A Travellerspoint blog

St. John, USVI, Part 1: Chicken(s) of the Sea

As longtime readers of this blog already know, Angel and I are experienced Caribbean travelers. And as such, we have endured our share of only-in-the-islands hardships. There was that warm Chardonnay served in plastic cups in Abaco. The private beach dinner in Anguilla sans the tiny decorative pineapples I'd requested. And, probably most horrific of all, that Christmas Day on Tortola when I almost didn't get to eat lunch.

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But none of these prior calamities could have prepared us for our pre-Covid visit to St. John.

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Beautiful St. John, with its striking green mountains and stunning beaches. Peaceful St. John, with its chill vibe and charming people. Scenic St. John, with its steep switchbacks and sweeping overlooks.

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And utterly terrifying St. John, with spiders the size of saucers and billipedes (that is not a typo) the size of hot dogs and bumblebees so huge they look like flying avocados. St. John, with its nightly cacophony of frogs? howler monkeys? Tasmanian devils? that sound like an angry flock of seagulls fighting over a single French fry. St. John, where the charming cottage we rented featured a screen door that never managed to bang around the same way twice, leaving us unwitting participants in a nightly guessing game of "Is it just the wind...or is it a masked intruder hoping to find more than just the 16 pairs of shoes I brought?"

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There is an old adage that a particularly bad scare can so startle a person's heart as to shave one year off their life expectancy. After surprises on St. John ranging from finding an enormous waterbug on my face towel (apparently it's possible to scream so loud that you startle them) to an unidentified creepy-crawly in my hair (more screaming, plus some wild Elaine Benes-style thrashing) to taking a pitch-black outdoor shower at night during a blackout (in the interest of preserving my few remaining shreds of sanity, I refuse to even speculate) . . . I am pleased to announce that I am inexplicably still alive given that, according to the old adage, I should have died approximately nine years ago.

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Our nightly Battle of the Bugs began on the Sunday before Christmas, when we foolishly arrived with suitcases full of clothes and brightly wrapped presents instead of cans of Bop and beekeeper suits.

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None of this, of course, was the fault of Sago Cottage, a charming, spotless West Indian style cottage in Calabash Boom.

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We didn't want to venture too far on our first night on island, so we headed down to Coral Bay just in time for sunset at Aqua Bistro.

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What beats fried calamari, tacos, rum punch, and a Bushwacker for dinner?

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Obviously that was a rhetorical question.

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Angel awoke bright and early the next morning, while I planned ahead for a cottage with no window blinds.

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Finally I roused myself enough to get dressed and take in our fragrant surroundings.

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Soon it was time for lunch, so we headed down the mountain to Skinny Legs.

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Skinny Legs is proudly blender-free, but that didn't stop us from ordering up a Painkiller, a rum punch, and then the deadly Melee -- a blend of all six Cruzan rum flavors and a thimble full of fruit juice.

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After lunch we decided on a swim at Cinnamon Bay or, as we were calling it after that Melee, Cimmaninn.

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After that, things got wild.

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That evening we dressed casually for dinner at The Longboard, only to find that the wait was more than an hour. Too hungry to hang on, we instead somehow managed to luck into an outdoor table at one of the best -- and most popular -- restaurants on the island, Extra Virgin.

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Although we had reservations for later in the week and hate to repeat a restaurant on vacation, Extra Virgin's gracious service, fabulous drinks, and excellent food definitely warrant doubling or even tripling up.

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Holiday Horchata with fig and vanilla infused bourbon, coconut, almond horchata, and cimmaninn. I mean cinnamon.

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Grapefruit margarita with house-made grapefruit sour...swoon

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Gnocchi with tomato cream and basil

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To-die-for housemade ricotta with mushroom and sweet corn saute

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Fettucine with colossal king crab and shrimp

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Apple crisp with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and just a smidge of whipped cream.

The next morning we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise. Not on purpose, of course. We're not psychos.

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We do sometimes dress alike, though, which I guess is close enough.

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For lunch, we decided to drive into town to check out the Banana Deck.

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This place serves greasy cheeseburgers, extra-cheesy fried mozzarella sticks, and Caesar dressing with enough mayonnaise in it to choke a wild donkey. In other words, I loved it.

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For his part, Angel had the grilled fish sammie with a spicy BBQ sauce that damn near melted his face off . . . which means he loved it, too.

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After that lunch, we thought it best to sequester ourselves at one of the more private beaches to avoid prying questions like, "Mommy, did that lady swallow a beach ball?" So we headed off to Oppenheimer Beach in hopes of snagging one of the very few parking spots.

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Success! Oppenheimer turned out to be one of our very favorites of the trip.

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It certainly didn't hurt that we had it all to ourselves.

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When we'd finally had our fill of the sea, we headed back to Sago Cottage, stopping along the way to sample a Tropical Whiskey Punch at the Danforth and dodge some goats before cozying up in the hot tub in time for sunset.

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That night was Christmas Eve, and we'd booked dinner at Rhumb Lines.

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The wait for our food was a long one thanks to the holiday, but eventually we feasted on potstickers, Szechuan tuna with "Puff Daddy" noodles, and a delicious shrimp Pad Thai.

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The next morning, I opened my Christmas presents, thanked Angel for his thoughtfulness, and then ran off with another man. Well, motored, actually. What can I say? The heart wants what it wants, and what mine wants is pizza.

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We showed up at the dock ready to jam.

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That mask was supposed to look like Santa's beard. This guy was ahead of his time.

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We spent most of the morning on the slide, even reenacting "A Christmas Story," since it was Christmas day.

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Soon it was time for one of the catamaran crew members to make the run over the to the floating pizza shop, Pizza Pi, to pick up lunch. They don't normally take passengers with them, of course, but I can be very persuasive. Or pathetic. Whatever.

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At first Angel had no idea where I'd gone, but it didn't take him long to figure out that where there's a pizza, there's a Tracey.

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There might even be some rum punch.

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Posted by TraceyG 14:50 Archived in US Virgin Islands Tagged coral_bay virgin_islands usvi st_john aqua_bistro calabash_boom skinny_legs sago_cottage Comments (6)

St. John, USVI, Part 2: Chicken(s) of the Sea

After a Christmas Day sail full of pepperoni pizza and rum punch, there was only one thing left to do afterwards: Grab some margaritas.

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We ended up at Greengo's, a festive spot in Mongoose Junction.

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By this point in our trip, I had almost made peace with the creepy-crawlies that were intent on terrorizing me wherever I went. At home, I styled myself as a modern-day Rambo, a can of BOP in one hand and an electric bug zapper in the other. At night, I rolled myself into a tight burrito made of bedsheets and topped with a thick layer of Deep Woods OFF. I steadfastly refused to use any light that didn't have a lightswitch after a particularly traumatizing incident involving a waterbug on a lampshade, and on occasion I even encountered an insect small enough to dispose of myself with my flip-flop, instead of my usual method of dropping a stockpot over the multi-legged beast and screaming bloody murder for Angel. In other words, I had the situation mostly under control.

Until we arrived home from Greengos and all hell broke loose.

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There was a blackout. And to be honest, I'm not sure which was more terrifying: Having to use the outdoor shower in the pitch dark, or having to go to Christmas Dinner without the benefit of a mirror or a hairdryer.

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Luckily our dinner was quite the distraction: a round of Copa Cabanas with Plantation overproof rum, lime, orange, and pineapple juice; tuna tartare; decadent Coquille St. Jacques; and the Caribbean version of a turducken: Lobster stuffed with shrimp stuffed with crabmeat, all topped with a creamy, citrusy sauce.

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The next day we set off for the Art Bar in Cruz Bay. There, I treated Angel to a rum tasting to occupy him while I shopped their selection of beautiful hand-made jewelry.

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We'd so enjoyed our earlier dinner at Extra Virgin that we decided to give their new sister restaurant, 1864, a try for lunch.

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There, we enjoyed moules frites, a fabulous smashburger, and 1864's excellent focaccia.

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Soon the beach beckoned again, so we set off for a soak.

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After an afternoon in the hot sun, we'd worked up a thirst.

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New Favorite Drink Alert: the R&R, made with St. John Brewers' draft root beer mixed with Cruzan vanilla rum.

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The afternoon had turned cloudy, and by the time we got back to Sago Cottage, it had started to drizzle. Not that we let that spoil our fun.

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By evening it was raining in earnest, so we decided to snuggle in with a couple of pizzas from Pizzabar in Paradise and a bottle of red wine, enjoying the sound of the rain drumming on the tin roof.

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We spent the next morning taking in the spectacular view from the cottage.

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Eventually we decided to check out nearby Salt Pond Bay, which is where we learned that "a trail good for all skill levels" still means that you should actually wear shoes.

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Somehow we managed to make it to the beach with our ankles intact.

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Happily, the day began to clear up, so we made a beeline for the Paddle-In Tiki Bar at Maho.

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There, we discovered the Friend of the Devil, a Painkiller with bourbon instead of rum. I have no idea how I'd never thought of that before, but it's never too late to make a good cocktail even more deadly.

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It's just a shame they were so stingy with the nutmeg.

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Lunch was at High Tide, where we enjoyed crunchy coconut shrimp, spicy blackened fish, and a Caprese sandwich served with a tasty little pasta salad.

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For dinner, we stuck close to home with some BBQ at Oasis, where we might as well been this potted plant for all the attention the bartender paid us.

