Baked capesante for dinner?

Fresh capesante or scallops for sale in Venice, Italy


My Friend's Exotic Travels...

A buddy of mine took a year off from practicing law to travel across the globe... it won't be long before he finds his way back to the states. Until then, he's been documenting his travels on-line. Hundreds of entries and thousands upon thousands of photographs from exotic locales you've probably never heard of. I've just spent the past hour poring through his pictures and I find the journal fascinating. I think you will too... enjoy browsing through Break from the Law


Quality on the Rise at CityCentre and Hotel Sorella

There's been a lot of buzz surrounding the opening of CityCentre in Houston and the accompanying Hotel Sorella. Rightfully so... the mixed use development is beautiful and you can tell everything is being done with quality and design in mind. Restaurants like Eddie V's, Ra Sushi and Straits and stores like Anthropologie and Bailey, Banks and Biddle have already opened. Yard House is set to open this month and soon others like Brio Tuscan Grille and The Wine Loft will open.

We had a chance to stay at Hotel Sorella and absolutely loved the hotel. Sleek, modern design with nice touches everywhere. The lobby has a modern but very inviting look with comfortable seating that also doubles as a continental breakfast area. To the right of the lobby of the Monnalisa bar with a gorgeous interior featuring an elevated firepit and a big outdoor deck with a pool and private cabanas.

The rooms are nice and roomy - over 400 sq ft with views looking towards the west side or the Galleria/donwtown. Everything is just done really well and if you're a fan of interior design, you'll appreciate the little touches they've made - you'll sure notice the repeating pattern found throughout the hotel.

I can't recommend the place enough, particularly since they have some very nice grand opening rates that can have you staying for as little as $99.00.

Facing into the room - plenty of space. The sofa is modular and movable.

Sorella did an nice job selecting comfortable bedding - this is a king size bed.

Looking down into the main plaza on a beautiful night

Live music on a Thursday night in front of the hotel - the Monnalisa set up a bar on the left.


Buenos Aires photography

If you love Buenos Aires like I do, I guarantee you will get buried and lost in this site - Buenos Aires Photographer. So many interesting subjects and shots... from ugly to beautiful, mundane to extraordinary. As for this photo, I took it on a steamy summer Saturday in February 2009. This couple parked themselves in one of the plazas in Palermo Viejo to get some sun. Two things that made it so Argentine for me are the man's slicked back hair and his ever-present bombilla de mate.

Do you get the feeling I want to only post about Buenos Aires? I should go there more often... that's my take.


Bar La Robla and fileatado

Well, I can't speak for the food but I can say that I liked the use of fileatado in their sign...

Dirección : Viamonte 1615
Barrio : San Nicolás
Teléfono (54 11) 4811 4484


Bologna to get an upgrade

Hey... looks like my hometown is getting some good and much-needed press from the Financial Times...

Yet all the developers and planners need to do for inspiration is to look around them. Bologna’s most striking architectural feature is one that many visitors to the city may not even notice: approximately 40km of arcades that line the streets of the medieval heart of the city. One of their delightful benefits is to allow the Bolognese to walk through almost the entire old city without getting wet, snowed on or sunburnt. They make the passeggiata, the evening stroll beloved of Italians, possible in all weathers.

The challenge for today’s planners, developers and architects, Ms Gabellini says, will be to learn from that, “to value the existing architecture by inserting new buildings
into the middle of it. It will be like wearing a beautiful old brooch with a new jacket.”

Killing Time in Cambridge, MA

So I checked into my hotel in Cambridge, MA this afternoon around 4:00... I happen to be in town for a big client presentation tomorrow. The first thing I did when I checked in was to take care of my e-mail... you know how it piles up when you travel (although Delta now has wireless for a fee on some of their planes). E-mail was checked... changed out of my uncomfortable clothes... and then? Harvard was about a 2.5 mile walk and I just didn't have the time to make a 5 mile round trip. So, I decided to head to the MIT campus.

Why MIT? Granted... everyone I passed was smarter than me... book smart, anyway. Yeah... I was a fish out of water. BUT... I wanted to see some great architecture... some iconic architecture. MIT fits the bill with great works by architects like Alvar Aalto, Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry. Personally, I wanted to see Saarinen's MIT chapel and Frank Gehry's Stata Center. Simmons Hall was also on my list but I opted against it when I realized it was time to head back.

