Thursday, December 7, 2017

If You Don't Have Much Time to Enjoy Christmas...Try This!

There are a million opportunities to do things at Christmas.  Sometimes it can be difficult to fit things in with all the shopping and the working to pay for it.  Face it, most of us spend most of our time preparing for Christmas and not enjoying the season nearly enough.  So, in the spirit of all of us Americans trying to make it all fit in a multi tasking over worked under rested not enough family time style of world;  I had an idea.

My idea is to just get out and look at the lights.  Six Flags joined the party this year and are having holiday lights at most of their parks.  It doesn't matter if it's warm or cold, the parks are open on the weekend evenings for your entertainment.  There are also many other amusement and theme parks around the country that do this nowadays.  Lake Compounce in Bristol, CT is the one that me and my family visit every year.  It doesn't matter how young or old you are, it really helps lift those Christmas spirits.

Nothing beats that trip to New York City to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, see the Rockettes and peruse the shops in Bryant Park, but if you don't have time to spend the day doing that then hop in the car and just take a drive through Dyker Heights in Brooklyn.  They are known far and wide for their neighborhood light displays.  And that's the trend that most intrigues me.  The drive through light show.

There are drive through and walk through light displays all over the country these days.  We've always had Hubbard Park in Meriden here in Connecticut, but now we have Holiday Lights Fantasia in Hartford as well.  The drive through or walk through light displays that you find all over these days is something that you can fit into your schedule.  You can spend an evening or even an hour or less getting your Christmas spirit on.  For the events that charge admission, you will be doing something nice too.  Most drive through and walk through programs are to raise money for a charity.  So, you can fit it into your busy schedule and help raise money for some worthy causes.

There's something in your area, no matter where you are.  Branson, Missouri is literally covered in lights.  Disney goes crazy in both Florida and California.  In Arizona, they have a decorated tumbleweed tree.  Alaska has North Pole and Santa's home and in Santa Claus, Indiana the whole town is done up.  Frankenmuth, Michigan has Bavarian Christmas and the world's largest Christmas store with Bronner's.  Georgia lights up Lookout and Stone Mountains.  In Kentucky you can drive through an underground Christmas display in Louisville.  There are thousands of places that you can take a little time and either drive through or walk through some amazing displays.

Drive through it, under it, or by it.  Whatever it takes, do not let this season slip by without taking at least some time to enjoy it.  Time is precious.  Don't waste it.  By the time you realize that you've wasted time, it could be too late to make up for it.  Gather the kids, even if they're teenagers, grab your phone and look up a local activity.  Why stand in line to see Santa?  There are so many other ways to get your holiday spirit up this time of year.  Whether you spend it in Lincoln Park in Chicago, Bryant Park in New York, or in downtown Glendale, Arizona; take time to enjoy the season for just a little while.

Life is something to be enjoyed.  Family and friends are the people that we should be enjoying it with.  All work and no play makes Nina a dull girl.  Whatever the reason, Christmas only comes but once a year.  Get out and enjoy!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sorry for My Absence

Although my sense of humor has not changed or been diminished, I must say that there have been many reasons for my absence from my blog.  Over the years, I have not enlisted people to write on my blog.  It has been a personal journey that I have shared with the places that I have been, places that I want to go, and places that I could only hope to see.  I have been thrilled that so many people have joined my journey and hope that people continue to enjoy my musings.

That being said, I have recently become a victim of the insurance problems that we are experiencing in the United States.  I have been ill this year with breast cancer, kidney stones, potential uterine and ovarian cancer, viruses, breathing problems, and bad wisdom teeth.  I also have seen a number of friends and relatives pass this year and it has been a little rough.  I did publish a book that you can find on Amazon, Smashwords and Inkitt called The Ring of the Queen; an odyssey about a young girl who travels to Russia to find out that she is in fact legally a Tsar.  Good read and in many places free.

But I digress.  Because of my health, I missed a lot of work.  Insurance decided that I didn't deserve my short term disability, so I had no income for weeks during surgery recovery.  I also had to pay most of my paycheck for insurance coverage that didn't even cover prescriptions.  Since that time, I have not gone further than two hours from my home and have only gone away for more than a day one time.  That time it was a single overnight that I had promised my son.  I have started working an extra job to pay the doctors and insurance premiums as well as for my prescriptions.  This takes up roughly 60 hours of my week and can be any hours of the day or night, weekend or holiday.  This is where I have been.  My only solace has been a kayak that I purchased before all of this started.  My only wind down, get away, leisure time has been using the local lakes and paddling for an hour or so; most generally between jobs.

