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Mexico and Scandanavia…yes you read that correctly

17 Feb

Sometimes my job requires me drop everything and go somewhere, fairly quickly. Yes, this can be very cool. It can also be very annoying and challenging when you’ve made plans and don’t want to cancel on the same friend for the fifth time. But in January, it was way cool. (I probably could have made it cooler, but then the whole “being a douche to friends” thing would have come into play).

The first place I was asked to drop everything and go (back) to was Monterrey Mexico. In December when I first went out there, the people I worked with were not part of my regular team, and it was awesome! I got really nervous when they emailed the client to book our hotel and the response came back that the Quinta had my reservation. I know this sounds a bit snobby and their commercials are catchy, but the first thing that came to mind was, ‘Great, we’re staying in a La Quinta in a Mexican city fairly close to the boarder.’ What I didn’t know is that there’s a five star chain of hotels in Mexico called Quinta Real. Ahhh ha! That’s more like it. So when I was asked to go back in January, there was no hesitation. While it’s not the most interesting city, the team is great, the people are nice, the food is good and the hotel is relaxing. What more can I ask for on a work trip? Two of the great restaurants we went to were Amalia Gusto & Grill, and Gallo 71.

The very next day, I was asked if I could teach a training in Oslo because one of the trainers had dropped out last minute and they couldn’t find a replacement. Fortunately, one of the other trainers was my career counselor at work who had planned a mini Scandinavian getaway around the training. I had a moment of pause where I hesitated before I snapped out of it and said to myself, ‘Duh, of course you’re going to go, when else will you ever get a paid trip to Scandinavia?!’ At that time it hadn’t quite hit me that I would be going from Mexico to the snowy darkness that is Scandinavia in winter, but oh well! Booking this trip was a bit of a nightmare as I originally planned to go from Mexico to NY, switch suitcases, and then head to the Nordics. That proved to be a really dumb idea, and the chances of missing a connection were very high. I had also packed my carry on luggage (yes it carried on) to include sweaters. So the night before leaving Monterrey, Amex was able to change my flight from Mexico to Stockholm via Atlanta and Paris, which also gave me a lay flat seat in business class. For anyone whose had to go to work the day after 20+ hours of plane travel, you know how clutch the lay flat seat is.

I landed in Stockholm around noon on Saturday and took the Arlanda Express, which is a 20 minute train ride from the airport to Stockholm central station. I checked into the Sheraton two blocks away from the station, had a shower and was ready to hit the town by 2pm. Fortunately, I had done about 30 minutes of research on the plane along with emailing my childhood friend who lives in Sweden. I met up with my work counselor, and we headed to Gamla Stan, the old town, to see the royal palace, along with an exhibit on the king. I’m not very familiar with the Swedish royal family, but they seem like a laid back bunch. We exited the palace around 4pm and it was already dark. During my 10 minutes of plane research I had booked us a 430pm reservation at Restaurant Frantzen. It had rave reviews on yelp and an article I had read mentioned they always make a stop there when they can. However, we knew we might be in over our heads when the concierge at the hotel told us this restaurant had the most famous chef in Sweden, and when we turned the corner to the restaurant and the maître D / doorman standing outside, asked if I was Sonya. *gulp* As the article suggested the place was small and homie, and after taking 10 minutes to disrobe, we were seated at a cozy two top next to the window. A piece of paper looking like a prix-fixe menu was set down and both of us gasped. The paper said 2200 SEK aka $340 USD. Oh crap what I have done! After brief discussion, we decided it would look worse to just get up and leave and we were starving, and when else would we be in Stockholm and at a two Michelin star restaurant? We went through a similar thought process when they asked about the wine pairing. All in all we had the most expensive meal of our lives with 15 courses in over 3 hours. It’s been one month since that meal and we still can’t get over how amazing yet costly the meal was. The following morning we took the downtown trolley to the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a 17th century warship which sank after a few minutes after leaving the port on its maiden voyage. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and now sits in an incredible museum explaining its history, including how it was built, insights into the 30-50 people who died when the ship sank, the inquest that followed, and how she was raised. Afterwards, we attempted to head to Zum Franziskaner, which is supposedly the oldest restaurant since 1421. Unfortunately it’s closed on Sundays, so we made our way back to the hotel, and back to the airport via the Arlanda Express for our flight to Oslo.

