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

Montana’s 320 Guest Ranch to Host 5th Annual “Ski Joring”

January 20, 2015 by  

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Montana’s 320 Guest Ranch just announced that they’ll host the Fifth Annual Ski Joring this January 31and February 1.   Families and individuals are invited to come to the ranch to watch a horse and rider team pull a skier on an action-packed course filled with curves and jumps, racing against the clock to compete for cash prizes.  Ski Joring begins on Saturday, January 31at 1 pm with the finals held on Sunday, February 1at 11 am.  Awards will follow the event.

The public is invited to observe Ski Joring at the 320 Guest Ranch free of charge.  Saturday night after the races, a la carte dinner will be served in the 320 Ranch Steak House.  Red Lodge Brewing and Headframe Distillery will be on hand for tastings.

The “Cold Hard Cash” will play in concert as part of the event and for those wishing to stay over, they’re offering special rates at the lodge.

The 360 Guest Ranch is an historic 320-acre-property situated along two miles of the famed Gallatin River.  Begun in 1898, the 320 Guest Ranch offers 87 sleeping rooms within 59 luxurious and modern cabin accommodations, log homes and mountain chalets. Many accommodations feature wood-burning fireplaces — with firewood provided.

The property also has the 320 Ranch Steak House for dining and an authentic 320 Saloon for after-hours, a great Aprés Ski for after your skiing activities on the slopes of Big Sky or Moonlight Basin.

The ranch provides facilities and concierge support services for events, social and leisure activities.  Close to world-class downhill and cross country skiing at Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin, 320 Guest Ranch offers a full range of seasonal recreational activities, such as horseback riding, trail hiking, rafting, sightseeing, mountain climbing, fly fishing (some of the world’s best), hayrides, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, and many more.

The property is located 12 miles from Big Sky, 5 miles from the boundary of Yellowstone National Park and 52 miles from Bozeman, Montana, and the Gallatin Field Airport.

CES 2015 Wrap: From UHD & Connected Objects to Digital Health & All Things 3D

January 12, 2015 by  

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There was no shortage of companies jumping on the “we must be connected to everything, or else..” trend that was central to most announcements coming out of this year’s  Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, an event that I’ve been going to for a couple of decades.

It was even the heart of Samsung’s keynote address this year.  At the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the main building for CES’s heftiest exhibitors, it was Samsung (not Apple) who stole the show with its ever so impressive 360 screens that circled around its booth, showing flashy and compelling videos of cars racing and more. It was all about their 4K TVs, which are bendable, flat and curved although Samsung had plenty to offer in the mobile, audio and home automation space as well.

Samsung JS9500 series is a new concept in UHD (4K technology), which they tout as eco-friendly. It uses nano-crystal technology and an intelligent SUHD re-mastering picture quality engine, which gives vast improvements in contrast, brightness, color reproduction, and detail.

People seemed to be raving about FLIR at my evening networking events, a new infrared camera that connects to smartphones at around a $250 price point. As crazy as this sounds, the camera can spot pets and animals in the dark, as well as detect cold air drafts and leaking pipes in walls. FLIR ONE translates thermal energy into dynamic color images for personal safety, home repairs, outdoor adventures, and even artistic expression.

The “all things connected world” seemed to proliferate the Sands Convention Center, located just off the strip a stone’s throw from the Wynn Hotel, where I demoing and singing Kolibree‘s praises, the world’s first connected electric toothbrush with truly interactive feedback, gamification and 3D motion sensors. The toothbrush tells you how you’ve brushed, where you’ve brushed and where you haven’t.

We had a dentist on-site who is also an advisor to the company explaining why this is important and how knowing where you’re not brushing well empowers you to brush better next time around. In the old world, you’d only get that feedback from your dentist once a year, a far cry from the world we live in today where nearly everything can be connected thanks to Bluetooth technology.

A bit like Fitbit for your teeth, who also had a massive presence on the show floor not far from we hung our hats for the week, Kolibree differs from other connected brushes on the market, thanks to its proprietary technology, in that it provides an interactive map telling you exactly where you’ve missed, as well as where you’ve over-brushed and under-brushed.

All that data can be kept private or shared with your dentist, which is the first time that the dental industry will have access to this kind of data, all of which can be incredibly useful for both dentists and users. Kolibree has teamed up with Dentegra who also had a presence at CES this year — the combined forces will offer incentives and discounts on dental care, as well as 25% off the Kolibree toothbrush through the new Dentegra Smile Club to be launched early this quarter.

While healthcare is an obvious win for the connected market (think measurement of your sugar levels in real time if you’re diabetic, feedback on your sleeping patterns so you can rectify through diet, exercise and other things, heart monitoring and reminders to take drugs), there were a host of other connected devices trying to prove that they were truly useful too. The truth is – some were and some were….well, not so much.

New connected devices on the market seem to come in all types and sizes — from blingy necklaces that vibrate when your husband sends you a text and baby diapers that let you know when your kid has pooped to washing machines, interactive cameras and Raticator, a rodent detectors that notify you when it has caught a rodent — yes really (see the rat trap, a rat trap that uses a wifi chip to alert you when it electrocutes the rat).  Although I didn’t see it, I heard about a toaster that notifies you when the toast is up. Really? Could I not see or hear it pop up from inside my kitchen?

Connected devices can truly be useful but quite honestly, only when the connection is used to solve a problem we have or make our lives easier in ways that matter.  I understand the value of connected watches within reason, but when I asked one vendor what the default was on the completely flat shiny silver faced watch, he told me it was how many steps I took and I’d only get the time after a second tap. Huh? That’s like telling me that my smartphone’s default is digital games and a list of recommendations on restaurants before being able to make a call. I want a watch to first and foremost give me the time and my phone to first and foremost allow me to make calls.

When the watch becomes stylish and adorns me with a l’il luxury I might not have had otherwise, it gets a little more interesting however, at least for a woman. So far, all of these connected gadgets seem to be designed by men for men — big, bulky, black, silver and red seems to be the order of the day.

The gold and sparkling diamonds of Burg‘s blingy smart watch drew me over to their booth. It works via a SIM card on an Android 4.4 operating system, and is activated. The price point for this stainless steel and Swarovski crystal device is between $500-600. They also offer a range of fun colored sportier watches that track your activities.

Swarovski also had their own presence on the show floor and while I’m not much of a bling girl, I loved the designs of their soon to be released smart watches, most of which come with accompanying narrow glittery bracelets.

Glitter, diamonds and also black, white and midnight blue. They were my favorites of the connected watches and jewelry and I can’t wait to test them out when they hit the market.

