About Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.


Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett

3 Point Products for Carpel Tunnel, Overuse & Pain Relief

July 28, 2015 by  

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For the sports minded among you, no doubt, you have experienced pain over the years from an injury or overuse, whether that be from playing basketball, tennis, golf or simply doing too much in the back garden. As an avid traveler knows, you’re also lifting heavy bags even if you’re smart enough to own luggage with the advanced wheels that ride smoothly alongside you. Ultimately, there’s always some lifting involved on the road or at home.

Let’s face it – a big part of what I do on a daily basis is write, whether that be articles about travel or great products or writing plans and content for clients. If you don’t have a desk job, you will likely be using your limbs differently, perhaps more rigorously. The other thing activity which has increased over the last five years is cell phone use — it’s hard to get away from demands placed on us when people have the ability to text and email us wherever we happen to be; the pressure to respond immediately is astonishing. Every day at the gym, there are women in their twenties who bring their cell phones into the sauna with them – their thumbs flailing up and down vigorously as if the respond must be made instantly.  Then, it should be no surprise that people’s arms, hands and fingers — particularly thumbs — are feeling beaten up.

Photo credit: Healthcarezone.net.

While I’m a huge fan of using dictation software and in fact, am testing out the latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking on my laptop and regularly use Siri on my iPhone, we’re still forced into repetitive motion with our hands and arms regardless of what we do for a living. Writing aside, like many of my fellow avid travelers, I am never far from my Canon 7D, which is heavy on the shoulder, particularly if you’re in love with the numerous lenses like I am. Shooting, particularly wildlife and sports events, requires a steady hand in one position, often in a situation when you can’t rest your arms.

And, so here we are. I realized after having discussions with others on the road, that arm and hand pain was more common than I thought.  This led me to doing a little research on what solutions could be helpful. Certainly, you want to have an ergonomic keyboard and mouse when you’re not on the road (we’d like to explore what’s on the market in a future review — I am using a fairly outdated Logitech keyboard now), and you want  your desk setup to be the proper height and distance from your monitor so you’re not  over straining your arms.

I’m a huge believer in acupuncture also and as mine so rightfully points out, your limbs need to experience different motion than the repetitive motion it gets all day long. It may be tougher to incorporate ergonomic setups and regular acupuncture or massage appointments when you’re on the road, but certainly in the southeast Asia, alternative health options are plentiful and easy to find.

Photo credit: Hughston.

Since I do type and text a lot — see our Instagram feed if you want to see just how much I love mobile photography — I have a fabulous ergonomic system set up at home base, but when I’m traveling, like most of you, there’s no easy way around it. There are props and small devices that might alleviate pain and strain that could easily be packed into your suitcase and while we don’t explore “props” in this review, we are going to look at a series of products by 3 Point, which I found in my research as having a very comprehensive offering, from alleviating arm and elbow pain to hands and thumb issues.

Friends and doctors have suggested picking up a support splint at a drug store like CVS or Walgreens, but the solutions I tried didn’t do the trick. After 20 minutes, my hand was in more pain than before I put it on. The problem with many over the counter solutions is that they’re often cheaply made and not really suited for specific issues, but moreso to be a “catch all” which does have its purpose.

When I’m traveling, I suffer from shoulder pain since I often carry a bag that is heavier than my purse, loaded down with Canon camera gear and lenses. I also have to lift my carry on bag to the overhead bin in airplanes and I need to work from hotel rooms, where my ergonomic setup is sadly far far away. For travelers who have similar patterns, the level of support needs for you may range from tennis elbow and wrist and thumb pain from writing, shooting photos and simply carrying too much gear.

The 3 Point Elbow Wrap is a great solution for tennis elbow or golf elbow for the golfers among us. They also have a product called Wrist Control, which is more suitable for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Fully cushioned, their Wrist Control Splint offers moderate support to rest and relieve pain from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and wrist pain. Below is the Elbow Wrap which comes in black or this lovely soft gray color. The wrap should fit snugly on the forearm just below the elbow joint as shown below.

The 3pp Elbow Wrap works by compressing the muscles and tendons to help relieve pain in your elbow from twisting or lifting motions. As mentioned above, it is used for Tennis Elbow (lateral epicondylitis),Golfer’s Elbow (medial epicondylitis), cumulative trauma disorders or tendinitis, which an increasing number of travelers I know suffer from.

The Elbow Wrap consists of a base sleeve and two straps for adjustable tension — it can be trimmed with scissors if needed. It comes in a small/medium and a medium/large size. I now wear it when I’m at the keyboard for long periods of time and when I’m traveling with a ton of gear in tow. Since it took me awhile to figure out exactly how to “fit it” properly so that it was providing me with the right kind of pressure, I thought I’d include their video so you can see how to correctly put it on and what the pressure should feel like. What I love about the product, is its soft material and flexibility, so it’s comfortable to wear, unlike so many over-the-counter options. It is also very light and small, so easy to throw in your luggage for short or long trips.

Then, there’s the soft 3pp ThumSpica wrap-on splint, which supports your wrist and thumb to relieve pain from tendonitis or overuse problems. The3pp ThumSpica  is used to treat DeQueryain’s tenosynovitis, Gamekeeper’s thumb and CMC joint arthritis. Gentle compression provides control while allowing full hand function – see below. It also comes in a nice soothing to the eye soft gray color. You don’t have to have one of these conditions to get relief however; for those of us who text often or are often on our cell phones using our main finger and thumb frequently for scrolling and navigating, it might be helpful and provide some support.

Since I’m on the phone a lot navigating through social media threads, my thumb takes a beating, even if I use Siri’s voice control and dictation, which I increasingly do more and more. Like the wrist wrap, it’s lightweight and easy to pack in your luggage. Out of all the products in the round-up I decided to review, I probably use this product the most. Why? It’s COMFORTABLE and soft, and easy to slip on and off  when you need to. It also gives my hand the added support I need when I may not need the full support of a wrist control support product like the one I discuss below.

Not all wrist splints are created equal. Meet the 3pp Wrist Control, which is designed to fit securely so it can best work to relieve the pain and tingling of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and to rest conditions of the wrist. It is used for tendinitis, cumulative trauma, wrist sprains and strains, whether that be from sports or overuse.

Softly cushioned (a great feature of all their products is the flexibility in design), this splint features a single supporting stay in the palm to protect the wrist and hold it in proper alignment. The Wrist Control is carefully contoured to avoid pressure on the thumb and allow full finger motion. It is easy to apply D-ring straps which provide closure to hold the wrist securely for control and comfort. Three separate straps allow for a custom fit and easy adjustment for changes in wrist circumference throughout the day. Below are views of the front and back — again, I applaud them for providing a little color to a product that is normally only available in a bland tan (gets dirty too easily) or a masculine black.

It provides decent support but because it’s more flexible than others I’ve tested, I don’t feel like I’m fastened in so tight that its impossible to do my work — this was one of the things I liked most about this product. It’s also so attractive that you don’t feel adverse to wearing it in public locations. I felt moderate relief from using it, particularly when at a keyboard for awhile.

The material is elastomeric foam, nylon and Lyrca — it contains no latex. You can wash their products in cold water with a mild detergent. They recommend air drying them and say do NOT place in dryer. Good point to note in advance.

Bottom line, I’d be surprised if any product gave you complete pain relief . The best you can hope for is healthy support while being comfortable AND relief when you need it most. I found the thumb support to be useful when I’m overdoing it on a mobile phone — anyone who texts a lot knows how painful this is over time. I love the fact that as a traveler, the 3 Points Products are flexible and can fold, so you can easily pack them in your main luggage or even in your carry on bag.

Specializing in splints and supports for hands and feet, 3-Point Products and splints help treat Thumb Arthritis, Mallet Finger, Trigger Finger, Tennis or Golfer’s Elbow and foot conditions such as Hammertoes, Plantar Fasciitis and more. The company was founded by an occupational therapist and orthotist (brace maker) and their team has 30+ years of clinical experience.

Note that the above overview of these products are merely written from my own personal experience and I am not making any medical claims whatsoever nor making a recommendation for a condition. I was simply looking for a solution to alleviate pain while at the keyboard and overuse when traveling and at more severe times at home. I have also been getting acupuncture, which I love and highly recommend as an integral part of any holistic health regime (it’s very relaxing and calms your soul so useful for those of you with no pain issues at all). Acupuncture has also been a great alleviator of short term pain relief in my case.

The review of this product is entirely from a non-medical perspective. It is advised that you first consult with a healthcare professional or specialist who can do an examination for a correct diagnosis and recommended treatment plan, including, if appropriate the right type of splint/brace recommended for your condition.

