desertLongest, widest, biggest, best. No – this isn’t an ad for RedTube (don’t even pretend you don’t know what that is). This is Dubai in a nutshell – an ever-changing city smack dab in the middle of the desert that loves its oil almost as much as it loves its superlatives.

There is a lot you can say about Dubai. I stayed at the JW Marriott Marquis, the tallest hotel in the world. I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which is adjacent to the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall. There is also something like the world’s biggest aquarium, the world’s widest structure, the world’s longest unmanned metro line…The list of Dubai’s superlatives is a superlative in itself.

For me, however, the best thing you can do in Dubai is to take a break from the frenzy and the glitz and get outside of the city for something truly unique.

“Dune bashing” is a great way to see a side of the world that you truly cannot get anywhere else, and I am told it is a way that the local youth like to spend their time. Several companies offer dune bashing tours, where you are taken out in jeeps with professionals who literally cruise the sand dunes. The topsy-turvy feeling gets old kind of quickly (at least, it did for me what with motion sickness and the fact that I’m not really one for thrills and spills), but the moments when you get out of the jeep for a photo op will leave you with that, “oh my god I’m in Dubai” feeling. Rolling tan dunes span as far as the eye can see, until you happen upon local bedouin communities. It’s quiet. It’s empty. It’s that little thrill we all need when trying something new.

Check out Desert Safari Dubai, which offers late afternoon dune bashing tours, followed by a bedouin-style dinner out in the middle of the desert. The dinners include entertainment, barbecued meats, salads, shisha smoking and yes, there is a cash bar.

Hello from Dubai! After a 12-hour flight (and one of the best airplane experiences I’ve ever had), I am finally in the United Arab Emirates. Instead of regaling you with tales of the journey, which would undoubtedly be told with a haughty tone, I’ll just let my pictures speak for themselves.

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The journey began at John F. Kennedy International Airport in the Emirates Lounge with a breakfast of Greek yogurt, an egg white omelet and a “detox juice” made of carrot, apple and ginger.

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Settled into Business Class aboard the Emirates’ A380 plane. A380 planes are double deckers, with Business and First Class on the top level and Economy on the bottom.

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Before takeoff, Business and First Class passengers are given a welcome drink and a Bvlgari amenity kit. Champagne! Bvlgari! It’s the life.

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Emirates caters to my shameless Friends obsession. After takeoff, scroll through the expansive media library. There are enough hours of entertainment to take you around the world…twice.

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After your main meal (and a good nap) head to the back of the plane where the Business Class bar serves up a selection of canapes…

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…and drinks!

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Twelve hours later arrive in Dubai refreshed and ready to take on this futuristic, Jetson-esque hub of the world! Dubai, here I come!

Photo courtesy of Briar Vintage

Photo courtesy of Briar Vintage

A row of bright cardigans hangs underneath a shelf lined with bowler hats and fedoras, while bowties sit neatly on a table next to shiny black Oxfords. No, it’s not Holden Caulfield’s boarding school dorm room, but you aren’t far off. This is Briar Vintage, a fashion shop selling “menswear, collectibles and oddities” that range from the 1800s through the 1960s.

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I was taking a stroll through the Old City neighborhood. I hadn’t been to Philly in a long time and I wanted some sort of traditional experience without having to touch the Liberty Bell or suck down a cheesesteak. (Even summaries on Philly’s cliches have become cliche.) Briar Vintage was just the ticket.

Entering the store is like stumbling into Doc Brown’s wet dream (flux capacitor not included). Briar deems itself an expert collector of pieces ranging from an 1880 morning jacket and a frock coat from 1903 to a baseball jersey from 1947 and a 1953 wool letterman sweater. There are also Native American blankets from the 1930s and World War II battleship stationary.

But perhaps the most curious (and interesting) piece in the store is the manager himself, David. David is an enigma. Full body tats peeked out from under his mint condition 1930s gray suit, and I swear his round, frameless lenses got misty as he went off on a diatribe about the anachronisms in the Mad Men wardrobe. The man is a walking encyclopedia on everything from cufflinks and natty neckties to war boots and suit cases. If you have a minute (or 10) to spare, it’s worth engaging him in a fashion history lesson.

If you’re a sucker for vintage fashions, or just like taking a peek into the past, Briar Vintage should be a stop on your Philadelphia itinerary. It’s even possible to book personal shopping experiences to help you find exactly what you are looking for.

Briar Vintage is at 62 North 3rd Street.

I’m trying really hard to ‘wow’ you with a first post of 2013, but I’ve heard if you try to write well, you usually don’t. So in lieu of a creative lead and a really solid first paragraph, I’ll just tell you what I did on New Year’s Eve and hopefully it will inspire you to check out a truly untapped neck of the woods in New York City.

