My favourite Chicago eats

I had fun mentally re-eating all the good stuff I had in New York… let’s do it again!

This week, I’m going back to Chicago. Initially, I only agreed to add it to the itinerary because husband wanted to go; I really didn’t know much anything about the city, other than it’s home to the Chicago Bulls, and as children of the 90s/the Jordan era who both grew up playing basketball, that’s obviously our NBA team of choice. Other than that, it was a bit of a blank city for me.

After spending almost a week there over Christmas, though, my opinion changed completely; I loved that city. I can’t tell you why, either – it was just one of those places that felt good to be in. Beautiful buildings, the gorgeous river than runs through it, friendly people, and amazing food. The food scene reminded me a lot of Melbourne, actually, which may be one of the big reasons I loved it so much! We ate a lot in that week, and it was hard to narrow it down to the favourites, but here they are….

 

1. Do-Rite Donuts (donuts)
The food: A traditional buttermilk glaze

The memory: Ohh I loved this place! Our first day in Chicago, it was cold like I couldn’t believe, and it was Christmas Eve! We were on our way to the Christkindl Christmas Market, and noticed a giant donut pointing the way to a cute little store. We grabbed a donut and some hot tea, pulled up our hoods and sat out the front in the cold to take it all in… a kindly old man sitting on the table next to us struck up a friendly conversation, and it was the most wonderful welcome to any city we’ve ever had!
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2. Au Cheval (diner, burgers)
The food: The Au Cheval cheeseburger with a fried egg; same thing everyone else was ordering!
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The memory: The wind was like little frosty daggers this day, and after a morning of sight-seeing, we couldn’t have been happier to get into Au Cheval and escape the cold! After much pre-trip Googling, Au Cheval’s fried egg cheeseburger seemed to be the must-try burger for Chicago, and it didn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to get a seat at the counter where we watched the most well-oiled machine out together the most spectacular looking (and smelling) food for the Saturday lunch crowd; it was mesmerising, and really made us think of Chicago as a proper food city.

 

3. Portillo’s (hot dogs)
The food: A Chicago dog. Obviously.

The memory: Another day of walking and walking and more walking, we finally found ourselves in the neighourhood of a Portillo’s, and it was finally Chicago Dog time. I remember sitting on the second level of the restaurant watching over all of the happy people and families with their tables of dogs and fries, and thinking how lucky we were to have made it all the way across the world to enjoy something as simple as a hot dog, which so many people would completely take for granted!

 

4. Billy Goat Tavern (burgers)
The food: Double cheezborger. No fries, CHEEPS! No Pepsi, COKE!
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The memory: This was another exciting one – we love watching travel shows, especially the ones that are food heavy. And on all of the travel shows about Chicago and food, the Billy Goat Tavern shows itself. We sat there in the crowded sub-street level diner with our burgers re-hashing the Bulls game we’d been to the night before, and talking about how long ago it felt that we were sitting on the couch watching this place on TV wondering if we’d ever actually get there…

 

5. Lou Malnati’s (deep dish pizza)
The food: The Malnati Chicago Classic – sausage, cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce. Simple.

The memory: I know that “real” Chicagoans don’t do deep dish pizza, but to enjoy it, you just need to not think of it as pizza. It’s a quiche pizza hybrid. A quizza, if you will. This was one of the deep thoughts that was discussed over dinner, sitting at a high bench table, finally out of the -15°C cold. Sometimes we just act like kids…

 

6. Rubi’s Tacos (street food – tacos)
The food: Pork tacos – amazing!!!
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The memory: Market and street food are two of my favourite things, and when we came across Rubi’s with a massive line, we figured we should probably join it – I remembered reading somewhere they did the best tacos. When we realised no one in the line was speaking English and there was no real menu, we figured a) we were definitely in the right place for breakfast and b) it was lucky I knew how to order pork tacos in Spanish. Sitting among the crowd, we stood out like green elephants, and really enjoyed feeling so out of place – that’s what travel is all about!

