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food porn: weekend in amsterdam

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This year’s trip to London included a weekend jaunt to Amsterdam. 2 days in Amsterdam isn’t nearly enough time to see all that the city has to offer. But… I did my best.

Here’s a recap of the weekend in Amsterdam, as told by my belly.

welcome spread

welcome spread

The trip to Amsterdam had been a long one. By the time I reach my room, I’m exhausted and a bit frazzled. The bottle of wine and tasty crackers my host has laid out looks like mannah from heaven to me.

 

fruit of the room

fruit in my guest room

 

romeo fries plantains

romeo cooks plantains

Shortly after I hit the streets of Amsterdam, I’ve already made a new friend. Frankie, a Surinamese Dutch guy. Frankie introduces me to Romeo – the cook in a Surinamese bar/restaurant in central Amsterdam.

 

tastes of suriname

tastes of suriname

And Romeo introduces me to Surinamese food. I can’t identify half of the items on the plate, but I enjoy every bit of it. There’s some pickled veggies going on here, along with a spicy sauce and plantains.

 

taste of suriname

I would have asked Romeo more about the food, but I know better than to try to get a guy’s attention when football is on. The bar is packed with older gents watching (and loudly yelling at) the evening’s soccer match. Frankie, Romeo, and everyone else in the room is enthralled. I am invisible. Which is great. ‘Cause nobody needs to witness my assault on this food.

 

romeo's catch

romeo's catch

 

late night snack

late night coffee break

 

After dinner, Frankie plays tour guide for the next few hours. He walks me around most of central Amsterdam, pointing out street names and points of interest that I need to remember when I’m on my own tomorrow. I pretend like every street name he makes me repeat doesn’t sound exactly like the last one.  I sometimes have difficulty understanding Frankie’s English because of his accent, but after a while, I tire of asking  him to repeat himself. A little past midnight, my head is spinning from it all. I suggest we stop for coffee. Frankie takes me to a little Middle Eastern eatery with really, really good coffee. I take sips of coffee and stare appreciatively in silence at rotating, shiny meat.

 

my friend frankie

my friend frankie

Frankie moves like a hummingbird. I feel lucky I convinced him to stand still long enough for me to get this pic. My friend Regina had previously asked me to take a pic of the Amsterdam Hard Rock Cafe. Two birds.

 

amsterdam fruit market - morning

sleepwalking in amsterdam

The next morning, I’m up early to make the most of the day. I was out with Frankie ’til almost 2 am. When I spy this fruit market on my morning walk, the colors are so bright against the overcast Amsterdam sky, I think I must be sleepwalking.

 

amsterdam fruit market - berries

 

 

lovechild berries

lovechild berries

The clerk at the fruit market describes these berries as ‘the lovechild of a raspberry and a strawberry’. I cop some. He’s right.

amsterdam fruit market

 

vlaamse frites

vlaamse frites and a scary dude

By this time, I’d been sightseeing by foot and by boat. Time for a snack.

belgian fries w/mayo

belgian fries w/mayo

Lovely people, the Dutch. Can’t for the life of me figure out why they (or anyone) would want to do this to their fries. Ech.

 

belgian fries w/curry ketchup

belgian fries w/curry ketchup

That’s more like it. Perfectly prepared by a man in a lab coat. I secretly dub him, Professor Fry Guy.

 

abraxas latte

abraxas latte

 

tabletop image

pancakes! amsterdam

My view of the table top at Pancakes! Amsterdam.

