When to Visit the Top of the Rock Observatory

I have been to the Top of the Rock Observatory three times now. The first time I went was in February 2014. I don’t remember the day of the week but I know it was about an hour before it closed at 11 PM and it wasn’t too crowded. It was my first time in New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of endless lights made only more magical by a sprinkle of snow on the freezing night that I was grossly underdressed for…

I have been to the Top of the Rock Observatory three times now. The first time I went was in February 2014. I don’t remember the day of the week but I know it was about an hour before it closed at 11 PM and it wasn’t too crowded. It was my first time in New York and I thoroughly enjoyed the view of endless lights made only more magical by a sprinkle of snow on the freezing night that I was grossly underdressed for.

My second visit to the Rockefeller‘s famous viewpoint was unfortunately also in the middle of winter, around 8 PM on Friday, December 22nd, 2017. It took an entire hour from me getting in line to buy a ticket using my New York Explorer Pass to stepping out onto the observation deck. It would have taken longer if one of the guards hadn’t taken pity on me.

I must have looked quite pathetic squatting on the cold floor, my feet aching after four consecutive days of non-stop walking. He looked at my ticket, winked and let me in half an hour earlier than my allotted time that stood out on the glossy paper in bold.

Getting in the elevator was the first step of a grueling wait. There was an obnoxiously long line to get through security, picture people taking off all their winter layers and stray scarves getting stuck in the conveyor belt in between overflowing trays. Next came another line to get photos taken that few people would actually end up spending the price of lunch for two on. Then came another elevator before we finally reached the top deck where I had to wait patiently for people to take the perfect selfie before clearing a tiny gap for me to look out at the city through.

Once again, the view was spectacular! I didn’t recognize much except for the Empire State Building, the ball that would be dropped in just nine days in Times Square and of course, the darkness in between the lights that was Central Park. It was beautiful but meaningless unless you know the city… and the journey out of the building was an adventure of it’s own that took another hour.

Less than a week ago on an only slightly too warm Sunday afternoon, I visited Top of the Rock for a third time. This time I could actually see the buildings clearly and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the myriad of neon lights. Maybe it was because I knew the city a little better this time or because I was sharing the experience with Isaac, but it was by far the best my three visits.

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We spent ages looking up the buildings we were looking at, reading up on them (download the official app) and taking photos. There were essentially no lines going up (or down) and there were few tourists to obstruct the views. There was even a couple taking wedding photos because it was just that empty! We walked around leisurely, soaked up the views and sat down on a bench overlooking the Empire State building to eat lunch that we brought along from home. #zerowaste #vegan #newyorkonabudget

If you only have one opportunity to go up to the observation deck, I recommend doing it during the day. Not just because of the crowds, but you really get to appreciate the city if you can recognize the buildings in between green parks and sparkling rivers. You can enjoy the city lit up from the ground – specifically Dumbo in Brooklyn or from atop Manhattan bridge.

We do plan on going up the Empire State building at night and we’ll let you know how the views compare so stay tuned! The reason that so many people go to Top of the Rock at night is to specifically see the Empire State building lit up in all it’s glory. So when you go depends on what you want to see. But personally, I think it’s just as beautiful, if not more, during the day!

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Droning Over Phi Phi Islands, Thailand 2018 (DJI Mavic Air)

Thailand is a beautiful place and offers breathtaking views from land, boat and plane. This time, we got to experience it’s beauty from a unique angle – birds-eye view via our DJI Mavic Air drone. Thailand remains one of the few countries where droning in public areas is still legal and not regulated. Check out the shots and make sure to turn sound on for the full experience! 

Thailand is a beautiful place and offers breathtaking views from land, boat and plane. This time, we got to experience it’s beauty from a unique angle – birds-eye view via our DJI Mavic Air drone. Thailand remains one of the few countries where droning in public areas is still legal and not regulated. Check out the shots and make sure to turn sound on for the full experience!

Singapore Infinity Pool: Hotel Jen Orchardgateway (Video)

We did a lot of research before our trip to Singapore to figure out the best place to stay and enjoy an infinity pool: Hotel Jen Orchardgateway won hands down! Find out why…

We did a lot of research before our trip to Singapore to figure out the best place to stay and enjoy an infinity pool: Hotel Jen Orchardgateway won hands down! Find out why:

How to Wear Food-Themed Earrings? Part 2

Perhaps the most impressive earrings are also the hardest to wear. The egg looks like it’s about to ooze yellow goodness and the bacon even feels crispy! Outside of cooking class the only appropriate occasion I could fathom for wearing these scrumptious earrings was Sunday brunch…

Perhaps the most impressive earrings are also the hardest to wear. The egg looks like it’s about to ooze yellow goodness and the bacon even feels crispy! Outside of cooking class, the only appropriate occasion I could fathom for wearing these scrumptious earrings was Sunday brunch.

Forgoing my usual outfit that closely resembled my pajamas, I threw on some jeans and a white T-shirt – pretty much the outfit that Tyra Banks urges models to wear on their go-sees. Heels would have been cute if I didn’t live in the city of cobblestones (Prague) plus I’m the complete opposite of a contestant on America’s Next Top Model.

On their own, the single egg and lonely slice of bacon didn’t give the jewelry the justice it deserved. So I opted for an upgraded one earring look (two earrings in one ear!) To avoid a messy overlap I stuck a strawberry stud in between and voilà: gourmet breakfast in my ear.

To draw more focus to one side of my face, I attempted a Katniss-style sideways braid to balance out the look.

Pros: I managed to order my meal by pointing to my ear.

Cons: I couldn’t order pancakes, coffee or orange juice.

Mental note: make “one last” food-themed earring order.

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Akiyoshidai Cave – Japan Travel (Guest Post)

On Saturday morning, the Cooper family and I loaded into the family car and drove from Hiroshima for about 2 hours to the Akiyoshidai Cave, Japan’s largest and longest limestone cave. After a short break at a gas station, we made it to the Akiyoshidai Cave! Or at least the parking lot relatively close to the Akiyoshidai Cave.

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Akiyoshidai is yet another cool place that I didn’t get to see in person. Take a look at my friend’s recollections. Please take a look at the original post to see all the photos! https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/akiyoshidai-cave/

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and an artist, see her work here: http://rachelkitai.com/

On Saturday morning, the Cooper family and I loaded into the family car and drove from Hiroshima for about 2 hours to the Akiyoshidai Cave, Japan’s largest and longest limestone cave. After a short break at a gas station, we made it to the Akiyoshidai Cave! Or at least the parking lot relatively close to the Akiyoshidai Cave.

After we parked, there was a long walkway of sorts lined with shops on either side. These shops were full of rocks, gems, magnets, keychains, phone bangles, and more. There was one restaurant with a display of their food in display cases and an ice cream shop. The ice cream shops sell primarily one ice cream flavor with and then you choose what kind of syrup flavor or jimmies you want on top. At the end of this walkway was the ticket booth to buy the tickets to the cave.

We walked the 1 km of the cave and came up the other side after a very long flight of stairs. In reality, the entire cave is 9 km long but only 1 km is actually open to the public.

Unfortunately, I had to go to the bathroom and the bathroom on the other side was actually a bunch of holes in the ground. I really wish I had googled how to use those types of bathrooms online or that they kept a how-to pamphlet in the stalls. Regardless, I figured it out and I peed in a squat toilet. Unfortunately (again), there was no soap or paper towels and I was not prepared as I normally was with hand sanitizer. Whatever – life goes on; I survived. And we made our trek out and above the cave to get back to the parking lot.

Mealworm Mondays: Pupae and Beetles in Livin Farm’s Hive

This week’s Mealworm Monday features pupae and beetles born in the Hive, the world’s first edible insect desktop farm by Livin Farms! The Hive is the world’s first edible insect desktop farm that can provide 3-600 nutritious grams of mealworms every two weeks, perfect for entovegans like my husband or anyone who wants a more sustainable form of protein in their lives…

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This week’s Mealworm Monday features pupae and beetles born in the Hive, the world’s first edible insect desktop farm by Livin Farms! The Hive is the world’s first edible insect desktop farm that can provide 3-600 nutritious grams of mealworms every two weeks, perfect for entovegans like my husband or anyone who wants a more sustainable form of protein in their lives. You can read more about the Hive in my past articles or on the Livin Farms website. Check out the video below!

Tonsai Bay in Summer and in Winter – When to Visit Thailand?

My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…

My wife Olena and I may be two of the only people on Earth who have ever visited Tonsai Bay in Krabi, Thailand in both Winter and Summer. The first trip was a magical ten days full of perfect weather, daily excursions, and lots of swimming and lounging in the sun. Though it probably shouldn’t have, the atmosphere of our second venture to Tonsai really caught us off guard…

December 2016:

Our first trip to Tonsai was during the Christmas holiday in 2016. We flew into Phuket, spent the day on the famous Patong beach, and hopped on a ferry to the much more chilled-out Tonsai Bay. The late-night party life hasn’t been our thing for years, so it was nice to head to a more secluded area. In fact, Tonsai Bay is only reachable via longtail boat from Ao Nang beach in Krabi. This makes it all the more exclusive!

