About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.


Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

Deep into the Azores on the Roads Thru São Miguel

April 18, 2015 by  

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sao miguel

So much green beauty.

São Miguel

Green mountains blend with natural steam in Furnas on São Miguel

The first thing you’ll notice is the bright emerald green, lush flora coating mountains and plains, flowers adding a colorful contrast. What makes the scene extra striking is the steam that rises seemingly without reason from the ground, as if you’ve entered a hell’s paradise.

It’s important to remember that São Miguel, also referred to as “The Green Island,” is volcanic. While it’s not uncommon to see smoke rising from subway manholes or from buildings via smoke stacks back in my home of NYC, on this island it’s completely natural, an effect due to the mix of geothermic activity.

Azores History

The Azores is an autonomous region of Portugal, and São Miguel is the largest of the nine islands that compose it. Here you’ll literally find everything you could ever want sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: farm-to-table dining, nightlife, shopping, beaches, spectacular dolphin and whale watching (they have 20 whale species), sailing, artisan culture, bird watching, hiking, cycling and myriad opportunities to explore nature, a facet of the island of particular interest to me.

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The Portas da Cidade (Gates to the City), the historical entrance to the village of Ponta Delgada, today the capital of São Miguel. Walk through the center gate and make a wish for it to come true.

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Wandering the streets of São Miguel’s Ponta Delgada

The history of the island is fascinating. São Miguel was the second island discovered after Santa Maria, sometime between 1432 and 1457 — although ancient writing in 4th century BC talking of mythical lands in the Atlantic suggests they were known long before this. Moreover, a Medici map of 1351 shows seven islands sitting just off the coast of Portugal. Portuguese Prince Infante Dom Henrique (1394-1460), aka Henry the Navigator, is the man whose fleets are actually credited as the real finder.

Oddly enough, despite all these discoverers, today the Azores are still relatively unknown and unexplored, at least to those in the Americas.

Throughout history, countries fought hard to gain control of these idyllic islands — the French, English, the Spanish, pirates. If you saw the Azores for yourself, you’d understand why so many people wanted a slice of this paradise pie.

São Miguel Legends

During the 15th and 16th centuries, its location in the center of the Atlantic made it an important navigation between between Europe, Africa and the Americas. This also made it the perfect birthplace for legends and myths, many of which you’ll hear from locals during a visit. My favorite was the story of the Twin Lakes — one blue, one green, side-by-side — said to be the tears of two star-crossed lovers. A princess fell in love with a shepherd, and while her father wouldn’t allow them to be together in life, through these lakes they can be together for eternity. Sweet.

A São Miguel Road Trip

São Miguel is best explored by car, and you can loop the whole island in about 700 kilometers (435 miles), or three days. With my home base in Ponta Delgada, the island’s capital, my first day features a drive to Furnas, a historically (and still) active volcanic complex and civil parish, with stops along the way.

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Visitors relaxing in Caldeira Velha Nature Reserve’s hot springs.

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Natural hot springs at Caldeira Velha Nature Reserve

If I had to give my first morning a theme, it would be “lakes and thermal baths,” with my first stop being the Caldeira Velha Nature Reserve. As I drive, the scenery slowly changed changed from São Miguel architecture, churches and hotels to rugged landscape carved out by Mother Nature.

Getting to the nature reserve takes only 20 minutes, and once inside paved walkways introduce me to Japanese Cedar — you’ll see these a lot around the island — and wild ginger. It’s here I also get my first look at the curative iron-rich thermal baths that would become a major focus of my day.

After a short stroll and some photos, I’m back in the car, trying to make it to Lagoa das Furnas by 12:30pm. It’s at this time each day one can see locals, mainly restaurant owners, removing their delicious Earth-baked meats and veggies to make “Cozido das Furnas,” a typical Furnas dish featuring proteins like chicken, beef shoulder, pork feet, pork belly, black pudding, chorizo, and vegetables like carrots, potato, yam, cabbage and kale, all doused in their own juices. The food is put into holes in the ground from 5am to 12:30pm, roasted by the geothermal heat underground.

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Lagoa do Fogo.

Beautiful Views

Along the way, there are a number of not-to-miss lookout points, which I pull over for each time. One is an aerial view of Lagoa do Fogo, or Fire Lake, named after its 300,000+ year-old volcanic history. The crystalline body of water sits in a collapsed caldera, surrounded by pumice beach and rising mountains. Interestingly, it’s one of the few lakes on the island you can actually swim in, as most suffer from an over-abundance of algae (eutrophication).

For me, it’s one of those places that make me wonder if God has Photoshopped the landscape.

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View from Pico da Barrosa lookout. The scene looks like a painting, but it’s real. It wasn’t even shot in HDR!

A bit higher up the mountain I come to the aptly named Pico da Barrosa lookout. It’s at this point I realize where I actually am — Pico Barrosa Mountain (umm, embarrassing) — which reaches 947 meters (3,106 feet) above sea level. From here, it’s possible to see both the north and south coasts at once.

A Taste Of São Miguel

While up high is full of rugged mountain and volcanic landscape, back down I come to Vila Franca do Campo, the original capital of the island where the fishing port is and where you can get lost in rural architecture. It’s also possible to head down to the marina and have an espresso on the water (highly recommended, especially if you’ve just gotten off the red eye from Boston like me!). Despite the ambiance, the drink comes to only €0.60 ($0.68 USD), so double recommended.

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Men preparing to bring the food up from the dirt.

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Food being taken up from the underground oven.

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The park around Furnas Lake. See all the natural steam?

I happily make it to Lagoa das Furnas on time, watching closely as men use hoes to dig into what look like giant ant hills, unveiling steaming pots of tin-foil wrapped food. Cozido das Furnas is a specialty of Furnas, home to 50 different kinds of hot spring water with which to not only heal oneself, but apparently to cook, too.

The entire scene isn’t just culturally enlightening, it’s surreal, a woodland-shrouded lake on one side and a walkway surrounded by bubbling thermal baths and steaming dirt on the other. If you’ve ever been to Hell’s Gate in New Zealand, this is a similar experience.

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Cozido das Furnas. Yum!

After viewing how the typical dish is prepared, I now need to try it. In the quiet yet actively volcanic Furnas Village, less than 10 minutes away from the lake, Terra Nostra Garden Hotel is known for the dish.

I’m first brought out some local Bolo Levedo, a sugar-sweetened pancake-like bread, and locally-made butter. Eating the food makes it clear São Miguel isn’t like many other islands where most food has to be imported. They locally produce a variety of meats, produce, dairy, liquors, teas and condiments, and most meals are effortlessly farm-to-table.

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A relaxing spot in the botanical gardens

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Wandering the botanical gardens.

