Top 3 Can’t-Miss Vegan Eats in Mississauga

Bowl of taco-style vegetables and a plate of ravioli

Mississauga is a large metropolitan city located 20 minutes outside of downtown Toronto. It is home to the largest international airport in Canada, Lester B. Pearson International Airport, named after Canada’s 14th prime minister. The city’s name was inspired by the Indigenous People, the Mississauga of the New Credit, who initially inhabited the area. Mississauga is made up of a collection of small villages. The area features unique neighborhoods that are home to amazing restaurants, galleries, and shops. Mississauga is a melting pot of ethnicities with an exceptional food scene. Keep reading for the top three vegan restaurants that you won’t want to miss when visiting the city.

Green and light brown smoothies next to each other on a table

The Cold Pressery

The Cold Pressery is a 100% vegan café featuring an abundant smoothie menu, delicious almond milk lattes, and even better food. Long wood tables, plenty of basil plants, and a great playlist make up a communal dining room. You will feel right at home as if you’re visiting a friend’s house instead of a restaurant. I recommend the 5 & 10, which is a blend of cacao, banana, dates, and espresso, and tastes more like a sinful dessert than a smoothie. If you’re hungry, the chipotle tacos and avocado toast are a must-try.

Donut with cinnamon and sugar on it on a plate

Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday you can find Bloomers Bakery’s handmade vegan donuts at The Cold Pressery. My personal favorite is the cinnamon sugar, but there aren’t any bad decisions when it comes to a Bloomer’s donut. Soft, chewy and with the perfect amount of bounce, these donuts are sure to impress even a hard-core carnivore.

Toast with avocado and tomatoes on it with two tacos filled with vegetables on trays

Work off your breakfast in a stereotypically Canadian fashion by heading over to The Rec Room for some axe throwing. The Rec Room is Mississauga’s go-to space for games and entertainment. If axe throwing isn’t up your alley you can also try your hand at bowling, pool, and ping pong. Wind down with some arcade games before heading to Raw Aura for dinner.

Bowl of taco-style vegetables and a plate of ravioli

Raw Aura
If you’re looking for a guilt-free, indulgent dinner, look no further than Raw Aura. A staple in the Port Credit neighborhood, this raw, vegan, refined-sugar-free, and gluten-free restaurant takes classic comfort foods and creates them into nutritious dishes that taste better than the originals. The taco salad started as a special, but due to demand, it has become a part of the regular menu and never fails to find a place at my table when I visit. This taco salad is hands down the best taco salad I’ve eaten anywhere, even before becoming plant-based. Other standout dishes include the pad Thai and beet ravioli, but you will not be disappointed no matter what you order.

Ice cream cone with coconut and chocolate

Sweet Jesus
Since the day it opened, Sweet Jesus has been a hotspot for Instagram-worthy ice cream cones. There is only one vegan cone on the menu, but the Bounty Killa makes up for that in flavor. Coconut soft serve topped with shredded coconut and finished with a shell-like dark chocolate drizzle reminds you of a classic chocolate bar, but the Bounty Killa blows it out of the water when it comes to taste.

toast with avocado and tomatoes on a piece of wax paper

Finding vegan options when traveling can be tough, but in Mississauga the options are plentiful! Starting with a standard avocado toast, then heading south of the border for the most mouth-watering salad and ending the day with a sweet treat. Spend your day exploring the art, culture and food scenes in this vibrant city to see what makes Mississauga so special.

Experience Galapagos on a Budget

Tropical birds on a rock in the water

The Galapagos Islands are a popular bucket list destination.  This volcanic archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1000km (600 miles) off of the coast of Ecuador.  It is an exclusive reserve for a large variety of plants and animal species not found anywhere else in the world.  Although the Galapagos Islands are considered an exotic destination, you can experience this beautiful retreat on a budget. Read on for budget-friendly tips and exciting experiences!

Giant tortoises by some trees

How to Reach the Islands
There are two airports in Galapagos when booking your flight itinerary. It is typically less expensive to fly into Baltra instead of San Cristobal. Both airports do not receive direct international flights — all flights are connected in Guayaquil or Quito on the mainland in Ecuador.  On the Ecuador mainland, you will be required to pay a $20 transit fee prior to your departure to Galapagos. Upon arriving on the islands, you will pass through migration where it is required to pay up to a $100 park entry fee.  Be sure to bring cash with you, the migration office only accepts cash payments for these fees.

A shark and stingray in the water

Take a Cruise
Once you arrive on the islands, you will be enamored by the shimmery blue water, desert land, and natural greenery. The best ways to enjoy the islands are by cruise or “a la carte.”  You can book a cruise in advance starting around $3000 per person. This option is not the most budget-friendly, but if your schedule is flexible, you may be able to book a last-minute cruise for under $2000. There are several last-minute cruise-booking agencies available online.

A close up of a sea lion

Explore A la Carte
I opted to discover Galapagos “a la carte,” which saved me hundreds of dollars versus taking a cruise!  I stayed on the main island of Santa Cruz, easily accessed from Baltra for around $15 with a mix of buses, ferries, and shared taxis. Santa Cruz features a variety of complimentary attractions for everyone to enjoy.

Start your morning around 6 AM and take a quick trip via water taxi to Las Grietas. This blue-water cove is on a small island near Santa Cruz. The morning sun illuminates the water to an exquisite turquoise, and you will beat the crowds if you visit early in the morning.

Continue on your outdoor adventure by heading back to Santa Cruz to Tortuga Bay. The sea lions playfully swim around you as you wade in the sparkling blue ocean.  After relaxing on the beach, make your way to the Charles Darwin Research Station where you can learn more about the famous Galapagos tortoises, research, and conservation efforts achieved by the scientists from around the world that work there.

