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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a NYC based food and travel website that views various dining scenes and destinations through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated thirty-something.

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Lindsay

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  • 4/28: dinner at Flex Mussels
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Entries in Travel (40)

Thursday
Nov282013

If you're going to San Francisco...

In the summer of 1999...

  • I was 18 years old.
  • I had just completed my freshman year of college.
  • I visited San Francisco/Napa for the first time.

That was fourteen years ago.  And, until recently, it had been that long since I last visited the Bay Area.  When my friend, Emily moved to SF (as the locals call it) a little over a year ago, I promised to come visit just as soon as time would allow.  And what better than a long holiday weekend in November?   

Being that all I had, in terms of days to take from work, was Veteran's Day (Monday), I wanted to maximize my time in California.  And, by that, I mean not spending a ridiculous amount of it in the air.  After all, the flight time from coast to coast is roughly 6-hours! 

JetBlue is so 5 years ago, by the way.  Virgin, my friends, is the only way to fly to San Francisco.  From the sexy mood lighting in the cabin - electrical outlets in every seat - and the ability to order food, drink, and retail products from your personal in-flight monitor to the awesome/hysterical pre-flight safety video, Virgin is the shit.  Period. 

After Emily picked me up from the airport, she drove me through a few of her favorite neighborhoods prior to our brunch reservations.  I made sure that we cruised through The Castro, a predominately gay/lesbian neighborhood, with which I became intimately familiar after having read And The Band Played On

.

For brunch, Emily and I scored two seats at the chef's counter at Nopa, one of SF's most popular restaurants...

Autumn Cocktail: La Guita Manzanilla, pear liqueur, allspice dramCream biscuit with pear butterDate and crescenza cheese sconeKale salad: Asian pear, walnuts, oregano, pecorinoBrisket with roasted root veggies, toasted croutons, and horseradish cremeCustard French toast with caramelized apples and maple butterBefore you start judging, I will have you know that Emily and I *split* all of the above dishes.  And, yes, they were just as fcuking fantastic as they look! 

Nopa

560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

.

After brunch, we drove by a few more sights before returning to Emily's apartment so that I could nap.  For dinner that evening, we enjoyed a pizza and pasta carb-fest at local Italian favorite, Flour + Water.  In fact, I'm *still* dreaming about the white pizza we shared that was topped with hen of the woods mushrooms, nettles, shallots, garlic, and fontina cheese.

Flour + Water

2401 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110

~

On Sunday, Emily, her friend, Katherine, and I headed to Napa via the Golden Gate Bridge!

Once in "wine country," our first stop was at Oakville Grocery, a fabulous gourmet market/cafe to pick up some snacks - my favorite being Tout Sweet Patisserie's incredibly delicious pates de fruits!

.

Swanson Vineyards

Does it get any more charming than this?

.

Cakebread Cellars

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Robert Sinskey Vineyards

.

After a long day of wine tasting (I know, rough life!), we checked in to the Andaz Napa.  What a fabulous hotel!

.

For dinner, we walked to The Thomas, a restaurant that was opened about a year ago by New York-based AvroKo.

Freshly-baked focaccia and olive oilRoasted beet saladArugula and fried goat cheeseKale and dried apricotsPork ribsBlue cheese-scalloped potatoesI really enjoyed my experience at The Thomas.  From the fantastic venue - first floor is the bar, second floor is the dining room - to the Sunday Supper deal, this place is a local winner!

The Thomas 

815 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

~

For breakfast, we grabbed a bite at the hotel's restaurant, Andaz Farmers Table.

Freshly-squeezed juice for the takingGoat's milk yogurt with grapes and granola.

After checking out of the hotel, we drove to O'Brien Estate Winery for our first tasting of the day. 

 

Paradise!Between sips of wine, we nibbled on cheese, nuts, and grapes.

.

For lunch, we drove to Sonoma and ate al-fresco at The Girl & The Fig.

A trio of cheese and accoutrementsSeared scallopsBrie-cheeseburger and friesCroque monsieurThe Girl & The Fig

110 W. Spain St, Sonoma, CA  

.

After visiting two more wineries, including Ram's Gate, which was my overall favorite, the three of us drove back to San Francisco.  On our way, I learned that the infamous maximum-security prison, San Quentin, is located in ritzy Marin County!  Random.

For my last handful of hours in San Fran, Emily and I decided to do what we do best...eat!  We were able to score a two-top at local favorite, Burma Superstar.  

Le menuRainbow saladTea leaf saladCoconut riceSpicy garlic shrimpBurma Superstar

309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

.

