Laura Freeman

Laura Freeman

Sunday, 10 November 2013 00:00

The Great Pizza Crawl Part 4: Forcella

the kitchen of forcella in williamsburgOff the Lorimer stop on the L train is the Brooklyn branch of the famed pizza joint, Forcella. The restaurants are the product of Italian, Giulio Adriani, a 4-time pizza world champion.

The restaurant is comfortable with decent lighting and high and low tables. While there is a bar, Forcella also offers a BYOB option. The waiters are mostly male and often dressed in cute Italian outfits.

Most of the personal- sized pizzas on the menu come solely from the wood-burning oven, visible in the open kitchen. However, Forcella’s most famous pizza, the Montanara is a FRIED margarita pizza. The Montanara is delicious; the pizza is fried to a perfect crisp without being heavy or greasy, the sauce has tremendous flavor- almost as if it has been made from heirloom tomatoes and the cheese and spices are spot on.  The one issue with the Montanara is that it must be eaten immediately, or it becomes soggy. The regular margarita is also delicious, though not quite as special.


Two other fried pizzas, ripienos, grace the menu. The ripienos are more like a calzone than a pizza. They are a bit heavy and the ingredients aren’t showcased to their full potential.

While Forcella has mixed reviews, the fried pizza still makes the list of one of New York’s best pizzas. 

a pizza from forcella

Tuesday, 12 November 2013 00:00

Lusting after: Ice Hotels

In honor of the first snow today, check out these magical ice hotels. Made of ice, you will feel like you're living in a crystal palace.  

 Ice Hotel - Sweden

This is the largest ice hotel in the world, though it feels more like sleeping in a beautifully curated art museum. Visitors to the hotel will be blown away by the chic Scandinavian architecture, galleries of art and stylish dining options- served on ice! Take shots out of ice shot glasses and dance the night away in the ice night club. Inside the Artic circle, you will be amazed by some of the most incredible views of the Northern Lights- one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World- and the midnight sun. Other activities available are ice driving, horseback riding, snowmobile tours and dog sledding 

There are both cold suites and warm suites. For the brave adventurer, the cold suites are the ultimate bucket list item. Sleep in a thermal sleeping bag on a bed of ice surrounded by incredible works of ice art.

Hotel de Glace- Quebec, Canada

This hotel has more of romantic feel than the trendy Swedish counterpart. The hotel is only open from January to March and is rebuilt every year.  Cozy up with your lover in a Nordic sleeping bag in your own ice room, complete with an illuminating fireplace and relaxing private spa.  Renew your vows in the crystal ice chapter. With all the stunning crystal details of this grand palace, you are bound to have a magical time.  

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Norway 

Nestled deep in the Artic lands of Norway is the Sorrisniva Igloo hotel. This hotel is the most traditional of the three and has a comforting atmosphere that will make you feel like you're in a grand ski lodge. Ice rooms are adorned with a grand canopy bed and a fireplace that looks like it came from a old victorian home. Stroll throught the hotel to admire the scupltures and enjoy a martini in the ice bar. When you're tired of the cold, the hotel also has a warmer section, complete with hot tubs and saunas.

Book yourself a snowmobile safari to explore all the area has to offer, including the Northern Lights above. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 00:00

Peter Pan's Donuts- A True Never Never Land

peter pan donut shop in greenpoint brooklyn

I am a sucker for sweets, however, donuts aren't usually on my go-to list. Generally, I find them too heavy; I can literally feel the fire forming around my stomach.

I've recently been reading tons of articles, like this one from the Gothamist about donuts and some of them, I HAD to try.

In the heart of Polish Greenpoint is Peter Pan. If for some reason, you have trouble spotting which shop is which, look for the line crawling outside. The interior of Peter Pan is a truly nostalgic blast from the past; a place you'd expect to see in a 1950s family movie. Despite the decent amount of counter bar-type seating, you will be hard-pressed to find a spot. Even the pressing line at the front of the house, Regulars don't seem bothered enough to suck down their coffee and finish reading their paper. This is not that kind of place.

The take-out line moves quickly, though, as uniformed Polish women abruptly fill your orders. During key time, don't expect small talk.

I ordered the red velvet and honey glazed donut. I was hesitant on ordering the honey glazed- it sounds so boring!- but a slew of reviews convinced me otherwise. And I was not disappointed. The honey glazed donut was probably the best donut that I've ever had and it literally melted in your mouth. The insides were light and fluffy, which is probably a bit dangerous; I felt like I could eat several without popping.
The red velvet was also tantalizing, but a bit more cakier. It had good consistency and didn't crumble.

It is no wonder that Tina Fey declared that after tasting Peter Pan's donuts, she finally understood the man's urge for sex.

I can't wait to return and try others like the sour cream and cruller.

a donut from peter pan  a donut from peter pan donuts

Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop

727 Manhattan Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11222

(718) 389-3676

Monday, 25 November 2013 00:00

Tips for Thanksgiving Travel


The day before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year, followed by the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We at The Trip Trotter have put together our BEST tips for making air travel on these two days a little bit more tolerable. 

1. Only bring a carryon. Make sure it's quick and easy to transport.

2. Snacks. Airport food is expensive and often full of calories and salt. Salty snacks are awful to eat while traveling. Bring snacks like Kashi or granola- something with plenty of protein. You want to make sure that you drink a lot of water.

3. Emergen-c! Keep you immune system up while sharing the air with hungreds of others. 

4. Load your iPad/Kindle/Smartphone up with a bunch of great books; an easy read, an intellectual read and a bestseller. I advise the Kindle route to save space in your luggage. 

5. Make sure you have your seat assignment ahead of time. Always check in 24 hours before your flight or as soon check-in becomes available. Get on the aircraft as soon as possible, so you have first access to overhead space.

6. If you're stuck at the airport for awhile, join your airline's club for the day. It will cost about $50, but is very comfortable, has free WiFi and drinks and snacks. If there is an issue with your flight, the agents in the lounge will have better access to flights than the agents available to the general public. 

GOOD LUCK and have a great Thanksgiving!

"Image courtesy of emptyglass /".

Monday, 02 December 2013 00:00

The Grand Canyon During Government Shutdown

It's been awhile since my trip, but luckily I have my travel journal handy to remember the details. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, but so often it gets categorized in that lame-family-road trip genre. After my visit to Victoria Falls last June- which I promise to write about soon- I became obsessed with visiting Natural Wonders.

view from the south rim of the grand canyonMy husband and I met in the pool of Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on my 22nd birthday. We decided it would be fun to travel back to visit for our 2nd wedding anniversary. I'm really not a Vegas person,** (but more on this later- we created an AMAZING non-Vegas Strip itinerary) so 4 whole days in Vegas was not something I could stand for. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is only a 4 hour drive from Las Vegas, which made it a perfect opportunity to visit. Vegas is also a great city for flight connections; there are a lot of cheap flights in and out and cheap hotels to crash in.

The plan was all set; hotels booked, road directions planned- but then- the Government shut down. As a result, all national parks, including the Grand Canyon, were closed. During a peak traveling time. The news was devastating. Selfishly, I was very upset that my trip was looking like it would be ruined, but more importantly, the shut down caused extreme devastation to the surrounding towns of the Grand Canyon. They depend on tourism for survival. I spent the two weeks before our trip praying that congress would get their act together, and furiously planning plan B. My prayers were answered and the night before we were set to depart; the Grand Canyon announced that because of private funding, it would open it's doors for ONE WEEK starting the next day. I was over the moon!  However, I found myself furiously re-planning my trip to accommodate for those awesome plan B attractions that I now HAD TO SEE.

laura hanaford sitting on the edge of the grand canyonWe arrived Saturday night, picked up our car and got a good night's sleep. Though we hadn't slep much, I was giddy from excitement. At a steady 90-mile hour pace (I love driving through the west!) we were at the Grand Canyon in no time. Note: I would have loved to stop at the Hoover Dam, but we were totally pressed for time.

The town of Grand Canyon, AZ, right outside the South Gate was eerily empty. The line at the gate passed quickly and the parking lot was as empty as a mall on a Tuesday morning. We bolted out of the car and made a bee-line to the closest lookout point. The Canyon's vast greatness took over my entire field of vision and I literally lost my breath. I couldn't believe how much the Grand Canyon looked just as beautiful as the photographs. I was sure they were photo shopped!

The air was very cold and I was forced to put my leather jacked on over my sweatshirt. Patches of snow haphazardly dotted the grass around the paths. It was a far cry from the 70 degree weather in Vegas.

Our plan for the day was to walk the South Rim Path. I kept getting frustrated with Dave because he lingered at every viewpoint. "I just need to take it all in," he replied. The South Rim walk is about 3 miles long along an easy path. The path is filled with facts about the age of the earth and how the canyon came to be. There's even a small museum, which has an incredible view, to take a look at. I really began to notice how empty the park was; we never competed for space or a photo op. Only the main cliff overlooks have railings, there were no guards to tell us not to get too close or climb all over the rocks. It was incredibly freeing! An American park with the security of Asia (my experience is Asia is not concerned with reminding their park-goers of safety precautions.) Several times we sat dangling our feet over the edge thinking, "what if I lost a shoe!" At times, I meandered too far out and often had to crawl back to safety.

At the end of the path is the Bright Angel's trail down to the bottom. The usually takes a half day to a full day to climb. We only had a few hours. The hike was the most difficult and most beautiful that I have ever been on. I was amazed at how the terrain changed as you walked further into the canyon. The top layers were very rocky layered with white, pink and sand colored stones. As you made your way down, the earth became so supple; the soil a moist terracotta and the grass a true emerald green. There were trees that lined the path and you could tell how lush the Earth was. I felt like I was living in Pocahontas' world.

hiking down into the grand canyon  the path to the colorado river


Referring to the walk up as a hike is understating the severity of it. Last spring, I ran two half marathons. This hike left my legs sore for days. Despite the beauty, I found myself swearing under my breath. Still, it was definitely an incredible memory I will cherish forever.

We were dripping in sweat by the time we reached the trail's entrance. Dave bought us ice cream; a great idea at the time, but as we cooled off and the temperature dropped (the sun began to set), the cold sweat and ice cream made us shiver.

Dave Hanford hiking into the grand canyon


The most incredible part of the Grand Canyon is seeing it during sunset. The sun magnified the pinks and blues colors of the canyon rocks. Our car was at the complete other end of the trail. As we walked along the rim, we noticed how alone we were.  We walked two miles without seeing another soul. My feet were throbbing; my Fitbit told me we were approaching 30,000 steps. The emptiness liberated me and I persevered, even skipped, down the path. We found an amazing clearing and had a photo shoot. I put on a long skirt over my pants, which caught beautifully in the wind.

sun set at the grand canyon  Laura enjoying the sunset

We stayed at a Best Western right outside the gate. The bar with the fireplace in the lobby was extraordinarily welcoming. Our standard room was bigger than our one bedroom in Brooklyn.

After a much needed shower, we went to eat at Plaza Bonita, a Mexican restaurant close by. The salsa was spicy and amazing, the fajitas were so fresh. But the best were the incredible margaritas. Our waitress was a lovely younger girl. She told us that normally (this was Columbus day weekend,) the line to eat would be out the door, but instead it was empty. Most travelers, it appeared, had already cancelled their trips. It was sad and depressing. I felt bad for these townspeople being unfairly punished by our government. We left an enormous tip and headed back to our hotel. After a sad loss at bowling in our hotel's alley, we called it a night.

grand-canyon-government-shutdown-image10I'm a New Yorker and I love to walk. That being said, my favorite part of the Grand Canyon was the east rim drive up highway 64. This is probably the least popular side of the canyon; I didn't even know this drive existed. The road runs along the rim with several grand lookouts. The views felt more extreme and even curated. The Colorado River was visible winding through. The look outs had many hidden paths, which you could spend hours examining. Everything felt so untouched. The people who drove this drive were more hardcore travelers; not your family with young kids. Everything felt more dangerous and thrilling; there were no rails holding you back here. At one point we saw a man on a boulder doing a handstand with the canyon as his backdrop; I was afraid even watching.

grand-canyon-government-shutdown-image11  grand-canyon-government-shutdown-image12

At the end of the drive is the Desert Viewpoint, a lookout tower that sits proudly at the edge of a cliff with three levels to climb. The view was phenomenal; I think this is the point where you can see the most of the canyon; all the different kinds of terrain.

The canyon never lost it's charm and excitement no matter how long we were there. Somehow, I felt like I left with the same giddy feeling that I came with.

Sunday, 15 December 2013 00:00

The Shoe that Revolutionized Travel

shoes that revolutionized the world

shoes that revolutionized the world

We at The Trip Trotter are all about traveling with carryon luggage. But for the fashionista, plotting a shoe plan can be very difficult. Luckily, our friends at Day2Night have solved that problem for us. Introducing the convertible shoe! The convertible shoe starts off as a black patent leather flat, but when you add one of the 5 heel heights, you can turn this shoe into a stylish pump. The heel starts at ¾" and grows to 3 ¾". No longer do you need to pack several different black shoes. The convertible shoe is durable with a flexible rubber sole, and has even been tested on runners!

Check out the convertible shoe and make packing for your next vacation easier!

Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:00

Sausage Fest 2013!

trip trotter sausage festLast night, we held out first fundraiser, Sausage Fest, in honor of National Bratwurst Day. It was a beautiful night in Brooklyn, not too hot and not too cold. We were lucky enough to enjoy the party not only inside, but also on the roof, with the Manhattan skyline as the backdrop. We ate three different types of sausages, two different types of Polish Kielbasa, Podwawiska and Swojska, and one Italian sausage. We also enjoyed sides of a traditional German potato salad and green beans.

This event was very fun to shop for. Our apartment in Williamsburg is located in the Italian neighborhood. We have been going to see Lou at Model T Meats for many years. Stepping into Lou's store is a blast from this past- complete with the sawdust on the floor. Lou makes his own Italian Sausage every Thursday afternoon and everyone in the neighborhood knows that if show up on Saturday morning, you may be out of luck.

The neighborhood directly north of us is called Greenpoint. Greenpoint is known for it's Polish community. Sausage Fest was a great opportunity to explore this neighborhood. We went to Drigg's Meat Market, an intimate shop hidden in a residential neighborhood. In his thick polish accent, the butcher helped me navigate through the plethora of variety to pick the right kind of sausage for Sausage fest. The shop also supplies Polish condiments and sides. We picked up some delicious sauerkraut!

Across the street was a chain supermarket. One of my favorite parts about Brooklyn is that chain supermarkets adapt to the taste of the community that they supply. Polish beers, products and typical foods were readily available. So fun to explore!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone that attended! If you still wish to donate to The Trip Trotter, you can do so via PayPal by sending funds to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I am so blessed to be surrounded by such a wonderful community.



Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00

Hello and welcome to the Trip Trotter blog!

Dave and Laura Hanaford

My name is Laura Hanaford and I am the owner, founder and travel planner for The Trip Trotter. My husband, David, and our two children (cats), Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard live at the Clue Mansion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I've been traveling internationally since I was 12 years old. Seeing the world is my passion! I started the Trip Trotter after realizing that many people find that traveling the world on your own is very overwhelming and intimidating! After many years of practice, I have gotten traveling down to a science and wanted to share this ability with everybody else.

Choosing the right travel partner is key to enjoying the perfect vacation! If you go to Paris with someone who wants to spend all their time at the Louvre, and you want to go shopping, neither party will enjoy themselves. You spend too much money, energy and vacation time to risk that. This is my argument against tour groups; everyone tours at a different pace. I wanted to help others feel comfortable enough to explore the world at their own pace and do exactly what they wanted to do. At The Trip Trotter, we help you plan the perfect vacation that includes activities that you want to do and aids you in helping to get from point A to point B. We like to think of it as self-guided tours. If you want to take a break, take a break! If you want to explore that shop, go for it!

In this blog, we will discuss topics regarding fun places to travel, travel stories, new tips and packing ideas, haggling advice and other hot travel issues. We will also have guest bloggers and fellow Trip Trotters sharing their experiences and expertise.

We encourage you to comment and share you input on everything that we discuss. If you would like to send your comments privately, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Monday, 09 December 2013 00:00

A Drive Up the Grand Canyon: Page, Arizona

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grand canyon page arizona navajo market stand

What an odd title, I know. The last place I left off in our Grand Canyon saga, we had just exited from the East side via highway 64. If you missed this exciting tale, you can read about it here. I feel the need to say again how much I love driving in the Southwest, where I pretend there is no speed limit. I rarely drive; we don't own a car in Brooklyn. When I drive, the congestion of New York makes my road rage gets so bad, that I am put in a bad mood and need at least a half hour of recovery time after I'm relieved of my duty. I also pretend to be a horrible driver so my husband does it all whenever we travel. I get to sit in the passengers seat "navigating" and promising not to fall asleep, a feat which I usually fail at- seriously, I'm the worst. Anyway, I digress.

Back-story: this part of the drive actually came about because I was looking for alternative cool things to see in the Southwest that weren't affected by the government shutdown. When the Grand Canyon opened, I couldn't let go of the idea of seeing Antelope Slot Canyon and Horseshoe bend. I knew it would be a lot of driving and a very rushed day, but I love adventure. This side trip is really too much for one day, but obviously, it can be done.

near entrance to grand canyon national park

Driving up- and by up, I mean north, is an incredibly beautiful panoramic drive. The desert-like mountains surrounding you feel like they are painted next to the sky, like you're on a movie set. On the left hand side, cracks of canyon scatter through the earth. There are several scenic drive-offs, some with footpaths leading to the canyon below. It's difficult not to get sidetracked and waste several hours of your day examining the cracks in the earth. Usually, the stops are also lined with small Navajo shops selling jewelry of hematite and turquoise and dream catchers. I prefer to buy my souvenirs from these little shops. When I travel, I buy only one little thing. I love for my souvenir to have a story- like the sculpture that I bought over Victoria Falls on the bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe. Sure, I could buy the same statue anywhere in Zimbabwe, but it has more meaning coming from there.

dissolved landscape around grand canyon national park

The drive became a bit of a crazy disaster- but a beautiful one. Because of what we think was a landslide, the usual easy, straightforward, two-hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Page had a confusing detour. Some bad directions from a nearby gas station led us on a one-and-a-half hour roundtrip detour from the detour. The drive was so pleasant, we hardly noticed; we saw some amazing things that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. This is what I love about traveling; often, you find the most amazing things while not even trying. We crossed the Navajo bridge, which was the first time we saw the Colorado River up close. The Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River at Marble Canyon en route to the North Rim of the Canyon. We even saw Rock Houses. Rock Houses?! Yes, Rock Houses; little mushroom-like rocks that one can walk into for shelter. At the Rock Houses is where Dave really realized how far we were beyond where we were supposed to be, he describes his encounter with the Rock Houses as bitter sweet; "wow, we're so lost! But, whoa- what IS this?!" We raced every car that we came across and quickly made up for lost time. Unfortunately, between this detour and the scenic drives, we had literally wasted the entire morning and early afternoon. I would have loved to have another day to explore Navajo country more. You can even visit Marble Canyon, where the Grand Canyon begins.

bridge over the colorado riverancient cliff dwellers rock home

When we arrived in Page, we were a bit grouchy from all of the driving, but our arrival at Horseshoe Bend quickly eased our temper. Horseshoe bend is where the Colorado River does a 360 degree turn creating what appears to be a horseshoe of land. To see this, there's a short hike (under a mile) up a hill. At this point, my legs really started to ache from the hike up the canyon the previous day. Getting out of the car, I felt my muscles cramping. At the top is an overlook to the river. Again, no railings. I was beginning to think extreme safety was an East Coast thing. There was something scarier about standing close to the edge of Horseshoe bend than the Grand Canyon; I found myself crawling on my hands and knees to look over the edge. I look absolutely terrified in photos.

inside the upper antelope slots page arizona
horseshoe bend page arizona

After Horseshoe Bend, we managed to catch the last tour of Antelope Slot Canyon. The slot canyons are absolutely amazing; it's actually one of the most photographed slot canyons. Since we were pressed for time, we only saw the Upper Canyon (there are Upper and Lower Canyons.) The Navajo name for the Upper Canyon is Tse bighanilini, meaning "the place where water runs through rocks," which is exactly how these photogenic canyons came to be. The canyons were formed by erosion due to flash floods. During monsoon season, water trickles through the passage way quickly, eroding the passages deeper. The flow of water can actually be seen in the smooth pattern of the rocks. I would have loved to see the canyons closer to the middle of the day, when more light shines through, but it was still absolutely amazing.

The canyons are on Navajo land, so you need a guide to take you through. Contrary to what many websites tell you about traveling to the canyons, you don't need a prescheduled tour and it is actually cheaper if you pay at the gate. Regardless of if you pre-booked, you will need to pay a $6 per person reservation fee. Tours are about $25 per person. This is pricy, but an unreal experience. You are not allowed to take tripods unless you are on a photo tour, which is more expensive. Since we came later in the day, the canyon was rather dark and it was difficult to get a clear shot. This is an unedited photo of mine.

You are taken to the canyon on a pickup truck with caged seating on the back. The ride was actually very fun, but bumpy and windy. Make sure you remember your sweatshirt! Some of the guides are more helpful than others, but all of them are great with showing you great shots and helping you set up your camera.

After the canyon, the sun began to set and we realized how far we had to drive to get back to Vegas- about 4 hours. After a quick drive by Lake Powell, we headed into the abyss. I would have loved to spend more time in this area; we kept finding treasures that I was dying to explore. At the end of the day, it was a ton of driving. Luckily, the scenery created an amazing backdrop. Despite feeling rushed- which I hate- I would have absolutely had the same plan if I could do it over. I can sleep when I get home, right?

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