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And they were out of the mac & cheese, which is a far greater crime than just ignoring me.

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The next morning dawned bright and sunny, which was perfect for what I had planned for our last full day.

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We piled into the Jeep and set off for Hansen Bay and what would be one of the highlights of our trip, Lime Out.

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I was practically giddy at the thought of not just tacos and Painkillers at Lime Out, but floating tacos and Painkillers, and so I was crestfallen when we learned that the pedal boat we planned to rent to get over there was not available, having filled with water from the rain the day before. But those tacos beckoned, and so Angel and a kind stranger managed to lift the massive pedal boat and drain it so we could pedal over to Lime Out.

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Finally, having pedaled our little hearts out, we arrived at Lime Out, tied up our ride, and clambered "aboard."

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We whiled away the afternoon with cocktails, tacos, and new friends.

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Soon it was time to pedal back.

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Of course, it's not every day that you find yourself pedaling away from a floating taco bar in the middle of a secluded bay at sunset and hear someone call your name, and I'll admit that my first thought was that I was hallucinating from one too many Painkillers. But there was Sandra, the caretaker who'd led us to Sago Cottage when we first arrived on St. John, and her partner Ronald on their sailboat, waving and inviting us aboard as we pedaled by.

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Ronald went ashore to pick up Angel from returning the pedal boat, leaving Sandra and I alone to take silly selfies.

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Sunset from a sailboat with new friends and a belly full of tacos and Painkillers? Not a bad way to end our last day.

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It was our last night on island, so we headed back to what had quickly become a new favorite, Extra Virgin Bistro.

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The next morning we soaked up the view one last time, said goodbye to our goat friends, and grabbed a quick lunch at the Westin before dragging ourselves to the nearby ferry dock.

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On the way back to St. Thomas, we were treated to a rainbow spanning the horizon, a symbol of hope in many cultures. Angel's hope was that we'd return to St. John someday.

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Mine was that I'd never see a billipede ever again.

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------------------------------
You may have spent the pandemic baking bread, organizing your closets, and learning to play the ukulele, but I spent it watching Tiger King and not blogging. But now I'm back, baby, and there's at least a year's worth of trips to catch up on! Up next? Anguilla, Antigua, and anyplace else that will permit disease-ridden Americans to enter the country. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know when a new post goes up!

Posted by TraceyG 12:54 Archived in US Virgin Islands Tagged terrace st_john tiki greengos the_terrace st_john_brewers pizzabar_in_paradise art_bar 1864 maho lime_out Comments (6)

Cape Town, South Africa: From A to Z, Part 1

Like most people, I love to travel but hate to fly. The crowds, the jostling, the lines, and, worst of all, the hours of unrelenting boredom relieved only by the occasional bag of pretzels (stale) or temper tantrum (mine). And so, when I learned that a trip to Cape Town would require a 14-hour nonstop to Johannesburg, followed by another 2-hour flight to Cape Town, I jokingly thought, "Man, this place better have literally everything. I want beaches and mountains and wineries! I want chi-chi restaurants and waterfront bars and postcard views! I want rolling vineyards and world-class wines and great food and a vibrant downtown and historic architecture and sweeping vistas and. . ."

Impossibly . . . Cape Town had all of it.

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In fact, Cape Town is the only city I've ever visited that's so scenic, drivers pull onto the shoulder of a busy highway, jump out of their car, and literally risk death just to take a selfie.

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I, of course, would never do something so silly just for a photo.

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And as if all that weren't nearly enough . . . they also have penguins.

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In the end, Cape Town was such an embarrassment of riches that in the time it would take you to read a day-by-day, chronological recounting of our trip, you could have just flown there yourself. And so, here's my (mostly) A to Z list of the most beautiful, breathtaking, and beguiling reasons to visit Cape Town. [NOTE: This trip was pre-Covid. I wouldn't spend 14 hours on a plane now unless, well, it was going to Cape Town.]

AZURE
We decided to have Christmas Eve dinner at Azure, the five-star restaurant at Cape Town's 12 Apostles Hotel. Twelve apostles, twelve days of Christmas, seemed appropriate.

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Azure overlooks both Camps Bay and Lions Head Mountain, and even though just one of those would constitute a spectacular view anywhere else in the world, this is Cape Town, where such views are the norm. It's like Malibu and Tuscany went on a wine-fueled bender, resulting in the world's most beautiful baby.

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And you know the food is good when it can distract you from the postcard views outside.

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Plus, the dessert was smokin'.

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BUITENVERWACHTING
One of the things I loved most about Cape Town was how far in advance they take restaurant reservations...that is, until September rolled around and I found that my first and second choices for Christmas lunch were already booked. That, however, turned out to be one of the best things that's ever happened to me, because otherwise I'd never have discovered Buitenverwaching [Bite-en-ver-VACHT-ing] and their delicious, decadent, top-five-meals-in-my-life Christmas spectacular.

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I originally thought we'd dine outside on the patio, but the gracious reservationist, Lanita, recommended the glass-enclosed terrace for a better view. She did not steer us wrong.

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Our seven-course lunch included mozzarella espuma; marinated tuna with pan-fried baby gem lettuce and black garlic; quail saltimbocca with curried popcorn jus, chorizo, and truffles; and braised beef with crispy morels and taro crema.

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All paired with Buitenverwachting's excellent wines, of course.

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So much wine, in fact, that I could have sworn they served my dessert in a little Santa sled.

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In fact, the only bad thing I have to say about Buitenverwachting is that they continue to torture me with emails regarding all of the other spectacular-sounding food and wine events they're hosting, so much so that we have considered moving halfway around the world to Cape Town just so we can become regulars here.

I mean, it's not the world's worst plan.

CHAPMAN'S PEAK
Chapman's Peak is located on the western side of the Cape Peninsula, between Hout Bay and Noordhoek. The western flank of the mountain drops precipitously into the Atlantic Ocean and a road, known as Chapman's Peak Drive, hugs the near-vertical face of the mountain. Obviously this is not dangerous at all.

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Part of the road is carved directly into the mountain, which handily combines acrophobia and claustrophobia for those who are short on time.

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DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE
In the U.S., Graff is known for outsized diamonds and Oscar-night jewels. But in over-the-top Cape Town, Graff is known as a paradise for wine enthusiasts, foodies, spa-goers, and art collectors . . . and those inclined to pick up a $1.2 million diamond over lunch.

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Delaire means "from the sky," and it's a fitting name for a vineyard nestled on the Helshoogte Mountain Pass, which links two of South Africa's most famous wine-growing regions, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

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Our day at Delaire began with lunch on the terrace, where we enjoyed excellent food, stellar views, and solicitous service.

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Breathtaking as they are, the mountains aren't the only African works of art around here.

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Though the day's weather was perfect, it was easy to see how cozy the indoor dining room would be in winter.

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After lunch, we retired to the wine lounge for a customized tasting.

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The wines were fantastic; so much so that we placed a very large order to be shipped home. Otherwise we'd definitely have picked up a 10-carat diamond on our way out.

ERNIE ELS
One of the highlights of the wine-country town of Stellenbosch is La Gratitude, a gorgeous 17th century Cape Dutch style mansion that houses apartments, offices, and a restaurant owned by South African pro golfer Ernie Els.

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Upstairs, the private Founder's Club is a chic, clubby spot to retire with a whiskey after dinner.

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But on this day, the warm, sunny weather dictated that we retire to the garden.

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Oh, look, it's my living room window.

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FETA CHEESE AND FANCY COCKTAILS
Trust me, I wasn't expecting feta to be on the list of reasons to visit Cape Town, either. But when you split your time between New York City and the Hamptons, where feta is stingily doled out with tweezers in pieces that are both the size and price of pearls, you know a world-class bargain when you see one.

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I was, however, expecting fancy cocktails from this cosmopolitan (heh-heh) city, and Cape Town did not disappoint. One of our favorite spots was The Bungalow, a chic beachfront spot in Clifton.

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Another was Ginja in the V&A Waterfront, a stylish spot with killer views of Table Mountain.

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And still more feta.

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GUARDIAN PEAK
Guardian Peak's philosophy, "Live with Wine," is built on the winery's belief that wine and food should be inseparable in our daily diet. Huh. Apparently I've been on a diet my entire adult life.

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Nestled under the towering peak on Stellenbosch Mountain for which it is named, Guardian Peak's stunning estate includes a winery, restaurants, expansive terrace, and well-stocked shop.

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After a customized tasting, we moved indoors to a window-side table for a multi-course lunch.

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Yes, "ladies"-sized cuts of beef. Obviously they haven't met this lady.

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HIKING LION'S HEAD MOUNTAIN
I usually prefer to do my hiking in ballet flats and white pants, or on a bike so I don't have to walk. But when I heard that Lion's Head rewarded a beginner-level hike with sweeping views of the entire city, I bought a pair of cute boots and decided to give it a go.

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As we drew nearer, the enormity of the mountain, and the stupidity of our task, became clear.

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But it was a beautiful day -- Christmas Day! -- and so we foolishly stumbled off into the bush with no water, no sunscreen, and no sense.

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Obviously I had no business being on a sheer vertical rock face with nothing but a flimsy chain between me and death by clumsiness...but the views made the risk worth it.

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And did I mention the ladders? I mean, if using one just to clean your gutters is dangerous, then using one to climb up a mountain is downright suicidal.

