Posts in recipes for travel
antelope canyon - how to find a moment of peace amidst the chaos
antelope canyon - recipes for travel
antelope canyon - recipes for travel

Antelope Canyon. A breathtaking place. A magical place. Also a very hectic place. Upper Antelope Canyon is heavily visited by groups of tourists wanting to witness and capture its unique beauty. We were one of at least a dozen groups of 10-12 people that filed through the twisting canyon during our fast-paced visit.

Our guide, McCarr, was a small, no-nonsense Navajo woman who let us know in no uncertain terms that we were to follow her instructions or be met with her motherly wrath. During her intro speech while were still parked in the vistors’ lot, She spoke to us like stern matriarch would have when we were little. ‘Look, when we go in this store don’t u go asking for nothin’, touchin’ nothin’ and don’t wander off and get lost. And don’t make me have to tell you twice!’ One of our group, a grown man of at least 40, fell behind a couple of times during our tour because he wanted to take more pictures. I witnessed McCarr smack his hand while he was attempting to take a picture. A grown man!

But like a mama or auntie, she was stern because she knew what was good for us (and she had much more experience in the sometimes-unpredictable canyon than we did (an Antelope Canyon flash flood in 1997 killed 11 hikers). And since no one in our subgroup of 5 girlfriends openly defied her – or at least didn’t get caught doing so – she rewarded us by taking some amazing photos of us and our birthday-girl  and helping us get just-right shots of key features and the ever-shifting shafts of light within the canyon. The rest of the tour, though, was all yelling and ‘hurry-ups’ and ‘move-alongs’ and ‘come this way, no I said this way!’, while trying not to run into or be run over by the next tour group frantically snapping pics in front of and behind us.

In the midst of the madness, which I had expected from reading tour reviews, I tried to have a more serene and memorable experience with the canyon, which, quite honestly, filled me with a sense of joyful awe. I let my arm drag along the canyon wall as I walked slowly at the tail end of our group, the underside of my forearm, my palm and the pads of my fingertips gliding along the cool, smooth- grooved surface of the canyon, stopping for a moment to press my cheek against the coolness, then my right and left eyelids - which temporarily relieved the irritated feeling from all the fine dust and sand swirling around. The sensory experience of my physical existence being introduced to the canyon's would last longer than the photos, I figured. Or at least, it would add a richer element to the memories when I perused the photos later today and years on.

Have you ever visited Antelope Canyon? What was your experience like?

are you ready to travel solo?
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People’s opinions about travelling solo usually fall into one of two camps. It’s either one of the boldest, most exciting ideas they’ve ever heard:

It’s so empowering!

It takes guts!

Why wait on someone else, when you can just go?

Or, it’s something that they’d never consider doing:

It’s dangerous!

I’d be bored!

What if the kidnappers come, and Liam Neeson doesn’t come save me?

I’ve been travelling solo for years now. Not necessarily because I love it or even prefer it, but mainly because my desire to travel exceeds my ability to wait for someone else to be able and ready to join me. I also know that my travel style isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea – so to avoid conflict, I often opt for the solo adventure.

Does that make me a solo travel expert? Hardly. But I often see many women asking of other solo women travelers how we got the nerve/confidence/lady cojones to travel all by ourselves, so I thought I’d wrangle up some questions worth asking yourself if you think you might be ready for solo travel.

find out if you're ready for solo travel
find out if you're ready for solo travel

How Easily Do You Make New Friends?

Can you find something you have in common with almost anyone? Are you the one at a party who flits among various groups and dips in and out of multiple conversations with ease? Those extrovert social skills will definitely come in handy when you’re travelling on your own.

If you’re more of the introverted, wallflower type, you might still consider travelling alone… in a group. Group tours, cooking classes and local meetup groups can make it easier for shyer types to not feel so lonely when travelling alone. Cruises are also a great option for some solo travelers who like being on their own, but still want to be surrounded by somewhat familiar people.

How Do You React to Unfamiliar or Ambiguous Situations?

Are you ok with having to find your way in a new place? Getting lost? Not knowing what other people around you are saying? Having to use rudimentary sign language to get your point across? International solo travel is right up your alley! If you’re ok with everything not being exactly the way it is back home (this could include anything from acceptable clothing to toilet facilities), then you’ll be just fine on your own in foreign locales.

If the very thought of the situations described above is enough to make you break out in hives, then maybe you should start out by travelling solo somewhere closer to home – somewhere with more familiar food, language, sights and sounds. Stay in a hotel chain that you’ve stayed in before; book a room at a bed-and-breakfast in a neighboring state; visit a well-documented, much-visited historical site and enjoy your trip without feeling like a fish out of water. If you're still determined to go abroad, try a country where language or unfamiliar customs won't be a barrier.

best solo travel tool
best solo travel tool

How Strong / Accurate Is Your ‘Little Voice’?

I’ve said it many times – my best travel tool is my intuition, aka, ‘the little voice’. The little voice tends to grow stronger and more accurate with experience, so if you’ve already travelled extensively with others or have lived in a major city where you may regularly encounter potentially shady characters or situations, your little voice is likely well-tuned.

On the other hand, if people who know you well refer to you as ‘too trusting’, or ‘naïve’ (and you know they’re telling the truth), or conversely, if you think EVERYone is a potential murderer/terrorist/rapist, then maybe you should enhance your intuition a bit before striking out on your own.

How Curious Are You?

My biggest motivation for non-work-related travel is curiosity. What’s happening elsewhere? What do people eat there? How do they spend their free time? Are the mens cute? If you’re the curious and exploring type who can only be satisfied by seeing and experiencing something for yourself, that curiosity will not only be a catalyst for you to book your solo trip, it will also make what happens on your trip more memorable and satisfying.

How Much Do You Enjoy Your Own Company?

Let’s face it, there’s likely to be times when even the most gregarious girl won’t be able to make a single-serving friend while travelling. If you’re like me and grew up as an only child, or have otherwise mastered the art of entertaining yourself for days on end, you’ll probably already be back home from your solo trip before you start to feel lonely.