Tropical birds on a rock in the water

Guided Tours
Venture off of Santa Cruz Island and delve into the exciting biodiversity and marine life throughout Galapagos. Book a guided tour upon arrival and be sure to negotiate the price down to around $90-$120. My favorite tour was to Isabela Island, where I snorkeled with Galapagos penguins, sharks, stingrays, sea lions, and an array of fish and saw the renowned Blue-footed boobies, flamingos, tortoises, iguanas, pelicans, and bright red crabs.  If you decide to explore on your own, you will not have access to all of the areas featured on a guided tour.

A variety of seafood dishes

Where to Eat
A great way to save money on dining is by visiting traditional restaurants instead of the mainstream restaurants frequented by tourists on Santa Cruz Island. A short ten-minute walk past the tourist center and into the local neighborhood of the island will allow you to enjoy classic dishes of meat or fish with rice, beans, and natural juice for around $4 per meal at the small restaurants for locals. You will also notice fresh fruit stands along the side streets. The most exciting part about venturing into the local neighborhoods was connecting with the Galapagos’ culture and experiencing the everyday pace of life.

I was able to enjoy this exotic destination on a four-day trip for less than $1200 including airfare.  The incredible biodiversity, natural coexistence of wildlife and humans, and glistening blue-green water are like nothing I have seen anywhere else!  Final travel tip: bring a waterproof Go-pro camera to capture spectacular underwater videos of the Galapagos marine life.  ¡Buen viaje!

Where to Experience Ethiopian Traditions in Addis Ababa

large wall with square stained glass windows from top to bottom

Discover the wonders of Ethiopia, the country that was once historically named Abyssinia and now one of Africa’s most promising destinations.

Located in East Africa, Ethiopia is rich in culture and history and the country is now repositioning itself as a central hub for travelers.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia has around 108 million people. It is scattered with historical buildings, vast open markets, and the African Union.

View of Addis Ababa Skyline and a pool

Transportation
In April 2019, I visited the Addis for the second time this year and the difference is remarkable. The country’s busiest airport, Bole International is undergoing construction to renovate and expand the current airport.

After exploring the inner-city during my previous visit, this time I decided to scout the surrounding towns, villages, and historic sites located outside of the capital. Meter taxis are available throughout the city. I recommend renting a car to get around the city. You will need to rent a vehicle with a driver and it is definitely more enjoyable and efficient due to the traffic. I booked my day trip with Zersi Tours, the friendly driver picked me up and we proceeded to the Debre Libanos.

Cream colored church with a large white dome and a cross scepter

Debre Libanos Monastery
We passed vast farmlands and several small towns before reaching the monastery of Debre Libanos. The compound includes a large, Orthodox Christian church which was rebuilt in 1961 by order of Emperor Haile Selassie. The church contains beautiful and elaborate mosaics and stained-glass windows with reference to Biblical scriptures.

large wall with square stained glass windows from top to bottom

Adjacent to the church is the monastery’s museum. It includes royal regalia and crowns, artifacts from the original buildings, Italian guns, and musical instruments. Another significant site is the Cave of Saint Tekla Haymanot who founded the monastery in the 13th century and is said to have meditated there for 29 years. Take a fifteen-minute hike up the hill next to the church to reach the source of the Debre Libanos’ famed holy water.

Stone bridge in the Addis Ababa mountains

Waterfall Views
On our way back towards Addis, we stopped at the famous Portuguese bridge. According to legend, the bridge is constructed out of ostrich eggshells and vegetable oil.

Pay a small fee to the guide at the bridge for a tour to the top of the cliff.  The tour features an amazing view of the 600-meter waterfall and the Blue Nile Gorge. While you gaze at the view you might see a few Galada Baboons in their natural environment. Take a peek below to see locals splashing around in the rock pools during hot summer days.

People dressed in white gather on a stage to perform traditional Ethiopian dances and plays.

Where to Dine
After I arrived back to Addis Ababa, I decided to enjoy dinner at 2000 Habesha Cultural Restuarant. The restaurant was bustling with locals, expats, and travelers enjoying the local cuisine while watching traditional singing and dancing performances from local artists.

Ethiopian beef tibs and injera bread served in a black kettle pot

After perusing the menu, I opted for the spicy beef tibs, served with traditional injera -Ethiopian sour flatbread. After the waiter took my order, he returned with a bowl, soap, and hot water to wash my hands where I was seated. I was once again amazed by the culture and local Ethiopian customs.

Meals are typically consumed by hand which I found very enlightening. Ethiopian food is also vegetarian and vegan-friendly. The food was delicious, although the portion was way too much. I will treasure my Ethiopian dining experience forever.

Black coffee in a white mug placed on top of coffee beans
Courtesy of unsplash.com/@muustudio

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies
You definitely don’t want to leave without experiencing a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The smell of frankincense fills the air while the roasted beans are ground with a small mortar and pestle. Then the coffee is brewed in a traditional clay pot called a ‘jebena’. Coffee is served in a small cup and it is customary to drink at least 3 cups during the ritual. This is an amazing experience that all coffee lovers should try while visiting.

Although my visit to Addis Ababa was short I recommend visiting this beautiful city full of adventure. If you are planning your first trip to Addis Ababa definitely book a guided tour to learn about the local culture and top attractions. Above all of my other recommendations, you must try authentic Ethiopian cuisine. It will leave your palate satisfied and your soul full!

 

How to Explore Washington D.C. beyond the Mall

Concrete steps lead up to a stone building.

Washington D.C. is undoubtedly one of the most visited cities in the world. It is full of history, museums, and bustling city life. Recently it has become a major hub for startups and new dining concepts. However, there are many locations that are worth exploring away from the monuments and museums on and around the National Mall. Of course, on your first visit to the city, you should take full advantage of the free Smithsonian Museums, Newseum, the Holocaust Museum, and the Georgetown neighborhood. But there is so much more to the city that few visitors get to experience.

Concrete steps lead up to a stone building.

