Friday, December 17, 2010

Sinfully Good New Orleans

Image from
There isn't much new I can tell you about New Orleans. In fact, I feel a little outdated that it took me so long to get there. I had friends who went to Tulane in college who would regale me with tales of topless women, Hurricanes (in both beverage and natural disaster form) and general debauchery (combined ever so gracefully with Creole history and a touch of Jazz). But I'm sure you knew all this already.

What I can tell you about that may be a bit different is an off-the-beaten-path restaurant. Yeah, yeah I know this is my second post in a row about food, but, hey…I really can't recall much about my first night on Bourbon Street, so I wouldn't be of much assistance.

I was in town for the 2010 United States Tour Operators Association Annual Conference & Marketplace (it was about as exciting as it sounds). On my third night in the Big Easy, my buddy Jose and I took a trip outside of the trendy Downtown and French Quarter area to Jeannette Street where we dined at Boucherie, an adorable French bistro-esque restaurant tucked on a residential street.

Now this is a restaurant worth visiting, if only for the fact that as soon as you walk in the door you are treated like family. In fact, Boucherie itself is family owned and operated.

Jose and I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of Hondarrabi Beltza wine from Spain (a Gorrondona, to be exact) before eyeing the 'Small Plates' section of the table with greedy, beady little eyes. I loved this restaurant because it took that New Orleans French flare and twisted it nicely with down home Southern comfort and cooking, while still retaining the elegance that even New York snobs like Jose and myself much appreciate.

Without hesitation we blurted out "Fresh Cut French Fries with Garlic Butter & Parmesan Reggiano." Can you blame us? These came heaped in a bowl with an avalanche of white, tangy cheese on top. Next we tucked into Steamed Mussels with Collard Greens & Crispy Grit Crackers. Tip: The fries taste absolutely orgasmic when dipped in the mussel sauce. Finally the waiter brought us a complimentary taste of the Crispy Duck Confit with Pumpkin Latke and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. If we weren't already in a food coma, this certainly set us over the edge. I was in a sleepy state of plump and bloated bliss. I can't speak for Jose, but the empty plate sitting in front of him certainly said enough.

So that, my friends, is just a taste (no pun) of New Orleans. I wish I had more to share, but that Bourbon Street is designed to make sure you don't recall any sin you committed the night before, for better or for worse. But luckily for you, Boucherie serves the type of sinfully delicious food that is worth remembering ever bite of.

8115 Jeannette Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
Open Tues-Sat

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Voracious in Vienna

Okay, so maybe this is five months overdue. But I swear I've been productive. I've hit up Mexico, Ireland (twice!) and….New Jersey (trust me, a journey all its own). But the creative juices are flowing once again, my friends and I am back. Oh yes, I am back…

…most recently from Vienna, Austria, a city that can be summed up with classic, imperial and elegant. I was in town for a short three days attending the first Austria Destination Summit, a trade show for travel agents looking to learn more about the destination. I could bore you with tales from the private Vienna Philharmonic rehearsal, or the nighttime tour of Shoenbrunn Palace (which ended with a lavish banquet overlooking the city)…but I think I'd rather tantalize you with tales from the table.
Night one: Champagne and hors d'oeuvres in Vienna's iconic Ferris Wheel (the oldest in the world). The Viennese absolutely love their smoked salmon, cheese or ham on bread. And as basic as it sounds, it does the trick. Creamy, salty smoked salmon with a dollop of creme fraiche on a soft slice of baguette. Sold. Then it was wienerschnitzel (lightly breaded and fried fillet of veal) with a squeeze of lemon and a side of scalloped potatoes, with a never-ending glass of crisp, white wine at Wagon 31, the restaurant adjacent to the Ferris Wheel. Did you know Vienna has a booming wine industry? Me neither…but I was not disappointed.

Dessert was loosely translated on our menus as a chocolate-filled dumpling with strawberry sauce. I'm not a girl with a sweet tooth, but man that sounded like a drug that I had to get my hands on. Diabetics: Avert your eyes. Picture a fluffy white cake ball filled with oozing, molten chocolate, crusted in shredded coconut and topped with gooey strawberry sauce.

Night two: A private dinner in the wine cellar of Klosterneuburg Monastery, a Roman Catholic monastery just outside of Vienna on the Danube river. The working monastery is home to not only a cellar chock full of delicious Viennese wine, but it is home to the largest cask of wine in the world (56,000 liters!). Hey, heaven. The monastery capitalizes on this by offering guests the opportunity to literally slide down the barrel. Needless to say, I could not resist after I had sampled a few glasses of the onsite libation.

Night three: A feast for the senses and a true taste of Vienna. Our hosts rented out Cafe Gloriette, part of Schoenbrunn Palace, the summer residence for the Habsburg family. It was built in 1775 as a 'temple of glory' for Empress Maria Theresia. In 1780 it was transformed into a breakfast room for the Emperor Franz Josef I. Today it is an elegant restaurant boasting breathtaking views over Vienna. Arriving at night was an experience all its own as the building was set aglow with dramatic lighting. We entered to a quartet playing delicate Mozart (which later erupted into some sort of hypnotic blend of house beats with electric Mozart - odd, but it grew on me. Or maybe that was the wine). In any event I tucked into a Viennese staple: beef broth with soft dumplings, similar to matzoh balls. Following this we were served flaky cod and saddle of veal, all culminating with my favorite: oh yes, those chocolate-filled dumplings. What a gloriously calorie-filled bookend to an already overindulgent trip.

Despite my waistline's better judgment, Vienna has not seen the last of me.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Classy Business Aboard Lufthansa

I am afraid to fly. There, I said it. Good thing I picked a profession that would keep me constantly on the ground. Whoops. If you are an aerophob like myself, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Two words: Business Class.

I arrived in Dusseldorf, Germany for this long-awaited press trip last Thursday, July 22, and, man, after a seven-hour flight in Lufthansa’s business class, I could see anyone becoming an airplane junky. Even me.

After two glasses of Coppola Shiraz and a plate of charcuterie in the Business Class Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport, the knots in my stomach seemed to loosen just a smidge. A seamless boarding followed by a very chilled glass of bubbly was enough to almost bring a smile to my panic-stricken face.  Even as we sat on the runway for an hour and a half due to air traffic (oh the joys of flying, right?) the flight attendants were sure to come by with cold glasses of sparkling water and orange juice.

Now for the kicker. As the dinner hour rolled around someone came by and asked if she may set my table. She was kind enough not to laugh at my perplexed look and instead proceeded to place a white linen tablecloth over my tray table. As for menu options I opted for the Tanqueray cured salmon served with orange, pumpernickel and mustard-dill dressing to start. For a main course I tucked into some of the most tender beef short ribs I’ve had in a while. Seriously, this is airplane food? Flight attendants rolled beverage carts by what seemed like every few minutes to top off my glass of red wine.