 

7. Doughnut Vault (donuts)
The food: A vanilla glazed raised and a buttermilk old fashioned

The memory: A tiny little place with the delicious smell of fried dough in the air and nowhere to sit – it felt just like being back in Melbourne! Another freezing day, we got there nice and early, grabbed our donuts and enjoyed them outside – I remember my butt being freezing against the cold concrete sidewalk we were sitting on, my fingers being sticky as all hell, and the two of us giggling like we were two kids who’d stolen a piece of birthday cake. Good times in Chicago! 🙂

Eat here: Pizzaly, Melbourne

Pizzaly
132 Wood St, Preston
https://sites.google.com/site/pizzalypreston/

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When your head pizza maker has recently been crowned Australia’s best pizza maker at the annual World Pizza Championships, you know you’re doing something right.

Mr Silvio Serpa holds that title now, for his margherita pizzas, which he’s producing by what I imagine must be the truckload at unassuming little hole-in-the-wall Pizzaly, tucked away in Preston. Being an Italian girl who grew up around the family business which was based in Preston, I was feeling proud as punch that this couple from my family’s homeland were doing so incredibly well, even though I don’t actually know them 🙂

Pizzaly, to me, is a real pizza place. No Hawaiian, Aussie, Americana crap here. It’s real, proper, Italian pizza, sticking with that golden rule of less is more, providing it’s all quality. And they have San Pelegrino Aranciata Rossa soft drinks, which is basically the taste of childhood to me. Good start!

They have around 20-odd pizzas on offer, half on traditional tomato bases and half on white bases (AKA no tomato sauce base), and picking one or two out is not easy. Made even harder was our seat right by Silvio’s counter, where we watched him fire out pizza after pizza, completely unassisted. Watching him was like watching poetry in motion – he was in a pizza-making trance, and it was incredible!

Eventually we decided on the margherita ($15.00), obviously, and a prosciutto crudo e rucola ($20.00) which was a white base with prosciutto, rocket, and mozzarella.

The margherita deserved the title. I’m sure this won’t make a lot of Melbournian’s happy, but I liked Silvio’s margherita a lot better than the other award-winning margherita from 400 Gradi. That dough is unbelievably thin and light, and the simplicity of good quality tomato, cheese and oregano is pure magic.

The prosciutto was equally impressive, again because of the freshness and quality of the few ingredients on there. The prosciutto was sliced thin enough that you could have held it up and seen through it, there was just enough of everything to balance; it was just the way pizza should be.

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They were actually not super filling (despite the large plates they came out on) because of the thin bases, so I took that as a green light to get dessert. The window counter out front was filled with deliciousness, but under a mesh cloche, I spied an old favourite – crostata. Basically, it’s just a tart shell filled with jam and topped with lattice pastry, but it’s a traditional Italian dessert and one that I absolutely LOVE to eat. I had a piece of the raspberry one, and it was the perfect end to the meal.

I had to stop on our way out to thank Mr Serpa for the magnificent pizza, because it really was. And not only the pizza, but everything about Pizzaly – it felt like dinner at Nonno’s house out in the suburbs; comfortable, warm, unpretentious, inviting. That’s how Italian food should be. And seeing as it’s not far from home for us, I think we’ll be eating there a lot more often now!

 

 

Pizzaly Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Victorian mini-breaks: How to spend a weekend in Warburton

A few months ago, I took a little timeout weekend away for myself in Warburton. I absolutely love it there – it is SO peaceful and quiet, it’s beautiful and just so easy to wind down and feel calm. I went back a few weeks later with husband, because a day trip seemed a good idea to pass a weekend, and I really wanted to show him the incredible Californian Redwood forest. But it rained. A lot. We both really wanted to go back to this beautiful teeny tiny town, and finally an opportunity presented itself – Melbourne, being the sport mad city it is, decided only a few weeks ago to call a public holiday the day before AFL Grand Final Day. If you’re not an Aussie, taking the day off work before a footy game probably won’t make a whole lot of sense to you, but this state also takes a public holiday in honour of a 3 minute horse race, so, you know…

