Thank god San Sebastian is a mere hour-long bus ride from Pamplona. While the San Fermin festival is centered around a martyred Saint, the city of San Sebastian is centered around a statue of Jesus Christ. And if Jesus is forgiving, let’s just say that San Fermin is something of a motherfucker. The two atmospheres could not compliment each other more.
Located in the north coast of Spain, very close to France, San Sebastian seems like a picturesque Mediterranean city (although it’s on the Atlantic). It’s become a popular destination for people to go to after San Fermin, and you absolutely should. First and foremost, San Sebastian is stunningly beautiful. Like “you’re kidding me” beautiful. It’s easy on the eyes, the weather is comfortable, the water is warm, and the architecture is, again, beautiful. As for the food, don’t even get me started. There’s a reason Anthony Bourdain said, “You’d have a hard time finding anything better than Barcelonafor food, as far as being a hub. But given a choice between Barcelona and San Sebastián to die in, I’d probably want to die in San Sebastián.” How do more people not know about this place?
If there’s one thing you will hear about San Sebastian, it’s that it is a foodie paradise. True story. The city is mostly commonly known for their pintxos (peen-chos), which is just another spin on traditional tapas. In Spain a plate of tapas is typically served, for free, each and every time you order a drink – you don’t get to pick what you want, you’re just given something. In San Sebastian, the small plates of pintxos sit on top of the bar. You order a drink, hand select a few pintxos, and pay for them all together. They’re not free, but you do have a choice and most pintxos cost only about 2 euros. There are many places serving very similar and not very exciting pintxos, so do a little research ahead of time or ask around to find a gem or two. Cafe Bar Beti-Jai Berria was far and away the best pintxos place I went, and it sufficiently blew my mind with sangria and pintxos for 15 euros. And there’s plenty of amazing more traditional restaurants as well – San Sebastian is just a foodie town with amazing chefs, which I’m told is a result of the city’s Basque heritage.
Accommodations:Hotel Monte Iguelda. It’s 2 miles outside of the city, so you need to take a cab to get into town (10 euros). That said, don’t go anywhere else. It’s on top of a mountain overlooking the whole city and the view can’t be beaten.
Four or five years ago, I made a promise to a friend. It was a promise to attend Festival San Fermin, an event more commonly known to most Americans as “the running of the bulls,” when he wrapped up law school. Knowing my friend, it seemed like a long shot and I didn’t hesitate to nod my head in agreement. This past week he cashed in on that promise, and I couldn’t be happier that he did (thanks Alan).
Festival San Fermin takes place over 9 days each July in Pamplona, Spain – a small city in the northern Basque region of the country. Every morning 12 bulls run through the streets of the city en route to the bullfighting ring, where they’ll fightlater that evening. Runners and onlookers alike typically stay up all night, run or watch the encierro (the actual running of the bulls) at 8:00am each morning, then take a siesta until the bullfights that evening. Then lather, rinse, and repeat.
What you’ve seen on TV is largely true. Everybody, without exception, donnes white clothes with a red pampuela (scarf) around their neck. The city’s narrow, cobblestoned streets are overlooked by countless balconies over which buckets of water, sangria, and champagne are dumped on the masses in the streets below. There’s no escaping, and everyone is soaking wet, chanting, dancing, and smiling ear to ear.
As for the run itself, yes, it’s absolutely terrifying. The streets are very narrow and very crowded, and contrary to popular belief there are very few places where you can actually jump over or under a barricade to safety. Bulls will get very close to you, and I promise you they are both very big and very fast. But the fact of the matter is thousands of people run every year and there are very, very few incidents of goring and or death. The bulls don’t want to hurt you – they just want to run into the bull ring – so as long as you run with the bulls and don’t do anything stupid you should be all set. And when you yourself enter the bull ring, realize you’re still alive, and hear the crowds chanting for you, you absolutely have a Gladiator moment that’s hard to replicate.
There are many big parties on this planet, let alone “festivals.” But I don’t think that Saint Patrick’s Day, or Mardi Gras, or Burning Man, or any other event that I know of can compete with the intensity of San Fermin. It’s a wave. But more than that, it’s the traditions of the event that make it unique.
