Port Falmouth, Jamaica

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After four years of construction, the $220-million, purpose-built Historic Falmouth Cruise Port, opened in 2011. Located on the north coast of Jamaica, Falmouth is the capital of Trelawny parish. It is 60 miles from Ocho Rios port and 18 miles from Montego Bay.

Prior to exploring any port, always do your research first. When sailing with Royal Caribbean, we made it a point to read the customer reviews on Jamaica. Most were fair, some were poor relating to safety and theft. All of the reviews about Falmouth Port were favorable, as vendors are approved, the port is well guarded and only cruise ship passengers can get in. So, we decided to browse around the port and see what it had to offer. Normally we book an excursion or tour when in port, but this time we decided to explore on our own.

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Jamaican Patty

First stop, Jamaican patty!  What is a patty? It’s a type of pastry filled with meats such as ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, lobster, or fish and mixed with spices, vegetables and cheese. Patties are similar to a turnover but not sweet. Turmeric is added to give the pastry a golden yellow color. Patties are common in Jamaica, the coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Patties are considered a meal often eaten with coco bread.

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Hair braiding

252Why is hair braiding so popular in Jamaica? Cornrows got the name due to the raised braid in a continuous row. In the Caribbean, braids are known as canerows, which is an ancient traditional African hairstyle using an underhand style very close to the scalp. Cornrow braids originate from Africa dating back thousands of years. Cornrows are a specific type of braid, small and tight. They are very popular with Jamaican men and women. Cornrow braids are also appealing to tourists and for this reason, hair braiding is available all around the port.

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Margaritaville

 

Margarita Hot Tub

Margarita Hot Tub

Of course we ended up at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville!!! Complete with a pool, swim-up bar, mini version of Dunn’s River Falls, and a hot tub shaped like a margarita glass (pictured). Even though it is very touristy, we loved grabbing lunch at Margaritaville- something different than the cruise. As you step foot off of the ship and into the terminal, you’ll be greeted by red-roofed, Caribbean-style buildings, housing, and businesses. There were musicians performing in the center of the port and plenty of craft markets, rum and jewelry stores. We felt very safe and no one approached us to sell merchandise.

Despite what you may think, Jamaican music includes much more than just reggae. There is Jamaica folk, ska, rocksteady, dub music, dancehall, jazz, mento and reggae fusion. The music culture is a fusion of elements incorporating Trinidad and Tobago.

Tip~ don’t sample rum unless you plan on buying a lot! My husband was sampling several different types and then we were obligated to purchase and ending up giving it all to our room attendant as we carried on luggage.

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For those of you who like to venture out a bit and explore, check out some of the architectural sights such as Falmouth Court House and St. Peter’s Anglican Church. We did not explore outside of the port; however, several tourists complained of being hassled by vendors. I would recommend booking a tour through a tour company and not walk around on your own if you’d rather not be hassled.

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$$ Saving Tips~ Discuss cost of hair braids with the vendor prior to getting your hair braided. Please note, you can bring alcohol on board the ship and they will hold it for you until departure but you cannot take it to your room.

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Fortnum & Mason, London

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

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Meringues

Entering Fortnum & Mason reminded me of stepping back in time to the department stores featured in old movies. A store complete with glass candy jars, sculptures made of colored chocolates, free samples, an array of sliced meats sold by the pound, decorated Christmas trees, smiling staff, velvet overstuffed sitting chairs, the sound of Christmas music, shiny staircases and a fireplace. The display windows are breathtaking at Christmas time. Nothing in the U.S. compares to Fortnum & Mason.

The Holiday Window Displays

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2015 Christmas Display Window

 

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Window Display

Located in the Piccadilly Circus shopping area of London in the city of Westminster, Fortnum & Mason is famous for their holiday window displays which change with each season. In 2016, the theme was Together We’re Merrier incorporating unusual pairs using 3D sculptures.  In 2015, pictured above, Fortnum & Mason opted for a traditional scene complete with reindeer, instruments and festive food which was an instant favorite with kids.  Fortnum & Mason collaborated with Kristjana S Williams to create hand-painted geese, puddings and sweets. In June 2016, Disney took over the windows displays to promote the release of ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. Disney is the first company to take over designing a window display for Fortnum & Mason in 309 years! The window displays captured Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll story using such props as a looking glass, chess piece, butterflies, teacups and pendulum clocks. No matter what season it is, the window displays are always a conversation for the viewers.

