Thursday, January 29, 2009

Phuket -- The First of Many Vacations

To properly ring in the Year of the Ox, we took a much-deserved trip to Phuket (the "h" is silent, btw). Located in southern Thailand, Phuket is the main bread-winner for Thailand thanks to tourism.

We arrived early afternoon Saturday at our hotel -- Le Meridien, which is the same chain we stayed at on our honeymoon in the Seychelles. After scarfing down some Mongolian BBQ for lunch, I headed out to the beach to soak up a little sun and atmosphere. Out of nowhere, this baby elephant comes trotting down the beach and starts frolicking in the ocean. Talk about a nice welcome!

Check out the video:

Later that night, we decided to hit Patong, the main city in Phuket. I didn't really have any expectations, so was shocked when I found myself in one of the seediest spots on earth. Patong is the crack-head version of a Spring Break town; it makes Daytona Beach seem classy. The irony is that no part of Patong feels authentically Thai. It's just wall-to-wall bars and clubs with English names and neon signs, people running around without shirts and shoes on, drinking out of bright pink, bong-like vessels.

In addition to bars there are store whose merchandise would make Christopher Street blush.

Then there are the Thai massage parlors - something Vin and I were hoping to partake in that night, but quickly ruled out. Once you see what's happening out in the open, it's frightening to think what could be taking place behind closed doors.

Worse than all of that, though, were the hookers which were everywhere and weren't shy. Even though Vin and I were walking arm in arm, they would come up and try to grab his other hand or touch his arm. We ate dinner at a place called Mr. Good's which happened to be positioned on one of the main strips and next to an alley. I cannot tell you the number of times we saw old white men (in their 60's) walking down the alley with young Thai girls. Bon apetit!

Besides the vomitous Thai trysts, there were a few other unsettling things about Mr. Goods -- and they involved the preparation of the food. The entire restaurant was open and we happened to be seated at a table right along the right-hand wall, which overlooked an alley. Right below our table in the alley was Mr Good's "refrigerator", a.k.a. a series of dirty coolers that the "chefs" would walk over to and pull fish, lettuce and other ingredients out of, before walking back through the front door to get to the kitchen.

We did enjoy our Chang, though. Thai beer isn't half bad.

As a fitting end to our memorable night in Patong, we took the most hilarious contraption back to the hotel. It was a club masquerading as a mini-truck whose stereo speakers were bigger than its wheels. The driver blasted club music as we rode back to our hotel.

Smarting from our shower-inducing night in Patong, we spent Sunday as wholesomely as possible by laying out, playing tennis and eating sushi. Oh and we got Thai massages from our hotel spa, a more sanitary option than Patong.

Monday was the day before the start of Chinese New Year, so the hotel had a traditional Chinese parade, well, parade right through breakfast.

Later that night, we were suckers and went to the Chinese New Year dinner event the hotel hosted. It was kind of like a luau, but with really bad entertainment. We each got fortune cookies at the end of the night-- mine said 2009 would make me rich; Vin's said he would find "the one" in 2009. Here's hoping that both come true!

Tuesday we took a day trip to the Phi Phi Islands (again, silent "h"s all around), which are located on the southeastern tip of Thailand. We took a boat with 20 other people and spent the day island-hopping.

First spot we stopped was a great swimming lagoon nestled in an inlet. We passed by some cave-looking spots inside of which entire villages of people live. These people were still trying to rebuild their homes which were severely damaged by the tsunami.

Then we hit the famous beach where "The Beach" -- the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. It is pretty stunning.

Then we did some snorkeling and saw the sickest coral reef ever. I can't decide if the snorkeling is better here or near the Big Island in Hawaii. Next, we stopped off at Monkey Beach, a small beach that's filled with, you guessed it, monkeys. They were really cute and clearly love getting food from the tourists (our guides told us Pepsi is their favorite), but we were warned that they bite. Needless-to-say, I stayed as far away as possible while women from other tours were walking up and petting them...

On our last day in Phuket, we hung by the pool, got facials and had one last fruity cocktail before kissing Le Meridien and Phuket good-bye.

We didn't see much evidence of the tsunami (including ghosts, thank GOD!), although our driver tells us that's because the entire place has been rebuilt. Seeing the tsunami through his eyes and stories, it's remarkable anyone made it out alive. We did, however, see these signs posted all over Phuket.

