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Entries in Travel (40)

Friday
Dec212012

(Asia 2012) Third stop: Chiang Mai (Thailand)

11/24:  We hired one of the hotel's cars to take us to the airport.  As crushing as it was to be leaving Phuket, I was pleasantly surprised to find three bottles of water and three chilled hand towels in the back seat of the sedan.  With an orchid on top!  What a pleasant way to depart.

Hospitality in Thailand cannot be beat...

The long ride to the airport was silent.  Yet again.  Just like the one after last night's meal.  The three of us had such a perfect time in Phuket, we just couldn't come to grips with the fact that our time in paradise had come to an end.

However, our spirits were lifted upon arriving at the airport.  For one, we were flying Air Asia to Chiang Mai, which proved to be a much better carrier than Tiger.  Then, we ended up gawking/laughing all of our blues away at some of the crazy signs posted throughout the terminal.  It was too much...But in the best way possible!

(FYI:  Durian, shown in the picture, below, is a fruit whose "...edible flesh emits a distinctive odour that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as pleasantly fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine, and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.")

WWAZD? "What would Andrew Zimmern Do?"

For reals?

...

Flying in to Chiang MaiBy the grace of god, we found ourselves with the coolest cab driver.  Ever.  While en-route from the airport to our hotel, "Mr. Thip" explained that he would chauffer the three of us on a 1/2-day excursion - to as many sites as we wanted - for about $8 (USD) per person.  Sha-wing! 

We told Mr. Thip that we would reach out to him after we were settled in our room.  After all, it wasn't yet noon.  We had 1/2 day to explore Chiang Mai!

Another gracious Thai welcome:  Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai

"I do not want to waste too much time here," Cousin Eric said to me and my sister as we were unpacking.  "We only have 1 1/2 days in Chiang Mai.  Let's make the most of it and get going!"  We called Mr. Thip, who came to fetch us within minutes.

We asked Mr. Thip to take us to "the most authentic Thai restaurant you know.  Somewhere with no white people."  Well, since all he saw in his rear view mirror were three white, American faces speaking English, we ended up at a place accessible through a parking lot filled with tour busses.  Ugh.  I suppose all of the other tourists at the restaurant asked their guides the same thing...

Dining al-fresco. With fellow tourists. #boringKhao soi soup with porkLuckily, the food was solid.  All three of us really enjoyed our hearty bowls of khao soi.

After lunch, we headed to Thai Silk Village, where they manufacture and export pure, hand-woven Thai silk.  Oh, and there's a huge onsite shop, too...

Thai Silk VillageFrom silk worm...

To silk manufacturing on-site!

After doing some "silk retail therapy," we ventured down the road to some random, ginormous jewelry store before heading to the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple, named for the mountain in which it is located.  It also happens to be the oldest temple in the city, founded in - are you ready for this - 1383!

The temple stood 309 steps above the road...!

After what seemed like a never-ending climb, this was the first thing I saw as I approached the holy site...

But she was the second... :)

People removing their shoes prior to entering the templeShoes at the bottom of the temple steps"Proof we were here"

Intricate architecturePaying their respects...

Religious symbolismWatching the sun set over Chiang Mai from the temple's expansive overlook...

After a very productive afternoon, Mr. Thip returned us to our hotel around 7pm.  "I'll see you tomorrow morning at 9," he said while waving us goodbye. 

For dinner, the concierge recommended a restaurant near the hotel called The Whole Earth, specializing in both Indian and Thai cuisine.

Clearly, dining al-fresco at the restaurant was the right option...

Mango lassiAloo paratha: I've had better...A deliciously spicy, creamy shrimp curryAfter dinner, the three of us briefly strolled through the night bazaar before calling "lights out."  Later that evening, the rain began pouring so hard that there was a brief power outage!  Thank goodness we made it inside before the storm.

...

11/25:  If you're fortunate enough to get to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai, then make sure to snag a room package that includes the breakfast buffet.  Or, if you're a real baller, just pay full-price for it each morning.  From assorted tropical and exotic fruits - international cheeses and sliced meats - a massive selection of Asian options - an egg station - freshly-baked breads and pastries - waffles and pancakes - and so on, and so on, this is probably the most outstanding spread that I've ever experienced. 

After breakfast, the three of us went to the front driveway of the hotel in anticipation of Mr. Thip.  So, you can imagine our confusion when a strange man approached and introduced himself as Mr. P.  "Mr. Thip's car was damaged by last night's storm, so he sent me to take you out today."  Alrighty then.

First stopMaetaman Elephant Camp

Located about an hour's drive from Chiang Mai, the three of us could hardly wait to experience a 1/2 day filled with various elephant activities at the Camp

First, there was a show, which featured the Camp's star elephants doing a handful of amazing tricks.  Guests were able to purchase rods of sugarcane and banana clusters to treat/praise the elephants. 

But the coolest stunt, in my opinion/most worthy of the sugarcane and bananas, was when the animals were presented with a canvas and colored paints.  We got to watch as they created lovely paintings with their trunks!  One of which I purchased...

After the show, we got to take pictures with the elephants...

Finally, we got to go for an elephant trek/ride through the jungle!  Leave it up to my sister and I to have the quirkiest "driver" at the Camp.  He was funny as hell and kept yelling, in an American ditzy girl's voice, "Oh my Buddha!"  (Instead of "OMG," since his god is Buddha).  Then, when my sister and I started singing "Gangnam Style," he squealed and started dancing.  It was a shit show, but in the very best way possible!

I'm telling you, if it weren't for "Gangnam Style"...

A view from the top (of an elephant)...

We also got to enjoy an ox-cart ride...

