Free JetSmarter Helicopter Transfers in NYC

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Boarding the helicopter transfer at the West 30th Street Heliport

My husband got me a JetSmarter membership as a present recently and it’s officially become my favorite luxury travel app. Like all private aviation, JetSmarter does not come cheap (rates are going up June 1st, but you can get membership until the end of May for $$9,675 annually plus a one-time initiation fee of $3,500. Details at bottom of this post).

Some video of my Blade flight over the Hudson River

While this may seem steep at first glance, it’s a bargain if you are used to paying full fare for first class travel between New York and Los Angeles. One way First Class airfare on American Airlines costs $2019. If you regularly fly bi-coastal, JetSmarter can be a great value for money.

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Cool view sitting next to the pilot

One of the best things out of the best things about being a JetSmarter member is the free helicopter transfers to and from Teterboro and Westchester airports to the West 30th Street Heliport in New York City.

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Helicopter pilot at the controls

JetSmarter also offers helicopter transfers to the Hamptons from Manhattan and from Chicago airports to the Loop.

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Above the Hudson

If you ask nicely, you can sit next to the pilot when you take off from the West 30th Street Heliport. Keep in mind, this side of the chopper is away from the NYC skyline when heading out of the city.

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The view through the passenger side door

JetSmarter is raising rates in June to $10,000 annually plus a one-time initiation fee of $5,000.

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Headed to HPN Airport in Westchester

I’ll do a post in the future detailing the LA to NYC JetSmarter shuttle experience.

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The View after dark into NYC is dramatic and beautiful

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Obligatory helicopter selfie

JetSmarter

500 East Broward Blvd., 19th Floor,
Fort Lauderdale, USA, FL 33394

+1 (888) 9 VIP JET

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(Please mention Jen Pollack Bianco when contacting JetSmarter) 

JetSmarter App on iTunes

 

Is the 320 € Vegetable Tasting Menu at Arpège Paris Worth It?

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 The colorful amuse bouche

After seeing chef Alain Passard’s Arpège, a three Michelin star restaurant in Paris, featured on the PBS show I’ll Have What Phil is Having, I was curious. Is it possible to make a truly spectacular vegetarian meal that justifies the 320 € set price for a tasting menu that only uses seasonal produce?

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Beetroot sushi flowered with geranium and Kalamata black olive

Fortunately my husband and a few of my foodie friends were alway interested in finding out. We booked a reservation and went to Paris to check it out for ourselves.

One thing I despise is how at some fine dining restaurants in Europe the woman is handed a menu devoid of prices. I was disappointed that Arpège, which is so groundbreaking on so many levels, went the “women don’t get to read the prices” route. Not only is this sexist, but it left me out of the conversation about some of the other items on the menu (such as the Aiguillettes of Chausey Lobster lobster for 165 €) which was a bummer, and misguided since I was only blogger at the table.

But I quickly got over the menu slight as soon as the amuse bouche arrived to brighten up the monochromatic table at the restaurant. They were vibrant, delicious and highly refined. I was convinced Chef Alain Passard was onto something with this Spring in the Garden menu. The staff which was so friendly I think they would have happily handed me the menu with the prices if I had asked.

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Mesclun with hazelnut praline Mibuna, mizuna, choho…

The first course, beetroot sushi flowered with geranium and Kalamata black olive, was perhaps the most memorable of the evening. It was creative yet sublime and highly flavorful. The beet was as silky as sashimi and the velvety olives were a nice contrast to the rice.

Next up was course was a mesclun salad with hazelnut praline Mibuna. While this was one of the more basic looking dishes, it was definitely next level because of how flavorful it was and it’s lovely combination of textures.

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Fine multicolored vegetable ravioli vegetable consommé

I’m not much of a cook, but my friend, Felix, is. He tried to place the flavors in the third course, the fine multicolored vegetable ravioli in vegetable consommé. The broth had some umami earthiness that he attributed to mushrooms. The ravioli had a nice bite as well.

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White asparagus from the Sarthe region with olive oil and Timut pepper

The fourth course in the tasting menu was white asparagus from the Sarthe region served with olive oil and Timut pepper from Nepal. This was perhaps the most straightforward of the courses served yet still delicious. I like perfectly prepared asparagus, and this course worked in a traditionally refined fashion.

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Louise Passard’s “Parmentier” with kasha grains

On to the next course, which as described as “Louise Passard’s ‘Parmentier’ made with kasha grain.” I found this to be the least memorable course. While it was good- everything was good- I think the wine pairings were starting to catch up with me at this point and I was getting a bit full.

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Palco spinach with hazelnut butter and laurel butter

Next up was Palco spinach with hazelnut and laurel butter. This course looked a bit like baby food but boasted bold and sophisticated flavors.

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Vol-au-vent with Côtes du Jura wine, peas, turnip, and mangetout peas

The next course, a puff pastry vol-au-vent with Côtes du Jura wine, peas, turnip, and mangetout peas was perhaps the most beautiful of the evening. The perfectly froth and vibrant greens stood out and the puff pastry was both delicate and satisfying. This course left clean plates all around.

Spring cabbage stuffed with nettle leaves and fresh thermidrome garlic

The eighth course was spring cabbage stuffed with nettle leaves and fresh thermidrome garlic. This visually resembled the beautiful previous course and was perfectly seasoned, yet not as memorable as the previous course. I think the puff pastry added that magical French carb factor.

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Arlequin Jardinière with Argan oil, young carrot, kohlrabi, Selma fennel

I was getting uncomfortably full by the time the ninth course arrived. It was artful, colorful and delightfully complicated Arlequin Jardinière with Argan oil, young carrot, kohlrabi, and Selma fennel. This was satisfying to my eyes as well as my taste buds.

Garlic crème brûlée with candied lemon

Portions were appropriately sized for a tasting menu, but I decided to bow out of the first dessert course, a garlic crème brûlée with candied lemon. I’m never a fan of the texture of crème brûlée and was losing steam. My friend, Thomas, said this was “the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.” This is saying a lot as Thomas is seriously well-traveled foodie. Maybe I’ll save room next time.

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Crispy millefeuille with candied rhubarb garden angelica

The next course was also sweet, a delicate and crispy millefeuille with candied rhubarb garden angelica. It was delicate but not as memorable or as visually appealing as the savory and umami courses.

I was fully tasted out so the final course, a post-dessert of sweets including macarons, biscuits and caramel. This is the point in the meal where I always seem to forget these epic meals come with multi-course desserts. To me it seemed like overkill but I lack a sweet tooth and never require multiple desserts. I forgot to photograph it.

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Chef Alain Passard came to greet us after our meal (photo credit: Felix Kam-Chung)

After our meal Chef Alain Passard came out to greet us and he is charming and truly an artist. So was the 320 € Spring in the Garden vegetable tasting menu worth it? For me it was a firm “yes”, as much for the experience for the food. It was definitely eye opening to see how creative and refined a vegetarian meal can be. I would order the beetroot sushi and vol-au-vent again if they were available a la carte. When the bill arrived we all agreed we were glad we came.

2016 is the 30th anniversary of the restaurant and there is much to celebrate at Arpege. But you don’t need to bring a jacket to celebrate. Arpege breaks almost all the rules and there is no dress code, not that anyone showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s lovely and upscale but not in the least bit stuffy. The service was friendly and vegetarian tasting menu justified the 360 Euro price of entry. I can’t eat epic meals like this often and I’d like to return to Arpege in another season to see how chef Alain Passard masterfully handles winter vegetables or perhaps check out the 165 € lobster from the a la carte menu. Now if I can only get a menu with the prices on it….

Arpège Restaurant

84, Rue de Varenne
75007 Paris
+ 33 (0)1 47 05 09 06

The Restaurant is open
from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner

No valet parking.

Reservations : arpege.passard@wanadoo.fr or online via web-site booking form.

Why You Should See It: Duomo di Milano Milan, Italy

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh is the social media manager for My Life’s a Trip. She is also a great photographer and traveler. She recently visited Milan, Italy and I asked her to write a guest post. I hope her excellent guest post inspires you to climb up to the roof of the Duomo.

- Jen Pollack Bianco

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Go up to the roof to realize how huge the cathedral actually is (behold tiny people figures on piazza)

The most impressive thing about the Milan Cathedral is how much time and effort were spent on its construction. Thousands of artists, builders, craftsmen and 78 different architects from all over Europe worked on the project for 500 years!

The result is thoroughly impressive. The fifth-largest Christian church in the world, the Duomo is decorated with over 4000 statues, gargoyles, and figures (it is the most decorated building in the world) and the size of a city block on the inside.