Another interesting tidbit our chatty driver shared is that it's common for Thai men to have more than one wife. He happens to have only one, but is in the minority. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a place with rampant prostitution thinks bigamy is okay...

We boarded a plane, tanned and relaxed, only to arrive in chilly Hong Kong at 1:30am, miss the shuttle and not get to bed until well after 3am. Back to reality...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mas de la Casa

I present to you the second installment of our apartment slide show; below are pictures of our guest bedroom and living room. Enjoy!

Guest Bedroom (a.k.a. where you will sleep when you visit, so just book your ticket already!)

More home-sewn goodness (these curtains hide so many things stored on our window seat!)

Yes, I've tried to capture every angle for you

The Living Room (of which not much has changed except things are now on the walls)

The OCD color-coordinated bookshelf

The Bob Guccione original was given a special spot

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Top 10 Places to See Before You Die

Warning: This posting has absolutely nothing to do with Hong Kong or being a tai tai.

With our trip to Phuket only days away, I find myself reflecting on other trips I've taken and places I've seen. While I'm by no means the most well-traveled person I know, I like to think I've seen some nice spots in my 33 years. It got me to wondering what my top 10 favorite spots in the world are -- a list that may at first seem like an easy task, but then you find yourself with 14 locations, oppressive indecision and an unclear perspective on what puts one spot over another. Following is what I landed on in no particular order, although truth be told Barcelona is my favorite city in the world. (I apologize in advance for not having pictures for every spot):

1. Barcelona, Spain -- Barcelona is like Prince Harry. It gets to be cool and have fun and not follow the rules while big brother Madrid has to function like the biggest city in Spain. Barcelona is a lot like Gaudi's architecture -- zany and mesmerizing, steeped in meaning and culture, but not taking itself too seriously. (The Park Guell is a must, btw.) I love that you can experience mountains and ocean, bustling citylife and quaint nooks -- all in the same day and within steps of each other. Barcelona makes it easy to fall in love because everything is manageable-- from the pace, which allows you to actually take in your surroundings, to the Picasso Museum, one of few in which you can see everything in a few hours. I lied, there is one thing I don't like about Barcelona; well all of Spain, really. The food. I'm not into it -- too much ham and sardines and things served cold that are supposed to be hot. I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on that front, so don't let it deter you (should you by chance be considering a trip to Barcelona!)

2. Taxco, Mexico -- Nestled in the valley of two mountains a few hours south of Mexico City is the most quaint town on earth. It also happens to be the silver capital of Mexico and you can get adorable stuff for next to nothing. More than anything, though, the architecture is what makes you a fan for life -- Taxco feels very European with all the terracotta roofs and winding roads. It's the kind of place where you come across a wedding marching through the zocalo (town square) and find authentic Mexican food at out of the way places. If you happen to stumble into this town, I highly recommend staying at the Posada La Mision.

3. Vancouver, Canada -- I'm embarrassed to say that my first visit to Vancouver was only this past summer! Man, was I missing out! Vancouver is one of the few big cities that feels clean. I don't know if it's because you're surrounded by water and mountains, but it makes you believe you'd have a different life if you lived there. Like suddenly I'd become the kind of person who kayaks in the summer and snowboards in the winter -- and always has a healthy flush in my cheeks. While the lush park system and waterfront skyline are stunning, what I like most is the clear delineation and personality of Vancouver's neighborhoods. They each have their own identity -- one section feels very TriBeca while the hood next door is dead-on SoCal.

Lunch with Julia on Granville Island

The frightening Capilano suspension bridge

4. Paris, France -- Do I even need to write anything? We spent half of our honeymoon here.

Classic Eiffel Tower shot

Vin and I getting our Parisian cafe on

5. Santa Fe, New Mexico -- You can have Florida and North Carolina; I want to retire in Santa Fe. Good art, great food, amazing weather -- what's more to love?! The Inn of the Five Graces might be the best place we've ever stayed, too.

6. La Digue, Seychelles -- The Seychelles overall was pretty amazing, if for no other reason because it's not flooded with tourists. (More than once, we had local Seychellois ask if we were British!) While Mahe (the main island) and Praslin were nice, La Digue was special. No cars are allowed on the island so everyone walks, bikes or takes an ox cart. In one afternoon, we biked through a turtle sactuary where some of the turtles were hundreds of years old, had a local man cut a coconut out of a tree with a machete so that we could drink the milk (for free and completely unsolicited by us!) and then stumbled out to some of the most mind-altering ocean vistas I've ever seen. This place looks like the land before time.