By noon, we were hungry.  And ready to move on.  We asked Mr. P if he would *please* take us to "the most authentic Thai restaurant you know.  Somewhere with no white people."  I had to speak very slowly and point to my pasty-white skin multiple times.  I'd be damned if we were taken to another tourist trap.  He smiled, nodded and, 30-minutes in to our drive back to Chiang Mai, he pulled over on the side of the highway.  "Lunch," he said.

Good to know!"I come here a lot," Mr. P said.  "See, they have a table with all of their offerings.  You pick out what you want, and they bring it to where you're sitting."

Pork offal, fish, and other delights on the grillTableclothPork larbA variety of stewsGrilled whole fishEnjoying the authentic spreadAnd for dessert...the best coconut ice milk that I've ever had.After lunch, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at our hotel's pool.  I, for one, wanted to lounge, swim a bit, and just relax.

Before we bid Mr. P adieu, my sister and I asked if he would be able to fetch us the next morning for our early flight to Bangkok.  "Of course," he said, "enjoy the rest of your day and see you tomorrow."

A cool sculpture I spotted on our way to the pool...Under the cabana lies a massage table!Hahhahha!After toweling off from my swim, I noticed that an outdoor wedding was about to start.  Like, feet away from our chaise lounges!  "Guys, I'm going to grab a drink before the ceremony begins!  This is going to be like watching a movie.  And a cocktail will serve as my 'popcorn!'" 

Thai mojito (lemongrass and sugarcane)A traditional Thai wedding, happening right before our very eyes!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 exuse 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? 

To be continued from Bangkok.... 

 

...   

 

