Wednesday, September 17, 2014

6 Reasons to Head for Albuquerque this Fall



You need to visit Albuquerque this fall. This is the season locals call “magical” and the one that’s looked forward to throughout the year. New Mexico is beautiful in any season but the fall leaves, the chile and those colorful balloons will give you great excuses for making a visit.

Here are six reasons that you’ll fall head-over-heels in love with Albuquerque’s amazing autumn:

1. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - More than 500 hot air balloons dot the clear blue skies during this annual event, creating a feast for the eyes. Early risers can witness the mass ascension events, eat world-famous breakfast burritos, and see the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. In the evenings, balloons stay on the ground for “glow” events, allowing visitors to see these beauties up close. There will also be concerts, competitions and new special shapes, including an orca and a snail. This year’s event runs October 4-12.

2. Chile Roasting Season – Snap, crackle and pop! It’s what you’ll hear when exiting your vehicle at any of the dozens of locations throughout the city where chiles are roasting. Fall is chile harvest season, and visitors will see roasters set up everywhere, from the grocery store to farmers markets and restaurants. If native New Mexicans had to pick one smell that reminds them of home, most would choose roasting chiles in the fall. See the roasting in action, then go to one of the many local restaurants that incorporate them into dishes, from donuts to stuffed sopapillas.

3. Fall colors from many angles – Most people don’t think of the Southwest when they think of vibrant fall colors, but Albuquerque’s location in a river valley and altitude – more than a mile high – means that the city has many deciduous trees, from cottonwood to aspen. To see the trees up close, take a bike tour along the Rio Grande on the city’s well-known Bosque Trail, a paddling tour on the river, or a breathtaking tram ride to the top of the more than 10,000-foot-high Sandia Mountains. Those who enjoy driving can also take the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway to reach the range’s highest point.

4. Balloon-themed cocktails – Whether celebrating your first hot air balloon ride or winding down after an activity-filled day, there are two balloon-themed cocktails that will fit the occasion perfectly. Ibiza, the hip rooftop bar at historic Hotel Andaluz, is offering Pilot’s Punch, a champagne-based cocktail that’s a nod to hot air balloon pilots who frequently pop a bottle of bubbly to celebrate a flight. Just a few minutes away, another historic hotel with a hip rooftop bar, Hotel Parq Central’s Apothecary Lounge, has created the Chile Berry Glow. This warm cocktail celebrates the flavors of the season, with red chile powder, raspberry and chocolate, and is made tableside in an infuser over an open flame, inspired by the flame in a hot air balloon.

5. Weather – Simply put, Albuquerque’s October weather is spectacular. Most days are clear and sunny, with highs in the 70s and lows around 50. Humidity is nearly nonexistent, meaning conditions are ideal for spending time outside. If you’re up early to take in a balloon ride or hike, dress in warm layers for the cool mornings that can be peeled off as the sun comes up. And, don’t miss the sunsets – some of the most stunning in the world, due to big skies, beautiful clouds and a landscape featuring mountains that turn a watermelon pink as the sun goes down.

6. Events – Aside from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque has many more events happening in the fall. From pumpkin patches to corn mazes and ghost hunts, it’s a great city for fall traditions. There are also several arts and cultural festivals, including events with a Native American focus and a Greek-inspired celebration. One of the most colorful events in fall is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is used to honor deceased loved ones in a celebratory fashion. Brightly decorated skulls can be seen everywhere, from jewelry and art, and even as face painting!

Come celebrate the “magical” season in Albuquerque. Start planning today at www.VisitABQ.org/autumn.

Information courtesy: Albuquerque CVB

Monday, September 15, 2014

Santa Fe Announces 2014 Green Chile Cheeseburger Winners

When you visit New Mexico, having a green chile cheeseburger is a must-do. And if you really serious about these lucious delights, check out the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.

But for the latest in Green Chile Cheeseburgers, you have to see the list of winners of this year's Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown.

Two innovative iterations of green chile cheeseburger took home top honors at Santa Fe’s 2014 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown this weekend at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Pavilion.  

