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What city do you (or would you) travel to holiday shop?

November 11th, 2010

Yes, I am already making my lists and have even purchased a few goodies for friends and family. I love this time of year and enjoy finding that perfect present.

I do plenty of online shopping but also peruse boutiques and local shops for unique gifts. One of the cities I enjoy for this is Vancouver, Canada. My husband and I live in Seattle and relish the 3-hour drive up north for Christmas shopping– so much so that it’s become an annual event for us. It’s as much about the weekend escape as it is about selecting gifts: I savor my first peppermint hot chocolate of the season, my husband happily snaps photos of the urban landscape, and Vancouver’s crisp air creates a lovely backdrop for the festive season.

Someday I’m going to hit New York for this annual “task”. Have you ever indulged in destination holiday shopping? Where are your favorite spots? Do tell!

Aimee Palacios Travel Guide , , , , ,

Free things to do in Paris

May 12th, 2010

Basilique du Sacre-Couer on Montmartre
The view from the highest point in the city is free (and a great place to kiss apparently).

So far in 2010, Paris has been experiencing a return to prominence as the top European destination for travelers. I found the city so beautiful with art, food, and wonderful people on nearly every corner. Plus it’s so easy to get around on the excellent Metro system.

To really enjoy Paris you don’t have to spend a lot of money either. Book one of our value hotels and then enjoy these ten things you can do for free while in Paris:

1. Notre Dame – You can enter Notre Dame and walk the grounds for free. Certain areas are only accessible by tour, however.
2. Basilique du Sacre Coeur – See that big white thing on the hill known as Montmartre, you can tour it for free. It’s the highest point in the city, so enjoy the view, and it’s directly above some of the city’s best markets for exploring (don’t miss the spice market).
3. Take a ‘podcast’ tour - Download a free walking tour podcast and set out on your own. Rick Steves has a great Paris walk-tour and it’s a free download.
4. Enjoy a free walking tour – There are a number of free tours in Paris. At St. Michel in the Latin Quarter and in Montmartre you can join a free walking tour of Paris. Plus there are some tour guides who regularly offer ‘free’ tours. Just be sure to tip your tour guide.

Chopin's grave at Pere Lachaise
Tributes surround Chopin’s grave at Pere Lachaise

5. Celebrity Spotting the easy way – There’s one place where you can always find famous people, the cemetery. The Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise is the famous resting place of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. Alexandre Dumas and Edgar Degas can be found at The Cimetiere de Montmartre. Also many churches have some amazing burial tombs.
6. Have a Picnic in the Garden - Stop by the Tuileries, a 16th century palace with lots of public art to explore. The Jardin du Luxembourg – is best known for its puppet shows and toy sail boats, but it is also filled with sculptures, gardens, and excellent people watching opportunities. Grab a baguette, some cheese and wine and enjoy a wonderful afternoon.
7. Book Stores - Paris has some of the most unconventional book stores around. Les bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine are a must see and nearby is the world famous ‘Shakespeare and Co.’ store.
8. Performance Art - The Centre Pompidou usually has a free outdoor concert or other public art performance. You may also enjoy walking the streets near Picasso’s home (now a museum) and photographing the graffiti art that is very popular there.
9. Look Around — The height limit set for buildings has meant that the density of architectural beauty is very high in Paris. There’s the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the exterior of the Louvre just to name a few. Repeat this tour at night for a completely different experience. The Centre Pompidou and La Defense are examples of more modern approach that has come to Paris lately.
10. Go Shopping for flair – The Champes Elysees is world famous for a reason. But for me the magic of Paris is found in the small shops frequented by the locals. The Galeries Lafayette is known for its breathtaking setting. The unique Belle Epoque architecture of the store is worth a trip. Be sure to see the dramatic colored glass dome and the ornate Art Nouveau staircase while there.

This is just a short list. Keep an eye open for free days at museums, art galleries, and other events in the parks or streets of the city.

Photo Credits: Basilique du Sacre-Couer and Pere Lachaise. Both under a CC license.