To conclude:  Chiang Mai is the kind of place where, even if you didn't believe in God/Jesus/Allah/Buddha before, you constantly feel the mysterious, yet comforting, embrace of a higher power.  From its emerald green mountains dotted with lush jungle foliage - golden Buddhist temples - remnants of the wall from the "old city" - affordable lodging, dining, and shopping - clean streets and public areas - friendly people - and opportunites/experiences rarely offered elsewhere, Chiang Mai is a winner all-around.  I fell in love with this magical, spiritual city.

~~~

Until Bangkok,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Dec182012

(Asia 2012) Second stop:  Phuket!

...continued from (Asia 2012) First Stop:  Singapore!

...

11/21:  My sister and I requested a 5:30am wakeup call in anticipation of our early morning to flight to our next destination, Phuket, Thailand! 

After checking out of the Fairmont Singapore, we met Cousin Eric in the lobby and shared a cab to Changi Airport.  

Because Tiger Airways does not offer curbside, the line at the check-in counter was excruciatingly long.  Luckily, since Eric was familiar with this lengthy process from previous trips, he made sure that we had enough "extra" time prior to departure.  After all, I wanted to check out the incredible airport and, most importantly, eat!

An Indian breakfast...

Mmmmm, my masala dosaA look inside of my 'dosa...and roti prata, of course. Bring on the carbs, baby!When my meal was served, the three of us burst out laughing.  The masala dosa (first picture of the burrito-like item, above) was, no joke, about 15-inches in length, and hung over each side of the plate in which it was served.  But, goddamn, was it good!

The flight was quick (an hour, or so) and smooth, but very bare-bones.  No embarkation papers were distributed!  And there was no beverage or snack service.  I realize that may not sound shocking to Americans, since our carriers have nearly scrapped everything, but Asian airlines *still serve* free snack food/beverages on most flights.

Buzz kill #1:  Upon landing, discovering that it was raining in Phuket.

Buzz kill #2:  Upon deplaning, witnessing a heinous German man pushing folks out of the way with his suitcase and cursing an old lady for not moving out of his way.  I *almost* kicked his ass.   No, really.

Buzz kill #3:  Leaving my lap top on the plane, only to realize this while going through Thai customs.  Luckily, the agents were kind enough to allow me back to the gate so that I could attempt to fetch my computer.  Yes, by the grace of god, it was still there!  

In an effort to save a few baht (Thai currency), the three of us shared a van taxi with others.  We would soon realize how stupid of a move this was, as we were the last hotel drop.  The journey, from door to door, was about 2+ hours.  Sigh.  Plus, our driver was a TOTAL TRIP.  And a lil' senile, to boot.  His crazy ass nearly slammed my left leg in the door.  Moments later, he started cackling like a hyena when we drove past a nasty car wreck on the opposite side of the road.   

It would be safe to say that this cray-cray taxi adventure was "buzz kill #4."

A colorful neighborhood near Phuket AirportPatongAfter the last drop-off in Patong, we made our way to Karon.  And, just like in the movies, the clouds parted and the sun appeared as we approached our resort:  Le Meridien Phuket...

The warm, hospitable Thai greeting...

Flower lei wristlets and a fragrant fruit cocktailThe lobby... 

A welcome cocktail and lunch al-fresco, overlooking the pool and the ocean...

"Tropical drink melting in your hand..."Prawn Pad Thai wrapped in an egg blanketThe pool, the beach, and a baby elephant named "Valentine"...

Sand tag!

The sun sets in paradise...

We made sure to grab one of these handy cards before we left the hotel property for the night.  Brilliant little invention, considering most locals do not speak English and vice versa...

Dinner at The Beach Seafood in Patong...

Whoa. I was talking about the shark on the menu...you were probably focused on my "in need of a manicure" nails. :(Frozen 'Mai Tai' in a hollowed pineappleStir fried local fishWhen in Thailand, get a fabulous - and super cheap - massage!

Hour-long foot massages ROCK my world....

11/22 (Thanksgiving Day in the US):  Since the hotel's bountiful breakfast buffet was included in the price of our particular room, I went a bit overboard every morning.  As if it were my final meal on "Death Row" overboard...

Exotic fruits, a strawberry muffin, and green tea-coconut bread with coconut jamFruit juicesIndian "paratha" or "prata" bread topped with condensed milk and sliced bananas. In Thailalnd, this is known as a "banana pancake."Steamed rice, fried fish with potatoesVegetable "Singapore" noodlesChicken larbThai accompaniments, saucesJams: Note the coconut and pineapple varieties!The world's BEST muesliOne of my many "savory" plates...After breakfast, we waddled over to the pool/beach to park ourselves in the sun.  It was a lovely morning in paradise...

To pool?  Or...

...to beach?  Decisions, decisions.

At around 2pm, clouds began to shield the blue sky.  So, the three of us decided to head in to town (Patong) for lunch in one of the basement stalls at the Jungceylon Mall.

Junceylon (mall), PatongSo. Frickin. True.I made lunch out of fried Indian rice and traditional Thai mango sticky rice.  Keeping it balanced - and healthy - as always...!  

After lunch, the three of us got "doctor fish" pedicures - followed by massages - at the spa/massage joint just across from the food hall.  Appetizing, no?  

It tickled.The verdict?  A once-in-a-life-time experience.  Though I would not recommend a "fish pedicure," because of what happened to me a few days later...stay tuned!

We returned to the hotel around 7pm and, while Eric went in to town to dine with some visiting friends, my sister and I decided to have dinner at our hotel. 

By the time we were seated al-fresco, a rain shower began dancing atop the pool.  "Thank goodness we don't have to deal with that in town," my sister said, as she breathed a sigh of relief.

Amuse bouche: tuna in a crispy rice flower "cup"Pomelo saladThai lobster...

11/23:  We awoke to an overcast sky and a light mist, meaning that we would forego the beach/pool and, instead, check out another nearby town.  After another bountiful breakfast buffet, the three of us reserved tickets to a 7pm "lady boy" performance at Simon Cabaret, then hailed a tuk-tuk.  Destination?  The heart of Karong.

KarongThere were produce stands aplenty, selling exotic local fruits...

DragonfruitAnd, my personal favorite, mangosteensDuring our stroll through town, we came across a tsunami warning/alarm tower, and a tsunami evacuation route sign...

Tsunami warning/alarm towerYikes!When the mist began again, we took cover at Bai Toey, a cute restaurant located in the middle of a shopping cul-de-sac.

I ordered a "lemon ice." While we refer to the fruit as "lime," Thailand calls them lemons.The three of us split an order of spring rolls and a papaya salad, which was accompanied by rice.

Spring rollsPapaya salad, teddy bear-shaped rice :)My plate: A lil' bit of this, and a lil' bit of that...Because the restaurant's walls were already tagged with names and personal taglines from tourists across the world, I decided to leave my mark, as well...

After walking to - and through - Kata, Karong's neighboring town, the three of us decided that we were shopped-out and pooped.  We split a cab back to the hotel and went our separate ways:  Eric and my sister got massages, and I strolled the grounds of the hotel and swam in the ocean once last time.

A massive ceramic flower pot filled with water and lily padsI don't think that I could ever get sick of orchids...especially those that grow in their natural habitat.Oh, how I will miss this...

At about 6:30pm, a van came to fetch us for our 7pm "lady boy" show at Simon Cabaret.

And, trust me, I would have taken pictures of the shenanigans, but...

...I don't have $50K.  

I will say that most of the "lady boys" were sexy as hell and could totally pass for women.  There were a few, however, whose Adam's apples were bigger than their tissue-stuffed chests.

After the show, we had our last dinner in Phuket at Home Dining Cafe & Lounge, a pleasant, off-the-beaten-track restaurant near the Cabaret

Forgoing something alcoholic, I chose to quench my thirst with a lime ("lemon" in Thailand) juice.

Each table received gratis crudite:  Vegetable sticks and garlic dip.  Random, but fresh and delicious.

We split two appetizers:  Spring rolls and shrimp cakes.

For my entree, I chose a spicy shrimp and pepper dish that was served with rice. 

After dinner, the three of us rode back to the hotel in silence.  Not because we were in a fight, but because, I think, we were all upset that this was our last night in Phuket.  On the bright side, we would head to Chiang Mai, Thailand in the morning. 

...

What I took away from Phuket:

  • When you find yourself up against a language barrier in Thailand - and you're looking for a way to connect with the locals - spit out a few verses of "Gangnam Style."  Everyone - and I mean, everyone - knows this song.  And dance.

  • I could not believe - well, actually, I could, since I watch Dateline - the amount of gnarly, grandpa-old British and American men who had gorgeous, young Thai women (or "ladyboys") in their midst at bars in Patong.  Russian "mail order" brides are so yesterday!
  • Oh, and speaking of Russians:  Phuket is infiltrated with sun-seeking Ruskies!  I can say that because I am Russian.  So stop gasping!   
  • While the USD to baht exchange rate is incredibly in our favor, Phuket is still quite pricey.
  • In Thai, the vowels at the end of words are elooooooooooooooooooooongated to dramatic proportions. 
  • Seeing and petting a baby elephant on the beach changed my life.
  • With ingredients such as clear water, a lukewarm temperature, and light waves, the ocean is perfect for swimming laps or lounging atop a raft.  Do yourself a favor and pack your goggles or snorkel mask. 
  • If I ever get married, I'm doing it in this area of Thailand.  And you're invited.

~~~

Until Chiang Mai,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Dec122012

(Asia 2012) First stop:  Singapore!

