Nachos in the snow!

On an impromptu stop into NYC during a road trip, we stumbled upon Van Diemens. Ironically, I think I had been there for drinks 3 or 4 summers before, but hey, it’s my favorite part of Manhattan, so it’s not really a coincidence that I happen upon it twice. Also, to clarify, we didn’t really stumble upon it… it was FREEZING out and we had been walking for 5 blocks and we were sold on the sign out front for $5 margaritas.

It was perfect. Not too crowded and we got a table in back for 5 people. The bartender was also our waiter, and after hearing the specials, I had to ask him if he was from Baltimore with the twang I heard in his voice. He told us he was finishing his second week of living in NYC, and he was from Virginia. He moved up to try to make it as an actor. He was extremely good looking, with brown hair and dark and mysterious eyes…so he’d get my vote if I were the director!

Being the margarita snobs we are, we asked if they were fresh or from sour mix. He assured us that he would make them himself and that he makes a killer margarita. And he definitely delivered. I believe we each had 3!

Nachos and quesadillas are half off on ‘Fiesta Monday’, as well as $3 tacos. I shared the nachos with my friend and it was plenty! They were great nachos, but I feel I must add the disclaimer that their taste may have been enhanced by my 2nd and 3rd margarita. I also noticed that they have trivia on Tuesdays, and any bar or restaurant that does trivia is okay in my book!

I will definitely be returning to Van Diemans, and I’d recommend for you to try it as well!

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My mini, self-vacation.

I am extremely lucky to have family that works in the hospitality industry. This provides me with discounted rooms at some of the best hotels in the world. This past summer I needed to get down to Brooklyn, NY to visit a school and decided to stay for 3 days and enjoy NYC.

For a summer in college I lived in the Murray Hill area on 29th and 3rd. I loved all the bars and restaurants on 3rd Ave and I’m partial to that familiar area. I searched for the discounted hotels there but could only get to the W Hotel on Sunday night and would have to stay at the W Downtown for the first two nights. I had never ventured much down there and figured I would be bored on the weekend down there, but what choice did I have? It’s against my nature to pay full price!

I paid the standard $45 cab ride from JFK and got some great views. As we neared the hotel I realized we were very close to Ground Zero. And as we pulled up to the address I realized this new W Hotel was right across the street from all the construction happening to rebuild. After paying and tipping the taxi (It’s so convenient that you can do all that with a card these days and it calculates the tip percentage right there), I walked in the doors to the W. Instantly…I was very confused. There were double doors to the restaurant and 3 elevators in the dark gray cube I was now standing it. After closer inspection I read the small print next to the elevators. I was to take the elevators to the 5th floor lobby to check in. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a 5th floor lobby.

Stepping out of the elevators, there was the most amazing view of the construction. It became obvious that they built this hotel to overlook this monumental rebuilding. The lobby had a bar and lounge space and a small front desk. Check in went easy enough and I headed to my room. I went up a second set of elevators (private for guests and required use of your room key) and found my room. I ironically got room 911. That kind of freaked me out. I’m actually surprised they have that room number at all. Also unfortunate-my room was on the backside of the hotel and my view was just of plain old Manhattan. Oh well.

I tested the gym out, it was small and cold, but I forced myself to go on the elliptical type machine and get 45 minutes in. W Hotels stock green apples at most locations and that was a great snack after my workout.

I ended up loving this hotel. It was a great location. Saturday, I shopping with a friend and then had indian food at Ruchi, by myself just around the corner. I came back, took a hot shower, and found a comfy white robe to lay in bed and watch TV in. I felt a little lame just staying in on a Saturday but part of the reason I was taking this mini vacation by myself was to relax, so I did. Sunday morning I walked to the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport and it took just 15 minutes. Being down in the financial district on a weekend reminded me of the neighborhood feel I got in Murray Hill. It was around $30 for a ticket. I had been looking forward to the exhibit for years. I don’t know if I built it up in my mind, but I was a little underwhelmed with it. I thought I would like it more than I did.

Later that afternoon I moved to the W Hotel in Midtown. The hotel wasn’t as nice as I had remembered it. I had gone to an event there for Pepsi Jazz when I was interning at FamilyCircle years before. My room there was TINY. Instead of the wall to wall windows I had the 2 days before, I now had a narrow window that looked at ugly rooftops. I was a little disappointed and wished I would have stayed at the W Downtown one more night. One high point was the great taxi line the next morning when I had my early flight.

My chief complaint is that of every W Hotel-why is wireless internet not FREE??? This seems insane. If all the lowest chains have free wifi, why is W Hotels charging me and arm and a leg for internet. Wifi is free in the lobby, but I don’t want to be forced down there, especially if I am trying to work and there’s a party at the bar. C’mon W, get with the program!

