Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Beautiful Jersey Shore

New Jersey, that great state I call home, suffers a less than stellar reputation. When I’m out of state, whether at Northwestern or traveling, I find I spend a lot of time defending its largely unwarranted notoriety. (“Where else can you live that you’re one hour from New York City, one hour from Philadelphia and 40 minutes from the beach?!” I always say.)

The stereotypes were already bad enough, I thought, when this little show called “Jersey Shore” debuted. Forget that only two members of the cast hail from the Garden State — it still cemented and created new stereotypes about my beloved NJ. But the truth is, one of our main reputation saboteurs is also one our top attractors.

People from up and down the East Coast flock to the Jersey shore coastline every summer from states as far south as Virginia. “Jersey Shore” features Seaside, one of the grittier beach towns we boast, but there is a reason people choose to make the Jersey shore their lovely summer home year after year. The following beaches, which are some of top in NJ, are all reasons why.

Atlantic City

Atlantic City, courtesy of NJCasinoDealer.com

Before I start, a caveat: Don’t go here solely for the beach, because it’s definitely not our nicest. Still, Atlantic City is like Las Vegas on the ocean. Get your night started early with a walk on the boardwalk, or detox post-gambling on the beach. There’s even a cultural draw here, which Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame mentioned in a recent Budget Travel article.

Cape May

Cape May, courtesy of BestofTimesTravel.com

Cape May, which is in the south of the state, is undoubtedly the most charming of New Jersey’s shore havens. The architecture is Victorian, and the beaches picturesque. Cape May also claims Avalon, a hamlet with a slew of private beaches and some of the most expensive real estate on the East Coast.

Belmar

Belmar, courtesy of Wikimedia user Girdi

Belmar is a favorite day-trip spot and the beach I have frequented most, so I feel obligated to include it. Belmar is one of the more accessible NJ beaches for a day trip, and you might lay your towel next to a sweet family or a gaggle of gossiping tweens. Hang around 16th street and you’ll see a watered-down, daytime version of what MTV exploited in “Jersey Shore.” There’s no obnoxious boardwalk, though, and only a subdued nightlife so things stay pretty low-key.

Island Beach State Park

 

Island Beach State Park, courtesy of the official site

The near 10 miles of beach on this barrier island are close to nature; they’re populated with ospreys and more than 400 types of plants. The shore is sheltered and serene, and on a walk you’ll find marshes and well-preserved sand dunes.

Spring Lake

Spring Lake, courtesy of TheNewYorkCityTraveler.com

Apparently, Spring Lake morphed into a prime destination for the high society folk of neighboring New York and Philly during the Gilded Age, leaving some lasting architecture. I remember Spring Lake as one of the most serene beaches I’ve ever visited. Many of the beaches are reserved for people who own homes shoreside, but swaths are accessible to day trippers.

Karina for TKGO

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Crawling up Machu Picchu

Some say there’s no difference between hiking and walking. I say no one “hikes” to the top of Machu Picchu — you hang on with all fours.

The saga began with a three-hour train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, and a bus from our hostel in Aguas Calientes directly up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Crashes are common because everything’s old — the buses and the pavement on the hairpin turns. (If you’re wondering why we didn’t take the Inca Trail, my friend Ashley and I opted to save the two weeks of pain in favor of time at Rio de Janeiro’s beaches. Can’t beat that.) But after you get off the bus, heaving and crying, the view at the top will brighten your mood.

It rained off and on while my friend Ashley and I explored the ruins, so the guides handed out colorful ponchos which made it easy for us to pick out tourist hot spots. Mostly, visitors clung to the outskirts of the complex, peering over the edges of the mountain at the steps leading up to it or some of the small outposts and houses sitting on the outcrops.

Though the fog rarely lifts completely from the mountains at this altitude, pockets will open that reveal pieces of the view you’re missing. The fog will sit in the valleys below, and the Andes mountains become looming shadows like ships at sea.

The architecture is stunning, as can be expected. The Incans used three types of stone construction depending on the use of the building. The more difficult and airtight design takes far longer to build and is used for religious or holy buildings. Another type is used on the wealthy families’ homes and other public buildings, and the final on peasants’ homes. Below is an example of the second type, where stones are slightly shaped to fit one another but are not exact, as on religious buildings.

The windows slant inward toward the top, making them resilient against bad weather for over 600 years.

Some places you see when you travel require a photo album to remember the details, but Machu Picchu is not one of them. I hope you enjoy these snapshots, but they can’t do justice to the feeling of sitting in the fog at almost 8,000 feet above sea level in a city built by an extinct empire. I promise, the bus ride is worth it.

Tara for TKGO

Eating Snow Ice in June

Taiwanese xue-hua-bing — or “snow ice” — is the latest low-cal summer treat to hit Chicago

A muggy Chicago June day sent us in search of a cone, cup or bowl of something refreshing, and we found our sweet relief in something both cool and cultural: Taiwanese snow ice.

