Category Archives: Travel

Taking the Long Island Railroad from NYC’s Penn Station to JFK Airport

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Here’s a quick list of basics, because it was surprisingly difficult to find all the important information in one place the first time I tried to figure out how to do it. And for the record, taking the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station to JFK is absolutely more reliable than taking a chance on traffic — and much more affordable than calling a car — if you’re near the train station in Midtown West.

1. Most people just buy LIRR tickets right they need to get on the train ($7 off-peak and $9.50 peak). But if it really makes you feel better to have them ahead of time, the tickets are valid for 60 days, including the day you buy them. Just nip into the station unless you’re planning way ahead — web purchases have to be mailed.

2. If you’re running super late, the lines are long, and there’s a train coming, get on it. You can pay the conductor when he comes through, at a small premium.

3. Local trains on all routes out of Penn Station stop at Jamaica, where you have to transfer to the airport AirTrain, except for the Port Washington Branch. (This was the most confusing part for me the first time I took public transit to the airport. And it took an unbelievable amount of Googling to figure out what route to take, until I landed on… Jamaica Station‘s Wikipedia page.) And if it’s peak hour, be sure you’re not on an express train. In the event that you accidentally do get on one, let the conductor know you’re trying to catch a flight when they comes through for tickets. They don’t advertise it, but they’ll usually let you hop off real quick at Jamaica.

4. It takes about 20-25 between Penn Station and Jamaica.

5. Jamaica is one to three stops after Penn Station, depending on the train. If you can’t hear the conductor announcing the stops clearly, keep an eye out for the digital signs on the walls at the ends of the train cars, which will display the name of the upcoming station.

6. At Jamaica Station, you have to pay for the AirTrain with a Metrocard — and it has to be a pay-per-ride one, not a weekly or monthly pass. It’s $5 each way.

That’s all, folks! Once you know which train to get on — which, again, is most of them — it’s pretty straightforward. It took me all of a half hour to get to Terminal 4 on a cold, rainy Wednesday before Thanksgiving (though I’d suggest budgeting 45 minutes, especially if you aren’t right in T1 or T2, to be safe). Sure beats sitting in traffic for an hour and paying $70+ for the pleasure.

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A Very New England Winter Weekend

It’s snowsville in Boston (and other cities along the East Coast) today. Good time to stay in with a good book and cup of tea, I think… Keep warm, everyone!

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4 artsy paper guides for inspired intineraries

nectar-and-pulse-new-york-travel-guideWhen I’m traveling, I generally prefer mobile guides for two main reasons: 1) they don’t take up any extra space or weight and 2) they don’t make me stand out like a sore tourist. But I’ve recently discovered some crafty paper guides that add an inspired dose of whimsy that’s so much in the spirit of why I love to travel. And there’s still something to be said for having a tangible, beautiful product in front of you. My fellow magazine lovers and photo printers, this one’s for you.

They Draw & Travel

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Collector’s items as much as guides, these 75+ maps feature insider favorites that worldwide artists plot onto neighborhood streets. Browse maps by cities, or filter by activity and aesthetic style. Whether you‘re a foodie or outdoorsman, a modern art enthusiast or classics connoisseur, these artsy maps do double souvenir duty as charming displays of all your escapades.

Nectar & Pulse

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“Practical” and “romantic” are two words that rarely appear in the same sentence, but these character-based recommendations marry the two in a fresh take on bespoke experiences. Find your “soulmate” by browsing online bios of local experts, detailing what they like to read and what their perfect day looks like, then order a binder of guides produced by your personality double.

A La Carte Maps

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For those who crave a more social introduction to new cities, these foldable and waterproof works of art all include a handwritten welcome letter that reads like a hug from a friend. Like any caring advisor, the map bolsters top spots with practical must-know information, covering everything from rain plans to traffic shortcuts. Have a specific interest? Commission an anonymous insider with a custom-themed map.

Luxe Pocketbook Guides

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While the contents of these mini-books, now with children’s editions, aren’t customized for individual travelers, the custom fittings make them both pocket guides and objets d’art. In public, there’s no shame in perusing pages flanked by covers wrapped in fashionable prints. At home, bespoke box sets can be handcrafted in classy linen or luxe velvet with personalized embossing for a tasteful addition to coffee table furnishings.

