Ron Kapon

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When one thinks of Denver Colorado, often the first thing that comes to mind is The Mile-High City because its elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level, making it the highest major city in the United States. Because it is only about 12 miles east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is an outdoor city with 85 miles of paved bicycle trails and 800 red bikes at 87 stations (bike share program). One can ski and snowboard in the winter and hike, climb and camp out in the summer. That proximity and the many days of sunny weather, with an average year-round temperature of 64 degrees, led to the city being named in 2016 as the best place to live in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. The metro area population has approximately 2.9 million people. Since the 2010 census there has been an almost 16% increase in population with very little unemployment. I saw construction cranes everywhere and was told that one large builder offers scholarships at a local college for students completing a course dealing with building construction. They could not find enough qualified workers for their open jobs. Businesses headquartered there include: Molson Coors Brewing Company, Newmont Mining Corporation (second-largest gold producer in North America) and MapQuest. Other large employers include: Lockheed Martin Corp., United Airlines and Kroger Company. I was told that Smashburger, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Quiznos were founded in Denver. Did I mention the 35 breweries on the Denver Beer Trail with over 100 different brewpubs and breweries in the metro area? www.visitdenver.com.

I was the guest of Visit Denver for my four-day visit that included airfare from NYC and the availability of Hermes Worldwide limo service while in town. Airport to hotel; hotel to downtown for my walking tour and then back to the hotel. Downtown for a free day of touring and to my new hotel The Brown Palace. Finally, back to the airport and home. Founded in 2007 by Jorge Sanchez and his wife Rocio, Hermes Worldwide has 30 vehicles and the best and most professional staff I have ever encountered. A big shout out to them for making my trip so enjoyable. www.hermesworldwide.com.

I was in town for the Denver International Wine Festival run by Chris & Darcy Davies and their company Wine Country Network (I write for their magazine). Named “One of the Best Wine and Food Festivals in America” by Food & Wine Magazine. www.denverwinefest.com, www.winecountrynetwork.com.

I was a guest of the Denver Marriott Westminster Hotel that was the site for the 13th annual wine festival. Located a half hour from the airport and equidistant from downtown Denver, Boulder and Golden, it has 215 rooms with a fitness center and indoor pool. I found it very convenient to ride down the elevator and into the wine festival. www.denvermarriottwestminster.com.

Thursday night was the Pairsine Chefs Fine Food & Wine Competition with 10 chefs/restaurants in addition to vendors for non-wine products. The silent auction items benefited There With Care. There was a VIP early admission area that included wine seminars and a private room with a raw seafood bar and premium cocktails and additional wines available. VIP admission- $195; regular admission- $120.

Friday night was the Grand Tasting of International Wines that had 80 wineries and distillers with food and food products as well as wine accessories and another silent auction- VIP- $175; regular- $95.

The following is an overview from both of my walking tours (the second one occurred when I moved to the Brown Palace Hotel located downtown). In addition, the nice drivers from Hermes pointed out many of the sites before dropping me off. I did not visit any museums or any of the sports venues.

Visit Denver arranged a walking tour of downtown Denver that started at Union Station. My guide was Austin and he knew his stuff. Union Station is a working transit station that was built in 1917 and was renovated starting in 2002. There is an Amtrak hub and bus concourse. The neighborhood is called LoDo (Lower Downtown and it is within walking distance of the financial center). Behind the station there is a light rail system that one can ride to the airport for a cost of $9. The station reminds me of NYC’s Grand Central Station with its dining options and boutiques. I only wished New Yorkers had a train to the plane. In addition, there is a hotel- The Crawford within the station (I hope the rooms are soundproof- they are). I relaxed on the benches and people watched. Everything was so clean for a working terminal. www.unionstationindenver.com.

Larimer Square is home to many restaurants, shops and nightlife venues. Located between 14th and 15th streets on Larimer I did not stop at any of its stores but did notice several street performers. www.larimersquare.com

The 16th Street Mall is to Denver what Rodeo Drive is to Los Angeles. This mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare, which stretches across the southern end of the LoDo district and bypasses Larimer Square, is lined with a variety of stores, restaurants and entertainment venues, making it a popular place to visit. My only problem was the homeless population who often sit along the mall and/or in the parks. I never felt threatened especially with the large police presence. I am told outdoor smoking is now banned along the mall. www.16thstreetmalldenver.com.

Denver Pavilions- On the 16th St Mall- 40 stores and restaurants- retail/entertainment center. http://www.denverpavilions.com/

If you’re not up for walking, hop aboard the free 16th Street Mall Ride shuttle bus, which passes by every few minutes and stops at every street corner. After sundown, skip the bus and opt for a horse-and-carriage ride instead. http://www.rtd-denver.com/FREEMallRide.shtml

Rockmount Ranch Wear is a three-generation business started by Jack A. Weil (1901-2008) who worked until age 107 and was the oldest working CEO in the US. He introduced the first western shirts with snaps and also made the first commercially produced bolo ties. www.rockmount.com

Tattered Cover Book Store is a large indie bookstore and cafe furnished with comfortable sofas and overstuffed chairs. I rested on one of those chairs while sipping tea. They sell new and used books. www.tatteredcover.com

Named for Denver’s famed beer, Coors Field in Denver’s LoDo district is home to Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies. The stadium occupies over 75 acres and has a capacity of more than 50,000. I was told that attendees could sample some of Denver’s local brews on the Rooftop, a 38,000-square-foot platform with fantastic views of the field and downtown Denver. http://www.rockies.com/

Sports Authority Field (company is bankrupt so I guess they will need a new name) at Mile High (known to Denverites as just “Mile High Stadium”) is home to the NFL Denver Broncos’. It can seat more than 76,000 fans and it boasts something you don’t normally associate with football games- public art displays. http://www.sportsauthorityfieldatmilehigh.com/

Pepsi Center is home to the Denver Nuggets (Basketball), Colorado Avalanche (hockey), Colorado Mammoth (lacrosse) & over 200 events. Seating capacity is almost 20,000. http://www.pepsicenter.com/

The Colorado State Capitol Building is the home of the Colorado General Assembly and the offices of the Governor of Colorado. It was constructed in the 1890s from Colorado white granite. The distinctive gold dome consists of real gold leaf added in 1908. The building sits slightly higher than the rest of downtown Denver. The official elevation of Denver is measured outside the west entrance to the building, where the thirteenth step is engraved with the words “One Mile Above Sea Level.” https://www.colorado.gov/

The River North Art District “where art is made” goes by the nickname of “RiNo” and has even adopted a rhino design for its official logo. https://rinoartdistrict.org/

Lunch was at the Central market- www.denvercentralmarket.com

Denver’s gourmet food hall and grocery, located in RiNo. Showcasing 11 of Denver’s top chefs and food purveyors. I choose Vero- with hand-made pasta and wood-fired pizza.

