London: Tate Modern’s Lichtenstein: A Retrospective

Pinging all over London on the Tube for the last week, I couldn’t help but notice the bright yellow posters trumpeting, “Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” at Tate Modern. All week I kept telling myself, “I’ll check it out later this week,” then “I’ll check it out tomorrow,” but as my days in London dwindled down, I finally forced myself to buy a ticket. As the exhibition is extremely popular, it is impossible to saunter up to the ticket counter and buy a same-day ticket. Thus, I went onto Tate Modern’s website on Thursday and booked a ticket for this afternoon (Saturday). Should you wish to do the same, know that available tickets are at least two days out from whatever day you purchase your ticket on.

Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at Tate Modern, London

I saw this all over the Tube

Tate Modern | Bankside, London, SE1 9TG, England +44 20 7887 8888
“Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” Exhibition: February 21st, – May 27th, 2013
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday, 10 am – 6 pm | Friday – Saturday 10 am -10 pm | Sunday 10 am – 8pm
Closest Tube Stations: Southwark, Waterloo, Embankment

Tate Modern’s website explains the exhibition: “Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is the first full-scale retrospective of this important artist in over twenty years. Co-organised by The Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern, this momentous show brings together 125 of his most definitive paintings and sculptures and reassesses his enduring legacy. Lichtenstein is renowned for his works based on comic strips and advertising imagery, coloured with his signature hand-painted Benday dots. The exhibition showcases such key paintings as Look Mickey 1961 lent from the National Gallery Art, Washington and his monumental Artist’s Studio series of 1973–4. Other noteworthy highlights include Whaam! 1963 – a signature work in Tate’s collection – and Drowning Girl 1963 on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The artist’s rich and expansive practice is represented by a wide range of materials, including paintings on Rowlux and steel, as well sculptures in ceramic and brass and a selection of previously unseen drawings, collages and works on paper. Room after room pays tribute to his extraordinary oeuvre, celebrating the visual power and intellectual rigour of Roy Lichtenstein’s work.”

Out of the 125 works exhibited, I spent markedly more time in front of the 36 I have listed below. As there was a crush of bodies all around me everywhere I turned, I ended up making notes on which paintings I preferred, then, once I came to the last room of the exhibition and felt satisfied I had seen all 125 of Lichtenstein’s masterpieces, doubled back to the beginning and spent more time scrutinizing the works that appealed to me.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite works from the Lichtenstein: A Retrospective exhibition.

M Maybe, 1965

M Maybe, 1965

Wikipedia explains, “M-Maybe depicts an attractive girl, which is typical of Lichtenstein’s romance comics adaptations. As is a common theme among these works, she awaits a man in a vague but urban setting. The thought bubble reads “M–Maybe he became ill and couldn’t leave the studio”. The text and her expression jointly capture her continuing worry and anticipation. David Britt likens the work to Victorian narrative painting because Lichtenstein invites much speculation with the work, including the identities of the present and absent subjects of the work as well as the “nature of the situation”, i.e., what might be holding up his arrival.”

Drowning Girl, 1963

Drowning Girl, 1963

Wikipedia explains: “The work was derived from a panel of a 1962 DC Comics publication, but also references Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa as well as both Jean Arp and Joan Miró. It is one of several Lichtenstein works which mentions a hero named Brad, who is absent from the picture. Lichtenstein produced several “fantasy drama” paintings of women in love affairs with domineering men causing women to be miserable, such as Drowning GirlHopeless and In the Car. These works served as prelude to 1964 paintings of innocent “girls next door” in a variety of tenuous emotional states. “In Hopeless and Drowning Girl, for example, the heroines appear as victims of unhappy love affairs, with one displaying helplessness…and the other defiance (she would rather drown than ask for her lover’s help).”

Hopeless, 1963

Hopeless, 1963

I spent more time looking at Hopeless than any other painting in the exhibition. I wish I could play Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out” to this poor girl. “It is always darkest before the dawn,” Kate Bush sings. I would tell this poor girl that, unless you are dead, it is never hopeless.

Oh, Jeff...I Love You, Too...But..., 1964

Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But…, 1964

Wikipedia explains: “Using only a single frame from its source, Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But…’s graphics are quite indicative of frustration, but the text in the speech balloon augment the romantic context and the emotional discord. After 1963, Lichtenstein’s comics-based women “…look hard, crisp, brittle, and uniformly modish in appearance, as if they all came out of the same pot of makeup.” This particular example is one of several that is cropped so closely that the hair flows beyond the edges of the canvas.”

Head With Blue Shadow, 1965

Head With Blue Shadow, 1965

Head With Blue Shadow is aesthetically pleasing to me. She looks like both a 1960s rock star and a boss I used to have in Southern California.

The Ring (Engagement), 1962

The Ring (Engagement), 1962

The Ring feels sinister to me. The background looks like stained glass in a funeral parlor. Her nails seem razor-sharp. I don’t know what is going on here, and for that reason, I like it.

Spray, 1962

Spray, 1962

Spray feels sinister to me as well. I am convinced, based on the sharp nails, that this is the same woman who just got engaged in a  funeral parlor. I think she might be spraying bug spray in someone’s face and I think she is enjoying it.

Step-On Can With Leg, 1961

Step-On Can With Leg, 1961

Step-On Can With Leg also seems sinister to me. This is probably the leg of the woman with the sharp red nails. She is up to no good.

Look Mickey, 1961

Look Mickey, 1961

Wikipedia explains, somewhat verbosely: “Critics applauded the work’s playfulness, inherent humor and irreverence. According to Diane Waldman of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, “Look Mickey is broad comedy and falls into the category of slapstick …” Lichtenstein’s slight alterations to its “linear clarity and colour”, the critic writes, add to its aesthetic value and grandeur, reinforced by his choice of scale. A common misconception about Lichtenstein comes from the fact that in his best-known works, his meticulous approach to painting is purposely disguised because he superficially seeks his paintings to appear as if facsimiles of industrial produced pop culture icons. Graham Bader wrote that “Lichtenstein’s painting in fact appears more the product of industrial manufacture than the very pulp image on which it is based.” Look Mickey is considered self-referential in the sense that the artist is painting something through which the viewer may see elements of the artist.”

Brushstrokes, 1965

Brushstrokes, 1965

Wikipedia explains: “As with many comics-based works, the connection to the source is evident in Brushstrokes. This work depicts a cropped derivation of the source image. In Brushstrokes, as in its source, a hand holds a house painter’s paintbrush in the lower left hand corner of the image, while in the upper right a few strokes of paint as well as spatterings of paint are presented. Lichtenstein selected this source because he “…liked the summary rendering of the hand holding the brush and the way in which the cartoonist indicated paint”. The three strokes in the upper right are the dominant imagery, while the partial view of the hand in the lower left limited by the edges of the canvas shows paint dripping from the brush. This is an example of Lichtenstein humorously presenting a subject that might be crowded out in a newspaper via a parody that relies on the difference between art and the rest of the world.”

Little Big Painting, 1965

Little Big Painting, 1965

Wikipedia explains: “Little Big Painting is quite attentive to the “physical qualities of the brushstroke” relative to other Brushstrokes series works. It is an example of the use of overlapping forms rather than a single form or distinct adjacent forms, which seems to create a more dynamic feel to the shallow space. However, since Lichtenstein does not use shading or contrast, the monochromatic strokes with just bold black outlines are void of certain elements of depth. The work contains no narrative, leaving just the comic book form of Benday dots presented according to a plotted outline.”

Golf Ball, 1962

Golf Ball, 1962

Wikipedia explains: “It depicts “a single sphere with patterned, variously directional semi-circular grooves.” The work is commonly associated with black-and-white Piet Mondrian works. It is one of the works that was presented at Lichtenstein’s first solo exhibition and one that was critical to his early association with pop art. The work is commonly critiqued for its tension involving a three-dimensional representation in two dimensions with much discussion revolving around the choice of a background nearly without any perspective.”

Desk Calendar, 1962

Desk Calendar, 1962

I like Desk Calendar‘s retro vibe. It reminds me of “Mad Men”. I can almost hear typewriters click-clacking away.

Sunrise, 1965

Sunrise, 1965

The Art Institute of Chicago’s website explains: “Landscape was one of the first topics that Lichtenstein turned to following his comic-inspired Pop breakthrough, and one to which he returned with some regularity. He was drawn to clichéd or dated subjects, and the genre of landscape seemed appealingly remote from avant-garde concerns. While their subject matter seems unlike Lichtenstein’s early Pop comic paintings, his painted landscapes were in fact appropriated from the backgrounds of cartoon scenes. Lichtenstein used the same durable halftone dots but here distilled the compositions down to the most basic pictorial elements. The results progress from more overtly representational works like Sunrise (1965) to almost completely abstract works like the blue Seascape (1964). The black outlines present in Sunrise disappear, leaving bands of solid color and massed groupings of dots to define the pictorial space—ocean, mountains, sky.”

Modern Painting Triptych, 1967

Modern Painting Triptych, 1967

The Art Institute of Chicago’s website explains: “Works like Modern Painting Triptych explore a modular format of panels in various arrangements with the same image repeated sequentially on all panels, begging the semantic issue of whether the works represent one painting or multiple paintings.”

Modern Sculpture (Maquette), 1968

Modern Sculpture (Maquette), 1968

Modern Sculpture With Glass Wave, 1968

Modern Sculpture With Glass Wave, 1967

Modern Sculpture With Velvet Rope, 1968

Modern Sculpture With Velvet Rope, 1968

The Art Institute of Chicago’s website explains about the three images above: “During the same fertile period that Roy Lichtenstein created his famous Brushstrokes and Explosions series, he designed a poster for New York City’s Lincoln Center, taking as his inspiration architecture and design of the 1920s and 1930s. Thus began a series of paintings and sculpture between 1966 and 1971 that parodied the style of Art Deco, or “Cubism for the Home,” as Lichtenstein ironically put it. The funky Modern Sculpture pieces featured here were produced between 1967 and 1968 and recreate the Art Deco motifs found in concert halls and movie theaters of the 1930s. As the wall text puts it, Lichtenstein “humorously stylized an already-stylized style,” using the same brass and ornamentation that typify classic Art Deco.”

Modern Painting I, 1966

Modern Painting I, 1966

Modern Painting I reminds me of Michael Jackson during his Thriller days. It feels very mid-80’s, even though Lichtenstein created it in 1966. Also, it kind of looks like a punked-out version of Big Bird.

George Washington, 1962

George Washington, 1962

I feel like George Washington looks slightly Asian here.

Rouen Cathedral, Set 5, 1968

Rouen Cathedral, Set 5, 1968

I would hang Rouen Cathedral in my hallway. The orange version of it, on the left, is my favorite. The middle version is a bit of a blotchy fail. The version on the right could be hanging in Anne Rice’s home office, back during her “Interview With A Vampire” days.

Still Life With Glass And Peeled Lemon, 1972

Still Life With Glass And Peeled Lemon, 1972

Still Life With Glass and Peeled Lemon reminds me of two beloved 1980’s movies: “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Teen Witch.”

Forest Scene With Temple, 1985

Forest Scene With Temple, 1985

I like the juxtaposition of broad brush strokes on pop art. I think it works.

Reclining Nude In Brushstroke Study, 1986

Reclining Nude In Brushstroke Study, 1986

Reclining Nude In Brushstroke makes me want to take a nap in the sun, somewhere in Spain.

Portrait Triptych Study, 1974

Portrait Triptych Study, 1974

I like how, in Portrait Triptych Study, Lichtenstein starts off with a normal looking portrait, then deconstructs it into something still recognizable as the woman in the previous portrait, then just goes off the deep-end and turns it into something that makes no sense.

Still Life With Goldfish, 1982

Still Life With Goldfish, 1982

Still Life With Goldfish seems like the sort of painting that would end up, as a poster, on the wall of the bad kid in some 1970’s after-school special. You know the kid I am talking about – the one that had dropped out of high school to work in an ice cream truck, the kid that gets all of his friends to try marijuana.

Artist Studio's 'Look Mickey', 1973

Artist Studio’s ‘Look Mickey’, 1973

Wikipedia explains: “Lichtenstein’s approach to presenting his own works within his works was non-traditional. The works were revisited as exact duplicates rather than the more standard distanced revisitation. This choice of exact duplication contrary to popular practice intrigued Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein liked this quality of his paintings within his paintings, saying “I like the combination of a very separate quality that each of my paintings has within the painting, and the fact that everything works as one painting too.”

Artist Studio's Foot Medication, 1974

Artist Studio’s Foot Medication, 1974

Artist Studio’s Foot Medication feels like it is channeling Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho”. All that is missing is Patrick Bateman.

Mirror #1, (Oval 60' x 48') 1969

Mirror #1, (Oval 60″ x 48″) 1969

Mirror #1 reminds me of Snow White’s evil stepmother, with her, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

Imperfect Painting (Gold), 1987

Imperfect Painting (Gold), 1987

Notice how the triangles jut out beyond the edge of the canvas, how they ruin the symmetry? Neat.

Blue Nude, 1995

Blue Nude, 1995

Blue Nude seems to be channeling a bored housewife who has just taken some Xanax. Her hand is on a book, but I’m betting she is too drugged to pick it up.

Interior With Nude Leaving, 1997

Interior With Nude Leaving, 1997

Interior With Nude Leaving feels like a dated, 1980s breakfast room. I find it soothing.

Interior With Waterlilies, 1991

Interior With Waterlilies, 1991

I would quite like to take a nap in Interior With Waterlilies. It reminds me of the South of France in the summer.

Nudes With Beach Ball, 1994

Nudes With Beach Ball, 1994

I don’t know why the ladies in Nudes With Beach Ball are so flagrantly frolicking around on the beach, but I do know that the center nude looks sunburned, and that makes me happy.

Landscape With Philosopher, 1996

Landscape With Philosopher, 1996

Landscape With Philosopher reminds me of Japan. I like the various Bonsai trees. All that is missing is Ralph Macchio, doing the Crane Kick, as Mr. Miyagi looks on.

There are 13 rooms in the Lichtenstein exhibition. I made it through them all in 45 minutes. At the end, you are funneled out through the gift shop, where the Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective exhibition catalog is out of stock. There are, however, some neat magnets.

One adult ticket costs £14.

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London: The Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, and Mamma Mia!

My love of musicals originated in high school, when a friend of mine looped Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera for the duration of our 8 hour Spring Break drive from Nashville to Destin. At first I thought it was psychological warfare, but, by the third time “Track Down This Murderer” resurfaced, I was passionately singing, “Jean Valjean is nothing now!”

Loads of interesting musicals are on in London at the moment. With a bit of free time and some cash, what better option could there be than getting the best seats at as many musicals as possible during my time here? Having promised myself to not watch Les Misérables, Wicked or Phantom of the Opera yet once again, there were the only three musicals left I was keen on seeing: Rock of Ages, The Book of Mormon and Mamma Mia! 

Although I’ve been visiting London since I was 17, there are still sections of town that I get lost in, no matter how clearly the directions have been laid out. The West End is one of those sections. Of the three musicals I saw, only one was reached without stopping for directions multiple times. Even with the GPS on my iPhone. Oh yes. Thus, I would recommend you reconcile yourself to the fact that you will most likely get lost. Budget an extra 20 minutes. Strangers are helpful. It will be fine.

Rock of Ages | Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0HH, England
Monday – Friday:  Matinee: 3 pm | Evening 7:45 pm
Closest Tube Station: Leicester Square

I walked into Rock of Ages without having the faintest clue what it was about. Purchased solely because it was the first listing I came across on Ticketmaster UK that I had remembered seeing an advertisement for while on the escalator in the Tube, I saw the Live Nudes neon sign off to the right-hand side of the stage and raised my eyebrows. When the curtain went up, and I saw The Bourbon Room set, I raised my eyebrows even higher. Furiously scanning the rows behind me, I did not breathe easy until I located at least 2 people that were my Dad’s age. If they could handle Rock of Ages, I, in my little white cardigan and ballet flats, probably could as well. It turned out to be my favorite of the 3 musicals I saw.

From Rock of Ages. Don't be scared.

Rock of Ages. Don’t be scared.

I am going to list the songs in Rock of Ages, rather than write out a detailed review, because The Book of Mormon review I’ve written later in this blog is quite long. I knew nothing about 80’s music before I sat through Rock of Ages, had never heard of Poison, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Twisted Sister or Whitesnake. Man, have I been missing out.

Rock of Ages Song List:
1) “Just Like Paradise” – David Lee Roth
2) “Nothing But A Good Time” – Poison
3) “Sister Christian” – Night Rangers
4) “We Built This City” – Jefferson Starship
5) “Too Much Time On My Hands” – Styx
6) “I Wanna Rock” – Twisted Sister
7) “We’re Not Going To Take It” – Twisted Sister
8) “Heaven” – Warrant
9) “More Than Words” – Extreme
10) “To Be With You” – Mr. Big
11) “Waiting For A Girl Like You” – Foreigner
12) “Wanted Dead Or Alive” – Bon Jovi
13) “I Wanna Know What Love Is” – Foreigner
14) “Cum On Feel The Noize” – Quiet Riot
15) “Harden My Heart” – Quarterflash
16) “Shadows Of The Night” – Pat Benatar
17) “Here I Go Again” – Whitesnake
18) “The Final Countdown” – Europe
19) “Any Way You Want It” – Journey
20) “High Enough” – Damn Yankees
21) “I Hate Myself For Loving You” – Joan Jett And The Blackhearts
22) “Heat Of The Moment” – Asia
23) “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” – Pat Benatar
24) “Can’t Fight This Feeling” – REO Speedwagon
25) “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” – Poison
26) “Oh Sherrie” – Steve Perry
27) “The Search Is Over” – Survivor
28) “Don’t Stop Believin'” – Journey

I won’t give away the plot, but, I’ll share who my favorite character is: Stacee Jaxx. Yes, he is the biggest bastard of them all. I have no excuse for preferring him over every other member of the cast, but I do.

Stacee Jaxx

Stacee Jaxx

I left Rock of Ages humming along to “Don’t Stop Believin,” covered in gold confetti squares. I want to see it again.

A Stalls, Row C, Seat 11 (three rows from the stage and nearly dead center) ticket is £72.75 (including Ticketmaster’s fee and a Box Office collection fee). Premium Stalls seats go for a cool £95 plus fees, but if you can get a good, nearly center Stalls seat, it isn’t worth paying the extra cash. For those of you that are students, or on a serious budget, other ticket price points are available, all the way down to £25 (available only to be booked in person on the day of the performance).

