Category Archives: off the beaten path

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

12 hours in Williamsburg BrooklynGetting to know a city is rather a bit like dating. That rush when you find the first thing that grabs your interest. The thrill of newness. Then settling in a bit to really connect on a deeper level.  Every relationship has it’s highs and lows. And then there were those 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

When it comes to New York City, Brooklyn in particular, I’ve a bit of a matchmaker. My husband is a Brooklyn native, born and raised. It wasn’t until after we moved from California to Maryland that I ever set foot in the Empire State. Over a decade later, I’m still enamored of something in each of the five boroughs.

Like anyone when they first start seeing someone, I typically refuse to hear anything bad about my new beau. When dear friends {also life-long New Yorker’s} lament the loss of ‘authenticity’ in their city, I simply turn a deaf ear.  Sure the traffic is lousy and stuff is expensive, but even high-maintenance relationships can be fulfilling

Did Big and Carrie teach us nothing?

Banksy Street Art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkOne of the best ‘dates’ I’ve had with New York was 12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My eldest daughter came along to meet my muse. We walked for miles, enjoyed outstanding food, fed our artistic spirits, shopped, talked and mingled with the locals. Here are a few things that can’t be missed if you’ve only got a few hours to fall in love. 

Brunch at Marlow & Sons

Fresh. Local. Artisanal. Check! This place is a bit of farm-to-table meets french bistro, though the food is decidedly Americana with a modern twist. The menu changes daily, which makes it  a culinary adventure whenever you go. The baked eggs with ham and chickpeas was a favorite. A perfectly baked egg is an art form.

The Pink Olive

Stationery is my kryptonite. I can’t pass up pretty paper. The Pink Olive is a gift store that has the prettiest of paper, and more. I could have spent the kid’s college fund on tea towels, candles and Salt Road handmade taffy.

Brooklyn Bowl

Classic bowling alley with a trendy twist, like Chesterfield leather sofas and award-winning eats. We stopped in for a quick match {doesn’t take long for me to bowl a few frames of gutter-balls} in the early evening, just after it opened at 6pm. It was quirky, but fun. I can see how it becomes a hot-spot for the grownup types after dark. They feature live bands as well.

Mast Brothers Chocolate Williamsburg, Brooklyn New YorkMast Brother’s Chocolate

I’ve long been a fan of Mast Brother’s handcrafted, high-quality, responsibly sourced chocolate bars. When we stumbled upon the shop as we explored, the heady aroma of cacao drew us in like a siren song.

More than a retail location, this is also the factory and bakery. Bags of raw cacao beans line the worn wooden floors. Beautifully wrapped, uniform-sized bars are laid out on a weathered table under harsh lights. They look more like stacked books than decant chocolate. An expert in all things cocoa nib hovers nearby ready to answer questions and hand out small samples… oh yes, there are samples. 

Mast Brother's Chocolate Shop Brooklyn, New YorkA stop here is much like a visit to a museum with friendly docents ready to teach you all about their passions.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten

You like live music? Dig elevated pub grub and a good beer? Go HERE! The vibe here is so nostalgic that you can almost feel the wraiths of early German immigrants to America float among the hops hung to dry from the rafters over your head.

Gritty without being grungy, and featuring excellent German fare as well as a few distinctly American offerings, this is a great place to grab a meal. If you can’t get seated in the open-air biergarten {or if it is a tad too chilly} ask for a window seat. The people watching is as good as the food.

12 Hours in Williamsburg, Brookly - BiergartenUrban Market of Williamsburg

At the end of the block – a short walk from Marlow & Sons in the shadow of the Williamsburg bridge– is a foodie nirvana called Urban Market. If you want to taste all the flavors of Brooklyn from Little Italy to China Town this is the place.  Plus there is a parking garage here that doesn’t cost you a mortgage payment.

Park, explore, come back and shop before you leave. We grabbed bread, local cheeses, some french pastries, and the best cocktail bitters outside of my own homemade. {I’m modest like that}

What cities have you fallen in love with, and why?

