I swear to God, when I walk down the little pathway to my front door every morning and look East this is the view I have of Lake Michigan. I mean, can you imagine? How the heck did I get so lucky to find a super-adorable little place (with a fireplace, mind you) this insanely close to the lake? Cheesy as it sounds, it's just such a total joy to come home every night and know that yep! tomorrow morning when I wake up the lake will still be there--I am always just totally stunned. Needless to say, this summer I am gonna get me a little kayak and this little patch of beach will become my put in for some big time adventures. I also plan on slowly discovering every single restaurant in my new 'hood (East Rogers Park)---which will be made much easier by using this handy new website I was just turned onto--Urbanspoon. It's quite a brilliant collection of various citywide reviews of a plethora of restaurants all across the city...and if they just tag in some photos, well, they'll have a 100% winner on their hands~~
Bar none, the very next 'hood poised to become the hottest ticket in town is East Rogers Park—specifically the tucked away pocket near Howard Street. It might take a few years and some major riff-raff clean out, but there is no better location in the city ready for revamping. It's near the lake, the L rumbles nearby, real estate is crazy cheap and do-gooder Evanston is just around the bend. Any remotely in-the-know outsider would say that you'd better get in while you can.
Try telling that to the owners of Jamaica Jerk, though. They've been in their sunny location for more than two years, and not a single new tenant has penetrated their stretch of Howard. Hell, if anything, folks have cleared out. All the better, though; it just makes for an easy dining choice for me, and a BYOB one, no less.
There are hundreds of game reserves in South Africa...all claiming to be better than the next. It's almost impossible to choose which one to go to, but Entabeni (Place of the Mountain) is one of the better ones. We went there over X-mas and had the most fantastic time...scoping out all the animals, playing hectic games of Scattegories, eating like mad, trekking through the bush (of course, my favorite part was discovering and documenting all the various animal's poo), and drinking lots of wine. I stayed in the Ravineside Lodges (picture on left)--which are these little huts on stilts looking out over the majestic ravine. I really wanted to climb that mountain but Simon (our guide) claims there's no trail. I was totally entranced by it and have more pictures of it than of the actual animals. Entabeni is in malaria-free Waterberg (insanely beautiful) and about a 3-hour drive from Jo'burg. The last 45 is spent weaving your way to the lodge on a windy dirt road--literally in the middle of nowhere~
The only town that's really a town worth exploring on Zanzibar island is the broiling village of Stonetown, a world-famous UNESCO World Heritage site. All you really need is one day to explore the bustling bazaars, the dusty curio shops (never have I seen so many brilliant compasses and gorgeous sextant's), the wretched fish market (I almost hurled at every turn due to the layers of flies, blood and bugs covering the fresh fish), the lovely fruit market (much better), the packed mosque's, and the striking marina. The town is a labyrinth of tiny winding streets (no cars allowed, but a fly-by motorbike will practically kill you every few minutes) with ancient Arab details. There are all these old brass-studded wooden doors everywhere which are just stunning. The place is such a delight to get lost in and these tiny street vendors sell the most delicious food out of their glass encased cabinets (mini fried fish cakes, hell...fried everything!) for like .50 cents each. Have a sundowner (a nice mojito for me) upstairs in the lounge at The Africa House (one of the nicer hotels in the heart of town) and watch all the wooden dhow's ease in with their catch of the day. If you are staying at one of the resorts on the coast, they will want to sell you a day tour of Stonetown, but it is better to catch a ride into town or simply rent a car and see the entire thing on your own...nobody likes trolling around with crowds of tourists looking at slave quarters. Do you??
*Also Freddy Mercury (from Queen) was born here and has a perfect little restaurant in the marina that has great food (seared tuna) and makes a killer mojito...it's called Mercury's.
I haven't been a beer drinker since my early 20's...I find it to be one of the most horrifying drinks in the world to be honest with you. But, sometimes and I mean sometimes...I have a major craving for it. It usually comes whirling out of nowhere--like on the beach in Mexico after frying all day in the sun or when I think about the Carolina coast and have a hankering for oysters on the half shell (what better to wash it down with than an icy cold one?). While I was in Z'bar I went sailing one day out to this tiny little island (there was a pitstop on the way there at this speck of a pure white sandbank where the snorkeling was intense) and the happy-go-lucky sailing crew had grilled up all these fat prawns and giant lobsters on the beach and in their handy coolers, loaded down with ice, were these HUGE Kilimanjaro beers. Now, come on...I've gotta crack into one of those, right? Meanwhile, they were so gigantic and it was so sweltering, I couldn't get 3 -4 slugs down before it was piss warm...so, I'd turn them over to the non-English speaking boat crew and demand (to their sheer delight) another one. They were excited that I was blowing through so many...the more for them to slam down whilst tucked away behind a swaying palm tree munching on a fistful of lifted octopus ringlets. I still despise beer, but when in such lovely tropical locations, one must do as the locals do. No doubt about it~~p.s. I 've also been known to toss back a Bohemia here and there (thanks to Lisa).