I really enjoyed my visit to San Francisco and Napa.  As a total NYC food snob, I was very pleasantly surprised by the abundance of outstanding local producers, gourmet shops, restaurants, and cocktail venues.  I think I've met my West Coast match.

~~~

Until we eat again, 

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Jul122013

My favorite spots & experiences on the island of Oahu

As many of you know, I recently returned (OK, it's actually been a month-ish now, but who's counting?) from a week-long holiday in paradise.  Otherwise known as the Hawaiian island of Oahu... 

Since one of our family members owns a beach-front home in the town of Kailua (located on the windward side of Oahu), as a youngster, I was fortunate enough to get to vacation there every other Christmas break.  And, while I appreciated it then, it really wasn't until this most recent visit that I fell even deeper in love with this remote isle of paradise.   

So, if you find yourself planning a visit to the island of Oahu, have a look at some of my personal recommendations and experiences, below.  Mahalo!

...

Planes, trains, and automobiles

Obviously, you can't drive to the islands of Hawaii.  Or take a train.  Boat?  Maybe.  Personally, I'd rather get there as soon as humanly possible, so I fly.

Unlike family members, you have the good fortune of being able to choose which air carrier will have the privilege of flying you to paradise.  Might I recommend Hawaiian Airlines?  If you think that all most of the domestic carriers suck as much as I do, then I'm willing to be that you'd be quite pleasantly surprised by Hawaiian.  From the soothing ukulele music playing overhead - the less expensive seat/class upgrades than "the other guys" - the quality selection of Hawaiian food/snacks and beverages - to the indescribable feeling of truly "leaving it all behind" from the moment you board, there really isn't a faster way to physically - or mentally - get to Hawaii.

Doesn't the "hula girl" on the tail make you smile?To rent a car or to not rent a car?  That is the question.  And here's the answer:  RENT A CAR!  There are just way too many amazing adventures to be had outside of Honolulu/Waikiki Beach. 

...

Shelter

The Hilton Hawaiian Village is the first - and the only - place I've ever stayed on Waikiki Beach.  While there are tons of fabulous hotels to choose from, I don't think I could bare to try something else.  It would be like cheating on a significant other.  Or something.  I don't know - I just can't explain it.  Sure, the rooms aren't anything extraordinary - aside from the fact that most have balconies - but the grounds are quite spectacular.  And, if you're in town on a Friday, make sure to catch the weekly fireworks show that begins around 6:45pm!  It's quite an event. 

Pulling up to the open-air lobby of the Hilton Hawaiian VillageThe Rainbow Tower at the Hilton Hawaiian VillageHilton Hawaiian Village: A plethora of shops awaitHilton Hawaiian Village: Hang out with tropical penguins!Hilton Hawaiian Village: Make sure to snag an ocean-front room with killer views of Waikiki BeachHilton Hawaiian Village: Grab a Hawaiian breakfast on the beach at Tropics Bar & GrilleHilton Hawaiian Village: Sunbathe and play on Waikiki Beach ...

Excursions

From Pearl Harbor to Hanauma Bay, I've done nearly every adventurous/historical activity on the island of Oahu.  And, while all of them are very much worth checking out, one of the most epic was our recent visit to the infamous North Shore.  Unlike in the winter time, during the summer months, the legendary waters that produce 30-foot waves are transformed in to a glassy and serene swimming pool, of sorts.  

Head to Waimea Bay Beach Park for an adrenaline-packed day of...wait for it...cliff diving!  If that sounds too adventurous for you, bring some snorkel gear, a camera, some sunscreen and enjoy a relaxing day on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  As for me?  I'll wave to you from the cliff.  Pre-jump.

Waimea Bay Beach Park: Cliff diving in paradiseWaimea Bay Beach Park: Excited to climb up the cliff for jump #2...

My favorite spots to dine & nibble on the island of Oahu

Island Snow

Shave ice!Matsumoto Shave Ice

Green tea shave ice with sweet red beans and vanilla ice creamBuzz's Steakhouse

Kalapawai Market - Cafe

Agnes' Portuguese Bakeshop

MalasadasManny's Bakeshop & Restaurant

Mini onion and red bean hopiaTanaka of Tokyo

...

Foods/drinks you *must* try while in Hawaii

Ahi poke

Shave ice

Macadamia nuts

Pineapple

POG juice

Purple sweet potatoes

Haupia pie/cake

Malasadas

Azuki beans

Mai Tai

Mai Tai

~~~

Until we hula again,

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Mar012013

South Beach Wine & Food Fest, 2013

For those of you who have been around for a while, you know that every February, my friend, Emily, and I shed our winter-weather gear and head to Miami for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.  It's a weekend that I look forward to all year long.  Why?  Because, aside from the obvious (my passion for food and wine), there's just something about Miami Beach that works for me.  Clicks.  Does it.  I often say that it is the "perfect beach city," as the sea water is warm and the prettiest hue of turquoise blue - there's a strong Latin culture and flair - an abundance of fabulous shopping - world-class night life and dining - and some of the best looking people on the planet.  Oh, and temperatures in February range anywhere from 75 to 85 degrees (Fahrenheit). 