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The cloudy day made the park even more tranquil and serene

Natural Immersion

And also tasty. While I won’t lie and say I finished the entire bowl of Cozido das Furnas, I did eat about half. Seriously, if you can finish this meal you deserve an award (or a visit to the hospital). That combined with the bread — not to mention the local pineapple-laced panna cotta — made me thankful the hotel was attached to a 12-acre (5-hectare) Botanical Garden with walking trails (€6/about $6.80 USD per person to enter).

I’m told there are more than 3,000 plant species here, from papyrus trees to hibiscus to banana trees to Taxodium Trees, which are surrounded by small stumps as its relatives come up out of the ground to help provide the larger trees oxygen. A beautiful manor house, once owned by Thomas Hickling, who started the gardens, sits before a curative iron-rich pool, complete with sexy Portuguese couples making out and children swimming with their parents.

Being immersed in this lush world of tropical plants from around the globe, I forget I’m in the epicenter of volcanic activity. When I walk outside, small parish sidewalks and homes are enveloped with smoke. My first reaction is to be alarmed; however, I quickly remember where I am, especially as the thick odor of sulfur fills my nose.

Oh yea, I’m just standing inside a volcano.

That’s right. Furnas is actually located within one of three active trachytic volcanoes in the historically active Volcanic Complex of Furnas. Don’t worry, though. It’s last eruption was 1630 AD.

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Gorreana Tea fields

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Gorreana Tea workers sorting black tea by hand.

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Old fashioned machines used to process Gorreana Tea on Sao Miguel

São Miguel Goes Organic

On the way back toward Ponta Delgada, I make a stop at the Gorreana Tea, one of only two tea plantations in all of Europe, both of which are on São Miguel. The operation has been family owned and run since 1883, and all tea leafs are grown organically before being made into high-quality green and black tea. It’s a very budget-friendly attraction at $0, and I’m able to go inside and wander freely, seeing both working and non-working machines, factory artifacts, workers sorting black tea by hand and even tasting some for myself. While for me green tea is often bitter, theirs is smooth with floral accents. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something so refreshing.

Until I hit the local A. Arruda Pineapple Plantation in Faja de Baixo, offering a fruitier taste of São Miguel. The Azores are known for their unique pineapple. Compared to six months for Latin American pineapples, Azorean pineapples take two years to cultivate. Pineapple culture on the islands began in the late 19th century, when the fruits were brought over from Brazil, although their nature transformed with the unique terroir, offering a more acidic, less sweet fruit — one that I quickly became addicted to, swamping my typical chocolate desserts for local pineapple cakes and mousses.

Like the tea, the plants are grown organically, and I’m able to wander the plantation, where sawdust and scrap vegetation are used for fertilizer, recycled rainwater for hydration and burned banana leaf smoke for pesticide. It’s interesting to peek inside the various greenhouses to see the pineapple plants in their various stages.

In the onsite shop — the highlight of the visit — pineapple novelties, housewares and accessories sit alongside a table of free samples of family-recipe pineapple liqueurs, chutneys (love the spicy one!), jam, mustard and curry.

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Pico do Ferro viewpoint

Ending Views

Despite having seen a number of viewpoints in the beginning of the road trip, there are so many to be had on São Miguel. At the Pico do Ferro viewpoint, hillside slopes down to a mirror lake, bordered neatly by woodland and rolling green plains beyond. The scene is beautiful, even with the late afternoon fog that seems to have set over the island.

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São Miguel Island from Santa Isria

The best viewpoint of the day is what I end with — the Santa Iria Lookout — with São Miguel jutting into the Atlantic Ocean in a turtle-like formation. The playful shape reminds me again of the many personalities this Azores destination has.

São Miguel isn’t an island you go to lounge on the sand all day or drink cocktails at the beach bar. It’s an island meant for exploration, lush with flora as well as culture, history and adventure.

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Hiking on Sao Miguel via Salto do Cabrito

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Above view of the Salto do Cabrito dam

While I had a great introduction to the island, next time I return — and I will be back — I’ll be spending most of my time exploring the local hiking trails. I did a short 1-hour hike — Salto do Cabrito; however, the beautiful and ever-changing landscapes just begs to be explored more on foot.

Attractions:

Caldeira Velha Nature Reserve, Estrada Regional da Lagoa do Fogo – Ribeira Grande

Terra Nostra Garden Hotel+ botanical garden, Rua Padre José Jacinto Botelho, 5, 9675-061 Furnas, Sao Miguel; +351 296 549 090

Arruda Pineapple Plantation, Fajã de Baixo, Rua Doutor Augusto Arruda (EM 503-3) São Miguel; +351 296 384

Gorreana Tea, Maia, Sao Miguel 9625; +351 296 442 349

Have you been to São Miguel in the Azores? Please share your experience in the comments below.

*My trip to the Azores was sponsored by the Azores Tourism Board. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. All opinions are my own, and all stories are based on my unique experiences exploring the destination.

 

Top 10 To Do’s in Medellin Colombia

April 17, 2015 by  

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Looking to explore Medellin, Colombia, like a local? Pablo Alvarez-Correa, a native, shares his take on how to see the city like a local.

1. For a lesser-known cultural attraction, visit the SiCLeadas, Medellin’s Critical Mass. It happens every Wednesday evening, and is organized by Colectivo Siclas, who set amazing routes to take your bike — they can also lend you a bicycle — and hit the road together with other 8,000 people.

2. One experience not to miss is the football games. This city loves football, and the football games gather the whole spectrum of our society: poor, rich, young, old…all types of city-dwellers will be seen at a football game. Regardless of which team is playing, you must go!

3. For a true taste of Medellin, don’t miss Sancocho de Bagre (fish soup) at La Esquina de la Ricura in Minorista Market (Calle 55), a delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurant. If you prefer a higher end restaurant offering a more diverse, yet incredible authentic and well prepared cuisine, then you should go to Queareparaenamorarte (Partida EL Retiro, Las Palmas) — yes, it’s a long name, but the food is amazing. Or simply try our most typical dish: Bandeja Paisa at Hacienda (Carrera 49 #52-98)

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Sancocho with chicken. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

4. For a truly local travel souvenir, Caballo de Troya (Via Las Palmas Kilometer 16) is a souvenir shop that looks more like a Museum rather than a shop, there you’ll find extremely high quality handcrafts from all regions of Colombia. Plus the have very high standards of responsible production and manufacturing.

5. Take in a spectacular view at “Mirador de Las Palmas.” Las Palmas is the road that connects Medellin with the airport, and it climbs up the mountain. On that road there are three different viewpoints of the city. All of them are nice — particularly the last one offers a great view. It’s even better in the evening when there are people selling grilled meats, sausages and other eats.

The view from the Cable Car (either Santo Domingo or La Aurora) is quite stunning, too.

