Archive for June, 2009

Eating My Way Through London

June 23, 2009

I love to eat, and luckily New York City offers so much variety that I can get almost anything I’d want at any time (my take-out menu drawer is an encyclopedia of ethnic foods). But I am constantly (pleasantly) surprised that every time I travel I discover some unique and amazing restaurants that I wouldn’t be able to find at home. Case in point: London.

I have my recent London hostess, Kajal (and her husband, G), to thank for introducing Tanya and I to several eating establishments that definitely left an impression during our recent trip. If you happen to find yourself in London soon, I recommend seeking these places out (and making a reservation).

Cambio de Tercio (Spanish/Tapas in South Kensington) – All you need to know when you walk in here is “Patatas Bravas”….YUM. Their version of classic crispy potatos with spicy catsup is unique and delectable. Many of the dishes here take a modern slant, such as ox tail with an accompaniment of apple foam. The seafood dishes are amazing, and the service is beyond hospitable.

Apple foam, anyone?

Apple foam, anyone?

Promptly upon finishing our meal, we were encouraged to have not one, but as many tastes of Tilford’s, a digestif in an apple flavor and a cream sugar flavor (think – the top of creme brullee), as we could. We did.

We were (happily) responsible for cleaning out their liquor cabinet.

We were (happily) responsible for cleaning out their liquor cabinet.

Beach Blanket Babylon (French-English fusion in Shoreditch) – This restaurant in the grungy but trendy Shoreditch nabe is on sensory overload. You’ll forget you’re here to eat once you take a gander at the eye candy – models and drag queens alike. The specialty cocktails are worth a try – with just enough sweetness, the La Poire Martini (Grey Goose La Poire with fresh lemon juice, vanilla essence, Chambord and crushed pear) started my night off right (I even had two). The food? Well, not as important as the atmosphere, but that was pretty good too.

Bunny ears and fuzzy boots?  Just a normal night at Beach Blanket Babylon.

Bunny ears and fuzzy boots? Just a normal night at Beach Blanket Babylon.

After dinner, head downstairs to the bar to check out the…um…eclectic vibe:

Now we don't think the bunny ears are so bad, compared to this...

Now we don't think the bunny ears are so bad, compared to this..

Buona Sera (Italian in Chelsea) – Most unique restaurant EVER! They set the restaurant up into two levels of booths, the top of which is accessed by a ladder that doubles as a swinging door for wine storage. Kitchy and fun. And the food? To die for. We tried as many appetizers as we could possibly eat – the bruchetta, the calamari, the fried cheese…wow. I went traditional and had the spaghetti and meatballs, and I have to say, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Throw in some prosecco and delicious wine, and well, we didn’t want to leave (plus climbing down the ladder was a bit daunting after all the wine, but we survived).

A great date place, and of course a unique venue to show your NYC friends when they visit.

A great date place, and of course a unique venue to show your NYC friends when they visit.

Bi-level seating is given a new definition...the waitresses fly up and down the ladders like nobody's business.

Bi-level seating is given a new definition...the waitresses fly up and down the ladders like nobody's business.

Too Scared?

June 18, 2009

Traveling internationally can be extremely exciting and terrifying all at the same time. There’s the thrill of the unknown and the opportunity to learn about cultural nuances that differ from the ones you’re so used to, but there’s also the chance your plane could virtually disappear or your pilot could die while flying your plane. These latter two situations (both extraordinarily rare) are just some recent examples of reasons why people, like my Dad, for example, just will not fly – no way, no how, no siree!

I am trying to imagine life without flying. Randomly, it reminds me of the book Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (awesome read, BTW), where one character travels – by foot and also horse – over hundreds of miles of mountains and plains from England to the southern tip of Spain in search of her true love (it was the 12th century). This took her MONTHS, and oh, did I mention she was carrying an infant the entire way?

No A/C, but it does have a heated seat...

No A/C, but it does have a heated seat...

Fast forward several hundred years when faster modes of transport were invented (trains, cars, etc), and now we have the ability to FLY (like birds!) to where we want to go. Just like that. Thinking about how drastically this has changed travel should make you feel guilty for not taking advantage of it more often!

Imagine never being able to visit sites like the Egyptian Pyramids, Great Wall of China, Iguazu Falls, Taj Mahal or other amazing wonders of the world (many of which I’ve yet to see). And forget these international trips – even cross-country U.S. travel would be super inconvenient. Is fear, or really just a lack of faith in the air travel industry, enough to hold you back?

With the amount of effort and history involved with a Great Wonder like this, it would be a shame if no one could ever actually see it.

With the amount of effort and history involved with a Great Wonder like this, it would be a shame if no one could ever actually see it.

If this isn’t enough to convince you that flying is the most amazing invention ever that will completely change your life, then feel comforted by the odds that you will be killed in an airplane crash are just 1 in 13.57 million. More encouraging stats here, if you’re interested…

OK then? Let’s go see world!

Another Guest Post!

June 17, 2009

I bring to you yet another installment of “places my friends have been that I haven’t.” Peter Shankman, who travels hundreds of thousands of miles via airplane every year for his various businesses, HARO and Geek Factory, was kind enough to take a break from his busy schedule to write a bit about his all-time favorite escape from reality:

Phuket, Thailand

Get off the plane, you’ve been on it for at least 24 hours. Land, walk outside, and take in the first heavy breath of moisture-filled air – wherever you left from, it’s now 90 degrees hotter, even at midnight, and you know you’re someplace magical.

Go to your hotel (Stay at the Sheraton Grand Laguna and ask for a corner dock room) and wake up the next morning to some of the freshest fruit you’ve ever had.