If being away from friends and on your own for long periods of time seems like it would be unbearably lonely or boring, consider keeping yourself occupied by journaling, reading, or catching up on movies or tv shows (hey, you paid for that nice hotel room, might as well use it). Use social media to keep your family and friends abreast of your ecap your daily solo travel experiences with loved ones back home with the free wi-fi calling features on Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.

solo travel ksolo
solo travel ksolo

How Much of a Girl / Boy Scout Are You?

Preparedness is key when travelling solo. If you know how to use a map, can hunt down a super-strong and totally-free Wi-Fi signal like a trained animal, or always have the latest travel apps and tools downloaded to your cell phone, you’re ready to earn your solo travel badge, scout. Likewise, if you know how to keep your cool in case of a travel emergency.

As you can see, solo travel isn’t made for just one type of person. Even if you’re not the fiercely independent, throw-caution-to-the-wind sort that many assume you need to be in order to pursue solo travel, you can still enjoy travelling on your own. You just need to find the type of solo travel that best suits you, then get out there to see the world!

Are you an experienced solo traveler? What other skills or traits do you think someone should have before going on a solo trip?

summer travel: 3 travel junkies share their travel philosophies
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I’m starting to get that itch again. The travel itch. I find myself perusing travel sites multiple times a day to see what specials or discounts are being offered. I stare enviously at other folks’ online photos of their recent trips. I refresh my mental inventory of friends across the globe… “Who do I know that lives in (insert faraway city here)? Wonder if they’ll let me crash in their spare bedroom?”

I know I’m no exception. It seems most everyone I know is stricken with travel fever during summer. But some folks have that fever all year long. They are travel junkies, so to speak.

Since my budget and current work schedule are severely limiting my ability to scratch my travel itch, I thought I’d live vicariously through 3 travel junkies whose unique travel styles seem to reflect their attitudes toward life in general.

 

Travel Junkie # 1: Rue Mapp

Rue is the founder and Chief Outdoor Enthusiast of Outdoor Afro – a nationwide community of Black nature lovers. Growing up between urban Oakland and a northern California ranch, she developed an early love for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing and hunting. Through Outdoor Afro, she fosters local communities of Black outdoor adventure seekers, and creates events that encourages them to reconnect with nature.

How would you describe your travel personality?

I am a nature historian. I connect with land not only because of its beauty and potential, but also by relating to connected people, culture, and ecology.

 

What is your favorite summer vacation spot?   

Any place near a lake! I particularly enjoy going to Buck's Lake in Northern California each year as part of our annual family camping trip.

 

What are your favorite online tools for traveling / travel planning (e.g., couchsurfing, AirB&B, Kayak, etc.)?

I prefer to just put the word out in my personal network, or via Outdoor Afro, which I founded and manage. I trust people to share with me based on something they already know about me and what I care about.

 

How many countries have you visited?

Just 3 - although I am quite the Americanist!

outdoor-afro-logo

Any other thoughts on travel?

One goal I have is to go to Brazil with my three children before they are grown - so any leads/tips to make this happen would be appreciated!

Visit the Outdoor Afro website

Follow Outdoor Afro on Facebook

 

Travel Junkie # 2: Walter Allen

Walter is a good friend of mine who really knows how to blend business with pleasure. His job takes him out of town and out of the country quite often, and he takes advantage of the opportunity to do and see more, either by extending work trips to do some personal sightseeing, or by using all that mileage he’s racked up to chart his own course to adventure. We joked recently that he’ll probably spend a good portion of his summer checking in at Hartsfield-Jackson airport here in Atlanta.

How would you describe your travel personality?

I am the laid back, do what you want to, when you want to type of traveler.  I am one for new cultures and adventures as well.  I take the "try it once" approach to traveling!

 

What is your favorite summer vacation spot?

With me having a "try it once" approach to traveling, I can't say that I have a favorite summer spot.  I will say that when I am traveling during the summer, I tend to look for a beach location. The beaches/locations I have enjoyed the most have been: Haulover Beach in North Miami, Canary Islands, Cayman Islands, and Santos, Brazil.

 

What are your favorite online tools for traveling / travel planning (e.g., couchsurfing, AirB&B, Kayak, etc.)?

Delta.com, Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, islandhideaways.com

 

How many countries have you visited?

12+

 

Travel Junkie # 3: Greg Gross

Greg is not only a travel junkie, he’s also a travel evangelist. His mission? “To encourage all Americans, especially Americans of color, to see more of the world.” He spreads his gospel via his personal blog, I’m Black and I Travel!, which is a blend of Greg’s personal travel accounts and his insightful commentary on destinations and experiences of interest to travelers of color. Both his travel and writing styles are intriguing, as evidenced by his winning the title of ‘Best Travel Blog’ in the 2011 Black Weblog Awards.

How would you describe your travel personality?

My travel personality is eclectic. I'm equally comfortable in a 5-star hotel, a cruise ship, an all-inclusive resort or a sleeping bag in a tube tent strung between two trees. Lively metropolis or peaceful forest. Group tours or independent travel. I'm fine with all of it.

 

What is your favorite summer vacation spot?   

Only one?  In that case, I'll say San Francisco, followed VERY closely by Vancouver.

 

What are your favorite online tools for traveling / travel planning (e.g., couchsurfing, AirB&B, Kayak, etc.)?

I've learned not to have favorites when it comes to online travel planning. The field changes constantly. I use what works best for me on a given day. Over the years, I've had success with Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire, Priceline, Kayak, CheapoAir, Momondo and Dohop.

 

How many countries have you visited?

20

Any other thoughts on travel?

These days, my travel is no longer confined to summers. I may go anywhere at any time. But for me, the ideal summer travel is one that gives me everything I'm looking for in a destination, but with a minimum of crowds. Not easy to find! But then, what's life without a challenge, right?

Visit Greg’s blog: I’m Black and I Travel!

Follow I’m Black and I Travel! on Facebook

 

cheers,

k

photo: "Where I've Never Been"- graphic illustration available for purchase from 3LambsIllustration on Etsy

how to eat your way though amsterdam in a weekend
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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

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

 

romeo fries 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

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

 

late night snack

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

abraxas latte

 

tabletop image

My view of the table top at Pancakes! Amsterdam.

