Category Archives: things to do

Craft Cocktails: BTB Speakeasy

Craft cocktails are the hottest thing in entertaining these days. Beyond the handcrafted bitters touted by beguiling bearded hipsters lays a storied tradition of revival.  In the heart of Old Town Leonardtown, Maryland a nod to some of that history can be found behind an unassuming bookshelf in a charming little coffee shop – welcome to BTB Speakeasy.

BTB SpeakeasyThis quaint little cocktail stop lets you step back in time to an era when the Volstead Act had Americans crafting cocktails in bathtubs and whispering passwords through sound dampening doors.  As you slip past the bookshelf in the bright at cheery coffee shop (grab a one of their cookies to go – so good) the tones, seemingly even the time changes. The room is dark, the tables and chairs a hodgepodge, the bar lit with flickering candlelight.  The feel is decidedly clandestine. 

Bustling behind the bar are some gifted Mixologists – no bathtub gin here. Top shelf spirits come together with handcrafted syrups, bitters and unique techniques developed by co-founder and cocktail genius Brad Brown. Sitting next to a fresco of Al Capone himself, Penny, Brad’s wife and BTB co-owner, regaled me with stories of cocktail history and the inspiration that transformed a coffee shop into an homage nightlife under the eighteenth amendment. 

On a trip to New York Penny found her way into a speakeasy. Impressed by the immersive, fun, cloak-and-dagger feel of it she walked away inspired to bring that to life in Leonardtown. Helped along the way by Brad’s years in the bar/restaurant business and the artistic talents of a close friend who painted period murals for the walls, the duo brought a bygone era back to life. 

The space inside the speakeasy is snug with just a handful of tables that must be reserved in advance. Call ahead to reserve one and get the password of the day. Whisper that to the staff at the coffee shop counter or pickup the old fashion phone on the wall to connect directly to the back. You won’t get in without this information – after all you could be the Fuzz!

Dotted with antique shops, a wonderfully dusty used book and record store, vintage car museum, craft chocolate factory and historical landmarks, the Old Town section Leonardtown, Maryland feels as though it is frozen in time as well.  A stop at BTB Speakeasy (and Coffee Shop) is a great way to cap off a visit to Old Town. 

 

Ever been to a Speakeasy? Tucked behind a false bookcase in a quaint little coffee shop in Leonardtown Maryland is a hoppin’ joint where Capone graces the walls and they make the best smoked Old Fashioned since the days of bathtub gin.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

BTB Speakeasy’s Smoked Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 1 1/2 ounces Top Shelf Bourbon
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • water
  • Slice of orange and cherry to garnish
  • Maple Wood Plank

Brad’s twist on this classic cocktail is the smoking of that maple wood plank. You can find these at most big box or stores like Lowes. Light the wood and blow it out. Turn your highball glass over on top of it to capture the smoke. Put the sugar in a cocktail shaker, add bitters and bourbon. Muddle until the sugar is crushed. Top with water to your liking and shake. Turn your smoke-filled highball glass over and quickly add ice, pouring the cocktail over the ice. Garnish with cheery and orange. The flavor is incredible!

note: pay special attention to the “House Rules” at BTB Speakeasy. Also, if you wear a fedora you’ll get half off your first cocktail.

Visiting Ottawa Canada (aka Myth Busting)

 Debunking Five Myths about Candians by Visiting Ottawa, CanadaAh, stereotypes. Every country and culture seems to have at least a few. Visiting Ottawa, Canada helped me bust a few myths. Travel gives us the ability to be myth busters of a short… only without the walrus mustaches and exploding crash-test dummies. 

Myth 1: It’s Winter 11 Months of the Year

Visiting Ottawa in summer is blissfully balmy. In fact an average summer day comes in at around 78°,  almost San Diego-esque, eh? A warm, breezy summer day in the Canadian capital city is perfect for wandering. So much of the sites are within easy walking distance of each other. 

Rideau Canal Ottawa Canada UNESCO World Heritage SiteA stroll along the Rideau Canal is a must. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a marvel of 19th century engineering.  One of the first canals to be designed specifically for steam-powered vessels, the system of locks now conveys mostly leisure craft along the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers. In fact it’s the only canal of the “Great North American Canal Building Era,” to still operate along it’s original route. If you enjoy history, a tour of the canal system is a must, since many of the original structures remain intact today.

