To celebrate our birthdays this year, Britt and I decided to take a quick trip to Portugal. Neither of us had been prior. It rained most of the time, but we still had a blast. Read on for some spots I would recommend, as well as a lengthy photo dump.Continue reading
Menton was our last stop in France, prior to returning to NYC (via Copenhagen). It is about a 30 minute train ride from Nice, and sits on the border of Italy. It could be described as a smaller, older version of Nice. We happened to be there during the Fête du Citron, which is the festival of Lemons. As a result, the whole town was replete with large scale sculptures made from lemons and oranges.Continue reading
During our stay in Nice last month, Britt and I took a couple of day trips to some nearby spots. One such spot was the small medieval village in Èze. From Nice it is a 15 minute bus ride along a picturesque coastal highway that winds along the coast. The fare is less the the price of a Metrocard swipe. The bus drops you right at the base of Le Jardin Exotique, which is set atop a very, very old little village. We wandered through the stone walled passages for a few hours including the garden itself. We packed some sammies from the boulanger in Nice and enjoyed them in the garden’s sunny main lookout.Continue reading
We recently spent a long weekend in Madrid. It was my first time there. We stayed at 7 Islas Hotel, a chill hotel on a side street in a cool part of town. The common space is awesome, and so are the rooms. It was designed by Kikeller, which also has a showroom (and not-so-secret speakeasy) in the neighborhood. More about that, later. We left NYC on a Wednesday night and arrived in Madrid early on Thursday morning. The flight was only a little longer than getting to LA. from NY. The Madrid airport was super easy, as was ground transpo. We got to the hotel around 10 AM, dropped our bags and hit the ground running.
Thursday was our only rain-free day, so it is good that we didn’t waste any time. The city is very walkable, and there are rental scooters, bikes, and e-bikes available as well. Everyone eats late lunch, then takes a siesta in the early evening, and heads back out around 7 or 8. Dinner time is 9 or 10. The siesta is something that should be universally adopted in my opinion. Not only did it mitigate the jet lag, it also made it very easy to stay out until the early hours of the morning and still wake up with the sun. One more general observation before I get into the details; even though everyone there speaks pretty good English, the people in Madrid were very patient with my crappy Spanish. Instead of forcing me to speak English, they would coach me through, to make sure they understood what I was saying/asking. Here are a couple of notable spots that we wandered into-
Mercado de San Antón– It’s like a multilevel Chelsea Market, with a rooftop bar and art gallery. There aren’t a lot of non-hotel rooftop bars in Madrid (that we found, anyway). This one was okay. It was worth checking out, just for the local flavor.
Zombie Bar— This is one of the many spots that we wandered into on Calle de Pez. There were a ton of interesting bars and decent food on Calle de Pez. This spot stood out because of its decor. They had a bunch of throwback 80’s skate decks on the walls, together with Basquiat prints, and skate trucks as bar hooks. Great selection of drinks and interesting menu.
La Colmada— We dipped into this place in the late afternoon just as it started pouring rain. It was already bumping before the downpour. No tourists. Totally unpretentious. Awesome prices. In Britt’s words- “best everything.” We had various types of tapas, and a few drinks each. The check was less than the price of two salads from Chop’t.
Bodega Ardosa— This place is super old school. It feels like going back in time, hanging out in this place. We were there late at night, but here it what the outside looks like during the day. There is a restaurant in the back that you have to duck under the bar to get to. No music here, just old school vibes and scores of locals.
Fabrica Maravillas— This place brews their own beer. We tried a few types, and they were all great. We walked by a few times, and it was always busy. It is a very communal atmosphere. At one point someone ate all of my olives and accidentally grabbed my beer. No harm, no foul (the olives were free).
Clarita— We went to this place around 11:30 PM, and it was bumping! We sat in the bar area. No one spoke English. But it was rowdy enough that everyone was just kind of pointing and doing hand gestures to order anyway. We loved the vibe and the food was excellent.
As James Dean once said, “There is only a certain amount of time that you can spend as a tourist in a non-tropical city without experiencing a bit of boredom”; look it up. Heeding Dean’s advice, we jumped a London bound Eurostar after spending a few days in Paris, and a couple of hours later found ourselves in the (barely) pre-brexit UK. To be exact, we were in Shoreditch, camping at The ACE. Forgive me for oversimplifying, but Shoreditch felt like Brooklyn, east. I mean, I have stayed at The ACE in NYC, and the London version felt more like NY than the one on 29th Street. I was not upset by this fact. Below is a list of establishments that I can recommend patronizing. Here we go-
- Bull in a China Shop – Feels a lot like the Dead Rabbit in FiDi, without the sawdust on the floor, and without all of the finance bros dipping in after their steakhouse dinners. Whatever type of whiskey you are craving, they have it. To keep it chilled, they will make you a customized ice cube, diamond, or etc.. They made us some really nice drinks and fed us some delicious food.
- Flat Iron – This place has a wood fired oven, popcorn, cocktails, and a decent vibe. As a steak snob, I didn’t find the meat to be amazing, but it was above average. In a town with a rep for having bland food, this joint breaks the stereotype. We were there on Thanksgiving, and had our first course of dinner here; a ribeye steak together with some sides, and we were not disappointed.