If you can kick out the cash, get a £65 Stalls seat, as close to dead center as possible. Row C, Seat 11, will do nicely.

The Book of Mormon | Prince of Wales Theatre, Coventry Street, London, W1D 6AS, England
Monday – Saturday: Evening – 7:30 pm | Wednesday and Saturday: Matinee – 2:30 pm.
Closest Tube Station: Leicester Square

The Book of Mormon‘s hype is worldwide and its advertisements on the Tube have taunted me since February.  It was a given I would be going to it. I booked it 6 weeks in advance and settled on a Dress Circle ticket at a matinee show. It was one of three seats available for the entire month of April. I usually only book Stalls tickets, but, I was very lucky to get what I did, as The Book of Mormon is currently sold out for the next 3 months straight.

When I was last here, in February, I saw advertisements for The Book of Mormon everywhere. Up the escalator: The Book of Mormon! Down the escalator: The Book of Mormon! At Embankment, Kings Cross, Oxford Circus: The Book of Mormon! I was seduced by the typography and the peppy, happy image of a Mormon missionary jumping jubilantly in the air. Additionally, Mormons have fascinated me since I was 24, when I lived in Southern California and drove past La Jolla’s Star Wars-like Temple on a bi-weekly basis.

La Jolla's Mormon Temple. Yes, it looks insane.

La Jolla’s Mormon Temple. Yes, it looks insane.

I’ve read at least a dozen books on the Mormons, including “Mormonism For Dummies.” I’ve learned all about their special undergarments, belief system, unusual wedding ceremonies and the one year supply of food that the wives are supposed to keep stocked in their cupboard at all times. The Mormons baptize the dead, try to never drink caffeine, and believe that each husband will get his own planet when he dies. On that planet, his wife, children and everyone the family has posthumously baptized will serve him. The Mormons are deeply whacked out, but in Disney sort of way, which is why I love them. Long story short, it has always been my destiny to see a musical about Mormons.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so don’t read it if you are planning on seeing The Book of Mormon and want to be surprised.

The Book of Mormon starts off like a Gap adwith rows of slickly dressed missionaries ringing invisible doorbells, “Hello, my name is Elder Price and I would like to share with you the most amazing book!” “Hello” is a catchy song. I feel optimistic at this point. After this, we learn that a group of young missionaries are about to receive the locations of their (2 year) missions. Some go to France, others to Norway. But Elder Price, who is one of the main stars of this musical, finds out he is going to Uganda with Elder Cunningham, a freaky little fat ass. They sing “Two By Two” and “You and Me (But Mostly Me)”, two more catchy songs that I will later replay on Spotify. At this point, I’m happy to be at The Book of Mormon, happy that I have a pretty good seat, happy that I am at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. Then, it happens. “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” The song that translates, as one of the Ugandans cheerfully tells Elder Price as he first arrives in their country, to “F*ck You, God.” I put my hands over my face and sink down low in my seat. Oh no.

Waiting to find out where they are going on their missions.

Waiting to find out where they are going on their missions.

Ugandans are dragging a dead donkey through the street now. Everyone has AIDS. The town doctor has maggots in his scrotum. Oh no. Elder Price and Elder Cunningham meet the other Mormon missionaries that have already been there for months. The conversion rate stands at nil. It is a bleak moment in the musical.

Luckily, “Turn It Off ” is the next song and it is hilarious. “When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, don’t feel those feelings! Hold them in instead! Turn it off, like a light switch, just go click!” Catchy, catchy. Unfortunately, something deep within me has been unsettled by “Hasa Diga Eebowai” and, no matter what occurs for the rest of the musical, there will be an internal religious conflict within me that goes something like, “Rebecca, how did you find yourself at a musical where they are singing ‘F*ck you, God,’ while cheerfully raising their middle fingers towards heaven?” and then, “But, overall this musical is quite funny,” and then, “But they sang F*ck you, God, and you listened to it while wearing a cross necklace.”

“I Am Here For You” is the next song, and it is my least favorite of the entire lot. Any song that employs the word “buddy” in it, will be a song that I hate. Personal preference. Moving on. “All American Prophet,” with: “Have you heard of the All-American Prophet? The blonde-haired, blue-eyed voice of God! He didn’t come from the Middle East like those other holy men! No, God’s favorite prophet was…All-American!” made me smile. The next song, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” is mildly offensive, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City, with a strong African accent), the most perfect place on Earth. The flies don’t bite your eyeballs and human life has worth.”

Elder Price watches a warlord named General Butt F*cking Naked shoot a man in the face. He takes it badly and deserts Elder Cunningham, thinking he’ll be transferred to Orlando, where he always dreamt of doing a mission. Then comes “Man Up,” with lyrics like: “What did Jesus do when they put nails in his hands? Did he scream like a girl? Or did he take it like a man? When someone had to die to save us from our sins, Jesus said, ‘I’ll do it ‘, and he took it on the chin! He manned up! He manned up. He took a bullet for me and you. That’s man up. Real man up.” So, this is a pro-Christianity song in the middle of an anti-religion musical. Hmm.

Elder Cunningham begins telling increasingly ridiculous lies to would-be converts, just to entice them to join the church. This leads us to my favorite song of the entire musical, “Making Things Up.” I’ve copied a fair-sized chunk of it, just to give you an idea of how creative it is:

MORONI, MORMON, SMITH, and ARNOLD’S DAD:
You’re making things up again, Arnold.
You’re recklessly warping
The words of Jesus!

HOBBITS:
You can’t just say what you want, Arnold!

ELDER CUNNINGHAM:
Come, on, Hobbits!

ALL:
You’re digging yourself a deep hole!

ELDER CUNNINGHAM:
I’m making things up again…kind of.
But this time, its helping
A dozen people!
Its nothing so bad, because this time,
I’m not committing a sin,
Just by making things up again, right?!

I’ve caught myself humming this song a few times since I heard it. I like it.

At this point in the play, Elder Price returns to the group of missionaries, but is completely ignored, while Elder Cunningham is praised for getting people interested in becoming Mormons (through wild lies involving Star Trek). Then comes “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” which involves Hitler getting a blowjob from a man with a tiny, red-sparkly hat on his head. The lyrics are amusing, so I will share a bit of them with you:

JESUS:
You blamed your brother for eating the donut,
and now you walk out on your mission companion?!  You’re a DICK!

ELDER PRICE:
Jesus, I’m sorry!

CHORUS:
Jesus hates you, this we know!
For Jesus just told you so!

SKELETON 1:
You remember Lucifer!

SKELETON 2:
He is even spookier!

The “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” dance is funny, even if it is disturbing on many, many levels.

Spooky Mormon Hell Dream

Spooky Mormon Hell Dream

Moving on. There are only 5 songs left to share, so we’re reaching the end of the musical.

“I Believe” is the another confusingly pro-Christian song, with lyrics like: “I know that I must go and do the things my God commands. I realize now why He sent me here. If You ask the Lord in faith, He will always answer you. Just believe in Him and have no fear!” At this point in the musical, Nabulungi is ready to be the first Mormon convert. Which brings us to “Baptize Me.” I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves:

ELDER CUNNINGHAM
I’m about to do it for the first time
And I’m gonna do it with a girl
A special girl
Who makes my heart kinda flutter
Makes my eyes kinda blur
I can’t believe I’m about
To baptize her

NABULUNGI
He will baptize me
He will hold me in his arms
And he will baptize me
Right in front of everyone
And it will set me free
When he looks into my eyes
And he sees just how much
I love being baptized

It sounds like it is all about sex, right? Next, we have “I Am Africa,” where the missionaries dance around like Africans, singing, “We are the winds of the Serengeti. We are the sweat of the jungle man. We are the tears of Nelson Mandela. We are the lost boys of the Sudan.” I cover my face with my hands again. Oh no.

At this point in The Book of Mormon, more Ugandans have been converted to Mormonism than anywhere else in Africa, so one of the Mormon bigwigs flies down to congratulate his missionaries. While there, Nabulunghi and the 19 other Ugandans that have been converted, put on a truly obscene play for him, about the prophet Joseph Smith, as they understand him. “Joseph Smith American Moses” involves lyrics such as: “Even though their prophet had died, the Mormons stuck together. And helped each other, And were really nice to everyone they came across. And one day, the Mormons finally found Sal Tlay Ka Siti! (Sal Tlay Ka Siti)! And then, the Mormons danced with Ewoks, And were greeted by Jesus!”

The Mormon director closes down the mission and tells all of the missionaries to go home, because they have completely failed in Uganda. But, they decide to stay. Even though the Mormon church has disowned them, they stay. Moreover, they take the version of Mormonism that Elder Cunningham made up to convert the Ugandans, and create “The Book of Arnold.

The Book of Arnold

The Book of Arnold

The Book of Mormon ends with “Tomorrow Is A Latter Day,” with lyrics like, “You’ve read the book of Mormon. Did you know there’s more? We swear this is not a scam. Have you heard the story of our prophet Arnold Cunningham? Arnold Cunningham. Arnold Cunningham.”

I left feeling deeply conflicted. Am I glad that I can say I’ve seen The Book of Mormon? Yes. Did I like some of the music in it? Yes. Will I see it again? No.

Having said all of that, if you can get a ticket, go see it. Seat A9, in the row of the Dress Circle area closest to the stage, with an unobstructed view, costs £68.50.

Mamma Mia! | Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London, WC2B 4LD, England
Wednesday and Saturday: Matinee – 3 pm | Monday – Saturday: Evening – 7:45 pm.
Closest Tube Station: Charing Cross

Mamma Mia! was, by far, the tamest of the musicals I saw on this trip. The storyline seems completely implausible, with Sophie, who is about to get married to Sky, inviting 3 men that might be her father to her wedding. What. Ever. But, suspending reality, this is a happy and upbeat musical. Sky, played by Andreas Gyllander, is wildly handsome.

Hey boy.

Andreas Gyllander is the only one not dressed in a wetsuit.

Good times at Mamma Mia!

Good, clean fun at Mamma Mia!

It wasn’t until I arrived at Mamma Mia! that I realized that it featured only Abba songs. Having previously never heard of Abba before, I can now confidently say that Abba rocks!

Mamma Mia! Song List:
1) “Honey, Honey”
2) “Money, Money, Money”
3) “Mamma Mia”
4) “Dancing Queen”
5) “Our Last Summer”
6) “Lay All Your Love On Me”
7) “Super Trouper”
8) “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”
9) “The Name Of The Game”
10) “Voulez-Vous”
11) “SOS”
12) “Does Your Mother Know”
13) “Slipping Through My Fingers”
14) “The Winner Takes It All”
15) “When All Is Said And Done”
16) “Take A Chance On Me”
17) “I Have A Dream”
18) “Thank You For The Music”

I do not dance. But, I was dancing at the end of Mamma Mia! That tells you how much I enjoyed the performance.

A Stalls, Row D, Seat 8, ticket costs £73 (with Ticketmaster’s fees and Box Office collection fees). The rows start with C. I was in the second row, a bit on the right. It was a very good seat.

Each time I attend a musical in London, I feel like I am in the middle of something truly magical, that something quite extraordinary is going on all around me. I feel awed and enchanted, happy and hopeful. Even when I am not in love with a performance, I walk away with stars in my eyes, humming a new tune, in a world that is just a tiny bit, to me, anyways, more brilliantly-hued than before.

Tennessee: Southern Fried Everything

Having been born and raised in the immediate vicinity, I have eaten at a fair portion of the restaurants in and around Nashville. Thinking back over all of the places I’ve frequented, and what I’ve ordered at each one of them, a theme emerges. I tend to order traditional Southern food. Perhaps I find Southern food comforting. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread and cold milk were readily available my whole childhood.

And this.

Cornbread

I would like some of this.

Fried chicken and cold milk

What comes to mind when thinking about traditional Southern food? Fried chicken? Mashed potatoes? Cornbread? Collard greens? Grits? Here is Wikipedia’s take on Southern food: “A traditional Southern meal is pan-fried chicken, field peas (such as black-eyed peas), greens (such as collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, or poke salad), cornbread or corn pone, mashed potatoes, sweet tea, and a dessert that is usually a pie (sweet potato, chess, shoofly, pecan, and peach are traditional southern pies), or a cobbler (peach, blackberry, or mixed berry are traditional cobblers). At least a dozen soups also have their origins in the American South. Some other foods and beverages commonly associated with the South are grits, hushpuppies, country ham, Southern styles of succotash, mint juleps, chicken fried steak, buttermilk biscuits (may be served with butter, jelly, preserves, honey, gravy or sorghum molasses), pimento cheese, boiled or baked sweet potatoes, pit barbecue (especially ribs), fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, bread pudding, okra (fried, steamed, stewed, sautéed, or pickled), butter beans, pinto beans, and black eyed peas.”

Hushpuppies

Hushpuppies

Grits

Grits

Wikipedia continues, “Fried chicken is among the region’s best-known exports. Pork is an integral part of the cuisine. Virginia ham is one example. Stuffed ham is served in Southern Maryland. A traditional holiday get-together featuring whole hog barbecue is known in Virginia and the Carolinas as a “pig pickin”. Green beans are often flavored with bacon and salt pork, biscuits served with ham often accompany breakfast, and ham with red-eye gravy or country gravy is a common dinner dish. It is not uncommon for a traditional southern meal to consist of only vegetables with no meat dish at all, although meat or meat products are often used in the cooking process. “Beans and Greens,” which consists of either white or brown beans alongside a “mess” of greens has always been popular in most parts of the South. Turnip greens are generally prepared mixed with diced turnips and a piece of fatback. Another Southern staple is “Beans and Cornbread,” consisting of pinto beans, stewed with ham or bacon, and cornbread. This is served sometimes with collard, turnip, or mustard greens.”

Chess Pie

Chess Pie

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

Curious about the origins of Southern food, I turned to The Learning Channel, where I came across this brief history of Southern food: “A medley of cultural influences from around the world has helped make Southern food what it is today. At its core, Southern food is rooted in local and imported ingredients, necessity and frugality. It all began in Africa and Scotland — fried chicken that is. The Scots had a tradition of deep-frying chicken in fat. Scottish immigrants came to the South where African slaves had already introduced a tradition of frying food. Over time, deep-frying became a common way of cooking chicken and other food. African ingredients like okra and black-eyed peas became a staple of the Southern diet, in addition to the homegrown green staples of collards, mustard, turnips and kale. Other highly used crops include pecans and peanuts, sweet potatoes and peaches. The region’s lakes, rivers, tidal pools and oceans served up oysters, shrimp, crawfish, crab and Mississippi catfish. Local game included opossum, rabbit and squirrel, the main ingredient of Brunswick Stew, which historians say was popular in Virginia and Georgia. Prior to the Civil War, most southerners were subsistence farmers who lived off the land. Pork and chicken, not cattle, were typically raised. Farmers working outside needed a lot of calories to get through the day, therefore they indulged in big breakfasts and suppers.”

Of the fifteen restaurants, five bakeries/ice cream shops and 2 bars I have listed, the majority serve Southern food. Since an University of Alabama study concluded that people who eat Southern food 6 times per week have a 41% higher chance of having a stroke than people who each it once a month, I would recommend, as I always do, moderation.

Bleacher’s Sports Grill | 1010 Murfreesboro Rd, Franklin, TN 37064 +1 (615) 791-4160
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday, 11 am – 11 pm | Saturday – Sunday, 11 am – Midnight.

Just to the right of the entrance to my childhood neighborhood, this was the closest place to get food when growing up. I always ordered the Mozzarella Sticks, a steal at $5.95. My brother always ordered a Club Sandwich. This may be where my love of fried and cheesy things originates. Though I have tried Mozzarella Sticks the world over, Bleacher’s remain the best. Here is their menu. Also, if it isn’t immediately obvious, there are links to each of the restaurants I have listed in the actual address line of each restaurant.

Bleacher’s website describes itself as follows: “We have been serving up great food in a family oriented atmosphere for over 22 years. You will enjoy signature items from our menu in a smoke free environment as you relax while watching your favorite ballgame or just catching up with friends. We invite you to check out our extensive choice of the finest imported and domestic beers along with our liquor and wine selections. Bleachers Sports Grill is known throughout the Franklin community for great food and excellent service in a relaxing atmosphere.”

There used to be a dartboard right next to the bathroom door. I don’t know if it is still there anymore, but I always thought it seemed like the worst possible place for a dartboard.

A meal for one costs $10 USD.

Bricktops | 3000 West End Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37203 +1 (615) 298-1000
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday, 11 am – 10 pm | Friday – Saturday 11 am – 11 pm |Sunday 10:30 am – 10 pm.

Bricktops has the most whacked out salads I have ever had the honor of eyeballing. Look at Mt. Vesuvius-like Cobb Salad I ate there recently, with a substitution of cheddar for blue cheese.

Cobb Salad

Cobb Salad at Bricktops

Their Sunday Brunch is famous throughout Nashville. I always get the Cobb Salad, come hell or high water, but the Huevos Rancheros (two over easy eggs, corn tortillas, black beans, chorizo, and salsa) is what the people around me always seem to order.

Here are Bricktops BrunchLunchDinnerDessert and Gluten-Free menus. The glassed-in patio is the best place to sit, both in terms of people watching and natural lighting.

Brunch for one, without wine, costs approximately $20 USD.

Christie Cookies | 4117 Hillsboro Pike #104, Nashville, Tennessee 37215 +1 (615) 297-0274
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 6 pm | Saturday 10:30 am – 6 pm | Closed Sunday.

I first discovered Christie Cookies in high school. Barring cookies made in my own kitchen, these are the best cookies I have tasted in my life, all gooey and full of melted caramel. Although there are also Sandwich Cookies, Brownies, and Gelato on offer, I always stick with the traditional chocolate chip cookies. Here is a link to some of the cookies they offer on their website.

Christie Cookies

Christie Cookies in Green Hills

Christie Cookies website reads: “Inspired by a childhood memory of a neighbor’s homemade cookies, Christie Hauck quit his corporate job, determined to master the “perfect cookie.” His quest involved experimenting with gourmet ingredients from all over the country and frequent taste testing by close friends. In 1983, Christie suddenly outgrew his apartment kitchen with the receipt of his first order, and hence, The Christie Cookie Company was founded. Three retail stores followed shortly thereafter, and Christie often rented a tuxedo and offered free samples to entice customers. Millions of cookies later, The Christie Cookie Company is known for elegant gift packages and unique corporate gifts and continues to thrive in the retail, mail order, and wholesale markets.”

One cookie runs between $1.25 – $2 USD.

