The Best Italian Restaurants in New York City

This past month, October 17th, marked the official National Pasta Day. Of course, October also happens to be dubbed Italian heritage month here in NYC. Kicking off the biggest Italian celebration in NYC is the famous San Gennaro feast, one of the cities longest running street fairs on Mulberry St. As an Italian-American myself, I go there for the best sausage and pepper sandwiches and zeppoles. Although I grew up on fried dough and chicken parmigiana, I’ve been lucky enough to make it to Italy several times. Not to mention, it’s my favorite cuisine to whip up on a Sunday night. I can’t say I make it to Italy as often as I’d like for authentic Italian cuisine, however, New York City is home to some of the best Italian restaurants in the nation. If you’re in town, I’d highly recommend checking out a few of my favorites…

 

L’Artusi

228 W 10th St
West Village

 

This West Village restaurant is a favorite for pasta lovers. Although it’s hard to come by reservations on a weekend, you can always hang around for seating at the bar. When at the bar, I’d recommend ordering a starter followed by two pastas to share and an olive oil cake to finish. The staff is also extremely knowledgeable on wine pairings so I’d say ask away when it comes to recommendations. Regardless, one night at this sleek West Village stop and you will see why everyone’s saying A’more.

 

Bella Gioia

209 4th Ave
Park Slope, Brooklyn

Probabl the only restaurant I’d travel for! Italian-American chef Nico uses his Sicilian background and old school family recipes to bring new life to Sicilian classics. Bella Gioia had the best calamari I’ve ever had in awhile. I went for an Italian-American heritage night, which was just as delightful but on a typical night you can find dishes like, deep-fried burrata, charcuterie, pappardelle pasta, truffle fries, and Sicilian style pizza, to name a few. Not to mention the incredible wine pairings and charming decor that make you feel like you’re in a cozy alleyway in Sicily amongst friends. When I was there they had live music featuring a vocalist and guitarist playing a mix of classic beatles as well as classic Italian numbers. I was a BIG fan! The live music was such a great touch and would be a great choice for a first date or family outing.

 

I Sodi

105 Christopher St
West Village

 

I stumbled upon I Sodi as most do, through a recommendation through a friend of a friend. Italian food is my favorite cuisine and I always like to ask foodies where they go for their favorites. I Sodi was one that kept coming up time and time again. I couldn’t figure out what was so special? Simple Italian dishes with few ingredients and very straightforward menu items like fresh bread, fried artichokes, and lasagna. After a visit to see for myself, it was clear why New Yorker’s kept raving about this place. Here you won’t find over played flavors all competing to be something revolutionary. What you will find are delightful combinations of fresh ingredients, classic to the point menu items, and an explosion of flavors. Even the decor is to the point and crisp lending a pleasant atmosphere to the restaurants biggest star, the food.

 

Spaghetti Incident

231 Eldridge St
Lower East Side

 

To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and have a meal at Spaghetti Incident. I have, however, gone to experience what they’re Insta-famous for…the take out spaghetti! It’s served up nice and hot in a big cone. GENIUS! The pastas, are rich, creamy, and the flavors are delicious. Simple pasta comfort dishes like pesto, pomodoro, and carbonara. It’s cash only but these prices are worth trading paper for. Perfect for grabbing and walking around the streets or to the park. Talk about ambiance!

 

Palma

28 Cornelia St
West Village

 

Another West Village gem, this little Italian restaurant is what Instagram dreams are made of! After walking through the entryway, which I would describe as a picturesque rustic italian kitchen, past the bar you’ll enter a beautiful courtyard. With gorgeous tiles, plenty of greenery, flowers, and a retractable rooftop this place is like an escape. So you already know summers at Palma are a warm weather must! And the food? Delicious Italian classic just the way grandma used to make it. I’d recommend the Ravioli’s with a side of broccoli rabe. Caio Bella!

 

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Happy Italian Heritage Month,

Riss

 

 

 

Iceland on a Budget

The One with Fire and Ice

 

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…and they are not joking about that tag line. I rented a car on the last leg of my Iceland trip and on our drive from Vik to Reykjavik we experienced sun, hail, partly cloudy, rain, wind, everything within an hour! Which made driving through one car bridges, over mountains, through big snow storms quite challenging. I’m happy to report this was the only “hiccup” on this trip and for that I’m grateful.

