I SPY: In Their Prime

Apr 28, 2017

Hey, New York, it's tulip season!  Been down Park Avenue lately?  They're in their prime, looking gorgeous, complimenting the cherry blossoms.  Arguably the prettiest season in NYC, despite allergies and showers.



Makes me want to go to Holland!  You to?  Let's go!  Keukenhof, the famous tulip garden is on my bucket list.  One day it's got to happen.  But maybe one of these tulip fields in the USA will happen first.  Check them out, they look pretty amazing too.  But why none in NY?  Hmmm...I spy a business opportunity!

I SPY: Ladies In Red

Apr 27, 2017

How often do you get a good freebie?  I was walking along The Highline yesterday on my way to lunch and spotted these ladies in red; an installation by Hulu. They are handing out books for their new series that premiered last night 'The Handmaids Tale'.  Now till Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 16th street on the Highline (10th Avenue) grab your free copy, by Margaret Atwood.



Get yours!  I started reading over lunch, continued on the train home, and stayed up late in bed.  HOOKED.  It's kind of creepy, in a Get Out kind of way, if you watched that movie.  But different in a feminist way, with correlation to the reality of todays female issues in our toxic environment.  You'll understand when you start reading.  I can't wait to finish the book so I can start watching the series!



P.S. In case your eyeing my yummy fish tacos they're from Los Mariscos.  Conveniently located on street level just below the Hulu installation!  Freshly made authentic tacos, in a no frills taco bar by Chelsea Market.  Good food, and a good read made a satisfying combo on a dreary day!

I SPY: Dope Art

Apr 26, 2017

Have you seen the new Okuda wall in the Bronx?  The Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel has blessed our city again.  But where is it?  It's on some secret street nobody wishes to reveal!  The Bronx is a big place people!  Where do I start?  If you happen to stumble upon it please fill me in, because I'm a huge fan of this artist.



Now, isn't this a more satisfying type of rainbow to digest then yesterdays sugar coated drinks?  The real cherry on top is the artists grand interiors.  He's known to transform abandoned churches and bring them back to life.  Like, Kaos Temple, a skateboarders haven built inside a hundred year old church.  I tried to visit it when I was there last summer, but it was not even close to Barcelona or Madrid.  It's in Llana, northern Spain, that required a plane ticket and a long drive, so had to can that idea.  BOO.

Photo Credit: Instagram @okudart


However, his latest state of the art project is the Church of Cannibis in Denver, Colorado that just opened last week.  Another beauty that is closer and more accessible to me.

Photo Credit: Instagram @okudart


High or not, aren't these works literally the true meaning of dope art?  I dig the old meet new contrast between classical architecture and urban contemporary art.  I'm really itching to see it in real life.  Anybody want to join me in Denver?!!

I SPY: Rainbow Drinks

Apr 25, 2017

Did you try the Starbucks Unicorn Frapuccino?  I saw so many people walking around with that rainbow drink in hand.  59 grams of sugar on the go!  I didn't dare try it.  All that color and whip cream turned me off.  I'm glad it was only a five day trial and they've now taken it off the menu.  But Burger King has one similar in idea, not as pretty, but double in sugar…which I only found out after.  UGH!



A Froot Loops Shake!  If you look closely there's little pieces of Froot Loops cereal mixed in.  It was nasty!  Overly sweet.  Even my sugar junkie kids thought so, thank God!  None of us could get pass a few sips.  Again…just like those over the top decorated milkshakes parading our feeds, this is just another social media scam.  Well we fell for it!  DUH.  Forget the novelty.  It is definitely not worth a whooping 720 calories!  Summer is coming.  Remember that!

I SPY: Things Change

Apr 24, 2017

Did you do anything for Earth Day?  It was on Saturday.  You missed the boat?  We did to!  The weather was dreary.  But we made up for it yesterday, outdoors at the NY Botanical Gardens, revisiting a blast from the past.



Guess who?  My big guy eleven years ago, the last time the CHIHULY exhibit was in New York in 2006!  Good news, it's back again, better then ever, and a must for anybody who's a Dale Chihuly blown glass fan.  20 new installations exploding in light and color, with only one repeat.  Things change! HA.



