Thursday, December 13, 2018

Catching the Christmas Spirit in New York City

New York has to be one of the best places on the planet to catch that Christmas spirit. The city certainly does Christmas decorating and celebrating right! Last year was my first time to visit New York over the holidays - and it definitely didn't disappoint. Was it crowded? Definitely! Can you work your way around the crowds? Yes, it can be done. You just have to get creative. What can you do and see in New York at Christmas? Here's a short list:

Check out Macy's Windows
Macy's Flagship Department Store on Herald Square decorates it's windows with a different theme every year. So many people visit that there is a long line to just walk past them. We decided to go take a look during daylight hours so we could beat the crowds. We still saw the windows - they just weren't lit up. You pick and choose people, pick and choose.

View the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Skating Rink
We decided to visit the Top of the Rock Observatory to view the sunset. Then we made our way back to street level and  took a gander at the large Christmas tree that defines Rockefeller Center at Christmas.The tree first appeared at Rockefeller Center in 1931 during the Depression and is decorated with some 45,000 lights.  It was quite impressive! We watched the skaters on the ice at the legendary Rockefeller Center Ice Rink.( And saw the seriously long line of people hoping to skate that night. It's a very, very small rink and unless it's always been your dream to skate there, I'd recommend you do some research and find somewhere less crowded and more affordable - it's $25 per adult and $15 per child to skate for an hour and a half, with skate rental being $15.)

This was by far the most crowded place that we visited - in fact, there were 6 of us and we got separated in the crowds. If you don't like crowds, you can always go during the day.Or maybe be an early riser and head there at 5am while it's still dark out to escape the crowds  Just expect that it will be mobbed at night. 

Catch a show at the Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall puts on one of the most iconic Christmas shows in New York with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The show features 36 Rockettes dancers doing their famous kick-line and the dance of the Wooden Soldiers. Live animals are also included in the show in the living nativity portion. The show is 90 minutes long and as soon as you know you'd like to go, I'd suggest that you secure tickets.

A Stroll down Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue brings out all the displays at Christmas time and you can take a walk to check it all out. Stores such as Bergdorf-Goodman, Tiffany & Co and Saks Fifth Avenue decorate their windows and hotels such as The Plaza do it up big, also. ( between 59th and 39th Streets)Even the New York Public Library decorates for Christmas!

We got swept away in the crowd from Rockefeller Center and ended up in front of Saks Fifth Avenue and it's holiday light show set to music. And fireworks, too. 

Bryant Park Christmas Market
Bryant Park, located behind the New York Public Library, turns into a Christmasy Winter Wonderland each year in it's pop-up Christmas Market that resembles a European Christmas Market. There are more than 125 holiday shops set in kiosks with twinkling Christmas lights and Manhattan's only FREE Ice Skating Rink (We like free!) There are two bars with patio (and fire pits) where you can just have a drink and enjoy the atmosphere. And who knows? You may even get a little shopping done, too.

Ice Skate at Central Park
The Wollman Rink in Central Park has shorter lines - and smaller prices - than Rockefeller Center and a killer view of the city. So if you don't have your heart set on the Rockefeller Rink, then this could be a good alternative. Adults $9 and kids $6 not including skate rental

New York City is just a magical place at Christmas, plain and simple. And there's so much more than this short list. Wouldn't it be cool to see the New York City Ballet perform the Nutcracker? I also didn't make it inside the Plaza hotel, or grab a drink at one of the Christmas pop-up bars, or see the train exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens. As always, I guess I'll just have to go back.

How about you? Have you done New York City at Christmas? What was your favorite?

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and The Weekly Postcard!


Saturday, December 1, 2018

November Beach of the Month: Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach is considered one of the world's most unspoiled and beautiful beaches. In 2016, it was voted the Best Beach in Australia and 5th Best Beach in the World. It's located on Whitsunday Island in Queensland, Australia and can only be reached by boat, plane or helicopter. Known for it's super high silica content, it's sand is blindingly white and soft. 