After lunch I walked down Larimer Street to Our Mutual Friend Brewery. They were not open but a knock at the door and voila I was able to spend ½ hour talking to the brew master. It opened in 2012 with the goal of creating a place for community through their small neighborhood taproom. http://www.omfbeer.com/

A few blocks away were The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery. Here I only had to wait a few minutes for them to open for the day. I tried portable, single-serve canned wine that was available in white, red, rose, Moscato, Dry Hopped Pear Cider and Dry Hopped Sauvignon Blanc. http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com/

Briefly stopped into The Source, which is a European-style artisan food market in RiNo. Housed in a 1880s ironworks building, it has a bakery, coffee roaster, taqueria, brewery, butcher, produce vendor, bottle shop, bank, wood-fired restaurant, florist, cocktail bar, cheese shop, and design store. www.thesourcedenver.com

Shipping Container Project at 25th and Larimer in RiNo is a mixed-use complex comprised of 8,200 sq. ft. of mixed retail and office space, built using 29 reclaimed shipping containers. www.streetshope.org/container-project

Five Points is on the northeast side of Downtown Denver’s central business district. It has been called the Harlem of the West. I loved the small mainly single family, well kept homes but wondered if development was down the road. I noted many homeowners walking to work. https://www.denver.org/about-denver/neighborhood-guides/five-points//

The Big Blue Bear looking into the Convention Center- The 40-foot-high bear is the creation of local artist Lawrence Argent. It was installed in 2005 and has quickly become a bona fide Mile High City icon. www.denverconvention.com

Denver Performing Arts Complex- 10 performance spaces (4 block area)- second largest performing arts complex under one roof. https://www.denvercenter.org/

Street Art- Many of the works were business or community commissioned, while others were unsanctioned paintings or graffiti — all are in the open air for anyone to view and enjoy. They are often found in alleyways, under bridges or in abandoned lots.

Chris Davies drove me from the Marriott to my overnight stay at the legendary Brown Palace Hotel. On the way we had breakfast at Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen. There was a 15-minute wait just to place your order but it was worth the wait. And that is from a New Yorker who loves the Second Ave. Deli, Katz’s and Zabar’s. Owner Joshua Pollack had great bagels, smoked fish, salads and pastries. www.rosenbergsbagels.com

The 241-room Brown Palace Hotel (AAA Four Diamond) and Spa was built in 1892 in the Italian Renaissance style using sandstone and red granite. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the second-longest operating hotel in Denver and one of the first atrium-style hotels ever built. It joined Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels in 2012. It was named for its original owner, Henry C. Brown, who donated 10 acres for the new capitol building. The hotel was built on a triangular piece of land with an iron and steel frame covered with cement and sandstone and was one of America’s first fireproof structures. There are six tiers of cast iron balconies to the stained glass skylight. The spa opened in 2005. The silver drinking fountain in the lobby is from the hotels artesian well located 750 feet beneath the hotel. An escalator to the second floor was added in 1959 to cross over Tremont Street to the now named Holiday Inn Express (22 story- 231 rooms). The spa is located on the fifth floor of this property. There are free-guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3PM for overnight guests. The honey from rooftop bee colony is used in the spa products sold in the hotel. Afternoon tea is a highlight as is Ellyngton’s Sunday Champagne brunch (which I attended). Costs start at $53.95. Children 6-12 cost $20.95 and those under 5 are free. Add $10 if you want Domaine Chandon California sparkling wine; $73.95 for Moet & Chandon. Dom Perignon is $315 a bottle.

I met with Udit Dang the Director of Food & Beverage; Christopher Rogers the manager of Ellynton’s and Christopher J. Messler the Palace Arms manager & sommelier for a tour of the beverage facilities. There are 800 plus wines on the list with over 6,000 bottles in storage. The best selling high-end wines include: 1985 Petrus and 1982 Cos d’Estournel. For the wine by the glass program Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Rombauer Chardonnay and Prisoner Zinfandel do exceptionally well. The Palace Arms is open for dinner and Churchill’s Bar serves as a cigar Lounge (grandfathered in before the no smoking rules took effect). Ship Tavern opened in 1934 and serves lunch & dinner. Ellyngton’s was a 1940’s jazz club purported named after Duke Ellington. I assume there are legal reasons why the name of the restaurant is spelled differently. It is open for breakfast & lunch. The hotel also holds six wine dinners a year for 20-30 people with winemaker/owners speaking. www.brownpalace.com

Chris & Darcy Davies took me out for dinner on my last night driving about ½ hour from my downtown hotel to the area around Red Rocks Park. It is a mountain park in Jefferson County, Colorado owned and maintained by the city of Denver as part of the Denver Mountain Parks system. The park is known for its very large red sandstone outcrops. Within the park boundaries is the Red Rocks Amphitheater, a world-famous venue that added seats in 1941 and hosts many concerts and other events. www.theredrocksamphitheater.com

We ate dinner at The Fort Restaurant- The Fort is a western restaurant located just southwest of Denver. It sells sells more buffalo steaks than any other independently owned restaurant in the country. Featuring fine beef, buffalo, game and seafood, The Fort’s menu offers a tantalizing selection of old and new foods from the Early West. The place was packed but management kept a table for us. http://thefort.com

My four days in Denver were eye opening. I love NYC and where I live on the Upper West Side. If I ever did decide to move Denver would be my first choice.

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I must admit that I have not had great experiences with Amtrak previously. Most of my disappointments were on short haul trips along the eastern corridor. When I signed up to attend the NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) 25th anniversary conference in Oxnard California I was told that Amtrak would provide complimentary accommodations to Oxnard (an hour from Los Angeles) from anywhere in the US. Checking my Delta Sky Club account I found I had enough mileage for a trip to Seattle and then home from Los Angeles. The reason I picked Seattle was twofold: I had not been there for many years and my research showed that the Amtrak Coast Starlight train was purported to be their most scenic trip available. 35 hours from Seattle to Oxnard and a free roomette with meals included sold me.

Seattle Amtraak Station

In route daily between Seattle and Los Angeles, the Coast Starlight train passes through Portland Oregon, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles (almost 1,400 miles). We left at 9:30 AM on Sunday morning and arrived in Oxnard at 7PM the following night. There are the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, fertile valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline, including the world famous Pacific Coast Highway. The train features Super liner sleeping and dining car accommodations and spectacular views from the Pacific parlor car, available for sleeping car passengers. I ended up spending most of the day in the very comfortable swivel chairs in the aforementioned parlor car. They feature three types of luxurious seating, a full bar, food serving area, and a movie theater downstairs. These cars were built over 50 years ago and were then known as Santa Fe Hi-Level cars. I met many interesting people in the Pacific parlor car and shared several meals with them. I ate breakfast and lunch in there and dinners (three courses served hot and fresh) in the communal dining car where I was seated with three other people. Sleeping Car passengers received complimentary meals (with the exception of alcohol).

