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

Our Top 20 Summer Festivals For Your Bucket List

July 20, 2016 by  

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Festivals can be transformative when you choose the right ones and are in the right mindset. Let’s start with a top 10 List for the rest of the summer around the world. Let’s take a look at some of our top picks this summer!

The International Balloon Fiesta in Bristol England

This is Europe’s largest ballooning event, Bristol’s International Balloon Fiesta. More than 150 balloons take off from Ashton Court Estate at dawn, and linger in the air until evening, when they illuminate the skies. he Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is held annually England. Teams from the UK and other parts of the world bring their hot air balloons to the site and participate in mass ascents where as many as 100 balloons may launch at a time. For more information, visit www.bristolballoonfiesta.co.uk.

Photo credit: Heart.co.uk.

The Helsinki Festival

The Helsinki Festival is all about film, music, dance, and circus acts, as well as a series of hildren’s eventsFor more information, visit www.helsinginjuhlaviikot.fi.

Summer Sonic in Japan 

One of Japan’s leading music festival takes place in both Tokyo and Osaka. Each city has its own amped-up selection of performers playing, with last year’s line-up including Arctic Monkeys, Pixies, Metronomy, The 1975, Azealia Banks, Ellie Goulding and Little Mix. Other attractions are yet to be announced, but in previous years have included a silent disco and dedicated art and kids’ areas. For more information, visit www.summersonic.com.

The Horseracing Festival in Lithang and in Nagchu/Nakchu

This is a fun Tibetan event with large numbers of locals displaying extreme horsemanship, that has some fun folk songs and and plenty of dance.

 Burning Man in Nevada

Burning Man conjures up all kinds of outrageous images for the uninitiated. Yes, the Playa (the desert stage location where the Man, the temple and much of the art is) is a culturally curious place, one part hedonistic, one part idealistic. But, amidst the hippies and Silicon Valley CEOs that populate this pop-up town, the common thread is an appreciation of the life-affirming nature of the artistic spirit.

At its heart, Burning Man is a celebration of artistic self-expression for those who have a utopian vision of the world. For some it’s about creating a spiritual sense of oneness in an intentional community based upon 10 principles . For others, it’s about all-night parties and dancing, riding around naked on bikes and participating in the Slut Olympics (yes, this is one of hundreds of events). But no matter what archetype defines you and your experience, anyone who has done the pilgrimage to the desert is known as a Burner, and this may truly alter the course of your life.

Rainforest World Music Festival

This is an annual music festival in early August every year in Kuching Sarawak Malaysia. It spans for three days in the Borneo jungle, and features both international and local artists. Think fabulous tribal music and dancing in the mud and tropical rain.

The Havana Carnival

This fabulous festival in Cuba may not be as big as of Santiago de Cuba, but it’s a great festival that shines of Cuban culture with music, dance, costumes, parades, fireworks and party scene

The Wilderness Festival

Ahhh yes, the Cotswolds in England, one of my favorite places. Think barefoot, flower-garland-toting bohemians prance about the woods and skinny-dipping in the lake at Cornbury Park while live music from up-and-coming artists plays. Metronomy and London Grammar took the stage last year, whilst this year’s line-up includes Björk and Ben Howard. There are also massive banquets and menus by chefs Nuno Mendes, Raymond Blanc and Angela Hartnett. There’s also thought-provoking talks and symposiums by professors, philanthropists and The School of Life. visit wildernessfestival.com.

Þjóðhátíð in Iceland (The People’s Feast)

Located in Heimaey, Westmann Islands, Iceland, in early August, bonfires are lit and vodka is shared to celebrate the ratification of the country’s constitution in 1874, but Heimaey hosts the mother of all parties. Some 10,000 people make like the local puffins and flock to the only inhabited Westmann island for a music festival on the edge of the world.

Heimaey, Westmann Islands, Iceland

Heimaey ’by quinet. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike

The Soundwave Festival

This festival is held Ibiza where there’s plenty of music, beaches, sun and the great dance music. Imagine three stages just round the bay from the pretty fishing village of Tisno. The daily boat parties, where DJs and record labels put on a show to a sunset backdrop with an after party at the open-air club Barbarella’s.  For more information, visit www.soundwavecroatia.com.

The Boardmasters Festival 

The UK’s surf capital of Newquay, in Cornwall, does beachside, sea-and-salt fuelled fun with the annual Broadmasters Festival, a five-day celebration of music and surf. There are surf competitions at Fistral Beach, skate and BMX ramps for the less aqua-inclined. For more information, visit www.boardmasters.co.uk.

Sziget Festival in Budapest

This monster of a music festival spans seven days and the full 266 acres of the River Danube’s Obuda Island. Spend your days on the beach and party by night to the 1,000+ acts – from heavy-metal rockers to boy bands – performing over the course of the week. For more information, visit www.szigetfestival.com.

Credit: allnightcrash.com.

South West Four in London

Clapham Common annually hosts the South West Four, one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the UK. The visual effects are just as impressive as the world class DJs spinning the decks with past acts including Deadmau5 and Alesso. For more information, visit www.southwestfour.com.

Victorius Festival in Portsmouth

This festival brings in 40,000 people to the same sound on one tiny island off the south coast.. Victorius takes place over the weekend; there’s no camping but the party continues down Albert Road in bars and pubs with live music and special events. Past headliners have included Dizzee Rascal, Seasick Steve and Tom Odell. This year will be the biggest yet, with The Flaming Lips, Tinie Tempah, Primal Scream, Ella Eyre and Basement Jaxx confirmed. For more information, visit www.victoriousfestival.co.uk.

Qi Xi (Seven Sisters Festival)

Qi Xi is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Night. In a tradition that pre-dates Christ (not to mention speed dating), single girls carry out tasks to impress potential lovers. Also called Night of the Skills, the event sees girls showing off their talents at domestic duties such as embroidery and melon carving. They throw a sewing needle into a bowl of water and, if it floats, that indicates the girl is an accomplished knitter. Read more.

Nathan road, Kowloon. Hong Kong. China. Neon. Street. Evening.

Nathan road, Kowloon’ by JoopDorresteijn. Creative Commons Attribution.

Il Campo Festival in Siena, Tuscany, Italy

Il Palio is a bareback horse race that lasts for about a minute and a half. During the short dash around central piazza Il Campo, which is covered in packed dirt for the occasion, jockeys are allowed to do anything to their opponents other than tug their reins. The winning steed is often riderless.  A great and fun-filled event in the heart of Tuscany that must not be missed.

Il Campo, Siena, Tuscany, Italy

Piazza del Campo’ by razvan.orendovici. Creative Commons Attribution

Mezinárodní Dudácký Festivalu (International Bagpipe Festival)

In Strakonice, Písecko, South Bohemia, Czech Republic, there’s an event dedicated to bagpipes and bagpipe blowing. You can get a sense of this variety at the stop-start opening procession, in which the enthusiastic players regularly pause for a toot, and take hours to cover the 1km to the castle.

South Bohemia, Czech Republic. River. Town.

Rožmberk ’by dorena-wm. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs

La Tomatina (Tomato-throwing Festival)

Located in Plaza del Pueblo, Buñol, Valencia, Spain, this annual event is a vibrant and interesting cultural event that involves tomato throwing – yes, really. Not only are the streets full of red, but so are people in this tomato-throwing craziness.

Buñol, Valencia, Spain. La Tomatina (Tomato-throwing Festival)

La Tomatina: In Uniform’ by dahon. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs

Osheaga Festival Musique et Arts

In Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montréal, CA, you’ll hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey, Radiohead, Disclosure, The Lumineers, M83, Haim, Future, Grimes, Flume, Bastille, Passenger, Walk the Moon, Leon Bridges, Daughter, Elle King, Years & Years, Half Moon Run, Beirut, Mac Miller, St. Lucia, MØ, The Last Shadow Puppets, Bloc Party and more.

Hinterland Music Festival

In early August in St. Charles Iowa, you’ll hear Willie Nelson, Ray LaMontagne, Grace Potter, Cold War Kids, Lake Street Dive, Shovels and Rope, Houndmouth, and more.

The Foodie Guide to Chattanooga Tennessee

July 19, 2016 by  

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Let’s face it – if you’re a foodie, regardless of your preferences, you can’t deny that the South has so many unique specialties and dishes to make your mouth water. On our trip across country last year, one of our favorite restaurant picks was located in Tennessee as was a memorable dish we nearly didn’t order: waffles with deep fried chicken, blueberry honey, blue cheese and yogurt. Oh so delish and to die for is the best way to sum up this artery hardening experience!

Returning to Tennessee after months of a very low carb diet was nerve wracking. After all, I put on a lot of weight after several weeks of cross country restaurant reviews – read my write-up about how I took it off again and how I kept it off.  

So, what do you do if low carb dining is an integral part of your lifestyle and you’re a foodie? And, what do you do when faced with a fabulous restaurant you’re dying to try that has a lot of high carb dishes on the menu?

