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January 31, 2007

LIVEBLOG/NYC: Day 2 Getting to know SoHo


Victoria Will

SoHo is one good looking neighborhood, on that everyone is in agreement, no doubt. World's best-looking shopping mall? Sure. But who cares. For someone who spends most of their time in Midtown, it's great to be reminded of how attractive New York can be. I hop off the Grey Line and consult the Lonely Planet, which recommends a walking tour of the neighborhood, along with a dip in to Nolita.

However, when it starts sending me north of Houston on Mercer, I lose interest and decide to just go to the places I know I haven't been before - Uniqlo (just like the ones in Tokyo), the new Bloomingdale's (very Harvey Nichols minus the food hall), etc.

Usefully, the guide points out that downtown snack shop/street food is superior to uptown, and they aren't lying. A tasty tuna sandwich from a very crowded Aroma, a coconut Doughnut Plant number from the Dean and De Luca kiosk by the Mercer Hotel, a crepe from the superb cart outside Dean and De Luca, an awesome organic hot dog from Sparky's on Lafayette. Now that's a street which has changed immeasurably in recent years.(That must be the largest Santa Maria Novella boutique anywhere, while the new SoHo Park restaurant place looks really cool - a new-gen diner of sorts.)

Just $20 or so later, I can't eat another thing for the rest of the day. It's amazing what you see, once you slow the hell down enough to see it.

I end up wandering down Mott, also great to do during the week, then hanging a left and heading in to the Lower East Side on Rivington, stopping in at Freeman's, which isn't in the guidebooks yet, as far as we could see.

Whoever this crowd is, they aren't terribly cool. Cool people do not, as one, who turn their heads conspicuously to assess each new arrival. No matter: It looks like fun, and the location, down that all-too-rare alleyway, is great. In the end, the menu just doesn't seem that exciting. Plus, the hostess makes it quite clear that everyone's presence is an imposition. Later.

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

LIVEBLOG/NYC: Day 2 Get on the bus



One of things I was most curious about was how New Yorkers perceive the Grey Line buses. I didn't really know much about the service, except that every time I got out of the N/R at 49th Street, I get stopped and asked if I want to ride. (They must be able to identify the tourist in me.)

The day started over to the Grey Line store on Eighth Avenue, inside one of the old porno theaters. It's still got that slightly antiseptic/fluorescent feel to it, but now it's lined with free brochures. Grey Line has a map of all its services, which takes a couple of minutes to figure out.

They seem to specialize in bundling various itineraries, but the two main ones are: Uptown, which goes up to Harlem and includes the Cloisters in the warmer months. Then there's Downtown, which does everything south of Times Square that's worth doing, all the way down to the Battery. Everything else after that is more specialized (Brooklyn, Highlights, etc.). They try to get you to buy more than one, as it's "good value," but we opt for the Downtown loop, which costs $39 for all-day, hop-on-off service. (I later learn that I could have saved $10 by booking online.)

Since the brochure advertises tickets to Top of The Rock, we inquire, and are sold admission ($17.50) to that, which we are told allows us to skip the ticket line. "It is about the same price," says the manager behind the counter. "Maybe $1 or so difference."

As we walk the one block over to Broadway to catch the bus (we are given quick but clear directions), I try to make sense of the handout map, which has a lot of numbers on it. Those, it turns out, are the stops, where you can get on and off, as if you were waiting for a bus. We decide to hop off in SoHo, then get back on later on the Lower East Side - there's a stop at Grand and Allen, which isn't exactly what you think of as prime tourist territory.

In fact, besides the view from up top - which is a great change of perspective, by the way - there's a lot to like about this service.

Of course, it depends on your guide, but the good ones actually offer rather entertaining commentary, whether it's show-biz history (Don't look for Central Perk in the West Village, because it doesn't exist!), architectural highlights (Ladies Mile is one of the best collections in town!) to random things-you-may-not-have-known (The New Yorker was the first hotel to have televisions in all the rooms!). We're amused, particularly when we lumber down West Broadway, turning left on Spring Street, with people on the street waving to us and the guide shouting out all the names of the celebrities that live in the neighborhood. It being quiet down here this morning, I'm sure some of them can hear us coming.

When we hop on, later, it's a different story - we've got an old-school, pushy New Yorker of the worst kind. "NOW LOOK, GUYS - ARE YOU LOOKING? COME ON, LOOK! DON'T MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK - SIR, SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW - AT THE LAST REMAINS OF THE CON ED PLANT! LOOK, GUYS, LOOK!"

It appears we're being held hostage by one of those horrible people that actually depends on audience response as part of his shtick. I'm proud of my fellow tourists: They are all ignoring him.

It's a long ride from the East Village to Rockefeller Center, but we've got to give the man this much: At every stop, when people get off, he jumps off behind them to give directions to their final destination. Except that it takes him so long, that the driver starts pulling away, forcing the dude to run after and catch up. By the time we got uptown, we were rooting for our driver to just leave the guy behind.

Posted by David on 05:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2007

LIVEBLOG/NYC: Day 1 Where's Times Square?


AP

When you book a hotel with the words Times Square in it, you think, wow - Times Square! When I show up to the Residence Inn, it crosses my mind that at least a few people must be gravely disappointed upon discovering that they do not, in fact, have a full-frontal view of the Virgin Megastore, or whatever it is one gazes out at from the Marriott Marquis, the Renaissance, or the W.

Nope - here, in the evening, there aren't even that many lights on in the nearby office buildings. Bryant Park is shuttered up, as Fashion Week preparations move forward - frankly, this has got to be one of the sleepiest corners in the city.

As one does when first arriving somewhere, I wander around, trying to find something to eat. It's dark, it's been a long day, takeout would be nice.

Honestly, after hours, south of 40th Street and north of 36th, it's slim pickings - at least between 8th and 5th. I know this, because I walked all of it. I cast the net wider, ending up on 9th for cheese steaks at Tony Luke's. After all, there were a bunch of 9th Avenue restaurants listed in my guide, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that I would have found my way here as an out-of-towner.

Later that evening, Times Square is hopping, as the snow starts to fall. I never really disliked the neighborhood, which puts me firmly in the minority. Why everyone hates it, I'll never know. At least give it this much: It's the closest we get to living up to our reputation for being overwhelming. My heart still skips a beat when I stand on the island at 43rd Street after dark and look north.

It's nice to get back to the quiet of my 34th Floor room at the hotel, which I have to say is really nice. This particular property is brand new, so the design is up to date (flat screens, black marble counter tops, stainless steel appliances). That, and the beds are really comfortable. Has to be one of the best $209/night rooms in the city. Next time your mother comes to town, put her here. She'll be impressed.

Posted by David on 08:19 PM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/NYC: Day 1 Checking in


Residence Inn Times Square

Relying on Lonely Planet for hotel recommendations isn't always the best idea. Instead, I choose to lean on the internet. With the bajillions of travelers who use TripAdvisor.com, I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring, and trust them to tell me where to stay.

With everything being so expensive, I had fingers crossed that the site's users would, as they often do, celebrate the mid-priced. Turns out they do, with the Sofitel on W. 44th Street garnering the highest rating out of the hundreds of properties listed.

Still, while that's considered reasonable around here, rates of over $300 a night were out -- my budget was about $200/night: $100 below the city-wide average these days.

I pretended not to be surprised when I saw how high rates had gone at the Casablanca, the site's #2 rated property. This used to be a ridiculously cheap secret, just off Times Square. It wasn't a luxury hotel before, and it isn't now, but it is nice and cheerful, with free breakfast and a comfortable lounge. The rooms that have at least a little thought put in to them. But nearly $300 a night? I don't think so.

I kept scrolling down - past the Affinia Dumont, which looked really sterile. Plus, I am not paying $400 a night to stay on East 34th Street. Neither was I tempted by the Hotel Giraffe, also far more expensive than it used to be, while still being the same comfortable-enough but dull hotel, on a dull strip of Park Avenue South.

And then, there it was: Number 5. Marriott's Residence Inn Times Square, at the corner of 39th and 6th, near Bryant Park.

As you no doubt can surmise by looking around you in this town, mid-priced chain hotels are the new hotness. Clearly, a lot of travelers are digging the space, the cleanliness, the familiar comforts, such as free breakfast. If the goal was to experience New York as a typical tourist would, there was no other choice. Bonus: It was only $209/night when I booked.

Posted by David on 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/NYC: Day 1 Finding my guide



First things first. I needed a guidebook. Just like anywhere else unfamiliar I go, its always good to get an overview before you start doing your serious research. Plus, I wanted to see how New York is being sold to visitors -- does reading all the literature you can get your hands on give you a realistic impression of the city?