Extended vacations are awesome, but have you ever noticed that, upon returning home, you feel more stressed out than you did prior to departure?  What's up with that? 

I hate to start a post - especially since I have not written one in a hot minute - with a bunch of bitching and moaning.  But, let me preface this by saying that I've only taken *one* other 2-week travel stint since graduating from college, ahem, 10-years ago.  So, you can only imagine what a buzz kill it was to a) return to a cold and dreary NYC, and b) the office after having gallivanted across Southeast Asia for 14-days.  The only thing that I was looking forward to upon my return?  Seeing her:

Lucy <3Ok, and, perhaps, indulging in a few slices of good ol' NY-style pizza...

Last Monday morning, my worst fears were realized when I sat down at my desk - opened my Outlook inbox - and saw the mass amount of emails marked with red "follow-up" flags (that required an urgent response).  Ugh.  And, speaking of red, how about that glaring red light on my desk phone, signaling that I had to check my goddamn voicemail?  Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe voicemail?  Oh, and all of the personal crap that I needed to attend to?  "First world problems." I know, I know...I'll shut up now.

Needless to say, after a very busy week, things are slowly starting to calm down a bit.  Meaning that I can finally report on my trip!  So, without further ado, please join me as I recap the first four of fourteen of the very best days of my life.  Beginning in Singapore. 

From Asia with love,

The Lunch Belle

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Destination: Singapore

My cousin, Eric, got a job with a British law firm in Singapore, circa August 2011.  And, just like I did when he landed the internship in Hong Kong in 2010, I promised him that I would come visit.  So, back in May of this year, my sister and I booked one-way flights to Singapore.  "We'll figure out the rest of our itinerary later," she suggested.  "Let's just take our time on deciding where else to go."  And that's exactly what we did.

...

11/16:  I scooted out of work early and boarded a Los Angeles-bound flight to meet my sister (from there, we would fly to Singapore together).  Upon my arrival at LAX, I was floored by the beyond shiteous international departures terminal.  Aside from the private airline lounges which we may or may not have tried to sneak in to, there was only ONE restaurant (if you can even call it that).  One!  What the hell, right?  For god's sake, the airport in Lubbock, TX has more options!  Let's just put it this way, my sister and I were actually looking forward to our 20+ hour journey!

Our Singapore-bound - by way of Hong Kong - Cathay Pacific flight departed LAX shortly after midnight on 11/17. 

In-flight television depicting our journey to Hong Kong (where we stopped for a few hours prior to flying to Singapore)Economy class meal menu"Dinner" was served shortly after take-off. The entree, soya sauce chicken and rice, was horrendous. With about 4-hours of flight time remaining, breakfast was served. I opted for the "chicken congee." It was decent.Sunrise, somewhere over Asia...Our 2-hour layover in Hong Kong was a blur.  We boarded another plane and made our way to Singapore.  Isn't it fascinating/odd that Cathay Pacific used a 777 aircraft for this 2-hour jaunt?  I thought so...

My sister and I shared a row of three with a lovely girl who had previously lived in Singapore.  Aside from giving us the names of some of her favorite hawker centers and shops, she also let my sister borrow her pair of tweezers to - get this - remove the silicone ear plug that was lodged deep inside of her ear canal.  Blech!

11/18:  And you thought that JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK was awesome?  Hah!  It doesn't even hold a candle to Singapore's Changi Airport.  Are you ready for this?  Free movie theater - rooftop pool - butterfly farm - children's playground - a nature trail - a gym - a spa - shall I continue?  Nah, I don't want to make you even *more* jealous... 

Ooooh, I love tropical "arrival" signs!The rumors ARE true: Singapore is NO JOKE.If you aren't familiar with Singapore's MRT system, then I suggest taking a cab to your hotel. The drive is lush, scenic, and will cost you about 30 SGD.Upon check-in at the Fairmont Singapore, my sister and I were welcomed with fragrant flower leis and a fresh fruit cocktail!

A view from our balcony at the Fairmont Singapore Hotel A view of the famous Raffles Hotel from our balconyYes, I ordered a Singapore Sling at our hotel's bar! Hey, when in Rome...Eric, my cousin, met me and my sis at our hotel before taking us on a short tour of the vicinity. 

By gosh, this subway station looks just like something you'd see in NYC...NOT! Check out that lovely "rain drop" ceiling art!Awaiting the arrival of the subway in, quite possibly, the cleanest stations in the world. Note the colored arrows, signaling for those waiting to board to allow passengers off of the train first. Now there's a concept! Exiting from the subway in to one of Singapore's many fabulous shopping malls.Louis Vuitton, SingaporeAfter window shopping, the three of us headed to the 59th floor of uber baller hotel, Marina Bay Sands, for a ridiculously overpriced cocktail.

How frickin cool is this tri-tower? The surf board-looking thing on the roof is a "sky park," complete with a bar, restaurant, and outdoor infinity pool.A hotel guest enjoying the view from the hot tub 59 floors above Singapore...The infinity pool A view from the topKu De Ta: Enjoying the gratis wasabi potato chips with our cocktails. And scenic view.Once the sun set, we headed over to Eric's apartment so that I could gift him with 1/2 dozen bagels from The Corner Cafe and 1/2 dozen holiday-tinged "black and white" cookies from William Greenberg DessertsWhat?  He's a homesick New Yorker! 

From there, we made our way over to StraitsKitchen, "...a Singapore-inspired restaurant presenting the best of local cuisine in a contemporary marketplace setting," for a fabulous dinner. 