Where does the time go?  Seriously, I'm having some issues coming to grips with the fact that my 3-day food and sun-soaked weekend has passed.  However, I'm already looking in to hotel reservations for 2014!  The dates for next year's Festival, by the way, are 2/20-2/23.  So, in the meantime, please enjoy my recap from yet another fabulous visit to Miami.

...

Thursday, 2/21

Just call me your personal "travel martyr."  Why?  Because I thought that I was saving a bundle by flying in to Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami.  And, technically, I was.  Until I saw my bill for the 45-minute cab ride to the hotel.  $80, folks!  Pre-tip.

This year, Emily and I decided to stay at the Fountainebleau, which is located next door to Eden Roc, where we stayed last year.  We wanted to try something different and, after having checked out Fountainebleau's hot pool scene last year, decided that we'd be better positioned to meet men.  And famous chefs. 

After checking in, the first thing Emily and I did was head down to the pools/beach.  We did not want to miss a minute of sunshine!

Fountainebleau lobbyFountainebleau's many poolsCheers! Nothing like a poolside frozen margarita to officially kick off a holiday weekend!...and fresh fruit-infused ice water when you need a break from that frozen cocktail.Prior to our 8pm dinner reservation, Emily, Josh, and I headed to the W hotel's outdoor lounge, Grove, to meet my friend, Tammi, for a cocktail.  Oh, how I wish we could have stayed there all night!  Legit, Grove was one of the coolest outdoor cocktail venues I've ever been to.  In the world.  This, fellow travelers, is a Miami *must.*

For dinner, we met up with Yasmin and Mike at Quinn's.  The five of us were seated at a prime outdoor table overlooking famous Ocean Drive

Per our adorable Cuban waiter's advice, I whetted my palate with a muddled-watermelon mojito. It was outstanding!The bread basket was absolutely fabulous, namely because of the freshly-baked popover, which was paired with strawberry butter. (I ate three of them over the course of the eve.)I live for stone crab claws, and this piece was the single best claw that I've had, to date!This Caribbean-inspired red snapper entree was listed on Quinn's menu as being one of their house specialties. Josh and I decided to split the dish and, while we agreed that the fish was fresh and well-seasoned, its accompaniments - grilled plantains, squash, black beans - reminded us of "conference food." Lukewarm, gummy, flavorless, and incredibly "1990s."This was the best key lime pie that, I believe, I've ever had. The tart curd/filling was not frozen - the graham-cracker crust was still a bit crunchy - and I loved the raspberry drizzle.After dinner, Emily headed to one of the Festival events, while I retired to our hotel room.

...

Friday, 2/22

Because chaise lounges are such a hot commodity, I ran down to the pool before 9am (!!!) to snag two for Emily and me.  The effort!  Then, I grabbed my goggles and went for a dip in the beautiful ocean...

When I got out, I almost stepped on this...

Portuguese "man o' war"Upon my return to the pool area, I noticed a film crew and learned that Telemundo was shooting a chef's demonstration with Richard Sandoval

Richard Sandoval for TelemundoAs if a famous chef and a near-jelly fish-bite weren't exciting enough, the lunch I ordered, poolside, was *actually* really delicious.  Who'd have thought?  Grilled mahi-mahi fish tacos came drizzled with cilantro crema and were accompanied by cole slaw and a fantastic salsa.  Bam!

Poolside at the Fountainebleau: Grilled fish tacos, cole slaw, salsa After putting a serious dent in my new beach read, Why Men Love Bitches, I delved in to a little retail therapy and scored a gorgeous pair of Valentino riding boots for 50% off! 

What's a vacation w/o a sassy beach read?"You had me at 50% off." My new Valentino riding boots...Post-shopping, I met Alex and Chef Cesare Casella for a cocktail in the lobby of the hotel.

Me, Cesare Casella, and AlexMy first event of the weekend was the Amstel Light Burger Bash, which kicked off at 7:30pm on the beach at the Ritz-Carlton.    

My official media pass!Me and EmilyEntry to the 'BashFolks waiting on line for burgersChef Laurent Tourondel (right)!Look who else came out! GUY FIERI!Burgers.  Burgers.  And more BURGERS!  I was in hog heaven (or, should I say "beef heaven")...

This was, by far, one of the most delicious nights I've had in recent memory.  My favorite burger of the thirty-four was from Miami's own Burger & Beer Joint.  The "Susie Q" was composed of:  Aged sharp cheddar, smoked applewood bacon, tomato jam and spicy mayo on a brioche bun.  Crispy dill pickles and buttermilk ranch (dressing) accompanied.