The Lonely Planet NYC isn't bad, actually. Turns out it's written by three locals, which isn't always the case with the LP guides, which sometimes feel like they're written by someone who visited there once. Anyway, as you'd expect from a book written by locals, it talks about how the city has changed, and how exciting it is to explore more than just Manhattan.

There are color maps of Flushing, walking tours of Jackson Heights (though, really, you can do better than Jackson Diner for Indian food), guides to Williamsburg, and a whole chapter on The Bronx.

It is from reading this book that I also come to understand why there are always crowds of people hanging around the West 4th Street basketball courts - there's a reverential writeup in the Village attractions section. It has interviews with locals, talking about everything from the last remaining German restaurants to freaking artist colonies in Staten Island. I'll give it to them: This is one comprehensive book.

Posted by David on 08:42 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/NYC: Day 1 - Back to square one

I live in New York, but I don't, really. When I'm here, I am based, like some impoverished flight attendant, out near LaGuardia Airport. It's easier that way. Not to mention cheap. When in Manhattan, it is generally for work. Most of my friends live somewhere else, and the ones that do live here are in the same business. I might be home, but they've just left for Los Angeles.

Recently, while walking through the Lower East Side and realizing I was pretty well lost, I got indignant.

This isn't supposed to be happening to me. I live here. Who are all these people? And when the hell did Ratner's disappear?

Clearly, it was time to put the passport away, forsake the world's most boring neighborhood for a week and head in to the city, for a week of Grey Line bus tours, museum visits, pastrami at the Carnegie Deli and whatever it is people do when they first come here and fall in love.

Hey - better the Carnegie Deli than another egg salad sandwich from Pret A Manger eaten at my desk on the fly. Better a Grey Line bus crawl by night than another thrilling rush-hour tour of Sixth Avenue in the 40's, a tour I get to take every single time I show up to work. (Oh, look, honey - they've put a new bank on that corner! Terrific! Take a picture!)

Posted by David on 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2007

COMING UP: All about the Apple



Tune in to the print edition and NYPOST.COM tomorrow for the results of our fourth annual Best NYC Hotels awards, plus loads of web-exclusive stuff, from celebs' favorite places to stay in town to a look at what's coming up on the scene. Not to mention photo galleries of our winners.

Also this week: Here on the blog, we're playing tourist in New York.

That's right: Through Friday, we'll be out and about, putting that old-fashioned New York hospitality to the test. The burning question: This town is expensive, and overwhelming. How are we treating our visitors?

In aid of sorting all that out, we'll be doing everything from testing the patience of the guides on the Grey Line buses to haranguing the reps at the visitors center, stopping strangers to ask directions, and more. (If you need us, we'll be at the Red Lobster on 7th Avenue.)

Posted by David on 07:44 AM | Comments (0)

LISTS: They really (sort of) like us!


Sydney, via Visit NSW

The annual City Brands Index from Anholt is out.

You are of course jumping up and down for joy. Us too.

Anyway, this thing is an in-depth study that surveys thousands of people around the world to find out how positively they see sixty of the biggest cities on the planet.

This year's winner was Sydney, followed by London, Paris and Rome.

Where, you ask, are we in all this? Don't worry. We're number five. (That should be our new slogan, no? We're Number Five! It has a certain ring to it, we think.)

The real stunner, though, is the ranking of Washington, D.C. at #6, followed by San Francisco. That means that people in every darn place from China to Poland and back again felt more positively about Ol' Swampy than, say, Barcelona - which ranked at #9. What's that about?

Posted by David on 07:24 AM | Comments (0)

SUNDAY SECTIONS: January 28

PHONED IN: Round-ups are a fact of life in this penny-pinching industry, but man, is this 10 Point Caribbean Escape Plan thing a snooze. We're just saying, but Michelle Higgins needs to get out of the office more. [NYT]

OH BOY, MORE ROUNDUPS: A cruise special focuses on the ports of call that you may or may not make. Nothing about cruising, actually, just roundups of what to do in Fort Lauderdale, etcetera. Whose idea was that? [LAT]

SOUNDS LIKE US: "So this guy is walking toward the parking lot with his wife, big guy with a small camera around his neck, and he's obviously not happy. 'I thought there would be buildings,' he says." That's Al Solomon observing at Jamestown, which, as nobody tires of saying, is now 400 years old. Except there's nothing really there. [ChiTrib]

THANK YOU: Check out the great feature story on bumming around Indonesia for a month. We're jealous. [WaPo]

Posted by David on 07:05 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2007

FOOD: Eat something, you'll feel better



All this cold makes us hungry. Come on, what is it, like 22 degrees out? Here's 5 random places we're thinking about this morning, wishing they were handy about now. Should you happen to be nearby, you best pile on in for some grub. And wear a hat for goodness sake if you're going out!

Steak and kidney pie / Canteen
London
Step in to this Hopper painting of a new-generation diner at Spitalfields Market for lovely pies - they rotate them on and off the menu every day. Comes with mash, gravy and veg. All for a reasonable (for this town) $18. (If you're going next week and flying BA, check the schedules, what with that anticipated strike mess.)
2 Crispin Place, Spitalfields

Pho / Saigon City
Philadelphia
Pho is pho, but we love sitting in the window at this dive in a divey strip mall just south of downtown, looking out at the mess. Pile on the hot sauce, and don't forget to order the #709 - a Banh Mi with beautifully fried eggs, pork roll and duck pate on some of the best French bread we've ever seen used at a Vietnamese restaurant.
1601 Washington Avenue, (215) 545-3010

Heart Attack On A Plate / Snow City Cafe
Anchorage
It's like nachos, but for breakfast - a mess of hash browns, piled with bacon, cheese, sour cream, chives, whatnot. Oh, and eggs, if you want. Best chased with a lot of hot coffee from local roaster Kaladi. We went here before attending the start of the Iditarod one year. That was one cold day.
4th Avenue at L Street, Downtown

Blueberry pancakes / Up for Breakfast
Manchester, VT
Forget waiting up front with the crowd, on a really cold day, you don't need a table. You want to be at that little counter back by the kitchen in this postage stamp of a restaurant that's one of Vermont's best for breakfast. Order the blueberry, or anything else interesting. This one time? They had pumpkin pancakes. Those were good too. Mos def.
710 Main Street, (802) 362-4204

Spicy fried rice / Chung Moi
Toronto
South Asian Chinese restaurants are all over New York, but Toronto's been doing it forever - this Pakistani-Chinese '70's period piece is great in the winter time. Get a big pile of something spicy. We liked the fried rice, which was a lot like other fried rice, but with a distinctly South Asian heat.
2412 Eglinton Avenue E, (416) 755-5293

Posted by David on 07:28 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2007

UPDATE: Now that's in-flight service



In these miserable times of war, disease, famine and bad reality shows, it's nice to have some sliver of hope that justice still exists in this world.

Proof? Angelic flight attendants aboard an AirTran flight from Fort Myers to Boston kicked off a three-year-old girl for throwing a tantrum. According to a spokesperson, the child was doing all the things that get grownups kicked off planes - hitting, being belligerent, refusing to get in her seat.

Her parents said they won't fly AirTran again. I'm sure the airline is weeping. Bitterly. Beginning of a trend, or a series of lawsuits? Discuss.

Posted by David on 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

UPDATE: Macau is king


Wynn Macau

Last June, we mentioned that Macau is nothing to muck with when it comes to gambling. Industry predictions had it surpassing Vegas in gaming revenue by 2010.

Apparently, even that was a gross underestimation of Macau's mojo -- by about 1,095 days! The FT reports that the 10.5-square-mile, ex-Portuguese territory has done the thinkable in an unthinkably short time period, with revenue up by 22 percent in 2006 to reach $6.95 billion. To be fair, Vegas hasn't released full year figures for '06, but analyst estimates put the grand total around $6.5 billion.

Not even close, eh? Macau won this race by about a third of an Oprah ($450 million). With all sorts of new projects - including an underwater/hotel and casino - coming online, it's gonna take a lot of desert rain for Vegas to match that.

Posted by David on 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2007

COMING SOON: Aquaventure!


Aquaventure

You read about it in Tuesday's print story about what's hot in family travel this year, now have a look at what you're in for.

Yes, it's AQUAVENTURE, the newest addition to the sprawling water park at the Atlantis resort in The Bahamas. Located in front of the new Cove tower, it's 63 acres and a billion dollars worth of wet, wet, wet. Unlike most slides, this one has water conveyors to bring you back to the beginning. Cool, no?