Multi open-kitchens - chic, modern decor. With a plethora of exotic fruit juices offered, I went with the Calamansi.Laksa SingaporeHaianese "chicken rice," Singapore's signature dish.Followed by plate, after plate, after plate, after plate...of food.

And dessert...

...

11/19:  For our first "full" day in Singapore, my sister and I decided to head to Little India and the Arab Quarter.  I wanted to visit a mosque, and she wanted to search for some intricate Indian jewelry.

An homage to Obama painting in our hotel's mall passagewayOn our way to the Tekka Centre for a traditional "hawker" (food stalls) breakfast, we strolled through Little India. 

We had just missed Deepavali, the 5-day Hindu "festival of lights."Fresh flower garlands for Deepavali garnishingGuess they don't believe in the Atkins diet...We stopped in to one of the trillion Singapore 7-Eleven stores for a bottle of water, and I happened upon this:  A mashed potato dispenser!  Ewwwww.

A busy morning at the hawker (food stalls) area within the Tekka CentreClearly, this hawker was thrilled that I took his photo."Poured" iced black tea, with milk and sugarRoti prata with eggFresh coconut juiceLamb biryaniAfter a quick stroll through the Mustafa Centre shit show mall/travel agency/jewelry store/grocery megaplex, we headed to the Arab Quarter. 

Women's accessoriesWith respect to Islam, the immediate vicinity was an "alcohol free zone."The Masjid Sultan mosque, Arab StreetAlternate viewsTo enter the mosque, my sister and I had to cover our arms, legs, heads, and remove our shoes.  We spoke with a very kind and knowledgeable docent who gave us a brief, 5-minute introduction to Islam. 

I felt very privileged to have been able to enter this lovely house of worship. 

A look inside the mosque - the Holy Quran - the current time in MeccaFor lunch, we dined at al-fresco at Derwish, a Turkish restaurant. 

Iced green teaHomemade Turkish bread, cold mezze platterExhausted from the day, we headed back to the hotel and lounged by the pool.  For dinner, we walked to the Boat Quay neighborhood which, apparently, was a popular place for after-work cocktails.

While I did not take down the name, the restaurant we ate at specialized in both Indian and Turkish cuisine.  

Hell, I even ordered another Singapore Sling! HummusTandoori chickenGarlic naanDal MakhaniAnd for dessert...

Apple-flavored hookah!  Nothin' like a good smoke to cap off the night.

...

11/20:  Before we planned the day ahead, I made it a point to sample "kaya toast," for breakfast.  This traditional Singaporean snack is, basically, a sandwich that is composed of:  Two slices of toasted bread that are spread with coconut jam and butter.  Yum!

My sister and I decided to explore the new "park" adjacent to Marina Bay Sands, called Gardens by the Bay.  And the verdict?  Meh.  I imagine that, in about 10-years from now, the Gardens will be lush and lovely.  At the moment, they're a little bit under grown and, to be honest, boring.

If you don't pay the steep 25 SGD fee for entry in to the "bubble," there's just not a whole hell of a lot to see (aside from that pretty pink flower). The grounds kind of reminded me of "Ascarate Park" in El Paso...Since we were hot, sweaty, and pissed off that we had just wasted a precious hour at underwhelming Gardens by the Bay, my sister and I decided that we needed to treat ourselves to a fancy lunch at Ku De Ta, the restaurant within the "sky park" atop the Marina Bay Sands hotel.  Little did we know how much more pissed off we'd become, due to the restaurant's shiteous service.  Luckily, the food made up for it...

The interior space was cool, chic, bright, and modern.Coconut juiceSashimiShrimp + green papaya saladAfter lunch, we took the subway to Chinatown.

Red Chinese lanterns and intricate building decor...and a Hindu temple!We loved the marriage of Chinese and Indian cultures in this unique enclave of the city.  

My sister and I each got a Mehndi, or henna, hand tattoo.We even caught an intense mahjong game! 

Post-Chinatown, my sister and I strolled along the famous shopper's haven, Orchard Road, where we fell head over heels in love with the basement-level food court at Japanese department store, Takashimaya.

Takashimaya - and its food court - frickin ROCKS.After our window shopping-spree, we met up with Cousin Eric for our final dinner in Singapore.  At none other that my most favorite Taiwanese chain, Din Tai Fung.

My version of heavenLook at all of the happy diners!Le menuSliced cucumbers with garlicBreaded pork cutlet atop fried riceThe world's BEST pork soup dumplings/xiao long bao.Dandan noodlesGarlic-y greens with prawnsSliced duck in crispy spring-onion pastryRed bean and black sesame bunsThe aftermath............

Conclusion:  Singapore is a modern, clean, multi-cultural, tropical, high-tech, and friendly country.  From the streets to the subways, it is virtually free of displaced rubbish, gum and cigarette butts.  Prices are steep and you don't get much value for the USD, but there are plenty of ways to eat, stay, and experience this country "on the cheap," if you do your homework.  While we didn't encounter many Americans (which was a very nice thing), there were many Australian and Malaysian visitors.  2-3 days is about all you need to almost fully experience this small country.

