Archive for August, 2009

A Little Bit of Africa in NYC

August 20, 2009

There was news recently that the Denver Zoo bestowed upon the Bronx Zoo a pair of hyenas siblings. Most people would probably not really pay attention to this, because, let’s face it, we have bigger things to think about.  But, I got a little excited (for about 5 minutes) because it reminded me of the time I saw real, actual African spotted hyenas. In AFRICA. I may have mentioned that going to zoos is definitely one of my favorite attractions, but the overall concept makes me a little sad (animals cooped up for our viewing pleasure and all).  But seeing these guys in the wild, well, it was also a little sad, because they’re a depressing animal (more on that in a bit), but it was also a little thrilling.

Hyenas. Just a link in the scavenger chain.

Hyenas. Just another link in the scavenger chain.

You’re riding in a safari tank alongside these dog-like animals as they lope around (their front legs are longer than their hind ones, giving them a distinctive gait), essentially invading their natural habitat. They sense you, but go about their natural instinct – which is to scavenge after other animals’ kill. If they know a lion pack has just finished devouring an elephant calf or kudu, it knows there could be a good meal in store for them.

This hyena is trying to find the lions' kill.  And so are we!

This hyena is trying to find the lions' kill. And so are we!

Spotted hyenas (like the kind above) have the ability to crack open bones and eat the marrow and everything.  That’s pretty intense.  They also make a unique sound – commonly referred to as laughing – that’s quite eerie. They tend to get into scuffles with other scavengers or the animals that may still be eating their own kill (who should technically get the first dibs, no?). So of all the animals in the African safari, the hyena is probably one of the least respected.  And they are creepy. But, an essential component to the circle of life, I suppose.  Cue Lion King.

I heart Africa!!

Oh, and welcome to NYC, hyenas!

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Staycations

August 19, 2009

I hate this word. But, it does make a little sense. Take a local vacation and you won’t know what you’re missing! Maybe. I have a friend who does not take long, international vacations. She takes a series of short 3-, 4- or 5-day trips to places like a friend’s lake house, or other beautiful spots that are reachable by a few hours’ drive. She probably has a lot more beans in her savings account than I. While my preference is to take a long, extended trip to a faraway place whenever possible, this isn’t always the case. James and I have taken a few staycations in our time – and one that’s turned into an annual sojourn is Atlantic City. That’s right, the Las Vegas of the East. Forget what you have heard about this “seedy, dumpy” town – AC is really on the up and up! Several anchor resorts have built new luxury towers catering to every guests’ whim. We recently tried out two of those new towers, and I’d love to compare and contrast for you, should you be considering a traffic-filled journey to the majestic NJ shore in your future.

Tropicana’s Havana Tower

Tropicana's Havana Tower in Atlantic City

Tropicana's Havana Tower in Atlantic City

I have only been to Atlantic City a few times, but for the first time James opened my eyes to this gambling mecca, we chose to stay in the Tropicana’s new Havana Tower. I had been to Vegas before, but I didn’t really know what to expect from AC. We drove up and I saw the various casinos glimmering in the sunshine. There’s actually an ocean on the other side of those, if you get that far. The Trop’s valet service is prompt and efficient, as was our early check-in (which isn’t always granted, but lucky us!). The walk to the rooms includes an indoor mall which gives a tropical/island feel – slow moving bamboo ceiling fans, palm trees, and waterfalls. You kind of want a fruity drink, but even though the lights are dimmed and you’re being pumped with oxygen (already?), you want to get on that boardwalk for fun in the sun before going sin city style.

The location of the Tropicana, pardon my non-exactness, is to the right of the main boardwalk action, if you’re facing the ocean. It’s walkable to the beach hot spot – Bikini Beach Bar in front of Bally’s – but it’s a pretty long walk to the other end, down by House of Blues. However, the best part of Trop’s location is proximity to a random restaurant called Mediterranean Flames, or just Flames, to us. We stumbled upon this place after heading out onto the boardwalk for food and beach, in that order, and in 10 feet found a perfect escape. Just ignore the condemned building right behind it. But sit outside you must! Take in the palm trees, canvas lounges, and heavily accented wait staff. And I hope you like asparagus, because it’s in every dish (no complaints here!). And order the sampler appetizer – you won’t be disappointed! Just don’t expect the hostess to notice you – sit yourself down and just take it all in.

