Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Starting my Scuba Diving Lessons! Day 1

Today is the day I MAN UP and learn how to dive! Its such a crazy and foreign thing for me to do, especially since I'm not a good swimmer and am afraid of drowning. With these two things in mind, you would assume it would deter me from attempting to dive -- but, I guess I'm not an ordinary person, or I'm just an adventurous person who wants to test my own limits (if i die, i guess i died trying, right? ha ha). I'm not sure how I'll face up to this challenge, but obviously since I am writing about this now, I lived to tell the tale after my first day.

So what did I do today? It was all about tests and practical application of what I learned from books and video instruction. Btw, I had no idea learning how to dive would take so much time. You generally hear it takes about 3-4 days to become open water certified, but what I didn't realize is that its essentially an all day thing. You get a PADI instruction manual that you will have to comb through, or alternatively, you can pay close attention to the videos you are required to watch. After going through each chapter (5 chapters, and they are long), you are then asked to take a quiz at the end of the book, which is later followed up with another test conducted by your dive instructor. That's only the written tests! There are also 4 instructional dives in the water, where you will be testing your book knowledge in a practical setting.

So, today I completed my knowledge 1 & 2 tests (essentially, learning what positive/negative/neutral buoyancy is... equalizing pressure inside your body ... learning how to use the equipment and how it will keep you alive under water ... yes, breathe through the regulator! ... hand signals ... among many other things). I passed the knowledge 1 & 2 quizzes (seriously, its almost like i'm back in school - you have to review a 30 minute video for each chapter, then at night you read the chapters (um, you're supposed to) and answer the questions at the end. After all of that is done you then meet with the instructor to get quizzed again). I passed this phase and then it was onto the "fun" part - the confined water dive.
If you've snorkled before, you have some sense of how it is to swim with fins and also how it is to get water through your air hole (not pleasant). So think about that and now add on the "comfort" of swimming with an oxygen tank on your back, 5-10 pound weights and other gear ... its a lot more difficult. It takes some time to get used to all the equipment and even after a day, I'm still not that comfortable with it. Every thing was a new step and every step got harder as I continued on! The first was being able to try to stand erect in the water with all the gear and then being able to descend into the water and kneel. Oh yeah, lets just say I had to go up a few times before getting used to kneeling down on the ocean floor (all of this is a semi-confined water environment -- out here in the Red Sea -- its just a shallow part of the sea vs. in a swimming pool). I would say the most difficult thing I had to do today was alternating air sources through the snorkel and through the regulator while underwater. You have to BLOW out water from the snorkel and if you make the mistake of breathing in while water is in the snorkel -- you will instantly choke and feel that burning sensation from the salt water in your throat! ugh, extremely unpleasant and this can easily make you want to quit! After a few attempts I made it through this part -- but it made the following skill tests more difficult to pass since my mind was getting a bit "nervous" and "scared" which -- we all know -- prevents ourselves from advancing to the next level... And what I can gather from day one is this entire course is all about how confident you feel in your abilities (that makes sense since life is like this). I will admit I was a bit shaken with this part of the test... and as I moved on to the next challenge (5 step descent) ... I was a bit nervous underwater again and my next challenge was to take off my face mask and have it off for a minute. Needless to say, I had so many things in my mind that I couldn't accomplish this next task - my chest felt tight; my lunch felt like it was about to come up (mental note: do not eat too much before diving, but that all depends on how you are when you exercise -- i don't really eat); my mouth was extremely dry from all the dry air I was inhaling through the regulator and it tasted like salt; and to top it all off -- i had to pee (and regardless of what anyone says, its not that easy peeing in the open water even though its probably quite easy in the pool! ha ha) So, with all of that, I was just drained and had to call it a day. So I finished water confinement 1 and half of 2 -- which, I will complete the rest of 2 tomorrow.

So my friends, this diving experience will be a true experiment and a test of whether I can get over my fear of drowning and at the same time trying to do something fun and new! Its a WHOLE NEW WORLD down there... tomorrow is a new day (and ugh, still have loads to read for tonight!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pharaoh's Revenge in Egypt (Myth or Not?)

You either clicked on this because you thought it was an interesting title about a Pharaoh plotting his revenge, or related the title to Montezuma's Revenge (ie getting bad stomach pains / diarrhea after eating something).