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The sights and sounds of Taipei’s ShiDong traditional wet market

The plan was to stop by for a mere five minutes, but even before I step under the bright lights beyond the inner doors, it starts. Like the layers of an onion, what was first one big buzz begins to peel away and disentangle in pieces. First the clattering of shopping cart wheels gives away a shopper’s location, then the crinkle of plastic bags signify a successful sale and bargain. Spinning strips of plastic softly flap in circles, safeguarding fresh goods from flies in a gentle rhythm.

Even the reverberating hum of voices filter through my ears in stages. In one corner, a vendor calls out to advertise the freshest fish in the house. In another, a florist fondly names the blooms currently in season. Down the aisle, a little boy acts cute to wheedle his mom into buying some candy. She sighs in feigned exasperation, then concedes.

Such are the sounds of the ShiDong traditional wet market in the Taipei, Taiwan neighborhood of Tienmu. The sights of the market, however, offer no such moderated introduction.

Colors and textures explode, haphazardly splaying out on tables and hanging upon ceiling fixtures alike. In front of that fish vendor, a smatter of silver scales and red flesh gleam in a sea of ice cubes. Swaths of brilliant pinks and oranges surround the florist while lush green leaves trail down from overhead. Behind it all, rainbow packets of foil and plastic snake across the wall, hiding all traces of the tiles that hold up the fort.

In a place that strives to offer everything there is to be desired, there is no room for white space.

Today, I am there with my mom, who wants to pick up some goose for dinner because I am home. As she tells the vendor what she wants and the thud of a knife sounds, I look away, unable to watch the decapitation even though I know the bird is dead. Instead, I stare at the rows of trays fanned out to my right: golden braised eggs, plump squishy tendons, porous squares of tofu, dark green swirls of seaweed.

But then I look up at the vendor. She is smiling at my mom, who I know has been a customer for years. “Have some chicken soup with that, and some of this,” she says, scooping up a smorgasbord of dry ingredients I wasn’t quick enough to identify. “Toss it in with some vegetables. It’ll smell delicious.”

I always come to the traditional markets in Asia looking to awaken my senses. I’d somehow forgotten that the communities they forge, and the little kindnesses doled out with many a business transaction, also stir my heart.

Getting There

100 ShiDong Road, Shilin District, Taipei City
台北市士東路100號
+886-2-2834-5308

Photo Credit

Beitou Market — LWY / flickr.com

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A love letter to NYC’s Museum of Art and Design (and sniffing out the bizarre “Art of Scent” exhibit)

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When I read about an “Art of Scent” exhibit in which museumgoers get a whiff of various perfumes back in November, I wasn’t sure whether I should be intrigued by the concept or be wary of gimmicks.

But then I learned that the exhibit would be housed in the Museum of Art and Design. And then it all made sense.

Among New York City’s cultural giants, MAD is very modest in size, sitting humbly at the bottom of Columbus Circle between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. But this museum is probably my one of my favorites in all of Manhattan. There, the six floors are all manageable in one afternoon, between two and three hours if you count a thorough examination of the well-curated gift store. There, each exhibit always offer a masterpiece that I love, even if I’m not inherently interested in the theme. And there, most of all, you’ll find the quirkiest, most radical, most bewitching collections of art.

Like an exhibit of necklaces, made from such curious materials as gun triggers and LED lights and pig intestines.

Or an exhibit on special effects manipulation in film and photography, showcasing 3D dioramas and the surreal images and animations created from them.

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Needless to say, an exhibit with perfume spritzers in the walls is right up MAD’s alley.

Stepping off the elevator onto the fourth floor was somewhat disorienting. Unlike what you’d expect of a museum exhibit, the hardwood floors were starkly and completely empty, save a square of scrolling, glowing text projected from the ceiling. Along three walls, a row of twelve cavities sank into the wall, almost like pods in a science fiction vignette come to life. I watched two women hesitantly walk up to the first wall, exchanging glances before gingerly lowering their heads into a cavity.