Get a car to take you, in no particular order, to the gun range, the monkey school, and the top of the mountain – take in the beauty that is Thailand. I go back whenever my schedule calls for me to be in Asia. It’s like nothing in the world.

phuket.jpg

phuket2

phuket3

Thanks again, Peter! You can follow him on Twitter here.

Planning…

June 15, 2009

James and I are in the midst of booking accommodations for our New Zealand / Australia honeymoon in October. Since we only have a few days to spend in New Zealand, we’re staying on the North Island and decided to check out Rotorua – an area known for its geothermic activity (read: natural hot springs, geysers, and yummy sulfur odors). The scenery here is supposed to be pretty amazing, and we might get a chance to SCUBA as well.

Given that, the hard part begins – choosing our accommodations. The guidebooks we bought (Frommers, Lonely Planet) give some recommendations, but the choices vary so wildly (Treetops lodge goes for US$700-800 per night, and this kinda cool, yet modest retro hotel goes for US$100 per night), that it’s hard to get a handle on what you’re really getting for the money. Can a place like Treetops lodge really be $600 better per day than most places? What are they serving for breakfast over there, golden eggs??

Is Treetops worth the inflated price tag?  I won't be able to tell you...

Is Treetops worth the inflated price tag? I won't be able to tell you...

I honestly don’t know how we would do this without Tripadvisor. You can get honest reviews from travelers that were literally just there – and they can post photos of the lodgings, so you’ll know if what the hotel is trying to sell on their web site is what’s really there once you arrive. Tripadvisor also has separate reviews on a ton of smaller bed & breakfasts and “specialty housing,” which are common in more rural areas like Rotorua. If it weren’t for these listings, we would never have found A-Kahu, where we’ll spend the first part of our honeymoon. Armed with our trusty currency converter, we were able to bargain with the owner directly and get a pretty sweet deal. By not spending all of our savings on the hotel, we’ll have more to splurge on excursions like a helicopter ride over White Island, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano:

White_Island

The planning continues…

Guest Post!

June 8, 2009

I usually travel to faraway places with an accomplice a companion…and many of my friends are travel-addicts just like me. A few of my friends are so well-traveled, I wonder if they might actually visit every place on the planet in their lifetime. I thought it might be interesting for you, my dear readers (reader?), to hear some travel stories from those folks – so below is the first in what I hope will be many guest blog posts about places I’ve yet to visit (but hope to someday).

My first guest blogger is my dear college friend, Tanya. She was born in Pakistan and has family living all over the world, so she has international travel in her blood. When she studied in Florence for a semester during college, she was officially bit by the travel bug and vowed to live abroad someday. Well, she lived up to that pledge, and is going on three years living in Zurich, Switzerland after being granted a transfer by her company. Zurich’s turned out to be a convenient hub for travel, and the fact that she gets eleventy-million vacation days helps a lot too. With that background, I leave you with Tanya’s missive on her trip to Morocco…

Setting the Stage

Morocco is a concoction of Spanish-Arabian sights and specialties. One can travel through the old souks (markets) of Marrakesh for unusual herbs and spices, drive over the Atlas Mountains for spectacular views, rock climb through the world famous gorges, hire a camel to trek deep into the desert or even wind surf in the coastal town of Essoueira.

Despite sleeping below seven (7!) canvas blankets while listening to camels groaning, spending a night deep in the Merzouga desert is an unforgettably peaceful experience. The native Berber people live life with such simplicity yet make a mouth watering tajine of meat, chicken or seafood helping foreigners feel the warmth of home. Speaking some Arabic can save you money in the markets and speaking some French can save your life especially if you venture off the beaten city path.

Monoxide Miracle in Morocco

My friend Michelle and I headed off into the deserted roads for the faraway gorges armed with our bags and freshly hired “car and driver” from the nearest travel office, but, OOPS, we forgot our common “carbon” sense. We had no driving plan, let alone a hotel reservation, so when we arrived in places we liked, we relied upon the 20 years of guiding experience from our driver, Mohammad. We chose to stay at a newly built B&B, and while it was very charming it, unfortunately, had no heat. We were on an off-roading/rustic adventure, so we chose the charming and friendly host over fancy facilities.

We asked the host to heat up the room with a small heater (or something, anything) while we had dinner. When we got back to the room (after 27 rounds of rummy), the room was cold since the charcoals in the small cement fire pit had lost their flame. Due to the cold, we skipped our bedtime beauty regime and tucked ourselves under five blankets. Within the hour, I could not get a deep breath of air, feel my tongue, my legs, nor properly speak to Michelle. After a few futile efforts of trying to speak or hear, I attemped to get up and immediately tumbled to the ground like a ton of bricks, apparently diving into delusional convulsions (or so Michelle told me). Reminder: We were in the middle of no-mans-land-Morrocco where there was no hospital or doctor for 60+ miles. Our neighbor heard the noise, broke down the door and carried me up to the roof to breathe in some fresh air (and puke my lungs out). This was all the result of carbon monoxide poisoning (which occurs after the inhalation of carbon monoxide (CO), a significantly toxic gas being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, so it is very difficult for people to detect).

Based on the effects, we guesstimate that I took in 800 ppm which according to the toxicity scale leads to “dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 min; insensible within 2 hours.” The next level result is death within 2 hours. Sooooo, the lesson is, unlike us, please be aware that an open fire in an enclosed room is LETHAL.

Read this link to arm yourself with knowledge about CO poisoning (which we didnt have) that every person and traveler should be aware of.

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Despite this frightening story, the photos from Tanya and Michelle’s trip to Morocco were just unbelievable (due in part to Tanya’s great eye). Below are some shots to give you an idea of what the desert was like~

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mor


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Tanya and one of the many friendly faces she's met along her travels.

Tanya and one of the many friendly faces she's met along her travels.