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

Discovering the Best of French Calvados in Normandy

October 28, 2014 by  

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If you haven’t been to Normandy in France, then perhaps you haven’t heard of or tasted Calvados, which is a specialty in the region. The taste reminds me of a cross between a brandy and a bourbon, except that it is made from apples. As they say at the Calvados Boulard distillery I visited this past fall, “from the apple to the cider, from the brandy to the Calvados, to the pleasure of tasting….”

And…tasting we did. We started with a little Calvados education of course.

Below is a sampling of what we tasted at their distillery:

Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge VSOP - toasted apple, but a little harsh on the palette, at least for me. It is the youngest one of their batch (4-8 years) and is often served with a soda water. The color is a gold amber and its nose is rich fruity nose with a light woody touch, toasted nut notes and hint of brioche. The taste is well balanced harmony between vanilla, wood and ripe apple compote purée due to aging in French oak little cask.

Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge X.O. – this one is the second oldest of their batch (6-15 years). This one tasted of cooked apple, oak, wood and bees wax, as well as dried fruit and almonds. The color was more a shiny amber color, and had apple, spices, nuts and vanilla infused throughout, with elegant hints of oak. I found it to be a bit more spicy than the VSOP.

Boulard Hors D’Auge 12 Years – this one is also a shiny amber, copper color. Think of a blend between the fruit (apple) and the delicate hint of vanilla (wood) and dried fruit. There are hints of tannin from the Le Tronçay oak (with slow extraction of tannin). Yum! I felt that I was starting to like Calvados a bit more with this one although it was still a little strong for my palette which is largely used to wine.

Calvados Auguste – this one was smoother than the all the others we had tasted so far and is aged at between 10-22 years. Here, they use finer Calvados. I tasted a lot of vanilla in this one, which is common from calvados made from newer casks.

Boulard EXTRA is over 20 years ago. This delicious treat is spicy, nutty and also smooth. Apparently women really like this one and I’m not surprised since it was my favorite as well. The Calvados maker however prefers this one as a digestif and he recommended tasting it with a strong cheese although this one is so smooth, he said, that is it is preferable to drink on its own. I can also imagine men drinking this one in a drawing jacket while smoking cigars as well. It apparently took seven years of hard work for the Cellar Master to craft the Extra.

Worth noting is that the best way to taste is at room temperature.  We had a meander through the distillery itself to learn a bit more about its preparation, what makes for a perfect Calvados and of course, what goes into the process. Did you know that there are 120 varieties of apples in Normandy alone, some of which is used to make cider and others, used to make Calvados?

Here, you’ll get an idea of the distillery through a snippet of video I shot below. Ignore my atrocious French accent:

Like the wine industry which is known for having generations carry on the trade, Calvados Boulard has been a family business for over 180 years, starting with Pierre-Auguste, the founder. Since then, five generations have carried on the Calvaos Boulard tradition. Before we left, we had a little fun posing with the Boulard Calvados maker in the giant barrel outside.

Be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: My trip was hosted by the French Tourism Board, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Details:

Calvados Boulard

Moulin de la Foulonnerie

14130 Coquainvilliers, France

011.33 (0) 2.31.62.60.54

www.calvados-boulard.com

Spiritual Magic in Normandy’s Mist Against a Cloudy Sky

October 28, 2014 by  

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A major stop on any trip through Normandy is Lisieux, a commune in the Calvados area in northwestern France. I’d be hard pressed to find any traveler who doesn’t fall in love with Normandy after setting foot on her soil – it’s simply impossible. The serenity and beauty of the region is what pulls you in and the warmth of the people is what keeps you glued and this is all before you’ve spent time walking in the countryside or eating their delicious cheese.

It is the capital of the Pays d’Auge area, which is characterized by valleys and hedged farmland.  As you’re driving north from Paris, the landscape suddenly changes and you’re greeted by stunning countryside. Apple trees are scattered alongside the road on both sides and depending on the time of day, mist meets your gaze and suddenly you have no choice but to stop the car…

We headed north on Route A14 to Evreux where we went through town before then getting onto the D613 which headed further north towards the Normandy coast. At first, it felt a bit like France’s Kansas, where flat grassy fields stretched for miles. I had corn and beets to my left and to my right, there were wind mills and haystacks, haystacks in the mist that is…

Earlier in the day, the windmills danced against a clear blue sky.

