Author: Heather

I love travel, ballet, cats and my hometown of NYC.

My Favorite Quiet Beaches

On Saturday, I went toВ RockawayВ to get my beach time for the week. As much as I love being by the ocean, I’ll admit that I was feeling a little weary of crowds.

Most NYC-area beaches—Rockaway, Jones, Robert Moses, Long Beach, Coney Island—are pretty packed on the weekends. And for good reason! Everyone wants to get away, even if only for a few hours.

I do love seeing so many people escaping the city and enjoying the sand and surf. But the overall experience isn’t all that relaxing. You’re surrounded by others—and their conversations and music—at all times. While there, it’s hard to feel calm and peaceful when you can barely hear the waves over all the din.

I’ve been lucky to travel to beaches that have been both beautiful and deserted. This weekend, I was thinking about them and wishing I could transport myself back to:

Water Cay, Eleuthera, Bahamas

Last year, Mal, Peter, and two friends and I rented a house on Eleuthera. We stayed in a sparsely populated part of the island, and our house was set on a gorgeous, private beach:

Cotton Bay, Eleuthera

Each day we got to enjoy the soft sand and blue waters without seeing a soul.

OurВ rental also gave us access to the owner’s boat and a captain who could take us out. Of course, we had to take advantage of that! Our captain, Sidney, took us toВ Water Cay, a tiny islandВ off Eleuthera’s Caribbean coast. It was absolutely deserted, with calm, clear water and fine white sand.

Water Cay, Eleuthera

It was easily one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve seen in my life.

 

Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

Mal and I went to Big Corn Island in August 2009. The island, and its sister, Little Corn, are located about 40-miles off the coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean. They’re known for being remote and relatively undiscovered by tourists. At the time, that certainly proved true.

We flew to the island on a tiny prop plane, and as we descended, I could barely spot any signs of life. Big CornВ looked deserted. And once we got out of the plane, weВ saw that it basically was.

To be honest, I felt a bit uneasy at just how isolated the island felt. There had been a spate of armed robberies against travelers on the islands, right before we arrived. The first night, our hotelВ was a ghost town—just two or three other rooms were occupied. And the phones and internet were down. The sun set at 6 p.m. and plunged the island into pitch darkness.

But during the daytime, I was able to forget my misgivings a little, thanks to this amazing beach we had to ourselves:

Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

In case you’re wondering, I felt much safer on Big Corn, as the days passed. A small documentary film crew arrived at our hotel from the mainland, as did a few more Nicaraguan travelers. Mal and I had a great time chatting with them—it was just enough people to make the hotel feel less like a horror-movie-waiting-to-happen, but not nearly enough to make the place feel crowded. And the island was just so wild and beautiful, it was impossible not to feel affection for it.

 

Long Beach Island, NJ

New Jersey?! Yes, that’s correct! We rented a house on LBI in early June, before summer season really started—which meant that every day, the beaches looked like this:

setting up on the beach

Sure, LBI doesn’t haveВ fine white sand and crystal-clear water. But it was still a nice, deserted beach that we had all to ourselves for days. I’m so nostalgic for that!

What’s your favorite quiet beach?

So Ready for a Busy Summer Weekend!

Fort Tilden, by Samantha Casolari

Happy Friday! I don’t know why, but even though I’ve been super-busy, this weekВ seemed to drag on forever! I have a packed weekend ahead, but I’m glad it’s here, nevertheless.

One of my best friends is getting married on Sunday evening, and I’m excited to celebrate those two. (Congrats, Duh and Lou!)

Of course, I’m planning a bit of beach time, as well. I’ll likely be headed to RockawayВ tomorrow, on a quiet, solo beach trip.

Rockaway is also where the photo above was taken. It’s from Brooklyn-based photographer Samantha Casolari‘s series for Rockaway Summer, a new, free publication about the area. I picked up a copy of it at Rockaway Taco, two weeks ago, and it’s gorgeous—mostly due to Casolari’s dreamlike images. See more of them here.

Until next week, some links from around the web:

В Aerial photos that starkly display the wealth disparity in Mexico City.

More amazing aerials: India, by drone.

9 Characteristics of a culture that determine happiness, longevity and quality of life…I think we’ve got a ways to go, here in the US.

A ballet-inspired clock.

What really hot days look like in NYC.

The fabulous travel illustration blog Drawn the Road Again just celebrated its first anniversary.

A free, gorgeous cookbook with a great social mission: Helping people make delicious, simple, healthy meals on $4 a day.

And finally: What cat would use this?!

Thanks to Mal for the clock and cat links!В Have a good one!

(Photo byВ Samantha CasolariВ via T magazine)

A Genius Beach Bag

I’m a total beach girl, but I’ll admit that once I’ve left for the day, I don’t want it following me home.В I’m not a fan of stepping on sand that’s made its way into my apartment. (Which is woefully not anywhere near a beach.)