What is my point?  Well, I wanted to explain my absence.  I also want to say that someone needs to fix this situation with the insurance.  I've worked all my life.  I put myself through college.  I've never been on unemployment, food stamps, assistance, or welfare.  If anyone  out there is listening, bug your congressmen.  Why should all of the considerable money that my family makes go to insurance and bills that it doesn't cover?  Why is it a crime in this country to get sick?  I've asked my congressmen.  They didn't answer.  I hope that some of you have better luck.  I don't call blaming the other party a valid reason either.

So, with a heavy heart I must tell you that I don't know how often I will have the opportunity to write this blog.  I will write when I can and I hope that you all continue to read.  I will not give up, because insurance and the government are trying to break me.  I'm tougher than anyone in office or in an office.  To these entities I say bite me, and I will come out on top.  I am the person that anyone with control issues should fear, because I cannot be controlled by my government.  I hope that  my readers continue to travel.  I hope that you all take the time to share some tips with me for my future travels.  In the meantime, I will be here; waiting for my next chance to travel.  I hope that your chance comes sooner than mine.  I hope that you all get a chance to see the world and enjoy!

Remembering Prague and The Area

It seems like a million years ago when I went to Prague.  It was Czechoslovakia at the time.  It was 1991, and they had just had their Velvet Revolution and become a sovereign land.  They were experiencing life without Communism and a whole new world at their fingertips.  It was a magical time.  I reflect on it now, because lately the area has been showcased in television travel programs and I've been feeling nostalgic.  So many things have changed and continue to change.  So many things are just as I remember them.

Prague has always been famous for it's castle and the surrounding area.  The government still works out of the castle area.  I remember touring it in 1991 and that was not the case yet.  The castle was all but vacant when I was there.  We got to see all of it and the views that it affords of the Vltava River below.  The cathedral is amazing and the whole neighborhood is magical and ancient.  The changing of the guards still happens today and the gates remain the same.  The workings inside have changed to accommodate the modern government, but the view is the same.  As a tourist, I appreciate that.

Prague has always been a mix of themes.  In the old days there was an old town and only a slightly newer New Town.  Today you can see the old world of Kafka and his home in Prague and the new look of the buildings that were designed post Communism as they sit right next to classic old buildings of Prague.  There is nothing about Prague that isn't unique.  Everything about this city says Prague.  You never forget where you are.

Prague has more than one impressive open area for people, tourist and local alike.  The old town square is the most noted most of the time.  The astrnomical clock has been around for hundreds of years and crowds still gather in front of it today.  It's still a marvel and it is wonderfully beautiful.  The trip up the tower to see the views of the city is well worth the climb as well.  I've been around, and I can say without a doubt that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen.

Any time you look at St. Wenceslaus Square it is beautiful.  There have been revolutions there.  People have lighted themselves on fire there.  When I was there, the new government was forming in offices there.  There were also a ton of wine, cheese, chocolate and flower shops there.  It was the center of change and romance.  The views from the Charles Bridge are amazing.  The trip to Prague is worth it just to see the castle at night from the bridge.  Not joking.  You will see these views in your dreams.  Prague is a magical city.

We never forget that Prague and Czechoslovakia were part of the Holocaust.  The Jewish Quarter as it is known in Prague goes back many centuries.  During WWII and the Holocaust so many thousands were lost that I don't have that number.  Today, as in many other parts of Europe, they are exercising the motto of "We Forgive but we never Forget".  They have museums, monuments and a research center in the quarter and they should not be missed.  There are also amazing cemeteries, temples and other sights for your education.

While the view is amazing, the ambience is one of a kind and the worlds of old and new alongside one another always impresses; let's not forget the food and certainly not the beer.  When I was in Prague we tried out some restaurants and we were made to feel more welcome than I had ever felt in a restaurant in my life.  I felt as though I was dining at someone's home.  They gave us samples of the specials to choose our dishes from.  They were attentive and talked to us.  They told us about their lives and asked us about ours.  I don't know if this is still the same, but it was one of the best parts of my experience in Prague.

