Anyone familiar to NYC knows that malls aren’t common-place. You have your infamous shopping districts like soho, or your defunct Manhattan Mall where you can buy knock off Nikes and Hotdogs-on-a-stick, but a high end, fashion forward shopping mall is just something that Manhattan hasn’t supported, until now.
As a native New Yorker I hated Hudson Yards before it was even built. The idea of modern cathedral to illusive brands in the heart of what used to be the grit and grime of a soulful section of town was just footnote to the long diatribe about how Time’s Square used to be cool before Disneyfication. Anyone with proper experience will tell you it is easier to get an airline to wave a baggage fee then to have a New Yorker change their mind, yet here I was, upon first viewing of the glorious Hudson Yards, genuflecting as a complete convert. To my right was a frankly fighting concert hall with a retracting roof that looked like something out of a Michael Bay film. In front of me was a gleaming steel and glass palace to the finest retail humans could waist their hard earned coin on. At the center was, well, the Hive, the Giant Shawarma, the Mothership; a walkable art installation named “The Vessel” whose purpose was simply to amaze, and it does.
Dashing inside the mall you will encounter a shopping district similar to the grand concourses found in Singapore or Jakarta. Extremely exclusive shops, and high end restaurants inhabit the wide marble births of this cavernous 5 story womb to commerce. You can find anything here, from fashion to fragrance, candy to cars, and lots to nibble on in between. While you can opt for the extravagance of Milos, one of the finest restaurants in all of Manhattan, my personal favorite is Belcampo, part butcher part italian nibble shop, who’s hamburger is one of my favorites in the city; somehow light and airy while being extremely rich and lush at the same time. It’s best to grab a bite at one of the dozens of eateries before heading out to conquer The Vessel, and interactive art installation by madman Thomas Heatherwick which is comprised of over 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings offering some of the most unique views and instagrammable moments in the world.
I am the first person to admit I am horribly critical of anything new, especially when it changes the landscape of my beloved home NYC. It took me 40 of the 80 landings before I realized what “The Vessel” really offered; a fresh new perspective on a already well tread city. It is easy to make fun of The Vessel; it stands out sorely, serves no immediate purpose, and is for all intensive purposes a piece of pedestrian commercial art. Once inside however all that falls to the waist side as a unique and new view of the great city of Manhattan unfolds in front of you. The platforms form individual viewpoints, perfect picture frames that put you in heaven’s path above the bustling metropolis below. It is difficult, if not impossible to explain the feeling of being part of a piece of art, and a piece of a city, at the same time. Perhaps “purposeful grace” is about as close as I can come to explaining the calm satisfaction being in The Vessel.
It must be said that those who control the admittance do a fine job not to crowd the experience, giving you a timed ticket that you must procure ahead of time to enter the artpiece. Once inside you are left to your own devices, and while there are a decent amount of photofiends and instagrannys floating around, there seemed to always be enough space to make your digital mark online.
Hudson Yards is a mall. It has shops, restaurants, and corporate artwork. While it may not be the independent, born from strife and passion attraction that New York prides itself on, it is perhaps the best example of what commercial city planning can offer to an otherwise defunct section of a city. If nothing less, it offers some pretty good instagram moments and one hell of a burger.
By no means are we suggesting you should spark up in Barcelona, but if you are looking to “levitate” in Barça, then may we recommend this private smoke club on Avinguda Meridiana in El Born.
In true Barcelona fashion, this place is all about convenience and comfort. You put money on a guest card, and then can use that at the dispensary, which has every variety of the choicest herb available. Once you make your selection you can sit, roll, and relax in their expansive lounge area, complete with DJ booth, pool table, and of course, FIFA 2018 because we are in Spain after all.
What is the best bar in Los Angeles? This is a question that has plagued academics for literally thousands of years. Here at TravelClast though we are willing to do the hard research to get you answers. So may we offer three unique places we like to throw back a cold one.
First off is Adults Only which for us wins as the world’s finest speakeasy. Located in a very sad little strip mall off Sunset, it is a fully functional VHS rental shop (yep, VHS) in the front, but if you are brave enough to venture past the “adults only” section in the back you are welcomed to a beautifully appointed, spacious palace to booze. Pool tables, zinc bars, and velvet lined sofas will get you intoxicated off the opulence.
