Friday, November 1, 2013

I GO: Leaf Peeping in New Hampshire

A couple weeks ago, L and I roadtripped our way to New Hampshire for a quick bout of leaf peeping. For those of you who aren't familiar with the activity, rest assured you're in the majority and get ready for a mini vocabulary lesson. Leaf peeping (verb):  the act of viewing and photographing the changing of the leaves. The other-worldly, euphoria-inducing changing of the leaves. I've said it a million times before: autumn is hands-down my favorite time of year. The crisp air, the perfect temperature for outfit selection (face it, in the summer you just want to be naked and in winter survival means looking like the Michelin man), and of course the arrival of fall-tinted foliage.

In New Hampshire, the vibrant greens melt into waves of warm neon. So famous is this transition, leaf peeping is a major revenue flow for the state. I used the official New Hampshire tourism website's foliage tracker to figure out the optimal time to visit, the optimal location to visit (Keene in the Monadnock region), and even the path to take once in Keene. The only thing the site's missing: a warning about those pesky mosquitoes! L and I got bitten alive strolling down our picturesque wooded path. Not quite sure what strain they were, but they even managed to bite me through my pants! Fortunately, I'm just as persistent as those buggers, and we managed to walk away with a reel of stunning souvenirs from our brisk leaf peeping voyage. Totally worth each and every bite.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I GO: Miami Day 3 (Los Pinarenos Fruteria)

Before hopping on a plane back to NYC, J and I decided to grab a light breakfast. We wanted to squeeze in a visit to Little Havana so we decided to drop by Los Pinarenos Fruteria and kill two birds with one cab ride. Los Pinarenos Fruteria is an open-air fruit stand, one that has proudly preserved its authenticity for decades. Even if you're strangely averse to fruits, a visit is worth it for the cast of characters buzzing around the spot. Upon pulling up to the entrance, a smiling toothless stranger immediately motioned for us to come to shop's back courtyard. We were to meet the store's mascot: an adorable black-and-white hunker of a pig (whose name evades me right now and we will thus call Chubby). Our stranger motioned commanded Chubby to lie down and motioned for us to stroke Chubby's engorged flank. Who knew pigs could serve as alternatives to the common household puppy? 

After wrapping up our visit with Chubby, we made our way back into the store to peruse the wares and decide on what fruits we wanted in our fruit platter. We decided on a medley of tropical fruits: starfruit, banana, mango, pineapple, and mamey, the national fruit of Cuba. Prior to this visit, I'd never tried mamey before. Its exterior kind of looks like a wooden mango and its interior looks and tastes like a sweet potato. Extremely delicious but also extremely filling! As we munched our way through our fruit platter, the owner spun yarns about the store's history- how he inherited it from his parents and how they'd never spent more than a 1 cent on marketing, relying wholly instead on word-of-mouth advertising. Which is amazing. Really. Mom-and-pop stores are slowly fading into the past, but this little underdog is resiliently withstanding the tide. 

Having scrapped our fruit platter clean, we grabbed our sugarcane juices and hailed a cab back to the airport. Miami round 1: a complete and utter success. Enjoy the pictures after the jump!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I EAT: Puerto Sagua, Miami

The plan had been to venture into Little Havana for a traditional Cuban meal, but when we heard about Puerto Sagua- a hole-in-the-wall, authentically Cuban restaurant just down the street on Collins Avenue- we decided to traipse down there instead. It was the perfect no-fuss dinner to follow up our extravagant dinner at Barton G's the night before. No frills, no extravagant bill at the end. Just some hearty, home-cooked Cuban food. 

Read more after the jump!

Friday, October 11, 2013

I GO: Miami Day 2 (Key Biscayne)

On our second day in Miami, J and I wanted to hit the beach. But in hopes of avoiding the Labor Day weekend horde, J and I decided to make the trek to Key Biscayne's Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park rather than trot the 10 steps out of our hotel's front door. Full disclosure: when I say it was a trek, it really was one. Google Maps may say it's just a 25 minute drive, but for all of you who (like us) don't have access to a car in Miami, that means 2 buses (or a pricy cab ride) and a hefty hike. But all that said and done, the journey was well worth it! There was only a light sprinkling of other beachgoers, and we managed to sneak ourselves the perfect water-side perch. J grabbed us some watermelon juices from the nearby cafe, and we hunkered down for a day of lounging. 

After waking from our cozy naps, we sauntered over to the kayak rental kiosk and geared up for a quick jaunt into the great big blue. The ocean simultaneously amazes and terrifies me. When I was younger I was obsessed with Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I wanted to dive into unexplored depths, charting my way across the ocean floor, singing all the way. But the reality of underwater life is obviously quite different from a Disney movie. Underneath the surface, mankind's laws and infrastructure are irrelevant. Despite all of humanity's advancements, the ocean remains untamed. It's a humbling thought but also one that makes me think Sebastian might have had a point after all when he sang about life being breezier under the sea. Kayak parked, sun blazing, feet dangling into the cool water, it was hard to not leave all one's worries on the shore and slip into a warm, hazy state of content.

Tuckered out from our kayak ride (and attempting to locate the pelican we spotted diving into the abyss),  J and I decided to grab lunch at the cafe before showering off and heading home. Given Miami's access to prime fresh seafood, I went for the fried red snapper with sweet plantains. The snapper was cooked perfectly, and the plantains were among the best I've ever had. To this day, I sincerely regret not having packed a doggy bag full of them. If you're planning a trip to Miami and trying to decide which beach to frequent, I strongly recommend slipping in a visit to Key Biscayne. You can read about it and all of Miami's other beaches here.

Enjoy the pictures after the jump!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I GO: Miami Day 1 (Ocean Drive Night Stroll)

After gorging ourselves at Barton G, J and I decided to shake our sluggish stupor off by going for a nighttime stroll down Ocean Drive. I already shared some shots of Miami's iconic Art Deco style (think never-ending rows of white lego buildings), but at night, the hotels along Ocean Drive illuminate their neon signs, transforming their facades beyond recognition. We started at the intersection of Ocean Drive and 5th Street and walked north until we hit 17th Street, using this guide for some historical/architectural context. The entire walk is worth it if only so you can maximize the people-watching hilarity, but if you're feeling lazy, just scan for the highlights.

At the 8th Street intersection is the Colony Hotel, which in my opinion, is the epitome of Miami's "neon Art Deco" style. It looks straight out of Miami Vice! Around 8th Street, head away from the hotels towards the water to find the most beautiful sand castle EVER. Not sure if the builder erects the same castle every night, but the one we saw was a masterpiece. Complete with turrets and pirate ships and studded with tealights. The builder himself is quite the character and will entertain you with all sorts of sandcastle veteran yarns. Around 11th Street is Gianni Versace's former house. Yes, the one he was shot on the steps of. The residence is chained off, but the incredibly ornate front gate is still worth a look. And lastly, far up on the north end of Ocean Drive is the Betsy Hotel. For lack of a better word, the Betsy Hotel is a babe, elegantly distinct from the rest of the street's residents. Its wooden white exterior reminds me of an ol' Southern plantation house, and the marble lobby- decorated with husky leather couches and chess sets- feel ripped straight out of an English Lord's reading room. A perfectly chic oasis amidst the neon storm that is Ocean Drive and the perfect place to end one's stroll.

Enjoy the pictures after the jump!

Monday, September 30, 2013

I EAT: Barton G, Miami

After a day of speeding through swamp water in search of alligators, J and I were ready to slink into a luxurious dinner. On a whim we decided upon Barton G the Restaurant, Barton G. Weiss's first restaurant. I personally don't appreciate when experimentation with food forms overpowers the substance of the dish, but Barton G magically hits the sweet spot between the two. Dinner was theatrical, charming, and playful without sacrificing taste.

Upon pulling up to the restaurant, J and I were slightly confused; the restaurant seems to be nestled in the heart of a sleepy residential neighborhood. But looking back, the juxtaposition only adds to its charm. One slips out of the mundane darkness and into an oasis of soft mood lighting and culinary play. After scrolling our way through the iPad menu, J and I decided to order a spattering of appetizers to share. In order: Crispy Voodoo Shrimp Rolls, The Upper Crustacean, Raging Risotto, and Boarnie Madoff's Bucket of Bones. For dessert, the Big Top Cotton Candy. The result? One of the most well-earned food comas I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

More on each after the jump!

Friday, September 27, 2013

I GO: Miami Day 1 (Gator Hunting in the Everglades)

Over Labor Day weekend, my best friend/soul sister J and I decided to sneak away from New York for a cheeky girls' trip to Miami. No boys, no toys (I didn't even bring my DSLR! Just my nifty little Sony RX100 point-and-shoot). Neither of us had ever visited the city before, so we were keen to cram as much adventuring as possible into our short time there. We grabbed an early morning flight and checked into our hotel with plenty of time to spare before our Everglades tour pick-up. To while the time away, we decided to go for a quick stroll. Collins Avenue looks like a postcard: just blocks and blocks of white geometric buildings set against a startlingly blue sky. After raiding the nearest drugstore for sunblock, mosquito repellent, and matching floppy hats, we backtracked for a quick snooze in the shade. 

Come early afternoon, we were refreshed and ready to set off in search of alligators! Unfortunately, as our bus-driver from Gator Park Airboat Tours sped away from Miami Beach, we could see that we were driving straight into ominously grey rainclouds. As a result of the rain and humid heat, we only managed to catch quick glimpses of two alligators. That aside, the airboat ride was exhilarating! They may not look like speedsters, but even laden with a full load of passengers, they zip through the swampy waters and cut straight through the dense wads of reeds. Airboat racing is even a sport. After our ride, we settled into an open hut for the "wildlife show". The handler trotted out a baby, toddler-aged, and adult alligator, the last of which he wrestled with surprising ease. Crocodile dundee, Florida style. To wrap up our visit to Gator Park, we ordered a to-go box of fried alligator tail. The deep-fried batter casing successfully masks any distinguishing characteristics of the meat, but if I had to describe the taste, I'd have to jump on the "it tastes like chicken" bandwagon. Only you have to go quite a-ways to get it, and it costs twice as much as Chicken McNuggets do.

Enjoy the pictures after the jump!

P.S. If you're looking for a centrally-located but affordable hotel in Miami Beach, I can't recommend the Dorchester enough. Compared to some of the other boutique hotels in the area, the premises are much more well-maintained. Most importantly, the staff is lovely; without prompting, J and I were upgraded to a private suite, complete with a kitchen and separate living room. Not too shabby!


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