 

pancake fixin's

pancake fixin's

 

utensil clock

time to eat

 

goat cheese pancake

my neighbor's goat cheese pancake

I’d intended to come to Pancakes! Amsterdam for breakfast, but by the time I make it there, it’s well after lunch. I decide to skip the more breakfast-y American pancakes and go for a Dutch pancake. It’s more of a crepe-style pancake with a choice of sweet or savory toppings. The English version of the Pancakes! Amsterdam website claims that they also have “Glutton free” pancakes available. I wasn’t interested.

veggie pancake w/bacon

veggie pancake w/bacon

 

 

spring roll

spring roll

For my last meal of the weekend, I thought I’d try a rijsttafel – a sort of smorgasbord of Indonesian dishes served with rice.  Not the best plate of food ever. But a decidedly flavorful end to the trip.

rijsttafel

rijsttafel at Bojos

proost,

k

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good travel: what to do (and not to do) in london – part 2

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What NOT to do in London – Don’t be afraid to make a mid-course correction
After a second night in my (teeny-tiny, hot and noisy, with a shower the size of a coffin) room, I decided I’d had enough and spent a few hours on ye olde trusty laptop looking for new accommodations. On the sightseeing tour, I’d gotten a good enough sense of the city to figure out what would make a suitable location for my relocation. And with the help of my good friends at AirBnB, I landed a spot. For 40 USD less a night.

Air Bed and Breakfast

 

What to Do in London – Visit Buckingham Palace with a Head of State

Determined to make the most of my 24-hour sightseeing ticket, I got up early to catch the hotel’s breakfast, drop my bags off at the front desk, and head towards Buckingham Palace. I made my way down the Mall, which was decked out with both the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes in honor of my President’s visit that week. By the time I reached Victoria Memorial in front of the Palace, I had over an hour to wait before the Changing of the Guards ceremony began.  In the meantime, I snapped lots of pics of the Victoria Memorial and the Palace gates and speculated along with the rest of the spectators whether we’d catch a glimpse of the Obamas during their state visit. There was even a reporter doing an on-location broadcast focused on President Obama’s visit.

Buckingham Palace

 

What to Do in London – Catch the Jazzing of the Guards

Since I was quickly running out of time on my 24-hour ticket, I had to depart Buckingham Palace before the famed Changing of the Guards. Thankfully, I set off in the wrong direction, else I wouldn’t have captured the jazzy branch of the Royal Guard – more formally known as the Band of the Scots Guards – who play just before the Changing of the Guards Ceremony.

These fellows have got a mean brass section. But don’t get it twisted. They will cut you.

 

What to Do in London – Carry Change for the Pay Toilets

After Buckingham Palace, I decided to take a ‘bio break’ in nearby Victoria Station and had my first experience with a pay toilet. 30 pence to take a ‘rest’.  A most bizarre concept at first, but when I saw how clean the bathrooms were, I considered it to be money well spent.

 

What NOT to Do in London – Don’t Get Into a Foot Race with Big Ben

With about an hour to spare before my sightseeing ticket expired, I set off to catch the Thames river cruise at Westminster Pier. Since I was still getting my bearings, I had no idea that the pier was less than 1 mile away, so I mistakenly decided to wait about 15 minutes for a tour bus that would take me to the pier. When the bus arrived, the driver informed me that it would take over an hour to reach Westminster Pier, since several London streets were blocked off because of the Obamas’ visit. He also recommended I take the tube instead of walking – a misguided suggestion that I blindly followed. What ensued was a ridiculously unnecessary and comically circuitous journey that involved me departing from Victoria Station, changing to a different line to get to Piccadilly Circus; then speedwalking past Trafalgar Square, and down Whitehall past all the government buildings. Finally, just as I was rounding the bend to head toward the pier, I heard a single gong from Big Ben.  It was 1 o’clock.  My ticket expired at 12:50. Undaunted, I kept up my fast-paced walk toward the pier, and reached the ticket booth a few minutes later.

“Is this where I catch the river cruise with the Original Tour?”

“Yep.”

“I’m a little past my 24 hour ticket time. Is there a grace period or anything?” I flash the ticket booth guy a hopeful smile.

“No, no grace period. When it’s out, it’s out.”

“Oh.” I give him the puppy dog eyes, “Ok, then.” I try to look as if my last hope for living is on that boat.

Him: “What time’s your ticket for then?”

Me: “12:50. What time is it now?”

“1:10.”

I heavy sigh. Wait a tick. Glance wistfully at the dock down below.

“Ehhh, go on then.”