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White Chocolate Ice Skates

There are some blog posts which have one or two main pictures. Not this one, there are so many fantastic pictures which capture the true feeling of Christmas at Fortnum & Mason. Just one of the many specialty items were the meringues, big, fluffy and made to perfection. They were absolutely colossal! For those of you who are not familiar, a meringue is a dessert made of whipped egg whites, sugar, salt, cornstarch, powdered sugar. When the powdered sugar is added to the meringue, it forms a pavlova (meringue cake). When making meringues, it is all about the stiff peaks! Meringues are often flavored with vanilla, almond, coconut by infusing with oils rather than using extracts. The staff are happy to hand out samples and it was my first time eating divinity.

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Décor

Fortnum & Mason is best known for supplying high quality foods. The brand picked up recognition and saw rapid growth throughout the Victorian era. Even though they are more of a department store today, they continue to carry a variety of exotic, specialty products. More recently, in 2012, The Queen opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor. Eventually new departments were created such as the Gentlemen’s department on the third floor. The third floor is also the location of a celebrated tea shop and several restaurants.

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Fragrances~ Fortnum & Mason carries an exclusive collection of soaps, lotions and 1707 fragrances for men and women. In addition, they are an exclusive retailer for high-quality perfumiers. An example of some of the fragrances sold at Fortnum & Mason are Clive Christian No 1 for Women, 50ml at £450.00, Imperial Jubilee No1 costs £650 ($1043) for 50ml.

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Christmas Time at Fortnum & Mason

Hampers~ Fortnum & Mason sells loose-leaf teas and world-renowned luxury picnic baskets, known as “hampers” in England. These hampers were originally sold to Victorian High Society events. The hampers contain Stilton Cheese, champagne quail eggs, and smoked salmon at a cost of £35 to £25,000.

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Interesting Facts~ Fortnum & Mason began in 1705 by Hugh Mason as a small store in St. James Market. What is a British Royal Warrant? British Royal Warrants grants the retail establish the permission to advise that a specific product is sold to the Queen. These warrants can only be granted by Queen Elizabeth II, Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Whales to companies selling goods & services. In November 2010, PETA UK started a campaign against Fortnum & Mason’s sale of foie gras (duck or goose liverwurst). Fortnum & Mason is privately owned by Wittington Investments.

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img_7040$$ Saving Tips~ Fortnum & Mason is an experience in itself whether you shop or not. Samples are available at the meat, cheese and confectionary counters. We chose to purchase very small, inexpensive items as souvenirs, plus we wanted the cute, green bag and the complementary gift wrapping which comes with all purchases. I purchased two Christmas bars of soap. Stop in to their tea house and have a cup of tea, after all, it’s Queen approved! We didn’t have a chance to sit down for tea at the store but we found a smaller Fortnum & Mason at Heathrow airport in Terminal 5. It’s the perfect way to end your trip before saying goodbye to London!

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Fortnum & Mason Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport

Strike Zone, bottom fishing in Maui

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Probably fishing is my first passion ~ Luke Bryan

img_3059Our son is at one with the ocean and all he wanted for his birthday was to go bottom fishing. There are so many options to choose from in the islands, so we needed to do a little research to find out what the tours offered. Our main question was, “do we get to keep what we catch?” On Strike Zone, they split all the fish that is caught so that everyone gets to bring some home. Plus, all of the gear is provided, no experience necessary and you don’t need a fishing license. Lunch and drinks are provided as well. This was perfect for our son!!!

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There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind.  ~Washington Irving

The boat leaves out of Maalaea Harbor first thing in the morning and it is about a 6 hour trip. They use 4 poles to high-speed troll on the way out to the spot where they will bottom fish. Enjoy gorgeous views of Maui as you ride along the Pacific. Each person is given a ping pong ball with a # on it. When a fish is on the line, they call out a # and whomever has that # gets to reel it in. Hanapa’a! Try your luck at marlin, yellowfin, skipjack tuna, mahi mahi or ono. Once you arrive to the bottom fishing destination, drop your pole for some snapper, trevally, wrass, sea bass and maybe even a shark!

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I love fishing.  You put that line in the water and you don’t know what’s on the other end.  Your imagination is under there.  ~Robert Altman

It’s what’s for dinner!!! Below are the fish that my son brought home for me to cook. Top row is ta’ape (bluestripe snapper) and bottom row is palani (eye-stripe sturgeon).

For more information on Strike Zone tours call 808-879-4485.

 

A day in Galveston

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A picture is worth a thousand words so they say.