I traveled this area with the most amazing group of students I've ever met.  We went to one of the oldest pubs in Europe and had a great night with great food, great polka music, and fabulous Czech Beer.  This country is famous for the beer and we had a wonderful time, followed by a walk across the Charles Bridge with the view of the castle at night.  We didn't care that it was January.  We didn't care that the United States was going to attack Iraq in a couple of days with the first Gulf War and leave us stranded in Europe because all the airports closed.  We enjoyed our time and lived in the moment.  It all worked out and we made it home okay.  I miss those people that I traveled with.  We lost touch as happens many times.  But, I will always have the memories of getting lost in Prague and having the opportunity to experience one of the most extraordinary cities in all of Europe.  So, if you get the chance to visit this amazing city; don't pass.  If you do, you will be missing something positively memorable.  So, to the lost in Prague group; I remember all the time.  I will never forget.  I will always reminisce and I hope that you all have continued to travel as I have.  I hope that you see the world and enjoy.|NB|YG|4176700.AD.AM.01.01|&keyword_id=kwd-302619465679:aud-50351536|dc|czech+republic|33348771170|e|5046:105|&s_kwcid=AL!5046!105!33348771170!s!302619465679&ef_id=VZGaZgAABO8txtkY:20171109164009:s

Thursday, September 7, 2017

This Year's Tips For New York City!

Every year, at least once, I go to New York City.  I've been all over and I've seen and done a lot of things in the city.  Each time I go, I try to find something new and fascinating.  At the same time, I tend to find some things that I advise people to skip.  As is usual, if I'm flashing one of these skyline pictures; you know it's time for my latest thoughts on the city.  Here goes.

The first thing that I'm going to do is give some advice on information.  I'm a writer, which means I'm still a book reader.
 This is a book called The New York Nobody Knows (Walking 6,000 Miles in the City) by William B. Helmreich.
This book will tell you more than what is where.  It tells you about neighborhoods, their history, their people.  It tells you about the people who live there, where they came from, and how they live and why.  It tells you in many ways how the city works.  It's a great piece of information that will allow you to not only visit the city, but to understand it.  It's a great book.
This is a subway map.  Don't visit the city without it.  If you do arrive and don't have one, stop at a news stand or in Grand Central Station and buy one.  It's worth the few dollars.  If there's one thing I can tell you about the city, it's not to drive in it.  I don't care if you are silly enough to drive to the city, but park your car and hit the subway.  It's the best way to get around.  Taxi's are everywhere, but you need to learn to find your way in a city like New York.  Taxis will cost you so much over time that it really digs in to the  money that you brought along to have fun on your trip.
This is the site that tells you all about the transportation in New York.  If you live anywhere near the city, take the train.  It's the bang for your buck and it takes you straight to Grand Central Station and the subways.  Getting around is the first thing that you should learn when traveling to a new city.
This is something that I tried on this trip.  It's the New York Water Taxi.  They have a waterside tour of South Manhattan that stops at various sites from DUMBO in Brooklyn to the Intrepid on the Hudson and many places in between.  Now, I've seen all that stuff, so my son and I took the IKEA Shuttle to Brooklyn to spend a little time in Red Hook and do a little shopping as well. It's a great bang for your buck to get away from other city tours that are less interesting, and some of the boats are discounted or free on the weekends.

There's nothing like a boat ride around New York Harbor, the rivers and the area.  We took the IKEA Shuttle to Brooklyn and spent some time in the neighborhood of Red Hook.  Now, you may wonder what the attraction is.  Well, a few years ago, the food trucks that sold South American food by the soccer fields which sprawl all over western Red Hook became a very big deal when the foodies that did travel shows on television all came to visit and try the local cuisine.  What happened was that it started a food truck revolution which now has us all going to festivals just to eat at food trucks all over the country.  What happened in Red Hook has been very different, however.