The District is full of parks in all quadrants of the city. However, one park really stands out. Meridian Hill Park is located directly north of the White House, and during the Civil War, it was used as an encampment for the military. Being in the park today feels like you just stepped through a portal and traveled from a bustling urban hub to a lost city in the middle of the jungle. The best time to visit is definitely on Sunday afternoon when the longest-running drum circle echoes throughout the park and creates a really unique atmosphere.

Entrance to the National Zoo with steps and large green trees.

Nearby is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. While the zoo is a Smithsonian, it might get overlooked by some tourists because of its location. However, the National Zoo offers a number of very unique animals including their famous giant pandas. And, same as the other Smithsonian museums, it’s free. The zoo is designed like a park, with locals walking (or jogging) through the main thoroughfare.

Large green rolling hill at the Hillside Estate

Further north is District’s hidden gem, Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens. This estate was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the richest woman in the 1950s. She used much of her wealth and her husband’s position as an ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s to acquire Russian royal art including Faberge eggs that are displayed around the mansion. Surrounding this Russian palace are thirteen acres of immaculately maintained gardens. Enjoy the gardens with a picnic or just grab some tea and coffee and enjoying the surroundings.

Bonsai Tree in front of a cement wall for the United State National Arboretum

Another park worth exploring is the National Arboretum which is a leading center for botanical research. It has a large bonsai exhibit as well as the old U.S. Capitol columns.

Ethiopian Cuisine featuring bright red and yellow ingredients.

Exploring all of these extraordinary parks will likely work up an appetite. I suggest getting some Ethiopian cuisine at the recently relocated Lalibela. D.C. has a large Ethiopian population and their unique cuisine has something to offer for everyone. You can order a plate for two or for four. Each plate is served with your choice of meat or vegetarian options on top of injera, a spongy flatbread which you use to scoop up the food.

A few blocks away is the historic Ford Theater, this is where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The theater has many exhibits describing the night of the assassination as well as information about all of the people involved. The actual pistol that John Wilkes Booth used to fire the shot at President Lincoln is on display at this location.

Photo of a busy street with cars and storefronts

At night, head to the Adams Morgan neighborhood which has numerous local shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. Stroll along 18th street NW where beautiful row houses line the street on both sides, housing many of the restaurants and rooftop bars. One of these bars is Jack Rose Saloon which offers hundreds of high-end whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches. Adams Morgan is also the best place to get late-night food in the city, from pizza to falafels. Finally, if you have time and stamina, you should visit Echostage. This club hosts famous DJs from around the world in an intimate location.

Washington has become a top tourist attraction for a reason. The city has so much to offer and the options grow daily. And, while you should experience the traditional top attractions during your very first visit, you should certainly return to also experience all of the treasures hidden within the city.

Where to Find the Top 3 Summer Festivals in Japan

A parade of dancers dressed in traditional Japanese clothing.

Japan is known for castles and onsens – hot springs, but if you are visiting Japan in the summer, you won’t want to miss the festivals throughout the archipelago. There are traditional and modern music festivals, firework festivals, school festivals and more!

A lantern with Japanese writing.

Let’s start off in Tokushima, Japan, a prefecture located on an off-shore island almost 6 hours away from Tokyo or 3 hours from Osaka by train. Despite the distance, people from all over the country flock to Tokushima every August to enjoy the simplest of pleasures—good food and great music, and dancing. Awaodori is an amazing outdoor dance festival held since the Edo era about 400 years ago. It is a traditional, cultural, and simply entertaining event.

A parade of dancers dressed in traditional Japanese clothing.

Guests can purchase seats to watch various groups display their interpretations of an ancient tune. Dance steps are typically categorized as “masculine” and “feminine” but can be performed by both men and women, young or old.

Dancers parade as part of the Awaodori dance festival.

Awa, which translates to silly, and Odori, which means dance, is a term given to this festival to describe how ridiculous the pioneers looked as they danced for three days and three nights. This tradition has not been changed ever since.

If you are unable to travel to Tokushima, do not fret. Several cities in Tokyo pay homage to this festival on a smaller scale. One of the more popular ones is the Tokyo Koenji Awaodori.

Blue fireworks lighting up the sky

If dancing or even watching people dance for three whole nights is too tiring, why not grab a spot and watch fireworks as you sip on beer? I was fascinated by the fireworks in Japan and have always shared my amazement with my family and friends. Summers in Japan are hot and humid, but that doesn’t stop people from gathering to spend hours looking up in the sky. Yes, you read that right, a typical fireworks event lasts two to three hours.

Bright fireworks lighting up the sky

In Tokyo, the Sumida River Fireworks is the most famous event. Other regions also hold their own festivals and competitions, such as Tsuchiura city which is a short train ride from Tokyo, holds the Annual Tsuchiura Firework Competition, where the cream of the crop showcase their creativity to wow the crowds. Other firework shows are organized by the local governments and/or organizations to thank the locals for their support.

People watching fireworks overhead

Things to note:

  • Research “firework events” or “hanabi” (Japanese word for fireworks) before booking your trip because such events happen often but the dates differ each year. If you want the best seats, search for the possibility to purchase tickets ahead of time or secure your spot the night before. Bring a picnic mat and remember to tape it down!
  • Have your camera ready! Expect to see a variety of creations such as Doraemon or Hello Kitty in the sky. Some prefectures also incorporate their local flair into their firework designs such as “squids” seen in Hokkaido because of their famous seafood.
  • Don’t forget to bring extra trash bags and separate your trash! Many fireworks events are held in large public areas such as public schools and parks. Be considerate, and don’t leave your trash behind.

A Pikachu Float from Pikachu Outbreak

Last but not least, if you’re a fan of famous Japanese animation characters, don’t miss the Pikachu Outbreak in Yokohama that happens every August. Beware of cuteness overload!

A day pass for the Pikachu Outbreak in Yokohama

This year the main event takes place August 6 – August 12. Take the Minato-Mirai Line to Yokohama city located in Kanagawa prefecture. The Minato-Mirai Line offers an affordable day pass to take you to and from major stations within Tokyo.

Pikachu paper hats at PIkachu Outbreak

Upon arriving at the Minato-Mirai station, you’ll be met by Pikachu’s assistants handing out paper Pikachu hats. Take a look around and you will be surrounded by gigantic Pikachu floats.

Life-size versions of the cartoon character Pikachu parade through town.

The Pikachu Outbreak March usually takes place slightly after lunch with details withheld till the day itself. Team Pikachu is doing a really good job at surprising their guests! Other performances such as mini dramas and dance performances are also available throughout the festival period.

Summer is one of my favorite seasons to visit Japan because of how lively the country becomes. If you are looking for a fun trip, be sure to check out the amazing festivals going on in or around your destination.

Des Moines: A Midwest Summer Dream

Trees with a city skyline in the horizon

While driving through the heart of the Midwest you’ll see just as many friendly faces as you do cornfields, dogs, and beautiful landscapes. Des Moines is a staple city in the Midwest region and you don’t have to go far to find fun attractions in the summer sun.

The best seasons to visit Des Moines are summer and fall. Start planning your trip in advance to put together a fun-filled itinerary. Now let’s get started with a few suggestions for a weekend getaway.

Grey sculpture with a building in the background

Friday
Catch an I-Cubs baseball game over at Principal Park. The Triple-A Affiliate team brings the heat during the summer games. Grab an ice-cold beer and a ballpark hotdog. Enjoy the postgame firework show for an exciting way to either end your night or keep the party going. If you choose the latter, make your way downtown to the many bars on Court Avenue! Visit The Exchange for a fun and interactive bar experience. Cocktail prices fluctuate just like the stock market. Prices will drop down to $2 for a certain period of time and then suddenly jump up to $8 while another drink price drops. The name of the game is to ‘get it while it’s cheap!’

Trees with a city skyline in the horizon

Saturday
Wake up early and head Downtown to the Des Moines Farmer’s Market. This is the place to be on a Saturday morning. The market runs from the beginning of May from 7 am – 12 pm until the beginning of October 8 am – 12 pm. At this pet-friendly event, the dogs seem to outnumber the people. There is a wide variety of vendors including florists with fresh cut flowers that provide a sweet aroma. Be sure to stop and enjoy the delicious breakfast options throughout the market.

If you happen to visit during the month of August, you are in for a treat! The Iowa State Fair runs from August 8 – 18 and it is one of the country’s largest and most popular fairs. Eleven days of the best concerts and entertainment of the summer. The musical lineup is as hot as the August temperatures, the fried food is endless, the people watching unmatched, and the beer never stops flowing. There are talent contests, corn dogs, show pigs, The Big Slide, and thousands of other attractions that bring in people from coast to coast every year. The fair also features many family-friendly events, shows, and exhibits. Kids love the sea lion show, the train rides, and the splash pad as much as riding the ski lift which takes you from one end of the fairgrounds to the opposite, overlooking everything as you ride. Have you ever heard of the famous butter cow? You have to see it! It is exactly what it sounds like, a 600lb. cow crafted out of butter. Grab your camera and snap a selfie!

After you’ve had your fill of the fair, head back towards downtown for an evening cocktail. The 300 Rooftop overlooks the entire Des Moines skyline. Try the Peace Tree Blonde Fatale, a local beer with 8.5% alcohol content and a crisp, refreshing bite.

River with bridge and city skyline in the background

Sunday
After a fun-filled weekend, be sure to relax and enjoy brunch with your family and friends at Mullets. Their relaxing atmosphere and unique river walk make Mullets a local favorite. They have the best breakfast and brunch menus, mimosas, and Bloody Mary’s for your Sunday morning recovery.

Summer in Des Moines is always bustling with special events, foodie finds, and local attractions. Plan ahead by visiting Catch Des Moines for an up-to-date schedule of events. From the Farmer’s Market to a day at the fair, you’re sure to enjoy the spirit of Des Moines!

 

Weekenders Food & Wine Guide to the Finger Lakes

Grapes growing on a vine

New York State’s Finger Lakes wine region features over 100 wineries, more than 200 accommodations, world-class shopping, exclusive dining experiences, top-notch museums, and friendly local culture. The region is a short drive, between three to five hours, from Boston, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. Its close proximity is the primary reason why the area attracted over 4.86 million leisure visitors in 2018.

Row of grapevines at a vineyard

Must-Visit Wineries
The Finger Lakes region is best known for its high quality, award-winning wines and the breathtaking landscapes made up of lakeside vineyards.

The intimate setting and hands-on approach of most Finger Lakes wineries create an environment where visitors are encouraged to submerge themselves in the wine-making process from beginning to end.

Below is a list of the most popular wineries in the region that should be on your summer roadmap.

Grapes growing on a vine

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars was established in 1962 and is situated on the southwestern hills of Keuka Lake. Dr. Frank’s is one of the most prestigious and beloved wineries in the Finger Lakes because of its approachable, delicious, award-winning wines, and friendly tasting room staff.

Heart and Hands Wine Company was founded by Husband and wife team, Tom and Susan Higgins back in 2007. The boutique winery is situated on the east side of Cayuga Lake and focuses exclusively on Pinot Noir and Riesling. Winery guests can opt for a tasting that includes a cellar and vineyard tour.

Hands with grapes and other fruit making wine

For a sip of history, head to Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, it is considered one of the winemaking pioneers in the Finger Lakes area. The winery and tasting room on the western slope of Seneca Lake is where visitors can taste some of the most acclaimed wines in the region.  The vineyard features a family of winemakers tracing back to the Mosel region of Germany.