I haven’t yet gotten an answer to just how long Festival San Fermin has been taking place each July in Pamplona. The running of the bulls through the streets, the bullfights, and the drinking have long been happening. Just when they came together and officially morphed into Festival San Fermin is the question, but you can safely classify the event as old as dirt (1591 is the best answer I could find).
First and foremost, there’s an incredible amount of people who this event means a lot to. The people of Pamplona are fiercely protective of it, and if you act like a “stupid American,” they will in fact form a mob and beat the crap out of you (as witnessed on numerous occasions). But the number of international travelers who return year after year is frightening. Within two minutes of stepping onto the streets of Pamplona, two Americans, Leone and his son Zack, took us under their wing. Leone’s been attending San Fermin for 22 years now, and has brought his son Zack along for the past 15. These guys showed my friends and I the ropes (and a great time) and we’re forever grateful to them for it. But that’s just the spirit of the event – show some new friends what it’s all about, and they’ll pass it on when they return.
Now 26 years sober, it’s not the spectacle of the event or the partying in the streets that draws Leone back year after year – running with the bulls each morning and the spirit of the event are the closest thing to a spiritual happening that he has. He doesn’t need Mecca; he just needs 9 days in Pamplona each and every July. He talks about hearing the rhythm of the bells you hear throughout the event each winter, a subtle reminder beckoning him to book his plane ticket and lodging for the upcoming San Fermin. He loves the festival and its traditions, and it’s contagious. So does his son.
But what most makes San Fermin an amazing experience in my eyes is the people that you meet. Zack (a barber from California) quickly became our tour guide, our sensei, but before I knew it, I was moving through the streets with a Ghanaian product manager from London (Ken), a real estate broker from California (Ben), a savage on his bachelor’s party from the south of Spain (Carlos), a girl who sells floppy Kentucky Derby style hats in New York (Emily), a Spanish teacher from Vermont (Pat), and countless locals from Pamplona. Not to mention some Bostonians. Drinking sangria in the streets at 10:00am. For 5 days straight. When was the last time that happened?
It’s easy to write off San Fermin for any number of reasons: running around with bulls sounds like a bad idea, the time and cost associated with getting to Pamplona is significant, seemingly outdated traditions, you name it. Ultimately it was the people that made the experience for me. When you mix up enough interesting, outgoing people with a passion for life from all corners of the globe, San Fermin will make sure your Festival is seasoned to taste. San Fermin, mon amigo, is a blast.
Other notes from my trip
Accommodations: Hotel Maisonnave. Nice (by European standards), simple accomdations right where you want to be.
Food: Pamplona has three food groups: cured meat, cheese, and white bread. Get into it. Bull stew tastes, not surprisingly, much like beef stew.
Bars: Make you first stop Bar Txoko (right in the main plaza), find your sensei, then go from there.
Also, the video above is the actual running that I partook in. If you can’t find me, I’m the guy in white wearing a red scarf…
When I started looking at visiting Spain, the two immediate candidates were the obvious ones – Barcelona and Madrid. I knew I wanted to see “old Spain” as opposed to a more modern city, and at the recommendation of several friends I decided on Granada. I couldn’t be more happy that I did.
Granada is a small city in southern Spain – it’s hard to compare it in size to an American city (because there aren’t any tall buildings of any sort) but I’d guess it’s most similar in size to say, Providence, Rhode Island. The city certainly looks very “old Spain” in terms of architecture, with incredibly narrow cobblestone streets winding through the hills. The Sierra Nevada mountains provide the backdrop of the city, and a Muslim palace that was built in the 10th century sits atop a hill overlooking the city proper. It’s certainly nothing if not a pleasant setting.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Melia Granada, a four star hotel in a fantastic central location. This hotel does not drip with Spanish charm, but it is very nice, very clean, and located near everything you’d want to see in Granada. It’s a 5-minute walk to Plaza Nueva, the central point of the city sitting at the feet of the Alhambra. It’s just as close to the Albaicin, a Muslim neighborhood within the city filled with twisting streets, hookah bars, and general madness. If I went back, I’d happily stay here again.
