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Let me tell you a tale of Mexico that has little to do with sun and sand, will never use the term all-inclusive, and has not a trace of guacamole or margaritas. This is the tale of Puebla, a colonial city about 75 miles outside of Mexico City.
Puebla, the fourth largest city in Mexico, is a city that is well-known by the avid traveler to Mexico. Its graffiti murals are local artistic expressions, it still hosts live bull fights, and its most famous ambassador is mole poblano (that heavenly mixture of chocolate and chilies). But to the tourist that only knows Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, Puebla is literally a whole new world. But this is why it is a must for anyone’s visit to Mexico.
Tiny colonial streets are flanked with candy stores, clothing shops and taco stands. Outdoor markets offer everything from candied peaches to peanuts to grasshoppers with chilies and garlic, and there are at least three indoor food markets that sell everything from chicken doused in mole to cemitas, which are fat sandwiches stuffed with meat, avocado and Oaxaca cheese.
Hotel options are limited, but that’s the beauty of Puebla. You will be hard pressed to find more than a few other Americans. La Purificadora is, in my opinion, one of the best luxury boutique hotels in the city. The hotel plays with the boundaries of indoor and outdoor, as much of the hotel is open air and is decorated with slate, stone and wood. Bright purple chairs in the lobby accent the subdued, natural tones.
Be sure to visit the terrace, which overlooks the San Francisco cathedral, and has an above-ground, all glass infinity pool. (The best views are at night, when the cathedral glows warmly. If you’re lucky, you’ll see fireworks bursting in the distance.) Order a cocktail and breathe in the balmy air. You’re in Puebla. No need to worry tonight; there’s always mañana.
One of the other great landmarks in Puebla is the Popocatépetl Volcano, an active volcano that lazily watches over the city. In the evenings it is easy to see the heavy cloud of smoke that hangs over the mouth of the volcano. As the sun sets behind the beast, it is even more magnificent.
Puebla is not for everyone. You won’t find tequila shots being handed out on the beach, there is no cOcO bOngO, and everyone’s t-shirt manages to stay dry. This is not America’s Mexico. And this is why we like it.
I read an article the other day that says if you slap the word ‘Brooklyn‘ on anything these days, people will buy it. Brooklyn, like it or not, is the new “it.” It was “it” for a while, actually, but now it is so “it” that the people who made it that way are probably hating it already – yeah, that’s you, hipsters. On a recent journey, I found myself in this trendy borough, specifically Boerum Hill. This is a neighborhood of Brooklyn that mixes one part hipster with one part family and results in cute boutiques, restaurants and bars tucked among ritzy brownstones. (Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens are three neighborhoods that are kind of twined together and sometimes are known as BoCoCa, but that’s a really stupid name, in my opinion.) To get here take the F or G train to Bergen Street or Carroll Street.
Smith Street, the main drag, is the perfect embodiment of everything Brooklyn has become today: hipsters, artisanal food and local wares. If you’re looking to become “Brooklyn,” (although, is that really something you want?) here are a few places to start.
Snack: Stinky Bklyn
Cheeseheads and beer guzzlers alike will love this shop. What’s not to like about artisanal cheeses, cured meats and obscure brews? The shop also sells those artsy pickles, breads and about a million other things that would look good on a vintage farm table. (That’s Brooklyn these days, folks.) Tip: Have the cheesemongers behind the counter slice off some of their favorites for you. Order a #1 (prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula with pesto sandwich) and sit at the table in the window.
Dine: Cafe Luluc
Although not the first choice for dinner, Cafe Luluc was a real gem to stumble upon. The plan was to eat at Battersby, a tiny, farm-to-table restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations (how Brooklyn). Unfortunately, this can result in a very long wait. A rumbling tummy means a cranky Meagan so Battersby will have to wait for another time. Cafe Luluc is a great alternative, though. It’s a tiny French bistro that looks like it was pulled straight out of the Marais. Dim lighting, red booths and a wall of French liquors. Tres French. Be sure to order the escargot and the Mussels Luluc. The hangar steak and pork chop make excellent entrees, as well. If you’re there on a Thursday, all bottles and glasses of wine are half price. The cafe is also cash only.