The resort says the new park will open shortly, but exactly when, not sure. Expect everything to be up and running by April 1, when the Cove tower starts taking bookings.

Posted by David on 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

FOOD: Cookies for your Valentine


Uyen Nguyen

Travel's all about food, particularly when you travel to Vegas these days. And if you've never tried the food at Guy Savoy's Nevada outpost - inside Caesars' fancy Augustus Tower - you haven't been to Vegas. That is, assuming you can afford it. We can't.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, pastry chef Uyen Nguyen has the recipe that'll get you some serious points with your signif. other: Madeleines.

All you really need to do is find a few of those madeleine molds, and you're set. Complete instructions after the jump. Believe it or not, they're actually quite simple to follow.

MADELEINES

4 Large Eggs

1 1/4 cups Sugar

2 cups Flour

1 Tbsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Salt

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsp Lemon Zest

2 sticks Butter

Begin by putting your butter in a saucepan and melt it down to a simmer until it starts to brown.

Bring the butter to a golden brown and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, zest and vanilla to a froth.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently combine the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.

Finally, add the brown butter in a steady stream just until it is incorporated.

Let the batter rest, covered with plastic wrap for at least 1 hour, if not overnight.

Once the batter has rested and is cold, pipe it into well buttered Madeleine molds.

For larger molds, bake the cakes at 400F for 3 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 for 3 more minutes.

For smaller molds, bake the cakes at 350F for 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Posted by David on 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/UK: When hotels attack


Malmaison Oxford, by Danica Lo

Check out the crud on that shower! This photo comes to you courtesy of Post fashion reporter Danica Lo, who has been chronicling her stay at the Malmaison Oxford over the past couple of days.

The Mal - carved out of a former prison - is one in a chain of affordable chic hotels that's proliferated through the Isles in the past few years. The brand even has celeb cred: Kate Moss's not-husband Pete whatshisface trashed a room at the London property recently.

Anyway, according to Danica, things aren't going so good over there in Oxford. Read her observations from the UK here.

Posted by David on 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2007

UPDATE: What's next, a soup kitchen on the pier?


City of Malibu

Blame it on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (why, God, why did you have to take Suzanne Somers’ mansion?), but the folks in Malibu have gone completely nuts, agreeing to open up their exclusive property to … the public?

It's true - Malibu’s City Council has OK’d a plan to develop hiking trails and campsites around the 27-mile-long celeb colony (Axl Rose, Courtney Cox, Pam Anderson, Charlize Theron, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, among a zillion others).

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy – which is HQ’d on a 22-acre plot of land donated by Babs Streisand in 1993 – has been fighting for public access around Malibu for years.

Peace between hippies and homeowners came about after the conservancy agreed to place the campgrounds farther away from the multi-million dollar cribs. By farther away they mean Oxnard. Or Tijuana. We'll see.

Posted by David on 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

IT'S A BARGAIN: Singapore for $553 RT!


courtesy of the Singapore Tourism Board

If you can haul yourself to Los Angeles, you can get to Southeast Asia for the price of a ticket to Paris these days.

That's right. We said it. Singapore is offering a $553 RT fare, plus approximately $70 in taxes (fuel, surcharges already included), out of LAX, if you book by Jan. 31.

Of course, these fares are very limited, they're mid-week and only on certain flights, blah blah blah, but still. They're there. If you want them.

Get more low fares - for instance, to Bangkok - plus, prices from New York, here.

Posted by David on 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

AIR SUPPLY: Spirit soars


Turks & Caicos, via oceanclubresort.com

Spirit Airlines has been awfully feisty lately, what with their crazy sales, the going head-to-head with American on the Port au Prince route, that new service to St. Maarten, starting in April...anything else?

Actually, yes - they've also fired up service to Providenciales from Fort Lauderdale again.

This means another important link for the Turks & Caicos market (departs and returns Sat. only).

This flight is a good alternative if you don't want to pay for the direct hop going from New York, which can be pretty spendy. This way, just fly Spirit or JetBlue to Fort Lauderdale, whichever's cheaper, and it's like you are almost there.

Posted by David on 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2007

IT'S A BARGAIN!: 2 nights free


Club Med Columbus Isle

Club Med's on sale! Book a week-long (7 nights) stay at and you'll only pay for 5 nights. This means prices as low as $945/pp for a week (at Sandpiper, in Florida). Popular properties close to home also include Punta Cana, Columbus Isle and the redeveloped Yucatan club, at the south end of the Cancun hotel zone. Book by Feb. 23, complete travel by Nov. 7.

Club Med [Web site]

Posted by David on 06:27 AM | Comments (1)

UPDATE: Farecast launches

After a beta test last year, the Fare Guard feature's up at Farecast, the site that predicts airfares. For $3, purchase peace of mind, locking in a low fare of your choice for seven days. If the fare goes up, they'll reimburse the difference. It's that simple. Just remember, you're locked in to that fare, whether the flight schedule works out or not. Full details here.

Posted by David on 06:19 AM | Comments (0)

NEXT: We, the pirates

In a very Richard Bransonesque/Dubai Sheikish kind of move, an audacious online piracy "warez" group based in Sweden has decided to buy its own island.

After being raided last year, creators of the not-so-subtle The Pirates Bay BitTorrent website -- which allows file-swapping of everything from Xbox 360 games to the latest "Saw" sequel -- are raising funds online toward purchasing the principality of Sealand, an erstwhile naval base in the North Sea some six miles off the northeastern coast of Britain.

The Pirate Bay hopes to set up shop on the micronation to get around Europe's Draconian copyright laws (they've been on the MPAA's s**t list for years).

Sealand's size? 6,000 square feet.
Population? 10 or so
Price tag? $994 million.
Sovereignty? Priceless.

"It should be a great place for everybody, with high-speed Internet access, no copyright laws and VIP accounts to The Pirates Bay," the group said on its Web site.

Sealand's current regime, led by Prince Regent Michael, is resistant to sell, but already donations to The Pirate Bay have gone five-digit. Want to support the cause? You can donate on the site.

No word yet on their plans to create a tourism industry, but if they ever build a hotel on this postage stamp of an empire, they'll no doubt offer loads of free in-room movies.

Posted by David on 06:07 AM | Comments (0)

SUNDAY SECTIONS: Jan. 21

DADDY SAID NO BUT THE TIMES SAID YES: Walk on the wild side. Take a vacation in fabulous Kabul. Pay no mind to the government warning against it. Those guys never say yes to anything. [NYT]

OKAY, BUT BE CAREFUL: Nepal's new groove! Or whatever. Maybe it's Nepal rising? Anyway, the warning's been downgraded, so on the cover it goes. [LAT]

EHHH: You know what the story about Turks & Caicos is going to say before you even read it. Maybe because you've read it before. Over and over again. [ChiTrib]

BAD TIMING: Forget the Travel section, they've got summer cruises or something like that - up front, a bummer of a story on Kabul sort of rubs it in the Times' face. [WaPo]

Posted by David on 06:01 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2007

PRICE CHECK: Super Bowl, baby!

So the Jints and Jets both choked in the post - does that mean you have no interest in partying in Miami over Super Bowl weekend (Feb 1-5) now? Awwww - did the waaaahmbulance run over your dolly, you girl?

Snap out of it. This is freakin' Super Bowl. The biggest party on the planet. And, after having temporarily lost its way (Detroit, sure, but not in the dead of winter, man) it's back in the hottest party city around.

There are still a few places around town to land a room. But the price of admission this late in the fourth quarter? Let's just say you probably need an NFL contract to afford it (and maybe an NFL-sized concussion to agree to such an obvious scam).

If you are still looking for tickets, G-d help you. But you might try the folks at Premiere Sports Travel, which says it still has packages from $4,635 that include accommodations and game day transfers. The folks at The Big Game Rooms say they still have packages from $4,999/pp based on double occupancy at hotels that are mostly nothing special.

If that's all a bit dear, hotel rooms are a little easier - even if the prices look v. New York-on-a-bad-day.

1) You can get what should be a $150/night room at the Catalina Hotel for $950/night. Talk about scalping. They're requiring a 4-night minimum stay. But you'll have access to the hotel's superbowl party where, allegedly, you'll be surrounded by models (could be Maxim models, could be Cat Fancy models, they don't specify), plenty of beers in the mini fridge, and flat screen TVs.

2) So you stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, did ya. How much smarter can you really claim to be when you paid $476/night to do so for a double room at Miami's airport? Oh yeah, it's the Super Bowl. We keep forgetting. Totally worth it.