And EVEN WORSE, the hotel charged me the full rate and I had to wait 20 minutes for them to fix it. Then they had a bogus food charge on my bill and I had to have them email me 3 more times before it was resolved. This same billing issue happened when I stayed in Barcelona, but not at the Midtown Manhattan location, so maybe by that point they learned how to apply it. It’s always nice getting those ‘Thank for staying with us, come again!’ emails when they still haven’t taken the time to correct their mistakes on the last bill. Oh well, I guess a little hassle is worth saving hundreds of dollars.

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Random Mini-Success in Milan

When I left France, I think my mind was so tired and on the wrong clock, I had no idea how long my train ride would be. I was able to secure a ride to St Etienne to hop on the train there. After a 1 hour transfer in Lyon (where I also forgot a bag – don’t travel heavy on the train!), I got on my next connection which would be a 6 hour ride to Milan. That 6 hours turned into 8 when we had a 2 hour wait at the border. By the time I reached Milan, I didn’t even want to try to find the hotel while carrying all my luggage, so I got a taxi – best decision EVER.

A few weeks prior, I had gone on Orbitz to book a hotel. The most important thing to me was proximity to the main train station. My aunt would be arriving at the Milan airport the next morning and we would meet at the main station to take the train north to where my parents were staying.

The hotel turned out to be great. It was just 4 blocks from the main entrance of the station. I wouldn’t stay there for vacation, but for the one night I needed a clean, private place to stay, I couldn’t ask for anything more. The room was tiny. It had just one single bed, a desk, and a small balcony that opened up into the terrace in the center. The tv was small and only had one American channel. Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations but it was perfect for everything I needed it to be.

Down the street I had an amazing calzone and risotto plate (my eyes were waaay bigger than my stomach at the time) that I brought back to my room to enjoy in silence.  There was free wifi as well – not always a guarantee at these places. The hotel was Hotel Terminal (not the most inviting name). The surrounding area was safe enough for daytime walking, although I didn’t wander too far once it got dark. It wasn’t a tourist area either, there was no site seeing to be done. The one issue I did have was that the elevator was either not working on the way down or broke. I was only on the 2nd floor so it wasn’t a huge deal. Also the power went out around 8 for a  half hour but who knows if that was the hotel’s fault, I’m not sure. All in all, it was a great place to crash for just a night.

*note – one other odd thing was that you had to turn in your hotel key if you were stepping out. Not a big deal, you always got it back when you returned, but I’m not really sure what the point was.

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Le Pain de Thon (Tuna Bread)

This recipe caught me a little off guard, I must say. Marielle Besson, amazing mother/cook of the family I’m staying with, served this at dinner one of the first nights I was here. I thought the ingredients must have been lost in translation when she told me there was tuna in the small loaf of bread I was devouring. But-there really was-and it was absolutely delicious. Definitely give this one a try:

Ingredients:
6 cups of bread crumbs
milk of your choice (I’ll be trying this with soy/coconut/almond milk)
6 eggs
150 grams of tuna
small block of creme fraiche
madere-an alcohol that should come in a bottle similar to vanilla extract

Instructions:
-Put 6 cups of bread crumbs in milk.

-Beat the eggs with the tuna.
-Combine the creme fraiche, bread crumbs and the madere.
-Season with tarragon, parsley, carrots or shrimp. Marielle made mine with green beans at the bottle of the pan.
-Put the mixture into a small bread pan and cook ‘Aubain Marries’ for 30-40 minutes
(Aubain Marris is a bit like a double broiler. Put the bread pan in a pot of boiling water.)

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iphone 4s success!!!

After reading many blogs and forums, and changing my mind many times, I ventured into downtown Le Puy today and activated my iphone 4s with a french number.

In the months before I left, I heard many opinions on using a phone in France. Some said that there is wifi everywhere in Europe and I wouldn’t have a problem shutting off my 3G network and only using the free wifi to email/skype/fb message. My verizon rep in Rochester, NY told me that since Verizon didn’t use sim cards, there was no way for me to install a french sim card into my iphone. So I was under the impression that I would just have to purchase a throw away phone and buy minutes.

But then google came to the rescue. After some research I came across this article, and skeptically read about how easy it was. And in actuality it was easier than the article stated. All I did was….

1. Had my dad (skyped him this morning, I’m already in France and couldn’t call them myself) call Verizon, and ask that they perform an “international unlock”. I wasn’t on the phone so I don’t know exactly how this went but my dad did say that he had to specifically ask for the global dept at Verizon because the first customer service rep said it wasn’t possible (same as the woman in Rochester…grrr). And then he said it was no problem. As stated in the above article, you can only do this if you are in good standing with Verizon for 60 days and you can only do it once every 8 months.