Five noted food critics from across the region selected Second Street Brewery’s Alien Burger as the event’s Reigning Chomp.  The five-critic panel, comprised of The OC Weekly’s editor Gustavo Arellano, Colorado Springs Gazette food editor Teresa Farney, New Mexico Magazine culinary editor Cheryl Jamison, Sunset magazine associate editor Elaine Johnson, and Texas Monthly food critic Patricia Sharpe gave high praise to the Alien Burger, featuring a blue-corn chile relleno, bacon, fried onions, and three types of cheeses. The burger is the brainchild of sous chef Shawn Perry, who created the burger as a Sunday special that soon gained a popular following at the restaurant. 

A sellout crowd of 500 voted The Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid as the 2014 People’s Choice winner.  Mine Shaft’s Lori Lindsey and Melinda Bonewell created the burger using a half-pound of black angus chuck, a fried green chile, complimented with aged cheddar and chipotle dijonnaise served on a brioche bun. 

The community event showcased Santa Fe as the Capital of the Green Chile Cheeseburger by featuring some of Santa Fe’s finest chefs grilling their own variations of the burger. Six restaurants advanced to the finals after a month-long vote on Santafe.org. The Mine Shaft Tavern, along with Fuego at La Posada, completed the field last month when 93.3 KOB-FM’s radio personality Carlos D selected both restaurants during a radio-broadcasted burger crawl. The competition was open to any Santa Fe county restaurant featuring a green chile cheeseburger on its menu through the end of the year. 

The Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute and TOURISM Santa Fe hosted the Smackdown, with all proceeds benefitting the institute. Participating restaurants donated all food and manpower—enough to make 500 burgers—in support of local farmers.

2014 Green Chile Cheeseburger Entrants (*denotes finalists)
Agave at the Eldorado
Amaya at Hotel Santa Fe, Hacienda and Spa*
Anasazi Restaurant at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi*
Blue Corn Brewery
Body Café
Caffe Greco
La Casa Sena
Cowgirl BBQ*
Del Charro
Fuego at La Posada*
Las Fuentes at Bishop’s Lodge
Luminaria at Inn and Spa at Loretto*
The Mine Shaft Tavern*
Rio Chama
Second Street Brewery at the Railyard*
Terra Restaurant at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado*

My favorite? Runner-up Luminaria at the Inn and Spa at Loretto. And for another take on the event, and those wonderful cheeseburgers read what my friends from The Santa Fe Travelers have to say about the event.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Haida Gwaii: Visiting the Haida Heritage Centre on Graham Island

Haida Gwaii is formerly known as
The Queen Charlotte Islands
One way to access the cultural and natural marvels that are now known as Haida Gwaii is by taking a BC Ferry from Prince Rupert, British Columbia (on the mainland) to Skidegate. 

Once on Graham Island, a main attraction, and great starting point, is the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay. This is a short scenic drive from the ferry landing.

The beautiful complex on the bay is an award-winning First Nations art and cultural tourism attraction. The complex consists of the Haida Gwaii Museumtwo classrooms, the Performance HouseCanoe HouseBill Reid Teaching Centre, the Carving House, the Haida Gwaii Musuem Gift Shop and the Kay Bistro.

I first encountered the Haida Heritage Centre after a long ferry ride. Docking early in the morning, we had to wait for the short ferry ride to Moresby Island and decided to take a drive along the water. 
Totem at Dawn

Just as dawn brought a new day to the island, we found the totems at the Centre beautifully lighted by the sun peeking through the early morning mist. It was a magical moment. I was eager to return and see the entire complex including the museum.

Hours vary by season:
June -  Monday to Saturday 10am - 6pm
Summer (July to August) - Sunday to Wednesday 10am to 6pm and Thursday to Saturday 10am to 8 pm
Winter (September to May) - Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm

The entrance fee ranges up to $15.00  (CDN)  for adults. It is well-worth it.