“Really? Thanks!” I flash a cheese-eating grin and nearly skip down to the dock. Slow-footed American- 1, Big Ben -0.

 

What to Do in London – Take a Cruise on the River Thames

After a morning full of fast-paced walking, it was really nice to take a load off on the Thames river cruise and sit back and enjoy the day’s gorgeous weather. From the river, I was able to get a unique perspective of several landmarks. And the cruise’s guide was as much of a comedian as he was a tour guide. Kinda reminded me of Ali G.

The full cruise lasted over 2 hours, but soon after I boarded, I got a text from my travel mates saying they were having drinks at a patio bar overlooking the Thames. I texted back that I’d meet them in a few, and departed the boat just up-river at the Tower of London.

 

What to Do in London – Know Your Monuments (aka, Learn the difference between the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge)

My friends told me that their bar was just at the foot of the London Bridge. As I had just floated under it, I was pretty sure I knew where it was and set off in that direction.

Okay folks, here’s a quick test. Which one of these pictures is the London Bridge?

If you said the 1st one, you’re right! If you said the 2nd one, you too would have had me walking around in circles for more than 20 minutes trying to figure out which non-existent bar at the foot of the London Bridge you were at, when you were really at the foot of the Tower Bridge. Gah! Moral of the story: knowing your London landmarks is crucial to avoiding such gross misdirection.

Anywho, by the time I arrived, I was tired, hungry, and I needed a drink. Make mine a dark and stormy.

We hung at the bar for a few and caught each other up on the day’s adventures. Soon, it was time for me to go collect my bags and move to my new digs.

 

What Not to Do in London – Don’t Overpack

For some ungodly reason, I’d broken with my usual travel protocol and brought a full-sized rolling bag for this trip, instead of my usual carry-on sized bag. Big mistake. Lugging that thing around on the tube from King’s Cross to the edge of the East End was not fun. Mainly because escalators and elevators are not a certainty in any London tube station. But long flights of stairs and very narrow entrances and exits are. On a brighter note, my biceps never looked better.

 

What to Do in London – Stay With a Local

After the misery of lugging my luggage through the London Underground, I was elated to meet my new hosts and absolutely ecstatic when I laid eyes on the bright and cheery room I booked via AirBnB – a definite improvement over my original accommodations. After exchanging warm pleasantries with my hosts – an older couple originally from Chile – I treated myself to a shower and a nice, long nap.

 

London Bridge (Tower Bridge): Reflection on the River Thames photo by Anirudh Koul – Flickr
To be continued…

good travel: what to do (and not to do) in london – part 1

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what to do in london

This year’s birthday trip was a whirlwind 8-day excursion to London with a weekend trip to Amsterdam thrown in for good measure. Since it was my first time visiting, I decided to put together this collection of do’s and don’ts for others taking their first trip to London.

 

What to do in London – Consult a native before you go

Pre-trip research is a crucial exercise for any vacation – especially if you’re travelling solo. There’s nothing better than arriving in an unfamiliar city well-armed with tidbits on where to go and what to see. While guidebooks and travel sites offer some decent pointers, advice from a native or long-time resident is infinitely more valuable, since 1) they probably know your personality well enough to tailor sightseeing recommendations, and 2) they can share off-the-beaten-path or less touristy options that guide books and travel sites might skip. For my first trip to London, I truly lucked up on local advice. One of my travel mates had gone to grade school in London, and would be staying with a friend who lived in the city. I also reached out to a few friends and friends of friends who are native Londoners, namely one Darren Benjamin (aka, Daz-I-Kue) who took time out of his busy schedule to give me a stellar list of sights to see, restaurants to visit, and entertainment to take in. And just for good measure, I hit the interwebs and hunted down these London blogs and local papers that gave me and idea of what would be going on in the city during my specific dates of travel:

Visit London Blog

Londonist

UK Travel Tips

Time Out London

 

What to do in London – Visit a Real English Pub

Just a few hours after I’d arrived in London and settled into my Camden hotel, I met up with my travel mates at a nearby pub that their local host recommended. The pub – called, The Lord Stanley – was just the right size; quaint and cozy with well-aged, mismatched furnishings (a church pew here, some old wooden chairs there), friendly service and a steady flow of locals coming in for a post-work bite or drink. But what was most impressive about the place was the food.  Fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and mushy peas anywhere were markedly absent from the menu, much to the dismay of my travel companion who had hoped for a more traditional English pub experience.  Our London local assured us that the Lord Stanley was a true neighborhood pub, with expertly prepared gastropub menus items that featured fresh, regional ingredients.