So, here are three great buildings that I saw while walking on campus... if only I had my real camera with me. Part of me wants to walk back over to the MIT Chapel again and take a deeper look. As simple as it was, the building really impressed me.

Eero Saarinen's Kresge Auditorium (1955)

Eero Saarinen's MIT Chapel (1955)

Frank Gehry's Stata Center (2004)


Tapas at Tinto

There's a new tapas restaurant in town... Tintos Restaurant in the River Oaks Shopping Center at West Gray and Shepherd. We had a chance to check it out last night before heading to a party at the ZaZa Hotel. Very nice! A bit pricey but it had a good dinner menu, very nice atmosphere (we sat outside on the patio) and an excellent wine list. Our selections (not necessarily in this order)...

Manzanas con Queso - $6 (the combination on this dish is really delicious)
Garbanzos y Vegetales - $7 (kind of has an Indian "bent")
Rollita de Berenjena - $7 (like two small stuffed grape leaves - the tomato made the dish)
Croquetas de Jamon - $7 (nothing particularly outstanding but good standard fare)
Pato de Madrid - $10 (excellent combination of flavors but a small portion)

We only had one glass of wine but the wine list with extensive and reasonable - quite a few bottles under $30.00.

I would definitely go back. I really like that that side of the River Oaks Shopping Center "lives". The other side with the new Barnes and Noble looks like crap. Booooo Weingarten.

Lastly, going to ZaZa was an event as usual. The hotel is always the place to see and be seen and there were several events taking place. As usual, the valet line was a bit of a bear but heading down to a private party at the Conspiracy Room made it worth it!


Drawing Inspiration from the Masters

Wander the endless and cavernous halls of the Louvre and you just might run across a similar scene... an artist meticulously replicating a famous master.

Of course, you don't have to visit the Louvre. This lonesome canvas was in a small museum in Chartres...


Back road finds...

You never know what you'll find on a back road. This 1960s Oldsmobile was parked next to a shack of a house at about 11,000 ft. near Breckenridge, Colorado.


Three Must-See Beaches in Karpathos

I'm not about to post any breaking news... in fact, what I'm about to share with you will be shared by anyone who lives on or frequently visits Karpathos. There are all kinds of beautiful beaches on the island... Diakofti, Damatria, Christou Pigado, Lefkos but there are three that are absolute no-brainers:
Kyra Panagia

We had a chance to visit all three during our visit and loved all of them. We would probably give the nod to Apella as the most beautiful, even if it is the most remote. Nonetheless, you can't go wrong with any of them. Each has their own feel and all three provide "thrilling" car rides.

Let's start with Apella...
Take a look at that first picture - that's Apella as seen from the main road. Wow... I mean wow. The water is simply beautiful - nice and calm, shallow and so clear. There are plenty of rocks for snorkling and wading around and the setting is just dramatic - jutting cliffs to the left and right and a valley rising up behind the beach. It's a wide beach with quite a few sunbeds and plenty of space to stretch out. I really liked the pines in the area - gave it a different and greener look than what many are used to in Greece.
You can rent two sunbeds and an umbrella for 6 Euros from the gentleman at the base of the steps to the beach. He'll guide you to where you should set up camp. There's really nothing located directly next to the beach but you can walk a couple of minutes up the main road to a nice little taverna with a beautiful view. Parking is mostly on the side of the road - no real parking area like you'll find in Achata or in "town" like in Kira Panagia. Just squeeze your car where it will fit (and hopefully turn around). My advice, find a way to turn around and park it pointing uphill so it's easier to get out after you've baked in the sun.
Then there's Kira Panagia...

Everyone loves taking a picture of the church overlooking Kira Panagia. It's really a very scenic spot. What I liked about it was not only the gorgeous beach but the smattering of hotels, houses and tavernas located by the beach. It looks like a very nice place to stay for a few days. The set up in the steep valley just really made an impression on me. Personally, I would love to stay at the hotel next to the church. What a view!

