Our Final Days of Spring Break 2014: Denver, Colorado

Denver. Ah, Denver. Our third and final stop on our short little tour of Colorado.

You see, we’ve heard lots of amazing things about this city. We have a handful of friends and family members who live here, and they just seem to love, love, love, love, love it.

Like … really, they love it a lot.

So we had high expectations, to say the least.

We started our tour of Denver with a quick drive around the city to familiarize ourselves with it. We drove through Cheeseman Park (so cute!), and stopped off in the Capitol Hill area to take in a few of the more touristy aspects …

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Photo 3^^ Cheesy tourist photos — they’re kind of a must … am I right?!

After hanging around on our own for a while, we met up Thursday evening with my brother-in-law’s sister and her fiancee. (Did ya catch that?) Anyway, Rachel and Steve have lived in Denver for a bunch of years now, and they are two of those people I mentioned before who just love, love love it there ;)

They took us to the Vine Street Pub & Brewery for dinner, which was super chill and relaxed. We went outside with beers from the bar and watched people playing Cornhole while we waited for our table … it was that relaxed.

And that was about it for Thursday, since we didn’t get into Denver until around 1 anyway. Friday, however, we had quite the touristy day. We woke up early so that we could head out to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, which was simply stunning.

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Photo 5^^ We were shocked  at how much exercising went on here!
Seriously, people everywhere running up and down the stairs,
jumping the rocks, running every single row … fascinating!
I guess if you have to work out, you can’t have a
better backdrop then at Red Rocks, right?

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Red Rocks was about an hour outside of Denver, and we spent a couple hours there just taking it all in. So by the time we made it back into the city, we were starving!

Thank God for Mexican food when you’re starving … am I right?! And  Rio Grande in the LoDo section did not disappoint.

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We sat outside under umbrellas in the 70-degree weather (hello, summer!), eating our burritos and drinking our margaritas. [A word to the wise: Watch it on the margaritas here. A single drink contains 3.5 shots of tequila! That's why they have a three drink maximum on the margs, particularly. We should know, we asked ;)]

After lunch I headed across the street to buy an outrageously expensive tee from Patagonia (I was desperate! I hadn’t read the weather beforehand and was wearing two long-sleeved shirts … and I was sweltering!), and then we caught the free 16th Street MallRide shuttle over to Commons Park, where we hopped on bikes from the Denver Bike Share program and rode over the South Platte River to the section of Denver known as The Highlands.

And oh my goodness did we love it here, my friends! And it wasn’t just because of Little Man Ice Cream (although that did help a lot ….)

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This whole area had a very relaxed, young, happening atmosphere. It was very cool, to say the least.

So after scarfing down some ice cream (don’t ask me how I did that after eating a ton of Mexican for lunch … I have a superhuman stomach, this is for certain), we hopped back on our bikes and rode as fast as possible back to the LoDo section to meet up with Chris’s old boss for drinks at Freshcraft before heading off to the Washington Park section of Denver to meet up with our cousin and her husband and baby.

Sheesh we really crammed a lot into one full day, didn’t we!?

Anyway, Courtney and Charlie’s place was adorable, and they were so lovely to get a babysitter for the evening so that they could come back out with us for dinner at the Ale House and a couple of brewskies afterwards at Denver Beer Co. (Which, by the way, might have been my favorite brewery of all the ones we visited. It was late when we arrived — in fact we stayed until closing at midnight — but the big garage doors that make up the front of the place were thrown open from the warmer weather earlier in the day, and everyone was hanging out on picnic tables with their dogs. Very fun.)

And that, as they say, was that, my friends. It was a lot  to do in one day, but I’m really glad that we got to fit in as much as we did on Friday. I wasn’t convinced that we had seen everything Denver had to offer on Thursday (I mean that’s a stupid thing to even write, because of course we didn’t. It’s impossible to see everything any city has to offer in one day), but Friday gave me a better look at the Denver that I had heard so much about.

And that I really, truly, look forward to going back to.

Okay friends, so I’m off again next week — wahoo! This time I’ll be heading to Washington, D.C. to spend the week with a friend for her birthday. This is the friend I went to Florida with, and the one who when I visit we generally hang out and do nothing but eat and drink and chat. (Except for when she has me crafting like crazy for her sister’s baby shower)  — but this time we’ve promised each other that we will get out and about into the city to actually do something historical. Or fun. Or both.

But we’ll just have to wait to see how that goes ;)

Bis bald, friends!

 

 

Back in the (Different) Borough: A Night in Carroll Gardens & Gowanus

Hi friends,

This past Saturday Chris and I met up with some friends in their neck of the woods — Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn — for some whiskey tasting at Char No. 4, followed by some shuffleboard at the new Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Gowanus.

So the whiskey first. Char No. 4 is this cute little whiskey bar and restaurant. According to the site:

“The name refers to the practice of aging bourbon in charred new oak barrels, which gives bourbon its characteristic sweet, caramelized flavors and its beautiful amber hue. Char No. 4 features over 150 American whiskeys and serves a menu of American fare with a focus on smoked meat. The American whiskeys are augmented by an extensive list of whiskeys from Europe and beyond as well as a selection of all-bourbon cocktails.”

You can check their events page for updates on their whiskey tastings (they also have soft shell crab Wednesdays in June, Barbecue nights in July and Rye revival classes, among others).

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Our whiskey class was about $40 per person, and it included four different types of whiskeys (see above), as well as three different appetizers (deviled eggs, a delicious fried cheese and some sort of meat nugget which I obviously couldn’t eat).

So I’ll let you in on a little secret — I don’t particularly love whiskey ;) And having a tasting didn’t really change that. But it was fun to do it, and it was really interesting to learn about the history and how it’s made and all that. Overall, I would highly recommend this little outing — it’s perfect for group get togethers and dates alike.

After loading up on whiskey we took the short walk from Carroll Gardens over the Gowanus Canal into Gowanus, an up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood with not too much going on — except for this brand new Royal Palms Shuffleboard bar. It literally opened about 3 weeks ago, which is why the owner still cares enough at this point to come outside and address the growing line of would-be patrons. They don’t want a line simply to make the place “look cool,” he assured us. It’s just that the fire department says they’re only allowed to have 300 people inside at one time — and he’s really afraid of the fire department.

We only waited about 10 minutes though, and inside was a gamers dream. Shuffleboard (at a price of $40 per hour — which isn’t too bad when split between four people), Connect Four, cards and other games await, along with a seafood food truck, cozy cabanas and beer.

And not for nothing, but this place is a huge warehouse, and the 300 people or less fire code keeps it super airy and spacious, meaning there was absolutely no bumping into people or sloppiness, no long lines at the women’s restroom — basically just the way I like my bars!

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^^ We plopped ourselves at a shuffleboard-side table and played cards and
drank some beer while waiting for our turn to play shuffleboard.
Maybe the popularity of this place will die down eventually, but for now,
in its newness splendor, it took us about 2.5 hours to get to our turn.

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^^ Shuffleboard courts run the length of the middle of the warehouse. So fun to watch!

I wasn’t sure we’d be able to wait long enough to finally get to play, but we occupied our time with the seafood food truck, as well.

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^^We grabbed a lobster roll, shrimp role, cole slaw and some bags of chips
from the Red Hook Lobster food truck (which is located inside the bar).
Holy cow they were so. delicious! 

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After stuffing our faces with seafood and playing cards for 2.5 hours, we finally had our shot at shuffleboard.

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^^ The owner came over to give us the rules ahead of playing.
We played boys against girls, and although the boys tried to
hide the evidence, this happened …

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 ^^ Ummm, 43 – 96 = the girls beating the boys — awahooo!!!

I mean, it would have been an awesome night without the win … but it certainly didn’t hurt ;)

Bis bald, friends! If you happen to be in the area, get thee to Char No. 4 for some whiskey and to the Royal Palms for some shuffleboard afterwards. It makes for a lovely Saturday night.

