Archive | Destinations RSS feed for this section
July 8, 2011

The Check-In/Check-Out Diaries: Fire Island

A quick weekend excursion from Manhattan that feels like we really left the city and are on vacation?  Let’s see, there’s the Jersey Shore, no too many meatheads.  There’s Long Island, with wine tasting and beaches, no too much like the city.  How about upstate?  Too far and SEE: Long Island.  How about a far, but not too far away island that is home to beaches, beautiful walkways, homes, dog-friendly, and relaxing restaurant and bar scene?  Welcome to Cherry Grove, Fire Island.  A place you will have a gay-ole-time.  Actually, quite literally if you’d like because make no mistake this area is very gay, somewhere in the ninety-five percent range.  If straight, you need to know you are a guest and need to treat the people and island as a visitor.  This is the only way.  This is not the Jersey Shore, and you get the idea that the locals and frequenters will fight to their shirtless deaths to make sure it never becomes the Jersey Shore. 

Leaving on a Friday from the city can be a bit hectic.  We pack up the dog, hail a taxi, go to Penn Station and buy tickets for the Long Island Rail Road.  We miss the next train by 30 seconds (doors close on us) and then wait 20 minutes for the next train to Babylon.  The train takes over 60 minutes and then we transfer (after 10 minute wait) to another train and are on this for 20 minutes until we reach the Sayeville stop.  Unload the luggage, and load the luggage into a shuttle bus that takes us to the ferry stop that is not scheduled to leave for another forty minutes.  Have a beer, load the ferry and in 30 minutes arrive at the dock entrance to Cherry Grove.

As you approach from the ferry you will notice The Island Bar, which overlooks the ocean and is also where the bartenders come out to watch the passengers unload from the ferry.  Often they are looking at the size of the luggage so they can guess which ones are the drag queens. We arriving on Friday evening, friends (another couple) arrived early in the day and have been drinking non-stop.  They meet us as we come off the dock yelling, “I’m drunk!”

We drop off our luggage and then go to Cherry Lane restaurant for the Prime Rib Special which is a lot of meat and is only okay.  More drinks are had inside Cherries Bar and then we have a nightcap at The Island Bar.  The dog (mini-dachshund known as “the hot dog”) is tired so we go to “home” to Dune Point, which is the rental complex we are staying at.  We are staying in the only two-bedroom rental in Cherry Grove.  It overlooks the ocean and has a gazebo.  The second floor windows give way to a direct view of the ocean that is only disturbed when deer walk freely in front of an ocean back drop.  This does not feel like a train away from Manhattan. 

The next day there is a bout of New York City deli chicken food poisoning, breakfast takeout from Floyd’s, a walk with the hot dog on the beach, and then off to The Island Bar for the BBQ buffet.  Back up, let’s discuss Floyd’s.  This breakfast and lunch only restaurant welcomes dogs (named after a dog) and at any time of the morning you will find lots of shirtless guys drinking coffee and discussing light topics – trying to remember the details from the night before.  Good coffee, good eggs, everyone says “Good Morning”, and a lot of shirtless dudes with dogs.  Floyd’s. 

After the BBQ buffet we work off the meat by sitting around and doing nothing (unless you count applying sunscreen and drinking wine carbohydrate burning activities).  Occasionally someone will get up to go to the grocery store for cookies or water which is much cheaper than you would think and then back to sitting around with the ocean in the background, wine on the table next to you, and hot dog at your feet.  Early afternoon a gay pride parade comes right down our block (it was the day after New York had passed the law for gay marriage so the parade was more festive than usual – if you can imagine that).  After we could have run on the beach, hopped over (via water taxi) to Ocean Beach (epicenter, more children) or The Pines (all shirtless dudes), but instead we continue to relax and eventually make it to The Tiki Bar for Margaritas and then Cherry Grove Pizza for wine and pizza and then it is back to the deck for trivia and wine and then sleep.  The next morning includes the beach, Floyd’s, and another buffet if you can believe it.  Luckily we hitch a (car) ride back with friends allowing us to complete our relaxing weekend in peace versus cursing at the Long Island Railroad.

David S. Grant is the author of several books.  His latest, The Italia Diary: A Travel Narrative with Inspired Fiction will be available shortly.  For more information go to http://www.davidsgrant.com.  Follow David on Twitter @david_s_grant

June 17, 2011

The Check-In/Check-Out Diaries: Rome

ROME (from The Italia Diary)

Arriving from JFK we walk to the front of the taxi line and in no time are riding very fast toward Rome.  Our hotel, IQ is steps from the Opera House and a supposed fifteen minutes from The Spanish Steps.  We would learn what that means in Italy time soon.  The boutique hotel was all about their breakfast, vending machines (espresso, beer, and wine), and their internet tracking.  For a country so lax on security it was a surprise to find that they track who, what, where, and when logging on to the internet.

With multiple maps and books in hand we head off toward The Spanish Steps.  We are lost within minutes.  Not “we missed a street” lost.  We have lost all sense of direction lost.  We hail a taxi and she drives us (fast) to The Spanish Steps.  We take pictures and then find a wine bar where I attempt to practice my Italian and order a Cappuccino and two glasses of wine. “Un Cappuccino y due biccheire vino de bianco?”  It is an utter failure; the waiter corrects every word and repeats my order in English.  I have a minor anxiety attach, drink my wine, and grade myself an F.

Next we walk to Trevi Fountain, getting turned around only once, making the ten minute walk into an easy twenty minutes, looking for taxis along the way.  Pictures are taken and coins are flipped into the postcard worthy fountain.  Something we learn quickly is that wherever there is water or a fountain of some sort they have you flipping coins “in hopes you will come back soon”.  It’s like a tourism tax.  We are hungry so we find a local pizzeria that caters to tourists and allows me to rape their language as we order wine and pizza.  What’s nice about ordering a Margarita Pizza in Italian is that it translates to Margarita Pizza!  After a liter of wine and so-so tourist pizza and meeting many other Americans who also found the touristy pizza joint we attempt to find the Hard Rock Café, because we have a pin collector in the family.  For those of you not familiar with Hard Rock pin collectors it’s a lot like a crack addict, the one exception being you don’t get a moment of “AH!”.  We walk and walk.  We are lost, again.  We pass a street named Cappuccino four times until we finally find the HRC, go in buy the pin and leave. 

We are lost again, looking for The Spanish Steps where we have a dinner reservation at Il Palazetto, a restaurant with a prime location looking over (almost hanging over) the steps.  The food is horrid and the service was horrid.  If it wasn’t for the expensive bill we would not have even known we had just been at a great restaurant.  For a city known for their great food, we are off to a bad start to say the least.

It’s around 11pm when we head back to the hotel.  There isn’t a lot of overflowing late night bars, but rather restaurants with late dinners.  At the hotel we hit the vending machines for cold beers and relax on the terrace next to other Americans and a large group of Asians that appeared to have spent their whole vacation on the terrace.  The beers are good, but we are tired from a long day of travel so we call it a night.

The next morning we wake up late which means there will not be any breakfast.  All I hear about is the Italy hotel breakfast and now I am unable to partake.  Instead we take a taxi to The Coliseum where I grab a Mars bar and cram it in my mouth before we get to the line.  Ever watch the “Travel Secrets” show on television?  Well, here’s a secret: Buy your tickets online prior.  You walk right in, no wait, no hassle.  It felt like the red carpet treatment.  Of course that is if the red carpet contains people wearing brown nylon fanny packs and white tennis shoes bumping into you on both sides.  Inside we do the self-guided audio tour which uses the word “speculation” a lot when describing what had occurred inside the arena. 

Standing inside The Coliseum is the equivalent of wrapping yourself in a history book.  It’s remarkable and you can envision the battles and crowds from thousands of years ago “performing” below.  We stop at the gift shop and I’m surprised to not find any books titled THE ART OF FIGHTING TO THE DEATH or TOP 100 COLISEUM BATTLES: The Real UFC.  Famished from the lack of food, heat, and many staircases we B-Line to a pizzeria located across the street from The Coliseum.  I will repeat that.  We B-Line to a pizzeria located across the street from The Coliseum.  No surprise here.  Worse pizza ever, cardboard covered with zebra feces would have (probably) tasted about the same.  I’m sure it is in all of the guide books and all over the internet not to eat here, but it was close (and we were starving).  You know what else they tell you not to do?  That’s right, get pictures with the Gladiators out front of the Coliseum and we did that too.  At this point we are 30 minutes from getting pick-pocketed and becoming another tourist statistic.  Living on the edge in Rome: Eating shitty pizza and getting pictures with middle age men dressed up as Gladiators. 