4) Not to be out done, La Quinta Inn Miami Airport East (not to be confused with the Airport North property) has rooms over Super Bowl Weekend for under $400 (a dollar under, to be exact). Hey, they have high speed internet to *cough* bet on the game *cough*.

5) It's not all horrible, though -- the Best Western Chateaubleau in Coral Gables is a lot nicer than most of the above, and, good news: they're only charging $360/night for a double. At least they were 10 minutes ago when we checked. Who knows, anymore.

Posted by David on 10:19 AM | Comments (1)

January 18, 2007

LIVEBLOG/BOMBAY: Sizzlin'

The other night I tasted the strangest combination of flavors: Japanese-style noodles in garlic sauce and Indian-style potato cutlets, with spices poured over Asian-style vegetable stir fry.

To boot, the whole thing was topped with American style baked beans, nestled next to a generous portion of French-fries, served sizzling hot. Life-changing.

The strangeness didn't end there. Turns out the Sizzler is a Bombay food staple, served at Kobe or Yoko, two of the city's most famous sizzler joints. And, despite coming to Bombay almost every year since I was born, I'd never seen one of these up close and personal.

I have had two in the last three days. And, when I tried to go to Kobe late Sunday night there was at least 45 people in line ahead of me. I can see why.

- Raakhee Mirchandani

Posted by David on 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

UPDATE: But does it come in yellow polka dot?


Ahiida.com

Okay, so say you're a Muslim gal who wants to go swimming in public - troubles are over, prayers have been answered, problem solved. Behold the burqini.

Yes, that's right - it's a two-piece, lycra suit (yes, a hijab head-cover included) that's full-body, of course, but light enough for swimming. Comes in "Slim Fit" and "Modest Fit," the suit is designed by a company called Ahiida, which does what they call "dynamic swimwear and sportswear for today's modern Muslim female."

The $160, Allah-approved getup is fast becoming all the rage with the faithful in Australia.

Reuters tracked down one such 22-year-old beach bunny enjoying the sands of Cronulla Beach, the scene of the 2005 racial riots, and Elle MacPherson's old stomping grounds.

The young lady, Mecca Laalaa, shelled out for the pricey burqini in order to join Australia's famous volunteer lifeguard organization, Surf Life Saving Australia, which began on Bondi Beach 100 years ago.

"Now that I have the burqini, I can actually swim," Mecca said. And there you have it.

Posted by David on 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

ON LOCATION: Survivor returns to Fiji


Nukubati Island, Fiji

Back when the world made sense, Britney Spears and K-Fed were a happy couple, and they honeymooned at Fiji's exclusive Turtle Island resort.

But some 100 some odd miles north east of Turtle Island, on Vanua Levu island, lies the much more modest town of Labasa, the setting for the 14th season (wow - already?) of Survivor (premiering Feb. 8, on CBS). "Britney and Jessica haven't discovered this part of Fiji yet," said producer Jeff Probst.

Well, they've both been to Turtle. And presumably, that's where you'd rather go. What can the next cast expect? Let's throw it to the tale of the tape:

Turtle Island: 14 spacious "bures" (traditional, two-room, thatched cottages built by Fijian craftsmen), each with handwoven 21-foot vaulted ceilings arching over wheat-colored walls and terracotta floors, from $1,632/night

Labasa: Has the only traffic lights on Vanua Levu

Turtle Island: The dining room offers freshly-caught crab or lobster, prime Australian beef, vegetables from its 3-acre organic garden -- all prepared by a renowned French chef

Labasa: Has sugar cane!

Turtle Island: Where both "Blue Lagoon" movies were filmed

Labasa: Has creatures from the blue lagoon, like poisonous reptiles!

A few nothing-super hotels can be had around Labasa, like the Takia Hotel and the Grand Eastern Hotel.

But the area isn't totally rugged. There's another Turtle Island-ish resort, right off the north coast of Vanua Levu, called Nukubati Island (above), where rates start at $680/night.

Attention cast members: If you see Jeff whizzing off in a boat, you can probably bet this is where he'll be hanging out.

Survivor [Web site]

Posted by David on 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2007

LISTS: Why you dirty little...hotel


#10: Fort Lauderdale's Sea Club, via TripAdvisor

Here's an awards ceremony you can guarantee the recipients won't show up for: Tripadvisor's readers have rated the 10 nastiest, dirtiest, filthiest hotels in the United States. You are surprised, of course, that two of the top 10 are in New York? At least we're not South Florida, which tops out the list with a whopping 4 offenders.

1. Tropicana Resort Hotel Virginia Beach
Called the most luxurious lodgings in the area by the hotel ('fraid not - there is no such thing as luxury in Virginia Beach, not even at that flashy new Hilton). TripAdvisor users heartily disagree. "Vile!" is just one way it's been described.

2. Hotel Carter New York
Jonathan Kozol's book, "Rachel and her Children", recounts the tales of children having to cross the street with buckets to to get water at a nearby bar, back in the Dirty '80's, when this was a city-subsidized welfare hotel. Today, it's supposedly a budget tourist crash pad. Just walking by the place gives us the creeps.

3. Days Inn Downtown/Port Miami
"Bad," "Terrible," "Gross," are just a few adjectives used to describe this hotel, which isn't downtown at all - as if that would help matters. No doubt more than a few cruise passengers have been suckered in by the "Port" bit.

4. Budget Inn Knoxville, Tenn.
Please. Like you didn't know what you were getting into with a Budget Inn. These are the properties that not even Travelodge or Days Inn will let in to the fold. Careful of the site - it crashed our computer. Lovely.

5. Red Carpet Inn Fort Lauderdale
These can be nice - they can also be horrible. This one, with a thrilling location right at the 95/595 cloverleaf, behind the airport, definitely falls in to the latter category.

6. New York Inn New York
An old tenement on 8th, at 47th Street. Words all but failed one reviewer, who could only shriek "IMPOSSIBLE!" Yes. Just like Hell's Kitchen residents say to themselves every morning, when waking up and remembering how much rent they pay for the same type of living arrangement.

7. Poindexter Ocean Front Resort Myrtle Beach, SC
Just check out the pictures of the roaches found in the rooms. Enough said.

8. Days Inn Lancaster, Penn.
Apparently, it's BYO Lysol at this bug preserve just north of downtown. If we may be so bold, what are people doing overnighting in Lancaster? If you must, at least they've finally got an interesting hotel - The Arts - open now.

9. Ramada Inn Miami Airport North Miami
We'd rather sleep on the dirty floors at the airport than at this nearby flop. This has to be one of the sketchiest airport districts this side of the Third World.

10. Sea Club Resort Fort Lauderdale
Not only do the bed bugs bite, the management likes to rip you off. How pleasant. They're opening luxury hotels all around this dump - The Atlantic is right next door. Then again, when it comes to expensive hotels, you can do better than the Atlantic. Come to think of it, you can do better than Fort Lauderdale, generally speaking. But that's just us.

TripAdvisor [Web site]

Posted by David on 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

SKI: Vermont gets snow

Finally, the Northeast ski season seems as if it might have actually begun, even if it meant having to take pleasure in other people's pain.

We speak of course, of the storms that brought snow to some places and deadly ice to others up north. More snow is forecasted for next week - what would be super is if it could bring with it a lower death toll than last week's mess, thanks in advance.

Just so you know, Ski Vermont reports that some resorts will be as much as 90 percent open by the weekend. Unfortunately, though, all conditions are not created equal, and you're looking at everything from ice slicks at Stratton, to packed powder at Stowe. Killington's having a rough time of it, with less than half its trails open as of today. For more information, check out the conditions page here.

New Hampshire tells a similar story, with many, many hills less than 50 percent open. Their conditions can be found here.

As for the rest of the driveable region, you're still pretty much looking at fake snow. And with that being all there is, might as well just sit it out and pray for a snowy spring.

Image: Smugglers Notch, via Ski Vermont

Posted by David on 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

STRATEGIES: Dorm life

One of the many mysteries of travel continues to be how, in the face of such astonishing exchange rates, we all still go to the United Kingdom. In fact, there's more of us going these days. According to Visit Britain, travel from the U.S. is up 6 percent over 2005. We suspect a lot of this is business travel, but who knows. They're also all, "spending's up!" (You think?)

Of course, nobody knows better than these guys - whose job it is to promote travel from our side of things - how many of us are not going, due to the fact that we feel like we're getting jacked every time we step off the plane and pay double for everything from soy lattes to a taxi ride (excuse us - taxi journey.)

Anyway, in aid of playing the role of consumer advocate, they've been putting together all sorts of value/affordable/free information. Some of it is a bit, well, obvious. (Walking around London is free? Wow! How generous of London!)