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Sure, it was an unconventional way to spend Christmas morning, but that was nothing compared to the penguin-palooza to come.
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Posted by TraceyG 16:05 Archived in South Africa Tagged twelve_apostles cape_town south_africa stellenbosch chapmans_peak azure buitenverwachting constantia delaire delaire_graff la_gratitude guardian_peak lions_head Comments (7)

Cape Town, South Africa: From A to Z, Part 2

JOY
The oldest residential neighborhood in Cape Town, Bo Kaap is known for its charming, joyfully colorful houses.

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Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Bo Kaap is the historical center of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town and the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in the city.

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KHAYELITSHA
A shameful relic of apartheid, Cape Town's Khayelitsha district was formed in the early 1980s when Xhosa-speaking Blacks from the Eastern Cape moved westward to Cape Town in search of work. The apartheid regime sought to solve this "problem" by establishing new Black neighborhoods -- including Khayelitsha, which means "new home" in Xhosa -- on the outskirts of Cape Town, then forcefully relocating the Black population to these districts. In reality, the Xhosas' "new home" is the world's fifth-largest slum.

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Heartbreakingly, cardboard boxes and corrugated-metal shipping containers, which stretch as far as the eye can see, still serve as home to almost 400,000 people.

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Khayelitsha photos are not mine.

To help the residents of Khayelitsha or one of Cape Town's other districts, visit Arm in Arm in Africa.

LA PETITE TARTE
If Khayelitsha is the worst of Cape Town, then the city's trendy De Waterkant neighborhood -- an area once inhabited by slaves but now home to both Blacks and whites -- shows that cultural diversity makes an area more vibrant and interesting. Today De Waterkant features cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafés, a diverse popuation, and a great little bistro, La Petite Tarte.

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It's like they knew I was coming.

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La Petite looks like a shabby chic farmhouse, minus the stray cats and plus the extra charm.

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La Petite's menu was so good that we couldn't just order just one entrée. Which is how we ended up having bobotie, a Croque Monsieur, and a chicken pot pie for lunch.

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What is bobotie, you ask? Pronounced "ba-BOH-tee," it's a classic South African baked casserole of curried ground beef with a creamy, custard-like egg topping. So kind of like a spicy Shepherd's pie, if Shepherd's pie was one of the best things you'd ever tasted.

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We even behaved ourselves.

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Just kidding.

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MOUETTE
La Mouette, which means "the seagull," is housed in an Tudor building in Sea Point that was once home to the town's mayor.

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It was the perfect choice for Christmas dinner, suffused with soft amber light and warmed by cozy fireplaces.

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The visually stunning five-course tasting menu didn't hurt, either. Who wouldn't want parmesan custard(!!!) with cauliflower and hazelnut crumble; braised short ribs with celery root tacos; burrata with honeycomb and arugula oil; and herbed gnocchi with edible twigs and and truffle snow, all topped off with a gorgeous passionfruit curd with coconut and mango sorbet for dessert?

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Most charming of all? The chef had saved all of his original, handwritten recipes from his early days as a cook, then framed them for display when he finally got his own restaurant.

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Now that's the kind of place I can (celery) root for.

OWL COTTAGE
We knew we'd be doing a lot of driving on this trip -- from Sea Point to Stellenbosch, Clifton to Constantia, and points in between -- and so we chose our home base carefully. That turned out to be the chic seaside suburb of Hout Bay.

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We decided to stay at Owl Cottage, a charming bungalow in the Victorskloof area with a veranda overlooking the sea and Chapman's Peak, and a sweet, flower-filled patio out back.

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Inside, the cottage was bright and spacious.

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And my sister made sure it was decked out for Christmas, with a pair of homemade, safari-themed stockings.

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They were perfect for smuggling home a couple of blocks of feta.

PENGUINS
After lunch on Christmas Day, I got the best Christmas present of all time: A trip to Boulders Beach in False Bay to the see the penguins.

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African penguins are obviously adorable, but they are also hilarious, clumsily waddling about, falling asleep at inopportune times, and adopting a little spread-eagle stance when it's time for a rest.

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ROUNDHOUSE
On our first night in Cape Town, we knew we'd be exhausted from the flight and ready for some pampering. And so we chose The Roundhouse, an upscale spot nestled under Table Mountain and overlooking Camps Bay.

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Founded in 1786, the Roundhouse was originally built as a guardhouse for the Dutch East India Company, as the location was ideally situated to keep watch of enemy ships. Today it is ideally situated to have a great arrival-night meal, which on this night included cured trout with miso and tahini puree; steamed kingklip with burnt apple and fish-bone cream; beef in Rooikrans (an evergreen also known as acacia cyclops) coal oil; lamb belly with carrot and cashew puree; and Karoo Farm ostrich with caramelized milk, turnip, and sunchoke.

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Dessert #1 featured buffalo yogurt with carrot and satsuma sorbets and white chocolate caramel, while Dessert #2, which was described only as "coconut, rose, lychee, green tea," featured ice cream "soil" and a swirl of dry ice.

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STELLENBOSCH
Affectionately referred to as "Stellies," Stellenbosch is South Africa’s second oldest town and the epicenter of the Cape Winelands region.

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It's also great place to wonder why you don't just move here already.

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TOKARA
Tokara Estate is situated over 1,300 feet above sea level on top of the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch. I have no idea how to pronounce "Helshoogte," but after a wine tasting here, the variations are endless.

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The drive alone to Tokara is worth the trip.

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In addition to wine, Tokara offers tastings of its four different types of extra virgin olive oil.

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V&A WATERFRONT
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is the oldest working harbor in the southern half of the world. It also offers one of the most stunning vistas in the city, which is saying a lot in a place like Cape Town.

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No, we didn't ride the Ferris wheel. When I miraculously made it down from Lion's Head alive, I decided not to push my luck with any more high-risk activities.

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WHISKEY
World-class whiskey in wine country? You bet your bitters there is.

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Home to one of the largest whiskey collections in the Southern Hemisphere -- over 500 whiskies from nearly every producing region in the world -- Bascule Bar in the Cape Grace Hotel complements the hotel’s nautical vibe, located as it is down a narrow stairway leading to what might well be the hull of a ship.

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You can even get your own whiskey locker.

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X, Y, Z
Look, I got nothing for these letters. We played no xylophones, we ate no yams, and we covered the zebras in my safari posts. So how about some more penguins?

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You may have spent the pandemic baking bread, organizing your closets, and learning to play the ukulele, but I spent it not blogging. But now I'm back, baby, and there's at least a year's worth of trips to catch up on! Up next? Anguilla, Antigua, St. John, and any other island that will permit disease-ridden Americans to enter the country. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know when there's a new post to get you through the continuing hellscape that is the year 2021!

Posted by TraceyG 13:43 Archived in South Africa Tagged cape_town penguins south_africa stellenbosch roundhouse bobotie bo_kaap la_petite_tarte bar_bascule owl_cottage host_bay la_mouette tokara Comments (1)

Sabi Sands, South Africa: Come On and Safari With Me (Pt. 1)

Over the past few years, as we've watched more and more of our friends hit the Big Five-Oh, Angel came to realize that no matter how big a blowout celebration was held, a birthday still lasts, well, one day -- or maybe a week, if one is lucky -- and then it is forgotten, like so many sets of keys and pairs of glasses and other things that (I hear) one misplaces when one reaches the other side of 50.

And so, the least selfish man on the planet suddenly and uncharacteristically declared that when he turned 50, he planned to keep the party going . . . all year long. "The Year of Angel," as it came to be known, gradually took shape, ranging from a bourbon tour of Kentucky (with detours to the Louisville Slugger factory, the Muhammad Ali museum, and Churchill Downs, all a gift from his generous friend Robert), to Yankees spring training in Tampa with his baseball buddy Brian, to a birthday-night dinner in Anguilla, to a cigar-and-mojito fueled trip to Havana, to the, er, wildest trip of them all: An African safari.

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Our adventure began with a short, scenic flight from our home base in Cape Town to Nelspruit Airport in Mpumalanga, and if you think that's easy to say, then you didn't have nearly as many sundowners on your safari as I did on mine.

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From Mpumalanga, we boarded a tiny bush plane bound for the Arathusa Airstrip.

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That's airstrip, not airport.

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After exhaustive research in which I ruled out (1) all of the ultra-luxurious lodges that look like Ralph Lauren ads and cost more per night than my monthly take-home pay, and (2) those that allow very small children -- obviously a natural fit given that safaris feature large and sometimes deadly wild animals, a guide carrying a loaded rifle, and the expectation that everyone will be quiet -- we settled on Arathusa Safari Lodge.

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Luxurious enough to offer essentials like hot showers and air conditioning, but rustic enough to require an armed escort to our suite at night, Arathusa has just thirteen suites, nine of which face a waterhole (now dry due to South Africa's ongoing drought) and four of which are remotely located within the bush.

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Sought after due to its prime location within the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, which itself is adjacent to the vast, unfenced Kruger National Park, Arathusa also featured a comfortable outdoor bar and lounge, a large swimming pool, and -- incredibly, given its far-flung location -- some of the best food we've ever had on any vacation, anywhere.

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We booked early and had our choice of suites, ultimately deciding on Marula, one of the four remote bush suites and the furthest one from the main lodge. Given the suite's luxe furnishings and private swimming pool, you might not think we were really roughing it, but that's only because you didn't see how far Marula was from the lodge's cocktail bar.

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Thoughtful touches, like a soaking tub for two and an outdoor shower, completed the suite.

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And what Marula lacked in privacy when showering indoors, it made up for with the private dipping pool and secluded patio.

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We weren't completely alone, though.

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Upon our arrival, we had been greeted at the airstrip by one of the guides, who ferried us over to Arathusa just in time for lunch.

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Most people who spend time in the bush are fearful of contracting malaria or being mauled by a wild animal; I, of course, was worried that I might starve to death (and had packed a bag full of granola bars just in case). And so I should have known -- when Arathusa staff didn't even let us see our suite before whisking us off to lunch -- that my fears were not only unfounded, but ridiculous: Arathusa fed us so heartily, and so frequently, that I am pretty sure Angel once faked a headache just to avoid stuffing down a three-course lunch mere hours after the mid-morning snack, which itself had been preceded by breakfast and a pre-breakfast snack. Me, I'm down with any place where lunch is the fourth meal of the day.

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That afternoon was our first game drive.

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Concerned that the late December summer foliage would obscure our viewing, we'd brought along a high-powered zoom lens . . . which turned out to be almost completely unnecessary.

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Though it was only our first drive, we were thrilled to spot three of the Big Five . . . and their babies.

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We also saw the first of many, many impala, a medium-sized antelope native to Africa.

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We came to prefer the evening game drives to the morning ones for several reasons -- no 4:30am wake-up call; the opportunity to bask in the late afternoon heat; and returning to the lodge in the soft blue twilight -- but the main one was . . . sundowners.

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Scheduled roughly halfway through each evening game drive, sundowners are the South African version of happy hour.

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And that is how I had the best gin-and-tonic of my life, at a makeshift bar in the bush, under the late afternoon warmth of the African sun.

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The second half of our inaugural drive was just as awe-inspiring as the first.

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That evening, exhaustion from the long day of travel started to catch up with us, but Arathusa had a little surprise in store before we could return to the lodge: Dinner in the bush, under a dark sky blanketed with stars.

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It was the experience of a lifetime.

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It had been a day filled with incredible firsts, and I was worried that we would barely sleep trying to process all we'd experienced. But the thought of getting to do it all again -- but this time at 5:30am -- was a powerful motivator, and we willed ourselves to sleep . . . counting impalas.
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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2!

Posted by TraceyG 05:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari kruger kruger_national_park sabi_sand sabi_sands arathusa safari_lodge Comments (11)

Sabi Sands, South Africa: Come On and Safari With Me (Pt. 2)

The next morning -- early, early morning -- was our first pre-dawn game drive. We roused ourselves at 4:30am, which was just enough time to shower, brush our teeth, and get over to the lodge for Pre-Breakfast 1.

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We set off on a completely different path from the day before (as we would do for every game drive), spotting kudu, waterbuck, and the ubiquitous impala along the way.

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Pre-Breakfast 2 was served mid-safari at roughly 7am.

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Afterwards, our talented tracker, DeBeers, led us to a Cape buffalo and a stunning, elusive leopard, rounding out in just two safari drives the Big Five we'd hoped to see.

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As well as the baby elephants I couldn't see often enough.

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After the game drive, it was time for our third meal of the day, Official Breakfast.

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When we arrived back at our suite after stuffing ourselves silly, we discovered that some visitors had been monkeying around the place.

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That afternoon was spent lazing around the pool in hopes of seeing a passing elephant (me) and passing out cold from lack of sleep (Angel).

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On the evening game drive, another surprise: Animals we never expected to see in Africa, like turtles, owls, saddle-billed storks, and technicolor lizards.

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And a few we did expect, like hares, mongoose (mongeese?) and vultures.

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Plus zebras which, amid all the green, looked suprisingly more exotic than any other animal we saw on safari.

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As well as the "usual" kudu, hippos, and lions.

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Dinner that night was held outdoors in Arathusa's boma, a wooden enclosure traditionally used to house livestock.

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After dinner, we hung around the bar for a bit . . . because the armed guard who escorted us back to Marula each night had spotted some leopards near our front door.

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Which has to be the best excuse I'll ever have for ordering another round.
---------------------------
CLICK HERE TO READ PART 3!

Posted by TraceyG 05:04 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari game_drive kruger_national_park big_five sabi_sands arathusa Comments (3)

Sabi Sands, South Africa: Come On and Safari With Me (Pt. 3)

Another morning brought another pre-dawn wake-up call, and another surprise: Rare African wild dogs, an endangered species with only four remaining populations in Africa, one of which is in Kruger.

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The painted dogs were beautiful, but can anything beat the cuteness of a baby giraffe who thinks you can't see him?

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Later, more lions and some wildebeest, though -- lucky for the wildebeest -- not at the same time.

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That afternoon, we joined one of the rangers on a nature walk around the Arathusa property.

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I won't lie: I think I'd rather have seen a rabid wild dog than this giant termite mound . . .

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And whatever the heck this is.

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Our last evening safari didn't disappoint: We saw leopards and zebras; Angel got to ride back to the lodge in the tracker seat; and one of us went, well, full bush.

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Our last dinner under the boma was a celebration of food, wine, and the friends we'd made along the way.

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We were scheduled for one last morning game drive before checking out. It started out a bit drizzly, so we donned a couple of oversized rain ponchos and headed off into the bush.

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Eventually the drizzle changed over to a much-needed heavy rain, and we returned to the lodge, chilly and soaked, for a fireside breakfast.

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I told you we were roughing it out there.

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Next up, a week in Cape Town, one of the most over-the-top cities we've ever visited. Because looking like a dizzyingly beautiful combination of Santa Barbara, Tuscany, and Aspen isn't enough; Cape Town also has a food scene like New York City; a vibe like Southern California; a design sensibility like Paris; world-class wines like Napa Valley. . . and PENGUINS.

Posted by TraceyG 05:40 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari game_drive kruger_national_park sabi_sands arathusa Comments (7)

Birthday Weekend: A Treen Grows In Brooklyn

What's better than a waterfront food festival with a view of the Manhattan skyline and over 100(!) vendors representing the city's best restaurants?

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Attending that food festival on a glorious 80-degree October day . . . with my sister Trina . . . who was in town for the weekend to celebrate my birthday.

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Of course, that meant the entire weekend was something of a food festival, but first things first. After a quick change of clothes (meaning that Treen changed into my clothes and I changed into hers), we headed over to Williamsburg, an uber-hip Brooklyn neighborhood that would be a food and drink paradise even without Smorgasburg.

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It is no exaggeration to say that we tore a hole through the place, feasting on everything from cheeseburgers and cheese steaks to BBQ pulled pork sandwiches and banana pudding . . . and a heck of a lot in between.

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Of course, we didn't eat all of that one sitting. We took a cocktail break . . . and then went back.

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Drinks were had at Hotel Delmano, which is not actually a hotel . . . though after a few of their expertly-crafted cocktails, you might wish it was.

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As beautiful as Hotel Delmano is, the day was even more so, and so we snagged two sidewalk seats for a little people-watching with our libations.

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Trina and I agreed that our favorite was The Alibi, made with pineapple-infused tequila, cinnamon, vanilla, lime, and molé bitters.

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And after two rounds, we discovered that even the bathrooms at Hotel Delmano are beautifully designed.

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After our return to Smorgasburg for Round 2, it was back to Manhattan . . . to get ready for dinner.

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We decided on a low-key evening of chips & guac, Mexican street corn, and frozen hibiscus margaritas at Fonda, followed by dancing until the wee hours at an 80s club in Manhattan's edgy Alphabet City neighborhood.

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Opened in 1979, the Pyramid Club is not an 80s-themed club but an actual club born in and still firmly planted in that decade, never having changed its decor, its prices, or its commitment to the East Village gay and drag scene in the last 40 years.

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We had a really good time. Some of us more than others.

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The next morning it was time to shake off the night's excesses with some pizza. But not just any pizza: The crispy, crunchy, burnt-just-right-on-the-ends square pizza topped with 'roni cups at Emily in the West Village.

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After lunch Angel headed off to run some errands, while Trina and I decided to enjoy the gorgeous weather with a stroll from the West Village down to TriBeCa.

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Eventually we found ourselves near the piers.

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We weren't just meandering, though; we had a destination in mind: Grand Banks, an oyster bar aboard a historic wooden schooner, the Sherman Zwicker, which offers spectacular views of lower Manhattan.

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After the sun set, we headed over to Bubby's, a TriBeCa comfort-food institution that I used to frequent when I clerked downtown.

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That evening we had plans for a birthday dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Left Bank, which I love for its ever-changing menu of seasonal favorites and cozy atmosphere.

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After we finished our entrees, Angel revealed a secret: Those "errands" he ran after lunch consisted of driving to the Hamptons to pick up a cake that I'd long admired at our local grocery store, King Kullen -- a traffic-filled odyssey that, mid-afternoon on a gorgeous fall Sunday, took roughly six hours round-trip. When I asked him why he didn't just pick up the cake at one of the dozens of other, closer King Kullens on Long Island, he explained that he didn't want to risk that the same cake from a different store might look even a tiny bit different from the one I liked.

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He even made (yes, made) matching wrapping paper for my gifts.

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A sister who flew to NYC for the weekend just to force down 7,000 calories a day with me, plus a husband who spent 6 hours in the car to get me the perfect birthday cake?

