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

Find Serenity & Wellness at New Mexico’s Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

April 30, 2015 by  

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Touted as the home of the world’s only hot springs with four kinds of mineral waters, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa Resort is roughly 31.7 miles from Abiquiu, New Mexico, off what locals refer to as the Low Road (opposed to the High Road, which is the route we took to get to Taos Ski Valley – be sure to read my article on that stunning drive, which is packed with tons of great photos).

Set in a 1916 mission-style building, the property’s simple hotel rooms offer en suite bathrooms (without showers). While the rooms may be somewhat basic, they do have balconies and you can get some rooms (and suites of course) that have access to a private Kiva soaking pool. The hotel rooms however are not your primary reason for staying at Ojo Caliente.

The views are spectacular regardless of what time of year you’re there (we were there in January) and the place is a blend of a spiritual and wellness retreat and a resort getaway in the mountains.

While the property is somewhat remote on the end of a side road which almost feels like a driveway, it sprawls out on its 1,000+ acres, the primary building an adobe style structure. Here, there is a gift shop, a lounge area where you can relax and a main entrance to the Spring Pools.

Built in 1916, the mission revival style adobe hotel is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is one of the oldest natural health resorts in the U.S. The rooms are charming but on the small side (double or queens) and have half bathrooms, as all bathing has been done in the bathhouses for more than a hundred years. In keeping with the traditions of the mineral springs, and the nature of a healing retreat, they do not have phones or TVs in their rooms, but they do offer wifi.

All lodging guests receive complimentary robes to use during their stay, which you can keep and use in the springs after you check-out.  A suite is the way to go at this wellness establishment. Below is an example of a Pueblo Suite, which overlooks a beautiful courtyard and is designed with traditional New Mexican furnishings.

The Cliffside Suites are in the same style as the Pueblo Suites, but they have a private back patio facing the stunning cliffs that border the Springs complete with a private outdoor soaking tub filled with Ojo Caliente’s legendary waters.

Each suite includes 2 queen-sized beds or a king, full bath, a Kiva fireplace, microwave, mini-fridge, coffee machine and Satellite TV. Plaza, Pueblo and Cliffside Suite guests have exclusive access to the newly built Kiva Pool centrally located in the courtyard between these suites.

The Kiva Pool is filled with a combination of iron and arsenic mineral waters. Iron is considered to be beneficial to the blood and immune system, preventing fatigue and promoting healthy skin tone. Arsenic water is believed to relieve digestive problems and relieve symptoms of arthritis.

Pueblo Indians native to Northern New Mexico traditionally used Kivas as a gathering place for the performance of sacred rituals. Native American Kivas are circular areas dug into the ground, covered with vigas and accessible by ladders. The Kiva Pool’s round shape and hand-carved stone walls echo the original Native American design. The waters at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs have been deemed sacred by the 8 Northern Pueblo tribal communities for nearly 3,000 years. It’s also worth noting that Pueblo ruins rest just above the property and overlook the new Kiva Pool.

You can also get a North Cottage – there are eight in total and they each have cozy furnishings and finishes with modern amenities. Six of the cottages have two queen-sized beds and two cottages have one queen-sized bed. Each cottage includes a 3/4 bath with shower, kitchenette with a microwave & mini-refrigerator (no stove), dishes, a coffee machine and Satellite TV. You can also rent a private home on the premises as well, particularly useful if you come there as a group or with your family.

 

The main reason to come to Ojo Caliente however is for their mineral springs, diverse in that they have a wide range of them to try out. Their sulphur-free, geothermal mineral waters have flowed from a subterranean volcanic aquifer for thousands of years and over 100,000 gallons per day come to the surface.

Those yearning to bathe au naturale under big blue skies by day, or on a stunning starlit night, can book a private outdoor pool, complete with kiva fireplaces. We did this and had views of the awe-inspiring rock formations right above the secluded pool. Let’s just say it was a magical experience despite the nippy winter air.

After the sun goes down entirely, the rocks are illuminated by nearby lights – it’s a great romantic experience to do with your partner.

Below, the Cliffside Pools at night.

Ojo is the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water including lithia, iron, soda and arsenic. Their eleven pools are filled with different types and combinations of these waters with temperatures ranging from 80-109 degrees. All of the Springs and the Spa are a Whisper Zone which means you have to be aware of conversations while you’re in the mineral waters if you experience it with another person. Below are descriptions of their “springs.” 

THE LITHIA SPRING

Lithia water is believed to relieve depression and aid digestion.

THE IRON SPRING

A Native American legend tells that the giant rock in the iron pool guards the place where the ancient people of the mesa once received food and water during times of famine. The warm, iron-rich water bubbles up from the natural pebble floor, providing hot spots to discover in this mystical outdoor cliffside pool. Iron is considered to be beneficial to the blood and immune system.

THE SODA SPRING

The rock walls in the enclosed Soda “steam” pool create a soft echo providing a sense of calm and relaxation. Water from the Soda Spring is said to have been used to relieve digestive problems.

THE ARSENIC SPRING

The arsenic water is believed to be beneficial for relief from arthritis, stomach ulcers and to heal a variety of skin conditions. Water from the iron and arsenic springs is blended in various pools throughout the property.

Another experience that is both healing and fun is their Mud Baths, a great opportunity to be a kid again. There’s a hot mud pool where you can slather mud all over your body and bake in the sun until it dries. As our special blend of clay dries, toxins are released from the pores of your skin, a very detoxifying experience. Below are the outside showers nearby the mud pools, where you cleanse the mud off when you’re done.

Their on-site SPA offers classic treatments, such as massages and facials, but you can also get an aging hand therapeutic treatment, food therapy and hot oil hair therapy as well. They offer herbal baths and something they refer to as a Milagro Wrap Combo, a private soaking tub you can use after your treatment or an Ojo Custom Face Therapy.

Here, they use SUNDARI gentle, dosha-specific cleansers and essential oils, followed by a bamboo and date exfoliant, a face and neck massage using gotu kola and lotus oil. They then give you a rose and lavender hydrating mask to slow down the breakdown of collagen and an eye therapy treatment using chamomile oil, neem eye cream and a dosh-specific moisturizer. I tried the Ancient Echoes Massage, which was both invigorating and relaxing….

The approach at Ojo is healthy living through healing waters and clean earth. The use of the waters can be traced back to the earliest human migrations in the region. Ancient peoples, the ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes, built large pueblos and terraced gardens overlooking the springs. Surrounding the springs are the ruins of the cities populated before the birth of history.

The unusually diverse styles of pottery shards and other artifacts remain as a testament to Posi (“village at the place of the green bubbling hot springs”) and the spring’s long-standing iconic significance within the larger region. Later in the 19th century, Ojo became known as a “sanitarium” where you could go to get cured through the healing effects of the waters and the earth.

Ojo Caliente boasts The Artesian Restaurant on-site, which has a cozy bar area to sit at as well, which we opted for in an effort to keep it casual that evening. They have a bar menu where you can order Mayan Chicken Tacos, Fish Tacos or burgers, as well as Chorizo sausage, Asadero and goat cheese tortillas, olives and sweet and spicy nuts.

Since it was a cool night, I went for a soup – they have a seasonal soup of the day as well as a delicious Tortilla Soup, which is vegetarian and a must try — it is served with tomato, avocado, lime, cilantro and cheese.

Salads are very fresh and a meat (chicken, Mexican shrimp or Blackened Mahi Mahi) can be added to any of them. A classic caesar is one option of course, but they also have an Artesian Salad with apple, pinon, feta cheese and a prickly pear vinaigrette, a Spinach Salad, with black beans, avocado and a toasted cumin vinaigrette and a Grilled Steak or Salmon salad, made with arugula, tomatoes, tobacco onions, served with a green chile ranch dressing.

While the entrees sounded out of this world, we went a little more casual, largely because we had been dining in a lot of 4 and 5 star establishments all the way across the country and sometimes a few restaurants a day. My tummy needed a rest and frankly, wanted something basic, and so we stuck with salads, soups, fajitas and dare I say it — Pizza.

They make a delicious 10″ red chile crust with their “special sauce” and you can get various toppings including Asadero Cheese & Pinon Pesto, Wild Mushroom and Buffalo Sausage.

OKAY, so yes, we also had a Buffalo burger, which is a treat since they don’t tend to offer that as the “norm” on restaurant menus on the East or West coast.

If we weren’t so full from weeks of overeating, I can assure you I would have tried their Chile Seared Sea Scallops with roasted corn tamale, corn cream and sauteed spinach, or their Grilled Trout, which they serve with a toasted pinon glaze and your choice of five grain pilaf or smashed potatoes.

Vegetarian options included a delicious Vegetable Chile Relleno with goat cheese, red chile sauce and quinoa tamale and a Pasta Pomodoro, which they make with oven roasted roma tomatoes, garlic, pinon nuts, chile flakes, mascarpone, basil and parmasan cheese tossed over a linguini pasta. OMG!! Of course, meat lovers have plenty of options as well with their El Rito T-Bone Lamb Chops cooked in a Zinfandel wine sauce and roasted red potatoes and the Chile Rubbed NY Strip, which they simply grill and serve with a loaded baked potato.

Breakfast is also served in the same restaurant, the menu a healthy mishmash of smoothies, fruit and yogurt, steel cut oats and house-made granola. Then again, you can cheat and get a Prickly Pear Mimosa with champagne, orange juice and prickly pear or their delicious Blue Corn and Pinon Nut pancakes, Breakfast Tacos, Huevos Rancheros or the over-the-top Dulce de Leche tostada (French toast with granola, maple syrup and butter). YUM!!

If you’re less of a foodie and more of an adventure seeker, you can go hiking and mountain biking in the area, take a stroll along the two-mile Bosque River Loop nearby or take a yoga class, which is offered 7 days a week. The Springs property consists of 1,100 acres and is adjoined to thousands of acres of national forest and public land, so there is plenty to beauty in this natural environment to explore on foot, on bike and by car.

Two thumbs up — it’s a great place to relax, and restore yourself through their natural and ancient healing waters, smack in the heart of New Mexico.

Details:

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

50 Los Banos Drive

Caliente, NM 87549

(505) 583-2233

PHOTO CREDITS: All photos watermarked with Renee Blodgett or Renee B are my own – all others are courtesy of the Ojo Caliente marketing team.

NOTE: I was hosted by the resort but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Samsonite Luggage For Durability & Smoking Fast Wheels

April 29, 2015 by  

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I have to admit, I never thought of luggage as an important factor in traveling until a little over a year ago when I realized that most of the luggage I have been using ripped easily and weighed me down — not only were they cumbersome but the wheels were slow, something I had just grown used to over the years.

I set out to find the most stylish, fun, durable and functional luggage on the market and while I’m looking at less known brands, you can’t get down and out with luggage without trying the brand master, Samsonite. My family owned Samsonite luggage many moons ago, but I hadn’t used a Samsonite in over a decade – yes really.

In exploring their website, the collection that stood out for me most was  The Silhouette Spinner collection, which is apparently a popular seller. It’s easy to see why after using their roller bags for a few months now.

While I got mine in blue (pictured above), the luggage collection also comes in black, espresso brown and port wine. In hindsight, I would have liked to try the port wine and should have gotten a carry on roller bag since it seems like the one I still lug around has got less than stellar wheels.

Speaking of wheels….

First and foremost, the Silhouette collection’s wheels are a key selling point. Samsonite didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, however their intent was to take luggage maneuverability further than ever before. Think about it – how many times have you had to drag your 50 pound bag further than you had hoped and your arms are beat up by the time you get down the first escalator.

