Where To Go Vintage Shopping in Boston

You may think you know where to go in Boston, but do you know where to go vintage shopping in Boston? Read on!

Boston Downtown [ThinkStock - iStockphoto]

Vintage shopping is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, both in the UK and across the pond. So, if you’re planning your next shopping trip to the US, vintage stores should definitely be on your radar. Personally, my ideal destination is Boston, simply because as well as having great vintage outlets, it’s also got bags of culture, which means you can intersperse shopping trips with visits to historical attractions.

Below, I’ve listed some of what I think are the best places to shop vintage in Boston.

Poor Little Rich Girl

Where: 166 Newbury Street, Back Bay, Boston

Since the first Poor Little Rich Girl store was opened back in April 2002, it has established quite a following. In fact, there are now three stores to choose from in the Boston area, including Back Bay, Somerville and Cambridge.

What I like about Poor Little Rich Girl is that it’s got some noticeable differences from your average vintage clothing shop. For instance, it stocks some labels that you may well recognise, while it also has a boutique-esque feel. Another thing I like is the fact that it’s reasonably priced (well, who wouldn’t?), so you really feel like you’re getting value for money, as well as beautiful clothes and accessories.

where to go Boston Thinkstock Photodisk

Urban Renewals

Where: 122 Brighton Avenue, Allston

If you’re hoping to come across a few bargains, Urban Renewals is definitely the place to go. This warehouse-like shop is very basic in terms of its appearance, which of course goes some way to making it that little bit more wallet-friendly for patrons.

There’s a little bit of everything here, including men’s and women’s clothing, as well as a decent selection of homeware. In a space like this it’d be quite easy for things to be hard to find, but the staff do an excellent job of organisation, which means it’s actually nice and simple to locate what you’re looking for.

Bobby from Boston

Where: 19 Thayer Street, South End, Boston

Bobby from Boston is a wonderful little vintage store over on Thayer Street. Predominantly selling men’s clothes, it also stocks a small but well-chosen selection of women’s apparel. Its dark-wood interior is home to a large collection of men’s shoes, as well as bags and hats.

I think this store has a great atmosphere, being crowded as it is with great vintage items everywhere you look. And, despite the fact that the shop if definitely very full, it doesn’t look messy and disorganised – just interesting. In fact, there are so many tempting things all over the place that it’s difficult to know exactly where to look first!

Raspberry Beret

Where: 1704 Massachusetts Avenue, Porter Square, Cambridge

A fairly new addition to the vintage store circuit, Raspberry Beret is a great find. It gets new stock in virtually constantly, which means there’s always something new to browse, and its selection of dresses is particularly good.

This is also a brilliant place to come if you fancy finding yourself some new shoes or accessories, with many people claiming that these are what the store really shines for. Costume jewellery is a particular high point here, so if you’re into bold looks, you can’t go far wrong.

The Fine Art of Fantastic Family Road Trips

One of the great things about being back in the United States is the opportunities it presents to engage in that greatest of American pastimes, The All American Family Road Trip. Like the Griswalds, I can load my family into the car with a minimum of explanation, make sure the tank is full of gas and we’ve got a credit card with a bit of mileage left on it, and then we can hit the road for parts unknown.

San Francisco, California

Personally, I like to engage in as little solid planning as possible – which leaves plenty of opportunity for that most wonderful of road trip wonders – improvisation. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Miles Davis when it comes to catching everyone off guard with a new and sudden direction – and like Miles – I have the skills to make those improv moves work. It’s a little hard on my wife – she still likes to pack for a specific situation and bring everything that she might need in any eventuality – which is hard when she doesn’t know if we will be going to a theme park, staying in a posh resort, spending time in the city or the country, or even leaving the country. I will give her credit though – she’s starting to get it – bring a rain coat, a swimsuit, a passport, a sweater, and sandals. And what you forget, can usually be found along the way in a thrift shop, a mall, or at a garage sale. Yes, it’s these trips that I love most about the USA.
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Over the coming days and weeks, I will share some of the trips we’ve taken since landing on these shores back in 2013 – but for right now, I’ll give you a little teaser. We’ve camped up and down the Oregon Coast and into the Redwoods, the San Juan Islands, and the Olympic Peninsula. We’ve also made spontaneous trips to Seattle, Portland, Astoria, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, Bandon, Florence, Yachats, and Eureka. We’ve explored the deserts of Arizona and the streets of Victoria, British Columbia along with traipsing through the Coastal Redwoods, hitting the Las Vegas Strip, and of course, seeing the lights of Los Angeles. I don’t want you to misunderstand – these are fast trips with lots of road time, lots of driving, and a relatively short amount of time spent at our destinations. That’s the thing with road trips – they are as much about the road as they are about the destination. The time spent singing in the car, the games we play with other people’s license plates, and the mystery of where we will stay in a given night – whether with friends, in a nice hotel, or a roadside dive.
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I will begin with our most recent trip – which we just returned from day before yesterday. It was an epic jaunt from Reedsport to Roseburg then down to Redding, straight down the I-5 to Anaheim, a visit to Disneyland, then a trip to Southern Arizona near the Mexican border before journeying straight through Phoenix and Tucson to Las Vegas, then turning back westward to the Central California Coast where we went though Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and straight through the Redwoods back to Oregon and where we started in Reedsport. It was a crazy 3000 mile figure-eight shaped road trip in which we almost never drove on the same road twice. I’ll start telling you about it in the next post…stay tuned.
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Exploring California’s National Parks

California may well be famous for its sun-drenched beaches, but we think that when it comes to having a really exciting, memorable holiday, it’s the California’s National Parks you should look to. There are 26 in total, and today we’re going to take a look at three of the very best.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite, photo by SmifLet’s start with Yosemite National Park, which is around a four-hour drive from the bright lights of San Francisco. In this reserve can expect to stroll with views of some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in the world. It’s this stunning landscape that the park aims to protect, and for which it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984.

First, a few basic facts. The park was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and spans 1,170 sq miles. Without doubt it is best known for its striking scenery, which includes vast monoliths like El Capitan (3,000 ft high), waterfalls and sequoia coves. While there are plenty of activities you can try in the park, including hiking and rock climbing, arguably the best thing to do if you’ve never been here before is to visit some of its most famous landmarks.

Yosemite Valley should be high on your list, with its gorgeous waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. For the ultimate vista, head over to Tunnel View, which is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel – from here, you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls. We also recommend visiting the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is around 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley (which should give you some idea of just how vast the park really is). This is the reserve’s largest group of giant sequoias, and standing among them you’ll feel utterly dwarfed by their size.

By the way, if you’re planning a fly-drive holiday to California  don’t miss driving along Tioga Pass. Usually open from late May to early October, it spans the entire length of the park and offers incredible alpine scenery.

 

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

California National Parks Sequoia & Kings Canyon by Satosphere

Over in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range are the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Now, technically these are two reserves rather than one, but as they are twinned and often treated as a single entity, we will look at them as one park. And, as they stand side-by-side, that’s perfectly easy to do when you visit as well.

Both these parks preserve granite peaks and lush forests and, as you can probably guess from their names, the giant sequoias and Kings Canyon are the top things to see. Looking at the latter first, Kings Canyon might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon, but it is actually the deepest in America. Expect to be totally wowed by the views – think sheer granite cliffs rising 1,000 ft sprinkled with spectacular waterfalls.

The sequoias, meanwhile, are best viewed in the aptly-named Giant Forest. The largest tree of them all is dubbed General Sherman, and is approximately 275 ft high. As you stare up at it, it’s worth remembering that this is thought to be the biggest tree in the world by volume.

Other great things to do here including taking a tour of Crystal Cave. A really popular attraction that’s home to some fascinating marble formations, it is open to the public from May to November, but you’ll need tickets to get in and take the tour. It’s worth bearing in mind that because of its popularity these tend to sell out fast, so try to book first thing in the morning. Sometimes you can reserve places the day before, so that’s worth checking when you arrive.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacle National Park in California

Our final suggestion is Pinnacles National Park – another aptly-named reserve, having earned its title from the huge spires and monoliths found here. Located just to the east of Salinas Valley, this ancient volcanic field is in the Gabilan Mountains and has some of the most exciting and unusual terrain in California – at least we think so anyway!

Over millions of years, the volcano here eroded as it gradually moved along the San Andreas Fault. Left behind are sheer-walled canyons, spectacular spires and massive monoliths that have to be seen to be believed. Most people come to the park to hike or rock climb, but you can also visit simply to admire the view. As a quick tip, Pinnacles is one of the few national parks that’s well suited to exploring in the cooler months and is generally open throughout autumn and winter.

Since the park is home to more than 30 miles of excellent hiking trails, it’s definitely a must-visit for keen walkers – even if you’re not after anything too challenging. For instance, there are several short routes starting out at the Pinnacles Visitor Centre, such as the 2.3-mile trail to Bear Gulch Day Use Area and the 6.5-mile path along the South Wilderness Trail. The latter is fantastic for wildlife spotting, while it’s worth bearing in mind that spring is the best time to come for seeing wild flowers on any of the trails.

 

Yodeling Vagabond in Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua

by Brian Leibold

the window at Big BendIn early October of last year, I and seven other members of a conservation corps (usaconservation.org, not a bad gig for the youthful vagabond, free housing off project, free food on, free time to explore the American southwest on and off), head eastward, Texas-bound, after a tough 8 days working on trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeast New Mexico. We head to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua.

Our first stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the largest wilderness area in Texas, just over the New Mexico-Texas border. In the midst of the Texas desert, a cool calm stream runs through McKittrick Canyon under the rocky cliffs.  When compared to the rest of Texas, there is no comparison. Texas is known for its flatness, its uninteresting monotony, so mountains are a welcome change.  The Canyon has life “that is part desert, part canyon woodland, and part highland forest.” We arrive at noon, set up tents, and start hiking.

rattle snakeEarly in the hike, we see a rattlesnake.  I almost step on it, it blends in so well with the shadows and rocks.  We wait for a few moments for it to slink away.  And it does, retreating with a sort of sullen hurt pride, snakily twisting its way across the rocky desert floor, aware of its lowliness.  Don’t tread on me, the snake seems to hiss.  Definitely a Texan snake.  We circle carefully around.

As we climb up higher, the typical desert prickly pear cacti and walking-stick chollas and yuccas and mesquites disappear and maples, red and orange under the warm October sun, appear.  It grows colder and more colorful, more like the weather and foliage of New England than the Texas desert. We make it back to the campsite at dusk, the sun shining on the very tops of the mountains then slowly sinking down the juniper-scattered hillside.

Big Bend National ParkIn the morning, I wake up early while everyone else is still in their tents. We are heading to Big Bend National Park, but not for a few hours.  I have time to pack up everything, put it in the van, and start climbing up one of the trails, not stopping until I reach Guadalupe Point, at 8749 feet the highest point in Texas, a 3000 foot climb from the campsite. I stay at the top for a few minutes: the wind is powerful, views spectacular.   I am the highest man in Texas, actually the highest man in the US anywhere east of New Mexico.  As I descend, another man is coming up, ready to take my place on Texas’ throne.

I run down, in the type of mood where one feels compelled to yodel, singing ZZ Top, those good old boogie rocking bearded Texas boys. Though by no means a sharp dressed man or a man of means, I do have some cheap sunglasses and was for eight minutes the highest man in Texas. And that counts for something.

Big Bend TexasWe drive on to Big Bend in our big white van. Driving is not my favorite way to travel, but there is sort of rambling joy that comes with driving on some desolate desert road to nowhere. We are on the desolate desert road to Big Bend, and we listen to Marshall Tucker Band:

Gonna take a freight train

Down at the station

I don’t care where it goes”

 

On the way, we stop at an American Legion for a piss stop. It doubles as a bar and one of the regulars there, who tells us to call him Hollywood, is a character who looks like he may have spent the last ten years continually drunk.  He doesn’t stop talking for the hour we are there. Some of my favorite of his lines:

—Everyday above ground is a good one.
—I don’t need any girls. I got my dog.
— You know how Jesus died and then rose after three days.  There was this gun fight yesterday.  It’s documented.  I didn’t even need three days.

The Rio GrandeDid he have a job? Did he have a wife?  Don’t think so. He was just a pure Texas renegade in the wilds close to the border, sure of only one thing, that there was nothing sure in this world ‘cept laughter and beer, a rebel against who knows what.

We spend this night in Terlingua, a ghost town next to Big Bend filled with misfits and travelers and outlaws. When I think Texas, I think of Terlingua. To the wanderer searching for those few places in America outside the law, where unemployment and poverty and a vagabond mentality make one rich and wealth makes one strange, where indolence is seen as a virtue and ambition is looked upon as a bizarre and contagious plague that is ravaging society, Terlingua is definitely worth spending some time in, if only to listen to the stories, because everyone there has got one. The job of the people who live there is to have no job, to live their lives as they please free of all governmental influence.

Big Bend CrewPersonally, I couldn’t spend all that much time there. I respect people who resist normality and live outside the law, but for a bohemian outlaw town full of dissenters from the mainstream world, they seemed a little too content with their place in life, too settled. They weren’t traveling, exploring, vagabonding. Their world was their town. Which works for some people, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks there, but before long I’d get restless, like all vagabonds do. And the cure to restlessness is movement. So we go on down the road.

The next day we go on down the road to Big Bend. We stay there two days.  It feels that we are not only out of Texas, but in another world altogether.  To describe Big Bend is to fail.  It soars above and beyond words, resisting definition and definitive analysis.  The first day we lie contentedly in an oasis of warm water next to the river, the muddy Rio Grande, which rumbles through the craggy cliffs.

guadalupe hikeOn our side, America. On the other, Mexico. For a second, I get the insane urge to swim across the border, illegally and ecstatically leaving my friends and co-workers behind, wearing nothing but my shorts, with no plan but to keep moving. I do not swim to the other side, since I would have to pay a hefty fine if caught. Plus, I have no ID on me, a necessity now in this world of identification and regulation. The Rio doesn’t give a damn if it’s flowing through Mexico or the US; it just flows, that’s all. Some people care though and say on this side is one country, on the other side is another, separate and far from equal. The river flows, that’s all.

And, after a long day of hikes and exploration, so do we, leaving Big Bend and flowing on to the next adventure.

Wine Tasting on an Alaskan Cruise plus Chef Hervé Laurent‘s Salmon Pairings

Story by Linda Kissam and Photos by Allan & Linda Kissam


Wine and Dine on Alaska CruiseSome people like to bring a little comfort from home on vacation – like a pillow. Others want to know their TV shows will be available for them to watch while on vacation. Still others want to leave home behind altogether to learn all new things and broaden their horizons. This Wine Diva wants to bring her favorite wines with her on vacation AND learn about the newest trends in food and beverage combinations. Where did I do that? On a Holland America cruise to Alaska. Buckle up babe; this ain’t your grandma’s cruise line any more.

Cruise ships have so many onboard amenities now that they seem like floating hotels and special event centers all wrapped in to one. Carrying over 3000 guests along with fine restaurants, health spas, yoga instructors, and (my personal favorite ) sommeliers… that’s probably not totally inaccurate. Each day brings a wealth of interesting cruise activity and personal indulgences. A person could get use to this special treatment in a nano second.

Holland America Wine and Cheese SommelierEvery evening before going to sleep, I looked forward to reading the ship’s daily list of activities. I woke up knowing that this cruise ship brings a wealth of cruise activities and indulgences, along with the freedom to partake in as many — or as few — as I pleased. No pressure, no hassle…just indulgent choice. Every day, every minute…in front of me was an opportunity to try something new that surprised and engaged me. Holland America’s tag line, “Dabble, discover, daydream — do everything, or do nothing at all” pretty much says it all.

Memories are what cruises are all about. Whether you want to work out in the fitness Center, learn how to make some killer cocktails, take afternoon tea, pamper yourself with a massage and spa treatment or sip a cappuccino and check your email in the Explorations Café, there’s a perfect onboard activity for everyone. As a known Internet junkie the last two options – cappuccino and Internet were some of my favorite moments. There’s something to be said about kicking back, surfing the Web, sipping premium coffee…all while doing some serious sightseeing between emails, cruising lazily by the beautiful green, green, green Alaskan scenery.

Glacier Bay Cruise Holland AmericaI could go on and on about the great shore excursions, sassy late night shows, spa services, beer tasting classes, endless exquisite cuisine, jewelry sales, and casino opportunities, but I think The Culinary Arts Center program presented by Food & Wine Magazine deserves some serious space. It is a groundbreaking facility and program that integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine by presenting a unique entertaining experience. I like the way they encourage you to immerse yourself in the unique traditions and tastes of the ports of call you will visit. The best, best, best part for me was the opportunity to dine with the ship’s executive chef Troy Wastell for a gourmet three hour , six course “Dine with the Chef” extravaganza, sample fine wines from California with executive winemaker Don Rhea, and learning to make a new gourmet dish in a cooking class taught by Master Chef Hervé Laurent.

Master Chef Herve LaurentA special toast goes to Mary Schimmelman, Holland America Line’s public relations manager, for allowing the group (50+people) I was with (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) the opportunity to customize a few tasting events over 4 days by bringing aboard our own chef, our own winemaker and our own wines. You may or may not want to do the same, but now you know the opportunity is available to you.