Next stop is across the street, the Roman Forum and ruins.  This is a good time to point out it is about 90 degrees outside and have already spent approximately 40 Euro on water alone so when we walk 1 kilometer out of our way, it didn’t go unnoticed and our bodies began to question the Coliseum pizza we ate not long ago.  We briskly walk through the ruins, get lost trying to find the exit, and then once we exit are unable to locate the direction of our next stop, the Santa Maria chapel and the Mouth of Truth. We are lost and luckily we find a taxi.  The taxis versus water expenses at this point are surprisingly close.  At Santa Maria there is this large ugly looking face with an open mouth that will bite off your hand if tell or think of a lie.  SPOILER ALERT!  It’s not true, (trust me).  After, we don’t even think about trying to walk to our next stop, hail a taxi and we are off to see The Pantheon.  The driver leaves us off three blocks away and we are lost again, luckily we ask – Do’ve Pantheon?, they point, we ask again – Do’ve Pantheon?, they point some more, and we wind up inside The Pantheon and piazza full of restaurants.  We sit down at a table outside at a restaurant and drink Cappuccino and eat chocolate cake.  Rome, a place where you do crazy things, for example: sipping coffee and eating cake when it’s 90 degrees outside.  Inside The Pantheon is impressive and so is the number of tourists as I become the Oreo cookie trapped between two giant black fanny packs.

Wandering around, lost, we stumble into Obika and have a snack of pasta, cheese, tomatoes, and wine.  With a slight wine buzz we walk through the shopping area an land inside Piazza Navona, a giant square closed off by chapels, restaurants, and a miraculous sculptured art piece in the center that shows many looking away and/or covering their eyes.  I’m going to assume they are trying to shield themselves from the 90 degree heat.  Chianti, Pinot Grigio, and Prosecco are had not necessarily in this order, but in abundance.  Searching for food we find a small restaurant with an angry waiter who becomes upset when we decide to not order any food and just order more wine.  At the moment we decided not to eat the waiter had the look that if a bear would attack he would break its neck without hesitation.  It’s important to note that there are two tables open and that there is a local next to us demanding Cognac be poured onto his Gelato dessert.  These two items are not related, but important to note.  The angry waiter runs back and forth; yelling and pointing and more yelling.  He is upset with out table, with the six person table and everyone else.  Another American couple sits next to us and I share my wine, this takes the air out of our waiter.  He is now laughing in amazement.  We finish out glasses and leave to find a tourist restaurant that has pictures of pastas and faded chicken on a board out front.  We have another sub-par meal and then considering the non-typical day we’ve had we taxi it over to The Ice Club, a bar made purely from ice.  It is a Sunday, and no one is in the ice bar, except us.  We drink vodka.  This is okay.  More drinks and then vending machine beer at the hotel.  Tomorrow will be a time for cleansing.

I am not Catholic.  I was not raised Catholic, but I am (as we all are) very aware of the Pope.  I mostly think about the Pope Mobile, the vehicle with bullet proof glass he is paraded around in.  That and I think a lot about his different hats.  It is a lot of hats for a man of any sexual orientation.  I am just saying.  Today is Pope Day!

We begin with the hotel breakfast.  After rave reviews I am left with a sub-par feeling which is no surprise at this point in the trip.  When you walk away saying “the pears were excellent” you know you didn’t have a great breakfast.  The hotel arranges for a taxi to pull up and we are off to Vatican City.  Here’s a secret: The Vatican Museum is far from the Vatican Chapel.  Here’s another secret: You can get your tickets ahead of time and walk right in, avoiding lines that could take hours (if lucky) to wait in and get through.  Once we arrive the “F Bomb Challenge” begins.  The record is the Notre Dame church in Paris.  Annoyed by tourists, Beth dropped an F Bomb within minutes.  Today it would take approximately ten minutes, but to be fair we were outside so we’ll have to consult the Price is Right rules to see if this counts.

Inside the Vatican Museum the walls and ceilings are covered with paintings and art and gorgeous rugs and statures of past Popes.  There are several gift shops along the way and even a cafeteria that advertises a daily chicken special (Pope’s Pollo?).  We continue our March toward Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel mural.  Since you start at the top it seems like you are in a basement once you reach the Sistine Chapel.  It is dark and quiet and no photos are allowed.  Here’s a secret:  Take a photo without flash and the worse is someone yelling “No Foto!”   Of course, it is dark so it would probably not turn out that well anyway.  The mural itself, well it’s one of those things you really need to see in person.  You’re welcome for the insight.  Silence is the rule and if it becomes too loud there is a person responsible for SHOOSHING the crowd.  Lucky for him the chapel is well preserved, it may be tough to find work unless he likes libraries or moves to New York City to work at Burp Castle bar in the East Village. 

Between the Museum and Vatican Chapel we go through several souvenir shops looking for Pope hats and Pope mobiles.  We strike out in both areas; however, we did see one store front that displayed about a dozen different races of baby Jesus.  Not quite a Pope hat, but not a bad find.  Inside the Vatican Chapel you are not allowed to have exposed shoulders or knees.  The amusing part of this is that you have to go through a very long security line, and then another line before they turn you away.  Add 90 degree heat and you actually see people lose feeling in their face when they are told they will not be allowed in.  Once inside I am looking for people falling to their knees, a sign, or anything.  Instead I count 9 out of 10 people in front of me wearing white sneakers.  A new world record.  Exiting the chapel we pass the Swiss guards and look up to where we believe the Pope lives.  What does he do all day?  Does he watch the news?  Does he watch Cosby Show reruns?  Does he have a special Pope Stocking he wears on his head when he sleeps at night.  I am left with more questions that answers as we depart the Vatican.

It’s a quick 5 minute discussion (in a shaded area) to decide that we will take a taxi to an area known as Trastevere, an area with ivy lined streets, for lunch.  We stop at a restaurant named Good and have lasagna and pasta and it was here we finally have our good Italy meal (not fantastic, but “good”).  This of course does not include the meal we had at the chain Obika or the McDonald’s chicken wrap incident which we are not allowed to discuss at this time.  We drink wine and then cross the bridge back into the city and have more wine and then go to the hotel Rafael’s where we go to their terrace and look out onto the city of Rome and drink Prosecco followed by more Prosecco and then more walking around the winding streets where any right or left turn leads to another historic looking street that contains a Pizzeria, a Café, another Pizzeria, and another Café. 

Dinner is at Enoteca Antica where we have pizza and pasta, again, and the food is okay to good and there is someone who at first appears to be someone, but must not be because he is sitting with his back to the crowd.  The night is finished strolling around the outer area of the Spanish Steps, taking in one final breath of Rome, and then back to the hotel to prepare for an early train to Florence.

 David S. Grant is the author of several books.  His latest, The Italia Diary: A Travel Narrative with Inspired Fiction will be available shortly.  For more information go to http://www.fearandloathingtravel.com and http://www.davidsgrant.com.

June 14, 2011

The Check-In/Check-Out Diaries: Jamica

Fear, Loathing, and Red Stripes in Jamaica

It takes two minutes for the taxi driver, Jerry, to offer me drugs.  We have been in Jamaica for twenty minutes.  We arrive at our hotel, an all-inclusive hotel in Montego Bay, which pretty much means sub par food, beach access, and all the Red Stripe you can drink.  With Red Stripe in hand, and Bob Marley playing all around us, we tour the grounds in search of the mini-golf course only to find that the mini golf has not been played since Arnold Palmer was still winning majors.  Instead we elect to have a couple more Red Stripes and some of Jamaica’s famous jerked chicken.

It is quickly apparent that the people who come to Jamaica do not leave the resort.  We go against the grain and venture out to Gloucester Avenue, the local strip, where we find our first Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville, a deserted bar and restaurant with incredible views, Bob Marley music, and strong Margaritas.  After, a look at the menu at Marguerites (a restaurant next door), two more propositions for drugs, and a move on to The Twisted Kilt, a pub that serves everything from local dishes to pizza as well as Margaritas and Red Stripes.  Both are consumed liberally.  The Bobsled Café is a bar based on the John Candy movie Cool Runnings.  The movie runs continuously inside, outside we consume Red Stripes, vodka, and watch a dance party break out on the streets.  Next store is another bar with no name that we just call The Rasta Bar; a small room upstairs playing Bob Marley music, where you are offered many drugs and given a surprised look when settling on Red Stripe.  Across the street at The Blue Beat, a blues bar that advertises live music we are disappointed to see that the live music is only a concert shot on a movie screen.  We consume one glass of champagne, wonder where all the people are, and call it a night.

Apparently jerked chicken spices and forty-seven Red Stripes do not sit well because it takes a full two hours before I am able to move the next morning.  Once ready, we head to rafting on the Martha Brae River.  An hour and a half jaunt led by a local known as a raft captain (his actual name was Cleve); it’s a time to sit back and enjoy the scenery, with Red Stripe in hand.  Run out of Red Stripe?  No problem mon!  There are many locals along the way that will come out into the river to offer refills. 

