Category Archives: Travel Tips

Ode to the Icelandic Hot Dog

Sometimes you eat something and magic happens. Yes, magic. No really, like full-on expecto patronum and junk. This sort of alchemical reaction can lead to uncontrollable drooling and really bad poetry, as is evidenced below in my ode to the Icelandic hot dog. 

Icelandic Hot Dogs

Sappy, savory, hand-held treat,

Iceland’s cheapest thing to eat. 

After fish that smelled so foul, 

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur makes the stomach growl.

Snuggly nestled underneath, 

saucy, salty, savory, sweet… toppings. 

At each baseball game and boardwalk jaunt,

my taste buds will you ever haunt. 

Pathetic prose aside, Iceland might actually make the world’s best hotdog. I say this as a connoisseur, a life-long devotee of ground meats stuffed into a casing. I might even suggest one venture to this amazing island simply to ensure the life-changing experience of these dogs. 

 

 

Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

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Visiting Annapolis, Maryland with Kids

Annapolis Maryland

Sometimes Spring Cleaning means dusting off an old post that somehow people are managing to find. One of the top searches here at The Nugget has always been; what should I see when visiting Annapolis, Maryland. Funny that I happen to live just a few minutes away.  Wait… does that mean the internet is stalking me? 

From the halls of the United States Naval Academy to the quaint City Dock, and dozens of points in between, Maryland’s charming and historic capital makes for a perfect day-trip (or longer) with the family. 

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

 Moon Rock housed at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland

 This hidden gem of a museum welcomes over 100,000 visitors from around the globe every year. Located in Preble Hall on the gorgeous grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, the museum offers two floors of exhibits about the history of sea power, the development of the U.S. Navy, and the history of U.S. Naval Academy. Exhibits include artifacts from historical figures, battles, and events. Touch a piece of the actual U.S.S. Monitor, read letters penned by Admirals and presidents, see sand from the island of Iwo Jima as you take a walk through the history of our Navy – and country. There is even an actual moon rock donated to the museum by Apollo 14 astronauts. 

The best part? Admission to the museum is FREE!

Address:  118 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21402. Phone: (410) 293-2108. Website: www.USNA.edu/museum  Hours: Monday – Friday from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm

Annapolis City Dock

Visting "Ego Alley" at City Dock in Annapolis Maryland

Rest here for a spell and have Alex Haley “read” your kids a story. The author of “Roots,” is immortalized in a sculpture that invites you to listen at his feet. I took along some books to read to my kids and soon found I’d started an impromptu story time for a few others.  Directly behind Mr. Haley is the City Dock Market House. Inside you’ll find food stalls serving up seaside favorites, and day-trip delicacies like famed Maryland Crab cakes and decadent gelato, perfect on a warm, sunny day. Walk off some of those calories with a stroll down “Ego Alley” where beautiful pleasure boats are docked. 

Don’t forget to bring along a little something to feed the ducks!

Parking: There is metered parking near City Dock, you’ve got great luck if you can snag one of those. If not, the Noah Hillman parking garage is just off Main Street in the Historic District at 150 Gorman Street.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Famous "Ben Cardin" Double Ruben at Chick & Ruth's Delly Anapolis Maryland

Speaking of eating! I say -with some authority as both a traveler and a foodie – that everyone MUST make the pilgrimage to the Delly at least one time (if not dozens.) Don’t let the cramped quarters, a layer of grease or the fact that they call it a “Delly,” deter you. Chick & Ruth’s is a Maryland institution for good reason.

  • Crab Cakes as big as your head (okay, maybe a little smaller)
  • Matzo Ball Soup any Bubbe would envy
  • House-made dill pickles, a complimentary treat you’ll pucker up to
  • A huge of menu items to choose from – many named after the local politicians who come down the street from the Capital Building daily
  • And the famed Colossal Challenges like the SIX POUND SHAKE (no really, it’s six pounds of milkshake) infamously conquered by Adam Richman of “Man vs Food” fame

Address: 165 Main St, Annapolis, MD 21401. Phone: (410) 269-6737. Website: www.chickandruths.com 

Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake

Ahoy all ye adventurous scallywags! Really, what trip to a historical port city like Annapolis would be complete without a pirate adventure? Mysterious messages in bottles, hidden treasure and an epic adventure await those who embark upon a voyage aboard  The Sea Gypsy. This fun, family-friendly ship sails from Annapolis Harbor seven days a week during the summer months and on weekends through October 26th. Your ticket to ride will cost you $20 for those over three and $12 for those under. 

Be sure to arrive early to get gussied up in pirate finery!

Address: 311 Third St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 263-0002. Website: www.chesapeakpirates.com 

Annapolis Maritime Museum

If you’re making Annapolis a stopover during a trip to DC you might think you’ve been museum-ed out, but trust me you’ll want to make room for one more – THIS ONE! Why? Because of the hands-on history lesson, your family will get. This small museum is set on the picturesque mouth of Back Creek, with a unique view overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum takes advantage of the fact that it is housed in the last oyster-packing plant in Annapolis, engaging visitors in a fully interactive experience that takes them on a journey through the role that the water and they oyster industry played in the shaping of the area. You’ll also learn about the ecology of the area through an 850-gallon aquarium and exhibits that highlight the importance of conservation efforts.

An afternoon at the Annapolis Maritime Museum is FREE family fun!

Address: 723 2nd St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 295-0104. Website: www.amaritime.org

Galleries, Eateries and Shopping… Oh, My!

