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Archive for the ‘Weekend Trips from NYC’ 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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Many of my postings on this blog are about the beautiful Hudson Valley. Although I’m a Jersey girl at heart, during my senior year of college my parents moved up to the Catskills. My new adopted hometown is one of the most gorgeous areas in the Northeast, seriously. Instead of the beach, head up to Sleepy Hollow NY to visit Kykuit, the grand mansion or “house” built by John D. Rockefeller.

Highlights of the Property:

  • Guided tour with a knowledgeable guide. Your ticket, albeit expensive, includes the tour.
  • Gorgeous property and gardens- reminscent of The Great Gatsby and an era gone-by
  • The “playhouse” – aka where the Rockefellers still vacation is ridiculous
  • Tons of modern art scattered throughtout the property and in the gallery of the house – including Picassos.
  • The stable carriage featuring fancy carriages and the classic cars they drove, including the Model T

Views of the Hudson from the Estate

How to get here?

Take the MetroNorth train from Grand Central to Tarrytown or Sleepy Hollow. Cab to the visitor center. Purchase your ticket to the estate at the info center or if you’re going on a weekend, purchase ahead online because it does sell out.

Modern art on the estate

Modern art on the property

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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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On a cold March day we ventured out of our apartment and the confines of Manhattan to Flushing, NY for the “Indian” experience. Our goal was to hit up the Ganesha Hindu Temple in Flushing New York for some spiritual relief and great food, of course.

Based on my research, the closest Hindu temple to Manhattan is the temple in Flushing. It’s currently undergoing some renovations, but remains lovely. The entranceway to the temple is flanked with different figurines of Lord Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and allows for natural light to filter in. Once you enter the temple – there is a small shop to purchase offerings for the Gods that include coconuts and incense. I would have to say based on past experience in India, this is as close to the real thing as you’re going to get without buying a 1k dollar ticket to the real deal.

Once you finish paying your respects or watching the other Indian people move through their religious routines, hit up the Temple Canteen for some amazing South Indian food, including dosas, idilis and uttampum. Being the pigs that we are, we ate dai bhara (a yogurt battered dish with chutney) at the canteen, but then we walked around the corner of the temple to go to the Dosa Hut.

The Dosa Hut is a hole in the wall, no frills watering hole for Indians. Compared to the dosa in the city, this place gets a excellent rating. The cheese dosa and Special Rava Masala Dosa rate among the best. Pictures are attached, no drooling please!

For the price of $2.25 you can escape from the concrete jungle to Queens for a relatively close Indian experience involving Hindu Gods and food.

p.s. Visitors or non-hindus are allowed or even welcomed in the Temple, as long as you’re respectful.

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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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As winter descends on the city and snow blankets the ground, I wouldn’t mind escaping to a sunny beach where I can forget about the winter chill and have a mai tai. The following itinerary from my friend Elizabeth highlights how easy it is to escape from the city and find your inner beach diva. For more tips on the newest websites and blogs that compile travel data for savy travelers check back to my blog for my newest post.

72 Hours in the Dominican Republic
Friday morning
Fly JetBlue from JFK to Santo Domingo.

Friday afternoon
Arrive in Santo Domingo, buy $10 mandatory tourist pass, breeze through customs. A DR rum maker greeted us with free drinks on the other side, which many of us proceeded to consume while standing in line for rental cars. (The drinks were fairly light and it took about 45 minutes to get the car we reserved at Hertz. My traveling companion — and driver — abstained, leaving me with two…excellent).

We had reserved a compact car. In retrospect, this was insane. DO NOT attempt this trip without an SUV. Seriously. If you don’t mind getting poured on, and don’t have much luggage, a motorcycle, dirtbike or horse would all be more reasonable than a compact car.

Google maps had basically no roads other than major highways, and our host (Walter @ Rancho La Cueva) had provided only the following directions:

Hato Mayor – Seibo – Miches – El Cedro (24 kilometers in direction Higuey) – Playa Limon (500 meters after El Cedro you find the entrance to the beach Playa Limon – 4 kilometers to the Hotel La Cueva)

So, we paid the extra $30 or so for 3 days of GPS. Unfortunately, ours didn’t work – it seemed to think that no matter which way we were driving, it was always North. (While the egocentrist in me appreciated this, the traveler who did not want to be lost in dowtown Santo Domingo – the opposite direction from where we needed to go – did not. We also felt pretty silly having followed the GPS when we could see the ocean and ought to have known which way was which…).

