Tag Archives: wanderlust

A Weekend in Miami

 

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Miami is like New York.  It is full of culture and history.

Miami is like Pattaya, Thailand.  Beautiful beaches lining its coast.

Miami is like Denver.  There are bars and restaurants on nearly every block.

Miami is a tourist dream paradise, it is a city well-connected by flights, the food is delicious and there is plenty to do no matter what time of day.

The city is dominant by Spanish language which wasn’t a huge surprise to me given the geographical location to Latin America.  I was surprised how many people spoke Spanish to us in Spanish and not English first.  The majority of the drivers and a few restaurant workers spoke to didn’t speak English which made it difficult at times to get around.

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Ocean Drive

Miami Beach is an entirely separate city from Miami proper.  To reach Miami Beach you travel over a bridge.

The heart of Miami is undoubtedly South Beach.  Home to clubs, restaurants, hotels, shopping and the occasional celebrity sighting, the community provides something for anyone visiting.

The southern tip of South Beach is home to Ocean Drive.  There you have the legendary Art Deco buildings, the late Gianni Versace’s mansion and multiple locations that were featured in Hollywood motion pictures.

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The Birdcage staring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane was filmed at The Carlyle.  Bad Boys and Scarface filmed scenes along the area.

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728 Ocean Drive was the location of the Sun Ray Apartments in Scarface.  Here the legendary chainsaw scene took place at the back of the property before Johnny Rockets occupied the location.  It is currently being remodeled into a new CVS.

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Expensive mixed drinks are available at bars and restaurants with views of the beach across the street.

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Espanola Way

Tucked in a palm tree lined pedestrian street, Espanola Way is a throwback to Old World Europe.  Take your pick from Cuban, Italian, Japanese and Mexican food.  Walking up the street, hosts from every restaurant greet you outside with menus readily in hand.

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Havana 1957

Transporting you to Havana in the 1950’s, Havana 1957 allows you to relive the glory and glamour of Cuba.  I was treated to my first and long overdue experience of Cuban food.  I ordered Vaca Frita, a dish  with grilled shredded beef, onions in Cuban mojo. Served with white rice and black beans.  I paired it with local fresh red Sangria that was the perfect compliment.  While I cannot recall the name of our server, he was a very classy and knowledgeable fellow who shared stories coming over from Cuba and his artwork created.

Hosteria Romana

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My last evening in Miami began with a return trip to Espanola Way at Hosteria Romana.  The interior of the restaurant held the essence of central Rome that provided you with a brief trip to Italy.  From traditional music to exquisite plates of Roman Jewish cuisine, Hosteria Romana brings South Beach the culture of Rome, Italy.

We ordered an appetizer of freshly sliced prosciutto ham and melon.  Unlike traditional meats found in delis, this was the freshest that I have come across.  For dinner I ordered Bucatini o Rigatoni Amatriciana.  The name is lengthy but the dish boasts robust flavors of tomato, romano cheese and an Italian bacon (pancetta) sauce.

I can be rather picky when it comes to quality Italian food.  Other than the restaurants that occupy Little Italy in New York, Hosteria Romana is the most authentic and appealing Italian restaurant I have come across during my travels.

Take Away

For my first experience in Miami, despite the humidity it truly lived up to its expectations of a party city and full of culture.  While I am not sure when I will return, it has earned a return someday..

 

 

Alaska: Braving the Arctic cold at Mendenhall Glacier

 

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The state of Alaska truly is “The Last Frontier” due to its geographical location from the U.S. mainland.  Accessible only by airplane or boat, Alaska fits the typical statement for being “off the grid” from civilization, with the exception of it’s largest cities Anchorage and Fairbanks.  Located on the panhandle in southern Alaska, the state capitol of Juneau is the only US capitol besides Hawaii that does connect to the rest of the state or the U.S. Mainland.

I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime to visit Juneau with a friend.  Early in the morning we boarded a flight in Seattle for a 2 1/2 hour direct flight to Juneau International Airport.  Well aware that the weather for November in Juneau averages in the mid-30’s, packing warmer clothes was the only option.  Growing up I spent many weekends each year camping in cold weather and the occasional snow while I was in Scouts.  Upon departing the aircraft and into the airport terminal, the weather was colder than I had originally anticipated requiring adding additional layers of clothing.  Being a native to California we experience all of the seasons through-out the year but nothing near the drop in temperature that Alaska experiences.  65 degrees in California is extreme cold to a select hand full of locals.