The beach is nice and wide with plenty of sunbeds for rent. I don't know if anyone ever came and asked for us to pay for ours... maybe they weren't paying attention. No tavernas are directly on the beach but you'll find one (Olive Garden) near the church, a place to get a drink at the hotel above the church, a mini-market on the main road and probably a couple of other options. The beach is a mix of sand and rocks and the water is nice and calm, with a beautiful blue color. A great spot to take a dip and, who knows, maybe stay a little longer.
Finally we have Achata...

One of the intangibles I really liked about Achata was the drive to the beach. Achata is the closest of the three to Pigadia. The 4 km drive from the main road snakes through a pretty valley flanked by soaring cliffs. The valley, more gentle than the drives to Kira Panagia and Apella, is dotted by small agricultural plots, wild oleanders and scores of olive trees. There's something more peaceful about it the drive and the cave-riddled cliffs are a sight to behold.

The drive eventually opens up to Achata - a rocky beach lined with umbrellas and two tavernas. The water, unlike the other two, drops off faster so you'll notice just a few steps will have you wading in deeper water. The water also tends to be a bit more active although still a beautiful turquoise color. Two sun beds and an umbrella are only 4 Euros each. For my money, I'd choose the beds run by the taverna on the left (when facing the water). They are newer and the taverna offers a reasonable menu in a nicely restored boat house. The owners are friendly and the pergola is a great spot to catch an afternoon Greek coffee. You'll also have a shot at some afternoon shade when the sun starts shifting in the sky whereas the beds on the right side stay exposed much longer.


Aegean Village - a Karpathos Gem

It's partially a mystery to me why it's so hard to find information on the Aegean Village on the island of Karpathos. Partially because most of what is out there is in German, Dutch or Swedish... not in English. Then again, given that nearly all English-speaking visitors to Karpathos have ties to the island (ancestors, 2nd generation Greeks, etc.), most of the people visiting the Aegean Village are much much more likely to come from Stockholm or Roskilde than anywhere in the U.S.

Seems to me like a lot of Americans are missing out on an amazing island. For those of us who like to go to places taht are off the radar, that's a good thing. Karpathos is stunning... you'll find beautiful beaches, tidy mountain villages and extremely warm people. In the meantime, Americans and other tourists queue up for dinner in Santorini and Mykonos, paying inflated prices for subpar service. No thanks. I'll stick to an island like Karpathos and in particular to a hotel like Aegean Village.

So, what made the hotel so special? First off, the view... amazing! The hotel occupies a perfect spot on a promontory overlooking Amoopi. To the right is a rock outcropping that frames the area and to the left are the various beaches of Amoopi. A stunning one sits just below the hotel... a two minute walk from the pool area. Beach beds and umbrellas are available for 6 Euros a pair for the day.

The hotel has an on-site restaurant serviced by a friendly crew of Scandinavians - mostly interns and employees from Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. Given their clientele, they can speak to clients in their native tongues although most conversations are in English since clients also come from Italy. The restaurant also serves breakfast and the bar/restaurant stay open until midnight. Charles, a Swedish chef who previously worked on a cruise ship, mans the kitchen and offers daily specials for lunch and dinner.

The hotels grounds are immaculately maintained. All rooms face the Aegean and have spacious balconies or terraces. Rooms are comfortable and include A/C, satellite TV and tidy bathrooms with showers. Some rooms are larger (the bungalows) to accommodate families traveling together. Most have twin beds (as is the standard in Greece) but some come with doubles. Just ask. Other perks include wireless access and computers for guest use although wireless works best in the lobby.

The beach below the hotel

...and a smaller, hidden nook in Amoopi

Manolis, the owner, truly cares about his guests. We really enjoyed his hospitality and the way he made us feel at home. In part, we keep asking ourselves, why did we come back? So many Greek Americans move to Karpathos and never leave. I understand why...

Our gracious host

Pigadia may have more restaurants and nightlife... Arkasa may be a quainter town... but Amoopi offers several great beaches, shelter from the strong winds, a handful of tavernas and a highly recommended Aegean Village hotel.

A Better Meal than Gyros and Souvlaki

Most people who visit Athens - whether for a night before heading off to an island or for a week in the city - opt to stay somewhere close to Plaka. The area is charming, walkable and in the shadow of the Acropolis. There's plenty of life and for someone new to Greece, it makes for an easy introduction to the city of Athens.