JFrost Destinations, Travel Guide , , , , , ,

Travel Blog Highlght - Walking Off The Big Apple

March 25th, 2010

Planning a trip to New York this year? Perhaps you’re in town on business and have a few extra hours to enjoy the town between conference session? Walking Off The Big Apple is the perfect companion for your needs. The blog is a compendium of things to do when you’re in New York City. It features many self-guided walks are broken down by area and interest. You’ll also discover very useful tips for getting around, museum openings, and by neighborhood.

This weeks stories include a trip to the Met for Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose, a stroll around the recently enlivened Petrosino Square, and a look at some of the city’s best spring time fun.

Walking Off The Big Apple is written by Teri Tynes, a freelance journalist. You can also find her on Twitter as @TeriTynes.

JFrost Travel Guide , , , , , ,

Paris Shopping by Neighborhood

March 12th, 2010

Shopping in Paris

Surprising a lot of people, Paris is a top destination for Spring Break this year. If you’re on your way for spring break or any other season, you may want to map out your shopping strategy in advance. Paris is broken into neighborhoods or as they call them arrondissements. Each has a unique character, special restaurants, and shopping. But there are a few that are clearly the best:

1st Arrondissement — Where the 1st arrondissements meets the 8th on Paris’s Right Bank is where you’ll find the best shopping strip. This fertile hunting ground includes the rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, home of the big designer houses, and the Champs-Elysées, which has seen changes over the years, but it still the place to be seen. If you are near the Palais Royal, you’ll find a jewel of a collection of boutique shops around the garden areas of the palace.

2nd Arrondissement — Located near the Palais Royal you can find the Garment District, which features amazing clothing bargains and some other unique shops. There is also a small collection of streets that are now closed to vehicle traffic and covered in glass. The Passage de Grand Cerf, between 145 rue St-Denis and 10 rue Dussoubs, is a place of amazement. From hipi retro stores to Asian-themed shops you’re bound to find something that pleases. Plus don’t pass up on the food stalls.

3rd Arrondissement — Home to the Musee Picasso this neighborhood is a great place to find street art, particularly stencil graffiti, sprinkled on building walls and inside doorways. The upper Marais area, down near the 4th arrondissement features a large number of men’s clothing stores. Also look for the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, which is open on Sundays, a rarity in Paris. It features trendy fashion boutiques and outdoor dining opportunities.

4th Arrondissement — This is the neighborhood for lovers of art and food. Both the Pompidou Centre and the Bastille district are settings for up-and-coming artists and galleries, not to mention street performers. You will also find the Marche aux Fleurs et Marche aux Oiseaux (the Flower and Bird markets) just on the north side of the Ile de la Cite.

Shakespeare and Co

5th Arrondissement — Part of the Latin Quarter, it’s also home to many of the cities educational and research establishments, like the Sorbonne. This means you’ll find plenty of budget shopping, apropos for someone living on a student’s budget. My favorite joint in the whole town is the eccentric and electric book store Shakespeare and Co., which you’ll find right down beside the Siene. For the young, and the young at heart, visit l’Epee de bois (the Wooden Sword) on the street of the same name.

9th Arrondissement — Home to many of the city’s big department stores, including Printemps flagship store. The 9th is defined by the Paris Opera house, railway stations, and luxury hotels, but don’t pass up the Passage du Havre. This old shopping arcade has its history in fish shops and transportation, but the modern incarnation is a beautiful mall. Enter on the Rue de Caumartin and experience the modern Paris shopping experience.

Photo Credits:

Haussman Boulevard & Printemps store / CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare and Co. / CC BY 2.0

JFrost Travel Guide , , , , ,

Extreme Base Jumping Experience to open in Las Vegas

January 11th, 2010

When you’re in Las Vegas there’s no rush quite like winning a big hand or a giant bet that finally comes in. All that will change this April when the Stratosphere Las Vegas Hotel & Casino opens its next thrill ride, The SkyJump Las Vegas.

Adrenaline junkies, and daring tourists, can experience the rush of an 855 foot “controlled freefall” off the Stratosphere Tower. This 40 mph fall will provide guests an experience similar to base jumping or skydiving. Plus there’s the added benefit of the amazing panoramic view from the Stratosphere. That is if you can dare keep your eyes open.