One of the highlights of my trip, no doubt, was paragliding. I knew heading into my Spain trip that I wanted to do something out of the ordinary, and this was certainly it. I found the company Andaventor online, and exchanged a series of emails with the guys who run the operation, Romain and Neftali. They spoke English, and generally did a good job of addressing my concerns about running and jumping off a 5,000 foot mountain with two guys I didn’t know and my girlfriend. For that, I owe them a lot.
These guys are both French – come to find out, paragliding is a big deal in France and is growing like crazy in Granada. They moved to Granada about 10 years ago to start an adventure sports company, one that dabbles in nearly any adventure sport that doesn’t require a motor. As Romain put it, “I spent a long time trying to find the best way to fly. Then I found paragliding.” Romain would prove to be a wise man – he spends his days paragliding, skiing, and generally doing anything but what I consider to be “work.” As he put it, “I’m more concerned with living the good life while I’m here than being the richest man in the grave.” A wise man. That could just as easily be the motto of the city of Granada.
Anyways, when my flight from Ibiza landed in Granada, I already had a knot in my stomach – I was scheduled to paraglide the following day, and it was certainly already front and center in my mind. Romain came and picked us up the following day in downtown Granada, and we drove out into the mountains. We stopped at the base of the mountain to wait for Romain’s partner, and when I looked up I could see 30-40 paragliders already flying around thousands of feet up in the air. I was shocked – I just assumed we’d be the only people up there.
As I watched one yellow paraglider who was particularly high up there, I noticed that he appeared to be having trouble with his paraglider. Rather that being fully caught in the wind, it began to ruffle in the breeze and suddenly the man attached to it began to free fall. I’m talking all out, this guy is falling from the sky. An accident! A certain death – not the way to settle your own stomach before jumping off a big-ass mountain. Come to find out this freak was a friend of Romain and Neftali, and is considered the preminent paralgider in the world – he was described to me as the Tony Hawk of the sport. On this particular day he had decided to fly as high as he could, then detach from his paraglider and free fall while wearing what I’d describe as a flying squirrel suit. Shortly before he reached the ground he pulled a reserve shoot and landed safely – he’d go find his abandoned paraglider later – just another day at the office.
Long story short, I was pretty damn nervous until I got to the top of the mountain and started to get ready. At that point I saw how much fun the other paragliders were having up there – a calm swept over me, and I was really just excited to get after it. You fly in tandem your first time around, so I basically had Romain strapped to my back along with the paraglider. As Romain put it, “now just run off the edge of the mountain, but whatever you do just keep on running even after your feet leave the ground.” While this may have felt silly, the translation is if you stop running too soon the paraglider may not catch the wind and you’ll just fall off a cliff.
Once you get off the ground, you basically fly in circles looking for a thermal – two gusts of winds that hit one another and cause and upward draft, pulling you higher and higher into the sky. The flight lasted for about 40 minutes, and felt sort of like parasailing just without a rope and while being much higher up. And the views of the Sierra Nevada’s were spectacular throughout.
I was wearing a helmet cam, and I’ll upload that video later – for now, the video below gives you a sense of what flying over Granada is like.
Eat at El Huerto de Jaun Ranas
It may sound silly, but in my opinion the single best thing you can do in Granada is go to El Huerto de Jaun Ranas – a
View from El Huerto de Jaun Ranas, Granada, Spain
restaurant on top of a hill that looks directly across a river valley at the Alhambra. The Sierra Nevadas sit in the background, and you’re high enough up to see birds flying above the tops of the trees. This place has great spanish food and drinks (sangria and mojitos, in particular), but it’s really just all about the view. Everyday when I woke up, this is where I wanted to go. It’s certainly one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever been, and one of the most beautiful. If I lived in Granada, I’d come here to do all of my best thinking. An absolute must see in Granada.
Flamenco shows are very popular in Granada, as I’d imagine they are throughout most of Spain. The lady in my life was hot on the idea of checking one out, and I figured when in Spain, why not?
Flamenco is basically a form of tap dancing done in conjunction with clapping and Hispanic sounding acoustic guitar music. Romain had recommended that we check out the show at Jardines De Zoraya, and I’m happy we heeded his advice. A fantastic atmosphere, great tapas and other food (fried brie topped with strawberries, good lord), and generally a fantastic date spot.