 

pancake fixin's

 

utensil clock

 

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

 

 

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

proost,

k

how to go on an eating spree on atlanta's buford highway
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You know, you really have to be careful about the kind of people you hang with. The wrong crowd can get you caught up in all kinds of foolishness, and truly cause you to lose all sense of yourself. Such was the case this past spring when a food-loving friend invited me to join some other food-loving friends for a little dim sum at Gu's Bistro. What started as a simple weekend lunch gathering turned into a multi-hour, multi-stop foodie bender along Buford Highway.

The limits of decency (and my waistline) were definitely stretched.


gu's bistro

 

chengdu cold noodles - gu's

zhong dumplings

sticky rice w/pork filling

glutinous rice and ground peanuts

As we were departing Gu's, I overhead some talk of going to a nearby ethnic market to check out the food court. I was game. Those with prior engagements and / or a semblance of sanity peeled off from the group. The rest of us pressed on to Assi Plaza, just up the road a piece on Buford Highway.

 

russian easter cake

russian easter cakes - lana's express

 

Beautiful Russian Easter cakes from Lana's Express. We placed an order for a smattering of items from the menu, and wandered around the market for a bit while waiting for the food. That's right. Just before Easter, and instead of fasting, we're gorging ourselves. Wanton heathens, the lot of us.

mexican desserts - panaderia @ assi plaza

 

panaderia - assi plaza

 

ron's pair

My friend Ron shows me his bowls. Not sure if he notices that one is bigger than the other. He looks so happy, I can't bring myself to tell him.

 

russian delights

Tastings from Lana's Express include: pelmeni (meat-stuffed dumplings), roast chicken with rice and a ketchup-based sauce, and two pickled salads - one with cabbage and carrot, the other with cucumber, tomato, and dill.

 

pickled salads - lana's express

 

 

hot dog toppings

 

Oh, what? You thought it was over? After we finish our second lunch, someone in this group of people I am now beginning to realize is a bunch of crazies, starts talking about a hot dog place nearby that has a ridiculous amount of toppings on tap, and at least 5 different types of hot dogs to choose from. When I hear my own voice answering yes to the question, "Wanna go?" I know I am one of them.

 

hot dog menu - america's top dog

 

Turns out there's actually 7 different varieties of dog on the menu at America's Top Dog in Chamblee.

 

ode to the hot dog

 

regional hot dog dress

 

hot dog - naked

 

hot dog - dressed

 

After all of this, we head to a Lebanese bakery in  the same plaza as America's Top Dog. We don't eat again, but a few of us take home some Middle Eastern treats for later. Ya know, just in case. No pics of the Lebanese bakery, 'cause I'm too full to lift a camera. All I can do is sit and giggle like a giddy schoolgirl.

 

We finally leave Buford Highway and retire to one of the crazies' backyard deck, where we lounge about like stuffed ticks and listen to our host read excerpts aloud from his favorite Szechuan cookbook. Later on, he shows us this hilarious video he recently saw on YouTube. A little video about an animal known as... the honey badger.

 

 

After the day's gluttony, I totally identify with this creature.

cheers,

k

how to do atlanta - where to eat lunch
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I've got a confession to make. I've been holding out on you. I assure you however, there was no malicious intent. I'm just... lazy. You see, I've been having some pretty fabulous (and some just alright) dining experiences around Atlanta lately, and I've just been too lazy to write about them. But the good news is, I haven't slacked off on taking some pretty fabulous (and some just alright) pictures of these dining experiences. So here's what I figured. Instead of stockpiling all these tasty little visual tidbits and pretending like I'm actually going to do each one justice with a proper review, I'll just show you the goods.

Since when has porn been about dialogue, anwyay?

 


This week's food porn features pics from some of  my favorite atlanta lunch spots.

Urban Pl8

stir fry @ urban pl8

Look at the separation on that brown rice. Yeah, you like that, dontcha?

beet salad @ urban pl8

 The Original El Taco

lunch @ the orginal el taco

 

el burger @ the orginal el taco

 

Only thing sad about this lunch is that El Taco only serves lunch on the weekends. Que lastima.

 

5 Seasons Brewery - Westside

alligator egg rolls @ 5 seasons brewery, westside

 New Paradise (Buford Highway)

salt and pepper fish @ new paradise (buford highway)

 

garlic green beans @ new paradise (buford highway)

 

Sufi's

chicken koobideh wrap and salad @ sufi's

 

sabzi @ sufi's

 

The sabzi is an assortment of greens, herbs, and other accompaniments to be enjoyed with flatbread. Sufi's sabzi: mint leaves, basil leaves, cucumber slices, butter, feta, olives, and walnuts.

 

yogurt and beets @ sufi's

 

Bocado

fried chicken sandwich @ bocado

 

burger stack @ bocado

Bocado's burger stack is what the Big Mac dreams about being when it grows up.

 

 Marlow's Tavern

fish tacos & fried okra @ marlow's tavern

Seriously, is there ever a bad time for fried okra? Methinks not.

 

cheers,

 

k

what to do (and not to do) in london - part 2

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.

what to do (and not to do) in london - part 1

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

wine dinners: a great way to find good wine

When it comes to finding a wine you like, you’ve really only got a few methods to choose from.

  • you can take a recommendation from a friend or an expert,
  • you can take a wild guess based on the prettiness of the label and / or the floweriness  of the wording on the bottle as you stand scratching your head in the aisle
  • or… you can taste it.

Of those three methods, only tasting is foolproof. Friends and experts may have different palates, and we all know better than to judge a wine by its cover, don’t we? And even once you’ve chosen a wine, there’s the work of figuring out what wine goes with what.

Enter, the wine dinner. This growing trend helps experienced and budding wine connoisseurs make sense of it all. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a wine dinner yet, lemme ‘splain what you’re missing out on.

 

What is a Wine Dinner?

A wine dinner is multi-course meal, typically hosted by a restaurant, a winery or a combination of the two. Each course of the meal comes along with a wine that has been selected to complement the dish being served.

 

What’s So Great about Wine Dinners?

You get to relax – unlike wine tastings and tours where you’re sort of shuffled along between tastings, at a wine dinner you’re comfortably seated. You can even kick your shoes off if you want, I won’t tell.

You get a serious wine education – during the wine dinner, either the restaurant’s sommelier or a representative from the vineyard will provide notes on the wines you taste that you simply won’t get anywhere else. Plus, if you happen to attend a wine dinner with other ‘cork dorks’, you’ll learn even more from the conversation.