My favorite burger: Burger & Beer Joint's "Susie Q"...

Saturday, 2/23

As per usual, I was up early and headed down to the pool to grab chaise lounges.  This morning, however, I had to snag 8 chairs instead of just 2.  Since Emily had befriended 4 new people and invited Yasmin and Mike to join us, I literally had to place a piece of random collateral - sunscreen bottles, water bottle, magazines - on an entire row of chairs.  Once everyone slowly started to arrive, I decided that it was time to crack open the 40oz. can of malt liquor that Emily's friend brought for me in a paper bag.  Remember, dear readers:  I put the "ass" in "class."

Damn right. This is some good stuff, believe it or not!At around 1pm, I headed back to our room to change out of my swimsuit and wander over to my next Festival event:  Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village.  Held beach-side on the sand was a literal "tent village," consisting of cooking demos, book signings, and a massive grand tasting.  While the sights were lovely and impressive, and the talent lineup was fantastic, I found the event, itself, uncomfortably crowded and hot.  I only lasted about 20-minutes, from entry to exit.  :( 

Entry to the Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village

Cooking demoChef Aaron Sanchez's cooking demoInside the preassure cooker/grand tentA bunch of tastings that, sadly, I did not sample because I was so uncomfortable...Something I did get to try, however, was a Mama's Guava Bar.  Guava, if you did not know, if my favorite fruit, and I adored these chewy bars laced with the stuff.  I don't know who "Mama" is, but I totally wanted to hug her.   

Mama's Guava BarsLike I said further above, I got the hell out of that grand tent as soon as I possibly could.  Famished, since I had not sampled much of the food, I went back to my hotel and noshed on a spicy tuna roll.

Blade at the Fountainebleau: Spicy tuna rollAfter a fabulous afternoon nap in my comfy hotel bed (I know, life is really hard), Em and I got ready and joined two of our new friends (who we met at the pool) for dinner at local favorite, Pubbelly.  Although the restaurant does not take reservations, we scored an awesome outdoor table without having to wait more than a minute!  Unfortunately, I did not have my fancy camera on me that night, so that explains the lack of photos.  Plus, I'm too embarrassed to share the shiteous shots that I actually snapped of the meal with my iPhone.  So, instead, I will just give a brief, jealousy-inducing synopsis of what we enjoyed:

  • Sour Patch Kid (cocktail):  Sake, pickled pineapple, chili flakes
  • Stone Crab claws
  • Croquetas:  Chorizo, roasted apple aioli
  • BBQ Pork Wings:  Smoked teriyaki, picked grapes slaw, bacon
  • Eggplant Fries:  Housemade ketchup
  • Shortrib & Corn dumplings:  Black truffle, corn soy, shiso, parmigiano
  • Kimchee Fried Rice:  Porkbelly & pineapple

I would wholeheartedly recommend Pubbelly to anyone looking to try multiple, eclectic plates that are packed full of flavor and creativity.  We absolutely loved our experience!

For a night cap, the four of us headed to the uber chic and trendy SLS Hotel, where I realized that, never in my entire life, had I been surrounded by more sexy, breathtakingly gorgeous human beings.  Seriously.  Ladies:  If you want your man to *not* pay you any attention and check out other girls all night, take him here!!  On that note, the public facilities at this hotel, bars and restaurants, are no place to step foot within if you're having a "fat day" or a "bad hair day."  Trust me, you will only feel much worse!

...

On Sunday morning, I caught another flight out of Fort Lauderdale and headed home.  Although I was sad to leave another outstanding weekend in Miami, I was looking forward to seeing my pup, Lucy, who turned 1 the day prior.  A belated-birthday celebration was in order!

Thanks for this, D Pet Hotels!~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Jan152013

What happens in Vegas...

"What happens in Vegas" doesn't necessarily have to stay in Vegas.  In fact, I'm going to share my recent jaunt that included: An incredibly delicious brunch in Paris - a steal of a haute hotel room - a walk down the isle - and a couple of other shenanigans.

...

Did you know, if you go to Vegas around Christmas time, that hotel rooms are incredibly affordable and restaurant/lounge reservations are a breeze to snag?  It's the low season and, in laymen's terms, all that really means is that you can't swim outdoors.  Now, while that may be a total bust to you sun goddesses, I can't imagine a more miserable situation than roasting in 115-degree dry, summer heat.  I'll take the winter, thank you very much.

One of my best friends from college, Erin, decided that she wanted to get married on the weekend before Christmas.  In Vegas.  With scheduled plans to visit my family in California for the holidays, Vegas was all too conveniently on my way.  While most of the guests had plans to stay at the Wynn, I chose The Four Seasons.  Why?  Because I had Lucy, my lil' pup, in tow.  And the Wynn is not dog-friendly.   And neither are too many other properties.