Before heading to Granada, all I heard was “Granada is the home of tapas!” Yes, I was primarily concerned with what I’d be
A tapas restaurant & bar in Granada
eating prior to leaving. But come to find out, I didn’t really understand what tapas is. To me, tapas was supposed to be what I’m used to getting at tapas restaurants here in the US – small plates, of which you order many in order to sample as many dishes as possible. Not in Granada.
Tapas in Granada is everywhere, and it’s really a very simple system. For every drink that you order, alcoholic or otherwise, the restaurant is required to give you a plate of tapas. The more drinks you order, the more tapas you get – you have no say over what you’re brought, and it’s really up to you whether you eat it or not. While this may not be great for picky eaters, it certainly makes things very simple and keeps you very full.
The typical tapas plate might be fried eggplant or seafood of some variety, cold cured meats (ham in particular), or cheeses – it all really depends where you’re at, and each place specializes in different types of tapas. It’s pretty great, and my general advice would simply be to ask around for the best places near you – everyone has an opinion.
All in all, I think Granada is a fantastic place – prior to my trip it was as hyped up as could be, and it lived up to my expectations. It’s certainly a laid-back city with a bit of a hippy vibe, stuck in an old Spanish town with beautiful scenery. The people and the location could not complement each other more, and I look forward to going back.
In the past couple of weeks I was lucky enough to return to Europe for the first time since I studied abroad there in 2007. Although I was going somewhere I’d never been before, it felt like a homecoming of sorts – it certainly reaffirmed my notion that the European continent is a lot more interesting and fun than the North American. The US has a lot going for it, but I’d rather spend time in Europe than anywhere else.
This time around I went to Spain – Ibiza and Granada specifically. As I have much to say about both, I’ve decided to split them up into separate reviews. Without further adieu, let’s talk Ibiza.
Wikipedia has this to say about Ibiza, and Sant Antoni de Portmany (the city I stayed in) in particular, “Sant Antoni de Portmany is a town on the western coast of Ibiza. It is the second-largest town and municipality in Ibiza; an island described by Time Out magazine as “arguably the clubbing capital of the universe.” Many people aren’t even aware that Ibiza exists, but those that do tend to be familiar with this reputation. Trust me, the clubs are there and they’re amazing – but there’s definitely more to this island than just the nightlife.
When I first deplaned in Ibiza, I had been on an airplane for a long time. And as a bus took us the 20 minutes or so from the airport to Sant Antoni de Portmany, where we’d be staying, I briefly worried that I’d made a mistake. At first glance the streets looked like a dirtier Miami, with little except billboards advertising the major clubs’ closing parties to look at. It didn’t seem terrible (the weather was 80 degrees and sunny), but it didn’t seem to be the remarkable Mediterranean island I had envisioned. Luckily enough, I’d find that part of Ibiza in the next few days.
Where to stay
I stayed at Marina Playa, a small white-stone hotel overlooking Sant Antoni bay. By European hotel standards, the rooms
View from Marina Playa hotel balcony, Sant Antoni, Ibiza
were huge and very clean. We had a pretty awesome balcony and a fridge, and really needed little else. This place isn’t a 5-star hotel, but it was absolutely perfect in terms of location, comfort, and the overall experience. The hotel is run by and English family who could not have been more accommodating throughout our stay. If you ever head this way, I’d recommend this hotel without hesitation.
Where to eat
There are tons of good places to eat in Sant Antoni, but by far the most popular is “the sunset strip.” This strip of restaurants sits right on the sea, with the sun setting each night directly between two islands a few miles out. Hundreds of people gather each night at these restaurants, or simply on the rocks with a bottle of wine, to watch the sunset and listen to the DJs that play background music throughout the day and night. Nearly every restaurant has a DJ in Ibiza, and they’re almost all great. You might picture thumping techno music as something of an ambiance killer, but it’s not like that. You can certainly find that scene at night if you so choose, but the DJs that play on the sunset strip play more wistful, relaxing remixes that actually fit wonderfully with the scenery.