In the airport we realized how inefficient transportation is compared to the US. Sweden and Norway have bullet trains directly connecting their airport to the center of the city. When checking in at the airport, people knew what to do and weren’t pushing each other in lines. I was able to print my own bag tag at the self check in kiosk and then scan it onto the belt without waiting for some miserable airline attendant to take my bag from a scale to a convey belt. Lastly, they know how to make an awesome mojito.

In Oslo, we stayed at the Park Inn directly next to the airport which was also attached to a conference facility. The only complaint I have about this hotel is the fact there were zero amenities in the bathroom. When a hotel is next to an airport, you expect them to have at least a bar of soap, let alone shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. No sir! The hotel clerk at the front desk proceeded to hand me a bottle the size of a fingernail labeled “hair and body”. My hair turned to straw just looking at it. Needless to say a trip to the airport to purchase some real shampoo was in order. Other than that, the hotel was decent, everyone from the training was a delight, and the food was great. On the last day, training ended early and my coworker and I went downtown via the Flytoget train from the airport. After marveling at the architecture in the Opera house, we went in search of some shopping and food. Since the boots I wanted cost about $500, I settled with a pair of thick wool leg warmers. We then went to dinner at an Indian restaurant and proceeded to once again, pay a lot of money for a meal. In Scandinavia, a roughly 25-50% tax is levied on everything. We paid $140 for two three course Indian dinners with no booze, but 50% of that was tax. After dinner we went in search of a good bar, and found it at Dr. Jekyll’s Pub, not far from the Royal palace in Oslo. Here I learned that the two most expensive things you can do in Oslo is drink a beer and take a taxi. Somehow my beer came out to roughly $20, and I thought NY prices were high! We didn’t dare take a taxi to test out the theory, but we came awful close during our run for the last train back to the airport around 1130pm. I couldn’t believe my time in Scandinavia had come and gone so quickly! I even tried to change my flight again at the last minute so I could travel with my coworker on to Helsinki and Copenhagen, but that’ll have to be another trip.

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Lessons Learned in the Philippines

16 Jun

I’ve been here for a bit of time now, and I’d like to think iv been learning some inside secrets, including the fact that it is possible to have a conversation using only one syllable.
Example: Elevator opens,
Person outside elevator: “baba ba?”
Person inside elevator: “bababa”

Translation:
Q: “Are you going down”
A: “Yes, going down”

Fascinating, right? Anyway, here’s a couple of other things I’ve learned so far.

Iwas means avoidance and Filipinos are very good at avoiding certain situations, both social situations and while driving. I know this sounds vague, but once you experience it for the first time it all makes sense.

It is very difficult to be a vegetarian in then Philippines. Pork and chicken are especially hot commodities, as is high cholesterol and thus heart attacks. Many of my Indian coworkers cook and bring their own food from home.

It is considered inhumane not to have recreation and nap rooms in the office. It is also customary to take a one hour lunch break. (I could really get used to this).

Being called ‘exotic’ is an insult. You might as well have just called the person an ugly mountain critter.

The invention of voicemail does not exist here. You may have to call the same office multiple times in order to get the person you’re looking for. However, an unlimited cell phone plan (talk, text, and data) is about $40USD a month. Yes, even for an IPhone.

There are number coding systems on the license plates indicating which days your car cannot be driven. If a license plate ends in 1 it means the car cannot be driven on Mondays during rush hour, and may only be driven between 11am and 3pm. Motorcycles have no restrictions.

When it rains, it often floods streets, but it might not be raining 5 minutes down the road.

Many of the people I’ve met cannot swim. “What?” You say, “but they live on an island, and the country is made up of 7,000 islands, and it floods!” Any you would be right, but I suppose the same goes for people born and bred in NYC. You wouldn’t exactly throw a child in the East river or the Hudson for a swimming lesson, and no one would voluntarily swim in the smelly, polluted Manila Bay.

