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Everyone knows New York City has some of the best restaurants in the world. They also have the best takeout in the world. Almost every restaurant delivers food, which is key whether you are sick or just don’t feel like leaving your apartment or hotel room (especially when the weather's bad). Of course, there is nothing more frustrating than deciding to get takeout but being unable too find your book of collected menus. Then, if you do find them, they're either outdated or have so many food stains you can’t read them. Thanks to MenuPages.com (my new favorite website pertaining to New York City), those problems are solved.
MenuPages.com has over 4000 Manhattan menus online. That’s right: They have collected virtually every menu in Manhattan, from the swankiest places like Le Cirque 2000 (Midtown East) to the dive pizza joints like Don Filippo’s (my favorite pizza place in the world, located on the Upper East Side). You can search easily by neighborhood (East Village/Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown South/Chelsea, Midtown West, Murray Hill /Gramercy, Soho/Tribeca/Financial District, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, GreenwichVillage/West Village), or by typing in your favorite restaurant or type of food. And speaking of types of food, you'll find every kind in New York City, from Afghan to Vietnamese.
MenuPages.com serves you result in two convenient formats: On-Screen Menus (quick and easy when you don’t need to print), and 1-Page Printable Menus. That’s right: Every restaurant’s menu fits on one side of one page, for fast and convenient printing.
And on the off chance you know of a restaurant they missed, you can submit the restaurant online. They’ll add it to their database.
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Bula (again)! This week we say goodbye to the beautiful Fijian islands, and say hello to a new destination. Hmmm… I wonder where that could be? We’ll get to that destination later on, but for now let me tell you about our last few days in tropical paradise.
We left off at the unbelievably gorgeous island of Vatulele. After reading last week’s story I am sure you can understand why it’s one of Fiji’s (and the world’s) most amazing resorts. Obviously, we did not want to leave this fantasy island -- who in his right mind would? (The only person I can think of is the one paying the bill).
It was tough enough to leave, but doing so as the sun came out for the first time our entire trip it made it practically impossible. So instead of packing we jumped into the Coral Sea, and tested the beautiful blue water we had been staring at all week. Of course, the water was magnificent. In fact, it was perfect! Not too hot or too cold -- I would guess somewhere in the low- to mid-80s.
We waited to the very last moment to go back to our super bure (The Point) to pack and get ready for our next island adventure. After we closed out our bill (ouch!) we were given a beautiful tapa cloth lei as a parting gift. Our incredible memories were enough, but this handmade lei was an extra-nice touch. Finally we heard the plane circling above, and headed to the beach. Because of the good weather we watched the seaplane make its usual Hollywood-style beach landing, and witnessed a typical welcome reception (and departure) at Vatulele.
A welcome reception is special. Many of the resort’s staff are out on the beach with musical instruments and cold drinks. They all greet the happy new arrivals by singing a Fijian welcome song. After the passengers deplaned and were escorted by the resort manager to the main building for check-in, the rest of the staff turned around and sang a goodbye song to Amber and me. It was extra special, because they were singing just to us (well, okay, we were the only guests leaving the island that day).
However, we did not have the plane all to ourselves. Several staff members took advantage of the spare seats, and flew to the main island. We were happy to share the plane, because two of them were our favorite resort employees: Mark, the general manager, and Tukini, who had taken such fantastic care of us.
Instead of taxiing down a black tarmac, we took off from the beautiful calm blue waters of the Coral Sea. How cool are seaplanes? The pilot took his time, trying to find a perfect spot for takeoff because there was not much wind. Unfortunately, that was difficult, and we aborted takeoff a few times. This was the first time I was NOT scared about an aborted takeoff. I saw how calm our barefoot pilot was, and if there was going to be an "incident," I couldn’t think of a better place for it to happen. First of all, two chase boats followed the plane. Second, we weren’t far from the shore; third, the water was crystal clear and warm. Now don’t get me wrong, I would never want anything to go awry -- but if there ever was a time and place, that was it.
It turned out that the plane’s tail was too heavy, so we went back to the beach and tried shuffling some people around. The pilot wanted the heaviest passengers toward the front (of course that meant me). When the back of the plane was still too heavy, he went to Plan B. Guess whose bag had to be moved to the front of the plane? You guessed it: Amber Airplane’s! I wondered what she had bought. I joked with Mark that she had the resort’s expensive (and heavy) sculpture in her bag. He laughed (Amber Airplane didn’t). In any case, shifting her bag did the trick, and we were soon safely airborne for Nadi.
After that little ordeal I know why all the small plane charters around Fiji have tight baggage restrictions. Each passenger is supposed to be allowed only 35 pounds. If you have more than that, you must pack separately for the outer islands and leave the rest at the Nadi airport. (The airlines safely store your bags). Amber Airplane had been able to take a few more pounds, because both of our flights were scheduled to go out light.
