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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Cancún’s Beach and Beyond

Our seven-day itinerary incorporates the best times to avoid the crowds at the beach and the most enticing experiences the surrounding area has to offer.

Sunday: kick off with Mexican flavor

Avoid the weekend beach crowds by heading Downtown for an afternoon of Mexican culture. Occupying a full city block, Mercado 28 is a maze-like market of colorful local souvenir stands, where vendors call out to you in Spanglish offering sunglasses, sarongs, traditional Maya dresses and handmade jewelry. In the center is a courtyard surrounded by inexpensive open-air eateries, while the market’s northern corner is aptly named ‘Plaza Bonita’ for its pretty (bonita) buildings.

Once the sun goes down, take a stroll to nearby Avenida Yaxchilán for dinner at La Parrilla (laparrilla.com.mx). Here, the harmonized melodies of strolling mariachi bands set the mood for a true cena Mexicana. Locals and travelers alike rave about the tacos al pastor, and the Margarita Especial just might be the perfect treat for your first night out in Cancún. Finish your evening with a walk to the food stands at Las Palapas Park for a traditional marquesita, a Yucatán treat made of a hot and crispy crêpe-like roll (best when filled with the salty-sweet combination of shredded edam cheese and Nutella spread).

Monday: get initiated into the Cancún beach scene

Today’s destination trades the Caribbean Sea’s characteristic turquoise for streaks of pale and navy blue. The pool-like Playa Langosta (Lobster Beach) remains a ‘local secret’, its knee-deep water perfect for swimming and the occasional school of tiny white fish make it worth bringing your snorkel. Arrive by 10am on any weekday and you just might have the place to yourself.

For the evening, dress up a little for dinner at La Habichuela Sunset, known for its gourmet blend of Maya, Mexican and Caribbean cuisines. This restaurant is best appreciated when you arrive before sunset to fully enjoy the Nichupté Lagoon views. The dramatic two-story dining room features Maya-inspired decor, but the outdoor garden provides a more romantic setting.

Tuesday: scream like Tarzan

Ranking as one of the most loved day trips in the area, Selvatica takes you 45 minutes away from Cancún for a day of outdoor jungle fun. Cenotes and tree canopy tours are popular, and in addition to its high-flying traditional zip lines, Selvatica also has a rollercoaster-style zip line and the extra fast ‘Superman’, plus a few other bravery-testing leaps of faith.

After a day of flying, grappling and screaming your way through the jungle, you’ll want to recharge your energy. So tiny you might miss it, the Surfin Burrito serves up California-style burritos and tacos with just three tables in an open-air reggae-inspired setting. They’re open 24/7 in case you crave a snack after a night at the nearby clubs later in the week.

Wednesday: tourist for a day

Cancún’s busiest beach goes by two names: its official title is Playa Gaviota Azul, but locals just call it Playa Forum after its location behind The Forum shopping center. Weekends here are for music and beach-club crowds, but weekdays are for spreading your towel on the sand or splashing in the waves. To get calmer waters, walk to the northern end by the jetty.

A few hours on the sand will have your belly rumbling for sodas and lunch, so grab some classic Mexican flavors at Taco Factory, set in the nearby alleyway tucked between the nightclubs of Party Center.

Thursday: cooling off in a cenote

Less than two hours south of Cancún lie the ruins of the walled Maya city of Tulum, made even more spectacular by their oceanfront setting. Hire an on-site guide so you can fully understand the history of each building, then take the staircase down the cliffside to the sands below the pyramids for a few hours of beach time.

If you still need to cool off before returning to Cancún, stop by Cenote Azul right on the highway half an hour north of Tulum. Laid-back travelers will love snorkeling the shallower side of the cenote, while adventurers can jump off the small cliff again and again into the crystal clear pool of water below

7 Best Spots For an Aperitivo in Milan

 In the shadow of the Duomo

Located right next to the Duomo, Straf Bar is where young fashionistas tend to gather. Don’t feel intimidated though, the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. An extension of the design hotel, the bar resembles a tiny art gallery, but if the weather is good try and join the locals outside on the red sofas.

Where the hip things hang

For something creative, seek out Rita in the vibrant Navigli area, where the bartenders aren’t afraid to get inventive with their ingredients. With a wide selection of spirits arranged like a liquor library behind the bar, a drink can mean anything from a classic Campari-based pick-me-up to a sharp Gin Zen (gin, ginger, sugar and lime cordial). The nibbles change, but expect homemade pizzettas, plump green olives and stacks of vegetable crudités.

