How to get to XiTang from Shanghai?

XiTang, an ancient water town in Zhejiang Province, is a charming canal town that is perfect to spent a day strolling down narrow streets and crossing thousand year old bridges. XiTang is located in Jiaxing City, 2 hours away from Shanghai and there are many tours operators that offer 1/2 and whole day tours to visit this amazing place. Ranging from $110-$150 per person these private tours will take you to a journey back in time to explore canals, bridges and ancient architecture of "Venice of the East". 

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However, for more adventurous and budget travelers there is a way to explore this amazing place all on your own. Xitang is located in Zhejiang Province and the best and most interesting way to get there is by high-speed train and bus. 

The main train station is Shanghai Hongqiao Railroad Station located on Subway lines 2 (green) and 10 (purple). The subway ticket to Hongqiao Station is usually 4CNY from Shanghai downtown, and ticket can be purchased from many automated ticket dispensers.

As soon as you exit the subway, go to the ticket booth on the same level and purchase the high-speed train ticket for Jiashannan Station 嘉善南站 (G trains). The cost is 29.5CNY one way, and the trains are very frequent. Make sure you have your passport with you as they will not issue the ticket without and photo ID. Also, they will not accept major Credit Cards so have enough cash to buy the ticket. TIP: it's highly advisable to have the final destination written in Chinese characters. (Jiashan South Station - 嘉善南站) It helps!!!

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Once you buy the train ticket, it will take you 15min to get to the actual platform from where the trains are departing. This is a giant train station with 30 train platforms with A and B entrances. A entrance is for cars 1-8 and B entrance is for cars 9-15. Display above will announce the current train boarding so no need to wait in line till your train is on top of the list. There are few Tourist Info booths located at the terminal, where you can some info regarding the trains. 

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The train ride is about 25 min and the first stop is Jiashannan (Jiashannan South Station) from where you will take the shuttle bus to XiTang Water Town. Once you exit the train terminal, walk right, al the way to the bus station from where you will take 30 min shuttle ride (with XiTnag pics on it). For 8CNY per person this shuttle will take you directly to the XiTang Entrance. 

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The Entrance to XiTang is 100CNY cash. Make sure you have cash as no VISA/MasterCard/AMEX cards are accepted at the ticket booth. It's very difficult to exchange foreign currency at local banks due to a local laws. 

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Top 10 Things To Do in DC

The capital of the United States of America has everything a traveler can ask for. Not only does it have great monuments and free museums, but there are so many activities one can do here. Whether you are coming from outside DC, or if you need to go from U Street to Dupont, your best mode of transportation is...the Metro! If you are not in the hurry please avoid the rush hour, and don't forget to walk up/down the escalators on your left, and stand on your right. There is nothing more the locals hate than tourists who block the escalators by standing on the left side. 

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Washington DC is a great city, I see it like New York but less chaotic in a sense. You can come here in the winter, spring, summer or even fall, and it will still be just as good. 

1. The White House- Obviously, this should be the first thing you do when you come to DC. The White House is truly magical, and it's exciting knowing that the president might be inside watching some TV. Although, you can't really get a closeup from the outside as each year the barrier seems to expand. Still if you submit the tour request  through your member of Congress,  you can visit the inside the White House itself!

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2. The Capitol-  It is a bit of a walk from the White House, but the Capitol is yet another iconic part of Washington DC. General negative attitude to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle makes the Capitol mainly good for memorable photo shoots.

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3. National Gallery of Art- all museums are free, which is awesome because when we were in New York we were quite confused why the MOMA cost money.  This is our favorite art museum because of the wonderful selection of Impressionists paintings. The exterior of the National Gallery is pretty cool too if you like to take pictures like me:)

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4. Washington Monument- This probably should've been listed as 3, but honestly, once you walk onto the National Mall, you have both the Capitol and the Monument in sight, and all the museums are right there. Also perfect for pictures. One of the best views/pictures opportunities is from the magnificent World War II Memorial. 

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5. Paddle boating in the Tidal Basin- this is a must when in DC. If you don't want to walk all the way to Jefferson Memorial, you can just see it from the boat. There are plenty of boats, an one hour rental is perfect. My friend and I were stuck paddling while my mom set in the back and kept instructing us and telling us we were going the wrong way. But hey, it was a great leg workout! 

