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Can Tho - Vietnam

Can Tho – Vietnam

Can Tho,  the heart of the Mekong Delta, is a bustling market community of  200,000. The central Mekong Delta is the richest, most prolific  agricultural region of Vietnam. It covers some 67,000 square km and  is one of the nation’s most densely populated areas.

The Mekong  Delta is comprised of small villages that dot dozens of ribbon-thin  arroyos meandering under a thick canopy of papaya, mango and  jackfruit trees. Some are reachable only by longtail boat, and then  only at high tide. Tiny bicycle paths cut off innocuously from  Highway 1 barely noticed by the tourists who whisk by in minibuses.  Deep down these trails are wonders which will delight even the most  “‘Nam-ed out” tourist. The adventurer can simply choose one of these  rutted paths and follow it, sometimes many kilometers, to the end.

Be prepared to stumble upon Buddhist funerals, tiny cafes, pool  halls and sows the size of water buffalo that might only be coaxed  out of your path by a less-than-gentle kick to the rump. If you’re  backpacking Vietnam, you’ll be invited into villagers’ homes for  freshly-slaughtered sow and chickens, and vats of that volatile  concoction called Ruou Gao, or homemade rice whiskey, which is  distilled from rats, snakes and apparently virtually everything but  rice.

Floating  markets are the Delta’s prime attractions. Unlike those found in  Bangkok, these markets aren’t for the benefit of camcorder-toting  tourists. Early each morning the Bassac River and its tributaries  swell with vendors in sampans, houseboats and longtails jammed with  fresh Delta produce: jackfruit, mangosteen, durian, papaya, mango,  bananas, pineapple, guava, fresh vegetables and smuggled sundries  from cigarettes to shampoo. The best market to visit is about 30 km  south of Can Tho in Phung Hiep. There, hundreds of watercraft weave  in and out of this congealing maze of boats, their owners shouting  to advertise their wares. A little closer, but no less exotic, is  the Phong Diem floating market. Closest is the smaller Cai Rang  floating market, just across the Cai Rang bridge about 6.5 km south of Can Tho.

Another  worthwhile trip, best made at dusk, is to the Bang Lang Stork  Sanctuary just outside the village of Thot Not. A hour’s drive from  Can Tho, then another 15 minutes by longtail boat, the sanctuary is  home to literally thousands of storks that return each evening to  roost. Even those who aren’t crazy about birds will appreciate the  intimate glimpse of Delta life along the waterway to and from the  sanctuary. Back in town, check out the 1852 Binh Thuy Temple and its  100-year-old stuffed tiger. Other attractions include the Ho Chi  Minh Museum, the Central Market and the Cantonese Congregation
Pagoda.

Can Tho is rapidly taking on the trappings of Saigon.Each  month, the city seems to creep farther and farther into the  neon-green landscape of the Delta. Its mishmash of cultures –  Vietnamese, Khmer and Chinese – gives the city an almost  cosmopolitan feel. A brand-new, 4-star resort property is testament  to Can Tho’s surge in popularity, both as a business and tourist  center. The best time to visit is during the dry season from  November through April, as the delta is virtually underwater the  rest of the year.

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Hong Kong Island

China is a big and beautiful country and you will definitely want to come visit here at least a few times during your lifetime. One of the most popular places in China is Hong Kong. Whether you are going to Hong Kong for business or just trave.ling fun, there are so many things to do and places to stay.

A truly underrated aspect of Hong Kong has to be Hong Kong Island. This is truly considered as one of the best area to stay in Hong Kong no matter who you may be. Hong Kong Island is an island  that makes up the southern part of Hong Kong and has a population itself of over 1 million. Enjoy the popular attractions like “The Peak”, which is an oceanic park, and go hiking along the island’s mountain ranges.

Hong Kong Island beholds so much natural beauty and has a ton of shopping areas for people just like you visiting. You will find the view on the island to be amazing and simply breath taking. There are many options when it comes to choosing a hotel or residency during your visit to Hong Kong. And don’t forget about the many restaurants featuring the tasty Chinese cuisine.

As always, make sure to plan everything ahead of time and make sure you are fully packed and prepared for your trip to Hong Kong. Make sure to leave room to bring home souvenirs as this is a common mistake travelers will make! Your visit to Hong Kong is surely going to be a memorable one. Enjoy your stay on Hong Kong Island and it is guaranteed you are going to have a great time!

Travel Review of John McCarthy’s Lahinch Surf School

Take a Break from the Pubs and Castles with a Newbie-friendly Surfing Experience on Ireland’s West Coast

If you’re planning a travel route through Ireland, you’ve probably already figured out a lot of the must-visit destinations: you’ll gape in awe at the Cliffs of Moher, try your hand at kissing the Blarney stone and spend hours getting lost in the streets in cities such as Galway, Cork, and Dublin. But you can’t forget the other, less-obvious choices. Take surfing, for instance. With Ireland’s reputation as a rainy, rainy country, you may bulk at the prospect of spending a few hours in its chilly waters, but rest assured that the tiny coast town of Lahinch offers a brilliant surfing experience for seasoned surfers and newcomers alike.

Ireland summers can actually be quite nice, and we were lucky to have a warm (if slightly overcast) day on the morning we headed out for the wave-splashed beach at Lahinch. A number of surf schools and board rental companies operate from the car park along the esplanade, but John McCarthy’s Lahinch Surf School has an inviting, permanent booth with bold red flags marking its location.

I’d never surfed before, shudder at the thought of even standing on a skateboard, and at times even feel wobbly on a bike-still, the cheerful instructors assured me I’d do fine, so I squeezed into a wetsuit, grabbed a board (they use foam boards for safety), and joined the other five in my group to follow the instructor down to the beach (Lahinch Surf School operates with a maximum instructor to student ratio of 8:1).