Feeling sleepy from a full belly (and maybe from that Tylenol PM I popped) I was delighted to find that my chair reclined to an almost 180-degree angle. Pillows propped up just right and TV tilted so that glare would be minimal, I hunkered down to watch “Date Night,” – that Steve Carell and Tina Fey movie with a star-studded cast (think Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Ray Liotta, Mila Kunis...). Turns out I probably didn’t need to take that Tylenol PM – that movie was a snore all on its own. Note: There are dozens of movie and television options to choose from. I also watched an episode of Entourage and 30 Rock - to which I owe my sanity after suffering through Date Night.

When I awoke breakfast had long been over but I found a nice to-go bag by my seat with a sandwich, yogurt and some fresh fruit. Well rested, satiated and safe I was ready to take on Dusseldorf. Aerophobia cured…or at least until I’m back flying coach.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Any aspiring travel writer dreams of that first press trip. Bali, Argentina, Australia, perhaps. But I, always the pessimist, assumed that my first official press trip would be to the brilliantly lit conference centers of Philadelphia, or to the gorgeous coast of Queens, New York. Well, my friends, I'm on the eve of this very first press trip and I'm off to Dusseldorf....Germany, and I could not be more excited.

Don't ask me what's in Dusseldorf. I have no idea, but I suppose that is half the fun. Right now I'm more focused on the VIP service at the airport, or the business class flight on Lufthansa, or the five-star luxury hotel in prime downtown Dusseldorf (whatever that means). I hope you will join me on this little adventure over the next few days, but for now I am officially Dorf-bound.

Just to make this post the slightest bit educational, here are five fun facts on Dusseldorf:

1. Dusseldorf is home to the largest festival on the Rhine river, attracting over 4.5 million visitors each July. (And yes, yours truly will be attending. Can you say Oktober in July? Apparently the festival is a giant beer fest on the Rhine. I'm already hooked.)

2. Dusseldorf has the largest Japanese community in Germany. (Beer AND sushi?? This place is sounding more and more like my happy place.)

3. The local beer is called Altbier, which translates to "old style beer."

4. The traditional Dusseldorf meal is Rheinischer Sauerbraten, a roast beef marinated in vinegar and spices. (Mmm? Yeah, I'll give it a shot. When in Dusseldorf...)

5. The city's most popular band is called Kraftwerk, known for avant-garde electronic music. (I threw this one in because to be honest, nothing else looked really that interesting.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Undoing the Overplayed Honeymoon

What's the first thing that pops into your head when you hear 'honeymoon?' I would make a hefty wager without hesitation that more often than not your image is something incredibly cliche.

Let me guess. A coconut beverage on a beach in Aruba, right? Or perhaps a nap in a hammock under the shade of a palm tree...on a beach in Aruba. Maybe a scandalous encounter in a hot tub....that overlooks a beach in Aruba. Are you getting my point? For as long as there have been honeymoons, newlyweds, still drunk off one another to the point where every little burp is still adorable, have flocked to places like the Caribbean or Hawaii to bask in the sun and deluded fantasies about how their lives meant nothing until they used each other's toothbrushes.

Well, my friends, times they are a-changing. Honeymooners are saying 'been there, done that' to overused destinations as their expectations rise. Virtuoso, a luxury travel network in the U.S., recently unveiled the 30 Top Honeymoons, which were chosen by the industry's top honeymoon specialist. So what destinations featured prominently? Vietnam and Cambodia.

...what? The countries previously torn apart by genocide, war, Agent Orange and the Khmer Rouge? Sounds like a gorgeous brochure. This is like saying 40 years from now, "Hey baby I can't decide where we should go for our honeymoon. I mean, Kabul definitely has the nightlife, but Mogadishu has the beaches." But hey, anything is possible. Clearly. Now the region is home to UNESCO World Heritage sites, beaches, five-star accommodation...everything you could want from a honeymoon but in a fresh and exotic location.

If you are one of those who have just had a ring slapped on your finger and are considering a honeymoon destination, consider a new nine-night escape that includes stays at The Nam Hai in Hoi An, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and Siem Reap's Hotel de la Paix, for $8,096 per couple. For more information visit

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Other Side of Memphis

Roaming Memphis in the bright of day is sobering. At least, that's how we felt on Monday as we readied to head back to New York. Our last stop on our list was the National Civil Rights Museum, and I don't think there could have been a more appropriate way to spend our last few hours.

In the blur of Blues, ribs and beer it is almost easy to forget that Memphis was the city in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. He was killed on the balcony of The Lorraine Motel, which has been turned into the museum. It is eye-opening and, in my opinion, a must for anyone.

Before you enter the exhibit you watch a screening of the Oscar-nominated 'The Witness,' narrated by Rev. Billy Kyles, who was with Dr. King the night he died. If at the end you aren't holding back tears then you missed the whole point of the film.

Wind your way through the history of American civil rights. What makes this exhibit that much more meaningful is that it is located in the South. I don't think it would have hit me as hard were it located in New York.

The museum takes you up to room #306, Dr. King's room. Here you can look out a glass window onto the balcony where he was murdered. There really aren't any words to capture this experience - at least none that wouldn't sound forced and corny. Just go for yourself. Adult admission is $13 and I would carve out three hours to do it properly. You do not want to rush.

We meandered down to Beale Street and although a good handful of people roamed in and out of the blues clubs and restaurants, it looked more like a ghost town compared to the past two nights. We even made an attempt to get back to Ground Zero to find out the name of Johnny's band (I feel stupid that I can't remember), but seeing it empty and silent was eerie and another reminder that the journey really was over.

I'll be raving about this trip for a very long time. I cannot wait to get back and I will recommend Memphis to anyone.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

We Went to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

The whole drive here whenever we mentioned we were going to Memphis we got one of two responses: skeptical looks (which, after last night's insanity we are still confused about) and "You into Elvis, or something?"

Ok...yes, we went to Graceland. I know I like to pride myself on not being a tourist but, come on. I think if an entire Paul Simon album bears its name it really is worth a visit. And's Elvis.

I'll admit I didn't know much about the King or his palace before my visit, but I was told by my friend Becca (an avid Graceland visitor) to opt for the Platinum Tour Tickets, which cost $34 and include an audio-guided tour of the Mansion; access to his airplanes; access to the Automobile Museum; his Hollywood Exhibit; a pop culture exhibit; access to a wardrobe exhibit; and a self-guided tour of the '68 Special exhibit.

Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 for around 100 grand. He was 22. I'm 22 and I think I'm making it through the rest of this weekend on $61. It's good to be the King.

"There's a pretty little thing waiting for the King...down in the Jungle Room." - 'Walking in Memphis' by Marc Cohen.

The tour of the mansion takes you through the lower floors. The upstairs, Elvis' private quarters, remain off limits out of respect. You get to see the living room, dining room, kitchen, basement and of course, the Jungle Room. Holy 1970s decor. Shag carpet on the ceiling? What were people thinking? The tour also includes the grounds of Graceland, including displays on his movie career and his many, many awards.

