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Friday, April 21, 2017

Dog-Friendly Vacation Rentals and Guides

It was one of those weeks that just dragged on and in true New England fashion, the weather was all over the place.  Monday was 70 degrees sunshine and everything amazing about spring but it just went downhill from there.  45-50 degrees and raining has been the theme of the end of the week.  Luckily, warmer weather is on the horizon and I have some amazing trips coming up ranging from long weekends in California to camping trips here in New England.  Lets talk about vacations, shall we?

Today's post is the last in my "everything-dog-friendly" series and I have to say it's a good one. Today I am collaborating with to talk about vacation planning with your pooch.  Spoiler:  Trying to find dog friendly lodging just got a whole lot easier. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bluff Point State Park- Groton, Connecticut

If you have been reading along for some time, you probably know by now that A:  I love to travel and B:  I have had the chance to live in some pretty cool places (oh I am talking about you New England and Utah).  While I love to blog about popular spots like the vineyards of Napa Valley or visiting some of our most famous National Parks, I really love to post about the local treasures in my back yard.  This time last year my back yard looked a little different (truth:  I did not even have a back yard, I lived in an apartment downtown in a city nestled in the mountains and technically what you could call the back yard was the park where the homeless camped).  Living on the East Coast, I subbed the mountain and city views for quiet, humidity, and ocean views here on the Connecticut shoreline.  My back yard now has ocean views.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Barn Island - Stonington, Connecticut

Happy Tuesday!  Mondays 70+ degree weather has all of us New Englanders packing away the winter clothes and making summer plans.  With that nice weather comes all the planned hikes, bike rides and adventures.  Of course, all these adventures are much more fun with my not so trusty furry companion Olive.  This week, I am sharing some dog-friendly posts on some favorite places and spaces to spend time with your dog.  Today's post is a local favorite and at 2.5 miles down the road from where I live, it is an easy place to sneak away for an after work bike ride or trail run with Olive.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hubbard Park/Castle Craig, Connecticut

You know that first real day of spring.  The day the sun is shining, the birds and chirping, the daffodils are in bloom and for the first time in a long time, you can go outside in a t-shirt.  That day here in Connecticut was Sunday.  Temperatures were reaching 70 degrees inland and man did it get all of us New Englanders talking about summer plans. Talking to a gentleman about how busy all the state parks were on Sunday, he looked at me with a slight laugh and said "of course, its busy.... this is the day everyone has been waiting a long time for".   After a long winter and a rainy start to spring, Oh was he right.  

For me, the start of the warmer weather is the start of hiking season.  At the moment, the trees are still a depressive shade of leafless brown and the landscape carries the same dull brown and yellows it has been holding onto all winter long.  I am not-so-patiently awaiting the time of year when the trees are green again and wildflowers line the hillside.  With that being said, I have some work to do if I want to get into "White Mountains Hiking Shape" for the summer.  I need to get some days out on some elevation and I needed to get it fast.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Smugglers Notch Resort, Vermont

The annual "Smuggs Brewfest Trip" was always an event we looked forward to.  Twice a year,  about mid December and early April in the non-peak skiing season, a group of friends would make the 4 to 5 hour drive up North to spend a weekend up at Smugglers Notch.  Of all the Vermont ski resorts, this is one you don't hear a lot about.  Smugglers Notch is up there.  Every time I drive up to the resort I am reminded of the fact that we are basically driving up to Canada.  Smugglers is on the other side of Stowe, and is basically the last resort in the state besides Jay Peak which is nearly on the border.   The drive feels even longer in the winter when you can't cut through the historic Smugglers Notch Pass (Route 108) that connects Smugglers Notch and Stowe.  Instead, you have to go up around and cut back to get to Smuggs.  Add in the fact that we drove up on a Friday night in a heavy snow storm with speeds limited to 35 mph and it turns into the drive from hell.  But I digress.  Smuggler's Notch isn't the easiest mountain to get to but there are a few reasons (charm, variety, condos) and one big reason we make the journey when there are so many mountains closer.... the price.     

Smugglers Notch Trail Map

Friday, April 7, 2017

Scuba Diving on Grand Cayman (recap)

Before I go into my last Grand Cayman post (yes, this is my last GC post) I have to start with an apology.  I am sorry for being so on and off and inconsistent in my blogging lately.  Sometimes it can be tough to find the balance between the 40+ hour work week, adventures, and the blogging in between.  But nonetheless, I am here and we are going to recap my last Grand Cayman post.  Today's post is the finally sum up of diving on the island of Grand Cayman.  A breakdown of dive sites, the critters we saw and an interactive map with details on all our dive sites.  Happy Friday and let's talk about diving. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Moxie - Madison, Connecticut

Moxie.  People have been ranting and raving over this spot in the small coastal town of Madison, Connecticut.  After a few visits, I quickly understood why Moxie is always busy and why everyone keeps talking about it.  For starters, Moxie is home to great food at an awesome price with an impressive local beer list.  The restaurant also has a fun down to earth yet trendy vibe.  This combination, cool spot + fair prices + great food + awesome beer means Moxie is always busy and quite popular with the hipster crowd.  Well, the few that are actually in this area.  Heads up early on, you will need a reservation for dinner, especially on the weekends.  

