10 unusual things to do in New York City

pizzaMany people who visit New York often have the same itinerary: Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Staten Island Ferry. While all of these experiences are worthwhile and should be included in any first-time tour of the Big Apple, here are some fun experiences that can be added to the travel plan to make it a bit more quirky.

Create your own New York-style pizza

New York is world-renowned for its delicious pizza, with many tourists visiting just to sample a slice. Instead of simply trying the pizza, why not learn how to make your own? Pizza a Casa Pizza School will teach you how to make artisanal pizzas without using fancy ingredients or high-tech equipment. Instead, students will learn the school’s genius pizza recipe and how to bring the delightful art home to recreate again and again. Click here for a full class schedule and to order tickets.

Taste the best dumplings in Chinatown

For first-time visitors Chinatown can be overwhelming. Navigating the busy streets, and trying to find the best of what the area has to offer, is basically impossible without help from a local. If you have interest in learning about the history of the area as well as sampling different local specialties, I would highly recommend a tour with Ahoy New York Tours & Tasting. The tour takes you through Chinatown as well as Little Italy and the guide, Alana, is extremely knowledgeable about the area’s past and present. As you learn about the area’s murder-filled and difficult history, enjoy sampling delicacies and Chinese candy. Moreover, if you’d like to solely focus on eating delicious dumplings, for $20 dumpling connoisseur Mark Birch will take you on a dumpling tour to sample the best Chinatown has to offer.

trapezeLearn the trapeze

Trying new things when traveling can make your trip fun and exciting. While many people attempt feats like skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving, and hiking, it’s not all that often that you hear a friend talk about how they learned the art of trapeze on their latest trip. Why not be the first? Trapeze School New York (TSNY) has an array of levels and class styles from flying trapeze to silks, and from trampoline to acrobatics. The classes are designed for anyone who has ever wanted to experience flying gracefully through the air. Click here to see a class schedule and sign up.

Explore the city through a scavenger hunt

New York is home to some of the world’s most quirky and unusual scavenger hunts, which are not only fun but an interesting way to explore the city. My favorite is Accomplice, which is “part game, part theater, and part tour”. Basically, participants are sent out on a mission through the city while receiving clues and encountering various cast members along the way. It’s a great way to be an NYC detective for a day while discovering some of the city’s most off-the-beaten path spots. Another great option is Watson Adventures, which sends participants through various neighborhoods, museums, and public spaces to answer tricky questions. Some of their hunts include “Murder at the MET,” “Secrets of the Jewish Lower East Side,” “Haunted Times Square,” and “SoHo Chocolately.”

flea market Browse the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

Fifth Avenue isn’t the only place to shop in New York, as the city is also home to myriad boutiques, bazaars, and markets. One unique market is the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market that is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9AM-5PM. There are usually about 100 vendors selling vintage clothing, jewelry, antiques, furniture, art, housewares, decor, and more. It’s fun to browse and feels great when you come across an interesting find. Remember that bartering is standard practice here so bring your best negotiating skills.

Learn about NYC’s quirky history at the City Reliquary

While the MET, MoMA, and Museum of Natural History are all worthwhile museums, there is another more unusual type of museum that is definitely worth checking out on your next trip to New York– City Reliquary. Here you will find odd New York artifacts including everything from old photographs and videos to the bones of subway rats to pigeon feathers and bed bugs. On certain nights there are also events where collectors will “show and tell” their unique items. Best of all, there is no outrageous admission fee; instead, you can leave a donation and even grab a beer for $3.

green-wood cemetery Take a trolley tour of Green-Wood Cemetery

While wandering around a cemetery probably isn’t what you picture when you think of your ideal vacation, Green-Wood Cemetery is worth the visit. The 478-acre Revolutionary War site was actually founded in 1838 as one of the country’s “first rural cemeteries” and, due to its international fame and beauty, came to be a “fashionable place to be buried.” In fact, it is Green-Wood that actually inspired the creation of many of New York’s famous parks, including Central Park and Prospect Park. Some features of Green-Wood include 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums, glacial ponds, picturesque paths, valleys, and hills, in addition to its rich historical background.

Check out an improv show

Instead of shelling out a ton of cash for a Broadway performance, a great and budget-friendly alternative is to check out an improv comedy show at one of the many great theaters in New York. For $10 or less, you can see up-and-coming comics try out their funniest, raunchiest, and most outlandish routines, while often inviting audience members on stage and incorporating them into the act. Some of the top improv comedy venues include: Upright Citizens Brigade, the Peoples Improv Theater, and Magnet Theater.

beatles Enlighten your inner Beatles fan

New York is home to many iconic Beatles locations and holds a lot of history for the band. Signing up for an Ultimate Beatles Tour can help you learn more about New York as well as Beatlemania while exploring sites like the Ed Sullivan Theater (shown right), Carnegie Hall, the Plaza Hotel, Strawberry Fields in Central Park, and the Dakota Apartments.

Explore art, nature, and design at the High Line

Built in the 1930’s, the High Line was once the site of an off-the-ground freight train system that was built in order to remove dangerous trains from the streets of the industrial district of Manhattan. Today, the site is an elevated park that is home to some of the most beautiful flora, public art, and architecture in the city. Walking on the High Line will allow you to not only see some great city views, but also, learn about the interaction of art and nature through exhibitions. Additionally, visitors can hike through “woodlands” and relax on aesthetically-pleasing park benches. Click here to check out a map of the High Line.

Austin cabin called ‘Austin Heaven’ really is like Heaven

There’s a cedar log cabin tucked away on a 20 acre plot of land just south of Austin called Austin Heaven. I first discovered the property through Airbnb. The photos depicted a gleaming hand-built cedar cabin with modern appliances. I closed my eyes for a moment to relish the scent of cedar, a scent I’ve taken enough deep gulps of in recording studios to have it imprinted in my mind. As I clicked through the photos on the listing, I became increasingly interested in this cabin and land not solely for leisure, but for my own wedding.

%Gallery-148320%I contacted Melissa, who owns the cabin alongside her husband Mike, to arrange a visit. I drove out of Austin going south on Loop 1 and as soon as the 1 became Highway 45, the scenery began to change. The sky was wider and pine needles had collected on the grounds we passed leading up to the stoplight at the end of 45. A dirt road from that intersection wound us around to our final right-hand turn, a dusty one that pulled us into the parking lot for Austin Heaven. I got out of the car and immediately noticed a change in the air; a change that I could inhale. Again with the pine–the needles were beneath my feet and the scent was pungent in the air. Pines aren’t noticeably common in Central Texas, so this landscape struck me as a rarity.

I could immediately see that the cabin was artfully constructed. Thick logs lined the exterior walls. A long and narrow porch on the front side of the cabin faced a dense tree and shrub gathering. An over-sized porch helped transition anyone exiting from the back door out onto the 20 acres of land awaiting. Sprinkled with trees throughout, the expanse of land was mostly flat and cleared at first, but it became more dense the farther back into it I trekked. Melissa led me through a path toward the property’s pond, which she told me is normally filled with water during non-drought times. This initial visit was during the dead of summer, in the peak of a drought. There wasn’t a drop of water in the pond, and that wasn’t at all to my surprise.

The cabin’s interior was sleek and simple, not overdone, but not lacking in comfort, either. New appliances in the kitchen were immediately juxtaposed against the rustic aesthetic of the cabin. A projector and pull-down screen added a nice touch to the loft and high-ceiling area. The ‘yoga’ room in the cabin was incredibly peaceful and filled with natural light. The beds in both the bedroom downstairs and the loft were plush. A claw-foot tub and vinyl record player were pleasant surprises. I was charmed by the cabin, the property, and Melissa in no time. Melissa, a yoga therapist, graciously listened to my ideas for my wedding. Her enthusiasm about my wedding ideas was the deal-maker for me. She was open-minded and flexible throughout the entire process. I was simultaneously impressed and put at ease by her.

The wedding itself, despite all of the hard work, was a no-brainer. Many of our friends had flown in from NYC or other large cities and the property itself was all the entertainment that they needed. The stars were bright in the night sky and all was quiet outside of our music and conversations. You don’t need much else when you have all that’s included with renting Austin Heaven and you don’t have to expect sky-high prices when renting the cabin and property, either. All of it can be rented for less than $200 a night (for now).

I’ve learned through my travels that vacation rentals like this one aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes the accommodations are right, but the property is wrong. Sometimes the property is a dream, but the property owner is a nightmare. Sometimes the location is perfect as a standalone destination, but the destination itself is too far from anything else to make the trip worthwhile. Upon finding all of the right things in one concise package, I felt it my duty to disclose my Austin Heaven secret with you.

Christmas Rush to Finish the Log Cabin

Underwater bollywood dancing on the Great Barrier Reef



While it isn’t hard to find countless videos on the web showing you the beauty and marine life of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, it isn’t that often that you find the location being the set of a choreographed, underwater dance number. The video is actually a contest entry for the Tourism Tropical North Queensland’s bollywood dance competition submitted by Seawalker, an underwater diving company that allows you to walk on the ocean floor. Despite having gravity working against them, the Seawalker team actually does an impressive job at mastering the dance moves, and are clearly having a great time doing it.

Karl of Seawalker commented post-production, “It’s a very unusual experience trying to dance underwater in a helmet, as all you hear is bubbles, no music, and yourself counting out the moves in a 4/4 count just hoping that everyone around you are in time. Thus, [it took] about 15 takes to get it right.”

Check out their finished product above.

Interdisciplinary art gallery in New York allows travelers to buy a ticket for a journey unknown

questions Calling all free spirits: Have you ever felt the urge to just get on a random train and let it take you to a new place. Do you like the idea of forgoing any trip planning and just letting the journey guide you to where you will go? Well now through mid-April, the Bureau of Unknown Destinations in Brooklyn, New York, is open for business.

Basically, travelers will book a free round-trip train ticket to a destination unknown and will be given an envelope telling them where they can expect to go, a notebook, and a simple yet silly task. The goal of the popup travel agency, which is part of an artist’s residency going on at the Proteus Gowanus interdisciplinary art gallery and reading room, is to “offer temporary displacement to members of the public seeking to experiment with their migratory impulses”.