Getting there: If you don't have a car there is a free shuttle service that leaves from the Memphis Rock'n'Soul Museum every hour on the half hour. I'd carve out a good three hours to do Graceland right.

Not into Elvis? There is still plenty to do. We also checked out the Beltz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art and tomorrow we plan on hitting the Civil Rights Museum. Memphis is also a prime location for people watching. Grab a stool at one of the many bars with front windows and watch the local color pass by. Check out the giant decked out carriages that leave from The Peabody Hotel. While you're there, see the March of the Ducks, which happens at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Get there an hour early to get a good seat. It's a little kitschy but the ducks are so damn cute.

Walking (the Line) in Memphis

Smoky barbecue goodness wafting out of a small alley off Union Ave. between Second and Third streets can only mean one thing. It's time for a Rendezvous, arguably the most famous (and best) barbecue joint in Memphis. Our night started with a full order of pork ribs, cole slaw, chicken nachos and Heinekens and it only got better from there. By the way, the wait at Rendezvous is very, very long. We waited about an hour, but it was very much worth it.

Feeling sleepy from full bellies we were about to call it a night. Yes, we were sleepy and were considering passing out in our very comfortable beds at The Westin Memphis Beale Street. (Guests should ask for Joan, the concierge, who is a fountain of Memphis knowledge.) But first we wanted to see what all the fuss was on Beale Street. Oh my. The cop-guarded street is closed to cars and revelers are stopped on their way in for a quick ID check. That's right. We got carded to walk on a street. Why? No open container laws on Beale Street. I knew we were in for an adventure.

We donned the Beale Street badge - a giant cup of Bud Lite (there are beer carts all along the street and most giant beers cost $5). From there we walked up the block as the soulful sound of Blues poured out from every venue. If you're thinking Beale Street is just for tourists, think again. Packed with locals. And everyone wants to hear who is performing. To play on Beale Street is really to have made it.

We were lured to a small stage in a small pavilion. After watching the guitarists and sax player jam for a while one of the two guitarists motioned to come up on stage. Now, I am not into being in front of people, but I thought 'what the hell' and headed up the steps. The guitarist handed me his instrument and I held it flat out in front me as he proceeded to pick and play it while it was in my hands. Probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Saskia and I waited around after the show to say hello to him. Turns out his name is Johnny Holiday (not his real name, but I promised I would keep his real identity a secret). Why Holiday? "Because I'm always on vacation," he told us. He is the unofficial mayor of Beale Street. Everywhere we went with him folks were calling out 'Hey Johnny! How you doing?' We felt like Memphis royalty to be in his company.

Slipping past cover charges (I was introduced as his wife) we made our way into Ground Zero, a club on Beale Street owned by Morgan Freeman. This was to be our hangout for most of the night, as Johnny was to play there at midnight. A voluptuous woman belted out the Blues on stage as we knocked back beer after beer (and maybe a shot or two of Jim Beam, after Saskia opted for that over tequila).

As the night got fuzzier and we all got friendlier it was revealed that Johnny actually held a role in the 2005 movie, Walk the Line. He plays Carl Perkins, if anyone is interested.

The night ended in haze of dancing, singing and some killer solos by Johnny. Memphis, you may have climbed your way into my Top 5 Places in the U.S.

Check out the videos of Johnny at Ground Zero

18 Hours in Nashville

After almost 900 miles on the road we were ready to blow off some steam. Newbies to Nashville on a short stay can't go wrong with Broadway between First and Fourth avenues. We had a few must-sees on our list recommended to us by a friend who grew up in Nashville, but first we decided to do a little exploring on our own.

These three blocks are a smörgåsbord for the senses - bright, flashing lights; the succulent smell of grease and fat dripping off of roasting meat; and that familiar twang of country music. We spotted a sign that said "70 Beers on Tap" and there was no question where the night was going to begin.
Broadway Brewhouse Downtown (317 Broadway, there's another one at 1900 Broadway, as well) is a comfortable sports bar-meets-saloon with wide, open windows and very friendly hosts. Saskia and I tried the local Nashville brew, Yazoo. I had the Pale Ale and Saskia opted for the Amber. In all honesty, while good, they weren't very memorable so after one each we switched to old favorites - Red Hook and good ol' fashioned Bud Lite. Hey, at least we tried.

After knocking back a few of those it was time to eat and we heard there was no better place than Jack's BBQ, also on Broadway (so good, in fact, that when we told the bell hop we were going there he felt inclined to remove his hat and exclaim 'amaaaaazing!'). And he was right on the money. We had barbecue brisket sandwiches, mac and cheese, potato salad, cinnamon apples and two Yuenglings. That food didn't stand a chance lasting on our plates.

Next stop? Robert's Western World, next door to Jack's. This is the one-stop-shop for country music. Even Saskia, a claimed non-fan of country (cut to her eye rolls as Garth Brooks played in the car) seemed to enjoy herself. We befriended a 78-year-old oil tycoon and his family. Their names escape me but I think that has more to do with Bud Lite than them not being memorable. He offered to teach me how to dance but I respectfully declined. I don't need to embarrass myself in front of an entire bar of two-steppers.

Lastly head over to The Stage if the sound of country gets to be too much. This bar is great for rock and roll and yes, more dancing. Saskia and I enjoyed some Fat Tire beers before we called it a night.

And that, my friends, is how it is done in Nashville.

Live music at Robert's Western World

Saturday, May 29, 2010

We're Not in Kinsport Anymore

If last night I was happy you need a whole other word for how I feel tonight in Nashville. I'm staying at Union Station Hotel, A Wyndham Historic Hotel in a Station Master's Suite, #620. Holy hell.

The hotel is built in a restored 19th-century railroad station. Picture a huge arched, stained-glass ceiling in the lobby and two wooden, sweeping staircases. That was definitely a sight for two weary travelers.

The living room is the size of my entire apartment in New York.  The bedroom is just as large. As I write this I'm on my full-sized couch watching one of two (yes, two) flat screen TVs. La Quinta who? Don't get me wrong. La Quinta is great for crashing. It's cheap, clean and breakfast is included. But this is how a hotel stay should be. It's so nice that Saskia and I were very, very close to saying "F*** it" to Nashville and ordering room service and a bottle of wine...but we probably would regret that in the morning....maybe.

We're heading out now to see what sort of trouble we can get into but the draw of the king-sized bed and over-sized pillows may have us tucked in and cozy before midnight.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Frontier Foray Part I

It really doesn't matter to me where I travel, as long as it is someplace I have never been before. Right now? I'm in a La Quinta in Kingsport, Tennessee and man, I have never been happier.

Having said that, I've been on the road now for nearly 16 hours so maybe my delight is more having a shower and clean sheets rather than being in a brand new city. (From what I can tell, Kingsport is your run-of-the-mill strip of chain hotels and restaurants. Nowhere you'd send a postcard from.)