Cracker Barrel | 4210 Franklin Commons Court,  Franklin, Tennessee 37067 +1 (615) 794-8195
Opening Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 6 am – 10 pm | Friday – Saturday 6 am – 11 pm.

Cracker Barrel is a part of my childhood. I spent many a Sunday afternoon on the front porch of this restaurant, rocking back and forth on the rocking chairs thoughtfully put out for waiting customers. I love their Buttermilk Pancakes. I have never tried anything else on the menu, despite going there at least 30 times in my life.. Cracker Barrel’s gift shop, with its Yankee Candles and homey blankets, is fun to browse. The little peg game on each table in the restaurant, put there to play with while waiting for the food to come out, is fun. Cracker Barrel also has the people watching ever. Some of the people that come in here that seem to have stepped right off the set of The Beverly Hillbillies, while others are exquisitely dressed, with Rolexes sparkling in the sunlight. Here are Cracker Barrel’s Seasonal OfferingBreakfastLunch and DinnerKids, and Dessert Menus.

Check out the rocking chairs on the front porch.

Check out the rocking chairs on the front porch.

Cracker Barrel’s website reads: “Traveling the highways of America, you drive through the places where many folks in this country still live: the small towns. One of them, just off the stretch of I-40 that runs between Nashville and Knoxville in Tennessee, is a place called Lebanon. Now, unless you’re a hunter and collector of antiques, you probably haven’t heard of Lebanon. But that’s okay because folks in Lebanon like it just the way it is: comfortable, friendly, and a great place to come home to. No wonder Dan Evins thought it was just the place to start a business that, as it turns out, would someday become anything but small!

While working in the family gasoline business back in the late 1960s, Dan began thinking of ways to better meet the needs of folks on the road. Back then, the interstate system was still young and goods and services were hard to come by and often not to be trusted. What’s more, with the rise of fast food, the little places that served up some of the real flavor of America seemed to be getting pushed out. Fast food might be a good business idea, Dan thought, but it sure wasn’t such a hot eating idea. Truth is, Dan always saw mealtime as special – a time to catch up with your family, your friends, and your thoughts. Meals weren’t meant to be swallowed down in three bites with a squirt of ketchup. One of Dan’s stories was to tell how, at the beginning of the suppers he remembered from childhood, his mother would let the family know they could start eating by pointing to the wide variety of country vegetables spread out across the table and saying, “Well, there’s the crop.” Dan began to think about all the things that would make him feel comfortable were he far from home. Things like big jars of candy and homemade jellies, pot-bellied stoves, folks who let you take your time. He thought about simple, honest country food, and a store where you could buy someone a gift that was actually worth having. What Dan had in mind was the kind of place he’d been to hundreds of times as a boy. It was a place called the country store, something every small community once had. Out west, they called them trading posts; up north, they were general stores. Where Dan grew up, in Middle Tennessee, they were old country stores, and Dan figured maybe folks traveling on the big new highways might appreciate a clean, comfortable, relaxed place to stop in for a good meal and some shopping that would offer up unique gifts and self-indulgences, many reminiscent of America’s country heritage.

Well, people liked Cracker Barrel and word got around. Pretty soon, folks were waiting in line for turnip greens, biscuits and gravy, and all the other good country cookin’ that Cracker Barrel had to offer. As time marched on, Cracker Barrel grew. Yet even now, the mashed potatoes are scratch-made every day, the made from scratch biscuits come served with real butter, and the unique items in the gift shop offer genuine value. Things are likely to stay this way, too. Call it nostalgia if you want, but the goal isn’t simply to recreate to a time gone by – it’s to preserve it. Because the way we see it, the lifestyle of rural America isn’t about where you live. It’s about how you live.”

Breakfast for one is approximately $20 USD.

Donut Den | 3900 Hillsboro Pike #2, Nashville, Tennessee 37215 +1 (615) 385-1021
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday, 5 am – Midnight | Saturday – Sunday 6 am – Midnight.

Donut Den is another staple of my childhood. It has the best Cinnamon Twists, Old Fashioned Cake Donuts and Glazed Donut Holes anywhere in the world. I may be biased, I admit. Here is their menu.

Some delicious donuts

Some delicious donuts

Donut Den’s website reads: “Fox’s Donut Den has been serving up the greatest pastries you can sink your teeth into for more than 30 years. Right in the heart of Green Hills in Nashville, Tennessee (next door to Hillsboro High School on Hillsboro Road), this Nashville landmark is a tradition for families, businesspeople looking for a place to meet, and college students cramming for tests. The coffee is fresh and hot and delicious, and the sweet treats are unforgettable!”

One donut runs between $1-2 USD. Don’t take the last Cinnamon Twist before I get there.

Fleming’s | 2525 West End Avenue , Nashville, Tennessee 37203 +1 (615) 342-0131
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday, 5 pm – 10 pm | Friday – Saturday 4:30 pm – 11 pm | Sunday 4 pm – 9 pm.

I love Fleming’s petit filet mignon. Due to its location on West End Avenue, just down the street from Vanderbilt University, parking can be tricky.

From the outside.

From the outside.

Fleming’s website reads: “A new kind of steakhouse, one with an atmosphere that  is stylish, lively and inviting — an inspired, contemporary evolution of an American classic. From the beginning, Fleming’s has always featured the very finest aged prime beef and fresh seafood with service that is both gracious and indulgent. Our award-winning Fleming’s 100, offering 100 premium wines served by the glass, is an industry benchmark. With a menu featuring Small Plates, generous sides, decadent desserts and an innovative Bar Menu, Fleming’s has raised the standard of steakhouse dining to a whole new level.”

Here are Fleming’s Food and Bar menus and Wine list.

Dinner for one, without wine, costs approximately $40.

F. Scott’s | 2210 Crestmoor Road,  Nashville, Tennessee 37215 +1 (615) 269-5861
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday, 5:30 pm – 10 pm | Friday – Saturday 5:30 pm – 11 pm | Closed Sunday.

F. Scott’s holds a special place in my heart. As evidenced by the title of my blog, I love F. Scott Fitzgerald. Few things are as delicious as F. Scott’s 4 oz. Tenderloin with Foie Gras butter and its White Truffle Parmesan Pommes Frites. For those wanting to splurge, a bottle of Billecart-Salmon’s Brut Reserve Champagne is $155 USD. Here are the Food, Wine By The Bottle and Wine By The Glass menus.

Inside.

Inside.

F. Scott’s website reads: “F. Scott’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar features Nashville’s finest contemporary American cuisine in a setting that combines the comfort of a neighborhood restaurant with flair and sophistication. With more than 300 wine selections and a menu that boasts the finest seasonal fare, F. Scott’s is a restaurant for all occasions, all the time. Located in the heart of Green Hills, F. Scott’s presents live jazz six nights a week, and is a smoke-free restaurant.”

Dinner for one, without wine, is approximately $80 USD.

Gigi’s Cupcakes | 1000 Meridian Boulevard, Franklin, Tennessee 37067 +1 (615) 472-1508
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 7 pm | Saturday 10 am – 7 pm | Closed Sunday.

For the decadent swirls of brightly colored buttercream and flavors such as Chocolate Salted Caramel, Kentucky Bourbon Pie and Scarlett’s Red Velvet, Gigi’s has the best cupcakes in Tennessee. Gigi’s website reads: “Each delectable cupcake on today’s menu was lovingly baked and decorated this morning by one of our 84 local Gigi’s bakers. To ensure that we’ve prepared something that fits your fancy, our menu changes every day. So visit us today and find your new favorite!” Here is the weekly menu.

Gigi's cupcakes

Gigi’s cupcakes

One cupcake costs approximately $3.25 USD.

J. Alexander’s | 1721 Galleria Boulevard  Franklin, Tennessee 37067 +1 (615) 771-7779
Opening Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 11 am – 10 pm | Friday – Saturday 11 am – 11 pm.

Oh, J. Alexander’s. How many Friday nights of my youth were spent in one of your booths? This restaurant has seen more of me, over the span of my entire lifetime, than any other restaurant in Tennessee.

Very Best Chocolate Cake

Very Best Chocolate Cake

J. Alexander’s website reads: “J. Alexander’s is a contemporary American restaurant, known for its wood-fired cuisine. Our core philosophy is to provide you with the highest possible quality dining experience. The menu features a wide selection of American classics including prime rib of beef, steaks, fresh seafood, sandwiches and entrée salads. The menu in each restaurant includes a varied and rotating selection of features like Seafood Czarina, Tuscan Steak, Grilled Fish with Mango Papaya Salsa and Chicken Milanese. The restaurant has a full-service bar that includes an outstanding selection of wines both by the glass and bottle.”

I always get the Southern Fried Chicken Salad, but even while I am eating it, I am anticipating the Very Best Chocolate Cake, which is one of the best desserts I have ever had. Monstrously huge, thick and gooey, it is big enough to share with up to 3 other people. Here is a link to J. Alexander’s food menu.

Dinner for one, without wine, costs approximately $30 USD.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams| 1892 Eastland Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37206 +1 (615) 262-8611
Opening Hours: Daily, 11 am – 11 pm.

Absinthe and Meringues, Juniper and Lemon Curd, Pistachio and Honey, and Savannah Butternut Mint are just some of the jaw-droppingly delicious ice cream flavors on offer at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Oh, the choices, the choices. Here are Jeni’s SignaturePerennialLimited EditionSorbet, and Frozen Yogurt menus for you to freak out over.

I recently went to Jeni’s for the first time, so I can only recommend what I, and my friend, tried. “You have to try this,” my friend enthused repeatedly, while eating a scoop of Yazoo Sue With Rosemary Bar Nuts ice cream. I was too busy devouring to my Salted Caramel with Smoked Almonds Ice Cream Sandwich to respond. The sandwich part was two golden almond macaroons, while the salted caramel ice cream was pretty much the most perfect thing I have ever tasted . I wanted to escort it directly to a church and marry it.

Seasonal Flavors at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Signature Flavors at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

More flavors at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

More flavors at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Absinthe Meringues Ice Cream at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

Absinthe Meringues Ice Cream at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Jeni’s website reads: “We create ice creams we fall madly in love with, that we want to bathe in, that make us see million-year-old stars. We devour it out of Mason jars, coffee mugs—whatever we can get our hands on. Handmade American ice cream = Bliss with a big B. Every single thing we put in our ice cream is legit. Generic chemist-built ice cream bases and powdered astronaut-friendly gelato mixes? No, ma’am. We build every recipe from the ground up with luscious, Snowville milk and cream from cows that eat grass. With that exquisite base, we explore pure flavor in whatever direction moves us at any moment, every day, all year.”

Yazoo Sue With Rosemary Pine Nuts has rave reviews.

Yazoo Sue With Rosemary Pine Nuts has rave reviews.

Some of the other ce cream sandwiches available.

Some of the other ice cream sandwiches available.

One Salted Caramel with Smoked Almonds Ice Cream Sandwich costs roughly $7 USD.

Loveless Cafe | 8400 Highway 100, Nashville, Tennessee 37221 +1 (615) 646-9700
Opening Hours: Daily, 7 am to 9 pm.

Loveless Cafe is the place in Nashville to go for traditional Southern food. Everything is scrumptious here, which is why one can wait upwards of two hours for a table. The Fried Chicken Salad is what I order, though I can usually only manage a few bites after stuffing my face on the world’s best buttermilk biscuits. Check out the menu to see some of the most popular Southern dishes around.

Loveless Cafe

Loveless Cafe

Fried chicken and biscuits. These tried and true Southern food staples have been a part of Loveless Cafe’s history for more than sixty years. In 1951, Lon and Annie Loveless began serving them right out the front door of their home to travelers who passed by on US Highway 100 in Nashville, Tennessee. Beginning as a party house in the forties, the little white structure that sits next to what is now the Natchez Trace had one of the largest hardwood living room floors around – perfect for dancing the night away. Weary travelers found comfort and refuge in the cozy home and in the food the owners served. As the tiny house became a planned stop for treks along Highway 100, the then private home became known as the Loveless Motel and Cafe. Lon Loveless built and ran the property’s 14 motel rooms while hungry crowds were drawn to Annie’s homemade preserves and scratch-made-biscuits – a secret recipe that remains unchanged to this day.

Outside Loveless Cafe

Outside The Loveless Country Market

Despite cultural changes that dot the timeline over the years, the Loveless Cafe remains true to what started it all in 1951: Serving true southern comfort food, encompassing a time when people ate what was indigenous to where they lived. Before the “super highways,” the rural South was a remote area with back roads leading to treasures known only to those who ventured down them. For years the Loveless was one of those treasures, located just yards from the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, one of America’s oldest roads that extends south from Central Tennessee 444 miles to Natchez, Mississippi. The Loveless Cafe represents a treasure trove of memories “out Highway 100” and the generations of families who regularly return to relive those memories. Take the Oliphant family, for instance, who has eaten Easter Sunday breakfast at the Loveless Cafe every Easter for the past 49 years – now, that’s a family tradition!

That sounds about right.

That sounds about right.

The best buttermilk biscuits I have ever had.

The best buttermilk biscuits I have ever had.

Today the Loveless Cafe serves more than 450,000 guests a year and makes between 4,000 to 7,000 biscuits a day — still using that same secret recipe from Annie Loveless all those years ago. If only Lon and Annie could see today what their little cafe has become. As Donna McCabe, another long-time owner of the Loveless said, “People just like real food.” The Loveless Cafe will always be a place where real people are welcome to come enjoy real Southern food!”

Lunch for one runs approximately $15 USD.

Mère Bulles | 5201 Maryland Way, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027  +1 (615) 467-1945
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 11 am – 9:30 pm | Saturday 4 pm – 9:30 pm | Sunday Brunch 10 am – 2 pm | Sunday Dinner 5 pm – 8:30 pm.

I first stepped foot in Mere Bulles last December, which is ridiculous for someone that lived in close proximity for it the majority of their childhood. Yes, I always knew it was there, regally keeping watching over Maryland Way, but I never took the time to check it out. When I finally succumbed, I could have kicked myself for waiting so long. I could have been eating Charleston She-Crab Bisque for years. Well, better late than never, right? Mere Bulles is currently my favorite place to eat when I am in Tennessee. On my most recent trip, I ate at Mere Bulles 3 times in 2 weeks. Here are the Lunch, Dinner, Patio and Weekend menus and Wine list for you to drool over.

Lovely Southern architecture at Mere Bulles.

Lovely Southern architecture at Mere Bulles.

Besides sitting inside, there is both balcony and patio seating available.

For those that don’t want to sit inside, there is both balcony and patio seating available.

Patio seating at Mere Bulles.

Patio seating at Mere Bulles.

Mere Bulles website reads: “At Mère Bulles we strive to recreate the atmosphere of the Charleston plantation home that French-born Civil War widow, Michele Rutledge, lived in after the Civil War. The War left the Rutledge family land rich and cash poor. Ever the survivor, Michele opened a small restaurant in 1866 on Charleston’s fashionable King Street in a building left to her by her husband. The family was scandalized because no Rutledge woman they had ever known had run her own business. The restaurant was an immediate success and wound up being one of the more popular in the city. She ran the front of the house as Charleston’s favorite hostess, but she also had complete control over the kitchen, which served dishes either created by or approved by her. After a few years, any negative feelings the family had toward Michele’s decision turned to admiration, and in later years she became its matriarch. One thing Michele loved throughout her life was champagne. She was known to have as many as a dozen toasts during an evening at her restaurant, and the bubbly was never far from her stove when she was cooking. Her love of champagne earned her the nickname Mother Bubbles, which in French is translated as Mère Bulles.”

Fried artichokes

Fried artichokes

Charleston She-Crab Bisque

Charleston She-Crab Bisque

I always order the same things at Mere Bulles: Fried Artichokes as an appetizer and a bowl of Charleston She-Crab Bisque as my main course. All of the bottles of wine on their wine list are permanently 50% off, which is a great little marketing ploy. My only criticism is that they do not know the correct temperature to serve Pinot Noir at (58-63 degrees Fahrenheit). Room temperature Pinot Noir is simply sad. I love everything else about the restaurant though.

Dinner for one, with a moderately-priced bottle of wine, costs approximately $50 USD.

Morton’s | 618 Church Street, Nashville, Tennessee 37219 +1 (615) 259-4558
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday 4:45 pm to 11 pm | Sunday 4:45 pm – 10 pm.

Morton’s is known as one of the finest restaurants in Nashville, and one of only a handful of place to go for a really good cut of meat. I’ve eaten the Filet Mignon, Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes and Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake. All three dishes were technically perfect. This is a great place to impress a date by throwing down mad cash.

Morton’s has gone a bit menu crazy. Get comfortable before checking them all out: Lunch, Dinner, Bar, Gluten Sensitive Lunch, Gluten Sensitive Dinner, Soy Sensitive Lunch, and Soy Sensitive Dinner. Don’t forget the Cocktail and Wine lists!

A nice piece of meat.

A nice piece of meat.

Molten Chocolate Cake

Morton’s Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake

Morton’s website reads: “Morton’s The Steakhouse is conveniently located downtown, only blocks from some of the city’s finest attractions.  With Bridgestone Arena and LP field in close proximity, Bar 12.21 is the perfect location for pre-game and post-game dinner or Bar Bites and cocktails.  Also within walking distance of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Ryman Auditorium, Schermerhorn  Symphony Center, and a string of infamous live music venues – it is ideal for an early or late dinner to accompany a big performance!  With three private boardrooms, a spacious dining room and Bar 12.21, the restaurant is equipped for any occasion – from upscale private functions to post-work cocktails and special occasion dinners. Morton’s features an extensive wine collection, prime-aged beef, succulent seafood, signature steakhouse sides and elegant desserts – all available during dinner service.”

Dinner for two, with a moderately-priced bottle of wine, costs approximately $200 USD. Dress up.

Nero’s Grill | 2122 Hillsboro Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37215 +1 (615) 297-7777
Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 am – 9 pm | Friday  11 am to 10 pm | Saturday 4 pm till 10 pm | Sunday 11 am till 2 pm.

Nero’s has great Cobb Salad and Heath Bar Crunch Pie. Here are the Lunch and Dinner menus.

Nero's Grill

Nero’s Grill

Nero’s website reads: “Nero’s Grill boasts a modern twist on tradition. The menu offers classic American comfort foods featuring delicious signature dishes. True to Nashville, the Bar and Lounge promotes live music several nights of the week.”

Dinner for one, without wine, costs approximately $40 USD.

O’Charley’s | 1202 Murfreesboro Road, Franklin, Tennessee 37064 +1 (615) 794-9438
Opening Hours: Daily, 10 am to 11 pm.