Cafe Mambo, Sant Antoni, Ibiza
If you head to Sant Antoni, the sunset strip is an absolute must do. This is definitely a place where I got my zen on – it’s really tough the be anything but relaxed when you’re there. Any of the restaurants will do nicely, but I had one of the best meals of my life at The Mint Lounge by Cafe Mambo. Drinks, appetizers, entrees, and an espresso cost something like 60 euros, which is absurdly cheap. Sticking with european tipping guidelines of 5%-10%, I left something along the lines of a 11% tip for our waitress. You would have thought I just successfully delivered her first-born child, as she soon emerged with two glasses of champagne on the house. Followed by two tequila shots on the house. As we soon found out, people in Ibiza are just dying to give you free stuff, especially if you tip even reasonable well.
The clubs are the reason that most people go to Ibiza, and they are
absolutely world-class. The week we were there, the first week in October, is actually the perfect time to go. August and September are “in season” and the island is generally packed with tourists, mostly Brits. I can’t tell you how many Spanish people said, “Ew, Ibiza. Too many drunk British people.” Sant Antoni is in fact filled with (largely drunk) Brits, but to me that wasn’t so bad. I love British people, and they only get wittier when intoxicated in my experience. But by going to Sant Antoni after the main tourist season ended, we had a much less crowded city all to ourselves – as well as nearly every clubs’ annual closing party.
I went to the closing party at Privilege, well-known as the largest club in the world. At capacity, this place holds 12,000 people. Yes, it was wildly overpriced, but it was worth every penny. The closing party started at 11:45pm, and didn’t end until 4:00pm the next day. Most of the best DJs and performances don’t happen until sunrise. We’re talking absurd performances throughout the night, smoke machines, fire everywhere, and all the while having unicyclists peddle on tight-ropes over your head. It’s silly as could be, and there are rooms with all sorts of techno, trance, and house music (yes, they are all considered to be very different in Ibiza).
If you’re looking for a club in Ibiza, you probably can’t go wrong with any of the island’s super clubs. I’d check out Privelege, Space, Pacha, Eden, El Paradis, or Amnesia.
Other stuff to do
Aside from checking out the beaches (yes they are largely topless, which caters nicely to my juvenile American mind) and the
Es Vedra Island, Ibiza
amazing Mediterranean water (salty enough that you naturally float), I’d absolutely recommend taking a boat tour to Es Vedra Island. I took a 3-hour cruise on a boat called the Captain Nemo that was absolutely fantastic. The cruise costs only 23 euros, and comes complete with a champagne toast, amazing music, and a stop to swim at one of the most spectacular beaches on the island. The journey shows you much of the coast of Ibiza, which is largely unspoiled and very remote aside from the cities of Ibiza Town and Sant Antoni. Once you get to some of the more remote parts of the islands, you understand why Ibiza is so popular with many celebrities. It gives them a beautiful place to get away where they absolutely won’t be bothered, yet there’s amazing food and nightlife readily accessible.
The highlight of the cruise is when you arrive at Es Vedra island, a small island of cliffs that is simply awesome to look at. It’s completely uninhabited, and supposedly has a magnetic pull much like the island in lost that has caused all sorts of weird things to happen there. As we returned back to Sant Antoni after leaving Es Vedra, we passed a fully naked man who waved to us as he steered his sailboat by with one hand and sipped a beer with the other – his also fully naked girlfriend sun tanning on the bow in front of him. That pretty much sums up Ibiza for you – unregulated, beautiful, and fun.
All in all, Ibiza should not be discounted solely as a party island full of drunken Brits – that stereotype is true, but it’s a very one-dimensional perspective on a place with so much more to offer. Whether you’re looking for a super lively vacation or one that’s beautifully desolate, you can find it in Ibiza.
We’re going to be going on a brief hiatus for a while, as I’ll be heading over to Spain to check out Ibiza and Granada. Look for the next installment of howiGit travel post-trip, somewhere in the vicinity of October 12.
In the meantime, you should all be plenty entertained by this Sunday’s Patriots – Broncos game. Remember that old Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning thing, mano y mano? It’s produced some of the most exciting football I’ve ever seen in the past, and you know Peyton wants this one even more than ever before. It’ll certainly be a good indication of how many cobwebs are still left on that right shoulder of his.
By Jimmy Cunningham, howiGit New York Writer, Manhattan, NY
I am not the globetrotter that our editor-in-chief is but I recently tricked a beautiful woman into getting married and that allowed me to get out of New York City and onto the beautiful beaches of Turks and Caicos. We ate like pigs, started drinking at noon, napped on the beach, and generally lived the life of luxury for 10 days. I highly recommend getting married if you enjoy any of those things.