Apparently there’s a small theater nearby, because the Lord Stanley was offering a pre-theater special of two dishes for 12.50 GBP. A pretty solid deal that all of us decided to capitalize on. We ordered food and drinks and sat and talked over pints and other glasses while the pub’s chef worked on delivering these sumptuous dishes to our table.

The Lord Stanley

 

What NOT to do in London – Don’t stay at the New Market House Inn

On a recommendation from my travel mate’s host, I’d chosen the New Market House Inn as my base of operations for the trip. First, the positives: The New Market House Inn was close to 2 tube stations, and a short walk from where my friends were staying. Compared to most of the London hotels I’d scouted, it was decidedly more budget-friendly, and included daily breakfast. Plus, the ‘inn’ was situated above a fairly nice Brazilian bar/lounge which to me meant two things: on-tap eye candy and caipirinhas! When I checked in to the hotel, I was quite shocked at the size of the room. From online reviews of the New Market House Inn, I’d expected that the rooms would be on the smallish side, but still clean and up to snuff. And while the room was clean, small was definitely an understatement. Miniscule would have been more accurate. My large suitcase took up most of the floor when fully opened. The shower was roughly half the size of a broom closet. I could barely turn around in it without bumping an elbow or shin. Add to all that the fact that the room’s only source of cooling or ventilation was the window that literally touched the side of the bed and opened onto the fairly busy street below.  Said window let in more street noises than actual air, so my first night’s rest was a hot and fitful one. My snoozing was interrupted periodically by screaming sirens, booming, rumble-y diesel trucks, and loud-talking nightwalkers spilling out of neighborhood pubs. After one night at the New Market House, I began to contemplate a move to more fitting digs.

The New Market House Bed & Breakfast

 

What to Do in London – Get an Oyster Card and a Tube Map

London’s metropolitan rail system, also known as the London Underground and more colloquially referred to as ‘the tube’, makes getting around in London extremely easy and non-intimidating even for first-time visitors. The Underground is clearly divided into color-coded rail lines that cover every major area in central London and links to commuter rails that will take you outside of the city, if you so desire. Armed with my Oyster card – a re-loadable transit ticket – and my pocket-sized tube map, I was all set to tour London like a veteran. When planning trips around London, you should also rely on the Transport for London website which is extremely helpful in helping you figure out the best routes to get from Point A to Point B and all stops in between.

Transport for London website

 

What to Do in London – Take a Hop on, Hop off Sightseeing Tour

On my second day in London, I met up with my travel mates for a hop-on hop-off tour of London with the Original Tour Company. 23 GBP got us a guided double-decker tour of all the major sites in London, plus a free Thames riverboat cruise. The tickets were good for a full 24 hours so it was an ideal way to get an overview of London and figure out which sites we wanted to see more of later.  In about 2 and half hours we saw…

The Original London Sightseeing Tour

 

What NOT to do in London – Don’t Fall for Tourist Trap Food

After our London sightseeing tour, we were all a bit hungry so we departed from the bus and went to a nearby eatery featuring the more traditional English pub food my friend had previously expected. I had the fish and chips and a pint of (I-forget-which) beer. Both were exquisitely mediocre. Honestly, Captain D’s would’ve been more thrilling. After our lunch, we hit the streets and took a leisurely stroll down Oxford Street, oohing and aaahing at all the trendy shops and extravagant window displays in one of central London’s premier shopping districts. Eventually, we found ourselves at the entrance of Hyde Park, a sprawling urban greenspace near the Marble Arch.