Of course, you must try some of them (how much fun would travel be if you didn’t?) but remember that a healthy life is all about balance and as hard as it is when heavy cream and fatty deep fried specialties are staring you in the face, go for the one choice you can’t live without and get a salad to balance it out.

While Anthony and I feel more energized and “lighter on our feet” with a high protein, high veggie and “almost” Paleo diet at home, we don’t deny ourselves unique cultural tastes when we travel. While the South is classically known for its Shrimp & Grits, Biscuits & Gravy, Black Eyed Peas, and bacon on everything, some of the more modern influences integrate a lot more greens and are less sauce heavy than their predecessors. That said, did I try have some grits and bacon in Chattanooga? You betcha! And, it was oh so scrumptious.

Let’s start with a few restaurants I had a chance to try during my most recent stay in June or were strongly recommended to dine at:

Easy Bistro & Bar

Located off Broad Street in what was formerly the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant, the soaring dining room and dramatic décor serves as a backdrop for an inspired meal – all served by friendly, attentive servers dressed in black and white. The backlit bar features a national recognized cocktail program and wine list of 250 bottles from around the world, with a focus on France and California.

They’re known for their oysters apparently — fresh and delicious.

Order the chilled corn soup if you get a chance; listen to how they prepare it — it’s made with saffron custard, cucumber and sorghum popcorn! Oh so WOW! I’d also recommend their steak tartare, served with anchovy, cornichon, shallot-garlic sauce, cured yolk and Jimmy red chips and they offer a great array of seafood options as well, both cooked as a main course or as an appetizer. Imagine a combo of red snapper, mussels, shrimp, m.s.m andouille sausage, fennel, dutch potatoes, tomato and okra.

“Easy Bistro’s chef Erik Niel grew up in south Louisiana so he knows a

good shrimp when he sees one.” 

Other delicious options worth mentioning are their Crawfish-Artichoke Dip, Shrimp and Grits for those who love Southern Cuisine (served with peppers and fennel, my favorite), old fashioned Brisket, Garlic, confit potatoes and string beans, Pork Belly with peace, creamed corn and jalapeno,  Pei Mussels with garlic and fries, and their Gnocchi with peach, Benton’s Ham and cherry tomatoes.

Clyde’s on Main

This is a fairly new establishment in the heart of downtown. Young and hip, it has a great bar scene as well as outdoor tall picnic table-style eating areas which make it a great choice for groups. A great low carb but oh so decadent and southern choice on their menu are their briskets. YUM! I love smoked meat from the south — at Clyde’s, they smoke low and slow and serve their meats straight off the pit, all day long. The result is a very smokey and tasty brisket, whether you go for the beef, pork, chicken or ribs. They also offer a pork and wing combo with baked beans and slaw, another favorite of my mine. The Southern restaurants seem to make creamier coleslaw than any I’ve had anywhere else in the country.

They do a Texas style smoked brisket with sweet and spicy marinated and it is served with Texas toast, baked beans and a choice of slaw, which is either a straight Mayo slaw or a hot mustard slaw. Memphis Style Ribs are slow smoked St. Louis cut spare ribs served wet or dry with baked beans and your choice of slaw. Oh so delish!

For those who care less about carb reduction, the Mac Daddy Mac’n'Cheese dish is most definitely a southern specialty – they serve it with Smoked chicken and southwestern spiced veggies, roasted cauliflower, poblano, red pepper, corn and bacon in a creamy chipotle cheese sauce or you can opt for the Fried Shrimp Dinner which is brined with buttermilk and served with mayo slaw and a baked potato.

Another dish I’d put on the “to die for” list is their Smoked Bison Meatloaf, which is slow smoked, southwestern-spiced ground bison and pork. They glaze it with a Chipotle barbecue sauce and serve it with Gouda mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.

 

This is a fun restaurant for apps and there’s no shortage of scrumptious options, from Smoked Brisket Nachos and Vietnamese Spare Ribs St. Louis style to Boiled Peanuts, Beer Cheese Pork Rinds, homemade soft pretzels and something they refer to as Clyde’s Pork Candy. Let’s just say that I could have eaten the whole thing though we ordered it as a plate to share thankfully. The pork “candy” refers to the way they serve it — it is thick cut slices of their homemade candied glaze bacon. OMG!!

 

There’s a whole page of sandwiches to choose from as well, from a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with bacon, to Choo Choo Hot Fish which is spicy fried cod, creamy slaw, tomatoes, house pickles and a Louisiana hot sauce. You can also get a Smoked Cubano sandwich with Applewood smoked ham, hickory smoked pork, house pickles and melted cheese, a Philly Brisket or Pulled Pork sandwich, a Surf & Turf Po Boy, which they prepare with Creole fried shrimp, slow roast beer and mushroom debris gravy or a Loaded BTL. (Bring it on!!)

Hennen’s

Located on Chestnut Street, this fun eatery offers a lovely variety of options for both lunch and dinner. Wine lovers will be happy to know that they have a varied choice even by the glass, which isn’t common at every Chattanooga restaurant where local beer, whiskey, margaritas and bourbon may be a higher priority.

Sipping my very buttery northern Toad Hollow Chardonnay, I decided to go a little healthier for our first official lunch in Chattanooga, so I ordered their Baby Spinach salad with dates, goat cheese confetti, spiced walnuts, pears and strawberries tossed in a sweet seed vinaigrette. That said, the better choice for something a l’il different is their Chopped Salad which comes with arugula, freeze dried corn (cool, right?), couscous, trail mix, marinated tomatoes and buttermilk pesto. The pesto was so good I ordered a side of it for my own salad – creamy and delish! You could get any salad with smoked salmon or grilled chicken and there were plenty of healthy choices at this trendy lunch spot.

Had it not been my first lunch, I very well may have gone for my colleagues choice — their traditional French onion soup (just look at their decadent presentation!)

Other colleagues went for burgers, a pan seared crab cake, sweet ginger calamari, seared ahi tuna with pickled cucumber salad and the white bean hummus dip. They also offer a mean cheese tortellini with asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms and pesto, and classic Low Country Style shrimp and grits with peppers, onions, Andouille sausage and spicy gravy.

Below, their hummus dip which comes with a fresh warm flatbread, cucumbers and warm tomatoes. I loved their presentation!

Want something a little more classic? They have that too – a prime rib with fries, a Sliced Sirloin with herb-mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus (note how often asparagus is on the menus in Chattanooga), or the Delmonico Ribeye served with any side. Their sides were fun as well, from veggies and roasted mushrooms to wilted spinach, grits, green beans and fries.

Hennen’s also offers a wide range of interesting cocktails for both lunch and dinner, including selections like a Pomegranate Martini, a Jalapeno Rita (imagine Jalapeno Infused Avion Silver Tequila with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor), an Orange Peel Manhattan, a Peach-Mango Martini and something they refer to as a Moscow Mule, which is made from Absolut Vodka, House made Ginger Syrup and fresh squeezed lime juice. YUM!

Taco Mamacita

Now, why on earth would you do Mexican fare in Tennessee you might wonder?  While Taco Mamacita feels and behaves like a fast food eatery in so many ways, the joint was founded by locals who have a passion for the cuisine. They use locally sourced food food whenever possible and now have three locations – what’s great is that they offer “naked burritos” and salads for those who are either gluten intolerant or favor lower carb diets like me.

Think nachos, salsa and fresh guacamole. Think of sloppy nachos which they call their secret recipe, which includes spiced ground beef, diced tomatoes, jalepenos, monterey jack cheese, sour cream and Fritos piled on top of a single layer of tortilla chips. Whoa mama, oh so delicious!

For the carb watchers among you, they also have great Cobb Salads, or a Grande Chopped Salad which comes with roasted chicken and your choice of dressing. Then, there’s the fresh Chicken Tortilla Soup, which is made from roasted chicken, diced tomato, freshly sliced avocado, queso fresco, lime and chopped cilantro and served hot pot style with a flavorful house-made broth topped with tortilla strips. I loved their dressing choices — Honey Lime Vinaigrette • White Balsamic Vinaigrette • Jalapeno Ranch and a Smoked Chili Vinaigrette. It’s a great choice if you have kids in tow.

The Flying Squirrel

Head here for a funky hangar-like space with locally sourced food and handcrafted cocktails. What I love about this place is their upstairs lounge area where you can also get a great view of the bar below. It’s also a late night place that has occasional live entertainment. I’d also recommend the cheese and meat platter and their garlic fries. Yum!! Ambiance is trendy and chic here and their food selection is bar style and fun! Take a look at their open nacho plate below, which if you didn’t want the carbs, you could just go for the meat, onions and veggies — it was very tasty!!

Beautifully presented was their cheese and cold meats platter on a large wooden platter — it includes Tennessee beef salami, dry-cured chorizo, Olympic Provisions Etna, accoutrements and their cheese is Sequatchie Cove Nickajack & Shakerag and Sweet Grass Green Hill. BTW, although we didn’t try them, they offered Fried Green Tomatoes as well with maque choux (yum!!)

Our table did order the house cut fries however, which they offer with classic garlic (loved them) or spicy.  For the healthier among you, you can opt for the Broccolini with golden raisins, white wine and paramesan or the Panzanella Salad with Sandabama Farms heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, pomodoro, micro basil and parmesan cheese. If we had more time there, I was curious to try their Wagyu Tartare Sandwich which they preparedw ith B&B pickles, red onion, capers, pickled mustard seeds, sunny egg, local lettuce and local Niedlov’s bread.

Great to share are their Cuban Tacos, with smoked pork belly and shoulder, red dragon cheese, mustard and pickles of their Duck Carnitas Tacos,  made with crispy duck confit, cabbage, radish, tomato, pickled red onion, avocado purée and cilantro. Vegetarians will be happy to know that smoked tofu tacos are an option and as I mentioned above, they have plenty of salads. The presentation? Top notch!

St. John’s Restaurant 

This is a must visit for the fine diners and wine lovers among you. Located on Market Street, seasonal, elevated American fare is served in a vintage space with modern decor.  It is housed in a building that went up at the turn of the twentieth century so it has a great deal of history. The flatiron building evolved over the years from hotel to brothel to abandonment. After being condemned and nearly torn down in the 1990′s, local architect and preservationist Thomas Johnson restored it. Today, there are luxury apartments above the restaurant and the ambiance is oh so chic!

Menu options won’t disappoint, from chilled asparagus soup, fava bean salad with beets and feta cheese, Ranch Trout and Lamb Loin to start to plenty of fish, steak and chicken options for mains. For example, I was thrilled to see a Wagyu Beef Zabuton Steak and Braised Cheek on the menu, which they serve with potatoes, green beans and cipollini onions. There’s also a local Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast and Confit with spring onion and strawberry crudo and fiddlehead ferm-ramp risotto – WOW!

From Ashley Farms, there’s a free range chicken with homemade gnocchi, a Heritage Farm Pork Shank with a panzanella salad (seems to be popular on many Chattanooga restaurant menus) and a Broken Arrow Ranch Axis Venison with grits from Riverview Farms, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, swiss chard pesto and cipollini onions. The venison definitely would have my vote! They do offer a wild Alaskan Halibut with Alabama Lump crab and creamed corn for fish lovers.

Oh so fresh and dedicated to using many ingredients from local farms, something we always applaud!

Daily Ration

This fabulous brunch plac e is always busy on weekends apparently.  Technically still Chattanooga, it’s located at the end of a residential street on Dartmouth Street. You can sit outside here, in the back room if you happen to be a group, or at the bar, which has a fun ambiance. Their coffee is to die for — while the coffee may not be what is most unusual, how they prepare a cappuccino with Almond Milk is the best I’ve ever had.

Southern style is where it’s at here, however they also offer some modern ethnic dishes you wouldn’t expect to find on the menu, like the Asian Breakfast Bowl, which is served with Rice, Glazed Pork Belly or Tofu, House Kimchi, Pickles, sesame seeds and a soft boiled egg. I had to laugh when I saw one of my staples, but without the bread on the menu….something they call a Boring Breakfast, which is two eggs, choice of meat, roasted potatoes and a house Buttermilk biscuit.

Avo Toast served with Roasted Beets and Chilli Lime Salt, was ordered by our group as was the Asian Breakfast Bowl, Flapjacks with Bourbon Maple Syrup, and the Alibi Burger with tomato jam, lettuce, pimento cheese and pickles. I also ordered a side of Kale and a couple in my group went for the Cheddar Grits (how could you not when in Tennessee?). The house sausage was fresh and delicious as was the bacon.


For the healthier minded among you, they offered a Granny’s Chicken Salad with grapes, lettuce, and tomato and a Cous Cous and Goat Feta Cheese Salad. They serve a mean and oh so delish Bloody Mary with a Chilli Lime Salt around the rim that was so good, I ordered a side of it for other dishes. Grandma’s Special is a fun one for the kids — house buttermilk biscuits, cruze sausage gravy and two eggs cooked any style. They have a veggie breakfast option as well for the vegetarians among you, an omelette, which could also be made with only veggies and The Seuss, which includes Benton’s Country ham, two eggs, roasted potatoes and a Granny Smith Compote.

STIR

Adjacent to the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel where we stayed sits STIR, a bustling and fun eatery and bar with exquisite seafood, salad and soup options as well as a wide array of cocktails, wine and entrees. When I saw oysters on the menu, I had to oblige. What’s great about dining with a large group is that you can sample a variety which we did — they had oysters from Washington state, holbolk golds from California, bluepoints from New York State and Alligator Harbors from Florida.

For those not into raw on the half shell, you can be a l’il more decadent and btw, I also tried these and they were my favorite among all lunch and dinner choices all week! We sampled both the Baked Cheddar Bacon Oysters (heavy but oh so worth ordering) and the Oysters Rockefeller, which is served with spinach, shallots, pernod and parmesan. They also do a baked crab stuffed oyster option as well. YUM YUM YUM!!

Appetizer options included salmon cakes with citrus dill yogurt, parmesan white truffle fries (WOW!), Tillamook sliders with cheese and garlic mayo, Seafood Ceviche (always worth ordering), fish tacos, Crab Bisque and a variety of salad options, including a seared tuna salad with carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, avocado, kale chips and a cilantro miso vinagrette.

I went for the Seared Tuna entree which they serve with kale, bacon, red onion, farro, basil and sriracha potato crumbles in a citrus soy sauce. Shrimp and grits was on the menu of course, but so was traditional steak and frites, seared scallops, fried shrimp, chicken caprese, and grilled salmon with a scrumptious citrus dill sauce, pickled red onions, farro and roasted vegetables.

Two thumbs up for the cuisine, drink choices and the ambiance!

Ocoee Dam  Deli & Diner

This diner is technically not in Chattanooga, but we stopped here on our way back from white water rafting along the Ocoee River, an hour or so outside the city in a place called Benton. En route back near the Parksville Dam, we experienced a family-owned diner with plenty of traditional Southern dishes on the menu alongside traditional sandwiches, wraps, desserts and salads.

Sure, you can get a classic wrap but why would you want to when there’s fried Tilapia, Country Fried Steak, Ocoee Dam meatloaf, Black and Blue burgers (that’d be the blue cheese crumbles), and so many southern delicacy sides to choose from, such as Mac-n-Cheese, fried okra (below), pickled beets, sweet potato fries, turnip greens (below), white beans, buttered corn, black eyed peas and creamy coleslaw on the menu.

And, how about those classic Southern style deep fried green tomatoes?

OR, deep fried pickles (I LOVE LOVE these and always order them when I head south).

They had plenty of desserts to choose from as well, including traditional pastries, brownies and ice cream — this traditional styled deli in oh so many ways, is a great choice for families.

Other recommendations include…..

Tremont Tavern

This spot is known for their legendary burgers. Every now and then, it’s amazing what a juice medium rare burger with caramelized onions can do to my mood.

BrewHaus 

More for the meat lovers among you. This joint has German sausage on the menu as well as a wide variety of German beers to choose from.

TerraMae Appalachian Bistro

For something a little different, head to this delicious and recognized bistro on East 10th Street.

Lakeshore Grille on Lake Resort Terrace

This spot is a great spot to go to for American cuisines right on the lake – the views and drinks are the bigger reason to give them a try.

Sticky Finger’s Smokehouse

This spot has apparently been voted as having the best ribs in Chattanooga for six years – if you’re a rib lover, put this spot on your list. Famous Dave’s is another popular place in town that serve BBQ ribs and smoked meats.

212 Market Restaurant

I’m a fan of sustainable and organic cuisine and those sourcing from local farms. Across from the Tennessee Aquarium, which I’d strongly recommend visiting, 212 Market is a great sustainable choice in town.

The English Rose

It is a unique place in Chattanooga and a must visit for tea lovers. Yup, it’s a classic tea room that offers British lunches and they also have a gift shop on site.

Hair of the Dog Pub

I like this choice for beer lovers since they offer craft beer pairings using local ingredients in a traditional pub atmosphere.

Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant 

This place came up a few times and locals recommended it. It is also on our music and entertainment list as they apparently offer authentic and delicious southern comfort food.

Public House 

I mentioned this establishment in my article on the Chattanooga Music Scene but in addition to live music, they offer basic American fare such as burgers, sandwiches and salads.

Boat House Chattanooga 

This is a popular down to earth place among locals, this great seafood restaurant runs along the river and yup, they have oysters, which I have a weakness for… 

Root Kitchen and Wine Bar 

While I didn’t try this place out, it was recommended by two reliable sources in town when we moved into a food and wine conversation. Chattanooga really isn’t a wine city but some of the finer restaurants will offer you enough well-known options to choose from that you won’t have to resort to spirits or beer with dinner.

Rodizio Grill 

Who doesn’t love a Brazilian steakhouse experience when they’re incrediby hungry? This is also a fun place to go with a group.

