Welcome to the inaugural Galvy Awards, my anything-goes, tongue-in-cheek, arbitrary, passionate yet thoroughly irreverent celebration of the best places, events, excursions and sundry moments I enjoyed this past year.
I’ve had it in my mind to do something like this for the last several years, with much of my personal writing based on favorites throughout the year. I’d even go so far as to dream up bizarre categories with a particular winner in mind, but I never quite pieced it all together. ‘Til now.
I spent roughly half of 2015 traveling and half at “home,” so there was a tremendous amount to consider. Most of the Galvy Awards were obvious – some may have runners up or honorable mentions. The categories will change year by year. And while most winners will be reserved for things and places new to me, that isn’t 100 percent rule. This isn’t some sort of a rigid, official endeavor, but a way to revisit and review what sparked my greatest memories of the year.
I’ll start with the big ones, the Galvy Awards (in three categories!) for Best Destination. (All photos mine.) Enjoy:
Best Destination (Foreign): Italy
I had a week in Ontario, Canada – some in Toronto but mostly in Hamilton – at the start of July and while I loved it, I have to give this award to Italy. I took my first trip there in February, visiting Rome, Florence and Naples, along with some off-the-beaten-path excursions along the way. The food, the sights, the history and the great friends to enjoy everything with made the two weeks in Italy made for many of the best times I’ve ever had.
Best Destination (Domestic): Portland, Maine
I don’t know why I’d grown so curious about Portland over the last few years. I’m a Westerner through and through, but I’d hear bits and pieces that always captured my attention. It’s my type of place: compact rather than sprawling, immensely respectful of its history and from what I saw, filled with creative people doing what they can to make life enjoyable. I spent most of my time walking around the Old Port, checking out bars and restaurants, but managed to fit in a trip to the Allagash Brewery (and two of its smaller neighbors) and a beautiful night out at Hadlock Field to take in a Portland Sea Dogs game.
Best Destination (Backyard): Tubac, Arizona
As much fun as it is exploring far and wide, it’s always great to take advantage of the hidden gems nearby. And Southern Arizona is full of amazing spots – from the funky old charm of Bisbee to the otherworldly Chiricahua Mountains to the twin border towns of Nogales to the wine country of Sonoita and Patagonia. None take much more than a two-hour drive to reach from Tucson. I’ve hit them all in the past, but this year I got to take a couple days exploring Tubac, an artist’s village built up where the first Europeans settled in Arizona, on the banks of the Santa Cruz River.
As a guide, I had the publisher of the Tubac Villager, an expert on the people, places and history of this wonderfully artistic outpost. I wrote about the restaurants, shops and galleries for Edible Baja Arizona and won’t wait long until I make a trip back.
Longest Walk: Boston Freedom Trail
Mid-year I got a Fitbit, so from that point on I can tell you with certainty: The day I caught Boston’s Freedom Trail and saw both the city’s top basement bar and the 52nd floor Top of the Hub.
Honorable Mention: Rome – the Forum, Colosseum & Vatican
I didn’t have the Fitbit that early in the year, but I’m pretty convinced the day I covered three of Rome’s major sites would’ve had the Freedom Trail beat.
Best Music Festival: The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
Honorable Mentions: Pickathon, Outside Lands
I published this recap of 2015’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Paste Magazine:
This free-flowing and strictly non-commercial festival has been a San Francisco favorite for 15 years, bridging generations and styles in an a good-vibrations celebration of roots music. The free festival comes courtesy of banjo-loving financier Warren Hellman, who even after his death in 2011 made sure to set aside funds to continue his annual gift to the city. The gorgeous Golden Gate Park setting thrives on surprise collaborations, like the all-star performance of Big Star’s Third featuring Jody Stephens, Mike Mills and Wilco’s Pat Sansone and Robyn Hitchcock, and The Sadies performing The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It’s a joyous festival where acts like Nick Lowe, Charles Bradley, Neko Case and DeVotchKa can blend with Americana royalty like Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Dave Alvin, Buddy Miller and annual festival closer, Emmylou Harris, her gorgeous voice carrying across the meadow at sunset.
Best Attraction: Niagara Falls
The Maid of the Mist boat tour that takes tourists right into the cradle of Horseshoe Falls feels like an amusement park ride that just so happens to culminate at one of the world’s most spectacular views. That’s the best way I can describe the childlike thrill and massive smile I had as I tried to both capture decent photos and just enjoy the ride. Getting to the boat takes patience – this is after all one of the country’s most famous destinations – but it’s absolutely worth the wait and the ticket price (less than $20). And Maid of the Mist is just one of the attractions at Niagara Falls. I’d return in a heartbeat.