MYTH BUSTED

Myth 2: Canadians Only Drink Beer

Sparks Street is a bit like the a low-key version of Time Square. Closed to all but pedestrian traffic these few blocks near Parliament Hill feature kitschy souvenir shops, eateries, bars, and a few upscale shopping areas. Here we did stop by a place called Bier Markt that featured 150 beers from 30 countries. Could there be something to this beer thing?

I like a nice hoppy beer and will try an IPA any day.  I fully expected Ottawa to be a beer city, and I’d have been okay with that. Turns out Canadians dig their craft cocktails too. LIFT Bar, the cocktail lounge inside the Delta Ottawa City Centre (now a part of the Marriott hotel family, yeah!) where we were hosted guests during our stay, makes a mean Mule and even some truly creative cocktails featuring locally produced spirits – and yes, some great craft brews too.

Ottawa Mule Craft CocktailClearing away any doubt that this myth is exactly that, I present you with the following evidence…. Wayne Gretzky Estates.  We picked up a 2011 Merlot made with grapes hand harvested in Okanagan Valley, British Colombia and it was actually quite good!

MYTH BUSTED

Myth 3: Canada is ALL about the Hockey, eh!

We witnessed a man dressed in full hockey gear, including skates, balance on top of a goal while juggling flaming hockey sticks. While you’d think that would have proved the myth, this guy {Paz} happened to hail from LA… eh.  <— which I think I said more than any Canadian we met.

Juggling Flaming Hockey Sticks. Visiting Ottawa, Canada

MYTH BUSTED

Myth 4: Canadians Live on Maple Syrup and (Back) Bacon

Admittedly there is plenty of maple and Back Bacon {known to we Americans as Canadian bacon} to be found. Even in the Eggs Benedict at LIFT restaurant – not sure I was so much into that. Ottawa is a very metropolitan city boasting a vibrant food scene with plenty of influence coming from the French. Hello poutine and pastries. The farm-to-table options come in a dizzying array from a rainbow of produce and artisanal cheeses at the famed ByWard Market to scratch-made Italian staples at several area eateries.

ByWard Market Ottawa Canada

You can NOT leave Ottawa without eating BeaverTails. I know what you’re thinking, I thought it too. Eew gross, Canada! Wrong. SO wrong. BeaverTails are oddly-named, flaky, rich, light and airy pillows of crispy pastry topped with awesome. Start with the maple butter {obviously} and work your way through the menu. You’ll thank me, even if your waistline won’t.

MYTH BUSTED

wa

Myth 5: Canadians Are SO Polite

I was pretty sure the minute we drove into the parking garage at the Delta – which is shared with the public – and were greeted by a smiling hotel employee {obviously on his break} who was all to happy to show us the best spot to park in, give tips for cutting down on the cost of parking, and welcome us to his city, that this is a myth that could not be busted. Once at the front desk, the busting prospects looked even more bleak.

Usually when you check-in at any hotel, the front desk staff is cordial. Even at the most luxurious of properties the script is pretty much the same. “Can we help you with anything while you’re staying with us?”, “How was your trip?”, “Would you like help with your bags.” All perfectly polite – and expected– inquires.  Then there is Alex.

Spires of the East Block Building of Canadian Parliment Ottawa
Weathered spires and French architectural influences abound on Canada’s Parliament Hill.

Alex took the time not only to ask those questions, but to find out what we liked, what we might want to discover about his city, and even give us tips about things we’d never have known about without him. He took out a map and walked us through the best things to see, when to go where, and gave as an impromptu history lesson. It was like having our own personal guide to Ottawa. Then there was Eric.

Eric turned out to be the name of the friendly staffer from the car park, as well as a stellar Bellman.  Gift bags to keep the kids entertained. Cold drinks to refresh weary parents who got stuck a Canadian Customs {that’s a story for another post, oi!} and even setting up late evening reservations for the whole crew on the pub side of LIFT. Then there was Annie.

Things were looking pretty damn polite at this point!