You get to eat some really great food – most of the restaurants hosting wine dinners are pretty top-notch. Often, they’ll feature special dishes for the wine dinner that aren’t on their regular menu.

You save money – during a wine dinner you’ll typically taste a minimum of four dishes, along with equal servings of wine for a much lower price than you would if you were to purchase them all at regular price.

Here’s a quick roundup of three wine dinners in Atlanta that I’ve attended recently, and how I fared at each.

 

Mirassou Wine Dinner

As part of a multi-city promotional tour coinciding with the 156th anniversary of Mirassou Winery, California winemaker David Mirassou hosted a series of wine dinners for local food and beverage writers, wine educators, and bloggers across the country. The Atlanta stop of the tour featured a 6-course tasting menu prepared by Chef Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, and yours truly was invited to attend.  Each course was a perfect mouthful of local, seasonal ingredients that Chef Gillespie crafted to complement the accompanying wine. Throughout the meal, David entertained us with stories from his family’s winemaking past, and explained the unique characteristics of each wine we tasted. Needless to say, the food was amazing. The wines – a pleasant surprise.

My favorite wine of the evening: Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon – I’m not usually a big fan of Cabs, most tend to be too tannic for my tastes. But Mirassou’s Cabernet was much more drinkable, while still retaining the tannic profile. I dubbed it, ‘the softer side of Cab’. Retails for around $10

 

 

Mother’s Day Brunch at Frogtown Cellars

Craving the experience of Napa, but lacking the time or the funds? Georgia’s wine country is a suitable alternative for us Atlantans. This past Mother’s Day I decided to treat Mom and myself to our first visit to a Georgia winery. We chose Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonega, and were treated to a delicious 4-course brunch with wine pairings in a truly beautiful setting.

My favorite wine of the day: Frogtown First Convergence – East-meets-West blend of Cabernet and Malbec grapes from Russian River (66%) and Cabernet Franc grapes from Frogtown vineyard (34%). Retails for $27.99

 

 

The Generous Pour Wine Event at The Capital Grille

Did you know that there are only 173 Master Sommeliers in the entire world? So it’s a real treat when one of these esteemed wine experts hand picks 9 of his personal favorites and invites you to taste them. That’s exactly what went down this week at The Capital Grille in Buckhead. The restaurant invited several local food writers to a special preview of their summer wine event, The Generous Pour. George Miliotes, Master Sommelier and resident wine expert at The Capital Grille, joined via telecast to explain the 9 wines he chose for the event, and then answered our questions via live Twitter feed. After George’s introduction, we sampled each of the wines along with complementary dishes prepared by Chef Brad Weiderman. The unparalleled white-glove level of service at the Capital Grille made this one a real treat.

My favorites of the evening:

Tarima Hill Monastrell, 2009 – A Spanish varietal that’s not available anywhere else in the US for the next couple of months. It’s a medium-bodied red that I can only describe as ‘seductive’.

Chateau St. Jean, Belle Terre, 2008 – arguably the best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted. Described as ‘a rich, creamy wine… with toasted almond and vanilla oak’. From the Russian River region of California. $25.

 

 

The Capital Grille’s Generous Pour Wine Event continues through September 4, and is only $25 for ample servings of all 9 wines with dinner. Do this!

To see questions and answers from The Generous Pour preview event, search for #tcgpour11 on Twitter.

Want to get personalized wine recommendations from a Master Sommelier? Follow George Miliotes (@TheWineExpert) on Twitter.

But hey – don’t just settle for his (or my) recommendations. Go out and taste for yourself.

 

cheers,

k

how to do atlanta - the sound table
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Remember that trip you took to New York back in your mid-twenties? You were feeling young, sexy and sure of yourself. The friends that you came to visit in the bustling city introduced you to their group of friends, and you all met up for an evening out at a cool, but unpretentious lounge in lower Manhattan. The DJ there played an intriguing and unintrusive medley of urban underground funkiness, the drinks from the bar were prepared just right, the food: filling, flavorful, and just light enough to keep you feeling flirty. At one point in the evening, you thought to yourself, “why isn’t there a place like this back home in Atlanta?”If you’ve never had that particular New York experience, it’s ok. You can still create a similar memory right here in the A, at The Sound Table.

Open for only a few months now, The Sound Table is the second restaurant / lounge venture for Jeff Myers, who also owns the equally hip resto-lounge Top Flr. All the elements that succeed at Top Flr – small plates, expertly prepared classic cocktails with modern updates, laid-back but attentive service staff, and mood-altering décor – are in place at The Sound Table. The decor is perhaps the most marked difference between the two. Whereas Top Flr is more vampire-chic with its monochrome baroque appointments, The Sound Table is more urban lodge with simple clean lines, exposed ductwork, expansive ceilings and warm wood accents. As a result, the overall feel of The Sound Table is more casual, but you can still put on your cute go-out gear if you want.

The Sound Table is certainly a welcome addition to the Edgewood corridor. The other bar / restaurant establishments on the strip either tend toward a slightly grungier, more hipster vibe (a la Noni’s Bar and Deli, and Edgewood Corner Tavern) or can be off-puttingly upscale (a la Café Circa) for a casual evening out. The Sound Table fills that in-between space that the now-closed Harlem Bar used to, but thankfully, there’s more square footage to enjoy yourself in. The only not-so-stellar thing is the parking situation. The adjacent lot is super tiny, and street parking can be a bit of a challenge (and a trifle scary, given the neighborhood night walkers) on busy weekend evenings.

That minor nuisance aside, The Sound Table has quickly become one of my favorite places to hang, and is tops on the list of places I recommend to people who are looking for a true taste of Atlanta’s nightlife and dining scene.

