Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lost in Translation - An afternoon with HyperPanda

Can Panda's have ADD? Not sure what the scientific answer to that question is, but here in Dubai there are HyperPanda's everywhere!

In a quest to set up our new apartment Matt and I have been scouring the Dubai metro area for the equivalent of a Wal-Mart or a Target to pick up household basics. Not that the incredible amount of shopping venues in Dubai don't provide for all our needs, its just that - we are American! - how can we possibly be expected to go to different stores for different needs. It's just barbaric. I mean, we really can't be bothered to buy coarse sea salt, an air mattress, salt and vinegar chips, a blow drier, and lavender-scented candles in more than one stop.

Thankfully, Dubai has an answer for us. A light at the end of the tunnel to fulfill our need for one-stop shopping. I give you HyperPanda. It is a Saudi-based chain much like our beloved Wal-Mart and it has everything from beef bacon (remember no pork) to snorkeling gear and so much more in between. We took our first trip just a few days ago, and purchased the aforementioned sea salt and other items. Oh, and one of those tea boiler things! Having studied aboard in London I was quite aware of these handy little kitchen gadgets, but honestly, I implore you, if you are reading this go out and get one! Seriously, no respectable tea drinker should be without one. I think I might have to post a video of how fast this thing boils - it's like what I always thought the Jetsons would be like. No one should ever put a pot on the range again.

In sum, the store was great, the name however is a bit mystifying. Apparently somewhere along the way the translation from the American "super" market got a bit mixed up, so all the big markets here are considered "hyper". I wonder if the Hyper Bowl or Hyper Man are also literal translations? (Except if there is an actual Hyper Man I think Christopher Reeves would have to fight my fiancé for the title!) I have no earthly clue how Panda then worked it's way into the name, but I makes for some pretty funny mental images! The guy below looks a bit incorrigible if you ask me.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Artini 2013: Impressionistic Imbibing

With the advent of Spring comes the birth of several new cocktails, now making their inaugural appearances at the swanky bars of the District.  Luckily the Corcoran gives us the opportunity not only to try them, but to casually sip these tasteful (and tasty) creations all while browsing the latest collection at the museum.

Matt and I along with our dear friend Jessica, enjoyed the chance to sample some of DC lively libations last Friday evening at the annual Artini event, which is presented by the Corcoran’s 1869 Society (for art-lovers under 40 - we are patrons).  It was a vibrant evening of art, cocktails, entertainment, and dancing. The gala is the culmination of a month-long celebration in which eight mixologists from the District’s most prominent restaurants and bars compete to see who can create the most artistic martini. Each of the eight artinis is inspired by a piece of work from the Corcoran's collection. 

The competition was tight between eight of the DC’s best bars, but the winner of “Critics’ Choice” award was announced as The Gibson’s Frank Jones. His drink was inspired by Henri Regnault’s Head of a Moor.   The “Fan Favorite” winner was Joe Ambrose from POV at the W, with his cocktail inspired by Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s. 
Learn how to make my favorite cocktail of the evening from Ambar below:
The exhibition was great!  Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s is the first exhibition to explore the thriving underground of Washington, D.C., during the 1980s, giving visual form to the raucous energy of graffiti, Go-Go music, and a world-renowned punk and hardcore scene.
Fashion inspiration for the drinks?  I was going for champagne cocktail, Jess could definitely be a berry martini!
One of the more interesting pieces of the evening.

And like most successful nights, we topped it off with a little trip to the W to enjoy the ambiance.

To top it off we were surprised to find our photo on Captiol File magazine the next day!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Puerto Vallarata & Punta Mita: A Whale of a Time

There are a number of traditions that we've created over the last five years in Dubai that we are bringing with us back to the States - one of them is that we don't sit still for a long weekend. Taking the opportunity to travel when given the time, is one of my favorite memories from our time spent aboard and I'm happy to say that when presented with the opportunity over President's Day weekend, we didn't miss a beat.  A quick expedia/viator/trip advisor/google map/spg points consultation lead us to enjoy some fun in the sun on Mexico's west coast in Puerto Vallarata and in Punta Mita (to the North).  Just a 2 hour flight from Houston, it was a nice reminder that we don't have to go halfway around the world, just to feel half a world away.

