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Archive for the ‘TRAVEL’ Category

It’s been a while readers. But I come bearing a few great tips for your next trip to NOLA or New Orleans. I’m no native of New Orleans, but thanks to the insider tips supplied by my friend Caroline, a recent bachelorette trip to New Orleans was pretty awesome. New Orleans is really one of those cities that stays in your mind and heart for a long time after you leave.

Whether its the food, music, or general joyful feeling of the city and its people, I am a huge fan of you NOLA. For those seeking a respite from gloomy NYC, New Orleans really is the perfect weekend getaway. So here a few of my favorites, (props to Caroline:)

  • Wake up – head down to the Cathedral area of New Orleans along the Mississippi.  Watch the street performers and random bands. Definitely stand in line and get beignets at Cafe Du Monde (the historical cafe in the center of town), as well as the iced chickory coffee.
  • Wander over to Royal street for antique shopping and vintage clothes. If you’re in the mood head over to Bourbon on Sat afternoon before the crowds get out of control when the music is blaring and the crowd is just plain fun.
  • Get a reservation at Cochon before you go. It is quite possibly one of the best meals I’ve had in a while and it’s not yuppie or expensive, it’s just damn good New Orleans food. Vegetarians – try the sides and let the chef know you’re vegetarian. The chef will prepare whatever comes to mind for the vegetarians at the table.  On the day I went – it was vegetarian croquettes filled with spinach and cheese. On the day my husband went – it was unbelievable pappardelle with cauliflower and broccoli. Anyways dont take our word for it – Sam Sifton from the NYTIMES rated it as one of the best meals of 2010.
  • After a night of debauchery, head to Mothers for breakfast. No reservations, join the line for great pancakes, biscuits, blood marys and the works.
  • On your last night out on the town – head to Frenchmen’s Street for incredible jazz music. I’ve never been to a city that compares to NOLA in the variety of live music venues …and the best part is there is no cover. I can only imagine what the city is like during jazz fest..
  • Check out Vaughan’s Lounge – for awesome live jazz in a dive bar in the middle of a random neighborhood.

ENJOY!!

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Hello Readers, it’s been a while! In this post I wanted to share some of the highlights of my Paris/Burgundy trip with you all.  My husband and I recently returned from Paris and a side trip to wine country in Burgundy (to be posted soon). September is an awesome time to visit Paris – the Parisians have returned from their summer vacations, the city is gorgeous, and the weather is crisp.

There are plenty of guidebooks and blogs with Parisian tips and itinerary planning. So I won’t go into detail about what you should do on your trip, but I will offer a few insider tips that I received courtesey of a work colleague who used to live in Paris.

  1. Buy a Museum Pass as soon as you get to Paris. There are Kiosks everywhere, we bought ours at the Notre Dame. It’s worth the value to get the 2 day pass and hit up the Louvre, Orsay and Versailles. You’ll definetly end up saving 20 bucks.
  2. Visit the Louvre. But don’t go in through the Pyramid with all the Tourists, use the “secret entrance” instead at theat the Porte des Lions, on the lower arm of the Museum as it reaches around the Tuileries. There is rarely a line there. This door is open every day except Friday. That entrance also takes you very quickly to the Mona Lisa (“La Jaconde”) without having to go through the whole museum. I love the Grande Galerie because it has Raphael, Leonardo, and Caravaggio.  Afterward sit outside on the lawn with all the cool other Parisians enjoying the day.
  3. Hit up Angelina’s for fortitude before or after the Louvre. It’s on the Rue de Rivoli, just opposite the Tuileries metro station and a block and a half to the west. Make sure you order the “chocolat chaud.” It’s world-famous and utterly divine. The pain au chocolat is to do die for…..
  4. Paris is one of the world’s easiest cities to bike in, there are bike lanes everywhere. Rent a bike or a Velib (the drop off – drop on bike system) and go for jaunt. We rode our bikes all the way up to Sacre-Coeur, which is a gorgeous cathedral known for its stain glass windows on top of a hill overlooking all of Paris. Renting a bike on certain days of a week can be tricky so plan ahead if you’re not using the Velib. The Velib can be hard to use for American tourists because it doesnt seem to accept US credit cards.
  5. Buy the Paris Metro Passes in 10 packs, it’ll save you a bundle.
  6. And lastly if you have time do go to the Opera. We bought our tickets last minute in the stand by lane for 10 euros each. It is an experience you won’t forget. If you are seating in the upper echelons, you will have your own chambers..