LOVE this artist.  Never gets old.  His sculptures are amazing, and look so organically placed mixed in with the plant life of the gardens, and the reflection pools.  These were my faves.









Purchase tickets in advance, and make a trip to the Bronx before October 29, 2017 to enjoy this sensory filled installation.  CHIHULY nights also start next week where you can find the sculptures illuminated after sunset offering a different feel.  I must go back to experience the exhibit at night.  His art gives me life!

I SPY: Off The Grid

Apr 21, 2017

KAMALAME CAY, BAHAMAS: April 2017

Can you live without WI-FI?  We were tested at Kamalame Cay, our last Spring break stop in the Bahamas.  We were there for three days with no WI-FI on the property, except in the main office.  In the mornings it was a comical sight to see everyone on their phones cramped into a small space to connect to the outside world!  Being off the grid during the day wasn't difficult, especially when we were busy with activity.  The struggle was at night, in our cottage that also had no TV!  First world problems.  HA.  But the benefits to getting off the grid was family time well spent, playing a lot of UNO, board games, having time to read, forcing us to soak in our surroundings and truly relax.



This resort is set on a 96 acre private island, with a 3 mile beach and only allows maximum capacity up to 70 guests.  It is a 15 minute airplane ride from Nassau to Andros Island (Fresh Creek), and then a 20 minute car ride to the dock to catch a 3 minute ferry that crosses you over to the island of Kamalame Cay.  It's a bit of a trek, but once on the island there is no need to leave.  The island of Andros was dead, and the only reason why we went back to mainland during our stay was for this, which I do recommend.

- CAPTAIN BILL'S BLUE HOLE

The island of Andros is famous for over 220 blue holes.  They are freshwater, inland, almost perfectly circular holes with steep limestone sides.  This one is 450 feet wide, and 160 feet deep.  There are no cave passages leading from the bowl shaped holes, which causes a mystery how exactly they were formed.  It was a great swimming spot, and an awesome place to jump off a 10mt high platform.  My boys loved the thrill!





Back on the private island of Kamalame Cay, kayaks, paddle boards, and fishing rods are complimentary to use on the island.  Otherwise they have an activity list of fishing, snorkeling, or scuba diving excursions you can arrange.



Each cottage is also provided with their own golf cart, and bicycles.  However, they do not have toddler bikes, or bikes with a child seat to snap in your toddler.



WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE RESORT:

- Chilled atmosphere, and low key, where you weren't expected to dress up to the nines for dinner.
- Each cottages privacy was great, and having our own slice of the beach outside of our cottage felt like we were the only ones there.
- Complimentary breakfast basket filled with croissants, fruit and yoghurt was nice to wake up to and feed the kids a little something so you didn't have to rush to get them to breakfast at the restaurant.
- Complimentary freshly baked cookies were delivered to your cottage daily around 4pm.
- Over water spa, with glass floor looking into ocean.
- Child friendly resort.
- For Easter they set up a BBQ lunch on the beach and an Easter egg hunt for the kids.



WHAT I DISLIKED ABOUT THE RESORT:

- Lunch menu was the same everyday.  Got boring!  Dinner specials at least changed slightly.
- Food service was slow.  Dinner was painful for the kids.  Over an hour waiting for our food on our first night.  The following nights we had to play UNO at the table to occupy the kids so they wouldn't be missing their food!
- No room service.
- My massage therapist was not the best.
- Overall the staff seemed unorganized, and I just got a lot of shrugged shoulders and blank looks when a problem arose.  However, Leia the main concierge was lovely, and on the ball.



Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler have awarded Kamalame Cay with high ratings.  However, I can't agree.  For such a hyper exclusive property and for the price, I can compare it to Aman resorts or similar luxury properties I've stayed at in Bali or Phuket, and the service, and amenities are not up to par.  It was not acceptable that I overheard a guest complaining they didn't have hot water for two days!  Nor could I believe that they weren't able to make me a Cappuccino because their machines foamer was broken.  What?  The whole island only had one coffee machine, and there wasn't a spare on stand by?  Am I being a brat?!!  HA.  It's island life, and a very laid back attitude, so you just have to let it slide and not let little things like that ruin your vacation.  Otherwise, the peace after coming from the Atlantis was much appreciated, the cottages were very spacious, and the views were pretty, surrounded by a lot of greenery and water.  But honestly, you can find that at many places.   Sorry not sorry!      