 

On my first visit to Iceland, I went right after I moved back to NYC from Germany. Apparently, I couldn’t stay away from Europe for very long. I once bought a coffee table book called “Make the most of your time on earth,” which I highly recommend. In this book, one of the things they recommended was snorkeling with wild Orca whales in Norway. If you’ve been following along on my journey you know how much I love the ocean! If I wasn’t a writer, I would have went to school for marine biology.  So naturally, I put this as a top priority on my bucket list. I’ll do a separate post on Norway but when I knew I was traveling to Scandinavia again, first time was Sweden, I immediately thought of Iceland. It’s been a dream destination of mine for quite some time.

 

I remember hearing through the grapevine that Iceland Air was offering free layover stops, in Iceland, if you were flying to a neighboring European country. I believe they still have this deal so if you’re interested definitely check it. Of course, you know I am the cheap flight guru and I found a great deal through Wow air, $250 round trip from NYC. However, I decided to keep my plan the way it was for the best deal so I spent two days in Iceland, then flew to Norway for three days, then came back to Iceland for another 3 days. It wouldn’t be a vacation for me unless I took an obscene amount of flights to a remote, hard to reach destination halfway across the world.

 

If you’re thinking of planning a trip, you’ve probably heard by now that Iceland isn’t the cheapest place to travel to. The US dollar doesn’t stretch as far with the Icelandic króna. Of course, it’s still possible to visit this beautiful country on a budget. Here are some of my tips and recommendations. In addition, to everything you may need to know about beautiful Iceland.

When to Go

 

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The most popular times to visit Iceland are during the summer months from May to September. The sunlight is almost 24/7 as Iceland experiences it’s summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. I went in January during the Winter months, from November to April, where I experienced significantly less sunlight. It was snowy and much colder in the winter months but I personally don’t mind the cold. When packing, definitely bring snow appropriate attire. The summer month’s are warmer ranging around mid 50’s so layers and rain gear are a MUST.

 

If you’re trying to catch the Northern Lights, the best time to go is during the Winter months, however, you need complete visibility to see them aka no clouds. So it’s best to leave yourself at least two weeks to see them. Most people would recommend going to see them in September or March/April. Gray Line bus offers Northern Light tours that allow you the opportunity to re-book if you don’t see them the night of your scheduled tour so it’s a great question to ask before you commit.

 

Lastly, bringing important camera gear is crucial for capturing the Northern Lights. You won’t be able to capture a good picture on an iPhone so a DSLR camera is recommended. My best advice would be to get as far away from the city as you can. You need complete darkness with minimal light pollution. I’d also recommend bringing a tripod, although some tours provide them, and, most importantly, a shutter release for steady pictures. To capture the lights you’ll need to adjust your camera settings manually. Your ISO should be set to 800+ and your aperture should be set to the widest setting, between f/2.8 anf f/5.6 with a shutter speed between 15-30 seconds.

Getting There and Getting Around

 

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As a small island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, your only option to getting to Iceland is to fly. As I mentioned before, Icelandic Air runs a deal that allows you to book a long layover in Iceland at no additional cost. This a great option to explore the main city of Reykjavik and get a quick feel of this beautiful country. Although I’d highly recommend staying for a while and checking out the rest of the country. I ended up flying with Wow Air who offers great deals to Iceland.

 

From the airport we used the Gray Line bus from the airport to our hotel. We then booked our tour for the next two days through Gray Line buses. The first day we did the Golden Circle Express tour and the following day we took their bus to the Blue Lagoon. Tours are a great way to get around if you don’t want to drive yourself.  You can even find tours that schedule everything for you and include your own private driver.

 

Of course, if you’re looking to stretch your dollar, you could always rent a car. We did this on our second time back to Iceland. I booked through enterprise care rentals. Our car was fine and we drove during winter and although we had some crazy weather, we had no problems. I choose Enterprise because you don’t have to put a deposit down, which is not the norm for renting cars in foreign countries. We used to kayak to book, very simple. At the end of the day my best advice would be to choose the cheapest options with the best reviews.

 

Accommodations

 

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Wether traveling alone or just looking for a great budget option? Try staying at a hostel! Hostels are my go-to when visiting expensive cities. I stayed at the Reykjavik City HI Hostel just a few minutes away from the downtown area. I stayed in a four person mixed dorm, which I thought was perfect. The hostel was conveniently located in front of a public bus stop that you could take to get downtown, which was fairly easy to navigate. The staff was helpful, the rooms were clean, and the common room and breakfast was lovely. So I’d highly recommend this location. They even have a campsite in the back if you really want to rough it.

