Titanic, Tile & Sharing Baths. The Jane Hotel, NYC.

October 10, 2016 at 2:38 pm
The Jane Hotel Lobby

The Jane Hotel Lobby. Beautiful Tile!

I’d like to say I put hours of thought and research into my New york City hotel choice, but the truth is The Jane Hotel was included in the package deal I booked through Expedia. For just $988 I had 5 nights stay and airfare, so this stay definitely fell into the bargain category. I’m pretty picky when It comes to hotels. I love a comfy bed and cleanliness is pretty vital. Ideally located in the West Village on the Hudson River, this historic hotel elicits strong reactions both negative and positive. The Jane averages 2.5 stars on most reviewing sites and swings wildly between 5 star, loved it and 1 star, hated it responses. So, how did the Jane stack up?

the Jane Hotel Exterior

Free Bikes to Rent

When I first walked in off the street, I was struck by the quirky charm of this old hotel. The tile and woodwork are gorgeous! The bellhops and desk personnel are uniformed in classic vintage attire and I love any type of costume, uniform or get up. You check in and are handed a strange metal keyfob which inserts into the electrical box in your room. The lights, TV and air conditioning only work when the fob is inserted, so there is no wasting electricity when you’re not in the room. The hotel was originally built as a seamen’s lodging and retains the feel of a ship with long narrow hallways and tiny berth-like cabins. I chose a standard cabin which was about 50 square feet and optimized to use every square inch wisely. A person with claustrophobia might not do well, but I loved my little old fashioned cabin. I found the shared bathroom situation perfectly acceptable. The baths were clean and again the tilework was amazing with black and white hexagons and traditional subway tiles. The Jane has a long, interesting history which you definitely feel while staying there. This was the hotel where they immediately brought the survivors from the Titanic. There is a tremendous “old New York” atmosphere.

Jane Hotel Room

My Tiny Berth

jane hotel hallway

A Bit Like the Shining?

I found the public areas of the Jane fascinating. There are two bars and a restaurant, Cafe Gitane, which also has a bar. Perfect. The rooftop bar is filled with velvet settees, leather stools, chandeliers and panelled woodwork. My first evening, I sipped a brown sugar mojito and watched the sunset over the Hudson with just the tiniest glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. I was sold and came back every night. The ballroom is frequently the site for special events including fashion week galas and in the 80’s and 90’s was part of downtown New York’s bohemian culture hosting Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the Million Dollar Club and various rock and roll events. I enjoyed three solidly good meals at Cafe Gitane which has the most lovely, warm ambience.

 

Cafe Gitane

 

The location really is great. It’s steps away from the Whitney Museum and the High Line. I could easily walk to the Chelsea Market for meals and shopping and the surrounding neighborhood is packed with upscale restaurants and bars. There’s even a Magnolia Bakery site within a couple of blocks. Hello, delicate golden cupcake with whipped lavender buttercream frosting! The 14th Street Station was a ten minute walk(well 15 for me) and provided access to the ACE lines, so it was easy to get up, down or cross town. The area felt safe with young families everywhere and is definitely the spot to see Manhattan’s fancy dog set. The streets are full of shady trees, colorful doors, window boxes, cobblestones and curly wrought iron railings. All my favorite things!

So, what were the downsides? This is a hotel that is old and when it was restored they obviously worked to keep many old-world attributes in place. It smells like an old hotel. Not necessarily bad, but definitely not “fresh.” There are areas where housekeeping could be improved but, honestly, nothing shocking or disturbing. Just a bit of mustiness. You may want to ask yourself if you’ll feel comfortable roaming the hall in hotel bathrobe and slippers to and from the shared bathrooms. I ended up letting go of some inhibitions(no, not that much!), but this may not be for everyone.I originally thought that partiers coming in after a night on the town were waking me up. After rising myself at 4am to catch my flight home in Newark I realise it may have been people checking out that I’d heard. Either way, the halls creaking and doors shutting in the night woke me. I decided to be okay about that, too. You know,” The City That Never Sleeps'” kind of okay.

The bottom line? I liked it. The quirky, fun, vintage Jane Hotel was  lovely. I’m starting to look for travel experiences that are unique and packed with personality. I’d say go with an open mind and you’ll like it, too. What do you think?

My New York City Trip Budget

September 30, 2016 at 7:24 pm

New York City Cafe

I’d heard New York City is one of the most expensive places in the world to visit for years, and to be honest that kept me from seriously considering a trip there until I started blogging about travel. As a point of reference it felt important to check it off. I felt pulled to see the 9/11 museum, which I’ll share about in the future and I needed that “New York” experience to put other cities into perspective. When an Expedia deal showed up in my inbox, I decided to just grab on and go for it. I traveled to Manhattan by myself for 5 days. How expensive was it? Let’s take a look:

Airfare and Hotel (Expedia Package)             855.00

Travel Insurance                                               59.00

Santa Barbara Airbus RT                                  88.00

Go Link New Jersey Airport Shuttle  RT           37.00

Uber                                                                  22.00

NYC Metro Card (7 day unlimited )                   32.00

9/11 Museum                                                    24.00

The Metropolitan Museum of Art                      25.00

Central Park Photo Safari                               100.00

Meals and Cocktails (5 days)                          340.00

Mementos                                                         70.00

*Gift (Einstein bobble head NY Public Library) 22.00 

Total                                                              1674.00

It averaged out to $335 a day, which does feel pretty pricey. For reference, our Denmark, Sweden and Germany trip averaged $206 per person, per day and our Japan trip averaged $148 per person, per day. Of course splitting costs is a great money saver(unless you’re the mom). So was it worth it? Absolutely! Was there a cheaper way to go? I’m not so sure about that. My hotel (The Jane, review coming) was definitely budget for Manhattan. My expenditures feel fairly modest. I passed on most entrance fees, tickets, cab rides and gourmet meals. In the end, the value of the trip felt balanced and I wouldn’t have missed those glorious Central Park days for anything.

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New York City Budget

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Einstein Bobble Heads

Einstein Bobbles-Creepy or Cute?

 

 

 

 

 

On Photo Safari in Central Park

September 26, 2016 at 2:33 pm

One of the things I looked forward to most on my trip to New York City was spending long, unhurried hours in Central Park. I’ll always remember sitting in Hyde Park in the early ‘80’s people watching and enjoying the large, verdant open space in the center of bustling London. I imagined myself sitting in Central Park re-creating that lovely experience. On the other hand, I also wanted to improve my travel blogging skills. At the top of the list is photography. It’s an area where I definitely struggle. Often I lack the patience to wait for the right shot or for people to disperse and I usually only grab a couple of shots at a location and then later regret that I don’t have more options for the blog. It was time to embrace slow photography! My plan was to take a photography tour on Saturday morning. I figured I could get a close and unique look at the park and maybe improve my skills.

Central Park Skyline

I was greedy and tried for the rock, lake, trees and skyline.

For $100 I booked a two hour  photography tour with New York Photo Safari in Central Park. Tours were also offered for the Met, Grand Central, Iconic New York and NYC after dark. Central Park seemed the best option for me. It would provide the opportunity to take photos of both cityscape and landscape, wouldn’t involve too much walking and was appropriate for everyone from beginners to advanced hobbyists. There were quite a few different tours offered on other sites like Viator or Expedia. I really just took a shot in the dark to select the one that had good reviews and seemed a comfortable fit for me. Hm, must stay in the “comfort zone.”

Central Park Lake

This guy just wouldn’t row to the best third of the shot.

It turned out to be an absolutely beautiful morning to be in Central Park. I met our guide, Zim, and another young woman who would be taking the tour that morning. I lucked out because it was just the two of us and we had plenty of one on one time with Zim. The other young woman was an aspiring fashion photographer with an amazing camera worth probably thousands of dollars. I use an Olympus PL–7. It was a bit of an intimidating start. Zim asked why we were taking the tour and what we hoped to learn. Apparently, I was deep undercover and never mentioned the blog. I said I just really wanted to have fun and learn to take better photos. Maybe it’s time to open up about the blog and trust that I will learn and grow more by sharing it? Next we got down to business and Zim shared some great tips about composition. We were set to take photos.

