Friday, September 14, 2012

Broke in Montreal

I recently said something out loud to a friend that upset me...

"I wish I didn't book this trip."

Hard financial times had made it extremely tough to travel, especially after signing a new lease to a nice apartment.  The trip had already been booked when I had money and income coming through, and not much to worry about.  All of that had changed, with the exception of the hotel room in Montreal.  It was only a 3 day trip, originally an end of summer getaway from the city.  I booked through Hotwire, so while I got a bargain on a 4.5 star hotel, it was non-refundable.  My aunt recommended that I write an entry about being broke in a foreign city.

It's a strange feeling, but having no money was kind of relieving.  There was absolutely no pressure to force myself to see the obligated sights.  I didn't have to splurge on a fancy dinner, or max out my credit card at the hottest club.  I was going to chill and do my own thing in Montreal without breaking the bank.

Here are a few ways that I did it:

- Purchased a 3 day metro pass (Cost for 2 adults, $32)

Montreal has a small subway system, consisting of four lines.  Thankfully the large bus system is included in their unlimited pass.  The only downside to this was that at times we had to wait quite a bit for the bus to come.  But thankfully we were visiting in August.  I LOVE that the subway entrances are similar to those in Paris!

- Took advantage of cheap eats

I'd recommend Schwartz's, Montreal's popular smoked meat sandwich shop.  The line was out the door, but thankfully a table for two was a short wait.  The sandwiches were great - with delicious meat overflowing between the two pieces of bread.  (2 Sandwiches, 2 Fries, 1 Coleslaw, 1 Pickle and 2 Cokes - $31.50)

Vietnamese food on Saint-Laurent Boulevard.  Tons of authentic restaurants and shopping marts line this busy block.  This tasty dish cost me $8.  Spring rolls on top of Vermicelli and salad.

Bagels!  Montreal's favorite breakfast.  I enjoyed the everything bagel with lox and cream cheese from Fairmount Bagel.  There is no seating in the shop, so purchase the bagel, tub of cream cheese and packaged lox separately and enjoy on the benches outside.  This could get messy, but is so worth it!  (8 bagels, 1 package of lox and 2 individual cream cheese packets - $11)

Mingle with the locals.

My latest travel trend is to look up the local gay volleyball league to see if they will have any open plays while I am in the city.  The social coordinator returned my email very quickly, and let me know where the net would be set up.  Best part was that it was completely free!

The games were played in quiet Parc Lafontaine.  For the most part the crowd was very friendly and offered advice on where to visit.

Not only is this a good workout while in another city, but it's a great way to interact with local crowd.

Park on the street.

If you are visiting on the weekend you will most likely be able to snag free street parking.  This puts about $35-$40 back into your pocket, as the going rate for 24 hours in a lot downtown was between $18 and $20 a night.

Climb Mont Royal for a nice reward.

It's hard to miss the giant mountain in the middle of the city.  Mont Royal is a very nice park that was filled with people walking, riding bikes and rollerblading.  We decided to hike up, first walking up hill and then climbing stairs.  The reward was a sweeping view of the city.

I'll leave you with one thing not to do.  Don't get suckered into a hockey carnival game!  Between the mesh of the net being pulled up and the terrible bouncy surface I only managed to get one damn puck in between the holes! But hey, it might be the only hockey action I get all season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Good Eats in Paradise

We all have those select places in the world that just stay in mind while daydreaming.  I was lucky enough to add another one of those places to my list this year.  That place is the western Hawaiian island of Kauai.   There are multiple reasons why Kauai stands out as a destination for me, but this entry is going to be about the delicious food offered there.  When you come here, come HUNGRY!  The food is great and the portions are HUGE!  

Here are some of my favorites from the 4 day journey across this marvelous island.  

Good ole American cheeseburgers at Bubba Burger.  Accompanied by "Frings", a combo of fries and onion rings.  Yes, it says Frings on the menu - and has apparently saved marriages!

Local Coconut Beer found in the Kapa'a supermarket.

