Rich History in Puerto Rico

September 15th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Puerto Rico La Rogativa San JuanThe sandy beaches, elegant Spanish-style homes, and centuries-old forts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, could make you easily forget you’re still in the U.S. And all those rum-soaked cocktails certainly don’t help with thinking clearly.

An unincorporated territory of the U.S., Puerto Rico requires no passport or complications with customs to gain entry, and direct flights from New York City to San Juan take just about four hours — but you’ll feel like you’re a world away.

During fall and winter, it’s still swimsuit weather in Puerto Rico. But if you can pull yourself away from the beach, a day spent walking through the district of Old San Juan offers great rewards.

Cobblestone streets play off the Spanish-meets-neoclassical architecture, with the wrought-iron grates and bright-colored exteriors. You can stroll down the elegant Paseo de la Princesa esplanade for a relaxing ramble, or head to the bustling Calle Fortaleza to check out some of the best stores the city has to offer — from high-end luxury designer goods to handcrafted souvenirs. For the latter, stop by Puerto Rican Art & Crafts to peruse original jewelry, ceramics, and more.

Though an energetic, modern capital city, San Juan radiates history. Head to Calle del Cristo not only for the shops and restaurants but to see Capilla del Cristo, a chapel built to honor a reputed 18th-century miracle in which a rider lost control of his horse, rushed to the end of the street and over the precipice, only to be saved by the prayers of the city’s secretary. Next to this sacred place is Parque de las Palomas: a park that’s now home to hundreds of pigeons who inhabit the ground, trees, and cubby-holed walls.

Public art abounds, including the celebratory “Raíces” statue honoring Puerto Rico’s cultural roots, and the more somber “La Rogativa” commemorating an 18th-century prayer procession believed to have protected the city from a British attack (miracles seem almost commonplace in this sun-drenched land).

Defense is central to the city’s history and design. A Spanish colony for centuries before passing to the U.S. after the Spanish-American war, it was something of a front door to Spain’s empire in the Americas — often a first or last stop for ships crossing the Atlantic in need of fresh food and water before setting off to their final destinations.

Read the full story at the New York Daily News.

Meeting at Microbreweries (and Distilleries)

September 3rd, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

ry-colin-summer-wedding-15_114136743210As breweries become more popular as destinations for groups, they are bolstering their spaces to better accommodate the needs of organizations. Hardywood recently expanded, adding a room with A/V capabilities including projector, screen, and sound system. A glass garage door on one side of the room allows guests to see beer aging in whisky barrels, and a bar with a half-dozen beers on tap.

The same unconventional feel can be created at local distilleries. The Las Vegas Distillery offers a 1,000-square-foot Spirits Room and 4,000-square-foot Distillery. Visitors can join in tours to see how the distillery makes its vodka, rum, and whisky — including its Nevada 150 Bourbon, the state’s first official straight bourbon, released on Nevada’s 150th birthday. In addition to tasting the products, visitors can create custom labels and fill their own bottles from the barrel.

“The copper pot stills, the whiskey barrels, and the scent of the fresh-distilled mash creates an unforgettable experience for an event,” says George Racz, the distillery’s owner.

This month, on the same premises, the distillery opens the Booze District event space along with the Chocolate Makery (creating handcrafted chocolates such as Booze Bumps, Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine Balls, and customizable Story Chocolate Bars).

The Las Vegas Distillery is a rare space for the country’s gaming capital — a venue that offers what Racz calls “local community.” A refreshing change from the high-end restaurants, eye-popping shows, and dazzling casino floors, the distillery is a casual venue with an old-fashioned feel.

This points to another advantage meeting planners are finding with breweries and distilleries: There are few better ways to get a feel for a city or region than to try what the locals drink and see how it is made.

Similar to Las Vegas Distillery, Kings County Distillery, based in Brooklyn, NY, offers a down-to-earth meeting venue in a larger-than-life destination. Located in the two-story Paymaster Building (originally built in 1899) in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, it is a short ride or drive from more traditional Manhattan hot spots.

“Because we’re in Brooklyn, a lot of companies can see the distillery as a ‘corporate retreat,'” explains Colin Spoelman, co-owner of Kings County Distillery. “Even though we’re just over the bridge from most companies, we’re in a quiet part of Brooklyn, so it feels very removed from Manhattan.”

Read the full story at Successful Meetings.

Five Beers to Celebrate This Oktoberfest

August 28th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

German Beers Oktoberfest

I had the chance to interview Horst Dornbusch, perhaps the premier expert on German beers, for this recent roundup of five must-try rare brews in Rhapsody magazine, just in time for Oktoberfest. He was a very charming guy and managed to give me a gloss of the entire history of beer in about 15 minutes. While I am not going to get too detailed into that here, I did want to include an additional beer he recommended that could not fit into our roundup — an ideal drink for those seeking an organic option to sip at their local beer hall.