Address: 7065 1/2 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Next up is Jones, a long time favorite of ours located on Sunset Blvd. We love Jones because its so LA by not being LA at all. Crowded, but not packed, a scene but you can always get in, it’s got everything that is cool about NY but beautiful about LA. The food here is red sauce delicious, but the real treat are the martini’s, which come with the shaker, giving you basically two drinks for the price of one. Outstanding.
Address: 7205 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90046
Last little treasure is Mama Loves You at Mama’s Shelter on Selma Ave in a quiet little Hollywood adjacent neighborhood. This hotel is cool on it’s own, but if you venture up to the roof, you will be greeted to perhaps the greatest roof bar in LA. Fantastic views, lounge beds, foosball, and rose for days, this local spot is a perfect place to suck in some rays as you suck down Tanqueray.
Good God Grub is Great. This hidden little gem tucked away in a sleepy little mid-Hollywood neighborhood is an absolute delight for a perfect Californian meal. Known mostly for it’s insanely good breakfasts, Grub does you right with their killer breakfast burrito, loaded to the rims with all sorts of breakfasty delights. Good luck finishing it in one sitting friends. Im partial to their legendary tuna melt, which if you’ve never had one, you shouldn’t order it here because it will ruin all other tuna melts in the world for you, and, will be the only thing you will want to eat moving forward. That paired with a loving staff, beautiful patio, and very reasonable prices makes Grub our go to for early nibbles.
Lotsa people think LA and think beach but one of my absolutely favorite places to explore is the downtown Arts District. Consider it one stop shopping for all your hipster pleasures. From dope breweries, to couture clothing, to black as night soft serve, you can pretty much fill a fantastic day walking around this conglomerate of cool.
A few of our faves are the Pali Wine Co. where you can get your grape on in an unpretentious, sexy Scandinavian vibe. Cheap flights and a fun staff awaits: paliwineco.com
The best dogs are at Wurstkuche which is just fun to say. Crazy flavors and a riotous back room will leave your belly full and your voice lost: wurstkuche.com
Desert will bring you to the LA institution Pie Hole, again, offering anything out of the ordinary for discerning pie aficionados. thepieholela.com
By now you need to ease into the afternoon with a cold brew, so why not have 8 of them. Angel City is one of our absolute favorite in LA and their flights are legendary. angelcitybrewery.com
Ok so now you are sh!#@faced which is the appropriate time to eat black charcoal soft serve at Bae. Much more than an instagram darling, this soft serve is delicious as it’s activated charcoal soaks up all that liquid regret in your tummy: BAE
Finally finish out your banner day with a little retail therapy to perhaps buy that one-of-a-kind gift for that friend you just ghosted their brunch on. A unique store that is like an authentic Urban Outfitters, if Urban Outfitters sold real stuff. poketo.com
That’s the size of it folks, definitely head down to downtown to get some real LA living.
What can I say about the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Nothing actually. I can’t say anything because frankly I wouldn’t even know where to begin to describe this eclectic, weird and wonderful cathedral of curiosities that graces and otherwise bland strip of Venice Blvd in Culver City.
What I can say is that this museum is a place like no other, and regardless of what you expect to find, you will be pleasantly surprised. Expect to spend a decent amount of time wandering the halls and discovering the exhibits, and definitely keep your exploring pants on as you head to the roof where a very refined surprise awaits you …
The less you know the better in this rare case. Just go my friends and be bold.
Welcome to LA! We can’t think of a better city to start with then the City of Angels where we’re gonna eat, drink, and cruise through everything weird, wild, and wonderful this sprawling city has to offer.
In the first of our 24 film series (thats not a typo… we did 24 films on LA … there’s a lot to love) we’re gonna start with the basics, Hollywood Blvd and the surrounding area, where we hit some tourist classics like Grauman’s Chinese and the Kodak (shopping mall) Theater, but also discover old Hollywood at the Roosevelt Hotel and Magic Castle. We also visit one of the strangest museums we’ve ever been to, the Museum of Failure, which is actually worth the trip to this incredibly touristy area.
So tune in and sit back and let us brave the poorly costumed street performers and cholesterol ladened street dogs for you. Links below to the sites, please comment and subscribe, and welcome to LA!
Last summer, a friend of mine and I won a contest from WOW air to travel the world and make films for them. Half a year later they abruptly cancelled all service. Coincidence?