 

For my second portion of the trip, we rented a car from Reykjavik and drove down to Vik to see the black sand beaches. It’s a great hop off point on the southern coast to go see the glacier, the lagoon, and the beach. Of course, you could always do a day tour from Reykjavik as it’s only a few hours away. Vik is a popular destination and can get pricey during peak times. Even in Winter, a lot of accommodations were booked up and we ended up staying at the Puffin Hotel. Basic accommodations, great service, and great breakfast. We stayed in a two person private room which was lovely.

 

What to See

Iceland is a beautiful country with vast landscapes tha offer everything from stunning waterfalls to glaciers to volcanoes. Hence the popular coined term, “Land of fire and ice.” As I mentioned, I started my trip in Reykjavik. On our first day, we took the Golden Circle Gray Lines Express Tour. You can always rent a car and drive this yourself as well.

 

The Golden Circle

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The Golden circle tour we did consisted of three attractions: Thingvellir National Park, The Geysir, and the Gullfoss waterfall. The Thingvellir National Park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault. The landscapes are absolutely stunning! If you’re really brave you can even snorkel the Silfa, between the two tectonic plates. Dry suit anyone?

The Blue Lagoon

The next day we took another bus over to the infamous Blue Lagoon. The day we went to the Lagoon, it had been raining on and off, however, we didn’t mind since we were already in the water. The Blue Lagoon is a bit on the pricey side. There are tons of other spa’s and hot springs in the area if you’re looking for a more budget friendly option. To justify the bigger price tag, I decided to spend the entire day there to really get my moneys worth. This would be a great option in combination with the golden circle for a quick day or layover in Iceland. My number one tip would be to buy tickets in advance to get your desired entry time before it’s all booked up.

 

Vik, Reynisfjara Beach

Formed from volcanic rock, the black sand beach offers miles of dramatic coastlines as far as the eye can see. From staggering columns to volcanic sea caves, this beach is an adventurer travelers dream. In the summertime, you may even be able to spot a puffin or two. I went during the winter, so no puffins and definitely no sun. It actually snowed. First time I can say I’ve been to the beach while it’s snowing. Something to keep in mind, the water at this beach can be deceiving and quite rough. In the week I was in Iceland, someone had passed away because they got too close to water and unfortunately couldn’t recover. Look for signs regarding safety and always be respectful of mother nature.

 

Jökulsárlón  & Diamond Beach

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Also known as the Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. I could have sat there for hours listening to the sounds of glass breaking as one glacier collides with another. On the other side of the bridge, after the melting icebergs exit into the ocean, you’ll find remnants of shattered ice scattered all over this shoreline at diamond beach. Another notable mention, which comes highly recommended from friends, is the boat ride onto the lagoon. There you can get a up close and personal view of the lagoon and, if you’re lucky, you may even be able to spot a seal or two.

 

Vatnajökull Glacier

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Although home to several glaciers, the Vatnajökull glacier is not only the biggest glacier in Iceland, it’s the biggest in the world. From ice caves to ice hikes, this glacier offers everything. I did a tour with Glacier Guides  and had the best time! I did the half day glacier hike combined with an ice cave tour. You must go with a guide to hike the glacier as it’s extremely dangerous to go on your own.  You can even do a full seven hour extreme ice climb. I didn’t do this here but I did in Alaska and it’s a lot of fun. In the summertime, I’d also recommend a stop to the Fjaorargljufur Canyons for a great “non-ice” hike and stunning dramatic landscapes.

 

Waterfalls

Some of the best I’ve ever seen, Iceland is brimming with waterfalls as far as the eye can see. As I mentioned earlier, in the golden circle you can find the Gullfoss waterfall. The most famous one, would be the Skógafoss waterfall. In the summer, when the light reflects onto the fall it creates rainbows. You can even walk behind the waterfall and climb up to the top. Other notable waterfalls would include the Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, and Goðafoss.

 

Where to Eat

Although Iceland is not the cheapest country in the world it’s not difficult to find a decently priced meal. One of my favorite budget bites is the Icelandic hot dog, at the famous chain Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Doesn’t taste quite the same as the American hotdog, I actually think it’s better, and you can customize and choose your toppings. My second favorite meal was a Nordic classic, Icelandic Fish and Chips. Freshly caught fish with a flakey buttery crust and deep friend potatoes, yummy! Of course, if you do plan on indulging a bit, definitely check out the Grillmarket, try the trio of Reindeer. I had my first taste of Reindeer in Sweden and it’s delicious. It tastes like a cross between venison and veal, in my opinion. Highly recommend!

