All my Yelp reviews from Asheville, NC

Collected reviews from several visits to Asheville over the last few years. About half are from the last week. Favorite places in bold.

Downtown

Wicked Weed Brewery
Wasabi Sushi
Ten Thousand Villages (shop)
Mela Indian Restaurant
Izzy’s Coffee
Moog Music
Mellow Mushroom
World Coffee Cafe
Early Girl Eatery
Loretta’s Cafe
Dobra Tea
Tupelo Honey Cafe
Mayfel’s
Malaprop Bookstore and Cafe
Salsa’s
Mast General Store
The Gourmet Chip Company
Mobilia Contemporary Furniture
Chai Pani (Indian)
Street Fair (shop)
Barley’s Taproom and Pizzaria

Elsewhere in Asheville (mostly North of town)

Luellla’s BBQ
Atlanta Bread Company
Asheville Brewing Company
Avenue M
Two Guys Hoagies
Zen Sushi
Edison (at the Grove Park Inn)
White Duck Taco Shop

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My interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Travel Tips

Here’s my interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch on travel tips and technology. I’m reposting it here because I have many of the apps and sites linked directly.

How would you say technology has changed the travel industry? 

It’s changed in so many ways… there’s an enormous amount of information, tools and resources available to both travel agents and individuals. I think the biggest impact is that we can now have so much more information about a destination, hotel, attraction, etc before traveling, which results in fewer surprises.

Do you have a website or an app that you would recommend?

So many! I could go on forever! Here are the top sites and apps that I use on a regular basis. (Note: all apps are for iPhone, although other versions may be available.)

In researching trips, I look up hotel reviews on Frommer’s, Oyster (featuring numerous, untouched hotel photos), Venere (for European destinations) and TripAdvisor (which I take with a grain of salt), and I use Yelp for restaurant reviews and photos. Any restaurants that look interesting are bookmarked in Yelp; then when onsite, I can view bookmarked restaurants on a map or sorted by distance to choose where to eat. If planning a vacation, I look up relevant travel questions on Ask Metafilter. Then I create a custom Google Map showing the location of the airport, my hotel and any attractions that I plan to visit. Any other trip notes (places to visit, plans for each day, etc.) are kept in Simplenote for easy reference during the trip on my iPhone.

When it’s time to book airline tickets, I turn to Hipmunk, my favorite airline search tool. It searches all the major airlines I fly with the exception of Southwest Airlines. I love how clear and organized the results are. After finding the flights I want, I book them directly with the airline. After flights are booked, I look up airline seating charts on SeatGuru to help me choose my seat assignment.

Once my flight, car and hotel are booked, I use TripIt to keep track of everything. I forward all my travel related email confirmations to a TripIt email address and the service automatically organizes the information, which is immediately synced to my Macbook/iPhone calendar. Tripit is amazing and keeps my entire itinerary in order without having to carry any paperwork, aside from a boarding pass. I also forward a copy of everything to Evernote so I have a backup that I could reference up on my iPhone if I had to.

Once all my info is in TripIt and I’m on my way to the airport, I use FlightTrack Pro on my iPhone to check flight status, gate information, layover times, etc. It’ll also notify me if there’s a delay. If I’m going to have a meal at an airport, I use Gate Guru for a listing of restaurants and shops in each terminal, along with user reviews. 

Once at my destination, I use Yelp and Google Maps on my iPhone frequently (usually to find the best nearby coffee before anything else!). If I’m traveling interntionally , I use Google Translate for language challenges, Google Voice for free texting back home and eCurrency to convert prices to dollars (it does not require constant internet connectivity, which is useful).

I also use Twitter throughout to ask advice and sometimes send feedback to a hotel or airline (hotels are especially responsive on Twitter these days). I use Tweetbot on the iPhone and Echofon on the Mac.

Does it save money to book on sites such as Travelocity or Orbitz as compared to using a travel agent?

I’ve personally never booked anything on those sites because it gives me a level of comfort to book directly with an airline or hotel rather than through a discount third party site.

I use Hipmunk and Kayak (and Southwest.com) to find the lowest airline rates, and I check hotel websites directly for their lowest rates. I will sometimes use Kayak (or Venere.com if traveling in Europe) to get an idea of general hotel rates, but then I book directly with the hotel.

Our company only books large groups (not individual bookings), but I can say that there is a real value in using a travel agent, especially for international trips or inexperienced travelers. Travel is expensive, and it’s nice to have advice from someone who’s “been there and done that” rather than guessing.

My advice would be that booking online makes sense for experienced travelers and/or simple trips (a few nights in Chicago, for example). In these situations, I’d recommend booking directly with hotels, airlines, etc. whenever possible so that you know your reservation is secure and confirmed. For inexperienced travelers or more complicated trips (two weeks in Egypt, for example), a travel agent’s advice and guidance can be extremely valuable.

What trip is next for you?

I go to Palm Springs with a group of 400 people later this month, and then to Paris in the fall with my wife for a site visit/vacation, which I’m pretty excited about. I’m taking a group to Cancun in March and then I go back to Paris in May with two groups of 350 attendees each.

What are some of your favorite travel tips?

  • Scan a copy of your passport and drivers’ license and keep it online somewhere (or email it to a family member) so you can get home easily if your documents are lost.
  • I always pack a small plug adapter that makes 3 power outlets from one (like this). It’s extremely useful in a hotel or airport where there are limited power outlets.
  • When traveling internationally, I take very little cash. I take money out of an ATM upon arrival and use my credit card whenever possible. Banks and credit card companies get much better conversion rates than individuals do. Never change money at an airport – it’s the most expensive option.
  • I take photos of receipts with my iPhone and upload them to Dropbox to avoid envelopes stuffed with receipts to sort through when I get home.
  • For a long trip, I bring my refillable Nalgene water bottle so I can refill frequently for free rather than buying bottled water.
  • If you are comparing two comparable hotels and one is a little more expensive than the other, it’s sometimes worth a try to call the reservations line for the more expensive one and ask if they will match the price of the cheaper one. The telephone reps often have the ability to do this to make a sale.
  • When choosing a hotel, consider the price of parking, wifi and perhaps breakfast in figuring total cost.
  • When researching a destination, Frommers.com is an excellent resource. For most destinations, they have a general introduction, “Frommer’s Favorite Experiencesand often sample itineraries, all for free.
  • Stay calm when traveling and be nice to airline and hotel staff. Most people aren’t.
  • A pair of over-ear noise canceling headphones is a great purchase (or gift) for a frequent traveler. They’re a lifesaver when on a flight with talkative people behind you or when you are stuck in the last row of a small plane.
  • Always, always, always pack a snack for a flight. You never know.

 

Pizza Technique at Da Francesco in Rome

Video of the pizza chef at Da Francesco in Rome, a small unknown restaurant where they make the best pizza in the world. The pizzas cook for 2 minutes in the oven.

Here’s the chef making a margarita pizza and pizza dough with just olive oil and salt.

Note: best to watch in HD.

CNN’s “World’s 12 Worst Tourist Traps”

From CNN: the 12 worst tourist traps in the world.  Not sure I agree, but here’s the list.

1. Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios, Jamaica  
I climbed Dunn’s River Falls when I was a kid… enjoyed it except for seeing the water leeches all over my Dad’s back.  

2. Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong

3. Times Square, New York City, United States

4. Nanjing Dong Lu, Shanghai, China

5. Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience, London, United Kingdom

6. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand

7. All of central Tokyo, Japan
Seriously?  All of Tokyo?  Please.

8. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Totally agree.  Wouldn’t waste my time unless I was literally around the corner.

9. Bandra’s Bollywood homes, Mumbai, India

10. Sydney Fish Market, Sydney, Australia
I’d go.

11. Patpong, Bangkok, Thailand

12. Benoa, Bali, Indonesia

Last morning in NY

Breakfast at Brooklyn Bagels in Chelsea (amazing pumpernickel and whitefish salad).

Walk through flower district (basically one long block)

Explore East Village

Lunch at Gray’s Papaya (awesome)

Taxi back to hotel to pack.

Car service coming to pick us up in 45 min to go to the airport.

We had a great time but we are walked out. And I’m not eating for a week.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday morning in New York

This is our second full day in New York.  We’re having a great time… right now I’m sitting in the lobby of the James Hotel with a coffee watching people come in and out and checking a few sites while Rachel gets up and dressed.

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Last night we went to Sushi Yasuda, which is rated on Yelp as the best sushi in NY. I don’t agree… the atmosphere was lovely and the service was fantastic, but I thought the sushi was way overpriced and not incredible. The fish itself was amazing, but the rolls were strange – the fish was minced inside each roll – and the pieces of sushi were tiny. It was a fun experience though… and I also enjoyed the Nathan’s hot dog I had 10 minutes later.

Avenue Q was a lot of fun – we both enjoyed it. It was a small theater and we had great seats, and Milk Duds were only $2. “That’s because we’re OFF Broadway!” said the guy selling them.