I SPY: Atlantis

Apr 20, 2017

ATLANTIS, BAHAMAS: April 2017

We thought Iceland was expensive?  Try Atlantis, in the Bahamas!  My usual cup of Jo from Starbucks with a slice of banana bread rang up to $10…that usually costs $5 plus change back home.  A rip off, but it's the only coffee joint I saw on property and they can name any price really, because it pays to wake up right!  Add that along with $44 paddle board and aqua cycle rentals for 30 minutes, and $7 bottles of water in your room.  Water could of at least been complimentary don't you think?  But no…NOTHING is free at Atlantis!  It's a trap!!



But it is a well planned out resort, kids paradise, with no reason to leave the property, unless you need to get in touch with the local culture.  You just need to understand the Atlantis groove to survive.  I met a few annual regulars and hard core planners, like Disney pros who know how to do this ish.  This is their life!  Much respect to those parents who can do it all.  Like, how many umbrella drinks did they have for breakfast, or where's the hidden flask?!!  Secrets?  I got them to confess their tricks, and took notes for you.  Newbies, here's tips to tackle Atlantis like a pro with kids in tow, or if your a last minute planner like me!

BEFORE ARRIVAL:

- Make dinner reservations, when you book your room.  It is not all burgers and fried junk food on premises.  They actually have some nice restaurants where you can eat good food such as Nobu. Quality Japanese food.  But folks book way in advance, and we weren't able to reserve a table upon arrival.  But note they have free seating for walk in's at the bar.  We went at 5:30pm when they opened their doors, scored a table with no wait, and got to experience the delectable omakase dinner.



- Dolphin activities are plentiful.  But everything was sold out by the time we arrived.  Zero time slots!  If it is high on your list to interact with marine life book it way in advance.



- Buy a waterproof lanyard phone case such as this.  It comes in handy to store your phone, and room key which acts as your credit card to keep your belongings safe and on you if you plan on going on the water slides.  They sell them at the kiosks scattered all over Atlantis for $20+, but you can probably get a better deal on Amazon.



AFTER ARRIVAL:

- First thing after your given your room key, find a towel hut and get your wrist bands.  This gives you entry into the water park, and allows you access to all the water slides.

- The pools open at 9am.  By then all the loungers are occupied…and there are a gazillion loungers!  I suggest you go grab a seat before 8:30am, on your way to breakfast.  Leave a shirt or something that won't fly away, but nothing valuable, to claim it as yours.  You won't necessarily be lounging much through out the day, but it is more of a spot to drop your towel and clothes while you run around the water park.



- Water slides open at 10am.  If you need a float for your slide, that also only becomes available a few minutes before 10am.  The double floats are the hardest to score, so if you want one go grab it early before the masses arrive.



- The Serpent Slide is probably the most popular of all.  It is the slide that goes through a glass tube, inside a shark tank.  The lines get super long throughout the day.  Best you do this first thing in the morning.  Start lining up a little before 10am.  At 10am sharp my boys were only a few steps up, because God knows what time the real enthusiasts began lining up!  But by 10:07am they were back down telling me how fun it was.  Not that long of the wait, and I could watch them float through the tank!  I did it the second time with them, and can vouch it is a cool experience.  A must do.



- Renting kayaks, paddleboards, catching a movie at their movie theatre, and going to the arcade after dinner is also fun for the kids.  Luckily they do not require any pre-booking.



This Mama generally doesn't deal well with Disneyland - ish type vacations.  But this was my kids two night comp package for working so hard in Iceland!  They deserved a treat.  So I sucked it up, handed them the water park resort map at check in, and let them lead the way for the duration of our stay.  First day was getting acclimated and learning the Atlantis way, but by day 2 we knew the drill and it was smooth sailing.  Proud to say we accomplished all the slides during our stay.  I admit I actually had a GREAT time!  I can't believe it either!!  HA.  Money well spent, because the secret to sanity is happy kids equal happy Mama.