There are still some food trucks at the ball fields in Red Hook, and the food is still very good.  There are still tour groups stopping by, but they seem to be struggling.  Several of the ball fields have been closed due to lead being discovered in the soil.  It looks very different than it did a few years ago.  There are still ball fields being used.  There is still South American food that is excellent being served at the food trucks.  Here's a plea to travelers everywhere.  Visit this area.  Enjoy the people there.  Have a little gastronomic adventure.  I would like to see this area flourish again.  It's a great area with great people.  Don't miss out on this.

I've said it many times.  Tourists go to tourist sites.  Travelers go and see places.  Travelers meet people.  Travelers travel.  New York is one of the most creative places on Earth, and what IKEA has brought to Red Hook is amazing.  They've brought a new way to get to Red Hook in the shuttle that the Water Taxi runs.  They've brought jobs, business and a great place to shop to the area.  Another thing that they've done is to make a waterside park in the area that everyone can enjoy.  It's one of a kind and fascinating.  They've taken some old cranes from the shipping docks and turned them into decoration for the park and the pier that goes with it.  There's a beauty to the industrial area that we completely enjoyed.  Me and my camera had a field day.  And have you ever wondered what the Statue of Liberty and One WTC look like from a different perspective?  You can see them both from here and they look just a tad bit different from the working local's point of view.  This was one of my favorite parts of my latest trip and do I recommend that you take a local shuttle to check out an industrial working neighborhood?  I sure do.  This was a great experience and everyone should try it.  If you need a sofa bed or some book shelves, it will take care of that too.  My only advice is that when you show up at Pier 11 in Manhattan to take the free weekend shuttle, make sure you are not in a hurry.  This is an extremely popular trip and you probably will not get on the first boat when you arrive if you do this in summer.

There are two things that I always recommend and they can both be done in the same area.  The financial district is on the southern tip of Manhattan.  It's home to One WTC and all the 911 things, including O'Hara's Irish Pub which I always recommend.  It's home to the New York Stock Exchange, and Federal Hall.  It's also home to the original Tiffany's and one of the Trump Buildings.  I stay in this district when I visit for overnights on the weekends.  The hotels in the area are cheaper here on the weekends because all of the financial people are done until Monday.  It is a great pedestrian area and the subways are easy to find.  It's also only blocks from the waterfront, and home to some of the most historic places in the city.  The food and drink at O'Hara's is good too.   So, one thing that I always do is visit a church and this last time it was Trinity Church.  That's right, the one from the movie National Treasure.  It's a beautiful old church with a lot of history and many things to see.  Just remember that it is polite to leave a donation when you visit, seeing as they are opening the doors of their church to strangers as a tourist attraction.  Also, I don't recommend that you try and visit on Sunday's.  It's the day that they church is in use for it's intended purpose and I think that's just rude.  The other thing that should not be missed if you are staying the night in the city is the sunset on the waterfront.  Anywhere from Pier 11 west is a great place to spend the sunset hour.  You can see the folks across the way in DUMBO's waterfront park watching as well, because that is also a great spot.  When the water sparkles and the buildings glow gold, it's a wonderful sight.  When it's through, then it's time for dinner in the city.

I like to take first timers like my son to Little Italy for the evening when I take them overnight to the city.  It's a little bit cliche, but it's always a good time.  One of my favorite places to eat is Casa Bella.  This place has great food, good prices, a great location to eat outside in the summer, and the people who work there are a lot of fun.  It's my bang for your buck, good time recommendation for the area.  Now, as far as desert goes, have the cappuccino to stay awake for the evening, but hit one of the gelato stands for desert.  The carts and stands have the best stuff for the best price and I love talking to the vendors.  Make sure you hit Chinatown for some shopping while you're there and the shops in Little Italy as well.  Chinatown surrounds Little Italy, so it's all the same area, and you tend to catch the subway in Chinatown anyway.

I've said for many years that I love the idea of wandering around and looking at street art.  Ron English is back and this time he has hit Little Italy.  Baby Hulk is one of my favorite mural subjects.  A few years back, Ron English painted a massive mural of Baby Hulk along the Bowery.  I was happy to see that Baby Hulk is alive and well in another Ron English painting in Little Italy.  Now, as far as street art tours go, you can meet up with some guides and pay $20 to $30 dollars and get to see the works.  You can also do that in Williamstown in Brooklyn. Or, you can go somewhere like Astor Place, get off the subway and just start walking around the Bowery and the East Village.  You will see street art, and you will enjoy the walk.  The area is also known for kitchy shops and great restaurants with all kinds of international flair.  I even found a Zoltar machine.  I also found Beetlehouse, the Tim Burton themed restaurant.  It's on 6th Street for anyone who wondered.

On the Bowery I found the International Center of Photography.  They have a museum there and Magnum Manifesto was the exhibit on display when we randomly stopped by.  I obviously love photography and found the displays of internationally renowned photos from around the world fascinating.  It was worth the fee of $14 and I would definitely stop in again.

What is John Varvatos?  It's a store at 315 Bowery.  This is what I love about New York the most.  My son told me he wanted to go here.  I thought he was nuts.

John Varvatos used to be CBGB.  This was one of the premiere spots for punk rock, of which my son is a huge fan.  The great thing about this store is that it is a living museum to the old club.  There are playbills all over the walls and all kinds of crazy pictures from back in the day.  They even kept the stage and the bar areas in tact.  It's fascinating, and the store owners certainly don't mind if you come in and take a boatload of pictures and look all around the store.  It's a living landmark.  I was amazed at all the things I saw in there.  It was also a very good time and a great stop while on a street art walking tour.

So, the next time you visit New York City, try something new.  See things from a different perspective.  Meet people.  Learn while you see.  It's a great adventure and one that I enjoy at least once every year.  Most of the time I like to go twice.

Now, as promised I have some advice on things to look out for.  Watch out for subway closings on the weekend that are not included on the website.  The subway that I normally take to my hotel was listed as working on the website and was closed for the weekend when we got there. That is one more reason to carry the map.  You may need an alternative fast.  Another thing that I highly recommend is making sure that if you take a single overnight into the city, you pick your hotel carefully.  Make sure that you pick a hotel in a relatively quiet location.  That's why I stay in the financial district.  Also make sure that your hotel has good amenities, and I don't mean the food.  My hotel provides water bottles and purified water in each floor's hallway so that you don't have to worry about having water to take out with you.  They also hold your bags while you are out running around the city so you don't have to carry them or pay extra before check in or after check out at the hotel.  Make sure that there are conveniences around you.  There's a grocery, deli and about a thousand coffee places right next to the hotel that I stay at.  There is also an indoor area where you can hang out and enjoy your coffee in bad weather.  The subway is right on the corner from my hotel so that arrival and departure are easy even in bad weather.  This is all very important when staying in a city like New York.  Check before you book.

If you shop for a particular item in the city; jewelry, lighting, furniture, etc.; make sure that you do it in an area that is full of such shops.  Clothing, hit the garment district.  Jewelry has a district.  Lighting and furniture  hit the Bowery.  Once again, check it out before you go.  Only suckers shop the expensive stores in midtown and uptown Manhattan.

Look for the bargains.  The ferry to Governor's Island is free on the weekends.  So is the shuttle to IKEA and Brooklyn.  CityBike is a great value unless you are riding through Central Park at which point rent a bike from the park crew at the gate on Columbus Circle.  CityBike has time restraints that can cost you a lot of money if you have the bike too long.  They also don't come with any kind of a lock so that you can park the bike and investigate the park.  Metrocards are the way to travel.  They transfer to some buses, the Roosevelt Island Tram and some other things.  Check out the prices though.  Even if you are staying a short time, you may want to buy the week pass for unlimited use.  Do the math and make the right decision.

By all means, don't think that you have to visit the Statue of Liberty, go up the Empire State Building and see a Broadway show just because you are going to New York.  Some of the best things in the city are hidden gems.  Bus tours are good, but can be expensive.  Look for the bargains.  Remember, New York is a touristy town and there are a lot of people there looking to make a buck off you when you visit.  I provide good advice to travelers for this city all the time.  Save money.  Spend it on the food

All that being said, remember never to go to Union Square the weekend before school starts at NYU and never ever get caught up in the political protests that continually go on there.  However, some of the best book stores in the city are there, such as a four story Barnes and Noble and The Strand; and some really good restaurants.  Choose your time wisely when you go there.

So, plan a great trip to New York.  Get a hold of me on any of my sites if you would like some advice on great off beat things to see and do in New York.  Take some time to visit one of the greatest cities in the world and enjoy!