Note: Before I left NY, I suspended my Verizon coverage so that I wouldn’t be paying a cell phone bill when I wasn’t using it in the US.

2. I went down to ‘cell phone alley’ as we Americans like to refer to it as, and went to SFR (a mobile company). It was my first extended conversation in French, but I was determined to get through it and the sales woman was very helpful.

There were a couple options. For 25 euros, I could do a 2 month plan which included 200 texts and about 65 minutes of phone time. Or I could do unlimited texting/phone/internet for 5 days for 5 euros or 20 days for 15 euros. I ended up going with the unlimited for 5 days just to test it out. I’m thinking when I go back to ‘recharge’ or buy more days, that I will do the 2 months with texting. I don’t need internet and really I just need to text and talk in quick or emergency situations to update ppl.

3. I paid 9.90 euro for the micro sim card (you need a micro for the iphone 4s) and 5 euro for the 5 days. Not bad for a test. The saleswoman activated in store for me as well. I was able to go into settings>general>international>languages and switch the phone language to french so that she could understand everything on the phone and then switched it back to english once she activated it. To insert the micro sim, she just got a paperclip type thing (it comes in the mirco sim package) and ejected the tray. Verizon puts a roaming sim in there so that if you want to use their international service the card will work but that’s very expensive. So she put the card in and then closed it and did some activation stuff on the wifi there.

Overall-iphone success!

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Family First

As we rode back from the airport at Lyon, I was full of questions for my new host family. Marielle, the mother, and Elsa, the 17 year old daughter had picked me up that Saturday at noon and they were full of curiousity as well.

Before getting on the highway we stopped at l’uni in Lyon (the college in Lyon) to pick up Elsa’s cousin, Gabriel. Gabriel actually studied abroad near Toronto and had been to Buffalo, NY (only an hour from Rochester, NY-my hometown) and spoke very good English.

Elsa and Gabriel explained that their entire family lived in Le Puy. All the aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, were all based in Le Puy. In fact, as I came to find later, Paulette et Jean-Louis (Marielle’s parents) live in the house right below the Bessons (my host family). The house we are living in used to be Marielle’s grandmother’s and was built in the 1920′s although I think there have been a number of renovations.

Erik (the father of my host family) has a mother with alzheimer’s so she lives in a home but everyone else has a house on the hills of Aiguihe, a suburb of Le Puy. Every day the family has a 1-2 hour lunch together, including during the week. On the weekends, the lunches are longer and more relaxed. And everyone has some collection of extra-curiculars going on every night so we don’t sit down for dinner until 8 or 8:30 each night. There’s always some combination of French horn, singing lessons, football (soccer), handball, theater or homework. The children (l’enfants en francais) have a set schedule of who will set the table (mettre la table) and who will clean up after. No one complains about their responsibilities and everyone chips in to make sure it’s done. The expectations are clear and accepted. It’s kind of amazing at what a well-oiled machine it is.

On Wednesdays, elementary schools do not have class and all other schools and work close for the afternoon. Everyone comes home and does homework or cleans and basically catches up on anything that’s been neglected Monday and Tuesday.

My first Wednesday, January 11, I helped Elsa with her english homework. The story was of a grandmother and her children and grandchildren and how they all hated to see each other for the holidays. I was a little amazed at how vague it was written and there were some words I’ve never even seen in English literature. But we got through the comprehension questions, with some good laughs, and she held onto one of the words I had explained the story with – Liar. I suppose I’m glad she is remembering one word I taught her lol!

 

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Volley Olympique en Le Puy

Yesterday was my first impression of volleyball in France. Le Puy vs. Aurillac. It was decent volleyball but probably a level under what our men’s club team plays at RIT. The sport set up here in France is interesting…there are no athletic teams that are tied to the schools, only community sports. So anyone can play any sport at any age. You will be placed on a team based on your skill and level of play and if your team is successful you might even get sponsored and rise in the ranks.

Tonight I will go with Marielle, the mother of the family I’m staying with, and play handball for a couple hours, then volleyball right after. I haven’t played handball since high school, but I remember loving it so much that some classmates and I organized our own pickup games in a community field house at 11pm on Saturdays. Besides not remembering much of the rules, I think handball in France with some middle-aged women might be different than the competitive co-ed games we organized. As for ‘le volley’, I’m not sure what to expect. From what I hear, it is co-ed and all ages and skill. Volleyball isn’t very popular in Le Puy and so we might not have the most athletic participants, but then again, everyone in France seems to be mildly athletic so we will see. I was doubtful of finding a place to play and choose not to bring my kneepads or court shoes, unfortunately…

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