Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve

photo 1(54)After a good first day in San Jose, Costa Rica, my group headed toward to the country’s Central Highlands region to see the Cloud Forest – and to spend the night at a property there.

The various cloud forests in Costa Rica is where there’s an abundance of bio-diversity with different species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. It’s also a lot cooler here, but comfortably. Rain showers are the norm.

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My group went to the San Ramon area for a stay at the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve. It’s an eco-minded boutique hotel that originally was owned by former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo Odio and his wife, Estrella Zeledon de Carazo. Now owned by a company called Greentique Hotels, what makes this property pretty neat is that it’s surrounded by Los Angeles Private Biological Reserve, a wildlife sanctuary that guests could go on a guided walk through.

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The main building on the property is where the hotel reservations desk and restaurant can be found. There’s also a gift shop, game room, lobby bar, lounge areas on the ground floor and on the second level, and even a movie theater. Outside this building, guests can opt to stay at one of a number of casitas (garden villas) that are small cottages equipped high-speed internet access and feature nice touches like a wood-burning fireplace.

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The property has a sustainable farm that provides ingredients for the restaurant. In the greenhouse, you can find eggplants, lettuce and herbs that will end up on someone’s dinner plate. There’s also a working dairy farm where guests can learn how to milk “celebrity cows” in residence. There’s Lady Gaga and Brittany Spears, since their names were chosen by hotel guests.

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Farming aside, you’ll also find a chapel on the property that was an anniversary gift from the president to his wife. We were told that the chapel is pretty popular for holding weddings. By taking a look at the ceiling, we found out why. The ceiling is covered with various hand-painted pictures of symbols of Costa Rica and other countries in Central America.

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One really neat building here is the Jose Miguel Alfaro Research Station, where researchers from the University of Costa Rica monitor what’s happening in the adjacent nature reserve. You can go inside the station. Here you’ll see dioramas of various insects and watch a video from a monitor that records nighttime creatures.

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As for visiting the reserve, there are daytime and nocturnal guided walks where the hotel guides can lead you on a path and stop to point out any inhabitants along the way. My group did a nocturnal walk and we were able to see walking sticks, a viper (very far up in the tree), and different frogs. And we really lucked out by seeing the famous red-eyed tree frog!

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Back at Villa Blanca’s main building, we had our meals inside the restaurant, with locally sourced ingredients incorporated into every dish: coffee, plantains, and pineapple, among others. Very good and very tasty. Overall, the stay was very relaxing, and even as the rain greeted us, it was a good sign.

Discovering Costa Rica’s Culinary Scene

photo 5(26)Costa Rica is often recognized for its beaches and wildlife but its culinary side is getting more attention through a new gastronomic program. Recently I went on an assignment through Visit Costa Rica tourism board to learn more about a new national gastronomic program that promotes more use of native Costa Rican ingredients and dishes – as often done with home cooking – for sustainable, healthful and economical benefits.

Of course to see this program in action we went to places that reflected good examples.

Feria Verde

Our start was in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, with a visit to Feria Verde, or translated as The Green Fair. Founded by the Organic Lovers Association (AAMOR), a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable living within Costa Rica, Feria Verde is an eco-minded farmer’s market happening on Saturdays at two locations, one in Aranjuez and the other in Cuidad Colón.

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My group went to Feria Verde Aranjuez, which is about five years old now. It’s held at a place called Polideportivo Aranjuez, in the morning hours, and on our day we walked along a pathway is lined with booths manned by restaurants, organic farms, and other various local producers offering fruits and veggies, breads, sauces, and even coffee.

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Other edibles available for purchase included locally made cheeses, hot and mild sauces and even popsicles. And we were able to get some breakfast too. From one vendor, we ordered “un gallo ranchero,” an egg, cheese, and tomato sauce medley on a corn tortilla. We also had coffee from Taza Amarilla, an organic coffee farm that has a regular spot at Feria Verde Aranjuez.