We based ourselves at an Airbnb condo in Airlie Beach for our trip to Whitehaven. We went by boat - we booked passage on Cruise Whitsunday's, a tour operator that runs out of Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island. 

We walked from our condo rental - about a 15 minute walk - to the Cruise Whitsunday's office at Airlie Marina. There is a cafe and gift shops available while you wait to board your boat.  Our boarding time was 6:45 am - yep, it was an early one and it was already 90 degrees outside - and departure was at 7:15. (We were on the half-day tour which was part of a package with our reef trip the day before. But you can take an all day trip with a hike to Hill Inlet to view the famous Whitsunday Island "Swirls".)

Our boat had an outdoor seating deck and two air-conditioned areas on the top and bottom deck with viewing windows to watch the passing scenery. Complimentary tea and coffee are offered along with toast when you first board. And morning fruit and muffins before you reach the island. It took about an hour to reach Hamilton Island where we picked up more passengers. And then it was about 45 minutes until we reached Whitsunday Island. 

Once arriving at Whitsunday the boat drops anchor and you are tendered onto the beach by a contraption called a "rail" that holds about 30 people at a time. The trouble on the day we went was that the winds were strong and "the northerlies" - winds from the north - which were less than ideal for our trip. We were told that we probably wouldn't be able to get to the beach. But as luck would have it, the winds started drifting more from the northwest and calmed a bit so we could actually get to the beach. Fun item: there was a bride and groom either getting married on the beach or taking photos - they sure picked a hot one for that!

We were transported by the rail and spent about 2 hours on the beach itself. Cruise Whitsunday's provided sand tents to stay out of the fierce sun, a guided nature walk, a volleyball competition and drinking water. We chose to walk the beach - it's about 5 miles long - and enjoy the delightfully aqua water. The temps were about 100 degrees by the time we reached the beach but as I said before, there was a big breeze blowing so that made it a little more comfortable.

In the warm waters off the Whitsunday's there are lethal jellyfish that can't be seen and the box jellyfish can kill an adult with it's venom within 2 to 3 minutes. So precautions are taken if you're swimming there in spring or summer when the waters heat up. That's when the "stinger suits" come into play. Cruise Whitsunday's offers a complimentary suit for everyone to wear and you're covered from head to toe except for your face. Aren't they the sexiest? (Mr. UR asked one of the crew if they were really necessary and his reply was "It's up to you, mate, but I wouldn't go in without one")

We enjoyed the swimming and the beach and then it was time to board up again. By now the winds were really picking up  so they beached the boat and we entered by gangplank for our 2 hour return trip to Airlie Beach. We arrived by 1:45 and headed out for lunch.

My daughter declared this one of the most beautiful beaches she's been to. I, also, thought it was beautiful but I've seen some beaches just as beautiful but easier for me to get to. (It was an hour drive to Sydney airport, a 2 hour flight to Prosepine, a 40 minute shuttle ride to Airlie Beach and then your time on the boat - not to mention 21 hours in the air from the US alone with 28 hour total travel time from the East Coast) Am I glad I went? Oh, most definitely! If you're on the East Coast of Australia - go! And if you're visiting the eastern part of Australia - go! I'm so glad that I did!

How about you? Have you been to Whitehaven Beach?

Interested in traveling to Whitehaven Beach? For more on the tour group we used - Cruise Whitsunday's - click here (This is not sponsored, just a good experience)

Linking up with: The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my US friends, I'm wishing you the happiest of Thanksgiving's. I hope you have a delicious meal and fun family time!

To all my international friends, I hope you have a fun weekend!

I'm thankful for all of you who stop by here weekly, for reading this blog, for commenting, and for becoming my world wide friends!


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Day Trippin in Santa Ynez Wine Country

My first ever visit to a winery was in the Santa Ynez Wine Country in Southern California. I was instantly smitten. And it will forever rank as one of my all time favorite areas to visit wineries. I mean, how can one not enjoy drinking good wine in a bucolic setting with fantastic views outside in perfect weather? And why hadn't I been doing this all my adult life?

Santa Ynez Valley is located a tad northwest of Santa Barbara and is unique in that most wine growing areas are in mountain ranges that are north-south and Santa Ynez is in a mountain range that is east-west. Hence, it's a bit sideways. So much so that there is an award winning movie - Sideways - that took place in Santa Ynez. And I was thrilled to return on my trip to Southern California this past spring. Here's what I got up to.

Santa Ynez We began our day trip in Burbank and our first stop was for lunch in the town of Santa Ynez at Panino, a quaint sandwich shop with a courtyard patio for dining right in this western themed town. If you wanted to spend more time here before hitting up the wineries, you could walk the boardwalk, shop, visit the historical society museum and maybe even see a horse tied up to a hitching post. Also nearby is the Chumash Casino Resort with gaming and live entertainment. We were on a mission, though, and after lunch we headed to our first winery.

Buttonwood Winery & Vineyard - Solvang
We began our day at the 39 acre vineyard - and 106 acre farm - of Buttonwood. Set in an incredibly peaceful setting, we decided not to do a tasting but enjoy a glass outside at the picnic tables overlooking the vines. Buttonwood Farm is sustainably managed and was green long before it was the norm. You can enjoy a tasting here, a glass on the patio or overlooking the gardens. 

The Brander Vineyard - Los Olivos
I enjoyed my visit to Brander Vineyard, a vineyard known for it's quest to make the best Sauvignon Blanc. (In fact, Fred Brander the owner is known as the "King of Sauvignon Blanc")  We did a tasting and the customer service was great. Several people waited on us and they all gave us their attention discussing all things wine. And an added bonus at Brander is that they have a winery cat. I liked the wine,especially the rose, the winery and the french chateau vibe - and the cat!

Saarloos & Sons - Los Olivos
Saarloos & Sons is located in the cute little town of Los Olivos and we picked it for one reason only - they have a wine and cupcake pairing. If you know me, you know I'm a cupcake lover so this winery was a given when I found out there would be wine - and cupcakes! I loved the building, the patio, the cupcakes and pretty much this whole winery. It's a unique place - decorated very quirkily - and there's outdoor seating in the back and front yards which we enjoyed. The wine was good - and of course, so were the cupcakes. I'd definitely go back. (And no pretentiousness that you can get with wineries. It even says on their website that if you act uppity, you'll get kicked out. You're 86'ed! So don't do it!)

Firestone Vineyard
Firestone was my least favorite winery of the day for a few reasons - we arrived almost at closing time and the employees were busy setting up for an outdoor patio concert so they were quite preoccupied. And they only did tastings - no glasses of wine - so we split one. Not my favorite wine either. But to each his own. You may go there and absolutely love it!

Buscador Wine Company - Buellton
Buscador Wine Company is located in an industrial space in the town of Buellton with a very unique bar, lots of cool artwork and the barrels of wine stored right there in the winery. The industrial vibe and artwork worked for me - and I liked that it was different than anyplace else that we had been. The wine was good, too. 

I figure I'll have to get back to Santa Ynez Valley someday. There are still so many wineries to visit!

How about you? Have you been to Santa Ynez Valley?

California Fires
If you'd like to contribute to help those devastated by the worst wildfires in California's history killing over 40 and burning some 100,000 acres in both Northern California and Southern California, then here are a few choices:

If you prefer to give directly instead of through a relief organization then GoFundMe has an urgent cause section of their website helping those affected by the fire such as first responders, animals impacted by the fire or general relief funds. Go to GoFundMe.

Here's a compiled list of organizations helping on the front lines by the New York Times. Go to How to Help Those Affected by the California Fires.

And here's another compilation for giving - and not just for monetary donations but also volunteer options. Go to 19 Things You Can Do To Help California Fire Victims Right Now

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekly Postcard at California Globetrotter and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!