Here’s a quick sampling of some of the standouts from Executive Chef Shane Devereux’s menu:

  • Chinese Pork Ribs – My absolute favorite on the menu. Tender, fall of the bone ribs with an Asian glaze of soy and red chili.
  • Vietnamese Pho – not an authentic pho, but a respectable approximation of the Vietnamese noodle soup. The Sound Table’s version comes with tender bits of shredded oxtail and a flavorful broth with all the expected accompaniments – hoisin, fresh cilantro and bean sprouts, lime, and pepper sauce. Comforting and refreshing even in the dead of summer.
  • Cece Frito – A delightful appetizer of fried chickpeas and capers dusted in a curry salt. Caution: these things are highly addictive!
  • Spatchcock Grilled Chicken – A testament to the fact that simple cooking can be the most exciting. Cuts of bone-in chicken cooked over open flame with simple flavoring of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a hint of herbs. The first time I tried this, I enjoyed it so much that I was compelled to replicate the dish at home (recipe soon come!).
  • Chocolate Truffle w/ Salted Caramel Ice Cream – I usually don’t ever go for dessert. But this one is totally worth the extra calories. A chocolate molten cake that’s light yet decadent with a perfectly contrasting dollop of salted caramel ice cream. I was beside myself.

Food prices are slightly higher than what you’d find at a traditional bar / lounge. But they’re in line with the quality of the dishes and overall experience.

The cocktails at The Sound Table almost deserve a review unto themselves. Classic adult beverages are reincarnated with names like “Summer Home in Milledgeville” – featuring St. Germain elderflower, absinthe, and green chartreuse – “Small Axe” with tamarind-infused rum and grapefruit Ting, and my personal favorite, “The Gemini Handshake” – a mix of cachaca, lime, and locally made pineapple-habanero jelly. The bartenders are clearly master-level mixologists, and the showmanship that comes along with the drink making is well worth the price of admission.

Oh, and let's not forget the most important element – the music. The Sound Table is a joint venture among 3 DJ-preneurs (yeah, I said it) whose aural palates are as global as the joint’s menu. Resident and guest DJs drop in often and spin an eclectic mishmash of future funk, electro soul, trip hop, dubstep and everything in between.

New York – eat your heart out.

cheers, k

Spatchcock Chicken photo courtesy of Leon Dale

Sound Table Cocktails photo courtesy of Carlos Bell

The Sound Table 483 Edgewood Avenue (at Boulevard) Atlanta, GA 30312 www.thesoundtable.com

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

how to do atlanta - jeju sauna
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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

how to do atlanta - visit the beltline
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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

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how to do atlanta - ms ann’s snack bar
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photo credit: www.burgerbeast.com People – especially Southerners, and especially Southerners in the ‘hood – have a tendency to exaggerate.

Hey, man! You seen Tiny lately? That boy done got big as a house!" "Don’t say?" "Yeah, I saw him last Tuesday and I swear fo’ God you could land a plane on his backside!"

Exaggeration and braggadocio are simply part of the parlance of the South and especially of those well-known Southern ‘hoods like Kirkwood – home of Ms. Ann’s Snack bar and – as the red painted words on the side of the building will tell you - home of the “World famous ghetto burger”. Now, I’m not certain if people in other countries have heard of Ms. Ann or her monstrously sized burgers, but due to a 2007 article in the WSJ, the ghetto burger received national acclaim as the nation’s # 1 burger. ‘Nationally Renowned Ghetto Burger’ doesn’t quite have the same snappy ring to it, plus the shack-sized snack bar probably doesn’t have enough room for all those extra letters, so… world-famous it is. Regardless, both the burger and the woman are famous enough in local circles to have become the stuff of legend, and since rumor has it that Ms. Ann will be hanging up her spatula for good this month (not the 1st time that rumor has surfaced, mind you), I felt it was my duty to pay her a visit before the legend became history.

I approached the screen door of the snack bar with a feeling of trepidation. Ms. Ann’s reputation preceded her, and the image I’d painted of her in my head was somewhere between the Soup Nazi and the Great Oz. I’d heard of her long list of rules prominently posted above the counter, and had been repeatedly warned with tales of what happened to those who dared not follow them – a fate that could range from being yelled at to being thrown out. I couldn’t remember all of the rumored rules, but the ones I did remember seemed simple enough: no talking on cell phones, no cussing, no babies on the lunch counter, the standard no-shirt-no-shoes-no-service, and the most important of all: if there are no seats available at the 8-seat lunch counter, do not come inside.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, the counter was full, but an elderly couple was preparing to leave, so I took a seat on the worn white patio furniture in the snack bar’s ‘waiting area’.  On a previous attempted visit, both the counter and the waiting area were full, and the wait was up to 2 hours. Needless to say, I felt lucky to only have a few minutes pass before going inside.

Once there, I claimed one of the open stools at the far end of the counter and took a few moments to soak in the scene. That prominently displayed list of rules, as it turned out, wasn’t so prominent after all. It was mostly obscured by framed photographs of previous diners – local politicians and figures of note – with time-faded signatures and words

photo credit: Atlanta Journal Constitution

of gratitude scribbled in the corners of each. Behind the counter, I spied the legend herself, a cocoa-colored, wiry older woman who was moving rather nimbly between an impossibly small griddle loaded with impossibly large hamburger patties, and a dilapidated fridge stocked to the brim with burger toppings and large plastic jugs of tea, lemonade, and red punch. On the opposite wall of the restaurant was another framed picture, this one larger than the rest – a black-and-white graduation photograph of a young Ms. Ann… smiling. On one of her passes from griddle to fridge, Ms. Ann stopped to chat with a couple and their two young daughters that were seated next to me. During the exchange, the smile appeared again. I was beginning to wonder if I had stumbled into the wrong Ms. Ann’s Snack Bar. Maybe this was a Bizarro Ms. Ann that had no rules and treated customers with a smile instead of a snarl. Just then, she stepped over to take my order.

"What you gon’ have?"

A little more brusque than I would have expected anywhere else, but the tone was really to let me know that if I was going to be one of these indecisive or overly picky customers, she was not going to be the one to indulge me. It was just the reality check I needed to convince me that I was indeed in the right place.

I had originally planned to order the ghetto burger – a monstrous, structurally unsound assembly of two burger patties topped with sautéed onions, chili, bacon, cheese, lettuce, and tomato – but after watching my dining neighbor struggle with his, I decided to opt for a more sensible selection: a cheeseburger, fries, and a lemonade

I’ve always been a fan of watching my food being cooked, it’s about as close as you can get to cooking something yourself, plus it’s an opportunity to see the skill and love that the person preparing your food puts into it. You get a greater sense of appreciation and connection to the end result than you do when your plate of food just magically arrives from somewhere in the back. Once you’ve seen Ms. Ann hand-shape those huge beef patties, slap them on the grill with all of the finesse of a mustachioed Swedish masseuse named Helga, then move back and forth in the narrow cooking space behind the counter with the automated assurance of someone who’s been doing this for ms-ann-cheeseburgerdecades, you will most certainly appreciate the end result when she sets it in front of you. My cheeseburger – topped with sautéed onions, lettuce, and tomato – almost completely filled one Styrofoam plate, while my order of fries - dusted with seasoned salt - filled another. I took my first bite of the world-famous, nationally renowned burger, and found it to be… good. Was it the best burger I’d ever had? Was it, for that matter, better than something I could have made in my own kitchen? Not really. But it was good. Well seasoned, well done, topped with fresh ingredients, and so large that even with my most earnest attempt, I couldn’t possibly finish the whole thing.

In Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian countries, street and neighborhood food vendors are a prominent feature of the dining-out landscape. The personalities of the proprietors are often as much of a draw as the food itself, and those that stay in the game for years usually become larger-than-life personas as a result of the local lore surrounding them. By contrast, the majority of the American dining public has abandoned neighborhood food stands in favor of a more anaesthetized, highly styled eating experience. So the fact that Ms. Ann is still holding her own after 37+ years, and continues to draw crowds of locals and visitors alike, proves that she and her ghetto burger are most definitely legends. No exaggeration required.

cheers,

k

Ann's Snack Bar 1615 Memorial Dr Atlanta, GA 30317 (404) 687-9207

how to do the mayan riviera - tulum
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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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suenos-solarpanels

 

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.

suenos-vanity

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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.

suenos-hammock

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.

suenos-hands

cheers,

k

how to do the mayan riviera - coba
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Coba

Coba is about 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen - a straight shot down the 4-lane Highway 307 that runs along the Caribbean coast of Mexico, much like I-95 runs along the coast of Florida. It was an easy drive on well-paved, uncrowded roads, but the speed limit signs were a bit of an oddity, going from 100 km/hr to 40 and back to 100 within the span of a ½ mile. Plus, there were several 'topes' or speed-bumps in what seemed to be totally random spots in the road, but other than that, the drive was non-eventful.

Coba is to the east of Tulum, so it's set in more of a 'jungle' setting. I put quotes around the word jungle because when I think jungle, I think lush, dense tropical foliage and a variety of flora and fauna. The jungle setting of Coba is drier, and more hardscrabble, but considering the rainy season is just about to start, I suppose that should be expected. We'd originally planned to only stay in 2 places, but when I saw the pictures and reviews for La Selva Mariposa during my pre-trip research, I did not want to pass up the opportunity for a visit.

La Selva Mariposa (The Jungle Butterfly) is a bed and breakfast owned by Moe and Lou Pintkowski, an expat American couple from Colorado. To say that the place is beautiful sounds almost trite. La Selva Mariposa is, quite literally, an oasis in the desert. There are only 4 guest rooms on the 2.5 acre property, and each room has been crafted to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding natural environment. The walls are made of local stone and plaster, the roof is in the traditional thatched-palm palapa style, there's a Mayan temazcal or steam bath onsite, and just off to the side of each room is a small cenote-inspired pool with cool, clear water cascading over rugged stones. Natural and opulent have never blended so perfectly together. Our room even had an open-air shower...bliss!

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In desperate need of rejuvenation, we spent the entire time at La Selva right at our room, lounging on the hammock on the porch, taking a quick dip in the pool, and eventually falling asleep to the sound of falling water and mating frogs on the other side of the screened door.

The next morning, Moe made us a delicious breakfast of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit and scrambled egg tostadas with cotija cheese and a slew of toppings. I don't even like scrambled eggs, but I ate it all. Ok, I ate it... most. After breakfast, there was more heavy lounging and a half-hearted discussion on which adventurous excursion we might try to make before leaving Coba, but in the end we concluded that making our way to the beach in Tulum would be adventure enough.

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We set out early in the afternoon for our third destination. With all that talk of adventure, we had worked up an appetite, so when we spied the neighborhood 'grilled chicken guy' out on the road with his grill at full blaze, we decided to stop for lunch.

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Don't know if you can tell from this picture, but Gaspar the Gallo Griller also has a full grill in his mouth. The chicken business is obviously doing well.

gaspar-solo

to be continued...

how to do the mayan riviera - playa del carmen

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When it comes to defining the perfect vacation, I admit I'm a bit schizophrenic on the issue.

Part of me wants to flex my Indiana Jones muscles and swing from jungle vines, jump off cliffs and trek through virgin forests. Part of me wants to submerge myself in all the indulgences that I usually only dip my toe in, and still another part wants to make like a bump on a log and do nothing more than watch the world go by before my half-lidded eyes.

Strangely enough, none of me has ever expressed the desire to head for a place that's been designated ground zero for a possible pandemic, but that didn't stop me or the beau from boarding our flight to Mexico for my birthday trip. You see, we well-raised Southerners don't just abandon our neighbors when they're sick. No siree. What we do is pack up a bowl of homemade chicken soup and bring it right to them. So we boarded our flight with a heaping serving of optimism tucked into our carry-ons to share with our neighbor to the South.

Playa del Carmen

Our first stop on the 6-day trip was Playa del Carmen. About 40 minutes south of the airport in Cancun, Playa is sort of like the Virginia Highlands to Cancun's Buckhead. Where Cancun is known for its non-stop frat-boy party atmosphere, Playa del Carmen attracts a more laid-back, bohemian crowd. At the south end of Playa del Carmen is a gated beachfront community known as Playacar, which includes several vacation rentals and all-inclusive resort properties. We were booked to stay 2 nights at the all-inclusive Riu Tequila in Playacar, but after pulling up to the first Riu property - Riu Yucatan - and asking the security guard, "Donde esta Riu Tequila?" I got, "Esta cerrado". Er? Cerrado? I gave the guard my 'whatchu  talkin' 'bout Luis?' look, and he directed me to the front desk for a full explanation in English.

As it turned out, of the 5 Riu properties located in Playacar, only the Riu Yucatan was not 'cerrado' and everyone who had reservations at the other resorts had been consolidated into one. Even then, the property was probably only at about 60% capacity. Apparently, not everyone shared our optimism about the flu scare. Fortunately though, the change was a bit of an upgrade, since the Riu Yucatan was located directly on the beach.

After settling into our room, indulgent me began to get restless at the thought that an endless supply of free liquor was only steps away, so we made a beeline to the poolside bar. Before the end of our second drinks (note: at an all-inclusive, time is measured in number of drinks consumed), we met and made fast friends with Jen and Rico, a couple visiting from Dallas. Jen and I hit it off when we quickly learned that we were both Geminis, and shared similar tastes in music.

The next day and a half at the Riu was a pleasantly muddled blur of dips in the ocean, visiting the bar, sunning on the beach, visiting the bar, eating, visiting the bar, napping, and visiting the bar. For some reason, I even forgot my camera in the room a couple of times. Must have been the sun. I was still able to get in a few shots around the resort though...

 

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an elusive agouti

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it's rum thirty!

yellow + sun = red

... I also learned that the proper way to kill 'la cucaracha' is to light it on fire and slurp it down with a straw.

la cucaracha

But most importantly, I learned that sometimes you just gotta know when to say 'when'.

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The guy in the photos above is actually a trained professional. He's from Belgium. I hear they start drinking in kindergarten there.

On our last day in Playa, we decided to give the Riu's so-so buffet a break. We headed out with Jen and Rico to La Floresta, a restaurant recommended by one of the Riu resort staff who lived in Playa. La la-florestaFloresta is well-known in the area for its seafood tacos. In fact, there's not much more on the menu. There's a choice of crab, shrimp, fish, or marlin taco, plus ceviche and 'cocteles' and beer. Rico is Mexican-American, and speaks fluent Spanish, so he quickly informed our waiter that we would be having one of everything. In less than 5 minutes, a slew of the tastiest, freshest seafood tacos began arriving at our table, followed by unbelievably large servings of mixed seafood ceviche and a large mixed seafood coctel - which included shrimp, octopus, scallops, and oysters in a sweet-tangy tomato based sauce. I'm actually getting kind of sad writing this, as it seems so very, very unfair that I have never experienced anything quite like that meal before, and will probably have to go back to Mexico to experience it again. Everything was very simply prepared so the freshness of every ingredient from the soft corn tortilla to the seafood that tasted like it had just swum onto the plate, was highlighted. I added nothing to the tacos other than a few drops of the 'sweet-jesus-that's-hot' green habanero sauce on the table. When la cuenta arrived, I was surprised to see that our whole meal came to $50 USD. Yep - 2 orders of ceviche, 1 large coctel, 8 tacos, chips and salsa, and beer... for about $12 per person. Sigh.

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After lunch, we did a little shopping in the pedestrian-only area of Playa del Carmen, before bidding Jen and Rico goodbye and heading south to our second destination, Coba.

 

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After the all-inclusive bingefest, I was glad to be heading for a more rural setting.

to be continued...

how to do atlanta - where to find the best fries in atlanta
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I know I shouldn't love them as much as I do, but...I do. I mean some people like french fries, but I truly love them.  You know, kinda like an addict truly loves crack. Ask any friend of mine who's made the unwise decision to reach for a couple of fries from my plate. Let's just say, no one has ever done it more than once.

This weekend, I happened across Meredith Ford's latest list of the 5 best fries in Atlanta. Of course, being the fry fiend that I am, I made a mental note to check out a couple of the places on her list whose fried taters I haven't yet sampled (Shaun's and Porter Beer Bar), but there were others that I was surprised made the cut (Steak and Shake? really?). After reading, it inspired me to pen my own list of Atlanta restaurants with the best fries.

Check 'em out and let me know if there's some other places you know of in the city where I should be fueling my addiction.

5. Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Something about the whole Five Guys fry experience is just, well...dirty. But that's part of what makes them so good. Oh you're just gonna throw the fries into a little styrofoam cup? How delightfully low-brow! Grease stains on the bag? But someone might see...oh hell, I don't care. Give 'em to me, give them all to me! Let them spill over the cup into the bag. Let the cajun seasoning stick to my fingers so I have to lick it off. And when I'm done devouring them like I have absolutely no home training, hand me a napkin so I can ever so daintily dab the evidence off my lips. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep it movin'.

4. Eclipse di Luna

Here's where Meredith and I definitely agree. This authentic tapas restaurant serves up fried potatoes with a Spanish flair. Eclipse di Luna's patatas bravas are chunky cut, covered in a saffron-hued seasoning mix, and served with a side of romesco sauce, which is sort of like a spicy aioli. Ay, que sabrosos!

3. Corner Tavern dsc01907

Honestly, the fries at Corner Tavern are only slightly above average. But what pushes them to such a high place on my list are the dipping sauces, of which there are six to choose from. An order of the never-frozen, skin-on spuds comes with your choice of not one, not two, not three... but FOUR dipping sauces! My faves are: curried ketchup, BBQ, and Thai chili (I usually double up on this one).

2. Cafe di Sol  

The shoestring potato often gets the shun from me. Mainly because most places just don't do them right. They're either so thin that they fry up hard and insubstantial; or they're underseasoned and just taste like... shoestrings. Cafe di Sol, however, avoids both of those missteps. Their hand-cut shoestrings are just thin enough to get a good crispy exterior, but thick enough so you still enjoy the mouth feel of the fluffy interior. They're also liberally seasoned with a mixture of what I think is garlic, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled with fresh chives. I effs with these crabcakes.

1. The Shed at Glenwood

The reason for The Shed at Glenwood claiming the #1 spot in my list can be summed up in three words. Black. Truffle. Powder. A light sprinkling of this earth-colored pixie dust takes an already spectacular fry to drool-worthy proportions. The Shed's taters are made like the traditional Belgian fry (should it really come as any surprise that the folks who give us such great beer would also have such good fries?). Cut into batons and fried twice - once on low heat and once at extremely high heat - the result is a crispy fry with a luxuriously creamy interior. But thankfully, even perfection isn't good enough for The Shed. Chef Lance Gummere makes them absolutely decadent by adding black truffle powder - which retails for around $15 an ounce. But it's worth every penny. The powder imparts a rich, umami flavor that's almost like eating meat. OPULENCE! Thank you Chef Lance! And shouts out to the Belgians. Oh, and uh...good looking out, pigs.

cheers,

k

how to do atlanta - hike the beltline

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A little after 10am on Saturday morning, a loose group of strangers is gathered in front of Park Grounds coffee shop in Reynoldstown. We're all exchanging casual introductions and pleasantries as we prepare to embark on an 8 (or so)-mile hike of the Beltline.