The area off the East Broadway stop in Manhattan is still a mystery to me. It’s part Chinatown, part Lower East Side, and both parts spooky. I think that’s why I like it so much. To close out 2012 I visited this part of town and have returned with three establishments that should be on your list for a a complete night out.

barThe Leadbelly: On Orchard Street just above Canal, you won’t find much. It’s a dark part of Chinatown where overstuffed black bags of garbage outnumber people and Chinese symbols rule the roost. The only (and I mean ONLY) storefront you could notice has a frosted window out front with The Leadbelly: Oysters and Liquor carved in cursive. If that’s not enough of a hook then you should probably stop reading right now. Inside you will find white washed wooden beams, exposed brick, a wall of vintage suitcases and records and a menu of fresh oysters, small bites and creative cocktails. Oldies music plays softly from the speakers while bartenders swirl whiskeys, vodkas and gins in silver shakers. If you visit during happy hour, which is until 8 p.m., select oysters are $1.

scotcheggThe Fat Radish: Directly across the street, at 17 Orchard Street, is sister restaurant The Fat Radish. This farm-to-table-style restaurant has a similar effect as The Leadbelly, in that diners enter and completely forget that the street outside looks like a set from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. The menu runs the gamut from oysters and snacks to experimental vegetable dishes and free-range proteins. I highly recommend tucking into the scotch egg, which is a six-minute egg cooked in a sausage cradle and plated with cornichons and grain mustard. You should also check out the whole roasted local cauliflower and the Montauk Diver Scallops. Be sure to order a side of the sauteed Tuscan Kale with chili.

169 Bar: Before you hop back on the F train at East Broadway and head back uptown to the real world, make a pit stop at 169 Bar. Literally steps from the subway entrance, you can’t miss this bar that has potted palm trees out front. Inside the bar is glossed with a red and blue glow. Mismatched furniture, hanging lights, a pool table and a cage for gogo dancers are just a few of the quirky decorative touches. Try the Oyster Shooters – a shot glass with your choice of a tequila or vodka bloody mary and a fresh oyster at the bottom.

2012 has been an exciting year – one that has taken me to 11 countries and six domestic cities. Here are the top five posts that you all deemed the most worthy of reading throughout the year.  Allow me to get misty eyed and thank you for all the comments, “likes” and views this year. I look forward to more adventures in 2013 and cannot wait to share with all of you.

grand-oasis-cancun-21. the 90s are back in cancun

This journey from last January took us to Cancun of yesteryear, where girls strip down to the very bare minimum and beefcake dudes line up to drink tequila out of their belly buttons. It makes me smile that my readers found this to be the most popular post.

 

2. an affair with anthony bourdain

Not surprisingly, my encounter with my hero (and the hero of many of my readers, I’m sure) was worthy of your attention.

 

3. airport idiocy: top five pet peeves

We all have been to the airport, so we all know just how much of a hassle they can be. Plus, everyone likes reading complaint pieces where they get to say, “oh yes, that is soooo true!”

 

delposto4. five overrated restaurants in nyc

I don my snark cap and tell you that those restaurants with the $$$$ rating just aren’t that worth it.

 

5. summer of fun 2012

Every summer I make a list of the top 50 things in New York that I would love do between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You all came along on that journey with me this summer. I hope you were able to create some memories of your own!

 

Like what you have read this year? Follow me on Twitter at @tripptravelogue, or “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/trippintravelogue. Thanks everyone and Happy New Year!!

china1A fluorescent Chinese menu blinks up on a wall behind a window flecked with dirty rain spots and grime. A tiny slit behind the register reveals from the kitchen little more than familiar smells of soy sauce, salt and mysterious meats. It’s not what you think – but nowadays, few things in New York are.

This is Mission Chinese Food, an outpost of the San Francisco phenomenon that has taken the City by the Bay by storm and since has moved East to surprise New Yorkers, a breed that puts Chinese takeout above church.

But this ain’t your mama’s Chinese takeout restaurant. Sure, it looks like that from the outside, what with its basement location and dingy exterior – but that’s supposed to be “cool”. Once you’re accepted into the fold, you are led to a back room, past an open kitchen where today’s youthful culinary elite are chopping and plating with inked arms and piercings. The dining room is washed in a red glow, making it look more like a concubine’s office than a restaurant, while a scarlet paper dragon twists along the ceiling.

china2And then it comes time to order. You won’t find eggrolls or wontons at this particular joint. The signature dish at Mission Chinese Food is its thrice-cooked bacon. Typically a signature dish never really lives up to the hype, but rest assured: it most certainly does. The taut pieces of bacon give off a smoky, almost jerky-esque flavor (we’ll call it haute jerky, if that helps you), and the meat rests on chewy rice pancakes that absorb the chili spices and bacon juice. (If you can manage to not eat the whole dish, save the leftovers for breakfast and cook with fried eggs.)

Then the menu gives way to old classics like buckwheat noodles with cilantro and seafood, and dishes more palatable to the epicurean hipster, like Kung Pao Pastrami and Stir-Fried Pork Jowl and Radishes.

The wait is long, even on a Sunday night – usually an average of an hour and a half, but with a plethora of bars in the vicinity, it’s not too bad of a situation. Dishes max at a reasonable $13 (save for the Veal Breast a la Orange, which is a hefty $24), and the portions are meant to be shared.

I think I’ve said all I can say on this eatery. You can read my elegant prose again and again or you can get yourself down to Orchard and Rivington and check it out for yourself.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter at @tripptravelogue!

goodHere’s a fun little fact about New York City‘s West Village: It’s awesome.