 

Any other suggestions or questions? Drop a comment below! Hope you enjoy as Iceland as much as I did!

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Happy traveling,

Riss

 

 

 

 

5 Labor Day Weekend Getaways in New York

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Labor Day is only a few weeks away! Start planning your weekend vacay with this article I wrote for CBS Local New York, 5 Labor Day Weekend Getaways in New York. My top three picks would be the Montauk Yacht Club, the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, and Hunter Mountain. I love long hike’s up to Hunter Mountain and nothing beats a nice relaxing beach day in Montauk. Not to mention a nice day on the boat, preferably wakeboarding, at the Chautauqua Lake. If you’re staying local and plan to throw your own party, I’ll do a post rounding up past LDW article’s that cover everything from food to entertainment. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to make the most of these last few weeks of summer. Clink the link below to check out the article I wrote.

 

5 Labor Day Weekend Getaways in New York

 

Happy traveling,

Riss

 

Kruger National Park On a Budget

Kruger National Park On a Budget

The One With the Canceled Flight…

 

Travel blogging isn’t always as glamorous as it appears on social media. Things go wrong ALL the time. I always say there’s no such thing as a perfect trip. Of course, I would consider myself an adventure traveler, meaning my vacations typically tend to have a greater margin for things that can go wrong. On this trip, not only did I book my ticket for the wrong day and have to change it last-minute thus paying a hefty fee (rookie move), but my flight was canceled due to snow storms. South African Airways, insert eye roll here, not only didn’t tell me my flight was cancelled but couldn’t fly me out till three days later.  My perfectly strategic plan, that took months to create, of a 5 day safari in Kruger National Park was diminished to a mere 8 hour visit. To add salt to the wound, our new flight getting into South Africa was delayed leaving Brittany, my travel buddy, and I with an 8 hour drive. An 8 hour drive that needed to be accomplished in 5 and a half. The gates located inside the park close at 6:00pm at Kruger. Fortunately, we were able to make it to our rest camp with 5 minutes to spare, thanks to my lead foot. We spent the night at Skukuza and did an amazing night Safari.  Although, to be honest, Brittany and I slept for most of it, we were so jet lagged. The next day we drove around the park searching for wildlife and let me tell you, mother nature did not disappoint! We saw almost everything on our safari bucket list. Although, no trips complete without a little stress! I had to film video content for Travel Zoo. I managed to film a few quick shots in an African bone graveyard museum, yes that’s a thing, a few minutes before we had to race back to the Johannesburg airport to catch a flight to Cape town. Which we almost missed because of traffic! Murphy’s law, right? Overall, our time at Kruger was incredible. The hardest part of planning this trip was tracking down all the information and figuring out how to plan your own self driven Safari. I combed through every article on the internet for months. Luckily, I love my readers and I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Kruger National Park below. You can also check out some more photos of my trip to South Africa on my Instagram, @citygirlriss.

 

When is the Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park?

 

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Generally, Kruger is a great place to visit year round. The winter months, from April to September, tend to be drier. The lack of vegetation during this time makes it easier to spot wildlife. Of course, we were there during a terrible drought so the grass was sparse and the animals were always close to the rivers considering it was the only water source. The South African summer months, from October to March, are wet and rainy supporting an abundance of vegetation meaning less chances to spot wildlife.  However, during the beginning of the summer months, the new babies arrive at the park. We saw a lot of babies, in March, including a special moment with a mommy zebra while she was feeding her calf. You can check out the San Park Average Temperature Charthere, for more specific temperature quotes. We went in March, during spring break, booked months in advance, and still, most of the accommodations were already sold out. So booking as early as possible is highly recommended.

 

How Long Should I Stay?

 

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The correct answer to this question is to do what makes your heart happy. I personally could have spent months exploring Kruger. It’s honestly so big! As I mentioned, my original plan was for five days. Although, I only ended up staying for one, I would say 3-5 days is sufficient if you plan to do day tours and self drive. If you plan to stay at a luxury lodge I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a few weeks more.

 

Getting There and Getting Around

 

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Rent a Car

After extensive research, the cheapest and most effective way to explore the park is to rent a car and do a safari on your own. We flew into Johannesburg, rented a car off of Kayak, picked it up at the airport and drove 4 hours to Kruger. Now its four hours to the lower section of Kruger, entering through the Malelane Gate. There are several gates throughout the park and they’re all a considerable distance apart. So it’s best to google how far it is from the airport to where your first nights accommodation will be.