I SPY: Iceland

Apr 19, 2017

ICELAND: April 2017

Have you ever studied the flight tracker map on an international flight and seen a city in Iceland labeled 'Reykjavik'?  For years I've wondered what's there and how does one even pronounce that with out butchering it?  REY - KA - VIK!  When the Eyjafjallajokul volcano erupted in 2010 Iceland gained huge media attention, and as a result in the last five years tourism has rose tremendously.  Thanks to social media I've been seeing surreal photos of Iceland pop up frequently, and in the last two years have had it on my bucket list.  Well…goal just got ticked off!  So happy we did it!!


Flew into Reykjavik direct from NYC.  A five hour flight; as close as California!  Spent four days there.  Wasn't enough time though to see everything the land has to offer.  But here is our express tasting sample to use as a skeleton plan.

DAY 1

BLUE LAGOON:
Our flight arrived at 7am.  The lagoon is located 20 minutes away from Keflavik airport.  We couldn't check into our hotel till 3pm.  If your in the same situation, believe me, this is the best way to wake up and kill time!  It's a geothermal spa, that is one of the twenty five wonders of the world.  Temperature is 90+F, think giant hot tub, with a bar to sip on beer and champagne while soaking, and help yourself tubs filled with silica mud mask are provided for free to dip into. Pre-booking online is required to reserve a spot.  I also recommend booking an in water massage too.  Why not pamper yourself?  There is luggage storage on premises, towel rental, a nice restaurant to have lunch in your robes, or a cafe for a quick bite, lockers, clean showers, and arm band floaties for anyone who isn't a strong swimmer.  However it's not deep.  I could stand in most places, and you know I'm not tall!




HALLGRIMSKIRKJA:
When your in town you must visit this cathedral.  Amazing architecture by Gudjon Samuelsson, that you will see later was inspired by the natural lava rock column formation found at Vik Beach.  It is an iconic landmark that soars high above the rest of the city.  Views from the top give you a picturesque aerial view of the colorful city.   Check opening hours that vary daily, and depending when they have services, because access to the roof top is only available when open, but not during mass.




DAY 2

GOLDEN CIRCLE BUBBLE TOUR:
We joined a small tour with three other people.  It was an overnight tour that picks you up from your location in Reykjavik at noon, and returns you back to the city before noon the next day.  We covered a lot of ground, but it was well paced, with many food stops and breaks in between that didn't leave us sitting in the car for more then two hours straight, or feeling exhausted nor bored.  Even the kids enjoyed it!  These are all the main stops we made:

- THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
Game of Thrones has been filmed here!  What's interesting is the rocky cliffs.  The park lies in a valley between the separation of two tectonic plates that has formed the high rock walls.



- EFSTIDALUR
Famous ice cream, farm to table stop in the middle of no where!  As you eat your ice cream you have the lovely backdrop of live cows in the background who have provided the milk.  MOO.



- GEYSIR HOT SPRINGS
This was super cool.  You have to wait for it.  It happens about every ten minutes.  A huge gush of hot water explodes and gets swallowed back into a deep hole in a matter of a few minutes.  Amazing to see mother nature doing tricks for you before your eyes.



- GULLFOSS WATERFALL
One of the many waterfalls we chased on our trip.



- ICELANDIC HORSES
These special Icelandic breed of horses are super adorable, friendly by nature, and look rather like ponies then horses.  But they're full grown.  You will see plenty in the countryside.  We couldn't get enough of them and had to pet all!


- SECRET LAGOON
A natural geothermal lagoon we floated in to end the day.  Not as high end as the Blue Lagoon, but provided the same relaxing benefits.  We also got to boil eggs in the grounds hot spots.  First time my lil' guy ate a soft boiled egg.  Now he's addicted!



