Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mumbai & Elephanta Caves

I didn’t see the monkey running towards me until one of the locals waved me away. “She’s got a baby with her” he said, and then in a voice designed to prevent me from being bitten on my vacation added “she’s growling, you know.” Aforementioned monkey then glared at me sullenly, as if on cue.

Matt and I had just taken an hour ferry ride from Mumbai to the island of Elephanta, a prehistoric Lord of the Flies locale perfect for dumping dead bodies under the cover of night or filming next year’s series of Survivor. In my mind’s eye I could actually see Piggy being murdered in just this spot. *Shiver* At any rate, we were here to see the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting Hindu sculptures including a 16 foot high monument featuring Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. And yes, these 13th century caves are worth riding the herky-jerky toy train into the island’s foothills and then navigating the 130 steps. If you wish to avoid the climb, men will carry you in an enormous chair (sort of like a Jewish wedding except that the chair-holders aren't groomsmen who've been drinking all night, making this a safer bet) for the bargain price of $12.

After exploring Elephanta (carefully avoiding the food vendor’s “variety of seafood” kept cold on a quickly melting slab of ice), we jetted back across the harbor to Mumbai – eager for a bit of air conditioning and cold beer. Barely dodging an attack by a vicious eight-year old (who attempted to part Matt from his rupees) we hoofed it into the five star hotel, Taj Mahal Palace and Tower overlooking the harbor. Chic, slick, and swanky, the Taj is an oasis of calm in a city full of constant traffic, haggling salespeople and intense heat. Although Mumbai is an engaging city with a lot to offer it can be exhausting and we happily took refuge inside Masala Kraft, the hotel’s Indian restaurant, where we dined on olive chili and garlic naan, curried chicken, smoky lamb that fell right off the bone and crispy potato cakes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cochin, India

“Sometimes when you shake your head ‘no’ from side to side, it actually means ‘yes’ in our culture” says our guide. “It depends on your facial expression.” Now he tells us. For the past two hours I have been smiling and wildly shaking my head “no” at aggressive street peddlers pushing their wares at me with a ferocity second only to that of a cartel of Columbian coke dealers. Ironically, the body language that was intended to deter these budding entrepreneurs from following me paparrazi-like through the streets has instead drawn them towards me in a frenzy resembling something like a circle of hungry sharks surrounding a wounded seal. And so it is here that I have my first lesson in cultural relativism.

Nonetheless, Cochin is a charming little city located on the Kerala coast. With a Portuguese church, Dutch palace, Chinese-style fishing nets and a Jewish Quarter it has retained much of its cultural gumbo, a direct result of its role as a seaport throughout history. We see them all – the Church of St. Francis where Vasco da Gama was originally buried, Mattancherry and Paradesi Synagogue whose floors are paved with hand painted Chinese tiles. We creep about the temple in our stocking feet as the 16th century tiles are too delicate to handle the wear and tear of shoes. Located on Jew Street in the Jewtown section of the city, our guide assures us that this naming isn’t meant in a derogatory way. But perhaps the most interesting sight is that of the muscled fishermen using a system of weighted levers and pulleys to operate the Chinese fishing nets and we watch in awe as they pull in a multitude of prawn, tigerfish and more.

Cochin has much to offer in the way of historical sights, but it also boasts some lovely resorts and cultural pursuits. At the Taj Malabar Hotel we gobble down an Indian feast – naan, lentils, palak paneer, curried veggies and cold Kingfisher beer under a tent on the great lawn, facing the sea. We kick back and watch Kathakali dancers perform, using only body and eye movements to convey their stories – a truly impressive group of actors sharing their traditions with us – what a lovely way to finish our afternoon in Cochin.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mamallapuram, India

Upon entering Mamallapuram, you are leaving behind the modern world. It takes us nearly two hours to make the 30 mile drive from the city of Chennai to this fishing village situated on the Bay of Bengal as driving is an exercise in frustration. Passing thatched huts and one-story houses, clouds of dust swirl into the air as honking buses dodge a series of barefoot pedestrians, rambling cows and skinny goats munching on roadside debris. Black flies flit in and out of the bus windows, undeterred by the heat. It is here that stone monuments from the 7th and 8th centuries sit beside tin-roofed stores and homes, a place where wide-eyed children run barefoot alongside tourists, making the international sign for food by placing their skinny hands to lips, their mothers verbally encouraging them from several yards away. A man walking on all fours begs for change near the monuments drawing little reaction from the locals. The abject poverty, lack of good sanitation and medical care is upsetting, and I wonder what the government is doing, if anything, for these people who geographically are so close to one of the largest cities in India, yet so removed from the opportunities and modernity just miles away. Yet there is still beauty here – the landscape is filled with women wearing sherbert colored saris – the lemon yellows, tangerine oranges and blue-tinged berry cottons and silks glimmering through the heat, their long black hair in braids. Men lounge about in lungis, selling leather sandals, carvings and small bongo drums, easily chatting with each other and the tourists that pass by. At Arjuna’s Penance, a stone panel measuring 90-feet in length, life-sized carvings of Arjuna and Krishna tower over those who have come to see these wonders. Pancha Rathas is perhaps even more impressive, with its enormous intricate temples and giant animals carved from single sandstone boulders. To be in the presence of art thousands of years old is to be humbled by your place in the world and staring at these models I feel as a grain of sand might on an enormous beach, an insignificant speck in the story of the world.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Singapore & Malaysia: A Study In Contrasts

For the past few days we’ve been traveling throughout Singapore and Malaysia. The former is a modern city: tall office buildings, English street signs and vast shopping malls line carefully landscaped streets. Notorious for the Michael Fay caning, Singapore is serious about maintaining the peace – even small crimes like littering and jaywalking result in huge fines. But don’t let this get you down. It makes up for its Nazi-like attention to order with its cosmopolitan vibe boasting a diverse mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians (plus international tourists) that makes it as easy to find chilli crab as it is to find curry or dim sum. We popped into the famous Raffles, where the “Singapore Sling” originated. After polishing these fruity concoctions off in the hotel’s Long Bar I shamefacedly admit that we pursued the national Singaporean pastime of shopping hitting hard-to-find British stores like Topshop and Miss Selfridge. Feeling greedy and totally American we took a cab to Brewerkz, Singapore’s only microbrewery. With a vast beer list and a varied menu we cooled off in the air-conditioning with locals on their lunch break and drank until our consumerist shame was obliterated by a beer buzz.

Aside from the shared affinity for shopping malls, Singapore and Malaysia seem to have little else in common. Malaysia appears less solvent financially and even in Kuala Lumpur where Louis Vuitton stores rub shoulders with top hotels, there’s an obvious disparity in wealth. The Petronas Towers define this city skyline which until 2003 were the world’s tallest twin buildings standing at 1,483 feet. After viewing them and exploring the city we lunched at the Mandarin Oriental’s Lai Po Heen, a hip Cantonese spot featuring a glass-encased kitchen and city views. At only $35 for two people one thing’s for sure: even high-end spots are affordable in Malaysia, yet the city seems to lack that indefinable quality of "heart."

Meanwhile, the island of Penang offers a totally different travel experience – more exotic, more “real” feeling. Much of the colonial architecture still stands here and in contradiction to the skyscrapers of KL, Penang’s Chinese clan houses, Buddhist temples and 19th century structures crumble romantically along shaded side streets. Yet these historic and cultural jewels also come with the reality of less sophisticated dining options and hotel accommodations than are available in the big city. Pockets of severe poverty are evident – tenement houses missing doors and windows are strung with clotheslines and crowded, dirty streets are common sights. Bizarrely, there are 7-11’s everywhere (who would think?) so we brainfreezed ourselves while we wandered in the oppressive heat.