Dear God I hope so. One thing I can say having worked closely with them is that WOW certainly did things differently, for better or worse. There were aspects of their corporate culture that were mind-blowing in how relaxed, open-minded, and forward thinking they were. They had all the flexibility and energy of a kid right out of college, and were a company that acted on passion and creativity, which is exactly what this contest embodied to me.
The question I get the most from colleagues is “why the hell would I want to win such a contest? You’re an established commercial director, and you are basically making content for a brand for free”. They have a point; this type of contest was perhaps geared toward a much younger, novice filmmaker/traveler, but fortunately for me I have a standing mentality of a 25-year-old, which comes from a serious amount of meditation and training (e.g. I still drink Car Bombs on dates). I have always been electrified by travel, with the same level of excitement as a 16-year-old Robby going to backpack through Europe for the first time, however, what I had now is the experience and skill ofprofessional working in advertising, which was really driving my curiosity to see how this project would work.
Brands going directly to content creators is a trend that is seriously disrupting the advertising industry, and this contest was. This type of “direct to source” work is as interesting to me as it is frightening. As a content creator it’s liberating; to be able to take a vision without compromise to completion, without the sometimes sluggish weight of an agency weighing you down. At the same time the structure and machine that is an agency or creative production company is an extremely important resource in creating top quality content, as is the support you get in bringing an idea to life. Either way this trend wasn’t diminishing any time soon, so I was eager to see exactly what it could produce.
It was clear to me from the beginning that the real prize of this contest was being able to create a large body of work for a global brand without compromise. WOW gave us full autonomy, to a concerning point even. They gave us the login information to their Instagram, YouTube, and Website, and told us to post images and videos when we wanted, without review. No review? It’s like I had died and went to editor heaven, which scared the bejeezus out of me a bit. Regardless it was clear that we could make this project anything we wanted it to be, so we decided to push it right to the limit.
As a travel writer I am acutely aware of how the internet has created this echo chamber for travel experiences. As soon as something “hot” hits the scene, there are thousands of articles and videos about it, creating an unnatural surge to that destination, be it a city, restaurant or even dish on a menu (I’m looking at you Burger at the Brindle Room). This is the dark side of travel journalism, a power so great that it can destroy the very thing you wish to share with the world. So, in a conscious effort to bring something novel but equally amazing to our audience, we wanted to focus on experiences that were more enigmatic and authentic. To do so, we reached out to locals through WOW’s extensive social media network which proved to be our golden ticket.
Being able to be in direct communication with our actual audience is a dream any marketer or creative wishes to never wake from. We were able to ask actual locals where they go, eat, and see, places and experiences that you won’t find (yet) written up about on giant opinion generators like Yelp or TripAdvisor. This was the real deal, and would allow us to create a library of unique quality content so prolific that it could be the answer to any travelers query, covering must sees, must eats, must drinks, oddities and tips and not be just an echo of what was already out there.
HOW WE WON A “DREAM JOB”.
Last June, while doing research for a travel show that partner Brad Stuart and I were producing in NYC, we came across this contest from WOW Air. The prize was an apartment in Reykjavik for the summer, 140 USD per diem, and hotel accommodations in the 8 cities they would fly us to making travel films for them. I had just bought the new Sony A7rIII and wanted to field test it for the show we were working on, so we entered. 30k other people did as well. We ended up winning with this film:
To say we were surprised is an under-statement. There were so many fantastic entries, from so many fantastic hosts, many of which with Instagram and YouTube followings well beyond ours. We were so shocked that when we got the call from WOW the first question we asked was why they chose us. They said they were not looking for a large social media following, but rather for a team that had a real passion for travel with the ability to produce high quality content. Flattery will get you everywhere WOW.
While we were extremely grateful, we still had to give it a good think if we should accept; it would mean leaving our lives for three months, not being able to work on paid projects, and would leave our NYC apartments vacant while still having to pay rent. Boo hoo I know, but realistically the per diem they offered would only cover basic costs on the road, not living expenses or rent back home, so. if we were going to commit, we really had to do something special with the opportunity that would be valuable to us.
We decided we would need to produce a large catalogue of quality content that would explore places and experiences that were different from all the other travel films out there. The style and personality of this films would be unique as well; a mixture of comedy and reverence, grit and polish to keep viewers surprised and tapped in. These films would be intimate, authentic, and most importantly fun, and collectively would become a well branded showcase to model future work from.