I decided to give it a try on two separate occasions and was impressed with the food, alcohol selections and atmosphere each time.  I have to be honest, I judge a restaurant harshly on how good their fries are and let's just say Moxie is officially Katie Wanders eaten at and approved.

Let's talk about Moxie. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stingray City- Grand Cayman VIDEO

The older I get, the more I try to avoid the touristy gimmicky attractions when I travel.  When I plan my trips around the globe, I try to avoid the "Blue Lagoons" of various destinations. More often than not, they are usually overpriced "in and out" types of deals that you do for the bucket list or a quick picture.  The older I get, the more I try to avoid the crowds of people and 5 second photo ops. 

I have to admit, when I booked my trip to Grand Cayman, I had one overly touristy activity on my radar: Stingray City.  If you've been on a cruise in the Caribbean, you have probably stopped at GC and saw this exact activity as one of the excursions along the way. Stingray City is the famous little sandbar in Grand Cayman where you can hop in the water and feed the wild sting rays.  My internal debate was "Yes, Yes I want to feed and swim with wild sting rays." and then "No, No I do not want to give someone all this money to some guy who doesn't care for something super touristy that doesn't support eco-tourism".   
First world problems. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Grand Cayman Cuisine

One of my favorite aspects of traveling is the food.  Yeah yeah the sunshine and crystal clear water is nice, but the food is the biggest perk.  New restaurants, new menus, new cultures and new amazing food. I always get extra excited when my travels bring me to an island because this typically means a lot of fresh fish will be offered on all the menus. So what type of food can you expect on Grand Cayman? My week was filled with stewed turtle, conch fritters, kangaroo sausage,  lionfish tacos, jerk chicken, countless curries and chicken tikka masala.  But before I go into how good lionfish tacos are, we need to go over a quick and dirty 1 paragraph history lesson and then the food will all make sense (except for the kangaroo). 

SHORT VERSION:  Grand Cayman was first colonized by Jamaica, and then by the British. HISTORY LESSON:  "The Cayman Islands were sighted by Christopher Columbus on May 10, 1503, during his last voyage to the West Indies. At first the Spaniards named the islands Las Tortugas because of the many turtles in the surrounding waters, but by 1530 they were known as the Caimanas or Caymanes for the alligators (caimánes) reported to be native there. After the Treaty of Madrid (1670)—which ceded Jamaica and a number of other Caribbean islands, including the Caymans, to Great Britain—the first permanent settlement was established on Grand Cayman. Most of the inhabitants were British mariners, privateers, shipwrecked passengers, and African slaves, as well as land-grant holders from Jamaica. The remoteness of the islands, and integration following the emancipation of slaves in 1835, resulted in a socially homogeneous society." Read More

Shrimp and Mango Salad from Paradise Grill - Georgetown

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Compass Point Dive Resort - Grand Cayman

Planning dive vacations can require a lot of research.  You are looking for a nice resort with great diving and easy access at an affordable price.  You spend a lot of time stalking flights, emailing resorts, and comparing different weeks of travel to find the trifecta of quality, convenience and price.  Hopefully, at the end of these spread sheets and emails you find the type of resort you are looking for and most importantly, in your price range. While I researched flights, two friends headed west to Las Vegas to scout out different dive resorts and island destinations.  What they came back with was Compass Point Dive Resort in the Cayman Islands. 

Hammocks and the dock at Compass Point
Compass Point Dive Resort is a "Dedicated Dive Resort" on the quiet East End of Grand Cayman, the largest island of the "Cayman Islands".  Compass Point aims to bring Live-A-Board style diving at a land based resort.  Their motto is "roll out of bed and onto the waiting dive boat".   Far away from the crowds, easy access to some of the islands best diving, and at a great price, Compass Point had a lot of what we were looking for in a resort.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Scuba Diving the Kittiwake Wreck- Grand Cayman

Scuba Diving the Kittiwake, Grand Cayman 
I am officially back from one glorious week spend soaking up the 83 degree sunshine and scuba diving in Grand Cayman.  I apologize for the lack of posts while I was gone (glitches with my brewery posts), but promise that the Cayman posts to come will make up for it all.  The first post in the Cayman series is one of the main island's most popular dive sites, the Kittiwake Wreck.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Stony Creek Brewery- Branford, Connecticut

While I am in the Cayman Islands diving (sorry for all of you stuck in winter still..) Katie Wanders will be sharing a few posts all about local breweries.  