In front of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate. Admission $22.

The adventure started as I rolled into Washington, D.C. at around 2 a.m. this morning. Cut to five hours later when I was up and getting an egg and cheese sandwich at Sidamo Coffee and Tea (417 H Street NE...and delicious!).

Saskia (my copilot) and I, bleary-eyed and unshowered (it's a road trip...), were on the road by 9:30 and we managed to clear the entire state of Virginia in one day. The highlights? Two things jump to mind: scenery and food.

If you're ever driving in this neck of the woods I highly recommend routes 29 South and I-81 South. Both will take you through the lush Blue Ridge Mountains (and yes, they really do look blue as the sun sets behind them and the mist rises over. Beautiful.)

We stopped for lunch in Shenandoah, Virginia, at Cousin Boogy's, a roadside barbecue joint. For $13 combined we got barbecue pork, cole slaw, spicy chicken and hand cut fries. The owners, Tony and Michelle, prepare everything by hand and serve it up in the dining room, which can only be described as part rec-room, part diner, part home kitchen. The floor is sticky with spilled soda and the walls plastered with photos of local patrons as the twang of southern radio plays in the background.

Cut to dinner. A Southern staple. Cracker Barrel. What are we missing in the North? This place is pure gluttonous American glory, and I truly mean that in the best way possible. For $10 I was served up a sirloin steak, salad, baked potato and corn bread, while Saskia happily ate grilled catfish, corn and carrots for $7. The rest of the menu contains all the large-portioned favorites from chicken and dumplings to fried okra. And after you dine you must hit up the kitschy country store, which sells old time candies, candles, gardening tools and "I Love America" paraphernalia. I'll go back to being my portion-controlled, New York-snobby-self tomorrow. But for tonight I bask in all of Cracker Barrel glory.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Good Idea in Theory

Today, my friends, is a great day. A much-awaited road trip is on the horizon, and it will become, I hope, a long-standing tradition. I'm off to Memphis with my good friend, Saskia. We started our Memorial Day road trips last year when we took an inaugural journey from San Diego to Seattle. Unfortunately that gem came before this blog, but hopefully the details from this upcoming trip will make up for it.

I went to today to read the Travel Section, which I like to do when work is slow (or when I'm just too aroused with wanderlust to be bothered with meaningless 'work'). I came across this and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Matt Gross, the Frugal Traveler

The topic, frugal travel, is definitely something I will strive for on this trip. But I know myself (one more beer? Sure. Steak or salad? Steak) and I can pretty much guarantee to you that despite its very useful tips, I will return to you with empty pockets turned inside out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Waking Up with Daniel Boulud

A typical morning for me usually involves hauling my ass out of bed at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m., rushing through a less-than-satisfying breakfast of scrambled eggs (I throw a little hot sauce on there for excitement) and making my way to the office where I will hunker down in my cube for eight hours.

But yesterday was no typical morning. Instead I found myself sitting at Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne, dining on congee soup with egg emulsion, french toast with bacon and coconut sauce and a yam cake with mushrooms and gorgonzola and listening to his Frenchness talk about his upcoming projects in Singapore.

Now yes, I am a morning person. I get more done before noon than most and I am officially useless after 3 p.m. But this was an experience to wake up any morning narcoleptic. The breakfast was hosted by the Singapore Tourism Board, who was informing the media about Singapore's brand new culinary campaign called A Taste of Singapore.

This breakfast was the final New York event in a series of tastings that kicked off April 29 at New York's Double Crown. Over the next two years, Singapore will be rolling out a series of initiatives globally that will help position it as a culinary capital in Asia.

Where does Boulud fit in? For the past few years Singapore has been in the process of building a monstrous integrated resort, Marina Bay Sands (officially opening in June), which will forever change the skyline of Singapore. Boulud will be opening a Singapore location of DB Bistro Moderne in the resort complex. He will be joined by five other celebrity chefs who are also opening restaurants at the complex, including Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Santi Santamaria, Guy Savoy and Tetsuya Wakuda.

For all you New Yorkers out there who can't take the trek to Singapore, I suggest you check out the LUCKYRICE Festival, which is an 11-day celebration of Asian food and culture that kicks off this spring. You will definitely be seeing me there.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly American

There comes a time in every tristate area-er's life when a certain rite of passage ought to be made - the journey to Atlantic City. I had such an opportunity this weekend.

A couple of months ago my good friend, Michelle, suggested we take the trip to Atlantic City (or "AC" as the pros call it) to see Third Eye Blind for her 23rd birthday. Having never been to AC and loving Third Eye Blind from the days of listening to z100 on my way to middle school, immediately my answer was 'yes'. So we boarded the Atlantic City Express Service train at Penn Station, popped some champagne and waited.

Before I go any further let me just make it clear that I am the most unlikely candidate to travel to Atlantic City. Sure, I like my bars - but I can fit in at a bar anywhere. But I don't gamble, clubbing isn't my first or second choice for a fun night, my feet hurt when I wear heels for too long and I've never been to a strip club. (I'll admit I've been curious about that last part and almost went into one a couple years ago, but that was mostly to try and impress a guy I was with.) I was in good company though. Michelle and our other companion, Stephanie, are of a similar nature.

Okay, so let's go down the AC checklist, shall we? Did us three AC virgins manage to do it right?

1. Drink - yes. We most certainly got that part right. Cut to the next morning when an empty pizza box, mascara-caked eyes and a string of missed phone calls helped us piece together the end of the night.

2. Live large - sure. We spent more money than we had, ate a very fancy meal at the Taj Mahal (I wanted to live like a Don. I was getting steak and that was that.) and I'm pretty sure I'll be eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner until payday.

3. Gamble - not really. But in our defense we definitely tried. In a drunken stupor we wandered into a casino (the name escapes me) and tried our luck at the safest form of gambling for newbies - the penny slots. But the machines kept spitting back our dollars. Each one we tried was not having it. It wasn't until our second attempt in the clarity of day that we realized that the machines won't accept bills lower than $5. Sneaky, sneaky Atlantic City.

So would I go back? Maybe. I won't rule it out. But I think I've had my fill. One too many mammoth-sized ladies on motor-scooters shoveling funnel cake into their already full mouths, and four-out-of-10 women with their ass cheeks hanging out of their shorts will kill that glitz-and-glam dream of Atlantic City.

Oh and in case you were curious about Third Eye Blind, the show was phenomenal. The middle school girl inside of me who didn't understand the meaning of the lyrics to Semi-Charmed Life was happy. Check out the videos below!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Struggle in Bangkok

For those of you who aren't aware, on April 12 the Royal Thai Government declared a State of Emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding areas. I thought I'd take this opportunity to fill you in on what has been going on, seeing as Asia is the beat I was "assigned" at work. (I use assigned loosely because I don't actually get to travel anywhere. I'm thrown press releases from Asia's tourism boards and get to write them up under the guise of an Asia reporter. I'll take the bone I've been thrown, but I'm not bitter or anything.)