We finally found our way out of Santo Domingo and back onto Highway 3 East along the south coast. We drove east along Highway 3 and then made a left onto Highway 4 in San Pedro de Macoris, parting ways with the pack of travelers bound for the resorts in the Southeast (Romana, Punta Cana, etc). We drove North along Highway 4 to Hato Mayor and then continued following it East to El Seibo. In El Seibo, locals pointed us to a detour to get to Highway 107 North to Miches (pronounced “Mee-chay”) because the usual entrance was blocked with piles of dirt.

This is when the road quality deteriorated severely, and it started getting dark. This is also where we stopped to ask for directions from a member of the Dominican military and ended up with him in our back seat. We dropped him off in a town halfway to Miches and continued on along an increasingly unfinished/potholed, winding mountain road. (We’d strongly advise making this drive in daylight. It’s quite scenic, and a lot easier to deal with the road quality).

We got to Miches in pitch darkness and again got out to ask locals for directions to El Cedro/Playa Limon. (There are extremely few street signs and, in any event, we didn’t have that level of specificity in our directions). We eventually got on our way to El Cedro and, shortly after passing El Cedro, found the entrance to the road to Rancho La Cueva (after a few turnarounds and chats with locals). The road to Rancho La Cueva is entirely unpaved and not of insignicant length.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot at Rancho La Cueva, a chorus of cheers went up from the small group of fellow travelers who were congregating in the dining area. They greeted us warmly in Spanish and we were promptly presented with more rum and, not long after that, freshly fried fish and accompaniments. Everyone was patient with our lack of Spanish skills and encouraged our halting attempts to participate in the conversation.

We had a few too many and went to bed (US$40 for a double room).

Saturday morning

We slept in Saturday morning, ate a quick breakfast (US$6 each for eggs, cheese, ham and toast) and then headed back to Mitches to get cash – about an hour and a half round trip (Rancho La Cueva takes DR dollars and US dollars but nothing else, and there is no closer ATM). (We took out DR$15,000 – approximately US$500 – and it was more than enough for the weekend).

We returned, walked to the beach (Playa Limon), where we didn’t see another soul. We returned to Rancho La Cueva for lunch and a nap. We had mafongo (traditional DR dish of smashed plaintains) and a chicken dish, both of which were fine but not as good as the fish the previous night.

Saturday afternoon

We came down as a group of nuns and a family with two small children returned from an ox-driven cart ride around the (large) property, and decided to join the remaining folks for a ride.

Afterwards, we had an excellent dinner of lobster and fish over more conversation with the other guests, followed by the delicious dulces postres (some sort of sweet coconut concoction – highly recommended if avaialable). We had a few Presidente beers and then turned in early.

Sunday morning

After another US$6 breakfast and coffee, we went horseback riding (US$10) along the beach. It was incredible. We asked to go a bit faster; we went up to a trot and it felt (to this inexperienced rider who hasn’t been on a horse since she was six) like we were flying. No helmets, no instructions.

Sunday mid-day

We settled up (US$250 all-in) and had difficulty figuring out what to do about a tip. We left a tip with a member of the staff, who didn’t seem to understand why we were leaving more money than the amount on the bill. At the airport later on, a restuarant menu noted a 10% ‘legal’ “propina”…

Sunday afternoon

We drove back the way we came, stopping on the highway from Miches at a restaurant (Oasis) that had been crowded both times we had driven by. We had very good chicken and what I think was goat (chivo/chiva?) for about US$5 each and Coca-Cola. The bathrooms were clean and stocked with green soap in a plastic cup.

We picked up yummy, fresh dulce de leche for DR$500.