Welcome to Monday and another post featuring a New England brewery (Katie Wanders visited, tasted and approved).  Truth be told, Stony Creek has been on my radar for a while.  I have heard awesome things about their new space in Branford with its large outdoor area right on the water.  I have also enjoyed some of their beer on tap at restaurants and bars around the Connecticut shoreline like Little Cranky that was almost always on tap at Dog Watch right down the road. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Packing for a Dive Vacation

This time tomorrow I will be on a plane heading for the Caribbean, Grand Cayman to be exact.  I am jetting away with 13 other friends I dive with to spend a week scuba diving around the island.  Getting away from a dreary New England winter in March is just what the doctor ordered. 

To kick off my trip, I am sharing my tips and secrets to packing for a Dive Vacation (or really any trip in general).  I am sharing what kind of bag makes an awesome and cheap dive gaer bag, and how you can fit a weeks worth of clothes in a carry-on suitcase.  While I am gone, keep an eye on the blog as I share a tale of three breweries (three posts about three different breweries- one great, one good, one awful).  Now, let's start packing!

Packing for vacations can be an awful experience.  You lay out everything you think you need on the bed, look over at your empty suitcase and cringe.  A:  you probably forgot a few things and B:  that stuff is never going to fit.  If you are packing for a dive vacation, then you need a lot more in your suitcase than a normal trip.  A lot of that equipment is also really expensive, hard to replace and necessary for a week away spent diving. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Vermont Travel Club Card

When it comes to hobbies, I always joke that I picked the "most expensive ones".  From horseback riding to scuba diving to skiing, my bank account takes a hard hit when it comes to extracurricular activities.   As much as I love skiing, it can be an expensive hobby to maintain.  Even after the initial investment of gear, you have to keep putting money into lift tickets or season passes.  While season passes are often a "deal" in the long run, they are expensive up front and generally restrict you to one mountain. Of all the years I have been skiing, I have never held a season pass (even while living in Utah).

I have always looked for ways to score lift ticket deals whether it be memberships to ski clubs or discounts online at sites like Liftopia.  Here in New England, there are a lot of ski mountains to chose from and many are very expensive.  Stowe for instance, breaks the bank at $124 for a one-day lift ticket.  The high prices of Stowe had also turned me off from skiing the mountain.  However, a friend had a condo at the base of the mountain and I was eager to give Stowe a try (you can read all about my day skiing Stowe HERE ).  Before forking over the $124 for a one-day lift ticket (ouch), I did a lot of research on discounted lift tickets.  After some extensive internet searches and phone calls into various travel clubs or memberships, I discovered that a $54 one-time fee gets you membership to the Vermont Travel Club Card, a card that offers lift ticket discounts at various Vermont mountains, as well as discounts at restaurants and hotels.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Winter Hike to Camel's Hump, Vermont

For my 29th birthday, I rented a yurt in the woods of northern Vermont for the weekend. It was a great way to camp in the winter, spend some time in the woods and experience something new. The yurt was also close to some great hiking in Vermont's Green Mountains. Specifically, the yurt was only 7.5 miles to the trailhead to hike up to famous Camel's Hump. Camel's Hump is Vermont's 3rd highest mountain at 4,083' and is a registered 4,000' summit. The distinct topography of the mountain (resembling a camel's hump) makes it one of the State's most recognizable mountains.

Olive and I taking a break on the trail
Camel's Hump can also be hiked all year round, making it a very popular winter hike. Even in the middle of February, you can still find 20+ cars at the end of Camels Hump Road at the Burrows Trailhead. The Burrows Trail is the popular route in the winter and because of it's popularity, it is well packed down, easy to navigate and the only route I can safely suggest for you to tackle in a winter with heavy snowfall.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vermont Yurt Rentals - Maple Wind Farm

Birthdays look different for everyone.  It can be a tropical vacation, a nice dinner out or a week long celebration.  My birthdays have always been fun and different from trips abroad to fancy dinners and themed parties with friends.  This year (my last birthday in my 20's) looked a lot different than most.  While a nice dinner out was scheduled for the following week, my actual birthday took place up north in the woods of Vermont. 

 In a yurt.  

Maple Yurt- Maple Wind Farms 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Visiting Stowe, Vermont

I was so impressed by the Town of Stowe.  From breweries, cideries and coffee shops to restaurants, general stores and recreation paths, there is more to this town than the namesake ski mountain. Stowe is a historic mountain town with so many awesome attractions. Stowe prides themselves in combining a 200 year old Village with Vermont's highest peak. As far as ski towns go, this was one of my favorites in the East (Park City, UT stole a little piece of my heart while I lived out west).  I was lucky enough to get a tour of the town by someone who has spent nearly every winter there.  It worked; in one weekend I was able to get a quick tour of the town, eating, drinking, and shopping my way around the best spots in town.    

