Go Madrid! Now turn right!

Madrid although a very walkable city has a ton museums, monuments, churches, palaces, stadiums, and plazas to see.  The problem is how do you go about conquering them all in just a few days.  Most would jump on the “now found in every major city, double-decker red bus tour”.  Where you can get on and off as you please and a headset tells you about the sites you are passing by in over 10 different languages.

However I have never been a fan of traditional sightseeing.  The more random the adventure the better.  So as you can imagine when I stumble upon something called a “GoCar” tour my imagination and fascination get the better of me.

What is a GoCar?

A GoCar is a hideously “pay attention to me” yellow, two-person trike.  It has no gas pedals or steering wheel, but rather drives like a motorcycle minus the gears.  It runs a tour off a programmed GPS route.  As you drive by the GoCar tells you the history of the sights you are passing, while giving you directions on where to go.

GoCar!

The Tour

As we pull out of the GoCar garage amped up and ready to take on Madrid from a tiny convertible, a foot off the ground — a young British woman begins to scream at us.  Not an innocent bystander or a passenger from a fellow car, but rather our GoCar herself.  She is shouting directions and “interesting” facts as we venture out onto the road carefully following each step with precaution. In the beginning there is little to no time to actually see anything we pass as we are overcome with laughter at the ridiculous car we are driving, our helmets, and matching boots.

A Serious GoCar Driver at Work

Matching Riding Boots

Rocking the Helmets

We meander down major streets, roundabouts and tiny cobblestone throughfares followed by constant onlookers — laughing, shouting, and snapping photos.  We turn from tourists lost in a crowd to GoCar spokeswomen and the laughing-stock of Madrid.  As we drive down the “snobby” street of Madrid, or so the GoCar screams as we are stopped at a light with 20 plus people trying to cross. Warding off the stares, the light turns green and we drive straight — out of nowhere a Volkswagon turns without acknowledging our minor existence on the road and crash right into the left corner of our GoCar!!

As we sit in the GoCar completely shocked, both cars butting noses.  A woman in the VW begins screaming at us in Spanish out the window.  As we can’t back up because the car has no reverse, I scream to my co-pilot to get out and push!  Alarmed yet?  No worries, this story has a happy ending, we didn’t get pinged with some crazy GoCar fee or have to get the local policia involved, but it did give us an adventure we will never forget.  (The accident was really minor and not our fault.  No damage was done!)

It’s defiantly not a conventional way to see a city, nor is it accident proof, but we had a hell of a time and a great story to add to the books.  Just remember if your decide to take your own GoCar tour — it’s at your own risk!

GoCar Cities

  • San Francisco
  • San Diego
  • Madrid
  • Barcelona
  • Lisbon

Cost in Madrid

  • 1st Hour       35 Euros
  • 2nd Hour    +25 Euros
  • 3rd Hour     +20 Euros
  • All Day         99 Euros

Madrid. Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow.

Palace de Cristal

The past, the present and the future are notions, measures of time that we are taught to live from, in, and for.  However does anyone ever prepare you for the moment when you encounter a place, a culture or a lifestyle that stands one foot in the past and one foot in the present with the future not yet determined?

Calle de Santiago

Segovia

Madrid and its countryside have caused me to re-think what I once considered to be two measures of time.  Castles from the 1600s, aqueducts built by the Romans, traditions that run through the blood of each generation, a common reluctance if not inability to speak outside their native tongue.  The people and the places within Madrid and its nearby suburbs live and tell the story of Spain in the past.

However, the Madrid I experienced today is what simply seems to be an adaptation of the past.  Of course Madrid has its fair share of modern cuisine, technology, transportation, architecture, etc.  Yet, the surroundings and the way of life are based on a simple balance of how it has always been done and minor changes that have been accepted — in time.

Modern Madrid

Segovia Aqcueduct

It’s the contrast of the city that I found most appealing.  The Plaza Mayor with its traditional Spanish architecture, cafes, and coin shops which sits adjacent to the newly restored and updated Mercado San Miguel.  An old covered market that has recently been restored only to become a center for high quality local food products, tapas, and drink.  A Roman aqueduct stands since the 1st century, yet the street leading up to it is full of sunglasses, lingerie, and mobile telephone stores.