Other tidbits are more helpful, such as the Venuemasters website, a booking service for university residences all over the country, with plenty of listings. Note: This works best in summer and on academic breaks, of course. For example, you could stay in a modern hall of residence at the London School of Economics for as little as $55 for a single room.

Your best bet is to go to the individual web pages for each school, linked through the site, where availability information is easier to come by than on the main site.

Venuemasters [Site]

Posted by David on 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/BOMBAY: All about YOU

For me, the two most important things to do in Bombay are eating and shopping.

And usually, I do them both simultaneously. I meticulously plan each day around comestibles and consumerism, and generally leave town with a bigger tummy, slimmer wallet and better accessories than when I arrived.

Yesterday I hit YOU, a trendy new boutique (right) in the trendy suburb of Kemp's Corner. You specializes in what Bombay girls are calling Indo-Western designs. The idea is genius-- take luxurious, ethnic fabrics like silk, brocade and thread-work and instead of creating salwar-kameez's or saris, turn them in to mini skirts, tunics, frilly halter dresses and tube tops for the club-going set. I love the looks; they're wearable, colorful and provide just enough of exoticism to my everyday looks.

YOU has one of the best dress collections I've seen around the city. And, priced between 2500 to 3000 rupees, you could easily afford to buy more than one.

2 Cornelian, Kemps Corner, Bombay 104 AK Marg, 23826972

- Raakhee Mirchandani

Posted by David on 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2007

IT'S A BARGAIN!: Feeling Blue

We may be competing with the history books, but up in Ontario (did you see our print story today from up there?), the history books are beat: Warm temperatures during the first week of January trumped all records.

Comes word that some of the further-south snow-related businesses there are suffering - the area's largest ski resort, Blue Mountain, a two-hour drive from Toronto, has laid off 1,300 people, while occupancy rate has dropped 40%. They're swimming outdoors up there, and skiing on fake snow.

Not to dance in ski boots on anyone's grave or anything, but there's a hot rate of a rate of $153/night at the new Westin Resort right now, a hotel that we actually kind of like. That price gets you ski passes for two. You know, to ski on what little snow they have. Or, just sit in the outdoor grotto pool. That's also fun.

Ontario Tourism [Website]

Posted by David on 09:38 AM | Comments (1)

LAST MINUTE: $248 RT to St. Thomas

Perhaps today's cover story on the coolest little island down off The Yucatan got you thinking about flying south. If not, how about this: It's cold.

Don't ask us why, but there's this weirdness going on over at American, where fares to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas are going for $248 RT next week, most of them via San Juan, but with non-stops for about $100 more. You can't get a $350 RT fare to freaking Cancun in that timeslot.

Who knows how long it'll last, so if you're interested, look in to it here, right quick.

By the way, nobody says you have to stay put on St. Thomas if that bores you - in fact, if it were up to us, we'd say hop the ferry either to Tortola (pictured above) in the British Virgin Islands (not long, just an hour or so away) or St. John (closer).

Have a pleasant day.

Image via BVI

Posted by David on 09:03 AM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2007

ON LOCATION: It's all Jam & Jerusalem

Good boys and girls are not supposed to watch streaming video of film and television on the internet, but if it's on You Tube, it must be okay, no? Anyway, we recently caught a few episodes of the BBC black comedy Jam & Jerusalem, set to air on BBC America this spring as Clatterford.

This is Jennifer Saunders' latest, but any Absolutely Fabulous fans expecting an OTT flash-trash romp will be sorely disappointed. However, there's plenty to like about this slightly more subtle, but still absurd show, which is coming back for a second season.

Rather notable is the charming rural setting, which, in complete opposition to the shows that have become popular here of late (Office, AbFab, Little Britain), are almost a love letter to a more romantic England, the kind that many Americans dream of seeing when they go. Of course, the looks can't be helped - the setting is Devon, which is tough to make terribly ugly.

Much of the initial filming was done in and around the village of North Tawton (above), which is about an hour's drive inland from the more famous town of Torquay, of Fawlty Towers fame.

The village is south of Bristol and a short drive west of the M5, if you're interested. A farm stay outside the town costs about $50/night. Here, you're right near the Dartmoor National Park. More area lodging here.

Devon Tourism [Website]

Image courtesy of BBC Devon

Posted by David on 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

SUNDAY SECTIONS: Jan. 14

STILL? Another feature about Silverton, Colo. being untouched. Sort of like the one that ran in November. Sort of like the rash of Silverton stories that ran a couple of years ago (yes, we did it too.) In true Times reader fashion, this latest piece is one of the most e-mailed articles on the entire site. (If you're just tuning in, it's new to you!) [NYT]

RISE THIS, PAL: Using the old cliche headline "XYZ Rising" means you really don't read enough travel media (it's an epidemic, this headline), but but we'll always support someone supporting funky old Albuquerque, one of the crummiest/coolest cities in these fifty states [LAT]

UNLESS YOUR NAME IS CLYDE, NOBODY CARES: "My wife, Bonnie, and I," are back! (So soon?) This time, in Southern Illinois' premier canyon. That's right, they have canyons in the Midwest. The hell you know. [ChiTrib]

THANK YOU, CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: Florida is quirky. However, that quirkiness is endangered. No kidding. Tell us one more time about Cypress Gardens! [WaPo]

THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS: Checkout another one of those funny "Is Travel Ruined" pieces that British editors love to publish. Basically, travel was cool before you lot (the plebes) came along and trashed the place. Hope you're happy! [Observer]

Posted by David on 06:28 AM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

STAR TREK: She swims with the fishes

How does party girl Tara Reid unwind when on business? Answers to this pressing question (it's not what you think!) revealed in today's absolutely thrilling travel spot.


Currumbin, photography by Tourism Queensland

TARA GOES TO AUSTRALIA
What she did: Attended the Magic Millions race (horses) on the sun-kissed/baked Gold Coast. Reports included her hanging out at the Conrad Jupiters Hotel and Casino, plus swimming with dolphins at Sea World. Soundbite: "Australians are great people!" Yes, dear. Yes they are.
Good call? Well, she was hired to be there, so we'd guess it was a good call that she showed up. But her work duties didn't stop her from having a good time (did they ever), which is difficult not to do up here, where it's all surfing, sand and sunburn.
If you're going: There's a boatload of mass-market hotel junk up here, but there are also plenty of really cool places to stay. At the top of our list would be the Palazzo Versace. Nouveau fabulous paradise, this one, designed by Miss Donatella herself, is actually pretty classy. Through March, a rate of $450 includes breakfast for two, spa access and a treatment credit of $100. Now all you have to do is get there.
Info: Tourism Queensland

Posted by David on 06:46 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/BOMBAY: Frankie says relax



In Bombay the streets are lined with two types of vendors, the ones
trying to sell you clothes and handicrafts and the other selling tea,
sandwiches, chaat and a multitude of flavorful streetfood.

My favorite is the Frankie, an Indian burrito. The idea is simple enough, wrap up some spiced meat or vegetables in soft, greasy Indain bread, top it with a couple kinds of chutney (both sweet and salty) and chances are you're not going to go wrong.

Most likely you'll have to choose between chicken, lamb or potato
rolls. And, all can be served with "unda", a thin omlette that's
wrapped in as well.

But be wary, the soupy sauces and chutneys are always shady. And,
their definately made with unfiltered water, a big no-no for some
first timers who would prefer not to wash down every meal with an
Imodium cocktail.

BTW - If you're curious, you can get a version of this Indian street classic at Kati Roll in Manhattan.

- Raakhee Mirchandani

Posted by David on 06:17 AM | Comments (0)

WEEK'S END REVIEW: Jan. 12

Welcome to our Friday grope of the week in travel news that was. It's feeling a bit warm again, but if you need warmer, how about Aruba (pictured below). This pic was taken at the Marriott, looking out to sea. Today's high temperatures there? 85. Niiice.


marriott.com

TRIMMING THE FAT: Trans fats have nowhere to run/hide these days, and Royal Caribbean is the latest to announce that it will remove the offending byproduct from their recipes. The cruise line announced that the process is scheduled to begin on Mar. 1, and will be completed by the end of the year.

BUMMER: It's sad news in Boston yesterday, where 80 years of rich Ritz-Carlton history were wiped away with the delisting of the old flagship, a Beaux-Arts gem (albeit with gross '80's residential addition) facing the Public Garden. This was the first Ritz-Carlton, ever. Now it's under the auspices of India's Taj Hotels & Resorts (they who now are in charge of The Pierre). Who knows what'll happen: They've been at it in New York for a while now, and have yet to begin promised renovations. It's probably the co-op board's fault, not theirs, but still. Hmmph, we say. Hmmph.