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Exploring Medellin by cable car. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

6. One overrated attraction in Medellin is Pueblito Paisa. Instead, you should spend some time at Parque de Bolivar, have a “tinto” (black coffee) and let the time pass doing some people watching. Or wonder around the alleys of those wonderful markets you’ll find in the city, such as La Minorista (Calle 55A #57-80), where you can amaze your senses taking the Exotic Fruits Tour.

7. A local celebrity every visitor should meet is “La Reina” (the queen) from Parque de San Antonio. Her real name is Blanca, and she keeps the park clean and she is constantly looking after all its visitors. Another is “El Fuicioso,” a young man who works around the stadium area and lately became an online star for his deep love of his football team and his funny answers in interviews. There are memes about him, James Rodriguez, our football-star, is imitating him, and there is even a song about him.

8. Want to get tipsy like a local? For the older folks, go to Salon Malaga (carrera 51 # 45-80) and enjoy some drinks surrounded by thousands of old pictures and old jukeboxes. Younger people will enjoy Parque del Poblado in the Poblado area or El Guanabano (Girardot and Maracaibo) in Parque del Periodista. You might like to start ordering a “media de guaro,” a small bottle of Colombia‘s most beloved spirit: Aguardiente.

9. To experience the local music scene, on Tuesdays the Eslabon Bar (Calle 53 #42-55) hosts live salsa bands; on Fridays there is a party inside of one of our local breweries, 3 Cordilleras (Calle 30 #44 – 176); and every day of the week in the late afternoon at the Parque de Berrio there are folk musicians playing at the square.

10. For a nature experience in Medellin, take the cable car to the Arvi Park and in less than 40 minutes you’ll have access to a great natural park where you can spend some time in the wilderness. You can even you can trek some Pre-Hispanic roads.

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Enjoying the beauty of Arvi Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Have you visited Medellin, Colombia? What were your favorite experiences? Please share in the comments below.

Contributed by Pablo Alvarez-Correa.

 

Travel Croatia: Exploring Historical Zagreb By Foot & Bike

April 15, 2015 by  

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Typically, there usually isn’t a driving force behind my trip booking, aside for my insatiable thirst to discover new places. Recently I began to crave some alone time in a faraway place. I’d always wanted to go to Croatia, but had been hesitant to splurge on the $1,000+ plane ticket and long red eye flight. My emotions got the best of my logic, however, and without even thinking my Newark to Zagreb via Brussels was booked.

And I’m glad.

As I hadn’t done any research I found myself visiting during off-season — early March — but the quiet suited my purpose of seeking enlightenment. And while I looked toward the future, Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, took me back in time.

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Croatia’s Rich History

Before starting, it’s important to give a general timeline of Croatia’s history, beginning with the country as a state in 7th century AD, and then a kingdom in 10th century AD. In 1102, the Kingdom of Croatia entered into a union with Hungary, thus becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy — especially important as Croatia did not want to become part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1918, Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia formed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia until 1991, when they declared independence. After a war where Yugoslavia and Serbia attacked Croatia, the country finally gained its freedom in 1995, officially becoming the Republic of Croatia and joining the European Union in 2013.

Much of this history can be explored in Old Zagreb, with practically the entire area within reach on foot.

Exploring Zagreb By Bike

Zagreb is home to many museums, and while I do go to a few — The Museum of Broken Relationships, is highly recommended — my main method for exploring the city’s history is through a historic cycling tour with Blue Bike Zagreb. As most of you know, cycling is my favorite way to get around the city, as it allows you to cover a lot of ground while also feeling the beat of the destination you’re in — hence the bike tattoo on the wrist. My guide Alida is born and raised in Zagreb, which means she knows and understands it on a deeper level.

As soon as I begin peddling I can feel the capital city’s heritage enveloping me, the local traffic patterns, politeness towards cyclists and the flat paved ground keeping me at ease. We begin with a look at a lesser-known side of Zagreb by biking down the cafe-littered Bogovićeva Street — this isn’t a secret — and stopping at “The Grounded Sun.” The enormous bronze globe sculpture by Ivan Kožarić is one piece of an al fresco installation called “Nine Views,” where objects from the solar system were placed around the city with their relative sizes and locations from the sun consistent to real life. Even knowing the addresses od each object, you still may have a difficult time finding the planets — just check out my Mercury shot!

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Sun vs Mercury in Zagreb installation

Zagreb & Tesla

It’s no surprise science plays an important role in Zagreb culture, as Nikola Tesla — credited as inventing the modern alternating current electricity supply system — was born in 1856 in the then-Austo-Hungarian Empire in Croatia, although Alida admits he wasn’t well received when he was living here. It’s worth noting Croatia and Serbia, despite sharing the same language and origins, have historically not had the greatest relationship.

“It started because Croatia wanted independence from Yugoslavia,” explains Alida. “It wasn’t approved by the Yugoslavian Army, whose decision makers were Serbian and claimed big parts of Croatia, like Plitvice lakes, the entire Eastern part of Croatia, and the entire coast with islands. The Yugoslavian Army — which actually became the Serbian Army since most of the other nationalities deserted — occupied these parts, so we Croatians had to organize, finance and get weapons for our army to get these freed.”

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Tesla statue in Zagreb

As Tesla’s mother was Croatia and his father Serbian — not to mention the fact he was ahead of his time, misunderstood and was thought to possibly flirt with the paranormal — Croats didn’t really accept him until they noticed American and Serbian pride in his genius. Today, Zagreb has a science festival that celebrates Tesla, and you can find a giant statue of him looking pensive on that was created in 2006.

Green Zagreb With A Touch Of Yellow

Zagreb also has a natural side worth exploring, which I experience biking through Lower Town with Alida. The original city developed around the 11th century on the medieval walled hills, Gradec and Kaptol, gradually spreading downward from there. This is how the area gets its name, and where you really understand why Zagreb is often called “Little Vienna.” Protected buildings, mainly done in an Art Noveau style, but with Classicism and Art Deco sprinkled in, line the sidewalks and form small squares.

I notice the abundance of yellow (my favorite color!) apparently painted to please Princess Maria Theresia from the House of Habsburg — Croatia was part of the Habsburg Monarchy for a long time — who thought the hue resembled gold.

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Zagreb’s National Theater

Marshal Tito Square is one place I’m particularly surrounded by the color and grand buildings, home to the Croatian National Theatre, Well of Life sculpture (a fountain showcasing intertwined bronze nude figures), the Museum of Applied Arts and Zagreb University’s main administrative building. The square is named after Josip Broz Tito, a Croatian that led national partisans in WWII against Germans, Italians and others. After WWII he was a main figure of the Yugoslavian Communist Party — a more mild non-Stalin-like communism — and President for Life of Yugoslavia — and a co-founder of Unallied Countries, helping to keep Yugoslavia impartial during the Cold War.

