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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, plus Explora as a great alternative to Rogers roaming in the U.S.

NEW YORK – What a great treat.

Somehow, having visited New York City perhaps eight or ten times over the years, I’d never strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge. Until last Sunday.

It wasn’t as warm as the day before, and there was a brisk wind. But what a huge treat.

One of the great things about the walk is the accessibility by subway. I walked out of the City Hall subway station and it was maybe 10 metres to the start of the bridge walk going east to Brooklyn. It’s an absolutely glorious walk, maybe a couple of miles but with plenty of benches to stop and rest and TONS to see along the way; the lacy rope/wire supports and the handsome towers, the boats on the East River, the Statue of Liberty in the distance to the south, the Manhattan Bridge to the north and the diverse buildings of Brooklyn, many of them topped with those iconic water towers you see all over New York. If you walk east be sure to turn around to admire the old skyscrapers of lower Manhattan such as City Hall and the Woolworth Building and the new Freedom Tower, not to mention the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building off to the north.

It’s an utterly sensational way to spend a morning. And that’s not even including the great people-watching; older couples arm-in-arm, young lovers, mothers with their sons, large families. It’s quite something. Just watch out for the cyclists, as there’s only a small strip of paint separating the bike riding folks from pedestrians, and you’ll be tempted to cross the lines for some of the photos you might want.

It’s a free walk, which also is great.

I wandered into downtown Brooklyn after crossing the bridge and headed down to burgeoning Atlantic Ave. in the Boerum Hill area. There are tons of new developments, including the artsy and fun-looking Nu Hotel and some great coffee shops. I also wandered into the Mile End deli, a Montreal-style smoked meat place run by a couple of Canadians. The smoked meat is thick sliced and quite marbly; very different from Schwartz’s or other classic Montreal spots. But it was pretty tasty, and the pickled veggies are great.

It’s a fun area; still up-and-coming and with a mix of everything from Islamic book stores to Spanish churches to bail bonds shops and tricked-out pet shops, a sure sign of hipster it is. I stopped into a fun shop called Dry Goods that sells a huge variety of vintage and heritage stuff and has old wooden drawers from a hardware store. And I’ll vouch for the quality of the lattes at Absolute Coffee, as well.

It was mid-morning when I did my bridge walk so it didn’t really matter, but I think if I was to do the walk again I’d start earlier and go to the Brooklyn side and then walk back, drinking in the views of Manhattan versus looking at Brooklyn on my over. No offence to Brooklyn, which I’d love to spend more time in on my next visit.

MY ROGERS RANT

I came home the other day and got a rude surprise. No, not like that. This was courtesy of the folks at Rogers, the cable company most of Toronto hates. (I suspect other folks hate Shaw, but I’ve never lived in a Shaw region).

I knew it was going to cost me a bit to use my iPhone in the U.S. with Rogers’ roaming package. But I didn’t expect more than $300 for a couple weeks of usage. At $8 a day it sounds reasonable. But not if you use social media and the Internet as much as a travel writer. I often used $16 worth of data a day, plus phone calls, and it quickly added up.

I’ve tried asking Rogers for a better plan, maybe something monthly, but they insist there’s no such thing. Thanks, guys. What great loyalty to a 30-year customer.

However, I’ve discovered a new company that will at least put a very solid cap on my expenses. It’s called Explora. And it’s a great deal, I think.

For $8 a day you can have UNLIMITED use of your phone in the U.S. Use your GPS, call anywhere in the U.S. (but not Canada), send a dozen photos to Instagram, text your heart out and use all the 4G data you like. Knock yourself out, because it’s all covered for that $8 fee.

Not only that, it’s so dead simple. You go to their website, www.exploraphones.com , log in, give them details as to where you’ll be and they’ll SEND YOU THE PHONE by FedEx. They’ll also give you a prepaid FedEx envelope to send it back to them. No charge.

How great is that? You can work to your heart’s delight for $8 a day; the cost of a couple of café lattes at Starbucks. And no worries about finding Wi-Fi or going over your set amount of data the way you would with Rogers or other companies.

They use Google Nexus 5 phones that are slightly larger than my iPhone. But they’re sleek and easy to use and the photos (8 megapixels) were better quality than my iPhone takes. They also have plenty of apps pre-loaded in their “Ultimate Travel Companion” service, including Facebook, Google Maps, Skype, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Yelp.

A really terrific product, I think. Unlike Rogers, which has yet to come up with a reasonable package for folks who really need their data on the road.

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