Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Eating at At.mosphere in Dubai - the world's tallest restaurant

at.mosphere dubai 

Dubai is a city of realized hyperbole. It has the tallest building in the world, man-made islands shaped like the world’s continents, and a restaurant high high above the towering skyscrapers below. At.mosphere, a restaurant in Dubai’s towering Burj Khalifa, provides a dining experience with a view reminiscent of glancing out the window of a plane. It is preposterously thrilling to savor a plate of foie gras 122 floors above what appears to be the world’s largest game of Sim City developing below, spreading out into open desert.

Reaching At.mosphere involves a few steps absent from most dining arrangements. First, one must enter the tallest building in the world, approach a sleek metal elevator, and make a very important choice that is really no choice at all. Only one option exists in the elevator – floor 123. With no stops to make on the way up, the elevator travels with a speedy transcendence that feels just a few technological steps removed from teleportation – 33 feet per second. In the time it takes a middle school graduate to read this paragraph, the doors swing open to reveal a spiral staircase leading to the restaurant one floor below.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Burj AL Arab is okay by me

Long before Dubai began showing up at the bottom of fashion advertisements along with Paris, New York, and Tokyo, it was all sand and ambition. It was once simply desert and an idea. An “if you build it, they will come” on the most massive scale. Build it, they did.

As the years piled on, Dubai transformed. The skyscrapers grew like weeds in an untended lawn. Any doubt that the city was primed to be a world class destination was responded to with the sonic roar of hundreds of buildings rising from the ground almost overnight. Ready or not, here it comes.

Today, the hotels in Dubai have more stars than the milky way. The roads run smooth and are stocked with fluorescent hypercars and murdered out Mercedes Gelandewagens. Construction cranes sway in the gentle Arabian breeze next to impossibly tall buildings. The malls have ski slopes and aquariums with neat little Guinness World Record plaques. Man-made islands shaped like palm trees maximize beach front real estate just offshore. It is a place where the compendium of engineering knowledge has been plundered, nudging the limits of man-made extravagance into open space. Engineers come to Dubai to test the pliability of steel, the outrageous whims of architectural imagination, and the possibility of solving impossible problems.

And it all began with one building – the Burj Al Arab.

Three magical days in Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan is an ancient city. Thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas unfold across the dusty plains as if they have grown here organically from the ground for millenia. It is a place that feels older than time. The ambitions of this primeval capital are evident in every direction. The sheer number of ancient structures is at once baffling and awe-inspiring. No place on earth reflects this grandiose quality of scale as much as Bagan.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Top 10 types of travel theft (and how to be safe)

travel theft

In many large cities of the world, thieves hunt travelers from the shadows. They watch you take pictures at monuments, eat tapas at an outdoor cafe, and if you are unlucky, they will follow your steps with excited eyes as you fall into one of their traps. A few years ago while visiting Quito, thieves dumped a bucket of crap on me from a rooftop and then jumped me for my camera. It was

Fear-mongering aside, travelers are chosen as targets because they are not completely in tune to their surroundings. Maybe you are jet lagged, or you just ate a dangerous meal that has left you weak with intestinal anxiety, or you are lost in an uncomfortable part of Paris – these are all circumstances where you are in a vulnerable state and therefore a target of thieves. Like hyenas hunting for weakened game, thieves seek out confused tourists and map clenchers with wayward eyes.
These crooked opportunists have many breeds: child gangs in Italy looking for sincere mid-westerners, Vietnamese on scooters scoping for a wallet in an extended hand, and fake European police officers searching for rubes to shake down. While your trip will likely pass without incident, it is ideal to be prepared. If you know what to look for, then you can watch for danger signs and situations to avoid. Being a safe traveler is being a smart traveler. Here are ten common hustles to watch out for.

Chichicastenango, Guatemala - markets, mayhem, graveyeards, and charm

Guatemala is one of the most underrated destinations on earth. With volcanoes, great colonial cities Mayan ruins, rainforests, and just shitloads of natural beauty, it is a spellbinding place to find yourself for a few weeks. About 6500 feet up into the Guatemalan highlands, Chici seems perched at the top of Guatemala, an uphill gathering place for the denizens  of this collectivist nation. From the cities and villages, old Mayans and city folk alike find their way to Chichicastenango to trade goods and come together.