First up was a private food & wine pairing tasting with executive winemaker Don Reha and Chef Laurent. We learned about food and wine matching while exploring the wines of Monterey, California. The wines selected for this tasting were chosen based the unique attributes of the nine diverse AVAs that make up Monterey Wine Country’s Thermal Rainbow™. The coolest regions are north moving to the warmer regions in the south by time dependent thermal gradients that stretch down the valley. The cool to warm gradients present a Thermal Rainbow® effect that reflects the diversity of growing regions and the specific varietals that are grown within each AVA. For example, cool climate-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in the north while Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and many Rhone grape types flourish in the warmer south. It was great fun having both a chef and winemaker explaining how and why food & wine pairing work. This particular tasting served as the foundation for our next three tastings. Hervé and Don did a great job bringing us all up to speed on the most current trends. The Monterey wines were exquisite and set us on the road to expect excellence throughout the next days.

The next day we were back in the Culinary Center with Don Reha tasting three new wines: a bright green fruit and citrus Un-Oaked Roche Winery 2009 Carnerous Chardonnay ($18.95), a 2008 North Coast Cab ($33.95) food friendly red berry beauty and Chocolais ($12) a gorgeous rich Swiss chocolate, thick Dutch cream & fine Italian wine combination. Each wine was paired perfectly with a bite of food. The group was beginning to get their wine & food pairing groove on.

Holland America Thronton WineryOur next tasting was sponsored by Thornton Winery fine Champagnes. Conducted up in the Eagles nest, this was a one hour casual tasting that included 4 Champagnes with small tray passed hors d’oeuvres. Talk about indulgent pleasures, the group of 40 people were pampered with NV Blanc de Noirs ($24), NV Brut ($24), NV Cuvee Rouge ( $26), and a 2004 Brut Reserve($38).

Our class demo in the Culinary Center with Chef Laurent on salmon pairings was inspirational. We learned how to prepare salmon and three tasty sauces to go with. Chef Laurent is a master of his trade. We were all very glad we were able to spend some time with him.

A new day brought a new tasting adventure. This time we treated to an extensive Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Paso Robles tasting. Niner sent us a short CD to watch which set the mood and helped us better understand the Niner philosophy. The crowd of over 40 attendees was wowed as Don Reha once again led us through a unique food and wine tasting asking us to stretch our wine and food pairing skills. Of note during this tasting were the 2009 Sav Blanc ($17) with tart kiwi, lime and lemongrass notes. It had a beautiful crisp mineral characteristic; 2008 Sangiovese ($24) showing strawberry and carnation spice with big bright juicy raspberry and cherry flavors. Yummy mouthwatering finish; 2007 Syrah ($20) showcasing complex layers of black fruit, berries, plum and a smoky oak character with black pepper and spearmint attributes. My favorite by far; And finally a 2007 Cab ($28) that would knock it out of the park with a Cheddar Bacon Burger or Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Sauce. Classic herbal notes , fine tannins and a long finish made this a group favorite.

Holland America Wine PairingOur final tasting before going home featured Zaca Mesa estate grown and bottled wines. Zaca Mesa is a Santa Ynez Valley Estate vineyard and winery dedicated to Rhône varieties. Each wine is hand crafted with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Once again the 40+ members of our group loved these wines for their rich distinctive characteristics. The tasting included a bite of food to go with each wine. Each wine was presented and discussed thoroughly by wine expert Don Reha. Starting with the fabulous 2009 Viognier ($20), this wine had a gorgeous nose of honey suckle and orange blossoms. What the nose promised the palate delivered with rich flavors of melon and peach. A stunning white, worth whatever price you can get it at. Next up was the luscious 2007 Roussanne ($ 25). This is a wine for people who want to explore different white wines. It’s a full-bodied beauty featuring rich apricot, spiced pears, figs and a hint of minerality. Yum! The 2007 Z Cuvee( $ 20), a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault was a charming medium-bodied wine with flavors of blackberries, herbs and some light smoky oak. Our final taste was the 2008 Syrah ($25). Another winner for sure, everyone was delighted by is rich blackberry, cassis and spice nose. All in all, Zaca Mesa was one of the best tastings of the cruise.

So I guess between the beer tasting classes, the high tea adventures, learning how to make new cocktails, dining with two outstanding chefs, getting coaching from a master winemaker, and sipping cappuccinos while watching the gorgeous Alaska scenery float by… I’d have to say that this type of vacation is just what this Wine Diva ordered. I know you’ll enjoy this new kind of wine, brew and spirits adventure as much as I did. Think about booking a cruise for your next vacation.

Juneau, Alaska

 

Chef Hervé Laurent‘s SALMON PAIRINGS

10 people INGREDIENTS:

1 Salmon filet

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Shallots

1 cup Washington red wine

1/2 cup Maple syrup

50 g Dark chocolate

1 cup Washington white wine

50 ml Cream

100 g Unsalted butter

1 Orange (juice and zest)

200 g Firm papaya

50 g Fresh ginger

1/2 cup Sugar

250 g Smoked bacon

Farm vegetables

Salt

PREPARATION:

1. Chop shallot for both sauces.

2. Reduce red wine by half with maple syrup and 1/2 of the diced shallots. Remove from the heat and add dark chocolate. Season.

3. Reduce white wine and the rest of the diced shallots until dry. Add cream and season – on a low heat add small cubes of chilled butter.

4. Cut papaya in cubes and ginger in small strips – cook with sugar and the same amount of water.

5. Bake the smoked bacon until dry. Then chop using the food processor.

6. Scale the salmon, wash under cold water dry then cut in high cubes, leave the skin on.

7. Season the salmon with salt.

8. Cook the salmon in a hot nonstick pan, with olive oil, ¾ on the skin side, ¼ on the over side.

9. Garnish the dish with turned vegetables (pan fried with butter) or stuffed vegetables with mushrooms (and baked).

10. Decorate the plate, 4 cubes of salmon, 3 with different sauces on top, 1 with chopped bacon, finish with vegetables.

 

Yodeling Vagabond into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon

by Brian Leibold

The Grand CanyonJohn Wesley Powell said:

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “

Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.

I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.

Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonI’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.

Thoreau:

 “The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss.
Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe driver:

Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.

Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:

Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy
. out national parks.

For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonFinally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.

I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.

But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.

The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.

The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.

And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.

But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?

Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.

A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.

They sing me to sleep.

Wind, Wine, and Sailing in Bellingham, Washington with Linda Kissam

Schooner Zodiac wine tastingStory and Photos by Linda Kissam

This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.

The captain's wheel in BellinghamWith a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.

The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.

Zodiac Guest Crew in Bellingham, WashingtonYup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.

Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.”
sailing in Bellingham BayThe opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.

Zodiac Bunks - Bellingham, WashingtonSleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.

Bellingham Bay BeersIf you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood

Resources

Schooner Zodiac http://www.schoonerzodiac.com/default.htm

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism http://www.bellingham.org/

Utah – Beautiful Mormon State but I Need a Drink

Story and Photos by Anthony Mathenia – Every Tuesday!

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa

Zion National Park, Utah

Utah is Mormon country; that much is true. At each stop, we find racks of promotional cards for the Church of Latter Day Saints bearing compassionate paintings of Jesus Christ and photographs of happy, smiling Mormon families. Store counters hold stacks of complimentary copies of the Book of Mormon in a myriad of language. I’m also unable to find a decent drink. Fortunately, Utah has natural beauty in abundance. It’s not a gin and tonic, but it is soothing in its own way.

Zion CanyonsOur next stop as we work our way west to California, is Zion National Park, in southwest Utah. Like much of Utah, the park is religiously themed. The name “Zion”, meaning place of refuge, was bestowed upon the canyon by Mormon pioneers. Other park features like Mount Moroni, evoke the land’s Mormon heritage.

As we approach, the black asphalt winds around grey formations that are laced with fine lines that ebb and flow with ancient wind. They give the impression of great hornets nests rising up over patches of Utah juniper and pinyon pine trees. To get to the national park we pass through the Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel. At just over one mile in length it was once the longest tunnel in the United States. Windows cut into the tunnel give glimpses of sheer rock cliffs rising up over patches of trees.

Stream in ZionAt the park welcome center we luck out to find a parking space in the densely crowded lot.  During peak visiting times, vehicle traffic within the park is prohibited.  Instead visitors board shuttles that make regular stops throughout the park. Each stop offers visitors several hikes through the splendors of the national park. Zion is a thrill park for danger seekers. The Angels Landing trail takes hikers along a narrow rock fin over 5,700 feet in the air. For those who are not deterred by the dizzying drop offs on either side, Angels Landing offers splendid panoramic views of the rich landscape. Closer to the ground, the Zion Narrows trail plunges hikers into the Virgin River, weaving through a deep canyon gorge.  Rushing water and slippery rock make this a chilly challenge to all but the fleet footed.
Zion National ParkStill recovering from our spirit breaking hike from bottom to top of Bryce Canyon, we opt for some of the lesser, handicapped accessible, trails at Zion. We follow the Narrows trail as far as the gently sloping paved path ends and the river disappears behind perpendicular canyon walls. There a frantic hiker returns to report to a park ranger, that one of his group has a twisted ankle miles up river in the back country. With evening approaching, it is doubtful a rescue can be mounted until morning. It will be a long painful night for the unfortunate hiker.

The Emerald Pools Trails offer a relatively easy going walk shaded by cottonwoods and boxelders leading to a tall alcove. Overhead waterfalls cascade into the namesake green pool below. The Weeping Rock trail is a bit steep, but short, at only a mile round trip. There, water drains through an overhead arch of Navajo sandstone sprinkling out in a gentle rain. For such a short walk, the view is spectacular. Through the weeping mist we look above a canopy of green at the Great White Throne and parts of Zion Canyon.

Zion National ParkZion has so much more to offer, but limited time urges us onward toward California.  There my personal holy mecca awaits: Disneyland USA. I intend to return to Zion someday, but only after I’m physically fit enough for a vertigo inducing trek across Angels Landing or to ford the Virgin river in a descent into the Zion Narrows.

We make one last stop in Utah, an overnight at the Chalet Motel in St. George, just miles from the Nevada border. At only $45 a night it represents the best value we have enjoyed on our trip. The room is well furnished and immaculately maintained. While we relax, my daughter busies herself by reading the Book of Mormon that is placed in the drawer next to the standard Gideon King James. “Please do not remove, ask for your complimentary copy at the front desk,” encourages a sign placed in the drawer.  “Can I get a copy?” asks my daughter.

The next morning I go to the front desk to ask. The elderly motel owner’s face lights up with joy at my request. She disappears into the back, while I busy myself looking at a large painting of Jesus and promotional pamphlets for area attractions.  Shortly, she returns with a new copy in hand. “I just know this is the truth,” she says as she presents the book to us. She feeds on our assumed interest to point out various activities in town.  There is a historical reenactment of Brigham Young, one of the founders of the Church of Latter Day Saints. “The actor really captures him”, she informs me with a smile. Or perhaps we would enjoy taking the tour of the local temple? She nicely explains that we won’t be able to get into the temple proper being heathens, but the grounds are beautifully attended to.

I thank her and bid her farewell. I have no interest in converting. I really don’t mind crazy conspiracies and weird theologies; but, I’ve got no love for any religion that practices shunning and breaks up families. That, and it would really be a sin to forgo the pleasures of a nice gin and tonic.

The Old Atlantic City vs. The New Atlantic City

by  Sarah Spigelman

Atlantic City Postcard ccImage from Riptheskull on FlickrAtlantic City might conjure up ideas of smoky hotel rooms, grandmas sitting at slot machines, and buses filled with bachelorette parties. Though the bachelorette parties still come in droves, nothing else really fits. It used to be old fashioned, gaudy, and somewhat dumpy. All that has changed in the last few years, and the East Coast version of Las Vegas has bloomed from the ugly duckling to the one gorgeous dame. Atlantic City is no longer a redheaded stepchild, it is a glamorous destination in its own right.. What has changed, you might ask? Well…

Old AC: Kitschy, dark hotels with low-quality bedding and smoke filled casinos.

the new Atlantic CityNew AC: Glamorous hotels with luxurious appointments, full-service spas, multiple pools, and sections of casinos that are smoke free. The Borgata features The Water Club, a hotel within a hotel that has no casino but is connected via a short passageway to the Borgata’s large casino. The Water Club has its own restaurant, own pool, and own spa, making it a luxurious, quiet retreat within the hustle bustle of the large casino-resort. The Revel provides gorgeous ocean views in rooms that feature full-length windows, modern furnishings, and a rousing nightlife right downstairs. In case you don’t gamble at all, check out The Chelsea, AC’s first boutique hotel. This casino-less hotel features whimsical furnishings and the Annex, a low-cost motel that is associated with the hotel and affords its guests all the amenities of The Chelsea. Caesar’s Palace has the Qua Spa, with new treatments and a rooftop pool that is open to adults only for drinking, sunning, and relaxing in a luxury cabana.

Atlantic City BoardWalk Shot by Metal Chris ccImage on FlickrOld AC: All-You-Can-Eat buffets with piles of flaccid shrimp, coffee shops with hamburgers like hockey pucks, and steakhouses that featured the hotel’s grandpa as the chef.

New AC: As much as it is a destination for gamblers, it is a destination for diners. New casinos like the Revel and The Borgata have attracted chefs like Iron Chef Marc Forgione, Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck, and Bobby Flay to their grounds. Luxury steakhouses like Old Homestead have set up shop in these elegant hotels, and now there is even an annual food festival in Atlantic City. In case you don’t want to go all out, food courts are available in every hotel on and off the boardwalk, for a quick fast bite from national chains and regional favorites. Sample Tony Luke’s famous roast pork sandwiches in the food court at The Borgata, or try JoseFoodie in Atlantic City Garces casual tacos at Distrito Cantina. From the luxurious dining experience of SeaBlue to the casual burgers at Bobby’s Burger Palace, Atlantic City provides food that compares with the finest dining cities in the world.
Old AC: Piano lounge with some older woman in a shoulder-padded beaded dress singing showtunes while the patrons order cheap house wine and fall asleep in armchairs.

New AC: The club scene here is part Jersey-Shore, part NYC club kids, and entirely fantastic. Don’t bother coming to the clubs here unless you can handle some fist pumping, tight dresses, incredibly hot go-go dancers, and music so loud that your ears will be ringing for at least 24 hours. Pay for VIP bottle service, and skip past the lines that accumulate at 11 pm, head to a comfortable area with couches, and get treated to bottles of the liquor of your choice with 3 mixers and attractive servers to make sure you don’t have to do a thing. Every hotel on the boardwalk now has a hip and happening club – check out Dusk Nightclub at Caesar’s for 1,000 sq. feet of music, dancing, and enjoyable mayhem.

Atlantic City Boardwalk ccImage by doug Stone on Flickr

*disclaimer – I stayed at The Borgata free of charge. I was not required to write about the experience, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Sushi, Slots and Sumptuous Luxury – The Ultimate Food and Wine Experience – Las Vegas, Baby!

Story by Linda Kissam

Palazzo Hotel Las Vegas Resort“Wow, this place is incredible!” I must have heard that phrase a hundred times over in my 4- day stay at the Palazzo (Hotel, Resort and Casino) in Las Vegas, Nevada… and they weren’t talking just about the slots. Each one of us has our own vision of what the “Vegas Experience” is , but if you haven’t been there in a while or you usually just come to play and don’t spend much time on – or in – the accommodations, restaurants, or non-gambling activities, you’d be missing the “Real Vegas” experience. Seriously, slow down folks; enjoy all the amenities that Vegas has to offer. It’s like going abroad, but without the passport and language hassles.

I have to admit, I used to be a casino dasher. Up and down the strip I’d go, umbrella drink in hand, my casino key card at the ready to pop into the slot machines, eating at the food courts. That was my old vision of what Las Vegas had to offer. Now that I have been introduced to the indulgent lifestyle a large well thought out and professionally managed property has to offer, I am all in; they can have all my chips and my loyalty. I understand now that I can check in to my suite, drop my bags and begin the planning for days of uncompromising culinary treats, wine, cocktails, and shows…as well as world class gambling opportunities. In fact, there really is no reason to go anywhere other than the Palazzo during your stay. Continue to read and see where The Palazzo WOW factor gets its credentials from.

suites at Palazzo Resort VegasWith more than 3,000 spacious suites, luxury shopping, world-class dining and entertainment, the $1.9 billion, Silver LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified Palazzo Las Vegas takes luxury to new heights. The Palazzo features 3,066 sprawling suites, each specifically fashioned for convenience and comfort ranging from the 700-square-foot Luxury suite, nearly two times larger than the standard Las Vegas hotel room, to the palatial Presidential and Chairman suites, measuring in excess of 8,000 square feet, with private terraces and outdoor plunging pools. Ranked as one of the Top 25 Hotels in the Continental U.S. and Canada by Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best Awards’ for two consecutive years, the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Four Star Award-winning resort brings high fashion to the Strip more than 60 luxury boutiques. For a shopping diva, this place is nirvana.

Las Vegas Foodie TourThe all-suite resort also offers a variety of cuisines (30+) from a collection of award-winning chefs. My favorites include Valentino with Chef Luciano Pellegrini, AquaKnox with Chef Tom Moloney’s, LAVO with Ralph Scamardella, Taqueria Canonita with Chef Reed, , SUSHISAMBA with Executive Sushi Chef John Um (See recipe below), and the Public House with Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Meidenbauer. Each one of these places features a different cuisine, exceptional service, carefully selected wines, beers, cocktails, and reasonable prices.

Las Vegas Resort Hotel Also not to be missed – which I definitely did not –is the unique and fabulous Fusion Mixology Bar. Located on the casino floor the Latin-inspired Fusion Mixology Bar offers beautifully handcrafted cocktails focusing on the Latin American beverage culture. Designed by award-winning bartenders and mixologists, cocktails are made-to-order using fresh fruits and the muddling technique of grinding sugar with fresh limes and lemons. A friend and I were challenged to call out some ingredients so the mixologist could create a unique drink for the two of us. Got to say, that is a day we won’t soon forget, as the JoLinda was created. A lovely mix of cucumber, basil, mint, and citrus… we certainly found our happy taste place. This is a memorable experience I highly recommend to you. Its open 24 hours daily, which gives you plenty of time to fit it into your plans.

Las Vegas Hotel Resort EntertainmentSomething that everyone knows is there, but may not take advantage of, is the world class “experience entertainment “opportunities. I’ve travelled a lot, but Las Vegas and especially The Venetian do a great job providing enthralling Las Vegas shows with special engagements by headliners and special events. There is something to do or see every day. See critically acclaimed shows including the world-famous Blue Man Group, and the thrilling Phantom production. Reserve your tickets to see special engagements from headliners like Rita Rudner, Tim Allen, David Spade and Joan Rivers. Catch the hottest events in town from shows and parties to amazing activities.

All in all the experience at The Palazzo in Las Vegas gets this Wine, Food & Travel Diva’s best recommendation for a memorable luxury adult getaway.

Recipe

SUSHISAMBA
Compliments of Executive Sushi Chef John Um
www.sushisamba.com

Great VLas Vegas CuisineTUNA TATAKI

Serves 1-2

Salad

Ingredients:

• 8 oz ahi tuna

• ¾ cup fresh tatsoi leaves (may substitute baby spinach)

• ¼ cup hearts of palm, sliced

• 1 stalk white asparagus, sliced

• ½ tbsp garlic chips

• ¼ tsp black lava sea salt

• ¼ cup yuzu garlic vinaigrette*

• ¼ cup avocado vinaigrette*

• ¼ cup ponzu sauce*

• ¼ cup blended oil

 

Method: Toss tatsoi in ponzu sauce and place on plate. Assemble hearts of palm and white asparagus on top of tatsoi. Dip tuna in yuzu garlic vinaigrette and marinate for a minute. Layer tuna with garlic chips and top with avocado vinaigrette. Garnish with black lava sea salt.

*yuzu garlic vinaigrette

Ingredients:

• ½ tbsp shallot, chopped

• ½ tbsp garlic, chopped

• ¾ oz yuzu juice

• ½ oz soy sauce

• ¼ cup vegetable oil

• ¼ tsp black pepper

Method: Place all ingredients, except vegetable oil, in blender. Blend until smooth, adding vegetable oil in a slow stream. Reserve in refrigerator.

*ponzu sauce

Ingredients:

• ¾ oz soy sauce

• 1 ¾ oz rice wine vinegar

• ¼ oz lemon juice, strained

Method: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl and reserve in refrigerator.

*avocado vinaigrette

• 1 fresh ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

• ½ oz rice wine vinegar

• ½ oz water

• 1 ¼ oz vegetable oil

• ¼ tsp honey

• ¼ tsp yuzu juice

• ½ fresh lime, juiced

• salt and pepper to taste

Method: Place avocado, vinegar, water, honey, yuzu and lime juice in blender on a low setting. Blend ingredients until smooth, adding vegetable oil at a slow steady stream until creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste; reserve in refrigerator.

Ride on the Wild Side at Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in Orange Beach, Alabama

Story & Pics by Linda Kissam

Gulf shores AlabamaYou won’t often find me and my $250 shoes in the midst of alligators, marsh and power walkers. Nor are you likely to find me in an open golf cart with the wind and elements blowing through my carefully coiffed hair. However, the world of nature is truly fascinating and if it is to remain wild and untouched, everyone – including you and me – must experience, embrace, and support the beauty that is being preserved for us by local communities and government agencies. Such is the wild and wondrous world of the Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in in Orange Beach, Alabama. It’s the perfect pairing of beauty, brawn and protection.

watch out for gators in AlabamaThe Backcountry Trail project is a collaborative effort between the City of Orange Beach (Alabama), Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment. Historically, many parts of the trail were utilized by the area’s indigenous peoples, as well as explorers and settlers of the region.

The Backcountry Trail is steeped in lore and local legend. For decades, a creature believed to be part man/part wildcat –The “Catman” — has allegedly lurked along the paths and swamps of the backcountry woodlands.

Swamps of AlabamaJust minutes from the high rise condos on Orange Beach, this is the place for you to buckle up in an electric cart with two or more friends for a 2 to 3 -hour guided eco-tour. Winding through the gorgeous Alabama back-country on tiny paths, you’ll see flora and fauna side by side with joggers, cyclists and power walkers as you listen to your guide explain in detail the past, present and future of this special place. You’ll exprience firsthand the pristine trail with four distinct ecosystems covering 10 miles. Untamed and vibrant, expect to see alligators, snakes, marshland, wildflowers and towering trees.
Six trails among six distinct ecosystems make up more than 11 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex through Orange Beach, Alabama and the Gulf State Park. This is not a Disney type experience. It’s relaxed and relaxing. It’s inspiring and engaging. There is only one tour at a time going on. Generally no more than two tours a day. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your time with Mother Nature. She has a surprise or two in store for you.

On your guided tour expect to experience:

HURRICANE RIDGE TRAIL
Watch out for gatorsHurricane Ridge Trail was constructed after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979. The hurricane created this natural ridge by depositing sand, twigs, and vegetation from the force of the tidal surge. The 130 mph winds and the many tornadoes uprooted hundreds of trees. Many of these dead trees can still be seen today. Their gray, rotting trunks are one of the many reminders of the power contained in nature’s storms. Try to find animal tracks in the sand, or look for birds, such as woodpeckers and mocking birds, feasting on insects in the trees.

MIDDLE LAKE TRAIL
One of the major trails in Gulf State Park is Middle Lake Trail. It begins at the Nature Center and follows Middle Lake unit it intersects with Hurricane Ridge Trail. Look for alligators floating along the surface. They are seen in the warm months of summer but are experienced at hiding in the grasses along the edge of the canal. Look for their eyes and nose on the surface of the water.

BEAR CREEK TRAIL
Bear Creek Trail is a unique trail because it used to be an old paved road heading to Orange Beach. Since Your guide will help you identify many of the local trees and shrubs. Covering many of the trees and shrubs on this trail is a thick, woody vine called Muscadine Grape Vines. These wild vines are abundant throughout Gulf State Park. The fruit matures in late summer and is slightly larger than domestic grapes. Some of the animals that enjoy these wild grapes are the gray fox, black bear, coyote, raccoon, and many different types of birds.

ALLIGATOR MARSH TRAIL
This is a unique trail that winds beside a small canal offering the right environment for small alligators, turtles, frogs, and other small animals. Tall marsh grasses grow along many areas of this trail. Some of this grass is easy to identify by its saw-toothed edges

BOBCAT BRANCH TRAIL
Golf Cart TourismBobcat Branch Trail connects Bear Creek Trail to the main campground road. It winds through ¾ of a mile of Live Oaks, Blackberry Brambles, and Holly. Look for some of the dead or dying trees. These trees provide a continuous supply of insects for birds such as woodpeckers. One of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in this area is the Pileated Woodpecker.

TALLOW TRAIL
This ¼ of a mile trail follows a small creek in the campground. If you get out of the cart and walk quietly along this trail, you may see some birds such as the green heron fishing for dinner. The creek is also a home to many different types of frogs, turtles, and lizards. In the sandy areas of this trail, you might notice several different animal tracks. Many animals such as raccoons, bobcats, deer, and rabbits use this trail as an easy path into the campground.

ARMADILLO TRAIL
Along this one-mile trail you will see various types of ferns and moss. On the soft pliant earth beneath your feet, you will notice an amazing root system of the trees. You will also see palm-like leaves growing close to the ground along the sides of the trail. This plant is called Saw Palmetto. As the leaves fall to the ground, they provide a wonderful habitat for small animals such as snakes, frogs, and lizards.

MIDDLE LAKE OVERLOOK TRAIL
ON the trail in AlabamaCompleted in March 2000 by a group of winter campers, Middle Lake Overlook Trail crosses over Armadillo Trail and ends at a small pavilion overlooking Middle Lake. Try to be quiet as you approach the lake and you may see turtles basking in the sun or a small alligator swimming nearby.

Middle Lake is one of three freshwater lakes in Gulf Resort State Park. It is approximately 150 acres. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is about 750 acres, and the smallest is Little Lake. These three lakes are fed by underground springs. The water flows out of the lakes into Little Lagoon and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. As you look out of Middle Lake, you will notice that the water has a very dark, reddish/brown color. This coloration is due to the release of tannins from the decomposition of plants.

Butterfly Garden

The Butterfly Gardens in AlabamaYour guide will stop the cart to give you time to explore the eternal beauty of the Butterfly Garden. Created and maintained by a local women’s club it is a special oasis for festively marked and colored winged beauties. This also makes a great place for a picnic as there is a small enclosed pavilion with picnic benches.

An insider’s deal at $60.00 per cart or $15 per person for a two-hour ride. Up to 6 people can be accommodated. Perfect for couples, singles, families. Bring a camera. There are restroom stops along the tour as well as water fountains. You can bring your own snacks; beverages if you like…and oh yea…don’t forget the insect spray in high summer.

Resource

Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail
4849 Wilson Boulevard
Orange Beach, AL 36561
251.981.1180
http://backcountrytrail.com

Returning to Ojai, California – The Town L.A. Didn’t Ruin!

Story by K. Pearson Brown

Ojai is one of the few places in the world where a rare and wondrous pink tinted sunset occurs (photo credit Michael McFadden)
Ojai is one of the few places in the world where a rare and wondrous pink tinted sunset occurs (photo credit Michael McFadden)

It was my third trip to Ojai in five years, and delightfully, not much has changed. This adorable town of about 8,000, nestled in the Ojai valley, seems to have escaped the shuttering of independent shops and eateries that has plagued LA. Surely the recession has hit Ojai, but perhaps because of its small-town attitude, where folks take care of one another and life is simpler, they have managed to maintain their charm and economic vitality without giving in to Pottery Barn and Taco Bell.

The Inn Place

Ojai Hotels
Bungalows at Blue Iguana Inn feature private entrances and gated patios (photo credit Betty Jane Brown)

The accommodations in Ojai reflect the way of life of its residents. Mostly visitors will find small inns, with all the creature comforts of high-end hotels, but with a low key and casual atmosphere. My family lodged at The Blue Iguana, a Santa Barbara style bed and breakfast with modern amenities such as HD flat screen TVs in every room, but also with its own full kitchen, so we could prepare meals at “home.” Our bungalow also featured its own private fenced-in outdoor dining area and patio and French doors in every room opening to the outdoors.

Each morning at the Blue Iguana we enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast of bagels, pastries, cereals, juice and coffee, and my son’s favorite, hardboiled eggs. Guests could take breakfast to their own private patios or bungalows or sit with other guests in the breakfast nook or on the communal patio outside.

It was a couple of minutes by car from the inn on the town’s main street, Ojai Avenue, into the center of town, heralded by what used to be the only stop light in town, at Signal Street. Shopping in town offered many charming small boutiques that thankfully resembled nothing of the GAP. My favorite clothing shop was The Kindred Spirit, featuring comfortable and stylish modern hippie fashions and shoes, like the Spring Step European wedge loafers I picked up there. Another fun to browse was Kingston’s Candy shop, which is like a trip into a Little Rascal’s episode with its bins of vintage-style candy, sodas and other novelties, like Big Buddy chewing gum.

Eat Local

An entrée from Feast Bistro, an eatery that features fresh house-made dishes in a casual setting with a patio that backs up to the Arcade’s grassy plaza (photo credit: courtesy Feast Bistro)
An entrée from Feast Bistro, an eatery that features fresh house-made dishes in a casual setting with a patio that backs up to the Arcade’s grassy plaza (photo credit: courtesy Feast Bistro)

I had thought I had tried all the best restaurants in town during my previous visits, but I was thrilled to find a plethora of undiscovered outstanding options for gourmet tastes, including the enchanting Azu. The restaurant had an earthy, artsy feel, with a cozy fireplace, wood benches — for which I asked for and was given a cushion for my poor bad back – and a front-room bar with well-dressed locals gathered for conversation and laughter. The service was friendly and casual, and Chef Laurel Moore’s Spanish and Mediterranean comfort cuisine menu was creative and reflective of the local bounty, such as blood orange and spinach salad, Cabra salad of Ojai organic greens and honey baked brie, drizzled with Ojai organic sage honey.

The next day we lunched at Feast Bistro, a quaint eatery along the town’s famed Arcade, a long pavilion of shops, that backs up to a grassy landscaped area where purveyors sell locally grown fruits and vegetables, jams, honey, bees wax candles, olive oil, free range eggs and chicken and a variety of crafts at a year-round weekly farmer’s market, every Sunday, rain or shine.

The knoll behind Feast Bistro restaurant was a great place for my son to play while we waited for our food. Since we all had walked up an appetite, and everything on the menu looked so yummy, we ordered entrees to share. We started with the locally sourced Eel River organic beef burger with cheese, a perfect complement to the Buffalo Blue spicy chicken breast on a bed of mixed greens and veggies, topped with Bleu cheese crumbles. My son enjoyed a huge platter of pomme frites, served as he ordered, half garlic, half parmesan. We finished off our hearty meal with a plate of still-warm Cookies of the Day.

All Aboard 

Ojai, California
Downtown Ojai offers shoppers plenty of boutiques and restaurants and not a single chain establishment (photo credit Michael McFadden)

We wanted to see more of Ojai outside of downtown, so we hopped aboard the Ojai Trolley, which for a fare of fifty cents is a great way to get around the town. Though the wooden bench seats didn’t make for a very comfy ride, and the trolley meanders through some of the less glamorous sections of town, it was still a fun ride. The trolley also offered the chance for us to see some of the good-neighbor attitude of Ojai in action, as the locals aboard the trolley greeted each other as they boarded and were quick to help a man in a wheelchair get aboard.

The Ojai Way

We were happy even as tourists to experience the small town feel of Ojai, which by the way is Ventura County’s smallest city. At the local park across from the Arcade I met a mom who lives in town. We pushed our kids on the swings side by side as she gave me the local scoop on the schools and community, which was all good. Then my son joined in with a group of kids on a spinning merry-go-round, and I chatted with their parents, more friendly locals. We strolled deeper into the park to find an outdoor concert theatre with a magical gate made of handing pipes that actually played music when you walked under them.

The Road to Ojai

Kids in Ojai
The friendly small-town feel of Ojai is a welcome change from city life for visitors from LA

Though this oasis sits in Ventura County, just 12 miles inland from Ventura, the great thing for Angelenos is that it is just about a 90-minute car ride from our bustling city. We made the trip in a luxurious seven-passenger Mazda CX-9, which featured super comfy reclining leather seats and was more than roomy for our family of four, with space to spare for all of our luggage and even my son’s 20” bike that we brought along. It also featured the best navigation system that I had ever used, which not only led us directly to our final destination and a few side trips, but it warned us of traffic ahead and offered alternative routes and advised me when I had drifted over the speed limit, which can be easy to do when the ride is so smooth. The rear-seat entertainment center with a DVD player also came in handy for my son.

Our trip goes to show that three times is a charm, as were my first and second visits to Ojai. And already I am planning a fourth.

 

 

On the Road to Bethany Beach with Yodeling Vagabonds

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold

 

yodeling vagabond bikeThe other day I went back on the road. I quit my job sweeping at a construction site, hopped on my bike, and headed off to the beach.

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom #1: If you have a job sweeping at a construction site, first of all quit it. And when you quit, say: “I quit. I’ll sweep when I’m dead.”

Two of my friends biked with me. The beach was Bethany Beach, in Delaware. The landscape was unremarkable, but it didn’t matter. The beauty of biking long distances isn’t what you see, it’s the intoxicated feeling (that never seems to peak) and the insights, however seemingly insignificant, that come from the solitude.

fuck sweeping at construction sites One friend said

…the thing about biking is we’re moving and can feel ourselves moving, while the people in cars are technically moving, but they’re sitting still. They’re staring blankly out the window waiting for excitement to come to them, and not seeing, while we’re outside the window seeing it all, and actively seeking excitement as we move.

My other friend made  a new Rule of the Road:

 Shakespeare Rule  #1

To bike home or to bike into the unknown: there is no question.

 

When we arrived, we added some beach rules (because the more rules, the happier you can be when you break them or prove them wrong)

 

Beach Rules 

A vagabond must drop down and do twenty before surfing the waves of plenty (pushups).

When sleeping, one must be able to hear the waves crashing in harmonious accord.

Cops with cop souls should be avoided when sleeping on the beach.

To apply sunscreen on one’s own back is impossible. One would be wise to find a suitably attractive member of the opposite sex to perform this function. Skin cancer must be avoided, this much is certain.

 

The further away I biked from that sweeping job, the better I felt.

There is a negative correlation between distance from the city and mental state. In the city, with everyone driving around and around the cyclical beltway, it is very possible for a vagabond to feel caught unwillingly in a web of sameness, trapped and shackled in monotonous routine.

It is difficult is feel any excitement for the present. But in remembering past adventures, the vagabond is able to shake off the gloom, knowing he doesn’t have to feel like this, that it is possible to separate from the confusion of the city, as a fugitive from normality, by heading back on the road (and yodeling.)

There, especially if biking or walking, freedom is found.

As I biked on the back roads towards Bethany Beach, the quiet all around me spoke to the unquiet within me and allowed my thoughts to be clear and my own, influenced by no other.

I was feeling for the first time since my bike trip in the west that indescribable natural euphoric feeling of movement on the road. I was moving! I was riding onwards.

The Road stretched out in front of us, in all its gravelly glory, and we pedaled frantically, whooping and yodeling whenever we wanted and as loud as we wanted as only vagabonds back on the road after too long an absence can.

As the wind picked up intensely the closer we came to the sea, I realized that nomads and vagabonds are indentured servants to the road. But we do not have to work on the road for seven years as the indentured servants of old did in order to be set free.

We are freed as we work.

We work physically on the road. We hike perilously up to mountain peaks, hoping to clear our cloudy minds by going above the clouds, we bike against the strongest of head winds and up passes that ought not to be biked up, we walk across deserts thirsting for some mirage in the midst of the vast sandy barren lands.

These feats are difficult, but befitting for those who do not wish to simply fit into an already present locked in four by four square spot in society and want instead to unlock what we can in a mind unhampered by the grind.

When the headwinds of fate gust against us off the road, and we wonder what we are doing here, we become unhappy, and we are told:

Why the long face? Aren’t you happy? Why don’t you make a ton of money, get three Lexus’ (Lexi?) (grey silver black), plastic surgery, a silicon wife, and a seven story house with four basements and seventy four windows all with views of the interstate. It worked for me!

But on the road, when the headwinds rage, we simply listen to The Road and he says:

Pedal onwards, climb onwards, move onwards, go forward leave the chains of luxury far behind you in another world.

And we are rewarded by a feeling of success, of doing something worthwhile, of working not solely for the sake of money. We are rewarded after the climb when The Road shows us his valley below, on the long walk as we revel in the solitude of the solo road, after a day of hard biking as we sit and talk excitedly of tomorrow by a raging fire.

A sunrise is all the reward I needAs vagabonds, we realize that success as society sees it is succession from the best of life as we see it, so we choose permeability over permanence.

 

We wander from the straight and known, straying from the narrow in order to experience the great wide open unknown of the road.

And after the headwind tried in vain for many miles to push us back from the beach, we finally made it to the Atlantic. The water was cold (under 60), and the rough waves crashed imposingly as they have crashed for all time.

The mighty perpetual sea did not care how many miles we had biked to see it and was perhaps angry that we had overcome its friend the wind. But The Road overruled the angry sea and said

Well done, my young vagabond riders, you biked along the river to the sea. You pedaled through fierce winds. I will reward you by allowing you to run like insane nomadic sprinters into the Atlantic Sea. First, though, you must drop down and give me twenty before you surf the waves of plenty. It is only right.

So we did twenty pushups, for we were indentured servants voluntarily submitting to the hardships of the road in order that he let us see, in order to be set free. And, zanily yodeling in imperfect inharmonious discording rewarding whoops, we ran like insane nomadic sprinters into the sea.

And The Road looked on with a half-smile, knowing something and knowing we are all searching for the something he knows. But The Road does not tell us, he only smiles his enigmatic smile. We have to find that thing for ourselves. We may never find it, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop searching.

Paradise Point – A Kid’s (and Parents) Paradise

Story and Photos by K. Pearson Brown

Beach, Sunshine, Action!

Paradise Point offers a nearby island escape for Angelenos. (Photo courtesy Paradise Point Resort & Spa)

It makes sense that a Hollywood director conceived of Paradise Point Resort & Spa in Mission Bay. The movie set-like gorgeous landscape, the private island appeal where VIPs can escape their public, the world-class amenities and the nearby location to LA all lend themselves to a celebrity worthy getaway. Yet this family oriented resort is accessible to everyone, literally, as it backs up to a public beach where boats dock for the day to enjoy its sandy shores and beautiful vistas.

Bungalow with a View

The 44-acre grounds offer plenty of walking to features on the property such as a lush tropical gardens, lookout tower, a tranquil lagoon and the Island Market. (Photo courtesy Paradise Point Resort & Spa)

Celebrating its 50 year anniversary since it was established in 1962 by Jack Skirball, the AAA four-star rated resort looks as fresh as a starlet back from rehab, thanks to a $20 million renovation in 2010. The 462 bungalows and suites that line the beach and lagoons are modernly outfitted with contemporary furnishings and amenities, including wet bars, granite bathrooms, luxurious designer bed linens, plasma TVs, wi-fi, leopard patterned rugs, and padded leather lounges perfect for reading that paperback you’ve longed to finish.

The upscale and sophisticated décor belies the fact that the resort is made-to-order for kids. Just outside our door was a patio lanai where I could relax and watch my four-year-old play in the sand a few feet away. We could walk everywhere on the property, or hitch a ride with the friendly attendants cruising the resort in golf carts. We rented bikes, with my son pedaling behind me on a tandem-like trailer, to explore the 44-acres grounds and sites, including a lookout tower with 360-degree views of the resort’s lush tropical gardens and its one-mile expanse of beach.

Kid’s Paradise

SeaWorld Adventure Park has plenty of wildlife shows and several thrill rides that kids love, especially if they don’t mind getting wet. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

Besides the beach, other great attractions for families and kids are Paradise Point’s Island Adventure Club, a day camp offered during peak season which includes arts and crafts, treasure hints, seaside frolic, nature walks and other activities. The whole family can enjoy “Dive-In” Movie Nights where guests watch films poolside or on floats. Ask any kid though and they will tell you the coolest thing about Paradise Point is building a bonfire at night in one of the fire pits along the beach and roasting s’mores. Don’t worry if you forget your supplies, as the Island Market sells s’more kits complete with sticks and bundles of logs.

It is no wonder Forbes.com designated the resort as one of the “Top Ten Family Resorts in the World.” Families can partake in abundance of exciting activities without leaving the island, earning the swimming in the five pools, mini-golf, sailing lessons, court sports, jet skiing or kayaking, one of the most popular attractions of the resort is its proximity to SeaWorld Adventure Park, just a five-minute drive, or guests can take Paradise Point’s own water taxi service to SeaWorld, bypassing the entrance lines and parking fees while touring beautiful Mission Bay en route.

Shamu Who?

Five pools give kids plenty to do, along with mini-golf, sailing, jet skiing, kayaking, and many other beach and water sports. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

My four-year-old loved his first trip to SeaWorld, though he was more exhilarated with the rides than shows. He got fidgety during Sea Lions Live, and he groaned when I suggested the Sesame Street show. I tried to convince him that seeing Shamu was a huge deal, but after a few minutes watching the famed killer whale swim in his aquarium, my son was tugging on my arm to go to the rides. I was leery after seeing other park guests in drenched clothes, but I was assured by those in line that as long as we avoided the front boat that we would not get soaked on Journey to Atlantis, unlike Shipwreck Rapids which was sure to be a bath. We rode a half dozen times, daring to ride in the front boat at last, which sure enough left us soaking wet. Luckily I was a prepared with extra clothes and shoes in my backpack.
Cheeseburgers and Sea Bass in Paradise

The marina at Barefoot Bar and Grill offers views of the marina on Mission Bay. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

Three eateries at Paradise Point offer distinct options. Barefoot Bar and Grill serves farm-fresh casual fare in an indoor or outdoor setting with spectacular views of the marina and bay, wonderful for a lazy morning of reading the newspaper, enjoying the early sun and watching the sail boats drift past. Tropics Bar and Grill at the main pool also offers salads, sandwiches and snacks along with a variety of refreshing drinks.

Bike rentals are available by the hour or day at the Island Market. (Photo by K. Pearson Brown)

Baleen is a family friendly fine dining restaurant with creative dishes of seafood and land cuisine. Entrees include a delicious Matcha Crusted White Sea Bass served with mascarpone polenta, wild mushrooms, sweet pea, tendrils, blistered tomatoes, cauliflower soup, chive oil and a micro salad, and a divine Angus Filet Mignon with Point Reyes blue cheese chive butter, truffled potato puree, asparagus and Cabernet sauce. My son opted for chicken quesadilla from his choices of sophisticated kid-size dishes, such as petit filet, soy-orange black tiger shrimp with pasta, or grilled wagyu burger, all made better with a side of Truffle Parmesan Fries, served in a stylish tall spiral basket deserved of the delicacy. For dessert, the treats on the menu looked fabulous, but for my son nothing could compete with s’mores we made later under the stars on the beach.

For more information on the resort and its offerings, go to www.paradisepoint.com

 

 

Liquid Gold Tour – Portland, Oregon’s Beer, Wine, and Saki Scene

Article & Pics by Linda Kissam

Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great GrapesThe Zen of wine is my deal. I like it. I like to drink it. I love sharing it with friends and pairing it with food. I like to learn more about it whatever city I am it. Every once in a while I come across an area so well-known for its wine that all of its other liquid assets take a back seat to it. So when I arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a short 2-day wine tour, I thought yippee, Oregon wines, some of the best stuff around. What else could I possibly want to taste in the land of great Pinot’s? As it turns out…Saké and beer… definitely.