12 hours in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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Quirky Roadside Attractions #IGTravelThursday

 quirky roadside attractionsQuirky roadside attractions may not be exclusive to America – Longford, Ireland has a giant fiddle embedded in a roadside hill– but it does seem to be a tradition routed in Americana. The heydays of Route66 gave birth to some of the most quirky.  That legacy grows with every rediscovery and snap posted to Instagram. Here are a few of my favorites in honor of #InstagramTravelThurdsay.

My paternal Grandda was a bit of a stinker. The older he got, the more cantankerous he could be. I vividly remember one summer when the grandparents came to visit us and he refused to eat the fish my mother made unless it was specifically, “Northern Walleyed Pike.” Not much chance of getting that in the desert of Southern California. Mom just looked at the label on the Gorton’s box and replied, “Well what do you know Joe, that’s exactly what the label says it is.” I guess when you hit your 80’s you want things your way but may not have the time to double check what you’re getting.

Every time I hear “Walleyed” I think of him and smile. When I found Wylie the Walleye roadside attraction in Tonya Prater’s feed (@travelermom) I giggled even harder at the thought that anyone would ever want, let alone insist on eating one of those things! Tonya’s travels across America in an RV are some of my favorite IG posts of all time.

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>A watermelon munching Tyrannosaurus Rex… seems ligit? Turns out the resident prehistoric reptile of Vernal, Utah has a new look for every season. Found on the feed of @skwikita, a self-proclaimed “Old Guy” who loves taking pictures, this made me laugh so hard I had to find the story behind it. The townfolk of Vernal turned this once decapitated roadside attraction into an icon of the city who even dresses up for the annual rodeo. @skwikita claims to not know what he’s doing on “IG,” but one look at the great pictures he posts and we all know he’s doing it right.

Not too far away from where I grew up, dinosaurs lived. Or at least my six-year-old self was convinced of this. The dinosaurs of Cabazon, California were a bit neglected back when I was a kid, but then in the 80’s the band Tears for Fears shot them in part of their video for Everybody Wants to Rule the World, and the old guys got some new life. Here they’ve been captured by @Lost_in_the_usa, but they’ve also got their own IG account too!

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p style=”text-align: justify;”>When we moved to the East Coast our first major roadtrip was to Savannah Georgia. Since then we’ve made a handful of seventeen hour treks to Orlando and points south. Every time we go, the first person to spot a billboard for South of the Border wins a prize. This place is cheesier than the entire state of Wisconsin, and seems to be suspended in time. When Katja of Skimbaco made a recent trip from New York state to Florida her family found it just as charmingly kitschy as ours does.  And what’s not to love about a place with a giant sombrero tower, purple apes, and a twelve foot long dachshund in a bun? 


I think one of the things that makes quirky roadside attractions so… well… attractive, is that you typically never know where they’ll crop up. That and the creativity behind many of them. How does one even decide to build the biggest ball of twine in America, let alone market the thing as a “destination”?

Case in point… a wrong turn on a recent trip to our favorite beach in Maryland, brought us face-to-face with a Great White Shark. Not many of those spotted on the Maryland coastline. The excellent Ice cream we had next door may be more common. We’d never have found it were it not for old saw-tooth here.

 

#SHARK spotted off the coast of Maryland!

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola (@dipaolamomma) on

What was the cheesiest or most memorable roadside attraction you’ve ever seen? We might just have to plan an entire trip around quirky roadside attractions. Think there’s an app for that?

Tips for Viewing the Assateague Island Pony Pinning

photo credit: Bonnie U. Gruenberg
photo credit: Bonnie U. Gruenberg

At around ten years old I got the best Christmas gift any kid could ever ask for – my first horse. Well, technically she was just a hair too short to be called a horse. I loved her all the same. She and I would while away many a summer afternoon in the shade of an outcropping of trees that sprung up around a little stream carved out at the base of a leaking water tower near her stables. While she nibbled on sweet watercress, I’d read (and reread) the classic; Misty of Chincoteague.

The story of how Paul and Maureen longed to buy one of the ponies that swam across from Assateague Island, was pure romance to my preteen soul. It didn’t hurt that my pony was a Paint with a large white marking on her side. It was one of those bittersweet books that crawls into your heart and makes you somehow enjoy the sad parts as much as the triumph.

Far removed from that stream by the water tower – my horse long passed – I now live close enough for a day-trip to Assateague Island. Taking my family down there is a treat. The beaches are far less crowed than the rest on the Delmarva peninsula, nearly pristine and yes… there are still wild ponies. 

surfing off Assateague Island MarylandThe population of the herd is kept under control in part by the annual Pony Penning (now called the Pony Swim) which remains nearly the same as described in Marguerite Henry‘s classic. On the last Thursday of July the Volunteer Fire Department of Chincoteague, Virgina – aka the Saltwater Cowboys– drive the herd on a short swim from Assateague to Chincoteague at slack tide. Here the foals are separated from the herd. 

The first foal to make the crossing will be named King or Queen Neptune and raffled off at the carnival that evening. The rest will be sold at auction, the adults returning to the island to live wild and free. 

Here are some tips for viewing the Assateague Island Pony Pinning.

Information on the 2015 Chincoteague Pony Swim

Date: July 29th, 2015

Time: Slack Tide (usually between 7:00 am and 1:00 pm

Admission: To view the swim is free

Parking: (free) Chinoteague Combined School – 4586 Main Street, Chincoteague, VA 23336

Other activities on Chincoteague Island Saturday, July 25, 2015:

  • 28th Annual Chincoteague Island Blueberry Festival (9:00 AM – 4:30 PM at the Chincoteague Center)
  • 90th Annual Chincoteague Fireman’s Carnival (7pm – 11pm at the Carnival Grounds)
  • ‘Misty of Chincoteague’ playing at the Island Theater (Check the Theater for show times)

Wild Ponies of Assateague Island Just as when I was that awkward book nerd who’s only friend was her not-quite-a-horse, I’ve mixed feelings about this tradition. In my ‘logical brain’ I understand the need to control the size of the herd. Can’t have them breeding and eating themselves out of a home. On the other hand, softhearted soul in me sees a certain cruelty in breaking ‘families’ apart.  

For now I think we’ll stick to spending lazy summer days on Assateague Inland, enjoying the sun, searching for a new shell for the collection, and keeping an eye out for wild ponies.

Not that they’re that hard to spot….

Roaming the roads Wild Ponies on Assateague Island Maryland

 

5 Unique Travel Apps & Sites for Creating Deeper Travel

Five Unique Travel Apps and Sites to help you plan your next tripLet’s face it, there are a ton of travel apps out there that do pretty much the same thing. After you’ve found the app that houses all your itinerary info, one for translations, safety and maps, why not look for travel apps that help you go deeper and create a truly unique trip. Here are a few of my favorites. 

5 Unique Travel Apps & Sites

Findery

Findery is a treasure map for travelers looking for hidden gems, off the beaten path destinations, and insider info.  Travelers leave little gems, in the form of notes about places they’ve been. Then geolocation wizardry takes over.

Who knew that convince store with the dusty windows was open, let alone that Nepalese family that owns it is cooking up amazing Momo (Nepali meat dumplings)  in the back? Somebody on Findery did – and they left a note which showed up in an alert on my phone when I walked by.

Findery is also great for those of us who love to share our travel tips, but don’t have enough time to get every detail into… say… a blog post. (cough. cough)  I created this Findery note while at an event – and noshing the best warm olives this side of Sicily.

Findery Note on Warm Olives from Fleet Street Kitchen - Baltimore, Maryland

Vayable

Ever found yourself wishing you had a Bestie in every city you visit? That perfect companion to show you around the place? Vayable may be the next best thing.

Locals put together tours that let you dig deeper into the destination. Hit Manhattan for a midnight street food experience. Explore the art scene in Berlin. Get insider info from a member of the White House Pres Corps. 

Spotted By Locals

Want that “Like A Local,” experience but not quite ready to hang out with strangers in a strange town? Spotted By Locals is the way to go.

This site is built of blogs penned by locals with great insights, tips and up-to-date info on the hot new spots in town. Spotted By Locals is a great place to start with your trip planning. Once you’ve built your itinerary and hit the road, the app will be there with helpful city guide maps on the go.

Cookening 

Food is the only universal language. Sharing a meal is sharing of cultures, our sustenance and selves. Cookening is your invitation to the table.

Here you’ll find locals hosting dinner parties for friends and travelers. The food doesn’t get much more authentic than this, but it’s the conversation that makes the meal. Where better to hear about the places you’ll see, the history and future of a city than gathered around the table for a meal.

Dining in the homes of locals has always made me fall deeper in love with a place.  How much different would our world look if we all just shared a meal? 

Creating your own unique trip with Vayable - Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom Spinlister

Getting out and enjoying the outdoors is another great way to connect with a destination. I personally love a bike ride. But it isn’t always easy (or inexpensive) to find a bike to ride. That’s where Spinlister comes in.

I liken Spinlister to the AirBnB of bikes. Owners list their rides on the site and you shop for the right one. They also feature skis, surf and paddle boards too. Beyond getting equipment that isn’t generic rental stuff, you also get to pick the brain of the owner. Where is the best trail for taking photos? What lifts should you avoid after 10:00am? Where is the best beach for avoiding Kooks? Spinlister is like two apps in one when you look at it this way.

Do you use apps when you travel? What’s your favorite site for travel planning? Do tell! I’m always on the lookout for something new – like any good traveler I know there is always so much more to see.

 

As a Verizon #VZWBuzz  Lifestyle Blogger I’m a member of a pretty cool team of Influencers who share information about mobile living. I was provided a device at no charge, from Verizon. No additional compensation was provided.  There has been no editing by a third party, nor any promise of positive feedback.   All opinions are my own – because you deserve nothing less.

 

B&Bs of Ireland: Hounslow House

Ireland's Most Charming B&Bs - Hounslow House, Fore, Castlepollard, County WestmeathRoom service, concierge, spa treatments, there is no denying the attraction of a good hotel. That said, the one thing that even the hotel with an in-room cappuccino machine will never have is the feeling of being welcomed home that you get from a great Bed and Breakfast (B&B). Our recent return to Ireland uncovered some of the best B&Bs we’ve ever stayed at.

Finding a good – let alone outstanding – B&B can be challenging. Do you trust the reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor? Who exactly are you sleeping with (um..  rather who’s running the place you’re sleeping at?) Having the right tools at hand can make all the difference in finding the perfect B&B for you.

Wait, I have to share a bathroom with strangers?!

If you happen to be heading to Ireland, the best tool to have in your search is Bed and Breakfast Ireland. Their search feature goes so much deeper than location. You can search by activity, amenities, room types, and so much more. Including ensuite bathrooms you won’t have to share.

Homemade Scones & Jam at Hounslow House B&B Fore, Castlepollard, County Westmeath IrelandThe site has a “Short List” feature so you can save potential locations, saving time and sanity in the process. The Irish Tourist and Northern Irish Tourist Board also certify the B&Bs found on the site and most have profiles of the proprietors as well.

The Best of The Best…

Some places you stay leave such an impression that you’ll undoubtedly carry that memory with you. Hounslow House in Fore, Castle Pollard, County Westmeath is one such place.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills of deep beryl green, Hounslow House is a gem. The resident welcome party – in the form of a very friendly Irish Setter – eagerly awaits disembarkation from your car. Equally as welcoming (though I might not suggest trying to pet them) are proprietors, the Healy’s.

The Fore Crosses stand sentury on 10km of roadway, beared witness to religious persecution during penal timesGrainne Healy is a veritable expert in local history, which serves her well as a teacher at the are primary school. She also whips up amazing scones – until her’s I’d always thought of a scone as sawdust in the shape of a biscuit. 

The front of the house features a huge picture window that overlooks the countryside as well as the ruins of Fore Abbey below. Resident equine ambassadors – Orlando and Zsa Zsa – were always game for a photo, while the chickens provide excellent fresh eggs for the outstanding full Irish breakfast you’ll enjoy included in the price of your stay – which can be as low at €70 (or around $80.)

Ruin of Fore Abbey sight of the 7 Wonders of Fore Castlepollard, County Westmeath, IrelandTake tea with Grainne and let her fill you in on the history of Fore Abbey, regale you with the tale of the 18 ancient stone crosses that dot the roadside near the B&B, and be sure to ask her where the best hiking and fishing can be found. She and her husband are quite the outdoors people and a priceless resource for getting the most out of your time in this breathtaking region rich in natural beauty and history that you’re not likely to find in typical travel guides.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path but that’s part of it’s indomitable charm.

Official Ambassador of Houndslow House