After 2 days in Portland and beginning at noon we drove up the 3 hours towards Acadia National Park, a 47,000-acre situated primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island.
About a 20 minutes’ drive north of Portland, we stopped for a quick lunch at the “Famous L.L. Bean Boot.”
At around 3pm and before reaching the outskirts of Acadia, we took a 45 minute detour to the southwest point for a photogenic shot of 19th century The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
Nobody tells you this but after a 5 minute hike from the parking lot and down a flight of wooden stairs, you need to also venture onto the precarious rocks to get the viewpoint everyone raves about.
We then headed into Acadia proper on Mount Desert Island where by 4pm we showed our park pass (which you can purchase beforehand online) at the gate and continued onto the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
This is the highest peak in the Northeast and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6.
From the parking lot you can take an easy scenic half-mile hike around the summit.
You can also easily detour out from the summit loop for adjacent hikes.
Then we drove back from the summit onto the scenic drive along the 27 mile long Park Loop Road.
Jutting out from this road are also countless non-vehicular carriage paths that you can detour off for bike and horseback rides.
Midway through the loop we parked at Jordan Pond House Restaurant, a historic place to stop for tea and lunch in Acadia.
And from there you can hike the serene 3.5 miles around Jordan Pond, which took us about 1-2 hours the next morning.
Back on Park Loop Road and on our way from Jordan Pond we then stopped at Thunder Hole, a natural rock inlet which physics cause waves to crash with the sound of thunder.
There are times posted everyday when to show up for the biggest and loudest-sounding waves.
After a full loop around Acadia with its numerous detours, we finally checked in at our lodgings at Atlantic Eyrie Lodge, located in the quaint bayside town of Bar Harbor.
Just walking here and you can get a feel for the small town vibes that have been emblematic of the New England character. It’s also a wonderful place for sunset….
…and for moonrise.
- At time of posting in Acadia National Park, it was 16 °C -
Humidity: 96% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy
I’ve been posting regularly for weeks about what’s going on in and outside of NYC regarding COVID-related ups and downs, but after 3 months sheltering in place I feel it’s time for me peek above these fences and see for myself.
My dreams (already crazy & turbulent because of a lockdown…that’s a widespread thing apparently!) have also become even more vivid as of late, taking me back yearning to cross unknown deserts again.
So with nearly everyone I know in NYC already traveling, no ER shifts scheduled for the week, and a COVID-resistant cross country road-trip planned for this August, I’m compelled to take my life of monsooning into pandemic trial mode and research how domestic trips may remain safe and as responsible as possible, without negatively affecting other communities (as our previous monsoons have always been).
Because if our next wave happens to be now or our annual flu season mid-October, I want to make sure I’ve fully recharged by then and made the most out of our reprieve in NYC (…but you better stay <1% positive for COVID when I return!)…that is, before the inevitable happens.
So I head northeast this week outside the 50-mile radius of a bubble I’ve been holed up in for far too long, and I look forward to what dreams may come. I look forward to never letting my dreams be dreams.
This Monday at 10am, we first made a quick stop in Elmhurst, Queens to check in on my grandmother: This is what a COVID survivor looks like.
At 11:30am we then drove for about an hour and half north from Queens into Connecticut, which currently is less than 2% positive for COVID and one of the only 2-3 states in the country at the time of posting with continually decreasing rates of infection. Didn’t feel too unsafe leaving NYC.
Whenever I visit Connecticut, I always make a quick pit stop at my favorite Szechuan joint, Lao Sze Chuan in Milford.
If you’re ever there, make sure you order my personal favorite, the Chef’s Special Fried Chili Chicken:
And if you’re a vegetarian, mix in some rice with their Ma Po Tofu:
New Haven, CT
After half an hour in Milford, we then drove another 20 minutes northeast towards New Haven, where we stopped by at Frank Pepe PIzzeria, which was profiled on the first episode of David Chang’s Netflix show “Ugly Delicious.”
I realize that pizza has become a running theme when we also ate the “#1 best pizza in the world” at Savoy (also profiled in the same episode on “Ugly Delicious”) 2 summers ago in Tokyo.
