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

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

July 4, 2015 by  

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

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

Panning For Gold

Teach me to be an expert oh gold panning maestro! 

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

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

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

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

The Gold Bug Park & Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine Tasting at El Dorado Wineries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga in Gold Country

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

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

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

Dining in Gold Country

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

Cafe Mahjaic

Sierra Nevada House 

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

Tubing & White Water Rafting

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

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

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

Rafting shots courtesy of Adventure Connection.

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

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

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

The American River and Coloma Bridge

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

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

Swimmers enjoy cooling off along the banks of the river

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

Above and below, the historical Coloma Bridge.

History Galore

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

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

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

Festivals & Events

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

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

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

Photo credit: www.americanriverresort.com.

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

Photo credit: oilcitywyo.com.

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

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

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

July 2, 2015 by  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

–United Nations

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

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

June 30, 2015 by  

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

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

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

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

The Villa by night….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details:

Villa Florentina

6673 Carvers Road

Coloma, CA 95613
(916) 662-2144

www.villaflorentina.net

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

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

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

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

Details:

Casa Bella Verde

More info at http://experiencecbv.com. 

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

Taking a Deep Nose Dive into Berlin’s Neighborhoods

June 30, 2015 by  

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When I received an opportunity to return to Berlin Germany after so many years, my first reaction and interest was to compare and contrast the Berlin of the early 90’s to the Berlin of today, a city which has undergone so many dramatic transformations, I was bound not to recognize her.

As I dug deeper into the trip and learned that Berlin was nine times the size of Paris, I found myself wondering whether that was the case 20 or so years ago. I also learned that Berlin consisted of 12 boroughs which are divided up into a total of 96 districts but that unofficially, Berliners don’t really live in a borough or district, but in their ‘Kiez’, which in layman’s terms, is simply a “neighborhood.”

And so in early May, I found myself air bound on a flight to Air Berlin to explore Berlin’s neighborhoods as they worked, played, danced and sang through a 2015 lens.

Not unlike other European cities, Berliners have a local pub, but unlike most places in the world, they serve some of the best beer you’ll ever taste. Locals also take great pride in their ‘Späti’ off-license which stays open well into the night, not unlike we have come to count on in American urban centers.

Let’s take a look at a few highlights. Note that I did not visit every single district, so you’ll notice external photographs in those cases), but I did make my way through about a third via a combination of van, foot and bike.

Because it had been so long since my last trip to Berlin, I spent most of my time in the Eastern part of the city and central Mitte, which houses most of the historical and cultural attractions and museums as you’ll see below. (a large proportion of this post is dedicated to in and around Mitte for that reason). That said, I’d encourage you to get out to Berlin’s more interesting hoods – you’ll get at the very least a summary of the hoods I didn’t either get to or spent very little time. Enjoy!

Mitte:

The Reichstag, which is one of Berlin’s most iconic buildings. Story has it that this building has been burned, bombed, rebuilt, buttressed by the Berlin Wall, wrapped in fabric and finally turned into the modern home of the German parliament.

View from the top….

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

A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1999, Museum Island highlights the best culture and art history from the Stone Age to the 19th century. Suggested visits include the Pergamonmuseum, the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie for nineteenth century art and the Bodemuseum for sculptures from the Medieval Age and the Renaissance period.

The German-Russian Museum is a permanent exhibition about Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II and is the authentic site of the signing of Germany’s unconditional capitulation on May 8, 1045.

Celebrating 70 years of so  many historical events that happened in Berlin, the city is abundant with open air exhibitions throughout the city showing what various parts of Berlin looked like in the Spring of 1945. These can be found at Brandenburg Gate (below), the Lustgarten, Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, Joachimsthaler Platz and Wittenbergplatz. Large-format historical photographs bring it to life, bringing you back to a sadder era in time, reminding you the importance of learning from history so the next generation doesn’t repeat horrors that should never have happened.