PARTY CRASH OF THE WEEK: JetBlue's entry in to the Chicago market has sent prices tumbling to a happy place (well, happy for those of us who actually go to the Midwest). Late January fares are tracking around $119/$120 on airlines like United and American, according to Farecast. And to think you used to pay over $200 RT on a regular basis. So it isn't all bad news.

SPEAKING OF JET BLUE: Neeleman Airlines launches to SFO May 3, which is possibly a pre-emptive against Virgin America, which swears (swears!) it's launching soon, with SFO as home port, and New York as its first route. Dirrrty. (Could this be revenge on the former JetBlue staffers now in VA's employ? No. Airlines would never be that petty.) In merger news, check out the cool will-they-won't-they chart at USAT.

MARCH ON CITY HALL: Thousands of angry locals marched in New Orleans yesterday to demonstrate their lack of patience with the rising crime rate. (New Orleans: Half the population, double the murders is not the new slogan the tourist board had in mind when it started rebranding work last year.) In a refreshing turn of events, Mayor Ray Nagin wasn't allowed to speak.

DEAL OF THE WEEK: Remember Hooters Air? Obviously not, because if you did, the airline wouldn't have gone out of business due to sluggish sales. Well, its less titillatingly named replacement (Myrtle Beach Direct Air & Tours) is here, and they're giving the Newark-Myrtle Beach route a run for their money, starting Mar. 7. They're offering flights from $99 each way, with golf packages starting at $399. Book by Jan. 31, travel by Mar. 31. Visit the site or call (877) 432-DIRECT (347328).

DESTINATION OF THE WEEK: A sailing on Cunard's new Queen Victoria, which launches in December, promises the very best of the QM2 but on a (slightly) smaller scale. We're there! So is everyone else, apparently - it's being reported that the maiden voyage is already sold out.

Got anything you want included in this weekly roundup? For consideration, send mail to dlandsel@nypost.com.

Posted by David on 05:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2007

LIVEBLOG/BOMBAY: Get the door - it's Dominos


Originally uploaded by a_sorense.

Apparently, there are some people out there that think that eating American fast food while in Bombay is somewhat perverted. Some people have obviously never tasted Domino's Paneer Tikka Pizza.

Yes, Domino's. It's here. It was also high on my list when I got here this week.

Somehow, they've managed to turn sub-standard, non-interesting American foods in to delicacies. And, as a vegeterian I'm even more thrilled - due to the country's high Hindu-vegetarian population there are tons of meat-free options everywhere.

About that Paneer Tikka Pizza: It's a crust/herbs/paneer concoction that blends tomato sauce with Indian cream sauce, similar to the one you might have tasted if you've ever eaten Chicken Tikka Masala.

My carnivorous companion says she's really in to the Tandoori Chicken Pizza, a traditional pie topped with chicken grilled in an Indian clay stove and seasoned with cumin, garlic and lemon.

Hungry? Watch all the latest Dominos' India TV commercials. You've never seen so many people excited about the Liquid Cheese Burst. And yes, there is dancing.

- Raakhee Mirchandani

Posted by David on 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

STAR TREK: Dive in!

Is Bill Gates a star? Guess that depends who you're talking to - anyway, he's famous and so is Paul Allen. According to reports in the Mexican press, the two of them were spotted dropping anchor south of the border last week.


courtesy of holidaycozumel.com

COZUMEL
Who went: Bill Gates and Paul Allen, on their separate yachts, Octopus and Medusa.
What for: Locals know that Mr. Microsoft is a big fan of the diving off this pretty island (now, with 50% less vegetation thanks to Hurricane Wilma!), located just off what's known as the Riviera Maya (it's a 45 min. ferry ride from Playa del Carmen).
Good call? Cozumel has some of the best diving in the region -- there are more than a dozen rather impressive reefs, among them one of the largest in the world. Needless to say, SCUBA is big business in these parts, and Gates probably has plenty of people willing to bring him to the best stuff. Wilma gave the reefs a sound rogering, but some divers say that in some ways, things have improved as a result.
Beyond diving: Plenty of people go to Cozumel just to chill out - but don't get sucked in to the big resorts. This island's all about cheap and friendly little places to stay. A favorite among repeat visitors is the Villa Las Anclas, a tiny little joint in the town, near the dive pier and a block from the water. Rates start at $80. In high season. Nice.
Flights: Is your 414-foot yacht in the shop? No worries - it's easy to get here - fly direct from Newark on Continental for about $500 RT in February. Ferries from the mainland are an option if you want to fly to Cancun, but the best route is from Playa del Carmen, south of town, and requiring yet another transfer. Services from Cancun and environs take about three hours, but the water can be rather, well, testy. Do yourself a favor - fly in, even if it means a layover in Miami (via American) or Houston (Continental, on the days when they don't go non-stop).
Info: Cozumel CVB

Posted by David on 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

LIVEBLOG/BOMBAY: McDonald's in India is awesome

Post entertainment reporter Raakhee Mirchandani is in Bombay/Mumbai for the next two weeks - we'll be posting her reports daily (or close to it..one never knows when her connection will be up or down.)


courtesy of McDonalds India

It's hard to adopt the Supersize Me attitude towards the Golden Arches
in Bombay. They have waiter service. And people come here on dates. No kidding. Every location I've been to - at least six so far (i'm
completely addicted to the wide variety of vegetarian options) is
teeming with young 20-somethings holding hands, nestled in a booth while staring lovingly at each other over their sesame buns.

The scourge of well, everybody back home, in India, the fast-food giant serves up some of the most delicious food you can eat here. With some major Indian flair.

I'm talking Maharaja Macs, the Indian version of the Big Mac which includes a chicken patty (beef is banned at all the locations in the subcontinent) with spicy tomato ketchup, McAloo Tiki, a potato patty with chutney on a sesame burger bun, Shahi Paneer, a puff pastry shell topped with chunks of Indian cheese in a flavorful Shahi sauce.

Then, there's my favorite, the McVeggie Burger, a crispy patty with vegan mayonaise and spicy ketchup. There's even a Paneer Salsa wrap, essentially a Chipotle-style burrito and, on the side, potato wedges (fat, spicy fries).

McDonald's India [website]

- Raakhee Mirchandani

Posted by David on 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

LISTS: Zagat returns to NOLA


Rob Mangione

Tim Zagat announced that everyone should come back to New Orleans because it's the "patriotic" thing to do, so who are we to argue? (Unfortunately, though, the crime issue isn't going away - it got worse over the weekend, and even the tourist board is issuing angry statements now - murder, bad!)

But forget crime for a minute - and let's talk about eating. Which restaurants are best? According to the survey, they are:

Alberta: A post-K success story. New American/Italian on Magazine Street. A bit s'pensive.

August: Locally-focused fare in the city's fanciest room. A definite jewel in New Orleans, but not exactly groundbreaking on a national scale. What's groundbreaking though: the prices, some of the lowest for this calibre cooking we've ever seen.

Bayona: Far-reaching menu in an old creole cottage on the fringes of the Quarter. Used to be a huge star. Hasn't gotten a lot of buzz lately, though.

Brigtsen's: Frank's House o' Creole, tucked in the Riverbend district. Old School. Ehh.

Cuvée: Creole-Continental in a slick, red-brick space in the CBD. Supposed to be good but never could really be bothered. Looks like it could be anywhere. Would prefer that nearby Herbsaint had beat it out.

Stella!: We know a few people who think Scotty Boswell's Quarter joint is now the best restaurant in town, period. Clearly, plenty of survey participants agreed. Desserts are a highlight.

Oh, and if you were wondering where all the places you've actually heard of were on this list, don't worry - winner of the Most Popular category was, are you surprised, Galatoire's.

Buy the book here.

Posted by David on 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2007

STAR TREK: Seeking Sanctuary

When the going gets tough, the messed-up check in to a spa. Who's that heading in to the cabana for a little exfoliation action? Why it's...Britney?

