The best partying destinations in the USA

Like most things, the USA knows how to party on an epic scale. So whether you’re into hitting the dance clubs, heading to the trendiest bars, or even playing poker in the most decadent casinos, here’s a look at which American destinations could deliver the best night out.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

As the self-proclaimed ‘party capital of the world’, Las Vegas has a lot to live up to. And a quick look at the main Las Vegas Strip instantly reveals all of the most dazzling pleasures that Sin City has to offer with gaudy neon lights advertising an array of casino hotels, cabaret entertainments and other adult attractions.

But what’s less known is that Las Vegas is also the rising star of the clubbing world with an enviable list of megaclubs like XS delivering a failsafe way to see top-class DJs in a suitably glittering environment. And with gaming sites like Coral offering all of the excitement of the casino hotels courtesy of their online poker games section, you can still pick up some impressive winnings without having to leave the dance floor.

New York

New York

Not to be outdone is perhaps the most iconic city of all, New York. Often known as being ‘the city that never sleeps’, it’s certainly had a major makeover in the past couple of decades with previously no-go areas like the Lower East Side now boasting a great selection of cool bars, hedonist clubs and cutting-edge music venues like the Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge.

But as rent costs have skyrocketed in Manhattan, it’s become evident that the city’s hipsters have headed out to the suddenly fashionable Brooklyn where neighbourhoods like Williamsburg have become the new epicentres for laid-back partying in the chic bars and nightclubs.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Although Los Angeles is so spread out that it doesn’t have any central partying location, certain upcoming areas have really shown that there’s much more to the City of Angels than grabbing an overpriced margarita on Sunset Strip.

In particular the once-neglected Downtown area has really come on in recent years with rooftop bars serving champagne, pop-up restaurants offering amazingly tasty street food, and cool nightclubs like Exchange LA and Elevate Lounge showing us that Angelenos really know how to party.
And just in case you needed some gaming action to complement your online poker endeavours, then the effortlessly cool 82 gives you the chance to play vintage arcade games whilst enjoying some seriously strong cocktails!

Adopting the essentials of Italian lifestyle

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There is, undoubtedly, something about the Italian lifestyle that appeals to many of us. Whether it is the weather, the food, the passion for everything from opera to football, the world-class fashion sense or the historic architecture, many of us want a piece of Italy’s dolce vita.

BRING IT HOME The good news is that you can bring many elements of Italian style into your own life, with relative ease. The Italian lifestyle is fundamentally about valuing quality over quantity; this applies to clothes, food and décor in particular. Italians like to find what works well and stick with it, which is why so much of the nation’s architecture and traditions have lasted for centuries.

For example, the next time you are in Italy, have a look around you at the Italians in the street. You will notice that many are impeccably dressed, but not in garish, up-to-the minute styles. Italian fashion is admired worldwide for its timeless, understated chic and quality fabric and manufacture, and you can see this in the outfits worn by many Italians on a day-to-day basis. Most Italians have relatively few clothes, but what they have is of fine quality, cut and style – quality matters more than materialism.

The same applies to architecture, including domestic architecture. You will notice, on any visit to Italy, that certain elements are repeated from home to home. The use of traditional shutters on windows is a good example – these look great, last for years and do the job well, so why change?

SIMPLICITY Simplicity is another key Italian value. Italian food is fundamentally about good quality ingredients, used well. Most Italian dishes are not complex, but they are cooked from scratch in kitchens up and down the country, using the best ingredients available, just as they have been for years. Italians are not impressed by pre-packaged or convenience foods, and they eat all the better for it.

Similarly, another great Italian passion, coffee. The huge range of fancy coffees that can be purchased in coffee houses across the world nowadays may have been inspired by Italy, but this is primarily an American invention. Italians simply drink good, well-made coffee, which they usually take strong and with just a splash of, if any, milk (cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink, and eyebrows are raised if you order it after 11am). As a result, the quality of the beans and the roasting really shine through in truly Italian coffee.