Chateau 1525

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Another place that we went to on our first full day is Chateau 1525, a culinary school and restaurant inside a former mansion dating back to the 1930s. During lunch hour, the school’s students put on a five-course culinary presentation that gave us a taste of tradition and a side of interpretation. We were given a history lesson too on the food staples in the Costa Rican diet and the Spanish, African, and indigenous influences reflected in these dishes.

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For example, “Vuelve a la Vida” can be compared to ceviche (raw fish treated with a lime or lemon juice) but a dish is made of different types of seafood that are diced and then given some lemon juice. Stew also has its place in Costa Rican traditions and a regional one called “Olla de Carne,” a strong beef and root vegetable concoction that can make for a nice remedy when someone is sick – like chicken soup.

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Rice and beans are also essentials in Costa Rica and a typical dish is called Gallo Pinto and it can come with chicken or fish. For dessert, the student chefs whipped up different treats that are featured at town festivals, which are called turnos. We had sorbetera (a vanilla based ice cream with spices), churros, and sugared apples, among other goodies.

We ended our day with dinner at Tintos y Blancos, a family-owned restaurant in San Diego that focuses on Mediterranean cuisine. Its innovate decor is built around wine, with a look that resembles a wine cellar. There are nearly 500 wines in stock – with many also available for purchase – that compliment every meal. Origins extend to France, Italy, Chile and Argentina – the latter a nod to the owners’ heritage. Overall, it was a filling first day.

Editor’s Note: I was invited by Visit Costa Rica to learn more about its culinary offerings, but all opinions are my own.

Exploring Cheyenne and Cheyenne Frontier Days

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Last month, I went to Cheyenne, Wyoming in timing with the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days. Cheyenne was founded as part of the westward expansion of the Union Pacific Railroad. Literally the city developed as demand for workers, and keeping those workers, grew. Today, Cheyenne remains connected to its frontier heritage, but is also promoting different interests that appeal to different travelers: craft breweries, innovative cuisine, and hiking and biking trails.

Ideally, if you can, visit Cheyenne when Cheyenne Frontier Days is happening. Going on since 1897, this two-week bonanza happens every July. The event has rightfully earned the tagline the “Daddy of ‘Em All” due to being recognized as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and western celebration.

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With the main attractions held at Frontier Park, Cheyenne Frontier Days includes longstanding traditions, family-friendly activities, and, of course, its main event, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo. Almost 1,500 contestants participate in the PRCA Rodeo, striving to win more than $1 million in money and prizes.

If you haven’t seen a live rodeo before, here’s what you can expect. There are three types of competitions in which a contestant’s score depends on both him and the bull or horse’s performance. They are timed events like roping, barrel racing, and steer wrestling; roughstock events, which involve bull riding, bareback riding, and saddle bronc riding; and other competitions such as wild horse race and an all-around competition.

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For the ultimate in learning about rodeo, you can take the free “Behind the Chutes” tour. It brings you all around the arena, and down to the chutes where riders, bulls, and broncs emerge from. I got to walk on the arena floor and got a closeup view of the chutes — even hopped up over the fence (which took some effort on my part) and landed on the side where riders wait their turn.  photo 1(45)

While at Frontier Park, you can also explore Old Frontier Town, a replica of a village complete with storefronts. Native Americans have been involved in Cheyenne Frontier Days just about since its beginning. Inside the Indian Village, you can watch a fascinating demonstration of dances and storytelling by American Indian performers in native costumes.

Other events include the Grand Parades, happening in downtown Cheyenne; the Midway Carnival with amusement rides and fair food; free and hugely popular pancake breakfasts; and an air show by the USAF Thunderbirds.  At night, the Frontier Nights series features concerts by major headliners, where advanced ticket purchases are a must. The list of names on the 2015 schedule explains why: Aerosmith, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, and Big and Rich.