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Hilton Galveston Island Resort

When I think of Galveston, I think of horse-drawn carriages, spring break, The Strand, the Seawall and 4 wheel bicycles. We had 24 hours to see all we could see in Galveston before boarding a cruise to sail the Caribbean. What to do? It was the first time visiting Galveston for all of us. We chose a hotel located right on the famous Seawall, the Hilton Galveston Island Resort. We had ocean view from our room, a much different ocean than what we are used to in Hawaii.

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The weather on the Gulf is very unpredictable. In fact, ships are delayed coming into port and pulling out due to heavy fog at times. The ocean is less blue and more gray than Hawaii. Needless to say, we were not there for the ocean. We were off to sight see! Situated right on the seawall, we grabbed a 4 wheel bike and peddled on down Seawall Blvd. The 4-wheel bike was a first for all of us. Tip: ride in the back seat to take frequent breaks from peddling and the front passengers are unaware. Bike rentals are available all along Seawall Blvd. I can’t remember how much we paid but it was fairly inexpensive and by the hour.

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The Strand

First stop, The Strand historic district. The Strand is 5 blocks spanning from 20th to 25th street fronting the wharf. It is lined with Victorian style buildings full of restaurants, antique stores, and curio shops. I love seeing the massive cruise ships all in port visible from all streets. The Strand hosts all kinds of festivals throughout the year and is a major tourist spot. The actual street, created in 1830, is called Avenue B but has been referred to as “The Strand” named by a German jewelry store owner who thought it sounded better. The Strand is named after a street in London and means shore or riverbank. Galveston is known for it’s horse and carriage rides, trolleys, county museum, factory outlets, galleries, beef jerky shops, and confectionaries.

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The Strand suffered catastrophic damage after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Many buildings and businesses first floors were entirely wiped out.

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La Kings Confectionary

Best part about La Kings Confectionary, a throwback from the 1920’s, their products are available for order on line!!! So, no need to hand carry or shove all of their yumminess in your luggage. Tourists are drawn into the shop by the sweet aroma filling the air outside. It smells like waffle cones and homemade caramel sauce. La Kings uses 19th century methods of making candy, using traditional equipment. Our kids loved the 1920’s soda fountain that serves malts, shakes, ice cream sodas, sundaes, splits, and floats (pictured above). La Kings also makes Purity ice cream founded in 1889 on Galveston Island. Some of the award winning treats are: fruit slices, salt water taffy, handmade chocolates, pecan logs, divinity, and pecan pralines.

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Pleasure Pier

As we rode bikes along Seawall Blvd., a pier in the distance became larger and larger as we approached. It was Pleasure Pier! Since we rented the bike by the hour, we chose not to explore the pier, observing from the road instead, listening to all the screams coming from the roller coasters. In addition, you can’t walk on without a $10 per person walk-on pass. We didn’t want to pay $40 to take a look around. $26.99 per person will get you unlimited rides. Family packages are also available for $89.99 2 adults/2kids, $94.99 3 adults/1 child or $99.99 4 adults.

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Port of Galveston

Strolling around the Strand we ended up at Galveston’s Pier 19, where we noticed a huge offshore oil driller, the Ocean Star. The jack-up rig is now a museum which visitors can take a self-guided tour. The oil drilling equipment is on display and visitors can learn about oil to gas production. Admission is $9 for adults.

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Black Pearl Oyster Bar

When in Rome….we smelled the wharf and instantly craved oysters on the half shell. After asking around town, several locals mentioned the Black Pearl Oyster Bar located at 327 23rd Street. Yelp rates the restaurant 4 stars- another good sign. When we saw people waiting in a long line outside the door, we knew it had to be great! Oysters are severed as Oysters Rockafeller with spinach cream cheese; Oysters Haelen topped with crab meat, cheddar, and bacon; or Oysters Diablo with spicy diablo sauce, shrimp, and cheddar. Other menu items include Po-boys, sandwiches and fresh salads for lunch. Choose specialties such as, barbecue shrimp, crab cakes, fish tacos, crawfish etouffee, ribeyes or grilled pork chops. For seafood options, try the hand-battered fresh fish and choose from flounder, snapper, salmon, ahi tuna, talapia, or catfish. Yum!!!

1975205_10153988257281838_2938178253686608160_nDining in Galveston~ there are a ton of restaurants located up and down Seawall blvd. After returning our 4-wheel bike, we popped into The Rainforest Café. Not exactly unique to Galveston or Texas for that matter, but we always love a great chain restaurant that we don’t have back home.