In the interest of full-disclosure, we are Elite level Marriott rewards members and make it a point to snag club level rooms anytime they are available. Tip: DO THIS! If you’ve got more than one kid it pays for itself. Marriott Clubs often offer free breakfast, snacks, and enough refreshments and libations to cover the additional cost several times over.  Also, as I mentioned before this was a hosted visit. Annie had no way of knowing that though. Each morning she greeted us as though we were long-lost pals returning to visit her! Any question we had, any little thing the kids asked for, she made sure it was taken care of. You just can’t put a price on service like that. Though this Delta property hasn’t quite gotten to the level of offerings that you typically see in Marriott Clubs, Annie’s shining smile made it feel as top-notch as any other. Then their was Parliament.

Living in the Washington D.C. area, we’re used to dower-faced officials. Hey, things are rough these days and their job is to watch out for bad guys, not make kids giggle. The Canadians seem to have been able to balance the need to keep a wary eye out, with their penchant for polite. 

Are All Canadians Freindly or What
Polite, and hilariously cool.. the Guards of Parliament Hill. I can’t be the only one thinking “Benny Hill” here, can I?

That feeling of warm welcome extends from the folk watching over the buildings of Parliament, to the locals who gather to share a spot on the lawn any given summer evening to watch the story of Canada – from the First Peoples to modern Canadians– unfold in multi-media magnificence; Northern Lights.  Hundreds of people gathered for a free show and not one tussle, no salty stares, not even an frenzied rush to get the best spot. Then there was the cab driver.

Rude. Angry. Took the long way around to get a higher fare. Though he did mention that was from Indonesia.

MYTH CONFIRMED (so far)

Visiting Ottawa, Canada was such a blast we’ll be back to bust a few more myths during Winterlude. Plus.. um.. MORE Poutine!

Stay tuned for more on Canada’s Delta Hotels joining the Marriott brand and a full review of our stay at Delta Ottawa City Center.

Poutine Canada's Gift to the WORLD
Poutine from a Food Truck. Or as the teen calls it… “Deep fried bliss smothered in happiness gravy dotted with cheesy nuggets of awesome.” Yeah, pretty close.
 Field Notes On Visiting Ottawa, Canada:

The trip to Ottawa, Canada was amazing everyone was so nice we stayed at a beautiful hotel called Delta. Alex, at the front desk was so amazing he suggested a lot of fun activities to do.One of the doormen even gave me and my brother gift bags. My mom gave me a tip to give him. He was very happy, and said thanks.

Next we went for a walk. There were little shops outside, and I got some new jewelry, a ring from a very nice lady and a name bracelet form a funny guy who showed us where to get poutine. Then we went to dinner. I had ribs on a plate so huge that it took up the whole table!  

So we went to a pastry shop and a tasted sweets. The wifi at the hotel was was very good. Housekeeping left chocolates on the pillow and my favorite robe. The pool was amazing and the outdoor lounge was relaxing.

The next day we went to a war museum it was very interesting and sad too. After that we went down to the gift shop, it was a little overpriced but I got a owl necklace. I had my very first  beavertail, they are so yum! Goodbye Ottawa, until we meet again.  

Emily – Field Reporter {age 9}

Delta Hotel Ottawa City Centre.png
Chic updated suite at the Delta Ottawa City Centre. Can’t wait to introduce you to the Smart Desk!

Disclosure: As you know, from time to time I’m asked to visit places, attractions, and hotels as a hosted guest. That said, my thoughts and opinions are always my own. Honesty, you deserve nothing less.

The Summer Wind – Sailing in Baltimore

Sailing Excursions in Baltimore MarylandEvening comes and as the sun begins to set. A warm glow lingers among the soft breezes drifting across the Chesapeake Bay. Late summer is the  season that sailing is at its best here in Maryland. The Summer Wind brings a new charter option to sailing in Baltimore.  

We all have our, “Happy Place.” A boat with billowing sails gliding across glassy water is that place  me. Funny that a kid who grew up in the desert loves to be on a boat. Perhaps more odd that the entire time I was in the Navy I rarely set foot on one. Now that I’m living just a short drive from the Chesapeake bay I sail as much as I can. 

Typically that means either a jaunt to Annapolis or taking the bridge over to the Eastern shore. I was thrilled to recently learn that American Sailing Tours has pulled anchor from its original home, sailing the Delaware River off the coast of Philadelphia, and docked in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor bringing The Summer Wind with them.

I’ll admit they pretty much had me at the name of this 48-foot long schooner. “The Summer Wind,”  is one of my absolute favorite Sinatra songs. 

Owner (and skipper) Tom Kirwan captained us out onto the harbor for our latest Travel Massive meetup.  As the 50-foot sails unfurled guiding us past the iconic Domino’s Sugar sign, Tom and I chatted about his life as a sailor – which started before he was even able to walk.

The Summer Wind - Sailing in BaltimoreKirwan brought The Summer Wind to Baltimore in 2015 for its first season. Today, she is the only sailboat of her class offering public sailing excursions out of the Inner Harbor. While American Sailing Tours offers the staple harbor tours and sunset sailing, what sets it apart is Tom and his crew.

There is zero pretension aboard The Summer Wind. You won’t find stuffy folks with ascots and jauntily positioned sailing caps here. When you sail with Tom and his crew you feel a true connection to people who love what they do, and where they do it. They’ll regale you with tales of Baltimore’s maritime history, fill you in on the points of interest as you pass by, and make you feel as though this were your boat. 

Relax on deck with a glass of wine. Here you’ll find comfy seating, polished wood siding, and of course some great conversation. Below decks is more seating and the head {sailor-speak for the facilities – I swear I never even used that term in the Navy, past boot camp. It’s just weird.} 

Saling Excursions in BaltimoreBe sure to make some time either before you set sail or when you drop anchor, to explore the Harbor East area where you’ll find upscale boutiques, a movie theater, and great eats. Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons is the perfect place for a wonderful meal or nibbles. It is just steps from The Summer Wind’s birth.  Lobster corn dogs, mesquite smoked mussels in a champagne beurre blanc, black truffle popcorn… need I say more?

The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea. Next time you’re in Baltimore… come sail with me! 

The Summer Wind - Baltimore

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the wonder of art

Some may say that the happiest place on earth is found in South Florida. I’d argue that it is wherever you happen to be standing when you see your child fall in love with art. We are a family of museum nerds. From the MoMA to roadside attractions, we’re game. When the Smithsonian American Art Museum recently reopened the Renwick Gallery we were more than willing to stand in the line stretching around the block to see the Wonder exhibit — and WOW!

Large crowds didn’t take away one iota of the amazement on the faces of my kids as they strolled through the Wonder exhibit.  Truth be told, they were even in awe of the Renwick Gallery building itself. 

Wonder Exhibit Built in 1859,  Renwick Gallery was the first purpose-built art museum in America. Over the front door the words, “Dedicated to Art,” are carved in stone. Which gives you some idea of what’s in store when you walk through the doors.

1.8 by Janet Echelman

On March 11, 2011 the earth moved, quite literally. The Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami were so powerful that the earth shifted on its axis. This resulted in a day  shortened by 1.8 millionths of a second.

Wonder Exhibit At first blush 1.8 looks like an artfully hung net with some really cool undulating lights. Then you look down at the floor, and – as my nine-year old daughter pointed out – even the carpet looks like art. We grabbed a spot on the floor, laying down with dozens of other gallery-goers, and watched the lights.  It was nice, but pretty much just that.

In a near frenzy the sixteen year old drug me over to a small plaque on the wall that changed everything. The sculpture corresponds to a map of the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Talk about being moved by art. It was breath-taking. In a rush all the memories of the sights after the disaster came rolling back. 

Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick GalleryDid Termites Make These?

She was sure this was some natural formation, rather than the man-made work of artist Tara Donovan. These towers are made of everyday objects we tend to miss or toss out… index cards, scotch tape. Here they become a forest for the imagination. 

Touch the Rainbow

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to find the end of a rainbow. When in Ireland this past spring these refracted sunlight wonders were so vibrate you could almost convince me they were solid.  Standing in front of Plexus A1 by Gabriel Dawe the illusion is nearly as complete. The difference being that this piece is an architecturally scaled weaving rather than light dancing on particles of water. 

Wonder exhibit rainbow

Folding the Chesapeake
One of our favorite pastimes is tossing together a picnic and heading into D.C. for a few hours. Nothing beats free museums and monuments. There even worth dealing with parking – most days.
 
Among my personal favorites is the Vietnam War Memorial designed by Maya Lin.  The power of names simply carved into a reflective stone surface is moving beyond any words I have. It drives home the stark reality of loss and the impact on what is left behind. Yet, there is a peace in this place like few other places.
 
Lin has a way of taking the monumental and transforming it into moving simplicity. She did that again with her piece Folding the Chesapeake. 
Wonder Exhibit Folding the Chesapeake
Glass marbles are laid out on the floor and walks of the exhibit room. At first blush you think, ‘well this is neat… but…’ Then the docent hands you an aerial photograph of the Chesapeake Bay and you stand in awed wonder at the detail. It stretches all the way down to the small river behind our house. 
 
Like 1.8, Folding The Chesapeake has a way of humbling you. Making you feel the smallness of your humanity when standing next to nature. 
Into the Trees
Middle Fork by John Grade has been dubbed, The Tree Matrix by my kids. I sort of get that. Grade made a plaster cast of a 150 year old hemlock tree from Cascade Mountains to create this sculpture that is assembled of half a million segments of reclaimed cedar, and is nothing short of mind-blowing.   
Wonder Exhibit
If you’ve the chance to come to Washington, D.C. don’t let the long lines outside The Renwick deter you. You’ll leave with a whole new sense of wonder.

White House Travel Bloggers Summit: A Year Later

White House Travel Blogger Summit A cold rain gently fell streaking the windows with of threads of color. I stood in the State Dinning room and looked above the mantel.  As I gazed at the portrait of Lincoln, I’d never felt smaller. How did this kid from a one-tumbleweed town end up as an invited guest, standing in the same State Dinning Room where world leaders have gathered?

White House Travel Bloggers Summit: A Year Later

Travel brought me to that moment of awe one year ago today. Attending the White House Travel Bloggers Summit was one of those surreal moments in life. I felt both humbled and emboldened.

We came from all walks of life; television personalities, editors of respected publications, thought leaders, government officials, entrepreneurs, creators, storytellers, each with stories as different as the pages of our dogeared travel journals. Yet here we were one. Each of us bonded by a shared passion for helping others understand the true power of travel as a force for change in the world.

The State Department hosted this event as a thunderclap announcement for the opening of the U.S. Study Abroad Office and to pose the question to the world… Study Abroad Because?

“…we want to ensure America’s future leaders have opportunities to experience the world beyond their border…” ~Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

In the year since the summit my family has chosen to take up the mantle of spreading the word on how travel can better the world. Be that study or volunteering abroad, connecting with the history and traditions of new places {far and near}, or welcoming others into our lives to share who we are.

My teen and I attended a virtual study abroad campus fair where we connected with educators and students from Australia to Georgia {the country not the state}, Italy to Russia. For her it was great to hear college students talk about their personal experiences, I felt bolstered by learning that these programs weren’t just about seeing the sights.

white house travel blogger summit As a family we visited the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, busting a few myths about Canada.  Immersed ourselves Georgian, Latvian, Turkish, and Jamaican cultural experiences … and food. Oh the food.

I even talked myself into being okay with the teen headed to Korea or Russia this summer to study language in an immersion program. Okay, if we’re being honest a small part of me still hopes she doesn’t get in… my baby alone in a foreign land?! Practicing what you preach is tough, yo!  

The best part of the last year though has been getting to know my fellow summit attendees and following along as they make the world a smaller place.

white house travel blogger summitCome join the journey…

Why Taking My Daughter to Haiti Was an Investment in Her Future as a Global Citizen – Leticia Barr

White House Travel Blogger Summit Miniseries – from Nathaniel Boyle’s Daily Travel Podcast

Finding the Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship at the Center of Dalí’s Universe – Brad Bernard

Life Coming Full Circle at the White House Travel Blogger Summit – Colleen Lanin

My Turkish Love Affair – Elena Sonnino

The Moment That Cuba Opened Its Secret To Me – Lillie Marshal

15 Lessons I Learned from Traveling Around the World – Angie Orth

Emotional Travel: Revisiting Places of Personal Importance in 2015 – Matt Long

New Year, New Life: You’re Never Too Old to Study Abroad – Jackie Laulainen (for Yahoo Travel)
Study Abroad Because… There are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better – A Wandering Educators Student Interview
Why Your Teen High School Student Should Go Abroad (The Parent’s Guide) – Dr. Jessie Voights
 

“Travel can change you. It should change you.” ~ Brad Bernard MyWanderList