Stranded By Sandy: A Personal Account
Six days ago, my Facebook status update read something like this: "Going to California, first trip ever without my son! Whee!" A few days later, it looked like this: "Stuck in California without my son. Hating this!" Yes, I am one of the thousands of travel victims worldwide who has been stranded by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, so is my husband, who also happened to be traveling for work at the same time I was. Which meant that yesterday, our two-year-old son was about to face the "Frankenstorm" disaster with just his aunt, who was babysitting him for the first time ever. (Can you imagine the depths of my despair yet?)
Of course, I had no idea that this storm was going to do what it did, and apparently, neither did anyone else. I was coming to San Francisco to happily report a story for Budget Travel magazine, and eat, drink, and sightsee my way around San Francisco. Those plans changed very quickly when the word came that New York City was about to get pummeled by what was being dubbed the most freakish act of mother nature the Northeast had ever seen. Instead of enjoying this gorgeous city (which, ironically, was having the sunniest and warmest weather in ages), I became instantly glued to The Weather Channel, my cell phone, Facebook and Twitter feed to find out anything I could about what was about to happen. I cried, imagining the worst things possible. I booked an earlier flight home, but I was too late—it was canceled on Sunday, and I was left to ride out the storm with everyone else from 3,000 miles away. All I could do was hope that it wasn't going to be as destructive as they were reporting.
Sadly, we now know that it was. The photos and reports were horrifying, and it's hard to imagine that this is what my city and the surrounding area looks like right now. I'm so lucky that it left my Brooklyn neighborhood relatively unscathed (save for many downed trees), and that my family remained safe and even had power throughout. But I still feel pretty helpless, being stuck here when I should have been there.
After four changes to my original itinerary, I'm currently booked on a flight leaving at 1:15 in the morning, arriving at JFK at 10 a.m. Knowing the resilience of New York and New Yorkers, I can only assume that means it will actually happen, and I'll arrive and get into a yellow cab where the driver will scare me with his insane driving, per usual. And then I'll be home to clean up the yard, stock up on food, take care of my boy and go back to the office with the rest of the city when the MTA is up and running again. I know thousands aren't so lucky and it will take them a really long time to rebuild their homes again, and I feel awful for them. But as far as being stuck goes, save for missing my son terribly, I now know it could have been far more horrible. I have a free place to stay here, and am able to get work done now that I know the worst of it is over. And some parent friends who have been stuck indoors with their rambunctious toddlers have even told me they were jealous of me. "After being inside with M for two full days, being stuck in California is my secret fantasy," said one. I understand that, but I'm still pretty positive I won't be flying around the world without my kid again anytime soon. At least when there are nearby hurricanes brewing. Here's hoping to getting home soon.
UPDATE: The author's flight was just canceled. She's now awaiting a call back from Delta...
A Hotel Inspired by a Restaurant?
According to Madonna, "you can tell how much fun a city is going to be if Nobu is in it." Inspired by this kind of culinary success, chef Nobu Matsuhisa is branching out into the hotel space, the Wall Street Journal reported. Will Nobu's new hotel live up to the hype that has been created by his restaurant empire? Well, you can soon find out for yourself. Booking is now open and they have already sold out for January, when the hotel officially unlocks its doors for business. It will be a hotel within a hotel in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Rates start at $249 per night, which feels steep for Las Vegas—a city where rooms average $91 per night, according to one Hotwire report. The brand will be built around Nobu's signature cuisine, with room service carrying menu items such as yellowtail sushi with jalapeno and green tea waffles. The minibar will stock Japanese beer and sake and even the bath amenities, which are scented with rosemary and white tea, have been designed specifically for Nobu. David Rockwell, the designer of the first Nobu restaurant, was also the designer of the hotel, which has a modern, Japanese theme and rooms organized according to Feng Shui principles. They have six other properties planned across the world. It's certainly not the first brand to venture outside it's core business to open a hotel chain (Armani, for example), but it is the first restaurant that I know of to open a hotel. Depending on how they do, I wonder if this will start a trend among other popular restaurant chains? Would you be inspired to check out a hotel that was opened by a restaurant you like? Or do you think restaurants should stick to what they do best—preparing food?