Almost everyone asks your age. No keeping that a secret. It’s one of the first questions asked, along with “what do you do,” and “how are you liking it here so far?”

Apparently, no one here has a pointy nose, a cleft chin, or an eye color other than brown/black.

Most Asians want to be whiter. Now I knew this before coming here because in India and Hong Kong many people avoid the sun and use whitening face cleansers. BUT did you know that there is such a thing as whitening deodorant? And whitening face and body lotion?

Spas are an all day event. ‘Huh’ you ask? Allow me to elaborate….Over the weekend we went to Wensha spa spa. It’s open 24 hours and has an all-you-can eat buffet, massage, steam bath, sauna, mani, pedi, basically any type of pampering you could wish for. We entered in the afternoon and stayed the maximum amount of time, which just so happened to be 9 hours. (Yes, you read that correctly). Our first treatment was a one hour massage. Now I specifically asked if there would any type chest massage involved. In Austria, after graduation, I had stayed at a spa for a couple days and the European massage had been more…shall we say, invasive, than massages in the US. I was assured this was not the case. Boy was I in for a surprise! Not only was my butt given a thorough massage, but also my stomach, and pretty much the entire front of my body. Oh but the fun didn’t stop there. My masseuse also walked on my back, and did stretching, which included rocking me on top of her to stretch my back. It was intense. Probably the craziest massage I’ve ever had, to the point where my back was sore for a couple days because every single knot was rubbed out of me…literally. After the massage, nap time. Yup, I was covered with a blanket and passed out for a good 2hours. Next stop was our one hour foot massage. And by foot massage I mean another body massage, but in a laz-y-boy. The one mistake I made was getting a mani/pedi without a foot spa. In the US when you have a pedicure it automatically includes soaking of the feet and getting all the dead skin off your heels. Here, they are two separate services. Lesson learned. So for about $45 USD I had a one hour body massage, one hour foot massage, manicure, pedicure, nap time, lunch and dinner, oh and the steam room. I could definitely get used to this.

Lastly, everyone is really friendly and incredibly hospitable. All the people I’ve become close with here want to show me a good time and make sure I’m safe and have everything I need.

Bataan, Corregidor Island

6 Jun

History has always been fascinating to me, but being here has made me realize that the US and Philippines have been deeply intertwined for nearly 100 years since the Philippine revolution in 1898. We fight for them, they fight for us, and then we crash a mine sweeper on one of their precious reefs, due to “faulty navigation” ….but I digress. After a 3 month battle in Bataan in 1942 the Japanese army forced 60 to 80,000 Americans and Filipinos to march from Marivales, Bataan to Camp O’donnell. Known as the death march of Bataan, it is considered one of the worst war crimes in history.

After the third shift, at 7am, 13 of us packed into a 10 passenger van and drove from Quezon City, Manila to Marivales, Bataan. ( In case you’re wondering how we fit into said van, one American seat actually equals 2 Filipinos, so problem solved!) From Marivales we took boats out to Corregidor Island which has long been fortified to protect the entrance to Manila Bay. Corregidor also happens to site of two major WWII sieges and has been left unrestored in order to honor the soldiers that died there. We toured the island by jeepney and none of us realized exactly how big the island really is. Some of the hot spots include the Malinta Tunnel, the last stronghold of joint Philippine American military, the Filipino Heros Memorial, and the Corregidor Lighthouse, which is one of the oldest landmarks on the island. It seemed like we had the island to ourselves, and even though we were all exhausted, we managed to take an enormous amount of pictures, including jump shots.

Once back on the mainland it was time to find a place to crash for the night and drop off the people that were not staying the night. While we now had 8 people remaining in the 10 passenger van, this is where I get incredibly antsy. ‘What do you mean we don’t have a hotel booked?’ Perhaps it’s only the people I’m with on a daily basis, but they seem to have a difficult time making a decision. My interaction on a daily basis has been the struggle for where to eat lunch and what to order, and yet most restaurants have an 8 page menu. A typical interaction goes something like;
Coworkers: ‘ what do you want to eat?’
Me: ‘What do you normally order?What is the specialty here?’
Coworkers: ‘ umm anything, pork, chicken, beef, what kind of food do you want?’
Me: ‘I’m not sure what some of this is…what is palabok, what is lechon? well what are you getting?’
Coworkers: ‘umm I’m not sure yet, maybe we will go somewhere else’
Me: ‘ where do you want to go?’
Coworkers: ‘ where would you like to go?’ And on it goes.