DSCN0403

PHOENIX
Who went: Swinging single mom Britney Spears, no doubt fleeing from a recent hailstorm of bad press.
The digs: The exclusive Sanctuary in fancy Paradise Valley. With a name like Sanctuary, it could actually be a rehab clinic, but it's really just one of the Valley's top spas. She's been there before, just like Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn and other Californians too numerous to mention.
Good call? Sane people go to Phoenix only to golf or spa, and in the latter category, you can't do better. Sure ain't rehab, though - they've got a bar.
How much? Bet that Brit probably stayed in one of the villas, which rent for $3,500/night in winter. However, rates in the regular suites start at $495 midweek right now ($620 on weekends) for a Mountain Casita, which are considered a step down from the Spa Casitas, but we liked them both just fine. (The Spa ones are supposed to look more Spa-ish, and are closer to the pool.)
Flights: All sorts of airlines showing RT fares between $100-$110 (amazing) for late January travel (midweek, via Kayak). That's good, because you'll need the money you saved at the spa.
Info: Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa


THURSDAY: Bill Gates goes to Cozumel

Posted by David on 05:45 AM | Comments (1)

IT'S A BARGAIN!: Fly Midwest from $74 OW

You can get pretty much anywhere Midwest Airlines flies by showing up at LaGuardia, even if it means making a connection in Milwaukee or Kansas City.

DSCN0403

Really, though - isn't that a small price to pay for almost-first-class-style leather seating in a 2-2 configuration (plus proper meals, for a small fee?)

Thought so. Right now, they've got a sale on from $74 OW to most places they fly. Book by January 16, travel by Sept. 30. To save an additional $5, use the promo code SAVE5DOLLARS when booking at midwestairlines.com.

Posted by David on 04:24 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2007

STAR TREK: They're everywhere

Britney went to Arizona, Brad and Angelina et tribe descended on St. John, Bill Gates and Paul Allen parked their yachts in Cozumel for a dive. These are just the highlights from the week in celebrity travel that was. Want to follow in their footsteps? Through Thursday, we'll be taking a closer look at some of the most talked-about trips.

DSCN0403

ST. JOHN, USVI
Who went: Mountains of luggage, candlelit dinners and an entourage are just a few of the snippets of gossip dogging the Pitt/Jolie vacation to this lush island.
The digs: Cottage 7 at the exclusive Caneel Bay resort.
Good call? Totally their scene - no tv's, no in-room telephones, very much barefoot luxury at this Rosewood-managed resort near Cruz Bay.
How much? The Cottage runs at $1,400 a night in high season, great value considering it's a 5 bedroom residence fit for a Rockefeller. Rates at the resort run from $450 right now.
Something cheaper, maybe: Any lodging at all is tough on this island, thanks to a conservation scheme that's given much of St. John over to the National Park Service. Check out the Maho Bay Camps, with rates from $130/double for a hard-core eco experience (these guys practically pioneered the concept).
Flights: Fly in to St. Thomas and ferry across from Charlotte Amalie. Found a great fare on American in late January - just $296 nonstop. Book it.
Info: St. John tourism

Posted by David on 07:35 AM | Comments (0)

SKI: Get your snow here


whistler.com

We may be been experiencing symptoms of spring, but out west, winter is very much switched on, with reports streaming in of amazing dumps everywhere from Tahoe to Whistler. Check out the above image (Whistler-Blackcomb). Almost enough to get us on a plane to Vancouver. Last-minute fares for a long weekend in late January start at $420 on Air Canada (via Kayak).

Posted by David on 06:50 AM | Comments (0)

SUNDAY SECTIONS: Jan. 8

Big Sur in winter, without the crowds! Except that Big Sur has few places to stay and little to do, so even in the busiest months, "crowds" is relative. But we'll allow it. [NYT]

Tribune staff reporter vacations in Spain and Morocco. Sample line: "My wife, Bonnie, and I explored the ancient and contemporary sides of both countries in early November 2005." Please enjoy. [ChiTrib]

Bev takes the Ghan train through Australia. Like so many of us did when the route launched two years ago. In case you missed the 400 stories that ran, this one will do. [LAT]

We can't even begin to tell you how many ways our head is being made to hurt by reading the statement "Wellness spa treatments are a hot travel trend. But do they work? Therein lies the rub." The story's about spas that pair up medical services with traditional spa menus, but we couldn't read it because when some copy editor thinks its funny to use "there's the rub" in a deck, we run screaming for the hills. [WaPo]

Grandpa Harry crosses (not sails!) the Atlantic on the QM2. Better to check out our strategy guide for first-timers, here. [Chron]

Posted by David on 06:40 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2007

WEEK'S END REVIEW: Jan 5

You've been back to the grind since Tuesday - how's it feel? Yeah, me neither. Take your mind off of reality as we take a look at what's making news in the world of travel this week.

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THEY REALLY ARE MOCKING US AWARD: Can anyone explain why it costs now nearly $8 to ride the Tube in London now? Word came this week that Papa Ken Livingstone was raising the cost of a cash fare on the Underground and the bus network. A ride in Zone 1 (the city center) now costs £4 in cash. Unfortunately, they still haven't sorted out the concept of air circulation. Seriously. Take a cab. Or walk.

EWW, GROSS AWARD: We are positive that Darlene Davison, the spa director at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is a lovely person. In fact, come to think of it, we know this because we met her once and she made us one of those Elixr tonics that helped us cope with a four-hour drive to Orlando we had to make in time for dinner. But the news that she and her staff are now offering doggie massages to the privileged pups of hotel guests has us just a little tight in the chest. Here's how it works: For just $130 plus a $125 nonrefundable pet fee (in case Patches makes a mess, no doubt), not only does your furry friend get an hour of bliss, one of the six certified employees will demonstrate how to give Little Precious a massage that you just know they'll be begging for when you get home.

CART BEFORE THE HORSE AWARD: Can you believe that Louisiana approved a smoking ban? Sorry, will they be enforcing this new rule in buildings that do not have any windows or doors? Good news, though - straight-up bars are exempted. Which is better than you can say for Britain. There, pubs go smoke-free on July 1.

BEST SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN AWARD: Want to know where Southerners like to spend their weekends? Check out this list of Best Small Towns as awarded by the readers of Southern Living Magazine. It includes includes pretty little Beaufort, SC (a really nice Lowcountry village), Fairhope, Ala. (just there last week, great), Fredericksburg, Texas (Germans + beer = fun). The editors recommend Jonesborough, Tennessee and we agree, particularly during the National Storytelling Festival. Overall, a good list. Check 'em out.

OVERSELL OF THE WEEK: Everyone, from the Daily Telegraph in London to the staff at Orbitz is touting Jamestown, Va. as a "hot spot" for 2007, most likely because of the 400 year anniversary of the settlement. Honestly, the worst historic site we've ever been to. A couple of ruins and a bunch of historic markers is all, plus loads of school groups. Really, it's just a stop on the way to somewhere else. Unless you really get in to those historic re-enactment things. To really get in to the spirit of things-around-that-time-period, better to check out Manteo, NC, on the Outer Banks. Unlike Jamestown, there's actually a there there, and history types (and people who grew up in the south and got dragged there by their school) know that this is figured to be the site of the Lost Colony.

Posted by David on 07:34 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2007

IT'S A BARGAIN!: Scrape those nickels together

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Should you have a hankering to go to Detroit, you know, midwinter and all, Spirit Airlines is selling $0.05 one-way fares (based on a round-trip purchase, of course!). These very special prices are available on departures from LaGuardia on Feb. 21, 24, 27 and Mar. 6. Just so you know. Book by tomorrow. Details and a boatload of fine print here. And don't worry - there are plenty of places you can get to from Detroit that aren't Detroit - that's one of the airline's two hubs (for those of you keeping score at home, the other's in Fort Lauderdale, and no, it will not be possible for you to fly there for a nickel.)

Posted by David on 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

SKI: High peaks, low prices

While Tuesday's cover story may have been a bit anti-skiing, don't take that the wrong way. We're definitely lovers of the downhill thing, and to prove it, we've got a few good deals to snag now:


Killington.com

BLOWOUT AT KILLINGTON
Fun math: Arrive Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night for 3 nights of lodging and 3 days of skiing, and pay for only 2 -- your third night and day are free. Or, arrive Sunday or Monday and get 4 nights and days for the price of 3. Good through April 10, 2007 on non-holidays. Learn more here.

HUNTER LIKES THE LADIES
Humpday is Ladies Day at Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. For all you aunts, moms, sisters, daughters, spinsters -- whatever -- a mere $50 gets you a lift ticket, whatever rental equipment, group lessons and lunch. Good through March for any female 13 and older. There's also a Sunday-Thursday lodging special (whatever your gender): A condo for $89/pp/night (2 night minimum), plus lift ticket, and children 12 and younger are free. But what of weekends, you ask? A studio suite, lift tickets and breakfast for $179/pp/night. Details here.

MARK IT ON YOUR CALENDAR
There's free skiing and riding on Fridays at Plattekill Mountain when you purchase a 2-day ticket for that weekend. Enjoy lift tickets for a sawbuck on Jan. 5, 22-26, Feb. 9 and Mar. 2. And on (non-holiday) Sundays, lessons are free with purchase of ticket and rentals. Visit plattekill.com.