Either they're crazy, or I'm really, really lucky. Or maybe a little bit of both.
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Posted by TraceyG 05:43 Archived in USA Tagged new_york nyc williamsburg new_york_city brooklyn fonda east_village hotel_delmano smogasburg pyramid_club Comments (8)

Anguilla, Pt. 1: Like Peas In a Pod

If you have to undertake a recon mission, Anguilla is a pretty good place to do it.

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So when I finally convinced my sister and her husband to join us for their first-ever trip to Anguilla (after what we both agree was 20+ years of non-stop nagging), I knew a recon mission was in order. It had been 6 long months since our last visit, but it was only 6 short months until theirs. And so someone had to come down ahead of time to make sure the resorts were still open and the beaches were still there and the cheeseburgers still tasted the same . . . right???

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And as luck would have it, generous friends stepped in to make our unexpected trip less of a burden, offering up not just free places to stay, but places with warm hospitality and spectacular views and private swimming pools. And so Mission: Newbies was born.

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We made our way to the west end of the island, where a friend had invited us to stay at her beloved home, Octagon Villa, in her absence -- a bold move if ever there was one. I mean, knowing that I've walked into others' homes uninvited and critiqued their decor, what might I do with an actual invitation: Commandeer an entire bedroom just for my shoe collection? Bolt ironing boards to the floor in every room? Not just raid the fridge, but strap the thing to my back and carry it home?

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It turns out I did none of those things, but only because it took the entire duration of our stay for me to learn the layout of the house. That's because, true to its name, Octagon Villa is a gated compound of eight individual pods surrounding a large, private swimming pool, with each free-standing pod containing one room of the house.

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This unique layout is absolutely perfect for those travelling with kids or with another couple, since the amount of privacy is unsurpassed. It's also perfect for folks like me who love indoor-outdoor living, as even moving from the kitchen to the living room affords a quick trip outside. (And the walkways are covered, for folks like me who are allergic to rain.) If, however, also like me, you hear the phrase, "Your other left" with alarming frequency, it may take a little getting used to, as my days were spent something like this:

Me: Think I'll go to the kitchen for a diet Coke.
Me (opening door to Pod 1): Whoops. Living room.
Me (opening door to Pod 2): Shoot. Master bedroom.
Me (opening door to Pod 3 and giving the washing machine the side-eye): Dammit! You know, I'm not really thirsty after all.

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Angel, whose sense of direction is superb, of course had a field day with this, calling out "In the bedroom!" every time I yelled for him, then giggling as I made my rounds of every room in the house before finally finding (and vowing to strangle) him.

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Having settled in after an early-morning arrival, we set off for the one thing I actually can find: Ferryboat Inn.

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There, we planned to meet up with Rob and Julie, who had become fast friends after they spent nearly a week helping us look for my ring on our last trip; now, they'd agreed to spend an afternoon admiring my new bling and watching me gobble down cheeseburgers. Gluttons for punishment, I tell you.

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They even played hide-and-seek with us.

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By the time lunch was over, I was a little tipsy, a lot stuffed, and my face hurt from laughing so hard, so we decided to spend the balance of the afternoon doing nothing more than hanging around the villa. There, we discovered a bunch of other features to love, including a pool so private you could go au naturel in it (not that I would do such a thing -- ahem), a panoramic view of Shoal Bay West from the roof deck, and one of the lushest gardens I've ever seen in Anguilla.

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It even had a chicken. In a tree.

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I know it's hard to top a chicken in a tree, but Octagon also has three ginormous bedrooms, each of which is roughly the size of an airplane hangar.

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Indeed, the rooms were so large and comfortable that eventually I gave up trying to find the other pods, since each bedroom already had everything I needed: A huge attached bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and a color-coordinated mini fridge and coffee maker.

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In fact, Octagon is stocked as though the Zombie Apocalypse -- or my Boy Scout husband -- is coming any minute: Virtually everything in the house comes in triplicate, quadruplicate, and more, from coolers to candles, blenders to bottled water, dinnerware to dry goods . . . you could be happily holed up here for years and never run out of anything.

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But the outside world beckoned, and so we set off for a late afternoon visit to the Dune Preserve.

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Dune Preserve reminds me of the tree houses and pirate ships we used to play on as kids, with the welcome addition of alcohol.

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Before we knew it, we were enjoying a spectacular sunset at Rendezvous.

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The day had gotten away from us, so we raced back to the villa for a quick change of clothes, then set off for dinner at E's Oven.

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Back at Octagon, we took a quick dip in the pool, then headed off to bed.

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And it only took me two tries to find my bedroom.

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CLICK HERE to read Part 2!

Posted by TraceyG 05:44 Archived in Anguilla Tagged ferryboat_inn e's_oven octagon dune_preserve Comments (8)

Anguilla, Pt. 2: A Fashion Emergency

We decided to spend the next day at Ocean Echo.

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The day was windy and the waves were bigger than we are used to, but it was too cold for these big babies anyway (March . . . brr!), so we spent most of the day occupying ourselves with other pursuits.

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This poor guy. He never knew how close I came to grabbing that pizza and making a run for it.

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That evening our friends Diana and Carl had invited us over for cocktails and snacks at their place on Barnes Bay.

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Diana is always impeccably dressed like a chic Parisian woman and Carl looks roughly 20 years younger than his actual age, but for some reason we really like them anyway.

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In addition, they were fabulous hosts, even kindly arranging to cap off our visit with this spectacular sunset.

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We had already made separate dinner plans, so Angel and I headed over to nearby Picante to get our faces melted off.

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We tried a few new things on this trip -- Theron's spicy chili, the grilled chipotle prawn burrito, a basil mojito -- as well as Old Faithful, the seafood enchiladas.

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The next morning, a disaster of unprecedented proportions befell us: Due to a fender-bender near Four Seasons, the power went out.

No power meant no iron, and no iron meant that I had to scare up an outfit that didn't look like it had been balled up and shoved into the bottom of a hamper (or, you know, into a suitcase too small by half). By some miracle I'd hung up the dress I'd worn to Ferryboat, and so I suffered through the ultimate indignity -- not only did I have to be seen in public in a dress that hadn't been freshly ironed, but I had to be seen in public in a dress I'd just worn two days earlier.

Decked out in my vêtements vulgaires, we headed over to Cap Juluca, where I hoped that my messy bun and artfully rumpled dress gave off an air of "too rich to care," rather than "I just showered in a swimming pool and am wearing yesterday's clothes . . . again."

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Oh, did I not mention that no power also meant no water pump for showers? Thank heavens for that very private swimming pool.

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Luckily most folks at Cap are too busy looking at the stunning beach and stylish renovation to notice a fashion faux pas.

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Or they just dismissed me as some weird picture-taking blogger . . .

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Or that nitwit who went for a swim in the decorative pool. Whichever.

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Renovated Cap has several new restaurants, including an updated Pimms, a poolside cafe, the casual, waterfront Cip's, and the Cap Shack beach bar.

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Eventually we headed back to the villa to see if the power had been restored, and sweet baby Jesus, I was saved! I happily headed out to lunch in a clean, freshly-ironed dress.

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Clad, at long last, in clean pressed clothes, we made the short trip across the salt pond for lunch at a longtime favorite, Tratttoria Tramonto.

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At our usual corner table, we tucked into penne with basil pesto; a wild boar prosciutto panini with parmigiano, arugula, and white truffle oil; and the most gorgeous tomatoes I think I've ever seen (or tasted).

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After lunch, we alternated among reading, napping, swimming, and sipping.

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And, you know, ironing everything left in my suitcase . . . just in case.

------------------------------------------------------------
CLICK HERE to read Part 3!

Posted by TraceyG 06:15 Archived in Anguilla Tagged anguilla picante cap_juluca ocean_echo trattoria_tramonto Comments (7)

Anguilla, Pt. 3: Duck, Duck, Truce

That evening, it was time to clean up for happy hour with friends at the new Quintessence.

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Q is lovely, with a private, tropical mansion feel and stunning artwork at every turn.

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Indeed, Q's web site states, "Built stone by stone over a 10-year period, this fortress includes priceless Haitian art and antiques, all selected by famed owner Geoffrey Fieger." One can only hope to be so rich as to need to build a fortress, er, resort to house one's priceless art collection.

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But all of that paled in comparison to the FREE MEATBALLS at happy hour, which gives FREE BACON happy hour a run for its money.

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With meatballs on the brain, there was only one place to go for dinner: Dolce Vita.

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We decided on our "usuals" -- the spicy seafood pasta and the pillowy gnocchi -- but when the dishes arrived, I was disappointed to see that they looked a bit smaller than usual.

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That's because, unbeknownst to me, Abbi had planned a veritable feast for us . . . and the pasta dishes were just the appetizer.

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That's right, an entire duck. Roasted to crispy-skinned perfection and served with an a l'orange sauce prepared tableside that was so good I was tempted to chug it right out of the gravy boat.

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We tried to finish two bowls of pasta and an entire duck and the tiramisu, but even I knew when it was finally time to surrender. And so a smiling JoJo enjoyed the leftovers.

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Also smiling? This handsome little guy at the next table, Luciano, who charmed all of us with those big eyes and sweet smile.

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The next morning was moving day (or, more accurately after our indulgences at Dolce Vita, moving slowly day). We took in a final sunrise before departing Octagon.

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We were eastbound for Periwinkle Villa by the Sea, a lovely villa tucked away in Island Harbour. Because the friends who own this villa are sweet and charming and generous, I think the less I say about them the better, lest they discover that way lower-maintenance and less-gluttonous guests than the likes of me and Angel would also love to arrive on island to views like these . . .

