About Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.

Latest Posts by Sherry Ott

How to Make Real Gin & Tonics! (You May Be Surprised)

September 28, 2015 by  


how to make a gin and tonic

So that’s what the swizzle spoon is used for!!

There I stood dumbfounded, my mind was racing; how could have I got this all wrong my whole life? I’m in denial as I listen to bar owner and Chef, Ramona Pau, walk us through the steps of making a gin and tonic. It was sort of like when I learned that kissing a boy didn’t make you pregnant, and learned what sex was for the first time; how it worked, what parts went where, and the end result. One of those moments where you know at that point you’ll never be the same, and you’ll never look at boys the same way. Similarly, after this evening with Ramona Pau, I’ll never be able to look at gin and tonics again in the same way.

One of the things I do well is drink, and gin is one of my favorite liquors. I’ve made and enjoyed gin and tonics my whole adult life. I thought I knew gin and tonics, but I was now humbled as I watched and listed to Ramona walk us through the correct gin and tonic process at his gin and tonic bar in Ribes de Freser Spain. The Lobby Bar, part of the Hotel els Caçadors, specializes in serving gin. You might think this is limiting, however when you have over 100 bottles of different gin and 45 different tonics on the shelves, you’ve got infinite choices! And if I were better at math and didn’t drink so much gin, I could probably tell you exactly how many combination choices you’d have.

You might think this type of bar is unique, however for some reason Catalonia Spain seems to be the epicenter of gin and tonic. I was first introduced to the local enthusiasm for the drink 3 years prior in Girona when I was invited to a friend’s house for gin and tonic tasting. He was mad about gin and even went to great lengths to craft the perfect G&T by collecting rocks from the local soil, boiling them, and putting them in the G&T to add mineral content and taste. The more I travel through the Catalonia region of Spain, the more I am amazed at their G&T addiction.

gin catalonia spain
I stopped at the local grocery store in Girona  (above) and found an entire aisle of gins next to the produce aisle. In addition, there was a half aisle of tonics!

So when I walked into the Lobby Bar and saw Ramona’s collection of gin it didn’t really surprise me. He had the bottles on lined up on backlit shelves according to the color of the rainbow. When you have 100 different bottles of gins, they come in many different colors. He showed us gins that were made in Catalonia, floral gins, dry gins, Mediterranean gins, spicy gins, and even a gin with gold flakes floating in it. His gin (and tonic) ‘menu’ for the bar read like large wine list listing flavors, geographical locations, and other interesting facts about the gin.

Ramonas colorful collection of gin

Ramonas colorful collection of gin

Next he proceeded to have us pick a gin we wanted to try and show us how to make a proper gin and tonic.

And that is when my mind was blown….my G&T virginity lost. That’s when I learned that I’ve been making gin and tonics wrong my whole life.

The Glass

Forget the classic tumbler glass that I normally serve G&T’s in. A G&T should be served in a goblet type glass that is quite substantial. The glass felt as if it weighed about 3 pounds before he even put anything in it! It was like lifting a dumb bell. The goal of making a good G&T is to serve it really cold, but not at all watered down. So you need a glass that will not be ‘heated’ up by your hand holding it. Hence, the goblet; hold the glass by the stem when you drink. Plus, the thicker the glass the longer it takes to be heated up by the outside environment.

The Ice

“The enemy of the gin and tonic is the ice,” Ramona stated with a stern expression, “when you finish a G&T the ice should be the same as you started.” Quite frankly I never even thought about the ice before when making a gin and tonic, it’s sort of like putting on underwear in the morning – it’s just an assumption of getting dressed. Ramona was very particular about the size, shape, and temperature of his ice. He explained that you had to use ice cubes that were large and -4 F so that they chilled the drink, but did not melt before you were finished drinking your G&T. Crushed ice is forbidden as it melts and you have too much water. I’m now imagining Ramona as the ice Nazi…no G&T for you!

how to make a gin and tonic

Ramona first preps the glass with ice – large and very cold ice cubes!

The Citrus

Traditionally when I make a G&T the last thing I do is squeeze a lime into the drink. I learned this may be my biggest and most egregious mistake in G&T making. Not only was I adding the citrus in at the wrong time, but I was also using the wrong part of the citrus! “Never put the pulp in the drink – only the rind” Ramona stated clinically while I gasped in surprise and a bit of shame. Ramona held the whole lime up to the light and cut a slice of rind for a little fanfare. It burst as if you had opened a carbonated beverage and the juice of the lime shimmered in the soft light. Everyone oooohed and aaaahed; Ramona knew how to put on a show when it came to G&T’s.

how to make a gin and tonic

Ramona shaving the lime skin

The Garnish

I typically just use a lime for garnish in a G&T, however in Catalonia they don’t stop at the lime rind as garnish. There is an entire spice garnish shelf at the Lobby Bar. You can see Ramona contemplate his next decision as he furrows his brow and looks at his available garnishes. He considers the best combination of garnish based on the gin and tonic choice/flavor; juniper, anis, cloves, rosemary, cardamom, peppercorns – the list is endless at his bar.

how to make a gin and tonic
how to make a gin and tonic

The Gin

You’ve got your large glass, your large frigid ice, your citrus rind, and a garnish. Now, and only now do you add the gin.