Tupelo Honey Café 

This cafe is known for their elevated down-home dishes made from scratch and gelato and Clumpies and Cupcake Kitchen are the stops to make for those with a sweet tooth and can’t pass up homemade ice cream on a hot summer night.

Sekisui or Totto 

Okay, sushi lovers, you might be surprised that you can find fresh and elegant choices in the South. Totto offers an all you can eat sushi lunch from Monday to Saturdays. 

Alleia

Who doesn’t love Italian? This chic trendy restaurant on East Main Street does a top notch job at Rustic Italian cuisine in a modern and sophisticated atmosphere. There’s also a beautifully lit outdoor patio that oozes romance where you can dine during warmer months.

To make your mouth water a bit, how about a braised veal papparadelle or one of my favorites: angel hair with tomatoes and shrimp? There’s also a ravioli with herbed ricotta and pomodoro on the menu for pasta lovers and meat lovers will love the quail breast with fig (OMG), a wood-fired pork shoulder with strawberry mostarda and balsamic or a classic New York Strip steak with balsamic onions. My kinda place, food curation, ambiance and all!   

Additionally, a relatively new and fun opportunity for foodies heading to Chattanooga is what’s known as the Scenic City Supper Club (SCSC). SCSC is a dining series aiming to shed light on Chattanooga’s emerging restaurant scene and its dedicated community of chefs, farmers, and producers.  Launched in April 2015 by Erik and Amanda Niel of Easy Bistro & Bar and Nooga.com, the series hosts four dinners annually (one per season) to celebrate local talent and bring in chefs from across the Southeast and nationally. The Scenic City Supper Club is a unique opportunity to build an awareness and community around all that Chattanooga has to offer – locally and beyond.

The last thing worth mentioning is Chattanooga’s weekend market, which has a lot of local farmers touting their latest and freshest offerings, from jams, jellies, breads and cheese to organic vegetables, fruits and tea.

 

5 Quirks About Mexico For Better Mind/Body Balance

July 18, 2016 by  

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Heading to Mexico for some R&R would make sense to most people. Images of cruises, beaches, vibrant colors and top grade Tequila would all come to mind, as would resorts with pools and swim up bars. You may not think of Mexico in the wellness travel escape category, however, particularly Puerto Vallarta.

While I didn’t spend a whole lotta time this past trip meditating, doing yoga or even taking in the area’s spa culture, I did spend a lot of time on the water. I also learned some interesting quirky facts about Mexico that we can learn from — I’ve love to return to Mexico for a solely focused wellness trip at some point in the future.

1. Chocolate and Chillies

Did you know that Mexico introduced chocolate, chillies and corn to the world? I did not. Chocolate was discovered in Mexico and was made by the Meso-American people into a sweet beverage using natural sweeteners. The word ‘chocolate’ derives from the language of the Aztecs, Náhuatl (xocolatl : xoco, bitter + atl, water). Ixcacao is the Mayan Goddess of chocolate. Corn (Zea maiz) was first cultivated in central Mexico. Most chillies come from Mexico, the word derived from the Náhuatl word chilli. Vanilla and red tomatoes are also on that list apparently.

Chocolate is made from tropical The obroma cacao tree seeds and its earliest use dates back to the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica. It has antioxidant benefits, and in some studies, has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.

2. Bio-Diversity

I also didn’t know that Mexico is one of the World’s Top 5 most bio-diverse nations on Earth. More than 30,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species, and 1,500 mammal, reptile, and amphibian species are native to Mexico. They cherish nature and it shows, particularly when you talk to an elder. On your next trip, get into listening mode and you’ll be surprised by what you take away.

 

3. A Commitment to More Women in Politics

Last year, Mexico approved a political reform package that, among other things, includes new measures aimed to ensure the greater participation of women in politics.  The law now requires gender parity, which means that at least 50% of the candidates fielded by a political party in either federal or state legislative elections must be female.  More details at https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/mexico-seeks-to-empower-women-politics

4. Healthy Eating

They care about what they eat and that it remains as natural as possible. Last year, opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) claimed victory after Mexico’s Supreme Court blockeda move that would allow the cultivation of GMO soy in the Mexican states of Campeche and Yucatan. In a separate appeals court decision, a federal judge upheld a 2013 ruling that barred companies such as Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer from planting or selling their GMO corn within the country’s borders. Bravo!
Additionally, in the west, far too many people are consuming a diet that is detrimental to our spiritual growth.  Fast food, sodas, microwave dinners, sugars are negatively impacting our health. Our bodies are designed for our blood pH balance to be between 7.35-7.45. Too much acid in the blood causes imbalance and eventually, diseases and further calcification of the pineal gland. Whenever you eat something that is incomplete (not wholesome) and acidic, your body has to pull the nutrients out of your body’s minerals to try to neutralize the acidity.

A high level of spiritual growth through pineal gland decalcification can be gained by eating more alkaline foods which can help boost our energy levels, creativity and overall health. Many daily staples, including spices in Mexico fall into the positive alkaline list, such as Chili Pepper, Cinnamon, Curry, Ginger and Sea Salt.  Below, I’m about to order a freshly cut coconut from Caesar’s Coconut Stand in Puerto Vallarta, which has been in business for three generations.

There’s also a lot of fresh fish in the oceans and when I was there, I was regularly ordering Ceviche, salads, tons of avocado, limes and cilantro.

5. Low Suicide Rates

Mexico is ranked fairly low on the suicide list globally, whereas countries with other high veggie and fish diets like Japan are ranked very high. While the rates did go up slightly in recent years, they’re still listed in the lower 25% of countries from around the world.

 

 

 

A Little Drama & A L’il Sauce at Misfit Cabaret

July 18, 2016 by  

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If you’re an entertainment fan, especially of unusually interesting and creative performances, you’ll love the alternative Cabaret mash-ups that Misfit Cabaret puts together in San Francisco. We recently went to their latest show, which is held at Great Star Theater. Located on Jackson Street in the heart of China Town, there are 14 local Chinese and Asian restaurants on the same block, making it easy and fun to grab a bite to eat before or after the show.

Misfit Cabaret is a splendiferous variety show centered around magical music with a rotating cast of eccentric performers. Each show is completely different– with changing themes such as the cult filmed Cinepheilia and the naughty nautical WhimseaFrom burlesque to drag to circus to magic, you never know what you’re going to see.

I love the concept and we had a boat loada fun. Some people get dressed up to match the theme and later, a couple of dozen people get dragged up onto the stage to dance to the last song with the rest of the crew and performers. For each new Misfit Cabaret, emcee Kat Robichaud writes two original songs keeping with the theme of the evening and plays them with her Darling Misfit band, as well as a special medley to kick off the evening and welcome in the spirits of San Francisco’s saucy past. There’s comedy, romance, and bawdiness around every corner. We loved her tribute to David Bowie song which she sang at the performance last week.

There’s Prosecco, beer and wine on-site as well as popcorn to add to the evening’s festivities and later, beach balls were thrown into the audience just to mix things up a bit and add to the fun. Another fun factoid to note is that the very old and very authentic Great Star Theater, a local underground miscreant, is meant to be haunted.

For more info, go to http://www.katrobichaud.com/ and click on Misfit Cabaret or simply google Misfit Cabaret. They’re having a “bloody” themed one in October so be on the look out!

The Top 10 See, Eat, Do Guide to Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta

July 16, 2016 by  

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One of things that I love so much about Mexico is its vibrant colors regardless of where you go in the country. Recently, I headed back to Puerto Vallarta, which while a popular tourist hot spot, there are ways to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowds. Even when walking along the infamous El Malecon, Puerto Vallarta’s downtown waterfront boardwalk, if you choose an off-time, you can have a relatively quiet walk, capture fabulous photographs and make some worthwhile food stops along the way.

 

If you make Puerto Vallarta a long weekend getaway from America’s West Coast (and why not? It’s only a few hour flight), then here are ten fun things to explore on the ground:

1. Malecon Boardwalk

While it may be fairly central and loaded with tourists, it’s still an interesting place to walk down, especially at night. There’s a vibrant culinary and arts scene along the boardwalk, which is lined with sculptures and local work. There are also quaint shops and food stalls to explore along the way. At the end of the boardwalk, there’s entertainment in an open door theatre area, which is lovely just after the sun sets. There was a clown performing when we are there although acts change all the time depending on the season and night. There’s a vibrant late night bar scene along the Boardwalk as well, some so massive that you can listen to 80′s on one side and Hip Hop on the other. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sunsets: be sure to take them in, especially along the water. It’s oh so romantic even if you’re there with a family in tow. Below, nt far from the boardwalk, making our way to a few fun eateries nearby along the water’s edge.

2. Walk Through Old Town & Emiliano Zapata (the Romantic Zone)

There’s a historical and old section of town which makes for such a lovely walk. You’ll go through Venustiano Carranza Plaza, walk past the Santa Cruz Catholic Church and see some lovely stalls and shops along the way, including Mundo de Cristal, which is a bit like an institution for ceramics. In other words, it feels more like a museum than a ceramic shop. Also worth mentioning if you’re into artistic stuff and ceramics, is the Mundo de Azulejos on Venustiano Carranza. Oh so beautiful! The architecture is just stunning and there are so many nooks and crannies you can meander down — why not get lost for awhile exploring what the town has to offer? Bring a camera, a sunhat and sunglasses and just GO! There is so much charm along the way — from colorful buildings not far from the main drag to stone statues representing Puerto Vallarta’s historical past. A charming boutique hotel in this area, which exudes quaintness, colorful energy and elegance all at the same time. Oh yeah, and the area is fun both in the daytime and at night!

3. Go for Beach Walks & Talk to Locals

I’d strongly recommend not just walking along the beach in the center of town or along the beach in front of your hotel, but take a boat tour to an island that is a bit more remote and go for a beach walk. Take your time!! Be present!! Talk to locals along the way!! I met many locals and all of them had an interesting story to share…. And, some even had candy and other snacks to sell…. At one local beach side eatery, I was able to get some fresh Ceviche as well – oh so delish! It always tastes fresher when you’re right on the ocean’s edge. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention limes — they seemed to be everywhere. Mexicans love their limes and use them with everything. I ran into this guy walking along the beach with a massive bag of limes over his shoulder – “What for?”, I asked. “Everything,” he responded with a smile. Isn’t that the truth — from Ceviche and Margaritas to guacamole and tomato salsa salads, limes are used. Thankfully I’m a huge fan of limes and we use them frequently at home when we cook, from salads and fruit to sprinkling lime juice on sauteed fish and chicken dishes. Some of the smaller boats you can take from the mainland to more remote beaches… Locals have so much to teach you about their local culture, so be sure to listen carefully. Even if there’s a language barrier, you’d be surprised what you can learn from their art, their food and their customs by watching and being present.

4. Shopping

There’s plenty of great shopping in Puerto Vallarta, whether it’s more traditional types of items (below), or the fabulous ceramics I mentioned above. It’s a very artsy town, so there’s plenty of crafts, artwork, ceramics, knitted clothing (think bathing suit cover-ups and tops), leather sandals, homemade hammocks and beautiful tapestries. There are also plenty of leather shops, where you can find colorful and well-made cowboy boots, bags, flip flops, wallets and backpacks.

5. Festivals, Parades & Celebrations

Be sure to check the local schedule to see what is happening in town. From festivals and  parades, to local food events, there is plenty to celebrate. Since it is such a vibrantly colorful place, when celebrations happen, you should take the opportunity to not just attend, but participate whenever possible. In my experience, Mexicans love to dance, yes, even in the street. And, music is such an integral part of the culture that it’s worth learning a bit about who they are through their music. In addition to asking your hotel concierge for ideas, be sure to ask a local for suggestions. When I was there in June, musicians made their way down the Malecon Boardwalk and it was incredibly lively – both adults and children participated in the celebration.

6. Take a Boat Tour & Snorkel

Located near Mismaloya in the Bay of Banderas, beautiful Los Arcos is the most popular diving and snorkeling destination in Puerto Vallarta. We took a boat out to the diving area, which took about an hour and a half and lunch was provided as was drinks….in other words, there was no shortage of Margaritas and limes on board. The boat tour is small enough to find your own spot on board (and take in the beautiful views) while not feeling overcrowded — it is a bit like those standard day cruises you might take in any tourist destination. Everyone was friendly and towards the end of the day, I ended up dancing up a storm with locals on the deck — it’s amazing how quickly you learn moves you had never seen or heard of after a Margarita or two. The water is warm which was a welcome relief after dealing with cold East Coast waters most of my life. They have plenty of snorkeling gear on board, so there’s no need to bring your own. The time you actually get to snorkel with some of the tours is a bit on the short side however, so if you want to go out for a few hours, be sure to either rent your own boat or do a private tour that has more flexibility than some of the larger boats. After you leave Los Arcos, you have an hour or so on the boat before you pull back into the port at Puerto Vallarta — the views are great and isn’t just so lovely to take in the fresh sea breeze? It always makes me feel so alive! Happy as a camper, I’m still loving my favorite swimwear brand to-date, Sauvage and my Aspire sunglasses! (Bravo – both of them come with me on every sunny getaway!!) Time to head back to port….

7. Birding & Getting Lost in Nature

You can go inland a bit for viewing wildlife in more rural areas or quite frankly, there is plenty of interesting bird life to see right along the coast, which I would recommend. The natural beauty is absolutely stunning, so be sure to stay present along the way — I brought my waterproof camera so I could capture shots while swimming and snorkeling.

8. Kayaking and Paddle Boarding

Let’s face it, I’m a bit biased since I grew up on a lake, but I love to kayak and paddle board and it’s one way to keep you close to the water while you take in all that natural beauty. There are plenty of places to rent kayaks and paddle boards. We stayed at the Marriott and they had paddle boards on-site for us. On our snorkeling trip, they stop off at an island where you can also take paddle boards out directly from the beach.

 9. Puerto Vallarta Food Tours

Everyone who reads this site regularly knows that I’m a huge foodie and take every opportunity to explore the local foodie scene. Puerto Vallarta Food Tours does a great job at introducing you to some of the tastiest options in Puerto Vallarta. Sure, there’s a fish market (you’re on the coast after all) but there’s also a lot of quirky eateries and stalls to experience in addition to a popular restaurant scene. For example, there’s Tuba — yes, that’s his name.  You’ll find him roaming through Old Town and the Malecon area with a cool white hat on and he’s been offering up his delicious Tuba drink since 1998. It is oh so delicious – it’s a little sweet but not overly so and its laced with walnuts! YUM! Fresh coconut water anyone? Aside from the designated stops you make on the food tour, there are plenty of scrumptious things to taste along the way — food is everywhere on Puerto Vallarta streets, so foodies, beware!!! Coconut shrimp and it was oh so divine! Other places worth noting include Tacos Robles, which is a Birria Taco Stand on Constitucion Emiliano Zapata. This was by far my favorite spot for classic tacos — it is a family run taco stand as well; it’s obvious that the mother is the artistic genius behind the recipes. It’s been around since 1986 and is still popular today. Two thumbs up! There’s the ever so authentic Tacos El Cunado (taco stand) on Francisco Rodriguez. They were so fresh and so delicious – be sure to try their spices and add a pinch of salt. Cesar’s Coconut Stand has been around since 1968. A family run business, they care about quality and it shows – the coconut juice is oh so pure and freshly cut open while you wait. Below, the Tortilleria La Gloria is the local tortilla factory in town – you can even see how they’re made. Also fantastic are the Stuffed Pepper Tacos at Mariscos Cisneros on Aquacate 271 — Marco, the owner, does a great job with shrimp tacos, octopus, fish and jalapenos! Yum. While the owner is retiring and moving on, it’s still worth mentioning a Puerto Vallarta chocolate institution which was still open while we were there in June: XocoDivas Chocolates, a shop of Artisan chocolates along Basillio Badillio. They will apparently still sell at markets periodically but no longer have a storefront. Along the street, you can find donuts – try one; sure, they’re decadent and fattening but they’re also oh so good!

10. Outdoor Dining & Tequila Tasting at the Marriott

The Puerto Vallarta Marriott offers outdoor patio dining in their Herb Garden. On a beautiful summer night, it’s the perfect thing to do. Their food is exquisite as well – in fact, I thought their Ceviche was better than the options I tried in town. We tasted a variety of things while we were there, but on our last night, we had a pre-fix menu which included Roasted Beet, field greens, orange segments, goat cheese and caramelized Macadamia Nuts, with a Citrus y Balsamic Vinaigrette to start, followed by a Roasted corn cream Caviar Cuilacoche (cake), followed by a Crab cake with mango sauce, red onions and a chilli sauce, with our main entree being a Filet Mignon with Marrow crushed caramelized onions, foam goat cheese in a demi glace. WOW! Warm chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with a strawberry compote was served for dessert ….. We paired all of it with both California and Mexican wines. For Mexican white, I went with the Chardonnay Reserva La Cetto and the Chardonnay Varietal Santo Tomas. The Marriott does tequila tastings at La Cava upon request. We sipped and learned about the tequillas we were tasting from the resort’s tequila ambassador Audrey Formisano. We started with the Casa Magna Tequila Joven which was a young one year old tequila and we paired it with a mozzarella salad. Then came a seafood and avocado dish which we paired with the Casa Magna Tequila Reposado, which had been aged around 9 months in oak. We finished off with the Casa Magna Anejo (aged) tequila, which had been aged in an oak barrel for 4-5 years. With the most aged tequila, we had a chicken dish before moving to our main dinner in the courtyard. I’d strongly recommend doing this when you’re in Puerto Vallarta. Other tequila that I tried while I was in Mexico….. Glorious days gone by….let us know what you end up doing in Puerto Vallarta on your next trip by commenting below!

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Offers Sweeping Views of Big Sur

July 15, 2016 by  

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I’m typically not a fan of chains, even high end ones, largely because I often feel that there’s very few unique characteristics to a property. Of course, I have been proven wrong on this view point a number of times, most notably at one of our favorite Ritz Carlton properties: Dove Mountain in Arizona, which we reviewed last year and has a big wellness focus, which is very integral to WBTW’s focus: Transformative Travel. Earlier this month, we had an opportunity to experience the Hyatt Carmel  Highlands property in Carmel California, a lovely oasis nestled into a mountain and surrounded by trees, all while also boasting epic views of Big Sur and the Pacific Coast. What we love most about this Hyatt is its natural surroundings and the fact that it looks out onto the ocean — a mix of large hotel amenities with the charm of a unique hotel getaway. This lovely oceanfront hotel is 3.2 miles from Carmel River State Beach and less than ten miles from Cannery Row, which for those who haven’t been, is a must do for shopaholics. Also here are great cafes and restaurants as well as beautiful ocean walks.

What We Loved

The natural wood burning fireplaces are one of the features we loved the most, so it rises to the top of the list. Other unique add-ons that are noteworthy include their complimentary mountain bikes and for families, they offer on-site babysitting services, so you can get the R&R you need, even with kids in tow. Note that while they do not have a spa on the premises, they do offer in-room spa services, which we didn’t take advantage of, so can’t speak to the quality of the services offered or the experience.

There’s also a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge on the premises and for those trying to escape from the pressure of day-to-day work but still need to be connected, they offer ATT 3G a cell phone network host. If you want to escape from wifi and the connected world, it’s also very doable — you can get lost in the nearby mountain and go on hikes or bike rides or take a walk along the beach. Also worth raising is their 3 outdoor Jacuzzis. I’m always astonished at large properties that only have one hot tub for far too many people many of them close early. Who doesn’t want to soak in a tub after dinner?

Speaking of flexibility, their StayFIT fitness center is open 24 hours and they even offer private yoga classes upon request.

For later lounging about, their Lobos Lounge offers great day and evening views.

They have a great outdoor heated pool as well btw, which is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Since we experience so much June and July gloom in the Bay Area, Carmel makes for a great early summer getaway when it’s cloudy, foggy and cool and….it’s only about an hour and fifteen minute drive.

The Rooms

The Hyatt Carmel Highlands has 48 non-smoking guestrooms, which include eleven suites, 32 Ocean View King rooms, and five Garden View rooms. As you’d expect, they have fridges in all the rooms, some have kitchenettes and there’s daily newspaper delivery. For those traveling with families or are there for extended stays, they offer dry cleaning upon request. High-tech amenities include a flat screen TV with cable and satellite channels, iHome stereo with iPod docking station, dataports and high-speed DS3 wireless Internet.

For folks who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s worth noting that they have 5,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, private dining, a dedicated wedding coordination team and special catering upon request. Activities nearby include several golf courses, including Pebble Beach, Spy Glass Hills Golf Course, Blackhorse Golf Course, Bayonet Golf Course and Rancho Canada, all within ten miles or less. For tennis lovers, the Mission Tennis Ranch is only 5 miles away and there’s horseback riding, wine tasting  and kayaking nearby. If you are traveling with children, you should definitely visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium (it’s wonderful) and historians will appreciate the Carmel Mission Museum and the Maritime Museum.

Nature On & Around the Property

The hotel is surrounded by nature on all sides, which is oh so glorious!

Below is the view from our room in the 300 block — you can also get rooms closer to the ocean for more grandular views and ocean breezes.

They have fire pits around the property where you can relax with your family or a group of friends. They also have BBQ pit areas where you can cook on the premises as well, making it a great addition to a Family Travel Stay Listfor the Carmel and Monterey Bay area.  A bird visits as we finish lunch on the patio of their more casual dining establishment, which has fabulous views of the ocean below.

The outdoor gazebo area where they hold private events and weddings.

They offer complimentary bikes where you can take rides up or down the hill – both sides offer breathtaking views.

The Lounge Areas

The public areas are also very relaxing, from the fireplace that greets you in the main lounge, a spacious area with big couches, tables and a tea/coffee display. They offered us complimentary bubbly when we arrived which was a nice way to begin our Hyatt stay. In the evenings, they have live music four nights a week, including one of the nights we were there. It was a solo piano player who takes requests and yes, we danced.

Casual and Fine Dining

California Market is their casual restaurant on the premises — I’d suggest dining here for a casual lunch or brunch on their outside patio. There are fabulous views of the ocean and a lovely breeze. You can opt for something more traditional like pancakes with bananas or one of their healthier salads. Both the Caesar (with shrimp or chicken) or their Seared Tuna salad are delicious! Add to it one of their freshly made lattes, a Margarita or glass or Chardonnay and you’ll be relaxed for the rest of the day!

For fine dining, head to their elegant and award-winning restaurant Pacific’s Edge, which has views from three windows facing the Pacific Ocean – wow! Suggestion: get a 7 pm reservation so you have plenty of time to take in the views before and after sunset.

We had oysters to start with — who wouldn’t if they’re available?

Some of our suggestions include an unusual preparation of Yellowfin Tune Tartare, which they serve with avocado, chilled potato yuzu puree, crispy quinoa, lime aioli and they sprinkle the plate with seaweed powder.  My favorite app which I ended up having as my dessert, is their Burrata, which they serve with yummy burrata cheese of course, heirloom tomatoes and Opal Basil blossoms (it was so divine!!!)  Also on the “to-die-for” list is their Scallop Ceviche (third photo below) made with coconut milk (OMG), ginger, lime juice, red onion,green chilies and cilantro.

A great choice for vegetarians is their Zucchini Carpaccio or their Wild Mushroom soup, which they make with locally foraged mushrooms, crispy mushrooms and ramp oil. They also offer a traditional Caesar which I would have liked to try. For mains, if you’re in the meat mood, they have Short Ribs, a Colorado Lamb Loin, an Aged Ribeye or a Filet Mignon from Niman Ranch. Since we were on the ocean and had ordered Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, we went for the Yellowfin Tuna served with cumin crust, bok choy, fennel salsa, watermelon, pistachios, and Enoki mushrooms as well as the Pacific Wild King Salmon, which they serve with a lentil salad, cilantro oil and crispy leeks. (both pictured below).   Other seafood options include Dayboat Scallops with grilled asparagus, romensco sauce and shishito peppers with crispy basil and the Chilean Seabass with almond gazpacho, basil oil, grapes and sun chokes. YUM!!!

Have a sweet tooth? Then, be sure not to miss out on their chocolate cake with a nice hot cappuccino. We took ours to go so we could head to the bar for some live music, which I’d encourage. Two thumbs up! It makes for a great romantic getaway from the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles and if you have kids in tow, there’s plenty of outdoor activities to do in the area, including bike rides, nature hikes and of course swimming.

DETAILS:

HYATT CARMEL HIGHLANDS

120 Highland Drive

Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923 

(831) 620-1234

 

 

Note: we were hosted by the Hyatt but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

Top 10 Travel Guide to Chattanooga Tennessee

July 12, 2016 by  

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Truth be told, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a new southern city on my destination list that I just visited for the first time this past June: Chattanooga Tennessee. As a swing dancer and fan of Big Band music, I have to admit, I was excited to see the city that made the Chattanooga Choo Choo famous. To top it off, I was slated to stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, which has it’s fair share of history. See my top 3 STAY article which has suggestions on where to stay for chic and hip, quirky and historical and elegant and classic.

I was fortunate to try a number of fun activities during my stay, from experiencing the cultural and art scene and hearing live music (see my Thriving Music Scene in Chattanooga article) to white water rafting, hand gliding and dining (be sure to read my Foodie Guide to Chattanooga).

Above, the wondrous Ruby Falls

1. Hang Gliding

I have always wanted to go hang gliding and finally had an opportunity to do so over Lookout Mountain, on the outskirts of Chattanooga. Lookout Mountain Flight Park offers the opportunity to fly above the mountains and valleys that surround Chattanooga in tandem with a certified instructor. It really does feel like you’re flying as you float below the clouds and take in the breathtaking views. Apparently Chattanooga has one of the largest hang gliding schools in the country, a fact I never knew.

Unlike many hang gliding places where you have to jump off a mountain, you depart from the ground. They fasten you in on ground level and an ultralight plane pulls your glider up into the air to around 2,000 feet with your instructor and you attached. After you reach the right height, the cord is disconnected and you fly above the mountains. So so cool! See my standalone piece for more photos from my experience. For more photos including a short video, check out my standalone adventure travel post on hang gliding and rafting.

I always try to get out in nature on each and every trip regardless of whether it’s a  nature focused trip or not. There are always opportunities to get to the outskirts, talk to locals and take in some of a destination’s natural beauty, even in large cities like New York. Nature can be so grounding and transformative, which is so important when you’re on the road. I encourage you to take a deep breathe, center yourself and be present with nature on every trip you make. Below, it was so easy to get lost looking out over Lookout Mountain before we made our way to the site where we’d get rigged up to fly. Seeing this magnificent view from here put flying into perspective an hour later.

2. White Water Rafting

If you’re an adventure seeker or a nature lover, you’ll want to try white water rafting in the middle of the Tennessee Mountains — what a way to take in the state’s natural beauty! And, who doesn’t love the thrill of a fast flowing river? We went on both Class III and IV rapids down the Ocoee River, which was the site for the canoe slalom races during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.

Located just north of Chattanooga in the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee River flows through a beautiful gorge surrounded by scenic wildlife. Count on a half day for the experience — you’re brought up to the entry point by bus and your “team” of six carries the raft down to the beginning of take off, where you start off with a Class IV rapid. Fun, fun, fun! We went with Outdoor Adventure Rafting (OAR) who also offers tubing float trips, rock climbing, rappelling, paintball, and low & high ropes courses.

On your way back into town, a fun lunch spot is the traditional Ocoee Dam Deli and Diner near the Parksville Dam. It is family owned and operated and they have plenty of classic Southern dishes on the menu like Fried Steak, okra, green fried tomatoes and chicken and slaw. For more photos, see my post dedicated to the rafting trip and hang gliding the same week.

3. Cycling

Bike Chattanooga is a 24/7 bicycle transit system with about 300 bikes at 33 stations located throughout the city. Each station has a touch screen kiosk system, map and docking points which release bikes using a member key or ride code. A pass will buy you 24 hours with unlimited 60-minute station-to-station trips. You simply lock the bike back up at any station dock and wait for the green light to confirm the bike is secure. More information can be found at www.bikechattanooga.com/stations.

Credit: World Cycling Atlas.com.

It’s a fun thing to do day or night and easy to navigate — I strongly recommend it as the best way to see the city. It can be one of those romantic afternoon things to do or a fun activity to do with kids in tow. I wished we had more time to take in the beauty of the river, or even have a picnic alongside it. It tends to get very hot and humid starting in June so your best non-sticky months to go are late April through end of May or anytime in the Fall for opportunities to explore both the outdoor and indoor activities that Chattanooga has to offer.

4. Thriving Music Scene

I wrote about Chattanooga’s thriving music scene at great length, including a whole list of great venues to explore while you’re in town, so be sure to take notes. A highlight of the trip was meeting Shane Morrow, the co-founder and director of an initiative called Jazzanooga. It was founded in 2011 as a citywide celebration of jazz. While it draws from the cultural relevance and history of Chattanooga,  it also provides a festive platform where diverse communities can gather and celebrate the city’s extraordinary jazz heritage.  Their feeling is that Jazz transcends race, religion and national boundaries and unites all audiences.  It speaks to the heart, mind and spirit, and is universal. They do regular performances in its downtown space and provide music education.

I’d recommend taking the Big Nine Walking Tour, which is a historical and cultural tour of the MLK District, which used to be called the Big 9 District. The tour includes cultural and music history, historical buildings and the public art that makes the neighborhood pop. More information can be found at www.jazzanooga.org.  Below are some shots I took on the walking tour.

Local musician Matt Downer was jamming away at Rock City (See #10 on this list) while we were there — he was participating as part of Rock City’s Summer Music Weekends. Pulse Magazine called Matt “one of the last, best examples of the oral tradition in American folk music.”  He performs traditional old time music on fiddle, banjo and guitar. Growing up on Sand Mountain, Alabama, he learned to play music from his grandfather and the elder musicians of the area.

A veteran performer, he has played at various venues and festivals including – Rock City, Tivoli, Nightfall, Riverbend and the International Stringband Festival, performing with legendary artists such as – Carolina Chocolate Drops, Pokey Lafarge, Jack Rose, Michael Hurley and Norman Blake. His most recent album was recorded without electricity, directly to wax cylinders, on a 1906 Edison Gramophone at the MTSU Center For Popular Music. I have a video of him performing in my Chattanooga Thriving Music scene article, so be sure to check it out.

5. Drinks & Dining

As a foodie, I’ll always put food towards the top of any “To-Do” list and even though I shy away from carbs and traditional Southern fare typically doesn’t, there are far too many yummy dishes that you must try when heading to anywhere in Tennessee. See my Foodie Guide write-up for specific recommendations on restaurants and food experiences. To whet your appetite, have a look at some of my favorite “tastes” during my trip. It also includes which bars are fun and for what, i.e., Artisan drinks vis a vis beer, Martinis and so on.

Try the ribs at Clyde’s on Main

Above, the onion soup at Hennen’s

Brunch at The Daily Ration

6. Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is located on the banks of the Tennessee River and includes two buildings where you can interact with scuba divers, discover otters, alligators, prehistoric-looking sturgeon, a tweeting electric eel, sharks, stingrays, colorful reef fish, penguins, a butterfly garden and more.

We had what’s referred to as a Backstage Pass, which gives you a behind-the-scenes tour and special access to the animals, including seeing the baby animal nursery in the Q-room, which is not yet on exhibit. You can also take in an IMAX 3D movie as an additional choice. More information can be found at www.tnaqua.org. Enjoy some of my shots below.

7. Tennessee Stillhouse

You can’t go to Tennessee and not explore the whiskey scene – after all, this is where you’ll taste some of the best whiskey in the country. Located in the Southside District across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo is the Tennessee Stillhouse, a micro-distillery and tasting room. Yum!

When Chattanooga’s whiskey game was at its peak in the pre-prohibition days, there were 20 distilleries from Market and Main Streets to the Riverfront. Chattanooga Whiskey helped re-write century old laws and today, they are making the first legal whiskey distilled in Chattanooga in over 100 years. Tours include a lesson in how whiskey is made from “grain to glass” and a chance to peak into the process, as well as taste different blends at the end. More information can be found at www.chattanoogawhiskey.com. 

8. Theaters & Museums

Chattanooga has three beautiful historic theaters, all located in the heart of downtown. Tivoli Theatre, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Auditorium, and Walker Theatre were all important examples of early 20th century civic architecture by renowned architect Reuben H. Hunt.  The Tivoli Theatre, also known as the Tivoli and the “Jewel of the South”, has been open since 1921.

Credit: TimesFreePress 

In 2016-2017, The Tivoli Foundation will present a five-title Broadway Season at the Tivoli Theatre called “Broadway at The Tivoli.”  John Prine was performing at the Tivoli when we were there however acts change all the time so be sure to call ahead or check the schedule prior to your trip.

Photo credit: ChattanoogaFun

The Hunter Museum of American Art

While there are other museums you can experience in Chattanooga, the one that most impressed me after a bit of research is the Hunter Museum of American Art, which is perched on an 80-foot bluff on the edge of the Tennessee River. The Hunter has American art from the Colonial period to the present day, and the collection includes paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photography, mixed media, furniture and contemporary studio glass covering a range of styles and periods. A few of the artists whose work is represented in the Hunter include Thomas Cole, Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, Robert S. Duncanson, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, John Marin, Thomas Hart Benton, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Nevelson, Jack Beal, George Segal, Duane Hanson, Robert Rauschenberg, Sam Gilliam, and Andy Warhol.

I loved the work of contemporary glass sculptor, Stephen Rolfe Powell. Powell, who is recognized both nationally and internationally for his colorfully patterned pieces, draws his inspiration from nature, and ancient Italian murrini techniques. A Birmingham native, Powell began his artistic career as a painter and ceramicist. He had his first experience with glass blowing in the early 1980′s, and has been devoted to the medium ever since. Powell’s Jellies: Living Art, was shown at the Tennessee Aquarium and is a joint exhibition between the Hunter and the Aquarium.

There’s also a unique Art Space in town where we saw the work of pop surreal sculptor Matthew Dutton (his work below).

Entrance to a separate room in the Art Space where they hold independent and unique films on a regular basis in Chattanooga.

9. Rock City Gardens & Ruby Falls

A great day trip is an excursion to Rock City Gardens and Ruby Falls which is nearby. Rock City is on Lookout Mountain on the outskirts of Chattanooga and is well known for the many barn advertisements throughout the Southeast and Midwest that have the slogan “See Rock City” painted on roofs and sides. Apparently, Clark Byers painted over 900 barn roofs in nineteen states for Rock City from 1935 to 1969. Rock City claims that it is possible to see seven states from Lover’s Leap, a point in Rock City, but this has not been proven. It is incredibly beautiful however and a great family travel choice.

Known for its unique geological and botanical wonders, this enchanted 4,100-foot walking trail is a true marvel of nature, featuring massive ancient rock formations and it feels as if you’re below in a mysterious cave even though you’re not that far from the ground.

 

There’s also a 140 foot waterfall that cascades down Lookout Mountain, a panoramic view of seven states and a Swing-A-Long Bridge that spans nearly 200 feet — this is a great morning or afternoon activity and I’d recommend pairing it with a visit to Ruby Falls and making it a full day.

Ruby Falls is America’s deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall open for public viewing. Some 1,120 feet below Lookout Mountain, there’s a 145-foot waterfall. Ruby Falls is listed in the National Register for Historic Places and is committed to sustainability through a concerted effort to reduce their environmental footprint.  They tout four main environmental initiatives: the production of renewable energy, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and waste reduction, and land use planning. They have apparently made enough progress in these four areas to be the first U.S. attraction to successfully complete the Green Globe International environmental certification process. Bravo to them!

Credit: Green Globe Travel 

10. Chattanooga Market  

On our last morning, we took a stroll through Chattanooga’s local market, which is the region’s largest producer-only arts and crafts and farmers’ market. It is held every Sunday from April to December at the open-air First Tennessee Pavilion in Chattanooga. There are tons of handcrafted works by local and regional artists being shown at different booths, live entertainment, chef demonstrations, fresh bakery and produce items and apparently a different theme for each week.

I’m not sure what the theme was when we were there, but my favorite part of the visit was talking to the local craftsmen, from beautiful teak wood and hand blown glass to homemade soaps and sheep-wooled hats.  And, of course, tasting some of what was on offer, from white tea and tacos to sheep cheese and gelato from Milk & Honey. (we’ve listed them as a great dessert spot on our Chattanooga Foodie Guide).

Below, DB Reisen hand spins at the market — her focus is on luxurious-thermal-affordable gloves, hats and scarves made from wool, Alpaca and Angora fiber. More info at www.BoPeepsBlackSheep.com.


Here, I have a chat with DB about her craft.

A few articles to read before planning your trip to Chattanooga:

 

Busy Lifestyle or Always Traveling? The Dyson V6 Absolute is a Godsend

July 11, 2016 by  

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Dyson has been around for awhile and no doubt, if you love a clean home, you’re heard of the brand. Why? They’re known to have “super suction” and have a variety of stand-up models, including cordless models. Dyson machines now have smaller multiple cyclones than ever before, which create greater centrifugal forces and capture more microscopic dust (this is critical if you have allergies) than any other cyclones. Those if you who have had to push one of those heavy vacuums around know, they’re clunky, hard to move around and can’t make it under tough to reach spots.

I’ve always struggled with finding a great vacuum and two I purchased in the last ten years still don’t work that well. As you know if you’ve ever had to push one of these around, normal upright vacuum cleaners have fixed wheels and run on a fixed axle. They also move in straight lines, a bit like a push mower. A Dyson Ball machine is different in that it rides on a ball, pivoting on a single point, which allows the machine to move in any direction. That’s the first godsend but once you get down to different models, there’s a whole lot more.

Meet the Dyson V6 Absolute, which we’ve been testing out recently. It looks like there’s a lot of moving parts, but we’ll walk you through why!

One of the coolest parts about this upright machine which comes apart, is that it’s cordless, the first godsend for avid travelers. Let’s face it. For those of us on the road a lot, the last thing we want to deal with when we get home from a trip is vacuuming the house and dealing with cords when we do.

What’s sweet about the V6 is that first and foremost, it’s very quick to get through one room, largely because it IS cordless and because it’s much lighter than traditional stand-up vacuum cleaners. We love this feature and anyone with a busy lifestyle will too! There’s also a lot of options to choose from when cleaning, including a soft roller cleaner head, which is invented for hard floors, another feature that we love! The soft roller cleaner head removes large debris and fine dust simultaneously. We were surprised how quickly it picked up the dust on our hardware floors — we tested it on two rooms, the kitchen floor and a hallway. One thing to note is that because it has such strong suction, you’ll typically have to change the container sooner than you normally would – in our case, we had to do it once for coverage of two rooms and a small hallway. How often you need to clean it will depend on how clean your floors are to begin with and how often you clean.

Next up is the Direct-drive cleaner head, which can be used for very thin throw rugs like the one I’m working on below, or  more standard wall-to-wall carpets. The Direct-drive cleaner head drives bristles deeper into the carpet to remove even more dirt and its carbon fiber filaments remove fine dust from hard floors.

One thing worth noting also is that it is so low that I could easily get it underneath furniture that traditional vacuums simply can’t. While there’s no doubt, I’m in love with Rocky, our iRobot Roomba and have recommended it to everyone, what I like about the Dyson is how deep it goes into the carpet to extract even more dirt. What I’d recommend is letting your Roomba run around your house twice a month and the other two weeks, using a Dyson for even deeper cleaning – this is the best formula I know for a super clean house while easing the load of having to clean so hard. Remember that the Dyson is lighter and faster as well and because it’s cordless, you can move from room-to-room more efficiently. It’s a winning duo for any house.

Another thing to note about the Dyson is its whole machine HEPA filtration, which is an added plus for anyone who has Asthma and Allergies. Truth be told, even if you don’t have allergies, dust can cause irritation and frankly, shouldn’t be something you ingest on a regular basis. Dyson is certified asthma and allergy friendly — as an aside, sufferers may also want to know about the useful uHoo air filter which has eight dedicated sensors to ensure you know what you’re breathing in real time. Dyson V6 Absolute uses patented 2 Tier Radial cyclones, a post motor filter and a sealed system to ensure that the air that leaves machine is cleaner than the air you breathe.

The Dyson V6 Absolute cordless vacuum cleaner. The Dyson digital motor V6 creates the most powerful cordless vacuum.

The other thing you need to know about is Dyson’s power! Dyson cordless vacuums are powered by the Dyson digital motor, which uses digital pulse technology and a neodymium magnet to spin at up to 110,000 times a minute. Its small size means that the machines it powers can also be smaller and lighter, a benefit I’ve mentioned a few times.

While we’re talking about power, let’s move onto its suction, which I also mentioned above — it starts strong and it stays strong. I was a bit confused when we first tried the Trigger release motion, but the reason for it is to reserve battery power when you’re not cleaning — you can go full force for up to 16 minutes with the motorized floor tool attached.

Additionally, there’s the extra power push, which provides 6 minutes of higher suction for more difficult tasks. Although we don’t own a pet, I would imagine that this standalone tool would be a great option for cat and dog hair which builds up so easily on floors and on furniture. Remember that because all the pieces come apart, you can remove the long tube and use this as a hand vacuum. Yes, really — talk about a flexible tool, right?

Dyson calls it their Mini Motorized Tool, which they recommend for tough tasks. I’d suggest that it can be used for any task. Because it’s handheld, we tested it out on a throw carpet that we have on the patio and it worked wonders. In fact, I’m not sure that carpet has ever experienced that level of suction with another tool, so much so that the color looks more vivid and brighter than it has in years. Ahhh yes, the small things that bring a smile in life and this one certainly did.

It’s also a godsend for removing pet hair and ground-in dirt from furniture, car seats and tight spaces. Other add-on’s include the Mini Soft Dusting Brush, which they recommend for gentle dusting around the home. I used it for desks and dressers on the handheld tool, but you can also use it for stairs as shown below — it’s so quick to take pieces out and add others.

Ready for one of my favorite benefits of the handheld? You can easily snap in the smaller crevice tool which is great for getting to corners and those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Besides stairs and room corners, where would this be the ultimate cleaner? You betcha – your car! LOVE LOVE LOVE this feature!

Now, here’s something you absolutely cannot do with a traditional vacuum — clean blinds, windows and ceilings. What’s nice is their attention to detail, right down to the fact that the wand is a lightweight aluminum wand, making it easy for smaller women to use as well. Let’s be honest: even though I go to the gym and tone my arm muscles, doing housework like this can be exhausting, so the lighter and more flexible the tools, the better.

The last thing worth mentioning is their docking station, which makes it convenient to store. Rather than take up floor space in a closet, there’s charging station that you can screw into the wall near a power outlet and simply hang up. Because it’s always charging, whenever you need to do a quick cordless clean, it’s ready to go, which is as the Brits would say, “brilliant.”

The images below are useful for background of what’s actually in your air. Did you actually realize how much can get trapped into carpets and furniture? Everything from pet dander and industrial emissions to bacteria, mold, pollens and allergens. If you’re sensitive to any of these, having the most powerful vacuum is one way to keep you healthier. It begins with awareness….everything does!

Another thing that makes Dyson unique is their carbon free footprint. Conventional electric motors haven’t changed much apparently in 100 years in that the brushes wear down and emit carbon dust. The Dyson digital motor is different in that it is controlled by a microchip and spins up to 98,000 rpm — five times faster than a modern Indy car engine. Because of its speed, the digital motor is half the size and half the weight. With no brushes or fixed magnets, that also means that it doesn’t emit carbon either.

So, what’s in the box?

What else is cool and I didn’t realize before, is that Dyson machines are exhibited in various museums around the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Zurich’s Design Museum and others. More information on them can be found at www.dyson.com.

Go on, get a Dyson V6 and simplify your life! We love its power and what it can do!

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