The other day, I stumbled upon this genius Quirky beach bag.

Quirky's Shake Bag 1

It looks like a typical beach bag, made from water-repellant canvas, with a few pockets for stashing your stuff.

Quirky's Shake Bag

But if you undo a panel on the side…

Quirky's Shake Bag

…it reveals a mesh bottom with a little pull-handle you can shake to get all the sand out.

Quirky Shake Bag

Pretty brilliant! It’s amazing all beach bags aren’t built this way.

Quirky, if you’re not familiar with it, is an awesome company where anyone can submit their product idea. People can vote on what ideas they’d like to see come to life, and each week, the Quirky team decides which products they’ll produce. Eventually, they’re brought to market, and people can purchase those items from the Quirky shop.

I love the Everlane tote I’ve used as a beach bag for the past two years, but maybe it’s time for an upgrade?

(Images via Quirky)

Travel App Review: Hotel Tonight

My DC trip was super-last minute. And ridiculously so, since Evan and I had long been planning to go away that weekend.

But we’d gotten so caught up in planning that we ended up not planning anything. For weeks, we debated whether we should do DC, or a Jersey beach town, or maybe Philly or some other place in between NYC and DC. We finally decided to do DC on Friday morning—i.e. the day before we were to go wherever we were going.

That meant that we weren’t able to book a hotel in advance. But it seemed like an opportunity to test out Hotel Tonight, an app I’ve been curious about.

Hotel Tonight’s premise is that each night, hotels have vacant rooms. Instead of letting them be missed opportunities for profit, why not offer them up at discounted rates for people who want/need last minute places?

The catch is that you can only book hotels the day of. And you don’t know what hotels and rates will be available until that day.

Hotel Tonight doesn’t release the day’s deals until 9 am. After that, you can search for your destination city and enter whether you need a hotel for one to five nights. Then your results come up.

I spent some time in the app on Friday, to see if we’d want to use it the following day. I was impressed with the slick, user-friendly interface. Each hotel option has a nice photo and its location, price for the night and, in most cases, the normal rate. Helpfully, hotels are also classified as “Hip,” “Luxe,” “Solid” or “Basic.”

Hotel Tonight, DC Options

Hotel detail pages include many more photos, both from the hotel and other users; its user-rating; its location plotted on a map; and other basics facts, like room size and Wifi costs.

I especially liked Hotel Tonight’s “Why We Like It” notes, like: “Big, funky, chilled-out guest rooms with pops of pop art and Lite-Brite-esqie color” (for the Hotel Helix). They gave me a sense of the place, and tips on the hotel’s perks.

I felt that the app offered a good number of options (about a dozen), and prices seemed fair. Most were in the $99 to $150 range. High-end places in prime locations fell into that upper tier.

Hotels Tonight also has a weeklong forecast, where they note whether they expect to have many or few good deals.

Even though I was a little scared to wait until the morning of our trip to book, Evan and I decided to go for it. I figured the worst that could happen is that we wouldn’t find anything good, and end up at a hotelВ near the airport—not exactly the stuff of human hardship.

On Saturday morning, a little after 9, I opened the app. The Donovan House, a hotel I’d had my eye on, the previous day, was still an option. The price had gone up to $140 from $135. But that was still better than the rate that the hotel offered on its official site: $180.

Evan and I felt that $140 was reasonable for a hotel in a major city, in a prime location, with a roof deck pool, on a Saturday night. So we booked it.

Hotel Tonight

We were very happy with our choice. Check-in was as smooth as if we’d booked through the hotel’s site.

Our room was nice…

donovan house room

Desk at the Donovan House, DC

…and we enjoyed hanging out at the pool.

H&E

While Hotel Tonight worked for us in this case, I don’t think I’d use it in many other scenarios. If we were staying somewhere for multiple nights—and planning in advance—we would have shopped around for a better deal, or booked an Airbnb.

But for a one-night, super-last minute trip to a city, I couldn’t have been happier. I’d definitely use Hotel Tonight again, in a similar situation.

24 Hours in Washington, DC

This weekend, Evan and I took a super-quick—and super-last minute—trip to DC. Even though we just had 24 hours in the city, we made the most of it!

We found a good deal at the Donovan House (more about that in my next post), a Kimpton hotel conveniently located just a few blocks from the White House and the National Mall.

To be honest, we chose the place because it had a roof deck pool. Though we arrived late afternoon, we still squeezed in a few hours poolside, with wine and soft tacos, before the sun set.

donovan house pool

Evan and I had a hard time choosing where to get dinner. Peter’s cousin, who lives in DC, had recommended two restaurants, Brasserie Beck and Sette Osteria, that both looked awesome. To further complicate the matter, we went through Eater’s list of essential DC restaurants, as well.