And just as Brooklyn boasts its own unique style of pizza, so does New Haven: Compared to NYC, a “plain” New Haven pizza, or a “tomato pie,” is described to have a doughier, slightly thicker crust with oregano, tomato sauce, and grated pecorino romano cheese.
But Frank Pepe didn’t just invent New Haven pizza, it also became legendary for its white clam pizza:
Totally full at this point, we walked off our double lunch at the serene campus grounds of Yale University.
As the campus is now completely devoid of life because of COVID cancelling all summer classes, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. There was not a single other soul here.
One of my favorite stories here when I was visiting colleges was that its architects reportedly poured acid down the walls of its buildings to make it look older and thus compete with the buildings at Harvard.
See if you can find the Women’s Table sculpture, conceived by architect Maya Lin (who also designed the Vietnam War Memorial in DC). Each number corresponds to the number of women enrolled at Yale University every year.
After a 30 minute stroll, we then took our final 2 hour drive of the day into Rhode Island, currently also with <2% positive rate for COVID-19 and one of two other states in the country with continually declining rates.
Once in Providence, we quickly checked into our first digs at affordable and yet boutique The Dean Hotel.
What do I think about hotel rooms in the era of COVID? Pick the right one and they’re by and large safer as they’re expected to be sanitized more often and thoroughly than private homes, especially in the era of COVID. After all, nobody wants that negative Yelp review and hardly anyone has been traveling anyway the past 3 months!
For me and my personal risk tolerance, they’re also way safer than any of the ERs I’ve been working in the past 3 months when I had a lack of PPE…
After a half an hour freshening up, we rendezvous’ed with my friends Lei and Maria (both of whom came on my monsoon to The Balkans 3 summers ago) who just so happened to be in Rhode Island the same days we were!
We first walked 10 minutes west to Federal Hill with an al fresco dinner at Il Massimo.
After dinner, we walked along Canal Walk by the water.
Crossing over to the east side of Providence, we gazed up at the hills that led to Brown University‘s campus.
We decided to stick to the water instead, walking south while taking in the magic of Providence’s skyline at night.
We walked all the way south to the water before reaching Plant City (where we returned the next night for dinner with my partner’s own high school friend Victoria!), a cutting edge plant-based (vegan) food hall/emporium.
I got the Pizzaiola, made with roasted cauliflower, tomato, and pepperoncini:
…and the Cacio E Pepe, made with almond parmesan with black pepper cashew cream.
From Plant City you can loop around along the new 28 million dollar Providence City Bridge Road:
“Is it always this empty? Or is it COVID?”
“It’s always this empty.”
Our night tour ended at the Providence Performing Arts Center, a famed 1920s theater that still hosts (at least until COVID) Broadway shows, plays, concerts, musicals & other performances.
Curious thing, there are bunny rabbits EVERYWHERE here:
The next morning we got coffee at Bolt Coffee next to our hotel and enjoyed more of charming Downtown Providence by day:
Newport, Rhode Island
After having our fill of Providence, we drove south 45 minutes to Newport, Rhode Island:
Meeting up with Maria, we went on the famous Cliff Walk and admired the majesty of the American Gilded Age with its jaw-dropping “summer cottages” facing the sea.
My favorites begin with Ochre Court, part of the Salve Regina University campus (where one of our monsooners from Egypt and co-worker at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, Grace Kelly, attended!)
The Young Building is next to Ochre Court, also part of the Salve Regina University campus.
The grandest of them all would be The Breakers, which once belonged to The Vanderbilts. I remember visiting 8 years ago on the way back after attending Lei and Maria’s wedding in Providence.
After nearly an hour walking along the cliffs, we quickly peeked at the gentrified shops in Newtown and grabbed a legendary lemon slush at Del’s:
Couldn’t help this one:
With a deluge approaching, we got back into our cars and drove past Easton Beach towards Bristol, aka, the “most patriotic town in America” for being home to the the oldest parade in America (their July 4th’s).
