Tag Archives: weekend

Weekend Trips: Kansas City

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!

Arthur Bryants

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.

Arthur Bryants

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.

Northern Lights in Kiruna

Weekend Trips: Sweden

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.

Stockholm Ferry Andrea Baptista

Stockholm Ferry

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).

Camp Alta, Kiruna, Sweden

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

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.

Camp Alta Sunset

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

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

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

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

“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

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

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

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!

Niagara Falls by Andrea Baptista

Weekend Trips from NYC: Toronto and Niagara Falls

How about a trip to Canada?

Ryan and I just took a quick trip up to Niagara Falls and Toronto.  He had never been to Canada so I tried to throw together a few things I loved about my road trips as a kid.

We took a straight shot drive up to Niagara Falls for about 6.5 hours from New York City on a Friday night.  We just missed the falls lit up, so definitely check the schedule and plan accordingly.

The Sheraton on the Falls Hotel is a great deal–we paid ~$90 for the most basic room and were upgraded to a high floor with a great view of the falls with Starwood Gold status.

In the morning this is what we woke to:

Niagara Falls

After a quick drive and walk along the falls to see them from different vantage points on the Canadian side (arguably the better view), we drove up to Toronto.

Our first stop is a New York Times favorite–Lai Wah Heen.  First picked up by FloFab in 1997 and reappearing many-a-times, the restaurant claims many dim sum hearts as people’s favorite Cantonese stop in Toronto.  Everything was spot on and came out piping hot (often an issue with dim sum in North America and the popular cart style service).  Make sure to order these cute pig shaped glutinous rice meat fritters with garlic ears:

Glutinous Rice Fritters from Lai Wah Heen by Andrea Baptista
After dim sum and driving around Downtown to see the CN Tower, we struggled with what to do.  As a kid all I did in Toronto was visit family, see Blue Jays vs. Yankees games, go Chinese goods shopping and eat Chinese food.  Not to discount how awesome the Chinese shopping and food is, but I could understand the lack of appeal for someone in Toronto for the first time, and January isn’t exactly baseball season.   Luckily, Ryan had a great idea: hockey.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs out of town, we were left with a minor league Toronto Marlies game. It was actually a lot of fun and I definitely recommend it!

Same day online tickets are limited–by the time we decided to go, they were no longer for sale. Luckily Ryan wasn’t dissuaded and we walked up the ticket counter at Ricoh Coliseum with a bunch of well-garbed fans (and an unpleasant scalper who tried to sell us tickets for 20 CAD).  Turns out there aren’t many levels at the stadium–just the 100s and the ~5 row lower level by the ice so all the seats are great. Our tickets in Row G of section 101 face value was 37.50 CAD, but a lovely woman approached on the ticket line to give them to us for free (so nice!).  The stadium capacity was 7.8k and our crowd was at 7.5k so even for a rivals game, I’m sure there were plenty of last minute seats left.

The local crowd was great and really into the game–this furry guy, Duke, teasing a fan from the opposing team helped too:
Duke at a Toronto Marlies Game

That night we ate some awesome Cantonese style casual food and checked into the Sheraton Parkway Hotel.  A no frills decent Sheraton with a really low rate at ~$90, the hotel is right in the center of really great Cantonese food!  We woke up and went to eat amazing rice noodles and congee at Sam’s then started our trek back.
Sam's Congee Delight by Andrea Baptista

On the way back to New York we stopped at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, home of the original Buffalo wings.

All in all, a great quick trip!  If we had flip flopped and did Toronto first then Niagara we would have made it back in time for the last tour at 1:30 of the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin D. Martin House and seen the falls at night, but there’s always next time!

 

Sheraton on the Falls
SPG Category 4
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites
SPG Category 3
Richmond Hill, Ontario

Lai Wah Heen (takes reservations and pre-orders)
Metropolitan Hotel Toronto
108 Chestnut St
Toronto, ON M5G 1R3
+1 416-977-9899

Sam’s Congee Delight (no reservations)
4390 Steeles Ave E
Markham, ON L3R 9V7

See my explanation for staying in Starwood from my last post.