We stayed at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos located on Grace Bay. The hotel was recently named one of the top ten trendiest resorts in the world and Grace Bay a top ten beach by MSN. The room was great, bigger than my old studio apartment, and overlooked the ocean which was impossibly blue. The staff was always friendly and I quickly became friends with many of the bartenders and waiters. A not-so-little-known fact about me; if you give me food and booze I will love you forever. One of the staff members discovered that I was a Giants fan. Every time I saw him following our initial meeting, he had a trade to propose that would end up with the Dolphin’s receiving Eli. We couldn’t work out a deal. But even on an island in the Caribbean they know Eli is the man.
There are two local beers on the island, Turks Head Pilsner and Turks Head Lager, known to the locals as Turks Head Dark and Turks Head Light. The beer is pretty good for an island beer, and much better than Presidente seen at a lot of resorts. A tip from the locals is to add a little grenadine, but I didn’t test that out as I had developed a steady routine of three Corona buckets a day. I do not believe Turk’s Head is available outside of Turks and Caicos, but if you’re lucky enough to find yourself there, give it a try.
It was no surprise that I consumed a fair amount of seafood on an island vacation, but even I was surprised by the final tally; I had fish everyday that I was there and consumed no less than 10 different varieties. Conch is the specialty on Turks and Caicos and was the favorite for sure.
The food at the Gansevoort was great. Weirdly the restaurant at the hotel was Italian, but that didn’t stop us from eating fabulous dinners there. We also did some extensive research of the beach bar menu, having lunch and a “snack” (fourth meal) every day. When we did leave the resort, we had nothing but success.
Somewhere – The name of this bar caused a lot of Abbot and Costello-esque situations when trying to talk about what to do with dinner or when you pass the place accidentally and have to ask someone who does not speak much English how to get to “Somewhere”. When we finally found “Somewhere” we were met with great mexican-style beach fare – you can’t beat a fish taco and a margarita overlooking the ocean after a long day of tanning and boozing.
Anacaona – on the fancier side, Anacaona is an outside restaurant lit entirely by candles and located on a string of boardwalks. The ambiance was great, but the food was even better. I mentioned that conch is the local specialty, and I had an appetizer of conch 4 ways, and as if that wasn’t good enough, I followed it up with a pot pie. A lobster pot pie, more specifically. I don’t think I need to say any more.
Coco Bistro – our last dinner outside of the Gansevoort was definitely the best and my most highly recommended. We had heard about Coco Bistro prior to arriving and were unable to get a reservation all week – they were booked almost 2 weeks in advance. On the recommendation of the concierge, we went early and took a chance, and were so glad we did. For all the hype, Coco Bistro has a totally unassuming exterior, and we were pretty sure we’d be let down. Wrong. They seat you in a garden behind the actual building that is totally canopied by trees. Not that you notice the surroundings when you are eating like a caveman. The food was outstanding. I started with tuna sashimi and followed that with penne with lobster, shrimp, and scallops. From somewhere deep in our food comas we managed to verbalize that we would try to power through dessert. For research purposes only, we battled through coconut pie and banana fritters. We had to be rolled home.
Overall the trip was amazing, no meal was bad and it rained for a total of about 3 hours in 10 days. After having the best night of my life at the wedding (I will never hear the song Shout again without getting goose bumps) it was followed by the best ten days I have ever had. If you want to eat, drink, and relax then Turks and Caicos is the place for you.
When thinking of Tampa, Florida, my mind always conjured up images of spring training baseball, old people, and strip clubs. While these images may not be totally incorrect, I feel like I got to know the place having spent the last week there. It’s a bit of an unremarkable place, but it’s also one that I grew quite fond of.
In general, Tampa feels like one of those towns that exists solely to host conferences – alas, I was in fact there for a conference. There’s a ton of hotels, but there’s generally no one and nothing going on downtown. Sure, there’s a few skyscrapers, but there’s an abundant lack of restaurants, bars, people… quite bizarre. I came to learn that these things do exist in Tampa, just not downtown.