And yet, despite my affinity towards sunshine and blue skies, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by Normandy’s beauty when the mist took over.

Oh that beautiful Normandy mist. Despite the fact that we could barely see in front of us later in the day, the sky overhead on one side had bouncy white clouds with a perfect amount of gray in the middle. 

I knew that after the sun declined just a tad more, it would make for a perfect post sunset shot although my Canon 7D was having none of that — it was only interested in what I was, and that was those magical haystacks in the mist against a cloud filled Normandy sky on a late fall afternoon.

Orange hues rose above the fields from the grains and tractors sat admidst the well manicured fields. Dozens of hay stacks surrounded them and there was not a soul in sight. This is the magic of Normandy and what made the experience surreal but also spiritual. The trip itself was focused on the Spiritual side of France and while I saw dozens of cathedrals, lit candles, learned more about catholic saints than I ever expected to know in my lifetime, a spiritual experience for me is often coupled with what nature can provide…naturally. The Normandy countryside has a way of doing that beautifully and I’d argue, delicately.

Apple and pear orchards were closeby and the trees are apparently were blossoming given its peak fall season. It was cider time for some of us and Calvados time for others.  I imagined myself sipping cider with some hard, aged sheep cheese on dill weed crackers in the field, a blanket spread and nowhere in the world that I needed to be for hours. Hmmm, perhaps for days….With the visuals you have in front of you (below), where else could my mind possibly be? Lost in the magic of Normandy’s mist, a sort of spiritual magic that her mist held, was enough to take me out of reality for more than just a moment. This is the pure joy you hope to achieve from every trip but don’t always experience.

Later, after spending a couple of days in and around Mont Saint Michel, one of my most memorable experiences in France twenty years ago and again this trip (be sure to read my separate write up on the Mont), we passed through the village of Pontorson. There’s nothing unique or special about Pontorson per se, except that we were driving through the village between 6:30 and 7:00 am, and the breathtaking mist coated the fields to my left and right. As the mist bathed the Normandy trees, a fiery orange sun began to emerge.

Whoahh, it was too much for my eyes to bear for some reason. Albeit beautiful, I reflected on the previous days and how the subdued skies calmed my spirit somehow, not unlike the less fiery orange sky that I woke up to in Mont Saint Michel before we left for Auray. It was a soft and subdued yellow and orange sunrise with purple hues and once again, my spirit began to relax as Normandy seems to be so good at doing again and again.

Be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: My trip was hosted by the French Tourism Board, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

Le Chasse Maree, an Authentic Brittany Experience at Auray’s Port

October 28, 2014 by  

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Unlike further north on most menus in Normandy where calvados is the order of the day, the menu at Le Chasse Maree, a restaurant on the port in Brittany’s Auray is a sheer seafood delight.

For drinks, the menu had the traditional Kir of course as you’ll find pretty much anywhere in France, but also rum orange drinks, mojitos, martinis, pina coladas, punch planners, whiskey and local ciders. Ciders are common throughout France and Brittany is no different. I am told the Brittans love their beer much more than their wine, which isn’t surprising given its Britagne influence.

While seafood is the order of the day, they had a variety of meat dishes on the menu as well.

Unlike most other restaurants I have tried in France (bear in mind that I haven’t visited the Riveria now in many years, so this comment excludes the south), the menu selection overall was generally much lighter, with seafood as it’s core. 

Sure they had foie gras on the menu as well as duck, however appetizers included seared salmon and scallops for appetizers as well as 6, 9 or a dozen oysters, all at reasonable prices. I found the oysters (pictured above) to be tastier than off northern Normandy’s coasts, but it could just be a taste preference based on what I’ve grown more accustomed to over the years in New England and off the coast of Nova Scotia and Canada’s waters.

I tried the fresh cod with vegetables with a tepid citrus vinaigrette which was not only fresh, but tender and light. Yum! I added just a tad of lemon and tasted with a glass of Chablis — all after the oysters of course. Also worth mentioning was their scrumptious fish soup, which they served with croutons, a parmesan cheese and rouille, which is a dark yellow whipped creamy concoction, that appeared to include butter and garlic. Yum!!!

Common in Normandy and Brittany alike are mussels, so you shouldn’t leave the coast without trying them. You can often get them with a cheese sauce (in this case gorgonzola cheese), with cream or in traditional style or try the sampler seafood plate with whelks, clams, oysters, crab and winkles.