After dinner we took the subway to the Meatpacking district to check out the bar at the Gansevoort Hotel. There was a doorman and a line of trendy young people outside, and although I was wearing my coolest khaki pants, polo shirt and Merrell’s, I decided not to risk it. 🙂

We had a nice walk back to the hotel… I love seeing how the neighborhood changes from one block to the next.

For breakfast this morning I was trying to decide between two places I’ve never been before: Bubby’s , a casual, local favorite, and Balthazar, a French brasserie considered one of the best restaurants in the area. I chose Balthazar – we can have good pancakes anywhere, but a busy brasserie for breakfast is something you can’t do in St. Louis.

Today’s morning plan: Paragon Sports near Union Square (for messenger bags and sports bras – guess who is shopping for each?), exploring the Union Square area a bit, and lunch at Shake Shack – something we’ve been looking forward to as a highlight of our visit.

The afternoon and dinner are unplanned so far.

Update from NY: Day Two, 5 PM

Can’t believe it’s almost 5 PM already… the day has flown by!

We started out with an amazing bagel at Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee in Chelsea, then walked through the High Line park for a while before heading to B&H Photo. This place is incredible… it’s basically a department store of electronics, mostly photography, but they have samples of almost every product they carry out for you to try. That means hundreds of lenses, cameras, tripods, camera bags, and more. Anything you can think of that is related to photography in any way, they have. Picture about 50 St. Louis camera stores in one, plus a computer store and more all in one building.

It’s made even more interesting by the fact that they have an incredible system of moving items around the store with boxes on rolling conveyer belts all over the place. You go to the cashier with your receipt, pay, and then pick up your items which are already packed and bagged for you. Oh… and it is owned and run by Orthodox Jews, all wearing Kipot and with peyos.

Rachel’s gift to me was a contribution towards anything I want at B&H (what a great wife!!) and after looking at a few different lenses and researching extensively, I picked a new Sigma basic zoom lens with a fast aperture (fixed 2.8) which I am very excited about.

Then we headed to SOHO where we picked up a couple hot dogs on the street and then did some browsing in Bloomingdale’s, Manhattan Portage and a couple boutiques. We also stopped at a little pastry shop for a coffee, peanut butter cupcake and a slice of chocolate chip banana nutella cake.

After convincing a taxi driver that we were going far enough to make it worth his while to pick us up, we came back to our hotel to rest a bit before going out tonight,

Tonight’s plans: sushi, Ave Q and a drink at a rooftop bar.

Sent from my iPhone

Today’s NY plan

First full day in NY. Today’s plan:

Breakfast: Bagel and lox at Brooklyn Bagel (near High Line)

The High Line (I’ve been following the HL development for 8 years now… so excited to finally see it)

B&H photo

Lunch: Papaya King?

Shops to visit:
Crumpler
Manhattan Portage
Paragon Sports
Strand Books
Muji

Several coffees

Dinner: Sushi Yasuda (supposed best sushi in NY)

Avenue Q (Off-Broadway)

Possible drink at Gavensvoort rooftop bar

Location:Avenue of the Americas,New York,United States

Arrival at the James Hotel

So happy with our hotel choice! The James Hotel is small, modern, minimalist and in SOHO. Our room has big windows and everything is high end and looks brand new. So excited to be staying downtown instead of midtown.

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– Posted from my iPhone in NY

Location:Avenue of the Americas,New York,United States

Rome airport is nutso

Everything about the Rome airport is nuts. It’s like they didn’t know so many people were going to come. Not enough seats at the gates, not enough agents at the ticket counters, not enough bins at security. Long lines to do or buy anything. People packed in on buses to the plane.

Makes me long for the predictability and order of US airports.

Here’s how they board a flight in Rome:

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And I just saw three birds flying around at my gate.

– Posted from my iPhone in Rome

Afternoon update from Budapest

I had a long afternoon and am a little worn out from all the walking, so I am not going to be writing much about my afternoon today… but I made sure to take an iPhone photo at each point along the way so I can at least update all my readers (I mean the two of you) on what I did today. I took hundreds more photos with my real camera and will get them edited and uploaded someday soon.

So… here’s the short version of I have done this afternoon.

Walk to synagogue.

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Annoying Jewish tour guide
Garden… Burial site
Museum

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Lunch… Bagel and lox

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Talked to woman from LA
Stopped in Jewish Market… All full of products kosher for pesach.

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Jewish Market with craft stands
Metro to Buda

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Walk through Buda. Views of Pest and $5 ticket to see church. (Kind of a rip off.)

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Coffee from cart.

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Walk across bridge over the Danube, through park full of kids hanging out, and back to hotel to rest.

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P.S. Can’t even feel my feet any more!

-Posted from my iPhone in Budapest