We accepted the prize knowing that this was going to push the limits of what we had produced before, but with the electric excitement of being fueled by doing something you truly love.
SO … NOW WE LIVE IN REYKJAVIK I GUESS?
Just a week later Brad and I were living in Reykjavik, which was incredibly exciting. Packing was an interesting endeavor; squeezing items to live somewhere for 3 months and produce an entire summer campaign into two bags and a personal item really pushed my limits of economy packing. It was such a learning lesson I ended up making a short film for the travel mag I write for that goes over my absolute basics needed to get the job done:
The apartment we were given was a modern, minimalist AirBnB in the “God’s Quarter” right down the street from the outstanding Hallgrimskirkja Church. They furnished the fridge with WOW beer (do I trust an airline that makes beer? Yes, I guess I do) and something called “Hardfisker” which is fish jerky and is as disgusting as it sounds (but somehow better with butter, obviously).
Reykjavik is a fantastic city. Great food, beautiful bay, dynamic culture. Iceland as a whole is a marvelous gem, unique in the world. The locals are a bit over the tourist invasion with good reason, and can be a bit cold at first, but like any culture, with enough smiles (and buying of libations) they would shed their protective husk to reveal their true, friendly character. While we loved going to the public pools, and eating a Hlöllabátar after a night dancing at Pablo Discobar (great name), we really didn’t have much time to explore our new home as the travel itinerary was aggressive to say the least.
Our main objective was to not be an echo of what was already out there; we wanted to highlight lesser known experiences that defined a city, that actual locals enjoyed. The travel writer in me has a love-hate relationship with the craft; I want to inspire people to travel, but I don’t want to kill the very thing that does the inspiring, which a flood of tourist can easily do.
So we would research the usual suspects like Thrillist, Time Out, Conde Nast, Trip Advisor, even Atlas Obscura for the must-see attractions, but most of our focus came through WOW’s far-reaching social media platform, asking locals what their favorite places were. This got us directly in touch with our audience, giving us unique and really fresh results that hopefully separated our content from the cacophony of ordinary that was already out there.
One asset working with WOW was having a global brand to produce from. There is something very empowering to travel with purpose, meaning, experiencing a foreign culture because it is your job. Being able to call a restaurant, museum or night club and tell them that you’d like to do a travel segment on them for WOW airlines gives you greater access, allowing you to go much deeper into the experience than if we were just a tourists. Experiences like getting the VP of Media Relations to give you a private tour of the Getty Center, learning pole dancing from a world champion, or filming a Michelin Star restaurant that has a staunch no media policy, was much easier with WOW opening the door, and Brad’s confident producing skills. We would end up making hundreds of fantastic connections, and be able to talk with the minds behind the life-changing experiences that make travel magic.
Once we had our list of targets, ranging from food, to nightlife, to cultural experiences, we would plug them into a Google map like this, labelling each one in their respective category. Terribly boring I know, but this way we could see where in the city everything was, and logistically figure out how to do as much as possible in one day. I really have become my father.
RUN AND GUN WITH PURPOSE
A.B.C. Always Be Capturing …
Coming from a documentary and editorial background, I relied on his type of high energy shooting and logging to guarantee we could produce all the films we set out to. The more cities we accomplished the more streamlined our process and gear became, and ultimately the less footage we would need to capture. To give you an idea, for Boston, our first city, we captured around 350 GB of material. Our last city, Stockholm, we topped out at 160 GB. It was like being on that show “The Biggest Loser” but instead of lbs it was kbs (I really have become my father even in humor, it’s official).
Each night we would dump and back up the media, and bring it into Premiere. The camera created proxies on the fly so we could easily deliver in glorious 4k while editing on a Macbook Pro. We would then write scripts for each episode, and record them into a pillow fort/sound booth on our Reykjavik kitchen table. I would mainly be cutting any waking hour we weren’t traveling, and Brad was in charge of producing, and distributing content on-line. We had fever dreams, never knew if it was day or night (mainly because the sun doesn’t set in Iceland in the summer), and forgot where we lived many times, but really could not have been happier.
10 cities, 3,149 photos, 2.5 TB of data, 1 tattoo, and 38,675 miles later we really couldn’t be prouder of the work we completed over the summer. We successfully produced over 100 full films for WOW Air in just over 3 months. If you’re doing the math that’s around 3 films a day. Some will say #shopped but the proof lives on the website travelguide.wowair.com – and we will be launching our own YouTube channel TravelClast this year with these films and many more.