Drink: Char No 4
While the food at this restaurant smells and looks other worldly (in a good way) this is a fine place to sit at the bar and marvel at the entire wall of whiskeys (over 150, to be exact). Chat with bartender Kirsten about what pleases your palate and she’ll whip up a tasty cocktail. I had a New York Sour (bourbon and red wine). Okay, I had three. They were that good.
Shop: Smith + Butler; By Brooklyn
If you enjoy how the cast of Girls dresses then you will love Smith + Butler. It’s everything the Brooklyn youth are wearing. Save Khaki, Zoe Karssen, Winter Session. They’re all there, resting on wooden benches or in vintage milk crates. You can literally feel yourself growing an ironic mustache as you enter the shop.
By Brooklyn sells apartment wares, accessories and gifts all made by local artisans. It’s easy to get lost looking at the candles, dishes, flavored popcorns and more. Yours truly happened to pick up some slate coasters and a slate cutting board.
Gawd, Brooklyn. So dumb, right?…
…Okay, it’s true!! I’ve caught the Brooklyn bug. I just want to sit in my own vintage barn with a record player, sipping bourbon out of a mason jar! I just really want to be cool…
Astoria vs. Williamsburg. It’s a friendly rivalry between my group of friends, and I can say with certainty that we are not the only ones that debate on which neighborhood is better for the thriving, young, New York professional. Do you want more space for less money in quiet Queens, or stimulation and action at every turn in bohemian Brooklyn? It can get ugly. As most of you know, I am partial to Astoria’s charms, but as long as Williamsburg keeps hosting Wes Anderson Bingo Night at local bar Videology, I will continue to try and broker piece between the two worlds.
Last night my pal Jenna was somehow able to drag me out of my apartment on what was the coldest night of winter to date. She lured me with Videology, a video store-turned-bar that hosts nightly screenings and fun games to match. Last night was Wes Anderson Bingo. It’s free. Awesome.
The corner bar is candlelit and has a spacious back room set up like a screening area, with walls lined with DVDs and a giant projector screen. Bingo starts at 8:30, but I recommend getting there about 45 minutes early to get a good seat, because it fills up fast.
Each player is doled out a bingo card and chips. Cozy up with a drink and let the viewing begin. (Might I also suggest ordering bowls of creative popcorn like parmesan and three pepper, or chili, lime and tequila.)
The spaces on the bingo cards have generic Wes Anderson style choices (knit cap, vintage eyewear, plunky harpsichord music). Whenever any of these appear in the movie, you place a chip down on your card. Last night’s viewing was Moonrise Kingdom.
Prizes range anywhere from pre-stamped envelopes (it is Williamsburg, after all) to free drinks and movie soundtracks. It’s just good fun. To be fair, this is a relatively new endeavor and Videology is still working out the kinks, but the atmosphere is laid back, fun and everyone seems to have a great time. And even if you aren’t into bingo, there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night than sitting back in a dim bar with a beer watching a Wes Anderson flick.
We’ve all heard the rumors about Chinese massage parlors. I’m sure you, yourself, have even contributed to the stereotypes. I’m not above the occasional (and obvious) “happy ending” joke. But after last night I may have to place a moratorium on all off-color massage parlor jokes. Why? Keisy.
Okay. Why Keisy? Keisy Oriental Nature Center sits on E 9th Street between Second and Third avenues, on that little strip that is dotted with shabu-shabu and sushi restaurants. A fluorescent sign with red lettering and a sandwich board out front advertising $45 for a one-hour massage is all the pomp that this place affords itself.
Let me get this out of the way: this is not a spa. The massage parlor is up a flight of stairs in a sparsely decorated space that looks more like a row of office cubicles than a place for deep relaxation. But do not be fooled. What you are about to experience is transcendental.
One of the masseurs takes you to a room and leaves to you strip down to your skivvies and lie face down on the massage table under a (very clean) sheet. Then, without ceremony, a stereotypical soothing voice or a hint of aromatherapy, he or she essentially goes to town on your muscles. I had muscles worked that I didn’t even know I had.
I’m not going to lie to you. Parts of this experience were some of the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (you should also know that I have the back of a 90-year-old cripple), but afterward I felt like an overly tenderized piece of meat…but in a good way! These people know what they are doing and they leave no stone unturned. Forehead, ears, shoulders, back, legs, arms, feet, hands and even your nose. It’s all rubbed, massaged, unclenched and stretched out.
