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Entries in cityguide (8)


New York City - The Best Places to Eat Food

Sick of New York City posts? Well you asked for them, so I'm givin' em. Get over it already, I'll be back to talking only about Spain here in 49 days! Until then, it's either New York, or Oklahoma. And I have a feeling you're going to like the NY posts better than the Okie ones. The following restaurants are my absolute favorites in New York. I can go to them day after day and never tire. They're good for all tourists...

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New York City - 4 Places to Pretend You're FILTHY Rich

I love pretending to be rich. It's one of my favorite pastimes. I swear I'll be a hobo begging on the street someday in a faux fur shawl with costume jewelry and a Chinatown Prada. So one of my favorite things to do in the world is to strut my Forever 21 stuff around expensive stores and pretend like I can afford their merchandise. New York City is a hotbed for faking the green. In New York City, being rich isn't necessarily synonymous...

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New York City - A Guide for Sluts (YA!)

So, I don't know if you've heard. But I get around. One of my favorite places to come back to though, time and time again, is New York City. I love the city, I love the ease of traveling to, from and within the city, I love the restaurants, I love the nightlife, I love the music scene, I just love it here. So what happens when you're as *ahem* well-traveled *ahem* as I am and find yourself back in New York again, with no...

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New York City - A Guide to FREE stuff for Virgins

*Note: If you are an actual virgin, this article may or may not pertain to you. So you've NEVER been to New York City, eh? Well. That sucks. But fortunately for you, either you're about to embark on said journey, or you're sitting at home/work wishing you were making the trek. Either way, I'm about to break it down for you, city style. Here is my Top 10 Things you must do in New York City for a First Timer. Most of these...

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Being a Tourist on Inishmore

The post to follow is part of a series of posts of my honest opinion of my time on Inishmore, however it should be noted that some of the expenses of this trip were waived or paid for by the Aran Island Hotel and the tourism board for the Aran Islands. Don’t hate me for taking free stuff and I promise, if I didn’t love the island, I wouldn’t write nice things about it.

by jmenard48When I came to Inishmore, my only real priority was to immerse myself in the Irish language and culture for a bit. Fortunately, I was kidnapped by James (aka “Blue”) who works for the Aran Island Hotel and who promised me an amazing day of site seeing. Our day started early (as early as I could muster: 11) at the Aran Island Hotel where I was greeted and shown around even though the hotel doesn’t open until April. The hotel looks simple enough from the outside, but is absolutely amazing on the inside. Adorned with rich dark wood paneling and vibrant colored decorations (including beautiful stained glass doors), it was love at first site. The hotel boast a huge banquet hall and conference room and an even bigger bar room with extensive bar space, loads of tables and stools and a real Irish feel. They have live music from either locals or mainland Irish acts shipped over for special occasions. I can tell that this place is a blast when the room is full. I had originally planned on staying at the hotel while I was on Inishmore but because I decided to come in low season, they pointed me towards Seacrest B&B instead.

Seacrest is a super cute bed and breakfast with a great location just off the main drag leading from the docks up to the top of the hill and less than a 5 minute walk from the ferry port. The room was comfortable, clean and quiet, which was just what I needed. My room also boasted a mounted television which I definitely watched considering I haven’t watched television in… who knows how long. The best part of Seacrest for me though, was the amazing full Irish breakfast that was waiting for me when I woke up after a long night of drinking. My first course was muesli, cornflakes, yogurt and fruit. Of course I had a large glass of orange juice and tea to go with it. Second course were generous portions of bacon, sausage, eggs and toast. I felt like a million dollars after I ate. And I was glad for the added energy as I had an exhausting day of semi-hung-over sightseeing to do.

I met Blue at a pub and over a coupleby celesteh of glasses of cider he offered to spend a day driving me around the island to show me all there is to see. We started the day by driving up the incredibly steep hill up to Dún Aonghasa which is an old three walled fort on the west side of the island. Three wall forts have three walls (obvi) but the less obvious part is why, unless you’re looking at it. The third “wall” of protection is the sheer dropoff of a 400 foot cliff. The fort had several layers of walls, with various modes of protection dividing them. The first was a series of rocks piled up loosely with their sharp ends pointing up meant to stop any mounted attack, the second, a ditch dug around a taller wall meant to stop people. The fortress truly was an amazing site to see and I spent a good hour just sitting on the edge of the cliffs marveling at the long drop to the water. I didn’t feel as vulnerable as I had the day before just a bit farther south because these cliffs were a bit more stable feeling and there weren’t as many crumbled up rocks on the edge. So glad I didn’t die yesterday.

