As we are about to book another trip to Chicago, I realized I never actually published my first post about Alinea below.
Alinea, what a dreamy place! You know in a top ten restaurant off the World’s Best list that your meal will be otherworldly, and our experience was no exception. The service was extremely friendly and fun–a big part of what made the meal enjoyable, and the dishes were so imaginative and thoughtful.
There were so many moments where I felt like a giddy, excited, and fascinated kid in a science lab. Setting high expectations can be a bad game to play with food, but this met them all. Alinea was food on another level. I don’t want to write too much and give it away, but if you need more convincing research the green apple balloon!
Kansas City is such a wonderful place! I really had no idea before arriving, but there’s actually a lot of sights to see and we plan on coming back!
We landed Friday night/Saturday morning at 2am on a very delayed Southwest flight from LGA in New York, called the complimentary shuttle from our Four Points next to the airport, and were picked up very promptly. The hotel was very convenient and comfortable—no complaints here.
We slept in until about 11am then scrambled to figure out how to get around. We were on the Missouri side of the city near the airport and needed to get to Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue on the Kansas side. Both proved difficult because Uber was banned at the airport and also in Kansas due to recent legislation. Surprise! It was too late for a reasonable rental car so we called a local town car for $50. With some sticker-shock, we were on our way. (Side note: they do have a $1.50 bus if you are headed to downtown.)
Joe’s is a well-frequented barbecue restaurant by both locals and tourists. Situated in a gas station (or more so the tiny gas station was part of the huge restaurant at this point), there is plenty of seating once you conquer the 1 hour line (and longer if it wraps around the building). We had half a pound of brisket, a rack of ribs, potato salad, and fries between the two of us.
The ribs were satisfying, but not as good as we expected. Hoping for some tender meat with smokey flavors, instead they were pretty dry and needed sauce which, though delicious, I thought was akin to McDonald’s barbecue sauce.
Same story for the brisket. It was somewhat dry which is perfect to douse in their sweet barbecue sauce. The real standout, strangely, were the barbecue seasoned fries—think barbecue chips on steroids!
After barbecue, we headed to our next hotel with our luggage and full bellies in a $30 1010cab. It’s very expensive compared to what our Ubers cost us for the rest of the trip! The 1010 cabs are based on mileage; the first 5 miles are included in the base fare of $10, and every additional mile was $2. It’s pretty easy to hail these cabs if you can’t find an Uber or you are in an area that Uber doesn’t support; all you have to do is text your address to (913) 534-8294 or book through Curb or zTrip (apps on your phone).
The hotel we chose, the Four Points by Sheraton Kansas City – Sports Complex, was walking distance to the ballpark for our Saturday evening Yankees game. For some perspective, the walk was as long as I’d walk from a typical parking lot spot to a Yankees game in New York. If you decide to stop in town for a Chiefs game, which I think we may try to do one day, it’s a bit further.
I purchased our tickets a month and a half ago at the end of March, and there were still a ton of tickets on sale up until the hour of the game going for under $30 each. We were first row in the upper deck on the first base line and our tickets were around $45 each (originally $11+$3.50 fee) and by New York standards this felt like a steal. Their stadium capacity is 37k versus Yankee Stadium at 50k, and our seats were comparable to the Mezzanine seats in New York that go for $100+. There were also some tempting tickets behind the away team’s dugout for ~$140 which would have gone for $250 in New York!
The Yankees won then we headed to Ameristar Casino. I had no idea that Kansas City had such a beautiful casino! If you are into gambling, I would say it’s worth the stop. Interestingly enough, the casino is actually built on a barge to comply with Missouri laws that legalized river casinos.
On Sunday, we headed to Arthur Bryant’s for some more barbecue. It was unbelievably good and definitely our favorite over Joe’s! The wait was around 45 minutes and we ordered our own one pound plates (YUM!). Everything was delicious and spot on. The ribs were so tender and flavorful and the sliced beef and sliced pork were both juicy. The sauces are also really delicious—try mixing the sweet and spicy with the original barbecue sauce.
Afterwards, we caught an Uber to the Harry S Truman Presidential Library. If you are into US History, you must stop in! It took us about an hour to wiz through, but you can definitely spend a few hours there exploring.
Next time we go back we want to check out the other barbecue joints and will definitely be renting a car.
This is long overdue, but while everyone else jetted off to somewhere warm President’s Day weekend, I took an amazing family and friends trip up to the Arctic Circle to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid: see the Northern Lights! We got a decently priced fare to Stockholm on Thursday night for 0 on Norwegian with connecting flights to Kiruna for 0 on SAS (there were half price options for the second flight if you are more flexible, but we were trying to optimize our short stay). If you have more than a long weekend for this adventure, you can also take the overnight train to a bus to get to Kiruna.
The extended long weekend was the perfect amount of time to see a bit of Stockholm and venture off to Kiruna. We spent all day Friday in Stockholm to stop by the Vasa, run around the Gamla stan (Old Town), grab a delicious dinner at Rolfs Kök (I highly recommend!), get a Starwood stay for me at the Sheraton, and check out the Ice Bar that all our friends said we had to see (despite two of us agreeing that they are better in London and Rome). The only thing I really wanted to do, but didn’t have time for was to explore the Swedish shops, especially the ones related to design (like these).
Cabin at Camp Alta
If you are interested in the Northern Lights and have a tight schedule, there aren’t too many ways to do it very cheaply to optimize your chances of seeing them. I did a lot of research on different cities like Tromso, Norway and different accommodation types to watch the lights and it seemed like one of the best value options was a cabin in Kiruna. We stayed in Camp Alta which has bundled pricing of very cheap cabins with excursions. The cabins were around $25 per person with excursions at around $100 each. When I was looking at different companies they were all around $100-200 on top of normal $150 two person rooms per night accommodation.
