Friday, June 13, 2008

Twitter compilation… arriving in Bangkok

Again, here is my "arrival" experience as I rode from the Bangkok airport to the hotel. As well as the first evening of dinner because, well, it's fun ;-) And it'll be a few before I get to properly blog that. So here you go.

Arriving in Bangkok…

Well that was... interesting. Now spending 3am to 5am at the airport waiting to fly to Bangkok.

Bangkok for the weekend!

What's the Rupee worth? Thai currency exchange desk: "NO! No Indian!!!"

Never seen such massive advertisements draped over buildings. 15-20 story BMW ad!

Starbucks in Bangkok.... look I know it's wrong, but I needed a damn double-cap, b'okay?

Girl sleeping (?) in phonebooth, legs out to sidewalk. No one helping her; nor stealing her purse. Yes she's breathing.

Just saw my first elephant walking down the sidewalk... on a leash.

Mmm Thai street food. Chicken skewers, 10 Baht ea. That's about 33 cents. Yum.

Crispy chicken to die for. Bring this recipe stateside and give the Colonel a run for his money!

And something wrapped in a Betelnut (?) leaf. Mystery food. Inthink it was raw beef with almonds. Nope, not that dumb.

And now noodles at yet another vendor. What a meal.

Twitter compilation… arriving in Mumbai

Yes yes I'm very behind on blogs. It seems that the only time I have to sort photos and write posts, I find myself wanting to either eat, drink, or sleep. Bizarre, that.

So because I know not everyone subscribes to my twitter feed or logs in daily to catch up (aw, really?!) I'm posting my "just arrived in Mumbai" experience that I twittered from the airport to the hotel. There are more twitters from Mumbai than just these, but I rather feel like sharing the "arrival" experience.

Same with Bangkok; see next post.

So here's the compilation… arriving in Mumbai:

Hot. Humid. And very very wet. Welcome to Mumbai!

Mumbai airport smells of a wet farm. Took a while to identify, seems so out of place.

Just saw a man in a loincloth bathing under a garden hose -- and haven't even left the airport yet

Pouring rain here. Headline of today's The Economic Times reads BEARS DO A RAIN DANCE. Gee thanks.

Ah, the child beggars. One of the saddest things you'll see here, and one I'd blocked from memory. Shit.

So, so much trash on the ground. Desperate looking shops line the road. I don't recall it looking this bad.

Brilliantly colored vegetable stall a stark contrast against the dark, wet, and grey.

School letting out. A chaos of brightly colored sari's as moms collect their kids. Beautiful.

Black and yellow auto rickshaws like bumblebees in a hive. Or, bumper cars at an amusement park.

Dogs, crows and people digging through the trash side-by-side

Arriving at the hotel. Oppulance across from abject poverty.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A weekend in Budapest, Sunday

(back-posted to keep chronological order)

Sunday we visited Saint Stephen's Basilica, wandered down to the water (where we ran into a marathon, or rather you could say it ran into us!), and then turned back to spend the day in Pest, which except for some shopping and lunch, we'd neglected the day before.

Saint Stephen's Basilica

Saint Stephen's Basilica

A marathon! Oops, run!

Heading the other direction, after checking out the great Széchenyi Medicinal Bath (unfortunately we were unprepared so had to skip a soak), we quite accidentally stumbled upon the Pannon Bországgyülés (wine festival) in the Városliget (city park). This turned out to be a great way to spend the rest of the afternoon, as we wandered from stall to stall tasting local wines and sampling local foods. It couldn't have been more perfect.

The Pannon Bországgyülés in the Városliget

After the long walk to the park, we decided to try our hand at the metro back to the hotel. It's an ancient system but apparently working quite well, and we only got yelled at in Hungarian once that we were going the wrong way!

Budapest Metro

Overall we had a fantastic, albeit too short, weekend in Budapest. I can't wait to go back and dig deeper into this beautiful and fascinating city.

This is the PUBLIC photo gallery; (this same gallery is linked on all Budapest posts)

This is the PRIVATE photo gallery; please email me for the login and password (this same gallery is linked on all Budapest posts). This gallery contains all the photos from the public gallery as well.

A weekend in Budapest, Saturday

(back-posted to keep chronological order)

After a divine breakfast at the hotel, we spent Saturday morning wandering around the local shops. We stumbled upon a hidden plaza; a veritable treasure trove of collectibles, pottery, historically traditional clothing and naturally, a gorgeous wine shop. We purchased a bottle to sneak into the spa at the hotel, later.

A cute shopping plaza and the Présház Borkerskedés Winestore

After a quick stop back at the hotel to drop off our treasures, we headed back over the bridge to spend some time on Castle Hill. Occasional rain torrents chased us up the hill, but it just added to the fun as we ducked into the museum to escape the worst of the rain, or just walked around getting wet!

Vista from Buda Castle

A fountain at Buda Castle

Finally we made our way back down the hill, across the river and past the hotel to look for lunch. We took our chances in a dark bar down a dark street, partially out of desperation to find somewhere to avoid the rain. The food was fine, but on the way back to the hotel we were absolutely soaked!


But it made for the perfect excuse to visit the hotel spa for a hot soak, and to drink our contraband wine.

Sneaking wine into the spa… shhhh!!

The evening closed with a gorgeous twilight view of Saint Stephen's Basilica, and dinner at a little Italian place, Trattoria Mamma's.

Saint Stephen's Basilica

Tiramisu at Trattoria Mamma's

This is the PUBLIC photo gallery; (this same gallery is linked on all Budapest posts)

This is the PRIVATE photo gallery; please email me for the login and password (this same gallery is linked on all Budapest posts). This gallery contains all the photos from the public gallery as well.

A weekend in Budapest, Friday

(back-posted to keep chronological order)

It's been too long now since my trip to Budapest so I'm not going to detail the restaurant reviews like I normally would. I didn't take copious notes and frankly it's not the most interesting part of that weekend. It's more important now to get the stories and photos up!

In the middle of my world tour, I had a weekend off that I chose to spend in Budapest. My girlfriend met me there, and of course we had a fabulous time. We both arrived Friday; myself by plane from Berlin in the morning, and her by train later in the afternoon.

We stayed at Le Meridien Hotel on Erzsébet tér, a gorgeous hotel in a fantastic location. Right on a metro stop, we were walking or subway-ing distance to everything.

Panoramic view from Le Meridien Hotel

While I waited for her arrival, I took a long walk from our hotel on the Pest side of the river to the train station on the Buda side. It's a beautiful walk that takes you across the Széchenyi lánchíd (Chain Bridge) over the River Danube.

Széchenyi lánchíd

Half-way across the bridge, I met an animated gentleman by the name of Mr. Erdely, a Transylvanian photographer selling his images precariously wedged into the stones of the bridge, and very eager to discuss the history of his homeland.

Mr. Erdely, Transylvanian photographer

I bought a photo of Dracula's castle from him that you see displayed here. I may have to visit Transylvania one day just to see this castle; it's quite a sight.

After a rapid climb up Castle Hill and an even quicker descent down the other side, I finally found the train station. From there we enjoyed a tranquil afternoon and a nice, albeit expensive, dinner at Rézkakas Vendéglö. Probably not quite worth the expense but it was enjoyable, and we were entertained by a live "gypsy" band (a bit of a misnomer, if you ask me… gypsies playing in an expensive restaurant… ha!), and were educated on the finer points of Heimann wine, a Hungarian favorite.

Gypsy band at Rézkakas Vendéglö

Delicious Heimann Syrah

This is the PUBLIC photo gallery; (this same gallery is linked on all Budapest posts)

This is the PRIVATE photo gallery; please email me for the login and password (this same gallery is linked on all Budapest posts). This gallery contains all the photos from the public gallery as well.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dinner at Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle

Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle is an amazing little Italian restaurant in old East Berlin that I went to once two years ago and have been gagging to get back to. The experience I had the first time there was something remarkable -- a table of 8 people I didn't know (one couple was a newly introduced friend of a friend who invited me along), and we never saw a menu. The food just came, and came, and came. I think we were there for six hours. Now, the food was absolutely amazing, but of course the experience was made that much better by the people and the wonderful time I had. So of course, I had to go back.

This time we were a smaller group; only three of us. And without knowing the owner, we got 'regular' service, which was just great, especially considering we had to communicate in engligermaspanitalian! The food was very good, and each dish was somehow unique. I wouldn't call this traditional Italian (although perhaps it is, from some part of Italy I don't know), but it was all very good.

Unfortunately I forgot the proper camera, so these are iPhone photos. Not the greatest so you'll have to use your imagination.

Kinda forgot to take a photo of the shared appetizer before it was nearly entirely devoured. All the menu called this was Salsiccia e formaggio alla griglia, or "grilled sausage and cheese". I suppose it's their little secret just what the sausage and cheese is, but let me tell you -- order it. It's fabulous. And it's served with this spicy sweet chutney thing that's to die for. YUM!

