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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in North America.

Sundance Film Festival – Utah

JANUARY.

AH, WE HAVE TO LINE UP WITH THE CELEBRITIES IN THEIR SKI GEAR FOR THIS ONE.

Despite being a showcase for up-and-coming films, this festival has always had Hollywood’s attention – its founder and patron, Robert Redford, being one of LA’s old-school stars.

WE’RE NOT REALLY INTO THE HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS.

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Don’t worry, despite the tinsel-town connections, and its reputation as one of the biggest film festivals in the United States, there is a firm commitment to independent and up-and-coming film-makers.

THE NEXT BIG THINGS?

The festival has given a start to some of the world’s most highly respected filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Jim Jarmusch and Robert Rodriguez, and has launched films like The Blair Witch Project, Donnie Darko, Napoleon Dynamite and Saw onto the international stage.

HOW DO THEY KEEP IT REAL?

Anyone can enter their film in one of the many categories available. There’s a staggeringly popular documentary category, narrative feature films, short films and even virtual reality projects. You’re guaranteed to see something unique.

South by Southwest – Austin, Texas

MARCH.

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE – IS IT A MUSIC FESTIVAL? A FILM FESTIVAL? A COMEDY FESTIVAL?

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All of the above and more. SXSW runs for nine days in March and totally overruns the Austin city streets with new music, art, comedy and movies, along with speaking panels packed with a who’s who of pop culture, new media and the arts.

SOUNDS LIKE WE’RE GOING TO HAVE A FULL DANCE CARD.

There are more than 2000 different acts from all over the world so you might want to think about some pre-planning. Either that or you could stumble around town and see what kind of Next Big Thing you can bump into. SXSW is famous for showcasing up-and-coming talent so be prepared to add bragging rights to your Twitter feed.

AND THE SPEAKING PANEL PART – WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?

There are all kinds of interactive panels on issues as diverse as design, technology, urban strategy, fashion, broadcasting, travel, and gaming; each panel is packed with carefully recruited expert keynote speakers all with reputations for being game-changers and visionaries. Expect wall-to-wall digital hipsters.

Soho’s Intimate Art Galleries – New York

In the late 1970s and ’ 80s the Soho gallery scene was in full swing, when exhibits by artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat attracted hordes of black-clad hipsters and well-heeled collectors. But as boutiques and restaurants mushroomed, galleries closed or moved, and artists sought pastures new. By 2000 Chelsea had become the center of the gallery scene. However, a surprising number of important galleries still remain in Soho, here’s a selection of places worth exploring for temporary exhibits and their permanent collections:

Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery (31 Mercer St, tel: 212-226-3232). Serious conceptual art by museum-quality artists.

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Martin Lawrence Galleries (457 West Broadway, tel: 212-995-8865). Well-known and emerging artists: paintings, sculpture, and graphic design.

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Franklin Bowles Galleries (431 West Broadway, tel: 212-226-1616). A ‘Blue Chip’ gallery featuring valuable works by Chagall, Dalí, Miró and more.

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Louis K. Meisel Gallery (141 Prince St, tel: 212-677-1340). Owns the largest pin-up art collection in the world.

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June Kelly Gallery (166 Mercer St, tel: 212-226-1660). Contemporary works by African-American artists.

Clic Gallery and Bookstore (424 Broome St, tel: 212-219-9308). Monthly shows by emerging photographers, and a curated selection of high-quality photography books (pictured).

Margarete Roeder Gallery (545 Broadway, 4th Floor, tel: 212-925-6098). Specializes in drawings by Merce Cunningham, and contemporary German prints.

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Soho Gallery for Digital Arts (138 Sullivan St, tel: 212-228-2810). Important young art gallery presenting new artists. Off the beaten path in both its location and curating.

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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – Albuquerque, U.S.A

FIRST WEEK OF OCTOBER

WHAT ARE WE TALKING HERE? PARTY BALLOONS?

If you go in expecting something like that, then you are going to be totally blown away (pun intended). This annual fiesta in New Mexico is the largest hot-air balloon festival in the world, with more than 500 of these spectacular aircrafts taking to the skies for nine days each October.

THE SKY LOOKS MAGICAL.

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The sky is full of air balloons

The sight of enormous balloons floating serenely through the New Mexico skies in all their kaleidoscopic colour is breathtaking. Keep your eyes peeled for the quirky and unusually shaped balloons – there’s nothing quite like seeing a skyscrapersized turtle floating overhead.

CAN WE JUMP ON BOARD AND GET A VIEW FROM UP HIGH?

While the festival is flooded with hardcore enthusiasts and serious professional balloonists who compete in races and other exhibition events, it’s also open to curious onlookers. It’s possible to walk around the field while the balloons are being lit and inflated, and book a ride on one also. Get in early though, as rides in the balloons sell out fast.

Get Yourself Lost In The Most Romantic Spots of Canada

 

Looking to get away with your special someone but a beachside resort isn’t your speed? Consider one of these Canadian city hotels that provide an array of romantic amenities.

Montreal has several luxurious accommodations for couples looking to get away —whether it’s just for the weekend or for an extended stay.

Hotel Le Crystal, an independent boutique hotel that will be celebrating its 10 th anniversary in June 2018, “is as romantic and traditional as it is cutting-edge, as cosmopolitan and dynamic as it is small-town friendly.”

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Hotel Le Crystal has an outdoor hot tub on a year-round terrace, an indoor saltwater swimming pool, a Swdish sauna, and fitness center overlooking the city.

Romantic gestures that the hotel has offered include rose petals and chocolate awaiting couples in their room; taking guests in a horse- drawn carriage for a tour of Old Montreal; booking a musician for a marriage proposal; and finding the best tables at the best restaurants in the city such as Europea, a Relais & Chateaux restaurant just across the street. Shopping is around the corner at La Maison Ogilvy; Saint Catherine Street’s boutiques are just a five-minute drive away.

The head concierge can be reached at concierge@hotel-lecrystal.com. Mylene Perrault is usually at the post but is currently on maternity leave until September; in the meantime Nairn Guessous is available to answer any questions.

Hotel Le Crystal currently has a “Romance Package” and a “Relax Together” package. The former includes accommodations in a Superior, Premium, Deluxe or Executive Suite, two signature cocktails at the Bar La Coupole, two breakfasts in-suite, late checkout and a gift card to Amerispa, the hotel’s onsite spa; the latter includes a stay in a Superior, Deluxe or Executive Suite, one 50-minute massage at Amerispa each, late checkout, breakfast at LA Coupole, and access to the fitness center, indoor pool, sauna, gym and outdoor hot  tub.

Of the 131 suites, the hotel recommends couples opt for the Executive Suite, which includes a large living room space with a fireplace (perfect for snuggling up next to at night) and 42-inch flat-screen TV, a kitchenette and minibar, a balcony and master bedroom with turndown service and en suite with deep bathtubs. There is also an outdoor Jacuzzi on the 12th floor terrace, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the city.

Good to know: Summer is the busiest season, which requires booking at least one month in advance. In June, the city hosts the Canadian Grand Prix, and bookings should be made between six months and one year in advance.

The Amerispa, led by Spa Director Caroline Charles, has four aesthetic rooms plus a section for manicures and pedicures. The Amerispa Massage (80 minutes) is the most requested; couples, however, should try the Tandem Massage (50 minutes). Spa treatments should be reserved one week in advance.

Hotel Gault, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts LVX, is a 30-room boutique hotel just a few blocks from the Promenade du Vieux-Port, a park bordering the St. Lawrence River. The original structure was built in 1871 for Andrew Frederick Gault, known as the “cotton king of Canada.” His dry-goods company was based out of the building until 1914. The original iron pillars and brick walls are visible in the lobby and certain guestrooms.

We recommend couples ask for the Deluxe Apartment — the hotels top accommodation. The 1,020-square-foot space has a kitchenette, a living room and a workspace with complimentary Wi-Fi, plus a King bed with Casa Rovea linens, 2 LED TVs (40- inch and 55-inch), a bathroom with an expansive bathtub, shower, heated floor and Molton Brown bath amenities.