Xue-hua-bing is wispy and fluffy, and has the consistency of frozen, slightly thicker cotton candy. The ice, which also is surprisingly creamy, is somewhat chewy at first but melts in your mouth. It condenses in the bowl, though, so you have to eat quickly!

 

Our half-eaten bowl of mango snow ice with mango drizzle, by Karina for TKGO

 

Unlike ice cream, snow ice in Taiwan isn’t made with milk. Traditionally, people will drizzle vanilla-flavored snow ice with condensed milk and top it with sweet red beans. In Chicago, however, it has been Americanized. Cloud 9 on Belmont adds skim milk to its mixture, and serves other flavors more familiar to the North American palate. Mango is the most popular flavor, but vanilla and strawberry also are available. Our vote? Definitely go for the classic combo of vanilla ice with condensed milk and red bean drizzle. Other “drizzles” (which essentially are syrups) are chocolate and fruit flavored, and many customers opt to order chunks of fresh fruit topping.

Cloud 9 serves two sizes. The snack size, at 150 calories with 1 gram of fat, costs $3.79, and the regular size costs $4.79. Both sizes look like mountains because of the air that gets worked into the ice when it is shaved, but we promise you can eat it all. (The calorie count is proof!) One “drizzle” is included, and toppings are an additional $.69. Keeping up with the trends, Cloud 9, which opened a month and a half ago, serves its snow ice with biodegradable bowls and forks.

The only down side? No samples! Because snow ice can only be served freshly shaved from a large block, it’s impossible to spoon out of a bin like Ben & Jerry’s. But if we had to choose between Ben & Jerry’s and snow ice, we prefer the airy Taiwanese dessert. Check it out at Cloud 9 at 604 W. Belmont Ave., or watch below for a shaving tutorial:

Tara and Karina for TKGO

Hotel Bars

Many of my undisputed favorite drinking spots happen to be located in hotels. I think what mesmerizes me about a good hotel bar is how it feels like an integral part of its city, but also a separate retreat at the same time.

If you pick them (hotel bars) right, you end up with an entertaining mix of in-the-know locals and jetsetting visitors. And if you’re like Tara and me and won’t be posting up in any high-priced hotels any time soon (hello, recent college grad budget), it’s also the cheapest way to experience some of the more upscale, trendy and elegant digs.

Below are my current three favorites, all of which are scattered around the U.S. I’ll be traveling in Italy soon; any you recommend I check out over there?

21c Museum Hotel / Louisville, Kentucky / 700 W. Main St.

The 21c doubles as a contemporary art museum, which, if you know my penchant for contemporary art, pretty much makes it my favorite place ever. The bar area is long and narrow, decorated in whites and lit with bright pinks and purples. I was here Derby weekend, and it was definitely buzzing, but still maintained a relaxed feel. Stop by the elevator area to get in touch with your inner child and interact with one of the falling-letters works (picture below).

 

21c Museum Hotel Bar, by Karina for TKGO

 

 

Fun with falling letters, by Karina for TKGO

 

Four Seasons / Chicago / 120 E. Delaware Place

The median age at the Four Seasons probably hovers around 45, but it’s intimate, comfortable and relaxing. You never know who you’ll end up sitting next to and talking with, and that’s the best part of it. Since it’s small, pretty much everyone ends up meeting and chatting, even if that’s Emmitt Smith in town to film Oprah (true story), the friendliest bartenders in town — Paul’s the best — or some post-work colleagues.

 

Four Seasons Chicago bar, courtesy of official site

 

Bowery Hotel / New York, NY / 335 Bowery

Technically, you’re supposed to know someone to access the bar, but just slip any name at the door (if they even ask) and you’ll be fine. It attracts a young, trendy crowd, but anyone and everyone blends in and lets loose, from the hipster set to fashionistas and the occasional celebrity. The bar area is spacious, above street level and partially outdoors, which makes it a beautiful summer destination, and the indoor part includes an open area that is inevitably the site of dance parties.

 

Bowery Hotel, courtesy of Intoxicologist.wordpress.com

 

Karina for TKGO

Joining the Hunt for the Stanley Cup

Thanks to the Blackhawks’ win on Wednesday, the Stanley Cup has returned to Chicago after 49 years of absence.

Since 1995, tradition dictates each player gets 24 hours with the 34.5-pound Cup (and its Hockey Hall of Fame chaperone) during the year it remains in the team’s possession. What do the players do with it? In 1996, Colorado Avalanche assistant captain Sylvain Lefebvre and his wife had their first child and baptized her with the Stanley Cup. But lucky for Chicagoans, most players celebrate with it at bars and steakhouses.

