Bread & Tulips: Rustic Italian Cuisine

Comments 14 Standard

If you enjoy rustic Italian cuisine, then you must try Bread & Tulips. No matter what kind of Italian food you are in the mood for, they have a pretty extensive menu with a real variety to choose from. Everything I tried (and I tried A LOT) was absolutely delicious.. The restaurant has a casual yet romantic feel to it, making a perfect venue for almost any occasion, whether it is a date night, an outing with friends or you are just plain hungry!

As soon as my friends and I sat down, we were greeted by our waitress Ashley, with some bread and olive oil to munch on while we decided on what to order. Many things on the menu looked appetizing which made it pretty difficult to single out a particular dish, so we decided to all order something different and share. We ended up with a nice variety of foods for all three courses.

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We had three appetizers during our starter course. First up was crostini which is small slices of lightly toasted bread served with different spreads. You can get either one, three or five spreads. We picked three, which was the fava bean and walnut pesto, house made ricotta and butternut squash. They all had a deliciously unique taste, but I have to say that my absolute favorite was the fava bean and walnut pesto.

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Our second appetizer was fried olives. I am always hesitant to have fried food, because I hate when places over fry the food to the point where all I taste is fried grease, however these were fried to perfection, so not greasy at all. The third appetizer we picked was grilled octopus with roast potatoes, olives and lemon confit. The octopus was lightly charred, which gave it a really rich taste and the potatoes were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, delicious. Even the parts of the octopus that I did not think I would like, I scoffed up!

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Now it was time for our entrees. Truth be told, I was already starting to get full after overeating during the first course, but that did not stop me from eating more! Between us we decided upon three main courses, which were fettuccine veal bolognese, tagliatelle nero which is squid ink pasta with shrimp, mussels, calabrian peppers, lemon breadcrumbs and finally roasted farm chicken with green and yellow beans. I was so thrilled to be stuffing my face with an overwhelming amount of scrumptious food that while reaching for more, I knocked my whole glass of water over! Of course I was mortified, as the water flowed over the entire table and poured onto the floor. Our waitress and a bus boy rushed over to clear up the flood damage…..eek. What a great way to leave my mark, sorry Ashley! Thankfully I didn’t break the glass and even more importantly none of the water got on my food! (hehe)

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Finally, it was time for dessert. At this point I felt like I was participating in an eating competition from all the food I had consumed, however that was not going to stop me from having dessert! Now…. get ready to drool (if you haven’t already). We had dark chocolate mousse with hazelnut gelato on top and a vanilla bean panacotta. Even though we were stuffed, we still somehow managed to devour both desserts. There wasn’t even anything left to scrape off of the plates.

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Thank you to Bread & Tulips for providing our meal. All opinions are, as always, my own.

Glacier hiking & ice climbing in Iceland

Comments 16 Standard

I am not an athletic person and extremely scared of heights, so when my friends decided that they wanted to go ice climbing during our trip to Iceland, I was (to say the least) extremely hesitant! We found a tour through Arctic Adventures that was a slightly daunting combination of ice glacier hiking and ice climbing. It looked really fun, so I figured that I would suck it up, be daring and try something new.

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First was the glacier hike. Little did I know how hard it was going to be! It was an odd experience trying to walk in the special hiking shoes with giant spikes sticking out of the front of them. The shoes made walking extremely difficult, but I had a feeling those spikes would come in handy very soon. The guide took us in a single line all across the glacier, however my lack of athleticism showed, so I struggled along at the back of the group. We made a few stops along the hike, while our tour guide explained some fun facts to us about the glaciers and Iceland in general. Those breaks were a godsend, as they gave me a much needed opportunity to catch my breathe! During one of our stops, my friend Marissa said that she thought it was too easy of a hike. Hmmmm…. I did not agree!

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We started hiking downhill to the bottom of the glacier and that’s when I first spotted the giant wall of ice we were about to climb up. Truthfully it wasn’t anything too extreme, because this particular hike was for beginners, however for me it felt like I was about to attempt to climb Mount Everest! We only climbed up two at a time, so I sat back and watched others climb up first. I was definitely not going to be one of the first people to climb up. My friend Anna went before me and she handled most of the climb with ease, but she did have a hard time getting to the top towards the end, as that was definitely the trickiest part of the climb. My seemingly sporty friend Marissa went next and zoomed up the wall, as if she was climbing up a set of stairs. If you blinked you would have missed her.