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The Strand

 

 

 

 

 

Stingray Sandbar, Grand Caymans

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snorklingWe love to cruise as a family for our annual vacations. Planning our adventures consists of sitting down together and reviewing all of the excursion options. Usually my husband will pick something historical, such as Tulum in Cozumel, Roman Coliseum in Italy or castles in Spain. Our kids generally choose an activity much more adventurous than what I would choose. When reviewing the options for George Town, Grand Cayman, they chose Stingray Sandbar immediately!  Stingray City, a natural channel located in the northwest corner of the Cayman’s North Sound, houses rows of shallow sandbars which draw tourists year round due to the abundance of Southern Stingrays.  We booked a tour through our cruise line Royal Caribbean. There are several boating companies offering similar trips, some include sailing. We hopped aboard the Cayman Explorer for a short ride out to the sandbar with views of the emerald Caribbean waters. Important note, eat a good sized breakfast and bring snacks in your bag, as they do not feed you on board, and after swimming in the ocean, you will be very hungry. As soon as we pulled into the sandbar area, large stingrays were visible. It looked like black spots moving all about the ocean. I was very nervous to get into the water and felt more apprehensive as the tour guide announced, “no water shoes, watch where you step and stay together.” Of course the kids and my husband jumped in before I did and eventually I made my way in.

Coming from Hawaii, I wasn’t nervous about the ocean or waves, but the feeling of having a large stingray rub up against my legs as soon as I stepped in the water was unsettling. You really need to know how to swim on this tour because the tide can change rapidly. Lifejackets are supplied but I would advise knowing how to swim. The guide had the group stand in a circle as he grabbed a large stingray and walked around letting each person pet it. It feels like a wet mushroom. Ika (squid) was passed around for those who were brave enough to feed the stingrays. Of course, my son grabbed several pieces and caught the stingray opening it’s mouth to feed on his GoPro. That was exciting to watch back. I couldn’t help but to think about the sharp barb sticking up out of the water as the guide held the stingray. At one point, he even put the barb in his mouth for show.

Interesting Facts~ Stingrays first started gathering to the sandbar area decades ago due to fisherman cleaning their fish and throwing the contents overboard in the shallow waters. Today, divers feed stingrays by hand in this area and it is thought that they gather here due to the sound of boats coming, symbolizing feeding time.

 

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Grand Cayman

 

4 Days in Midtown

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The glamour of it all! New York! America! ~ Charlie Chaplin

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New York is Not Just a City, It’s a World ~ Author Unknown

4 days in Manhattan is not very much time to cover everything we wanted to see!!!! I jotted down a very long list of “must-sees” and then prioritized them to be sure that we could hit the top sights on the list. Warning, in order to cover as much as we did, you have to be willing to go non-stop from morning until night! Realistically, doing even half of what we did is a lot for some. Plan your agenda by location or else you’ll spend all of your time sitting in a cab and going nowhere. I’ll categorize this post by food, sights, and entertainment. I apologize in advance if there’s more information on FOOD than anything else.

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In terms of theater, there’s not a more supportive theater community than in New York. It’s really kind of a real thrill to go there. I mean, don’t forget, I’m a boy from the suburbs of Sydney, so getting to New York is a huge, huge thrill. ~ Hugh Jackman

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Entertainment~

Broadway, Broadway, Broadway…..

I love theater and have experienced shows in both Vegas and London but never in New York. Of course we’d love to see Hamilton but it was sold out due to nearing the end of their run in New York. So, we chose Phantom of the Opera in the Majestic Theater!!! I had seen Phantom in Las Vegas at the Venetian theater that was built specifically for Phantom, but never in New York. The special effects were better in Vegas but the music was phenomenal on Broadway. I could watch Phantom 10 times and never grow tired of the music.

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Standing in line for hours at TKTS

$$ Saving Tips: Purchase discounted tickets same day at TKTS located in the center of Time Square under the red steps at 47th and Broadway. Tickets are 20-50% and sold for same day evening shows and next day matinees only. Get there about an hour before it opens to wait in line. Don’t wait in line for a hour to try and purchase a ticket that is not same day otherwise you’re wasting your time. There is a monitor that will show the tickets available for the day. The booth opens at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday if there is a matinee showing that day. The booth is closed on Sundays. There are 3 other locations: South Street Seaport, Downtown Brooklyn, Lincoln Center. If you are planning to sit with someone else, be sure one person purchases both tickets because you can’t choose your seats, they are all best available. Don’t have two different people walk up to two different windows because you will not be seated together.

Our favorite entertainment was seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall!!! Be sure to see the Rockettes post on this blog located on the right hand side under “topics”, “New York”.

