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February 16, 2007

LIVEBLOG/NEVIS: Beware of New York driver

Driving little Nevis should be cake -- there's really only one main road, and it runs in a circle around the entire island right up to every major attraction: hotels (the Four Seasons golf course parallels it on both sides), the airport, Charlestown (the capital), the ferry station, restaurants, shopping, beaches.

At most, you can do an entire 360 degree tour in less than an hour. Basically, you could be deaf, dumb and blind and still get from point A to point B and back to point A.

But then you actually try it and, well, you really should have some of your senses intact.

I got myself a $25 permit (as is necessary) and rented a little Suzuki 4WD from Thrifty. Automatic. Good brakes. This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with this road.

Then I actually got on it. Like most mini-Caribbean islands, it's narrow. Not so narrow that two cars can't pass, but narrow enough where you tend to slow down when you do. Just to be safe. And if you veer to far from the center, your wheels will squeal like a pig along the curb. A little embarrassing -- I was mocked by staring pedestrians more than a few times.

Did I mention that here, you must drive Beyonce-style: "To the left, to the left?" It doesn't help to hear it more than once. A couple of near-miss head on collisions help tattoo it on the brain. And if you're on the road between 6 am and 7 am (and why the hell are you?), mind the blinding sunrise that literally blasts your windshield with orange radiation.

Any who, my last night in, I pull into a gas station. As I'm pulling out, I hear a strange sound. Turns out it was me scraping the paint off of the rear bumper of the car next to me. To make matters worse, the owner of the car -- a 6 foot tall, 250 pound 20-something -- was five feet behind me, watching the whole thing. Worse than that, he was the son of the sweet little old lady who owned the station, also watching from the window. Whoops.

Needless to say, a calm, level headed conversation ensued and we came to an agreement to keep it on the D.L.

Which reminds me: When driving in the Caribbean, always carry plenty of E.C. (Eastern Caribbean dollars). They really come in handy.

-- Chris Bunting

Posted by David on 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2007

EVENTS: So you think you can aria

courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater

Tired of watching those no-talents whining their way through "Unbreak My Heart" on American Idol get props, while actual trained singers get laughed out of the audition room?

Your moment to shine is here, Sir/Madame Butterfly: Chicago's Opera Theater is holding the first Opera Idol auditions Feb. 25 at the city's Hard Rock Hotel. (Sweet, sweet irony.)

The best of the best get moved on to the semi-final and final rounds, which will take place during Chicago's first-ever Looptopia wingding, a 24 hour music, art and dance party that'll have the city's downtown staying up all night on May 11.

Inspired by the Symphony's annual all-nighter and similar events in Europe, it's just one more of those those big happenings that Chicago seems to have a knack for. (Can you see our City Hall sponsoring a "sunrise celebration" in Central Park with music, yoga and free breakfast? Thought not.)

P.S.: Right now, the old Palmer House Hilton, located smack in the middle of the Loop, is offering rooms from $99 (Ask for the "LOP" group rate.) Not that you'll need a room or anything.

Posted by David on 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2007

UPDATE: New Orleans

If you're headed to Mardi Gras and wondering if there's anything left to New Orleans, check out this excellent map that shows where exactly this week's tornadoes did their business - once again, the majority of the damage was done in neighborhoods you'll never see, though the twister did rip through the Riverbend district, which many know as home to Brigtsen's restaurant and Cooter Brown's bar. (We know it as home to that trashy dacquiri stand that sells delightful Cajun Eggnog. Add a shot of SoCo just for fun!)

Also on the list of the battered: the troubled Bayou St. John district, one of the city's most promising districts before Katrina took the wind out of its sails. Unfortunately, now it's got something else to recover from.

Posted by David on 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/NEVIS: Welcome to Monkey Island!

courtesy of Nevis Tourism Authority

Through Monday, contributing writer Chris Bunting brings you reports from the emerald isle of Nevis.

There's a great chance you've never heard of the Caribbean island of Nevis, which is usually mentioned as a footnote to its neighbor, St. Kitts, or behind the words Four Seasons Resort (few New York movers and shakers haven't been to this high-priced pleasure palace, where rooms-with-no-view are currently going from $655 a night).

Part of the Commonwealth, it features all the usual delights that come along with being a former British protectorate: wrong-sided driving, afternoon tea, and a nasty Cricket habit. It's way small, too. Just 36-square-miles, 11,000-people-small -- very much one of the last remaining everyone-knows-everyone marvels in the region. And despite its association with the exclusive Four Seasons and some very expensive plantation hotels, Nevis can also be a pretty affordable place.

Did I mention it's got a ridiculously huge volcano in the middle? Unlike, say, Montserrat, Nevis' is not currently erupting all over the place -- it's dormant.

The personality of this place is unique. And not in that lip-service/grin broadly for the brochure photographer kind of way that every island likes to claim.

How so? Well, for a start, there are the monkeys. Specifically, African Green Veret Monkeys. These cute little son-of-a-guns came over on slave ships in the 1600s have been running along roofs and eating anything and everything in sight ever since. The residents hate them/used to eat them, but tourists love them. Count me in the latter group (the monkey crossing signs are a must-steal if you haven't any qualms about facing off with one of Nevis' 38 cops.)

-- Chris Bunting

Posted by David on 06:58 AM | Comments (0)


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