 Breakfast at Kountry Kitchen in Kapa'a - Macadamia pancakes with a side of scrambled eggs and an incredibly delicious papaya.  This picture doesn't do any justice to how delightful that papaya was.

 The traditional Loco Moco breakfast.  Kalua pork, an egg and rice smothered in Gravy.  MMM good!

Ok, so we went just a bit overboard - French Toast, Cornbread and the best Hash Browns I have ever had!  If you are in Kauai make sure you head over to Kountry Kitchen with an empty belly.

Another Best - The best fish taco's I've ever had.  Baja fried fish tacos from Tropical Taco near Hanalei Bay.   

 An up close look after the first bite.

 Also in Hanalei is Tahiti Nui.  The bar that was shot in George Clooney's: The Descendants.  Appetizer was paper thin Tuna Carpaccio.  Eyes rolling to the back of the head GOOD.  

Followed by an Ahi steak entree.  Such a good dinner!

A few of these didn't hurt either!  

The next morning, another huge breakfast in Kapa'a at Ono Family Restaurant

Halo-Halo next door at a little shack - surprisingly amazing!

Island Taco on the West Side of the island in Waimea.  Giant and tasty Ranchero "Wet" Shrimp Burrito.  I was hungry from a morning of exploring and still couldn't polish off this bad boy.  

Also very good Mahi-Mahi tacos.  Again, huge!  

If you're ever in Kauai and hungry stop by at once of these places.  The island isn't that big, so no matter where you are, you won't be far away!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unique London

I honestly wasn't sure how I was going to like London based off feedback from friends and co-workers who had been there before. The response was all over the place. A couple people loved it, many were neutral, and some didn't like it. The other city we were visiting on this trip was Barcelona which on the other hand had an overwhelming "OH MY GOD YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE IT" reaction. I ended up loving London! It's huge city that remains friendly and laid back while maintaining a steady pace. We were lucky to have friends who live there and were able to explore beyond the guidebook attractions. Every casual traveler knows the highlights of London: Big Ben, The Eye, Parliament, Tower Bridge etc... which are all beautiful and completely worth seeing. When I travel I always enjoy taking note of the different quirks that each city has to offer. Here are some of unique notes on London:

- Watch out for the pigeons!!!

I'm a New Yorker, I am very familiar with our dirty, ugly sidewalk pets and generally don't enjoy their company. But I have to hand it to the New York birds, they usually give us plenty of room when they fly over our head. Their London counterparts on the other hand will happily graze the scalp of any passerby, possibly as a statement to say "screw you for making me fly out of your way". I constantly found myself challenging the much braver pigeon to a game of chicken. Maybe they're just lazy and don't want to work too hard or maybe they enjoy the excitement of a near collision. Whatever the reason is, I will never take the New York pigeon for granted again.

- Locals don't know street names

A common stereotype about men is that we don't like to ask for directions. I on the other hand enjoy asking for directions, it gives me an excuse to approach a local and the information that they share could prove to be extremely worthwhile. So whenever we were lost in the somewhat confusing streets of London we would ask away. There was only one problem. Nobody else in the city knew where we were going either! Our first night after 8 hours of traveling, standing outside of massive Victoria Station we started pestering strangers about where nearby Belgrave Road was, with no luck. We eventually walked in the right direction and realized we were only a block away. On our last night we got off at the confusing Bank street station in East London and once again were determined to ask anyone walking by for assistance. A few I don't knows - some rushed and some patient, but thankfully a knowledgeable police officer pointed us in the right direction. Police officers actually seemed to be the best people to ask. I asked a cop in a snazzy BMW 5 series where Lisle street was. He had no idea, but helped out by typing it into his high tech GPS system, that did the trick!

- If you're hungry late at night ... go to sleep!