 

What to Do in London – Bike through Hyde Park

At the edge of Hyde Park was one of many bike rental stations located throughout the city of London. Anyone can borrow a bike for as little as a few minutes or for as much as a day using an automated rental booth. It’s a brilliant system and we were swift to take advantage of it. Each of us rented a bike (free for the 1st 30 minutes!) and cycled around the park enjoying the lovely weather and the landscape.

After the bike ride, my friends headed off towards Regent’s Park for dinner near Primrose Hill, while I hopped on the tube back to my room to change and head back out for an evening show.

Hyde Park, London

 

What to Do in London – Take in a Burlesque Show

In my pre-trip research of little-known things to do in London, I discovered that the Brits are big on burlesque. There are several burlesque-specific venues in London with a host of performers to suit almost any palate. One such venue is Volupte, a burlesque supper club and bar with almost nightly shows. That night’s show was aptly named Burlesque and Blues – a variety-style set featuring 2-3 burlesque performers, a comedic magician, a live band, and a jazz chanteuse. It was the most polished burlesque show I’ve seen to date. Definitely did justice to the genre and made for an entertaining evening that was worth getting all dolled up for. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures of the burlesque performances.

For my dinner I had a cheese plate and one helluva specialty cocktail called the Porn Star martini – a pleasing concoction of vanilla vodka, passionfruit puree, and magic fairy sprinkles served with a champagne sidecar.

After the show, a dj came on and began playing a nice selection of 80s and old soul tunes as people migrated to the upstairs bar.  My waitress suggested I go upstairs as well and see Mike the Bartender, tell him I’d had the Porn Star, and have him whip up a bespoke cocktail to suit my tastes. I did just that, and after the DJ finished his set he joined me, two other birthday girls celebrating, and Mike the Bartender for a couple of hours of witty banter, drinks, and idle chatter at the bar. During our conversation, it was discovered that Mike’s real name was Mike the Opera Singing Bartender, on account of the fact that he’d studied to be an opera singer. At a university…  in Texas. Go figure. Here’s a little taste of one of Mike the Opera Singing Bartender’s many talents.

 

Volupte London Burlesque Cabaret

 

 

To be continued…

 
London, England photo by TJ Morris – Flickr

foodie travel: highlights of savannah’s food scene

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Ah, Savannah. That historic city that simply drips with Southern charm. It’s a place where you can slow down your pace, pick up a drawl, commune with ghosts, and revisit the past. If you’re an art lover, you’re in luck, since the students and staff at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) have fostered a vibrant arts community there. Beach bums will feel right at home on nearby Tybee Island, and history buffs will hardly run out of facts, figures, and folklore to ruminate over.

But this one is for the foodies, the eatatarians, the lovers of good grub and drink. Because if there’s anything that Savannah is serious about, it’s eating and drinking. Like any self-respecting Southern dame, Savannah does have her secrets. The locals don’t go to the same places that the tourists do, and when they do, they know better than to suffer ridiculous waits or fall for the tourist specials. So if you know someone in Savannah, get in touch with them before you arrive and ask them to show you around. But if you don’t, the following compilation of some of Savannah’s best restaurants, bars, and other gastronomic diversions should do you just fine.

Where to Stay in Savannah: Hilton Desoto
On my last two visits to Savannah, the Desoto has been my home base of operations. It’s not so much that the rates are spectacular, but you can’t get a much better location. The Desoto is smack dab in the middle of downtown Savannah, and it’s walking distance to almost every place on this and most other lists of places to see and what to do in Savannah. Ask for a room with a balcony – the view of downtown Savannah is beautiful day and night, and the ocean/river breeze doesn’t hurt.

for craft beer

The Distillery – Casual atmosphere, respectable brew selection, friendly wait staff. Happy hour specials that get you $1 off all draft brews. The menu features standard pub fare with flair. http://www.distillerysavannah.com/

savannah-the-distillery      savannah-the-distillery-beer

 

for bbq that’s finger lickin’ good (not great)