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A 10-minute taxi ride North of the airport you will discover Juneau’s most coveted natural landmark, the Mendenhall Glacier.  The 13-mile glacier ends in Mendenhall Lake providing guests picturesque views of the glacier and floating icebergs.  Immediately after stepping foot outside of the taxi, you arrive at the visitor center that provides an introduction to the Mendenhall Valley with a brief history of the area.  It’s common to experience a bear sighting or two while in the area, especially in the Spring season.  What stood out to me were posted signs along the 1.5 mile hike to the glacier regarding bears and what do should you come across one.  The rangers strongly suggested that flavored gum and beverages be disregarded and to speak to the bear in a calm tone.  Never knew that. Anyone see Yogi Bear around or Boo Boo?

The Mendenhall Valley lies within a secluded area of Juneau that blends lush green vegetation and massive trees that could be utilized properly come Christmas time.  During the Winter months, the lake reaches freezing temperatures with build up of ice along land.  As we learned, the ice can be very thing that should be used with extreme caution if walked on.

Before arriving at the glacier Nugget Falls resides a short distance away.  The natural waterfall created from the gradual decline of the glacier is a good opportunity to get in a quick break.  The view from Nugget Falls is the closest and best you will have of the glacier unless you decide to take the hike into the ice caves into the glacier.  Overall this is the best experience to pay a visit to while in Juneau.

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New York City – An Empire State of Mind

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There is no question that New York City is the center of the world.  It is a place unlike any other.  The “Big Apple” tops many personal travel bucket lists continually drawing millions of tourists across the globe annually.

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Know what to expect before you arrive:  New York City can be very intimidating and a bit overwhelming to anyone who has never set foot in any the 5 Boroughs.  Manhattan: The smallest borough geographically that contains the historic, cultural and economic heart of the city.  Queens: The most diversified economy of the 5 Boroughs that includes JFK International and LaGuardia Airports and Flushing Meadows home to the US Open Tennis tournament and Citi Field, home to the New York Mets.  Brooklyn: Once an independent incorporated city until 1898, this borough was the original home of the Brooklyn Dodgers before they relocated to Los Angeles.  The Bronx:  The only borough located primarily on the US mainland and home to the legendary New York Yankees franchise.  Staten Island:  The least populous borough that is the southernmost part of the city and the state of New York.

Before arriving put together a shortlist of everything you want to do.  Not everything can be accomplished in a short trip so plan to shorten the list along the way.  Many locations such as Times Square and the Statue of Liberty are the frequently visited compared to the other tourist locations where time can be critical unless you arrive early in the day.

Plan your budget:  New York is known to be expensive, after booking your flight and accommodations I would save as much money as you can rather than trying to make it work.  Everything from museums to observation decks can be expensive but can work with creating a certain budget.

Observation Deck View:  The popular options are One World Trade Center, Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building.  Each location provides unique views of Manhattan, the remaining boroughs and nearby New Jersey.  If you’re looking for the best option, Top of The Rock at Rockefeller Center provides it all.  During the day, guests are treated to panoramic views of Central Park and the Hudson River.  At night, the perfect location to take in the skyline above the lights.

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Avoid the tourist traps:  Times Square is the center of the city that is or consistently crowded full of tourists.  From nightly live entertainers on the sidewalks to yellow taxi cabs lined on both sides of the street, Times Square is a brief visit to quickly take in and leave.  In my previous trips to the city I have often discovered that the off-the-path locations throughout the city are worth visiting.  Local comedy clubs, Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and the legendary Trinity Church that miraculously survived 9/11.

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I’ve spent a combined 9 days in New York City between three trips experiencing everything that I could in a short amount of time.  Take a trip to the legendary Katz’s Deli.  Visit Yankees Stadium and see Monument Park.  Discover why New York Pizza is the greatest in the world.  View the New York skyline on the free Staten Island ferry to and from the city.  Purchase a Metro Card for the most convenient access across the boroughs.  More importantly, experience New York as you most see it.  The city that never sleeps.

Welcome to The Rock

 

Sean Connery penned the legendary line, “Welcome to The Rock” in the 1996 action film The Rock.  Filmed on Alcatraz Island off the coast San Francisco, CA, the former maximum high-security prison introduced the island to a new generation of people which would eventually become operated by the United States National Park Service.

Alcatraz’s rich history and dark past housed some of America’s most notorious criminals including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson and Robert Stroud the”Birdman of Alcatraz.” Since its closure in 1963, the island has been restored and maintained in recent years as Alcatraz hosts millions of visitors each year.

Those who have the opportunity to visit Alcatraz are provided an experience to tour the 3-story cell block building and the island with an audio narration by former prisoners, guards and rangers.

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Lafitte’s Backsmith Shop – The Oldest Bar in the U.S.

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The New Orleans nightlife bar scene is commonly associated by the hundreds of tourists that flock to Bourbon Street on a nightly base.  The search for cheap liquor, jazz music and inhibitions makes this location of the French Quarter one of the most visited places in the country.  It also makes the less commonly visited bars unique to the crescent city.

