Category Archives: United States

Visiting the Mall of America

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Photos via Mall of America

Earlier this summer, I attended a travel blogger conference called TBEX North America 2016 primarily because of its location – the Mall of America. Yes, because the conference location was adjacent to this mall.

Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, about 15 minutes from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, the Mall of America is far more than a place to shop. Featured on travel shows, the Mall of America is a hybrid of retail stores and tourist attractions. And it’s a big place, at 4.87 million square feet. Really big. To put it in perspective, this mall can fit seven Yankee Stadiums, 32 Boeing 747s, and 258 Statues of Liberty.

Besides massive space, here is what else you find during a visit to the Mall of America.

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Photo via SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium

SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium
Underneath the mall, the SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium is a 1.3-million gallon aquarium featuring a 300-foot ocean tunnel and being home 10,000 sea creatures. The low-lit, lower level location is easy to explore, with stops along the way for observing marine life such as jellyfish, seahorses, stingrays, and sturgeons. One neat attraction to take your time going through is the Shark Discovery exhibit. Here, you walk through a glass tunnel and view sharks and other ocean neighbors swimming below or alongside you. There are daily feeding times, where for a small fee you can buy food to hand to certain aquarium residents like stingrays.

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Nickelodeon Universe
In the center of the mall, Nickelodeon Universe is a fun indoor theme park with 27 rides and attractions. When I was there for TBEX, my friends and I spent time going on rides that fit with our style (there’s a number of ones with paces that go smoothly or get a little twisted). While we were there around Memorial Day Weekend, we got to try a new park attraction called FlyOver America. FlyOver America is a fully immersive, flight simulation ride that takes riders on an aerial tour of well-known U.S. landmarks and regions. Nickelodeon Universe also contains an indoor zipline that takes you 60 feet above the ground, and features special visits by costumed TV characters like Sponge Bob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer.

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Specialty Stores/Restaurants
The Mall of America has a good mix of major retail brands (think clothing, electronics, cosmetics, accessories, etc.) plus regional finds. Among them, the LEGO Store is where kids of all ages can let loose on this Danish toy with its Pick-A-Brick wall, play areas, and larger-than-life models such as over 34-foot-tall robot. Fans of American Girl will not just find the store but also an American Girl ® Bistro. And being in Minnesota, and near neighboring Wisconsin, find stores carrying everything from locally made cheese to Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers gear or other state-inspired products. As for dining, there are 50-plus restaurants, including national chains like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hard Rock Café, Rainforest Café, and Buffalo Wild Wings, to more regional brands like Caribou Coffee and A & W All-American Food. Consider Pizza Studio, where you can have a custom pie made; Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar, for a sit-down meal or Noodles & Company, which prepares noodles in Asian, Mediterranean or American style.

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Photo via Radisson Blu Mall of America

Hotel Accommodations
There are more than 50 hotels in various proximity to the Mall of America. The most direct one is the Radisson Blu Mall of America, as it’s connected to the mall via a skyway. I paid to stay here for the conference and liked how you could literally enter the mall from one of the hotel levels. It’s definitely convenient, for when you, um, realize that you need a last-minute extra pair of pants. That you pick up along with some Wisconsin cheese sticks and a cup of Caribou Coffee.

In short, if you happen to be in this area or thinking of a different kind of weekend getaway, the Mall of America might be the place to be. And shop.

5 Surprising Things about Cincinnati

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Before my visit in Cincinnati, I didn’t know much, if anything, about it. After spending a recent weekend here, I learned a few interesting things about this city near the Ohio River. Here are five of them.

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1) Flying into Kentucky
On a flight to Cincinnati, you might be surprised to discover that you don’t actually arrive in Cincinnati. Actually, you land in Kentucky, specifically at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which is about 15 minutes or so from Cincinnati. Instead of heading straight there, make a stop in nearby Covington, Kentucky. Its MainStrasse Village has German roots with a Main Street, U.S.A. feel. Its center square is the location for various festivals such as an Octoberfest and it’s lined with shops and restaurants housed in buildings from a past era. Good eats picks include Otto’s, an American bistro known for its fried green tomatoes and twist on the native dish, Kentucky Hot Brown; Frida 602, a mezcal and taqueria with décor inspired by artist Frida Kahlo’s Blue House in Mexico City; and Bouquet, a farm-to-table restaurant whose menu is dictated by what ingredients are in-season.