- BUBBLE CAMPING
We slept in a transparent bubble in the middle of the woods over night.  I had higher expectations that it would be more like glamping, but the bubble we were allocated was small.  No room to walk around, just a big mattress that filled the whole bottom of the tent.  But we had heat and electric blankets, and plugs to charge our electronics inside the tent, even though we had zero wifi or reception.  Also the bubble tents were set quite close together, so not a lot of privacy.  Bathrooms were at an outhouse in close proximity, and equipped with clean toilets and proper hot water showers.  Roughing it for one night wasn't bad.  It was a unique experience, and would of been even better if the sky was clear that night.  Bring your own towel and flashlight to use.  We also had a bunch of snacks and ordered an extra pizza at dinner to bring along as our midnight supper.  Smart move!




The only downer of the trip was that we did not see the northern lights.  Timing and weather is everything, and peak season to spot that is between September and April.  We were there at the tail end of the season.  The double BOO was we didn't catch a rainbow at the waterfall.  But we saw plenty of other things that blew our minds within those 24 hours.  The Golden Circle is a must do, even if you omit the bubble camping.

DAY 3

After pulling an almost all nighter in our bubble tent staying up till some ungodly hour hoping to catch the northern lights, we needed a long nap after returning to our apartment to catch up on some zzz's.  It was our day reserved to tour the city of Reykjavik, but we killed it by sleeping.  Priorities!  However we had two hours before dinner to walk the town, and pretty much hit everything on our list.  Downtown is that small!

HARPA CONCERT HALL:
This building is designed by Olafur Eliasson and looks like jewelry glistening in the sun!  It over looks the harbor and snow capped mountains.  Inside is just as stunning from a different angle.  When there we happened to catch a free live jazz concert.



THE SUN VOYAGER:
Iceland is viking land! This famous aluminium sculpture by Jon Gunnar Arnason is a dream boat, an ode to the sun.



CITY HALL:
A modern building that sits along Lake Tjornin, that was designed to attract bird life.  Didn't go into the building, but had a pleasant walk around the lake admiring the ducks and swans.



DAY 4

On our last day we did a 12 hour private tour of Iceland's south coast.  It was a long day, but again we had a lot of stops to get out of the car, stretch, and have a breather.  Manageable, and definitely worth the driving because this was the tip of the iceberg for me.  Literally!  This is what we caught on camera:

- SELJALANDSFOSS
A 60 mt high waterfall.  The thing that sets this waterfall apart from any of the others I saw was that you could walk behind it.  That was a treat, even though it was a slippery and icy hike up, and we got pretty soaked!



- SKOGAFOSS
Also 60 mt but felt larger then the previous because it was wider.  Again you can go very close to this waterfall, but there is no access to go behind it.



- VIK BEACH
First black sand beach I've ever seen!  It's black due to the volcanic activity and because there is no shellfish.  Beware that it can be a rough beach, with sporadic Tsunami type waves.  We were advised not to go to close to the water, because the wave patterns are unpredictable, and lives have been lost there.  The natural lava column rock formation and caves along the beach was spectacular to see too.  Of course my monkeys used it as a climbing gym!





- JOKULSARLON
A glacier lagoon filled with blocks of ice.  Some blocks larger then your dining table, and some that looked like carrara marble. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen!  Looked like a scene out of the Ice Age movie.  But instead of seeing a mammoth pop out we saw a seal swimming around.  Really!  It was super surreal.





EAT:

- BBP HOT DOG STAND
You have to try the famous Icelandic hot dog stand.  I broke Lent to try one!  Their hot dogs with the works have a special mustard, mayonnaise, relish sauce, and fried onions underneath the frank.  So worth the cheat!

website



- KRUA THAI
Pretty authentic Thai food I must admit!  Family run by Thai's.  Good to eat there, or a great place to order takeout, which we brought back to our apartment to have food in the fridge to heat up when needed.  My growing boys are forever hungry!

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- SEABARON
Fresh seafood, and the lobster soup is a MUST.

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- SNAPS
A cozy and lively greenhouse bistro, serving brasserie Icelandic/ French cuisine.  Everything we had was good!  Reservations recommended because it's a popular place.

