I SPY: Brooklyn

Sep 4, 2018

Are you getting depressed from the spam of back to school photos exploding in your social media feeds?  It's a fat slap in the face that summer is over, isn't it?  So here's another slap to re-emphasize my point!  HA.



If my 9th and 4th graders cuteness did not turn your frown around, you now know how I feel having a high school'er in the house.  UGH.  Send help!

Listen up New York…CHEER UP.  Summer ain't over if you don't want it to be.  The weather should still be nice for at least another month, and I spy Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up. Thank you Jewish holidays!  Fingers crossed no rain (which we've been having way to much of this summer).  But if your not Jewish and reap the benefits of a long weekend and a day off then I say you still have time for one last summer bang.

No planes required.  Sleep with a local.  Hop across the bridge, or take the water taxi.  Skip the Hampton's traffic.  And look what I found…sweet deals in Brooklyn!  This stay-cation is a win.  Especially if you have your four legged friend tagging along.  Eddy was welcomed at every spot on this list.  Ain't that nice?



SLEEP:

1 Hotels Brooklyn Bridge
This new modern eco friendly boutique hotel has it all.  Large rooms with floor to ceiling views of Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty in the far distance!  An amazing rooftop garden, and private outdoor pool is the epitome of this hotel day or night.  Also their spa is top.  I really needed that massage and quiet time!  HA.  If you wish to venture out, the hotel is set in DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge) along the waterfront on prime real estate, that overlooks Manhattan, with many outdoor activities and restaurants outside their doorstep.  So conveniently located.



The Williamsburg Hotel
Set in Williamsburg, duh!  For those who aren't familiar, it is a different area of Brooklyn, about 15 minutes from DUMBO.  Another hip hotel with an outdoor pool, a lit day party scene open to the public, Tiki cocktails on repeat, daily yoga on the rooftop, and again plenty of restaurants and entertainment in the neighborhood thats provides lots of fun.



EAT:

Harvey - WILLIAMSBURG
High tea at The Williamsburg Hotel on weekends is a nice switch up.  They serve tea in their lobby communal bar area, where dogs are allowed.  It's scrumptious and their tea pots are so cute!



Smorgasburg - WILLIAMSBURG
A weekend gastronomic affair, where I always eat way too much with no regrets though!  Even though I always have to get a ramen burger, my new must is Lobsterdamus' Lobster Nest served over garlic noodles.  Then the post food coma daze on a bench overlooking the Manhattan skyline is mandatory too!




Sugarcane - DUMBO
Love this place!  Dining el fresco at its best.  Perfect wine and dine spot with open views to watch the sunset over the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge right from your table.  A great variety of small plates to share, like sushi, a full raw bar, crudo, grilled meats…my kind of food.  Make reservations.




Sunday In Brooklyn - WILLIAMSBURG
All about that brunch life.  Open everyday, not only on Sundays.  Just had to clarify that!  A drink list too cute to pass up, and their malted hazelnut praline pancakes…ahhh drool!!  If you need a table to sit outside with your dog, then get there early before 11am.  Or you will be waiting.




PLAY: 

The obvious when in Brooklyn is to bike or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It's a beautiful experience to remember, if you've never done it before.  It's a tourist trap for a reason!  Otherwise, these places also serve great outdoor activities.

Brooklyn Bridge Park - DUMBO
An 85 acre park with endless activities.  Basketball courts, bike paths, bocce, dog run, hand ball, ice skating, kayaking, ping pong, playgrounds, soccer fields and volleyball.




Domino Park - WILLIAMSBURG
Where the old Domino Sugar Refinery use to be, is now a new 5 acre playground for all ages!  An awesome playground, sprinklers to cool off in, the famous Tom Fruin stained glass house, and yummy tacos from Hey Tacocina makes a great outing for a picnic.





Janes Carousel - DUMBO
This glass box houses a vintage 1922 restored carousel.  It's so gorgeous!



Waking up on a different side of the bridge makes a difference.  So does room service and not having to make your bed.  The luxury of a pool and views like these really made it feel special.  Point taken, you don't need to go far to get a change of scenery and enjoy the last days of summer…says the girl who claims on Instagram @she.is.never.home  But hey, I was for this escape (my birthday), and I'd be happy to park my butt again in this spot!  See you in Brooklyn?



