A Travellerspoint blog

A Weekend in East Hampton: Fancy That

One of the things I enjoy most about writing a travel blog is all the interesting people I've met as a result. Well, that and all the free food.

And so, when I received an email from Carol -- the manager and resident den mother at East Hampton's posh Huntting Inn and the former co-owner of Mango's Seaside Grill in Anguilla -- inviting me and Angel to be her guests at the Huntting Inn for a weekend, I jumped at the chance. Because what could I possibly enjoy more than some lively conversation about two of my favorite places?

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Well, anyway.

East Hampton is believed to be the first English settlement in the state of New York, built on land purchased from the Montaukett Indians in 1639. Through strict zoning and preservation laws, the town retains much of its colonial history today.

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It also maintains a little bit of its natural beauty, too.

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The Huntting Inn is the quintessential country inn and the place to stay in East Hampton.

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Occupying a prime spot on the village's chi-chi Main Street, the Inn was built in 1699 for the second Presbyterian minister of East Hampton, Reverend Nathaniel Huntting, who raised 10 children there with his wife Mary, who presumably died of exhaustion.

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Today, the Inn has the comfortable, worn-in feel of your grandma's country house, with beach chairs and umbrellas lining the halls, magazines and restaurant menus piled high near the cozy couches and on the covered porches, and board games resting on the hearth of the centuries-old stone fireplace, awaiting the occasional rainy day.

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A bright breakfast room serves up fruit, pastries, and fresh-squeezed juices in the morning.

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Outside, the manicured grounds are dotted with inviting benches and other places to enjoy the sunshine.

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I just wish someone had told us to bring the Rolls or the Bentley.

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The rooms are spacious, done up in soothing shades of sea and sky and sand, with large ensuite baths and plenty of thoughtful touches, like fresh-cut flowers from the Inn's garden, and dark-colored towels for removing makeup.

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We typically drive out to the Hamptons after work on Thursday or Friday and return to the city late on Sunday, so the drive takes about an hour and a half each way. But on this particular weekend we departed mid-afternoon, and apparently so did all eight million people who live in this city, since the normally 90-minute drive took a whopping 240 minutes. I'm no mathematician, but that's 15 miles an hour . . . for FOUR HOURS.

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If that isn't enough to drive you to drink, I don't know what is. And so you can probably understand why we needed to make a pit stop in Bridgehampton before continuing on at our snails-are-passing-us pace.

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One of our year-round favorites, Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton boasts 100-year-old tin ceilings, classic white subway tile, and on-trend "bottled" cocktails, which allow the mixologist to fine-tune a particular concoction and bottle it, ensuring that it's perfect every time.

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Though a lemongrass-infused Cosmo with house-made cranberry syrup is pretty much perfect all the time.

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Of course, you couldn't really blame anyone for wanting to be in the Hamptons that weekend. It was late September, that heavenly sliver of time between summer and fall when the ocean is at its warmest, temperatures hover in the low 80s, and the sky turns a deep cobalt blue. Late-harvest tomatoes compete with pumpkins and squash for bin space at the farm stands, red and gold mums start popping up in window boxes, and in the villages, shop windows gradually transition from sundresses and espadrilles to chunky sweaters and cashmere wraps.

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After checking in with Carol and settling in to our room, it was soon time for dinner, so we made the short walk down Main Street to the 1770 House.

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The 1770 House actually dates back to 1663, when it was built as a private home; over 100 years later, in 1770, it was converted to an inn. Today, the inn is known for its famous "Tavern Meatloaf," which East Hampton's Ina Garten, also known as the Food Network's Barefoot Contessa, has been raving about on TV for almost as long as I've been raving about cheeseburgers on this blog.

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But this isn't just any pub grub, and so the Tavern -- located, speakeasy-style, down a dimly-lit, narrow flight of stairs -- is guarded by a gate, and an always-full reservations book.

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Seating is in a cozy, low-ceilinged room with comfy, pillow-strewn banquettes.

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We started off with a salad of local heirloom tomatoes, then moved on to the main event -- the famous meatloaf with garlic sauce for me, and the succulent short ribs for Angel, which you know are good when they can distract me from a meatloaf.

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For dessert, we couldn't resist the local berry crumble.

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The next morning we decided to walk off last night's meaty excesses along the East Hampton Village Nature Trail, which is just steps from the Inn.

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The Nature Trail ended not far from the Huntting Inn, but the day was so gorgeous that we decided to keep walking, past famed Further Lane and the other wide, tree-lined streets near the beach.

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Of course, when you're part of the one percent, massive hedges aren't enough; you're going to need a guard dog, too.

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But not just any dog.

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Or even just any dog.

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We finished our walk by making a wide loop toward the ocean.

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East Hampton: Where the huge mailboxes are sized proportionately to the bills deposited into them.

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We'd worked up quite an appetite after all that walking and stalking, so we made the short walk over to Cittanuova in the village for lunch. Blending sleek European style with a beachy Hamptons vibe, Cittanuova's glass pocket doors merge the airy indoor space with the shaded garden out back.

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We settled in at a cozy table near the soothing fountain, then tucked into two orders of the panzanella, which turned out to be the best I've ever had . . . including the ones I've had in Tuscany.

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Then it was on to a simple but satisfying spaghetti with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and basil for me, and the panini with prosciutto San Daniele, stracchino cheese, arugula, tomato, and white truffle oil for the Ange.

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After lunch we milled around the village for a bit, taking in the sights.

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By late afternoon the sun was hot and our wallets were empty, so we decided to stop by Main Beach for a bit, using the beach passes provided by the Inn.

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While there are an unlimited number of beach passes for those lucky enough to own property in East Hampton, for non-residents -- those who can bear to part with upwards of $900,000 to rent a house for the summer -- the town issues only 2,900 coveted permits each season. And so stories of bribery, threats, tears, and extortion abound, involving everyone from federal judges and Congressmen to actors and hedge-fund moguls.

Which is why, for just the briefest of moments, I giddily contemplated auctioning that beach pass on eBay.

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The ocean breeze made us thirsty, so we headed off to Bay Kitchen Bar, which overlooks East Hampton's Three Mile Harbor.

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I'd heard that Bay Kitchen Bar had added juleps to their cocktail list, so we snagged two water-view seats on the upper level patio and ordered up a Blackberry Julep with muddled mint, blackberries, bourbon, agave, and lime, and a Root Beer Float Julep with vanilla vodka, root beer, bourbon, and vanilla extract.

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We moved down to the Adirondacks on the lawn as the sun began to go down.

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There, we were joined by this friendly speckled chicken? miniature turkey? No wonder the locals call us citiots.

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That evening we had reservations to take Carol to dinner at the Huntting Inn's Palm steakhouse.

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The place was packed, and even with all of Carol's pull, we still ended up waiting over an hour for our table to be ready.

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That turned out to be a lucky break, as it gave us plenty of time for chatting and laughing and wine-drinking, and although I had brought my camera along, I respected our lovely hostess's protestations that she was feeling somewhat camera-shy.

What I can tell you is that Carol has lived enough life for at least two or three people, and she recounted much of it in hilarious detail, regaling us with stories of her former life as a nun, her years of being relentlessly pursued by her eventual ex-husband, the late Mango Dave, and her stint operating one of Anguilla's best-loved restaurants, Mango's (including through Hurricane Luis, which destroyed the restaurant shortly after it opened).

Finally, our table was ready, and we wasted no time in ordering up a feast of steakhouse favorites: Fried calamari, veal parmigiana, filet Oscar, macaroni & cheese, creamed spinach, and cheesecake for dessert.

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Best of all, we didn't have far to go to crawl into bed afterwards.

The next morning we stopped by Round Swamp Farm, which you might recognize as the market where celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Eric Ripert, and Geoffrey Zakarian like to get their produce when they're out east.

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But of course I wasn't there for the celebrities, and I definitely wasn't there for the veggies. I was there for the fried chicken.

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And maybe some other stuff, too.

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Soon it was time for lunch, and again the day's weather dictated that we spend it outside. So we decided to make the short hop over to Montauk for lunch at the Montauket.

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Perched high on a bluff overlooking Fort Pond Bay, the Montauket is one of the last holdouts of the old fishing-village era of Montauk, which is unfortunately being rapidly replaced by a trendy young crowd looking to expand ever eastward from the Hamptons. (One can only hope that they eventually keep going and fall into the ocean end up on Block Island.)

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The Montauket's vibe and décor are genuinely old-school, which provides a nice change from all the hipster spots in Montauk that have spent thousands of dollars and hired teams of architects, designers, and consultants in an attempt to look . . . genuinely old-school. But despite those efforts, I doubt any of them have one of these:

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Lunch was good, but it couldn't compete with the fantastic view.

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After lunch we headed over to one of my favorite spots to while away a sunny afternoon, the Montauk Yacht Club on Star Island.

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Originally built in 1929, MYC underwent an extensive renovation a few years ago and now boasts everything from a surf camp and sailing lessons to nightly bonfires and S'mores during the summer. Done up in spiffy navy and white for the boating set, it's the perfect spot to take in the view while enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine.

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Or some truffle fries covered in flurry of Parmigiano-Reggiano slivers.

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The afternoon passed in a happy haze of sun and sea.

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Before we knew it, it was time to head over to Montauk Harbor, where we planned to take a private sunset cruise.

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The captain had told us we could bring our own beverages, so we made a pit stop at Lynn's Hula Hut for a couple of Hula Juices to bring aboard, then grabbed some sweatshirts from the stash we keep in the trunk, just in case. (It's the Hamptons: You never know when you might find yourself at an evening clam bake, a bonfire on the beach, or frozen out by an air conditioner set to 60 degrees because some socialite showed up to dinner in a fur . . . in July).

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Montauk Harbor is actually the northern part of Lake Montauk; a cut allows boaters to access Block Island Sound and, beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean.

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Although it was early evening when we set off, the cloud-speckled sky was already giving us an inkling that that night's sunset was going to be a good one.

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As the sky turned a rosy pink, we plied the waters of Montauk Harbor and were treated to the sight of the fishing boats returning with the day's catch.

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And as predicted, the sunset was spectacular.

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Soon it was time to head home, but not before a pit stop at one of our favorite Mexican dives, La Superica in Sag Harbor.

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Of course, because this is the Hamptons, that dive has a water view and plays host to sailors from the Breakwater Yacht Club after their Wednesday night races, but you know us: We're not too picky.

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Besides, is there any better way to end the weekend than with frozen margaritas and overflowing platters of enchiladas?

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I don't think so, either.

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Want more Hamptons? Click here for my A to Z rundown of everything to gobble, guzzle, and gaze at on my favorite little strip of sand!

Posted by TraceyG 10:44 Archived in USA Tagged montauk hamptons sag_harbor east_hampton cittanuova 1770_house bay_kitchen_bar the_palm huntting_inn montauket round_swamp_farm la_superica Comments (9)

March Madness, Part 1: Miami Vice(s)

It was supposed to be five days of rest, relaxation, and respite from that annual 30-day preview of hell, also known as March. We'd hop a quick, 2.5 hour flight to Miami, then spend our days lounging poolside with mojitos and chilled ceviche. Come evening, we'd enjoy a round of cocktails on a swanky rooftop overlooking the city, dine on Floribbean cuisine in trendy South Beach, then retire to our Art Deco-inspired bungalow for a night swim in our private pool. Sip, swim, rinse, repeat.

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It didn't quite turn out that way.

First, our friends Ellen and Brian got wind of our plans, and though we were thrilled and flattered that they were going to fly in from California to join us for a few days, we were not expecting them to do so on such short notice. ("Short notice" to people like me and Angel being anything less than a year.) And so plans were rearranged, reservations were revised, and nightclubs somehow found their way onto the agenda. Plans to sleep in were replaced with plans to sleep when we were dead.

Second, there was the city of Miami itself, which I hadn't properly visited since the turn of the Millennium. True to its nickname as the "Manhattan of the South," the city was a maddening mix of the gorgeous and the gaudy, the sophisticated and the seedy, the effortless and the exhausting. By the end of our trip I couldn't decide whether to put a down payment on a beachfront condo or punch the mayor in the gut.

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And I might have leaned toward the former, but for the third unexpected hitch in our plans: ULTRA.

