Seeing Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

 

photo 4photo 1-2Manhattan is not the only part of New York City that gets lit up during the holidays. Brooklyn does too, and the best place to see them is in Dyker Heights!

Residents in Dyker Heights really go all out with decorations: inflatable characters, Santas, robotic figurines and lots and lots of lights. Many of these folks in this neighborhood hire professional decorators to give their homes a holiday look. As though no expense is overlooked, these houses seem as though they’re involved in some “friendly” curb appeal competition. And a financial boost to Con Edison. You can view a video of one of these homes here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfopas1epT4

photo 1-1photo 1photo 3-1The over-the-top outdoor decor is so much that visitors trek to here each year to view their homes. For viewing, the best spot to see “Dyker Lights” is to head to the high 80s (83rd through 86th mostly) about between 11th through 13th Avenues. As for getting here, it’s better to go by car or on a bus tour.

photo 3-2If you’re tempted to take the subway, please note you’ll have a good bit of walking ahead of you. And that’s just to get to the houses. If you must, the subway directions I found involving taking either the R train to 86th St. stop (the last one) or the D or M train to 18th Avenue. Also please note that this neighborhood section is not really that lit — in terms of street lamps.

I decided to go on a bus tour through A Slice of Brooklyn Tours, which picked my group up near Union Square. It’s called Christmas Lights & Cannoli Tour.  While being on the bus for most of the trip, there are stops to walk nearby and get closer views.

Our trip to Brooklyn also extended to seeing similar holiday homes in the residential areas of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. I took both a photo and video of a “very blue” home in Bensonhurst (shown below). Here’s a clip of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfopas1epT4

photo-3Well, there is one in Bensonhurst, owned by a Greek man, that completely goes over the top! This is it below. You can view a video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JrnyC3pKIQ

photo 2Our bus tour guide also gave us a lot of background info on these neighborhoods and the history behind Dyker Heights’ holiday showcase. If you’re not too familiar with Brooklyn, I would recommend taking this tour instead. Plus, bring a good camera!

Holiday Guide: Travel Gift Box Sets

All good things come in boxes, no doubt. And there are travel-minded gifts that arrive inside them, ready to be opened. Here are three really cool companies that offer ongoing subscription or one-time giving choices that bring parts of the world to your (or your gift receiver’s) front door.

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Photo Credit: Hazel Lane

Hazel Lane
Hazel Lane has various box sets that merge the “best of” goodies and products of different major cities across the United States. Set on a “Made in the USA” strategy, their boxes contain produces that are produced or come from small businesses such as local restaurants. The assortments are said to include eco-friendly, sustainable and organic. The boxes vary in size from a mini-city sampler to a full-on size of assortments.

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Photo Credit: Try the World (Facebook page)

Try the World
Try the World take an edible approach to introducing travelers of all kinds to new destinations through their respective foods. Celebrity chefs from different countries select local and authentic delicacies from their homelands to be boxed and sent as part of Try the World’s subscription based service. Subscribers receive a box every two months, which contains about seven to 10 curated products.

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Photo credit: Little Passports (Facebook page)

Little Passports
For the younger set, roughly from age 3 to 12, Little Passports organizes three types of educational travel packages based on ages and destinations to take kids on a mini-global adventure. Once the subscription is ordered, an introductory kit is said to be mailed that will come with everything these youngsters will need to get their “journeys” started. The packages are destination specific and arrive monthly, containing various items like activity books/sheets, stickers, access to online games and photos.

(Editor’s Note: These selections were based on media pitches and/or recommendations by fellow travel bloggers. I am not receiving any compensation any of their mentions.)

How to Feel Like You’re Traveling… Even When You’re Not

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Photo by Matteo Paciotti via Flickr.com

It sucks when you feel like you can’t go anywhere. Or in reality you can’t go anywhere far.

Any traveler can get these blues. For me, as of now, my 2015 plans might have to be vague. Why? Well, the New Year is coming with higher costs (who else here is feeling insurance sticker shock?) and new priorities (like figuring out where I want and can afford to live). So, except for a press trip next week, I’m going to see what happens.

Yet, you can kind of feel like you’re traveling even when you’re not able to. It’s all about perception, right? Here are some ideas on how to act like you’re traveling… even when you’re not:

1) Go to festivals

From foods and seasons to heritages and holidays, just about any type of festival can put you in a temporary setting. And expose you to different people and well places. You might be able to sample new foods, get a bit of culture, learn a fact or two, or just let loose. Before going to your event, do a Google search to try and find possible price breaks or valid admission discounts. Check their Facebook page or Twitter handle as price-chopper offers might be posted. Travel trade shows are nice too – just watch it on your swag and brochure grabbing.