I SPY: NV - AZ - UT Road Trip

Jun 17, 2018

ARIZONA + UTAH: May 2018

What's worth two thousand four hundred twelve minutes and two hundred sixty eight miles?  Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend!  What I thought only existed on a screensaver, is for real guys.  It's a bucket list experience.  Much like our epic trip in 2017 to Iceland was.



Do not let the 4+ hour drive turn you off.  It's a pretty drive surrounded by red rock.  Logistically it's also not as complicated as I thought.  The places we visited were all in the vicinity of Page, Arizona.  We flew into Vegas, drove to Page, and then flew back home from Phoenix, Arizona.  Vegas and Phoenix are about the same distance from Page, but I planned our drive that way so we saw different terrain instead of back tracking.

Take note we are lazy travelers, not over achievers, and I don't have the energy to push my kids to be out and about all day.  So we accomplished one activity a day, that really only lasts a couple of hours, and the rest of our time was chilling by the pool.  BUT what we did in three days you could actually do in one day!  There are tour buses leaving from Vegas that do the whole package in less then 24 hours.  Option if your pressed for time.  Although I wouldn't recommend making this a rush trip.  It's too beautiful to not have the time to soak it in and savor.

SEE + DO

Day 1:
- Drive 4.5 hours Las Vegas, NV to Page, AZ
- Stop at halfway point in St George for lunch
- Sunset at Horseshoe Bend





Day 2:
- Upper Antelope Canyon.  Tours must be reserved ahead.  Nobody is allowed in without a permit, so you must have a guide escort you in.  We booked our tour with AACPT Reserve. Small groups, knowledgable guides, who also teach you how to take the best pics with your phone or camera!






Day 3:
- Lake Powell.  Hike, swim, rent a boat, paddle board, kayak, picnic.  Endless activities to do.





Day 4:
- Chilled at Amangiri resort the whole day.  You pay the price for that luxury, you better sit back and enjoy every penny!  HA.  This is not open to the public.  We were guests so had full access.  But if you don't stay there, maybe you can get in by booking a spa appointment, or reserving a table for a meal?  Worth the try!





Day 5:
- Drove 4.5 hours straight to Phoenix, AZ to catch our flight home.  Got our In-N-Out burger fix along the way.  Somewhere close to the airport!

SLEEP

There are a variety of low budget options, ranging from motels to mid range, and only one super luxe resort near by that nothing else can compare to…the Amangiri.



COURTYARD PAGE:
Run by the Marriott.  We stayed here for the majority of our trip. Great location, close to all the sights.  Pool and hot tub.  Basic but clean, and friendly staff.
www.marriott.com/page



AMANGIRI:
Super luxe, super expensive, and super gorgeous!  If you want to experience what it's like to be a Kardashian then stay here!  Surrounded by 600 acres, with amazing views from every window, impeccable service, all inclusive, great food, drinks, and a pool like no other.  Kids really had no business staying here, and I don't recommend it for young kids!  But we were only here one night. It was heaven.
https://www.aman.com/resorts/amangiri



TIPS

- If you have more time to explore the area, check out Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion National Park and Sedona, where I went in 2015 and got buttered up for five days!
- Bring a real camera to take quality photos.  I regret not doing so.
- If you have a drone and selfie stick, pack that too.  The one time I wish I had those two gadgets, even though I refuse to purchase them, because I think they're so annoying when I see others using them!
- A hat and bandana are useful when down in the slot canyon.  Dust is falling, and I came out with red dust all over, and a cough that lasted for days.
- Sunblock and water on you at all times…duh!
- An old school watch.  Page, AZ is located so close to the Utah boarder that when driving around and visiting the sights you will suddenly gain an hour or loose an hour, and it got me totally confused because I was going by the time on my phone, which was automatically switching back and forth.  But really everyone in that area is set on Arizona time no matter where they are situated.  It would of been handy to have a watch set to Arizona time to follow to avoid the confusion.
- Weather in May was perfect.  Warm during the day, and in morning and night dropped to 60's.  But I've heard in summer it gets unbearably hot, and in winter can get extremely cold.  Check the weather before you go and dress accordingly knowing that you will be outdoors a lot.

