Archive for October, 2008

I’m a big fan of installations — high-concept, usually temporary, art displays — the appreciation of which increases the more of yourself you give over to experiencing the piece.

Though I’ve never (gasp!) really been to New York and I can’t imagine myself living in the city, I do have an appreciation for the way art installations are often integrated into public space there. So it should be no surprise that I was disappointed to have missed “The Gates” by Christo, nor that I am now encouraging anyone who has the chance to visit “Pulse Park” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, residing till November 17 in Madison Square Park.

I mean, when else will you have the chance for your heartbeat to dance across prime real estate in 200 theatrical spotlights? Seriously cool!

So to my New Yorker friends and readers: get thee down to the Flatiron District after dusk and light up the night — I want to see your pictures and live vicariously through you and your cardiac rhythms!

Thanks to This Just In for the tip.

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Until you’ve seen Oktoberfest for yourself, you’re probably not going to believe me when I tell you it’s like the State Fair, minus the animals (butter or otherwise), plus traditional costumes and, obviously, Maß upon Maßloads of beer.

Once you’re there, you’ll wonder why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to mix overconsumption of food and alcohol with expensive clothes and twisty-whirly rides! Hopefully you won’t be wondering it all over your lederhosen . . .

That said, it is possible to go to the ‘Fest and have good (if expensive), wholesome family fun. For me — who’s not afraid of heights — there’s nothing simpler or less intimidating than the ferris wheel. If you find yourself on the Wies’n during daylight hours, hop aboard with a sugary or salty snack of your choice and take in the city views at the wheel’s leisurely pace.

Follow other Photo Friday contributors around the world here.

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Shoestring reader and friend of the blog James D., currently of the Big Apple, took a trip to Montreal this summer and had the following tips for fellow no-budget travelers:

+ Getting There: if you have time, take the train from NYC. Yes, it is a long ride, but it is a beautiful one, and the best part is the train station is right in the middle of downtown. The airport is about 30 minutes outside of the city.

+ Getting Around: like NYC, the city is on a grid, making traveling around really straightforward. The Metro is fast, cheap and easy to navigate.

+ A City of Green Neighborhoods: during the days, I explored the city on foot. A great hike is up the Mountain (Parc du Mont-Royal). This was an all day hike, up and around. There are breathtaking views of the city and there were a lot of people picnicking up there.

The sightly less trendy part of the city is the Plateau. This is north of Parc la Fontaine, another wonderful park in the city. Down the hill from the park (down rue Amherst) is a nice little market that is a great place to pick up a snack for lunch.

For the historic charms of the city, head to Vieux Montreal — the Old City (think European cobblestone streets). Here you’ll find lots of museums and a nice walk along the water. Wandering around the back streets, I found a small store with a sandwich and drink combo for under $5.

The last day I walked over to one of the islands in the St. Lawrence River, Parc Jean-Drapeau. The home of the Biosphere and the Olympic Fields, you can beat the crowds by getting lost instead in the surrounding woody area.

+ Free (and Useful!) Brochures: the two best things I picked up were totally free: the first was the official tourist guide to the city. I saw stacks of these in every hotel and B&B. It has some small maps and lots of historical information about the different areas of the city and some of the more touristy things to do. It is paid for by advertisers, so I was wary of the food recommendations. The second was a free city map. This was large, but even the locals had them, so you don’t stand out holding one.

+ Practice that French: while a lot of people do speak English, a little bit of French will go far. If you get lost, it is faster to start off in broken French and the person will do their best to help you out.

+ Bring your Own: the main street in Montreal is Ste. Catherine. It is great during the summer since the majority of it is closed off and becomes pedestrian-only. However, like all downtown areas, it is the most expensive part of the city for food. I went there almost every night with a coffee and sat in one of the many little parks just to watch the city go by.

+ More Cheap Entertainment: Montreal also has a great bar culture, with many no-cover shows: jazz, rock-a-billy, etc.

+ When to Visit: every weekend during the summer, the city comes alive with festivals and parades. During the Jazz Fest you’ll find numerous free concerts all day long. Another festival I caught while visiting was Gale-rue d’Art, an art street festival.

+ Where to Stay: Montreal is filled with B&Bs. The one I stayed at fed me tons of food and allowed me to do laundry there. The manager also gave me suggestions on things to do every day. Talk to locals! Plus, if it is a good B&B, they will feed you enough for two meals.

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Last week marked the end of the one-month trial period of Montreal’s new public bicycle-sharing program, Bixi.

The system will be up and running for good from mid-April 2009, though those signing up before December 15 will have access to the bikes earlier than the general population in the spring.

Cheapest options for tourists will be either daily ($5 CDN) or monthly ($28 CDN) subscriptions, which allow you unlimited 30-minute rides during your stay for free.

Toronto has expressed an interest in implementing a public bike system itself and last week invited Bixi representatives to present their program to its citizens. The Toronto Star reports the program should be up and running by summer 2009, despite the lack of a public plan or even a mention of any such thing on Toronto’s Cycling Committee webpage.