Berlin’s German Dom or known locally as the Deutscher Dom – not to be confused with the Berliner Dom which is the largest protestant church in Berlin – is best known as one of the three buildings which make up the spectacular ‘trinity ensemble’ in Mitte’s Gendarmenmarkt Square which includes the Französische Dom (French Cathedral) and the Konzerthaus or Concert Hall.

It’s worth spending some time in and around the square as well, as it makes for great people watching and the architecture is stunning as well.

Along the Sree River, you can get views of the historical Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island.

In and around Augustrasse…

Lichtenberg

While the Stasi hung their hats in Lichtenberg in the GDR times, it is now a neighborhood that is growing popularity with families, and not just because of its well known petting zoo. It is considered an up and coming district that is more residential than most hence the reason families and older couples find Lichtenberg an appealing choice.

Pankow 

Old Pankow merged with Weißensee and Prenzlauer Berg in 2001, so it now stretches from the northern edge of the city down to the centrally located Prenzlauer Berg. Story has it that during GDR times, artists and mavericks lived here in dilapidated buildings with crumbling façades. Today, it attracts families and yuppies, and its trendiest area is in and around Kastanienallee, with its many boutiques, cafés and yoga studios.

Neukölln Reuterkiez which is nicknamed Kreuzkölln, is known for being vibrant, up-beat and a great place to head if you want a thriving nightlife scene. Worth visiting is the Maybachufer Market which offers vegetables, produce and textiles and it’s also a great opportunity to people watch since it is more local and regional than some of the more touristy neighborhoods.

The area “feels” young yet is a mishmash of detached houses in the south and high rises in the Gropiusstadt area. Like Litchenberg, the area is changing but rather than it being an attraction to couples and families, younger singles are flocking to the area because of its dynamic nocturnal air and the fact that its attracting more active residents.

Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf

This hood is a great spot for you if you’re into shopping, although the Charlottenburg Palace, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and the Olympic Stadium can also be found here and are worth seeing.

Kurfürstendamm is the trendy shopping street here, left over from its regal 1920’s days. More of a boulevard than a traditional street, it is lined with beautiful trees and beautiful architecture influenced from the turn of the century. Currently hip with the youth is new concept shopping center Bikini Berlin, whose building has been renovated and redesigned from its former Eastern-European looking days.

High end designer stores and restaurants line both sides of Kurfürstendamm, with trees lining what feels more like an old fashioned Boulevard than a classic shopping street.  We hit this Champs-Elysees of Berlin, aka “the street” to be seen, from Bleibtreustrasse, a wide avenue where the houses are largely from the early twentieth century.

Nearby, trendy shops and cafes line the equally chic Schluterstrasse, a stone’s throw from KaDeWe along Tauentzienstrasse, where its sixth floor is a culinary explosion, offering everything from chocolate to savory culinary gems. (pictured above)

Reinickendorf 

There’s a beautiful little stream in Reinickendorf called Tegeler Fließ, which is part of a natural landscape formed during the Ice Age. The ‘Weiße Stadt’ (White Town) is made interesting by its architecture from the 1920s. It is one of six housing estates from the ‘Berlin Modernist Period’ on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Spandau 

While I didn’t go through Spandau, it was apparently an independent town until 1920 and is actually older than Berlin. There’s a large pedestrian area, lots of greenery and a historical monument, the Zitadelle Spandau (Spandau Citadel) is an important fortification of the High Renaissance. In summer, there are open air concerts and on the corporate side, apparently BMW has a big factory here.

Steglitz-Zehlendorf 

In the 19th century when it was foggy and smoggy in the center of Berlin (mostly Mitte), the rich moved out to the hoods of Steglitz and Zehlendorf where stately homes and villa estates began to sprout up and remember this largely residential area today is largely surrounded by the Grunewald forest which we spent a chunk of time driving through during our bus tour.


There are also art galleries here, museums and villas, the old hunting lodge Jagdschloss Grunewald and many lakes, including the Große Wannsee.