Wiley’s Championship BBQ – Where’s there’s smoke, there’s usually good ‘cue. I didn’t smell any smoke when driving up to Wiley’s, but the barbecue was still pretty decent. The sauce comes in regular and spicy. The sides are a little more refined than most ‘cue shacks. http://www.wileyschampionshipbbq.com/

savannah-wileys-barbecue3      savannah-wileys-barbecue4

One-of-a-Kind Savannah Souvenirs: Shop SCAD
Shop SCAD is like a mini art museum, except you can take the art home with you. Unique and quirky handcrafted gifts, wearable art, paintings, cards, and housewares are on display. All of the art is made by SCAD students and alumni. http://shopscadonline.com/

 for posh provisions

Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet – there are plenty of Parker’s gas stations around Savannah. But the one at the corner of Drayton and McDonough in downtown Savannah is decidedly different. Even from the outside, it’s hard to tell that this place is a gas station. And inside, you feel as if you’ve stepped into a new Whole Foods concept. Parker’s boasts a respectable wine section, craft brews, a gourmet hot bar, and high-end packaged goods. Grab some items for an impromptu gourmet picnic under the shade of Spanish-moss-covered trees in one of the nearby historic squares. Open 24 hours. http://www.parkersav.com/parkers_market.cfm

savannah-parkers-urban-market      savannah-shop-scad

Savannah’s Historic Squares
Downtown Savannah is peppered with 24 historic squares, each one named for a notable historic figure or event. Grab yourself a box of chocolates and head to Chippewa Square… that’s the one where the bench scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed.

 

for crabgasmic goodness at a bargain price

Fiddler’s Crab House – Savannah’s selection of peel-and-eat seafood restaurants is surprisingly underwhelming. Fiddler’s is slightly above the rest of them for one reason only: the Monday night all-you-can-eat crab leg special for under $20. The joint ain’t fancy, and it’s smack dab in the middle of the touristy Savannah River Walk, but the crab is fresh, perfectly steamed and plentiful. http://www.yelp.com/biz/fiddlers-crab-house-savannah

savannah-forsyth-park-fountain

Hit the Bricks: Savannah Tours and Transportation
At some point you’re going to want to walk off all the good grub you’ve been shoveling down your gullet. Fortunately, Savannah is extremely pedestrian-friendly. For $13, you can download a self-guided walking tour of Savannah. Of course if you’re totally lazy or you’ve tied on one too many, Savannah’s free Connect shuttle will get you anywhere you need to go in historic downtown Savannah.

for saying hello to your little friends

The Crab Shack (on Savannah’s Tybee Island) – They advertise as if they have Jesus on the menu. But in reality, the food is just ok. The service, equally so-so. And the open air, beachy dining experience would be nice, except for all the stray cats skulking about, and the sand gnats making an all-you-can-eat buffet out of your lower extremities. So if you absolutely must go to this tourist trap, bring some cover for legs and arms. Those little buggers can get vicious ‘round dusk. http://www.thecrabshack.com/

savannah-the-crab-shack 

for fresh baked breakfast

Harris Baking Company – Nothing starts the day off as well as a good breakfast. Harris Baking Company offers a mouth-watering selection of fresh-baked breads and pastries, good quality coffee, and a pleasant environment to mull over the morning paper. It’s perfect, not-too-heavy fuel for a long day of Savannah sightseeing. http://www.harrisbakingco.com

The Other First Lady of Savannah’s Food Scene
Paula Deen undoubtedly put Savannah on the culinary map – which explains why so many people flock to The Lady and Sons, her iconic restaurant that features classic southern fare. The food at The Lady and Sons is damned good, but if you’re looking for a more authentic southern dining experience in Savannah, Mrs. Wilkes is your best bet.