When my turn came, I’d leaned in just as carefully, made wary by memories of cloyingly scented department store ground floors. But all I felt was the light breeze of a spray–some sort of new technology that released the fragrances for four short seconds, I later learned. It was simply a whiff, enough for you to breathe in, not enough to stay with you beyond a few ephemeral seconds.

I’m no stranger to the concept that smell evokes moods, memories, even images in one’s mind, so that wasn’t what caught my attention. Nor were all the projected descriptions that appeared and disappeared next to the cavities, detailing the innovative extraction methods of the day. Rather, what impressed me was that the catchphrases in those descriptions–the hallmarks of marketing-speak like “pure” or “aggressive” or “diffusive”–actually became tangible with each whiff.

Anyone who’s ever shopped for perfume probably has a general idea of what’s considered a floral or clean or citrusy scent. For us girls, most of us probably know that Issey Miyake’s fragrances are inspired by water. But the experience of smelling that  manmade, recreated smell of “water” is so much more heightened next to the contrasts of other manmade, recreated smells like “sweetness” or “rawness.” You’re much more aware of the nuances that make the scents so distinct. And the deliberation, the (dare I say it?) art behind every scent becomes so much more apparent.

There’s only so much one can say about this particular exhibit in words. There’s a reason, after all, that the man who heads up the museum’s “department of olfactory art” has presented the exhibit in such a peculiar form.

But that’s the kind of brilliance that I always find myself energized by every time I walk out of the museum. That’s why, as much as I love the Guggenheim and the Met and all of the city’s other cultural greats, I’m so often tempted to knight MAD as my favorite.

That and the fact that art really becomes accessible to everyone here. As I trailed from one spritz to the next in the Art of Scent exhibit, I’d noticed one pair of visitors constantly talking behind me. Not obnoxiously, not loudly. But certainly very descriptively, summarizing each description and sharing their responses. Curiosity got the better of me, and I finally sneaked a stealthy peek at the two of them. The man a step ahead turned out to be the speaker, leading his friend along the wall. His friend was wearing dark shades and clutching a cane. And he seemed to be loving all of it.

Getting There

“Art of the Scent” is on view for another two weeks, through March 3, 2013. Take the A, C, B, D, and 1 trains to 2 Columbus Circle. madmuseum.org

Photo credits

Museum of Art and Design exterior — Hélène Binet / Museum of Art and Design
Optical Delusions — Matthew Albanese /matthewalbanese.com
Art of the Scent — Brad Farwell / Museum of Art and Design

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7 cozy East Coast hideaways for easy weekend escapes

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Crazy relatives, dirty slush, biting chill—winter gives you plenty of reasons to want to run away. Luckily for the lazy-spontaneous among us, a weekend escape doesn’t have to be a concerted effort of an ordeal. Burrow in and snuggle up at these cozy lodges, all within a day’s travel from Manhattan. With everything from crackling in-room fireplaces to luxuriously heated floors, these easy getaways will take you worlds away from the city.

No-Frills Victorian
If you have a penchant for florals and paisleys, spring forth into warmer weather at the laid-back Victorian dig of Whistling Swan Inn in Stanhope, NJ. The light-filled rooms are more quaint than loud, appointed with cushy pillowtop beds and Egyptian cotton linens. Wake up to a breakfast from your dreams, whether you crave classics like blueberry pancakes or fancier treats like spinach quiche. The innkeepers are on hand to help create your perfect skiing or antiquing itinerary, but over 150 DVD rentals and homemade cookies by the parlor fireplace will keep any indoor family happy. 1 hour from NYC, whistlingswaninn.com

Fairytale Castle
Hudson Valley’s Mohonk Mountain House is a busier resort than other hideaways in this list, but if you have little princes and princesses, this is where they can pretend they’re royalty. Stepping into a Historic Hotels of America-approved kingdom of hearths and medieval-esque towers, romantic families will find historical delight in the old-fashioned soda fountain as well as present-day wonders in the blooming greenhouse. In the winter, don’t miss the on-site skating pavilion, afternoon tea and cookies, the outdoor heated mineral pool, and the sports program with a country club vibe. Under 2 hours from NYC, mohonk.com

mohonk-mountain-east-coast-getaways-winterNew England Fab
Don’t judge Rooster Tail Inn in Warren, CT by its plain white exterior. The walls actually hide a woodsy and understated New England splendor with all the modern amens. When you’re not lounging in leather armchairs or decompressing in the steam room, generously sized sleigh beds in Suites 1, 3, and 5—one in sleek wood and the others in classy upholstery—promise a restoring slumber. And if you have a love affair with hotel bathrooms, the heated floors and rain showers in most suites will render you head over heels. Just don’t let the kids get too carried away with the bidet. 2 hours from NYC, roostertailinn.com