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 2

I’m baaackkkk! So Day 2 of our Icelandic Adventure really was quite the day my friends. It was the day that Chris and I got to take part in something that a very limited number of people will ever get to see. Like, ever.

I’ll give you a hint.

_DSC5209^^ Oh my!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We started the morning and early afternoon off by renting bikes from this very Harley-looking dude on a very dilapidated street with lots of graffiti that was only a few blocks from our hotel and only one street over from one of the main downtown streets.

And it may have been freezing that day (and in some parts treacherously icy!), my friends, but the views were still absolutely glorious. We rode around the entire rim of the city from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., just taking it all in …

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Photo 6^^ One of the natural thermal beaches that you’ll find all around Iceland. Pretty amazing.

After our ride we were both eager for some coffee to warm us up, and I really wanted a tasty treat. (You know me!) So we stopped by C is for Cookie Cafe in the downtown area for some coffee and the most delicious (and expensive at $8 for one slice!) warm apple pie and whipped cream.

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Here is where I need to make note of something that totally and 100% intrigued me. When you are in a new place, one of the most amazing things is to note the cultural differences. What’s considered totally normal and average in one place could be considered inconsiderate or rude in another. So when we first approached the cafe, I noticed that about three or four strollers were parked outside next to the big windows surrounding the place. So they don’t bring strollers inside places, I thought. Interesting.

It didn’t end there, though. As it turns out, it seemed to me that, at least in this one particular instance that I saw, babies who were asleep when their parents arrived were left outside. In the carriages. All bundled up and sleeping soundly away. One mother inside had a baby monitor at the table with her, but I didn’t really think twice about it … until I later realized that the reason was because her baby was asleep outside in her stroller!

Amazing!

My first thought was about the cold, but in the days since I’ve seen this and have mentioned it to people, the first thought that springs to most people’s minds is the fact that crime must not be a big issue here. That’s promising, I guess? As blown away by this realization as I was when I first understood it, it’s as I said — what’s considered commonplace in one country can be completely baffling in another.

So much to learn about this world.

Anyway, moving on. After the coffee we decided to kick it up a notch to beer. Chris used his Happy Hour app and discovered a happy hour happening at Mar, a fancy little restaurant near the water with maps on the wall showing you all the different countries from which they draw inspiration for their cuisine.

We didn’t do cuisine though — we just did drinks ;) And we chatted up the bartender to no end about the ins and outs of going out on a weekend with the Icelanders. She suggested good bars for us to visit (one of which was prikid, which I have so much to say about!), and confirmed to me that yes, things do indeed tend to get a bit crazy on weekends in Iceland and yes, drunken shenanigans most definitely would ensue.

At least I was prepared.

After Mar we headed towards the water to climb up a hut made out of hay which is used to dry fish and take pictures of the water.

Weird sentence — but that’s exactly what we did.

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Photo 9^^ Silly husband. I think those aren’t for riding.

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Photo 12^^ See. A hut of straw that you climb up.

photo 1 (56)^^ See. Dried fish guts inside the hut.

photo 2 (60)^^ Top of the hut.

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Walking home from our hut adventure we stopped by The Kebab House for dinner (see review here), which was decent but not all that memorable. Chris got the fish and chips (said he’s had better) and I got a veggie pita, which was pretty okay. Wouldn’t be the first on my list of dining recommendations for Iceland, let’s just say. Although there was a group of rowdy men drinking beer at the table behind us for a while when we first arrived, and at one point they broke out into Icelandic song. So that part I really enjoyed!

So that night, friends. That night. It was the night of all nights. It was the night of our Northern Lights Tour, as well as the night we went out into the town.

There’s so much to say about both of these amazing things, and I’ve already written so much for today — I’m making an executive editorial decision to cut our Day 2 in half. Yup. Just decided.

Tune in tomorrow, my friends, for an update on our Northern Lights Tour and our adventure with the crazy Icelandic party animals!

I guess in that case the first photo I shared with you was a tease. Oh well, what can you do! Bis bald!

P.S. I’m noticing in my dashboard that I’m getting some readers from Iceland on both this and yesterday’s posts — Hi Iceland! So happy to have you!

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 1

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Hey friends,

As you all know by now, Chris and I returned home from our (awesome. amazing. unreal. fantastic. insert-fabulous-adjective here) trip to Iceland late last night, and I’ve been busting to share the info and photos with you. Alas, a full day of work has kept me from doing so until now.

Anyway, moving on. Coming home from a trip like this. just. plain. sucks! But going through all the photos and writing down the memories here to keep forever … well that’s just really fun.

Here we go! Day 1 in Iceland began last Friday, at around 6 a.m., Icelandic time ….

After a quick (and somewhat cramped) overnight flight from JFK, we landed at Keflavik Airport a little before our expected arrival time of 6 a.m. Which was actually 1 a.m. NY time.

Who needs sleep when you’re young?!

We had booked a shuttle transfer from the airport to our hotel, the Best Western, ahead of time, which I would highly, highly  recommend since it was so easy and cheap (approximately $15), and you do not want to get to Iceland and have to worry about how you’re getting to your hotel, since if you’re staying in Reykjavik, it will probably be about an hour away. Like I said, we stayed at the Best Western Hotel Reykjavik (Trip Advisor reviews can be found here), which was a tad off the beaten track from downtown Reykjavik (about a 10 to 15 minute walk to the city center, I’d say) — but the front desk ladies were always completely lovely and extremely helpful, and a decent breakfast was included, and the price was right … so really, I’d say if you don’t mind walking a bit to get to the really hopping part of town, it’s worth staying at the Best Western.

Of course getting in at 6 a.m. and arriving to our hotel around 7 a.m. meant we couldn’t check right in. Instead we stored our bags and hit the streets! The cold, dark streets. Neither one of us really had any idea where we were going (and it stayed that way for about a good 20 minutes, I’d say. Why didn’t we just ask for directions?!), and the sun doesn’t rise until about 9:30 a.m. in the winter in Iceland, but none of that mattered — we were on an adventure! We spent the morning walking around downtown, drinking coffee at Te & Kaffi (also read about it here), stumbling upon the most adorable and classy violin-making shop I’ve ever seen (note to self: take up the violin again), and checking out some of the local stores in the downtown area, most of which don’t open until the sun has fully risen by 10 a.m.

Photo 1^^ The gorgeous church that pretty much starts the main drag of downtown Reykjavik.
Also, this picture was taken around 8 a.m. Nary a glimmer of sunlight in the sky!

Photo 2^^ Umm, right?! How amazing is this violin studio??

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photo 4^^ One of these things is not like the other …

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During our wanders we also happened upon The Laundromat Cafe, which I had read about and knew I wanted to visit. The place has a seriously adorable, 70s-style laundromat downstairs, while the upstairs doubles as a restaurant by day, bar by night, and all-around bookstore (they color code their books, like I do!) and people-watching heaven.

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Oh, and my eggs and tomatoes weren’t too shabby, either. (As it turns out, Icelanders are pretty proud of their tomatoes. They consider all other tomatoes grown from outside of the country to just not be good enough … and after tasting theirs, I can see why.)

By the time we made it back outside it was snowing gently — the perfect Icelandic weather! We made our way slowly back to the hotel (not before picking up some wine at the local store for later) to finally check in and take a nap before heading back out into the day. (As a side note, I’ve already mentioned that the sun doesn’t rise until 9:30ish in the winter in Iceland, but it also sets around 5 p.m., so if you’re a daylight lover, you really need to plan your time wisely to make the most out of what little you’ll get of it if you travel here in February. I wasn’t quite sure how I would take the fewer hours of daylight. As it turns out, I didn’t mind it even one tiny little bit.)