Finally, we decided on Jaleo, Jose Andres’ tapas place. Though the restaurant has been around for more than 20 years, it was recently renovated and felt new—it was hopping on Saturday night. Evan and I chose to bypass the 45-minute wait for a table and eat in the bar area, instead. We found a cozy table right away.

Everything on the menu looked amazing. We went with two tapas and one paella—which was both the right and wrong decision. On the upside, the shrimp and calamari paella was epic. It was served in a huge pan and cooked wonderfully—the rice puffy and slightly crisped. The downside: the Iberico ham and chorizo/potato tapas we had were even better. And we would’ve loved to have tried more, if we hadn’t ordered the giant paella.

paella

Jaleo was near the National Mall, so we decided to see the monuments by night.

It’s a little spooky, since it’s not well-lit. But lots of other people were doing the same, and it’s no wonder. The monuments are stunning when they’re lit up against the dark sky.

washington monument b&w

washington monument

lincoln memorial

lincoln
washington monument from the lincoln

The next morning, we slept in, spent a little time at the pool, and then drove 20 minutes to Falls Church, Virginia for lunch. Peter’s cousin had told us about a shopping center, called Eden Center, that had good Vietnamese food.

The place was basically Little Vietnam. Neon signs in store windows advertised their specialties and a DJ blared Vietnamese music in the parking lot.

Our first stop was Song Que for banh mi. We asked the guy working the counter which sandwich was the best and he said it was the lemongrass beef. Sounded good to us!

banh mi

It was probably the best banh mi I’ve had. We gobbled it up.

Evan and I felt we had to get pho there, as well, so we went to Eden Kitchen for a delicious bowl.

pho

With only a few hours before my train, we headed to Georgetown to pick up a few things and walk around.

georgetown cobblestones

I loved the cobblestone streets and pretty architecture.

georgetown home 1

georgetown home 3

georgetown home 4

All too soon after, I had to say goodbye to Evan and board a train back to NYC. Twenty-four hours in DC definitely wasn’t enough. We’re hoping to make another trip back there when we’ll have more time to spend.

Photos of a Border Town, Taken by Kids

There has been a ton of press, recently, about the number of children trying to cross the US/Mexico border. Most of the kids are from Central America, especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—three countries with exceptionally high poverty and crime rates.

While this is a very politically charged topic, there’s no denying that many of these kids are desperate to escape awful situations in their home countries. Reading news stories on the subject makes me think back to the two weeks I spent in Guatemala, two years ago. Some teachers at my Spanish school knew people who smuggled their way into the U.S.—including their own family members.

One of my teachers, Flor, told me how her cousin made such a journey. His life was being threatened by a gang—every day, members told him his choice was to join the gang or else his family would be in danger. So with the help of a coyote, he left his family. He went from Guatemala to Mexico, then spent days walking trough the dessert with barley any food or water. He was just 16. And while he made it safely, he may never be able to see his family again.

Hearing that story, and others like it, humbled me. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by things going on in my life. But as trying as my problems can be, they’re often pretty first-world. I didn’t have to smuggle my way into a country as a kid, to escape poverty or violence.

Last week, I came upon some fascinating (and gorgeous) photos that touched upon the issue. Jason De Leon, an assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Undocumented Migration Project, and National Geographic teamed up for a photo camp in Arivaca, Arizona, a town on the US/Mexico border. Twenty-five kids, ranging in age from 13 to 18, spent five days shooting photos that depict life in border towns affected by this migration:

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National Geographic Photo Camp Arizona, 2014

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National Geographic Photo Camp Arizona, 2014

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See all theВ photos here.

(Images from the Undocumented Migration Project, via Quartz)

Off to DC!

dc rowhouses

Happy Friday!

For once, I don’t have any beach plans. Instead, I’m heading to DC for a super-quick trip. Evan hasВ a training course in Virginia next week, so we figured we’d head down there together, over the weekend, and spend some time in the capital.

It’s a super-last minute trip. For weeks, we were waffling between DCВ and one of the Jersey beach towns. We finally decided (this morning!) to go with the DC because we only have a weekend and wanted to minimize the driving.

Plus, it’ll only be my second time in DC, ever. So I’d love any restaurant/shopping/neighborhood recommendations you may have.

Until next week, a fewВ interesting links from around the web:

Gorgeous photos of Barcelona.

NYC takeoutВ orders, and who delivered them.

This photo, alone, makes me want to go to Rio.

Awesome Airstreams.

NYC’s best cold noodles. I can’t recommend Xi’an’s liangpi noodles enough!

Beach warning flags.

Have a good one!

(Image via Washington Life)