After Dún Aonghasa, Blue drove me up to the most northern part of the island which looked out onto a lighthouse on a separate island, hosted a bunch of lobster cages and fishing boats and had a stunning view of the Connemara coast. We drove back on the ocean road (passing a dozen or so bikers who dared to tackle the huge hills – I was happy to be in a car) and made a stop at Ti Joe Watty's where we grabbed a pint and a bowl of chowder and chatted about the island and about Tedfest (the festival in honor of Father Ted of the Irish sitcom Father Ted – learn more about it here) and how crazy the event had been this year. After another pint at the American Bar, Blue bid me adieu and I headed for the ferry back to Galway. But this island hasn’t seen the last of me yet.

I was blown away by the amount of Irish culture you’ll find here. In addition, it really captures the small town feel without losing conveniences (since It is such a major tourist hub) so it really has everything anyone would ever need. I was amazed that every person passing me said hello and every car gave me at least a nod as I walked along the coast road. No, I will be back to Inishmore for sure.


Getting Lost on Inishmore

The post to follow is part of a series of posts of my honest opinion of my time on Inishmore, however it should be noted that some of the expenses of this trip were waived or paid for by the Aran Island Hotel and the tourism board for the Aran Islands. Don’t hate me for taking free stuff and I promise, if I didn’t love the island, I wouldn’t write nice things about it.

Taking a trip to the Aran Islands was something I wanted to do since I learned of their existence and their importance in the role of preserving the Irish language. However, with the launch of my new site and a plethora of writing commitments hounding me day in and day out, I found myself in my last couple of weeks in Ireland still having not gone. So I just went. I had originally planned to take the 5 PM ferry over, spend the evening and night on the island and then had a day of sightseeing put together for me by the Aran Island Hotel before hopping on the 6 PM ferry back to Galway. However, the insomniac that I am, I found myself awake at 7 AM (damn you Home & Away reruns) and so I decided to pop on the early ferry and spend a day of exploring on my own first.

by krat-osAs soon as I arrived on the island, I was hungry. After checking into my B&B (A lovely place called Seacrest which comes highly recommended) I headed to the American Bar which happened to be the only place open at the moment. As I mentioned in my post on the Irish language I sat in this bar for quite a while listening to the gentlemen sip their Guinness and banter about man stuff. I ordered a fresh tuna and sweetcorn sandwich (one of my favorite foods these days) and a cider (which has become like water for me) and listened to a conversation I couldn’t understand for a good couple of hours. A bottle of Jameson sat on the bar open and apparently available for anyone to pour into their glass at anytime. I really felt welcome and at home here. No one really gave me notice, but no one outcast me either. I was casually invited into conversation here and there, but for the most part, we all just enjoyed the comfort of other bodies near us.

After my gastric needs were satisfied, I decided to walk down and around the southern tip of the island. There’s really only one main road that runs down the island, so I knew I wouldn’t get lost, but I also didn’t really know what I was looking for to begin with. Like Galway, the tides here are extreme. At low tide, the beach is almost 100 yards wide, but at high tide, the water comes nearly up to the break walls keeping the water off the road. I found some amazingly perfect seashells, chased some birds digging for crabs and marveled at the strange sand formations created when half of the life of the beach is spent underwater.

I walked down the road past severalby celesteh houses and an old cemetery (which I found out later is actually several layers deep with relatives constantly being buried on top of one another and forming a sort of dome of graves). I found a hiking trail and decided to follow, not really knowing where it went. I walked through some fields that looked like a natural golf course and when I approached one of the “holes” to see if that was, in fact, what it was and learned very quickly that I was on top of an enormous rabbit field. I saw the rabbit dive into the hole and pop up about 20 meters away. Now looking for them, I saw the rabbits. Hundreds of them. Absolutely littering the field. Every step I took sent 2 or 3 dozen rabbits scattering for burrows or mounds of dirt to hide behind. And this went on for a good ¼ mile. At one point, I turned around to see if the rabbits came back out after I passed them and they did, it was like I was this orb of rabbit free zone. When I came out of rabbit town, I was on a cliff. It literally just ended like that.

I stood there about 20 feet over the water and looked over the black rock into the ocean. The weather was absolutely beautiful, so I took off my coat and balled it up as a pillow and took a little nap. When I awoke, I was accompanied by an old fisherman trying his luck as the tide came in. Nothing coming in today, he said. And he disappeared back around the edge of the cliff. I wondered now, if I could continue all the way around the base of the island and walk back on the West coast. I started up the hill to find a large old stone circle watchtower filled with stones. I was walking on incredibly unstable ground, climbing over piled stone walls used to divide livestock and sure I was going to fall off the edge of the cliff into the ocean at any minute. I threw a rock into the watchtower (not sure why, but looks like other people had done it) and proceeded across the unsteady ground around to the West, hoping to find, well, anything.