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It was finally time for me to step up and go. I almost chickened out, but I knew I would regret it, plus of course my friends had managed to do it, so my mini ego left me with no choice. I got all strapped in and was ready to conquer the ice wall! Womp, womp… I could barley stick the spikes into the wall! I didn’t realize how hard you have to dig the shoe spikes and ice pick into the ice. I moved upwards, slowly making my way up the wall, but I did get stuck a few times to the point where I was literally unable to move up or down. All I was thinking of was the possibility of falling to what would be certain doom! Then I actually missed while trying to pull myself up and fell off the wall! I completely freaked out and was shall we say slightly dramatic about it, but I was of course fine as the tour guide had a strong grip on my safety rope. After that first initial slip, I fell off the wall so many times during my climb up, it almost became routine.

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I was so nervous that my legs were shaking, which didn’t help the climb at all. I still cannot believe how quickly Marissa managed to do it. I eventually made it to the top of the wall and was so proud of myself until I looked down and remembered where I was and how terrified I am of heights… now get me down! I tried to climb my way down the wall, but of course slipped and ended up sliding almost upside down, all the way to the bottom. It took me so long to get to the top, but that tumble sure did make going down a lot faster! My guide had a grip on me though, so I didn’t get hurt. It was quite an adventure and definitely the single most “daredevil” thing I have ever done. Even though I had a hard time, because I literally have the strength of a baby bird, I still really enjoyed myself! I am really glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and gave this tour a try.

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Thank you to Arctic Adventures for providing our tour. All opinions are, as always, my own.

My cozy stay at Hotel Giraffe

Comments 13 Standard

If you look up the symbolism of a giraffe, you will find that they are represented with beauty, elegance, grace, resourcefulness and perception. It is no wonder that Hotel Giraffe mirrors all of these qualities as well. Do not be fooled by the name when it comes to the decor though, as it does not resemble a safari! It has a sleek, modern design that will appeal to anyone. As soon as I walked into my suite I was immediately drawn to the two huge vertical windows in the living room that were covered by beautiful red sheer curtains, this was the entrance to a balcony overlooking the streets of Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

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It was 6pm when I arrived so once we were settled into our room, my guest and I headed downstairs to the Grand Lobby for the evenings complimentary wine and cheeses. We sat and listened to the pianist that was playing soothing music to a number of the hotel guests. It really added to the experience and was exactly what I needed to wind me down after a long, hectic day.

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Since we both had a busy day, we decided to stay in and take full advantage of the beautiful suite we had. When we first arrived we were greeted in the room with a bottle of wine and later came across bathrobes in the closet, which is all we needed for a perfect night in. We changed into the incredibly comfortable bathrobes, popped open the bottle of wine, hung out on the couch in the living room and watched some movies. It was the ideal laid back night that I was in the mood for.

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In the morning, we headed downstairs for the complimentary continental breakfast. There were was a wide range of choices such as hard boiled eggs, bagels, fruit, breakfast pastries, coffee and an assortment of teas. I settled on a bagel with butter and a bowl of yogurt mixed with some fruit. It was the perfect sized breakfast, as I do not like to overstuff myself in the morning. Since the hotel is located right by Madison Square Park, we were able to start off the day with a stroll through the park before exploring more of the city, making it a great start to the day.

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Thank you to Hotel Giraffe for providing our stay. All opinions are, as always, my own. 

A book lover’s dream – The Library Hotel

Comments 35 Standard

Located a couple blocks from the New York Public Library on “Library Way” is a one of a kind boutique hotel that any book lover would love to stay in. The Library Hotel as you might have guessed is a hotel with a library theme, which helps to make it a memorable experience for guests. Each floor is dedicated to a specific category within the Dewey Decimal System such as Social Science, Literature and Languages. I stayed in the Technology floor and therefore all the books in my room were related to that topic!

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There is also a Reading Room that contains an abundance of books to choose from. Since the hotel offers complimentary snacks all day long, it is a great place to take a break from a busy day of sightseeing and relax with a pick me up and a good read. Every evening between 5pm-8pm they also provide complimentary wine/Prosecco and assorted snacks such as crackers, cheese and pastries. It is the perfect pre-dinner delight!

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If you are looking for a place to socialize over delicious cocktails then you don’t even have to leave the hotel (which believe me is a definite plus during one of the Big Apples notoriously chilly winter nights), as Bookmark’s Lounge on the 14th floor has everything you would need for a fun night. There is a poetry room, writers den and a terrace to accommodate whatever you are in the mood for. I went on a very cold New York City day so we decided to stay indoors, however there is a room that has a glass top so even though we were inside, we could still look up at the stars as we sipped on cocktails.

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There was a nice long list of speciality drinks to choose from, so I decided to venture away from my usual Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. My friend Melissa and I both decided to try drinks from the seasonal list of cocktails. Melissa got a Pumpkin Spice Latte which reminded me of an alcoholic version of the incredibly popular Fall Starbucks coffee drink. It was served warm as well, so it was an ideal choice after spending a long day outside in the cold. I had a Peach Cobbler which basically tasted like a peach cobbler, but did not have an overwhelming dessert flavor. It was the perfect mix for an evening drink.

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The next morning we went down to the Reading Room to eat at the complimentary breakfast buffet which included bagels, cereal, fruit, yogurt, tea , coffee and a variety of pastries. After having a late night at Bookmark’s Lounge, I was happy to be able to stroll downstairs for breakfast instead of hunting around the freezing streets of New York to look for a place to eat. Since checkout time is at the unusually convenient time of 1pm, we ate our breakfast and went back to our room for a little extra sleep before heading out for the day. Now that is an ideal morning!

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Thank you to Library Hotel for providing our stay. All opinions are, as always, my own. 

Hotel Elysee: Pure Elegance

Comments 37 Standard

Not only is Hotel Elysee in a fabulous location (it is close to Central Park), but it also screams luxury and elegance. As soon as I walked into the hotel I was cheerfully greeted by staff and checked in right away. “Welcome, I see you have the Presidential Suite. You have a great room.” He was not lying, it was a great room, indeed! As I opened the door to the room, I was taken aback by the gorgeous design of the room and the beautiful furniture that filled it. I can only describe it as old New York meets Paris.

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Greeting me in the room was a lovely bottle of wine and box of chocolates. How did they know that wine and chocolates is the way to this girls heart? Walking around the main room, I realized it had everything that you’d ever want in your own home. There was a long dining table, couches in front of a fireplace, a writing desk, flat screen television, chairs that were as comfortable as a couch and beautiful paintings around the room. This place is (considerably!) better than my apartment. To top it off there was even a grand piano! I don’t think my child like rendition of Chopsticks was really what it was made for. There was also a full kitchen in case, I felt the urge to cook, which I must admit is a rarity.

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The beautiful decor continued into the bedroom, which was as equally stunning as the main room. Attached to the bedroom was a full terrace with a table and chairs, making it a perfect spot to sit and eat your breakfast, as you watch all the morning hustle of Midtown Manhattan.

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After I got settled in my room, I headed down to the Club Room where guests are offered complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres every night from 5pm-8pm. The Club Room did not disappoint. The room itself was huge, so there was plenty of room for guests to sit and relax at tables or couches while also being able to keep a level of privacy if you so wish. That being said, it is a fantastic area to socialize with other guests. My friend Julia and I sat by two guests of the hotel and ended up exchanging stories while enjoying our wine and food.

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In the morning, guests are also offered complimentary breakfast. It had a great variety ranging from bagels, pastries, cereals, fruit, yogurt and coffee, as well an impressive assortment of tea. Everything was incredibly fresh and delicious. I had to run out early, so thankfully they had “to go” cups, so that you are able to take your tea or coffee on the road. During the day, the Club Room has coffee, tea, fruits and cookies incase you want to grab an afternoon pick me up or hangout and relax as there is also a library filled with books, magazines and newspapers along with a computer which is conveniently connected to a printer incase you need anything.

If you don’t want to lose out on your workout routine, guests receive complimentary passes to the New York Sports Club which is only a few short blocks away from the hotel! Each room has a couple of bottles of water included so you will be all set for the gym!

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Thank you to Hotel Elysee for providing our stay. All opinions are, as always, my own. 

Dutch culture at the cheese farm & clog factory

Comments 14 Standard

30 minutes outside of Amsterdam is a Dutch village known for its cheese called Edam. Since it is known for its cheese, I just had to go to De Simonehoeve which is a traditional cheese farm and clog factory! It was extremely interesting and true representation of traditional dutch culture which makes it a must-do. 

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First off, you sit in front of a glass room where you watch one of the workers there glaze the cheese. While you are watching, one of the workers explains about how the cheese is made and preserved. The fact that it was in a glass room was oddly comforting, as I for one am not keen on hair in my cheese! 