 

for food like grandma used to make

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room (Cash only!) – Every time I think of Mrs. Wilkes, I have to drop my head and shake it back and forth like an old woman in church. Partly because of the trials and tribulations I had to go through to get there. But mostly because of the sweet glory that awaited me when I finally made it in! The wait for Mrs. Wilkes can be 1-2 hours, which you’ll spend standing outside in a line that snakes to the end of the block. Use the time to get to know your neighbors, since you’ll all be dining together at that big, bountiful buffet on the other side. Once you’re seated, the aunties start bringing the food. A head-swirling array of bowls heaped high with true Southern classics: rutabagas, succotash, turnip greens, cabbage, mashed potatoes, rice and gravy, black eyed peas, green beans, sweet potato soufflé, carrot salad, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, bbq pork, sausages, biscuits, and cornbread… and that’s just a sampling of the dishes presented. Each is a textbook demonstration of how these Southern soul food staples should taste. Halleluuuu! http://www.mrswilkes.com/

savannah-mrs-wilkes      savannah-mrs-wilkes-dining-room

 

notable mentions:

Here are a few more places that I haven’t yet visited but have gotten glowing reviews from trusted foodie friends.

Eat Like a Savannah Local: Off the Beaten Path
For more restaurants and attractions that may not show up in the Savannah tourist guides, check out: http://www.savannahoffthebeatenpath.com/for a compilation of Savannah restaurants and watering holes that locals love and visitors often overlook.

Seafoodlicious – Rumored to serve up some of Savannah’s best low country boil and blue crabs. It’s located in an area that’s not as aesthetically pleasing as downtown Savannah. But you’re here for the food, not the scenery. http://www.yelp.com/biz/seafoodlicious-savannah

Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House – Paula Deen’s other Savannah restaurant, co-operated by her brother Bubba http://www.unclebubbas.com/

bar.food – Asian-fusion bar food, serious nightly drink specials, and an urban chic vibe http://barfoodsavannah.com/

Zunzi’s Take Out and Catering – gourmet salads, sandwiches, and more for lunch on the run http://www.zunzis.com/

cheers,

k

atlanta travel: getting steamy all night long at jeju sauna (as seen on trazzler)

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The communal bath house is a relaxing tradition that’s found in many cultures, but most Americans would raise an eyebrow at the notion of visiting a 24-hour Korean spa. Rest assured, it’s not that kind of affair, even though the hot-pink neon signage out front might make you think otherwise.

$25 gets you a locker and unlimited access to the facilities at Jeju, plus a standard-issue, one-size-fits-all short set that evokes images of Logan’s Run. If lounging au naturale is your thing, the gender-separate locker rooms have showers, steam rooms, and soaking pools, and for an extra fee, you can have one of the older lady masseuses smack you up, flip you, and rub you down.

You might opt to literally spend the night in the large common area, which boasts 7 different therapeutic saunas – like the Jade room and the Charcoal Room, a large swimming pool, and a quick-serve Korean snack bar. Just a few hours at Jeju makes for a happy ending you don’t have to be ashamed of.

cheers,

k

Jeju Sauna
3555 Gwinnett Place Drive
Duluth, GA 30096
www.jejusauna.net

atlanta travel – touring the future on the beltline (as seen on trazzler)

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Usually, if you want to get to know a city, you visit monuments of its past. But if you really want to get to know Atlanta, you can also take a tour of its future. The Beltline—a multi-year, multi-billion dollar urban renewal effort—is also a symbol of the things Atlantans love most about their town: its historic neighborhoods, urban green spaces, and its legacy of rising from the ashes. Today, the Beltline isn’t much more than 22 miles of abandoned, overgrown rail lines. But enthusiastic tour guides will lead you by bus, bike, or foot on a journey behind the scenes and into the future of the South’s brightest city. Don’t expect pristinely picturesque scenery. Like the future, the beauty of the Beltline is less about what you can see with your eyes, and more about what you can imagine in your mind.

cheers,

k

View other Atlanta travel stories on Trazzler

mayan riviera – the schizophrenic’s dream vacation (pt. 3)

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riviera-maya-map1

Tulum

About 15 minutes west of Coba, is Tulum. Tulum has a casual, beach-bum sort of vibe, and is home to a large number of small, independently-owned ‘eco hotels’ situated closely together along a stretch of Tulum’s white sand beach. By eco hotel, they mean: no AC, solar- or wind-generated electricity from dusk to dawn only, and simple but comfortable accommodations. Almost all of the hotels along the strip offer some type of massage service, yoga classes, Mexican astrology reading, or energy work. There was even a sexual liberation conference going on at one of the hotels close to ours. When we entered the hotel zone, one of the first things we saw were two girls (obviously not Mexican), hitchhiking for a ride down the road. “Nice,” I thought. “I have arrived in Mexican Hippieland”.