After our nap, we headed over to Cinema No: 2, which I had also read about, to take in two videos — one on the formation of Iceland and its geography and people, and another on the Northern Lights (for which we would have a tour to try to find ourselves the following night). The Cinema was small but super cozy, with couches and an old-school popcorn machine and a lovely man in a warm sweater to take your money at the door. The “movie screen” is really a projector screen, and the videos themselves seem pretty old, but it doesn’t matter. The history of Iceland and its nature and the Northern Lights have been set for years, so there’s really not much updating that needs to be done. On the other hand, it’s a bit expensive (about $30 for both of us) … but it was worth it. A very nice thing to do on your first day in Iceland. Just be sure to double-check the times if this is something you’d like to do on your own trip. The Cinema isn’t open all day (I believe we went around 6 p.m. to catch our movies), so it would be a shame to head all the way over there and miss them.

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After the movies we went straight to Micro Bar, a tiny little bar located behind the lobby of The Center Hotel, practically directly across the street from The Laundromat Cafe. (Also check it out in this list of the 11 coolest bars in Reykjavik, which I really wish I had seen before we left for our trip. But that’s okay … I think we did just fine. The trick is to just ask the locals … but more on that later!) This funky little place is actually a microbrewery, and we were able to sample four of their most delicious beers for the low, low price of $20.

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I think here might actually be a good place to mention prices in Iceland. Ummmm …. they be expensive!!! And we live in Manhattan, friends, so when someone from Manhattan calls another place expensive? Well, you just know it must be true. I’ll get a bit more into the finances of Iceland (or lack thereof) in day three, though, because that’s when we learned all about it. For the purpose of today’s blog post, let’s just put it out there that if you travel to Reykjavik, be prepared to drop some cash, friends. It’s one of the best places I’ve been in the world (What?! Did she really just say that?!), but it’s no cheap place to visit.

All of this detracts, however, from the awesomeness that is Micro Bar. It has such a homey, low-key vibe, with subdued lighting and tasty snacks and lovely bartenders, and the most adorable paintings of mountains (each with something tiny and surprising to find that makes it different) on the walls — this is a must while in Iceland.

I guess here is also a good place to tell you about what our original plans were for Friday night. As anyone who has ever read anything about Reykjavik or has been there will know — on the weekends, these people know how to party! They party hard and loud and long into the night. Like, they start the bar hopping around 12:30 or 1, friends. This is no joke. So knowing this was a Reykjavik ritual that we would most definitely be partaking in, we thought we’d grab a quick drink and dinner early, then head back to the hotel with some wine from the local liquor store (conveniently located near Micro Bar), some snacks from the grocery and take a quick power nap before heading out again around 12:30 or 1.

For dinner, we had originally tried to make a reservation at Fridrik V, but unfortunately we couldn’t get in. Then we read about Snaps (which also made that top beer places list I linked out to above), but they were pretty booked when we tried there as well. (Don’t worry, we did make it to Snaps, eventually.) We instead stumbled on Noodle Station, a hole-in-the-wall Thai soup store that smelled delicious and had lots of locals eating there. So that’s where we ate our first night, and it was spectacular, friends. To be fair, I’m going to go ahead and just say that we didn’t eat anything bad, per se, at all on this trip. (You can pretty much assume this means we didn’t eat any traditional Icelandic food — like whale, or Puffin. Ummm…needless to say I’m okay with that, and so is Chris.) So the Noodle Station on Friday night was delicious, but it wasn’t our best meal. Still, it’s worth a shot for lunch or if you’re in need of a quick nighttime meal, for sure.

On the way back to our hotel for some wine and our (what was meant to be a) power nap, we stopped at the grocery store for some cheese and crackers. We were also hoping to find some playing cards (which we without fail always forget to bring on trips), and when they didn’t have any for sale, the lovely man behind the counter who rang us up actually ended up pulling out a pack from behind the register and just giving them to us completely for free. I mean … how lovely! It was really a small act of kindness that made our night.

So that was pretty much our first day in Iceland, friends! I’m going to spare you the expense and just say we never made it out Friday night (100% my fault), but did get out with the crazy crowd on Saturday night … and it was every bit as much fun as everything I had read.

But more on that tomorrow. (That and a little thing called the Northern Lights!)

Bis bald, friends!

 

Using Travel Agents (Plus a Big, Fun Announcement!)

photo^^ You know Christmas is over in New York City when you start to see
this sad little sight on every street corner.

 

Hi friends,

So January — and the new year in general — feels like it’s solidly in place now, wouldn’t ya say? We’ve packed the Christmas decorations away, the tree (which we lovingly named Mr. Big) is laying sadly on the curb outside our apartment awaiting its final destiny, the credit card bill with all those Christmas presents on it has arrived and the 2014 goals are written and action is being taken to fulfill them. (I’ve already read one whole book — wahoo! That’s one of my goal 14 for the year down …)

Anyway, travel destinations are always on my resolution list, and this year is no exception — with one big exception. While nothing is set in stone yet, Chris and I have big plans for this year. After a deluge of weddings every weekend in September and in the beginning of October (so fun!), the plan as of right now is to head to South America for a couple of weeks right after, come home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and then — are you ready for this? — move to Colorado.

Oy. It’s a big step friends. This plan is one of the main reasons why I’ve been trying to make the most of the city recently, particularly during what may very well have been our last Christmas season here.

I may start crying right now.

Don’t get me wrong — I do believe this will be a good move for us, it’s just … while we’re still here, it’s sort of hard to imagine not living here, you know?

Anyway, all of this moving stuff is for another day. The point of today’s post is to say that I’m in full-on planning mode for our South America trip, because nine months is certainly not a long time to have to plan for a multi-week, multi-destination trip. There’s health and travel insurance to think about. Travel visas. What to do with our stuff (not to mention our pets!) while we’re gone. Oh and cash flow — that’s a big one, too.

The South America itinerary at this moment in time includes, in no particular order:

  • The Galapagos Islands (Wahooo!!! I get to check something off my Bucket List!)
  • Machu Picchu/Peru
  • Costa Rica
  • Brazil
  • Argentina

While I’m thrilled with the prospect of traveling to all these amazing places, the thought of planning this trip was daunting. Then I had a brilliant thought — travel agents. The only time I’ve ever dealt with a travel agent was when my cousin was getting married in Jamaica and he used one. According to him, having this person help out with all the planning and documentation really took a lot of the stress off of him.

That seemed nice to me.

So I reached back out to her. And while we’re still in the very, very beginning stages of planning, I will say that so far it’s been going pretty well. There are a lot of emails back and forth, but I’ve given her the basics — budget range, desired locations and timeframe, type of travel we’re hoping to do (active, leisure, etc.) — and she’s working on putting something together.

Now I do know that there are some pitfalls to using travel agents. While some agents charge an upfront fee for their services, this particular woman I’m working with right now doesn’t, because she’s paid by the hotels, etc., that she sets up for us during our trip. That of course means that she works within a set group of hotels, etc. I’ll have to do a little bit of research once we hear back from her to be sure that the places she uses are the types of places we’re looking for — but at least it will be a good starting point.

So that’s it, friends. I’ll definitely keep you updated throughout the year as this process moves along. I can’t believe that we’re actually making moves on this South America trip — I feel like we’ve been talking about it forever. Then after that will come Colorado.

But that’s a story for another time, friends.

Bis bald!

An Anniversary Trip to Saratoga Springs, New York

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Hey friends,

This past weekend Chris and I borrowed the little Matrix that we’re planning to buy off my parents and took her for a spin up to Saratoga Springs.  The whole idea for this trip came out of a deal for a Saratoga hotel on TripAdvisor that then led to me the Saratoga Arms hotel. (It’s ranked as the No. 1 hotel in Saratoga on TripAdvisor.)

Anyway, we’ll get to that later.

I had done some research on Saratoga ahead of time, and last weekend in Vermont my cousin recommended a couple places to us as well. (She lives in Albany, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from Saratoga.)

I think I should preface this post by saying that we had a deluge of snow the day before we drove to Saratoga, and pretty much every place looks magical in a snowy winter wonderland … am I right? Even without the snow, though, I know I would have fallen in love with Saratoga. The downtown area was so charming (and of course it was still decorated for Christmas with twinkling white lights and red bows everywhere … that certainly didn’t hurt it), the people were so friendly and every place we went had really great food and drink.

Our first stop was a recommendation of my cousin’s — Ravenous, for their crepes and Pommes Frittes. They come with all different kinds of dipping sauces. We tried the Aioli, Cajun Spicy Mayo and Mango Chutney. Seriously delicious.

photo 1^^ My warm apple cider with orange wasn’t too shabby, either.

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After stuffing our faces, we decided to check out the town for a bit before checking into our hotel.

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photo 10c^^ This hotel was closed for repairs, but I thought it was just so beautiful.

After our little introduction to the town we headed to the hotel.

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So about the hotel. I feel like I should start by saying — it was perfectly lovely. Seriously, very lovely — charming even. I mean look at those cute horse wreathes that greet you at the front door! The building is kept locked at all times, and the friendly innkeeper lets you in when you arrive. There’s a warm fireplace and classic, historic decorations — everything about this place is cute and cozy and nice.

I just have a small but. The thing is — we paid a lot for our room. Like … a lot. (It was $300 after taxes, and that was the lowest priced King room available.) And for some reason I had convinced myself that I booked a room with a jacuzzi tub, and you know how when you think you’ve done something, and get your hopes all up for it — well I just really wanted that jacuzzi tub! And I mean, the room was fine, people. Honestly, it was quite nice. Perfectly pleasant. Very well looked after. I guess I was just … expecting more. What can I say. I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of hotels up to this point in my life, and I’ve spent a wide range of money on those hotels. All I’m saying is … besides location (and the seriously scrumptious breakfast that’s included in the morning!), I’m just not quite sure this place was worth the price. That’s all.

But moving on! Despite the disappointment of not having a jacuzzi (!), we still had a whole night ahead of us. Our first night stop would be to The Wine Bar — another of my cousin’s recommendations. A huge plus of Saratoga Arms — all of our stops were within walking distance, even though it was about 0 degrees outside!

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We sat by the fire and the white lights twinkled and our waitress was lovely. And we ordered the warm olive appetizer and Chris a Manhattan and me a glass of white wine. Then we both ordered another glass of wine — red this time– and here my friends is where I’ll share a little something with you. It was here at The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs, New York, that I had — ready for it? — the best wine of my life. I mean … seriously! This friggin’ wine was so. amazingly. delicous. Even Chris was jealous. I had the waitress give me my menu back so I could write down exactly what it was, which was a Santa Julia Malbec from Argentina/Menoza. It also was organic, which I honestly think might have made a difference.

If you are in Saratoga and find yourself at The Wine Bar (which you should … thanks for the recommendation Alyssa!), you must, must, must try this wine! You’ll thank me later, I promise.

Anyway, after warming up with wine, we headed back out into the cold to our dinner reservations at Mouzon House. Here’s where I have to give Saratoga Arms another big shout out — about two days before we were meant to arrive I received a welcome email from them with parking instructions, town and weather information, as well as a list of local restaurants that they recommended, Mouzon House being one of them. They even called and made the reservation for us. (Am I being a hotel snob about this place? Probably. The more I write about it the more charming I feel like it was.)

Anyway, the Mouzon House. Another massive, humongous hit!

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photo 18^^We were a tad early for our reservation, so we sat at the bar and ordered some drinks first. Our bartender told us she was also a realtor, and she had helped her friend purchase the restaurant. The building had formerly belonged to the Mouzon family, and the woman who they bought the house from was the first African American woman to graduate from the local community college. She said the fact that they wanted to keep the family name in the name of the restaurant was a big reason why she thinks they were given the deal in the first place. The majority of the house had been left as is — even the rooms upstairs were still in bedroom form. Oh, and there was a ghost. The ghost was a friendly ghost, Mrs. Bartender told us, but she didn’t even have to say that .. Chris and I have a feeling about these things, and we already knew.

photo 19^^ Somehow the restaurant knew it was our one year anniversary — I guess the hotel told them when they called?Anyway, they gave us our creme brûlée with a candle in it, and that was super cute.

For dinner I ordered the vegetarian jambalaya, and Chris had the steak. We also ordered the asparagus appetizer and another bottle of wine, and everything was to die for. Perhaps even more amazing, though, was the fact that the couple sitting directly across from us was celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary — and they could not have been cuter. At one point I looked over and the woman was fixing her husband’s shirt. When they left he helped her put her coat on.

If only Chris and I can get that lucky to be as in love as day one at our 56th anniversary.

So at this point in the evening, I had also wanted to check out the 9 Maple Ave. jazz bar, but unfortunately all the wine I had already consumed started to make me feel like the warm hotel was calling my name, so we called it a night.

The next morning we were up early though. Breakfast is served between 8 and 10 in the dining room, and it’s a sit down, order type of breakfast. I got the oatmeal (remember I wasn’t feeling well!), and Chris had the chef’s special mushroom omelet which, in his words, was “the best omelet I ever had in my life.”

Okay fine — so Saratoga Arms was quite lovely, I get it. It’s just that when you’re spending that much money, you might as well splurge an extra $50-$60 and get a room with a jacuzzi or a fireplace. That’s just my opinion. Noted for next time.

After breakfast we packed up and checked out, and headed back into the town to check out a couple of other stores we had seen the day before. We even ended up finding an old vintage New York City map for $6 — the best find!

I also wanted to check back on this house we had passed when trying to find the parking garage for the hotel. I mean … check this place out …

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Our googling has yet to turn up what this place actually is. Is it someone’s home? Is it a business? Whatever it is, I envision this will be what my next home looks like. That’s reasonable … right?

And that, my friends, was Saratoga. It was the perfect little getaway for an anniversary weekend, and I cannot wait to get back there at some point to explore in warmer weather!

Bis bald, my friends! Only only month until Iceland — I simply cannot wait!

For the Love of Spontaneous Travel ….

Hi friends,

It probably shouldn’t come as a huge shock that I’m a sucker for anything that seems like a good travel deal. So when I saw a Travelzoo deal posted yesterday for 5 days in Iceland–including hotel, air and a Northern Lights tour–I just felt like we really had to go for it.

A little over a year ago now, a couple of co-workers from my previous job all took a trip together to Iceland, and from everything I heard, it’s pretty amazing. Reykjavik itself is well-known for its night life, the Northern Lights (aka the Aurora Borealis) would be absolutely amazing to see and, let’s be honest, if I could plop myself in the Blue Lagoon for the rest of my life … I think I’d be one happy lady.

We had originally planned to try to head out over Thanksgiving break, but we waited too long to book it, so the trip will now be the weekend before Valentine’s day of next year. That’s okay, though. With Australia and The Great Barrier Reef coming up, plus Chris’s Super-Secret-30th-Birthday-Trip, we’ve got a lot on our plates this year.

Huzzah for new, fun trips to look forward to!

Bis bald, friends!

Back in the Borough: Shakespeare in the Park

Hi friends,

I was telling Chris yesterday that I feel like this has been the summer of Central Park. First we saw the NY Philharmonic in the park, then we took a bike ride through it, on Sunday we took my 4-month-old nephew there, and last night we partook in a long-time New York City bucket list item of both of ours … seeing Shakespeare in the Park.

Allow me to explain. You see, every summer The Public Theater provides free tickets to eager New Yorkers willing to do insane things (like get up at 4:30 a.m. to camp out in line for said free tickets) for performances at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The tickets are, as you can imagine, very popular, and therefore very hard to get. There’s a public lottery online—but I’m convinced no one ever wins tickets that way (at least I never have!)—you can purchase a $175 summer supporter membership and get one free ticket to one show, OR (and this is a popular one) … you can camp out in Central Park, starting at around 6 a.m., until they open their doors at noon and start passing out tickets.

Yesterday my friend Carla and I bit the bullet and just did it — we camped out in Central Park for six hours, starting at 6 a.m., to get free tickets.

And I have to say, my friends, it was TOTALLY. WORTH. IT. Honestly, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. (Of course weather is key, here, people. If you’re going to be laying in the grass for six hours, you must have nice weather, which we did. Couldn’t have asked for better.)

Anyway, here’s a bit from the morning:

^^I took this hazy Central Park path photo around 5:50 a.m. as I was entering the park. It reflects my mood nicely. Hazy.

^^I took this hazy Central Park path photo around 5:50 a.m. as I was entering the park. It reflects my mood nicely. Hazy.

^^The line pass beyond the point where we could see it. Turns out there's something called "The Rock of No Hope." Rumor has it if you try to get in line past that rock for tickets, you're probably out of luck.

^^The line passed beyond the point where we could see it. Turns out there’s something called “The Rock of No Hope.” Rumor has it if you try to get in line past that rock for tickets, you’re probably out of luck.

^^Along with the free play tickets, the New York Times was passing out this lovely book to people in the line, for free.

^^Along with the free play tickets, the New York Times was passing out this lovely book to people in the line, for free.

^^This lovely gentleman serenaded us with his flute while we waited in line. Then asked for money, which of course we were happy to give him. When we returned 8 hours later for the actual play, he was playing a saxophone. So talented.

^^This lovely gentleman serenaded us with his flute while we waited in line. Then asked for money, which of course we were happy to give him. When we returned 8 hours later for the actual performance, he was playing a saxophone. So talented.

^^At one point I took a short nap. When I woke up, this was my view. Not too shabby.

^^At one point I took a short nap. When I woke up, this was my view. Not too shabby.

Now just because this could be considered a crazy thing to do, don’t be fooled. There’s a method to the madness, people. Theater workers walk the lines every so often, keeping count and making sure no one cuts in line. (There’s no holding spots for other people, and no one was meant to join you later on, is what we were told. Going to the bathroom. That was the only time you were allowed to vacate your spot (thank God!)).

There was also a cute little delivery man on a bike who smartly handed out take-out menus from a restaurant located right outside of the park. Carla and I were all too happy to ask our neighbors to add two cappuccinos for us to the delivery they ordered for themselves at around 9 a.m.

Tickets are handed out randomly–so as long as you’re in the line before they run out, it actually doesn’t matter if you’re the first person or the last person–both are just as likely to get good seats. Unfortunately, despite our pretty amazing location in line (I’d say about 25-35 people deep), our seats were pretty high up. The theater is on the smaller side, though, so no seat is really a bad seat, per se.

So you wait in line for six hours (or at least we did), you get your tickets, then you leave and come back around 8, when the doors open. Performances start at 8:30, and there are no intermissions. That’s okay, though, because the performances are so amazing, you don’t even want a break.

The performance we saw was called ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’. The gist of it is that the King and three of his friends decide at their five-year college reunion to swear off women. When four cute girls–including the princess–show up from their past, though, things get ca-razy. (And ca-razy funny, too!)

You aren’t meant to take photos from inside the theater, but Chris went rogue and shot this one quickly:

Delacorte_Theater

Is that not the cutest ever? With Turtle Pond in the background, the skyscrapers in view from the Upper West Side and the vague noises from people enjoying the park all around the outside of the theater … it’s honestly a moment where you think: “Am I really watching a Shakespeare play, for free, in the middle of Central Park?”

It’s pretty incredible.

You’re also allowed to bring food and drink into the theater, as long as you don’t take in any glass bottles. So we loaded up on sandwiches and snacks and little bottles of boxed wine–and had ourselves a merry Shakespearean Central Park night … just the four of us!

I would highly recommend this to any tourists, too. It gives you an excuse to get up early enough to start your day, and if the weather’s nice, there’s nothing better than camping out in CP in the early morning, watching everyone with their dogs running around, ecstatic, off their leashes.  Then you have your tickets by 12:30 at the latest, and you have until 8 p.m. to spend the rest of the day however you like. And you can end the evening with a magnificent (free of charge!) play.

What can be better than that?

Bis bald, friends! I purchased my ticket for D.C. for next week yesterday–I cannot wait!

Back in the Borough: Saturday Night Out

Happy Monday Friends!

I hope everyone had a great weekend. Chris and I had a really great one as we continue to try to check things off my “Manhattan To-Do List”. I do realize that we have plenty of time to get these things done (if we do end up leaving the city, it won’t be for at least another year), but when you have a list of fun things to do, it’s hard to not want to take on everything all at once, ya know what I mean?

Anyway … back to Saturday. I set up this whole little evening for us to try out some of the places I had read and heard about lately, and that’s exactly what we did.

Our first stop was meant to be the Manhattanhenge.

Allow me to explain. Manhattanhenge is the term, coined by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, for the four times a year where the sunset happens to align perfectly with the city’s east-west grid layout which, as you can image, makes for some gorgeous photos. So Chris and I headed out to try to catch this phenomenon … but the clouds had other plans for us, unfortunately. The photo we ended up getting was this:

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Compared to this:

^^Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bell and Time Out New York.

^^Photo courtesy of Jonathan Bell and Time Out New York.

Oh well, there’s always next year, right? We’ve already set a reminder in Chris’s phone for next April to research which days it will so we can try again.

After Manhattanhenge we headed towards Chinatown to meet up with couple friends of ours (who recently got engaged … yay!), for dinner at Cutting Board which, according to this month’s New York magazine, has some of the best cheap eats in the city. On our way there, we just happened upon the Ghostbusters firehouse (Hook & Ladder 8) in TriBeCa, which I think was a little bit on Chris’s bucketlist because he recognized it (I never would have) and insisted that I take a photo of him outside of it:

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P.S. If I may diverge here for just a moment. One of my absolute favorite  things about this city is the ability to stumble upon things that simply amaze you–whether it’s a building, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, people doing something magnificent, or just something plain beautiful that makes you stop and stare. You know, kind of like when we stumbled upon the Friends apartment building in the West Village a couple of weekends ago:

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But I digress. So after Ghostbusters we went to the Cutting Board, where we were not disappointed in the advertisement of tasty, cheap food. (I think our bill came to $60-something, and that was for four people with drinks, three appetizers and entrees. That has never happened to me in this city before. Ever.)

The restaurant was a quirky combo of Chinese/Italian, but somehow it just worked. Here’s a bit of what we tried:

^^The calamari came with three different dipping sauces. Next to it was our spicy fries and seaweed. Yum!

^^The calamari came with three different dipping sauces. Next to it was our spicy fries and seaweed. Yum!

^^Chris and company wanted to try something unique on the menu, so they ordered this toast that was covered with fried pieces of pork and condensed milk. I'm told it was not necessarily the tastiest...

^^Chris and company wanted to try something unique on the menu, so they ordered this toast that was covered with fried pieces of pork and condensed milk. I’m told it was not necessarily the tastiest…

^^I started ordering bubble tea, but the waiter recommended I try one of their specialty aloe drinks instead. They did not disappoint. Pictured is my mango drink and my friend's grapefruit one.

^^I started ordering bubble tea, but the waiter recommended I try one of their specialty aloe drinks instead. They were great. Pictured is my mango drink and my friend’s grapefruit one.

^^We all opted for some version of seafood, which I suppose was sort of boring. Still, my muscle pasta was seriously delicious, and I think it only cost around $9.