For two people who love to suck the marrow out of the world of travel, I don’t think we left a morsel on the bone to pick. It saddens up deeply to see WOW air be gone in a flash, and really cannot believe that the “happy Icelandic low-fare airline” is no longer around to shuttle bargain savvy travelers to destinations usually unobtainable at such low costs. To us they were a visionary company that for better or worse moved boldly toward novel innovation without hesitation or remorse. They were spirited, and every employee we had the opportunity to work with lived with this passionate credo, which was truly refreshing to be part of. We’re just so thankful to have had the opportunity, and hope the work lives on like personal memories that can be enjoyed by anyone with a desire and passion for travel.
Tokyo is huge first of all. As far as cities go it is spread out like Los Angeles with way more people walking around. It’s busy, full of life, and amazing. Finding a place to stay can be a little daunting, but getting around on the subway is easy enough. We landed at the hotel Claska in the Meguro section.
So yeah. It has a maritime theme to it. I suppose. If ships were made of stucco. It was a cool, hip place, kind of an bargain Ace Hotel, with a cute little coffee place in the lobby, where all the food came with something the shape of a penis. Not sure if that was by design.
First thing was first and that was breakfast… a quick Google search came up with the “best” breakfast in Tokyo, a little place called Kaila, which, as far as I could tell, had a Hawaiian theme to it. The specialty here was the waffles and pancakes, although the Benedict was off the charts. Also I got to see more people take pictures of their plates then most do of their babies.
Belly full, I immediately felt the urge to experience all the weirdness that I heard Tokyo was famous for, so I made a B line for Akihabara, which if nothing else, is super fun to say. Arriving there I was not disappointed, visually smacked with bright signs, throngs of kids, and tons of manga. It was an overload of nerdiness.
They even had a functional Tower Records there… I guess no one told the manager they went out of business like 8 years ago.
Next I wandered back through the city into Shibuya, which I ended up finding an AirBnB at as the neighborhood was way cooler then where Claska was. Shabuya is hard to describe, it’s kind of the West Village meets 5th Avenue of New York, a place where a funky junk shop could be next door to a couture designer. The streets twist and turn here in gentle, winding arcs, and there are a ton of great places to shop, and more importantly for this Italian, eat. I found two places that were amazing, one was a food truck that had a line of people outside.
First I saw the line, that led me into an alley, and there, I saw the omelette food truck called OmtRak. Basically its rice, a fresh scrambled egg on top, and then your choice of sauce. I chose curry, mainly because it was the only thing I could point to. It was amazing. The other was the Dominque Ansei bakery which is like a Willie Wonka factory. Inside they take oversized homemade marshmallows, dip them in chocolate, and give them to you on a stick. I mean a curry omelette and chocolate marshmallow is kinda the best meal ever.
It was a pleasure to walk off that meal through the dope streets of Shabuya (also fun to say, especially if you do a fist to pelvis hip thrust while saying it.)
Here I found a little traditional kimono shop and grabbed my kimono cause I stand behind a culture where a robe is considered formal wear. I also encountered the strange ritual of having receipts stapled into your passport. Apparently they keep a record of this and at the airport you are suppose to show them the receipts and they are going to check to make sure you have all the stuff you bough, but between you and me, this never happened.
They also like to make models of their food. All their food. In every restaurant they have these fake plates, with food on them. It’s kinda amazing. So is this reindeer having his way with Santa. Who’s laughing and calling the names now fat man?
Hungry, I found a BBQ joint called Smokehouse. Yeah. Like American BBQ. Usually I think it’s a sin not to eat local food, but I thought it would be interesting to see what Japanese American BBQ looked like, in my mouth. Spoiler alert: they do it better.
Walking off the meat coma I had put myself into I found myself in Harajuka, which is the funkier, “east village” part of Tokyo that I really dug. Weird little streets, lots of street art, and funky shops keep you company here. There are the traditional conveyor belt style sushi joints to chow down at, or, if you’re in the mood for a cuddle, you can actually rent a puppy for an hour to hold. More traditionally you can get your nails done in these little back alley style shops, or dig into some amazing coffee like at Deus Ex Machina which I know from LA.
