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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 know I’m not the first to say it…but what the hell is going on in Battery Park City? What is this magical land adjacent to New York’s financial center and across the West Side Highway? Why are people going there?
If it’s not painfully obvious, I am a Battery Park City neophyte. The area of Manhattan roped off by the Hudson River and the West Side Highway, from Warren Street down to Battery Park, is a 92-acre planned community of luxury high rises and, until recently, not much else. Today, however, passersby will find restaurants (including a Shake Shack), a movie theater, and not one, but two luxury hotels.
Everyone knows the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, but new to the ‘hood as of last year is the Conrad New York, a five-star hotel with modern suites and views of the city and the Hudson River. If you’re visiting NYC, this may be a great spot to rest your bones, as it is close to the bulk of the city’s major subway arteries. But if you’re a local, I highly recommend a stop to the restaurant and wine bar, Atrio.
Delicately touched with whites, creams and browns the restaurant gives off a chic, almost Miami feel, but the views are decidedly New York. I suggest ordering the Crispy Black Kale, which comes with Jersey Ricotta, Black Figs and Pine nuts. A plate of Charred Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Pine Nuts is another great option for the table to share. For your main course, I found the Hand Cut Pappardelle with Osso Bucco Ragout and Gaeta Olives over-the-top tasty, and gut-stuffing (but in the best way).
Prices are very reasonable, considering it is a hotel restaurant. Entrees do not go much above $30, so dinner for two will not be breaking the bank. Atrio also serves breakfast and lunch.
Stay tuned for our Springtime Report from the hotel’s Loopy Doopy Bar, a rooftop bar that opens in May.
The Conrad New York is at 102 North End Avenue.
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!
Last night I hit up Jimmy, the rooftop bar at The James New York down on Thompson and Grand streets. I had never been to The James before, but I had heard rumors of its panorama prowess.
If you are looking for a fancy cocktail and a sparkling view of downtown NYC (and yes, a bit of Jersey…but I’ve always been a believer that alcohol and the night help to overlook flaws), take the trip downtown and visit The James.
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?
Here’s the great thing about Montreal: It’s less than an hour flight from JFK. Wait, let me rephrase. It’s supposed to be less than an hour flight from JFK, unless both Delta Air Lines and JFK team up to turn your allegedly brief trip into an epic saga.
It all started when, after boarding the plane in record time, maintenance decided to check the tires only to discover that one of them needed changing (perhaps something to check ahead of time, boys?). After deboarding and reboarding (and another two hours of sitting on the runway due to signal chaos), finally we were airborne (and all a little cranky).
But despite the headaches of JFK and Delta, the arrival in Montreal is so pleasant that it’s easy to transition seamlessly into laid-back European mode.
How could you not love this city? It’s a destination for Francophiles, artists, musicians, foodies, barflies, young, old….the list goes on. Home to four universities, the city has 40,000 college students, which breathes energetic life into sleepy, cobblestoned streets. Case in point: Every Sunday night in the summer, Montreal is home to Piknic Électronik – an all-day outdoor festival with wine and electronic music that only gets more and more frenetic as the night goes on (and inebriation sets in). Around 10 p.m. the scene erupts into an all-out dance party – on a Sunday night. Who doesn’t love coping with the Sunday night blues by grinding up with their fellow neighbor on a wine buzz with a fresh suntan? Ahh youth.
Tomorrow is set aside for a full day of exploration, but this evening we were given a taste of local cuisine at Restaurant L’Autre Version. The restaurant sits in a building that dates back over two hundred years. Inside the atmosphere is modern and urban, while the back garden is more Provence-meets-Miami with ivy-covered walls and canopied daybeds. Chef Pascal Cormier came out to greet our table (and I was not disappointed…hello ruggedly handsome chef with a French accent…) to talk about his menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. I opted for the venison tartare and grilled mahi-mahi served ‘puttanesca’ style with Kalamata olives and capers.
Tonight we crash at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal in the heart of downtown. Tomorrow is devoted to a culinary tour of the city and individual exploration. Not bad for a little taste of Europe just an hour outside of New York…assuming JFK will actually let you leave.
What I have always loved about this job is, despite the loneliness of being in some of the world’s most beautiful places alone, you usually meet other solo travelers and for a brief moment you are able to connect with people who completely understand how comfortable it feels to be anywhere but home.
After debarking in St. Maarten, I was able to tag along with a couple of friends I have made along the way in this biz. They were renting a car and driving around the island with no real destination in mind. The point was to just see.
It’s easy to rent a car from the cruise terminal – a station is literally right at the pier. So we made our way, sans GPS and new-fangled technology (just a shitty little road map) all the way around the island, stopping periodically to gape at the water – a perfect gradient from aqua to sapphire. But anyone who has ever been to the Caribbean admires the water, so for me the real joy was having no plan whatsoever, tooling around the island’s dusty back roads with three other victims of wanderlust.
St. Maarten is divided in two: the French side and the Dutch side. The cruise ships and the main airport are both on the Dutch side, but it is less than a half hour’s drive to make your way over to the French area, which is much more beautiful and charming. On your way around the island you will pass through Oyster Bay, which is quite trafficked as you come upon it, but slowly becomes more and more desolate the further you go down. Stop by Boo Boo Jam (yes…that is the name) for an ice cold Presidente beer and a few glimpses of the topless lades (because, yes, that is allowed on St. Maarten).
Stop for lunch in Grand Case, a tiny community flanked with beach-side restaurants serving up the local catch and grilling ribs on giant outdoor racks. We stopped at The Rib Shack and for $9 each sucked on juicy ribs and devoured plates of side dishes. A beer is also a lovely $1.50. (Prices are in Euro and Dollars, but the ratio in St. Maarten is one-to-one, so it’s favorable to pay in dollars.)
Unfortunately my companions had to embark back on the Oasis of the Seas to finish up the conference we were covering. I hung back in St. Maarten for the night and I’m writing to you from my balcony at Simpson Bay Resort & Marina, bottle of wine, loaf of bread and cheese at my side. I need to be well rested for my early flight to the British Virgin Islands tomorrow, where I will give Richard Branson a run for his money in the meaning of luxury. On to Villa Aquamare.
Oh ski culture, perhaps I was too quick to judge you. For years I have adamantly cursed this winter sport. Who would voluntarily rocket down a mountain strapped to two boards, thighs burning, wind smacking your face, only to reach the bottom of the mountain and do it all over again? But after trip up to the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, I have discovered that I am actually quite a big fan of the ski culture…minus the actual skiing.
This awkward time of year, when the ski season is over and it’s not quite warm enough for summer activities, is the perfect time to revel in ski culture sans ski: Eat, drink and relax, three things that I am very, very good at.
The lodge sits all the way at the top of Mountain Road, about 10 miles off the main drag in Stowe – perfect for isolation and mountain views. In fact, on the drive up we were hit with a fresh sprinkling of snow, just to make our arrival that much more picturesque.
If you should find yourself in Stowe in the early spring or late fall months, I highly recommend a stay at this resort. The majority of its rooms have views of the mountains and slopes (which are very nice to look at, especially when you know you won’t be going anywhere near them). The lobby/lounge area has several fireplaces, which are perfect for cozying up next to with a beverage and a book, and the food is out of this world. We were lucky enough to have the executive chef whip up a selection of the menu’s top sellers (flatbreads, pot roast, mussels, fried brussels sprouts and a variety of sorbets).
When you aren’t eating (which will be rarely), you should be at the spa, where it is easy to get lost for about three hours. If you book a treatment, which are incredibly affordable ($150 for a massage), you have all-day access to the Healing Lodge – a room with lounge cabanas, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and cold showers.
The town of Stowe is…quaint, but definitely intended for tourists. We made the trek in to check it out, purely for research purposes, but found that there was just more fun to be had at the resort. However, we did manage to find Frida’s, a small Mexican restaurant that seemed to be the only joint in town selling brunch on a Saturday. Mexican food in Vermont? Yes. Seriously – the lengua and al pastor tacos were slamming.
So what did we learn today? Watching the snow blanket the mountains, drinking by the fire, eating until you need to unbutton your pants, and getting rubbed down with aromatic oils in the spa is everything about ski culture that I can get on board with. And the getting on anything stops there. Sorry skis.
Stowe is about a five-hour drive outside of New York City, or a one-hour flight from JFK into Burlington.
Stay tuned for my next non-ski adventure in Aspen in July.
Is there anything greater than a nice hotel? I mean a really nice hotel – the kind with 27 throw pillows on the bed and heated bathroom floors (because god forbid your feet get cold). Having said that, there are certain aspects to even the best hotel that, when lacking, can render the journey more of an annoyance than an indulgence. Here are my top five hotel pet peeves.
I understand that the vacation is supposed to begin immediately upon arrival - I really do, and I appreciate that. But perhaps the bellman culture is one that society can gracefully retire. My bag has wheels. It’s really not that much of an effort for me to drag it into the elevator and then into my room. If the bellman is insistent, I’m usually then waiting 25 minutes for my luggage to arrive and then on top of all of that, I need to tip the guy who brought me what didn’t really need to leave my sight in the first place.
2. Access Denied
It’s time to upgrade the technology of room keys. Some of these keys are so sensitive that they need to come with instruction manuals (and therapists). “Don’t put the key next to a credit card, or near a hot surface, or in your pocket.” Thank you for making the key so slim that it could fit into my wallet, but if everything in my wallet is going to deactivate it I’d rather just have a regular key. I’m not a fan of wandering to the front desk in the wee hours of the morning because my room key decided it didn’t like the way I spoke to it.
This may seem small, but no outlets near the bedside table is my number one pet peeve. I am sure that 90 percent of you bring your laptops into bed (for whatever late-night browsing you may be doing – I’m not here to judge). Having a spot to plug that puppy into that is close by is essential. And even if you aren’t a late-night laptopper, having your cell phone within arms reach is just a given in this 24/7 digital world. No one wants to walk across the room to respond to a text message.
This will surely receive a resounding “duh.” First and foremost, if a hotel doesn’t even have wi-fi I’m not sure I would even stay there (unless it’s one of those ‘unplugged couples-retreaty’ resorts meant for gazing longingly at one another. But I’m 24; that ain’t happening). So let’s assume that most hotels do have wi-fi, in which case, the problem would be charging for it. If it’s a luxury hotel, my issue is that I’ve shelled out an arm and a leg to be there. Certain amenities should be included. Even if it is your regular mid-market brand, how much does wi-fi really cost that you need to charge me $30 a day for it (at least)?
5. Ever-Present Housekeeping
I used to think I just had poor timing, until I chatted with other avid hotel visitors who share a similar gripe. Housekeeping is ALWAYS around! First they are knocking on my door at 8 a.m. (I’m on vacation…go away.) Then they come back around at 10 am. (I’m still not up.) When I do leave my room, perhaps to go to the pool, and then come back to change, there they are detailing my entire bathroom with a Q-tip. How dirty do you think I made this bathroom in the two days I have been here? I really just need the bed made and the trash taken out. That will earn you a lovely tip. No need for the above-and-beyond.
It’s very rare that I get to experience the same destination twice, unless it’s Vegas (thank you, travel industry, and your endless trade shows for that). Even more rare is it that I get to experience a city twice from two completely different perspectives. Before we say goodbye for the long holiday weekend, let me leave you with the two sides of Berlin.
Berlin on a Budget
Where to Stay: If you’re opting for the budget route, you can’t go wrong with Helter Skelter Hostel. It’s clean, cheap and centrally located in the Berlin Mitte district (close to the Brandenburg Gate, National Gallery, Friedrichstrasse and more).
See the Sights: Berlin is a city to meander. It’s flat. Very flat. So walking (or biking) is a must. There are plenty of tours that cater to whatever your needs may be. Fat Tire Bike Tours is an awesome way to see the city by bike. Young tour guides lead you around to the city’s most notable attractions (and throw a beer garden or two in there). You will hit the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Tiergarten, Babelplatz, the Holocaust Memorial, numerous remnants of the Wall, and more. For those of you who aren’t avid bikers, trust me, you will love this. I’m bicycle-challenged and I did just fine (aside from biking into a brick wall…another story for another time).
Dining: Street food is ubiquitous across all cultures, so why should Berlin be any different? If you’re looking to go cheap without sacrificing taste, hit up one of the many currywurst stands that can be found across the city. Currywurst is a Berlin specialty made of some kind of sausage with ketchup and curry powder. (It tastes especially good at 3 a.m. with a belly full of the local brew.)
Nightlife: Berlin has a nightlife unlike almost any other destination. The locals love to party, and do so in some obscure ways. On my own budget journey to Berlin I asked my Fat Tire tour guide what she recommended, and it led to a very epic evening, so you may want to start there. Be sure to check out Dr. Pong bar. Note: Berlin has one of the fastest turn-over rates of any city, so what is hot one month may be completely gone the next.
High Society Berlin
Where to Stay: If it’s luxury you crave, then it must be the Ritz-Carlton, Berlin. Right on Potsdamer Platz, the hotel is within walking distance to much of Berlin’s best sights. And it’s the Ritz-Carlton. Is there really more that needs to be said?
See the Sights: For something a little more high-end and customizable, look into Culture Trip, a tailor-made program that specializes in all things culture (think architecture, museums, galleries, food and more). Be sure to ask for Virginia Giordano, who is a fountain of useful information and tips.
Dining: Berlin is an epicurean playground, especially for the most discerning tastes. Check out Pauly Saal, a former Jewish girls’ school-turned-restaurant, which has quickly become one of the trendiest scenes in Berlin.
Nightlife: You know how I feel about the club scene. Pass, please. But I’m not here to judge those that love it, and if you love clubbing Berlin is the city for you. I won’t even begin to call myself an expert on Berlin’s clubs, but I hear that Cookies and WaterGate are two firmly established venues that seem to please the “bottle service” crowd. But again, you may need to consult someone with deeper pockets than myself for where the Berlin elite go to imbibe.