You will leave Keisy in a dopey state of bliss, and for just $45 your wallet won’t feel any lighter. It’s a win-win.
Want to make it a win-win-win and keep the health flowing? Head just across the street to Hasaki for a light sushi dinner. The quality is unbelievably fresh and with the green tea flowing, this is just the meal to keep your organs and muscles smiling all night long.
Longest, widest, biggest, best. No – this isn’t an ad for RedTube (don’t even pretend you don’t know what that is). This is Dubai in a nutshell – an ever-changing city smack dab in the middle of the desert that loves its oil almost as much as it loves its superlatives.
There is a lot you can say about Dubai. I stayed at the JW Marriott Marquis, the tallest hotel in the world. I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which is adjacent to the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall. There is also something like the world’s biggest aquarium, the world’s widest structure, the world’s longest unmanned metro line…The list of Dubai’s superlatives is a superlative in itself.
For me, however, the best thing you can do in Dubai is to take a break from the frenzy and the glitz and get outside of the city for something truly unique.
“Dune bashing” is a great way to see a side of the world that you truly cannot get anywhere else, and I am told it is a way that the local youth like to spend their time. Several companies offer dune bashing tours, where you are taken out in jeeps with professionals who literally cruise the sand dunes. The topsy-turvy feeling gets old kind of quickly (at least, it did for me what with motion sickness and the fact that I’m not really one for thrills and spills), but the moments when you get out of the jeep for a photo op will leave you with that, “oh my god I’m in Dubai” feeling. Rolling tan dunes span as far as the eye can see, until you happen upon local bedouin communities. It’s quiet. It’s empty. It’s that little thrill we all need when trying something new.
Check out Desert Safari Dubai, which offers late afternoon dune bashing tours, followed by a bedouin-style dinner out in the middle of the desert. The dinners include entertainment, barbecued meats, salads, shisha smoking and yes, there is a cash bar.
A row of bright cardigans hangs underneath a shelf lined with bowler hats and fedoras, while bowties sit neatly on a table next to shiny black Oxfords. No, it’s not Holden Caulfield’s boarding school dorm room, but you aren’t far off. This is Briar Vintage, a fashion shop selling “menswear, collectibles and oddities” that range from the 1800s through the 1960s.
On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I was taking a stroll through the Old City neighborhood. I hadn’t been to Philly in a long time and I wanted some sort of traditional experience without having to touch the Liberty Bell or suck down a cheesesteak. (Even summaries on Philly’s cliches have become cliche.) Briar Vintage was just the ticket.
Entering the store is like stumbling into Doc Brown’s wet dream (flux capacitor not included). Briar deems itself an expert collector of pieces ranging from an 1880 morning jacket and a frock coat from 1903 to a baseball jersey from 1947 and a 1953 wool letterman sweater. There are also Native American blankets from the 1930s and World War II battleship stationary.
But perhaps the most curious (and interesting) piece in the store is the manager himself, David. David is an enigma. Full body tats peeked out from under his mint condition 1930s gray suit, and I swear his round, frameless lenses got misty as he went off on a diatribe about the anachronisms in the Mad Men wardrobe. The man is a walking encyclopedia on everything from cufflinks and natty neckties to war boots and suit cases. If you have a minute (or 10) to spare, it’s worth engaging him in a fashion history lesson.
If you’re a sucker for vintage fashions, or just like taking a peek into the past, Briar Vintage should be a stop on your Philadelphia itinerary. It’s even possible to book personal shopping experiences to help you find exactly what you are looking for.
Briar Vintage is at 62 North 3rd Street.
2012 has been an exciting year – one that has taken me to 11 countries and six domestic cities. Here are the top five posts that you all deemed the most worthy of reading throughout the year. Allow me to get misty eyed and thank you for all the comments, “likes” and views this year. I look forward to more adventures in 2013 and cannot wait to share with all of you.
This journey from last January took us to Cancun of yesteryear, where girls strip down to the very bare minimum and beefcake dudes line up to drink tequila out of their belly buttons. It makes me smile that my readers found this to be the most popular post.
Not surprisingly, my encounter with my hero (and the hero of many of my readers, I’m sure) was worthy of your attention.