You can imagine how the interaction went for picking a hotel. I was too tired to care where we stayed. I had faith in my US coworker and our driver, who has been our tour guide on the weekends. My US coworker was leaving for good on Sunday so this was to be her last hoorah. We settled at Villa Imperial, which did not happen to be on the list of hotels I had researched prior. Although there was barely running water and a flushing toilet, the food was excellent, and there was a videoke machine, which is very popular here. While I do not sing any type of karaoke, it was fun to watch, and with 26peso ($0.60) San Miguel beers what more could we ask for? We were provided with garlic rice at both breakfast and dinner, along with milk fish and Nilagang Baboy soup, which tastes like Eastern European sweet and sour cabbage soup. It has pork, bok choi, potatoes, and a type of white radish.

This week also marked one of my coworkers birthdays. In the US when it’s someone’s birthday, we all buy dinner for that person, or pay to go to an event of their choosing. In Asia, the birthday boy or girl pays for all their friends to go out. What a great idea! The birthday dinner happened to be traditional Filipino food at a place called Gerry’s Grill, (there are two locations in California)known for their sizzling pork sisig. We had beef care-care, crispy pla-pla, beef kaldereta, and tanigue kilaw. Some people may be grossed out when they discover what some of the food is, but don’t knock it ’till you try it. To cap off the dinner, we went to Conti’s for mango bravo cake. I love anything with mango, and mango bravo is officially my new favorite dessert here.

Tagalog word(s) of the day
Tawad- negotiate
Mahal- means expensive, but it also means love…love is expensive 🙂

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Going Local

29 May

As is typical at nice hotel everywhere outside of the US, there is a full buffet breakfast with almost anything you can possibly imagine. At the Edsa Shangri-la this means a create-your-own soup station, omelet station, fruits, yogurt, jams, sushi station, beef tapa, crepe station, panini’s, waffles, Indian, garlic rice, danishes…basically anything your little heart desires. Thus no matter what time I get home from work, 1am or 4am, I will wake up for this divine breakfast. At the sweet breakfast station there is bibingka, which is a type of rice bread that I’ve come to fall in love with. My coworker was kind enough to introduce me to Rico, who runs the omelette station and continued to spoil me every morning with an elaborate crepe filled with everything from mangos, and jam with fresh strawberry sauce, to mangos, bananas, marshmallows and white chocolate pieces. I miss you Rico!

While staying at a five star hotel is nice and fancy, I think for the long term I would start to resent it, and so I started looking for something a little more homey. I looked at service apartments and condos, and after two weeks of debating, one of my local coworkers found me a great service apartment in Makati, the central business district. While it is farther away from work than the Edsa Shang in Ortigas, it has a more active and social atmosphere. Once I moved / settled in to my new digs, my coworkers came over to show me around the Glorietta and Greenbelt mall areas and to take me grocery shopping! I think one of my favorite purchases is the 24 quail eggs I purchased for 40P ($0.95)…wow what a deal. Everything I thought would be expensive, was fairly cheap, and everything I thought would be fairly cheap was pretty pricey, go figure.

Some of the other popular foods I’ve tried are halo-halo, which literally means “mix-mix”, and is one of the most famous ice treats, especially from ChowKing. When my coworker explained to me what was actually in it I thought it couldn’t be true…how can coconut, purple yam, beans, corn, rice, jackfruit, bananas, pearls, and palm fruit taste good? Magically it does, and I can’t wait to try it again.

Jollibee is the most popular fast food chain, BEFORE McDonalds which comes in a far second. I have yet to try the burger, but the chicken joy with palabok was mighty tasty and not too big.

My other coworker, who also moved out of the Edsa Shang, wanted to cook a typical Tex mex dinner. It was fabulous! Even though eating out here is often cheaper than cooking in, everyone likes a home cooked meal.