All-Inclusive All-Star
If itinerary planning and budget calculation are your worst travel enemies, Woodlock Pines Resort in Hawley, PA is your travel soulmate. “Escape” here means an endless flurry of effortless entertainment—pick your poison from the likes of family soccer challenges, game show spin-offs, and karaoke parties, then simply show up and have fun. Accommodation floorplans are widely varied, but families will find ample space and rustic surrounds in the more recently appointed suites and guest homes. And though the crowds at the bustling main lodge trend younger, the 40,000-square-foot spa is a perfectly tranquil respite for a parents-only time-out. 2.5 hours from NYC, woodloch.com

Hot Chocolate Haven
Indulge in all the magic of Hersheypark away from the crowds at The Hotel Hershey, a quieter, upscale sister to the ever-popular Hershey Lodge. The historic property creates a world of Moorish charm in the form of soaring archways and sleek mosaic tiles to cradle all the free chocolate Kisses and cocoa-inspired products that the young (and young at heart) love. Standard rooms are an instant beige-swathed tranquilizer—but splurging on both lower level rooms in a six-bedroom cottage grants private access to a delightful Great Room lounge with tapered cathedral ceilings and a crackling fireplace. 3 hours from NYC, thehotelhershey.com

Barefoot Luxury
Following a $20 million refresh, The Weekapaug Inn proves that beachside towns aren’t just for balmy seasons. In the winter, snowy owls, harlequin ducks, and soaring shorebirds enchant the waters surrounding this 19th-century lodge in Weekapaug, RI. Budding scientists can consult the resident naturalist for viewing tips or join him for a night amongst the stars using the inn’s own telescope. Enjoy the season’s best tastes at the farm-to-table dining room, then retire to residence-style suites graced with luxe textiles from local artisans, wraparound panoramas, and roaring gas fireplaces. Under 2.5 hours from NYC, weekapauginn.com

Retro Chic
For families with more contemporary aesthetics, The Porches Inn in North Adams, MA is comprised of updated but still inviting former millworker homes. Soft light brightens the retro striped walls, and patterned rugs add just the right touch of whimsy. In the Two-Level Suite, parents and children can enjoy a little solitude under one big roof—or snuggle fireside in the Extended Suite for quality bonding time. Beyond the rooms, a fire pit and heated outdoor pool warm kids who get their thrills from the chill, but the cheery yellow breakfast and living rooms will have everyone thinking of lush meadows—what winter cold? A pet-friendly Historic Hotels of America member. 4 hours from NYC, porches.com

porches-inn-east-coast-getaways-winterIdyllic Inn
Nothing says rustic charm like coming in from the winter cold to be greeted by a warm plate of freshly baked cookies. Welcome to the Maguire House in Ashburnham, MA, where you can wrap yourself in handmade quilts, down comforters, and spa bathrobes—which children seem to enjoy as much as adults. Fresh flowers, gourmet chocolates, and Crabtree & Evelyn products are all attractive perks, but what truly make the homey experience are beyond-attentive innkeepers Paul and Terry. Terry’s homemade pastries and granola are all the rave, and our own Deputy Editor was especially touched by the carrot cake she baked for her birthday one winter. Under 4.5 hours from NYC,  maguirehouse.com

Classic Wonderland
For many city dwellers, the ethereal Whiteface Lodge is the very manifestation of their most romantic winter retreat dreams. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World hospitality group, this lakeside chalet embodies the best of cabin chic, boasting units of exposed wood beams, granite hearths, and cast-iron fireplaces. Soak in Adirondack views from expansive picture windows from just about every room, whether your family is bonding in the intimate KANU Lounge or the heated indoor pool. And while Lake Placid skiing beckons, you’ll have no want of entertainment right onsite, thanks to a surround-sound theater, bowling alley, game room, and skating rink. Under 6 hours from NYC, thewhitefacelodge.com