The bar that turns back the clock

One of Navigli’s more unique spots, Mag Café sells a remarkable array of cocktails with the drinks menu changing regularly. Inside, it’s all a bitMidnight in Paris as bartenders dressed in braces handcraft extraordinary cocktails, each served in a 1920s-style glass. Try and grab a seat on the small terrace where there are some serene canal-side views.

The bar where it all started

With velvet chairs and polished wooden tables, little has changed sinceBar Basso first introduced the aperitivo to Milan. As bowls of olives and plates of crisps find their way to the tables, smartly dressed bartenders still shake up signature Negroni Sbagliatos under the shimmer of a crystal chandelier. The sparkling cocktail, which comes with a huge hand-cut cube of ice, even has its own glass – a huge goblet known the Colossus.

Something a little stylish

Little brother to the acclaimed Milan bistro Pisacco, Dry strikes the perfect balance between tipples and nibbles with carefully assembled cocktails and pizzas so good they deserve their own restaurant. Michelin-starred chef Andrea Berton is the man behind this stylish idea; wash down the calzone (stewed onions, baked olives in anchovy butter with smoked cheese) with an ever-popular Gin Gin Mule (Tanqueray 10 gin, fresh mint, sharp lime and ginger beer).

A vintage emporium

Close to Porta Romana, Lacerba is an Aladdin’s cave for aesthetes, with bright Fortunato Depero prints adorning the walls and all manner of objects (empty bottles, miniature VW campers, a bike) hanging from the ceiling. Arrive early to get a seat at the low, mismatched tables and try the Bloody Mary, which can be served in eight different ways, including a fiery variation with tequila, yellow pepper and turmeric.

Drink with a biker gang

It can feel like you’re trespassing when you first arrive at the main gate of the Deus Café (deuscustoms.com), but get past the door and you’ll be immediately dragged into a world of motorcycles, bikes and surfboards. A bar, shop and workshop rolled into one, this hip place has a great selection of beers and cocktails and serves a classic selection of finger food and antipasti too.

7 Top Attractions in The Limerick, Treaty City

 Limerick’s history has not always been sunny: three centuries ago it was besieged by Cromwellian forces and in the early 00s a wave of organised crime crippled the city’s reputation. But it’s always been a safe city for visitors and a whopping €1 billion investment strategy has smartened up sights including King John’s Castle and the riverside quays. Thomond Park Stadium is a massive shrine to the local fixation with rugby, and the city’s recent inclusion as an estuary spur route from the Wild Atlantic Way is blowing fresh air along its narrow medieval lanes and neat Georgian avenues.

This may be Ireland’s third largest city, but the centre is walkable and just 20 minutes’ drive from Shannon Airport.

Walk English Town

A 3km amble through Limerick’s Medieval Quarter delivers a rapid rundown of Ireland’s history from the 12th century until the Flight of the Wild Geese in 1691. The ‘wild geese’ were the Irish Jacobite army who were defeated at the hands of William I, effectively ending James II’s chance of reclaiming the British crown. They signed a treaty to protect Catholics from penal laws before flocking off into self-exile, but it secured little more than Limerick’s nickname.

King John’s Castle (named after the king of Robin Hood fame) is the highlight of the marked route around English Town. Having dominated the city’s shoreline for over 800 years, it’s fresh from a €6m facelift and is brim-full of interactive gadgetry and sword-fighting shenanigans.

The turreted limestone belfry at Saint Mary’s Cathedral has called worshippers from the city and surrounding countryside to mass with the peel of its eight harmonious bells since the 15th century. The church is crammed full of idiosyncratic features including a leper’s peephole, carved misericords, royal tombs and a 4m altar that was once nabbed by Oliver Cromwell’s merry men.

Tackle rugby

A 10-minute walk from the city centre is Thomond Park Stadium, Munster Rugby’s home ground. Knowing that it’s the site where the team pummelled New Zealand 12-0 in 1978 will get you brownie points at any pub in the city. After a hefty investment, the stadium now rises over Limerick’s skyline like a concrete alien monster-craft and it’s the city’s greatest feat of architecture since King John built his castle 800 years ago.