The Tonic

All that is left is to pour in the tonic right? Simple! Well, not so simple. You don’t just pour the tonic in over the ice; a good gin and tonic after all is poured slowly and gently. From the scientific standpoint pouring the tonic slowly is a way of not losing the gas of the tonic, or at least less gas than you would lose if you were to pour directly onto the ice. The aim is to not let the bubbles explode suddenly and lose their CO2. Yes – that analogy of sex I used before is now making sense isn’t it?

Enter…the swizzle spoon. I’ve seen them at bars before but never knew what they were used for! I thought the swizzle was simply for looks, and once again I was oh so very wrong. When you pour the tonic down the swizzle spoon you keep the gases from releasing making the entire drink more effervescent…and it gets you a step closer to the perfect G&T.

The Mixing

Ok, time to mix it all together! Not so fast, a proper G&T doesn’t really require fervent mixing – you simply need to tease it. It only needs two little stirs with the swizzle spoon and you are done.

Now…you have the perfect, and correct, gin and tonic!

After learning all of the surprising and enlightening steps, I was ready to try it myself as he had me step behind the bar to mix my own. I asked Ramona what his best gins were in the entire bar and he went to his shelves and carefully picked out 3 bottles and put them in front of me.

Best Gin

“These are the best,” he said definitively.
“I never seen any of these before,” I said “Where are they from?”
“From the United States,” Ramona smiled.

That might have been the biggest surprise of all for me that night. The US makes good gin – who knew? I would have guessed that the UK would have held that honor. And once again I was wrong.

After my evening of being schooled in the making of gin and tonics, I decided maybe I should just stick to drinking them. After all, it was the only thing that I did right!

Special Spots in the Spanish Pyrenees for the Foodie

September 26, 2015 by  


One of the universal things we all have to do in the world no matter what religion, sex, age, or culture is eat and drink. And some places just do it better than others. Sure – there’s countries and regions that make great food and have plenty of famous chefs, like America, but then there are countries and cultures that take it to another level where it’s not simply about the food, but it’s about the social aspect of food and drink. It’s not about what it looks like on the plate or even about taste – it’s about people and the time, care, and love that is part of the recipe that makes some cultures and destinations a meca for food. Catalonia Spain, specifically Costa Brava/ Pyrenees, is one of them.

Yet Costa Brava/Pyrenees is quiet and humble about their food. In fact I think that’s what makes me love the food in Catalonia Spain even more. Humility is sexy…and tasty. Catalan chefs don’t take the ‘look at me’ approach; they simply do what they’ve always been doing, quietly putting love, tradition, and quality into their most basic of meals.

Home to the best restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, Chefs are certainly doing some innovative things around the region. However, as I traveled through the Pyrenees what I found was beautifully made basic dishes made out of respect and tradition; dishes and chefs that won my heart and taste buds.

On of the most astonishing things that struck me is that no matter how small and remote the village or restaurant is, they will wow you with a feast that is beautifully plated and equally delicious.

I visited villages where there were only one or two restaurants in the whole village and the level of service and preparation was at a level of any large city.

what to eat Catalonia


Bread is a part of every meal and comes in all forms always baked fresh daily. Often you’ll find bread for dessert too. Make sure you stop at the small town bakeries, but get there early as all the work happens in the morning. Just follow your nose to the smell of freshly baked bread.

The region is best known for the bread concoction – pa amb tomàquet. Be sure to try making your own at the table for breakfast, lunch or dinner; toasted/crunchy bread scrubbed with ripe fresh tomato, garlic, salt, and olive oil.

And for something different and traditional try succamulla – a slice of day old bread, pour red wine over the top until it soaks into the dry bread, then sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the top. Surprisingly this is a treat for kids and a great way to use of old bread!

Brick oven
food in catalonia spain
food in catalonia spain
Baker Spain


Cal Colfa Restaurant in the little Spanish enclave of Llivia was probably my most memorable meal. A classic 2+ hour lunch with dish after dish of amazing food. But my favorite meat dish I had during my entire stay was the mustard beef at this simple little restaurant. I’ve never had anything like it before.

Catalonia Food  10

Chef Eva of Can Jordi was excited to serve us a Pyrenees specialty – horse…yes…horse. She grilled up horse fillets for us in the tiny little town of Espinavelle with a population of 24 people.

We had pate at many meals, a staple dish in Catalonia and at Can Borrell.

Meat is best cooked slow, and the ultimate slow cook was made by Chef Pep in Garrotxa. He slow cooked beef cheek for 24 hours in a mold – exquisite, tender, and flavorful

Duck at La Barretina –  Ok, so this wasn’t in the Pyrenees per se – but it’s on your way to the Pyrenees, and I loved this restaurant so much (and Chef Albert), that I went out of my way to stop there again and have the same exact meal that made me fall in love with it the first time 3 years ago! Getting back to see Chef Albert was a highlight for me, he was still creating great, local, comfort food – but the one thing that was different was that he knew much more English this time around!

Catalonia Food  2 (2)


Even though you are in the Pyrenees, that doesn’t mean you can’t find seafood and fish! Can Jepetin the tiny mountain town of Setcases was the restaurant where my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Each dish was so wonderful that I ate, and ate, and ate, and ate. But the fish was the dish that impressed me the most. How do they make such great fish in a mountain town?!