Down Town Annapolis Maryland

My kids happen to be gifted browsers. They love to shop. It may be genetic. Annapolis is a wonderland for those who love to stroll in and out of shops and galleries, searching for treasures and inspiration. Though there are some chain stores to be found on Main street, they are outnumbered by smaller, more unique and locally owned boutique stores. Annapolis boasts a thriving art community and you’ll find a number of places that feature locally produced items. One of our favorite shops is Annapolis Pottery. Though not all of their items are produced locally, 95% of their products are produced in the U.S. and many of them are sourced directly from the artists who produce them. 

Hungry? Annapolis is the place to be! I polled the kids for recommendations. Here is what THEY recommend;

  • The Iron Rooster – Red Velvet waffles with fried chicken… I think we’ve said enough here.  Oh wait, they also crush the cocktail game and have amazing farm-to-table options too. 
  • Miss Shirley’s Cafe – A Baltimore staple now found in Annapolis, my kids would hurt you to get at a stack of their lemon-blueberry pancakes
  • Chick & Ruth’s Delly – They’re begging for that 6-pound shake, but happily settle for pizza bagels make on fresh, full-sized bagel halves and burgers from the kid’s menu that are big enough for a grown up. You’ll never leave this place hungry! Plus their kid’s menu prices hover around $5!

Parking: There is both metered parking and several public parking garages, as well as valet service at City Dock. You can find a map of the garages here.

Up next… where to STAY in Annapolis if you aren’t lucky enough to live 20 minutes away… or even if you are… hello staycation!

 

(photo credit – Annapolis Waterfront m01229)

Where to Stay in Dublin – The Fitzwilliam Hotel

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelDublin, Ireland is a unique city where old and new, history and innovation blend in a harmony rarely found in any major metropolitan city I’ve visited. The options for entertaining oneself are endless, as are the places to rest your head. When I’m asked where to stay in Dublin, the answer is easy – The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels around the globe and learned that all of them can be measured by four things; location, amenities, staff, and value. Here is how The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin measures up…

Location, Location, Location!

The Fitzwilliam sits at head of Grafton Street directly across from the famed St. Stephens’ Green. A large section of Grafton Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and features endless options for shopping and dining. Though I will say that I wasn’t so impressed with the stores… what American wants to go to Dublin and shop at the Disney Story? Not this one. 

Far more alluring was the ability to walk – literally across the street– and into St. Stephens’ Green. If you didn’t already know, this public park was the model for New York City’s Central Park, and I’m sure countless other public squares. One of my favorite areas in the park is the gardens around the Caretaker’s Cottage, which is directly in front of the Fitzwilliam.

Saint Stephen's Green Caretakers CottegeThe DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram stops within walking distance of the property. There are taxis galore in the area, as well as pedicabs and horse drawn carriages (take one to the Guinness Store House for a fun twist.) Concierge will happily help you with securing a bicycle if you’d like, though the streets are quite busy – I’d fall and need stitches!

Amenities

Sure there is a gym, doesn’t every hotel have one these days? What the Fitzwilliam has that most don’t, is Spirit. Part salon, with a little bit of spa, Spirit ascribes to a wonderfully holistic and natural approach to beauty services. Treat yourself.

Not many hotels can boast three excellent on-site restaurants, let alone one with a Michelin star. The Fitzwilliam can.  Thornton’s is fine dining at its best, thus the star. Citron is a more relaxed, yet still upscale dinning experience that boasts some modern twists on Irish classics. Their Celeriac soup is simply divine! Pop into the Inn on the Green for a great breakfast, or a lovely lunch in this cozy place that makes you feel at ease. Note: the charcuterie plate is HUGE! 

Any good hotel, in my book, must have a fabulous bathtub and plush robes. Not having this can be a deal breaker. The bath at Fitzwilliam was a deal maker!

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThere is also a wonderful tea available seasonally on the balcony that overlooks the city.  Free (reliable) wi-fi and in-room safes that are large enough for a laptop are both pluses.

Staff

Here is where the Fitzwilliam sets itself apart. From the doormen who take the time to ask you where your day is taking you with sincerity to a concierge staff who call your room to ask how they can help make your stay even better, to the housekeeping staff that leave lovely notes, this place makes you feel so very welcome. Many a hotel will send up a welcome amenity. At the Fitzwilliam we got a delivery of Dairy Milk bars and crisps with a note from the front desk telling my daughter how those where their favorite childhood treats.

Get to know the concierge while you’re here! These folks are gems, working with them is akin to having your own private guide to all things you love that can be found in Dublin. Seriously, this is a service they should charge for – I’d pay. 

Each and every staff member we encountered was warm, helpful and never overbearing, which speaks to the earnestness that takes this from hotel to a fond memory and a place you long to return to. 

“Some places you stay. Other places stay with you.” ~Me

Value

The Fitzwilliam is a luxury property, and the price tag reflects that – our stay in the off-season and was £395 per night. That said, the location, and service were well worth the price. Being so centrally located, you need not spend extra money on getting around. Having the concierge as your guides is a huge service, adding to the value.

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThe Fitzwilliam is also a member of the Preferred Hotel Group – their iPrefer program is one of only three hotel loyalty programs I personally belong to. Why?  Their points add up fast, you always get free wi-fi, early check-in and/or late checkout, and they take the time to learn your (and your family’s) preferences ensuring that they follow you across all their member properties.

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.