There are a few ways to get to Tonsai. Most likely if you’re in the area you’ll hear that most tourists are going to the nearby Railay Beach resort area. You can get a longtail boat for around 100 THB per person from either Railay East or from the more accessible Ao Nang beach. My suggestion is to head straight for Ao Nang and, in the high season (December), there will be plenty of others willing to share a longtail boat. If there is no longtail boat available, you can walk from Railay beach, but if it’s high-tide you have to hike up and over some pretty treacherous terrain. Not recommended if you have lots of luggage.

Upon arriving, one must walk about half a kilometer up a small hill, through the forest and past hordes of thieving monkeys. After arriving at our $6 per night bungalows, we immediately felt at home. Not too crowded, very relaxed atmosphere, Bob Marley on the loudspeakers, helpful and friendly staff, and a fire show every night. The seating area at Chillout Bungalows included several hammocks, some picnic benches and even a few tree houses. Surrounding the bar area were several food stalls where anyone can find a delicious bite to eat. Chillout is located on Tonsai’s only main strip which is lined with more relaxing bars, some restaurants and a few more similar bungalows.

The bungalows themselves were incredibly basic. One bed, one shelf, one bathroom, one fan, and electricity only between 6PM and 6AM. We were officially off the grid, and it felt fantastic! Life was good. We had five full days ahead of us to relax in the sun and go on adventures.

During this trip, we spent a couple days on the beach, a few days on excursions in Krabi, and one day island-hopping, snorkeling and kayaking. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. We were sad to wave goodbye to Tonsai and longed to return someday.

July 2018:

Fast-forward 19 months to July 2018. We had a flight booked on July 27th to leave China for good and start a new life in New York City. We were going a bit crazy because I only had one day to pack between school finishing and leaving the country. Also, my birthday was coming up. After lots of back-and-forth decision making, we decided I would take an entire week, unpaid, off from work to go to Thailand for a full 9 days. After all, it was our last chance in Asia!

Olena and I are avid travelers, but we never return to the exact same place. We’ve always considered it a waste of time and money because the world is so big and want to see as much as possible. Well, with visions of our time in Tonsai at Chillout Bungalows swimming in our heads, we booked four nights at Chillout and a flight into Krabi. We were determined to repeat our experience on our last trip. It was so exciting! This time, we planned to take fewer excursions and just relax on the beach. It was going to be amazing!

I think you see where this was going. Our second trip to Tonsai was absolutely nothing like the first. For starters, the weather. No one bothered to tell us and we never bothered looking, but July is right in the middle of Thailand’s rainy season. In fact, two ships carrying tourists had capsized the day before we arrived, killing more than 50 people in the very same bay we planned to take a ferry. To the North, 12 boys had been trapped in a cave because of rapidly-rising water. When we arrived in Krabi, a torrential downpour started within minutes, right out of the sunny blue sky.

The rain was so bad that, when we arrived at Ao Nang beach, where tourists had lined up in December for a longtail boat to Tonsai, we found the beach deserted, waterlogged and devoid of any boats. We were informed that no longtail boat would go that day because of the weather.

Our spirits would not be crushed! We were determined to get to Tonsai. We grabbed a Tuktuk to Ao Nan Mao pier, got on a longtail boat to Railay Bay, walked over a kilometer in the rain to the aforementioned treacherous path, climbed up and over carrying 20kg each on our backs, and finally made it to Tonsai. The walk through the Railay area was depressing. The beach, crowded with tourists last time, was as empty as the food stalls that lined the streets. Arriving at Tonsai, waterlogged and exhausted, we still felt a spark of joy at our accomplishment. This spark, however, was quickly extinguished by the weather and the low season. Walking up the path to Chillout, no monkeys barred our way to beg for fruit, no happy locals greeted us on our way, all the bars we passed were either closed for good or completely empty, and to cap it all off, some rich guy had bought a bunch of land in the center of the area and cut down most of the trees. What had once felt like a secluded walk in the forest felt much more exposed and public.

Arriving at Chillout, we found the bar also empty and almost no one staying in the bungalows. No fire shows planned for the evening, no music on the loudspeaker, just the dreary-eyed people who ran the place during this low season. With all of this against us, the lack of electricity and comforts of home were much more noticeable. Back in our rooms, instead of an off-the-grid lifestyle and chilled-out atmosphere, we instead noticed the dirty sheets, wet bathroom and lack of light. We made the best of it, went swimming in the rain, but ended up canceling our next few nights and moving on to Phi Phi island, where our adventure took a much more positive turn.

The moral of the story:

Know the season of where you’re traveling, and never expect a journey to the same place at a different time to be the same as the first trip. In fact, I think that in life we should never seek to repeat exact experience because it lines you up for disappointment. Let every experience be its own, and try to keep your chin up! As I said, we still had five more days and ended up having a fantastic time in Phi Phi. The weather improved, our spirit was revived, and we learned a lot from the experience. Tonsai Bay, it was amazing while it lasted, but it’ll never be the same again.