The Un-Planner’s Guide To: New York City (Day 1)

Welcome to the first installment of the Un-Planner’s Guide, a wholly un-serious and unusual approach to travel itineraries.

I’m Katie, and I’ll be your host through approximately one-and-a-half days of New York City, NY.

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Yes, this hat is part of our required tour guide uniform.

 Trip Pre-work:

  • Know about the trip, in my case, AT LEAST a year in advance.
  • Book your flight accordingly, apparently for domestic flights the magic number is 54 days for cheapest fares.
  • Have ample time to pack and let that dwindle down to months, weeks, days and mere hours before your trip.
  • Go out to dinner with friends and/or family the night before your flight.
  • Struggle to pack within the window of 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. (Stop mid-packing to justify your procrastination.)
  • Sleep for 2 hours.
  • Wake up to leave for airport and hate yourself a little bit.

Day 1 (or Day 1/2):

Getting There

  • Be at airport.
  • Go through security rigamarole.
  • Fly.

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  • Land and realize you lost half your day because of time changes. Curse.
  • Rideshare from the airport to your hotel and get stuck in traffic. Learn your lesson and take the subway for the rest of the trip.

Ice Cream Break

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It has to be soft serve. From a truck. No exceptions.
  • Wrangle large group of Filipinos (who are your family so it’s okay) and proceed.

Oculus – World Trade Center Transportation Hub

  • Take subway to get to the Oculus, which is the World Trade Center’s transportation hub.
  • Exit train and enter Oculus. Be impressed. Take a moment to admire the architecture.
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The structure of the Oculus was like being inside the skeleton of great beast.

National September 11 Memorial

  • Cross the Oculus, meaning just walk straight across it and up a flight of stairs, and you’ll find yourself back at street-level and able to walk right over to the National September 11 Memorial. There’s a museum there, as well.
  • Visiting the memorial, as you would imagine, is a truly sombering experience. But beautifully moving, too, if you take in not only the construction of the memorial but the fact that they place white roses next to the names of the people being remembered on their birthdays.
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The day we visited, there were two birthdays.

One World Observatory

  • Check out One World Observatory. It’s just a short trip across the street. The building itself if stunning, but it also offers you 360-degree views of the city from 100 stories up.
  • The trip up to the observatory does require admission, so expect to pay about $30+ for a single person.

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If you were to ask me what part of the city this way or what any  of those buildings were, I couldn’t tell you. They had these tablet thingies for purchase that you could point out at the city, like a virtual tour guide, but I was more keen on just looking.

Chinatown (And Little Italy, Sort Of)

  • Find that after all the subway riding and walking you are famished, as one ice cream alone cannot hold you down.
  • Fumble through the subway with your herd and somehow make it to Canal Street.

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  • Arrive late enough that most of the shops are closed, but just in time for the restaurants to be bustling with business.
  • Let your dad pick the place, though his relationship with Google is tentative at best, and then let him lead the way (???).
  • Walk into an unfamiliar neighborhood almost to the point of concern until you reach Shanghai Asian Manor. Note that this restaurant only accepts American Express or cash.
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Eat delicious food and not realize until later that this is actually a really popular place.
  • Leave and enjoy the light sprinkles of rain as you walk. Let your family make ill-advised hat purchases at a souvenir shop about to close.
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Pass up Little Italy (sad-face) because majority rules to go to Times Square.

Times Square

  • Arrive in Times Square and be baffled by the fact that the city is still buzzing at 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. Assume that maybe all the huge electronic billboards are making people think it’s still daylight.
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SO BRIGHT. MY EYES.
  • Be horrified by the discount store-looking nightmares that are parading around as notable characters. Pull your unsuspecting aunts away from a particularly disturbing Minnie Mouse and Woody.
  • Decide you’ve had enough of these shenanigans and decide to turn in so you can get up early for more exploring tomorrow.

Well, that’s it for the first part of The Un-Planner’s Guide to NYC! Come back next week for part deux.

Your Humble Host,

Katie

 

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Backyard Discoveries: The Shrine on Chihuahua Hill

If you’re up for a little bit of hike in Bisbee, AZ, the jaunt up Youngblood and Chihuahua Hill is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and to see life in this former mining town in a different way.

Like we mentioned in our handy itinerary, you can take OK Street up to the base of Youngblood Hill and take time to check out all the local homes (trust me, you’ll want to – they have a lot of character). If you start your journey earlier in the morning (maybe around 7 a.m.), you’ll benefit from pleasant temperatures and having the town (and trail)practically all to yourself before the sleepy town becomes a bustling tourist stop.

Blue Jesus (I’ve called him this because he is both literally painted blue and because of his sorrowful expression) is the marker of your trail up Youngblood, but also a good wake-up call for groggy hikers because from a distance you can’t tell if it’s a statue or a person waiting at the trail.

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A couple important notes before you ascend:

  • Beyond Blue Jesus is private property, so be polite and don’t go exploring a local’s front yard.
  • The path up to the hills is steep, narrow and slippery. If you’re not a strong hiker or don’t have appropriate shoes, it’s best to come back another time. There is also a bit of incline when getting to the top of both hills, so stay hydrated and listen to your body to stop when needed.

If you do make it up Chihuahua Hill, you are rewarded with a great view of the town below and are privy to a shrine that’s maintained by its residents. You can see some of our photos from the site below, but it’s really worth a visit in person. There’s a sense of peace, joy and love you get when you look at these colorful tributes.

Pay your respects and please move around with care.

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A Weekend in Bisbee: A Three-Day Itinerary for Nature and Culture in Southern AZ

Bisbee is a former mining town (current artist colony) south of Tucson near the AZ/Mexico border. It is the perfect place to experience historic, small town America.

Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ

Day One: Travel to Bisbee

The drive from Phoenix to Bisbee is about 3.5-4 hours depending on traffic.

Take your time driving down to scenic, little Bisbee.

If you leave in the morning or early afternoon; Tucson is a great place to stop by on the way.

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If you have time, the Mission San Xavier Del Bac or “White Dove of the Desert” is peaceful and great cultural stop in Tucson.

Day Two: Exploring Bisbee

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Can we tell you a little secret? 7 a.m. is prime strolling time around downtown Bisbee – not much is open, but the weather is wonderful and you get to walk around before the crowds.

 

If you are up for a morning stroll, walk up OK Street which will lead to the base of Youngblood Hill and will take you by some adorable Bisbee homes.

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You can a nice view of the town from either hill.

For strong hikers, there is also a trail at the end of the street that climbs up Chihuahua and Youngblood Hill. This path is steep, narrow and slippery, however, so hike at your own discretion. Be safe.

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There’s a shrine up on Chihuahua Hill that is definitely worth seeing. However, these are tributes to people’s loved ones so we cannot stress enough that the site needs to be treated with the utmost respect.

After going for a walk in the cool morning, head over to Lowell’s Bisbee Breakfast Club (http://bisbeebreakfastclub.com/locations/bisbee) for a diner experience, complete with massive portions.

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These pancakes are delicious and as big as your head – we’re not joking.

Head back to downtown Bisbee for a tour of the Copper Queen Mine (http://www.queenminetour.com/), where you will get to ride a little train into the heart of the mountain and learn about old copper mines from former miners. There are several tours throughout the day.

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These are our excited faces. But seriously, the mine tour is a must-see (especially if you’re a REALLY big fan of mining, or a history buff or just want to cool off.)

Spend the day strolling through Bisbee, checking out galleries, visiting historic hotels, and enjoying this small, colorful town.

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ALIENS.

After dinner, if it suits your fancy, wander the streets at night and learn about the many ghosts of this small town with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours (http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/). These take place at 7 p.m. each day of the week.