Driving back on the way to San Pedro de Macoris, our tire blew out somewhere south of Hato Mayor after a particularly rough pothole. We pulled over and were immediately surrounded by locals wanting to assist. Although we had a spare tire and the relevant equipment, it was actually really helpful to have a crowd to alert other cars and bikes as they came flying by so they would steer around us a bit and not hit us while we were kneeling down around the tire. The women were eager to chat (in Spanish or French) and the men eager to help; the children seemed mostly curious to watch the entertainment. At the end, the two smallest boys did hang around a bit, and asked hopefully for money, but none of the adults did…all in all consistent with the interactions we had with the folks we talked to along the way.

We continued along our way, still a bit ahead of schedule despite the flat, and took a short detour through Boca Chica (which has history but has been eclipsed by the resorts farther east) before getting gas and returning our rental car at the airport. The GPS folks (conversing in Spanish only) gave us a customer service number to call to try (which we haven’t done yet); the Hertz folks were very professional in dealing (in English) with the tire.

We picked up cheap liquor and cigars at the duty-free shop but had less luck with cologne (a lot of the testers were empty; no tester strips out…). We had a couple of drinks at Mango, an unsurprisingly mediocre airport restaurant that reminded me a bit of the quality level in many of the places in Penn Station.

All in all, a good adventure if you want a bit more local flavor and are willing to sacrifice the ease of the resorts farther east to get it.

Sunday late night

Arrive at JFK; quick trip through customs and immigration and no wait for a cab back home to Jackson Heights.

Editor’s Note – for more info on planning your DR vacation check out this informative article from the NYTIMES at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/travel/25dominican.html?scp=2&sq=dominican%20republic&st=tcse and Travel Muse at http://www.travelmuse.com/plan/discover.htm?dpath=/tag/destination/DO/00-dominican-republic.xml&&dname=Dominican%20Republic, a newer travel site that lets you search the web for travel tips and save it to your own tripfolio.

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DSC03123

View of the Hudson

DSC03129DSC03128Catskills, New York

On a beautiful November Saturday we left early on a 9:50 MetroNorth Train to Cold Spring New York for a day of hiking in the Catskills. We knew that it may be the last chance to hike this fall without freezing and having to dress in multiple layers. Getting out of the city is always a luxury, but leaving on a train sitting next to a window that offers an opportunity to stare at the fall foliage and Hudson River as you ride up to the Catskills is a joy!

I’ve done several hikes in the Catskills now, but Mount Taurus was potentially one of the best hikes I’ve done in the Catskills region, and possibly DSC03170DSC03158DSC03169in America.

After taking the train from Grand Central to Cold Spring, which takes about 1 hr and 20 minutes, walk down to the town of Cold Spring and Main Street. From there hang a left on Fair Street and walk down the road until you hit the parking lot for Little Stony Point. From there we started hiking and took the 2.5 hour loop that is dazzling. Of course it took our group a little more than 2.5 hours because it was so beautiful everywhere we had to stop and take pictures, eat snacks, and commiserate about how out of shape we all were!

I recommend the white trail to the yellow trail. Once you’re on the yellow trail look for signs for the red trail and stay on it for a bit because you’ll pass ruins, old farmhouses, and little waterfalls. After you’re done with viewing the ruins, stay to the left and head back to the parking lot on the blue trail.

Highlights of the trail : Stunning Hudson valley vistas of the Hudson River, Mount Taurus, Breakneck Ridge and other mountains in the range. Challenging uphill hike but gradually levels off. It is certainly less technical than the Breakneck Ridge Hike which requires hikers to use all hands and feet to scramble over the rocks. I enjoyed this hike slightly more than Breakneck Ridge because of the views of the Hudson Valley. Plus it’s a bit longer.

For more info on how to get to Cold Spring and about the hike in general check out these links:

http://as0.mta.info/mnr/schedules/sched_form.cfm

http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=HGN205-002

See more photos of our trip here

http://picasaweb.google.com/followtheleaderblog/BlogHiking?feat=directlink

Also you can purchase the trail below at a great Kayaking adventure outfitter store on Main Street in Cold Spring, right before you make the turn onto Fair Street.

East Hudson Trail Map

East Hudson Trail Map

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