Month: May 2015

NEW YORK: I Could Never Get Enough of You

New York City will always be one of my favorite travel destinations. The diverse culture, and fast-paced lifestyle never fail to amaze me. I have been to NYC a lot of times, and I could never get enough of it. The colors, the lights, the places to visit, and the food choices are just so vast, I have always felt that I do not have enough time to explore this big city.
My visit this year was again too short for my enjoyment. Again I stayed over at my cousin’s house – he had always been very generous and had always made me feel at home. My first day is usually spent with him and his family. As usual, they welcome me with a gastronomic feast that would leave me wondering if I was really in New York. This is because I get to eat a great home-cooked meal that transports me back to our home town.
After a lot of catching up I doze off and prepared for my itinerary for my second day in NYC. Although I want to keep things free flowing, I figured it would be nice to have an informal plan about the places I would want to visit, so that I could make sure I would get to go visit them during my trip.
I started off visiting old friends living in the Queens area. They brought me over at this restaurant they have been raving about which is Don Peppe’s. Well, food was really outstanding there, with lots of choices and huge portions, perfect for sharing! The restaurant has a great ambience and pleasant wait staff. I couldn’t have enough of their linguine with white clam sauce, mozzarella with tomato and roasted peppers, and of course their Tiramisu. Truly one happy tummy for me there.
The next day, I decided to go for a run in Central Park. Running there was just so relaxing for me. I just love the view, the trees, the smell, the sights. I am so enamored. Everything about Central Park actually will always be fun for me, including the Whole Foods Market right across. And yes you guessed it right, I stopped by to fill up. In all my trips to New York I never fail to stop by this Whole Foods branch in Columbus Circle. It is just a happy place for me, and why not – every inch of the store is filled with delicious and wholesome food.

I could never get enough of the Big Apple. (Photo Credits: Aurelien Guichard, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

That night, I got invited by an old classmate to watch a Broadway show. Honestly, I would rather go on another food trip, but I figured this is a great cultural experience I should not miss. And I did not regret it.
The next day was one of my most-anticipated days in NYC. I carried on with my quest to find the a welding helmet, and it led me to another New York location, this time in Syracuse. I was lucky enough to be accompanied by one of my good friends in heading over to Haun Welding Supply’s Retail Store. I was like a kid in a candy shop, when I entered the retail store in their office headquarters. I just had to continue my search for the best welding helmet over at their outlet.
The welding supplies found at their store are just so vast, I was so excited to peruse everything there. It is a welder’s paradise!

Not a trip to NYC without strolling at Central Park. (Photo Credits: Nancy Smith, cc: Some Rights Reserved)

Anyway, I was glad to know that they also offer free one-day training seminars in there, and that they likewise offer training courses in their Syracuse branch. That is one thing that I may try in my next visit to the Big Apple.
Of course while in Syracuse, I did not pass up the chance to eat over at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. As a fan of the show Man Vs Food, I made a mental note of visiting this restaurant the next time in New York. And boy was I not disappointed! The ribs were just oh-so-succulent, finger-licking, and to-die-for. The Beer Menu was also very diverse that I had a hard time choosing! For those with allergies, it will be also great to note that they have a gluten-free menu to boot.

The next item on my to-do-list at New York is to, of course go shopping. I figured it would just be weird to go home with only a new welding mask so I headed over at Woodbury Commons and ticked off my shopping list. Again, shopping at this outlet is not for the faint of hearts and those who do not have self-control. I purposely left my credit card at my cousin’s house to make sure I would not go over my shopping budget and my airline’s luggage weight limit restrictions. I do not want to get something there that I could not pay for, so in this particular shopping trip, cash is my mode of payment.
I could say it is one of the best decisions that I ever made because at least, I was limited to just buying what I really needed – new pairs of denims, a nice laptop bag to replace my old one, a wallet, and the dark glasses I have always been wishing for.
Well, as I have always felt every time I am in New York, my stint in the Big Apple was again too short for me to totally enjoy the city. Like I could never get enough of it – its lights, its energy, its people. Before I headed over to Washington to visit another friend, I made another mental note of the places I would want to visit and restaurants I would like to check out the next time I am there. I am certain, that i will be back again.

Snowdonia skyline

FROM CONWY TO NEBO over the Carneddau, Glyderau, Snowdon and the Nantlle Ridge, the route I’ve called the Snowdonia Skyline is one I’d wanted to try for years. Last summer, during a period of settled weather and on a night with a full moon, I finally set out to walk it. Head west then south-west out of Conwy, keep Anglesey to your right, the rest of Wales to your left and carry on climbing those lovely ridges until you get to the other end of the National Park… sound simple?