Lucy gets some fresh air on our way to JFK...and passed out like a log in-flight.The Four Seasons is connected-ish to Mandalay Bay which, aside from being inconvenient to most of the other casinos, is located alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the way at the beginning of the Strip.  However, if it's tranquility (there is not a casino in the hotel), outstanding service, updated guest rooms, and a pet-friendly environment you're after, look no further than The Four Seasons

Looking up from the pool at The Four SeasonsSince checkin wasn't until 3pm, I began to panic.  What would I do with Lucy while I hosted Erin's bridesmaid's bruncheon at 10:30am?  Luckily, the hotel's concierge was quick to reassure me and arranged for a pet sitter to watch my lil' girl while I was entertaining.

I hosted Erin's bridesmaid's bruncheon at Mon Ami Gabi, a French brasserie, in the Paris Hotel.  This particular venue was chosen because: 

  • French food is romantic.  So is getting married.
  • It received very high rankings on Zagat.
  • They offer a $25, 2-course, prix-fixe menu.
  • Working with onsite event planner, Rebecca, was seamless.

In order to sass things up a bit, I quickly decorated the table with plastic "gems" (from Party City) and placed a salted-caramel macaron at each lady's coffee saucer (I purchased a dozen from Macaron Parlour here in NYC.  Transporting them was simple, as Macaron Parlour has indestructible packaging!).

Erin and, on her left, the maid of honor and, to her right, the flower girl.

Le menu

First course:  Fruit salad and fresh croissant

Second course:  Entree.  I chose the traditional Eggs Benedict.

After brunch, I went back to The Four Seasons to fetch Lucy and check in.  

I scored a room with two double beds and a killer view for only $179/night.  Beat that, bitches! 

The hotel gifted Lucy with an adorable stuffed animal that looked just like her!

The Four Seasons provided a doggie bed, a place mat topped with a food and water bowl, and homemade doggie treats!  FYI:  Those two green cups in the center of the mat were ones that I brought from home.

After relaxing for a few hours, it was already time to head to the Wynn for Erin's ceremony.

My sweet friend made the most beautiful bride.

Post nuptials, we clinked glasses of bubbly and enjoyed some outstanding hors d'oeuvre at the property's stunning Lakeside Restaurant.  

...

On Sunday, Lucy and I spent the day shopping at The Forum Shoppes and Barney's, where I did some serious retail damage on the sale racks.  Ultimately, with the dough that I saved on marked-down items, I caved and bought this lil' number:

For dinner, I met Erin and her husband for a 'meat and potatoes' fix at Gallagher's Steakhouse in New York, New York (...obviously not my choice of venue, since I live in "New York, New York"). 

For a night cap, we decided to grab another round at Bar at Times Square, where we caught an unbelievably entertaining "dueling pianos" performance...

...and the fans go wild!

"Ooooooooooooooooooooooooh oh!"

"We're half way theeeeeeeeeeeeeeere!"

"Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh oh!  Livin' on a praaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayer!" 

 

I don't know who that woman was, but what a total bad ass for rocking out like "no one was watching!" 

On Christmas Eve, Lucy and I bid Vegas adieu and caught a 1pm flight to San Diego. 

 

Do you have any favorite Las Vegas venues or money-saving tips? 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Jan102013

(Asia 2012) Fourth - and final - stop: Hong Kong!

11/27:  My sister and I awoke early for our mid-morning flight to Hong Kong, out of Bangkok's other airport.  And, yes, thanks for asking, I was finally beginning to feel a bit better, though I noticed a couple of, what appeared to be, bites on my fingers and forearms.  I just brushed them off as heat rash...

Prior to leaving our hotel room, I was able to snap a few photos of the view from our 47th floor abode.  And, whether that's smog or just plain ol' fog hugging the tips of those skyscrapers in the distance, I thought that these were some pretty sweet shots.

Luckily, my sister and I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport with plenty of time to spare.  Aside from loading up on silk goods at Jim Thompson, we window-shopped at Chanel (we all know what a 'Chanel whore' I am) and indulged in a final Thai massage.  #heavenly 

Yet another AWESOME Asian airport!After a two-hour flight, we arrived in a rainy Hong Kong around 1pm. 

If you've never been to Asia, let me just say that many of their airports make ours look like dog shit, especially in terms of technology and logic.  I could spend hours on end at HKG, BKK, or SIN just shopping, eating, and people-watching.      

Now there's a concept: Let passengers know *when* bags are and have finished arriving.After we got our bags and went through immigration, my sister and I hopped on the Airport Express.  From Kowloon Station, we caught the free shuttle bus that transported us to our hotel, the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers.

This ain't your typical, shitty 'NYC Transit' train, baby. Airport Express has comfy seats, huge windows, and television.

