About 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
Given that I live and play in Northern California most of the time, I’ve been wanting to explore the hotel scene in the lower Peninsula for awhile now and I don’t just mean well known Silicon Valley spots like Palo Alto and San Jose. Beyond San Jose, the high end town of Los Gatos attracts a lot of techie entrepreneurs and wine lovers, but most tourists I’ve talked to have never heard of it. The town itself is charming with loads of quaint shops and restaurants and the very lovely Testarossa Winery is up on a hill with a courtyard and live music some nights of the week.
Smack in the center of town sits Hotel Los Gatos, a Mediterranean style boutique luxury property that feels a bit like a large Greek or Italian villa that has been divided up into rooms, all of which have small but adorable outdoor patios, a great place to enjoy that morning cuppa Joe. While it makes for a great romantic weekend getaway from San Jose or San Francisco, nature lovers will also love the location since its location at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains means that picturesque hiking trails and the luscious Santa Cruz coastline is only a stone’s throw away.
You’ll be taken back to old world Europe with their washed paint style walls, austere oil painted portraits and old fashioned decadent lanterns demanding attention as you walk through the hallways. Despite its old world Mediterranean charm, the rooms have modern California style features to ensure your stay is as comfy as possible, like fridges, wine and snacks on hand, plush bathrobes and slippers, Eyptian cotton linens and complimentary wifi.
We loved the outdoor pool area which our room overlooked and its nearby outdoor jacuzzi, which I had an opportunity to experience after breakfast before we headed out. Note that the hot tub closes on the early side, so if you love evening soaks like I and so many others I know do, be sure to get your dip in before dinner as it will be closed by the time you return from dinner. Fitness lovers will be keen to know that there’s complimentary access to a fitness club across the street which I wished I had known beforehand so we could have gotten a workout in before heading back to the city.
The view of the inner courtyard and pool area from our second story room.
Our room was a little on the small side, although they have plenty of other options to choose from, so if you’re traveling with kids in tow or staying for longer than a night, you should look at one of their suite options: Grand Suite, Paloma King Suite, Junior King Suite, Junior Suite with 2 doubles, One Bedroom Suite, Grand King Suite and the Alma Suite, which has a fireplace, a godsend to cozy up to with a cocktail or cup of tea after dinner.
They use the Gilchrist and Soames Bathe Collection and animal lovers will be thrilled to know they allow pets for specific room types if booked in advance. Breakfast is served in the bar/cafe area of the Dio Deka Restaurant, which is under separate ownership, but part of the hotel. Be sure to read our write-up on Dio Deka, which focuses on fine Greek dining. Oh so yum! Their breakfast buffet isn’t a full American breakfast offering, but it has plenty — hot scrambled eggs and potatoes, cereals, bagels, muffins, toast and jams, hot chocolate, hard boiled eggs and a variety of teas and coffees. We decided to sit outside in the courtyard as it was such a beautiful morning and unless it’s raining, something I’d strongly recommend.
It was ever so relaxing and I’d argue, the perfect way to start your day. The best thing about the hotel? For me, it was by far, its fine Mediterranean touches and charm. History lovers will find great refuge in wandering through the halls, wellness lovers will get lost in the hot tub under the tall palm trees and California sky, food lovers will be in heaven at Dio Deka (ask for Nikos) and those who love a little pampering as part of their hotel stay will love the service — everyone was warm and friendly and went out of their way to make us feel right at home– two thumbs up!
HOTEL LOS GATOS
210 East Main Street
Los Gatos, CA 95030
I’ve been using essential oils for years and am a fan. Truth be told, I’m always trying out new brands and love discovering new scents I haven’t tried before. On the discovery trail this Spring, we discovered GURUNANDA and decided to try their oils naturally (aka breathing it while lying down and relaxing), as well as through one of their diffusers.
They have a wide variety of choices, but given my hectic schedule lately, I decided to start with Tranquility, a blend specifically formulated to help relieve you of the tensions, aches, and pains and let’s just say, I have no shortage of all three. The sweet, aromatic blend of Spearmint, Cedarwood and Patchouli have a calming effect on the skin, mind, and body. Lavender is also known as having a relaxing effect and in fact, often when I have a massage, it’s their “go-to” essential oil. When diffused, the effects are calming, relaxing, refreshing, toning and cleansing. We tested lavender out in our diffuser and within twenty minutes, I was fast asleep on the couch.