 

From Malelane Gate to the Skukuza Gate is about another two hours. We spent our first night in Skukuza and had to book it from the airport to our rest camp. When we entered through the Malelane Gate, the guard gave us a suspicious look and said, “You know the gate closes at 6 and you have a two and a half hour drive and it’s 5 o’clock, RIGHT?” I replied, “Yes sir, I know,” and shrugged. Kruger has strict speed limits, and a “no getting out of the vehicle policy,” as well as strict open and close times. Failing to comply with these rules can result in hefty fines. You can read more about the park rules, here.

 

Fly and/or do a tour

The most popular option for Kruger is to fly into Skukuza Airport. Skukuza is located between the lower section of the park and the beginning of the central section. From there you can either rent a car and drive to a rest camp or arrange to be picked up by a lodge. Many lodges and game reserves offer tours and include daily Safaris. The benefit of having a guided tour by a park ranger is the expertise of knowing how and where to spot animals as well as a large elevated vehicle that makes spotting animals easier. The rest camps also offer day tours for an extra charge and offer a wide variety from day time safaris, sunset safari, bush walks, night safaris, etc. We did a  night safari from the Skukuza Rest Camp and had a great time. The park is closed to visitors at night, only a park ranger via guided tour can take you out. This is to protect the animals and limit wildlife interaction. We were lucky enough to see several animals on the night tour including a mother and baby white rhino, who are now considered an extinct species. Your other option is to stay at a lodge or private reserve where you can customize an itinerary/game drives through them. You can even do a few nights at a luxury lodge and then spend an extra few days doing a self driven tour and stay at a rest camp.

 

Getting In

 

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To get into Kruger National Park you have to pay a daily conservation and entrance fee. You can choose to either pay per day or opt for a yearly membership, the wild card. You can find prices by going to the Sans Park website. If your going to be there for 5 or more days the wild card might be a better option for you even if you’ll only be visiting this one time. You can purchase these online or at some of the gates.

 

The Lay of the Land

 

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Kruger is a massive park, broken up into three sections. The lower section is located in the South, from Crocodile Bridge to Skukuza, the central section, from Lower Sabine to Ollifants,  and the Northern Section, from Letaba to the border of Zimbabwe. The most popular area of the park is the lower section. Accommodations book up the fastest here. It’s the smallest section of the three but it has plenty of rivers and is great for seeing the “Big 5” if your time is limited. The central section is great for game viewing. Lions tend to hang in prides more in this area, I’m told. The Norther region is the largest of the three and is hailed to be a haven for birds. When planning your trip, it’s best to ask yourself what interests you the most, where your coming from, and how much time you have. From there, you can start to formulate a plan for your itinerary.

 

Accommodations

 

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There are many factors to consider when choosing the right  accommodations. For me, during my original plan, I chose to do a self driven safari and to stay at multiple camps. Throughout the park, there are several park run rest camps, think gated community. Every rest camp varies, but generally most offer options to either camp (bring your own tent), rent a safari tent (canvas tent bedrooms), huts (single room units), bungalow (single bedroom units with kitchen and private bathroom), cottage, family cottage, guest cottage, guest house, or luxury lodges. Accommodations are based on availability. The earlier you book the better. We stayed in a safari tent at Skukuza, which was perfect for a quick stay. Of course, you get what you pay for so I highly recommend doing some research to find what works best for you and your budget. You can check out the San Parks website for accommodation availability. Since we did a self guided tour, the original plan was to stay at a different rest camp every night. Keep in mind the distances between the camps when planning your rest camps. Kruger has a strict speed limit but you typically end up going below the limit to stop and view animals. In other words, the google map times can differ from the actual time it will take you to get from point A to B. You can plan and view accurate time tables by heading over to the parks website, here. Don’t forget, gates close as early as 5 o’clock depending on the season. Driving at night without a guided tour is prohibited.

 

My original plan for the five-day safari was to fly in, drive to the park, enter through the Malelane Gate, finishing the day at the Berg-en-Dal rest camp for the first night. The next day, we would travel to Lower Sabine and spend the next night there. Then, we planned to head all the way up to Ollifants, Satara would work well too, for some elephant and lion viewing. As I mentioned earlier, this is the only night we were able to stay, our final destination was Skukuza.