Catalan fish


“Vegetables grown in volcanic soil taste better,” Chef Pep Nogue announced with a smile. We had to work for our greens in the Pyrenees! During our hike we spotted and picked dandelion chicories. The leaves are sharp and fresh and you can find them in abundance while hiking in the Pyrenees if you just look down at your feet.

food in catalonia spain
food in catalonia spain


Pizza in Spain?  Yes, Catalan pizza so good and innovative it beat out Italy in the Naples Pizza World Championship in 2009! Fabian Pizzeria Puigcerdà is not your typical pizza place, it will change your definition of pizza. Fabio, a retired professional boxer, deconstructs pizza in so many different ways it’s mind boggling. His World Championship pizza…is served in a glass.  In addition to drinking your pizza, if you are lucky you’ll get to see Fabio put on a dough spinning show!

champion pizza fabios


I was at dinner and counted 5 glasses in front of me at one time. This is totally normal in Catalonia!  If you are going to have a long 2 hour lunch, then you better have a lot to drink!

And after dinner wash it all down with the local Ratafía.  Ratafia is a Spanish liqueur which is made by the mashing of different fruits (such as lemon peel, morello cherries, red carnations and green nuts), herbs (like mint) and spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, bramble branch) in an alcohol of some sort


After dinner pour a glass of Ratafia

High in the mountains of the Pyrenees near Llivia, a group of locals are growing grapes for ice wine.  They are just in the beginning stages, in fact they made us roll up our sleeves and help them plant! In a few years I’m going back to stake my claim to my vine!

Ice wine pyrenees
ice wine pyrenees

The variety of soils in Costa Brava/Pyrenees , limestone, sandy, volcanic and clayey, means that many grape varieties are able to thrive.  The Emporda region has amazing new wineries popping up all over where you can tour and taste, like Terra Remota.

emporda wine terra remota


These delicious desserts need no words…

food in catalonia spain
food in catalonia spain
food in catalonia spain
food in catalonia spain

3 Off-the-Beaten Path Gems For Leaf Peeping This Fall

September 23, 2015 by  


Fall is a great time to travel, and there is a well-worn path heading to America’s Northeast to see the fall colors every year.  You have to try to get your reservations early for fall foliage viewing, and then fight the crowds, which doesn’t sound like much fun to me.  But then again I try to stay away from crowds whenever I can, so if you don’t want to fight the crowds at the B&B’s or simply are looking for a different way to experience fall colors, here are my best suggestions for atypical Fall Destinations.

Above, Alaska

Minnesota From Above

While everyone heads east, why not just head North to Minnesota?  There’s an excitement in Minnesota in the autumn as everyone tries to soak up every last minute of great outdoor time they can before the harsh winter comes. The Land of 10,000 lakes also has thousands of trees, and viewing them from above in a hot air balloon is a great way to see the fall colors.

Alaska in August

Don’t blink or you may miss it!  Fall comes and goes really fast in Alaska so timing is everything.  The beautiful backdrop of snowy mountain peaks and glaciers is a great way to experience fall colors.  The blooming pinkish fireweed quickly turns to a rustic red color and the birch trees start glowing bright gold.  They practically look illuminated next to the green pine trees. You’ll want to plan your fall color viewing trip for the end of August/beginning of September.  Or if you are planning on going further north above the Arctic Circle, then you’ll see the fall colors much earlier in August!

NYC Inwood Park

Don’t forget urban leaf viewing; sometimes you can find great autumn serenity in your own backyard – even if it is surrounded by skyscrapers.  A few years ago while in NYC  I decided to go to Inwood Park in Northern Manhattan – a place seldom visited by downtown locals or tourists.  The park is surprisingly full of hills and large boulders that you wouldn’t expect to find in NYC. You’ll also find beautiful views of the Hudson River and you may even forget that you are in the city!

fall colors

An Awe-Inspiring Meander Through Alaska’s National Parks

September 22, 2015 by  


What’s the state with the most National Parks?  Size matters – Alaska of course!  However they don’t have the most parks just because they are big, Alaska has another really important element –  some of the most beautiful wilderness and mountains I’ve ever seen in America! I spent this week exploring a number of them – or simply getting to and from them in this vast state.

Recently, I visited Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Wrangell St. Elias National Park.  In order to get to these remote parks I drove, took the train, flew in bush planes and float planes, and also boated in; getting there is really half the fun when is comes to Alaska’s National Parks.  Thanks to Alaska’s unpredictable weather and wilderness, I even got stuck in one of the parks this week.  But being stuck in a luxury lodge that peers out on a glacier and has a stocked bar isn’t a bad place to be stranded.  The parks are a wilderness playground; I hiked on glaciers, as well as in temperate rainforest, and I spotted Humpbacks, Orcas, Steller Sea Lions, and plenty of Sea Otters.

I’m wrapping up my time soon in Alaska sadly – but just in time as it’s getting chilly here and autumn has already arrived  – soon there will be snow!

Alaska National Parks Glacier

Going to the park less traveled. Welcome to Wrangell St Elias National Park – the largest national park – 13.2 million acres. Over 6 times the size of Yellowstone. Only two poorly maintained roads lead into this vast area & no rental cars allowed so I flew in on a 6 seater plane. I ooohed and aaaaahhhed the whole way due to scenes like this one outside my window.

Alaska Glacier

The Holgate Glacier part of the Harding Ice Field in Alaska. Glaciers look so simple from a distance but when you get up close to these giant glaciers its anything but simple. This one even put on a show for us and calved while we were floating by! Such a loud roar!

Kenai Fjords National Park Alaska

Ghost Trees – formed when sea water flooded the area. The salt water killed the tree and the roots, but it also petrified it too in a way. These ghost trees have been standing for well over 50 years like this….