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You then get to see a shoemaker make a clog out of a block of wood. I couldn’t believe how fast he could carve a a piece of wood into a shoe! Today, people still use clogs for a variety of jobs such as farm work. There are tons of clogs that you can purchase with all different designs, styles and sizes to fit everyone’s needs and tastes (if you like wooden shoes that is!). 

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At the end of the tour there is a chance to taste any of the different cheeses they make, ranging from plain to pesto and gouda. I happily stuffed myself with unlimited free samples! I had a hard time choosing, but ended up finally deciding on the smoked cheese. I really wanted to buy the smoke ham cheese as well, but as it is made of meat, I would not have been able to take it on the plane. If cheese and clogs aren’t your choice of purchase, there are of course other souvenirs that you can choose from in the gift shop that are travel friendly.

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Free mobile apps you need for traveling

Comments 41 Standard

Let’s admit it, we are all addicted to the apps on our smart phones. I use a variety of apps to help me during my travels for booking flights, booking hotels, finding my way around or simply just breaking through language barriers. There’s basically an app for everything, but which ones are worth downloading? My list will give you some useful apps and best of all… they are all free! 

Booking

Sky Scanner – I always use this when booking my flights. It shows you the cheapest flights and you can even choose an “Everywhere” destination if you are unsure as to where you want to go. Great for someone who is trying to decide on a destination to go based on what flight is the cheapest. It also has a pretty nifty feature where it will email you when the price of your chosen flight goes up or down, so you can book at the optimum time  

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Hostelworld – If you need a hostel, this is a speedy way to book if you are on the go. It gives you cheap rates worldwide along with reviews and maps. 

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Hotel Tonight – This is great if you are traveling around and booking hotels as you go or decide to plan a last minute getaway. The rates are discounted since it is considered “last minute”, as the hotel can only be booked up to 7 days in advance.

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Hipmunk – Book and save up to 60% off last minute hotels, you can also find flights, compare prices and get fare alerts. There is also a heat map which allows you to see how close points of interest are to you, such as restaurants, shopping destinations and hotels. 

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Guides

Trip Advisor Offline City Guides – Need help getting around a city? This guides you to restaurants, attractions, hotels, etc. The plus about this, is that it works offline as long as you look it up before hand, as it stores all the information for you to look back on. 

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Viator – Find out what tours and activities to go on, read reviews and see photos. It also has an interactive map that pinpoints things that you can do based on your current location.

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Foodspotting – Not being your typical search app, this tells you the best food in the places around you, as soon as you open it. You can also ask questions for your search such as what is good at a particular place, where you can find a specific dish, etc. You can take pictures to upload and rate as well.

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Helpful

OANDA Currency Converter – You can figure out what your money converts in over 180 countries. What makes this one unique is that it tells you the interest rates from the different banks and ATMs.

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Google Translate – This is incredibly helpful for when you are travelling to countries where you do not know the local dialect. Simply type the words in and it will translate it to the language that you need. 

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Weather Channel – I have found that this is the best app to stay ahead of the weather. You can check out your daily and 10 day forecast along with an hour by hour breakout. It also shows radar in case you are worried about when the rain will hit your area, airport conditions, pollen index and tide reports. 

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Free Wi-Fi Finder – I always have a hard time finding wifi connection. Luckily, this tells you all the places that have wi-fi, if it is free or not and how to get there. 

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GateGuru – All of the flight and airport information that you need is here to help you. You can set it to be based off of your flight itinerary. Some of the information it gives you are real-time flight status, security check wait time, terminal information, and airport weather. You can also can check for restaurants and car rentals.

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Getting Around

Waze – Avoid getting lost or stuck in traffic with this traffic and navigation app. It guides you on a live map with voice navigation, provides you information on delays and lets you know where there are gas stations nearby.

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Gas Buddy – Helps you find the closest and cheapest gas stations. You can also win $100 in free gas if you report the gas prices you find.

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Hop Stop – Public transit plays a big part in getting around. You can look look up different routes, taxi costs and it even tells you how long it takes. It isn’t available for every city yet, but has over 600 cities within it’s database so far.

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Around Me – Anything you need to find is here such as ATMs, restaurants, hotels, taxis, parking, hospitals, even movie theaters. It also give you the website, address, directions  and phone number.

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Personal Use

Photosynth – Like to take photos? This allows you to create panoramic photos and share them through email and social media. Perfect if you need to get a full shot of some scenery or a large group of people.

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