36 hours in the Big Apple – Next 12

Midtown (by Jen Laceda – Folie a Deux)

If Uptown offers some kind of refuge from its vast museums and leafy residential streets, then Midtown provides all the riotous action. Located between 14th and 59th Streets, it is most rife between 34th and 42nd Streets.

Shopping along world famous 5th Avenue (from 59th Street to Rockefeller Center at 50th, and south to 42nd Street), is a popular pursuit. If your soles need a bit of a break, drop by the hallowed sculptural garden of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, 53rd St. between 5th and 6th Ave.). To round out the New York City experience, amble down Broadway to hit Herald Square, the Flatiron District, ending in Union Square. And when the sun goes down, do not resist the urge to take a trip up the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller’s Top of the Rock observatory for the spectacular views. Or you saunter over to Times Square for a brash, neon show. One thing is certain in Midtown Manhattan – one will never be found wanting for things to do, eat, drink, and consider.

Understandably, there are plenty of restaurants in the area to whet refined palates. And it is certainly no accident that international celebrity chefs open flashy eateries in this district. To name a few, Gordon Ramsay is at The London Hotel, April Bloomfield is at the helm of The Spotted Pig, Daniel Boulud is going casual Gallic beyond his comfort zone, and the likes of Nobu Matsuhisa, Masaharu Morimoto, and Ritsuko Yamaguchi all have invaded the belly of Manhattan.

36 hours in the Big Apple – First 12

Uptown (by Jen Laceda – Folie a Deux)

Devote one full day to the Upper East & West sides. Explore Central Park, between 59th and 110th Streets, with stops on Museum Row. The American Museum of Natural History on Upper West side is a classic New York experience. So are The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim both on the Upper East. Although these museums have large collections that can keep you occupied for days, speeding through the highlights is certainly possible. On Fridays and Saturdays when the Met is open until 9:00 pm, you can certainly cram another museum in on the same day. Central Park’s 79th Transverse Road can take you across the park from the famous dinosaur skeleton displays of the American Museum of Natural History to the celebrated collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art .

When hunger calls, dining options Uptown can be quite posh. The critically acclaimed Per Se by Chef Thomas Keller, proudly waves its 3 Michelin stars above Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Centre. There are no guarantees for a coveted table at this establishment as reservations are taken two months ahead. However, Masa Bar, Bouchon Bakery, and even a Whole Foods Market are just within the centre’s glass atrium. Also, next door at the Trump International Hotel is Jean Georges Vongerichten’s 2-Michelin star  rated namesake restaurant. And across the park is the eponymous French restaurant, Daniel.

A smile goes a long way

I know we’ve all been told that when we travel, especially overseas, we are informal ambassadors of our culture. A friend sent this video to me recently, and while I don’t normally post this kind of thing, I think you have to see it. Matthew Harding has proved with this simple video that happiness (and goofiness) are universal.  I’d encourage all of you to interact when you’re traveling and let people see what Americans are really like. Thank you Matt for making me smile and for reminding us all we’re not so different after all.

Breathe easy

I knew this story was coming. Beijing has spent billions on construction for the Olympics, and they have a lot to offer. One thing they’d like to take off that list is air pollution. In Beijing it is legendary. Western journalists are already complaining about it. For those of you traveling to the games, here’s a quick rundown of the tips from the American Lung Association:

– If you’re a smoker, quit before you go. Pollution and smoking don’t mix.

– If you have asthma or other breathing problems take your meds.

– Don’t exercise outdoors.

– If you feel unwell move indoors to get away from the pollution.

The Chinese have made major efforts to improve their air quality. They are, however, unable to control the winds that blow smog into the city or the humidity that holds it there. My advice is be prepared, know your limits, and try to stay inside whenever you can.