When you’re wanting the opposite effect, the Cinnamon essential oil when added to a GURUNANDA ultrasonic diffuser, evokes refreshing, awakening, uplifting and normalizing benefits. Another one I really loved is Grapefruit, which is known for providing powerful cleansing and purifying benefits. Apparently, diffusing with Grapefruit can be effective in helping to reduce mental and physical fatigue.
Lemongrass essential oil can be quite therapeutic, soothing and calming and one of my favorites, Frankincense, is has apparently been used in perfumes and incense for thousands of years. When diffused, some people are known to experience a quieter mind and a soothing meditative state. Each person may experience it differently of course, but I find it useful to breathe when I have a lot on my plate, especially when I’ve put in a long day in front of the computer.
There are a ton of other oils to choose from in their line as well, including Rosemary, Jasmine, Tea Tree, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang, Bergomat, Eucalyptus and Peppermint.
Additionally, they offer a few diffusers, including the Gurunanda Lighthouse Diffuser, which utilizes ultrasonic waves to diffuse water with your choice of essential oil or essential oil blend. The nano-particles of the essential oil together with water form a calming mist that disperses into the air without heating or compromising the benefits of the oil. The soothing LED blue mood light is meant to create a restorative ambiance.
The Honeycomb Diffuser is a little more stylin’ (pictured below) and can be purchased as an aromatherapy starter kit. The diffuser utilizes ultrasonic waves to diffuse the essential oils inside of the kit, lavender and peppermint oil. The nano-particles of the essential oil together with water form a calming mist that disperses into the air without heating or compromising the benefits of the oil. Like the other diffuser, it is supposedly designed to automatically shut off when the water runs low, after about 4 hours of use.
More information on all their oils and diffusers can be found at www.GuruNanda.com.
Note: I am not a health practitioner and am not recommending these products for use for any condition or symptoms. I’m simply a fan of essential oils in general and love testing out new products from time-to-time. I merely speak from my own experience only. This is simply my opinion — I’ve been a fan of breathing in essential lavender oil before bed for some time as a way to ease my way into sleep. Please consult with your own doctor or practitioner to see what’s right for you and note that all products may have a different effect on different individuals.
As an avid traveler, I’m always looking for nifty backpacks with lots of nooks and crannies that are also stylish. While we love color and creativity around here, sometimes you just can’t beat a classic black leather bag, whether that be a tote, weekend bag or a backpack and Würkin Stiffs offers all of that and more. They also have a nice selection of Doppel bags and wallets. Known for crafting handmade bags from a combination of coated canvas and leather, there’s a sense of ruggedness in the final product and yet its style couldn’t be more elegant. Some of their bags have RFID Protected Pockets and hidden umbrellas. My favorite of their current product offerings? The Würkin Stiffs Classic Backpack!
I tend to find that most backpacks don’t have enough pockets and…they’re either too large or too small. This backpack has a Mobile Phone Holster that stretches to fit any phone, two RFID protected side pockets, a Notebook/Tablet zippered compartment on the side for quick access (this was too small for my MacBook Pro however), a Hidden Pocket Underneath with a Flat Umbrella (a very cool feature for frequent travelers), and the interior is all made from Microsuede, so it has a lovely feel to it.
The size is a little on the small size so if you’re wanting a bag for more of a weekend getaway, this isn’t the best choice. I tested it out at a conference recently and used the side pockets for all my chargers (my favorite feature is that there’s a few side pockets to keep chargers separate), and the main compartment for my laptop, Canon 7D and one lens. It’s roughly 7.5 inches deep, 13 inches wide and about 16.25 inches tall. The other thing to note is its durability – it feels like it will withstand a lot of wear and tear and last for many years — take a look at the quality and the detailed stitching.
For those wanting a bit more space, check out their weekender bags, which comes with a complimentary laundry bag and a quick-access back pocket, all designed with the traveler in mind. For more information including photos and specs on other product offerings, check out www.wurkinstiffs.com.
You’ve probably noticed that we’ve been writing about wellness travel more and more, and even have covered a few yoga retreat opportunities and getaways (my latest one being Jamaica). I believe in the power of yoga, the power of meditation, the power of stillness and the power of finding a space away from your technology and your daily grind where you can pause, reflect and get yourself back to center. You know…..the life balance thing. It’s vital to you thriving in the world and it’s integral to the core of We Blog the World is all about — Transformative Travel. While India, Bali, the Caribbean and the South Pacific may be high on your list for trips of this nature, yoga retreats, meditation centers and R&R getaways are cropping up around the world. Eastern Europe is one such region where we’re starting to see a lot more emphasis on wellness travel. With that in mind, join me on a journey to Prague and the Czech Republic countryside.
Spa Culture in Prague
If you want to stay in and around Prague, the Lily Wellness & Spa Center in the Hotel Hoffmeister is a real gem. This incredibly elegant hotel is 1.6 km from Prague Castle and 2.4 km from the landmark Charles Bridge.
This world-class wellness and spa center, which I hope to experience in September, is open daily and is offered to guests of the hotel as well as visitors. They offer a wide variety of massage treatments including Hawaiian Lava Stone Massage, Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy, Chinese Pressure Massage, Chocolate Massage, Honey Detoxifying Massage and Shiatsu plus many more. Cosmetic treatments and wraps include Aqua Treatments with France-Laure Paris products, Facials with Payot cosmetics, Salt and Oil Body Peeling, Pepper Peeling, Paraffin Foot and Hand Wraps and more.
They also have unique steam baths where steam is generated by 650°C hot lava stones dipped into water (the maximum temperature will not exceed 56°C). Bring it on baby! They’re located on Pod Bruskou 7 in the heart of Prague. Prague’s Mandarin Oriental has a high end spa that won’t disappoint. Developed in conjunction with specialists in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and master aromatherapists, each signature therapy consists of a relaxing, hands-on body massage ritual that combines the powerful effects of oriental meridian massage with the therapeutic benefits of custom-blended essential oils. Each treatment begins with a private therapist consultation and the treatment and oils are then tailored to each guest in order to leave the body, mind and spirit in perfect harmony. Guests are also provided with nutritional and exercise guidance so as to extend the beneficial effects of the program at home.
The hotel is located in the Mala Strana district of Prague, in the Czech Republic. The neighborhood is quiet but perfectly central, and boasts a wide variety of shopping and eating options, from delicious street-cart snacks to the finest of fine dining. Just a few steps away from Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, among the streets of Prague Lesser Town, there’s the Alchymist Grand Hotel & Spa.
Their Ecsotica Spa includes five intimately-furnished treatment rooms, one of which is designed specially for couples wishing to share a romantic experience. Guests can also enjoy a variety of Indonesian-inspired signature treatments, ranging from deep muscular massages and relaxation aromatherapy to bathing rituals, detoxifying wraps and Darphin facials provided by an experienced team of Balinese therapists. The circular Renaissance staircase leads you to a Gothic cellar — you feel as if you’re descending into an ancient temple. In other words, this spa is not only about treatments and massages, but also about the interior and architecture — have a look!
The luxurious Grand Mark Prague provides a full range of massage and wellness treatments, which can be can be carried out within the comfort of your hotel room or in the Mystic Temple, located near the hotel. Whether you are getting ready for a special event or merely seeking to indulge in a luxurious beauty treatment, you can take in a manicure, pedicure, facial treatment and make-up services or get lost in the Mystic Temple body care studio. It’s decadence at its best.
Enter the Monsoon Spa, which boasts a ton of treatments, from a Finnish sauna, aroma saunarium, steam baths, Hammam, ice fountain, whirlpool, treatment and obelisks Thallasso oxygen therapy. Their European therapy includes Lavender autumn bark, individual physiotherapy, manual lymphatic drainage, Lymphatic massage instrument, Anti-cellulite therapy, Swedish massage, sports massage and Fresh therapy. They also have a wide array of Asian therapies and treatments, including Kobido, a lifting facial massage, Tokoriki, a ritual from Fiji, Hot Stone Massage, Shiatsu, Thai massage, Thai oil massage, something they refer to as Foot paradise, Baby massage and massage for pregnant women.