 

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews hoists the Cup before the Crosstown Classic on Sunday, courtesy of Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT

 

If you plan to spend your summer hunting for the Cup (like us), you’ll need help from social media. Follow @WheresTheCup on Twitter to keep track of the Cup’s busy nights on the town. @BillyDec owns nightclubs Sunda, Underground and Rockit, and updates frequently. He let his followers know the Cup would appear at Rockit after the Crosstown Classic yesterday (and he’s really proud of his game 5 shots at the United Center). To learn about the Cup’s scheduled TV and other public appearances, follow @NHLBlackhawks. Google Maps helps pick out trends, like the Cup’s fetish for steakhouses, including Gibson’s, Harry Carey’s, and Tavern on Rush.

 

Google Maps users track the Stanley Cup

 

Since the parade through the streets of Chicago Friday morning, the Stanley Cup has been spotted at Wrigley Field for the Crosstown Classic on Sunday, and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Adam Burish and Patrick Sharp brought it to Underground, Sunda and Manor on Saturday night.

If you give up, tune into The Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight at 10:30 p.m. (CT) for a glimpse of the Cup at the end of the show. And if you’re up for a laugh, check out this love affair between the Cup and a soap opera actress in 2006:

Happy hunting, and comment if you catch it!

Tara for TKGO

Door County Getaway

Generally, I would leave the Wisconsin-related blogging to the Badger State native of our duo, Tara, however, my freshman-year roommate hails from Door County: a summer getaway destination in the thumb of Wisconsin. Recently, I took a jaunt up to her hometown with two other friends to experience a couple of days of Midwest vacation bliss.

With my former roommate as our tour guide, we filled our time in Door County with hiking, boating, delicious food and a drive-in. Below are some of my favorite eats and activities from the weekend.

Eat

White Gull Inn

Good Morning America recently crowned the White Gull Inn’s cherry stuffed French toast “Best Breakfast in America.” The sweet, fluffy cream cheese, fresh cherries and cinnamon sandwiched between French toast slices is irresistible, and the homespun ambience of the inn’s dining area is thoroughly pleasant. Next time I’m hoping to make it to one of the White Gull Inn fish boils.

 

Breakfast at White Gull Inn, by Karina for TKGO

 

Al Johnson’s

If you know anything about Door County, I bet you’ve heard of this place. It’s, as many refer to it, “the restaurant with the goats on the roof.” The Swedish restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the waitresses are outfitted in traditional Swedish dirndls. (Fun fact: My roommate used to work at Al Johnson’s and would wear her getup as a costume in college.) I recommend the Swedish pancakes — which resemble crepes more than fluffy diner flapjacks — with fresh fruit and of course, lingonberries.

 

Swedish pancakes at Al Johnson

 

Not Licked Yet

Like any good vacation town, ice cream options abound. My roommate has had time to try them all, and Not Licked Yet’s custard is her undisputed favorite. Chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch custard are the standard flavors, accompanied by a rotating flavor of the day. (When we stopped by it was Strawberry and Granola.) Enjoy your custard at lounge chairs or tables along the water, or finish it quickly to cavort on the massive swingset play area. You’re never too old, right?

 

Entrance to Not Licked Yet, by Karina for TKGO

 

Do

Boating

We were lucky enough to take a ride on one of my roommate’s smaller boats, (owning a boat, from what I understand, is almost a requirement for any Door County resident) but you also can pay to ride one out in the harbor, as well. Boat between towns or just head out in the water to observe the lush beauty of the area.

 

On the boat, Elena (L) and me

 

Hiking in Peninsula State Park

Climb to the top of the park’s observatory tower to take in the surroundings, and then choose your trail and spend some time in the woods, which will take you along the water and past geometric-looking, natural caves.

 

Inside one of the caves along a hiking trail at Peninsula State Park, by Karina for TKGO

 

Sunset at Fred & Fuzzy’s

Most of the tables at this bar/restaurant are outdoors, and I’m convinced there are fewer places in the world where it’s prettier to watch a sunset. Order a cherry margarita, a local favorite, and wait for the sun to go down.

 

Sunset at Fred & Fuzzy

 

Skyway Drive-In

I felt as though I was entering the set of Grease when we pulled up to the drive-in movies. Seven dollars a person gains you entrance to the two movies playing that night. The movies are current (Shrek Forever After and Iron Man 2 were on for us), but the advertisements are retro-cutesy.

 

Shrek Forever After at Skyway Drive-In, by Karina for TKGO

 

Karina for TKGO

Countdown to the World Cup 2010: Four Days

The World Cup isn’t all that happens in Cape Town.

Tune into the first matches this Friday, June 11 at 9 a.m. (CT) South Africa v. Mexico, and at 1:30 p.m. (CT) Uruguay v. France. Matches take place all over the country, but Cape Town is enough to entertain.

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Still not satisfied? Fill your house with the smell of Cape Town by making the Kalmanson family bobotie recipe. The traditional meat pie was invented by the Cape Malays.

Tara for TKGO