Back at the hotel, drinking a Red Stripe at a tiki bar on the beach, it’s a cool 72 degrees, not exactly lay out and fry weather.  We decide to leave again, this time road tripping to Negril.  We hire a taxi driver named Francis.  There are three things you need to know about Francis, first he keeps a bible in the back seat of his taxi, second, he listens to gospel music (this is the only place where Bob Marley is not playing in Jamaica), and finally, each girl that he comes in contact with he will hit on relentlessly, bordering on harassment.  We stop at a local bar/restaurant along the way called the Travel Halt.  We all order Red Stripes and relax in an open space, in front of a gift shop.  First stop in Negril is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  A quick Margarita at the tiki bar on the beach, four separate drug dealers offering dreams and highs, a walk on seven mile beach, a Red Stripe, two listens to “Jammin”, and we are off to our next stop, Rick’s Café.  We watch the sunset, people jumping off a cliff into the ocean, have several Red Stripes and then are back in the car with Francis, heading back to Montego Bay.

Back in MoBay, as the transplant locals call it, another stop at Jimmy Buffett’s and The Bobsled Café followed by a night cap of Red Stripes at a local Jamaican Mexican joint called fittingly: JaMexican.  It is here we meet a confused couple (she is a self labeled “cougar” at thirty years old, he is a straight man working in the airline industry and not a pilot) and a guy from Boston who measures life by how many weekends you have left before you die (he estimated he had approximately 2000 weekends left).  Despite this eclectic crew, the Red Stripes go down quite nicely, closing out day two.

The start to day three feels a little strange and then it hits you: It has been over seven hours since you last heard a Bob Marley song.  Luckily, a sliding door leading out to a balcony is enough to hear the music off in the distance, feeding my new addiction.  It’s time to move on.

We hire Deon, a taxi driver, to drive us to Ocho Rios.  On the way we stop at a local bar and gift shop where we drink cold Red Stripes in the hot sun.  Arriving at our hotel we are welcomed with chaos over the number of guests on our reservation and then oddly, despite being an all inclusive resort, are given plastic cards to be used in case we need towels, complete madness.  After a few Red Stripes and a swim up pool bar where the bartenders all offer to sell me drugs we eat pizza and then it’s off to the city.  We hire Dan to drive our taxi, he makes it easy telling us to just let our waiter know when we are ready to be picked up (more on this later).  First stop is predictably Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, again, Margaritas are consumed and then we stop off at Oceans Eleven, another deserted bar with cold Red Stripes and beautiful view of the ocean.  The conversation continues to be dominated around the topic of deserted bars and empty local establishments.

Dinner is at Evita’s, a local Italian restaurant, two hundred yards at the top of the hill with wild dogs walking around.  On the way to the restroom I notice a closed door that appears to lead a back door casino.  Wine and a dish called the Rastafarian Lasagna are consumed, along with more wine.  After eating we are joined by a local Rasta Man who plays his guitar and sings Bob Marley tunes for the next hour.  While enjoying the show and after dinner Red Stripes our taxi driver, Dan, is looking for us, but can’t find us.  Eventually we ask our waiter to call our driver.  Dan appears a minute later, saying he has a car load of others that are going back to the hotel with us.  In the car is a group of stoned men throwing up gang signs.  We sit in the front of the taxi van; Bob Marley is playing on the radio.  At the hotel a Jamaican Michael Jackson show is taking place.  In the back we sip Red Stripes and watch the show that is surprisingly good.  We later get up close to get pictures, and even later see the pictures, noticing the face of the Jamaican Jacko that can be described only as chilling.  The image requires two more rounds of Red Stripes.  Sometimes it’s best to forget right away.

Our final morning is spent at Dun’s River Falls.  Again, we negotiate a price with our taxi driver Dan to take us.  Once we arrive he strangely tries to get the park to open early for us (we were fifteen minutes early), of course they decide to open the park at the normal time.  At the falls we meet Marcus who is a tour guide and someone I would consider shy given it took a full twenty minutes before he offered to sell me drugs.

Traveling back to the airport we blow off Dan (we had had enough of his strange vibe) and have taxi driver Roxy take us.  Along the way he explains a lot of the drug trade and rules in Jamaica (illegal, but okay to sell to tourists), and how Jamaicans will build their houses very slowly, one wall at a time, depending on when they have money available.

At the airport we need lunch so what do we find?  Of course, it’s a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  We eat lunch and walk across a deserted gate area to find yet another Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  This makes five Margaritavilles in four days.  Do the math.

In our gate area, we start to board; this is when I notice the Red Stripe gift shop.  I quickly jump out of line, and grab a T-shirt.  Sometimes you just can’t remember unless you’re wearing the shirt.

 We never did find all of the people; then again we never checked the resorts.

David S. Grant

http://www.davidsgrant.com

@david_s_grant

June 7, 2011

The Check-In/Check-Out Diaries: Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM

 “Please take me out of this city before I die.” – My answer to the taxi driver heading back to the airport after three nights in A’dam.

 The first day begins at a pub near Dam Square.  Beth and I are starting a long weekend in a city famous for its artists, architecture, and…I always forget the third thing.

We start with Strongbow cider beers and leave, noticing the Euro pub to the left.  Heading down Rokin street , winding around the canals (stopping at a smart shop to price hallucinogen mushrooms) we find the coffee shop named Dutch Flowers where we buy a snow cone sized joint, smoke some and order coffees then stop at a small café and have drinks, mini-pizzas, a tuna sandwich, see a person dressed as a super hero, and then take pictures next to a giant painting of the Dutch Masters (the same guys on the boxes of cigars).  Around the corner is the Torture museum where we treat ourselves to viewings of “The Chair”, “The Stretcher”, and finally “The Saw” which was used to cut people in half.  Next, more sights: narrow house, canals, and a draw bridge.  After sights, it’s time for drinks at bars with names like STAGGER and COME IN TOURIST where they only play live DVDs, random clippings hang from the walls, and you take three flights of stairs straight up to the bathroom.

 A hard crashing nap is had (we make it back to the hotel for this) and then dinner at a restaurant next to the Euro Pub (cheeseburgers all around) and then it’s off to the Red Light district.  First stop is Baba’s coffee house, a techno booming joint surrounded by fifty other coffee houses.  We smoke, drink space tea, eat muffins, then cross the canal over to “Prostitute” street where the women are naked and staring at us from their windows.  At a bar with a Heineken sign we drink Heinekens. 

 It’s shot time.

 I ask the bartender for “Sex on the Beach” and he laughs and tells me that the “Sex” is outside and the beach no where near.  He pours poisonous black licorice shots and we throw them down and order more Heinekens.  Next door is another bar, also with a Heineken sign where we go in have another round of Heinekens, watch a man in drag sing and dance to an unidentifiable song, throw down a round of Kamikaze shots, have another round of Kamikaze shots, meet creepy English guys named Rory and Port, and then order another round of Heinekens, followed by more Kamikaze shots. 

 Walking again (sort of), we pass Casa Rosa sex shop and then pass the Casa Rosa live sex show and then arrive at the Casa Rosa Theatre where we have tickets to the “show”.  Inside we drink a round of Captains, watch live sex (the show is pretty much couple after couple going on stage and having sex), move up three rows, watch a woman smoke a cigarette with her vagina, order another round of Captains, move up three more rows, watch more live sex, and then watch audience members eat a banana from inside one of the porn stars vaginas.  Note that a gorilla (may or may not have been an actual gorilla, I was pretty fried at this point) is also on stage jerking off and spraying the audience with water. 

 The Euro pub.  Final stop. The type of place where everyone rolls their own cigarettes and sings along to Irish chants, or maybe English, it’s very hard to say.  The one guarantee is that soccer is on the television.  A round of shots, a round of Captains, another round of shots, and another round of Captains.  The Euro Pub.  The only guarantee is a hangover the next day.

 Day two begins after a couple hours of shut eye and waking up still hammered.  Breakfast is “toasties” and eggs and then a canal ride and then a walk to the Van Gogh museum.  On the way a kind toothless gentlemen with a pen gives us directions.  After the museum we find ourselves at the Hard Rock café and have multiple Margaritas, learn how the locals get drunk and throw their bikes into the canals, then go to the Internet Café Coffeehouse and smoke while listening to Snoop Dogg (Drop it Like it’s Hot becomes the trip theme song) and then to a random bar where more Margaritas are had. 

 Back to the hotel to shower then walk back to Rembrandt Plein.  On the way a stop at McDonalds to order a couple Royale with Cheeses; however, the man cashier doesn’t understand even when I yell our order.  We eat quarter pounders with cheese and then go to a coffee shop that advertises Internet and drink, smoke, and drink some more.  Beginning to visibly stumble we approach Dan Murphy’s, a pub, and drink Strongbows and B52’s, and more Strongbows. 