They also did a delicious scallop entree but done a little differently than you might expect — served with chorizo and mushroom risotto.

Details:

Le Chasse Maree

11 Place Saint-Sauveur, 56400

Auray France

Tele: 02.97.56.50.46

A Private Sacred Organ Concert at Auray’s Basilica Saint Anne

October 28, 2014 by  

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It’s early September and I’m in Auray in the northwest of France where I’m surrounded by some of the most hospitable hosts in France to-date. Cancel the Provence experience I had now twenty years ago, for it was far too long to remember it clearly.

Truth be told, I instantly fell in love with the fun-filled and high spirited attitude of the Bretons the moment I set foot on Auray’s soil — they appear to be a little less serious than their Normandy neighbors to the east. Joie de vivre is the order of the day and I learn from Auray’s deputy mayor Regine Fily who was my dinner guest one evening, that Bretons are not shy, they love a good party and they’re keen on dancing, beer and a strong Calvados late at night.

It’s ironic to find a community with such passion for living life in Brittany’s spiritual capital. My grandfather would have argued that the two go hand-in-hand however, for if you’re truly living a spiritual life, you’d be more likely to be joyous more often than not. Bretons…ahhh yes, my kind of people.

After several fabulous spiritual tours of the city, a segway ride through Auray’s beautiful outskirts, a casual but leisurely meal on Auray’s stunning Port Saint Goustan, and a more formal dinner at Hotel La Croix Blanche’s restaurant, we were invited by Auray’s mayor, Roland Gastine and guests to a private sacred organ concert at the Basilica Saint Anne.   

This incredible experience was orchestrated by the Director of the Academy for Sacred Music Bruno Belliot, whose passion for sacred music was spilling over in droves. It was clearly an honor for him to be able to present such a feast to us as he proudly announced one piece after another over the course of an hour or so.

Some of the music was very sad, but also powerful and dramatic at the same time. One of the first to be played was a melancholy song which reminisced the skippers who died at sea over the years. Below, Bruno gives us a little background on some of the music, which is translated in real time by translator Angela Gilles, who I had the pleasure of sitting next to at dinner one night.

One song addressed the Virgin Mary, asking her to pray for us and yet another song was about a little girl from Ouessant, an island off the coast of Brittany. Trocata started out slowly but then slowly builds. The last piece says Bruno, would be closest to Ravel or Gershwin if played on a piano.

We then had an opportunity to make our way to the back of the basilica where the organ sat. To get there, we had to make our way up a series of stairs and through the back where priests hung their robes for daily services.

Not only was the organ waiting for us, but so was the lead organist Michel Jezot, who had a smile on his face as we approached the room. It was fairly dark in the room but just enough light shone over the organ for us to be able to see his magic fingers strum the keyboards, as he showed us a few tricks behind the scenes, all of which was translated by a woman I dined with earlier that night.

The organ is roughly 140 years old and has been recently restored. We went through knob by knob and experienced it all as he pulled some out and left others in and then changed things around for a different effect. Such fun!

I hadn’t realized it yet, but the real fun hadn’t even started yet. While I’m not an organist, I’ve been playing piano since I was around 5 and so the idea of playing around with this massive ancient structure was more than just a little enticing. When Michel handed over the keyboard, I felt a skip in my walk and a smile on my face emerging. And so, I played.

 

And played…

And played…..

And, played some more. I suppose I could have played all night if I didn’t sense that we had to shut down the church and head home for yet another early start the next morning. It was hard to leave the organ behind — my fingers didn’t really want to stop playing. It was one of those unique experiences of a lifetime you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. I can’t thank Michel and Bruno enough for the opportunity and Mayor Gastine and his team for the invitation.

I had an opportunity to learn a bit more about Bruno’s work as the Director of the Academy for Sacred Music & Arts. It was apparently founded in 1999 when it was called the Centre de Musique Sacree. Now extended to include art and architectural heritage, the organization promotes all three with an emphasis on their regional importance. The Academy organizes a concert season which lasts throughout the year, including music by local musicians in partnership with professional ensembles, such as the Orchestre de Bretagne, Stardivaria (baroque ensemble from Nantes), and Melisme (s), a professional vocal ensemble. More information can be found at www.academie-musique-arts-sacres.fr.

They also have a peripatetic organ school and teach the bombarde, a Breton outdoor wind instrument related to the oboe family.  You’ll hear the bombarde being played in the video below by Francois Goutte.

I shot this video during the concert so you can get an idea of just how special the experience was for us non Bretons. Beyond memorable, the sacred music nearly brought me to tears as I was swept away by its sad, but deep and intense notes that cried with the wind, screeched to the rain and purred when the sun finally sank at the end of a long but lovely Brittany fall day.

The below video shows us back stage, where Michel Jezot not just entertains us, but educates us. You’re in for a real treat.

Read my piece on a walk through Spiritual Auray as well as our general article about Auray’s history and culture. Also check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: I was hosted by the French Tourism Board on this trip, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Melting to the Warmth of Japanese Children

October 28, 2014 by  

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I fell upon these girls when our Princess Cruise ship docked at the Nagasaki port this past summer and simply melted when I met them. The children of Japan had me at hello at every port, every town and in every market.

For more posts on Japan, see our Japan section and on Tokyo, visit our Tokyo Japan / top things to do in Tokyo section.

Note: the trip to Japan was hosted by Princess Cruises, including the stop in Nagasaki, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

Magic in the Sand on the Provincetown Dunes Tour

October 27, 2014 by  

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When I came to Cape Cod years ago when I lived in Massachusetts, we used to roll in the dunes and slide down them, particularly in and around Truro, which was known for its massive sandy peaks. Today, they are protected so while you can’t roll around in them the way you used to, you can experience them first hand and marvel in their beauty by taking a Dunes Tour.

Many people who know me know that I’m not a fan of tours in general however there are some structured tours I’ve taken over the years which have been led by guides so knowledgeable and interesting, that they’ve made my trip. Arts Dunes Tours in Provincetown is one of those experiences.

Imagine being able to drive through these stunningly beautiful rolling dunes in a 4 wheel truck. Views of desolation stretch for miles, where you see nothing but wispy beach grass, dark green pine trees, and red beach plums nestled in hollows. In the midst of it all, the sandy white dunes are so expansive that you feel as if you’re caught up in a quiet sand storm that has been put on pause.

The blue skies swallow you up from above and through it all, you’re taken on a peaceful and relaxing while invigorating drive past some of the areas where famous writers have been inspired, such as Eugene O’Neill and Harry Kemp.

We passed the remains of the Peaked Hill Life Saving Station and view after view of long stretches of nothingness, that same kind of nothingness you feel when you’re in a wide open desert. The views are breathtaking!

The land is part of National Seashore protected lands and those who are allowed in (either with a permit or pass, which some locals get), or tour organizers, take great pride in following specified guidelines to ensure that the dunes are protected. Some of Cape Town’s beaches now fall under the National Seashore protection, including the great Outer Beach, which Thoreau wrote about in the 1800′s.

There are forty miles of pristine sandy beach, marshes, ponds, and uplands support diverse species. Coming towards you on all sides are batches of tall wispy grass, lighthouses, cultural landscapes, and wild cranberry bogs, all of which remind you that you’re in the heart of Cape Cod and all the things that make Cape beaches so memorable.

Ahhh yes baby….this should give you an idea of what I thought about the experience. Let’s just say I was in absolute bliss!!

 

Interesting Background on the Dune Shacks:

Here’s some background on the dunes and the 19 rustic “dune shacks” within the ‘dune-scape’ of the area. These dune shacks, which were originally erected by the Life Saving Service as shelters for seamen were built during the late 19th century along a three-mile stretch of mountainous dunes and alternating valleys of scrub pine from Race Point to High Head in Truro.

These shacks have no electricity, no running water, no toilets or no other modern conveniences whatsoever and were used years later as summer hideaways and artistic retreats for painters, poets, writers, socialites and vagabonds who wanted or needed a place to get away from it all.

In the 1930s and 1940s, artists from Provincetown, enamored with the promise of quiet summers by the beach, reclaimed these shacks for their own use.  For example, O’Neill authored several of his best works here including Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape in the early 1920′s. His presence among the dunes along with fellow artists, such as Harry Kemp, self-titled ‘poet of the dunes,’ who wrote exhaustively of this habitat’s ethereal beauty, and Hazel Hawthorne-Werner, who authored The Salt House (1929), an account of her adventures in the dunes, earned the shacks a place in the National Register of Historic Places.