Before going into the water, the instructor taught us how to properly mount the surfboard, paddle and, when the time is right, get up onto the board-all of which we had to goofily pantomime on the sand. After a few quick safety pointers, we sloshed out into the waist-deep water, slid onto our boards, and started trying-some with more success than others-to catch a wave.

To spare my dignity I won’t go into the exact details of my success to failure ratio, but I will say that I was able, even with my complete lack of coordination, to make it onto the board and ride a wave all the way to shore. The instructor exhibited great patience throughout, at one point even holding my arms as I stood on the board to give me an easier start (“This is a little awkward. I don’t usually do this for guys,” he quipped in his cheerful lilt).

The hour and a half went by all too quickly and I was sad to hear the instructor announce when it was time to catch one last wave. Lahinch Surf School does offer other options if you’re on a longer tour of Ireland and would like a fuller surfing experience, such as weekend classes.

If you’ve ever had even the tiniest inkling of wanting to have a go at surfing and you’re going to be in the area, be sure to stop by Lahinch and visit the Lahinch Surf School-it’s only about 10 minutes from the iconic Cliffs of Moher and the waves are always rolling in.

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Travelling Parquet Guell, Palacio Guell and Casa Mila

International Art Nouveau, emerging from that crossroads of civilizations formed at the close of the 19th century when a modern mentality commenced its opposition to one of the most decisive mutations to human history, had, it goes without saying, its Catalonian version, and there, to develop it to the limit of its lavishness, was the strong and admirably creative personality of Antonio Gaudi.

Antonio Gaudi, born in 1852, soon reigned supreme in this cultural reinaixencia that Catalonia lived at the turn of the century. However what singles the great Catalan artist out among others is not so much the idea that he spearheaded with force and decisions the new tendencies but how he accomplished them. Because with in the new aesthetic canons. That revolutionized the Neo-Classical structures, Gaudi was the preeminent innovator and the most surprising and spectacular guidelines. Although he used unorthodox language and independent from, he achieved the interior goals of Art Nouveau.

Gaudi, the ultimate builder of cathedrals is, in one way, a craftsman of stone which he pulverized, manipulated and twisted to obtain the desirable decorative effects, always ignoring the technical elements of the new industry. Let us not forget that Gaudi-style revolution took place parallel to the industrial revolution which built the interminable black ironwork of the Tower Eiffel that soared upward into the sky of Paris.

Gaudi’s sensitivity and imaginative capacity not only disconnected him from the declining Neo-Classical moulds, but also introduced him into that world of fantastic rationality which he dominated like no one else; he was lord and master of a uniquely personal and unquestionable style.

Besides his studies in philosophy literature and the theory of art history (at that time he was a student of Mila I Fontanals), he also took a great interest in animal and vegetable forms, from which he extracted a great many of his guidelines for symbolism and fantasy.

Although we must look for the most spectacular expression of Gaudi in the high spires crowning the universal temple of the Sangrada Familia, begun in 1883, conforming to the Neo-Gothic lines projected by F. de Villar, the Palacio Guell, the parquet Guell and the Casa Mila are the three architectural examples chosen in 1984 by the UNESCO to best represent Antonio Gaudi’s works on list of National Heritage of Humanity.

The palacio Guell was initiated in 1886. It is a palatial building commissioned by the Guell family. As in all of his works, this assignment by the rich patron of the arts, the industrialist Eusebio Guell, shows the unmistakable mark which entails the intimate hybridization of the architect Gaudi, the engineer Gaudi and the infinite conception of his artistic itineraries. Gaudi would add to his innumerable structural solutions a series of artistic and beautiful details. The great cupola in the central hall of the Palacio Guell, for example, contains circular apertures through which a zenithal and filtered light passes. From the skillful combination of marble and wood delicate chromatic contrasts emerge, fruit of the opaqueness of the stone and the sensation of warmth of the costly woods. And facing it, we see the strength and potency of the iron beams or the fantastic lattice work on the upper storey.

The Parque Guell, or Guell Estate, owing to its extension, its possible heterogeneity, and to its wide open spaces, offered Gaudi an excellent opportunity, for using his vast imagination and expressive liberty. Here the architect, the engineer and the ever supreme artist proliferate in infinity of forms and resources.

For the thirteen years the work lasted (1901-1914), Gaudi displayed this unlimited creative capacity, which, commencing with the aesthetic exaltation of the prosaic was capable of soaring to the highest summits of the imagination and fantasy. Here in full liberty, forms and volumes never find a limit to their exuberance or tire in their dynamic evolution: the dragon on the central staircase, preceding the great Doric peri style supporting the overhead terrace: the college of ceramic pieces that decorate a vast surface of benches and hemicycles with an infinite quantity of colors; the oval pavilions with irregular windows; the cupolas surrounded by battlements set with mosaics; the grandiose Doric temple with 84 columns of fluted shafts and its central polychrome soffit; the veined piers of imbricated stone that support the paths or line them as rosettes. The entire Parque Guell is brilliant synthesis where color, light and a delirious proliferation of form and beauty run riot in the most representative example of Gaudi’s architecture and sculpture.

The Casa Mila, popularly known as the pedrera, is one of the four structures that Gaudi built along Barcelona’s Paseo de Gracia. It was constructed between1906-1910, and is an apartment building. As a whole, the building displays a great number of features characteristic of contemporary architecture; Gaudi was ahead of his time back at the turn of the century.

The building’s exterior vertical projection introduces, with its columnar supports and metal framework, one of the vertebrating elements of contemporary architecture.