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Have you heard of this thing? If, like me, you last set foot in a nightclub when Bill Clinton was still in office, you can be forgiven if the answer is no. The Ultra Music Festival, as it's formally known, is a three-day-long EDM bacchanal during which tens of thousands of twenty-somethings converge on the city to hear a bunch of DJs with names like Knife Party, Carnage, Jackal, and Destroid. (Thank god Laidback Luke and Marshmello were there to chill things out.)

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(By the way, did you have to look up what EDM stands for? If you thought it was some type of defibrillator that you might need when all those flashing lights cause you to have a seizure, then we are on the same page.)

Ultra is how I discovered that I am not the type of person who parties at a velvet-rope nightclub until 5am. I am that person's mother. But this is Miami, where the clubs don't get interesting until well past midnight and the pool parties go until 8 the next morning. And so we did our best to adapt to the half-naked hordes and people with tattoos. . . on their faces.

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But before we could immerse ourselves into the throbbing throngs of Ultra-goers, we had to pick up our rental car. Incredulous that we'd shown up even after learning that our visit would coincide with Ultra, the rental agent blurted out, "But this is the worst weekend . . . OF ALL TIME!!!" The "for old people like you" at the end of that sentence was implied, or at least I thought it was . . . until the agent "upgraded" us to that sexy Buick Lacrosse.

Anyway.

We jumped in our hot ride and made a beeline for Sunset Place, an outdoor mall in South Miami. That neighborhood is home to several local universities, and therefore where I knew I'd find the mecca for stoned college students everywhere: the Mellow Mushroom.

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It also happens to be the mecca for people who love pizza as much as I do, which is to say, enough to break down this door if I have to.

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Then again, I think we all know what my first love is. Even Mellow Mushroom knows it.

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Still, coming in second-place on my list of foods that I love more than Angel is not too shabby.

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Like all Mellow Mushroom locations, the one in South Miami is groovy and psychedelic.

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They even had green beer in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Either that, or the mushrooms on Angel's Holy Shiitake pie started to kick in.

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I went with a simple pepperoni pie, since just the thought of pizza makes me crazy enough already.

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After lunch we headed north to Miami Shores, a pretty, tree-lined enclave that we picked for its proximity to Wynwood, Brickell, and other neighborhoods we planned to explore.

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You know you're in a fancy zip code when instead of stray cats, stray peacocks roam the streets.

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Among all this ostentatious opulence, we'd rented a cozy bungalow with a carport and a private pool, both of which were life-savers on a weekend where $50 cash-only valets, $500-a-lounger pool parties, and reservation-only rooftops were the norm.

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That evening we decided to go retro for Happy Hour at the 1950s-era Vagabond Motel in Miami's hip MiMo district, an acronym for Miami Modern -- or, in the case of the Vagabond, Midcentury Modern.

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The bartenders take their mojitos seriously here, and I take my hot bartenders seriously, so it was a win-win.

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Plus there were cushy day beds for post-mojito napping.

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And little red wagons to haul around your beach towels or sunscreen or vodka.

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And thrones! With their own ottoman. Yessss.

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As the sun began to set, we sunk deeper into our daybeds and found ourselves zoning out to the house music provided by the DJ. Yes, actual music, as opposed to the Morse Code we'd been hearing elsewhere.

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Indeed, we were having such a good time at the Vagabond that we repeatedly pushed back our dinner reservations at nearby Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill by 15-minute increments, ultimately arriving about 10 minutes late for our "current" reservation, and over an hour past our original one.

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But we found everyone in Miami to be so friendly and accommodating that, when we finally showed up and had to wait approximately three minutes to be seated, the hostess apologized to us for the wait. (In New York they would just stab you in the neck with a rusty fork before informing you that the next available table is at 4:30pm three Tuesdays from now.)

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As it turns out, though, Sugarcane would have been worth any wait. From the creative cocktails (the Tobacco Rum Old Fashioned with homemade cigar bitters was a standout, as was the Louisiana Purchase, made with Four Roses bourbon, vanilla syrup, Scrappy’s chocolate bitters, and a local brown ale) to the scallop crudo with black truffle, lime, and jalapeno, to the American Wagyu sliders topped with a Japanese-inspired tonkatsu sauce and fried quail eggs, everything we ordered was absolutely fantastic, and served quickly and with a smile, even though the place was packed.

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As a fitting end to our first full day in Miami, we arrived back at the bungalow full of burgers and bourbon and ready for a night swim . . . in our flamingo-pink pool.

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The next day we had lunch reservations at one of the city's Art Deco landmarks, The Raleigh in South Beach.

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No, we didn't bike there, but we should have. It really is the worst weekend of all time when you have to beg some guy in an empty, overgrown lot to let you park your car for 1.5 hours for anything less than a Benjamin.

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We'd planned to spend the day sipping cocktails at the Raleigh's chic pool, but thanks to Ultra, the loungers that usually rent for $25 a day were suddenly $250, and accompanied by an all-day lineup of DJs playing a bunch of songs that sounded like R2D2 when he's trying to tell C3PO something really important.

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Still, the food at the Raleigh, like everywhere else we went in Miami, was excellent, and the gorgeous garden was right up my alley.

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Plus, more thrones. I'm really liking this whole Tropical Westeros thing Miami's got going on.

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Lunch started off with a couple of cocktails: A hashtagged affair called the #belegendary, with Grey Goose Le Melon, St. Germaine, Champagne, and fresh cantaloupe, and the Rosey Ginger, made with vodka, rosemary sugar, ginger beer, fresh grapefruit, and lime.

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We then moved on to the panzanella salad for me, the blackened mahi sandwich with guacamole for Angel, and the absolute best truffle fries I've ever had, which were supposed to be for both of us, but you already know how that story goes.

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After lunch we set off for the Savoy Hotel, which has a lovely beachfront pool, a small bar that serves tasty frozen drinks, and music set at a level for anyone over 40 who doesn't yet need a hearing aid. Best of all, we could park easily nearby without auctioning off one of our kidneys.

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That evening we headed down to Brickell, with plans to have cocktails at the rooftop pool bar at the Viceroy.

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Serving as the financial district of Miami, we felt right at home in Brickell amid the skyscrapers and taxicabs.

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When we pulled up at the Viceroy, however, a valet once again tried to extort $50 from us to park our car for an hour. But this time when we balked, he admitted, "Yeah, I wouldn't do it, either!" and directed us around the corner to the cheap-by-comparison metered parking.

Parking woes aside, the view from the 15th floor pool deck was lovely, and there were lots of comfy seating options around, and even in, the pool.

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We settled on a rail-side table and ordered up a couple of cocktails.

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As day drew to a close, the city lit up, making a good view even better.

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Back inside, we took in the Alice-in-Wonderland décor that the Viceroy hotels are known for.

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After a quick nap on this nice bed/throne (more thrones!), it was on to dinner at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne.

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It was a clear, gorgeous night, with a perfect view of the Miami skyline from our waterside table.

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The inside of the restaurant was just as inviting, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an enormous wine "cellar."

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Dinner at the Rusty Pelican starts with a generous loaf of insanely addictive cornbread, served with parmesan-chili butter topped with paprika and onion salt. I admit that sounds a bit weird, but the overall effect is spicy, buttery, cheesy, and sweet, which I think encompasses at least three of the four food groups.

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I started off with the salmon tartare with crispy jicama and an Asian pear and avocado salad in a soy-yuzu dressing, while Angel went with the coconut and shrimp bisque with roasted corn and grilled peppers.

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For mains, I decided on the lobster risotto, which -- lucky me! -- was actually a huge lobster tail with risotto.

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Angel went with the Patagonian toothfish, which is what folks used to call it before marketers decided that "Chilean sea bass" (which isn't even bass, but cod) sounded much more appetizing. The toothfish was served with a smoked sweet plantain mash, grilled Anaheim peppers, and an exotic mango-papaya salsa, and was so delicious that you can call it Blobfish for all I care.

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After dinner, we finished the last of our bottle of Albariño around one of the Pelican's many waterside fire pits.

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On the way out, we were reminded once again that we were in Miami . . . and this time, it wasn't just because they charged us for valet.

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Ellen and Brian arrived the next morning on a redeye from LA, so we'd planned nothing more strenuous than renting a couple of private cabanas at the Palms Hotel in South Beach.

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Equipped with WiFi, DirecTV, an iPod docking station, two loungers inside the cabana (for shade), and two more right outside (for sun), we parked ourselves on the loungers, where Brian promptly fell asleep, Ellen worked on her tan, Angel checked baseball scores on his phone, and I spent the afternoon dipping French fries into Ranch dressing (don't knock it till you've tried it).

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A private "butler" attended each cabana, delivering pink lemonades spiked with citrus-infused vodka, hummus platters, and the aforementioned fries, along with anything else we might want to eat, drink, or lick off of postage stamps (I'm kidding about that last one! Then again, it was Ultra weekend).

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It was a lovely afternoon, made even better by the little gifts Ellen brought me: kitty socks, pineapple socks, and body lotion . . . in an owl jar.

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That evening, Angel and I decided to check out the new 1Hotel, which was the Gansevoort before a $500 million renovation to "green" the place up. Those efforts include lobby ceilings made of wood reclaimed from water towers in Alaska, furniture crafted from fallen trees from South American rainforests, and hallways accented with wood from trees felled by mountain pine beetles. The overall effect is, well, woodsy.

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The use of natural materials continued upstairs on the main pool deck, with the addition of bamboo, muslin, and lots of sand.

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We ordered up a couple of drinks and some tostones at the Sand Box while waiting for Ellen and Brian to arrive.

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Ellen and Brian soon joined us, and we decided to head up to the roof deck, which boasts the largest oceanfront rooftop pool in Miami. Assured when we'd called earlier that the rooftop would not be hosting any private Ultra events that evening, we headed to the elevator that would take us to the rooftop, and that's where things got tricky.

Apparently the elevator attendant had been instructed to manage the rooftop crowd, but had not been instructed as to how to do that. And so our attempts to access the rooftop elevator (in varying combinations of the four of us) were met with increasingly fantastical reasons as to why we couldn't do so, including (Attempt 1) "There are too many people up there and it's a fire emergency," (Attempt 2) "The cover charge is $250 per person," (Attempt 3) "It's a special event; drinks are $250 each," and (Attempt 4) "You can't go up there because there are wild elephants." Fine, I made that last one up, but I am sure that was coming next if we hadn't finally executed the Jedi Mind Trick and said, "Yes, a $250 cocktail sounds perfect," at which point the poor guy just gave up and let us on the elevator.

The irony? The rooftop was dead. And they were serving only one drink at the bar -- yes, one -- which was reasonable enough at $15, though not for what amounted to a gussied-up pina colada.

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Still, the views were incredible, the gussied-up coladas weren't half bad, and I didn't hear anyone mutter, "Who let Grandma in here, and why isn't she at home watching 'Matlock'?" so we stayed for a bit before heading off to dinner at Dolce.

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Dolce, which won Bravo TV's "Best New Restaurant" competition last year, is a popular spot at the Gale Hotel on bustling on Collins Avenue in South Beach.

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There, we feasted on meatballs over polenta, spaghetti alla chitarra, straccetti alla Bolognese, and lobster mezzelune.

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It had been a long day, and by the time we finished eating ourselves into a carb coma, Ellen and Brian were understandably exhausted. And so they headed back to their hotel, while Angel and I made our way back to the 1Hotel, where we'd left the car for the evening.

While Angel waited for the valet, I popped into the lobby to take some photos, and unexpectedly encountered what has to be the chillest scene in Miami: A duo (with bongos!) was playing Latin-inspired covers of laid-back pop songs, while well-dressed couples lounged on the sprawling lobby's various beds and couches, barefoot, sipping Champagne.

I'd finally found my people.

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I spun on my high heel and dashed through the lobby, hoping to catch Angel before the valet brought the car around. (As I sprinted, a man called out, "Miss, be careful! You almost stepped on a frog!" Which either means that the 1Hotel is so green that there are actual frogs here, or that was the worst pick-up line ever. Either way, only in Miami.)

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We ordered up a couple of cocktails, kicked off our shoes, and enjoyed the band until their last set.

It had been a long night, and we still had fritas to gobble, free Champagne to guzzle, art to ogle, and a party to crash. Click here for Part 2!
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Posted by TraceyG 04:58 Archived in USA Tagged miami raleigh vagabond dolce south_beach sugarcane mellow_mushroom brickell morenos_cuba Comments (0)

March Madness, Part 2: I Heart Wynwood

The next day, our friends Ellen and Brian decided to take it easy and grab lunch at their hotel, leaving me and Angel to swing by Moreno's Cuba in South Beach for some fritas.