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Of course, Cheyenne has many other attractions. Especially for outdoorsy types. Take a 30-minute drive west from Cheyenne to Vedauwoo, a stone-centered area within Medicine Bow National Forest. Vedauwoo is made up of tons of Sherman Granite formations dating back to 1.4 billion years ago. Cautious amateurs and experienced ramblers can walk around these boulders or slabs and then pull or step up on them for higher views. There’s also a seasonal camping area here.

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Another good outdoor option is Curt Gowdy State Park, about 25 miles from Cheyenne. Named for the late sportscaster and Wyoming native, this state park has 35 miles of hiking and biking trails at various rated levels, plus sections for horseback riding and even archery. Start off your day with a stop at the park’s visitor center to pick up a map or learn more about this state park.

If you’re looking to do some horse back riding, one place to stop at is Terry Bison Ranch. The ranch offers one-hour or full-day trail rides with some slight hill climbs. For me, it was my first time on a horse, and I’m really glad I was with a group on a trail ride. It’s probably the best thing to do if you’re a beginer. If you’re a bit horse shy, you can opt to go on a train ride instead. Before or after your ride, get some grub at the ranch’s Senator’s Restaurant. The Bison burger with just about any topping to choose from is quite nice.

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Back in Cheyenne, you can walk around downtown area, but the best way to get your bearings is by going on a historic trolley tour. Departing from The Depot Center, these tours take you through Cheyenne’s historic sections, where enthusiastic guides will spout off rousing tales relating to different areas they’re passing through.

My guide/driver Val entertained us with stories about Cheyenne’s early rowdy days and tidbits about what Wyoming giving women a lot of firsts: the right to vote and own property plus having the first woman governor. The tour drives by places such as the Capitol Building, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, and Frontier Park.

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Withing dining in Cheyenne, if you’re a steak, ribs or BBQ fan, you’re good. At the Rib and Chop House, a local restaurant chain in downtown Cheyenne, you can order falling off the bone tender baby back ribs or premium cuts. When en route back from Curt Gowdy State Park, the family-friendly The Bunkhouse Bar cooks up comfort food specialties include chicken fried steak and various sandwiches and burgers.

Yet if you’re seeking something different, Morris House Bistro takes you south with its lowcountry cooking. Based in the former home of the first female Justice of the Peace, this bistro serves up seasonal Southern dishes inspired by Chef Dameione Cameron’s family recipes. His Grandmother Mitzy came up with the recipe for Cameron’s crab cakes, which are great. Other relative delights include smoked chicken wings in a tobacco sauce, shrimp n’ grits, mac and cheese, and fried okra.

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As craft beer is booming, Cheyenne has its share of local suds. The family-owned Freedom’s Edge Tap House Brewing Co. produces small-batch brews at its location inside The Tivoli Building, which in its heyday operated as a saloon. There, you can order a glass or flight of on-tap creations such as the Java Jolt Coffee Amber ale or the spicy High Noon Chili ale.

Or for a good cocktail, head to The Suite Bistro for flavored martinis like the WY Campfire, a marshmallow vodka and Kahlua mixture, to go with their fine dining menu. And if you’re seeking some nightlife, catch it at The Outlaw Saloon. With a main dance floor, pool tables and dartboards plus an outdoor backyard setting with a stage, and even a mechanical bull, you’ll be quite entertained at this nightclub.

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If you find yourself in sudden need of cowboy gear, especially during Cheyenne Frontier Days, The Wrangler is the place to be—and buy from. With a selection of nearly 500 hats plus a plethora of boots, belts, bejeweled jeans, and other ranch wear, customers can get help from sales personnel to make sure their hat brim fits just right. To fix that, a hat can be custom shaped by streaming it. For other finds, Wyoming Home has furnishings that fit a frontier taste, from bedding and house fixtures to jewelry and knickknacks plus edible treats. With the ladies, Just Dandy carries women’s fashions and accessories.

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Directly or just outside of downtown, visitors have charming options for lodging. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Nagle Warren Mansion B & B  is well-to-do Victorian home, turned bed and breakfast features 12 bedrooms graced with antique furniture. The mansion still holds touches from its past but has received modern-day amenities, including a workout facility and sauna. An afternoon English high tea is served there from 2 to 4 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. And added warmth comes from Jim Osterfoss, its gracious innkeeper.

Just outside of downtown Cheyenne, the Little America Hotel & Resort offers luxury accommodations surrounded by 80 acres of prairie views. The property also has a nine-hole golf course, heated outdoor swimming pool, private lounge area, boutique gift shop, café, and Hathaway’s restaurant.

Back downtown, the Historic Plains Hotel has welcomed notable guests since opening in 1911 as Wyoming’s first luxury hotel. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were here, and so were Debbie Reynolds and Jimmy Stewart. There’s also some neat trivia: the walkway that connects the hotel lobby to a main avenue was nicknamed “Peacock Alley” where men allegedly would try to make a move on ladies coming in from the nearby theater or street. Its restaurant, the Capitol Grille, features a wide range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options with Wyoming ingredients.

Disclosure: As a media professional, I was invited by Visit Wyoming tourism board to go on a FAM trip in timing with Cheyenne Frontier Days. My descriptions are strictly of my own doing.

Western Michigan: Lakes, Sand Dunes, and Lighthouses

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After spending two days in Detroit, I went off to Western Michigan to spend some time in Michigan’s outdoor wonders.

Our first stay was in Grand Haven, which get its nickname “Coast Guard, USA” because of its more than 200-year association with this branch of the military. Every summer, there is an event known as Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival that pays tribute to these servicemen and women with a carnival, firework displays, parades and tours aboard ships.

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Two other summer fun offerings are a Musical Fountain, a popular synchronized light and music tours, and historic trolley tours that show and tell more about Grand Haven on wheels.

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Though my visit to Grand Haven was during the warmer months, I’ve been told there are activities to do here year-round. One of them is for nature lovers. Rosy Mound is a system of dunes with hiking trails that take you through wooded areas eventually leading you to sand dunes. It’s a fairly easy walk to and part of you path takes you a section of red pine trees that are like a miniature version of California’s redwoods. Planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps, these trees not only provide good shade on a warm day, but also are pretty to look at.

If shopping is more your thing, you’ll find it in Grand Haven’s downtown area with clothing boutiques and specialty goods stores.

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For some down time, I recommend stopping for a drink at Odd Side Ales. It’s a brewery inside a former piano factory that concocts an inventive list of suds ranging from the light Citra Pale Ale to the dark and spicy Mayan Mocha Stout. On one back wall, you’ll spot beer labels framed as works of art – they look like it too. Odd Side Ales doesn’t serve food, but you can a good meal at Kirby Grill, an American restaurant with nice deck views and a selection of salads, sandwiches and pizzas inside a former hotel.

Ludington

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After Grand Haven, my next stop was in Ludington. Once home to a major lumber industry, Ludington is a destination that brings back vacationing natives and keeps locals around with much to do. Former baron mansions have become B&Bs, and you can find quaint lodging such as the Summer’s Inn.

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Ludington’s downtown area has a good mix of restaurants, bars and stores. If you’re craving for ice cream, head ASAP to House of Flavors. But be patient. Here you can expect a line out the door at this diner/ice cream institution with classic flavors and in-house creations such as Blue Moon. Carrot Cake was my favorite. For lunch or dinner, The Jamesport Brewing Company offers good meal options with beer choices extending to German lagers and American ales.

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Park lovers will have a good at the massive Ludington State Park, which has options that could keep any outdoors person busy. Here you can go on hiking trails, spend time on beach areas, and hit the water to do anything from swimming to boating to SUPing. Michigan has the most lighthouses in the U.S., and you’ll see one of them in this park: the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.

Ludington is also located near other natural attractions such as the Silver Lakes Sand Dunes. Take a ride on them by letting Mac Wood’s Dune Rides do the driving on their 40-minute excursions. Another lighthouse to see near Ludington is the Little Sable Point Lighthouse. For a small admission fee, you can climb up the staircase and spend some time on the lookout area.

Two Days in Detroit, Michigan

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My time in Detroit for an assignment gave me an eye opener about the city – and the views were good. Though the city is still facing fiscal challenges, I saw a lot of what’s driving The Motor City in a different way.

Over the two days I spend there, I saw signs of Detroit’s revitalization that involves small businesses and community initiatives. Here are some places I went to or activities I did during my stay that give an insider’s view of D-Town.

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Detroit Experience Factory Tour
Detroiters know their city better than anyone else. Especially Jeannette Pierce. About seven years ago, she co-founded a nonprofit group to provide local perspectives to visitors that eventually has turned into what’s now called the Detroit Experience Factory Tour. As DXF’s Executive Director, Pierce led my group on a bus tour, taking us around different sectors and taking about everything from its legacy with sports teams (the Old Tigers Stadium is now a public park) to turned around neighborhoods. One stop brought us to the Guardian Building, a National Historic Landmark from the late twenties that only took seven months to build.

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Ponyride
Another stop on our DXF tour was Ponyride. Once a foreclosed warehouse, this 30,000 square-foot-location in Detroit’s Corktown district has been transformed into a multi-co-share working space where up-and-coming nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and companies occupy various floors and sections. With a low subsided rent (under a dollar I’ve been told), about 30 tenants run their businesses from here. For example, The Empowerment Plan is an organization founded by a design student that hires previously homeless women to assemble a coat that can be turned into a sleeping bag. Other vendors here produce clothing, ironwork, home furnishings, a beard balm, and even coffee. Ponyride is open to the public Wednesday afternoons at 2 p.m. where they can politely observe most tenants at work.

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Cass Corridor Design District
This Midtown district holds shops featuring locally and overall Michigan made products that are pretty top of the line. One example is Shinola, a high-end company that produces handmade watches, bicycles, journals and leather goods. The craftsmanship is definitely there. Another shop is this district which has a lot of fun and various priced items is CityBird. Owned by siblings Andy and Emily Linn, CityBird carries merchandise like books about Detroit, coasters made from tires, artisan soaps and even Michigan shaped cookie cutters.

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DNR Outdoor Nature Center
It might sound odd at first to have a wildlife center in a city, but that’s the point behind the DNR Outdoor Nature Center. Based in a former factory building near the Detroit Riverfront, the new center serves as an educational resource for Detroit youngsters and their families. It features replicas of natural settings, hands-on exhibits and educational displays. Visitors will encounter everything from a giant oak tree to a waterfall area and a house and yard to show the importance of taking care of natural resources. There’s also a yurt where youngsters can play in while their parents learn where to go camping.

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Belle Isle Park
Another option for finding shade is Belle Isle Park, a 985-acred island park that lines along with the Detroit River. You’ll also find nice views of its neighbor, Ontario. The park also has a number of attractions, including the oldest aquarium in the United States, a conservatory, a fountain, athletic fields and Dossin Great Lakes Museum, which is all about this area’s nautical history.

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“The Z” Parking Garage
Parking garages are purely functional but this one in downtown Detroit is more visually appealing. Called “The Z” because of its letter-minded shape, this 10-floor garage/retail property near the corner of Library and Gratiot doubles as a gallery space. Walls on each level have been turned into canvases featuring murals or street art that have been designed by 27 artists from around the world. If you have the time, take a ride on the glass elevator to each floor and hop off to take a quick look.

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Detroit’s Restaurants
Like manufacturing, Detroit’s culinary scene is cookin’. Newcomer Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails supports local farmers by incorporating their catches and crops into seasonal menus and serves its namesake botanical liquor straight or in cocktails. Fellow newbie Selden Standard is a hot spot with its small plates and craft cocktails. Long-timer Traffic Jam and Snug has an onsite dairy and a rooftop garden with fun interior décor from antique shops or donated by customers. At the historic Eastern Market, find vegetable, fruit and specialty vendors and then grab breakfast or lunch at Russell Street Deli. Back Downtown, try the Coney Island dog, a local favorite, and see which is better: American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island.

When You Should NOT Drop Everything and Travel

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Photo via Les Haines via Flickr

Like me, well-meaning travel writers and bloggers promote why you should go off and travel. And, more like me, at times you have to weigh the balance of measuring spending money on experiences – and what your decision can cost you.

Recently, journalist Chelsea Fagan penned a great piece about the notion of choosing the experience of continuous travel and financial risks that come with it on her personal blog, “The Financial Diet.” Fagan examines the viewpoint that (especially younger) people have about long-term travel as being a must-do, don’t worry about money experience. Whether they have it or not.

In her piece, Fagan talks about an internet, well-to-do acquaintance that decides to get her master’s degree in Europe because it’s an “opportunity to learn and expand her mind. Fagan also points out that her friend’s “opportunity” won’t really guarantee anything but that her friend can take that risk due to having a financial safety net.

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Photo by frankieleon via Flickr

While Fagan does admit she has done some modest travel, she is pretty sound about how putting yourself in a monetary bind to travel “just because” adds up. I definitely agree with Fagan about not putting your financial future in jeopardy, yet I have to challenge her on this sentence: “Traveling for the sake of travel is not an achievement, nor is it guaranteed to make anyone a more cultured, nuanced person.”

As someone who travels for business and personal reasons, my experiences have been rewarding and enlightening. They’ve also resulted from choices; not privilege. Having come from a hard-working family, I fund my travels through different means of income. In my twenties and thirties, I held part-time retail jobs along with my full-time office one, did a unique but well-paid pet sitting gig, and parting with unneeded but still valuable junk. I gave up weekends to work and spent money when necessary (like toothpaste and gas).

Now in my forties and more self-employed, I have to admit that travel can cost me in some ways. Sometimes I’ve had to pass on a freelance assignment due to being away on one. Or as I give my ongoing clients my travel schedule, I do worry that maybe a day might come where they won’t need me anymore. Plus there’s the other side of this debate: regret. Or maybe FOMO. Or my fear of looking back as a sad, old woman who wished she did more with her life.

And though I’m dealing with a financial pinch right now, I have to say that I wouldn’t trade in my experiences for anything else. I also agree with Fagan in that being able to travel, or not, doesn’t mean that a person is any less, but I do think people should pursue this opportunity if they have the chance, and means to. Maybe it can’t be right away or in the way that you want, but do what you can without breaking your bank.

Just don’t sound like this person.

A Weekend in New Haven, Connecticut

photo 2(46)New Haven, Connecticut has always been a city of innovation: the lollipop, hamburger, phone book, and first public tree planting. Since the 1990s, the city’s downtown area been undergoing a revitalization of older buildings being repurposed into shops, restaurants, and bars. Yet, at the same time, New Haven has keeping up its history as a place for higher learning and culture.

And the best part is that you can see a lot of it on foot.

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For a work assignment with Info New Haven, I spent the weekend in New Haven during the 20th annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Held every June, this festival is a roughly two-week event of exhibits, lectures, and musical and artistic performances that take over just about every public space, gallery or theater venue in and around New Haven. Along with offering much discussion and insights on the arts, the nice thing about this festival is that 80 percent of these events are free. 01-JSSULMO3Le3QwM3kdrMsQao28BpAN2Q6YwsBo3LU For me, highlights included the evocative performance artist Taylor Mac and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love. I also got to see “Sinatra: An American Icon.” a temporary photo exhibit on the crooner’s legacy – he’s been to New Haven too – at the Yale School of Art. YQDi9QzCNdhCqidkf3rcZWnejjBiSUl1eb0hSQNCHEQ Culture is a year-round find in downtown New Haven. First there’s the Shubert Theatre, where many great long-running Broadway shows were first introduced. “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and a musical that would be renamed “Oklahoma!” made their debuts there. And then Yale Repertory Theatre stages well-established plays and world premiere productions.

As for art, pay a visit to the Yale University Art Gallery, which houses modern pieces like Rothkos, Pollocks and Picassos, sculptures, antiquities, and decorative pieces. And admissions is free. Another place to visit is the Yale Center for British Art. Although it’s closed until spring 2016 because of conservation project, keep it mind as it holds quite a collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom. photo 3(35) Culture aside, New Haven might not be thought of as a college town but Yale University has been a fixture in New Haven since the 1700s. The public can visit the campus through private tours led by undergraduates, who give a history lesson about this Ivy league institution that has its surprising facts. For example, I learned that Yale’s dorms are called colleges and about a tradition involving rubbing the left foot of the statue of a former president for good luck.

While exploring New Haven, consider rewarding your appetite. One way to get familiar with New Haven’s restaurant scene is through Taste of New Haven, a food/drink tour company. Founder and New Haven native Colin Caplan took my group around on a tour of six diverse restaurants. photo 4(27)  photo 3(34) Michele Herrmann's photo for MB Class

Cubanos

Our stops included:

Meat & Co., an artisan sandwich shop in New Haven’s Ninth Square Historic District. It’s the innovative and rotating combos that make their sandwiches interesting and tasty.

Ordinary, a dark-paneled restaurant and lounge. This place started off as a Colonial tavern (in those days called an ordinary because alcohol could be sold there) and later was the Hotel Taft with famous guests including Babe Ruth and Hollywood greats like Katherine Hepburn and Marlon Brando stopped in. The Ordinary is also quite a nightspot, and cocktails like “Cricket Hill Smash” fit the bill.

Miya’s Sushi, a three-decade, family-owned restaurant that implements environmental practices in sushi making by using sustainable seafood. Miya’s has even gone a step further in creating a menu of dishes made with invasive species (non-native plants or fish).

Soul de Cuba, a home-style café focusing on Afro-Cuban culture. There’s a sense of family here, as photos of the employees’ relatives grace the walls, along with great cubanos and fresh mojitos. photo 3(33) Pizza is New Haven’s signature dish brought over by Italian immigrants and first served in bakeries. The city’s most recognized pizzeria is Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, or mainly known as Pepe’s, a 90-year-old “apizza” establishment with a history of using coal-fired ovens to bake its thin crust pies. To get a taste of New Haven pizza, Caplan took us to Bar, a restaurant/nightclub with a brewery that serves a unique white pie with a mashed potato and bacon topping. Two other standouts have their respective legacies. Louis Lunch Louis’ Lunch has been credited as the birthplace of the American hamburger. Today, this continuously family-owned place still uses cast iron grills from 1898 to cook freshly made burgers — with no need for ketchup. And don’t ask for it. Claire’s Corner Copia serves vegan and gluten-free orders extending to sandwiches, salads, breakfast orders, Mexican entrees, smoothies and desserts.

Next to Claire’s, Basta dishes authentic Italian with a modern twist. Start off with the Sicilian Calamari, Farfalle Funghi or Farfalle di Stagione Con Fagoli. For dessert, definitely get their coconut chocolate bites or tiramisu.

For overnight stays in New Haven, here are two suggestions. First, the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale is not even 10 minutes from Union Station, and close by the New Haven Green. Its John Davenport’s restaurant has sky views of the city and serves regional cuisine with breakfast/buffet, brunch, lunch and dinner options. And The Study at Yale has a studious feel from bookshelves and reading chairs in its lobby area and guestrooms. Its farm-to-table Heirloom Restaurant incorporates regional and artisan food finds in Connecticut and the surrounding New England region.

Disclosure: My time in New Haven was as a guest of INFONewHaven, based on an itinerary they provided.