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Well of Life sculpture

The square is actually the last of seven green squares that comprise Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe, with natural spaces, parks and gardens — as well as public art, cultural institutions and educational buildings — enhancing the aesthetics of Zagreb.

“You know how cities around the world had Occupy movements?” asks Alida. “That didn’t do so well in Zagreb. Here we look at the good. The sun is shining, I have money for a coffee, life isn’t that bad.”

And even if they don’t have money for coffee, they can walk or cycle through nearby Zrinjevac, like we do, a green park and square centered by a pavilion hosting free outdoor performance and surrounded by beautiful fountains and green space.

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Green in Zagreb

Zagreb’s Somber Side

But, the tour isn’t all sunshine and roses, and we stop at what I consider the most solemn place of the day. While there’s no official name for it, it’s where the Jewish Synagogue once stood, at 7 Praška Street, before it was destroyed by the government in an effort to show loyalty to the Germans during WWII.

“It’s not a part of my history I’m proud of,” says Alida. “When WWII started we were Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Our King Alexander was in Belgrade, and when the Germans started their mission he abdicated and escaped to London, leaving “his” people on their own. Croatia declared independence under protection of Germans, accepting Germans — and Nazis — as our authorities.”

Once this happened, Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Serbians and basically anyone who wasn’t a true Catholic Croat was unwelcome, often being sent to concentration camps. Because Croatia aligned with the Nazis, you can still old city center buildings in their original condition, unlike many other cities that didn’t fare well against Germany WWII aerial bombing tactics. Where the synagogue once stood is a plaque with a drawing of the sacred Jewish building that was blown up.

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A memorial to the once-standing Jewish synagogue

Zagreb’s Historic Upper Town By Bike

Next it’s time for an uphill climb, as we make our way into the historic Upper Town, the winding streets littered with churches, towers, museums and Stone Gate. This is where the two hills Gradec and Kaptol originated. Interestingly, these two communities were constantly fighting, mainly due to the different ideologies, economy vs religion, respectively. It wasn’t until 1850 the two united into the Royal City of Zagreb.

We begin our ride in Kaptol, beginning at the famous Zagreb Cathedral, aka the Cathedral of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in the 11th century and the tallest building in Croatia at 105 feet (344 meters). What you’ll see today — a daunting Neo-Gothic structure with two dizzying spires — looks very different from the original with its Romanesque design, towers and fortifications, destroyed numerous times during various sieges by the Tatars and fires.

Standing in front of the landmark, you’ll also see the 16th century wall, constructed to protect the area in case the Turks waged an attack.

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Zagreb Cathedral

Continuing on, we cycle through the Dolac Market, filled with fresh produce, home-made honeys, nuts, handicrafts and flowers on the lower level. Next we bike along Bloody Bridge (Krvavi Most) — which is actually a street, but was once a wooden bridge and the site of numerous conflicts between Kaptol vs Gradec. It’s hard to believe, as today it’s a narrow street connecting ambient outdoor streets lined with cafes, restaurants and bars.

One thing I’ve found baffling since arriving into Zagreb is the different between a cafe or bar and a restaurant. In Zagreb, it’s not uncommon for a bar or cafe to only serve drinks, due to a law that prohibits the sale of food in places where smoking is allowed. Once Alida explains this to me, it becomes clear why so many of the venues I’ve walked into thus far had nothing edible to serve.

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Dolac Market

When we get to the official entrance to Gradec, Alida instructs me to park my bike so she can tell me a story.

“Thirteenth century Gradec, today Upper Town, was fortified by a stone wall with five gates, or entries, to the city. There was a huge fire at the beginning of the 18th century, burning the entire area to the ground. The only thing that survived was a picture of the Virgin Mary holding little Jesus. It was considered a miracle, and the picture was framed in gold and placed within the gate, making it a shrine to Virgin Mary.”

That is why this gate, Stone Gate, still exists — the other four were destroyed in the early 20th century as they served no purpose — and the Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of Zagreb. The entrance to the city is almost like a small church, old fortified walls standing as a monument and stretching until there is an almost small room with no doors. Inside, a short row of pews sits with people praying, along with a table of prayer candles and a shrine with the Virgin Mary statue. A spiritual feeling permeates the air, and whether you’re religious or not it’s hard not to feel some kind of belief in this miracle.

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The Virgin Mary in Stone Gate

A Special Noon Tradition

Alida encourages me to hurry with photos, as there is a special place we need to be by noon on the dot. This place is Lotrščak Tower, a fortified tower constructed in the 13th century to guard the town — which also, by the way, provides an amazing aerial view of Zagreb. Historically when an attack was coming, the tower bells would ring, signaling to residents the town gates would be closing.

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Lotrščak Tower

Each day at noon since 1877, it’s a tradition for the tower’s Grič cannon to be blasted, paying homage to an interesting legend. From what Alida tells me, Turk attack was thwarted when this very cannon fired a shot that landed directly on the lunch of the Pasha, who decided against waging war on such talented shooters. While Alida admits this is likely a myth, it’s still fun to think about.

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View of Zagreb from Lotrscak Tower

Zagreb Pride

Along with the grey tower, Gradec is home to potentially Zagreb’s most colorful attraction: St. Mark’s Church. Constructed in the 13th century, its brightly tiled room is a symbol of Croatian pride, as even when part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy they made sure to showcase their culture. Take a look and you’ll see the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, as well as the emblem of Zagreb — with the Austro-Hungarian colors just making an appearance for a small section near the bottom edge of the roof. Enhancing the church are the detailed Gothic doors, copper belltower, interior artworks by Croatian-born Ivan Meštrović and Jozo Kljaković, with government buildings standing on the perimeter of the square.

Side note: You’d think the country that bred Tesla would have automatic street lights. Interestingly, you can head to the square around 5-6pm to see a local on a motorbike manually lighting 214 gas street lamps. In all honesty, it adds a charming touch to the already enchanting cobbled streets.

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St. Mark’s Church

To get back to Zagreb’s main square, we leave Upper Town by cycling down what appears like a forest finger, one of many green parks connected to the trail reaching down Medvednica Mountain, in the Tuškanac neighborhood. For a few minutes, I genuinely forget I’m in an urban environment, enveloped in woodland (and focused on the intense speed of my bike racing downward).

A Main Square With An Interesting Past

I make it safely to the bottom, though, and Alida and I cycle to the last spot of the tour: Ban Jelačić Square, the main square of Zagreb. Sitting in the principal pedestrian zone of Zagreb, the first thing you’ll notice is the sculpture of Josip Jelačić on a horse, the first Croatian viceroy, stopping serfdom in the country and organizing the first election for Croatian Parliament.

Says Alida, “He became a very strong symbol of Croatian national awareness. As such he was not very welcome during Yugoslavia – when we all had to be Yugoslavians, not Croatians. The Jelačić statue was erected in 1866, and was also very offensive to Hungarians, since he was the one sent to Hungary by the Austrian king to stop them from being independent. Austria won.”

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Ban Jelačić Square

After WWII, Hungary and Yugoslavia were neighboring countries, so each time Hungarian diplomacy were visiting Zagreb the statue had to be hidden, so all kinds of elaborate and often humorous coverings were built.

The statue was eventually hidden until 1991, when Croatia declared independence.

What’s your favorite way to explore a city? Have you experienced Zagreb? Please share your views and stories in the comments below.

Essential Information:

Blue Bike Zagreb, Trg bana Josipa Jelačića 15, 10000; +385 98 188 3344

Language(s): Croatian, although many locals speak English

Currency: Kuna (As of March 2015, 1 Kuna ~ $0.14 USD)

Tipping: Tipping is not mandatory in Croatia; however, if you thought the service was good you might want to round up to the nearest 10th.

Getting Around: Most of Zagreb is easily walkable or bikeable. Swanky Mint Hostel rents bikes for about $13 USD for 24 hours. The tram costs 10 Kuna (about $1.38) and is another option for getting around the city.

Zagreb International Airport (aka Pleso Airport): From the airport you can take a taxi, which costs about 200 Kuna ($27.69) to get into the city. The more budget-friendly option is taking the bus, which runs about every 30 minutes and costs 30 Kuna ($4.15) to the main train station. From there, you can pick up the tram you need for 10 Kuna ($1.38).

 

A Brooklyn Born Italian on Keeping Food Traditions Alive!

April 15, 2015 by  

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My life began in a little place called Brooklyn, New York, as the daughter to a Sicilian father and a Neopolitan mother. When I entered the world my mother was 38 and my Father was 50, but it didn’t take me long to learn that age is only a number. Until I was 15, we lived in cold water flat railroad rooms — so called because there were no doors and the trains ran right outside. After that, we moved to Flatbush.

My traditions come from a poor, but colorful family. When we moved, the traditions moved. That’s been true ever since; those traditions have stayed with me for a lifetime.

sunday gravy

Above photo courtesy of stockcreations via Shutterstock

For those of Italian heritage, food is a special way of life. That’s particularly true for people with roots in Sicily. A simple immigrant from Palermo, my father brought his own celebration of life with him to America. When he married my mother, she was his dance and together they were the festival their lives would become. His love for life was best exemplified by the meals he prepared. My father loved to cook, from traditional pizza to Sicilian delights to his family-famous pasta and sauce. His loving attitude was perfected through the delights he served at our table.

The tempting smell from the kitchen would awaken anyone from a sound sleep, especially in those tiny door-less bedrooms. My sister and I shared the room right off the kitchen. Aromas of freshly squeezed tomatoes, chopped basil, garlic and meatballs frying in the pan would make their way through the halls. While getting ready for church, I would sneak a small meatball, topping it with a spoonful of sauce. In those days you fasted for three hours before receiving Communion, so we did not eat breakfast. The thought of admitting to my act of contrition always crossing my mind, but my stomach always won the battle.

Following mass, my family would stop at the local bakery and buy a large, round loaf of Italian bread with a crust so hard chewing it would make your mouth sore. Ah, but it was such a nice soreness! Once home, my father sliced the loaf in half, keeping one for dinner and using the other for breakfast. Then, he would thinly slice the bread again and cut out a piece of the middle with a round glass, placing the bread in a pan with a little oil and butter. As the bread and pan heated, an egg would be cracked into the empty middle, tossed once over and served for breakfast. The bread-egg combination not only offered our palates a mouth-watering taste, it kept us full until family and guests joined us later for the main meal.

On Sundays, our late meal was the largest of the day. Both the food and the conversation seemed to go on forever. There were olives, pastas, meats, sauces, salads, cheeses, fruits and wines that would flow into the glasses of the adults. Some Sundays, desert was fruit and cheese, on others my mother would make special sweets. A cup of black espresso helped everyone digest. I carried that taste of Sunday on my lips and in my heart all week, a day of God, family and an amazing feast for which I’m still grateful years later.

sunday gravy

The author’s parents Rosario and Yolanda Mazzara, in America know as Sal and Viola

These culinary traditions gave my family the strength often needed to endure life’s ups and downs. Since the days of my father’s generation, our lives have changed. Through wars, family crises, illness and distant jobs that take us away, it’s now a struggle to keep these traditions alive. Today’s world of fast cars, fast tech and fast food make it hard to slow down and enjoy the good food and interaction that was such an integral part of yesteryear.

I still recall my father’s sauce simmering on the stove for three-to-four hours, and how I couldn’t wait to dip a piece of that hard crusted bread in it for a taste.

Even though life marches on and takes each of us on our own individual journeys, it is still important to recognize that setting the table to partake in a family feast continues to offer the same support for one another as it always did. Although we live in an age of less personal face time – no, no the kind on your iPhone — and more Skype, the miles we are apart should not detract from the spirit conveyed by home-made cuisine and a love for life.

My parents called it gravy when it contained meat and called it sauce when it had no meat, just tomatoes. Here’s how my father made his homemade Sunday gravy.

sunday gravy

Lasagna. Photo courtesy of Rosalyn Larrabee.

Recipe: Pasta/Lasagna With Meatballs & Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy

3-4 cans tomato paste; 2 large cans tomatoes (or 10 large, fresh tomatoes steamed skin off)

3 cloves garlic (two minced, one add as whole)

1 tablespoon red wine

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons oregano

3 teaspoons basis (fresh or dry)

2 teaspoons parsley

1 small chopped onion, 1 small onion whole (peeled)

1 cup water

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons parmesan cheese (grated) (and a pinch more) (later I will tell you about the Italian pinch)

The Meat:

3 beef short ribs

5 pieces pork sausage (link with casing)

Meatballs (1 – 11/2 pounds of lean chopped meat should make 8-12 meatballs/the bigger the meatball the more tender the meatball)

Making The Meatballs:

Place the chopped meat in a bowl with 1 teaspoon each of onion, garlic, parmesan cheese, parsley, oregano, and pignoli (pine nuts)

Add one large or two small eggs

2-3 tablespoons flavored bread crumbs (or make your own or add a slice of dampened bread)

Mix it all in a bowl

Take small scoops and roll with your hands into a ball

Directions:

In a large pot (8-10 quarts), add the olive oil, then the garlic and the chopped onion. Brown slightly.

When light brown, remove from the heat to add your ribs and sausage. Return the pot to medium heat to brown.

Brown the meatballs in a separate pan, adding a little olive oil and garlic

Brown lightly on each side, drain any extra fat, and place in the pot.

Once the meat is in the pot (you can add the meatballs straight to the pot after you add the ingredients if you so choose), brown slightly. Slowly add the tomatoes, paste, the seasonings, the whole onion, and meatballs. Stir and simmer for three (3) hours. Stir occasionally.

Pasta:

Your choice…spaghetti, ziti, lasagna

And here’s how to make the lasagna:

First, you’ll need a pan (13 X 9 is good), preferably glass sprayed with cooking oil

1 egg slightly beaten

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large container ricotta

4 cups mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons parsley

1 large box lasagna noodles (or be adventurous and make your own)

In a mixing bowl, add your ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, parsley, egg, 1 cup of your homemade sauce/gravy (if sauce/gravy is thick add a teaspoon or 2 of water). Mix together.

Layer the pan. On the bottom, place 4 noodles and add several dollops of the cheese mix.

Spread slowly, sprinkle some mozzarella, add another layer of noodles and repeat the process until you reach the top of the pan

At the top, add just mozzarella and some sauce/gravy (3/4 – 1 cup)

Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes

If you like the top crispy, broil on low for five minutes monitoring progress to insure it doesn’t burn

Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes

Slice and serve with your meats, extra sauce, bread, and salad on the side

“Godere!” “Gustare!” “Enjoy!”

Contributed by Rosalyn Larrabee

Traveling Greener: Cities Increase Support for Cycling

April 13, 2015 by  

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Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed recently announced that the city would be launching a bike-sharing program later in 2015, complete with 500 bikes for rent at 50 rental stations across the city, thanks to a deal struck between CycleHop and Social Bicycles. This is one headline of many in the burgeoning cycle tourism movement, proving that Amsterdam is no longer the only place where one can get to know a city on two wheels.

cycling

Photo courtesy of Amy Johansson via Shutterstock.

In addition to health benefits, cycling is an ethical, sustainable means of transportation for residents and tourists alike, affording one an opportunity to get a sense of place in a unique way—and with a low carbon footprint.

For travelers enthusiastic or curious about incorporating cycling into their trips, here are a few go-to resources:

Copenhagenize Index

The Copenhagenize Index 2013 is the “the world’s most comprehensive list of bicycle friendly cities.” Criteria for evaluation included bicycle infrastructure, bicycle sharing programs, perceptions of safety and bicycle advocacy. A great resource for the international cycling tourist, as the great majority of the top-level cities are, unsurprisingly, European.

Social Bicycles

Social Bicycles, or SoBi, is a social media application that allows you to locate, unlock (with a user PIN), and rent bikes in locations around a city that can include parks, college campuses and corporate campuses. Bikes can be returned to any rental station, and the application allows a rider to share their mileage, calories burned, and even CO2 reduction calculation. Already a fixture in cities like Ontario, Phoenix and Tampa, SoBi aims for an increasingly widespread presence in major U.S. and international cities.

cycling

Photo courtesy of Kryvenok Anastasiia via Shutterstock.

Momentum Magazine

A resource of cycle enthusiasts and novices alike, Momentum features an impressive cache of how-tos and and info pieces on gear, attire, cycle tourism, cycle commuting, and family cycling. Highlights for cycle tourists include “Tips for Solo Bicycle Touring,” “How to Crowdsource Your Next Bike Vacation,” and an ever-growing list of city bike tour profiles (including Portland, Honolulu, and Denver).

Bike-Friendly Lodging

Sites like Bikabout and Momentum feature roundups and maps of lodging that will accommodate bikes for the cycling traveler, from campgrounds to hotels to Airbnbs. Bikabout is also cross-listed with Spinlister, a global bike, surfboard and snowboard sharing program.

cycling

Photo courtesy of TDway via Shutterstock.

Adventure Cycling Association

This nonprofit manages a comprehensive website for members and visitors alike, with resources regarding bike tours, bike advocacy, routes and maps, online communities and how-to/info guides.

It’s clear that cycle tourism already encompasses rich communities of participants—and it only stands to grow as a travel movement as more and more cities seek to diversify their tourism and transportation offerings.

What are your thoughts and experiences regarding cycling and travel? Please share in the comments below.

By Paige Sullivan

 

Foodie Alert: Beyond the Scenes of Israeli Cuisine

April 13, 2015 by  

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Israeli cuisine is, by its very nature, a cuisine composed of juxtapositions and contradictions. A cuisine from a state that was only born a little over 60 years ago, a state that quickly became home to people of different backgrounds, languages, cultures and foods. How can one get to the root of this cuisine, and what can we expect now that the spotlight has been turned to it?

israeli cuisine

The History Of Israeli Cuisine

Israeli cuisine is composed of several different elements. The region itself is, of course, strongly influenced by the food in surrounding countries, such as north African countries like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, as well as nearby Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. But it was also strongly influenced by the Ashkenazi Jews who flocked to Israel in the 50s and 60s, people who brought with them an array of recipes from their Old World homes.

Israeli culinary culture was long defined by the country’s relative poverty: dishes that immigrants wanted to make were further defined and modified due to what was available in Israel. Beef and veal, for example, were difficult to come by, as the space needed for large ruminants was not available in the small state. As a result, Israeli cuisine created recipes like turkey schnitzel, a vestige of veal schnitzels from Europe. It wasn’t until much later that influences from surrounding countries brought Arab influences to the national cuisine; today, falafel, a Syrian and Egyptian invention, is the most beloved dish in all of Israel.

israeli cuisine

Strudel image via Shutterstock (Marina Shanti)

One of the most intriguing imports into Israeli cuisine is strudel, the popular Austro-Hungarian pastry. Jews from this region brought strudel to Israel, where it became so famous that the word strudel is now used not only for the pastry but also for the @ symbol in Hebrew.

Israel’s culinary culture is relatively young, like the state itself, but its history stretches back far further than the history of Israel itself.

israeli cuisine

Falafel image care of Shutterstock (Brent Hofacker)

The Future of Israeli Cuisine

The evolution that Roger noticed when he was exploring Israeli cuisine is still occurring — it’s perhaps one of the most exciting culinary landscapes to discover today.

Some elements of the evolution of Israeli cuisine have to do with individual dishes.

“Take kubaneh, a traditional Yemeni shabbat bread, for example,” Roger says. “I first had it at writer, publisher, TV personality Gil Hovav’s home for shabbat lunch. He’s of Yemeni origin. It was delicious: almost burned on the bottom, crunchy on the outside, chewy inside. At Meir Adoni’s very popular Mizlala in Tel Aviv, he serves a kubaneh that’s rich and buttery like a brioche.”

The same dish can be approached in hundreds of different ways, thanks to the background and tastes of the person preparing it.

And Israeli cuisine is now no longer contained just to Israel. New Israeli restaurants are opening all over the world, and chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi are bringing Israeli food to the masses. The most vegan country in the world boasts a great number of recipes for those jumping on the trend of reducing or excluding meat and animal products from their diets.