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2) Over-the-Rhine
Cincinnati has 52 neighborhoods, with one of its oldest being Over-the-Rhine. When the first wave of German immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1830s, many settled and founded in early Cincinnati neighborhood, so much that their native language became the spoken word and their culture thrived. Over-the-Rhine’s name comes from this legacy. Workers lived north of the Miami and Erie Canal and nicknamed it “the Rhine” after the German river, so their settled area was like going “over the Rhine.” Breweries and drinking establishments flourished here up until Prohibition. As residents moved out, and the Over-the-Rhine faced hard times. its revitalization began in the mid-2000s with a wave of artisan restaurants being ushered in. Find many of them along Vine Street. This section has become hotspot, with a medley of eateries, shops, and bars. Stand outs include: Taste of Belgium, for a great waffle fix; Senate, with the most amazing gourmet hotdog combos; The Eagle, for delectable fried chicken; Graeter’s, a hometown ice cream shop known for its Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip; and Holtman’s Donuts, for their maple bacon option. While Vine Street is about food, O-T-R’s Main Street has its share of finds such as Gomez, for innovative Mexican fare; Japp’s Since 1879, once a hair store but now a hip nightspot; and contemporary art murals created as part of ArtWorks Cincinnati.

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3) Quite a Beer Legacy
Speaking of German beer, by the late 1800s, Cincinnati was producing a serious amount of suds in Over-The-Rhine, so much that there was no need to export it outside of Ohio. By 1890, the city was the third largest beer producer per person in the country. Prohibition severely changed that, causing many breweries to shut down for good. Yet it wasn’t entirely over. In 2009, this legacy began its comeback with the resurgence of the brand Christian Moerlein. Now, over a dozen craft breweries and micropubs are in operation. Among them, Rhinegeist Brewery is housed inside the original Christian Moerlein bottling facility. In a sense, it’s a 21st century beer garden with long picnic style tables and cornhole, ping-pong and other games going on. Another brewery is Taft’s Ale House, named for our 27th President and Supreme Court Justice, William Howard Taft. It’s located inside a former church and features items relating to Taft and his wife, Nellie. Yet Cincinnati’s brewing past still lingers. Plus in recent years,an underground network of abandoned caverns used for cooling German lager have been discovered. See one of them on an escorted tour with American Legacy Tours.

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4) History with the Underground Railroad
In the mid-1800s, as the debate over the practice of slavery split national opinion, the U.S. was divided between free states and slave states. Ohio’s place in this part of our country’s history is connected to the Underground Railroad, where the Ohio River Valley was a key site for freedom seekers to head up north. In downtown Cincinnati, near the banks of the Ohio River, the National Underground Freedom Railroad Center traces how slavery came to the Americas up through the U.S.’s post-Civil War Reconstruction with historical imagery and artifacts. The center also covers the effects of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

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5) A Ton of Bridges
Bridges might not sound exciting, but Cincinnati has some iconic structures connecting the city to Northern Kentucky and other locations in Ohio. Its most noted one is John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, which links Covington to downtown Cincinnati. Opened in 1867, it’s a nice way to go back and forth over the Ohio River. Plus pedestrians and cars have their respective paths. Though Roebling’s name might not ring a bell, this engineer’s modern marvels are well known. Roebling was said to use this baby blue colored bridge as the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened about two decades later. For a relaxing walk, the locally-called Purple People Bridge (it has a more official sounding name) can only be crossed on foot. It connects from Cincinnati’s Sawyer Point to Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky.

 

 

 

EscapeMaker Opens Farm Escape Pop Up Shop

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Have you heard of the term “agritourism”? Find out more by heading to South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. EscapeMaker, a company that offers ideas for local and regional trips, has opened a pop-up shop promoting agri-tourism (travel inspired by working farms or other agricultural sties) now until April 24 inside the seaport’s historic Fulton Stall Market on 207A Front Street.

Presented by Amtrak, the EscapeMaker Pop Up Shop will be open to the public Thursdays and Fridays, from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors will find information for planning vacays that will get them out into countryside areas. Details will include ideas for farm escapes, wine and craft beer trails, apple picking locations, and local getaway packages.