Stowe Weekend Stops:
Black Cap Coffee and Beer (Coffee and amazing local beer selection)
The Alchemist (Local brewery famous for its DIPA Heady Topper)
The Country Store (Classic Country Store)
Shaw's General Store (Another Stowe General Store)
Stowe Mercantile (My favorite of the many general stores!)
Doc Ponds (Awesome place for apres-ski drinks and food)
Von Trapp Brewing (gorgeous new brewery - great beer, great space with food)
Trapp Family Lodge (Famous Austrian style lodge and XC ski resort)
Picasso Pizza (Great yet expensive pizza)
McCarthy's Restaurant (Amazing breakfast) 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont

Stowe, I like you.  I like you a lot.  

With so many ski resorts in Vermont, it can be hard to decide where to ski when the Green State of Vermont shifts into a winter wonderland of white.  We have Mount Snow, one of the first mountains as you make your way north into Vermont.  We have huge resorts like Okemo.  We have family friendly like Smugglers Notch.  We have "skiers only" and more rugged terrain like Mad River Glen.  There is also Stratton with its groomed rollers, and Killington with its expansive terrain.  Then we have some of the other guys:  Jay Peak, Sugarbush, Magic Mountain, Bromley, and more.  While Stowe has always been on my list, its high ticket prices and longer drive always turned me off.  When a friend invited me to stay at their condo at the bottom of the mountain, I finally took the chance to ski the famously fun mountain.  I packed up my skis and a cooler of beer and headed North. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Waylands Wharf - Stonington, CT

I have lived in Stonington for nearly 9 months and have yet to tell you all about this beautiful little town.  I have shared a few snipped from Stonington Vineyards and Salt Water Farms Vineyard, but not a whole lot about the town.  I promise I am working on a post all about this little town.  But for now, let's focus on another little aspect of what makes Stonington the best place in Connecticut. 

Although I grew up on the New England coast, and spent a lot of time scuba diving in Stonington, there was so much I didn't know about this town.  There were so many little shops to discover, restaurants to try, and swimming spots to find.  I am learning a valuable lesson -- adventure awaits just about anywhere, even in the smallest of boroughs.  

Walking down Water Street, the main street in the borough, I decided to follow the public access way through an overpass of a brick building.  It was cute and confusing at the same time, a walkway through an alley of a residential building in the borough.  At the end of the walkway, the area opens up to a large parking area, a public parking lot for the borough. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

von Trapp Brewing - Stowe, VT

A Beer Flight and Map of the Trap Family Lodge Cross-Country Ski Trails 
Stowe sorta blew my ski socks off.  I feel like every time I go to Vermont, I am taken back by how awesome Vermont is.  Did I really just forget? Did I never fully experience it?  Do I have a new outlook on all things New England?  When I was there in October to bike Kingdom Trails and hike the state's highest peak (Mansfield), I was amazed by how gorgeous the state was.  I also felt a wave of nostalgia to be back in the mountains, a new love affair sprung from my time living in Salt Lake City.  

I have only heard good things about Stowe from friends but truth be told, I was not expecting to be so smitten with this little town so far away from the coast (you know me, coast is king).  This adorable ski town has it all with amazing restaurants, several breweries, the cutest general stores, recreation trails, oh and an awesome ski mountain.  I kept saying over and over "we HAVE to come back in the summer".  I loved that the town and the mountain share the iconic Stowe logo and everywhere you go, you are reminded of where you are from the towns many signs, banners and logos representing the mountain town.  My weekend in Stowe was just one awesome adventure after another, and just what I needed to start off the ski season.  From shopping to skiing to trips to local breweries, Stowe did not disappoint. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

East Beach - Charlestown, Rhode Island

February probably seems like a weird time to post about the beach. Stick with me for a few more paragraphs and I promise it will all start to make sense.   The small state of Rhode Island is known for its beautiful wide sandy beaches, steady surf, and seafood shacks. Beaches like Watch Hill, Block Island and Misquamicut are always popular spots for beach lovers from June to September.

While summer is the season here in New England, there is something to be said for these beautiful (and virtually empty) beaches in the off season.  For starters, many of Rhode Island's state beaches allow dogs in the off season.  East Beach in Charlestown, Salty Brine Beach in Naraganset, East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingston and Misquamicut in Westerly all allow dogs on their beaches from October 1st to March 31 (ban from April 1 to September 30).

While I have been to many of the areas beaches, East Beach was so different from all of the area beaches I have visited. The main reason is simply that it is one of the least developed of Rhode Island's State Beaches. The real shining star here is that you can even go horseback riding on the beach (BYOH of course). Three miles each way, you have six miles of perfect flat sandy beaches to enjoy a sunny day on horseback.  East Beach in Charlestown with its beautiful beach and critter friendly atmosphere is my kind of hidden gem.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Grey Sail Brewing - Rhode Island

I swear I do more than visit breweries and drink beer.  The problem is, if you can even call this a "problem" is that there are so many awesome breweries popping up all over New England.  Some (like this one) are virtually in my backyard.  Add in the fact that it's winter in New England and outdoor activities are a little limited and all the brewery tours suddenly make sense.  Summer is for playing in the woods.  Winter is for drinking beer in breweries. 

