Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More New York, New York

After making a pitstop to refuel, it is time to hit the ground running. But with so many things to see and do, which way should you turn?

Want to shop? Head for 5th Avenue. Make sure to stop in at Tiffany's to see what a $750,000 engagement ring looks like. [Sparkle doesn't even begin to describe how it looks. Try and wrap your head around that much money sitting on someone's finger.]

Want to experience sensory overload? Go to Times Square and stare up at all the neon on the skyscrapers, while thousands of people pass around you. For a $10 you can even get your name and a message up on the neon sign outside M&M World.

Want some exercise? Go for a jog in Central Park, but watch where you are going because the horse drawn carriage rides are all over the place.

Want to be lazy? Grab a 24 hour ticket for the double decker tour bus that winds its way around Manhattan, featuring a tour guide explains the buildings (Empire State, Chrysler, etc.) and neighbourhoods (Greenwich Village, SoHo, etc.). The great thing about this option - especially if you don't have a lot of time - is that you get to see a lot of Manhattan in a relatively short period of time. You can hop on and hop off at each stop so if you want to explore, go for it. The next bus is only minutes away.

I did all these things, but started in the most unlikely place: St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Tucked in among the skyscrapers, the cathedral is a stunning example of gothic styling. Because my visit was so close to Christmas, there was a Christmas concert taking place, featuring several large choirs from the NYC area. This is a huge building but it was packed as a melting pot of cultures came together and sang in unison. For the final song, Silent Night, the lights were dimmed and everyone was presented with a white candle while the choir moved amongst the crowd. For a city that is all hustle and bustle, it was the most calming experience I have ever been a part of.

Then the doors were opened, the pipe organ pounded away and we headed out onto 5th Ave. to join the thousands of shoppers, while a member of the Salvation Army rang his bells and sang out hoping to get people to stop and make a donation at the street corner.

For everything that New York has to offer, listening to Christmas carols in St. Patrick's Cathedral was easily the highlight of my trip and one of my top three travel memories, ever.

New York, New York

Check out my blog links...JetBlue is offering $29 seat sales! I wish that they flew into Winnipeg so I could take advantage of that sale.

JetBlue is based out of JFK airport in NYC, which got me thinking about what a great city New York is. I visited 10 days before Christmas 2006 and although it was a short trip, it was jam packed and a perfect way to experience the city.

If you go - and I highly recommend that you do - stay in downtown Manhattan. Hint...want to feel like a rockstar and get rockstar treatment? Stay at the W Hotel in Times Square.


Not quite up for the rockstar bill? Try www.hotwire.com for deals or try www.expedia.ca where you can put together flight and hotel packages. I stayed at the Sheraton Mid-Town, which is a few blocks from Central Park, Times Square, and 5th Avenue shopping among other things.

So once you have a place to stay, grab those walking shoes you brought along and hit the pavement to start exploring. Hungry? Stop in at a deli for a sandwich and your first authentic taste of New York.

More to come...

Settled inBring some good walking shoes and

Sunday, September 20, 2009

So as mentioned in the last post I wanted to write more about my experience in Iceland during the summer of 2008. Iceland certainly made an impression on me because here I am, over a year later, reflecting back on what I did see and still wishing I had even more time to experience the country all over again. Most likely this will take several posts so I hope you keep coming back as I blog about the adventure.

If you are even remotely intrigued by the idea of visiting the country, consider travelling athere nd you won't be disappointed. It is paradise for adventure tourism (hiking on glaciers or underneath waterfalls are but two examples) and a mecca for those who want to experience firsthand the general awesomness of geothermal activity that Iceland is famous for.

But just in case you are having trouble situating the country in terms of where it is, here goes.

Iceland is located in the north Atlantic, roughly halfway between North America and Europe. [If you have ever crossed the Atlantic by airplane, you may very well have flown over Iceland en route.] Picture Canada's northern region, go east and there is Greenland, and further east is Iceland. Flying time, from Minneapolis where the adventure began, was 6 hours non-stop via Icelandair. [FYI you can pick up a flight with Icelandair from Toronto as well. No airlines based in North America serve the country.]