You can find out how to get these products and others they offer online at  www.ohmyarthritis.com/.

Classic Accessories, A Stylish & Effective Way To Cover Your Gear

July 23, 2015 by  

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If you travel and in particular love adventure travel, no doubt you have plenty of gear. I know I certainly do and I live in a small abode in San Francisco, so don’t have the luxury of space that many may have if they live in more rural areas or a suburb.

Let’s be honest — the basement, closets and attic overflow with stuff that you collect over the years. Your patio or backyard could look neater. One of the things that occurred to me as I started visiting friends for barbecues earlier this summer is how many people didn’t either cover their gear or if they did, the covers looked dingy, as if they were falling apart and frankly, unattractive — in other words, they didn’t all look like the lovely visual you see below, where the covers blend in with the environment and are matched with the furniture itself.

When you leave home on a trip, it’s important to cover your gear so it’s protected from rain and other climatic ailments when you’re gone — even in the summer. Rain rusts your gear and I’ve noticed, even after staining and putting weather resistant slabs on my outdoor wooden tables, its pealing back and starting to rot. Wood needs protection. Metal needs protection. Steel needs protection. We’ve all been there. Even if we have covers, we might get lazy at times and forget to cover up our gear and furniture. Some of you may have found covers in a local hardware store or Home Depot because it might seem like the simplest thing to do.

I realized that even though my grill at home was under a covered area and even had a cover for it, it was ugly, beaten up and I rarely wanted to use it.  I wondered how big of an issue it was for others who travel a lot and had even more gear and outdoor furniture than I had.

In my research, I came across CLASSIC ACCESSORIES, which seemed to have a boatload of covers that protected everything from boats, fishing, golf, garage, patio (chairs, chaise, umbrella, fire pit, love seats, tables and more) to pet beds, RVs, summer gear and toys. Whoahh Nelly! I found that I couldn’t stop browsing their site.

We had mocked up a cover for our heat lamp (you need one if you live in San Francisco) which started flapping in the wind, annoying and ineffective at best. If you have durable and reliable covers that LOOKS great, you’ll want to proactively cover your gear and it won’t be an afterthought.

Take a look at this attractive blue/gray slate colored Heat Lamp Cover in a two-tone style that fits well and isn’t an eyesore for you or your neighbors.  The Classic Accessories StorageSaver system includes an attached stuff sack which makes storing easy. Also, the tough but lightweight weather-resistant fabric takes up less space when not in use. The drawstring in hem ensures a tight, clean fit and a stylish silhouette and the covered vents reduce moisture buildup and prevent cover from ballooning. The model below fits heaters up to 95”H x 34” DIA dome with 18.5” DIA round base although there are plenty of size options for most of their covers.

One of the things I really love about Classic Accessories lines is how many options they had to choose from — not just for different types of gear, but color choices AND varying degrees of durability, which is a huge factor if you want the covers to last for awhile. Take a look at the Hickory Grill Cover below, which comes in tough Weather 10 Fabric which is really rugged, weather protected and also looks great.

The Weather 10  fabric features a rugged fabric top with a protective water-repellent and wipe-clean PVC undercoating. The heavy-duty fabric and tough interlocking seams that they use add strength and durability, making it a great choice for Weber, Charbroil, Jennair, Cuisinart & Napoleon and other propane and natural gas grills. There are air vents which reduce inside condensation and wind lofting and padded handles for easy fitting and removal. ( I LOVE their handles)!

The other thing I love is the elastic hem cord with a toggle allows adjustment for a tight and custom fit and their click-close straps which snap over legs. Also, the material and the look-and-feel is “classic.” In other words, their covers are tasteful and beautifully designed. Have a look at a close up of the above cover to get an idea of the level of detail in their stitching and design.

For those of you who have a firepit, you know the benefit they can provide, keeping your guests cosy at night while sharing stories around the fire. Every avid traveler loves to tell stories after all. Below is their Veranda fire pit cover — again, attractive and durable.

This is apparently a Classic Accessories customer favorite, largley for its fashionable design, durability and extensive collection of covers. The Veranda line features heavyweight Gardelle woven polyester fabric and special water-repellent and resistant undercoating. Like the grill cover, it has tough Weather 10 fabric and a protective dark splash guard skirt (useful and not all covers provide this feature).

Air vents reduce inside condensation and wind lofting and they have padded handles for easy fitting and removal as well as an elastic hem cord with a toggle allows adjustment for a tight and custom fit and click-close straps. This one covers with a 3 Year Warranty — each cover offers a warranty but they differ in length depending on the durability of the style you choose and which line.

A few other fire pit cover styles to give you an idea of their diversity of range.

Okay, so you may not have a fire pit, but nearly everyone has a love seat and Classic Accessories offers a wide range of choices from color and shades to style and durability. I fell in love with their Hickory Series, which again offers an attractive style with rugged material in a neutral color that will go with most patios or backyards. In my research, I hated the fact that so many other cover manufacturers only provided covers in black or that dark masculine green that is so common (and boring….)

 

Like their other products, their love seat covers are made with the Weather 10 fabric, a protective water-repellent, wipe-clean PVC undercoating,and tough interlocking seams for additional strength and durability. Regular features as already noted include their air vents, padded handles, elastic hem cord with a toggle allows adjustment for a tight and custom fit and click-close straps snap over legs to secure cover on windy days. I can’t praise the click-close straps enough, especially for a love seat. They also have a few different sizes too depending on your set, allowing you to choose a snugger one for a better fit. We made the mistake of getting one that is too large for the love seat and should have gone with a small size, so be sure to measure your furniture and gear correctly before ordering.

Other gear you have may be oddly shaped so it’s easier for a cover to stay put when the wind is up, however for a fairly square structure, it makes it so much easier for your cover to simply fly off. I started to use this cover for a love seat on the front patio which gets excessive wind on a regular basis — I don’t even need to secure all of the straps — one or two will easily do the trick to keep the cover securely fitted and in place. I LOVE this feature!

 

A few other designs to give you an idea of colors, two-tone options and styles. If you read this site enough, you know how much of a fan I am about color choices! Bravo team at Classic Accessories!!

They have durable bags and accessories for carrying firewood.

They tout themselves as animal lovers and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have plenty of gear and covers for dog owners — for inside the car, a very cool folding dog bowl, which is GREAT for long road trips with your pets. They even have a kennel jacket for transporting your dogs from A to B, all of which are godsends for travelers who don’t want to leave their dogs home.

Since it’s summer, many of us spend time on lakes and oceans. The Classic Accessories folks also offer pontoon boats and float tubes where they’re proud of their attention to detail that demonstrates that they understand the demands of the sport.

 

TWO THUMBS UP – we love the wide range Classic Accessories has to offer, with its diverse colors and varying degrees of durability.

 

All stock photos from the Classic Accessories website.

7 Fabulous Things To Do In Italy’s Lake Garda

July 17, 2015 by  

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Italy is one of my favorite places in the world, and while I love the busy city breaks of Milan, Venice and Rome, nothing quite beats a week exploring the beautiful Italian lakes. Out of the lakes I have visited so far (Maggiore, Como and Garda), Lake Garda is my favourite. Whilst it is the biggest lake and naturally comes with plenty of tourists, it also offers plenty of activities and attractions to keep you busy, as well as the beautiful lake front to just sit and take a breather from time to time. If you want to plan a bit before you go I found this explore Lake Garda page on the Thomson Lakes site that was pretty useful. There’s enough to do in Lake Garda that you could go back year after year and never get bored but if you’re just after the basics, here are my favourite things to do.

Hire a Car & Road Trip Around the Lake

There are so many towns and fishing villages to explore in Lake Garda, I think it’s a shame to not see or visit as many as possible during your trip. The distance around the lake is around 100 miles long, meaning that driving from town to town doesn’t actually take too long (although watch out for traffic in peak summer!). The last two times I’ve done this, I’ve booked hotels in three towns per week stay; that way I got at least a full day in each town, plus I had time to stop off in smaller villages during the drive. As well as experiencing the different quirks of each town, road tripping allows you to see the lake from every angle, including a beautiful close up view of the Dolomites which you wouldn’t get if you stuck to the east.

Take a Cable Car up to Monte Baldo…

Malcesine is one of my favourite towns on the east side of the lake. It’s a small town but very picturesque, with its medieval streets and very own castle, Castello Scaligero. Malcesine lies on the lake shore, and behind is the beautiful Mount Baldo ridge which can be reached by cable car from the town. Once you’re at the top, you can explore the trails to the left and right, both which have unbelievable views of Lake Garda and its surrounding mountains. There are also a few cafes to stop at if you want to rest and soak in the scenery.