Tempelhof-Schöneberg 

Kennedy fans will know it as the place that held his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and where David Bowie went clubbing in the ‘Dschungel’ (Jungle). Schöneberg is home to the gay scene in Berlin and its Winterfeldt Market with its elegant old façades is apparently a popular hang out on weekends.  We mostly drove through this neighborhood taking in the sites and I felt that I could have used a few days of exploration just to hang my hat at a local cafe to do some writing.

The shops also looked very creative and not far from the main drag, you’ll find yourself in residential heaven.

Prenzlauerberg

Below is a shot biking through the old Jewish neighborhood Prenzlauerberg. It was one of those neighborhoods I felt I could live in if I ever moved to Berlin – young’ish but not too young, quiet, trendy and quaint, with plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops.

A more residential part of the neighborhood.

In the Scheunenviertal neighborhood, the old Jewish district – you’ll notice a juxtaposition of sorts.

Notice the yoga mat on one side, and the celery from a market on the other (below)

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

These two neighborhoods used to be separate and frankly, I think they’re different enough that they still should be, but they’re now officially one. We stayed in Friedrichshain which is further east than Kreuzberg and I’d argue, a little more funky. While both hoods are known for their street art and murals, I had more fun exploring the streets of Friedrichshain, perhaps because the streets somehow felt a little more raw. And of course, the street art drew me into its energy almost immediately.

The view from my hotel one afternoon on the corner of Boxhagener Strasse.

The view from my hotel window at dusk started settling in….

Spotted a short walk from Alexanderplatz which is a large square known for great people watching in East Berlin between Friedrichshain and Mitte.

Friedrichshain is urban, funky and hip – where the artistic meets alternative grunge.

The Zozoville Gallery – I noted that they’re even on Twitter.

A few shots taken during our Biking Tour with Berlin on Bikes, which covered Mitte, Friedrichshain, parts of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauerberg. You can see the “green” influence of Berlin throughout, whether its tree-lined streets or its many parks.

Kreugberg

There are apparently lot of well known street artists in Kreugberg, which is also where you will find a large Turkish population from a big immigration that started in the early 1970′s.  Pasting is also popular where people draw or stencil in advance and then glue / paste it onto a building. Largely, street artists stay anonymous but fans and followers know them through other names, not unlike Banksy, the pseudonymous English graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter.

Murals, graffiti and wall art and the work of street artist icons can be found throughout various points of the city and regardless of where you go, you’ll find creative expression in some form of another, one of the things that makes Berlin so unique among its European counterparts.

In the Bavarian District of Kreugberg is Cafe Haberlandan eclectic cafe that focuses on educating people about Berlin’s history. Named after Salomon and Georg Haberland, the founders of Bayerisches Viertel, the cafe is bustling with information on the district’s history.

The ambiance is eclectic signifying a bohemian time where artists, philosophers, poets, writers and thinkers (Einstein lived in this neighborhood) once gathered. While the cafe is casual in every way, chandeliers hang from the ceiling, vibrant signage on the wall takes you through history and candles on the tables create add a warm, artistic and intellectual creative vibe.

From here, you can walk to various historical points in and around the Bayerischer Platz (it is the closest metro as well). You can walk past painter Karl Hofer’s home at 44 Grunewaldstrasse to the east, take in Munchener Strasse, the wall of remembrance stones for Jewish citizens in the Locknitz School’s courtyard, see plaques of remembrance, visit the Zum Heilsbronnen Church, view a mural of Bayerischer Platz as it once was at Rosenheimer Strasse, walk down the street where Albert Einstein once lived, and see the “Jewish House,” where Inge Deutschkron was once forced to live.

Treptow-Köpenick 

Treptow-Köpenick has the largest proportion of woods and water out of all the boroughs of Berlin, so a lot of families choose to live here for that reason. Müggelsee, a large lake, as well as Köpenick’s castle and old town are popular destinations for day-trippers.