I chose this hotel property because:

  • The location:  It is on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong Island, which I did not get to explore very much during my previous visit. 
    • The hotel is *on* Nathan Road (aka Kowloon's "Gold Mile"), situated next door to The Peninsula Hong Kong and right across the street from Victoria Harbour. 
  • I wanted a room with a harbour view, namely for the nightly "Symphony of Lights" show.
  • I did not want to spend an arm and a leg at the neighboring Peninsula or Intercontinental (hotels).

Although smaller, our room had a fantastic view of Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong Island.  My sister and I could *not* have been happier...

Pretty damn good, no?

We took our time unpacking before heading outside to walk around.  Just before 8pm, we returned to our hotel room to watch the light show from our front-and-center window.

For dinner, we decided to stay within the hotel and eat at Celestial Court, an upscale Chinese restaurant.

Crispy, golden spring rollsBeef filetsPrawns with mushroomsFried rice with pork and scallions...

11/28:  This morning, we chose to sleep in.  Thank god.  But, don't you worry, I made it to the breakfast buffet prior to its 10:30am closing-time.  Hey, the meal was included with our room!  Though not as delicious as the spread at the Le Meridien Phuket or Shangri-La Chiang Mai, I still managed to fill myself up on an array of a.m. goodies.

Since my sis had never been to Hong Kong, I thought it would be a great idea to take her to the Tian Tan Buddha (aka Big Buddha).  After all, Ceci and I loved visiting this site during our trip here 2010.  From the cable car ride to the exhilarating climb up to the statue, this is a *must see* for any tourist.

Half of the excitement of visiting the "Big Buddha" is the 45-ish minute scenic cable car ride to the site.  On a super clear day, you can see planes landing and departing from the airport!  Here are a few pics from my previous visit:

Top: Cable car view. Middle: Strolling through village to reach statue. Bottom: Big Buddha/Tian Tan "I'm just a bit concerned about the weather, dude," I remarked, while standing under my umbrella.  "It's looking pretty foggy out there."

 And here are some pictures from this *very* wet, rainy visit.  As you can see (or not), visibility was a fcuking joke.

Best, most clear view from our cable car ride. And, yes, that black dot is a cable car.Strolling through the village to reach the statue.A very blurry shot of Big Buddha/Tian TanThe weather was really pissing me off.  Luckily, by the time we climbed all the way up to the top of the statue, I was able to snap *one* decent shot. 

We paid for an inside tour of the statue and a snack, but I was in such a sour mood that I barely remember anything of substance besides the vegetarian "Singapore noodles" that I ate at the monastery.

MonasteryCold and wet, we headed back towards the cable car station and returned to the city.  I wanted to visit Milan Station and my sister was looking forward to checking out the Central-Mid-levels escalators and area boutiques.

Central-Mid-levels escalatorsOutdoor produce marketUm, ok."I need a drink," I exclaimed, before my sister and I bumped in to this age-appropriate Australian business man.  He introduced himself as "Clancy," and asked if he could join us.  We grabbed seats at La Piola, an Italian restaurant/wine bar and were surprised to receive a free platter of Italian tapas with our wine.  "Now this," I said, "is my kinda' place!"  When Clancy excused himself to the restroom, I told my sister that I did NOT want to get stuck with his red-headed ass all night.  "One more drink," I said, "and then we peace the fcuk out."

Well, one drink turned in to two, as it so often does, and we got talked in to grabbing another at some dumpy hookah lounge.  After announcing that I was "over drinking beer," we found a fantabulous tiki lounge, Honi Honi, where we knocked back a couple of tropical drinks served in coconuts. 

Pina Colada at Honi HoniFor a late-night dinner, we grabbed dim sum at Loyal Dining.

...

11/29:  We slept in.  Again.  But, just like any other occasion where there's a *free* meal, I made it downstairs in time for the breakfast buffet.  Despite the shiteous, wet forecast, my sister and I decided to pound the pavement and figure out our day as we went.  Not having an agenda is sometimes the best plan.

Instead of the subway, we took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island and, while snapping some scenic photos, thought that it could be fun/funny/cool to pay my local colleagues at the bank a visit.

The fellas were pleasantly surprised to see me and my sister and suggested that we go to Victoria Peak.  "But, if the visibility is anything like how it was at Big Buddha," I said, "it could just be a huge waste of our time."  My sister wanted to go, regardless.  So, we went.

Unfortunately, we were met with similar weather and visibility conditions from the top of the Peak.  "Well, we can always eat," I suggested.  We grabbed a table (that would have been a fabulous on a lovely day) at The Peak Lookout, a restaurant overlooking the island.