Your other option would be to stay at a Luxury Lodge or a private hunting game reserve in or outside to park. You could even combine the two and do both options, camp and lodge. I do this on trips sometimes when I really want to stay at a nice hotel for the experience but know I can’t afford to stay there the whole week.

 

Park Facilities

 

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The main rest camps typically all contain restaurants, shops, and gas stations. The best restaurant, in my opinion, were the Mugg & Bean chains, which feature a wide variety of options. You can find locations and menus, here. If you plan to camp, or want to make your own food, be sure to bring cutlery, plates, cookware, etc. All campsites and accommodations have barbeques.  Just be sure to lock up your food as the monkeys have built up a highly accurate reputation for theft. Many camps have swimming pools with the exception of the smaller satellite camps. They also typically don’t have restaurants or shops. You can find ATM’s at Skukuza and Letaba although almost everywhere we stopped took cards. You can only get WiFi at Skukuza and Berg en Dal. The camps themselves have decent 3G but no service between camps unless you have an international plan. All the rest camps have “sighting boards,” that use colored magnets to show where certain types of animals have been spotted. I was in a Whatt’s App group with “Latest sightings-Kruger,” that gave me live, updated, and accurate sightings. you can also check out their Facebook page, here. They have an app as well!

 

Hope this helps! Working on a master list of Safari Do’s and Don’ts. If you have any other suggestions or tips drop a comment below so that other travelers can stumble upon it too!

 

Happy Traveling,

City Girl Riss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Find Out What Vaccines You Need Before Vacation

I posted this “travel tip of the week” on my Insta stories but since this tip is an important one I thought it was worth mentioning on the blog. To be honest, this is the first time before a vacation I’ve gotten all my vaccines and shots. I usually just take my chances, however, since I’ll be traveling to Africa and malaria is very prevalent I decided to take my chances with the doctor this time. Unfortunately, this past week I caught a bad virus and the antibiotics would have made my current vaccines and medicines less effective so I had to let the virus pass on its own. So, that’s why I’ve been quiet on social media lately. After chatting with my doctor I found out before going to any country you should check the CDC website, Center Disease Control. From there, you can search your exact destination and the CDC will provide you with their recommendations for vaccines and medications. Some vaccines and medications need to be taken in advance so best to check the website first and book an appointment with your doctor as soon as your destination is picked. Some destinations might not require any vaccines, however, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. With that being said, travel insurance is always a good idea!

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Happy Traveling,

Riss

Swimming with Sharks in the Bahamas

The One With the Bloody Nose

Yup, you read that right! No better time to get a bloody nose than when you’re scuba diving with over 40 sharks. Earlier in the summer, I had two sinus infections as well as an ear infection. When you’re scuba diving and you descend deeper into the ocean, you have to equalize the pressure build up from your sinus cavities by popping your ears. Similar to what you experience when you descend on an airplane. The nosebleed was most likely caused by my left ear’s inability to equalize. Obviously, I made it through the experience in one piece but what I came away with was something far more valuable than just another log in my dive book. I finished my second dive, at Stuart Cove’s Dive, with a whole new outlook on a beautiful creature that once upon a time I feared to no end. When I think about it, in every shark movie I’ve ever seen, the tiniest scratch of blood will turn any shark into a cold-blooded killing machine. While it is true that some sharks have killed before, it may be possible that these massive creatures are just severely misunderstood.

So let’s look at some facts about the Carribean Reef Shark…

“While it is considered dangerous to humans, this shark does not have a history of attacks on humans.”

“Although laws ban the hunting or fishing of this species, the fishing industry in South America still finds these sharks in about 40% of their fish catch. While the catches are unintended, there has still been a drastic impact on the population and the population continues to dwindle.”

When we look at facts about sharks as a populous…

“The odds of getting attacked and killed by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067. In a lifetime, you are more likely to die from fireworks, lightning, drowning, a car accident, or heart disease.”

“There are 70 to 100 shark attacks worldwide every year, 5 to 15 result in death.”

“Over 100 million sharks are taken every year by humans. That is approximately 11,000 sharks killed every hour.”

In conclusion, these beautiful creatures are being hunted to the point of extinction. Without sharks, the ocean’s ecosystem will collapse. With no large predators to monitor the fish population, the ocean’s plankton will, in theory, go extinct as well. Scientists believe that phytoplankton is responsible for creating 50 to 85 percent of the world’s oxygen. These tiny ocean plants use photosynthesize – that is, they use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make food. A byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen. So for every other breath you take, you can thank these tiny ocean plants.

