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Aspen is a very weird place. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. It’s ruggedly stunning, the climate is perfect (in the summer. In the SUMMER), and it’s a foodies’ paradise. That being said…Aspen is a weird place. I don’t understand the affluent outdoorsy kind. You know, the kind whose hiking boots are Armani or some sh*t. I’m not judging. Good for you. You make sweaty hiking couture look good. But what we don’t understand we must learn to embrace because otherwise that breeds ignorance and racism and a lot of other bad voodoo. So anyway, yes, Aspen is absolutely beautiful…but it is a weird place.
I gave up any attempt of trying to find the “local” Aspen while out there this weekend. Truth is, it’s a dying breed. “Our local bars are slowly being eaten up by Gucci and Prada,” said Erik, the bartender at Aspen’s Ajax Tavern (try the pork meatballs. Just do it.). If you are really in need to hang with the locals, I was told that Little Annie’s and the Red Onion are two of the last surviving local Aspen bars.
But honestly, if you have the money, there is something in Aspen for everyone. EVERYONE. Skiers, hikers, bikers, shoppers and the undeniably lazy and gluttonous (me). And so, I set out to find my inner Aspen. The Chef’s Club by Food & Wine at the St. Regis Aspen has been getting quite a bit of buzz as of late. The Chef’s Club, which debuted at this years Food & Wine Festival in June brings in four up-and-coming chefs per season to design and execute a menu. This season’s chefs include James Lewis, George Mendes, Alex Seidel and Susan Zemanick (plus Jim Meehan, who created the cocktail list. He’s the only mixologist to have won a James Beard Award).
Aspen is a veritable foodie town. And why shouldn’t it be? The town has access to some of the country’s freshest, most obscure and most interesting ingredients. AND there’s money in the town, so you know that obscure things of high quality sell like gangbusters.
Let me tell you. This was one of the best meals I have ever had. And I eat…a lot. I went with the Duck Confit Crostini with fig jam and goat cheese, a Sue Zemanick creation, and the Colorado Lamb Saddle with ricotta gnocchi, baby artichokes and pine nut gremolata, from Alex Seidel. I was also tempted to order the Warm Green Asparagus, but my waitress kindly told me that I would be rolled out of here on a gurney because that would be way too much food. I was disappointed.
Tip: If you do decide to make this endeavor (and I really, really suggest that you do), be sure to sit at the open chef’s table for a view into the kitchen to check out the action.
I’m not outdoorsy. I don’t ski, I don’t particularly get a thrill from mountain climbing, and the idea of biking down a rocky hillside makes me beg the question, “why?” So if you’re like me, all you can do in Aspen is eat and take in the views. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. What kind of Aspen are you?
And Name that Skyline! continues. New to the game? Here’s how it works:
Take a peek at the skyline shot below. You have until 4 p.m. EST to make your guesses. (Remember to comment ONLY on the blog. Do not post your guesses on Facebook.) I won’t publish your comments until the contest is over, so feel free to guess as many times as you like. The first person to correctly name the skyline will win that coveted $25 AmEx gift card.
If you have never been to Memphis I feel for you. That city holds a very dear place in my heart. It could be because of the slamming barbecue food, the chilling Civil Rights Museum or views of the Mississippi, but the truth is it’s because that city is abuzz as the sun goes down and the seedy parts of your soul come alive to blues music.
New Yorkers will be unleashing their soulful angst tomorrow night, July 11 through Thursday July 12, as the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival comes to the World Financial Center.
Blues legends Buddy Guy and Neko Case will be the headliners at the second annual event. Other acts include Charles Bradley and John Mayall – both of whom have made deep trenches in the world of blues music today.
Best part? The festival is FREE! Performances will run from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. both nights. For now, enjoy some of the soulful stylings of Mr. Johnny Holiday, Memphis blues legend.
There is nothing wrong with seeing your own city through the eyes of a tourist. Most local New Yorkers are so obsessed with seeking out the “underground” and the “obscure,” that they miss some of the amazing parts of the city that have been deemed a little too “obvious.”