Coast Starlight Route

My roomette was 3’6″ x 6’6″ with the two reclining seats facing each other and a big picture window. At night it converted into a lower berth bed that was 2’4″ x 6’6″. The upper berth with steps was 2’0″ x 6’2″. I must admit to feeling a bit claustrophobic in the middle of the night and had to open the door for some fresh air. I would never have taken the upper birth, which was an inch from the ceiling. I did not mention that there were neither toilet facilities nor a washbasin in the roomettes. The larger bedrooms did feature a private lavatory and shower. Had I paid for the roomette the cost would have been- $116 plus $244 additional for the roomette (remember all meals were included plus the use of the parlor car). For a second person add an additional $116. One-way airfare from Seattle to Los Angeles would have been around $160. There was also free wireless Internet access, coffee, and an on-board movie theater. Roomettes were located on both upper and lower levels of the double-decker Super liner train cars. There was one bathroom on my upper deck and two plus a shower on the lower deck.

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I am not sure if I would have enjoyed more than the one night in my roomette. All in all I had a great time and the people working on the train could not have been nicer or more helpful. For more information- www.amtrak.com.

 

I was thinking of a title for this story and realized very few people will know where I was visiting. So let’s start at the beginning. The public relations firm Eleven Six (named after the principal’s eldest daughter’s birthday- November 6th) represents many hotels and destinations. When they sent me a list of their clients I noted one of interest: Emerson Resort & Spa in Mt. Tremper NY, about two hours from NYC and 20 miles from Woodstock, in Ulster County.

Entrance

There are two properties at the resort which are both family-friendly. The Lodge is ideal for families and outdoor enthusiasts surrounded by an outdoor pool, dog park and children’s playground. The Inn is a more luxurious experience and the center of most activities. The Inn contains the front desk, spa (steam & sauna as well as an outdoor Jacuzzi), fitness center, conference center and shops. I am writing this while sitting outside the café that features snacks, salads, sandwiches, ice cream, etc. Additionally, there are shops featuring outdoor equipment, seasonal rentals, a general store, antiques, toys, and fashion. This area also contains the world’s largest Kaleidoscope (who knew?) housed in a 60-foot tall silo and opened in 1996. The 10-minute presentation features three-38 foot mirrors and the show is free for guests ($5 for others). I was told that the best angle is lying on one’s back on the floor and looking straight up. I am not making this up.

Kaleidoscope

There are 26 suites in the Inn and 27 lodge rooms. I had an Imperial Suite loft with a king bed, two bathrooms, a gas fireplace, an air-jetted tub and a Swiss Rain shower with a private deck that had views of Mount Tremper and Esopus Creek. True, the Catamount restaurant is a brisk walk from the Inn but they are constructing a new restaurant to be called Woodnotes Grille that should open this holiday season. The old Inn building burned down in 2005 and was replaced by the present Inn in 2007. At the east end of the property are 1.2 miles of trails available for cross country skiers or snow shoers. During the summer months it is perfect for hiking. Behind the property is Esopus Creek that is used for fishing and tubing and Emerson Pond which is stocked with bass and trout and converted to ice skating during the cold months.

View From The Loft

I was invited to spend three days at the Emerson, arriving and leaving by Trailways of NYC (a three hour bus trip with stops). The staff, including Tony Lanza (COO), Kayleen Scali (PR) and the entire front desk staff (especially Chris) arranged courtesy transportation everywhere I had to go in and around the Inn. I had one breakfast and dinner at the Catamount Restaurant and one lunch at the Country Store Café. In addition I ate lunch at the Phoenicia Diner, located outside the town of the same name. Built in 1962 and moved to the Catskills in the early 1980s it doesn’t take reservation and is always packed. Owner Mike Cioffi explained that they use local produce and fresh food sourced from the Catskills and Hudson Valley area.

I then spent two hours in the town of Phoenicia that Budget Travel Magazine included as one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America”. The town is basically three blocks filled with funky shops and restaurants.

Entrance to Railroad

The Catskill Mountain Railroad stopped at the Mt. Tremper station that borders the Emerson property. The hour-long trip in open or closed cars stops for 15 minutes at the Empire State Railroad Museum in Phoenicia where one of the volunteers explained that the railroad originated in 1866 and was re-chartered in 1982 to run tourist trains as well as freight service. They are headquartered in Kingston. The cost is $14 for adults and $8 for children 4-11.

Mount Tremper Arts (MTA) supports contemporary artists in the creation and presentation of new works of art. Founded in 2008 it is an artist-run space that utilizes an integration of performances, exhibitions, artist residencies, and hybrid food and art programming. Check out their schedule before you come to town.

I have had massages my whole adult life (I am 80) and never have I met my match until Gia M. Polk worked on my body with a deep tissue massage with hand and foot reflexology. Her hands of steel made me cry uncle several times. This was a first for me. Gia uses myofacial release (MFR), which is a soft tissue therapy for the treatment of skeletal muscle immobility and pain. It is effective when it increases the range of motion and joint flexibility. She has the client participate with active resistive motions that help release the muscle fibers that are stuck.

She is a Reiki Master. Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. After my treatment I was walking tall and did not use my cane for the rest of the day (neuropathy, titanium knee). I will remember my time at the Emerson fondly, both because the resort had the best of all worlds and because Gia made me feel young again.

 

“Long Island Sound is Connecticut’s largest and most important natural resource. More than 8 million people live in the Long Island Sound watershed and the activities that take place on and along the Sound – boating, fishing, tourism, and swimming – contribute an estimated $5.5 billion per year to the regional economy. The Sound provides feeding, breeding, and nesting areas for a diversity of plant and animal life. One of the region’s largest estuaries with an area of 1320 square miles, the Sound is home to more than 120 species of fish and countless varieties of birds and other animals. Between New York and Connecticut, the Sound’s coastline stretches more than 600 miles.” The Connecticut River is an American Heritage River and is the only major river in the northern hemisphere that does not have an industrialized hub at its mouth. Hence the expansive and bucolic view from Saybrook Point.

When I was invited to spend two nights at the Saybrook Point Inn-Spa-Marina, a Four Diamond AAA property, I read the above paragraph before getting on my Amtrak train. The property is at the mouth of the Connecticut River with easy access to Long Island Sound. The first thing General Manager John Lombardo pointed out during our tour of the property was the “greening” of the property. The Marina was the first in Connecticut to have the “green” designation, known as “Clean Marina”. The Inn is also the first hotel (2007) in Connecticut to receive the Energy Star rating and the first designated Green Hotel in the state. I noticed the fresh fish and fauna right at the dock. Everything smelled clean. Sorry Long Island you have a lot to learn. I recommend using the free bicycles to tour Fort Saybrook Monument Park. It is located across the street from the inn. This 17-acre park depicts the history of Saybrook Colony, founded in 1635.

