LG... Life's Good
I’m writing this as I’m sitting on my third of four flights in my trek out of Lima, Peru, after an awesome week at the PokerStars.net LAPT. As always I had an amazing time. It’s really hard not to with the awesome team PokerStars has both behind the scenes and on the felt, and of course the stunning destinations that each stop takes us to.
This time I was lucky enough to return to the classy little town of Miraflores – one of the most upscale neighborhoods of Lima. My first visit was on a warm and welcomed break from the Rio for a week during the WSOP last year when the LAPT went to Peru for the first time in season three. Of course, that visit was rushed with the need to get back to Las Vegas, so this time around I took the liberty of arriving a day early to really take in the sights around town, as I wrote about last week.
Once the rest of the PokerNews team arrived, including our new Aussie hostess Nichole Pickering for her "initiation," it was straight into Trojan Horse working mode. I was hosting videos for PokerStars.tv that week, and our first shoot was of all the beautiful sights around Mirafloress, which you can check below.
Larcomar is one of my favorite spots in Miraflores,. If you didn’t catch it in the video above, it’s a three-story mall built into the cliff’s edge overlooking the ocean, equipped with shopping, restaurants, cinemas and two of Lima’s best nightclubs. On the eve of the Main Event, I took Team PokerStars Pro Christian De Leon on a little shopping trip. He and fellow Mexican Team Pro Angel Guillen are definitely one of the best-dressed team of pros at the felt. Angel was supposed to join us on this shopping tour but after a late-night snack at the poker table he was bed-ridden with food poisoning. The moral of his story? Don’t order creamy pasta in the middle of the night in some foreign casino’s poker room! So Christian and I had set aside a couple of hours to find him a “Day 2 Shirt.” Little did I know that this man can shop. The first shop we went into was also our last, and we both came out with our hands full.
As I mentioned, Nicki Pickering joined us in Lima for her first-ever gig with PokerNews. Of course, that then required an official initiation with a calling of the clock! You can get to know Nicki a little better in the following “sixty-seconds” – lets face it, I’m a rule-breaker when it comes to the minute-limit in these videos, athough I’m sure many would appreciate it with some of the “post-minute” questions I threw at her.
For a little “team bonding,” Nicki and I decided to enter the LAPT Ladies Event with our iPhones glued to PokerNews and microphones ready to go for break-time interviews, of course. I’m not going to lie; I was pretty impressed with the two of us at the multi-tasking awesomeness that took place over these two hours. The players always seem so pleasantly surprised when they see us actually playing for a change rather than always standing over them. So besides having our Mexican backers railing us, it was also side-bet-central around our table of ladies. Those who had faith in me were deservedly paid off as I managed to make it to the money with a three-way chop. There were only two tables, so it’s nothing to write home about, but obviously I was still excited, seeing as how I managed to not only last longer than Nicki, but I actually knocked her out. That’s what happens when the new girl challenges the old duck!
It's rare that I get to write my blogs while in the subject city, but this week I arrived in Lima, Peru, a couple of days early before jumping into a crazy working mode for the PokerStars.net Latin American Poker Tour. My initial goal was to squeeze in a quick trip to Machu Picchu, but it was harder to get to than I thought, so, unfortunately, those plans fell through. Nonetheless, roaming the stunning streets of Miraflores is certainly not a disappointing backup plan.
When I checked into my hotel, the Thunderbird Fiesta Hotel & Casino, I got my first pleasant surprise. My room, like all the others in the hotel, is a two-story loft with a kitchen equipped with a giant fridge ready to be filled with goodies from the 24-hour supermarket next door. Anyone who stays in hotels regularly knows that's an extremely rare treat! On top of that, the host venue for the LAPT is conveniently across the street. That is where I am right now, sitting in the media office of the Atlantic City Casino, a small but stylish casino, getting ready for the third stop on the LAPT's fourth season to get under way.