This week, the blog is taking you over to one of my newly found and favorite local breweries.  Grey Sail Brewing calls the town of Westerly, Rhode Island home.  Yes, I live in Connecticut but the little Pawcatuck River is what separates the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, Pawcatuck (CT) and Westerly (RI).  Over state lines but still virtually in my back yard.  Now let's talk beer!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Winter Weekend in Portland Maine (eatcation)

What does a winter weekend in the pretty little city of Portland, Maine look like you ask? Well, it sort of looks like this: Fresh out of the oven donuts, french fries cooked in duckfat (and then smothered in gravy), delicious dumplings, more local breweries than you can possibly fit in a weekend, views of the sparkling Atlantic and yes, some snow.

Popular Summer Stop - Portland Lobster Co.

If you have lived in the northeast you can agree that New England winters seem to kind of drag on forever.  That fresh snowfall always gets us giddy, but by week 3 of sub freezing temperatures, icy bridges and dirty snowbanks mixed with garbage and gravel, we are beginning the countdown to daylight savings.  Sure, you can head to the mountains to ski but again, this is New England.  You can get a great powder day or a weekend filled with long lift lines, single digit temperatures and a lot (a lot) of ice.  So what do you do when the forecast is projected to be 20ish and the skiing conditions are awful?  You go on a Eatcation**. 

First official food stop on the way to Portland: Rise Donut from Congdons
* Eatcations can involve activities besides eating. However, the main reason for the trip and largest enjoyment must come from eating. For example: You can go for a nice little walk along the harbor, but you better be putting your all into Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, with a stop at a brewery somewhere between there. The purpose: to eat some great food. Everything else is optional. Portland, Maine is just about the perfect place to go on a eatcation. Portland is Maine's largest city and has seen a dramatic transformation with the influx of foodies and hipsters that make this city what it is today. Bon Appétit named Portland America’s foodiest small town, the New York Times called Portland “one of the best places to eat in the Northeast,” and the current new title is in competition with San Francisco for the most restaurants per capita. 

In the summer, you have a lot more options as far as recreation goes from whale watching to walking tours. In the winter you are a little more limited. For this post, we are going to focus on what you can (and should) do during a winter weekend in Portland Maine. And like I said, this was an eatcation so I basically, well, ate.

Monday, January 23, 2017

BaoBao Dumpling House- Portland, Maine

We arrived in Portland, Maine just in time for lunch.  I knew Portland was famous for it's food scene and the  biggest issue would be how to fit as much food as possible in 48 hours (first world problems).  With high expectations and building excitement, it is quite easy to look at the long list of 4 to 5 star rated restaurants and be a little overwhelmed by the options.  

The thing about Portland is there is more than a little bit of everything.  In the mood for Asian?  Pick from one of these five restaurants with rave reviews.  Seafood?  I don't even know where to begin with the choices.  I decided to consult "The Bible" (Fodor's New England travel guide if you are new to the blog) with this tough decision.  The book had yet to disappoint me so far, with an awesome stop at Congdon's donuts and a nice little walk at Rachel Carsons preserve to start the day.  

While perusing through the food section, two restaurants really jumped out at me: BaoBao for their dumplings, and Duck Fat for their fries.  The idea was set and I was not leaving Portland without dumplings or french fries.   And so, our first real stop (if you don't count the donuts) became BaoBao. 

General Info

BaoBao Dumpling House
Rating:  4.5 Stars 
Address: 133 Spring Street, Portland, ME 
Contact: 207.772.8400
Open:  Wednesday through Sunday, Closed Monday and Tuesday

Reservations:  Parties of 8 or more

Vegetarian Friendly:  Yes

Gluten Free Friendly:  Dumplings no, but some options 

Parking:  On the street (metered)

Special Events
1/2 Price Dumplings: 2:00-4:00 (Wed-Fri)
Happy Hour: 4:00 - 6:00 (Wed-Fri)
Monthly Tap Takeover (currently featuring Oxbow Brewing)
Pop Up Events 

Why The Name?
"BaoBao 包宝 in Chinese translates to “wrapped treasure”, or in our case, dumplings (jiaozi 饺子), served in a historic townhouse in Portland’s West End.  We offer Asian inspired comfort food, designed to satisfy both the midnight foodie, or discerning dinner diner.  Our core menu is supplemented with ever-changing daily specials and a wide variety of teas, beers, wines and specialty cocktails".

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Urban Farm Fermentory

It's another chilly New England winter day and we are still talking about the foodie little city of Portland, Maine.  I promise to provide you all with a nice little "Winter Weekend in Portland Guide" soon, but before I wrote that guide up, I wanted to feature a few places that I really loved in the city.  Earlier in the week we talked about Allagash Brewing and today we are talking about another brewery (kinda!) -- a visit to the Urban Farm Fermentory.  Weird name, not so exciting storefront, but what is inside is so many sorts of awesome. 

A good friend kept insisting we visit UFF.  "Do not leave Portland until you have been to this place" was the urgency I was getting .  We kind of kept just nodding our heads and weren't really sold on the place by just the name and not many details.  I was a little confused by the name as in a "what the hell will a fermentory have that I want to drink" kind of way?  All I could really think of was fermented foods and I wasn't exactly sure what UFF had to offer.   I didn't really think this one through and I wasn't expecting to see such a cool spot with so many amazing options on tap.  From different types of beer and mead to ciders and kombuchas, there was something for every palate inside UFF.  And no, nothing tasted or looked like kimchi.  

The building is tucked away in a quiet corner of the city in an industrial park (we may or may not have sat in the parking lot for 20 minutes waiting for it to open, early bird gets the... kombucha?).  The outside is really unassuming which confused me even more, but the inside was trendy, bright and an awesome space for a brewery, er, fermentory. Walk in past the cornhole setup and head to the bar and be prepared to be surprised with the fun and funky flavors of UFF.   

"Urban Farm Fermentory® is an experimental urban farm, fermentation factory, and community engagement hub located in Portland, Maine. It is here that we craft authentic kombucha, jun, cider, gruit, and mead using local and foraged ingredients, when available. To sample our full selection of fresh, and seasonal concoctions on draft, visit our tasting room to experience the culture!"

Monday, January 16, 2017

Allagash Brewing Company

When heading north to Maine in the winter, I knew our options of outdoor activities were a little limited.  With temperatures hovering in the high 20s, this trip was going to be mostly about eating and drinking our way around Portland.  When the temperatures are below freezing and you want to take off on a foodie/boozie adventure in New England, Portland Maine is the perfect place to go.  

The weekend was a mix of good food and great local beer.  Looking at a map of breweries, the list of local brews in Maine can almost be overwhelming (so much beer, so little time I am afraid).  While the microbreweries are popping up at an alarming rate, there are the big names like Shipyard and Allagash who are well known and have been around for a while.  To start our tour in Portland, we decided to stop into Allagash to see the space and of course, sample some Maine brewed beer. 

Entrance to Allagash Brewing Company

A great and very busy brewery in an awesome space.  On a "campus" or I guess you could call it an industrial area with several other breweries and distilleries.  Free tours, FREE TASTINGS and a really cool tasting room and patio (covered and with heaters in the winter).  I loved that the patio was dog-friendly and I can see how this would be an amazing spot in the summer, making your way through the various breweries, distillery and food trucks.  While here in January, we tasted four beers, all delicious with my favorite being their classic (and first beer!) Allagash White.  Little Brett was a close second and the porter was a delicious winter treat.  White makes it pretty far across the U.S. and it is pretty common to see it bottled at various restaurants in New England. 

While most breweries are just trying to sell beer (and it seems to be all about IPAs these days), Allagash is working on expanding on and perfecting Belgian Ales.  If you like Belgian beers and want to taste and tour the operation, this is a great stop in Maine.  While the tours were booked up, we were told we absolutely have to come back to see the operation.  Tours are free but book up quickly (reserve in advance online).  While the tastings are free, you cannot order a pint at the bar, beer is only sold to go.  They have some various merchandise and snacks available for sale as well.  If you love the local beer scene after your tasting at Allagash, you can turn this into a full out Maine Brew Tour.  Head across the street to try out Foundation Brewing Co, Austin Street Brewing, Bissel Brothers Brewing, New England Distilling and Geary's Brewing. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Cliff Walk -- Newport, Rhode Island

One of the best parts about blogging is that it makes you a better writer in the long term.  The more I blog the more I find my "voice" and discover what a good blog post looks like.  Between my style of writing, the pictures I take and the way I present the information, it all gets better.  When I visit some of my favorite places a year or so later, I can update old posts to give you, dear reader, a better blog post. Today, we are revamping my post on Cliff Walk with some real Nikon photos, a better flow and information.  So let's chat (again) about a world famous walk and Rhode Island's most popular visitor attraction, Cliff Walk.

Cliff Walk in the winter 
What's a Rhode Island post without a little intro to our countries smallest state?  It's no secret I am one of Rhode Island's biggest fans.  Ocean, architecture, history, charm, scuba diving, shops and some amazing seafood, what more could you want (I bet you Utah folk just said mountains).  Newport is just one of those iconic New England towns and when you catch it on a beautiful clear summer day, sitting on the dock eating oysters at your favorite restaurant while the band plays and the cocktails are poured, those long hard winter New England months seem all worth it and so far away.  When you catch Newport on one of those days, its hard to describe how lovely it is.  

What is it:
If you find yourself as a tourist in Newport, there is a lot to do.  Among one of my favorite things (and the one thing I insist every visitor do) is take a walk on Cliff Walk.  It is a world famous walk along the eastern shore of Newport, Rhode Island.  This walk combines the rugged Atlantic coast/Rhode Island shoreline with the mansions of Newport's gilded age.  The 3.5 mile long walk starts off as an easy paved trail in the southern portion (about 2/3 of the trial), past famous mansions like The Breakers, before turning into rugged and rocky shoreline and dirt paths through tunnels and by the lawns of private properties. A walk, a hike, a little bit of both with breathtaking scenery from the waves of the Atlantic to the manicured lawns and gardens. This is the only National Recreational Trail within a National Historic District in the United States.

Couple walking down a paved section of the trail
Cliff walk is an amazing way to see another perspective of the Newport Mansions.  On one side, you will pass famous sites like The Breakers, Forty Steps, Rough Point, and Mrs Vanderbilt's Tea House (more on all this later).  On the other side, you get sweeping views of the Atlantic and Rhode Island's coastline. During my latest trip in December, wWe walked about 80 percent of the trail- about from the Breakers over to the end, walking the road back to the Breakers.  From the more developed areas to the rockier quieter section, we loved it all.  

Short detour on a more ruged section of Cliff Walk
The trail leaves the nice paved path and crosses over this rocky beach

Monday, January 9, 2017

52 Hike Challenge: 2016 recap

If you are big on the hiking hashtags on instagram, you have probably seen the #52hikechallenge pop up here and there.  I saw it constantly on friends feeds like my dear friend Amanda and when 2016 started I decided to take a part in the 52 Hike Challenge myself.  

What exactly is it?  
It is a commitment and a way to create a "be more active" challenge for yourself.  You make a commitment to yourself to (on average) hike once a week.  Hence, the 52 hikes in one year.  It doesn't have to be one hike per week (unless you want to define it that way!).  You can define the terms based on your individual goals.  For you a hike can have to be a new trail, at least 3 miles, or whatever rules you want to set.  There are great resources on the website you can use and fancy ways to play along, but I just decided 52 hikes, set some guidelines, and write them down in my planner.

52 Hike Challenge

My Rules
I decided my hikes at to be at minimum one mile, and the trails had to be partially dirt (could be paved parts for access ways, etc).  My goal wasn't to go on 52 long strenuous hikes, or to hike once a week, but to encourage me to get out and walk more in new places. 

I wanted a little extra "oomph" to see new trails, see new views to new lookouts, get away to new parks.    At the end of 2016 I had completed 52 "Hikes" (what I defined as a hike for this challenge) in 3 countries (USA, Puerto Rico, Madeira Portugal), in 11 states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah, Ohio, South Dakota, Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona) for a total of about 409 miles.  I wasn't after peaks or crazy mileage.  Some of my hikes were in crazy exotic places, while some were a quick mile on the trails by my house.  All I wanted was motivation to get out more, and add in more variety.  Looking over my list, the variety of my hikes in so many states (and even a few different countries!) is an achievement for me. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Travel Insurance- Things to consider

It's a New Year.  What does that mean for those of us who like to travel? A whole new year of scheduled trips.  But before you start filling up 2017 with exotic travel, I wanted to have a quick chat about something we all hate to think about. Insurance.
I think we all have pretty negative connotations associated with this.  Car insurance--we pay all this money a month and then if we ever need to use said insurance, its a constant battle of getting our refund, deductibles, and other issues.  Health insurance - we pay into it every month and find out just about nothing is covered (specifically dental, the worst!).  Regardless of how you feel, these insurances are required and it is likely that we all pay into them.  But what about Trip Insurance?  How do we decide if our investment is worth the return?  Before we get into "Should I buy it" let's talk about exactly what trip insurance is. 

What is it?
Insurance intended to cover medical expenses that your normal healthcare may not cover as well as travel problems such as general expenses, trip cancellation, lost luggage, flight accident and other losses incurred while traveling internationally or within your own country. It is an extra insurance to cover costs of unforeseen circumstances while traveling, wether it be flight delays or medical bills. While it sounds like an amazing coverage at first glance, it is important to know there are many loopholes and a lot of "fine print". 

Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock, Oregon

Why should you get it?
Travel insurance offers travelers some piece of mind.  It is a source of coverage for unforeseen problems.  From a cancelled flight to a serious illness, travel insurance can help you recoop the costs of every day occurrences.  Travel insurance is also there to help you in the extremely rare cases, even an act of terrorism or the financial default of a travel supplier. If something like an illness, accident, or other covered unforeseen circumstance creates the need for a traveler to cancel or interrupt their travel plans, the traveler faces two potentially major financial losses.  First, is the money invested in (often) nonrefundable pre-payments and secondly, the medical expenses that in many instances may not be covered by health insurance.  If you personal reasons, or reason to believe you may need to cancel a trip, you should consider insurance.  Specifically, you can even get an insurance that refunds a trip after canceling for "any" reason (including work reasons, etc). It is important to note that most insurances can be purchased up to 24 hours before a trip. When it comes to trip insurance, the earlier the better.  If you try to purchase insurance after you are made aware of a weather event, insurance may not provide coverage.   A whole lot of loopholes and a lot to consider. 

A few things to consider
When you are considering trip insurance, it is important to consider factors like:

  • Does your medical insurance cover you abroad? And will it cover high-risk activities like scuba diving? Talk to your primary insurance and find out what is covered and what isn't.   Medical insurance while traveling abroad is a necessity for me when I like to be hiking, scuba diving and biking.  
  •  Does your credit card offer any kind of insurance? Some may cover the flight if booked with a card.  If flight insurance is your biggest issue, this is something worth looking into. 
  • What is the weather like where you are traveling to and from? Are you traveling during hurricane season? Is there a chance that a large storm could hit the week you are traveling?  I am not talking rain on my beach days, but hurricanes and flooding that could potentially cancel your trip. If so, insurance may be a good idea. 
  • Was the trip expensive? Is it worth the extra cost for a cheap trip or should you invest to cover an expensive one? The cost of insurance will go up with the cost of the trip but may be worth it for those really expensive trips where you have a lot more to lose. 
  • What are the politics like in the area you are traveling? Could there potentially be safety issues that evolve before your trip (terrorism, difficulty with US relations, etc). 
  • What kind of coverage would you need? Do you need Trip Cancellation Coverage (this covers specific and limited LISTED events like severe weather and illness) or "any reason" coverage (work, breakups, etc). Traditional Trip Insurance will only cover "Listed Unforeseen Circumstances" and you cannot assume everything is covered. 
  • Read the fine print and look over the exclusions.  For example, "I can't afford to go" or going specifically for medical procedures will not be covered under traditional Travel Insurance.  Any Reason Coverage does just about that, lets you cancel for virtually any reason with a few stipulations.  Of course, this will be more expensive than typical travel insurance but worth looking into if you think you will face a non-listed reason. Read the details on Any Reason insurance.  Read more about travel insurance exclusions.   

What I choose
These are the questions I ask myself when considering insurance.  Thankfully, most of my trips have let me to the "no I don't think I need general travel insurance" route.  But when I travel for Scuba Diving trips, I always make sure I have an updated Divers Alert Network (DAN) membership and insurance which will cover all my medical needs (the most expensive trip disaster!).  For just $110 a year ($35 in membership dues and $75 in insurance fees for their middle shelf "preferred plan") I know I have all the extra coverage I need for scuba diving and traveling in a foreign country.  

If you don'y dive on a regular basis like I do and are more of a "vacation diver", then don't worry, you don't have to commit to a yearly plan.  On top of a yearly covered insurance, DAN has single trip plans, and multiple trip plans.  This is a great resource and deserves its own post in the future, but lets get back to general travel insurance. 

Why am I only increasing basically my medical dive accident  insurance through an annual policy instead of taking advantage of trip interruption/cancellation insurance for this trip?  In this case, the Island is safe, we are not going during hurricane season (the weather is almost always perfect!), and the trip is on the cheaper side.  The flight at $450 and the resort at $1,250.  The odds of the airline or resort going under, or a huge storm hitting the area are pretty slim.  But just in case, any of the medical expenses I may accrue (which has happened on a trip before!) usually the biggest expense in travel emergencies, will be covered through DAN. 

So I guess my answer is Yes and No.  Some insurances are worth it, especially those that cover medical expenses!.  If you do go for the insurance route, read the fine print, ask questions, compare prices and shop around.  

Comparing Prices 
There are a lot of various insurance companies out there offering different types of travel insurance. will allow you to compare policies among different companies like April InternationalBerkshire Hathaway Allianz travel Insurance and AXA Travel Insurance. If you are going on a dive vacation, I highly recommend checking out DAN's specific yearly coverage policies for divers.  If you are not a diver, they also have a Divers Alert Network Trip Protection plan. If you are shopping for insurance, is a great place to start.  Here is a price comparison below for different companies. 

Divers Alert Network: Basic: $71
Berkshire Hathaway: $60.25
Allianz:  $58
AXA: $55
Roam Right: $49 
April International: $47

These rates are for a 29-year-old, leaving from Connecticut to Grand Cayman in March of 2017 for one week for a trip priced at $2,000 for the most basic plan that includes trip cancellation (more have three different plans). All in all, these costs are pretty cheap for piece of mind. But remember, rates will vary for each trip depending on each of these factors.  If you already booked your trip and want to consider travel insurance, most insurances can be purchased up to 24 hours before a trip. 

When deciding if travel insurance is right for you, make sure you weigh your options. Figure out if the cost of the insurance is worth fronting for the cost of your trip. Figure out if you need extended medical, trip cancellation or "any reason' insurance. Most importantly, if you do decided to go the insurance route, read all the fine print, make sure there aren't any exclusions that may interfere with your need for insurance. Travel Insurance isn't for everyone or every trip, but its nice to know you can buy peace of mind when you need it

Happy Traveling,