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6. Go to a coffee shop- There are so many coffee shops here, and when it's winter in DC, all we do is enter one and get a latte and then walk a few more blocks to the next one. We usually go to Paul's because they have the best coffee and great pastries. 

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7. National Portrait Gallery of Art - This gallery is our go-to place when we don't know what we want to do. There is always some new exhibit,  has so many interesting portraits and sculptures, so we consider this a must visit place. Plus it is far from all other museums on the mall, but it is still free, and is near all the restaurants and coffee shops. And it closes very late, at 7pm, so you finish your cultural adventure here before going to dinner. 

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8. Walk around Georgetown- Georgetown is part of D.C. that is not too metro friendly, so it is not as easy to get here. But when the weather is nice it is a nice walk from Foggy Bottom metro station, or you can drive or take a taxi or uber. It's filled with so many cute cafes, restaurants and boutiques, and there isn't a lot of walking involved. For me Georgetown is window-shopping, taking pictures and ice cream. 

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9. Library of Congress- for the library of Congress you have to buy tickets, but it is totally worth it. We took a free tour and learned so much. We were absolutely stunned by the detail and carvings that are there, and of course loved the Gutenberg Bible.

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10. Botanical Garden- last but not least, the Botanical Garden. This garden is right next to the capitol, so when you are there you can just stop by for a quick peak. I'm a plant lover, so I was immediately in love with the Botanical Gardens, and try to visit them on my travels too. It is a great break from all the building/museum sight-seeing.  

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Skiing at Liberty Mountain Resort

After 5 years, I was finally able to find the time (and the motivation) to go skiing again. I went up to Liberty Mountain Resort with a couple friends and they all snowboard, except me. 

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I decided to take the Learn to Ski Package, since my ability was pretty limited. This package gives you a lesson in skiing, gives access to two lifts and two slopes, and allows you to rent their equipment if you don't have any, all for $108. 

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After the lesson, I slowly remembered how to ski and I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Soon enough I was bored with the only two slopes, so I decided to pay another $22 to get access to the third lift that had access to 4 more slopes.

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I only went on the green ones, but my friends decided to go on a blue one, which simply glanced at and immediately said no. I wasn't that skilled. I decided to share one of my rougher moments while skiing, because it's quite amusing, and just to show even though I was able to crash into the net, I still had an amazing time! 

Sunsets at the Burj Al Arab

After debating where we should go to get some sunset shots in Dubai, we decided on going to  the Jumeirah Public Beach, since we went there the day before during the day time. 

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We were here for a while, and went towards the end of the beach to climb on some rocks, so we can get a full picture by the beach. We sang, danced, and even ran knee deep int the water. It was so carefree and peaceful, because there weren't too many people at the beach. 

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I really wish we had some blankets so we could've had a picnic! Definitely on my bucket list for next time:)

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Dubai - November 2017 Trip Schedule

Logistics:  Accommodation through AirBnB near Mall of Emirates, can highly recommend Antoun as the host.  Visa: Issued at airport - no fee, passport min 6 months valid. Transportation through SIXT Car rental. Driving is not complicated in Dubai if you set aside enough time to get lost. Still better than taking taxi/metro everywhere, plus is great for a day trip to Abu Dhabi. There is plenty of parking, usually free.         

Day 1

Drive to Dubai Mall. Leave enough time to get lost. Parking is free of charge at Section M of Level 1 inside of the Cinema car parking garage at the lower ground level of the Dubai Mall and you can leave your car there all day. 

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Burj Al Khalifa (price: $37 per ticket). Best deal we found was through the
official site.   We reserved the 9:30am slot, and would highly recommend not getting there later than this.  All the research we did, including speaking to those who live there said that there was no need to pay significantly higher price  ($100 more per person) to go to the 148th floor. Going up to the 125th floor is really enough and the view is awesome. The trick is to come as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

Spice Souk and Gold Souk and the Boat Ride - We took a taxi from Dubai Mall to the Textile Souk (app. $25 per car). Then we took the little boat (abra) from Dubai Old Souk Marine Transport Station across the Dubai Creek (1 durham, best deal ever). The souk is something everyone should experience, even though you don't have anything on your shopping list.

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On your way back across the creek you will see a wonderful restaurant on water- Bait Al Wakeel – we had lunch there and enjoyed excellent food and looking at all the abras that go back and forth. 

Afternoon was reserved for a short visit to the Dubai Museum Fahidi Fort (Hours 9:00-16:30; Tickets 3 Dirham). This small museum gives you a glimpse of Dubai's history and how people used to live in these harsh desert conditions- one hour here is enough. 

To go back to the Dubai Mall to get our car and watch the sunset and the water show, we rode the  Dubai Metro. Nearest metro station to Dubai Museum is the Al Fahidi Metro Station an when there you an ask for directions.  We ended our first day with the beautiful sunset in front of Burj Khalifa at the Square Al Bahar and the Water Fountain Show which starts at 6pm. It is not Bellagio in Las Vegas, but it is still nice. 

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DAY 2
Get up early for the Burj Al Arab Photo Shoot at the Umm Suqeim Public Beach. It was still warm enough to swim at the end of November so we didn't spend our morning just striking poses. 

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After some beach time, we went to see Madinat Jumeirah. This is a hotel resort open to public which is built in style of old Arabian towns. There is a souk (bazar), restaurants, and wonderful view of the Burj Al Arab. Great place to grab lunch with friends. There is also parking for 10 dirham at the garage.  As you enter the garage, there is a ramp on your left that takes you to the lower level, so don't worry if you don't find the spot right away on the upper level. 

In the late afternoon we did the inevitable  Desert Safari with the Desert Safari Luxury Tour - The tour was app. $22 per person through Groupon and communication about where to meet is best done through WhatsApp. The tour includes  Dune Bashing; Camel Ride if time permits (pay extra); time for Sunset Photo Shoot in Desert ; and Dinner & Show. You can also pay extra to smoke Houka (akaNargila or Sheesha)- for app. $14 they will bring it to your table. By the time we made it back to our apartment it was already almost 10pm. 

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DAY 3 (Abu Dhabi Day)

One of the perks of renting a car is being able to drive where you want, when you want and visit to Abu Dhabi becomes easy to organize. We started our day with a visit to the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (guided tours at 10a,11a, 2p, 5p,7p). Address is Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, 5th St, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirate. Plenty Free Parking. They will give you something to cover yourself. It is closed on Friday mornings for tourists so plan accordingly. 

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We tried to get to the Emirates Palace (West End Corniche, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates +971 2 690 9000), the fancy hotel with ATM where you can buy Gold, but someone in our group (not to be named, but the only guy), was wearing shorts, and they will not let you in the hotel compound if dressed inappropriately, which cargo shorts apparently is. 

So, instead, we went straight to the Louvre Abu Dhabi Buy the tickets (app. $20 per person) online to avoid the long queues. This is an amazing museum not to be missed. It gives a great overview of the history of various civilizations, and nicely compares East and West historic and artistic development through history.

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DAY 4
Leave early for the Miracle Garden which opens at 9am. The address is Al Barsha South 3, Barsha,Dubailand Area, +971 4 422 8902. Tickets are 40 dirhams ($11), no need to buy onlilne if you come early. Free Parking. The best photo shoot location in the city, so dress romantically. 

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Afterwards we went to Dubai Marina. Parking was a little tricky, at the end we found affordable parking at JBR Murjan GreenParking for app. $3 per hour.  We rode the Ferry Ride to the Atlantis and back. This was least impressive part of our trip. What was nice was grabbing drinks at sunset at the Pier 7 . There is a restaurant/bar on each floor, but for afternoon drinks the only place open that early was the Cargo Restaurant. Wonderfully relaxing. 

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The last thing we did in Dubai before heading to the airport around 11pm was visit the Mall of Emirates (parking is free) so that we can see the famous skiing in middle of the desert. We got dessert at the TGIF Restaurant (I know, I know, but the view is great), and watched through the window people skiing and snowboarding on the Ski Dubai slopes. Surreal. 

All in all, we loved the United Arab Emirates, and would love to go back for some more desert fun and some night life. This time around as we were waking up very early to avoid the crowds, we didn't really experience the famous Dubai party scene. Next time. 

Kyiv's Best Tasting Menu

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of our Kyiv visit was dining at restaurant Kanapa, one of many amazing restaurants from Dmytro Borysov's gastrofamily.  Kanapa is located on Andriyivskiy Descent and offers regular meals as well, not just tasting menus.

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We opted for the Tasting Set of the New Ukrainian Cuisine . They will not serve it unless all the ingredients are available, and they do warn you that it is a 3-hour long experience, with no substitutions allowed. Reservations are recommended. We chose the tasting menu with alcohol, which is app. $40 per person, as we really did not want to think about pairing food and drinks. Instead, we wanted to experience this the way the chef and the sommelier intended it to be tasted.And we were so right in letting them chose everything. It was truly one of the best gastronomical experiences we've ever had. 

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The meal started with with Carps in Sour Cream (carp mousse and oyster cream with fried dill and pike caviar on a crispy fish skin), followed by Ukrainian Oysters in three different sauces- the rose sauce was our favorite. This was accompanied by an excellent sparkling wine- Shabo Brut.

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Then came a Black Sea Rachky, with buckwheat chip and sturgeon caviar, accompanied by Tincture, a herb-based brandy which was, like most herb drinks, a little bitter.  

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Then we tried Root Plant with Pastille (beetroot with black currants, carrots with sea buckthorn, and parsnip with apple and goat cheese meringue)- our least favorite was the carrot one, but we generally loved this. Same as the next three dishes, it was paired with excellent Kolonist Chardonnay. 

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Next came the Jerusalem Artichokes, stuffed with sun-dried and fresh tomatoes with smoked sour cream. After this came our absolute favorite - Warm Cheese with Chokeberries and Apple. The cheese was fried with a torch which attracted many jealous looks from other patrons of the restaurant.  

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The last dish with Chardonnay, long gone in our case, was Pea Pate with ferment cabbage on a flex seed toast. Following the Pate, the next drink of choice was Nettle Beer, definitively not a favorite of mine, paired with Black Sea Mussels with sour apples jelly and celery puree. 

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After all that we had Berry Sorbet to clean our palette - the Sorbet was prepared from scratch using liquid nitrogen which was very effective and looked so mysterious, as if a potion was being made. It was served in an oyster shell. 

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Then came the real deal- Chicken Kyiv with egg. It was absolutely delicious and it went great with the chosen Pinot Noir of Prince Trubetskoy Winery. 

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We ended the meal with Conifer Cone, which is basically chocolate cookie that goes well with tea that was served, and Molozyvo with Ryazhenka, which is something like ice cream with poppy seed sponge cake. Very delicious, as was the Kolonist Port Wine 2007. 

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We started our dinner at 6pm, and  didn't realize that 3 hours have so quickly gone by- we finished well after 9pm. We would strongly recommend this tasting menu to all visitors- the food is excellent, and compared to the tasting menus in the States, this one is very affordable.

The evening will remain one of our favorite memories of Kyiv. 

