Visiting Washington at Christmas

The US Capitol
The US Capitol

After my visit to New York City, I took a bus that wound its way through New Jersey and Delaware on its way to Washington, DC.

My visit to the District came only a couple of days before Christmas, so the city was in holiday mode, with large Christmas trees placed throughout the downtown core.

Washington is a very walkable city, with the great majority of its touristy sites built in a central core, on and just north of the National Mall. The Linconl Memorial lies at the West end of the Mall, while the US Capitol Building is at the East end. The White House is North of the Mall.

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While the city is walkable, you’ll still need to bring some good walking shoes.‚ Between the Capitol steps and the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall spans ‚ 3 km. The area sprawls out, but with every few hundred meters, you’ll come across an important building, great architecture or one of the many museums opened to the public.

As you can see on the map above, the city is well-served by a convenient Metro system. The system works well and gets you where you need to go quickly and efficiently. All of the stations feature a similar design structure, with the arching roof above the tracks.

A typical Metro station
A typical Metro station

Head north of the mall and you’ll find a wide variety of restaurants to enjoy. I recommend RFD Washington, a solid pub with lots of beers on tap and good food. 14th street also features a number of well-regarded restaurants.

I spent most of my time wandering through the downtown core with my camera in hand. Here’s a few shots of some of the more important landmarks.

The North Side of the White House
The North Side of the White House
South Side of the White House
South Side of the White House
The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument
The Canadian Embassy enjoys a place of prominence on Pennsylvania Ave
The Canadian Embassy enjoys a place of prominence on Pennsylvania Ave
The Mall at Christmas
The Mall at Christmas
The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial
The View from the Lincoln Memorial
The View from the Lincoln Memorial
The National Christmas Tree, just south of the White House
The National Christmas Tree, just south of the White House

Visiting New York at Christmas

Christmas Decorations
Christmas Decorations

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was able to take a quick trip to New York City just before Christmas. I was able to book a cheap train from Montreal to New York. It’s a convenient option, as the train offers wifi, which allows me to work while traveling, and the final destination is Penn Station, right in the heart of Manhattan.

This time around, I used AirBNB to find a place to crash, locating a cheap room in an apartment on the Lower East Side. I can’t recommend AirBNB enough to the traveler. It gives you another viable option to keep your budget in check. It also helps you make a decision about just how good the “deals” are on sites like Hotwire or Priceline. If you can’t find something to your liking, you can go to AirBNB.

Central Park and the City
Central Park and the City

I was only in NYC for a couple of the nights, but was able to see quite a bit of Manhattan, most of it on foot. The weather during my visit was outstanding, with temperatures soaring to plus 23C with lots of humidity. It was a welcome break from snowy Ottawa.

This was my second visit to NYC, my first since 2009. After mentioning that I had found the city to be too intense, I heard from people who live/grew up in the city that it’s best to stay away from Midtown Manhattan. I took their advice and had a much more relaxing and enjoyable trip this time around.

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The Upper West Side

I spent most of my time walking around in some of the quieter neighbourhoods, such as the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown and spent the bulk of an afternoon exploring Central Park. While I did make a few stops in Midtown (NHL Store, Rockefeller Christmas Tree, Grand Central Station), I made sure to keep my visits to those crowded, loud places brief, so not to get to drained. It’s really intense on the senses. Your brain has to process a lot, I’m not sure how healthy it would be on a daily basis.

Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall

I want to explore New York some more in the coming months. I still have lots of Manhattan neighbourhoods to see and I should probably check out Brooklyn as well. I plan on returning in the near future.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree: Tourist Central
Rockefeller Christmas Tree: Tourist Central
Times Square
Times Square
Beautiful Weather for December in Central Park
Beautiful Weather for December in Central Park

A Few Photos From My Tampa Trip

Today was the unofficial start of 2013 for me, my first day back at work. It’s a new year with lots of new opportunities and events coming up, especially in the early “go-time” months of the year.

Before I start blogging about what’s coming up, I thought I’d look back for a bit and share some photos of my trip to Tampa. I know a few of my readers were curious about the trip so here’s a handful of snapshots.

By the way, all these photos were taken with my iPhone 4 and then cleaned up a bit using ACDSee.

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Boats at Harbour Island, Tampa Bay Times Forum in the background
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Tampa Convention Centre
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This work of art is apparently called “Nemo on Wheaties”
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Palm Trees and Fancy Hotels
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Tampa Tram
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Florida Sunset Above The Clouds

Visiting Tampa

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Greetings from Tampa, Florida.

I’m typing up this blog post on an outdoor patio of a local coffee shop, where I’m sitting in a t-shirt and shorts, sweating. So there may be a few typos in this one.

This is my first time in Florida and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. Tampa’s got a very relaxed, chill kind of attitude, the weather’s been great and it’s not an expensive tourist trap.

Trip In

To get here, I was able to fly out from the Ottawa airport. I’d never been to our local aiport, having always flown out of Montreal or Toronto. I had heard through the grapevine that Ottawa’s airport is great and it’s true. It’s neat, easy to get around and there’s free wifi throughout the terminal. Bonus!

Since I packed all my belongings into a carry-on bag, I was able to avoid the lineups and counters, going straight to the self-serve machine. For flights to the US, the Americans have set up their own customs operation at the airport, which works in our favour I think. There’s no customs hassle to go through when you get to your destination. I’d imagine that the custom agents based in Ottawa would be far more relaxed than those based in a major US city.

I transfered at Detroit Metro Airport, a massive airport with three terminals, two of which are connected by an indoor light rail system. Pretty neat! Although I was happy to walk around and stretch my legs.

 

My flight landed in Tampa about half an hour early at 10pm on Friday night. The airport was virtually deserted, all the shops were closed and there wasn’t much going on. I was able to hire a shuttle service that took me to my hotel.

Overall a really convenient and stress-free trip. I flew Delta airlines and everything went smoothly. A nice moment happened on my Detroit-Tampa flight. Once the plane got up to cruising altitude, the attendant got on the PA and announced that we had military personel on-board and thanked them for their service. Everyone on board gave the troops a round of applause.

Tampa

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Tampa itself has been a great place to unwind. While the weather forecast keeps calling for rain, I haven’t sen any of that so far. It’s been sunny and warm. A welcome change from the last few weeks we’ve had in Ottawa.

I’ve spent some time exploring Ybor city. It was pretty busy last night and has a definite Mardi-Gras vibe to it. It’s a bit like if Crescent steet in Montreal just went on and on and on. And if it was summer all year round.

I’ve been eating lots of bad American food, with Pizza and Chicken Wings leading the charge. I’ve tried to temper some of that bad and save a bit of money by hitting up a grocery store near my hotel for some fresh fruit and Gatorade, so that I can stay hydrated in this heat. Food here is far cheaper than in Canada.

My hotel, the Westin Tampa Harbour Island, has been very nice. The pool is most likely the warmest pool I’ve ever experienced. The coldest part is getting out. There’s no adjustment period when you dive in. Only complaint about my hotel is that they charge for wifi. $2.95/hour. Not a fan of that policy.

Later on today, I’m going to rent a car and take a trip out to the coast and St. Petersburg, I’ve heard good things and Hertz has a good deal on weekend car rentals at $14.99/day.

NHL Lockout

It’s funny that the lockout should end today. When you get to the airport in Tampa, the first thing you see are lots of ads for the Lightning. My hotel is right near their home rink and it’s plastered with huge posters of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos. Pretty remarkable to think that Lecavalier
has been here for well over a decade now.

This morning, I’ve seen a few people walking around the downtown core sporting Lightning t-shirts and sweaters. So even way down here, people are excited about the lockout being over.

I’m here until Wednesday, so I’ll make sure to add more when I get back to Ottawa. If you’ve got any advice about what I should see, feel free to leave a comment.

So… I’m Going to Florida

Westin Tampa Harbour Island - Where I'll Be Staying
Westin Tampa Harbour Island – Where I’ll Be Staying

I’ve settled on Tampa, Florida as my winter vacation spot.

As I had mentioned, I had hoped to get back to Europe, but the flights at this time of year are double what they are at just about any other time of year, so I had to make some concessions. In the past I’ve had success booking last-minute flights. Not this year.

For the price of Montreal-Paris round trip airfare I can fund a plane ticket to Tampa and a week’s accommodation at a nice resort-style hotel, in the Florida sun right on the beach.

I’ve never really seen myself as a “Florida guy, having always prefered to load up my backpack and go on an adventure in Europe. I’ve also enjoyed road-trips to the US Northeast, including NYC and Washington, DC.

But as I researched and reflected on Florida, and Tampa in particular, I became more intrigued. It’s got a few things going for it that lead me to take the plunge.

Convenience
I’ll be able to fly out of Ottawa for this trip. Usually when I go to Europe, I have to fly out of Montreal. This time I can leave my car parked at home, hop on the OCTranspo and head to the Ottawa airport for an afternoon flight in short order. It’s nice to eliminate that hidden travel cost of a train ticket to Dorval or Park N Fly.

The actual travel isn’t too bad either. I’ll be in the same time-zone, so no jet-lag and the travel time is pretty brief. I’ll connect in Detroit both ways. In total, it’ll take me about six hours each way, but they’re both afternoon flights so that suits me just fine.

R&R Factor
As I mentioned before Christmas, I’m planning to hit the ground running in 2013 with multiple projects on the go. I’ll blog about them in detail as they develop, but I can already see my calendar will be very busy as 2013 gets underway. Making sure I’m well-rested and refreshed is key for me.

In Tampa, I’ll be staying at the Westin Tampa Harbour Island. I’ll be able to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt, hang out by the pool and maybe even hit the beach, although it’ll probably be too cold for a swim. Long-term forecast calls for highs in the low 20s (centigrade). Whatever the case, it’ll be a welcome change from the ongoing battle we’ve had with snow here.

It’s Not A Resort
Nothing against resorts and people who enjoy them, I can definitely see the appeal, but I worry I would get bored staying put in one artificial area for a week. I like that in Florida I’ll get the warm weather, pools and beaches of a resort but I’ll be in a real city, with its own distinct vibe. I’m looking forward to exploring downtown Tampa and all it has to offer, including the food and nightlife. It’ll be a totally new experience for me, having never been any farther south in the US than Washington DC.

Overall I’m excited about the trip. I’ll be sure to post an update and some photos of what I see and how I like my first Florida experience. If you’ve got any advice, feel free to leave a comment or tweet me, I’m open to suggestions and recommendations.