Food ~

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Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3

A Balanced Diet is Chocolate In Both Hands

For Casual Dining~ There is no way to capture everything we ate over the span of 4 days. Even if we weren’t hungry, that didn’t stop us from trying foods, pastries and desserts as we passed carts, patisseries, and restaurants. The aromas are endless!!

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The Halal Guys

13592183_10209788632811266_8285031252294809189_nFood Carts~ Halal Guys was one of our favorite carts, conveniently located outside our img_1614hotel, the Sheraton New York Times Square at 7th & 53rd. The Halal Guys carts are all over the city, the red & yellow umbrellas seen from blocks away. The aroma of charbroiled meats is what will draw you in. Maybe it was so memorable because it was our first time experiencing a gyro, but I tend to think it was the intense flavors, not too mention they are so filling, great to split and only $5! My husband ate two in 24 hours. Pick your sauce and weather you want it served as a salad or as a gyro.

img_1018Then of course there are the total rip off carts! Since my blog focusses on money saving tips, I must share the not-so-great deals. My daughter was insistent on a double ice cream cone that she spotted right near Rockefeller Plaza. I can’t remember the exact price of the cone but I want to say around $10! It didn’t even taste like ice cream, more like frozen whipped topping. People are drawn to the cart due to the unique cones offered and choices of dipping flavors. The cart says Fun-Time all over it and has a large menu with pictures of cone options. Not worth the money at all. Very disappointing.

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Carlo’s Bake Shop

 

img_1422Walking back from the Circle Line Tour, we stopped in for a cannoli at Carlo’s Bake Shop located at 8th and 42nd. You’ve probably heard of Carlo’s Bakery on the TV show Cake Boss. Carlo’s is a family owned bakery that originally opened in 1910, named after Carlo Guastaffero.

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Chocolate Cream Filled Cannoli

 

 

Carlo’s Master Baker Bartolo Jr., known as “Buddy”, cake was voted Best Cake in America by the Today Show viewers. Buddy has made appearances on the Food Network, known for his intricate sugar art designs, and specialty and wedding cakes. Carlo’s is much more than cakes, choose from cannoli’s, freshly baked cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries, biscotti, tarts, cream puffs and pastries.

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Junior’s

 

img_0890Juniors “Home of the World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake” is located right off Time Square at Broadway and 45th. Everything at Junior’s was over-the-top delicious and I must brag about their Ruben sandwich. My daughter loved their milkshakes and my mom raved about their cheesecake. The best part is, you can grab a slice of cheesecake to go after eating lunch. img_0893The décor inside is very fun with murals all over the walls. Their portions are pretty large, perfect for splitting entrees, especially if you are going to be walking the streets as we did. You may just need to dine at Junior’s twice to indulge on the extraordinary menu options. Be sure to stop into Junior’s when walking around Time Square.

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Junior’s Time Square

 

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John’s of Time Square

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Coal-fired brick oven

Can you really go to New York and not eat a pie? No way! Stop in at John’s of Time Square at 260 W 44th Street, the most unique pizza in the world. At John’s they make each pizza made-to-order in an 800 degree coal-fired brick oven. Each pizza employee has months of extensive training under their belt knowing exactly when to take the pizza out of the oven. John’s is located in what was once an abandoned church on West 44th Street, where the homeless hung out and graffiti  was the only décor. Madeline Castellotti noticed the perfectly intact stained glass ceiling at the tabernacle and saw the potential. It was symbolic of a pie in that it was made up of 8 parts and all equal in size. John’s opened in 1997 and has two other locations: Bronx and Jersey City.

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Original 5 Napkin Burger

Hell’s Kitchen~ If you plan on visiting Hell’s Kitchen, we found a great place called 5 Napkin Burger, named for their messy burgers, located on a corner. We had a gift certificate from Open Table for the restaurant and found our way there. img_1186We actually walked on over to 630 9th Ave. from Time Square; however, there are 5 locations. They are open for lunch and dinner from 11:30am-12am. I loved that we could watch all the happenings of Hell’s Kitchen from our window seat. Many of their staff are actors by night, including our waiter that day. You can find sushi, salad bowls and burgers, made with Aspen Ridge Chuck, on the menu and draft beers for just $6-7. The burgers are around $14 each but large enough to share, especially if you order a side of their amazing onion rings!!!

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The Lambs Club, Chef Geoffrey Zakarian

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Bucatini with crab

Moving on to Food Network Restaurants in Midtown~ I love watching the Cooking Channel and Food Network, so as soon as we started planning our trip to Midtown, I looked up the Food Network chefs local establishments. Chef Zakarian’s The Lambs Club just so happen to be located in the hotel that we were staying at~ The Chatwal at 132 West 44th Street.