I would happily return to Singapore for a few days if I were in-between Southeast Asian destinations.  The only thing we did not do was visit Sentosa Island.  Other than that, my sister and I felt very pleased with all that we did and saw in Singapore.

~~~

Until Phuket (Thailand),

The Lunch Belle    

Friday
Nov022012

Mi vida loca: Nuptials and a bitch named Sandy

Wow.  I'm not sure if there's another word that better summarizes this past week.  Or month, for that matter.  It's been quite an eventful - and eerie - October in the Big Apple.  And, certainly, one that we will not soon - or ever - forget...

Speaking of this past week, there were the obvious lows (brought on by Mother Nature) - but plenty of fantastic highs.  So, please join me as I highlight October's final days:

Thursday, 10/25

I met Tammi, a friend and reader, for snacks and drinks at the bar at Eleven Madison Park, in honor of her birthday.  The extraordinary service was beyond compare...as were the freshly-baked croissant rolls, specially-prepared butternut squash soup, and our dessert - a play on ricotta cheesecake.

Just a taste..."Ricotta cheesecake," lime curd, berriesFriday, 10/26

While Friday was relatively uneventful, I received a notice from my apartment's management to "...remove and secure all terrace/balcony furniture and other objects in preparation for Hurricane Sandy."  I made sure to take care of that as soon as I got home from work, since I would be leaving early the next morning for a wedding in Connecticut. 

Saturday, 10/27

After dropping Lucy off at chi-chi D Pet Hotel, I headed to Penn Station to board my Providence, RI-bound Amtrak train to New London, CT. 

FYI, donut buffs:  Did you know that there's a Krispy Kreme on the Amtrak level at Penn Station?

Mmmm...Glazed pumpkin-spice cake donuts!From my window seat, the cornucopia of fall scenery was fantastic!

Check out that killer view!

Upon arrival in New London, I took a taxi across the Thames River to the Avis Rental Car at the Groton-New London Airport.  1 train, 1 cab, and 1 rental car-ride later, I finally arrived at my hotel in Dayville - with only an hour to spare before the shuttle came to fetch me for the wedding.  Whew! 

...Leave it to me to forget to pack my contact lenses, blush, and toothbrush.  That's right, I ended up looking like Sarah Palin in a cocktail dress!  Sigh.

A quarter after three, a classic yellow school bus arrived (at the hotel) to take us to Tyrone Farm - Moira's wedding venue - in picturesque Pomfret, CT.  Despite the impending hurricane on the horizon, the rain clouds parted for the entirety of Moira's 1950's/60's-themed, indoor/outdoor wedding and reception. 

Note the clusters of pumpkins and gourds ~

Along with programs, guests were encouraged to grab a "Toss Me" bag, filled with small wooden music notes, on their way to their seats.  Pashmina wraps were provided for the ladies ~

 

The guests anticipate Moira & Eric's walk down the aisle ~

Live musicians ~

The flower girl ~

 

The beautiful bride and her groom ~

Post "I do," the guests toss the wooden music notes at the happy couple ~

The crowd heads towards the celebratory reception, catered by Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro ~

 

Outdoors, guests imbibed in an array of cocktails, wines, beers, and hot cider/sodas/water ~

I fancied the Rum Punch...

...and the delicious passed hors d'oeuvres.  Namely, the sweet 'n sticky BBQ ribs.  :)

For those who preferred to stay indoors, a 1950's-inspired band was playing live music ~

At about 6:30pm, guests began making their way over to the barn for a candle lit dinner - dessert - and dancing ~

The food, wine, and cocktails served were the best that I've ever had at a wedding.  So much care and detail was put in to every last bite and sip...

Served family style, menu highlights included:  Locally-grown zucchini bread, roasted beet salad (pictured further below), thyme-roasted Brussels sprouts, BBC-brined roasted chicken, and roasted arctic char.

To start, each guest received an "amuse bouche," of sorts:  Local goat's cheese, seasonal berries.

Roasted Beet Salad

While many of my other entree photos didn't fare as beautifully, I was able to snap a shot of the wedding cake - and the couple's incredibly creative "cake bar," courtesy of Good Butter Bakery, featuring an array of a dozen different, handmade, cake varieties.  Additionally, an outdoor fire pit was ignited for guests who wished to make their own smores.    

While many danced the night away, I used my time to eat.  And drink.  And eat some more.  And take silly pics in the photo booth with my friend, Veronica ~

As if I had any more room in my stomach, The Cheese Truck (food truck) pulled up to the barn at 10:30pm, serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and warm tomato soup-shots! 

Just before midnight, guests serenaded the couple with a parade of sparklers ~

Wedding favors included the most unbelieveable "salty oats" cookies from the bride's aunt's cookie bakery, Kayak Cookies.  (This is the same aunt who owns Good Butter Bakery!)

Sunday, 10/28 

At 9am, I awoke to a nagging alarm clock and a raging headache.  The sign of a good night, no? 

With the impending hurricane slowly making its way up north, I wanted to get back to NYC as soon as possible...

Shortly after 10am, I arrived at Moira & Eric's send-off brunch, located in a lodge on the sprawling grounds of The Pomfret Boarding School.  Catered by Mrs. Bridges' Pantry, a British tea shop located in nearby Woodstock, guests enjoyed:

Traditional British tea, coffee - Paired alongside shabby-chic, mismatched tea cups and spoons ~

Homemade scones, served with strawberry jam - lemon curd - and clotted cream ~

The best Shepard's Pie that I've ever tasted ~

Spinach & feta pies ~

And an assortment of quiches & savory pies ~

After the lovely brunch, I drove back to the Avis location at the Groton-New London Airport, and hitched a ride to the New London train station.  I could not wait to get home to Lucy and finish preparing for the storm.

With time to spare before my scheduled departure, I strolled the perimeter of the train station.  Here's something that caught my eye...

I mean, I would certainly hope that the restaurant was hygienic.  What the hell kind of name is that??