Sold?  This is America!!!  We travel often.  Guilty to say not in America.  But see what I missed?  Taught me not to be a snob about my own country!  More travels to come this summer 2018.  Stay tuned to she.is.never.home on Instagram, where I post regularly on the road.  Or else wait for the full low down when I return in Fall.

Happy Summer everyone! xox

I SPY: Puerto Rico

Feb 28, 2018

San Juan, P.R: February, 2018

Who is the mistreated child in America?  After Hurricane Maria and Irma hit in September 2018, it was clearly obvious Puerto Rico is treated as the second class citizen.  It was appalling to watch the after math, and how poorly Washington handled the situation.  Even more so when you saw weeks on end for months with power not fully restored to the island.  Worst then a third world country!

Since the devastation of the hurricanes we have been pouring efforts into helping send aid to Puerto Rico.  In collaboration with my sons school we assisted www.afyafoundation.org, supported numerous art events in NYC, and our trip last week was to see for ourselves how the island has re-built itself five months after the worst hurricane in history to strike Puerto Rico.



For the most part the island is back up and running.  Further in land and in the mountainous areas I've been told that they are still without power and water.  But for us tourist, I vouch that the main spots in San Juan and within the vicinity are back in business.  A few hotels and tourist attractions are still closed off though, such as El Yunque rainforest.  Even so, there is still plenty to do in Puerto Rico, and I urge anyone who needs a quick escape to sun, sand and water to make a trip to the island.  Your tourist dollars will help support local businesses, and will make a difference in bringing the island back to recovery.  If you do go, consider bringing an extra bag of clothes to donate to the Salvation Army in San Juan.  Summer clothes only, if that isn't obvious!

SEE + DO

CASTILLO SAN FELIPE DEL MORRO:
A 16th century UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I'm going to be honest, the fort was nothing noteworthy that you need to pay $7 to go inside. Save your money and have a mojito after your walk instead!  However, you should still visit because the grounds were sprawling, and from there you can still catch the amazing ocean views, and snap great photos of the architecture, and the cemetery next door to it, without going inside the fort.




ISLA VERDE:
With close to 300 beaches on the island, I had no clue which to choose!  I kept asking all my Uber drivers which beach they as locals thought were the most beautiful.  General consensus was Luquillo.  An hour away from San Juan, with water that looked crystal blue and magical on Instagram.  But when I further researched…the beaches in that area were still closed for clean up from the hurricanes.  BUMMER.




But the next go to was this…Isla Verde.  A closer hop.  15 minutes from our hotel in Condado, to a very clean beach, with water sports available, chairs and umbrellas to rent for $4, and El Alambique a beach front bar and restaurant across the street where you can conveniently get drinks, food, and use their potty.  Ended up being a win!

LA PERLA:
This is the location where the hit song music video Despacito was shot.  It is the barrio.  Ghetto.  Known to be the home of the drug lords. A.K.A dangerous, and many advised me to steer clear of it.  But I couldn't! Walking along the old city wall of old San Juan that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean we saw a side of La Perla thats colors struck me.  From the roadside you can peek down into the community.  Looked very much like a favela in Rio.  Kids were dying for a drink, saw a small shop at the front of the entrance so ventured in to buy a drink.  We ended up staying to finish our drink, and had a nice chat with the shop keeper about the damage La Perla incurred from the hurricane.  Found out they were hit badly, being so close to the water.  Didn't venture in deep enough to see the destruction.  Didn't feel right to be too intrusive and didn't want anyone feeling like they were under surveillance.  Even though they had some good street art on their walls which I really wanted to explore and see, but stopped myself to respect their privacy!  Anyways, be cautious and enter at your own risk.





OLD SAN JUAN:
Grab a map from your hotel concierge or the tourist information booth in the main plaza, and walk the cobblestone streets of this neighborhood.  My favorite area!  All the colorful buildings and colonial architecture reminds me of Havana, Cuba and Cartagena, Colombia.




RIO CAMUY CAVES:
Also known as the Angels Cave.  I was so ready to do this hike for the views.  Until I found out there are bats in the cave!  That completely ruined it for me!  I unfortunately wimped out and couldn't bring myself to be brave enough to go.  After last summer when we had a bat in our house, I am completely terrified of bats, and this trip was not the time to test my fears with kids in tow!  HA. But please go on my behalf.  Doesn't it look amazing?

