A Weekend in New Haven, Connecticut

photo 2(46)New Haven, Connecticut has always been a city of innovation:  the lollipop, hamburger, the 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 the city 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.

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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.

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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 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.

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Cubanos

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Michele Herrmann's photo for MB Class

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.

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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.

KLM Pop Up Shop in New York City June 25-27

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KLM Royal Dutch Airlines sent me a notice about their upcoming pop up shop in New York City. From Thursday, June 25, through Saturday, June 27 at the Openhouse Gallery in SoHo, the carrier will be creating what’s being described as “KLM onboard experience” that brings a bit of Amsterdam to the Big Apple.

The three-day event is said to provide the opportunity to experience Dutch culture through music, food, art and design.

Various free and interactive offerings will include the following:

– The chance to win KLM flights to Amsterdam
– Cycling for bonus Flying Blue Miles
– Tasting delicious Dutch treats
Drinking Heineken during Happy Hour
– Dancing to top Dutch DJ sets
– Experiencing live art, kids activities and more.

The event is free but advanced registration through Eventbrite is required. See this link to register.
The Openhouse Gallery is located at 201 Mulberry Street, between Spring and Kenmare. Hours for the KLM Pop Up Shop are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, June 25 and 26. For Saturday, June 27, it opens at 11 a.m. but runs until 7 p.m.

Toronto, Canada: What to Do in Three Days

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Toronto, Canada can make for a good weekend or holiday weekend destination, particularly if you’re based in the United States and where you’re coming from. For getting to Toronto, your two options involve driving (more so if you’re near New York State or overall the US/Canadian border) or flying (to/from two airports).

As for what to do in Toronto, your options can be pretty spread out. From hockey to history, artsy to culinary, there’s a lot to do in this faceted city. From taking a recent weekend trip, here are my suggestions on what to see in three days.

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Hockey Hall of Fame
Toronto has its professional sports teams — Blue Jays for baseball, FC for soccer, and Raptors for basketball — but hockey (Maple Leafs) makes the goal at this museum. Non-hockey fans can learn a lot about its history of this rink sport, which displays jerseys and other gear by greats such as Canadian’s Wayne Gretzky. It’s also where the Stanley Cup is kept along with other trophies. And the museum’s location is different too — on the lower level of a shopping mall.

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CN Tower
When completed in the mid-seventies, the CN Tower was once both the world’s tallest tower and free standing structure. A general ticket takes you up the glass elevator straight up 1,136 feet – or 346 m – to its Lookout Level. My friend and I decided to shell out more cash for extra admission to the Skypod, which takes you up an additional 329 feet to another lookout spot. The tower’s 360 Restaurant can be a bit pricey but its all-around window views are pretty nice. The very brave can go on the EdgeWalk, which leads them on a harnessed walk around on the outside of the tower.

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Toronto Islands
From the downtown area, catch the ferry or a water taxi to get to this collection of small islands neighboring Lake Ontario and get a glimpse of Toronto’s skyline. My friend and I explore on section of these islands with walkways to a pier and along various paths. From what I’ve read, among these islands you’ll also find an amusement park, a children’s garden, a petting farm and the Gibraltar Lighthouse.

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Fort York
It might be odd for a military fort to co-exist among modern-day buildings and a highway, but this National Landmark stands on the place where today’s Toronto was founded. At the times of its construction, the set of fortifications was built to safeguard the area from a potential naval attack – from the United States. The fort also was battered by forces during the War of 1812 and 1813 but was rebuilt a year later to hold off American forces.

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St. Lawrence Market
Unfortunately for me, the Saturday of our Memorial Day Weekend I planned to visit this food market it was closed (check hours as it is open at times). I ended up eating at Paddington’s Pump, a restaurant next to the market, but I got to peek inside of it. With a history going back two centuries, the inside of this walk-through place has three different buildings that service specific things like merchants or offices. South Market is where specialty vendors sells fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, grains, baked goods and dairy products.

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Kensington Market
St. Lawrence Market may be about tradition, but Kensington Market is more trendy. The scene around this area is like hipster meeting hippie. This Bohemian district has more of an urban feel with a collection of health food stores, tea/coffee shops and eateries ranging from perhaps a pizza joint and vegan bakery to a bagel shop and a store selling flavored popcorn. Mixed in between places to dine, find places to shop such as clothing boutiques or a used record store.

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Art Gallery of Ontario
As every major city has its share of museums, Toronto has a number of check out. We ended up seeing the Art Gallery of Ontario, which along with a neat acronym contains quite a collection of Canadian art. More specifically, it holds the works of a specific set of Canadian artists called the Group of Seven who focused on capturing their country’s landscape on canvas. There is also a children’s wing, where young visitors can appreciate art. Aside from AGO, consider the Royal Ontario Museum, which has an assortment of cultural and nature history displays. And the Bata Shoe Museum is all about footwear through the ages.

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Casa Loma
It’s a climb to get to Casa Loma, but this hilltop Gothic mansion is a fine example of a private home built to be a show place. Once owned by a financier named Henry Mill Pellatt and wife before the First World War, the costly project ended up being completed for then a whopping $3,500,000. But with hitting a financial slump, the Pellatts couldn’t afford to stay. They had to leave their home after not even living there for 10 years. After they moved out, the castle has had other uses by the Canadian military and as a film set. Remnants of high-end living are still displayed. Definitely get down to the lower level and follow a tunnel area to get to stables where antique cars like a Ford Model T are stored.

Product Review: Savvy Traveler Wipes and Safe-T Stepz

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Ever since TSA introduced the “3-1-1″ rule, it’s been a cramming of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, body lotion, facial cleanser, deodorant, and moisturizer — and who knows what other necessity — in 1-quart-sized bag to get through security. It’s a squish.

Recently Savvy Traveler, a lifestyle products company, sent me samples of their various single-use wipe packets to try out. The wipes are marketed as an easier alternative to carrying on a bulky Ziploc or even having to pack it in a checked-in bag because you need that full tube of Colgate.

Savvy Traveler’s line of wipes cover all the bases and are claimed as being TSA compliant. Sold in 4-packs and priced at $9.99 each, the wipes extend to antiperspirants, face and hand/body wipes, and hand sanitizer, plus for cleaning glasses and screens. There’s even a mouth wipe you gently rub your teeth with for a cleaner feeling minus the toothbrush.

Although the $9.99 sticker might be a bit steep for some budgets (alas you can still get trial sizes in other ways), if you want to go bottle/tube free, the Savvy Traveler various wipes would work best.

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My assortment came in Savvy Traveler’s Liquid Kourage ($9.99) carry on bag, which fit all the six samples I got. The zippered pouch is see-through too so it should seem go through airport scanners with no problem, if you want to go beyond the sandwich bag. It’s also stylish.

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I also received Savvy Traveler’s Safe-T Stepz ($9.99). They are foot safety shields for use in situations where you’re still required to remove your shoes like at airport security. Each pack has four pairs and can fit up to a size 11. Press them on under socks or bare feet.

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From my experience, I can say that I found the adhesive on the Safe-T Stepz to be pretty strong. I put on a pair of shields under my bare feet and they stuck well but removing them was a bit of a pull. I tried another pair again but this time with some knee highs on; much better.

For more information about Savvy Traveler, and their other products, visit their website.

Woolworth Building Lobby Tours

photo 4(18)This past Sunday, I was invited as a media guest of WoolworthTours on a tour of The Woolworth Building’s lobby area. Built in 1913, this neo-Gothic-style skyscraper in downtown Manhattan was once the office building for Frank W. Woolworth, founder and owner of the five-and-dime retail chain.

For years, workers were able to pass through the lobby of The Woolworth Building — even my WoolworthTours guide in his previous job —  but then after 9/11 the area was off limits to the general public. It wasn’t until the building’s centennial two years ago was marked with a gala where talks began about reopening the lobby to the public. The only way you’re allowed to see this area is through the tour, and, from my experience, it’s worth doing so.

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The Woolworth Tours vary by time (from 20 to 45 minutes) and the sections you’re taken too. I went on the 45-minute tour, which includes the lobby, the lower level and the mezzanine. Whatever tour you go on, you’ll hear a history lesson about not just The Woolworth building but also its namesake, Frank Woolworth.

According to my guide, The Woolworth Building is literally a monument to Woolworth’s legacy. It’s a visual reminder of his retail empire as his five and dime store spread across the nation and even overseas. Inside the building, you find the exterior as a canvas of fine craftsmanship from ceiling to stairways.

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 Considered to be the tallest building in the world at one point, this structure once contained Irving National Exchange Bank, which financed its construction; a Parisian shopping arcade (we could call it a mall now but there was no Woolworth’s in it); a health club with swimming pool; and a medieval beer house known as a rathskeller that catered to the building’s tenants.

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Today, its occupants on the lower floors include NYU’s global affairs center, a technology firm and a travel agency. There’s also a chance that the building will hold residents in the future, as an investment group that has purchased the top 30 floors plan to convert the space into luxury apartments and covert the penthouse into a five-level living space.

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You’ll be pointed to embellishments with Ws along with other markings that show the building’s stance as a center of commerce. And, of course, Woolworth’s own character is reflected here. For example, about a dozen or so gargoyles are placed around the interior but they’re not of the usual creatures. Instead, they resemble Woolworth and other key figures involved in the building’s construction. As just as important as Woolworth, architect Cass Gilbert designed the building and he is shown holding with his creation.

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I recommend going on the 45-minute tour as you also get to see the vault of the Irving Bank, which keeps some old safety deposit boxes. There are also neat murals on different period of Colonial New York in this area as well. So definitely see this landmark!

Choice Hotels’ Ultimate People Person Contest

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Here’s another quirky travel contest. Choice Hotels is inviting people to apply for a newly created summer position – the Ultimate People Person.

Upon being hired, the Ultimate People Person will travel across the United States this summer, with the task of capturing and sharing the stories of thousands of people through Choice Hotels’ blog and social media channels. And, yes, the winner gets paid.

Job applications are being accepted now through May 29, 2015. More information is available through this link.

To apply, you start off by putting together a 30-second video “cover letter” and upload it on YouTube. Then do some self-promotion of your video on Facebook and Twitter, mentioning @ChoiceHotels and #choicepeopleperson.

And then, draw on your connections to help raise your profile level by endorsing your candidacy via commenting, RTing or sharing your video (It’s all about your marketing skills.) See the link for all the paperwork (screenshots, links, and three references) you have to email in.

If I didn’t already have summer plans, I would consider applying for the job. But hey Choice Hotels: need a fall/winter intern?

10 Travel Goals For Turning 40

Photo by Billie Ward via Flickr

Photo by Billie Ward via Flickr

I turn 40 this week. As this age might make you reflect a bit on life, I decided to think about some travel goals I would like to reach at some point. Or at least before I reach 50. So here’s a list of my 10 future travel goals, maybe to accomplish before I hit 50.

1) Get better at swimming. I can swim, but just not that great. Or not that far out. So I need to build up my stamina. And because I want to try snorkeling at some point.

2) Master a language. When I travel overseas, I make it a point to learn words like “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “how much” and “where is ___.” And with my trip to Japan later this year, I would like to grasp a few phrases that I can speak as well as understand with ease.

3) Pack a carry-on at least once. With airlines charging bag fees like $25 each way, a carry-on probably could save me money and time. It also might make me better with packing and have me go directly from the plane to the airport exit.

4) Practice slow travel. Slow travel means spending more time in one place – instead of rushing around from venue to venue or city to city. I’ll probably struggle with slow travel, but some day in the future I’m going to try and focus on spending time in one area or doing or seeing one or two things daily. Or maybe three.

5) Attend one major sporting event. I was lucky to have been in Paris the night of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Italy, and, after the match was over, walked amid the parade of soccer fans along the Champs-Élysées. I would love to get to the Winter or Summer Olympics, but even going to the Super Bowl would be awesome.

6) Participate in a major cultural festival. Like sports, going to a major cultural festival like Carnevale in Venice or Rio de Janeiro or the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona would be pretty cool. I was in Barcelona for a music festival called La Merce, but there are others that are equally if not greater fun.

7) See Machu Picchu or the Galapagos. I’ve yet to get to Central or South America and if I could only visit one place/country, I could get to it either to Peru or Ecuador. For some reason, I’m captivated by the ruins of Machu Picchu and the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Maybe 2016 will bring me to one of them.

8) Improve my photography skills. Lately for photos, I’ve been using my iPhone 5S as a camera. My shots come out great, but I also want to have a camera for taking a variety of close-ups, panoramics, and nighttime images.

9) Get to all 50 states. There’s a lot to see in America. So far this year, I got to visit Montana for the first time. Next month, I’m heading to Michigan, also for the first time. Roughly, I’ve been to about 25 states and I would rush to get to Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska. Even seeing the Heartland or Southwest would be cool.

10) Learn more about food and drink. I’ve gotten over being a picky eater, and I’ll try almost any type of food now. But I like to have some culinary savvy. With eating and drinking, I know what I like, and what I don’t, but I wish I can know more about the terminology behind a dish or a cocktail. What makes the flavors work together? Usually, I say it’s good, but that’s where I reach my limit with descriptions.

What travel goals do you have before turning 40?