On July 2, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:Compared with other major cities, it’s easy to imagine Hong Kong as something of a cultural desert, with its creative soul smothered in dunes of cold, hard cash. But look closer and you’ll see that the theory doesn’t hold up. Recent times have seen a surge in the city’s cultural ambitions, as evidenced by a proliferation of new galleries; the arrival in 2008 of a high-profile international art fair, ART HK; the opening of Hong Kong’s first local auction house, Atting House, which focuses on Asian contemporary art; and the arrival of Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013, the first Asian iteration of the international art fair. Today, the city ranks as the world’s third-largest art market after New York and London, thanks to headline-grabbing auction sales fueled by the Chinese contemporary art boom just to the north.
There’s still work to be done. The city suffers from a chronic dearth of venues, particularly for music and theater. Nonetheless, the government is slowly making headway in its plans to build a vast, multi-disciplinary cultural complex in West Kowloon, while a growing number of independent arts outfits are finding innovative ways to make their mark on the local scene. Case in point: The organizers behind October Contemporary, an annual month-long citywide event promoting Hong Kong contemporary art, started in 2007. There are other events that have evolved into revered annual traditions, such as the ArtWalk (a citywide gallery showcase that drew 70 participating galleries in 2013) and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, which started in 1977. All this means that while Hong Kong culture isn’t exactly in-your-face, there’s a growing scene that’s just waiting to be discovered. Go and see it for yourself.
On July 1, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:Autumn is a wonderful time to visit Hong Kong. Right around late September, the oppressive heat and humidity of summer give way to gorgeous weather that usually lingers up through the end of November. This is the best time of year to get outdoors and explore all of Hong Kong's best attractions, from hiking Lion Rock to paying a visit to the Big Buddha (trust me, you don't want to ascend all those steps in the dead of summer).
Aside from the weather, another reason to visit during the autumn is to partake in two of Hong Kong's biggest celebrations: Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day of the People's Republic of China. The dates for the annual Mid-Autumn Festival vary each year (the harvest celebration is honored on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, on a full moon), but if you can swing your trip to coincide with the holiday — which typically falls near the end of September or early October — it's worth doing so. The entire city lights up with festive paper lanterns, parades fill the streets and everywhere you turn, someone is offering a bite of their moon cake as a symbol of good will and friendship.
National Day festivities are a bit easier to predict, as the holiday falls on October 1 each year. Since Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, the day is honored with a dazzling fireworks show over Victoria Harbor. Arrive early if you'd like a prime spot, as several thousand spectators pack both sides of the harbor to gaze upon the visual spectacle.
On June 28, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:A few of the best antique stores in Jacksonville can be found in the Five Points neighborhood. I have spent countless hours perusing the wares of Fans and Stoves Antique Mall, a large retail store that anchors the corner of Park and Lomax Streets. In the past, I've scored quirky costume jewelry, dozens of lovely antique teacup sets and a few classic vintage clutches at this neighborhood landmark. There's a small selection of furniture in a back corner, but otherwise, this is a great spot to hunt for small treasures.
Just across Park Street, you'll find Five Points Antiques. Though this shop is much smaller than Fans and Stoves, it delivers an impressive array of one-of-a-kind finds. The inventory leans a bit more heavily on home décor and knick-knacks here. Don't miss the often overlooked room in the very back of the store if you're a music fan — that's where all the good vinyl albums are hiding.
For the serious antique shopper, there are few comparisons to Avonlea Antique Mall. This gigantic showroom is filled with enough beautiful antique furniture to fill an entire neighborhood. More than 200 dealers showcase their best finds here. If there's a certain product you're looking for — say, authentic Chinese porcelain or fine Oriental rugs — this is where you're most likely to find it.
If you don't mind the drive, head north to Amelia Island to peruse the finds at Eight Flags Antique Market. The stylish shop contains a bevy of finds for many decorating styles, from mid-century modern to cottage chic.
On June 27, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:Kids will have a ball in Atlanta, a friendly Southern city where wonders abound at every turn.
For youngsters who like to run wild, a visit to Piedmont Park should prove satisfying. This iconic urban park has everything kids need to burn through that trademark childhood energy, including a playground, swimming pool and basketball and bocce ball courts (which can be reserved in advance, for a fee — otherwise, they're first-come, first-serve). The park's location in Midtown allows for easy walking to a number of nearby restaurants, too, so it's easy to stretch a visit to this lovely green space into an all-day affair.
If you're visiting during the summer, check the schedule for the Fox Theatre's Coca-Cola Film Festival. The annual series brings the magic of a trip to the movies to this stunning historic theatre. It may not be as high-tech as a screening at the local IMAX, but children are sure to be awed by the grandeur of the sweeping arches, intricate detailing and the old-fashioned marquee. The series usually includes a mix of kid-friendly and more mature options; the 2013 series includes animated films such as The Croods (July 27) and classic Saturday morning cartoons (August 17).
Atlanta is home to the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world. Take the kids for a day of undersea exploration as they observe more than 60 exhibits. A stop at Deepo's Undersea 3D Watershow is a must — the fun interactive show was designed by the same team behind the Terminator II and Jurassic Park rides at Universal Studios in Orlando.
What kid doesn't enjoy a milkshake, burger and fries? Fill the crew up with all three (and don't forget to take a picture in your souvenir paper hats) at The Varsity, an iconic Atlanta burger joint that's been serving the city since 1928. Try the frosted orange and a fried peach pie to end your visit on a sweet note.
The Center for Puppetry Arts, open every day except Mondays, offers guided tours of its collections (includig several that focus on the life and legacy of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets). The Center also hosts a lineup of performances. The 2013-2014 season includes Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, Peter Rabbit and The Wizard of Oz.
On June 26, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:The question of whether or not to rent a car in Atlanta can be answered with another question: How much of Atlanta are you hoping to see?
If you're touching down at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, you can hop on a one-way MARTA to many of the city's best neighborhoods (in Buckhead, for instance, the MARTA station is situated within a few blocks of many luxurious hotels). Complimentary hotel shuttles and cabs are good options for navigating the immediate neighborhood surrounding your hotel.
For extensive exploring, a rental car may be your best bet. Just make sure a GPS system is included in the car if you're new to the city's winding network of interstates and thoroughfares.
On June 25, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:Hong Kong is a destination that's defined by dichotomy — old vs. new, English vs. Cantonese, busy city live vs. simple traditions. With that in mind, my recommendations for the best things to see and do in Hong Kong follow similar suit.
Seek out historic landmarks such as The Big Buddha and the adjacent Po Lin Monastery.The sheer grandeur of the Big Buddha is breathtaking (as is the steep hike to the observation deck at its base, so bring your walking shoes). One of the most fascinating things about Hong Kong is the juxtaposition of modern culture and ancient relics, so just for kicks, add a stop at Hong Kong Disneyland to your itinerary.
The best place to witness the omnipresence of Hong Kong's two official languages, English and Cantonese, is one of the famous open-air markets. My personal favorite is the Temple Street Night Market, where you can haggle in English and listen to the buzz of Cantonese around you. Of course, this is a phenomenon that you'll experience at most any market, whether it's the indoor Jade Market or the Ladies' Market in Mong Kok.
To truly feel like you're in world-class metropolis, you'll have to spend a few hours amidst the skyscrapers of Admiralty, Central and Soho.These are the neighborhoods where you'll find the trendy boutiques and big-name design houses, as well as a strong representation of the city's star-rated hotels. Book a night at any one to experience Hong Kong's world-famous hospitality, and in the morning, head down to the Central docks to board a ferry to one of the outlying islands. Lamma Island is a perfect place to unwind, with its secluded beaches, casual seafood restaurants (which often let you take your pick of the day's fresh catch for your meal) and friendly village atmosphere.
On June 24, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:Atlanta has plenty to offer residents and visitors of all ages and travel styles. Still, it's nice to branch out from time to time and explore the surrounding area. As a new Atlantan, I'm excited to explore these destinations in the coming months:
Stone Mountain, Georgia
Located just 30 minutes north of the A, this small city is a popular getaway for outdoor enthusiasts. The namesake mountain for which the city is named can be conquered in a matter of hours, thanks to marked trails. I'm looking forward to taking the Summit Skyride down the mountain after a satisfying hike to the peak.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has been on my radar since I wrote about the country's top beer cities for a blog post and Forbes.com story. In addition to the famous local brewery scene, I plan to take a day to visit the beautiful Biltmore Estate. At just under four hours away, this trip requires a bit more of a commitment — but, part of the fun of driving to Asheville will undoubtedly be linked with the gorgeous mountain views along the way.
This town has a few of my favorite things: great local restaurants, a college football team (though you'll never catch me betraying the University of Florida gators by cheering on the University of Georgia bulldogs!) and a quirky music scene that's bred some of the best rock bands of the past few decades, including R.E.M. and the Drive-By Truckers. Added perk: the drive to Athens takes just over an hour, making it an ideal place to visit when there's a dynamite live show that I just can't miss.
On June 21, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:St. Augustine is full of surprises for kids of all ages. If you're traveling to this coastal Florida city with kids in tow, consider adding one of these activities to your to-do list:
Ripley's Believe It Or Not
This museum is a longtime favorite among the pint-sized sector. Heralded as the first and oldest Ripley's museum in the world, this multi-level attraction is filled with creepy and curious artifacts like shrunken heads, wax mannequins and the world's smallest production car. Best of all? Little hands will find plenty of places to stay busy, as the museum has tons of interactive exhibits.
Black Raven Pirate Ship
What child wouldn't want to ride on a real pirate ship? Take your kids on a magical journey as they sail around St. Augustine, listening with rapt attention as pirates share stories, lead the entire boat in a sing-along and perform a family-friendly show. The "Family Adventure" tour includes free face painting for the kids, too.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Alligators are the main attraction at this St. Augustine mainstay, but they're backed up with a fascinating supporting cast of exotic reptiles, birds and crocodiles. Wildlife shows help children learn more about these creatures. You can also earn major parent points by securing tickets to Crocodile Crossing, a zip line and challenge course that's open to children ages 10 and up (the minimum height requirement is 4' 9").
St Augustine Lighthouse
Climbing to the top of this historic lighthouse provides three rewards for parents — a good workout with the kids, a chance to discuss the building's history in a fun and hands-on way and, most importantly, a chance to bond over the incredible sweeping views of St. Augustine that visitors enjoy once they reach the top. Kids must be 3' 8" or taller to climb, but if they don't meet the height requirement, there's a special play area where they can burn off some of that trademark kid energy.
Anastasia State Park
This state park has enough activities to fill an entire vacation. Soak up some sun while allowing the kids to enjoy four miles of protected beaches, or gather up the gang and embark on a fun and educational hike through one of the park's trails. Campsites are available to help make this special excursion last a little longer.
On June 20, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:One of the many things I love about Hong Kong is the fact that no two views of the city are quite the same. Arguably the most popular place to snap postcard-worthy pictures of this diverse city is Victoria Peak. A public observation deck provides plenty of jaw-dropping views, but for the best experience, you'll have to ascend to the top of Sky Terrace 428. This ticketed attraction puts you high above other spectators (428 metres above sea level, to be exact) and provides 360° views of the surrounding city in all its splendor.
The Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront is another place you'll want to visit with your camera. Arrive early for the nightly Symphony of Lights, which starts promptly at 8 p.m., and watch as the skyline across Victoria Harbor lights up with a dazzling display of color and sound.
When I was in Hong Kong, one of my absolute favorite places to take in the skyline view with friends was the roof of the IFC Mall in Central. The rooftop is open to the public, which means you're allowed to bring your own food and beverages (yes, including alcohol) with you. If you'd prefer to let someone else serve you, Red Bar + Restaurant should do the trick.
Another idea is to take one of the ferries from Central to the outlying islands for a day. Upon your departure and return, keep the camera handy to capture the city from a multitude of vantage points and distances.
On June 19, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:One of my favorite bookstores in Atlanta is Atlanta Vintage Books. From the outside, it doesn't look like much — it's located on Clairmont Road, in an unassuming building that looks nothing like the cookie-cutter Barnes and Noble outposts you'll find all over this city — but inside, it's a bibliophile's dream. Rare first-edition books, classic novels and current bestsellers fill the shelves, and the staff is always willing to help you hunt down a specific title or point you in the direction of a genre you're interested in. (On my last visit, I spent a solid hour looking through the titles in the "Music" section and left with a book filled with personal essays by famous musicians about the songwriting process.) One of my favorite things about shopping here is the Atlanta Vintage Books bumper sticker that gets tucked into your purchase when you check out. It's a little detail that adds to the charm.
A word of caution, though, for customers with allergies — the owners keep cats in the building. If you are allergic, your best bet would be to call the store and inquire about a specific title, then swing by to pick up your treasure.
On June 18, 2013Natalie Wearstler answered the question:Unless you enjoy maneuvering around amidst a high heat index and throngs of traffic everywhere you turn, I'd avoid booking a trip to Orlando in the summer and opt for early spring instead. March is an ideal time to visit for several reasons — the temperature is perfect, flowers are in bloom all around the city and if you play your cards right, you can skip the long lines that usually plague the city's famous theme parks (assuming you don't visit during spring break, of course).
Two other perks to visiting at this time of year: Spring training baseball games at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex and the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. If you're only in the City Beautiful for one weekend, these two activities should make it onto your short to-do list.