2) Go out to eat

Yes, the cost of eating out can be sketchy. So start slowly with options. Food trucks can be good for artisan or ethnic food finds. Consider lunch specials or wait for upcoming promotions like a restaurant week. Search sites like Yelp or Chowhound or your local sources for in-the-know reviews on reasonably priced but equally good places. YipIt also a good source for daily deals.

I did a post recently on communal dining, which is also another good thing. Scope out food-focused Meetup groups or register with service sites like Feastly and EatWith. Groupon or LivingSocial lists some perk deals but buy them sparingly.

3) Volunteer your time

One often overlooked way to get into travel-related events or similar offerings is to volunteer. Your assigned task can be menial but you get a behind the scenes look—and even better appreciation—of what goes into holding these events.

Back in March, I volunteered at the first Women’s Travel Fest and was delegated to manning the coat checkroom. Once coats were carefully stored, I got to listen in on lectures by some leading ladies in the travel and community sectors. Plus, I got to take Samantha Brown’s coat. Well, I was so nervous that I gave her a hanger instead of grabbing her coat first. But I recovered.

4) Give your location a second look

How often do we live in a place for years and never see everything or even our own state. Whether you’re in a city or rural section, take your car or subway or bus and scope out a different neighborhood. For that museum you’ve never considered going to–or haven’t been to since you were a kid–now’s the time to visit. Bus trips might seem lame but they have their conveniences. Sometimes I’ve been by far the youngest person on a bus trip, but for me it was easier and cheaper for getting to places this way than on my own.

Tell me what you think.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Travel Sales

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Creative Commons photo by jenlight via Flickr.com

Travel companies have gotten into Black Friday and Cyber Monday by offering special deals and discounts online and/or by phone. The best part: You don’t have to get up at a ridiculous hour!

Here is a roundup of ones I have found and/or received pitches on:

- Gate 1 Travel will feature discounts on all Gate 1 Travel and Discovery Tours packages. The sale on new bookings only will begin online only on November 27 and then available by phone from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. beginning November 28. Black Friday deals include:

  • Spend $500 or more and receive $50 off with the promo code BLKFDY50
  • Spend $1,000 or more and receive $100 off with the promo code BLKFDY100
  • Spend $2,000 or more and receive $250 off with the promo code BLKFDY250
  • Spend $4,000 or more and receive $500 off with the promo code BLKFDY500
  • Spend $10,000 or more and receive $1,000 off with the promo code BLKFDY1000

- On Cyber Monday, Intrepid is offering travelers 20 percent off all their trips departing December through March 30, 2015 and 10 percent off trips departing April 1 through June 30, 2015. The sale will then go through Friday, December 5. The tour company is giving travelers an early start with another cooler promotion. Starting at noon EST, from today, November 24 through Monday, December 1 at 8 p.m. EST,  travelers can get 50 percent off or a buy 1 get 1 free sale on their polar expeditions.

- For Cyber Sunday and Cyber Monday, Access Trips is offering 25 percent off of new bookings for its culinary and biking tours departing between February 1 and August 31, 2015. It’s valid on culinary explorations of Morocco, Vietnam, Thailand and Sonoma; and mountain biking trips for active travelers of all levels in Costa Rica, Turkey and Nepal.  Promo Code: ADVENTURE25.

- Friendly Planet is hosting a 24-hour Cyber Monday sale with $100–$500 off every package. It starts at 12 a.m. ET on Monday, December 1.

- Hilton is offering exclusive rates during Cyber Week for an escape to New York with the Hilton New York Midtown starting at $179/night and Waldorf Astoria New York starting at $229/night. Book these rates starting at 12:01 a.m. CST on December 1 until 11:59 p.m. CST on December 7, 2014, staying between December 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015.

- Sonesta Hotels and Resorts are offering a Cyber Monday promotion of up to 25 percent off two night stays at their US properties. Use the code Cyber2014 on Sonesta.com. For their full-service hotels, location stays include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Houston, Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia. With their Sonesta ES Suites, locations include Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, Princeton, and St. Louis. On Cyber Monday, join the Sonesta Travel Pass guest loyalty program and take advantage of 3x the points for their next trip. Valid for new reservations traveling by March 31, 2015 and subject to availability at participating hotels. Offers may vary slightly by hotel.