My hope is that by watching this video you’ll see just how majestic these creatures are and why they’re worthy of our protection. The dive master, Evan (who you can see feeding the sharks in the video), explains that not only do the sharks remember the boats that belong to Stuart’s Cove, but they also remember the dive masters. I witnessed one shark snuggle under his arm and sit on his lap waiting to be pet, just like a dog. The sharks are naturally inquisitive of you and their eyes will move and follow you, meaning they show signs of curiosity and intelligence.  You may even notice some of the sharks have scars and scratches from hooks used and left by fishing boats. I managed to get one close up of a shark who they’ve dubbed, “The Joker,” after the sides of his mouth were altered from embedded hooks. Once every few month’s, the dive masters will remove these hooks in their efforts to conserve and protect these species. I would rate my experience and satisfaction with Stuart Cove’s Dive a 10/10 and would highly recommend.

 

Thank you, Stuart Cove’s Dive!

Riss

5 Reasons to Summer in Alaska

5 Reasons to Summer in Alaska
Wondering where to plan your next summer vacation? Look no further than our very own 49th state, Alaska! I had the pleasure of visiting Alaska in June and completely fell in love with the lifestyle, history, and epic views. I’ll be writing up a 48-hour itinerary for Juneau, Alaska in a few weeks. In the meantime, check out this article I wrote for CBS on all the reasons why you should visit, here. Local tour guide and fellow travel blogger Matt Koller gave me an insiders guide to this incredible city as well as an exclusive interview.

5 Reasons to Visit Alaska in the Summer

Read the full interview I had with Matt Koller below:
Merissa Principe: What brought you to Alaska?
Matt Koller: This is probably the number one question I get working as a guide in Alaska–people always want to know what life is like here, and more importantly, why I chose to come! The answer is always “the same thing that brought you here”–a sense of adventure, and a desire to see one of the most storied, beautiful parts of our country. While I’ve decided to spend a summer here and most people visit for a day or two, the yearning to learn about the Last Frontier is the same thing that brought us all up here.
Merissa Principe: What was your preconceived notion of Alaska before you moved there? How has it changed since living there?
Matt Koller: I worked in Denali two summers ago, which is much further inland than Juneau. The interior maintains a rugged sense of individualism; the “homesteading” culture is alive and well in rural Alaska. I expected much of the same when moving to Juneau, but was pleasantly surprised to find a community of artists, naturalists, and entrepreneurs…there is much more of a balance between being “outsdoorsy” and traditional cultural pursuits than in the other parts of Alaska I’ve visited.
Merissa Principe: Why should more American’s visit Alaska?
Matt Koller: Alaska is known as the Last Frontier, and while many Alaskans who’ve lived here for their entire lives have certainly seen it become overly commercialized in the past 20-40 years, it still maintains a sense of wilderness not often found in the rest of the United States. Alaskans regularly deal with inclement weather, wild animals, and the inconveniences of being off-the-grid of the 21st-century commercial supply-chain, and think nothing of it. It’s part of the way of life here, which is why so many people love it. Americans would benefit from a taste of what our country was like a hundred years ago–removed from the conveniences of modern life.
MP: In your opinion, what makes summer’s so special there?
MK: Alaska is far north, and in the summer gets 18-24 hours of daylight (depending on where you find yourself in this enormous state.) After a long, dark winter, summer is the time to play–no matter what the weather is. People come out of hibernation, and engage in every outdoor activity you can think of, from sailing & kayaking to biking & mountain climbing, summer is a time to be active. Even if you don’t spend your winters here, the energy is infectious and compels you to do more with your day.
MP: What’s your favorite Alaskan made memory thus far?
MK: My favorite Alaskan memory would have to be seeing a pod of Killer Whales in the wild. The legend surrounding their intelligence and emotion makes them an animal that humans revere, and they’re far too well-known for their ability to perform tricks at SeaWorld. Finding a family off the coast of Juneau, in their natural habitat, was an overwhelming experience.
MP: Name one thing you love about being a tour guide…
MK: I love the opportunity to spend every day educating people about the world around them. I only have their attention for a few hours, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get them excited about looking, feeling, and smelling the earth. I’m not looking to change lives in an instant, but the opportunity to inspire them to learn more about the environment and how we interact with it is a special job to have.
MP: Where’s your next trip?
MK: I’m currently applying to be a vehicle operator at McMurdo Station in Antarctica–a job I’ve been describing as half-bellhop, half tour guide. So assuming everything goes as planned, my next trip will be exploring a continent few people have the chance to visit!
About Matt Koller

Matt Koller is a writer and photographer currently living in Juneau, Alaska. He enjoys crafting narrative nonfiction pieces and taking pictures of the world around him.