Visitors can take a tour of the dressing room, through the tunnel and right onto the pitch. In keeping with the native rugby fixation, a local tycoon has secured a space on O’Connell St to develop the country’s largest rugby museum – it will open in September 2019.

Meet at the Milk Market

The addition of an all-weather two-storey marquee aside, Limerick’sMilk Market remains largely unchanged since it was established in 1852. Saturdays are a great day to visit: farmers set up their stalls before the 8am opening time with their harvest from the Golden Vale, County Limerick’s rolling agricultural heartland.  It’s also the best day to catch a festival or meander through the stalls outside the market selling kitschy home wear, vintage clothing and dubious antiques.

If the crêperies and food stalls at the market aren’t enough, leg it around the corner to Quigleys (quigleys.ie) or O’Connors (oconnorsbakery.com) on Cruises St for fresh pastries. Behind the vernacular façade and homely interior of Nancy Blake’s pub, just outside the market’s Denmark St entrance, is the Outback, the city’s best party spot for later in the evening.

Find Angela’s Ashes in Georgian Limerick

Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashesmeanders through the streets, lanes and tenements of Limerick’s Georgian grid. The author’s school has been turned into the Frank McCourt Museum, while the Carnegie Library of McCourt’s youth is now the Limerick City Gallery of Art and the entrance to the city’s manicured People’s Park. A selection of townhouses on Upper Catherine St and Mallow St veer more towards shabby than chic with their dust-covered fanlights, but the area remains one of the finest examples of Georgian town planning in Ireland.

Near the oval-shaped island on the main artery, O’Connell Ave, isSouth’s Pub, where McCourt’s father was a parched regular. The lavatory doors have a nod back to McCourt’s time with gender signs that read ‘Frank’ and ‘Angela’.

Kayak the Shannon

Nevsail Watersports (nevsailwatersports.ie) offers a fresh angle on Limerick’s past, from the River Shannon. Once everyone is adequately buoyant, paddles hit the water at the Hunt Museum and glide past the Treaty Stone, Thomond Bridge and King John’s Castle. The tour highlights the river’s role in the city’s countless invasions. Other tours take in a wider stretch of what is Ireland’s longest river.

Sample a flavour of ol’ Italia

La Cucina (lacucina.ie), the latest addition to the city’s centre’s dining scene, reflects Limerick’s insatiable appetite for Italian dining ever since migrants trickled in to open eateries from the late 19th century through World War II. Family-run restaurants are located in the Newtown Pery area in the city’s central Georgian grid, itself designed by Italian architect Davis Ducart. Bella Italia, Tuscany, Papa Ginos and La Piccola Italia bring a fusion of traditional recipes and local ingredients:boscaiola might arrive with pork sourced from an artisan butchers by the Milk Market. Across from Colbert Train Station, Luigi’s humble fish and chips shop was a favourite of actor Richard Harris back in the day.

There’s something brewing on George’s Quay…

The Locke Bar (lockebar.com) across from the Hunt Museum has the best craft beer from Dingle to Belfast on tap, including Limerick’s very own Treaty City pale ale. Set on a canal-side boulevard with light-leafed trees on the fringes of Limerick’s medieval quarter, it also has an open kitchen with a guaranteed trad music session from 9pm every night. The staple micro-beer is the Locke Stout, so lovers of the black stuff can try out something new.

Tips to Explore the Top Neighbourhoods in Budapest

  District I: Castle Hill

With cobbled streets, Ottoman echoes and grand Habsburg palaces, there’s history in layers on Castle Hill. Alongside its medieval relics you’ll find the Hospital in the Rock, a subterranean hospital used in WWII and the 1956 Revolution.

Take a morning plunge into the thermal pools set under the Ottoman domes of the Rudas Baths (note that some days are single-sex only). Then get your body moving with a walk through the Tabán area to Krisztina tér for a decadent brunch at Deryné.

Afterwards, hike up the hill to Buda Castle for a visit to the Hungarian National Gallery or the Castle Museum. Curb the hunger pangs with a velvety cream cake at Ruszwurm Cukrászda, the city’s oldest patisserie, before popping by the turrets of the Fisherman’s Bastion for views over the Danube.

In the evening, wander through the quaint streets and keep an eye out for a 14th-century synagogue, the ruins around Magdalene Tower and the grave of the last Pasha of Buda. Salute the day with a glass of wine over dinner at Baltazár Grill & Wine Bar.