Salsiccia e formaggio alla griglia

My main course was Gnocchi di patate e zafferano con stufatino di coniglio, or "Potato gnocchi with saffron and… stewed rabbit? Rabbit stew?" Not sure, and I didn't really taste any rabbit, but the saffron gnocchi was delicious. Perfectly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth smooth, just lovely.

Gnocchi di patate e zafferano con stufatino di coniglio

Overall a very good meal. Not the same memory as before, but one really shouldn't expect to re-live those kinds of memories. Definitely a restaurant worth visiting if you're up for good Italian in Berlin.
Dinner at Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle
Auguststr. 34
10119 Berlin
+49 302819023

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rating: 4 feet
verdict: I really really wanted to come back and rate this one 5 feet. If I'd only been there this one time, it'd get only 3. So I'm gonna split the difference and go with 4 here. It really is a good restaurant, I was just expecting more from it that night -- probably unfairly so.

Berlin. A city under construction.

Arrived in Berlin Wednesday afternoon. The weather is glorious! The sun and the people are out in force, and the view from the Radisson SAS is remarkable.

View from SAS Radisson Hotel room

Unfortunately it seems that Berlin is undergoing a major face lift. There is construction everywhere -- far more than I recall when I was last here, nearly two years ago. The fabled Bebelplatz is devoid of the towering books sculpture that was there two years ago, and every building façade is completely covered.

Berlin is a city under construction.

Cranes as far as the eye can see

archive photo, September 2006 -- Bebelplatz

Dinner at La Fée Verte

Somethin' tells me mom's not gonna approve of this one…

La Fée Verte translates to "the green fairy". Called so because, apparently, that's what you see when you drink Absinthe [Wiki link]. Absinthe has been illegal in the United States since 1915, but the French drink it and are still around, thank you very much, so how bad can it be. Right?

So yes, this restaurant serves absinthe -- alongside some pretty yummy food, mind you. So let's start with the starters, shall we?

OK I gotta start blogging sooner or taking notes. This was… um… onions. And, cheese? Baked, with some kind of sauce. Look this isn't the absinthe speaking OK, this is what happens when you post a week after you eat. It was good. Don't seem to recall it being remarkable, but it was good. Alrighty then.

Some kind of onion appetizer thing

Next up, the main course. This was a very tasty lamb burger, a bit dry, but chock-full of flavor. I don't think I set it down once I picked it up; it really was quite tasty. The layered roasted veggie thing looked like it could be delicious, but it was served cold, and frankly just didn't appeal. Straight from the oven it was probably lovely.

Lamb Burger and vegetable… thing

OK now to the important bit. The absinthe.

There's a routine involved in serving and consuming absinthe, and all any of us at the table knew of it was what we'd seen in movies. Which amounts to pretty much F-all. "I think the water goes in that fancy dispenser"… "I'm sure they're gonna set it on fire"… "You're not really going to drink that, are you?" and so on.

Since I was the only one at the table brave stupid brave enough to try it, we didn't get the fancy water dispenser (and yes it's for water). Instead I was served a normal glass with a bit of the green glowing drink, a special spoon with a sugar cube balanced on top, and a carafe of ice water. They poured the absinthe into the glass over the sugar cube, then let it sit for some time before bringing it to the table. We asked if it was meant to be ignited, and they said you could if you wanted to… so we tried (obviously). Unfortunately I guess the alcohol had evaporated from the sugar, or the match wasn't hot enough, but we failed where caveman succeeded millennium before. So, pitch the fire, in with the sugar and water, and mix mix mix.


The result is a cloudy white drink. Certain biological components of the absinthe are not soluble in water, so they come out and cloud the drink. Or something like that. It has a pungent anise smell, and equally strong flavor. I love black liquorice, so the flavor appealed to me, but I guess you'd have a hard time with this if you only eat red vines.

Overall, well worth the experience and sure I'd have it again. I didn't see any green fairies, nor did I cut off my ear, but I did fall asleep in the cab on the ride back to the hotel. Absinte-1, me-0.

La Fée Verte
108, Rue Roquette
75011 Paris, France
+33 1 43 72 31 24

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rating: 3 feet
verdict: It really gets the rating for the absinthe. The food was OK, but the absinthe experience great. I'll probably go again just for the green fairies.

Croissants in Paris

I love croissants in Paris… that's all, just sayin'


We arrived in Paris by Eurostar on Sunday. What a civilized way to travel.

I love Paris. It's such a vibrant city, beautiful and lively and sexy and delicious. I didn't take many photos wandering around, but I love this one. It so Paris.