The rooftops of the Casa Mila are not merely limited to protecting the building. The chimneys and ventilators, clustered together aesthetically, as if they were strange and fantastic mushrooms, phalli or vegetables, form, in gorgeous and daring surrealistic expressions, a fanciful park where the unrestrained imagination of the Catalan genius seems alive and still going strong.

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Colorado: Attractions, Travel and Tourism

Fun Places to See

The western state of Colorado offers a vast array of things to do and see. Many visit Colorado to go skiing, while others enjoy travelling this beautiful state’s parks and other forms of recreation. There are museums to see, hikes to take, cities to shop and much more. Whatever you choose to do, there is something to do and see for everyone in the state of Colorado.

Visiting Denver

The city of Denver and it’s surrounding areas offer a multitude of attractions and things to see and do. There are a variety of museums which include the Denver Children’s Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Denver zoo is exceptional with a beautiful walking area There are many restaurants which are situated throughout the town with anything from fast food to fine dining.

One place not to miss is the Santa Fe Art District, which features walking areas with fine arts that are displayed throughout the duration of the year. This occurs the first Friday of every month. Visitors can walk around and look at the many galleries while having refreshments and cocktails. The Denver Aquarium is a good choice for a place to see in Denver as well and is fun for adults and children alike. If you are in Denver during the spring or summer, be sure to catch a baseball game at the mile-high city’s Coors Field.

Vail

Vail is one of the most popular places for world class skiing, frequented by people of all ages. The reason for this is that the Vail ski resorts have accommodations for beginners as well as the more advanced skier. Ski instructions are offered for those who are interested in learning or improving their skills.

Vail features a city-wide farmers market in the summer months, where local farmers sell their produce and other products, arts and crafts and even a few thrill rides at fantastic prices. When you visit the area, be sure to take a look around at the vendors to see if there is something that may interest you.

Telluride

Be sure to stop in Telluride as you travel through the state of Colorado. Telluride is a picturesque town, surrounded by mountains with an array of things to do. Check out the Sheridan Opera House which includes the Young People’s Theatre. Take the free gondola from Telluride up to the top of the mountain, take a scenic hike and visit the nature center and gift shop. Afterwards, take the gondola down the other side of the mountain to visit Mountain Village and visit the quaint shops. If you fancy visiting during ski season, go for a run down the slopes.

National Parks

If you have enough time, do a tour of the national parks of Colorado. These include the Rocky Mountains National Park just north of Boulder, the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park in the southwest of Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in south central Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest, and a variety of national sites and landmarks.

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Traveling to New York City for the Holidays

As the holiday season quickly approaches, people across the United States are contemplating how to spend their free time. The most common choice? To go on vacation; to travel far away–escaping whatever responsibilities one might have–and relieving oneself, at least temporarily, of all the stress caused by work.

There are many places for Americans to consider traveling to for vacation. Some choose to tour Europe; tasting the fine wines of Italy and patronizing the luxury shops along the Champs-Élysées in France. Others enjoy lazying the day away digging their toes in warm Hawaiian sands or scuba-diving in the crystal clear waters of Cozumel.

Traveling overseas, however, is hardly the only way Americans choose to vacation. In fact, many Americans like to travel the United States, familiarizing themselves with the states that they have never visited. “Americans like to travel in their own country…we’re like a country of countries. We don’t need to go anywhere,” says Suzanne Cook, Senior vice president of The Travel Industry Association of America. And if there is any U.S. location that is a worthy candidate to provide Americans with the same rich and memorable experiences that overseas locations do, New York City is one of them.

New York City offers an impressive array of entertaining activities. A city decorated with soaring skyscrapers and expressive architecture, sightseeing is an activity that one can spend all day doing, with the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building being popular landmarks to visit. Also, as one of the four traditional fashion capitals of the world, shopping is another activity that visitors can enjoy, coming across many of the same high-end shops that are stretched across the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France.

For those who prefer more relaxed activities, New York City offers those, too. Visiting museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and watching Broadway plays are activities one might consider partaking in while on vacation. A city comprised of various ethnic backgrounds, a person considering vacationing in New York City should also look into the diverse selection of restaurants to dine at, each offering an exotic selection of food that is guaranteed to satisfy one’s palette. If free and laid-back activity is something you seek, strolling along the paths of Central Park is another option offered to those interested.

Despite New York City’s enticing attributes, there are also drawbacks for a vacationist to consider before finalizing plans to visit. New York City is not a tiny city by any stretch of the imagination. According to the United States Census Bureau, New York City has a population of over eight million people, and for a person that is not accustomed to such a populous area, New York City can be a bit overwhelming. Likewise, the hustle and bustle of this fast-paced city might be the exact antithesis of what someone trying to escape work considers relaxing.

An estimate of how much money you would like to spend is also a major factor to consider when traveling to New York. While New York City offers plenty of free activities to participate in, the ones most appealing to vacationists are likely the most expensive ones, too. If spending a significant amount of money (aside from your airfare) is something that you do not wish to do, New York City might not be your ideal vacation spot.

Some other things to consider when traveling to New York during the winter-time, in particular:

Pros

– Outdoor ice skating rinks are open.
– The famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree will be available for viewing.
– Many celebrities appear for Christmas shows and concerts.

Cons

– The average temperature in New York City in December, on average, falls around 32°F or lower.
– Hotel prices are at their peak during the winter holiday.
– Many shops and restaurants will be closed on or around Christmas Day.

New York City is only one U.S. location to consider visiting. Regardless of whether you choose to go to Europe, an exotic island, New York City or as far as your backyard for vacation, do enjoy your free time and leave your responsibilities, at least temporarily, far behind.

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Travel Guide to Three of the Best American Cities for Foodies

The best cities in the United States for food have unique local cuisine, fresh organic produce, access to great local wines, a wide variety of breweries, and of course outstanding food artisans.