Anyway, back to a real problem. Thailand.

The state of emergency was declared following demonstrations by protestors from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (or the "red-shirts"). On Saturday, April 10, the red-shirts and the Royal Thai Government met head to head in the Phanfa Bridge area, which resulted in 21 deaths and over 800 wounded victims. And the demonstrations continue.

If you really want to look for a silver lining, it is important to note that the violence has been contained to the Bangkok region. Travel outside of Bangkok seems to be safe.

But tourism officials, while trying to remain upbeat, are concerned about what this means for Thailand for the rest of 2010.

"Our concerns are two-fold," says Mark Siegel, CEO of Golfasian Co. Ltd., a Bangkok-based golf tour operator. "While 99 percent of the country's hotels and golf courses and restaurants are operating as normal, the more important concern is that we continue to have dozens of clients in country. We have to look out for their welfare and assure them that their safety isn't an issue because, in my view, it isn't."

Still, Russia, South Korea and China have warned their citizens to postpone their trips to Bangkok. It is predicted that tourism numbers could drop 20 percent this year and some analysts are even predicting that up to $500 million could be lost from the economy.

But economy and tourism aside, the number one concern is citizens, visitors and tourists. Siegel says, "It's disrespectful and simply untrue to assert that things are going forward as normal, and will go forward as normal. This is the worst political violence in 20 years."

Thailand is the #2 place in the world that I want to visit (a very, very close second behind Bali). My thoughts go out to the people in Bangkok. I hope I can get there some day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hidden New York

A few years ago "hidden" New York City watering holes became trendy. The return of the speak-easy, if you will. I'll admit that at first I was skeptical. I mean, is it really that much cooler to go to a bar whose door is hidden underneath the second trash can, five paces from the entrance of the Whole Foods, where you have to ring a door bell and climb down a ladder two rungs at a time? No thanks. I'll just walk into any bar where I can get what I came for - a beer.

Or at least that is how I first approached the subject. But it turns out after visiting a few of these secret spots (which are becoming increasingly more well-known), that they are actually pretty cool and can be impressive places to take your out-of-town friends.

1. PDT. Okay, for all you New Yorkers-in-the-know, you could sense this one was coming. By far the most popular of hidden New York spots, PDT (short for Please Don't Tell) is located behind the popular hot dog joint, Crif Dogs at 113 Saint Marks Place.

How to get in: Walk down the four steps into Crif Dogs and look for the wooden phone booth. Enter the booth, pick up the phone and press a button. Obey the rules of etiquette posted nearby. I'm telling you. They mean business. This speakeasy is at the bottom of my list. Why? I didn't get in. Probably because I didn't obey the rules. But hey, maybe you'll have better luck.

2. Dutch Kills. I rarely venture off of Manhattan. If I do it's probably because I'm visiting some friends who have made the move to Astoria in Queens.  On one particular visit they led me to Dutch Kills in Long Island City, Queens. On an industrial street with practically no signage, this bar stands unassuming at 27-24 Jackson Avenue. Pay no attention to the surroundings. Knock on the door and be prepared to take a time warp back to the 1920s. Waiters dressed in full flapper garb (spats included!) prepare specialty cocktails while a scratchy jazz plays on what sounds like a phonograph. I love this bar.

3. Cabin Down Below. Besides beer one of my other great loves in life is pizza. So when I heard that there was an underground lounge under a pizza joint, I had to check it out. Head to 110 Avenue A. Here you will find The Pizza Shop. Wednesday nights through Saturday nights from 10 p.m. on, the men behind the counter will let you through a dingy door. Head down some stairs and emerge in an ultra-swanky underground lounge. Keep in mind that drinks are kind of pricey, but I think it's worth it. This little gem is really off the radar, so it pains me a little to share its location, but I think you'll get a kick out of it.

4. Sakagura. Okay, let's throw a restaurant in for good measure. That's right. A secret restaurant. If you're in Midtown and in dire need of some Japanese food, I wouldn't point you any further than Sakagura, located on the basement level of an office building at 211 E 43rd Street. Head down the service stairs and open the door. It opens up into a Japanese garden, decked out in wood and bamboo. This is some of the most authentic Japanese food I have ever had (and their sake list goes on forever).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Heading Home: A True Texas Experience

Ok, so I did the Texas thing. Cattle? Check. Horses? Check. Tex-Mex? Check. Barbecue?....oh man, I knew I forgot something!

It was the 11th hour and I was en route to the airport when I realized that I had come to Texas and missed out on one of the grandest traditions, good ol' Texas Bbq. I had to make a pit stop in San Antonio before I got to Austin, my departure city, and luckily for me there was no shortage of barbecue joints along the highway.

We pulled into Rudy's off of route 35 North (Rudy's happens to be a chain so if you aren't traveling on this particular route, just check their other locations).

This was exactly what I was looking for. No frills barbecue. Just a piece of wax paper, a pile of meat, some extra fattening sides and an icy cold beer.

I recommend getting the baby back ribs, which run for about $13 per pound. I added to it some of the sloppiest potato salad I have ever seen and pickles. The whole mess comes with a stack of white Wonder Bread. Take your tray outside to sit at wooden picnic tables with picturesque views of the gas station and highway. Napkins are rendered essentially useless because every bite leaves a giant smear of smokey sauce across your cheek. And don't forget the beer. My beverage of choice? Shiner Bock, a local brew made in Shiner, Texas.

Alright, so now I did the Texas thing. Time to head home, y'all.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Dispatches from Hill Country, Part II

Day two on the ranch. Horseback riding.

You can't get much more Texas than horseback riding past longhorn cattle and sheep. Now, let me preface that I haven't been on a horse since I was 12...and this was more of a lumbering waddle than a graceful gallop full-speed through the Texas hills. Think more along the lines of City Slickers, before Billy Crystal helps birth a calf and suddenly becomes a cowboy.

Even so, still pretty cool. I loped along atop my horse, Spirit, who didn't seem to realize that there was someone on top of him and liked to cut it close trotting under low-hanging branches. But this didn't take away from the starkly beautiful views. Rocky hills with serengeti-like trees, dried up river beds and of course, the random livestock sightings.

Cut to the evening. Supper's on.

Escaping the ranch's oasis-type feel, we headed into Kerrville for a little local Texas culture: Mamacita's, a Disney-esque restaurant with a giant Alamo replica in the dining room, complete with Mexican storefronts and a twinkling starry sky. Kitschy? Maybe. Delicious? Definitely. Our group wolfed down blackened snapper, shrimp fajitas, carnitas, chimichangas and goblet-sized servings of margaritas. And for dessert? the restaurant has its own ice cream parlor in one of the faux storefronts.

So maybe it wasn't the roadside taco hut I was anticipating, but after a few Negro Modelos and a hearty portion of chips and salsa, I was ready to recommend it to anyone who was hungry.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dispatches from Hill Country

What do you get when you mix nine New York Jews with Texas Hill Country? Well, I am about to find out.