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. . . and to homemade biscotti on their pillow.

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Periwinkle is cleverly designed with three levels, each of which houses, well, an entire house. We stayed on the middle level, which kept us close to our hosts but also afforded each couple plenty of privacy.

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We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset together before setting off for dinner.

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Have you eaten at Ben's yet? If not, then not only are you missing out on the island's best pizza, but you're also missing the chance to completely carb out by adding a side of cheesy au gratin potatoes.

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Plus there's the fun you'll have trying to wrap your head around the fact that Ben's food rivals that found in any Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris . . . but in a no-walls shack with an outhouse.

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After dinner we popped over to Lime Keel for a nightcap.

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Lime Keel may be tiny, but with a whopping four shots of rum per glass, their drinks are not.

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Maybe they should have named this place Lime Keel Over?

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CLICK HERE to read Part 4!

Posted by TraceyG 06:05 Archived in Anguilla Tagged dolce_vita bens_pitstop lime_keel quintessence Comments (8)

Anguilla Pt. 4: Let's Flamingle

We awoke the next morning at Periwinkle to the sound of the sea.

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It didn't take long to settle into a routine: Angel would join our hosts upstairs for coffee and that heavenly biscotti, while I was left to get ready in peace with my own walk-in closet and ironing board and full-length mirror, the latter two having been procured just for me. I told you our hosts were sweet and charming and generous.

Once Angel had eaten his own body weight in biscotti, we set off for Elodia's to enjoy the day.

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At lunch, we were joined by this sweet boy, who clearly wasn't trying at all to make us buy him a steak.

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Despite those puppy-dog eyes, I didn't buy him a steak. Though I did make him up a little doggie bag. Heh-heh.

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That evening we had plans to meet up with our local friend Catherine, along with another local, Jacqueline, who knows me from this blog, as well as Jacqueline's sister Patricia, who was visiting from the States. Having never met Jacqueline or Patricia, I chose the outdoor lounge at Zemi, thinking that if my bubbly personality was not enough to entertain them, some actual bubbly might be.

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Catherine was the first to arrive, giving us a chance to talk real estate -- she manages the excellent Anguilla Villa Company -- before the others showed up.

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Catherine, Jacqueline, and myself share a love of all things flamingo, and the two generously gifted me with flamingo-themed bags AND let me borrow these fabulous flamingo sunglasses, which I am STILL kicking myself for not pilfering -- especially since they would have so easily fit into one of my new bags.

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Eventually, though, we got the gong, and it was time to go.

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We were already on the east end, so we took advantage by having dinner at Artisan Pizza Napoletana.

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Baked to perfection in Artisan's authentic Neapolitan oven, the pizzas were light and chewy and delicious.

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But the highlight of our meal was the fabulous gelato, in mouthwatering flavors like Parmesan, Snickers and cream, and my personal favorite, charcoal coconut, which was like a nutty toasted marshmallow.

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The next day we hung around the house for a bit before heading over to Mead's Bay, stopping to make some friends along the way.

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We decided on lunch at Ocean Echo, which I love as much for its stellar location as its willingness to make me a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

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We stopped at Pam's for a rum punch on the way home, where we realized that this is probably where Lime Keel got the idea to make a rum punch that is 80% rum and 100% punch.

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That evening we had plans to meet up with an old friend, Paula, who'd brought a bunch of newbies along for a girls trip. We kicked things off with cocktails and cats at CuisinArt.

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We've always loved CuisinArt for its stylish blue and white decor with those bright pops of yellow, so the renovation was a huge disappointment -- the dark jewel tones are out of place in a tropical climate, and the cheesy colored lights would be out of place anywhere.

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It turns out both Paula and I had planned to have dinner at FBI that night -- meat-obsessed minds think alike -- and so it made sense for all of us to dine together.

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The next day we took a leisurely drive through Island Harbour and the Valley on our way to the west end.

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We were headed back to Trattoria Tramonto for lunch, but (gasp!) not for pasta. Or, rather, not just pasta.

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We arrived a little early, so we enjoyed a rum punch on the beach before lunch.

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We'd returned to Tramonto to try the famous burger, generously topped with a big, beautiful blob of mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and it certainly didn't disappoint.

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That evening we had dinner plans with friends Hal and Donna at Veya.

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As always, the food was incredible, particularly the butter-poached lobster with spinach risotto and crispy parsnips, which is possibly the only dish you'll ever order where the vegetables can compete with a lobster.

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Stuffed as we were, we somehow made room for dessert -- a buttery bananas Foster that Donna whipped up in about 10 minutes flat, filling the house with the smell of vanilla and flambéed rum and caramelized bananas, and filling our bellies with a little spoonful of heaven.

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The next day, another treat: Two of the island's best rum punches for the road.

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Or, you know, the water. Blue, blue water.

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Where to next? Roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); celebrating a birthday in Brooklyn with my sissy (at a food festival -- where else!?); running down an off-the-menu cast iron butter burger in the Hudson Valley; and a return trip to Anguilla, this time with newbies in tow. Subscribe here and you'll be notified when a new post goes up!

Just want to know what we're eating and drinking in the meantime? Follow this blog on Instagram here: @escape.from.new.york

Posted by TraceyG 06:09 Archived in Anguilla Tagged cuisinart artisan elodias ocean_echo Comments (4)

Dad-Daughter Derring-Do in Dublin, Part 1

Never promise to go on a trip after an afternoon of drinking margaritas.

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Or, just eight months later, you might find yourself -- as I did -- careering around an ancient city with 4-foot-wide cobblestone streets in a 6-foot-wide car with a 72-year-old man wearing a hearing aid and yelling at the top of his lungs, "Beep! BEEP! BEEEEEPPPPPPP!!!!" as a polite way to let you know that you just took out yet another road sign / mailbox / bicyclist with your Zippy Starfire, as he charmingly refers to the Opel Zafira you rented.

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Of course, it's a miracle that Dad even made it to Ireland. I'd booked him a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, where we planned to meet up at the airport and then travel together (on a different airline) to Dublin. When travel day arrived, it was a gorgeous April afternoon, and the sky was a vivid shade of blue, which I remember very clearly because I'd looked up to it and wailed, "Why, God, WHY???" when his flight out of Pittsburgh was abruptly cancelled due to high winds -- forcing him to lose a day of his vacation and forcing me to set off for Dublin without him, but not before re-booking him on the next available flight . . . for the bargain price of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

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[Side note: He's offered countless times to pay me back. Naturally I've refused, not because I don't need the money, but because if he pays me back, then I cannot bring up that ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS every. single. time. I speak to him for the rest of my natural life or until I pay off the credit card, whichever comes first.]

Anyway. I arrived in Dublin, picked up my not-so-little red Zippy, and set off for the apartment I'd rented in trendy Temple Bar. I've driven on the left countless times in the Caribbean, but this was my first attempt at driving on the left with the steering wheel on the right. It was also my first time trying to navigate a tangle of tiny, one-way streets -- not a single one of which has a street sign larger than 12-point type, all conveniently placed on the sides of buildings roughly three stories up -- using a GPS that gave all directions in meters and had a severe case of Tourette's: "Turn left on--- Turn right on Fishamble--- turn left on Fish--- turn left--- right! left!--- Turn left on Whitefriar--- Make a u-turn--- Fishamb--- Turn--- Turn right on Whitefr--- Golden--- left on Whitefri-- U-tur---Goldfriar--" All while the map spun wildly in circles and while I was on the phone with the owner of the apartment, who was trying to guide me as I helpfully hollered into the phone, "I'm near a pub! No, a church! And now another church! And now a pub!" Eventually I'd spent so much time driving around in circles that things actually started to look familiar but, unfortunately, none of those now-familiar sights was the apartment I was searching for. Finally, defeated and near tears, I found not the apartment, but the owner of the apartment, Ruth, standing on the sidewalk (near both a church and a pub, I might add), and begged her to slide into the driver's seat.

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Do you know what happens when someone who's never driven an automatic in her life tries to drive one? Pretty much the same thing as when someone who's never driven a stick-shift before attempts to do so, only instead of a burned-out clutch, you end up with a burned-out brake pedal . . . and whiplash. For her part, Ruth just kept mumbling over and over, "There's wine at the house. There's wine at the house. There's wine at the house."

Finally, incredibly, we made it to the apartment in Adelaide Square, just steps from St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. Stephen's Green. I'd chosen the apartment because it had an attached garage for the car, so we could tour the countryside the during the day, as well as a central location so we could easily walk to dinner in the evenings after a long day of sightseeing.

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By now I'd been travelling since the night before, so at long last I kicked off my shoes and sank into the comfy couch. After checking in with family and friends, I noted that the weather had deteriorated, culminating in an afternoon to match my mood.

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Still, I needed to explore the neighborhood to get my bearings and, more importantly, I needed a stiff drink and a warm meal. The Swan was just a block away, and because the happy hour rush hadn't started yet, I had my choice of seats and was welcomed like an old friend.

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An authentic Victorian pub that is descended from a medieval inn, there has been a continuous license on or close to the site of The Swan since 1661, when Sir Francis Aungier developed what was then Dublin’s widest street. (And still not wide enough to accommodate a car.)

