Art Class with a Wine Chaser in Gulf Shores Alabama

Article and photos by Linda Kissam

A sip of artGulf Shores, Alabama, is known as a family friendly place to vacation. It’s also great for singles and girlfriend getaways. I can see why. The pristine beaches, sugar white sand, tropical drinks, and a unique food and music scene make this a happening place for all age levels. On an average vacation day, I’d head out to do some sun bathing, wave jumping, and cocktail ordering with some friends. At night, bar hopping was on the to-do list to investigate the emerging food and music scene. But last week I discovered another va-cay option.

I was checking out the tourist-friendly dockside shops of SanRoc Cay, when I came across the art studio, Life’s A Canvas. It’s an art instruction center …with a twist. So what´s the twist, you ask? How about professional art instruction with a wine chaser?

Art and Wine in AlabamaLife’s A Canvas is an optimistic, creative class for folks who want to learn the basics of acrylic painting in the company of great friends and good wine. In each class an instructor shows you, step-by-step, how to create your own masterpiece that you can actually be proud of, take home at the end of the night, and hang on your wall the next day. Yes, the results are really that good. Don’t worry if you can’t even draw a circle correctly. I am thinking if you know your letters, shapes and colors then you are able to learn how to create a quality piece of art.

Art and wine in AlabamaI am always intimidated by art classes. I am a stick-figure gal myself. I think of art classes as the creative types knocking out beautiful stuff under the watchful eye of a critical instructor. So, I was a little surprised at first by the atmosphere. Begin with the oh-so charismatic owner John Grant Gordon. A professional artist in his own right, he is the personification of a talented entrepreneur who knows how to show his clients a good time. He’s funny, charming, energetic, patient and inspiring. He also knows how to pick the right drinks and music to get the art party going full tilt. If that isn’t enough to get this stick-figure drawing Diva in a chair, I don’t know what is.

Who says art and wine don't mix?The focus is more on the painting, with some wine on the side to help you relax or celebrate a sense of accomplishment. John has created a space where people can relax, sip libations, and laugh as they channel and develop their inner artist and creative instincts through painting. The actual space is large, airy, and well lit with natural light. The studio area is a large room where paintings are hung all over the walls, exhibiting some of the pieces Life’s A Canvas has copyrighted and inspiring newbies like me to buck up and give the process a try. There are plenty of different work areas to settle into and find your groove.

Wine and PaintThe price is certainly right, starting at $35 per class. Come alone or invite your friends. Paint, canvas, and brushes are provided, as is an experienced and enthusiastic local artist who will lead you step by step through the process of recreating a featured art piece. At the end of the evening, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind creation and a newfound talent you’ll want to continue to explore. It can be somewhat addictive. This is not your average art class, this is art entertainment.

 

Truckhenge Quirky Folk Art in Topeka, Kansas

Story and Pics by Linda Kissam

Truckhenge I am a lover of art in open places. Whenever I travel I like to visit art that has made its way off the walls and out of the galleries and into the great outdoors. You can tell a lot about a community from the time, talent and treasure it invests in art. I don’t care if it’s an interpretation of an anchor stuck on a gangway in a marina, a twirly kinetic piece in a city park open for elucidation, or an easily recognizable bronze located in a mall featuring a girl on a bench with flowers; I think art in open spaces is a beautiful idea. The more “regular” people can see, feel and be exposed to art, the more I’ll be leading the cheer and taking pictures.

Crazy Topeka dude burying cars as monumentsOn a recent visit to Topeka Kansas I was challenged in my thinking about what constitutes art. My guide for 2 days was the charming Shalyn Murphy, Visit Topeka’s Communications & Marketing Director. She expertly guided the group of writers I was with through several art stops. Before we came to our last stop, she took a deep breath and said, “This is going to be a different experience for you. You’re either going to love Truckhenge or hate it.” She was absolutely correct. I loved it. Maybe you’ll hate it. Either way it is a must see for anyone visiting the Topeka area.

Truckhenge in Topeka, Kansas is a unique eclectic combination of farm rights , salvage and recycled objects , countryside sanctuary, power tools, personal statement about “the man”, and perhaps folk art . It’s the work of one man, Ron Lessman. Reviewers say it is reminiscent of England’s Stonehenge. I’ve been to both, and am thinking not so much. But it certainly is unique.

Topeka Roadside AttractionsBasically, think of a man who had a lot of dilapidated trucks strewn across his property. Now think about floods possibly floating those trucks off the property in the river going who knows where, pissed off neighbors, concerned officials, and one strong headed owner all coming together in a round of discussions that, putting it mildly, did not go so well. We’re at a standoff somewhere between Ron declaring “I believe in recycling, so I recycle everything,” and public officials ordering Ron to haul the trucks away.

The county said he couldn’t have any loose metal on the property. “They told me to pick my trucks up.” “So…Okay! I picked ’em up,” and at the same time a new form of folk art took shape. Ron upended the vehicles into crazy monuments cemented deeply into the ground. Trust me these suckers aren’t going anywhere for thousands of years. Maybe the fact At least they spelled truck rightthat these trucks then became slogan-bearing billboards made them art. Maybe not. Phrases such as , “Rise Up” is on one truck, and “Freedom Isn’t Lost” is on another. A school bus is buried nose-down in front of a ragged concrete tombstone titled, “Truth.” Art? Dissention? Standoff?

To visit the property you have to call ahead and make an appointment. There’s no charge for the tour except your full attention to a man’s distinctive vision and use of power tools. Expect to walk a bit on a fairly level unpaved dirt road for the best views. Close up and personal is an important part of the experience. Property owner and artist Ron is fervent As if truckhenge weren't enough....about his ever expanding project and delights in showing visitors around his property. His family has been farming this land since the 1870s. Ron is fun to listen too, and talked nonstop as we toured the grounds. He’s amazing with one-line zingers, so don’t drift off while he’s talking. He may seem like he’s rambling on, but this man knows exactly what he wants to say. One either thinks he’s somewhat manic, or one really sharp cookie. As mentioned above, his favorite subject is his ongoing talks and visits with Shawnee County. Personally, the more he blustered, the more I found myself cheering him…and his art form…on. If this were the 60s no one would think twice about his fight with “the man.” It would just be a normal part of the give and take of politics and perhaps grassroots art. It’s probably good to note that his work caught the attention of the Shawnee County Preservation Association, resulting in Truckhenge receiving a Kaw Region Art Park marker in 2006.

Truckhenge is part rally and part junkThe whole place is captivating and ever changing. According to Ron, “Our family has owned these lands for almost 130 years, and each generation has made its mark on the property.” As time goes by, Ron has added more than just trucks. There is now a boat section called Boathenge. Same game, same names, same look. He invited my writers group to grab a paint brush and scrawl our names on the boats jutting out from the ground. If we had had time and I wasn’t wearing $250 shoes, I would have given it some serious thought.

On your way back to your car, you may be invited to tour Ron’s home. It’s another monument of sorts, but this time to what can be accomplished by using all recycled and salvaged materials. It gives the meaning “green living” a whole new perspective. It’s another wacky, wonderful part of the Ron Lessman world.home of truckhenge

It’s huge, power-packed and mesmerizing. The home is a massive 40 by 120 foot structure built in a Quonset house/hut style. The lower level is a garage and studio, the upper level has a big living area and small hot house. The home has over 50 circuit breakers and over 150 electrical outlets. It also has 8000 sq. ft. of heated concrete floor. The main entrance to the living quarters is across a foot bridge with an old spiral, wooden staircase at the far end of the bridge. Don’t miss it. I am pretty sure when the world’s lights go out, Ron’s home will still be standing and shining brightly.

Want to try this experience? Keep in mind that Truckhenge is first and foremost a home and farm to the Lessman family, so be respectful. Make sure you visit his webpage to get a sense of the Truckhenge experience. You can get his number and call him to make an appointment. Most people call for a same day appointment. It’s private property, so don’t just show up and begin walking around. Take a camera, wear flat shoes, relax into the quirkiness, and expect to be part of this art experience for a minimum of one hour – longer if he invites you into his home.

Vagobond Travel Museum – Hiking Videos on Oahu, Hawaii

These are a real flashback to the past. One of the best things about these videos is the ever changing shape of my facial hair. I was in still in college when we made these. Cameras and computers were not nearly as good or easy as they are today.

If you thought that Oahu is ‘the city island’ of Hawaii just because it is home to Honolulu and nearly half of the state’s inhabitants – think again. Oahu is filled with nature, rural life, history, and plenty of surprises.

There were many more hikes, but these were the ones I made videos of. Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson – at least for now.

