We’ve suffered a great deal of loss in both 2019 and 2020. In fulfilling the commitment to take care of our parents and give back to them everything they so generously gave to us, we’ve spent the past few years practically living in intensive care units, emergency rooms, waiting rooms, other small rooms (the ones they take you to when they have nothing good to say), and fluorescent lit and underemployed rehabilitation centers. We are tired, exhausted really, and we feel somewhat medically trained. We are now equipped with a depth of knowledge we’d never expected to have, all due to prepping for and engaging in anxiety ridden conversations with those who really are medically trained, those we’ve put our trust in to keep our loved ones, our parents, alive and well. We are ashamed to say it out loud, that we are tired, for it is they who have fought battles harder than we’ve ever had to face. We can only hope we have been as strong for them.

It is evident then with all this time spent traveling to and from hospitals, that we’ve spent little time actually traveling. In the past year, we spent, without exaggeration, around 80 nights in hotel rooms in Baltimore City and its surrounding suburbs. I could write a guide book to eating well during an extended stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and I’m currently writing a detailed and emotionally wrought narrative on what happens when a routine surgical procedure goes terribly wrong. I can write about things I’d rather not write about and now, I have all the time to do so. It is just when we could technically push play on travel again that we are mostly stuck inside our home hiding from Covid.

On July 18, 2020 we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in Newport, Rhode Island, eating an overly priced, but otherwise delicious dinner while overlooking the off ramp of a busy, Rhode Island highway. More on that in a few minutes. The truth is, we were supposed to be in Sorrento, Italy. 10 years ago while on our honeymoon, we walked the winding path lined with lemon trees to the charming town below, declaring with almost every step that we’d return to this perfectly picturesque town on our 10th anniversary. We’d never dreamed that a global pandemic would put a halt to those plans, nor did we ever expect to be banned from entering Europe.

We are not well-versed in New England, and we had never been to Newport, Rhode Island. We’d heard it was beautiful, and my research had proven that to be true. With every Relais & Châteaux property I perused, I fell in love with the elegance and the rugged coastline views, to only then fall over in shock at the price for just a one night stay in one of these rooms.

I will admit that we haven’t left the house much since March, and we are only now feeling somewhat comfortable venturing out. We are hardcore maskers who trust the word of Dr. Fauci and believe that science is real and that humans should rely on it. Without getting political, we feel lucky to live in a state that has taken this pandemic seriously and is not rushing to reopen. We also acknowledge that businesses are suffering greatly, so we’ve put all of our efforts into buying local, ordering as much take-out as we can eat from our favorite restaurants, and tipping generously. We outdoor dine at places that demonstrate that they are responsible, and we wear our masks when waiters and waitresses approach our table. They deserve to be protected too.

So I mention all of this because while we are yearning to travel the world like we used to, we are anxious about doing so. When you’ve spent almost an entire year watching someone you love go on and off and back on a ventilator, you realize that you would never want to be on one. It stresses us out to think that irresponsibly touching our face or breathing closely next to someone else might put us or someone we love in a situation like that. And that has been enough to keep us home.

Then we got bored, and we decided it might be okay, maybe even safe, to go to New England.

Before we left for Rhode Island, I started following their governor on Twitter. I even signed up for her daily emails. I wanted to be informed and it helped me feel better to know we were one of the few states allowed to enter without a required quarantine.

Newport is lovely. The people are friendly, the food is divine, and the coastline is the kind of place you go to when you want to forget about your suffering and just be quiet. Or have a good cup of coffee.

We realize that during our short stay and the current circumstances, that we didn’t experience all that Newport has to offer. But we can tell you about what we did see and what delicious things we ate while we were there. We can only hope to return when life and travel gets back to normal.

Newport Marriott

For the past few years, we’ve been SPG Platinum and then Bonvoy Platinum, and as a result of the number of nights we’ve put in in the past year, we have now reached Titanium status. While we were saddened to see SPG go, and were skeptical about becoming Marriott people, we are happy to report that we are quite pleased with the new arrangement and have found the Marriott experience to be delightful.