30ml gin
15ml Heering Cherry Liqueur
7.5ml D.O.M Benedictine
7.5ml Cointreau
120ml Pineapple juice
15ml fresh lime juice
10ml grenadine
dash of Angostura bitters
Garnish: maraschino cherry, pineapple chunk, and orange slice

Monday, March 17, 2008

Random Adventures in Ko Samui

If your idea of a good time includes:

a) elephants playing harmonicas
b) a mummy monk
c) curry goodness
d) coconut-pickin’ monkeys
e) gorgeous beaches

Or any of the above…you’ll need to get to Ko Samui for your next vacation. Often called “the island of coconuts” since it produces over 3 million a month, Ko Samui utilizes monkeys to perform the brunt of this manual labor. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see monkeys at their day jobs and we found them hard at work...skittering up tree trunks and twisting coconuts with their tiny paws. I would imagine this is a pretty large profit margin for the humans since they don’t have to actually pay their employees and I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking the monkeys get a pretty raw deal. Does PETA know about this??? We also visited an elephant camp where these gentle giants played harmonicas with their trunks and dunked baskets better than Michael Jordan. I will refrain from commenting on the little “Thai Massage” trick they’ve taught them – better see it for yourself in the video below.

Wat Kunaram houses the mummified body of Loung Poh Deang, a Buddhist monk who passed away while meditating in the lotus position over 30 years ago. We visited the temple to view Deang’s body which was never embalmed but miraculously shows little sign of decay. The one exception is his eyes (which have been thoughtfully covered up with a pair of sunglasses to hide the exposed sockets) which makes Deang look the part of a hipster monk in a pair of Ray Bans and his saffron robe. Afterwards we drove north to the Big Buddha temple where I received a holy water blessing from one of the Buddhist monks.

Hungry from all the touring, Matt and I stopped in at the Nora Beach Resort for a Thai buffet full of curried duck, fried noodles, fresh fish and sticky rice with mango. Sitting at our seaside table we took in the aqua ocean and golden sand with a few Tiger beers and fell in love with the tiny beach bungalows (complete with outdoor rainhead showers). Although tempted to stay here and meet the ship somewhere in India we headed back to the ship amid promises to someday come back. Ko Samui is full of surprises – some good, some just…random, but the beaches are gorgeous and the exchange rate makes it affordable.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bangkok's Royal Palace: Nicer Than White House

The moment our cab driver bought us street food (fried bananas) through the window, we knew we were going to love it here. People are friendly, there’s tons of shopping, the palaces and temples are extremely beautiful and the exchange rate means you’ll be able to kick it in style. We hit the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Keo Complex first. With its zealous application of gild, mirror shards and mosaics on every possible surface these ornate 18th century buildings shimmered brighter than Harry Winston’s diamonds. Glittery spires shot up into the sky topped with ornate finials and the roofs fitted with wind chimes tinkled quietly in the breeze. We kneeled inside the temple in awe of the Emerald Buddha perched atop a gilded pedestal while devout Buddhists prayed and meditated silently on the floor.

Jonesing for some Thai food we popped into Sho Pratumtong, a 4-table local’s spot for some authentic Pad Thai and Ginger Chicken with Rice. Our entrees plus huge draft beers came to $12 – an amazing deal. Afterwards we strolled down the block to Wat Pho , Bangkok’s oldest and largest temple to see the Reclining Buddha, a 46 meter long gold plated structure whose feet are intricately inlaid with mother of pearl. Since we only had a few hours left we did some shopping across town, but my discovery of the day was the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Store. The men and women’s accessories, home furnishings and clothing here is reminiscent of an Asian inspired Michael Kors collection and although not cheap, certainly costs less than it would back home - certainly worth a stop if you're in Bangkok although they also have satellite stores around the world.