The Bureau of Unknown Destinations is located at 543 Union Street in Brooklyn, and bookings can be made up to two weeks in advance. Their hours are a bit odd, so I would contact them before going in, although they are open most Saturdays from 1-5PM. You can also make an appointment by emailing Sal Randolph at SalRandolph@gmail.com.

[flickr photo via Valerie Everett]

8 must-see temples in London, United Kingdom

lord ganapathy London, United Kingdom, probably isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think of visiting temples. In reality, London is home to many beautiful temples of different faiths. To help you plan out your itinerary, here is a list of eight must-see temples in London, United Kingdom.

Sree Ganapathy Temple, Wimbledon

The Sree Ganapathy Temple, Wimbledon, opened its doors in 1981 as the first consecrated Hindu temple in Europe. While the temple performs all of the traditional functions of a Hindu Temple, from religious services to birth, wedding, and death ceremonies, the site also adopts an expanded holistic approach. Visitors can partake in discussions by religious experts, philosophy talks, yoga and meditation classes, and health seminars.Shree Swaminarayan Temple Willesden

The Shree Swaminarayan Temple Willesden is a sect of Hinduism with the founder being Lord Shree Swaminarayan. In the 1960’s, there was a group of people who emigrated to Great Britain that followed Lord Shree Swaminarayan’s teachings and wanted a place to come together to pray and celebrate. The building of a temple was discussed and officially opened in 1975. Today the temple hosts many activities, from group prayer to teachings to English classes to yoga.

london temples Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Also known as the Neasden Temple, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is the first traditional Hindu Mandir in all of Europe. This temple has impressive architecture, made of 2,820 tons of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tons of Italian Carrara that were shipped to India for carving then re-shipped to London to create the temple. The building of the structure is pretty amazing, as it took less than three years to put 26,300 pieces together, essentially like a giant puzzle. Inside, visitors can learn more about Hindu culture through the “Understanding Hinduism” exhibit, as well as grab some Indian cuisine at the Shayona Restaurant and Shop. Moreover, seminars, workshops, and performances for children through senior citizens are provided on a regular basis.

ISKCON-Soho London Temple

While Oxford Street in London may be filled with shopping, nightclubs, and crowds of people, a quick turn onto Soho Street will bring you to an orange and sand colored structure that you might miss if you don’t look closely. This is the ISKCON-Soho London Temple. Upon entering the temple, visitors are asked to take off their shoes and approach the alter in front of them, which features the Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara. Upstairs in the temple is the community shop, where you can find spiritual books, chanting beads, incense sticks, herbal medicine, vegan cosmetics, and more. And if you’re hungry, an on-site vegetarian restaurant, Govinda’s, prepares fresh meals throughout the day.

London England (LDS) Temple

temples in london While the temples mentioned thus far have all practiced forms of Hinduism, the London (LDS) Temple is actually a Mormon temple. The building was the first temple to be constructed in the British Isles and the second to be built in Europe. The temple is not exactly in London but about 25 miles south in the peaceful English countryside. There are multiple buildings to explore on the 32 acres the temple occupies, the most popular of which includes a 3-story, 40-room Elizabethian-style mansion. Outside, visitors can stroll around the well-manicured lawns, tall Oak Trees, and reflective pond. At night, the temple takes on a new mood as it seems to glow bright white against a black backdrop.

Temple Church

Most people will recognize the Temple Church from the famous Dan Brown novel, “The Da Vinci Code“. This site, which is usually referred to as “The Temple”, is actually a Christian temple, with beautiful medieval architecture and a unique circular nave that mimicks the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site where Jesus is said to be buried. The temple was named after the Knights Templar, the “order of crusading monks founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century”. Temple Church has seen a lot of history, for example, being badly damaged during WWII and surviving the Great Fire of London. Today, visitors today flock to not only see the famous site of a book turned movie, but also to see the knightly effigies (once believed to be tombs), the beautiful wooden alter, and the many gargoyles.

london temples London Sri Murugan Temple

The London Sri Murugan Temple is a Hindu temple with a highly detailed facade, an impressive 52-foot tower outside, and polished granite tiles from India inside. Shrines carved from black granite give tribute to the deities that are decorated with flowers and fruits. Those who attend this temple hold Lord Muruga as the only supreme being, with his many faces manifested in the deities housed in the shrines. Whether you go to the London Sri Murugan Temple to attend service, learn about the Hindu faith, or explore the beautiful building design, a visit to this temple is religious space is a unique experience.

Wat Buddhapadipa

Wat Buddhapadipa was the first Buddhist temple ever to be built in London. The building, which was first opened at its present location in Wimbledon in 1976, is designed in a Thai style and used for monastic ceremonies. According to the temple’s website, they are the only traditional Thai temple ever to be built in Europe. While the structures consist of the monk’s house and a cottage, the 4 acres Wat Buddhapadipa resides on features a lake, small grove, orchard, and flower garden.