There are, of course, many more great food cities than the three I’ve listed. These are my favorite, based on my preferences, and also due to the fact that I’m a West Coast girl.

I’ve traveled throughout the country, but my tastes tend to fall more along the lines of western and coastal styles more than that of the east, southeast, or middle areas of the country. And, of course, I’ve spent more time in the major west coast cities than anywhere else.

San Francisco

Most lists of the best foodie cities include San Francisco, and it’s no wonder. The city by the bay really cannot be beaten for the most exceptional food anywhere in the world, let alone America.

If you’re traveling to San Francisco, one of the best places you can stay for the money is The Edwardian Hotel. It’s a beautiful hotel with a bed-and-breakfast feel and decorated in Victorian period furnishings. It’s also immaculately clean, and centrally located. Rates start as low as $119 per night, and if you’re familiar with most major city’s lodging costs, you know that this is a bargain.

San Francisco is known for a variety of culturally diverse food. The Slow Food movement was founded here, and, of course, it’s famous for wonderfully fresh seafood; dungeness crab in particular. It is also known for all types of Asian cuisine, and even some amazing Italian restaurants. Sourdough bread is also a San Francisco product.

If you’re craving seafood and sourdough, head to Swan Oyster Depot. Here you can dine on the best crab, oysters, and sourdough. This is the best luncheon diner in the city. If you’re looking for a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, head to The Cliff House. The restaurant offers great seafood and a delicious Sunday brunch with heavenly popovers.

For an eclectic taste of modern Asian, visit Namu in the Richmond district, and for an extravagant Italian meal, Acquerello is impeccable.

My tastes buds are watering. I’m from the San Francisco area, and my Great Grandfather built his first home here in the Richmond district in 1905, just a year before the earthquake. It’s still standing. I think the city is not only in my heart, but it’s in my blood.

Portland

Portland, Oregon is known for the saying, “Keep Portland Weird”, and I’m glad that it is. I live just a little over an hour away from this spectacular city. Part of what is weird, is the insane food culture. Here you can find lots of vegan and vegetarian cuisine, local and organic produce, and a full spectrum of everything else, and I mean everything.

On one side you have the super health-nut cuisine, and on the other end you have Voo Doo Doughnuts. Here you can eat a maple bar, with a strip of real bacon on the top, a cocoa puffs or fruit loop doughnut, or the jelly-filled voo doo doll. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and there’s always a line.

What I love about Portland is that you can find anything here. Restaurants include the Screen Door, offering southern cuisine with local and organic produce, and Genoa restaurant, focusing on fine Italian cuisine. LePigeon offers exceptional French cuisine, and if you’d prefer a local brewery, there are 97 of them.

Portland has a large number of its residents who offer a free couch or room via Couchsurfing, but if you’d prefer a motel room, the Hilton Double Tree or Embassy Suites are nice upscale choices.

Seattle

I love Seattle. How many cities in the world can you say have spectacular mountains and dazzling water that surrounds the city on almost every side? When the sun comes out in Seattle, it’s as if it was painted in with a brush. Paradise.

The Emerald City is also home to some of the best food in the world. Though it’s always fun to watch the fish-throw at Pikes Place Market, locals know the best place to buy it is right off the boat at the Fisherman’s Terminal. Seattle is also famous as the home of the original Starbuck’s, and nearly 100 wine shops and almost as many breweries.

My favorite restaurant is at Lake Union, Chandler’s Crabhouse, and a restaurant specializing in Pasta Porn is the new Spinasse in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. Seattle also has a good size Polish population, and there are several very good deli’s specializing in Polish sausage. Try George’s Sausage & Deli on First Hill.

Chez Shea is a French restaurant specializing in local Northwest ingredients, and Salumi is a very popular deli in Pioneer Square specializing in artisan cured meats. Seattle is more than just a beautiful view, it’s a great city for foodies.

If you’re looking for a clean, upscale hotel with good value, the Silver Cloud Inn on Lake Union fits the bill like nothing else. For about $110 you can get a room with a view of the Space Needle and the lake, and spend the night on one of the most comfortable beds you’ll ever sleep on.

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How to Eat Great Food on a Budget When Traveling in Mexico

The country of Mexico has a variety of wonderful foods that may not be well known to those living far from the border. Growing up in Ohio, my family’s knowledge of Mexican food was limited to going to local restaurants and ordering tacos. While spending two years living in the Yucatan region of Mexico, my knowledge of the real food of Mexico grew tremendously. It isn’t necessary to go to five star restaurants to get a great meal because there are amazing cooks just about everywhere. Food was plentiful and cheap, especially if you knew where to look. Here are tips on eating well on a budget, and trying lesser known foods that are definitely worth trying.

Fruit and vegetables

When in Mexico, look for stores labeled, “Fruteria” (fruit store). Here, you will find an impressive selection of produce. A really good fruit that isn’t seen much away from the tropics is called Sapote. To me, this unassuming brown fruit tastes like a combination of peaches and apples. It is sweet and addictive. Sapotes are offered in different sizes, but all are sweet and very nutritious. Also, make sure to have pineapple in Mexico, which is so wonderfully sweet and fresh there. Avocados are delicious just smeared on bread with a little salt. I saw avocados the size of footballs there, and they were fleshy and wonderful in salad.