The contrast can be mesmerizing at every turn, yet the most enduring quality of Madrid is the attitude to everyday life.  The difference between Americans and Spaniards is that Americans spend their entire life trying to figure it out — where as Spaniards simply live it.

The average workday is long yet nobody complains, 8am – 8pm with a 1.5 – 2 hour “Lunch” break around 2 o’clock (biggest meal of the day) .  Dinner begins around 10pm and consists mainly of small plates or tapas.  They never stay in one place for too long, they live for family, friends, food, and drink.  They are passionate, loud, and energetic.  They make this city and this country easy to fall in love with.

Museo del Jamon

Tapas with Friends

My hope is that Spain stands its ground — one foot based in the past with their history, tradition, and lifestyle… yet continues to adapt to the world around it, taking only those aspects of the present and the future that will encourage the country and it’s people to grow stronger than that of which they already are.

A Beer Induced Crawl in Northern Philly

I know of only two types of Pub Crawls.  The first being the obvious — a rambunctious group of heavy drinkers looking for a night out on the town full of intoxicated conversations, full belly laughter, and a constant competition of who will be the last one standing.  I have seen these types of Pub Crawls all over the world, most of the time the target market is that of Americans, English, and Australians.  I will leave you to decipher your own reasoning why that is.  I have seen them in cities as far away as Rome to as nearby as Santa Monica.  Some have involved grown adults swerving around town on plastic Playskool trikes or a mob of people decked out in hideous light up Christmas sweaters in the middle of July.  Pub Crawl type one is the ridiculous.  The one that has a time and a place in every college students life — and in my opinion should stay that way.

 Pub Crawl type two is one with the anticipation of sampling and trying out several different watering hole establishments in one evening.  It lacks the competition of the first, but makes up for it in the quality of the liberation choices.  It can be commercially organized or arranged by an individual.  It is a gathering of friends and sometimes even family in an occasion of great foods, drinks, conversation, and exercise.  Exercise?  Okay, not quite, but its more fun to believe the prior scenario.  Type two seems to be less ridiculed by society and acceptable by most.

My most recent pub crawl (one of a type two nature) was in Philadelphia.  Our nation’s birth place, has been the home to big drinkers for several centuries.  Today pub crawls of both types can be enjoyed and hopeful conquered at establishments of all kinds throughout the cities plentiful neighborhoods.

Organized Pub Crawls in Philadelphia:

On Your Own Northern Liberties & Fishtown Crawl

Location of America's First Lager!

Northern Liberties is said to be home to “America’s First Lager” and they have a plaque placed within the neighborhood limits by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to prove it.  That being said what better place to begin.

The Abbaye

1.  The Abbaye

 The Abbaye is a bar of all bar’s.  A place that as you step through the door your instantly feel at home.  They primarily curate their beer selection with a focus on Belgian beers, but typically keep 6 or so taps open for regional favorites.

North 3rd's Eclectic Vibe

2.  North 3rd

A step up in expectations when entering North 3rd. The decor is random and eccentric, yet inviting and comfortable.  A paper mache eagle hangs over the bar reminding the patrons of their American Pride as they choose from a small but well thought-out list of beers.  A perfect place to sit outside on a summer’s night or kick back and watch a baseball game while feasting on some impeccable apps.

Standard Tap - Behind the Bar

3.  Standard Tap

A bar of all bars Standard Tap proudly only serves local craft brews — including 2 cask beers and 20 rotating taps — no bottled beer here.  Standard Tap’s philosophy of all things local not only applies to the beers but also to their menu and ingredients.  A hot spot for a connoisseur of beer.  A hearty local menu for a foodie.

Johnny Brenda's

4.  Johnny Brenda’s

Johnny Brenda’s is the Standard Tap for hipsters — all local craft brews, great food, with the addition of live music.  The live music draws a young crowd as does the atmosphere — dark wooden tables studded with LED lights, a giant digital iPod jukebox, and a vibe that tempts you to keep put all night long.

Frankford Hall Outdoor Beer Garden

5.  Frankford Hall

A step in a completely different direction from the previous bars, Frankford Hall, located in Fishtown, is Philadelphia’s largest beer garden.  A Stephen Starr, venture that is geared toward the serious and not so serious beer drinkers.  Frankford Hall is designed with reclaimed metal, giant glass garage doors open to reveal a giant courtyard complete with ping-pong tables and giant communal tables.