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Anyway, this year that public holiday Friday happened to fall on our 5 year wedding anniversary. We decided to take advantage of the time off together, and after I finished work on Thursday, we drove up to Warburton for a  night away 🙂 We both desperately needed it, and it was so nice to spend a bit of down time together away from our normal lives, particularly before I head off to Japan next week (NEXT WEEK?! ARGH!! I NEED TO PACK!!). I enjoyed putting together the part 1 and part 2 Beechworth mini-guides, so I thought I’d put together another one for this beautiful little pocket of Victoria that doesn’t get nearly enough visitors – here’s how to spend a weekend in Warburton!

 

Distance from Melbourne CBD:
Just under an hour and a half in the car from Melbourne’s CBD will have you in Warburton – easy!

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Stay here:
Alpine Retreat Hotel
3340 Warburton Hwy, Warburton
http://www.alpineretreat.com.au/accommodation.htm

This is going to depend how princessy you’re feeling, but for an absolute maximum of AUD$105 per night, you can’t really go past the Alpine Retreat Hotel, AKA the pub! Rooms start from $80 per night, and if you ask for a room with a view, you’re going to be away from the noise of the pub at night and have the most gorgeous view over the river in the morning. Added bonus – should you feel like a drink, the pub is just downstairs! 

Eat here:

Little Joe
3416 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
https://www.facebook.com/warburtonlittlejoe
IMG_2107Visit for: Some of the best wood fire pizza going around. And those marinated olives…

 

RiverView Cafe & Wine Bar
3373 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
http://www.theriverview.com.au/
IMG_2120Visit for: Friendly service, a gorgeous view of the river from the back terrace, simple but delicious food, breakfast in particular – for something simple, the muesli with fruit compote, yoghurt and milk is delicious, and if you wanna treat yourself a little more, the bacon and eggs are some of the best you’ll ever have!

 

The Patchwork Tea House
3305 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
http://thepatchworkteahouse.com/

Visit for: the most heavenly scones, blackberry jam and the rhubarb cream tea. Wow..

 

The Warburton Bakery
3415 Warburton Hwy, Warburton
http://www.warburtonbakery.com.au/
IMG_2135Visit for: The absolute best sausage rolls in Australia. Dead set.

 

Shop here:

The Old Tea Shop
3393 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
http://www.theoldteashop.com.au/
IMG_9691Visit for: Quite possibly the most impressive range of tea I’ve ever seen. Highly recommend the Macadamia tea, the Caramel Rooibos, and the Sticky Toffee… so much deliciousness! Also a great idea to tuck into some baked-to-order gluten free gem scones. Because they’re magical, caeliac or not.

 

What-Nots
3395 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
IMG_2132Visit for: The most perfect array of vintage what-nots. Not junk, genuine, collectors items and the most gorgeous little bits and pieces you’ll want to take home with you.

 

What to see and do:

Californian Redwoods
Cement Creek Rd, Warburton, Victoria
IMG_2154I’ve written about the Redwoods before from a previous visit this year, but the stunningly silent forest is full of almost 1500 giant Californian Redwoods. It’s one of the truly most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve ever had the honour of spending time in, and it’s somewhere I know I’m going to visit over and over again now for the rest of my life 🙂

Mount Donna Buang
Address
http://parkweb.vic.gov.au
IMG_2093At 1250m above sea level, this beautiful location turns into a gorgeous snowfield in winter. Outside of snow season, you can (and should) climb the 21m tall summit tower for the most incredible views out over the Yarra Valley, the Dandenong and Cathedral Ranges, Mount Baw Baw and The Alps.

Enjoy the Warburton River Walk
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Pass by the suspension bridges and just enjoy a bit of time down by the river. Highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat from the bakery and taking your brown paper bag of sausage roll and pie down to one of the benches. Enjoy lunch and walk it off with the most beautiful views!