The night was upon me so it was time to take in some serious Tokyo culture. Yes, I am talking about a robot restaurant. What do I say about this… other then just go. You might think it’s a tourist trap, you might think it’s garbage, but I’m telling you it’s one of the most fun evenings you can have, and I once hung out with Mel Brooks and Kevin Heart on a booze cruise.
Pro Tip: Tell them it’s your friends birthday and embarrass the shit out of him.
So yes, there are some amazing restaurants in Tokyo, beautiful gardens, plenty of culture to behold, but in all honestly Tokyo felt the least Japanese to me of any other city, even Osaka. The identity here is mixed, influence from all over the world has muddied the culture here, and while it is super interesting, it is not nearly as profound as in other cities or towns. That said, it’s a helluva place to go shopping, eat, and walk around, and should definitely not be missed. I would just say start your trip there, not end it. Also definitely do not miss that omelette truck.
That concludes my journeys through Japan. From Kyoto to Nara to Osaka I have to say, out of any country I’ve visited I am surprised to say that it was Japan I found the most foreign. From the language, to the people, to the food, it really seemed like a culture onto itself, unsullied from a mix of foreign influence. It is a country I hope to return again and again to, perhaps with more then a handful of words next time. Until then…
Ottawa is one of the seventh coldest capital cities in the world, and if that doesn’t make you want to come, then just wait. It is also home to the largest skating rink in the world, along with having more festivals then any other city in North America. Despite all these accolades, Ottawa does not attract the tourism attention that it perhaps deserves, which for a purist like myself, was exhilarating.
The first impression you get upon arriving is how beautiful it is, full of competing gothic and modern architecture, a sweeping green river that bisects its center, with world class restaurants, nightlife and cultural institutions around every bend. It’s cosmopolitan atmosphere blends seamlessly with its authentic frontier history creating a characteristic city that can satisfy even the most worldly traveler who demands nothing less then the best.
Which made me wonder why I was staying the night at an 18-century jail.
And, as an added bonus, I decided to take my pop along on this particular trip, and I think he was a little more surprised then me…
Among the many queer attributes of this Canadian capital is the Carleton County Jail Hostel located adjacent the city center. This 200-year-old stone fortress house some of Canada’s most ill reputed criminals until it was shut down in the 70’s for inhumane conditions. Now you can sleep in it! Ah the life of a travel writer.
Frankly the experience is mind-blowing; the jail is mostly exactly how they left it, with the exceptions to the beds, which have been updated for comfort we are happy to report. You sleep in cells, with iron bars, and are given sheets and a towel much like being in prison. Unlike being in prison is the lively bar downstairs, free Internet, and of course the ability to leave anytime you like. The hostel offers tours of the more interesting facets of the jail, like solitary confinement, original prison equipment, and the piece du resistance, the hanging chamber, still equipped with a noose. The jail is also most certainly haunted, which they have a whole separate tour dedicated for brave souls that wish to know more about their ghostly roommates.
Venturing out of your cell you will find a lively city waiting for you that is easily navigated on foot. You are footsteps from Parliament Hill, an outstanding neo-gothic building that overlooks the Ottawa River. In the morning you can catch the classic changing of the guard, a regal echo from its empire history, getting so close you constantly feel like you might be in the way. As a side note Canada might have the cutest military on the planet.
Continuing north to visit the Fairmont Hotel, one of a dozen grand hotels built by the railroad as an incentive for tourists to travel within Canada. Today the hotel is the crown jewel of the city with its interiors dripping in brass and exquisite woodwork from the turn of the century. It’s no jail, but it’s definitely not a bad place to stay.
Further north you will find yourself in Byward Market (which carries its nomenclature from the original name of the city) where you will find some of the most characteristic shops, pubs, and bakeries in the city. You could pop into Le Moulin de Provence bakery to try one of their famous Obama Cookies, or perhaps grab a Beavertail on the street, which is advice that in any other city that would get you arrested, but here will land you a delicious warm pastry.