Frankford Hall has 9 taps composed of both traditional and craft German brews.  You are given the choice 12oz, .5 liter and 1 liter glasses, so you better come ready to drink your weight in beer.  However what’s a German beer garden without the brats!  No worries, Starr did not discount this tradition, diners can order at a walk up counter and take their seats to be served.  The brats are nothing other than superb, honestly the best I have ever had (I have not yet been to Germany).  The casing pops in your mouth, the mustard is not overpowering but rather a perfect complement. Oh and the sauerkraut!  Wow I just never knew.

Frankford Hall is an experience.  One to be enjoyed by all generations.  Next time you’re in Philly grab the whole family, all your friends — clink glass and cheers to good times.

View Northern Liberties/Fishtown Pub Crawl in a larger map

Cheers!

If you looking to include a little Northern Liberties sightseeing in your Bar Crawl, check out National Geographic Traveler’s Streets of Philadelphia On Foot.

I <3 NY: The High Line

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The High Line

I strongly feel that people tend to lean toward one living environment over the other.   There are those that want to feel the energy of the city and those that yearn for the smell of the ocean.  People that love the comfort of the suburbs and those that crave the beauty of the mountains.  As a collective whole we may not always have the privilege of laying roots in our dream location, but most of us find a compromise that works.  After high school I couldn’t get out fast enough, I could not imagine myself working or living in New York, no matter how much I loved it.

Today cities are changing their tune — locals, architects, engineers, they are all beginning to realize the importance of incorporating nature into a city layout, in turn combining features that have for so long divided the city lovers from those that crave a sense of nature.  The High Line project in downtown Manhattan has brought a sense of peace, relaxation, and outdoors to neighborhoods like the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, Clinton, Hell’s Kitchen, and the West Side Rail Yards.

What is The High Line?

In 1847 the city of New York authorized a street level railroad system on the Lower West Side to help with all the local imports and exports. From 1851 – 1929 an enormous number of accidents occurred in the area, so much so that 10th Avenue became know as “Death Avenue”.  The city decided they must step in, they put the West Side Improvement Project underway.  The project was to build the railroad on a 3 story high platform, called the High Line, eliminating 105 street-level railroad crossings.  The project cost over $150 million in 1930 dollars, that’s more than $2 billion today.  The project was finished in 1934 and trains efficient and effectively moved goods in and out of the city for more than 20 years.  After twenty years the use of the Interstate Highways became more efficient and the High Line became nearly useless.

Over the next several decades there were acts to demolish the still existing high-line platform as well as acts to save it.  In 2002, The Design Trust for Public Space, contracts architect Casey Jones to conduct research and outreach for a planning study that will layout the framework for the High Lines’s preservation and reuse.  The City soon hops on board and a competition for design ideas are held.  Nearly 720 teams from 36 different countries submit their proposals and are displayed in Grand Central Station.  Shortly after in 2003, Mayor Bloomberg offers city funding for the project and a design team is selected.  James Corner Field Operations, a landscape architecture firm, Dillar Scofidio + Renfrom, and architecture firm that specializes in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, and public art.  Building began in 2006 and Section 1 opened to the public on June 9th, 2009 and Section 2 on June 8th, 2011.

Watch this amazing video rendering below!

High Line Highlights

High Line Highlights

High Line Food

  • L’Arte Del Gelato:   Artisanal gelato and sorbetto made of fresh ingredients.
    • Where: Chelsea Market Passage, on the High Line near West 16th Street
    • When:  Daily: 11:00 AM – 10:00 AM
  • Blue Bottle:  Espresso bar, Drip coffees prepared to order, iced coffees, and house-made baked goods.
    • Where: Chelsea Market Passage, on the High Line near West 16th Street
    • When:  Monday – Friday, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Saturday – Sunday, 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM
  • Melt Bakery:  Ice cream, offering unique and delicious flavor combinations mashed between two cookies.
    • Where: Gansevoort Plaza, below the High Line at Gansevoort and Washington Streets
    • When:  Friday: 1:00 PM – 10:00 PM; Saturday – Sunday: 12:00 Noon – 10:00 PM
  • La NewYorkina:  Ice pops in flavors that range from mango-chili to hibiscus to fresh coconut.
    • Where: The Lawn, on the High Line near West 23rd Street
    • When:  Daily: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
  • People’s Pops:  Greenmarket fruit-based ice pops and shaved ice.
    • Where: Chelsea Market Passage, on the High Line near West 16th Street
    • When:  Daily: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
  • The Porch:  40-seat, open-air cafe with sweeping views of the Hudson River. Ingredients all coming from local family farms exercising humane and environmentally friendly practices, offers fresh, seasonal, and delicious fare, including the bruschettas and sandwiches, fruit, and wine and beer from New York State.
    • Where: On the High Line at West 15th Street
    • When:  Daily: 12:00 Noon – 9:00 PM

The park is built directly adjacent to city buildings

The picture framed High Line from the street below

High Line Park Information

The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues. Section 1 of the High Line, which opened to the public on June 9, 2009, runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. Section 2, between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.

Hours

The High Line is open from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM daily. Last entrance to the park is at 10:45 PM.

Map

I <3 NY: A Tour Designed Just For The Likes of Foodies

Chelsea Market Map Diorama

Meatpacking District

Foods of New York: Chelsea Market & Meatpacking District

Savory originals, Italian delicacies, and destination restaurants are all included on a sightseeing tour of a different kind.  A tour that not only dives into the history of the Chelsea and the Meatpacking neighborhoods of Manhattan, but the foods and flavors that help to define and embody the local culture.

Today’s Chelsea Market lives in the once factory of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), which in the 1890’s was in mass production of Saltine Crackers and Oreo Cookies.  For over 60 year’s the National Biscuit Company, went on manfacturing some of the countries favorite packaged baked goods –Vanilla Wafers, Fig Newtons, Barnum’s Animal Crackers, and the Mallomar.

In 1959 the factory closed the doors of its Manhattan factory and for the next 30 years  – 22 structures, making up 2 million square feet of space sat empty in an area of the city that began to deteriate and fall victim to crime, underground sex clubs, and gangs.  In the 1990’s, investor Irwin B. Cohen organized a syndicate to buy the old National Biscuit Company for $1.0 million. It was Cohen’s purchase of this space in the 90’s that would change the history of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District forever.

Today the Chelsea Market is home to over 35 specialty food vendors, the lofts above are offices/studios for The Food Network, MLB, and the O Network.  The old factory floors have been kept original and weave through the central market, as you wonder past an entanglement of unused ducts, old baking elevators, a broken pipe waterfall, the original train shed, old signboards and other original details.  Cohen wanting to create a remembrance of what this space was in the past has left fragments of the National Biscuit heritage all over the complex.

Chelsea Market Central Hall

Foods of New York does a tour throughout the Chelsea Market and Meatpacking District, tour guide Diana (rhymes with banana) was passionate and full of details that pertained to all audiences. She shared her enthusiasm about food and love for new york.  We walked the Chelsea Market stopping to drool and sometimes taste the deliciousness being offered.

Chelsea Market Tastings:

  • Amy’s Breads – artesinal French-American bakery (Est. 1992) – TASTING:  Fresh french baguette
  • Ronny Brook Milk Bar – offshoot from the farm (Est. 1950) – TASTING:  Chocolate Milk made with natural coca beans
  • Sarabeth’s Bakery – gourmet American bakery (Est. 1981) – TASTING:  Biscuit & Jam
  • Lobster Place – high end wholesale / retail fish market (Est. 1974) – TASTING:  Lobster Bisque, New England Clam Chowder
  • Buon Italia – wholesale/retail Italian specialty food shop (Est. 1997) – TASTING:  Speck, Mortadella, Artichoke Spread, Cioppino Onions
  • Chelsea Market Baskets – gourmet specialty food shop (Est. 1997) – TASTING:  Cheese with carmelized onion con feit
  • Eleni’s – Classic American bakery (Est. 1985) – TASTING:  Red Velvet Cupcake with buttermilk frosting

After wiping the drool from our chins, we exited the market to continue the tour in the Meatpacking district stopping for a private showing (not during opening hours) of two destination restaurants, Morimoto & Del Posto.  The coined term “destination restaurant” describes a dining experience that is strong enough to draw customers from outside the local community.  These two restaurants are said to have drawn customers from as close as the Tri-State area and as far as cross country, possibly even further.

Morimoto opened it’s doors first in Philadelphia in 2001 and later in New York’s Chelsea District.  Masaharu Morimoto, best known as chef of the world reknown Nobu restaurant and for his role as an Iron Chef. This is not your a-typical sushi restaurant, the sushi is not served with wasabi or soy-sauce — an don’t you dare ask for some, as those two common staples are believed to decrease the flavor of the fish. A chef’s menu or “omakase” is a multi-course tasting menu designed to allow you to experience the true delicacies of Morimoto’s cusine and come highly recommended ($120 a person). If your a sushi-lover ready to step outside your box Morimoto is a great place to start.

Del Posto, Mario Batalli’s baby, has been awarded 4 stars by The New York Times, the first Italian restaurant to be given 4 stars since the 1970s.  They also hold the record for the most extravagant dining experience in New York, conclusive of a 12-course tasting menu for two at the small cost of $1269.00, before wine :).  Del Posto’s decor and ambiance are that of luxury, deep colors, private dining spots, and a endless wine collection.  A special experience sure to go down in the books.  It is even said that all plates are served to a table of guests at precisely the same time, whether you are a table of 2 or 8.

A Local NYC Butcher Still Working in the Meatpacking District

After opening our eyes to the type of restaurants that now exist in the neighborhood, Diana led us to the Meatpacking District.  A part of the city that is rich with history — one in which many people wish to turn their heads too.  In the 1900’s this area was home to over 250 slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, but as the times and technology enhanced they were able to move these plants outside the city and import the products in from New Jersey.  In the 1980s only 10 slaughterhouses still existed and the area became known as a center for drug dealing and prostitution.  Over a dozen sex clubs surged in the area.  At the center of the scene was the members-only club, controlled by the mafia, it was forced to shut down by the city at the height of AIDS prevention.  The area began to become somewhat of an outlaw.

In 1997, restaurantuer Keith McNally, saw the area as an opportunity, he dreamed up and opened Pastis.  The motto, “If you build it, they will come,” did not work for McNally.  New Yorkers were not ready to give up the stigma of the preceding years in the Meatpacking district.  McNally devised an ingenous plan, when his other restaurants were full with reservations, hosts and hostess would offer up Pastis, however the catch was to provide limo service to and from the restaurant for free!  Something a New Yorker cannot pass up is a free limo ride.  McNally’s theory worked, within a few year’s the Meatpacking District had lost its negative stigma and transformed into grand loft apartments, designer boutiques, and world reknowned restaurants.

Today the area is home to some of the city’s hottest nightclubs, boutiques and showrooms like Diane Von Furstenberg and Catherine Malandrino, and the newly added Highline Park.

Macelleria

As we wandered through the Meatpacking District we were bought into Macelleria, a local Italian restaurant, in which everything is made with the utmost perfection.  Chef’s are Italian immigrants and know their food!  If you find yourself wandering the area, steer clear of the tourist traps and head straight here.  At Macelleria we endulged in a sit down tasting, making you eagar to simple stay for another meal.

Meatpacking District Tastings:

  • Macelleria – Italian Steak House (Est. 2000) – TASTING:  Sit down tasting, Homemade pasta with Ox Tail Ragu

All in all the tour was fantastic.  I would recommend this to anyone looking to experience a New York different from which you already know or at least a side you would like to know better.  When searching for a food tour try out “Foods of New York”  they run tours through many different Manhattan neighborhoods and give you an insight and taste into the life a local New Yorker.

Other Foods of New York Tours:

Cost:  Tours range from $47 – $65 a person
Length:  Most tours are approximately 3 hours long
Tastings:  You get at least 5 tastings on all Foods of NY tours

I <3 NY: An Ode to Food

Hello Big Apple!  How lovely you are in the summertime, even the 99F temperatures and 80% humidity, doesn’t stop your streets from being alive with sundress clad New Yorkers, stroller pushing mom’s, and camera toting tourists.  The city that never sleeps seems to embrace the motto more boldly this time of year.

From Broadway

From Broadway

This short series of posts (“I ❤ New York”)  are an ode to New York City, however not that of the copper lady statue, Time Square lights, Central Park activities, or world-renowned museums. Having grown up outside of New York City from 6 years old to 19 years old, I have already been fortunate enough to see the sights of Central Park, Time Square, 5th Avenue, The Guggenheim, Greenwich Village, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the GW Bridge, the MOMA to simply name a few.   Instead this is a tribute to the tastes and flavors that have originated from the 1.5 million people calling the island of Manhattan their home.