We all have been to the airport, so we all know just how much of a hassle they can be. Plus, everyone likes reading complaint pieces where they get to say, “oh yes, that is soooo true!”
I don my snark cap and tell you that those restaurants with the $$$$ rating just aren’t that worth it.
Every summer I make a list of the top 50 things in New York that I would love do between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You all came along on that journey with me this summer. I hope you were able to create some memories of your own!
In September a very dear friend and I spent about a week in Rome staying at the apartment of our lovely, lovely friend, Pamela. Pamela opened her home, heart and refrigerator to us and we are eternally grateful. Having lived in Rome for the last 30 years or so, Pamela has picked up a few tips on how to see Rome as little like a tourist as possible.
Truthfully, when you are in Rome you will be doing touristy things. How could you go to Rome and skip the Colosseum, the Forum and Vatican City? You really can’t. But there are ways to beat the crowds. So on our own journey to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica, Pamela suggested we look into Dark Rome Tours & Walks, which are group tours of a limited size with expert guides that allow guests certain perks. Our Vatican City tour allowed us to cut the painfully long lines, saving us hours and hours of time.
The three-hour tour takes you through the Vatican Museum and into the Sistine Chapel. The groups are 20 people or less and the tour covers everything from ancient sculptures and tapestries to the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.
Tours are a bit pricey (around $70 per person), but the amount of time you save being able to skip the lines is well worth it, and the fact that the guides are English speaking and experts in their fields will allow you to walk away from Vatican City with a much deeper understanding, which is more than you could say if you meandered through on your own.
Note: Dark Rome offers other tours in Rome, as well as tours in Florence, Venice and Pompeii.
When returning from any big trip (you know, the kind that takes months of planning and hundreds of dollars), I find it’s often the smallest of activities that are the most meaningful. See? Size DOESN’T matter!
Let’s go back about a month and a half, shall we? The scene is Venice‘s Rialto, one of the most heavily trafficked parts of an overly toured city. Tucked behind an unassuming store front, directly across the street from the frenetic (and pungent) fish market is Pronto Pesce, a local fish market selling local delicacies that were most likely swimming just a few hours prior to your purchase.
I discovered this little gem on (where else) No Reservations. Knowing Tony would never steer me wrong, I knew that this must be a stop on my own itinerary to Venice.
The display case, upon first glance, isn’t really all that impressive – especially if you don’t know what it is you are looking at. Fortunately, the people behind the counter speak English relatively well and are more than willing to explain what it is you see before you.
I asked for a sampling of everything. Best decision I have ever made. Smoked swordfish, squid eggs, salted cod spread, sardines, shrimp, shark, tuna. Add to that crusty, rustic bread and tiny glasses of Prosecco, which are filled generously and often. (Prosecco, to Venetians, is like morning coffee and completely acceptable to be consumed before 11 a.m.)
The patrons that wander in and out are undeniably local. Not a Nikon or a fanny pack in sight! If you are on a trip to Venice this is a perfect spot for a light lunch, an afternoon buzz and a peek into what Venice would be like without anyone but Venetians.
I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret of mine. (Perhaps it’s best to send the kiddies out of the room.) I have always had the fantasy of eating sushi off the naked body of a lover. I know! It’s f*cking weird! Food and sex. I can’t say this fantasy to many people without getting the standard “OH like George Costanza!” comment. NO! Not like freaking George Costanza. I don’t want to eat a sandwich while in the act. That’s just gross. I just want to cover a very attractive man with sushi and eat it off of him. Is that so wrong?
Turns out…it’s really not. In fact, it’s actually a thing! Be still my beating heart. My lovely friend Jenna found this article on Jezebel about the art of Nyotaimori, the practice of serving sashimi or sushi on naked bodies. Wow. That’s awesome. The article on Jezebel was nothing short of pure mockery on the subject (are you surprised?) but it turns out this restaurant in Miami, Kung Fu Kitchen & Sushi is offering a nyotaimori special through September 30. I’m going to Miami tomorrow. For real. Just saying.
I probably won’t partake, seeing as the special is $500 and you need about 15 people to actually do it…and it would look a little weird if I showed up to a restaurant for naked sushi by myself (although I’m really not above that).
Anyway, oh culture! Turns out if you have a desire, there’s probably a country that will allow you to fulfill it without judgment. God Bless Japan.