One of my favorite ways to learn about a city when I travel is with food tours. We walk, learn, eat and repeat. I get to sample several types of foods, learn about the city from a local and get a bit of exercise in.
Finally, my hometown has a few tours and I recently learned more about my own city. Two new Atlanta walking tours are leading the way to “the best burger in the world,” fried chicken, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, chocolate cheesecake with a sprinkling of Atlanta history on top — and plenty of exercise to walk off (some) of the calories. Even locals are jumping at the chance to experience new restaurants and learn more about their hometown.
My first tour was with Akila McConnell, founder and chief eating officer of Atlanta Food Walks. Although Akila is relatively new to the food tour scene, her tour is professional and first-rate. Her marketing materials and map are well done and loaded with information.
We met at Paschal’s, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, for the Downtown Southern Food Walk. The tour stops at seven restaurants, including Sweet Auburn Seafood, where two women from Great Britain marveled at their first taste of shrimp and grits.
It wraps up at the incredible Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which houses 11 eateries. We had a taste of Miss D’s Pralines, and got a warm welcome and big hug from the adorable Miss D herself. I loved the market and marveled that I had visited similar markets around the world, but not one just a few miles from my house!
The second tour, the Peachtree Walking Food Tour, starts at the historic Fox Theatre, and follows a path around Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. Our guide was the gregarious John Hannula, who recently founded Peachtree Food Tours.
While Akila supplied a map and information about each stop at the beginning of the tour, John’s style was a surprise-filled eating adventure. We followed him from stop to stop, enjoying the anticipation between each delicious bite. We were quickly won over by the burger served on a grilled doughnut, at Cypress Street Pint & Plate, which several people declared was indeed, the world’s best.
My guest blogger today is Chris Butsch, a car reviewer who will co-writing a column on cars with me on the new Travelgirl magazine website when it re-launches soon. He also happens to be my son and the one knowledgeable about cars. Our column is called “Along for the Ride.” Follow Chris on Twitter @CarTalkChris
Picture this: it’s your first morning in Paris, and all of Europe lies around you, offering endless opportunities for adventure. How will you explore this luxury playground? Will you brave the chaos of the European railway system, or place your life in the hands of a fast-talking cabbie who puts you on the edge-of-your-seat (involuntarily)?
Neither. Instead, you laugh these options off as the top peels off of your Ferrari 458 Spyder convertible and the Parisian sun warms your arms and cheeks. Ferrari’s trademark Prancing Pony in the dashboard beckons you to enjoy the 570 Horsepower under your right foot. You pick a direction and go, until rows of rustic buildings give way to wineries, rolling hills and endless possibilities. There’s a reason why the rich and famous spend a quarter of a million dollars on cars like these — and you’re experiencing it.
Luxury Car Rental Club (LCRC) is the world’s premier members club for luxury and exotic car rentals. Having established a devoted membership base of the affluent in Asian and Arab countries, the company is now offering pickup and drop-off in most major European cities.
Thankfully, you don’t need to have your name mentioned on EPSN or in Forbes to reserve your dream car — membership is not required.
LCRC’s fleet ranges from the ultra-luxe to the blisteringly fast, and everything in between. The lineup includes Audi, Bentley, BMW, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Range Rover, and yes, a certain Super Spy’s Aston Martin.
This article originally appeared in Travelgirl magazine.
I watched in amazement as the master cigar roller expertly folded gigantic leaves of tobacco into compact cigars at the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company. We drank tiny cups of fragrant Cuban espresso served out of a window on the street, then watched dozens of elderly gentlemen playing spirited games of dominoes in the aptly named Domino Park. “The men here discuss three things,” our guide told us. “Baseball, dominoes and Castro.”
We weren’t in Cuba, but instead in Miami’s Little Havana on Calle Ocho, where you could swear you’d traveled 90 miles to this Caribbean island. During our tour we heard harrowing tales of desperate escapes from Cuba like the one from Roberto Ramos, owner of Cuba Ocho Art and Research Center. After being jailed three times for collecting pre-revolutionary art, Roberto escaped in 1992, smuggling out 14 works of art, which sparked his passion for preserving the art and culture of Cuba and founding Cuba Ocho, a jam-packed art gallery that also serves as a gathering spot and bar for locals, specializing in freshly made mojitos are popular.
That evening, we drank more mojitos under the stars in the open courtyard at the recently reopened historic Ball & Chain and danced in the plaza at Cultural Fridays, a free monthly street festival. It was a delightful taste of Cuba on American soil.
This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Travelgirl magazine.
When I travel, it’s jeans or leggings for me. It’s too frigid on airplanes for shorts or skirts, and I’m all about squeezing out the most comfort I can from my outfit because I’m sure as heck not going to find it origamied into my coach seat.
When I tried on a pair of Beija Flor jeans last week, I knew I’d found my travel pant soulmate. These jeans will forever be the bottom part of my travel outfit.
Why do I love them? I will count the ways.
1. They are so comfortable I could be wearing my pajamas. In fact, they reminded me of my pajama jeans but are way more comfortable and so much more fashionable.
2. There are no zippers or buttons to mess with, which I really appreciate when navigating the increasingly smaller airplane bathrooms. And with no buttons, it’s easier to hide those few pounds that may have somehow (?!) crept up on me during my last trip. Which may or may not have had something to do with fresh-baked cookies and killer cocktails at Villa Manzu in Costa Rica.
3. The fabric is breathable, lightweight and water resistant. And wrinkle-free, always a consideration for travel.
4. You can shop the large collection of jeans by style, shape, or type of leg. I have the Kelly with a skinny leg in American Blue. You can also get boot, cropped, short and ankle styles in five colors.
5. The company was founded by a mother-daughter team in Greenville, SC. Kathy Moça and Emilie Whitaker traveled to Brazil and noticed women actually embraced their curves there rather than battle to restrain them. They set out to create jeans to work with a woman’s curves. Also, I really like Greenville, where they have a flagship store. You can see why in “Gateway to Greenville.”
6. Beija Flor offers free shipping and free returns.
At $168, these jeans are more than I usually pay, as I buy Levis at Costco along with wine and rotisserie chicken. But as these jeans will go to the top of my jeans rotation and will go on every trip with me from here on, they make a good investment. Add in the fact that they banish the dreaded muffin top, well, that makes them priceless. Sign up with you email address and get 15 percent off your first order.
Come home with more than a tan after a visit to South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island in Southwest Florida. Get your sailing certification from Offshore Sailing School, the #1 sailing school in the country, in as little as three days. If you have more time, take the five-day course and you can qualify to earn your US Sailing Certification.
Stay in beautiful accommodations in a hotel suite, one- to three-bedroom villa, a beach home or condo, all just steps away from the Gulf of Mexico or Pine Island Sound. My room overlooked the Yacht Harbour and Marina where a family of manatees likes to hang out most of the year and I spotted dolphins frolicking there several times. Non-sailors can enjoy the beach, shopping, a spa, fishing, waterside yoga classes and tooling around the resort on a golf cart, one of my favorite modes of transportation.
Kids will go crazy over Scoops & Slices where pizza, ice cream and candy rule. They can enroll in the Sanibel Sea School on their own to learn about the wonders of the ocean or enjoy a customized session with the entire family. The Swimtastic program offers swim lessons for infants through adults, featuring mermaid and pirate photo shoots and the opportunity to learn to swim with a mermaid tail. I was really tempted to go full Ariel myself at South Seas. This article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Travelgirl magazine.
I love the box subscription trend, and have found one that combines two of my favorite things – food and travel. Try the World delivers a box of gourmet foods sourced from around the world, focusing on a different country each time.
These boxes contain 6-7 products, delivered every two months. Because Try the World works with small producers, each box may be slightly different. With a subscription you get free shipping, free returns and you can cancel any time.
My beautiful close-to-Tiffany-colored box from Japan arrived the other day. I dug through the red crinkled paper to pull out items like an okonomiyaki kit, which I can use to make an omelet-like pancake with savory toppings. I also got ginger paste, blueberry matcha tea, gummy candies, traditional Japanese caramels, soba noodles and a seaweed snack.
The products were accompanied by a beautiful Culture Guide of Japan with instructions and recipes for hosting a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and make-your-own okonomiyaki dinner date that even included a Spotify playlist of Japanese songs.
Individual products, such as Palmiers butter cookies from Morocco, chestnut cream in a tube from France and black truffles and mushrooms from Italy are also available.
While most of us can’t always be traveling the world, with these boxes we have the a chance to enjoy flavors from across the globe. Or try a few that remind us of visits to our favorite countries.
25hours bikini berlin hotel wins the prize for the most oddly named hotel I’ve ever stayed it, but I loved it. When I first checked in, I was immediately entranced by the lobby, with its colorful Scandinavian-style décor and hammocks overlooking the zoo.
There is no trace of old Berlin here. Guests stay on either the zoo or city side, where I was in a loft-like room with urban touches like a mattress on the floor, a bicycle mounted on the wall and a black-tiled bathroom. It’s exactly the kind of place I’d want to live in if I was a young bohemian moving to a large city for the first time — none of which applies to me. But isn’t that part of the fun of travel? We can try on different personas and in this case, I was an unencumbered artsy type.
A stuffed monkey provided to keep me company patiently awaited my return each day, and a handcrafted piece of jewelry was laid on the floor, available for me to wear during my stay. It was a bit of an adjustment to put on make-up in the low lighting of an all-black bathroom, so I just swiped it on and hoped for the best. And yes, that mattress placed directly on the floor, while easy to collapse into, was a bit more challenging to spring out of in the morning. But the bohemian lifestyle requires a few small sacrifices, right?
I had my first Hugo, the signature drink of Berlin, at the hotel’s uber hip Monkey Bar, located on the top floor of the hotel with views of the monkey cage at the tree-filled zoo. This refreshing combination of Prosecco, mint, lime and elderflower syrup cocktail was the perfect prelude to our dinner at Neni Berlin, just across from the bar, where we shared everything from falafel to tuna sashimi to grilled lamb shank and hangar steak.
Adjacent to the hotel is the Bikini Berlin, which bills itself as a “concept mall,” a combination of boutiques, flagship stores and Bikini Berlin Boxes, small wooden modular structures housing short-term tenants. I strolled through and took the stairs to check out the new green rooftop terrace. Now about that name: the hotel and mall were built in the Bikinihaus, a name Berliners gave it when it was built in the 1950s. It had one upper and one lower area, which reminded them of the exotic new swimwear, the bikini.
If you’re looking for an historic property go elsewhere. But if you want new, hip and fun in a great location, try the 25hours bikini berlin. And don’t forget the Hugo.
Considered by many Germans to be the most beautiful city in Germany, Hamburg is also called the “Venice of the North” for its many waterways. It has over 2,300 bridges, more than any other city in the world.
Just a 1.5-hour train ride from Berlin, it’s worth a visit to see this charming city that has rebuilt itself beautifully after suffering mass destruction in WWII.
Here are just a few highlights.
• Take a free guided bicycle tour with HafenCity Hamburg GmbH. Europe’s largest inner-city development, HafenCity is located on the Elbe River and is being transformed into a live, work, play community. Check out the progress on the long-delayed $1 billion concert hall for the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, now scheduled to open in 2017.
• Sail or cruise on Alster Lake. This scenic lake is right in downtown Hamburg, with beautiful views of the city from the water.
• Take a Beatles tour. Hamburg is where the Beatles honed their musical skills by playing in clubs here from 1960 to 1962. See where they first appeared as The Beatles as you stroll around the Reeperbahn, a center of Hamburg’s infamous red light district where I was shocked to see elderly women shackin’ their stuff from 2nd-story windows.
• Stroll down its streets and through its shopping arcades. Named a 2011 European Green Capital, Hamburg has more than 100 parks, beautiful tree-lined streets and plans to link 27 square miles of green space around the city. Don’t miss the Alsterarkaden, arched shopping arcades built in the 1840s along the Alsterfleet canal.
For more information, visit www.hamburg-travel.com
This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of Travelgirl magazine.
Whether they are five-star hotels or no-tell motels, most of the 4.8 million guest rooms in the United States have something in common – they all have four walls. Your basic box.
Here are several properties where you can stay that take you far outside that box, including covered wagons, lighthouses, teepees and even a giant beagle. So when you’re ready to think outside the box when it comes to accommodations, check these places out.
Wagon Camping at The Rock Ranch
Slumber like the pioneers when you stay in a covered wagon at The Rock Ranch. This 1500-acre cattle ranch, about 1 ½ hours south of Atlanta, has eight Conestoga wagons, the kind the 18th- and 19th-century pioneers used to cross the U.S.
Each wagon has four sets of bunk beds and comes with lanterns, firewood, picnic tables, port-a-potties and drinking water. Wagons are $225 and you can add on hot dog dinners at the campfire, a story teller or even an astronomer for an additional fee.
Teepee Camping at North Georgia Canopy Tours
For a glimpse at how the Cherokee Indians lived, stay in a teepee in Lula, Georgia, about an hour north of Atlanta.
North Georgia Canopy Tours has seven teepees named after the seven clans of the Cherokees. These teepees have features those Native-Americans never saw, including HVAC, lighting and electrical outlets.
Rates for a couples’ teepee start at $90; $119 for a family. Linens are provided, and you can order breakfast for an additional fee.
Treehouse in Atlanta
If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom, you’ve walked through the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse. Well, this is even better because you can actually stay here.
This three-room antiques-filled treehouse is right near Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead, but nestled in the woods so you’ll feel like you’ve really gotten away. You can walk to several restaurants and the Food Truck Park. Listed on airbnb.com for $350 a night.
Banning Mills Treehouses in Whitesburg, Georgia
Go ride the world’s longest zipline at Historic Banning Mills, then stay up in the air when you settle in for the night in one of these cozy treehouses. Each treehouse has a king bed, fireplace, bathroom and deck overlooking the Gorge. Rooms are accessed by a Sky Bridge, so if you’re scared of heights you may want to cross these off your list.
Rates start at $209, which includes a country breakfast in the morning.
Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida
Yes, you can be like the Little Mermaid and actually stay under the sea at Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo Undersea Park in Key Largo, Florida. It’s the world’s only underwater hotel. You can get SCUBA diving training here, which you need to visit because you have to dive down 21” just to enter the lodge.
The package for two is $400 and includes pizza delivery dinner, breakfast, snacks and dive gear.
Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel in Chattanooga
Relive the glory days of travel by train when you stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can stay in one of 48 Victorian train car hotel rooms in Terminal Station, which was saved from the wrecking ball by local businessmen who turned it into the popular hotel. It’s may be a bit touristy, but it’s so great they saved a beautiful train station. Rates start at about $180.
The Shady Dell Trailers in Arizona
Airstream trailers are back in vogue. Now you can stay in a vintage Airstream or one of nine other travel trailers from the 1940s and 1950s at The Shady Dell in Bisbee, Arizona.
The Shady Dell opened in 1927 as a stop on Highway 80, which runs from Savannah, Georgia to San Diego, California.
Rates start at around $90. Trailers comes equipped with small fridge, linens, towels, dishes and a percolator with coffee.
Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island
Guests can actually operate the lighthouse when they stay at the Rose Island Lighthouse on an 18-acre island near Newport, Rhode Island. The lighthouse, built in 1869, is still a working lighthouse.
Overnights guests have two options. You can stay in the bedrooms of the 1912 lighthouse museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, after it closes for the evening. You just have to remake your bed by 10 AM when it opens the next day.
Or you can stay as a keeper for a week or a night, but you’ll be put to work with chores and record keeping starting at 7:30 AM. Rates start at $175 for a bedroom
Winvian Helicopter in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
This 1968 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter at Winvian Farm used to carry members of the Coast Guard and now hosts guests in its cockpit where you can watch a movie, hang out by the wood-burning stove or seat yourself in the pilot and co-pilots seats to live out your own high-flying fantasy.
The 890-square-foot helicopter is housed inside a cottage as is the king-sized bed for when you retire for the evening. Rates start at $459.
Dog Park Bark Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho
If you’re goin’ to the dogs in Cottonwood, Idaho, you’d be staying inside the world’s largest beagle. Chainsaw artists Frances Conklin and Dennis Sullivan starting carving wooden dogs years ago, with the beagle being the first breed as they considered it the most politically correct. You never ready anything bad about the beagle hurting anyone.
With the money they earned, they carved Sweet Willy, a 30-foot dog that is also the bed and breakfast that sleeps four at The Dog Park Bark Inn. Guests enter this unusual accommodation from a second-story private deck. Rates start at $92 and include breakfast.
Kokopelli’s Cave in Farmington, New Mexico
It’s a cave 70’ below the surface, but with a gorgeous view of sunsets over La Plata River valley. Kokopelli’s Cave is 1700 square feet and includes master bedroom, living room, dining area, full kitchen, two porches, bathroom with rock walls with a waterfall shower. You won’t find a thermostat though – the cave stays between 68-73 degrees year round. Rates start at $280.
If we added it up, we spent about two days in Richmond this weekend, on either side of a reunion trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. And it didn’t cost a thing. Well, sort of.
Flights from Atlanta to Charlottesville can be hundreds of dollars more than flying to Richmond, where we rent a car and make the easy 70-mile drive over. So we decided to spend the night there Thursday, then most of the day Sunday before our late evening flight. And what we spent probably equaled the amount we saved on airfare. Or at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to. No need to get out those calculators, right?
With no agenda and no goals, (a life philosophy I hope to adapt one day) we were free to wander the cobblestoned streets of this almost 400-year-old city, down by the James River and across a pedestrian bridge to the 540-acre wood-covered Belle Isle. Now a popular city park, it formerly housed a fishery, a village and a prison camp for Union soldiers during the war.
Another top-rated attraction is Maymont Gardens, where we spent a few hours Sunday strolling through the gardens and viewing the wildlife. With free admission, these gardens were filled with picnickers, children tumbling down grassy hills and couples lounging on blankets on a gorgeous, sunny day.
Here are few more suggestions if you visit the historic town of Richmond. Continue reading