The boutique conundrum

Boutique hotels are like the Frank Lloyd Wright houses of our time. They are beautiful to look at. Vertically designed so all aspects add up to a “lifestyle”, not just an architectural space. Sometimes though, they miss their mark. Here are just a few of the ideas hoteliers have tried on me that just didn’t work:

– elevator color light therapy, trust me green light isn’t flattering to anyone

– Swedish showers (read: no shower curtain and yards of slippery, wet tile)

– check in desk as candy counter, seriously I still haven’t figured that one out

– room door made of chalkboard, complete with chalk. For my inner child?

– lofted bed, just like the one’s from college, and only accessible from one side

– condoms at turndown. Never take away a girl’s chocolate

– a bathroom designed so tightly, that the door won’t close

I love boutique hotels, so I’ll keep trying to find the perfect space. I wouldn’t tell you to avoid boutique hotels. I just caution you if you’re heading for one yourself, to keep an open mind. They can be an amazing experience or just plain bizarre.

Worried about airlines cutting flights?

I know that I am. I’m concerned that United is going to cancel the flight for my upcoming vacation. Remember many months ago I was warning you to purchase tickets as I thought prices would rise. Well I did buy tickets myself. Now I’m sweating it out waiting for the e-mail telling me that United has cut the route. To be fair, it’s not a large market for them, but…they’ve been using my money for months, so I expect that plane to fly. I found this map over at USAToday.com that details all the flight cuts state by state. If you’re worried about your next flight, check it out.

Are you changing your vacation plans?

So there’s been a lot of gloom and doom reporting this week about what a nightmare travel is this time of year. My new favorite is this article over at USAToday.com about how stressed out travelers are. Like we weren’t before?! Anyhoo, it got me wondering if what you’ve heard in the media is causing you to change your plans for Summer travel. I haven’t myself, but I am rethinking my travel plans for next year. With fewer flights, higher fares, hotels and rental car fees I’m seriously considering going to one big (read: 2-4 weeks) vacation next year in lieu of 2 – 4 small getaways. What about you? Will you change your plans?

Frequent flyer rewards? Where are they?

I took my own advice recently and tried to book two reward tickets using my frequent flyer miles on Northwest. The ticket I was angling for was a December flight about a week and a half before Christmas. While I’d expected to “pay” a premium for the seats in number of miles used, I was absolutely shocked when the website demanded I pony up 100,000 for each ticket. You have to understand, you used to be able to fly to Australia business class for 100,000 miles and now they’re asking this for an economy class seat to the Midwest?!

I’m not a business traveler, so I definitely don’t have that kind of mileage banked. I’m wondering if anyone does. At 100,000 miles, it’s cheaper for me to actually buy a ticket home for the holidays.

Have you had trouble recently redeeming your miles?

Summer airfares stratospheric rise

As I feared Summer airfare have gone up. USAToday.com reports that non-stop airfares in markets without low fare competitors have gone up by as much as 365%. You read that right, they’ve more than tripled since Summer 2007. It’s worrisome to be sure. Some things you can do to help lower your fare? First and foremost look for markets with low fare competitors. If Southwest is flying your route, odds are your fares will cost less because of competition. Secondly, fly connections. I know it’s a nightmare (layovers, storms, delays), but it will save you money. Finally, consider pushing your trip into September. After school starts, demand for flights softens and airfares historically have come down. If you can travel in mid-late September, you should.

Book now or book later?

I was having cocktails with a friend this evening and debating the benefits of booking flights now versus hedging against future airline “sales”. I’ve been talking a lot about high oil prices, and I do honestly believe that we’ve seen the end of cheap fares for now. The airlines don’t have enough cash on hand to sustain losses for long. So they will have to:

– Keep raising fares – analysts predict 40 fare increases in 2008

– Curtail flights – a 15% cutback in flights would allow airlines to keep their planes full

– Keep adding fees – extra bag, meal in flight, movie – you name it, now it has a fee

The only upside I see for this Summer is that with fewer planes flying, air traffic controllers will have less stress. Your flight may also actually depart and land on time, but don’t quote me on that one.