Along with the shop, EscapeMaker will hold three Sunday tastings of various food and wine samples inside the market and onto Front Street. They are free and run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The schedule includes:

April 10th – Local Craft Beer, Cider & More
April 17th – Local Wine, Cheese & More
April 24th – Local Farms & Family Getaways

For more info, visit this link.

Saybrook Point Inn & Spa Opens Tall Tales

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Saybrook Point Inn & Spa recently opened Tall Tales, at right. It’s next to Three Stories.

Two years ago, I was invited to visit Saybrook Point Inn & Spa and take a tour of the main property and its then latest addition, a luxury guesthouse named Three Stories. This past weekend, I went back to the inn to stay at a new and exquisite set of accommodations known as Tall Tales.

Opened in February 2016, Tall Tales is an elegant yet private Italianate-style guesthouse right next door to Three Stories. Like its neighbor, Tall Tales gives off the feeling of staying at a quaint bed and breakfast inn overlooking the Connecticut River.

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Tall Tales contains six rooms – two on each level sharing a common area – with each named after real-life individuals with significant ties to Old Saybrook. Each room also is decorated in different color schemes and furniture to reflect the character of their namesake. My room is called the Barbara Maynard, who is considered to the “Town Mother” of Old Saybrook for her involvement as a former First Selectman and Registrar of Voters.

If Barbara saw her room, I think she would be proud.

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On the second floor of Tall Tales, the Barbara Maynard room contains a private seating area off of the main bedroom. Not that this area takes away from the bedroom. My bedroom has an electric fireplace, with an adjacent balcony. With a four-poster, king-size bed, the fine linens reflect a Victorian period look yet feel comfortable for a present-day guest.

Its full bath contains classic fixtures, with a walk-in shower with a seat in place of a tub. Plus Tall Tales has Wi-Fi available in these rooms. The second floor also features a billiards room. On the first floor, there is a small kitchen area and an open-floor plan dining room where guests can grab a muffin or piece of fruit or use a Keurig to make instant coffee.

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Parking is available behind Tall Tales and Three Stories. Both guesthouses are located across from the main inn. For dining, the main inn’s restaurant, Fresh Salt, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a weekend brunch. Its menus are seasonal and promote New England’s agriculture. The inn’s Sanno Spa features 11 treatment rooms and services such as facials, massages, and manicures and pedicures. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a ballroom and event spaces, and a marina that can accommodate vessels up to roughly 200 feet in length.

Editor’s Note: My stay at the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa was comped but the opinions expressed in this piece are entirely my own.

 

Where to Eat in Lake Placid

As I enjoyed taking in the Winter Olympic sites around Lake Placid, plus spending time around the surrounding Adirondacks’ Whiteface region, I have to say that my dining options were good too. Each place I went to is locally owned and stood out in character, through its menu selections, settings, or backstory.

Here is a round up of restaurants in Lake Placid that I highly recommend:

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‘dack Shack
This place on Saranac Avenue is fun and imaginative with a chalkboard wall featuring cool drawings and a counter top seating area that lets you do a little doodling of your own. Candle holders wrapped in birch bark – birch trees are quite common in the Adirondack area – offer a nice touch. Dishes are also inventive. With menus, ‘dack Shack has breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices plus a kids menu and an intriguing theme night menu that lists topnotch orders at a good price point like a confit duck leg at 20 dollars. I was at ‘dack Shack for dinner and ordered the ‘dack Burger, which was stacked with Maple Glazed Bacon, sautéed onions, cheddar and the house specialty secret Shack Sauce (not even my server was told what the ingredients were). To accompany a side of fries, fry dips give ketchup and mayo a step up with flavors like Herb or Truffle Mayo and Dr. Pepper or Habanero Ketchup. Starters are also not your ordinary apps, like breaded mac ‘n cheese balls, and a roast beet, cauliflower and kale dip with crostinis.

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Lake Placid Pub & Brewery
On a side road near Main Street, this three-floor pub and restaurant serves up about seven microbrews and holds brewery tours of its facility from the top level. The Downstairs bar that you first enter into is an Irish pub setting, while second level is more of a micropub with wall art featuring college sports team banners that would make any fan want to sit in here. Also on the third floor, there is seasonal outdoor deck seating overlooking Lake Mirror. As for the beers, its suds extend to English ales likes its popular fruity and malty dark Ubu Ale, to German wheat brews such as the light German Kristalweizen. With food, it’s bar-style selections but with some nice standouts like craft sandwiches, soups, salads, and an assortment of apps. I had the Maple Melt, a charbroiled chicken sandwich with a New York-sourced cheddar that’s nicely melded together.

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the breakfast club, etc.
This Main Street eatery also has lunch and dinner picks, but its name totally reflects breakfast in all capacities. A full service bar and restaurant, this venue has an all-day breakfast menu, so if you’re craving a morning-style meal in the afternoon, you’re good. Known as BC originals, breakfast lovers will find multiple versions of faves like Eggs Benedict such as ones paired with a basil pesto hollandaise sauce or smoked salmon and spinach with a caper dill hollandaise sauce. Fans of home fries should see the röstis, which are seasoned skillet potatoes topped with a choice of anything from corned beef and cheddar to veggies. Perhaps the most eye-catching option is French Toast Fondue, a twofer serving with cinnamon nutmeg French toast sticks, pretzel sticks, and fruit to be dipped in a warm maple-cinnamon sauce. Plus, they have a separate list for 10 different versions of Bloody Marys and Mimosas!

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The Good Bite Kitchen
For vegetarians, this small-sized, lunch-only restaurant is big on flavor with inventive dishes. Also on Main Street, The Good Bite Kitchen is able to hold about six counter sit-in diners, as its location was once a storage hallway until opening in July 2012. The menu rotates, but all lunchtime options are cooked there. Find salads and soup, gluten-free optional and vegan bowls such as chickpea and rice stew or green curry broth, and sandwiches served on toasted focaccia, plus a smoothie of the day. For drinks, if it’s there, try the ginger and allspice hot apple cider.

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Saranac Sourdough
On Saranac Avenue, this good breakfast/deli location offers various counter orders like sandwiches, bagels, lunch plates, and salads, plus breads. As a bagel eater, I also found a neat discovery at Saranac Sourdough: a sourdough bagel. I didn’t think that this type of bread could become an oval option. And as far as I know, I’ve never seen a bagel like this before. So of course I had to try it. I did and it was good.

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Swedish Hill Winery Lake Placid
A mile east of Lake Placid’s downtown area, this tasting room has many assortments of Swedish Hill Winery whites and reds produced by Swedish Hill Winery, which is based in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Along with chardonnays, Rieslings, and cabernet francs, finds include Glögg, a spicy red wine with a Swedish influence that features flavors of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and ginger. Swedish Hill Winery has a sister winery called Goose Watch Winery that has a tasting room, the Goose Watch Lake Placid, on Main Street.

Learn about the Winter Olympics at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum

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Those who follow the Winter Olympics know that Lake Placid, New York was the host location for the 1932 and 1980 games. Today, Lake Placid still keeps its Olympic legacy to winter sports thriving, and one of the best ways to see this history up close is at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum has a collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and photographs relating to these games plus the Olympians whose names are still recognized today. Of course, Lake Placid’s place in these chapters is acknowledged as well.

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Olympic memorabilia on display runs from athletic gear to clothing, and, of course, medals. Objects include a selection of attire worn by Team USA during the opening ceremonies, torches, helmets, and equipment. Within this area, the museum will also be ushering in permanent exhibit fixtures. One of them will be focusing on speed skating, a sport that Lake Placid knows well (the village has a speed skating club). Another planned new exhibit involves the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 medal-round match in which the U.S. Men’s hockey team defeated the Soviets.

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Another noted athlete featured in the museum is Sonja Henie, a Norwegian figure skater who won her second gold medal in Lake Placid. Henie, who became a three-time Olympian, retired from her sport and went on to pursue a film career in Hollywood and appeared in a number of films. She also was a smart businesswoman in that she implemented what we now call “branding” in that her image appeared on various merchandise like dolls. She also appeared on a Wheaties box.

Here’s a fact: Did you know that ever since the first Winter Olympics, held in 1924 in Chamonix, France, has competed in each game, to date? Plus Lake Placid native Charles Jewtraw holds the distinction of winning the first gold medal at Chamonix. You’ll see his picture too. Notability also extends to the Shea family. Its three generations participated in the Winter Olympics: the late Jack Shea, the family patriarch who won gold twice for speedskating in the 1932 games; his son, Jim Shea, who competed in the Nordic combined and two cross-country ski races at the 1964 Innsbruck Games; and his grandson, Jim, a 2002 Olympian in skeleton.

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The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is housed inside the Olympic Center, which also contains the ice rink where the Miracle on Ice occurred. It’s now named the Herb Brooks Arena, after the team’s late coach. It also holds the 1932 Jack Shea Arena and the USA Rink. The building itself overlooks the Olympic Skating Oval, where speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals in 1980, and where visitors can pay to skate on today. The museum is open on most days, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Iron Man Sunday, a triathlon event.

Another symbol from 1980 Winter Games still standing is the Olympic torch. Or more formally called “1980 Olympic Flame Cauldron.” It’s located at North Elba Show Grounds on Cascade Road, where now horse shows are held at the end of June and the start of July.

High Falls George and the Adirondacks’ Whiteface Region

2016-02-23 16.27.23Last week, I headed up to Lake Placid, a village in upstate New York. While seeing much of Lake Placid, I also spent some time exploring the Whiteface Region of the New York State’s Adirondack Mountains.

The Whiteface Region is a delight for nature lovers and outdoor sports fans. Whether a summer, winter, or even fall trip is planned , the region has a network of trails that alternate from hiking and mountain biking, to snowshoeing and skiing. Even fishing, particularly for trout, is big here during its season. Yet for those that prefer more of a walking place, consider starting off High Falls Gorge. Located off of NY-86E in Wilmington, about 10 minutes from Lake Placid, High Falls Gorge has self-guided trails at its 22-acre nature park that brings visitors in viewing distance of waterfalls or Adirondack forestry.

Located off of NY-86 E in Wilmington, about 10 minutes from Lake Placid, High Falls Gorge runs along the Ausable River. One of the gorge’s three trails coincides with the direction of the river, where you can walk along maintained routes, bridges, and pathways to view waterfalls (in winter, their frozen look is pretty spectacular). The other two trails involve one that is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs, while the other is steeper and a bit uneven. I walked along the yellow, which leads through various steps for viewing four waterfalls and surrounding trees.

Before and after going on these trails, head inside the Gorge’s Welcome Center for a bite to eat at the River View Café. This American-style restaurant serves lunch and dinner with five styles of wings, a ton of apps, salads, lunchtime sandwiches and dinner entrees and burgers.

Also in the Whiteface Region, serious hikers can make their mark in completing certain ranges hat are like being initiated into special clubs: the 46ers and 6ers. The 46ers refers to the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, which is this amount of mountains that with elevations ranging higher or lower than 4,000 feet. To get a good start, it’s probably best to consider the 6ers. They consist of six Adirondack peaks found at Saranac Lake, which is west of Lake Placid. Plus if you have climbed all six – and provide the dates of each climb and the approximate time of reaching the summit – you’ll get an official member number, patch and sticker.

In my next post, I’ll be listing more about my jaunts around Lake Placid. Stay tuned!

 

Editor’s note: Lake Placid CVB invited me as a guest to Lake Placid and Adironacks region. However, my posts are entirely based on my personal opinion.

Visiting Kennebunk/Kennebunkport, Maine

photo 2(90)Recently, a work assignment brought me up to southern Maine, specifically to Kennebunk and its neighbor, Kennebunkport. Typically, Maine gets many visitors during the summer months, but I discovered that these two towns offer day-to-day attractions to see, do, and dine at year-round. In fact, Kennebunkport puts on a holiday celebration called Christmas Prelude every December.

Though some shops and restaurants may change their hours (or shut down completely) during the colder seasons, your chances of exploring much of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are pretty good.

Here are my recommendations:

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Get a culinary lesson through Table Maine. Started by the Kennebunkport Resort Collection in February 2015, Table Maine is a weekend culinary program of classes led by local chefs and offering kitchen techniques on food/beverage subjects such as mixology or preparing meat or seafood dishes. Coursework extends to viewing demonstrations, hands-on lessons, and even local restaurants putting on “pop up” dinners. Depending on the subjects, pricing for classes and events usually start at $35 and go as high as $105.

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Go bike riding. By the water, through town, or even on a nature trail, Kennebunkport has places to trek to on your bike. One recommended route is on the scenic Ocean Avenue. This road leads on a route with views of the sea, beaches, restaurants, and the presidential Bush family’s compound at Walker’s Point (but don’t go too far there). Mountain bikers can try  the trails at the Edwin L. Smith Preserve of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, which has acquired and preserved various natural areas. If you don’t have — or didn’t bring — a bike, consider renting a set of wheels from Kennebunkport Bicycle.

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Find nature at protected reserves. Just over a 10-minute ride from Kennebunkport, the town of Wells has two nature reserves that can be seen on foot. I spent some time at The Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which has a network of trails that you can walk along and notice the different habitats in this protected coastal ecosystem. The trails stay open year-round, range from easy to moderate, and are mainly self-guided. An admission fee is charged from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day. Not far from Wells Reserve, consider stopping by the Rachel Carlson Wildlife Refuge. This reserve has designated visitor use areas that enable the public to do activities such as kayaking or viewing wildlife.

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Do some antiquing along Route 1. Known as the Maine Antique Trail, this road doubles as a map for 42 miles of over 50 antique stores. Kennebunk contains a few, including Armada Antiques & Collectibles. The shelves and display cases inside this two-level building must get a lot of looks. Merchandise from dinnerware, to books and periodicals, to sports memorabilia, to even relics from another era can be browsed through.

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Stop at the Wedding Cake House. Said to be the most photographed house in Maine, this Gothic style home off of Route 35 in Kennebunk is literally eye candy. Supposedly, this bright yellow house with white trim was built by a sea captain as a wedding gift for his bride. Today this place is privately owned, but most people might stop to get a glimpse or photo.

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Learn about Kennebunk’s history at the Brick Store Museum. Although this museum was closed on the days that I was town, I think it’s worth a visit. Said to be one of the few U.S. museums to open during the Great Depression, this venue serves as part arts institution, part historic site, and part archives center. Its three buildings date back to the 1800s, but inside, rotating exhibitions highlight the town’s overall legacy through its people and objects.

Where to Eat and Drink

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Get local and seasonal flavor at Salt & Honey. In Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, this restaurant has been dishing out comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner since opening in May 2014. Its changing menu offer staple dishes and New England favorites, particularly with ingredients like Maine blueberries and lobster. Consider the fish and chips combo with a finely breaded North Atlantic haddock.

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Order breakfast at Boulangerie. In Kennebunk, this village bakery produces artisanal breads, croissants, baguettes, focaccia, sticky buns, meat pies, and other flour-based delights. The location is very rustic – a barn dating back to the 1900s – with indoor and outdoor seating for plopping down and savoring a breakfast treat or afternoon snack. Get  their chicken meat pie and monkey bread!

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Grab some lunch at Duffy’s Tavern & Grill. With one location in Kennebunk’s historic Lafayette Center, this family-friendly place has good pub fare. The venue serves up American food for patrons of all ages – burgers, salads, apps, and wings plus gluten-free options – and the scene is pretty casual.

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Do dinner at The Ramp Bar & Grill. Under Pier 77, in Kennebunkport’s Porpoise Harbor, the tiny yet lively waterside venue has both a local and tourist following. What you’ll first notice are the football helmets hanging above the bar, but the lunch and dinner servings run the gamut from New England seafood favorites, finger foods, to more fork-required dishes like traditional penne Bolognese and a Greek meze.

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Shop at H.B. Provisions. At this general store and deli, also in Kennebunk, pick up a souvenir or order a sandwich, specialty wrap, burger, or panini. There’s table space for sitting down and just watching the shop work, and you can also get some groceries while you’re at it. While eating, take a good look at the walls and see photos of some famous shoppers.

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Tour the Shipyard Brewing Company at Federal Jack’s. At this eatery in Kennebunkport Harbor, Shipyard first brewed its craft beer in 1992. Although its main plant is now in Portland, visitors can still see and learn more about Shipyard on tours at its location in the same building as Federal Jack’s. A seven-barrel system uses state of the art technology to produce house and seasonal ales, plus stouts and IPAs, and keeps its upstairs pub neighbor supplied with continuous suds.

Editor’s Note: My visit and itinerary was scheduled through the Chamber of Commerce for Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. However, the list is all based on my suggestions and experiences.

 

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.