LandLopers Wed, 24 Aug 2016 10:41:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lured By The Pied Piper To Hameln, Germany Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:55:48 +0000 I was tired as I drove into the traffic surrounding Hameln just after lunch on a bright and sunny summer’s day. But I was also excited; I’m always excited to … Read More

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I was tired as I drove into the traffic surrounding Hameln just after lunch on a bright and sunny summer’s day. But I was also excited; I’m always excited to visit a new city and almost immediately I could tell that Hameln would be a good fit for me. Sometimes we just mesh with a new city and there’s really no explanation for it. It’s a mixture of mood, the weather and of course, ultimately, the city itself. For whatever reason though Hameln and I clicked immediately, which made me even more excited to spend the afternoon exploring this old German city.

A Few Things You Should Know

Spelling the name of Hameln was my first obstacle. In English we would say Hamelin, but whether or not you use the English or German Hameln, it’s the same great city. It’s also an ancient city and while its roots go back well over a millennia, it wasn’t until the 17th century when Hameln enjoyed real influence and wealth. I saw that wealth on clear display as soon as I entered the old city on as beautiful a day as you could hope for in the northern regions of Germany. I wasn’t alone though, I had a guide for the afternoon, the Pied Piper himself. Every day, costumed guides dress up and get into character in order to share not only the history of this famous fairy tale with visitors, but to also share their beautiful city with newcomers. The story of the Pied Piper isn’t your average fairy tale though; it’s based on a very real event that actually did occur, although some of the details remain fuzzy still today.

Hameln Germany

The Pied Piper

We know a few things about the Pied Piper. In case you don’t remember the story from your childhood, the premise of the tale is simple. In 1284, Hameln was suffering from a rat infestation. The itinerant piper promised to get rid of the rats in return for payment. He did the job, but the townspeople refused to pay. Angered, the piper left vowing revenge which he got on the 26th of July that same year when he led the children of Hameln away never to be seen again. The lesson here is simple, don’t renege on a promise and always pay freelancers on time. Ok, I added that last bit, but you get the point. Well, as it turns out this is more than a nice story; it really happened and pretty much the way described by the Brothers Grimm.

I learned all of this and more while being lured around town myself by the costumed guide, one of the best of my trip along the German Fairy Tale Route in large part because he never broke character. Ever. He even played the pipe, leading me throughout the town where the many historical markers of the story can still be seen today. As it turns out, there was an eyewitness account of the abduction, which was entered into the official records of the church in the 13th century. A girl saw a man lead 130 children away from the city and indeed, they were never heard from ever again. It was also immortalized in a stained glass window that was crafted in the 13th century and while it was destroyed centuries ago, its presence has been validated through other historical records. So what really happened here? The truth is, no one really knows. Theories abound, but we will probably never know and the honest truth is that while the story is indeed based on an event, the facts of that event no doubt have been changed and embellished over the many centuries that have since passed. But it’s the perfect entree to learning more about this fascinating city.

Much More Than a Fairy Tale City

While my guide and the fairy tale formed the rallying point for my visit to Hameln, I soon discovered a lively and fun city beneath the veneer of folklore. The day couldn’t have been more perfect, and walking along the main pedestrian zone I noticed that nearly every café was brimming with people, out enjoying the weather, some great food and each other’s company. It was the type of day I love the most in Europe and I felt the energy of everyone out and about. In the main square a free children’s play – about the Pied Piper of course – was underway and the crowds were massive, further contributing to the fun spirit that reverberated across the cobblestone. Hameln is also known as a key stop along the Half-Timbered House Road, which is how I found myself meandering along its twisty side streets, discovering historic building after historic building, as colorful and vibrant as the day they were first built.

More than the houses or the fairy tale though, I just enjoyed being in the city. Sometimes we click with places and we have no idea why, and such was the case with Hameln. My major regret is that I didn’t spend the night downtown; I would have loved to have joined those al fresco diners and spent my evening just like everyone else, people watching and enjoying the meteorological perfection all around. Hameln is an important stop along the German Fairy Tale Route, no doubt there, but when you visit be sure to explore the city outside of the stories and legends and also be sure to devote enough time to this fascinating little German town.

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Colorful Plaza De Armas in Cusco, Peru Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:50:49 +0000 The post Colorful Plaza De Armas in Cusco, Peru appeared first on LandLopers.

Cusco, Peru

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Power of Short Travel Experiences: Why Length Doesn’t Always Matter Tue, 23 Aug 2016 04:55:41 +0000 If you spend any time perusing the digital travel space you will no doubt chance upon a multitude of posts about traveling slow or living like a local or blah, … Read More

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santorini greece

If you spend any time perusing the digital travel space you will no doubt chance upon a multitude of posts about traveling slow or living like a local or blah, blah, blah. While the pieces are fine and sometimes even well written, they’re tone deaf. They’re written for people who have incredible amounts of time to spend traveling which, for the vast majority of the world, isn’t realistic. Most people do not have a month or two to spend traveling and even if they did, they wouldn’t want to. I know I don’t and I never have. Even though I’m now self-employed and theoretically have all the time in the world to spend traveling, in reality I do not. I have responsibilities here at home but more than that, I also really enjoy being at home. I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings and so today I want to share a few reasons why short-term travel can be just as impactful and meaningful as long-term travel. At the end of the day, I don’t want people to feel like they shouldn’t bother with traveling because they don’t have the time required to reap the benefits. That’s simply not the case, as I will show here today.

Jefferson Memorial Washington DC

Travel is egalitarian

First, I want to share some thoughts on the inherent elitism built into sharing the travel experience. I’m partly to blame, I realize that. As a luxury traveler I experience destinations and activities that are rare and sometimes hard to replicate. But I’ve always been that kind of traveler and so this site is simply a reflection of that. But never do I want my own style to suggest that other ways of traveling are any less important. Ultimately, travel is egalitarian. Every one of us can do it, although the ways in which we experience travel will necessarily be different. Spending a day driving 1-hour in any direction from your home and taking the time to explore that new area will be fun and hopefully exciting. One doesn’t have to trek to Antarctica in order to have a meaningful travel experience; oftentimes the best experiences are in our own backyard. One of the earliest posts I wrote on this site was about the fallacy of the concept of a dream trip. It was, and is, my belief that many people put off planning a trip they’ve been pining after because they don’t think they have the resources to make it happen. Only a 5-star getaway on Santorini will suffice, ignoring the many other ways they can enjoy a similar and just as meaningful travel experience. We get trapped in our own thoughts and that more than anything else inhibits the travel experience. 1 billion people a year cross a country border, so you’re not alone. The world is in constant flux and that means ultimately it’s an experience available to most of us.

I’ve made it a mission of mine in recent years to spend more time exploring my own region; an effort to prove the efficacy of my argument that travel doesn’t have to be complicated to be important. In the process I’ve had a great time seeing new sides to my own city as well as visiting destinations within an easy car ride. What this means will vary naturally based on where you live, but even if you think you live in the middle of nowhere, you probably don’t in reality. There is always something around us that is interesting; it’s just that so many times we become blind to it. Recently I was driving along a country road near my house dropping off the dogs at the kennel. I passed a sign I had passed hundreds of times and yet never took the time to read. This time I slowed down, and quickly scanned it learning that I was traveling along what used to be the major thoroughfare between Washington, DC and Annapolis during the colonial era. Annapolis was once an incredibly important city and was even briefly the capital of the newly formed country. Without realizing it, for years I had been following in the footsteps of Washington, Adams and others. That’s interesting! That’s unexpected and that’s what I am talking about when I say that travel doesn’t have to be long and complicated to be important and fun.

St Louis Missouri

Travel is unpredictable

One of the best aspects of the travel experience is that it is totally unpredictable. No matter how much we plan and anticipate, the plain fact is that we never really know what’s going to happen. Some days will go as planned but others will be a whirlwind of unexpected experiences. It’s because of this unpredictability that the duration of a trip doesn’t really matter. That person spending a month living in Barcelona? Every day for them could be normal and even prosaic. That person on a 2-day trip to Montreal? Day one could be filled with events and experiences they never anticipated. We don’t know ultimately what travel will deliver to us or when, which means that even the shortest of trips can be meaningful.

I recently did a mad dash around the country, visiting 5 cities in 6 days. The schedule was slightly insane but I planned very carefully in advance to ensure I saw and experienced as much as possible. Before the trip, I felt as if I could predict my takeaways from each stop, but that was pure arrogance. Travel is fluid and in every city I found myself surprised, but nowhere was I more surprised than in St. Louis. I planned a pretty normal tourist day visiting the top landmarks, museums and restaurants in the city, but it was an impromptu stop that meant the most to me. I was moving through the city faster than I had anticipated and so I found myself with some extra time. Staff at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis recommended that I visit the Missouri History Museum if I had the time and so I decided to heed their advice and quickly added it to my itinerary. And thank goodness I did, because that brief stop was one of the most impactful throughout my entire week of travel. I spent time in their temporary exhibit about Route 66, a closer look at the Mother Road and why it’s so important to American pop culture and social history. I’ve long wanted to drive the route, but have always found one reason or another to put it off. After spending thirty minutes at the museum though my entire outlook changed, I felt excited and reenergized, a new creative spirit had taken hold. Without realizing it, I think part of my adventurous spirit had been allowed to atrophy slightly, but that museum visit brought it back to life. I made the decision to finally plan (for real) my own Route 66 experience in 2017 and instantly I was more excited than I’ve been in a long time. That museum stop will turn out to be an important life moment and it took place on a trip when I only had a few hours to devote to sightseeing.

Sanctuary Swala Tanzania

Short travel experiences can be powerful

As I just shared, short travel experiences can be powerful in all of the ways we don’t expect. So many times I read people complaining about the concept of a cruise, saying there’s not enough time in port to “really” get to know a city. But guess what, that’s true of all of us no matter where we go. We are all tourists, and unless you rent an apartment and physically live in a new place for months at a time, you too are just as much a temporary visitor as those cruise passengers are. There is no place for elitism in the travel experience and it’s a phenomenon that instantly makes me furious to see. Frequent travelers try all the time to one-up each other, to prove that they’re the better person for being more immersive in their travel experience. That’s crap. Every trip, no matter where we go or how long it is has great inherent value. The trick isn’t the length or even the destination, it’s our own outlook on life. We have to be open to see these moments when they arise. We have to be willing to allow for a short trip to be meaningful. Ultimately, it’s not the length of a trip that precludes our own personal growth, it’s our own inability to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Each of us as individuals needs to open our eyes more often when we travel and to seek out these very personal moments of truth and enlightenment when they happen. And they can take place anywhere, whether it’s praying in a mountain temple in Bhutan or seeing your two kids hugging in Disney World. These are both important and impactful travel experiences, albeit for different reasons.

Travel and the experience of learning about new cultures and people is at the heart of my own journey through life. That’s not the same for everyone and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own special moments when you travel, wherever you go and however long you can spend there doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you realize that travel does indeed have intrinsic value and that you make yourself available to discovering what it is.

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Playful Ponies of Chincoteague, Virginia Tue, 23 Aug 2016 04:50:03 +0000 The post Playful Ponies of Chincoteague, Virginia appeared first on LandLopers.

Chincoteague Virginia

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More Than A Review: Community-Based Hospitality at the Fogo Island Inn Mon, 22 Aug 2016 04:55:15 +0000 Sitting in a car waiting to board a ferry is about as exciting as it sounds. It was still early on a Saturday, my social media was quiet and I … Read More

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Sitting in a car waiting to board a ferry is about as exciting as it sounds. It was still early on a Saturday, my social media was quiet and I was tired and a little bored. I was also startled out of my seat when out of nowhere there was a knock on my car window. I rolled it down to find the smiling face of a kindly older woman who promptly asked, “Are you staying at the Inn?” So shocked I mumbled my affirmative to which she responded, “Good! You must be Mr. Long then,” as she checked her clipboard, “here’s a light breakfast snack and some water. We’re excited to welcome you to the Inn!” That is the first introduction to the remarkable hospitality of not only the Fogo Island Inn, but of Fogo Island itself, that most guests receive and for me, set the stage perfectly for what was a weekend of discovery, both of the touristy nature as well as personal.

Fogo Island Inn Newfoundland Canada

What is the Fogo Island Inn?

Even if you only have a casual, passing interest in travel I still have no doubt that you have seen images of the iconic architecture that helps to define the Fogo Island Inn. Photos of the strange looking structure perched next to the water are everywhere, from magazines to social media and every round up of great hotels that the major publications seem to generate every few months. There’s a reason for that, sure the building is stunning but the Fogo Island Inn is also one of the top ranked hotels in the world. It’s a stunning achievement really for a property that’s only a few years old. That’s because Fogo is not your typical hotel, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. First, let’s take a look at where on earth you can find Fogo Island and what is this grand experience known simply as the Inn?

Located off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Fogo is the largest of the province’s offshore islands at a whopping 25km long and 14km wide. It’s home to around 2,000 people spread out across a variety of communities, depending on the time of year. It’s an old place though, like much of Newfoundland it was among the first places colonized in the New World. Fishermen first started visiting the island in the 16th century and it was later settled by Irish and English visitors. This was and is an isolated place though and even the communities on the island have long been separate and distinct from each other.

This is the stage for one of the world’s most extraordinary hotels, which only opened in 2013. Since then it’s won every award and accolade that other hotels spend generations trying to earn, but that’s because the Fogo Island Inn really isn’t your normal place.

What makes the Fogo Island Inn different

Unlike so many hotels and resorts that talk a lot about experiential travel but don’t really deliver, that is the true heart and soul of the Fogo Island Inn experience. Zita Cobb grew up on Fogo Island, but left for many years during which time she made her fortune. Rather than cool her heels in a Toronto high-rise though, she decided to return to her home island not to retire, but to save its communities from the brink.

The Inn is actually part of a larger effort on Fogo Island, spearheaded by the foundation Cobb created, the Shorefast Foundation. The goal of the Foundation is simple. Cobb believes (rightly I think) that rural communities, be they islands or small country villages, are not “lost to time” or impossible to rescue from years of attrition and neglect. Instead, the Foundation holds that there is tremendous inherent value in any place, a soul that is at the heart of the community. The trick is to localize and then encourage this value, thereby generating renewed energies that will ultimately have economic and sociological repercussions. See, I told you this wasn’t your average hotel review.

The heart of this Grand Experiment is the Inn itself, which is actually owned by the Foundation, which in turn is a sort of island collective. To visit the Inn, therefore, is to participate in this experiment, and it’s this weirdly captivating effort that makes the Inn so special and ultimately is I am sure what has propelled it to the top of every Great Hotels of the World list out there. But it’s also a remarkable luxury hotel, as I discovered on that sunny summer weekend.

Fogo Island Inn Newfoundland Canada

Rooms, food and service

The Inn is home to just 29 very individual suites. No two rooms are exactly the same and each is personally decorated with items from the community itself. The furniture is made on-island at the Foundation’s furniture studio and even the quilts on those amazingly comfortable beds were lovingly created by local artisans. Every aspect, literally down to the nails, was thoughtfully considered with an eye towards sustainability and island integration. That’s important, but so is the experience itself. Walking into the lobby, I was instantly reminded of a light and airy beach house. The colors and aesthetics were homey and relaxing and the soft warmth from one of the many fireplaces in the hotel was the perfect cozy addition the lobby needed. Nothing is out of place, and yet the hotel is not a sterile place. It has the rare ability to excel in its perfection without being cold or dismissive. Simply said, it’s a place where you want to stay, curl up with a good book and some tea and spend hours listening to the crash of the waves just below.

I expected a lot from the Inn, one of the top 50 hotels in the world, and even those high expectations were quickly surpassed. My own suite was massive, two-levels with plenty of space to relax and unwind. I opened the windows to let in some fresh air and to listen to the rhythmic sounds of the sea, a constant presence in Newfoundland and one that has been thoroughly embraced at the Fogo Island Inn. Books lined the shelves, homemade decks of cards lay at the ready and everything about the room beckoned me to stay for a while, kick up my heels and just relax. I did a little of that, but I was far too curious about the island to only spend my time there disconnecting. No, in true Fogo Island spirit, I wanted to connect as much as possible. But I’ll get to that in a second, I first want to share some more amazing details found only at the Fogo Island Inn.

Fogo Island is not what I would call a conveniently located place, and yet the staff at the Inn are amongst the best I’ve ever seen. They’re a curious mix of locals, working there to help build a new community, as well as outsiders drawn to the allure of the Inn and her story just as the many guests who pass through every day. What this means for guests is that service isn’t just important, it’s at the heart of the experience. Staff love being there, they love meeting new people and from my own experience, will do whatever it takes to ensure no one leaves disappointed. This is seen in any number of ways, from the complimentary loaf of traditional Newfoundland trinity bread and molasses presented to new arrivals, to the special morning delivery that every guest looks forward to – the daybreak basket. Every morning before you gently wake up, a tackle box laden with muffins, scones, teas and coffees is left at the front door of every room, a pre-breakfast snack meant to help guests wake up with some light morsels to start the day off right.

Food is actually an important focus at the Inn, and my meals there were amongst the best I’ve enjoyed anywhere in a very long time. The chefs at the Fogo Island Inn clearly know their stuff, and meals presented are a nice mix of cutting edge cuisine with traditional classics. One course may be microgreens and foams, but the entrée could easily be a traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner. It’s the perfect mix of styles and it encapsulates everything that’s so great about the Inn itself.

There are any number of other fun, somewhat quirky, touches that make the Inn so amazing to visit. A few of my favorites include:

  • Make & Break, two lovable Newfoundland pups that stop by almost every day to hang out with guests.
  • Rooftop hot tubs with stunning views of the sea and surrounding landscapes
  • Traditional wood-fired saunas
  • 37-seat cinema highlighting community focused films and documentaries every day
  • Comprehensive library featuring collections on the region
  • In-house art studio, part of the Shorefast Foundation efforts

Personal experiential luxury

Ultimately though, staying at the Fogo Island Inn isn’t really about the hotel itself, it’s about the island it calls home. It’s a travel experience the likes of which I’ve never seen before; it’s so much more than just experiential luxury travel, it’s much more personal than that.

Instead of a traditional concierge, the Fogo Island Inn has a position they call the Coordinator of Community Hosting. It’s a strange title when you first think about it, but then after you spend some time on the island you begin to understand what it really means. The Inn and the communities across Fogo Island are inextricably linked, not just in spirit or in furnishings, but by the people who live there. Many of the experiences available to guests at the Inn involve local residents themselves. Whether it’s joining a resident as they take you on a tour of the island, or heading down to the beach for a traditional boil-up, these are not paid actors or folks from off-island. Everyone employed by the Inn in these important guest experience roles are born and bred on the island, and spending time with them is ultimately one of the goals of this strangely mesmerizing experiment. What that means for guests are travel experiences so much more impactful than anything offered in any other corner of the world. They may not always be the fanciest of moments, but from personal experience there’s nothing better than hanging out by the campfire and enjoying freshly baked bread and blueberry jam and talking about the day or heading out on a boat and learning how to jig a cod by fishermen who have been doing it all their lives. These experiences aren’t just tourist activities or options on a checklist, they have been lovingly and thoughtfully planned to make sure every guest to the island leaves with the understanding of what it means to live on Fogo Island. What it means to love this small spit of land in the North Atlantic and why, perhaps more than anything else, it’s so important to preserve these communities. But it’s not about creating a Disney World in the extremes of Newfoundland, no; Cobb and the Foundation don’t want this to be a weird kind of living history museum. Instead, it’s all about looking to the future, transforming the lives of the people on the island by sharing and reveling in everything that makes it so special. It’s a recognition that this is a unique place, but one that can and should evolve over time. It’s an extraordinary revelation that, I believe, will turn the world of sustainable and experiential travel on its head.

So I think it’s safe to say that I enjoyed my weekend on Fogo Island, and of course that’s true. I loved every single moment I spent in the Inn, from taking a short catnap on the daybed to laughing over an evening cocktail with newly made friends. But it’s probably the island itself that meant the most to me; it’s the island that has created a siren call that I still hear today. It’s a place I long to return to, not only to enjoy those daybreak boxes or to see the happy faces of Make & Break; no, I long to return to try to recapture that feeling of community and belonging, even if it’s fleeting. It’s so rare to experience this sensation of inclusion when we travel and ultimately, it’s this personal acceptance that makes the Fogo Island Inn the most remarkable hotel in the world.

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Aerial View of Stunning Hill Inlet, Queensland Australia Mon, 22 Aug 2016 04:50:45 +0000 The post Aerial View of Stunning Hill Inlet, Queensland Australia appeared first on LandLopers.

Hill Inlet Whitsundays Queensland Australia

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My 2016 Travels (So Far) in 14 Photos Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:55:07 +0000 The year is already more than half over, which is a little hard to believe if I’m being honest about it. It seems as if 2016 just started but before … Read More

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The year is already more than half over, which is a little hard to believe if I’m being honest about it. It seems as if 2016 just started but before we know it, the holidays will be upon us. I’ve also had a very busy travel year so far, and an incredibly interesting one at that. So I thought I’d take a moment to slow down, pause, reflect and ultimately share my favorite photo from every place I’ve been so far in 2016 as I get ready to tackle the trips I have left in the final half of the year.

Ranua Lapland Finland

Finnish Lapland

Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Ett Hem Hotel Stockholm Sweden

Ett Hem Hotel, Stockholm Sweden

Houmas House Plantation Louisiana

Houmas House Plantation Louisiana

Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Panda Chengdu China

Chengdu China

Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong


Ireland Coast

Driving around Ireland

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

Spitz Austria

Wachau Valley, Austria

Marburg Germany

Marburg Germany

Salamander Resort Virginia

Salamander Resort Virginia

Fogo Island Inn Newfoundland Canada

Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador

St Louis Missouri

St Louis Missouri

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4 Things You Should Know About The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:50:46 +0000 I recently returned from a jaunt around America with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. The goal in working together was simple, not only to highlight some of their amazing properties around … Read More

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I recently returned from a jaunt around America with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. The goal in working together was simple, not only to highlight some of their amazing properties around the country but to also share what makes the communities they call home so much fun to visit. I had a great time exploring a huge swathe of the country over the course of the week, but it all started with my stay at the elegant Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte.

Location and the city

For years I was a loyal US Airways passenger, using them whenever possible and even in many cases when they weren’t at all convenient. It was part of my (successful) quest to achieve and then retain that most desired frequent flyer status, and I’m sure I’m not alone. That also means that many of you, like me, may have traveled through Charlotte’s airport many times, but have never actually ever left it. Thinking back it still seems weird that I spent so much time eating a BBQ lunch in one of the airport’s many rocking chairs, but never saw the city that inspired them. That’s one reason why I was so excited to visit Charlotte and to see what makes this great Southern city so much fun to experience when airport lounges and Auntie Anne’s pretzels aren’t involved.

One of the first things I noticed when I pulled up to the front of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte was its prime location. Calling downtown Charlotte home, it’s within easy walking distance to everything any visitor needs, whether it’s for business, pleasure or a mix of both. All of the big companies and banks are on the hotel’s doorstep, and most of the top tourist sites are easy to reach as well. As it turns out, there are quite a few things for the casual tourist to see and do in the city. Getting up early, I strolled around the downtown, enjoying the solitude of a Saturday morning and being able to appreciate the city before it truly woke up. Fun and interesting museums, street art, quirky cafes and restaurants and more are all found downtown. I visited the Levine Museum of the New South, one of the best museums in town and one devoted to sharing the complex history of the south principally from Reconstruction to the modern era. I also enjoyed some amazing food, particularly a classic BBQ lunch plate at Mert’s Heart & Soul. Be sure though to also take an Uber and visit the close-to-downtown brewery section of Charlotte, where micro-breweries and cideries have opened restaurants and biergartens, combining their unique beers with delicious food and creating a fun experience in the process. No matter what your tastes, there’s a lot to see and do in Charlotte and The Ritz-Carlton enjoys the best location to experience it all.

Ritz Carlton Charlotte North Carolina

Rooftop garden and bees

It’s become somewhat normal for luxury hotels to keep their own beehives on-site. Not only is it great for the environment (honey bees are facing a pandemic) but the resulting honey is a nice perk for their guests. The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte though isn’t about token displays of sustainable tourism , it’s been a practice this LEED Gold-certified hotel has embraced for a long time. It’s perhaps best seen on the hotel’s vegetated roof with gardens and of course beehives. The beehives produce an incredible 70 pounds of chemical-free honey each year, and the plants are used in everything from those delicious meals served in The Ritz-Carlton’s restaurants to garnishes for drinks in the hotel’s famous Punch Room. In addition to the edible plants, there are flowering sedum plants that provide insulation, reduce runoff and mitigate urban heat island effect. It’s great to see a luxury hotel embrace this sort of responsible travel not as a mere token (ex. beehive in the corner) but in a very real way that in turn makes the guest experience much richer, even if they don’t always realize it.

Food and bartender for the ages

Food lovers are spoiled for choice at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte and one of my personal favorite spots is the Bar Cocoa. And yes, it’s just what it sounds like, an all-day dessert dining experience with artisan chocolates, cakes, macarons and more. I just may have been a repeat customer.

For savory options, BLT Steak is the flagship restaurant let by Chef Laurent Tourondel. While expertly prepared steaks are definitely the stars here, the restaurant has taken a lot of care in creating a rich and locally inspired menu that reflects the culture and traditions of the South. As a proud Southerner, I was overjoyed to find a fresh popover delivered to the table as just the beginning of a delicious dining experience.

Another culinary highlight of The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte experience is the Punch Room, a mixology lab experiment gone mainstream. With only 37 seats, this exclusive space isn’t cold or elitist, instead it effuses southern hospitality thanks to its direction under mixologist extraordinaire, Bob Peters. One of the leading cocktail experts in the country, the Punch Room is very much his domain and in this unique bar experience you’ll try one-of-a-kid cocktails created based on your specific likes and dislikes. This is one of those culinary experiences everyone has to try at least once in their lives.

Amazing comfort and elegance

At the heart of any great luxury experience though, are the comforts that we all enjoy. The lobby was my first clue that The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte agrees with my version of elegance, which is understated but of high quality. I’m not one for over-the-top bling, and luckily this property agrees with that design ethos. It’s a philosophy that carries through to the rest of the hotel, especially in the guest rooms. Enjoying a spacious suite, I quickly made myself at home and was tempted to never leave, instead enjoying being pampered in what was an incredibly comfortable but luxurious space. As with any Ritz-Carlton experience though, I was deeply impressed by the high levels of service at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. So much more than just answering questions, staff go out of their way to make sure you’re having a good time. I asked the front desk staff about a good place to get a panoramic view of the city. Not only did they print out directions for me, but they also called ahead to make sure I’d be well taken care of. They didn’t have to do that, they wanted to do that and ultimately that’s what The Ritz-Carlton experience is all about.

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6 (Somewhat) Random Places I Think Everyone Should Visit Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:55:27 +0000 I try to share just about everything I see and do from the trips I go on, but sometimes a few places may fall through the digital cracks. Either I … Read More

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I try to share just about everything I see and do from the trips I go on, but sometimes a few places may fall through the digital cracks. Either I don’t write about them at all, or they don’t get the attention on my site that I think they deserve. There are a lot of reasons for this, from personal interest to keeping things fresh and lively here on the site, but the fact remains not every small town, village or even region gets profiled. That’s why today I thought I’d highlight a few I’ve visited in the last year or so that I may not have written a lot about yet, but which I think should be one everyone’s travel bucket list.

Pula Croatia

Istria, Croatia

So much of the travel love in Croatia seems to go to Dubrovnik, that I thought I should highlight a lesser-known area of the country – Istria. This region found in the northwest portion of the country is as unique an area as you can imagine. It’s actually shared by three countries, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, and has a rich history and culture all of its own. In fact, if you ask residents where they’re from, they’re most likely to say Istria first and Croatia second. There are many great towns and cities to visit here, but two I recommend are Rovinj and Pula. Each city has its own unique appeal and no matter what you do, make sure not leave Istria without sampling some of the famous olive oils and truffles cultivated around the peninsula.

St. Louis, Missouri

The last time I was in St. Louis I was ten, so on a recent visit I had to start all over again as a tourist. The day I spent traipsing around town though was fun, a lot more fun than I expected to be honest and here’s why. St. Louis is one of those lovingly underrated cities that has a lot to offer visitors, but not everyone seems to know that. Starting off my day looking across the city from the top of the Gateway Arch, one of the country’s most recognizable symbols, was the perfect way to survey what lay around me and get excited for a day of exploration. Most of my day though wasn’t spent at famous landmarks, it was enjoying the rich museum culture found all around St. Louis. The quirky City Museum was highly recommended, and even after visiting I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but there’s no doubt it’s unusual. I suspect that it’s geared more towards kids, but adults will also enjoy this artist’s dream come to life. One of the newest museums in town though has quickly become one of the city’s most popular – the National Blues Museum. Sharing the rich culture and history of this very American style of music, even though I’m not a fan of the genre myself, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this very well executed museum conveniently located in the middle of the downtown. My final museum stop was my favorite, the Missouri History Museum, thanks to a special exhibit that is ongoing until the middle of 2017. Route 66 runs through St. Louis and Missouri, so it only makes sense for the museum to share the incredible history of the Mother Road. I’ve long wanted to drive Route 66 and experiencing this amazing exhibit only further fueled my wanderlust. Add in some BBQ, fried ravioli and provel cheese pizza, and this is the perfect way to spend a busy but fun day in St. Louis.

Derry (Londonderry), Northern Ireland

The city that sort of has two names, like many people I first learned of this beautiful city during the dark days of the Troubles when so much happened here. Today the city has emerged from that past and is a tourist destination in its own right with a beautiful downtown core, remarkably preserved city walls and an energy that’s hard to describe, but which made my brief time there so much fun. I joined a walking tour of the city not only to see more of it, but also to learn of its history, from ancient times to the modern era. It was my first introduction to how locals talk about and present the Troubles, a point of view critical in my understanding of Northern Ireland as a whole.

Schloss Hof Austria

Schloss Hof, Austria

Austria does Imperial legacy well. If you’ve ever been to Vienna, no doubt the palaces and rich history of the Hapsburgs have impressed you as a standout in Europe. But that history isn’t limited to the capital city, as I discovered on a well-timed pit stop en route to the Wachau Valley. Standing in front of the immaculately manicured gardens surrounding the impressive estate known as Schloss Hof, it’s hard to image that not so very long again it was in a state of complete ruin. Once used as an imperial estate and hunting lodge, I could only imagine the incredible history that has walked through the colorful halls of this country manor. While the massive building itself is amazing, so are the many gardens and other outbuildings surrounding it. An entire day could be spent here not only exploring the massive grounds, but also shopping at weekend farmers markets, enjoying meals at the on-site restaurants and living the imperial life, if only for a few hours.

Cleveland Ohio USA

Cleveland, Ohio

I hadn’t been to Cleveland before my recent visit and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All I had in mind were very outdated visions of the city, which is probably why I was so surprised by the vibrant community I discovered. Cleveland has made great strides in recent years to reimagine the downtown core and to present experiences fun for locals and visitors alike. Staying in the centrally located Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, it was the perfect base from which to visit important sights like the new Public Square and of course the incredible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Days could be spent exploring this comprehensive museum, as well as the other sights located along the Lake Erie waterfront. If you have a car, be sure to also explore Cleveland’s neighborhoods where you’ll discover great food, like at the Polish eatery Sokolowski’s, and even the real house used in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” Cleveland has a lot to offer, you just have to know where to look.

Brisbane Queensland Australia

Brisbane, Australia

I love Australia and while I’ve never had a bad experience in an Australian city, I’ve also learned that they’re not all made the same. Some enjoy a distinct personality and vibe whereas others are a little more humdrum. Not bad, just a little boring. I honestly expected Brisbane to fall into the boring category, but after visiting for the first time I soon realized how very wrong I was. Aside from the pedestrian zones and the museums, the one over-arching thought I had leaving Brisbane is just how incredibly livable it is. That’s saying a lot for a country like Australia, whose cities routinely rank in the top tier when it comes to judging the happiness of residents. I first noticed it when, after a couple of hours of walking with a guide, we hadn’t actually crossed a street. We ambled from one pedestrian-zone to the next, from park to promenade, enjoying the sights of the city without dealing with the typical city problems like cars and crosswalks. The city’s main pedestrian zone, Queen Street Mall, is a delightful circus of sights and sounds, restaurants, shops, cafes and people. It was the middle of the week and yet it was packed with folks out enjoying the wonderfully warm temperatures of a mild Queensland winter. But it was crossing the Kurilpa Bridge, and seeing the city from the Southbank that truly drove home just how nice Brisbane is to be in. The lengthy promenade was dotted with joggers and families and nearly every bench was occupied with folks enjoying the day. Brisbane is blessed with a lot of great weather, and everything about the city encourages residents and visitors alike to get out and enjoy that natural gift. At the risk of sounding infantile, Brisbane is just a fun city to be in and sometimes that’s enough.

What are some lesser-known spots you’d add to this list?

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Colorful Dome Inside St Louis’ Old Courthouse Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:50:33 +0000 The post Colorful Dome Inside St Louis’ Old Courthouse appeared first on LandLopers.

St Louis Missouri

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