No, no keep reading. I know you know this. But do you know how awesome it is? It’s one of NYC’s most affluent neighborhoods with beautiful townhouses, cobblestone streets, trees (yes, TREES!) and cute restaurants and boutiques that seem to pop up out of nowhere. This is where New York’s “quiet” money is. I say quiet, because let’s face it. The money on 5th and Park is just a little too much.

Anyway, it has been a dream of mine since I was in college to make enough money to be able to call one of the West Village streets my home. I’d love to be lost in a ‘hood that is literally “off the grid.” So when some new friends of mine who actually happen to live in this part of town took off for a few weeks, I took it upon myself to inhabit their home a few nights a week to pretend that their home is mine. Creepy? Who asked you.

If you are so lucky to spend time in this neighborhood, you’ll want to do so for brunch. The people of the West Village love their “cute” brunch. On Sunday I happened upon good on Greenwich Avenue. While the dinner prices are a bit steep at this nouveau-bohemian eatery washed in off-white and pale blue, brunch prices are considerably more affordable – and even more so if you don’t order a brunch cocktail, but where’s the fun in that?

The menu runs the gamut from figure-friendly items to the heartier, “hey it’s winter I’ll eat what I want,” fare. I opted for the basil and goat cheese scrambled eggs, which came heaped on a piece of sourdough toast, garnished with fresh pesto, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Yeah, that happened. My companion went all out with two eggs over medium on top of fresh biscuits and topped with a rich sausage gravy. Oh. yes. The bill was a respectable $35.

The wait can be long, seeing as it is Sunday brunch in one of New York’s most sought after districts, so if you find yourself unwilling to wait, just take a stroll through the criss-cross of streets and you are sure to find a gem.

543799_10101551325058949_1576961056_nIs anyone else having rooftop withdrawal? Just a quick post today for all you rooftop junkies in need of a quick (enclosed) rooftop fix to get you through this cold, rainy season.

Last night I hit up Jimmy, the rooftop bar at The James New York down on Thompson and Grand streets. I had never been to The James before, but I had heard rumors of its panorama prowess.

If you are looking for a fancy cocktail and a sparkling view of downtown NYC (and yes, a bit of Jersey…but I’ve always been a believer that alcohol and the night help to overlook flaws), take the trip downtown and visit The James.

Still in Italy with this post, friends. But really can you ever have enough of Italy? I think not.

In September a very dear friend and I spent about a week in Rome staying at the apartment of our lovely, lovely friend, Pamela. Pamela opened her home, heart and refrigerator to us and we are eternally grateful. Having lived in Rome for the last 30 years or so, Pamela has picked up a few tips on how to see Rome as little like a tourist as possible.

Truthfully, when you are in Rome you will be doing touristy things. How could you go to Rome and skip the Colosseum, the Forum and Vatican City? You really can’t. But there are ways to beat the crowds. So on our own journey to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica, Pamela suggested we look into Dark Rome Tours & Walks, which are group tours of a limited size with expert guides that allow guests certain perks. Our Vatican City tour allowed us to cut the painfully long lines, saving us hours and hours of time.

The three-hour tour takes you through the Vatican Museum and into the Sistine Chapel. The groups are 20 people or less and the tour covers everything from ancient sculptures and tapestries to the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.

Tours are a bit pricey (around $70 per person), but the amount of time you save being able to skip the lines is well worth it, and the fact that the guides are English speaking and experts in their fields will allow you to walk away from Vatican City with a much deeper understanding, which is more than you could say if you meandered through on your own.

Note: Dark Rome offers other tours in Rome, as well as tours in Florence, Venice and Pompeii.

When returning from any big trip (you know, the kind that takes months of planning and hundreds of dollars), I find it’s often the smallest of activities that are the most meaningful. See? Size DOESN’T matter!

Let’s go back about a month and a half, shall we? The scene is Venice‘s Rialto, one of the most heavily trafficked parts of an overly toured city. Tucked behind an unassuming store front, directly across the street from the frenetic (and pungent) fish market is Pronto Pesce, a local fish market selling local delicacies that were most likely swimming just a few hours prior to your purchase.

I discovered this little gem on (where else) No Reservations. Knowing Tony would never steer me wrong, I knew that this must be a stop on my own itinerary to Venice.

Oh goodness.

The display case, upon first glance, isn’t really all that impressive – especially if you don’t know what it is you are looking at. Fortunately, the people behind the counter speak English relatively well and are more than willing to explain what it is you see before you.

I asked for a sampling of everything. Best decision I have ever made. Smoked swordfish, squid eggs, salted cod spread, sardines, shrimp, shark, tuna. Add to that crusty, rustic bread and tiny glasses of Prosecco, which are filled generously and often. (Prosecco, to Venetians, is like morning coffee and completely acceptable to be consumed before 11 a.m.)

The patrons that wander in and out are undeniably local. Not a Nikon or a fanny pack in sight! If you are on a trip to Venice this is a perfect spot for a light lunch, an afternoon buzz and a peek into what Venice would be like without anyone but Venetians.