For gorgeous architecture and an array of wine varietals, visit Heron Hill Winery. Heron Hill has been dedicated to excellence in winemaking and sustainable practices since 1977. The winery houses what Travel + Leisure named, “One of the most spectacular tasting rooms in the world.” Be sure to stop by around lunchtime and dine at Heron Hill Bistro, offering tasty fares like a gourmet grilled cheese or a seasonal pizza.

If wine and chocolate are two of your favorites, head to Ravines Wine Cellars. The winery features a special tasting of Hedonist Artisan Chocolates paired with Old World wines. There are two tasting rooms to make it easy for visitors to access Ravines wherever they are in the Finger Lakes, a Seneca tasting room in Geneva and a Keuka tasting room in Hammondsport. Guests looking for a bite to eat beyond sinfully-decadent chocolates can purchase small plates from the seasonal menu – Farmstead Cheese & Charcuterie Board anyone?

Several people holding wine glasses together

Dining Options
Finger Lakes region has attracted some of the finest culinary talents from around the world with its bounty of local and organic ingredients. Here are a few options ranging from quick casual meals to masterly-prepared dining experiences.

The Ginny Lee Café at Wagner Vineyards offers a delightful selection of lunch foods and uses only the freshest fruits and vegetables in their preparation. The menus have been designed to complement and enhance the award-winning wines of Wagner Vineyards, and craft beers from Wagner Brewing Co. Some favorites are the Three Cheese Spinach & Artichoke Dip and the White Cheddar Steak sandwich.

For a popular local’s spot, great food, daily specials, classic favorites and much more, Eric’s Office Restaurant is the answer. Don’t miss the happy hour menu available from 3 PM until 5 PM featuring chicken wings and other taproom favorites.

A glass of wine on a ledge with grapevines in the background

One of the most coveted and buzz-worthy dining experiences in Finger Lakes is FLX Table. The communal table with only fourteen seats overlooks the kitchen where each evening, a set menu is served based on the seasonality of products. A five-course meal is a mere $59 and can be paired with carefully-curated wines by Master Sommelier, Executive Chef, and Owner, Christopher Bates.

Located on the shore of Lake Seneca, Sapalta on the Lake offers both spectacular views and a locally-sourced menu. The restaurant works with local farmers and artisans to add interesting and unique dishes to its menu. The Sheldrake Moon a double crème Brie by Finger Lakes’ Lively Run Dairy and the Sapalta Steak sourced from Red Gate Farm are mouthwateringly good.

Beyond food and wine, the Finger Lakes region offers an abundance of options for every kind of traveler. For the outdoorsy types, there is hiking and a wide variety of water sports. Travelers looking for cultural activities will be pleased with the multitude of theaters, art exhibits, and world-class museums. For those looking to relax and unwind, there are many spas and wellness activities available throughout the region.

Make New York State’s Finger Lakes region your next vacation getaway destination. It is one of the most affordable and beautiful wine country destinations in North America and boasts a local culture that is both warm and welcoming.

Experience the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Over 100 colorful hot air balloons flying high in a bright blue sky.

Brisk mornings, the smell of green chile in the air, and breathtaking views are the first clues that fall is in New Mexico. Mostly known for its on-screen cameo in the hit series Breaking Bad, Albuquerque is home to many attractions and authentic restaurants. The autumn season in New Mexico is a perfect atmosphere for a relaxing vacation. Plus, it features the annual International Balloon Fiesta you definitely don’t want to miss!

During October, the fresh morning air is ideal for hot air balloons to launch high into the New Mexico sky. Over 500 Hot Air Balloons visit the Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for nine days from October 5 – October 13. This Fiesta has been around for over four decades and features hot air balloons from around the world. Since starting in 1972 the Balloon Fiesta now features multiple events and vendors over the nine-day period.

Orange fish shaped hot air balloon.

Rise & Shine
To truly enjoy the Balloon Fiesta you’ll need to set your alarm extra early. Hot air balloons fly at their best during the cool morning hours. Make sure to dress in layers and bring a blanket. The mornings start out chilly but by mid-morning it will warm up considerably. To celebrate the opening day you will definitely want to be at Balloon Fiesta Park by 5 am, give yourself some extra time to get there due to heavy traffic along the way. The Dawn Patrol Show starts at 6 am. Dawn patrollers are in charge of testing the wind speed and direction at different altitudes to help guide the balloons safely.

Hot air balloons against a bright blue sky.

#RedorGreen
During the dawn patrol, walk around to the vendor booths surrounding the edges of the park. Make sure to grab a breakfast burrito or a cheeseburger from Blake’s Lotaburger, which is featured in National Geographic for the “Best Green Chile Cheeseburger in the World.”  You might start to notice a funny question after you order food in New Mexico, “Red or Green?” New Mexico is well known for its native crops of Red and Green Chile. If you’re feeling fiery order your food Christmas style, which yes, you guessed it, includes both red and green chile. There are a lot of booths surrounding the park where you can buy memorabilia, southwestern apparel, and souvenirs.

Hot Air Balloon Inflating

Hot Air Balloon Glow
The Balloon Glow is up next at 6:30 am, watch as the pilots start inflating the balloons for take-off. You can hear the loud hiss of gas tanks as these giant beauties light up. Walkthrough the grass area and get up close for some amazing Instagram worthy photos and boomerangs. Some pilots might ask for your help to hold down a balloon while it is filling up. If you plan to visit the Balloon Fiesta next year make sure to visit their volunteer website where you can actually become part of a Balloon Chase Crew or Fiesta Navigator.

Over 100 colorful hot air balloons flying high in a bright blue sky.

Mass Ascension
If the weather permits, the balloons will start rising into the sky. This is an incredible moment to witness in person. Find an open spot on the grass and enjoy the moment. Sometimes, wind speeds prevent the balloons from ascending. Be sure to check the weather before your visit. During the ascension, the Balloon Fiesta features fun activities all throughout the park. They have everything from chainsaw carving, the Team Fastrax sky-divers, and a firework show. Each day the fiesta runs from 6 am – 8 pm, weekends are the best time to visit check out their event calendar for a list of daily activities.

