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
Salzburgerland isn’t a made-up name from some childhood fairy tale, but the region that includes Salzburg in Austria, which not only includes this historical urban center, but also cultural delights and natural beauty that will take your breathe away. From countryside drives where mist and cloud overtake you, particularly prevalent in the late fall and winter, to mountainous peaks, there’s plenty to keep your schedule packed.
The below shot was taken in October of this year, after we stopped for at a view point while heading easterly out of Salzburg’s city center. We drove through various parts of Salzburgerland, mostly East as we were taking in the original sites from The Sound of Music — this included Werfen, Mondsee, where Maria and the Captain got married in the movie, Fausteau and views of the region from the Gschwandtanger Ridge (be sure to read my write-up on The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary as well as my piece on Sound of Music Tour locations, which include the newly open Sound of Music Hiking Trail, which has stunning alpine views over Salzurgerland and its mountain ranges — the very same spot where the Hills are Alive was shot.
Faistenau & the Austrian Countryside
The energy changes rapidly as do the colors, but the mist remains….it’s lovely to see a lake’s reflection despite the lack of sun. Below, my perspective of the two photos only changes slightly, perhaps six inches or so between the first and second shot.
The colors are vibrant throughout however – this hazy unforgiving shot was taken through the car’s window as we were driving, so not the best quality, but if you were to give it a quick glance, you could easily be in New England at the start of Fall – the difference is that I was in Austria in the middle of October, prime leaf peeping season and despite the cool temperatures, there was still plenty of green on the trees.
Color and wet leaves everywhere…..
Breadmaking at Faistenau’s Oberhinteregg Farm
Not far from the city is the picturesque village of Faistenau, where you can visit the family-oriented Oberhinteregg Farm. We loved our experience here, where you can see (and experience) bread-making, cheese-making, beekeeping and more. A highlight on the farm is bread-making with the farmer´s wife Brigitta. where you can participate in the making of traditional farmhouse bread in the bake house with the farm´s own recipe. See my separate write-up on the farm.
In the smoke house, Frau Kalushofer bakes her delicious farmhouse bread and cures bacon, sausage and fish. Not only are there many sorts of bread made from local corns, but also different spreads and cheeses, all homemade. They also have an herb garden and a farmer’s shop. Traditional crafts on-site….
Homemade oils, and herbal remedies on-site at the farm, available for purchase (and tasting).
Outside, authentic Austrian farmhouse culture and countryside prevail…..join me on a visual journey in October. Man, I so love the fall.
Also in SalzburgerLand is the history of SALT of course, derived from the name. Salt was and still is one of the most important raw materials in Austria. This oft-cited “white gold” has not only prompted the names of the city of Salzburg and region of Salzkammergut. The Austrian salt company “Salinen Austria” has one of the longest and nearly uninterrupted commercial histories in Europe.
Hellein Salt Mine
We went to the SALT MINE closest to Salzburg of course — Hallein near Salzburg, to relive history. There are also salt mines in Hallstatt in Upper Austria and in Altaussee in Ausseerland/Styria. At Hallein, we were able to cross the underground salt lake on a raft and zip through the mines on the slides. The necropolis of Hallstatt and Duerrnberg are real Hot-Spots of Austrian and European archaeology and history.
At the mine, they provide coveralls before you embark on your journey, to protect you from the dirt and salt from the mines.
Below is a mystical shot through the window inside, before you’re about to jump on a horizontal train that takes you deep into the mine…
Deep in the mine, we sat on wooden boards that cradled the top of the open aired train that ran along the tracks. There were areas in the mine where we walked as well, hence the reason to wear the coverall uniforms they provided.
Below is a non-working slide, one which was originally used when the mine was a working one so many years ago.
They have working slides today which we tried on a couple of occasions as we made our way through the tour, which takes an hour and a half or so. What’s great are the surprises you see on the walls as you make your way through the mine — there’s even a point where you cross over into Germany while underground before you circle back again. You’ll be surprised by objects they set up to depict history in a museum-like way to skeletons on the walls.
The Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains
Hellbrunn is a veritable jewel with not just decadent fountains, but a spacious park that combines artificially landscaped park land and natural biotopes. The water games and trick fountains are a truly unique experience where you will constantly expect the unexpected as you go on a tour of the grounds, which we did by night, which adds mystery to the experience. Below, are a few shots by day of the fountains themselves.
Originally, the ‘Lustschloss’ was a pleasure palace built for staging festivities, for enjoyment and relaxation. Originally, this was a privilege reserved for the archbishops, although today it’s open to anyone who wishes to stroll around the park, enjoy the fountains and hidden water jets, or celebrate in the magnificent halls of the palace.
The Salzburg Prince-Bishop Markus Sittikus ordered the building of a summer residence at the foot of the naturally irrigated hill in Hellbrunn between 1612 and 1615. During this relatively short period, an architectural jewel was erected in the popular Italian style of the age. It is still considered one of the most splendid Renaissance buildings on the northern side of the Alps. Its purpose was to foster the enjoyment of life, to provide pleasurable distractions and entertainment.