Gorgeous, almost medieval, space

SamosasAfter a leisurely lunch, my sis and I headed back down the mountain and returned to the Mid-Levels area.  We chose to split up so that she could continue browsing local boutiques, and my snobby ass could price Birkin bags at Milan Station

Alas, I found myself back in Kowloon, licking a ridiculously delicious XTC Gelato cone - topped with a scoop each of salted caramel and black sesame - all while gazing at the harbour.

Just before I returned to the room to meet my sister at 8pm, I walked over to Van Cleef & Arpels to price and try on the necklace that I have dreamt about since 2006:  Lucky Alhambra Butterfly Pendant.  

While beginning to pack our bags for our long journey home, and reminiscing about our incredible journey, my sister and I ordered room service for our final dinner in Hong Kong.  #fail

...

11/30:  After we completely finished packing, my sis and I went downstairs to enjoy our last breakfast buffet, then headed back to Van Cleef & Arpels.  I bought my necklace!!

Ain't she a beauty?Did you know that, if you take the Airport Express to the airport, you can *check in to your flight* and *check your luggage* from Kowloon or Central Station 90-minutes to one day in advance?  How fcuking cool is that?  

After we cleared security, my sis and I shopped for a bit before having our final meal of the trip together:  Lunch at Cafe Deco where, believe it or not, I had an awesome version of Malaysian Nasi Goreng.

Since she was headed back to LA and I was NYC-bound, we were on different flights.  Saying goodbye to each other was hard, but I felt better once I realized that I'd see her again in less than 4-weeks in California. 

...

To conclude:  Whenever I travel, especially somewhere so distant, I always return home a different person.  I mean, how can I not?  For two-weeks, I immersed myself in various cultures, three different countries, two different time zones, and at least three different languages.  Dialects?  Well, that's a whole other story.  Travel makes you realize that there is a world beyond what you call your own.  And a very big one, at that. 

For those of you who think that you cannot afford to travel out of the country, I challenge you.  Did you know that you can buy a round trip ticket to Hong Kong or Thailand for under $1000?  Or that, once you're in Asia, you can country-hop on "cheapo" airlines for less than $100/ticket?  Four Seasons out of your league?  There are hotels, motels, rental apartments, villas, and hostels for every budget under the rainbow.  All you have to do is a little bit of research.  Besides yourself, all you need is a passport and an open mind.

From this trip, I took away the following:

  • I would move to Hong Kong in a New York minute.
  • *If* I ever get married, I'd like to do it on a beach in Thailand.
  • It's a nice break not to be surrounded by a bunch of fellow American tourists.  The other countries are right:  We are loud, obnoxious, fat, and rude.
  • I've caught the travel bug and want to plan my next far-away excursion ASAP.
  • I revel in "me" time while traveling with others.
  • The people who think I'm some kind of baller because I travel to kick ass places are, typically, the ones who are married with kids.  If y'all didn't have responsibilities other than yourselves, you'd be traveling, too!  So shut the fcuk up.
  • The economy "accordion" seats on Cathay Pacific SUCK ASS.  Horrible.  Uncomfortable.  Ridiculous.
  • Asian hospitality is second to none.  Period.
  • US-based airlines SUCK.  Many Asian airlines *still serve* free snacks/drinks.
  • More cocktails should be served in coconuts.
  • Gangnam Style unites all and has the power to end world wars.

Oh, and more thing:  Curious as to what illness I came down with with traveling?  Well, to be honest, I didn't think twice of it until my sister called me about a week after we returned home and said that she had contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease.  "What the fcuk is that?"  I asked.   

"Hand, foot, and mouth disease usually starts with a fever, poor appetite, a vague feeling of being unwell (malaise), and sore throat. One or 2 days after fever starts, painful sores usually develop in the mouth (herpangina). They begin as small red spots that blister and that often become ulcers. The sores are often in the back of the mouth. A skin rash develops over 1 to 2 days. The rash has flat or raised red spots, sometimes with blisters."

"Oh, sweet Jesus!" I gasped, "That's what I had, too!!"  While my "flu like" symptoms were worse than my sister's, her rash was worse than mine.  She had blisters all over the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet.  We can only conclude that I contracted this illness from the "fish spa" in Thailand, before passing it on to her.  ***Blech*** 

On that note...

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Jan082013

(Asia 2012) Fourth stop: One night in Bangkok!t

For those of you who have followed my previous posts from this vacation, you many recall that my last night in Chiang-Mai was less than ideal...

"And then, the weirdest thing, I suddenly started to feel really exhausted and weak.  My throat began to tickle, and I had no choice but to excuse myself and go back up to the room.  I took a hot shower, in the hopes that the warm water would alleviate my aching muscles.  Alas, it was no resolve.  I laid in bed and fell asleep for a bit, only to wake to my cousin and sister asking if I was ready for dinner.  "Guys, I hate to stay behind, but I just feel too awful to move.  And you know something's wrong when I decline a meal."  