My two nights were spent at Three Stories, a guesthouse located across the street from the main inn. There were eight individually decorated rooms, each with its own theme based on notable local people. The inn has applied to be listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. My balcony overlooked the inn and marina. When it was not sunny I moved to the wrap-around porch. There was always fresh coffee or tea and muffins, biscuits and fresh fruit available on the first floor. Many of the packages offered at Three Stories include breakfast in Fresh Salt Restaurant. There are also villas and a cottage available for short-term and extended stays. Even the Lighthouse suite located above the dock house is available for rental. There are 81 rooms in the main building and 15 more across the street (6 more will be added in 2016). I also was provided dinner the first night as well as a full body massage the next morning at Sanno Spa (ask for Ron if you like really strong massages). I used the heated indoor and outdoor saltwater pools as well as the hot tub, sauna and eucalyptus steam room during my last morning when the weather was slightly rainy. It is rare that I brag about the staff but here everyone was friendly and helpful. My pickup and drop-off at the train station, my wait staff and front desk personnel all had a smile and warm greeting. One of the staff told me that they are treated as valuable people and given meals as well as a place to relax between shifts. The free Wi-Fi worked everywhere on the property and I could have borrowed the free bicycles to see the area, but preferred the free ride into town. The property is also dog friendly www.saybrook.com.

Indoor P{ool

Do not write me when I tell you I found a very good Connecticut wine. Even I was shocked after the tasting. Chamard Vineyards invited me to dinner and a tasting on my last night in Connecticut. The general manager Jeff Vernon offered to pick me up and return me to Old Saybrook since the inn was half way between his house and the winery in Clinton. I knew that name because the Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets are down the road from the winery and I had stopped to shop there several times on the way to and from Boston. They were established in 1983 with the winery being built in 1988, and have 20 acres of grapes used for their estate-bottled line. They also buy grapes from Washington State, California, New York and Chile for their non-estate wines. They produce around 20 different wines. Selling for $28-$42 the Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Cabernet Blend (adds Cab Franc & Merlot) and Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon (100% California grapes) had me believing I was tasting a fine French wine. BRAVO!

Barrel Room

I am ambivalent about writing this part of the article since you can only buy their wines at the winery or by belonging to their wine club. They cannot increase their capacity and are limited to the Bistro hours (out by 9PM) as well as the total number of outdoor weddings allowed (4) that also must be done by 8PM. Remember they are surrounded by residences. Chamard benefits from a unique micro climate influenced by Long Island Sound. They are two miles from the sound and six miles from the mouth of the Connecticut River. This maritime climate produces mild winter temperatures and a long, warm growing season, very similar to Central France or the Burgundy region. Connecticut regulations require that at least 25% of the wineries’ production must contain Connecticut grapes. Their farm gardens provide fruit, vegetable, and herb harvests used in their bistro, which is a table-to-farm, take on a French-American menu. You know business is good when the GM can’t get a reservation for the two of us to have dinner. Finally, they found a spot for us but we had to be gone within ½ hour (we beat that). The 35 seat Bistro served over 100 meals that night. www.chamard.com

Essex Steam Train

After my spa treatment I spent about 2 1/2 hours riding on the Essex Steam Train and transferring to the Becky Thatcher riverboat (same company). The nice folks prepared a boxed lunch for me and provided first class leather swivel seating for the train. The steam locomotive pulled vintage coaches through the towns of Essex, Deep River and Chester. I probably would have been thrilled if I had children with me. Most of what I saw were trees, buildings and highways. The riverboat was another story. I was able to see historic sites including Gillette Castle, the East Haddam Swing Bridge and the Goodspeed Opera House. www.essexsteamtrain.com

Katharine Hepburn Oscar for African Queen

I had a few hours before my Amtrak train back to NYC, which I spent in downtown Old Saybrook. First stop was the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate). Originally opened in 1911 as a theatre, the Center features a 250-seat theatre and museum honoring Katharine Hepburn, Old Saybrook’s most celebrated resident. I walked Main Street past local art galleries, boutique shops and local eateries. I had lunch at Tissa’s Le Souk du Maroc inside the historic James Soda Fountain (one of the rooms at Three Stories is named in honor of “Miss James”). This café and market has one of the oldest (1896) ice cream soda fountains still in existence.  www.katharinehepburntheater.org.

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Nova Scotia is one of Canada’s three Maritime Provinces that include New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Its capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the second smallest Canadian province, the first being Prince Edward Island. The population was 921,000 in 2011. The seaport town of Yarmouth is the home to a very large fishing fleet and a launching point for visiting French-speaking Acadian and the English-speaking communities. My Nova Star cruise ferry docked there in the early morning. After clearing customs Neil Mackenzie, from the Yarmouth & Acadian Shores Tourism Association, was there to greet me and arrange for my rental car. We were to spend a few hours together visiting the W.L. Laurence Sweeney Fisheries Museum, the Firefighters Museum of Nova Scotia as well as Yarmouth and Cape Forchu Light Stations.  Lunch was at Shanty Café, a quite unusual eatery where everyone (except the GM) had barriers to employment, either mental or physical. One has a good feeling after a meal here, and the food was quite good. I was to return to Yarmouth for my last night before re boarding the Nova Star back to Portland.

Church along the Evangeline Trail

It had been raining for the past three days as I started my 185-mile drive to Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley Wine Region. I decided to take the local Evangeline Trail, which ran parallel to the highway. The Acadian Shore is home to communities with roots that are over 400 years deep. The Musee Eglise Sainte-Marie is the largest wooden church in North America. How could I not make a brief stop at Smuggler’s Cove that was a prime location for the smuggling of liquor during prohibition in the 1920s? In Annapolis Royal I did spend an hour in the National Historic District and at Port-Royal National Historic Site to learn about the Acadie culture. There are over 135 registered heritage properties in Annapolis Royal. It was still raining so I did not visit the outdoor grounds. It was a straight run to my overnight home- Blomidon Inn in Wolfville.
blomidon_inn

There are 31 rooms in this very charming Victorian era inn with all the comforts of home including complimentary Internet & HDTV in every room.  It was still raining so I did not venture into the acres of gardens surrounding the inn. I was lucky that Michael Laceby checked me in, carried my bag up to my room and acted as the captain/sommelier for my dinner. His family is the owners of the property. Everything ordered for dinner was from local Annapolis Valley products and fresh catches from the waters of Nova Scotia. With a superb wine list it was no surprise to learn that the number 1 wine critic in Canada Tony Aspler was staying at the inn & joined me for breakfast the next morning.

Nova Scotia wines at dinner- Blomidin Inn Wolfville

I took the suggestion from Tony Aspler about new wineries that I should visit. My first stop was at the not yet open Lightfoot & Wolfville. They plan to open a public retail space in 2016. Their focus is on the classic vinifera grape varieties including: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and other German-styled whites. My other stop was at Benjamin Bridge Winery, which was almost impossible to find since they did not have a sign and were open by appointment only. As luck had it the one person I asked was on her way to work there and showed me the way. They produce excellent sparkling wine, including my favorite Nova 7. I then went back into town to meet Susan Downey, the proprietor of Grape Escape Wine Tours. Since I was her only passenger we stopped at three wineries including: Luckett Vineyards, certainly the most modern winery I visited. Opened in 2011 Peter Luckett owns a chain of boutique grocery stores and he has spared no expense for this 9,000 case winery. L’Acadie is a 2,000 case organic winery opened in 2004. Owner Bruce Ewert moved from the Okanagan Valley of British1 Columbia. Gaspereau Vineyards is a 6,000 case winery with 35 acres planted in grapes and specializes in the Riesling varietal.