- Atlantis Resort is having a Black Friday-Cyber Monday four-day sale offering up to 50 percent in savings on rates from November 28 through December 1. It’s valid for travel between December 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015. Blackout dates: December 18, 2014 – January 2, 2015  Book on AtlantisBahamas.com or at 1-800-Atlantis.

- Expedia is also having a Black Friday Sale with deals available on Friday, November 28, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PST. Check this link to see what they are.

- Club Med is offering travelers up to 50 percent off when booking from November 28 through December 3, 2014 for select travel through spring 2015.

- Hotels Tonight is starting off their Black Friday sale at 7 a.m., featuring $7 rooms in destinations across the US and UK for stays that night. The site will also have deals starting at just $70 all weekend long, including Cyber Monday.

 

Japan National Tourism Talks about Hokuriku

photo 1-3On Wednesday night, the Consulate General of Japan in New York and Japan National Tourism Organization hosted a reception at the private residence of His Excellency Kenichiro Sasae, Ambassador of Japan to the United States.

This event commemorated the upcoming debut of a new direct Bullet Train service from Tokyo to Kanazawa. It is scheduled to start in March 2015.

photo 3-4photo 2-3The time-length new train service is anticipated to take within two and a half hours. In addition to a program on the new rail service, two multimedia presentations were given on first-hand experiences in exploring the region of Hokuriku. Hokuriku is well-known for being the home to fine craftsmanship and traditional Japanese arts.

Following the presentations, guests got to sample delicacies from Hokuriku include fresh seafood and regional sake.

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A Mini-Escape with Aruba Tourism Authority

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Aruba’s Minister of Tourism Otmar Oduber gave a welcoming address at a reception last Thursday night.

On a cold and rainy New York City night, Aruba Tourism Authority provided a mini-getaway to a warm and friendly climate with their evening reception at the Carriage House last Thursday.

Having an #ArubaCultura theme, the evening featured a very special guest, Aruba’s Minister of Tourism Otmar Oduber, and introduced attendees to the culinary and cultural aspects of this Caribbean island. Currently, the tourism board is using the tagline “One Happy Island” (also as a hashtag, #onehappyisland) to promote Aruba as a still largely popular destination.

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I enjoyed an Eagle Beach Bellini.

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It was good fit with our festive night. As a different take on being a barista, a special mixologist from Aruba concocted specialty drinks highlighting the island’s tropical flavors and ingredients. These cocktails were named for beaches and other key attractions.

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The evening also got a little artistic. Guests were asked to sit for a painting session led by an artist, also from Aruba. Literally starting from a blank canvas, painters like myself were encouraged to recreate the island’s landscape by using an assortment of yellow, blue, beige, and green hues. We even were able to top off our masterpieces with sand by gently sprinkling a few grains on our finished work. Although I went with what I would call an abstract approach toward my painting, it was still a fun thing to do.

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My sort of island painting.

Our evening ended with a sit-down dinner and entertainment that got us all up and dancing!

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Air Berlin Ushers In Düsseldorf Carnival

photo 1Did you know that Düsseldorf’s Carnival Season lasts four months long? Last Tuesday night, Air Berlin and Düsseldorf Marketing and Tourism put on a shorter version of this German city’s colorful celebration with a reception at Blaue Gans in the TriBeCa district.

The reception featured German beers and local delicacies, and invites asked people to come in costumes. One travel writer did. Others like me put on whimsical hats or were draped with streamers by our hosts.

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We also learned a thing or two about Düsseldorf and its history with carnival. Having started this week, this street festival in Düsseldorf’s city center is made up of different segments such as the city’s ladies and youth having their turns at taking over the parade route for a while.

Even elected officials have their moment. By tradition, carnival time lets Düsseldorf’s citizens get away with poking fun at leaders through silly puppets and the like. The carnival season will be over February 18.

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And of course, in completing the night, a trio of performers had their act going.

photo 5With Düsseldorf, I actually spent maybe 40 minutes there via my connection from their airport to JFK. I was flying on Air Berlin, coming first from Geneva, and had to make it through the gate in a short amount of time to my next departure. Speaking just as a customer, their gate crew offered to switch me to a front row seat so I could get off the plane quicker to help make my connection. They suggested it. That was awesome.