Category Archives: Travel

Stuff to take with you…

How Can You Not Love New York City?

I like New York City a lot, and although it’s not my favorite city, I do appreciate its amazing museums and grand theaters.  I love the neighborhoods that stretch all the way from the Battery to the Bronx and the new Brooklyn, unrecognizable to my wife now who went to Bayridge High School and grew up a stone’s throw from the Verrazano Straights.  New York has a busyness to it with its big, broad avenues, and trying to catch the pedestrian lights as you walk so you don’t need to stop and can just zig zag your way from 30th to the park. I love Soho and the Village and always wondered where I would live (probably Soho although the park is stunning).  So my question on New York is why is it so ratty in places?  London can be patchy and the outskirts of Paris are dreadful, but we are talking downtown New York City.  It’s very uneven to me.  Fun, but dirty, and even the late-night scene is sketchy.

My favorite restaurant in the city is Esca.  I love this place – great seafood, nice wine list, but honestly, it’s stuck in the seediest part of town on 43rd Street and 9th Ave, next to porn shops and dodgy quick bites.  It’s weird, New York.  The transportation hubs just seem to be seedier than they need to be.  Grand Central is a beautiful station but it’s confusing.  The shops and kiosks around it are grim.  Penn Station is even worse and is surrounded by dodgy hotels.  Yet here in the thick of it is Madison Square Garden.  Let’s not forget to mention LaGuardia Airport, antiquated and inefficient, with no great transportation link into town.  Welcome to New York.  

So, yeah, I do like New York for two days, grab an overpriced play and go out to a nice dinner, but in the end, no prejudice, London is just a cooler place.

 

What Do You Love About Telluride?

I had a credit from the Hotel Madeline in Telluride, CO.  They were kind enough to roll the credit from a canceled reservation a year ago over to a new reservation this year.  So my son and I hit Telluride.  I had never been before although I had heard lots about it.  We both love to ski so this seemed like a perfect storm.

Getting to Telluride is not easy.  It’s more or less impossible to drive from Denver (6 hours) so a flight to Montrose Airport is the usual way in and that’s what we did.  Montrose is a strange place.  One hour and a half drive from Telluride, it couldn’t be farther.  There is a great diner there, Starvin Arvins, where the eggs and corn beef hash are exceptional.  The waitresses all wear pumps and the clientele can look very different to us folks from the eastern territories.  Not more than 20 minutes from Montrose is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  The canyon is as deep as the Grand Canyon but not as wide.  It was spectacular in the early morning mist to see this giant chasm in a national park right next door to a very bland, modern town like Montrose.

An hour and a half later we arrived in Telluride. The town is really two towns. Mountain Village is essentially the new town.  It’s built along the lines of all American ski resorts with plenty of large fire pits, bars, and fake old new buildings.  However, it was functional and had great access to the lifts.  The Hotel Madeleine was right there – literally just a hop to the lifts.  We were taking advantage of my credit.  Actually, the hotel itself was a bit of a standout.  It had a nice pool, although not big enough to do lengths in, fabulous twin outside jacuzzis, a great steam room, and a slightly overpriced breakfast buffet.

There is a gondola that serves the new town and the old town.  It runs from early in the morning to midnight.  You can ski off at the midpoint or simply use it as public transportation between the two towns.  I loved this facility.  It’s also free and paid for by the state of Colorado as a form of public transportation.  I always think of great moments in travel like the Venice motor launch in from the airport.  This was one of those moments.  At the end of the day just before sunset, we would ride the gondola down to the old town.  Telluride is high up at 13,000 feet so these trips were spectacular and the ride down was thrilling every night.

I really loved this place.  Loved the old clipper mining town and the restaurants down there.  We ate well every night and the tacos at Taco Del Gnar are cheap and amazing.  There was an Italian restaurant close to the gondola that was good but not standout.  But everything was amazing every night especially Rustico and 221 South Oak.  At the top of Telluride, there is a fabulous place to break up the day called Alpino Vino.  It’s the highest restaurant in North America at 13,000 feet.  On a sunny day in the right place and a great table, you can see forever.  Telluride has a population of 2,000 people, seven dispensaries, and some of the best skiing in the Rocky Mountains with great restaurants.  Something for everyone.