Although my train was delayed for 30 minutes, I still made it to Penn Station by 4:30pm...But was taken aback when, upon my walk home, I read that subway service would be halted from 7pm onward.  Until further notice...

I was home - with Lucy in tow - by 5pm.  Phew!

Monday, 10/29 - Tuesday, 10/30

Both of these days were spent on the sofa, with my eyes glued to the TV.  And the big window in my living room, which I used to monitor the storm...and the terrace of that idiot who lives across 6th Avenue from me.  Although every person with outdoor space received ample warning to remove "any furniture or objects," this fool proceeded to leave his BOWFLEX machine outdoors for the duration of the storm!  And, no, he was not out of town.  Imagine the damage that this could have caused?  But let's not deviate from the real question at hand here:  What kind of douche puts his exercise equipment on his terrace, a virtual fish bowl, to begin with?  C'mon now...

Luckily, you will see that the only damage done was to the machine, itself.  Good riddance!

Since the stock exchange was closed on both Monday and Tuesday (I work at an investment bank), I literally did not leave my apartment - change out of my pajamas - or eat anything perishable until Wednesday.  Believe it or not, my apartment building was one of the few in the area that did not lose power or water!  I was in complete shock and disbelief.  And counting every last one of my lucky stars.  

On Tuesday afternoon, my friend, Dana, whose building was (and still is) without power and water, came over to charge her phone and take a hot shower. 

Wednesday, 10/31

Halloween shmalloween.  It sure as hell didn't feel like a fun, festive holiday in NYC.   Especially since I had to go back to work...

Since bus service was free, I took the M7 up 6th Avenue, and got off at 57th Street to see if I could get a good view of the collapsed crane...

My friend, Jane, who was (and still is) without power and water, asked if she could take refuge in my apartment.  On my walk home from work - remember, subways were still not running - I happened upon flashing lights, police caution tape, flares, and a small mob scene.  Assuming that scaffolding had fallen, I overheard someone say that a girl had just leapt to her death.  My heart sank.  This was the second instance - this month - that someone had died in this manner.  : (

I was thrilled to have Jane stay over, as I knew that her presence would really help get my mind off of what had just happened.  We decided to grab drinks and dinner in my neighborhood, but soon realized that a) restaurants/bars were either beyond crowded, or b) not open because of power loss.  

Here's a view of the Flatiron District at around 7:30pm on Wednesday night, illuminated only by the head/tail lights of motoristsThink that only buildings lost power?  Think again.  A multitude of street lights were out, too, wreaking havoc on the traffic...       

After wandering aimlessly with no luck, we finally ended up at Hill country.  Whoever said that BBQ and margaritas can't cure the blues is a total idiot...

Thursday, 11/1

Thank god October is *finally* over.  What a shiteous month! 

After leaving a meeting uptown, I gasped in horror as I saw the insanely long line of folks waiting to board the Queens-bound F train at 63rd Street.  Aside from the fact that service was free, this was the only subway train going across the water. 

For dinner, Jane and I enjoyed a fabulous Persian meal at Pars Grill House & Bar.

...

Readers:  How did you weather the storm?  Was your home affected, due to power/water loss or serious damage?  Did you have to seek refuge?  I'd love to hear your stories. 

I'm going to see/research if there's anything I can do to help.  Volunteer.  Whatever!  Are you doing anything?

One thing I will say, before I sign off, is that I think the Mayor is a complete JACKASS for deciding to proceed with the NYC Marathon this weekend.  I mean, is there any aspect of this decision that's NOT a complete epic fail?  He needs to stop trying to prove to the world that "New Yorkers will not let a storm tear us down."  Seriously.   If you're with me, then vote here to have the Marathon rescheduled to Spring 2013. 

On that note, I wish all of you a safe, warm, and healthy weekend.  Keep your heads up and, if there's anything I can do to help, please let me know.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Monday
Sep102012

Labor Day weekend in Seattle: Days 3-4 

Below, please enjoy a chronological photo/review collage from days #3 & 4 of my beautiful - and delicious - Labor Day weekend in Seattle, the "Emerald City."   

...

Sunday, 9/2

I woke up on the earlier-side of the morning to hit the hotel's treadmill.  God knows, especially after the prior day's glutinous shit-show, I could use a good calorie-burning session.  Or three. 

At around 10:30am, Mom, Dad, and I headed to brunch at local favorite, Dahlia LoungeAnd this is where my workout went to crap.  We were lucky to have a fantastic server, who answered all of my dad's random questions (i.e. "How many eggs are hatched/day at Wilcox Farms?"  FYI:  Wilcox Farms is the restaurant's egg purveyor, if you couldn't guess...). 

For my brunch entree, I chose the 'Two Eggs Any Style' (I got mine "poached"), which included a bread of my choice from neighboring Dahlia Bakery (a biscuit, duh!), a breakfast meat (house-made breakfast sausage, thank you very much), and parmesan potatoes.  Everything on my plate was fcuking fantastic.  With the exception of one of the sausage links, I inhaled every last crumb.      

Since the wedding would start promptly at 5pm, we headed back to the hotel to prep, post-brunch.  And, just like the previous evening's rehearsal dinner, the ceremony was held at Camp Korey

Yarmulkes for the menGuests await the beginning of the ceremony on the great lawnMy dad reads a prayerAnd, finally, we serenaded the happy couple over a bountiful dinner + dancing + imbibing + toasting + photo taking + speech delivering + cake eating!

...

Monday, 9/3

Although she's never been, my mom is obsessed with Egypt.  And all of the mystique surrounding the pyramids, King Tut, etc.  So, when she learned that there was a traveling King Tut exhibit in Seattle, she purchased tickets for herself, me, and my dad.

Check out how thrilled I look to be there...