COMMUNITY VALUES Finally, Italians have a great ability to look outside themselves and recognise that they are part of a wider community. This is expressed in a variety of ways, including communal meals involving family and friends, and a general sociability and preference for company over solitude. There is clearly much to admire in the Italians’ way of life, but there is no reason why you should not also benefit from it.

With a few simple touches – inviting several friends for a home-cooked meal, valuing quality over materialism, looking to tradition for inspiration – we can all move a little closer to the Mediterranean, wherever we happen to live. Why don’t you give it a try, today?

This post was written by David Charles for Take on the Road.

Exploring Culinary Sri Lanka

Andrew from Sydney via Flickr
Andrew from Sydney via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Sri Lanka has been enchanting visitors for centuries. Early Arab traders called it “Serendib”, which evolved into the English word “serendipity”, defined as a fortunate happenstance producing a wonderful outcome. That description perfectly depicts the island’s culinary delights in addition to its fascinating history and verdant beauty. Sri Lankan food is a cuisine truly flavorful — sweet, fiery, tangy and sour, sometimes all at once, and dishes from this original “spice island” are not for the faint-hearted. They’re created to unapologetically kickstart the taste buds and often manage to get the adrenaline-pumping as well!

Due to its location and history as part of the trade routes, Sri Lanka has a captivatingly idiosyncratic gastronomic heritage. The combination of local produce and the myriad of spices introduced throughout the centuries by everyone from the Dutch to the Malays has resulted in an extraordinary fusion of flavors. There are endless dishes to sample and here is a selection of essentials chosen as a starting point for your Sri Lanka holidays:

Rice and curry

This is the island’s staple dish and is often flavored with local products, including coconut, black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom. Usually served with a dollop of sambol, an often eye-wateringly combination of onion, Maldive fish (sundried tuna, and also known as Umbalakada), coconut and chili powder, the dish can range from a simple mound of rice with a spoonful of curry to a banquet with up to fifteen side dishes.

Another common and somewhat gentler dish in Sri Lanka is dhal curry. This is made with red lentils blended with spices and a dash of coconut milk, and is served with all manner of rice and bread.

avlxyz via Flickr
avlxyz via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Asiatic pennywort

As far as green vegetables, gotu kola sambol (Asiatic pennywort) is often used as a medicinal herb. However, it is also shredded and prepared with onion, tomatoes, chili and grated coconut meat and lemon juice to create an herbaceous salad that can be a refreshing antidote to a blazing curry.

Tiger Puppala via Flickr
Tiger Puppala via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Coconut

The coconut reigns supreme in Sri Lanka and pol sambol is a simple but integral side dish that grinds finely grated coconut, dried whole chilies, red onion, lime juice and Maldive fish. The mixture is often served as part of a meal or eaten as a dip with bread as a snack. It’s a must-try for coconut lovers.

Wood apple

It’s impossible to discuss Sri Lankan food without mentioning the wood apple. A Southeast Asian fruit of which the paste can be eaten straight from the shell, its flavor resembles a cross between tamarind and fermented raisins. It’s also delicious (and commonly consumed) when blended with sugar and drunk as a juice.

Holidaymakers visiting this lush tropical island truly have a feast for all manner of senses in store. Serendipity indeed!

Shirley Stein is a foodie traveller and especially enjoys sampling rare and unusual dishes. When not delighting her palette with new culinary experiences, she likes to listen to classical music.

The Best Florida Trip Tips

We chose Florida for our vacation because, well – it’s Florida! It has 1,200 miles of coastline filled with blissful beaches (sun, sea and sand – my heaven!), some amazing theme parks (although they’re not always very budget friendly), shopping to die for (my husband and I switched credit cards for the trip so we couldn’t shop indiscriminately) and a pretty awesome nightlife (the kids weren’t even really a problem and we were out almost every night!).

Buy Sunblock!

I know from experience that if you’re going to Florida you need sunblock so the first thing I did was check for the appropriate product. I found a pretty affordable bottle of 30SPF water resistant sunscreen so I bought it immediately. Our family loves the sun and we spend every minute we can outdoors, and even when it’s snowing or overcast sunburn is a risk so it definitely won’t go to waste!