 

The Confusing Ways of British Money

british money photo
It seems like an eternity but I remember well when England used pounds, shillings, and pence. The term £sd stood for librae, solidi, and denarii.  The measurement was based on Roman weights and measures and a pound of silver was divided into 240 denarius.  Remarkably and unfathomably, that stood through my childhood – 240 pence to a pound.

I was thinking the other day of that hilarious bit in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. What did the Romans do for us?  Apart from roads, sanitation, baths, building, currency etc.  So, there we were in the UK and Ireland pretty much using a Roman system for currency when the rest of the world had left us way behind and fled to decimalization.  Hey, that’s not going to happen again.  Yeah right, Brexit!  Screw those Europeans and all that Roman stuff.  We will show them.  Oh crikey!

So how bizarre was it to order a pint of beer for ten pence, egg and chips for just one and five, and a bag of chips for just four pence.  Four of chips please!  Or you could buy something classy for 19 and 11.  Imagine things like twopence and threepence, sixpence was called a tanner, and a shilling was called a bob.  “He is worth a few bob” meant that he was rich.  A pound was, and still is, called a quid or a knicker.  Half of a pound was a ten bob note or a tenner.  Lend me a tenner!  They even made a funny play about a tenor and a tenner and the play on words.  Two shillings and sixpence was half a crown or half a dollar.  Confused!?  Exactly!

But actually, the transition to decimalization surprisingly went remarkably well.  Prices rose, of course, but it was the British version of unification in Germany.  I mean we were nearly as efficient as the Germans!  Not as impressive but not bad.  Of course, the Italians did change currency along with most of the European countries by adopting the Euro on January 1st, 1999.  The Brits stuck with the pound!

So, I bought some coins the other day at a museum and it made me laugh.  I thought of egg and chips for one and six at the local café.  Travel changes lives.

 

 

Asparagus Season

Asparagus Season

The season of asparagus is on us. In Germany it’s practically a religious institution. Spargel is everywhere. They put dollops of hollandaise on top to negate the healthy calories of the green, but what I love most about asparagus season is wandering through the supermarkets of Paris. In France the true delicacy of the asparagus season, is white asparagus. So how is it done? How do you sap the color from asparagus?

It’s simple, you deprive it of light, like in Plato’s cave. That process is called etiolation and it’s supposed to make the stalks weaker. There’s something fabulous about white asparagus, cultivated as it is, under a cover of earth. Its texture and taste are completely different. The season is now – it’s much thicker than a regular stalk of asparagus; more brittle and simply delicious.

So why does it taste so damn good? I have a theory. Imagine you’ve been buried under a mound of earth for the whole winter, and suddenly someone comes and shows you the sun. It brings color to your cheeks and a smile to your face…before of course you are plunged into boiling hot water and served to someone like me. Incidentally be careful of pairing with wine. Asparagus is not great with tannic red or oaked wines – unless of course you slather it with hollandaise.  Luckily for those who can’t imagine a meal unaccompanied by wine, Fiona Beckett at Matching Food and Wine – has put together a helpful list of wine and asparagus pairings.

Lunch at Da Fortunato al Pantheon in Rome

Lunch at Da Fortunato al Pantheon in Rome

I’ve been coming to Rome for a long time, yet every time I want a great lunch I always end up at the same place: Da Fortunato al Pantheon.  It seems as though the waiters have been there as long as I’ve been going there. They remember you, they’re nice. The most important thing is that the food is simply out of this world.  I always have the same thing, depending on the season: either untarelle, a chicory dish with anchovies, or radicchioalla grilla, the spaghetti alla vongole veraci and a large bottle of sparkling water.  It’s quite simply the greatest lunch experience I’ve ever had in the world.

It’s simple; the restaurant is discreetly tucked away behind the Pantheon Square, the Piazza della Rotonda.  I am sort of a chaotic kind of guy and I know Rome really well – I like to experiment, try different restaurants, and discover new things in cities. But there’s never been a time where I’ve been in Rome and not gone to this marvelous institution; because in the end, there is simply nothing better than the food at this restaurant.

 

The Rialto Fish Market Five Course Dinner

The Rialto Fish Market Five Course Dinner

I needed to prepare a five course dinner for New Year’s Eve. As luck would have it, I was in Venice and a friend of mine knew a fish guy.  My friend had arranged to meet with me earlier in a bar for a cappuccino and we walked fast-paced across the maze of streets of La Rialto, where he introduced me to another guy who knew the fish guys that sold the good stuff. I felt a little like Jason Bourne. Abutting the Erberia, the vegetable market, is the Pescheria, one of the highlights of any visit to Venice.  You will see fish you’ve never seen: eels in the winter time, scallops in their shells, swordfish with their beaks on and razor clams called cape onghe.