Victorian mini-breaks: How to spend a weekend in Beechworth part 1 (where to stay, eat & shop)

It’s a bit of a catch-22 when you finally realise that you’ve found what you want to do with your life, but it’s not something you can do so easily; I know I want to travel, but I can’t exactly drop what I’m doing and pack my bags and live on the road indefinitely. That costs money, and I need to work to earn enough of it to hit the road again! That said, just because I can’t give my passport a workout every month, doesn’t mean I can’t still explore and take adventures and appreciate what I’ve got in my own backyard; I am SO lucky to live in Melbourne, where , within a few hours, I can be at the beach, on snowy mountains, or in beautiful forests. Victoria is an incredible unique place, where we literally have it all – we just need to get in the car and actually look for it!

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So, over the next few months, I’m going to start to practice what I preach, and cultivate a little more adventure at home as well as abroad – why the hell not?! I’m going to start taking more mini-breaks, more weekends or even just days away, more road trips and local adventures, because “adventure” shouldn’t just be reserved for “vacations.” Living authentically, for me, means have adventures every day, and that’s something I can control.  And on that note, without further ado, let me take you to stop #1: Beechworth 🙂

 

Distance from Melbourne CBD:
It’ll only take around 3 hours to drive to Beechworth from the CBD – depending on which direction you’re coming from, just get yourself onto the Hume Freeway, and keep going until you hit Beechworth! It’s a really, really easy drive!

 

Stay here:
Beechworth on Bridge

38 Bridge Rd, Beechworth
http://www.beechworthonbridge.com.au/

I came across Beechworth on Bridge through a quick Trip Advisor search for accommodation in Beechworth. Being that the race was on, a lot of accommodation was booked early, and this was one that looked nice, but was still reasonably priced. We had two nights accommodation (Saturday and Sunday) for only $250, and it was a hundred times nicer that I could have possibly expected! Brenda runs a tight ship, and is one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting on my travels 🙂 She welcomed us with a big smile and open arms, and made us feel right at home from the moment we walked through the front door. She gave us menus for breakfast (complimentary and home cooked), invited us to help ourselves to the enormous DVD collection should we need a relaxing evening in instead of heading out, and was happy to help us with anything else we may have needed. She walked us over to our gorgeously appointed room, and it honestly felt just like home (only, a little bit nicer!) – it was the perfect place to spend the weekend!

Features:
* In-ground, solar heated pool
* Rooms have new HD/LCD tvs
* New super quiet Fujitsu AC Split Systems
* Kitchenette with fridge, toaster, microwave, crockery and cutlery
* Tea, coffee, fresh milk and bikkies
* Expresso Coffee Machines
* Electric Blankets and cosy doonas
* Triple sheeted beds to ensure maximum cleanliness with NO recycled bedcovers
* Hair dryers, irons, ironing boards and fresh towels and high quality toiletries
* Beautiful gardens with BBQs on site

Inclusions:
* Complimentary breakfast which you can choose from the a-la-carte menu
* Free WiFi
* Complimentary DVD hire
* Free car parking
* Guest laundry is available at no additional cost

Oh, and Brenda makes some AMAZING pancakes!!! Highly recommend these!

 

Eat here:

Bridge Road Brewers
Old Coach House 50 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://bridgeroadbrewers.com.au/

Visit for: the beer (apparently) and the pizza. They cater really well for gluten free (gluten free pizza bases, which are actually really good, as well as GF beer and cider), and be sure to check out the specials board, which is where we found the pork knuckle – absolutely phenomenally good!! Really friendly service, gorgeous set up, just be sure to make a reservation because they get super busy!