I just arrived in Kerrville, Texas yesterday afternoon, a small town around two hours west of Austin. So far? I have to say I'm impressed. To be honest before I arrived I had no idea what I was in for. As a "Yankee," when you hear Texas you think super-sized, T-bones and Republicans. But let me tell you something. Texas is big. Very big. And Hill Country? From what I can tell is not your stereotypical Texas.

Dakota, my aunt's horse.

Around two years ago my aunt and her husband, both born and raised in Brooklyn, moved from Rockaway, Queens to Tierra Linda Ranch in Kerrville. I was one among many skeptics that they could make Texas their new home. But when I got off the plane and my uncle (a connoisseur of pastrami, seltzer and bagels) couldn't stop raving about the horses, antelope and sheep, I knew that this was not a place I could so easily write off.

If the gorgeous scenery of rolling, rocky hills and multitude of animals aren't enough to rope you in (a little cowboy humor for you), maybe the absolutely selfless attitude of people will. Everyone I have come into contact with has been nothing but willing to help, no questions asked and no favors in return needed. Take this for example. I spent last night in the guest house of my aunt's neighbor. (There are nine of us here for Passover. As close as we are, nine Jews under one roof is recipe for disaster.) The neighbors were more than willing to help. Several just offered up their own guest houses to strangers. Just like that.

My guest house, belonging to the lovely Ron and Cheryl, is decked out in a wild safari theme. I'm talking leopard sheets, zebra statues and wild peacock feathers in the bathroom. Ron and Cheryl stocked the mini fridge with sodas and beer and are installing a brand new TV for me this afternoon. Talk about hospitality.

I'm excited to see what other adventures the Ranch has in store for me. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sweet Escapes

I love my city but believe it or not, one can tire of the 3 a.m. nights, constant noise and and endless interaction. I am a firm believer that getting out of the city at least once a month is necessary to maintaining sanity. My go-to city? A nice visit to my family in Woodstock, New York.

A little hike up to Dancing Rock in Shokan, New York.

Okay, we are all thinking the same thing. Woodstock is only good for relaxing because of one "herbal" remedy, and I'm not going to lie to you. The air is ripe with it. But hippie jokes aside, this is actually a pretty cool town. Of course, you can't walk more than three blocks without seeing a grizzled man in a tie-dye headband and flannel, tapping his feet to some Dead song, but that's part of the charm. (Note: The Woodstock festival in 1969 took place around two hours from the actual town of Woodstock, in Bethel, New York. A little insider's tip for you.)

I just got back from my monthly hiatus. A nice weekend of hiking, barbecuing and sitting outside, where the only sound is crickets. Now, my family lives a stone's throw from Woodstock in less-touristy Shokan, but Woodstock and the surrounding area is a great place to go for a day-trip or an entire weekend.

Getting there: If you have a car, Woodstock is exit 19 off the New York State Thruway. If not, and you are coming from NYC, head to Port Authority and take Adirondack Trailways bus service. The bus ride is around two and a half hours and a round-trip ticket costs $50.

My top picks:

Sweet Sue's Restaurant - If you stay on the bus for a few more stops you'll wind up in the hunting town of Phoenicia. The main drag (aptly named Main Street) is just a couple blocks but you'll find some of the best eats. My top breakfast spot is Sweet Sue's restaurant (try the breakfast burrito - a mammoth-sized roll-up of eggs, bacon, cheese and avocado served with a side of salsa). I'm not a pancake person, but if you are this is your stop. Sue serves up a selection of around 20 different styles of pancakes.

I wasn't kidding about the pancakes.

Brio's, also in Phoenicia, is great for pizza, and this is coming from a New Yorker. This thin-crust beauty tastes good with just about any topping. My favorite? Goat cheese and onions.

Saturdays head to Woodstock for the flea market. Peruse old records, toys, clothes and jewelry while some kid tries his luck singing Bob Dylan tunes in the background. I found Led Zeppelin I and Paul Simon's Graceland on vinyl for $3 each. Great bargain. 

And of course, you can't beat the hiking. For some of the top-rated trails, click here.

I guarantee you'll come back to the city feeling relaxed and refreshed. And if you happen to dip into the town's favorite crop, I won't tell.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In the Spirit of St. Paddy

So we're coming up on St. Patrick's Day in a few days and in the spirit I thought I'd share some videos my good friend Becca recorded when we were in Ireland in 2006. Enjoy the craic! (That's Irish for "fun".)

This video was taken at the Pikeman Bar at the Grand Hotel Tralee in Tralee, County Kerry. Traditional music is very important to the Irish culture. Common instruments include fiddles, accordions, guitars and flutes (and/or tin whistles).

Now, I can't stand group tours, but the Musical Pub Crawl in Dublin is surprisingly fun and not cheesy. Professional musicians guide you to several of Dublin's bars and entertain you with popular Irish tunes. Here we have our musicians playing "A Pair of Brown Eyes" by The Pogues. It's suggested that you have a drink at every bar, and this was our last stop. Thank goodness I have this video otherwise I'm not sure how much of this great performance I would remember.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stooping to New Levels: a 9/11 Hotel??

No one remembers 9/11 quite like a New Yorker. I was 14, a freshman in high school, and sitting in fourth period Global Studies when the announcement came over the PA system that a plane had gone through both the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. My friends and teachers had parents and siblings in those buildings.

Yes, the tragedy has left an obvious and painful scar across the face of our country, but most Americans aren't faced with reminders every day - like the giant gap in the skyline where the Towers once stood, or the gaping, debris-littered hole downtown. It's safe to say we, as a city, are far from being over it...

...which is why I was disgusted to learn today that Club Quarters Inc., a hotel development company, is looking to turn 9/11 into a business opportunity and a tourist attraction, reported the Associated Press yesterday morning.

To me this seems to be the lowest of the low. Capitalizing on a national tragedy? Thinking that enough time has passed that people have forgotten about all the damage that followed?

The hotel, World Center Hotel (which began taking reservations last month!) will feature floor-to-ceiling windows in many of its rooms that open directly onto the construction. The AP writes, "Guests and members will have access to the restaurant patio with views of giant cranes, jackhammers and metal scaffolding." Are you kidding me!? The draw of this hotel is to watch men and women hard at work clearing off a site where nearly 3,000 lives were taken because of some f*d up hatred towards the United States and the radical, religious fundamentalist thinking of a handful of loons.

I've come up with a comparison. During the Vietnam War, thousands upon thousands of landmines were planted in Vietnam and Laos, a surrounding country. To this day the Vietnamese and Laos people are still digging up and detonating the landmines so that they don't continue to claim innocent lives. Imagine now putting up a hotel in one of these fields, with giant-paned windows, so that guests could watch these men and women undo the damage that was done to their people and their country.