A “New Orleans institution” constructed in 1722 on Bourbon Street, Lafitte’s Blacksmith 
Shop blends pirate history with culture blended into the perfect recipe only found in the city.  Considered the oldest operating bar in the country, Lafitte’s originally operated as a blacksmith shop that served as a front for Jean and Pierre’s smuggling operation until 1791.

Lured by its rich history and haunted tales from the past, there have been allegedly multiple sightings of Lafitte sitting near the piano bar with a drink in hand.   The candlelit tables provide an intimate experience for patrons indulging on its history or sipping on the signature purple voodoo drink or a hurricane.  Use your best judgement while ordering drinks as they can be stronger than normal.

Location: 941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116

The Bright Lights of Los Angeles

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High above the bustling streets of downtown Los Angeles, Sky Space offers its guests an opportunity to experience the city 69-stories from above.  Panoramic views of nearby Hollywood and legendary Dodgers Stadium, this is the must-see attraction that is gaining popularity among locals and tourists on vacation.  Located on the 54th, 69th and 70th floor of the US Bank tower, visitors enter the building from the 2nd story and proceed through a security check point prior to boarding the high speed elevator.

Once you reach the 54th floor, guests exit into an interactive lobby showcased by a continuous video and a photo opportunity with a stationed photographer.  Once you have taken the elevator up to the 70th floor, guests who purchased the combo Sky Space LA and slide ticket have the option to proceed to the enclosed slide over the city and onto the 69th floor observation deck.

Much similar to the observation decks in Las Vegas, New York City and Seattle, Sky Space LA provides panoramic views of the city, Dodger Stadium, Hollywood and the LA basin.  For those who may experience vertigo, there are multiple couches located along the observation for ample views.  I’ve had the opportunity to experience this location during the day and late at night.  Each experience was very unique and provided a different perspective of Los Angeles.

The Beauty of Anacapa Island

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April 4, 2017

When I first learned of Anacapa Island earlier this year, the only thing I knew about it was that it was part of the Channel Islands National Park.  It’s accessible only by boat by reserving your trip through Islandpackers.com.  The 1-hour boat trip departs at 9:30 am from their Oxnard, CA harbor location and arrives at East Anacapa Island.  On a clear day you may experience a whale sighting.  To reach the top of the island, you must climb up over 130 steps up a winding set of stairs from the dock.

I first explored the Visitor Center and saw the original light that was used when the lighthouse was fully functional.  The Visitor Center provides plenty of history about the islands and brochures for those wanting to take information to their friends and family.

Anacapa Island may be remote off the California Coast, however you are truly not alone.  Hundreds of birds live on the island.  So in reality, you are their guest for the day, or night if you decide to camp.  Don’t be surprised if one, two or many more squawk at you a few times.

Use caution along Inspiration Point.  There’s no railing along the cliff and part of the island runs along a fault line that can drop off.  The island volunteer pointed this out to me as I was in an are that was considered not safe.  The views of the other two islands that make up Anacapa Island’s are incredible.  The Lighthouse at the opposite side of the island is a short hike from Inspiration Point.  You are allowed to get within 50 yars of the lighthouse due to the consistent fog horn.  Make sure you bring your camera and comfortable hiking shoes because this island is worth the money!  Lastly, you may have an encounter with a pod of dolphins on your return trip!

Exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico has always been a must-see location ever since I began traveling.

I remember when I was a teenager how I always thought Carlsbad Caverns was located in Carlsbad, CA a little over a 1-hour drive from where I live.  Not 1-hour north of Texas as I came to realize.  I thought it was your typical cave to briefly explore and be wowed.

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After spending the previous day exploring the well-known White Sands National Park 4-hours away, my crew and I began our drive as the sun set over the New Mexico desert.  We had originally planned to camp at White Sands before learning that all of the camping sites had been reserved earlier in the day.  For those who asking if you can camp at Carlsbad Caverns National Park the answer is no.  Most National Parks have the nearby campground where you can set-up your home for the night, however not here so you are better staying at the nearby RV Park if spots are available. Don’t forget to see the nearby staff buildings that were completed around the 1930’s.

The park opens daily at 8:00 AM with varying closing hours depending on the time of the year you visit.  The Visitor Center prepares you for what to see and what to expect on your hike down to the bottom of the cavern.  Did I mention that the bottom of the cavern is 75-stories below the surface?  Be prepared.  Bring water, light snacks and comfortable shoes for the hike. If you’re not able to physically do the 1.25 mile hike there is an elevator in the Visitor Center that takes you to the bottom.  This is your last opportunity to use the restrooms before reaching the bottom of the caverns, so please take note.