^^We all opted for some version of seafood, which I suppose was sort of boring. Still, my muscle pasta was seriously delicious, and I think it only cost around $9.

After dinner it was on to the 2nd Floor on Clinton. The bar is discreetly tucked away on the upper level of Barramundi, a regular ole’ bar that’s loud and pumping. What you have to do is walk all the way to the back of the bar, towards the bathrooms, and the staircase to the upper level bar is located on the left. I had read that a bouncer–usually wearing a hat and playing on a iPad–would be at the door, but instead we found an all-black clad woman who asked if we wanted to go upstairs. True to what I had read, she made a face when we told her we were a group of four, and made us wait for a couple of minutes while she “checked out” the upstairs area to see if there was room.

As a side note, we arrived around 9:45, and there definitely was room for us, but as we were leaving around 12:30, there were people waiting at the stairs to get up. The atmosphere upstairs is intimate, and it is actually a smaller space, so if you do want to make sure you get a seat, and if you’re a group of more than two, I would suggest trying to get there on the earlier side.

Anyway, we were escorted upstairs to an entirely different scene than what was downstairs. Subdued lighting. Candles. Comfy couches and chairs. A waitress in a tux-like outfit. And while it wasn’t completely quiet, it was definitely much easier to hold a conversation than it would have been downstairs.

The bar doesn’t have food, but it has a cheese plate and, much to our delight, some delicious liquor-infused chocolates. The drinks are pricey (about $15-$17 per drink on average), but they were tasty, and I loved how personal the attention felt. When I ordered a drink that I wasn’t sure about, the waitress told me that we could return anything we weren’t happy with for something else, and for each of the two drinks my friend got she asked our waitress to essentially surprise her (with a few hints of what she likes and doesn’t like). She did a great job each time.

^^Vodka-infused chocolates with the Sailor's Punch (left) and the Amazonia drink.

^^Vodka-infused chocolates with the Sailor’s Punch (left) and the Amazonia drink.

^^For my second drink I picked the Saracen, made with lemon bitters, sherry, cucumber and mastiha skinos liquer (whatever that is), among other things. The waitress called it 'earthy,' and said people either loved it or hated it. I happened to be on the love side.

^^For my second drink I picked the Saracen, made with lemon bitters, sherry, cucumber and mastiha skinos liquer (whatever that is), among other things. The waitress called it ‘earthy,’ and said people either loved it or hated it. I happened to be on the love side.

We definitely ended up spending more on drinks than we did for dinner (I think the bar tab was around $67 each, without the tip), but that’s why it was good to have a cheap-o dinner.

This weekend I have a couple of new places I’d like to try out, as well as a canoe/kayak day trip that I’ve read is supposed to be a lot of fun. More updates to come, my friends … in the meantime have a great week!

P.S. Chris and I finally got around to booking our (late) honeymoon this past weekend — Great Barrier Reef here we come!

Bis bald!

Back in the Borough

Happy Friday friends!

I wanted to quickly share a short round-up with you of some places I’ve been to in good ole’ NYC in the past few weeks. As Chris and I move towards this potentially big goal of ours for next year (I still haven’t gone into detail on that yet, I know … don’t worry, it’s coming!), we’re trying to make the most of our time here in the city.

[So yes, the big goal may involve a big move next year ... I'll get to that later.]

Anyway, I’ve had a list of places I want to visit in this fabulous city for quite a while now, and we’re slowly but surely putting a small dent in them. So without further adieu, here’s a bit of what’s been happening Back in the Borough lately:

1. Antique Garage

^^How homey! Photo courtesy of Antique Garage Website

^^How homey! Photo courtesy of Antique Garage Website

Located on 41 Mercer St. in Soho, this cute little restaurant is everything I wanted it to be, and more. The restaurant itself was converted from an old mechanic shop, and it’s unlike any other restaurant you’ll find in the city. They’ve got live music most nights (although sadly not on the night we went when Chris’s sister and her boyfriend were in town from Australia), and their dinner menu is chock full of delicious Mediterranean and Turkish foods like Grilled Halloumi Cheese Salad, Turkish Hamburger Deluxe and Aegean Sarma (which is Halloumi cheese slices and tomatoes seasoned with fresh thyme wrapped in grape leaves and grilled).

Yum! Prices are pretty moderate-to-high, depending on what you consider high ;) (Generally ranging from $24 – $35 for an entree)

2. The Raines Law Room

^^You have to ring this bell to be let in. And even then it's not a sure thing...

^^You have to ring this bell to be let in. And even then it’s not a sure thing…

If you want to feel like the most special person in the world (or like you’re part of a secret cult/club), you should head to The Raines Law Room at 48 W. 17th St. You’ll head down a short staircase from the sidewalk to a black door with a doorbell on the left. (See photo, totally stolen from my friend who visited this place with me.) Inside (if you’re lucky enough to make it in) you’ll find a dark and mysterious room filled with comfy couches and tasty cocktails, champagnes, wines and liqueurs. Don’t expect to be able to taste something more than once, though, because the menu changes frequently. There’s an outdoor area as well, where it would be super fun to sit on a nice day. As one of the reviews from their site states: “I thought that I was over the whole neo-speakeasy mixologist trend but I guess not. You walk down the steps of a unmarked building, ring the doorbell, and are transported back into a scene from the prohibition era. There are plenty of private tables and velvet couches all equipped with wall buzzers that will summon your waitress.” And while the cocktails are quite pricey (mine were $17 a piece) … sometimes it’s just worth it.

3. The Marrow

Marrow_Drinks

Full disclosure: One of Chris’s good friends works at The Marrow so yes, we are a bit biased. But still–it was delicious. And I’m pretty sure you’d say that even if you didn’t know the head chef. Cocktails here are fantastic (I went for the namesake Marrow 75, made of bitter truth pink gin, lemon, sage and blanc de blancs, pictured above), and the food is even better. I had the Crispy Kale & Bale Scallops appetizer and the pasta special, which was a squid ink linguini with some other deliciousness. This is an adorable little restaurant located in the heart of the West Village at 99 Bank St, but if you’re going here remember to make a reservation. Even if the place looks empty, you’re not likely to get a walk-in seat.

Squid Ink Pasta

Squid Ink Pasta

Kale appetizer

Kale appetizer

 

4. The Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel

^^Photo courtesy of theluxuryspot.com

^^Photo courtesy of theluxuryspot.com

Although our visits here haven’t necessarily been recent, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include The Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel in this list. This comfy spot has slowly become one of our favorites, as we’ve visited a handful of times now. With nothing even remotely resembling a normal, typical hotel lobby, The Lobby Bar is as eclectic a place as you’ll find. It’s dark, noisy and most of the time crowded … but none of that matters. The music is fabulous. The people are interesting. The drinks are tasty. And if you’re lucky enough to snatch a seat on a comfy couch or chair, I defy you to try spending less than an hour there just people watching.

In the News: New Travel Site, GetGoing.com, Launches Today

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Can this new site make leisure travel cheaper?

Hey friends,

So I know I owe you a D.C. post (don’t say I didn’t warn you that we do a lot of hangin’ around when we’re together), but I wanted to jump on a press release that I received in my email this morning about a new travel site that, I think, has a lot of potential.

So the site, called GetGoing, works on what they’re calling a ‘pick two, get one’ process. What that essentially means is that users design two different trips (including dates, flight times, number of stops they want, etc.), and GetGoing works to get you the best discounts so you can actually purchase whichever trip turns out to be cheaper.

The system works because airlines often offer up to 40% off airfare for leisure travelers in order to fill up their empty seats. “Nearly one in five seats on all flights worldwide are empty, and we view that as a huge opportunity for more people to get out and see the world,” Alek Vernitsky, co-founder and CEO of GetGoing said in their press release. “So we decided to help flexible leisure travelers get great deals on those open seats by proving that they are actually traveling for leisure.” (Hence the reason users are prompted to pick two destinations.)

