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I have very rarely hated a destination that I have visited, but whenever asked where is the worst place I have ever been, Prague always seems to jump into my mind, much to the bewilderment of the inquirer.
I know, I know. Prague is amazing, magical, fantastic, stupendous, ridiculously cheap and something out of a storybook. Well….if any of that is true I sure as hell didn’t see it. The year was 2008 and I was on my quintessential college rite of passage: a European backpacking adventure. We had two days in Prague, which I know is not enough, but when you’re 21 and on a budget visiting six countries in two weeks, you have to make due. Anyway, what I saw of Prague was the petty theft, non-navigable Charles Bridge, and beer that cost four euro.
I never ask for audience participation because I’m afraid no one will ever respond and then I’ll feel embarrassed. But this time, friends, I ask you. What did I do wrong? Where is this magic Prague that people seem to adore? Mozart wrote a symphony about the city. It must be something good! But where is it??
And in the meantime, read this wonderful article on Moravia in the Czech Republic that was in the New York Times.
I’m sorry, but if you have been one of those people on the double decker bus tours in NYC, I have mocked you, refused to make eye contact with you and generally avoided you like the plague. Tourists. Nasty.
Ahh but this weekend I was served my just desserts. I was in Chicago, a new city for me, visiting a good friend who has just relocated there and somehow we were lured onto an architecture boat tour. Just picture a double decker bus on the water moving slowly while a man with a microphone points out buildings of interest.
Here’s the irony: I actually enjoyed it. A 90-minute cruise with the Official Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise takes you down the Chicago River and past iconic structures in the Chicago skyline, such as Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Trump Tower, the Civic Opera Building, the Tribune Tower and NBC Tower.
Sure, locals will hoot and holler from the bridges above and demand that you wave to them and you feel a little bit like a fish in a fishbowl, but for a $35 ticket, a seat and a full bar it’s probably one of the better touristy things you can do in the Windy City.
Other cool things to do? Check out the John Hancock Center‘s Signature Room and Lounge. From the 96th floor you will get a totally sweeping view of Chicago, and one of the best dirty martinis I have ever had.
Take things down a notch in class and grab a cheeseburger (cheezborger!) at the Billy Goat Tavern (of Saturday Night Live fame).
This is a tale of midget Jamaican pirates, luxury suites and jerk pork, or as I like to call it: Meagan Does Jamaica.
This past weekend was a milestone for trippin: a travelogue. We hit our 20th country…and it was awesome. First and foremost, I stayed at Half Moon, a luxury resort right on the water in Montego Bay. (I was in Jamaica for a travel conference and was put up there by our hosts. I don’t typically put myself up at five-star resorts.) My room, a whopping three times the size of my Queens apartment, overlooked the bay and the fridge was stocked with Red Stripes. I love you, Jamaica.
Without a doubt the most popular destination in the Caribbean for tourists, Jamaica has been thoroughly ransacked by the tourism industry. International hotel chains flank the beaches, souvenir shops are bursting at the seams with Bob Marley paraphernalia and Jamaican flags with the silhouette of a pot leaf pressed proudly in the middle, and abject poverty sits right alongside the all-you-can-eat lobster and all-you-can-drink daiquiri resorts.
But through it all, Jamaica manages to retain a very real part of its heritage, most notably in its food. One of the most famous jerk restaurants in Jamaica is Scotchies, a roadside jerk pit between the Sangster International Airport and the stretch of beach hotels. Once a pit stop for the traveling Jamaican, Scotchies has very much become a tourist attraction – but its food has not suffered. I opted for the half-pound jerk pork with sides of sweet potato, breadfruit and festival (a cruller-type bread). Note: If you haven’t had anything “jerk” style…well…you best get on that now. Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica. Meats are dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a sizzling mixture of pimento and Scotch bonnet peppers along with some other spices. You can look it up. Anyway, it makes food succulent, spicy and now my mouth is watering.
And now for the part I’m sure you have all been waiting for. When someone mentions midget Jamaican pirates, they had better deliver. Our last night in Jamaica our group of journalists was sent to check out Jamaica’s newest tourist attraction: Captain Hook Pirate Show and Dinner Cruise. Picture this: About 20 actors dressed up as pirates hijack you on a dinner cruise and put on some sort of ridiculous buccaneer routine complete with dancing, audience participation and dinner. Yes, don’t worry – the price of your ticket ($95) includes unlimited alcohol. We were taken out of the new cruise port in Falmouth around the bay while pirates danced to Michael Jackson, real canons were fired and a midget pirate swung from ropes and leapt onto the laps of women. Ahh slapstick comedy and midget humor.