The church of St Tomas (above) is a 400 year old church with a rich history. Originally a Mayan temple, the church serves several purposes to the community. K'iche' Mayan priests still use the church for their rituals, burning incense, candles, and chickens for the old gods. It is the kind of place where the past still burns bright.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The best ginger beer/ale in Tokyo

 A few months ago in Tokyo, we found a really cool outdoor food area in  Omotesando, close to the subway stop. While unusual eateries were everywhere, we stopped to grab a ginger beer and sample some fries at Brooklyn Ribbon Fries. In the picture above you can see it as the tin shack with BRE on the side. This whole area had a ton of cool shops and mini-restaurants amid the bustle of Omotesando.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pictures from Guatemala Globase - Lake Atitlan

A couple years ago I did a brief consulting assignment through Indiana University, and I just found a ton of photos from that trip that I never shared on Goboogo. I am going to cycle through them over the next few weeks.  Guatemala is an incredible country, extremely worthy of a visit and a couple week stay.

One of the coolest parts of my trip to Guate was visiting Lake Atitlan. The lake is located in the Guatemalan highlands and is over a thousand feet deep. It is flanked by 3 volcanos and several Mayan villages.

The lake was once thought to be showcased an angling Guatemalan show piece, so they stocked it with all kinds of non endemic fish, like the Black Bass. Of course, terrible things happened. This little bird went extinct (Atitlan Grebe), and 2/3rds of the lakes endemic fish disappeard. Bummer.

Panajachel is a bigger village on the lake and has decent tourist infrastructure. It was also a popular hippie hangout in the 60's.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

10 greatest sports venues

greatest sports

Fenway Park (above)
The oldest major league stadium has more character than most. It opened in 1912, and has been packing in fans ever since. The Red Sox have sold out every home game for over 600 games and counting - a major league record. Fenway is a legendary place that every sports fan needs to visit at least once. And since they have won two World Series in the last decade, I do not even need to mention the pesky curse.

Getting there and tickets: Located in Boston, Fenway Park is right off the Mass Turnpike in the heart of the city. Take the green line on the T to Kenmore station to reach the ballpark. Tickets can be purchased here. Since games are always sold out, it is easy to just pick scalp your tickets or grab a pair off of craigslist, ebay, or stubhub.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Coolest gambling destinations

As a connoisseur of risk, I have seen my fair share of glory and agony within the walls of lady luck. In Latin America, the casinos feel seedy and desperate, and a shower always seems to be good idea after leaving these smoky dens. Singapore casinos feel simple and clean, as though an army of robots lurks just beyond the curtain, meticulously tending to the unseen cogs that keep the experience running. Macau on an off day feels like the world just ended. Gigantic empty rooms full of smiling Macanese croupiers all enthusiastically welcome you to tables with delicate waves of upturned hands. It is like a creepy dream.

Vegas reminds me of the imitation crab in a California roll. You may know its fake, but you don't care because it is delicious. Likewise, the Vegas pyramid, faux Eiffel Tower, and mini New York skyline are obviously not real, but the kitschy feel speaks to the synthetic appeal of the modern American dream. In Europe, the casinos are ornate old world establishments where you will feel like you forgot your velvet smoking jacket, even if you don't own one.

So where are some of the coolest international places to thrown down on black and let it ride?

Friday, June 20, 2014

The texture of Portugal

Tiles, tiles everywhere. Portugal has incredible tiled buildings with beautiful hand painted tiles.

3 days in Luang Prabang, Laos - elephants, bears, waterfalls, and the Mekong

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is lush, quaint, and improbable. This magical town of butterflies and baguettes seems to exist on dreamlike terms - an island of civility in the savage jungle of Laos. Sometimes a pinch is justifiable to confirm the reality of it all. The green hills, gorgeous colonial buildings, and kind villagers all combine to form a thriving UNESCO heritage city that is Southeast Asia with the charming vestiges of a distant French occupation.

High in the clouds, Luang Prabang holds many treasures for the travelers willing to make the trip. Aromas from fresh bakeries mingle with the crisp mountain air along quiet streets lined with quaint guesthouses and colorful noodle stands. The easiest route to Luang Prabang is on a flight from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways, though domestic flights from Vientiane near the Thai border are also possible on Lao Airlines. Another popular route is by bus from Vientiane. A Laos visa can be obtained upon arrival and costs $35 for U.S. citizens.

Three days is barely enough time to take in the full experience of Luang Prabang, but if planned correctly, you will have time to ride elephants, swim in waterfalls, and take a lazy trip down the Mekong river.