Tamales, Empanadas and Enchiladas

These favorites are usually easy to find around most towns. In Cancun and Playa del Carmen, there were stands selling them wherever tourists and locals were. Look for stainless steel kettles with lids, with the vendor on a three wheeled cart. You are offered a choice, usually, of different flavors. Different regions may offer a different selection, for example, coastal towns may offer seafood fillings, where inland offerings may be chicken or pork. Allow yourself to be adventurous and try a few kinds, as the food is very cheap this way. My favorite tamales were chicken or mole, beef empanadas and pork enchiladas. The smell of the cooking food is intoxicating, as is the taste. Sauces are offered, such as fresh salsa (made with tomatoes and red ), salsa verde (made with tomatillos, green and hot), and guacamole (made with avocados and lighter green). The cooks work hard to bring you this food. I lived near one, who was up before dawn, working hard in her hut, making the most amazing pastries, then selling them to workers early in the morning. She would set her cart under a big Ceiba tree, and offer fresh squeezed orange juice in baggies, empanadas and enchiladas for only a few pesos each. By mid-morning, after all her offerings were sold she’d drive her cart home and begin chopping mountains of vegetables to prepare food for the next day. Everything was spotlessly clean and fresh. This was the best food, ever.

Mole

Mole is a sauce, comprised of many different ingredients including dark chocolate, plantains, peanuts, sesame seeds, spices and peppers among others. Everything is ground into a rich and amazing concoction that is not sweet as you may expect but savory with a slight hint of sweetness. Mole is served at weddings and special occasions all over Mexico, and there may be regional differences depending on what part of the country you are in. It is usually served over turkey or chicken enchiladas. If you’re lucky, there may be a vendor who sells chicken mole tamales. This special dish is worth trying, and is also good in flour tortillas with queso fresco (a mild, crumbly cheese).

The foods of Mexico are much more diverse than the Tex-Mex you find at fast food chains. Allow yourself to be adventurous while in Mexico, and try some of the local flavors from vendors. We all worry about getting sick from eating unsanitary food, so just make sure the stands you choose to eat from are well maintained and the food is covered. I ate from vendors daily while living in Mexico, saving the fancy restaurants for special occasions. They are wonderful too, but eating at those adds up quickly, if you’re on a budget. Let the locals show you the good stands, ask and they will be happy to tell you of their favorites. It’s a wonderful country so forego the chili and American cheese, and go for the real Mexican fare. You will be amazed at how fresh and wonderful it truly is.

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How to Save Money Traveling to New York City

Save Money on Hotel and Airfare, Getting Around While There, Food

I just returned from New York City and I saw so much and spent less money than the last time I was there. .

My friend and I had a definite strategy when we planned the trip. First we wanted inexpensive air fares. We plugged in our departure and destination into Hotwire and waited for alerts. Slight flexibility in travel dates and times are of course required. We chose to plan our entire trip during the week instead of weekends. We were able to depart from our local Florida airport instead of a busy hub an hour away. We left early Tuesday morning and arrived at Kennedy airport in NYC by 10:30.. An early departure time allows you to utilize more of the day by arriving early. We were in Manhattan in time for lunch!

Actually getting into Manhattan can be expensive if you take a car service or cab. We chose a city tour bus and the cost was 27.00 ROUND TRIP. Negatives about this mode of transportation include longer wait times and slight hassle getting to and from the bus station at Grand Central. In my opinion it was well worth it and we saved boucoup money by using the bus.

Our second plan was to steer clear of the tourist areas. We decided to look for something in So Ho or Greenwich village which is an area we had explored on our last visit. We settled with a great rate from a business class hotel on William Street which is right off of Wall. We were super impressed with our hotel. The room was quite large with 2 single beds. The linens were of high quality with comfy duvets and our room was immaculate. The staff was professional and the lobby was stocked with gourmet teas, coffees, newspapers and fruit. We drank our coffee there each morning instead of purchasing it while out in the city. Each floor of our hotel had a “watering station” with empty water bottles available to be filled and refilled with ice cold water. We took a few with us each day when we headed out. The bar offered a 2 for 1 happy hour and since we are moderate drinkers, we split a beer and shared an appetizer.

Our day began with a visit to the lobby for our coffee. We packed a to-go insulated cup with top and off we went. Our next stop was the local market for a bagel or custom ordered egg sandwich. Many markets offer breakfast buffets and I found the price to be very reasonable. Drinks such as orange juice or iced tea can be somewhat high. If you can avoid ordering a drink and carry a water bottle you will save money there as well. During the day we saved the most money by avoiding sit down restaurants. The city is teeming with delis and markets with pre-packaged food, fruit, sandwiches, etc. It is fun to buy lunch and then go out and sit somewhere and people watch. Examples of our meals would include take out salad from the salad bar, paninni sandwiches, fruit, soup,
etc. We literally saved 2-3 times the money per meal. It adds up, believe me! There are always tons of places to sit like benches , chairs and random tables. It is less expensive and more fun.

Well of course Manhattan is a huge city and you can’t walk EVERYWHERE in a short amount of time. We chose the subway which we had started to use on our last visit. We purchased a week long unlimited fare ticket for $27.00. It is an unbelievably good deal. We went everywhere including a visit over the river to Brooklyn. If we had paid 2.00 for each individual round trip fare we would have gone broke. You don’t need to use a taxi in New York. The subways are clean and efficient. I will tell you the truth: we haven’t mastered how to read a subway map but we did get where we wanted to go each time; sometimes with an untended side trip; still it is COMPLETELY the only way to maneuver the city.

In summary, our trip was short but packed with activity and I felt like we did not get ripped off. I am well practiced for my next trip to the Big Apple.

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Travel Destination: Goa

There are many beautiful places with beautiful beaches, but only a few conjures a living image of a distant past as Goa. Situated on the west coast of India, Goa is a melting pot, a place where east marries west, and where two cultures wonderfully emerge as one.

