travel

Cat Cafes

This morning, I awoke to a link in my inbox, from Mal, that made my day: “8 Purrfect Destinations For Any Cat Lover.” (From Buzzfeed, of course!)

It mentions Cat Island; Cat City, Borneo (duly added to my list of places to visit); Belgium’s Kattenstoet Cat Festival (who knew?!) and others.

All those cat-centric places reminded me of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, London’s new cat cafe, which opened earlier this month.

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I’m thrilled to see cat cafes, which started in Japan more than 10 years ago, opening in more countries.

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Um, why couldn’t Lady Dinah’s have opened a few months earlier when I was in London?

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So how long until NYC gets a cat cafe?

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Have a wonderful weekend!

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(Images via Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium)

A Cure for Winter

This sounds like hyperbole, but I’m convinced it’s true: I don’t think there’s a single New Yorker who’s not over this winter.

Seriously, I can’t remember a season this cold, snowy and endless since I was living in Boston.

Whenever the weather comes up in conversation—with friends, family, co-workers, people in my neighborhood, strangers in stores—everyone has the same reaction: They shake their head in weary resignation and say something to the effect of, “I’m so over it!”

My mind has been returning to these Sunlight PillsВ that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. I’ll take one of each, please!

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(Images byВ Vaulot&DyГЁvre; found via Swissmiss)

Fernweh

One of my best friends shared this with me today, and I couldn’t help but smile:

fernwehIt’s been crazy cold and snowy for weeks, here in NYC!

Even though the long slog doesn’t officially start until next Tuesday, I’m already feeling tons of fernweh. Escaping to somewhere warm and sunny would be amazing, though chilly and cozy would be pretty sweet, too. I just need a little break from my ice-crusted city!

(Image from Discover Outdoors, via Duh)

A Private Island in Georgia

Maybe because it’s freezing in NYC and winter seems endless—but I’ve been finding my mind wandering to warmer places.

Everyone I know seems to have winter escapes on the brain, as well. Yesterday, a friend sent me this link—and I was immediately intrigued!

She and her fiance had stumbled across Private Islands of Georgia via HGTV.

When I think of private islands, I envision poshy enclaves way out in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean. (i.e. places I’d love to visit but are just a tad out of reach, monetarily, at the moment!)

But these islands look way more accessible.

And affordable.

And perfect for a long weekend with a big group of friends.

These snapshots of Eagle Island sold me:

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The flat, watery landscape is so different from NYC. I find it gorgeous, yet mysteriously romantic. And the lodge looks like the perfect mix of rustic and modern.

One other huge selling point: You can catch blue crabs there! My fave!

Who’s up for a trip to Georgia?

(Photos via Private Islands of Georgia)

A Quick Trip to the Iguazu Falls

It’s cold and snowy in NYC and I’m seriously missing the warm days of summer.

…or at least any day when the temperature topped 90 degrees.

The last place I was in, that fit that criteria, was Iguazu, Argentina, in early November. After several days in Buenos Aires, I headed there before returning to the States.

The Iguazu Falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. They’re located in northwestern Argentina, along the border it shares with Brazil. In fact, the falls belong to both countries, as part of National Parks Iguazu (Argentina) and Iguacu (Brazil). Some people view the falls from both sides. Due to time constraints—and not wanting to pay an additional reciprocity fee for Brazil—I only went to the Argentine side of the park.

In and around the town of Iguazu, Argentina, there are a wide range of accommodations: hostels, generic western-style hotels, rustic-lite places. I opted for the latter.

Yvy Hotel de Selva had just opened in September. It’s a ways off the main road, in the same woodsy area as similar nature-minded lodgings. Yvy is comprised of a lodge-like, airy reception/restaurant building…

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…and several wooden cabins equipped with all the creature comforts: AC, hot water, king beds.

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I arrived on a late afternoon flight from BA. After checking in, I spent a few hours lounging by the pool, then ate dinner in the restaurant. The place was quiet—just me and a few other diners—and my fish and veggies were pretty tasty.

