Over The River And Around The Detour With Road Travel Info Sources

over the river and traffic

Over The River and Through the Wood” is a Thanksgiving song that many travelers will be humming if not singing in a couple weeks as they hit the road for holiday events. To keep the holiday mood light, many will turn to a variety of online and smartphone tools designed to make life on the road easier.

Sigalert takes the California Highway Patrol definition of “any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more,” and turns it into data drivers can use to plan their trip. Complete with personalized routing and traffic alerts via email or text, a subscription version ($2.95/month) gives rich data, but just stopping by the Sigalert website reveals a quick, detailed snapshot of traffic right now.

Frixo.com specializes in giving traffic reports for UK motorways, updated every three to five minutes using sensors placed on motorways and common roads. Speed limits, traffic incidents, information motorists will see on electronic road displays, road work information and weather conditions that might affect a trip are also listed.At Traffic.com, U.S. drivers can check their drive time in a side-by-side comparison with delay time and average speed for a road trip from home to grandmother’s house. Traffic.com also invites visitors to visit NavteqMaps24.com where the future of mapping is happening right now.

At the top of the list of road trip guidance helpers is Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive, now part of mapping solutions company Navteq. Making revolutionary new maps that are as detailed and current as possible, this is the one we want along for the holiday ride or anytime, as we see in this video:




[Photo credit- Flickr user epSos.de]

Where To Get New York’s Best Hot Chocolate This Winter

hot chocolate While New York has many worthwhile offerings during the holidays – seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating at Bryant Park, browsing the many holiday markets – the bitter cold of the city makes it important to know where to go for a hot beverage. Home to many cozy bars, restaurants and cafes, you’ll have numerous options, including R Lounge in the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel.

Chilly travelers can take in 360-degree views of Times Square and beyond while sipping special hot chocolates relating to the month’s holiday and season, each served with a complimentary sweet. There will also be ongoing chef selection choices including Milk Hot Chocolate, Dark Hot Chocolate and White Hot Chocolate made with homemade marshmallows, fresh fruit, chocolate shavings and various other toppings. If you’re in the mood to get a bit tipsy, you can add Grand Marnier, Rum, Franjelico or Baileys to any cocoa.

In November, cinnamon churros are served with beverages like Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate, Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate and Hot Apple Cider. If visiting in December, you’ll get a free piece of peppermint bark as well as Peppermint Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread Hot Chocolate or Mulled Wine. In January, seasonal flavors include Frozen Hot Chocolate, Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Mocha Hot Chocolate served with peppermint meringue and chocolate ganache. And in February, meringue cookies come with cocoas like Lavender Hot Chocolate, Strawberry White Hot Chocolate and Hot Chocolate With Coffee.

Hot chocolates are $8, or $18 when you add liquor.

[Image via R Lounge]

Kiwi Cool: Saving Money While Traveling In New Zealand

Saving money in New Zealand - supermarket lamb
Last month, I spent three weeks traveling through New Zealand, focusing mainly on the cities and culture. After living in Istanbul for two years, it wasn’t the culture shock, the jet lag, or the seasonal switch that was hard to adjust to, it was the prices. While I knew New Zealand wasn’t cheap (though their dollar is slightly weaker than ours), I was unprepared for the sticker shock. Dinner and drinks can easily run $50 a head or more, city buses can cost more than a NYC subway ride, and $3.50 for a bottle of water seemed offensive. I did discover a few ways to save money and still enjoy the Kiwi cool.

1. Drink locally, eat globally – New Zealand is known for its excellent wines, and starting to get accolades for their craft beer as well. Whether you’re dining out or picking up a bottle in a supermarket, it’s hard to go wrong with anything made in New Zealand; even the cheapest glass of house “Sav” is likely to be pretty tasty. Also note that many pubs are likely to be “tied” houses (unlike the excellent Free House in Nelson, pictured in my first “Kiwi cool” post) and will carry a limited range of brands, giving you an incentive to stick to the “house” tap. In contrast, for cheap eats, look for foods with origins outside the country; Asian cuisine like sushi, Chinese noodles, and Indian curries are often the most budget-friendly options and given the country’s ethnic mix, just as authentic Kiwi as roast leg of lamb and Pavlova.

2. Rent a car – This is one area where I didn’t follow my own advice, preferring to explore the country on public transportation as my husband is the only driver in the family and my baby is not a fan of car rides (yet she’s perfect on planes). Generally, public transportation in New Zealand is not cheap – a day pass for the Auckland bus system is over $10, taxis from the airport can cost up to $100, and the cost of two bus or train tickets between cities often exceeds the daily rate for a budget rental car. Kiwi companies Jucy and Apex offer older model cars as low as $22 – 34 per day, if you don’t mind a less than sweet ride.

3. Book transportation online – If you do choose to go the public transportation route, it can pay to make your arrangements online rather than in person. By booking tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry online, I saved $7 on each adult fare, even for a same day ticket. As part of the promotion for the new Northern Explorer Auckland-Wellington train, Kiwi Rail was offering two-for-one tickets, check their website for current promotions.

4. Check out motels – In my European travels, I’ve been using AirBnB and other apartment sites to book accommodations, as it pays to have extra space, laundry and a kitchen when you are traveling with a baby. The AirBnB craze hasn’t quite hit New Zealand yet, though you may find luck with BookABach (a bach is a Kiwi word for a vacation home that might be more basic than a typical house). I was more surprised by the quality of motels and motor lodges in New Zealand, they are often modern in style and comfortably outfitted with nice amenities like heated towel racks, electric blankets, and real milk for your coffee standard (a small pleasure compared to the powdered creamer typical in most hotel rooms). Motel rooms range from modest studios to sprawling apartments with jacuzzis. I found a useful directory of accommodations on NewZealand.com, and you can filter for features such as laundry or pool and check for special deals. Golden Chain is a quality collection of independent motels spread over both islands.

5. Create your own Wi-Fi hotspot – Another surprise I found in New Zealand is the lack of free Wi-Fi. Even many coffee shops only offer Internet for a fee, and some accommodations will limit your free connection to 100 mb or so per day. The city of Wellington has set up free hotspots in the city center, but I found the signal hit or miss. A more reliable and affordable option is to make your own hotspot by purchasing a pre-paid SIM card with data. Consult this helpful wiki for rates; I bought a SIM through 2degrees with 1 GB of data for about $20. One other tip is to find the local iSite tourism office for a short period of Wi-Fi access if you need to check email or make travel plans (they can help with booking travel and accommodation too, of course).

6. Shop vintage – After a few days in Kiwi Land, you’ll feel an urge to buy lots of nice merino wool clothing and gifts. For a country with apparently more sheep than people, it is everywhere and you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on new sweaters. Another option is to try vintage and thrift shops. I found a lovely baby sweater probably knitted by a nice Kiwi grandmother for $8 in an antique store, just as quality as the $30 one I bought at a market, and both far cheaper than most retail shops. Auckland’s K Road and Wellington’s Newtown have lots of used and “opportunity” shops, often with proceeds going to charity. Eco-friendly fashion is also becoming more widespread, and “recycled” fashion shops can be found in most cities.

7. Stay in on public holidays – One upside to the high cost of a pint of beer is that tipping is unnecessary in New Zealand; the GST tax on goods includes service. However, you will note on many restaurant menus a surcharge for public holidays of 15%. This covers the owner’s cost of paying their employees more for the holidays. Try to avoid dining out on holidays or look at it as a special holiday gratuity.

A bonus tip that may or may not be relevant in the future: follow the rugby fan trail. Started for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to ease traffic congestion and crowding on public transport, Auckland’s Fan Trail was revived for a match against Australia last month. The trail stretches two miles from downtown to the stadium and is lined with entertainment, food and drinks, and other activities, most of which are free. Even if you aren’t headed to a game, it’s fun to watch both the performers and the fans dressed up to cheer on their team. If you happen to be in Auckland during a future big rugby match, find out if the city plans to run the fan trail again.

Stay tuned for more “Kiwi Cool: New Zealand for the Un-adventurous.”

Cinco De Mayo: Five Fiesta-Worthy Foods To Make Or Try

elotesIn the United States, Cinco de Mayo (“fifth of May”) is essentially yet another excuse to get hammered. In the Mexican state of Puebla, however, the holiday commemorates the Mexican Army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Cinco de Mayo is also celebrated in other regions of Mexico; as in the States, it’s a day of honoring Mexican pride and heritage. This year, instead of the standard chips and guacamole (and crippling hangover), try some beloved Mexican foods that are well suited to serve a crowd. They’re easily made, or purchased if you live in a community with a sizable Hispanic population. Buen provecho!

1. Flor de Calabaza (squash blossoms): Available now at your local farmers market or specialty produce shop, and a favorite of Mexican home cooks. Try sautéing them and tucking into quesadillas or dipping in batter and frying (stuff them with fresh goat cheese mixed with chopped herbs for a really special treat; click here for the recipe).

2. Elotes: Whether served as whole, grilled ears of corn or kernels-in-a-cup, these mayonnaise, lime, and chile-slathered street eats are worth every ripple of cellulite they produce. True, corn isn’t in season right now; see if your favorite local farm stand, market vendor, or specialty grocer has frozen kernels for sale.

3. Churros: Fried, sugary goodness in phallic form: what’s not to love? Uh, except maybe churros con cajeta (filled with caramelized goat milk).

4. Antojitos: Traditionally found in the fondas, or beer bars of Mexico City, these small, fried or griddled masa dough “cravings (antojos)” or “little whims” are now more commonly associated with street food, and have regional adaptations. The differences in shape and fillings are often subtle: a chalupa (not to be confused with the Taco Bell concoction) is a thin, fried cup with a slight depression for holding meat and/or beans, shredded cabbage, crumbled fresh cheese or crema, and avocado or guacamole, while a huarache is like a slightly thicker tortilla in the shape of a sandal (hence the name). In Oaxaca, regional antojitos such as tlacoyos (like a skinny huarache) and memelas (think round huarache) may be topped with black beans and complex salsas indigenous to the region. In a word, addictive.

5. Michelada: Forget margaritas. This refreshing beverage has hair-of-the-dog built right in, and indeed, it’s a traditional Mexican hangover helper (as is a steaming bowl of menudo). Combine one icy cold Mexican beer (My pick: Pacifico) with fresh-squeezed lime juice, tomato juice or Clamato, a dash of hot sauce and a pinch of kosher or celery salt. The variations are many, but this recipe from Food52 is a winner.

[Photo credit: Flickr user the queen of subtle]

Want more antojitos? Check out this assortment, below:
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Special Saint Patrick’s Day beers and where to get them


Special Saint Patrick's Day beers and where to get them


With St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching, many microbreweries around the United States are starting to release their special Irish-inspired beers. Red ales, cream ales, and chocolate- and coffee-flavored stouts are making their annual debut, going head-to-foamy-head with the traditional St. Paddy’s Day libation Guinness. Here is a roundup of some of the nation’s St. Patrick’s Day beers and where to get them.Location: Boston
Brewery: Harpoon Brewery
Special Beer: Harpoon Celtic
What It Is and Where to Get It: The Boston brewery’s popular Harpoon Celtic has been brewed since 2000 and is the de facto seasonal brew for spring. Available in 27 states and counting, Harpoon is best enjoyed at the brewery’s Boston Tasting Room.

Location: Frederick, Maryland
Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
Special Beer: Lucky SOB Irish Red
What It Is and Where to Get It: This brewery north of Washington, D.C., claims to brew its Lucky SOB Irish Red with “real four-leaf clovers handpicked at the brewery last St. Patrick’s Day.” Ahem. Look for their beer on draft only at pubs in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., throughout March.

Location: Durango, Colorado
Brewery: Steamworks Brewing Company
Special Beer: Irish Car Bomb
What It Is and Where to Get It: Blended with Irish cream and Jameson whiskey during its second fermentation, Irish Car Bomb is “named for the beer’s effect not as a political statement.” Yeah, right. At any rate, the first cask of 2012’s Irish Car Bomb brew will be tapped at 3 p.m. on March 16.

Location: Lake George, New York
Brewery: Adirondack Pub and Brewery
Special Beer: Mocha Stout
What It Is and Where to Get It: Adirondack Brewery uses organic cocoa and ground Caffe Verro coffee in its rich stout. Look for Adirondack beer at restaurants throughout the Hudson Valley.

Location: Cleveland
Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Company
Special Beer: Conway’s Irish Ale
What It Is and Where to Get It: This eco-friendly Cleveland brewery makes the “malty” Conway’s Irish Ale for the St. Patrick’s Day crowd. Great Lakes Brewing Company beers are available throughout Ohio and in 13 other states.

Location: Brooklyn
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
Special Beer: Dry Irish Stout
What It Is and Where to Get It: Brooklyn Brewery’s unfiltered Dry Irish Stout is brewed the traditional way, meaning that they use flaked raw barley rather than nitrogen to give the beer its foamy head. Dry Irish Stout is on tap at the Brooklyn Brewery’s Tasting Room as well as a few other restaurants and pubs in NYC and Brooklyn.

Location: Bend, Oregon
Brewery: Three Creeks Brewery and Silver Moon Brewing
Special Beers: O’Cosci Stout from Three Creeks Brewery; Shamrock Green Bridge Pilsner and O’Shawnigan’s Irish Red from Silver Moon Brewing
What It Is and Where to Get It: The central Oregon town of Bend has no fewer than 10 microbreweries along its Bend Ale Trail. Two of those breweries, Three Creeks Brewery and Silver Moon Brewing, produce St. Patrick’s Day beers, which are available on draught from the breweries’ tap rooms.

Location: Chico, California
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Special Beer: Knightro – Celtic Festival Beer
What It Is and Where to Get It: Sierra Nevada beers are sold throughout the United States but you can only get the brewery’s small batch Knightro stout – and 14 other limited-edition beers – at its Chico Taproom and Restaurant.

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Brewery: Arbor Brewing Company
Special Beer: St. Pat’s Strong Stout
What It Is and Where to Get It: Arbor Brewing Company brews St. Pat’s Strong Stout, which has a “chalky, Turkish coffee palate” for the holiday. Also available each March at the ABC Brewpub are Espresso Love Breakfast Stout and a vegan-friendly Blackheath Sweet Stout.

Photo Flickr/miamism