Thirty minutes later we landed at Nadi International Airport on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu. At baggage claim we were greeted by a very cool Indo-Fijian man. Kasi was the driver arranged by our tour operator to take us from the airport to our hotel. We asked Kasi if instead of taking us directly to our hotel he could first take us to downtown Nadi, so we could do a couple of errands. I wanted to check my email using high-speed access at an inexpensive internet café, while Amber Airplane wanted to check out the shops. He kindly obliged.
Kasi waited patiently for us for an hour. He then drove us 48 miles south to the Outrigger Reef Hotel, near the city of Sigatoka on the Coral Coast. The drive took 50 minutes, yet Kasi charged us the normal flat rate of $80 FJD. We gave him a nice tip for being so cool, and he was much appreciative. If you ever need to go to or from the Coral Coast, hire Kasi – he’s awesome! His cell phone is 679-921-8465.
I am sure many of you have heard of, or even stayed at, an Outrigger hotel (they’re very popular in Hawaii). They opened their first hotel in Fiji in October 2000. It’s really hard for me to write about this Outrigger, because I arrived there directly from one of the most incredible resorts in the world. If I stayed at the Outrigger when I first arrived in Fiji, my impression would have been a bit different.
The Outrigger Reef Hotel is unlike all the others we visited on our trip. It was by far the biggest and most commercial. There are 207 air-conditioned hotel rooms, and 47 breeze-cooled bures. Our room was on the upper floor of the hotel section, which was nice. But apart from the view, it seemed like any standard hotel room you can find all across America.
Our room did come with three amenities that are unusual for a Fijian room. We had a TV (it was the first time we saw one the entire trip), a telephone, and a free morning newspaper--The Fiji Times, which they advertise as the first newspaper published in the world each day (that’s because Fiji is in the first time zone past the International Date Line). To be honest, at first I was disappointed because in Fiji you don’t need these extras. If you are bored you should go outside, read a book or take a nap. I strongly feel that one of the main reasons for going to Fiji is to get away from the real world. Reading or watching depressing news is the last thing a traveler to Fiji needs.
Looking back at our stay, the Outrigger was actually a good place to end our trip for a few reasons. Number one was that having all those extra amenities got us slowly re-acclimated to the real world. Number two was that the hotel is on the main island, so we didn’t need to take a plane or boat ride before our flight home. (I don’t know about you, but worrying about delays on the way back always stresses me out.) We had an 8 a.m. departure, and if we had been on one of the outer islands we never would have made the flight on time. Domestic flights in Fiji don’t leave early in the morning or at night, because the smaller airports have no lights, and as for seaplanes -- well, have you ever seen runway lights on the water?!
Our hotel had a wide range of guests, from places like Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the U.S. The hotel caters to family travelers, honeymooners (especially those on budgets) and business travelers.
This place has all the amenities business travelers need (except high speed). They have a full business center, and several large conference areas. If I was here for a meeting I would extend my stay, fly in my loved one, and head to one of the outer islands.
Vatlulele would be a good choice for my romantic getaway (you can even see it in the distance from the hotel). A more convenient place, and good for the whole family, is Castaway Island. The owner of the Outrigger also owns Castaway, and has put together some excellent package deals. Helicopter service between the two resorts makes the travel quick and painless.
If you don’t like to swim in the sea you’ll love the Outrigger. It has one of the best pools in the South Pacific. That’s not redundant. Resorts along the Coral Coast must have a good pool, because most people don’t want to lie on the beach. Hey, they don’t call it the coral coast for nothing! Check out what the sand looks like.
The Outrigger pool is huge, and is the place most people hang out during the day. We spent most of our time there too. Getting hungry while lounging is no problem; the pool is surrounded by plenty of restaurants. There is a gourmet wood-fired pizza place (my Fijian pizza came with all sorts of ingredients, including bananas); a Mongolian BBQ (the Thai sauce was excellent, but very spicy); a pasta bar; a main dining hall, and a fine dining restaurant. Room service is also available.
Speaking of food, breakfast was included in our plan (as it is for most guests). Amber Airplane and I dined at the huge breakfast buffet, featuring a wide variety of hot and cold foods, and it was good. Another food highlight was the night when, over dinner, we watched local villagers perform a meke (traditional Fijian narrative dance). It was very enjoyable.
Among the guest services available at the Outrigger Reef are complimentary use of snorkeling equipment, kayaks, spy boards, tennis and a fitness center. There are also activity programs for younger and older children, and a spa which we took advantage of. I had a massage, while Amber Airplane enjoyed a facial. I’m sure she will write about that experience in her weekly newsletter.
The hotel’s main building consists of several floors. Directly below the lobby are plenty of shops. Amber Airplane did not like them (lucky for me – they’re fairly expensive). She preferred buying from local villagers, who sell handcrafts throughout the resort at inexpensive prices. Amber Airplane got this bag for $12 USD. If you want more shopping, you can take a five-minute drive to the town of Sigatoka (we didn’t have enough time). For a small fee, the hotel offers trips to the nearby village, where you can buy more handcrafted goods.
Unfortunately, I found the staff at the Outrigger Reef similar to their sister property, Castaway Island. They lacked the true Fijian friendliness we witnessed in Savusavu and Vatulele. I think this was because this resort is so touristy and impersonal, and the locals are so used to visitors, that they don’t appreciate them. Please don’t miss understand me: Visitors will still find all Fijians to be much friendlier than in many places in the world. However, when you go out to the outer islands where they don’t see a lot of tourists, or to the high-end resorts, you see a huge difference in service and friendliness.
One diamond in the rough was Una, the Outrigger’s public relations manager. She was awesome, and took superb care of Amber Airplane and me. Una even had me do a bunch of radio and newspaper interviews about my trip to Fiji. I didn’t think anyone in the world would see or hear them, so I was surprised to get a lot of emails regarding them. One was from my good buddy Rudy Maxa, who happened to be in Fiji shortly after us and saw one of our interviews. How crazy is that?
Our trip to Fiji was coming to an end, but we weren’t ready to go home. I found out it was feasible for Amber Airplane and me to buy a ticket to Sydney, and spent about a few seconds talking her into going. It wasn’t very hard -- all I had to say was "I will get you a pair of Uggh boots." Australia is one of my favorite countries, and it would have been a shame not to visit because we were so (relatively) close.
When I made last-minute arrangements I learned that Australia now charges Americans for visas (they didn’t last year). We could have had Air Pacific put our visa request in at the airport, but they would have charged us $100 apiece (If I planned this trip ahead I could have used one of the many smart travel agents, who do not charge for this kind of service). Or I could have flown from the U.S., because most airlines offer free visas. (It's best to call your airline ahead to find out, as some do charge at the airport). Instead of those methods, I did it the Johnny Jet way: I used one of the resort’s two computers. The connection was slow dial- up, and they charged $5 FJD ($2.80 US) for 15 minutes. I logged on to the Australian Government's Electronic Travel Authority System, where I applied for our visas myself. It took only two minutes, and cost us $20 AUD ($14.50 USD).
We called Kasi on his cell, and arranged for him to pick us up at the hotel 5:45 a.m. He got there early. The sun was just coming up, and the sunrise was beautiful.
We were sad to leave, but thrilled we had been able to visit this beautiful and friendly place. Even though it rained almost every day, and we endured a mini- cyclone, we still had an amazing time. That, by the way, was not typical Fijian weather; we just had bad luck. I said to Amber Airplane, "If we saw Fiji at its worst, I can’t imagine what it’s like at its best – something comparable to heaven?" She agreed. A Vatulele staff member put it best: "Even the rain can’t wash away Fiji’s beauty."
At the airport we started getting excited about Australia. Checking in for our flight to Sydney on Air Pacific was fast and easy. The agents were very friendly and gave us a free upgrade to business.
We passed airport control without incident, leaving plenty of time for Amber Airplane to do some damage in duty-free shops. In the airport I noticed there were no Fijians traveling (except the flight attendants). I asked why that was, and a flight attendant gave me two reasons: It’s very expensive, and the government doesn’t allow many Fijians to travel for fear they will flee the country. I don’t know if that’s true, but come to think of it I don’t think I ever met a Fijian in the U.S. Have you?
We then boarded a 747-400 series plane. Sydney is only 1,970 miles from Nadi, a four-hour flight. The time passed quickly, especially because Air Pacific’s very comfortable business class was more like first class. We ate a huge breakfast, watched movies and catnapped. The next thing I remember was the flight attendant waking me up to prepare for landing. I lowered my leg stand, raised my seat back to its upright position and with squinty eyes looked out the bright window. We were flying over the world-famous Sydney Opera House, which made me smile. I whispered into Amber Airplane’s sleeping face, "G’day, mate. We’re in Australia! "
If you are interested in going to the Outrigger Reef or a having a holiday in Fiji, my recommendation is to start with Air Pacific’s package deals (some are listed above in the Specials section). Their website is airpacificadventures.com. As you know, it's cheaper to purchase air and land arrangements together than separately. You should also try your local travel agent (if you don’t have one, ask friends for recommendations, or use our partner travel agency, JohnnyJetTravel at 1-800-JohnnyJet). To contact the U.S. representatives for the Outrigger Reef resort directly, click on their website: outrigger.com/fiji. Their email is email@example.com; the toll-free phone number is 1-800-888-0120.
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I wanted to pass on a deal to you to fiji.. And also some other places. I've been using a website called SkyAuction.com for about 2 years now and love it.. I live in portland, oregon and have gotten some sweet deals ( 500 bucks r/t to bangkok and about 1800 bucks for a 10 day package to rio ). No, I don't work for them, but I thought you might like to know about them. I've been seeing some super cheap airfares to the south pacific from lax and thought you could use them. Anyway, thanks again from a happy reader. Todd – Portland, OR |
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In America: Celebrate St. Patrick's Day without spending a pot of gold |
The phrase “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day” is especially true in the U.S. On March 17, people all over the country raise their pints of Guinness in a toast to the patron saint of Ireland. We’ve compiled a list of St. Patrick’s Day events to give you some ideas on how to celebrate the Irish in you for less, and you don’t have to go all the way to Ireland. Click Here To Read Article
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