Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? A quick Holiday trip to the Big Apple

This year, I apparently lost all sense of sanity and logic and decided to plan a quick trip for my kids, my mom and me to New York City during the week following Christmas. This was, perhaps, the worst idea I have ever had (and I have had a lot of them).

Why was this such a terrible idea? First of all, the days leading up to New Year's Eve are some of the busiest in the Big Apple. I have been to NYC several other times. I know it can get busy and crowded. It is New York City, after all.  But, honestly, I have never seen that many other human beings in one place.

Look at the chaos at Times Square...

Another reason this trip was such a bad idea, is that the weather was horrible!  Now, I will say that it was unusually cold, even for NYC.  But, I am telling you, I have NEVER, EVER, IN MY WHOLE LIFE been that cold.  The highs on the 2 days we visited the city were in the mid 20's with 25 mph sustained winds and gusts up to 50 mph.  Can you say WIND CHILL?   We were prepared for cold.  I packed multiple layers for everyone, including long johns, under shirts, hoodies, winter coats, hats, gloves and even wool-blend hunting socks.  But, our layers were no match for the brutally cold winds that battered our bodies all day long.

Trying to beat the chill...

Finally, the traffic between NC and NY was beastly.  On both the trip there and the trip back we were stuck in stop-and-go traffic much of the way.  1-95 was mostly a sea of red brake lights.  The drive took nearly twice as long as it would have under normal traffic conditions.

In all fairness, the trip wasn't a total disaster.  There were a few highlights. We lodged in Staten Island to save money (as opposed to an expensive Manhattan hotel).  We were very pleased with our accommodations at the Hampton Inn Staten Island which offered excellent rates, a clean, comfortable and spacious room for the five of us and a wonderful and free hot breakfast each day.  They even packed a nice brown-bag breakfast for mornings on the run.  And, the kids really enjoyed taking the free Staten Island Ferry (there is a small fee for parking)  from Staten Island to Manhattan, which includes some nice photo opp's as the ferry passes the Statue of Liberty.  If you do opt to stay in Staten Island, plan on at least an hour's commute into the Manhattan.

Chinatown was memorable.  We had a fantastic meal at the Great NY Noodletown ...a small, inexpensive, authentic restaurant that is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.  The hot tea which accompanied steaming mountains of noodles and bowls of soup were just what our frozen bodies needed.  Chinatown also offers lots of great places to shop for souvenirs on a tight budget.  Our favorite spot was Ting's Gift Shop, which has been selling a unique collection of Asian toys, clothing and novelties from it's teeny-tiny storefront since 1957.  It's one of the oldest operating businesses in Chinatown.  Ting's is on the corner Doyers and Pell, two historic Chinatown streets.  It just feels like Chinatown.

And, yes, the city really is beautiful at Christmastime.  The decorated buildings and millions of sparkling lights make Manhattan magical.  It was just too crowed and too cold to really appreciate the city in all it's Christmas glam.  If you don't mind the cold, I hear the days immediately after New Year's are a perfect time to visit the city.  The decorations are still up, the crowds are gone and the sales are hot.

One more quick note, if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend Frommer's New York City as a travel guide and the Streetwise Laminated Map of Manhattan to help you navigate the city.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The second part of our trip was spent exploring the region of Tuscany. This was, by far, my favorite part of the trip. In Venice, we stayed in a quiant little town called Montecatini Terme at the "Grand Hotel Francia e Quirinale" . The hotel's elegant lobby, small but friendly staff, tiny elevators and small but clean rooms all reminded me of what 1950's elegance in Italy must have looked like.

In Tuscany, we visited the ancient town of San Gimignano and took a whirlwind tour of Florence (called Firenze in Italy) and made a stop in Siena. San Gimignano is a medieval, hilltop village with breathtaking views of the Tuscan landscape at every angle. Florence is the capitol of Tuscany. We only had a few hours here, not nearly enough time to enjoy the food, shopping, art, culture, and beauty offered by this amazing city. However, we were able to take in the Accademia and Michelangelo's David, do some leather shopping, enjoy a farmer's market and eat a delicious lunch at a friendly little sidewalk winebar/restaurant called "Note di Vino" during the time we were there.

After Florence, we spent the evening a Tuscan farmstead the Fattoria Il Poggio where we enjoyed "slow food" (everyting we ate-olive oil, meat, grains, wine) had been raised, grown and produced on the farm. Amazing food and wine, music, dancing and was an unforgettable evening!

The next morning we left Montecatini and traveled to Siena for an overnight stay. Siena has an interesting history and a wild, gaudy cathedral, but it wasn't my favorite stop. I would have much preferred an additional day in Florence over the stop in Siena.

Double click on the slide show to view pictures at your own pace.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Italy 2008--Venice


On October 28, 2008 my mother and I along with two friends, Terrie and Cindy, left for a 10-day tour of Italy. We were part of a group of about 25 on the Friendly Planet "Italian Treasures" tour. It was the first time in Italy for all four of us and my expectations were ridiculously high. I had always dreamed of traveling to Italy some day. Could the "old country" possibly live up to what I was was hoping for?

After roughly 9 hours of air travel we landed in Venice. A bus ride delivered us from the airport to a depot of sorts where we then boarded the small boat that took us to our hotel. Our lodging in Venice was at the Hilton Molino Stuckey, an elegant hotel housed in a former flour mill on Giudecca Island, just across the lagoon from Venice.

As we walked around Venice that evening, exploring the narrow cobblestone walkways lined by shops and cafes and crossing over countless bridges while gondolas passed below, my mom commented, "This is like being at Disney World, but it's the real thing". Venice certainly offers that magical feeling. And to some degree, it is like an attraction at Disneyworld, in that much of Venice is a facade, kept in place to delight the tourists. There are very few Venitians living in those canal-front apartments. Most of Venice's residents live off the main peninsula.

The food in Venice, from what I was told by those in the know, is the worst in Italy and everything is overpriced. However, the Murano glass is spectacular and definitely worth consideration. I was also warned that Venitians are known by other Italians to be generally rude and a bit stuck up. We encountered that with some people, but certainly not with everyone.

My conclusion of Venice is that it is one of those places that everyone should experience once, because there really is nowhere else like it in the world. However, our day and a half long visit was enough for me. While I hope to retrun to Italy someday, Venice is unlikely to be on the itinerary.

About Me

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I have three extremely cute kids-Andrew is 14, Carley is 12 and Laura is 9. My husband, Alton, is a delivery driver by day with dreams of one day publishing his own comic book. Yes, he is a geek, but I love him anyway. I have been working at WBFJ since September 2004 when God threw me out of the boat I was riding in and set me on a new and wonderful course. I love co-hosting the morning show, although the lack of sleep does make me a bit loopy at times.