GetGoing is currently flying to hundreds of major airports in over 50 countries.

Check out the full video explanation of how the site works here:

What do you guys think? Would you try out GetGoing?

A Gorgeous (and Expensive) Drive Through the Alps

Hi friends,

So back to last Wednesday morning, Chris and his dad left the hotel early to pick up our rental car so that we could get on out of Munich. We would be driving about 2 hours from Munich to Salzburg to drop Chris’s parents off (it was so sad to say goodbye!), and then Chris and I would be continuing on to Venice.

We knew that we were starting off with an expensive journey, since renting a car in one country and returning it in another is, you know, not that cheap.

Little did we know that was just the beginning …

Continue reading

Home Swapping Sites on our Horizon

Hi friends!

So it’s t-minus two days before Chris and I jet off on our little European adventure…I am sososo excited!

Although, we did hit a minor bump in the European road yesterday when Chris emailed me to say that our pre-booked hotel in Rome had unceremoniously unbooked us. Apparently something with Chris’s payment information was incorrect, and he had missed the warning email.

Oops.

So there we were, three days before leaving without a place to stay in Rome.

Chris quickly booked a back-up hotel for us, but it wasn’t in an area of Rome that I thought would be central to all the lovely things we have planned. As I was searching hotels.com for something more adequate, a coworker of mine mentioned using home swap sites, like HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb.

I’ll be honest–I’ve never actually used one of these sites before. I know plenty of people who have, and they’ve always been more than happy with the results, so I figured, why not give it a try! After about a half hour searching on Airbnb, I found a cute little studio apartment for rent in an area of Rome that seemed lovely, and that had received tons of good reviews on the site.

So…we booked it! This, my friends, will be our first forray into the world of booking through home swap sites.

Who knows, if all goes well, it might be our new norm.

Do any of you guys use sites like HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb? Have you generally liked what you’ve found? Do you prefer one site over the others?

Bis bald, friends!

Tips for International Travel

While Chris and I get ready to head out to Palm Springs tomorrow (ummm…yay!), I have my head quasi in our trip this upcoming Fall to Berlin, Munich, Rome and Cinque Terre (which is a new destination for us, taking the place of what was formerly going to be Venice. Thanks for the heads up Libby and Allison!).

Don’t worry–once we’re in Palm Springs tomorrow I will officially have my head in the game!

Anyway, back to our Euro-trip. We have our hotels booked in Berlin, Munich and Rome, and our flights booked from NYC to Berlin, and back from Rome to NYC. Then, yesterday, we booked our flights from Berlin to Munich (turns out, that’s probably cheaper than training it…)

I came across this little diddy in the New York Times today about money tips for globe-trotters, and I’m finding it very useful. Some helpful advice includes:

  • Get a credit card with a chip
  • Tell your bank where you’re traveling
  • Learn the exchange rate before you land

Etc., etc. Anyway, just thought I’d share.

Okay, wish us luck! Tomorrow is moving day at my office, and then I’m off to catch the plane to California!

Too. Much. Fun.

New DOT Rules Change the Deals That Make It Into Our Inboxes

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I thought I would just share the interesting news I just got in an email from Travelzoo. According to the email, today new government regulations went into effect requiring all airlines and travel companies to include taxes and fees in published airfare, making the pricing more transparent for consumers.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE THIS. The tone of Travelzoo’s email was worried at best. For example, in the second graph they write:

“When we tell you about fare deals from airlines or online travel agents, now we are also including these taxes, so prices will initially appear to be higher. But we’re still finding great prices, including some of the best fares we’ve seen in months.”

Fear not, Travelzoo—at least on my part, I will continue to eagerly read your travel updates in search of cheap flights. I do, however, look forward to this new transparency. Gone are the days of booking a flight advertised at $79 each way, only to find I am meant to pay $139 in taxes.

Because that seriously used to blow.

In The News: Airlines Cashed In On Baggage Fees Last Year

You'll never guess how much airlines made off these bad boys last year

Well, we knew this day was coming. The day when we get the final total for how much the airlines made off of us—the suspecting passengers—on baggage fees.

It’s worse than you thought.

U.S. airlines collected $5.7 BILLION in fees alone last year, with baggage fees being the top source of fee-based revenue.

Another big income-maker for the airlines? Change-of-ticket and cancellation fees. That brought in $2.29 billion.

Holy cow. It’s time to ditch those extra bags and just carry on, people (yes, Chris, I said it. And I may even take my own advice now that I see how much extra money these airlines are making off of us).

Want tips on how to avoid baggage fees? Who doesn’t, right? Check out this USA Today piece for ideas.

In The News: South Padre Island “Best Affordable U.S. Vacation”

 

South Padre Island

U.S. News & World Report  has named South Padre Island the “Best Affordable U.S. Vacation” and “Best Family Beach Vacation” in their first-ever Best Vacations rankings, found here. According to a press release, the rankings compare the most popular travel spots against one another for the benefit of prospective travelers. They use a combination of how strongly a collection of published travel writers recommend the destination and how strongly U.S. News Travel website users recommend the destination to determine the winners.

Have You Heard of Snique Away?

I’m always game to hear about new travel sites that offer up deals and discounts—it’s pretty much the only way I can afford to travel.

That’s why I was psyched when an email from SniqueAway.com landed in my inbox today. It’s a bit like all of the other savings sites getting about these days—Groupon, LivingSocial, et al. But it’s for travel, and some of the deals seem pretty great. For example, todays locations include a myriad of places, from Miami to The Grenadines to Nashville to the Caribbean. Love the diversity.

And the discounts themselves are pretty hot, as well. Rooms at The Bodyholiday LeSport resort in st. Lucia, Caribbean are down from $386-$506 per night for a single garden view room to $245-$315 per night. Not too shabby.

I’m also digging the lineup on the right side of the screen that shows you the upcoming sales for the next three days, that way you can start planning and pricing out flights.

While membership is free, it’s currently by invitation only. If you want to be invited and haven’t received an email, though, there’s an optional “I Want To Join” button on the sign-up page.

Bis bald, friends! I’m off to Rockywold-Deephaven Camp in Holderness, NH in a few weekends for my cousin’s nuptials. Should be an awesome time!

In the News: In the Market for a Timeshare? Now’s the Time to Buy

Check out this video from MSN Money about why now is the best time to snatch up some prime timeshare properties (One man was even forced to give his away. As in for free. I’ll take a free timeshare in Hilton Head, thank you very much!)

The one point that the video makes is that while yes, there are fabulous deals to be had right now, don’t forget the added monthly costs that come along with owning a timeshare. They can really add up—and that’s why some of these people are being forced to sell their properties for rock bottom prices.

Bis bald friends! Hope you had a fabulous Memorial Day!

 

Cabo San Lucas and Grand Solmar

Welcome to Grand Solmar (still under construction!)

So as you may or may not remember, I was invited a while back to attend a press trip in Cabo San Lucas for the grand opening of the new luxury Grand Solmar Resort & Spa. Having never been on a press trip before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Turns out I should have expected a pretty amazing time—because that’s exactly what we had. On top of the awesome hotel, the breathtaking views, the flowing drinks, and the tasty food, we also had a few days-worth of really fun off-site adventures, and the other people on the press trip were totally sweet and fun, as well.

Our Delta flight had us flying out of JFK at 6:20 a.m. on Thursday, which is obviously super early, but at least that meant that we would arrive by 12:30 Cabo San Lucas time, so that was the good part about it.