Day Two: Kartchner Caverns and Getting Home

Catch breakfast in Old Bisbee or Sierra Vista.

Stop by Kartchner Caverns (https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/) to see one of the United States’ most colorful, living caves. You will not be disappointed in this special, natural attraction. It is about an hour from Bisbee to Kartchner.

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In the Visitor’s Center, you can take silly photos in the replicas of cave openings that the Kartchner explorers had to squeeze through and be thankful they did all the work for you.

 

 

Stop for lunch in Benson or Tucson, and then head back to Phoenix. It is about 2.5 hours from Kartchner to Phoenix depending on traffic.

Ending Point: Phoenix, AZ

Prep:

  1. Reserve a place to stay.
  2. Reserve a tour with the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours and Kartchner Caverns.
  3. Learn about some of the historic landmarks in the town to visit.
  4. Know the weather! Stay safe.

Solid Gas/Food Stops Along the Way:

  1. Tucson
  2. Benson
  3. Tombstone

Note: There are numerous small towns that also dot the way to Bisbee, but if you want guaranteed gas stations, fuel up in Tucson or Benson.

Parking

  1. Mostly free parking in Bisbee (there’s like one paid lot in the entire city), but be prepared for the lots (which are small) to basically be full after 10 a.m., at least on weekends.
  2. There’s plenty of street parking available, it just depends on how far you’re willing to haul your butt up and down a hill.
  3. Before you park, check if it’s residential. Don’t be a jerk and park in someone’s spot.

Places to Stay:

  1. Copper Queen Hotel (http://www.copperqueen.com/): This is a historic hotel in the middle of town. Perfectly central to all Bisbee’s attractions, and a great place for ghostly activity (for anyone interested).
  2. Hotel Lamore/Bisbee Inn (http://bisbeeinn.com/): A smaller alternative to the Copper Queen, this place is just as historic and ghostly. But it has traditional shared bathrooms, it will really bring you back.
  3. Plenty of alternatives throughout the town, and some good AirBnbs as well.

Backyard Discoveries: Unexpected Beauty at Arcosanti

Part of the fun of traveling is doing something unplanned.

I was driving back down from Northern Arizona where I had just gone snowboarding (aka, falling on my behind allllll the way down a small hill) for the first time, and I saw the sign for Arcosanti.

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From what I knew about Arcosanti, which was admittedly very little, it was small artistic community. Already late in the afternoon, I wasn’t sure if they’d be open. WERE they even open to the public? If so, would they be open now – did art even HAVE hours?

I shrugged and took the exit anyway. I had time and nothing to lose.

The exit made way to a dirt road which eventually wound its way to the entrance (I took a little longer than usual to make some excited noises at a few cows on the side of the road who continued to not care about my existence).

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I was greeted by a sign that gave me pause. An urban laboratory? What kind of diabolical experiments could be taking place here? Completely unsure what that meant, I continued on (bravely, stupidly or both) to meet my fate.

And I was pleasantly surprised by a light breeze, blowing through the open plateau of space that the Arcosanti visitor center sits on, the bronze and ceramic bells hanging around the property awake with noise.

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The bells are everywhere across Arcosanti, created by artists-in-residence (and sold on-site and online if you want to get your paws on ‘em). No bell is quite the same – different shapes, sizes and designs – but all of them bear the mark of Paolo Soleri.

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Soleri was the founder, the dreamer, the architect of Arcosanti. You learn more about Paolo and how they’ve kept his hope of a self-sustaining and eco-friendly community alive if you take the tour. Tours run about an hour starting at 10 a.m. and are donations-based, so BE NICE. Check their website or call to be sure, because they do charge for specialty tours (non-English, etc.). I also 100% recommend the tour because if you don’t join a tour, you’re not allowed to wander. Which means you’re stuck at the visitor’s center and miss all the history, learning about how the Arcosanti runs now and seriously cool architecture.