Any country with ice as part of its name might leave you wondering as to why you should travel there when we have plenty of it right here in Winnipeg much of the year. Let me set your mind at ease. Yes, a part of Iceland is situated above the Arctic Circle, so it can get cold. As well, a portion of the interior of the country is uninhabitable because of a glacier. But pretty much everywhere is temperate and very comfortable. Take my word on it...during my visit in August it reached 15C which might not sound like much but it is perfectly comfortable and what you might expect for its location in the north Atlantic Ocean. Just be sensible...don't go expecting to work on your tan!

You land in Keflavik, about an hour from the capital city of Reykjavik, which gives you time to absorb the landscape. Very volcanic, almost no vegetation. Its also very bleak at times, leaving you to wonder about the so called beauty that Iceland is famous for. Don't worry, just enjoy it because before you know it Reykjavik will be visible.

Fun fact... Reykjavik's winters are comparable to that of New York City...mild(er) and without too much snow. Which is to say they are nothing like winter in Winnipeg.

I'm quite lucky because I have seen some of the major European capitals. For instance, I saw Paris in 1994 and while I enjoyed the trip, I wouldn't call it charming by any stretch; yes it has incredible history and things to see, but it is also super busy, super expensive, and is jammed full of hordes of people.

My point is that Reykjavik is nothing like what you might think a major European capital should be. For starters, it has 'only' ~ 200,000 people...which is two thirds of the entire population of Iceland. You can walk the city with ease. And it still has the feel of an older Iceland, a quirky mix of high fashion on one side of the street with bakeries that look as though they haven't changed in 30 years on the other.

The country is expensive, so be forewarned. But I didn't find it unreasonable...let's face it, travelling is not cheap no matter what you do or where you go. For a country that has to import much of what it consumes, I'm sure you can appreciate that there is a cost associated with that.

I would suggest you start with the Icelandair website. Not only can you get flights and hotels, but packages are available that let you experience the country. You book everything all at once, and its easy as can be. Go see the thundering waterfalls, the geothermal activity, or the black sand beaches that are washed by the crisp blue (and extremely cold) Atlantic Ocean. (I can also say I set foot on one of the top ten beaches in the world on the south coast near Vik...who would have thought that Iceland and beach would go together?)

[I stayed at the Hilton Nordica...a superb hotel overlooking the waterfront]

Another great thing about Iceland...it is a great stop over on the way to mainland Europe without incurring extra charges for your ticket. Going to London but you want an mini-adventure? You can do that with Icelandair. Take three days to see the glaciers and waterfalls, wander the streets of Reykjavik and eat some (freshly caught) delectable fish and chips at a pub in the heart of the city, go out to the clubs at night, and stop at the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa on the way back to the airport for your 4 hour flight to London.

I could go on, but here are some links to get you started for the time being.



Thursday, September 10, 2009

If you have ever wondered about Iceland

Fulfilled one of the things on my bucket list in 2008...saw Iceland. What an incredibly gorgeous country, where you can literally drink the water in the side of the ditches because it is that pure.

I'll be writing more about Iceland in the coming days but for now, take a look at this article from Vanity Fair about the economic troubles the country experienced last year. I was there two months before it happened.



Every Wednesday my BlackBerry buzzes with the latest travel deals from Air Canada and suddenly the day becomes a little brighter. Work tends to take a backseat for at least a few minutes - usually more - as I pour over the destinations and make notes in my head about where I want to go on my next adventure. That flight and hotel deal in Tokyo sure sounds good and I hear there is nothing like a real sushi restaurant to try out. Hold on, are they really advertising London for $250 each way? I've always wanted to to see Big Ben and stand in Picadilly Square. Is there a way I could do both?

I've been bitten by the travel bug and it won't go away. Have been for 32 years actually.

I suppose I can blame it on my mom who put me on a plane for the first time just six weeks after I was born. It must have been love at first sight because I'm forever planning out my next destination, rearranging in my head a priority list of global destinations that I have to get to. Recent adventures to Iceland, Chicago and NYC have only reinforced that I need to go back again to see even more.

[Australia and New Zealand are currently in a tie for the n.1 spot on the to-visit list, FYI. Although Africa is a close second and lately Turkey has moved up to the three spot.]

I'm going to be blogging about all sorts of travel related things, using my experiences as the starting point. It could be interesting things in the news about a place I have been, or some great memory I just want to share.

I welcome your stories and adventures as well.

Now back to the BlackBerry...
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain