Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pebble Beach or Bust

I recently went to Pebble Beach to help my sister celebrate her birthday. In the process my flight was affected by weather delays, causing me to spend the night at the San Francisco airport. Shortly thereafter I caught a nasty cold. In the 24 hours I enjoyed prior to my illness I was able to take a few pictures. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

You Brought a Spelling a Bar?

Wing masters, a local bar that specializes in hot wings, began its first spelling bee this June in pursuit of new patrons. I came across it one day when I was walking to the farmer's market in Ballard. I had walked by the bar numerous Sundays without any interest to go inside, until I saw the strategically placed sign. So, what does this have to do with my travel blog? The grand prize is a $1000 travel voucher from the Magnolia travel agency. Although I have to admit, they had me at Spelling Bee.

Fear not the Scripps National Spelling Bee winner Evan O'Dorney. He lives at least a thousand miles away and has a good 8 years to go before he's allowed to enter the bar. However, amongst the many less-than-ideally educated regulars there have been a few contestants around to keep the contest interesting.

Who will win? Stay tuned.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Honolulu Love

Honolulu, especially Waikiki, is the busiest and most crowded tourist location in the state. But, even still, there are a lot of great things you can do in the area or just a short drive away, some of which you might not find in the tourist manual. Here are my recommendations:

-Visit the MaHaLo Hawaii Deep Sea™ Water showroom have some tea made with the water and stock up to stay hydrated on your trip.

-Buy Alaea salt from a nearby ABC store and grind it over a pat of butter to spread on baguette when you get home. If you put one granule on your tongue and let it sit, you will be amazed at how many different flavors a natural salt can have.

-Get a surfing lesson at Waikiki in front of Duke's. Don't try to go out there by yourself unless you're really good already. Me and my friends have been surfing from time to time and still struggled because there are tourists everywhere, you have to paddle pretty far to get a decent wave and the boards they rent are just plain heavy. So a lesson is worth the extra money.

-Pineapple County has a lot of what I like to call clubbin' clothes. Not really, my thing. But, if you stay downstairs they do have some great jewelry, including Kenneth Jay Lane. I got a really cute white and gold zebra bracelet with Swarovski crystals. The best part is that you can avoid taxes on large purchases. So, maybe it is time to get that Rolex you've been wanting.

-Maunawili Falls is not the biggest or most beautiful waterfall in the area, but it is one of the only places nearby where you can jump off the falls and swim in the water. It's also a nice 1 1/2 mile hike.

-The Wyland Waikiki is a new hotel that opened about 3 months ago. The Wyland art that is plastered everywhere is utilized in a really tasteful way creating a serene environment. Since the hotel is new, and Honolulu has had lower occupancy rates in their hotels, there are a lot of deals to be had. The rooms are nice and clean, although a little small. They have a great lobby area, a room full of plasmas where you can watch DVDs through the X-Box and a nice pool/hot tub area. Since it is not on the main drag it stays much quieter than the beach front hotels and doesn't have a lot of people wandering around who shouldn't really be there.

Destination Reading: Steppin' on a Rainbow (by Kinky Friedman)

Photography by me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Oh Vancouver, Canada

About an hour drive North of an alpaca farm in Washington is the Canadian border. Not to be confused with the border going to Baja Mexico, there is a peace arch, lots of green grass temporarily housing Japanese tourists and a mysterious lack of uneasy tension. A stones throw North of the border is Vancouver, BC. To be confused, Vancouver is a melting pot of Seattle and Hollywood, with a dash of I can't put my finger on it.

When you drive into the city it seems almost like a fairy tale town. The buildings are gorgeous, but give off the impression that they might be run down and then you realize that it's just the general architectural style of the town.* Stanley Park is the same way, absolutely beautiful, but flagrantly exposing it's flaws as natural beauty. Chinatown on the other hand truly is run down (watch out for homeless men purposely jumping in front of your car).

Vancouver has a wide variety of great restaurants. At the Gyoza King I immensely enjoyed ramen soup with Kimchi, perfectly spicy and very inexpensive. At Vij's they are generous with traditional Indian appetizers while you wait two hours for your table. Keep your eyes open at Vij's. I'm pretty sure I spotted Kiefer Sutherland eating when we got on the wait list. For the morning after you can get excellent Belgian waffles and crispy bacon at Sophie's Cosmic Cafe.

After finishing your dinner there are numerous options for going out on the town. I chose to go to Lift, the bar at the Westin. At Lift you are guaranteed to overhear someone in the film industry using it as a means to pick up on chicks. Outside there is a gorgeous view of the city and a firepit to sit around. What I enjoyed most was talking to all of the business men that were in town hanging out buying me drinks on their company card. A perk when going out at hotel bars.

I didn't have a lot of time to go shopping, but after wading through a lot of orthopedic shoes I managed to find a beautiful pair of French sandals at Umeboshi and instantly fell in love with almost everything available at Eugene Choo. In the same area of town there are also numerous thrift stores and boutiques carrying local designer clothing.

