Category Archives: Attractions

Exploring Mexico City with Le Méridien

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Le Meridien Mexico City eclair, by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini

In December, I was invited by Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts to come to Mexico City and get a taste for their “Éclair Diaries” program led by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini. Through his partnership with Le Méridien, Iuzzini has the task of creating signature eclairs for various properties within the U.S. and overseas. So far, the project has taken him to New Orleans, Paris, Barcelona, Cote D’Azur, and New Delhi, where he scouts out venues for obtaining local ingredients and creating a destination-themed eclair.

Now, for the “Eclair Diaries,” Mexico City has become the latest chapter, with Le Méridien Mexico City being the recipient. To see how Iuzzini begins his recipe process, our group accompanied him to Central de Abasto, Mexico City’s major wholesale market. It was the perfect place for Iuzzini to conduct his research, and for me to learn more about Mexican cuisine.

Joining us were Jared Reardon and Sonia Arias, a husband/wife culinary duo from Jaso Restaurant in Mexico City. The couple led Iuzzini around to different vendors, providing details about what was on display and negotiating with various merchants.

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Johnny Iuzzini selects ingredients for the Mexico City eclair.

We followed Iuzzini, as he examined foods by sight, scent, and taste. He tried fruits unique in look and flavor: the citrusy granada china, the papaya-looking mamey sapote, and the dark colored but sweet tasting zapote negro. (I did too.) With every stop, Iuzzini pulled out his notebook, jotting down notes and first impressions. And, of course, he made some purchases like piloncillo, a brown cane sugar molded in a cone shape.

As Iuzzini spent the following day immersed in kitchen R&D, I got to spend time with another Le Méridien ambassador – coffee connoisseur Esther Maasdam. Maasdam is in charge of training Le Méridien’s master baristas and creating a series of latte art inspired by property destinations.

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Coffee expert Esther Maasdam creates a latte work of art.

And she knows her coffee. On the final day of our visit, we got to watch her work her magic at a barista machine and hand-paint latte images inspired by her time in Mexico such as cacti and a Mexican wrestling mask. Also that morning, Iuzzini unveiled the finalized recipe for his Mexico City éclair. It consists of a mole-flavored shell with a mamey-vanilla cream filling, a tamarind-lime glaze, crispy peanuts, caramelized bananas, and crystallized huitlacoche.

Along with Central de Abasto, our group got to explore other sites in Mexico City. They included:

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Amazing fish dish at Restaurante Nicos

Restaurante Nicos: In the Claverai neighborhood, this family-owned restaurant has simple yet elegant décor, and its breakfast/lunch menus are quite refined. For lunch, we had a mix of orders such as a river fish steamed a corn husk, barbecued rabbit, and turkey and pork with mole. Desserts were just as grand: Mexican buñuelos, a fried dough, served in molasses, a corn cake with eggnog sauce; and spiced popcorn paired with pumpkin gelato and zapote negro sauce. Of course, an order of guacamole is great for starting off your meal, and Nicos staff makes it table-side. At the end, order Mexican coffee, as it’s also prepared right in front of you.

Museo Tamayo: Le Méridien’s “Destination Unlocked” program partners each of its properties with a local cultural institution, giving guests get free admission. Le Méridien Mexico City is paired with Museo Tamayo, a contemporary art museum in Chapultepec Park. Named after abstract painter Rufino Tamayo, his featured works include “The Watermelon,” inspired by his childhood selling fruit. Outside, find a swing set that, yes, you can go on. However, it’s best that you don’t climb on the adjacent jungle gym; you might get yelled at by security. The museum’s restaurant offers modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine, with one must-try being the chicken stuffed with cuitlacoche and goat cheese over pinto beans.

Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec): Also in Chapultepec Park, this hillside castle was once the Imperial residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, and his consort, Empress Carlota. Over time, it also served as the official home of Mexico’s presidents. Now it’s a history museum. Spend some time at the royal couple’s furnished rooms, a stained-glass corridor, an observatory, and a terrace with aerial views of the city.

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Eno Petrarca brews up an assortment of coffees.

Eno Petrarca: In the Polanco neighborhood, this coffee shop/sandwich place gets good remarks for its meal selection but I can more so vouch for its java. I savored a nutty flavored Latte Cacahuate and sipped on a cold coffee infused with almond and lemon. And while we were there, Maasdam had a turn at their machine (ironically, one of the employees recognized her!). This place is also the sibling of Pujol, a fine dining establishment next door that’s hard to get into (it seats about 13) but specializes a seasonal tasting lunch/dinner menu.