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With its imported Cuban floor tiles, reclaimed wood, and selection of Cuban-style cigars, Moreno's is modeled after the Havana speakeasy the owner's uncle operated during the Cuban revolution, while the menu recalls the legendary restaurant at Cuba's famed Hotel Nacional, which the owner's grandfather ran. (All to be confirmed when we visit Havana in November 2017!)

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For the uninitiated, a frita is a thin beef and pork patty spiced up with cumin, paprika, and pepper, then topped with cheese and a mound of shoestring fries.

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Moreno's fritas were non-traditional -- the patty was thick, and served with regular fries on the side -- but when the burger looks like this, who am I to complain?

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After lunch we headed back to the bungalow, where I ordered my cabana boy to clean the pool . . . but not before bringing me a glass of wine.

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That evening we met up with Ellen and Brian for dinner at Bazi, a sexy, modern Asian spot at the historic Marlin Hotel.

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As we waited for our food, we realized that we didn't have any pictures of the four of us, so we made up for lost time.

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Though for some of these, we should have just lost the camera.

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We ordered an assortment of appetizers and fish dishes, including one with a mysterious pink sauce that looked scary but tasted delicious. Which brings to mind the first person who ever spied a lobster and thought, This thing's got five pairs of legs, enormous claws, a couple of hideously long antennae, and looks like a gigantic red cockroach. LET'S EAT IT!

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After dinner, we decided to have a nightcap at the Broken Shaker, a James Beard Award-winner that is widely regarded as Miami's best cocktail bar.

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And it is, if you appreciate concoctions like a Morning Routine with cachaca, blueberry yogurt, and granola (which I kind of did!), or the Voncey Cobbler, made with Appleton rum, ruby port, spiced pear, strawberry, lemon, and bitters.

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As we sipped our fancy cocktails, a bachelorette party dropped off some extra shots that they couldn't finish. That kind of behavior would have gotten you dragged out of Ellen's bachelorette party by your ear, but I digress.

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While Angel and Ellen secured our seats at the bar, Brian and I decided to have a look around.

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The building behind the pool was hosting a private party, so Brian and I hung around near the velvet rope at the base of the stairs to see if we could figure out what was going on. And because we are both so incredibly good-looking, the bouncer noticed us and asked, "Are you here for the Galore magazine party?" Why, yes. Yes, we are. And so we slipped on a couple of wristbands, donned a bevy of glow necklaces, and headed on up.

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The party was in full swing, with free punch (which was good), deafening hip-hop (which was not) and even a sighting of former Giants tight-end Jeremy Shockey (which was fine, but would have been way better if it had been Cam Newton CALL ME).

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Ellen and Brian departed the next morning, so Angel and I headed off to lunch at Lulu in the Grove, a trendy Coconut Grove tapas spot with an expansive outdoor patio.

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Though we'd had perfect weather since we'd arrived in Miami, that particular day was on the chilly side (74°!), so we opted to sit in the funky, industrial-inspired dining room instead.

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Once seated, we ordered up an assortment of tapas, including mac & cheese with manchego and fontina, ahi tuna tartare, truffle fries, pork tacos slow-braised in banana leaves & spices, and fish tacos with scallion vinaigrette.

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Oh, and cheesecake in a jar.

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In fact, we ordered so much food that the restaurant brought us a free round of Champagne to make up for the "wait."

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I think they just wanted to see if we'd down that, too.

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After lunch we decided to head over to Miami's up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood. If South Beach is ground zero for club kids, then Wynwood is where their cooler, edgier counterparts go to get their art on.

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Admittedly, however, Wynwood didn't make much of a first impression.

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And so we did our best to blend in.

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But as we walked from the seedy outskirts to the heart of the neighborhood, it stole my heart completely: The talent on display was breathtaking.

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And knowing from Angel the skill involved in working with spray paint and markers, the sheer size and scale of many of the works was truly awe-inspiring.

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Other murals were fun and funky and colorful.

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And no paintable surface was exempt.

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Best of all, we got to watch some of the artists at work.

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It was hard to choose a favorite piece, but I think this gorgeous jellyfish by San Francisco-based fine artist and muralist Amandalynn might be it.

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Even the shops along the main drag weren't content to be run-of-the-mill.

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We'd spent hours wandering among the various murals, and soon it was time for refreshments. We ended up at The Butcher Shop, an outdoor beer garden and grill with an actual butcher shop out back.

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We loved the design of the Concrete Beach Brewery pint glasses, and even though the brewery wasn't open yet, they were kind enough to let us in early to pick up a set.

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That evening we met up with our friends Steph and Ari at Cecconi's at the Soho Beach House, a members-only club whose hotel rooms and restaurant are open to the public.

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The romantic garden at Cecconi's is lit with hundreds of twinkling lights strung among the trees.

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Cecconi's plays along with the Soho House's exclusivity theme, offering a "Friends of Cecconi's" key chain to loyal diners, which entitles them to special offers on meals, exclusive cooking classes, and wine tastings.

Of course Stephanie had a key.

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I don't know what Steph's key got us that night, but I do know that there should have been some kind of discount for ordering virtually everything on the menu.

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Then again, if that was the case, we'd never pay full price for another meal again.

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Ever wonder what we eat when we're not on vacation (and secretly hoping it's celery sticks and kale)? Follow me on Instagram @thewayfaringfoodie to find out!

Posted by TraceyG 05:52 Archived in USA Tagged graffiti miami lulu south_beach wynwood morenos_cuba bazi coconut_grove cecconi's Comments (3)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 1: My Cheatin' Heart

Do you remember when golfer Tiger Woods was married to the gorgeous Nordic goddess Elin Nordegren? She was stunning in her perfection, all tawny skin and baby-blonde hair and centerfold-worthy beach body. She bore him two equally stunning children, and even feigned interest in a sport so boring the players hire caddies to walk around with them and keep them awake. And then Woods cheated on her with a troupe of tramps sporting too little clothing and too much silicone, and everyone was left scratching their heads. What on earth was he thinking???

That's the best analogy I can come up with to explain why, after first discovering the island paradise of Anguilla back in 1997, we didn't just quit while we were ahead. We didn't accept perfection when it landed in our laps and, instead, like a fool who trades in a Rolls-Royce for a Ford Pinto, we flitted off to other islands, sure that something even better must be just another flight or ferry ride away.

It wasn't.

What we found instead were islands with so-so food, spotty electricity, and plastic wine glasses. What they lacked in modern conveniences, they made up for in spiders.

Some of them didn't even have ironing boards, for God's sake.

Anguilla, I'm sorry I cheated on you. You are Armani couture in a sea of saggy sweatpants; Dame Helen Mirren in a crowd of Kardashians. You are a Ferryboat cheeseburger in a passel of pink slimes. You are my everything.

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Our long-awaited reunion began during the 10-minute flight from St. Maarten. We cleared the island's lush green hills, then spent a few jumpy minutes over open water before Anguilla came into view. Flat, scrubby, and brown in spots . . . it was as breathtakingly beautiful as we remembered.

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Anguilla is known for its luxury hotels, and on past visits we've stayed everywhere from the oceanfront suites at Cap Juluca and Frangipani to the villas at Arawak and Rendezvous Bay Hotel, with stops at Ferryboat and Carimar in between. On this visit, though, we decided to forego the hotel altogether and rent a villa.

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Our first indication that we were going to love Sweet Return was the road leading up to it: An old-school dirt path so rocky and rut-filled that it prompted Ronnie Bryan to ask if perhaps there was another way up to the house, since the car we'd rented from him had just been painted.

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There was, but that path was even worse. And so the car rattled, our heads bobbled as if on springs, and our luggage took a beating . . . but there was no wiping the silly grins off our faces as we bounced along through the underbrush.

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Perched high on Isaac's Hill, Sweet Return was bright and open, with a gentle breeze flowing through the numerous windows positioned to catch the cooling trade winds. The stylish main house consisted of a combined living and dining area overlooking the pool, bookended by two spacious master suites with enormous stone baths. (I am not even going to mention the fact that those bathrooms were bigger than our kitchen in NYC. Then again, I use my oven for shoe storage, so who am I to complain?)

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You noticed that ultra-luxurious household appliance on the right, yes? That's how we knew we were back where we belonged.

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In fact, that kind of attention to detail turned out to be our favorite thing about Sweet Return. Umbrellas conveniently lined up right next to the front door. Baskets filled with towels handily placed right next to the pool. Bins full of sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid items all neatly organized and labeled. (With typed labels. Swoon.) They even labeled the light switches. Light switches! Forget the pool and the view: You had me at the dimmer switch.

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How to top all of these thoughtful touches? With a kitchen map, that's how. Sure, it was nice not having to haul my own iron and ironing board to Anguilla, but knowing that someone took the time to make a map of the kitchen so I didn't have to open five different cabinets to find a drinking glass? That is the stuff OCDreams are made of.

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The house even had a small, detached studio apartment, which would provide the perfect escape if you happen to be traveling with the kind of people who do not appreciate a good kitchen map.

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Best of all, the property manager at Sweet Return, a lovely woman named Catherine, confessed to being a longtime reader of this blog, and as a welcome gift she went out of her way to track down a favorite wine that I'd previously written about.

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Oh, and a cheese platter so generously Tracey-sized that we knew the wine couldn't have been just a lucky guess.

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It had been a long morning of travel, and the beach was just a stone's throw away. The sparkling pool beckoned. We'd traveled in our swimsuits to avoid missing a single minute of sunshine. But that cheese plate wasn't going to eat itself, so we slid into chairs at the dining table and gobbled up half a pound of goat cheese instead.

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Soon we were thirsty, and it was no accident that the villa was just across the street from CuisinArt. Nothing beats makeup sex when you patch things up with a lost love, but makeup mojitos run a close second.

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The afternoon slipped into that golden hour when the beach has emptied but the sun still lingers, and we embraced it like a friend we hadn't seen in a long while.

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Okay, fine, we almost squeezed it to death. Like I said, it had been waayyy too long.

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We were scheduled to spend nine nights on the island, but had approximately 42 restaurants on our list. If we were to make any headway, we were obviously going to have to double up. And so that evening, we set off for SandBar . . . and Dolce Vita. You know, in the interest of economy.

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We arrived at SandBar just in time for sunset, settled in at a waterside table, and kicked things off with a round of SandBar's eponymous mango and rum concoctions.

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We knew we'd be indulging in the divine pastas at Dolce Vita, so we stuck to the protein offerings at SandBar, sharing an order of the chicken satay with peanut sauce, along with the spicy pork tenderloin with chili-tamarind sauce.

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Once the sun had set, we walked the short distance down the beach to Dolce Vita.

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Dolce Vita, however, is not the kind of place where you can just show up. Preparations must be made. First, menus must be studied, past meals analyzed, and stomach capacity evaluated. Proper attire must be carefully chosen; billowy dresses for women and elastic-waist pants for men are preferred (potato sacks may be substituted in cooler weather). On the big day, breakfast is skipped and lunch entrees are kept on the light side to avoid spoiling dinner. (Hence, only half a pound of that goat cheese back at the villa.) You may whet the appetite with, say, some chicken skewers or spicy pork tenderloin, but anything more and you run the risk of having to leave behind an errant gnocchi or bite of lasagna.

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And you know Abbi checks.

We settled in to our "usual" corner table near the sand and ordered up two glasses of wine and Dolce Vita's heavenly tuna tartare.

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Then it was on to the melty, light-as-air homemade lasagna for me, and the evening's pasta special -- Anguillian lobster and shimp in a fragrant, garlicky white wine, butter, and lemon sauce -- for Angel.

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Abbi was his usual charming self, and after a few glasses of wine it seemed like a good idea to pose for a silly photo, sticking our bellies out in homage to the incredible meal we'd just enjoyed.

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Well, at least Abbi stuck his out. Ours just look like that.

After dinner, we bumped along the road back to Sweet Return, a star-scattered sky lighting our way.

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The hour was late, and it had been a long day of travel, but we somehow found the energy for a quick dip in the secluded pool before bed.