Active Relief
De-stress by getting active? Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont cradles skiers in a haven of ice skating, indoor swimming, tubing, ziplining, and entertainment galore. Popular they may be in powdery seasons, you can still claim a cozy corner of these gargantuan grounds for yourself. One-bedroom Poolside condos in the Village West area offer tasteful pale wood finishes for smaller families, while any of the North Hill area’s two- and three-bedrooms encompass year-round decks for admiring the snow. Under 7 hours from NYC, smuggs.com

Super Staycation
If you’d rather not chart a road trip of any great distance, find a peaceful staycation at New York’s own Lafayette House. Behind the unassuming doors of this unmarked 1840s townhouse lives a stylish pied-a-terre, strewn with grand antiques and shelves of books and magazines. A weekend here is not about an ultra-luxe stay but about imagining that you lead a different life—one in which your Victorian family spends its days reading by velvet-draped windows and sipping tea by the ensuite fireplace. Rooms are also decked out in sparkling chandeliers stocked with C.O. Bigelow potions and selectively equipped with kitchenettes. In Noho of NYC, lafayettenyc.com

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5 packing lessons I learned…from being in an LDR

Photo credit: Jamie Davis via Etsy

I recently returned from a five-day trip to Taipei with nothing but a weekender bag. “That’s the true sign of a jetsetter,” my editor said.

Actually, that’s the result of busing to and from Boston once or twice a month as I’m in a long distance relationship. Because I’m a starving journalist, traveling via bus means trekking to the subway and running up and down the platform stairs instead of catching a cab. Given my 4’11” frame, I’m obviously not keen on hauling luggage twice my size with me–so here’s what I’ve learned about packing light for weekeend trips. (Thanks, LDR!)

1. Good hygiene doesn’t mean all new jeans.

By every means, please continue to take showers daily. But you don’t need a fresh outfit every day. If you’re on a weekend trip, there’s absolutely no reason to pack (or wear) more than one pair of pants, and keep in mind that denim is particularly thick. Ladies, unless it’s wintertime and super cold where you’re going, leggings are great space-savers. This rule also applies for outerwear and middle layers.

2. Invest in a pair of quality all-purpose shoes.

Find footwear that is waterproof, easy to walk in, and compliments a dressier outfit. For me, this translates into a pair of closed-toe black flats with some metallic accents. They don’t get soaked if it’s a little rainy, and the extra details make them work in more formal settings. If it’s colder or stormier, I have heeled leather boots that I can walk over an hour in–these are hard to find, but they do exist. (Mine are from A.S.O., a shoe store in Taiwan.) To be fair, this is easier for girls; when I tease the boy about the giant duffel he brings to New York, he always cites his dress shoes as the culprit.

3. Pack day-to-night outfits.

In the same vein, you don’t need a separate outfit for going out unless you’re going somewhere super fancy. I love dresses for this reason. They already look nicer, plus they contain less material and don’t require top-and-bottom coordination. Again, opt for the extra details, and some structure is always nice. You also can’t go wrong with dark colors–good news for New Yorkers who already own a bajillion black outfits.

4. Buy travel-sized versions of skincare musts–once.

This means face lotions, cleansers, and other special amenities that you can’t forgo for a few days. This doesn’t mean your favorite shampoo or body wash–soap is soap, at least in the short-term. Save the bottles for re-use, or better yet buy empty containers that are cheaper.

5. If you must work, learn to type on a tablet.

Admittedly, this might not be the most budget-friendly tip, and the iPad I work on actually belongs to the boy. But here are some advantages of learning to use the touchscreen like a keyboard as I have: a tablet isn’t as heavy nor as cumbersome as a Macbook, you’ll never be limited by airport bookstore selections again, and, if you’re traveling domestically, you don’t need to panic when cheap bus WiFi fails right before your deadline.

What are some of your favorite long weekend packing tips?

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