Hot Air Balloon Preparation

Bucket List
Cross off one of your bucket list items and schedule your very own hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders. Upon arrival, the pilot will gather the crew around to discuss safety precautions and then everyone helps prepare for take-off. Once the balloon is full you’ll hop in the gondola and start to rise into the sky.

Rio Grande River in Albuquerque, NM

Enjoy the serene silence and vast views of the desert landscape. Each ride lasts about one hour and you never know where you’re going to land. Luckily, the ground crew chases the balloon in a van to pick you up at your landing point. After landing you’ll celebrate your new experience with a certificate and a champagne toast! The Rainbow Ryders crew is very knowledgable, fun, and professional.

Whether you visit day or night the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a must-see! Take a balloon ride of your own or stay safely on the ground and watch as they soar high. October is the perfect time of year to visit New Mexico for fun events, New Mexican Cuisine, and memories to last a lifetime.

Sofia, Bulgaria Mixes Ancient Ruins with Metro Style

Ancient Tomb made out of bricks and decorated with tapestries and memorials

Sofia, Bulgaria is one of the oldest cities in the world. It has been inhabited since at least 7000 B.C. and was first recorded in history in 29 B.C.  Sofia has always been a favorite amongst tsars, emperors, and dictators. Sofia was strategically built along the road connecting Europe to the Middle East. It has allowed the city to soak up the best of many cultures throughout the ages.

Guards in white uniform

Metro Meets Ancient
Today, Sofia has begun its transformation into a modern capital. Sofia’s history has been impacted by every period and every ruler over multiple millennia. The city has ruins from the Roman era, Bulgarian architecture, Ottoman-era mosques and houses, post-liberation central European theaters and palaces, communist-era monuments and apartments as well as modern-day construction.

In fact, sightseeing can begin immediately upon arrival in the city. Once you land at the airport, hop on the metro to the central station, Serdica. The ancient Roman city of Serdica is over 2,000 years old. Many Roman ruins were discovered while building the new metro lines in the city. Today the metro station is intertwined with the ruins, allowing locals and tourists a chance to enjoy history on-the-go.

The President, the Prime Minister, and other government buildings are also surrounded by ancient ruins. In front of the Presidential offices, you can observe the presidential guard, which changes frequently and offers great photo opportunities.

The city also features temples of worship for the four major western religions all within 1 km of each other. This is known as the Square of Tolerance. The Church of St George is considered the oldest building in the city. In the same square, you will find the National Archeological Museum featuring numerous frescos, columns, and artwork from different periods of history. Also nearby is the Sofia City Museum located in the old city bathhouse and the National Art Gallery located in the former Tsar Palace.

Brick theater with white columns and cast iron statues

Follow the Yellow Brick Road
At this point, you might find yourself on a yellow brick road towards Oz, but don’t worry you are still in Sofia. The walkway between the Palace, the Parliament, and the main cathedral is made of yellow stones. Stroll through the City Garden Park, in front of the palace, to soak up the sun and watch locals play chess. One of the most iconic buildings in the area is the National Theater Ivan Vazov. The theater was designed by famous Vienna architects Helmer and Fellner and has become the center of Bulgarian performance art.

White cathedral with green domes

Continue on the yellow brick road to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St. Sofia Basilica located right behind the Parliament Building.

Museum of Bulgaria religious icons.

Alexander Nevsky is one of the biggest Christian temples in the world and it serves as the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarch. The crypt has a massive museum displaying some of the most important Bulgarian icons.

Ancient Tomb made out of bricks and decorated with tapestries and memorials

Next, to the cathedral, the St. Sofia Church has stood since the 4th century. It is one of the most important Christian churches in South-Eastern Europe. The church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and numerous tombs have been discovered below it.

Cafes & Restaurants
Once you have had your fill of ruins, museums, and churches, head to Vitosha Boulevard. This shopping boulevard is lined with multiple restaurants, bars, and cafes. In the distance, you can see the Vitosha Mountain rising over the city skyline. The National Palace of Culture hosts many events and concerts in the area.

Weeping willow overlooking a white linen dinner table near the rivers edge.

Next, take a stroll to Borisova Gradina Park. It is the largest park in the city and a popular place for locals and tourists alike. Ariana Lake is a small body of water where you can rent boats and spend time enjoying the outdoors. Enjoy lunch on the small island in the lake at Ariana 1904 for authentic Bulgarian cuisine and great views.

Vitosha & Beyond
Definitely, spend time on the outskirts of Sofia where the National Historical Museum is located at the base of Vitosha Mountain. The museum showcases the Panagyurishte Treasure. The small Boyana Church features some of the world’s best frescoes and is highlighted on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Mountain trail lined with green trees.

Last but not least, take a day trip to hike the Vitosha Mountain trail to the Moreni rock formations. The Moreni rocks look like a river of boulders. Once back in the city reward yourself with fresh beer and fried cheese with jam at Luciano Brewery. Enjoy a “Jiva Bira.” This fresh, non-filtered, and unpasteurized beer only lasts one day so get one while it’s cold!

Sofia’s slogan, “It grows, but it never ages,” truly captures the unique spirit of the city. It is a fun and vibrant place where you can experience everything from nature and history to cuisine and nightlife.

Autumn Fun in New Orleans

Three plates of food

Summer is nearing an end, but in New Orleans, that means temperatures outside will continue to climb. June through early September tends to be the hottest season in the area, for a few reasons. Even with the sweltering heat, there is plenty of fun to be had in the Crescent City. New Orleans is an adventure mecca, with delicious dining, rich history, and French-inspired flair, you’ll be sure to find fun for everyone.

Lessons in History
One of the best ways to avoid the heat is to head to one of the many museums in New Orleans. The National WWII Museum is routinely rated as one of the top-five best museums in the country. The museum houses an exhibition of aircraft and boats used in World War II, as well as an award-winning 4-D film which provides a fantastic overview of the war. With over 700,000 visitors a year, the museum is at the forefront of new edge technology for its guests. It also keeps adding new experiences making it a must-visit over and over again.

Other museums in and around downtown New Orleans include the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Insectarium, and the New Orleans African American Museum. For the bug lovers in your group, the insectarium may be of extra interest, it is the largest museum dedicated to insects and their relatives in North America. You’ll find the insectarium on the border of the French Quarter on Canal Street.

Fun Festivals
The two biggest festivals in August are Satchmo SummerFest from August 2 – 4, and Southern Decadence from August 31 – September 2.

Satchmo Fest celebrates the life and legacy of New Orleans icon Louis Armstrong and takes place at the New Orleans Jazz Museum. There are three stages for music and local speakers to entertain and teach the crowd about the legacy of Jazz music in the city. If you’re looking to beat the heat, the indoor stage sponsored by Hilton is where many of the speakers lead discussions.

Southern Decadence attracts close to 300,000 people annually to New Orleans. It is a celebration by the LGBTQIA community and the largest event of its kind in the city. Parties and events throughout the weekend leading up to the parade on Sunday. Keep a lookout for captivating costumes, glitter, and of course, beads.

Other activities include White Linen Night on August 3 and Red Dress Run on August 10.  During White Linen Night, you’ll experience a free block party across four blocks in the New Orleans Arts District with live music, art installations, local galleries, and food and drink sales. Red Dress Run is a charity “run” around the French Quarter bringing locals and visitors together for a day of celebration and fabulous people watching.

Where to Eat in Nola
During August, New Orleans’ restaurants celebrate dining through the annual COOLinary Event. Throughout the month, participating restaurants offer a specially-priced prix-fixe menu for lunch, dinner, and brunch. Dinner prices are typically under $35, while lunch prices are around $20. It’s a great way for you to taste the many flavors of New Orleans while saving some money for tours and other activities.

In a city with so many dining options, make sure to venture outside of the French Quarter. Many of the oldest and most famous restaurants in the city are inside this historic neighborhood, but each neighborhood boasts world-renowned food. If the temperatures obey, a stroll down Magazine Street, beginning or ending at Atchafalaya must be in the cards. The restaurant is in an old New Orleans home, making the atmosphere as enticing as the culinary options. From my visits, I recommend the Black Drum Jubilee for dinner and the Shrimp & Grits for Brunch.

Bar Crawl around New Orleans
If you ever have trouble figuring out what to do during your trip, the best idea might be to create your own bar crawl. Walk a few minutes, feel the heat, step inside for a drink, and repeat. With more bars per capita than any other city in the country, it’s easy to make a stop every few blocks for water or an alcoholic beverage. The normal must-visits near downtown include the Sazerac Bar inside The Roosevelt Hotel for an infamous Sazerac cocktail, The Carousel Bar, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for a Voodoo Daiquiri, and Pat O’ Brien’s for a Hurricane. If you make your way to Frenchmen Street, you can even catch some great live music along with the refreshments.

While August is typically a slow month for tourism in New Orleans, don’t let that convince you there isn’t fun to be had. You can find room rates at some of the best hotels for steep discounts, dining deals like COOLinary, and plenty of reasons to dance with joy. These suggestions are just the start! Some of the best exploring advice will come from Nola locals you meet on the streetcar, your server at dinner, or from our friendly concierge staff across our hotels. Come ready for rain and heat, but stay for the same great adventure you’ll find in New Orleans any time of the year!

Watering Holes Worth Visiting in Austin, TX

Shady Creek

Austin, Texas features hidden outdoor beauties including several watering holes and hiking areas found throughout the city and suburbs. If you’re traveling to Austin this summer with limited time to spare, check out our tips for visiting three of Austin’s most popular watering holes: Barton Springs Pool, Deep Eddy Pool, and Campbell’s Hole. Enjoy gorgeous creeks and pool areas located within a short distance of each other – each offering unique history – without having to leave Austin city limits.

Lifeguard Deck on the Edge of Barton Springs

Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool is a large, spring-fed pool that includes a secure gated area with fun activities for the whole family. It is located in Austin’s 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park. Enjoy the cool clear water, swimming turtles, and limited views of the Austin skyline. Barton Springs Pool is dog-friendly, giving dogs their own separate area referred to as ‘Barking Springs.’ And, there are many other dog-friendly, off-leash, parks in Austin.

Learn more about the history of Barton Springs Pool by visiting the Splash! Aquifer Exhibit near the main entrance. Kids love the interactive areas throughout the exhibit, which offer educational fun facts and history about the pool and the cool fish living inside.

After heavy rains and flooding, the pool may be closed for safety measures. If the pool is closed, I still recommend stopping by and checking out the food truck and hang-out areas. There’s plenty of space to lounge in the sun and eat while listening to music. Locals say it’s a great place for making new friends – for both adults and children.

Bright Red Food Truck serving empanadas

If you’re a foodie or just really hungry after swimming, consider stopping by The Picnic Food Truck Park – located one mile from Barton Springs Pool. It is about 20-minutes away on foot, or a quick five-minute drive.

Blue tile mural on a wall

Deep Eddy Pool
Deep Eddy Pool is anything but typical and comes with a wealth of history behind its creation. Deep Eddy Pool is man-made and similar to Barton Springs Pool, it is also fed by natural springs.

When you enter the pool area, you’ll walk down large cement steps that are also perfect for lounging or morning yoga. For history buffs, stop by the historic mural which showcases the entire timeline of the pool it is located inside, to the right of the main entrance.

Deep Eddy Pool with a view of the lake

After swimming, enjoy direct access to the Eiler’s Neighborhood Park Hiking and Bike Trail with calming views of Lady Bird Lake – just watch out for poison oak and poison ivy on the trail along the fence line.  I recommend dining at one of my favorite restaurants, a popular brunch option, the Magnolia Cafe. They’re open 24-hours a day, and serve breakfast all day.

