Times Square, New York, NY

Times Square, New York, NY

Life has gotten even busier for me these days, with my hands in all sorts of work and personal projects, but I still make time to travel. However, I have less time and energy to write this travel blog. Thus, here’s a quick rundown of my recent trip to New England: one week mainly in New York City (with stays in New Jersey and brief stops in Connecticut) with my husband, plus a few days in Rhode Island with two girl friends from college. You can follow this itinerary to maximize your time sightseeing and to spend enough time relaxing.

Newark, NJ Riverwalk outside our hotel

Newark, NJ Riverwalk outside our hotel

A few words about the different places: Newark, NJ is rough at night, as we were told by the hotel front desk. New York City is one of the dirtiest, roughest big cities I’ve visited — anticlimactic, if you’ve been to some of the cleanest big cities in the world, like Hong Kong (equally crowded), Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei. Those East Asian cities are very modern too. Connecticut is beautiful, and we’d like to spend more time there in the future. Rhode Island is such a small state, you can get through much of the highlights in a few days, as we did, and you even drive through Massachusetts while going from Providence to Newport on the route we took to avoid tolls. We ran out of time for Rough Point, Bowen’s Wharf, Rose Island Lighthouse, Castle Hill Lighthouse, Gooseberry Beach and Ocean Drive, and plan to visit those on a future trip. Because of our limited time and itinerary, we weren’t always able to dine at the best restaurants but had to opt for the best among the most convenient location-wise. We did a lot of walking, which helped to burn the calories we consumed. We went in late-August/early-September, during the hottest days of the year, and those old Northeast cities don’t run their A/C as cool as we do in Texas!

Empire State Building from Top of the Rockefeller Center, Manhattan

Empire State Building from Top of the Rockefeller Center, Manhattan

Day 1

  • Friend’s wedding in Livingston, NJ (our original purpose for the trip)
  • Check into hotel on Newark, NJ Riverwalk and stroll along river
  • Walk to dinner at Chinatown (closest decent restaurant but not entirely authentic)
Day 2
  • Ride NJ Transit train to New York Penn Station (at 34th street)
  • Walk north on 7th Avenue, seeing Empire State Building, Good Morning America (ABC) studios, and other landmarks
  • See Times Square by day
  • Lunch at Nippori across from Gershwin Theatre (another Japanese restaurant Ippudo down the street had an hour-plus wait, which we didn’t have time for)
  • Watch Wicked on Broadway at Gershwin Theatre
  • Chelsea Market (basil honey ice cream at Ronnybrook Farm Dairy was divine; so many other quaint shops and cafes with interesting finds, like an all-Italian grocery store)
  • Dinner: homemade pasta at Giovanni Rana Pastifico & Cucina in Chelsea Market
  • See Late Show with David Letterman studios, among other attractions
  • Walk south on 7th avenue to see Times Square at night and stop into random stores
new World Trade Center tower, Lower Manhattan

new World Trade Center tower, Lower Manhattan

Day 3

  • Ride PATH train to World Trade Center complex including new tower, 9/11 Memorial
  • Walk along Wall Street (stopped into Tiffany & Co. store)
  • Lunch at Fresh Salt on Fulton Street at South Street Seaport
  • Ride Staten Island Ferry (free) to see Statue of Liberty; return trip from Staten Island terminal
  • SOHO shopping and afternoon coffee/tea
  • Little Italy
  • Chinatown: dinner at Great NY Noodletown (crowded, typical Hong Kong casual style)
Day 4
  • Carnegie Hall
  • Plaza Hotel (heavenly food court on bottom level, with classy food and drink establishments and beautiful bakeries)
  • Central Park pedicab tour (I bargained the driver and hawker down from $75 to $50/ride)
  • Tiffany & Co. flagship store on 5th Ave., Apple store, huge FAO Schwarz flagship store
  • Walk Upper East Side, Park Avenue, Madison Avenue
  • Dinner at Wu Liang Ye (very expensive Chinese restaurant but convenient to where we needed to go)
  • Watch live show of America’s Got Talent at Radio City Music Hall (super-exciting because we’ve been following this show this season) with Nick Cannon, Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, Mel B, and Heidi Klum
Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island