Foodie Guide

Highlights include a wide array of bars, bistros, food markets and fine dining……from authentic down-to-earth German restaurants and street food to the upscale Fragrances Bar at the Ritz Carlton and michelin star picks.  Check out my 3 Foodie Guides to Berlin: The Creative & Decadent Foodie Guide to Berlin,  The Ultimate Specialty & Street Food Guide to Berlin and the We Blog the World Alternative & Unique Foodie Guide to Berlin.

Above shot taken at Kafer Restaurant in Mitte where we had lunch one afternoon.

A useful resource is a relatively new free app in both German and English called “Going Local Berlin” and is available in the app stores at app.visitBerlin.com. It includes information on 60 neighborhoods and 600 tips that take you off the beaten path for all things cultural, historical and of course, food and drink. Also visithttp://www.visitberlin.de/en/plan/city-info/berlin-districts.

Note: I used hashtag #BLNHoods for my trip to Berlin so be sure to check out my Instagram and Twitter feeds for some great photographs and observations.

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

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USEFUL RESOURCES

General:

  • We Blog the World Culture & History Guide to Berlin: http://www.weblogtheworld.com/?p=197781
  • Air Berlin: http://www.airberlin.com/en-US
  • Almodovar Hotel: http://www.almodovarhotel.de/en
  • Berelagenten: Henrik Tidefjard, Personal Lifestyle Guide: www.berlinagenten.com
  • Berlin on Bike: https://berlinonbike.de/en/
  • Berlin.de (Museums): http://www.berlin.de/en/museums/
  • Berlin Welcome Card: http://www.visitberlin.de/en/welcomecard
  • DDR Museum: http://www.ddr-museum.de/en
  • Insider Tour (Walking Tours of Berlin): http://www.insidertour.com
  • Enjoy Berlin: http://www.berlin-enjoy.com
  • Go Germany: http://gogermany.about.com/
  • Panorama Wall – Asisi Panorama of a Divided City: http://www.asisi.de
  • Visit Berlin (Shopping): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/shopping/shopping-districts
  • Visit Berlin (Gay Scene): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/gay-berlin
  • Visit Berlin (Family Guide): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/berlin-for-families
  • Visit Berlin (Bike Tours): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/sport-metropolis/bicycle-tours
  • Visit Berlin (Hotels): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/book/overnight-stays/hotels
  • Visit Berlin (Berlin Neighborhoods & Going Local APP): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/article/going-local-berlin
Art & Culture Scene:
  • Art Connect Berlin: http://www.artconnectberlin.com
  • Berlin Art Week: http://www.berlinartweek.de and http://ww.gallery-weekend-berlin.de
  • Chamaeleon Theatre: https://chamaeleonberlin.com/en/site/theater/heute
  • Kulturwerk bbk Berlin (Art Studios): http://www.bbk-berlin.de
  • Kunstfabrik am Flutgraben (Art Studios): http://ww.flutgraben.org
  • East Side Gallery: http://www.eastsidegallery-berlin.de/
  • Visit Berlin (Shows & Musicals): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/shows-musicals
  • Visit Berlin (Design): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/shopping/berlin-design
Food/Bars/Markets:
  • We Blog the World Foodie Guide to Berlin: http://www.weblogtheworld.com/?p=197776
  • Biteclub: http://biteclub.de
  • Neue Heimat and Village Market: http://www.neueheimat.com
  • Markt Halle Neun: http://www.naschmarkt-berlin.de
  • Ritz Carlton Fragrances: http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Berlin/Dining/Fragrances
  • Visit Berlin (Nightlife): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/going-out
  • Visit Berlin (Markets): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/shopping/markets
  • Visit Berlin (Restaurants): http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/food-drinks/restaurants

 

Photos Renee Blodgett unless otherwise noted other photographer and website credits.


LOVE WINS: Rainbow Support Around the Globe

June 29, 2015 by  

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Last Friday morning as I made my way to San Francisco’s City Hall to participate in a half day briefing to global ambassadors, digital leaders (am proud to be selected as one of the top 70 by the UN). politicians and entrepreneurs, I received a few texts about the SCOTUS Ruling that finally made same sex legal in the United States, albeit behind other countries such as Ireland as an example.  The ruling was won in a 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges – the Supreme Court took a huge step forward and made millions around the country (and world) ecstatic with as President Obama put it a “more perfect union.”

Later that same day, I would see monuments lit up around the world on the Internet in celebration of the long awaited decision. The White House on Friday night was coated with rainbow-colored lights to celebrate the Supreme Court while simultaneously San Francisco’s Castro was dancing in the streets over the legalized Same-Sex Marriage that frankly I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime.

The White House, photo from Newsweek

Niagara Falls, photo from www.inquisitr.com.

Empire State Building, Photo from Inhabitat

Photo at Disney, photo from www.inquisitr.com.

Photo from Coca Cola London Eye.

San Francisco City Hall, photo from Antonio Mazzaro – Google+.

President Obama hailed the ruling saying in the Rose Garden justice has arrived “like a thunderbolt” for gay and lesbian couples. It absolutely seems like the right word, at least that’s how I felt, as I heard screams of joy on the steps of City Hall while we sat inside listening to politicians honor the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. The shouts became part of a different historical moment in time and even Nancy Pelosi who came a podium talk during the #UN70 event, acknowledged that San Francisco was where “it all began” — what an honor to be there on that very emotional day.

After the ruling, Obama tweeted using the hashtag “#LoveWins” which started a landslide of other tweets around the nation using the same hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others. According to the Today Show, there were over 7 million tweets of #LoveWins by this morning.  Company logos and national landmarks also took on rainbow hues over the weekend  – after all, Love is Love as noted countless times in media interviews and social discussions around the world.

President Obama said publicly “Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens.” Indeed so Obama, indeed so.

Two days later, I found myself participating in the San Francisco Gay Pride festivities starting with Sunday morning’s several hour long parade that marched down Market Street, which closed off countless streets in central San Francisco. The City Hall was surrounded by vendors who set up tables selling rainbow hats, t-shirts, key chains, cards and more and people danced in the streets, kissed publicly and took over strips of grass for picnic time and just relaxing. Let’s just say the energy was electric, the vibe was explosive and everyone who showed up — gay or straight — played full out! Celebration was in the air given the recent ruling and to be part of it in the very same city where it all began was an emotional and wonderful historical moment.

Let’s go on a visual journey — from the parade itself on Market Street to Civic Center and the surrounding streets in the area that were sectioned off for GAY PRIDE 2015!

 

Arizona’s Colorful Painted Desert & Petrified Forest, a Must For Your Bucket List

June 28, 2015 by  

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There’s a pocket of stunning rock formations and scenery in eastern Arizona, nor far from a small town named Winslow as you make your way west from New Mexico. The Painted Desert is an area of the country where stories of climate and culture are essentially told in stone.

Here’s a little history and biology as to how this beautiful area came to life and has maintained the stunning vibrant colors it has today.

Crocodile-like reptiles, giant amphibians and small dinosaurs lived among a variety of ferns, cycads, and other plants and animals known only as fossils today. Paleontologists have studied fossils in the park since the 1920′s, finding the skeletons of the crocodile-like phytosaur; one of North America’s earliest dinosaur fossils, nicknamed “Gertie,” and a skeleton of the aetosaur Stagonolepis, a large heavily armored reptile that ate plants.

Later, trees fell, and swollen streams washed them into adjacent floodplains. A mix of silt, mud, and volcanic ash from distant volcanoes buried the logs and this sediment cut off the oxygen and slowed the logs’ decay. Then silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs, replacing the original wood tissues with silica and petrifying the logs.

These trees lived over 200 million years ago and since then, continents moved to today’s positions, the region was uplifted, and the climate changed. What had been tropical environment became today’s semi-arid grassland. Over time, wind and water wore away the rock layers and exposed fossilized ancient plants and animals.

Petrified wood’s varied colors came from minerals in the silica-saturated water. Iron, carbon and mangenese made patterns and blends of yellow, red, black, blue, brown, white and pink. Surprisingly heavy, petrified wood weighs up to 200 pounds per cubic foot.

Evidence of early human occupation is readily visible in the Petrified Forest. Sites throughout the park area tell of human history in this area for over 13,000 years. We do not know the entire story, but there were separate occupations with a cultural transition from wandering families to settled agricultural villages, or pueblos, and trading ties throughout the region. Evidence in the park of these early people fade around 1400, but their earlier dwellings, potsherds and petrogylphs still tell their story. Fascinating right?

In the mid-1800′s, federal mappers and surveyors explored here, telling of a remarkable “Painted Desert” and its trees turned to stone. Next came pioneers, ranchers and sightseers. Wood was used for souvenirs and commercial ventures until residents of the region realized that petrified wood supplies were not endless. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside select stands of the petrified trees as Petrified Forest National Monument, protecting the area.

Forward wind the clock. What remains from this ancient time is a stunning petrified forest that tells a the story of a very rich past. As you drive through this area, you will come face-to-face with a painted desert of vibrant colors — rock formations layered across a valley that can be described as nothing short of breathtaking. Join me on a visual journey for a few minutes…..

Research continues to unlock the wealth of the geological, paleontological and human stories preserved here for this and future generations. I would count on a full day for the drive, although many say you can do it in a few hours to a half day. Because the area is so beautiful, it’s worth stopping and taking it all in, through short walks, meditating at will or capturing photographs as I so gleefully did with my Canon 7D.

There are three visitor facilities in the park: Painted Desert Visitor Center and Rainbow Forest Museum offer exhibits and a 20 minute orientation movie. Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark is a Pueblo Revival-style structure with cultural history exhibits.

The Park Road is a 28 mile road that offers overlooks with long-distance vistas of the Painted Desert and parking areas for access to hiking trails, picnic areas and designated wilderness. Bring a picnic lunch and take time to absorb the beauty. There’s very few places in the world that offer you the unbridled natural wonderland that the Painted Desert offers.

The Tawa Point and Rim Trail is an easy one-mile round trip between Tawa and Kachina points, which is an unpaved trail with wayside exhibits and plant identification signs throughout. The Kachina Point and Rim Trail was renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps and in this area, you can get extensive views of the Painted Desert and murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

The Puerco Pueblo is a partially stabilized 100-room village built between 1250 and 1380 and may have housed nearly 200 people at the time. There’s a short paved trail to the site where you can also see views of petroglyphs.

Also worth noting is Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest and Trail which is an easy 0.8 mile paved trail through a landscape of exquisitely colorful petrified logs that once held glassy amethyst and quartz crystals. The Giant Logs Trail is a short paved trail with stairs and passes the park’s most massive log, known as “Old Faithful.”

Newspaper Rock offers you an overlook where you can see hundreds of petroglyphs that are etched into stone. Below, we came across a rusted abandoned truck along the side of the road – beyond it was a grassy flatland that sprawled for miles.

Colors in the Tepees area below, are part of the Blue Mesa Member, one of the park’s oldest layers of the Chinle Formaton. The distinctive colors banding these landforms are ancient layers deposited by the Triassic river system.  Layered blues, purples, and grays created by iron, carbon, manganese and other minerals stand in cone-shaped formations.

You can use Holbrook or Winslow as your base and head out from here. I’d strongly recommend La Posada Hotel, a historical and creative boutique hotel where you can stay in a unique hotel named after a famous historian, author, celebrity, author, musician or actor. Two thumbs up. See my review on the hotel as well as the top notch restaurant located inside the hotel – The Turquoise Room. The food is out of this world (see tons of mouthwatering photos) and well worth the stop even if you don’t stay at the hotel.

It’s easy access from Route I-40 from either the east or the west. The Petrified Forest National Park is one of over 390 parks in the National Park System. More information can be found through www.nps.gov.

Hiking La Mina Trail in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque Rainforest

June 26, 2015 by  

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I have always loved rain forests and try to get a hike in whenever a region has one to explore. Luckily, part of our itinerary in Puerto Rico included a trek out to the El Yunque Rainforest, which is a cool, mountainous, sub tropical rain forest on the Eastern side of the Luquillo Mountains. While it wasn’t typical rainy season, this region gets rain even when it’s sunny elsewhere on the island – we had some cloud cover and sprinkles but were able to keep dry for most of the hike.

It lies within the El Yunque National Forest Reserve yet doesn’t take up that much of Puerto Rico, which is known for its lovely beaches being surrounded by water on all sides. Its’ main features are the Sierra Palms and a superabundance of epiphytes, all at a high elevation, so you’ll need to drive to the very top of the road and then from there, you’ll find the entrance to hike in.

While we were there, we hiked La Mina Trail, which follows La Mina River so along the way, you’ll hear that lovely swishing sound from the river nearby.  La Mina Trail has a drop in elevation from 2100 feet to 1640 feet and takes roughly two hours to complete the trail. You’ll pass through an area where the path is somewhat narrow and there’s also a series of steps along the way, so while it is by no means an advanced or difficult trail, it’s not one to take if you’re not a moderate hiker with some experience.

I’m not sure if the trail is slippery during every season, but it was something we had to consider when hiking it the afternoon we were there. You begin your hike at the Palo Colorado Ranger Station and very soon, you’ll come across many vibrantly colored large leaves as well as other interesting fauna to explore.  Towards the start of the trail (you can choose a longer route if you wish), you’ll get the prettiest views around the bridge, where you can view the pond here as well as the luscious trees surrounding it on all sides.  It makes for great photography if the lighting is good, which wasn’t the case when I was there – white skies and drizzle so there isn’t a great contrast between the rainforest “green” and crisp blue Caribbean skies.

Let’s get into the “thick” of it, shall we? As you make your way through the trail, you’re reminded very quickly that you’re in a rain forest. The leaves are vibrant and the ground feels wet even when it’s not raining. Join me on a visual journey through the heart of the forest!

Our guide Edwin Ortiz, who not only has a fabulous sense of humor but is mesmerized and fascinated with the environment, from protecting it to knowing every little detail about the forest.  We came across an amusing warning sign to watch out for small Indian Mongooses although truth be told, we didn’t see any along the way. The best part about the hike was the contagious energy from Edwin who knew more about the plants, vegetation and climate of the region than you’d expect to learn from two hours of online reading and research.

If you go off the beaten path a little, you’ll find ancient trees and concrete getaways of sorts that don’t look like they’ve been touched in years.

A little over half way, you hit a lovely waterfall (roughly 0.7 miles in from the start of the trail), with fresh spring water you can actually drink – here, people gather to swim under the fall or in the waterhole at its exit. The waterfall is called La Mina Falls, and it can be accessed by either of two trails: La Mina Trail or Big Tree Trail but La Mina is the shortest trail to get to the falls.

The water cascades over a cliff into a pool or waterhole area where you can either swim or just wade in the water. It’s also a great place to have a picnic, although honestly, it was fairly busy when we were there, so check on the busiest seasons and if you can do the hike mid-week opposed to on a weekend, that may cut down on the foot traffic. It’s a great thing to do as a family so the kids can swim under the waterfall at the falls.  If you have time to do both trails, I’d recommend it.

For those who wanted a tribal drawing on their arm, using nothing but natural substances from the Puerto Rican earth, Edwin was happy to oblige. Each drawing of course had a meaning!

Two thumbs up! Taking in La Mina Trail and the El Yunque Rainforest was a great way to explore one side of Puerto Rico. Of course, foodies should read my Puerto Rican food write-up, as well as view the photos from my trip to Palomino Island.

Crosley Vintage Radios & Jukeboxes, a Fun & Creative Way to Listen to Music

June 25, 2015 by  

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Impressive sound meets outstanding vintage design in Crosley’s tabletop radios. While they have an impressive collection of vintage radios, I was inspired by one of their simpler models, largely because red was such a retro color for kitchens way back when (and well I still have one) and because it is the closest design to the radio I grew up with in the 1970′s except for the vibrant red color of course.


What I love about Crosley is the fact that they embrace color and y’all know if you’re regular readers, that we love fun colors and designers and manufacturers who think outside-the-box. Crosley is definitely an outside-the-box kinda company and is based in of all places, Kentucky, which I “heart” because of my involvement in Louisville’s Idea Festival every year.

Just like the radios of yesteryear, the on and off switch is a right/left turn dial, not a switch and the right dial controls the stations. If you care about speed to get to where you want to go, this probably isn’t for you, but if you love great design and are nostalgia in any way shape or form for old fashioned products that are well made, then Crosley has a bunch of options to choose from.

They call this retro red number The Ranchero and it also comes in black.  The Ranchero features a clean “new-stalgic” look with a touch of vintage flare and an acoustically tuned and ported speaker enclosure. Even though it’s primary a radio and is designed to just offer you an analog AM/FM radio tuner, you can also connect your MP3 player or other external audio device to the back, including an iPhone or iPod, if you want to play something off your playlist.

Sure sure, there’s online radio and I do listen to Pandora and Spotify especially when I travel, but when you want to capture the imagination and be brought back in time while connecting to local radio stations wherever you happen to be, I love the idea of a Crosley radio. We are currently testing it out in the kitchen and it makes for a great conversation opener when people walk in and see it sitting there on the counter, blending in so well with the rest of the retro products – all in red of course.

So far so good. Like all old fashioned radios however, you need to have an antenna so at first, we weren’t getting clarity on all stations, but after some tweaking of the antenna and moving the radio around a bit, the static disappeared and the quality improved, just like we did in the 1970′s.

If red isn’t your thing, but you still love old fashioned and retro designs, take a look at Crosley’s Corsair clock radio with CD player, which we love the look of, but don’t have on hand for an actual review. It is styled like a 1950′s automobile, and includes an AM/FM radio, programmable CD player, and dual alarms that can be set and used independently. You can even opt to wake to CD, radio or buzzer alarm.

Classic radios isn’t all that Crosley does — they do telephones, records, accessories, turntables, headphones and jukeboxes as well. We’d absolutely love to test out one of their Jukeboxes, largely because they’re so unique, make for a great centerpiece for a party and at the same time, are functional. Crosley also has several options and they’re all in fun vibrant colors of course.

One example is Crosley’s iJuke Premier which is a stand-out. It makes for a nice addition to a game room, although like we said, we’d love to see the reaction of folks during a WBTW or other such party or event because hey, you simply don’t see them much anymore and when you do, they’re either too bulky or not all that attractive. The iJuke Premier brings back old fashioned rock-and-roll but as a smaller tabletop version.

You can dock and listen to your iPod and CDs while tapping into the jukebox’s dynamic full range stereo speakers. How about that eye-catching neon lighting and stylish wood finish?

We also loved their oh so stylish headphones. Fashionistas will love the simplicity of the design and colors of Crosley’s Amplitone headphones, which are designed with the discriminating listener in mind. We thought it was a nice add-on to any radio purchase you make not to mention the perfect choice for listening to your retro favorites on your mobile device of choice.

Large mylar drivers ride securely in retro ABS plastic shells, expertly reproducing the highest highs and the lowest lows. We found the quality to be more than ample, and while it may not give you the quality of sound of a Bose or equivalent and may not necessarily be your choice for noisy airline rides, remember the sweet and nifty $29.95 price point – it’s hard to beat!

The comfortable padded headband is covered in soft fabric, and features integrated sliders that allow the user to adjust the headphones for the perfect fit. The braided 3.5 mm headphone cable is removable and replaceable, and is widely compatible with a variety of Crosley products, as well as noted above, MPW players, cell phones, and other audio products. Remember how much we love color over here at We Blog the World? Sure, they come in red and blue, the more standard colors, but there’s also a fun aqua and spring time lime green color as well – fun!

More information can be found at http://www.crosleyradio.com.

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