For nearly half a century, Goa was a colony of Portugal. It was only in 1961 that Goa won its independence. The architectures, religion, practices, beliefs and arts the Portuguese are intertwined with Indian culture. You can’t say “Goan” and think only of Hindu culture.

If you look at the map of India, it is shaped like a mountain or a hill with peak at off angle. On the western coast, you will find Goa. It is isolated from the rest of India by the Deccan Plateau and by mountains, cliffs and thick forests. As it was not colonized by Britain, Goa has a different ambiance and cultural reality than the rest of India. In Goa, it’s not unusual to find statues of Catholic saints with posters of Indian gods or goddesses. Catholic faith is still practiced, and you will see many old (often in state of disrepair) Catholic buildings. Goa has a laidback, syrupy ambience especially in the afternoon when people go to their siesta. If the rest of India feels crowded, hop on a train to Goa. There you will find quiet, unrushed atmosphere.

Goa is famous for being a campground of hippies in the 1960s. Hippies with their dreadlocks and their trinkets are still seen in Goa, but not in great number as in the past. Even so, there are still places like Vagator where hippy culture is very much alive. At night, Goa transforms into a different atmosphere as carnivals open. Clubs are alive with revelry and music and dancing. At MS Caravela, visitors play craps, roulette, poker and other casino gambling fun aboard this luxurious cruise ship. It’s not for nothing that Goa has been dubbed “the holiday capital of Asia.”

Another lure of Goa is its coastline. Beaches, particular those in the village of Anjuna, are beautiful. Anjuna was the “hippie capital of Goa” in the 60s ad the 70s. It is also the recognized birthplace of electronic dance music and trance music. Beaches in Goa may not be as breathtaking as beaches say in Hawaii or Thailand. Yet the millions of travelers who make their trip to Goa each year love the ambience — that Old European feeling mixed with exoticism of the east. It is a place where you can truly relax and watch kingfishers at sunset.

Other than beaches, Goa is host to a multitude of cultural and artistic attractions. If you want souvenirs or enjoy haggling for local wares, you can go to Mapusa Market or Anjuna Flea Market. While there, you might even catch snake charmers and band of musicians performing there.

Stroll around Panaji, the state capital, by foot. Panaji became Goa’s capital only in 1843. Before then, the state capital was a place now called Old Goa. In Panaji, you will see Portuguese legacy in the colonial-style villas, pubs and cobbled streets. Some buildings predate colonization. Stop by the Immaculate Conception church, a one-of-a-kind 16th century Baroque church.

Find your way to Old Goa, the trip will be worth it. Old Goa was the state capital until 1843, before the river silted up and the inhabitants driven out by disease. Old Goa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it features grandiosely designed churches and convents. Old Goa is a major draw particularly for Christians. India’s largest church, the St. Catherine Cathedral, Arch of the Viceroys and the Tomb of St. Francis Xavier are some of the most visited spots here.

Travel is not complete without experiencing local cuisine. Goan cuisine is something you won’t find elsewhere. It uniquely combines Hindu cuisine (characterized particularly by love for intense flavors and spices) with Portuguese culinary influences. Being a coastal community, seafood is a staple of Goan cuisine. In any case, you should try their coconut “feni.” This drink has strong aroma and taste. A word of caution: if you are faint of stomach, then try something else instead.

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Silverleaf Resorts: Vacation and Travel Option for America’s Middle Class

Family Fun in a Complete, Affordable Package… With a Few Little Challenges

I hate schmooze. It’s the main reason I hate shopping for cars and avoid those “win a free trip with a visit to Too-Good-To-Be-True Overblown Resorts. I was, therefore, highly reluctant and totally skeptical about the phone call I got and the Silverleaf letter that came in the mail one day a year or so ago. “Free cruise,” it said. “Free vacation in Hawaii or other exotic locations.” Right, I get it.

I’ve been there before. Drive half a day to hear some fast talking salesman in a suit with a sweaty brow throw as much crap about the wonders of a particular place/scheme/offer as he can. Overwhelm you with sweet words and an overblown courtesy that turns the stomach. No thanks.

So what was it that led me to take the family to Silverleaf? We went for nothing more than a reason to get out of the house. I had no illusions about free trips or ridiculous offers. We’d go, we’d smile, we’d say no thank you and then do something the kids enjoyed for the rest of the day. Who would have thought we’d wind up leaving as members?

The hardest part to take with Silverleaf is, still, the schmooze. Salesmen drip happy. Ours bragged about his wonderful and exciting background, making lots of money and working for a major restaurant. I think he was Mafioso out to pasture for something. He was certainly Italian. Even so he was nice enough and what he showed us and said about Silverleaf started to make sense in spite of my skeptical attitude-which I made clear up front.

“Buy a condo,” he said, “and you have access to all this, all the resorts, at any time of the year for day use. You then get a week without charge for a condo in addition to bonus weekends and the option to pay at other times.” Hmm. It was a really nice resort. We got our pitch at The Villages, one of the largest of their resorts. It is spread out over a couple of square miles of property next to Lake Palestine, a reservoir a dozen miles south of Tyler, Texas. The Villages offers more than most resorts including The Waterpark, a massive indoor water recreation facility exclusive to this resort. There are several open pools too and an assortment of outdoor recreation offerings from shuffleboard to playgrounds. I started to like what I saw. The kids were, of course, sold right away.

By the time we made it to the last stage of the pitch, where all the schmoozees and schmoozers gather in a big room with a Let’s Make a Deal atmosphere, I had decided maybe we would see what we could do. The big difference with Silverleaf is that members actually purchase a condo rather than a mere bit of space a few times a year. The deed transfers to children or could be sold. Moreover, ownership meant not only a condo during a particular period (depending upon the purchase) but access to the facilities for day use any time, as I said already. RV spots at resorts that have them, including electric and water, can be used for no additional charge. Finally, owners could exchange a week’s stay at Silverleaf for some other resort most anywhere in the world because of a partnership Silverleaf has with an international resort company.

