Monday, February 28, 2011

My New York City To-Do List

My apologies for the lag in posting.  I've been playing catch-up ever since we returned from Alaska.  It didn't help that Jeff and I spent the weekend before last in Montreal, or rather on a 22-hour train ride to and from Montreal.  My parents flew up there (they're smart) for the weekend and extended the invitation for us to join them back in December.  And since it's become apparent that we lack the ability to turn down any invitation to travel, we accepted.  The flights were super expensive from New York ($500) and the train was very cheap ($80).  In retrospect, I should I have done some sort of time = money equation, before I jumped on that Amtrak sale.  

While riding the train, when I took a break from beating Jeff in both Scrabble and Monopoly (which, to be fair, rarely happens), I read my Principles of Real Estate Finance textbook.  Ironically, the chapter covered PV = FV − r·PV = FV/(1+r), which looks complicated, but is really just an equation for measuring the value of money over time.  Awesome.  I quickly skimmed through that chapter, in fear that if I took the time to crunch some numbers, it would be apparent that we had wasted both time and money by going to Montreal at all.

On a positive note, we got to spend two days wining, dining and shopping with my parents and there is no mathematical way to factor happiness into the equation.  So yes, we spent time and money, but we spent it in good company and I felt like we came out in the black.  On another positive note, the train ride allowed me plenty of time to dream up more challenges and to-do lists.   It also highlighted the fact that I'd like to take a break from traveling for a bit.  Therefore, I made a list of activities that I've always wanted to do, but never have in New York City, my own big backyard.

Here is my 2011 NYC To Do List:

Museums - Guggenheim,Whitney, Tenement Museum, Museum of Sex
Restaurants/Food - Peter Luger, Shake Shack, River Cafe, Popeye's Chicken, Katz's Deli, Doughnut Plant, Empire Diner, Eat from at least 5 well-known, highly reviewed food trucks.
Afternoon Event or Day Trip - Visit a few Hudson Valley towns via Metro North, New York Botanical Gardens, Forest Hills Gardens, Gospel Choir, Belmont Horse Race
Touristy - Double Decker Bus Tour, Onion Walking Tours in China Town and Harlem, Rockette's Christmas Show, Jersey Boys, Wicked
Night Life - Jazz Club, Burlesque Show 

I'm proud to see that the list isn't that daunting and I'm proud to say that it's because Jeff and I have done a really good job exploring NYC over the past 7 or so years.  We've visited tons of different of restaurants, bars, neighborhoods, and parks; we've watched tons of concerts, musicals, movies, parades, and participated in a crazy amount of road races, bikes tours, picnics, and double dates.  The list goes on.....

If you want to join me in any of the events/activities listed about, I'd love the company. Just let me know and we'll pick a date.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Ice Museum near Fairbanks

We made it! It feels good to be back in the "lower 48" (that's what Alaskans call it).  We had a great trip and took advantage of every winter activity Alaska had to offer.  Here's a recap:

The 3-leg flight was annoyingly long, but luckily we were able to get a great view of the Northern Lights just before we landed in Fairbanks. Fairbanks was very cold, but also very dry.  The lack of moisture and constant below 0 temps leaves them with ice and perma-frost, but very little snow.  As we expected, this town did not have too much to offer aside from, interesting (i.e. odd, unattractive) local folk, the hot springs (which, thankfully, the locals were not in) and the ice museum.  Luckily, our train departed on Sunday, shortly after we arrived.  I was pleased to be on our way, but sad to give up the killer free breakfast at The Hampton Inn. 

Mount McKinley (on the right) - Tallest Mountain in U.S.
The train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage took all day and was amazing! I would recommend it to anyone visiting Alaska.  We passed through small towns, the Denali National Park and saw hitchhikers (they can flag the train to stop in the winter), ice climbers, moose, caribou (reindeer are domesticated caribou), and Dall sheep.  It was hard to catch some sleep or read my book because I never wanted to stop looking out the window.

Me, not reading
We arranged for a car to pick us up from the train station and take us to our next hotel, about an hour south.  The driver apologized when he picked us up in a black stretch limousine, since we had requested a town car. Jeff laughed, I blushed, then we hopped right in and made our way in style to Girdwood.