I love a city that treats its visitors well. You can expect your vacation to get off to a great Hotels in Portland, Oregonstart at the Portland International Airport (PDX). Clean, efficient and striving to be as “green” as possible, it’s the perfect start to any vacation. The airport is located nine miles
north of downtown Portland and is conveniently connected to the city center via the MAX light rail train. The trip between the airport and downtown Portland takes about 38 minutes and is about $3. I stayed at the impressive Doubletree Inn just a short block from one of the stops. Easy, breezy, convenient.

I became part of a larger group of adult “beverage expert’s.” Our tour guide planned out what I consider was the perfect introductory tour to the Portland beverage scene. I thought she would lead with the wine card, but nope, Saké was our first port of call.

SakéOne is about 30 miles west of downtown Portland in the beautiful Willamette Valley,Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes famed for its many exceptional wineries, America’s premier producer of Saké, Saké One (820 Elm St., Forest Grove, 800/550-SAKE). Most visitors are surprised to learn it’s American-owned. Several high-quality Sakés are produced, including some flavored varieties, including Moonstone, Momokawa, G, and Murai. Saké One makes an engaging alternative to tasting strictly wine while exploring the Willamette Valley.

Tasting room and facility are open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, except. Guided tours are available and last about 20 minutes. Expect to have your ideas challenged about what is and isn’t today’s Saké . This is the really good stuff. My group that was treated to a food and Saké tasting. You’ll have your choice of three tasting flights (generally without food). And, on the third Saturday of each month, they offer Saketini Saturday ,a showcasing of sake and mixing cocktails.

Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great GrapesYea! Our second stop is Montinore Estate Winery. It’s one of the top producers of case wines in Oregon offering Certified Biodynamic wines from 230 acres of grapes. Located In the North Willamette Valley, it is snuggled against the foothills of the Coastal Range, and a short drive to the incredible Oregon Coast. Pinot Noir still rules but there are many different types of wines to taste. It is open 7 days a week, from 11am to 5 pm. I enjoyed tasting the latest vintage of estate grown and bottled wines while enjoying the sprawling views. All the wines are great, but be sure and try the 2011 Müller Thurgau (white) ($16) and the 2008 Graham’s Block 7 Pinot Noir ($40).

Lunch time found us at South Shore Café: Located in a (slightly leaning) 100-year old Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes
clapboard in North Willamette wine country, this is where the locals stop for a fresh generous local lunch and some friendly gossip. Our group loved the gracious owner. Her homemade soups, sandwiches and treats brought a collective “ahh” from the group. Take the time to walk across the street to Smith’s Berry Farm, an upscale garden market filled with local produce, local plants and specialty gift items.

Back in the van our next stop was the more of a boutique -style winery. Hawks View Cellars is a family owned and -managed winery tucked away on Chehalem Mountain in Sherwood, Oregon, just 30 minutes from downtown Portland. This facility produces small lot, limited quantity, ultra-premium estate grown Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as wines made from top vineyards in Oregon and Washington. For my Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapestaste, the estate grown wines were the standouts. Care is evident in the wines, the tasting room and the beautiful grounds. This is a great place to relax and spend some quality time. It’s about 30 minutes from Portland. The 2011 white Pinot Noir ($26 – Now sold out) made from 100% Pinot Noir fruit was a star. Hopefully when you go the next vintage will be in stock. With spectacular views of five Cascade peaks from the patio and tasting room, stay a while and relax in the spectacular setting, and enjoy pure Northwest style wines and hospitality.

Our final beverage stop was Two Kilts Brewing Company. Now, I am not much of a beer drinker, but this place (located in a plain-Jane strip mall) has the right vision and products to turn this wine diva into a beer babe. Constantly in pursuit of the finest India Pale Ale and Scotch Ale (all made with local ingredients) they make creative premium brews. When I was there, they had a Korean Food Truck just outside the door. The unforgettable pairing of an iced cold, vanilla- laced beer with a spicy Korean taco is a pairing I won’t soon forget. Owners Chris & Alex are rock stars in the making. Stop by Monday-Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ask for a sampler taste.

We were dropped of at McMenamins Grand Lodge for check-in and a little R&R beforeLinda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapes dinner. This is a 77 European-style guest room hotel located in Forest Grove. One of the most unique lodging facilities I have ever stayed at, McMenamins showcases rolling lawns, lush landscaping, a movie theatre, a couple of restaurants, small bars and some truly mesmerizing artwork gracing the hallways. Built in 1922 as a Masonic & Eastern Star home, the Grand Lodge is quite the drama queen. Renovated and opened by McMenamins in 2000, every part of this hotel screams history from the individual room names, the hallways, and even the overhead pipes. Note that there is no air conditioning and shared bathrooms are the norm. Reasonably priced.

Dinner was a very special treat. Amazing is a better term if I am being honest. 1910 Main ~An American Bistro is owned and operated by chef/owner Kathy Compton. Showcasing local ingredients, Kathy created 1910 Main after 30 years of catering and restaurant experience. Kathy brings a love for great food, wine and company to her restaurant.

We were treated to a 7-course wine makers dinner filled with specialty courses such as Gin Linda Kissam explores Oregon's Great Grapescured Oregon Coho Salmon Tartar on Crisp Potatoes paired with 1 2011 Apolloni Sparkling Rose ($29). Each course was a visual and gastronomic feast for the eyes and tummy. Despite the fancy food, the restaurant is warm and casual. This is a must-do for dinner.

All in all, Portland surprised and delighted, and definitely exceeded my expectations…and certainly expanded by liquid assets horizon. This was a pure gold experience. Ahhh, if I’d only known what I have been missing, I’d have long ago staked a claim to Oregon’s Washington County.

Resources:

Portland Visitor Bureau

The Double Tree Inn

McMenamins Grand Lodge

Hawk View Cellars

SakéOne

Montinore Estate Winery

Portland Hotel Deals

 

New York Foodie – Old School vs. New School

Old School and New Shcool New YorkThe best thing about NYC is its history. The fact that you can dine at restaurants where presidents and stars of the 1940s used to sit, eating what they ate and perhaps drinking their same wine, is unreal. It is a bridge to our past and really sets NYC apart.

No, actually…the best thing about NYC is how ever-changing it is. The fact that walking down the street you spot 3 new restaurants a month. The fact that if you don’t go try it now, it will be out of date in a week. The vibe keeps you on your toes and breathes life and excitement into the city.

No, actually…the combination of the two is the best thing about NYC. The fact that you can eat at old school steakhouses and new-school meat emporiums keeps thing interesting, fun, and most definitely, delicious.

Old School Steakhouse – Keens. This place has been around since the 1800s, and until Lillie Langtry objected, it was gentlemen only. The menu has barely changed since it opened, and from the relish plate brought at the beginning of the meal to the extensive scotch list brought around at the end, you may well feel like you are dinging in another era. Don’t miss the restaurant’s signature mutton chop, a prime rib-like cut of lamb that is pleasantly gamey and unlike anything else in the city.

New School New York Steakhouse TakashiNew School Steakhouse-Takashi. Meat is the name of the game at this Korean-Japanese bbq restaurant. Grill everything by yourself at pristine countertop grills. And everything means everything – pork belly, ribeye, liver, heart, and even tongue. The meat sourced is of the highest possible quality, and if you try a bite raw, you may decide not to cook it at all.

Old School Italian-Parkside3. Italian American restaurants might be degraded by foodies who pride themselves on only eating at seasonally influenced, chef owned restaurants, but, then, they may never have had perfect chicken parmesan. Head to this restaurant in Queens for gargantuan portions of Italian-American food, chianti served with a generous hand, and the ability to hob knob with everyone who is anyone in the Italian community. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait awhile for your reservation time – it’s not first come first served, it’s mama’s friends are the first served. And it is worth it.

New School Italian-Ai Fiori. Michael White’s Franco-Italian menu proves that Italian food doesn’t have to have even a hint to tomato to be powerful and tasty. His butter poached lobster and escargot with bone marrow are just two examples of how he takes the freshest possible ingredients, treats them with classic Italian technique, and turns them into a first-class tasting experience.

The best New York DeliOld School Deli-2nd Avenue Deli. This deli might have moved, but nothing else has changed. Order the instant heart attack for a pastrami sandwich served between not slices of bread but crusty deep fried latkes. Dig into the sour pickled tomatoes before your meal comes to the table, and don’t be offended if your waitress demands that you finish your min course before you get dessert. After all, we are all family here.

New School Deli-Kutshers. Buh-bye colorless brisket and salty stews. Hello gourmet gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. This trendy Tribeca eatery reimagines classic Ashkenazi Jewish dishes into haute fare, beautiful enough and flavorful e3nough to stand up to the finest of the city’s French cuisine. Be sure to try the duck borscht with roasted duck, Swiss chard, fingerlings and sour cream, the Friday night roast chicken with pletzel and maitake and black trumpet mushroom stuffing, and one of the craft cocktails, like the spicy gazpacho Mary.

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