After they headed out for the evening, I phoned room service and ordered two glasses of orange juice before passing out around 8pm.  What the hell was happening to me?"

...

11/26:  Luckily, since I was living out of my suitcase, there wasn't a whole lot of packing to be done.  So, I crawled in to bed at 8pm and, after a solid 9-hours of sleep, I awoke to my obnoxious alarm "ding" at 5am.  Hey, I was feeling a bit better and wasn't about to miss the breakfast buffet before our 9:30am flight to Bangkok.  Especially after learning that service began on weekdays at 6am!  I figured, with a 5am wakeup call, I could finish packing *and* get ready for the day before the breakfast bell rang

My sister and cousin took turns sighing when my alarm went off.  "Listen up," I blurted in a loud whisper.  "I may be sick, but I'm not about to miss another great meal.  Did you know that I drank orange juice for dinner last night?  Y'all are just gonna have to deal with me rummaging around the room until 6am."

After stuffing myself like a goddamn sausage, my sister and I grabbed our bags and bid Cousin Eric adieu.  "Mr. P," our adorable/awesome driver from the previous day, picked us up in front of the hotel and drove us to the airport.  We were capital-bound and quite eager to spend "one night in Bangkok."  And to annoy the crap out of everyone whilst singing that one verse over.  And over.  And over again.

Go ahead and watch the video.  Sing along, why don't you?  You know you want to...

After a quick Air Asia flight (think 45-minutes), we landed in the capital city...

Cool! (No, this was not our plane.)Bangkok has two airports. We landed at the smaller of the two.Like suckers, we paid extra to a) be driven to our hotel in a black Mercedes sedan, sans other passengers, and b) opt for the tollway.  Time is money, honeyApparently, traffic off the tollway is no joke and a total nightmare And I just don't have time for that shit. 

After approximately 30-minutes in the car, my sister and I finally arrived at our hotel, the Banyan Tree Bangkok.  "Dude, I'm starting to feel like crap again," I mumbled whilst checking-in at the front desk.  "I'm sorry, but your room is not yet ready."  From the dramatic gasp I exhaled, the desk agent must have sensed that I was about to burst out crying.  When what I really was about to do was curl up on the floor in the lobby and pass out hobo-style.  Not a minute later, she exclaimed, "My apologies, your room is ready!"  While I was going in for a bear hug, the desk agent quickly backed up and handed me the room keys.  "You're welcome," she said, with an uneasy smile.

"Premier?  This sure seems like a high floor for a 'standard' guest room," my sister quipped.  Sure enough, as we opened the door to our room, we were shocked by what we saw...

"Where's the bed?" I asked.  After walking inside, we quickly realized that we had been upgraded to a suite!  That's right, folks, adjacent to the living area - complete with seating, a bar, a desk, and another television - was our bedroom.  My sister and I jumped in the air - strummed the air guitar - and high-fived each other.      

The bathroom contained a separate shower and tub and, perhaps my favorite detail of all, shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel in pump bottles!  Now there's a green concept, America!  #asiansdoitbetter

While my sister went out to explore Bangkok solo, I stayed behind to nurse my sick ass back to health.  I decided that lounging in the sun could be relaxing and 'just what the doctor ordered.'

Next to each chaise lounge was a "service bell" that guests could ring if they needed anything from the staff.  I so wanted to last longer than the 5-minutes I actually did so that I could have rang the bell and ordered a tropical beverage.  Alas, my sickness got the best of me and I quickly retired to the room.

After a hot shower, I ordered a delicious room service lunch.  Sick or not, a girl has to eat!

Papaya juice and shrimp noodlesFeeling incredibly weak and coming to the realization that I would only experience Bangkok from my hotel room, I cried myself to sleep and awoke at 6pm.  When my sister finally returned at 7pm, we walked down to the lobby to grab a drink (Oh, calm down.  It was a "virgin" lime daiquiri, for god's sake.), snap photos, and take a quick walk outside, since I had not left the room all day. 

My "virgin" lime daiquiriLobby shotsIt was upon seeing this sign that we turned around and walked back to the hotel.For dinner, we decided to stay in and order room service so that we could pack for tomorrow's journey:  Hong Kong!

Sea bass filets prepared Thai-styleSticky rice spring rolls with mango and coconut ice cream...

"One Night in Bangkok" and the world's *not* my oyster...

Well, there you have it, folks.  My "one night in Bangkok" absolutely sucked because I was not healthy enough to enjoy anything beyond my hotel room.  I will say that I hope to return to Bangkok some day and make up for all that I missed.

Don't worry, I promise that my Hong Kong recap will be way more exciting!

~~~

Until Hong Kong,

The Lunch Belle