Our final stop for the evening was the infamous Hobbit House bar, one of the 7 most bizarre bars according to Lonely Planet. While the place was fairly dead on a Sunday night, there is live music daily and imported beers from all over the world. Where else can you get a Duvel and Blue Moon in Manila? Even though this bar felt slightly exploitative, the music was good and the beers will have us coming back again.

 

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Binondo, Divisoria, and …Balut?

23 May

The April version of hemispheres magazine on united airways featured three perfect days in Manila. One of the places recommended is Lord Stow’s Bakery, which I first discovered in Hong Kong. They make great egg tarts, so of course I had to go. Fortunately, a coworker that’s staying here is adventurous as well and with the help of a local friend we took the MRT and LRT to Binondo, the worlds oldest china town. After our egg tart fix we walked around china town and made our way to the markets of divisoria. When I tell the people at the office that I went here they all think I’m crazy. It reminds me of the markets in India and Hong Kong. We walked around to buy souvenirs, I bought a new umbrella and by some miracle I found two dresses that fit! I say by some miracle because a) the clothes tend to run smaller and while I am short I’ve got nothing on some of the people here, b) the clothes run skinny, and these hips don’t lie, c) there are not always fitting rooms so its more a “hold it up and see” and d) they like this concept of “free size” or “one size” thus implying that it fits most Filipinas. So you can imagine my excitement when I found a store in divisoria that had a dressing room and free size dresses for people with hips. And then something awesome happened… I saw someone with a Cotton On bag. Which might have you thinking, “what in the world is cotton on and why is it awesome.” I first discovered cotton on in Australia and bought many a clothes there due to the fact they are reasonably priced and timeless, almost like American Apparel with flare. The second time i found Cotton On was in Hong Kong, and by some act of god I stumbled upon one in the Galleria Mall in Dallas Texas. Every time I find a Cotton On i have shopping success without regretting the hit to my wallet. The local I was with was kind enough to indulge me by hunting down the location and we were led to the new Chinatown mall where I promptly ran around the store with glee.

After that we were pretty shopped out and quickly made our way back to the LRT via tricycle. A tricycle here is basically a bike or motorcycle with a covered side carriage. It’s a little scary because its low to the ground and weaving in and out of traffic, but once you get over the initial shock it’s loads of fun!

Our evening plans consisted of a roof top pool party with some other coworkers that are here temporarily as we’ll but managed to find condos. On our way home from pool partying it up, our local friend remembered that I want to try balut. When you Wikipedia balut you may want to gag, but to me it just tasted like hard boiled egg and a hard plasticky shell, and I think it was worth the potential street cred I might now possess.

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Manila City Tour

22 May

We started early in order to take a private city tour through the hotel. Typically I refuse to spend money on these types of tours mostly because they are overpriced. But we also didn’t have the luxury of shopping around for the best option. So promptly after breakfast we braved the Friday rush hour traffic to Makati courtesy of Frank, and yes that’s his real name. We got to escort his daughter and adorable grand daughter Chelsea to Makati where they were going shopping and we were picking up a German-French man who happens to be living in Atlanta. The first stop on our tour was the American cemetery which is shockingly more impressive than Arlington. The grounds are incredibly meticulous and the mosaic maps detail major WWII battles in south east Asia. I can’t wait to see what they do for Memorial Day.

Frank then drove us through the brand new and modern financial district and Forbes Park, home to the rich and famous, including the controversial Imelda Marcos who is now back in the country and a congress women to boot. After driving through the “reclaimed” land, home to the Mall of Asia, the third largest mall in the world and the largest mall in Asia, past the US embassy and the Manila hotel to Intramuros. This is the old Spanish capital and where the national hero Josè Rizal was tried and executed in 1896 for starting the philippine revolution against Spanish rule. Within Fort Santiago you can see Rizal’s last steps. Right outside of this fort there is a government store that will issue you a certificate with your pearls, which of course means they’re legit right? Apparently they are having a 60% off sale, but $650 usd for a pearl necklace, earrings and bracelet are not exactly a deal to me. I bought a couple of postcards and called it a day.