For the best views, the Terrace Suites offer uninterrupted views of Old Montreal. These range from 400 square feet to 600 square feet. For specific room requests, book at least two weeks in advance. Director of Operations Amir Bakir will help advisors find the perfect room for their clients.

Tip: The “Romantic Retreat” package earns guests breakfast in their room plus a 1 p.m. late checkout.

Have clients looking to get out and explore? Hotel Gault can arrange a private helicopter tour of the city. A walk up to the lookout on Mont-Royal (a large volcanic- related hill immediately west of downtown) or an afternoon spent at the Jean-Talon farmers market is also ideal for couples.

Good to know: While the hotel doesn’t have an onsite spa, it is partnered with Scandinave Spa and Bota Bota spa-sur-l’eau, offering hotel packages and discounted rates for guests. Concierge Nadia Fentiman  should be contacted at least one week in advance to book treatments. She can even arrange for masseuses to come to the hotel for an in-room treatment.

Le Place d’Armes Hotel & Suites touts it can arrange the perfect experience for couples —“anything and everything from booking transportation and dinner reservations to finding the perfect harp player for a wedding proposal.”

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Hotel Place D’Armes: Junior Suite + Balcony rooms have a King bed, a living area with fireplace and home theatre and a step-out balcony

Couples considering popping the question will be relieved to hear that Le Place d’Armes has a dedicated Coordinator for Weddings and Social Events, Nadine Topuzogullari. She will assists in planning as well as day-of coordination. Couples also receive a maitre d’hotel who will be responsible for the execution of their event only. Entertainment, food and beverages, floral arrangements, photographers, ceremony officials, hair, makeup, and all other amenities can be booked through the coordinator.

The hotel also notes that it hosts honeymooners nearly every weekend throughout summer.

Top accommodations for couples include the five expansive Penthouse Suites or the six Junior Suites with balconies. All rooms, however, include 24-hour Clef d’Or concierge service, access to the spa with hammam, 24-hour fitness center, and rooftop terrace, complimentary morning shutde service downtown, Wi-Fi, and more. The Penthouses also have high ceilings, brick walls in some, master king bedroom with flat screen LCD TV, iPod docking station, a living room with electric fireplace, a second TV with home theater system, dining table, and a bathroom with walk-in, multi-jet rain shower, therapeutic soaker tub and a third LCD TV.

Reservation Supervisor James Gauthier can handle any bookings or questions regarding room categories.

The 2,500-square-foot spa has 10 treatment rooms spanning two floors. These include rooms equipped for duo treatments, a Vichy room and a traditional hammam with a private room. Contact Spa Director Roxanne Hamel to book a “Rainspa for Two” package, which can be tailored to include a Swedish Relaxation Massage, Swedish Deep Therapeutic Massage, a Hot Stone Massage, or Sports Massage, or even Thermal Mineral Body Scrubs, aromatherapy treatments and manicures and pedicures, among others.

       Auberge du Vieux-Port, located direct on the aforementioned park of the same name, is a 19th-century structure with classic furnishings. One side of the 45-room hotel overlooks the cobblestoned Rue Saint-Paul, while the other has views of the St. Lawrence and Old Port.

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Auberge du Vieux Port: Deluxe King accommodations, with original exposed brick, either face St. Paul Street or the Old Port

Terrasse sur l’Auberge, the hotel’s rooftop bar, can be the perfect place for couples to grab a drink and enjoy the views of the city’s historic district, or as the setting for a cozy wedding with seating for up to 100 people.

Auberge du Vieux-Port also offers a dedicated wedding coordinator to help organize pre-event and the day of. Banquet Maitre-d’hotel & Events Coordinator Andree Harvey can help book all special event professionals and amenities.

Spending Wonderful Time in New England

These four getaways provide the quintessential Americana-by-the-sea experience

Gurney’s, a famed Montauk, Long Island resort in New York, now has a sibling in Newport, RI. Management has taken over the former Hyatt Regency on Goat Island, and it’s jazzing up the scene to provide a modern New England experience. Consider the new partnership with Porsche, which provides house car services to guests and the liaison with the company, Blade, which runs seaplane flights between Manhattan and Newport, landing right on property, which fronts both the Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor.

Joyce, the hotel’s concierge, can provide assistance booking that seaplane, or with setting up a private clambake overlooking the water. She can also arrange sunset sailing excursions with food provided by Scarpetta, the hotel’s Italian restaurant, and with boat trips to the private Rose Island with picnic lunch or dinner.

Note: David Bodette  is the general manager of Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina and welcomes direct contact with luxury travel advisors.

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Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina has a three-tiered deck with 11 fire pits and views of Narragansett Bay and Pell Bridge

There are plenty of vacation- style activities available on property; the pool has nine cabanas and 10 daybeds for lounging. Fancy some sunset gazing? A three-tiered deck has 11 fire pits with views overlooking Narragansett Bay and Pell Bridge for the best sunsets in Newport.

For the top digs at Gurneys, book the two-story, two-bedroom Liberty Suite, which also has two bathrooms, a large living room and dining area. Best part? The 1,250-square-foot suite has two balconies with direct views of the lighthouse and Narragansetts Bay. The Premier Suite is also a great option; with 1,320 square feet, it’s located at the top levels of the hotels Tower building and has panoramic views of the Narragansetts Bay and Newport Harbor. If these two suites are taken, there are several one-bedroom accommodations, which range in size from 750 to 1,000 square feet.

What we love: There are 30 bi-level suites here, which work well for families; there are also 100 rooms that connect. Nearly every room at Gurneys has water views. The Tower rooms face Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. The Lighthouse Wing overlooks the hotels new marina on Newport Harbor, which now has slips for up to 125-foot yachts.

For assistance sorting through it all, contact Lisa Herzog, the reservations manager.

Arriving by air? Providence Airport (T.F. Green Airport) is about a 35- to 40-minute drive to the resort. Private jets can land at Newport State Airport.

Gurneys has a nine-room spa, which should be booked at least a week out for treatments. The spa senior supervisor, Andrea Giacomozzi can provide personal assistance in booking treatments, including a couples massage.

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Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina has 257 guestrooms with water views

Tip: The hotel is pet friendly; a fee is charged and doggy amenities are provided.

There is an array of special events in Newport year-round that draw crowds, including The Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport International Polo Series and the Newport

Folk Festival.

Those still on the docket for 2017 include the Newport International Boat Show (September 14 — 17) and the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival (September 21 — 24). We say its worth heading north for the Bowens Wharf 27th Annual Seafood Festival (October 14 — 15) in downtown Newport, RI. For a New England holiday experience, save the date for November 24 for the City of Newport’s Illuminated Boat Parade. The Bowen’s Wharf 47th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting will be held December 2.

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Castle Hill Inn, a Relais & Chateaux resort, is set on 40-acre peninsula and overlooks Narragansett Bay and Pell Bridge

Just nearby, clambakes, bonfires, and perhaps a spot of croquet on the lawn are just some of the activities to be had at Castle Hill Inn, a coastal resort overlooking Narragansett Bay, RI. There’s a strong historic vibe at this Relais & Chateaux resort, which is set on a 40-acre peninsula with views of the coast. There’s a series of guestrooms and suites in the original 19th-century Agassiz

Mansion, and 26 waterfront accommodations in the Harbor House, Chalet, Cottages and Beach Houses, which have just been renovated. The Mansions Turret Suite (the bath area is set in the turret!), which serves up 270-degree views of Narragansett Bay and the Long Island Sound, has also been renovated.

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The Turret Suite at Castle Hill Inn is a bi-level suite located on the third floor of the Agassiz Mansion

Want to try your hand at some local activities? They come with a luxury spin, such as a hot-air bal-loon ride, skydiving and visits to local vineyards and farms. Then  there’s always the option of a cruise on Casde Hill Inns private yacht during the warmer months, or a ride in the resorts water taxi, which can cruise you right into Newport Harbour.

Good news for those seeking some added pampering; the spa, a.k.a. the Retreat at Casde Hill by Farmaesthetics, has a new relaxation area outside of its two treatment rooms, giving guests the option to linger in luxury.

Andy Smith is the general manager of the resort. For assistance with booking, contact Lew Gordon, the revenue and reservations manager.

On Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club is set on a bluff overlooking the bay. It’s located just outside of Brewster, a quaint New England village with bay beaches, antique shops, sea captains’ homes and tree-lined streets, all just 90-minute drive from Boston and Providence and a one-hour flight from New York.

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The Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club’s Beach Bar overlooks the Cape Cod Bay and serves lobster rolls, oysters and seasonal cocktails

The summer months are the most popular at the resort, with most weekends selling out in advance. The Presidential Bay Collection and Mansion guestrooms are the first to sell out. The resort is open year-round, with seasonal activities including museum and gallery tours, cranberry bog tours, dining, hiking and biking on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Have a Cup of Tea in The Exclusive Mercer Hotel Lounge – New York

Rather than jostle with the evening crowds, a weekday breakfast at Balthazar is a great way to experience this Soho institution.

The breakfast here is not overly pricey, and both the food and the company are worthy of note – Balthazar in the morning has become an unofficial meeting and deal-making spot for writers, editors, and new media tycoons who work nearby – The Huffington Post’s New York headquarters are around the corner, as is the head office of Gawker.com. Balthazar bakery is next door, so the bread basket is a heavenly assortment of freshly baked rolls, raisin bread, and slices of fresh whole wheat and rye, ideal for dipping in soft-boiled eggs cooked to perfection. Or, dig into fresh croissants, eggs benedict, or a creamy quiche.

For more celebrity-spotting, or to feel like one yourself, enjoy a glass of wine or cup of tea in the Christian Liagre-designed lounge of the nearby Mercer Hotel. It’s really only meant for guests, but if you’re well-dressed and discreet, no one will mind you sitting a while on one of the leather banquettes or inviting armchairs and soaking up the sophisticated library-like atmosphere. Keep your eyes peeled for high-profile models, directors and actors who stay here, and are often interviewed in the lounge.

Watch A Foreign Film at Film Forum and Have a Meal at Ear Inn – New York

A cinephile’s paradise, The Film Forum (pictured above) has been New York’s leading movie house for indie premieres, classic and foreign films, and director retrospectives since 1970 when it began with 50 folding chairs and one screen. On any given week you could, for example, catch an original Godzilla movie, see part of a Robert Altman retrospective, watch a restored print of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, or attend a premiere of the latest documentary by D. A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back) with the director on hand for questions after the screening.

People complain the three screens in the theatre are small and the seats uncomfortable, but film- lovers agree it just wouldn’t be the same in the city without the Film Forum’s eclectic and well-thought- out screening programs.

A great place for a drink or bar meal (burgers, steak and fries) afterwards is the historic Ear Inn.

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Ear Inn

Built in 1817 by the water’s edge to serve thirsty longshoremen working the docks, it’s been called the Ear Inn since the 1970s, after the ‘B’ in the neon ‘Bar’ sign was transformed with a few dabs of paint into an ‘E’ by members of The Ear music magazine, then published on the premises. Thanks to landfill and development, the former speakeasy now sits a few blocks inland. It has become a city institution where people come to enjoy a drink or meal in a relaxed atmosphere and maybe catch some live jazz if it’s a music night.

Exploring Philadelphia’s Culinary History

Philadelphia is one of the most historic cities in America. Most first time visitors go to the usual sites like Independence Hall and stand in line for half an hour or more to see the Liberty Bell, before walking through Independence Park and Reading Terminal Market. Maybe they visit Valley Forge National Park. However, a walking tour is one of the best ways to experience this city.

I had been there five times previously, visiting the regular attractions and walking the city. This time, I wanted to go deep into Philly’s history and find some new food hot spots.

 Home base

My base at the Windsor Suites Hotel put me right near Philadelphia’s epicenter and its major sites – City Hall, Drexel College’s Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, The Barnes Foundation, Chestnut Street, Market Street and more attractions.

However, the plan to get to know Philly better was to pass on these usual attractions and head into the neighborhoods. When William Penn laid out the city plan for Philadelphia, he was one of the first to use the grid pattern now common in North America. The grid design makes Philly easy to walk and find addresses.

My wife joined me the next day, and we took the City Food Tours “Flavors of Philly” option. This 2-1/2 hour tour took us in and around Philly’s core. Our plan was to try the famous tomato pie, soft pretzels, cheesesteak, cookies, and donuts before ending up at Reading Terminal Market.

We met our guide Judy, a fourth generation Philly native, and lined up for the briefing along with 11 other ready and hungry souls.

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Our first stop was Joe’s Pizza for tomato pie, which is somewhat like pizza, except this pie has no cheese; it’s just dough and sauce. The owner – Zio Toto – had left Sicily after an earthquake destroyed his farm where he grew San Marzano tomatoes. Zio packed up his family and moved to the U.S. instead of rebuilding in the shadow of the destructive Mt. Etna and the earthquakes it spawns.

Joe’s Pizza is where we found Mr. Toto’s son, Ernesto, carrying on the tradition. Even though he is around 90 years old, he still comes in every day and makes this delicious red sauce from San Marzano tomatoes. Our group went upstairs to hear the story of the disputed origins of the tomato pie. Some say Trenton, New Jersey or Utica, New York are the home of the saucy red pie. Who cares? I just wanted to taste this regional treat and hear the story.

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Ernesto Toto of Joe’s Pizza

Upstairs we saw a gorgeous wall-to-wall mural of the owner’s home in Sicily showing the fertile green landscape and the menacing volcano that ushered his family to Pennsylvania. Our pie arrived and we devoured it. All agreed it was a great tasting, low-calorie version of pizza.

On our way downstairs, 1 noticed Mr. Toto and asked if I could take his photo before leaving. I told him how good the pie was, even though he doesn’t speak much English, and thanked him. We then sped off to join the group on the way to the Philly Pretzel Factory.

Here we learned that Pennsylvania makes 80 percent of the pretzels in the U.S. We were given a hot pretzel each and led to the mustard station. There was regular “ballpark” mustard, spicy brown, and very hot mustard to paint on our pretzels. I passed on the boring ballpark mustard and tried the very hot variety plus a bit of the spicy brown just for good measure. While the pretzels were tasty, I thought they needed a beer to make the most of the experience.

Fake Big-Brands Products Are Everywhere in Canal Street, Chinatown – New York

The heart of Chinatown, Canal Street is hectic with pedestrian traffic and vociferous street vendors. It has long been the place to go for counterfeit designer products, but a police crackdown has cut down on the number of knockoff handbags, watches, jewelry, and shades displayed in the open on this crowded street. Customers are not at risk of arrest, but vendors are. Still, it hasn’t dissuaded intrepid salespeople from reaching out to tourists who crowd the street in the afternoons and on weekends – they’ve simply become stealthier.

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Some fake bags, but they’re still looking good

If you’re looking for a fake designer accessory, watch for men on street corners with wallet-size plastic catalogs of product photos. Then, either they’ll lead you down the back stairwell of a store, or around a corner to another address. What happens afterwards is not for the faint of heart: you’ll be taken into rooms that may then be locked behind you. Spread out on the floor will be a selection of faux brand-name accoutrements to choose from – Gucci, Cartier, Prada – you name it, there’s a fake for it.

Alternatively, locate one of the minivans parked just off Canal Street, used by mobile vendors who are ready to move on at the slightest sign of police activity.

How to shop for a fake

  • Don’t be afraid to haggle, especially if you’re buying more than one item
  • Do your research on the latest trends before you buy if you don’t want an out-of-date fake
  • If you don’t see what you want, ask. Chances are someone will have it ‘in stock’.
  • Be sure to look carefully at the items, and look for shoddy workmanship like zippers that don’t close, or seams that aren’t sewn together correctly.
  • Remember to carry cash, but not too much, as visible wads won’t help in your negotiations
  • Avoid buying pirated DVDs – usually shot by home video cameras in theaters and terrible quality.