Kiruna Airport, North of the Article Circle
We took the earliest flight up to Kiruna from Stockholm on Saturday and made it there in time to buy groceries, take a tour of the grounds, cook dinner, then head out to our first excursion.
Sunset from Our Cabin
Our first excursion in Kiruna was dog sledding looking for the Northern Lights our first evening. The gear was all provided (thick socks, overalls to put over your own ski pants and ski coats, gloves and thick boots) and though initially I had mixed views of dog labor like this, I left thoroughly convinced the dogs loved to run and howl through the night. They were also incredibly well fed to maintain their health to pull the sleds. We were told they sleep outside every night, but only because they’d be too warm inside otherwise after being accustomed to the cold.
Dog Sledding in the Swedish Laplands
Each sled had a driver and four passengers and we sped through the paths with no light pollution, took a break halfway to have some cheese and toast and mushroom soup by a fire with a few groups on sleds, then returned back to the kennel. If you are planning on taking a dog sled, I recommend you bring your own very warm ski mask! It got to -25 Celsius when we were there and we didn’t mess around with 5x layers.
Entrance to the Ice Hotel
Our second excursion was a snow mobile tour to the Ice Hotel. Truly a marvel, this famous compound of ice buildings that gets rebuilt differently every year was really a sight.
Inside the Ice Hotel
It is worth paying to enter to look at the different art installations in each room. For a light $750/night you can stay there and freeze your bottoms off! It by all means did not seem as luxurious as movies made it seem.
“Abject Beauty” by Lotta Lampa and Julia Gamborg Nielsen
If you are strapped for cash, some people opt to not go inside and instead hang out in the outside compound and bar area which are free to roam.
Inside the Bar at the Ice Hotel
You can switch excursions around and take the dog sled to the Ice Hotel and take snow mobiles at night, but I recommend how we did it. You can go considerably fast on the snow mobiles and it is much much more fun to go fast on paths you are unfamiliar with while the sun is up (I would have been way to terrified the way Ryan was zipping around!!)
Snow Mobiling in Kiruna
Aside from the great value, the really nice thing about our camp was the ability to walk out to the middle of the lake we were situated on, lay down in the snow, and stare at the stars waiting for the Northern Lights. We didn’t see them our first night, but were lucky to see them on the second night.
Northern Lights from Our Camp
If you have bad luck with the conditions and aren’t able to see the lights, there’s also some fire heated saunas on the property. If we could have stayed for another day we probably would have cross-country skied for a few hours, go snow-shoeing, and hang out in the sauna. Naturally, you’ll have some down time in the cabin between excursions, sauna time, and sleeping, so we brought a deck of cards and played Chinese Poker and drank Absolut Vodka (brought from NY duty free because of Sweden’s heavy alcohol taxes) for hours! Altogether, it was a really wonderful trip and I highly recommend it!
Oh, JetBlue, I really love you some times! There was this great fare sale flying JetBlue out of New York to various domestic destinations. The tricky part about many airfare deals is that they are normally for sub-optimal days; you’ll likely not be able to buy your complete round trip on a deal for a strict weekend of Friday night to Sunday night. After making sure there would be reasonable flights to return home Sunday, I snagged $30 Saturday morning tickets to Tampa for a quick weekend adventure. Luckily for us, we are pretty flexible and willing to pull the trigger quickly; various routes sold out very quickly and the sale ended by 4pm!
Ryan and I had some pretty good options to come home: $200 if we wanted a late night flight, $140 for a lunch flight, and only 8k points last minute to book a spare early morning Southwest flight in case of evening inclement weather in New York. With a companion pass this was a real steal! These Southwest flights don’t show up in results on Kayak so if you are looking to do a price comparison always check Southwest just in case! In the case of NYC-TPA, there aren’t any direct Southwest flights, but considering its great no change fee policy, it was so convenient to book a last minute connecting flight to make sure I could get to work on Monday.
We landed Saturday afternoon, checked into the Sheraton Suites, which was a bargain on points (only 3,000 for a $300 night which is 10 cents per point), then went straight off to Busch Gardens. We preordered tickets with AAA which turned out to be cheaper than plum discounts or working advantage.
So it turns out, you only really need one afternoon as fast walking adults to do the entire park. Lines were pretty short in February–the longest we had to wait was 35 minutes (just enough time to get over our motion sickness from the last ride haha!).
We left the park around 5:30 to get to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset and grab some seafood. The drive was spectacular!
I recommend the Clear Sky Cafe for simple well executed fresh seafood right next to the beach.
Sunday morning we headed back to the airport because there was bad weather in New York. Was the short trip worth it? It depends on how much you need the sunshine and like roller coasters! Next time I want to check out Big Cat Rescue and we’ll probably skip the park.
Toronto isn’t my favorite weekend destination because in many ways it is very similar to New York, but I do love the occasional escape for good Cantonese food.
Friday Night: Drive up to Toronto after work and hit the hay.
Saturday Noon: head to Lai Wah Heen to grab the best dim sum in town.
Saturday Afternoon: Drive around the Downtown Area and explore a gallery, museum, or sporting event of your choice (to be honest, there’s nothing that I’ve found that’s too far off what you can already find in New York–and no, hockey wasn’t invented in Canada). Check out a Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, or Marlies game if you can!
Saturday Evening: Grab a traditional or street-style Cantonese meal in Markham, perhaps at Richmond Court.
Saturday Night: Take a two hour drive back the way you came around Lake Ontario to see the gorgeous night lights at Niagara Falls.
Sunday Morning: Take a walk around the falls to take in the views, then drive for 30 minutes to the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo for the 12:00 tour.
Sunday afternoon: Grab a bite to eat at the home of the original buffalo wings, Anchor Bar, then return home to NYC with a full belly!