This is one of the restaurants I frequented most as a child. I love O’Charley’s. Besides the insanely good rolls that come at the beginning of every meal, I always look forward to eating the Southern Fried Chicken Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing and a slice of Caramel Pie. When I was last home, I ate here 6 times in 12 days. This is a great place to come with family. Here is the menu.

O’Charley’s website reads: “At O’Charley’s, it starts with those incredible, unsliceably soft rolls that our guests just can’t resist. Then follow up with our butcher’s cut Premium steaks, fresh-never-frozen salmon, signature salads, inspired pasta dishes, double hand-breaded chicken tenders, Sunday Brunch and more. All served up with our genuine hospitality. At O’Charley’s we put the Oh’s in good food.”

Southern Fried Chicken Salad

Southern Fried Chicken Salad

Lunch for one, without wine, costs approximately $20 USD. I’m jealous of you if you go.

Puffy Muffin | 229 Franklin Road, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027 +1 (615) 373-2741
Opening Hours: Daily, 10 am to 11 pm.

If I am meeting up with a group of friends, Puffy Muffin is always my suggestion. The wait can be brutal but the menu is full of tasty, simple Southern dishes. I always order a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. After finishing lunch, I meander over to the bakery and sometimes pick up a cookie or a brownie. The words that come to mind when I think about Puffy Muffin’s bakery are: spoilt for choice. Here are the BreakfastLunch and Bakery menus.

Puffy Muffin

Puffy Muffin

Puffy Muffin’s website reads: “Like your Mother used to make – or better is our goal! We use the highest quality ingredients in our baking – imported Guittard Chocolate®, Wholesome Farms® dairy products as well as Clabber Girl®, Pillsbury®, Richs®, and Gold Medal® ingredients delivered fresh daily. An Austrian Pastry Chef is on staff to oversee the production of all our wonderful creations.”

Lunch for one costs approximately $10 USD. Don’t forget to order some Sweet Tea.

Rosepepper Cantina | 1907 Eastland Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37206 +1 (615) 227-4777
Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday, Lunch: 11 am – 2 pm | Dinner: 2 pm – 9:30 pm | Friday to Saturday 11 am – 10:30 pm | Sunday 11 am – 9 pm.

Rosepepper is the only reason I know East Nashville. When I am in town, I come here for lunch with friends. The Carne Asada Burrito is as big as my arm, and impossible to finish, but quite tasty.

I love the colorful decor.

I love the colorful decor.

Inside of Rosepepper.

The view from where I was sitting.

Rosepepper’s website reads: “Specializing in Sonora Style Mexican cuisine, Rosepepper offers an eclectic menu only to be matched by its equally unique vibe and atmosphere. With its full bar and over seventy varieties of tequila, it is the ideal jumpstart for a night on the town or a festive dinner among friends. Rosepepper Cantina mirrors the food of the Mexican state of Sonora – a fusion of traditional Mexican, french and native influences. the food is as diverse and creative as the environment, with options ranging from Chile Verde to Cabo Tacos and Carne Asada. These flavorful selections are accompanied by one of the most extensive tequila lists in town. Our well-trained, knowledgeable staff will be happy to help you pick the right spirit to compliment you meal. Located on the corner of Chapel and Eastland Avenues, we are just a few minutes from Five Points. In addition our dining area, we have a large outdoor patio adorned with lights and colorful works of art. Rosepepper is more than authentic food and award winning margaritas; it is also an experience. We invite you to indulge your senses in bold Mexican flavors, vigbant colors and spirited fun. Rosepepper strives to capture the soul of Old Mexico in the New Heart of Nashville.”

Delish.

Carne Asada Burrito.

Here is the menu and drinks list.

Lunch for one, without any alcohol, costs approximately $15 USD.

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse | 2100 West End Avenue,  Nashville, Tennessee 37203 +1 (615) 320-0163
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday, 5 pm – 10 pm | Saturday 5 pm – 10:30 pm | Sunday 5 pm – 9 pm.

Ruth's Chris

Ruth’s Chris

Don't you want a piece of this?

Temptation.

Here is the menu and the wine list.

Ruth’s Chris’s website reads: “Ruth’s Chris Steak House was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana by Ruth Fertel, a single mother of two who wanted a better life for herself and her two sons. She purchased “Chris” steakhouse in New Orleans which had been operated for the 38 years prior. She changed the name to Ruth’s Chris when a fire forced her to move from the original location.”

Dinner for two, with a nice bottle of wine, will set you back at least $500 USD.

The Palm | 140 5th Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee 37203 +1 (615) 742-7256
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 am – 11 pm | Saturday 5 pm – 10 pm | Sunday 5 pm – 10 pm.

The Palm is yet another great place in Nashville to go for steak. I always order the 9 ounce Filet Mignon.

The Palm

The Palm

A nice place for dinner

Notice the wall

Here are the Business Lunch, Lunch, Dinner and Prime Bites menus, as well as the Wine and Cocktails List.

The Palm’s website reads: “When you start with the best ingredients available, you don’t need to rely on overly elaborate recipes or culinary fads. That’s why The Palm Restaurant’s menu features honest, satisfying dishes that reflect the best of our Italian-American heritage – from prime aged steaks and jumbo Nova Scotia lobsters to Italian classics like Chicken Parmigiana and Veal Martini.”

Some of the local celebrities who have visited The Palm.

Some of the local celebrities who have visited The Palm.

Dinner for one, without wine, costs approximately $75 USD. Dress up.

Sweet Cece’s | 500 West Main Street, Franklin, Tennessee 37064 +1 (615) 807-1412
Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11 am – 9 pm | Friday to Saturday 11 am – 11 pm | Sunday Noon – 5 pm.

Once TCBY petered out in Franklin, Brentwood and Nashville, I was left with a dilemma. Where could I go for yogurt as good as TCBY’s? Then, Sweet Cece’s opened. Problem. Solved. What I love about Sweet Cece’s, besides the fact that it has frozen yogurt, is that you make your own sundae. All of the toppings are neatly lined up, waiting to be pillaged. You can have a demure 300 calorie dessert or blow it out of the water with a 3000 dessert, the choice is yours. The final price is based on the weight of your creation. Children love this place. Here are the flavor and toppings menus.

Yummers.

Yummers.

Sweet Cece's is quite popular.

Sweet Cece’s is quite popular.

Sweet Cece’s website reads: “If you’ve been inside a Sweet CeCe’s before, you get it. The friendly atmosphere. The sweet smells. The mouth-watering choices. It’s a place to celebrate the big things and the little ones. A place to go to “just because.” Sweet CeCe’s is more than just a yogurt shop, it’s an experience. With a nearly endless array of combinations of frozen yogurt and toppings, Sweet CeCe’s offers an experience that is new every time. Featuring staples like Original Tart and Country Vanilla to crowd-pleasers like Cake Batter and Pomegranate Raspberry Sorbet, there is always something delicious to try.”

One cup of yogurt, with toppings, costs approximately $7 USD.

Taziki’s | 2190 Bandywood Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37215 +1 (615) 873-1027
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 am – 9 pm | Sunday, 11 am – 8 pm.

I only discovered Taziki’s a few weeks ago, but I’ve been twice since then. I only go on Wednesdays, because the only thing I have tried is the Wednesday Special, SpanaKopita, and I have no desire to try anything else. Taziki’s location is perfect for meeting up with friends for lunch.

Here is the menu.

I love the Wednesday Special.

I love you, Wednesday Special.

The Wednesday Special.

SpanaKopita

Lunch for one is approximately $15 USD.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge | 422 Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee 37203 +1 (615) 726-0463
Opening Hours: Daily, 9 am to 2 am.

For a touristy place, lots of locals come to Tootsie’s. The history is incredible, the drinks aren’t bad, and it is a fun place to kill a bit of time on a Friday night.

Tootsie's

Tootsie’s

Tootsie’s website reads: ‘Mom’s was the original name of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Tootsie Bess bought Mom’s in 1960. She credits a painter with naming Tootsie’s. She came in one day to find that he had painted her place orchid…thus the name Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. She was a singer / comedienne with “Big Jeff & The Radio Playboys”. Jeff Bess was the bandleader and Tootsie’s husband. She recorded, “My Little Red Wagon” and “Tootsie’s Wall of Fame” Records recorded about Tootsie’s include “The Wettest Shoulders in Town” and “What’s Tootsies Gonna Do When They Tear the Ryman Down?” Charlie Pride gave her the jeweled hatpin that she used to stick unruly patrons. It is rumored that Roger Miller wrote “Dang Me” in Tootsies. Famous early customers were Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young, Willie Nelson, Tom T. Hall, Hank Cochran, Mel Tillis, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline and many more. Movies filmed at Tootsie’s include “W.W. & the Dixie Dance Kings” starring Bert Reynolds, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” about Loretta Lynn and starring Sissy Spacek, and “The Nashville Rebel” starring Tex Ritter, Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Loretta Lynn, The Wilburn Brothers, and Waylon Jennings.

A segment of the Dean Martin summer show was filmed at Tootsie’s. TNN (The Nashville Network) did a 30-minute show about Tootsie’s, produced by Gus Barba. Esquire and Penthouse magazines did articles about Tootsie’s. Willie Nelson got his first songwriting job after singing at Tootsie’s. The photo and memorabilia lined walls are called the “Wall of Fame”. Tootsie was known to slip $5s and $10s into the pockets of luckless writers and pickers. It was said that she had a cigar box behind the counter full of IOU’s from where she had given drinks and food to hungry pickers and writers. Supposedly, at each years end, a bunch of Opry Performers would take all the IOUs and pay Tootsie so she wouldn’t lose the money. At her funeral were Tom T. Hall, Roy Acuff and Faron Young. She was buried in an orchid gown, with an orchid placed in the orchid-colored casket, so she could take her favorite flower with her to heaven. Connie Smith sang some of Tootsie’s favorite hymns at the funeral.”

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

One drink will set you back about $10 USD. It is worth it, if only so that you can tell people you’ve been to Tootsie’s.

The restaurants I have listed in this blog are my favorite in Nashville, but there are others out there, waiting, undiscovered. Find a place with fried chicken served just the way you like it. Become a mashed potato connoisseur. Listen to a group of men playing Mandolins on a Sunday afternoon, while you sigh over the exquisite decadence of yet another, unavoidable, buttermilk biscuit. The beauty of being in Tennessee is that Southern Fried Everything is all around you.

Tennessee: An Antebellum Plantation in the New South

I come from the land of Southern belles, Sweet Tea, and plantations, the land of shady porches, cotton fields and chivalry. I come from the land of “yes ma’am and no ma’am,” cornbread and churches, scorching summers and white linen dresses. I grew up in Franklin, Tennessee, where the Battle of Franklin, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, was fought in 1864 and where all of the plantations of that era have been preserved, albeit not always with their original furniture. Franklin is a city so rich in Civil War history that a 6-foot dig in the right area could very well reveal a cannonball. When I was very little, before I ever ventured beyond the cozy little confines of Franklin, I thought that every other city beyond my own must be exactly the same. I was wrong. However, the cities immediately surrounding Franklin are packed with antebellum plantations as well, with sweeping staircases and high-ceilinged rooms – the sort of place Scarlett O’Hara would have laid her head. I grew up with a sense of respect and awe for the beautiful plantations around me, but I never visited them or thought that there was anything specifically important about them. Until I moved overseas to Paris to college, until I realized the history I grew up surrounded by was unique, tragic, and gorgeous.

Tennessee used to be a slaveholding state. There is no way to get around it. Visiting a plantation entails visiting slave cabins. The Big House is always grand and breezy, while the slave cabins are always rustic and sad. Walking next to the cotton fields at the plantations makes me melancholy, especially in the summertime, when temperatures flirt with 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I cannot imagine how they survived. I only made it 10 minutes into Django Unchained. Slavery is the ugly cog that kept the plantations running smoothly. One hundred and fifty years later, the scars of slavery still mar the beauty of the plantations. The injustice of their plight still lingers in the air, lost and mournful.

Rough stuff

Rough stuff

Hannah Jackson, one of President Jackson's slaves

Hannah Jackson, one of President Jackson’s slaves

A Slave Cabin at The Hermitage

A Slave Cabin at The Hermitage

With that being said, I greatly enjoy visiting the plantations in Middle Tennessee. This is my heritage. I descend from women that rocked back and forth on the wide front porches, that read in the front parlors and occasionally fainted in the heat. But I also descend from someone who was hanged as a spy during the Civil War, a Confederate soldier that defected to the Union because he was so opposed to the idea of slavery

I try to visit The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home, each time I return to Tennessee. I don’t know what it is about this specific plantation that I love so much, but I do love it. I’ve been visiting it every year since 2003, when I randomly chanced upon it.

The Hermitage | 4580 Rachels Lane, Nashville, Tennessee 37076  +1 (615) 889-2941
Opening Hours: Daily, 8:30 am – 5 pm (April 1st – October 15th) 9 am – 4:30 pm (October 16th – March 31st)

The front of The Hermitage

The front of The Hermitage

Getting out to the Hermitage is a bit of a trek. A GPS would be useful. Even though it isn’t far off of I-40 East, the signage is sparse. When in doubt, go straight, would be the advice I would give to anyone who gets lost in route, as there is then a 50/50 shot of running directly into the Hermitage sign, which is impossible to miss.  There is ample parking at The Hermitage and the ticket booth is easy to find. An adult ticket currently goes for $18 USD. I once got in for free on the birthday of Andrew Jackson’s first wife, Rachel, so it might be worthwhile to look up her birthday. Ticket in hand, one is led into a small screening room, where a 15-minute film about Andrew Jackson is shown. After that, the exit leads directly to an audio-tour desk, where a free audio guide of the plantations can be exchanged against a valid photo ID.  I picked up the audio guide on my most recent visit to The Hermitage, but I wasn’t in the mood to stand with clusters of people, for 15 minutes at a time, looking at a shoe, so I turned it off 3 minutes after receiving it. This instantly made me feel better, freer. From the audio-guide desk, one walks straight ahead, entering the beginning of The Hermitage’s museum. Various fragments of pottery, antique pistols and portraits fill the room. My favorite item there is Mrs. Jackson’s wedding dress. Rachel was quite fat. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a voluminous, unflattering wedding dress. It is horrible. It makes me happy.

The horrible wedding dress

The horrible wedding dress

Some people stay in the little museum for an hour, before heading out to the plantation. I tend to breeze through it in 5 or 10 minutes, as I’ve seen it so many times. Out the doors from the museum, one steps onto a path that leads to the entrance of the Big House. It winds around the front of the house, affording a lovely, tree-lined view, probably the best view of the front of the house available. This is the place to take pictures. Moving onwards from that, one ends up at the front door, where a row of benches await visitors to the Big House. It is the only part of the property where one must be on a guided tour. I hate guided tours, but this one only last 15 minutes, which I can bear. The tours start every 10 minutes or so. I’ve never waited long to go in, and two little ladies, gatekeepers dressed up like Southern Belles, will answer any general questions posed about The Hermitage.

Photography is not allowed, not even on an iPhone with no flash, inside of the Big House. This is quite sad, because the official guidebook to The Hermitage has low-quality, overly saturated pictures of the rooms. Useless. Once inside the entrance hall, a guide tells of the history of both it and the rooms to the left, the dining and music rooms. They are lovely, but what I enjoy about this part of the tour is the story about how the Jacksons would push all of the hallway furniture against the walls and hold dances in the entrance hall. I suppose that gives an idea of how large the entrance hall is. I also love the story of the wallpaper in the foyer. It was Rachel’s favorite, but destroyed during a fire. Andrew re-ordered it from France and put it up again once the house was refurbished – after Rachel’s death.

The hallway where the dances were held

The hallway where the dances were held

The music room and living room are standard plantation fare. From here, the tour follows down the hallway to the right, to the Farm Office and President Jackson’s study. I love the view out of the Farm Office and the massive, ancient looking books in Jackson’s Study. They look like the sort of books Hagrid would read.

Look at those old books

Look at those old books

From here, one must ascend an incredibly steep set of stairs. The elderly usually skip the upstairs part of the tour, as getting up there is so strenuous. Once up the stairs, the children’s room is on the right and President Jackson’s room is on the left. The beds are curtained, fluffy-looking and draped with mosquito netting – basically the most perfect beds ever. President Jackson died of gout in the bed exhibited. Across the upstairs hallway, lie 2 guest bedrooms, both of which are bigger than the room of the President and the children. I love the views on either end of the upstairs hallway, which is the dead center of the house. That is the entire guided tour. I said it only takes 15 minutes.

Down the main staircase, out the back door, one is once again free and presented with a plethora of possibilities. To the smokehouse? The dining room? The Spring Cabin? The slave cabin? The garden? All choices work. I tend to hit up the formal dining room, the pantry and the smokehouse first. I love the smokehouse, though I have no idea why. Afterwards, I walk down to the slave cabins, and back through the fields leading to the foundations of further slave cabins. It is a pleasant walk. I then loop back to the Spring Cabin, and its well. After that, I stroll through the lovely garden, where President Jackson is buried, before hitting up the gift shop.

The Formal Dining Room

The Formal Dining Room

Andrew Jackson's tomb

Andrew Jackson’s tomb

The Garden

The Garden

As Sally Carroll said in F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Ice Palace, “There’s just the last remnants of it, you know, like the roses of an old garden dying all round us– streaks of strange courtliness and chivalry in some of these boys an’ stories I used to hear from a Confederate soldier who lived next door. Oh, Harry, there was something, there was something! I couldn’t ever make you understand, but it was there.”

Tennessee: Adopt The Pace Of Nature

Everyone has a favorite place, a place they think about when they are far from home, a place they wish they were at when life inexplicably knots and curls in unexpected ways. Mine is Crockett Park in Brentwood, Tennessee. I’ve been to countless 5 star properties, some of the most stunning resorts imaginable, and boutique hotels in strange corners of the world, but Crockett Park is where my mind wanders to as I fall asleep at night, in the moments between dreaming and waking. I see the endless path ahead of me, waiting to be explored.

What I dream about

What I dream about when I am far away from home

When I was 7 years old, I received a trampoline as a birthday present. If it was not raining and I was not in school, I was on the trampoline. In Winter, with dead, brown grass all around me; in Spring, with daffodils peeking out from under the trees; in Summer, with the smell of honeysuckle heavy on the air; in Fall, as crisp orange leaves swirled down around my head, I was on the trampoline. When the weather was warm enough, I’d sleep on the trampoline overnight, waking up with dew in my hair, dew on my face, happy. I would do my Latin homework on the trampoline, daydream about boys on the trampoline, jump pensively for hours on the trampoline. As I got older and went off to university overseas, the trampoline’s springs rusted and then fell off. I forgot how much I loved being outdoors. Until Crockett Park. Until I needed a place to rollerblade.