And did it rain by the time we reached Bristol 30 minutes later.
We took shelter with a late lunch at Thames Waterside Bar & Grill before returning to Providence and grabbing our aforementioned dinner at Plant City with Victoria.
On our third day, we checked out and met with Victoria for breakfast at the legendary Seven Star Bakery (especially known for its almond croissants) and walked around the area before pondering the equally legendary ice cream at 3 Sisters.
As it began to pour again, we quickly said our goodbyes and drove back downtown to finish up our last bit of sightseeing in the city. Luckily the skies began to clear over the Rhode Island State House:
Then as the sun returned, we ordered some of my favorite falafel at East Side Pockets for lunch before strolling along the empty Brown University campus on the east side of Providence.
If you venture a little westwards, you can get views over downtown Providence from Prospect Terrace:
With Rhode Island in the books, we now head up to my first time in Maine!
- At time of posting in Providence, Rhode Island, it was 20 °C -
Humidity: 90% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: thunderstorms
After 3 days road trippin’ around the UAE and visiting all 7 Emirates and Omani/Emirati counter-enclaves, it’s finally to the literal end of the road to Khasab: the main city in an exclave called Musandam Oman and can be considered Oman’s “Alaska”. It’s also called the “Norway of Arabia” due to its topography of desolate mountainscapes and fjord-like inlets.
If you’re planning to do the drive yourself, make sure you have a NOC (No Objection Certificate) that the car rental shop will give to you when you tell them you’re making a drive to Musandam Oman. Evan was able to thankfully arrange all this when he arrived into Dubai 2am the night before.
Giving Evan only 4 hours of sleep, we all woke up early at 7am to begin our day. Ambrose also happened to befriend a Persian girl named Samira last night after I asked him to do my laundry downstairs, so we all had breakfast together at the hotel before beginning our drive at 8:30am.
We first drove up an hour and half up past RAK city to the UAE/Musandam Oman border, reaching there at around 10am.
First you have to enter the offices there and formally exit the UAE, paying the 30 AED exit fee first along with your passports, NOC, and car registration papers.
They then give you a pink slip to show to the border guards as you drive into No Man’s Land.
Then when you reach the Oman border, you have to enter the offices there to get a visa on arrival stamp at the border for 5 Omani Rials. There’s an ATM inside in case you need it.
They also hand you another slip to show the border guards that you’re good to enter Oman.
Once you’re past this border, you need to quickly clear customs.
Then it’s another 45 minute drive down gorgeous curvy seaside cliffs to reach Khasab.
All in all, it took us about 3 hours in total to drive from Dubai to Khasab.
Once there we first stopped by the Central Sultan Qaboos Mosque, which holds 1900 people. We were not allowed inside.
Then we drove up to Alkmazrh Fort (or Khmazera Castle), located inside the city that still belongs to a local tribe; it currently is taken care by the tribes’ younger generation who remain proud of their ancestral possession. It was free to enter for us.
We then drove 3 minutes uptown and paid 0.50 Rials to check out the slightly larger Khasab Castle for 10 minutes: Built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, this castle once housed the Wali and his family, then prisoners, before being converted and restored into a regional museum.
The view from the top:
Then we drove up 2 minutes more uptown to scarf down a fantastic 10 Rial seafood lunch complete with fresh fish at Amjad Restaurant:
We then finished our drive at Khasab Dhow Port for the ferry-boats to Muscat. Here you can hop on a full day 6-8 hour or half-day 3 hour dhow boat ride (Or take one all the way to Muscat!).
On a side note, if you’re lucky you can find Iranian Smugglers here where everyday hundreds of small jet boats carrying supplies cross the Strait of Hormuz heading to Southern Iran. The former brings over goats and sheep for the UAE, and then carry back televisions, cigarettes, and other goods to avoid Iranian import duties. Because Khasab is a free trade port Oman tolerates all this.
They must avoid not only shipping traffic but also the Iranian Coast Guard who have no reservations of shooting them on sight.