If you’re interested in reading more about the nuts and bolts of the system Montreal developed (in order to, for example, suggest it to your city council), check out this link: Public Bike System.

Planning a trip to our neighbors to the north? Tune in tomorrow for a guest post full of no-budget tips for Montreal visitors.

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For the price of a €10 RyanAir airfare (round-trip), I’m headed to Edinburgh in mid-November (because who doesn’t like traveling when it’s dark and cold?!).

I turn to you again, my wise and fearless readers, for your no-budget travel advice. I’ve got 4.5 days and 5 nights in Scotland, flying in and out of EDI. Know where to get the best pub food or — God forbid — haggis in the city? Visited a must-see exhibition on right now? Recommend heading to Glasgow instead and have a great deal on train or bus travel around the country? I’d love to hear it all!

Your wisdom can earn you a modest prize in this absolutely subjective contest if I deem your advice the best. Enter by leaving your comments below.

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We over on the right side of the Atlantic end daylight savings time (DST) on Sunday, meaning that the time difference between London and New York is currently only 4 hours, between London and Los Angeles 7 hours. The party ends Sunday, when American clocks fall back and the differences increase an hour to standard difference.

Who cares, you ask? My mother and I spent spring break 2000 in bonny Ireland. We went down one Sunday morning to breakfast and were greeted by surly staff. Minutes into our meal, we were told our taxi was already waiting. But it was only 9:15 a.m., we’d ordered it for 10. Aha, DST strikes again. We were an hour late to breakfast AND were making the driver wait. There were no signs in the hotel, no mention of it on the news or radio. I don’t know how we were supposed to know Europe moved to DST a week earlier than America did. That was a lapse with minor consequences, but since then I pay attention to such things.

Wouldn’t you hate to miss your flight because of DST? And don’t even get me started on Russian trains the night DST changes (many connections between Moscow and St. Petersburg leave after midnight — so does your train leave at the first 1 a.m., or the second 1 a.m.? Will trains arrive an hour earlier or will they sit on the tracks for an hour waiting? etc. etc.). Actually, trains or planes anywhere . . . it’s good to know the date so you can avoid traveling on it — or at least clarify departure times loooooooooooong in advance.

So Europeans headed to North America, take note: time will change again for you next week. Plan accordingly.

And if you regularly plan your trips abroad during shoulder season to save money, remember to check about the start/end of DST at your destination. You can always check the time difference between two locations at Time and Date, where they have two quite detailed articles about DST around the world: North America, everybody else.

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If you’re a Bank of America customer, you’re eligible for free admission to a number of museums across the country on the first full weekend of every month.

Those living in (or often visiting) Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachussetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Washington are best poised to take part in the action.

Sadly, admission is free for the cardholder only, so expect to pay for any children or dates 🙂 Next upcoming free weekend is November 1st and 2nd.

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Spring 2007 I took a daytrip from Bergamo, Italy, (where I was staying) to Lake Como. It was one of those convoluted trips requiring multiple forms of transportation — bus, train, ferry and cable car — to make it even possible. You can’t complain too much, however, when all your connections go off exactly as planned.

I spent most of that rainy day enjoying the beautiful scenery (more dramatic for the low-hanging clouds) and walking around the various gardens open for public viewing in the small cities around the lake. It was so that I happened to call in Varenna. Navigating winding pathways and tiny roads without sidewalks on my way to the villas I planned to visit, I happened upon this dilapidated staircase, which seems to capture nearly every romantic notion Americans cherish about Italy. Having said that, don’t you want to visit too?

Varenna struck me as a lovely place to enjoy a relaxed honeymoon. In the same instant, thinking I had discovered a real gem — charming, yet off the radar, as much as any city in such a visited area can be — I entered the first villa whose garden I’d come to see, and discovered a Rick Steves tour group staying there! So much for that theory . . .

Late spring — when the azaleas, rhododendrons and roses are already in bloom — is the best time to visit the gardens in this area. Bellagio is the city with the two largest gardens: Villa Serbelloni (visit by guided tour only; no tours when raining) and Villa Melzi d’Eril.

Follow other travelers around the world on Friday at the links posted here.

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This can’t wait till Friday!

Last Thursday was the launch of 2008’s Free Night of Theater, now incorporating over 120 cities across the U.S. You can even see a Broadway show for free! Take yourself and a friend out for a complimentary night of culture by reserving tickets for your area here.

If it appears that everything in your area is sold out, don’t fret: new tickets are being added weekly, so keep checking back to see if there’s something new. (This Firefox add-on makes monitoring your chosen location that much easier.) The event officially runs through the end of October, but in some locations tickets have been added for shows running into November.

Already snagged your tickets? Let us know how the event went by sharing your experience in the comments.

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This week a freebie for our littlest travelers: have the coolest mini suitcase (or diaper bag) on the block with this Elmo luggage tag from Nursery Water! Of course, grown-ups and Sesame Street fans can request one too — no questions asked . . .

Find previous luggage tag freebie offers here.

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