I can give you a long list of locals who have never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, because they figured that these structures have always been here so they’ll hit them eventually. Not to be morbid, but I know many people that never visited the World Trade Center, owing that to the same mentality. The point is, you can’t predict the future so you might as well soak up every little ounce of your own city. You never know what hidden gems you will find. Carpe diem and all that sh*t.
Taking my own advice, yesterday I decided to explore Roosevelt Island. From 1921 until 1973, Roosevelt Island was known as Welfare Island, and before that Blackwell’s Island. In the 19th century it was home to the New York City Lunatic Asylum, as well. It runs for approximately 40 blocks in the East River. Truth be told, there still isn’t much on the island today – unless you are into exploring hospitals and apartment buildings. But if you are looking for a bite to eat, a frosty beverage and a killer view, keep reading.
Along the west side of the island, just steps from the F train, is Pier NYC, a small wharf with a wet bar and both a raw bar and BBQ stall. Good to know: The seafood stall, Santos seafood shack, is the brainchild of former Per Se man David Santos. The BBQ joint, John Brown’s Smokehouse, is helmed by Josh Bowen of Long Island City BBQ fame. We sat sipping ice cold beers and indulging in shrimp cocktail while watching the yachts and sailboats cruise against the Manhattan skyline. Not bad for a 90-degree Sunday. Beers are a little pricey ($8), but you are doing something touristy so it’s to be expected. Note: The raw bar accepts credit card but the BBQ joint is cash only.
Roosevelt Island can be accessed from Queens via a bridge at Vernon Boulevard and 36th Avenue. The F train also stops on the island, or you could take the sky tram from Manhattan.
Maybe I’m spoiled…but I just can’t get on board with this whole cruise thing (no pun…okay a little bit of a pun). Maybe I just don’t know how to cruise correctly. I don’t know. This has nothing to do with the actual cruise product because Crystal Cruises is the creme de la creme in the industry. This is sailing in true luxury. The food is superb, my stateroom is beautiful, all balconies face the ocean, the gym is 24 hours. It’s just done right. My issue lies with the amount of time that cruise ships spend in port.
When I was growing up we would take vacations that got us in in with the locals. It was boutique hotels or rental houses with kitchens so we could shop at the local markets and eat what the people ate. I’ve road tripped, backpacked and trained across most of Europe. I’ve taken a nine-hour public bus from Mexico City to Zihuatanejo. I’ve hiked and camped in the Andes. So when it comes to cruising, eight hours in a port of call does not cut it for me.
Yesterday I had all of four hours to see Istanbul. Istanbul! This city has been on my list for years! (To be fair, most international destinations are on my list…but whatever.) And how did I see it? Following a tour guide holding up a big goofy sign. And what did I see? Sure, I saw the Blue Mosque (which, by the way, is only known to locals as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque), and the Hagia Sofia (it’s typically closed Mondays but Crystal Cruises paid for a private entrance – that’s pretty cool). But…that was all I saw. No spice market, no grand bazaar, no kebabs, no secret underground late-night belly dancing clubs (I was most bummed about this part). I just want more!
So here’s what I walked way from Istanbul with:
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616. Istanbul is home to thousands of mosques, but the Blue Mosque is the most unique because of its six minaret towers. It is affectionately known to tourists as the Blue Mosque because it is decorated with thousands of blue tiles. Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country, and all its people are called to prayer five times daily. During prayer time the Mosque closes, but when it is open it welcomes thousands. You are required to remove your shoes and all shoulders and legs must be covered.
Hagia Sofia is an ancient church that was built in the 6th century. It was later converted into a Mosque and today serves solely as a museum. Its dome rises almost 200 feet above the ground and is entirely covered in Byzantine mosaics.
Turkey is a country of two continents. Only 3 percent of the country is in Europe, and the rest sits in Asia. The two sides of the country are split up by the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The Bosphorus runs directly through Istanbul, so when staying in the city it is possible to party in Europe one night and in Asia the next…not that I would know, seeing as I missed out on all the wilding.
Today we are en route to Mykonos, Greece…where I’m sure I’ll have just enough time to run off the boat, eat something Greek and wave good bye.