Nova Winery Tasting Room

Tidal Bay is a new appellation (June 2011) wine. It highlights the characteristics given to Nova Scotia wines by the unique combination of climate and terroir in the province – and it pairs amazingly well with the local seafood. Among the wines being used to make the Tidal Bay blend are l’Acadie Blanc (most planted white grape varietal in the province), Seyval Blanc, Geisenheim 318 and Vidal Blanc, which must make up at least 51% of the blend singularly or in combination. There are a selection of other locally grown whites that can be added to the blend to increase the aromatics. Winemakers have the choice of choosing which of these wines to blend and the percentage of each so that it can be a unique wine to each winery. The wines must be less than 11% alcohol with high acid levels. Each winery must submit its wine to a five-person panel of wine experts to determine if it meets the standard to bear the Tidal Bay designation. There are presently 10 wineries authorized to produce a Tidal Bay wine.

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I had a three-hour drive back to Yarmouth for my overnight stay at MacKinnon-Cann Inn. My last night in Nova Scotia I needed to stay close to the waterfront since my Nova Star cruise ferry left early in the morning. I also had to return my rental car. The local tourist office arranged for me to stay, and have dinner in the historic district at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn. Built in 1887 it is an example of the Italianate Victorian style. Co-owner Neil Hisgen and his partner are also renovating several other historic homes in the district. I am not sure I heard him correctly as to how much money they have invested in renovating the 7 rooms. I think he said over 1 million dollars. It shows in that all the very large rooms reflect a different era from 1900-1960. I was one of only 2 dining in the restaurant that night but what an experience. Chef Michael Howrys moved from the west coast of Canada and their loss is Nova Scotia’s gain. I don’t think I have a better meal anywhere I have traveled.

After a light breakfast I was off to the ferry and my return to Portland.

For Further Information: www.yarmouthandacadianshores.com, www.annapolisbasin.com, www.fundyfun.com, www.exploreannapolisroyal.com, http://www.wolfville.ca/, www.winesofnovascotia.ca/wineries, www.grapeescapetours.com, www.blomidon.ns.cca, www.mackinnoncanninn.com, www.novastarcruises.com, www.capeforchulight.com

http://www.novascotia.com/see-do/attractions/port-royal-national-historic-site/1462

www.firefighters.museum.gov.ns.ca, www.sweeneyfisheriesmuseum.ca, www.allwaysUs.com, www.tidalbay.ca.

Quest Navigation

On the last day of May I left NYC for Boston via the LimoLiner. After an early dinner I boarded the 7:30 train. It took until 11PM for the non-speedy train to get me to Portland (track work). It got even worse on my return trip. When I called Amtrak to confirm my return to Boston almost a week later I was informed they had cancelled all the Friday trains but could get me on a bus at 12:30PM. I already had plans for that day and luckily the CVB got me a Concord Bus ride at the same 7:30PM, which only took 2 hours to Boston. I am afraid I have nothing positive to say about Amtrak.

I will always be grateful to the management of Hyatt Place Old Port for allowing their shuttle driver to stay past his quitting time to pick me up at the railroad station. The hotel was perfectly located within the revitalized Old Port district and only a few blocks from the working waterfront and local shopping, residential and entertainment. They had the smallest indoor pool I have ever seen. One stroke and I was at the end. The free breakfast was terrific and the hotel had free Wi-Fi.

My tour

The next night I was traveling to Yarmouth Nova Scotia via the Nova Star and once again the hotel dropped me off for my voyage. It rained the first few days of my trip but that did not affect my Portland City & Lighthouse Tour using Portland Discovery’s trolley through Portland’s neighborhoods. I did not know that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived in Portland. I did a quick tour of his home and museum. The rain kept my lobster tour from operating so I saw the harbor by taking a Casco Bay Lines ferry to and from Peaks Island.

On the way to Boston

On my return to Portland I was accommodated at another downtown hotel- Hilton Garden Inn Portland Downtown Waterfront. They very promptly picked me up at the Nova Star on Ocean Gateway pier. What I liked about Portland was that almost all the shops in the downtown area were mom& pop owned. I only saw a Starbucks & CVS among the national chains. The hotels complimentary breakfast was quite good and I had time to relax before my Old Port Lunchtime Lobster Crawl with Maine Foodie Tours. We ate various lobster dishes at four stops. Chowder at Old Port Sea Grill & Raw Bar; lobster at Harbor Fish Market; lobster roll Vietnamese style at Ten Ten Pie& lobster mac & cheese at Blue Rooster Food Co.

 

Lobster  Food Tour- Portland

The good news was the rain finally abated and I was able to avoid falling on the cobblestone streets. The nice folks from the Maine Brew Bus picked me up at the hotel for their Sips & Sea Dog Tour. The other members of the tour had a Portland Sea Dogs baseball game included in their tour price. The Sea Dogs are a AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. We visited Bissell Brothers Brewing Company, New England Distillery & Maine Mead Works. All were artisan companies producing small quantities of very high quality products. How nice of them to also drop me off at the transportation center where I caught my bus to Boston.

 

Sips & Sea Dog Tour

For More Information: www.visitportland.com, http://www.themainebrewbus.com/, www.portlandoldport.place.hyatt.com, www.gardeninn.hilton.com/portland, www.portlanddiscovery.com, www.mainefoodietours.com, www.amtrakdowneaster.com, www.limoliner.com, http://www.hwlongfellow.org/house_wlh_overview.shtml, www.novastarcruises.com, www.cascobaylines.com/ferry, www.mainehistory.org, www.bissellbrothers.com, www.mainemeadworks.com, www.newenglanddistilling.com, www.harborfish.com, www.oldportseagrill.com, www.blueroosterfoodco.com.

Portland AA Team

Did this draw your attention? Read on for the full story.
In January 2014, I bid on several Caribbean resorts at the NY Times Travel Show. All monies raised benefited the varied culinary students on the islands of the Caribbean. My winning bid of $425 entitled me to a 4-night stay at the 3-Star all-inclusive Club Ambiance adult resort (no one under 18, clothing optional at the pool and 1 beach) in Runaway Bay (north shore) of Jamaica. I gave the certificate to my nephew John and his lady Dasha. Forward to February 2015 when I reminded John that the certificate expired April 2015. He & Dasha passed and I booked it for myself for mid-March, during my university spring break. I had lots of mileage with Delta and booked its non-stop flight from JFK, and off I went.IMG_1610

I met Lyndon Taylor at the 2015 NY Times Travel Show at the Jamaican booth. He works for Finn Partners and represents the Jamaica Tourist Board. I booked a trip to Hampden Estates Rum Distillery as well as to Appleton Estates (Wray & Nephew) and asked Lyndon for assistance in filling in the blanks. That he did by arranging for a VIP meet & greet at Sanger International Airport (Montego Bay) and a quick walk through passport control & customs. That led me to Jermaine Smith, a partner in the privately owned Paradise Tours (www.paradisetravelsinja.com) who made my Jamaican trip a joy. Forget the large corporate tour companies. Tell Jermaine you read about him in www.ronkapon.com. Lyndon also arranged my last night’s stay at the brand new (official opening 3/20) Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall all-inclusive luxury adult only resort in Montego Bay as well as transportation back to the airport and use of the VIP lounge there.
Club Ambiance is a 90 room all-inclusive resort located 1 hour from the Montego Bay airport and ½ hour from Ocho Rios (www.clubambianceresort.com). Meals, all drinks, entertainment and taxes are all included. There is a Jacuzzi, exercise room, shuffleboard court, giant chessboard, snorkeling equipment, paddle tennis, beach volleyball, etc. There is also a guided daily bicycle tour and the resident band performs during the evening. The disco-club stays open quite late. Deluxe it is not, but the staff is very friendly and the AC works. My king bed was fine; the shower less so (it leaked). There were large towels which I always appreciate since I am not a 34 waist. The meals were all buffet with some theme nights (Saturday was BBQ outside). I stuck to fruit punch and water. The price per night booked in advance was about $270 per room (2 people).
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Because of my lack of mobility due to a new knee, neuropathy and the use of a cane I skipped Dunn Falls and the Green Grotto Caves (too much climbing on slippery rocks). Jermaine took me to Mystic Mountain Rain Forest in Ocho Rios. This 100-acre property sits 700 feet atop the mountain possible via a chairlift similar to that used at ski resorts. I skipped the Zip Line Canopy Tour (done that) and the water slide and picked the bobsled ride. Remember the Jamaican bobsled team from the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and the 1993 motion picture Cool Runnings about the team? It was one of the best experiences I have ever had and is highly recommended. The normal price for the sky explorer and bobsled ride is $69 (children-$45). Add the zip line and the total is $137 ($115 children). www.rainforestbobsledjamaica.com.
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Our other stop was at Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios. One can swim with dolphins, sharks, stingrays or go glass-bottom kayaking in the Caribbean. The $45 admission price allows you to enjoy all the shows (my choice) including interacting with exotic birds, snakes and iguanas on the Jungle Trail Walk (not my cup of tea). The 15-minute shark show was amateur hour and boring. The interaction with dolphins was fun to watch. It was $195 total if you want to swim with them- mucho dinero. www.dolphincovejamaica.com.
Brief History of Jamaica – Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica on May 4, 1494. In 1504 Spain established the capital of New Seville, near Ocho Rios. The British captured Jamaica in 1655 and developed it as a vast sugar plantation. Slavery was abolished in 1834. The motto in Jamaica is “Out of Many, One People.” August 6, 1962 the island received its independence from Great Britain. The cornerstone of the island is tourism and bauxite. Some famous Jamaicans: Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Lennox Lewis, Patrick Ewing, Harry Belafonte and Usain Bolt. The creator of the character James Bond, Ian Fleming retired in Jamaica at his home Goldeneye, where he penned many of his novels. His first film Dr. No was filmed there.
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The new manager of Club Ambiance had been the head chef for the Heart College of Hospitality Services that was located a few miles away in Runaway Bay. The approximately 300 students currently enrolled have their tuition and living expenses subsidized by the Jamaican government. The school and dorms are located directly behind the 55 room Cardiff Hotel & Spa, where the students receive hands-on training. A graduate of the program (and lecturer) Jerome Murdock was my guide. The guest rooms are situated on four two-tiered blocks throughout the Green Globe certified eco-friendly resort. The on-site restaurant Isabella’s has culinary students working under the supervision of professionals. The guests have access to the nearby Runaway Bay Golf Club, however, at a cost. www.heart-nta.org www.thecardiffhotel.com
Some typical foods native to Jamaica include: roast corn & breadfruit (root vegetables), callaloo (collard greens), ackee & salt fish (national dish), fresh cane & mango. Jerk chicken, pork sausage & fish dry rubbed & marinated in allspice, cinnamon, cloves & nutmeg. Grilling on pimento logs gives the dish a hickory flavor. Other favorites include curried goat and oxtail.
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Appleton Rum in Jamaica: 1749 – Earliest reference to Appleton Estates; 1845- William Hill buys Appleton with its 17 acres of sugar cane; 1900 – A.MC Dowell Watson buys Appleton & its 56 acres of sugar cane; 1916 – Wray & Nephew buys the estate; 2001- Appleton Reserve is launched and the one millionth case is sold; 2012 – 50 year Independence Reserve launched.
The tour costs $25 and takes place at the distillery located in the island southwest Nassau Valley. It was a long, bumpy 3-hour plus drive from Montego Bay over narrow pothole marked roads. I would not have attempted the drive without the expert driver sent for me by the estate. There are artifacts from the distilleries past history, pot and column stills, the resident donkey “Pax” and the barrelhouse storage area. A few sips of rum and a buffet lunch (extra $15) followed the tour. Unfortunately, it was another 3-hour drive back to Montego Bay. I wonder if the cruise passengers realize how tiring the drive will be.
It is a shorter drive (1/2 hour) to Hampden Estate Distillery (1753) from Montego Bay. This tour operates Mondays to Thursdays at 10AM & 11AM. The estate is building a dining area & expanding their gift shop and has been training guides. The cost of the 2-hour tour is $50. It was formerly a sugar plantation. In 1779 Archibald Sterling of Scotland built Hampden Great House with the 1st floor serving as a rum store until the early 1900s. During WW1 the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth shipped sugar & rum. I noted that the world’s largest cruise ship, The Oasis of the Seas, docks in Falmouth. In 2013 3,500 acres were purchased by the Jamaica Sugar Co. In 2009 Everglades Farms Ltd. & the Hussey family purchased the estate. As of now they only bottle two rums, Rum Fire which is White Overproof (63 percent alcohol) & the Hampden Estate Gold (40 percent alcohol). All other rums are distributed in bulk. www.hampdenrumcompany.com.
My last night in Jamaica was spent at the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall Hotel. This 234-room new luxury adult all-inclusive had its grand opening 2 days after I returned to the US. There are two hotels on the property with 14 pools, 1,200 feet of beach on the Caribbean, complimentary airport transfers (15 minutes and use of a lounge) and two golf courses. The Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall (386 rooms) welcomes children & is also all-inclusive. It was formerly a Ritz Carlton that had an $85 million renovation. They share 8 restaurants and 4 bars. I had dinner at the French inspired Petit Pariz, one of three exclusive Zilara restaurants with the executive chef, food & beverage director and members of the PR staff. The Zilara also has 4 private pools for their guests to use. The property is owned by Playa Hotels & Resorts with 14 all-inclusive hotels in Mexico, Dominican Republic & Jamaica. My room was quite large and luxurious. I would love one of the rainfall showers in my apartment. The separate tub was great to soak in before dinner. I did need a lesson on how the TV worked. I should have found a 10 year old to program it. There were all sorts of pricing listed for the two hotels. Figure $400-$500 a night per room with current promotional offer. www.playaresorts.com, www.allinclusivehyatt.com, www.rosehallzilara.hyatt.com.
This was my third trip to Jamaica…the Home of All Right. I was impressed with the friendliness of the people and the feeling that there were plenty of jobs available if one wanted to work. I will be back.