Photo Credit: www.puertoricogetaways.com
SANTURCE:
Miami has Wynwood, and San Juan has Santurce!  If you love street art you will want to explore this neighborhood.  A few minutes after this photo it started pouring!  Unlucky us did not get to explore the area by foot.  But I saw a lot of great eye candy from our Uber heading back to our hotel.  There isn't a main street filled with street art to direct you too.  The walls are scattered around, so best to explore by foot.



VOLUNTEER:
Besides hitting the casino to take a break from the sun, or on a rainy day, how about you volunteer?  We were scheduled to help out at the food bank on our last day, but had to cancel due to my sons allergy break out.  However, I want to pass along the information in case your interested, because they can always use extra hands. Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico food bank is open Monday to Friday from 8am - 4pm.  You can assist them in packing boxes of items that will be delivered to different neighborhoods in need.  Kids are welcome.  Long pants and closed toe shoes are required.  Contact Valerie Martinez, T: (787) 640.8633 to sign up.

Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico
PR - 865
Bayamon, PR 00959

EAT

As you know, I am the type who plans life around her meals!  However we had a hiccup this trip that ended us making a trip to the ER.  My lil' guy had an allergic reaction to something thats still a mystery, and I couldn't risk another episode.  So we ate clean for the most part, and that wasn't very fun or noteworthy, but at least safe.  But I do have these two recommendations you must try for Puerto Rican food.

JOSE ENRIQUE:
Located in Santurce.  This is the first Puerto Rican chef to win a James Beard award.  Trust me it tasted that way!  We had the bisteak, beef stew, and branzino.  Everything was delicious.  Hands down our best meal there.  No reservations.  Walk ins only.  So go early for lunch or dinner because it does get crowded!





La Placita
Duffaut St. 176
San Juan, PR

PATIO DEL NISPERO:
Dining el fresco in the Hotel El Convento hotel was charming.  The food was equally as good.  And this paella type dish they call 'Surf & Turf' is reason why I'm going back, until I can figure out how to make it myself!  Shrimp, sausage, and plantains over rice.  A perfect recipe.



Hotel El Convento
100 Cristo Street
Old San Juan, PR 00901

SLEEP

CONDADO VANDERBILT:
We stayed here in the Condado area.  There were plenty of bars, restaurants, and hotels along the strip, and it was a very safe area and well lit to walk around at all times of the day.  But when you have a Walgreens, and Starbucks a few doors down from you it felt very commercial.  Even though that 24 hours Walgreens was a blessing in disguise when I had to fill a midnight run prescription for my son!  However, this hotel was appropriate for the kids, with a casual atmosphere, big pool, rooms with kitchenettes, direct access to a beach, and their infinity pool was pretty sweet.  The staff was helpful, the shrimp tacos at their restaurant Tacos & Tequila were super yummy, even though service was a tad slow, but I think that's island life in general!



Condado Vanderbilt
1055 Ashford Avenue
San Juan, PR 00907
T: (787) 721.5500
www.condadovanderbilt.com

HOTEL EL CONVENTO:
This boutique hotel was cute.  This is where I would have preferred to stay.  It is a preserved historic hotel.  Something quaint, full of character and set in Old San Juan.  But not with the kids!  HA.



Hotel El Convento
100 Cristo Street
Old San Juan, PR 00901
T: (787) 723.9020
www.elconvento.com

TIPS

* Uber is cheaper then taxi's.  However, Uber cars are not allowed to pick you up at the airport.  Also Uber's are not allowed to pick you up from hotels.  So, you just meet them on the street outside your hotel instead. Drop off is ok.

* Wear sunscreen, and re-apply religiously every hour, all over your body!  I do not burn easily.  But at the end of our two hour walking tour around Old San Juan my shoulders looked like lobsters!



You ready to show some love to Puerto Rico?  Take advantage of the discounted room rates, flights and beautiful sparse beaches due to low tourism.  Before you know it prices will shoot back up again.  And please erase the notion that Puerto Rico is dangerous.  Or rather, don't let that stop you from visiting.  NYC is dangerous too!  So if you wish to only hang out around Fifth Avenue when in NYC, then do what's comfortable for you.  But be known you can also play it safe in Puerto Rico too…or anywhere else for that matter.  Just go and see for yourself.  The best is you be your own judge and not listen to fake news.
i * SPY CANDY. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.