Licoreria Limantour: As a place suggested to Maasdam by one of her colleagues, this cocktail bar in Roma Notre is definitely where to get a quality mixed drink. Bonus: If your knowledge of Spanish is un poco, not to worry: the menu feature pictures of their selections alongside drink listings. I had the Vicqua, a fruity concoction topped with a dried carrot/beet garnish.

La Bodega Mexico: It’s easy to spot this restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, due to its bright red sign and drapery. Inside, it’s even more colorful with decorative fixtures and a room specifically for live music and dancing. The menu is just as interesting with choices ranging from coconut shrimp to chicken in a mole poblano sauce.

Visiting the Mall of America

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Photos via Mall of America

Earlier this summer, I attended a travel blogger conference called TBEX North America 2016 primarily because of its location – the Mall of America. Yes, because the conference location was adjacent to this mall.

Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, about 15 minutes from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, the Mall of America is far more than a place to shop. Featured on travel shows, the Mall of America is a hybrid of retail stores and tourist attractions. And it’s a big place, at 4.87 million square feet. Really big. To put it in perspective, this mall can fit seven Yankee Stadiums, 32 Boeing 747s, and 258 Statues of Liberty.

Besides massive space, here is what else you find during a visit to the Mall of America.

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Photo via SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium

SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium
Underneath the mall, the SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium is a 1.3-million gallon aquarium featuring a 300-foot ocean tunnel and being home 10,000 sea creatures. The low-lit, lower level location is easy to explore, with stops along the way for observing marine life such as jellyfish, seahorses, stingrays, and sturgeons. One neat attraction to take your time going through is the Shark Discovery exhibit. Here, you walk through a glass tunnel and view sharks and other ocean neighbors swimming below or alongside you. There are daily feeding times, where for a small fee you can buy food to hand to certain aquarium residents like stingrays.

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Nickelodeon Universe
In the center of the mall, Nickelodeon Universe is a fun indoor theme park with 27 rides and attractions. When I was there for TBEX, my friends and I spent time going on rides that fit with our style (there’s a number of ones with paces that go smoothly or get a little twisted). While we were there around Memorial Day Weekend, we got to try a new park attraction called FlyOver America. FlyOver America is a fully immersive, flight simulation ride that takes riders on an aerial tour of well-known U.S. landmarks and regions. Nickelodeon Universe also contains an indoor zipline that takes you 60 feet above the ground, and features special visits by costumed TV characters like Sponge Bob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer.

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Specialty Stores/Restaurants
The Mall of America has a good mix of major retail brands (think clothing, electronics, cosmetics, accessories, etc.) plus regional finds. Among them, the LEGO Store is where kids of all ages can let loose on this Danish toy with its Pick-A-Brick wall, play areas, and larger-than-life models such as over 34-foot-tall robot. Fans of American Girl will not just find the store but also an American Girl ® Bistro. And being in Minnesota, and near neighboring Wisconsin, find stores carrying everything from locally made cheese to Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers gear or other state-inspired products. As for dining, there are 50-plus restaurants, including national chains like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, and Buffalo Wild Wings, to more regional brands like Caribou Coffee and A & W All-American Food. Consider Pizza Studio, where you can have a custom pie made; Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar, for a sit-down meal or Noodles & Company, which prepares noodles in Asian, Mediterranean or American style.

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Photo via Radisson Blu Mall of America

Hotel Accommodations
There are more than 50 hotels in various proximity to the Mall of America. The most direct one is the Radisson Blu Mall of America, as it’s connected to the mall via a skyway. I paid to stay here for the conference and liked how you could literally enter the mall from one of the hotel levels. It’s definitely convenient, for when you, um, realize that you need a last-minute extra pair of pants. That you pick up along with some Wisconsin cheese sticks and a cup of Caribou Coffee.

In short, if you happen to be in this area or thinking of a different kind of weekend getaway, the Mall of America might be the place to be. And shop.

