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

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.

2015 Pinot Days Boasts More Granularity & A Great View of San Francisco

June 25, 2015 by  

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I was fortunate to once again be in the Bay Area during the annual Pinot Days Event, which is deemed to be the largest gathering of Pinot Noir producers in the world. They have four events — San Francisco, southern California, Chicago and New York City, although I’m only familiar with the one in San Francisco and attended it last year when it was held in one of those massive bunkers at Fort Mason. Check out my write up of last year’s event, when I was on a mission to find the biggest boldest Pinot on the floor, a tough thing to do in only four hours.

The goal of the event producers is to give every Pinot lover a place to “go deep” within the style you love. As I mentioned in my piece last year, I’m not a typical Pinot lover and get much more excited about Bordeaux, Cabs and Zins than I do any Pinot Noir, even the award-winning ones from the Pacific Northwest. That said, my palette is coming around slowly but surely and there are more Pinots I like as the months and years march on — tasting many diverse styles is the key.

The event gathers hundreds of Pinot Noir winemakers to pour hundreds of Pinots that range from the picture of elegance to forward and “discovery and oh wow.” As Pinot lovers and winemakers know, Pinot Noir is much more than a grape variety – it’s an art form. We started with Landmark (have always enjoyed their wines – their Pinot was delicious but it’s their Chardonnay that still has me at hello) and then moved to Fess Parker from Santa Barbara County. It had great texture and structure  with its bright natural acidity and lovely forward dark cherry, raspberry and floral notes with spicy notes to finish it off.

Last year, I fell in love with Fred Scherrer‘s Pinots (below), the winemaker from Scherrer Winery in Sebastopol, CA and was blown away again this year. His bottles range from $46 to $75, his 2008 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir, the one that left my palette the happiest. Either the 2008 or the 2010 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot, both on the high end, would pair really well with a lovely Duck dinner. Two thumbs up!

A call out to Saintsbury who had several great Pinots to try from Stanly Ranch, Lee Vineyard and others. My favorite was the 2012 from Lee Vineyard – a bit bigger and smoother than all the other pours.

While we liked the Pinot pours from Sojourn Cellars, I must admit their Cabernet Sauvignon which they had secretly hidden was even more delicious! (I went back for a second pour over an hour later — it was that good). And, the girls behind the scenes were fabulous – we had fun at their table at least twice! A call out goes to their 2013 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, which received 96 points from Pinot Report and 95 Points from Robert Parker. It is priced at around $59 a bottle.

Then, there was Figge Cellars, which is a boutique winery producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah winesfrom various vineyards in Monterey, California. The double whammy blue eyes and great packaging grabbed my attention — the result? Medium bodied with just a little spice!

I loved what came out of Foxen Vineyards - kudos to Kaitlin Hite for the great background! They’re best known for their outstanding Pinot Noirs from the Bien Nacido and Julia’s Vineyards — they do a great job with Pinots given Santa Barbara’s diverse microclimates.

The winery is apparently named in memory of William Benjamin Foxen, an English sea captain and Dick’s great great grandfather, who came to Santa Barbara in the early 1800′s. (GREAT STORY!) In 1837, he purchased the Rancho Tinaquaic, a Mexican Land Grant, and adopted the distinctive “anchor” as his ranch cattle brand that became a trademark of the winery.

Other great thumbs ups go to Duckhorn Vineyards (I love their Merlots), but they also have a delicious Goldeneye Pinot Noir (et hem, the theme of the event) from Anderson Valley. This was my top pick of their Pinot although their Migration from Russian River Valley was a close second — Migration’s sophisticated Burgundian-varietal wines highlight lush fruit, bright acidity and balanced oak for a finish. It was French oak barreled for 10 months and is a 100% Pinot, the result being a lovely blend of cherry, cranberry, strawberry with hints of orange-cinnamon spice.

Notes from the winemaker on the 2012 vintage — on the palate, beautifully delineated layers of freshly tilled earth, leather, lavender, and pennyroyal are balanced by flavors of sweet Bing cherry, Japanense plum and black currant notes. Admist the chocolately French Oak, I mostly got swallowed up in the plumy jammy taste, a little deeper and richer than I expect from most California Pinots.

I also loved what came out of Papapietro Perry from Healdsburg (I so need to get back up there). My favorite pours were the Pinot 51 from Russian River Valley and the Leras Family Vineyards, also from Russian River Valley. Located on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, I’m so overdue for a return visit. Be sure to read my write-up from my 2012 visit (have been up to Sonoma and Napa several times since then but not with an in-depth review in mind)

Cru Wine Company out of Madera also had a lovely balanced Pinot pour as did Kanzler Vineyards out of Sebastopol (thanks Lynda) and while the Pinot pour from Wrath Wines was lovely, it was their Syrah which really held my attention – YUM!!!

My last call out before returning to my former favorites goes to New Zealand. Of their 7 pours, call outs go to the Giesen Clayvin Vineyard 2012 from Marlborough and the Felton Road Bennockburn 2013 from Central Otago. Mroe at @nzwineusa and #nzwine and www.nzwine.com.  Bear in mind that my taste leans more towards a lot of structure, texture and layers – it’s the Cab lover in me who continues to strive towards better understanding the YUMMINESS in all things Pinot Noir.

In addition to Fred Scherrer’s scrumptious Pinots, which I fell in love with once again at this year’s Pinot Days, other winery call-outs from last year’s tastings include the following:  (Note: I returned to MacMurray but not the others this year — never enough time!)

  • Davis Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA. Guy Davis is behind this one. Spicy and fun and yes, bolder than most.
  • Domaine Serene in Dayton Oregon: Owners Ken and Grace Evenstad and the winemaker is Erik Kramer. Their reserve was so worth the wait. (there was a long line at this one).
  • MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, CA: Winemaker is James Mac Phail. Not as lush and smooth as Fred or Erik’s Pinot, but it makes the list.
  • Pence Ranch in Pacific Palisades, CA: Winemaker is Jeff Fink. While this one didn’t bowl me over, I had a special moment with it. Flexible, I thought it was just a “nice drinking” wine that could go with a lot of dishes.
Needless to say, we had fun and expanded our palette to more delicious Pinot! My hope and goal is that after each tasting and experience I’ll be better versed in the world of Pinots and find as many “aha moments” in a bottle of Pinot as I do in a bottle of Zin and Cab. A long journey, but oh such a pleasurable one! Hats off to the Pinot Days team for producing yet another fabulous tasting event!

Ethelbert Cooper Gallery for African & African-American Art to Showcase “Black Chronicles II” Photo Exhibit

June 23, 2015 by  

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This event sounded fascinating and as a lover of photography and history, I wanted to alert you to an upcoming exhibit that starts this fall in Boston.

The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery for African & African-American Art will present the U.S. premiere of “Black Chronicles II,” an exhibition curated by London-based arts agency Autograph ABP that explores the presence of black subjects in 19th and early 20th century British photography.

The stunning mix of rare and mostly never-seen images depicts both ordinary and prominent citizens — artists, dignitaries, servicemen, missionaries, students, businessmen and international royalty — captured in portraits by professional photographers. “Black Chronicles II” will run from September 23 to December 11, 2015 at the Cooper Gallery in Harvard Square Cambridge, an easy 15 minutes from downtown Boston.

Developed through original research in the holdings of national archives and several private collections in the U.K. – primarily in collaboration with Getty Images’ Hulton Archive – the exhibition includes more than 100 photographs taken in studios across Britain before 1938.  A majority of the photographs were made in the latter half of the 19th century, during the Victorian Era.

The exhibition’s focus is a newly rediscovered series of exquisitely rendered photographic portraits from Hulton Archive’s London Stereoscopic Company collection, featuring more than 30 portraits of The African Choir, which toured Britain between 1891 and 1893.  Buried deeply in the archives for decades, these images are presented for the first time in 125 years, with a selection of original albumen cartes-de-visite (calling cards) that became popular collectibles in the late nineteeth century.

Though from a foreign country, and of a very different era, “Black Chronicles” speaks to audiences today – to our common humanity, to our ancestry, and to every cultural traveler’s fascination with the histories of people from other shores.

Photo from the http://www.coopergalleryhc.org/ website.

 

IMO Camera Straps Are All Things Vibrant, Fun, Creative & Functional

June 23, 2015 by  

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I came across these IMO Camera straps by accident and fell in love with their design and so, of course I wanted to test them out. If you’re regular readers of We Blog the World, you know we love color, great design and products and style catered to women travelers, since so many product manufacturers limit their options to neutral colors or black.

Have a look at this Classic Damask Navy option and the nice leather edging to it at the end – classy! This option also comes in a Classic Damask Brown option as well.

This jacquard ribbon strap is bottomed up with neoprene which is very soft and comfortable and the length is adjustable from 40 — 50 inches. The Fashion part? Around 26.5 inches and the width is around 1.6 inches. The nyon webbing is 13 inches on each end.

I also learned that they’re not a U.S.-based company, so it was cool to find a creative new discovery with a new twist in….Hong Kong!  Their tagline of sorts is: Personality + Functionality and their straps are tested to hold heavy cameras, so even though they’re gorgeous to look at, you don’t need to worry about carrying an SLR. For quick release straps, they could hold over 90 lbs and for those without quick release, they say that more than 180 lbs could be supported.  As noted above, the ends of the straps are made of leather but the leather color may vary as is the case with most leather products.

Below are some of my favorite designs that popped out on their site:

GREEN VILLAGE

There are 3 colors of this series: Red, Green & Native Village.  This neoprene strap is made with quick release and it best suits for DSLR with 1/2 inch width brown color webbing which is very sturdy. It has an adjustable length of 44 — 54 inches, the fashion part is around 28 inches, the width around 1.6 inches and the nyon webbing is 13 inches on each end.   This strap goes with the webbing connector, but if wish to change to loop connector, you can by letting them know in advance.

A few more visual eye candy shots for your enjoyment:

THE WHITE NAVAJO

BLUE MOUNTAIN

These were how mine came packaged and arrived from their Hong Kong facility.

We really love their designs and encourage you to take a look at their website for a favorite of your choice. Think about how often you have your camera around your neck if you’re an avid traveler – why not make a fashion statement when you’re out there making art?

Details can be found at: http://www.imostrap.com/.

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