*Oh and FYI--the local currency in Zanzibar is the SHILLING; you need a yellow fever shot to get into and out of the country (which you can get at the clinic in the J'bg airport for about $50); and you can buy a visa on arrival at the tiny airport on Zanzibar island...just in case you're thinkin' of hitting the road soon (man, it's easy)...
Bloody hell, now this is the kinda photo I'm talking about. Since coming back from the southern hemisphere, I have been hit with nothing but snow, gray skies and very little sunshine. What a bunch of baloney. Just one week ago, I was on the glorious island of Zanzibar off the coast of Africa sailing and eating salty lobster cooked on a deserted beach. Yikes! What happened? What was I thinking coming home? The blues of the water in Z'bar are surreal. Deep pockets of midnight blue patches right beside the lightest, palest blue you can imagine. It makes for utterly fantastic snorkeling and diving (though I'm told Nosy Be in Madagascar is the best diving in the world and I need a whole new trip there sometime really soon) and you cannot imagine how phenomenal it feels to sail out to a tiny island and literally jump off the boat into crystal clear waters...in the hundred degree temp no less. Summer is Chicago is just around the corner, right? Right????
Nostalgia is a funny thing. For me, it's the most intense blob of emotion flowing through my veins. Whether it's the slow memory of an old lover's lingering gaze or the first sip of a well-made Cuba Libre (rum, coke and lime) that takes me straight back to a lush Caribbean island (man, the tan I had), the sensation that is nostalgia is the most beautiful thing I can think of. Especially when it comes to food. All I can say is, bring on the late-night flashbacks.
It was a mere few days ago that I returned from another wild sojourn in the majestic country of South Africa. I was there for a few months working on an epic documentary about Oprah's plans to open a girl's school in a small suburb of Johannesburg. Of course, as hectic as the production schedule was, I still managed to make time to eat and drink like mad. But as many prawns, mojitos, halloumi cheese salads and Red Bull's as I slammed, all that I really craved was flavorful Cuban grub. To be more specific, La Unica, a warm restaurant in the back of a tidy grocery store on Devon Avenue was the main senorita singing my name. This sort of homestyle, primitive food simply doesn't exist in modern-day South Africa.
Never, ever in my life have I seen anything as cute as these baby lion cubs. They are the most precious little creatures I have ever come across, and these particular two were being guarded by a wild-eyed timberwolf at Glen Afric (a private game reserve just outside of Johannesburg) that thought it was their mama (you have to take them away from their real mama's because she might kill them). While I was there for New Years, I also got to see hippo, giraffes, lions, tigers, leopards, wildebeests, zebras and tons of other happy animals. I also tasted--how could I not--warthog. They'd slung a whole one on the pit and fired it up for the New Years bonfire. I only had one bite, but it was delish. I mean, who the heck eats warthog? The South African's love it--they are mad meat eaters...
Oh, and the tent accommodations were awesome--complete with claw foot bathtub dead in the bush.
Just as the Oprah documentary project was wrapping up last week in South Africa, I decided it was high time for me to take a little vaca. I was THIS close to taking the quick hop down to edge-of-the-earth Cape Town (next time!), but at the very last second, I decided to go a little more exotic and off-beat. All I wanted was to be dead alone, a crystal blue beach and some R-U-M. Out of nowhere, Johanna (a delightful woman who runs a travel agency in JBG) came up with a last minute flight to Zanzibar. It had been on my list of places to go, but I guess I'd forgotten how close it was to South Africa (3.5 hour flight later and you land on Z'bar island and are in a totally different world). Thank God I went there--from snorkeling on tiny, remote sandbanks and eating grilled lobster on a deserted beach (plus I slammed my first beer that I've had in YEARS--a huge, icy-cold Kiliminjaro), to eating the most insane tropical fruits, to guzzling stout caphirinas, to touring lush spice farms (the highlight of my year!), to befriending a local social butterfly named Abhi and buying him a drink at Mercury's (Freddy Mercury's lovely bar/restaurant on the beach in Stone Town), to sailing on an ancient slave-trading sailing vessel (jahazi), to getting the tan of the century...I had the most stunning time. That is the best part about Africa--it is the jump off point to so many other cultures and regions. Of course, now I'm all about buying a place in Cape Town to fuel my next adventures....yikes!
This is the longest I have gone without posting even a tiny little entry on food or travel. I'm just as stunned as you guys are...But, I have very good reason--Since early December, I was caught up in the MAD, MAD world that is South Africa (with an roller coaster ride to dusty/beautiful Zanzibar on the tail end)! But, now I am am home and once I get myself settled back into my new place (major jet lag is settling in right now after the 2 day trip home), I will be back on track and detailing all my glorious discoveries of this enchanting land. Every where you turn, there is just one beautiful vista after another, the people are gorgeous and forever loving, the rum drinks are aplenty (I somehow developed the HIGHEST tolerance of my life for mojitos, caphirinas, DOUBLE Captain and cokes and the whirlwind of tequila shots on this shoot)--it's definitely seared its way into my heart and soul over the past months.
But--I'm also delighted to be home--it seems as if dozens of new restaurants popped up while I was gone and some resourceful readers also brought some old gems to my attention. I can't wait to have a tamale and cafe con leche at La Unica asap...I have missed this cozy restaurant the most of all!
More to come~~~