I had decided that I would wait to prepare the menu until I saw what I had. I was introduced to the Fish Guy; I looked around. I would start with 10 large scallops. I would grill them in their shell with some oil and garlic. Then I was going to follow this with grilled razor clams. I would follow the razor clams with two pastas, one with small shrimp and zucchini and the other using artichoke that were in season that I planned to grab from the Erberia, and then finish off with a zuppa di pesce, which sounds decidedly better than its name in English – Fish Soup.

He asked me how I would do it. I felt the answer had to be good or he might turn me away. I would start with a fennel and onion base (he nodded slowly), add some tomatoes (ok)…then I told him I needed a good fish head or two for the broth (I’ve piqued his curiosity!), and then I would create a broth that I could empty the raw fish into for the last 10 minutes of preparation! He looked at me and said come back in 15 minutes. I returned and he’d neatly prepared bags for every course. In the fish soup there were scallops and langostina, a little monkfish, and all placed in at the very end, topped with tiny toasted pieces of bread with a dollop of aioli on them. We served the soup at 1am in the morning, having celebrated the fireworks in St. Marks at midnight. It wouldn’t have been possible without “my guy. “

 

Airport Lounges

Airline Lounges getting Lazy?

Airline Lounges Getting Lazy?

Clubs and places to hang out at airports are reaching a troubling intersection. Once the harbor of calm and safety, where you might feel like a million bucks, airline clubs are fast becoming overcrowded and unreliable.

Take American Admiral’s Club for example. What Admiral are they referring to? Certainly not Nelson! Please. It’s awful. Or the Delta Sky Club– there’s not much to eat: a few pretzels and some awful nuts that even if you’re not allergic to, you should be! You have to pay for the alcohol and if you were planning on a meal before a long flight…good luck! And what’s worse, Delta won’t even allow you in with stuff you have been forced to grab outside – probably for fear that others will catch on that there’s absolutely no value inside! You’re better off taking your chances in the vastly improving terminal buildings.

New concessions have opened, healthy and actually decent – places you don’t mind hanging out at. The other day at Chicago O’Hare I even noticed that Starbucks, the only bastion in days gone by, of decent coffee and half decent sandwiches, had no line. People had found healthier options and better coffee!

So, McDonald’s and Auntie Anne’s and those awful places that are still hanging around, watch out! Your concession license may cost more than your daily take – at least let’s hope so!

But it’s not all bad. Has anyone been to a Virgin International lounge recently? It’s actually good. There’s food to eat – variety, free drinks ! And if you have an American Express platinum card there’s a great club called Centurion Club. Sadly it’s only in 4 locations: LAS, DFW, SFO, and LGA. But the service is great, food decent and it made my transit and the vastly improved Dallas airport actually pleasant. Did I say Amex did something nice for its customers? Where’s the Visa lounge!?

airline food

Airline Food

Airline Food

All this fuss about Emirates and Etihad and how the food just knocks your socks off, I don’t buy it. I was recently lucky enough to be upgraded to first class on British Airways. The food was unacceptably bad – really if I had been paying the price of that ticket, it would have ranked per bite, as the worst meal dollar per dollop I’ve ever had.

Airline food

Airline food

Those good old days when they’d fire up the stove, simmer the mushrooms and pan fry the sirloin in front of you, have gone. But still, we clamor for those moments on board. No matter that we may have eaten in the lounge before or grabbed a quick sandwich in the departure lounge, we still get excited when they walk down the aisle, no matter what class of service you’re in. Sometimes it’s just a bag of crisps, an infinitesimally small bag of nuts where the packaging must’ve cost ten times the contents, or that delightful piece of overcooked chicken or the omelet in first class that looks as though it were cooked last year. No matter! We wait with expectation as the trolley rumbles down the aisle – and we go for it!

Just like the glass of wine, we know she shouldn’t, but we go for that too. It’s something to do while you’re awake. Let’s be really honest here, the only difference between the categories is the legroom, the rest is all an illusion, best dealt with by a sandwich in the airport or an Ambien just before you take off.