Mom and me, mummy-fied.The young King TutA gorgeous urn found in King Tut's tombFamished from all of the exhibit-ing, we took a lunch break at outdoor pizza cart, Streetzeria.  The small menu caught my eye, as it boasted of fresh and local ingredients.  And what really sealed the deal was the fact that they carried Mexican Coca-Cola which, if you didn't already know, is made with cane sugar.  Not corn syrup. 

The result?  A fabulous personal pizza that was made on the spot.  Piping hot and topped with the highest quality, local ingredients.

Not long after lunch, Dad bolted.  He gets almost as excited about exhibits/museums as I do.  And, frankly, he couldn't handle a second more. 

Mom and I wrapped up at King Tut, then did some window shopping, Space Needle photo-snapping, and candy sampling at See's, before heading back to the hotel.

Since it was Labor Day, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot that was open downtown.  In terms of dining options.  After learning that our first choice was closed, we decided to stay close and dine at Shucker's in our hotel. 

In what sort of resembled the interior of Cheers, Shucker's evoked a casual, yet sophisticated and masculine space:  Mahogany wood, dim lighting, a full wrap-around marble bar, a great selection of local beers on-tap, and a raw bar where bivalves were hand-shucked upon order.

The true test of a good restaurant?  Why, the bread basket, of course!  Rosemary flatbread, sliced French baguette, and handmade Irish soda bread filled the bountiful basket.

Mom, Dad, and I split the Artichoke & Dungeness Crab Gratin, which is just a fancy way of saying, "artichoke and crab dip."  The gratin was accompanied by buttered crostini points for dipping purposes.  Creamy and rich, with ample chunks of crab and artichoke, this was a winner amongst the table.

For my main course, I ordered two local oysters on the half-shell, plus a bowl of clam chowder. 

The oysters were pristine, with a dense, meaty bite and a briny essence from the cold Pacific waters in which they hailed.

The chowder was among the best versions that I've ever had:  Warm, creamy, thick, and chock-full of potatoes and clam nibs. 

...and I also snuck a few bites of Mom's fantastic wedge salad, which was composed of iceberg lettuce quarters, bacon crumbles, and a generous amount of blue cheese dressing.

Our meal at Shucker's was fantastic.  The seafood was local and fresh, plus, the service we received was beyond compare.  We certainly loved our final dinner in Seattle, and will definitely return to Shucker's upon our next visit.  

...

My family and I had a wonderful wedding weekend in Seattle.  Aside from reuniting with dear family, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the city's unique culture, food/drink, and incredibly gorgeous, natural surroundings.  If you get the opportunity, I highly suggest visiting this lovely destination in August, as the weather and temperatures are at their most ideal.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Sep062012

Labor Day weekend in Seattle: Day 2

Below, please enjoy a chronological photo/review collage from day #2 (of 4) of my beautiful - and delicious - Labor Day weekend in Seattle, the "Emerald City."   

...

Saturday, 9/1

After a rowdy night, the first thing on my disheveled mind when I awoke on Saturday morning was:  Belle Epicurean.  Conveniently located within the street-level retail shops of my hotel, I make it a point to visit this French bakery every time I'm in Seattle.  Regardless if I'm staying at the Fairmont.  Why?  Because I have yet to find a better pastry on this earth. 

I ran downstairs - in my pajamas - only to realize that the bakery was about 3-minutes away from opening (at 8am).  One of the store's two entrances is located in the interior of the hotel, while the other is public/exterior of the hotel.  Both of the employees on duty saw me standing at the door, fogging up the glass pane, no doubt.  At 8am, instead of opening the door where I was standing, the female employee went all the way to the public entrance.  Unlocked the door.  Moved, then arranged cafe tables and chairs outside.  And propped up the folding sidewalk chalkboard with the day's specials.  Finally, the beotch came over to where I was waiting and opened the door.  How crappy is that?

It was hard not to let the nasty service I received spoil the bakery's delicious offerings.  Especially after the said wicked witch got my coffee order wrong.  It took everything in me not to punch her in the face.  Seriously.

Blackberry briocheLemon briocheAt around noon, I met my cousin, Bill, for a dim sum lunch in the International District.  Jade Garden was packed with hungry guests eagerly waiting for their party's name to be called for a table.  After about 20-minutes, Bill and I were seated at a comfy booth in Jade Garden's non descript, hectic dining room.  Seconds later, we were served tea and offered a variety of freshly-cooked dishes from the dim sum cart.  I was in hog heaven.

Because this meal was so incredibly delicious, and I could not stop raving about it, my dad and I tried convincing my mom to have dinner there on Monday night.  i.e. Second visit for me, first for them.  She wouldn't budge (she hates Chinese food).

Seattle's International DistrictSteamed shrimp & Chinese parsley dumplingsHouse special vermicelliPork rice cakeShrimp roll Pork soup dumplingsAfter lunch, Mom and I walked around downtown - hit the flagship Nordstrom department store - then grabbed a refreshing margarita at Purple Cafe, a cute wine/tapas joint across the street from our hotel.

The wedding festivities for the evening took us to Carnation, a town 45-minutes outside of Seattle, for the rehearsal dinner at Camp Korey.  While the camp "...serves children with serious and life-altering medical conditions and their families at no cost.  We provide year-round recreation programs specially designed to support the medical needs of campers while letting them just be kids and have fun," it can also be rented for special events, such as weddings.

The heartfelt mission of Camp Korey makes its breathtaking grounds all the more beautiful...

The festivities began with outdoor activities (think badminton and Frisbee), followed by a BBQ dinner that was catered by famed Seattle restaurateur, Tom Douglas.

After another fantastic - and filling - day, I hit the sheets early.  

Stay tuned for day #3 of my trip to Seattle...!

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle