Bannerman Castle - Hudson Valley, NY

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A fresh breeze and the soft crashing of water against the hull brought on a wave of calm. It had just started to feel like autumn in the Hudson Valley. The air was crisp, but the sun was shining and a few seconds under it was enough to warm up. 

The boat started to slow down and with a few yanks we came to a stop at Pollepel Island. There are many legends as to the origin of the name. One of them tells the story of a young woman called Polly Pell. She fell through the breaking ice of the river one winter and was rescued and brought to the island by her sweetheart. Prompting the villagers to name the island after her.  

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However it’s more likely that the word Pollepel came from the Dutch for “pot ladle”. Since the early Dutch explorers sailed by the island continuously as they made their way to their settlements up the river.  

Today the name Pollepel remains the official name of the island, but most people know it as Bannerman’s Island. A name that comes from Frank Bannerman, the business mogul who bought the island for himself and build the castle. 

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At first glance, Bannerman Castle looks like a traditional castle. The towers at each corner, a moat and the battlements. But unlike regular castles, Bannerman Castle was not built as a residence. (At least not a typical residence). The building was home to an arsenal. A place to keep Frank Bannerman’s surplus of grenades, pistols, boots and uniforms. 

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You see, Frank Bannerman was in the business of war. 

A native of Scotland, Frank Bannerman immigrated to the United States at the age of 3. His father established a business as a salesman of flags, rope and other used items auctioned off by the Navy. When Frank was 13-years-old, his father joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War and Frank took over the family business. He quickly realized the items he was selling as scraps could fetch a higher value if sold as military goods.

At the end of the Civil War, Frank bought many of the military goods the government sold off to be stripped off as scraps. But instead of selling them as scrap Frank created an Army-Navy Store. Then after the Spanish-American War, Frank bought 90% of the weapons and surplus military goods. 

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Frank Bannerman’s arsenal grew so much that the city was concerned with him keeping it all stored in Brooklyn, and asked him to move his warehouse.

That’s when he purchased Pollepel Island and built his warehouses in the shape of castles. Bannerman designed the castle himself, after some of the castles he saw on his trips to Europe and then had builders recreate his sketches on the island. 

Eventually the Bannerman business declined. As the government placed more legislation on ownership of military equipment, the sales for Bannerman’s arsenal declined. 

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The weapons and paraphernalia remained on the island until New York State purchased it in 1967. The government removed a lot of the equipment, however in 1969 a fire destroyed whatever remained on the island. The Castle’s roof, floors and parts of the wall were also destroyed.

The island remained closed to the public for decades until the Bannerman Castle Trust gained the New York State’s government permission to stabilize the buildings remaining on the island and finally provide tours to the public. 

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During our hike up to the castle we journeyed through a series of dirt paths and rocky stairs and got a real sense of what it was like to be here in the late 1890s and early 1900s. 

On the other side of the island a garden maintained by volunteers and the remnants of Bannerman’s personal home are flourishing once more. 

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Useful information:
The island is open to the public for hiking tours, kayaking tours, theatrical presentations, movies under the stars and a series of other events that take place during the warmer months. 

Tour Tickets:
Adults (12+): USD$35
Children: USD$30

How to get there:
Take the Metro North Hudson Line to Beacon. Walk through the underpass to the riverside of the railway to find the pier from which the Bannerman Castle visits depart.

Website: https://bannermancastle.org/

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Hora - Mykonos, Greece


We arrived by boat. The azure waves crashed in the distance against another sea, a sea of white houses stacked up as far as the eye could see. These small white cubes looked like perfectly shaped cakes covered in royal icing. And I was eager for a slice.

We touched land at Hora, the capital of Mykonos island, on the west coast. The name Hora is commonly used for the capitals of many of the other islands, since the word also means town in Greek. So it makes sense that the place is commonly referred to simply as Mykonos Town. 

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When you think of Mykonos you probably think of parties at Lindsay Lohan’s beach bar and the like, but the island is so much more than that. Sure, Hora is bustling with clubs at nighttime, but in the morning, and for much of the day, the town is washed over by a serene atmosphere. 

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"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others." - Pericles

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While tourists flood the typical attractions, like the Windmills of Kato Mili, it’s easy to get lost in the maze of narrow alleyways between the white buildings and find quiet spots all to yourself. 


Hora is also the home to many cultural gems, like the Aegean Maritime Museum, which harbors one of the largest lighthouses in the mediterranean. There are also countless orthodox churches with their blue domes. One of the most iconic is the church of Agios Nikolaos, the first one we noticed upon arriving at Hora’s port.

Windmills of Kato Mili

Windmills of Kato Mili

As with many of the Cycladic islands, Mykonos is known for its bright white houses splashed with blue details. But how did this unique trend start? There are many stories about how it came about, but these are a few I heard while I was there:

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It’s believed the iconic blue and white pairing started due to the strong heat of summer on the islands. White reflects the sunlight and keep the houses cool inside. Back in those days, there was no mass production of paint, so people would use asbestos as the basis to create the white color. Later on, during the dictatorship, painting the houses white and blue became a law to show patriotism and support for the government.

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I also heard a story from a local in Santorini that the trend started when the Ottoman Empire ruled over Greece. The foreign empire would not allow Greece to rise their own flag so they started painting the houses in the flags white and blue colors as a sign of rebellion and patriotic pride.

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While many people have also started differentiating their own home by painting the trimmings in different colors, like green and red, today the white and blue houses have become a symbol for Greece, recognized all around the world. 

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I spend half of my day in Mykonos exploring Hora and the other half laying on the beach while sipping Mythos, the local beer. We went to Megali Amos, a quiet beach and the perfect spot to relax not far from the town center. 

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Many people will tell you they prefer Santorini over Mykonos, but for me Mykonos definitely took home the cake. 

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Useful info:

How to get there?
Multiple ferry services depart daily from Athens and the other islands, including Blue Star Ferries and Hellenic Seaways. Many cruise lines also have Mykonos as one of their main stops during their Mediterranean cruises.

Getting around:
Walking around Hora is easy and allows you to enjoy the most of the location. However, taxi services are also available to take you to different parts of the island. You can also rent a car.

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Hotel Il Pellicano - Porto Ercole, Italy

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“This must be what it feels like to be George Clooney.”

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That was my first thought upon arriving at the Hotel Il Pellicano. 

We drove for two hours from Rome to the peninsula of Monte Argentario. An island-like comune connected to the mainland by three strips of land. The narrow road wound around one steep hill after another. As we took each turn, I couldn’t help but picture small Italian cars zooming uphill the way they do in the movies. 

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We parked at the hotel garage and were received with the warm smiles of the hotel staff. They didn’t care we weren’t celebrities. We still felt the VIP treatment. (Even though we were an hour late for our lunch reservation.)

Il Pellicano was a pitstop on our journey from the capital to the Chianti region. It was a place to decompress for a few hours while enjoying the beautiful Italian coastline. And that’s exactly what we did. 

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As we descended onto the terrace, the view from the top of the cliff was breathtaking. Below us the terrace continued to cascade sharply onto the Tyrrhenian Sea. 

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At the edge of the cliff, a set of stairs and an elevator await to bring you down safely from the summit to the beach at sea level. 

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We ordered lunch at the hotel’s Tuscan Grill. Fritto misto, spaghetti with clams, and my favorite dessert: affogato. The food was delicious, but it was the view that created a real feast for the eyes. 

As I explored the venue, I noticed that their main restaurant Il Pellicano received one Michelin Star for 2019.

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The Hotel Il Pellicano is one of those incredible hidden gems that I can only hope to visit again.

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Useful information:

Tuscan Grill Summer Hours:

Lunch: 12:30pm - 2:30pm

Dinner: 7:30pm - 10pm

Address: Località Sbarcatello, 58019 Porto Ercole GR, Italy

Book a table: https://www.hotelilpellicano.com/en/dining/booking-pelligrill/

Contact: info@pellicanohotel.com

Website: https://www.hotelilpellicano.com/

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Kuranda Scenic Railway - Queensland, Australia

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In the 1800s the rail industry was blossoming. That’s when the construction of a railway began deep in an Australian rainforest. That rainforest is The Wet Tropics of Queensland on the northeast region of Australia. The train line extended from Cairns, on the coast, to Kuranda, up in the mountains.

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The Kuranda Scenic Railway was completed in 1891 and started moving tourists in 1936. Today, the railway transports tourists daily (except on Christmas Day) through 23 miles of scenery. 

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Along the way you experience more than ride on a beautiful classic train, you also get sweeping views of multiple waterfalls, like Barron Falls and Stoney Creek Falls as well being an arm’s length away from the untouched tropical regions of the forest. 

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The old world charm of the train ride culminates at Kuranda Station, where you can explore the Kuranda Village. The village boasts countless attractions, restaurants and shops. We rode an amphibious World War II Army duck and learned about the indigenous culture through an interactive Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience at Rainforestation. 

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As part of The Wet Tropics of Queensland, the Kuranda National Park is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area of about 450 km is known as The Wet Tropics of Queensland. 

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Important Info:
Heritage Class (One Way) 
Adult AUS $50
Kid AUS $25
Family AUS $125

Heritage Class (Roundtrip)
Adult AUS $ 76
Kid AUS $38
Family AUS $190

Royale Service (One Way) 
Adult AUS $73
Kid AUS $48
Family AUS $217

Royale Service (Roundtrip)
Adult AUS $122
Kid AUS $84
Family AUS $374

Hours: Open daily, except Christmas Day

Website: https://www.ksr.com.au/

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TWA Hotel - New York, USA

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A red carpet, the ultimate symbol of status, is rolled out for you the moment you enter the TWA Hotel. Literally. The carpet that covers the entrance corridors and part of the lounge areas is bright red, after the original colors of the airline. But it’s not only the carpet that makes a big impression.

I took the elevator from JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport and in a few seconds was transported in time. It was the 60s and this was the jetset lifestyle. 

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A makeshift office welcomes you next to a futuristic tunnel that will lead you to the hotel. Before walking through the tunnel, I couldn’t help but explore the MadMen-style desk, wooden decor and full bar (all props left there for you to take some cool antique snaps).

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Inside the hotel, the celebration to this precious era of aviation continues. A monochromatic sunken lounge, a departure board with split-flaps that switches with the iconic clicks and clacks, and a wing displaying vintage flight personnel uniforms bring to life what the TWA Terminal was like back in 1962.

1962 is the year this terminal originally opened its doors. The building, known as the headhouse of the terminal, was designed by Finish architect Eero Saarinen. The design itself is considered to touch a few different styles, including Futurism, Neo-Futurism and Googee styles.

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Today, the terminal is the anchor between the three buildings that make the TWA Hotel. Additional to 512 rooms, there is also a rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the active JFK runway. It’s an amazing sight and one of my favorite parts of the hotel.

If you’re feeling peckish, try one of the many food options: a restaurant by Jean Georges called Paris Café, the Pool Bar, The Sunken Lounge or the Connie Cocktail Lounge (a lounge inside a vintage airplane!)

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Good to know:

Rooms:

Average per night is around USD$ 250 depending on how far in advance you book.

But you can book a room for 4 hrs to rest between layovers for $150.

Pool:

You can get access to the pool by staying at the hotel or by reserving a table at the Pool Bar.

Website: https://www.twahotel.com

Address:Terminal 5, 6 Central Terminal Area, Jamaica, NY 11430

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Fisherman's Bastion - Budapest, Hungary

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White stone towers line the Castle hill overlooking the Danube River. You can imagine Rapunzel letting down her luscious locks for her prince to climb up from any of them. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a place where fairy tales crossover to reality. But this terrace didn’t come from the imagination of Walt Disney.

The neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque structure was built on the design of Hungarian architecture Frigyes Schulek. It took 7 years to complete and was finished in 1902. Seven is a key number for this magnificent destination. There are 7 small towers, or turrets, that encompass it. Each of the towers representing one of the 7 Hungarian tribes that founded the country. 

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Fisherman’s Bastion is a translation from the original Hungarian name, Halaszbastya. There are many theories of where the name comes from, but most agree that it comes from the fisherman’s guild who were the early protectors of the Castle walls. 

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The Bastion was almost destroyed during World War II, and it was Fridgyes Schulek’s son, János Schulek, who led the restoration to bring it back to its original splendor in 1948. 

A statue of the first king of Hungary, Stephen I, stands on the terrace.

The Fisherman’s Bastion was originally built as part of the celebration of the 1,000th birthday of Hungary as a decorative lookout tower from which the locals could enjoy panoramic views of the city. Today this unique structure continues to be one of the most iconic sights on the Buda bank from where you can get the best panoramic views of Budapest. 

 

Entry:
The terrace and many of the balconies are free. However, you can choose to get a deeper look.
Upper observation deck: $1000 Hungarian Forint

Website:
http://www.budavar.hu/halaszbastya-belepodijai

Address:
Budapest, Szentháromság tér, 1014 Hungary

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Gellért Thermal Baths - Budapest, Hungary

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Magnesium, calcium, zinc, fluoride ions and sodium. I’m not just listing random portions of the periodic table, these are some of the elements found in the hot spring waters of the Gellért hills. Hungary’s rich geothermal waters have been popular since Roman times. The Romans were followed by the Turkish who built more baths for both enjoyment and medicinal purposes. 

By 1920, Budapest had an established reputation as a city of spas. Today, the city’s reputation continues on with estimates of nearly 1,000 sources of spring waters filling countless baths in the city. Therefore, when I visited the city I knew I needed to stop by a local bath. 

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The first bath we tried to attend was the well-known Széchenyi Baths, but as a typical summer afternoon, the baths were packed and the line was so long we gave up after about an hour of waiting. But I wasn’t going to give up, even though our departure from Budapest was scheduled for 11 a.m. the next morning. 

We were staying in Buda and within walking distance from the Hotel Gellért, so I felt that visiting the unique baths housed within the hotel was meant to be. We arrived at 6 a.m., careful to get in before the crowds of tourists started to flock it. Luckily, it was only us and the locals there so early. 

If only I could start every day by bathing in 40° C healing waters.

We arrived wired with the energy of trying to rush through it prior to our departure, but once we took a dip in the first warm pool, it was impossible not to relax. The beautiful Art Nouveau decor of carefully constructed blue tile work transported us back in time. 

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Inside, it was like playing inside a relaxation labyrinth. Every turn led to a new pool, a new massage wing, a different sauna. 

The Gellért Thermal Baths are comprised of 13 pools. In addition to the multiple hot spring pools, an open air pool generates artificial waves every 30 minutes and another indoor swimming pool is filled with effervescent water. There are also Finnish saunas and cold water pools that accompany them. You can also schedule a massage or other treatments. Many locals come with prescriptions for specific therapies that are applied by the medical department within the Gellért Thermal Baths. 

The effervescent pool is one of the most iconic potions of the Art Nouveau spa with columns that flank the perimeter of the pool and a sky light. 

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The Gellért Thermal Baths are the perfect place to spend a whole day. It’s fun to discover new sections while allowing the local waters to heal you. They are also not as crowded as other baths so it’s easier to get a more authentic experience. 

You can choose to rent a locker or a private cabin to change. Also, don’t forget to grab a map, you’ll need it to move around. 

 

Ticket with locker:
Weekdays: $6,200 Hungarian Forint 
Weekends: $6,400 Hungarian Forint

Hours:
6 a.m. - 8 p.m. Daily

Website: http://www.gellertfurdo.hu/

Address: 
Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4, 1118 Hungary

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Uluru - Northern Territory, Australia

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4am. I woke up with a start in a hotel room with my closest childhood friend (a.k.a. “best friend 4 eva”). We were thousands of miles away from home in Australia. The trip was a joint celebration of our 30th birthdays. The alarm had gone off to signal us it was time to go. 

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We were staying at the Sails in the Desert hotel just outside the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and we had signed up for a sunrise viewing of Uluru. We packed ourselves into the tour bus half asleep. It was still dark when we arrived at the viewing area and our guide set up a table with hot chocolate and tea. It was a chilly morning and the hot chocolate felt like a warm hug from within. 

We hiked up to a plateau where we stood a few kilometers away from the rock. The darkness was starting to shift and dashes of pink began to splash across the dark blue sky. Any sleepiness we had arrived with was suddenly replaced by a rush of energy and excitement. There is no more beautiful sight on this planet than the iconic landscape of UIuru as the night gives way to the day.

It was not only the beauty of it that overtook me, but the energy. There is an electrifying peace that rises from the bright red ground at this location. It’s a palpable vibrancy that made me feel more connected to the earth than ever.

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is one of Australia’s most iconic natural landmarks. It is located near the center of the country in the Northern Territory region. The red sandstone monolith stands tall at 1,142 ft high on the flat Australian desert, making for a breathtaking scene. 

The local aboriginal people, the Anangu, are the traditional owners of Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations as well as the land that surrounds them. But it wasn’t until 1985 that Australia’s government returned ownership of the land. Today, the park is managed by the Anangu traditional owners and Parks Australia. It is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

It’s important to note that Uluru is a sacred place for the local community. Due to its spiritual significance climbing Uluru is disrespectful to the aboriginal culture and traditions. I chose not to climb Uluru out of respect as a guest in Anangu land and because I believe it’s important to preserve the sacred meaning of the location and protect the Anangu traditions. 

As of October 26, 2019 climbing Uluru will be officially banned. 34 years after the land was returned to its rightful owners. 

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Instead of climbing, a way to honor and enjoy this sight is walking around the perimeter and watching the spectacular sunrise. I chose to stand barefoot at one of the viewing points back at the Resort, in a sort of standing meditation also known as Earthing. 

As we closed our day inside the national park, we saw the sun set over the rock. My friend and I made a pact to return here to celebrate our 80th birthdays. 

 

Ayers Rock Resort Information
& Sails in the Desert Hotel 

Website:
www.ayersrockresort.com.au

Address:
163 Yulara Dr, Yulara NT 0872, Australia

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The Best Plants for Travelers

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

The other day, as I walked down Grand Street in Brooklyn, I came across a little shop that stopped me in my tracks. This shop was Sprout Home, a florist and plant nursery, bursting with all sorts of luscious greenery. 

I had to walk in.

The mustardy yellow wall near the front door offered the perfect contrast to the green cacti welcoming me inside. It was impossible to resist the urge to snap as many photos as I could manage. And while I looked for the perfect angles for each little succulent that got in my way, I realized that I wanted a plant. But could I keep it alive?

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

As a frequent traveler, sometimes I’m abroad for weeks at a time and I figured that not many plants would be able to survive going thirsty for that long. But it turns out there are a few that could.

I’ve been doing a lot of asking around and searching online, and it looks like these five plants could be my safest bets:

1. Succulents

This may seem like an obvious one, after all they look like cacti. (Did you know that cacti are a type of succulent?) Why are they good for frequent travelers? Succulents store water in their stems, roots, and leaves, so they can survive longer without being watered. In fact, they may wilt if you over-water them. They also come in an assortment of shapes, colors and sizes, so you’re sure to find one to your heart’s desire. 

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

2. Snake plants

Snake plants are a succulent, but they don’t look like it! (It’s their secret identity! haha). These plants are famous for their air purifying ability and their ease of care. I have two of these, so I can confidently say that they don’t need that much attention to grow and prosper. Why are they good for frequent travelers? They only require watering every two weeks or so, they also don’t require much light. Snake plants thrives in medium to bright indirect light, but can stay healthy in low lights, too. 

3. Pothos

Pothos have wide leaves and tend to grow in width rather than height. They also come in a few different colors: Marble Pothos have a green and ivory colored leaves, while Jade Pothos have deep green leaves and Neon Pothos have lighter green leaves. Why are they good for frequent travelers? They require to be watered slightly more often than succulents, but weekly watering is enough. They can also thrive in low light so they are good if you live in a small space without many windows. 

4. Zanzibar gem

Also known as a ZZ plant, the Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a tropical plant originating in Africa. It’s glossy leaves are chubby stems make for a beautiful bundle. However, this plant is not good for a home with pets. The Zanzibar gem is toxic and poisonous if consumed. Why are they good for frequent travelers? Like succulents, the Zanzibar gem’s chubby stems collect water, so you don’t have to water them often. They are also good air purifiers. 

5. Philodendron

These plants have really wide green leaves and a super tropical feel. (I may need to get one now that I found out what they are called!) They have a really lush and shiny look that makes them look like they need a lot of upkeep. However, they don’t need as much care as you’d think. Why are they good for frequent travelers? They are known as a nearly impossible to kill and they grow really fast. The only downfall is that these are also poisonous for pets, so you’ll need to keep them out of their reach or choose a different variety. Many people put them in hanging pots. 

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

Going on a long vacation doesn’t always mean you’ll come home to a dead plant. There are a lot of tools you can use to create a makeshift watering system that can keep them moist while you’re away. Like these small Aqua Globes that can keep plants watered for up to 2 weeks. 

If you have a pet, make sure to check with your local nursery before buying a plant to make sure they’re not poisonous to your little buddy.

 

Sprout Home
All the suggestions and tips on this post are based on my personal research and unrelated to Sprout Home.

Hours:
Daily 10:00am to 7:00pm

Website: www.sprouthome.com

Address: 
59 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

Photo taken at Sprout Home - Brooklyn, NY

Extraordinary Libraries: The Morgan Library & Museum

Think of 34th street in Manhattan. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you live in NYC, you probably thought of the busy streets of Herald Square. If you’ve visited the city, you probably thought of the massive Macy’s department store and the Empire State Building. In any case, your first thought most likely had nothing to do with a library. And yet, just a few blocks east of Macy’s, you’ll discover an extraordinary book collection.

Hidden in plain sight, on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Streets is the Morgan Library & Museum. Though many have never heard of it, it’s been standing in the same place for over a century. 

It’s a stunning place to explore. This library has nothing to envy major national libraries. The extraordinary collection includes the scraps of paper on which Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “It Ain’t Me Babe”; autographed and annotated libretti from Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart; and manuscripts of Charlotte Brontë, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe”. 

Most notable amongst the books inside are the Gutenberg Bibles. As of 2009, only 49 copies of this bible survive and only 21 of those are complete. While the most prominent libraries around the world have 1 or 2 copies of it, the Morgan Library is the only library to house 3 copies. Even the Vatican Library only holds 2 incomplete volumes. You can view a digital copy of one of the bibles here

Morgan’s Study

But it’s not only the collection that’s impressive. The interior design of the building is just as amazing. There’s a rotunda with a domed ceiling with painted murals inspired by Raphael. Another breathtaking room is Morgan’s study. A dark room with rich scarlet upholstery that covers the walls, as well as a matching red carpet. The furniture are all antique pieces that draw a picture of what it would have been like to visit this library back in the day. 

A bit of history

The library was founded by John Pierpont Morgan, Sr. in 1906 to home his personal collection. JP Morgan was one of the most prominent financiers and bankers of his time, and his name is still synonymous with banking and investments today. He was also an avid collector, buying books, pictures, drawings, paintings and other art objects. He loaned many of these to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of which he was the president. Many others were kept at this library. After his passing, the library was made a public institution in 1924 by his son J.P. Morgan, Jr.

 

Museum entry:
$22 Adults 
$14 Seniors (65 and over)
$13 Students (with current ID)

*Free to members and children 12 and under (must be accompanied by an adult)

**Admission is free on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed Monday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Website: www.themorgan.org

Address: 
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016

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