Misfit is also working with Swarovski on a new line called Shine. The Shine Collection includes the Swarovski Shine Activity Tracking Crystal and accompanying accessories.

Additionally, I loved the latest watches from Guess at the show, touting rich colors and elegant design. You can get scrolling alerts across a Led screen or be alerted via a vibration and it uses voice commands to communicate with your cell phone. The watch is water resistant, and comes in midnight blue (for men only — a shame since it’s my favorite one of all the options), brown and rose for men, white and black for women and white with a bit of bling.  The watches use Martian technology, which I wrote about in mid-2014. The line, which supports both iPhone and Android, is slated for a September or October launch of this year and will retail for around $350.

One of my favorite companies making tracking watches is Withings — they had me at “hello” last year when they showed off their Activite watch in a beautiful and elegant soft brown leather. We can’t wait to test it out in the next few months. This year, they were showcasing Activite Pop, a line of watches that is focused on the more adventurous. Pop comes in lots of fun colors and like their other watches, you have easy access to both the time and notification of your activity so you know where you stand throughout the day and can decide what your next move should be.

Also showing off fun jewelry was FashionTEQ. Their Zazzi bracelet offers an elegant and more discreet way for women to receive messages and reminders when you have your cell phone in your pocket or purse. Why would I even consider the geekier options designed by men for men when I could wear something that looked like this? I’d love to test it out in my daily life in the not too distant future.

Speaking of jewelry, the connected vendors weren’t the only ones fed up with the fact that techy products don’t cater to women enough. Meet GemPhones. I fell in love with these elegant ear buds disguised as a functional but beautiful necklace you can wear around your neck. A dressier option is one that resembles pearls whereas the funkier hipper brown and black motif is a nice everyday option for the younger hipster and frankly, for a woman in her forties. I’m game and can’t wait to test these out.

Another mobile accessory I discovered solves a real problem — LOST ear buds. I don’t know about you but I’m constantly misplacing them, leaving them in the wrong bag or getting them tangled when I need them most. Sound Pockets has come up with a way around that by creating a plastic pocket that attaches itself to the bottom of your cell phone case and they’re available in lots of fun colors. A perfect solution for the college student and for the forgetful and busy among us who need a handy way to keep track of them.

Also for the active enthusiast, meet the ever so cool Rocketskates. They had a massive booth in the center of the Sands, where you could watch demos of people using the skates or even try them out yourself, which I did of course.

Blissfully happy at the end of my try….they’re a bit like a cross between a segway and rollerskates.

Below is a little video of my experience with them so you can get an idea of how they work.

3D printing was another hot trend at this year’s show. In the Sands alone, it seemed like the aisles of vendors touting their latest 3D printing solutions was never going to end. At one point, I found it a little dizzying and frankly, confusing. While in no way yet mainstream, 3D printing, despite its hefty price point, is now a feasible possibility in today’s world. Take a look at some of the objects these vendors were showing off in their booths — from fashion and leather cell phone cases to sailboats, toys, dolls, objects and even food. 

I had an incredible experience inside the massive 3D Systems booth (note that the funky leather smartphone cases above were made from one of their machines). Sense is a portable 3D scanner that can capture objects (including people) at 10 by 10 feet and its claim in addition to high quality scanning is that its price is much more reasonable than its competitive counterparts. Below is a shot of me holding the captured image of “me” after they scanned me on the show floor.

The Sense is the only 3D scanner to deliver precise instant physical photography, so everyone can capture his or her scanable moments. Sense has flexible scan size and can capture everything from a picture-perfect cupcake to a full-body selfie, processing data in seconds for an instantly 3D printable file. Sense comes with an intuitive user interface with easy and automated zoom, track, focus, crop, enhance and share tools.  Below is a video of my experience.

The 2015 CES Innovation Awards had its own section at the show, where they highlighted companies making cool and leading edge products.

Most of the products were displayed behind glass cabinets so you see but not touch and the range of solutions were vast.

In the Connected Home area, I discovered Edyn Garden who has a  solar-powered Edyn smart garden system that takes the guess work out of gardening with their Wi-Fi enabled Edyn Garden Sensor. The sensor monitors environmental conditions to make smart recommendations about what to plant and when to fertilize. This unique sensor works alongside the Edyn Water Valve and Edyn app to provide automatic watering options that deliver water when, and only when, plants need it, helping to conserve water and other precious resources.

The Fitness Section, where Activity Meets Tech, was bustling and this year, it seems as if there are now countless FitBit-like solutions that take fitness tracking and feedback to an entirely new level.

Lighting has been making a lot of new advances lately for both larger enterprises and new solutions consumers can use in their home — from improving efficiency to controlling your room’s colors and mood. Meet ilumi whose vibrant booth ambiance drew me over to learn more.

You simply download the free ilumi App from the App Store or Google Play, screw in your ilumi lightbulb and turn them on. You can control and customize each individual ilumi or groups of them – you can also program an ilumi light or set of lights to sync with certain music to affect a room’s mood, make them change colors or diffuse them in some rooms and not others.

It is all done through a simple-to-use mobile dashboard, allowing you to take control of your home or office’s lighting in just a few swipes or clicks. I think the idea is great, loved the team and can’t wait to put them to the test – we hope to review them in the coming months ahead.

The Digital Health section was exploding with solutions that ranged from sugar tracking as mentioned above and activity trackers to tools to rest the mind. Muse has an interesting approach to settling your over active mind and had an experiential chair set up so you could put it to the test. And, so I did….

I sat inside a comfy chair while the brain sensing headband was place around my head with the goal at putting my mind at ease. As eerie as this sound, the headband essentially reads your brainwaves read while giving you simple activities and games to reduce stress, strengthen your brain and help you relax via its EEG sensors, all of which are constantly detecting and measuring your brain activity. Below is a video someone from their team shot as I went through the process on-site.

I found CES this year to be more interesting than last although I wished I had time to really explore the LVCC in depth. I was living and breathing the Kolibree toothbrush and Dentegra’s Smile Club for the week so amidst the buzz of home automation, fitness, 3D, cameras, audio devices and TV sets, it was rewarding to see Kolibree shine at CES for its second year in a row.

Last year, we only had a prototype to show and this year, Kolibree could demo two new mobile apps and talk about the compelling collaboration with Dentegra to help make dental care more affordable. Kolibree could also tout that its most advanced connected toothbrush will by shipping by the end of January. From gadget press and mom bloggers to Associated Press TV, NBC News, and even Sears Television, the team demoed to the world.

Kudos to Kolibree’s team in Paris for getting the toothbrush ready for this very important show and for market and to the Dentegra team for coming up with an innovative way for uninsured consumers to receive affordable dental care through its Smile Club. Alas, with another CES behind us, it’s now time to transform how Americans view dental care.