Since smuggling wasn’t on our minds, we were able to arrange a 3 hour boat ride at 1pm at the last minute for 100 AED (you can bargain it down) per person thanks to a contact provided by Sean the night before.
Dolphins chased down our dhow about 20 minutes into our ride!
About an hour in, they’ll take you to a freshwater area deep in the Strait of Hormuz where you can jump in for a swim and snorkel off the coast of Oman (or Iran, depending on how you look at it). A US drone was just shot down here 3 days ago, but we saw nothing of it: No warships, no media, no helicopters, and no military activity. Just a bunch of American tourists going for a dive.
Then it was simple relaxation for the rest of the journey where you can just take in all the views as they serve you unlimited fruit, tea, water and coffee onboard.
Just lounge away:
After our dhow cruise docked back in Khasab at 4:30pm, we began our drive back to the UAE:
Once returning to Dubai by 7:30pm, we freshened up at our hotel and rendezvous’ed with Sean, his girlfriend Chelsea (who also has been living in the UAE for the past 9 years), as well as inviting Samira out for a final night out together by the Dubai Fountain and facing the Burj al Khalifa.
After a wonderful meal complete with shisha and drinks, we finally said our goodbyes, with Wendy running to catch her 1am flight back home, and Sean and Chelsea having to go to sleep early for their classes tomorrow morning.
The 5 of us left then headed to Dubai Mall for the obligatory visit to the world’s largest fish tank and one of the largest aquariums in the world:
Then Samira and the gang had one more round of drinks and shisha at Garage Café before we all finally turned in at 1am. In a few hours: Kabul, Afghanistan!
- At time of posting in Khasab, it was 40 °C -
Humidity: 28% | Wind Speed: 15km/hr | Cloud Cover: so so hot
What a cool name for a country — “Hey, I live on ‘The Isle Of Man.'”
It first appeared on my layman American radar when it was referenced as a penal colony in the dystopian Children Of Men, but otherwise has also become — at least for me — a symbol of an elusive exotic island off the grid of the civilized map (how wrong I was). It definitely has become one of those places that elicits a “that’s a real place?” when mentioned to the average American.
But I can’t see why it would be after 2 quick and easy flights from NYC.
The Tower Of Refuge
For the uninitiated, the Isle Of Man is considered a sovereign state that also exists as a dependency of the British Crown. This means it is NOT part of the UK itself but relies on them for foreign affairs and military defense. Otherwise the Isle Of Man has its own government, Chief Minister, and a democratically-elected Parliament (The “House of Keys”) that nominates a “Legislative Council.” In relation to the EU, the Isle of Man is an associate member but not a full member.
In other words, visiting the Isle Of Man may count as a new country!
After an 8 hour layover in Manchester, I boarded a 5:35pm Flybe flight, arriving 50 minutes later at 6:25pm. Despite the short flight, I befriended my seat-neighbor Zoe who helpfully shared some pro-tips on exploring the Isle Of Man in 2 days.
Getting out into arrivals in this cute little airport took literally less than a minute.
At the information desk in arrivals, you can ask for a passport stamp for the Isle of Man:
Then I rendezvou’ed with Melissa, Joe, and Grayson (who flew in from London at the same time) outside baggage claims, where we were then picked up in our rental car by Alfred and Sam, both of whom had arrived a few hours earlier.
We then drove 20 minutes over to the capital city of Douglas and checked into our digs at The Town House. As we waited for Donna to arrive later at 9pm, we began a leisurely stroll north up along the corniche.
Following the din of random music, we enjoyed an impromptu dinner via food trucks at Bushy’s TT Village, featuring an outdoor concert on a rooftop overlooking the town center.
After an hour here, we then walked south around Douglas down its pedestrian-only Strand Street, taking in the golden hour.
Once we got to the southern docks, it was already 9:30pm local time, but as you can see it was still bright out:
Adding to the surreal atmosphere here, Donna would also happen to run into Sam and me along Strand Street as we picking up some water and groceries for the next day. We all then headed back to The Town House and gave into the jetlag.
The next morning we got up early for our big day exploring the island, first enjoying a lovely farm to table breakfast at The Alpine.