With the area's popularity comes a touristy side. Food is often marked up and restaurants tend to focus on the more common Greek fare... gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita and moussaka - Greek meals known worldwide. Unfortunately, that means that a vast majority of tourists miss out on more typical Greek meals. They tend to stick to restaurants with pictures of food and marked up prices. It's a shame because there's much more to be found.

I'll fill you in on a restaurant that doesn't fit this bill. While it's not necessarily a secret, it appeals to Greek tastes, has reasonable prices and is off the beaten path for tourists. The restaurant is Mani Mani.

Now... let's start with some background. What does Mani mean? Mani is a region in the Peloponnese in Greece. As someone told me in Karpathos, it is a hard region with hard people - in part because of tough geography and climate. So, Mani Mani focuses on food from this region. In fact, you'll find more dishes like rooster and less (none) like souvlaki.

Anything you order, be it an appetizer or a main course, can be ordered as a half or full order. We started by splitting three appetizers - haloumi (the best we had in Greece), typical Mani sausages with orange essence and a type of fried dough with a local hard cheese. We then ordered dishes that both centered on rooster - my wife had a Greek pasta with rooster, asparagus, mushrooms and sundried tomato and I had rooser served on top of a small Greek pasta. Both were great. Add a glass of wine and our meal was under 30 Euros, less than we would've spent at a touristy restaurant.

Mani Mani is only 5 minutes by foot from the new Acropolis Museum but feels like it is a world away. Located at Falikarou 10 in Makrigiani, Mani Mani is on the 1st (2nd floor) of a restored building. You won't spot it if you aren't looking for it so look for the street level sign and the lit up windows up top.


A Quick Sojourn in Washington DC

So here I am, sitting in a Washington D.C. hotel room on a Sunday night. I don't like business travel that starts/ends on a weekend but, in all fairness, our consultants do it all the time. I can handle it once in a blue moon.

I'm in town for a national conference and rather than staying at a $200+/night national chain (i.e. Hampton Inn, Marriott, Hilton, Embassy Suites, etc.), I opted for the Donovan House Hotel. The Donovan is the DC location of the small Thompson Hotel boutique chain. For $189.00/night, I landed a comfortable room in a stylish hotel that is a mere 10 minute walk from the convention center. $189.00 gets you plenty of space, access to a fitness center and you're only a 10 minute walk from this...

Not bad.

Now, I took the super shuttle from BWI to Washington D.C. The cost was $37.00 compared to an estimated $85.00 taxi fare (W-O-W!). Waiting for the shuttle took about 20 minutes and then the ride was maybe 45 minutes long. Thankfully, I was the first stop.

After I checked in, I decided to do some walking... down Vermont to the White House, around the Treasury Building and over to the Ellipse. I thought about walking over to the Washington Monument but decided against it. I would walking further and further from the hotel and I wasn't sure that I felt like it. So, I took a meandering route back to the hotel to where I would pick a place for dinner.

After a few searches on the Washington Post's page, I opted for Luigi's Famous Pizzeria. The editorial review was good enough and the restaurant was easy to find (about a five block walk), inexpensive (My total meal, with tip, was under $20.00) and apparently a Washington staple (in business since the 1940s). How was it? Pretty good... not great but good.

The restaurant had a inviting main dining room with a cozy atmosphere. The sunroom seating seemed a little cold to me and the upstairs room was larger and less cozy. To me, the main room was the spot. I started with a bell pepper bruschetta that wasn't bad and it was only $2.50 for two pieces. The bread echoed what I had read from some reviews - it seemed kind of stale. If it wasn't for the topping, it may not have been worth eating. I then ordered a pizza for one with mortadella, artichoke hearts and green olives. The pizza was big enough for 2 with lots of cheese (far too much for my personal taste) and piled with ingredients. It was a good pizza - heavy - but good. I would go back but not by myself as the pizza was just too much. I topped it all off with an espresso and, again, I was just under $20.00 (incl. tip). Not bad.