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We'd been back on island less than 12 hours, and already we'd enjoyed frosty drinks, delicious tapas, and a log of goat cheese. We'd been welcomed like old friends at Sweet Return and Dolce Vita, and stuffed ourselves silly with lasagna and lobster. Now, as we sunk our travel-weary bodies into the water, we plotted the next day's adventures: Lunch at Ferryboat Inn, an afternoon swim at Rendezous Bay, and tacos and tequila at Picante.

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And then, at long last, we fell into bed, as visions of cheeseburgers danced in our heads.

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Click here to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 10:49 Archived in Anguilla Tagged sandbar anguilla cuisinart dolce_vita sweet_return_villa Comments (17)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 2: And So We Meat Again

The next morning was the Happiest Day of the Year. No, not the day the kids go back to school -- the day we go to Ferryboat Inn for cheeseburgers.

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In order to give such a momentous occasion its due, I have begun petitioning the Government of Anguilla to do away with Whit Monday, which celebrates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples of Jesus, and replace it with FBI Monday, which would celebrate the descent of hungry hordes upon Marjorie and Christian. Obviously it could be celebrated on any day of your choosing, except on Sundays when FBI is closed.

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Regular readers of this blog know that my love affair with the FBI cheeseburger is a long and passionate one, as I've spent many years swooning over its meaty magnificence both here and in numerous online forums. But for the newbies among us, I thought a little "how-to" guide for celebrating FBI Monday (as it shall henceforth be known) might come in handy.

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1. Prepare Accordingly

This one should be obvious: Do not plan to eat for two or three days prior to your visit. Getting too full to finish your burger is widely regarded as the second-worst possible outcome on FBI Monday. (The first would be waking up dead.) Tips for avoiding other unfavorable outcomes are described in sections 2 and 3 below.

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2. Plan a Diversion

The delightful and charming owners of Ferryboat Inn, Marjorie and her son Christian, have an equally delightful and charming dog named Angie. She also happens to be quite clever, because instead of begging at your table while you eat your burger, she simply hangs around nonchalantly near the steps and does this:

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It's almost impossible to say no to that face, but it's even harder to live with the guilt and regret of not hoarding every bite of that burger for yourself while you had the chance. I therefore recommend that you plan a diversion to keep Angie busy until you've finished eating.

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3. Take Extra Precautions

Obviously falling into a deep well or an open manhole is never exactly desirable, but falling into a deep well or open manhole on FBI Monday would be an absolute @#$%*& nightmare. Look alive, people!

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4. Dress Appropriately

As for clothing, you'll want to wear dark colors to avoid any potential grease, cheese, and/or drool stains, as well as something extra-forgiving to avoid public ridicule. (If you can arrange to spend the rest of the day in your pajamas, all the better.) Afterwards, under no circumstances should you consent to be seen in the nude by anyone other than your spouse, and even that is iffy unless his or her eyesight is as bad as Angel's.

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Appropriate footwear is also recommended.

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5. Patience is a Virtue

Most restaurants in Anguilla operate on island time, and Ferryboat is no exception. Luckily FBI has the island's best rum punches to keep you occupied while you wait patiently for your burger to arrive, along with a fantastic French onion soup to grease the skids.

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6. Assume the Position

Chances are good that once you start in on that burger, your dining companion, and possibly even other patrons, may start to get some ideas. It is therefore advisable to look as threatening as possible to avoid beggars, thieves, and those dreaded food-sharers who needle you for "just a bite" until the whole damn thing is gone. Not that I would ever do that, of course.

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In the event that you do not look tough enough to ward off the aforementioned cast of unsavory characters, sharp elbows will have to suffice.

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If, however, your bony elbows do not double as miniature harpoons the way mine do, a bodyguard may be necessary. If he happens to have a distracting set of dimples, consider it a bonus.

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7. Rebuff All Attempts at Interruption

Attempting to engage someone in conversation while they are eating a Ferryboat Inn cheeseburger is like calling the biggest football fan you know during the final minutes of a tied Super Bowl while his team is on the one-yard line: You just don't do it. Emergencies are no exception, though apologies may be offered: "I'm very sorry that alligator just amputated your foot; we can work on a tourniquet as soon as I'm done with this cheeseburger."

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Depending on your priorities, this advice also applies to consumption of rum punches.

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8. Safety First

A burger this good is bound to get messy (see #4, above). Extra protection, including safety goggles, beekeeper suits, and shower caps are recommended, but not required.

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9. Postpone the Inevitable

They cut pizzas into slices for a reason -- so people like me don't eat the whole thing in three bites. Consider applying this same logic to your burger to prolong your eating enjoyment.

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10. Declare Victory

Did you finish your burger without (1) ending up covered in a large Anguilla-shaped grease stain, (2) grudgingly sharing half of it with a sad-eyed dog, (3) stabbing your spouse in the hand with a fork, or (4) being hauled off by ambulance to the nearest cardiology center? Then congratulations, you've successfully celebrated Anguilla's newest holiday, FBI Monday!

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Even Angie was happy. Look at that smile!

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Having snatched victory from the jaws of Angie Angel defeat, we hung around for a bit to chat with Marjorie and Christian and our sweet waitress Rhona, which provided the perfect excuse to have another rum punch.

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Or two.

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Although conventional wisdom states that you should never go swimming after a large meal, I find that the benefits of submerging myself in water after FBI Monday are twofold: I am able to feel somewhat weightless (or at least as weightless as one can feel after consuming the equivalent of a week's worth of beef), and the general public is spared the terrifying sight of a 100-lb. woman who looks like she swallowed a hippopotamus.

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It had been a busy day at FBI -- you know how hectic the holidays can be -- so we decided to pick up dinner instead of going out. And so we set off for B&D BBQ for, well, more meat.

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We couldn't decide between the ribs and the chicken, so we ordered both, which come with rice 'n' peas, coleslaw, French fries, an enormous, pillowy Johnny cake, and a fight with your spouse over who gets the last rib.

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After all that, there was only one thing left to do.

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How else to cure a case of the meat sweats?
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Click here to read Part 3!

Posted by TraceyG 04:43 Archived in Anguilla Tagged ferryboat_inn feb_19 Comments (12)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 3: To Beet or Not to Beet

We awoke to another gorgeous day, with blue skies and warm breezes. Angel had inexplicably brought along a series of workout videos on his iPad, so we quickly settled into a morning routine: He cranked up the air conditioning and did his workout, while I lounged on the couch with a bowl of potato chips and shouted encouragements like, "Pick up those knees!" and "Move, maggot, move!"

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As for me, I descended the few steps into the pool, took a quick dip, got back out of the pool, and counted it as stair-climbing.

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We decided to head over to Smokey's for lunch because Cove Bay is usually calm and crystal-clear, and that cornhole game keeps everyone occupied at the west end of the beach, while we enjoy the peace and quiet at the east end.

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A friend once told me that the drunkest she'd ever been was not at a frat party, or on her 21st birthday, or when George Clooney announced that he would be marrying someone else. It was at Smokey's, and from the looks of this drink menu, you can understand why.

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We kicked things off with a tall, frosty pina colada topped with freshly-grated nutmeg, along with Smokey's "special" rum punch, which is exactly the same as their regular rum punch, except that you will need fewer of them before ending up face-first in the cornhole.

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We decided to share an order of the melt-in-your-mouth tuna tartare garnished with citrus, then wrapped things up (heh-heh) with a couple of savory chicken rotis, which were fragrant with yellow curry and loaded with tender chicken, potatoes, and carrots.

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Those roti had two vegetables in them, which is at least two too many for a vacation, so we ended up sharing some with our dining companion.

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The day was shaping up to be somewhat cloudy, leaving Cove Bay an otherworldly shade of green, and leaving us blissfully alone for the entire afternoon.

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Well, just us and Captain Morgan.

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Back at Sweet Return, we took a late afternoon swim before cleaning up for dinner.

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That evening, we had reservations at the lovely Jacala for dinner.

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Yes, we have heard the occasional rumblings about Jacala's host, Jacques, being somewhat brusque. (Someone recently asked what came with the hamburger and he responded, "Bread.") But just as Mango Dave wasn't really a jerk, he was just from New Jersey, Jacques isn't actually brusque . . . he's just from France. And in our experience, the French aren't gruff or snobby; they just appreciate politeness, succinctness, and good manners. And so we return here again and again, knowing that as long as we keep our elbows off the table, our napkins in our laps, and Freedom Fries, Napoleon, and Gerard Depardieu out of the conversation, we will not be tossed out like yesterday's poisson.

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With all of this in mind, we had just settled in at our candlelit waterside table and were expertly swirling and sniffing our glasses of Sancerre and congratulating ourselves on our impeccable table manners when the unthinkable happened.

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An amuse-bouche arrived, two small shot glasses filled to the brim . . . with the vilest substance known to man. No, not Mountain Dew. It was my bête noire . . . BEETS! Beet soup, to be exact, not that the form mattered: Those tiny shot glasses might as well have been oil tankers, such were my chances of actually being able to choke one down.

I stole a desperate glance at Angel, who looked as though Jacques had set a very large tarantula in front of him and asked him to eat that instead. He bravely took the tiniest of sips, then winced and forced down a gag. So much for my plans to pawn my shot glass off on him.

We knew that we were probably on shaky ground at this most Francophile of restaurants already, being both American and fat, the latter thanks to yesterday's cheeseburger and rum punch-a-palooza. But both of us absolutely détestons les beets. So there we sat, frozen by fear, smiling uneasily as we frantically racked our brains for ideas on how to politely dispose of the beet soup without offending Jacques or, worse, actually having to eat it.

And so we did the only thing we could do. We waited until the coast was clear, then I pretended to fiddle with the strap on my sandal, while discreetly returning the beets to the sandy soil from whence they came. Just like it says in the Bible.

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I'm sorry, Jacques. My apologies, Alain. Everything else you served us was absolutely delicious, and gloriously beet-free. That includes this beautiful timbale of tuna tartare with wakame, olive oil, and ginger . . .

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. . . and the cool, refreshing cucumber gazpacho topped with a perfect little scoop of spicy tomato sorbet, which I maintain should be sold by the half-gallon and come with a spoon so you can get started right away.

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On this visit, however, I think I may have found something even better than the justly-famous tomato sorbet: A massive pile of succulent grilled crayfish, served with a tiny seafood fork for picking the little suckers clean.

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And, finally, two complimentary shot glasses full of Jacala's sweet, smooth vanilla-bean vodka.

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Which sure beats beets.
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Suddenly have the urge for a trip to France now? Click here! Just want more Anguilla? Click here for Part 4!

Posted by TraceyG 05:43 Archived in Anguilla Tagged anguilla jacala smokey's cove_bay feb_22 Comments (10)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt 4: Cast Away on Sandy Island

Of course, there are worse places to be stranded. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

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Our plan for the day was to have lunch at Roy's, then hop aboard "Happiness" for the short ride over to Sandy Island for an afternoon of rest, relaxation, and rum, though obviously not in that order.

We hadn't been to Roy's since they moved from Crocus Bay, so we were excited to check out their new digs on Sandy Ground.

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It didn't take long to peruse the short menu, and we ordered up a couple of tasty fish dishes -- the fish 'n' chips for me, and the mahi-mahi Creole for my spicy counterpart.

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We finished our lunch just in time for the next departure on "Happiness" and were soon on our way.

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We were then informed that the cost for the ride would be $20 per person, which is not expensive but is nevertheless a significant jump in price since our last visit to Sandy Island, which was free. (It also happened to be double the published price, which is $10 per person.) No matter. We were already under way, and I certainly wasn't going to walk the plank over a lousy $40, so we anted up.

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Unfortunately, the day was a bit too windy to fully enjoy the water, so after disembarking we headed up the beach to a scattering of sunbeds. Delighted to find all but one unoccupied, we picked the shadiest of the bunch and sat down, discussing what we should order from the bar. However, before our behinds could even warm the cushions, a Sandy Island employee was upon us, requesting yet another $25 for the privilege of sharing a sunbed (which I suppose explains the occupancy rate). We stared dumbly at him, as it slowly sunk in that we were about to be $65 in the hole, and Mama hadn't even had a drink yet.

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Of course, back home we're lucky if $65 is enough to buy breakfast, so the price wasn't really the issue. And between living in NYC and spending weekends in the Hamptons, we are used to having our pockets unmercifully picked all day, every day, by everyone from our local dry cleaner to the mercenaries who run our parking garage. (Only in New York can you leave the house in the morning with $100 in your wallet, and by lunchtime be down to your last $3. "All I did was walk to work!" is the phrase Angel and I most often text to each other, followed closely by, "I'm hungry. What's for dinner?") Still, I was galled, since what used to be "free" (if you don't count the couple hundred bucks you'll drop on food and drink here) was now starting to feel like a tourist-trappy shakedown.

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And so, before they could levy a sand tax on us or require a credit card to use the restrooms, we asked to return to Sandy Ground, figuring we could spend the remainder of the afternoon there instead. Only . . . they wouldn't take us back. "Next boat 3:30," we were told. When we asked someone else, the time was pushed back another half hour. We asked a third person, and now the boat wasn't departing until 4:30. Stranded and broke, we did the only thing we could do.

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I don't know, maybe we look like easy marks. It wouldn't be the first time we've been mistaken for people with money.

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Finally, the boat was ready to depart, and you can bet whatever's left in your wallet after an afternoon at Sandy Island that I was the first one on it.

Back at Roy's, we were treated like returning royalty, and at least half of that statement is true. And so we nabbed a couple of (free!) loungers and dug our toes into the (free!) sand and even used the (free!) rest room.

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The enjoyable afternoon melted into early evening, and we walked the beach one last time before heading back to Sweet Return.

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After cleaning up for dinner, I forced Angel to pose for a few pictures with me, which is his very favorite thing right after root canals.

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I, of course, am always a model subject.

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We then headed off to the one place on Anguilla where you're almost sure to get some bang for your buck: Picante.

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And if not, you'd never know it after a few of their potent margaritas anyway. We perused the various offerings, ultimately settling on a couple of local passion fruit margaritas. Although this thing is pulpier and seedier than an issue of the National Enquirer with a blurry photo of Sasquatch on the front, do not be put off. It's actually quite delicious.

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Naturally, I ordered the one dish that you should never leave Picante (or even Anguilla) without having: The seafood enchiladas with crab, prawn, and lobster in a creamy seafood bisque, topped with a blanket of melted cheese.

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I'm sure Angel had some food, too -- the grilled chipotle prawn burrito? -- but who can focus when there's that much cheese on those enchiladas?

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For dessert, our waiter convinced Angel to try to the flan, while I stuck with the classic Mexican chocolate pudding, accompanied by a tiny shaker of cayenne to add some heat.

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The flan and pudding may have been dessert, but in true Caribbean style, the real finale to the meal was a couple of boxes of Chiclets.

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Back at Sweet Return, we enjoyed a languid night swim before heading to bed.

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And if we happened to need some swimmies to keep us afloat after those passion fruit margaritas, well, that'll be just between us.
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Not tired of food, drink, sand, and sun yet? Click here to read Part 5!

Posted by TraceyG 05:17 Archived in Anguilla Tagged sandy_island roy's picante sweet_return feb_26 Comments (6)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 5: Revenge of the Herds

After a quick morning dip in the pool, it was off to Maunday's Bay for lunch at Cap Juluca.

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One of the island's oldest and most beloved resorts, Cap greets visitors with simple Mexican-tiled paths and spare white Moorish architecture, offering little hint of the stunning beach just beyond.

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Lunch at Cap's beachfront restaurant, Blue, is an elegant affair, with cobalt stemware, turquoise chairs, sapphire vases, and a view of the sea in all those shades and more.

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The food ain't too shabby, either.

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The sandwich above is lobster salad on a Johnny cake. Which is to say, the only way to improve upon it is to serve it with a side of cheeseburger.

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You can even get your daily serving of fruit here.

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Although Cap's beach is technically public, the cushy chaises are for hotel guests only (in past years, Angel's smile -- or a crisp $50 bill if the beach attendant wasn't female -- was enough to secure two loungers and an umbrella, but sadly not anymore). So we headed off to Mead's Bay for piña coladas and some shade at Blanchard's Beach Shack.

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And, as it turned out, hordes of people.

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Just look at them all!

Now, I live in New York City, and I know a crowd when I see one. And that day on Mead's, there was a crowd. We tried to enter the water, and there she was: A lady with the audacity to be floating almost within shouting distance on a noodle. We immediately made a break for the beach, but at that same moment, an older couple had the gall to pass by hand-in-hand. Practically close enough to say hello to us! What was this, Grand Central Station at rush hour?

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Oh, the humanity!

Exasperated, we retreated to our loungers, only to find that someone had parked themselves on the lounger next to ours. Right beside! I'm telling you, it was like Times Square up in there.

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The noise was deafening.

And so, we made a beeline for the bar at Blanchard's Beach Shack to order some frozen drinks . . .

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. . . only to find that there was a line.

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Sure, back home there's a waiting list for everything from delivery rooms to burial plots, but in Anguilla? It was just too much.

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I've seen shorter lines at the post office on tax day!

We grabbed our drinks, left our stuff to the mercy of the multitudes on the beach, and sprinted away, down the beach to the little cove at Malliouhana.

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There, we delighted in the tiny fish nipping at our ankles and reminisced about the Mead's Bay of yore.

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Circa 1999

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Finally, as the day wound to a close, we were left in peace at long last.

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That evening, we set off for the Viceroy's Sunset Lounge for you-know-what.

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Okay, fine, there was a sunset, too.

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Can you believe this was our first visit to Viceroy? Well, except for a little stalking when they first opened.

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We'd of course heard that the Viceroy vibe was more Miami than Mead's, and that the crowd could be a little New York-y (which ranks just behind sun poisoning and shark bite as the last thing we want to deal with on vacation). But we found that the Viceroy struck a sophisticated, elegant tone, and though we'd probably never choose it over the privacy of a villa or smaller resort, it was the perfect spot for a tasty pre-dinner cocktail.

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Though some of the interior décor seems a little dark (both literally and figuratively) given the surroundings, overall we loved the inventive use and rich textures of the wood, marble, granite, and other natural materials.

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Though I have to draw the line at these creepy chairs.

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One of several restaurants on the property, Cobà is perched on a bluff with views of both Meads and Barnes Bays.

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Though the Viceroy is known for its sunsets, it's an even better spot for a Sunrise, which I ordered specifically because the menu said it came with "grapefruit cubes." As soon as I saw that, I immediately began pondering all the different ways molecular gastronomy could convert a grapefruit segment into a cube. Did they vaporize it? Anti-griddle it? Emulsify and then gelify it? My mind ran wild with the possibilities.

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Regrettably they did none of the above, though for $18, I think they should have at least attempted it. (Perhaps there'd been an unfortunate incident with a sous-vide machine?) But, cubes or no cubes, this was hands-down one of the best cocktails I've ever had, in Anguilla or anywhere else, and I'd happily fork over the dough for another Sunrise next time we are on island. (I won't pay $25 to rent a sunbed for the day, but I will happily spend that same amount for a single cocktail. Priorities!!)

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When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, we headed off, once again, to the only place we deem worthy of a repeat dinner: Dolce Vita.

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It was to be our last visit to DV on this trip, so we doubled up on the pastas to carry us through until next time.

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Sadly, however, one thing was missing: Abbi was not there, which meant we wouldn't get a chance to say a proper good-bye.

But about halfway through dinner our beloved Pastafarian finally appeared, looking exhausted but nevertheless happy to see us. He later confided that he hadn't planned to come in at all that evening, but changed his mind when he saw our names on the reservations list.

I'll bet he says that to all the gluttons.

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Click here to read Part 6!

Posted by TraceyG 09:35 Archived in Anguilla Tagged viceroy meads_bay dolce_vita cap_juluca march_1 blanchards_beach_shack Comments (3)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 6: Little Bit O' Sweet Love

The next day we decided to do a little sightseeing on our way to Shoal Bay East.

Translation: I'm going to chase around a bunch of goats and buy $300 worth of Anguilla magnets on our way to Shoal Bay East.

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Raise your hand if you thought it was the goat...

Our first stop was at Irie Life, a brightly-colored shop overlooking Sandy Ground.

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Here, we loaded up on t-shirts, key chains, license plates, bumper stickers, magnets, and baseball caps. I get the feeling that if Irie Life sold used gum wrappers with the letters "AXA" stamped on them, we'd probably buy them, too.

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Then it was off to the Sandy Ground roundabout for a combination rodeo/episode of "When Animals Attack."

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At least they smiled pretty for the camera.

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We passed through The Valley, then headed north toward Shoal Bay Village.

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Only in Anguilla would we pull off to the side of the road in order to admire a chain-link fence studded with old license plates.

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Our journey took us past Wallblake House, a former plantation whose sad history includes the use of slave labor to harvest sugar and cotton.

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We also passed a few local churches, whose sad history includes keeping people from sleeping in on Sundays.

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We decided on lunch at Elodia's, a colorful spot at the end of Shoal Bay near "the point."

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The day was hot and humid, so we stuck to a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches at Elodia's, allowing us to maximize our soak time.

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Of course, there are other ways to cool off, too.

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Elodia's rum punches are quite tasty, and while ordering a second round Angel said as much to the bartender and asked what was in it. Her brown eyes sparkled and she smiled. "Oh, just a little bit o' sweet love!" she chuckled.

We hung around as the beach emptied, enjoying a last rum punch before Elodia's closed up shop.

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If we'd had a little bit o' sweet love at Elodia's, we were in for a whole lot o' sweet love that evening for dinner.

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Though I'm not sure "love" is a strong enough word to convey my feelings for the FBI cheeseburger.

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It was Wing Night, but because I hate the smell of Tobasco, Angel is always kind enough to order his wings for dessert, so the smell won't interfere with my celebration of FBI Monday.

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He even eats them at the bar so I can bask in the burger after-glow.

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Not that he has any ulterior motives, of course.

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Click here for Part 7!

Posted by TraceyG 05:51 Archived in Anguilla Tagged goats ferryboat_inn irie_life elodias march_4 sandy_ground Comments (9)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 7: It's Like an Oven in Here

The first time we ever visited Anguilla's Little Bay, the ride was short and the boat was small, but the leap of faith was huge.

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1997

Based on an early, primitive version of TripAdvisor called "word of mouth," we'd managed to find a man identifying himself as Calvin (last name unknown, but Gumbs or Hodge is always a good bet) hanging out under a big tree near Crocus Bay. After a short discussion, he agreed to drop us off at Little Bay and pick us up three hours later. It sounded simple, but in ye olden times, before the internet, cell phones, and instant background checks, it was akin to accepting a ride from a stranger in a rusted-out van with the windows blacked out. And so it wasn't until we watched this Calvin Gumbs-Hodge motor away, his boat getting smaller and smaller and our sense of dread looming larger and larger, that the thought occurred to us: No one else on the planet knows where we are. If Calvin should get drunk with his buddies under "de big tree," spring a leak in his boat, end up in the doghouse with his wife, or develop a sudden case of amnesia . . . not a living soul in the world would have any idea what had happened to the two of us, except that the little one had tried to eat the big one before both of their skeletons were found.

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Now, of course, Little Bay has been discovered by every private yacht, catamaran, and party boat from here to St. Martin, and you have a better chance of being marooned on Sandy Island than at Little Bay. The only saving grace is that most people like to sleep in when they're on vacation, and so we dragged ourselves out of bed as early as possible to beat the crowds.

We stepped outside and were greeted by this eight-legged leaf? flying snow pea? on the front porch steps, which is reason #1,642 why you should never, ever get up early.

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After I climbed out a window to avoid exiting via the porch, we headed over to Crocus Bay and waited for Calvin to arrive.

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I'm no Navy Seal, but even I know that it is never a good sign when your boat driver shows up armed with a roll of duct tape.

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Apparently the canoe Calvin uses to access his "real" boat had sprung a leak, and so we watched as he nonchalantly duct-taped it back together. Then, trying not to think about the spit, glue, and wadded-up Kleenex that might be holding the real boat together, we went ahead and climbed aboard.

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Calvin immediately recognized Angel's "Little Bay Boat Service" shirt, which has held up surprisingly well over the years, especially considering that Calvin admitted to giving them away to his friends once he discovered that all the lettering kept peeling off. (Ah - yet another use for duct tape.)

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Soon we rounded the bend into Little Bay, which was just as stunning as we remembered.

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We spent the better part of the morning blissfully alone, exploring the rock formations and snorkeling just offshore.

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Well, mostly alone.

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There is an old episode of "Seinfeld" where George Costanza's boss accuses him of having advance knowledge of a bomb threat called in to the office. "You know what I think?" the boss asks. "I think you knew about that bomb ahead of time, George. You climbed under that desk because you have E.S.P. What am I thinking right now? MMMEATBALLS!!!"

You may not have E.S.P., but I'm pretty sure you already know that we didn't drive all the way to the east end just to spend a few hours at Little Bay.

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Located just above Crocus Bay, CeBlue is a small complex of just eight villas carved into the mountainside, each topped with a pale blue roof to mirror the crystalline waters of Crocus Bay below.

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The Blue Bar is bright and airy, with a bird's-eye view of Crocus Bay and beyond.

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We snagged a cliffside table and a couple of Coconut Mamas, which came topped with a floater of dark rum and a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.

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They were like piña coladas . . . sans piña.

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Then it was on to the main event: A baking dish filled with MMMEATBALLS!, then topped with Neapolitan-style tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, fresh mozzarella, and baked to bubbly perfection in CeBlue's brick oven.

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Of course, you can't just have meatballs for lunch, so we ordered a couple of pizzas to go with them.

Angel decided on the Romana, topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, chicken, roasted peppers, and caramelized onions, while I stuck with a classic pepperoni.

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And the remaining meatball sauce made the perfect dipping sauce for our pizza crust.

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During my junior year of college, some friends and I decided to stay at school over Thanksgiving break and prepare our own turkey dinner. The guys next door decided to stay over break as well, so we offered to cook dinner for them, too. (We were no dummies -- they were old enough to buy booze.) And to add to the festivities, we included a Secret Santa gift exchange. As something of a joke, the person who drew my name got me a foot-long submarine sandwich, just to see if I'd actually eat it after our enormous Thanksgiving feast.

All of this is a long way of saying, if you were sure that I couldn't possibly have finished an entire pizza after those meatballs, you wouldn't be the first one to lose money on that bet.

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After lunch, we took a drive over to Shoal Bay East.

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We were already in the neighborhood, so we stopped by Serenity for some rum punch and a quick swim.

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Serenity has a lovely open-air restaurant overlooking the water, along with a funky little beach bar right on the sand.

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We spent a lazy afternoon alternating dips in the sea with sips of rum.

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Later we took yet another dip -- this one in the pool back at Sweet Return -- before cleaning up for dinner at E's Oven.

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E's is one of the unsung heroes of Anguilla's restaurant scene: Warm and friendly, with a cozy dining room, gentle prices, and food to rival some of the best restaurants on the island.

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On this night, we started with an amuse bouche of tuna crostini, followed by E's smooth, velvety pumpkin soup.

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Then it was on to the real stars of the show: E's sweet-and-spicy coconut-crusted grouper over white bean ragout for Angel, and tender chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce for me, ordered up with a side of E's cheesy potato gratin.

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We finished the meal by candlelight, sipping our wine and reflecting on what we both agreed was one of our favorite meals of the trip.

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Which is saying a lot, considering there weren't any meatballs.
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Posted by TraceyG 05:52 Archived in Anguilla Tagged serenity sweet_return e's_oven little_bay ceblue crocus_bay march_10 Comments (3)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 8: Sunset at the Shack

The next morning we took a leisurely ride up to Shoal Bay for a morning swim before the day got too busy.

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The local sights along the way seemed color-coordinated to match the Shoal Bay's ethereal blues.

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We continued along until the stunning bay came into view.

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As is our custom, we dropped our beach bag in the sand without breaking stride, shedding shoes and clothes as we dashed headlong into the crystal-clear water.

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When our fingertips became pruney, we dragged ourselves to shore, then made a quick pit stop back at Sweet Return to rinse the salt off.

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We then popped across the street for lunch at Café Med at CuisinArt.

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We love many things about CuisinArt, including the elegant open-air lobby, the tropical blue-and-yellow color scheme, and the large, sunny pool.

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But we really love the frozen mojitos.

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Some of us, a little too much.

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We chose a table near the pool, sipping our minty concoctions as we perused the menu.

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CuisinArt grows its own vegetables in its hydroponic garden, so crisp greens were the way to go. I decided on the Greek salad with Little Gem lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tangy feta cheese, all dressed with a house-made red wine vinaigrette.

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CuisinArt grows its own herbs, too, so Angel went with the grilled skirt steak topped with a fresh, flavorful chimichurri, served alongside a roasted half tomato and some charred asparagus.

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As we were finishing our lunch, we were lucky enough to bump into Peter and his lovely wife Anne from Straw Hat, who recognized me from this blog. I was just happy they saw me after that dainty salad had been cleared. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.

We were already at Rendezvous Bay, so we spent the afternoon floating in the warm sea and enjoying a sneak preview of the upcoming boat races.

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When we'd had our fill of sun, we cooled down with a couple of the best piña coladas on the island at Anguilla Great House.

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That evening, I'd planned an early anniversary surprise for Angel -- a private sunset dinner at the Sunshine Shack. With the help of some folks on the travel forums, I learned that Garvey had arranged a private dinner for a large group in the past, and it looked absolutely beautiful:

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And so, a few months before our arrival on island, I began an online correspondence with Garvey to lock down the day, the time, details about the menu, and, most importantly, the table setup shown in the photo. Attempting to project a laid-back, easygoing island vibe, I casually noted that if pineapples weren't available, conch shells, starfish, or other beachy decorations would do. (But you know I really wanted those little pineapples.)

Finally, the big night arrived. As we made our way down the deserted beach, I smiled to myself as Angel, unaware that anything was amiss, asked me if I was sure if Sunshine Shack was actually open.

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Based on the photo I'd sent Garvey, I could barely contain my excitement as we approached the Shack, picturing a rustic wooden table draped with a linen cloth and ringed by tiki torches in the sand. I envisioned flickering lanterns and decorative pineapples, or conch shells, or even starfish. (But hopefully those little pineapples.)

Unfortunately, we did not get pineapples, or conch shells, or starfish. We did not get tiki torches. We did not even get a table cloth.

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I was disappointed, but not for long. That's because while Garvey may not be the next Martha Stewart, he just might be the next Top Chef, or so it will seem when you get an eyeful -- and mouthful -- of the gargantuan 4 lb. lobster he serves for dinner.

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And not only was this lobster so big that it didn't even fit on our plates, but it was so perfectly marinated and grilled that we scarcely needed the melted butter it came with . . . but scarfed it down anyway, along with the rice n' peas, carroty slaw, and fresh green salad that accompanied this massive sea beast.

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And of course, because Angel had no idea what I'd been expecting, he was thrilled with the setup: A private table in the sand! A ginormous lobster! Someone else paying the bill!

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As the sun began to set, we reveled in the romantic solitude.

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By the time our plates were cleared and the bill was settled, it still wasn't much past 8pm. Not quite ready to call it a night, we decided on a whim to stop by CuisinArt for a bottle of rosé.

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After we'd each enjoyed a glass, we brought the rest of the bottle back to Sweet Return. There, we dangled our feet in the pool, basked in the warm evening breeze, and tilted our faces skyward, contemplating a vast, dark universe decorated with tiny glowing stars.

It wasn't exactly the anniversary night I had planned, but sometimes, the best-laid plans are none at all.
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There's only one more Anguilla post -- CLICK HERE -- but don't despair: There is still lots of fun to be had as we sample fritas in Key West, funnel-cake French toast in Philadelphia, a most famous meatloaf in East Hampton, mojitos in Miami, a cocktail named for you-know-who in the Hudson Valley, and more stone crab than you can shake a stick at on Anna Maria Island. And did I mention not one but TWO more trips to Anguilla??? Subscribe here to follow along!

Posted by TraceyG 05:24 Archived in Anguilla Tagged cuisinart sunshine_shack rendezvous_bay shoal_bay march_23 Comments (8)

A Sweet Return to Anguilla, Pt. 9: Giving Me the Rum Around

It was our last full day on island, so a morning swim was in order. We jumped in the car, bumped down the path to the main road, and made the short drive over to Angel's favorite beach, Maunday's Bay.

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The beach was deserted, and the water was glorious.

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And thanks to the early hour, we were spared the pitying eyes and pointing fingers of the resort guests, whose sixth sense for an interloper is stronger than that kid who sees dead people.

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Soon it was time to clean up for lunch at Straw Hat.

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Do you know what's better than the lobster mac & cheese at Straw Hat?

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That's a trick question -- nothing is better than the lobster mac & cheese at Straw Hat. But it wasn't on the menu, so we were left to order soup and sandwiches containing cheese instead.

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We later learned that Straw Hat's new chef took the mac & cheese off the menu, which I find highly suspect. I mean, what kind of chef doesn't want to make mac & cheese?!? It's like a race car driver who finds driving around in circles kind of boring.

Luckily, hardly anything is boring when accompanied by passion fruit coladas and ti punch.

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After an extended visit to the Petals boutique at Frangipani -- where I spent an ungodly amount of money on a bunch of dresses that even I have to admit look exactly like a bunch of dresses I already have -- we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and sunning at Mead's Bay.

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Oh look, my ride is here.

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Back at Sweet Return, we enjoyed one last afternoon swim before cleaning up for sunset cocktails and dinner at Malliouhana.

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Built in 1984 as one of Anguilla's flagship luxury resorts, Malliouhana was reborn last year after an 18-month, $80 million renovation. And as is usually the case, we kind of missed the old place . . .

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But really loved the new place, too.

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Indeed, our only quibble with the new design is that it's like the Odessa Steps up in there, with people tripping, slipping, and tumbling about on what seems like dozens of steps, most of which are steep, dimly lit, and downright dangerous for anyone old, infirm, wearing heels, sipping rum, or (ahem) all of the above.

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I'd arranged for Angel to enjoy a surprise rum tasting before dinner, which I hoped would distract him while I took 3,000 photos of the sunset. And I'd timed it perfectly: Rum tasting at 5:30, dinner at 6:30; sunset at 6:50.

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My plans were almost foiled, however, when Malliouhana tried to delay our rum tasting by half an hour in order to accommodate another couple who'd also reserved the 5:30 tasting, but decided at the last minute to first get massages instead.

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That's right: There are at least two people on this planet who would rather spend an hour getting rubbed down than liquored up. Like I always say: There's no accounting for taste.

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Luckily, the manager noticed our confusion and quickly stepped in, and after we explained in the nicest way possible that we didn't give a flying fig about anyone else's last-minute change of plans, we carried on without them at the appointed time.

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After the rum tasting, we successfully completed the obstacle course from the bar to our table, rewarding ourselves with a round of cocktails, including this vibrant Caribbean Hibiscus made with Mount Gay dark rum, hibiscus nectar, slivers of fresh ginger, and lime.

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We sipped our cocktails and studied the menu as the sun began its slow descent into the sea.

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The offerings at Malli are unusual and delicious, including the white garlic gazpacho with Guadaloupe melon and almonds that I ordered, and the curried goat sausage with whipped bananas and sweet potatoes that Angel was allowed to have some of.

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That was followed with Angel's choice of the yellowfin tuna paillard, a carpaccio-style presentation that served as the base for artichoke, pickled fennel, roasted garlic, arugula, tonnato sauce, and crispy veal sweatbreads.

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I decided on the gnocchi cacio e pepe, which was studded with caramelized cauliflower and brightened with a bit of lemon.

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As the sky deepened to an inky blue, I was forced to contemplate how I was going to make it up 28 flights of stairs in heels, in the dark, after a rum tasting followed by, well, more rum.

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Truly, it was like the blind leading the blind.

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The next morning was our last before departure, so we lounged around the pool for a bit, then took a final walk along the beach that first captured our hearts almost twenty years ago, Rendezvous Bay.

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We had time for one last lunch before departing, and if you think I was leaving the island without one last visit to Ferryboat Inn, I've got some Flat Earth Society literature that may be of interest to you.

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Plus, is there any better sound in the whole wide world than your car tires rumbling over that little bridge?

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As we sipped our rum punches -- more slowly than usual to make them last -- reality slowly crept back in as we confirmed our flights and checked our email and carried on other important work, such as posting photos of French onion soup on Facebook.

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Or, at least one of us did.

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Soon our food arrived, and it was time to get down to some real work.

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We'd dragged out lunch as long as possible, but eventually it was time to depart. We said our good-byes to Marjorie and Christian and made the short hop over to the dock.

As our boat sped away toward St. Martin and Anguilla grew smaller and smaller in the distance, I would like to tell you that my thoughts turned to the island's peacefulness and tranquility, or the kindness and generosity of its residents, or the talcum-powder sands and crystalline waters of its incomparable beaches.

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But really, I was just thinking about cheeseburgers.

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Are you tempted to share these Anguilla blog posts with your sister-in-law, best friend, next-door-neighbor, or mailman so they, too, can discover what's so magical about our favorite island? If so, step away from the keyboard and contemplate this:

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And remember, if anyone asks . . . you were in ANTIGUA.
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Posted by TraceyG 07:43 Archived in Anguilla Tagged anguilla ferryboat_inn cap_juluca malliouhana may_13 straw_hat Comments (5)

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Like Hiking, Only Fun

New York is a city of superlatives: We have the tallest apartment building in the Western hemisphere (104 stories); the most professional sports teams of any U.S. city (8); more people than any other metropolitan area in the country (8.25 million); more billionaires than anywhere else in the world (103); and our restaurants have earned more Michelin stars than any other city in the country (85). (We also have more 2 a.m. traffic jams, adults dressed as Elmo, dirty-water-dogs, and overflowing trash cans than any other city, but this list can only be so long.)

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And, of course, we have what is surely the biggest parade in the world: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, watched by 3.5 million spectators along the 3-mile route and another 50 million people at home. Over 8,000 volunteers participate in the parade itself, along with countless more behind the scenes. Then there are the Macy's employees, including painters, carpenters, sculptors, welders, and engineers, who handle everything from dreaming up the fanciful costumes to designing and building the dozens of floats, balloons, and props. All in all, close to 10,000 people participate in the parade, and each and every one of them shows up no matter what, since the parade takes place no matter what. Raining, snowing, sleeting, freezing? Throw on an extra-thick trash bag and some hip waders; the show must go on.

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Which explains why, even though my weatherproof husband has been participating in the parade for over a dozen years, I have steadfastly declined to join him. I don't do the parade for the same reason that I don't ski, camp, hike, or leave the house without a snowsuit from November through March: I hate being cold.

Plus, I was harboring the most un-American of secrets: I don't like parades. I don't like the banners. I don't like the marching bands. I don't like the announcers, all smug and cozy in their press box while everyone else freezes their extremities off. And I really don't like clowns. Throw in that draconian all-weather policy, and you can see why I'd choose to cheer Angel on from the comfort of my living room with a hot toddy in hand.

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But over the course of 13 years, Angel has worked his way up from balloon handler to head pilot ("One of only 16 large-balloon pilots in the WORLD!" he likes to remind me). And every year more and more friends and family -- including one friend who drives through the night from Portland, Maine to arrive on time -- get involved with the parade, and then sign up to do it again the following year.

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Now, Angel is a naturally charismatic leader, but he's no Jim Jones. And so, as more and more people I knew drank the Kool-Aid and became parade converts, I knew there had to be something to this thing.

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I mean, who foregoes a few extra hours of sleep in a nice, warm bed for a 5 a.m. wake-up call and hours standing around in the cold, rain, snow, or a hellish combination thereof?

Apparently, me.

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Worn down by everyone from my husband to my sister-in-law to one of my best friends, I finally decided that 2014 would be my year. I'd set my alarm for the crack of dawn, trudge to 34th Street before dawn in order to suit up, then board the bus to Central Park & 81st, where I'd wait, and then wait some more, for the parade to finally get under way.

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But first I had to survive basic training.

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Training for balloon handlers begins in early fall in a parking lot at MetLife stadium in New Jersey, which is bad enough right there. Throw in chilly temps and the threat of rain, and I was already starting to rethink my decision.

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Around and around and around we went, learning to handle curves and corners and to operate the "bone," a plastic spool that the rope attached to the balloon is wound around, allowing the handlers below to raise and lower the balloon as needed. In light winds, the balloons can fly higher; in high winds, and at intersections where Manhattan's canyons of buildings create powerful cross-winds, the balloons must fly a little lower.

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Afterwards, each balloon is deflated much as you might expect: After running around in circles in a parking lot for a few hours, we all collapse on top of it. But not before inhaling a little helium on the sly.

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The balloons are then rolled, jelly-roll-style, back into their crates to await the big day.

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Although Sixth Avenue (which comprises the bulk of the parade route) is six lanes across, the large balloons, plus the 60 to 90 handlers and two anchor vehicles under each one, take up the bulk of those lanes. Angel's job is to manage his team of handlers to ensure that the balloon is flying straight -- not too close to any trees, lightposts, flagpoles, spectators, or other obstacles along the route -- and to ensure, through constant communication with NYPD, that its height is appropriate for the day's winds.

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And, as he will not miss an opportunity to remind us weaklings who have the luxury of walking forward, the only way to do all that is by getting far out ahead of the balloon as it makes its way down the avenue and, in order to keep an eye on it at all times, walking the entire 3-mile route backwards.

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In the weeks leading up to the parade, I began praying nightly. I knew better than to ask for good weather, so instead I just begged for not-hellish weather. I laid out a series of negotiations in my nightly chats with the big guy, noting that I'd take snow over rain, chilly over windy, cloudy and warm over sunny but cold. I slept with Angel's photos of past parades, with their vibrant blue skies and light winds, under my pillow.

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As it turns out, however, the Wrath of God is real, and my years of behaving like a heathen came back to bite me: It was cloudy, cold, and drizzly, with a few snow flurries thrown in for good measure.

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The day begins at 5 a.m. in the basement of the New Yorker Hotel near Macy's on 34th Street, where participants gather to don their costumes, guzzle some coffee, and shake each other awake.

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For those of us handling the balloons, those costumes consist of a pair of overalls, a bib, and, thankfully, a warm hat and gloves.

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Everyone is then bussed to the parade lineup, which begins uptown near Central Park.

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To start the parade, the balloons line up along 77th and 81st Streets, while the floats, marching bands, dancers, and other entertainment line up along Central Park West. Once the parade kicks off, the two merge at Central Park West and 77th, resulting in an assorted lineup of floats, balloons, and bands.

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The balloons are kept low to the ground under their nets until launch time, when the parade announcer calls out over the loudspeaker for the balloon to "Join the Parade!"

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Angel has piloted various balloons over the years, from Big Bird and Kermit the Frog to the Pillsbury Doughboy and Pikachu. This year it was Papa Smurf. Do you know how many people know and love Papa Smurf, who will chant his name ("When I say Papa, you say SMURF!") and even paint themselves blue in his honor?

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Approximately 3.5 million.

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And that was the point at which I took a big ol' glug of the Kool-Aid. Because as much as I wanted to complain about being cold and wet, it finally dawned on me that those 3.5 million spectators were cold and wet too, yet they'd gotten up just as early as we had to stake out their spot on the sidewalk, and then they waited hours . . . just to see us. The parade brought together folks of every race, color, and creed, both young and old, and each and every one of them smiled and clapped and chanted for each and every float, balloon, dance troupe, and band that passed by.

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They crammed into windows and onto balconies. They used their gym memberships to get a bird's eye view. They crowded onto church steps and into delis and 24-hour pharmacies and stood hundreds deep at every intersection.

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They screamed themselves hoarse to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving, and it was all so overwhelming that the Grinch who hates parades found that her small heart grew three sizes that day.

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As we neared the end of the parade route, I spied one little girl, whose face lit up as she tilted it skyward to take in the immensity of Papa Smurf. Then she caught my eye and called, "I love you, Papa Smurf! Don't forget me!!!"

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As if I ever could.

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Look for Angel in this year's parade! He'll be piloting the Diary of a Wimpy Kid balloon . . . backwards.

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Posted by TraceyG 08:00 Archived in USA Tagged new_york_city parade thanksgiving macy's macy's_parade Comments (2)

Paris: The City of Light Gets Everything Right

The list of things that are better in Paris is almost infinite. The food is fantastic, the wines are world-class, the clothes are cutting-edge, and the macarons are magnifique. But what you might not know is that all sorts of other things are better in Paris, too. Such as . . .

1. Cars

Americans like everything bigger, especially their cars. Who doesn't like to take their enormous gas-guzzling SUV to the McDonald's drive-through for a triple-bacon-cheeseburger and a diet Coke? But in Paris, economy is a virtue, and the cars are rightly sized for the tiny alleyways and limited parking spots inherent to a 2,000-year-old city.

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They also happen to be really cute.

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Best of all, when your car doesn't take up much room, you can park it wherever you want.

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2. Public Art

Paris is chock-full of great museums, but you don't have to spend the day indoors to get some cul-chah.

That's because the City of Light is also a city of artists, and their pieces are on public view virtually everywhere. They work in various media, including stone, marble, wood, paper, and glass.

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But only the true masters work in bubble.

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Hey, don't knock it. It beats a mime any day.

3. Wine Bars and Cafes

This visit to Paris was a work trip, and I was thrilled to be returning, particularly on someone else's Euro. I arrived a day ahead of a colleague who was coming from Italy, where he'd been meeting with another of our clients. Due to what I presume was his hectic schedule of eating mounds of pasta and guzzling bottles of Brunello, he didn't have time to make any dinner reservations in Paris, and instead left them all to me (and all the bills to our corporate AmEx). Which was exactly like winning the lottery, minus all those annoying relatives coming out of the woodwork.

Luckily my colleague is a smart man who enjoys a glass or two of wine before dinner, and so on most evenings we popped into a wine bar for a pre-dinner aperitif.

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When I wasn't at work, I was busy running the Paris Marathon, which is that mad dash around the city to sample everything you can possibly sip, slurp, scarf, and snarf in the time you have before your flight departs.

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Still, no matter how many logs of goat cheese I gobbled, or how many bottles of Sancerre I guzzled, I somehow managed to still feel at home.

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4. Public Restrooms

If you're out and about for the day in most U.S. cities and need to use the restroom, your choices are pretty limited. You can go into a store and ask, at which point you will be informed (by an employee with an apparently watermelon-sized bladder) that they don't have a restroom, or you can stop at a fast-food place and access their restroom by purchasing a water or soda, thereby creating a never-ending cycle of drinking so you can pee and then having to pee because you had that drink.

Or, you know, you can just pee on the street like we do here in New York City.

Paris, however, has decided to go ahead and acknowledge that people have bodily functions. And so, on the main thoroughfare in many neighborhoods, you will find one of these:

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For a few Euros, and in some cases even for free, you can pop into this little self-cleaning pee pod, close the door, and relieve yourself in peace.

Or so I thought.

I'd taken the Metro from the Right Bank and, after several transfers, arrived at the Maubert-Mutualité stop in the Fifth. My plan was to visit the Marché Maubert (the oldest market in Paris, having started in 1547), then wander around Saint-Germain-des-Pres until my feet fell off. But first, I had to take care of business, so I stopped at the first sanisette I found. Operation is simple: You press a button (or, in some cases, insert a coin) to open the door; when you step inside, a sensor in the floor causes the door to close and lock. You do your business, wash up, then open the door and exit. The door then closes again while the toilet is automatically cleaned and disinfected by a motorized mechanism, then a green light signals that the lavatory is ready for the next user. Simple, right?

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And it was, the first time around. But perhaps I was more desperate later in the afternoon, or just exhausted. I stepped into the pee pod and, after an unusually long pause, the door closed. But then . . . a robotic woman's voice was permeating the pod, offering a greeting? well wishes? bon voyage? in French. Now, my French is decent, but I am by no means fluent. So I waited, and the message was repeated, but still, all I could make out was that it had something to do with the restroom I was currently occupying. But the door was still closed, so I decided to ignore the disembodied voice and approach the toilet, but then the robot-woman spoke again, this time with more urgency.

I was feeling some urgency of my own, so I again decided to ignore her. But before I could tend to my business, the message was repeated yet again, and this time I detected a soupçon of panic in the robot-woman's voice. I listened as intently as I could -- the messages were coming faster now, and by this time the robot-woman's tone now in full-on Def Con 5 mode -- but for the life of me, I could not understand what on earth she was saying.

That's because my French vocabulary apparently does not include phrases like, "Danger! Abort! Get the hell out of here before you are sprayed to death with non-FDA-approved toilet chemicals, imbecile!" Ohhh.

Later, after having vacated the pod for fear that the door would suddenly fling open, catching me sans culottes, I checked the Internet and found this tidbit: "There have been reports of sanisettes beginning the cleaning cycle with small, lightweight children trapped inside."

Apparently the pee pods think I am a small, lightweight child. Who also happens to be illiterate.

Hmph.

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5. Pastries.