We had chosen to stay at Sueños Tulum, a 12-room hotel near the south end of the hotel zone in Tulum. Each villa at Sueños is themed after an element of nature: Sol (Sun), Tierra (Earth), Lluvia (Rain), Selva (Jungle), or Luna (Moon). We were in the Selva building, which was a nice treat since the room was decorated with my two favorite colors – yellow and green.

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They really took the décor to the next level here. Though I felt sorry for those poor villagers at the bottom of the bowl and all the uh…stuff they have to put up with.

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  You could literally throw a rock and hit the ocean from the deck outside our room.

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When we arrived, we were greeted with our complimentary welcome drink… best margarita I’ve ever had. 

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The beach in Playa del Carmen was great, but Tulum was even better. The sand was softer, and the beach itself was wider, and certainly more picturesque. Plus the lounging beds for Sueños guests were so relaxing.

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While Sueños has an on-site restaurant, we found their menu to be a bit pricey, so we headed to downtown Tulum for souvenir shopping and dinner. Most of the shops are feeling the pinch of the slim tourist crowds, so even though a lot of the shops offered the same wares, we tried to spread the love around a bit. My favorite store was a little arts boutique called La Joyas de Adelita. Vicente, the owner, sells a variety of high-quality handmade jewelry made of natural stones, and there’s a good variety of original artwork – paintings, photography, etc. – from other local artists for sale as well. I got a really nice necklace for my Mom and a small print of a painting by Alejandra Mendoza for myself. The caption translates as, “For the trips you haven’t  made (yet)”.

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On our second day in Tulum (and the day before we were to return home) we resolved to pull ourselves out of bump-on-a-log mode and at least make a trip to the Tulum ruins. While there was no swinging from vines, The Mayan ruins of Tulum definitely looked like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, with its ancient, crumbling stone structures set on a cliff overlooking the electric blue waters of the Caribbean. A beautiful sight, and since it was so hot that even the iguanas were scrambling for shade, we joined the rest of the small crowd frolicking in the waves after we finished our tour. I suppose I could have rappelled my way down to the beach, but I didn’t wanna show off, so I just took the stairs.

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After the ruins, we spent a couple of margaritas worth of time back at Sueños, before heading off for our sunset massages at the nearby Maya Tulum hotel. They have about 10 masseuses on staff, each of whom has a different set of ninja-massage techniques they specialize in like Reiki, Yoga Thai, and Mayan Sobada or Yoot Keene – a kneading, abdominal massage. It was a perfect wind-down for the day.

The night before, we realized that the lack of AC in our room required us to sleep with the sliding door open to let some air in. On our final night, I decided to kick the au natural sleeping up a notch and took to the hammock outside for the night. With hardly any surrounding ambient light, the stars seemed close enough to touch, and I drifted off to sleep with the strong ocean breeze rocking me like a baby in a swing.

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I think either my mother or grandmother or both used to say that if you leave something behind somewhere, it means you really wanted to stay there. While packing for our departure, I discovered that I’d left a pair of flip-flops at La Selva Mariposa. Before we pulled out of Sueños, I had to send the beau dashing back in to retrieve my cell phone that I’d left charging in the reception office. About halfway to Playa del Carmen, I realized that I still had our Sueños room key hanging around my neck, and in the airport duty-free shop, I almost lost my passport when I set it down for a moment while browsing the aisles. It seemed like the schizophrenia had reared its ugly head again. Part of me was all set to return home, while part of me obviously wished I never had to leave.

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cheers,

k