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As defined by the Brewers Association a craft brewery produces less than 6 million barrels of beer a year (there are 31 gallons in a barrel). It is a distinctively flavored beer that is brewed and distributed regionally. If any alcoholic beverage industry member (who is not a craft brewer) owns or controls 25% or more of the brewery, then it cannot be called a craft brewery. To be a craft brewer, one must have “a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.” Flavored malt beverages are not considered beers. Craft brewers may use other adjuncts like fruit, spices, rye, or oatmeal to enhance the flavor & mouth feel of their beers. Source: http://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/craft-brewer-defined/

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The following figures are all for 2013: There were 2,770 craft breweries in the U.S. A microbrewery (1,410) produces less than 15,000 barrels a year. A Brewpub (1,240) is a restaurant-brewery that sells at least 25% of its beer on site. Anheuser-Busch InBev shipped 16 million barrels (down from 30 million in 2003). Bud’s US market share fell to 8.7% in 2013, down from 14.3 percent in 2005, according to data tracker Euromonitor. Craft breweries have about 7.8% of the US market selling around 15.3 billion barrels. The largest craft breweries include: Boston Beer Company as number one, followed by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, New Belgium Brewing Co, Gambrinus and Lagunitas Brewing Co. Brooklyn Brewery is number 9. Sources:  http://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/2013-craft-beer-data-infographic/

http://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/national-beer-sales-production-data/

http://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/brewers-association-lists-top-50-breweries-of-2013/

Co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery Steve Hindy was the Middle East Correspondent for the Associated Press where he covered wars and assassinations in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Sudan. Steve befriended diplomats based in Saudi Arabia, where Islamic law prohibits alcoholic beverages. The envoys were avid home brewers and showed Steve their techniques. While editing foreign news for Newsday (Long Island) Steve started brewing at his Brooklyn home. His downstairs neighbor was banker Tom Potter, and they agreed to establish the Brooklyn Brewery.

A few Brooklyn breweries survived Prohibition by marketing malt beverages and medicinal alcohol. The last two great brewing families Schaefer and Liebmann (Rheingold) closed in 1976. Intent on starting a brewery that would pay homage to the rich history of their beloved borough, Steve and Tom set their sights on bringing in the legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser (I Love NY logo- NY Magazine) to create a logo that would give their fledgling Brooklyn Eagle (newspaper) Brewery brand an instant identity. Milton even agreed to waive his usual fees in exchange for an equity stake in the company. Steve and Tom raised $500,000 from family and friends, personally persuading each to share with them in their plan to build a “microbrewery.”

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Shelving the “microbrewery” plan, Steve and Tom commissioned brewmaster William M. Moeller, a former head brewer at Philadelphia’s Schmidt Brewery, to brew Brooklyn Lager at the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, New York. Moeller pored over the brewing logs of a grandfather of his who had brewed in Brooklyn at the turn of the last century to develop a recipe for Brooklyn Lager. The result was an all-malt lager beer with a tangy aroma created by “dry-hopping,” an age-old technique of adding hops during the maturation process to create a robust aroma. Brooklyn Lager made quite a splash in the 1980’s beer scene in New York City, dominated by the light, rice and corn lagers sold by Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

In 1988 Steve and Tom were hitting the streets to educate consumers from the bottom up, exposing a new generation of beer drinkers to flavorful beers that had been all but lost to the American beer scene. In 1994, Garrett Oliver was brought on board as brewmaster. His beers and books include The Good Beer Book, The Brewmaster’s Table and The Oxford Companion to Beer. He won the 2014 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional.  On May 28, 1996, Mayor Rudy Giuliani cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Brooklyn Brewery brewhouse, tasting room and offices in Williamsburg Brooklyn.

Tom, who had been heavily involved in the distribution division for the previous fifteen years, decided the time was right for him to retire and sold his shares to the Ottaway family. Not long after, Tom grew bored with retirement and founded the New York Distilling Company not far from the Brooklyn Brewery. In 2014 Eric Ottaway became the CEO and Robin Ottaway President.

Amarcord Brewery in Rimini, Italy teamed up with Brooklyn Brewery in 2011 to launch the first of four collaborative beers: Ama Bionda, Ama Bruna, Ama Mora and Ama Reserva. In 2003, Carlsberg, the fourth largest brewery in the world, assumed responsibility for distributing Brooklyn beers in Scandinavia. The Brooklyn brands took off as Brooklyn as a borough began to develop an international reputation as a center of the arts and entrepreneurship and America’s craft beer revolution began to take root around the world. In 2014, Brooklyn Brewery and Carlsberg celebrated the opening of their joint venture brewery Nya Carnegie, operating as a brewery and tasting room in Stockholm, Sweden. It was the first time an American craft brewery had established a facility overseas. Later that year, Brooklyn donated a microbrewery to the Culinary Institute of America, one of the world’s foremost cooking schools located in the Hudson Valley north of New York City. Garrett is developing a brewing curriculum for the CIA to familiarize students with the brewing process and produce beers for the school’s restaurants. Garrett has an expanded barrel-aging program housed in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard down the road from the brewery and an extensive roster of experimental batches tucked away for study (and tasting).

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I along with some 25 other people took the Small Batch Tour that takes place from 5-7PM Monday through Thursday. Reservations are required. We started by tasting 4 of their beers & even got to keep the tasting glass. Quite a bargain at just $10. The beers we tasted were: Brooklyn Lager, Local1, Wild Horse Porter & Unsung Hero.

For More Information-www.brooklynbrewery.com, www.brewersassociation.org

 

I did not think of the Greater Palm Springs area as a budget metropolis. It consists of the communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. As I drove around I noticed the names of streets: Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Fred Waring, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, etc. They had one thing in common- they are all dead and they all lived, at least part of the year, in the Palm Springs area. Lucille Ball owned a hotel there. More residents included: Walt Disney, Kirk Douglas, Judy Garland, Bill Gates, Cary Grant, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Autry, Dean Martin, Ann Miller, Errol Flynn and Jean Harlow.

The city became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when tourists with health problems arrived to sample the dry heat. They were comfortable in the microclimate because the mountains blocked the cold winds. There were also inventive architects that designed unique vacation homes using prefabricated panels, folding roofs, glass-and-steel houses with open-design plans, air-conditioning, swimming pools and very large windows. In those days Hollywood had a “Two Hour Rule” meaning that contracted employees had to be available within two-hours from the studio in case last minute filming had to be done. Palm Springs fit that window.