And here’s the thing about Grand Solmar—when they say luxury, they really mean luxury. Grand Solmar is not a hotel where I could ever afford to stay in the future (unless of course I become a wildly successful travel writer some day :) ), which means it was that much nicer to stay there this past weekend, and Steph and I could appreciate it so much more. The views were beautiful, and the rooms were spotless (complete with comfy robes, turn down service, and tasty treats left every night), with huge porches overlooking the ocean. As this was not an all-inclusive, meals and drinks were a bit pricey (I bought two bottles of Fiji water for almost $20, people. $20). But everything that was included by the press company—dinner at restaurant/tequila bar Hacienda El Coyote (which, by the way, is owned by the same family who owns Grand Solmar) in the town on Thursday night, the outback camel safari with Cabo Adventures including lunch and tequila tasting, appetizers and drinks on Friday night, swimming with the dolphins and a fancy, ocean side dinner on Saturday night, were all amazing. The food was quite tasty—and this time, no revenge (knock on wood!).

Our balcony

The beach—only a few feet from our hotel

The outdoor lobby area

Gotta love a pool bar! (and 2-for-1 Happy Hour!)

I've had some decent Mexican food in NYC, but no one does Mexican food like this here

So on Friday morning, Steph and I set out on our camel and safari ride with the group. We took a huge open-air truck through the jungle and hiked up along the mountains. Then we headed to the beach where we literally rode camels, and then it was off to a tortilla making class, a great lunch, and a tequila lesson (the best tequila will have bubbles that last for at least 30 seconds when you shake it. And also, there is a certain type of tequila that people take a shot of and then follow with a cooked cricket chaser. Yes, really. A cricket cooked with salt, pepper, and garlic. I abstained from experiencing cricket on my little Mexico adventure).

Camel riding in Cabo

Our fabulous camel—Slim. Thanks for the ride, Slim!

Our journey started here, in this Mercedes 4-wheel Jeep

Our desert trek brought us along some pretty high hills

Our tour guide explaining how they make corn tortillas in Mexico

Our delicious, homemade Mexican lunch on the safari

Tequila and crickets. No thanks!

Fancied up for appetizers and drinks by the ocean

Saturday we headed back over to Cabo Adventures for our session to swim with the dolphins. If you know anything about me, friends, you’ll know that I’m an animal lover. I wanted to be a veterinarian for a long time, have always volunteered with animals, and am a vegetarian. So heading into this little adventure, I was a bit apprehensive, to say the least. But still, it was something I’ve always wanted to try, and why not try it when it’s free, right? Who can blame me?

Unfortunately our little session only proved me right in terms of feeling apprehensive. Don’t get me wrong—the actual rides with the dolphins (which included a “belly” ride where you hold on to their fins as they swim upside down and a “dorsal fin” ride where you ride on top), and the kisses and the “dancing” you do with them, all of that was super fun. Dolphins are cute. And friendly. And apparently very patient.

Except for that Saturday. These dolphins seemed to have about had enough. It all started when the first dolphin that Steph was supposed to ride with absolutely refused to come over and be a part of our little show. He wasn’t feeling it. Maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend that morning—who knows. Then, a girl in the group next to us had her foot cut on the tooth of a dolphin who came up behind the one she was riding and she accidentally kicked into his mouth.

That was the first time we were ordered out of the water.

The second time we were ordered out of the water was when the same girl (poor girl!) and her friend were taking their photo with the dolphin. Another dolphin came up behind the one they were taking photos with and tried to start playing with him. Both dolphins got antsy and jumpy, the girls got knocked in the head, and we were yet again ordered out of the water, this time so they could “let the dolphins be dolphins for a while,” meaning let them swim around crazily and play and not perform.

This is where the dolphins live. Would you like living here if you were an over 600-lb wild animal?

All in all, a bit of a sobering experience. I say—let the dolphins, free people! It’s not that important to take photos with them, and they clearly aren’t all that happy being held in captivity. Just let the dolphins go!

After our morning with the antsy dolphins, Steph and I headed out to the marina where we found a restaurant on the water that had $1.50 fish tacos with a fixin’s bar that allowed you to throw on all the guacamole, salsa, cole slaw, and other goodies that you could ever want. Delish.

Fish tacos. Yum!

On our final night we attended a ribbon cutting in honor of the naming of their new check-in bar area—Infinity (a Grand Solmar Facebook fan had won the contest to name the bar, along with an all-expense paid trip to the hotel that same weekend. Oh the wonders of Facebook), then we all headed to the ocean-front dinner, complete with live music and “casual elegance” attire. We had five courses, along with different wines for each course and a tequila liquor to finish it off.

Cabo, my friends, is everything everyone says that it is, and I can certainly see why celebs love the place. The only sad thing, if it can be called that, is the fact that it’s hard to find a spot in Cabo where you can actually go in the ocean. The waves are monstrous—I mean really, monstrous. Much larger than anything I have seen in Hawaii or Australia.

Still, I plan to go back some time friends, and I would highly recommend a trip there for anyone who loves the sun, appreciates fabulous Mexican food, and enjoys tequila.

Bis bald, my friends!

From the Archives: The Road Trips Of My Childhood

On the Huffington Post today, Millie Kerr faces her impending 30th birthday with a look back on her travels over the years—and specifically on what she calls the “never-ending road trips” that she and her family would take.

Millie’s own memories got me feeling a bit nostalgic, as well as a bit sad.

When I think back to all the “never-ending road trips” that I took with my own family, I can’t help but wonder how the rise in gas prices may be depriving Americans of something they might not even have considered—the epic, memorable family road trip. While the majority of my “adult” traveling life has been engineered by boats and planes, my childhood was peppered with family road trips that included little more than the four or five of us (depending on which family it was), the car, some good books and toys and music, and the open road. We never headed too far—Boston, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and the Jersey Shore were all favorite haunts of ours. But it wasn’t even so much the destination (although don’t get me wrong, those were amazing as well) as it was the journey and the shared experiences that kept us packing it in the car for more every year.
There is something to be said about waking up at the crack of dawn and piling your bags by the trunk of the car in the driveway so that your dad or step-dad could systematically load them in, or sleeping under one blanket with your sisters as your dad or stepdad continues the drive through the night.
There is something to be said about sitting, elbow to elbow, with your sisters in the back seat of the Dodge Caravan or Subaru Outback, verbally sparring for more room, but secretly not minding too much.
There is something to be said about the miles we traveled while writing stories to ourselves in our notebooks, belting out lyrics of songs we listened to over and over again in our Walkmans, and then our Discmans, or looking out the window at the countryside rolling by.
There is something to be said about the pit stops along the way, the fast food you ate that never quite tasted the same when you weren’t on an epic family road trip, or the snacks that your mom and stepmom packed for you for the hours-long ride.
When I think about my future and having kids of my own some day, I’m saddened to wonder if I will be able to afford giving them the same kind of memories. How much money would an epic road trip like the kind we used to take cost now that gas prices are topping out over $4? What will the vacations of my children’s futures look like?
I’m saddened to think I might not be able to give them everything my parents gave me on those bumpy, windy journeys we took years ago—with the windows down and the wind blowing in our faces.
I think they gave us more than they may even know….

Check Out a Traveling Pro’s Tips

The Wall Street Journal offers a glimpse into the incredible traveling tips of Alice Shin, the advertising copywriter from Miami who beat out 600 applicants to become the launch blogger for Pei Wei Blog Asia. For the job, Shin had to blog while on a three-week, all-expense-paid trip to eight cities in Asia.

Check out her helpful tips and steal some for your own.

Get Your Miles to Work for You?

As you all already know, I’ve jumped off the frequent flier miles bandwagon. At least I’ve jumped off the bandwagon I was currently hitched to—who’s to say if I’ll jump on another should the occasion arise?

There is, however, a compelling argument to actually use them in today’s NY Times frugal traveler. Take a peak for some sage advice.

Bis bald, friends! I’m off tonight to an informational session for Projects Abroad volunteer work. I will report back forthwith.