Gizmos and Goodies: Travel Wiser This Year

Travel_Wise

Ah, travel. The thought of upcoming trips can always bring a smile to my face. Chris and I have dubbed this our U.S. travel year, since by the end of 2015 we will have added Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Louisiana to our list of been-there states. (This is, of course, in no small part due to our partial cross-country drive out to Denver at the beginning of the year.)

In addition to that, we’ll be traveling to Japan in February of 2016 for Chris to complete his sixth and final race in the 6 World Marathon Majors.

Travel is, obviously, an important thing for us. And while I love collecting travel books, and I tend to keep most maps, tickets and other paraphernalia that we collect while we’re actually on these trips, I’d be lying if I said that technology wasn’t a huge help these days when it comes to traveling. So in honor of all you Weary Wanderers out there, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tech gizmos and goodies that make the road less traveled just a little bit easier.

Here goes nothing.

GasBuddy
I’ve had this app for a while now, but since Chris and I just moved to a place where we needed a car at the beginning of this year, I haven’t had a ton of chances to use it yet. Still, I’m excited to use the app when we hit the road for our Wyoming/Montana trip in September. Just type in your zip code on the website or hit the ‘Find Gas Near Me’ button on the app and let the magic of GasBuddy do the legwork to find the cheapest gas wherever you are.

onTime and MyTix
While I probably won’t have a ton of use for these two apps anymore, when I was a New York City dweller, I basically lived by them to get home to visit family. The free onTime app from Metro North Rail provides real-time updates on train departures and arrivals, along with track information, for any route you plunk into its database, while New Jersey Transit’s MyTix allows you to actually purchase, activate and use tickets directly through your smartphone (finally!).

Foursquare
Cool or creepy: Sometimes when I’m just walking around Denver, I’ll hear a little ‘ding’ from deep down in my purse, and I’ll pull out my phone to find that Foursquare is recommending a restaurant (or even a specific dish!) near where I’m standing. Okay, so maybe that’s a little creepy, but you actually don’t have to allow the location access on Foursquare to use it when you’re out and about to search for awesome restaurants, bars and shops near where you are.

Roadtrippers
Ah, road trips — the staple of American travel, am I right? As I mentioned before, Chris and I only recently needed a car in our lives, but I’ll tell you right now that pretty much nothing about having a car excited me, except for grocery shopping and, of course, road trips! So of course I love the idea behind Roadtrippers and plan to use it a ton for upcoming trips. Plan out an amazing road trip by inputting your start location/end location and start date/end date, and asking the app/site to provide you with information regarding hotels, attraction, natural wonders and/or weird stuff. For example, when I use the app to set me up with a route from Denver to Glacier National Park, I’m told the trip will cost about $157 in gas, should take about 16 hours total and covers approximately 916 miles. Set your destinations, then click the little location icon off to the bottom left of your screen and select what you’d like to find (accommodations/attractions & culture/camping & rv/entertainment & nightlife/food & drink/outdoors & recreation/etc.), and the app will automatically pull up the best options on your drive. For example, on the way out to Glacier National Park Chris and I might stop at Bighorn National Forest, Teapot Rock, Yellowstone Art Museum or the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, among many others.

PackPoint Packing List Travel Companion
If packing for a big trip stresses you out because you fear you may forget something super important, that’s where PackPoint can help. Download the app and start by picking if you’re a gal or guy. Then input where you’re going and when, then the number of nights you’ll be staying and the type of trip you’ll be having (business or leisure) and activities you plan to do (swimming, snow sports, working, camping, gym, photography, international, beach and baby are just a few of your options, and you can customize activities if you upgrade to the $2 app version, as well). Hit ‘repeat basics’ or ‘laundry’ if you’ll be able to do that on your trip, and the app will generate a suggested packing list for you. You can check off items as you pack and swipe to remove stuff you don’t need. For example, on my trip to Glacier National Park — where I plan to hike, take photos and do lots of walking — my packing list includes things like camera bag, memory cards, battery and my camera, as well as maybe a handheld GPS, water bottle, bug spray and sunscreen. I find the obvious reminders (things like chapstick, pain reliever pills, wallet, house key and reading glasses to be particularly helpful because, let’s be honest, if I’m going to forget something, it won’t be my camera!)

If you’re a person who prefers checking things off on an actual, tangible list, rather than an electronic one (which sometimes I am), try printing this super cute one (in black & white or color) from a pair & a spare. (Her 5,4,3,2,1 packing guide might be helpful, too!)

Bis bald, friends — and happy travels!

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).

Whiskey_Tasting

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!

Bar

Card_Playing

^^ 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.

Flag_Wall

Royal_PalmsFloor

Shuffle_Board2

^^ 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.

Lobster_Menu

Lobster_Roll

^^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! 

RedHook_Food_Truck

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

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Shuffle_Board3

Shuffle_Board4

Shuffle_Board5

Shuffleboard_Rules

^^ 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 …

We_Win
 ^^ 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

Iceland_Mountains

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!