 

Moments & Memories Tea Room
34 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.moments-memories-tearoom.com.au/

Visit for: The devonshire tea with an insane amount of teas to choose from to go with it. Yes, it’s pink and frilly and girly and just SO pink. Not at all my style, but don’t be fooled; the service is as sweet and sassy as you’ll find in town, and the scones are good enough to brave the bright pink interior for! With around 60 different teas to choose from (and yes, you can take them home with you if you like them enough!), it’s a little tough to select just the one to go with your scones (again, gluten free particularly well catered for with a gluten free Devonshire Tea option also on offer, which I also sampled, and can very much vouch for!), but I ended up going with the Devonshire Cream tea – top choice, and I bought a bag to take home with me! You can also find a gorgeous selection of award winning jams and preserves, tea cups and saucers, cook books and other little tea-related trinkets that are waiting to be taken home, too. Perfect way to spend a winter afternoon 🙂

 

Beechworth Bakery
27 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthbakery.com.au/

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Visit for: A sausage roll and a pie – I like the steak pie and husband like the chicken and leek, but let’s be honest – they’re all good!! The sweets are also amazing, with the beesting being (a sweet, “melt-in-your-mouth” dough bun filled with apricot jam and creamy custard, and topped with toffeed almonds – delicious!) their most popular export, and for good reason! I’m also a huge fan of the flourless orange almond cake, and the snickerdoodles (custard filled pastry tart, topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries) – and don’t forget a bottomless cup of tea to go with these treats! This bakery is the original and the best; we used to travel to Bright most years to spend the Easter holidays when we were kids, and I have the best memories of stopping in here for lunch at the bakery on the way to Bright! While they’ve now expanded to locations in Albury, Bendigo, Healesville, Ballarat & Echuca, this one is the original, and still the best 🙂 Don’t be put off by the long lines – they move pretty fast.

 

The Beechworth Sweet Co.
7 Camp St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthsweetco.com.au/

IMG_7114Visit for: the home made fudge and other home made chocolate and lollies. They’re all delicious – it’s kind of impossible to choose, but the salted caramel fudge is a good place to start! This is another place I have very fond childhood memories of, with many holidays spent eating my weight in musks and chocolate drops from this place 🙂 Their hand made fudge is pretty popular, and they have heaps of amazing flavours to choose from, as well as some pretty delicious peanut brittle. They’ve also got fantastic individual chocolates like the ones below – a little more pricey, but worth it for a special treat!

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Shop here:

Beechworth Honey
31 Ford St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.beechworthhoney.com.au/

No doubt you’ve seen this stuff sold in your local supermarket – where better to buy it from that straight from the source?! If you like your honey, this is a must-visit shop in Beechworth, where you can stock up on all things honey; from hand creams and soaps, to honey mead and multiple ranges of honey (everything from the classic original stuff to some fancier orange blossom or creamy honey, fig and ginger), it’s all there.

 

 

Quercus Community Bookshop
Cnr Ford & Church Sts, Beechworth, Victoria

A little heaven of used books, with some very friendly and knowledgeable service to boot 🙂 This is the place to go if you want to browse and/or talk books, with a massive range with new arrivals popping in all the time. If there’s something you’re after and can’t find, just ask – help is at hand and ready to go! With prices starting at only $1.00, you’re bound to walk away with at least a few books.

 

 

Beechworth Antiques
17 Loch St, Beechworth, Victoria
http://www.indigoshire.vic.gov.au/Services/Business_Directory/Beechworth_Antiques

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There are a few little antique shops in town, but this one was particularly beautiful – heads up though, they are genuine antiques and as such, the prices are more for serious shoppers and collectors. There are a few cheaper treasures in there, though, and definitely well worth a look around.

 

 

So, there’s part 1 of my guide to a weekend Beechworth visit, hope you’re enjoying your virtual break so far and have maybe seen something to motivate you to email Brenda and book a room for a weekend away of your own! I’ll be back later in the week with part 2 (what to see and do while you’re there), so I hope you’ll be back for that 🙂 In the mean time, back to reality and back to work for me this morning, already looking forward to the next adventure!

