Sunday, October 27, 2013

Should Have Been a Cowboy

"... Should have learned to rope and ride/ Wearing my six-shooter/ Riding my pony on a cattle drive"

That Toby Keith song was going through my head a lot on our recent trip to Arizona because it is so scenic out there that it made me wish I was a cowboy (cowgirl, I guess)! Plus, we rode horses for the first time, so it only fueled my cowboy dreams, while also making it clear that it is only in my dreams that I have the proper horse riding skills.

After our recent city-centric trips, we were itching for something a little more natural and scenic.  A few months ago, we took a night to look at our budget, vacation schedule, and how to use points for free travel, we settled on a trip to see the Grand Canyon.  (PS - most of it we did for free thanks to points.  More on that to come.)  The timing worked out nicely that we could count it as a bit of an anniversary trip, since that was later in the month, and, like most milestones in our family, turned into excuses to celebrate all month.

We flew into Phoenix and stayed that first night in Scottsdale, before driving out to Sedona.  Our plan was to stay in Sedona two nights and drive out to the Grand Canyon during the full day we had there, and then stay in downtown Phoenix before heading home.  The US Government shutdown started the day we left though, which meant that the Grand Canyon was closed.  (They reopened the Grand Canyon during the second week of the shutdown, which meant we basically went at the worst time possible.)  Of course, we didn't know how long the shutdown would last, and with plans and hotel deposits already made, we figured we would still go and make the most of it.

We didn't have a whole lot of time in Scottsdale and Phoenix, but I had borrowed the perfect travel book on Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona from the library and poured through it on the 5 hour plane ride down there.  The guide book, plus recommendations on where to eat from the hotel, gave us more options than we even had time for.

After checking into our hotel in Scottsdale, the Kimpton Firesky, we went down the street for some amazing gourmet tacos at The Mission.  The meat was so flavorful and the perfect place for a romantic date night, though the prices made me glad we had only stopped in for lunch.  Their salsa was also delicious, and this is coming from a person who doesn't eat raw tomatoes (me, that's me).  I also have to mention that I've been on a really awful streak of forgetfulness and while we were in AZ I left my credit card at the restaurant three times.  I had also lost it right before the trip so four times in one week.  One time was at The Mission, and when I called about it later, the person I spoke to, Sam, went above and beyond the call of duty to get it back to me.

Another good meal we had while in Scottsdale was breakfast at Breakfast Club, where the portions were enough for more than one meal.  That's my huevos rancheros with hot sauce in the picture below.  The curious thing about the Breakfast Club was that the wait staff, who happened to be all female, wore yoga/workout type clothing as their uniforms.  I think it made you feel like their breakfast was healthy for you, as if you too had just come from your sunrise yoga class? 

Delicious but small tacos at The Mission and delicious but huge breakfast at the Breakfast Club.

We only had time for a short hike through Papago Park where there is a good view of the city after a short 835 foot climb to Hole-in-the-Rock.  Another top attraction, the Botanical Gardens are also in that park.  If we'd had more time, hikes on Camelback Mountain and walking through Old Town Scottsdale would have been fun.  I also wish we'd had time to take advantage of the hotel bikes for a ride along the Arizona Canal.

The view through hole-in-the-rock - trying to be high tech with my iphone panorama app.
Besides the bikes I mentioned, the Firesky hotel provided excellent transportation options with a free shuttle to anything within 3 miles and free parking.  After acclimating to $40/night DC hotel parking prices and impossible street parking, this was a bit of a wonderful shock.  (Although as an economist, I cringed inwardly thinking of the inefficient results described in the "The High Cost of Free Parking" by Donald Shoup.)