Well, I named this blog entry, Pharaoh's Revenge because of the latter comment. Many people have heard Egyptian Food is not good and can really do a number on your digestive system - but as Wilson and I have found - it isn't as bad as we heard or were told. : D Wilson and I have braved the Khan El Kahlili foods, some street vendor food, "local" restaurants and other foods that were offered to us - and so far so good (knocking on wood)! So, either Wilson and I have iron stomachs or the food here is really not that bad.

So far, here are a few things we've eaten (in order of appearance ... ha ha; RED says don't go, GREEN says go, BLACK means it was ok).

Kepta Sandwich (Khan el Kahlili) - Aka Liver Sandwich (cow). Sounds interesting, right? Would you try this? I'm Chinese, so I've had liver many times before so it was worth a shot. The liver was dipped into a flour-like dough and then deep fried in a wok of hot oil. After a few flips, the liver was ready to be eaten. The liver was weighed and then placed inside a pita-like bread. They provided some cucumber and tomato salad on the side and topped it off with a yogurt-like light brown sauce. We were ready to eat! It had a nice crunch to it and was de-lish-ous! A definite must try! Price: 2.5 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to approximately $ 0.50.

Beans Over Pasta (Khan el Kahlili; Koshary Pasta) - I have yet to figure out the name - Fuul Pasta? As you can see, its a simple dish. We saw many of the locals eating it, so it must be good. The dish is a mixture of macroni and spaghetti pasta covered with a light tomato and bean sauce. My initial bite and reaction to it was - its bland! But, I soon discovered that it was supposed to be eaten with some lime juice (which i found on the counter). After I added it, it was much much better. Not bad for a quick meal on the go. Price: 2.5 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to approximately $ 0.50.

Schwarma Sandwich (Giza, near Pyramids, Felfela Take-Away) - Lamb sandwich. Sandwich included lamb and a light brown yogurt-like sauce wrapped in a thin pita bread. You can order medium / large. Medium 7 egyptian pounds, Large 12 egyptian pounds. Bread was great,

Mixed Sandwich (Downtown, Felfela Sandwich Shop, 15 Sharia Hoda Shaaraw) -- It was a mix of everything. Falfafel, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and french fries. Ahhh, just thinking about it is making me crave it. The refried beans mixed with the falfafel was an absolute hit! Crunch and mush doesn't sound appetizing, but wow, its great. It sort of reminds me of the days when I used to eat Taco Bell Mexican Pizza - the crunch and the mush combined together to make a delectable flavor. : D This lovely sandwich was enough to fill me up and it cost - you won't believe it - 2 Egyptian pounds (less than US $ 0.50).

"Chips" aka French Fries (Downtown, Felfela Sandwich Shop, 15 Sharia Hoda Shaaraw) -- Wilson loves fries and couldn't resist. Forgot how much this cost, but it was nice and crunchy. But you have to love the server behind the counter!

Oriental Rice with Meat Sauce (Downtown, Egyptian Museum Cafe) -- It was oily, but it was rice, says Wilson. Price: 40 egyptian pounds, approximately $ 8.00. Definitely overpriced, but we're eating at the museum.

Chicken Schwarma with Fries (Downtown, Egyptian Museum Cafe) -- Eh, it was ok. Sandwich had cut up pieces of chicken with some bell peppers. Flavor was medi-ocre, but I didn't expect much from this cafe since it was at a tourist location. Price: 35 Egyptian pounds (approximately $ 7.00)

Mixed Grilled Meats (Emara Hati El Gish, 32 Sharia Falaki or 32 Falakay) - Includes Persion Kostalita (lamb chop - wow so good), sausage with rice (loved the tomato infused rice), grape leaves with rice (tomato infused rice, but grape leaves are too tangy for my tastes), kabob & kobta (salty) , liver (okay), and chicken (nicely flavred, not dry). Overall a great way to introduce you to a variety of prepared meats. The lamb and the sausage with rice was by far my favorite. Price: 54.90 egyptian pounds (approx. US $ 10)

Eggplant, Lemon, Tomato (Emara Hati El Gish, 32 Sharia Falaki or 32 Falakay): The dish included mini-chunks of tomato, lemon and topped off with grinded bits of eggplant. The little bits of eggplant was almost unnoticeable in taste. Price: 4.92 Egyptian pounds, less than US $ 1

Tobola (chick peas) - Metabel - Labana (Emara Hati El Gish, 32 Sharia Falaki or 32 Falakay): grounded chickpeas with some spices. It was ok, a bit too salty. Price: 4.92 Egyptian pounds, less than US $ 1

Sambisa with Meat (Emara Hati El Gish, 32 Sharia Falaki or 32 Falakay): Triangle shaped pastry dish that reminded me of an Indian samosa or a softer Spanish empanada. You can order this with meat or cheese. The meat sambisa was tasty. Price: 10 egyptian pounds, approx. US $ 2.

Assortment of Appetizers (Part of our Bahariya Oasis Tour Food with Select Egypt) - This was what we were served at lunch. Cheese and Tomato (pass), Tuna from the can (pass), Cheese paste with tomato and cucumber (pass), Cucumber and tomato salad (ok), egg and tomato (yum!), Bag of Lays cheese potato chips (yum) , pita bread, and bananas. Overall, it was an interesting spread ... Most of the foods I could do without, but the egg and tomato dish was my favorite (probably because I used to eat something similar to this when I was growing up)

Chicken with Vegetables and Rice (Part of our Bahariya Oasis Tour Food with Select Egypt) -- Wilson and I agree that this was by far one of the best meals we've had (aside from that Mixed Sandwich with the refried beans!). The rice was loose and extremely flavorful (have no idea what was put in there - fat lard? Since there probably wasn't any butter). The vegetables also had a very good taste to it. The carrots, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers were cooked to a perfect softness and had a richness to it that was something I haven't had. If I could have this everyday, I would become a vegetarian! But since I can't have that everyday, I'm still an omnivore. The chicken was freshly "prepared" (ie killed) that day. Our driver seasoned it with salt and lime juice and threw it on the barbecue grill. Delicious. Everything in this meal was fantastic. Definitely worth it.

Thus far, these are the highlights of my food adventures in Egypt! The food has been better than expected and I hope to taste more of the culinary treats of Egypt! and finally, I hope I won't experience "Pharaoah's Revenge"

Until the next Egyptian food tour ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm on my way to EGYPT!!!!

Day One - Getting Ready to Leave, December 15, 2009

Its 3:30 pm, wait, now its 3:45 pm … crap, its 4:00, I really have to get a move on it if I want to make my 6:30 pm flight at JFK. I now have 2.5 hours to get to the airport (and no, there is no online check in with Egypt Air. It takes about 40-50 minutes, door to door, to get to the airport via LIRR. I also know at a minimum, I must be there 45-50 minutes prior to departure, regardless of international travel, if I wanted to check-in and check-in a bag. So I have to be there before 5:40 pm (or else the ticket agent will see me groveling and pleading with them! Not a pretty sight – haha!)

So if I leave now (um, not ready yet), I will get there around 5:00 pm. Plenty of time (you getting skirmish yet?) , so, I tell myself, I will make it (yes, I’m notorious for cutting it close to departure time). I caught the 4:22 pm LIRR Jamaica outbound train and made it to the check-in counter at 5:10 pm. Not bad – phew, what a relief! So with one hour and twenty minutes to spare – what can I do? Shop… No, I made my way to the gate (afterall, I didn’t want to miss my plane after cutting it so close). I also used the remaining time to call my credit/debit cards to authorize usage in Egypt and Jordan (definite must, so don’t forget to do it on your next international travel!) and texted a few friends before I left. Ah, the hard part is done, now I can relax and sleep on the plane!

If you’re curious about my preparations, read below… If not, wait for my next blog posts on Egypt!

Excitement Level: Low. For some reason, I don't usually get excited until I’m am at my destination. It doesn't feel until I am there and witnessing it. :D

Mental Preparation: None. Though, I do admit, I am a bit nervous to be a woman traveling in Egypt (thank goodness, I’m traveling with my brother, which reminds me -- should I pretend that we are married? sick thought, i know, but apparently married woman here are not accosted as much!).

Physical Preparation: Limited. Ankle is still hurting a bit. - I expect to do my own physical therapy while on the road. Gym? I went a few times to get my body ready for some scuba diving (though, I had no pool to see if I'm capable of swimming a few laps – so let’s hope I don’t drown!)

Planning: A lot. My brother determined our route and I obliged. I figured out all the hotels and made reservations via email. I used Lonely Planet Egypt, Lonely Planet Middle East and tripadvisor.com to find reputable and clean hotels. For the first few nights, Wilson and I will be staying at a 5-star hotel (he is returning from a 42 day safari -- so he needs to slowly readjust back to society.) No we aren’t staying at 5-star hotels the entire time, just 3-stars (or whatever I can find). Took a week or so to get email confirmations from most of the hotels (sounds easy, but really isn't).

Packing: Not so bad. Packing my clothes was easy -- I packed one carry on suitcase for a 38 day trip (I checked it in), one side tote bag filled with camera stuff and another sling shot backpack with my camera equipment. Lots of camera equipment and I already feel as if I've packed too much!

Purchases: Drove me insane. Tested three cameras and six lenses within a week. At the end of the week long camera trials (sounds like a lawsuit!), I chose the 7D and equipped it with 24-70mm F/2.8L lens and 70-200mm F/4.0L lens. Btw, I have some new friends at B&H, though I do admit they probably hate me at the return counter. :D But, if I’m about to spend THAT much on equipment, it better be good and perform well under certain stress tests! (future blog about camera purchase to come)

Last Minute Thoughts

I made my flight and with 45 minutes to spare! phew! I can't believe I'm on my way! The excitement is slowly building. (ha ha, the photo of me on the left is me writing this part of the blog!)

I can’t wait to see what Egypt has to offer and I can’t wait to explore and live day to day, not knowing what to expect next. Every day will be a new challenge, whether finding a way to our destination, haggling with Egyptians over their wares, or finding a clean bathroom! Whatever it is, I love the newness of traveling and the unknown. Traveling is probably one of the only times where I find myself in a heightened “survival” mode – where I depend on my gut instincts, my common sense and my ability to talk to strangers. I love it! I really can’t wait to interact with the locals to find the good food and the hidden gems! oooh and all the beautiful photos I will capture (cross your fingers!) So, on to my adventure I go!

my travel blog will start soon! www.simplyEVERYWHERE.blogspot.com (not up and running just yet! but will be soon!).

btw, my New York postings will be limited for now, but I hope I will have internet access while on the road and can blog about the adventure in the Middle East. I will be gone for 38 days -- and will be visiting Egypt, Jordan and maybe maybe Israel (if we have time) with my brother.

Friday, December 11, 2009

TGIF -- Bloody Marys... Photo of the Day

I took this photo a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning with a Sony Alpha 900.

Its a Bloody Mary from a French Bistro in the Lower East Side (you will see a review for the restaurant, hopefully before I leave for Egypt). It was a tttaaaaddd bit strong, but as my friend and I called it -- it was our day to be destructive... And though, it may seem like I drink a lot (esp. with the recent Irish Victorian Bar review) - its quite the contrary - I drink on occasion and this was a very special occasion. :D

Since its Friday and we know everyone is going out tonight -- don't forget to pick up your Bloody Mary the morning after at brunch -- does it really cure a hangover?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

110 Street Subway Station (Photo of the Day)

I am at the 110 Street Subway station quite a lot and on this particular day, I just loved the positioning of the people and the railway columns. And I have to say, its interesting to people watch on the subway!

I didn't have my DSLR with me, so this photo was taken with my point-and-shoot Canon SD880IS... I still love my Canon cameras!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where is your UPS delivery man on XMAS?

I'm sure everyone has had a box or a letter shipped to them, but do you ever wonder how and where your package is being prepared and shipped? And whether or not it'll be on time? I did. I'm sure everyone is thinking that right now, especially as they are waiting for their holiday orders to arrive. Perhaps you were like me, anxiously clicking the refresh button under the UPS "track order"page?

Today, I went over to a friend's place in Jersey to pick up a "next day air" package, but didn't know when the UPS delivery truck would arrive. However, the doorman mentioned that UPS usually makes their rounds around 12:00-12:15 pm or at 1:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m (hmm, a lot of delivery times). It was 11:00 a.m. when I asked the doorman. One hour, that's not too much of a wait, especially since I was very anxious to pick up the package. So I wait... 12:00 p.m. no UPS truck, no men in brown uniforms, only United States Postal Service in blue uniforms. Um, hello, I want the guys in the brown uniforms -- where are they? So, I peer out the window and guess what I see? I see two UPS trucks sitting in a parking lot. A few minutes later, I look out again and now there is a group of UPS trucks congregating in the parking lot across the street from my friends apartment. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Where is my PACKAGE?!?! and why are they lined up like so? I wasn't angry, rather I was curious. So I decided to walk over... If you can see the photos above, it appeared as if the UPS trucks had their own organized line-up, a semi circle of sorts, with the back of the trucks all facing one another. I was intrigued, so I walked over.

As I entered this semi-private affair, I was pleasantly surprised. The guys (no female workers today), were joking and laughing... music was blasting ... people gathered round to hear the captain's orders and packages were being moved from one truck to another -- they were all having a good time! ... it was almost as if I was watching a scene out of a Christmas movie (or Elf) where you see the elves working away in an assembly line putting packages on the right carousel so it goes to the right Santa bag -- meanwhile you hear them singing and humming along to Santa Clause is coming to town.

So why was it set up like this? Were they having some sort of party? You can call it that ... They set the back of their trucks to one another to organize the delivery of their packages. So, they were simply rearranging packages from one truck, to another, in an attempt to make the delivery process more efficient! Go Santa's little helpers!

As they finished separating the packages, each truck departed to deliver their goods to the households of New Jersey (yeah!!! boxes and more boxes of goodies -- presents?!!). Ah, the sleigh is ready ... "So were you naughty or nice this year?" one UPS man asked.

Nice of course! (ok, he didn't really ask, but wouldn't it be cool if he did? ha ha)

So, are you wondering what happened to my package? ... and whether it arrived at 12:15 / 1:00 / or 4:00 pm. If you think it arrived at any other time but 12:15 pm, you probably don't know me very well. :D jk. Lucky for me, as I was spectating, I met Bob who seemed like a jolly fellow... it turned out he was my special UPS man delivering packages to my friends apartment building. He was my Santa for the day (he found my package in his truck!). And though he was going to make the delivery later in the day, he was gracious enough to make a quick stop at my friends apartment (it was across the street!) before heading out to his other destinations. Woo HOO!!!! Santa agrees -- I was nice all year!

So ... my brown sleigh arrived just in time for the holidays (or in my case, arrived just in time before my Egypt trip next week!)

Thanks Bob and the rest of the Santa crew for making my day!

Thank you for riding NYC Transit - PATH TRAIN - (Photo of the Day)

Today I ventured out to New Jersey and I saw this sign and thought -- ah, I'm leaving my city...

This is the walkway on 34th Street to the PATH train...

Did you know? .... For $1.75 you can take a ride and be in another state? Yes, you can wander around Hoboken for $1.75 (btw, great place to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and only 14 minutes away!)! Or, if you were me, take a ride to the Newport station.

Its a rather easy and quick ride, especially since you are entering another state -- it took me less than 20 minutes to get to Newport (excludes waiting time for the PATH Train). I was told that during the weekdays, especially during peak hours, the PATH trains come every 4-5 minutes, and during non-peak every 10-15 minutes and off-off-peak every 30 minutes. That doesn't sound so bad (click here to check your destination/schedule). Of course waiting times are longer on the weekends... but again, if you are living in New Jersey and commute into the city, its not that bad.

So, for $1.75, or $3.50 round trip -- its not a bad way to spend a day venturing out in another state! Happy travels...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lillie's -- Unsuspecting Cool Bar in Union Square!

Ever hear of an Irish Victorian Bar? I didn't until I walked into Lillie's Irish-Victorian Bar and Restaurant on 17th Street between Broadway and Fifth avenue. In contrast to other Irish Bars, Lillie's does not have the typical Irish Bar front entrance that is adorned with heavy wood panels or a sign that has the name of the bar encrusted with gold lettering. Rather, the entrance to Lille's is nondescript, but you will know its Lillie's by the locket photo of Lillie on the glass window and its name in cursive gold lettering. As you enter the bar, you will immediately know its no ordinary Irish Bar. Its not "divey" or a "whatever" bar. The bar immediately sets itself apart with its lighting, the columns, antique wood carved bar and furnishings. The antique wood carved bar topped with marble and its furnishings were acquired from a Victorian mansion in Belfast, Ireland (yes, it was packaged and shipped across the Atlantic). You will find other antique carvings there and its representative of an era in which Lillie lived (1853-1929). For more info on who Lillie was, scroll to the end, but lets get to the meat of this story and why you should frequent Lillie's!

What do you normally look for in a good watering hole? Depends on the mood and the day, but first and foremost its alcohol. Then its food, especially if its going to be a long night of drinking! and finally, its the atmosphere -- though, if the alcohol is cheap enough, you'll probably go just about anywhere (ha ha).

Lillie's -- things you would want in a good watering hole.
  • Good alcohol selection. Beer from more than 15 countries with 25 on tap ($6) and 30 bottled ($5-12) - Guinness, Smithwicks, Kronenbourg, Stella, Boddingtons, Hatachino White (actually not that great), Sam Adams are all on tap ... and the list continues. Whiskey? Yes, they have Irish Whiskeys and Single Malts ($8.5 - $123). If none of this meets your liquid needs, Lillie's also has a fully stocked bar with hard liquor and a selection of wine and champagne ($8 - $19 glass). Btw, some of the wines are from the Langtry Estate in California, where Lillie herself owned and lived from 1888 to 1906!
  • Food - Its a bar and a restaurant. So, you can come for lunch/dinner/brunch ($5 - $18) or bar bites ($8 - $20) after 5 pm. We ordered bar food and I was pleasantly surprised that it was reasonably priced and the portions were not scanty . The miniature burgers were good (though, probably could do without the raw onions) and the chicken tender strips had a solid crunch to it (yum!). For dinner, they have Bangers & Mash (YUM) and if your stomach desires -- the Full Irish Breakfast is served all day! btw, the kitchen is open till 4 a.m.!
  • Atmosphere - Upbeat. Its not a sleepy bar. The music is loud, but not so loud where you find yourself having a shouting conversation with a friend (you just have to lean in a little, which may be to your advantage! :D ). The bar is spacious, but it can get crowded. Its extremely busy on Friday, but if you're willing to brave the crowds like I did -- its worth it! It's NOT a teeny bopper place -- the clientele is your run of the mill after work crowd -- with a good mix of ages ranging from mid twenties to late thirties.
Though I'm not sure whether the bar was previously owned by Lillie (highly doubtful) or if the theme and concept was named in honor of her (more likely). Either way, Lillie's in Union Square has a unique story behind its name and for the liquid consumer -- it provides a unique atmosphere for everyone who wants to satisfy their liquid desires and hunger pangs. The alcohol and food prices are reasonable and on par with many other Irish bar establishments, but for the upbeat Victorian atmosphere I thought it was well worth it. I highly recommend this joint if you are looking for an upbeat Irish watering hole!

13 East 17th Street
Between Broadway and 5th Avenue
Open from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Photos of the bar, click here (sorry, didn't bring my camera that night)

Did you know this bar has a unique story behind it?

So who is Lillie? Lillie was born as Emilie Le Breton and was raised on Isle of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy and lived from 1853 to 1929 . According to Lillie's bar website and wikipedia, Lillie married Irish land-owner Edward Langtry at the age of 20 and through her life became an acknowledged beauty of her era who was an "A-List guest, an actress, a model, a mistress to the future king of England (Edward VII), inspirer of poetry and plays by Oscar Wilde". Her nickname was "Jersey Lilly" and was popularised by a portrait of Lilly done by Sir John Everett Milais. Interestingly enough, the portrait had her holding a Guernsey Lily instead of a Jersey Lily flower (ok, that may not have been that interesting). She moved to America in 1887 and became an American citizen in 1897. During her time in America, she purchased a winery in Lake County, California in 1888 and was sold in 1906. To this day, the winery is still in operation and its wines are served at Lillie's Irish-Victorian Bar and Restaurant. For more information of her, visit the wikipedia link noted above!

Friday, December 4, 2009

TGIF -- Go grab that drink! (photo of the day)

I saw this sign a week ago while wandering through the Lower East Side and thought it'd be a perfect day to share it. Its beautiful outside - probably nice enough to go out and have a beer at an outside bar (um, Studio Square Beer Garden??? or even Bryant Park Bar & Grill). Anywhere you go, just realize its Friday and if you had a week like I had -- you probably deserve that drink! So splurge and enjoy yourself!

There are loads of Happy Hour specials throughout the city - with a quick google search, click here for Murph's Guide and you can find a local bar near you. But, if you live here already, I bet you already have a local neighborhood joint ... so feel free to post and share here in the comment section (if i find the NY Times article about happy hour bars in the city, I will repost).

Otherwise, enjoy your Friday by having a beer with friends!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Think Coffee - A new spin on a neighborhood coffee shop!

Think Coffee. I've seen a few of these coffee shops in New York (there are three) and since my friend wanted some coffee, we decided to try it out.

Their concept -- "serves only the finest coffees and hand-packed teas grown in an environmentally friendly manner and purchased by us in a way that is designed to improve the livelihoods of farmers." Think fair trade, Think organic and shade grown. Think espresso. Think wine and cheese.

It appears to put an "organic" spin on coffee, not to mention, "free-trade", which differs from the mass produced coffee shops that we see on every other block (no names need to be given). Their coffee beans are roasted locally in Brooklyn. Their iced coffees are brewed for at least 24 hours, a process that rids the coffee of its bitterness. They offer an array of foods - sandwiches, salads, Hale & Hearty soups and baked goods. Btw, their sandwich bread is from Amy's Bread (yum!). Sounds good so far!

The store on Bleecker/Bowery had a homey feel to it - it was spacious and had tables indoors and outdoors. I would find this a comfortable space to plop myself down and enjoy a Jasmine tea while reading my book, making preparations for travel, or even studying! People seem to be friendly and are amenable to sharing tables with strangers (hmm, is that the right usage of the word?).

After searching Think Coffee's website, the coffee shop also offers events and classes. Wow! This truly is a local coffee shop that wants to engage their local community! It actually sort of reminds me of the little small bookshop that was run by Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. It was in existence until the Big Bad Wolf took over the neighborhood (ha ha). So if you wanted to learn about Milk Steaming & Latte Art Technique, you are in luck -- they have a class this Sunday at 248 Mercer Street, between 3rd and 4th street (its one of their shops!) or if you want to chill out to some Shona music from Zimbabwe you can attend the event this Thursday at the same location. As you can see, and to my surprise, this is not any local coffee shop! Quite cool, actually!

So, if you want to study, read, or meet a friend for coffee - why not check out Think Coffee! It certainly does have a communal feel to it and is suitable for everyone. For those people who want to study, its not loud at all -- and people seem to be courteous to each other. So, go grab a tea or a coffee and enjoy it with a french pressed sandwich ... or go to one of the classes and learn how to make an espresso or a latte! There is a little something for everyone! P.s. I enjoyed my Jasmine tea and my friend liked the coffee... so enjoy this communal coffee shop experience!

Three Think Coffee Locations:

248 Mercer Street, between 3rd and 4th Street

1 Bleecker Street, corner of Bowery and Bleecker

123 4th Avenue, between 12th and 13th street) - woah, cool address!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Live in the Present (Photo of the Day)

As I was walking to the subway, I saw this glass door decoration and thought to myself -- wow, this is a cool advertisement! Yes, it plays on the word "present" as in today instead of gift for the holidays - a homonym! (you didn't think you would learn anything new today, did you?)

I'm not sure why Equinox used this as an advertisement, but it caught my eye... though I took no action!

For some reason those four words resonated in my mind and I hope it does the same for you! Hope you have a thought provoking moment like I did today!

btw: when I was in elementary school, I won a contest for listing the most most homonyms among my peer group!! However, if you ask me now to think of some, it would probably take me time some to think of some! ok, complete... complete dork. :D

Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

After being in New York for over nine years, this was the first time I went to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. It was an incredible experience and apparently my reaction to all the floats/balloons/walkers expressed that! My friend Irene said I was like a kid in a candy store! Hee hee! I bet it was also because Irene and I had American Natural History Museum VIP Guest passes that gave us prime location seating for the parade, free hot chocolate/apple cider and bagels/doughnuts (and a clean bathroom!)! I think anyone would be as excited as I was! Btw, we didn't have to wake up at 6:00 am to secure a spot... we met each other at 8 am and the parade started at 9 am. Not too shabby... Not too shabby!

For those of you who missed the 2009 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade here is a link to my photos. It was a perfect day to be outside -- not too cold, not too windy and definitely no rain! A perfect day for football too!

Below are some of the balloons we saw glide by us -- with Snoopy being my favorite!. Sailor Mickey and the Pillsbury Dough Boy were two new balloons this year, along with Ronald McDonald and Spider Man (reintroduction) which is not shown here.

Pretty amazing! I would only recommend braving the crowds if you have VIP treatment like we did. Otherwise, your couch is just as nice and probably cozier. However, if you do get the special treatment, there is NO other experience like it. You can go up and close to see the floats!

BTW, DID YOU KNOW that there is a public viewing of all the balloons the day before? Yup. its called Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation and is held near the American Natural History Museum (The 2 side streets between the Museum of Natural History, 77th and 81st). The festivities does not start until 3 pm and ends at 10 pm (public viewing is around 4 pm - 8 pm; check the times). So, if you don't want to brave the day time crowds, you can brave the night owls who like to watch balloons get blown up to size!

Happy thanksgiving!

Georgia's Eastside BBQ (LES)

Welcome to Georgia's Eastside BBQ at 192 Orchard Street. The tiny place offers Southern style cooking and has enough seats to cater to about 20 people. Georgia's menu is a bit more limited than say a Sylvia's or Amy Ruth's in Harlem, but still provides the essential Southern food your stomach is craving. You can also fulfill your liquid needs with sweet tea, lemonade or Arnold Palmer (for all the hard-core Southerners, sorry, they don't serve bourbon! but there is a bar across the street!).

Without fail, a friend and I asked the hostess/waitress what she recommended off of the menu - her response was -- the Fried Chicken Sandwich, Rib Dinner and the Pulled Pork sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. Since it was lunchtime and only two of us, we ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich and the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries.

The Fried Chicken Sandwich ($7)
Wow! The chicken was moist (well, how can it not be when its breaded and deep fried) and flavorful. The breading was crunchy and had a good peppery flavor it to it. The fried chicken is served with lettuce and tomato and if you want it hot, there is some spicy sauce that you can ask for. Nothing special about the bun, but it didn't distract from the taste. Served with potato chips.

Pulled Pork Sandwich ($7)
This is a staple Southern style sandwich, so it was pretty much a pre-requisite order. The pulled pork is served with cole slaw and bbq / vinegar sauce. The sandwich was messy, and I thought the pulled pork was okay (somewhat juicy), but the flavor of it was nothing special. [Perhaps I should have tried the Rib Sandwich; Better luck next time] Note: Unlike other creamy or soaked in mayonnaise cole slaw, Georgia's cole slaw was light and airy in taste. Served with potato chips.

Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Dijon Mustard ($4?)
How can you not love sweet potato fries? You can't. Its healthier than regular fries (well sort of) too! The fries were not as crispy as I would like, but I still enjoyed them.

However, I will say -- I can easily do without the honey dijon mustard - and to be quite honest - I don't even know why they offer that sauce with it -- the two tastes do not mix well.

Overall, I think the place is a quaint neighborhood joint that allows you to fulfill your Southern comfort food cravings. I wouldn't say its the best Southern style food that I've had, but it certainly fits the bill when you crave Southern food. And I would still highly recommend the Fried Chicken sandwich! Also, the prices are comparable and certain items are less expensive than other Southern Style restaurants / menus (i.e. Amy Ruth's, Rub BBQ, Sylvia's). Just remember to bring cash since they only accept that for now. To attest to the smallness of this restaurant, they do not have a bathroom. However, you can use the restroom at the bar across the street (which, I'm sure they have an arrangement with!), and while you're there -- don't forget to order your bourbon!

Georgia's Eastside BBQ
192 Orchard Street
(212) 253-6280
Cross street: Houston

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