Ho Chi Minh City: Better Than A Sale At Barney's

My advice on crossing the street here is to look both ways, cross your fingers and then run like hell since the adherence to traffic signals (are there any?) can make it a bit tough to get around. But this my friends, is a very small price to pay considering the uber-tasty Vietnamese food (sauteed crawfish in cream sauce, crispy spring roll triangles, fried noodles, oh my!), ancient Taoist temples, outdoor beer gardens and el-cheapo shopping.

Like my grandmother, I believe that there’s nothing better than the satisfaction of getting a good bargain and believe you me…if she were here to see Ho Chi Minh City, you can be guaranteed she’d be getting on a plane with her arms full. Shop windows full of silk dresses, bespoke suits and trendy home goods sell their merchandise for outrageously low prices. It’s not uncommon to see couture gowns priced at $100 while purses, ties and hand embroidered linen tablecloths clock in at $30 and under. Plus, in many places you can bargain them down from the original asking price – quite a thrill. When I win the lottery I’ll be back here to furnish my (currently non-existent) apartment with the modern Asian lamps at Mosaique. Until then, I’ll be content with my fabulous $22 bamboo tray bargain that looks like it might’ve come from the Barney’s Warehouse Sale.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Vietnam: Hue's Temples, Palaces & Rural Beauty

My first impressions of Vietnam are of water buffalo lumbering through rice paddies, colorful street stalls and spirit houses smoking with the smell of incense. Motorbikes careen down highways releasing clouds of thick smoke and the sound of beeping horns in their wake. Driving here is an experiment in carefully contained chaos. On the side of these roads men struggle under the weight of wood balanced on their shoulders while women stand barefoot on the backs of water buffalo, wearing conical palm hats and searching for something in the horizon past the pandemonium occurring on the street below.

Down a winding maze of dirt roads we travel through the tiny rural villages, rice paddies and dilapidated shops around the city of Hue. Children wave from one-room schoolhouses with dirt floors; houses in the process of falling in on themselves seem to vibrate and buckle every time cars pass. Emperor Minh Mang’s Tomb is located in one such village and we stop to observe this 19th century Feng Shui masterpiece - carved dragons seem to hiss as they wend their way across the corners of the roofs here. Long pathways lined with baobab trees set off the imposing compound comprising of 40 buildings, lakes and bridges constructed by the Emperor's 100+ offspring.
Following the tomb we travel to a 17th century Buddhist pagoda (Heavenly Lady) built between the Perfume River and a pine forest. This seven-tiered pagoda leans a bit like the Tower of Pisa, its wedding cake layers representing all the human manifestations of Buddha. Monks chant sutras in the main temple while novices practice their calligraphy inside. One of the more moving exhibits is a national relic, the car in which Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc used to transport himself to Ho Chi Minh City on June 11, 1963 where he set himself on fire to protest the regime’s violations of religious freedom.

After a dragon boat ride down the Perfume River (where I somehow convince the driver using only hand gestures to let me steer) we dock at a waterside Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. Munching on fried pancakes with peanut sauce, white noodles with beef and spring rolls we’re in awe of this country, humbled by its ancient history and culture. Our last stop is to be the Imperial Citadel in Hue. Built in the early 1800’s by the first Nyguen Emperor, the Citadel is modeled on Beijing’s Forbidden City and features a breathtaking lotus pond and the Palace of Supreme Harmony. You can almost feel the ghosts walking the corridors here. Although many of the structures suffered destruction from U.S. bombing during the occupation of Vietnam, much of it still stands. Outside, rickshaws cruise down the road, motorcycles carrying groups of two’s and three’s zip by and market stalls are congested with the sounds and smells of produce, people and wandering dogs.

Come to Hue for the history and architecture but also know that part of the thrill is meeting the people, eating their food and seeing the way they live – it's an experience I won't soon forget.