 Pirates is the next place and it’s dead when we arrive so we order white wines for the ladies, Stongbow for the men and enjoy the bar as it fills up.  What appears to be a gay bartender with a surfer wig is serving us and after much discussion (and watching him rip his hair off) we decide it’s a wig, but that he’s definitely gay.  Kamikaze’s are ordered and so are more white wines, dancing, followed by many more Kamikaze’s, more dancing, and shots of Jack Daniels.  We are invited to come back in an hour, but instead get in a taxi and go back to Dam Square where we smoke next to the monument.  Back at Euro Pub we drink beers, dance, drink Captains, do more shots of Kamikaze, drink Margaritas, dance more, more beer, and then a round of Tequila shots.  The run of Dan Murphy’s, Pirates, and then Euro Pub in one night has never personally been topped since.

 Day three, a.k.a. “Last day” begins with a torturous (saw like) hangover and Burger King cheeseburgers followed by a walk up Damrak past a mime to the Sex Museum where there is a flasher saying “Hey”  and “Psst” as you walk through.  Moving West we find Pink Point/Homo Monument and then a café where drinks and coffees are served as you look across the street at the monument. 

 Over at the Cannabis College we learn that anything can be made out of hemp.  “The wall behind you, that’s hemp!”  They told us.  Downstairs in the garden under the glow of heavenly lights is a little slice of paradise.  So much pot, just feet away.  Lying down, in the middle of the plants looked like the perfect place for a nap.  Leaving, we realize it’s almost two o’clock so we go to “The Other Side” coffee shop, buy a joint, smoke, and then go find a bar and have a round of drinks, followed by another round of drinks, then we go to the floating flower market to buy souvenirs (to have something like wooden tulips and plastic Van Gogh ears and not just a hangover to bring back) followed by a trip back to the hotel, shopping (hear J-Lo’s new song-the one with the trumpets-three times), Beth buys boots,  and then it’s back over to Rembrandt Plein to start the final night with two bottles of wine at an Italian restaurant.  Because when you think Holland, you think Italian. 

 After, back to the Internet Café coffee shop for more Snoop Dogg, more wine, more smoking giant joints, a new dance called simply “The X”, another giant joint from pot called The Black Widow, a poor display of pinball, and a discussion revolving around hiking boots with red shoe laces.

A brief visit to the Black & White and then Stongbows are quickly poured at Dan Murphy’s and then we find our selves at Three Sisters drinking more beer, more wine, and a round of shots. 

 Across the street is The Bulldog.  Inside we smoke, drink tea, smoke some more, and drink water.  I wander into some random building where two guys are sitting and yell “You’re Hollywood”, and then take their pictures and then we get on the tram and try to give the driver a “Fifty” (50 Euros) and she is very confused, refusing to move the bus until we come up with change.   I blame the last sequence of events on The Black Widow.

 Back at the Euro Pub we drink Captain and Cokes, B52’s, glasses of Kamikaze, Strongbow cider beers, and then the girls have blow jobs on the bar.  Note that after the blow jobs their breasts were stamped with FAILED INSPECTION, this is important if only because it shows the way Europeans do business.  More beers, more shots, an invite to a club named “No Escape”, and then we go to the Red Light District and end up at a bar with a Heineken sign and meet two gay men who give us “mini” matches and after five minutes invite us to stay with them in San Francisco.  We drink wine and do shots with the gay men (Kamikaze for us, Jagermeister for them) and then have another round of drinks.  Finished with the round we go to a bar next door that has an Amstel sign and have another round, but something is missing so we go back to the bar with the Heineken sign and have two more rounds of drinks.

 Leaving the bar and seeing a Bulldog coffee shop that appears open we cross the street, turning down six requests for Ecstasy, buy a joint on the street, turn down five more requests for Ecstasy, hit one more bar on the way to the hotel and then order a turkey sandwich from room service.  We smoke the joint, drink wine, and eat the sandwich. 

The next morning in the lobby waiting for our taxi someone enters and I have an urge to run up to them, punch them and scream “Welcome to A’dam bitch”, in part because it would be comical, but mostly because I’ve never been so intoxicated after waking up in my life.  Barely able to stand we get a taxi and rush to the car.  As we pull away from the hotel the driver asks, “Good morning, how was your stay in Amsterdam?”

David S. Grant is author of several books inlcluding Corporate Porn, Rock Stars, and Happy Hour.  For more information go to http://www.davidsgrant.com and http://www.fearandloathingtravel.com

May 25, 2011

Tenerife

Tenerife – popular year round, and available from a very large number of UK departure airports. The most visited of all the Canary Islands, The favourite resorts on the island are in the south which is the sunnier side of the island. Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos are the main resorts in Tenerife with a wide choice of hotels and apartments there is literally something on offer for everyone.

Flights from the UK to Tenerife South Airport (TFS) take around four hours plus an extra half hour or so for flights from Scotland. Because there are so many flights on offer to Tenerife it is often possible to take a holiday for the exact duration you want instead of the classic week or fortnight. There are daily flights from the main airports such as Gatwick and Manchester.

May 21, 2011

The Check-In/Check-Out Diaries: Paris

The aerospace layout is around us at JFK as we eat chicken fingers and sandwiches. This is a very average meal in our lives and we think nothing of it. Now we know that chicken fingers and sandwiches should be appreciated for what they are. American food; not French food.

I believe it was in the check in line where Beth said to me, “Is that a window seat?” as she looked at our tickets. Which lead to the aisle versus window seat discussion. Ten minutes later the discussion ends and we board the plane. The flight attendants are speaking French and right away we realize that this could be trouble.

The heat. It’s really hot on the plane and Beth can’t sleep. I continue to remind her that she has to sleep on the flight, but this is only making her angry. I can’t sleep because of the unbearable heat and because the guy in front of me is forcing me to crotch his seat. Not good times. The food, and I say this cautiously, is served. It appears to be fish. We don’t eat. We are only one hour from NY. Multiply the first hour by five and this was our flight to Paris.

We deplane and there’s no security. They glance at our passport, glare at us and smile. As we wait for our luggage we realize that together we stick out like a sore thumb. There’s a café in the airport where everyone is drinking espressos and smoking. While dragging 300 plus pounds of luggage we head toward a taxi stand.

We find a taxi and the driver gets out. I point to the hotel on our itinerary and say “Bonjour!”. The taxi driver (hearing either my accent or me bastardizing his language) immediately begins speaking English.

We get to our hotel at 6am. Its pitch dark outside and we’re hoping we can get our room early. As we enter the automatic doors of the quaint hotel we see what appears to be a fairly happy gentleman until he hears me talk, then he looks annoyed. However, the guy gives us a room with some explanation of a “different set” which neither of us can understand. We understand when we enter our rooms and see to tiny single beds. We don’t care. We fall asleep, waking up at 9am. It’s still dark. We sleep until noon. The sun is out.

Day 1

I go out for coffee and come back with two shots of espresso. We head over to the Eiffel Tower, figuring out the subway in a matter of minutes. No problem. When we get there we’re amazed by the long lines. Beth waits in line while I go to get coffee. The Eiffel Tower lines of hundreds move slowly while my line of seven at the coffee stop doesn’t budge. Everyone is ordering vegetable soup with cheese on top. Each cup of soup takes at least ten minutes to prepare. During my time in line I’m greeted every five minutes by some guy trying to sell me an Eiffel Tower key chain which turns quickly from amusing to annoying. I finally get another shot of espresso (I ordered a large coffee), get in line, and soon we are in the Tower. Now is a pretty good time to mention that it’s windy and about twenty degrees at the bottom. We’re going to the second level. We get to the second level where to no surprise its freezing and Beth takes cheesy pictures and then we both buy cheesy Eiffel Tower souvenirs. We then go to a bar located on the first level and drink wine and cocktails to warm us up. Beth orders a Bacardi and Coke. She gets a glass with Bacardi in it, a bottle of Coke on the side, and a bendy straw.

After the Eiffel we go to a taxi stand, and get into a taxi headed to the De La Concorde. We try to communicate to the driver where we want to go and he finally figures it out confessing that he speaks little English. It’s okay. We realize now that we speak less French. We see the Concorde, the Jardin de Tulleries, and then make our way up to the Louve. It’s getting colder outside. We go to Colette, a store that has books, clothing, a dog, and a cafeteria where everyone is drinking and smoking.