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Today’s post comes from two of my awesome friends (Arpan and Jill) who recently returned from Istanbul in Turkey.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Saturday
We didn’t manage to make it to the Asian side or make it to any clubs on our 4 day trip.  We were able to stay where you could eat breakfast on a rooftop terrace, hear the prayer calls, wander cobbled stone streets, walk to street side cafes, easily reach historical sites, and ride the tram to the more distant parts.  And if you still needed more, the staff of the Agora Guesthouse and Hostel would surely help you find what you’re looking for.
Reaching on a Saturday early evening, we walked through the old city and ate at Doy Doy. If you walk up five floors, you will be rewarded with a view of the Blue Mosque and really great kepaps and Turkish coffee.
Sunday
Our favorite site was the Basilica Cistern, or Yerebetan Sarayi, which is a nondescript and misleading structure at ground level a few hundred meters from the Aya Sofya.  Water was brought from more than 15 km away to this underground palace filled with columns for storage and distribution.
It’s no surprise that people sing their praises of the Aya Sofya, which was begun as a church, then became a mosque and is finally now a museum.  The Aya Sofya is truly stunning and well worth the visit. There aren’t many signs or information to read inside so best to bring a book with some history or hire a good guide. The Aya Sofya is closed on Monday.
An evening tram to  Beyoglu for some exploration by foot in a nice side trip. We wandered up and down the main drag, ate at Konak and ended the night with a drink at 360.  Amazing views, absurd prices, difficult to find.
Monday
Topkapi Palace. It’s a place for the detail oriented. While the palace buildings are beautiful and the views are fantastic, the best part are the relics and artifacts within the palace walls. One area contains some of the most sacred relics of the Muslim world including the cloak of prophet Muhammad along with his bow and two swords. In addition, you can see jewel encrusted daggers, and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.  Do take the audio tour.
Despite it being a tourist trap, Hamdi is worth a trip for lunch or dinner.  Around the corner, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are fun and easy.  Where else could you buy Turkish soccer club team jerseys, from an Albanian, who speaks Spanish?

Spices at the market

As the sun fell, we headed to Eminonu and took a 90-minute tourist ferry around the Bosphorus.  We ate right by the water afterwards.  A fish sandwich, desert and drink, all for a few liras.

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I’ve previously blogged and posted another tipster’s itinerary on the Dominican Republic. But I couldn’t resist adding my own thoughts after my own awesome trip to Punta Cana a few weekends back. As discussed before we booked our all-inclusive trip on Bookit.com during a 92 hour sale and got a steep discount on an all-inclusive package that included airfare, hotel, all meals and top shelf liquor! The Dominican Republic is a great place to go for a short weekend away from the city, it is only about 3.5 hours away on a direct flight and is probably one of the most convenient locations I have ever been to.

Where to stay:

Most of the resorts in Punta Cana are all-inclusive. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an all-inclusive resort because we generally like to be more independent on vacation. After this trip I am now a reformed traveler!  For a weekend trip, all-inclusive is the way to go if you want a stress free vacation. You can literally leave the U.S. with only a dollar in your pocket and return with that dollar (excluding tipping waiters and staff) if you want to.

We booked our package with the NH Royal Beach. Upon arriving at the NH Royal Beach we were escorted to the adults only part of the hotel. The hotel is completely new and you can tell! Each hotel room is funky and colorful, we had a gift plate of cut fresh tropical fruit waiting for us when we arrived, and a jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking the ocean and pool. Can you spell h-e-a-v-e-n? The NH Real Arena is the family oriented side of the resort, both sit next to each other on a beautiful strip of beach.

The NH Royal Beach also features an awesome lazy river and several restaurants on premise that are included in the plan, but more importantly it has great service. The drinks are super fun and yummy. We took advantage of the bar in the pool and swam up frequently to have the bartender make us coco locos (real coconuts with rum) or hard lemonades in pineapples. Not once did we hear a busy bartender complain about scraping out the tropical fruit to spoil us rotten. We had a great time chatting with our bartenders who were busily tapping their heels to the catchy music the hotel plays during the day.

While you’re at the NH Royal Beach, the activities people on staff will try to make your vacation all the more fun. We learned how to sail a catamaran during a 20 minute instructional and then went out on the catamaran for an hour by ourselves. All included in the fee of course! The resort also had a volleyball competition and a kayaking competition, which was more funny than competitive. We didn’t have time to take the introductory scuba diving lesson, but it is offered for all guests of the resort.

On top of it all, on our last night there, the hotel staff brought us a plate full of home-made chocolate truffles and a chocolate sculpture! What else can you ask for in a weekend beach getaway trip from the city?

What’s not to like?

For vegetarians the food is so so… But honestly the effort that the chefs and managers put into accommodating our vegetarian tastes more than made up for the sub par food. I find it hard to complain when people are so friendly!

Overall

4.5 stars for a relaxing, romantic and fun weekend from the city.

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It’s been a long time readers, but my memory of the NYTIMES Travel Show this past February is still fairly fresh.  Every year, the NYTIMES throws a travel industry trade show at the Jacob Javits Center. As a member of the press (!), I went to the show primarily to check out if there were any fresh ideas on travel experiences I should be looking at and to see whether my readers should be looking at anything in particular.