Flames.  Bad name, but good food! And slow service...but it's the best you'll find on the boardwalk!

Flames. Bad name, but good food! And slow service...but it's the best you'll find on the boardwalk!

So, back to the Trop. With the addition of the new tower, they have some pretty good restaurants here as well – Carmines, The Palm, Red Square, Cuba Libre, and PF Changs. Oh, and there’s a Hooter’s in the old part of the casino. The gambling overall at the Trop seems pretty standard, not that I’m a big roller, but the table minimums are average. Overall, the Havana Tower itself is definitely worth checking out, and if I go back to AC again, I’d like to stay here again. Well done, Trop.

Trump Taj Mahal’s Chairman Tower

Trump's new Chairman Tower is just a tower.

Trump's new Chairman Tower is just a tower.

When planning this year’s trip to AC, we wanted to try another new tower to see what’s the latest and greatest in Sin City East. We figured Trump knows what he’s doing. Maybe we didn’t find the bells and whistles, but seriously, the only new thing about this tower is…the hotel rooms. Boring! Don’t get me wrong, the rooms are VERY nice – huge walk in shower, ginormous bathroom, and spacious rooms overall, but we didn’t find anything else in the tower, like new restaurants, or shops, or even a convenience store (you know, for cups for our hotel-room mixed drinks while we watched Tropic Thunder on cable before dinner). We may have missed something, but we were pretty disappointed by the lack of amenities, so we barely spent any time at Trump, except when we were actually in the room. Also, the air conditioning is set to “arctic” here, so plan for that.

Trump’s casino is quite lavish, and there are a few good nightspots at the Taj Mahal as well. This casino is located on the polar opposite side of the Trop (such a long walk to Flames!!), but you can still easily walk to the central boardwalk area where all the salt water taffy and bad pizza is sold. Another thing we learned about the Taj Mahal – don’t even try to check in before 1PM! There was a very long line assembling of people thinking they might be able to squeeze into their rooms a little early to take advantage of the full day on the beach (us included), but we all just stood there as no less than 7 front desk clerks stared down at their monitors, as if ignoring 100 people would make them go away. Tsk, tsk, Trump!

So I think you can probably tell which resort I preferred. There are still many to try. So many staycations, so little time!

Where In The World Is…

August 18, 2009

Depending on your age, you might remember a show called “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Being the latchkey, after-school TV junkie that I was in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I never missed an episode of this travel-influenced geography game show for kids. Who didn’t love Rockapella, the catchy theme song, and learning about faraway places?

The point is that this show was definitely one influence in sparking my interest in the world outside of the U.S.  At the same time though, my geography knowledge is kind of lacking sometimes (all of those “new” countries near Russia, and Asia, and oh the U.S. states sometimes, too).  I think a 5th grader would do better than me on a geography test.  Once I visit a place though, I never forget where it belongs on the map.  So maybe this hands-on knowledge is how I need to learn the lay-out of the world.  OK, then, I accept!

Ask me where Botswana is!! Just not anything north of there...

Ask me where Botswana is!! Just not anything north of there...

Read All About It

August 13, 2009

A new travel magazine just launched that seems like it’s right up my alley – instead of featuring posh hotels and golf courses for every popular “exotic” location, it finds a “deeper meaning” in global travel. I think this actually means more commentary on the actual experience of travel – cultures and people – and not so much the “things.”

afar

Good luck to Afar! Get a free trial issue here (old school style; in the mail!).

“HVAR” Some Pictures For You…

August 12, 2009

So I really missed out when my friend Tanya went to Hvar as part of a trip to Croatia in June (for a wedding). I would have loved to have tagged along, but I just couldn’t fit it in this year. That part of the world is really just so gorgeous, and I hope I can make it there someday! Don’t these photos just make you instantly relax??

I believe this is in Dubrovnik.

I believe this is in Dubrovnik.

hvar5

hvar2

The view from Tanya's hotel in Hvar

The view from Tanya's hotel in Hvar (!)

I can almost picture myself sitting there having a cocktail!

I can almost picture myself sitting there having a cocktail!

If you’re in the mood for Hvar, here’s how to get there! (Hint – The most gorgeous places are never that easy to get to…)