“We’re incredibly excited to bring SkyJump Las Vegas to the Stratosphere,” said Frank Riolo, CEO of American Casino & Entertainment Properties. “This will not only be North America’s only skyjump, but also the highest skyjump in the world.”

Riders of SkyJump Las Vegas will be given a short safety lesson and then they will be suited up in Stratosphere’s custom “jump suits.” The rider is then connected to a patented high-speed “descender” machine and led to the edge of a small platform where they will leap out and descend the 100+ story height of Stratosphere. Guide wires keep riders from straying off course in what is an incredibly safe, yet audacious adventure. Just prior to reaching the rapidly approaching ground, the machine slows the rider down, bringing them to a controlled and safe landing.

“While the entire experience - from preparation to landing - takes just 30 minutes, the thrill will last a lifetime,” Riolo continued. “Stratosphere has made a commitment to reinvesting in our property at all levels and this will be an outstanding addition for everyone - whether you’re making the leap yourself or watching those daring enough to do it.”

SkyJump is expected to open April of 2010, and will join three thrill rides already atop the tower: Big Shot, X-Scream and Insanity.

Book now and you can stay in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip in Five Star Luxury for as low as $64 a night. Only LastMinuteTravel.com’s exclusive Best Value! partnership makes this extremely low rate possible.

JFrost Travel Guide , , , , , ,

GeoBeats.com

October 3rd, 2008

geobeats.com

GeoBeats.com is a great website for getting a sneak peak of travel destinations. You can search the website by Destination and by Topic which is pretty convienent. It’s also really good for the traveler who wants to know what are good activities to do in a particular destination. The videos are professional and give a good preview of each location. Some of the videos even have tips about the public transportation, restaurants and local etique. They even have videos that will teach you local phrases that can come in very handy.

Erica Fischer Travel, Travel Guide, Website Review ,

“Exotic” Travel in Helsinki

September 12th, 2008

If you are a savvy traveler and you know that there is more to Europe than London, Paris and Rome why not including one of the more exotic European capitals in your next trip in Europe? Helsinki – the capital of Finland - will definitely have a top ranking on this list.

There is a lot to explore although the city is only a fraction of the size of Paris or Berlin. Luckily most of Helsinki’s people speak English very well otherwise you would have problems. Unlike a trip to France or Germany you will not be able to pick up a few catchy phrases from a guide book during your flight time. Street names and words with seven “i”s will make you look into your guidebook or on the map the same number of times before you memorize the words. This makes a taxi ride as exotic as in Japan so you better point on the map or on the street name in a book. Otherwise it may happen you land in a totally different neighbourhood. Speaking of taxis: the basic starting fare when you board a taxi at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport is EUR 6.80 (and you are not gone any mile for this)…

The number of typical sightseeing targets (think: mum is standing with hanging arms in front of Eiffel Tower) in Helsinki is not high. That does not mean you cannot spend 4 or 5 days for a visit. It’s more about the full picture of Helsinki and Finland: what are the people like, what are their habits, what is the fashion, what are they interested in, where do they go for their weekend, what is the food like…

Hotel Kämp

Hotel Kamp

So while you visit you may include classic spots like the Senate Square with its neo-classical Cathedral; Esplanade Park with elegant shops and the posh Hotel Kämp; the “Rock” church with modern architecture, quarried out of the natural bedrock with excellent acoustics for concerts; the orthodox church with its golden cupolas showing the Russian impact of former times.

Helsinki

During a summer trip you can enjoy long days and a 20 minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna, an island with a maritime fortress and beautiful views of other sides of the city at the sea.

Suomenlinna

If you travel in winter time you should not miss a visit to your hotel’s sauna (you do not need to stay in a spa hotel to have that) or much better: to Yrjönkatu, an amazingly restored swimming hall from the 1920s.

A cheap and fun way to see different neighbourhoods is to jump on a tram. One of the most interesting neighbourhoods you will see then is the Design District with many shops, galleries, design hotel Klaus K and the Design Forum Finland showing most of the country’s big names in design and art. You will find all the classic top-class brands and trend-setting young designers for objects and furniture.