7. North Fork, Long Island -- Anyone who hears Long Island and thinks of Joey Buttafucco or "Lawn-Guyland" accents needs to visit the North Fork. You will forget where you are -- and certainly won't find a fake nail or gross accent in sight. It's farms, vegetable stands and vineyards for miles. Whereas some of Napa has gotten hoity-toity, the vibe here is relaxed with people setting out their picnics, picking pumpkins and drinking lots of wine! In another life, I'd like to renovate an old farmhouse and live here.

8. London, England -- Though I'd been to London for work a few times, they were just quick in-and-out trips that didn't allow me to see the city. Then we went and visited the Mettlers in June one year and it was just spectacular. Maybe it's because the whole city was bathed in sunlight (they assured us that the 80 degree weather was a rarity), but it felt like we were in a new, shiny-happy-people version of New York City. Laying in the park, picnicing in the Mettler's neighborhood garden, grabbing a Pims in a pub, hitting the famous outdoor market whose name escapes me, doing Sunday brunch in Notting Hill -- all of it was perfect. The accents were the proverbial cherry on top.

Picturesque Notting Hill

At the pub with the Mettlers

Having a Pims

9. Italy -- I refuse to pick a favorite in Italy. Can't do it. My first trip there I fell in love with Florence and was lukewarm about Rome. My second trip there, I found Rome exciting and Florence a bit dull. I can't decide whether I like Capri, Positano or Amalfi more. Having famiy in Bari and Lecce doesn't necessarily put them on top. What I can do is pinpoint the next places I want to explore: Sicily, Sardinia, Italian Riviera (Portofino, Cinqueterre), Lake Como, Venice, Sardinia...

Arriving in Amalfi

Eating (Italy's national pastime) with the family in Bari

Florence's Duomo -- craftsmanship at its most intricate

Capri's infamous Il Fariglioni

Piazza Navona -- my favorite spot in Rome

10. Gramercy Park, New York City -- It's where I lived by myself for the first and only time; where I met my husband; where I adopted Victor and where I had a key to one of the most exclusive spots in the city. But those aren't the reasons I love it. After living in various neighborhoods throughout New York for 11 years, I still dream about Gramercy. Its central yet almost hidden location (close enough to hit the Union Square Farmer's Market and shops in Flat Iron, but designed so that no main roads cut through it) and small-town feel (you see the same folks in 71 Irving every day) make its residents feel special. While the rest of the city has morphed from obscure to emerging to white-hot-trendy to oh-so-over (hello SoHo!), Gramercy Park hasn't changed one iota.

My old place (decorated for Victor's birthday party!)

Honorable Mentions include: Maui, Hawaii; Santorini, Greece; Key West, Florida; Aspen, Colorado and Mahe, Seychelles

Places I'll Never Go Again include: Athens, Greece; Big Island, Hawaii; Madrid, Spain

I probably went into a little too much detail on some of these -- guess it's true all bloggers like to hear themselves talk!, so apologies if you fell asleep or wanted to rip your eyeballs out. One of the big reasons I decided to make my list public (in addiiton to the aforementioned point!) is that I want to knowwhat everyone else's top 10 list would be. If you don't mind sharing, give me your top 10 list in the "Comments" section. Or you can email it to me separately.

Is it a bad sign?

...when your vacuum cleaner has more dust and dirt on it than the floor? WTF?!


We painted our third and final room on Sunday -- thank GOD -- and the handyman hung everything this afternoon, which means (drum roll please) the apartment is officially finished! It's been equal parts hard work and fun, so we're glad to be able to finally show it off. If I had any energy left, I think I'd hear angels singing!

Our bedroom:

Mom and I sewed the curtains with fabric from Ikea. (Ikea has some to-die-for fabric!)

Cannot wait to climb into this tonight!

More of the curtains (need to find a way to cover old curtains behind new ones; had to keep them because they have the all-important black-out fabric built into them.)

The view from our bedroom

The office:

Anyone recognize the photo collage from our UWS bathroom?!

These curtains were here when we moved in; aren't they killer?!

Dining Room:

Our ever-diminishing wine collection (and my lame attempt at dressing up the stupid intercom system/phone that buzzes people in)

The view when you walk in our front door (and one of my favorite paintings)

In an effort to really build anticipation (and not because the sheets to our guest bed are still in the washer), I'll be posting pix of the guest bedroom and living room tomorrow. Stay tuned!