There, I discovered my new favorite sandwich, the Irish toastie, which is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich featuring four of Ireland's most famous ingredients -- Irish bread, Kerrygold butter, cheddar cheese, and traditional Irish ham -- all toasted to gooey perfection and usually served as a mid-day or late-night snack. That's right, a full-sized grilled ham and cheese sandwich as a snack. I knew I was going to like this country.

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I also discovered that the Irish really know how to mix a drink . . . because they let you do it. Order, say, a gin & tonic or a Jack & Ginger, and you're served a glass of the spirit along with a small bottle of the mixer, so that you can mix the drink to your desired strength. As someone who routinely finds her drinks either too weak or nostril-searingly strong, this simple, practical way of serving cocktails allowed me to tailor my juniper berry-studded G&T to perfection.

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The next morning it was time to return to the airport to pick up Dad. Unfortunately, however, after the harrowing drive from the airport into Dublin the day before, I never wanted to get behind the wheel again. I seriously contemplated paying a stranger to return the car (and me) to the airport, thinking Dad and I would just Uber back to the apartment (and, presumably, everywhere else we wanted to go). But if I am a bad European driver, I am an even more stubborn one, and so I steeled my nerves and set off for the airport, giving myself 1.5 hours for a 30-minute drive to allow for becoming hopelessly lost due to my stuttering GPS and the non-existence of legible street signs.

I used all 90 minutes.

Still, I arrived at the airport with all four limbs and all four tires, and I was still busy patting myself on the back when I realized I'd driven around the parking garage at least three times and still hadn't found a spot that I could maneuver the car into. I'd chosen the Zippy because it was a midsize four-door (better in the case of an accident, I figured), but the parking spots in Ireland seem to have been designed to accommodate three-quarters of the average-sized car, minus the side mirrors and assuming that you don't plan to actually exit the vehicle. Lest you think I'm just not great at parking, allow me to present Exhibit A:

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After numerous unsuccessful attempts to maneuver into a spot, and even more unsuccessful attempts to find two empty side-by-side spots to make things easier, I'd finally rolled down my window to ask a stranger if he could park my car for me when I spotted it -- a spot roughly as wide as a doorway, wedged between a pole and a car . . . but a small car. I approached the spot, jumped out to tuck in both side mirrors, jumped back in, closed my eyes, and hoped for the best.

Success!

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Pickup complete, Dad and I returned to the apartment mostly without incident (if you call one grazed curb, three wrong turns, and six bellows of "BEEEPPPPP!!!" to be "without incident"), where we realized that the spot I was assigned in the apartment's parking garage wasn't sized for an actual car, either. Herewith, Exhibit B:

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Happier to have my feet on solid ground than Sandra Bullock at the end of "Gravity," we then set off -- on foot -- for lunch at the famous Temple Bar.

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The place was mobbed -- as touristy spots always are -- but we managed to snag a cozy corner table and order up a Guinness and a whiskey sour, the latter being a surprising rarity in a country known for its whiskey.

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I also introduced Dad to the joys of the Irish toastie.

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We poked around Temple Bar for a bit after lunch, stopping to buy all things leprechaun and shamrock as we went.

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Later, we found ourselves back at The Swan, where I introduced Dad to my bartender friend and we toasted to our first day in Dublin.

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That evening, I'd planned for us to have a Dad-Daughter Burger Night at Bunsen, a cute spot in our neighborhood known for serving burgers, fries, and nothing else. Not only was Dad wholeheartedly on board, but he actually thought Dad-Daughter Burger Night was a real thing (rather than something I'd completely made up as an excuse to go eat burgers), which proves that the apple indeed does not fall far from the tree.

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And if I'd ever wondered if maybe I was actually adopted, that suspicion was dispelled when we both bit into our burgers and four eyes simultaneously rolled back into our heads.

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The next day, it was time to get into that blasted Zippy Starfire again. And it wasn't an easy process -- I'd get in the car while Dad waited outside (we couldn't open his door due to there being .25 inches between car and concrete wall), then we'd pop out the side mirrors, buckle ourselves in, don our helmets, and program the stuttering, spinning GPS, fingers and toes crossed for luck. (Next time, I'll rent a car with a sunroof for easy access in and out.)

I'd planned a day trip to Howth, a bustling fishing village on the Howth Peninsula east of central Dublin, where I'd booked an elegant waterfront lunch at Aqua, followed by a visit to the nearby Cliff Walk.

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Dad had been having trouble walking for most of our trip -- a hip replacement and a heart valve stent will do that to you -- but as we approached the scenic Cliff Walk, the man took off running like there was a cheeseburger at the end of the rainbow.

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It was a pretty arduous climb, but the views were well worth it.

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We'd spent hours taking photos on the Cliff Walk, and by the time we returned to the car, my phone was nearly dead. Unable to get back to Dublin without Google Maps, we headed into Howth to find a pub with an iPhone charger. That required pulling into a bike-sized spot in the nearby parking lot , which resulted in the unfortunate loss of yet another piece of the Zippy.

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(Apparently it's called a lower deflector, which is very misleading since it did absolutely nothing to deflect that curb I hit.)

Finally, iPhone fully charged, lower "deflector" ensconsed in the back seat for (hopeful) later reattachment, and safely back in Dublin, we headed out for pre-dinner drinks at the oldest pub in Dublin, the Brazen Head.

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The Brazen Head dates back to 1198(!), when it served as a hostelry. An advertisement from the 1750’s reads, “Christopher Quinn of The Brazen Head in Bridge Street has fitted said house with neat accommodations and commodious cellars for said business.” Today, the owners have fitted said pub with neat whiskey and commodious amounts of Guinness.

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As usual, Dad was a bit standoffish.

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The weather had been steadily improving since my soggy solo arrival, and it was a beautiful night for a walk. We headed over to Al Vesuvio, a cozy Italian spot tucked away in an 18th-century vaulted stone wine cellar.

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If the obsession with cheeseburgers wasn't enough of a giveaway, the fact that neither of us could go more than two days without some red sauce further cemented the fact that I am indeed my father's daughter.

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In more ways than one.

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CLICK HERE FOR PART 2!

Posted by TraceyG 05:23 Archived in Ireland Tagged dublin howth temple_bar brazen_head the_swan adelaide_square cliff_walk aqua_bistro Comments (9)

Dad-Daughter Derring-Do in Dublin, Part 2

The next day we awoke early for a visit to Trinity College. I wanted to see the famous Long Room in the Old Library, Dad wanted to see the Book of Kells, and both of us wanted to put off getting into the Zippy for as long as humanly possible. Naturally, we walked there.

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Officially the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, Trinity was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I. Its library is a legal deposit library, meaning that it is legally entitled to a copy of every book published in Great Britain and Ireland. As a result, the library receives over 100,000 new items a year and contains about five million books, making it the largest research library in Ireland. It's also absolutely gorgeous.

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Prior to visiting the library, I'd surprised Dad with tickets to the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. The illuminated manuscripts are made of calf vellum (some still with calf hair attached!), while the ink came from sources like shellfish, copper, elderberries, lead, arsenic, and soot from burned bones.

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Eventually, we could no longer postpone the inevitable, and it was time to take our lives into our own hands again with another road trip, this one to the picturesque maritime village of Malahide.

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I should pause here to note that parking the Zippy was the least of my problems. Far more alarming was the fact that, thanks to the "misplaced" steering wheel on the right-hand side, I could not seem to center the car within my lane to save my life (quite literally). I was either veering into oncoming traffic, or hugging the left-hand curb so tightly that by the time we set off for Malahide, I'd already dented the side mirror in Dublin, dislodged that rubber thing off the front in Howth, and lost a hubcap (incident location unknown). But off we went . . . because castles.

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We decided on a tour of Malahide Castle, which dates back to 1185. That's when the lands of Malahide and its harbor were presented to Richard Talbot for his loyal service as a Knight to Henry the Second of England. (All I got for my loyal service this year was a fleece emblazoned with the name of my firm.)

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Incredibly, the Talbots lived at Malahide Castle until the early 1970s, when the final Baron de Malahide, Lord Milo Talbot, died in 1973. His sister Rose inherited the estate and subsequently sold it to the Irish State in 1975, thus ending an 800-year stretch. Ugh, Rose, you ninny.

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During the tour, we learned that this hideous orange paint was quite the status symbol in the 1100s, because it had to be imported from Asia. Rich folks, they never change.

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I'd seen about as much flaming orange paint and frilly bedding as I could stand, and so I announced by royal decree that it was herewith time for our mid-day repast. We set off for the village for lunch at a charming pub called The Greedy Goose.

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We settled in at a cozy table with a view of the harbor.

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The Greedy Goose turned out to be my favorite restaurant of the trip because, for a set price, you could choose either three or four items -- appetizers, entrees, desserts, you name it -- from the entire menu. Naturally Dad and I ordered an app and two entrees each, all of which were excellent, with a special shout-out for the warm honey-and-truffle goat cheese bake topped with crushed hazelnuts, which we nearly came to blows over.

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After lunch we returned to Malahide Castle, this time to explore the extensive gardens.

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After another hair-raising ride back to Dublin, it was time for a drink. In fact, it was time for two.

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We chose the stylish Lucky Duck in honor of making it back from Malahide in one piece.

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(No, that's not a glass of white wine with an ice cube in it; it's the Lucky Duck's Milk Punch #43, made with Venezuelan Pampero rum, agricole, green tea, hemp, and clarified milk.)

