June 26, 2014

NY: PRINT. and Ink48

Grilled Octopus Braised Pork Belly

To the north of Time Square, among the carriage horses’ stables and car dealerships, there is the hotel, Ink48.  Located on the north east corner of the building is PRINT..  While the hotel and restaurant share the same building, they are separate entities.

Ink48 is a Kimpton hotel.  So if you are a Kimpton InTouch member or join on the spot like me, you will have free WIFI access at the lobby and can get free drinks during Wine Hour (5PM – 6PM).  It is a great way to wait for your party to arrive.  But the drinks will not be allowed into the restaurant with you, as the restaurant is not part of the hotel.

Earlier this month, I learned of PRINT. at the Downtown Summer Night Markets event at Union Square.  PRINT. was serving duck confit salad on six inch paper plates at the event.  Although the portion was limited, the duck breast slices were juicy and there was a variety of fresh greens.  I have been looking forward to this meal ever since. 

Before guests filled the restaurant, service was lightening fast.  Our waiter returned with the appetizers almost immediately after the order was placed.  However, nothing was amiss.  The octopus chunks were grilled just to the point before they would get chewy.  The potato and chorizo on the side provided good balance between heavy and light flavors.  The braised pork belly was equally well prepared.  The citrus and assorted beans on the side made this almost all too familiar dish refreshing.

Lamb Chops Duck

Each item on the menu is trailed by a long list of vegetable sides.  Not only do all the listed vegetables make it onto the plate, they cover at least half of the plate as they should.  With a  “full-time forager” on staff, PRINT. sources its ingredients from local farms, which keeps the selection seasonal.  The same exact dishes will most likely not be there on the next visit, and that is great!

Now, guess what this is?

Root Beer Sundae

It is a Root Beer Sundae with vanilla ice cream and licorice root bubbles.  The airy foam really tastes exactly like root beer, and it can be picked up with a spoon.  Even after eating the whole thing, I still do not know what the three round things on top are.

June 22, 2014

Japan: 4 Tips for Attending a Hot Air Balloon Festival

邑久バルーンミーティング Oku Balloon Meeting

Dozens of full-sized hot air balloons launching and lighting up at dusk may not happen in Manhattan.  But there are a few hot air balloon festivals within hours of driving from the city, such as Dutchess County Balloon Festival and Adirondack Balloon Festival.  As I figure out which to go to and how I will get there, here are some lessons I learned from my one and only hot air balloon festival experience.

1.  Plan your transportation well

Launching a hot air balloon involves unrolling the balloon on the ground, unfolding it, and then slowly inflating it.  Launching dozens of them will require vast open space with nothing in the balloons’ way – which means mass transit will be far away.

The festival I had the chance to attend was called 邑久バルーンミーティング Oku Balloon Meeting.  It took place along a riverbank in the town of Oku in the prefecture of 岡山 Okayama.  The distance between the train and the festival site was not too long.  But along the way, there was not much beyond houses with small patches of rice paddies and an occasional shrine.  My friends and I rejoiced when we finally saw the cars parked at the festival’s temporary lot.

House Surrounded by Rice Paddy

A Shrine

View from the Riverbank

2.  Check the Balloon Festival’s Schedule

Hot air balloon festivals can be of all lengths with different balloons launching at different time and place.  So it is very important to check the event’s agenda.  Strong wind may delay the launches.  But at least you won’t be hours early for a sunset launch.

At Oku Balloon Meeting, the balloon staff wanted to have the balloons inflated throughout the afternoon.  Because of high wind, the balloons were not inflated until near dusk, and the balloons never left the ground.   But at least we still got to see the balloons inflated and then lit up by their torches at night.

Unrolling the hot air balloon Unfolding the hot air balloon

Starting to inflate the hot air balloon Hot air balloon about 50% inflated

The Hot Air Balloons Inflated

The Same Balloons at Night

3.  Dress for the weather

Obviously, hot air balloon festivals take place outdoor.  So make sure you dress for the weather.  There may be no shelter from the elements nearby.

4.  Don’t miss the night time illumination!

If the hot air balloon festival has a night time illumination in plan, you must go see it!  With torches firing from beneath them, the balloons have a completely different vibe at night than during the day.  The golden glow makes them more opulent and mysterious.  Yes, even for the giant octopus.

Giant Octopus

June 19, 2014

Mexico: Punta Sur

Driving the rental golf cart around Isla Mujeres revealed a bit of road rage in me.  The pedal was almost always pressed all the way down.  With wind in the hair and exposed to the element from all four sides, it was as if I were driving a convertible – until a scooter transporting a family of three passed by at twice the speed even when I have the pedal all the way down.  Besides the golf cart’s mechanical speed limit, the island had plenty of speed bumps to keep your speed in check.  It is my only and favorite place to drive to date.

Sculptures at Punta Sur

After returning from Isla Contoy, I picked up my rental and drove all the way south to Punta Sur. Vehicles have to be left at the parking lot. Then paved paths led visitors even further south. Metal sculptures dotted either sides of the paths.  Most have shapes that almost seemed randomly contorted.  Others seemed to represent something.  But all are weathered and eroded by the salt in the air.  My favorite was Salto de Agua by Dimitar Lukanov.  It looked like a ghostly pirate ship with a giant ripped sail still moving in the air – very befitting of the setting.