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The Lambs Club

Chef Zakarian has 7 restaurants, two of which are in New York. The menu is quite pricey but we were there for the experience as much as the food. We ended up sharing one pasta dish and had a glass of wine. The Lambs Club décor is that of classic club rooms of midcentury America, complete with red leather banquettes, art deco fixtures, and an 18th Century French fireplace. If the dinner menu is out of your price range, stop in the bar area and have a cocktail while listening to live piano music.

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Butter Midtown, Chef Guarnaschelli

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Charred White Cloud Cauliflower

My favorite restaurant in Midtown is Butter Midtown by Chef Alex Guarnaschelli!!!! One of my favorite memories while in Manhattan was our visit to Butter Midtown, which was recommended by the concierge at our hotel. The food is fantastic while reasonable, the ambiance is cozy, dark, rustic with high back booths, but I was most impressed to see Chef Guarnaschelli working in the kitchen!! She isn’t just a name on the restaurant, she is the executive chef at Butter Midtown, her first restaurant.

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Raw & Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad

The menu offers local, freshly sourced foods and surprisingly decent sized portions very reasonable priced. Everything that we ordered was so unique and full of flavor. We opted to order several side dishes so that we could try multiple items rather than settling for an entrée. Be sure to save room for dessert! When I checked out the restaurant on line, I was blown away by the detail of the desserts. We asked our waiter if we could please meet Chef Guarnaschelli and to our surprise, she came to our table! We shared how much we loved the food and how reasonably priced it was but maybe it just seemed reasonable because we are used to Hawaii restaurant prices.

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S’mores

 

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Inside Park at St. Bart’s

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Autumn Squash & Grain Salad

If you are looking for a place to sit, have a glass of wine and watch the hustle and bustle in the heart of  Midtown, Inside Park at St. Bart’s is your place!! We loved this location so much, we ate dinner there two nights in a row. It is a popular stop after work for Wall Street, men dressed in suits and talking about the stock market. We just so happen to be there during Brexit. It’s a great place to people watch and who doesn’t want to people watch in Manhattan? The location makes the restaurant, the food is simple, but good and the atmosphere is 5 Star!! Inside Park is located at 325 Park Ave. in a courtyard of St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral where echo’s ring out from the church bell while your dining. The restaurant replaced what was once The Great Hall, the details and décor are modeled after it’s design.

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Red Velvet Cupcakes, Waldorf Astoria New York

 

img_1446Did you know that the iconic Waldorf Astoria New York, located at 301 Park Ave., was the first hotel to offer room service and hire female chefs? The Waldorf Astoria is famous for the Waldorf Salad (1893), Eggs Benedict (1894), Thousand Island Dressing (1894), Veal Oscar (1893) and Red Velvet Cupcake (1920’s). You don’t have to stay at the Waldorf to indulge in their wonderful menu items while listening to piano music at the Peacock Alley Bar & Lounge. We sipped coffee and devoured the cupcakes pictured above.

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Waldorf Astoria New York

Sights~

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Grand Central Terminal

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Main Concourse

If you have to catch a train , you will most likely experience Grand Central Terminal, also known as Grand Central Station, at 42nd & Park Ave. Even if you’re not going anywhere, stop in for pictures and a bite to eat at the Dining Concourse located below the Main Concourse. Step foot into the terminal where you’ll be greeted by the sounds and rattling of trains inclusive of 41 tracks underground and 26 above ground pulling in and out of the station. img_1040We took a ride along the Hudson River headed for Poughkeepsie. There are automated ticket machines in the lobby and very simple to navigate. Admire the starry ceiling that is astronomically inaccurate. For example, some constellations appear correct while others are backwards, left-to-right.

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Main Concourse

It’s sort of a center of everything; it’s Grand Central Station. When a dog gets lost they call me. When the cows get out, they call me. ~ Marty Hunt

Interesting facts~ The American Flag was hung in Grand Central Terminal a few days after 9/11. The 13-foot clock (pictured above) in front of Grand Central façade which faces 42nd Street contains the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass.