Hong Kong:Crossroads of Ancient & Modern

Hong Kong is constantly full of people run-walking towards destinations unknown. They do not bump into one another, they are polite and the public transportation is efficient and clean. This is a modern, humming city where towering apartment buildings crowd the sky and neon shops tumble down city blocks. The energy here is consumerist and frenetic. Yet there are parts of Hong Kong that depart from the flash and thrum of industrialized society completely. Jewel box-sized tea houses and ancient places of worship encourage the preservation of culture and tradition in the face of futuristic shopping mall complexes. With slick skyscrapers and salesy billboards soaring over temples from the 1800’s it is as if Hong Kong is constantly at a crossroads of old and new, young and old, history and possibility.

We spend the morning eating dim sum at Luk Yu Tea House, a local’s hangout in the Central District of Hong Kong. Nearly a century old, it’s crowded with women carrying trays of steaming dumplings in bamboo baskets, crispy spring rolls and juicy meatballs. Ceiling fans spin above us and the ambience of the outdated spittoons and Art Deco stained-glass windows makes it feel as though we’ve snuck into some sort of secret Hong Kong world of the past. We indulge in nearly all of the offerings, sipping jasmine tea while trying to not to drop dumplings into bowls of soy sauce with our chopsticks. I do this a few times, sending a group of gossiping old men into fits of hysterical laughter. Yet my mild humiliation is a small price to pay for the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten and at $30.00 for two people it’s a real bargain, not to mention the atmosphere.

Matt and I decide to walk off our immense breakfast with a stroll down Hollywood Road searching for reasonably priced treasures on this street crowded with antique stores, inexpensive boutiques and curiosity shops laden with fun junk. Black sesame soap, hand-carved perfume bottles and bamboo salad tongs are just a few of the finds of the day. Further down the road sits the 19th century Man Mo temple, an ancient Taoist structure painted in vivid reds and greens. The inside is thick with smoke from rows of burning incense coils hanging in canopies above my head. I find myself thankful for this quiet, dark interior and watch as worshippers leave their offerings to the gods on altars crowded with oranges and candles. It is such a peaceful respite from the bustling energy outside that I find myself completely entranced by the sounds of the gong, bell and whispered prayer. Feeling as though I’ve traveled back in time I employ an elderly fortune teller outside to use his I Ching coins to tell me what he sees in my future; he assures me I’ll have a job quickly upon returning home from our travels.

That afternoon we pause all cultural pursuits for ice cold beers in Lan Kwai Fong, the hard-drinking party district. Copping seats outside the Hong Kong Brew House we down half liters of beer, soaking in the frat-party atmosphere of empty kegs that line the narrow streets. As 80’s music blares from the pubs and patrons start putting back what appears to be only the first in a long line of drinks we head out for more adventure, leaving the ex-pats to party on into the night.

A few hours later we find ourselves hopping the Star Ferry for a breezy cruise across Victoria Bay to eat Cantonese at Spring Moon. Crispy Peking duck and sautéed Waygu beef spoil us rotten and we know that eating Chinese take-out at home somehow won’t be the same after this. Waiters carve the duck tableside, wrapping the meat into lettuce cups and mini-wraps filled with hoisin sauce and crisp veggies. After dinner we take the elevator upstairs to The Peninsula’s trendiest restaurant, Felix to see its high concept design. It’s all towering glass walls, glamorous people and Hong Kong Swank with a decidedly contemporary flair. I feel like I’ve been swept into some elegant city aerie as we end the evening staring at the neon signs across Hong Kong’s bustling harbor from the 28th floor of this fabulous bar, sipping cocktails and enjoying the bird's eye view of this spectacular city.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Kota Kinabalu: If You Like Lonely Planet...

Remember those tacky designer imposter perfumes? If you like Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers You’ll Love…Sun Showers, or whatever. I’ll admit they smelled like ass, but there was a certain marketing genius in the concept. Logic dictates that if for instance, you like Camaros you probably also like body building or cheap leather jackets. Which is why I now inuit that: if you like Lonely Planet guides you’ll love Kota Kinabalu.

We spent the day visiting the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a five island spread off the coast of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. On Mamutik Island we swam and sunbathed, pointedly ignoring the fact that the ocean had detritus muddying up its green water and that is was “jellyfish season." Youthful backpackers had set up camp in a tent, its dilapidated frame packed with bunks swarthed in dirty mosquito netting. Strung up on clotheslines outside were sweaty underpants and muddy rucksacks. Oh to be 21 again!!! I wondered if at their age I would’ve had the guts to book a vacation here and after witnessing the bathrooms (I mean…holes in the tile floor) I quickly realized that no, I was always more of a high thread count sheet kind of girl. I can rough it with the best of ‘em, but certainly not for grubby beaches and murky water – that I can get at Jones Beach, thank you very much.

That afternoon we not-so-sadly parted ways with Mamutik Island and headed to Pulau Gaya for a rainforest trek. In what felt like two hundred degree weather with 100% humidity we combated mosquitoes, attacking us the way Lindsay Lohan does an 8-ball in her suite at the Chateau Marmont. After slogging through miles of knee-deep mud I had the epiphany that Kota Kinabalu had been a letdown. But isn’t traveling about discovering what you do and don’t like? Well, now I know. Give me sunset in a garden in Provence with chilled white wine, the smell of lavender and a tuna nicoise salad– as of now, my days of backpacking are officially over.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oenophiles & Foodies Take Note

You might’ve noticed that my friend Brian is listed as a contributor on my blog. That’s because he’s been kind enough to hook a girl up on the techie side of things since he’s a bit of a Mensa-fied computer prodigy. I have to hand it to him, it does take a special je ne sais quoi to break into other peoples’ laptops and change all of their icons to porn-related stuff…not that I was ever a victim of this on Parent’s Weekend my Freshman Year of college BRIAN!!! Hmmph.

Fortunately for me, Brian’s moved on to more middle-aged pursuits and has become quite the epicure. Like everyone else in his life, I’m pinning these wonderfully evolved interests of his on the influence of his fabulous girlfriend Mickey.

So if you’re a fan of gourmet cooking, eating out or drinking wine you should check out Brian’s blog – Clinton Hill Foodie. This male Martha Stewart actually makes his own pasta from scratch while celebrities like Queer Eye’s Ted Allen stop by to post comments on his webpage and send him free things in the mail. (Editor’s Note: WTF? I want free things! Giant corporations – I am totally for sale! Send me your swag!) Show him some love and peep his website here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Onboard Talent Show: Somewhere Dogs Howl, Mirrors Break

Ah, the age old passenger talent show. If you raided a nursing home, plied the residents with cheap shots of tequila and then forced them onstage without the benefit of a single rehearsal you’ve got an idea as to what this onstage lunacy is all about. Dreadfully entertaining in a Catskills-at-Sea meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest sort of a way. Wildly off-key singing and the reading of limericks are just the tip of the iceberg. The dramatic reading of limericks you say? As a talent? And yet, I’m afraid it’s true.

As such, my VIP award from the most recent Queen Victoria talent show goes to a man and his stuffed monkey doll for reasons that should be obvious. (See video below) However, never one to skimp on the praise of these burgeoning artistes I’d also like to include nods to the two runners-up who include:

1. A woman who has never taken a piano lesson in her life attempting to play The Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream” (a rather fitting title given the performance)


2. A gentleman performing a “comical” monologue about his life i.e. “One time I was this landlord and people were making love really loudly upstairs – I called ‘em up and told ‘em they had two choices – the first was to stop the loud love making, the second choice was that if they didn’t, I was going to sell tickets!!!”

Oh yes, hardy-har-har.