Having three children, we thought the day use availability was the most attractive part of the deal. There are three resorts within a couple hours of our home. Weekend trips to one or the other could be fun summer alternatives that cost a lot less over all. I liked the RV and camping options, too. So, we let them schooze us.

I noted the type of people at tables nearby. Dress and demeanor definitely spoke of middle class. Though these resorts are billed as exclusive and fancy the company clearly targets people with our income or even lower. Our salesman began to throw figures at us. He told us of the price, the down payment, on and on. It looked good, really, but in the end the offer simply would not fit our budget. We were close to taking our useless vacation papers and leaving-disappointed I might add-when supervisors came to our table to do a bit of gentle arm-twisting. I wasn’t too happy about that. Even so, they scribbled around on paper until at last they offered us an introductory membership. It was not a condo and it was not cheap but it was not too bad of a deal. When we understood the cost of a temporary membership could be applied to a purchase later on, I gave in (and talked my wife into it).

Once we got past the sales pitches and goofy grins and actually showed up as a member at a resort we began to appreciate what our costly membership was worth. We visited The Villages and another resort on Lake Palestine, Lake O’ the Woods (from where I sit writing in an RV slot), two very different places. The Villages is wall to wall people, lots of stuff, and that waterpark (an attraction that members still have to pay a pretty penny for) which draws folks from all over. Lake O’ the Woods is much smaller, much quieter, but much more my style. Like most other resorts it has a playground, pool, mini-golf, and makes board games and other fun stuff available to check out-all included with membership.

We decided to make the day use option pay by traveling around and dropping in during the day but staying in motels at night. This way we get to travel, have fun, and optimize our usage. We took the family to San Antonio, visited the Alamo, then spent the next day at Hill Country Resort on Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. From there we traveled to Houston, stayed in a motel, then spent the next day at Piney Shores on Lake Conroe. The kids had as much fun as they would have had at expensive theme park alternatives in San Antonio and Houston.

Silverleaf has resorts in seven states. Besides six locations in Texas there’s three in Missouri and one each in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maine. Our membership provides us with a week’s stay and bonus weekends besides the day use at the resort we choose. We’re planning on making a trip north to check out Missouri or maybe Illinois resorts. We have already spent a long weekend at Seaside Resort in Galveston. We will be going back there.

Seaside Resort is a very nice place, well kept, with a prominent and very challenging mini-golf course. Mini-golf is not the popular pastime it once was but Silverleaf’s effort to build them is a nice touch. The course at Seaside is pretty amazing. Other than the mini-golf, Seaside was typical of the other resorts. There’s a game room, gift shop with tourist trinkets, shirts and cups, a video arcade, pool, etc.. We checked out some board games and played in the member center. Seaside offers one thing few resorts can: a beach across the street. The resort itself is not beach-side but Silverleaf has a little piece of Galveston beach fixed up for guests with a boardwalk over the dunes and deck recliners scattered about in the sand. The weather was too cold for much water fun, pool or beach, but still we enjoyed our stay.

I haven’t mentioned the condos themselves yet. This is because the condos are not exactly what make the purchase worth it. Even though they are very nice I would feel over-charged if it wasn’t for everything else Silverleaf does to make their resorts family destinations. Still, the condos are extremely nice. All of them are two bedrooms, completely furnished, ready for occupancy. Fully furnished means fully, right down to the dishes in the kitchen. Our stay in Galveston was far less than it would have been if we’d paid for a place near the beach in town. Galveston is, in my opinion, an over-blown and over-priced destination. With Silverleaf, however, a few bags of groceries and sunscreen is about all one has to buy to have several days of fun and sun. We fixed our own meals wanting for nothing in the kitchen and we stayed at the resort. It was one of the best times we’ve ever had in Galveston.

The big difference we noticed with Silverleaf and exclusive hotels we’ve stayed in is that everything is wonderfully provided but not wonderfully plush. Beds were not four-star quality and disposables were also of the same type and quality one might find in a one or two star motel. Those are, of course, minor details. I note them only to emphasize, again, that Silverleaf is focused on middle class comfort, not high-end plush. No doubt their exclusive Ambassador and Chairman offerings are more upscale. Those come with HDTV’s and more expensive furnishings. I rather doubt we’ll be buying into one of them any time soon, however.

From the rustic to the fancy, Silverleaf covers a pretty wide swath of resort offerings. For families like us who love getting out of the house a membership and ownership is worth the cost. This is more true in Central or East Texas than it might be elsewhere unless someone lives right near one of the other resorts. With the cost of gas these days even a trip of a few hundred miles can break a budget, limiting the number of times a resort can be visited and diminishing its value. Still, for those who have kids and like to play, and who are near enough to take regular advantage of a resort, there’s probably a deal to be had.

A few other things about Silverleaf Resorts re worth noting. The folks who work there have always been very courteous. We get quick and helpful responses when we call. The resorts are well maintained, mostly, though some of the recreation facilities could use a bit of work. Every resort has Wi-Fi for free in the lodge or member center. Some of the resorts are remote, however, and cell phones might not work.

I am not a salesman for Silverleaf. In fact, not everything about them is all that grand. One very annoying thing they did was try repeatedly to get us to refer other people to them. Silverleaf offers a cash incentive for getting other people to buy into the resort. I do not, however, believe friends and family should be used for profit. We did not give them a list of people for them to call. They made several calls to the one relative we gave as a reference-whom we said would NOT be interested-before I was able to convince them to knock it off. I understand some people go out as unofficial ambassadors for the resorts and make some nice cash by sending people there. We have not done that. (But hey, if you want a referral I’ll give it, send me an email! Help a fellow out!)

