerts.

Tocobox Inc.Startup Company that is developing “Mailki”, an easy to use email system for children ages 6-12 that is also monitored by parental controls.

Unbound CommerceDeveloping a new concept for large retailers and brands, Unbound Commerce created a new touch screen technology that bridges the gap between retailer and consumer online and offline.  
vFrameCreating a patent pending product, ‘virtual reality frames’ connect to your smartphone and from there you can play video games in a 360° view.