Saturday, June 29, 2013

25 Free Attractions In San Francisco

  • Contributed by Robert Reid
  • Lonely Planet 
Colombus statue at Coit Tower.
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Colombus statue at Coit Tower.
Lonely Planet media
  • John Elk III
  • Lonely Planet Photographer
  • Anchor steam beer.
  • A giant advertisement dominating a view of two members of the Giants playing baseball, and the outfield bleachers, Pac Bell Park.
  • One of the exhibits at San Francisco's Cable Car Museum. The cars were conceived by English mining engineer, Andrew Hallidie, as a replacement for the horse and carriage who were finding the city's steep streets difficult and dangerous
  • City Hall.
  • Murals within Coit Tower representative of the early 30's in San Francisco, California
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For an all-timer city, San Francisco quietly delivers a lot for the money. Many of its hotels offer comfort and location for a third of the cost of a comparable New York or London hotel; public transit is part of the fun (cheaper Market Street vintage street cars are more fun than the famous cable cars), and for food you can’t beat a $4 burrito in the Mission. And so much of the fun in San Francisco is free. Here’s a list of 25 options:

1. Amoeba Music’s free shows

When I lived in San Francisco, I spent at least a couple hours a week at Amoeba Music, a huge record/CD store made out of a former bowling alley on Haight Street. Either troll the $1 bins for the glory of vinyl, or time it for the frequent free show set up in the corner. 1855 Haight St;

2. Anchor Brewing Company tours

San Francisco’s home-grown beer – and call it simply ‘Anchor’ not ‘Anchor Steam’ to sound like a local – offers free 45-minute tours of its historic facilities and shiny copper brewhouse. The catch: book way ahead, at least a month, to get a spot. It includes tastings of six half-pints. 1705 Mariposa St;

3. Art galleries

San Francisco overflows with wild, unexpected art shows at dozens of galleries that are free to visit. They’re quieter during the week, but simply more fun at openings or weekends.
An excellent starting place is the gallery-packed four-floor 49 Geary (49 Geary St; www.sfada.comdowntown. Other favorites include Ratio 3 (1447 Stevenson St; in the Mission, whose artists regularly get Artforum coverage; the Diego Rivera Gallery (800 Chestnut St; www.sfai.edufeaturing the artist’s trompe l’oeil 1931 mural The Making of a Fresco Showing a Building of a City; and the Tenderloin’s plucky Luggage Store Gallery(1007 Market St;

4. Baseball for free (sort of)

Everyone loves the Giants AT&T Park for its bay-front views during baseball season (April to October). If you can’t get a ticket, you can watch for free from the archway along the waterfront promenade on the east side of the park. McCovey Cove;

5. Cable Car Museum

Putting the cable in ‘cable car,’ this museum occupies a still-functioning cable-car barn, and shows off three 1870s cable cars as well as those famed cables that pull those cute open carriages stuffed with tourists up and over the hills. 1201 Mason St;

6. Café Royale’s events

Always free, this Parisian-styled café hosts a variety of events: karaoke, jazz, open-mic poetry slams and film screenings several days a week. 800 Post St;

7. City Hall

Inside the mighty beaux-arts dome, the splendid rotunda of San Francisco City Hall has ringing acoustics – a worthwhile spot to sit and consider of triumph and tragedy that’s occurred here, including Harvey Milk’s 1978 assassination. There are public art exhibits in the basement, and free tours from the tour kiosk. 400 Van Ness Ave;

8. Clarion Alley street art

The Mission’s hot spot for trial by fire is on wee Clarion Alley, where street artworks are peed on or painted over in a jiff unless they deliver enough to last a little while. Nothing stays (art) gold here. Even Anrew Schoultz’s mural of gentrifying elephants displacing scraggly birds – a local favorite – faded over time. Go see what’s new. Off Valencia Street between 17th & 18th Streets.

9. Coit Tower murals and the Filbert Street Steps

Coit Tower (1934) is a beloved part of the San Francisco skyline, and not free to go up. But the WPA murals that line the lobby are free to see – glorifying the worker, the murals were created by 25 artists, many of whom were denounced as communist. It’s a steep walk up from any side, so you may be tempted to lay down a few dollars to reach the top. It’s worth it. Telegraph Hill Blvd.
Speaking of which… the famed Filbert Street Steps up to Coit Tower is quite steep but it taps into a hidden North Beach world of cottages along a wooden boardwalk called Napier Lane, with sculpture tucked in among gardens year-round and sweeping views of Bay Bridge. Plus wild parrots. If you’re heading back down, try the neighboring Greenwich St Stairs for an alternative route and more chances for parrot-spotting. Starting from Levi’s Plaza at Sansome St and Filbert St.

10. Fort Point

Built in 1861 to protect the city from – get this – Confederate attacks that never came, Fort Point is now more famous as the spot where Kim Novak lept into the frigid waters of the bay in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s an ideal vantage point for views of the Golden Gate Bridge if you aren’t up to the walk across. Marine Dr, open 10am to 5pm Fri-Sun only.

11. Golden Gate Bridge

You can bike across, but it’s just as fun – if you are dressed right – to walk across the world’s most beautiful bridge. It’s 1.7 miles across (it’s possible to catch a bus back – though some visitors just walk half-way across, take in the scene, and return). The walkway is on the eastern side – facing the bay and Alcatraz – so it’s hard to get much of a Pacific view through the traffic. It’s not open to pedestrians 24 hours; check the website for opening hours.

12. Golden Gate Park

When weather cooperates, the 1017-acre park of redwood, green meadows, and museums is an unreal setting to laze half a San Francisco day. Plus a lot is free, including weekly concerts, plus events like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Shakespeare in the Park. But better yet: free lawn bowling lessons on Wednesday and Friday. Yes, some dreams come true.

13. Musée Mécanique

Sinister, freckle-faced Laughing Sal has creeped out kiddies for over a hundred years at this wonderful vintage arcade that’s as fun to look at (for free) as play. If you splurge a few quarters you can play everything from start-your-own bar brawls in coin-operated Wild West saloons, peep at belly dancers or feed your inner Ms Pac Man. Pier 45 Shed A at the end of Taylor Street;

14. Public Library City Guides walking tours

Local volunteer-historians lead roughly five daily one- to two-hour walking tours by neighborhood and theme – ranging from Chinatown alleys and Alfred Hitchcock film sites to Coit Tower murals. It’s volunteer-based, with dozens of options, and completely free, though donations are accepted.

15. Randall Junior Museum

Near Corona Heights Park, a 520-foot summit near the Castro with superb views over the city, the Randall Junior Museum is a free, family-ready place with live-animal exhibits and hands-on workshops. 199 Museum Way;

16. Readings at City Lights & Green Apple

The lit scene is legendary, perhaps nowhere more so than City Lights (261 Columbus Ave;, founded by city poet laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti, next to Jack Kerouac Alley. Look for readings here, or at other beloved bookstores including the Richmond District’s Green Apple (506 Clement St;

17. Rincon Annex Post Office murals

Anton Refregier won the WPA’s largest commission to depict the history of Northern California just as WWII erupted. He resumed in 1945, and – as usual – the results were deemed ‘communist’ by McCarthyists in 1953. They’re now a National Landmark. 101 Spear St.

18. San Francisco Center for the Book

Remember books? The San Francisco Center for the Book not only displays elaborate Coptic binding and wooden typesetting machines used to make the things, but offers a wide display of changing exhibits and workshops. All free. 300 De Haro St;

19. Sea Lions at Pier 39

Don’t pretend you’re too cool to gawk at these guys, who canoodle, belch and scratch their backsides on the docks of Pier 39. As many as 1300 come, as they have since 1990, providing many photo ops from January to July. Also free – watching unsuspecting tourists getting frightened by the World Famous Bushman often lurking behind his faux-shrubbery nearby.

20. Seward Street slides

Lost in the Castro – near the corner of Douglas St and Seward St, about five or six blocks southwest of Market St and Castro – this tiny park has a couple of curving concrete slides that are fun to slide down. There are usually cardboard boxes handy to sit on and go, but BYOB (bring your own box) to be sure. Seriously, does any city have more fun?

21. Stern Grove Festival’s concerts

If you’re visiting in summer (late June through late August), definitely look up a city classic: the Stern Grove Festival’s calendar of free concerts on Sundays that’s become a local icon for three quarters of a century. Past artists include Neko Case, the English Beat and the San Francisco Opera. 19th Ave at Sloat Blvd;

22. Transamerica Pyramid’s fake observatory

A keystone of the San Francisco skyline since 1972 – though its blast-off pyramid shape is sometimes dismissed as ‘Pereira’s Pr*ck’ (after architect William Pereira) – the Transamerica Pyramid’s observation deck has been closed since 9/11, but there’s a virtual observation deck to see, plus a half-acre Redwood Park at its base. 600 Montgomery St.

23. Twin Peaks or Bernal Heights views

Perfectly situated in the geographical center of San Francisco, the twin 922-feet peaks offer towering views of the city and bay – generally one of the must-sees of visitors with cars. Those without, and reluctant to take the steep climb up from Market Street, consider a quieter alternate, Bernal Heights, with lovely looks from south of the Mission, and no tour buses.

24. Wave Organ

The Marina’s Exploratorium is a fun science museum – but it costs you $14 (although it’s free on the first Wednesday of every month). An always free, worthy side project is the Wave Organ, a sound system of PVC tubes and concrete pipes capped with found marble from an old cemetery built right into the tip of the Marina Boat Harbor jetty. Tones shift depending on waves, winds and tide – sounding alternately like spooky breathing on a phone to nervous humming of a dinnertime line chef. Yacht Rd. across from the Marina Green;

25. Westin St Francis’ glass elevators

It’s cheating – and we’re not literally suggesting you do this – but let’s just say we’ve ‘heard’ that you can go into the hotel, walk past the front desk like you’re a guest, and take the glass-walled tower elevators up 32 stories for drop-dead vistas over Union Square and San Francisco. Its. Just. What. We. Heard. 335 Powell St;

Free First Tuesdays

And if you’re in San Francisco on the first Tuesday of the month, get thee to a museum. The following waive their admission costs on the first Tuesday:

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

10 Crazy Laws That Could Get You In Trouble When You Travel

Contributed By Lisa Miller, Huffington Post.
You know the basics when it comes to staying safe and out of trouble while traveling.
But there are some pretty crazy ways to break the law abroad that probably have never crossed your mind.
1) Chewing gum in Singapore
laws abroad
Singapore likes to keep its street clean. Chewing bubble gum has been banned in Singapore for over two decades. While the only penalty is a fine, it's probably best to respect the city's wishes and keep your gum at home.
2) Dying in Sarpourenx
laws abroad
We're not exactly sure how this one is enforced... In the village of Sarpourenx, in southwest France, Mayor Gerard Lalanne has forbidden residents to die. In 2008, he issued an ordinance stating that "all persons not having a plot in the cemetery and wishing to be buried in Sarpourenx are forbidden from dying in the parish" and if they do, "offenders will be severely punished."
3) Feeding the birds in Venice
laws abroad
While it was once a tradition for tourists to turn themselves into human bird perches by holding out a handful of birdseed, the practice is sadly illegal. According to Europe Up Close, those who violate the rule can be fined up to $700.
4) Getting comfy in Buenos Aires
laws abroad
The Argentine government doesn't want you to get too comfy. Featherbeds were officially made illegal because lawmakers believed "such an indulgence induces and encourages lascivious feelings," according to the Argentina Independent. Apparently all other beds are safe.
5) Lighting up in Bhutan
laws abroad
If you're a smoker, don't plan on buying cigarettes in Bhutan -- or bringing them in either. The small Himalayan country is notoriously harsh when it come to the nation's smoking ban. There is a 100% tax on tobacco products at customs and smoking in public will cost you a hefty fine. Selling tobacco products is grounds for imprisonment.
6) Running out of gas in Germany
laws abroad
The autobahn highway famously has large stretches with no posted speed limit, allowing drivers to go as fast as their hearts desire. But don't use all your gas up and get caught with an empty tank. While it's not technically illegal to run out of fuel, it is unlawful to stop for any reason other than an emergency. Running out of gas is not considered an emergency.
7) Wearing heels in Greece
laws abroad
If you show up to an ancient Greek site in high heels, you'll have to tour barefoot. In order to preserve the sites, the government has banned shoes that could injure the monuments.
8) Eating during Ramadan in Dubai
laws abroad
It's a given that you should respect the local customs while traveling abroad. But if you plan on being in the United Arab Emirates during the period of Ramadan, you should plan on observing the holiday, which forbids eating during the day. Travelers who do not honor the tradition and choose to eat, drink or smoke in public will be issued a warning, and if the offense is repeated they could land themselves in jail.
9) Frowning in Milan
laws abroad
There's not much to be sad about in Milan -- there's prime shopping and plenty of pizza. However, should you feel down while touring the city, be warned, you should keep a smile on your face. It is a legal requirement in Milan to smile at all times, with funerals and hospital visits being the exception. 

10) Going commando in Thailand
laws abroad
Thailand has a bunch of eyebrow-raising rules, but perhaps the strangest is the one that prohibits leaving the house without underwear on, so make sure you pack enough undies to last your whole trip. It's unclear how they enforce this, but we don't recommend finding out. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Royal Caribbean Offers Lowest Airfare Guarantee Via It's ChoiceAir Flight Booking System


Newly Enhanced “Open Booking” Option Gives Greatest Flexibility and up to $200 Onboard
Credit for Guests 

Royal Caribbean International today announced its new Lowest Airfare Guarantee with Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir, the cruise line’s flight booking system for guests looking for the best airfare and flight options for their cruise. If guests find a cheaper airfare within 24 hours of booking their flights on ChoiceAir, Royal Caribbean will refund them 110 percent of the difference in onboard credit to spend on their cruise vacation. Separately, enhancements to the NextCruise Open Booking option now offers guests the greatest flexibility, as well as an onboard booking bonus, when making a future reservation while on their Royal Caribbean vacation.

Peace of Mind with Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir
Along with its Lowest Airfare Guarantee, Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir provides booked guest with flexibility to a choose among a wide range of airlines and flights, round-the-clock guest support throughout the vacation planning process, and peace of mind in knowing that they will make it to their ship for their cruise. If the ChoiceAir flight is delayed or cancelled, Royal Caribbean will work to re-accommodate guests to help them make it to their ship in time for departure or to the next port. More information about Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir can be found

To kick off the new Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir, the cruise line is offering a $50 onboard credit bonus for U.S. and Canadian guests who make a new booking from June 21 throughJuly 14, 2013, on a Royal Caribbean cruise of six nights or longer and then book their flights on Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir within the same period. Vacationers must mention offer code “SOX9” at the time of their cruise booking in order to receive the offer. Additional restrictions may apply for the Royal Caribbean ChoiceAir limited-time offer.

Flexibility and Onboard Booking Bonus with Enhanced NextCruise Open Booking Option 
Exciting enhancements to Royal Caribbean’s NextCruise future booking program now provides more benefits for guests and travel agents alike. This exclusive benefit for the cruise line’s Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program members offers guests a reduced deposit of $100 per person ($200 per person for suite-category staterooms) and an onboard booking bonus of up to $200 per stateroom to spend on their next sailing with Royal Caribbean. Guests can choose to make a reservation on board for a specific Royal Caribbean sailing and enjoy their onboard booking bonus during their future cruise.

For guests who want the flexibility to select their next Royal Caribbean adventure at a future date, the “Decide Later Open Booking” option is the perfect choice.  Now, each guest can purchase up to three Open Bookings, which are fully transferable, and can be used as gifts for friends and family to introduce them to the great value and incomparable experience of a Royal Caribbean vacation.  Furthermore, Crown & Anchor Society members can combine the onboard booking bonus that they earned through Open Booking with their Crown & Anchor Society Savings Certificate or the Platinum-tier and above Balcony and Suite discount. 

Royal Caribbean’s onboard Loyalty & Cruise Sales Teams are available to assist guests in determining their best future cruise booking option, or with joining the Crown & Anchor Society to enjoy member benefits on their very next Royal Caribbean cruise. For more information about Royal Caribbean’s onboard booking bonus, please visit

Royal Caribbean International is an award-winning global cruise brand with a 40-year legacy of innovation and introducing industry “firsts” never before seen at sea.  The cruise line features an expansive and unmatched array of features and amenities only found on Royal Caribbean including, jaw-dropping, Broadway-style entertainment and industry-acclaimed programming that appeals to families and adventurous vacationers alike. Owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE/OSE: RCL), the cruise line sails 21 of the world’s most innovative cruise ships to the most popular destinations in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska, South America, the Far East, and Australia and New Zealand. World renowned for its friendly and engaging Gold Anchor Service, delivered by every staff and crew member, Royal Caribbean has been voted “Best Cruise Line Overall” for 10 consecutive years in the Travel Weekly Reader’s Choice Awards

Saturday, June 22, 2013

10 Quirky Things To Do In Ottawa, Canada’s Capital City

  • Contributed by Carolyn B Heller
  • Lonely Planet
If you think that Ottawa is all beige government buildings and staid traditional restaurants, think again. From ‘Cold War Movie Night’ in a vintage 1960s bunker, to a drag queen-hosted karaoke fest in Chinatown, Canada‘s capital city is full of fun.

Feel the chill of the Cold War

At the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, an underground bunker built to house Canadian government officials in the event of a nuclear attack, you can tour the war room, the emergency broadcasting studio, and the prime minister’s secret hideout, all painstakingly preserved from the 1960s. But for the full Dr. Strangelove experience, visit on the third Tuesday of the month for the ‘Cold War Cinema’ to watch a Cold War-themed film inside the bunker.

Salute the sun on Parliament Hill

Join hundreds of fellow downward-doggers for a free one-hour yoga class on the lush green lawn in front of the Parliament buildings. Classes run weekly in summer; get the current schedule from the local Lululemon store (

Go home to art

Artist Brenda Gale Warner operates one of Ottawa’s most unusual gallery spaces – in her living room. Her 1870s woodframe home (once was a Catholic convent) houses Galerie 240 (, a first-floor art space where Warner shows her paintings and photographs alongside works by local, Canadian, and international contemporary artists.

Laugh at a lawyer, jeer at a justice

Supreme Court justices, members of Parliament, and local lawyers take the stage during the annual Lawyer Play, a fundraiser for the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) (, in which members of Ottawa’s legal community play small roles in a GCTC production. The GCTC also stages a full season of creative, contemporary Canadian theatre from September through June.

Croon with a queen

A long-standing, family-run Chinatown eatery, the Shanghai Restaurant ( morphs into a quirky club on Saturday nights, when drag queen China Doll hosts a popular no-cover karaoke night. The crooning kicks off at 9pm.

Veg out in Chinatown

Chef Caroline Ishii serves grilled seitan cutlets with fondant potatoes and horseradish crème fraiche and dresses hand-cut tofu-filled ravioli in a smoky tomato purée, at her innovative Zen Kitchen (, an all-vegan fine-dining spot that takes vegetarian fare far from its crunchy-granola roots. Save room for the delicious, dairy-free Mexican chocolate cake with warm chocolate-chili sauce.

Indulge your inner fashionista

Here’s a crafty sightseeing break: Workshop Studio & Boutique ( and its sister Flock Boutique (, which stock eclectic styles by independent Canadian designers, also offer short workshops in knitting, sewing, or crocheting – perfect for do-it-yourself fashion fans.

Take a quest

Channel Sherlock Holmes on an Urban Quest (, as you follow a series of clues to explore Ottawa and its history. When you solve them all, the trail leads to a meal in a mystery restaurant.

Stuff your face with a whole pig’s head

Love pork? Recruit eight or nine porcine-passionate pals and head for Murray Street (, a nose-to-tail bistro and charcuterie bar that will smoke and roast a whole pig’s head (when you order 48 hours in advance). It’ll be far tastier than a tour of Parliament.

Go directly to jail

In Ottawa, you don’t have to get arrested to spend the night in jail. At the HI-Ottawa Hostel, you can sleep behind bars in the former Carleton County Gaol. And if you don’t want to snooze in a cell, take a Haunted Walk ( tour of the 19th-century building and learn why Ottawa was once considered North America’s most dangerous town.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Undiscovered Italy: Lake Garda

You've heard of Lake Como, home to over-the-top palazzos, super-sleek yachts, and George Clooney's exploits. But did you know that about halfway between Milan and Venice you'll find the largest lake in Italy, beloved by Italians and other Europeans (particularly Germans and Swiss), but virtually unknown in North America? Lake Garda's varied landscape of beaches, mountains, ancient towns, natural hot springs, and, for history buffs, Mussolini lore (more on that later) make it an ideal getaway from early spring till late fall—though be sure to book ahead in the high summer season, when in-the-know Europeans crowd the lake's resorts in search of outdoorsy R&R. So take a few days to explore... You can thank us later.

Riva del Garda

At the lake's northernmost tip, encircled by mountains, you'll find the striking mini-resort town of Riva del Garda. Though best known for its prime windsurfing, you can certainly enjoy less active pursuits like shopping the town's many boutiques or taking a stroll on the quiet path alongside the lake. Just a 15-minute drive north of Riva, spend an hour hiking up to the ruins of 12th-century Castello di Arco—worth it just to gaze down at the lovely scenery in the valley below.
Where to StayLido Palace is the chicest option in town, with fully modernized rooms inside a 19th-century palace, plus a high-end spa.
Where to EatIl Re Della Busa, inside Lido Palace, offers magnificent lakeside views, an extensive wine list including interesting local choices, and well-presented dishes, like char fish direct from the lake.


The most touristy of Lake Garda's towns—for a reason. In this charming town on the lake's southern shore, you'll find quaint cobblestoned streets lined with gelato shops and pizzerias; the best-preserved Roman private residence in Northern Italy, Grotte di Catullo; and an outdoor natural hot springs. Though you can see everything in one day, you will likely be seduced by Sirmione's charms and decide to spend the night.
Where to StayVilla Cortine Palace Hotel, surrounded by a lush secluded park but only a short walk into town, features 54 elegant rooms in a converted 19th-century villa.
Where to Eat: For innovative takes on classic Italian dishes, dine at La Rucola, where you can choose from tasting menus of fish or meat (or both), paired with wines if you choose.


A cute enclave of cobbled streets, pizzerias, and cafes on Lake Garda's eastern shores, Malcesine makes a lovely stop for a tasty lunch and a post-meal stroll. Don't miss the well-preserved castle where Goethe was briefly imprisoned; it's now home to a charming natural history museum and features stunning views. For more active pursuits, take a cable car up Monte Baldo to reach the panoramic hiking trails.
Where to Stay: For a change from the hotels within villas (though, frankly, they're difficult to tire of!), try the ultra-modern Ambient Hotel Prima Luna, opposite a small beach.
Where to Eat: One Michelin-starred Vecchia Malcesine, offers delicious tasting menus, sure to feature freshly caught lake fish paired with fabulous water views.

Gardone Riviera

Gabriele d'Annunzio was an early 20th-century poet and soldier whose ideas helped influence Italian fascism. Stroll through the grounds of his quirky palace, Il Vittoriale, complete with mausoleum and battleship in the garden. Italian history buffs will find more to explore in Salo, just south of Gardone, where Mussolini had his headquarters from 1943 to 1945; today it's a delightful little town of crumbling villas.
Where to Stay: Fancy sleeping in a historic palace? Mussolini and his family lived for two years at Villa Feltrinelli, a magnificent 21-room villa converted into a hotel in 2001, 10 miles north of Gardone near the village of Gargnano. For something closer to town, the Grand Hotel Gardone Riviera was the first hotel to open on the lake, in 1884, and since then has hosted such luminaries as Winston Churchill and Vladimir Nabokov. Today you can relax by the outdoor pool or stroll along the lovely lakeside promenade.
Where to EatVilla Fiordaliso, an elegant lakeside Relais & Chateaux property (which boasted both d'Annunzio and Mussolini's mistresses as short-term residents), houses a lovely one Michelin-starred eatery where it's easy to while away an afternoon.
Contributed by Liz Humphreys. She is a food, travel, wine, and lifestyle writer and editor formerly based in New York City and currently residing in Amsterdam. She's a former editor of, iVillage, and WebMD, NYC Guide writer for, and eater in chief of the blog Follow her on Twitter at @winederlust.