Look – I’m not recommending this to anyone who wants to see Jamaica. And truth be told, you have to look hard to find the real Jamaica because it has been manhandled by the tourism industry so much that it’s pretty much beyond recognition. But this is the Jamaica of today and it is absolutely a great escape for someone looking to lay on a beach and eat some good food. And if you want to see some pirates dance around for you and embarrass the audience, I’ll tell you that I actually ended up dancing with a couple swash bucklers, laughing and having a pretty good time. But you did not hear that from me.
It’s nice to get free shit. The other week a representative from New York‘s The Kimberly Hotel asked me if I would like to test out the hotel’s yacht cruise that sails around Manhattan. Bar? Free food? Absolutely! If only we knew about the impending lightning storm…
Somehow I managed to talk my good friend Lauren E. (yes, same Lauren E. of www.laurenfoode.com fame – we are close, okay?) into tagging along so we donned our best naval wear and embarked on our adventure.
As we sailed south down the East River the sky seemed to get blacker and blacker. Hovering somewhere over the Statue of Liberty was a wall of wet waiting to pelt down on our tiny little boat. Did someone say Gilligan? Who cares, we thought. Keep the beer coming!…
…until the roof of the bar blew off in a gust of wind.
You would think that would be enough to kill the mood, but we were on the roof of a boat in the East River with a group of 20-somethings, buzzed off over-priced Coronas and about to get hit with a freaking shit storm.
The captain thoughtfully handed out garbage bag-sized ponchos and soon the rooftop (roofless?) boat bar was full of walking, drinking condoms. And then the rain came in buckets. Oddly, no one seemed to move. Sensing his 15 minutes of fame, the captain began to blast a list of Top 40, starting, how appropriately, with Rihanna‘s “Umbrella.” (This was promptly followed by Andy Samberg‘s big hit, “I’m on a Boat.”) Ohhhh the sheer corniness of it all.
Twelve young professionals dressed as condoms group dancing in a downpour on a boat cruising the East River. Did I mention that any time lightning cracked the sky the whole group would yell “wooo!!!” You can’t make this stuff up.
If you want to recreate this experience visit www.kimberlyhotel.com and check your forecast.
Today’s post is a shout out to both foodies and New Yorkers (although the two usually go hand in hand). My good friend Lauren E. (of www.laurenfoode.com fame) is always giving me the scoop on what’s good to eat in NYC, and why Queens is the best borough around. (It was her adamant praise that got me to pack up and leave Manhattan for the better borough.)
Yesterday I learned that burger junkies will be flocking to lovely Long Island City, Queens by the end of the year for the newest outpost of Corner Bistro (according to Grub Street).
Why you should care: If you have never eaten a Corner Bistro burger, well….okay I’m not going to say “then you have never eaten a burger in your life,” because New York is home to some pretty damn good burgers (I’m thinking of you, Diner in Williamsburg). But still, this burger is always ranked in New York City’s top five. Yet another reason why there is very little reason to cross the East River.
Read the article here.
You guys know what it’s like when you walk into a casino steakhouse for a filet mignon by yourself and you end up meeting a millionaire and gambling away $500 of his dollars, right? No, just me? Well then…
Perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning. When I’m in Vegas (all two times) I like to treat myself to an excellent steak dinner. So there I was at Union Restaurant & Lounge at Aria Resort & Casino, sipping my glass of Shiraz, minding my business. A gentleman, let’s call him “Jeff,” began harmless chitchat, as men in Vegas do with girls sitting alone at bars. As the topic of careers came up I innocently said, “well you can always make your millions and retire somewhere quiet.” To which Jeff replied, “Well I’ve got the first part covered.” Ahh my first millionaire.
They are usually easy to spot, ladies. Fancy threads, usually some leather accessory, be it a wallet or shoes and maybe a gold cigar in his mouth. But Jeff was camouflaged as your average Joe: white long-sleeved shirt, jeans and absolutely no leather (he had a moneyclip!). But found me a millionaire, I did. I told Jeff that I didn’t know how to gamble and apparently that was unacceptable, so we headed to the tables for a little Three Card Poker.
Tip: It’s a lot more fun to gamble when it’s not your money.