Since March 2015, three rearranged rooms have been on show: the music chamber, the ‘Fasnacht’ room and the ‘Festival Hall’. They are first of a total of ten rooms that are to house the ‘Markus Sittikus – My view of the World’ exhibition over the next few years. In addition to the tricks you’ll be surprised by from the fountains, the real magic for me came from spending time inside the rooms, which bring you back to another place and time — the ornamental artwork and attention to detail will wow you over.
Be sure to read my separate write-up on Hellbrunn Palace and Fountains, which provides more details and history about the experience and tour, including additional photos to enlighten you about the experience.
Salzburg and towns and villages nearby, have a wide array of restaurants to choose from, ranging from old world traditional and classic style to modern cuisine. Be sure to read my Salzburg Restaurant and Food Guide for more details and delicious and enticing photos.
The Sound of Music
For music and nature lovers as well as the romantics among you, you can’t go to Salzburg and Salzburgerland and not take in the original sites and history behind the Sound of Music, which was filmed there 50 years ago this year. Recognize these horse statues and the lake from the movie? The press conference for the 50 year celebration was held here in October.
The original gazebo where the song You Are Sixteen was sung.
Meeting the original actor Nicholas Hammond who played the Von Trapp oldest son Friedrich.
The church where Maria and the Captain got married, in a little town called Mondsee, which is outside Salzburg (roughly a 30 or so minute drive). See my write-up on Mondsee.
A production that was put on in mid-October at the Kulisse Salzburg (Festival Halls). Artistic director Carl Philipp von Maldeghem introduced Georg Steinitz, former assistant to director Robert Wise and the Sound of Music kids, who had a conversation about memories of the Hollywood movie shooting. Various Sound of Music songs were sung by a new cast, however four original actors from the movie showed up on stage to bring us back in time and honor the 50 year anniversary as well as Johannes Von Trappe, Maria and the Captain’s youngest son in real life, who now resides in Vermont.
The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary was the primary reason I went to Salzburg this fall, so be sure to read my extensive write-ups that relate to The Sound of Music Sites for Romantics & Nature Lovers and Salzburg Celebrates The Sound of Music 50 Years Later. Also refer to the post on Mondsee located just outside Salzburg.
It shouldn’t be any grave surprise to learn that we love Michael Mina restaurants and in fact, just reviewed Four Season’s Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore in September, another Michael Mina establishment. Despite the fact that I feel that I’m on airplanes as much as I spend time in California restaurants, despite the fact that I hang my hat here most of the time, I have eaten at Michael Mina’s downtown San Francisco location on several occasions over the past few years, both for dinner and lunch and even did a delicious write-up on a 7 course wine pairing dinner three years ago.
Recently I attended a luncheon hosted by the Hawaii Tourism Board in one of their private rooms and as such, it was a set menu. The good news about a larger table is that you have an opportunity to see and taste a wider array of dishes. They have a number of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a few stand-outs where I had memorable meals — in fact, I attended the RN74 launch when it opened in the city and ate at Bourbon Steak earlier this year — still haven’t tried their local Test Kitchen which I’d love to experience one of these days.
Lunch is served in the dining room featuring an à la carte menu and at the bar featuring an array of seasonal small plates as well as salads if you’re not in a private room as we were in this case. Since tuna tartare was on the menu as an appetizer, I couldn’t say no — they serve it with Habanero-infused sesame oil, pine nuts and Quail Egg Yolk. Delish!
They also serve simple soups and salads at lunch, but beautifully presented and prepared. Below, a grilled cheese sandwich with Sunchoke soup.
Like we had during the 7 course wine pairing, they offer a daily caviar choice even for lunch which we didn’t sample from a set menu obviously, but it’s worth mentioning since they have Siberian, Russian or Golden Osetra to choose from. You can also get seasonal Japanese sashimi, which is incredibly fresh. Lighter apps include an Autumn Salad Roasted Beet, apple, Marcona almond and blue cheese, or a Romaine Lettuce salad with avocado mousse, red Quinoa, Persimmon and Pedtro Xim e nez. Yum!
For mains on the heavier side, they offer a Cauliflower Risotto with Maitake, and pomegranate seeds. On the lighter side, a Cedar-Grilled Autumn knife fish with watermelon radish, Bolinas Black Cod with quinoa, sunchoke maitake and mustard greens, and a King Salmon with truffled apple jam, potato gnocchi, prosciutto and pickled cabbage. OR, of course you can order red meat and get your fix with a Prime Black Angus ribeye with potatoes, cabbage and beets. Also not available, but something I’d love to taste one of these days is the Tolenas Farm Quail with Butternut Squash, brussels sprouts, pomegranate seed and Foie Gras.
Now for dessert….bring it on. I went for a cheese sampler since I am going light on carbs — they served it with figs, apple and peach slices.
San Francisco’s legendary Executive Chef Ron Siegel goes for bold, balanced flavors in a cuisine, which draws upon Japanese and French influences, which you can see throughout the menu selection. Their signature Trios Menu is the star of the MICHAEL MINA experience inviting guests to taste one featured ingredient in a progression of three variations to fully explore a dynamic range of flavor profiles. The Trios Menu is a multi course, prix-fixe menu offered for dinner only at $105 per person, with vegetarian options and additional supplements. A full tasting menu is available for dinner, as well as a paired down ‘a la carte’ menu at the bar.