Photo credit: www.wellnessnoviny.cz.
Their Arab therapy includes traditional Hammam and Pasha. Additionally, they have Ayurveda Therapy, where you can get an Abyanga traditional massage “head to toe”, Paada Abyanga – Ayurveda Reflexology, Kati Abyanga and a Ceylonese head massage.
Buddhism in Prague
Buddhism has been present in Prague for more than 20 years but a fairly recent opening is of a fairly large Buddhist Center called The Diamond Way, which has two meditation and lecture halls, a social area, library and a shop. It is a part of a worldwide network of Diamond Way Buddhist centers of the Karma Kagyu lineage that are based on friendship and idealism. At the center, you can get basic information about Buddhism at public lectures and there’s daily meditation on the 16th Karmapa. They also organize weekend meditation courses, lectures and other events.
Photo credit: www.praha.bdc.cz.
Spa Culture Beyond Prague
Beyond Prague, there’s a wealth of retreats and opportunities for the health, spa and mindfulness lovers among you. We;ll be exploring some new ones in the Fall so look for a Part Two to this post, but to get you started with planning and drooling at your Czech Republic countrywide options, let’s take a look at the Luhačovice – Třeboň – Teplice and Lazne Jáchymov.
The Luhačovice Spa
There are two major spa hotels in Trebon, which offer treatment and accommodations – Berta’s Spa and Aurora Spa. Berta’s Spa is the older Trebon Spa, which has been around since 1883. It was founded by local teacher Vaclav Hucek who had a daughter who suffered from rheumatism. Aurora Spa has nutrient rich wraps and baths and is home to a hairdresser’s and pedicurist.
The wellness centre also boasts a swimming pool with mildly saline water, a children’s paddling pool, a water world full of attractions and a stress-relieving sauna and steam bath. For culture and history buffs, be sure to visit the Renaissance Chateau after your spa treatment, which has a permanent exhibition about Třeboň. You can also climb the Town Hall tower, which provides a wonderful view of the historical heart of the town. It’s also worth making an outing to the Schwarzenberg Tomb, the final resting place of 27 members of a famous family who in their day were among Europe’s richest and strongly influenced life in the Czech lands.
The Teplice Spa is the oldest spa in Central Europe with an almost two thousand year old tradition. Located in North Bohemia at the foothills of the Ore Mountains, it is in a quaint small town which is linked with the curative springs that were already known two thousand years ago. How cool is this? Apparently this fact can be easily evidenced by the archaeological findings of Roman coins in Pravřídlo and the findings of Celtic coins and jewels in Obří pramen by Duchcov from the beginning of our new calendar (AD).
Story has it that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Teplice used to be called Little Paris or the Salon of Europe, visited by many eminent individuals, such as Tsar Peter I, the Swedish King Gustav IV, the Prussian King Bedřich Vilém III, then Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederick Chopin and others. Today, it offers a comprehensive range of diagnostic and therapeutic options, such as natural warm to hot mineral waters and natural mineral waters with a bicarbonate- sulphate-sodium blend. This spa can be useful for adults and children with the following conditions and/or issues: endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, neurological diseases, musculoskeletal diseases.
Lazne Jachymov Spa
How glorious is this? In a wooded valley at the foot of the Krušné Mountains, the spa town of Jáchymov is nestled. It was apparently the first radon spa in the world. The area actually has a strong mining past and an incredible history. Back as far as 1864 when they were mining, they discovered what would later become a spring that would heal so many and be turned into a health spa. It wasn’t until 1911 that the first spa house opened and used the healing water which was brought down by a several kilometres long pipeline. Thereafter, the Radium Kurhaus Spa Hotel was built, known today as the Radium Palace.
Their spa is more medically focused, so much so that every year, they get over 20,000 guests who come for its healing properties, spending on average 17 days at the facility. They’re known for their Radon treatments, but you can also experience more relaxing options as well. Quite popular here is signing up for a package over the course of a week or two. For example, if you wanted to do a complete treatment, you could get a program set up for you by a doctor, which includes an average of three radon bath treatments a day. They have different program options, but lodging is part of most of them (unless you opt for outpatient treatments), and an entry medical exam as well. They’ll also do lab tests right on-site, which includes testing your blood count, blood glucose, uric acid. On average, you can expect around 20 medical procedures over the course of a week, which include radon baths, and other treatments such as physiotherapy and massage procedures. Oh joy! Bring it on — sounds heavenly and very healing!
New on my radar is a skincare line from Belli, which offers a variety of washes, scrubs, moisturizers, serums and more. I opted to try the Anti-Blemish Facial Wash, their Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub, the Healthy Glow Facial Hydrator, and an Acne Control Spot Treatment, which is the perfect size for a weekend getaway. I know I’m not alone in the adult acne category and truth be told, it’s even more frustrating when you have breakouts on the road. When we travel, food, climate and humidity all change, which adds to the likelihood of a break-out, so let’s face it — it’s nice to be prepared.
It incorporates one of my favorite ingredients — lactic acid, which doesn’t over dry or strip your skin. Its unique formula is formulated to cleanse the skin of oil, dead skin cells and impurities that can lead to bacterial overgrowth and ultimately, acne. Free of teratogens, its safe to use for pregnant women as well. Since they focus on gentle ingredients that would be safe enough to us during pregnancy, there’s no salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which is known for drying out the skin. Other healthy ingredients include green tea, which is known to be an antioxidant and cucumber. Lemon peel oil serves as a natural anti-bacterial agent and skin brightener. It’s free of parabens, BPA, phthalates and artificial dyes, which we applaud.
The Belli Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub uses a Micro-scrub formula, which provides gentle exfoliation without being too harsh or abrasive. Included in the formula is ginseng, green tea and the aromatherapy benefits of peppermint oil. You can use it on both the face and body as a pre-scrub before applying other skincare products, such as moisturizer or sunscreen.
A very useful addition to any toiletry bag is the small travel-friendly Acne Control Spot Treatment. Whether you’re going through hormonal changes or are simply prone to acne on or off the road, this free of teratogens formula contains no salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide like the facial wash. This solution instead uses the gentler colloidal sulfur to penetrate your pores, control acne and help to keep skin clear of new breakouts. We love the fact that it includes chamomile flower extract, cucumber extract and tea tree leaf oil, which is a known natural ingredient to ward off acne. The packaging is great also — dispensed from an airless pump makes it easy to apply targeted spot treatment that absorbs easily and quickly.
Lastly from their line, we sampled the healthy Glow Facial Hydrator, which is a must have for avid travelers. Skin can dry out more easily when you travel, especially on those long flights. It’s important that you constantly hydrate your skin and drink a lot of water. Their Facial H ydrator is a light daily moisturizer that is rich in botanical humectants that help to refine, smooth and soften your skin texture. In the mix is chamomile for neutralizing skin irritants, Vitamin C and grapeseed oil — it also smells great. Think citrus!!
They also have a great sunscreen with both Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide.
More information including how to purchase can be found on their website at http://www.belliskincare.com.
Meet a few of Jojoba Company’s skincare offerings, starting with the Jojoba Bead Facial Cleanser, which we love. They use 100% natural solidified eco-friendly jojoba beads, which gently exfoliate while hydrating Vitamin C, quandong, aloe vera and Vitamin E dissolve impurities. I love some of the other ingredients they add as well, including natural coconut oil, Cedarwood, Soapwort, Sunflower seed oil, Macademia Seed oil and of course natural Jojoba seed oil from Australia, which is where the company is based. I love the feeling of the cleanser when it goes on — while you only need a dime size drop to cover your whole face, it is so smooth and clean feeling when it goes on, I often find myself wanting to do two lathers.
I was also keen to test out their Skin Refining & Brightening Face Mask, which helps to even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of pigmentation, which given how many hours I’ve baked in the sun over the years, is a godsend. The mask uses a very hydrating ivory clay, skin lightening bearberry and skin repairing vitamin A in its solution to achieve that porcelain effort we’re all after. I love the after effect of this product — they recommend leaving it on for around ten of so minutes and you may feel a tingling upon first application for some skin types. The mask includes a few fun ingredients as well, such as Daisy flower extract, Avocado Oil, a calming Lavender Oil, Coffea Arabica (Coffee) Seed Oil, Orange Sweet Peel Oil, Vitamin A and C, Citric Acid and Cape Rose Geranium Flower oil. Two thumbs up!
I’m a huge fan of CoQ10 and take it daily — Jojoba offers a CoQ10 as an antioxidant serum, which is a great addition to any aging skin regime.
Also worth mentioning is their Jojoba Bead and Bamboo Facial Exfoliant. For more information and how to order in the states, can be found at http://www.thejojobacompany.com/.
The next beauty item on the must have Spring list are the Mother Tucker Leggings. While the brand Belly Bandit makes a boat load of product offerings for pregnant women, they also offer tummy tuckers for any time of your life, particularly when you simply want a more beautifying and slimming look and who doesn’t need a little help from time to time? Especially as Spring approaches, it doesn’t hurt to have a pair of compression leggings that are also stylish to give you a leg up on looking trim and toned. It helps you smooth your tummy and thighs while giving your butt that added boost.
The leggings are a bit unique in that they have three targeted compression zones which help to shape your belly, butt and thighs with 360 degrees of compression. The material is breathable and is apparently pretty good about holding its shape wash after wash. During our test, we’ve only put them through three washes and so far, so good!
More information about all of their products can be found at http://www.bellybandit.com.
Next up is the Eliza Regal Copper Boot, the very pair I’m wearing as I write this post. Truth be told – I put the boots on when they first arrived to make sure they fit and never took them off until five hours later, despite the fact that I was planning to work at home all day. I LOVE these shoes and oh man, are they ever so comfortable. Like the above fashionista booties, the heel height is just perfect at two and a quarter inches. When you’re running between gates at an airport, heel height definitely matters.
The Eliza Regal Copper features soft velvet laces (oh so classy) and genuine printed suede in Regal Copper. What a beauty! We plan to keep our eyes on this line to see what they’ll be coming out with for the next season — a fabulous choice for travelers who appreciate a sense of elegance and style.
While I realize we’re moving into summer, at least in this hemisphere, I wanted to show you one more boot style: the Erica Snazzy Boot, which are classic calf boots, featuring snazzy printed suede design with black nappa leather. They have two adjustable buckle straps on the boot shaft allowing for a customized fit at the calf. Like the others, there’s a useful zipper on the side and a leather covered insole for that breathability we all need on the road. All I can say is: How Fun!!
It’s ironic that so many things come full circle in our lives, including where we hang our hat, then don’t for awhile and then do….again! When I was in my early twenties, I used to stay with a childhood friend at his crash pad in Brooklyn’s Park Slope. Then, for years, I stayed with friends on the lowest east side, lower west side, upper west side, upper east, even the Bronx, but Brooklyn wasn’t part of my “go-to” anymore despite the fact that it’s become a New York borough gem with its trendy shops and restaurants sprouting up everywhere. While Williamsburg has become the overpriced yuppified hot spot over the last decade, there are other new neighborhoods and sections of neighborhoods getting rejuvenated all the time.
I loved Red Hook when I stayed in the area for an Austrian event a couple of years ago — let’s just say that this marvelous dinner in a funky red brick building on Brooklyn’s Van Brunt Street was incredibly memorable. Central Brooklyn feels more gentrified every day and my local friends concur. In April, I stayed in Brooklyn when I headed back to New York for the New York Travel Festival, and although April is often not the best month to travel to the Big Apple, I lucked out — the weather was glorious and clear blue skies greeted me for 80% of my visit. Let’s go on a walk, shall we?
The event was held part of the time in St. Francis College, which is a beautiful old if not somewhat decadent building.
The closest stop to this area is Borough Hall (see below), which has its own set of history. Much of the original architecture remains, at least for the older government buildings. Brooklyn’s Borough Hall was an interesting place to hold a travel conference because of its history. Panel sessions were surrounded by tall flags and speakers sat in deep leather chairs that seemed to swallow them whole. The hall itself was designed by architects Calvin Pollard and Gamaliel King in the Greek Revival style, and constructed of Tuckahoe marble under the guidance of Stephen Haynes. It was completed in 1848 to be used as the City Hall of the former City of Brooklyn. And so, yeah….it has history, especially by American standards.
While I did more walking than training it, the subway remains a great way to explore Brooklyn. There was a farmer’s market on one Saturday I happened to be there – fresh vegetables and produce was available as was cheese, honey, flowers and plants. On the plaza at Court and Montague Streets, purveyors come and sell their latest at Greenmarket, an event which has been thriving in downtown Brooklyn for over 25 years apparently. Three days a week the market serves the diverse communities of Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill, and Downtown Brooklyn by providing a bounty of fresh-picked fruits and vegetables, beautiful plants and flowers, grass-fed meat, just-caught Long Island fish, free-range eggs, and grass-fed dairy products. Some of the farmers include American Pride Seafood, Ballard’s Honey, Bread Alone, Central Valley Farm, Fishkill Farms, Millport Dairy and Francesca’s II Bakery.
I stayed a few stops away near Atlantic Avenue — below, one vibrantly colored building I walked passed every day on my way to the subway for the duration of my stay.
Below, a 10-15 minute walk from the above area, which was filled with tons of cute and delicious little Asian eateries and shops. In fact, it was not far from here that I shared a drink or two with fellow travel lovers and writers Charles McCool and Bruce Northam. It happens to be Bruce’s hood, so we toasted to Brooklyn at Bar 169 on Broadway during happy hour one afternoon. It turns out that Bruce knows more about Brooklyn than anyone I’ve ever met and I know at least 20 people who have either lived in Brooklyn or were born there.
Asian food and great dive bars are not all you’ll find in this neighborhood. Like everywhere in New York, there’s a Dunkin Donuts or okay…several. What good is an old fashioned DD coffee without an old fashioned cupcake? I discovered Piece of Velvet -(below). How adorable is this? Given my low carb commitment lately, I was ready to walk out after taking my killer shot when she came running after me requesting that I at least have a sample. It was no sample I left with — she insisted I take an entire piece of cake and so….I did. AND, I broke my great run with no carbs on devouring all of it that warm afternoon accompanied by a medium Dunkin Donuts coffee of course.
Oddly enough, Piece of Velvet was founded in 2013 by Englishman Michael Morgan and since then, locations have opened on Fulton and Lawrence Streets in Brooklyn, in Harlem and on Coney Island, a place we must venture back to soon. This tiny little hole in the wall has become famous for pioneering not just red velvet but “velvet” cakes in particular. Oh so yum! For a cake to be categorized as velvet, it must be moist in consistency and melt in the mouth with cream cheese used for frosting. I went with coconut – how can you go wrong?
Brooklyn is exploding as a cultural hub, with more refined bars and innovative beer halls opening up by the week. Apparently you can also see some great local Broadway shows too although I didn’t have a chance to this time around. I’d love to do an art write up on a future trip as not only as the boutique shopping scene expanded, but so have art galleries.
Barclays Center wasn’t far from where I spent more of my time exploring, the infamous home of the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders, and also host of great concerts and sporting events. With over 150 restaurants and bars within a four block radius, you won’t go hungry. Moreso than fine dining and 5 star cafes, you’re more likely to whet your appetite with some of the best pizza in New York, Vietnamese bistros, Korean BBQ, and a great selection of Thai, Chinese and Mexican restaurants. Larger spots include Peter Luger Steakhouse or Junior’s Cheesecake, though I tend to be a fan of smaller joints.
Bruce’s advice goes a long way given his history with the place. He recommended heading to Grand Street for Vietnamese food, where both Mama Pho and Pho Grand are located. Think wood-paneled joint that doles out big bowls of hearty Vietnamese soups & other traditional fare. Another suggestion is Pho Vietnam on 1243 Avenue U. None of these places will come close to breaking the bank. Bruce swears by North Dumpling for some of the best dumplings in the city and Forget Me Not, a Greek eatery run by artists on Division Street. This funky taverna is what ultimately won us over in the end — think classic American-Mediterranean dishes for brunch & dinner, although we all ended up ordering burgers and beer.
For Latin food, check out Bogota Latin Bistro on 141 5th Avenue, where they have tropical cocktails and live music and head to Tanoreen for Middle Eastern cuisine on 7523 3rd Avenue. A fun haunt we ended up at downtown for late night Margaritas and burritos was Rocco’s Tacos & Margarita Bar located on 339 Adams Street. This fun spot also hosted our end of New York Travel Festival (#NYTravFest) party. While chips, salsas and tacos are the order of the day here, their Cacahuate with Smoky Peanut Verde Cocida is delicious as is their Chicken Tortilla Soup. For those not worried about carbs, try their fried jalapeño poppers with cotija cheese, lime crema, avocado ranch and cilantro. If you’re like me and are watching those carbs (especially after downing a velvet piece of cake the day before), go for their Ceviche. Yum!
As for stays? There really aren’t any serious 4 or 5 star hotels YET in Brooklyn, however for comfortable and clean stays in the 3-4 star range, there’s Red Lion Inn & Suites on Butler, Le Bleu on 4th and ALoft on Duffield.
In the Atlantic Avenue neighborhood, a stone’s throw from 4th and 5th Avenue, where there are lots of interesting cafes, bars and ethnic restaurants, the Red Lion Inn & Suites is about a 10 or so minute walk from Atlantic Avenue subway stop, a large enough stop with plenty of connections to pretty much anywhere you’d want to go in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
They offer morning breakfast, which include toast, pastries, bagels, hard boiled eggs and yogurt, a nice benefit when you’re in a rush to head out for the day. It was clean and the rooms were moderately decorated — two thumbs up for the service. Management and hotel staff were top notch here and bent over backwards to ensure my stay was a good one. One note to point out: I couldn’t get wifi during my stay for some reason despite several attempts. They assured me they don’t have issues with wifi so it could have something to do with my firewall – that said, I didn’t find a workaround during my stay. You get a sense that they truly care about their guests however, which is a major thumbs up, especially for New York!
Red Lion Inn
Le Bleu Hotel
370 4th Avenue
Lastly, worth mentioning although I haven’t stayed here yet, is A Loft Brooklyn on Duffield Street (below). I haven’t touched on Williamsburg at all but be sure to read our articles on Williamsburg restaurants and cafes and in a couple of them, we suggest a few stay options.
A Loft Brooklyn
216 Duffield Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
We recently discovered a cool new bag brand we had never heard of — one with a cause whose aim is to give back to American youth. The STATE BAGS line includes both material and leather totes and backpacks and for every bag purchased, STATE hand-delivers a backpack, packed with essential tools for success – to an American child in need. I love this. Their STATE BAG DROP EVENTS are where their team of “PackMen” and “PackWomen” lead motivational rallies that leave participating kids with a renewed spirit and belief in themselves, which frankly I think is so important today — how many of us had real mentors growing up? Most of us didn’t and I’d argue that it’s even harder to grow up as a child in the U.S. today than ever. They’re based in Brooklyn and the husband wife team’s real passion is to help kids in America’s most at-risk neighborhoods.
The Smith — our favorite — is their fashion heritage backpack with a modern twist. It features a fold over design in a basketweave fabric finished with leather shoe welt trim and an antique brass fireman clip closure, a front stash pocket and a small lower side pocket, zipper pulls and a black rivet. The material is made of a 70% polyester 30% cotton blend.
Truth be told, I really loved the leather choices but we opted for a more fashionable and feminine style instead – their Smith bag in ROSE (below), which is available in denim as well.
Below is the same fabulous bag in leather — we love the size. It’s around 15-17 inches in height and 11 inches in width. It’s a fun and simple option for quick trips — it doesn’t have inside pockets so is limited for longer trips, but for a Saturday “head off to the beach” day, it’s a great option.
More information on them including how to get one can be found on their website at http://www.statebags.com.