Three hours flew by in a span of what seemed like half an hour (damn you, casinos and your free drinks, no windows and no clocks). My pile of chips dwindled miserably. (Jeff seemed to care about that as much as if a lump of pennies had fallen out of his pocket and onto the sidewalk.) If you want this story to end with me winning thousands and going off and blowing it all on hookers and cocaine, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I walked out of there with my head held high, three $5 chips in hand, proud of the work I did. Our buddy at the table, Doug, on the other hand, walked away with a cool $1,000, bid the dealer and us a Texas ‘night y’all’ and headed up to bed.
Note: I’m not recommending this to all the ladies out there. This probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but Jeff didn’t ask for my number or creepily follow me back to my room, so I’m still cashing the night out as a win. It’s too bad I’m taken, though. A girl could get used to Jeff’s ranch and villa in Cabo San Lucas. Yes, Jeff has a ranch and villa in Cabo San Lucas.
I just checked in to Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. For someone who tries to lead the quiet life, I sure end up in a lot of high roller situations. Please take a look at my City View room overlooking the Strip. Wipe your mouth, please.
How about that view? Ahh Vegas, how I missed your neon sexploitation and all-you-can-eat goodness.
Okay, time to get into character. Time to explore this behemoth that is the CityCenter complex.
Even the most savvy travelers (*wink*) have a tough time finding a top hotel. Usually I’m thinking up places that I have written about or stayed at before and then begging PR representatives to give me media rates in exchange for a write up. Prostitution of penmanship at its finest, ladies and gents.
But when I’m not whoring out my vocabulary, I’m checking Expedia or Orbitz and then knocking away options based on proximity to downtown and star-rating. It’s not exactly a science. But today I stumbled upon this article in the New York Times Travel section that lists a whole slew of new hotel sites that take a variety of factors into consideration (think child friendly and views).
If you’re planning your next trip, I suggest you add this article to your reading list.
Enjoy the weekend! Tomorrow I write to you from sunny Las Vegas’ Aria Resort and Casino!
I made the observation a year ago that Memphis looks slightly different in the daylight. Nights are blurred and swirled with beads of sweat, booze and music that reminds you of black magic. After dark in Memphis is when you let that seedy part of your soul out.
But the day time is much different. It’s far less sultry. Unless, of course, you are Ms. Zeno. I stumbled upon this buxom diva in a small courtyard off of Beale Street. She caught my eye as she belted out the blues holding the microphone between her enormous breasts. Despite the hilarity, this woman’s got pipes. Check her out!
I’m a Yankee. Born and bred. I love sushi, New York City, and about a hundred other things Northeastern and bourgeois. But, like most great country love songs go, the South has a very real piece of my heart.
I fell in love with what is often said will “rise again” a year ago in Memphis. Since then I made a trip down to Birmingham, and most recently I drove from my beloved Memphis to New Orleans, which only solidified the obsession. Personally, I don’t see what about the South has fallen. For those of you who are not yet Southern converts, I must ask you: why the f**k not? What do you have against the Blues? Or Jazz? Or a pulled pork sandwich oozing with spicy barbecue sauce and mounted, almost pornographically, by a dripping, cold heap of fresh cole slaw? God…take me back where I belong!!
But I digress.
If you should find yourself on a similar soul searching journey to parts of our country below the Mason Dixon, I am a firm believer that you must do so in August. August, she says?! In the South? Madness. And yes, my friends, yes it was hot. But also…cheap. And when you are a writer on a road trip, cheap is always ideal. But August just happens to be the time of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarkswhat? If you haven’t heard of Clarksdale, it’s that spot right at the crossroads of Highway 61 and 49, where famed Blues virtuoso Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his panty-dropping musical ability. Clarksdale is also the hometown of Sam Cooke (of Chain Gang fame). What better spot to enjoy some out-of-this-world Blues and Gospel music from a bill of no-names who sing better than anyone I have heard on the radio.
The Festival is free and runs for three days on a grassy field right next to the Delta Blues Museum (admission is $7 and completely worth it). Food stalls line the field selling everything from rib tips to chili cheese fries. And the beer is flowing. And the music will haunt you in the best way possible as local librarians or waitresses get up on stage and belt with all of their might the songs that they have heard for generations and generations, and no one will ever know their names. But their fans are local, and that’s all that seems to matter.
Barbecue, Blues and Beer. The South holds its head high still.