At Der Ratskeller in München (a vaulted restaurant in the basement of the old City Hall at Marienplatz in the very center of Munich, try a 100% organic Weizen or Pils from Neumarkter Lammsbräu; or a 100% organic “historic emmer bier” from the Riedenburger brewery.

Read the story in Rhapsody magazine.

Watch That Man

August 28th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

David Bowie Is Chicago

Trying to encapsulate in a single space the career of one of rock music’s most prolific and perpetually reinventive artists is no simple task. Yet that was the challenge before the curators of “David Bowie Is,” a retrospective on the musician opening at the Museum of ContemporaryArt, Chicago on September 23.

“The goal was to show what an innovator he’s been all these years,” says chief curator Michael Darling, summarizing what unifies the show’s more than 400 objects, including handwritten lyrics, 60 costumes, music-video set designs and even personal diary entries. As Darling puts it, every piece was selected to reflect how the Thin White Duke “has a good nose for the zeitgeist and where the culture is heading.”

He points to the section on Bowie’s “Berlin period” in the late 1970s, which includes brooding paintings and photographs that the artist made while holed up in a German apartment. During that time, Bowie created albums like Low and Heroes with minimalist sound and abstract lyrics that not only captured the Cold War mood of the moment but influenced rock music for decades to come. Darlingorganized the show chronologically, and he says it will offer “a dynamic and immersive experience,” with design cues that signal Bowie’s transformations during his near half-century of creative output. But, as the exhibit’s title suggests, the only era that matters to Bowie is now.

“He’s not someone prone to look backward,” Darling says.

Read the story at Rhapsody magazine.

Traveling Exhibitions

August 16th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

0814 ExhibitionsThis month, Met Adventures — a new way to experience the expertise of one of the world’s great cultural institutions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC — takes a trip to Spain, and the medieval pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The Met isn’t alone, as many museums now offer similar (and invariably high-end) travel programs to distant lands, from Africa to Antarctica. Travelers are accompanied by in-house lecturers or curators who provide their own insight throughout. Here are four notable upcoming excursions:

“Tracing Ancient Buddhism: A Journey to Sri Lanka” with Met Adventures Sept. 12-23, 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new series of outings for art lovers includes this exploration of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist legacy, from the monasteries of Anuradhapura to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. “The beauty of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka is unmatched in the Buddhist world,” says John Guy, the Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Met, who will be leading the expedition. “This trip will provide a window onto the beauties of early Buddhist art.”

“Experiences of a Lifetime” with American Museum of Natural History Expeditions Oct 31-Nov 16, 2014

This excursion aims to give travelers a lifetime of experiences in 17 days, going by private jet to seven see-before-you-die destinations: Jordan, London, The Taj Mahal, The Maldives, Rwanda, and Morocco. But the luxury of the trip is secondary to the insight of the lecturers on board. “Curators enhance travelers’ experience in ways that are transformative and provide an understanding of the work of cultural institutions in a global context,” says Alex de Voogt, curator of African Ethnology for AMNH, who will be one of two guides on the outing.

“Battle of the Bulge: 70th Anniversary Tour” with The National WWII Museum Tours Dec 11-20, 2014

The New Orleans–based museum takes history buffs behind the lines on several tours, including this one hosted by Alex Kershaw, author of The Bedford Boys and The Few, among others. Participants will take part in anniversary celebrations in Belgium and Luxembourg and tour the battlefield of Ardennes at the time the attack actually occurred seven decades ago.

“Expedition to Antarctica” with Smithsonian Journeys Jan 26-Feb 8, 2015

The world’s largest museum also boasts a rich and extensive list of travel programs, including this voyage to the White Continent through the famed sea lanes of Beagle Channel and Drake Passage. Jim Zimbelman, planetary geologist at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, will lead the expedition through highlights including the awe-inspiring ice cliffs of Paradise Bay and nearly intact skeleton of a full-size blue whale.

Read the story in United Airlines’ Rhapsody.

Lowcountry Cuisine

August 3rd, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Lee Bros Charleston Wild Dunes“When you’re traveling, the best experiences are the ones that connect you to the place you’re traveling through, so you feel like a local.” That’s how Ted Lee, one half of Charleston, SC-based culinary duo, the Lee Bros., describes the benefits of his and brother Matt’s new Group Culinary Experience at Wild Dunes Resort (located on the Isle of Palms, about a half-hour drive east of South Carolina’s capital city). The program gives meeting groups the chance to not only learn about Charleston-area culinary traditions and history, but to take part themselves in preparing southern specialties like oyster pie, she-crab soup, and banana pudding.