Our time in Sedona deserves its own post, but we hung out there for a few days ten came back to the Phoenix before flying back home.  Back, in Phoenix, there was still more to do than we could fit in.  One of the highlights was riding on horseback for the first time for both of us.  It was just an hour long ride in South Mountain Park, but long enough for me to wish I had brought my faux cowboy boots and hat.  My horse kept wandering off the main trail, lagging behind, and stopping for snacks.  The more experienced riders in the group kept telling me to give her a nudge with my heels to keep her moving, but with tendencies to do the same, I couldn't blame the horse too much.  It also didn't help that the guide kept trying to give me directions in Spanish, so I could only guess as to whether or not I was doing what he said.  I think I'm either supposed to hold the reigns the way he is motioning or he could be saying never to do this as it will get me thrown off the horse.  Jason's first ride fared a little more smoothly though because his horse kept up with the rest of the group, we weren't really close enough to chat during the ride.  Afterwards, since we were in the park, we drove along San Juan Road where we got some more nice views of the city at the end.

Our hotel, the Palomar Phoenix, was about a mile and a half from the arts district downtown, so we were able to easily sample Arizonan culture as well.  We happened to be there for the monthly free admission night at the Phoenix Art Museum, which was my thing, and we also got to see a behind-the-scenes preview at the Arizona Opera, that was Jason's thing.  And yes, we were the only people there under the age of 65.  (Because of the time difference, we also tended to wake up at 6:30 NATURALLY and get tired by 8.  We also hate it when technology changes because it's hard to keep up.  So yeah, it was basically a real-life glimpse of how we will still be doing the exact same thing in 30 years.  Maybe with more prune juice.)

The hotel was also were close enough to walk through Heritage Square, where really, unless you have kids and are going to the museums there, or want to tour the old Victorian-era house that's there, the only reason to go would be Pizzeria Bianco.  The small restaurant (read: go early or prepare to wait) housed a wood burning oven and simple, quality ingredients made it clear why it was recommended.

While in Phoenix, we also ate at Matt's Big Breakfast, where the line is long, and the food was simple and delicious.  We were impressed enough with Pizzeria Bianco, that we got sandwiches for the flight home from sister restaurant, Pane Bianco.  We had a dining credit at the hotel restaurant, The Blue Hound Kitchen, which had some of the best chicken and waffles I think I've ever had.

Of course, we did our best to get in as many tacos as possible.  I basically make tacos every week because I crave cilantro all the time, so being in the southwest was like a food dream come true, because so many good, real (ie: with cilantro and corn tortillas), and cheap tacos were all over the place.  America's Taco Shop had surprisingly good tacos for a local fast food franchise.  A waiter at The Mission told us about the street taco shops he stops at in Scottsdale.  One was Jaylisco Tacos on Thomas, and the other, American Market Place (AMP) was on the corner of 68th and Thomas.  We went to AMP, which totally looked like a cheap convenience store on the corner, but with totally legit tacos at $1.50, it was definitely a highlight of our trip.  We went here the morning we flew home, so the day went something like this: breakfast, pick up sandwiches for flight home, eat tacos, go to airport.  So if it seems like all we did on this trip was eat, that's pretty accurate.

If we had been there longer, I would have loved to check out Taliesin West, which was another Frank Lloyd Wright studio, or the Japanese Friendship Gardens.  Hiking Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve also was on the list of things to do, and is supposed to have good views.  But since the government was still shut down by the end of our trip, Jason and I had to go back to DC and save it.  (Not really, we just sat at home another week and tried to cash in on some shutdown freebies.) 

Farewell, land of beautiful mountains, cowboys, and tacos.  I hope we meet again.  I hope remember my boots.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Deal Alert: Government Shutdown Deals

So begins the second week of government shutdown.  Taking advantage of the deals that have come up because of it are enough to keep a person busy for another week!  That's about the most I'm going to get into politics.  Here are some of my favorite deals:

-Free performance by Ford's Theater tonight at 7:30:
-Free sandwich from Jose Andres for government workers at his restaurants:
-Free admission to the Nation Geographic Museum to federal workers:

-Free admission to the Phillips through Friday, I think for anyone.

-Free glass of sherry at Derek Brown's Mockingbird Hill with federal ID.

For more, this is the most comprehensive list I've found, by the Washington City Paper.