KokoHead #1

Kaena Point

Manoa Falls

Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Kokohead Rim Trail #2

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail

Waimano Falls

Kealia, Oahu’s North Shore

There are some astounding hikes on Oahu. This one is considered to be mediocre unless you happen across the Wallabies which actually do exist.

Ka’au Crater is a fantastic hike with some dangerous points, plenty of waterfalls, and lots of birds. Count on spending 5 hours minimum.

Waianai Kai is a surprise and you won’t find a lot of other people there despite the stunning beauty all around you as you hike.

Mount Olo’mana near Kailua offers three peaks and plenty of challenges plus a stunning payout in terms of the view. Unfortunately, I was getting a bit too arty and trying to use aspiring musicians for the soundtracks.
[Embed]http://www.youtube.com/embed/puAK32vYJV0[/embed]

Okay, this last one — it’s just weird. Easter at Pu’u Pia, an easy hike in Manoa.

Boston’s Best Attractions Revealed (and all in one place)


Freedom Trail
I know. Vagobond readers love the quirky and offbeat side of travel, but let’s face it, a trip to Boston, Massachusetts would not be complete without a stop at some of the most popular tourist attractions in the area.

Whether you are visiting Boston on vacation or in the area for business, make the most out of your trip by enjoying the famous sights and sounds that the city has to offer.

From art museums and historical sights to baseball fields and delicious spots to eat, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy in Boston. Choose to stay at a great hotel during your trip for a prime location to both tourist attractions and business opportunities. A luxurious landmark hotel provides guests with luxury and comfort right in the heart of the city and will have more than a few interesting secrets of its own.


Boston Symphony Orchestra


The Boston Symphony Orchestra is a must-see for those who enjoy musical performances. Take a seat in this beautiful architecturally designed facility and listen to the sounds of this world-famous symphony. The acoustics in the venue provide guests with an experience unlike any other. Hear music exactly the way that it should be heard whether you’re sitting in the front row or up above on the balcony. The Boston Symphony Orchestra brings something new to the table mixed with classical numbers that you are sure to recognize.

Boston Public Garden


Boston Old State HouseWhen looking for a beautiful place within Boston to relax, there’s no better spot than the Boston Public Garden. This tourist destination is completely free to experience. Walk through the park during the different seasons and see the leaves change from green to yellow and red. Trees line the entirety of the park and ducks swim in the pond. Hop aboard the famous Swam Boats that are located here and take a ride around the pond with a loved one.

Fenway Park


Any Red Sox fan will appreciate a stop at the Fenway Park baseball field. Come to the field during baseball season to enjoy a game against a visiting team or come to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. Make your way into the locker room of the visiting team, walk through the dugout, take a stroll on the field and much more. Fenway Park is also the oldest Major League baseball park in the entire United States. Game tickets should be purchased early, as they can sell out quickly.

North End


Boston famous ship at the wharfThe North End is known as the oldest neighborhood in all of Boston. Known for its Italian background, this neighborhood is popular for its delicious restaurants and many historic landmarks. The streets are lined with cobblestone bricks and the architecture of the buildings around the area is simply stunning. Make a stop at Paul Revere’s former home and take a tour of the property. The Old North Church can also be found at the North End of Boston. Some popular restaurants in the area include Cantina Italian on Hanover Street, Pizzeria Regina, and Lucca.

Freedom Trail


The Freedom Trail is a historic walking trail located in Boston. Learn about the history of Boston, see historic sights, visit cultural attractions and enjoy your time there. Several different companies offer Freedom Trail tours daily. Some stops made on the trail are at Quincy Market, the USS Constitution, and Boston Common.

Dining in Boston


With all of the time that you will spend seeing what Boston has to offer, you’ll need to take a break and enjoy the fine dining experiences that are located here too. Alta Strada is a popular family-friendly Italian restaurant while Bergamot offers unique and creative dishes that appeal to vegetarians. Other great dining spots include Blue Ginger, Radius, and Sweet Cheeks Q.

 

Jobs for Vagabonds – Get Paid to Travel the World

Who says freelancing isn’t for you?

If you want to start looking for another way to travel and work for the man, there are options available for you. And many of them involve working for a man (or woman) that might just be very cool and good to you.

Jobs for Travelers
Maybe you want to travel the world burning things?

With so many people out of work, looking for work, or between jobs there are plenty of folks right now that have the greatest opportunity they will ever have to really live their lives and do something.

Maybe now is the right time to spend a few months or even years living and working overseas. In fact, living and working in another country is the best way to really learn about different cultures. You end up working with and living among people instead of just seeing them from a tour bus.

Flowers on World Travel
The beauty of Travel is Visible Everywhere

Most of these jobs won’t make you wealthy, they won’t pay enough to pay back your student loans, but they just might make your life feel fulfilling, make your soul sing, and give you a bigger and better world view.

It’s not easy to find work overseas, but you can do it and now might be the best time you will ever have to see what it’s really like to live in a foreign culture. World travel is calling…will you answer the phone?

Do you have any idea how many people half a billion are? That’s 500 million and that is the number of Chinese who are studying English right now. Most of them don’t have native speaking teachers but they want them. The same goes for Indonesia, Spain, Morocco, Germany, and just about every other non-English speaking country in the world.

What do you need? Usually you need at least a bachelors degree. For many companies that is enough and they will pay for your housing, visa, and even your flight to and from their countries. To get an idea of the jobs available have a look at ESLcafe.com. I’ve been doing this in Morocco for nearly a year and you can do it too. In fact, I just might do it again somewhere else in the near future. Teaching is a total joy.Find out more by clicking on the i to i icon below.

Those wanting to find service jobs can. If you want to go about things the legal way with a work permit and visa you should look into companies such as BUNAC (British Universities North America Club) and CIEE (just google them) which will assist for you for around $300 to work in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Canada or Ireland. You can work in restaurants, pick fruit, or do just about anything your heart desires.

Of course if you want to do it the good old fashioned way, just get a one way ticket and take a kick ass resume with you. It’s not hard to find employers that will hire you illegally. Of course you probably can’t expect a great salary this way either.

Asian Waterfalls
You can travel to places like this and get paid for it.

And then there are the guiding jobs, cruise ship jobs, sales jobs, and airline jobs which don’t usually pay as well as sedentary jobs in your home country, but pay off with the chance to spend significant amounts of time in foreign climes.

So, if you want a job or you want to leave your country, don’t wait. Start looking now.

Yodeling Vagabonds in Idaho Hot Springs

By Brian Leibold

In the course of our bike trip together, my cousin and I disagreed about some things. For one, Richard despised Vienna sausages with a passion, while I ate them cold out of the can like a voracious vagabond wolf. Something else we disagreed on was hitchhiking. Richard saw it as an absolute last resort, whereas I saw it as something of a psychology experiment (Hypothesis: to see what types of people would pick up. Conclusion: the most awesome people) that should be conducted on many an occasion. But one thing we agreed wholeheartedly on was the incredible and heretofore undisclosed beauty of Idaho.

Of all the states I biked through from Montana to Arizona, Idaho was my favorite.
Boise National ForestThe story of why we entered Idaho in the first place is short but memorable. While we were at Grand Teton National Park, we exchanged travel itineraries with a woman who said her name was Lois. We asked her if this was really her name, and she said it was. We told her we were heading into Jackson, Wyoming and then due south into Salt Lake City. Lois asked Richard while I was away from the campsite,

“Why aren’t you biking through Idaho? There are hot springs there…”
And she explained how these hot springs were heaven on Idahoan earth, off the beaten path, and only heard of through word of mouth, an Eden-like paradise where 20ish tanned backpackers create a utopian society and stealthily steal pot from an endless marijuana field guarded by Thai farmers with AK-47’s but which quickly dissipates into confusion and dissolution.
But not really. That is actually the plot of The Beach by Alex Garland, a very good book and a much less good movie.
And when I got back, Richard said
“New plan, Brian! We’re going to Idaho!”
Idaho VagabondAnd I was all for it. Never mind that Richard was biking southeast home to Virginia, or that my destination was due south and Idaho was due west. I was on the road, living spontaneously and on the spur-of-the-moment, such as those on the road do. So, sure, I’ve never been to Idaho and let’s go!
And so into Idaho we did go, two vagabond desperadoes heading west into the setting sun on a detour for golden springs which would prove to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Words of Wisdom #1: In bike journeys as in life, some detours become the tour.

Stanley Lake, IdahoIdaho considered us brash and made her feelings known to us by deciding that before we could enter into the kingdom of her heavenly hot springs, we must climb Teton Pass, a six mile monster at a 10% grade. So we climbed Teton. This is all I will say. I will not say that we cried like Mormon babies who have not yet proselytized, or that we fell on our knees and begged for mercy from Lord Idaho herself, or that we beat on the ground and wailed and howled in pitiful tones that would ostracize us from any self-respecting society. I will say only that we climbed it.
But Idaho had tricked us. After the pass, there were still another 300 miles and three more passes to go until the hot springs. All the better, though, for Idaho had many surprises in store. Allow me, if you will, to entertain with some fun facts about the places we stayed in Idaho:
1)Idaho Falls, where we worked on a potato farm in exchange for delightful meals and warm beds and insightful conversation with Bruce Hansen and his family.
2)Arco, the first town to be lit by nuclear power.
Idaho Bike Trip3)Craters of the Moon National Monument, a unique landscape shaped by volcanic activity which stands in stark and wonderful contrast to the surrounding foothills of Southern Idaho.
4)Ketchum, where we had lunch at Johnny G’s Sub Shack, met the generous and aptly named owner, and set up our tent in his backyard.
5)And Stanley Lake, where I stared with wonder for many moments at the most glorious sunrise I have ever seen.
All of these places we stayed and the people we met merit far more than a sentence, and I have written more about them on my own blog which you will find in my bio below.
And so in the morning we woke up at Stanley Lake and we burned down the road, ecstatic at the prospect of steaming springs ahead.
Idaho heavenMost of the day consisted simply of exhilarating downhill, as if the road was facilitating our date with the hot springs and was now moving us as swiftly as possible towards our goal. The wind disagreed though and she did her best to keep our speed manageable, but for once she failed and so we flew downwards with uncontrollable speed surrounded by firs and ponderosa pines and spruces, which towered on the tops of mountains on either side of the Ponderosa Scenic Byway. We hurtled onwards with hastening speed, powerless against the pulling magnetism of the promised hot springs, and yodeled excitedly at the thrill of downhill travel.
We biked into Kirkham Hot Springs.
The rest of the day we dawdled and waddled; we sprawled and crawled with perpetual grins in the fountains of warmth as if they were fountains of youth, which magically healed all ailments of the road, leaving in its place an uncontrollable child-like carefree wonder. The springs engulfed all our tiredness from weeks on the bike; she swallowed whole all our doubts in our ability to keep riding; she absorbed all that ailed us in her submerging warmth and idly washed them all away in the restless Payette River that rushed below. While I lay in her warm waters, she soothed my roving spirit that always in unabashedly crazy hyper-manic phases races and rages ever onwards and allowed me to rest, if only for a short time.
She was very kind.
Idaho scenery bike tripBut by the second night we were restless again, and we went to bed ready to hit the road and ride along the river, which was hurrying westward to the sea.
And that night as we were encircled on all sides by thousands of acres of towering trees swaying and flowing tranquilly in the slight winds of the chilly October night, the forest winked to us mischievously, glad to share its secret wooded home in the Idahoan wilderness with heavenly hot springs below and heavenly hot exploding stars above with two vagabonds whose rested bodies were matched only by our roving souls raring to ride on.
And so in the morning, saluting the hot springs that had propelled us into Idaho, we curved and winded down the byway, zooming onwards towards Boise, the next town on our journey. And though Richard and I may not have agreed on everything during the trip, we were in total agreement on the fact that Idaho was an indisputably beautiful and vastly underappreciated state.

And though it had been over 300 miles and we had climbed over 4 mountain passes, another thing was certain: the hot springs had been worth it.
Words of Wisdom #2 (which also became the first Rule of the Road): Hot Springs Are Always Worth It.

7 Reasons Why the Oregon Dunes Totally Kick Butt for ATV’s

cc Image courtesy of NZhamster on Flickr

Oregon is one of the most popular destinations for ATV riders in all of North America, and the Oregon Dunes is the primary reason for this popularity. In the following list, we present the seven top reasons why all ATV riders must visit the Oregon Dunes at least once in their lives.

1. Terrain Diversity

The name Oregon Dunes might give you the impression of sandy hills, but there’s a lot more to the Dunes than that. Expansive forests border the sprawling beach, and there are several routes that weave in and out of the water and forest.

2. Height

The Oregon Dunes reach up to 500 feet above sea level, and you can actually ride at this height, which gives you an amazing view of the surrounding area. For the adventurous, riding up and down dunes of this height provide stretches of incredible exhilaration and steep hills that will challenge your skills.

3. 40 Miles

The Dunes stretch for 40 miles, and there is flat terrain available from one end to the other. There is also plenty of open space, so there’s not a great deal of concern over obstructions and other riders. This stretch provides an amazing opportunity to ride your ATV and really open it up.

cc Image courtesy of Pedestrian Saint on Flickr4. Scenery

Not every rider wants challenging rides and breakneck speeds. For those who want to take in nature, the Dunes offer splendid scenery, diverse wildlife, vegetation and the majestic Pacific Ocean.

5. The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Dunes stretches along the Oregon Coast, which is a breathtaking area that boasts numerous activities you can do along your ride. On the sea, you can participate in tours, whale watching, fishing and surfing. On land, you can camp, hike and visit the many museums and landmarks.

6. Accessibility and Affordability

All along the coast are communities where ATVing is a way of life. ATV rentals are affordable and accessible, and plenty of accommodations and other activities are available that cater to the ATV rider. You can even purchase Oregon travel packages built around ATVing at the Dunes.

7. Community

Oregon has a thriving ATV community that includes locals as well as riders from all over North America. Each trip is an opportunity to meet fellow ATV riders and perhaps even build lifelong relationships.

Before Your Ride

Oregon does require riders to pass an Oregon ATV Course and acquire a license before riding on public land designated for ATV traffic. A compatible license from another state or province is a suitable alternative. There is no similar requirement for private land.

Art Not To Miss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

I originally published this 11 years ago back in January 2009 upon the eve of what I thought was my final departure from the United States. I’m still looking for my shire. It’s not Morocco and it’s not Oahu and probably not the USA – Turkey was wonderful, until suddenly political and religious bullshit ruined it. Who knows where it might be but I wonder if I will ever find it?

 

The Journey’s Reason/ The Quest
Let’s start with the obvious, I leave the United States this afternoon. I have no idea what the future holds. I’m not even sure if I will ever be back here. That’s part of the reason why it’s nice to have been able to visit Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Chicago, Boston, Providence, Warwick, New York City and Queens before I leave. In addition, I was able to look at just about everything in between from the windows of the train. It’s an incredibly beautiful country filed with a lot of wonderful people.

New York is a magical place, but unless I somehow become wealthy enough to have a car service, hire taxis every day, and have a beautiful apartment here, it’s just too cold in the winter for me to ever consider calling it home.

Ultimately, that’s what this trip is about. It’s about finding a place to call home so I can dig in, plant some roots, and put my energy into creation. What about Hawaii? Well, Hawaii is great but I like it to be a little cooler than Hawaii (but not as cold as the Northeast), Hawaii is too far from other places, and unfortunately, I saw myself staying in one service job after another if I stayed there. Or becoming an academic and frankly neither option appeals to me.

So that is why I am leaving. It’s a journey, a searching, a quest and I suppose unlike the Lord of the Rings, this quest starts from a magical land and ideally takes me to the Shire. I’m looking for a Shire, not too hot, not too cold, not too far from the world, and connected via the internet.

On Aging

As my friend James pointed out the other day, we are getting older and it is becoming obvious. Of course sometimes it manifests in ways that I don’t expect and I have to admit to not enjoying that at all.

On the upside, I am more in control of my life than I have ever been before. My capacity to make decisions is unsurpassed in my own life experience. I have learned the lessons of this life I’ve lived (hopefully) and I feel like I am cooler, smarter, better looking, and more together than I have ever been. That’s a pretty good upside.

The downside is more subtle. I’ve been having a hard time finding couches to surf since the West Coast. I attributed it to my lack of planning more than anything else, but there is another possibility that I have to consider. I’m 37. It says so on my couch surfing profile. Even though I meet people and they generally think I am in my late 20s to early 30s, I usually find that their behavior towards me changes (if they are younger) when they find out my age. It happened over and over again in college.

The book of the dead and those reflected in it.

The reason for this change and perhaps for this prejudice against people my age on things like couchsurfing.com is probably justified. Let me repeat that, I think it is probably justified. The truth is that for every guy like me (adaptable, smart, fun, and ‘ahem’ fairly normal) who is vagobonding, there are probably 10 weirdos of the same age that are out to exploit, steal, or who are just crazy. Let’s face it, at 37 I’m supposed to be married, in a career, a father, have some money in the bank, and be living a ‘responsible’ life. Either that or there is potentially something wrong with me…or (as in the present case) I am just a very different type of person who hasn’t followed the usual path.

Frankly, I feel like I think I was supposed to feel in my mid to late twenties. And I’m okay with that, actually, I’m really okay with that because I plan on living for a really long time so there is no need to become old prematurely. The problem is that for the past six nights I think I have been put in an ‘old men’s dorm’ at the Chelsea International Hostel. Nearly everyone in my dorm has been the same age or older than me and aside from ungodly snoring, farting, and other loud bodily noises, I’ve noticed that there has usually been something not quite right with these guys. So you see, maybe I’m guilty of the same prejudice. Here’s a funny thought, maybe all the old guys in the room (including yours truly) all are thinking the same thing.

In any event, I’ve become fairly certain that my age is working against me on couchsurfing and now in this hostel at least. Incidentally, aside from price and location, I wouldn’t recommend this hostel. It’s loud from repairs and old pipes, it doesn’t have a comfortable common area, no chairs in the dorms, and it doesn’t provide wi-fi. I think wi-fi and a comfortable place to sit are high on my list of desired traits in hostels.

And that brings me to cafes.
In the age of the laptop, a cafe without wi-fi is like a cafe without coffee. I’ve been staying in Chelsea and for such a hip and cool neighborhood, I have been surprised to find the only coffee shops with comfortable seating to be Starbucks. How much does that suck? At least in Honolulu we had the option of Starbucks or a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and at CB &TL there was free wi-fi if you bought anything. Here, the Starbucks are packed and the wi-fi is a big rip off from AT&T.

I found a handful of places offering wi-fi and out of those the only one that actually worked was here at the Brooklyn Bagel Company. And I have to wonder if the brushed metal seats and marble counters and tables are designed with making asses and elbows cold. I do like this place though. Great bagels with huge gobs of cream cheese, free wi-fi that works, and some interesting art on the walls.

ART
I spent yesterday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was astounding and wonderful and overwhelming. It is filled with millions of objects d’art from all over the world. There are entire Egyptian Temples, dozens of mummies, giant rooms filled Picasso, entire rooms from famous mansions and when I say entire rooms, I mean the floor, the ceiling, the wainscoting, and everything else. There is a library parlor designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and everything else you can imagine.

The problem with all of that is that I was trying to see it all in a day. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather spend long periods contemplating one exquisite piece of art than to be running around manically trying to appreciate so much in so little time. Not that I would change having gone yesterday, I just realize that I missed a lot by seeing so much.

And finally,
Let’s look at the United States.

As I’ve said, I love the land and I love the people, but I think that we, as a country have lost something within my lifetime. I don’t know if it was born of the cynicism of Vietnam or the excesses of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there is a sort of ugly greed that exists here. The culture here has become very much “The United States of Me” rather than “We the people”. The difference is of course in who is being served and who is taking responsibility.

I decided to do a different perspective of Venus. I don’t think she noticed. Nice, huh?

It’s not a big surprise at this point that we are heading into a fantastic depression. It might be a good time to start reflecting on those famous words of JFK “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I’ve lost faith that Americans are capable of such selflessness and perhaps I am simply one of the first rats fleeing a ship that I think is sinking.

Obama might be a fantastic change in the right direction though. I hope. We will see. The United States has become such an incredible slut to Israel, multinational corporations, and institutions such as the world bank, the WTO, and the IMF; unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships changing under Obama. I hope I’m wrong.

And then there is the racism. I’m terrified of the possibility that some nutjob racist will kill Obama. Or some foreign government pretending to be a nutjob racist. My mom, a bit of a nutjob herselftold me to focus on survival skills when I should have been focusing on math because she said that someday there would be a huge race war. She wasn’t a white nationalist, she was a freaky christian hippy, with some odd ideas and some leftover 1950’s prejudice. Frankly, I never considered her crazy ideas to have any merit even through Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and the LA Riots, but when I think of Obama getting shot by some redneck, suddenly I can picture LA happening on a nationwide scale…

Okay, not really. I think we are more rational and better than that, but it could certainly cause some problems. And what happens when Hope gets killed? It’s like the Langston Hughes Poem “A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it sag on your back like a heavy load?
Or does it…Explode?

Anyway, I’m leaving. I might be back. I hope Obama can fix everything while I’m gone. Good night and good luck.

Originally posted 1/17/09

Exploring Chicago When It’s COLD!!!

In 2008, I took Amtrak across the USA. It put me in Chicago in December. Not the best time to experience the neighborhoods and things that make Chicago a great American city.
The last bit of time in Chicago was okay. The Sears Tower had zero visibility and I was sort of museum weary after The Institute of Art so I just walked through the streets of downtown taking pictures.

Chicago is cool on it’s own, but the downtown area feels a lot like New York, without being New York. My new friends Chad and Emjoy told me that you can’t really appreciate Chicago unless you get into the neighborhoods and my buddy Erik has told me about some incredible experiences to be had in Chicago but honestly, it was my fault for not scheduling enough time in this great MidWest City and coming in the winter. Of course, one thing to keep in mind – it was COLD. Too cold to enjoy.  I have to reserve judgment on this city in terms of having a great time until I can come and spend more time during a nicer time of the year. Still – Chicago has its wonders.

The Federal Reserve Building in Chicago with a nice reflection of some public art called “Flamingo”

I know this though. The architecture is astounding in the city that gave birth to the skyscraper. The Chicago Institute of Art was mind blowing and I’m told that all the rest of the museums  are too. I believe it.  I found Chicago to be too cold and too fast for my tastes. I know, it was January, but the people seemed cold too. Not nearly as friendly as New Yorkers but maybe I just didn’t understand them.

I spoke with a cab driver who had been driving in Chicago for forty years and he told me that he had never seen business as slow as it currently is. He said that even on New Years, he wasn’t as hectic as he should have been. So, from the ground level, the recession is still being felt. He told me that buses and trains are fuller than ever and his usual customers are saving money on a cab and using public transport instead.

I hunkered down in a Cosi Coffee House and caught up on uploading video and pictures, updating existensis, and answering emails for a few hours while it snowed outside. I looked for something to do online and since I am definitely a movie lover, I decided to go to the Gene Siskel Film Center and catch a movie at 6 before catching my train to Boston at 10.

At that point, I got a call from Erin, the couch surf host I was supposed to have surfed with and I asked her if she wanted to join me for the film. She said yes, so we met up at the theater got some popcorn and a couple of beers and watched a very interesting animated fairy tale called Azur and Asmar.

I admit to being a big fan of fairy tales and since about 1/3 of this one was in Arabic, I enjoyed it all the more. The animation was of the sort that I am not a huge fan of, the sort of computer generated graphics that I really am sort of annoyed by. My Arabic is so rusty that I caught less than 1/3 of what was there, none the less, I did catch some of it. That felt pretty good. I think it will come back pretty quickly. The animation of the set was absolutely astounding. So many geometric patterns and middle eastern motifs. In any event, it was definitely enjoyable even though there was a slight feel of  great white hope to it.

After the movie, Erin walked me to Union Station and we searched for a whole foods I thought was in the area without any luck, so I bought three sandwiches for the 24 hour train trip from Potbelly’s. They were damn good sandwiches.

This was by far the worst train I have taken on this trip so far. The seats were not as comfy as the other train seats, the dining car was filled with drunks, one of whom had to be escorted off the train by police because he became so incredibly drunk that he began cussing at the train attendant and heaping verbal abuse on her. The police came on the train at the next stop and he left with them. In the car I was in there was a Jethro type from Missouri who looked more than a little inbred. He sang loudly to himself and stood at the window saying  “Oh my gawd, there ain’t no traffic like this in Missouri. Eight lanes” and other bumpkin phrases. He asked to borrow several people’s cell phones so he could ‘call his ma’ and tried to make friends with me, but I didn’t care to be his friend. You know how sometimes you just know that someone is awful.

I found a seat I liked and a Russian guy sat behind me and began talking loudly on his cell phone. I moved. Not a friendly bunch.

The highlight of the trip was watching a movie my friend Ark had given me called Survive Style 5+. Great film with one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. It also gave me a chance to ignore the freakshow around me.

I was exhausted after not enough sleep the night before and walking around freezing Chicago all day, admittedly not in the best mood of my trip. The grey sky, grey buildings, and leafless brown scenery didn’t improve things. The trip to Boston from Chicago was drab and ugly and my mood was the same. When we finally arrived in Boston, I was relieved to see evergreens, warm brick buildings, colorful houses, and people that actually took the time to smile.

These were the highlights for me from the Chicago Art Institute…can you name them? Can you name the artist?














I also I really thought this Native American sculpture of a story teller was spectacular

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

New York Foodie – The Best Places for Food Shopping in New York City

by Sarah Spigelman exclusive for Vagobond

Murray's Chees Shop

New York isn’t just the best place to eat; it’s one of the best places to shop for food. No need to subscribe to pricey specialty food email lists to obtain the latest in hard-to–source foods.

Stop stockpiling foreign candy that gets you in trouble with customs every time you try to come back from London. And please…let’s say goodbye to big box supermarkets that sell tomatoes that look gorgeous and taste like candle wax.

Here are just a few of Manhattan’s very best food stores, sure to give you everything you need to feast at home.

KalustyanKalustyan’s – this Indian food emporium offers literally anything you will need to make a meal from the subcontinent. There is a wall full of spices so potent that your eyes may tear – but at the same time, your mouth will water. Need paneer, chickpea flour, or kaffir lime? They have it. Or maybe you want a huge bag of Brazil nuts, strained yogurt from Greece, or foreign candy bars. Don’t sweat; they have that here, too. If all else fails, you at least owe it you yourself to try some food at the tiny upstairs café. It might not be fancy, but it is the best Indian food that you can get outside of your Bengali mom’s house.

Eataly—Mario Batali strikes gold again with this humongous Italian emporium. This place isn’t just a supermarket; it is a full-on destination. Along with the piles of exotic mushrooms, Italian dried pastas, and imported fruit like Sicilian blood oranges, you can have cooking lessons or wine classes. There is a European style food hall, with many small restaurants focusing on just one thing – fish, vegetables, pizza, or pasta. Also, stand at counters and try meats, cheese, or wines. Finally, for the ultimate experience, head to Manzo, an acclaimed beef focused restaurant right in the heart of the bustling store.

Zabar’s-come on to the UWS for a little nosh. This is the place where you come for Sunday brunch – for soft, chewy bagels, whipped cream cheese,Zabar's and the gest assortment of smoked fish in the city. Smoked salmon, kippered salmon, smoked trout, whitefish salad, and everything else you can imagine to make a fantastic spread. Also load up on gourmet olives, luscious cheeses, homemade hummus, and artisanal crackers and breads. Don’t underestimate the stuff you can get at Zabar’s –they roast their own chickens; have an extensive prepared food section, and a coffee section that carries the aroma of the best Starbucks in the world.

Esposito's Meats by afagenEsposito’s – this old school butcher shop is what NYC used to be like, before the infusion of big chain grocery stores. Esposito’s is a tiny store in Hell’s Kitchen where anything and everything meat can be yours. Shins, marrow bones, veal breast, and whole baby goat – literally, anything that you want is either in stock or will be ordered for you. The fellas behind the counter couldn’t be more accommodating or helpful –they will tell you how to cook that chicken breast so it is tender and flavorful. Pick up some homemade mozzarella and local Italian bread while you are there and make sandwich fit for a king.

Hmart 1 by @JyonnnnHMart—goodbye, USA, hello Korea. This store, where the windows are papered and the location is in the middle of a harried street, houses an entirely different world. A world of 50 lb. bags of rice and dried squid sold like potato chips. A world of thinly sliced sashimi and an entire freezer case filled with dumplings and potstickers. A world of peach flavored gummies, coffee flavored milk, and instant noodles that are way beyond the stuff you had in college. It’s also a world of prepared bibimbap, kimpab, and anything that you might need to take a gustatory trip to Korea.

Luxury Vacation Condo & Private Chef in Gulf Shores, Alabama

Story by Linda Kissam by Vagobond

Gulf Shores AlabamaWho said the experience of a lifetime has to happen in some far off place? Holidaying at a luxury vacation home rental in the USA can be as memorable as anything in Italy, St. Croix, or any other exotic locale. The United States itself is so diverse that it borrows elements from all of the world’s best destinations. What is your idea of the perfect vacation? Is it a whirlwind of activities or a kick-back stay and play? If it’s the later and includes a luxury condo, sugar white beaches, crystal clear waters and a private chef, I have the vacation of a lifetime for you. It was a unique experience for me, and one that I highly recommend for you.

What would you give to stay on the beach and out of the kitchen, unpack once, throw your purse and smart phone on a chair and head out to the water? Ahhh, I sense I have your attention. Think the Dunes Subdivision just 19.5 miles west of Gulf Shores, Alabama on Fort Morgan Parkway. Along with your luxe rental, hire an experienced local, private chef from near-by Orange Beach to prepare gourmet meals customized to your taste buds. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean breezes. No shopping, no meal prep, no cleaning up. Serious luxury living.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefGulf Shores has a distinct food culture that you’ll not find anywhere else in the world and a private chef is guaranteed to bring the best of the Gulf shore directly to your vacation tabletop. A private chef is a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of the area’s cuisine without ever leaving the comforts of your villa. Who would I recommend? Chef Chris Sherrill – celebrated chef and owner of EAT! Restaurant and Staycations Catering in Orange Beach.

First things, first. When the sugar white sand beaches and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico start calling your name, Kaiser Realty, Inc. is a good place to start your Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Vacation rentals search. Located in charming Gulf Shores, Kaiser Realty, Inc. welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy a fantastic vacation experience along the Alabama Gulf Coast in one of the areas most luxe rental homes or beach condominiums. With properties sprinkled along the 32 miles of pristine white sand beaches accommodating singles, couples and large groups, you are going to easily find your perfect vacation rental. Kaiser Realty, Inc.’s ability to accommodate groups of any size makes creating a successful beach vacation in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach a breeze. Specializing in romantic getaways, family vacations and large group accommodations, their expert staff will pair you with the best property for you and your idea of the perfect vacation.

Gulf Shores Alabama My condo experience was the “CARPE DIEM:: GULF FRONT” featuring 6 bedrooms and 7 baths. It is a direct Gulf-front property. Off the beaten path between the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, the Fort Morgan Peninsula offers privacy, but easy access to area attractions. All homes within this subdivision have access to a swimming pool, located approximately 1 block north. Carpe Diem is conveniently located to 2 of this area’s finest golf courses. This home features lots of extras including a wet bar, 61″ TV with a home theater system, DVD player. Trust me; this is anybody’s dream vacation home. Here’s some (subject to change) pricing for you. Seven nights in peak summer $7,697.28 (there is a week minimum required in summer and peak season); 7 nights in winter $3,127.26; 4 nights in winter $2,172.46 (there is only a 4 night minimum required in “off” seasons). Adding a private chef to make the meals was a separate cost, but such an excellent decision.

Gulf Shores Alabama Private ChefOnce you find your perfect accommodations, call up Chef Sherrill to let him know what you want. Chef graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, S.C. in 1998 and has been a successful chef and entrepreneur for over 10 years. Chef was selected to be part of eight Gulf-area chefs to participate in the “Spirit of the Gulf, “a series of food and music events specifically designed for the US Olympic team and their families during the 2012 Olympic games.

What does Chef Sherrill do for his vacation condo clients? “We cook condo meals on site. The menu is handpicked by the client and my suggestions per seasonal and fresh product (produce and seafood). We take extra care to make sure food allergies and cultures are taken into consideration.” I asked Chef what Gulf Shores Alabama Private Chefthe benefits of having a personal chef prepare meals at a client’s vacation home. “Benefits? No wait versus standing in line during the summer. Many restaurants are on a 2 hour wait. Drink and eat in the comfort of your condo. Children can be served a separate meal early and the adults can eat at a later time. BEACHFRONT DINING!!!!!” I agree!

 

Resources:

Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Visitor Info – http://www.gulfshores.com/

New York Foodie – Emergency Dinner Spots in NYC

by Sarah Spiegelman  for Vagobond

Katz's Deli NYC Food emergencies happen! You just have to deal with it. Here are a few emergency dinner situations and how to make the most of them in New York City.

– Maybe you are meeting your parents they refuse to go far from their hotel.

– Maybe you are dining with friends who are just too cheap to pony up for a pizza that costs more than $10.

But, whatever the case, you can almost ALWAYS dine at somewhere a little better than what would have been if you are the one to suggest a place, and it is somewhat within the parameters that you or someone else has set.

There are just too many places in NYC to allow even one meal to be less than delicious. Follow this guide to ensure that the only time you eat a less-than-good meal in NYC is when you are in the airport.

Spice Market NYCLast Minute Party Reservations—so you couldn’t get into Buddakkan for your girlfriend’s last minute I’m-turning-35-and-freaking-out huge birthday bash? All you need is to keep an open mind and check out Open Table.

Go with a hip spot like Spice Market, The Stanton Social, or Tao – all places that specialize in small plates with strong Asian flavors. The only difference is that they are a little less popular with the Sex and the City crowd of tourists. These should be easier to get into and still give your friend a wonderful party. Don’t forget to ask for a prix fixe so everyone knows how much they are paying going in.

Dinner with Parents-

If your parents are visiting from Ohio, chances are that they are either so enamored with the bright lights of the city that they won’t want to leave their Times Square hotel area or that they are so disgusted with NYC that they won’t want to leave their hotel room.

Either way, you owe it to them to show them that NYC is more than just the Naked Cowboy and buying fake handbags. For a really NYC experience, pony up for the cab and take them down to Katz’s on the lower east side. IF they have never had real NYC Jewish Deli, they haven’t experienced NYC at all. Get a pastrami sandwich, a potato knish, and an ice cold Dr. Brown’s cream soda.

Tocqueville NYCIf they want a more relaxed dining experience, take them to the John’s in midtown. Spoiler alert – it really IS as good as the John’s downtown, takes reservations, and is far easier to get into. Get a cheese pizza and treat them to a real taste of NYC.

Dinner with Snooty Boss –

If your boss asks you to have dinner with him that night, but YOU had better make the reservation, and for 9 pm nonetheless, don’t even try to get into Jean-Georges of Babbo. Isn’t gonna happen.

Instead, head straight to Tocqueville. This gorgeous Union-Square area eatery offers high end green-market driven fare in an elegant setting. Come wearing a suit, don’t miss the scallops and foie gras, and be sure to ask for a kitchen tour when you are done dining.

Last Minute Brunch on Upper West Side-Gazala's Place NYC Druze Food

Friends pop in last minute? Don’t run out and get a stale bagel, and do NOT head to Sarabeth’s. Rather, go retro with brunch at Big Daddy’s. This 50’s style diner specializes in big portions of home-style favorites like omelettes, pancakes, and from-scratch tater- tots. There are quite a few kids there, but if that bothers you, just have another bloody Mary – they are delicious and strong!

Dinner with Skinflint Friends –

Cheap friends doesn’t have to mean a cheap experience. Head to Hell’s Kitchen and go to Gazala Place, the best Druze food this side of the dead sea. Load up on tabbouleh, falafel, and homemade bourekas in this tiny cash only spot where the food is way too good to be this cheap. You will struggle to spend $15 and will leave totally stuffed. Bonus – the spot is BYOB.

Got another favorite NYCX Emergency Dinner Spot? Let us know on our  Facebook page!

 

The Bellingham, WA Renaissance A 7-day Foodie Tour

Story by Linda Kissam
Bellingham, WAThere was a time when Bellingham area was booming, then a time when prosperity was only a faint memory. But a quick trip to Bellingham just a few short weeks ago tells me, its back bigger and better than ever. Whoever is responsible for the thoughtful mix of college town and foodie mecca should get an award. There’s enough to see and do for even the most demanding of food and wine diva’s – me included.

Some interesting facts about Bellingham set the scene. It’s about 2.5 hours by car from Seattle. It is Bellingham, WAhome to Western Washington University, so it has an authentic college town feel to it. It is a highly celebrated outdoor recreation haven. It’s also America’s raspberry capital. It is home to the largest Manila clam producer in the US. The Bellingham Mt. Baker region is #1 in the nation in milk production per cow. And…my favorite “brag” about Bellingham…Gading.com named Bellingham as one its “…top 25 greatest cities for sipping on vino thanks to its wine bars, boutique wineries, subdued vibe and stunning scenery. Ya gotta know I‘ll sip to that!

A true foodie tour is a mix of trying the ultra-fabulous and local’s favorites. Foodies love food for the experience, preparation, and promotion of it all. We want to learn everything about food and wine; both the best and the everyday, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. My 7-day trip to Bellingham was that and more.

A quick puddle jumper from Seattle (about 40 minutes) brings you into Bellingham Airport. Love this airport. It’s clean, simple and has rental cars. The first thing you’ll notice after getting your rental car – opt for the GPS – is that everything you’ll want to see and do is no more than 15-30 minutes from each other. Man, I love “The Ham,” as locals call it.

Fairhaven, WACheck into your hotel. I tried three while I was there. Each was perfect in its own way. First two nights I stayed at the Chrysalis Inn in Bellingham. Can you say, “Light, airy, elegant and a glorious spa?” The views were to die for and it was just a short breezy walk to the quaint town of Fairhaven. Bags dropped off, I was on my way to a sunset BBQ at Taylor Fish Farm. This is a working shellfish farm and a local’s favorite for its picturesque rugged Northwest location and fish market. Bring your own picnic supplies. Purchase oysters, clams and geoduck and do a scenic shore-side BBQ. It’s memorable to say the least.

Perhaps the highlight of my foodie-thon was a foraging event. Working with local wilderness guide celeb Jennifer Hahn my group went foraging for food in the morning in a near-by forest. That collection of herbs, flowers, and berries was sent over to Ciao Thyme on Unity St. in Bellingham. That evening we were treated to a dinner featuring the fruits of our labor. I cannot begin to describe the “wholeness’ of this experience. A delicious multi-course dinner made by owner Jessica and Mataio Gillis served at elegant community tables with classic Washington wines brings the term farm to table to life. This is a must do.

Switching hotels, I find myself at the Fairhaven Village inn. Large, well appointed, comfortable rooms, easy access to downtown and a friendly staffBelllingham, WA make this a great place to stay. For breakfast, walk about 50 feet to Magdalena’s Creperie. Owner Magdalena came to Bellingham from Poland. Her menu is certainly inspired by her Polish roots, but expect a definite French influence as well. Any dish you order is lovingly prepared, delicious beyond expectation, and generous in portion. I don’t think you’ll have a favorite because everything you order will be your favorite. The espresso drinks are also killer. This is a must stop for anyone on a quest to taste excellent local-run restaurants.

A quick tour around town with the Goodtime Girls Walking tour will give you some background on this once wild and wooly town. Or if you wish, try their Sin & Gin Tour. Both tours run about $20 bucks and end up with a free drink at a local bar. Its good fun and fun times with the ladies. Highly recommended.

For the more artistic types head off to the Whatcom Museum and Mount Baker Theater for some lessons in art and architecture. Both are breathtaking, unique and a joy to visit. Call ahead for a private tour. Both sites have a lot to offer from LEED awards to Moorish style architecture which come to life through a docent tour. Have lunch at the Cheese Meat(s) Beer café located in the Museum. I think you’ll enjoy this fresh take on comfort food. Expect the unexpected through the many influences and inspirations of owners Travis Surmi and Annalou Vincent.

BellinghamFor dinner, The Table in downtown Bellingham might just have your number. It certainly had mine. This is an edgy, trendy, energetic restaurant. The food is served family style with a view to using locally produced products whenever possible. Known for its healthy gourmet food attitude, expect really good food served in an upbeat but noisy atmosphere. Our dinner included freshly made Beet Caprese, Fattoush Salad, Sockeye Salmon Primavera, Moroccan Chicken Linguine, and Pink Vodka Penne. Yum!

Take a breather as we did and stroll over a few blocks to Chocolate Necessities. Owner Kevin Buck treated us to a guided chocolate tasting helping us to better understand the differences in quality of chocolates and cocoa content. Best to call ahead to see when the chocolate and wine pairings are happening. You’ll thank me later.

Switching hotels again, this time to Hotel Bellwether located in Bellingham, WA. This 65-room upscale view property is lovely and is again centrally located. One of Bellingham’s most popular seafood restaurants, Anthony’s, is located just a quick stroll away. A waterfront view of Bellingham Bay, delicious creative cocktails (try the cucumber cooler), and some of the best seafood in Washington is served up in casual elegance. Both hotel and restaurant are highly recommended.

BellinghamHopping on a shuttle tour with Whatcom Wine Tours the group was out for a glimpse into what the area wine scene has to offer. Our stops included Glacial Lake Missoula Winery, Vartanyan Estate Winery and Dynasty Cellars. Since there are another six to try, your tour might be different. Although not world class wineries as of yet, there is certainly potential. We had a lovely picnic lunch at Vartanyan. Owner Margarita is so passionate and visionary, you can’t help but sense success is just around the corner for her. At Dynasty Cellars, owner Peter Osvaldik greeted us with lots of charm and a dynamite food & wine pairing. Peter seems to be mixing Old World winemaking techniques with Washington varietals. My guess – we have a winner here. Watch out for this guy – he’s a rock star in the making. The reds are killer.

Last up on the foodie tour was the grand slam of it all; a 16-course dinner at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Under the quiet and confident direction of young Chef Blaine Wetzel this was a chance to indulge Bellingham Foodieand delight in the foods, taste and culture of Washington cuisine. Tiny bite-sized courses paired with Washington wines made this the ultimate foodie experience and best of all it’s an affordable indulgence.

During the dinner, our group was treated to the texture, sights and tastes of exquisitely prepared and presented courses. Our server patiently explained each unique course: Baked Sunflower Roots, Crispy Crepe with Sockeye Roe, Pickled Oyster with Sorrel, Toasted Kale with Black Truffle and Rye, Wild Berries and Grasses, Albacore with Horseradish, Shitake over Fire, Smoked Sockeye Salmon, Bread with Pan Drippings, Crispy Halibut Skin with Razor Clams, Flax Seed, Aged Venison Leg, Grilled Onions, Spot Prawns, Charred Frisée, and finally… Blueberries with woodruff and malt.

Washington wine pairings at the dinner included Wescott Bay Traditional Apple Cider, 2010 Ross Andrew Winery Meadow Pinot, 2011 Mount Baker Vineyards Madeline, 2011 Lachini Vineyards Rosé of Pinot, and 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Opulento Port.

Hard to top that, so I won’t try. Goodnight Bellingham. Nice to see you’re back – and a great place for foodies.

Helpful Resource

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism

Julian, California A Magnificent Four Season Mountain Town

Story by Linda Kissam

So… when I say, “ Julian, California” you probably responded, “Pie.” If that’s what you did then you would be about 10% correct. A recent four-day stay in Julian tells me this place is trending in all the right places: food, wine and unique travel activities… four seasons a year.

The key to getting to know this special place is to stay awhile. It’s about an hour away from San Diego and Palm Springs; add another 30 minutes from Orange County and LA. Coming up for two hours for a cup of cappuccino and a slice of apple pie, just doesn’t make sense. This is a smart hip mountain town that combines all the elements foodies and small-town aficionado’s look for.

Lake Cuyamaca

Think easy to walk downtown area with lots of different shops, a microbrewery, a multitude of incredible restaurants small and large, a charming tea shop, and my favorite of course…wine tasting rooms. Venture out ten minutes past downtown and you’ll find wineries to visit, hill top dining in Wynola, a picturesque fishing lake, an ultra-cool stargazing facility, and killer hiking opportunities like the Pacific Crest Trail. This is Julian? Yup…and there’s even more. Drive 20 minutes from downtown and you’ll be able to do some gold mining, discover a wolf education center, and work those slots and poker tables at a casino. Ahhh, I see I have your attention now.

Here’s a round-up of my favorite places. Use it as a quick guide of what to do and enjoy in and around Julian.

In the Downtown Area
Park your car and enjoy free parking, flat terrain, restaurants, clothing stores, wine tasting and bakery shops. Get your credit card ready, this is a shopper, foodie and wine lovers paradise. Here’s a taste of what to expect.

Julian Lodge Bed & Breakfast – Designed after the Washington Hotel, built in 1885, the affordable Julian Lodge (generally under $90) with modern amenities is just steps away from all things fun: shopping, biking, hiking, dining, wine tasting and afternoon tea. Guests enjoy recently refurbished rooms and a pleasant continental breakfast. Friendly, knowledgeable staff. Open year-round. Be sure to check out their online and walk-in specials. Hikers welcome!

Orchard Hill Country Inn – Book here for a serene and romantic AAA four-diamond experience. I know you’ll love the choice of twenty-two well-appointed rooms, 10 comfy lodge rooms, and 12 secluded cottages near downtown Julian. Stroll the grounds and sit awhile in this lovely mountain top retreat. Enjoy your own personal “Ahhh moment” viewing gorgeous sunsets and wandering through the seasonal gardens. Includes many in-room amenities, Internet, a full breakfast and afternoon hors d’ouevres. Be sure and make reservations for their four-course sophisticated dinner served on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Room rates run from $195 – $450. Check out the Web site for specials and packages.

Julian, California

Julian Tea & Cottage Arts –Despite the name this place is definitely all about the tea. A gracious staff makes your time here a welcome retreat. I loved the way the staff member Jill explained each course and the tea that accompanied it. Tea is served in a charming turn-of-the-century home. Afternoon Tea consists of finger sandwiches, scone with whipped cream, homemade jam and dessert. However, if you just want a cup of tea or tea and cookies, you’ll also be welcomed with open arms. Ask to try the Yorkshire Gold. Seriously, for those of us who love all things afternoon tea, this has to be on your places to visit and do some major shopping.

 

Witch Creek Winery- A boutique winery focusing on quality over quantity, by producing small-lot, handcrafted wines. The result is full-bodied well balanced wines rich in flavor that have earned many medals over the years. Server Tammy told me “We’re all about the Reds.” She was right. Be sure to taste the 2009 Screaming Kitty ($23), the Tre Amici ($29- Gold Medal Winner) and the Cat’s Pajama’s ($21).

Julian, California

Candied Apple Pastry Company –Owner Charles Scott and Executive Pastry Chef Charles Scott bring quality, scratch-made pastries and delicious lunch entrees to Julian. This is the bakery you’ve been longing to find. Sit outside and people watch while munching on unbelievable treats, enjoying unique lunch offerings, sipping some local fresh pressed apple cider (seasonal) or enjoying the full espresso bar. This place has passion for its product and the community it works in. DON’T MISS IT.

 

Bailey Pit BBQ & Julian Brewery – This is the place for dinner and live entertainment. Bailey Barbecue has a big-boy BBQ menu, 16 draft beers, in addition to a full bar. Enjoy live music and dancing every Saturday night and some Friday nights. The place was packed and rocking out when I was there. There’s a special vibe to this place that will call to your artistic side. The Julian Brewing Company (brewing facility located in the garage of the historic Bailey house) has released the first brewed beer in Julian in over 100 years. Trust me, it’s all good – the food, the music, the beer. Check out the Web site for the menu and live entertainment schedule.

Julian Pie Company: You know you’ve come to the right place for apple pie when you find out each one weighs 2.85 pounds –give or take an apple slice. Hot, juicy, luscious come to mind. This is the ultimate apple pie stop, don’t miss it. Think about combing your visit with lunch first. It’s a simple lunch menu that’s offered, but its Big Boy sandwiches at their best…for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. One of my favorite places.

Eagle & High Peak Mine –Just a few blocks from downtown tour one of Julian’s original gold mines. Guides lead you through the intricate path of tunnels in the hard rock mine and share tales of the life of early residents of Julian. Great fun! Perfect for all ages.

Just Outside Town
10 minutes away on a charming country road.

J. Jenkins Winery – This boutique winery is ready to run with the big dogs. With 15 year-old vineyards, their wine has finally come into its own. Currently there are 7 wines to taste, all have merit. There is a $6 fee to taste which allows you get to keep the glass. My jaw dropped at the exquisite 2005 Syrah ($22). Big and bold, this ruby colored wine is complex, expressing both bold fruit and a definite earthy quality. I took this one home intending to share it with my wine club as an example of a great local wine find. Melanie was tending the wine bar. She suggested we try the Dolcezza ($16) (apple wine) made from 100% apples. Light, crisp with a slight effervescence, sipping it out on their patio was quite a treat.

Menghini Winery – Just down the road from J. Jenkins , this winery is surrounded by apple orchards and a six acre vineyard. This is country charm at its best and a major site for many Julian events. The winery produces approximately 4,000 cases of wine annually. I think you’re going to like the 2006 Syrah with its berry notes and hints of oak, and the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc showcasing some grassy notes on the nose and palate. Should be an excellent food wine.

In Nearby Wynola
Surprising dining options on this hill top just a few minutes from downtown Julian

Julian, California

Wynola Pizza Express – Located a mere three miles west of Julian on State Highway 78 and 3.5 miles east of Santa Ysabel this is where you go for the best gourmet wood-fired pizza, a variety of entrees, desserts, wine and beer and lively entertainment. Affordable and great for singles, families, or date-night. There’s a variety of places to dine at, from a bistro-style dining room, to casual booths or a group dining area. My favorite dishes were the Fire-Roasted Artichoke Dip (serves 2-4) $ 9.95. Artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, Romano, provolone and mozzarella cheeses blended with herbs and spiced and served with Buffalo crackers; Sausage Pizza $11.95 Sausage, red onions & bell peppers & mozzarella cheese; and the Sumi Salad (an Asian slaw) – $7.95. Crisp green cabbage tossed with crunchy noodles, scallions, shredded carrots tossed with house rice vinaigrette and topped with toasted sesame seeds and almonds.

 

Jeremy’s on The Hill –Heads up foodies! This family owned and operated business specializes in fresh and sumptuous gourmet foods. Put this experience in the fine-dining category without the pretentious stuff . They take pride in providing an atmosphere that promotes family friendliness while still providing for romantic intimacy. Chef Jeremy is dedicated to using only the finest and freshest ingredients available–most of which are locally provided. Because of that, the menu can often change, while still providing guest favorites. Got to love a place that brings in organically grown produce from Julian, Borrego Springs, Valley Center and other nearby locations. Great wine list and the Sunday Brunch is to die for. Put this 24 year old chef on your “to watch” list.

Chef Jeremy sends his love through a yummy recipe. See below!

Country Cellars- Think and drink local beers, wine and hard ciders with owner Trezette “Trez” Gotfredson. Country Cellars offers $6 tasting which include a mixture of local wine and beer choices. Offerings change weekly so you’ll always be surprised at what Trez is pouring. If you’re lucky you’ll come on a day Trez is offering her mini food & wine pairings. This should be one of your first stops on the way into Julian so you get an idea of what the local microbreweries and wineries have to offer. Plan your tasting AFTER you spend some time here.

A Little Further Out
There’s more unique fun about 20 minutes outside town.

Observer’s Inn Sky Tour – This is going to be an OMG moment for you, guaranteed. One of the best ways to see Julian’s star-filled skies is by taking a sky-tour with owner/innkeeper Mike Leigh. He’s set up a small – but mighty observatory with research-grade telescopes. Mike’s evening sky tours are literally out-of-this world. Mike will guide you through the star clusters and galaxies, pointing out planets and nebulae. This ain’t your boring high school astronomy class. Mike leads a lively presentation challenging everyone to think outside their comfort zone. The best $10/person you’re likely to spend.

California Wolf CenterAhhh, the heart and soul of it all. This place is likely to bring you to tears – happy ones – for all this center does. The California Wolf Center is a one-of-a-kind education, conservation. Founded in 1977 to educate the public about wildlife and ecology, the Center is currently home to several packs of gray wolves, some of which are exhibited for educational purposes. The wolves serve as ambassadors representing wolves in the wild. They also host highly endangered Mexican gray wolves, now being reintroduced into the southwestern United States. A visit to the Center provides a unique close up experience involving one of the most charismatic and controversial species in North American history. Perfect for singles, families, and couples.

Santa Ysabel Casino – Escape to a hidden getaway with intimate gaming, breathtaking views and some of the best craft beer and tequila shots around. Enjoy over 350 of the most popular slots, blackjack, 3-Card Poker, Pai-gow and exciting poker tournaments. Full service restaurant featuring lots of variety.

 

Chef Jeremy’s Crispy Brussel Sprouts & Chickpeas Recipe

Enjoy the following recipe compliments of Chef Jeremy Manley. Chef speaks directly to the reader throughout the recipe in an engaging and interactive format. The instructions come with some cooking tips that are essential to a successful dish. Read carefully all the way through before prepping..

One pot of oil (approx. 8 cups)

1 bamboo skewer

½ cup chick peas

1 cup of quarter Brussels sprouts

1 cup of Ponzu- a citrus soy sauce

2T red wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

1 T red pepper flakes

¼ Cup Brown Sugar

1 garlic clove minced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk rigorously until all combined.

Heat your oil to 350 degrees. Wonder how you can tell what 350 degrees looks like? Once your pot of oil has been sitting on the stove top at a medium high heat for a couple minutes, place a wood skewer in your pot of oil and when the bubbles rise gently gliding up the stick you are at the appropriate temperature. Do not bring to a boil or you will create the biggest mess you have ever seen and burn wounds are dangerous!

Gently place the chickpeas in a wire basket, or straight into the pot. Remember though you must have a tool to fish them out.

After about 30 seconds add your Brussels sprouts and watch out! They will snap crackle and pop on you so protect your eyes! A little grease splat on your arm builds character.

If the risk is too high for you, just come into the restaurant and I’d love to cook you up some local vegetables. Did you know Brussels sprouts are from Belgium and they are a hybrid of the cabbage family. Enjoy!

 

 

Big Food Challenges in Florida

Florida is known as a place where everything is bigger and better – the theme park rides, the sports and certainly the food. If you’re the competitive type, why not check out some of the restaurants below, all of which offer unique challenges for the truly hungry.

Whether you’re on holiday with your kids or enjoying an intimate break, sweltering over the Inferno Soup at Nitally’s, chowing down a 48oz steak or eating ice cream from a kitchen sink, you’re sure to have a great story to take home with you whether you pass the test or not.

48oz Steak Challenge at Don Shula’s Steak House

48 oz steakLaunched by former NFL coach Don Shula in 1989, this restaurant chain quickly gained a reputation as one of the best places in Florida to sink your teeth into some prime Angus beef. Each restaurant is themed after the Miami Dolphins’ “Perfect Season” that Shula presided over in 1972, when the Dolphins became the only team in NFL history to finish the entire season undefeated.

Orlando holidays in Florida wouldn’t be complete without sampling their famous 48oz Porterhouse steak, dubbed “The Shula Cut”. Holidaymakers who manage to finish all of this titanic T-bone in one sitting are rewarded with induction into the restaurant’s 48oz Club, which would certainly provide a few bragging rights back home.

However, guests have their work cut out for them if they’re planning to beat the record of superfan Taft Parker, who to date has eaten over 175 of the giant steaks – earning a commemorative football from Don Shula himself for his achievement.

Shula’s Steak House Orlando, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, 1500 Epcot Resorts Blvd, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830

Inferno Soup Challenge at Nitally’s

If you’ve got a taste for the spicy stuff, you may have finally met your match at Nitally’s Thai-Mexican restaurant in St Petersburg, Florida.

This challenge isn’t for the faint of heart: the Inferno Soup contains fresh ghost pepper. At over 400 times stronger than Tabasco sauce, it’s the hottest chili known to mankind – in fact, it’s so hot the Indian government has reportedly considered using it in non-lethal hand grenades.

For good measure, the restaurant throws about a dozen other varieties of pepper, including three kinds of jabanero, into the dish.

The owners of Nitally’s initially offered a $150 (£96) reward to any steel-tongued guest who can finish the soup in less than 30 minutes, but as of July 2011 not a single customer has managed it – prompting them to raise the jackpot to $800 (£512).

Challengers must be over 18, stone-cold sober and “of sound mind and health” before they can tackle the Inferno Soup Challenge, as well as remaining seated throughout. Any takers?

Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine, 2462 Central Ave, St Petersburg, Florida 33712

20 Tacos in 40 Minutes at Poblano’s

Poblano’s Restaurant in Clearwater, Florida is a local favourite among lovers of burritos, enchiladas and tequila. The truly adventurous, however, can put their guts to the test with the 20 Tacos in 40 Minutes challenge. The crispy fried tortillas filled with shredded beef, cheese and lettuce are a staple of Mexican cuisine, but it takes true grit to step up to the bar at Poblano’s and earn a place in the restaurant’s hall of fame.

The tacos are served ten at a time and diners are expected to clear their plates completely to succeed. If they do manage to chow down the full 20, the house pays for the meal and the challenger receives a T-shirt and has their photo mounted on the wall of the restaurant.

A word of warning, though – only 13 people have completed the challenge since it was launched a couple of years ago. Reigning champion Adam went above and beyond to finish an incredible 30 of the spicy snacks in the allotted time.

Poblano’s Mexican Grill & Bar, 2451 North McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, Florida 33759

The Kitchen Sink at Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour

Americans love to round off a meal with a good ice cream sundae, and entering this classically-styled parlour in Dania Beach, Florida is like stepping back in time to the age of soda jerks, Cadillacs and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s also a dessert on the menu that’s a meal in itself and then some.

The Kitchen Sink isn’t just a clever name – it really is served in a full-size kitchen sink, plumbing and all. The servers behind the counter are invited to let their imaginations run wild putting everything they can think of into the colossal sundae, with toppings including marshmallow, chocolate, strawberries, cherries, fudge and sprinkles.

In this case there’s no reward for finishing the food besides the satisfaction of a job well done, but at $12.95 (£8) per person – for a minimum of four diners – it’s a whole lot of ice-cream for your cash.

Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour, 128 South Federal Highway, Dania Beach, Florida 33004

Eddie’s Monsta Burger at Eddie’s Bar & Grill

Eddy's bar and grillIf you’re a burger lover and you think you’ve seen it all, Eddie would have you believe otherwise. From the outside it may seem like just another waterfront burger joint in Dunedin, Florida, but it has achieved local fame thanks to one truly daunting menu item: the Monsta Burger.

Featuring 3lbs of beef created from six of the restaurant’s normal half-pounders and “all the fixin’s”, this colossal burger is even served with a pound of French fries on the side! Finish it all within 30 minutes and you’ll get a T-shirt and your picture on the Wall of Fame, as well as a free meal.

Fail, and it’ll set you back $24.99 (£16), but why not have a go at one of Eddie’s other challenges? The super-spicy Fire-in-the-Hole Chicken Wings will net you $100 (£64) in gift vouchers if you can chomp down 13 in 15 minutes, or alternatively there’s an enormous tray of nachos offering the same prize if you can finish it in half an hour.

Eddie’s Bar and Grill, 1283 Bayshore Boulevard Dunedin, Florida 34698

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