Situated on Mexico's west coast, the port was a sleepy little town until about 50 years ago when a few events converged to bring the city into the international spot light.  Namely among them:  the American director John Huston filmed his 1963 film The Night of the Iguana in Mismaloya, a small town just south of Puerto Vallarta. During the filming, the US media gave extensive coverage to Elizabeth Taylor's extramarital affair with Richard Burton, as well as covering the frequent fighting between Huston and the film's four stars. The subsequent publicity helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map for US tourists.  So we can thank Liz and Dick, in large part, for putting the Puerto on the map.
Sun, sand, and palms still seem like home to us.
Matt ever-the-water-baby wasted no time in hitting the waves for a sunset cruise.
And the sunset did not disappoint.
As the sun dipped below the horizon we were treated to stunning water color painting.
The heart of the city is the Our Lady of Guadalupe church, known for it's distinctive crown top.
Best $1.50 we might have ever spent.  Chicken tacos to die for!  When we went back for more the food stand was gone!
Just meeting up with a friend on the way to the marina.
Score 1: Happening upon a farmer's market and buying a bag of delicious fresh strawberries.  Score 2: Stopping for fro-yo and realizing that said berries are in your backpack.  
La Panoramica treated us to one of the best views in town.
The highlight of the trip, by far, was the ability to spend hours whale and dolphin watching.  We had the opportunity to see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat, and in the case of the dolphins even jump in and swim with them!
We did not expect to see Killer Whales on our dolphin trip so this was a treat!
This was taken right over the side of our boat, these guys were in the mood to play.
Expert water landing by one of the many, many pelicans.
It's spring time which means the babies have arrived.  This little guy wanted a closer look at me, but the protection of Mom right by his side.
The visibility in the bay was low so I couldn't see the dolphins, but I could hear them.  Only when I would pop up would I realize that they had been swimming right next to me!  Kind of terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
The humpbacks are also in town for the Spring and boy did they show off for us.  These photos are not using a zoom-lens.  This was some real-deal Moby Dick stuff!
Mama, male-escort (not the father, but juvenile in training) and baby all in a row.
And of course the dolphins refused to be upstaged.
There's nothing quite like the surprise of a majestic 40 ton animal hurling itself out of the water and leaping through the air right in front of your boat.  It's an awe-inspiring and spectacular event.  And it's addictive.  It never, ever grows old for me.  In this case we were lucky that they were in a mood to keep leaping and we enjoyed it for several hours.
They don't often pull their face out of the water.  But it's really cool when they do!
As we left Punta Mita I was left wondering how I was going to find a future home that would have room for my (first love) elephant and now my pet whale...good thing that at least know where I can visit them in the meantime.  Adios!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Orleans: Do I Need a Passport For This Place?

Rather than 2013 New Year's Resolutions - I was set on making some 2013 decisions.  Chief amongst them were buying a car, cleaning out my closet, and buying a winter coat for the first time in 6 years.  I've also been toying with whether or not we keep up this blog.  It's been 5 years and a great run.  With the return to the US I wonder if people are still interested, or maybe, are we still interesting?

That said it's still been a pretty wild ride these last few months.  Coming home, contrary to popular belief, has been much harder than leaving and this adjustment is really taking some time.  So, I've concluded that we'd keep up the blog as long as there was still something to say.  Supporters, detractors, questions and comments are welcome!

2013 started off with a bang, or maybe just the collective sound of the debauchery of Bourbon Street!  Matt and I were simply delighted to help our friends John and Lynze celebrate their nuptials in the Big Easy for a NYE wedding that was simply spectacular.  The fun we had was really driven in part by two factors.  Firstly, New Orleans is awesome!  It was my first time visiting and I took to the French Quarter like white on rice - or maybe powdered sugar on a beignet?  The sights, the sounds, the...food, were all fantastic.  The city has such a deep history with so many different cultural influences that I felt I could have been visiting another country.  I found it a real gem.

The other factor was that the wedding guest list including all our friends from Dubai as well as sissy Lisa and BFF Fiona, so the pure giddiness of seeing everyone for the first time in 6 months to a year was pretty darn exciting!

Here's just a little of what we got into:
Fair enough...I think all the pretty ones were at the wedding!
Did Lisa mention her new dream job in marketing?  (The Google thing is just a cover).
We laughed for 3 days straight.
The rehearsal dinner held at Mardi Gras world was our first shrimp boil.  Enough food for an army.
Mr. Incredible stares down the bride and groom.
Matt and John welcome Knot Standard's third business partner.
I can find an elephant anywhere.
Too bad the 49ers didn't have Matt on the team.
Friendship is like strumming the perfect chord.  *Cheesy*!
We even lured the father of the bride into the action.
Some QT with the future Mrs. Ballay!
The lovely church - still decorated for Christmas.
The most memorable part of the evening was hands down the 'second line' from the church to the reception.
Don't know what a second line is?
Second line is a tradition in brass band parades in New Orleans, Louisiana. The "main line" or "first line" is the main section of the parade, or the members of the actual club with the parading permit as well as the brass band. Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the "second line." The second line's style of traditional dance, in which participants walk and sometimes twirl a parasol or handkerchief in the air, is called "second lining." It has been called "the quintessential New Orleans art form.

And now for some fab pictures from the reception:

Don't let their refined nature fool you.  Earlier all these boys were swamp boating! 
Basile trying to bring wall street fashion to the Bayou.
Beers for breakfast for these boys.
Some of the local scenery.
Ever the humanitarian Matt tries to keep a baby alligator warm...
...and Basile attempts a snack.
Hard to believe a major city is just a short drive away.
See you later alligator - hope to be back in Nawlins soon!