Day 5

  • Top of the Rock (spectacular views of New York skyline, including the iconic Empire State), Rockefeller Plaza
  • Lunch at famed The Halal Guys food truck
  • Shops at Rockefeller Center
  • Watch The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC) monologue rehearsal (He’s very funny and spontaneous in his impromptu moments. This was a nice, intimate treat with an approximately 50-member audience — smaller than the 250-member audience at his full show taping.)
  • Dinner at Pearl & Ash (top-10 New York City restaurant, as rated by a New York Times article)
  • Walk to West Village
  • Gelato at Grom (insanely expensive gelato but good)
  • Watch our friend Miguel Ali’s (we’ve always known him as Muhammad Ali Hasan) movie Confessions of a Womanizer at Courthouse Theater at Anthology Film Archives
  • Late-night snack at a diner with Ali and a friend of his

“America’s Got Talent” at Radio City Music Hall

Day 6

  • Check out of hotel
  • Drive by United Nations Building (braved crazy Manhattan vehicle and pedestrian traffic)
  • Drive through Brooklyn, NY
  • Coney Island Boardwalk (and ice cream, of course)
  • Drive through Queens, NY
  • Dinner at The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood in Rowayton, CT (dreamy coastal, waterfront restaurant in one of America’s 10 happiest coastal towns, as rated by Coastal Living magazine — I made it a point to visit the upper-crust town when I read the article)
  • Drive through New Haven, CT and see Yale University
  • Spend the night in Providence, RI
marina in Rowayton, CT

marina in Rowayton, CT

Day 7

  • See my husband off at airport, meet up with my two long-time girl friends in Providence
  • Lunch at Sandwich Junction
  • Explore downtown and surrounding areas, including Capitol building and complex, Westminster Street (eclectic shopping), Prospect Terrace Park including statue of Providence founder Roger Williams
  • Walk through Federal Hill and dinner at historic Angelo’s, dessert from Scialo Bros. Bakery

Day 8

  • Waterplace Park (where Waterfire happens) and Riverwalk
  • College Hill including Thayer Street (funky vintage shops and cafes), Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design
  • Lunch at Kabob and Curry (not spicy at all, so not truly authentic)
  • Benefit Street
  • Independence Trail, including First Baptist Church (literally, the first Baptist church in America)
  • Fox Point, India Point Park
Prospect Terrace Park in Providence, RI

Prospect Terrace Park in Providence, RI

Day 9

  • Drive to Newport, RI
  • Breathtakingly scenic Cliff Walk, with views of ocean and sprawling mansions including The Breakers (Vanderbilt mansion), Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, and more
  • Lunch at Easton’s on the beach (we got covered in red algae from the severe blooms in the water and on the beach)
  • Bellevue Avenue (shops, mansions)
  • Historic waterfront Thames Street (shops, restaurants) in downtown Newport
  • Dinner at Broadway Bistro back in Providence

Day 10

  • Shop at Providence Place Mall
  • Fly back home
Cliff Walk, Newport, RI

Cliff Walk, Newport, RI

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Canada

I just returned from a 2-week trip to visit relatives in different parts of Ontario, Canada and to take a side trip into the province of Quebec. My husband and I got to experience Canada’s Independence Day on July 1, before returning to the U.S. on July 4 to celebrate our Independence Day. I’ve been to Canada several times over the years, mainly to visit relatives and sightsee. Below are my suggestions for where to go and what to see in the cities I’ve visited, based on my experiences. And in the spirit of writing about Canada, I’ll even touch on Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia, where I’ve traveled in the past.

Ontario

view of Niagara Falls from Maid of the Mist boat

view of Niagara Falls from Maid of the Mist boat

Ridgeway – Fort Erie – Niagara Falls
Flying into Buffalo, NY, renting a car, and driving across the border turned out to be the most cost-effective way for us to enter Canada. Sometimes the line can be long at the border checkpoint, but we lucked out and got behind only a few cars on the way to Canada and on the way back. We spent the first night with my uncle at his self-built country house in Ridgeway and did a driving tour of Fort Erie.

Dinner was at The Keg, a steakhouse overlooking Niagara Falls. The view of Horseshoe Falls (the larger falls on the Canada side) was incredible and surreal. A closer view is a must from the railing on the ground overlooking Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and the smaller Bridal Veil Falls. For an even closer encounter, take a cruise on the Maid of the Mist, a boat that takes you right up to all three falls, where passengers on the deck get soaked by the mighty mist of the roaring water falls. The souvenir poncho provided by the boat company doesn’t cover every inch of your body, leaving your face and lower legs and feet exposed. Gift shops, an ice cream shop, and Table Rock House also kept us entertained on shore.