Another thing with the resorts is that lots of people visit them. This will sound somewhat condescending but I must say that some of the folks who buy into the resort or are guests of members are not quite the kind one would want as neighbors. We were hassled on the mini-course by some kids who were there merely to annoy others, or at least that’s what it seemed like. Also, while in Galveston our condo was on the first floor of a three-story building. The family above us had children. The children jumped and stomped, uncontrolled by adults, forcing us to endure their thundering noise. I was forthright enough to complain but they still banged around-though less so than before our call. These are, of course, problems not exclusive to Silverleaf but the high numbers of people at the resorts sometimes and the economic strata Silverleaf targets will lead to such inconveniences on occasion.

Silverleaf Resorts are not very handicap accessible. Some have lots of steps or stairs that are difficult for folks with bum legs or who are in wheel chairs. I would have loved a top floor at Seaside but four flights of stairs was out of the question. My favorite haunt, Lake O’ the Woods, has lots of steps to navigate.

We’ve paid off our membership and intend to use it a great deal this year. I put the RV and camping options to good use as places I escape to and write without the noise and distractions of being at home. There’s fishing opportunities, too, which I enjoy. Lake O’ the Woods has a nice fishing dock. Our four nights in Galveston has paid for a large percentage of our membership since an equivalent stay would have cost near a thousand dollars at anything close to comparable on the island. With any luck we’ll get a deal and buy into a condo when our introductory membership runs out. Whether or not we do, depending on what’s available and our budget, we’ll still be say that Silverleaf is one of the best vacation and recreational options money can buy.

Oh, by the way, the “free cruise” and “free vacation” were just exactly what we’d expected. The cruise was for two and we have five in our family. Nobody could tell us what adding three kids would cost. It required payment of fees we could not squeeze from our budget in time to make the offer work. The “vacation” was a few nights at a resort (of course) in exotic places but travel to them was at our expense. Even though Silverleaf turned out to be a nice surprise after all my summation of their sales pitch and “wonderful offers” was right on! I really did have my gloating cake and get to eat at the resort, too!

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My Travels to Grayton Beach, FL

Best Florida Panhandle Destination

I have been going to Grayton Beach for years. Most people don’t really know about it except people who are very familiar with the Destin, FL panhandle area. Even then, some just pass it by because it is not on the main beach road, Highway 98. But that’s why I like it. Grayton’s an older town as Gulf coast towns go. It’s not as old as Pensacola or Panama City, but it is not in the same category either. Those towns, now cities, had commerce and business centers. Grayton was begun as a small community right on the Gulf of Mexico, about 30 miles east of Destin, Florida. It was and has always been a community of homes and residents and there is no commerce except for Rivard Rentals and maybe one other Real Estate business. Other than the few shops and a couple of restaurants, Grayton is a place to go rent a home, and to relax.

Grayton Beach is a public beach. Anyone can drive into the town and down to the public beach and swim to their heart’s content. You get to this town by travelling east or west down Highway 98 and going south from there on state road 337. When it reaches highway 30A, in about 4 miles, you’ll be at the entrance to the town. Rivard Realty is just on the right past the crossroads. Driving down the narrow roads takes you into Florida somewhat as it used to be, with many of the simple one and two-story cottages from 50 years ago, still there. There has been development. Where in Florida isn’t there any? The last time I was there it hadn’t gotten bad, though. Grayton has some restrictions built into its covenants and they prevent any high-rises. What you see, though, is some houses of three and even four stories that are strictly for rental.

The architecture of even the new taller buildings is very tasteful. I would call it typical Florida style condos–some of it has a Mediterranean touch, but most is very understated and tasteful. All the homes and buildings are painted pale grays or beige and balconies encase almost every one. It’s an overall peaceful, unobtrusive landscape. If there’s a center of town it would have to be the last road that parallels the beach. There you’ll see two restaurants, a few shops under the overhang of balconies, and that’s about it.

http://graytonbeach.com/redbar.html
One of the restaurants everyone goes to is the legendary Red Bar. You can possibly see Cheryl Crow there, or maybe even Jim Carrey. Cheryl owns a home on the west side of town. Their food is really delicious, but what people come for from Destin and all up and down the coast is the wonderful crab cakes. They’re only served on Wednesdays, if that hasn’t changed, but check it out. The crawfish with pasta and the stuffed eggplant are wonderful, but do try to get there when they serve the crab cakes. Take a look at the web site. There are lots of photos to give you an idea of the atmosphere of this place.

People should definitely go to the website for porch-front tours and click on any number of them to get an idea of just what this place looks like and how it may be a lot more appealing than many of the younger communities that truly are commercial.
http://www.emeraldcoasttours.com/grayton-porches.html

Western Lake is on the east edge of Grayton and it’s a saltwater lake with a deep shady overhang of Spanish moss, pine trees and palmettos. Tall grasses line the muddy edge of the lake. It is the place I would most like to live. The tall pines and deep shade along the unpaved road make it seem as if this place is from another century. Even the large homes that have been built along the lake are understated and seem to blend into the foliage and landscape. They mostly have larger lots, too, with a lot of plantings at the edge of the road. This is a wonderful place to walk in the afternoon.

Rental links can be ford on the main web site. We have always liked to rent in late April, before the crowds get to Destin and flood the Highway. This time or in October, rates are less expensive, so I’d try to make reservations in either of these two months. I’d expect a two bedroom cottage or condo to rent for around $900, but it may have gone up in the past two years. Grayton is a good place to get away from crowds, generally, but there will be heavy traffic going to and from other places on the highway in the late spring and summer.

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