Central park Bench on Photo Safari

Really Long Central Park Bench

Zim guided us through a variety of different situations. We took photos of a park busker, Belvedere Castle, the lake, fences, paths, the New York City skyline, and some macro photography in the Shakespeare Garden. In each instance we would take an initial shot. She would look at it it’s give us advice and ask us to retake another. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  I learned that each shot is not a one time opportunity. I could look at the photo and with Zim’s advice find ways to better it. This was probably my biggest take away from the tour. I put aside my tendency to give up and learned about opportunities to improve the shot.

Central Park Butterfly

Central Park Butterfly

What I Learned:

  • Pick a “best friend”, and focus on it. If you’re shooting a bench, don’t be afraid to get close and make it all about the bench.
  • Don’t get greedy and try to put everything in the shot. It just becomes a hodge-podge.
  • Use the rule of thirds. For example,position your horizon two thirds of the way up.
  • For macro photography, it’s okay to move a leaf or dust off a rock.
  • Play around. It’s digital. You can just delete the bad shots later. (Believe it or not this was a big one for me!)

This was a fun and unique tour that I would definitely recommend. I came home and decided to look for more classes and opportunities to improve my photography. Here’s to stretching the comfort zone!

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Central park Photo Safari

 

 

The Madonna Inn

July 18, 2016 at 2:53 pm

[The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

As a child growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s a highlight of any road trip on California’s central coast was a stop at The Madonna Inn. It was built in 1958 by Alex and Phyllis Madonna in San Luis Obispo as a roadside inn for travelers headed up and down the coast.The iconic inn continues to delight children and adults today. The inn is mentioned in countless travel articles and shows. The rise in vogue of all things mid-century it is making it even more celebrated. Let’s take a quick tour!

The Kitsch

From the second you walk through the door you realize this is no sleek, Mad Men style 50’s retreat. This is over the top, pink and jewel toned, Bavarian, silk floral, carved maple work of brilliance. There are copper tables and lite fixtures, plush red leather banquettes and possibly acres of floral patterned carpet. The Madonnas had a hand in every aspect of the design from the leaded glass windows to the signature goblets. Mrs Madonna loved roses, anything pink and plushiness. A woman after my own heart.

The Madonna Inn Dining Room

The Gold Rush Steak House

The Deliciousness

The food at the Inn is vintage American style fare. The Copper Cafe serves burgers, sandwiches and a generous breakfast. We found them reasonably priced and tasty. The Gold Rush Steak House is a wonderful place to experience a 1960’s posh style dining experience. Take a look at the giant rock fireplace which includes real dinosaur vertebrae as you enter. We’d recommend a martini, the Green Goddess avocado toast appetizer and the local Abalone entree. They serve a great variety of local central coast wines, including their own label, and the dessert……. well dessert is one of the best reasons to stop at the Madonna Inn! The bakery is world-famous for a reason. They have a great selection of pies, cookies and pastries, but their cakes are truly amazing. We tried the pink champagne, which wasn’t pink that day due to a pink chocolate shortage (I’m not kidding) and the toffee crunch. They were both delicious and so pretty.

Amazing Cakes

Amazing Cakes

The Restrooms

As a child I remember being enchanted by the tiny toilet and wash basin in the ladies room which remain today. The restrooms alone are worth a stop to the inn. The ladies rooms feature hand painted Italian tile and marble counters. It’s the downstairs, men’s room, however that is the most awesome. The giant waterfall urinal and clam shell sinks have been a lure for women sneaking into the gents for years. Ask a male companion or any man exiting if the coast is clear. Really, ladies, it’s a badge of honor and worth the potential embarrassment.

The Madonna Inn Ladies Room

Your Beauty is Your Smile!

The Grounds

 

Mrs Madonna loved roses and flowers of all kinds. There are gorgeous pink roses, fanciful wishing wells, water fountains (rare in California these days) and loads of whimsical features covering the property. Take a walk out to view the lion cage that was once home to, Duchess, the Madonna Inn lion. Rumor has it that you could actually pet her. Yikes!