Miraflores is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Lima, set almost 80 meters above sea level, with some of the ritziest hotels and restaurants lining the cliffs of Costa Verde ("Green Coast"), overlooking the stunning ocean. It was here that I was lucky enough to eat at one of the prettiest restaurants I've ever been to, La Rosa Nautica (pictured below), a seafood restaurant set at the end of a pier with the waves crashing around you and a view of Miraflores atop the cliffs behind you as you eat. It was stunning! Surprisingly when the bill came it was relatively well priced for a gourmet meal in such a gorgeous setting, and considering the menu had no prices listed in it. That's usually my trusty indicator that I can't afford it!
On the cliffs above La Rosa Nautica sits Larcomar, a gorgeous three-story, open-air mall, overlooking the ocean, full of shops, restaurants and, what's said to be two of the best nightclubs in all of Lima. I've only been to one of them, Aura, and it was pretty awesome. It was here that I had my first "Reggaeton dancing experience." All I can say is that it's certainly different to the way we dance back in Australia! The only downside to Larcomar is that the complex is certainly not something typical of Peru, lacking the local culture. This is where you'll find the true Americanization of the area with Tony Roma's, Burger King, Pizza Hut and all that jazz tucked into what I call the "American Corner." If you ignore the corner and take in the stunning view, especially at sunset, then you will remember where you are again.
Speaking of sunset, the perfect place to watch it, if you've brought your girlfriend along, or picked one up on the way, is at El Parque del Amor (The Park of Love), just a 10-minute walk along the cliff side from Larcomar. Some say it's a poor smaller imitation of Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona with its rounded mosaic benches and romantic quotes tiled into the walls. In the middle of the perfectly manicured gardens is a giant statue of two lovers embraced in a kiss just to set the scene. Warning: skip this and watch the sunset elsewhere if you're feeling a little lonely -- all the loved-up couples surrounding you will probably just make you cringe.
My last recommendation is to take a trip to downtown Miraflores, right by Parque Central, to enjoy a pizza at any of the restaurants along Calle de las Pizzas ("Pizza Street"). It's a quaint little street lined with bricked restaurants similar to something you would see around Europe. There are a few pubs and bars that fill up at night, so it's a great place to come for a drink or two. The biggest bonus? Free Wi-Fi! After a few minutes of heckling from various restaurant servers we decided on Mezzaluna Cafe & Bar for one of its specialty pizzas and my first sip of the popular local soda, Inca Kola. The Inca Kola was average (perhaps choosing the Diet option was to blame) but of course the pizza was delicious. Although much to my disappointment, the Wi-Fi wasn't working, so there went my opportunity for on-the-spot TwitPics.
Filling out my customs arrival card when landing back in Australia two days ago was so bizarre. I said that I boarded that plane in Argentina, yet spent most of my time in New Zealand. What a strange route. Welcome to the strange life that I love! I’ve been from what feels like opposite sides of the world, from New Zealand to Argentina in just two weeks, and what a whirlwind it was.
Auckland, New Zealand
Despite feeling like I’m just next door to my home town in Melbourne, Australia, I find that Auckland has an extremely relaxed, peaceful atmosphere that’s so refreshing compared to the busy city lifestyle in Melbourne. I mentioned in my recent guide to Auckland that this is home to some of the friendliest people on earth, and it’s no lie. Despite the Maori looking like some of the scariest people (see The Haka, and even the champion Brotha D in the Wrap Up video), as soon as they open their mouths, you almost just want to give them a giant hug! Here is a video we made when we first arrived. I must say, it was hard work putting it together with every line taken from a different place across the city, so I’m pretty proud of it.
The APPT Main Event was short and sweet, with only one Day 1, which means we had a champion in just four days. It was a pretty entertaining four days, with Team PokerStars Pro Tony Hachem attempting the Haka and Daniel Neilson and Andrew Hinrichsen jumping off the Sky Tower. To top off a fantastic week, we saw the Main Event dwindle down to heads-up play between two extremely deserving people. Everyone was torn between Brotha D, the lovable and well-known Godfather of New Zealand Hip Hop, and Australian poker-scene regular Tom Grigg. It was quite the epic heads-up battle lasting more than four hours, and it was Brotha D who eventually triumphed, with Grigg being gracious about it. You can see all of this and more crammed into the following four minutes.