Hamilton

view of Hamilton and Lake Ontario from Sam Lawrence Park

view of Hamilton and Lake Ontario from Sam Lawrence Park

Visiting the former house of my late maternal grandmother, the home of one of my aunts, and my late uncle’s alma mater McMaster University were part of our itinerary in Hamilton, a small city of industry and beautiful views. For scenic nature excursions, visit the escarpment at Sam Lawrence Park, which overlooks Lake Ontario and the city of Burlington across the water. Also take a stroll through King’s Forest to see Albion Falls. Lunch at Williams Fresh Cafe comes with outdoor seating overlooking the lake and marina.

Toronto
One of my cousins and his adorable daughter played host to us in Canada’s most populous city. Toronto boasts a seemingly endless array of restaurants, shops, and other businesses on almost every downtown street. From Little Italy to Chinatowns (yes, plural) to Koreatown to Little Tibet to Greektown, you can travel the culinary world and pick up accessories, clothing, and home decor along the way. Enjoy dim sum at Casa Imperial, a Chinese restaurant in a Victorian-style mansion, where the waitresses dress in French maid outfits. For a view from above, dine at CN Tower‘s revolving restaurant.

Eaton Centre, a downtown mall now famous for a recent deadly shooting, is also known for its global-cuisine food court in the basement of the multi-level shoppers’ paradise. For a multi-cultural culinary tour, try Moroccan stew with tofu and black & brown rice, Thai green curry beef, and a Mediterranean salad plate. Head upstairs for an Orange Julius or bubble tea drink.

From Eaton Centre, you can head into The Path, an underground world of tunnels connecting more restaurants, shops, and businesses like hotels and office buildings throughout a large area of downtown. We also took the subway and walked for hours around the city, seeing diverse neighborhoods, from Queen West to Queen West West West, up and down Bloor Street, through the colorful “Gay Ghetto,” and many kilometers in between. Conveniently located bike rentals peppered throughout downtown are an affordable alternative mode of transportation.

For a break from the hustle and bustle, step into the serene greenhouse of Allan Conservatory, admire the grand and varied architecture on the campus of University of Toronto, or learn some new things inside the Ontario Science Centre.

Mississauga – Scarborough – Markham

Moira River, Belleville

Moira River, Belleville

Some of the best Chinese food can be found in these cities surrounding Toronto. Tasty Cantonese fare abound in Mississauga and Scarborough. Feast on dumplings and xiao long bao at the famous Ding Tai Fung in Markham. Get lost in Pacific Mall, also in Markham, where you can find an extensive food court and shops selling everything from music and qi pao to toys and teas. It’s where I found (and bargained) my Chinese-style gown for my wedding reception several years ago. Our visit coincided with the weekend-long Taste of Asia food, vendor, and performing arts festival. Stinky tofu, lamb skewers, and spicy, cold noodles were some of my favorites.

Belleville
Another of my cousins and cousin-in-law live in the charming city of Belleville, which is on the way from Toronto to Kingston. The Moira River runs through quiet neighborhoods and downtown. We enjoyed dinner at a Thai restaurant and an evening stroll by old houses with unique architecture.

near Fort Henry, Kingston, Ontario

near Fort Henry, Kingston, Ontario

Kingston

A picturesque college town on Lake Ontario, Kingston is home to Queen’s University, where one of my husband’s cousins works and attends graduate school. The Princess Street area is a shopper and diner’s heaven, with gourmet pizzas of unique flavors at Woodenheads and homemade chocolate maple ice cream. Step back in time at Fort Henry, a commanding limestone fortification used after the War of 1812 by the British to protect Canada against an American invasion. Now it’s a tourist attraction with a 10,000-sq. ft., interactive Discovery Centre and a sunset closing ceremony complete with a canon firing, lowering of the flag, and soldiers’ marching in formation. You can walk through the rooms of the 2-level fort to see where the soldiers slept, ate, and trained. Items from that era, including weapons and uniforms, are on display.