Kenai Fjords National Park

If you are going to get stuck somewhere due to a big storm – this is a good place to be stranded! Alaska can be unpredictable – My one night stay at Kenai Glacier Lodge turned into 3 nights due to high winds.

Kenai Glacier Lodge National Park

Out of all of the places you can be stuck due to a storm, a remote lux lodge near Pedersen Glacier isn’t bad! Here’s my little cabin view for the last 3 days at Kenai Glacier Lodge.

Alaska National Parks

Sunrise this morning on my patio. #travelAlaska

Alaska Railroad

Alaska railroad’s route to Seward takes you through mountains, near fjords, and glaciers.it was 4 hours of gasping and pointing.

Remote Alaska

One of the beautiful things about Alaska is that it’s a place you can go to unplug and get away from it all. Like this isolated house in the backcountry only reachable by float plane or boat. Who would like to live here?!

Alaska Glenn Highway

It may only be Sep 2nd – but it’s autumn already in Alaska! My view on my Glenn Hwy drive this morning!

Wrangell st elias national park glacier

There’s nothing better than having lunch on a glacier. Spent the entire day in Wrangell St Elias National Park hiking on the Root Glacier looking at crevices, tunnels, moulins, and generally being in total awe of nature. It makes you wonder what the landscape will look like in 10,000 yrs!

Alaska National Parks

Out watching the salmon swim upstream today near Seward. I think they have the most fascinating and tortuous lifecycle in the animal kingdom. The Arctic Tern is a close second. Salmon season means we are armed with bear spray!

The Vibrant Colors & Serene Beauty of Colorado’s Mountains

September 19, 2015 by  


Dandelion, Red Violet, or Yellow Green? Decisions, decisions; Dandelion wins out. It’s a color and a flower that gets little respect in life, so I might as well use it. This is what my day has been reduced to when on an unplugged vacation – coloring. And I’m pretty damn happy with it. After all, coloring takes you back to your childhood roots; a time when things were simple and days were full of fun, smiles, and laughs. It’s been so long that I’ve used crayons that I didn’t even know they had become worldly! Coloring is now multilingual. Next to Dandelion on the crayon was written diente de leon & pissen lit, Red Violet was violeta rojizo & violet-rouge, and Yellow Green was followed by verde amarillo & vert-jaune. I was pleasantly surprised and equally intrigued with this new international Crayola! I wondered to myself if I would have taken French more seriously in high school had I been exposed to it on crayons when a toddler.

Colorado Mountain Cabins

In addition to pondering crayons and language, I had ample time to ponder life in general at 9,700 feet. I was staying at Harry Gates Hut in the Colorado Rockies just outside of Aspen. The hut was part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut to Hut system  that runs from Aspen to Eagle or Aspen to Vail. It’s a series of 20 to 30 huts that are strategically placed approximately 6 miles apart so that it’s possible to traverse the area on foot or via backcountry skiing in the winter from hut to hut. The huts are quite basic facilities, there’s no plumbing (outhouse toilets only), they are heated by stoves, and most all of them are off the grid so leave the cell phones at home!

Dandelion, Red Violet, or Yellow Green? Decisions, decisions; Dandelion wins out. It’s a color and a flower that gets little respect in life, so I might as well use it. This is what my day has been reduced to when on an unplugged vacation – coloring. And I’m pretty damn happy with it. After all, coloring takes you back to your childhood roots; a time when things were simple and days were full of fun, smiles, and laughs. It’s been so long that I’ve used crayons that I didn’t even know they had become worldly! Coloring is now multilingual. Next to Dandelion on the crayon was written diente de leon & pissen lit, Red Violet was violeta rojizo & violet-rouge, and Yellow Green was followed by verde amarillo & vert-jaune. I was pleasantly surprised and equally intrigued with this new international Crayola! I wondered to myself if I would have taken French more seriously in high school had I been exposed to it on crayons when a toddler.


Coloring off the grid

In addition to pondering crayons and language, I had ample time to ponder life in general at 9,700 feet. I was staying at Harry Gates Hut in the Colorado Rockies just outside of Aspen. The hut was part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut to Hut system  that runs from Aspen to Eagle or Aspen to Vail. It’s a series of 20 to 30 Colorado mountain cabins that are strategically placed approximately 6 miles apart so that it’s possible to traverse the area on foot or via backcountry skiing in the winter from hut to hut. The huts are quite basic facilities, there’s no plumbing (outhouse toilets only), they are heated by stoves, and most all of them are off the grid so leave the cell phones at home! Each hut has 15 to 20 beds that can be reserved for a night or multiple nights for $35 a night per bed. You share the kitchen facilities with others staying in the hut, but can cook your own meals. Clean up after yourself, and share in the responsibilities of mountain cabin living with the other people who have rented beds.

Hut Makeover

Just like ‘real people’ in the pages of a magazine, these basic and rustically beautiful huts can be made over into luxury stays quite easily. Instead of a makeup and hair artist, all you need are the Aspen Alpine Guides who will happily let you lux up your hut experience to your taste. I was traveling with a number of writers and we were treated to the deluxe makeover. Steve from Aspen Alpine guides organized everything and provided all gear including toasty warm sleeping bags. They rented the entire hut for two days, invited a local chef, a masseuse, a yoga teacher, and a number of hiking guides to accompany us…and SHAZAM…we had a luxury mountain cabin experience despite no running water and an outhouse!

Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabin
Colorado Mountain Cabins

Hiking, Huffing, Puffing, and Chanting

The landscape in Colorado beckons you – it didn’t take us long to get out hiking. Under the guidance of the Aspen Guides we took off for the waterfall through the green rolling valleys that surrounded us. It was super to not have to think about what trail to take or where to go, I could just turn my brain off and follow for a while. After the waterfall we broke into smaller groups to go different routes and I hiked with Avery, a Coloradan, and our guide Heidi, a professional climber.

I start to fall behind Heidi and Avery’s pace;  breathing heavy trying to find oxygen at 9,000 to 10,000 ft. With every step and every breath I realize there’s not enough oxygen for me to keep up this pace with the two Colorado women, so I happily fall behind and go slower giving me a chance to take in the scenery and think. The valley is green and filled with yellow wildflowers. The sun continues to dance in and out of the clouds in a complex tango. I like being behind, going at a slower pace, being an observer.

Suddenly Heidi and Avery stop and wait for me to catch up. I greet their grins with heavy breathing. “We have an idea, “ Heidi says excitedly, “but we don’t know if you are going to like it.”
I’m a bit nervous, but intrigued as I love trying new things. “I’m game for anything,” I reply.
“Do you know about chanting?” she asks.

Soon I find myself sitting cross-legged in a meadow surrounded by daisies moving my hands in an upward prayer positions and then diving downwards chanting words/sounds that I knew nothing about.

“It’ll last 11 minutes and it’s supposed to help clear your mind, “ Avery explained when I asked the inevitable question of “why?”
As I’m chanting I’m thinking about the 11 minutes, I’m thinking about how the area between my shoulder blades hurt, my apple in my bag, I wonder what the words mean, I think about what I have to pack for my next trip; I’m clearly not clearing my mind. Yet for a short moment I got lost in it, sort of as if I was sleepy and nodding off. Yet the words were still coming out and my arms were still moving. Suddenly it was done and the sounds still rang through my head as we got up, put back on our packs and kept going. It was like a little half-time show in the middle of our hike. These Colorado women were intriguing; “I like people who push my boundaries” I think as I continue to fall behind them again on the trail.

Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins

Hut Chic

You’ve heard of Shabby Chic decor, the mix of old shabby pieces made to look hip; we had our own version of Hut Chic going on with a chef cooking up gourmet food in a rustic hut environment. Chef Barclay Dodge doesn’t need running water or electricity to cook up an amazing feast for hungry hikers, all he needs are locally sourced ingredients from the Roaring Fork Valley and a little pre-planning. As we came back from our hike Chef Barclay (who looked like Dennis Quaid) was putting his final touches on a feast of Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, deviled eggs, homemade potato chips, and fresh fruit salad. In a hut chic way it was a menu with the perfect mix of wilderness hut and ethnic gourmet. Before we dug into his masterpiece, he explained that all of the ingredients were locally grown or produced. Chef Barclay even made the pate for the Banh Mi sandwiches himself. Like any good camp menu, he had simply prepared a menu ahead that was 75% completed and all he had to do was put the items together once in the hut or cook them up.

Chef Barclay Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins
Colorado Mountain Cabins

The food orgy didn’t stop there, later that day we continued with the local theme; happy hour drinks with Colorado craft beer and distilled spirits from Woody Creek Distillery near Aspen. And Chef Barclay went complete chic gourmet with a dinner of grilled asparagus with lemon dressing & shallots, sugar snap pea risotto, and marinated & grilled pork loin. Then we all went out to gaze at the night sky with more after dinner drinks by the campfire before returning to our sleeping bags and bunks.

The hut to hut system in Colorado can provide any level of comfort you desire, and it will most definitely get you closer to nature and the opportunity to get to the backcountry of Colorado. And no matter what level of comfort you choose for your hut experience – independent, guided, or the lux hut makeover, you will get some much needed time off the grid to soak up nature, do a little yoga, try some chanting, and sit around the campfire doing nothing.

I love days when my biggest decision I have to make is what color should I use… Dandelion, Red Violet, or Yellow Green? After all, it is Color-ado.

Enter the Magical Kingdom of Alaska

September 13, 2015 by  


I was lucky enough to spend two weeks exploring Alaska recently.  I slept at truck stops, soaring with bush pilots, experiencing 3 seasons in a day, riding the rails, exploring abandoned buildings, and even doing a little hiking.  As I stare up at the snow capped mountains while rolling along in the train, I realize Alaska is getting under my skin.  I’m starting to use new Alaskan terms that I’m amused by such as,

  • The Lower 48 – referring to the rest of America as if it’s another country (which seems quite appropriate when you are here)
  • Sourdough – Someone who isn’t from Alaska originally but lives here now
  • Dry Cabin – Cabins/homes that have no plumbing or running water
  • Ice Road – A road literally made of ice – they build them in the winter over the frozen tundra.
  • Permafrost – a layer of soil (sometimes up to 1000 ft deep) that remains frozen permanently.  It’s a fascinating slice of geology that basically dictates the entire region’s landscape…trees, infrastructure, and landscape.
  • Aurora Wake up calls – When the Northern Lights are out, the front desk of the hotel will call you in the middle of the night to let you know….coolest hotel amenity ever!

And if you ever doubted climate change, then come here…it’s in these remote, extreme environments where you see it the most.  If there’s anything that my trip to Wrangel Island and Alaska has taught me, it’s that the world that we live in is rapidly changing; we (and all animals and plant life) must evolve. And speaking of climate change – apparently President Obama is going to be joining me next week in Alaska and will be the first President to visit the Alaskan Arctic – however I doubt he’ll be staying with truckers like I did.

alaska denali sunset

#Sunset at Denali last night! A clear night gave us great views of 20,000 ft Denali peak (on the far right). Today I’m going closer to the peak – via flightseeing!

alaska train to nowhere

Explored Nome today – drove out to see the Last Train to Nowhere. The rusted remnants of the failed attempt at building a railroad on the soft tundra to service mining. But a huge storm in 1913 washed out the tracks and stranded it where it is today – dissolving into the tundra.

alaska northern lights

I fumbled to find & answer the phone at 1am – “this is the front desk with your aurora wake up call” I hear when I pick up the phone. I spring to action so I can see the northern lights for the very first time. Beautiful.

alaska dalton highway

Alaska’s Dalton Highway is one of the most isolated roads in US. Locally known as the haul road it was built to support the trans Alaskan pipeline in 1974. 250 trucks drive the road daily in the winter. And I just spent the last 2 days driving it (as a passenger) on a tour above the arctic circle!

Alaska Instagram

Remote hiking at Moraine Lake in @DenaliNPS #feelingsmall

alaska instagram

Taking a walk with reindeer is nothing like walking a dog! Did an evening walk with reindeer through the forest outside of Fairbanks. They are totally calm and domesticated animals with amazing personalities!

alaska instagram

You had me at rhubarb

alaska ice road truckers

One of my favorite things in Alaska so far was staying in Coldfoot – a truck stop above the arctic circle along the Dalton Highway. It was pretty much everything you’d expect from a truck stop – greasy food, bottomless coffee, lumpy beds, mousetraps, and camouflage.

alaska instagram

If Minnesota is the land of lakes, then Alaska must be the land of rivers. There are rivers everywhere here snaking around this beautiful landscape!

alaska instagram
alaska brooks range
Alaska Instagram

alaska instagram

Abandoned building at Pilgrim Hot Springs outside of Nome. The orphanage closed in 1941 and has been crumbling ever since.

Alaska Nome road

The road leading north out of Nome. There is 350 miles of road leading in/out of the town however it connects to nothing – eventually it all just ends. And the roads are closed October thru May.

alaska instagram

Want to know where you find trees in #Nome – at the cemetery. This was one of the most fascinating simple cemeteries I’ve ever visited. Some elaborate tombstones but most were wooden crosses and boards in all states of disarray. There was even a stone with a cookie recipe engraved on it! I know it sounds weird but stop there and wander around – a beautiful and different look at the culture there.

alaska instagram

There may not be trees in Nome, but there are plenty in #Fairbanks ! My morning run through the Wedgewood Wildlife Reserve was so peaceful. No need for music when you have cranes and ducks overhead – Bird watching paradise!

alaska fireweed

When I first arrived in Alsaka, the Tundra fireweed was in bloom near Nome. Legend says when the blooms reach the top, winter is 2 weeks away. Now – 3 weeks later – it’s all dried up and winter is definitely on the way!


Getting Disconnected on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean

September 8, 2015 by  


Ever hear of Wrangel Island? It is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian.

No email, no texts, no social media, no internet…that was refreshing. These last two weeks were about awaking the senses again.  I had two weeks of uninterrupted observation; feeling the cold wind on my face, tasting the salt water, examining my footsteps on the tundra, rolling with the Arctic ocean, clearing my mind, and falling into deep dream-filled sleep without worrying about what was happening below the Arctic Circle. And the best part was that all of that time usually spent staring at a screen and responding to email was replaced by staring a polar bear in the eyes, focusing in on the millions of birds living on the every inch of the cliff face, watching the beauty of a muskox’s soft layers of fur blowing in the crisp wind, and staring at a treeless landscape that few people have ever laid eyes upon.

With no internet or cell connections it’s like you are in a vacuum; you can focus on what you are seeing and experiencing.

More than any other trip I’ve taken I’ve completely lost track of time. The woman next to me in the ship library asks, “Do you know what day it is?” Hmmm – not really. I look at my laptop clock which I think is still on Nome, Alaska time and it says Wednesday. I try to count the days we’ve been here but I am unsure any longer since the sun sets at 10:30 PM and rises at 3AM and I’m waking up at 4AM every day wide awake. I finally say, “I think it’s Thursday, but I’m really not sure any longer.” Another woman joins in – I think it may be Thursday too. We decide between the 3 of us we must be right. And honestly – no one really cared if we were wrong. Losing track of days, time, night, day..that all adds up to a fabulous trip if you ask me.

My last two weeks were spent on the Spirit of Enderby Polar ship cruising around Wrangel Island, passing through the Bering Straight, and soaking in the Chukotka culture of Russia’s Far East. Thanks to the lack of connectivity I don’t have any Instagram pics to show you, however I do have photographs that will be making their way to Instagram eventually, so this week’s Instagram review is just simply a week(s) in review. I’ve tried to pick out some of my favorite variety of photos from the Wrangel Island expedition that can show you the variety of experiences that I had these last two weeks. However, this winter I will be covering this trip in depth and sharing all photography on the blog. There’s so much to share, it’s hard to even organize my thoughts about the experience.

But here’s a beginning look at why Wrangel Island, and the journey there, is one of the most special places on the globe.

Wrangel Island polar bear

Polar Bear encounters on Wrangel Island

Russian Far East Chukotka

A Fishing hut along the Chukotka coast

Herald Island Russian Far East

A Horned Puffin Takes Flight

Russian Far East

An old trappers hut where a lone scientists lives for 2 months in the summer to do bird research on the Kolychun Inlet

Wrangel Island

The cliffs of Herald Island in the Arctic

Wrangel Island bird cliffs

Look very carefully – those dots you see are thousands upon thousands of birds found all around birding cliffs in the Russian Far East

Wrangel Island Birds

Snow Geese on Wrangel Island with the Spirit of Enderby in the background

Wrangel island Polar Bear

The first polar bear we spotted on Herald island. Mother and cub will be spending the winter on the island until the ice returns.

Wrangel Island
Wrangel island cruise
Wrangel Island
wrangel island
Wrangel island cruise
Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island
Chukotka Culture
Wrangel Island
Russian Far East
wrangel island

How to Recreate this Trip:

Only one company has the permits to cruise to Wrangel Island – Heritage Expeditions.  See their offerings of Russian Far East Voyages including Wrangel Island.

Website: www.heritage-expeditions.com

Where To Go & What To Do In Cartagena Colombia

August 24, 2015 by  


Surprisingly this was my first trip to Colombia; for some reason South America hadn’t demanded my attention yet in my travels. I was eager to leave the cold December in NYC behind to land in hot, steamy Cartagena. The best part –  it was so simple – no super long flight, and no jetlag. Poof! A quick flight from Miami and I was transported to a new culture.

I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by Cartagena. In fact I was sort of expecting it to be an over-touristed cruise stop, that had been cleaned up and wrapped in a pretty bow that really wasn’t representative of the rest of the city, country, or culture – sort of like old town Dubrovnik. But from the first night when I found myself having dinner with locals oozing hospitality and authenticity, I realized I had Cartagena all wrong.

In my 5 short days there, I did a lot – some more traditional tourist experiences, some local experiences, and some ‘are you sure you should do that’ experiences. A perfect mix of things to do in Cartagena that has nothing to do with cruise ships.

Get Oriented and Enjoy the View

If you are anything like me, then you love to read a map when you arrive in a new destination. And it’s even better, when you can get an aerial view of a place to help you understand where you’ve been and where you are yet to go. Be sure not to miss the ‘penthouse’ view at the top of La Popa in Cartagena for the best view in the city! Standing 150 m high, you need to traverse a number of switchbacks to reach Convento de la Popa at the top of the hill. You can simply enjoy the views of the city or go inside the convent to see artifacts and learn of the history of the area. Whether you go in or not, the view is heavenly.

More Info: Convento de la Popa

This is Not Your Typical Fruit Vendor

Your eyes are immediately drawn to the bright primary colored dresses peppered around the Old City of Cartagena – the customary attire of Palenquera women. They sit in the shadow of the old city walls in Cartagena selling fruit which is precariously balanced on their heads. The palenqueras represent the difficult, complicated history of their ancestors and the history of slavery in Colombia.
But on a lighter note, they also sell delicious fresh fruit; they speedily cut up a platter of fresh fruit for you from their large basket. A great cool snack for the afternoon heat and a glimpse into Cartagena’s past history.

things to do in Cartagena

Don’t Just Eat Salsa, Learn How to Salsa

It was a hot steamy night as I walked up the stairs into the dance studio and startled the tall man lounging on a metal chair. He didn’t speak English, but that was ok as all I had to do was follow his lead. He turned on the overhead fans, looked at me, smiled, and a barrage of Spanish started flowing. I just smiled and followed his steps. I learned different salsa steps including the Colombian and Cuban versions which seemed to me to have subtle variations, but to the locals it was very clear delineations. My hips seemed to loosen up as the music got louder and finally after following his every movement in front of the class he took my hand and we danced together.


columbian culture salsa dance lessons

Request a Miracle

Charms hang from the wall enclosed in glass because they are special – each representing a miracle come true. Every Feb 2nd the miraculous power of Convento de la Popa is celebrated through an elaborate procession up the tallest point in Cartagena. Traversing multiple switchbacks the procession stops at each of the stations of the cross along the route to say prayers and ask for miracles to be performed. The charms hanging in the chapel represent miracles that were answered.
Entry in to the convent – aprox. $5

things to do in Cartagena
things to do in Cartagena

Visit a Castle Without a King

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is not and was never a castle. It was actually a fort masquerading as a castle. With 53 canons and massive walls – this was not a place for fairy tales. The fort, which took 104 years to build, was created to defend an attack from the North and East. However, today it’s a major landmark of the city which has a lovely view of the city and provides a glimpse into Cartagena’s colonial history. Wander through the tunnel system and be sure to take aim with one of the big canons!

things to do in Cartagena
things to do in Cartagena

Visit an R Rated Market

We had all the usual warnings from locals – beware of pick pockets, don’t flash your phone around, and take off all of your jewelry before you go. I find the best places to visit in the world are the ones that people give you warnings about – Bazurto Market in Cartagena was no exception. You can listen to the warnings, but don’t let them stop you from going to one of the best markets I’ve ever been to in the world. A market full of gory, gritty, pungent animal parts, but mixed with smiles, dancing and enthusiasm like no other. Impromptu jam sessions, children running around playing, people drinking beer and socializing, men using razor sharp knives while not even looking at what they were cutting. Go early in the morning, don’t wear flip flops (like I did), and walk through the market sharing lots of smiles – you’ll get plenty back. End in the prepared food section and eat with the locals with newspaper for a plate!

Bazurto Catagena

Drink Away the Day

The sun dips down into the Caribbean Sea leaving the sky in a pinkish glow as the music in the background warms the scene. Sunset looking over the old city wall in Cartagena Colombia is something not to be missed. To take part in this daily ritual head to the far corner of the old city wall and head up to the top to Café Del Mar. The drinks are pricey, so grab your sunset cocktail and then move on after the sun has disappeared for the day.

Things to do in Cartagena 1500
Café Del Mar

Visit a Library – Yes, Library

You’ve heard of food carts that you need to try when traveling – but what about a book cart? You’ll find a library on wheels in the beautiful Parque de Bolivar in Cartagena. Martin Murillo will be pushing the cart and he’s hard to miss. Dressed in a white shirt with logo’s all over it, he reminds me of a NASCAR driver. Martin pushes a wagon full of books that acts as a mobile library & pulpit. He borrows to locals and tourists (free) to promote reading and literacy and often you’ll find him reading stories in the park to whomever will listen. His cart and mission is sponsored by various companies and when he’s not traveling the world spreading his literacy message, he’s entertaining famous Colombia guests like, President Clinton, with his mobile library in the park. So take a break from sight seeing, grab a book from Martin, a coffee from a street vendor and take a seat on one of the many park benches and enjoy a chapter or two!


things to do in Cartagena
things to do in Cartagena

Get your ZZZ’s at the beach

The breeze gently rocked the hammock back and forth. As I lay there with my eyes closed swaying, I could hear the familiar sound of drum music wafting through the little village of Manzanillo. I imagine a giant speaker somewhere in the town center providing the beat of the village 24/7.
Khosamui boutique hotel was simple and outfitted in bright colors with white backgrounds. There were only 4 rooms which kept the whole atmosphere cozy and chill; it was designed with relaxing in mind. A big open-air lobby was filled with colorful flowers and throw pillows and just steps from the beach cabanas.
However upstairs is where the real lounging happens. The patio overlooked the beach and came with a fabulous and constant sea breeze. Hammocks and cloth swinging chairs hung from the rafters providing the perfect place for a lazy nap while lunch was prepared.

things to do in Cartagena

Dance All Night

It was as if the Pied Piper were luring in the dancers around the Old City late into the night as the restaurants closed. I followed the beat of the music around the corner of Plaza de la Coches and found a lively colorful scene with women moving their hips like I never knew was possible. The Colombians made it look so easy and carefree, like they came out of the womb moving their hips and feet in a rhythmic fashion.
I sat at the bar content to watch the sites of young, old, tourists, and locals all intermix in salsa beat. There was no real dance floor, but no one cared, whatever space was available was used. People bumped into each other and no one minded as eternal smiles seemed to be on their faces. It took exactly two songs before I was beckoned to join. I knew the locals wouldn’t let people sit around for long and just be a voyeur.

things to do in Cartagena

Eat with Locals

I got a real feel for local life in Cartagena by having dinner with a local family at their home. I was welcomed with open arms by the Perez Cuesta family in a suburb of Cartagena. The music was playing, the plantanos were frying up, and we all barely could get a word in edgewise while we had the ultimate night of cultural exchange learning about family traditions and food in our respective countries.
This was a unique chance to see how the a typical local family lived, and understand neighborhood and family dynamics in Cartagena. As well as have a fabulous home cooked meal!

things to do in Cartagena


Escape the City…For the Beach

A short boat trip from Cartagena will deposit you on the beach surrounded by turquoise water. A great chance to get away from the city bustle and enjoy a slice of paradise. You can lay on the beach sipping drinks, snorkel, kayak, play beach volleyball, or just make sand castles. I went for a day trip to the Rosario Islands, but you can also stay overnight on the islands – there are lots of options from budget to luxury.

things to do in Cartagena
things to do in Cartagena
things to do in Cartagena

Take a Walk on the Wild Side – Getsamani

If you want to get away from the tourist shops and cleaner side of Cartagena – then you’ll have to leave the old central city walls and take a walk. Head across the main street to Getsemani – a diverse neighborhood where locals still outnumber tourists. I walked around during the day taking in the smiles of locals, watching delivery men prepare for the coming night, and enjoying the eclectic street art.
At night the neighborhood comes alive as the hip part of Cartagena with the best night clubs, live music, and restaurants.

Fashionable Dining

Put on your hippest outfit and head to Tcherassi Hotel in Old town for a high end Italian meal by Chef Daniel Castaño, a former Mario Batali acolyte.  The hotel itself is a vision in white by fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi.  A modern inside to an old Cartagena home.  Eat aside a waterfall, surrounded by starchy-shirted waiters. The food is about as pretty looking as the interior of the boutique hotel.

vera cartagena
vera cartagena
vera cartagena

Drink the Night Away

Putting the RUM into RUMba, try out one of the Chiva bus night tours; a bar on wheels. Live music and all the rum you can drink can only make this an experience not to be missed. The Chiva takes you around the old colonial city  with a quick stop to sample the famous fried snacks of Cartagena (filled empanadas, corn arepas with egg, manioc cakes, etc.).  A fun, rum filled way to feel the rhythm of the city.

chiva bus cartagena



Disclosure: I was a guest of United States Tour Operators while in Cartagena, however all opinions here are my own.

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