10 Tips for Angkor Visit

  1. Have Enough Cash for Angkor Tickets- The Government of Cambodia recently took over ticket sales for the Angkor Archeological Park which is great news as there is no longer a need to come super early to avoid waiting in line for tickets . This resulted in a new ticket sale place with many counters, making this process fast and painless. The price has slightly increased- a one day pass to all Angkor temples is now $37, while the the most popular three-day pass is $62. There is one catch- it is CASH ONLY, they DO NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS. So a family of four interested in tree-day passes better have $248 cash on them when going to buy these tickets.
  2. Don't loose Angkor Tickets- You will need to show them all the time, every time you are entering a different temple over the course of your stay. Keep them handy, preferably in a bag or pocket not next to your body-- because of heat and humidity the tickets can become all wet if in a pocket next to your overheating body. 
  3. Angkor Visit - Take it Easy. If you are going during the hot and humid season, you should really pace yourself.  The heat and humidity will drain all energy out of you after few hours and you will stop caring what temple you are seeing.  You will need a driver and maybe a guide. Guide books provide a rather good explanation of what you are seeing, but you can also hire a guide, usually through a hotel, for app. $25-$30 per day. Whether you need a guide will depend on how interested you are in knowing the history of these temples. Our favorite must-see temples that we would like to see again one day are Bayon, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei, Ta Som and Preah Khan. You have to see Angkor Wat of course, as it is really fascinating, but there is no need to stay there too long.
  4. Tuk-Tuk or Private Car- Many people took tuk-tuks while others opted for a private car. If you are traveling alone, hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the whole day may be more cost effective ($15 per day). It will also depend on the time of year you are there and whether it is unbearably hot and humid, in which case we really recommend hiring a nice car with the air-conditioning ($40 per day). We organized our temple visit through the driver who picked us up from the airport - he took us around during our stay for $40 a day. You can go through the hotel as well, but then they may give you another driver. Our driver (Mr. Perom, tel: +855(0)11343632) spoke very good English and was very nice, and it meant a lot to us to have short break from the heat in a car with AC.  There are many Lexus vehicles in Siem Reap, none of them owned by the drivers, so tip these drivers generously, they mainly live off tips.
  5. Temple Attire: Visitors must wear long pants/skirts and T-shirts. Tank tops are not allowed, although in most places you can just cover your shoulders with a scarf when asked. However, to climb up the main tower inside the Angkor Wat complex, tank top with a scarf combination is not allowed, and if you really insist on going up they may give you a very sweaty and dirty T-shirt to wear.  Try to avoid this shirt at all cost. 
  6. Angkor - Day One: The first day tour usually takes you to Angkor Wat, Ankgor Thom, lunch and then Ta Prohm.  Most people start with the sunrise an Angkor Wat, and then go inside and see the temple. Next stop is usually Angkor Thom, which consists of Bayon temple (the one with numerous stone faces), Baphuon (which we think you can skip), and Terrace of Elephants which sounds better than it really is.  In our opinion, to avoid heat exhaustion, only Bayon warrants your time and attention.  If you have the strength to skip lunch at the time when all the tourists eat (1pm-3pm), you can go to Ta Prohm, the jungle temple made famous by the "Tomb Raider" movie. If not, get some food and then see this amazing temple that is being taken over the by trees. If too tired, leave the last temple for the second day as it merits your time and attention.  
  7. Angkor - Day Two: Visit Benteay Srei (the pink sandstone temple) early and get the place all to your self. It's really wonderful and one of our favorite temples. Then you can visit Pre Rup which is nearby. The view from the top is great, but the stairs are very high and steep, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to go all the way up. After templing, we went to the Tonle Sap lake to see the floating villages. 
  8. Angkor -  Day Three: We left the not so popular temples for the end, and were very glad we did as we loved them. We started with Ta Som, another jungle type of temple, which we really liked. There is lovely gate with a fig tree taking over the gate that is difficult to find. Then we went to Neak Pean, which we remember because of a long causeway and a cute little lake around it. The last stop was the temple we loved the most - Preah Khan. There was just something magical about it. 
  9. Tonle Sap Lake: Everyone said we would need a break from all the temples, and that we should visit the lake, and the Kampong Pluhk Village to see how people really live in these floating villages. ,The ticket for a boat that takes you around the lake is $25 per person, and although not cheap it is worth seeing. If you have been to Thailand floating markets, you will be shocked- this is nothing like it. It is a boat tour where you really see how the local population lives and it is at times heartbreaking. Then you reach the open lake which is really fascinating. Lastly, you will stop for lunch at some make-shift raft/restaurant where you are at first afraid to eat, but then you will relax. The food was delicious and the view of the vast emptiness of the lake is unforgettable.  
  10. Shopping and Bargaining: If you want to buy cotton T-shirt/skirts/pants that Cambodia is famous for, and don't need to try them on, best purchases are in front of the not so popular temples. You should bargain, but not to the point of preventing the seller from making any profit.  If you do need to try things on, go to the Siem Reap's Old Market (Psar Chaa)- T-shirts are app. $3-6, pants $5-$10, dresses $10-$20, bronze statues of apsara dancers $12-$18, wooden masks and wooden apsara dancer wall art $18-$25, and so on. For fancier and rather expensive things, visit Artisans Angkor workshop and the silk farm. 

10 Tips for Cambodia Travel

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  1. Visa- You will need a visa.  Start by visiting the website of Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for useful tourist information, including a link for the E-Visa application. E-Visa site sometimes crashes but eventually is up and running again. The visa costs $37 per person. 
  2. Immunization- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends receiving Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines, and making sure your Tetanus shot is up to date. Since anti-typhoid medication is often cheaper than the vaccine, consult with your doctor whether that is a better option for you. As this is seldom covered by the insurance,  those living in the U.S. may find it to be cheaper to get these vaccines in the CVS Minute Clinic. 
  3. Don't Exchange Any Money-  Cambodia predominately uses U.S. Dollar (USD) instead of Cambodian Riel.  All the prices for tours, tickets, food, and souvenirs/clothing, as well as all bargaining, is all in USD. Cambodians seem to prefer using dollars and are almost confused when you want to pay with Cambodian Riel.   Don't make the mistake we made when we exchanged $200 at the airport- that was money wasted as the exchange rate that the sellers used to calculate the price of an item quoted in USD was always lower than the one we paid. 
  4. Bring Lots of $1 Bills- This will be so useful and convenient for you. From tipping the staff and paying for cotton T-shirts in front of the temples, to taking the tuk-tuks and buying water and fruit, having small bills ($1 and $5) will make your life easier and will be much appreciated by all the sellers. Plus having small bills helps during price negotiations. 
  5. Have Enough Cash for Angkor Tickets- Believe it or not, this is CASH ONLY, they DO NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS.  One day pass is $37, while the popular three-day pass is $62 per person. 
  6. Internet- If you have T-Mobile from the U.S. visiting Cambodia is super easy internet wise as  Cambodia is one of the countries covered by T-Mobile One Plan, which means unlimited 2G data (just be sure to Disable LTE roaming on your phone). Otherwise, many cafes and restaurants that cater to foreigners have free wifi. 
  7. Electricity- Europeans and Americans will both be very happy with electrical outlets in Cambodia, as they are designed to accept both types of plugs. The electricity however is 230V, so if your devices only accept 110V, you will need a voltage converter/transformer. 
  8. Safety- Based on the warnings we got, Siem Reap seems to be safer than Phnom Penh. Either way, use common sense- don't talk on the phone while in tuk-tuk if it can be easily snatched, keep your purse close to you, lock your valuables, etc. As for food and drinks, we avoided ice and unpeeled fruits and vegetables, but ate in numerous restaurants, some very modest, and have never gotten sick. We did not taste any street food though.
  9. Transportation- Contact your hotel ahead of time and ask them to organize airport pick up. In Siem Reap transportation from and to the airport was free of charge, while in Phnom Penh it cost around $18 each way. For local transportation, tuk-tuks are the best way to go- they should be between $2-$4 around Siem Reap, little more in Phnom Penh. We didn't bargain with them (as we heard how hard of a job it is), but we did ask about the price before getting in to avoid any disputes later on. 
  10. Shopping- Those who love bargaining will have a blast. Just remember that the sellers live from the sales of these goods, so don't let your desire to hone your bargaining skills put the sellers desperate to sell out of business. You can buy cheap souvenirs in local markets everywhere. You can also visit Artisans Angkor stores in Siem Reap and at all airports in Cambodia for beautiful Cambodian arts and crafts- everything is hand-made, and it is rather pricey as the proceeds from sales help pay decent wages and help local communities.  
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One Day in New York City

This week we are hosting an exchange student from France whose one wish was to see NYC.  Since we love the city as well, we decided to go up for a one day excursion. Given how often our guests want to go and see NYC, we decided to create this useful reference for first time visitors. 

We left Bethesda at 5:45am, got to Jersey City around 9:30, and parked at the Park One Garage, 10 Exchange Pl, Jersey City, NJ 07302 (tel 201-432-7380). During the weekend the price is $15 if you stay less than 10 hours. It's a great place to park as you can quickly get to the city, either by taking Path trains ($2.75 per person per ride) or the ferry ($4 per person per ride on weekends). The beauty of parking in Jersey City is that the Hudson River Waterfront Walkaway provides you with an amazing view of New York, and it is a great photo op for your guest.  

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We took the ferry that takes you near the World Trade Center, and our first stop was the One World Observatory . As we didn't plan this stop in advance, we  paid the regular $39 per person ticket, but if you book it online, it is $34. There is an option for priority admission, but there was no line when we got there around 10:45, so no need for it. I am usually not crazy about these towers with the view, but this one is really exceptional and definitively worth the visit. It gives an excellent overview of what you will see later during the day, and it allows your guest to see things they will not have time to explore, like the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island.

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When you leave the observatory you will pass by the 9/11 Memorial Plaza . No matter how many times you have seen this, it is always heartbreaking. If you haven't seen it, please visit. 

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Then we continued walking down the Vesey Street to the Brooklyn Bridge. There is really no need to go across it- you can just go up to the first tower, or not even that far if you have enough of good photos. 

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By this time it was already 1pm, and everyone was starving. We recommend doing your research and deciding what you want to eat before you get tired and hungry, and then just ubering to the restaurant, otherwise you will spend precious time just looking at restaurant reviews. Uber is not cheap, but it beats the subway when you are exhausted. We opted for Buenos Aires, an Argentinian restaurant in the East Village, where we ate excellent milanesa and of course panqueques con dulce de leche (caramel crepes). Malbec is a must. 

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After lunch we took Uber to the Flat Iron Building (Fifth Avenue and the 23rd Street) for more photo ops. Then we strolled up the Fifth Avenue and Broadway, peaked into Macy's on the 34th Street, and finally reached the inevitable Times Square.  

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Few hundred photos later we took Broadway to Central Park, and as it was slowly getting dark around 5:30pm, we entered the park for a very quick glance.  Completely tired and exhausted we started walking, looking for a coffee place where you can sit and relax. We recommend that you decide before the 40-block-walk where you want to rest in the afternoon, and then just take a taxi or uber to that place, preferably far away from tourists.

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On the way back to our car we took the famous subway (so that our guest can experience it) and then Path train back to Jersey. The Hudson River Walkaway didn't disappoint us at night either- the view of the city was even more beautiful than during the day.  We made it back to the garage before 8pm. Short and Sweet. 

15 Tips for Iceland Travel

  1. Decide what you want to get out of the trip- Northern Lights are fascinating but that usually means visiting Iceland in the winter.  Going in winter on the other hand may limit some glacier adventures- glacier hike is more challenging and glacier lagoon is closed.
  2. Compare prices, miles earned, and extra charges between low budget WOW airlines  and Icelandair for the dates of your travel.  Icelandair may be more expensive at times, but if you are collecting Alaska airlines miles, you will get some miles. Furthermore, WOW baggage fees can be very high. 
  3. If you plan to drive, reserve a car ahead of time. We used PROCAR Car Rental and their representative picked us up from the airport and took us to the lot. We opted for all possible insurance they offered, based on numerous trip advisors reviews (super CDW, sand storm insurance, etc.).  Total cost of one week car rental in August, with all the insurance, was app. $1,300. If you decide to rent a camper and save on the hotel cost, a week rental with insurance costs app. $1,800. It is a cheaper option, but less comfortable. 
  4. For U.S. drivers no international driver's license is necessary, you can rent the car with your regular license only. 
  5. Reserve hotel ahead of time, at least for the first few days. If you plan to go to Blue Lagoon first, find an apartment that has a washer/dryer so that you can dry your swimsuits. 
  6. Weather/season permitting book the Glacier Walk and Glacier Lagoon tours ahead of time. They go fast. The glacier lagoon tour is only open May to October. 
  7. Pack waterproof/warm clothes, hiking shoes/boots, warm hiking socks, etc. Most of these items you can buy in REI (being dry is worth every penny). They carry plus size as well.
  8. Chances are it will rain a lot. Forget about the umbrella and focus on waterproof jacket. You will also need a rain cover for your backpack
  9. Pack swimsuits and hair conditioner (many hotels have shampoos but not conditioner). If you are going to volcanoes in Myvatn region, bring a fly net- you will need it. The annoying flies aim for your nose and eyes as you climb up.
  10. Dress in layers. Dress in layers. Dress in layers. Did I mention to dress in layers?
  11. Iceland is very expensive and most of Reykjavik hotels do not offer free breakfast. If possible pack food (ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, energy bars, peanut butter, etc.). 
  12. If you are on the road, buy food in supermarkets and make sandwiches for the next day.
  13. No need to bring lots of cash, they accept credit cards almost everywhere. Even in the bathroom stalls.
  14. The water in Reykjavik slightly smells of sulfur but it's not horrible. It's nothing compared to Myvatn in the north. 
  15. Pay attention when driving, the signs on the road are very small and inconspicuous. The bridges are often one-lane bridges, so adjust and watch the road ahead before deciding to cross the bridge. Most bridges are short enough so that you clearly see if there is incoming traffic competing for the same lane.