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The next time you find yourself driving (up or down) the I-17 in Arizona, pop over to Arcosanti for some artistic inspiration (and then stop at Rock Springs Cafe for some pieeeeeee). Or, wherever your travels may take you, think about doing something a little out of the ordinary – it might just end of being one of your favorite parts of the trip.

Stay weird!

xx,
Katie

21st Century Warriors: Keeping Culture Alive at the Kenshin Dojo

It’s not every day that you see a bunch of guys with swords.

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But there they are. And here I am – not hallucinating or anything, even though it’s already hot enough outside in the early Phoenix springtime to consider sunstroke delusions.

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The only reason I’m not running in the opposite direction, is because these students from the Kenshin Dojo practicing iaido are fighting imaginary enemies, not real ones. This isn’t Feudal Japan, after all.

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Instead, these modern-day warriors are performing for a captive audience at Arizona’s Matsuri Festival. Festival goers are quiet, mouths agape as they watch these movements being executed with precision and grace. After all, how often do you witness an martial art form that’s more than 400 years old?

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I caught up with one of the students afterward, we’ll call him RB for short (to protect his warrior identity), to try and get the skinny on iaido. Read on for the answers to all of your burning questions (or at least some of them).

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NBT: What is iaido? (I ask, BRILLIANTLY.)

RB: Iai refers to ‘the draw’ of the katana (sword) from the saya (scabbard) and Do is loosely translated to ‘the way’. So together, iaido means ‘the way of the draw’.

Iaido is the general term for the art form composed of the kata (techniques) mimicking fighting and killing an opponent. In iaido, it is very important to visualize your enemy, and imagine the combat play out. In our dojo, we say that you must ‘wait for the body to fall’.

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NBT: Tell us more about the cool cats at Kenshin Dojo – the dojo you belong to.

RB: Kenshin Dojo was founded by Sensei Robert Corella just about 30 years ago.

But the style, Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, was founded by Araki (a young samurai) himself as a reward for distinguishing himself to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a daimyo, or feudal lord/ruler for us normies) in a campaign in Manchuria.

Presently, our Soke (headmaster) is Richo Hayabuchi. The 16th Soke of the style.

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NBT: Are there different levels of skill or belts to be earned? (I says because I knows nothing.)

RB: Iaido doesn’t grant belts, per se, but ranks as issued as a result of being graded (once a year by Soke).

Lower ranks are called Kyu ranks. They are ordered five to one, lowest to highest. Higher ranks are called Dan (pronounced dawn) ranks. They are ordered one to five, again, lowest to highest.

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NBT: Last question! Do you think carrying on these martial arts traditions is important?

RB: Man, good question. Absolutely, I think this important. At a high level, iaido exemplifies an aspect Japanese culture separately from any other martial art. Unlike others, the value of iaido isn’t both practical and spiritual. Iaido isn’t used for self-defense.

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Well, class, this has been Intro to Iaido 101, there WILL be a test on Friday. But seriously, readers, I hope you learned something new and this inspires you to do your own research on iaido or another martial art. Perhaps even take up a class and become your own warrior.

Keep fighting the good fight!

xx,
Katie

Ooh, Shiny: A Peek at the Tucson Gem Show

The Tucson Gem Show is a BIG DEAL. (And it’s not just gems – it’s fossils and minerals and other neato items.) It’s also considered one of the oldest and largest gem and mineral shows on this here planet Earth.

If you aren’t impressed yet, take into consideration that for a couple weeks it takes over downtown Tucson with vendors from all over the world (and it even has its own music festival).

Are you ready to race down to Tucson now? Are you putting the pedal to the metal? Well, hold your horses, because this year’s showcase is over. However, maybe some of these photos from the show can tide you over while you count down the months to the next gem show in late January of 2018.

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If you’re not particularly versed in gems and minerals (believe me, I’m 100% not), you can see that there’s definitely still some great photography (and people-watching) potential here.

Don’t miss it when it comes around again – maybe I’ll even see you there.

xx

Katie

Sandstone, Sweet Sandstone: Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park

I was in Las Vegas recently and though it has its many charms (and vices), I think it can get a liiiiittle overwhelming.

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I mean, what isn’t just INCREDIBLY charming about a large shoe?

If you’re looking to get away from the glitz and gambling (and TERRIFYING street performers) of Sin City, have no fear, nature is here to cradle you in its sweet, sandy arms.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Valley of Fire State Park in Moapa Valley (which I sadly did NOT get to visit), Nevada and Zion National Park in Utah are all features that are under 3 hours away.

Some quick tips before you step foot into ANY of these places. If you aren’t keen on reading further, at least read this:

  • Bring lots of water – often at visitors centers or at the head of a trail their will be a water fountain or water refill station, but if you’re out on the trail, you’re probably out of luck
  • Which brings me to my next point, GO before you go (I stole this phrase from a Zion sign) – hit the bathroom before you hit the trail and scope out any other pit stops along the way
  • If a sign says DON’T do something – like don’t stray from the trail, don’t swim in the water, don’t feed the deer – then don’t do these things, it’s safer for you and the surrounding environment
  • Lastly, it’s never a bad idea to check the websites of these places for weather conditions or any other alerts like a trail or park closure – it would be a real bummer to drive all the way only to find out the trail you wanted to hike is closed

Now onto the good stuff!

Red Rock Canyon

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Much red. So rock. Wow.

Red Rock Canyon is a great place for hikers, bikers, climbers and it’s barely 30 minutes out from the Las Vegas Strip. If you’re one of those I’d-rather-admire-nature-from-the-car types (or your feet are hurting from walking up and down the Strip because you’re too cheap to pay for parking), they have a one-way scenic drive for some easy 40-minute cruisin’.

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Climbers gon’ climb.

There’s a fee per car, per bike or per pedestrian but these are really minimal – we paid $7 for our car – but check the website for fees if you’re really concerned.

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If you love rocks, this is the place to be. If you don’t love rocks, it’s still pretty cool.

Plenty of stops along the way of the drive for you to enjoy the activity you prefer. Ask for a map when you pay your fee or when you stop at the visitor center (or check it out online, which I would do before you arrive, because cell service in no bueno due to canyon). I did a little bit of exploring and photographing – I think I’d like to dedicate myself to an actual hike the next time I visit.

Zion National Park

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OOOOOOOOOH.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is just a bit over two-and-a-half hours away from Las Vegas, so dedicating a day to it is pretty easy to do, not just because the drive, but because of how much there is to see.

There are nine designated stops inside of the park and they have a pretty nifty shuttle system that runs through Springdale (the town outside of Zion) and the rest of the canyon. It’s a great way to avoid any parking problems and it’s also FREE-NINETY-NINE (meaning, you know, free). It seems to run in early Spring – Late Fall/Early Winter. We were there during Thanksgiving weekend and that seemed to be the last shuttle run. Private vehicles are also allowed to drive along the same scenic drive.

Although the shuttle is free, there is a fee to get into the park. And be forewarned, if you go during a holiday/holiday weekend, it will be crowded as HECK.

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AHHHHHHH.

I could ramble on for days about the trails, camping and climbing available, the cute little Zion lodge you can stay at or just how beautiful it is, but my words and these few photos cannot do it justice. You simply have to see for yourself how vast and HUGE these formations are.

I’d like to boogie on back here some day soon (when it’s warmer, because I’m a big baby) to do some serious hiking and exploring. I encourage you, if you’re visiting to slow down and take some time, to not just only enjoy Zion but to check out the picturesque small towns on the way in.

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10/10 would canyon again.

If you were waffling about visiting either of these places, I hope this makes you decidedly un-waffled and that you take the plunge!

Until next time, safe travels!

xx
Katie