Best Bar: Café Van Kleef, Oakland
This gloriously bizarre watering hole could well be the stuff of a Hollywood adventure film – picture the middle ground between The Goonies and Indiana Jones. But its eccentricities are all its own and Café Van Kleef makes for not only the best atmosphere and drinks in downtown Oakland, but one of the more unique and enjoyable bars I’ve ever visited.
The walls are filled with treasures and the bartenders are constantly juicing some of the tastiest grapefruits this world has to offer for the house specialty. Researching this, I just read that the owner died this past year, just a couple weeks before I visited. Here’s a greyhound to you, Mr. Van Kleef.
Three Penny Taproom, Montpelier, Vermont. A quintessential craft beer bar I could have enjoyed for a whole day rather than just lunch.
Linda’s Tavern, Seattle, Washington. Pure dive bar glory.
Best Brewery: O’Dell, Fort Collins, Colorado
I’ve enjoyed O’Dell brews for years – the 90 Shilling especially – so when a daytrip to Fort Collins came together, a stop at the brewery was priority No. 1. And the special bomber of Fernet-aged porter was the best beer I could have possibly purchased. And speaking of 90 Shilling, there’s really thing better for tailgating at for a show at Red Rocks.
Honorable Mentions: Allagash (Portland, Maine), Fremont (Seattle), Mostodolce (Florence, Italy), Aeronaut (Boston), Prison Hill (Yuma, Arizona)
Best Ballpark: PNC Park, Pittsburgh
I had the great fortune of buying a seat with one of the postcard views of downtown Pittsburgh for a late September game as PNC Park. It’s a gorgeous structure, as fan friendly as possible in its layout, with amazing views from nearly every seat in the park. PNC Park is baseball at its best.
Best Sporting Event: Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Sept. 25
Landing in Wrigley Field on a day that the Cubs could clinch a playoff spot was just the luck of the draw. It was the only day my buddy Scott (a lifelong Cubs fan, despite his years in Florida, Arizona and California) and I could go, so we went. Last row, facing west, into the wind blowing from Lake Michigan on a day that definitely felt more like fall than summer. But that ballpark was absolutely electric! It was an intra-divisional rivalry and we ended up near a group of bros who made the trip from Pittsburgh (they weren’t nearly as obnoxioius as most of the Cubs faithful surrounding them). The Pirates had their ace in Garret Cole and crafty John Lester was on the mound for the Cubs. The game went down to the final batter, with the Cubs leaving the tying run on base as they went down, 3-2.
It turns out that despite losing, the Cubs did clinch a playoff spot that day, they just had to wait for the Giants to lose that evening. So no big ballpark celebration, but a memorable day nonetheless. The final of 14 Major League Baseball games I saw in 2015, a personal record, this was the only 1-run finish.
Best Urban Experience: New York City
Crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan for a Richard Thompson concert at Town Hall, and then back underneath the East River to hang out at the Royal Palms shuffleboard bar was just one small reminder of the fact that New York has just about everything a major city can offer in this world.
Best Nature Experience: Camping at Second Beach, Washington
My friend put the question to me: go to a favorite spot we’ve hit before in the Cascades to the east, or try someplace new by taking the ferry and driving west across the Olympic Peninsula, and camping on the beach in the northwest corner of the country. The beach, of course. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Most Cosmic Moment: Sunsets over the Mediterranean
The first views I’ve ever had of the Mediterranean Sea featured a fiery sky above and calm beauty below. It wasn’t just one night either – every evening staying at Ercolano, in the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, was a spectacular burst of colors as the sun settled into the sea.
Reconnection of the Year: Brutacus, Enfield, New Hampshire
I’ll use my buddy Brian’s old, old nickname here ‘cause it still makes me laugh (though if I recall, it always did piss him off). We got to be friends in sixth grade and stuck close that way all through high school. We both stayed in state for college, but went different directions and hung out just a few times during those years. Then life happened and we hadn’t gotten back together in more than 15 years until this summer. He’s got a career and a family on the clear other side of the country now, but it was great to see he’s the same as ever. And it didn’t hurt one single bit that he’s turned into a regional craft beer expert. We took a long daytrip from New Hampshire over to Vermont, up from Montpelier through to Burlington, sampling the best we could along the way. Cheers to old friends, and thanks again Brutacus, for the wonderful hospitality.