The chocolates, pastries, and other sweets in Paris are almost too beautiful eat, and almost too difficult to describe.

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Luckily, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is helpful when your mouth is always full of lemon tarts.

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6. Churches

The French are a religious people, and you would be too if you spent your days consuming things like foie gras, sole meunière, duck confit, and tartiflette. And so their churches are big, beautiful, and bountiful enough that no matter where you decide to eat and drink in Paris, there will be a church nearby where you can pop in and pray for a few more good years before your heart gives out and your liver gives up.

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The most famous of these is Notre Dame, on Île de la Cité. Or, as a couple I met from Texas called it, "The Ill."

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No, I didn't wait in line to get inside. That would have taken up valuable time that could have been spent on #7 on this list.

7. Cheese

Of course, the cheese itself is better in Paris. Cheese is to France what bloomin' onions are to 'Murica. But what's truly notable is that instead of hoarding the stuff like the prized possession it is, Parisians dole out their precious fromage in portions so generously over-the-top that you might not need a pee poop pod ever again.

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Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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8. Doors

Okay, so doors might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of things that are better in Paris. But the doors in Paris, like almost everything else in this stunning city, are works of art.

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Plus, 10 Euros says your city doesn't have any solid-gold doors made for giants.

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9. Hippos

If you can find any place with better leather hippos, I'm all ears.

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Tiny, adorable hippo ears.

10. Architecture

Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, largely thanks to the efforts of one man: Georges-Eugène Haussmann.

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Neither architect nor engineer, Haussmann was nevertheless hired by Emperor Napoléon III in 1853 to gentrify the city by opening a Starbucks on every corner undertaking a vast public works project to address the overcrowding, disease, traffic, and crime endemic to nineteenth-century Paris. Haussmann's plan included the demolition of crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods, construction of wide avenues to improve traffic circulation, parks and squares to improve the city's light and air quality, and the construction of new sewers, fountains, and aqueducts to improve the water supply.

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All of that sounds fantastic, of course, which is why Haussmann's plan was met with fierce opposition by members of the French parliament, and he was finally dismissed by Napoleon III in 1870. At least it's nice to know that the U.S. isn't the only country with a government run by idiots.

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A key feature of Haussmann's plan were wide boulevards lined by buildings that were all required to be the same height and same basic facade design, and all faced with cream-colored stone, giving the city center its distinctive harmony.

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Away from the city's leafy boulevards, the architecture is less uniform, but even more grand and imposing.

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At the other end of the spectrum, many of Paris's medieval alleyways and cobblestone streets still remain.

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Elsewhere, small but bright side streets invite flowers and greenery.

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Even the office building where I spent a few days working managed to feel airy and open instead of like the prison cell it actually was, standing between me and freedom...to eat more cheese.

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But beautiful as Paris's buildings may be, I suppose none of them can compete with that big metal tower of theirs.

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11. Farmer's Markets

Ever wonder why the produce tastes so much better in Europe?

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Sure, it could be your surroundings -- what wouldn't taste better on Boulevard St. Germain? -- or it could be because in America, we prefer our fruits and vegetables to be uniformly sized, perfectly shaped, and coated in a fine mist of poison designed to kill anything with more legs than we have.

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Then again, who needs good produce when there's pies and pâté?

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And gigantic wedges of cheese. Vegetables, schmgetables.

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12. Selfies

In general, I'm not a big fan of the selfie, which is surprising since I'm really good at pouting.

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But I was alone in Paris, and even though I could have asked a stranger to take my photo, it just didn't seem worth the linguistic effort. And so I snapped a few myself, and in reviewing them I was thrilled to discover that the less makeup I wore, and the frizzier my hair got, the more Parisian I looked.

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Which might just be the very best thing that's better in Paris.

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What's up next? Fritas Cubanas in Key West, a fancy-pants weekend in East Hampton, fall foliage in the Hudson Valley, and fun in the sun in Anguilla. Check back soon or click here to subscribe and you'll receive an email when a new post goes up!

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Posted by TraceyG 08:50 Archived in France Tagged churches paris notre_dame pastries st_germain marche_maubert Comments (9)

Falling Off the Wagon on Fire Island

If you could set sail for a place that combines the windswept beauty of the Hamptons . . . with the funky, come-as-you-are charm of Key West . . . then throw in the laid-back vibe of a barefoot Caribbean island . . . and finally, swap out modern conveniences like cars for little red wagons, paved roads for a patchwork of narrow boardwalks, and cell phones and iPads for messages etched in driftwood and painted on sea shells . . . you'd surely wash ashore on Fire Island.

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Just 40 miles from New York City, Fire Island feels both miles and years away, like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting of an idyllic, 1950s-era beach haven. Thirty-two miles long but less than a half-mile wide, Fire Island consists of just over a dozen small, seaside communities with fanciful names like Saltaire, Atlantique, Summer Club, Kismet, and Lonelyville, all connected not by roads, but by narrow wooden boardwalks and sandy paved paths.

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Cars aren't permitted on the island; neither are taxis. Luggage, groceries, children, and beer are hauled by old-school Radio Flyer wagons. Eighty percent of the island is public park land and can never be developed; the remaining 20 percent is occupied by less than 500 people year-round.

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Children enjoy a carefree existence here, liberated from the ever-watchful eyes of their parents. Their days are spent riding bikes or learning to surf; the more entrepreneurial among them run lemonade stands or sell hand-painted beach stones. When the first fireflies of the evening appear they return, smelling of salt and sunscreen, to lived-in beach houses that haven't been locked all day (if they have locks at all), for charcoal-grilled burgers on the deck or a clam bake on the beach. Cozied up in oversized sweatshirts against the evening's ocean breeze, they wave sparklers in the air and are lulled to sleep by the sound of the crashing surf.

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All of this sounded so delightful that we didn't hesitate when our friends Mika and Cliff rented a beach house for a week over the Fourth of July and invited us to spend part of it with them. And after a little more research, I learned that in addition to old-time charm and unspoiled natural beauty, I should also be prepared for lots of tiny, tame deer in the woods, and lots of raucous, ready-to-party gay guys in certain Fire Island villages. And so I responded to Mika's invitation with a text that read, "All I really want is to pet some deer and see some hot gay guys. And maybe pet them, too. Also, I pulled my hamstring at the gym so if there is a lot of walking, there must also be a lot of vodka."

She could only promise one of the three, but luckily it was the one I was most concerned about. And so we left Manhattan on a glorious Friday morning bound for Bay Shore, Long Island, then hopped the ferry over to the town they apparently named after they used up all the good names: Ocean Beach.

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Mika and Cliff met us at the dock with their adorable daughter Maddy in tow, then loaded our bags onto their wagon and led us back to the house.

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The short walk from Ocean Beach to Corneille took us past woods, dunes, and houses tucked away into both.

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Typical of most Fire Island summer houses, Sand Off was beachy and lived-in, with floral bedspreads, 1970s-era electronics, a rustic outdoor shower, and easy décor meant to withstand myriad renters and house guests.

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It was also just a stone's throw from the beach.

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Best of all, there was a beach ball for Maddy - the Fire Island equivalent of an empty cardboard box.

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The weekend's guests included Cliff's friend Neal, who was celebrating a birthday. It's just a shame that Maddy doesn't like him.

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After settling in at the house, Cliff and Neal took Maddy to the beach, while Angel, Mika, and I picked up a couple of bikes before heading to lunch at one of the handful of bayfront restaurants in town, The Hideaway.

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Not that we really needed the bikes to travel 23 feet and 103/4 inches.

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After lunch Mika showed us around Ocean Beach, along with neighboring Seaview and Ocean Bay Park.

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One of the many charms of Fire Island are the houses, most of them featuring weathered wood or salt-worn shingles, and stubbornly left un-renovated since their heyday in the 1960s. This gives the island a lived-in, beach-weathered look that defies time, trends, and, presumably, termites.

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Like the owners of grand estates everywhere, Fire Islanders take great care in selecting the perfect names for their abodes.

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I think you know which one I would pick.

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After a few hours spent doing exactly that, it was time for refreshments. And so we ended our bike ride with drinks at another of the town's salty haunts, Maguire's.

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The day's gorgeous weather found everyone outside on the waterfront deck.

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There, we were introduced to Fire Island's unofficial beverage of choice: Rocket Fuel, an amped-up piña colada with amaretto and Bacardi 151 that's served at virtually all of the island's bars and restaurants.

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Mika headed back to the house to check on Maddy, while Angel and I stayed in town to do a little shopping.

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The kid drove a hard bargain, but I still had a few dollars left to explore Ocean Beach's other offerings.

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Beware trying anything on, though: Some of these places will really soak you.

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Eventually I ran out of money and Angel ran out of patience, and we made it back to the house just in time for Neal to serve up some Fourth of July-themed cocktails.

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Maddy got a snack, but it seemed that she would have preferred a cocktail, too.

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Or at least a new iPhone.

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On second thought . . . she'll take that cocktail after all.

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A round of quick showers, and soon it was time for a sunset dinner at the Island Mermaid.

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We skipped the stroller and loaded Maddy into the wagon, figuring that anyone who got too tipsy at dinner could ride back in it.

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The Island Mermaid summed up the Fire Island dichotomy pretty well: It is welcoming, beachy, and one of the island's best spots to take in the sunset, but it also serves Rocket Fuels to anyone who can still prop themselves up and slur the words, "Rickets Full."

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We were joined by Neal and his buddy Pete, and during dinner I made the mistake of relating to them a story from Mika's last visit to the Hamptons. We'd been at a nice waterfront restaurant, and after a few rum punches, it was time to use the ladies room. Only, the person who used the stall before me had clearly had more than just a few, since they'd managed to break the toilet seat completely off, leaving it discarded on the floor next to the toilet. I couldn't stop laughing at the mental picture of someone being so ripped as to literally rip the thing clean off its hinges, and thus a new standard was born: Did you have fun, or did you have break-a-toilet-seat fun? The guys were clearly in a break-a-toilet-seat (and maybe even a rip-a-hand-dryer-off-the-wall) kind of mood, because I'm pretty sure our dinner consisted of fresh seafood, frosty Rocket Fuels, and hours of spirited debate about whether something was just regular fun, or break-a-toilet-seat fun.

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The next day was July 4, and the entire house (except for Pete, who was presumably still out destroying restrooms) awoke bright and early to make our preparations. Outfits were carefully chosen, as were coordinating headgear and eyewear. Out came the streamers, balloons, banners, bunting, glitter, and flags. Were we preparing for the RuPaul Drag Race? A Mariah Carey concert?

No. We were entering an 18-month-old in the Fourth of July Kids Parade.

And she could not have been less interested.

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Mika and Cliff lined up at the parade's start . . .

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. . . while Angel and I staked out our seats along the route.

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Soon the parade was under way, kicked off by animated marching bands and antique fire trucks.

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Next up, the wagon-floats, most of which stuck with the "Independence Day" theme . . .

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While others went with "Star Wars" instead.

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Naturally, there was an abundance of mermaids, both large and small.

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And then there were the killer sharks . . .

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And the deadly serious killer sharks. Complete with limping, bleeding "survivors."

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The kids generally fell into one of three camps. There were those who were happy to be there:

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Those who were distracted by more pressing concerns:

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And those who looked like they'd have preferred being attacked by one of the killer sharks to being in the parade.

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Finally we spied Maddy's wagon and got ready to cheer her on. Unfortunately, however, if Maddy was uninterested in the parade before, by now she thought it was a real snooze-fest.

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Of course, that just made her the sleeper hit of 2015.

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After the parade we made a quick stop at Maguire's for a couple of drinks.

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Then, as if the parade hadn't been small-town-charming enough, we headed to the local ball field for lunch. That's where the entire island gathers every year for an old-fashioned Fourth of July cookout, complete with hamburgers, hot dogs, and watermelon, all for $1 each.

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Back at the house, we lolled around for a bit, finally willing ourselves to check the ferry schedule and get ready to depart.

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We hopped the ferry back to the mainland, picked up our car, and headed to our cottage out east. Back amid the hustle and bustle of the Hamptons, that evening we got dressed up for dinner at one of the area's many chi-chi restaurants, where we enjoyed local duck pâté, coquilles St.-Jacques, and a good bottle of crisp Sancerre.

But only because they didn't have Rocket Fuels on the cocktail menu.
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Posted by TraceyG 15:02 Archived in USA Comments (7)

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