Learn about the Winter Olympics at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum

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Those who follow the Winter Olympics know that Lake Placid, New York was the host location for the 1932 and 1980 games. Today, Lake Placid still keeps its Olympic legacy to winter sports thriving, and one of the best ways to see this history up close is at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum has a collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and photographs relating to these games plus the Olympians whose names are still recognized today. Of course, Lake Placid’s place in these chapters is acknowledged as well.

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Olympic memorabilia on display runs from athletic gear to clothing, and, of course, medals. Objects include a selection of attire worn by Team USA during the opening ceremonies, torches, helmets, and equipment. Within this area, the museum will also be ushering in permanent exhibit fixtures. One of them will be focusing on speed skating, a sport that Lake Placid knows well (the village has a speed skating club). Another planned new exhibit involves the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 medal-round match in which the U.S. Men’s hockey team defeated the Soviets.

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Another noted athlete featured in the museum is Sonja Henie, a Norwegian figure skater who won her second gold medal in Lake Placid. Henie, who became a three-time Olympian, retired from her sport and went on to pursue a film career in Hollywood and appeared in a number of films. She also was a smart businesswoman in that she implemented what we now call “branding” in that her image appeared on various merchandise like dolls. She also appeared on a Wheaties box.

Here’s a fact: Did you know that ever since the first Winter Olympics, held in 1924 in Chamonix, France, has competed in each game, to date? Plus Lake Placid native Charles Jewtraw holds the distinction of winning the first gold medal at Chamonix. You’ll see his picture too. Notability also extends to the Shea family. Its three generations participated in the Winter Olympics: the late Jack Shea, the family patriarch who won gold twice for speedskating in the 1932 games; his son, Jim Shea, who competed in the Nordic combined and two cross-country ski races at the 1964 Innsbruck Games; and his grandson, Jim, a 2002 Olympian in skeleton.

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The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is housed inside the Olympic Center, which also contains the ice rink where the Miracle on Ice occurred. It’s now named the Herb Brooks Arena, after the team’s late coach. It also holds the 1932 Jack Shea Arena and the USA Rink. The building itself overlooks the Olympic Skating Oval, where speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals in 1980, and where visitors can pay to skate on today. The museum is open on most days, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Iron Man Sunday, a triathlon event.

Another symbol from 1980 Winter Games still standing is the Olympic torch. Or more formally called “1980 Olympic Flame Cauldron.” It’s located at North Elba Show Grounds on Cascade Road, where now horse shows are held at the end of June and the start of July.

High Falls George and the Adirondacks’ Whiteface Region

2016-02-23 16.27.23Last week, I headed up to Lake Placid, a village in upstate New York. While seeing much of Lake Placid, I also spent some time exploring the Whiteface Region of the New York State’s Adirondack Mountains.

The Whiteface Region is a delight for nature lovers and outdoor sports fans. Whether a summer, winter, or even fall trip is planned , the region has a network of trails that alternate from hiking and mountain biking, to snowshoeing and skiing. Even fishing, particularly for trout, is big here during its season. Yet for those that prefer more of a walking place, consider starting off High Falls Gorge. Located off of NY-86E in Wilmington, about 10 minutes from Lake Placid, High Falls Gorge has self-guided trails at its 22-acre nature park that brings visitors in viewing distance of waterfalls or Adirondack forestry.

Located off of NY-86 E in Wilmington, about 10 minutes from Lake Placid, High Falls Gorge runs along the Ausable River. One of the gorge’s three trails coincides with the direction of the river, where you can walk along maintained routes, bridges, and pathways to view waterfalls (in winter, their frozen look is pretty spectacular). The other two trails involve one that is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs, while the other is steeper and a bit uneven. I walked along the yellow, which leads through various steps for viewing four waterfalls and surrounding trees.

Before and after going on these trails, head inside the Gorge’s Welcome Center for a bite to eat at the River View Café. This American-style restaurant serves lunch and dinner with five styles of wings, a ton of apps, salads, lunchtime sandwiches and dinner entrees and burgers.

Also in the Whiteface Region, serious hikers can make their mark in completing certain ranges hat are like being initiated into special clubs: the 46ers and 6ers. The 46ers refers to the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, which is this amount of mountains that with elevations ranging higher or lower than 4,000 feet. To get a good start, it’s probably best to consider the 6ers. They consist of six Adirondack peaks found at Saranac Lake, which is west of Lake Placid. Plus if you have climbed all six – and provide the dates of each climb and the approximate time of reaching the summit – you’ll get an official member number, patch and sticker.