I took up rollerblading when I was home for the summer, at 19. When I laced up my rollerblades for the first time, I skated directly into a parked car (my own). My neighborhood was too hilly for rollerblading. I needed to be somewhere free of automobiles that I could run into or that could run into me. Whether Concord Park opened at this time, or whether it had always been open and I just discovered it then, remains unclear in my mind, but what I do know is this: I somehow ended up there one afternoon. Sometimes the thing you need the most is impossible to fathom until you come across it. Once my rollerblades hit the pavement and I started gliding down the path, I knew I had found something that made perfect sense to me, that made me incredibly happy, that spoke to me on a level that few other things do, something deep and serious and lovely and intoxicating. I found a connection with nature. I remember walking back to my car afterwards, dazed and dizzy, wondering, “What just happened here? What was this?” It was the beginning of a great love affair. I thought about rollerblading all the time. All I wanted to know was when I could have more, more, more.

Prior to taking up rollerblading, the sportiest I had been was joining the Varsity Softball team in high school. I only did that to watch the baseball team practice, and, sensing my lack of interest in softball, my coach relegated me to the outfield. That was perfect, because I could turn around and, barring any softballs coming my direction, watch the baseball team for the entire time we were on the field.

Rollerblading is an intense workout, burning on average 1,000 calories an hour. The first time I laced up my rollerblades and flailed unimpeded through the parking lot of Concord Park, I doubted I could last 15 minutes. Other faster, sleeker, cooler rollerbladers glided suavely around me as I jerked and twitched like a seizure patient, trying to keep my balance.

There was so much to learn. Rollerblading is impossible when it is snowing or raining, and for a few hours afterwards, because the wheels can’t get traction on the wet pavement. Even the smallest stick or stone can catch on the wheels, causing painful asphalt face-plants. Everyone else on the path, with the exception of bikers, must get yield to rollerbladers, but rollerbladers must alert everyone they overtake from behind so as not to startle them. A vague smile to everyone passed is polite, except early in the morning, when “Good morning” is thrown out and received freely. Children are a zone d’incertitude. They often have no idea what is going on, are prone to falling off their bikes and will walk, run, or lay down directly in the middle of the path.

Rollerblading during school hours yields the lowest ratio of other people. Rollerblading at dawn is too dangerous, as is dusk, because no one else is on the trail. Additionally, if a previously estimated time for sunrise or sunset is incorrect, darkness will linger on too long or arrive too quickly, making visibility too poor to rollerblade. If this happens when you are directly in the middle of the forest, you’ll have to take off your rollerblades and walk the entire way back. Rollerblading next to the soccer fields at Crockett Park and River Park when there are soccer games on, Saturday and Sunday, is dangerous because of the small, clueless siblings of the soccer players wandering across the path.

If a path is too steep, rollerblading up it will be a challenging and worthwhile foray, but rollerblading safely back down is impossible. Rollerblading too fast depletes all of your energy a few minutes into your workout and will cause you to feel like crap until you get back to your car. When going around curves, all of your weight needs to centered over the inside leg. It is best to bring a zip-up jacket, in case you get cold. Sunglasses are essential, even on cloudy days, because the day you leave them behind is the day the sun will blind you for your entire workout. Rollerblading in cool weather, cooler than you like, can be surprisingly agreeable once you’ve started sweating. On the other end of the spectrum, rollerblading between June and August, between 11 am and 1 pm, can lead to heatstroke. Allergy sufferers, take allergy medicine before getting on the trail, not after. Long haired ladies, put it up in a ponytail or it will whip across your face and irritate you to no end. If you fall over a rock and cut your knee open, there are three bathrooms at Crockett and River to clean yourself up at. I learned all of this through trial and error.

It initially took me 4 30 minute sorties through Concord and River Park to feel stable on my rollerblades. I started off slowly, going cautiously down the path – hopping off onto the grass when I felt I was going too fast. I often thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” As the days turned to weeks, and the weeks turned to months, I felt confident enough to rollerblade with abandon, to swoop silently from side to side, to take on the hills that looked too big. I saw other rollerbladers, learning how to rollerblade, skating into trees and other people. I remembered being them and did not laugh.

Now on to the three parks. Why are there 3 parks in a 3 mile stretch? Why couldn’t they all have one name? These are, like so many things in life, unanswerable questions. Concord Park is located behind the Brentwood Library, while River Park starts across the street from it. Crockett Park starts at the end of River Park. Think of a three-colored gummy snake, with each color being one of the parks. Crockett, River, Concord.

I prefer parking in the parking lot at River Park, as opposed to at the Brentwood Library itself. Parking in the Brentwood Library’s parking lot is a bit like playing Russian Roulette. Frazzled Soccer Moms in minivans, drive distractedly while trying to silence their screaming children with bribes like Chick-Fil-A ice cream cones. They might not be as, how shall we say, attentive to the fact that rollerbladers are right in front of their 2 ton vehicle.

Parking at the library and following the little path that winds behind the library into the trees leads to a tiny field with a paved circular path. This is Concord Park. It has not been well maintained. Between the sink holes in the asphalt and the general rough feel of the pavement, few people rollerblade here. At the end of that circular path is another parking lot, Concord Park’s parking lot, but I don’t like parking there because I find it ominous. There is a sign that reads, “We’re Watching You!” and another sign with a sign telling you not to bring a gun into the park. Plus, there are always odd cars parked in that parking lot, in the farthest, most remote corners, with the silhouette of a face looking out through the driver’s side window. No thanks.

Because this isn't an ominous thing to see when entering a park.

Because this isn’t an ominous thing to see when entering a park

Leave your glock at home, all you suburban gangstas.

Leave your glock at home, all you suburban gangstas

The City of Brentwood’s website describes Concord Park as follows: “Concord Park is a 40 acre park surrounding the Brentwood Library. Situated at one side of River Park and across from the WSM tower on Concord Road, the location is a good spot for beginning a walk or jog. Connected to the Brentwood Bikeway system, the park is also a great destination for family activities. Housed within the park are the Civitan Fields. The park includes: walking paths, bikeways, practice fields, and open areas for picnics and kite flying. There are no large shelters or athletic fields available for reservation in Concord Park.” Although the website gives opening hours for the park, I won’t list them, as parks aren’t ever really closed (except for Hyde Park in London, where I once had to scale the wall at 3 a.m. when a police officer began walking my way).

Safely back in the River Park parking lot, across the street from the Brentwood Library, there are bathrooms to the left, a small basketball court, and a large covered pavilion, perfect for having a picnic. There is a wooden bridge running over a creek that must be crossed to get to the start of River Park’s trail. I call this “The Bridge of Death” because rollerblading over its wooden beams when they are wet leads to serious accidents. Safely over the bridge, there is a convergence of two paths, one of which, very short, arrives from the YMCA of Brentwood’s parking lot. There tends not to be any random congregation of people at the merging point, which is good. The paved path curls to the right, around a few soccer fields, before descending a few feet into the forest. It meanders through the forest for 2 miles, some of which runs along the Little Harpeth River, before meeting up with Crockett Park on the other side of the tunnel that runs under Wilson Pike.

The City of Brentwood’s website describes River Park as follows: “River Park’s 46 acres include a two-mile bikeway and walking path along the Little Harpeth River, connecting with Crockett Park one end and Concord Park at the other. Facilities include: picnic pavilion with two grills, outdoor basketball court, walking/jogging trail along the Little Harpeth River and children’s playground and restrooms.”

River Park

River Park

Once through both the underground tunnel and the path underneath the train tracks, Crockett Park appears. While Concord Park is good for a brief jog, and River Park is good for a long, pensive rollerblading session, Crockett Park is the place to go for a good workout. It contains the only hill I cannot rollerblade successfully down, because of the incline. This is where I tend to start and stop my entire rollerblading circuit, as the parking lots here are gigantic. Rollerblading from Crockett Park to River Park is much more enjoyable than the inverse, as it is downhill the whole way.

Another "Bridge of Death", this time in Crockett Park

Another “Bridge of Death,” this time in Crockett Park

The City of Brentwood’s website describes Crockett Park as follows: “Crockett Park is Brentwood’s largest at more than 164 acres of open fields, facilities and first class athletic fields. Home of the historic Cool Springs House and the Eddy Arnold Amphitheater, Crockett Park is the site of many Brentwood events and activities including the summer Concert in the Park Series and the annual 4th of July Celebration and Fireworks. Also within the park is the Williamson County Parks & Recreation Indoor Soccer facility. Facilities include: eight multipurpose fields (two lighted), eight lighted baseball/softball diamonds, seven lighted tennis courts, concessions and restrooms buildings, open meadows, nature trail, paved walking paths and bikeways, community playground for children of all ages, and an amphitheater (reservations can only be made by local schools and local churches). The historic Cool Springs House features facilities for receptions and community gatherings. A portion of the second floor has been transformed into a large conference room for workshops and business retreats.”

A nice place to read

A nice place to read in Crockett Park

Yes, there are numerous YMCAs and gyms in the area, but with 3 great parks to choose from, all within 2 miles of each other, what would be the point? There is something magical about rollerblading down the paths through the forest, with no one around, listening to the birds chirp. When I’m alone on a trail, with sunlight pouring down upon me, watching squirrels dart around and enjoying the fresh smell of the Little Harpeth River, I think of a line from one of e.e. cummings poems, “I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”

Adopt the pace of nature. Meander through Concord, River and Crockett Park on a lazy afternoon. Breathe deeply of what the forest has to offer. Good things are always just around the corner, waiting to delight you, if you take the time to seek them out.

Koh Samui: Down The Rabbit Hole

There comes a moment when, sick of laying out in the sun, or sunburned so badly that one’s skin will literally catch on fire or explode if exposed to just a single ray more of sunlight, one’s thoughts inevitably drift away from languishing picturesquely under a palm tree, idly reading a book and nursing cocktails, and towards checking out the chaotic, dirty hustle of Koh Samui’s nightlife. It is at this point, when the rabbit hole presents itself, waiting to be slid down sight unseen, that Koh Samui becomes interesting. Tropical locales the world-over have the same basic set-up: a body of water, sunlight, and endless areas designed to allow tourists to melt easily into the scenery, into a carefully designed, pseudo-reality island area, bothering no one, leaving no imprint. What makes Koh Samui unique is that every possible vice imaginable swirls tangibly through its streets, yet with a bright, fluffy PG-13 bow on it all, sort of like if Disney managed Hooters.

Illicit transactions occur late at night, in the back alleys of Chaweng, but an appropriate level of discretion is maintained. Tourists walk alone at 2 a.m. without fearing anything worse than a sudden infatuation with a gorgeous woman who turns out to be a man or coming across a vendor selling neon plastic light sticks for roughly 5000% percent of their value. Tourism keeps Koh Samui’s economy going. The locals may enjoy swindling visitors through poorly conducted business transactions involving stained, cheap clothing or treating them to an unmetered taxi ride, but the importance of this particular industry to the future of their island is well respected and understood. Without tourists, Koh Samui would fade back into its natural state, back to whatever originally kept the island going before holiday makers showed up, when all of the trades were literally backbreaking. No one wants that.

An evening in Koh Samui is full of endlessly amusing visual stimulation for those adventurous enough to leave their hotel under the cover of night, with a wallet full of Baht and an open mind. Out in the sultry Thai air, shooting through the darkness on a scooter, the island unfurls like a bizarre, night-blooming flower. Chaweng and Fisherman’s Village are the two nocturnal hot spots, places where humanity pulses along the sidewalks, where bizarre choices are routine, where random oddities boldly step out to greet passersby, where one enters the fray.

Fisherman's Wharf is located in the Bophut area. Chaweng is on the right hand side.

Fisherman’s Wharf is located in the Bophut area. Chaweng is on the right-hand side.

Fisherman’s Village is located on the northeast part of the island, only a 15 minute motorcycle ride from Chaweng. The tamer little sister of the two, the most trouble to be found in Fisherman’s Village is half-hearted harassment from one of the overly ardent tailors walking a few steps after prospective clients, loathe to let their money go elsewhere. How could anyone not want to get fitted for a new “Prada Style” business suit or baby blue silk evening dress at 9 pm? “My friend, my friend,” the tailor calls out into the night, convinced of the urgency of his appeal, oblivious that the objects of his solicitation are wearing cut-off jeans shorts, flip-flops and sleeveless t-shirts with giant beer logos proudly displayed across the front of them. “Come inside now. I make the best tuxedos on the island,” he pleads. I’ve never seen anyone go inside of his store, but whether that is due to the unsuitability of his wares to his target market, his overly-aggressive sales techniques, or the fact that this all usually goes down at exactly the same moment someone in a group of friends mutters, “If I don’t eat now I am going to die,” is beyond me.  For the tamest of the tame, an evening in Fisherman’s Village provides just the right mix of uncertainty and excitement.

Fisherman's Village

Fisherman’s Village

Guests of Hansar or Anantara Bophut, resorts I wrote about in my last post, can simply walk out of their room, head straight ahead, towards the Gulf of Thailand which they both border and follow the beach towards the right for approximately 30 seconds to find themselves at Fisherman’s Village. Factors to take into account, when timing your departure, include when dinner can be acceptably eaten in your specific situation, and how fully the sun needs to have dipped down on the horizon to save your sunburned skin from further punishment. Fisherman’s Village is during the day, obviously. When the thermostat is flirting with 41 Celsius, the last thing most people could ever imagine doing is leaving the comfort of whatever shade or body of water they’ve found for a solid pummeling by Thailand’s intense sun. 7:30 pm tends to be when I show up.

Karma Sutra Restaurant | 25 moo 1 Tambon, Bophut Fisherman’s Village Bophut Ko Samui – Suratthani 84320 Thailand +66 7742 5198

Karma Sutra is a nice place to enjoy a few drinks before dinner. Its decor is something an eccentric aunt would dream up, distressed furniture everywhere, a large breakfast chalkboard menu still up at 11 pm, Bacchanal beds to eat upon, couch cushions in random, mismatched colors, drinks with silly names. I had two cocktails here, once, with a group of people who were already completely drunk once I showed up. They kept moving from one seating area to another seating area within the restaurant. I left after they moved for the third time. I would go back again, by myself, for a chocolate milkshake.

Breakfast whenever you want it

Breakfast whenever you want it at Karma Sutra

Everything in Fisherman’s Village is on one long street, Beach Road, with a few smaller, less important streets running away from the Gulf of Thailand, so it is virtually impossible to get lost. Coming out of Karma Sutra, which is at the absolute end of Fisherman’s Village, the only logical direction to walk is left on Beach Road, where all the usual suspects (Seafood, Thai, Mexican, French, Italian, Indian, Australian and British pub food) await customers.

The Seaside Steakhouse | Beach Road, Bophut Fisherman’s Village Bophut Ko Samui – Suratthani 84320 Thailand  +66 7731 0742

I recently had dinner on the beach at The Seaside Steakhouse, located smack dab in the middle of Beach Road. When I asked the owner for a good table, he led me through his restaurant down to the beach, where four empty tables all in a row sat less than 10 feet away from the water.  I’ve always wanted to eat on the beach and this was the first time I ever was able to, which was nice. The water was completely still, the blinking lights of distant fishing boats twinkled in the night and the quiet murmur of the other diners lulled me into a relaxed state. Vendors bothered me, trying to sell me kites and flashing Minnie Mouse hair bows, but restaurant staff shooed them quickly away. A Russian guy at the table to my right bought a laser pointer from one of the vendors, which he used to shine into the windows of all of the boats moored in the water and into his girlfriend’s eyes, provoking a cascade of caustic Russian scolding.

Dinner on the beach at The Seaside Steakhouse

Dinner on the beach at The Seaside Steakhouse

Dinner for one, without wine, costs approximately $25 USD. I suppose the proximity to the ocean is what elevates the cost. The food was forgettable. Come for the view.

After dinner, stroll down Beach Road for the fun of negotiating cheap Thai trousers and thin cotton dresses in tiny shops the size of airplane toilets. Dodge the overly ardent tailor I mentioned earlier, buy a Nutella crepe, enjoy the sound of the waves. Fisherman’s Village starts shutting down at around 10 pm, at which point it is time to hop on a scooter and ride 15 minutes or so to Chaweng.

Chaweng, pronounced “Sha WANG!” is the drain through which all of Koh Samui’s night tourism filters. No matter how late I have stayed out in Chaweng, I’ve never seen anything but one shopping mall, with a Lacoste of dubious authenticity, shut down before midnight. Cheap, brightly hued dresses sway softly in the breeze. Red Bull embossed silk Thai boxers await perusal. Poorly constructed Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste knock-offs sit sullenly, under plastic, in well-lit stores.

I usually arrive in Chaweng around 10 pm and head straight in for a Thai massage. Every other store is a Thai massage parlor, which seems self-defeating, like a road full of only Starbucks cafes. An hour-long Thai massage with Tiger Balm oil costs 350 baht ($11 USD) and the privacy level is minimal. Even though a curtain separates one’s naked body from everyone else in the spa, there are gaps in the curtain. The key is to get dressed and undressed while facing the wall. The last time I had a Thai massage, a few days ago, I ordered a Deep Thai Massage for 850 Baht ($29 USD). For someone self-professed as having the world’s lowest pain threshold, I always seek out the most brutal Thai massages. The woman was so rough with me that I thought I would die. I had tears in my eyes and knew I would be covered with bruises the next day. It was perfect. Once the 400 pound woman had walked all over me, cracked areas of my spine that I can never crack myself and basically pounded the crap after me, I felt incredibly relaxed, sore, and ready to see what the night had to offer.

Hey girl/boy!

Hey girl/boy!

One way to pass an evening is a ladyboy show at Starz Cabaret. The z at the end of Starz is a clue to the level of classiness one should expect. When I went, it was like watching a cross between a Miss America pageant, a strip-off and an off-off-Broadway musical. More interesting than the women, who were all artfully made up, with exquisite costumes and bodies, dancing saucily choreographed numbers, were the men watching them. In groups of three of four, with drinks scattered all across their tables, these men would whistle, howl, leer with every atom of their being before remembering, with a stricken look, that these were men they were whistling at. It was an odd cycle of lust, shame, lust, and then more shame. I will admit that I spent some time scrutinizing the ladyboys. Everything was completely hidden, and if the name of the show did not describe in precise detail exactly who these creatures were, I would have been hard pressed to pick any of them out  as sexual interlopers in a group of women. Ladyboy shows are not for the faint of heart. Lap dancing is involved. Pieces of clothing get flung about. It is all quite confusing, illogical and provocative. I greatly enjoyed myself, but then, I am someone who thrives in weird situations.