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Brooklyn Bridge

img_1281The Brooklyn Bridge was on our list of things to do. We wanted to walk across it and end up in Brooklyn but were too tired by the time we arrived, so we walked part of it. The views from the bridge are gorgeous, cars are zipping by and people strolling past on bikes. If we had more time, it would have been fun to rent bikes and ride along the bridge. Bike rentals start at $15 for one hour and go up $5 per hour from there. You can also rent a bike for the day at $40. Rentals include a helmet, basket, map and chain and lock. There are several companies offering bike rentals, check out Brooklyn Bridge Sightseeing where you can reserve it all on line.

img_0950After checking into our hotel after 5K miles of traveling, our first stop was the Empire State Building located on 5th Ave. between 33rd & 34th street. We looked at our map and walked there from the Sheraton New York. The Empire State Building is 102 stories high standing at 1250 feet tall. It was the tallest building until the World Trade Center Towers were built in late 1970. In 2001, it was once again the tallest building in New York until 2012 when One World Trade Center was constructed. Tickets are available same day by walking into the lobby of the building or available in advance on line. Ticket prices vary from $34-54 per person. We chose the tour that goes to the top with access to walk around outside. It was very windy at the top displaying breathtaking views including the Hudson River.

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Reflection Pool

 

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Subway

9/11 Memorial & Museum~ One of the top items on our sight seeing list was the 9/11 Memorial; however, it was a ways away from where we were staying. We found that there were two different subway trains that go to 9/11 from where we were staying in Midtown. I have to admit it was a bit confusing and hectic getting there but pretty easy coming back. The subway is very fast moving, including the ticket purchase. You need to know what line you are buying and if it is one-way or roundtrip by the time you get up to the window or the machine. Be sure to save your ticket!! It is the same ticket to get back. Don’t plan on asking people for assistance, we were not successful in that. Ha!! Forgot that we were no longer in Hawaii for a brief moment. Not much Aloha on the New York subways.

As with most memorials, it is very quite on the grounds. In fact, there are even signs along the streets right outside of the memorial that say “No Honk Zone”. I personally believe everyone should experience the 9/11 Memorial. You really can’t imagine how large the towers were until you look straight down into the reflection pools which are each an acre in size. The memorial is open daily from 730 a.m.- 930 p.m. and is free to walk around. The museum is a separate entrance with tickets priced at $24 for museum only, $44 for museum plus museum tour, $39 for museum plus memorial tour. Prices are discounted for children, students, veterans and seniors. Allow 2 hours to complete the tour of the museum. We did not have time to tour the museum and there was a very long line to get in. The name of each person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed on the Memorial pools. 9/11 is the largest loss of life due to a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest loss of rescue personnel in American history.

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1 World Trade Center

One World Trade Center is the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. The picture above was taken up close on a foggy day which seemed appropriate for a memorial site. However, on a different day, I was able to capture it in all of it’s beauty, standing tall in the sun as I sailed by on the Hudson River.

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1 World Trade Center

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The Circle Line Tour

 

img_1413The Circle Line Tour~ The Statue of Liberty was top on our list but we didn’t have time to make a day of it. So we opted to catch a boat and cruise past Lady Liberty instead. We walked to the The Circle Line Tour located at Pier 83 at W 42nd & 12th. The Circle Line Tour offers 3 different cruises, 1, 1.5 and 2.5 hour trips. We chose the 1 hour tour that sails within 100 feet of the Statue of Liberty, offering views of Midtown and Lower Manhattan all for $29 per person! This is the best deal in the city. There is a café on board selling snacks and drinks. The 1.5 hour cruise is called the Landmarks Cruise which includes cruising under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges for $37 per person or take the Best of New York cruise for $42 to see 5 boroughs, 3 rivers and 20 bridges!!

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The Today Show was a must-see on the list as my mom and I have watched the show every morning for years. Located in Midtown, Studio 1A is on 48th Street between 5th and 6th Ave. We went to both the NBC Store and right outside the actual studio.

The picture above sitting at the desk is a prop inside of the NBC Store located at 30 Rockefeller Center. The other Today Show prop was in front of Studio 1A. Arrive early if you’d like to be in the audience on the Today Show taping. They were just packing up the outside crowd railings as we arrived. We stopped in front of the Tonight Show as well to snap a couple of pictures.

