America’s Coffee Mecca

Being an avid coffee drinker, I decided to review the ‘Coffee Mecca’ of America…Seattle, Washington.  Home to Seattle’s Best and Starbucks, this coffee drinking city is by far the place to go for a real coffee experience.

Seattle, Washington...who else would give a cup of joe its own neon sign?!

Bauhaus Coffee

Okay, I admit it…I am drawn to the 50’s art, architecture, furniture design…so when I saw the Bauhaus Coffee house I knew I had to check it out just a little bit more.

The coffee shop opened in 1993, and has since established itself as “the place” to bring a book or your laptop and chill out over a cup of coffee, espresso, or even tea.  Scones, croissants and doughnuts are also available to go with your beverage.  The oversized windows offer amazing views of the Space Needle and all the city foot traffic.  Bauhaus Coffee opens in the morning and doesn’t close until the early morning hours…1 a.m.  Once a month on Thursday evenings, they show a film (typically something old school)…can be anything from sci-fi from the 1960’s to a silent film from the 1920’s.  Kinda quirky, kinda fun.

mmmmmm...le café! (thanks to Bauhaus Coffee)

Caffé Vita

The cafe is located on Pike Street…and have also have others scattered throughout Washington.  Here’s a little bio about them from them:

“A desire to bring great espresso to Seattle was the catalyst behind our success. We began at the base of Queen Anne in 1995 and have since added five cafes and a roasterie, and we’ve enjoyed growing with the community and honing in our craft of coffee quality and service.”

They brew their own coffee and sell their own coffee.  Here’s a list of some of the varieties they offer:

Caffé del Sol (Blend)

Rich and complex, this espresso blend consists of Latin American, African, and Indonesian coffees. It has hints of dark chocolate and praline, and a silky, deep amber crema with a caramel finish. 

Sumatra Mandheling (Indonesia)

This classic Sumatra Mandheling coffee is grown in the mountains and valleys surrounding Lake Tawar in the Aceh province of northern Sumatra. It has heavy body, a hint of earthiness, and a buttery flavor and texture.

Ethiopian Shashamane (Farm Direct)

A fully washed light- to medium-bodied coffee with flavors of lemon and orange blossom balanced with honey and fruit. There are 448 employees at the farm that produced this coffee, which is located 3 kilometers northeast of Yirgacheffe, at an altitude of 1800 meters. In addition to growing and harvesting, they wash and process all their coffee to ensure the finest quality.

Tanzania Ruvuma (Africa)

We obtain this fine east African coffee from the Ruvuma region in southern Tanzania, near the environs of Mbinga. Grown on rich volcanic soil by a collection of small farmers, this coffee dazzles with citrus and dark berry juice flavors, reminiscent of coffees from neighboring Kenya.

Mexican Chiapas (America)

Originating in the mountains surrounding the village of Motozintla, this is a bright, high-grown coffee with distinct citrus flavor and spicy aftertaste.

Trabant Coffee and Chai

Unique little hangout.  Catering to the college crowd, Trabant Coffee and Chai kind of seems like a mom and pop version of Panera Bread.  They have breakfast and lunch menus to go along with their beverage selections.  One nifty little difference from Panera Bread is that they also have musicians come in and play for the customers…usually indie genre.  Kind of a fun touch.

Last one…but definitely not the least!

Caffe Ladro

7 locations in Seattle alone.  Unique interiors.  Voted #1 Coffee Shop in 2010 by Seattle Magazine.  Displays local artists’ works (which can also be purchased).  It’s an Espresso Bar and Bakery.

“In Spanish, Caffe Ladro means “coffee thief,” and, as its name suggests, these neighborhood coffeehouses have clearly made off with a number of caffeine fans from the nearby chains. Customers toss their coats over their chairs and the regulars feel comfortable leaning over the counter to use the phone. A variety of pastries are available to munch with espresso drinks–a slice of deep dish fruit pie is a filling, if totally unhealthy, lunch.”  …these are the words used to describe the place by one reviewer I found.

Caffe Ladro on Pine Street (thanks to Chris Daniel)

Gotta make a Seattle’s Best Coffee run after this…

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Up North

Michigan is already north for lots of people…but those who live in the mitten…down in the suburbs of Detroit, Grand Rapids, well, they’re not ‘up north’ so to speak.  Going up north is anywhere past the Flint or Saginaw line (and you’re free to have your own opinion of where that invisible line starts…this is mine).  Lots of southern Michiganders own cottages on lakes in northern Michigan.  Others rent a cottage for a week, or whatever suits their fancy.  It’s their little get-away within the state.  A home away from home.  A place of escape…rest and relaxation.

Mullet vs. Mullett

You can rent cottages along one of the Great Lakes or along an inland body of water, Silver Lake, Green Lake, or Mullett Lake (it was named after John Mullett.  Have to admit, I always thought of, yeah, a mullet and wondered what would possess a person to name a lake after the hideous hair style), and so on.  It’s your choice.  I’ve done both, and I have to say I like the inland lakes better.  Why do I prefer the inland as opposed to the Great Lakes?  The top most reason would be that they are warmer.  They are not this huge body of water that never really warms up for the summer.

Marina on Lake Michigan in Petoskey, MI

Mullett Lake

My first memory of swimming in one of Michigan’s smaller lakes was when I was about 2-3 years old.  My mom, sister, and I were all on a raft…precious.  Great bonding time, that is until the raft tipped, and we took a plunge.  I recall looking through the brownish water up towards the sun.  I thought I was going to drown.  Once I surfaced, to my absolute indignation, my mom and sister were cracking up.  Apparently, my “near-death” experience was all blown out of proportion in my head.

Fortunately it was not a life scarring experience, and I have since enjoyed many trips up north since than.

There are quite a few things to do up north.  Fishing, hiking, swimming, visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, sailing, tubing down the Sturgeon River (the river is spring fed, so it’s freezing.  Still fun though)…they’re all up for grabs.  You can also visit the trademark tourist attraction or traps…Castle Rock, The Mystery Spot, Mackinaw Island or Mackinaw City.  Traverse City is gorgeous in the late springtime with all of cherry trees in bloom.  They claim to be the Cherry Capital of the World.  Their annual crop of cherries is around 300 millions pounds.  So, I suppose they have a right to that claim they make.

Sleeping Bear Dunes (thanks to Andrew McFarlane)

...more of the sand dunes (thanks to Kerry Kelly)

It’s a simple pleasure in life, but one of my favorite things to do up north are the cookouts around the campfire…competition for the Perfect Marshmallow…shooing the dog away from the food…watching the sky grow darker…and finally laying out on the dock gazing up into the star-studded sky looking for shooting stars, hearing the soft splash of the water against the shore and the lonely call of the loon off in the distance.  Yep, it’s a wonderful life.

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Trip of a Lifetime

Mosi-o-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), also known as Victoria Falls.  It’s the mother of all waterfalls being the largest one out there.  One of the seven natural wonders of the world.  5,604′ wide and 354′ tall, it’s big, need I say more?   The Scottish Christian missionary (also doctor, explorer, and abolitionist), David Livingstone, was the first European to lay eyes on it, and he named it the Victoria Falls in honor of the Queen.  He’s noted for describing the falls as, “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”  Must have been an awesome experience.

The Victoria Falls

Both Zimbabwe and Zambia have national parks that you can view the Vic Falls from, so it’s really up to you where you want to view them from (I’ve read positive reviews about both sides).  For this post, I have chosen to look at them from the Zambian side.

Before I begin, let me give you a heads up, this will probably be a pricey escape.  Between the plane ticket, hotel room, a visa, and all those extra activities you’ll want to do, it’ll all add up.  But, would it be worth the money?  Probably…it’ll be one of those once in a lifetime experiences and you’ll have the memories for the rest of your life of an amazing trip.

There are a quite a few things to do while enjoying Zambia, the Victoria Falls and the surrounding area.   A few have caught my eye, so I’ll share ’em with you.

1. Bungee Jumping

You’re on the Victoria Falls Bridge.  In the background 120 million gallons of water thunder to the river below.  Forget about Red Bull and Monster, I think plummeting over 360 feet towards the Zambezi River will give you the greatest heart-pounding adrenaline rush you could hope for.

2. River Boarding

Never heard of this, but it looks pretty cool.  You “surf” the rapids of the Zambezi River.  You are not required to have any boarding experience.  As long as you know how to swim , are in shape up to a reasonable level, and you have a ‘go for it’ attitude, you’re all set to go.  Your activity time lasts from a half a day up to a whole day.

They have different seasons of river boarding, high and low water.  You’ll go through a number of rapids, all of which have names.  For example: The Rollercoaster, The Terminator, The Gnashing Jaws of Death, and here’s a good one…The Devil’s Toilet Bowl.

More info at http://www.afrizim.com/activities/livingstone/Riverboard_raft.asp

3. Microlight

Want to get up close and personal with Victoria Falls?  Try a microlight flight.   The aircraft is very small with an open air cockpit.  Once again, Hello, Adrenaline Rush! For those not willing to ‘risk’ life and limb, there are helicopter rides available.  But, really, the microlight pilots are very well-trained, so no worries!  Rides can be anywhere from 15-30 minutes long.  It’s recommended you book your flight first thing in the morning or later in the day to watch the sunset.

Microlight over the falls

If you go to Livingstone Island, you are able to go swimming at the edge of the falls during September-December in a designated area called, Devil’s Pool.  They say the water is pretty calm there.  I’m still not sure about it.  Perhaps it’s taking adventure a little too far?  I don’t know.  Here’s a picture of some people not being swept over…

Dumb or Daring?

The nearest town is Livingstone, and it offers hotels, bed and breakfasts, and resort lodgings.  If you want to take a quick look at some of the available lodgings, Accommodations Direct has put together a nice list of places to stay.

And, that’s all for now, folks!!!

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In Chi-Town

“Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town.  Chicago, Chicago, I’ll show you around…”

You can leave it up to Frank Sinatra to do the showin’ around in Chi-Town, or you can go see for yourself what this city has to offer.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed spending the day cruising down the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Ave.)…although I highly recommend you do the cruising on foot.  Save gas, parking moolah, and there’s the opportunity to be outside soaking up the city.  Can’t get much better than that!

Downtown Chicago in the Evening

Where to stay…

There are plenty of hotels to choose from…luxury, boutique, and the money savers.    There are also a handful of Bed and Breakfasts in the area, if that suits your fancy.

Here’s a small list of what the Windy City has to offer in terms of accommodations:

Rafaeollo

http://www.chicagoraffaello.com/

Located on the famed Magnificent Mile, Rafaello has been recently renovated.  Its guest rooms are decorated with subtle earth tones in a European/modernist style.  During the late spring and into early fall, the rooftop deck is opened for you…catch a few rays or admire the night sky.

Rates start at $155 per night.

Hotel Monaco

http://www.monaco-chicago.com/index.html

Hotel Monaco is a boutique/luxury hotel located a few steps away from Michigan Ave. (the Magnificent Mile) and Millennium Park.  The hotel goes to great lengths to ensure its patrons experience its sights, sounds, testers, and tastes.  It’s not your ordinary hotel.

And for those who are actively concerned about the environment, Monaco is Green Seal Silver Certified.  They’ve met the environmental standards which were designed to reduce effect on human health and the environment.  Hats off to them, they were 1 out of 37 in the nation to be certified.

Old Chicago Inn Bed and Breakfast

http://www.oldchicagoinn.com/index.html

Innkeepers Cliff Hagerman and hosts Todd and Virginia Hyatt run this B&B.  It’s in a turn of the century Greystone, located in the heart of Lakeview just four blocks from Wrigley Field.

The rooms are cozy and charming.  A continental breakfast is served daily.

Chi-Town has a bit of everything for everyone.  Experience the thrill of Six Flags amusement park.  Take a stroll on beach or go for a swim in Lake Michigan.  Shop the Magnificent Mile.  Explore the arts of yesterday and today at the Art Institute.  Try some of the ethnic and not-so-ethnic food Chicago has to offer.  Book tickets to a Cubs game, the theater, or a concert.

Art Institute of Chicago (thanks to J. Nguyen)

Chicago Theatre (thanks to Joe M500 from WEST LOOP CHICAGO)

I thought this looked a little interesting…The Dinner Detective, an interactive dinner mystery show.

“The Dinner Detective is America’s LARGEST murder mystery comedy dinner show!  You’ll enjoy a fantastic four-course plated dinner while you solve a hilarious murder case.  A tantalizing Prize Package awaits our Top Sleuth of the evening.  But be careful!  In this show, EVERYONE is a suspect, even YOU, and the killer might be at your table!”

Kind of a fun twist to an evening if you ask me.

For more info go to their webpage: http://www.thedinnerdetective.com/sites/chicago/

I just gave a very small sample of what Chicago has to offer.  My advice…go there and experience it yourself!

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Experience English Country

So, when I think of England, I usually think of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Bridge, ect.  Sometimes the quaint countryside come to mind, and I find that to be very intriguing.  But how in the world could someone (a foreigner) enjoy its beauty?  Personally, I think it’s lame just to settle for the English countryside via the latest Jane Austen movie that BBC produces (and in no way am I trying to belittle BBC.  I think they do a fantastic job).

I did a little searching and found a some places where one can enjoy the great outdoors of England by way of camping.  Here’s one of them:

Sawday’s Canopy & Stars

http://www.canopyandstars.co.uk/find-a-place/ekopod

It’s not your commonplace camping.  They call it luxury camping or ‘glamping’.  They’ve developed a collection of places which are beautiful and quirky at the same time.  One in particular stood out to me…and its calling my name.  It’s called “The Geo” and is located in Cornwall.

The Geo, Ekopod

The Geo, Ekopod, Cornwall (thanks to Sawdays Canopy and Stars)

It mixes modern and nature together.  It’s sustainable and at the same time caters to your necessities.  Yes, it has its own private kitchen and bathroom.  Upscale camping?  Yep.

Think you would get bored with a mod-tent and some trees?  Think again.  There’s plenty to see and do around the area.  Hiking, bike rides, surfing are all suggested activities…and Tintagel castle is also in the area.

However, if  “glamping” isn’t your thing…you’ve got to check this place out.

The Temple of Folly

www.templefolly.co.uk/index.html 

Temple Folly

The Temple located in the Northshire Dales National Park(thanks to templefolly.co.uk)

Located in Swinithwaite, North Yorkshire, the Temple of Folly was built in the 18th century.  It’s octagon shape makes it a rather unusual building.  It was originally built to be a summerhouse or belvedere for a gentleman named T J Anderson.   It’s architectural designs inside and out make it a very intriguing and interesting place.  Not only that, the Temple provides a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape with its second-floor, open air balcony.  At night you can enjoy the view across Wenslyeydale to the floodlit Bolton Castle.

Depending on the season, the price varies from around $650-$800 per week.

Bedroom in the Temple

Second-floor bedroom in the Temple (thanks to templefolly.co.uk)

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A Little Hungary

Hungary.  Not “I’m hungry” (that’s what I thought when I was little…who didn’t?), but the country of Hungary, or as the Hungarians call it Magyarország.

I personally don’t often hear of this country as being a common tourist destination.  But let me tell you, it’s worth the money to check it out.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

The picturesque landscape is full of lakes, mountains, rolling hills, golden fields, and dark forests.  Dotting the hillsides, you will see ornate churches and quaint houses.  The Danube’s bank nestle against the country’s capital, Budapest.  In this large city, you will find McDonald’s and the ancient aqueducts from the Roman Empire.

Hungarian Countryside

Hungarian Countryside

The signature food of Hungary is Gulyás (gou-yash).  It’s a mix between soup and stew.  It’s full of vegetables (potatoes/carrots/onions) and chunks of meat, not to mention the most popular spice in Hungary, paprika.  It is usually served with slices of hot peppers.  Note to self, do not touch face after cutting slices of pepper for the soup.  It burns.   Sometimes it is cooked outside in an open vat, which makes the meal even more tantalizing.  Delicious?  You bet.


Another traditional Hungarian dish is cabbage and pasta.  I regret to say the only healthy thing to found in the dish is the cabbage…I think the rest will just help clog your arteries.  That’s probably why it taste so good.  Here’s the recipe (well, the Americanized version of it…still tastes very much like the stuff I had when I was over there):

      5 slices bacon, diced

      2 tsp. sugar

      1 tsp. salt

      6 cups chopped cabbage (1-inch squares)

      3 cups cooked noodles (4 oz. uncooked)

      1 cup sour cream

      Paprika 

Saute bacon until crisp in large frying pan.  Remove bacon and set aside.  Stir sugar and salt into bacon drippings.  Add cabbage, stirring until cabbage is coated with bacon drippings.

Cover and cook 7 to 10 minutes.  Add cooked noodles and bacon, stirring to blend.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Spoon into a 2-quart baking casserole; cover tightly and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.  Spread sour cream over top of casserole; sprinkle with paprika and return to oven for 5 minutes more.