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One of my favorite things about Ireland were the little green exit signs, which automatically assume the worst by indicating that you won't just be exiting, but actually making a run for it.

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That evening we had reservations at Tomahawk, a spur-of-the-moment decision made when we'd both spied their wood-burning grill at the exact same time.

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Tomahawk serves its steaks with a selection of sauces, including Jameson peppercorn, chimichurri, and juniper and rosemary butter, all of which Dad turned his nose up at, insisting that dousing his steak in sauce would ruin it.

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Mine arrived with the wrong sauce -- chimichurri instead of peppercorn -- and when I alerted the waitress, Dad took the opportunity to point out that his arrived with a sauce even though he hadn't ordered one. And so I was particularly tickled when she responded, "Oh, this is the sauce we give the people who don't like sauce" . . . and then Dad proceeded to dunk his entire steak in it.

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The next day was departure day, but we had to make a very important stop first.

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Knowing that the car rental company would charge me a hundred Euro or more for what is likely a $10 piece of rubber, Dad suggested that we take the lower deflector to a local garage to have it reattached. Explaining that it just needed to stay on long enough to make it to the airport car rental return, the lovely guys at First Stop took pity on me and glued? duct-taped? stapled? it back on, all for the bargain price of 20 Euro.

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Soon we were on our way back home, but not without a stop in Iceland first.

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Our layover was too short to leave the airport and go sightseeing, but too long to just sit at the gate, so Dad suggested that we spend it here.

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Like father, like daughter indeed.

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Where to next? Roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); celebrating a birthday in Brooklyn with my sissy (at a food festival -- where else!?); running down an off-the-menu cast iron butter burger in the Hudson Valley; and getting by with some help from my friends in Anguilla. Subscribe here and you'll be notified when a new post goes up!

Posted by TraceyG 05:22 Archived in Ireland Tagged dublin iceland trinity book_of_kells malahide malahide_castle greedy_goose lucky_duck tomahawk loskins Comments (8)

Phoning It In From Delray Beach

Over the years, I have come to make peace with the six-month-long season known as winter. November, I can do: There's a more-gigantic-than-usual meal to look forward to, and Angel usually ends up on TV.

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December, I love: Christmas in New York is like nothing else, sparkly and glittery and replete with cozy pop-up ski chalets and boozy rooftop igloos.

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And some other seasonal diversions, too.

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January, February, and even March, I can manage; it's time to hunker down and get hygge, particuarly around VD.

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It might also be time to load up on comfort food, which is why I'm glad I have a Valentine who's legally bound to stick around.

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And then . . . there's April. April is the segue into summer. April is the start of day drinking on sidewalk patios and al fresco dining in ivy-covered gardens. In April, we fling open the doors of our summer cottage, ready for a succession of sunny weekends in the Hamptons. But just when you think it's time to swap out your boots for flip-flops and pour yourself a crisp glass of rosé, winter sometimes comes roaring back with a vengeance, and the only way to save your sanity is to relocate it to points south.

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We'd timed it perfectly: As an April snowstorm approached, we jumped on a plane for a four-night getaway that didn't involve weeks of planning or tons of camera equipment or lots of shoes.

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Well, two out of three, anyway.

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As we've done on prior trips, we booked an oceanview suite at the Delray Beach Marriott, a comfortable hotel that we like for its large pool, loungers on the beach, and easy walks to Delray's beachfront promenade and bustling downtown.

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Oh, and a giant-sized cornhole game played with throw pillows that -- coincidentally for once -- perfectly matched Angel's trunks.

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Having arrived too early to check in, we ordered up two grilled fish sammies on luau bread at the better-than-it-needs-to-be poolside restaurant for lunch, then got down to the serious business of lounging around at the pool.

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Freed from the tyranny of lugging around my heavy Nikon, we took a leisurely stroll around town before dinner.

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As usual, the weather in Delray was spectacular -- warm, sunny, and just humid enough to remind you that you're in Florida without requiring your hair to get its own zip code.

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That evening we had reservations at one of my favorite spots in Delray, Vic & Angelo's.

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Do you see that crazed look in my eyes? That's because I'm about to demolish a veal parm the size of a saucer sled.

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Vic & Angelo's is known for its stylish digs and see-and-be-seen crowd, but I don't care who sees me scarfing down that veal.

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Not quite ready to call it a night, we popped in to Sandbar for mojitos and some old-school hip-hop.

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Of course, it's just not "Rapper's Delight" if it's not accompanied by a laser light show.

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The next morning we awoke to a perfect blue sky, so we laced up our sneaks and took a brisk walk along the oceanfront promenade.

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We'd worked up an appetite, so we set off for bustling Pineapple Grove to get lunch.

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We were in search of a new spot we'd heard good things about, Banyan.

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It wasn't hard to find: Just look for the namesake tree.

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A chic indoor-outdoor space, Banyan is accented with crystal chandeliers, tufted red leather, lucite dining chairs, and a funky mirrored ceiling.

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The weather was perfect, so we decided to dine on the outdoor patio.

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I decided on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and Banyan's "white salad," with endive, button mushrooms, hearts of palm, marinated artichoke hearts, shaved pecorino, and lemon vinaigrette, all topped with a small filet of grilled salmon.

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Angel also had white wine -- Chardonnay for him -- along with a Maryland crab melt topped with sliced tomato and Old Bay remoulade.

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After lunch, we returned to our regularly scheduled program.

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That evening we had dinner reservations at Deck 84 on the Intracoastal.

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We settled in at a waterside table and perused the cocktail and specials lists.

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We decided to share the house-smoked fish dip, but not our drinks: Angel did a Texas Two-Step with Tito's and muddled blueberries, while I went with a tiki-inspired Deck Punch with pineapple rum, dark rum, and not much else.

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For our entrees, we had the Baja fish tacos with cilantro-lime slaw and the Pad Thai with fresh grilled shrimp and tamarind.

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After dinner we decided to check out the happenings on Delray's main drag, Atlantic Avenue, before heading back to the hotel.

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I'd just had a cocktail made from 8oz. of rum and .0003oz. of juice, so when I saw this gigantic Buddha outside of Buddha Sky Bar, I knew I had to go in.

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The restaurant was full but the bar wasn't, so we took our time poring over the creative drink menu before deciding on a liquid dessert called the Samurai Shortcake with vanilla vodka, strawberry vodka, coconut milk, strawberries, and whipped cream for me, and the Dark Buddha Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters -- and a square of Hershey's chocolate! -- for Angel.

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The cocktails were so good that we each decided to try another, this time the Shaolin Purple Haze with grape vodka, chambord, blueberries, and blackberries for me, and the Key Lime in the Sky, a key lime martini with two kinds of vodka and some Coco Lopez, for the mister.

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We were on our way back to the hotel when a large crowd outside of Johnnie Brown's caught our eye.

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They'd come by car, boat, and bike to see a band called 56 Ace and, with the bar and restaurant completely packed, had spilled out onto the sidewalk.

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It didn't take us long to join the crowd.

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That's because 56 Ace was fantastic, playing a mix of classic rock, 90s rock, country rock, 90s rap, and oldies . . . often at the same time.

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Their method of mashups -- achieved not by stringing two or more songs together, but by singing two songs at the exact same time -- turned out to be wildly creative and alot of fun, because you don't realize how much, say, Green Day and Led Zeppelin or Nirvana and Aerosmith have in common until the singer on the right belts out the former, while the guy on the left cuts in with the latter at the same time, all to the same guitar riff.

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The next morning it was time to undo all the damage from the night before . . . with some pepperoni pizza.

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We love the Mellow Mushroom for its psychedlic vibe, friendly service, and fabulous pizza.

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After lunch it was time for some shopping at Delray's funky little boutiques.

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We also popped into the Seagate Hotel to check out their cool jellyfish aquarium.

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It was all fun and games until the skies clouded over and it began to thunder . . . and then the top of that palm tree by the gray car was struck by lightning and caught on fire.

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No, I didn't stick around to photograph it. Everyone knows that flaming palm trees are one of the ten plagues mentioned in the Bible, along with stink bugs and psoriasis.

Instead, rained out from shopping and the pool, we headed to the bar at the hotel for a Blackbird (bourbon, creme de cassis, and blackberries) and a key lime colada.

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The weather cleared up quickly, but once we'd snuggled in at the hotel, there was no getting me back out, so we stayed in and ordered room service.

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The next day was our last full day, so we headed back to Deck 84 for a waterside lunch.

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After a lazy poolside afternoon, it was time to clean up for our last dinner.

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We chose Rocco's Tacos for its convivial vibe, indoor-outdoor seating, and gorgeous Moravian star-lit decor.

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The Black Diamond margarita with Maestro Dobel Diamante and black cherry purée didn't hurt, either.

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Or the plentiful chips and salsa served on a baking sheet.

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We stayed up too late, and had one too many margaritas, for our early-morning flight the next day, but the view from my window seat made it all worth it.

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Shot with my iPhone, of course.
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Where to next? Roughing it in the bush in South Africa (sans ironing board!); pub-crawling around Dublin (with my Dad!); celebrating a birthday in Brooklyn (with my sissy!); and getting by (with some help from my friends!) in Anguilla. Subscribe here and you'll be notified when a new post goes up!

Posted by TraceyG 04:37 Archived in USA Tagged florida sandbar banyan mellow_mushroom delray_beach deck_84 buddha_sky_bar roccos_tacos johnnie_browns Comments (9)

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