So for those of you planning a Cunard cruise anytime soon, break out that accordion you haven’t seen since high school band camp and start practicing – who knows, with competition like this you just may get discovered.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Queen Victoria's Jacuzzi: Cheaper Than a Happy Ending

I envisioned enormous Olympic swimming pools where I’d spend afternoons doing laps when I first booked this cruise. It wasn’t crucial or anything, but I did go to the trouble of getting a pair of goggles. Sadly, this was never meant to be and my goggles are currently collecting dust in a drawer (minus the time I drunkenly danced around the cabin for fun in them). Anyhow, in the spirit of journalistic integrity it bears mentioning to you, the possible consumer that both swimming pools are kinda smallish. Obviously they’re large enough for a cooling dip, but they’re utterly unsuitable for exercise. And while the Jacuzzis are a pleasant experience a gal could get pregnant in one without even trying. 3 people at a time is probably the max (2 if you have personal space issues) when sitting with strangers, unless you’re all built like Mary-Kate Olsen.

As Will Ferrell says, “We should mention that although the waters above appear calm, below the surface there is a frenzy of activity.” At least this is what I could imagine easily happening, quite by accident with too many people, which is why I’ve only been in the Jacuzzis once. All that whining aside, the sundeck itself is a lovely place with its ample seating, towel and beverage service and a reggae band that plays at all the right times. Go at midday when it’s less crowded (read: everyone’s at lunch) and you’ll have the place to yourself. Just be prepared for more of a loungey scene where you can enjoy the golden glow of the sun, splash in for a quick dip and instantly repair back to the chaise lounge for an Apricot Stone Sour and some trashy magazine reading.

Apricot Stone Sour

1 oz. Apricot Brandy
1 oz. Sweet & Sour Mix
1 oz. Orange Juice (no pulp)

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a lowball glass & serve with orange slice

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cool Travel Accessory: Foldable Bikes

If you’d love to bring your bike on a trip, but can’t figure out how to wheel it onto that Cessna - don’t despair. These new foldable bikes collapse into small carrying cases making them a cinch to pack. And when you’re finally ready to ride, all it takes is a few adjustments before you’re hitting the pavement and coasting through the countryside with the wind in your hair. They’re perfect for cruisers, jet setters or even folks hopping a train for a weekend getaway. Plus, if you live in a city abode with less than ample storage just slide these bikes under the bed. Another plus? These two-wheelers help cut down your dependence on gas, making them both eco and wallet friendly. ($399 Dahon Folding Bike available at L.L. Bean)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Great Barrier Reef: Not the Jersey Shore

The Great Barrier Reef, located on the coast of Australia is like one pristine, sandy underwater garden after the next. Filled with sun dappled coral forests and clear water, the wave tips glitter like diamonds in the sun. Beneath the surface fish flit in silvery, metallic schools darting and weaving their way through the reef while translucent jellyfish bob gracefully in the slow rocking of the saltwater. Dive down below and the colors are as shocking as a Warhol print: witness the bright blue of Staghorn coral stretching its delicate branches up towards the sun while electric lime green pipefish and shimmery purple and teal parrotfish cruise lazily. Here you can float effortlessly while playful turtles paddle above your head, their silhouettes outlined in the sun. This is something you won’t forget – at least not in this lifetime, one of the many reasons it was proclaimed a World Heritage site in 1981 and chosen by CNN as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

Details: We took Quicksilver Cruises from Port Douglas out to the GBR. It’s an hour in a huge air-conditioned catamaran, the staff looks like an Australian version of Baywatch and snacks & beverages are offered onboard for a nominal fee. Upon arrival we docked at a pontoon on the outer edges of the Agincourt reef, a prime piece of underwater real estate where you’re guaranteed to see at least a dozen varieties of fish (if not more) and coral formations bigger than human beings. Turtles, sharks, jellyfish and other animals sometimes make an appearance if you’re lucky – and don’t freak, the sharks that come out aren’t dangerous so give up on the Open Waters paranoia already. Scuba diving, helicopter rides, snorkeling, helmet walks, and semi-submersible boat rides are all available on-site and a fab buffet lunch is included. Did I mention free beer and wine on the way back to shore? An ideal way to end a day diving in the reef…bottoms up!