It was quite the ride getting to the LAPT Grand Final. After the long-haul flight from Down Under, throw in an expected three-hour drive from Buenos Aires that took twice as long because of a strike with a driver that couldn’t speak a word of English, and boy was I happy to finally arrive in Rosario and go straight to bed! Of course, it was all totally worth it. What a fantastic place Rosario is. We had a couple of days to wander the streets, and our hotel was just walking distance from the main strip, Cordoba, so there was plenty of sightseeing and shopping to be done. It was unbelievable how cheap everything is. From $60 shoes to $4 bottles of amazing local wine over dinner – we were loving life over there.
That video was made with ease thanks to our luck in finding a cab driver who just happened to live between Rosario and Las Vegas. Jackpot! An English-speaking cab driver is a rare find, so we kept him with us for about an hour to give us our own little guided-tour to catch all the sights.
I resurrected Calling the Clock after it sat off the shelf for quite some time. The first victim was Tennis Pro Gaston Gaudio, but then my highlight was on our very own PokerNews hostess Kristy Arnett with thanks to the help of the entire PokerNews team.
Throughout the LAPT Main Event, we had so much fun, as always. The Welcome Party that PokerStars threw at the City Center Casino was fantastic, with the band making use of the most bizarre things, such as plastic bags, as instruments, and cannons firing out PokerStars-themed confetti to send off Season 3 with a literal bang. We saw some of the most amazing looking women wandering around the poker room, and I met some of the most generous and lovely people. A third of the final table were local, and amazingly, in the back-to-back fashion that has existed on the LAPT, with Team PokerStars Pro Nacho Barbero winning two Main Event titles, and Team PokerStars Pro Christian De Leon winning back-to-back Second Chance side events, the LAPT Florianopolis Champion Matthias Habernig made his way to this Main Event final table. He didn’t take it down, but what an amazing achievement for him after starting off in Brazil as an unknown Austrian qualifier. The title eventually went to Peruvian Martin Sansour whom you can meet in the following wrap-up video, once again rolling our days of nonstop laughs and poker into just three minutes.
Another highlight while in Rosario, was when Kristy took the PokerNews cameras to the hotel to film a Sunday Grind with player manager Dan Frank and Team PokerStars Pros Victor Ramdin and Gualter Salles. I guess you could say Salles suffered a bad beat only seconds before our arrival, as his laptop screen was shattered when we got there. You’ll have to wait for that video to come out soon!
There’s no place like Melbourne. Yes, I’m probably biased as it’s my home, but there are just so many reasons to love it! It hosts some of the world’s greatest sporting events and festivals, and the amount of passion around food and wine is amazing. Being away from home makes you appreciate all the little things you take for granted as a kid, so I decided to write about some of my greatest Aussie appreciations.
One of the most common topics of conversation an American will have with an Australian will have to do with how grotesque Vegemite is. The key is to use it sparingly, people! The first time you tried the dark brown food paste made from yeast extract, your Aussie mate probably thought it would be funny to spread it thick like peanut butter on your toast. That’s not cool. Even Aussies don’t eat it that way.
Care for a Snag?
I was lucky enough to be home for the Australian Federal Election. Without getting into the politics of it, all I can say is, unlike in the U.S., voting is mandatory. It was almost a week ago, and we still have no result because the majority of the voters were uneducated, or all the 18-year-olds voted for the “Australian Sex Party” for a laugh.
Besides getting to revisit my primary school where I realized how small everything is that I used to think was gigantic, my major highlight on every Election Day is the good old Australian Sausage Sizzle. Anything that draws a crowd in this country, no matter what the purpose, even if it’s just a Saturday afternoon at Bunnings Warehouse to pick up some timber for your home renovation, will get the local and mighty friendly Aussies to fire up the barbecue and start selling “snags” out front.
A Normal Gym Surrounding
I tweeted last week about the vast difference between a late morning gym session in Melbourne compared to one in Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, silicone on tiny toned bodies became the norm. Suddenly coming back to Melbourne was a positive snap back to reality that the world isn’t actually full of strippers, and having a gym full of mothers off duty instead was quite accommodating on the self esteem.
We’re in a league of our own with our lingo down here. Today I was in the post office and the woman helping me said “Ok, no worries, I’ll post this off for ya and then Bob’s your uncle!” meaning, she will get the job done. Our wacky way with words led me to put Joe Cada, Phil Hellmuth, Barry Greenstein and Erick Lindgren up to an Aussie Lingo challenge during the 2010 World Series of Poker.
Home, sweet home to the Crown Poker Room. Again, call me biased, but it’s definitely my favourite place to play poker. Perhaps it has something to do with all the familiar faces, or the 70 tables they have spaced out so generously across the huge room so you’re not left squashed in like sardines, or the selection of weekly tournaments, some that I can actually afford. If you want to rub shoulders with some of your favourite AFL footballers, then the Crown Poker Room on a weekday afternoon is the place to be.
Without a doubt, the best time to be in Melbourne is the second half of January. The sun is beaming, the beer gardens around the city are bumping, the beaches are decorated with tanned bods, the biggest tennis pros are in town for the Australian Open, and of course, the likes of Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan grace the land down under for the Aussie Millions, an event that has put Crown Casino on the poker map.
The second biggest tournament series that the Crown Casino hosts is the Victorian Poker Championship, which is happening right now. I was lucky enough to play in the Ladies Event on Tuesday night, which attracted over 10 tables of beautiful Australian women, such as Jeanie Hachem, Amanda De Cesere, and Mieke Buchen, who you may recognize from the 2010 Aussie Millions coverage. I didn’t even make it to the first break, so that’s pretty much the end of my story on that event! The highlight of the Vic Champs, though, is the State of Origin. Its slogan - "State versus State, Mate versus Mate" -- is pretty self-explanatory. If you haven’t noticed already, Aussies are pretty proud of their turf, so having groups of mates battle it out to represent their state is just asking for a passionate event that would resemble something as loud and crazy as what you’d find on the Latin American Poker Tour. Our very own Heath “TassieDevil” Chick had an impressive third-place finish, but it was James “Andy McLEOD” Obst who not only led South Australia to victory but took the first-place prize of $11,000.
The $10,200 High Stakes Hold'em and $2,700 Main Event, both set to be doozies, are coming up this weekend. If you can’t join me in the Crown Poker Room, then the PokerNetwork Live Reporting Team will provide the next best thing.
The Must List
If you’re lucky enough to visit Melbourne, here are some of my recommendations.
- Eat: World Bar – I love this place. It has such a cozy feel to it with indoor fireplaces and live music in a gorgeous spot by the river. The food is amazing, and the bar offers 99 wines and 80 beers from all over the world. On a Sunday afternoon you could be lucky enough to catch my gorgeous friend Coby Grant, singing some acoustic tunes.
- Drink: Whether it’s day or night, St Kilda Beach is a great spot to head to for a drink. At night, drop in to any bar along Fitzroy Street, and you’re guaranteed to share the dance floor with some of the most stunning girls in the city. For a “Sunday arvo” session in the sun, Vinyard on Acland Street is the best spot for a crowded but atmospheric beer outside by the beach. If you prefer a bit of space, then Metropole on Fitzroy Street would suit you a little better, and you could even pick up some gourmet wood-fired pizzas for only $5 each during the week.
- Stay: Crown. If you like the smell of rich mahogany and (want to) own many leather-bound books, then the five-star Crown Towers is your spot. If you’re more on the modern end of the spectrum, then the Crown Promenade or the newly-opened Crown Metropole are both impressive, not to mention super convenient, with the Crown Poker Room just downstairs. Which leads me to…
- Play: Crown Poker Room, d'uh.
- See: The Great Ocean Road. If you’ve driven along California’s Highway 1, Victoria’s Highway 1 blows that away. If you can’t “keep right” on our roads in a rental car, there are plenty of day-trip tour companies, too.