Contributed By Emily Monaco

First photo courtesy of Rus S via Shutterstock

 

12 Transformative Stays in America: Sleep Among Rich History & Culture

April 11, 2015 by  

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If you want to spend more time in charming historical buildings, consider staying in one of these unique accommodations or visiting some of America’s most interesting art galleries, community spaces and museums. All of them honor their historic roots while breathing new life into places that could have been destroyed.

Art Studios/ Performance Spaces/ Museums:

Peter Nappi Studio, Nashville, TN. Photo courtesy of Peter Nappi.

Photo courtesy of Peter Nappi.

1.Meat Packing Plant Turned Leather & Antiques Shop (Nashville, Tennessee)

A 1906 industrial boiler room overlooking the Cumberland River in the Germantown district of Nashville, Tennessee lay abandoned for over thirty years before Peter Nappi Studio decided to use it for their flagship store. Less than a mile from downtown, this room was part of a 1600-acre compound originally built as a meat packing plant.

Peter Nappi Studio renovated the place into a space that has become a destination in itself, drawing international visitors as often as locals for everything from small, impromptu evenings with legendary musicians to full-scale events for Rolling Stone – and, of course, shopping! It houses the full line of Peter Nappi original leather goods as well as a selection of vintage European furniture, a stage, and an antique bar. Visitors often report feeling as if they’ve stepped into a store straight from the streets of Italy and can relax and sip an espresso, cappuccino, or glass of wine while they shop.

Thalia Hall in Chicago. Photo by Clayton Hauck

Thalia Hall. Photo by Clayton Hauck

2. Old Meets New Performance Space (Chicago, Illinois)

Located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, you can find Thalia Hall, a historic property that has recently been restored to its original nineteenth century glory, boasting a unique performance space, restaurant and bar. At the turn of the century, Pilsen was a Czech community, with Thalia Hall built in 1982 and modeled after Prague’s ornate Opera House. The venue served as a multipurpose property, offering commercial storefronts, residential housing and a performance hall until it was vacated in the 1960s. Thalia Hall remained virtually untouched until the end of 2013 when new owners updated the building, keeping its authentic charm intact. You can still find tooled-tin crown molding, original stone arches and door hinges from its ground floor’s time as a carriage house.

The Thalia Hall performance space provides a new definition of “dinner and a show.” You can find both indie and well-known acts, as well as an onsite restaurant with beer-focused food, every menu item designed to pair with rotating draught beers. Punch House, the basement bar, serves inventive punch cocktails in a retro atmosphere reminiscent of a 1960s rumpus room.

Workhouse Arts Center in Fairfax, VA. Photo courtesy of Workhouse Arts.

Photo courtesy of Workhouse Arts.

3. Correctional Facility Gone Creative (Fairfax, Virginia)

About a hundred years ago, Fairfax, Virginia was home to a correctional facility for Washington, D.C.’s non-violent criminals. Most of the inmates were from the National Women’s Party, who were arrested for picketing in front of the White House for women’s voting rights. The prison had been commissioned by President Teddy Roosevelt, who saw the facility as a way to provide structured work as the basis for the prisoners’ rehabilitation.

Today, the Workhouse Arts Center inhabits the space and houses over 100 working artists. Visitors can tour the grounds, learn about the history of the complex, visit the artists’ studios, participate in art classes and workshops, attend musical and theatre performances and visit a two-story gallery exhibiting local, regional and international artists. There’s also small museum on its property where you can learn about its history as a former prison, with former correctional officers acting as docents.

South Carolina State Museum.  Photo courtesy of SCSM.

Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Museum.

4.The State Museum That Was Once A Cotton Mill (Columbia, South Carolina)

The largest and most comprehensive museum in South Carolina first started as a cotton mill in 1894. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was the first fully electric powered mill in the world and a leading manufacturer of US cotton products. After almost 100 years in operation, it closed its doors and donated the building to the state. This space was converted to the South Carolina State Museum in 1988, although recently reinvigorated with the 2014 “Windows to New Worlds” expansion. This renovation brought the mill back to life after decades of being covered up by dry wall, carpet and other materials. Now, original architectural features and character elements that made the Columbia Mills Building a true historic landmark are exposed for visitors to see.

Plain's Art Museum, Fargo, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of Plain's Art Museum.

Plain’s Art Museum, Fargo, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau.

5. Former Tractor Factory Reinvented Through Art (Fargo, North Dakota)

As one of the top agricultural states in the nation, it’s not surprising that Fargo would be the home to an International Harvester tractor factory. What is more surprising is it’s recent transportation into an art museum, studio and meeting space. First built in 1904, it was renovated 90 years later to take advantage of the large windows and skylights that allow natural light to illuminate the enormous building. Now, the Plains Art Museum includes Hannaher’s, Inc. Print Studio, The Dawson Studio, Café Muse, The Store, the Goldberg Art Lounge, meeting and reception space, frame shop, wood shop, visitor services center, performance areas and permanent collection storage and care areas. The space is connected by a sky bridge to the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity, named after a pioneering art advocate in the region. Click here for more information.

Community Spaces:

Exterior of Ivywild School, turned community center.  Photo courtesy of Ivywild.

Exterior of Ivywild School, turned community center. Photo courtesy of Ivywild.

6. Elementary School Transforms For The Community (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

Originally an elementary school built in 1916, the Ivywild School was closed in 2009. A few years later, neighbors and community leaders decided to turn this space into a multi-use district centered around the idea of linking commerce and community. Shortly thereafter, they decided to move the 18-year old Bristol Brewery over to the space along with a bakery, espresso/cocktail bar, delicatessen and office space. Now open, the bakery reuses yeast from the brewed beer. Community gardens on the property supply restaurants and others with freshly grown ingredients.

Hotels:

Caboose Motel in Finger Lakes, NY>  Photo courtesy of Caboose Motel.

Photo courtesy of Caboose Motel.

7.  Caboose Turned Motel (Finger Lakes, New York)

Many of you have probably napped on a train, but have you ever slept in a caboose? Travelers and train fans alike can enjoy the experience of sleeping on the railroad at the Caboose Motel in the Finger Lakes. Spend an unforgettable night at the only motel in New York State to offer caboose accommodations. Guests can choose between five converted 1916 N5 cabooses located along “Caboose Alley” on tracks originally laid in 1896. Each caboose consists of a family-sized room, with accommodations for up to five people. Along with offering standard amenities, each maintains its original structure and even comes equipped with volume-controlled speaker so you can fall asleep to sound of a train in motion. The cabooses are available for rental April through October.

Ale House Inn, Portsmouth, NH. Photo courtesy of Ale House Inn.

Photo courtesy of Rare Brick.

8. From Brewery Warhouse To Beer Hotel (Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

Ale House Inn honors its past as a former brewery warehouse, circa 1880. Thousands of kegs once rested here as they underwent fermentation and you can still notice the foot-thick brick walls designed to keep the beer at the same temperature 365 days a year. Like many breweries, the company ceased operations in 1917 with the ratification of Prohibition. The boutique hotel that moved into the space has kept much of its brick-walled charm as part of the inn’s aesthetic and continues to capitalize on its history with beer. It’s the perfect place to relax and drink a Portsmouth Brewing Company ale in the central Market Square.

Lobby of Sentinal Boutique Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Sentinal.

Photo courtesy of Sentinal Boutique Hotel.

9. Keeping Accommodation History Alive (Portland, Oregon)

Sentinel is one of Portland’s most storied hotels, situated within two historic downtown buildings – the former Seward Hotel and Elks Lodge — built in 1909 and 1923 respectively. These were joined in 1992 and the space opened as a 100-room boutique hotel in 2014. You can find antique elements such as wrought iron gates that once served as the elevator entryway for the property, vintage lighting from Portland-based Rejuvenation Classic American Lighting, a gently curving 65-footwhite Carrera marble bar and an ornate vintage stained glass ceiling. Moreover, an art collection includes larger-than-life photos and original prints highlighting those who changed the world with their contributions to civil rights, fashion, sports, music and innovation.

While you’re here, be sure to check out Jackknife, the onsite bar. It winds through a variety of distinct architectural spaces that have been stripped down and completely renovated with reclaimed wood and handcrafted details, ending in a speakeasy-style niche created in the former alley. The reclaimed space, never before accessible to the public, is now outfitted with cozy banquette seating with views into the bar and hotel lobby.

Grand Hall at Crowne Plaza Downtown Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of Crown Plaza.

Grand Hall at Crowne Plaza Downtown Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of Crown Plaza.

10. The Country’s Most Hospitable Train Station (Indianapolis, Indiana)

When booking Crowne Plaza Indianapolis-Dwtn-Union Stn, most visitors probably aren’t aware of its unique story. Formerly the world’s first-ever Union Station, you can still find “Ghost People” in the hallways as a relic from this era. Look for white statues of conductors, a family, a woman with her dog and more. The Grand Hall displays original stained glass — now a popular spot for weddings — while 18 original Pullman train cars are still on their original tracks. Today, visitors can rent out these train car rooms, while have trains running over top of them helping to simulate a moving train experience in an antique fashion. Fun fact: Inventor Thomas Edison once work as a telegraph operator for the station.

Waterfall Resort, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Waterfall Resort.

Photo courtesy of Waterfall Resort.

11. A Rich Sea History Remains (Ketchikan, Alaska)

Established in 1912, Waterfall Cannery was the largest, most efficient seafood cannery in Alaska. For generations, the location was a hot spot for some of the country’s best fishing. In 1982, the historic cannery began its transformation to become one of the finest remote sport fishing destinations in the world while preserving original buildings. For example, the white clapboard cabins that once housed workers now provide rustic and comfortable accommodations for guests. Waterfall Resort guests can fish in the same spots that once produced world record-breaking amounts of king salmon (Chinook) and silver salmon (Coho). Its legendary location combined with its all-inclusive four-star guest service, knowledgeable local guides, and tasty Alaskan seafood dining make it a truly memorable experience.

21c hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Photo courtesy of 21c.

21c hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo courtesy of 21c.

12. A Historic Stay With A Creative Twist (Cincinnati, Ohio)

21c Hotel has breathed new life into the 100-year-old Metropole Hotel building, a historic Cincinnati landmark. The restoration preserved many original features, including a sweeping staircase to the second floor ballroom and original mosaic tile floors in the restaurant and elevator lobby. The restored property now features 160 rooms and 8,000 square feet of exhibition space for art installations, rotating exhibitions and exciting cultural programs. The art is open to the public, free of charge, 24/7. While you’re here, be sure to visit the The Metropole Restaurant, named after the iconic hotel, which uses sustainable locally-sourced ingredients and fireplace cooking techniques on a custom-built, wood-burning hearth to create a memorable meal.

 Contributed By Katie Foote 

The post These Historical Buildings Have Been Repurposed Into Amazing Accommodations & Cultural Spaces appeared first on Epicure & Culture.

Where to go for Great Coffee in New Orleans

April 11, 2015 by  

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Photo courtesy of Sally Forest via Shutterstock.

The United States is filled with iconic cities. But perhaps one of the most unique is the Louisiana capital of New Orleans, with its jazz culture, Cajun dining, colorful rambling architecture and infamous night life. You may not think of coffee when you think of New Orleans, but you should.

Here are five of the best cafes in New Orleans:

Photo courtesy of the author.

Café Amélie

If you find yourself in NOLA on a warm day (a very likely occurrence), there’s no finer place to lounge than the leafy courtyard at Café Amélie. The atmosphere is simply gorgeous. Two doors up they also have a sweet corner cafe, Petite Amélie, where you can people watch over an espresso or grab a flaky French pastry to go.

Photo courtesy of the author.

HiVolt

Far from the touristy (albeit charming) French Quarter, the Lower Garden District is one of the coolest neighborhoods in New Orleans. A stone’s throw from shopping and dining thoroughfare Magazine Street, HiVolt is a sleek, artfully-decorated cafe with some of the finest breakfasts in town (think toasted gourmet sandwiches on French baguette). Their latte was the best I had in the city.

Photo courtesy of Spitfire Coffee.

Spitfire Coffee

Deep in the heart of the French Quarter, but far enough removed from the tackiness of Bourbon Street, sits comfy little espresso bar Spitfire. New Orleans cafes don’t get much more central than this, but the atmosphere is still nice and relaxed. Stop here for an afternoon pick-me-up; these guys sure know how to do coffee.

Photo courtesy of Arrow.

Arrow Cafe

Right on the border between the classic French Quarter and the historic music district of Treme, Arrow Cafe is a warm, welcoming space with strong, good coffee. Grab yours to go and enjoy it in the adjacent Louis Armstrong park, a rambling green space devoted to New Orleans’ music history. Or even make an afternoon of it and visit the nearby Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme after your caffeine pick-me-up.

Photo courtesy of Eat.

Eat

Eat is actually more of a restaurant than a cafe, but I couldn’t resist including it as it’s one of the finest dining spots around. Situated on the corner of Dumaine and Dauphine streets, the restaurant is in one of the loveliest spots imaginable, in the northern reaches of the French Quarter. They do excellent filter coffee and their weekend brunches are a force to be reckoned with.

Note: your friends and guidebooks are probably telling you to go to Café du Monde too. New Orleans’ French culture is a major drawcard and it’s fun to stop by du Monde for a powdered sugar beignet, or French donut. But the crowds are madness and the frenetic atmosphere is overpowering, so I recommend you either go in the early morning or hit the to-go counter and enjoy your beignets on the banks of the Mississippi, right next door.

By Gemma King

What’s your favorite New Orleans coffee spot? Please share in the comments below.

 

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