Ottawa
Canada’s capital city has both modern structures and old buildings that tell the story of the country’s history. The Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are open for tours, but inside tours are hard to come by, especially during peak holiday weekends, when tours are quickly booked by groups. Still, you can see Parliament Hill from just about every angle — by walking its grounds or cruising the adjacent Ottawa River on Paul’s Boat Lines. Choose the departure from Hull Dock at Jacques Cartier Park to get a longer cruise for the same price. The narrated boat tour also takes you by the statue of explorer Samuel de Champlain holding an astrolabe upside down (the artist’s mistake), Museum of Civilization (where you can spend hours viewing all the different sections which could each stand alone as a single museum – art, religion, children, postal, famous Canadians, settlers), Justice and Confederation Buildings, National Gallery of Canada, Supreme Court of Canada, Royal Canadian Mint, Residence of the Prime Minister, Rideau Falls, Rockcliffe Park, several embassies (including American, Japanese), and the famous Chateau Laurier hotel (a popular wedding venue because of its ornate design).

water display on Canada Day at Parliament, Ottawa, Ontario

water display on Canada Day at Parliament, Ottawa, Ontario

The Alexandria Bridge takes vehicles and pedestrians between Ottawa and the Quebec province. It’s an easy route to take to experience Canada Day (July 1) from both sides. Food and souvenir vendors, face painters, street artists, and buskers performing different acts and stunts line the streets and lawns. Parliament turns into a backdrop for a concert stage by day and fireworks show by night. This year a powerful marketing campaign debuted on bodies of water in several Canadian cities, Ottawa included. An image of the Canadian flag shone almost eerily above the Ottawa River on a fountain spraying up from the water in a 3D/holographic show. The effect was like a spotlight projecting the image onto rapidly moving water (as pictured). After the 10 p.m. fireworks show with no music, the crowd sitting on the hill outside the Museum of Civilization suddenly heard intense music and the rumbling of a car zooming around a lighthouse projected onto the same water fountain that previously showed the Canadian flag. The car appeared to be driving on water and plunging freely into and out of the water. The captivating motion picture ended with a reveal that it was the 2013 Nissan Altima. I don’t think any of us spectators will ever forget that commercial.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Ontario

Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Ontario

Walk through downtown Ottawa, bike along scenic Rideau Canal, and rent a canoe, paddleboat, or kayak at Gatineau Park. Find locally grown produce, buy an Obama cookie (made famous when the U.S. President bought one at the bakery Le Moulin de Provence), and have a meal indoors or out, all in the busy Byward Market. Explore the East End, one of North America’s biggest Ikea stores in the Kanata area, and Chinatown and Little Italy. Come back in the winter to skate an iced-over Rideau Canal and try the Nordik Spa (which will relax and freeze you all in the same day).

Don’t leave Canada without trying the iced cappuccino at Tim Horton’s or poutine (french fries with gravy).

Quebec

Montreal

architecture in Montreal

architecture in Montreal

You’ll feel like you’ve entered another country when you arrive in Montreal, a few hours’ drive from Ottawa and where French is the dominant written and spoken language. It’s good I’m multilingual, can figure out new languages quickly, sang French operas, and danced ballet (all steps are spoken in French). The subway can get you around the city, but it’s old and slightly trashed. The streets are a bit tattered and dirty, making this one of our least favorite cities. But we enjoyed crepes and shopping the French boutiques along St. Denis, St. Laurent, St. Catherine streets near the center of town. Chinatown — with wide streets for pedestrians only and inviting bakeries, cafes, and retail stores — is definitely worth a visit. There were as many non-Asians as there were Asians wandering through its blocks.

British Columbia

Vancouver – Victoria
Some people say Vancouver has the best Chinese (specifically, Cantonese) food in the world, even surpassing Hong Kong. I’m sure some folks in my parents’ Eastern homeland would argue with that, but either way, you can bank on satisfying your taste buds on this side of the world. I have an aunt and more cousins in this Western Canadian city.

I went to British Columbia in 2000, sailing to Victoria Island, seeing The Empress Hotel, Queen Victoria statue, and Royal British Columbia Museum. The most beautiful part of the trip was spending time in Butchart Gardens, with colorful flowers of every kind. Afternoon tea made the day even more delectable.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island took us by water to Vancouver, where we rode a gondola up the mountain at Whistler/Blackcomb Resort and watched skiers go by.

Whistler Blackcomb, Vancouver, B.C.

Whistler Blackcomb, Vancouver, B.C.

Overall, Canada is a laid-back country, where people are friendly and take it easy. I was very pleasantly surprised that on Canada Day, despite the crowds, no one was pushing, shoving, or jockeying for a good position to view the festivities. In certain other countries I’ve been, people rush to try to get ahead or even cut in line. For a relaxing, low-key vacation, Canada is a good destination.

Boston

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

Boston

Boston

Boston was the site of the 2009 Asian American Journalists Association Convention, so I was there in August with my husband and mom in tow for some sightseeing as well. We stayed at the waterfront Seaport Hotel at the World Trade Center, where the convention was held.

History all around you
The neat thing that sets Boston apart from most other American cities is the sheer amount of history you can see and touch all around you. So many significant events happened there that shaped this country. So that’s the positive side of an old city. The negative side is that many building facades are worn and ugly, and the subways are creepy and depressing. But overall, the greater Boston area was quite charming and scenic.

Boston Harbor near downtown

Boston Harbor near downtown

Seafood
I was unimpressed by the seafood I ate, even though it was at popular joints recommended by locals. It’s no better than fresh seafood I’ve had elsewhere, including my hometown of Houston, which sits near the Gulf Coast. Alaska’s fish is still the best I’ve ever had.

Chinatown
Boston’s Chinatown is similar to Chicago’s in that it’s old and it’s a walking Chinatown. Several blocks shoot off the main street, and you can walk the sidewalks to get to restaurants, bakeries, and other stores. Residential units sit above the ground-floor storefronts. It’s unlike Houston’s or Los Angeles’ more modern, sprawling Chinatowns that are best traveled by car to each shopping center. Like other Chinatowns, Boston’s boasts good food at dirt-cheap prices. An 80-cent slice of cake, anyone? You’ll find it at Great Taste Bakery & Restaurant. We also ate at Gourmet Dumpling House — a popular, crowded eatery open late at night.

Boston Common

Boston Common

MUST-SEES

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

1. Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail encompasses most of Boston’s famous historic sites. Boston Common is believed to be America’s first public park, and it’s a scenic one. From there, you can cross the street to see the Massachusetts State House with a gold dome (made of real gold). Then you pass historic churches and meeting houses along the trail, which is delineated by a continuous thin strip of red brick on the ground. It’s especially chilling to go past the site of the Boston Massacre. On a more positive note, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a fun shopping and dining complex, which includes Quincy Market. But again, like almost everything else in Boston, it’s got that old-world charm. Freedom Trail wraps up with the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), Charlestown Navy Yard, and Bunker Hill Monument.
2. Harvard University & Harvard Square in Cambridge. People definitely look intelligent on the campus of America’s top-ranked Ivy League school, Harvard. The campus itself looks as old as it is. Minus the passed-out drunks on outdoor benches, Harvard Square is a delightful nearby shopping district of cafes and boutiques. I had the best salmon sandwich at Crema Cafe.

Harvard Square

Harvard Square

3. MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It looked like one: very institutional and geeky. (I can say that because I went to a brainy university myself, but Rice has beautiful Mediterranean architecture. MIT looks like the rest of Boston: old and a little depressing. Sorry, I like contemporary style!)
4. Boston Harbor. Waterfront dining and shopping opportunities are abundant, as well as just places to sit and enjoy the view of sailboats on the famed Boston Harbor.
5. Beacon Hill. A charming, wealthy neighborhood where gaslights line the street and stay lit all day and night, Beacon Hill has been home to famous figures both historical and current. Even the 7-Eleven is classy.
6. Newbury Street, Back Bay, Copley Place, The Shops at Prudential Center. All are a shopper’s heaven. Newbury Street is like the Rodeo Drive of Boston. Filene’s Basement, which is famous for its annual Running of the Brides, during which brides-to-be rush into the store to grab deeply discounted bridal gowns, is a bargain-hunter’s paradise for everyday items you’d find in a department store. Back Bay and Copley Place are also nice shopping destinations not far from Newbury Street. And Prudential Center is an office building with a floor of department stores, restaurants, shops, and a food court — just like a mall.

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

We took the Boston Duck Tours to see most of the main attractions. The tour guide took us around the Boston area in a World War II amphibious landing vehicle that starts on land, then drives into the Charles River and functions much like a boat for us to see the city from the water.

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River