Then we set off north 15 minutes for Laxey, famous for its “oldest water wheel in the world.” Admission fee is 7£ for adults, 4£ for students.
Pro-tip (thanks Zoe!), if you arrive after 5pm when they close, you can jump the fence and make up for the bad karma later.
93 steps up to the top:
There’s also a lovely Mine Trail behind the Laxey Wheel that takes 15-20 minutes long to walk:
Then we drove southwest to the city of Peel:
It’s home to the 1000 year old Peel Castle, where it was once used by monks to hide from invading Viking hordes. Also 7£ (4£ for students) to enter.
After 30 minutes wandering here we then grabbed some ice cream at the famous Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour and peeked inside St German Cathedral (aka Cathedral Isle Of Man):
From there we drove south to Castle Rushen in the appropriately eponymous Castletown:
Also 7£ (3£ for students) to enter:
Find the pooping man inside:
Then driving through Balladoole Heritage Site, which lies 5 minutes to the west of Castletown, we headed another 10 minutes southwest to Isle of Man’s own “Stonehenge”: the Meayll Stone Circle:
After 5 minutes taking in the views of the south, we began our drive back towards Douglas to catch the annual Isle Of Man Tourist Trophy (IOMTT) practice races from the balcony lounge of The Creg-Ny-Baa. Of all the times to choose to go to the Isle of Man, I would pick the most popular time to visit!
For 10£ per person you can reserve seats in the upstairs lounge at The Creg no more than 48 hours in advance for prime viewing spots of what has been regarded the “most dangerous sporting event in the world.”
Grab your telephoto lens when the race starts; the elite riders go first:
At around 8:05pm, the sidecars come out:
What a time to be alive! After the race ended at 9pm and waiting for the roads to reopen at 9:15pm, we then drove back to Douglas for bed.
Tomorrow we set off early for Northern Ireland!
- At time of posting in Isle Of Man, it was n/a -
Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: n/a
On my way to Isle Of Man this evening, I enjoyed an unexpected 8 hour layover in lovely Manchester.
Taking the 10pm Thomas Cook Airlines flight from JFK Airport in NYC, I arrived 7 hours later at 9:55am local time at Manchester Airport.
My morning started with first going back and forth between Terminal 3 and 1 to find a left luggage facility to drop off my big bag (the guy at Terminal 3 said “I’m not trained to use the x-ray”…erm yeah).
Once solving that, I headed over to The Station on the 7th floor and took the 20 minute shuttle train into the city.
I got off at Victoria station at around 11am.
From there I began my walking tour north at Chetham’s Library, a public library built in 1653 housing thousands of books & manuscripts. There are set times for entry for otherwise free public tours inside.
Afterwards I walked 5 minutes south to and around the Manchester Cathedral:
It’s free to enter:
After a few minutes, I walked 10 minutes south to an oasis of calm at Trinity Bridge:
Then turning east, I walked 5 minutes towards Saint Ann’s Church:
Down the block south from St. Ann’s Church is John Rylands Library, famous for being the home to the ‘Manchester Fragment’: the earliest known fragment of the New Testament and part of St. John’s gospel that was found near Alexandria. It dates from 2nd century, shortly after the gospel itself was first written.
If you come at around 12pm, they’ll open the upper galleries for an hour for you to take photos.
As UK’s notoriously perennially bipolar weather went from sunny to rainy back to sunny, I happened to come across a religious parade/procession right outside:
Across the street to the east and through a small alleyway lies St Mary’s Church, Manchester’s oldest Catholic church and built in 1794.
I then kept walking along Princess Street and passed by Manchester City Council:
Next to the city council is the Manchester Central Library:
Manchester Chinatown, the new center of Manchester’s changing and evolving youth culture, which is right down a few streets:
And The Village (aka Gay Village) is embedded within this neighborhood along Canal Street:
And from the Alan Turing Memorial in a quiet park across the bridge, I walked along the canal back west.
After a nice 15 minute walk, I reached Castlefield, a relaxed neighborhood of public esplanades, canals, casual waterfront bars and green spaces.