Earlier my coworker had been joking that if Frank got us a coconut off the street then we would right him a really good recommendation. This was all said as a joke, biro, in Tagalog, but all of a sudden frank pulled to the side of the road and got us a coconut! And not only the juice, but the meat too. What a guy! It was hard to go to work after a morning like that.

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Red Hot South East Asian Summer

18 May

How do you prepare to live in a foreign country for three months? I had a paranoid feeling that I was forgetting to do something or bring something or let someone know I was going to be away. And before I knew it, literally it happened in about 2 weeks… The adventure of a lifetime has begun! The morning of my flight I was frantically last minute packing and tidying up the apartment before James drove me to JFK. Thanks to a handy travel scale, courtesy of mom, both of my bags were underweight. Airline baggage fees have become outrageous and I’ve been in line behind many people who had to repack bags or pay ridiculous overage fees. Luckily credit card companies have gotten smart and now offer free bags in their annual fee. Since there is no delta sky lounge in Terminal 4, I bought a bunch of “I Love NY” gear to give to new friends I anticipate meeting along the way, and headed to the gate. Some of my last minute errands included calling my credit card companies, my cell phone carrier, my parents and my grandma. And of course taking pics of my delta lay flat bed on the upper deck to Tokyo Narita. The two inter-continental Delta flights were very comfortable and my gluten free meal request was honored and delicious. I kept the same seat on both flights and didn’t need to recheck my luggage in Tokyo. Upon landing in Manila, I went through customs and made my way to the Shangri-La lounge area on the opposite side of the pick up/drop off lane. There, coincidentally, was my coworker from Chicago and two other coworkers that have been here for at least 3 weeks and were nice enough to come to the airport to meet us on a Saturday night. After getting checked in it was time to try and sleep before our first day of work. Everyone at the office is extremely nice and the service at the hotel is impeccable. The buffet breakfast is outstanding and similar to what I experienced in India. It’s attached to a mall which is a very popular hang out spot in Manila. The mall of Asia here is actually the third largest mall in the world.

I was asked before I came here whether or not I liked Filipino food. Of course the person that asked me this did so with a scowl on his face, therefore indicating that he did not like the food. I had no idea what he meant until I came here and realized how sweet most of the food is. “Sweet beef” you ask? How can this be? I have no idea, but it surprisingly really good, especially for breakfast. American restaurants are incredibly popular here. Apparently when IHOP opened there was a 4 hour line for the first couple weeks. However one thing that is definitely not the same is Dunkin Doughnuts. While I am not a fan of their coffee I decided to get one with my coworker anyway. We were walking around apartment hunting for me which is no small task in 93 F degrees with over 100% humidity. The regular iced coffee was so bad it was undrinkable. It was literally like drinking sugar with some coffee flavored water in it. We took a couple sips out and quickly ditched it. I guess we’re sticking to Starbucks.

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Buenos Aires Argentina

13 Apr

South America! For some reason growing up I never had a strong desire to come to South America. As far as I was concerned it was part of the Americas and therefore not as exotic as say Europe or Asia or Africa. My tune has changed. I’m excited to explore all the history and culture that South America has to offer. Thankfully, work can off-set some of the cost of said exploring. 😉 The first stop is Buenos Aires. Tango and Malbec and Beef oh my!

The flight here was a bit rough. Silly me booked an afternoon flight on Delta via Atlanta, which gave me all of Friday morning to unpack from Chicago and re-pack for Argentina. Flying time is roughly 9-10 hours from Atlanta, but was alleviated by sitting in business class, (spoiled, I know). Immigration was shockingly easy but a little…strange. I had my receipt evidencing that I had paid the mandatory reciprocity fee (strangely only required for US, CA, and AU residents), but no one asked what I was doing here. I usually get questioned a bit more, especially when traveling alone. They took every foreigners picture and thumb print, which makes me a little paranoid. I’m in the system now I guess. Customs was a simple scan and go. Some people handed over customs forms, but most of us didn’t. hmm. Of course none of this was communicated. I saw customs forms and thought, “gee maybe I should fill one of those out?” When I noticed no one else really had one, I decided it would be best if I just kept it myself unless someone asked for it.

My two friends just landed and are about to go through the same process, as will my coworkers in the next couple days. But tonight…we TANGO….

Toledo, Ohio

9 Feb

According to foursquare, I have been to the Detroit Metro airport (DTW) six times. This is scary. When this fun fact recently popped up, I forced myself to recall every single time I had been there for work, including the pre-foursquare occasions, and realized it was indeed more than 6 times. eek! The first four times was going to and from Ann Arbor, which was was a tease because Ann Arbor is actually a really cute town. (I refuse to acknowledge it as a city since it seems so small.) The only disturbing incidents I remember about this was trip, was that 1) my coworker insisted on checking his luggage for a five day work trip simply because his cologne bottle was over the 3 fl. oz. limit, and 2) the friendly staff at the Melting Pot insisted on seating me and my coworker in a romantic booth after we insisted multiple times that we were in fact not together and not celebrating any special occasion. The other two check-in’s were to a training in downtown Detroit in February. Gross. One night the trainers had taken us to the Hard Rock cafe. I decided it would be really cool to buy a couple Hard Rock Detroit shirts. After all, it is Detroit Rock City. After dinner, back at the hotel, we decided to keep the libations going at the Marriott concierge lounge. I shoved my purchases under a chair and put my giant puffy white coat over the chair. When we were eventually kicked out of the lounge because it was closing I, of course, forgot my shirts. I realized this once back in my room, but decided to go to the lounge when it opened. Somehow, no one had found my shirts, and they were apparently thrown out and believed to be forgotten leftovers. Fortunately, I am a Marriott Platinum member almost 4 years running, and thankfully, the good Samaritan in the concierge lounge was kind enough to re-purchase the t-shirts and send them to me! WOW. I really lucked out.

DetroitView from Detroit MarriottRenaissance Center (GM)

However, this trip, I was merely flying into Detroit because the only way to get to Toledo, OH is to drive an hour south east from Detroit, or fly through O’Hare to the Toledo airport. Given this awesome winter option, my coworkers and I decided it would be much better to fly directly into Detroit and drive. Especially since the Toledo airport is still about 30 min outside Toledo. hmmm. Unfortunately, we flew in late on a Sunday in the middle of a minor snow storm. Avis is finally starting to catch up to technology, and now emails your space number ahead of time. Unfortunately, there didn’t happen to be a car in the space I was assigned, (sigh). After waiting in line, because no one else had cars in their assigned spaces, we ran to our new car assignment just in time to catch a down pour. Fabulous. Thankfully, Avis had the car running with the heat blasting and we were able to get on our way with a warm car. After some dicey roads, we finally made it to the hotel around 1am, only to see that the receptionist was “running errands” and would be back in 5 minutes. Woof. Who really runs errands at 1am? And to top it all off… I go to put my pajamas on, only to discover they are soaking wet from the earlier rain incident. Therefore, I would like to extend my deepest apologies to the unfortunate people in the surrounding rooms who might have heard a hair dryer going on at full blast at 2am. Luckily, we were staying at the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons which has a variety of stores and some nice decent places to eat like Bar Louie and Nagoya Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi. Also, Toledo is the home of Tony Packos Hungarian hot dogs and chili, which is famous from M*A*S*H*. However, I suggest staying away from the BP on Front st. around 4pm since they have a sign on the door that says “Closed for 5-10 Min. Shift Change” and almost none of their pumps take credit card. Thanks to the wonderful people at Delta, my coworker and I were able to catch and earlier flight. He dubbed it one of the worst places in the world, but I’m not so sure yet.

Arriving into DetroitTony PackosTots at Bar Louie"Birmingham Ethnic Neighborhood"

Savannah, Georgia

9 Feb

Over the last couple years I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Savannah. So much time, in fact, that every year I file a Georgia tax return. Fortunately, Savannah is a wonderful place to visit. There are many fabulous restaurants, historical sites, nearby beaches and of course, ghost tours. The Savannah / Hilton Head airport (SAV) is one of the easiest airports to get in and out of. While there the airport lounge is sparse, and not worth going to, there is a Dewar’s Bar and Grill which will get the job done. There is also a sunglass store and flip-flop stop, in case you forgot to bring some. Given the fact that I am there for work, I have only had a limited amount of time site seeing. One particular Monday night, my coworkers and I decided it would be a really good idea to take the haunted pub crawl. The pub crawl starts at the Moon River Brewery, which has a decent bar menu, good brews, and is surprisingly very much haunted. the rest of the tour was a bit foggy, as there are no open container laws in historic Savannah. 😉

A couple of other fun activities I’ve actually had a chance to partake in, (in no particular order): The Savannah College of Art and Design Store, a trolley ride, a day trip to Tybee Island, the Juliette Gordon Low house, staying in Hilton Head Island. However, what I did most often while I was in Savannah is eat! I like to think of myself as an amateur foodie. I saw amateur because many times the word foodie is synonymous with snob. While I have been known to splurge once and a while for a good meal, I love food of all price ranges. Rather than go into detail about why I love each restaurant on my list, I thought I’d give a brief synopsis. (Please note that Lady and Son’s is not on here, for good reasons.)

  • Toucan Cafe – While, not in the center of town, this is truly a hidden gem. I have never had a bad meal here and the price is very reasonable. Monday nights even have a some discounts on a couple wines.
  • Elizabeth’s on 37th – Probably the most expensive restaurant in Savannah, but totally worth every penny. The mint Julep’s are authentic, spicy mussel that’s served as a palate cleanser should be an appetizer. The menu changes seasonally, reservations are highly recommended, and valet park if possible, because the surrounding area is a little scarey late at night.
  • 700 Drayton – Located in the Mansion on Forsyth Park, which is also my preferred hotel in Savannah, along with it’s sister hotel the Bohemian, but we’ll get there later. Again, while pricy, the menu and exceptional staff, deliver an enjoyable meal and overall dining experience.
  • Noble Fare – Another expensive restaurant with a great soup, scallops and duck.
  • Jazz’d Tapas – Reasonably priced with an extensive menu and wine specials on Monday’s, although their cocktail list is exciting as well.
  • Rooftop of the Bohemian Hotel – Limited, but good menu. Great view of the city, great cocktails, music some evenings, and an energetic atmosphere.
  • Garibaldi’s – Pricy Italian, but very delicious menu
  • Sapphire Grill – Pricy Seafood, but very delicious menu
  • Ciao Bella – Italian with outdoor seating. Bring an extra sweater if sitting inside.
  • Vic’s on the River – I love their biscuits, cocktails, and scallop entree.
  • The Distillery – A popular SCAD hang out, they have great pub food. I’ve ordered take out many times from here because they’re quick and they don’t mess up my order. They also have a great tap selection while I wait for my food! The lump crab balls and pretzel treasures are personal favs.
  • Maxwell’s – A fairly new wine bar / tapas place that I really hope does well. They have a bottomless mimosa brunch.
  • Leopold’s Ice Cream – Truly a Savannah institution. Their ice cream flavor change every season, and they also serve panini’s
  • The Pink House – Another local institution. Reservations are highly recommended days in advance.
  • Alligator Soul – Very southern menu. Skip the tourist trap that is Lady and Son’s, and go here instead.
  • B. Matthews – Great brunch, worth the wait. Also serves a nice dinner.
  • J. Christophers – Also a great brunch worth the wait.
  • Jen and Friends – While not a restaurant, this place has every type of martini you could ever possibly want.

With a list like this, this is no reason to eat at any sort of fast food chain. I also want to point out that I’ve stayed in all of the downtown Marriott’s, however, nothing beats the Autograph collection hotels, The Mansion on Forsyth Park and the Bohemian hotel. Both have charm and a luxurious atmosphere, and occasionally, deals during the off-season. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to visit Savannah during its infamous St. Patrick’s Day celebration. However, it is considered number two in the country, or something extraordinarily close to that, and is therefore worth checking out. Cocktails at Jazz'dOutside Elizabeth's on 37th