On the way back to my cabin, I realized I’d forgotten one important thing: I’m afraid to be alone in woodsy areas! The trail was, admittedly, well-lit, but I still booked it back to my cabin, locked myself in and turned on all the lights. I went to bed soon after, in hopes that morning would come quickly.

It did, and the day was sunny and warm. I ate breakfast from Yvy’s generous, complimentary spread, then cabbed into the town of Iguazu to use an ATM. (The people at my front desk warned me that the ATM at the park is usually out of service.) I wasn’t thrilled to make the detour, but was glad to see what downtown Iguazu looked like. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed. There were some generic touristy shops and restaurants—nothing picturesque or noteworthy. To get to the park from there, I hopped on a coach at the main bus stop.

I haven’t been to many national parks, but I’ve yet to visit one, in the U.S. or abroad, that’s easier to navigate than Iguazu. There are only a few trails and they’re all paved or platformed and very clearly marked. You definitely don’t need a guide unless you’re looking to learn about the falls in detail.

From the park entrance, I walked to the Green Trail…

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…which led me to take either the Upper or Lower Trail.

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I opted to start with the Lower.

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Since it was pretty early, around 10 a.m., I had parts of the trail to myself.

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I walked along the metal paths, admiring the greenery, until I caught my first glimpse of the falls in the distance.

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As I walked closer, I passed smaller falls along the trail.

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After a short walk, I came to a spot where I could see the full falls—and was astounded.

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Never before had I seen so many in one place.

While gaping at the view, I noticed speed boats zipping through the river, ferrying tourists right up to the cascading water. During my cab ride to Iguazu, the driver kept urging me to take a boat ride and tried to hand me a pamphlet about it. At the time, I’d politely declined, thinking that I wouldn’t be caught dead doing something so touristy. But after seeing it in person, I had a change of heart.

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I walked right up to the Iguazu JungleВ stand on the Lower Trail—conveniently located so people like me can buy tickets for the boat on a whim, after seeing them in action. The guy behind the counter fielded a few of my questions. (No, your stuff won’t get wet—we’ll give you a dry bag. Yes, it’s safe—the boat is the size of a bus. You won’t capsize and drown.) Then heВ gave me my ticket (AR$180) and pointed me down to the dock. I placed my stuff in a dry bag, put on a life vest and climbed on board.

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The boat makes two trips to the falls.

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On the first, they stay far enough away so you can take photos.

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On the second, they tell you to put your cameras away—because you get drenched! Within a few seconds of speeding towards the falls, I was completely soaked.

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Luckily, it was sunny and hot, so I didn’t mind walking the rest of the Lower Trail in saturated clothing. The end had some of the best views.

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I went to the Upper Trail, afterwards.

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By that time, it was noon, and the park was crowded—wall-to-wall people on the walkway crowded. Admittedly, I wanted to finish the trail as soon as possible.

Some of the aerial views from the Upper Trail were pretty spectacular—when I could actually get through the crowds to see them!

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I thought it was especially cool to look down upon this viewing platform on the Lower Trail.

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I’d saved Iguazu’s most iconic fall for last: La Garganta del Diablo. (Translation: the Devil’s Throat.) To get there, I hopped the little train that takes visitors to the trail.

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Once we arrived, I took an empanada snack break near the train station. I wouldn’t be able to escape people completely, but at least I wouldn’t have to walk along the trail with the hordes of other people who’d just disembarked from the same train. A few minutes later, I embarked on the trail.

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The water beneath the walkway is so calm that you’d never guess there was a massive waterfall nearby.

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After a few minutes, an Argentinean flag came into view—along with mist billowing in the air.

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La Garganta del Diablo was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The sheer volume and power of the water astounded me. I couldn’t see—or even fathom—how far the bottom of the falls were.

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Brazil, just across the way, seemed so close, yet far. Maybe one day I’ll see the falls from that side.

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After admiring the falls from every angle, I walked back to the train station and rode the train to the stop near the exit. While waiting for a bus back to my hotel, I was struck by how exhausted I was. Walking around a park all day, in 90 degree heat, among crowds, had finally caught up to me. Luckily, the bus ride wasn’t too long, and the driver dropped me at the side of the road, near my hotel. I walked along the path, for about 15 minutes, before finally reaching it. I immediately changed into my bathing suit, went to the pool—and feel asleep for an hour.

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That evening, I was too tired to go into town, so I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, again. I had a steak and Malbec—a fitting meal for my last night in Argentina.

Where Are You Going in 2014?

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Maybe it’s because I closed 2013 with two trips, or because I’ve been so crazy with life, recently. But I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be going, this year.

It’s kind of funny to be in this place: completely replenished with vacation days, and clueless as to how I’ll spend them.

Not that I’m lacking in inspiration! Since the start of the new year, I’ve been perusing all the travel porn “Where to Travel in 2014” round-ups everyone’s been putting out. The NY Times released an especiallyВ gorgeous one, last week. It included several places I’ve considered over the past few years: Ecuador, Uruguay, Scotland. As well as others that have long been on my hit list—Cambodia, Vietnam, Cape Town (in the photo above)—but I’ve yet to visit, due to lack of vacation time.

It’s a big world out there, and there are so many options. Where are you headed, this year?

(Cape Town photo via NY Times)

A Long Weekend of Great Eats in London

Whenever anyone asked me how my trip to London was, my automatic response was: “It was amazing! I ate sooooooooo much!!” Which prompted most people to respond: “Really? I thought the food wasn’t that great over there.”

I can’t speak to how London’s overall dining scene is, since I was there for such a short time. But everything I ate was fabulous. Reen planned an awesome itinerary for my trip, which revolved around two of my favorite activities: eating and wandering around. Each day, we trekked for hours, getting to and from every restaurant.

I couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement. Along the way, I saw tons of the city and walked off a fraction of the calories we consumed. And, best of all, we got to catch up on everything that’s been going on with us on opposite sides of the ocean, for the past year!

Some highlights:

Despite flying in on a red eye, I was still game for a long walk from Reen’s Marylebone apartment to Spitalfields. We had a late lunch at the English Restaurant, a wonderfully old school place. It’s housed in building from the 1670s, and the interior has gorgeous wood floors and dark wood booths. The restaurant has a lovely menu, which includes some refined takes on British standards. We shared a delicious salmon roulade and an omelet.

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Later, we had drinks with some of Reen’s co-workers. I don’t remember either of these two things from my previous trip to London, but I’m convinced we need both, in the States: The ability to stand outside a bar and drink. (As long as you’re in a designated area.) And mulled wine. Seriously, it’s one of the most amazing drinks I’ve ever had. How has it not infiltrated bars on this side of the pond?

The next morning, we embarked on another long walk to Maltby Market. Along the way, Reen led us down Drury Lane, which she knew I’d love for one reason:

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…there are a bunch of ballet shops within a few blocks of each other! Of course, we stopped into a few.

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The Bloch store was my favorite. It was new and pretty with all their shoes displayed on the bottom floor. At Bloch, and the other stores, women and girls were getting fitted for their pointe shoes. It’s funny—and comforting—how ballet rituals are similar, no matter where in the world you are.

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After crossing the Thames and walking along the south bank for a while, we came to what appeared to be a row of garages under a bridge. We’d arrived at Maltby Market.

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On weekends, each of the garages houses a pop-up restaurant or food stall—but they’re only open until they run out of eats, usually between 2 and 4.

Reen had chosen Bea’s of BloomsburyВ for brunch. When we arrived at their garage, we were dismayed when we saw their door down—we’d thought we’d missed our window of opportunity!

Then we realized you could walk in through a small door within the door…

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…and into a cute, makeshift restaurant!

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Bea’s has a simple brunch menu with staples like pancakes, french toast and poached eggs. I opted for both the pancakes and a poached egg and a side of smoked salmon.

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Bea’s also has maple bacon, which is the most amazing bacon I’ve ever eaten—sweet, salty and crispy, all at once. Sadly, I was too busy chowing down on it to take a pic!

Afterwards, we stopped into the other pop-up shops. My Cup of TeaВ had gorgeous-looking blends and elegant accessories.

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A few steps down, Comptoir Gourmand was selling some of the prettiest pastries I’ve ever come across.

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I wished I could have sampled everything, but I was so stuffed, that I just opted for one of their Portuguese egg tarts, which I devoured a few minutes later. So delicious! The filling was thicker and richer, and the crust more flaky than the Chinese ones I’m used to eating.

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On the other side of the bridge is Maltby Market’s Ropewalk—which meant even more amazing-looking food and cocktails!

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Again, I wanted to try everything. Reen highly recommended the Bad Brownie Company, so we got one to go.

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To return to Reen’s place, we walked back along the south bank of the Thames, passing sights like Tower Bridge.

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We eventually hit the Southbank Christmas market. Unlike Maltby, this place was packed—a complete sea of wall-to-wall people! It had a German theme, so all the booths looked like little wooden chalets. We purchased cups of mulled wine to sip as we walked. Though, thanks to the crowds, I could barely drink it!

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We crossed the river right near Big Ben, which looked gorgeous in the sunset. So much so, that we asked someone to take this touristy photo of us!

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The following morning, we walked to Notting Hill for brunch at Granger & Co. Reen had warned me that we’d have to get there early, because there’s always a line. She wasn’t kidding!

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Luckily, it moved pretty quickly.

I loved the aesthetic of the restaurant—the big windows and wooden ceiling.

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Everything on the menu looked fantastic, as well. Since I was already doing a great job of eating my way through every place we hit up, I opted for the full Aussie breakfast. It was great, especially the eggs—though I wasn’t able to finish it!

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Even though it was drizzling, we walked around Notting Hill. The neighborhood is adorable, with pretty little houses and boutiques.

We stopped into Ottolenghi, the deli/patisserie from the chef/cookbook author of the same name. (He wrote that Jerusalem cookbook, that’s been everywhere!)

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The salads looked so good, but at that point, I was stuffed nearly to the point of self-loathing.

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So Reen and I got a few treats (a cupcake, chocolate-dipped macaroon and lemon tart) to go.

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I was still full on the walk back to Reen’s place, but since I was so hooked on mulled wine, I couldn’t resist the chance to stop for a glass. We ducked into the Swan, one of Reen’s go-to spots. The owners of the pub were super-friendly, and they gave us two very tasty mince pies to go with our drinks. (I think we could use some more mince pies, here in the States, as well!)

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That evening, we went to St. John for dinner. The restaurant features local, seasonal ingredients, and its menu is comprised of small plates for sharing. Reen and I each selected two. I chose the kohlrabi, brown shrimp and cucumber salad. It ended up being my favorite dish of the trip—and that’s saying a lot! The salad was light and refreshing and perfectly dressed. I also chose the whole crab with mayonnaise, which was among the most popular dishes at the restaurant, that night. Nearly all the other diners were eating it, too. I don’t think you can go wrong with whole crab. We ate ours sans the mayo, and were glad we did, a few minutes later.

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Reen’s two picks came out next, and they were probably the two richest plates on the menu. The fois gras and duck liver toast was amazing, but also the heaviest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. After just a few bites, I was stuffed to the point of self-loathing. Reen was, as well. We were nearly in pain when the Jerusalem artichokes came out—covered in a creamy sauce. Yet, we still managed a few bites.

At that point, we were ready to explode. Still, we got two of the puddings, anyway—because we had to try dessert, as well!

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The next morning, Reen had work, so she recommended I get breakfast at the Providores and Tapa Room, a cute restaurant in her neighborhood.

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Even though I was meeting her for lunch just a few hours later, I had to try the Turkish eggs:В poached eggs on yogurt with hot chili butter. I would happily eat that for breakfast every day, if I could!

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My last meal in London was at Spuntino, another awesome place Reen knew of. It’s nondescript from the outside; I’m don’t even remember seeing a sign. Inside, it has an underground feel, thanks to the distressed subway tiles, exposed brick and bare lightbulbs.

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We shared a pulled pork slider, the slaw and the mac and cheese—one of the creamiest and most delicious I’ve ever had. It was more than enough to fortify me for my tube ride to the airport and flight back to NYC.

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…I also cannot thank Reen enough for being the best host (and friend!) that I could ask for! Thank you, thank you, Reen for making my trip so wonderful!