The water resistant kind is best for any waterside activities and also for those hot sweaty days, although it is horribly greasy most of the time. Arizona Sun also has an SPF 45 oil free/water resistant spray which is perfect for faces or midday touch ups though so I got that as well. I also got a few of those travel size bottles which I filled with the SPF 30 and gave to everyone to put in their backpacks because there was no way my holiday was getting ruined by sunburn!

Travel and accommodation

The kids saw an advert for Aquatica in Orlando and they had been begging us to take them there or to any waterpark like it ever since. We decided why not grant their wish and take them, so we knew we were going to Orlando for our vacation. Once that decision was made it was easy enough to visit Rome2Rio.com and find out about different routes from our home to anywhere in the area. Then I went looking all over the internet for the cheapest flights I could find.

I found the most adorable condo on AirBnB, close to SeaWorld, with a pool, and it had its own free parking which was a huge plus. My husband works in the automotive industry so it was easy enough for him to wangle an amazing deal on a hire car through one of his contacts. If you’re going to Florida then hire a car – things are not as close together as you might think and having your own transport comes in pretty handy. You can rent one without spending a fortune too, the only things you need to do is use an appropriate Hotwire coupons from Discountrue.com.

Aquatica Theme Park

And then it was time for us to start planning how we were going to entertain ourselves for the trip. Aquatica was definitely on the list and I knew it was going to be the most expensive adventure on our trip so I went looking for free (or almost free) options to occupy the rest of our time. And I can honestly say that I don’t regret a single choice we made. We had tons of fun, there are loads of pictures and nobody got burned (thank goodness!)!

The kids weren’t too interested in any of the combo offers I found on the Aquatica website, their only stipulation was that they wanted to ride the Dolphin Plunge so we chose a single park ticket. But we wanted to make a full day of it so I added a Banana Beach all day pass (it’s an all you can eat buffet and we could go back as many times as we wanted throughout the day). Because I made the purchase online I got a 50% discount on the admission fee so altogether it cost me only $212.50! Now that was a saving that came in handy on the rest of our trip!

Lukas Nursery Butterfly Garden

Our family is 3 girls and 2 boys so the girls won and our next adventure was a visit to a butterfly garden. There are two well-known gardens in Orlando, but eventually we decided on the one at Lukas Nursery. I have no words to describe the experience and although they will never admit it, even our boys loved it! We got to feed the butterflies from our fingertips and the girls learned about creating their own butterfly garden back home which is a fun project that won’t cost us much (always a plus!). Plus the entrance fee was only $6 each!

Black Hammock Adventures

We like to play fair in our family so our next trip was especially for the boys with a visit to the Black Hammock on Lake Jesup. They got to go look at some alligators and we took an airboat ride out to Bird Island which even us girls enjoyed! We went later in the afternoon because afterwards we visited the Lazy Gator bar for dinner. And of course the boys just had to order some Gator Bites (fried alligator tail – yugh!) while we enjoyed the free live entertainment they have every weekend.

Winter Park Farmers Market

Our next trip to the Winter Park Farmers Market was more for the adults than the kids, but fairs fair and all that! We had our own kitchen so we’d stocked up on things to make our own meals and snacks, but nothing beats farm fresh produce so we made a day out of it. We visited the tiny little History Museum attached to the Market, then all chose different street foods (along with sweet treats of course), sat on the patio and enjoyed people watching while we tried each other’s meals. We even got to listen to a street musician or two although not in the market itself.

Finally we visited Fleaworld just outside of Orlando which is the largest flea market in the United States and took up a whole day for us to explore. Even then we didn’t get to see all the vendors, acrobatic shows, magic acts or exotic animals! We also took a day and explored Disney’s Boardwalk although between the two our shopping for souvenirs budget was completely shot! And there you have it – our trip to Orlando, not free but not completely exorbitant either! We spent a lot of time by the pool and as much time around water as we could and the rest of the time we just relaxed!

Let your travels inspire your home décor

As the seasons begin to change once again, we’re all getting itchy feet to make a change to our home décor. While few of us have the cash to be pulling up the carpets every time the sun comes out, we can make a few changes to our homes to welcome in the new autumn colours.

Whether you’re making a bigger, more permanent change or just something small, there are plenty of places to find inspiration – including your travels. Here are a few design ideas picked up from some of the most beautiful locations in the world.

France

French décor is very much en vogue at the moment, largely thanks to its blend of traditional floral patterns and modern 21st century designs. For the bolder decorators amongst us, try dark, dramatic colours such as reds and blacks in bedrooms, offset with lighter, floral accessories such as cushions. You could also try experimenting with French designs in the kitchen – nothing tastes better than French cuisine, and if there’s one thing that French says, it’s good taste.

Japan

For a more serene feel to your home, try the simplistic bedroom designs of Japan. In Japan, home décor trends are focused around nature, so try to use as many organic materials as possible, such as wooden floors. Rather than big and bold French, Japanese designs focus on more neutral colours, so consider using greens and browns in your room – headboards, for example, are a great way to bring in a little colour. You can find a great selection at www.bedstar.co.uk.

Scandinavia

If you’re a bit of a clean freak, nothing says clean, crisp, whites like Scandinavian décor. Akin to the Japanese, nature plays a big part in the décor once again, so don’t be afraid to paint your walls in bright white. To avoid making your home look too sterile, you can add a few images of mountains or consider organically-sourced accessories such as twig photo frames. Add an alpine scented air freshener to really give the feel of skiing in those gorgeous Scandinavian mountains.

Morocco

Fancy something a little warmer and exotic? Moroccan décor is largely inspired by deep purples and oranges akin to a beautiful African sunset. Create a relaxed feel by draping jewel-tone fabrics over the walls, and don’t be afraid to go all out on the lighting. Moroccan décor is defined by its lighting, so try lanterns, sconces and lamps to your heart’s content.

Image courtesy of Flickr (Mazzali).

Choosing the Right Wine for Your Meal

Image: Jing via Flickr
Image: Jing via Flickr

Selecting the right wine to sip and enjoy is a difficult decision to make, and pairing a wine with a meal can be even harder. There are plenty of hard and fast rules that people follow—white wine with fish, red wine with red meat. While these do some times make good sense, for the most part your selection comes down to a mix between selecting a good combination of flavours and personal preferences. After all, the most important thing at the end of the day is not whether you’ve followed the rules, but whether you and your guests have enjoyed your meals. So, without further hesitation, here are a few tips on pairing food and wine for your next big dinner party.

1. Don’t Forget the Champagne

If you’re hosting a dinner party then it is something to celebrate, so why not break out a bottle of bubbly? Champagne is the perfect type of wine to accompany anything that has a predominantly salty flavour—such as its traditional pairing with oysters—as both brut Champagne and cava have a touch of sweetness to them.

2. Light Sea Food and Chablis

Any seafood that has a lighter aroma to it will taste best when it is paired with a delicate white wine. This means the the wine won’t overpower the seafood. If you’re considering serving shrimp cocktail with your meal, try pairing it with a Chablis or Pinot Grigio.

3. A Glass of Sauvignon Blanc

If you’re looking to serve something with a little more pizzazz than shrimp cocktail, like ceviche for example, then a bolder white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc won’t be overwhelmed by the taste of the dish.

4. Dry Whites and Spice

For those who like a little bit of spice in their dishes and are thinking of serving something both spicy and aromatic—think Thai, Indian etc.—then a sweet but dry white wine like a Riesling makes for a pairing that will bring out the most flavour.

5. Pizza and Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of the world’s favourite wines, and its light bodied but deep berry and earth flavours make for a wonderful match for foods with a wholesome rustic taste, such as pizza, or mushroom and truffle dishes.

6. Malbec and the Asado

Argentina is one of the world’s great Malbec producers, and the bold taste of these wines match up perfectly with the sweet, tangy, and savoury flavours that come from the dishes cooked on the traditional Argentine barbecue, the asado. So if it’s barbecue you’re planning, consider a nice bottle of Malbec.

Remember, while picking the wine for your meal might seem intimidating, it all comes down to what you’ll enjoy most, whether it’s a bottle of Black Tower Wine from Germany, or Jacobs Creek from Australia.