The water in the picture above is not Tampa Bay, and yes, it is abnormally green (it was dyed this way for St. Patrick’s day). Tampa Bay, as I’ve always known the city, has fallen out of favor – in the name of the town’s baseball team (formerly the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now the Tampa Rays) and in general use. Tampa Bay is in fact a part of the city, the swanky wealthy part in fact, but it doesn’t accurately capture the rest of the city. OK then, Tampa it is.
So aside from the obvious (the weather), what’s there to love about Tampa? First and foremost, let’s talk sports. This place ain’t Boston, but it’s definitely a town of sports fanatics – love it. The Buccaneers, the Lighting, and the Rays are, in order, where the town’s sporting faith lies. I think it’s awesome that it’s such an avid hockey city, given its southern location. That said, for everything I think of the Rays and the whole spring training baseball ordeal (home of the Yanks), I was disappointed to see the Rays in 3rd place in the hearts and minds of Tampians… er, Tampa citizens.
Aside from professional sports, Tampa is home to both the University of South Florida (USF!) and The University of Tampa. I was staying directly across the street from The University of Tampa, which was described to me countless times as a small private school of snobby rich kids (but they have a great baseball team)! The University of South Florida, on the other hand, has made me a fan. Everyone I met from this school was super nice, super fun, and willing to chat it up with a couple of presumed Boston assholes. They also love their USF sports, and I was sad to see them lose out to Ohio in this year’s NCAA tourney.
As for other things to get excited about, I stumbled across a few solid restaurants:
Hattricks – The shake and bake wings are a can’t miss.
Jackson’s Bistro – I had carmelized diver scallops and red snapper, black jasmine rice, and red thai curry. It made me happy.
For bars (and St. Patrick’s day festivities), South Howard Ave (SOHO) is where it’s at. The Dubliner or MacDinton’s are both great, and even better is the fact that you can get cabbed around Tampa for $3 per person rather than having the cabbie run the meter.
All in all, Tampa was a much smaller city with a lot less going on than I expected – it makes Boston feel huge. But it’s a great sports town filled with super nice people, great weather, and just enough to do. I’ll be back next year for a spring training trip, and I can’t wait.
If you read my previous post, you know that I was in Vegas this weekend for our New York writer’s bachelor’s party. We went to see DJ Pauly D (of Jersey Shore fame) perform at Vanity, and he was exactly what you would expect… even yelling “cabs are heeeere” as he closed out his set. We did not expect a surprise performance by Three 6 Mafia, but there was an even bigger sports-related surprise on tap – our table was next to the Detroit Lions and Jahvid Best’s birthday party.
I never thought I’d say it, but Tom Brady is no longer my favorite player in the NFL. It has nothing to do with his Super Bowl loss this year and everything to do with my time spent with Jahvid Best. Despite being concussed for much of the season, the guy was out in Vegas having a blast. He clearly paid the way for his entire posse, almost all of whom were awesome, and I must admit that the man has some serious moves. Better yet, as entertaining as the Lions were to us, apparently we were just as amusing to them. As Jahvid put it, “Ya’ll some crazy ass white boys.”
I’m hereby predicting 1,100 rushing yards and 10 TDs for Mr. Best next season – think of how good that would make the Lions? And having seen that stutter-step in person, he’s going to be one very difficult man to tackle.
Over the past two years many of howiGit’s loyal readers have come to know our New York writer, J-Bone, pretty well. He makes sure to shoot me down and generally disagree with everything I say. He loves the likes of Eli Manning and Bartolo Colon, but our sports opinions aside, J-bone holds a special place in my heart.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. J-bone has officially found himself a lovely young lass who he will be marrying next month (Hi Miss Forde!). But while I’m generally against all marriages, there is reason to celebrate – J-bone is having himself a bachelor’s party this weekend, Las Vegas style. Needless to say, our Boston and New York writers will be MIA for a few days. This blog may or may not go on.
J-Bone, in typical J-Bone fashion, is having himself nothing short of 13 groomsmen, all of whom will be on deck for this shindig. We’re staying at the Hard Rock Las Vegas, in a pool villa suite (pictured above). A celebratory dinner Friday night at Charlie Palmers is on tap, followed Saturday night by a night spent at Vanity. Saturday night also happens to be the first night of DJ Pauly D’s residency at Vanity, following his recent signing with G-Unit.