District V: Belváros & Lipótváros

You can still see the stones from Pest’s old city wall surrounding District V, but today elegant residences and monuments like the Parliament andSt Stephen’s Basilica populate the inner city. Bullet holes from the 20th century still scar some facades, but modernity molds itself into the cracks with trendy design hubs and new-wave cafes.

To fuel up, go to Szimply Food (szimply.com) for brunch and grab a coffee at Kontakt next door. Instead of the paprika-laden tourist shops on Váci utca, discover Hungarian design at MONO Art & Design (monoartanddesign.tumblr.com) and Paloma (facebook.com/PalomaBudapest) on Kossúth Lajos utca, or peruse some handmade vintage stationery at Bomo Art.

Later, head northwards along the Danube banks to the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial and turn up towards the Hungarian Parliament. Break for a bite at the market on Hold utca but before you go in, turn around to admire Ödön Lechner’s art nouveau Postal Savings Bank.

Treat yourself for a dinner at the Michelin-starred Costes Downtown orOnyx, or try the Gastronomic Quarter in the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Wrap things up with cocktails at the gritty, industrialImpostor bar on Szabadság tér in the former Hungarian TV building.

District VII:  Erzsébetváros & the Jewish Quarter

Juxtaposing its synagogues and echoes of its ghetto past against crumbling ruin bars, hedonistic party hostels and unique design shops, the Jewish Quarter perfectly blends Budapest’s complex history with its eclectic contemporary life.

Go for breakfast at Stika (facebook.com/StikaBP) on Klauzál tér before exploring the neighbourhood. Discover its Jewish heritage in the Great Synagogue in Dohány utca and the other neo-Moorish synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén utca, before stepping into Printa for silkscreen prints, design and upcycled fashion.

Grab lunch at Konyha followed by a coffee around the trendy Gozsdú Udvar. Fashionistas can peruse The Velvet Chemistry (thevelvetchemistry.com) on Király utca for shoes, clothes and accessories by Hungarian designers, but be sure to stop at number 15 to see the ghetto wall memorial through the gate.

Before hitting the ruin bars to get a taste of Budapest’s nightlife, get a quick bite from Bors Gasztro Bár or opt for elegant dining with an Israeli twist under the lit-up trees in shabby-chic Mazel Tov. Sip a few drinks at Szimpla Kert, the city’s first and most famous ruin bar set in a dilapidated apartment complex and decked out with quirky items and mismatched furniture, then continue your night out with stops atFogas and Ellátó Kert.

District VIII: Józsefváros

Until recently, District VIII was an area many avoided, and its gritty feel can still be felt in the outer corners. At its heart lies the Palace District, named for the palatial apartments once belonging to Budapest’s 19th-century aristocratic elite. It was also the backdrop of the 1956 Revolution, with the first shots fired in the Former Hungarian Radio Headquarters on Bródy Sándor utca.

If you feel disoriented by the Italian-influenced architecture in Mikszáth Kálmán tér, drink a coffee at Lumen, a local roastery and cafe. As you explore the Palace District make sure you stop to look up, especially at the intricate Ervin Szabó Library. Meet some of the district’s young creatives by ringing the doorbell at FlatLab (flatlab.hu), a hidden atelier and showroom run by a collective of local designers.

In the afternoon, grab a bagel on the go from Budapest Bagel (facebook.com/budapestbagel) before heading over to the neoclassicalHungarian National Museum. Pay a visit to the beautiful Venetian-Moorish-style Uránia Cinema for a cup of tea in the cafe or an arthouse film.

For good food and a creative buzz, Café Csiga is a great place to start before drinking with the local artsy crowd in one of the neighbourhood bars. Just pop into the alternative cultural centres of Müszi (muszi.org) or Aurora (auroraonline.hu), or hit a party on the rooftop of the socialist-era shopping centre at Corvin Club.

District IX: Ferencváros

This former industrial area was never really popular with tourists, but it’s gaining traction thanks to its cultural complex around the National Theatre, the Palace of Arts and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. It has earned the nickname ‘Craft Beer District’ for its density of bars with local beers on tap.

Kick-start your senses under the wrought-iron pillars of the Central Market Hall. You can pick up some paprika, Hungarian souvenirs or stop for a bite. Take a Danube-side stroll over to the Bálna, a giant undulating complex of glass grafted onto exposed-brick buildings housing cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops.