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Travelogue: 7 days in Manhattan

Posted on December 10th, 2005 filed in Travelogues
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I just returned from a 7 day trip to Manhattan and things have changed quite much since my last visit some years ago.

Many previously seedy neighborhoods are now happening places beaming with energy and tourists. Most notable of these is Bryant’s Park, previously a junkies’ paradise, and now a fleet market filled with art, jewelry, and bead stores. There are many restaurants on site as well as a lovely Ice Skating rink bringing Manhattan iceskating destinations to 3 (Central Park and Rockfeller center being the other two).

Overall Manhattan continues its metamorphosis started by Mayor Giuliani many years ago. I can recall when 42nd street was a must avoid unless you are looking for some illegal drugs or sleazy sex shows. Now it is the absolute center of the town and a great part of the city to enjoy.

Another change I noted is the abundance of security personnel everywhere, and that’s just from observing the ones clearly dressed as such. I was told that are many more civilian looking security personnel everywhere as well. I guess it’s good, as it likely leads to more security, but also quite sad and a memento of the days we live in.

Manhattan has also gone insanely expensive these last few years. In 1999, I stayed at the Marriott Marquis for $170 USD per night and was lodged in a great room on a 25+ floor with a fascinating view of Broadway. This time, the cheapest at the Marquis was $525 USD!!! Unbelievable. And this is not a high season by any means.

I stayed at 3 *** hotel for $300 USD per night. Absolutely insane. Never would I have envisaged such change of events.

Manhattan was also for me the shopping Mecca for electronic gadgets and anything related to photography. I found out this time that this no more the case. The stores are still there but the internet is now the best place to buy anything. I actually did not anticipate that at all. But as I browsed through the numerous stores and went through the serious bargaining and haggling one to expect, I came to the conclusion that getting my stuff from the net is much better . I already had my list of things to buy and the corresponding internet prices and these I could not match anywhere. Additional huge advantages include the saving of sales tax (8.75% there) and the convenience of placing your order anytime and with zero headache (no hassle or haggling). And many stores have a shipping free policy if order exceeds a certain amount. So I ended up buying next to nothing from Broadway and instead having all delivered to my hotel. Things worked out quite well this way and I ended up saving $500 on a $3000 bill.
It was also bitterly cold but that was expected. My eskimo hat, scarf, and gloves were of great use.

No trip to Manhattan is complete without the Broadway musicals. I saw 4 shows this trip: Chicago (Amazingly I prefer the movie), Fiddler on the Roof (Great music), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (John Lithgow of 3rd rock on the Sun), and Sweet Charity (starring the lovely Christina Applegate).

For quick bites, Europa cafes are recommended. These are interspersed throughout Manhattan and are a great and healthy choice for a soup, salad, or sandwich. For more fancy dining, my favorite remains the Marriott Marquis revolving restaurant sumptuous dinner buffet.

Broadway remains as always the happening place. It is amazing how many people walk that street everyday. The stores there remain fabulous, from Sports Authority to Toys R Us. I spent two hours that the Sports Authority place trying the new Adidas-with-computer-chip tennis shoe but never succeeding to make it work or actually getting impressed. Bought lots of stuff though from that store.

Found an internet place that was quite affordable on 42nd street between 7th and 8th avenue. I paid 4$ for 4 hours of use and you can stop and come back anytime to use your remaining time. The connection was fast and the place was spacious and clean.
On my way back to my hotel at 1:00 am, I passed by the huge Loews movie theatre that has like 42 screens. Rent was playing and it was starting in 15 minutes so I went in and watched that. I had to take 10 levels of escalators to reach the actual hall where the film was playing! I thouroughly enjoyed the movie and on my way out, I saw a number of policemen on horses. It was 3:00 am and quite a sight!

Security in NY.jpg

Overall, I had a great time in Manhattan but for sure wish it was not as insanely expensive as it currently is. Still, I can’t wait to come back again, few years down the road.

Travelogue: The Non Traditional Paris

Posted on October 11th, 2004 filed in Travelogues

Ask anyone about Paris and they immediately refer to the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower. These are undoubtedly great to experience for the uninitiated, but Paris has far more to offer than that as evidenced by my last trip there (I have just returned from a 5 day visit).

1) Bicycling: There are lots of opportunities for picturesque cycling in Paris, Champs Elysees, Boix de Boulogne, and the Seine river branches being some of many examples. There are dedicated and extremely picturesque cycling lanes there, for example the one stretching from Jardins De Tuileries till Arc de Triomphe.

2) Rollerblading: Rollerblading has picked up big time in Paris since my last visit few years earlier. You see rollerbladers everywhere and rollerblading is now a common method of transport. The cycling locations described above also double as rollerblading ones.

3) Les Invalides: This is where Napoleon is burried and his casquet is a must see mostly to appreciate the arabic writings there! Who would have imagined?

4) Les Catacombes de Paris: These are centuries-old underground mass burial sites that now are open to tourists. Your adventure starts by heading through a path between two walls made of actual human skulls! I met there a teenager who was bragging about how all this touristy crap (as he puts it) pales compared to the ‘Real Thing’. Apparently, he and his friends, spend hours exploring the actual “Catacombes’ through some hidden passages known to insiders only. The exploration would include a rite of passage through the sewers , ‘as that’s the only way to get there’. Ummmm….Thanks but no thanks. The touristy crap will have to do for now :)

5) Parks: Boix de Boulogne is a gorgeous park at a vicinity of Paris worth enjoying. You can hike, bike, rollerblade and simply enjoy the outdoors. It also boasts a central lake housing a restaurant at its middle. You take a small boat to get there. Overall a very pleasant and relaxing day.

Travelogue: One Day in Vienna

Posted on August 15th, 2004 filed in Travelogues
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Streets of Vienna

Vienna is the luxurious, capital city of Austria. Situated in central Europe, in the vicinity of the Czech Republic and Hungary, it lies along the Bank of the Danube River.

I spent a day in Vienna, and it is a must see destination from every possible angle.

The transportation in Vienna is very practical. There are Trams, metros and Buses everywhere. They run at a high frequency and are very safe. Taking a bus from the airport to the middle of Down Town is a 40 minute ride and costs about 10 Euros.

My first impression of Vienna is that it is a spacious, clean city, vivacious and filled with style and culture. The people of Vienna are very courteous and friendly. I was struck of how well dressed they are. You see men in suits and women in chic dresses and high heels scurrying around the city. However, most of the population does not speak English, so unless you can manage with German, you will encounter the language barrier.

There are lovely cafes everywhere, with a wide variety of choices and the aroma of coffee is simply mouth-watering. The Viennese Coffee with cream is world renowned and that is for a good reason!

There are literally desert shops with delicious windows displaying sweets and cakes on every corner (instead of the US Starbucks). It is part of their traditions, and you must try their famous hot apple strudel ‘Apfelstrudel’ (referred to in Sound of Music), the dumplings and chocolate cake ‘Sachertorte’.

The smell of hot chestnut and fried potatoes being sold on small corner stands is another
delicious attraction typical to Vienna. As for restaurants, around 20$ should suffice for a good authentic or international meal.

Walking around the city is a cultural experience it itself. Every corner is a photo opportunity. You can spend a few days simple walking around. The architecture is grandiose dating from centuries ago to very modern. Every window is decorated by a sculpture, the presence of the church, revealing the history of the city, is in every stone.

In the heart of the city is a broad boulevard filled with attractions called ‘The Ringstrasse’. There is located the jurassic ‘Saint Stephen’s Cathedral’, which was first built in 1147 (107 m long and 34m wide) and is unique in the world. There is also the Opera House, the parliament, the town hall and many, many beautiful churches.

There are many wonderful, vast green parks with monuments and sculpture representing old myths, history and religion. There are many museums in the city as well, I found the Sissi Museum interesting to see.

There are also many Opera houses of the highest caliber and many classical music concerts for the Austrian musicians Strauss and Beethoven are often available.

Vienna is truly a dream, inspirational city! Every corner is majestic in its architecture and culture. The Music of Beethoven, Strauss and Mozart is in every shop. Visiting the Imperial Palace is walking the path of the world renowned Empress Sissy, and quite honestly you cannot but feel like royalty in this ostentatious city!

US Trip: 10 days across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia

Posted on May 10th, 2003 filed in Travelogues
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Arrival airport: Cincinnatti

Departure airport: Atlanta

Airlines: Delta Airlines

Itinerary: 1 day in Cincinnatti, 1 day in Louisville, 1 day driving, 3 days Smokie Mountains, 4 days Atlanta.

Day 1:
Cincinnatti: We arrived around 10:00 am to Cincinnati airport and picked up our rental car. Off we head to Paramount King’s Island, the famous amusement park we heard so much about and were eager to see. Its reputation is quite earnt as it is laden with many fantastic rides most notable being Racer, The Beast, and the freaky Vortex. An unbelievable experience was however the adrenaline-pumping exhilarating Skyflyer where one is hooked to the top of a crane at a 120 degrees angle then released resulting in a freaky free fall followed by a superman-flying experience (Due to upswing of pendulum). Got a video memory for that. Absolutely awesome.

Left the park around 5 pm and headed to our hotel for some R&R and freshening up. Then headed to Riverside for some night fun. Riverside is the best place to appreciate Cincinatti skyline. First had some sunset drinks and mingled with lots of young crowd to live music at Chez Nora . Then moved to the nearby Chart House for a sumptuous (and quite pricey) steak.
Day 2:

Started our day with a few hour tour of Cincinnati then headed south to Kentucky.

2 hours later we were checking out the Louisville Slugger Museum, home of the largest baseball bat in the world. We then headed to our hotel, on the Indiana bank of Ohio River, and got ready for ‘Thunder over Louisville‘, reportedly the largest firework event in the world. We had booked our rooms close to 10 months ago. I’ve never seen anything like this. The experience was beyond fabulous. There must have been a million people there and the fireworks were phenomenal. Note to self: Must come back.

Day 3:

We started early and headed southeast to Mammoth Caves, the largest cave system in the world. Spent around two hours in one of the tours there and had a great guide that shared so much info about what the cave, and how it was discovered. Grabbed some souvenirs then off we went to Opryland Hotel, in Nashville Tennessee, the famous hotel that was once the largest before Vegas came to light.

What a beautiful place. We enjoyed a water show, innumerable plants and flowers, a gondole stroll, and a great dinner.

Back to the road all the way to Gatlinburg in Tennessee to our rented cottage. It was a fabulous place quite isolated with no sound but that of leaves and crickets. The cottage was made of solid wood and had all types of entertainment: Outdoor hot tub, Indoor Jacuzzi, , Internet, Huge 50 inch TV, DVD player, CD player, Pool table, Table Tennis table, and a fire burning fireplace.

Days 4,5 and 6:

Smokie Mountains

The hot tub experience was itself spectacular. Nothing beats soaking in bubbly water with a cool breeze in your face.

Wer stayed there for 3 days and hiked 5-6 hours each day. All the hikes are well marked with no potential for one to get lost. It was beyond awesome with all the waterfalls, greenery, and peace.

We also explored Gatlinburg itself and it is a lovely town loaded with cutesy and artsy stores as well as heavy country breakfasts. There are also many outlet stores and we did some heavy shopping and landed some really good deals.
I did not see any bears but had a scary encounter with a giant opossum. While watching TV one day, I heard a rustling sound. I first dismissed that but then noted that the sound was getting eerily closed and finally it looks as if something was on our balcony! What a panic! I turned the light on and freaked out of my mind as I saw what looked like this huge, and I mean huge, rat looking thing. It was like few seconds of frightening agony as I then was informed that it is a harmless opossum. What an ugly thing. Eeek.

Days 7-10

On Day 7, we departed Gatlinburg and headed south to Asheville, North Carolina where we spent hours touring and awing at the splendid beauty of Bitmore Estate and its beyond fabulous gardens.

We then headed proceeded to our final destaination, Atlanta, where we met with some friends and spent the last 2+ days there. Atlanta is becoming a huge city and Buckhead is quite a nice area to enjoy and a place to see and be seen. We visited the CNN headquarter and saw how they do the weather reports and toured the Coca Cola Factory nearby. That was quite interesting. Never knew that there were so many coke flavors in this world. They were also showing a number of documentaries about coca cola history and free unlimited fountain refills. Over all, both tours were time well spent.

I believe this trip was quite varied and enjoyable and that both time and money invested in it were well spent. The various sights we have seen and enjoyed and the fun we had, warrants a repeat that hopefully will materialize in the near future. A+.

Mont Tremblant: Great skiing Destination in North America

Posted on February 25th, 2002 filed in Travelogues
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Just returned from a fabulous one week ski trip to Mont Tremblant.

Location: 90 minutes drive from Montreal (1 hour from Airport).

Lodging: There are lots of lodges and chalets. If an indoor jacuzzi or an outdoors hot tub is of interest, then best bet would be to stay within a short drive of main ski resort. This also would get a more sapcious place and cost you less.

The resort itself is extremely well developed and is reminiscent of european ski destinations in Swiss Alps. There are many ski slopes for all skiing levels to enjoy. Numerous instructors on site offer 1 hour, day, or week instructions and are quite reasonably priced (Far less than Europe or Colorado in the US). As expected, you can rent all kinds of ski equipment and clothing there is case you do not bring your own. The ski lift tickets are also not outrageous by all means.

But Tremblant fun is not restricted to skiing.

There are many lovely restaurants on site catering to different cuisines each with its rustic look and burning wood fireplace.

There are also numeous fun activities to enjoy. One must try the three-hour dog-sledding trip or the iceskating rink. Must avoid however are snowmobiles. My particular experience was miserable. I was part of a 20 snowmobile convoy and had an extremely uncomfortable, harshly bumpy, markedly noisy, and diesel smoke polluted 2 hour trip that left me with serious back pain and a pledge to never go through such misery in the future.

That aside, the trip was a wonderful getaway and lots of fun. One can’t go wrong at Mont Tremblant.

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