It should be a highly silly, fist-pumping affair. So congrats J-bone, may you rest in peace.
Fried yet refreshed, I’ve landed back in Boston following some time spent on St. John and cruising around the British Virgin Islands. Life seems quite grand as you’re sitting on a deserted island (above) while Tom Brady throws 6 touchdown passes back home.
St. John is a small island – about the size of Manhattan – and is home to only 4000 residents and 400 donkeys. There’s no airport, so you need to take a 20-minute ferry ride over from St. Thomas (Jet Blue flies direct Boston to St. Thomas for about $350). The island is basically populated around Cruz Bay, where the ferry drops you off, and otherwise is about 2/3 protected National Park. It’s the US so you don’t need a passport, and in comparison to some other Caribbean Islands, is very safe. Having been around the Caribbean a bit, this place is my winner so far.
If you do one thing in St. John, take a ride on the Kekoa – a 50-foot catamaran with a black sail, a bunch of hammocks, and an open bar. The boat was initially meant to be sold to someone on St. John, but was caught in a vicious storm off the coast of South Carolina while being transported down there. The crew hired to transport the boat was forced to call SOS and was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter, thus abandoning the boat at sea for some time. It was eventually found, albeit with $275,000 in damage, and was fixed by the shipbuilder who decided to move to St. John and start a charter company rather than reselling the boat. In other words, this boat has quite the story. Oh, and it’s also painted with solar paint that makes it glow blue in the dark at night.
My particular adventure took me snorkeling on a coral reef, then to a completely deserted island called Sandy Key, then on to one of the British Virgin Islands – Jost Van Dyke (population 200). Jost Van Dyke is basically a small island where ships pull up and everyone jumps in the water and swims ashore to visit the Soggy Dollar Bar (thus named because you pay with money wet from swimming ashore). You then cruise back to St. John, reggae floating through the air and a fruity concoction in hand. Captain Jamison Witbeck runs this family operation and ensures that everyone has a great time – he was even happy to hand over the reigns of the ship. Far and away the highlight of my trip.
I also hit a homerun on the accommodations front. Aside from a large Westin hotel, there are very few hotel options on the island aside from eco-resorts and various campgrounds. One of the few, the Cruz Bay Boutique Hotel, is an absolute gem. It’s small, clean, and simple – there are only seven rooms altogether. That said, it’s charming, centrally located, and owned by David and Denise – a couple that was married on the island then decided to move back and live the dream. They go out of their way to make sure you’re having a great time – they returned my rental car for me, and even chased me down the street to give me a bottle of aloe vera upon seeing my epic sunburn. Hotel guests also share breakfast each morning on a balcony overlooking the street which adds to the sense of community among the guests staying at the hotel. It’s the little things like this that set this place apart, and when I go back I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.
In typical tourist-question-asking fashion, I asked numerous locals which beach they thought was the best on the island. The resounding response, “They’re all great,” frustrated me at first but was actually spot on. St. John’s beaches are among the best in the Caribbean, and you really can’t miss. Trunk Bay is the most spectacular but also the most touristy (meaning there may be 30 people on the beach max), but Honeymoon Beach provided a completely desolate option for those looking for more privacy. In general, adventure around and check out as many beaches as you can – you can’t miss. The best snorkeling was in Francis Bay.
In general, it’s super cheap to drink on St. John and very expensive to eat. We’re talking $15 cheeseburgers, and $30-$45 entrees at the nicer places. There are some awesome restaurants – if you’re looking for a great meal, check out any of the following.
Da Livio Italian Restorante
You absolutely cannot miss with any of these places. I had the crabmeat crepes followed by the Caribbean lobster tail in pink peppercorn butter over spinach ravioli at Waterfront Bistro, which was a huge hit. Asolare is the place to go for a view. At some point you will find yourself drinking painkillers, a concoction of dark rum, coconut milk, OJ, pineapple juice, and freshly shaved nutmeg. These babies are quite addictive -repeat if desired.
In general, St. John is a spectacular, very comfortable island with plenty to do. I had probably the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever had, and I will be back. For those looking for the anti-Cancun crowd, this is your island.