New York City: 5 best May values

By Kate Appleton
October 3, 2012
John Peden

2-for-1 museum admission

It's not easy to compete with the likes of the Met and MoMA. But New York City supports dozens of fascinating, less crowded museums worth a look, especially this month. Through May 31, the Museum Discovery Pass offers unlimited 2-for-1 admission to the following: the American Folk Art Museum ($9); the Asia Society Museum ($10); the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island ($5); the recently expanded and relocated Museum of Chinese in America ($7); the Noguchi Museum in Queens, whose collection encircles a sculpture garden ($10); the Rubin Museum of Art devoted to Himalayan works ($10); and the Studio Museum in Harlem ($7 suggested donation). Print out the pass from a museum website before you go. One more deal worth flagging: the Museum of the City of New York is free on all Mondays in May.

The return of Water Taxi Beaches

Get your Memorial Day beach-and-burgers fix without the traffic by heading to one of these free urban beaches accessible by public transportation, including water taxi. The original Water Taxi Beach—a sandy stretch of Long Island City, Queens, facing midtown Manhattan—reopens for its fifth season on May 1. The South Street Seaport outpost at Pier 17, in view of the Brooklyn Bridge, is re-branding as Water Taxi Beach & Beer Garden as of opening day April 30. So you can expect a more expansive beer list and lots of communal tables set up near the Fish Shack. Guest DJs get the party vibe going on nights throughout the summer (mostly free, $10 cover for Turntables on the Hudson series, ages 21+ at night). The third beach location, on Governors Island, won't open until June 5.

A botanical garden's tribute to Emily Dickinson

For its ambitious new show, the New York Botanical Garden filled its Haupt Conservatory with daisies, tulips, roses, jasmine, and other varieties that the 19th-century poet so lovingly tended at her Massachusetts home. Thirty-five of her poems, full of floral imagery, are placed near corresponding plants and act as a guide as you stroll through the show (free audio tours are also available). Gardening demos and poetry readings continue through the closing weekend of June 13, with special plans for Mother's Day Weekend, May 8-9, and Ballet and Poetry Weekend, May 15-16. The All-Garden Pass isn't cheap, but its $20 cost covers the Emily Dickinson show, all other exhibits and garden areas, events, activities, and tram tours. Bronx River Pkwy at Fordham Rd, the Bronx.

Free theater before it's famous

Earn some bragging rights by attending a free reading at York Theatre Company; these in-the-works musicals sometimes go on to win awards and sell out theaters on and off Broadway. Two of the three developmental readings slated for May are New York-centric. Trav'lin recounts the romantic ups and downs of three couples in 1930s Harlem with a fitting jazz soundtrack (May 20, 7 p.m.), while The Age of Innocence takes on Edith Wharton's tale of repressed love in the insular high-society world of 1870s Manhattan (May 27, 7 p.m.). Reserve in advance, and stick around for a post-reading discussion. The Theatre at Saint Peters, 619 Lexington Ave., 212/935-5824, ext. 524.

Food vendors take over Ninth Avenue

Dime-a-dozen street fairs shut down city streets frequently in summer, filling the air with music and the smells from sizzling food stalls. The Ninth Avenue International Food Festival is one of the standouts and comes early in the circuit, when the weather is just getting gorgeous and before street-fair fatigue sets in. This year, the festival takes place the weekend of May 15-16, 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., with folk performances on the 16th. Come hungry so that you can sample treats supplied by neighborhood businesses, for instance, pork with mole sauce from Tacocina, phyllo pastries from Poseidon Greek Bakery, and gumbo from Chantale's Cajun Kitchen. Proceeds go to support community programs. Ninth Ave., 42nd to 57th Sts., rain or shine.

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London: On Golden Hinde

In 1577, many years before he defeated the Spanish Armada, the great English buccaneer and Sir Francis Drake became one of the first sailors to circumnavigate the world in a wooden galleon called the Golden Hinde. Along the way, he made what was probably the first European landfall in California, naming it Nova Albion. He also captured one of the largest hordes of treasure ever taken — paying off the English national debt in one fell swoop. On his return, the Hinde became so famous that it was put on public display on the south bank of the Thames here in London — the earliest recorded example of a ship being preserved for public posterity. And while it rotted away, a full-sized working replica has replaced it and remains harbored on the river. It, too, has circumnavigated the globe and sailed over 140,000 miles — many more than the original. The replica Golden Hinde is in a prime spot — a few minutes walk from both the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe. And unlike both of those sights it's a real hit with kids. It's possible to visit the ship anytime between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on a self-guided tour. But it's far better to come on one of the activity days. May is set to be a busy month for these, with 23 days of organised activities, from guided historical tours and full day living history days. On May 8 and 22 there are pirate fun days, when kids have the chance to dress up as pirates, participate in a series of re-enactments and generally run riot on the boat. And on May 29 the Golden Hinde will be staging one of its summer sleepovers — and overnight living history tour for children between 5 to 10 years old (accompanied by an adult), which includes an afternoon and evening of costumed activities, a Tudor dinner, and sleeping out on the gun deck amongst the cannons. A Tudor breakfast of bread and cheese is provided in the morning, followed by a snack of hot chocolate as you return to the twenty-first century. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Check out our London City page Find hotel suggestions and travel tips