The Madonna Inn's Gorgeous Roses

Gorgeous Roses

The Hotel

We haven’t had a chance to stay at the hotel but it is famed for it’s 110 unique rooms. They are each, individually decorated to the hilt in fun themes. Personally, I’d like to try the Daisy Mae with rock floors and walls, waterfall shower and garland lights. The Just Heaven looks wonderful with spiral staircase, cherubs and private viewing tower. It would be so hard to make up my mind! Click here to get an idea of all the choices. They have a gorgeous pool, whirlpool, spa, hot pink tennis and basketball courts and horseback riding.

I love any spot you can get a glimpse of another time and The Madonna Inn is pure vintage 50’s and 60’s. What about you? Have you “time-traveled” recently?

 

 

A Guide to 5 Santa Barbara Beaches

September 20, 2015 at 11:13 pm


madewithOver

I’ve lived in Santa Barbara for many years and never get tired staycationing in this beautiful California coastal community. The Spanish architecture, temperate climate, and fabulous surrounding wineries, make this an ideal location for a fun, relaxing vacation. As a child, I remember swimming in the ocean on my Christmas vacation. I can’t imagine doing that now! Our water is quite cool compared to other more tropical destinations.  Santa Barbara has been dubbed the “American Riviera” and our beaches often make the top 10 lists of most renowned in the world. Here are a few of my favorites, along with why I love them.

East Beach

East Beach Santa Barbara

1. East Beach: This is the number one beach associated with Santa Barbara. East beach serves as training ground for many world-class and Olympic Beach volleyball players including Karch Kirali and Todd Rogers. A long stretch of light golden fluffy sand makes this the ideal spot for building sandcastle’s, basking the sun, and playing in the cool, refreshing sea. There is some available street parking and pay by the hour spots but using the Waterfront Trolley is the best way to get from a downtown hotel to East Beach. The East Beach Grill offers light meals and drinks and the Cabrillo Bathhouse rents beach toys and equipment. If you can only see one beach in Santa Barbara don’t miss this beach.

2. West Beach: Located West of the pier, this beach is a good choice for swimmers since it is protected by the harbor. It has fewer amenities but offer a wide, sandy stretch of beach that is a good choice for families with children. It’s fun to take a break and grab an ice cream on the pier when the afternoon gets hot. The Santa Barbara Outrigger Canoe Club practices here from 5:30 to sunset on weekdays. Watch for the “sandcastle man” who creates works of art near the entry to the wharf and snap a picture in front of the dolphin statue.

3. Arroyo Burro a.k.a. Hendry’s beach: Many locals think of this as their favorite beach. In spite of being renamed Arroyo Burro years ago, we tend to call it by its original name, Hendry’s beach. We’re just stubborn this way. This is the beach for dog lovers! You will see almost every breed you can think of happily playing in the surf, chasing balls and making friends One of the best local restaurants, The Boathouse, serves up delicious meals and cocktails literally steps from the beach. The parking is free but in summer and on holidays it can be challenging to find a spot in the lot. Many choose to park on Alan Road the nearest small residential street and walk to the beach. This is a good spot to hunt sea glass and watch for Dolphins.

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Butterfly Beach, Santa Barbara

4. Butterfly Beach: This beach is located across from the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel and is the place to see the luxury Santa Barbara has become known for. It’s not unusual to see a stream of classic cars heading to dinner at the Bella Vista Restaurant. The beautiful beach is somewhat narrow and accessed by a flight of stairs. Again, parking can be a challenge but is free on the street. There are no concessions so pack a picnic. This is a great place to view the sunset.

5. Leadbetter Beach: This is a great beach for surfing, paddle boarding and kite boarding. Many local surfers got their start at Leadbetter. Even if you don’t surf you will enjoy watching the crazy tricks the kite boarders pull off. There are very limited free parking spots. Again if you’re able to take the trolley from your hotel this is the best means of access. The Shoreline Café is a good choice for a light lunch or a glass of wine at happy hour. It’s located near Santa Barbara City College so many students hang out here between classes. For fun pick up some supplies at the grocery store and arrive early to snag a barbecue and picnic table.

East, West and Leadbetter Beaches are close to lower State Street where you will find rentals for surrey bikes, beach toys and boards. Natural oil seepage occurs in the Santa Barbara Channel so be prepared for tar on your feet. It’s easily removed with baby oil and most hotels and vacation rentals will have a removal kit available for you. Most importantly, be prepared to spend an entire day enjoying these beaches.