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I would like to end with some pointers on WHAT NOT TO DO IN MIDTOWN! Do not take pictures with any people dressed up in costume. What looked like it would be fun and silly, turned into a full on mob swarming us for money. Yes, lesson learned the hard way. They were waving and motioning for us to come over and take pictures with them while strolling Times Square. So, we stopped and thought, why not? After taking several pictures, they removed their masks so they could talk and started begging for money, to the point of swarming. Then once you take your wallet out, other people dressed in costume, whom we didn’t even take a picture with, started begging for money and pushing us. It was a horrible experience and they formed a circle around us. With that said, The Naked Cowboy seems fun and you can watch him play the guitar without going up and asking for a picture.

img_1081Where not to stay if you take a trip up the Hudson to Poughkeepsie!!!! The premise of this travel blog is to travel while saving money. However, sometimes you really do get what you pay for. I would like warn anyone traveling to Poughkeepsie to steer clear of the Mercury Grand Hotel, in fact we ended up fighting with Priceline to get our money back. Unbelievably, it is rated 3 Stars by Priceline. It was the only hotel available for the night and thank God we only booked one night. The hotel should have been condemned, full of mold, broken, sharp, metal towel racks that were hidden behind the towels, leaking toilets, windows that wouldn’t lock on the ground level, phone in room didn’t have a dial tone, bathtub wouldn’t drain, ice machines broken with signs on them, coffee maker without the pot, rust in the bath tub (pictured) and the entire hotel wreaked like smoke. In addition, there isn’t an elevator and they originally had us on the second floor but we couldn’t drag our luggage up the flight of stairs. Thankfully, we stayed at the Hampton Inn the second night in Poughkeepsie which was so clean – it felt like the Ritz in comparison to the Mercury Grand Hotel.

 

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Times Square

 

A Blistery Day at Stonehenge

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There are no accidents, only unsolved mysteries

Stonehenge is actually a bucket list item for my husband. I have seen many documentaries on The History Channel, National Geographic and Travel Channels. While visiting London, we decided to schedule a tour two hours away to Stonehenge. It was a dreary day in December with blistering wind and mist. I highly recommend booking a tour if staying in London to take in the scenery along the way and enjoy a beverage without the worry of driving and directions. We hopped on a tour bus that picked us up at a nearby hotel and stopped at two other sights along the way to include Windsor Castle and the town of Bath.

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Bus ride to Stonehenge

There are so many stories and hypotheses about Stonehenge as the site was created by a culture that didn’t use any written documents.

Stonehenge’s ring of standing stones are located in Wiltshire, England. It is believed that Stonehenge was created 3000-2000 BC. The earliest phase of Stonehenge was the circular earth bank and ditch dating back to 3100BC. It is a mystery how the bluestones, also known as spotted dolerite, were brought 200 miles, from the Preseli Hills of Southwest Wales, to the area of Stonehenge.  Each stone weighs several tons and some predict the stones were transported by dragging while others believe they were possibly floated over water or a glacial act. The bluestones were present from the beginning phases and throughout the completion of Stonehenge. Stonehenge is thought to have possibly been a burial ground in the beginning, as human bones were found during the digging of the ditch dating back to 3000 BC. There is no evidence of how the stones were constructed to design Stonehenge and this is why there is so much fascination around the mystery. Many have suggested that the construction was supernatural due to the size and weight of the stones which would make it impossible for humans to have relocated them 200+ miles without a wheel or pulley system. In 1995 a team of 100 people decided to conduct an experiment using a sleigh along a animal fat-greased track carrying a 40 ton stone which was successful for 18 miles.

Interesting Facts~ Stonehenge has been legally protected since 1882. In 1986, the site was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Stonehenge is owned by the Commonwealth and managed by English Heritage Trust. The site is aligned facing the sunset of the winter solstice and the sunrise of the summer solstice. The design allows for a celestial observatory, which some believe was for the purpose of predicting the eclipse, solstice, equinox and other events of importance at that time.

There are newer theories which have surfaced to include the idea that Stonehenge was a place of healing, thus explaining the high number of burials. The thought isn’t that it was only a burial but more a of a multifunctional worship area. Analysis shows that remains have been found from other regions. Another theory is that Stonehenge may have been part of a ritual landscape to celebrate the past and recently deceased.

One of my most memorable observations was the size of Stonehenge. I had expected the stones to be much larger and taller than they were. Looking up towards the top of the formations is an awesome sight. It is mindboggling how the rocks sit on top of each other and have remained there, perfectly still all this time. The ring also seemed much smaller than it looks on documentaries. It was very quiet at the site, even though it was packed with tourists.

$$ Saving Tips~ You can walk along the grounds without paying for the guided tour or listening to a headset. If you’re visiting the site during the winter, be sure to bring an umbrella, jacket, scarf and gloves. We were SO cold, to the point of misery! We purchased souvenirs in the gift shop to bring back. I try to collect an ornament from each place that I visit. I was pleased that they sold a cloth ornament of Stonehenge which I could easily pack and bring home.

Stonehenge with Mom

Stonehenge with Mom

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life- and travel-leaves marks on you.” ~ Anthony Bourdain