- Shop: Chapel Street in South Yarra. This is the fashion hub of Melbourne and a great spot for some of the best cafes, restaurants and bars in the city. At night this area can give a slight reflection of the Jersey Shore. But if you love that, then head to Lygon Street – Melbourne’s “Little Italy” – for some of the best Italian food and slicked hair you’ll ever come across.
Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, sitting at the crossroads of three continents, attracting somewhere around 2.4 million vacationers per year. Hundreds of poker pros will be gracing the Mediterranean shores of Cyprus this month for the 2010 Merit Cyprus Classic. I was lucky enough to join them last year on a trip I’ve ranked as one of my favorite on my busy PokerNews schedule, so I’m here to fill you in on my tips and adventures before you head over for the return of the event next week.
The Important Stuff
- Language: English is widely spoken across the island, but Turkish is the main language in the northern Turkish-Cypriot community where the tournament is held.
- Currency: Turkish Lira is used in the north of the island. We were able to exchange our dollars hassle-free at the venue’s casino cage.
- Tipping: While tipping is always appreciated worldwide, a 10 percent service charge is applied in all hotels and restaurants, so you won’t be chased out the door if you don’t tip.
- Weather: Cyprus is in its heart of summer right now so prepare for dry Mediterranean heat. What more motivation do you need to wake up early everyday and jump in the ocean? The average sea temperature climbs up to around 27° C, so it may take some serious self-control to drag yourself out of the water and into the casino every day.
- Electricity: The power voltage across the entire island is 230 volts, so all you North Americans should save the appliance disaster and space in your luggage by leaving your blow dryer at home.
- Legal Age: You must be 18 to gamble in Cyprus, but if you’re 17 you’re free to slip in a few alcoholic drinks while watching your friends on the rail.
Without delving into a touchy subject, there is a strong division between the Greeks and Turks on the island of Cyprus. The international airport is located in the south of the island, occupied by the Greeks. To get to the venue in the north part of the island, you must cross the border into the Turkish occupied area. If the change of language on the road signs isn’t enough of a distinction from one side to the other, then perhaps the gigantic army barracks and heavily armed guards surrounding each side of the border is enough of an indication.
Foreigners can freely cross the border. If you have a taxi driving you through, the driver will assist you with passport control. If you’re considering hiring a car, however, be sure to rent the car from the south (at the airport), enabling you to drive it to the north. If you hire from the north, your insurance coverage will not allow you to drive it to the south.
The luxurious five-star Merit Crystal Cove Hotel & Casino sits on its own private beach in the north of the island, offering everything a poker player needs for their dream getaway, from all-inclusive buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, traditional entertainment at night, crystal clear beaches, and of course, the Grand Casino Club. So if you happen to find yourself eliminated early, look at the bright side: you get to spend more time on the hotel's private beach with free (strong!) cocktails and a buffet feast by the water.
Check out last year's tour of the venue.
See the Sights
Although the resort has everything you need, if you can spare a day to drag yourself away from the beach, or the felt, you should take a 20-minute drive into the town of Kyrenia, surrounded by the calm Mediterranean Sea to the north and greenery of the Besparmak Mountain Range to the south, offering some of the best scenery on the island.
Within the town is a small harbor framed by the Kyrenia Castle, home to many historical artifacts and is the current resting place of the world’s oldest shipwreck. You can visit the harbor to relax and soak up the 6,000 years of history, have a bite to eat alongside all the yachts, or spend an afternoon shopping.
Into the Night
I’ve had quite a lot of Chinese meals in my day with such a strong Asian influence in Australia, but I can still easily claim that one of the best Chinese feasts I’ve ever had was in Cyprus at The Dragon, located at the Rocks Hotel & Casino in central Kyrenia. If you don’t believe me, ask Gus Hansen and Huck Seed, who also dined there at the same time.
For some traditional food, hit up Niazi’s, one of the most popular restaurants in Kyrenia. It’s situated by the water and offers all sorts of food, but you’d be crazy not to order their trademark “Full Kebab,” with charcoal-grilled kebabs and accompanying Meze, a traditional Middle Eastern cuisine full of dipping sauces and breads. I walked out feeling six months pregnant.
For an after-dinner-digest, walk along the Kyrenia harbor through the night markets. It was here that I purchased some of my favorite jewelry, hung out with some stray dogs, and then stopped by one of the harborside bars for a nightcap and Hookahs.
Coverage of the 2010 Merit Cyprus Classic starts next week and the PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be bringing you all the action from the felt and as always follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.
I've been in the wonderful land of Brazil for more than three days now for the PokerStars.net LAPT Florianopolis. Writing the PokerNews Jet Set guide got me pretty pumped to get here, and all expectations have certainly been met so far, except for the weather!
Jesus Loves Me, I Hope
We got off to a rough start with some delayed flights that left us stranded in Rio de Janeiro for a day. It certainly wasn’t the worst that could happen, as it allowed me to tick off another city on my map of "been-there-done-that!" Our goal was to check out Jesus. We didn’t quite know where to go and with all five of us not speaking a lick of Portuguese, we simply pointed to “centro” on our trusty map and off we went. We were successfully dropped in town, not-so-coincidentally directly in front of a restaurant with “American Bar” plastered across the wall.
Jesus was hiding his face behind a giant cloud curtain, so after a typical pay-per-kilo feast and a mosey around the city, we decided to get closer to catch a glimpse of the iconic Christ statue. Still no love. We jumped in another taxi to the airport feeling a little rejected.
After more than 24 hours in transit, we finally made it to Florianopolis, known as Floripa by the locals. I had anticipated winter weather, but who thinks to bring boots and coats to South America? Not a naïve Australian. With one pair of jeans and seven summer dresses, I’m in big trouble this week with 10 degrees Celsius weather and pouring rain.
Our first project at any stop is to film all the city sights for our opening video. Getting motivated to brave the cold was tough, but it ended up a really enjoyable day. We’re staying at Costão do Santinho, one of the best beachside resorts in Floripa, which sits within a giant forest. On every corner you turn is another pool overlooking the beach, and all accommodation is set within individual villas. We took a hike through the mountain on Santinho beach, finding a small lagoon and sand dunes peeking through the mass of bamboo. Next up was Lagoa da Conceição where the team enjoyed a beer by the water. Check out the finished product:
How Do You Say…?
You can always rely on the language barrier to add a little entertainment to travel adventures. I like to use Google’s translator tool to allow me to tweet to my Portuguese friends. I decided to tweet my frustrations at how much I suck at speaking the language. Little did I know that the term suck may translate directly, but the use is reserved only for describing a certain related sexual activity. Much to the entertainment of Andre Akkari, Felipe Ramos, Maridu Mayrink and hundreds of other Brazilians, I just tweeted what seemed to be a fulfillment of some wildest dreams. An influx of @mentions and new Brazilian followers came through, along with tears of laughter at dinner that night as Akkari proceeded to show every Portuguese-speaker in the restaurant.
PokerNews vs PokerStars
A spontaneous after-dinner-soccer match is standard in this region of the world. Armed with the video cameras, the PokerNews team and Team PokerStars Pros Joe Cada, Andre Akkari and Gualter Salles went on a mission to find the football field. Brazil defeated USA ― no surprise there. The video will go up in the next couple of days so check it out on PokerNews.com. The next challenge will be Sarah Grant and me in a Latina dance-off against Team PokerStars Pros Maridu Mayrinck and Veronica Dabul. Again, no surprises there who will come out on top! Stay tuned.
Oh Yeah, Poker!
Of course, the reason we’re all here is for the fourth stop on the PokerStars.net Latin American Poker Tour’s third season. All of the Latin American PokerStars Team Pros are in town, along with Joe Cada and Victor Ramdin to mix it up, PartyPoker’s Felipe Ramos, and hundreds of lucky online qualifiers who make the field nice and juicy. All eyes will be on Argentinean Team PokerStars Pro Nacho Barbero – not only did he set LAPT history by being the first Team PokerStars Pro to win an LAPT Main Event in Punta del Este, but he then smashed that record by backing it up with a second LAPT Main Event title immediately after, in Lima. Can he do it a third time? Anything’s possible!