Natural Entrance

Entering through the natural entrance is a steep and narrow walkway that passes through the bat cave into the beginning of the caverns.  Depending on the time of the day, you will have the opportunity to witness the bats fly in and out of the cave directly above you.  No need to worry, it’s quite safe!

Exploring the caverns 

Ascending into the caverns, the route is highlighted with the Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook and The Boneyard.  The cavern at anytime can be filled with tourists, so please allow for extra time if you’re like me and looking to capture images.

There is nothing like the Big Room once you reach it!  One of the largest chambers in the world, the Big Room is the must-see while at Carlsbad Caverns. Roughly the size of 6 football fields, the circular-route passes through multiple famous formations including the Bottomless Pit, Rock of Ages and Painted Grotto.  Due to its lengthy size, there is a shortcut midway into the Big Room to take you break to the break room/restrooms/elevators.

Photography Tips

If you’re looking to capture lasting images of the caverns, make sure that you bring with a suitable camera with the proper lens(s).  The caverns are very dark with not a great selection of natural light.  I had to use a high ISO with a 15-20 second exposure in some locations of the caverns to really bring out all the colors.  I recommend bringing with you a wide angle lens, please leave expensive zoom glass in your car it will not be needed.  I use a camera that is nowhere near new anymore but have learned how to set-up to produce the images below.

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Horseshoe Bend

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By: Robert Fayette – March 29, 2017

Arizona is primarily known for it’s vast desert, professional sports teams and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Horseshoe Bend is a natural wonder carved out over a million years by the Colorado River as it’s way down the Grand Canyon.  The sweeping panoramic views from the outlook 1,100 feet above the Colorado River are for travelers of all ages and fitness levels.

Getting To Horseshoe Bend:

Horseshoe Bend is located south of Page, Arizona.  From Page, head south on Highway 89 for 5.1 miles.  Coming south towards Page, turn left into the dirt parking lot once you see the sign for Horseshoe Bend Overlook sign.

The conditions at Horseshoe Bend can be very dry and warm depending on the time of year.  Before departing your vehicle, it is recommended to wear proper footwear and bring along an adequate amount of water for the hike.  The trail departs from the parking lot uphill for several minutes until you reach the gazebo halfway to the overlook.  The remainder of the trail is downhill quickly providing views of the canyon.

Depending on the time of day, the overlook can be very busy with foot traffic coming and going.  If you’re looking to avoid large crowds and warm weather in the summer, it is recommended to visit the overlook early in the morning.  Afternoon is the ideal time for capturing the overlook as the sun sets.

There are plenty of areas along the overlook to view Horseshoe Bend, but please remember that there are no railings along the end of the cliff.

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Heading downhill from the gazebo to the outlook.

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Oak Alley Plantation, New Orleans Best Kept Secret

 

New Orleans is well-known for it’s culture and legendary traditions most notably, Mardi Gras.  The nightly strolls up and back down Bourbon Street for cheap alcoholic beverages.  The morning demands for beignets at Cafe du Monde.  The search for the best and local seafood that the Gulf Coast has to offer.  Yes, those are all the frequently visited tourist locations through-out the city.  What about the best kept secrets about New Orleans worth visiting?

1-hour West of New Orleans on the West bank of the Mississippi River, history combines culture and natural beauty at the legendary Oak Alley Plantation.  Completed in 1839 by owner Jacques Roman, the US Historical Landmark has undergone multiple chapters and owners as a sugar plantation in its early years to an abandoned investment property.

300-year old oak tree alley

Long before the big house was built on the site, an alley created by a double row of 28 southern live oak trees over 800-feet tall planted in the 1800’s only feet from the man-made levee protecting the plantation from the Mississippi River.

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(The Alley from the 2nd floor balcony of the Big House)

Gray Line Tours offer guided tours of Big House and a narrated motor coach transportation departing daily from the Lighthouse ticket office in the French Quarter at Toulouse and the Mississippi at Steamboat Natchez Dock.  The 40-minute guided tour of the Greek-Revival architecture Big House takes guest through-out the spacious mansion’s two stories.  The well versed tour guides provide their guests with a vast knowledge of the plantations early beginnings with the Roman family that nearly bankrupt the plantation and it’s final owners, the Stewart family who were the last to live in residence.

Tours depart daily at 12:00 noon for the 5-hour tour (travel time included) to and from Oak Alley Plantation.  Due to its growing popularity, tickets are recommended to be purchased in advance.

Ticket Prices:

Adult: $63.00
Child: $31.00 (ages 6-12)
Group: $56.75

Gray Line Website:

http://www.graylineneworleans.com/all/tours/oak-alley-plantation

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