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Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II

The Duomo’s building, topped with a spire statue of the Madonna, was the tallest in Milan for almost two centuries. And its construction even changed the appearance of the city. In order to build this impressive Flamboyant Gothic church, marble was brought from the quarries of Candoglia. The canals built for marble delivery turned Milan into a small Venice, and they still can be seen in the Navigli area of the city.

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Ubiquitous Italian Pigeons on Piazza del Duomo

Unfortunately the kind of marble used on the Duomo is very fragile and needs to be replaced every 50-100 years. This expensive reality has provided continuous work for the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, the organization that has been responsible for the cathedral’s construction and maintenance since 1387.

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Interior of Duomo di Milano

The interior of the cathedral is not as impressive as the exterior, but it’s also well worth visiting. Some believers think the most precious thing in cathedral is The Holy Nail relic, with which, per the legend, Christ was crucified. It is placed over the altar and is illuminated with red lightbulb.

There is a sundial on the floor near the main entrance that was once used to regulate clocks in the whole city. It was placed in Milan Duomo by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera.

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Artsy Windows of Duomo are Illuminated from Inside   

The archaeological area displays the remains of the early Christian baptisteries of S. Giovanni alle Fonti and S.Stefano and the remains of the basilica of S. Tecla, which dates back to 355 A.D.

Milan’s magnificent Duomo was the first cathedral in the world to illuminate its windows from within so that, at night, the sacred images can be admired from the outside.

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Sky and Spirals: First Thing You See After Climbing The Dark Spiral Staircase

The roof climb is another visitor’s must-do. The views of the city are incredible and the opportunity to see 135 spires rising above the cathedral, like a marble forest, is worth the climb alone!

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“The Marble Forest”

There is a gilded statue of Madonnina, the Virgin Mary, at the top of the highest spire Milan Cathedral. Traditionally, no building in Milan can be higher than the Madonnina. The Duomo was the tallest building in Milan until the middle of 1950s, when the higher Pirelli Building was built. So to keep up with tradition, a smaller replica of the Madonnina was placed atop of it.

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Gilded Statue of Madonnina as Seen From Cathedral’s Roof

The best way to explore Duomo is a combined Duomo Pass, admission  includes Terraces (by elevator for A pass or on foot for B pass), Duomo, Museum, Church of St.Gottardo in Corte and Archaeological Area.
 The line is smaller near closing time on Sundays, and I’d suggest to purchase B Pass to avoid the queue at the elevator. The climb isn’t that hard (about 200 steps) and there is something utterly satisfying about going all the way up and then being rewarded with a fabulous view!

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 The view of the Milan from the Terraces of Duomo

Duomo di Milano

OPENING HOURS

Every day: 8.00 am – 7.00 pm. Last ticket at 6.00 am. Last admission 6.10 pm

TICKETS

DUOMO PASS Duomo Pass A € 15.00 Duomo Pass B € 11.00

Make sure you’re properly dressed before entering the Duomo (no shorts, no short skirts or dresses, no tank tops).

Night Photography in Stockholm and Finnish Lapland (and Photo Tips)

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Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Finnish Lapland, as photographed on my Canon 5D MK III

One of the reasons I chose to go with Photo Enrichment Adventures to Lapland and Stockholm was for another chance to photograph the Aurora Borealis. After aurora hunting in Iceland in October, I got hooked on the phenomenon and know I’ll be seeking out more opportunities to see the Northern Lights.

Photo Enrichment specializes in small group cultural tours with an emphasis on photography. I enjoy night photography but it’s definitely not my forte, and welcomed the chance up up my night photography game. Shooting after dark involves long shutter speeds and that means a tripod is required.

I brought tripod set-ups for both my DSLR, a Canon 5D MK III as well as a far more compact version for my iPhone 6s.

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Stockholm’s Parliament building illuminated at night 

Situated between the head of Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, Stockholm is hella windy at night and the night I spent shooting after dark in Stockholm was by far the coldest.

The most important gear in addition to a tripod is the right gloves. My hands tend to get extremely cold and I’ve been shooting with mittens over texting gloves, trying to find the correct pair or combo since I visited Iceland last fall.