In his free time, you can find him skiing, hiking, road-tripping, socializing, travel-planning, or just reading a book at the beach.

You can read about his adventures on www.verse-america.com, and follow his journey on Instagram at mkolle01.

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Photo was taken on Northstar Trekking Glacier Hike by Merissa Principe
Happy Traveling,
City Girl Riss

Managing Your Money to Save for Travel

Managing Your Money to Save for Travel

This week’s, “Tip of the Week,” is a hack you can use to save money for your travel fund. When trying to set a budget for a vacation, you have to start with the basics. Ask yourself how much income you currently have coming in, how much you need to cover your bills and how much you’ll need for weekly expenses such as groceries or a night out. Of course, you could sit down and count every penny you’ve ever made, every dollar you’ve ever spent, and so on, but why go through all that work? Now, thanks to the ever-growing field of technology, I have an app that does all of my budgeting for me! I use the Mint app that tracks all of my accounts, categorizes my spending, allows me to set budgets for myself, and alerts me when I’ve gone over budget. It also has helpful tips and lets you know when you have upcoming credit card payments due. I’m not sponsored or affiliated with this app in any way, just sharing a useful tip to encourage you to start saving, start traveling, and living your best life!

Once upon a time, I used to do exactly that and it was a meticulous and daunting process. I would track down everything I spent and put it into categories, such as food and drink, transportation, entertainment, etc. Once I had all of my finances mapped out I would create a budget and experiment with where I could cut back on spending. Personally, I’m a big abuser of buying coffees at Starbucks instead of making it at home. I would spend $70-120 a week on coffee! Some weeks that was more than I’d spend on alcohol after a weekend with friends. For me, making a one-time investment in a good coffee machine and disciplining myself to make coffee at home saved me an extra 100 dollars a week that went directly to my travel fund. Within a few months, I had saved up 1,000 dollars for a vacation I scored a great deal on flights, stayed with a friend and stuck to places where I could get a decent meal for less with a little research. For you, you may not drink coffee, however, you can look for an area within your budget that has some flexibility. Do you have a high grocery bill? Research cheap meals to make and set a strict budget for yourself! Have a high cable bill? Look into canceling your cable for a few months and invest in Netflix or Hulu. Not using that gym membership you swore you would? Cancel it, and find workout apps or youtube videos to stay fit.

As for my coffee maker? I personally drink iced coffee so it’s hard to find at home solutions. Luckily, my parents are amazing and got me a Ninja coffee maker for my birthday! I highly recommend it! You can find more info about it, here.

 

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Happy Traveling,

City Girl Riss

 

Romantic Valentine’s Day Destinations

Romantic Valentine’s Day Destinations

During our daily lives of juggling busy schedules, work, and family we often forget to take time out just to appreciate that special person in our life. Use this Valentine’s Day to show someone just how special they are by going to a romantic destination that you both can enjoy. Check out this article I wrote for CBS about the most romantic destinations around the world, here.

Romantic Valentine’s Day Destinations

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day,

City Girl Riss

5 Scariest Haunted Houses in America

5 Scariest  Haunted Houses in America

 

Happy Halloween! With the final weekend of October approaching be sure to check out the  5 Scariest Haunted Houses in America. If you REALLY enjoy being scared be sure to stop by one of these haunted houses to get the full Halloween experience. Just make sure you can handle being touched, grouped, maybe even faux water boarded. The videos alone were enough to give me nightmares. Check out the article here.

5 Scariest Haunted Houses in America

Blackout

New York, Los Angeles

Adults 18+ Only

http://www.theblackoutexperience.com/

 

 

Dent Schoolhouse

Cincinnati Ohio

Parental Adivsory Explict Content

dentschoolhouse.ticketleap.com/2016-the-dent-schoolhouse/

 

 

Haunted Hoochie at Dead Achres

Pataskala, Ohio

Parental Adivsory Explict Content

deadacres.com

 

 

Freakling Bros: The Victim Experience

Las Vegas, Nevada

Adults 18 + only

Homepage

 

McKamey Manor

San Diego, California

Adults 21+ Only

http://www.mckameymanor.com/#!