And…Paraglide Down!

There are many sports which Lake Garda hosts but paragliding has to be my absolute favourite! With a wide selection of mountains to paraglide down (we went with a company called Fly2Fun) but Monte Baldo has to be my absolute favourite for the views. It’s a 1,700 metre drop which is terrifying but completely exhilarating; there is honestly no other feeling like it. If you’re an expert paraglider you can choose to do it alone, but for novices like myself, tandem paragliding (with an instructor) is still an unbelievable experience.

Enjoy a Gelato on the Lake Front

While there is tonnes of things to do in Lake Garda, one of my favourite pass times is simply to enjoy the peace with a book in one hand and an authentic Italian gelato in the other. My favourite gelato place in Bardolino is Gelateria Cristallo as it is literally on the lakeside, and there is a huge range of delicious flavours of ice cream to choose from – I’ve tried most and genuinely can’t choose a favourite! If you arrive in the early afternoon and want to spend a few hours or so watching the world go by, their pizzas are also incredible.

Enjoy the Rides at Gardaland Park

Although Gardaland Park can be massively overcrowded; if you go outside of June and July you’re in for such a fun day! The rides are brilliant – much better than any theme park I’ve visited in the UK, and there’s a huge variety, with enough loops, steep drops and water rides to suit everyone’s needs. They also have an app that, if you’re happy to use your phone abroad, gives you the real life queue times for each ride so you can pick and choose on convenience, and the park is open until around 10.30pm so you can easily fit all the rides in in one full day.

Have a Picnic in Brenzone

Most Lake Garda towns are extremely tourist-oriented, which is why I love driving and spending a day in the district of Brenzone. Many of the towns are quiet, peaceful and tourist free as they lack accommodation, making it the perfect day trip out away from crowds. The district is on the east, bordering on to Mount Baldo and as such has some of the most beautiful wooded mountain trails I’ve visited. The beaches in Brenzone are beautiful too, made of beautiful contrasting white sand and sparkling emerald water. My favourite thing to do is grab some Italian meats, bread and olives from local shops and spend the morning hiking, then have a picnic in the afternoon on the beach when it gets too hot to move.

Surf the Wind

After paragliding, my favorite Lake Garda sport has to be windsurfing. The conditions are perfect and if you do fall into the water, it’s at least warm and you’ll dry off pretty quickly. There are plenty of water sports businesses around the lake, so you can pretty much go wherever you’re staying, and depending on your skill level you can take a class, go as a group, or just hire the equipment. A few hours windsurfing really builds up an appetite, meaning you can find a good quality restaurant and splurge on pizza and dessert no matter what time of the day it is.

 

 

The above post was provided by guest partner Thompson Lakes.

Photo credits: https://pixabay.com/en/

 

The Creative & Decadent Foodie Guide to Berlin

July 7, 2015 by  

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Luxe or experiential travel isn’t complete without rounding out your food checklist before venturing to a destination. While some restaurants and street food can certainly be discovered and you should leave some time in your schedule for random “picks”, it’s worth curating a list that is sure to delight your palette before leaving home.

On my recent trip to Berlin GermanyI was able to sample a variety of culinary treats, from street food, German fine and casual dining and a vegan eatery to gourmet markets and a Japanese concept restaurant, brought over from Brooklyn. From mid to high end, classically German and outside courtyards to modern and chic, michelin star and beyond, below is a creatively curated guide for your dining pleasure that focuses on the creative and decadent.

Also be sure to check out my Specialty & Street Food Guide to Berlin as well as the We Blog the World Alternative & Unique Foodie Guide to Berlin.

Creative and Decadent

Studio is a bit off the beaten path and not something you’d randomly find in the heart of a bustling pedestrian area. Newly opened, this modern restaurant known for its Thai and Asian cuisine and fresh and modern influenced German dishes for a lunch crowd, is located on Rheinsberger Strasse in a cool brick building that was once a factory.

The two coolest factoids about the place is that one of the restaurant walls is part of the original Berlin Wall and that 2 michelin star chef extraordinaire Tim Raue is behind it. Tastefully decorated, its clean but warm design achieves a modernly creative and well-balanced result that is inviting any time of day or night.

Above photo credit: Studio.

While Tim specializes in souping up reasonably priced small lunch dishes that are a mix of modern and classic German cuisine, the other side of his restaurant business is upscale Thai, with 3, 5, 7 and 12 course menus and a great selection of wines.

The restaurant just opened in March 2015, so they’re still testing out combos, however to give you an idea of their current 5 course menu at only 58 Euros a head, he starts you out with green asparagus with mango and violet, followed by Red Prawn and Tom Kha Gai, before moving you onto a lamb yellow curry with banana (yum) and finishing you off with coconut, pineapple and vanilla.

The 12 course menu is only 108 Euros a head and has a water spinach tofu and truffle dish that sounds heavenly. The more classic lunch menus offer much smaller dishes and are great options for locals during the week. For example, some of the dishes we tried included a Chicken Salad with pickled cucumber, chives, green beans, mayonnaise and tangerine, a Mustard and chive soup and Codfish with sweet sour cucumber, dill and mashed chervil.

They also had a classic German pork schnitzel with parsley, served over pasta with sauce, which consisted of mushrooms, carrots, ginger, tomato, vegetable stock, tomato paste, garlic, sugar and butter. Hey, the chef came out and I wanted specifics!  The lunch menu changes every two weeks and the Thai menu changes every three months. For dessert, they offered a red fruit jelly served with vanilla and passion fruit.

Chef Tim Raue is also in charge of La Soupe Populaire on the grounds of former Bötzow Brewery, as well as Sra Bua by tim raue at the legendary Hotel Adlon.

Above photo credit from La Soupe Populaire courtesy of photographer Boetzow Berlin.  Cookies and Cream moved to Behrenstraße 55, a fine dining establishment that serious foodies all seem to know about, especially vegetarians. Decadent and chic in every way, it’s well worth a stop if you want to have a luscious but healthy experience in the heart of Berlin.

Entrees include a roasted cauliflower and couscous with wild herbs, raisins and purple curry, a crunchy potato lasagne with fried asparagus, swiss cheese truffle and mushrooms, Parmesan dumplings with cream of artichokes, served with tomatoes, tandoori and herbs, a Celeriac root baked in salt dough with sesame, spinach and onion and a Baked eggplant with fava beans, peanuts and papadam.

A must-order appetizer is their Quail’s egg in brioche, which they serve with port wine shallot, potato foam and truffle jus. And, don’t forget about dessert while you’re there. How about a white bubble chocolate and pistachio concoction served with homemade cassis ice cream and mascarpone? Two thumbs up!

Above photos courtesy of Cookies and Cream site.

Located in the former Cookies and Cream space, you’ll find Crackers Bar & Restaurant, a relatively new restaurant on the Berlin scene. Unless you know where you’re going, you could very easily get lost. We finally found the back entrance after trekking down an alley and past a set of trash bins, however the front entrance is equally as mysterious.

Located behind a large steel door on Friedrichstrasse, Crackers Berlin is a welcome retreat once you find it, since behind this massive door with no windows is a modern chic space with a hip bar that serves outa this world cocktails and modern cuisine.

Because there were several of us, we ordered a mirage of starters and main courses so we could sample as many dishes as possible. Some of the call-out appetizers include Fresh peas with mint, basil and sun-dried tomatoes, Fried courgette flowers with romesco, sage and almonds, Burrata with olive oil, chives and rye bread and the raw scallops, which are then grilled and served with sesame, piscou and goah cress – oh so delicious!

They had a Oxtail soup with praline I didn’t try but let’s just say it stood out on the menu. For mains, we had the Filet or Entrecote beef with salt flakes, pepper stock, and smoked beetroot, the Portobello in Tempura with pumpkin mash, tandoori and herbs, the Stewed Lamb with roasted couscous, and the Pan-fried surgeon with juniper, celery and Beluga caviar (my personal favorite).

For sides, we went with the cauliflower and djah oftadeh, Ricotta with sage butter, broccoli with ginger-chili, marinated fennel and beans with basil and almonds — all things healthy and fresh.

In an area that has a touch of London’s Brixton and Hackney but growing in trendiness every day, lies two fabulous restaurants worth a visit. First on the list is michelin star Horvath on Paul-Lincke-Ufe (aka Paul Lincke Ufer Quay in English), which runs along a river known as the Land Wehr Canal, which we had to cross to get to from metro stop Kotbusser Tor, a ten or so minute walk from this quay.

Photo credit: New York Times. Think modern and chic in every way from the presentation of the dishes to the decor itself.

Dishes selections include a combo of pork chin, trout and eggplant and a veal dish with root vegetables. While the area seems a bit grungy, great restaurants and bars are popping up in this formerly less than stellar area of Kreuzberg.

Photo credit: FoodieinBerlin.

A few restaurants down from Horvath is Spindler Berlin which specializes in a seasonal menu and German wine although it’s worth pointing out that the chef is French. How about this for classic? A “Dry Aged” Schlegel with mushrooms, baby romana and a Schwarzbier sauce or for dessert, a fresh Rhubarb panna cotta?

Above photo credit: Spindler.

Since we were running around town with Henrik Tidefjard, one of Berlin’s ever so chic personal lifestyle guides, we only had a main course at Spindler since we made two previous stops and were planning to wind up at Japanese concept restaurant Zenkichi later in the evening for dessert. Out came an ever so classic Lamb dish with root vegetables which apparently they’re known for, paired with a rich German red I can’t seem to recall the name of despite my anal note taking.

From there, we headed to Zenkichi on Friedrichstadtpalast in the Jewish Quarter — the closest metro stop is Oranienburgerstr.  This unique Japanese upscale eatery is owned by an Israeli Japanese husband wife team and they have a restaurant by the same name in New York’s Brooklyn.

Referred to as a concept restaurant, Israeli born Shaul Margulies stopped by our table to chat with us over cocktails about the restaurant. While we had our own private room for our 12 or so group on a Saturday night, the rest of the restaurant was open and airy with bamboo dividers throughout for added privacy should you wish.

Credit: Zenkichi site.

They served up a selection of homemade desserts and cocktails for us, starting with Fresh Indulgence, which is a Shiso-infused vodka drink with pink grapefruit juice and calpico-milk, and the Bee’s Devotion, which they make with Kuma Rice Shochu,

Yuzu Japanese citrus juice and wildflower honey. The saki choices were a Nishi no Seki from the Kayashima Brewery and a Garyu-Bai from the Miwa Brewery.

Homemade desserts included milk pudding with heavy cream and Japanese kudzu root starch, Azuki red beans and strawberries, Frozen Black Sesame Mousse and a Walnut Chocolate pudding with roasted walnuts! My favorite? Hands down, the Frozen Black Sesame Mousse.

An unusually decadent and exquisite experience is the “must try” Fragrances in Berlin’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, the first bar dedicated to the art of cocktails in combination with the world of perfume and aromas.

Hand-picked fragrances of renowned brands by Giorgio Armani, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Annick Goutal, Yves Saint Laurent and Guerlain, in combination with high-quality spirits from the world-class portfolio of Diageo, are the inspiration for the unique drinks created by bar manager Arnd Heissen. The culinary team serves bar snacks to match the creative drinks at Fragrances, which concentrates the aromas of the perfumes and cocktails using the principle of food-pairing.

For example, their sweet “Macaron Énorme” with vanilla and raspberries ideally matches the drink “Signorina”, which was inspired by the fragrance of the same name by Salvatore Ferragamo.

Photo credit: Ritz Carlton Berlin site. Apparently there’s a special “Luxury Perfume Weekend” you can sign up for at the Ritz Carlton in cooperation with the Berlin perfume manufacturer Frau Tonis Parfum. At an exclusive workshop, you can discover more about the beguiling world of aromas, and can create your own personal fragrance together with a perfume expert. Champagne, canapés and exotic fruits round off your stay in the perfumery at Checkpoint Charlie.

Very impressive and innovative idea!

Photo credit: Ritz Carlton Berlin site.

Relatively new on the Berlin scene, Kantine Kohlmann Restaurant and Bar falls into the creative category more than decadent bucket. This trendy eatery focusing on “bites” along Skalitzer Strasse, has a number of meat and vegetarian friendly small plate options as well as unique drinks, main courses and desserts.

You can choose from a selection of 3, 6 or 9 sides or order any dish on its own, whether it be a small bite or one of their larger entree dishes, like the Beef Ossobuco, which they serve with Couscous and Gremolata, the Marinated Beef Pot Roast with Cassava, Radish and Leek-n-Carrot Sticks or the Wiener Schnitzel with capers and potato cucumber salad.

There’s also a vegetarian stuffed cabbage with Marjoram gravy and lemony mustard seeds and Pearl Barley Jam with Espuma and bacon to Halibut with mashed peas, cucumber juice and asparagus.

Also worth a try is their Aubergine with Chickpeas, cilantro and sesame, the Beetroot Cilantro Tartare (yum), the Roast Beef with Molten Onions, buttermilk and lovage, the Lentil salad with carrots, celeriac and fennel, the Herring Tartare with green apple and dill, the Blood Sausage with creamed sauerkraut, a Walnut Garlic Gazpacho with grapes (loved this) and the infamous German meatball, referred to as Konigsberger Klopse, which they serve with potato form and capers.

For dessert, go for the Elderflower cream cherry compote with pumpernickel and because the place has a great selection of drinks, skip the wine and order a Hugo (prosecco, elderberry flower syrup and mint) or an Aperol with an orange rind to kick things off. Yum!!

Pauly Saal is a mixture of old classic English (leather, classic oriental carpets and kilims on wide wooden floors) and edgy and chic, with their modern sculptures on cocktail tables in its adjoining bar.

I discovered this place in the Jewish District in the former Jewish Girls School on the ground floor. As you enter, you’re greeted with colorful tiles in the hallway until you reach the check in desk where a young handsome German man takes your name.

Below is inside the restaurant itself, which is a bit more formal than its more classic styled bar which is what you hit when you enter.

Photo credit: coolhunting.com.

There’s a sommelier in the house to help you with wine pairing for any of their classic dishes, of which include decadent dishes like a Pork belly Bavarian style with caraway sauce, baked snails and soured onions and Pikeperch with lobster, crunchy vegetables and caper hollandaise.

This is on my top 5 list for my next trip — did I mention that they have over 600 wines? Kafer Restaurant is located on the top of the Reichstag, which is not only one of Berlin’s main highlights and iconic buildings, but is now the modern home of the German Parliament. It has been burned, bombed, rebuilt, buttressed by the Berlin Wall, wrapped in fabric before its transformation.

The original building was designed by Paul Wallot in 1894, and since 1999, it is the place where German Parliament, the Bundestag, works. This followed a total makeover by Lord Norman Foster, who preserved only the building’s historical shell while adding the striking glass dome, which is accessible by lift.

The view is awe-inspiring, as it not only presents Berlin in all its grandeur but gives you a glimpse into the building structure itself around you. There’s a balcony you can walk out onto or you can simply take in the view from your seat in the restaurant.

The dishes are modernly European in style and half the group ordered a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to go along with salad, a delicious Rhubarb soup and the Pike-perch fillet which they served with green asparagus risotto, spring onion, mushrooms and lemon sauce.

They also had a veal dish, which was medium fried and tossed in a Frankfurt green sauce with an almond broccoli salad. For dessert, a delicious yogurt ginger ice cream with crumbles. Yum! Two thumbs up. I loved the open air kitchen as well as I could get a taste of some of the other dishes we didn’t order.

The Westin Grand Hotel Berlin along Friedrichstraße and in a more touristy part of town doesn’t necessarily boast food worth writing home about, but it’s trendy outside Relish Bar & Restaurant with comfortable couches and purple blankets in case you get cold, is simply a fun place to make a stop for a drink and appetizer. Order a lager with Berliner Weisse, which is almost never consumed straight.

Instead, it is drunk “mit Schuss,” that is, with a shot of raspberry or woodruff-flavored syrup, which is very hard to find in the states. If you get a shot with Woodruff, your beer will be green, so the Irish among you will be completely at home with this combination.

This beaux arts-style destination is only a ten minute walk from Brandenburg Gate at Großer Tiergarten. Berlin’s oldest park. There’s also free wifi in case you need to surf the web or catch up on email. Berliners often order their Weisse simply by asking for a “red” (left) or a “green”(right) one.

In the 19th century, Berliner Weisse was often served fortified with a shot of pure or caraway-flavored, vodka-like schnapps, a custom that has now fallen out of favor. Some restaurants now serve Berliner Weisse with a straw, a practice that is apparently frowned upon by the true Weisse cognoscenti.

Be sure to check out my Ultimate History & Culture Guide to Berlin, which is an extensive list of recommendations that cross boundaries — from art, culture and history, to design, fashion, shopping and tours, you’ll learn a lot about the known and the not so known Berlin. Note: I used hashtag #BLNHoods for my trip to Berlin so be sure to check out my Instagram and Twitterfeeds for some great photographs and observations.

  • We Blog the World on INSTAGRAM: http://www.instagram.com/weblogtheworld
  • We Blog the World on TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/weblogtheworld
  • We Blog the World on PINTEREST: http://www.pinterest.com/weblogtheworld
  • We Blog the World on FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/weblogtheworld

Berlin has a number of Michelin Star Restaurants to choose from as well. Have a look:

  • Facil: www.facil.de/en/, S+U Potsdamer Platz (2 michelin stars)
  • Fischers Fritz: www.fischersfritzberlin.com, U Französische Straße (2 michelin stars)
  • Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer: lorenzadlon-esszimmer.de/en/, S Brandenburger Tor (2 michelin stars)
  • Reinstoff: www.reinstoff.eu/english/, U Naturkundemuseum or S Nordbahnhof (2 michelin stars)
  • Tim Raue: tim-raue.com/en/, U Kochstraße (2 michelin stars)
  • 5 – Cinco by Paco Pérez: www.5-cinco.com, S+U Zoologischer Garten (1 michelin star)
  • First Floor: www.firstfloorberlin.de/en/, S+U Zoologischer Garten (1 michelin star)
  • Frühsammers Restaurant: fruehsammers-restaurant.jimdo.com, S Hohenzollerndamm (1 michelin star)
  • Horváth: www.restaurant-horvath.de, U Kottbusser Tor (1 michelin star)
  • Hugos: www.hugos-restaurant.de; S+U Zoologischer Garten (1 michelin star)
  • Les Solistes by Pierre Gagnaire: www.waldorfastoriaberlin.com/deu/Restaurants-Lounges/Les-Solistes, S+U Zoologischer Garten (1 michelin star)
  • Pauly Saal: www.paulysaal.com, S Oranienburger Straße (1 michelin star)
  • Skykitchen: www.skykitchen.berlin, S Landsberger Allee (1 michelin star)
  • VAU: www.vau-berlin.de/en/, U Französische Straße (1 michelin star)
  • Weinbar Rutz: www.weinbar-rutz.de, U Naturkundemuseum (1 michelin star)

 

Farm-to-Table & Summer Dining in the Heart of California’s El Dorado Hills

July 6, 2015 by  

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When you think of the rural El Dorado Hills in Eastern California, you don’t necessarily think of food despite its abundance of wineries in the region. They are likely names you’ve never heard of like Cielo Estate, Colibri Ridge, Busby Cellars, Mount Aukum, Single Leaf, Sierra Vista, Shadow Ranch, Saluti Cellars, Nello Olivo, Perry Creek, Skinner, Windwalker, Findleton Estate, Grace Patriot Wines, Crystal Basin and Fenton Herriott, although there were a couple on the list I had heard of, like Gold Hill (we bought wine here) and David Girard Vineyards, where we saw selections from on a few restaurants in the area, so had an opportunity to pair them with meals in addition to sampling their reds at their tasting room.

Dinner for our first evening in El Dorado County was at a very popular local that later, we learned, is a favorite among many — Cafe Mahjaic on Lotus Road in Lotus CA, a close drive from our Italian Villa where we hung our hat for a few days. Since we wanted to sample what locals insist on, we were fortunate that our host ordered the Pork Schnitzel with Spaetzle, which was made with naturally raised Niman Ranch pork tenderloin and prepared with a bread crust over spaetzle. The dish was served with fresh herbs, capers and lemon beurre blanc and roasted corn of course! Yum!

We also tried the fish special of the day, which changes weekly with the seasons – we were lucky to be there in June when salmon was fresh.

What I loved most about this restaurant was it’s creative menu — from traditional Coq Au Vin to Provencal Stuffed Peppers! Clearly there was a central and northern European influence but they also had a Greek infusion throughout. One specialty was the Saganaki, which is Kasseri Cheese sauteed, flamed with brandy and extinguished with lemon, and served with crusty white bread. If you’re in the mood for something heavier and more classic, they had a Wagyu Coulotte Steak on the menu, grilled with garlic rosemary sauce, horseradish creme fraiche and roasted fingerling potatoes. You can imagine just how delicious that would be with a Cedarville Syrah or Four Fields Grenache. Of course, if you’re not adventurous and don’t want to try one of the medium bodied reds from the county, you could always opt for a bigger Cab from Napa.

They insisted we try the Grilled Prawm appetizer and how could we say no! Delicious — it was brushed with a smoked chili butter over tomatillo salsa, with black bean sauce and a flour tortilla. Also famous is their Chocolate Chipotle Prawns sauteed in a Scharffen Berger chocolate, brown sugar, chipotle sauce, avocado and jasmine rice! While we LOVE artichoke, we sadly took a pass since we already had plenty to sample and share, but if I were to return, I’d definitely order this gem of an appetizer, which they grill with a flat bread, hummus, clarified butter and fresh lemon.

They offered a number of local wines by the bottle to pair with your meal as well as from nearby counties – Pinot, Frenach, Barbera, Zin, Merlot and Primitivo was on the menu from North Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley, El Dorado County, Amador County, and Santa Ynez Valley. We went with a local option of course — two thumbs up!

The Farm Table is a Restaurant and Market specializing in the farmstead arts of preservation and whole harvest cookery in the heart of Placerville CA. When you first walk in, you might think it’s a simple small town take out and lunch eatery for locals and in fact, it absolutely serves that purpose and market, however there’s a special story behind it that makes it a little more interesting. Despite its small town feel (not unlike where I grew up), they are all things sustainable in every way. They use the best of local and seasonal ingredients and offer many delicious gluten-free and vegetarian options as well, which is often hard to find in a smaller American town.

What they’re most known for however is their house-made sausages and charcuterie, pickled seasonal vegetables, preserves and condiments, picnic provisions, local and imported beer and wine. They also have gourmet gifts and souvenirs for the road. Their preserves are delicious, so much so that I asked for seconds, which was a great accompaniment with our lunch order.

The husband wife team owners Zach and Kara Taylor started Smokey Ridge Charcuterie in 2010 which was based off of their family farm on Carson Road. When they first expanded, they started with the Apple Sausage and quickly grew their product list to include dozens of hand-crafted sausages, several pates, dry-cured bacon, duck confit and preserves, condiments and pickles. YUM!!

After 4 years developing a loyal following at farmer’s markets, through their club, and at their family Farm Stand, they moved into town and started a location smack in the middle of Main Street. The menu was diverse and had so many charcuterie options, I didn’t quite know which one to choose, so we opted for a sampler plate. While you can get larger plates (Rabbit Pot Pie, Fried Chicken, Vegetable Risotto, Salmon with lemon-herb creme fraiche, Duck Confit or a Black Angus New York Strip), one of the samplers is the definitely the way to go.

Below, we dove into Prosciutto di Parma (t’was my favorite), the Chicken Liver Pate, and the Duck Pastrami (the latter two both house-made). Accompanying this delicious trio were picked baby carrots with tarragon, cornichons, olives, pickled garlic scrapes (delicious), homemade red wine jelly, red mustard, pickled root vegetables and Chevre. You can order the platters with baguettes or crackers and cool beans that they also offer an option of gluten free crackers if you’re watching your gluten intake.

You can add on a sandwich if you’d like, one of their sides (bacon biscuits drew my attention as did the risotto and deviled eggs), or a house or spring salad, both of which you can add salmon or chicken to if you wish. They also offer picnic boxes for groups, which makes a great takeaway item if you’re going off for the day with your family or on a long day hike. While organic and all things fresh is their typical order of the day, if you want to order a little more guiltily, you certain can — the Pastrami sandwich or the Hot Rueben with sauerkraut and swiss and Russian dressing both come to mind.

The Argonaut Farm-to-Fork Cafe is a cozy, river front restaurant located within the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. Their core? Organic and locally sourced ingredients, from breakfast and lunch items to their freshly squeezed juices! They also had a nice range of sorbet and Italian styled gelato, which given that it was close to 100 degrees the day we were there, it made for a perfect choice!

The eatery is housed in a small wooden house with uneven floors and an unbeatable charm on the exterior and interior. For a moment or two, I was taken away to good ole Cape Cod however a quick pinch reminded me that I was in the wide open valleys of California in a small town with a big river running through it that brings people over its mild rapids on rafts and tubes throughout the summer months. Because the space is small, they can’t house a lot of fresh product on-site but as fresh as they can get it, they do, sourcing as much from local farmers in the region as possible.

Now onto their fresh juices and drinks — from seasonable berry, spirulina and coconut water smoothies to carrot, apple, ginger, celery, cucumber and spinach juices, it’s hard to beat freshly prepared juiced greens and veggies to give yourself an energy boost on a hot day. What’s nice is that they also had homemade lavender lemonade (YUM!) and booster shots you can add to any combo, including Acerola Cherry & Honey, local bee pollen, chia seeds, maca, coconut oil and Brazilian nut protein powder.

Homemade fresh cookies inside! For the more traditional, there’s root beer, drip coffee and herbal tea with a twist, like their Lotus Love, which is made with Vanilla Rooibos with steamed milk and maple syrup.

Not far away is the well known historical Sierra Nevada House, which has become an institution over the years. Set in the Sierra Nevada foothills, this casual, historic hotel dates from the 19th century. In 1839, when the foothills of the Sierras were open wilderness and the unchallenged domain of the Miwok and Maidu Indians, an adventurous Swiss pioneer wandered into the Central Valley and built a modest fort at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, a time which ushered in an era of economic boom from which the Sierra Nevada House, and much of the history of the West, would eventually find its roots.

The sleepy ranch became a bustling hub of criss-crossing travelers and pioneers, and Sutter understood that he had to expand the fort to accommodate the rising tide of wagons and people. The hotel remained alive until it burned down by fire in 1902 and was rebuilt in the 1960′s in a design reminiscent of its original 1850′s heritage. Owner Keith Merson took over the hotel and restaurant, which has a lovely outside seating area for dining and listening to live music on summer weekends.

It’s a block from the South Fork American River and 0.6 miles from the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where we spent most of our time during our stay in El Dorado County.  Small plates are likely more typical of the kind of fare people go to the Sierra Nevada House for and include items like Kung Pao Chicken Wings, Beer Battered Artichoke Hearts, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, Deep Fried Green Beans, Calamari Fritti, Whithe Truffle Mac and Cheese, Sweet Potato Fries, soups and salads. Of course, we had to try the spicy clams, which they serve in a spicy white wine broth – it paired perfectly with a cold Chardonnay.

Lunch which is served all day includes southern and Caribbean style sandwiches like Pulled Pork, Caribbean Chicken in a spicy marinade, Blackened Catfish BLT and Fish and Chips. They’re also known for serving a mean (and delicious) burger. While I was eyeing the Cajun Meatloaf with roasted red peppers and Baby Back Ribs with a spicy Bourbon barbeque sauce, we ended up with a fish over linguini dish and the catch of the day. There was also the divine seafood stew with a spicy tomato and fennel (LOVE fennel) broth served with warm sourdough bread.

Two thumbs up! The service was outa this world, the owner was about as gracious as they get and we had the added benefit of being there on a weekend evening, so were able to take in the energy of a local band who had locals dancing and tapping their feet. I wished we had more time — the evening air was warm with just a slight breeze and the night’s serene energy was a lovely balance side-by-side with their upbeat music which brought smiles to every diner’s face.

Catch my write-up on Serene & Romantic Getaways in the Heart of Gold Country as well as my article on Gold Country for Wine, Romance & River Fun.

Head to California’s Gold Country For Serenity, Wine & River Fun!

July 4, 2015 by  

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The truth is that I had never heard of El Dorado County so I certainly didn’t know where this “hot spot” was located when I was first encouraged to explore the area via a Twitter exchange one day close to a year ago. “Hot spot” shouldn’t go unnoticed because it’s not just a hot spot as a great Family Travel getaway but it’s also climatically very“hot” — that kind of dry heat that you feel in the California desert inland, which loses its breeze from the coast and any micro-climates surrounding it. It’s the home of cottonwood, rolling hills, wineries, a fun flowing river and gold. Yes, you heard me right, gold!

For historian buffs, El Dorado is the heart of Gold Country, the region of Eastern California where they discovered gold in the mid-1800′s and gold panning is done to this day. While my visit was short and almost accidental, I came across a group panning for gold in the middle of the park in Coloma. There’s an art to it as you have probably imagined. Essentially, it’s a form of placer mining and traditional mining that extracts gold from a placer deposit using a pan. The process is one of the simplest ways to extract gold, and is popular with geology enthusiasts especially because of its cheap cost and the relatively simple and easy process. AND, it’s a great thing to do with kids.

Panning For Gold

Teach me to be an expert oh gold panning maestro! 

The barn and trough on the premises where you pan for gold!

Coloma, Lotus, Placerville and the surrounding communities offer the gold panning experience throughout the year and is a great family destination overall not just because of the gold mines and ability to pan for it, but because of the luscious river that runs through the area.

Other places known for panning for gold which are short side trips from San Francisco and the Bay Area, include Angels Camp, a historic mountain town in Calaveras County along Highway 49,  Jamestown in Toulumne County at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Amador City in Amador County, the smallest of towns mentioned here, also on Highway 49 Gold Country strip where you can also ride a buggy into the Sutter Gold Mine and Sonora in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, where you can not only pan for gold but take in the beauty of the lakes and waterfalls nearby as well.

While I haven’t yet been to any of the places noted above, so I can’t truly compare them all, what I found so inviting about El Dorado County is the warmth and authenticity of the locals. It somehow felt as if we were being adopted as family every time we met someone new.

The Gold Bug Park & Mine

A great “fun for kids” activity that is also a historical treat for adults is The Gold Bug Park & Mine, located on Gold Bug Lane in Placerville CA. This 62 acre park located a mile off Highway 50 has 2 hard rock mines, a blacksmith shop, museum, stamp mill and miles of hiking trails. While we didn’t have time to do the miles of hiking trails, we did do a tour of the mine itself.

Formerly known as the Vulture, it has been open as far back as 1867. The mine exemplifies a typical neighborhood hard rock mine of the Mother Lode — the 352 foot drift has wood flooring and lighting to accommodate the public so it’s easier to see as you make your way through the cool mine, which was a far cry from the explosive heat wave we experienced the weekend we were there.

The tours are self guided, where you’ll learn how the old hard-rock miners drilled and blasted their way through the native rock to find the gold.

Below is the little shop at the start of the tour where you can look at gems, read the history and chat with an elderly man who manages the tickets and is a wealth of knowledge about the mine and the area.

We had a little audio guide to educate us along the way — below a shot I took on  my iPhone of the ceiling of the mine as we ducked our heads, making our way through.

Also worth noting is the Stamp  Mill, which is a working scale model of the 8 stamp mill. It offers interpretive panels and an extensive collection of minerals and gems on display. It is located 1 mile north of Highway 50 on Bedford Avenue in Placerville CA.

Wine Tasting at El Dorado Wineries

When you think of northern California, wine tasting wouldn’t be far from your mind and those of you who have spent time in Sonoma and Napa Valley know that while both have become more and more commercialized, there’s still plenty of delicious wine to be sampled at both. That said, we believe in the magic of the undiscovered and just like Paso Robles wines have been surprising us more and more, we were thrilled to learn that El Dorado County also boasts a number of vineyards that are scattered throughout the hills.

Since it was over 100 degrees when we arrived (a rare June weekend heatwave), we weren’t particularly in the mood to taste wine as much as we were to find a cold dipping pool or the river to cool off. That said, by the second day, we not only got our second wind, but the temperature started cooling down a bit and lo and behold, we went exploring.

With limited time, we didn’t manage to get to every winery on the list of small and mid-sized wineries (mostly small) in the region. Some of the wineries worth mentioning include Cielo Estate, Colibri Ridge, Busby Cellars, Mount Aukum, Single Leaf, Sierra Vista, Shadow Ranch, Saluti Cellars, Nello Olivo, Perry Creek, Skinner, Windwalker, Findleton Estate, Grace Patriot Wines, Crystal Basin, Fenton Herriott, Everjart CellarsJart2Jart Vineyards, Gold Hill and David Girard Vineyards.

Gold Hill Vineyards, which was founded in 1980, has been producing award-winning Bordeaux reds and Chardonnay since 1985 and since 2000, Italian and Rhone varietals, which makes sense since the climate is great for those Rhone varietals. Gold Hill’s cellar and cave houses 3,500 cases of wine and while I wished now we had left with a case of that 3,500 we only walked out with one bottle. Note to self for next time — be better prepared! Below is a shot of the vineyard after our tasting on that hot afternoon.

David Girard Vineyards along Cold Springs Road seems to be the most commercial winery among the bunch we visited. They’re large in size, well known and respected and host a number of social events throughout the year for wine club members, one of which was happening when we were there. The upside to arriving during one of their events was that we got to taste a newly released Rhone varietal we hadn’t expected. YUM!

Nestled in the Sierra Foothills, they have dedicated most of their 36 acre planting to Rhone varieties. This lovely and decadent estate is a great spot for summer wine tasting and if you bring your own cheese and baguette, I’d encourage you to buy a bottle and relax for an hour or two while taking in the beautiful environs. They focus on distinctive and elegant Rhone-inspired wines that express the unique qualities of their terrain.

Yoga in Gold Country

In the heart of small town Placerville, Main Street Yoga was a delightful surprise. Not only was the weekend getaway about slowing down and getting away from our urban hectic schedules, but tuning into mindfulness along the way. Quite frankly, there’s no better activity to add to your schedule than a yoga class to keep things aligned in both body and mind.

While they offered Vinyasa Yoga Flow, as well as meditative classes, we decided to try Yin Yoga since we had never tried it before. Yin Yoga Yoga is a complement to Vinyasa Flow. In this healing practice, floor postures are held passively for several minutes in order to access a safe, positive ‘stress’ on deep connective tissues, fascia, joints, and ligaments. With bypassing the large muscles, you are able to reach the deep tissue. Yin restores and maintains natural lubrication and mobility of the joints while working with specific meridians of the body to achieve optimum organ health.

They have Yoga Nidra and Pranayama once a month where you are guided through a deep relaxation, giving rest to the mind, brain, nervous system, and body. We loved our teacher and the space — it was once a bank so part of the studio opens up to an old vault and the walls are made of brick, giving it a historical authentic look and feel. T’was peaceful and serene and just what we needed!

Dining in Gold Country

While the weekend wasn’t necessarily centered around food and wine, because of the County’s numerous vineyards, we were able to taste several at the wineries tasting rooms and sample others at some of the area’s restaurants. Be sure to see my write-up on foodie and restaurant picks in the area, of which includes The Farm Table in Placerville, Cafe Mahjaic in Lotus, The Argonaut Farm-to-Fork Cafe and Sierra Nevada House, both in Coloma CA. Below is one of the dishes we tried at Cafe Mahjaic and below it, the spicy clam appetizer from the very historical Sierra Nevada House, where they have live music every weekend during summer months.

Cafe Mahjaic

Sierra Nevada House 

Below, the old fashioned small town charm of The Argonaut Farm-to-Fork Cafe, set in a little brown wooden house in the middle of the state park — they serve sustainable, fresh organic breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as freshly squeezed juices and gelato.

Tubing & White Water Rafting

Who doesn’t love white water rafting? While I was feeling a tad under the weather when we arrived, my mind went back in time to the last time I went rafting, which was a more serious river. What’s nice about the river runs in the area that make them ideal for family trips, is that the river is a Level 2, so you need to worry a whole lot less about getting thrown into a boulder or off the raft entirely.

Adventure Connection on 6500 State Highway 49 in Lotus offers a variety of river rafting trips down the South Fork of the American River, which you can do solo, as a couple or as a group if you have enough people to book out the entire raft. Either way, FUN will be an integral part of your takeaway!!

So, if fun is your middle name, or if you want it to be, then white water rafting is the way to go down the great American River. we’re keen to return to El Dorado County to do a full day white water rafting tour on a hot summer day. Thanks for the encouragement Jody and Nathan!

Rafting shots courtesy of Adventure Connection.

You can also go rafting directly from Coloma Resort which focuses on family camping for the most part.  We went tubing all afternoon — let’s just say that we wished we had more time. If you don’t have your own tube, flotation tubes can be purchased at their General Store as well as water shoes, which I’d highly recommend bringing if you own a pair — remember your feet are dangling off the edge as you meander your way down the river and you are bound to meet boulders and rocks along the way.

That said, it’s very safe as long as you use precaution and we saw many kids also tubing down the river to our left and right. While you can use your hands to direct yourself, I’d recommend a little rubber paddle, which we’ll be sure to bring next time as it makes it easier to navigate.  Tubing was so much fun, so much so that we had a hard time leaving the river.  The camping resort is located adjacent to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

Photo courtesy: Coloma Resort since we didn’t have a waterproof camera to get shots of the smiles on our face en route.

The American River and Coloma Bridge

Close to where we stayed was access to the infamous American River, which not only is a popular spot for swimming, but also for white water rafting and tubing as noted above. Truthfully, it was hard to stop. After each trip down the river, we wanted to do yet one more run. After our experience, I was able to grab a few shots from the historic Coloma Bridge which made it even harder to leave as we recalled the fun we just had making our way downstream.

The bridge itself is worth walking over despite its narrow passing. Built in 1915, the single lane bridge means that traffic must stop while cars go in one direction, so allow time to cross if it’s part of your agenda.

Swimmers enjoy cooling off along the banks of the river

The stunning views you get of the valley and trees beyond from the bridge

Above and below, the historical Coloma Bridge.

History Galore

There’s a ton of history to explore in the region from the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park to experiencing gold yourself, whether that be through panning (above) or walking through a gold mine. Marshall Gold Park was named after James Marshall who discovered gold on January 24, 1848, touching off the largest human migration in history. This singular event not only changed the fate of California, but teh entire nation.  A recent addition is the completion of a new replica of the saw mill where James Marshall discovered the first nugget.

Below extends the area’s history in the small town of Placerville nearby. Main Street has a ton of quaint shops, restaurants, cafes, and a delicious olive oil shop called Winterhill Olive Oil, where we went home with a couple of bottles (Basil & Rosemary). I wished I had also gotten a bottle of the Lemon and the Garlic infused olive oil — all of them were so delicious!  Below is a snippet of the main drag where we spent an afternoon.

A few historical points of interest include the Pearson’s Soda Works (1859), Empire Theater (1850), Fountain  Tallman Soda Works (1852), the Bell Tower, and art galleries on Main Street. You can feel the history as you walk down the street, from the Placerville Newsstand (around since 1856) and Placerville Hardware Store (1853 – it’s a fun place to walk around), Cary House Hotel (1857) and Combellacks from 1888.

Festivals & Events

There are a boat load of events that are of particular interest for Family Travel that occur throughout the year although there are others centered around food/wine and rocks that of interest to the adventure traveler, the food lover and the historian.

Others that jumped out for me and our audience included the Wagon Train and BBQ Rib Cook Off which they had in early June, the El Dorado Hills Art and Wine Affaire in May, and Rock’s and Rhones Festival in late May, which celebrates Rhone Varietals grown in the rocky soils of Pleasant Valley.

Upcoming events that caught our eye include the American River Music Festival in mid September, which is held on the banks of the South Fork of the American River. The event features 30 Americana Blues and Folk music performances, workshops, camping/lodging, hiking, rafting, kids activities, live art, art vendors, food and more. More information at www.americanrivermusic.org.

Photo credit: www.americanriverresort.com.

The Coloma Gold Rush Live is in mid October and for two days, Coloma will be packed with images, sounds, and hands-on experiences dating back to the California Gold Rush. Also in mid-October, is the annual Rock & Gem Show, where there’s hands on activities for the new rock hobbiest as well as the experienced rockhounds. I love gems and rocks so this jumped off the page for me when I was digging around. There’s dealers, displays, demonstrations, rocks, minerals, gems, jerelry, beads, fossils, petrified wood and more. More at www.rockandgemshow.org.

Photo credit: oilcitywyo.com.

Read Farm-to-Table & Summer Dining in the Heart of California’s El Dorado Hills and 2 Romantic & Serenity Getaways in the Heart of California’s Gold Country.

More information on the area can be found at www.visit-eldorado.com. While some of my activities were hosted by the El Dorado Tourism Board, all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

The United Nations Turns 70 in San Francisco, Where It All Began

July 2, 2015 by  

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Last Friday, I was invited together to attend an anniversary event held at San Francisco’s City Hall which celebrated the 70 years the United Nations Charter was signed. I was selected as one of 70 Bay Area Digital Leaders to participate in the event together with ambassadors from around the globe. Deemed a Charter Commemoration Ceremony, remarks and speeches were given by Governor Edmund Brown, Mayor Ed Lee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon shortly after the Boys Choir entertained the audience.

Even without the UN Anniversary celebration in play, it was already a day San Franciscans would never forget — earlier that morning, the SCOTUS ruling was announced and same sex marriage was legally voted in, which had a profound impact on the city where it all began. As I made my way up the City Hall entrance, hundreds were gathered on the front steps, joyful screams of the positive outcome echoing into the morning air.

The Governor talked about the significance of the Charter and San Francisco’s role back then and of course how San Franciscans can be involved in the UN’s work in the years to come. Conveniently seated in a second row aisle seat, I managed to get some fairly close shots of the morning’s on-stage activities.