Note: Due to the fact that tomorrow is the 4th of July, and I doubt that any of you will be reading this on your day off, we’ll postpone Name that Skyline! until next Wednesday. Happy Independence Day! Go do something stupid that Washington and Jefferson would frown upon.
I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions that people have on the glamorous lives of travel writers. Contrary to popular belief, life is not one big vacation. When you, reader, go on vacation, no doubt the worst part of the whole experience is the airport. However, at the end of that tunnel, you have a beautiful hotel, no schedule to keep but your own, and usually about a week in which to enjoy your destination.
Travel writers, on the other hand, spend the majority of their time in airports only to get to a destination, follow someone else’s itinerary and turn around to come home in about four days…only to have just enough time to recover, see some friends and get back on a plane to do it all over again. Allow me an example:
Saturday, at approximately 4 p.m. I checked into JFK at the SWISS counter, only to find that I had been granted access to the Business Lounge. What a nice little start to my press trip, I thought. But airports are fickle mistresses. They can seduce you with complimentary cocktails one minute, and the next tear your heart out and leave you for dead sitting on the tarmac like a shmo…which is exactly what happened.
Our aircraft took off down the runway for an ON TIME departure, only after the captain had announced that we’d be getting into Zurich early. The plane sped up, cocking itself at that slight angle before its wheels lift into the air, when suddenly it jolted back to 180 degrees, our bodies thrust forward as the captain slammed on the brakes….So that’s what those flimsy seat belts are for.
“Folks, we’ve had to abort our takeoff due to the failure of one of our engines.”
And so began a two-hour saga while we waited for maintenance to find a staircase so that they could actually get onto the plane to check it out. And even after that, it was discovered that there was no problem with the engine at all. The signal light was broken. So to the back of the taxi line we went, only to take off three hours late.
Of course, I missed my connection in Zurich and so I had to wait on the transfer line, only to miss the next flight to Istanbul. After I eventually did get rebooked, that flight was delayed due to thunderstorms.
Cut to the next scene: Me on a flight to Istanbul with a French child behind me kicking my seat with the force of some kind of small horse, while her mother screeched, “Arrêt!!!” for three hours. Seriously. This is how I commute to work. The normal employee may sit in traffic for an hour, get jostled on a subway, or what have you. This is how a travel writer commutes.
Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul is a shit show. There really is no other way to describe it. I was told that cruise passengers do not need a visa to enter Turkey. That is a lie. Do not attempt to stand on the immigration line without a visa, even if you are a cruise passenger. (I’m attending the Crystal Cruises’ 22nd Annual Sales Gala this week, if you are interested.) Oh, and FYI, the line to purchase a visa can give the Great Wall of China a run for its money in terms of length. Visas into Turkey cost approximately $20, and no, they do not accept Turkish Lira…in Turkey…to buy a Turkish visa. There are ATMs, however, that dole out cash in dollars and euro. But folks, let’s remember that travel writers are still writers. Making writers’ salaries. And unless you’re a former president or JK Rowling, writers’ salaries ain’t much. No worries, though. Visas are $20, and I had $36 in my checking account.
Hello, Istanbul. Twenty-four hours later. No joke. I looked down at my feet in horror as I saw they had swollen to the size of giant hams, and my toes looked like little cocktail weiners stuck into their sides. My ankles had been swallowed by my calves. At a certain point I also realized that that thing I was smelling was me. How’s that for jetsetting glamor?
Now I sit on a cruise ship and will have four hours to take in Istanbul before we ship off to our next destination. Not so much with the cultural immersion when on a cruise. (And this is a conference…so any free time you would normally have is eaten up with interviews, general sessions and sales presentations.)
Look – don’t get me wrong. I love my job. This is the life I chose, and for every 50 horrific issues, there’s that occasional private jet, epic meal or spa treatment. I love this lifestyle, but it is NOT for everyone. So the next time you meet a travel writer and say to them, “I wish I had your job,” really think about it. Do you? It’s lonely, it’s exhausting, it’s hectic and it will make you want to scream 80 percent of the time. That other 20 percent, however, is the reason why this is the only job I will ever have.