Olympus has a fairly new tough camera out called the TG-4, which they tout is rugged enough to go anywhere. Loaded in the camera are sophisticated features like RAW capture, nighttime Live Composite, and the super-bright F2.0 wide-angle zoom lens which is great for those lower light situations, which we all experience when on the road, whether it truly is night or we just have significant cloud cover.
Whether you snorkel or surf, ride or ski, bike or hike, or love to shoot outdoors, this fabulous little camera is a great option for adventure travelers. Let’s take a look at its other great features of the Olympus TG-4 for the adventure warrior!
A nice built in feature is a multi-function e.Compass, which eases the process of finding, shooting and sharing your photos after the fact. Information includes latitude and longitude, atmospheric and water pressure, altitude and water depth, and date and time.
Durable & Rugged: Waterproof, Crushproof, Shockproof, Freezeproof & Dustproof
This compact but hardy camera is waterproof to depths of 50 feet, its rugged inner and outer chassis construction protects the lens assembly from force. In other words, it’s actually crushproof to 220 lbs and the impact is shockproof to around 7 feet. It is also what they call “dustproof” which is great for when you’re out hiking. If you’re traveling in colder temperatures, it’s also freezeproof to 14°F/-10°C. These are all awesome features for the adventure travelers among you — we love what we’ve been able to do with this small camera in hand over the summer when traveling on America’s East Coast.
Sensors, Processor & Lens
There’s a 16 MP BSI CMOS Sensor, F2.0 high speed lens for low light situations. For the more serious photographer, it touts a TruePic VII Image Processor with a 16 Megapixel – BSI CMOS 1/2.3″ Image Sensor and you can shoot in RAW if you have ample storage cards. For action shots, the continuous shooting feature is nice (5fps / 100 images (16M); 15fps / 100 images (3M); 60fps / 100 images (3M) and for those wanting to capture wildlife or sports, the built in zoom is a godsend for those not wanting to carry their heavier SLR’s with them in certain situations.
I live with my Canon 7D around my arm, but let’s be honest, as much as I’m in love with this camera, it’s sometimes too heavy, big or not practical to take into a certain situation, whether it be a concert, on a boat, or when skiing down a mountain. Even though it’s small, it does have a 4x Optical Zoom + 2x Super Resolution Zoom + 4x Digital Zoom so you don’t always have to be on top of your subject. The Lens Aperature Range is Wide f2.0, f2.8, f8.0, Tele is f4.9, f6.3, f18.0, the Focal Length is 4.5 – 18.0mm (35mm equivalent: 25 – 100mm), the Focus Range is Wide/Tele: 3.9in/10cm to infinity and there’s a built in AF Illuminator.
For the techies among us who want a little more data, there’s a ton of shooting modes to choose from as well:
- Mode Dial: Intelligent Auto (iAUTO), Program Auto (P), Aperture Priority (A), Scene Modes (SCN), Microscope, Underwater, Custom Mode 1 (C1), Custom Mode 2 (C2)
- Microscope Modes: Microscope, Focus Stacking, Focus Bracketing, Microscope Control
- Scene Modes: Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Interval Shooting, Live Composite, Hand-Held Starlight, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach & Snow, Snow, Panorama, Backlight HDR
- Picture Modes: Vivid, Natural, Muted
- Panorama: Allows you to intuitively pan the camera across the scene.
Art Filters & Self Timer Mode
The camera offers cool art filters, such as Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Dramatic Tone, Fish Eye, Sparkle, Reflection, and something they refer to as Fragmented. For solo travelers or couples wanting to capture something a little higher quality than your standard selfies, the Self-Timer mode is a great feature and frankly, a must for any camera in our opinion. This model has 2 sec, 12 sec, Custom Self-Timer (1-30 sec start timer, 1-10 pictures, 1-3 sec interval), so plenty of choices depending on the environment you happen to be in. I couldn’t really figure out the art filters so probably need more time with the camera to test them out in a real environment.
The camera pictured at the top is a fun red and the one we wanted to review, but apparently they didn’t have any in stock at the time (we are bummed given our LOVE of colors in products as regular readers know….it’s one of our “things”). And so, the camera we put to the test is the very same TG-4 in black and was part of a fun campaign they called #SummerofTough which we participated in! The camera comes in both red and black, pictured below.
While we don’t do a ton of video, we do capture stories via video from time-to-time. I have a trusty old mini-Kodak I use for some of these shots, and other times, I shoot video on a Canon Rebel or my reliable Canon 7D. It’s nice to have the Olympus TG-4 as a back-up, particularly with its rugged features, so we can capture video in rougher weather conditions.
The video mode on this Olympus are 1080p, 720p, VGA, Time-Lapse Movie (720p), High-Speed 120fps (640×480), High-Speed 240fps (320×240) and for video file format is MOV/H.264, AVI/Motion JPEG (High-Speed Movie, Time Lapse Movie). Interval Shooting images may be automatically compiled into a movie lasting up to 10 seconds (movie is 720p at 10 fps).
Built in GPS and Wifi
The enhanced GPS feature allows for accurate positioning within 10 seconds via multiple satellite systems; location and landmark information may be viewed and geo-tagged to photos. How cool is that?
The built in Wifi Feature allows you to easily share files with IOS and Android mobile devices. You can geotag photos with GPS location, remotely compose a shot, adjust camera settings and trip the shutter, all from an IOS or Android mobile device and apply custom signatures, art filters and stamps to your photos.
Battery Life & Other Useful Specs
The Olympus TG-4 is 4.4″ in width, 2.6″ in height, 1.2″ in depth and weighs in at 8.7 ounces. It obviously comes with a USB cable to connect, an AC Adapter, a Quick Start Guide and a CD-ROM with instruction manual and Olympus Viewer 3 software.
It comes with a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (LI-92B) and the battery life is aimed to take up to 380 shots or 120 minutes of continuous video shooting before having to recharge. OS support includes Windows XP SP3, Windows Visa SP2, Windows 7 SPI, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Mac OS. A couple of things to note on the battery:
- Be sure that your camera is off when you’re not shooting. If it’s on in the background, even if you’re not using it, your battery will drain quickly.
- The other thing to note is the battery slot itself. We couldn’t get the camera to work initially and as moronic as this sounds, we had the battery in backwards. With all other cameras I’ve used over the years, the door won’t shut properly if the battery is in the wrong way, one sure way to make sure you have it in correctly. Truth be told, we made this mistake three times before we double checked ourselves each time to ensure we had it in correctly and once was while I was in the middle of a lake, putting a slalom ski on in August.
This close-up of Jake below shows a bit more clarity for shots within close range.
Below, you’ll notice that some steam built up in the middle of the lens which we didn’t realize until 20 photos into our day. It wasn’t that visible on the camera itself, so its important to view your shots regularly so you can detect any lens interference early on.
In the water and under the water, I couldn’t seem to grasp the focus but that is largely because we didn’t have enough time to test and re-test with it under the water as we were on boats more than we were swimming in pools and lakes. We also were not snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef or seeing vibrantly colored fish below the water’s surface, so bear that in mind when you look at the quality of the colors.
When I’m snorkeling in Tahiti or Aruba then I’ll likely spend more time getting the underwater focus and clarity down, but my biggest win out of this camera were the shots I was able to capture while hanging out low on a paddle board which was nearly every day of my trip to Lake Placid in late August.
I also brought it in the water with me while we went tubing and waterskiing. It’s hard to get great shots from the other side (inside the water) unless you have a durable waterproof camera in tow.
Having the Olympus TG-4 was a godsend on the Adirondack trip since we were able to capture precious moments of the kids on the tubes (above), while swimming, on boats and while skiing. It wrapped around my wrist easily and if I wanted to take extra precaution, there are plenty of cases I could have used with even more secure handles. Have a look at some of the shots I captured while I was waiting for the driver to take me on another ski run. Two thumbs up! I’m eager to take it with me to South America later this year.
From experiential classes on sound, art, meditation, Qigong, yoga, mindfulness and tantra, to lectures that range from the convergence of Quantum Physics to consciousness and everything in between, the SAND Conference brings together the smartest and most creative minds for one long weekend, where it’s hard to not leave just a little bit transformed.
By Transformative Travel at We Blog the World, we mean just that — unique experiences that will transform how you view the world, whether that be hanging out with polar bears in the Canadian Arctic, meeting ice glaciers on a luxury cruise ship in Chilean Patagonia, simple reflective moments on Curacao’s Caribbean beaches, or being present at a consciousness conference where you will inevitably meet some of the most interesting and caring people you’ve ever met. (see my write-up from 2014)
The Human Universe: Universe = Consciousness
We moved from the history of the Divine Universe (God focused), the Classic Universe (Newton focused) and the Relative Universe (Einstein and relativity focused) to the Quantum Universe (electrons, photons and particle focused), the Copenhagen Interpretation and ultimately to the Human Universe, which Deepak argues is the only that that is rooted in real consciousness. Conscious agents create reality in our own image. The new formula in the Human Universe therefore becomes U = C, which is that the Universe = Consciousness.
The band and late night instruments ringing in the night were not the only music contribution at the event. Each day, musicians performed on the lawn, near the dome and among the attendees, and in that way, it was highly experiential and I’d add, intoxicating.
They also had art installations on-site, such as the one depicted below. Inside this out of this world creation which glowed with colors and lights, you could spend time inside and reflect.
More creativity on-site.
Did I also mention that the food was outstanding? We absolutely loved this decadent but vegan chocolate cake.
I’ve always been a huge fan of combining knowledge, awareness and experience as a way to become transformed through an experience and SAND is a master at doing that, adding new dimensions to its event every year, with art, music, lectures and reflection. If reading this either confuses or rejuvenates, then be glad there’s a strong reaction regardless of what it is. Rather than fleeing from which disturbs, either positively or negatively, its important to stay with the feeling and emotion which arises. Answers from the universe will come to you if you’re open to receiving them and ultimately we are not alone on this journey.
We are now in a collective field of consciousness and the awareness which is increasing year-by-year. While the uncommon bond that Jung speaks of will and does get in the way of getting to that silent place, there’s also a bliss from relationship, which when brought back inward to yourself, can be invigorating and healing….a bit like a serendipitous mystical experience we can’t quite explain.
It’s beyond a solo Transformative Experience and can transcend you to a higher level when the “junk” and “noise” that arises from being interconnected, doesn’t show up. Being aware of it is a path to reducing that noise so transcendence through relationship can occur. Grace and Grit is a great Ken Wilbur book that addresses the fight between disembodied teaching and unified/relationship experiences.
Bravo Maurizio, Zaya and team to another intoxicating year of SAND!!!
I hadn’t been to Atlanta in years, so when invited to attend the Social Media Strategies Summit as part of the Sensei Project, something all travel bloggers and writers referred to as SITSum by the time the event ended, I thought it would be a great opportunity. I was long overdue to revisit a city I remembered had some gems, including hotel and resort gems.
The W Hotel in Atlanta’s Midtown is very “W” in many ways, from its modern motif to its colorful chic design and dim lobby lighting, however there are a few fun twists throughout the property. I fell in love with the creativity of the lobby ceilings, which exuded imagination, so as a writer, I found inspiration in its vibrancy.
The lobby seating ranged from classic modern bright colored chairs and cushions to couches that lay scattered across a large room with plenty of light to darker more secluded rooms where you could tuck yourself away for awhile and nap or get some work done. Wifi was available throughout the property so you could work from any of these hideaway public spots which was a nice feature of the hotel.
Above 2 shots, courtesy of the hotel.
More great modern lobby energy….
The below shots will give you an idea of standard rooms, from two queens to a king. They have six different room categories — if you’re there for a special occasion, are ready to splurge and would love a ton of space, their 1,600 square foot Extreme WOW Suite is the way to go. It says it only sleeps two but it would make a great option for having friends over for drinks and socializing one night.
Take note of the vibrant colors – combine them with the muted warm lighting and you have a magical formula for cozy and right at home. The staff are incredibly warm and friendly as well — a huge call out to KAY at the front desk who heard my raspy voice over the phone and knew I wasn’t feeling better, so personally brought up a complimentary pot of hot tea for me. BRAVO!!
Above 3 shots, courtesy of the hotel.
There’s a great gym (and pool) on the premises, which was a huge godsend for me. It matters so much these days that if a hotel doesn’t have a place to exercise, I’ll keep looking.
Gym shot, courtesy of the hotel
Outside, you can sit at the cafe and people watch. Since it is located in the heart of Atlanta’s hippest neighborhood, there’s plenty to see along 14th Street. You’re also very close to a number of attractions, from seeing shows at the Fox Theatre, taking a power walk through the ever so picturesque Piedmont Park or nightclubbing it some of Atlanta’s chicest clubs, including Gerber Group’s Whiskey Park, which is at home inside the W. They also boast 30,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 10,000 square foot Great Ballroom.
Another thing to note is that they are pet-friendly which isn’t always the case, so pet lovers may want to mark this hotel down for their next Atlanta trip. Also health afficiandos will be happy to hear that the on-site TRACE Restaurant is farm-to-table and sources locally and organically. My lunch salmon salad was delicious. Two thumbs up!
Outside view shot courtesy of the hotel.
The W Hotel Atlanta Midtown
188 14th St NE
Atlanta, GA 30361
While we’re all about travel over here at We Blog the World, we also write about lifestyle and culture and as many food lovers know, food and wine is one of our biggest categories. We hang out with chefs, attend cooking classes and go to food preparation events wherever we can and in whatever city we happen to be in. While most of the products we look at tend to be more usable (and useful) while on the road, we are expanding our Style Section and have even started reviewing clothes, shoes and beauty, which you’ll see in spades with the upcoming relaunch of our site.
In preparation for that expansion, we’ve been looking at more lifestyle products, particularly ones related to our hottest categories, like events, festivals, food/wine, style, luxury living and travel and adventure. In our research, we came across Boos Cutting Boards and were wowed over by their high quality selection, deep rich textured woods and commitment to sustainable practices. It should be no surprise that they’ve been around for over 125 years, so have a boat load of history to fall back on and that’s where the top notch quality comes in.
Based in Illinois, they’re one of the oldest manufacturers of premium quality food service equipment and butcher blocks in the US so butcher blocks and cutting boards are not all they do — they make steel dish tables, work tables, sinks and shelving as well as custom fabrication and furnishing as well as kitchen counter tops. It was their butcher blocks and cutting boards that we began to take a closer look at , especially since they use all American Hardwoods (Hard Rock Maple, American Cherry, & American Black Walnut) in their production of gourmet furnishings. Have a look at the deep rich textures that first caught our eye and you’ll see why we were more than a little intrigued. Let’s just say that not all cutting boards are the same and the more you do some digging, the more you’ll realize the difference. Frankly, it’s worth spending more to get a high quality board that will last for years.
It all Starts with the Lumber…
After the lumber is graded, it’s goes through a rigorous drying process in the kilns for a specific period of drying time, depending on the weather and atmospheric conditions. There’s more than meets the eye when you make a quality board — most of the boards you get at your average hardware store or department store use lower grade wood and they’re not very thick, which increases the likelihood of them warping when exposured to water and moisture.
At Boos, the process is much more detailed. The wood is surfaced flat with a machine then ripped into rails, and then the rails are cut to the correct lengths and glue is applied to create panels. Whatever material is left, (random length pieces of wood) they use and finger-joint them back into the longer rails and make them into counter tops. The cutting board panels are then sanded on both sides to give a nice, smooth finish for an ultimate reversible cutting surface experience with an elegant finish.
After sanding, the cutting board goes to a routing machine where it is shaved. The machine shapes the wood into various types of cutting boards of different sizes, some with juice grooves, wells, or pyramid designs, some without. You can get a matching counter top slab cut to your designated width and length that actually matches a cutting board.
We thought a counter top would be a great thing to test out, especially for a small kitchen. If you’re an avid traveler, you may very well have a massive country home with a big kitchen island or like many urban dwellers close to international airports, you may be stuck with a small kitchen like we are, so adding some class to it through a custom counter top wood slab is a great option. And, for the nature lovers out there, you can get the benefit of rich wood eye candy right in the heart of your kitchen, rather than the more modern marble top finishes.
You can choose from a 2-1/4″ or 3″ thickness, up to 97″ Length Walnut KCT Standard With Full Length Rails and over 97″ Length Walnut KCT Standard with KCT Style Finger Joints. Standard is a penetrating oil finish but you can also get an optional Varnique finish if you wish. What can I say? Absolutely STUNNING!
While Boos’ quality is higher than the average cutting board, they still can have the potential to crack. In order to prevent them from cracking, they recommend that you oil them every 3-4 weeks so the wood doesn’t dry out. We fell in love with their darker woods, so went with the same dark Walnut cutting board to accompany a custom wooden counter top. To be honest, when they first arrived, we stared at them for awhile and then shrugged our shoulders - “I don’t think I could cut on this board it’s so beautiful,” Anthony said to me and I had to agree. As long as you keep it oiled, you should have no problem with regular use, however we alternate using it as a board and as a beautiful kitchen piece on the counter top.
It comes in a lighter wood as well if you want go to with a Cherry or oak look. There are a few dimensions you can choose from as well, so it’s worth taking note of your kitchen style, the other fixtures and how you plan to use the board before you decide which size to order. While you can purchase the board in a few different sizes (width and length), they are 1-1/2 inches thick, a size which improves the likelihood of warping over time. We loved this Walnut Edge Grain construction — there’s even hand grips on both sides (see above left) and while it arrives already oiled, we oiled the pieces immediately before beginning regular use, which we’d recommend and so do they.
Below is both a lighter wood colored and a dark walnut board with slots for knives – while clearly usable, they make attractive boards you can serve things on while entertaining. Notice the difference in height between the two boards — what’s great about Boos is the ability to customize size and color depending on your preference or need.
The other board we fell head over heels in love with the below Fusion Board (below) which comes in Cherry, Walnut and Maple. Again, while also usable as a cutting board, it is so elegantly designed that you can use it to present cheese and fruit on as well. We went for American Black Walnut (rich and deep) and it comes with wooden feet attached to the bottom, keeping it higher off the counter where moisture can gather. It comes with a beeswax finish and is available only in one size, but a very convenient and popular one that will work in most kitchens — 20″ x 15 x 1″.
End Grain Island Tops
Below also in the American Black Walnut End Grain is an end grain island top, which is another great way to beautify your kitchen. This comes in a variety of thickness (2-1/4″, 3″, 4″, or 7″) and widths (25″, 27″, 32″, or 38″).
Cleanliness & Why This Matters
Many of you may have grown up with plastic cutting boards and we had a few in our kitchen over the years as well. With the growth of exposure about the ills of plastic, going with wood should seem like an easy choice although not everyone is yet aware of the potential harmful effects of plastic use. Additionally, wood cutting boards inhibit bacteria growth while plastic cutting boards can harbor more bacteria.
Dr. Ulrike Kleiner, from the Laboratory of Hygiene Research at the Anhalt University in Bernburg, Germany, performed a new study on hygienic qualities of wood and plastic cutting boards. Dr. Kleiner’s results reinforced Dr. Dean Cliver’s study: that hard rock maple wood cutting boards are more sanitary than plastic cutting boards. Furthermore, wood cutting boards are known to be easier on your knives and they are sustainable and biodegradable, where plastic cutting boards are not. For the data junkies among you, can you can read the German study by Dr. Ulrike Kleiner and the Dr. Dean Cliver’s study.
Food safety is a universal concern whether it involves the commercial foodservice industry or the confines of our own home. As many as 1 in 6 Americans get sick by consuming contaminated foods resulting from Salmonella, E-Coli, and Botulism. These foodborne illnesses are common, costly, yet are preventable and can be dramatically decreased by practicing smart food prep habits in your kitchen.
Butcher Blocks and Kitchen Islands
Not all butcher blocks are the same either and so many of them don’t have the appropriate wood thickness on the top for long term durability you want in a butcher block. Imagine a Walnut Top with an Alabaster Base or having choices of wood colored bottoms and your own unique American hard wood choice on top? Everyone has their own unique taste so you should have plenty of options to choose from when decking out your kitchen.
While we did not test any of their butcher blocks or kitchen islands, we think their selection is stunning enough to share. Have a look at some of the choices at your disposal, including length and depth.
For more information on the variety of their products, visit their consumer website: http://www.johnboos.com/Index.asp?s=r, where they also include links to how to customize and more, as well as tips for care. Be sure to order some protective oils to service your boards on a regular basis, which will help preserve the quality of your boards. Here’s a the page for how to find a dealer near you.
We LOVE these guys, so can’t say enough positive things about our experience with their products. C’mon foodie lovers, don’t skimp on your cutting board. For those who cook a lot, you know that the quality of your knife matters and for those who drink wine a lot know, that the quality of your stemware matters. Check out Boos for your cutting and display needs.
Note: disclosure, while they did some us a couple items to test out, we were not told to write a review or what to say so this is purely editorial in our testing experience. All opinions expressed are our own.
When you talk about your travels to Europe and Austria comes up, Americans will likely bring up Vienna first, particularly if they happen to be classical music lovers. If they love musicals, they’ll inevitably know that Salzburg was the city where a significant part of The Sound of Music was filmed and because of that factoid, the city remains a frequently visited destination by Sound of Music lovers around the world.
While I started by Austrian adventure in October in Vienna, I headed to Salzburg afterwards by train, which was only around 2 or so hours. The train ride is incredibly comfortable in both coach and business class, but travel business class if you can — they have power outlets, pots of tea, food service and wifi. Certainly Vienna has no shortage of beauty and history, but Salzburg, given its smaller size and nearby hills and mountainous landscapes of the nearby Alps, is a charming place to visit, and exudes stunning views even when there’s cloudy skies. Below is the view from historical Hohensalzburg Castle in the city’s old quarter.
Salzburg Old Town | the Dom Quartier
Going Back in Time to The Sound of Music (1965)
I was in Salzburg to celebrate the festivities around The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary. Be sure to read my write-ups on the events and Sound of Music Sites: Salzburg Celebrates The Sound of Music 50 Years Later and Salzburg’s Sound of Music For Romantics & Nature Lovers.
Below I am at the venue where they held a champagne reception at the Kulisse Salzburg (Festive Halls), prior to the evening performance of the Sound of Music, which included four of the former original actors from the movie, which came out 50 years ago. The balcony at the venue overlooked historical Salzburg which was a beautiful sight to see as the sun was beginning to set. There are tons of photos and background in my above articles that focus on the sites, the history and my experience of the anniversary that Salzburg was fully celebrating during my visit.
Below, a piano player goes to town with Sound of Music classics over a cocktail reception after the official 50th Anniversary Press Conference.
The below musicians played classical music throughout three mini-operas as part of the Mozart Dinner offering, which they have in an old abbey every night of the week. Stifskeller St. Peter has a three course candlelight dinner in a decadent and old historical setting – definitely worth doing.
There’s also more traditional Austrian music which you can find throughout Salzburgerland — in the city of Salzburg and surrounding region. We had our fair share of it and it was all wonderful — below is a band who played for us at the traditional Austrian pub Stiegl’s Brauwelt, which serves classic traditional fare and homemade brewed beer.
Below are a couple of videos of traditional music I heard while in Salzburg. Enjoy! (LOVED IT!!)
And then of course, before we set off on the traditional Sound of Music tour, we heard more….
In and around the Dom Quartier, we walked through an old cemetery, which took us back in time. And, it’s not the only one in the area. Given how new our cemeteries are in the states, it’s hard for us to fathom that these tombstones have been here long a few centuries. The Petersfriedhof, or St. Peter’s Cemetery, is the oldest Christian graveyard inSalzburg, dating back to 1627. Take a visual stroll with me through so you can get a flavor of Salzburg’s rich historical past and architecture.
Hellbrunn Palace & Trick Fountains
Historical Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains has fountains and water jets that can be enjoyed almost exactly the way they were intended 400 years ago – as entertainment for the archbishops – and still include secret and mystical grottos, water-powered figures and hidden jets of water around every corner. Outside, you can meander through the palace and take in the majestic nature of the Palace itself with its numerous fountains, all of which have “tricks” connected to them. See my write-up on our night time experience there in mid-October.
Traditional Austrian Shopping
If you don’t know what Lederhosen is, then you’ve likely not been to Germany, Switzerland or Austria, since it is prevalent throughout all three countries. Formerly, lederhosen were worn for hard physical work; they were more durable than a fabric garment and easier to clean. Today, they are mostly worn as leisurewear and lederhosen and dirndl attire is common at Oktoberfest events around the world.
Lederhosen were once widespread among men of the Alpine and surrounding regions, including Bavaria,Austria, the Allgäu, Switzerland, and the autonomous Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (formerly part of Austria until after World War I). Essentially they are breeches made of leather that may be worn either short or knee-length. The longer ones are generally calledBundhosen or Kniebundhosen. Below, we visited a traditional shop in central Salzburg, where you can order homemade lederhosen, as well as woolen hats, booties, socks, sweaters, scarves and more.
Located on Mönchsberg 34, the Hohensalzburg Castle or Fortress (“High Salzburg Fortress”) sits atop the small hill of Festungsberg in Salzburg. Erected at the behest of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg with a length of 820 feet and a width of 490 feet, it is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. This huge 11th-century fortress complex boasts stunning views over Salzburg to the Alps and nearby museums.
The castle was refurbished from the late 19th century onwards and became a major tourist attraction with the Festungsbahn cable car, which opened in 1892, leading up from the town to the Hasengrabenbastei. During the early 20th century, it was used as a prison, holding Italian prisoners of war during World War I and Nazi activists (before the Anschluss with Germany) in the 1930′s.
Hohensalzburg Castle was recently selected as main motif for the Austrian Nonnberg Abbey commemorative coin minted on April 5, 2006. This was the first coin of the series “Great Abbeys of Austria” and it shows the Benedictine convent of Nonnberg Abbey. The fortress consists of various wings and courtyard and we spent a couple of hours going through each of them, which can be a bit overwhelming to take in given the vastness of the fortress.
Golden Hall is part of the magnificent state apartments installed on the third floor. The rooms in which the archbishops would normally have lived were one floor below. The state apartments were primarily used for representative purposes and for festivities. The Golden Hall was richly decorated and indicates that the fortress served the archbishops not only as a refuge in times of crisis, but frequently also as a residence up to the 16th century.
In order to gain more space, Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach had four massive marble pillars constructed on the right-hand outer wall and had a loggia added on. The coat of arms of Leonhard von Keutschach together with those of the Holy Roman Empire, the most powerful German towns and the bishoprics that were connected to Salzburg, are painted on it.
The Golden Chamber is the most magnificently furnished room of the princely chambers. The two long walls are taken up by benches that are richly decorated with vines, grapes, foliage and animals. These benches used to be covered with cloth or leather, but the upholstery has not survived into the modern age. The walls also used to be covered in gold-embossed leather tapestry which adorned the lower part of the wall. Talk about decadence…
The Bedchamber of Prince Bishop is the most intimate room of the princely chambers. The original furniture and precious textiles, such as tapestry, were in the course of time replaced by more “modern” ones. The elaborate wainscoting to keep out the cold still bears witness to the splendor of the past. The upper part of the panels is decorated with gilded buttons and rosettes, whereas the lower part, which is bare today, was probably covered with leather or velvet tapestry. The door conceals a toilet, which is basically a hole in the floor with a wooden frame. In the past, this was a highly modern sanitary facility and was accessible from each floor. Just look at the attention to detail and the vibrant colors that adorn the ceilings and walls.
There aren’t any signs for this umbrella making shop in the heart of old Salzburg and we wouldn’t have known about it had it not been for our private guide. In a small alleyway in the shopping area, you wind up at the shop of Andreas Kirchtag, a Schirmerzeuger, or umbrella maker on the second floor of an old building.
We learn that Kirchtag’s family has been hand-making umbrellas for 100 years and after we explore the process and the high quality materials they use, I realize I never want to own a cheap umbrella bought from some market again.
They make the wooden handles by hand and there’s a wide variety of woods to choose from if you commission an umbrella from them. They make and repair umbrellas so if you need one to be transformed, this is your place.
You can even choose your own material, which can be a high-end imported one from Italy or Asia. Your choice affects the price of course, but this is the kind of purchase you don’t make every day, so why not splurge, especially if you want it to last.
We were somewhat overwhelmed by the choices there were……be sure to read my write-up on Umbrella Making in Salzburg, a Lost Art, which also includes a video I shot while we toured this quirky shop.
Welcome to Faistenau, a village roughly 30-40 minutes outside of Salzburg, in the heart of rural Salzburgerland for which Salzburg got its name. Can you guess its meaning? SALT of course, which has a long established history in Austria and has been significant to its trade for many years. While the salt mine we visited nearby is no longer a working mine, you’re brought back in time as you take in a bit of Austria’s history.
Throughout the area, including quaint Faistenau, there are farms, hills and mountains in the distance, and lush green trees basking you in pure nature. In the heart of this area lies an old fashioned farm called Oberhinteregghoff, which is run by a husband and wife team who makes their own bread, jams, olive oils, spirits, herbal remedies, soaps, spices and more.
The colors of fall were prevalent throughout the farm — we spent time exploring inside and out.
The barn and the inner workings of the farm — I felt as if I was traveling far back in time to a world of my childhood and was ready to be put to work, fixing, baking, raking, whatever it took to weave myself into their culture.
We went to town with break making in the afternoon before our late luncheon, which of course, included the bread we made. Below, we learn the process and each make a roll or two.
And of course, luncheon was served, on an old traditional farmhouse table in the main dining room.
Nearby the farm, you’ll drive past farms who were celebrating the Fall — leaves were changing and there was celebration of the Halloween season and beyond in the air.
Below is a snippet of video I shot while on site — learn about bread making in real time!
Be sure to read my Salzburgerland post, as well as my piece on Mondsee nearby, also a small town/village like Faisteanau but with a main town square and home to St. Michael’s Church, where the Sound of Music movie wedding was filmed fifty years ago.