It was our first night in London and we were starving! It was just after 10PM. Ok, let's explore the neighborhood, there has to be a nearby pub open, I thought out loud. Thankfully there was an open pub a few streets down, only problem was their kitchen was closed! We looked at each other in surprise, it was a Friday night for crying out loud. It was the same story at the next few pubs we strolled into. What the hell! We walked over to the area next to the theatre, and our stomach's prayers were answered, as there was a restaurant filled with people eating! We asked the incredibly nice Spanish waitress why this was the only place open at the hour. "We're only open because of the theater next door, this is London!" We explained that we were from New York and that this felt odd. Sunday night after a failed attempt to get into club that required a passport (must have been some new foreign country) we once again found ourselves hungry. The only place open was McDonald's - and damn the place was popping! I swore off Micky D's two years ago but had to give in and chowed down on nuggets. Not a proud moment.

- Look Left! Look Right!

The big white letters at each street corner spelling out either LOOK LEFT or LOOK RIGHT with arrows pointing direction are lifesavers! I'm a fast walker and a pro at navigating Manhattan crosswalks. It's so natural to look the correct way and boldly cross. One simple difference in London, all traffic drives on the left. It seems like something easy to get accustomed to but it really isn't. I'm sure we weren't the first people to realize this, and the city decided to do something about it. I wonder how many mowed down tourists it took to get these implemented, but I'm happy that they are a permanent part of the bustling streets.

- Londoners love New Yorkers!

I'm a big fan of accents. I think they're incredibly interesting and often times I wonder how they became established. British accents are one of my favorites along with Australian. I was amazed by how many Londoners loved my New York accent and the fact that I lived in the city. Some people's eyes lit up and gave me a huge smile upon hearing this news. "Oh my god, I've never been to New York City" a young lady at the counter of a diner said. "I always here about the beautiful buildings, all of my friends love it" she continued. She wasn't the only one, many people that we met across London expressed their love for New York. I wonder how people would react if they said they were from LA or Boston. Would they get the same positive reaction from being from the states? Or is it purely a New York obsession? My vote is for the latter.

- The food is good in London

A few people warned me about the food in London, claiming that it was nothing special. An English guy in a Queens ice cream shop even told me to bring my own food. I enjoyed the food scene in London. It was diverse and had all the options to satisfy any eater. Again, we had the luxury of having local friends who took us to some of their favorite spots, so we cheated a little. One highlight was an Indian restaurant called Masala Zone. They have a few locations across the city, but we chose the location in the heart of Covent Garden. Their specialty was the Grand Thali, where customers choose their curry with multiple side dishes including potatoes, lentils, rice, veggies and sauces. We added a fantastic naan with almonds, soaking it in sauce as a delicious end to the meal. The pub scene is great for food and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The "traditional English breakfast" was particularly enjoyable and only cost around 5 pounds. It consisted of fried eggs, big slabs of bacon (unlike thinner American style), sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans and if you're lucky black pudding in the center.

London is a great city, and has the quirkiness, unique flaws and misconceptions that any other city in the world has. There is still so much more to explore and discover, but keep these things in mind once you visit for the first time. I'm sure you will find your own unique London!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Escaping the city while staying within its limits

Often times I want to leave the hustle and bustle that makes New York City "the city that never sleeps". It doesn't have to be long, as a typical weekend for a 9-5er like me usually doesn't allow for extended travel. A road trip to the beach or the country for a hike perhaps in another state is always nice. But on days when I want to escape without actually leaving the 5 boroughs I visit Red Hook.

Red Hook is a "coastal" Brooklyn neighborhood with a relaxed vibe and numerous local hangouts. Many Brooklynites make the venture east of booming Park Slope to roam around the giant shopping options in the area such as Ikea and Fairway. While these are valid reasons to make the trip, it's the peace and quiet, delicious local eats, friendly faces and awesome views that keep louring me back over.

Here are a few of my picks for how to spend the day in Red Hook

Lunch at the ball park food trucks while watching soccer.

By far my favorite thing about Red Hook, the ball park food trucks are a summer staple to satisfy the loyal soccer lovers who come out to the park to root their local teams on. The trucks, lined up along Bay and Clinton street offer numerous delicious Latin American specialties. My ideal meal is a pork pupusa with a side of fried plantains covered in sour cream, a grilled corn and a pineapple juice. The prices are extremely reasonable, with this mammoth of a lunch costing around $16. There are picnic tables nearby in the park where patrons comfortably chow down while enjoying the game. I found out the hard way that the trucks are only here on the weekend.

Enjoying city views in peace and quiet

Situated directly on the East River, Red Hook boasts sweeping views of the city. Look one way you see the Statue of Liberty. Turn your head to the left and you see the Verranzano Bridge jetting across into the flatness of Staten Island. Turn your head to the right and admire the downtown Manahttan skyline. The best part about these fantastic views is that they are yours to enjoy with minimal distractions. There simply aren't many people around. Walk behind the massive Fairway, past the ferry dock there is a small park with a couple of benches to sit and enjoy in peace.

Eating my way down Van Brunt Street

The food scene in Red Hook is booming and Van Brunt street is home to a couple gems. The first is the Red Hook Lobster Pound. This small shack has plenty of fresh lobsters chilling in their tanks waiting to be served in a few different ways. The lobster roll, served either hot with butter or cold with mayo is my snack of choice here. Generous chunks of juicy sweet claw and tail are piled onto these bad boys and go best with a Maine soda & chips. The friendly family owned atmosphere is extremely welcoming and they have an awesome indoor space next door with large picnic tables.

A few blocks further south on Van Brunt lies Red Hook Mercado which I stumbled into. The "market" is an urban courtyard transformed into an inviting local hangout with different options for the average hungry passerby. The vendors inside change weekly, with specific ball park trucks represented. The weekend I visited there were also local cupcakes and beer to choose from. It quickly became clear to me that this was a spot where everybody knew each other and almost felt like a backyard family barbecue. Like the ball park trucks, this place is only open on the weekend.

Neighborhood Flea Markets

The reason I stumbled upon Red Hook in the first place was because of the first ever neighborhood flea market. There were vague guidelines, but with some strong social media advertising word quickly spread about a range of streets participating in the event. It was a great way to force myself to walk down unassuming streets I probably would have quickly driven by. I didn't buy anything, but it was nice exploring and talking with residents of a neighborhood I was quickly becoming fond of.

What is your getaway within your own city limits? Please share in the comments section!! :)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Photo Essay: Eating with the locals in Manila

During my 2 week stay in Manila I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chow down on some amazing authentic Filipino cuisine, snacks and drinks. Here is a photo essay highlighting a few of my favorites through out the journey:

Mister Donut, a nice cheap snack found in the neighborhood Quezon City supermarket.

Delicious home made pork & chicken fried Shanghai (Lumpia). I always smiled when I saw this tasty treat coming out onto the table.

Mini keg of refreshing San Miguel Light, the beer of choice through out Manila.

A little Buko Pandan from Max's to cleanse the palate after a large meal.

This dish was awaiting us as a welcoming to our new living quarters, awesome home made stuffed crabs.

Some more San Mig light, in a different form. Manila loves to drink beer and party!!

Nothing like coming home to some fresh squid after wandering around Quezon City.

When roaming around Manila on an empty stomach a stop at a local Dampa is necessary . A Dampa is a fresh seafood market with an attached restaurant. Customers select their desired seafood and tell the staff how they would like it prepared. Here are a few shots of our lunch at a Dampa located in the Baclaran section of Metro Manila.

Fresh fish waiting their turn to be chosen and served to hungry patrons.

Starting off with some cool green mangoes. A perfect first course during this hot November afternoon.

Buttered prawns. These peel and eat delights were worth the mess.

My favorite dish of the afternoon, clam soup.

The entire family enjoying lunch. Sweet and sour fried Lapu Lapu fish in the center of the table.

Full stomachs after this hearty meal.

Hopefully you won't be starving after reading this post. Have you ever tried Filipino food? If so, what are some of your favorites???