Paris: New phone booths offer free Internet

On April 9, the city of Paris and Orange telecom unveiled a dozen "experimental" phone booths that offer free Internet and multimedia services. These booths are scattered throughout the city (handy map, here), with four located in areas that have a high number of visitors — the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, ChampsÉlysées, and the Marais. The promise In addition to traditional phone calls, these booths promise to let users browse the Internet and view and send emails. These two services are currently free, with log-on time limited to 10 minutes. Users can also search for local services near the booth, including restaurants, pharmacies, banks, hotels, train stations, etc. This mapping service will always be free, but there will eventually be a charge for using the Internet. The reality In theory, these booths could be a godsend for travelers who need to look up information, quickly check for an email, or locate a service. But how well do they really work? To find out, I took one of the new booths for a test drive yesterday afternoon and found the following: The Surf's Not Up. For the moment, it's not possible to visit the website of your choice. Orange promises that this will change if the booths make it past the experimental phase, but for the moment your choices are limited to a handful of pre-selected sites. The Touch Screen is Tricky. I found my email provider among the small number of available sites (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail) and was able, after 3 or 4 tries, to successfully enter my password using the booth's touch screen keypad. Scrolling down the page, however, was almost impossible, and composing a reply using the touch screen might take far longer than the 10-minute allotted time. The Search Didn't Find. One of the prime services that these booths are advertising — the ability to locate nearby businesses — wasn't working when I tried to use it. I pressed the buttons to find "pharmacies" and "restaurants" and stood waiting without results until my session time expired. It's all in French. We are in France, so I suppose this makes sense. But offering navigation in multiple languages, as is done with ATMs, subway ticket booths, and Velib' stations, would add significant value to this service for visitors. The future These dozen new booths are being tested for a period of six months before evaluation by the Mayor of Paris. If the booths work well, JCDecaux (the advertising company that finances Velib') may implement them on a national level in 2012. Where can you find these new booths in Paris? • Eiffel Tower — Quai Branly, western pilar, 7th arrondissement • Champs Élysées — 48 avenue des Champs Élysées, 8th arrondissement • Montmartre — 16 boulevard de Clichy, 18th arrondissement • The Marais — 1 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement • La Villette — 219 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th arrondissement • Place d'Italie — 213 boulevard Vincent Auriol, 13th arrondissement • Saint-Michel — 20 boulevard Saint Michel, 6th arrondissement • Saint-Germain — 142 boulvard Saint Germain, 6th arrondissements • Near the Grands Magasins — 40 boulevard Haussmann, 9th arrondissement • Montparnasse — 77 boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th arrondissement • Bercy — 26 rue des Pirogues de Bercy, 12th arrondissement MORE Budget Travel's Affordable Paris coverage


San Francisco: Fear not the Tenderloin

The city of San Francisco recently announced plans to make the Tenderloin, a gritty neighborhood west of Union Square, a "Reality Tourism" destination. The 'hood was recently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The new tourism campaign will highlight historical spots like the Hyde Street Studios, where the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane practiced, and the Cadillac Hotel where Muhammad Ali trained—it'll be the future home of a Tenderloin museum, featuring historical exhibits about everything from jazz to the gay rights movement. All too often visitors are warned to stick to Union Square and avoid the nearby 'Loin—stretching roughly from Taylor to Larkin streets between Turk and Post streets—due to the high number of homeless people, single-room-occupancy hotels, and less than sparkling streets. But let me point out that every big city has its share of petty crime, and, while you should always be street-smart, the Tenderloin can look scarier than it really is. Plus, if you skip it, you'll miss out on the many fantastic restaurants, galleries, shops, and nightlife spots that are only blocks from downtown. These independent small businesses were popping up before the recent revitalization announcement and present more local flavor than you'll find among the chain stores near Powell. So, be brave, travelers! To get you started, I've listed four of my favorite spots to explore: Eat: Farm Table, the tiny new breakfast and lunch spot located on the edge of the Tenderloin, serves strong coffee and a changing daily menu, which is posted on Twitter. Breakfasts include toasts with toppings like figs, walnuts, and honey, and soups, salads, and sandwiches at lunch, like a smoked paprika chicken salad or fava, asparagus, and mint soup. A great place to fortify yourself before trekking the 'hood. 754 Post Street, 415/ 292-7089 Shop: Kayo Books, one of John Water's favorite San Francisco shops, offers a huge selection of vintage pulp fiction, hard-boiled mysteries, and dime-store novels from the 1940s through the 1970s, including rare editions by Dashiell Hammet and Ed Wood. 814 Post Street, 415/ 749-0554 Browse: Shooting Gallery features the work of up-and-coming "low-brow" artists that have a heavy focus on street art and comic books. Check out an upcoming show by manga and graffiti-inspired British artist Hush. Saturday, May 1st, from 7-11 p.m. 839 Larkin Drink: Bourbon and Branch, a Prohibition-style cocktail lounge in a former speakeasy, is akin to New York City's trendy Milk and Honey. There are house rules for quiet conversation, and a password is required for entry (it's "books"), not to mention stellar cocktails featuring fresh ingredients, and, no surprise, lots of high end whiskeys. It has been rated by Esquire as one of the top bars in America. It's pricey—drinks start at around $10—but worth it. Reservations required. 501 Jones Street, 415/ 931-7292.


Time to update your bucket list

Julia Dimon is one-half of the quirky duo hosting the show Word Travels. Over the years, she has circled the world four times and visited more than 80 countries. This summer, she's jetting off to Madrid and Beijing for MSNBC's online travel series Destination Getaway. I recently caught up with Julia in New York, where I asked about her adventures. Tasted any exotic foods lately? Well, I recently got to try a local delicacy in the highlands of Ecuador called cuy, which we know of as the guinea pig. It's a delicacy there, and also eaten in Peru and Bolivia, so I was able to go into a traditional indigenous home and see its uses—from food to medicinal purposes, to keeping the house warm by living indoors, and as a sort of status symbol. It tastes like greasy chicken, but it's traumatizing because when you see it from the plate, the cuy is served with its face still on it, it has its fur, and you can see its little claws. So there's nothing off-limits for you food-wise? Absolutely not! The grosser the better. When I was in Venezuela trekking through the jungle, I tried a moriche worm. Because it was alive, that brings it to a new level. OK then, let's talk about some other extremes you've experienced. What about a drink? There was actually something really fun called the sour-toe cocktail up in the Yukon. That's whisky, and then it actually has a pickled severed human toe in it. Apparently the one in my glass was donated from a lawnmower accident. The deal is, a captain comes out and gives you a big speech with a ceremony, and then you chug this thing back and the toe has to touch your lips. Once you do, you become part of the sour-toe cocktail club. That kind of indicates your bad-ass Yukon status. I'm a card-carrying member. Absolutely! How about an extreme adventure? One of the adventures I've done is the Zambezi Gorge Swing in Zambia. It's a lot like bungee jumping where you throw yourself over a large drop, but instead of just dropping down and coming back up, it's like a pendulum swing. You're looking down and it's quite terrifying, but then the setting is beautiful over the gorge and you can see the Zambezi River. It was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes! What about the complete opposite feeling, where you've been the most at peace? One of my new favorites is the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The landscape is really unique, and there are parts that feel like you're on the moon. And then there's this moment when the sun's going down and there's the most beautiful sunset—you know that kind of rich desert color, where everything's a warm sun hue? I looked around and thought, you just can't get this complete connectivity with nature anywhere else. And Rishikesh, India, which is like the yoga capital of the world…there's something going on there. That's where The Beatles went to practice. It's pretty much a spiritual hotbed for yoga and ashrams. Well Julia, for my last question, I have to ask…What is the most extreme mishap you've had happen to you? Yeah well, I got malaria in East Africa, and that was awful. But truly, out of all the countries I've been to, there have been few mishaps. I really think that's important to share how few problems travelers have, because sometimes you think it's a big bad scary world out there. So I really like to encourage people to travel and experience things in countries that are a bit off the beaten path, and say, "Look, if I can do it, you can do it!" MORE Julia's happy to answer all of your travel and adventure-related questions on her new website,, including tips for choosing the best volunteer vacations, to how to use Twitter to find better travel deals, and how to break into the travel-writing biz.