I suppose confused isn't the best description of Vancouver, it's more like a low-key fusion restaurant.

Photography by me.

Updated 8/24/07
*I was so humbly informed that Vancouver was coined the "City of Glass" by Douglas Coupland.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Arrivederci Venice

I recently moved to Seattle for a new job. I lived in Venice California for almost three years and will miss it greatly. So, I wanted to share with you my favorite parts.

Despite the vastness of Los Angeles, Venice has a great small town feel and you can't help but bump into people you know around the neighborhood. The local watering holes are the most common places this occurs. My favorites include the always shady Red Garter, the trendy Otheroom and the 98% male Hinano's, a great place to lift your spirits when you haven't been asked out in a while (e.g. Shannon was chased down the street by a guy that just couldn't sleep at night without knowing if he had a chance with her, she was {fortunately} engaged at the time).

Venice has some great food too.

Breakfast: Rose Cafe (patio)
Sushi: Shima (completely hidden & totally worth finding)
BBQ: Baby Blue's (I suggest the brisket)
Coffee: Groundwork's is a local farmer's market fave
Thai: Pam's Place (not on the menu: beef and eggplant)
Chinese: Mao's (the orange peel chicken is excellent)
Pizza: Abbot's Pizza (you can't go wrong...)

It wouldn't be my blog if I didn't mention shopping. There are a ton of shops, new ones everyday, cropping up on Abbot Kinney that have great stuff. So, whether you need modern furniture, antiques, art work, japanese street wear, limited edition shoes or rare specialty books, you're sure to find something unique for your collection.

Although the beach is super touristy there are the occasional good finds, such as cheap sunglasses, discount Havianas and enough incense to make Gandhi proud. However, my favorite thing about Venice Beach is definitely the large crowd of old school roller disco dancers that gather on Sundays. The drum circle doesn't hold a candle to it, although it is still quite interesting in its own hippy, flashback way.

Another excellent place for people watching is Gold's Gym. I was a member for quite a while because there are so many crazy people to watch. I immensely enjoyed watching my out of town visitor's reactions to the daily freak show.

Last, but certainly not least, Venice is home to some amazing architecture. The Gehry House, Binocular building and man-made Venice Canals are my personal favorites. And with the influx of more and more young money the local architecture firms have been creating a lot of great lofts and homes.

But alas, what I won't miss about Venice is its median home cost, $965,000, which is actually down from where it was a year ago at $1,011,000.

For some Venice flavor at home:
Rent Dogtown and Z-Boys, read the Venice Surf Report or watch the Venice Beach Cam.

Photography by me.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Lonely Planet: Opportunity of a Lifetime

If you've ever wanted to be a travel writer you must enter this contest. By recommending your travel experiences on the Lonely Planet bluelist you can travel around the world with experienced Lonely Planet writers, giving yourself the opportunity to be commissioned as an official Lonely Planet writer.

Sounds good to me.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Singapore: What Are You Doing New Year's, New Year's Eve?

On New Year's Eve I had a 22 hour layover in Singapore. Even though the Singapore airport is a really great place, I decided to get a hotel room, eat some local foods and go out on the town. A friend of mine suggested the Hotel Phoenix, which is a good, fairly inexpensive hotel located in the center of the shopping haven that is Orchard Road. When I arrived, they were out of regular rooms, so they gladly upgraded me to a suite with a massage chair, cozy living area and a great view of the city. The concierge helped me find a good Chinese restaurant, a nice bar in Clarke Quay and some Kaya toast for breakfast the next morning.

Clarke Quay is an interesting area on the river that is host to numerous bars and has fireworks for New Year's. There is basically every type of crowd you can imagine, so you're sure to find someplace you will enjoy spending your time. I ended up at a Blues Bar, the Crazy Elephant, which had live music, pool, ex-pats and plenty of Tiger Beer. Mean Jean & The Blues Machine was playing. Mean Jean is basically a refined version of the late Janis Joplin. Her voice is practically identical and only lacks the characteristic cracks that made Janis so unique. At the Crazy Elephant, I also had the opportunity to see stylish Singapore kids, get badly beat at pool and meet a few nice people that offered to show me the local perspective of the city the next day.

Singapore Must Do: Eat Kaya toast and drink Singapore coffee for breakfast, it's fantastically yummy!

On New Year's Day I spent most of my time shopping on Orchard Road. The majority of the shops are the same as what you can find in any large US city. But, there are some unique finds in the midst of it all, so don't worry. Here are some of the shops I liked best. Just keep in mind, nothing is really all that cheap in Singapore.

Takashimaya Shopping Center
This shopping center houses many upscale designer shops that you would find on 5th Avenue and Rodeo Drive. However, there are some stores that you won't find in the US as well and those are the best places to look for in this area.

