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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 country's 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, it's 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, we 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 rugged section of Cliff Walk

The trail leaves the nice paved path and crosses over this rocky beach

Need to Know

Free admission
Open sunrise to sunset 365 days a year
Dogs allowed on leash only
Bathrooms- Two unisex toilets on Narraganset Avenue
Time to finish: 2.5 hours
Parking: First Beach Memorial Blvd -71.297055, 41.475944
Narragansett Ave Forty Steps -71.297055, 41.475944

There are a few tunnels throughout the walk
A view of The Breakers from the trail


It is great all year round. Cliff Walk in the summer will bring warmer temperatures but will also bring a lot more people. The winter will have more unpredictable weather and likely a chilly breeze, but you will likely have portions of the trail all to yourself.   
Source Click HERE for an interactive map.

"The walk starts at the western end of Easton's or First Beach at Memorial Blvd. and runs south with major exits at Narragansett Ave., Webster St., Sheppard Ave., Ruggles Ave., Marine Ave., Ledge Rd., and ends at Bellevue Ave. at the east end of Bailey's Beach locally referred to as Reject's Beach". -

Click HERE for an interactive map.

Map Credit: City of Newport, Commonwealth Engineers & Consultants, Inc., and the RI Dept of Transportation Source

Walk a Section

There are five unique segments to Cliff Walk

1. Memorial Blvd. to Forty Steps
2. Forty Steps to Ruggles Ave: covers a close up of Mansions at Salve University campus; there are several sets of steps.
3. Ruggles Ave. to Belmont Beach: covers a touch of rough terrain and waves breaking near walk when wind is strong from South.
4. Belmont Beach to Ledge Rd: covers pieces of Rugged Terrain especially at Rough Point, however this is most rewarding for serious hikers not afraid of heights.
5. Ledge Road to Bellevue Ave: sometimes missed by Cliff Walkers, but if you have done segment 4 this is easy and better than walking out Ledge Rd.

If you only have a short time to do a piece of Cliff Walk drive down Narragansett Ave. to the Forty Steps and walk south past Salve Regina College and the Breakers.

Viewpoint along the trail

Information along the trail
There are QR Codes all over the trails that link to some great information about the walk, the area and neighboring mansions.  I also think these small stands with QR codes are the perfect way to give visitors information, without having big obtrusive signs that get damaged or graffitied.  It was really fun to be able to scan the code (get an app that can read these for free) and learn some more information about exactly what I was looking at.


“The Cliff Walk Trail Marker program is a noteworthy enhancement to the Walk, one that offers readily accessible information to what visitors see as they travel along the ocean’s path,” said Bob Power, Chairman of the Cliff Walk Commission. “The Walk is not only the first National Recreational Trail in New England, but it is also set in a National Historic District. Now visitors can learn about the fascinating sites they pass, such as The Breakers, Marble House, Bailey’s Beach, Rough Point, 40 Steps and others. The content of most of the information accessed at the sites was researched and written by students from Salve Regina’s Cultural and Historic Preservation Department. The markers themselves were crafted and installed by the Boy Scouts, Troop #3 Newport, Led by Conner Flynn, as part of his Eagle Scout project.” Read more about this new marker program here.

Couple walking down the trail 
Antique gate along the trail 

Be Aware
Parts of this walk do pass over a public right of way over private property.  Be cognizant of your surroundings and like any trail, be respectful and bring all and any trash off the trail with you.  Also noote that in some spots the trail is less protected and there are steep drops and cliff edges.  In some sections, just a couple of feet from the path are abrupt drops of over 70 feet and wild bushes and weeds often hide this danger. The further south you walk, the more rugged the terrain will become. Expect to cross over large rocks and boulders and proper shoes are a must. Fine sand and sea spray on some of the rock surfaces can make the walk very slippery. If you get poison ivy, keep your eyes peeled especially during the summer months.  Poison Ivy which grows well in rainy summer weather along some areas of the path.

Taking in the views along Cliff Walk
Paved section of the trail 

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.

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. 

Want to learn more about financial protection while traveling?  This article goes into some more detail about problems you can run into while traveling (car rentals, medical bills, etc) and how travel insurance can help you with these issues.  

Happy Traveling, 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Katie Skis the West: VIDEO

Okay, I admit it.  I am really backlogged on my GoPro videos.  Just last night I (finally) finished a video of my ski footage out west.  This is no small feat as I had to go through a whole lot of videos from two winters worth of skiing the west.  Then, I had to edit a few for contrast and brightness, and clip them all way down, to fit a 3.5-minute song to be exact.  You don't even want to know how long this process takes. 

Featured in this video are clips of skiing with family and friends (or just skiing solo!) at Snowbird, Snowbasin, Solitude, Canyons (now Park City), and Brighton (all in Utah ). At the end is Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole (both Wyoming). While I also had the chance to ski Deer Valley and Alta (both skiers only mountains in Utah and a blast) I didn't bring my GoPro those days. Because let's be honest, sometimes it's nice to unplug and just ski.

So, without further adieu, a montage of Katie skis the west, clips from the 2014-2015 and 2015 to 2016 ski seasons. And yes, after skiing all of these amazing mountains, Jackson you are still my favorite. 

Happy Skiing,