Their four spherical Spinner wheels give you unparalleled control and turning ability, letting you glide with ease to your next destination. In fact, you can literally push the bag gently and it will roll along with you. Sweet! What a godsend this has been on several trips with my 29″ soft roller sphere bag.

I prefer softside luggage although the collection comes in hard casing as well. In addition to the fabulous four, multi-directional spinner wheels for easier mobility, there’s a tri-fold suiter, with padded roll bars, which is a nice feature for business travel.

There’s also the retractable handle like all rollers have, however it doesn’t stick like so many of them do.

The bag has a water-resistant coating blended into the nylon fabric, which is an important feature if you do a lot of East Coast American or Northern European travel in the winter. On two separate trips, my bag came tumbling out of the baggage claim belt smothered in water from the rain outside. My clothes were kept dry, so the coating obviously works.

The coating is also supposed to help with poor handling scuffs and punctures and so far, so good – no punctures, holes or dents that are significant enough to note.  Other things that help protect your clothing and gear include a high quality, durable zipper, which was an obvious grade above my previous two bags.

While it’s not the lightest bag on the market, it’s not the heaviest either — you’re looking at 12.5 pounds for the 29 inch Sphere roller and 8.5 pounds for the 21 inch bag. As a woman who has traveled since she was five and has been to over 80 countries, I still can’t seem to get my luggage weight down, so personally I’d love to see innovation around increased durability with decreased weight size – either that, or have the airlines loosen up their tighter than ever restrictions.

At the very least, their newer collection uses a polypropylene, honeycomb frame which is lighter than the older Silhouette series.  They use a rugged Tri-core nylon fabric and offer expandable versions as well. They come with a hidden, tethered ID tag for added identity security as well, something that most travelers don’t think of and should…

Spinner Features include:

  • Four multi-directional, spherical Spinner wheels for easy mobility. Rolls upright so there is no weight on your arm or shoulder.
  • Fully-featured interiors with WetPak, mesh, and modesty pockets for increased organization.
  • Tri-fold removable suiter provides added protection for business attire.
  • Gel-infused, push-button locking handle provides a comfortable grip.
  • 25″ and 29” cases feature a Travel Sentry combination lock for added peace of mind when checking in.
  • Expandable options.
  • Available Sizes – Spinners: 21”, 25”, 29”/20” WIDEbody Spinner / Weekender Boarding Bag / Spinner Boarding Bag /  Ultra Valet Garment Bag / Spinner Garment Bag / 26” Duffel
  • Available Colors – Black, Indigo Blue, Espresso Brown, and Port Wine as noted above.

While I haven’t had an opportunity to test out the carry on sphere (it’s on the list), their smaller sized rollers include a front, two-zip pocket detail for easy accessibility to smaller items.

There’s a 15.6” inch laptop compartment for a laptop and cords and the interior of the Silhouette Sphere luggage can easily be expanded for extra packing which is nice. Below pictured in port wine.

 

Its dimensions are 17.0″ x 14.0″ x 7.5″ and it weights in at 7.5 pounds.

Also on the list to test out is their garment bag from the Sphere collection. It too, has the four, multi-directional spherical Spinner wheels. Think of it as a wardrobe on wheels that stands upright when open to provide on-hanger packing and easy access to all contents.

It includes an inside hanger hook, extender panel for longer garments, lined shoe compartment, compression straps, and multiple pockets for exceptional packing and organization. This isn’t the bag for longer trips but for shorter business trips as it holds enough for around 3-4 days. For women who pack like me, it’s probably good for a 2.5-3 day trip.  What can I say – I love my shoes!

It also includes the Travel Sentry combination lock for additional peace of mind when checking in. Dimensions are 24″X 19.75″X 10″ and it weighs 9.5 pounds.  Below, it is shown in espresso brown.

 

I LOVE this collection and while I wish they offered some brighter fun and sophisticated colors (purple and a two-color earth tone would be great), the Indigo Blue is a happy color — yes, I think about this on the road, even for my bag — and it doesn’t show as much dirt or wear and tear as a lighter color might.

Two thumbs up! I’ve been using the bag for several months now and it’s crossed the Atlantic twice and has been across North America at least a half dozen times. While I can’t yet say how it will hold up over the course of a year of frequent travel, so far, so good – Samsonite has my vote for recommended durable luggage for both the leisure and business traveler.

Note the above review was originally published on NOVEMBER 30, 2014 however it is being reposted on April 29, 2015 with an update!

April 2015 UPDATE: Just a quick update on Samsonite several months after writing this original review. The two roller bags are still going strong — the quality is really a stand-out. The wheel technology is so good that the pieces just fly alongside me with barely any effort at all. The materials are also incredibly durable. Below is a shot of me on a more recent trip to New York with Samsonite luggage in tow.

For more information and to order (their site has special offers all the time and reduced prices), check out the Samsonite website and just type in Silhouette to see the wide array of options within that collection.

 

 

 

Note: We received luggage from Samsonite to test out but we didn’t get paid to write this review and I can assure you all opinions expressed are entirely my own. I absolutely love their luggage and use it regularly on trips.

 

Unique and Experiential “Stays” in Clarksdale Mississippi

April 29, 2015 by  

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Blues and jazz lovers will likely know about Clarksdale Mississippi, the home of the Delta Blues and where some of the best blues musicians started and have played over the years. It’s a funky little American town and if you are interested in American History, the South and southern culture and blues music, Clarksdale is a must for your Southern State list. There are two notable places I’d recommend for lodging and they couldn’t be different from each other.

Right in the center of town, you’ll find Five and Dime Lofts on Yazoo Street, together with its sister restaurant next door on the ground floor – Yazoo Pass. The entire building is owned by a guy they refer to as Bubba in town.  You probably don’t expect a guy named Bubba to have an Irish surname, but Bubba O’Keefe is somewhat legendary in Clarksdale. You can learn more about the background of the Five and Dime Lofts in this short, but interesting video that will take you to the past when it was once an old Woolworth building in its heyday.

Bubba has been referred to as a visionary homeboy and in one article on him, he had said, “…born here, raised here and I’m going to die here.” While some were out seeking their fame and fortune in the world after college, Bubba was more interested in his hometown. He renovated the old Woolworth building into modern and hip lofts, large and comfortable enough that you could easily live in one.

The modern motif has a whole lotta music and art thrown into — from abstract and surreal paintings to brightly colored chairs in the living room area. The kitchen is fully updated with all the amenities and comforts you could possibly need for your stay, from a microwave and coffee maker to a closet stacked with sodas, waters and candles. There’s even a washer and dryer which was a godsend for us, since we had already been on the road for a week and a half by the time we hit Mississippi.

Our loft had clean designs throughout, which you can see most accurately in the main bedroom area, which had it’s own private bathroom with shower. The fun part about staying here is its convenience to all things downtown and you can pretty much walk to anywhere from Yahoo Street. Also, even though you have a full kitchen in which to prepare breakfast or other meals, Yazoo Pass has excellent food and it’s a great place to grab a cuppa Joe and people watch in the mornings.

We had Loft B, but from the photos we browsed through, it appears that all the lofts have a similar kitchen set up – the trimmings and colors may change, but all of them stay within the same modern motif. Below is a shot of Loft A’s living area, so you can get an idea. Once you have booked the place, they’ll give you a code to the main door as well as one for your loft number so you can get in and out as you please. It’s also a great choice for families because of the convenient amenities and space.

Above photo taken from the Five and Dime Lofts website.

Details:

Five and Dime Lofts

211 Yazoo Avenue

Clarksdale, MS 38614
(888) 510-9604

On the outskirts of town, the Shack Up Inn offers an entirely different flavor. Opposite of modern and sleek designs, this is the place to go if you’re hungry for southern culture, history and of course, the Mississippi Blues. Their website has an amusing and full disclosure statement, so clearly marked that it’s a tab on their site - the Ritz We Ain’t! For the traditional luxury lovers among you, the Shack Up Inn may not be for you, but “luxury” is not the reason to stay at the Shack Up Inn. It’s let’s just say, an experiential stay in more reasons than one.

We stayed at Five and Dime Lofts because it was convenient, it was modern, it had reliable wifi and modern bathrooms and kitchen appliances, it had a washer and dryer and it was smack in the middle of winter. If your trip south is all about blues, the Shack Up Inn makes for an interesting choice for a myriad of reasons, but first and foremost, because of its authentic almost grunge like ambiance and its direct connection to blues music and musicians.

It’s hard to explain the Shack Up Inn to anyone who hasn’t stepped foot on its grounds, which is in the heart of the  Hopson Plantation, a mere three miles out of central Clarksdale, on the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61.

Virtually unchanged from when it was a working plantation, you’ll find authentic sharecropper shacks, the original cotton gin and seed houses and other outbuildings. You will glimpse plantation life, as it existed not that long ago. In addition, you will find one of the first mechanized cotton pickers, manufactured by International Harvester, as you stroll around the compound. It was raining when we arrived and I can’t tell you all the objects I discovered under the wet skies, camera in hand without an umbrella, suspended by the almost artistic chaos of it all.

It seemed to spread in all directions and each shack had it’s own unique charm. Rusted trucks are sprawled out on the property in the oddest of places and the building’s corrugated tin roofs and Mississippi cypress walls will conjure visions of a bygone era, taking you far back in time to a Mississippi you can only imagine from novels and movies. And so, like a kid in a candy store, I went exploring, so mesmerized by it all, that I barely took notice of the rain and cold air penetrating my bones as I took shot after shot. And so it went…..I couldn’t seem to get enough of the relics from a yesteryear I have been curious about for as long as I can remember.

There’s also a main building, which is where you check in of course, but they also have a bar and club where you can hear authentic blues in the evenings. Like the shacks that surround it, the building is rustic, authentic and all things grunge, but artistically so.

You can find interesting gems in the gift shop, such as blues CDs from names you may never have heard of, to bottle tops and funky artwork – I bought a small painting of a saxophone player, which now proudly hangs in my kitchen.

You can stay in one of their renovated shotgun shacks or one of the newly renovated bins in the Cotton Gin. They have been restored only enough to accommodate 21st century expectations — indoor bathrooms, heat, air conditioning, coffee maker with condiments, refrigerators and microwave in all the units.

A must “to-do” while there as long as it’s not teaming down with rain that is: sit in the rocker on the porch, sipping a cold beer while the sun sinks slowly to the horizon and then head to the main building to catch some authentic old fashioned blues while you sip another.

Shack Up Inn has played host to such blues performers and movie stars as Tom Waits, Pinetop Perkins, the North Mississippi Allstars, Dwayne, Gary and Cedric Burnside, Kenny Brown, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Johnny Neel, Morgan Freeman, Patty Griffin, Big Jack Johnson, Samuel J. Jackson, Super Chikan, Sam Carr, Charlie Musselwhite, Robert Plant, Mary Louise Parker, John Mayall, Ike Turner, Barefoot Workshops,Down 2 the Crossroads Guitar & Bass Camp and Jon Gindick’s Harmonica Jam Camp just to name a few.

Below are a few shots of the inside of the shacks to give you an idea of the sleeping area.

Above photo from Shack Up Inn website/from photographer Austin Britt.

Above photo taken from Trip Advisor.

Above photo from Shack Up Inn website/from photographer Austin Britt.

Details:

Shack Up Inn

1 Commissary Circle

Clarksdale, MS 38614
(662) 624-8329

The Bavarian, For Authentic German Cuisine on the Top of Taos Ski Valley

April 28, 2015 by  

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Almost all of the ski restaurants in European ski resorts are called “Ski Alms” if they are located on the mountain and not at the base of the resort. Historically, “Alm” is a term used to describe the high-lying mountain pasture lands where the mountain farmers let their cattle, sheep and goats graze.

Alas, shelters were built called “Blockhouses” where farmers would sleep and take care of the animals in case of storms on freezing winter nights. When skiing became popular in Europe, these “blockhouses” were renamed “Alms” (after pasture lands) and were turned into cozy and warm restaurants, usually rustic in nature and with fireplaces to stay warm.

It was refreshing to find such a European concept smack in the middle of the American west and on the top of New Mexico’s primo ski resort – Taos Valley. The Bavarian Restaurant, founded and run by Thomas and Jamie Schulze, is connected to the Bavarian Lodge, where people can stay and dine during their ski vacation.

Nestled at the base of stunning Kachina Peak above the European-style village of Taos Ski Valley, The Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant provides a charming and authentic alpine ambiance amid the majesty of New Mexico’s storied Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Secluded but sociable, opulent yet casual and convenient for hard core skiers, The Bavarian is a magical retreat that brings you a taste of the Bavarian Alps in the American Southwest. It also makes for a great family stay given its location and availability of spacious suites, and the restaurant is delicious.

Appetizers were outa this world, especially the Prosciutto with Roasted sweet beets, which they served with watercress, cantaloupe coulis and balsamic mint oil, and the Smoked Salmon, which they served on a bed of pickled cucumbers, roasted tomato concasse and a horseradish cream. While we didn’t try it, they had classic Herring on the menu as well as Escargots in a lemon basil butter sauce and toast.

Salads were surprisingly fresh and light considering where we were in the world – let’s just say it isn’t a hop, skip and a jump to a farmer’s market, especially during winter months. In addition to a house salad and a Caesar, both of which you could add grilled chicken or of course….bratwurst to, they had a delicious Spinach salad with Riesling poached pears, bleu cheese crumbles, candied walnuts and a pear gastrique.

For when it’s really cold, as it was on that particular night, a traditional Goulash soup goes down well with a nice beer. Here they make it the classic way, with beef cubes, paprika (also very common in Eastern Europe), and potatoes. And yes, of course I had to try it.

While they had some fabulous Bavarian beer choices — the Monastery Weltenburg “Asam Bock” dark beer and Hofbrauhaus Munich lager are two call outs, we went for a couple of caps with our mains, since our entrees were on the heavier side.

They had Bavarian classics on the menu like Spatzle, sausage, Sauerbraten, Jagerschnitzel and Wienerschnitzel of course, but they also had more classic dishes like pork chops, lamb shanks and filet mignon.

Two particularly amazing (and I’d argue classically traditional) dishes worth mentioning are the New Mexico Lamb Shank which they braise in a red wine sauce with spatzle and red cabbage and their Bone-in pork chop, served with German potato salad, red cabbage and apple sauce. They were to die for!!

The ambiance at this ski top restaurant is ever so cozy, with warm and inviting colors.  Two thumbs up! The experience was top notch, one we’d gladly repeat. Also see my 5 Top Foodie Picks for Taos New Mexico post as well for other options in town.

Details:

The Bavarian Restaurant (part of the Bavarian Lodge on the top of the mountain at Taos Ski Valley)

100 Kachina Road

Taos Ski Valley, NM 87525
(575) 776-8020

 

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

Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

April 28, 2015 by  

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Nashville’s renowned Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum recently unveiled a $100-million expansion, doubling its size to 350,000 square feet of dynamic state-of-the-art galleries, archival storage, education classrooms, retail stores, and special event space boasting stunning downtown views.

The ambitious 210,000-square-foot expansion at their 222 5th Avenue North location was completed in April 2014, and includes an 800-seat CMA Theater and the Taylor Swift Education Center, which features three classrooms and an interactive, hands-on immersion into contemporary country music. Also on-site is the ACM Gallery and the Fred and Dinah Gretsch Family Gallery, the legendary letterpress operation of Hatch Show Print.

We were there to see the updated version of this incredible museum in roughly 6-8 months after its completion…..and so, all if twas new – the additions, the energy, the vibe….all of it.

While there were so many costume, shoe and other relic pieces of the time, the prize, at least for me, went to the gold Baby Grand that belonged to Elvis Presley (I understand….a gift from his wife?).

The clothing on display was retro and so worth a very long stroll and then back again….

The cars were retro as were the original recordings for the most part on 45′s.

More incredible ‘car’ time for this period.

Two Thumbs up – don’t miss the music and history museums in Nashville, regardless of what time of year it is.

Details:

Country Music Hall of Fame

222 5th Avenue S

Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 416-2001

The Allure of Oklahoma’s Wide Open Plains & Dancing Clouds

April 27, 2015 by  

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It wasn’t the first time I had been to Oklahoma I reminded myself when I passed through this vast state only a couple short months ago and yet, nothing felt vaguely familiar about it except for the few times I saw tumbleweeds blowing in the wind on the side of the road. The last trip was a breezy one….in and out of Tulsa in a couple short days now over 30 years ago when I was a mere pup, or at least that’s how it felt so as I reminisced about the trip I made with my grandfather way back when.

Ahhh yes, the tumbleweeds. There’s an alluring mystery about the tumbleweeds you find in the Midwest of the country and in some areas of the south. They move silently and swiftly, making barely a whisper as they scatter across the plains and sometimes into the towns. They can get up to 20 feet high at times and are more common during dry periods and when the winds are high. It’s worth noting that you won’t find tumbleweeds in all parts of the state, largely because I discovered, that Oklahoma has more ecoregions per square mile than most states in the country. That said, its arid-ness and wide open plains attract them, just like they do in other states with similar climatic patterns, like certain parts of South Dakota, Texas and Kansas for example.

Drought is a recurring part of Oklahoma’s climate cycle, as it is in all the Plains states and you can almost feel that to be the case when you drive through, even if you didn’t know a thing about the state’s history.  It wasn’t the tumbleweeds that left an imprint on my memory of this trip however, but the clouds — the wispy yet prominent clouds that wrap themselves around blue patches of sky, forming themselves into the oddest shapes and sizes.

Roughly two hours from Oklahoma City, we passed a sign that said leaving Cherokee Nation — I didn’t notice anything different about being inside Cherokee Nation opposed to out of its boundaries, however, its important to acknowledge it as they are the largest tribal nation in the United States and yet, so few Americans would actually know that if you asked them on the street. Set in northeastern Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation is the federally-recognized government of the Cherokee people and has inherent sovereign status recognized by treaty and law. They have more than 317,000 citizens, over 8,000 employees and a variety of tribal enterprises ranging from aerospace and defense contracts to entertainment venues. I learned through a little digging that Cherokee Nation’s economic impact in Oklahoma and surrounding areas is more than $1.5 billion annually.

The coolest part about what they do however is protect their people’s sovereignty while preserving and promoting Cherokee culture, language and values. Who wants to see any culture fade away? It’s so important to have a body to preserve a culture’s heritage despite how difficult that may be in a country where the melting pot is what is promoted and fitting into all things American (and I’d argue that often means all things generic), is the order of the day.

I quietly thought about what it must have been like for the Cherokee people at a time when we didn’t have electricity and our main mode of transport was a horse. Imagine living in those wide open plains where the wind is so strong and tumbleweeds so prevalent? I was in a day dream for awhile after we passed that sign on the wide open road and it was the clouds are what drew me into the state we call Oklahoma again, waking me up to the reality of our long drive that day.

On both sides of us were the familiar spiky trees that are barren from a long winter. The wind was intense at times as is common in the state of Oklahoma, no grave surprise that there are so many tornadoes on the state’s list.

Oklahoma’s clouds have such drama to them even when there’s no chance of a rainstorm in sight and the sun is meant to shine all day long. The wind was harsh during part of our journey, so harsh that it was hard to open the car door at times. You could easily imagine being engulfed by a tornado and while that visual may leave you a little chilled, also imagine some of the fluffiest puffiest white clouds you’ve ever seen above you coating your eyes with an energy that combines purity, natural beauty and a romantic dance.

While the clouds and trees exuded all things winter minus the snow, despite a January chill from the wind, the temperature got to 56 mid-day and the sun shone down upon us, the dancing clouds and the spiky trees.  Joining our journey along Route 40 West, which we joined from Route 61 in Arkansas, were some of America’s biggest trucks carting everything from retail to cattle. While it may be a familiar route for many truckers, more often than not, we were alone on the wide open road which seemed to go on for miles….and miles. And, it did, beyond the distance the human eye could see.

The road itself wasn’t the only thing that exuded nothingness — the plains of Oklahoma were flat and sprawling, the land dry from drought, while the clouds danced above us.

Occasionally, we’d come across a farm, or a lone wooden silo of hard to say what although we imagine it could only be hay. In Oklahoma’s wide open skies, “larger than the average bear” hawks flew above us while we listed to 80’s tunes blaring on the radio, the combination of which took us back to another time in America, one which we don’t experience in urban cities or on either coast. Even when you couldn’t see cows alongside the road, you could smell them. Wide open plains of barrenness and then a cell tower, and then nothing at all for a long stretch along Route 40 east of Oklahoma City.

Gas station signs were lower than we had filled up anywhere since we left the east coast – $1.88, which I haven’t seen since the 1990’s. We thought it might be a typo until we filled up our tank and only spent around $12, just another thing that threw us back in time. In rural Tennessee, we had seen a gas station sign for $1.77 but didn’t fill up there, thinking it might be a new norm and quite frankly, it was a bit of a new norm, until we hit New Mexico that is.

The other wonderful thing about Oklahoma’s dramatic clouds and skies are what happens to them as the sun begins to set.

While there’s not much to do in her wide open plains, there’s a sense of peace and tranquility that you find in that nothingness, where the road goes on and on for miles on end. It gives you time to think but also reflect on this big land we call America, what she was 200 years ago and what she has become today.  What once was a country of new immigrants who had some of the strongest survival instincts this land has yet seen, who farmed their land and fed naturally grown food to their children, has turned into a country with more fast food and processed food centers than schools.

I was thrilled to see a growing movement towards Farm-to-Table and sustainable food practices in pockets of the Midwest and the South, including Oklahoma City, where we hung our hat for the day on our way to Amarillo Texas. Be sure to read my write-up on our Restaurant Picks for Oklahoma City, which includes a combination of healthy, trendy and chic options in the every so funky Bricktown section of Oklahoma City as well as savory photos of Cattleman’s Steakhouse, the oldest in the state, located in Stockyard’s, the older part of the city.  They have a wide variety of cuts and styles to choose from and boast secret recipes to their preparation and sauces.

For the non-meat eating readers, it’s worth heading to Cattleman’s for their exquisite desserts alone – they’re famous for their pies — the coconut cream pie was to-die-for!!

Nearby, they have a few cool shops worth visiting, including the legendary Langston’s on South Shields Boulevard where you can pick up the latest in cowboy boots, shirts and hats.

Stockyards City, like Cattleman’s Steakhouse, opened in 1910 as a primary source for meat processing and packing in America. They also did cattle trading and auctions and still do today.  By 1961, faced with complete overhaul and updating of equipment, the packing plants closed down, however, the Stockyards still retains its profitable cattle trading.

The area’s nickname for a time was “Packingtown” and since its founding, more than 102,000,000 head of livestock have passed through the iron gates leading to the Stockyards operation. Over the years, Stockyards City has always been a draw for cattlemen, horsemen, farmers, ranchers and real cowboys to come for apparel, equipment, supplies, a good meal, and the opportunity to catch up on what was going on over a cold sarsaparilla with fellow cattlemen.

If you’re a vegetarian or are avidly against cattle trading and slaughter, then heading to the Stockyards may not be your thing, but from a historical perspective, the place exudes the old wild west and depicts what life was like at a time when cowboys and ranchers ran the country — far far before there was a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  Stockyard City is the home of the largest stocker/feeder cattle market in the world.

Cattle auctions are still held Monday and Tuesday each week and while the shots I took below show “mostly empty” stalls, it is bustling on auction days.

As we walked across the wooden bridges, paths and beams built above the corals, we saw emptiness on one side and cattle and birds hanging out on another.

While Oklahoma may not have the romantic appeal of Aruba, the naturalness of Fiji, the drama of Aspen or the Swiss Alps, the adventure of the Canadian Rockies, the diversity of London, the mystery of an African safari adventure or the exotic temptation of India, the state has a beautiful sense of solitude about it, mixed with a alluring blend of where America’s wild west meets the Midwest. And then, there’s her oh so dramatic clouds that you simply must see!

Have you been to Oklahoma? If so, what was your favorite part about it? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Kick Off Your Shoes & Relax at the Inn at Santa Fe

April 26, 2015 by  

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I’ve been to Santa Fe New Mexico a few times over the years, but not in awhile, so was curious to see how it had changed since my last visit. While the last two times I had stayed in the center of town, making it easy to explore by foot, this time it appeared that mostly everything was booked up. A major event? Six weddings? Hard to to be sure, but what was clear is that the place was busier than I had remembered.

We ended up at a charming hotel a 10-15 minute drive from the city center called Inn at Santa Fe, a boutique hotel with 98 guestrooms on three floors. The weather was cool when we were there since it was winter, but not so cool, we couldn’t take advantage of their outdoor hot tub and sauna, two features that were a significant plus for me given how much driving we had been doing. They also have outside fire pits, table style, you can enjoy a glass of wine in the evening and the pool is heated year round.

Their guestrooms and mini-suites, albeit in a standard sized space, were more creative than your typical hotel room. We opted for a Deluxe Sunset Vista, which has an oversized headboard with a queen bed and a small seating element facing the armoire, done in a very New Mexico motif. The rooms have flat screen TVs of course and also free HBO, although we were out and about too much to take in the movie selection. I love old world style, so the dark wood headboard and desk were a plus for my eyes.

The more standard rooms are a little more modern with granite counter tops and vanities but also with a great desk space, which is a godsend for us as writers.

What’s nice if you were traveling the way we were, or with a family, the rooms have microwave and refrigerators with a freezer, free high speed internet access and a complimentary breakfast in the morning — cereal, muffins, toast, eggs and more. What’s lovely is the seating area where you can relax anytime of day, but if you love fireplaces as much as I do, you’ll gravitate towards the comfy sitting area in front of the fire for breakfast, drinks or just to relax and read a book.

Dog lovers will know that not all hotels accept pets or some that do will charge you significant surcharges to do so. The Inn at Santa Fe is pet friendly, another great plus if traveling with your entire family, dog or cat included.

In addition to full American breakfast, which they proudly display a sign for as you enter the parking lot (easy parking btw, which may have been trickier in town), they offer Happy Hour specials on appetizers, beer and wine by the glass. Since it’s on the outskirts, you’d have your car of course, but they do offer a complimentary shuttle service into town seven days a week if you don’t want to deal with in-town parking or simply want to relax and not think about your car.

There’s a 24 hour fitness center also, which is the way it should be at hotels. It’s astonishing to me how many hotels have a fitness center but have it open at odd hours, making it inconvenient for business travelers or those of us who are night owls like myself.

You have easy access here for Santa Fe Plaza, Canyon Road, shopping, restaurants, museums, parks, skiing, and golf. Also, adjacent to the hotel are the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe, where you can get bargains on chic brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Merrell, Nike, Sunglass Hut, Brooks Brothers, Coach, Aeropostale, Chico’s, Levi’s, Under Armour and Tommy Hilfiger.

Another great feature for family travelers and worth noting is that they have mobility accessible rooms, which include an accessible tub or Roll-in shower, accessible peephole and Visual Alarm Alert. Hearing Accessible kits are also available upon request with reservation.

Victoria Bruneni, the general manager of the hotel was overly gracious and while it may be true, she knew we were there covering Santa Fe from a myriad of perspectives, hospitality is part of her DNA — it was evident from how she handled situations and the proactive approach she took with every situation, big or small. She also made recommendations for great cafes and bars and passed along names of pals at nearby vineyards and restaurants to help facilitate our planning.  Two thumbs up! We would definitely return.

 
Details:
The Inn at Santa Fe

8376 Cerrillos Road

Santa Fe, NM 87507
(505) 474-9500

 

Note: we were hosted at the Inn but all opinions expressed are my own.

Taos Pueblo, the Oldest Continuously Inhabited Community in the USA

April 25, 2015 by  

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When you arrive in Taos New Mexico, the name Taos Pueblo comes up in conversation regardless of who you talk to — once they realize you’re new to the area or a visitor passing through, you’re pointed to this ancient pueblo belonging to a Tewa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people which lies about a mile north of the city of Taos itself. It is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in America.

Situated in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, this adobe settlement – consisting of dwellings and ceremonial buildings – represents the culture of the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico.  Given its authenticity, history and age, among other things, it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of a group of settlements established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

A little digging tells me that Taos Pueblo or otherwise referred to as Pueblo de Taos is similar to the settlements in the Four Corners area of the Anasazi, or ancient Pueblo people at such places as Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, and today, continues to be a thriving community with a living culture.

The architecture is so pure, you feel its raw antiquity as you walk onto the UNESCO site’s grounds. When we first arrived, it had been snowing for a couple of days, so was closed on one occasion because it was so muddy, so we had to return the following day. Pueblo de Taos is a remarkable example of a traditional type of architectural ensemble from the prehispanic period of the Americas at that time, but what’s even more remarkable is that it has successfully retained most of its traditional forms up to the current time.

Taos Pueblo shows the traditional method of adobe construction and because you can walk around the grounds freely, you can get up close and marvel at its design and staying power.

The pueblo consists of two clusters of houses, each built from sun-dried mud brick, with walls ranging from 70 cm thick at the bottom to about 35 cm at the top. Each year the walls are still refinished with a new coat of adobe plaster as part of a village ceremony. The rooms are stepped back so that the roofs of the lower units form terraces for those above.

The exteriors are plastered annually with adobe due to the exposure of the four seasons and even today, the Pueblo maintains a restriction of no electricity and running water within the sacred village. While some families adopted wood stoves for cooking, some continue to use the fireplace.

The units at ground level and some of those above are entered by doors that originally were quite small and low; access to the upper units is by ladders through holes in the roof. The living quarters are on the top and outside, while the rooms deep within the structure were used grain storage. The roofs are made from cedar logs, their ends protruding through the walls; on the logs are mats of branches on which are laid grasses covered with a thick layer of mud and a finishing coat of adobe plaster.

The multi-tiered adobe dwellings still retain their original form and outline, but details have changed. Doors, which traditionally were mostly used to interconnect rooms, are now common as exterior access to the ground floors and to the roof tops on upper stories. Windows, which traditionally were small and incorporated into walls very sparingly, are now common features.  Taos remains the best preserved of the pueblos north of the Arizona and New Mexico borders.

While it is very quiet as you walk through the grounds (there were only one or two others from what we could tell when we were there), there are locals who either grew up in the Pueblo itself or have a connection to it. One girl spent some of her childhood there and while she now lives elsewhere, she returns to help family members sell artisan crafts they have made on the grounds. Another man has unique objects for sell inside a small adobe building, so small we had to duck our heads to enter it. Incense was burning and original Indian artifacts were among the beautiful earthenware made by the local people.

There’s a church outside (below), which jumped out of the bright blue sky like a snowball against a firey rage. Inside, we weren’t permitted to take photos and so we didn’t, but it was basic in design, but very meditative and calming, regardless of what religion you hail from, or….none at all. Fine carved wooden beams or Vigas greet you, as does a choir loft and the central altar figure of Virgin Mary, which along with other Santos, were brought by early Spanish missionaries.

The Virgin Mary within the native religion depicts the parallel of Mother Nature and the natives incorporated their values into the altar to be reminded of cultural values. On the right, there’s a symbolic casket, which were placed in missions throughout the new World to convert natives to Catholic funeral practices.

The San Geronimo Church built in 1850 is obviously not the original, but it is a Registered National Historic Landmark, and yet is one of the youngest buildings in the village. Today, roughly three quarters of the population practice some form of Catholicism, while the native rituals preserve 100% in daily life.

We met another man in his forties (my best guestimate), who was selling jewelry he made, laid out on a wooden table, carefully curated by color and style. His collection was by far, the best handmade and authentic jewelry we had seen at a fair price since we hit New Mexico. The prices have been soaring in recent years and are more in line today with Sedona than my recollection of the tourism trade from my last visit. Quite simply, we liked him….a lot and his work was beautiful, so purchased a few things.

We chatted a bit about his culture and while they don’t encourage you to take photos of people on the ground, he said some people are fine with it as long as you politely ask. I didn’t. The memory remains with his jewelry which I now wear regularly, and the beautiful adobe architecture of this ancient culture, which is thankfully still thriving today.

I realized as I walked through the establishment how fortunate I was to view such a historical and cultural landmark and the same sense of excitement soared through my body as did when I first saw something culturally foreign and new as a child. That excitement led me on a path to later study Anthropology and Sociology at university, which I sadly abandoned because I didn’t think I could make a healthy living in that field. And so now, today, I live in the world of technology — gadget, gear, mobile apps and EMF rays — a far cry from the pureness of cultural tribes and peoples I found my first passion in so many years ago.

Perhaps if I had followed that dream, I would have discovered something new for the first time or written a book that uncovered things perhaps only a small select group would be interested in hearing, but how is that different than the small select group of people in my so called “technology tribe” now, I thought? I mean, after all – my sister didn’t know who Apple founder Steve Jobs was when I raised his name and yet we pretend all too often that our industry is more important or relevant than another.

In this world, the world of modern Indians, some of whom still live in adobe houses in rural areas, are focused on their families, their art and crafts and eat from the earth, not from processed boxes that are slowly killing so many Americans today. While no doubt, many have fled this traditional establishment, one deeply rooted in so much history and culture, to find jobs in cities, many return, if not to live, to get reconnected to their culture and what that culture means, to them, and to their society as a whole.

Tiwa is their native language, which is unwritten and unrecorded and will remain so, but is passed down from generation-to-generation. I was curious how much it had changed as cultural norms change, nuances are added or English influences have impacted it, or….perhaps not. The shifting of times is evident but it is clear that they will not be a lost culture given their powerful attempt to keep traditions alive. If you had a heritage that started with views like this, wouldn’t you been keen to stay put in more ways than one?

Built around 1619 by Spanish priests and Indians, the cemetery on the grounds now stands where the original San Geronimo Church once stood. Drying racks are scattered throughout – today, they are still used to dry wild game meat for jerky, a favorite thing of mine about New Mexico in general. Jerky made in New Mexico seems to taste better somehow than other parts of the country, likely because of the dry heat necessary for optimal results. Natives also dried corn, pumpkin, squash, berries and bean crops.

If you believe in tradition, are curious about other cultures other than your own and love history, you’ll be deeply touched by the Taos Pueblo, a must stop during your Taos and surrounding area visit.

Details:

Taos Pueblo aka Pueblo de Taos

120 Veterans Highway

Taos, NM 87571

(575) 758-1028

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