Next, since it’s cold and we’re hungry we go to a café and grab a seat at the bar. First we ask for a wine list (une vin list sil vous plait?) and the response is a crisp “NO!”. Then we ask for an ashtry (un cendrier sil vous plait?) and the response is another crisp “NO!” This is followed by an explanation in French that also has hand gestures pointing to the floor and we figure out that you’re supposed to ash on the floor “sil vous plait”. Looking at the menu Beth realizes that she can’t eat because she doesn’t know what or how to order. Instead she orders two glasses of wine in French. She does this with no problem. Eventually we end up ordering a ham and cheese sandwich which is very basic and very good.

We go back to the hotel and prepare for New Year’s Eve. We’re planning on going to Harry’s New York Bar because we are already a little homesick. We get a taxi and I somehow communicate to the driver that we want to go near the Arc de Triumph, when we get there we realize I messed up the bars and don’t have the address to Harry’s. I finally find someone who speaks English and she gets us to the address and Harry’s is closed so we end up going to a piano bar for a glass of champagne and then a place called The American Dream Café which looks cheesier than its name and it costs thirty Euros for two drinks. Repeat: That’s thirty Euros for two drinks. At midnight we found ourselves at some French wannabee English pub that’s playing all Elvis Presley songs. Beth gets hit on in the unisex bathroom and then later gets a phone number. When midnight hits there’s no countdown, no hooting or yelling, and only some silly string shot by a drunken French bartender. After all the excitement we wander the streets looking for some place to be open, but everything is closed until we find a quaint looking café that has puppies running wild. We stay there for a while and then call it a night.

Day 2

We wake up and it’s snowing out. We’re both very angry. I go out for coffee and come back with two espressos and one cappuccino. We leave to go find something to eat and then off to the Louvre museum. Ending up at a café we order a bottle of wine. Not much to choose from on the menu Beth decides on the vegetarian lasagna and I order chicken stuffed with mushrooms. When the food arrives Beth is staring at my plate with a look of disgust on her face. At the time I thought it may be the most disgusted look ever, than she looks down at her plate. For the next couple of minutes she picks at her lasagna and then attempts to take a bite. Beth doesn’t eat.

It’s still snowing when we get to the Louvre. It’s giant in size (supposedly the largest in the world) and right away we can tell something is up because it doesn’t look busy. We check a couple of doors while it slowly gets colder outside. We’re both freezing so go wait for a taxi at a stand. While waiting for a taxi it stops snowing. It begins to hail. We head to Notre Dame.

Entering the tourist trap chapel we’re in there less than five minutes and out of frustration an F bomb is dropped. We light a candle which seems to even it out. Then somewhere in between the annoying tourists and many pictures being taken two more F bombs are dropped.

We exit Notre Dame and buy souvenirs near by. I buy a beret. Next we get in a taxi and go to Galleries Lafayette. It’s closed so we’re walking around looking for something to do. We end up in some rundown café that I think is near the Hard Rock Café, but I can’t figure out where we are on the map. After a glass of wine (and Bacardi, Coke, and a bendy straw for Beth) we leave and try to figure out where we are. I’m looking back and forth between the map and street signs and Beth finds it. Right across the street. Our waiter at the Hard Rock Cafe is wearing a Trench coat and boxers. At one point while we’re ordering I feel my space has been invaded. We get our food and Beth eats. Back at our hotel room we change rooms and prepare for the Moulin Rouge show, we anticipate this to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Located in the “porn shopping” district of Paris we enter a large building that is filled with tourists, mostly Asian. Since we didn’t order dinner the service lags a bit to the point that it’s non existent. In fact the service consisted of our waiter dropping off a bottle of champagne (without opening it) and is never seen again. I worry most of the show about my beret which I was forced to check with my coat. The show starts with men and women dressed in silver and dancing. Not exactly what we’re expecting, but then again it’s just the beginning so let’s kick back and see where this goes.

The start of the show is okay, then there are clowns, and then it gets very gay. Leather, chain, and uncomfortably (or comfortable depending on the audience) tight packages. Then there’s the whole intermission act scenario. The first intermission act guy was some daredevil guy who was climbing on wheels and the whole time we didn’t know whether to clap or ask someone what he had to do with the show. Then it got worse. There was a clown without a suit and then finally the ultimate embarrassment. A ventriloquist with a live dog as part of his act. At this time I can’t say anymore about this show. It’s too difficult to both type and cry uncontrollably.

After the show we need to cleanse ourselves and thank God we find just the thing, an Irish pub. This is perfect. Amen. I’m wearing my beret and don’t mind the awful music that varies from Michael Jackson to Huey Lewis to random country artists. Some Irish guy named Owen is fascinated with a dancing Frosty the Snowman that is on the bar. We talk to him and he fills us in on his cocaine riddled past and then takes us over to a bar where the bartender is named Joey John and is from New York. He’s trying to close the bar when we approach, but somehow we end up doing shots while Joey John tells us why there are so many Tony’s in New York (they got TO NY stamped on their foreheads when the moved to America from Italy) and how the Long Island iced tea was invented (annoying Long Island girls who couldn’t make up their mind what they wanted to drink). We get back to our hotel sometime around 3.

Day 3

I’m on no sleep when I go out for coffee in the morning. I come back with two cappuccinos, two waters, and mini-croissants. Beth tries on four pair of pants then we go to the train station and buy tickets to Brussels, Belgium. We take a super fast train to Brussels while looking at a map trying to figure out where the pissing boy statue (Mannekan Pis) is located in the city.

When we arrive ninety minutes later it’s freezing cold. The locals are all walking around with unbuttoned light jackets. We gaze at some castles and then go to a restaurant with a fire place where Beth orders apple pie. The apple pie is terrible and now she is ready to pass out because she is so hungry. I’m also starving and ready to eat anything. We find an Italian restaurant and each order a pizza. Beth eats. Next, we wander through some very cool streets full of restaurants and pubs (most with fireplaces inside). We get to Mannekan Pis and can’t believe how small the statue is. We buy souvenirs (postcards, a shirt for Beth, and book of Mannekan Pis pictures for me) and then wander the streets, stumbling upon the oldest bar in Belgium. Eighties music was playing, go figure. After in an Irish Pub we drink cider and enjoy the non-French speaking folk around us. We both sleep on the train ride back.

That night is Crazy Horse night. Very exciting. Not sure what to expect other than “elegant nude dancing”. Very exciting. We get there and we plan on going to the bar because we don’t have tickets. The place is packed with people waiting to go to the bar, and it looks like trouble to say the least. We end up taking a chapter out of our Notre Dame experience and cut in line. We get placed at the bar, front and center. Sweet. The show is great with individual nude dancers using props like poles, giant rings, and chairs. Also, the girls all come out and introduce themselves. They speak French and we have no idea what they’re saying, but it’s a great time. One was named Lasso Calypso. Enough said.

The night ends at a café where everyone is standing at the bar like a roulette table in Vegas. The bartender controls the lock on the door from behind the bar. Whenever anyone wants to leave they have to get him to hit the switch and unlock the door. It’s an interesting take on security to say the least.

Day 4

I go out for coffee and come back with two cappuccinos, croissants, and orange juice. The Louvre is open so we go and see the Mona Lisa. It’s smaller than we expected, it’s behind two windows of glass, and there’s a guy jumping in front every time a tourist tries to take a picture. We see the Venus de Milo and then it’s off to the Medieval section because I think this might be cool to see. It turns out to be an old wall of brick from an old no longer existing castle. Beth takes a picture to remind me how cool it wasn’t.

Back in a taxi and back by the Notre Dame we find more cold weather, more café’s, and more bendy straws. Oh, and more wine. We find a pizzeria where we get seated in the basement. Beth eats. A local man is seated next to me whom I purposely ignore. Beth tells me later that at one point it looked like he was going to stab me with a knife.

At Galleries Lafayette Beth buys silver shoes and then we go to Willi’s wine bar where the bartender has his nose in a glass of wine for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Later that evening, we get into a taxi and ask him to take us to a street where a place called the Buddha Bar is located. He says the street is right next us so we get, walk around, look at the map and realize it’s not. We go back to the taxi stand where the same driver is sitting and get into his car and have him take us there. It’s over mile away, costs three euros, and he charges me five. Inside the bar there are angry bartenders (at this point I’m assuming that’s the only way they make them), a giant Buddha, and a woman who is constantly bumping Beth with her purse. This may not sound like much fun to the average person, but to me this is the Super Bowl of French entertainment.

After Buddha it’s off to the Eiffel Tower one last time. The lights are lit and flashing on the tower (happens first ten minutes of every hour) and it’s really the perfect picture opportunity. Unfortunately the taxi driver takes ten minutes to count out euro cents and the lights stop flashing as we exit the taxi. We take a couple of pictures and then go look for an open café, but find nothing in the area. Near our hotel a waiter warns us that each glass of wine will cost five euros. He then removes the table cloth from our table. We are the only table without a table cloth. At this point it’s all comical.