STOWE IT
At northern Vermont's grand dame slope, purchase a 4-day Adult or Junior/Senior lift ticket for the price of a 3-dayer when you pay with your American Express card. Check the site for blackout dates.

Posted by David on 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2007

IT'S A BARGAIN!: $999 RT to Paris (in biz!)

Originally uploaded by Elisabeth Gaj.

BREAKING: Today, the first 1,000 callers will receive $999 RT fares to Paris on the new L'Avion all-business service between Newark and Orly. Give yourself a little New Year's present, no? (Now, to find $999 on one of your many over-taxed credit cards.) Call 866-692-6759 or log on to the site.

UPDATE 10:50AM: The site is not functioning properly right now, so go ahead and call.

Posted by David on 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

4 THINGS: Alabama's Gulf Coast

This isn't really the perfect time of year to be down here - sure, it's usually reasonably warm by our standards, but what you really want is a sweltering hot day, a bucket of Abita Amber ales, that squishy white sand and a cheap condo (I like the ones out on the quieter Fort Morgan Road, past the Bon Secour refuge) to crawl back to at the end of the day when you're beat. But any time of year is a good time. Right now, here's a few things to keep you busy.


Rob Mangione

1) Chill out at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear - Hammered by Katrina (six-foot storm surge!) and only recently reopened (as good as new), this treasured haunt of many a New Orleans vacationer has a wonderful national park lodge vibe. Everyone lines up for free afternoon tea in the lobby, though it's warm enough to have a drink out on the lawn, which has great bay views. The place is gated - just say you're headed for the bar and they'll wave you through. Definitely the nicest coastal hotel between Galveston and the Florida Panhandle.


Rob Mangione

2) Drive old Highway 98 from Daphne to Point Clear - Make sure you follow the signs and stay away from the newer, less pretty highway. The old route takes you through tiny downtown Daphne, through old Montrose and in to the bustling town of Fairhope, which has a lot of great shops and is nice for a stroll. Make sure you turn right to head down to Point Clear, for the nicest stretch of the drive, past a lot of pretty homes, many of them new. You'll get serious house envy. This has to be some of the priciest real estate in Alabama, with many properties in the multi-million range.


Rob Mangione

4) Eat Royal Red Shrimp with The King - There are many places to eat seafood down here, but I'm partial to the laid-back atmosphere at King Neptune, located on Highway 98 in Gulf Shores. You can get stir-fried grouper and steamed Dungeness crab, but don't pass up the Royal Red platter, a pound for $18.99, steamed and with just a little Old Bay. Royal Reds are from the deepest gulf waters, and are sweet - I think they taste a little like lobster.


Rob Mangione

5) Have a drink in Florida - On Perdido Key, which geographically belongs to Florida but politically is partially in Alabama, stop at the Flora-Bama, a true road house-style pile of a bar that's long been a treasured destination for many a roadtripping southerner. Never mind that Ivan laid waste to the main building that used to sit near the highway - there's still cheap beer, a laid-back vibe and a great roof deck for gulf views. The bar is home to the annual Mullet Toss, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Posted by David on 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/NOLA: Alabama's Gulf Coast

One of the most compelling things about the Gulf Coast is the many personalities of its shores. Every region couldn't be more unique from the other, and one of the most compelling - and least talked about - stretches is Alabama's.


courtesy of Magnolia Springs B&B;

Forget about Alabama for a minute. This isn't the Deep South your mother warned you away from. Like Mississippi and Louisiana, this is a region with a long (we're talking first explorers in the 1500's) and colorful past, far more curious than you might expect. It's Spanish, it's French, and later it was just plain old America, but more importantly, today it's a mostly well-kept, pretty, and very popular vacation area for folks from around the region. Bonus: This is an excellent place to get your fill of fresh seafood.

What's here? Endless water (Mobile Bay is enormous), old neighborhoods in Mobile that echo those in New Orleans, charming villages like Fairhope and Magnolia Springs, plus the raucous but never scuzzy, Jersey Shore-with-better-sand/weather atmosphere down in Gulf Shores.

Bottom line: If you're anywhere near here, definitely book some time in for a day, if not a weekend. The last major hit was Hurricane Ivan (Katrina damage was minimal compared to that in MS), and everything's looking pretty good. If you're thinking of spending some time, the most hassle-free entry point from New York would be dreary Pensacola (drive faster, dear!), just about 20 minutes over the Florida state line. Numerous airlines offer one-stop, daily service.

NEXT: 5 Alabama coast must-do's

Posted by David on 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2007

UPDATE: What's what

Happy New Year, y'all - today's all about Mississippi and tomorrow's all about Alabama (with a little Florida thrown in), but last week was all about New Orleans. If you missed it, the excitement started here.

Posted by David on 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

5 THINGS: Mississippi's Gulf Coast

While it'll be a long time before the region fully bounces back, Mississippi's Gulf Coast still a great place to tool around if you're looking for an afternoon out of New Orleans. Just an hour from the French Quarter and you're in another world. One with some pretty nice/slowly recovering beaches. Here's what you do:


Rob Mangione

1) Stop at Kokopelli's truck for tamales - Mississippi loves it some hot tamales (get your background here). The truck and the cheerful gal that runs it are generally located in the parking lot of the gas station just off the I-10 at the Meche Road exit.

2) Drive down Meche Road to Highway 90 and turn left - If you saw it before, you'll be blown away (no pun intended) by what's no longer there. You'll also be surprised at how pretty it is with far fewer manmade additions to the coastline.

3) Stop for coffee at the Roasted Bean - One of the secrets of this region is this roaster/cafe located inside the Beau Rivage. You know you're not far from New Orleans when they're serving you Irish Coffee in go cups.

4) Take a peek inside Mary Mahoney's - The original building off the courtyard at this Downtown Biloxi gem dates from the 1700's, the restaurant is from the 1960's. No matter the age, it is well worth a visit. Take a look at the menu (stuffed catfish! gumbo!) and see about coming back to dinner later on. (116 Rue Magnolia).

5) Get fed at The Shed - Located on Highway 57 ("Barbecue Heaven!") outside of Ocean Springs, this place is where to come for good BBQ and baked potato salad, which is basically a baked potato with all the trimmings, but in salad form. Afterwards, head to downtown Ocean Springs and find you some sweet potato donuts at the Tato-Nut. Walk it off on a gander around this artistically-inclined town, which is doing its best to recover from the storm.

Posted by David on 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

LIVEBLOG/NOLA: The Gulf Coast

New Orleans took the water, but Mississippi's Gulf Coast took the wind - just drive down Highway 90 and marvel at the emptiness. Nearly all gone. The good (historic homes), the bad (random Olive Garden) and the ugly (gas stations, one right on the beach).


Rob Mangione

Seriously. Between Pass Christian and downtown Biloxi, you can count exactly one commercial establishment currently open for business (the little mall outside of Biloxi) and two more that will open soon (no kidding - Waffle Houses).

After the spectre that is New Orleans laid waste, it is a relief to breathe in the sea breezes up here, and bask in the hopeful vibe.

Developers are betting on the future, big time: Nearly a dozen, dare-we-say-attractive, Miami Beach-style condo towers are under construction. There are plenty more on the way, judging by the signs on the vacant lots in Gulfport and Biloxi. They all appear to be built like bunkers. On the smaller side, homes are being constructed all over the region, many in the charming style that you find on Florida's Panhandle (made famous in the Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show.)

The casinos are rebuilding, and it appears that they're making a push to go upscale. The former Grand casino - now called Island View - is on its way back in downtown Gulfport (absolutely shattered, by the way). Emeril is opening a restaurant there soon. Up the road, the Beau Rivage, the granddaddy of them all, is absolutely packed (try parking on a Friday night). The Hard Rock won't open until the summer, but it's looking fine. But more importantly, Mary Mahoney's, Biloxi's most famous - and best - restaurant (pictured above), is back. (Never mind that the rest of the historic district is seemingly toast, though it looks like some buildings are bouncing back.)

It's an odd thing: You've got bridges out, neighborhoods laid waste, favorite spots no longer there, but in the end, the area is just as captivating as it always was. That little-bit-Dixie, little-bit-debauched vibe is still very much on tap. Best of all, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if the road through that tunnel is gridlocked with developers rushing to grab cheap land. After a few days in New Orleans, there's something really comforting about the whole affair.

Gulf Coast CVB [website]

UP NEXT: 5 things to do on the Gulf Coast now

Posted by David on 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

 

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