If ladyboy shows hold no appeal, Muay Thai boxing matches are held at Chaweng Stadium three times a week. Tickets cost between 800 – 1500 Baht ($27 – $51 USD). When I went, I paid 1500 Baht to watch a title fight and nine additional matches, including one between two overly fierce girls. Watching other people try to kick each other is quite fun, especially while sitting under a cool fan and drinking a Diet Coke. When the men bow to the corners of the ring before they fight each other, when they do their odd, little prancy dances in honor of the noble fight they are about to wage with their opponent, it seems weirdly poetic. It was so intensive that I left feeling like I’d had a thorough workout, exercise by association.

I like watching them kick each other

I like watching them kick each other

Chaweng is also full of prostitute bars. Prostitutes gaze brazenly from the edge of outdoor tables. They stand in the road, so as not to be ignored by passing cars. I’ve even seen hula-hooping prostitutes. One prostitute hula-hooped for at least 3 minutes straight, before traffic cleared up and I was able to drive away on my scooter. Three minutes of hula-hooping! I don’t think I could even do it for 30 seconds.

Whatever you seek in the inky, muggy dark, you’ll most likely find it in Koh Samui – be it a good Thai massage, a Muay Thai boxing match, or some ladyboys to gawk at. Drink in the chaos of the island and find yourself giddy, intoxicated, and as alive as the night around you. Stay out until the candles have all burned out.

Koh Samui: A Place In The Sun

Koh Samui is an island off the east coast of Thailand, a 45-minute flight from Bangkok. Full of five star hotels and lady boy shows, it makes for a good week-long vacation. If you want to come visit, you will fly Bangkok Airways and only Bangkok Airways, as it owns the Koh Samui International Airport. A flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui costs more than flying from Bangkok to Singapore, so the people that are here really want to be here. Like Kathmandu, you don’t just randomly end up in Koh Samui. It is a choice. Consequently, Koh Samui caters to the more high-end market, the well heeled, the ones that shrug their shoulders dismissively when told the only room available costs $500 USD a night.

According to the stamps in my passport, I have visited Koh Samui 6 times since September 2011. While all of the places I have stayed at have been 4 or 5 star, some have been markedly better than others. I’ll take you through the hotels I’ve frequented.

Anantara Bophut | 9/9 Bophut Bay Samui Island, Surat Thani 84320 Thailand  +66 77428 3009

Anantara Bophut was the first resort I stayed at in Koh Samui, twice in September 2011. The lobby is beautifully decorated, with a big cluster of Thai lanterns dripping down from the middle of the ceiling and little bells lining the walls that make lovely tinkling noises in the wind. Standing in the middle of the reception area, you can see clear to the beach. I found it to be a peaceful and soothing environment, and, for someone that is highly ambivalent about hotel lobbies, that it saying something. The walk from the lobby to the rooms was stunning, with a lily pad in the middle and various areas to collapse at if you cannot, or do not want to, make it to the pool. It felt authentic, the carrier of a long and noble history.

A nice place to relax

A nice place to relax

If you do make it down to the oceanfront pool, and you will, inevitably, it is worth noting that all of the beaches in Thailand are public. This means that once you step off the bottom step from the pool area to the beach area, you are fresh meat for the vendors of the world’s cheapest/most overpriced junk. A hot pink illuminated Minnie Mouse hair bow headband at 350 Baht ($11 USD) is a perfect example. The vendors often wear their merchandise, which is funny for the first 30 seconds you see it. Once you’ve been accosted 5 times in 2 minutes, you’ll find yourself facing a dilemma. Should you keep putting down your book each and every time someone tries to offload some crap on you, smiling politely yet firmly, murmuring, “No thank you, I don’t need a silk dragon kite at this exact moment.”  Do you start becoming increasingly ruder each time you are bothered, because the point of your trip to Koh Samui was, in fact, to lay undisturbed in the sun? Do you retreat to the pool area, where the ocean’s breeze still reaches, where the sound of the waves still carries in the wind? I lasted 17 minutes on the beach before retreating to the pool, dodging men in long-sleeved shirts trying to show me Chang Beer singlets the whole way. The pool is where everyone ends up, slightly worse for the wear, shaking sand off of their towels, glaring vaguely at the beach. It is a nice, if generic, resort pool, with a swim-up bar. The combination of alcohol and chlorine just doesn’t do it for me. I didn’t want any drunken swimmers knocking into me, so I stayed as close to the ocean end of the pool as possible. The swim-up bar can become loud, especially in the early evening.

The part of the pool is the Switzerland of the area between the beach and the swim-up bar.

This part of the pool is the Switzerland of the area between the beach and the swim-up bar.

Anantara’s website describes itself as follows: “Located on a tranquil stretch of sand, Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa offers guests inimitable luxury comforts coupled with world renowned Thai hospitality. Enjoy water sports on the Gulf of Thailand’s placid warm waters whilst residing at our elegant Samui resort. Soak in the sun by Anantara’s elegant infinity edge pool or on Bophut’s soft white sand. Unwind with one of our specially developed Anantara spa packages. Dine on fiery Thai curries and handmade Italian pastas overlooking the ocean. Anantara Bophut presents a Koh Samui resort lifestyle that is quite unlike any other, from Bill Bensley designed tropical gardens which complement the charms of Fisherman’s Cove on Bophut Beach, to southern Thai architecture which reflects our local cultural heritage, and world class amenities enhanced by Anantara’s unique design touches. Every room features a bathtub for two which opens onto a spacious bedroom that is brought to life by southern Thai artwork and décor.  A wealth of leisure facilities and experiences from windsurfing and sailing to spa, beach yoga, tennis, cooking classes and area excursions help you to make the most of Koh Samui’s stunning natural and cultural attractions. While complimentary Wi-Fi Internet at our Lobby and Library, in the Eclipse Bar, High Tide and Full Moon restaurants, as well as poolside, allows you to keep up to date with the world.  In short, Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa brings you all of the island’s riches with Anantara’s distinctive gracefulness.”
This is what I always thought Thailand would be like.

This is what I always thought Thailand would be like.

Having seen the layout of the rooms, the fact that all of the balconies faced the pool, meaning loud noise from the people in the pool area and no privacy, I felt dubious about my reservation. I like silence and seclusion at a resort. I don’t want everyone at the pool, totally bored and sleepy in the sun, to be staring into my window, watching me change clothes. Had I agreed to the room I was originally assigned, this would have absolutely been the case. Zero privacy. Eyes everywhere. But, after explaining my concerns, Reception graciously upgraded me to a Royal Sea View Suite. I enjoyed it so much that, when I returned to Koh Samui 3 weeks later, I booked it again.
The side balcony on my Royal Sea View Suite.

The side balcony on my Royal Sea View Suite.

Anantara’s website describes its Royal Sea View Suites: “Our detail to simplicity merged with exquisite interiors distinguishes us as one of the finest Bophut resorts. With a vast 80 square metres of living space, the Royal Sea View Suites were designed with care in order to provide comfort and fulfill the needs for those who wish to experience unforgettable moments on this beautiful island. Each of these Koh Samui suites features a spacious bedroom with four poster king size bed, elegant lounge area with teakwood furniture and gracious bathroom complete with a signature terrazzo tub. Exquisite Thai artwork accents each room and a furnished wrap-around terrace provides the perfect locale to spend a lazy afternoon taking in the sweeping sea view.”

4 Royal Sea View Suites feature:

  • 80 square meters living space
  • Sweeping sea view
  • Wrap-around private balcony with built-in sofa
  • Four-poster King size bed
  • Deep terrazzo tub for two and separate shower area
  • In-room mini bar with tea making facilities, Espresso machine
  • Electronic in-room safe
  • Satellite flat screen LCD TV, DVD player
  • Work desk with power sockets and high-speed internet access
  • Individually controlled air-conditioning and ceiling fans
  • IDD telephone with voicemail

One night in a Royal Sea View Suite currently goes for 14,800 Baht, about $504 USD.

Conrad Koh Samui | 49/8-9 Moo 4, Hillcrest Road, Tambon Taling-Ngam, Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84140, Thailand +66 7791 5888

I am writing this entry from my villa at Conrad Koh Samui. This is my second visit. Of all of the villas in Asia that I have ever had the privilege of staying at, this is in my top 3. The privacy is absolute, the view of the Gulf of Thailand is laid out in front of you like a featured painting in an art gallery, and the villa’s pool is 10 meters long. I feel like I am the only one at this resort right now, which is the highest compliment I can pay a property. Situated on the side of a cliff, it is a 5 minute buggy ride up or down each time you go back to or leave your villa. While this is not bothersome, it can take up to 15 minutes for the buggy to arrive after you’ve called Reception, so budget 20 minutes, door-to-door, from your villa to the resort’s entrance. You could walk it, but it is a 45 degree inclines the entire way, which isn’t exactly my idea of fun while wearing flip-fops.

Conrad Koh Samui’s website describes itself in the following minimalistic terms: “Stay in a private luxury villa at the Conrad Koh Samui and experience your own infinity pool, marble bathroom, and a stunning west-facing view of the Gulf of Thailand.

The view

The view

Once I check in, I always hole up in my villa, walking back and forth in the pool while listening to music on my iPhone, for the majority of each day. I have the amazing Gulf of Thailand view, bountiful Diet Coke and a sparkling pool where I can while away the hours. I can read in complete silence. I can do anything I want. This is all I need in a vacation. Conrad has loads of other places to hang out if you get sick of being in your villa, but I’ve never bothered to go to any of them. I leave the resort each evening, on a little scooter I rented 5 minutes away from the property, and eat dinner with friends, but a good 8 hours of each day are spent outside in my pool area.

This is what a vacation should be like

This is what a vacation should be like

A quiet afternoon

A quiet afternoon

Conrad’s website describes its One Bedroom Waterfront Pool Villas as follows: “Indulge in a luxurious, freestanding Thai-style one bedroom villa. This contemporary 96 m²/1033 sq. ft. villa features a private 10 meter infinity plunge pool set close to the calming waters and romantic sounds of the Gulf of Thailand. Original artwork, tropical hardwood floors, and Thai silk furnishings create unique accommodations where no detail has been overlooked. Ocean facing beds with 300 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, fine linens and full pillow menu offer a restful night’s sleep. State of the art in-room technology includes LCD flat-screen satellite television, CD/DVD player, iPod docking station, and wired and wireless high speed internet connection. A large walk-in closet and fully stocked mini-bar and an espresso machine provide the finishing touches. Complete with striking ocean views, the sea can be heard through full-height glass panes that serve as entrances to the terrace and pool from both the bedroom and bathroom. A sumptuous marble bathroom offers spa-quality amenities including an oversized soak tub, glass-walled rain shower, and twin vanity sets.”

A most aesthetically pleasing bathtub

A most aesthetically pleasing bathtub

One night in a 1 Bedroom Waterfront Pool Villa is currently listed at 29,000 Baht, roughly $989 USD. If you can afford it, this is where you should stay when you come to Koh Samui.

Hansar Samui | 101/28 Moo1, Bophut Koh Samui, Surat Thani 84320 Thailand +66 7724 5511

I stayed here once, for one night, in November 2011. Not having any choice over the room category I was booked into (the lowest), plus the design of the shower, left me nonplussed. Wearing contacts, I cannot take a shower under a rainforest shower head without covering my face with a towel. I don’t want to cover my face with a towel while I am taking a shower. This is my personal preference. Perhaps there are people out there that cover their faces with towels every chance they get, but I am not one of them. Additionally, I am not a shower person. I like long baths, with a book, and if forced to abstain from my normal routine and shower with a towel over my face, I start to feel like it is less of a vacation and more of a hassle. No 5 star hotel room should only have a shower.

I liked their poolside bar, and the pool itself, though it was a bit small and didn’t have enough pool chairs for all of the guests that wanted to be there. Its gym was a skeleton of machines and an ever-present barefooted man whose atrocious music choice bounced off of the mirrored wall as I stoically soldiered on from an adjacent treadmill.

Hansar's pool

Hansar’s pool

Hansar’s website describes itself in the following questionable English: “Hansar Koh Samui is Situated just 10 minutes from the Island’s International airport, Hansar Samui is located on the tropical stretch of golden sands and turquoise waters of Koh Samui’s up-market Bophut Bay, which offers a front seat to island life.  A leisurely stroll down the quaint cobblestone ‘walking street’ adjacent to the resort, is the vibrant Fisherman’s Village, with its antique wooden shop fronts, chic cafes and atmospheric seaside bars. The name Hansar is taken from the ancient Sanskrit language and translates to mean happiness and joy.  The concept and philosophy of Hansar Samui is to deliver an luxury resort and spa experience to each guest that is happy, memorable and enjoyable.  Hansar Samui is about living life in full colour and finding joy in every moment Hansar Samui offers luxurious, beachfront, spacious accommodation with unobstructed sea views from every room, and supersize private balconies and oversize daybeds for outdoor living and entertaining.  Open plan yet intimate, each room has been artfully finished with teak floors, terrazzo bathrooms and local textiles to provide a sense of place.  Chic custom furnishings, large flat screen TVs balance the design’s natural touches with a modern flair. Our facilities are outstanding and include the stunning Luxsa Spa Koh Samui and H Bistro for Koh Samui’s finest dining.  We hope to see you soon at our Luxury Resort and Spa.”

Hansar's pool by day

Hansar’s pool by day

I was booked into a Sea View room, sight unseen. The view of the Gulf of Thailand was nice, as was the balcony, but my nemesis, the rainforest shower head, was ever-present. Hansar’s website describes its Sea View rooms as follows: “Sea view – 54 rooms each 50 square meters. Created with a natural simplicity with natural textiles, rooms feature oversize walk-in rain showers and luxurious oversize king-plus beds with plush down comforters and pillows ensure a restful sleep. An amazing and affordable way to experience Hansar Samui Resort and Spa.”

The front desk staff, when I was there, was a group of jokers that would playfully hang up on me when I would call with any queries or requests.

One night in a Sea View Room is currently listed at 5,790 Baht, around $197 USD. It isn’t worth it.

Le Méridien Koh Samui Resort & Spa | 146/24 Moo 4, Lamai Beach, Maret, Surat Thani, Koh Samui,  84310, Thailand +66 7796 0888

When waiting in the lobby of Le Meridien Koh Samui to check-in a few days ago, I immediately thought to myself, “The branding is off here. Something is not right.” It didn’t look like a Le Meridien property. One of my friends that works in Koh Samui later explained to me that it used to be a Thai hotel, that Le Meridien bought it within the last 6 months and simply changed all of the logos. Branding issue solved. I haven’t stayed in many Le Meridien properties, but I was expecting more, better. Whoever photographed the property for Le Meridien’s website is a highly skilled and gifted individual, as it looks basically nothing like what you see online. I suppose it is all about managing expectation levels. Some people can be happy sleeping in a tent in a gas station’s parking lot. Those people would be happy here. Others, the ones that count down the days until their vacation, for months ahead of the day, that fly 14 hours to get here, will be sorely disappointed I fear. I only ended up at this property because the Conrad was full on the first night of my trip. Otherwise, I would have never have checked it out.

The lobby

The lobby

When I walked into my Plunge Pool Suite, my spirits immediately dropped. No natural lighting filtered through the windows. It smelled of mold. One of the jets in my plunge pool was broken. “You only have one night here, be cool,” I told myself in an effort to self-soothe. I like light-filled, airy spaces. This felt like a cave. I hated it. The insulation was paper thin. I had insomniac neighbors who chatted until 3 in the morning. Every sneeze, sniffle or cough from all of the surrounding suites echoed in my room. I hate loud noise in hotels.

When I escaped to the pool area, the noise level actually increased. Choosing the most remote chair in the most isolated corner seemed like a sure ticket to silence, mais non. I opened my eyes to a construction worker staring meaningfully into my eyes before pulling up the floorboard next to me, escaping down into a hole and then hammering for the next hour. Oh well, I tried.

The plunge pool.

The plunge pool.

Le Meridien Koh Samui’s website describes itself as follows: “Imagine waking up in the quiet of the morning, the golden sun streaming across the supremely comfortable four poster king-size bed—covered in smooth white Indian cotton and sumptuous Thai silks. You look up to admire the elegant length of silk artfully suspended over the bed from the ceiling. You get up, the terrazzo tile floor cool to the touch of your feet, and walk across the teak wood bridge walkway and into the gracious bathroom, where you splash water in your face at the terrazzo vanity. Then step down a few steps into your very own outdoor plunge pool. Surrounded entirely by the rest of the suite, it affords complete privacy, while its six-square-metre design gives you ample space to luxuriate in the sunlit water and let the built-in Jacuzzi jets help you unwind. After your dip, you walk through the bathroom and out into the private rainforest shower for a quick rinse. Wrap yourself into one of the white cotton bathrobes, slip on the matching slippers and saunter back into the bedroom and over to the fully stocked refreshment centre and accompanying coffee maker for a freshly brewed cup of illy coffee. A quick check of email at the writing desk, complete with wireless High Speed Internet Access and the rest of the day stretches out blissfully in front you. Perhaps read a book lounging on the sofa on your private outdoor verandah. Or listen to music or watch a film on the state-of-the-art entertainment system—including a 32-inch LCD television, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station. Whatever your pleasure, the Plunge Pool Suite offers endless sophisticated possibilities to unwind and enjoy. 538 Square Feet / 50 Square Meters.” This is all a lie.

Notice the ever-present darkness

Notice the ever-present darkness

One night in a Plunge Pool Suite is currently listed at 10,500 Baht a night, in the neighborhood of $358 USD. I felt depressed after staying here.

W Koh Samui | 4/1 Moo 1 Tambol Maenam, Surat Thani Koh Samui, 84330 Thailand +66 (66) 7791 5999

I cannot write objectively about W Koh Samui, as I had a friend, who was in Koh Samui at the same time as me, pass away while I was staying here in November 2011. I will always associate his death with this resort, which is highly unfortunate, as I quite liked it.

Aesthetically pleasing

Aesthetically pleasing

W Koh Samui’s website describes itself as: “Life done right. Start the day with a workout at SWEAT® or dip at WET® before unwinding with a local therapy at AWAY® Spa. Then, light up the evening with signature cocktails at W Lounge and dinner at our onsite restaurants Namu and Kitchen Table.”

My Tropical Oasis Villa was bizarrely laid out. It felt like I was living in a straw.