Bin House, Indonesian Creation
This small boutique store has beautiful (and easy to wear) Asian inspired tops, skirts, pants and accessories. The store manager is extremely friendly and may offer you a snack. I found a lovely skirt designed like fisherman pants at the waist. You will be sick of seeing me wear it in the near future.

Une Nana Cool
I just found out this store is owned by Wacaol (figures!), but it still has some very tasteful, uniquely designed undergarments, pajamas and camisoles that you won't find at home.

The clothing wasn't very special at this store, but there are quite a few unique accessories, including necklaces, belts, headbands and shoes that are worth taking a look at.

Kinokuniya Book Store
This book store is quite large and has a great variety of English, Chinese and Japanese-language books. They had some really beautiful design books (my favorite was one on interior lighting) that are perfect for the coffee table. I was, however, a little disappointed in their selection of stationery.

Tax-free Shopping
Every time you spend more than 100 Singapore dollars ask for a tax form that you can turn in with your receipt at the airport for a reimbursement of the taxes you were just charged on your purchase. Without this form you will be out of luck.

Singapore Sling: New Year's Eve Mix
1. Paper Bag, Fiona Apple
2. Gold Lion, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
3. Fake Tales of San Francisco, Arctic Monkeys
4. Napoleon Says, Phoenix
5. This Charming Man, The Stars
6. Be Good, Tokyo Police Club
7. I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor, Arctic Monkeys
8. Just a Man With a Job, The Rakes
9. One Time Too Many, Phoenix
10. Battle Without Honor or Humanity, Tomoyasu Hotel

Photography by me.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

I Say Bombay, You Say Mumbai

Bombay (now properly called Mumbai) is a city of great contrast. One minute you can be surrounded by poverty and the next minute you can be in a cozy restaurant enjoying great food and wine. About 60% of the population lives in the slums. Most other people live comfortably in large apartments, and they typically have drivers and servants (such as a cook). Meals are usually really cheap or fairly expensive. And most visitors of the city are said to either love or hate it.

I would say that I qualify as someone who was able to love the city. While there I was able to relax and enjoy what it has to offer, both inexpensive and pricey. I was also blessed to have both the tourist perspective (Lonely Planet guidebook) and a local from Bombay (close friend of a co-worker) to help show me the way.

Rather than bore you with the many details of my trip, below I am going to list the things I liked most about Bombay during the two full days that I had to enjoy it.

Very Inexpensive:

The Bombay Burger
This street food only cost me about $0.15 US. It's made with breaded and fried potato slices on a sweet roll with spicy sauce.
And it's so good that Pramit was asked to bring one back on the plane for a friend, who gladly ate it cold (and I'm guessing soggy).

Shopping in Fort/Colaba Neighborhoods
You'll find very inexpensive scarves, necklaces, t-shirts, leather sandals and anything touristy. I did some bargaining, but at a certain point it doesn't feel worth it to make a fuss over what's only worth $1 to you, even if they are technically trying to rip you off by their standards.

Traditional Masala Chai Tea
I've had a lot of chai tea and none of it compares to what you get in Mumbai. The Tea Centre has a shop inside where you can stock up on various Indian teas (Kashmiri, Darjeeling, Cardamom and more) for 1/5 of the cost that you would pay in the US.

Masala Dosa (usually in South Indian restaurants)
The dosa is basically a crepe made with ground rice and lentils. The masala is a tasty potato, onion and curry mixture that goes inside the dosa. Masala + dosa = yum!

More Expensive (similar to prices in the US for quality items):

Salt Water Grill
A sandy, outdoor, waterfront restaurant and bar with great views of the Queen's Necklace (the curved lights along the coast). I was there for drinks and conversation, but I hear the food is excellent as well.

Sabyasachi is a really great clothing designer and not just by Indian standards. You won't find any sequins here! Do your research on stores and find a backup, the store I tried (Kimaya) was completely out of stock. The designer fashion prices are more palatable while you're in India, so it's worth the effort. Right now only one store in the US (Malgosia in LA) sells his stuff and it runs about $1000 for a dress.

Taj Hotel
If you don't mind spending over $250+/night on your hotel room then it's worth it to upgrade, even if it's not the Taj, there is a really big difference in the quality of a $125 room vs. a $250 room in Mumbai. The Taj is by all the tourist attractions (and is one itself) and also has a lot of its own great amenities such as a spa, pool, upscale shopping, restaurants, salon, gym and more. Book very early, I missed out on the nicer hotels because high season is also wedding season.

A laid back restaurant with tasty Italian and Spanish influenced food and beverage. The main draw seems to be the atmosphere, Bollywood stars and fashion designers (Nisheel spotted one while we were there) frequent the popular white-walled location.

So, as you can see, I found a lot of things to love about Bombay in a very short period of time. I'm sure there are 1,000 other great places to shop, eat and just generally enjoy. Now if only I could find the time.

Destination Reading: Shantaram (by the anything but boring Gregory David Roberts)

Photography by me (except the Sabyasachi runway show, which I did not attend).