The Newport Marriott was beyond our expectations. Clean, bright, and situated right on the harbor, it was the perfect location for two people looking to explore downtown Newport. The safety protocol put in place to protect its guests was apparent from the minute we walked in the door, with hand sanitizer stations, masked employees and guests, and an easy check-in experience with the added protection of plexiglass at the front desk.

We only stayed one night, but I wish we’d stayed here the whole time. It was an easy walk to all of the restaurants and shops with a convenient location and a view that screamed, “You’ve arrived in Newport. Check out these sailboats!”

Surf Club, Newport

This is the first place we stopped to have a drink and take in our surroundings. After a four hour drive and a GPS that took us over the George Washington Bridge, the Surf Club’s outdoor venue was an inviting space for us to pull up a chair, sip an ice cold Narragansett, and take a deep breath. We didn’t eat here, but we salivated at the look of the food at nearby tables.

Midtown Oyster Bar

A few days after my mother-in-law’s surgery that went horribly wrong, I promised her that I wouldn’t eat another raw oyster until she got better and could eat them with me. I kept that promise from July 1, 2019 to July 16, 2020. Although I was tempted on several occasions, I did not indulge in any oysters for over a year. I hoped with all my might that we’d get to share a cold plate of oysters with her again, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

Midtown Oyster Bar didn’t see me coming, but I had an oyster craving that needed to be fulfilled and this was just the place to get me the goods. 2 dozen oysters and a bottle of crisp, white wine on their upstairs deck was what seemed to be the most appropriate introduction to Rhode Island I could have ever arranged. I just wish my mother-in-law was there to slurp those salty mollusks with me.

Salvation Cafe

This is one of my favorite finds on this trip. I found it through the extensive research I do prior to going on any trip, and for some reason, I felt gravitated towards eating here. I am so glad we took the chance on this place because the quality of the food was superb and the outdoor dining was so cozy. Here we had the best fried calamari that we’ve ever had, and a fish burrito that provided just the right combination of carbs and fish to coat my belly after all of those oysters.

The Black Pearl

I know everyone says that the clam chowder here is the best clam chowder there is, and that’s because it’s true. It’s damn near perfect, actually. If you haven’t had clam chowder here, then you haven’t had clam chowder. The broth is creamy but light, and the clams are chopped and numerous. I mean, more numerous then you’d expect for a cup of soup. It will blow your mind, and after a rain soaked walk along the coast, it’s the only thing you need.

Nomi Park

Oh, Nomi Park. This is a tough one to write about. I told you I’d get back to that overpriced yet delicious dinner that overlooked the off ramp of a busy Rhode Island highway. Nomi Park’s food and cocktails are phenomenal, but the prices are steep. It’s a newly opened restaurant that’s part of the newly opened Wayfinder Hotel. The Wayfinder is an old hotel that has been renovated into a chic, exceptionally well-designed boutique hotel. This is where we stayed for the remainder of our trip, and well, we learned a very good lesson. Don’t stay at hotels that have only been open a few months.

While it is situated outside of downtown Newport, adjacent to a closed casino and that busy off-ramp, the Wayfinder’s Instagram, website, and glowing reviews will have you saying and justifying to yourself, “It’s okay that it’s not downtown. There is a pool, and cute rooms, and an overly inviting lobby.” No, it’s not the Relais & Châteaux, and well, it’s not even the Newport, Marriott, but it’s different with definite potential. It’s just not ready yet. They are definitely experiencing some growing pains, and I’m always hesitant to write negatively about a place on our blog. I will reserve my judgment for now (they did open during a global pandemic) and just say this: give this place some time before booking. One day, I could see it being great (it’s just going to take a few years).

The restaurant is serving up quality food though, and because you can’t eat anywhere else without driving or getting a Lyft, you are tempted to eat there frequently. We were never disappointed with our meals, and the sardines were one of my favorite things I ate while visiting Newport. Served in a tin, the sardines are presented like tuna salad, only prepared with a delicious saffron aioli, crisp celery, and grilled sourdough. It was truly one of the best things I ate on the whole trip.

Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive

Paul and I can never avoid the rain when we travel, and Rhode Island proved to be another one of those trips where it poured on our parade. We traveled Ocean Drive and then walked the Cliff Walk in the rain, without the raincoats that we always pack, but, unfortunately, forgot to pack. We returned the next morning to walk it in the opposite direction, and the sunshine made all the difference. The mansions on this walk are quite extravagant, and we got an education in finally realizing where Salve Regina College is located.

So, Newport, it wasn’t the trip we dreamed of, but it was something more than what we expected. We hope to see you again, unmasked. Until then, I will continue to gawk at your Relais & Châteaux offerings and your luxurious sailboats from afar, with hopes of someday seeing you again, in a white adirondack chair, sipping a cocktail on “the lawn.”

Hi everybody…Paul here!  As you may have surmised, Michelle and I have not been doing much traveling and therefore, have neglected our blog. We are grounded for the foreseeable future due to family health issues. So, I decided to put up weekly photos to keep our blog alive. Michelle is busy working, so you will have to deal with my lousy writing for a while…sorry about that! Once we hit the road again, Michelle will be back at the helm here, and I will be back behind the camera.

This image was taken on my ride in to work in Belmar, New Jersey. I retired this past June, and for 28 of my 29 working years, I always took the most direct route to my place of employment. I suppose I was always worried about getting to work early and thinking of only my job during that time.  This past September I decided I would stop and smell the roses (or sea air as it were) and drove in every morning by the beach. I wonder how many great scenes I missed over those 28 years? 

IMG_6924-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit (1)© Paul and Michelle Shappirio and Bringing Down the White Picket Fence, 2007-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul and Michelle Shappirio and Bringing Down the White Picket Fence with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I’m totally ashamed to admit that my first taste of Frank’s Deli in Asbury Park was today. In honor of Bourdain Day, I had one request. While I was at work, Paul was to go to Frank’s and get me a #4 sub with hot peppers, the same way Bourdain ordered it when he visited for his New Jersey episode of Parts Unknown. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had! The bread was phenomenal, so incredibly soft and fresh, and the thinly sliced boiled ham, salami, pepperoni, capicola, and provolone was just the right ratio of meat and cheese to lettuce, tomato, and onion. Add in the oil, vinegar, and spices, and you’ve got one of the best subs at the Jersey Shore. Add the hot peppers for that extra zing.

I’m pretty sure I’m hooked. This most-of-the-time vegan/vegetarian who does it for health reasons, but cheats a lot on things she loves, like oysters, chicken wings, pizza, and France, just added Frank’s to her list of indulgences. How could this place have been in Asbury the whole time and it took me this long to take a bite? I mean, our friend who works there has only been telling us how great it is for just over a decade. I’ve been starstruck and mesmerized by all things shiny and new and Porta-like, that I neglected to see one of the biggest shining stars our little city by the sea has to offer. I still love you, Porta and company.

You see all those books above? We’ve read them all. We’ve watched every episode Anthony Bourdain ever produced, and we were absolutely devastated the day we learned of his death. He made his mark on strangers like us, and is still making his impact today. As the world celebrates what would have been his 63rd birthday, we feel honored and privileged to raise a glass and a Frank’s #4 to one of the greats, Anthony Bourdain.

This past weekend, we enjoyed some time away in New York City. We love to stay downtown near the Financial District. Here it is always sleepy on the weekends, with great restaurants and magnificent views. The best part is, we are just steps away from the Governor’s Island Ferry or a subway ride or ferry into Brooklyn. Here are some scenes from our recent venture into downtown Manhattan.

I never got to eat at Dooky Chase’s restaurant, and because of that, I never had the honor of meeting Leah Chase, a culinary icon of New Orleans. Sadly, Leah Chase died on June 1st at the age of 96, leaving behind a legacy bigger and more famous than the delicious gumbo she served up to presidents, civil right’s activists, celebrities, and travelers.