The view at breakfast

The view at breakfast

W Koh Samui’s website describes its Tropical Oasis Villas as follows: “Lounge all day in your colorful Tropical Oasis. Surrounded by the calm and charm of fragrant, lush foliage and a beautifully landscaped garden, it is the most secluded Retreat we have, with a novel combination of outdoor and indoor living. Make yourself at home on the huge wooden deck, complete with a spacious private pool measuring 11 by 2.5 meters, oversized daybed, two lounge chairs and a wooden dining table for two. Indoors, a revelry of red infuses everything, from sofa pillows and silk designer lamps to sideboards and wall-integrated shelves, with an aura of clean sophistication elevated by stunning floor-to-ceiling windows. Of course every piece of furniture and every detail is custom designed. Settle into the beanbag chair or sofa to take in the best of our state-of-the-art entertainment—from the 46-inch Samsung LCD TV and DVD/CD player to the innovative W Library (available via Whatever/Whenever®) and Yamaha Wi-Fi sound dock—with treats from the Munchie Box and refreshments from the Sweet Spot always on hand. Meanwhile, High Speed Internet Access and a cordless phone keep you connected 24/7.Relax at the end of the day in the serene bathroom, where Bliss® Spa sinkside six bath amenities and a 22-inch Samsung LCD TV amplify an oversized bathtub and separate rainforest shower, while a sliding door leads directly to your private pool. Then settle into in the king-size signature W pillow top bed with 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, a goose-down comforter and pillows for a restorative night’s sleep.”

  • 2,400 Square Feet / 223 Square Meters
  • Retreat with the Largest Outdoor Area
  • Landscaped Garden Surrounded By Walls

One night in a Tropical Oasis Villa currently goes for 24,500 Baht, roughly $835 USD.

In summation, if you are going to all the effort of traveling to Koh Samui, flying puny Bangkok Airways and whatnot, make sure you’ve thoroughly researched where you want to stay. If you can afford it, stay at Conrad. If you cannot afford it, and you end up staying somewhere that is just okay, passable, remember that it is the people you’ve brought with you, not the locale, that make or break a trip. As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.” Make sure you bring the people that are as good as spring itself.

Bangkok: With Money To Burn

Bangkok is one of those wonderfully versatile cities that you can have a good time in no matter what your financial situation. Tuk-tuks will take you around the city for less than 100 Baht. Youth hostels and street food are incredibly cheap as well. But the other end of the spectrum, the dark side of the moon, if you will, is more fun. If you find yourself in Bangkok with money to burn, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Sky Bar at Sirocco | The Dome at Lebua, 63rd floor, 1055/42 Silom Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand +66 2624 9999
Opening Hours: Daily, 6 pm – 1 am.

Oh, Sky Bar. It is always so difficult to get a table here, even when you have a reservation for a table. Here is a typical exchange between myself and the hostess at Sky Bar. “I have a reservation for a table,” I say with a smile, stepping off the bottom step of the sweeping staircase that leads to this incredibly popular open-air bar. “No, you don’t,” she responds coolly, looking in her reservation book, snapping it closed when I attempt a peak. We always come to an understanding. Sky Bar is the only place I frequent each and every trip to Bangkok. If I am in Bangkok, I have recently gone or will soon be going to Sky Bar. I’ve been coming here since 2009, since before it was famous, before it was crowded. This is the place in Bangkok to bring a date, to smoke a cigar with friends, or to wow out-of-town guests/your parents. Dress up.

It isn’t that the food is exquisite, or that the drinks are incredibly well-mixed. No. People find themselves at Sky Bar for 3 reasons. Firstly, Hangover 2, the ubiquitous Bradley Cooper movie in which Sky Bar features prominently. Fame by association. Secondly, it is rated number 2 of all the attractions in Bangkok, so if you are a first-time tourist in Bangkok, with no idea what is going on, it is likely that Trip Advisor, or your hotel’s concierge, will lead you to Sky Bar. Thirdly, and most importantly, it has the best view in Bangkok. Sweeping panoramas of the city on 3 sides, with the massive Dome looming behind you.

The Dome at Sky Bar, as taken from a table on the right side.

The Dome at Sky Bar, as taken from a table on the right side.

Trivia: when you are walking up or down the staircase from Lebua Hotel to Sky Bar, are you allowed to take a picture? Are you allowed to even linger for 4 seconds, to stare pensively down at the mass of humanity in front of you or up at the attention commanding Dome? NON! Sky Bar’s staff will spoil your plans. Congratulations, Sky Bar, on having thought up the most idiotic photography policy I have ever come across. You are allowed to take pictures of the Dome from every other angle, but may God be with you if you pull out your iPhone on the stairs.

At Sky Bar, you can have a drink at the bar, which is in the center of the open-air area, or you can have dinner at one of the tables on either side of the bar, down a few steps and strictly forbidden to guests that only want to buy one drink. I have had both dinner and simply a few cocktails while seated at one of the tables, but if you try to get a table reservation for just a cocktail or two with friends, forget it. Having never set foot in the bar area, I cannot give you any feedback except that the people I see milling about there don’t tend to stay for more than 30 minutes and that the guys that hit on random girls in that area tend to be shot down. I’m not a bar frequenter, in general, and Sky Bar’s actual bar area is always teeming with tourists. Upscale meat market would be an applicable term.

Sky Bar

Sky Bar at Sirocco

The Lebua’s website describes Sky Bar at Sirocco as follows: “Suspended in the sky on the 63rd floor of The Dome at Lebua, the Sky Bar is the world’s highest open air bar, overlooking a panoramic view of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River. With such an enthralling ambience coupled with a seductive selection of the finest vintages, beverages and cocktails in Bangkok, the Sky Bar soars as one of the prized destinations in the city. No wonder, the rooftop bar is unanimously accepted as the coolest bar in Bangkok.”

One drink will set you back $12-15 USD, but you won’t be having it at a table. You’ll be crammed into the glass-sided bar area, or, The Fishbowl, as I like to call it.  Dinner for two, with a medium range wine, at a proper table, will set you back roughly $400 USD. Sky Bar at Sirocco is not to be missed.

Café Mozu at Lebua | 1055/42 Silom Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand +66 2624 9999
Opening Hours: Daily, 6 am – 1 am.

The bread basket

The bread basket

Gai Pad Med Mumuang (are you really surprised I would order that?)

Gai Pad Med Mumuang

After a few drinks at Sky Bar, it is incredibly easy to take the elevator down a few floors and have dinner by Lebua’s enormous pool. A bit like Baboo’s weird cafe across the street from Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld that served dishes from an odd assortment of countries that you wouldn’t usually think about grouping together on the same menu, Café Mozu specializes in Lebanese. And Sardinian. And Thai. And Indian!

Lebua’s website describes Café Mozu as follows: “Offering the best of Indian, Lebanese, Thai, Pizza from wood fired oven and international cuisine in a vibrant ambiance, Café Mozu at Lebua reinvents the staid cafe culture in Bangkok. While you are here make sure you sample the eclectic spread of breakfast buffet at the Café’s poolside. Breakfast in Beirut. Lunch in Mumbai. Supper in Sardinia. All at the hottest new bar in Bangkok. Café Mozu blends the finest Lebanese, Indian, Thai and Western cuisine. Creating a truly global menu that reflects today’s eclectic tastes. Café Mozu features World music and an unrivalled drinks menu. Welcome to Mozu, a place which will be your guide to the cultures of the world.”

What I sat next to at Café Mozu

What I sat next to at Café Mozu

Le Normandie at Mandarin Oriental | 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok 10500, Thailand +66 2659 9000 ext. 7670
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday, Lunch: Noon – 2:30pm | Dinner: 7 pm – 10:30 pm. Closed Sunday.

Probably the best French restaurant in town, the hostess will rip you apart if you are not dressed correctly. As in, when I walked in, carrying a very expensive purse and wearing very expensive shoes, she looked me up and down repeatedly, and shook her head, “No.” Why? I was wearing a white Lacoste shirt and a Thai silk skirt. After a few choice words with my new enemy, she let me in. I was so enraged, however, that I merely ordered one $50 glass of champagne, gulped it down bitterly while staring out at the skyline, and left.

Inside of Le Normandie

Inside of Le Normandie

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s website describes Le Normandie as follows: “One of the best-loved French restaurants in Asia, Le Normandie offers a delicious fine-dining menu and an exceptional wine cellar. Situated in the Garden Wing of the hotel, the restaurant frequently entertains the highest echelons of Thai society, from celebrities and politicians to members of the Royal Family. Offering stunning views of the river through floor-to-ceiling windows, the restaurant enjoys and elegant feel with large chandeliers, round tables and stunning flower arrangements. Diners are offered the choice of a set or a la carte menu specializing in exemplary seafood and exquisite meat dishes. Ladies are kindly requested to wear elegant attire and footwear. Gentlemen are kindly asked to wear smart shirts, long trousers and closed shoes. A jacket is compulsory for men during dinner (can be provided upon request).” Based on my interaction with the hostess, Louis Vuitton princess heels are not elegant footwear.

One glass of champagne with set you back $50 USD. You have been warned.

You better dress impeccably.

You better dress impeccably.

The Verandah at Mandarin Oriental | 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok 10500, Thailand +66 2659 9000 ext. 7610
Opening Hours: Daily, 6 am – 12:30 am

After fleeing Le Normandie, my mouth still burning with champagne, I wandered desolately through the Mandarin Oriental, hungry and slightly miffed. My roaming led me to Le Verandah, a much more relaxed restaurant on the lobby level, with both indoor and outdoor seating. I chose to sit outdoors, on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, where I watched brightly lit boats glide quietly through the night. All of the tables around me were full of couples, chattering away happily to each other. It was a lively, positive environment. Mosquitos descended on me in a gluttonous fury, but when I complained, my waiter quickly remedied the situation by putting a mosquito coil under my table. I had the best pumpkin soup of my life here. This is a nice place to come for a casual meal or a drink with a friend.

The Verandah

The Verandah

The Mandarin Oriental’s website describes Le Verandah as follows: “Featuring a wide variety of Asian and Western dishes, The Verandah elevates all-day dining to a new level. Served either indoors or outdoors overlooking the river, our à la carte menu offers fabulous dishes for any time of the day from breakfast through to late evening snacks. In addition, we also offer a wide selection of freshly baked pastries and homemade ice cream.”

A nice view at dinner

A nice view at dinner

Dinner for one, without wine, costs approximately $60 USD.

Gianni Ristorante | 34/1 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok 10330, Thailand +66 2252 1619
Opening Hours: Daily, Lunch: 11:30 am – 2 pm | Dinner: 6 pm – 10:30 pm

Gianni’s is my favorite Italian restaurant in Bangkok. It is the place to reserve on the morning when you wake up, think about eating Thai food for the 5th day in a row, and shudder. No one knows about it, so it is never too full. The quality of food is mind-blowing, the wine menu is well thought out and the desserts are all gorgeous. I once dropped a piece of squid ink ravioli on the lap of my white dress, while eating dinner here, and they had a Tide Bleach Pen on me in under 30 seconds. I have eaten here multiple times and have never had a bad experience. Their focaccia has to be one of the best that I have had.

Deliciousness in a basket

Deliciousness in a basket

Gianni’s website describes itself as follows: “Gianni is situated in a quiet courtyard, yet conveniently located within walking distance of Bangkok´s major shopping district. The décor is sophisticated, elegant, yet not formidable, with use of mediterranean blues and a mural covering one wall of the restaurant. Bright and airy, it fits any occasion. Chef/Patron Gianni has earned an enviable reputation in Bangkok´s culinary circles for providing warm and personal service combined with first class Italian cuisine. Gianni´s philosophy is to oversee all aspects of the restaurant, paying meticulous attention to the ordering on the freshest ingredients available. We like to think of our restaurant as a theatre in which we are able to perform every day. The dishes, the wines, the setting, even the music we play…everything is geared to be pleasurable. The actors are the people who help us to contribute to this production, and who have learned to love it as much as we do: from the cooks to the sommeliers, the maitres d’hotel to the vegetable growers, the cleaners to the gardeners. They know that their roles are as important as ours in giving our guests an unforgettable experience.”

Gianni's

Gianni’s

Dinner for 2, with a mid-range wine, costs roughly $250 USD. Highly recommended. Don’t wear white.

Biscotti at Four Seasons | 155 Rajadamri Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand +66 2126 8866 ext.1229-30
Opening Hours: Daily, Lunch: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm | Dinner: 6 pm – 10:30 pm

I recently went to Biscotti for the first time a few nights ago. For being in the Four Seasons, it wasn’t stuffy at all. The service was quick and efficient. The tables were well spaced out. It was a pleasant experience. While the cold cuts and lasagna I had were tasty, the standout dish was the mascarpone black truffle paste focaccia I ordered as an appetizer. Have you ever eaten something so good, when out with other people, that you’ve felt compelled to turn to them and whisper, “Please give me a moment alone with this dish?” This was one of those times. It was delectable. I savored it. I had to resist the urge to order more of it. Oh, mascarpone black truffle paste focaccia, one fleeting dinner with you was not enough. I want you again.

A quiet table at Biscotti

A quiet table at Biscotti

The Four Seasons website describes Biscotti as follows: “Biscotti is a fun, contemporary Italian restaurant in Bangkok. With its open kitchen, Biscotti offers an intimate fine dining experience in Bangkok where guests can watch the chefs and enjoy the aroma of home-cooked food. The restaurant’s kitchen-to-table dining concept is reflective in the eight-seat chef’s table (visible from the entrance). Simple, home-style Italian food served for lunch and dinner. The business set lunch menu changes every Monday. On weekdays, Biscotti offers a business set lunch menu for busy executives. The lunch includes a choice of two or three courses and comes with the popular antipasti buffet. The à la carte dinner menu offers popular Italian fare, including pizza, pasta and seafood; wines are available by the glass.”

Dinner for 2, with a mid-range wine, costs roughly $200 USD.

Humidor Cigar Bar at Intercontinental 973 Ploenchit Road, Patumwan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand +66 2656 0444Opening Hours: Daily, 11 am – Midnight. Live music every Monday – Friday from 9 pm until Midnight.

The most beautiful cigar bar I have ever had the honor of smoking inside of, Humidor is the perfect place to smoke a nice Montecristo no. 2 after a long day in Bangkok. The staff is attentive, the clientele is interesting and the decor is tasteful.

Humidor at Intercontinental

Humidor at Intercontinental

Intercontinental’s website describes Humidor as follows: “The Humidor enables cigar aficionados to savour a refined selection of the world’s best cigars. Music lovers can order wine by the glass, elegant cocktails and a range of fine single malt whiskies while cigar aficionados can retreat into The Humidor to savour the world’s best cigars. “

One Montecristo No. 2 cigar costs $40 USD.

Whenever I go to any of the places I’ve detailed in this blog, a sentence from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray echoes in my mind over and over again. “There was an exquisite poison in the air.” Two hundred-dollar dinners, fifty dollar glasses of champagne and forty dollar cigars are all well and good, but in moderation. Life is lived elsewhere.

Bangkok: Gai Pad Med Mamuang or Death

I need to go ahead and get something out of the way before I write another sentence. I am not a culinary adventurer. I am not curious about smells wafting from foreign sidewalks, about the brightly colored bowls being handed over from behind faded white carts, about what the people who are crouched over miniscule tables, sitting on the ground or a bucket, are eating. When in London a few months ago, I broke into a cold sweat when faced with the idea of eating fish and chips for the first time. Yes, it tasted very good, but there is no way I would have chosen a new dish by myself, let alone anything fish-related. I have never eaten paella. I only eat salmon sushi and sashimi, although this will have to change when I move to Tokyo next month. I once went, at the age of 20, 4 months on only KFC. When I was 25 I lived for half a year on Hormel’s Chili and half a year on Taco Bell burritos. I’ve eaten at, and enjoyed, 10 course menus at the finest 3 Michelin star restaurants in the world, Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagniere, etc., but in my heart of hearts, I have an extremely cautious and trashy palette. I travel the world by myself, but I don’t want to take a bite of anything unknown. I think it comes from the food-poisoning I caught in San Remo, Italy, when I was 21. A tainted mussel was the cause, handed to me by a suspiciously smiley Canadian. I spent 3 days in the hospital.

When I find something I love to eat, I will eat it every meal until I get sick of it. I randomly chanced upon Gai Pad Med Mamuang, or as I like to think of it, chicken with cashew nuts, during my first trip to Bangkok in 2009. It was immediate infatuation. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. “No, this is wrong,” I scolded myself, as I ordered it meal after meal. “Fight the temptation!” But, the allure of Gai Pad Med Mamuang was too strong. I wanted it too badly. I craved it. The seduction was fast-acting and potent. I gave in, somewhere after the third day of eating nothing else, and stopped fighting the odorous wafts of chicken that I could imagine each time I read the name of the dish on the menu. Guy. Pad. Med. Mah. Moo. Ong. It is a fun dish to pronounce. Even in late 2011-early 2012, when I went through a vegetarian phase, I would still order Gai Pad Med Mamuang, “but without the chicken”. So many waiters must have thought I was an idiot. I didn’t care. I had what I wanted, my Gai Pad Med Mamuang, whenever I wanted it. If Gai Pad Med Mamuang had a Facebook page, I would like every post it put out, or at least one post a week. A typical Thai dish, it consists of stir-fried chicken, tossed together with onions, bell peppers, dried chillies and cashew nuts. It comes in its own bowl and one always orders a bowl of rice with it, on which to dump it on. I think I love this dish because of the cashew/chicken combination, but there is no point trying to dissect a random passion this deep.

The Precious

The Precious

With my love of Gai Pad Med Mamuang and my lack of interest in trying new foods firmly established, let me tell you about the restaurants I have been to in Bangkok. Sometimes, rarely, greater forces than myself keep me from eating Gai Pad Med Mamuang. In that case, I have Italian or French food. I have, on exceptional evenings, had a few other Thai dishes, but Gai Pad Med Mamuang always lurks in the back of my mind, half-hidden in the shadows, waiting for attention.

In this post, I’ll list only Thai restaurants, focusing on French/Italian restaurants in the next one. That seems only fair.

Aldo’s at Ascott | 187 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok, 10120, Thailand +66 2676 6969
Opening Hours: Lunch: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm | Dinner: 6 pm – Midnight

Aldo’s does both Ascott’s room service menu and a pool-level restaurant at the property. Their Gai Pad Med Mumuang is stingily-portioned and skimpy on cashew nuts, but it is fun to eat it out by the pool, in one of the little draped cabanas, as a fan whirs lazily overhead. It is so on the down low that it doesn’t even have a website. I recommend checking it out, if only for the fun of sitting in the little cabana. Dinner for 2, without wine, will set you back about $100 USD.