Day 5

Its 6a.m. when we get our wake up call (the only wake up call in the hotel – I saw the list). We take a taxi to the airport and try to find where to check in. It’s a huge airport and half of it appears to be Air France. Finally we find there’s a separate line for New York passengers. We check-in, go through security (another separate line for NY passengers), and look for food. It’s still all French food. No McDonalds, no nothing. I eat a stale ham and cheese sandwich. Beth can’t eat.

The plane ride is a blur. A lot of sleep and eight hours later (felt like 8 days) we arrive in Newark, NJ. We wait an hour for a taxi, get the only driver in NY who has never driven through Times Square, or Manhattan for that matter. He drives lost and timid. It takes over an hour to get home. We’re totally exhausted when we walk in the door.

I pick-up food from Olive Garden, we eat, and then we sleep it off.

David S. Grant is the author of several books including Corporate Porn, Rock Stars, and Happy Hour. For more on David’s travel writing and books go to http://www.davidsgrant.com.

May 18, 2011

The Check-In/Check-Out Diaries: Dublin

To ring in the New Year, my wife Beth and friends Terence and Olya went to Dublin. Leading up to the trip Terence expressed his concern over the overnight flight and the need to sleep on a plane. Thankfully he was unable to sleep, leading to one of the greatest travel pranks of all time.
Dublin: New Year’s Eve, and “The Edge”.

THURSDAY Night “I’m bombed” says Terence from an airport bar in Philly. Terence and Olga spent approximately seven hours at the airport, it is assumed five of those were spent in the bar leading to Terence stealing a bottle of Jack Daniels from the duty free shop. The purpose of this public drunkenness was to forcefully overcome with his fear of sleeping in long metal objects. Some would say there is a Freudian response to this, but he insists it only extends to planes. MEANWHILE Beth and I are at Gallagher’s restaurant inside beautiful Newark Liberty airport enjoying excellent food and awful service that includes a glass of red wine being dumped on a customer and little flies circling all around the stain. One bartender pisses off Beth to the point where she was almost unable to finish her glass of wine. Almost.

FRIDAY On the plane Beth and I got some semi-drunk sleep as did Olga on their connection flight from Philadelphia to Manchester. Wide awake, Terence watched five movies. Our flight from Newark arrived in Dublin on time; we were at the great O’Callaghan Davenport by 10:30am, checked in and ready to see the sites. MEANWHILE Terence and Olga where delayed in Manchester by approximately an hour, making it “tight” for the planned Guinness Brewery tour.

Back in Dublin (and away from airports) nice walks through Merrion Square, on to view the National Gallery, walk through Grafton street, and then looking at the incredible St. Stephens Park…we were well into our site-seeing vacation. The weather? Rain. Gray. Sun. Rain. Gray. Sun…all within fifteen minutes. MEANWHILE at the great O’Callaghan Alexander hotel Terence and Olga had unexpectedly accepted an “amazing race” mission when they accepted a packet (left by us so we wouldn’t have to spend our first day sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for them) at the front desk explaining simply: “Be at the Long Hall pub at 2:30, leaving for the Guinness tour at 3pm”. It was 2pm when the package was received. BACK IN THE city Beth and I found the way to Temple Bar, an incredible neighborhood made up of seemingly only bars, where we consumed several beers and a small pizza, figuring out the quickest way to get to “The Long Hall” pub, arriving at the pub only to find that it was closed. Where were Terence and Olga? Apparently they had unintentionally taken the scenic route and were walking around the Dublin Castle, several times before eventually finding “The Long Hall”, at 3:05pm. Way past the deadline noted on their paperwork they had received from the front desk. Tired, jet lagged and one would expect, sick of the Dublin Castle, they decided to eat and head back to the hotel. AT THE GUINNESS brewery long lines greeted us, but the lines moved quickly and the tour was self-guided ensuring a quick journey to the top where the bar is located and the views are the best in the city. I was tired, feeling a little sick, and Beth was just plain not liking the taste of her first Guinness. We both drank half our pints and rushed for the door.

Friday night started once contact was made between both parties and a nap was agreed upon. Meeting at 7pm Terence showed up (on-time), impressively waking from his nap just three minutes prior. We headed back to Temple Bar, specifically a restaurant named Mexico to Rome…because when you think Dublin you think Mexican AND Italian food. The weather? Rain. Gray. Rain. Rain. Gray. Rain. Being told we had to be finished eating within 60 minutes did not start off the meal well; however, all was good and the food was outstanding (not too mention the several beers consumed)….Next, it was The Temple Bar (not to be confused with the name of the neighborhood) where I confidently walked up to the bar and ordered two Strongbow cider beers only to be visually stabbed in the face by the bartender. “This isn’t England. We have Bulmer’s” is all he ended up saying. The four of us, hastily drinking Bulmer’s and vodka at The Temple Bar as we discuss where we would celebrate New Year’s in two days, eventually we come up empty with ideas before moving on to another bar nearby. The constant response from the locals when asking “where are the good places to be for New Year’s?” was usually either “New York” or “Somewhere outside of Ireland”. Good times. Next bar was through a small alley that had live music in the basement. The music was pretty good (a cross between Irish folk and rock) and the band really stoned. Terence’s attempt at a picture did not go well as the band turned their heads and continued packing their equipment. After the failed photo opportunity it was off to “Rick’s” where Terence and Olga order burgers, fish, and apparently strange looks from the locals. The next day Terence would proclaim it was one of the best burgers he had ever had…given the situation this is not surprising (burgers are always three times better when drunk or hungover). To our surprise the hotel bar was still open. A nightcap was had, sleeping around 3am.

SATURDAY “SADDAM HUSSEIN HAS BEEN EXECUTED!” is how we awoke at 6am on Saturday. Apparently the hotel wake up call is controlled through the television, so when the TV turned on at 6am the news was being reported. Still drunk, and not aware of my surroundings, I curled up in a fetal position and went back to sleep for another five minutes.

Today we would head to the southern part of Ireland and explore Cork and kiss the Blarney stone.

At 6:30 a.m. we were all in a Taxi heading to the train station. The country song, “Looking for love”, was playing on the radio so everyone in the back seat decided to rip on the driver’s music preference with phrases like “I remember when Eddie Murphy did his Buckwheat impression of this song” and “Country Music sucks”. Somehow we made it to the train station and then into our seats with no problems. Olga was the first to fall asleep followed by myself and then Beth. Terence stared out the window, looking for sheep in the rolling hills.

In Cork, we take a taxi to the bus station, board a bus and all fall asleep (except Terence who feels the bus smells like a three year old wet towel). We arrive at Blarney, walking through the gorgeous grounds of Blarney Castle. We walk up, narrow slippery stairs, admiring the rooms and views as we near the top. At the top I feel uneasy by the short ledges at the current height and there is an Irish man whom is the same guy from travel books and the Discovery channel. Beth kisses the stone. I kiss the stone several times. Olga kisses the stone. Terence kisses the stone. The gift of eloquence is now with us. Viewing the photos after it is noted that my picture (lifting up from making out with the stone) looks like that of a corpse.

At The Lemon Tree in Blarney we have another fantastic meal and then it’s back to Cork where on St. Patrick’s street there is more Pubs and shopping. At O’Brien’s Beth enjoyed a pint. At Lush, Olga purchased soap while Terence destroyed a bowl for customers by dropping one of the soap bombs inside. The weather in Cork? Rain. Rain. Gray. Sun (Blarney). Rain. Gray. Walking to St. Ann’s Church where tourists are allowed to ring the bell was an uphill journey, pun intended, and also very disappointing when we learned that the church was closed and that we had missed the world’s tallest man (a note had been placed 10 feet high on the door). No bell ringing would be had so we went to the disco bar (four disco balls) where we had a bottle of wine, and Terence had the “Classic” sandwich and explained how when he sleeps he “does the X” with his body. On the train ride back I kicked some old people out of the reserved seats and everyone slept, even Terence got in about twenty minutes of Z’s.

BACK IN DUBLIN we meet at The Ginger Man, a bar that was definitely not to be confused with the Euro Pub (a regular spot when in Amsterdam) and then we went to Bocca to eat Italian (again) and have another bottle of wine. Once dinner is complete Terence informs us that he is exhausted and has to go home and “go sleepy”. He is read the riot act that after review included the word “disappointed”, but did not include “disgrace”. Terence and Olga go home. At The Dawson Lounge, Dublin’s smallest bar, Beth and I enjoy a Bulmer’s and then go to Baibar where with time and Bulmer’s on our side a gag is born. MEANWHILE back at the great Alexander Terence is presumably doing the X. BACK AT BAIBAR the gag is set: Tell Terence and Olga we met “The Edge”, the guitarist from U2, and that he was jamming with the house band, playing cool music on the juke box, and buying pints for everyone. Keep it simple. This would certainly work. Off to “The Long Hall” for another round, followed by another round at a bar with blue lights. It wasn’t until The Temple Bar when things escalated. When I found a hotel key I came up with a new twist on the gag: Not only did “The Edge” party at the same bar, but also invited us to a party on New Year’s Day (conveniently after Beth and I would be gone, but Terence and Olga still there). The Edge (according to the gag) gave me the hotel key and tells me to show up at his party.