This is not what tourism and the travel industry is about and the fact that there are people who are willing to do anything to make a buck (introductory rates are $99 on weekends and $179 on weekdays), throwing their human decency to the wind, makes me sick.

At least I'm not the only one. The AP article quoted Michael Meindorfer, a tourist on his visit to ground zero from Frankfurt, Germany. "I wouldn't stay there," Meindorfer told the AP. "To go everyday and come home and see something like this....It's sad."

I welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What's Up in PR

The most I know about Puerto Rico comes from that time I stayed at the El Conquistador Resort with an ex (ahh...memory lane), and getting drunk at the airport on a four-hour layover.

So I was pretty excited to head to a luncheon today hosted by San Juan Marriott Hotel & Casino. I wanted to know a little bit more.

The luncheon was held at Bobby Flay's Manhattan restaurant, Bar Americain (a restaurant I had once visited with said ex...what is is about Puerto Rico and Bobby Flay?).  As I scarfed down steak tartare and several glasses of white wine, I learned a few things about the hotel that you may find of interest.

First, the hotel has installed its own "YouTube concierge," as part of its "Wish You Were Here" campaign. This takes postcards to the next level. Guests can professionally record 30-second clips of themselves at the hotel and stream it on Marriott's YouTube channel. I'd rather watch my friends getting drunk than read about it on a smeared postcard that arrives two weeks after they have already returned home.

Guests can also book a kayaking trip in one of Puerto Rico's three bioluminescent bays. These bays give off an eerie blue light created by living organisms. It's a surreal experience to paddle through dark caverns while your kayak is halo-ed in a shimmery-turquoise glow.

If you're looking for a little nightlife, you don't have to go much further than the hotel's Lobby Lounge. On Thursday nights through Sunday nights the hotel serves cocktails against a backdrop of live music. The director of sales for the hotel put it best, " The Lobby isn't the prettiest girl at the party, but gosh she knows how to party."

Finally, the general manager of the hotel offered me a little tip on a favorite spot of his for travelers looking for a taste of Old San Juan. Mallorca is a coffee shop for an excellent cup of something hot, a great atmosphere, and a tasty Puerto Rican breakfast.

On my next trip to Puerto Rico, hopefully I'll make it off the resort and away from the airport bar.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Deep Are Your Pockets?

Part of my job includes uploading special travel deals onto my company's website. (Thrilling, I know, but somebody has to do it.) Normally the deals I come across include a complimentary hotel night after a paid three-night stay, or spa vouchers, or a free bottle of champagne upon arrival.

But today I was filing a deal for luxury tour-operator, Tahiti Legends, which was offering a 13-day trip to Tahiti. It included round-trip airfare, luxury accommodations, a three-night cruise, private dinners on the beach, and a whole lot of other stuff that I could never afford. How much did this "deal" cost?...

...$170,000 per couple!

No, you did not read that wrong, and no I did not put a comma in where I should have put a period. It is truly $170,000 per couple. Would we say that's a deal? Shockingly, for some people, yes it is.

This got me thinking about the most expensive vacations in the world. A quick search on Google and I came up with this:

Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi Offers $1 Million Valentine's Holiday.

$1 million! So what does this package include?

The package, which was available from February 11, 2010, includes first class roundtrip on Etihad Airways from any international destination; seven nights in a Palace Suite at Emirates Palace, a chauffeur-driven Maybach trips during the stay; daily spa treatments in the Anantara Spa; and private jet trips to Iran, Jordan and Bahrain.

Now that is a vacation....if you can swing it. And I'm not judging. I'm just strongly considering a change in profession.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What Have I Been Missing?

I just got back from my "doomed" trip up to Syracuse, which in hindsight, really wasn't so terrible. Maybe I was being a little melodramatic. I've returned to you a little more worn out, a little more broke, but also a little more enlightened.

Turns out, I did not go to real college.

NYU students always joke that we didn't go to a real college. No campus, no center of community, no sports. Turns out the addition of those three things can make for a much different college experience. Especially the sports. Now, don't get me wrong. NYU was the best four years of my life and I wouldn't be where I am now without it. But damn...there is something to be said for a real college sports scene. Enter Syracuse University.

This past weekend happened to a huge weekend for college sports. Syracuse was vying for the number one slot in the country for college basketball. They were playing against Villanova and the on-campus crowd expected was the largest in college basketball history. And I was there for it. Now, you may recall from my last post that I was not thrilled about this. But, f*** it, I said, and was determined to make the most out of it.

I headed towards Syracuse's campus and literally had to fight my way through throngs and throngs of people. Traffic was at a standstill and all you could see were hoards of orange-clad (Syracuse's color) fans scuttling their way up Syracuse U's hill towards the Carrier Dome.

I wound up at a bar called Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar on S Crouse Avenue. Picture a dingy beachside hangout, complete with surfboard tables, license plates on the wall and even a lifeguard's chair. Add to that $3 beers and about 150 college kids and alum decked out head to toe in bright orange, all screaming "LET'S GO ORANGE". The most sports exposure I ever got at NYU was drinking a 40 out of a paper bag in the bleachers at Chelsea Piers while watching our club hockey team with about 30 other people (mostly parents). Dorothy was not in Kansas anymore.

Now don't get me wrong. I wouldn't change my four years in New York City's scene or nightlife for just a sports team, but it was nice to have a night in frigid upstate New York, crammed like a sardine into a college bar and cheering on a school sports team with fans who were all there for the same reason.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reality Check

So one weekend I'm lounging on a private boat in 85-degree weather, sipping rum punch and snorkeling in warm Caribbean waters, and the next weekend? Wine from a plastic cup in a Marriott in East Syracuse, New York.

Wait, it gets better. I'm here to watch my brother compete in the New York State competition for college diving...and I'm with my recently-separated parents. I'm also here the weekend of the Syracuse U./Villanova college basketball game, and the city is expecting the largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history. Oh, by the way...I hate sports. The Brady Bunch wished they had weekends like this.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

As If I Needed More Irish Exposure

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an unhealthy obsession with Ireland (and that's putting it lightly). I couldn't tell you where the obsession started, only that I love Ireland so much that I decided to get my Master's in Irish Studies. I'm gonna stop you right there, because I know what you are going to say. What am I going to do with a Master's in Irish Studies? I'm going to be honest with you...most likely nothing. But I enjoy the subject, so that's enough for me. (And it certainly seemed like a good idea to at least be doing something right after undergrad graduation, when I had no job and no prospects.)

This is a shot of some buddies and me in July of 2006 when we studied abroad in Ireland. On the way back to Dublin from the Dingle Peninsula (that's really the name), we stopped off for a little taste of the opposite side of the Atlantic.

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is Irish Language. What. A. Joke. I'm serious. You think Arabic is hard? Hold onto your hats, my friends. This language is impossible. In what universe is the world "bhfuil" pronounced "will"? The Irish one. While I can't see myself getting anything more out of this class other than knowing how to say "My name is Meagan," (Is mise Meagan) there are certainly a lot of perks.

