The Rockefeller Center Tree Arrived Today!
Budget Travel was on the scene as this year's Rockefeller Center holiday tree made an impressive arrival in NYC this morning!
Actually, I happened to be at 30 Rock for Budget Travel's AMHQ segment, "Take Control of Weather-Related Travel Delays." But as a native New Yorker who grew up visiting Rockefeller Center as a little boy (my dad worked for NBC TV), it was a thrill to see the freshly cut behemoth up close like this.
Turns out the tree and I had both commuted from the Hudson Valley this morning: The 10-ton, 78-foot Norway Spruce journeyed 80 miles in a flatbed truck from the Gardiner, NY, home of Albert Asendorf and Nancy Puchalski.
Rockefeller Center has celebrated the holiday season every year since 1931 with a massive tree. The elaborate process of safely positioning and decorating the tree will culminate in a festive December 2 lighting ceremony.
Check back with Budget Travel's This Just In blog throughout the holiday season for tips and updates about visiting NYC and other holiday hotspots!
Bixi bikes are headed to Boston and London
Back in March, we reported on the new bike-sharing program in Montreal called Bixi (a combo of the words bike and taxi). The inexpensive program allows travelers to rent a bike in one solar-powered station and return it at another, all for about $5 plus a usage fee. The first 30 minutes are free. After some initial, to-be-expected glitches, Bixi has been a success in Montreal, so much so that the model has been picked up by two major metropolitan centers—Boston and London. With a tentative launch of summer 2010, the London system will have 6,000 bikes at 400 stations available 24/7, while Boston will have 2,500 bikes at 290 stations in the downtown area. Bike-sharing programs are like eco-friendly taxis. You pick up and leave the bike at a spot that's convenient for you while being kind to nature in the process. Possibly the most famous bike-sharing program is Paris's Velib system; according to the Montreal Gazette, the city of Paris estimates the two-year-old program has saved about 15,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per 20,000 bikes. The Velib is not without problems, though. A recent New York Times story reported that 80 percent of the program's 20,600 original bikes were vandalized or stolen. This doesn't seem to be happening in Montreal. The Velib also requires a certain kind of credit card to work; it remains to be seen whether London's system will have this same kind of restriction. Stay tuned! See our video on how to use Paris's Velib bike system. New York City: Free bikes for downtown visitors Rent a Bike in Europe for Nearly Nothing
NYC: The Ace Hotel opens The Breslin restaurant
Today, The Sensible Aesthete dropped by The Breslin, an edgy bar and restaurant that debuted at The Ace Hotel in Manhattan's Flatiron district this past weekend. Bloggers have been salivating to try out the brunch, and have already weighed in on it at Eater and HotelChatter. Early reports are good: The stylish Ace Hotel boutique chain does right by foodies with The Breslin. Helmed by the owners of the West Village gastropub Spotted Pig—which was famously invested in by Mario Batali, Jay-Z, and Bono—the new restaurant is open off of the Ace's lobby for breakfast, lunch, and (the aforementioned) brunch. Who could resist trying out this vintage-inspired, hipster hangout? Named after the hotel that used to be at the site, The Breslin fetishizes comfortable, centuries-old British pubs. Think dark wood paneling and flooring. Keeping with the theme, food is served on planks of wood. Lobbyists from the beef and pork industry ought to hold meetings here. The decor runs to miniature carved pigs and cows—and wall-mounted pastoral prints of pigs and cows. What to eat? Try the beef tongue baguette sandwich with a cup of lentil soup ($16). A hotel guest dining beside me was thrilled with her ham-and-three-cheese sandwich, for $16. We agreed that we'd each return for fatty slabs of terrine: guinea hen with morels/"rustic pork"/rabbit and prune/head cheese, served with pickles, piccalilli and mustard (from $25 for a small shared plate). Traveling solo? Belly up to the bar, a preferred spot for dining because it increases your chance of rubbing shoulders with the locals. Two cask beers are available, plus five more brews on tap, including an $8 pint of Defiant Muddy Creek. Be patient, though. My meal took 22 minutes to arrive. Yet who's eying the clock while on vacation? The Breslin, 20 W. 29th St.; reservations are recommended, given that the bar and restaurant can fit a maximum of 180 persons total. Where—or what—should The Sensible Aesthete review next? EARLIER Alex Calderwood, a music impresario and partner in the Ace Hotel Group, reveals the best new design discoveries, in Cool Hunting 2009: New York City New York City: The stylish Ace Hotel opens, from $169 MORE Budget Travel's picks for affordable, stylish hotels in New York City MORE USEFUL CLICKABLES BT's editor-in-chief, Nina Willdorf, swears by TabletHotels as a source for picking where she should stay, from high to low.
Amtrak loses $32 per rider
Fun fact of the day: Every time a passenger rides Amtrak, the railroad loses $32 on average, say researchers at Pew's Subsidyscope project. Taxpayers cover that $32 per rider loss through federal government subsidies. Last year, taxpayers gave Amtrak $1.3 billion in direct payments. So it's not just death and taxes that you can count on. You can also count on paying taxes to prevent the death of Amtrak. Amtrak disputes the numbers, saying it only loses $8 per passenger on average. But researchers say that Amtrak isn't including depreciation—that's wear-and-tear on tracks and trains—and overhead (such as the cost of running human resources). The independently calculated numbers count those additional costs. Only three of Amtraks's 44 lines made a profit last year, despite 2008 being the railroad's second-best-ever year for ridership. Amtrak's Acela Express service is one of the rare exceptions. The premium-priced route along the northeast corridor is profitable. The average ticket price for Acela is $41 more than the cost of transporting the passenger. Amtrak has claimed that the Northeast Regional is profitable, making $20 per passenger. But the new Pew study disagrees, saying that the most-heavily-traveled route is—incredibly enough—unprofitable. It loses an average of $5 a passenger, once you figure in depreciation and other unallocated costs of $24.29 per passenger. The worst performing line? The Sunset Limited, which runs between L.A. and New Orleans. It loses an average of $462 per passenger(!) In defense of railroads, highways don't make money either and the government subsidizes their construction and maintenance. Many small airports don't make money, as well, yet they also get subsidies as a cost of keeping the economy humming along. MORE The study is online at Pew's site.
Craft & Design museum turns 5
San Francisco is home to plenty of fantastic museums—SFMOMA and the deYoung immediately spring to mind. But next time you're in town, consider the San Francisco Museum of Craft & Design, located at 550 Sutter Street, less than two blocks from Union Square. The museum, which just celebrated its 5th-birthday, focuses on commercial art and design. Past exhibitions have featured 12 local graphic designers, a retrospective of wine labels, a collection of toys designed by artists, and the latest modern pieces from West Coast furniture designers. SFMC+D caught my eye because of its current exhibition, Michael Peterson's Evolution/Revolution. Peterson is a Pacific Northwest artist who uses wood to make beautiful, unexpected sculptures and objects. He emulates natural elements and their effect on wood; for example, he sometimes uses bleach to react with the surface of the wood, just like sun would "bleach" it over time. SFMC+D is open every day but Monday, and admission is a suggested donation of $3 for adults; kids 18 and under are free. Read the Seattle Times review of the exhibition. Check out all 26 of our hotel reviews in San Francisco, or fantastic reader photos in my Budget Travel.