by Rusticus80Then I was there. And don’t ask me where because I don’t actually know. It was just… this thing. The cliffs I was on stopped and I was on an overhang. This oval carved out of the side of a mountain. The cliffs were at least 400 feet high here, and I was on a sliver of rock jutting out over the seemingly unforgiving churn of ocean below. The waves thrashed against the walls and I watched the water rise and fall at least 50 feet in a small cave/blowhole thing. Do one thing every day that scares you, do one thing every day that scares you, I kept repeating to myself. Any Holy Jesus I was scared. I am not afraid of heights, I am not afraid of jumping off cliffs, but Oh. My. God. I was scared. Don’t be a statistic, don’t be a statistic, my psyche suddenly shifted. I gotta get out of here. But not before I video tape it. I'm having some difficulty connecting my camera to my laptop but I will upload a link to the video once I have it up.

It was starting to get dark and I needed a beer ASAP, so I headed back to the American bar and spent an amazing night with some really awesome people: a mix of locals, people working on the island and tourists like myself just in for the night. We stayed up late playing pool, drinking and talking about how we never want to leave this place. It truly is as magical as everyone warns you.


Speaking Irish on Inishmore (Aran Islands)

The post to follow is part of a series of posts of my honest opinion of my time on Inishmore, however it should be noted that some of the expenses of this trip were waived or paid for by the Aran Island Hotel and the tourism board for the Aran Islands.  Don’t hate me for taking free stuff and I promise, if I didn’t love the island, I wouldn’t write nice things about it.

For St. Patrick’s Day this year, I was asked to write an article for BootsnAll on how the Irish language is still alive and flourishing.  I begin by mentioning that when I first came to Ireland over 2 years ago, I did not know that there was such a thing as the “Irish” language.  Rather, upon initial descent into Ireland, I thought that Irish was just a sort of thick accent with its own lingo and dialect (like Ebonics or Jamaican).  After spending a couple of months in Galway (in Irish Galliamh pronounced GAHL-yiev), I’ve been able to spend some time really diving into the culture and history of the language as well as learn a bit myself. 

If you want the full history and lesson of Irish, read my article here on BootsnAll.  For those with limited attention spans, Irish (in Irish Gaeilge pronounced GAYLE-guh), has been spoken on the Emerald Isle since 1200 BC. During British rule in Ireland, most spoken Irish was banned or pushed to the far west of the island (hence why the highest concentration of Irish speakers is in the West).  After the Republic of Ireland gained its independence in 1922, the language was slowly reintegrated into the everyday life of those living in the country.  Most street signs and road signs are in both English and Gaeilge; sometimes only Gaeilge in areas known as the Gaeltacht (Gahl-TAHCHT) which are those areas where Gaeilge is still the primary language.  Children are now required to learn Irish in school and some schools are taught exclusively in Irish. Needless to say, the Irish language is beginning to become a larger part of everyday life for those living there.  One of the best places in the world to hear spoken Irish is on the Aran Islands.

The Aran islands are a string of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay in County Galway in western Ireland.  The three islands have gone through an extensive history of renaming and ownership and so some people call them different things (I’ve seen Inishmore spelled Árainn, Inis Mór and Inishmore), but the accepted names for these islands are Inishmore (pronounced in-nish-MORE), Inishmaan (pronounced in-nish-MAHN) and Inisheer (pronounced in-nish-SHEER).  The islands are all VERY small (the largest being just 12 square miles) and the in total only claims 400 permanent residents. 

To get to the islands requires planning.  There are a limited number of beds on the island (only 200, last I heard) with one hotel, one hostel and only a handful of bed and breakfasts.  There are only two ways to get there; either fly (via Aer Arann Islands from Connemara Regional Airport west of Galway City to the airport on Inishmore) or take one of the daily ferries that leave from Ros a’ Mhíl or Doolin and go to the islands (you can buy a shuttle through the same company to Ros a’ Mhíl from Galway City). 

Once there, it is not difficult to hear by Keith Williamson Irish being spoken.  For the easy route, turn on the television in your room.  The main television station broadcast on the islands is in Irish, and trust me, you’ll know it when you hear it. When I arrived on Inishmore, it was lunch time and as such, I headed straight for the pub.  I casually listened as the dozen or so old men around me chatted gleefully in what I will call Engrish (a mix of English and Irish) but most of what they said was in Irish.  The men sat and talked about man things, I presume as an Irish football (and no, that is NOT the same thing as soccer) game played (in Irish) on the television behind them.  The bar I was at was called the American Bar so the walls were littered with posters of JFK, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Marilyn and a wall collaged with police patches from various US cities (which I’ve found is quite a common decoration for “American” bars in Ireland).  But this place was far from American. 

