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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eating and Drinking...Mostly Drinking...In the Emerald City

So my good friend Lauren E. is an aspiring chef/food writer/blogger/what have you. And luckily for me she is also afflicted with the travel bug. She was recently on a trip to Seattle and came back with some tasty details of her culinary journey. So may I introduce the lovely Lauren E. (Like what you see? Read more about her epicurean adventures here.)

When I first met my friends who grew up in Seattle, they talked about it like you might describe a long lost love. No city is as amazing, beautiful, intelligent, desired, as this city. Flawless, one might say. I didn’t believe it. In fact, I even promised them I’d hate it just to spite them. I ate my words. And then I ate everything in sight.

Seattle is a foodie’s dream. Locally grown, locally prepared, locally admired. They are proud of their food sources, their culinary stars, and their seafood (mention how much you like Atlantic salmon and you can expect to get the stink eye), and there are restaurants around every single corner. I was only in town for four days but I had one thing on my mind: eating. Below, some highlights.

Serious Pie Truth be told… this is what our leftovers looked like. I was so ravenous by the time we sat down in Tom Douglas’s dark little pizza shop, I inhaled those suckers. Serious Pie does a Happy Hour from 3-5 p.m. Monday through Friday where each of their famous little pies is only $5. Madeline and I ordered four between the two of us and we managed to save a few pieces to take home.

On the menu: Yukon gold, rosemary, olive oil 

Guanciale, soft egg, dandelion greens
 Roasted chanterelles, truffle cheese

Penn cove clams, house pancetta, lemon thyme

Verdict: DELICIOUS. This place was on my radar because the truffle cheese pizza was featured on an episode of Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” but truth be told, the guanciale, egg, and dandelion greens blew everything else out of the water. The crust was delicate and salty, the perfect vehicle for the smooth egg, spicy greens, and shaved parmesan cheese on top (I think it was parmesan… whatever it was, it was like little slivers of heaven). This place is a perfect lunch spot, and if you’re fortunate enough to make it to happy hour, you can sample it all.

Dahlia Bakery Another spot I neglected to photograph on site. So help me God, you walk into this tiny shop, also owned by Serious Pie’s Tom Douglas, and the smell of donuts takes up every inch of available brain space.

On the menu: Cinnamon sugar donuts with vanilla mascarpone and apple butter dip
Coconut cream pie bites

Verdict: HOLY HELL. I’m a donut snob. “Is this the best donut you’ve ever had?” Madeline asked. “It’s the best yeast donut I’ve ever had,” I answered. What a tool.

Honestly, though. Crackly on the outside, sweet, doughy perfection on the inside. One word of warning: you have to eat these immediately. Not only are they better hot, good luck making it home with these suckers in the car. The coconut cream pie bites were tasty, but the donuts take the cake. Pun intended.

Red Hook Brewery As much as I love a good meal, I also love a good adult beverage. And no, Dad, I am not an alcoholic. Red Hook gives a $1 tour which is essentially listening to the history of the company while sampling their delicious brews. Five tiny beers for a dollar? Yes, please.

On the menu: Mud Slinger Spring Ale

Slim Chance (Red Hook’s light beer)
Long Hammer IPA (my personal favorite)

Black Hook Porter
Red Hook ESB Original Ale

Verdict: SICK. Not only do I love this beer (all five incantations), the food at the brewery’s restaurant was delicious. Because every minute of every day was filled with eating, my party opted to snack on appetizers instead of gorging on full meals but the burgers that sailed by almost made me forget that I had just eaten a full brunch. We got a plate of the nachos and a bowl of the clams sauteed in butter and red and green peppers. Thank God I had a good food base in my stomach before hitting the tour. Maybe I was buzzin’ by the time the tour was over. Maybe.

Bottom line: I gained six pounds between when I landed in Seattle on Thursday and when I departed on Sunday. In my book? Success.