Leah Chase transformed her husband’s small sandwich shop in the Treme into a fine dining establishment which soon became the meeting place for leaders of the civil rights movement. Here, everyone was welcome, no matter their beliefs or their skin color. She opened her doors to the Freedom Riders, Martin Luther King, Sr., Martin Luther King, Jr., and in more recent times, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Anthony Bourdain among many others. The walls of her restaurant could tell stories of hard conversations during difficult times, including the horrific aftermath and devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

When the community saw hard times, she stayed in place, even renovated, refusing to abandon the neighborhood, the corner on which they built their foundation and welcomed the world.

I don’t know the man who works for Cafe Du Monde in the photo above, but I do know that the people of New Orleans are more intriguing than any walk down boisterous Bourbon Street. They are hard-working men and women with a robust culture, proud of their roots, happy to welcome you to their city, and give you a taste of their cuisine.

These are the people who have made and continue to make NOLA. May you rest in peace, Leah Chase. I would have loved to have sat at one of your tables and heard about it all. And I know I would have loved that gumbo.

What do you know about this quote carved into the marble of the southeast wall of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

If, like me, you read the words and thought, that’s powerful and pertinent, but what’s the context? Did he say it? Write it? Who was it directed at?

So, I did a little research.

This is from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Samuel Kercheval, a Virginia lawyer and author. Kercheval wanted to draft a new constitution for the state of Virginia, and he wanted Jefferson’s support in helping to settle the long-debated matter. Jefferson wrote this quote in 1816. Basically, he didn’t believe that one generation should dictate another generation’s laws. He felt that as society advances, constitutions should be revised to reflect the current state of affairs. Apparently, he and his good friend James Madison had a history of never seeing eye-to-eye on this topic. In 1829, the legislators of the state of Virginia finally gave in to the call for a constitutional convention. Jefferson died in 1826, just three years before.

And he left us these words…

Of all of the photos that Paul has taken over the years, this is one of my favorites. The lady in the hat, sitting by the Seine in front of the Louvre.

It is often assumed that I posed for this photo, but I assure you, my arms and legs aren’t nearly that toned, and I do not own a purse or hat that glamorous.

The tourists flock to the museum to see Paris. We see it from a different perspective.

This city exceeded our expectations.

From food to friendly, Cleveland rates 10 + on the cities we love list.

Every local treated us as if we were their friend. Many tried to talk us into moving.

The exploration of a new city can sometimes leave you feeling slightly unsure of how you will be greeted upon arrival. Will you feel safe? Will you feel welcome?

Cleveland will make you feel all of those things and then some. We find ourselves searching for a reason to return.

I am 100% confident that we’ve found our Midwest retreat.

Cleveland, you’re it.

I don’t like to be stuck in a city in the rain; I don’t have good hair for it.

I do prefer to sit in a window and watch other people dash through it, some of them so elegant, others so mysterious.

Paul always seems to capture these breathtaking moments of people walking through the city. He can usually find the one person with the most stylish patterned umbrella as they delicately weave their way down busy Parisian sidewalks.

But what do you do on the streets of Cleveland when you’ve seemed to have left your name-brand umbrella at home? You improvise. Michael Symon would be happy to hear that those bags he so carefully picked out for carry- out at Mabel’s BBQ, also double as a fashionable rain hat. Even when your friend offers you her umbrella, you still refuse to give up your Mabel’s attire. I mean, it absolutely complements those heels, doesn’t it?

There’s nothing that intrigues me more than grand, historic buildings filled with good food and passionate people. Paul may have had the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on his list, but my must-do Cleveland adventure started here at West Side Market in Ohio City.

Ohio City is a neighborhood just west of downtown Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River. It is filled with good restaurants, hopping breweries, and happy locals eager to welcome you to their city. The West Side Market has been a bustling business since 1912, and today houses over 100 vendors. From meats to cheese and homemade pierogi, this is a one-stop shop for a feast. It is no question that if I lived here, I would be here, on a weekly basis, to stock my kitchen with all of the fresh necessities and Cleveland delicacies that my reusable grocery bags could handle.