I visited in June and found many things going on. There was a huge ceremonial pole being carved that was destined to be raised at Gwaii Hanas, work on preserving the native languages was being done, tours were being given of the museum and the gift shop was well-stocked with Haida art.

I spent over an hour inside the museum and was entranced. It is beautifully laid out, anchored with totem poles and features a wonderful collection of Haida argillite. The museum is a great place to being your journey through the islands of Haida Gwaii as you will learn much about Haida culture and art.

New pole being carved at the Centre
After talking with the master carver about the new pole in the Carving House (traditional canoes were on display too), I decided to look for a piece of Haida art at the gift shop. They had argillite and silver jewelry, cedar weavings and cedar carved boxes, books and textiles. All items were authentic and were from local artisans.

When you go, consider a guided tour which will give you even more information about the Haida people and the offerings of the Heritage Centre.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Great Time to Be in Santa Fe: Summer Events and News for 2014

IFAM Joins the SWAIA Indian Market in August
There’s something to do for everyone in Santa Fe during the summer. Santa Fe invites visitors to wrap up their summer travel with a slate of new events in the Best Small City in America, as rated by Condé Nast Traveler. Whether travelers are making their first trek to Santa Fe or their 100th, a lineup of new events, activities and restaurants are certain to offer fresh, one-of-a-kind experiences for all. Here’s a quick rundown of some of Santa Fe’s newest attractions:

For the Art Lover: Purveyors of the best in Native American art and design will have an entirely new outlet to explore alongside the world renowned Indian Market this year, taking place Aug. 18-24. Sidling up to the world’s biggest Native showcase is the Indigenous Fine Arts Market, debuting Aug. 21-23 at the Santa Fe Railyard. The juried show will offer both emerging and established Native artists in an entirely new venue.  Admission is free. Visit http://www.indigefam.org/ for more information. 

For the Foodie: FUZE SW brings together the best chefs and authors from across the nation Sept. 12-14 on Museum Hill to discuss (and of course, taste) how the traditions and techniques of the state’s diverse population have coalesced to form one of the most unique food cultures in the world.  The chefs featured at the state’s only annual food conference range from James Beard-award winners to local grandmothers bringing together their finest dishes for a sophisticated potluck. A variety of tastings, meals, and satisfying conversations with some of the nation’s leading foodies are all on the menu.  For tickets and more information, visit http://fuzesw.museumofnewmexico.org/

Home cooking gets a run for its money with the opening of The Kitchen Window, a niche of a restaurant tucked inside The Santa Fe Design Center.  It serves breakfast all-day, including its house-made granola, along with made-from-scratch comfort-food classics like biscuits and gravy, New Mexican staple Frito Pies, and a red chile brownie. 

Venerable restaurants around town welcome new chefs to their kitchens. Bishop’s Lodge welcomes Executive Chef Tom Kerpon, whose previous credits include Inn of the Anasazi, Rio Chama and Tanti Luce 221. Rio Chama introduces Tony Blankenship as its executive chef. An alum of Hotel Santa Fe, Rancho Encantado and The Club at Las Campanas, Blankenship is reinvigorating the menu with dishes like burrata tomato salad with heirloom tomatoes and balsamic Jell-O. . . .Quail Run presents Evan Doughty as its new executive chef, whose prestigious training at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, previously dazzled diners at The Eldorado’s Old House. . . With a keen eye towards locally-sourced ingredients, beef, and bison, Chef de Cuisine Kristian Markland joins Buffalo Thunder’s Red Sage.  Markland’s resume includes training at Napa Valley’s French Laundry, Okada at Las Vegas’ Wynn Hotel, and his own restaurant, Morsels, in Southern New Mexico.

For the Cycling Enthusiast: The International Mountain Biking Association this month recognized Santa Fe as a 2014, Silver-Level Ride Center—one of only 10 communities worldwide to receive the distinction.  The designation means Santa Fe offers an abundance of trails for every level of rider and a welcoming environment for bikers both on and off the trails. 

Two new events reinforce Santa Fe’s biking reputation:

The Santa Fe Reporter’s Super Spoke Cyclocross Race takes off Sept. 20 from Railyard Park, complete with a kids’ fair, food carts, music, beer, and, of course, cyclocross around a course designed by six-time US National Cyclocross Champion Laurence Malone. 

Just a week later, on Sept. 28, Santa Fe debuts one of its most scenic (and tastiest) bike rides. Join the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta’s Inaugural Gran Fondo. This 75-mile ride begins at the historic Four Season Resort Rancho Encanto and winds through the Northern New Mexico communities of Nambe, Cundiyo, Truchas and Chimayo. The best part? Gourmet food stations replace water stops in this race, with chefs Mark Kiffin of The Compound, Kevin Nashan of Sydney Street Café in St. Louis, Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in Miami and Matthew Accarrino of SPQR. 

For the Yogi Pick your posture the Santa Fe Yoga Festival, Aug. 28-31. The new event packs 108 yoga classes, led by 35 world-renown instructors, over three days, against the breathtaking backdrops at Bishop’s Lodge. The workshops range from the traditional—with Native drummers providing the soundtrack—to the avant-garde, with DJs providing a yoga atmosphere like no other.
  
Lodging Updates:

For the first time in nearly two decades, downtown Santa Fe last cut the ribbons to a brand-new hotel, the Drury. Located just two blocks from the famed Plaza, the property offers 182, full-service rooms, a heated rooftop bar and pool with stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a 3,800-square-foot ballroom, and free breakfast and evening appetizers and beverages.  In classic Santa Fe style, though the Drury is new, it’s already steeped in tradition. The property boasts more than 400 years of Santa Fe tradition. Before renovation and construction began, an excavation and archeological team explored the site. Many artifacts were recovered, and a Spanish roadbed estimated to date from the 1610s was discovered. 

For more information, visit www.santafe.org.

Information courtesy: Santa Fe CVB


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dining Surprises in Poulsbo, Washington

Beautiful Poulsbo, WA Marina
Poulsbo, a quaint Norwegian-founded village in Washington state is a wonderful place to stroll the galleries, enjoy a festival or even rent a kayak. The village is small, peaceful and just lively enough to keep things interesting.

While we didn't find a Norwegian restaurant, we did encounter some dining surprises.

Having dined at That's a Some Italian Ristorante in downtown Poulsbo a week prior, I thought a return visit would be in order. When dining there previously, my friends raved about the smoked salmon pasta (and it looked very good). I had veal picatta and it was pretty tasty (not the best I had ever had but I cleaned my plate!)

So I arranged to take an out of town guest there for a fun Italian dinner a week later. I anticipated the restaurant to be busy as there was an art fair and street dance happening. Luckily they took reservations. They were, indeed, busy. Service was not prompt but it was friendly and accommodating.  What surprised me was the actual food. It was not what I expected after a pretty good meal on the previous visit.

The bread was great, the Caesar salad was great but when my friend’s Pizza Margherita came, things went downhill fast. The dough was flat (unlike other pizzas being served in the restaurant.) The sauce was “awful” and, quite honestly I was embarrassed for my friend who was a vegetarian and had few options. I have to say that the management handled her disappointment well and took the pizza off our bill. I think I will try another Italian restaurant in Poulsbo next time.

Surprise #2 came later in my friends’ visit. It was a beautiful evening and the boats were quietly drifting in and out of the harbor. The sun was beginning to set. My friend was dying to try the local “deck with a view” eatery despite my concerns. I had heard the place was a dive-bar sort of place… a local hangout for unsavory types who just wanted to down one beer after another and tell tall sea tales. And I warned her.

Throwing caution to the wind,  we went upstairs to The Loft at Latitude Forty Seven Seven. We were seated outdoors to enjoy the view and the sunset. I suggested to my friend that the food might not be the best. But she was looking forward to seafood (she is a pescatarian, it turns out) and ordered salmon cakes. I had guacamole and chips. We ordered from the inexpensive drink list.

While the clouds and the bay turned soft pink and orange with the setting sun, we enjoyed our small meals… both attractively plated. Surprisingly, both dishes were excellent. The salmon cakes were fresh tasting and not overloaded with breading. Seasoning was well done. My guacamole was freshly made before being served, chunky and not overly spicy.

It was a lovely evening and we were surprised by our experience as compared with advice we had received from locals. I’d definitely go back, especially at sunset.

Poulsbo has many small restaurants and coffee shops to check out. While we did not experience consistency in one situation, we did find that the downtown area is a great place to go for a meal and we can’t wait to go explore some more.

More Information
Visiting Poulsbo, WA

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bathtub to Huge Shower Remodeling Trend: What do hotels think they are doing?

There is a trend in hotel bathroom remodels. They eliminate the bathtub (often a bath-shower combo) and put in a tiled large shower instead. This, they believe, makes the whole en-suite bathroom much more desirable.

Budget Travel.com, as early as 2011, noted this trend. They pointed out that Holiday Inn has gone from 95 percent of its newly built hotels having a bathtub 10 years ago to only 55 percent of new hotels featuring them now. Marriott, they said, plans for 75 percent of the chain's rooms having a shower only.

And these larger walk in tiled showers are supposed to be the "in thing." If you want a luxury room, you can expect a large shower. Don't look for a bathtub. It won't be there.

So what are we bath lovers to do? What are families with little children to do. After all, bath time with a rubber ducky is a family tradition, no?

Don't travelers enjoy luxuriating in a warm bath after a hard day on the road any more? I, for one, consider a bathtub a necessity. I'm disappointed when a hotel cannot accommodate my request for a tub (if I remember to inquire.)

If you want to please me, have a clean bathtub available and a fluffy bathrobe in the closet to use when I emerge, relaxed, from my bath.

What do you think? Shower, bath or both?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Adrift Hotel and Spa: Long Beach Peninsula, Washington - Review



Adrift Hotel as seen from the beach.
It's not easy to review a hotel as unique as Long Beach's Adrift. It's really in a category of its own. But let me try.

I had the good fortune of a two night stay, with my dog, right on the beach in a place that was as dog-friendly as they come. Adrift, you see, was purchased by a local couple and renovated. The property is eco-friendly and they've used re-purposed materials as much as possible. And, in their wisdom, they made the rooms family and dog-friendly. They are easily cleaned by the staff and there isn't much that can be harmed by an exuberant child or hairy dog.
Cinnamon checks out the dog-friendly room.

There don't seem to be many rules. There are no extra charges for dogs, no weight limits and, given the fact that three beautiful Golden Retrievers were staying in a room on my floor, there doesn't appear to be a numerical limit. There are plenty of places to walk a dog and the hotel is right on the beach. 

There are no rules to tell you not to leave your dog in the room. While this is very convenient if you want to go out to, say, the hotel's Pickled Fish Bar and Restaurant, it might be an issue for your neighbors if the dog barks.

The walls are not all that sound absorbing. In fact, the hotel provides you with earplugs on the bedside "crate." Crate? Oh yes, let me tell you about the decor. That's hard to explain or review as well. I found the room to be clean and the crisp triple-sheeting was appreciated. But the decor harkens back to dorm days, with re-purposed wood and crates, buckets and industrial lights, and easily cleaned laminate floor. 

Pickled Fish is very popular with visitors and locals alike.
It was kinda cute and it looks like the owners had fun decorating the rooms and painting fanciful murals on the walls. My dog loved the polka dotted throw rug.

I describe the rooms as simple, beachy and creative. You'll be playing on the beach most of the time, anyway. So is decor all that important?

It's important to know that Adrift rooms are not air-conditioned but that is not usually an issue at the beach if you are ok sleeping with your windows open. And, you won't find tons of amenities in the rooms. Just ask at the desk if you want a coffee maker or something extra. They have games and loaner bikes, too.

Parking is great (free). Don't be surprised if your room overlooks the parking lot with the beach just beyond.

Restaurant
The decor, although of the same style, was stepped up a notch in the Pickled Fish restaurant. This was a fun place with an experienced bartender, a view to die for and pretty good food. Most nights there is live music. I'd sure recommend checking it out on your next visit to the Long Beach Peninsula.
Live music most nights

Spa
Oh yes, the Spa. I didn't try out any spa services but there was an on-site, by appointment, spa professional available. 

So would I recommend Adrift? My dog, Cinnamon, certainly does! I recommend that you read the TripAdvisor reviews and look at all the visitor photos. You can make your own decision and you'll be fully informed. After all, Adrift Hotel and Spa is unique. You can't really compare it with other beach hotels and motels or do a standard hotel review. But I had fun trying!

More Information
Address: 409 Sid Snyder Dr., Long Beach, WA 98631
Phone: 360.642.2311
Email:    reservations@adrifthotel.com
Facebook Page


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary accommodations  for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

Best Small City In America: Santa Fe New Mexico!



Why am I not surprised! I had the privilege of living in Santa Fe for over two years. There was always a world class festival, art show or event happening.

Santa Fe, New Mexico has been named the Best Small City in America by Condé Nast Traveler’s 26th annual Readers’ Choice Awards, a ranking of the best cities, islands, cruise lines, airlines, hotels and resorts in the world. Condé Nast Traveler had 79,268 readers participate in the 2013 survey, resulting in 1.3 million votes.   

The publication credits the destination’s cultural scene as one of its best assets, noting, “no other place in the country so beautifully reflects the art, architecture, food, and crafts of centuries of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican influence.” Also included was a recommendation to visit the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) on Museum Hill. 

The complete ranking of the Best Small Cities in America includes: 

1.       Santa Fe, NM
2.       Carmel-by-the-sea, CA
3.       Napa, CA
4.       Telluride, CO
5.       Newport, RI
6.       Santa Barbara, CA
7.       Jackson Hole, WY
8.       Aspen, CO
9.       Sedona, AZ
10.     Key West, FL

The Condé Nast Traveler ranking is one of several important accolades Santa Fe has garnered thus far in 2014. Earlier this year, Santa Fe’s winding streets and abundance of world-class cafes and spas earned Santa Fe the No. 3 ranking as the country’s coziest city by The Huffington Post. The website 10best.com recognized Santa Fe in myriad categories, including the nation’s top destination for a girlfriend getaway, a top 10 historic destination, and the fourth most romantic getaway in North America. 

Its clean air and mountain perch make it a top destination for outdoor adventure. In March, Outside crowned Santa Fe as the nation’s Best Trail Running City. The League of American Bicyclists awarded Santa Fe a Silver Level designation for its welcoming bike culture. 

Through a variety of special events, visitors to Santa Fe this summer can experience first-hand the cultural and culinary scene that earned the Condé Nast Traveler ranking, including: 

Santa Fe Indian Market , August 18 - 24, 2014
This spectacular festival is celebrating its 93rd year as more than 1,000 gifted Native American artists from across the United States travel to Santa Fe to showcase their skills at the largest Native American art show and sale in the world.  www.swaia.org/. 

Burning of Zozobra , Aug. 29, 2014
The annual torching of 50-foot-tall Old Man Gloom, a puppet stuffed with thousands of scraps of paper bearing the citizenry's sad thoughts, has been a fall highlight for 90 years. 

Santa Fe Fiesta, Sept. 5-7, 2014
The oldest continuously celebrated community event in the country fills the historic Plaza with food and music, dancing and parades. Fiesta is the city’s most enduring tradition and one of the summer’s most anticipated weekends. More information is available at www.santafefiesta.org  

Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, Sept. 12, 2014
After a successful inaugural run, this culinary competition is back for a second year as chefs from local restaurants compete to determine which restaurant’s green chile cheeseburger is the best in town. Judged by a panel of notable food experts, this event takes place at the Santa Fe Farmer's Market. Tickets are available now at ticketssantafe.org

For the complete list of Readers’ Choice Awards and the methodology, visit http://www.cntraveler.com/readers-choice-awards. Click here to see the full list of “The 10 Best Small Cities in America.”