Sunday (New Year’s Eve) Terence cleans out the Davenport by cashing his Traveler’s checks so the first stop is to the bank. During the walk the gag is set as “The Edge” story is told and the key is carefully handed over from my hands to Terence. “Room 134, don’t forget”. Around noon we are walking to the Dublin Castle. The weather? Clear. Gray. Rain. Wind. Wind. Rain. Rain. Dreadful weather, leading me to spend five Euro on an umbrella ($27 after conversion) that is ruined within two minutes by the wind. Only half of the umbrella is still operational. After being led around the entire castle, getting soaked by the rain in the process, we realize the castle is closed so we head to a Pub for food and drink. Another meal, another group of satisfied people as the food was once again amazing (not to mention the several drinks). While inside the Pub the sun shined outside. Off to Christ Church where the weather quickly turned to awful again, making us run into a church that expected people to pay $5 ($27 after conversion) to see their sanctuary. We decided against (I believe Beth dropped an F Bomb) and then we took a taxi to Mulligan’s, self proclaimed home of the best pint of Guinness. This is where “Joe Friday” was sighted behind the bar. Rain. Rain. Gray. Rain. We drank pints of Guinness and then went to O’Connell street where I took 45 pictures next to the Joyce statue and then we went to a Pub where Terence played Delilah and I showed off my new Grilz I got for Christmas. In addition to the music and mouth accessories, Pints and Baileys were consumed as well. Outside we move another few feet. Another Pub. More pints and more talk of “The Edge”. “Remember, room 134”. Walking up to the Ha’ Penny bridge, Pravda, a Russian bar was found. Terence had a tall strong Russian beer, Olga Vodka, Beth wine, and a Bulmer’s for me. Crossing the Ha’ Penny Beth almost flew off the bridge. There were several F bombs screamed while crossing the bridge. Dinner was at Boticelli, another Italian place, another bottle of wine. On the way home I (presumably drunk) confessed that for 2007 my goal was to learn how to walk the dog with a Yo Yo. From the back seat there was a comment made regarding The Smuthers Brothers. After this, it was a silent ride back to the hotel.

A drink in the great O’Callaghan’s, the hotel bar, then a taxi to The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin. After arriving we realize there is a 24 Euro cover ($154 after conversion), but con them into letting us stay for one drink. During our stay the couple next to us dumps a drink, but it was Terence to the rescue delivering napkins, doing the old people a solid. Next we went to The Temple Bar where Terence (presumably drunk) had sightings of Marilyn Monroe, Janet Jackson, and Benson. After a round of drinks we moved onto a hotel bar with blue lights and had several large bottles of Bulmers while random items (like a doorknob) continued to be placed in front of us. Around 11pm it was time to find a bar that was busy, but not too busy and one that we would be able to successfully ring in the New Year with. Welcome to THE VAT. Moments after walking in the DJ began playing “Delilah”. Terence proclaimed that this bar would work just fine. Obsessed (Terence especially) with a guy wearing a Mohawk we consumed many drinks and took many pictures (of the Mohawk) before the stroke of midnight. At one point a limbo contest broke out, Olga may have won, but it’s tough to compete with European judges so we’ll never know.

At the count of 15 we weren’t quite ready, at 10 Beth looked over at me, at 5 I reached for the confetti. 3…2…1…

The way it was suppose to go down was for me to lob the confetti over the top of everyone, creating a steady sprinkle of joy. Instead the confetti bag came crashing down, mostly landing in Terence’s glass and the rest on the floor, spilling onto the streets of Dublin. For a full minute Terence stood in shock, and then continued drinking.

Vat’s was another hour of drinking (at least) and also Olga and Beth riding “the train” around the bar. The next bar was in a basement where everyone was extremely trashed and a lot of George Michael was being played. Beth and Olga danced. I had two more Bullmers. Terence did nothing, unable to move at this point.

The night ended with Terence and Olga at Rick’s, Beth and me finding a taxi. Terence stopping by around 3am to say goodbye, and we all wish each other a safe trip home. “Remember” I say. “I know” Replies Terence. “Room 134”.

Monday We fly to Shannon and then have a 7.5 hour flight back to Newark. An amazing turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich is served, which for me is the highlight of the flight. MEANWHILE, back in Dublin on New Year’s Day, Terence and Olga approach the Dublin Hotel with the key for “The Edge’s” party. Once inside the hotel something is awry, because there is no party, and the only people in room 134 are two girls. They go to the front desk. After several inquiries into which room the party for “The Edge” is at the hotel manager rips the key from Terence. At this point Terence should have turned around and smiled instead of insisting he is there to see “The Edge”.

David S. Grant is the author of several novels including Corporate Porn, Bliss, and Rock Stars.  For more on David’s books, travel writing, and rock columns go to: http://www.davidsgrant.com

January 31, 2011

Cancun

Cancun, Mexico with it’s white sandy beaches, turquoise blue ocean and high quality all inclusive hotels is a top choice for anyone who needs a holiday with a lot of variety. Apart from relaxing on the beach, there are fantastic nightclubs, shopping and amazing excursions offering memorable experiences.

Cancun is blessed with a rich archaeological heritage – in the Yucatan peninsula there are many ancient sites from the Mayan times including Chichen Itza, Tulum, Xel-Ha, and Coba. There is also Xcaret which manages to blend ancient Mayan ruins with a modern theme park and show. Other highlights from the excursion list are the short trip to Isla Mujeres, swimming with dolphins, jungle tours, sea fishing, snorkelling… the list goes on…

In terms of Cancun hotels and resorts, on the “hotel zone” which is a peninsula that is surrounded by the Ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other, there are a great choice of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels. Most of the hotel are all inclusive and as this is Caribbean all inclusive, with a lot of US guests you will find the food and drink on offer a different class to what you get in a European all inclusive. The most popular hotels for UK guests going to Cancun is The Riu Cancun. With the fantastic views on offer you would be advised to go for a high floor room. One popular resort near to Cancun is the huge Moon Palace which a favourite with honeymoons and golfers alike, and about an hour away from Cancun you will find Playa del Carmen with the all inclusive resort of resorts Playacar close by. Playacar is home to some great Riu all inclusives including Riu Tequila, Riu Yucatan and Riu Playacar.

May 27, 2010

Argentina & Patagonia Tour

The Route: Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Río Grande Porvenir, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine National Park, El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park

Ushuaia

Ushuaia is the capital of the province of Tierra del Fuego, Tierra del Fuego with a population of 50,000. Visitors to the city discover mixed colonial buildings with concrete blocks, sheet metal huts, wooden partitions – and construction sites. But the city is not the objective of this tour, rather it’s the the great outdoors!.
In the Maipú, Rivadivia corner is the Museo del Fin del Mundo (Museum of the End of the World). There you can admire Indian culture in addition to changing art exhibitions, ship wrecks and old photographs – and get a stamp in your passport. Next one finds a library with books on the history of Tierra del Fuego and a museum shop.
The Presidio, the former prison is found in the Yagan, corner of Gob. Nearby Paz is also worth a visit.

Excursions:
There are various Ushuaia tours, such as on the Beagle Channel to the lighthouse at the end of the world. This lighthouse stands at the beginning of the strait.
El Ferrocarril Austral Fuegino: This narrow gauge railway runs from Ushuaia to the Bahía Lapataia, travel time 1 hour
Info: www.trendelfindelmundo.com.ar
Mission of the Salesians: 11 km north of Ushuaia Salesian misson. It dates from the year 1893. There is a small museum (and an agro-technical school).

Antarctica

In Ushuaia you can also book tours to Antarctica, which typically cost between $500 and $700 USD per day per person. The route (800 nautical miles wide) goes through the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands and the west coast of the Antarctic archipelago.
We do not recommend these tours! In the interest of nature. Antarctica is a very delicate ecosystem that is affected by every tourist and best left alone !

Tierra del Fuego National Park (Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego)

This national park spreads across about 63 000 hectares. It runs about 20 km west of Ushuaia on the border with Chile. In the park is via the third Ruta The bus heads to the only shop and restaurant in the park you can go by bus to the end of Ruta 3, the Bahia Lapataia. There ends the famous Pan-American Highway, the road that starts in Alaska and continues through the length of the entire American continent.
The park is accessible for visitors with walking paths. There are swamps, caused by flooding. This in turn introduced by beavers, who have been busy destroying the forest at these sites. The coast is inhabited by sea birds and penguins, in the inland, there are guanacos.
The northern part of the national park is inaccessible.
Info: at the park entrance, where there are sketch maps.