I had a full day of walking ahead of me so I opted for an early lunch at Sidedoor, one of Ottawa’s modern culinary marvels. Tucked into a crooked little alley, Sidedoor’s greenhouse-like dining atrium is a beautiful place to nosh on some creative cuisine. Being a New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles I am obviously an expert on tacos, so believe me when I say that the Bajan Crispy Fish tacos are worth the trip to Ottawa alone. The grilled striploin and chef’s daily selection of dim sum rounded out the meal, which was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Belly filled with innovative delights, I headed North-West toward the impressive Notre-Dame Cathedral. Perhaps not as well known as her French Sister, this formidable church is worth a peek, with it’s gilded ceilings and flying buttresses. Across the street is the largest spider you will hopefully ever see which guards/greets the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada. This modern museum of glass and steel houses some amazing works of art, in a setting that couldn’t be more beautiful along the riverbank. Let the muse of art seduce you for a few hours before heading out to cross the great Alexandra Bridge.
The Bridge offers views of the city that you cannot get anywhere else and definitely puts the panoramic feature on your phone to good use. In 15 minutes you will find yourself on the west bank and in a whole other province, having left Ontario for Quebec. You will notice immediately that everything, and I mean everything is written in English and French, which I imagine makes being in the billboard business in Quebec extremely lucrative.
As soon as you come off the bridge you are greeted by one of the most spectacular buildings in Ottawa, the Canadian Museum of History (or Musèe Canadien de L’Histoire). Designed by the aboriginal architect Douglass Cardinal, the structure carves itself into the landscape as if the Getty Center and Guggenheim had a beautiful love child. Inside you can explore the rich history that belongs to one of the largest countries of earth and stretches back millennia.
Returning to Ontario across the Portage Bridge I was glad to be greeted by the Mill Street Brew. Ottawa is known for it’s craft beer, and Mill Street is a national treasure to the golden elixir.
Refreshed and fortified from a fresh pint, I headed back toward Byward to experience E18hteen, the more elevated outlet for maestro Jonathan Korecki. Located in a historic stone walled building with great towering ceilings, the elegant, sophisticated and delightfully moody ambiance mimics the seasonal menu. Classic dishes like Quebec foie gras, braised lamb agnolotti and warm beet salad are creatively prepared with care and satisfy even the most prolific palettes. More serious plates such as a ballotine of roasted partridge or a decadent grilled, bone-in pork loin make short work of even the most ferocious hunger. Enjoying a meal at E18gteen is a memory in the making, and brings Ottawa in focus as being a true capital city in every way.
As a fabulous day fades, the Ottawa nightlife heats up. Back in the Bayward the streets become frenetic with young people. Ottawa has the unique characteristic of being a very young city; most of its inhabitants are under 35 years old and are not afraid to show it. Bars sway and jostle with the energy that is youth, and music is heard from every darkened doorway. The soul of this frontier town is alive and well in the bar scene, and the people are as friendly as you would expect them to be in Canada. Despite the dozens of possible places to experience, I opted for Lafayette, the oldest pub in Ottawa, and it was a fine choice. The music was lively, the people even more so, and the beer, a local favorite called Beau’s, was good, cold and served all night long.
Even though the party was still going strong I decided to head back to my jail cell, to put Ottawa to sleep. On the way back I randomly stumbled upon a large crowd of people outside of the Parliament Building. “Is this a protest?” I immediately asked like an American. “Oh no, we’re waiting for the laser show.”
Right. A laser show.
Before I knew it the entire Parliament Building was alive. Literally. Colums moved, windows transformed, bricks started dancing. What was in that Beau’s beer I wondered? Colorful projection mapping thrown onto the building along with a thundering narration, (again, in French then English) made the history of Canada jump off the walls. The entire lawn was covered with people, mostly locals, who had come out to witness the Northern Lights, “A celebration of Canada in 3D”. Then, it started to rain, but hardly anyone left; getting wet was a small price to pay for a country they truly loved.
Patriotism for an adopted country and ready to put my head down I pushed past the iron laden solid wood door of my jail hostel. Jeff, one of the smiling staff members of the hostel, and a truly native Ottawan, greeted me. “So! Whatcha think then” he quizzed me with a big grin knowing full well the answer, as I confessed my true love for this fantastic town. “I told you, it’s the best city in the world. I’ve been all over the world traveling, and I honestly can’t say I ever found a place like Ottawa. I even met my wife here in this very hostel, and now we have a kid. Wouldn’t call any other place home but this.”
I am unsure how many times it has been said you met your wife in a condemned prison, but the sentiment of the statement did not go unchecked. Ottawa with it’s proud culture, world class food and museums, and unique and celebrated culture is a place like no other, and surely not to be missed.