Photo credits: Top photo by Duke Chung from venitism.blogspot.com, Raticator from epestsupply.com, Flir One photo from their website, Samsung photo from Samsung website. Dentegra Smile Club mobile screen shot from the Dentegra Smile Club.com website and second ilumi photo of the mobile app from justelementary.com. Videos and all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.

Cosy Indian Road Café in Upper Manhattan’s Inwood

January 7, 2015 by  

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When you think of where all the great restaurants are in Manhattan are, don’t assume they’re all centrally located or for that matter, easy to get to. We’ve been exploring off the beaten path neighborhoods this past year and have written about a few Westchester restaurants such as the unusual Cellar 49 in an old mansion, Riverdale and Bronx diners, great coffee picks, fabulous chocolate in Brooklyn and great local foodie picks to fabulous Austrian food in an artsy neighborhood in a Red Hook loft. We’ve even tackled Bushwick, great brunches and yes even great picks for brunch in Harlem. And how about our Malaysian Street Food write up in the Village?

On New Year’s Eve, we headed to the very upper upper west side to an area called Inwood which you can reach via the 1 train or the A (Dyckman or Innwood/207th Street). On 600 West 218th Street lies a cosy restaurant called Indian Road Café, where I went for brunch a year or so ago — we had to wait for over an hour to get seated. In other words, it has been growing in popularity since it opened, expanded in size and undergone a few chef changes.

Brunch from my recollection was more comfort food than chic, but under new chef Nicholas Wright, the dishes have been a little more creative. While New Year’s Eve doesn’t reflect their regular menu, Nicholas came up with the pre-fixe six course menu according to co-owner Jason Minter who opened the cafe with his old pal Jason Berger from the entertainment and film business where they both worked for nearly 20 years.

While half the dishes warranted a Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc or even something sweeter for the foie gras, we went for a Cabernet from Napa for most of the night. Bartender Rachel served both bottles at a “perfect temperature”, a rarity even at some top 5 star restaurants I’ve been to over the past couple of years. I’d recommend sitting at the bar if you want to meet some of the Inwood locals and it appeared to me that nearly everyone there was a regular.

Just to whet your appetite, a taste to start.

My favorite of the six was the unusually delicious Roasted Local Cauliflower Soup with black truffles, dried carrots and chili sorbet. Yum! Below, before the liquid soup was poured over it.

Now for the soup:

 Then came the Paisley Farms Warm Brussel Sprouts Salad with gorgonzola mousse, fried parmesan and grapefruit caviar.

It was followed by the Grilled King Crab with miso butter, sea urchin, scallop chips and cabbage stalk.

You could also get a vegetarian option — the Beet and wild watercress risotto with local cave aged cheddar and orange. Yum!

Fois Gras Parfait with house made brioche and pickled fruits.

Duo of Moonview Farm’s Beef with tri-color baby carrots, parsnip puree and bacon jus. LOVED this!

For dessert, we had a dark chocolate and raspberry granache with burnt honey pana cotta, almond crispy spongecake.

Below, Chef Nicholas Wright came out to chat with us later in the evening, or was it after the midnight count down? The ambiance is a mixture of local community tavern, wine bar and cosy restaurant and because it was New Year’s, they had a jazz band playing throughout the night. The restaurant also does fun events of varying sorts which you can get from calling them or going to their website. In the back of the restaurant near the bathrooms, there’s a bulletin board where locals post ads (from piano lessons to selling furniture) and there are flyers about some of Indian Road Cafe’s events.

Two thumbs up! Next time you get to the Big Apple, venture north on the 1 or the A train or simply jump in a cab and head to Indian Road Cafe for a whole lotta cosy with delicious fare.

Details:

Indian Road Cafe

600 W 218th Street
New York, NY
(212) 942-7451

 

 

Blue Bay in Riverdale: Will Other Real NYC Diners Please Speak Up?

January 1, 2015 by  

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Whatever happened to the old fashioned diner I grew up with in New England? You know the kind — the kind where there’s always an old man at the end of the diner counter reading a newspaper, going through several cups of Joe and in the old days, he had a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

I’m thrilled about the updated laws on cigarettes, but I still miss the small town diner and frankly, what I know today about America’s food industry, I wish a diner existed with all the same dishes, only using organic meats and produce and yeah yeah, at the same inexpensive diner prices. Hey, a girl has got to dream!

Don’t get me wrong – I realize the old fashioned diners still exist and I discover them from time-to-time in small towns and there’s even one I get poached eggs and rye toast at on occasion along San Francisco’s Mission Street. They don’t ‘get’ diners on the west coast the way they do in the midwest or New England, my old stomping ground, where I’ve spent a significant amount of time this year.

First thing on Christmas morning this year, I found myself craving a diner breakfast so I did some digging for ‘old fashioned’ on Yelp and a handful came up in the Bronx and Harlem, since central Manhattan wasn’t in my filter.

This is the kind of diner that doesn’t have a TV blaring nor does it offer extensive meals at $30 a pop. One Riverdale favorite came up called Tibbett Diner, which people gloat that going there to try their chicken potpie is worth a trip alone. We were about to set up for Tibbett, which dates back to 1968 and has no shortage of neon-glowing tacky decadence, when Blue Bay popped up, also in Riverside.

I had a gut about the place, and so Blue Bay won and off we went. Luckily, parking was relatively easy and there was space at the bar.  We immediately noticed locals coming and going, largely single men in their sixties and seventies, who all had a paper in their hands — a good sign.

Prices are reasonable and in addition to fattening sandwiches, and more traditional diner main courses, they had an extensive breakfast menu, ranging from pancakes and French toast with bacon, sausage, Virginia Style ham or Canadian bacon (priced more than regular bacon) to omelettes and rye toast with eggs (my favorite). Hash browns and toast come with all the main course breakfasts and of course, they keep filling up your cup of coffee like you’d expect from an old fashioned diner.

Then we met Alex or I should say he met us. I was at the end of the counter snapping a shot of their holiday wreathe on my iPhone and he asked if I was new to the neighborhood – obviously he hadn’t seen me pop in before and clearly he knew all his regulars. Everyone seemed to be a regular at Blue Bay.

Anthony and I began to talk to locals. We learned from Clyde, who sat down next to us and has been coming to Blue Bay for over 20 years, that there’s more vegetables at Blue Bay whereas he finds the Italian meals at Tibbett to be much better, where he also gave two thumbs up for their pot roast. He ordered his ‘regular’ for a Thursday which included the bean and veggie soup of the day. I asked him, “do you come in here every Thursday?” He laughed lightly and said, “I come in here every day.” I’d guess it’s safe to call Clyde a regular.

Greek-born, Alex is the main fixture at Blue Bay however, who bought the diner back in 1975 and has been running it for the past 40 years. As he shares some of his stories with us, he gives us a mathematical quiz in the middle of it, one which stumped us. How many 9′s are there from 0 to 100? See if you get it right……

When he made a coffee and topped it with whipped cream from a can, I somehow knew it was for himself. We talked about Greece for a bit – what’s not to love? I lived in Corfu over twenty years ago where I stayed afloat serving coffee, wine and Greek food and performing Greek dances for tourists. His family originally comes from the small islands just on the outskirts of the main island.

Apparently coffee prices were only 10 cents when he opened in 1975 and today they’re $1.50 but like every small business owner, the cost of doing business has more than tripled. To get to this side of the Bronx, the bridge back in 1975 was only 10 cents today is $4.50. With salaries still ridiculously low considering the cost of living, it’s astonishing that we’re not all living in buildings with 2 or 3 other families.

The rye bread was oh so New York, just the way I like it and the butter wasn’t added after the toast went cold, which so many places tend to do — this has even happened to me at two different 5 star hotels in New York City. They also have those fabulous black and white cookies we used to get at Rauch’s Bakery in Gloversville as kids.

Two thumbs up! We’d definitely return. Blue Bay is located on 3533 Johnson Avenue in the Bronx New York.  

A few old fashioned diners in the  New York City area worth noting include:

Bel-Aire DinerRemember that I’ve my fair share of time at George’s Diner along Buhr Avenue this year in the Bronx and Blue Bay Diner is also Greek run. It’s not news that Greek diners are great. Astoria in Queens is the capital of the all things Greek dining, with diners being popular.  Bel-Aire has been around since 1965 and touts a swivel-stool counter, mirrored walls and bits and pieces of 1960s nostalgia. They are known for their Greek dishes. Located on 31-91 21st Street, Queens.

Tibbett Diner — as noted above, according to Clyde, Tibbett is similar to Blue Bay in many ways and according to him, it offers more variety than Blue Bay, but there are pro’s and con’s to both and so….he goes to both regularly. It is located on 3033 Tibbett Avenue in the Bronx.

Empire Diner – located in Chelsea inside a shiny Art Deco train car oozing with 1950′s style vinyl booths, gleaming chrome, blacktop tables and a pianist. It’s been around since the mid forties and has that authentic flavor that’s worth a stop. It’s not quite like the diners you find in small towns, but for Manhattan, it’s an interesting experience. Empire Diner can be found on 210 10th Avenue.

Cup & Saucer Luncheonette — Along a tacky stretch loaded with kitch New York memorabilia, Empire State building magnets and postcards, you’ll find this old fashioned 1950′s diner. Think the Honeymooners but 50′s style. It’s traditional in that it’s all things greasy, from burgers and grilled cheese to fried eggs, sausage and bacon. While I haven’t tried this myself, I read that you get a free glazed donut if you order food for delivery whether or not your arteries want it. It is located on 89 Canal Street.

Let us know what diners you love in New York City in the comments below:  east, west, north and south.

7 Curaçao Resort Picks: From Chic & Trendy to Family Style & Convenient

December 30, 2014 by  

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On a recent trip to Curaçao, I had the opportunity to explore and stay at a few resort and hotel properties. Bear in mind that the Caribbean is relatively new for me as I haven’t explored the region as thoroughly as I have other parts of the world, so I won’t be able to give you other island comparisons — yet, that is.

It’s all in the details they say and since I pay such close attention to them, I can assure you when a hotel property “gets the details” and it comes out in either service or your room or dining experience, I’ll notice. Let’s take a meander through the island.

Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort

On west of the island, roughly a 45 minute drive from the island capital of Willemstad (refer to blown up map at the bottom of this post to get perspective), lies the very remote Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort.

What makes it so remote is not the fact that its a 45 minute drive from the nightlife and cultural activities of Willemstad, but the fact that it is spread across 27 acres of rare natural preserves. It also has a lovely private beach, which makes it both romantic and safe for kids.

Santa Barbara is an ideal honeymoon getaway spot and makes a fabulous venue for weddings — think tons of space, private beach, pool and rooms you can reserve in blocks in one area. It is also a great hotel for families. Because its secluded and they offer kids activities, you don’t have to worry about your kids on the property which gives you time to relax.

The property is lush, filled with palm and other tropical trees – below is a shot from my hotel room balcony. Bear in mind that it was a little overcast when we arrived, but the clouds typically clear up after a quick 20 minute tropical shower which is common during the months of November and December.

Golf lovers will have a blast at the Pete Dye designed golf course and while I ran out of time to try their spa, I’ve heard great things.  Imagine Caribbean views, an alluring white sandy beach with a swimming lagoon, and fine dining — below is a shot of the tuni poki and crab appetizer, my favorite memory from my dinner at Shore’s American Seafood Grill on the second night of the trip.

Details:

Santa Barbara Plantation

Porta Blancu

Nieuwpoort, Curaçao
+599 9 840 1234

Kura Hulanda Lodge & Beach Club

Beach clubs are common on Curacao — the greatest feature of course is that it feels private, it is private and everything you need is on the premises without the high rise buildings that you get from more populated island beach properties.

Like Santa Barbara’s resort, the hotel is a half an hour or so’s drive from Willemstad, so a little more remote than staying downtown. Each has its merits of course.

What’s lovely about Kura Hulanda is how peaceful it is. Also located on the west side of Curacao, the resort overlooks a secluded beach and there’s a charming outdoor dining area in that romantic southern European style that I love so much.

Below is an oceanfront suite. Rooms are tiled and feature light rattan furnishings and colorful cushions with a tropical flair.  There’s a large balcony, located on the second floor-all overlooking the ocean with breathtaking views of the sea.

Oceanfront one bedroom suites have a separate bedroom with a king bed and a separate living room with a sleeper sofa, kitchenette with dining table for four; large bathroom with tub and shower, tile floors, remote controlled air-conditioning, remote controlled cable TV, entertainment system with DVD player, direct dial phone, clock radio, personal safe and many other amenities.  There’s also an outdoor shower. Fun!

Details:

Kura Hulunda Lodge & Beach Club

Playa Kalki 1 Westpunt

932250, Curaçao
+599 9 839 3600

Blue Bay Hotel

Staying at Blue Bay is a bit like where luxury meets nature. They say that the animals feel as home here as people do and it’s not hard to see why.

It has had a turbulent history of many owners, dating back as far as 1700 — the plantation ‘Blaauw’ got its name from Anno Blaauw, who was the owner at the time. Old documents show that the plantation had varying success with its harvests and that its crops included lemons and laraha oranges, which are still the defining ingredient for the famous Curacao liqueur.

The plantation apparently also produced indigo, a luxurious blue dye that was believed to ward off evil spirits. This is what gave the Indigo Garden villa project its name. Today, it’s known as a place for pure relaxation, nature and there’s also a golf course for golf lovers.

Why Blue Bay over the others? If you want pure relaxation, nature and luxury and don’t want the hustle and bustle of being in central Willemstad for the chic clubs and night life. It’s a great place to bring a a bag of novels, games and simply get away from it all.

There are also walks nearby that will bring you closer to nature so it’s as much romantic as it is quiet and relaxing. While I can’t speak first hand about the sunsets, they’re apparently beautiful here and their Sunset Bar is right on the shore.

Here they have relaxed music, delicious bites and a breathtaking Caribbean view. There’s also dining on the property.

Details:

Blue Bay Hotel

Landhuis Blauw z/n

Willemstad NA Curaçao

+559.9.888.8800

Floris Suite Hotel

Floris Hotel is fairly central and just across a main highway from the Curacao Hilton. Note that it is an adult-only hotel, a key feature for older couples wanting to get away or a retreat for those who just want a break from their everyday hustle and bustle life. Its style is stark and modern, with a nearly all white lobby that is more loungey in feel than not.

The suites are both modern and incredibly spacious with the living area (living room and kitchen) in the front facing the pool and the bedroom, which is the main entrance to the suite. While most of the suites are the same, they offer more of a pure white look-and-feel (below) and also rooms with a bit more pizzazz and color (second photo shown below).

The rooms sit on two floors and all of them have balconies facing the pool which is the central hub of the interior of the hotel. It’s lovely. I’d recommend staying on the second floor since it’s a little quieter (there weren’t any throw rugs in my room) and not next to an alleyway that separates each building block (also a little quieter).

There were a few little quirks when I was there, such as the hot water running out early, however this has happened to me over the years in luxury properties in more remote areas and it’s usually a temporary glitch not a permanent issue, but worth noting nevertheless.

The hotel is known to be gay friendly, and they have fabulous cocktail receptions and happy hours at their on-site bar, where you can also dine day or night. They have spa services, but not a spa on-site yet. (apparently one is coming). You can have a masseuse come to you however in the privacy of your suite or beside their tropical free-form pool.

The real reason to stay here however is the service. Their mantra – “Let Me Spoil You” is written everywhere including on the staff t-shirts. They “get” service and make you feel as if you’re the only one.

I had the worst night of my god awful head cold on my second night there and the chef made me homemade chicken soup. Thereafter, they kept sending a selection of their organic herbal teas to me until they saw a smile and even sent a driver to pick up a congestion med from the pharmacy in town. I loved their staff!

The pool is also amazing and while there is no beach or hot tub on the premises, you can catch a complimentary golf cart from the main reception area across the road to the Hilton property where they have a hot tub, private beach, a sauna, steam room, spa and fairly extensive gym.

Note the ever so hip table in the middle of a shallow part of the pool. While soaking your feet in the refreshing cool water, you can relax here, have lunch, read a book or even work on your laptop as one of my colleagues did on our first afternoon here.

Details:

Floris Suite Hotel

Piscaderaweg

Willemstad, Curaçao
+599 9 462 6111

The Hilton Curacao Resort

For those of you who are Hilton lovers, Curacao has one, an ideal property if you have a family since it offers a comprehensive list of amenities on-site.

A stone’s throw from the Floris Suite Hotel, the Hilton is on the other side of the highway on a piece of land that is big enough to house a large swimming pool, hot tub, massive gym, sauna, steam room, spa (see my write up on the Color of People Spa on the premises), executive rooms and suites with views, two secluded, private beaches, on property dive center, casino, kids club, and restaurants.

Think golden sands, emerald seas, and natural wonders — I took a long walk down its paved path, which runs along the ocean’s edge (I wrote a reflective piece about my experience here).

Two of the private beaches below.

It was exquisite and despite the fact that there were people floating around, I was able to find spots where there was no one at all. Here, I was able to take in the serenity of Curacao and its warm ocean breezes, far far away from the bitter cold of New York City I had left behind only days before.

Below is the pool area — a small but lovely infinity pool is at the edge of the pool, facing the ocean.

The below shot received the most number of Instagram likes of the pool/ocean variations I posted on the We Blog the World Instagram feed on the trip.

Details:

The Hilton Curacao Resort

JF Kennedy Boulevard

Willemstad, Curaçao
+599 9 462 5000

The Papagayo Beach Resort

The recently opened Papagayo Beach Hotel is located in the well-known Jan Thiel region, an upscale neighborhood. The hotel and beach resort is located on the beach directly adjacent to Papagayo Beach Club.

The hotel consists of a main building of contemporary design and a number of detached structures. In the main building there’s an ever so chic attractive bar and modern reception area. The rooms have views of the Jan Thiel boulevard, the lobby with its garden and the Caribbean Sea. Some detached buildings located in the distinctive garden look out onto this garden or onto the sea.

The pool by night…

Architect Cees den Heijer spent a lot of time paying attention to modern design and managed to create a magnificent combination of the ever-pleasant, hospitable Caribbean climate and a comfortable cosy environment for guests.

Papagayo Beach Club is known as one of the hotspots on the island of Curaçao, highly popular for its international style and Caribbean atmosphere. Let’s just say as I turned the corner for the first time to dine at its chic restaurant, I couldn’t help but think “this is clearly where all the beautiful people hang out.

The beach club is adjacent to a beautiful beach with a salt water infinity pool which sits right in front of an open air restaurant, also tres modern in style.

The international cuisine and the breathtaking views from the restaurant are worth the experience – in fact, while I’m typically a fan of going to more local restaurants when I’m in a new country, I loved the lightweight feeling I had about the property.

Not only did I feel lighter, but I felt at peace — in other words, the feng shui felt just right. And, the food was exquisite. Our lunch was long and it felt as if the dishes would never stop coming. What’s key about this property is that it feels as if they focus on healthy living and amenities and this comes through in the Beach Club’s menu as well.

From the Beach Bar you look out onto the beach and the enormous swimming pool, stretching out all the way to the sea and beyond … Pure heaven!

Details:

The Papagayo Beach Hotel

Jan Thiel

Curacao

+599.9.747.4333 

The Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino

Right in the heart of downtown Willemstad is the Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino, which has an artsy lobby with a modern flair, a restaurant with windows on all sides that offers massive buffet lunches, a gym, casino and luxury rooms, all done in Caribbean style.

Below is a fun colored pillar I took a shot of in the lobby.

They have a gym on-site and even a Starbucks, so for those who don’t want the cultural diversity of a foreign feeling location, the familiar settings of the Renaissance may be your bet. You could easily be in any city of the world here with the exception of one spectacular thing – its infinity pool on the top floor that extends out into the ocean. Sweet! There weren’t many people swimming when I was there, so let’s just say I was one happy camper.

Built around the historic setting of Rif Fort in the capital city of Willemstad, you have your own private beach club to yourself.

On the top level, you’re surrounded by wispy palm trees and the facade to the hotel entrance from the pool and ocean exudes brightly colored Caribbean colors. There’s a bar right next to the lounge chairs, allowing you just to relax, read a book, sip that margarita and take in the property’s stunning ocean views.

The other cool thing about the hotel is its vicinity to downtown – it is the heart of it all, so you have easy access to shopping and nightlife. They also had some fun culinary surprises on their buffet which didn’t go unnoticed. YUM!!!

Details:

Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino  

Baden Powelweg 1

Willemstad 97223, Curaçao

Phone:+599 9 435 5000

The Island MAP for Reference:

See my Curacao Foodie Guide write-up, my reflective walk through one of the grounds along the ocean’s edge, the Color of People Spa, as well as other posts on Curacao from my trip.

Photo credits: All photos marked with Renee Blodgett in the bottom right hand corner, courtesy of Renee Blodgett. Shots from my iPhone also Renee Blodgett, which include food shots, the infinity pool at the Hilton, the Renaissance lobby pillar shot. All other photo credits from the property’s websites.

Note: my trip to Curacao was hosted by the Curacao Tourism Board, but I was not asked to write a hotel review nor expected to. I also included a couple of properties not on our agenda — all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Ride an Ostrich in Curaçao, The Largest Ostrich Farm Outside Africa

December 27, 2014 by  

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While ostriches may not be a common bird for most of us living in North America, I grew accustomed to having them around when I lived in South Africa. I have ridden them a few times and in the northern Transvaal and we used to eat ostrich eggs on the farm where I stayed, oh so delicious compared to chicken eggs. The yolks tend to be richer and so you feel that much fuller that much quicker.

Because of the Dutch influence on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to come across an Ostrich Farm, but truth be told, the farm did produce more than a few ‘aha’ moments. Those from South Africa or who have traveled there know about its Dutch influence of course, but what I didn’t expect was just how “South African” the ostrich farm was going to feel.

So yes, near one of the biggest conservancy areas of Curaçao, you’ll find a little piece of Africa. Here you’ll also get access to beautiful views over the St. Jorisbaai and be able to watch the equally stunning views of the sun setting at dusk while hanging out with ostriches, crocodiles, pigs, iguanas and parrots.

You start out in a sun-covered land rover, a multi-colored one that is.

The truck will drive you through the property, while you learn about ostriches and the farm itself.

Up close. Adorable right?

Adorable that is until they want something from you….like food.

While the ostrich is the world’s largest living bird, the average adult male ranging from between 8 to 10 feet tall and weighing in at over 250 pounds, their bite is worse than it looks. Rather than your finger having one of those wounds you can tell your grand kids about in years to come, it feels more like a tight pinch, nothing more, nothing less.

We learn a lot about ostriches from our guide, who humored us with mistakes that what he refers to as “farm interns” made early on.

Truth be told, while they are incredibly powerful birds, they are also incredibly graceful.

Take a look at his longer slender neck and how he slowly veers back, looks up and approaches the branches above him with both grace and ease.

There’s a sense of purpose that the ostrich has which I find so fascinating. Awkward looking legs, not unlike a chicken has, he walks with force and yet elegance at the same time.

That’s not necessarily the case when they do a mating dance which one such ostrich did for our guide who claims that the ostrich can’t tell the difference between a human and a bird. And, I thought you said these birds were smart, I thought.

Before you think they’re slow thinking and call them silly looking, remember that ostriches can outrun you, able to achieve speeds greater than 40 miles per hour when running and they are able to maintain that speed for more than 30 minutes at a time. One individual ostrich stride can take him 12 to 15 feet in one shot.

They are smarter than many apparently and indeed, strong. The vast majority of the bird’s body weight is encapsulated in its long and powerful legs.  Odd factoid here! Unlike other birds, the ostrich has only two toes which apparently enables the bird to attain greater speeds than many of its predators. Also worth knowing is that his legs are capable of crushing a skull. Like the slow hippo you don’t think can do any damage when you initially see his lazy walk, don’t get in his way.

The reason it now takes a truck to get through the property is due to the farm’s growth over the past ten years. What started out as a family business in 1995, has now grown into a 9 acre farm and I couldn’t help but feel like I was in South Africa driving through it on more than one occasion. It is in fact, the largest ostrich farm outside of Africa today.

What’s great about this eco-friendly property is that there is wheelchair access and plenty of kid-friendly things to do as well, including a museum, making it an ideal stop over for families.  The land itself is also beautiful with plenty of cacti around. I even made a few friends who indulged me while I played around with my Canon 7D and the sky’s magical clouds.

In the afternoon or it appears anytime of day really, ostriches love to eat. On the tour, you can feed them — you don’t realize just how massive these birds are until you get up close and have food to give away. Warning: hold onto that plastic bowl tightly since let’s just say that they’re not light eaters.

Even though they’re eager for the feed, an enclosed gated area keeps you safe from their strong feet and claws. Although they have wings, oddly enough, they cannot fly. Instead, the wings are used for balance and you’ll notice that they’ll extend their wings when running and then, if the bird suddenly needs to change directions, his wings can serve as a rudder, so he can quickly take another route if necessary to avoid danger or predators.

The wings are also used in mating rituals and courtship displays which we saw on the grounds – hilarious! The bird raises his wings and the one being courted will sag hers. The mating dance was much shorter however than the long mating ritual I experienced with Blue-Footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands.

In addition to its museum, you can purchase stone sculptures, wood carvings, African ornaments, wall hangings, feathers, jewelry, painted ostrich eggs and trinkets. At its on-site Zambezi restaurant, you can even order Ostrich on the menu, which you may or may not want to do if you’ve made friends with several of them on the farm during the day.

Details:

The Ostrich Farm

Weg naar Groot St Joris
Curaçao
Tel: (+5999) 747 2777 or 747267

Photo credits: Renee Blodgett

Read through additional articles on Curacao from the most recent trip in December and also other posts on the Caribbean region in general.

Note: I was hosted by the Curaçao Tourism Board however was not asked to write this article nor paid to — all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

 

 

 

Learning About Niçoise Cuisine at New York’s International Culinary Institute

December 26, 2014 by  

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You don’t even have to read this site that often to know that I’m a huge fan of French culture, art and food/wine. We Blog the World has a ton of content on France in general and I’ve written about the food in Paris numerous times, the most recent being my trip this summer and fall (yes, I graced Paris with my presence twice this year — be sure to read my write-up on Michelin star La Cuisine) and Normandy and Brittany in September. Also learn more about Calvados and the foodie scene from my trip.

So, whenever there is an opportunity to go deeper into the world of French food, you don’t need to twist my arm very hard to say yes. This month at the International Culinary Institute in New York City, Anthony and I attended a food event dedicated to southern French cooking, specifically Nice.

What was so magical about it was how it started….in a fog of smoke you wonder? No, not quite, but in a fog of smoking cold and scary looking frozen air so to speak. Yup — the very cool effect of cooking with liquid nitrogen.

Cooking with liquid nitrogen isn’t new but it’s certainly not common and you don’t get the experience of eating a dish immediately after the process in too many places. Apparently as far back as the 1800′s, ice cream was made with liquid nitrogen, but today, it’s really only used by the more innovative and cutting-edge chefs.

The mayor of Nice (pictured below) and the head of the Nice Tourism board flew over for the event, as did some of the best chefs in Nice.

Below, the head of Nice’s tourism board gives liquid nitrogen a try :-)

As does one of the chefs….

The result? Well, it looks a bit like smoke comes out of your nostrils after you take a bite. Below, Anthony and I play around and experiment, after all….we were there to learn, cook and of course eat and liquid nitrogen was part of it.

You might be wondering by now, is liquid nitrogen safe? Apparently so, except for its extreme temperature. It will cause any metal it comes in contact with to become freezing cold, but wearing dry gloves is enough to protect your hands from creating a “tongue stuck to the flagpole” scenario. Oh joy!

And, what about the next question that may be on your mind? WHY cook with liquid nitrogen? Here is a link to a video showing a chef cooking with liquid nitrogen from 2008 at the Tang Restaurant in Dubai, the only restaurant of its kind in the Middle East that employs molecular gastronomy. And, here’s one from the Molecular gastronomy school in Paris, where they taught students how to use liquid nitrogen to make cocktails, instant ice cream and smoky meringues in 2011. You’ll learn a bit more about the process there.

Whether you consider it a novelty or more than a novelty, we had a blast with the experience as did our fellow chefs.

The liquid nitrogen experiment seemed to go on for quite sometime (below), which is another great thing about a French culinary experience….no one is ever in a hurry.

What was interesting was the fact that they prepared each dish two ways. Below is the non liquid nitrogen version of the Provencal Onion Tart, prepared by Chef David Faure.

Afterwards, it was time for our cooking class, which was all about pastry. We were given access to a variety of ingredients, showed how to cut the dough and sent to work. I rounded up ingredients from other teams of course since the chef encouraged it…..

The result was a plate of pastries that included a mishmash of berries, spices and chocolate.

Our team below.

All the teams actually fit into the International Culinary Institute’s kitchen, the very same kitchen where you can take classes in culinary arts, pastry arts and international bread baking. Additionally, they do Italian Culinary Experience and Spanish Studies programs, Sommelier Training, cake techniques and design, advanced chef training and entrepreneurship. They also offer unique farm-to-table courses, which include fun field trips in New York and California.

Its hard for yours truly to put her phone away and so I was in fact, Instagramming my foodie shots throughout the evening.

Then, when we were done with so called “class time”, the Nice chefs got to work, which was remarkable to see. No doubt, they were having a blast on the other side of the Atlantic, where they had a unique opportunity to work together to prepare a delicious array of dishes for a hungry crowd.

The result? Traditional Niçoise fish soup from Chef Gilles Ballestra, Ratatouille Nicoise (fish and chips) with stewed vegetables thanks to Chef Jose Orsini, Beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic and herbs of Provence from Chef Frederic Galland and Niçoise doughnut pastry with fried sorbet. The main wine that was served with the dinner was a Cotes de Provence from Chateau La Gordonne.

Did we learn a lot? Bien sur, but we had a lot more fun than shall we say, studied….We left as happy campers and a cool French chef apron to boot.

Photo credits: Renee Blodgett and Anthony Compagnone.

Merry Christmas From 20 Countries Around the World

December 25, 2014 by  

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For the prolific travelers among us, you may very well have celebrated Christmas in a variety of countries over the years. In some, you may have found some similarities to how you celebrate it in the states if coming from North America and the same could be said for European traditions which have their own unique customs depending on the country.

In the United States, children hang stockings by the fire, leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus and religious families might go to midnight service on Christmas Eve and perhaps even on Christmas Day as well.

We put up lights, and in smaller towns, we’ll decorate our lawns with sleighs, snowmen, and reindeer. We watch children holiday special re-runs, and make hot apple cider and pumpkin pie. The family sits around a big table and we gorge ourselves on turkey and ham dinners, pot roasts and sweet potatoes. We love hanging bright bulbs on Christmas trees and aside from the ones at home in our own living rooms, we take great pride in observing the massive sized trees we put up in city courtyards, malls and parks.

In other English speaking countries like Canada, the traditions are not that different than the states except that in the Eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, they focus on fir and pine Christmas Trees. A well known Canadian tradition is to send the biggest, best fir tree to Boston.

Down Under, the Aussies celebrate Christmas smack in the middle of a hot summer. While they might put up trees and celebrate the classic dinner with their family like we do in Europe, Canada and the states, they also party outside — think beach parties and barbecues and well, maybe even a Surfing Santa. And because they don’t have reindeer in Australia, think kangaroos instead.

I have spent several Christmas holidays in the United Kingdom — in the outside suburbs of London in the county of Surrey and Berkshire and once up north. In England, families hung Christmas cards along the side of their doors, we went caroling on one occasion and of course we ate up a storm and not just on Christmas Day but the day afterwards also — the celebration extends to what they refer to as Boxing Day which is December 26.

We had party horns and silly hats that we’d wear around the table and while gifts were part of the holiday, it was nowhere near as extensive as it is in the states where Christmas appears to be more and more about shopping, parties and trolling up and down aisles of a massive mall than it does about spirituality and togetherness. They do, however, take their dinners seriously — from roasted potatoes and veggies to stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce and dressing.

In other northern European countries, the Christmas Tree is celebrated of course, but they have slightly different nuances of what they do and of course when.

Below is a Christmas tree decorated in and surrounded by gold in Copenhagen Denmark discovered on Pinterest.

Below, more gold influence on a Christmas tree decorated in Germany.

On the other side of the world in Japan, they celebrate Christmas a little differently, even though the tree is certainly part of it. A more modern style tree shown at the holidays in Tokyo.

The Japanese may celebrate Christmas in as big of a way if not more than the yanks except the customs are different as is their style — from decorations to the tree itself. (not the color and modern flair of the tree above and the cutesy Asian-influenced design in the tree below.

In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents and in some ways, is more akin to Valentine’s Day in the states and the UK.  In Japanese Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Meri Kurisumasu’. And it’s written in the two Japanese scripts like this; Hiragana: めりーくりすます; Katakana: メリークリスマス.

In Costa Rica, people decorate their houses with tropical flowers. The nativity scene, called the Pasito or Portal, is the center of the display and is often decorated with fruit and flowers as well. People also add other models including houses and animals. Christmas wreaths are made of cypress branches and decorated with red coffee berries and ribbons. And, like in western European cultures, most homes, shops and public buildings are decorated with bright Christmas lights.

In Brazil, not unlike Costa Rica and other Latin cultures, the Nativity scenes are also popular. Many Brazilian Christmas traditions come from Portugal since Portugal ruled Brazil for many years.  

Christmas plays called Los Pastores (The Shepherds), are popular, similar to what you’ll find in Mexico. In the Brazilian versions of the play, there’s also traditionally a shepherdess and also a woman who tries to steal baby Jesus. Many, especially Catholics, will go to a Midnight Mass service or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Roster). In Brazil, Santa Claus is called Papai Noel & Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man).

In Armenia, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th when they apparently also celebrate the ‘Epiphany’ (which means the revelation that Jesus was God’s son). Epiphany is now mainly the time Churches remember the Visit of the of Wise Men to Jesus; but some Churches, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, also celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

In Egypt, since only 15% of people are Christians, apparently few celebrate Christmas. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they have some very unique traditions for Christmas. Christmas Day isn’t celebrated on the 25th December but on 7th January (like in Ethiopia and by some Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia).

The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk and in celebration and good spirit, people sing special songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service.

For the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), from 25th November to 6th January, Coptic Orthodox Christians have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet. The don’t eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). This is called ‘The Holy Nativity Fast’.

In Ghana, people celebrate Christmas from December 20 to first week in January with lots of different activities.  Talk about diversity – apparently over 66 languages are spoken in Ghana and each language group has their own traditions and customs.

December is also the start of the cocoa harvest, which is huge in Ghana. On Christmas eve is when you’ll find people attending church services and they also drum, dance and sing. And, like many other cultures, children participate in a play or drama and there are nativity scenes.

Back in Europe, the people of the Czech Republic start celebrating as early as December 5 when children wait for St. Nicholas (Svatý Mikuláš) to arrive alongside both devils and angels. The children perform for this St. Nich usually in the way of a poem or a song and in return, they receive baskets of fruit, candy and chocolate.   The rest of the presents are often opened on Christmas eve, not Christmas morning.

Christmas trees are not common at all in China where the focus is more on different kinds of decorations like colorful paper lanterns although they do also put up something referred to as a Tree of Light.

In China, only about one percent of people are Christians, so you’re less likely to see Christmas celebrations anywhere other than the major cities. Santa Claus is referred to as Shen Dan Lao Ren and to say Merry Christmas in Chinese, you’d say Sheng Dan Kuai Le or 圣诞快乐’ in Mandarin and ‘Seng Dan Fai Lok or 聖誕快樂’ in Cantonese. Another quirky factoid is that Santa is known as Sheng dan lao ren which means Old Christmas Man.

In Mexico, Christmas is largely a religious holiday and like other Latin cultures where catholic is dominant, there are plenty of Nativity scenes.  Because it’s Mexico, there are also posadas, re-enactments of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. The final Posada on December 24 ends with a big Christmas dinner, a piñata and Midnight Mass. Like in the states, the kids open their presents on Christmas morning.

In Sweden, Christmas begins on December 13, with the St. Lucia ceremony. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

On St. Lucia Day, the youngest daughter in the family dons a white robe with a wreath of evergreens and candles upon her head. Accompanied by her siblings, she serves her parents Lucia buns and coffee in bed. Two days before Christmas, families set up their Christmas trees. On Christmas eve, the mother of the house lights candles for all to carry on a precession to church.

In India, Christmas is quite small compared to other religious festivals and celebrations, largely because there’s only 2.3% of people who make up Christians.

One of the largest Indian Christian Communities is in Mumbai and they are mostly Roman Catholics. Many of the Christians in Mumbai came from or have roots in Goa. Midnight mass is a very important service for Christians in India, especially Catholics. The whole family will walk to the mass and this will be followed by a massive feast of different delicacies, (mostly curries) and the giving and receiving of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service.

In Haiti, French is the main language spoken o Happy/Merry Christmas is Joyeux Noël just like it is in France although some people speak Creole where it’s ‘Jwaye Nowe’. On Christmas Eve, children place their newly cleaned shoes, filled with straw under the tree on the porch and it isn’t uncommon to find houses lit up and open for visits until 3 in the morning.

In Greenland, people visit each other in the villages of Polar Inuits, where they celebrate and drink coffee and eat cakes. Traditional presents are model sledges, a pairs of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone in the village gets a gift and children go from house to house to sing songs, not unlike traditional caroling in Europe and the states.

On Christmas Eve Church Services are held and most people go to them, many in national costume. Some men wear the white anoraks which are worn on special occasions.

In the Philippines, formal Christmas celebrations start on December 16 when people go the the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses with the last mass being held on Christmas day. The masses held before Christmas are called the ‘Misa de Gallo’ or ‘Simbang Gabi’ in Filipino. Since its the only Asian country with so many Christians, Christmas is the most important holiday.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU and YOURS!!

We wish you the happiest holiday season regardless

of where you happen to be on this

December 25 day, 2015.

Photo credits: The holiday bulb is from GFCorbett from Instagram, Santa Claus on surfboard from boardjoy.com.  Denmark tree on Pinterest and Germany tree from ibtimes.com, First Japan tree from majiroxnews.com, second one from Pinterest, third one from JapanCrush.com. Costa Rica Matt Cardy from GettyImages. Brazil from www.stnicholascenter.org. Armenia is from Getty Images KevorkDjansezian. Egypt from Ed Giles (Getty Images). Czech Republic credit is from Matej Divizna (Getty). Mexico from Juan Jacobo ZanellaGonzalez (Getty). Sweden from Jann Lipka (Nordic Photos / Getty). India – Ele Rein/Moment (Getty) and Greenland is from commons.wikimedia.org.

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