The film colony and tourists discovered this desert playground in the early 1940’s. There were golf courses, tennis courts and more swimming pools than anywhere else in the United States. There was even gambling at several clubs in Cathedral City. After World War II the area added spas and new homes. The Palm Desert Corporation built office buildings and more homes and country clubs. Thirty years later this area became the city of Palm Desert. Bob Hope, a longtime resident, was appointed Honorary Mayor. Palm Springs became known as the “Golf Capitol of the World.”  Polo was revived, as were tennis tournaments.

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Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in 1954 and Harry Truman also spent considerable time in the area. In 1962 John F. Kennedy came to town on the first of several trips. President Gerald Ford had visited Palm Springs during his term as Vice President and in 1976 returned to build a home there. Mrs. Ford had her alcohol and drug center in Rancho Mirage. Then mayor Sonny Bono founded the Palm Springs International Film Festival which is held every January. This year it was January 2-12th. The area has been rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars.

The last time I was in Palm Springs the downtown area was seedy, even around the Spa Resort Casino. It reminded me of the areas of Atlantic City that were off the boardwalk area. Then the renaissance began, slowly at the beginning, with gay people from the San Francisco area being priced out of their homes and shops. They found their new area in Greater Palm Springs and the movement started. Great weather 10 months of the year, mountains nearby, and wind energy for cheap electricity, an international airport and well maintained highways and roads. No potholes caused by rain and snow, as in my hometown of NYC.

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As the older (my) generation died off, younger people moved in. Yes, there is the Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert (El Paseo) but there is also Highway 111 & Interstate 10 with Costco, Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and all the budget motel/hotels/fast food restaurants and outlet stores. There are also other casinos in Rancho Mirage, Coachella, and Indio and in Cabazon (on the highway to & from Los Angeles, next to the 180 store Desert Hills Premium Outlet stores where I shopped and bought several items).

I spent 4 days with Sally Jessy Raphael and her husband Karl Soderlund at their home. Sally has excellent taste and the home reflects that. Everything in quotes were from her notes to me.

“I consider the Palm Springs area to be an inexpensive place to live. The weather is ideal 10 months of the year. There is very little rain and it is dry and mild with temperatures between 65-80 degrees. True it is hot in July & August but I love the heat and everyone has air conditioning. There’s lots to do. Even though we don’t play golf there are more than 100 courses in the region for our guests to use. This is a big tennis town and lots of swimming pools. The area is also a good place for hikers and rock climbers. There are mountains everywhere. It was also voted the cleanest city in America. There are no bad areas and I always feel safe, many times not even locking my front door.”

“The International Film Festival is wonderful and I believe it is the 3rd largest in the US. The McCallum Theater has a different show almost every night with big stars. The casinos also have great shows. Almost half the population is young and the schools are well run. The town is very health conscious. The gays have done a lot opening small boutiques, restaurants, B&B’s etc. People are very friendly. There are lots of art fairs and galleries. (Sally is an accomplished artist with several gallery exhibits). Also, because of the abundance of wind turbines electric rates are low. You saw the airport- no roof and two non-stop flights a week from NYC. I like the slow pace of life here and the excellent nightlife.”

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There is a lot to see and to do in the Greater Palm Springs area. I will concentrate on 3 places where I spent considerable time. The Living Desert; Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I briefly stopped at the following attractions that are worthwhile if you have more free time than I had: San Jacinto Mountain Range (drove around them coming from Temecula to Palm Desert. Don’t try at night); Palm Springs Art Museum (had 15 minutes there), Cabots Pueblo Museum (5 minutes from Two Bunch Palms) & El Paseo Shopping Avenue (had lunch there).

I met the CEO of Two Bunch Palms located in Desert Hot Springs (30 minutes from Palm Desert) several months ago at a press dinner here in NYC organized by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. He was kind enough to invite Sally & her husband Karl to accompany me there for spa treatments & lunch. This 77-acre resort was built in 1930. It had become rundown when the new owners took over in 2012. There are 70 newly refurbished rooms including 13 suites with outdoor patios and/or courtyards (18 years and older only). The Wellness Spa has 19 indoor/outdoor treatments rooms, 2 mud baths (my choice of treatment) and 2 water therapy pools. There is a lap pool, two tennis courts, fitness room, many movement & enrichment classes and a huge earth mount dome dedicated to yoga. The tour I was given by cart also included nature trails, a duck & turtle pond where you can feed the fish and a new conference center.

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We had lunch in the farm-to-table restaurant Essense where Chef Cossi Houegban prepared a fabulous lunch.  We changed into our swimsuits and relaxed by the natural spring artesian waters that are 169 degrees and are cooled to 90 and 104 degrees in the Grotto. The waters contain lithium, calcium and magnesium. The best value is the day spa. Non-resort guests can gain access to the facility with a minimum reservation of one (1) 60 minute treatment along with a Day Spa Fee ($40 weekend/$25 weekday) that allows access to the Grotto, the pool and the grounds from 10 am to 6 pm. World Away Day Spa packages are also available and designed to include at least one treatment, gratuity, lunch credit and the day spa fee ($195). For more information- www.twobunchpalms.com

I spent 3 hours at The Living Desert, both walking and using their tram. You really need 5-6 hours to see everything. It was established in 1970 by people who foresaw the impact that resort development would have on the local desert ecosystem. This led to the interpretive nature trail and preserve in Palm Desert. The grounds have been expanded to 1,200 acres of which 1,000 acres remain in their natural state. A desert oasis was created with animal enclosures and small animal exhibits. Then came a walk-through aviary and an animal care center that I visited watching an operation take place. They soon accepted threatened and endangered species. An Education Center followed as well as Eagle Canyon, home to mountain lions, Mexican wolves, bobcats, badgers and many birds. Before the turn of the century they completed an amphitheater for a twice-daily Wild Wonders show as well as the Village WaTuTu with a new café, gift shop and new exhibits featuring striped hyenas, camels, sheep and goats. In the early 21st Century they added a children’s play park, an exhibit housing a reticulated giraffe and ostrich and a butterfly pavilion. Soon there was an added endangered species carousel and camel rides. I actually managed to see most of the above, ending at the very large model railroad exhibit. For further information- www.Livingdesert.org

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The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located in the rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs. The dream began in 1935 but construction was not complete until 1963. Not one cent of public funds was used for either the construction or operation of the tramway. It was an engineering challenge and was labeled as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road. Helicopters flew over 20,000 missions during the 26 months of construction, hauling men and material needed to erect the four other towers and the 25,000 sq. Mountain Station. It is 10,834 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto. In 2000 there were new cars installed including the world’s largest rotating tramcars. Since it opened over 18 million people have travelled the 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride, which begins at the Valley Station- elevation 2,643 feet and ends at the Mountain Station- elevation 8,516 feet. The cost of a ride is- $23.95 for adults & children 3-12 are $16.95. It’s a very small world; the last time I was in Palm Springs I met Greg Purdy the PR person for the Palm Springs Follies (no longer in business). Greg is doing the same work for the Tramway and honored me by riding up and back with me. For further information- www.pstramway.com. For more information about Greater Palm Springs-  www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.