Lago Fagnano

The mountain landscape between Ushuaia and Lago Fagnano, which runs along the north-east Route 3 is characterised by forests and swamps, interrupted from time to time by small valleys. The Lago Fagnano is 10 miles wide but 100 miles long.

Rio Grande

Río Grande is located on the Atlantic coast and has a population of around 36,000 residents. It is a city of sheep in Tierra del Fuego. The port is mainly used industrially by an oil refinery. Tourism in Rio Grande is not a worthwhile goal to be honest, but all the tourists who use the land route go through this city, as there is no other road to the mainland.
Info:
Tourist information: Hotel Los Yagan, Belgrano 319
Buses: Ushuaia, Porvenir and Punta Arenas in Chile
Flights: Buenos Aires, Río Gallegos, Calafate, Trelew, Punta Arenas in Chile

San Sebastian

San Sebatían is the name of a city as well as a bay. The town of San Sebastian is on the border with Chile.
You drive away, in Chilean territory, so you can reach after 50 km drive along the dirt road the Bahia Inútil from the Strait of Magellan. From here it’s only 60 km from Porvenir.

Porvenir

Porvenir is located on the Strait of Magellan. From here the ferry to Punta Arenas on the Chilean mainland go. The trip takes about 2.5 hours.
The Strait of Magellan is named after Fernao de Magellan (Ferdinand Magellan), who discovered the ship’s passage in 1520. The passage was used until 1914 by all ships, which drove around America. Then in 1914 the Panama Canal was opened.

PATAGONIA

What comes now is, Patagonia!

Punta Arenas

The city of Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan, the site of Porvenir in a westerly direction towards.
From Punta Arenas, with its 110 000 inhabitants, is said to be the most beautiful city in Patagonia. As is some truth: the visitor receives a neat downtown with historic buildings, a plaza, a museum and a quaint cemetery.
A walking tour could visit the following places:

  • The Palacio de Sara Brown – it is an ornate splendor construction at the Plaza and houses a luxury hotel. In the neighboring town house brown Menédez that belonged to Sara Brown’s brother, Mauricio and his wife Josefina Menédez, the Museo Regional de Magallanes is located. Most users gain an insight into the former upper class lifestyle when the precious and admired from the Old World native furniture. Thus, there are gold-plated fender from Flanders, a pool table from Great Britain or the French wall fabrics on display.
  • The Cementerio the cemetery in Punta Arenas is now a national monument. For example, the tomb of the family Menédez-Braun is built of black marble, decorated by José Menédez with angels.
  • The Museo Regional Salesiano in Avenida Bulnes 374, the history of the Patagonian Indians who were exterminated by the white quasi.

It is also well worth a trip to the penguin colony at Seno Otway in the meadows west of Punta Arenas. In the summer you can find around 2500 Magellan penguins.
Info: www.sernatur.cl
Tourist information: Sernatur, Waldo Seguel 689 (Plaza)
Buses: Río Gallegos and Río Grande, Argentina, Puerto Natales in Chile
Flights: Santiago, Puerto Montt and Porvenir (in all of Chile)
Travel agencies for more bookings in Punta Arenas

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales has about 15,000 inhabitants and is connected to Punta Arenas on the Ruta 9th The city is the starting point for excursions into the National Park Torres del Paine.
Tourist information: Calle Bulnes 285
Buses: Punta Arenas in Chile, Río Gallegos and El Calafate in Argentina

National Park Torres del Paine

The National Park Torres del Paine spreads over an area of 2,000 km ² in the southern Chilean Andes. The bizarre peaks of Southern range building up in front of the Patagonian Ebena. The Cerro Torre is the highest peak (3050m) and one of the most difficult mountains in the world.
The Grey Glacier sent his ice in the layer. Metre thick walls of ice constantly break off his snout. On the numerous glacial lakes swim shattered blocks of ice.
There are many hiking trails and accommodation: Hotels, simple refugio and camping facilities.
Info: Puerto Natales

El Calafate

El Calafate is a tourist resort with about 7000 inhabitants. It is the starting point for visiting the National Park Los Glaciares.
From Puerto Natales, El Calafate is reached by following near Rio Turbio crossed the border into Argentina and then the Ruta 40th It is a
Gravel road, which is also used by buses and guarantees magnificent views of the Patagonian desert. The Route 40 past the Lago Argentina, one of the largest lakes of Argentina (1600 km ²).
In El Calafate, there are a number of tour operators who organize tours to the National Park Los Glaciares: mountaineering or
Sightseeing tours to the glaciers, such as trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier or boat trips across Lake Argentino to the ice walls. In the southern part of the park can get one too, where campers can stay overnight.
Tourist Office: Avenida del Libertador (bridge at the entrance)
Buses: Río Gallegos, Río Turbio and Puerto Natales in Chile
Flights: Río Gallegos, Puerto Madryn, Río Grande, Ushuaia

Los Glaciares National Park

The Los Glaciares National Park covers an area of 600,000 ha. Natural attractions include the Fitz Roy Range in the north and the glaciers in the south. The glaciers are part of the Patagonian ice cap. The Patagonian ice sheet is the largest ice cap on planet Earth (22,000 kilometres) outside the North and South Poles. It sends nine glaciers in the Los Glaciares National Park. Particularly spectacular are the Upsala glacier (600 km ²) and the Perito Moreno glacier. The Upsala glacier can be a boat trip across Lago Argentino explore the Upsala glacier is accessible by bus.

The Fitz Roy range is the El Dorado of mountaineers and climbers from around the world. Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865) was the captain of the research ship Beagle by Charles Darwin. The Cerro Fitz Roy (3375) was climbed in 1952 for the first time, and although Guido Magnone and Lionel Terray. Both kept him at the time of the schwiergsten climbing mountain in the world. But also (and especially) as a hiker can experience the natural beauty of the Fitz Roy massif. Sun walking tours take you to the base camp of mountaineering; you can enjoy views of the Blanco River and Lake Viedma far into the plains. Or admire the tongue of the glacier Torre, which broke off in Lake Viedma.
Note: If you visit the Fitz Roy massif in the Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate, you must stay in El Chalten!

May 27, 2010

Iguassa Waterfalls

Iguassa Waterfalls

In this region you will find one of the greatest natural wonders of Argentina: the Iguazu waterfalls. It is an enchanting destination. The main destination of the region it is a must see / destination of a lifetime. The National Park on both sides of the falls was established added to the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1984. The vistas are so stunning that Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have spoken at the sight of this breathtaking natural wonder only the following two words: “Poor Niagara”

Besides the waterfalls, there are plenty of other interesting places to visit in the region.

Among the best known attractions near the Iguassa Waterfalls : the Jesuit missions of the seventeenth century, and the nature reserve “Esteros del Ibera”. The nature reserve is a true paradise for nature lovers. You have the opportunity to see unique flora and fauna, including a wide diversity of water birds.Iguassa Waterfall

Iguazu Falls:

The destination offers an exceptional experience. The sheer size and power of the falls are barely comprehensible. The Iguazu Falls are wider than the Victoria Falls, higher than Niagara Falls and probably better than both.

The majority of visits are on the Argentinian side, where you have access to the spectacular “Devil’s throat” (Garganta do Diabo) via special trains.

The waterfalls are on the border of Brazil and Argentina, within a National Park (2,100 square km). You are in the midst of the jungle. Here you have the chance to explore and admire the plant and animal life. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and thousands of native species of insects are waiting for you.

The rivers of the region:
The Iguaçu (Portuguese spelling, Iguazú in Spanish) is an approximately 1320 km long river in South America. Its name derives from the word Yguazú (“big water” in Guaraní, the language of the Tupi-Guarani).

It is formed near the confluence of the Iraí Atuba of Curitiba. The last few miles to its confluence with the Paraná, it forms the border between Argentina (Misiones Province) and Brazil (Paraná).

Near the mouth of the Paraná are on the Brazilian side of the city of Foz do Iguaçu, on the Argentine side of the city of Puerto Iguazú. The two cities are connected by a bridge that spans the river.

Is it best to visit Iguassa Falls from Argentina or Brazil ?

Opinions differ. On the Argentinian side man has the chance of more bodies near full, for example. “La Garganta del Diablo” to see. There are many ways to explore the cases and the opportunity to take boat rides. The National Park has a better infrastructure on the Argentine side, therefore the use is more in harmony with the ecosystem. Whether in the construction of tourism infrastructure, as well as the excursions.

The Brazilian side offers more panoramic views that give very good views of all the waterfalls. The excursions are “tourists”. They even visit the possibility to make the helicopter. We recommend to visit both sides.