Klaus K

But one of my favourite things to do in Helsinki is: checking out restaurants ! I do not speak of traditional so-called-typical Finnish food like elk. Not that it’s bad but admit it: it is rather to show off next time when your friends compare what exotic meat everybody ate on his trips than to enjoy a fantastic dinner. There has been a development in Helsinki’s restaurant scene that brings very creative chefs from all around the world into this city’s kitchens. The food is very fresh and of high quality, the meals are creative and restaurants offer various atmospheres. Try “Sasso”, a Tuscan restaurant with fantastic food and an exceptional wine list. The service is outstanding and you can dare to ask for details of a wine and you will get the full story including who created the label on the bottle. Similar situation at “Fishmarket” , situated below “Sasso” in the same building and has the same owner but different approach and style. Despite its location in a cellar it is very bright and crisp in style. The fish is a well. Both restaurants can be found at the end of Esplanade street towards the port.

Another favourite is “Mecca”, a cool lounge/club goes restaurant goes club. The atmosphere is as you would expect it from a stylish club. Regular guests match this style – without the attitude you know from New York or Paris.

Mecca

Mecca

For another Mediterranean top restaurant I recommend “La Cucina”

La Cocina

with Catalonian and Basque cuisine. Located at the Palace Hotel’s second floor directly at the port. The restaurant welcomes guests with dark black and red design, stylish, modern but cozy. They offer pintxos (tapas) and main dishes of great variety and combinations. Fantastic dark blood coloured red match perfectly. I had my best deserts at this restaurant (chocolate varieties with sea salt) and would not fly Helsinki if I knew this restaurant was closed during that time (almost…).

La Cucina

I did not expect the great food and sophisticated interest for architecture and design before I came to Helsinki for the first time. Be surprised if you are going.

carsteng Destinations, Travel, Travel Guide ,

Bike and Boat Tours in Amsterdam

June 30th, 2008

Bike and Boat Tours in Amsterdam

Locals riding by on bikes is very common in Amsterdam, see the city as the locals do by renting a bike. You can tour the city on bike or take a tour on a boat through Amsteram’s canals. The boats provide the best views of the city.

Review of Mike’s Bike and Boat Tours

Mike’s Bike and Boat Tours Amsterdam - Offers two separate tours throughout the year, the Daily Bike Tour and the Bike and Boat Tour. The Daily Bike Tour meets everyday from May until September and travels the entire city and countryside visiting sites such as a windmill and a cheese farm/clog factory. During the June, July and August months the Bike and Boat Tours are avaliable. These tours depart 3 times per week for about 5 hours for both the bike and boat tour. The bike tour goes through town and passes by sites such as Dam Square, the Nieuw Markt and the Anne Frank House. On the boat tour the group has the boat all to themselves. The tour lasts about an hour and takes you through the Amsterdam Canals including the Red Light District. Beer and soft drinks are served on the boat and are included in the tour price. On the way back, the boat will stop for snacks and sandwiches in Vondel Park. You can purchase snacks and sandwiches there or bring a packed lunch. For more information visit Mike’s Bike Tours Amsterdam.

Tips for getting the most out of your bike or boat tour

  • Make sure you are well equip with mosquito spray if you plan on taking these tours in the summer months.

LMT Clock Destinations, Travel, Travel Guide ,

Playa Tortuga

June 27th, 2008

Playa Tortuga

With lots open-air cafes, restaurants and bars to choose from, Playa Tortugas in Cancun Mexico’s white sandy beach is a great beach to visit. With shopping and tons of watersports, you can definitely make this beach a day trip.

The water at this beach is clear, calm and deep which is perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. Playa Tortugas means Turtle Beach in English, here’s a perfect example as to why it is named this:

Diving in Playa Tortuga Reef 2007

If you want to rent snorkeling equipment head over to the northern end of the island. You can also rent sailboards there as well.

Tips for visiting Playa Tortuga

  • No entrance fee.
  • There is a public bus you can take that will drop you off right in front of the entrance.
  • This is one of the local’s favorite beaches so expect crowds.
  • Restrooms and changing areas are located along the northern end of this beach.