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iPhone 6s Slow Shutter Shot of Stockholm at night

Since I know I will be doing more night photography in cold conditions, I’ve now purchased a pair of heated gloves. After a lot of research I figured out that the gloves for hunters and snipers have the same features photographers need, including a free trigger finger. The Heat 3 Smart Gloves came highly rated but with a steep price tag, so I opted for the slightly less expensive Swany Arctic Toaster Mittens.

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Stockholm at night, a Canon 5 D MK III shot

The Aurora Borealis only showed up one night during my stay in Finnish Lapland, and earlier than expected, so I only photographed them using my Canon DSLR setup.

The other nights I tried shooting with both my Canon and my iPhone 6s, using the Slow Shutter app, and overall I was impressed with the resulting images from my iPhone. The photos from Stockholm blew out some of the details in the highlights that my Canon was able to capture, but I am still happy with the images.

The Slow Shutter app also has an intervalometer feature built in so you can set exposure times and shutter speeds. Slow Shutter’s intervalometer was more intuitive than the stand alone remote timer I used from Canon.

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Cabins in Kukkolankoski, Finland (iPhone image above)

Slow Shutter produced images that were a bit noisy, but editing them and blending together a few of my favorite edits using the Image Blender app makes the noise less noticeable. They don’t have the same sharpness as the shots from my Canon DSLR but they certainly captured the mood!

I plan on doing more night photography in the coming months so that my comfort level and skill improves.

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Cabins in Kukkolankoski photographed with my Canon 5D MK III

The other piece of gear which is so essential for cold weather shooting is extremely low tech: large Ziploc storage bags. After shooting in extremely cold conditions, you take out your battery and SD and CF cards and place your DSLR and lenses in these to prevent condensation when they warm up to room temperature. Very useful!

For more tips on photographing in extreme conditions, check out Dan Carr’s excellent post on Cold Weather Photography and Extreme Conditions.

Exploring Lapland: Dogsledding in Kivalot, Finland

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The view from my dog sled

One of the highlights of my recent Arctic Adventure with Photo Enrichment Adventures was the afternoon we spent dog sledding in Finnish Lapland.

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Huskies are ready to roll

We drove about an hour from our cottages in Kukolankoski to the hilly area of Kivalot where we were greeted by the howls and whimpers of thirty Siberian huskies ready to roll. There we met Ulla and Paula, a mother/daughter team of mushers with over 30 years of dog sledding experience. Ulla is a serious competitive dog sledder, but her B-team of dogs is at the ready to entertain tourists with scenic dog sled tours.

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Off duty dogs

Huskies have a human like howl that made it a bit difficult to hear the instructions of how to drive the dog sleds, which are crafted by hand by Ulla. We split into teams and had an awesome chance to take in some of the local scenery by sled (or sledge, as they call it in Lapland).

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Left: Paula and Sitka, the puppy Right: Paula with one of her prize huskies

While the person riding in the sled had an awesome perspective to take photographs and video, this experience was about much more than photos. The howling huskies became quiet the second they hit the trail. It was a really fun way to explore the countryside.

Dog sledding video shot on my iPhone 6s

The sounds of the paws against the snow, the cushy ride afforded by the fluffy layer of snow. The sensation is a bit like cross-country skiing, but more fun because of the six wagging tails in front of you.

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The view from the dog sledge

Dog sledding was a great way to experience the beauty of the Lapland wilderness and bond with nature.

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Sam and a brown and blue-eyed Siberian beauty

Dog sleds are driven by fully manual transmission, and there were a few memorable mishaps. I got flipped in the sled while riding around a corner. But it only added to the experience, and the snow guaranteed a soft landing.

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Sitka the future sled dog hopeful.

I’m not sure which I preferred– riding in the sled or driving it. Both were fantastic. We even had a touch of snow to add to the winter wonderland atmosphere. Everyone on the trip thought this was an absolute highlight and was a bit bummed when our ride ended.

Ulla and Paula invited us into a tipi-like tent for some coffee and introduced us to Sitka, a five-week old husky puppy who is a future competitive sled dog hopeful.

It’s experiences like dog sledding in Lapland that made me glad I took a tour. Our group loved discussing this experience and having it together made it all the better. Much thanks to Ralph Velasco and Alessandro Maccari of Photo Enrichment Adventures for putting together this amazing trip.

Photo Enrichment Adventures

1643 North Alpine Road, #190
Rockford, IL 61107

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