Metal Sculptures at Punta Sur

Salto de Agua by Dimitar Lukanov (Bulgaria)

The Path Outlining Punta Sur

The best Punta Sur has to offer actually lies even beyond the statues.  A path outlining Punta Sur takes visitors close to crashing waves and to a hidden hideout with a chair supplied.  While Punta Sur is the southern most part of Isla Mujeres, it is also the eastern most in Mexico.  The path also leads to a spot where one can see the sun rises before the rest of the country known as “Cliff of Dawn”.  On a nice day, Cancun is visible to the west.

Some people cast their fishing lines along the path, some goes beyond the path and climbs onto the jagged rocks to experience the waves, some swim off from the path in search for shellfish. Supposedly, according to the swimmer, the slime from the shellfish is good for the skin.

A Secret Look Out Facing Cancun

An Iguana against the Waves

June 10, 2014

Mexico: Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy is a national park just over three square kilometers vast, located thirty miles north of Isla Mujeres.  It is only open to tourists who join guided tours to the park.  Many tour operators from both Cancun and Isla Mujeres bring visitors to the island. 

Technically, Isla Mujeres is closer to Isla Contoy than Cancun.  But this does not mean leaving from Isla Mujeres will reduce travel time.  As with Swimming with Shale Shark tours, boats from Isla Mujeres almost always stop at Cancun to pick up more customers.  I crossed the water between Isla Mujeres and Cancun almost every day that I stayed on the island.  But at least the boats stop at Isla Mujeres first on the way back.

After landing on Isla Contoy, all the tourists are split up into groups and guided through a circuit of observation decks.  The walk is less than an hour long with frequent stops, and the terrain is easy and mostly flat.  But remember to wear a hat, apply and then reapply sunscreen. 

Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)?

Supposedly, more than 150 species of birds can be seen on Isla Contoy and more than half of them live on the island.  The only ones I saw were these.  The adult male frigatebirds, known for their inflatable, bright red gular pouches, adorn every Isla Contoy poster.  But I did not see one here.

Another common animal on the island is the hermit crab.  There are so many of them, constantly on the move.  If you stay quite for a moment, you may even hear their footsteps.

A Hermit Crab

June 7, 2014

Blogging Tips: 2 Simple Do’s and Don’ts

Some of you may notice that Kiwi Mix has no side bars now.  Instead, they are now replaced with translucent drop down menu above the entries.  The layout transformation – as with the writing – took quite some time.  Rather than actual advices, here are two midyear blogging resolution that I hope to adhere.

1. Do blog regularly.  Don’t wait for the perfect idea.

Want to gain readership or appear in search results?  Without content, neither can be achieved.  Therefore, it is important to blog regularly.  (Yes, I have been doing to the opposite.)  Writing small, frequent entries is better than writing nothing at all.  So don’t wait for the perfect post and just post.

2. Do customize the layout.  Don’t leave it unfinished.

Yes, I did the exact opposite of this too.  And a half finished template is unattractive.  You can create a private blog with the same layout as the public one and test all the tweaks you want on that one.  This way, you have somewhere to save your unfinished work without other people seeing it.

May 6, 2014

Mexico: Tortugranja Déjà Vu

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

The turtles look familiar.  The protective pens, where hatchlings may climb out of their eggs any moment, seem familiar too.  So do the specialized tanks where baby turtles swam.  Finally, it is confirmed that this is my second trip to see the Tortugranja when I review my old pictures.  In fact, this was the only place I visited the last time I came to Isla Mujeres.

Area for Protected Eggs Baby Sea Turtles
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Tortugranja's Sea Pen

Most of the turtles at Tortugranja are Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta).  Eggs are collected from nests in the vicinity and moved to a fenced off area to protect them from poachers and predators.  After the eggs hatched, palm-sized baby turtles are moved to a special room where they could be closely monitored.  As they get bigger, the turtles are moved to bigger pools, where visitors can see them and then eventually released back into the sea.

January 20, 2014

Mexico: Driving a Golf Cart in Isla Mujeres

My travel resolution has been for a while to at least attempt to drive abroad.  So I decide to drive on the golf cart friendly island of Isla Mujeres.  There are many golf cart rentals along the street right off the ferry terminal.  Prices and carts vary mildly among the shops.  In addition to a small deposit, the rental shops may also ask to hold onto something such as an ID card.

Before reaching the island, I watched many YouTube videos on how to drive a golf cart.  Outside of college campus, parks and airports, I have never seen a golf cart.  I have never been on one neither.  It turned out golf carts are actually very common, especially in real estate communities outside of New York City.  I had no idea so many people (tweens) drive golf carts.  Most videos on YouTube are more about mockery than instruction.  Fortunately, AJ created a more serious one that I could learn from.

My Rental Golf Cart

The main road right off the ferry terminal is Avenida Rueda Medina.  It runs from the north end of Isla Mujeres to the south end on the west side.  Continuing off from the south end onto the east side is about five to ten minutes view of the Caribbean Sea, depending on how fast or slow you are driving.

The View

A Ruin

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