1. My professor is the man. Imagine Shrek, but not green, and with a handle-bar mustache that curves around to his ears. Then you have Professor Art J. Hughes, originally from Belfast and lecturing as a Fullbright Scholar for the year at NYU's Glucksman Ireland House. He knows no one is going to amount to much in our class, so we spend the time repeating after him and then learning the history of language.

2. You get to attend events. Last night I attended a reception at the Consulate General of Ireland on Park Avenue in New York. It was in honor of the Deputy Consulate General's launch of the European Certificate Irish Language program, which will be run in conjunction with Glucksman Ireland House. I must admit I didn't know what to expect. But when I got there I saw a table of food and an open bar. Score.

The evening continued with poetry readings and a lot of Irish speaking. I absorbed about 15 percent of the night. But with my glass of wine and the bouncy, traditional music (which makes me weak in the knees) it was smooth sailing. Cap the whole night off with a private show of traditional Irish step-dancing? I'd say it was a success.

Now all I have to do is get back to Ireland (for my sixth visit). Oh what a post that will be....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Debunking NYC Travel Myths

Being born and raised in New York, I never thought about it as a travel destination. I always brush off the wide, blinking eyes and dropped jaws from people I meet on my travels when I tell them I am from New York City. It never seems like such a big deal to me. It is just home. But after comparing it to cities all over the world I see that there really is no contest, if you know how to do NYC right. So here are a few tips from a local to help you get the most out of your Big Apple experience.

1. No one from New York calls it the Big Apple, so before you set foot, be sure to eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary.

2. Subways after dark are harmless. You may hear the shadow of a quiver in the voices of your elders, warning you about taking the subways at night. But these pearls of wisdom are coming from a generation when crime was rampant and hookers hung out in droves on the corner where my freshman year college dorm now sits (Third Ave. and East 11th Street, Third North, NYU....go Violets). Now, let me be clear because I don't want any fuming e-mails from people saying they were mugged on subways after dark. Be smart about it. Don't travel to neighborhoods way out in the outer buroughs. And ladies, don't stumble on drunk with your purses hanging wide open.

3. Times Square doesn't exist to New Yorkers. It's a blank spot on a map, a black hole to be avoided at all costs. The only time a true New Yorker goes to Times Square is when connecting to another subway line (Times Square is a major subway hub, home to the 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, N, R, Q, W, S and 7 trains), and even then they never surface above ground. If you are going to go to Times Square, you might as well stay in suburbia where you can still eat at Applebee's or Olive Garden.

4. It's okay to spend $6 on a beer. When Paul Rudd mocks "$9 beer night" in the movie 40 Year Old Virgin, he wasn't far off from describing New York. Now, I don't expect you to know where to go to find the best beer deals on your first trip to NYC. While they definitely do exist (another blog post for another day), some of the best bars that I know have a pretty pricey menu when compared to bars across the country (I'm thinking of you, $2.50 Heineken at Snyder's Tavern in West Shokan, New York). Your best bet is to start at Happy Hour (typically between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.), when there are often two-for-one deals.

5. Williamsburg sucks. That's right, I said it. For those of you who aren't familiar with Williamsburg, it was once a seedy, blue-collar neighborhood in Brooklyn, right across the East River. Slowly more and more young people moved there to take advantage of the low rents. It became a trendy, artistic community, which at one time was probably a funky and bohemian scene. And then word caught on. Gentrification reared its ugly head and rents sky-rocketed. And now? Williamsburg is a breeding ground for the uber-hipster - the kind that spends a ton of money to look like they have none, and in an attempt to be different from everyone else, they all look the same. Don't let anyone tell you that you can escape Manhattan by heading to Williamsburg. Try other neighbs in Brooklyn like Fort Greene. And on a short trip, you really can't go wrong just staying in Manhattan. There will be other visits to the city, I'm sure.

6. Don't let a cab driver tell you that his credit card machine is broken. It's not. They just want tips in cash. If they tell you it's broken from the get-go, get out and find a new cab. If they don't tell you until the end of your ride, that cab trip is on the house, baby.

These are just a few tricks of the trade that I picked up all these years in the city. I'm sure on your own trip you'll discover a few for yourself. Enjoy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cutting Loose in the British Virgin Islands

A lot of my single friends say I'm crazy for being in a relationship. You're 22, they say. You should be out doing the "single & mingle" scene. You're only seeing one guy? Life is too short!

Ok, so maybe they have some points. But, then again, none of them have ever dated a travel writer - and one who just so happens to whisk me off to exotic locations whenever he can. We just got back from a three day tryst to the British Virgin Islands, where we stayed at Scrub Island Resort, a brand new luxury property on a private island. The bill was comped, the booze was flowing and the sun was oh-so-hot. Relationships don't look so bad now, do they?

This is a shot of our one-bedroom suite. The resort wasn't completely finished when we were there (the fella was sent on assignment for the pre-opening to review the property) but all of the guest rooms were complete. Ours was equipped with a full kitchen, living room, two flatscreen televisions and two bathrooms.

Me posing Sports Illustrated-style outside The Baths, huge rock formations that are a major draw of the British Virgin Islands. I'm no 10 out of 10 but come that's a picture. Well done, boyfriend. Well done.

Now, don't get me wrong. Spelunking through The Baths, snorkeling in the crystal clear Caribbean water (swimming so close to neon-colored fish that they practically copped a feel), dining on fresh mahi mahi, seared tuna, conch fritters and endless glasses of wine and spending each day cruising tiny islands on a private boat (with bottomless glasses of rum punch) were certainly highlights. But the part of the trip I'll always remember didn't happen at the resort. Hell, it happened at a seedy boat-house bar where everyone went barefoot and pictures of topless girls and bare man-ass plastered the walls: Willy T's.

As part of the "true" British Virgin Island experience, we were taken to this popular Caribbean hotspot, where nudity (and I'm certain STDs) are as common as the Caribbean mosquitos. Here we downed the traditional BVI drink, a "painkiller," composed of coconut milk, pineapple juice, orange juice and a lethal serving of rum. After several of these and a trip down the slopes with the shot ski (a contraption designed for four people to take a shot at once) I was ready to get a little crazy. Relax, there was no nudity. I still want to make Mom proud.

But I did get inspired to jump off the roof of the boat. Now, I'm no dare devil. I snuck out of the house when I was 16 once...and I walked to the end of the block, got scared and walked back. So this was a big deal for me. And I have to tell you, the rush for the four seconds that I was airborne was totally worth it. I felt invigorated. The fella and I decided to jump at the same time, "you jump, I jump, Jack"-style. We wasted no minutes. One, two, three....jump. That's the memory I'll take home with me.

So for all of you who have written off relationships, here is my word of advice: don't rule them out completely. Just pick a travel writer. Oh...and make sure to fly separately. That way you can feel free to chat up the adorable surfer on his way home from Costa Rica at the Orlando Airport bar...not that I did that or anything.