To celebrate our first Christmas as a married couple, we decided to fly to Peru, and eat and drink our way from Cusco to Machu Picchu to Lima. Here’s part one of our oral history of that trip: Christmas in Cusco.
Day 1: Views of Peru, Papachos, and Piscos
Megan: I slept through most of our flights to Peru. And when I woke up, I got to see breathtaking views of the green AF mountains of Cusco — mountains I’d soon be climbing on our trek to Machu Picchu!
Mike: But first, we had three nights to acclimatize in Cusco. It’s over 11k feet, and the altitude takes some getting used to. As Megan was a bit challenged by Bogota, which is closer to 8k feet up, I talked her into taking Diamox for this trip — and we planned to slowly ramp up our activities before the serious hiking began.
When I stayed in Cusco six years ago to go on a different Machu Picchu trek, I remember seeing the Palacio Del Inka and thinking it would be an amazing place to stay if I brought back my wife sometime for an almost honeymoon, or won the lottery. Luckily, the last eight months of working every day on ‘The Gifted’ made me feel just fine about spending a few ducats to relax — and this hotel was a perfect way to settle into Peru.
Megan: I’m so glad he went with “wife on an almost honeymoon” because the hotel is wonderful. The location is right next to what used to be an ancient Incan temple but got converted into a church. And I’m not mad at at all that it’s the view of from our tiny adorable balcony. The hotel used to be a museum in the ‘70s, so the layout is vast with almost endless hallways and rooms and it’s easy to get lost. Plus they have a constant supply of Coca tea which helps with altitude sickness side effects.
Mike: We fought off our exhaustion to venture over to Papacho’s for lunch. Getting burgers isn’t exactly the most Peruvian thing to do — but it’s the casual chain started by my favorite South American chef (Gaston Acurio) — and there were lots of tasty options.
Megan: I got my first sweeping view of Cusco from that burger joint, and I was instantly enamoured. I enjoyed the view of the town square (that was being set up for a giant Christmas market that would dominate the next few days) and realized that Cusco is nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling green hills. I could not stop staring out the window next to our table and just saying “Wow. WOW! This place is gorgeous.”
Mike: After a quick nap, we hit up a more straight-ahead Peruvian joint (Cafe Moreno) for lomo saltado, a nice causa (potato dish), and Megan’s favorite: fried bananas for dessert.
We grabbed some quality cocktails at Museo del Pisco (not actually a museum – just a good cocktail bar) — drinking our first Pisco Sour of the trip — and our first Chilcano (Pisco and ginger ale – their variation had a little Chili kick and a guava flavor. It was amazing).
While we were in Kyoto, we decided to take a day trip to Nara. This experience is why you absolutely need to schedule a trip to Nara during your time in Japan!
Mike: On our last full day in Japan, we took the train to Nara… or as we call it: “The Place with the Tame Deer.” I wasn’t sure if we wanted to take a day trip an hour out of town when we still had so much to see in Kyoto, but I’m glad we stuck to the plan, because Nara is awesome.
Megan: Nara was BY FAR my favorite part about the trip. I’d been itching to go since a friend of mine showed me a selfie she took with a deer. But I had no idea how completely incredible it would be for reals.
About five minutes after exiting the subway, you’re met with the cutest little deer! They’re just standing there on the sidewalk, like it ain’t no thing, near a man selling “deer crackers.” We bought a bunch and I started feeding them.
We took a three-week Tanzania safari trip for our honeymoon. We did all the research, and perused every safari packing list, and yet we still found ourselves in the middle of the Serengeti wishing we had brought a few things.
Mike: Megan gets a little overwhelmed in New York, so I thought she might get triggered in Tokyo, being surrounded by endless skyscrapers. When we booked our trip to Japan, I scheduled a night in the mountain town of Hakone as a brief respite from the city. Turned out that Megan was just fine in Tokyo, but we’re still glad we hit this charming resort spot.
Last year, Mike and I decided to take a last-minute foodie trip to Tokyo. It was both of our first times in Japan. Here’s Part One of our oral history: Our time in Tokyo.
Day One: Shinjuku and Golden Gai
Mike: We got our first taste of Japan on the train from the Haneda airport to our hotel in Shinjuku. People were extremely quiet and extremely courteous (even offering to help as I bumbled through buying a train ticket). There was no litter anywhere. And every element of life has been intelligently considered and perfectly engineered. Nothing in Japan happens by accident.
Megan: I still don’t think I’ve had as big of a thrill as getting a can of coffee from a vending machine and finding it to be perfectly hot and delicious…
Oh wait, maybe my biggest thrill was meeting my first Japanese robot toilet. It was like a vacation all in itself, and quite the opposite of the first Tokyo toilet I came across, which was basically a hole in the ground. As my jet-lagged body met the comforting heated seat, and then the warm drying feature… sigh… I was reluctant to leave the bathroom to re-join Mike in the confusing subway.
Oh wait! THAT thrill was only rivaled by the discovery of heated subway seats. (I love heated seats!)
When we finally reached the Keio Plaza Hotel we were too early to check in. So Mike and I had them watch our luggage and we headed out to wander about the city…
Exploring the Meiji Shrine
Megan: We walked through side streets to the Meiji Shrine. It was awesome. I was really glad we got to experience a bit of old Tokyo right away, since the rest of our time in Tokyo was mostly city-lifestyle-based. We washed our hands in the bamboo water fountain. We offered up some coins, and clapped and bowed. We bought a little Japanese trinket for “good fortune.” We witnessed a wedding procession. And we generally enjoyed walking around the park.
Isetan Department Store lunch
Mike: For lunch, we wandered over to the Isetan Department Store, where there’s a thoroughly overwhelming collection of ready-to-eat food of all kinds, savory and sweet. Our friend Allen recommended it for good reason.
Turns out, most major department stores in Tokyo have basement floors that try to outdo each other with more and more extravagant food counters. “Depachika” is actually a portmanteau of “depato” for “department store” and “chika” meaning “basement.”
But FINDING a ridiculous array of delicious food options was only about a third of the battle. On day one in Japan, our communication skills were pretty weak, so we basically pointed and tried not to offend. Megan pulled off a few convincing renditions of “Do you speak English?” in Japanese, and somehow, we managed to procure a fun assortment of treats to try.
Our next issue was finding somewhere to actually EAT the food, because 99.9999% of depachika customers purchase their items to bring home. As a rule, Japanese people don’t eat food on the street (it’s considered quite rude), so we had to eat our (tasty) plum onigiri, red bean rice cake, gyoza, chicken, and salad on the rooftop garden next to one lonely elderly lady in the low-40s cold.
The streets of Tokyo
Mike: Our route back to hotel looked more like the Tokyo we expected. Megan gets anxious about the size/crowd/intensity of NYC, so we both wondered how she’d cope with an even bigger and even more packed city. But other than a few chaotic moments, she was just fine in Tokyo. Maybe it’s because the people and the traffic are so quiet and calm. When you hear the rare honk or siren, you realize just how quiet your surroundings have been.
Megan: It’s so amazingly quiet in Tokyo that if we were standing together on the corner of a massively busy street, you could actually hear one of us whisper to the other.
Heading out for the night in Shinjuku
Mike: At night, lit up by neon, Shinjuku is gorgeous and pulsing with energy. I thought it would look a bit more futuristic — it’s more like the future imagined in the ’80s — but the size and scope is breathtaking.
Mike: As our friends warned, finding specific establishments in Tokyo is a challenge, as street names (when they exist) are in Japanese, street numbers are useless (they’re numbered by when they were built, not geographical location), and you have to look in every direction, including up. But after some searching of the side streets, we found a small sign by a door, leading us to an elevator, and we walked into a tiny bar on the third floor.
Fatty Arbuckle movies were projected on the wall as Smashing Pumpkins played on the stereo — an oddly satisfying combination. We sat at the small bar and the bartender poured us a couple tasting flights of Japanese whiskey. My favorite was Nikka Single Malt Yoishi, which we’d enjoy a few more times soon enough.
Mike: Despite approximately one billion restaurant recommendations from friends, for our first dinner, we went to Sakura Sushi, a highly-ranked “kaisen” spot — one of those places where pieces of fish motor past you on a conveyer belt. Trip Advisor reviews said to order directly from the chef, instead of grabbing choices from the conveyer belt, so we pointed at various photos, said please (“kudasai”) a lot, and received some amazing sushi. Our favorite was the “tuna set” — a melt in your mouth selection of fatty, medium, and lean tuna.
Mike: We walked down to the Golden Gai to hit a couple more bars. These were even smaller than Zoetrope (which would have been the smallest bar in LA). Tokyo’s motto should really be “Fuck Fire Codes.” We really liked Albatross G, which was cozy and warm on a cold night.
That place also has the smallest bathroom of all time — the toilet paper dispenser is over the less-than-a-foot-wide sink. I couldn’t have sat down if I’d needed to. But the shrunken size of these bars breeds a fun camaraderie — every time a new person enters, everyone sounds off on how to cram another body into the establishment.
Megan: Another thrill of the trip: Stumbling, perfectly whiskey drunk, home past a “Mr. Waffle” — a small shop full of waffles in every flavor. We grabbed an apple one and a chocolate one and wolfed them down on the walk. They distracted us for a minute from the stiff breeze and cold night.
Day Two: Our AirBnB in Shibuya and the Robot Restaurant
Almost everyone working on The Gifted (the show Mike is currently producing) has asked us for “The List.” It’s our list of about 80 of the best Atlanta restaurants — places that we’ve either tried ourselves and recommend, or have been highly recommended to us (and we haven’t tried yet).
This list takes the guess work out of where to eat in Atlanta. Want a certain type of food? Driving through a certain neighborhood? Want to find the closest best Atlanta restaurant? Check out our handy-dandy map!
Mike: We arrived in the center of Edinburgh and walked to the Carnal Desire Team’s Scotland Street flat. One of two that we rented for our actors. It was a fairly nice place: big rooms, high ceilings, great location, and huge windows with views of gorgeous church steeples and green trees.
Only problem: there was a single bathroom for six people. And… ONE towel.
Megan: Here’s Mike: “I think we’re just going to nap and take showers.” Here’s Kinkaid (one of our actors): “I’ll see if the towel is dry.” THE TOWEL.
Mike: When Megan and I heard that, our eyes went wide. We decided to head out towel-shopping immediately. Which gave us an excuse to explore the neighborhood. The scavenger hunt ended at Primark (basically: Target), and we headed back to nap and shower.
After catching up on the various trials and tribulations of the show, we headed for dinner at the Printing Press Bar and Grill, where we enjoyed some gastropub fare that pleased Megan to no end. She may love all things UK, but she definitely prefers (quality) pub grub to the local gourmet fare.
Megan: I wouldn’t even say it has to be quality. Is it well-done meat in some kind of Guinness-related stew? Are there “chips” involved? I’m a happy girl.
Mike: Does the waiter have a British accent? Megan will not notice the fact that she’s been shivering for the last two hours, the trash outside, or the fact that we’ve been eating the same meal again and again.
Megan: Our daily routines were pretty much determined by rain. Summer weather in Scotland means that it was generally miserable out — raining off and on for the whole trip. So during the day, Mike and I would try to walk as much as possible — grabbing food, and finding cafes to grab wifi. But mostly we’d work inside the awesome flat we rented.
Mike: Average number of miles we walk a day: 11. Average number of floors: 95. Which slightly mitigates the unhealthy Scottish meals and endless pints of beer. We explored all corners of the city, from the chaos of the Royal Mile to quiet Stockbridge.
Megan: My favorite of which was hiking up Arthur’s Seat, but I also enjoyed touring Edinburgh Castle, and buying my very first proper rain jacket. (There’s not much need for them in LA.)
And then, perfectly timed with my new rain jacket, we had an awesome experience of getting caught in a very heavy rainstorm and running into a bar where we had “no choice” but to sip yummy Old Fashioneds, as we watch the rain ABSOLUTELY POUR outside.
Megan: Then we’d head into The Pleasance, to our theater space (The Pleasance Above), which was WAY too big for the most common nightly attendance of our show. (It seated 100+ and we would generally pull in 30 or so on a good night.)
This is our oral history of my 35th birthday trip to London!
Megan: Somewhere between LA and London, hovering between 34 and 35-years-old, as most of the plane slept, a flight attendant noticed that I was awake and excited told me to run up past first class (“tell ’em Selina sent you”) and look out the window to see the Northern Lights.
With my heart pounding, I raced past the un-aware passengers, blew through curtains, avoided the feet of the lay-flat first class, and pressed my face up against the tiny window in an emergency exit door. Sure enough, there they were: Pale and bright green lights, shimmering in the sky.
Bogota is an amazing foodie destination — one could even say it’s “bacano” — but it’s really underrated. It’s feels like New York with a South American flair. We were visiting friends who live in Colombia, and they took us to some of the best restaurants in Bogota.
Where to stay if you want to walk to restaurants…
We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Bogota. It’s a fairly nondescript business hotel, unremarkable, except for its fantastic location — Zona G. The G in “Zona G” is for “gastronomy,” and with good reason — it’s basically three square blocks of great restaurants!