Most impactful for me was Nancy Pelosi who also referenced the SCOTUS ruling and the powerful impact San Francisco has had on the nation. Connected events in the Bay Area included meetings of the Secretary-General with business leaders and entrepreneurs; the unveiling of a Zio Ziegler mural in Oakland that celebrates the UN’s 70th anniversary and which was inspired by the new global goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals; and the presentation of the Harvey Milk Medal — seen as one of the most significant recognitions from the LGBT global human rights community — to the UN Secretary-General by members of the Harvey Milk Foundation Board, Stuart Milk and Anette Trettenbergstuen, who is the only openly lesbian politician in the Norwegian Parliament.

As the speeches ended, there was a flurry of activity in the main room, from ambassadors shaking hands with other ambassadors they knew or hadn’t seen in awhile to many wanting to take photos on the UN steps.

Below,  Omar Hilale, Morocco’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. Also nearby was Sékou Kassé, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Mali to the UN.

From Ghana and Panama to Bahrain and Southeast Asia, permanent representatives to the UN showed up for this prestigious event.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but a group of Cambodian monks also showed up for the event — my only wish was that I would have had an opportunity and time for a separate briefing with them to learn more about their world and how to more effectively take their calming energy and wisdom forth into mine.

The architecture was as to be expected, stunning and only added to the historical element of the day. Also worth noting for those wanting to help is the Eleanor Roosevelt Fund, which is a new way to donate to advance the future of the UN’s vital work on human rights, children’s health, gender equality, the environment and sustainable development.

From the ceiling to exquisite panoramic views….albeit a little distorted, my iPhone shots will give you an idea of my view on June 26.

Additional opportunities to celebrate and support the UN at the time of their “Big 70″ include something our group (the 70 Digital Leaders) were privvy to advance: two hashtags highlighting the event, #UN70 and #UNdiscovered, which is a social media initiative inviting people to post photos to social media networks showing their connections to the UN and UN causes.

Photos included could include everything from sites in San Francisco related to the origins of the UN, to a symbol of human rights, to activities working to alleviate poverty.  The #UN70 hashtag was used more than 10,357 times with a reach of 37,618,280 and more than 292,321,987 impressions and the #UNdiscovered hashtag was used 376 times with a reach of 717,996 and 7,204,794 impressions and that was on Friday alone.

 

 

 

 

 

It was equally memorable and emotional when the room was close to empty at the start and end of the briefing as it was when it was packed with thought leaders and politicians, camera crew lining the back walls.

Another surprise I hadn’t expected was a standalone interactive discussion solely for the Bay Area’s 70 Digital Leaders after the event. The inspiring dialogue was led by Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division, Department of Information at the UN, who has been leading the outreach effort since 2011. Another nice surprise was the very brave 17 year old Malala YoUsafZai aka @MalalasMs who came to address our group.

For those not familiar with her work, she’s the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, most known for human rights advocacy for education and for women in her native Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Yousafzai’s advocacy has since grown into an international movement, getting her nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.

After several touching moments with her at San Francisco’s City Hall, we discussed how, as a group with independent voices and platforms, we could help the UN attain their global goals. The truth is that many of you reading also have a digital presence and spearhead or help elevate a cause or two that you care most passionately about.

“2015 presents a historic and unprecedented opportunity to bring the countries and citizens of the world together to decide and embark on new paths to improve the lives of people everywhere.

These decisions will determine the global course of action to end poverty, promote prosperity and well-being for all, protect the environment and address climate change.”

–United Nations

More information on their initiatives and global goals can be found @theglobalgoals on Twitter and Instagram and www.globalgoals.org on the web! I was honored to be invited and grateful that I was not on an airplane elsewhere last week so I was able to participate on such a lovely and memorable historical day.

2 Romantic & Serenity Getaways in the Heart of California’s Gold Country

June 30, 2015 by  

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A recent long weekend getaway took us east bound towards the El Dorado Hills in Eastern California. While there are certain high end chains I have had outstanding experiences (Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and a handful of others), I tend to lean towards the boutique luxury property, whether that be for a family stay or a romantic getaway. In this case, it was more of a rest & relaxation meditative retreat, a much needed break from urban living.

While San Francisco might not have the chaotic energy of New York City, I still hear sirens countless times of day from our second floor adobe-like house (is it me, or have ambulance calls quadrupled in the last year?) and we get the odd planes flying over and fighting cats in the back more often than I’d like for my haven of a retreat I call home. Home should give you a sense of solitude and peace and while we have tried to create as much of it as possible from a city back patio, it’s not the same as rural escapes where you can barely hear a pin drop in between the birds chirping in the early mornings.

Rather than head to a hotel, as luxury as it could be, we landed at a Villa, which is a quasi B&B style inn off a narrow quiet road in Coloma CA. The European-style Villa Florentina is surrounded by olive trees and houses a beautiful fountain bursting with refreshing cool water, a welcome retreat on a hot June weekend.

It was one of those hot scorching days when we arrived and we quickly learned that many places don’t have swimming pools because the river runs through the area and is a hop, skip and a jump to get to regardless of where you stay in the county. Exceeding 100 degrees when we first pulled up, splashing cold water from the Villa’s fountain was a nice way to greet this unique lodging getaway. We also learned that it is a known place for weddings in the area and it’s not surprising to see why when you see the exquisite grounds.

The Villa by night….

There are only a few rooms on the upper level, but all of them boast views and a couple have outside sitting areas where you can gaze at the valley around you. The ftont patio area you see at the top has a lovely view of the property – this repeats itself in the back, which is a great place to have a massage and so….I did. The nice thing about the property is that you can have a massage brought to you!

Wellness isn’t necessarily their theme despite the fact that you can have a massage on call and give them food preferences before you arrived. Since I’m staying away from dairy, the hosts made delicious scones and muffins with Almond Milk instead and the same goes for a delicious almond/soy yoghurt concoction that greeted us one morning at breakfast. With the number of weddings they have there and the peaceful and tranquil surroundings, romance is def on the list.

The amenities are all inclusive, from high end soaps and shampoos to candles, breakfast and reliable wifi, and there’s ample parking in the long driveway where you enter from the main road, none of which is “main.” It’s about as rural as it gets, making it a great place to unwind if life has wound you up too tightly in your day-to-day grind.

Our room had a luscious soaking tub, which I loaded up with Epsom Bath Salts the first night I arrived — ahhh, what a way to melt muscle aches away!

Nice touch to the furnishings inside (below) — and outside the rooms in the common sitting areas.

Two thumbs up for this charming property, which I’d consider an ideal getaway for a romantic weekend or when you simply need a whole lotta solitude, which despite how lovely a 5 star hotel or resort can be, it won’t give you the kind of silence a boutique property like this one can offer.

Details:

Villa Florentina

6673 Carvers Road

Coloma, CA 95613
(916) 662-2144

www.villaflorentina.net

Speaking of quiet luxury getaways, we discovered a gem of a private luxury rental also in the heart of Gold Country, some 20 or so minutes drive from Coloma. Meet Casa Bella Verde, where there’s much more than meets the eye in this secluded 1,500 square foot luxury home with breathtaking panoramic views of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. If that’s not enough to woo you, add to it gentle rolling hills, picturesque vineyards that dot the landscape, and beautiful Folsom Lake all around you.  Below is the inside of the main living and kitchen area, however it doesn’t even come close to showing you the kind of seclusion you’ll experience at this beautiful rental home.

Truth be told, we didn’t officially review the property but an experience of true unfolding and exploration was in full force. Our contact at the Tourism Board had a friend who knew the couple behind Casa Bella Verde and suggested we go for a swim at their swimming pool which would surely be a nice and welcome retreat from the sweltering heat of the Valley on that very hot and dry June weekend. Hmmm! How could we resist?

Little did we know we were about to embark on a journey of discovery about green technology, sustainable building and stunning design all wrapped neatly in a bundle on top of a hill with some of the most exquisite views you could ever hope for. There’s a much bigger story to this ever so green sustainable house that owners Briana Noelle and Nick Nikiforuk built over the course of three long years. It is built using ICF technology to create the most energy efficient structure known to the building industry, a technology which enables designers and builders to create, without limitations, a home with the very maximum energy efficiency.

I will dive into their personal story, including how it was built and why, what went into it and a more in-depth review of the property at a future time.  Not only were we awe-stricken by the stunning view, but our time spent with Briana and Nick was magical — they are authentic, warm, hospitable, funny and let’s just say the “real deal.” More on them and their property later, so stay tuned.  For now, here’s a shot of their semi-circular infinity pool to entice you to learn more.

Details:

Casa Bella Verde

More info at http://experiencecbv.com. 

Be sure to read my write-up on foodie and restaurant picks in El Dorado County and my piece on Gold Country for Wine, Romance & River Run.

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