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- SKYR
This the local Icelandic yoghurt brand we got addicted too.  It's pronounced as SKI-ER, and can be found in any of the grocery stores, gas stations or many cafes in Iceland use the yoghurt to make smoothies.  It is creamy, but light, not overly sweet, nor tart.  It's perfect!  We ate it everyday for breakfast, snack, dessert, and on the go.




Iceland serves quite a gastronomical affair, on par with NYC standards.  For local favorites look out for Kleinur (donuts), dried shark (I did not like that!), and I heard their lamb is also notably of high quality.  If your a true foodie you may enjoy the Food Walk tour.

SHOP:

Icelandic wool sweaters are found in every store in abundance.  They're fashionable, warm, and are the thing to purchase if you want something unique from Iceland.



Otherwise 66 North is also a good Icelandic brand to purchase when there.  They have fashionable, quality performance fabric, outdoor clothing.   I like their designs a lot.

SLEEP:
The population of Iceland is small in comparison to the lands mass.  Majority live in clusters.  You can drive through the country side and not see a single home for hours!  However the growth of tourism has risen so fast that the country has not had time to improve infrastructure, roads, or build hotels to accommodate the 1.7 million visitors in 2016, which was a 40% increase from 2015. Therefore Airbnbs are very popular.  Or there are a few hotels, or apartments set up like a hotel, but not with 24 hour service that we stayed at.  Either way please book your accommodations in advance before arrival.  You don't want to luck out and be sleeping out in the cold!

- 101 HOTEL
This boutique hotel was very swanky and aesthetically pleasing.  I loved the modern decor, however the rooms were small.  But the location was right in the heart of town, and their restaurant / bar was packed at night.

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- BLACK PEARL
Our 1 bedroom/ 1 bathroom apartment was spacious.  It had a full modern kitchen, a good size bedroom, and a living room with a pull out bed sofa.  Decor was modern, and it was very clean.  Amenities such as shampoo, soap, bathrobe, slippers were provided.  The front desk was not 24 hours, however during the day they were extremely helpful in helping to arrange tours, airport transfers and offer recommendations.  Location is closer to the harbor, and is about a 10 minute walk into the heart of town.  I recommend this option for families.

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PACKING TIPS:
The weather fluctuates a lot.  It wasn't really THAT cold when we were there in April.  Typically it was in the mid to high 30's.  Not much different to NYC winters.  However, the wind can be a killer outdoors, and there is occasional drizzle.  Beware you also do get wet from the waterfalls spray, especially if you get up close to it.  I recommend you pack:

- Layers.  Sweaters, scarfs, hats, and gloves are a must.  But also a windbreaker or an outer waterproof layer to put over your coat.  We also had pull on waterproof pants that really helped to keep us dry at the waterfalls.  Ugly but practical!

- Waterproof case for your camera or phone.

- Waterproof hiking or snow boots

- Purchase the Northern Lights app on iTunes before you arrive.  It helps you take clearer photos if you happen to catch the northern lights.  We met a couple who saw the northern lights on their plane ride over.  You will want to have the app ready on the spur of the moment if your lucky enough to experience that.



The local currency is Icelandic Krona (ISK).  There are plenty of money changers in the airport when you arrive.  Do not bother to exchange your money in your homeland, because you'll get a horrible rate.  Also, upon arrival in Iceland note alcohol sold in the airport is the cheapest you'll find on the island.  Check the duty free limits and stock up!



Lastly, beware…you think NYC is an expensive city?  Well everything in Iceland was almost double that! Labor is expensive, tourism is increasing, taxes are high, available real estate in downtown is sparse and the Icelandic Krona is getting stronger since the 2008 crash, which is all causing the rising price inflation of everything. But it is worth it, and I would do it all over again in a heart beat!  It was definitely a unique experience, and the most different type of travel I have ever done.  It is one of those places you need to visit sooner then later, because with all the environmental changes happening I'm guessing in twenty years a lot will be obsolete.  Take the kids, live in the moment, and catch the wow factor now!  It is an adventure to remember.
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