If you visit, it is essential that you set aside some time for the West Side Market Cafe. This popular restaurant sits at the back of the market. It’s tiny and diner-like, with a breakfast menu filled with items that, if you choose to indulge, will definitely require a nap after. If you only go here for a Bloody Mary, it is truly worth it. The waitresses seem to know everyone who walks through the door, and the conversation and laughter will have you feeling like a local within minutes of sitting down at the bar.

After touring the market, walk the nearby streets and pop into some of the restaurants and breweries. Here are a few places we stopped into that we highly recommend:

Townhall– Go here for a healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This place promotes food as medicine and offers up a variety of delicious dishes for both the herbivores and carnivores in your crowd. We loved the vegan chili and 25th Street burrito with tofu.

Market Garden Brewery– You’ll need something cold to quench your thirst after walking the market. This place is right next door with a spacious garden with outdoor seating. You can eat here too, if you have room for another snack. We were tempted, but thought it best to take a much-needed break from our never-ending Cleveland food crawl.

The Flying Fig- We didn’t get to eat here, but we did get to peruse the menu and talk to a local who highly recommends the place. It is definitely on our list for the next time we find ourselves in need of a good dinner spot while visiting the city.

Le Petite Triangle Cafe– An irresistible Parisian cafe in a residential area on a triangular block of the city. So cute, so tiny, and incredibly delicious. The Croque Provencal was the ultimate sandwich with fluffy egg dipped challah, spinach, tomato, comte, dijon, béchamel, with a side of perfect roasted potatoes. Adding an egg on top is optional, but I’m of the opinion that adding an egg takes everything up a notch from just so-so to out of this world good. I’m not sure how something so Paris made its way to Cleveland, but they totally do it right.

We were sad to say goodbye to our Westin suite this morning as we boarded a 6:45 AM flight home. We thank you, Westin Cleveland Downtown, for the free upgrade that provided us such a tremendous view of downtown Cleveland. Is it still okay to say we love living the SPG life even if it is Marriott Bonvoy now?

It is a good sign when your ride home from the airport is a continuous conversation about how great the trip was and how much you loved the experience. I’d say this one was a winner, for sure. Until we see you again, Cleveland!

He finally made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We arrived just as they opened at 10 AM and spent a good three hours exploring the museum. He predicted he was going to need six hours here, and lucky for me, he overestimated.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has everything from Bruce Springsteen’s handwritten Out on the Street lyrics to Cyndi Lauper’s red dress from the “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” music video. There’s a piano used by the Beatles to write some of their most famous songs and a tribute to Elvis and the Rolling Stones. You could spend the entire day here reading about the influence and impact of rock and roll on American culture.

But all that really mattered was this…

The rest of our day was spent exploring the Flats, an area of Cleveland right on the Cuyahoga River, bustling with life as people stroll and dine along the water. You can even canoe too if you’re feeling outdoorsy.

We enjoyed a dozen delicious Prince Edward Island oysters at Alley Cat Oyster Bar followed by lunch at Lindey’s Lake House. I had the grilled Faroe Island salmon salad while Paul chose the blackened cod sandwich with brussel sprout slaw. Lindey’s Lake House serves up fresh food with a menu that includes a variety of options. From salads and sandwiches to tacos and cracker thin pizza, there’s something for everyone at Lindeys. You can dine inside or outside. No matter what, you’ll feel like you’re visiting the most chic lake house you’ve ever stepped foot in, with all that Pottery Barn-esque nautical decor and all.

We ended our day at Noble Beast Brewing Company. What better way to end a busy day of exploring Cleveland? Here you’ll feel like you’ve entered your cool friend’s garage. You know the one who always wanted to make his own beer and knows how to cook? Come here hungry because everything we had was superb. From chicken wings to Kentucky beer cheese with pickled vegetables and pita, you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu. I eyed up a few of our neighbors’ dishes and it was all drool worthy. The beer is good too.

We feel like we’ve discovered a place we never knew existed by traveling to this city. It has exceeded our expectations.

Stay tuned for more as we explore Cleveland, Ohio.