LMT Clock Destinations, Travel, Travel Guide ,

“Exotic” Travel in Helsinki

June 23rd, 2008

If you are a savvy traveller and you know that there is more to Europe than London, Paris and Rome why not including one of the more exotic European capitals in your next trip in Europe? Helsinki – the capital of Finland - will definitely have a top ranking on this list.

 

 

There is a lot to explore although the city is only a fraction of the size of Paris or Berlin.

Luckily most of Helsinki’s people speak English very well otherwise you would have problems. Unlike a trip to France or Germany you will not be able to pick up a few catchy phrases from a guide book during your flight time. Street names and words with seven “i”s will make you look into your guidebook or on the map the same number of times before you memorize the words. This makes a taxi ride as exotic as in Japan so you better point on the map or on the street name in a book. Otherwise it may happen you land in a totally different neighbourhood. Speaking of taxis: the basic starting fare when you board a taxi at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport is EUR 6.80 (and you are not gone any mile for this)….

 

 

The number of typical sightseeing targets (think: mum is standing with hanging arms in front of Eiffel Tower) in Helsinki is not high. That does not mean you cannot spend 4 or 5 days for a visit. It’s more about the full picture of Helsinki and Finland: what are the people like, what are their habits, what is the fashion, what are they interested in, where do they go for their weekend, what is the food like…

 

Hotel Kämp

Hotel Kamp

So while you visit you may include classic spots like the Senate Square with its neo-classical Cathedral; Esplanade Park with elegant shops and the posh Hotel Kämp; the “Rock” church with modern architecture, quarried out of the natural bedrock with excellent acoustics for concerts; the orthodox church with its golden cupolas showing the Russian impact of former times.

Helsinki

During a summer trip you can enjoy long days and a 20 minute ferry ride to Suomenlinna, an island with a maritime fortress and beautiful views of other sides of the city at the sea.

 

 

 

Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna

If you travel in winter time you should not miss a visit to your hotel’s sauna (you do not need to stay in a spa hotel to have that) or much better: to Yrjönkatu, an amazingly restored swimming hall from the 1920s.

 

A cheap and fun way to see different neighbourhoods is to jump on a tram. One of the most interesting neighbourhoods you will see then is the Design District with many shops, galleries, design hotel Klaus K and the Design Forum Finland showing most of the country’s big names in design and art. You will find all the classic top-class brands and trend-setting young designers for objects and furniture.

 

 

Hotel Klaus K

Klaus K

 

But one of my favourite things to do in Helsinki is: checking out restaurants ! I do not speak of traditional so-called-typical Finnish food like elk. Not that it’s bad but admit it: it is rather to show off next time when your friends compare what exotic meat everybody ate on his trips than to enjoy a fantastic dinner. There has been a development in Helsinki’s restaurant scene that brings very creative chefs from all around the world into this city’s kitchens. The food is very fresh and of high quality, the meals are creative and restaurants offer various atmospheres. Try “Sasso”, a Tuscan restaurant with fantastic food and an exceptional wine list. The service is outstanding and you can dare to ask for details of a wine and you will get the full story including who created the label on the bottle. Similar situation at “Fishmarket” , situated below “Sasso” in the same building and has the same owner but different approach and style. Despite its location in a cellar it is very bright and crisp in style. The fish is a well. Both restaurants can be found at the end of Esplanade street towards the port.

Another favourite is “Mecca”, a cool lounge/club goes restaurant goes club. The atmosphere is as you would expect it from a stylish club. Regular guests match this style – without the attitude you know from New York or Paris.

 

Mecca

Mecca

For another Mediterranean top restaurant I recommend “La Cucina” - with Catalonian and Basque cuisine. Located at the Palace Hotel’s second floor directly at the port. The restaurant welcomes guests with dark black and red design, stylish, modern but cozy. They offer pintxos (tapas) and main dishes of great variety and combinations. Fantastic dark blood coloured red match perfectly. I had my best deserts at this restaurant (chocolate varieties with sea salt) and would not fly Helsinki if I knew this restaurant was closed during that time (almost…).

La Cocina

 

La Cucina

I did not expect the great food and sophisticated interest for architecture and design before I came to Helsinki for the first time. Be surprised if you are going.

carsteng Destinations, Travel, Travel Guide , , , , ,