The pizza was weighing me down so I headed back to the hotel for an apres-dinner workout. The "state of the art" fitness center (as advertised on the page) includes 4 treadmills, 2 ellipticals and 1 recumbent bike. There's also a weight bench and a set of dumbbells, ranging from 2 1/2 lbs up to 50 lbs. That's enough to get a workout in. I ran through some supersets of compound moves like squats to overhead presses and then called it a night.

Here I am... tomorrow I'll head to the convention. After that, I planning on hoofing it to Union Station where I'll catch a MARC train to BWI. I'll let you know how it went.


Quick Pho Tip

Here's a quick dining tip... I decided to check out Tau Bay (not to be confused with Pho Tau Bay) today on the Southwest Freeway - a popular Vietnamese restaurant on the corner of 59 and Beechnut. Excellent place for pho. My boss and I went there for lunch and had two stout bowls of pho for $13.00. Not bad. A majority of the clients were Asian and the service was fast and efficient. Apparently the SW Freeway location is better than the Bellaire location as it is run by the original owner.

Tau Bay
8150 Southwest Freeway
Located in the same shopping center as the Carnaval night club.

Getting Ready to Discover Karpathos

So, I mentioned Sicily was off... well, where will be be going?


In fact, the page above, hosted by Sven Damm in Germany, is one of the main reasons we chose Karpathos, an island in the Dodecanese tucked between Crete and Rhodes. What a beautiful island! Gorgeous beaches, stunning and sometimes foreboding mountains, traditional villages and reasonable rates. It's also a bit off the beaten path... that means it is off the radar of most of the masses. Good news for us.

The island is certainly larger than Milos but still pretty manageable. From what we've road, most of our time will be spent in the southern half since the northern half is mostly wild and untamed. Getting to Olymbos via the main "road" on the northern half of the island takes 3 hours... apparently three grueling hours.

Anyway, we'll be staying at the Aegean Village (see below) in Amopi at the very reasonable rate of 70 Euro a night for a seaview room. Nice!

All we need to do now is rent a car and we'll be good to go. Otherwise, our stay in Athens will be in familiar hotels... the Athens Gate and the Sofitel.


Two reasons to visit El Preferido

There are many reasons to visit El Preferido de Palermo in Palermo Soho. Here are two - an ice cold chopp of Quilmes and a picada.


Ready Mady Itinerary in Sicily

I have to say I was awfully excited about heading to Sicily in September... we would finally visit a part of Italy neither of us had seen and we would be going without relatives. A good plan! We booked our reward tickets, came up with a whole itinerary and made all of our reservations.

Ai Lumi - 5 nigts at Ai Lumi in Trapani. Now, some might ask, why Trapani? Simple... the ferries run very frequently from Trapani to Favignana. If you catch the hydrofoil, you're there in 20 minutes and the hotels cost 1/2 of what they would on the island. Trapani is know for excellent cuisine and it's also close to places like Erice. But Favignana... that's what we were looking forward to visiting. A gorgeous island know by few Italians and pretty much no Americans. It would've been a dream.

Casale Corcella - 2 nights in Scopello. Now, this simple farmhouse not only had an amazing view of the Golfo di Castellamare, it was a nice property, had beautiful rooms and was near the very charming town of Scopello. Everything I had heard about this area was fantastic - beautiful bays in which to swim, small trattorie and the nearby Riserva Dello Zingaro. Scopello is well known for a famous tonnara where one can swim in a gorgeous setting. The town, while tiny, is supposed to be a perfect little place. I was excited about the two days we would spend in this town. Segesta was just around the corner, too.

Casa Ruffino - 1 night in Balestrate at a very highly reviewed B&B. We thought... why stay at a mediocre hotel near the airport when we could stay in another seaside town in a B&B that sounds simply charming. Ahh... another tough one to pass.

Well, conflicts are conflicts and we just won't be able to go in September. In the future, we do have ready-made itinerary all in place. The hotels are selected, the towns are picked out... all we need are new tickets.

Now... that doesn't mean we're out of luck. We will get to go somewhere else...


L'Aquila... before the quake

Many people outside of Italy may not be familiar with the town of L'Aquila outside of the recent news regarding the town's devastation at the hands of an earthquake. My wife and I had a chance to visit the city with some Italian friends back in 2003. For those woh have never been there, here are a handful of shots from that trip...