- Pizza East, Shorditch – I’ll be honest, B did not love this spot. I did. It was a large space with community tables. We were there late (and there is a club downstairs, so the door security was slightly annoying). But… they are open late, have a wood fired oven, and a massive wine list. Vibe was decent, and the pizza was decent (in my opinion, not B’s).
- The Bike Shed – It is funny how long Americans have been biting UK culture. If you want clear evidence that the UK is biting back in a major way, look no further than this place. It is like a giant version of Union Garage tucked under awesome vaulted brick ceilings. They also managed to pack in a full sized pub/restaurant, and barber shop, complete with a giant Brooklyn Brewery neon light mounted on the wall. Oh yeah, and Bikes. Lots of rad bikes. But seriously, you don’t need to be into motorcycles to appreciate this place.
- Crown and Shuttle – This place was chill and had 10-20 beers on tap. We didn’t try the food, but the service was awesome, and the vibe was nice. Despite looking like they used this website to come up with their name, we have only good things to say about this spot.
- The Culpeper – Also a hotel, this joint was bumping on a Friday night! Great selection of beer/wine/spirits with an upscale (but not too upscale) flow. Lots of attractive looking peeps and a steezy ye olde Londonney decor.
- The Ten Bells – This pub was right across the street from the Spitalfields market. So you can whet your whistle after a long afternoon of scooping weird vintage wares and vinyl. Nothing really remarkable about this place, but B and I both put it on our respective lists, so we must have both liked it!
- Found – Buried in the bowels of Ravey Street, this spot had the best cocktails that we experienced in London, hands down. Look for the door with the big number 5 on it. We walked past it twice before figuring out that was the entrance. Get the “Tommy Goes to Thailand” for some spicy deliciousness.
- Old Blue Last – This place has some sort of connection to Vice media. I didn’t care enough to gather the details. But there you are. I didn’t love it. B did. It is a pretty typical pub, with very high ceilings, and a lot of taxidermied big game mounted on the wall. Plenty of brew on tap.
- The Griffin – Possibly the most unpretentious “cool” bar that I have ever been to. I mean, just look at their super basic website. The bar is the same way. No frills, but super genuine awesomeness. We were there Friday night late, and there was a gaggle of people standing around on the sidewalk outside the door enjoying pints. Inside, The Kinks were blasting over the sound system in the most un-ironic way possible. We became pretty friendly with the bartender, and she got a very out of focus photo of us that B and I both love.
Some additional photos from the UK-
Paris is like NY, in the sense that there are a million different ways to experience it. B and I had both spent time in Paris on various occasions in the past, but this was the first time that we had ever been together. This was a good fact, because it eliminated any pressure to see any of the “sights” and allowed us instead to just wander. We lodged in the Belleville neighborhood. Neither of us loved the hotel, so I won’t mention it here by name. Everything else that we tried out in that neighborhood was awesome. Here are some highlights from a food and drink perspective (massive thanks to B, for keeping a list). In each case below, at the end I have included a CoSAAT (Chances of Spotting Another American Tourist) rating, with which one might be able to gauge on a scale of 1-10 the likelihood of running into another USA passport holder (Brooklynites not included). So if you are like us, the mo lowah the CoSAAT rating, the mo bettah. Here we go:
- Les Niçois – If you are into fruits of the sea, and a cozy local vibe, you will love this joint. We did. One thing to note is that we did not encounter a single other tourist in or near this spot. So local that we would have felt like interlopers if it wasn’t for the super friendly staff. There is also a secret bocce court in the basement. CoSAAT rating = 2
- Aux Folies – We saw plenty of other Americans here (mostly ex-pats, but still). Notwithstanding that fact, we found that this spot was almost unbeatable for late night vino. So much so, that we ended up there three times. Not the friendliest staff, but good bang for buck and it was very centrally located for where we were staying. CoSAAT rating = 7
- Cafe Charbon – This is a good looking bar on Rue Oberkampf. We really liked the way that it was styled up. Great drinks, and very friendly service. Reminded me a bit of The Campbell in Grand Central Terminal, but not nearly as uptight. CoSAAT rating = 4
- La Commune – Another great gin joint on Blvd de Belleville. If you are looking for 90’s hip-hop and other 808-centric jams while sitting in an urban atrium where delicious cocktails and light vittles are served, search no more. CoSAAT rating = 2
- Le Grand Bain – Located in a back alley of the Belleville hood, the food here was in the same vein of the first spot listed above. But the vibe was much more urban. We got some local wine and all of the food on the menu. The food was freaking fantastic and were pleasantly surprised by the bill. CoSAAT rating = 1
- Le Compas – Okay, this joint is on Rue Montorgueil, which gets festive for the holidays (see top photo). I’ll be honest, it is a generic Parisian bistro. But it is a little bit off of the beaten path for the average tourist, and the food/drink was worth mentioning on here. CoSAAT rating = 8
- Les Nautes – for when you are waltzing along the Seine and you already picked up your fresh greens from the farmer’s market, but feel like taking down some freshly shucked oysters and vino. Be prepared to wait in line. But also, depending on the weather, worth waiting in line. CoSAAT rating = 7
Some additional photos-