(Note: Usually I drain some of the bacon drippings, so I don’t have to serve all that fat)

Okay, I’m done with the food.  It’s starting to make me hungry.

The city/town of Szentendre is full of quaint cobblestone streets lined with little shops.  There is a certain spot in the town where you can overlook all the red tile roofs.  Very old world and very memorable.

Shop along the cobblestone streets

Rooftops of Szentendre

Have you ever wanted to push a pause button on life and let time stand still?  The little, rural village of Hollókő is just that.  Developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, Hollókő has kept to itself over the period of time.

Here all of the buildings are whitewashed, be it a home or a shop.  And this is where I say, “Make sure there is a sign outside of the building before entering.”  You may be barging into someone’s home.  And that would be kind of embarrassing.

Hollókő also has this amazing castle.  It’s been dated back to sometime in the 1300’s.  Climbing up inside of it and looking out over the hills to the edge of the dense forest will bring your imagination to life.  Let it go wild…you’ll be able to see the enemy armies lurking behind the dark trees, or troops descending the mountains off in the distance.

Hollókő Castle

The castle ruins of Hollókő

The village of Hollókő thanks to Krzyżówki from Wikimedia Commons and Ookaboo!

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The Perfection of Preparation

I have an infatuation with traveling.  I love visiting new places…or not so new places.  Catching up with out-of-state friends and family…or going somewhere strange and foreign and making new friends.

For me, traveling began with those yearly family vacations (which included going to different cottages in northern Michigan or making the long car trip down to Florida).  Over time, my enjoyment in traveling has evolved and has turned into, well, an addiction you might say.  I am no longer content to stay in one place for an extended period of time.  From time to time, I get the “itchy feet” syndrome, and I know that it’s time to pack my suitcase and (in most cases) book a flight.

So, my favorite mode of travel is flying.  There’s nothing like feeling the transition of taxiing on the runway and taking off to be swallowed up into the vast blue yonder.  I can hear Nemo’s dad Marlin (from Finding Nemo) calling out to me, “Now go have an adventure!”.  And that’s exactly what I intend to do each time I board an airplane.

I’ve found that the best place to purchase airline tickets is through Travelocity.com.  It’s my all time favorite website (for travel). Travelocity offers the best prices, and the site is relatively easy to navigate.  It’s a rare thing to find me buying a ticket through an airline’s website.  Another tip to finding tickets at lower prices is to purchase your ticket a few weeks in advance…no sooner, no later…a seasoned traveler shared this with me.  One time, I waited a couple of days too late and ended up paying around an extra $100.  If you move slow, you’ll pay.

After the ticket is purchased, the all important task of packing is next.  There is nothing like trying to stuff a stray article of clothing into an already packed suitcase…and then having to weigh it again to make sure it hasn’t gone over the 50 pound limit.  Before I really started traveling, I never realized that packing could build muscle, resourcefulness and creativity.  Just try lifting up that awkwardly shaped 50 pound piece of luggage while stepping onto a scale, meanwhile, trying ever so (un)successfully to look down and see the numbers on the scale.  It’s a workout.   And as far as the resourcefulness and creativity…well, you learn that rolling your clothes in tight “balls” conserves a lot of space, which means more room in the suitcase!

BEWARE!  Don’t try to be like the world-wide traveler and limit your suitcase sizes and such.  This is personal experience speaking.  On one occasion, I was going for the “look-how-little-I-need-to-pack” look.  Dumb.  I came home with an extra box.  Save the time, money and hassle and just use all the suitcase space the airlines allow you.  If you’re positive you’re not coming back with more than you left with, then by all means, pack smaller.  Hey, sometimes you can get away with only a couple of carry ons…and no suitcase, period.  Save that extra 25 or so dollars.  I’ve also tried this method and it works quite well.

Oh and before you leave the house…always, always, always…check your flight schedule.  Check it the week before, the day before, morning or evening of.  I’ve missed a flight because I misread an e-mail sent out by the airline I was flying with.  They were informing me that my flight was leaving an hour or so earlier.  I was busy shopping at Ikea when I was notified of my mistake…or more that the plane had already taken off.  So much for that leisurely shopping trip.  Thankfully, I was able to reschedule the flight for later one in the evening, but I arrived at my destination around midnight instead of in the afternoon.  Fortunately for me, it was an inexpensive lesson.

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