And the best part was that this whole walking tour took about 2-3 hours at a turtle pace.
At around 2pm I decided to get back on the train here towards the airport o catch my onward 5:35pm Flybe flight out to the Isle Of Man.
- At time of posting in Manchester, UK, it was 16 °C -
Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: manic depressive: sunny, cloudy, sunny, and rainy
Like many of my trips before, a day in Barbados wasn’t really planned to happen. But things that happen are meant to happen right? I dare say this one was from the old habit of having 2 consecutive days off and wondering: Where’s the next place I can go next?
Well, after considering my options with Barbados being one of them (especially with the flights costing about $300 round trip), I pondered that with the weather warming up back home in NYC I could save such a warm destination for winter weekend getaway instead.
But then Evan Danek, who had just joined me for my last 3 trips to Prague, Budapest, and Pakistan, jumped at the offer (while it was still in its early brainstorming stages!) and bought his tickets without much of a discussion. And who was I to give an excuse and flake on him? Never done that in the past and I don’t intend to do it now.
And so 4 days ago I bought mine and found myself on my way for a 36 hour trip to Barbados.
Taking the 2:00pm American Airlines flight to Miami, I caught a connecting 6:24pm onward flight to Bridgetown, Barbados, landing at BGI airport at 9:56pm.
After passport stamping, I was picked up outside by the hotel’s complimentary car service for my first night’s lodgings at Coconut Court Beach Resort. I had picked there only because Evan used his Marriott points for a free night stay across the street at the Courtyard by Marriott the next evening.
So I turned in at 11pm while Evan arrived the next morning on the 11pm-5am direct JetBlue flight from NYC. After he waited another hour for me to wake up, we rendezvous’ed at my hotel at 8am to begin our trip.
If you’re new to Barbados, a great starting point would be at the Charles Fort in the Historic Garrison area:
To reach it, the fort is located inside and part of the Hilton Barbados Hotel & Resort property on the southwest-most point of Barbados. That said, if I was bringing my girlfriend, the Hilton would be my primary choice to stay as you immediately start your walking tour with a well known sight.
The fort is tiny and seems more like an alternative event space for Hilton, so after 5 minutes here we hopped in Evan’s rental car and drove into the center of Barbados’ capital city, Bridgetown, and oriented ourselves at the Parliament Buildings.
Across the street is the National Heroes Square, a popular central meeting point for locals and tourists.
If you’re feeling a little peckish like we did, we crossed the bridge over the canal for the restaurants by the waterfront.
The most popular joint was Waterfront Cafe.
We then strolled for 15 minutes or so around town.
…and then drove 20 minutes up north to Harrison’s Cave.
The entry fee is $30 USD ($60 Barbadian Dollars) for a 45-minute guided tram tour of the mile-long cave. You can also take a 3 hour “wild tour” that involves hiking and getting chest-deep in cave waters.
For those of you who want to go on an even further extended adventure, we then drove up another 25 minutes to the extreme north of Barbados to the Animal Flower Cave. It costs $12.50 USD ($25 Barbadian Dollars) to enter and it includes a 15 minute guided tour.
In another part of the cave, you can take a dip for 10-15 minutes after the tour. It can get up to 8 feet deep near the edge.
Afterwards you can dine at the outdoor restaurant just above the cave that boasts great views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Afterwards we drove back south for a quick peek at Hunte’s Garden on a spur-of-the-moment recommendation by my friend Tamara (who was happening to be following my Instagram Stories).
We then checked in at the Marriott and then beached it: Miami, Bath, Accra, Crane, Gibbes, Silver Sands Beach… you can’t go wrong here.
For dinner we treated ourselves with a view at Champers:
And to finish off our whirlwind tour of Barbados, we drove by the bar scene at St. Lawrence Gap (aka The Gap) only to determine it dead on arrival on a Thursday night.
Not much else to do here, but if you’re in a place like Barbados, why do anything else?
- At time of posting in Bridgetown, Barbados, it was 29 °C -
Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 27km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny