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Sep 25 2017

Things to Do on Kauai's North Shore

Category: Best Of | Favorites | General | Itineraries | Lists | Sightseeingkmaxwell @ 05:23

Known as "the Garden Isle" thanks to the lush tropical forest covering much of its 562.3 sq mi of terrain, Kauai has been featured in more than 70 Hollywood movies and TV shows—in large part for the breathtaking beauty of its dramatic peaks, scenic waterfalls and stunning canyons.

If you're lucky enough to visit this peaceful island in the middle of the Pacific, consider adding the following sights and activities to your itinerary:

Kilauea Lighthouse

This century-old lighthouse situated on a rocky peninsula 180 ft above the ocean is located in the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a protected breeding ground for many Hawaiian seabirds. Placards along the walkway provide information on wildlife visible from the point, including the red-tailed tropicbird (koa'e 'ula), Layson albatross (moli), great frigatebird ('iwa) and more.

Tours are offered, but times vary based on availability of staff and volunteers. The refuge is open 10 am-4 pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Kilauea Lighthouse from the lookout point

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Aug 7 2017

A Day in Austin, Texas

Category: Best Of | Favorites | General | Itineraries | Sightseeingkmaxwell @ 09:34

As the fastest-growing large city in the United States and the second most populous capital city (after Phoenix, Arizona), Austin has much to offer – from finger-lickin’-good barbecue to honky-tonk dance bars to large cultural events, such as the annual South by Southwest festival.

A day is not nearly enough time to experience all of Austin’s gems, but if it’s all you have, check out these highlights to get a feel for the city. And along the way, don’t forget to join the locals in “Keeping Austin Weird.”

Texas State Capitol

Start the day with a visit to the Texas State Capitol. Completed in 1888, this pink-granite structure, designed in Italian Renaissance Revival-style, features wood wainscoting and an impressive rotunda, along with nearly 400 rooms. Its surrounding grounds, decorated with various statues and monuments, provide plenty of photo ops.

Guided tours are free and available throughout the week. They generally depart every 30 to 45 minutes and last approximately 30 minutes.

Texas State Capitol building

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Sep 22 2016

Chicago Neighborhood Profile: Logan Square

Most visitors to Chicago only make it outside of the Loop (our name for downtown) to head to the Southside for the Museum of Science and Industry, or maybe to head a little bit north to Wrigley Field; and that's a real shame, because our city is vibrant, diverse and full of incredible experiences, many of the best of which are outside the tourist hubs. If you want to escape the endless hordes of people on Michigan Avenue, hop the CTA Blue Line for twenty minutes and get off at either the California or Logan Square stops, and you'll find yourself in Logan Square, the most up-and-coming area in the city, jam-packed with award-winning bars and restaurants. Here are some of my favorite dining, drinking and shopping spots in my neighborhood. 

                        

                                     The signature dish at Logan Square's Fat Rice. Photo via Bon Appetit.

Dining. Some of the most exciting and unique dining experiences in the city reside in Logan Square. My favorite is Fat Rice, which serves Macau cuisine—Macau was a Portuguese trading outpost in China where many cultures blended, producing a one-of-a-kind fusion cuisine. You'll find dumplings and pork buns along with traditional Portuguese drinks such as caipirinhas, but the real star is the titular dish, the fat rice, which is a rice pot loaded with clams, prawns, a variety of sausages and porks, and hardboiled eggs (it'll feed two to four people). It's basically a treasure trove that you eat. Get a reservation, because I was once told on a Thursday evening that it was a two-and-a-half-hour wait for a party of two. (Tip: Fat Rice has a bakery next door where you can buy a wide variety of buns (they even have a Chicago-style hot dog bun, if you're feeling brave) and coffee and tea that's open during the day.)

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May 19 2016

Wellington, New Zealand: The perfect starting point for day trips and tours

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, yet is is much less frequently visited than its northern neighbor, the thriving metropolis of Auckland. Still, Wellington is worth the visit, not only for the sights within the city, but for it prime position as a jumping-off point to explore some of the more remote areas of New Zealand. From there, you can easily travel to the areas of Martinborough and Cape Palliser, or join in on a Lord of the Rings-themed tour.

                         

                                         Seal pups at Cape Palliser. Photo courtesy of Rolf Hicker.

Cape Palliser is a gorgeous spot not far from Wellington, at the very southern tip of the island. It boasts a lovely lighthouse (the climb is steep and tiring, but worth it) and a large population of fur seals that sun themselves on the coast. Visit in summer to see seal pups—they're insanely adorable, and playful, too. The drive out to Cape Palliser itself is worth the trip, as the approximately hour's journey takes you along some sheer, but stunning, rock cliffs. For nature lovers, the cape is not to be missed.

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Apr 1 2016

Exploring the world's oldest amusement parks in Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark is home to the world's two oldest operating amusement parks: Dyrehavsbakken (more often simply referred to as Bakken) opened in 1583, while Tivoli Gardens dates from 1843. While the phrase "amusement park" might bring to mind huge crowds, screaming children, greasy, overpriced food and a general sense of exhaustion, these Danish parks provide a stark contrast (though they're certain to be crowded at peak times, too): They're overwhelmingly green, and provide plenty of places for quiet retreat; the dining is excellent, even, in some cases, Michelin-starred; and there are still plenty of rides to please thrill-seekers. As spring unfolds and the parks reopen for the season, take the time to explore the history of fun in Copenhagen.

                       

                                     The Tivoli Gardens illuminated at night. Photo via AMB Wallpaper.

The Tivoli Gardens is one of the most famous theme parks in the world, and is said to have been a major inspiration behind Walt Disney's Disney World (the Chicago World's Fair's White City, which Disney's father helped to construct, is another touchstone). Expect it to be packed, but it's worth the visit; there, you can see the renowned and breathtaking gardens, ride one of the world's oldest operating roller coasters (it's been running since 1914), and see one of the best performances of Commedia dell'Arte outside of Italy (this classic pantomime show doesn't use language of any sort, so it's accessible to anyone!). The dining options within Tivoli Gardens are truly outstanding: You can find high-end cuisine, from Japanese to American to traditional Danish, as well as the more typical amusement park fare. We especially recommend Nimb Terrace, a fine-dining establishment with excellent views and a friendly atmosphere; its French take on Scandinavian cuisine is to die for.

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Mar 18 2016

The historic heartland of French wine country: Dijon

Located in the region of Burgundy—famed for its wine, as well as its boeuf bourguignon, a favorite of this writer's (try it at the Maison Blanche in Paris!)—Dijon is synonymous with mustard, and often serves as a departure point for tours of the area's wineries; but it also boasts a rich history, with many remaining signs of its once powerful position as a ducal seat, along with incredible, predominantly Gothic architecture. Be sure, when in Dijon, to check out a few of these wonders before you begin your daily wine tasting.

               

                  The ducal palace and tower of Philip the Good; photo via Wikimedia Commons

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Mar 1 2016

Breisach: The most charming little stop along the Rhine

Breisach, Germany is a lovely little town that, in addition to sitting right on the Rhine River, is also only miles from the French border (twelve miles, precisely, to the equally charming town of Colmar, France). Although the majority of the town was destroyed in the World War II, it still has a variety of sights and experiences that make it a must-stop along the Rhine. The history of the town dates from medieval times (it was once the seat of a Celtic prince), and the cathedral, St. Stephansmunster, began construction in the 13th century—it is the most striking sight in Breisach, sitting atop a high hill in the center of the town. 

                      

                                                     Photo via Jorgens Mi, Wikimedia Commons

River cruises often stop in Breisach, as it's perfectly situated as a starting point for excursions to nearby wine towns (including those in France) and the Black Forest. For a laidback yet charming day (or even half-day), skip the organized tour and take the day to explore Breisach. Set your sights on the cathedral and climb up, up, up the cobblestoned streets—as you walk, you'll pass colorful houses, shops and restaurants, so take your time and be sure to stop in at a cafe somewhere for good, typical German fare: lots and lots of spaetzle, and also some fantastic pastries, such as Black Forest cake and walnut torte.

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Sep 2 2015

An autumn road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall is swiftly approaching, and I can think of no better way to experience its crisp air and vibrant foliage than on a leisurely road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway stretches from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, with dozens of jaw-dropping vistas along the way. It's a truly gorgeous stretch of the country, and fall is the perfect time to take it all in.

Fall foliage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


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Apr 22 2015

Exploring Paris' Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter of Paris is known as the heart of bohemian intellectualism—this is the area where you could once find Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus sipping Pernod and talking philosophy. Though it is now largely a tourist area, it still bustles with the activity of students and free spirits, and it should not be overlooked by serious travelers. It is best to explore this section of the city as a flaneur—wander the streets, see the people, stop into any cafe or bookstore that interests you. This is one of those areas that is meant to be seen without the heavy burden of sightseeing—though it is close to Notre Dame and the excellent Archaeological Crypt of Parvis of Notre Dame. Try to spend at least an afternoon in the Quartier Latin. To get you started, here are a few of our favorite spots.

The Cluny Museum. This museum focuses on all things medieval, and that goes for everything from its structure (it's a former cloister built in the 15th century atop the ruins of the former Roman baths) to its contents. A standout museum in Paris, it is the perfect spot for art and history lovers. There you can see The Lady and the Unicorn, perhaps the most famous tapestry ever created.

                           

                                 The Lady and The Unicorn tapestry; photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Mar 13 2015

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Modernity in Venice

Start your day in Venice in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), sipping an Italian-style coffee and sampling some dolci from any one of the numerous cafes lining the square, and watch the bustle of the city go by for a little while. Be warned, though, that sitting at an outdoor table will cost you, and these cafes are often overpriced due to their location. Still, it’s a fun way to start the day from a central location with great people-watching. Soak up the feeling of old Venice as you take a leisurely fifteen minute walk that leads you around the winding streets of Venice and over the Grand Canal (via the Ponte dell’Accademia) to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Housed in an 18th-century palace where Peggy Guggenheim (a member of the famed art-loving Guggenheim family) once lived, the museum is a treasure trove of important modern works by the likes of Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst (Guggenheim’s former husband), among many others, and covers all the important art movements that comprise modernism, from surrealism to futurism, abstract expressionism to cubism. The 300-piece permanent collection is comprised of Guggenheim’s own personal purchases.

  

                                            photo via Joanbanjo, Wikimedia Commons

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