Here is my summary…

Is the Trade Show Interesting – yes if you are one of those people who are uncertain about what tour operators to go with and if you are looking to travel to new locations with the right operator. Think African Safari operators, cruises and other group travel.

General demographic – 50 to 60 years old, think wealthy people who are looking to book their next cruise to the Mediterranean.

Convenience factor – mildly convenient. American Express tables were set up so you could book your next trip onsite.

Inspired to Travel? There were some interesting ideas and operators there. But, there was also a lot that was lacking. I didn’t see any budget operators, except for Gap Travel, there weren’t any eco-friendly groups or volunteer based travel groups either. But, for honeymooners and those who want to splurge on luxury travel, there were a few interesting ideas that I hadn’t heard of before.

Follow the Leaders’ Top 3 Favorite Operators from the Travel Show

  1. Duvine Adventures
  2. Africa Adventures
  3. Alaska Tourism Board

Duvine Tours

Duvine is bike touring company that offers you a chance to bike, sip wine, sleep in chateau in France and bragging rights when you return from an incredible journey. The company appears to have bike tours in Europe, Eastern Europe, South America and South Africa. You book the trip, and your guide picks you and your group up from the destination point. The bikes and all other gear are arranged for. I was drooling over the thought of seeing the French countryside, especially Burgundy and Bordeaux, on a bike, eating cheese and drinking wine along the way, on top of sleeping in a 17th Century Chateau. Oh and I forgot to mention that the food they prepare for you is gourmet,  plus the tour guides I met at the NYTIMES travel show were super charming, friendly, and fun (unlike some of the snotty ones at the other tables). This trip is one of those once in a lifetime trips that you never look back on.

Africa Adventures

I’m not going to say I’m an expert on travel in Africa, but I did study abroad in South Africa when I was quite poor and a struggling student. A group of friends and I traveled most of South Africa, drove down the Rainbow Route, sipped wine in Stellenbosch, hiked the sand dunes of Namibia, swam with fish in Mozambique, and saw Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe all without a tour guide or travel operator, but simply through the help of a few travel books.

That said, looking back on it now, I could still travel like that, but it requires a lot more planning when you’re not already in the country. Last year, when my husband and I were looking for a reasonable and good African Adventure company to plan our honeymoon we weren’t sure who to turn to. At the NYTIMES travel show I was dismayed by many of the travel operators because they seemed to indicate that going on a safari was only for the rich and wealthy. The only operator with whom I had a great conversation with was Africa Adventures. The couple who run the company seem to have a ton of experience, have lived in Tanzania and throw really customized African safaris.

Alaska Tourism Board

Despite being from the state where Sarah Palin laid her claim to fame, the Alaska Tourism Board was one of the friendliest groups of people at the trade show. I went to Alaska once while in law school and I thought it was probably one of the most gorgeous places I’d ever been. The Alaska Tourism Board’s website seems to be a good starting point for those looking to plan a vacation there. For example, the board told me that most of Alaska remains remote and to this day people fly on small planes to reach areas that simply wouldn’t allow for car access. It is an adventure traveler’s paradise and I can’t wait to go back.

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It’s about that time of year when you’re calculating whether spring is really around the corner or whether we are going to have to suffer through some long rainy months. Usually on vacation I want an action packed trip, but after some long nights at work, the idea of sitting back with a mai tai on the beach sounds pretty good.

Last week, an alert went out to TravelZoo subscribers informing them about a  92 hour sale on Bookit.com I don’t generally act on these emails and have never really used TravelZoo, but Bookit.com had some amazing deals last week. We ended up booking an all-inclusive package to the Dominican Republic that went on sale last week. I’ll be blogging from Punta Cana on the first weekend of April. Check out some other quick getaways on the Times.

We booked a package for two, including airfare, all meals, and drinks at the NH Real in Punta Cana for less than what a ticket to Vegas would cost you about now. Be on the lookout for deals fellow readers...they do exist!

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Kauai Day 2

Day 2 Kauai – Napali Coast

On our 2nd day in Kauai, we decided to go sailing off the Kauai Napali coast with the Blue Dolphin company.  http://www.kauaiboats.com/

The Napali coast is off the Northwest side of Kauai.  It’s dramatic and ruggedly beautiful – and basically inaccessible to cars.  However, you can view the coast from a helicopter or a boat. We chose sailboat because the idea of being up in a helicopter for a half hour and paying an arm and leg wasn’t as appealing as a nice day out on a boat. Besides, when you go out on  the water with a charter company like Blue Dolphin you get beer and wine, lunch, interesting companions, and the added pleasure of seeing dolphins frolicking next to you boat.

After enjoying a great day sailing around Kauai, we spent the rest of the day swimming at other beaches in southern Kauai.

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