As I sat there listening to the men chat, I couldn’t help but wonder why I never knew that this language exists.  As Americans, we’re pretty obsessed with all things Irish; whether it be the men, the accent, the heavy drinking culture.  We love to associate ourselves with Ireland and most of us find any excuse to say we’re Irish (my sister has reddish hair, so that MUST mean there’s Irish in my blood somewhere, right?). So how does it slip through the cracks that Irish is still a big part of the culture in Ireland?

A bit of Irish to help you feel important around your friends:

Hello – Dia duit (pronounced DI-ah GWIT)
Goodbye - Slán (pronounced SLAHN)
Cheers – Sláinte (pronounced SLAYNT-chee)
Thank You – Go Raibh Maith Agat (pronounced GUH REV MAH ah-GUT)
Fun (used a lot by Engrish speakers, like “what’s up” and may or not be actual Irish, but it’s still good to know) – What’s the craic? (Pronounced CRACK)

For more on the Irish language, check these sites:
Irish Language on Wikipedia
A good beginner's guide to the Irish Language
Beginner's Irish Phrases and Pronounciation

For more on the Aran Islands, check these sites:
The Aran Island Hotel
Aran Islands on Wikipedia
Aran Islands Travel Guide
Aran Islands on Wikitravel
Aran Islands on Google Maps


Getting Fishy in the Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場

Location: Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場, Tokyo 東京, Japan (Nippon) 日本


The Tsukiji Fish Market is an absolute must see for anyone traveling through Tokyo. Tsukiji is home to the largest wholesale fish market in the world (don't believe me, check the wikipedia article here) and it's the perfect activity for those of us who are incapable of conquering jet-lag (no matter how hard we try) as people begin bustling in the market as early as 3 AM and the action continues much later into the late morning. 

I left my hostel for the market at about 5 AM, in hopes of making it in time for the Tuna auction which begins around 5:20 AM. I followed the directions my Google research had warranted and met a nice Australian family who was headed in the same direction so we walked together. Naturally, my judgment on how long it takes to get somewhere was incredibly skewed and we arrived at the market around 6:15.

The outer layer of the market is filled with commercial trucks and dollies. People are crating around large quantities of various fish intended for mass distribution. There were hundreds of people also with small personal crates on wheels and insulated baggies to presumably carry fish back for their own personal use or for small restaurants. I almost got hit by a couple different vehicles as these people are here doing their job and are not really interested in those of us walking around with a video camera plastered to our face. Walking inside the market did not help matters much at all.

I'm sure I saw a VERY small portion of the entire market. I never found the tuna auction, though I'm fairly certain it was completed before I arrived because I found row upon row of frozen marked tuna lying in the streets awaiting new owners to come claim them. I walked up an down the aisles mesmerized for about an hour (sort of forgot I was supposed to get on a plane a couple hours later) and took pictures and videos of everything from sardines to octopus, crabs, lobsters, puffer-fish, swordfish and even whale. Most of the fish were still alive and were displayed in buckets, aquariums and in styrofoam boxes filled with ice. I watched 300 pound tuna be sawed into pieces by large Japanese men. I saw live eels be sliced into pieces. I watched hundreds of fish head chopped right off their bodies. I stumbled upon a crate of live crabs which had already been prepped for cooking (including being dipped in oil and then breading). I watched a flailing octopus be murdered as a guy picked it up and stuck a knife right in it's head. Serious stuff people. This is not an activity for the faint of heart (or the vegetarian) as I'm not easily offended by animal killing/eating, but this was borderline too much for me.

After wandering through the aisles with the countless other tourists, the next stop was to try some sushi in one of the many sushi huts located less than 100 yards from the main market. These shops specialize in the freshest sushi possible and many of them will kill the fish right in front of you before you eat it. When it comes to eating sushi, it doesn't get more raw than that! However, I wasn't the only person with the grand idea, and the lines for the shops were 30-40 people long each. Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch and wasn't able to partake.

But I did steal a peek at one of the menus. Most of the ingredients were normal, but there was a plethora of oddities like whale shark, orca and sea cucumber. Most of the people there were tourists and the prices are a bit high, but I find it to be one of those things that may just be worth it. I talked to a girl who was eating a piece of sashimi whale, and I think she definitely agreed - though this isn't something for the everyday, it's definitely something that must be tried. Unfortunately, she said, she couldn't enjoy the whale because she couldn't stop picturing Free Willy jumping over the breakwater and right into her mouth. Yuck.

Logistics crap:
Take the Tokyo Metro Toei Ōedo (都営地下鉄大江戸線) Line (E) to stop 18 Tsukijishijō Station (築地市場駅) (Tokyo Metro Map - English)
Exit station, walk straight, fish market will be on your left.
Open Monday - Saturday 3AM-1PM Except some Wednesdays and Holidays
Check The Tsukiji Market Homepage for more up to date opening information

Want More information? Check out the following links:

Check out all of my pictures from the Tsukiji Fish Market on Flickr