Pool parking is very limited. If you’re staying nearby, I suggest walking. After 4 pm, there is additional parking available across from the Police/Ranger station next to the main pool entrance. Look for parking signs to ensure you don’t park in a tow-away zone. To save time, bring cash because the credit card machines can cause additional delays.

Shady Creek

Campbell’s Hole
For adult crowds, the mystical Campbell’s Hole swimming and hiking area is part of the vast Barton Creek Greenbelt and offers a relaxing experience for everyone and their furry friends. The water is crystal clear and the surrounding views are amazing. This gem is hidden within a residential area with many trees to keep you shaded and cool in the summer.

Tacodeli Sign with a unicorn

The entrance for Campbell’s Hole is located directly across from Tacodeli on Spyglass Drive – their tacos are tasty and it’s also a great dining spot for people watching. Park your car along Spyglass Drive, parking is free but limited. When parking, make sure you don’t block any residential driveways and be careful when getting in or out of your vehicle.

You’ll hike down Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail 11 for approximately five minutes until you reach the actual watering hole. I suggest using a GPS guide (by foot) to help you navigate through the trail and avoid confusion.

Rocky hiking trail with shady green trees.

Along the hike, you’ll find people hanging in hammocks within the tree lines, floating the river, kayaking or laying on large rocks soaking up the sun. Enjoy making new friends and take advantage of stunning photo opportunities. Bug spray and water shoes are a must.

In any event, these must-visit watering holes in Austin are an ideal choice when you’re short on time and want to stay within Austin city limits. Whether you’re just driving through Austin, or on a short business trip, use this guide to help you navigate the natural beauty of Austin’s watering holes.

Snorkeling & Hiking in Seychelles

Man snorkeling with silver and yellow fish in aquamarine water.

Located in the Indian Ocean, east of Kenya and Tanzania, Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands. Made up of three main islands, Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. The sparkling blue waters, lush plantations, and scenic hikes are a honeymooner’s paradise or a family-friendly adventure.

Mahé is the main island where the international airport is located. Taxis, public transport, and ATMs are widely available across the island. There are also small supermarkets selling everything from groceries to alcoholic beverages and souvenirs. In my opinion, Car rentals are the best way to explore the island. Plenty of rental agencies are scattered on the island, making it easily accessible at around €50 per day.

Seychelles Beach with bright blue waters and a large green trees on the shore

Beaches
There are so many beaches in Seychelles it is tough to choose just one. The majority of the beaches are idyllic with soft white sand, glistening turquoise waters and an average temperate of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

The best swimming beaches on Mahé include Anse Royale and Beau Vallon. Anse Royale beach has a more local feel. It has fewer tourist attractions along the coast but it has more small beaches to enjoy. Beau Vallon is Mahé Island’s longest beach and offers several cafés and restaurants along the coastline.

Hilton Northolme Resort & Spa, as well as the DoubleTree by Hilton Allamanda, has introduced coral reef nurseries to help the coral reef recover from bleaching. Guests are able to take part in this remarkable project by adopting coral and having the chance to snorkel along a coral trail. Book a tour with the marine conservation specialist to visit the coral nursery.

Man snorkeling with silver and yellow fish in aquamarine water.

Snorkeling
Besides being blessed with world-class beaches, Seychelles offers some of the best places for easily accessible snorkeling tours. All you need to do is buy a snorkel, mask, and fins to hit the coastline. Once you head into the lukewarm tropical waters beyond the crashing waves, you will be surrounded by a picturesque undersea garden teeming with tropical marine life, blossoming coral, fish, sea turtles, and more.

Man sitting on a metal bench overlooking the Seychelles mountains.

Hiking
The perfect idea of an island vacation might involve more lazing around on beaches and less exploration. However, Seychelles is home to many picturesque hiking trails with unbeatable ocean views.

The majority of the inner islands of Seychelles are all made of granite, including Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. Although the beaches are stunning swimming spots, the middle of the islands is rocky and mountainous.

Insider’s tip, pack hiking shoes, a backpack, bottled water, snacks, a camera, swimwear, and a snorkeling kit if desired.

The islands are infamous for the Coco de Mer tree which produces a unique double coconut weighing 35 pounds and is only found in Seychelles. The trees can be seen at the Victoria Botanical Gardens or in the wild on La Digue and Praslin Islands. Day tours can be booked to these islands and allow visitors to wander through the plantations, swim, snorkel and drive bicycles along the island. Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Seychelles and is home to one of the world’s most famous tropical forests featuring over 6,000 Coco de Mer trees.

Fish on kabob skewers

Cuisine
From locally grown fruits to freshly caught fish, there is something to satisfy every taste bud. Creole dishes usually include traditional ingredients such as grilled fish, fried bananas, and curries but you will also find pork, beef, chicken, and even bat.

If you’re looking for a new twist on a personal favorite, Baobab on Beau Vallon beach serves the best pizza on the island.  This local hot spot has been serving fresh pies for over 50 years. The restaurant fills up fairly quick and boasts soft, sandy floors with booths overlooking the beach.

If you’re looking for traditional street food visit the Beau Vallon street bazaar along the beach. You’ll find vendors selling creole buffet dinners, burgers, fish, kebabs, cocktails, and coconut drinks. The Beach Shak bar on Beau Vallon beach is the perfect setting to watch the sunset over the islands.

Watersports
Beau Vallon Beach on Mahé Island is the biggest beach where you can enjoy all of your favorite watersports including, jet-skis, parasailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, tours to other islands, and fishing charters. Beau Vallon beach also highlights a 180-degree view of the colorful sunset glistening over the calm ocean waters.

If you ever needed a good reason to switch on your “out of office” email notification, you have definitely found it in Seychelles. Hop from island to island or find your spot on the Beau Vallon Beach and soak in the sun.