Girdwood is a quaint, cool ski town where everyone knows one another and unlike Fairbanks, there's tons of white fluffy snow and everyone is good looking (especially our snowmobile guide, Matt, holla!).  The first day there we met Dario, a dog trainer, kennel owner and nine-time Iditarod veteran.  He showed what dog mushing is all about.....basically a lot of time, money, hard work and love for the dogs.

Expensive Hand Warmers
When we visited with the dogs at their kennels, old oil barrels outside, I was curious to know how the dogs don't freeze to death during the night.  But, as soon I picked up one of the puppies (the little guys sleep indoors) my fears were put to rest.  Holding the puppy was like holding a furnace. Finally, I was warm!  The ideal temperature for them to mush in is 20 below.  When we took a break from mushing, they immediately ate snow and laid their bellies in the snow to cool off.  Alaskan Huskies are bred for cold weather and trainers have more to worry about in the summer, which is when they train in their dog teams in pools and on glaciers.

The dogs love to pull the sled.  They howl, bark, fight, and jump until you let them mush.  And, then, they go silent.  They don't make a peep until you stop the sled.  Alaskan huskies go about 20 miles per hour, can make super sharp turns, can run on ice, are mutts, both male and female, are relatively small, averaging about 35-40 lbs. As you can see, I learned and retained a lot of information about dog sledding. It's such an interesting sport. I even kept a copy of the local newspaper that covered last week's big race, The Yukon Quest.

The next day we hit the slopes.  This time of the year, sun doesn't rise until about 8:30AM and doesn't peek over the mountain until 10:30AM, which is when the lifts open.  The steep mountain was quite intimidating but the fresh powder and sheer emptiness of it made it quite amazing.  There were no chair lift lines and no ice, which is basically unheard of for east coast skiers.  Jeff, whom only started skiing a few years ago, put me to shame, BIG TIME.  He tackled the black diamonds and white out conditions at the very top with pure style.  I was just happy not to take him down every time I stepped off the chair lift.
On our final day in Girdwood, we went snowmobiling, which neither of us have done before and but would definitely do again.  We each had our own snowmobile (Alaskans call them snow machines), which is a good thing because I took each turn slowly and safely, while Jeff basically did donuts and wheelies in the tracks of our experienced guide. For lunch, we roasted reindeer hot dogs, drank tea, and had Snickers toasted on a stick for dessert.  Yum!  While we ate we learned about how to fight off bears and escape an avalanche (both common in this neck of the woods).  I felt very bad-ass!  
Lunch time!

For the last leg of the trip, we made our way back to Anchorage.  We visited their art museum and learned about the gold rush, Eskimos, Alaska's wildlife and natural resources.

Following that and and a tasty King Crab leg lunch, we couldn't really find too much of interest, as you can see by the last two pictures.  But, we didn't mind.  We played scrabble at our hotel, packed for our early morning flight and I congratulated Jeff on completing a great challenge.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Last Frontier = The Last State

Image 1
Wait, I have a question.  Is anyone tired of short, dark winter days? Five-foot tall snowbanks? Freezing temperatures? No? Well, me neither.  Actually, I can't wait to get my hands on some more of that wintry fun, but I'd like to kick up the intensity just a notch.  Which is exactly why Jeff and I are headed to Alaska on Friday.  Seriously, why sport sandals and sundresses, while working on a tan when you can spend just as much time and money wearing long johns, face masks, all while nursing frostbitten digits.

All kidding aside, I'm excited, but a little nervous about shivering our way through our 8-day Alaskan adventure. As most of you are aware, Jeff's long-time goal has been to visit all 50 U.S. states before he turns 30.  Well, kids, time is running out.  His 30th birthday is March 18th and Alaska is the last state to be crossed off his list.  I'm just going along for the ride since he couldn't find any other takers.

We fly into Fairbanks.  Not much going on there. We will spend two generous nights, and hopefully get the best view of the Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights, dip in the Chena Hot Springs, tour an ice museum and hang with the likes of this guy (Image 1).  From there, we take an 8-hour train ride along the countryside and head to a town south of Anchorage where will ski, dogsled and chill out at the one of few swanky spots in Alaska, Alyeska Resort.  Well probably be sipping hot chocolate fireside with these types (Image 2). 
Image 2

Thankfully, my shopping ban has lifted just in time for me to get my hands on a knit, pants-less jumper to sport in below freezing temps.  Our trip concludes with a few days exploring Anchorage before we catch an outbound flight back to New York. 

Wish us luck as we take on The Last Frontier and complete this ultimate challenge!