In my next post, I’ll be listing more about my jaunts around Lake Placid. Stay tuned!

 

Editor’s note: Lake Placid CVB invited me as a guest to Lake Placid and Adironacks region. However, my posts are entirely based on my personal opinion.

On Location Tours Unveils Romantic Movie Moments Tour

cafe-lalo-webresIf you’re a big fan of romantic movies or you really “heart” NYC like I do, here’s some news that might make you swoon. Since the Big Apple has provided the scenery for many memorable tearjerkers and rom-coms, On Location Tours has launched its “Romantic Movie Moments Tour” that takes you en route to famous Manhattan sites featured on the big screen.

Led by a local actor, this tour goes to sites such as the bookstore where Billy Crystal spots Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”; the venue where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw almost marries Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in the film series of “Sex and the City”; and the cafe where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale share a frozen hot chocolate in “Serenity.”

Without giving too many scenes away, other film spots featured include ones in “Sweet Home Alabama,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The tour departs Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout February at 3 p.m.

Seeing Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

 

photo 4photo 1-2Manhattan is not the only part of New York City that gets lit up during the holidays. Brooklyn does too, and the best place to see them is in Dyker Heights!

Residents in Dyker Heights really go all out with decorations: inflatable characters, Santas, robotic figurines and lots and lots of lights. Many of these folks in this neighborhood hire professional decorators to give their homes a holiday look. As though no expense is overlooked, these houses seem as though they’re involved in some “friendly” curb appeal competition. And a financial boost to Con Edison. You can view a video of one of these homes here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfopas1epT4

photo 1-1photo 1photo 3-1The over-the-top outdoor decor is so much that visitors trek to here each year to view their homes. For viewing, the best spot to see “Dyker Lights” is to head to the high 80s (83rd through 86th mostly) about between 11th through 13th Avenues. As for getting here, it’s better to go by car or on a bus tour.

photo 3-2If you’re tempted to take the subway, please note you’ll have a good bit of walking ahead of you. And that’s just to get to the houses. If you must, the subway directions I found involving taking either the R train to 86th St. stop (the last one) or the D or M train to 18th Avenue. Also please note that this neighborhood section is not really that lit — in terms of street lamps.

I decided to go on a bus tour through A Slice of Brooklyn Tours, which picked my group up near Union Square. It’s called Christmas Lights & Cannoli Tour.  While being on the bus for most of the trip, there are stops to walk nearby and get closer views.

Our trip to Brooklyn also extended to seeing similar holiday homes in the residential areas of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. I took both a photo and video of a “very blue” home in Bensonhurst (shown below). Here’s a clip of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfopas1epT4

photo-3Well, there is one in Bensonhurst, owned by a Greek man, that completely goes over the top! This is it below. You can view a video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JrnyC3pKIQ

photo 2Our bus tour guide also gave us a lot of background info on these neighborhoods and the history behind Dyker Heights’ holiday showcase. If you’re not too familiar with Brooklyn, I would recommend taking this tour instead. Plus, bring a good camera!

Air Berlin Ushers In Düsseldorf Carnival

photo 1Did you know that Düsseldorf’s Carnival Season lasts four months long? Last Tuesday night, Air Berlin and Düsseldorf Marketing and Tourism put on a shorter version of this German city’s colorful celebration with a reception at Blaue Gans in the TriBeCa district.

The reception featured German beers and local delicacies, and invites asked people to come in costumes. One travel writer did. Others like me put on whimsical hats or were draped with streamers by our hosts.

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We also learned a thing or two about Düsseldorf and its history with carnival. Having started this week, this street festival in Düsseldorf’s city center is made up of different segments such as the city’s ladies and youth having their turns at taking over the parade route for a while.

Even elected officials have their moment. By tradition, carnival time lets Düsseldorf’s citizens get away with poking fun at leaders through silly puppets and the like. The carnival season will be over February 18.

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And of course, in completing the night, a trio of performers had their act going.

photo 5With Düsseldorf, I actually spent maybe 40 minutes there via my connection from their airport to JFK. I was flying on Air Berlin, coming first from Geneva, and had to make it through the gate in a short amount of time to my next departure. Speaking just as a customer, their gate crew offered to switch me to a front row seat so I could get off the plane quicker to help make my connection. They suggested it. That was awesome.