"Ok. By show of hands, who's got a car to transport folks to the starting point?" the slightly hoarse, sort of gravelly voice querying us belongs to Angel, our tour guide for the day. A few hands go up in the air, and our small group splinters into even smaller groups that can fit into each car.

I - and 3 others - follow Angel. "Alright, so before we get started, what part of town does everyone live in?" he asks us.

I pipe up first, "Kirkwood."

"North Lake." This comes from David, a property manager and father of two.

Jimmy, an amateur videographer answers next, "Decatur."

"Pittsburgh," chimes in my beau.

"See, the Beltline is already bringing Atlanta together!"

In case you haven't heard, the Beltline project is a proposed conversion of over 22 miles of historic rail lines within the city of Atlanta into an interconnected network of transit, trails, parks, housing and urban greenspace. Basically, it has the potential to transform Atlanta even more than Sherman's march to the sea.

Like countless other Atlantans, I've been hearing about the Beltline project for quite some time, and getting excited at all the excitement that everyone else seems to have about this huge, multi-year endeavor. But, to be honest, I was starting to feel a bit like the emperor in his new clothes concerning all the Beltline fervor. I knew it was something to be excited about, but I couldn't see it. And without seeing it, I really couldn't feel excited about it for myself. So, when I got word of the Beltline Hike being sponsored by Urban Hiking Atlanta (UHA) via Wonder Root, I signed up and prepared to get a hands-on education.

As Angel ushers his car towards the starting point, he gives us a little background on himself. A Miami native, but long time Atlanta resident, he's spent years developing an intimate relationship with the city, and from rather unique perspectives. First, as a bag handler at Hartsfield Airport, then as a train conductor for several years with CSX, and lastly, as an avid volunteer with Trees Atlanta. His passion for both the city and the Beltline is - to say the least - contagious. During his autobiographic introduction, Angel stops mid-sentence and yells out, "Beltline!" as the car ba-bumps over a set of rusty old train tracks. He grins sheepishly. "I can't help it. I have to call it out every time I cross it. My friends are so sick of me doing that."

A few minutes later, we arrive and reconvene with the rest of the group on a steep hill overlooking Stanton Park in Peoplestown. Angel briefs the group on our path for today and introduces us all to Eli Dickerson, who describes himself as 6' tall, and skinny as a rail. Eli is an environmental educator and the founder of Urban Hiking Atlanta. "I used to go to North Georgia a couple of times a month to hike. But when gas prices shot up last year, it just got too expensive. So I thought, ‘Why not do some hikes around the city?’” The Beltline hike is UHA’s 3rd city safari. Eli’s aim is to conduct a different hike on the 1st Saturday of every month. He emphasizes the open-source nature of the group. “I want everybody to own this. If anyone has a cool neighborhood that they think we should explore, I want them to lead a hike.” I overhear some murmurs about a machete hike from West End to Bankhead. Yeah, I think to myself, probably won’t be making that one.

With the introductions complete, and the headcount conducted (25 humans, 5 canines), we embark on a 4-hour journey that covers most of the eastern portion of the Beltline. Our trek takes us from Peoplestown, through Ormewood Park, then on to Cabbagetown, Inman Park and Poncey-Highland. Several stretches of our path are overrun with hip-high weeds and choked with dormant kudzu vines. In a few weeks, the kudzu will be so thick as to make it impossible to pass through. Through it all, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been given an all-access backstage pass to the city. The familiar places that I drive past everyday are scarcely recognizable from this vantage point. I’ve never noticed the two story all-glass structure sitting to the right of a bridge that crosses Highland Avenue; nor the makeshift skate park sitting in the shadows under a bridge near the Telephone Factory Lofts; ditto for the graffiti art that spans a length of wall along Wylie Street like one long multi-user mural. And on a hill across the street from City Hall East, an ironwork sculpture that Eli has dubbed, “Crucifixion on Kudzu Mountain” silently observes the traffic whooshing by. It’s obviously been here for years, but I doubt if more than a few people have ever noticed it.

At varying points of the hike, some folks peel off from the group, while others join. By the time we reach the terminus at Piedmont Park, only a core portion of the initial group remains. We wave our goodbyes and smile at each other, exhausted but thrilled to have shared in such a unique excursion. Later that day, the beau and I return to Park Grounds to fetch the car. As I’m driving off, I hear a familiar ba-bump under the car’s wheels. Without even thinking, I yell out, “Beltline!” then laugh uncontrollably at myself for being such an easy convert.

cheers,

k

Maps of the Beltline hike: Southeast map    Northeast map To learn more about the Beltline project visit: www.beltline.org For more on Urban Hiking Atlanta, visit: www.urbanhikingatlanta.blogspot.com and, for more on Wonder Root, check out: www.wonderroot.org

how to do panama - sunday in el valle de anton
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Greetings! I'm sitting on the terrace now with a view of the mist caressing the side of the mountains, drinking my morning coffee and awaiting a breakfast of fresh fruit juice (which most likely came from the fruit growing on property), sausage and pastries. I woke around dawn to get a glimpse of the sunrise, and take some pics. Ran into Becky having her morning walk with the dogs, and she showed me around the place a bit. We stalked an iguana that lives on the property, but didn't catch a glimpse of him, unfortunately. I WAS able to catch some hummingbirds though! And a little later, Monty, the three-toed sloth who hangs out on the property, peeked his head out to say, 'buenos dias'.

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Before leaving El Valle, we did some shopping at the Sunday Market and hit the hot springs. Sunday Market is a weekly event in El Valle, where tons of arts and crafts are for sale as well as fresh fruit and veggies. At the hot springs, we had a chance to soak in the naturally warm pools and give ourselves mud facials. Our visit was cut a little short by the afternoon rain, so we packed up and bid a fond farewell to El Valle.

This afternoon we're off to Gamboa - a rainforest area. Keep ur fingers crossed that we don't have any more traffic mishaps.