Stay here: Da Vinci Hotel, New York City

Da Vinci Hotel
244 W 56th St, New York
http://www.davincihotel.com/

 

Next, you’re going to need somewhere to stay as a base while you’re exploring this wonder city. And accommodation is a seriously tough topic for visitors to New York. I learnt a few things in my few years working as a travel consultant. You need a transit visa if you want to leave the airport on your 16 hour Air China layover in Beijing. You cannot go to Phuket over Christmas holidays for $1000 per person when you’re booking in November. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford your holiday either. No, the $1100 per person sale fares to Los Angeles are not available with Qantas in school holidays. And a week’s worth of accommodation in New York costs a fucking fortune. This was a stress point when we were booking our trip, because at that point I was no longer working as a travel agent and no longer had access to the slightly better prices afforded to us.

I spend hours on Google, checking out endless photos and reviews before I came across the Da Vinci Hotel. Reviews weren’t horrible, nor were they amazing. It seemed a solid 3 star hotel, clean and comfortable, although the rooms were small. Fine by us; I don’t give myself credit for much, but when I travel, I’m not a princess. I don’t need enormous rooms with fluffy bathrobes and room service and all that crap. I just need a bed and a clean bathroom. And this seemed to fit the bill. And the part that seemed too good to be true? 8 nights cost us only AUD$1250.00! For real!

So, it was with a little trepidation that we gave the address to our cab driver when we arrived into New York; we pulled up at a slightly old but cute building attached to an Italian restaurant, complete with the requisite tacky Italian chef statue out the front clutching the day’s special board. Only 3 blocks from Central Park, a few minutes walk to Columbus Circle and a few metres from Broadway, first impressions on location were fantastic. We ended up walking almost everywhere during our week long stay, so 10/10 for location of Da Vinci!

As for the hotel itself, honestly, I fell in love with it within 10 minutes of being there. The staff at the front desk couldn’t have been more lovely and accommodating, checking us in quickly and running us through some of the hotel amenities:
– 24 hour front desk
– restaurant downstairs, under the ground level of the hotel, which also provided room service!
– all rooms with private bathrooms and toiletries
– bar fridges in rooms
– free WiFi
– safety deposit boxes

Our room itself was more that sufficient, particularly for the price we paid!

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It was clean and small but very comfortable. We had a fantastic heating unit that kept us warm through the snowy nights, and decent sized table in the corner of the room where I took this photo from which we were able to fit both suitcases underneath, and spread our crap out on top of. The bathroom was also really clean and had enough space to move around in pretty comfortably.

The other thing we really loved was the simple complimentary breakfast spread put on each morning; we were welcome to make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee, as well as grab a muffin or pastry on our way out each morning. Better again, because I love tea and it was almost impossible to get a take away cup of tea at the end of the night (seriously, even the McDonald’s on the corner near the hotel didn’t do tea! Incredible!), the lovely ladies at the front desk were more than happy to fill the kettle and boil some water for us when we got back in at the end of the night for a cuppa. Its those little, personal touches that make ALL the difference, particularly when you’re there for a week!

But everyone knows that the most important thing in New York is to choose accommodation in a good location. Approximate walking distances from the hotel to big ticket locations are:
– 12 minutes to Rockefeller Plaza
– 28 minutes to Empire State Building
– 23 minutes to Grand Central Terminal
– 15 minutes to Central Park Zoo
– 32 minutes to Central Park’s Great Lawn
– 10 minutes to MoMa
– 33 minutes to Madison Square Park

Also, it should be known that the pizzas they’re making in the restaurant under the hotel are not only an ungodly large size (as you can see below – that’s a large) and a great price ($16.00), but surprisingly absolutely delicious!

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If you’re visiting New York, do yourself a favour and consider spending a little less on fancy accommodation so you can spend more money experiencing the city! I mean, how much time do you really wanna be spending in your hotel room in a city like New York anyway?! Da Vinci was the perfect base for a week in NYC, I’d recommend it to anyone and will absolutely stay here again on my next visit!