In principle, it is. But this is also one of the most rewarding 24 hours available to the British walker. Starting in the early evening, I blundered westwards from Conwy town centre. Strangely, although Conwy has a direct path out onto some of the most scenic territory anywhere, the route is positively hidden. But after a couple of missed turns I finally found the route onto the open hill. In front of me lay one of the great concentrations of spectacular mountain ridges in Britain.

Adam and Eve, Tryfan summit, sunrise

Conwy Mountain may be less than 250m high but it feels like a mountain alright, with views down and out to the shimmering Lafan Sands and Anglesey floating above the sea, all in soft evening sunlight. The next five miles or so contain no summits, just a gradual gain of height up to Tal y Fan, the first 2000-footer. But the scenery is magnificent. Sections of the early route reminded me of the first miles of the Lyke Wake Walk, with widening views to town and country as the sun set. Tal y Fan is a curious summit, a rocky spine running east-west above the heathery moor. After that there is a heathery trundle over Foel Lwyd followed by a disconcertingly deep bwlch – the first of many – and the long pull to Carnedd Y Ddelw and then Drum. Anglesey had also now landed again; very quiet.

The ascent of Foel Fras is a dull, long grass slope, so mindless that I counted to 600 plantings of the left foot. You know you are close to the top when you encounter the designers’ only acknowledgement of it as a 3000-foot mountain: a rash of boulders. But the next miles are the easiest on the whole trip, grassy uplands leading to Carnedd Gwenllian and then on to the stone shelter on Foel Grach. By now, I had moonlight, which was reflecting brightly off Yr Elen, a tempting top, but not on the Skyline.

I spent the three darkest hours of the night in my bivvy bag and then moved on as the cold started to seep through. Ahead lay the easy ascent to Carnedd Llewelyn, far left for the summit, then the long tramp to Carnedd Dafydd. From here I needed light and I got it as, slowly, dawn organised itself from somewhere north of Merseyside. I remembered to watch for the steepening ground from Pen Yr Ole Wen, into that gully above Afon Lloer and remembered also to replenish my water supplies. But I had forgotten how slippery the next bit – all wet and dewy grass – could be. I even saw another torch, briefly, but was soon concentrating on trying to use my feet rather than my backside to progress. By the time I reached the track I was thoroughly relieved to be sprain-free, although I now possessed two very wet feet. This was a very low bwlch, but, in front of me, emerging into daylight beyond the A5, was Tryfan. It was 5am and I already had 18 miles and 6000ft of ascent under my feet but in front of me was 2000ft of infinitely varied scrambling on sound rock: the north ridge of Tryfan, served up with a blazing sunrise. My watch told me I ascended in 90 minutes but looking back, it felt like 19. And at the top were Adam and Eve: the best piece of summit design anywhere. Then the swift descent to Bwlch Tryfan and Bristly Ridge… of which I made a pig’s ear, straying left and emerging from there into Great Pinnacle Gap. The presence of discarded tape slings was disconcerting but, in the absence of skeletons and the like, I trusted in the pattern of Snowdonia scrambles: that if you wave your arms about long enough a jug hold will usually appear. Soon the Cantilever came into sight and then – surely the designers put these two on the wrong plinths – a pile of discarded dinosaur torsos at the true summit of Glyder Fach. Castell y Gwynt is another rock feature that looks to have been designed for a summit and then plonked somewhere temporary, so I climbed it. Glyder Fawr lay beyond, a less spectacular summit but a great view to Snowdon. From here, there is a mystery. Pen y Pass is one of the great honeypot sites and Glyder Fawr one of the significant summits. And yet the connecting path, although marked by the odd red paint splash, is a bit scatty. At the bottom a path did coalesce, just in time to run into a fenced-off building site.

From Glyder Fawr, a view of the continuing
Skyline, over Snowdon

I picked up a coffee at the cafe and, with my eye on my watch and my mind on my 24-hour target time, carried it up the PYG track. It was just about cool enough to sip by Bwlch y Moch – maybe I exaggerate – but then the adrenaline rush of Crib Goch provided its own stimulation. At the top I encountered the first mists, which eventually lifted at Crib y Ddysgl, where Snowdon (and its hordes) came back into view. I downed a juice at the summit cafe then headed of towards Yr Aran, realising pretty quickly that I needed to turn and hit the path that descends gently to Rhyd Ddu, the lowest point on my watershed. Rhyd Ddu was pretty quiet but, again, there were provisions available (you don’t need a long-suffering support driver to walk this route). Ahead of me lay Snowdonia’s best kept secret – the fantastic landscapes of the Nantlle ridges. But first was the purgatory of 1500f of grassy staircase to ascend Y Garn. It didn’t help that I now met the single happiest school group I have ever seen, gambolling down the steep ground with shared noisy glee. By contrast I was by now the possessor of that crazed hollow stare of an addict reaching the end of the fix, the sort you see eyeing up the last pint of a bender or putting the last coins in a Vegas slot. Eventually the slope slackened but I had acquired company. Yes, I had a voice in my head, a female companion who was convinced that we would finish this together, even if we had to run the last bit down.

As I later read, one of the local Welsh poets had written of this area: “T ere are voices and phantoms throughout the place.” Spooky? No, comforting, really. Y Garn is a fantastic viewpoint… but I cannot recall appreciating it on this occasion. Soon enough, the route became really interesting again, with care required to negotiate the bouldery staircase up to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed, and a view down one of the cleanest of vertical drops in the whole of Snowdonia. And from here on I met not a soul. No-one else was there to admire the ridge curving perfectly round the cwm to Trum Y Ddysgl, or the upland grass promenade – with that short rough gap – to the obelisk on Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd.

The next bwlch is one of those disconcertingly low ones, but my female companion kept pointing out a path that struck out half right from the low point. Her judgment was perfect as I took it and it led me round the crags on the ridge, to the summit of Craig Cwm Silyn. More great views and, at last, no more major ascents. I could sense a nearing of journey’s end, complete with its metaphors for life itself; the going easier, everything more rounded and the sea nearer. Garnedd Goch was easy up but bumpy down and looked unexpectedly huge in retrospect. From a level bwlch I picked up the thinnest path to Mynydd Craig Goch. It was all downhill now and I had 40 minutes left of my 24 hours, much of which I wasted by straying too far to the right. ‘She’ – the voice in my head – was right, I reflected, as I hobble-ran down the hill on a path that led unerringly to a new fence. Down towards Llyn Cwm Dulyn I lurched, to a stile, which led in turn to one of those mysteries of the countryside, a one-in-five grass slope that somehow holds ankle-deep water. When I eventually reached my target, the National Park boundary, the only sound I could hear – splurch, splurch – was that of water sloshing around in my runners. The time was 5.36pm. I had been going for four minutes short of 24 hours and can have rarely felt worse; then again, I had just found a fantastic route and have rarely felt better. So, there is the challenge: keep the sea to your right, Wales to your left and climb the skyline in front of you. You might want to wait till the wind’s in the east. Then enjoy.

  1. The route has a single theme: the skyline.
  2. The best views in Snowdonia are looking west, and they are in front of
    you throughout.
  3. The route includes several outstanding scrambles and all bar one are
    used the best way, in ascent.
  4. The route has a continuity of line; there are no ‘out and back’ elements.
  5. The route is navigationally obvious, with no temptingly daft options.
  6. Each of the major descents are on gradual slopes or civilised paths.
  7. The route includes two areas which deserve greater attention: the
    northern Carneddau and Nantlle.
  8. The start and end points are on the road network and readily connected
    by public transport.
  9. There is comfortable accommodation at both ends.
  10. The start is at the start of the mountain skyline and the end….is at the other end of it.

Top five getaways: Seeing killer views like this doesn’t require a second mortgage

  1. PHILIPPINES

    Philippines Busuanga Island

    No need to be a billionaire to claim your own private island in the Philippines. Just hire a local fisherman to ferry you out to any one of thousands of islands (5,000 of the 7,000 are uninhabited) and plant your flag. Some food and a few simple camping supplies are all you’ll need to crash for the night (specifically, mosquito nets, rum and something to open coconuts).
    The sea turtles never ask for tips, and cool, starry nights are free. If camping cramps your style, a stay at a beachfront resort like Camiguin Action Geckos Resort costs less than a Comfort Suites back home. The priciest part is getting here, but interisland flights are cheap and plentiful (though not always online), as are cold beer, local rum and simmering street foods such as the delicious noodle bowl called pancit bihon . All you need now is an insignia for your flag.
    WHEN TO GO Avoid typhoon season, July through September. Deals can be had year-round.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON A guided climb up Hibok-Hibok volcano on Camiguin Island. — Nathan Myers.
    HOW TO GET THERE: PHILIPPINES Non-stop to Manila for less than $700 on lower-cost airlines like China Eastern or AirAsia. Book as early as possible. The cheapest seats are always available first.

  2. TORTOLA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

    tortola cane garden bay

    There’s nothing fancy about Sebastian’s hotel on Tortola. But each of the 26 rooms does put you within a 30-second walk (weighed down with a cooler and a few towels) from a pretty beach in Little Apple Bay on the quiet north shore (the cruise ships are 9 miles away in Road Town ). Do breakfast and lunch at the on-site Seaside Grille (the conch salad is wonderfully unchewy), and for dinner venture to local spots like D’Coalpot, where chef Evelyn arguably makes the island’s best roti — it’s enough to split.
    WHEN TO GO Shoulder season (May and June) means the best weather for the best price, but don’t disregard low season (June to November) . Since 1944, a hurricane has hit the British Virgin Islands only once every 11 years , and the last one to cause significant damage was Hurricane Otto in 2010.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON sailing. Plan day trips from Tortola to the surrounding islands: flat, remote Anegada for the biggest, cheapest spiny lobster ever; mountainous Virgin Gorda for drinks and 360-degree views at Hog Heaven; and tiny Jost Van Dyke for the whitest sand and strongest cocktails around. Rates start at $89 per person for day sails. Ferrying between islands is a more wallet-friendly option. — Audrey St. Clair.
    HOW TO GET THERE: No nonstops from the U.S. to the BVI. Fly to San Juan from
    NYC for $200, but it’s at least $300 for the next short leg. Once there, island hopping by ferry is easy.

  3. SAN BLAS, PANAMA

    San Blas Panama

    The native Kuna Indians govern the San Blas Islands, still traveling among the 378 isles by hand-carved canoes with sails. Still catching fresh fish and gathering fruit. Still sleeping in hammocks and building shelter with bamboo and thatch. This no-frills escape looks much like it did 1,000 years ago, and a stay at Kuna-owned Akwadup Lodge in one of seven overwater huts feels like it, save for a few welcome comforts such as ordering lobster from your private balcony (under which it was likely just swimming). Views of rainforest and ocean and a blanket of stars are unlike any you’ve seen.
    WHEN TO GO These isles lie in hurricane country, so early spring is ideal.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON Traditional rainbow-hued fabrics called mola made by hard-bargaining Kuna women. The best have smooth edges and stitches so small they could be the work of Lilliputians . — AS
    HOW TO GET THERE:  Flights from LA to Panama City hover in the $400 to $600 range. Book the interisland flight ($50 to $100) to El Porvenir as soon as possible. Those 20 seats go fast.

  4. BONAIRE

    Washington Slagbaai National Park, Bonaire

    No other Caribbean island offers a greater variety of DIY-style snorkeling and diving (first purchase the required $10 snorkeling pass; $25 for divers). Bonaire’s leeward coast, all 24 miles, is dotted with yellow rocks painted with numbers, each marking one of 60-some named reefs, home to sea turtles, squid and yellow-spotted moray eels. To see them, just park the rental car (Caribbean Club Bonaire includes a pickup truck in the room price), walk to the shoreline, don gear and go. Not a water baby? Mountain biking through Washington Slagbaai National Park means snuggling with donkeys or spotting flamingoes near the salt ponds.
    WHEN TO GO Bonaire is outside the hurricane belt, so summer deals can be even cheaper given you can forgo travel insurance.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON a 90-minute lesson alongside pros at Kiteboarding Bonaire. — Brooke Morton
    HOW TO GET THERE:   Nonstops also depart from Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston. CheapAir says to plan Caribbean travel about 100 days in advance. From NYC to Bonaire, $500 is a great deal.

  5. BIG ISLAND, HAWAII

    Hilo, Hawaii

    Walk the beaches of Kona and it’s like the rocks have eyes. That’s because those coffee-table slabs atop black sand are actually honu — green sea turtles. To see them elsewhere requires snorkeling or waiting till the wee hours when they nest, but here, when the sun shines, they’re everywhere. What’s not, though, are low-cost hotels and cheap eats. The Pineapple Park Hostel is a bit of a misnomer. Although mostly young people choose it, the place does have private rooms for $100 in the heart of town on Route 11, where free islandwide buses stop. Take one to Kailua-Kona and hit up Da Poke Shack for cubed raw tuna topped with avocado aioli, but don’t eat it there. Get it to go and walk 10 minutes south to Pahoehoe Beach. Poke (pronounced poh-KAY) is the perfect light lunch, so you can ignore that rule from Mom about waiting 30 minutes before swimming.
    WHEN TO GO November to March is ideal — migrating humpback whales think so — and thus prices are higher. Summer brings better deals, so long as you don’t mind higher humidity.
    SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON stand-up paddling. Invest $40 for a trip in Kealakekua Bay State Park and paddle among spinner dolphins. — BM
    HOW TO GET THERE: Lower fuel costs could mean lower rates in 2015, with West Coast flights starting around $300, East Coast and Midwest about $600. Book three to four months out.

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