Aren't the cabanas cute?

Aren’t the cabanas cute?

The view, as best experienced while eating Gai Pad Med Mamuaung

The view, as best experienced while eating Gai Pad Med Mamuang

Blue Elephant | Yannawa, Sathon, Bangkok 10500, Thailand +66 2 673 9354
Opening Hours: Lunch: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm | Dinner: 6:30 pm – 10:30 pm

I’ve been to Blue Elephant numerous times, as their Gai Pad Med Mamuang is enormous and delicious. Bonus points for the fact that it is a 5 minute walk away from my favorite hotel, the Ascott. Blue Elephant occupies a gorgeous three-storey Thai colonial style house, and exudes an air of relaxed sophistication. If I had a Thai grandmother, I would want her to have a house like this. All of the tables are good, there are never too many other guests there, and there are all sorts of beautiful objets d’art to look at while waiting for the food to arrive. Blue Elephant enforces a dress code, so if you come in wearing shorts, you will be made to wear a Thai silk skirt or, if you are a guy, silk trousers. This leads to hilarious fashion catastrophes that are as delightful as the food, as the skirts and trousers available to be borrowed are quite bold, in every sense of the word.

Blue Elephant

Blue Elephant

I call this "Thai Colonial" style

I call this “Thai Colonial” style

Blue Elephant’s website describes itself as follows: “Experience the very best in Thai hospitality and cuisine at Blue Elephant, Bangkok. With a reputation of authenticity and excellence, Blue Elephant stays true to the culinary culture and influences of Thailand. Typical of a classic, our restaurant in Bangkok is housed in a century old building, creating a feeling of time travel in addition to the exquisite dining experience that awaits you. The menu at Blue Elephant, Bangkok is a palette of traditions and novelties, and delights even the most discriminating palate. You can choose from a variety of unique dishes, from the past, present and future of Thailand’s gastronomic culture. Having travelled the world, Khn Nooror Somany Steppe, our star chef and Khun Chang, our corporate chef, use their experiences to take you on a culinary journey, the Thai way.”

Dinner for 2 at Blue Elephant, without wine, will set you back about $80 USD.

Celadon at The Sukhothai |13/3 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok, 10120, Thailand +66 2344 8888
Opening Hours: Lunch: Noon – 3:00 pm | Dinner: 6:30 pm – 11:00 pm

Like Blue Elephant, I have been to Celadon repeatedly. I find the decor soothing. I like the lotus pond. They serve excellent Gai Pad Med Mamuang and have bountiful Diet Coke. While there, I also sampled numerous other Thai dishes, all of which I have forgotten the name of, all of which were delicious. What more do I need to say?

Celadon at The Sukhothai

Celadon at The Sukhothai

Traditional Thai cuisine

Traditional Thai cuisine

The Sukhothai’s website describes Celadon as follows: “Named as the “Best Restaurant in Bangkok” by Travel and Leisure magazine, Celadon is a celebration of the senses – in true Thai style and service. One of the city’s most iconic Thai eateries, Celadon serves authentic Thai cuisine in beautifully crafted air-conditioned salas. Submerged in a picturesque lotus-pond with open-air terraces overlooking the water, guests are spoilt both by the choice of tastes they can discover and the tranquil atmosphere. The extensive a la carte menu offers a selection of the finest dishes from all over Thailand, prepared just as they were meant to be enjoyed throughout the ages. The lush green herb garden caters another memorable evening, where a two special dinner set menu is served in this exclusive setting. Guests can also choose to add a personalized touch with an optional choice of a private butler who is at your service at all times, along with a Chef’s demonstration at your table whilst you are serenaded with traditional Thai instrumental music.”

All of Celadon’s different menus (Celadon, Dok Cha-Ba, Dok Khem, Dok Kaew, Celadon Herb Garden, Business and Traditional Thai Khao Chae) are in the link that I attached to the restaurant’s address at the beginning of this description.

A meal at Celadon, for 2, without wine, will set you back about $120 USD.

Ruen Urai |สุรวงศ์ Bang Rak, บางรัก Bangkok 10110, Thailand +66 2266 8268
Opening Hours: Noon – 11 pm

Looks aren’t everything, people often say. Please keep this in mind as the taxi drives you behind Le Méridien, through a warren of twisted little streets, and into a parking lot that looks like it has been bombed. Once you look up and see the Ruen Urai sign, you can breathe easy. It will all be okay. Of all of the Thai restaurants I have been to, Ruen Urai is my favorite. The service is fantastically slow, the staff are so relaxed that they would give coma patients a run for their money, but there are only 20 seats and the cozy little room is magical. Their Gai Pad Med Mamuang is scrumptious, as expected, and bountiful. I was in such a good mood when I visited it recently that I even branched out and tried other Thai dishes, including fried watercress, fried corn fritters and papaya salad with prawns.

The entrance to Ruen Urai

The entrance to Ruen Urai

A restaurant can never have too many fairy lights

A restaurant can never have too many fairy lights

Ruen Urai, which I cannot pronounce correctly, describes itself on its website as follows: “Experience exotic Thai flavors at Ruen Urai, set in a century-old traditional Thai house in the heart of Bangkok. Come and savor our finest delicacies of Thai cuisine in an unique and elegant ambience. Enjoy sumptuous meals and cool drinks in an urban oasis, hidden among the lush tropical garden of the Rose Hotel.”

A dinner for 2, without wine, will set you back about $65 USD.

In summation, Bangkok is an excellent place to eat Gai Pad Med Mamuang. If someone as apathetic to the cuisines of the world as me can find something to truly love eating here, you have no excuse not to do the same. Stay away from KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King. Venture off of the main path. Stumble into adventure. Find your own Gai Pad Med Mamuang, whatever it may be.

Bangkok: Nothing Like Brokedown Palace

My first impression of Bangkok came courtesy of Brokedown Palace, a movie with Claire Danes that I unfortunately took very seriously when I watched it in 1999, in a movie theater in Tennessee, while eating Junior Mints. First we have Claire at the Mandarin Oriental, lying by the pool, sunning away, ordering swishy drinks off of someone else’s room account. (Reality check: you have to give both a room number and a last name when you charge things to your hotel room. Claire only gave a room number.) This transitions, inevitably, I assumed, to Claire getting arrested at the Don Mueang International Airport, while going through customs, after someone has covertly put drugs in her bag. Then we see Claire in some horrific, squalid woman’s prison, sitting on or near a bucket, with no hope of ever getting out. I don’t remember how the movie ends, only that, as the credits rolled, I decided that I never wanted to go to Thailand.

Maybe you shouldn't have gone to Thailand, Claire.

Maybe you shouldn’t have gone to Thailand, Claire

This is what I thought Thailand would be like.

This is what I thought Thailand would be like

Fast forward 14 years. I’ve now been to Bangkok more times than I can count, all the while living to tell the tale. I will admit that, the first time I visited this city in 2009, I refused to take home the little stuffed frog that Park Plaza Sukhumvit gave me as a gift, because I was afraid it was full of drugs. (I gutted it with an ink pen and found it to be full of sand.) I’ve even been here when the city has been under siege by the Red Shirts (2010) and completely flooded (2011). I remember negotiating for Thai silk skirts with hundreds of Red Shirt protestors just behind a serious looking police barricade quite close to me. There were some good deals to be had that day, as no other tourist was stupid enough to venture out. I came away with roughly 20 skirts for $100 USD.

For all of the times I have been to Bangkok, I’ve only stayed at 4 hotels. I am a creature of habit, so once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it. The first hotel I stayed at in Bangkok was one that I chose merely because it was number 1 on Trip Advisor. This tends to be a pretty good way to end up somewhere nice, if you know nothing about the city you are going to and feel comfortable trusting other people’s opinions. However, with this hotel, the Park Plaza Sukhumvit, I quickly realized it had reached the most privileged position on Trip Advisor’s rating system merely because all of the home pages on the computers in its lobby were set on Trip Advisor. At some point Trip Advisor must have caught on, because they have now fallen to number 24. Anyways, I only stayed at the Park Plaza Sukhumvit the one time, the first time I went to Bangkok, when I knew nothing about the hotels on offer in Bangkok.

Park Plaza Sukhumvit, BTS Asoke Station | 16 Rachadapisek Road, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110, Thailand +66 2 263 5000 

At the time I visited the Park Plaza Sukhumvit, it had been open for 2 years. During the 4 days I stayed there, no taxi driver had any idea where it was and, either because I had forgotten to ask or because they did not provide it, I did not have the standard hotel directions card to hand to the taxi driver, so my taxi rides were tons of fun. The lobby of the hotel was nondescript, with all of the complimentary desktop computers for guests in the lobby warmly glowing the Trip Advisor home page. I’d reserved a Deluxe Room, which was airy and average-sized. The hotel’s website describes it as follows:

Deluxe Rooms
Deluxe rooms are superbly appointed, offering a more airy and spacious atmosphere, to ensure you have room to relax in Bangkok. Our boutique style is highlighted in the hotel’s bathrooms, which include a deep, free standing bathtub and rainforest shower cubicle. An additional sofa corner is also provided.

  • 32″ flat-screen LCD TV (compatible for laptop computer display) and DVD player
  • High-speed, wireless Internet and LAN connection (complimentary)
  • In-room electronic safe (can accommodate a laptop)
  • Iron/ironing board
  • Local daily English newspaper (complimentary)
  • Refreshment center with complimentary tea and coffee
  • Separate bath and rainforest showerhead with daylight
  • Separate sofa corner
  • Spacious work desk and desktop reading lamp

I checked on their website today and it goes for approximately 3850 Thai Baht ($130 USD). I could hear a dog barking, from a neighboring building, for approximately 20 out of 24 hours per day, but the hallways had lemongrass scented oil-burners and I was happy to be in Bangkok for the first time, so I didn’t complain. The bed was fluffy and welcoming. The bathroom wasn’t anything that would blow your mind.

I remember that, to go up to the gym and pool, both located on the roof, one had to use the emergency exit staircase. I only had to go up two flights of stairs, but the walls were grey, concrete, ghetto and grim. The gym was tiny. The pool was tiny, unspectacular, yet curiously landscaped with tobacco plants. Have you ever smelled a tobacco plant? Divine. The tobacco plants growing along the border of the pool were the best feature of the entire property.

The rooftop pool at Park Plaza Sukhumvit.

The rooftop pool at Park Plaza Sukhumvit

A deluxe room at the Park Plaza Bangkok.

A deluxe room at the Park Plaza Sukhumvit

The next time I went to Bangkok, a few months later, I was on a Le Méridien kick. I’m not sure what provoked it, but I decided that I now needed to check out Le Méridien Bangkok.

Le Méridien Bangkok | 40/5 Surawong Road, Bangrak, Bangkok, 10500, Thailand +66 2 232 8888

Le Méridien Bangkok has a much better location that Park Plaza Sukhumvit, but if you haven’t been to Bangkok before, and know nothing about the city, you would not necessarily appreciate how centrally-located it is. It is on the same street as a night market, where I bought 4 Thai silk skirts for $30. The entrance to Le Méridien is lovely, if slightly trendy, with an image of a sunglasses-clad man who looks vaguely like my brother. The lobby is nice, also trendy, not incredibly memorable. Every time I stayed there (3 times I think), I always requested a Circular Room. Once I found out the Méridien had circular beds, it was impossible that I would stay in any other room category they had, even though, just by having a round bed, the rate nearly doubled. The Circular Rooms are all on a special floor, which means nothing to me, and there is nothing special about sleeping in a round bed, once the novelty factor wears off. A tip for those of you who stay in the Circular Room: the room service trolley can not fit past the bed. It is a design flaw. If you order room service, you will have to eat it on your bed, instead of on the makeshift trolley table. Le Méridien’s website describes the room as follows:

Circular Room
Occupying Le Méridien Bangkok’s 22nd floor, our romantic Circular room centres on a round signature bed, from where the space expands to include full-window walls that provide a broader perspective of the surrounding city. The iconic bed fosters fantastic meanderings of the imagination as well as added intimacy for the young couple. Couples can dine intimately in the private breakfast space or enjoy snacks from the refreshment bar.

The Circular room also includes the conveniences of a modern digital space, with an in-room digital system, touchscreen IP phone, flat-screen LCD TV featuring international channels, floor-to-ceiling windows, ergonomic chair with working desk, and Welcome amenities.

  • 388 Square Feet / 36 Square Meters
  • Refreshment Centre
  • Round Bed
The entrance to Le Méridien Bangkok .

The entrance to Le Méridien Bangkok

The Circular Room

The Circular Room

Their spa is okay. The pool is fine. Standard five-star design, but nothing incredible. What I remember the most, because I enjoyed it the most, was the gym, which looks directly onto the pool. A sense of fleeting superiority comes from jogging on the treadmill while blubbery, voluminous hotel guests lay beached directly in front of you, toes in the pool, sucking on a margarita. (Admission: I am often that hotel guest.) I liked the gym immensely. There was nothing special to it, except for its view directly onto the pool, but what a view that was. The Circular Room is currently going for 6278 Thai Baht ($213 USD) a night if you pre-pay in advance.

So Sofitel Bangkok | 2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak, Bangkok, 10500, Thailand +66 2 624 5000

The lobby at So Sofitel Bangkok.

The lobby at So Sofitel Bangkok

He is looking at you.

He is looking at you

The third hotel I stayed at was still in its soft-opening phase, so I knew in advance that things would go wrong. I arrived to Christian Lacroix attired hotel employees standing in the middle of one of the most whacked out lobbies I have ever seen. The highlight of the lobby, for me, was the weird white deer.

I booked a SO CLUB Room, which So Sofitel’s website describes as follows: SO CLUB room, 1 king bed, Lumpini Park view, 4 themed designs, Club Signature access. 38-45m², Sofitel MyBed, 40 LCD TV, Apple Mac mini media solution. Complimentary WIFI, in-room private bar & Illy coffee machine. Choice of unique room designs upon availability. Club Signature access: daily breakfast, all-day refreshment, cocktails, etc.

SO CLUB room

SO CLUB room

A nice reading area

A nice reading area

There was loud construction noise coming from the floor above me, but that goes with the territory when you book in during a soft opening. Something I found odd about the room was the height of the bedside tables. They were far beneath the level of the bed and weirdly positioned. Design-challenged and socially awkward furniture would be words that come to mind.

Most 5 star hotel pools blur together in my mind, unless they are truly spectacular. So Sofitel Bangkok’s pool is truly spectacular. It would be worth booking a room at this hotel simply for the view at the pool.

The pool by night

The pool by night

The pool at So Sofitel Bangkok

The pool by day

The other thing I really enjoyed about So Sofitel Bangkok was Red Oven, their boldly-designed international restaurant. It had the most exquisitely calorie-laden pasta and dessert stations I’ve ever seen. Only a fool would order a la carte here. Everyone gets the buffet. As a hater of buffets, this is one of the very few in the world that I would make an exception for. It is always full of locals, which is always a good sign. Hotel restaurants that only are frequented by its guests should be avoided at all costs, as it means that something is off with the restaurant, be it price or quality. Another bonus: free Wi-Fi in Red Oven.

SO CLUB rooms are currently listed at $305 USD a night on So Sofitel’s website.

Staying at So Sofitel was fun, but between it, Park Plaza Sukhumvit and Le Méridien Bangkok, I still didn’t feel like I had found a place I wanted to return to time and time again, a place that I wanted to recommend to friends. Don’t get me wrong, most people would be thrilled with any of them. But, as someone who travels constantly, I didn’t see anything in any of them that would keep me coming back for more.

Randomly, in Delhi, an old boss from a job I previously held in Dubai, told me about serviced apartments. He said that they were an excellent value for money, and, more importantly, a great solution when traveling with more than one person. When I traveled with a group of people, twice, after that, I remembered what he said and booked a serviced apartment. I had such a nice time, and enjoyed the extra space so much, that I started booking the serviced apartment even when I was the only one traveling, even when it was only for one night. In fact, I am currently at the serviced apartment in Bangkok as I type this. I’m slightly hesitant to share it with you, because it is one of my secret top picks and I don’t want it to become full all of the time I want to stay there. But, as this is my first post, and no one even follows my blog yet, I’m willing to risk it. I’ve stayed at the following location the last NINE times I have been to Bangkok.

Ascott Sathorn Bangkok | 187 South Sathorn Road, Yannawa, Sathorn, Bangkok, 10120, Thailand +66 2 676 6888

Why do I love the Ascott Sathorn so much? Quite simply, it boils down to three reasons. First of all, their gym is mind-blowingly good. It is a proper gym, with all of the latest and greatest machines, an airy layout and plenty of local serious fitness fanatics who have actually paid money to come to it. That is rare in a hotel gym. Most hotel gyms are sad affairs with one mirrored wall, four machines, and some random, savage-looking guy running on the one working treadmill barefoot, holding every one else hostage to his horrible music selection. Not at the Ascott, no sir. They have peppy music, a welcoming juice bar and everyone is attired in snazzy workout clothes.

I love this gym

I love this gym

Second of all, the space factor. A 1 Bedroom Premier runs 97 square meters (1,044 square feet), which is massive for a luxury establishment. It has a full kitchen and a washer/dryer, which is really nice when I am sick of eating room service and need to wash clothes. Ascott’s website describes the 1 Bedroom Premier as follows:  The 1-Bedroom Premier is suited for travellers who desire extra space and elegant surroundings. This ideal holiday apartment in Bangkok is designed for optimum comfort; a master bedroom with an en suite bathroom, separate living and dining areas, a spacious work station, and a well-appointed kitchen with all the modern conveniences and appliances. For business or leisure, this apartment offers more space to live in while in Bangkok.

Features:

  • 97 square meters one-bedroom apartment
  • Additional television with cable channels
  • King-size bed
The living room of the 1 Bedroom Premier

The living room of the 1 Bedroom Premier

Lastly, I love the Ascott for its location. It is well-situated and there are loads of things you can walk to from the hotel. I love going to Health Land, which is a Thai spa across the street that offers 2 hour Thai massages for 500 Thai Baht. At that price, you can go everyday. I went three days in a row, once, until I became so sore that I could barely move.

A 1 Bedroom Premier currently goes for 3500 Thai Baht a night ($119 USD).

In my next few posts, I’ll write about my favorite restaurants in Bangkok, things to do, scams to watch out for and shopping. In the meantime, I recommend you all go watch Brokedown Palace for a great portrayal of what Bangkok is not.