There are a number of shacks managed by nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to serve the traditional uses of the shacks by providing artistic and community residencies. The dune district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Peaked Hill Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and management of dune shacks located within the Cape Cod National Seashore. Four of the shacks are available to artists and writers who receive residencies through a lottery system. Some notable tenants include Jack Kerouac, e e Cummings, Eugene O’Neill, Norman Mailer and Jackson Pollack.

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In addition to the memorable views, the desolate beach landscape and the breathtaking dunes themselves, the other thing that made our tour so special was the passion that Rob Costa has about the area and its history. Son of Art Costa, hence the company’s name, this family run business has been running dune tours since 1946. He’s a wealth of knowledge having grown up in the area so we were very fortunate to have him lead the tour.

Today Rob Costa and his partner Rob Papa continue to run the dunes tours, which leave from the center of Provincetown, a must visit in the summer and fall.  We loved Rob’s energy, the quality of the tour and the mesmerizing dunes of which my Canon 7D and I had the most joyous time as you can see.

Also read our write up on Provincetown, where we post a host of fabulous photos of the center of town and its main beach.

Here are links to all of our posts on MassachusettsBoston and Cape Cod.  Also see my write ups on Nantucket, the North Shore which includes Salem, Gloucester, and Rockport. All photo credits Renee Blodgett. 

Details:

Arts Dunes Tour

4 Standish Street

Provincetown, MA 02657
(508) 487-1950

Note: The Massachusetts and Cape Cod Tourism Board hosted and helped with some of our activities but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Learning Something New in Kansas City

October 27, 2014 by  

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Frequent travelers know about the major cities in the world and this is where they flock for the most part – Paris, London, Dublin, New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Berlin…..but what about the lesser known gems that have a whole lotta culture but perhaps not the draw of a non-urban getaway that the allure of Canada or Patagonia’s natural beauty provides?

And yet, in the serene wildwest, Kansas City has it’s fair share of natural beauty, from sunsets to architecture as is the case of these two beautiful shots of the Kansas City Mormon Temple.

Rolling into Kansas City, you might just notice a quirky blend of a growing urban center with innovation and cultural activities you wouldn’t have expected ten or even five years ago. The city is changing and as it does, it gives a fresh new impression to the phrase America’s Midwest.

Some of this is due to the fact that Kansas City has had a history of hosting industries others haven’t – like Minneapolis in that there’s a twin city thang going on between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Kansas City is located in both the states of Kansas and Missouri.

While Silicon Valley has its fair share of hungry entrepreneurs hoping to launch the next Facebook and the pulse that keeps the area alive is all things tech, Kansas City still focuses on manufacturing. It may not be as sexy on the surface, but the investment here is supporting jobs and in a country that is seeing an increased division of rich and poor, a thriving economy with very affordable housing is becoming more and more unique not to mention compelling for those who are struggling to make ends meet in the urban centers on both coasts.

In addition to its known manufacturing investment, there are some new technology companies sprouting up, but they’re not quite the mom and pop bootstrap start-ups you see in Silicon Valley or more recently Israel. Think medical and health technology.

There’s also the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts which is less than three years old. As an annual media partner of Louisville’s Idea Festival, I’ve seen what organizations and performing arts center like their very own Kentucky Center for the Arts can do to not only boost cultural and technology activities in the area but an earnest re-faith and commitment to a second tier American city.

The new addition of the Performing Arts center has drawn more artists to the area, which due to the nature of the community of it, is a natural draw to younger entrepreneurs and as a result, start-ups. Yup, they’re coming. Like I’ve been seeing in other second tier American cities, like Missoula Montana, Portland Oregon and Boulder Colorado, which has already made huge leaps forward on the high tech start up scene, Kansas City is priming itself to draw a new wave of talent and with it, innovative ideas.

Below a shot of The Scout.

As the talent pours in, so does the demand for all things cultural, artsy and funky, which includes of course, great food. In the so called Power & Light District, which someone I chatted to once compared to San Diego’s Gas Lamp district in Old Town, there are a growing number of fun bars, restaurants, bistros and galleries across roughly eight blocks of real estate. Apparently locals refer to the area as the Kansas City “living room.”

Like some of America’s more southern counterparts, you can find great barbecue in Kansas City. In addition to great “eats” (see a few recommendations below), be sure to take in some of their more fascinating museums, like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the American Jazz Museum and as mentioned above, the newer Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

For music, visit Knuckleheads, BB’s Lawnside and 18th & Vine for some classic blues and jazz.

For eats, give Yardhouse a try, and if you’re an Italian foodie fan, head to Garozzo. There’s also the American Restaurant for a more classic experience, The Magestic where you can hear jazz while you eat, and Oklahoma Joe’s and Arthur Bryant’s for barbecue. While Kansas City may not have the national barbecue reputation that Texas perhaps does, its barbecue history dates back to the early 1920’s.

For families, bring your kids to the Underground Railroad to learn some fun train history and Verrukt at Schlitterbahn Kansas City, the tallest waterslide in the world. They also tout great sporting events, from the Kansas Speedway to soccer and baseball games (look up Kansas City T-Bones and Kansas City Royals if you’re not familiar with the area). For football, the team to follow is Kansas City Chiefs.

Kansas City is also home to the SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium, where you and the kids can take in exotic marine life, including sharks, rays and other exotic fish. For the geekier among you, there’s Science City and the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium.

Since we’re huge fans of festivals and events at We Blog the World and cover a lot of them, we’d be remiss not to mention some of Kansas City’s annual to-do’s. If you’re a festival lover, be sure to check out the Kansas City Irish Fest (go Ireland), the Crown Center Antique Festival (yup, I love antiquing despite leaving my New England roots around nearly a decade ago) and the more well-known Fiesta Kansas City.

The city is in growth stage I’m told and there is certainly an interest in bringing innovation, great food, culture and arts into the area. If the Midwest is part of your hit list, be sure to add Kansas City to it, particularly if you’re traveling with a family.

Photo credits in order:  ldschurchtemples.com (both temple shots), Red Bubble, wikipedia (The Scout), Power and Light District from PowerandLightDistrict.com. 

Brittany Heritage: Take a Stroll Through Auray’s Cultural & Historical Past

October 26, 2014 by  

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While St. Anne, the religious sites, the spiritual history, the chapels, basilica and churches may be the largest draw of Auray, a Brittany town located in northwestern France, there are plenty of other things to absorb your time, whether you’re a history buff, a culture geek or a nature lover.

Whether you’re planning to go to Auray to experience their annual pilgrimage which attracts a half million people every July, to pay respects to St. Anne and honor her important place in history, or to brush up on your knowledge of France in Middle Ages, Auray’s spiritual center and its surrounding natural beauty will leave any frequent traveler more than just a little satisfied.

The city is surrounded by the communes of Crac’h to the south and west, Brech to the north and Pluneret to the east and is crossed by the Loch, a small coastal river which flows into the Gulf of Morbihan. The town is high on the west bank of the river Auray on the edge of the Armorican plateau which is cut deeply by the river.

Auray has a charming train that goes through the more interesting parts of the city. You’ll pass some charming buildings, streets and shops and on more than one occasion, I wanted to jump off the train and take in a little shopping. Think chocolate, clothing and jewelry.

For those of you who are a bit more adventurous, you can take a segway tour to explore places not as easy to get to by car or train. I happen to love segways, so was thrilled by the opportunity to get out into nature, particularly after such an in-depth spiritual morning with St. Anne. The combination of saint presence and nature all rolled into one is a great way to spend a day.

Auray is a beautiful city so there’s no shortage of historical and cultural sites to see. Since you must see the Basilica first and learn about the world’s fascination with St. Anne (be sure to read our separate articles about St. Anne and Spiritual Auray and the organ concert), I’d recommend taking an entire day to see all the sites related to St. Anne.

Next, stop by Auray Castle, which is a must do given that its structure goes back as far as the mid 1000′s, maybe earlier. Like so many other towns along the Brittany coast, Auray was born in the Middle Ages and the castle is a reminder of the city’s ancient history and tougher times. A round tower known as the “Tower of Talus,” still remains and is visible at around 100 meters.

By segway, you’ll take in some stunning natural beauty – apparently there are dozens of cycling, walking and hiking trails throughout the city and we only explored one of them.

A charming river faces you as you walk through the main town, with restaurants and cafes on one side, houses and shopping streets on the other.

Architecture crops up when you least expect it and true to its claim of being the spiritual capital of Brittany, you’ll find chapels and crosses at nearly every turn.

Stonehenge, eat your heart out. Frankly, I was more impressed by the Carnac megalithic site than Stonehenge, which I have driven past several times when I lived in England. Stones and boulders were scattered everywhere as we made our next turn.


A commune, Carnac is renowned for the Carnac stones, which is one of the most extensive Neolithic menhir collections in the world.  The Carnac alignments were erected in the Neolithic era, between the fifth and third millennia B.C., by sedentarised communities who raised livestock and farmed. The above stone constructions are the most famous and the most impressive of that period, with about 3,000 raised stones.

Like any historical town, they have their own legends. Local tradition or rather that of Saint Cornely claims that the Carnac megaliths were Roman legionaries turned to stone by Pope Cornelius. Scholars at the beginning of the 19th century believed them to be Celtic temples. All of this is far more believable than the Icelandic elves, otherwise known as the “hidden people,” which apparently about a third of Icelanders still believe in.

The Carnac stones lasted from around 4500 BC until 2000 BC and apparently one interpretation of the site is that successive generations visited the site to erect a stone in honour of their ancestors.

From churches, chapels, cool architecture and stones, we then discovered haystacks, which are a common site throughout northwest and central France. Read our posts on Normandy since we did a loop north to Mont Saint Michel before making our way to Auray, and I took about 200 shots of haystacks along the way, ranging from early morning in the mist to mid afternoon where they happily sat like they do below, against a crisp blue sky.

Be sure to walk through the center of town as well. There’s a beautiful park which is surrounded by luscious green trees and vivid flowers. On the street behind the park, you’ll find a shop that sells ice cream (they have far too many flavors to choose from), the Salon de The and the town’s wax museum which is worth exploring since the man who gives the tours is not only a wealth of knowledge, but his passion for what he does will make you smile for the rest of the day.

Also worth noting is the charming Port of Saint-Goustan on River Auray. You can catch boats to some of the nearby islands from Auray’s port, and the ticket office can be found right by the bank and rest room house. From there, walk on Quai Franklin to the Embarcadére near the big bridge and you will see Korpluz. More information can be found at www.navix.fr.


There are a few cafes and restaurants around the port, one with the best view is Le Chasse Maree, where we had lunch. I’ll let the photos do the enticing – need I say more? From a delicious fish soup that had me at hello, to steak, fresh fish and scallops, we certainly didn’t leave the restaurant hungry.

For lodging, there are a number of options to choose from including chains like Best Western. If you’d like to lap up some luxury and are traveling by car, try the Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa Sea & Spa on the beach in Quiberon Bay. It is located at Boulevard Louison Bobet Quiberon, Morbihan so note that this hotel is not in the center of Auray and would require a commute if you wanted to stay a little further out. It is however close to Thalassotherapy CentreQuiberon Beach, and Pointe du Conguel.  

It’s a big higher end than some of the more central options, and has a full-service spa, an indoor pool, and a health club. Oh yeah, let’s not forget the stellar views.

We stayed at La Croix Blanche (www.hotel-lacroixblanche.com) on 25 Rue de Vannes in Ste Anne d’Auray, which is a known hotel for events and groups. While it doesn’t boast extensive facilities, they do have a fairly large breakfast room and a separate room for private dinners and parties.

The husband/wife team run the hotel and also the adjoining restaurant, where they serve fairly traditional French cuisine. One night we dined at Hotel La Croix with Auray’s mayor Roland Gastine, the deputy mayor Regine Fily and team and a host of locals  from the tourism board. Below, Mayor Gastine is standing slightly behind me to the right.

The pre-fix menu started off with Breton Kir with cider and strawberry from Plougastel, which appeared to be the starting drink for every meal we had in Normandy and Brittany.  It was followed by a four course meal which included St. Jacques and Shrimps fine tart on leek fondue, Duck Leg Stew with ginger, cheese on a green salad and Rhubarb and vanilla cake. You won’t be disappointed by the food in Auray and in Brittany in general.

Be sure to check out our Brittany/Normandy food & wine section (and posts), as well as our general section on Brittany/Normandy. And, of course for the passionate about all things France, we have quite a bit of content in our France section as well as Paris.

Note: My trip was hosted by the French Tourism Board, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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