Hawaii Vacation Ideas: Tips For Visiting Kauai
I've got Hawaii on the brain. I recently wrote about the best places to see on the island of Oahu, the can't miss attractions of Maui, and recommendations for visiting the Big Island. Now here are my tips for things you shouldn't miss on the island of Kauai. Visit Waimea Canyon, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific"The western side of Kauai is home to Waimea Canyon, about an hour's drive on scenic curvy roads that offer views of the nearby island of Ni'ihau (only accessible to native Hawaiians) and gorgeous views of the mountains, valleys, and the bluest ocean you've ever seen. "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" features many of the same geological traits as its namesake—think crested buttes, deep gorges, and colorful rock formations—and is more than 3,600 feet deep, measuring 14 miles long by one mile wide. Stay on Waimea Canyon Drive and keep driving until you reach the Waimea Canyon Overlook. Honeymooners—Elvis fans—shouldn't miss a trip to the Fern GrottoIf thoughts of Kauai have you picturing scenes of The King in Blue Hawaii, the Fern Grotto is a spot you shouldn't miss. Entry to the grotto used to be forbidden to all except Hawaiian royalty, but nowaways anyone can catch a 40-minute cruise down the Wailua River to the site for about $20 per person ($10 for children ages 3-12) and take in views of one of Kauai's greatest natural wonders. Folks have been known to get married or renew their vows here, and if you're engaged, newlyweds, or celebrating a wedding anniversary, be prepared to come forward for a slow dance to Elvis Presley's Hawaiian Wedding Song—the Hawaiian lyrics in it were sung here long before the film. Hike, kayak, camp, and explore Kauai's secluded Na Pali CoastIf you're an outdoorsy person, nature lover, or just want to see some of the best views on the island without dealing with the tourist crowds, make sure you visit Kauai's beautiful Na Pali Coast. There are no roads on the westernmost side of the island, making it one of the last isolated, untouched, natural places in the Hawaiian Islands. Determined travelers can view the rocky terrain from the air with any number of helicoptor tours, or view the coastline from a boat tour or guided kayak trip, while more adventurous types can try hiking the 11-mile Kalalau Trail from Kee Beach to Kalalau Beach—the full hike is best broken up into a two-day trip, and camping permits are available for $20 per person per night (with a five night maximim stay) thorugh the Hawaii State Parks Department. Kokee State Park offers more challenging hiking trails, like Awaawapuhi Trail, that lead to scenic overlooks while other hikes like Cliff Canyon and Black Pipe Trail are better suited for family hiking trips. Drive up to a beautiful waterfallKauai is home to a number of impressive waterfalls, two of which are accessible by car alone. Wailua Falls is located just a few miles from downtown Lihue and can be viewed from the road, so there's no need to hike for a great view. Just drive north from Lihue to Ma'alo Road in Halamaulu, and follow the road uphill for another three miles. Another beautiful waterfall, Opaeka'a Falls, is viewable from Kuamo'o Road, but those wanting a closer look can brave the tough half-hour hike from the two-mile marker past the lookout point on Highway 580. Get a slice of Hawaiian historyHanapepe Town on Kauai's southwest coast is home to a bustling Hawaiian art scene, with an art celebration every Friday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when the town's painters, sculptors, and other artists open their gallery and studio doors to showcase their work. Those seeking an authentic trip into Hawaii's past should visit the museums and historic sites along the Koloa Heritage Trail—visit the Kihaha'ouna Heiau (an ancient Hawaiian temple), Poipu Beach Park (home to the island's endangered Hawaiian monk seals), and other sites dating back to Kauai's former days as a sugar plantation hotspot. The Kilohana Plantation in Lihue is a 16,000 square-foot restored plantation estate that offers a chance to see what life was like in Kauai during the 1930s—also on-site is the Koloa Rum Company, where you can sample the island's best rum every half hour on the half hour beginning at 10 a.m. daily. Located on Kauai's North Shore about a 45 minute drive north of Lihue is the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, great for stunning views of the Pacific and access to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a safehaven for a number of native bird species found on the island including the endangered state bird, the nene goose.
Vintage Travel: Eating at the Airport in 1941
Many flyers lament the bygone glamour of air travel, when people wore their Sunday best and midflight meals were served on silver trays. Thanks to a menu posted from the New York Public Library's archive, we can now also wax nostalgic about what it was like to dine at the airport back in 1941. The La Guardia Coffee Shop was operated by the Hotel New Yorker, an Art Deco hotel in midtown that still stands. There were likely few other options at the airport at the time, since it was just an airfield in the 1940s, not the behemoth hub it is today. The menu is a treasure trove of outdated dishes (who ordered the diced tongue omelette?). But what really caught my eye were the Budget Luncheon specials, including a veal shoulder meal with vegetables, potatoes, fruit, and jello topped with whipped cream (it also came with coffee and bread and butter). This could be yours for all of 45 cents. According to the inflation calculator offered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 cents in today's money has the same buying power as $7.08. You'd be lucky to get a soggy sandwich at the airport for $7 these days, let alone a full hot meal. The other great tidbit was the classic cocktails. You can almost see the bartender shaking up Airway Cocktails (apple jack, gin, and lemon juice) for weary travelers stuck on a long layover or nervous about their first flight. Those cocktails didn't come cheap, though. They cost a relatively pricy 25 cents.
Can a Chain Hotel Offer Unique, Boutique Touches?
With over 4,000 properties, it's one of the biggest hotel chains in the world—chances are, you've stayed in a Best Western at one time or another (or at least considered it after running an Expedia search). When it comes to such a big franchise, it can be tough to distinguish one outpost from another. When I hear "Best Western," the images that come to my mind tend not to be converted historical buildings, opulent furnishings, or so-close-you-can-almost-touch-it beach views. But these are exactly the features that distinguished the winners of Best Western's first Fan Awards. After over 30,000 votes were cast, the crème de la chain ranged from a more than 125-year-old converted barracks on the banks of the French Riviera to a skyscraper in Shenzen, China whose interior walls are adorned with dragon carvings. Take a look at the winners, listed below: how many of them would you have guessed were chain hotels? Situated on 28 picturesque acres in Warwickshire, England, The Best Western Studley Castle Hotel was named Most Unique. The BW Solar Porto de Galinhas is located right on the sand in one of Brazil's most famous beach towns. It took the top spot in the race for Most Beautiful Hotel Setting. Housed in a building that first operated as an inn in the 13thcentury, the more than 800-year-old BW Angel & Royal Hotel in Grantham, England was tough competition for the title of Most Historic Hotel. The family-run, 64-room Best Western Hotel Prince De Galles is located a hop, skip, and jump away from one of the world's premier playgrounds for the rich and famous: Monaco. Voters in the BW poll considered it to have the Best View from a Hotel Room. Shenzhen, China's BW Shenzhen Felicity Hotel scored the top spot for Most Impressive Lobby with its muli-story, gilded entryway. A golden clawfoot bathtub in a Best Western? The brass soaker, along with floor lighting and a four-poster bed, earned the BW Plus Swan Hotel in Wells, England, the Most Impressive Guest Room title. With skylights and a modern, split-level layout, the BW Hotel Spring House in Rome was deemed to have the Most Unique Guestrooms. Do boutique-style touches have an effect on your opinion of chain hotels? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 26 Gorgeous Hotels You Won't Believe Are Under $150 10 Most Visited Cities in the World IKEA Will Build 100 Budget Hotels in Europe