From launching a successful mail-order catalog of southern pantry favorites (The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue), to a James Beard Award-winning cookbook (The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook), to frequent appearances on the Food Network, the siblings have created a cottage industry around the food they grew up eating in downtown Charleston. Now, the duo has partnered with Wild Dunes Resort to bring their brand of cuisine to meetings.

Groups of 10 to 250 can take part in one of several culinary experiences, in which the Lee Bros. will provide cooking demonstrations and tell the stories and history behind Lowcountry (the local term for the region around South Carolina’s southern coast) cooking. Themed cooking classes include “The Lowcountry’s Greatest Hits,” with favorites like shrimp and grits, Hoppin’ John (a dish of peas, rice, and bacon), and banana pudding; or “Simple Fresh Southern” with contemporary Southern food such as honeydew wine coolers, pimento cheese potato gratin, and cornmeal drop biscuit peach cobbler. Groups can sign up for a full meal, a demonstration with tasting samples, or just the demonstration.

“When we serve Lowcountry cooking and tell stories about it, we’re connecting people, through taste-immersion, with what makes Charleston so enchanting and unique,” says Ted Lee. Matt Lee adds that the area’s cooking is especially conducive to groups because “it’s fundamentally a luscious, crowd-pleasing cuisine.”

Read the rest at Successful Meetings.

A Culinary Eco-Tour Across Louisiana’s Southern Coast

July 21st, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Louisiana Grosse Savanne Eco ToursTo really appreciate Louisiana’s amazing food, take in the state’s striking landscapes — and vice versa. Viewing the sugar-cane fields or Gulf of Mexico shores helps you fully enjoy the food produced in the area, while shelling a crawfish or eating boudin will deepen your appreciation of the terrain from which it came.

During a weeklong road trip across the state’s southern coast, I immersed myself in Louisiana’s vistas and food, and the work many in the state are doing to sustain them both. A Southern Louisiana road trip can go west to east — flying into Houston and out of New Orleans — but I opted for the more scenic route, looping through the state from New Orleans to Lake Charles, and back. This meant a little extra driving, but if you’re a fan of open water, cypress trees and the spookily stunning backdrops of HBO’s “True Detective,” you’ll savor the extra hours on the road.

In Louisiana, food is like fingerprints: No two gumbos, bread puddings, or étouffées (a thick stew usually served with shellfish over rice) are alike. It’s this diversity that led the city of Lake Charles to formalize its Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail (

Boudin (pronounced “boo-dan”) is the Cajun cousin of sausage links, made by blending pork, liver, rice, onions and seasonings, then stuffing them into a casing.

I got my first taste of the finger food at B&O Kitchen and Grocery, a meat market owned by the third generation of the Benoit family, which sells at least 150 to 200 pounds of boudin daily. While B&O’s smoked links were my favorite, visitors can sample around at any of the 27 stops on the Boudin Trail, which include restaurants, markets, and even a gas station, scattered along Interstate 10 and Highway 90.

Read the rest at the New York Daily News.

The Tour de France Treatment

July 16th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Tour de France

As competitive cycling’s biggest race rolls through Europe this month, travelers may feel the urge to grab a bike of their own and hit the road. Whether you’re an aspiring professional or just pretending to be one, these cyclist-friendly properties can provide a taste of the yellow-jersey experience.

Hotel Domestique
Blue Ridge Mountains, SC
George Hincapie, who finished the Tour de France a record 16 times, has since retired and poured his energy into this boutique property, modeled on destinations he visited in Europe during his early career. Surrounded by miles of country roads, the Domestique offers preset ride routes, high-end BMC Racing bikes for rent, and an on-site pro mechanic. Over the summer, exclusive “XD” riding camps give visitors the opportunity to speed over the South Carolina hills with Hincapie himself.

Hotel Boemia
Riccione, Italy
A member of the Riccione Bike Hotels consortium of cycle-friendly properties in the northern Italian region, this property offers top-notch two-wheel amenities like specialized laundry service for technical clothing and on-site physiotherapists. Cyclists can ride the countless miles of coastal trails (coming across the occasional fortress or ancient castle) and finish their day with a warm-down swim in the Boemia’s remarkable glass-bottomed swimming pool.

Reads Hotel & Vespasian Spa
Mallorca, Spain
Visitors to this five-star hotel in the Spanish countryside can bring their own bike or rent a professional-grade Giant cycle from the property (road, mountain, and hybrid bikes are all available). Reads provides maps and routes for cyclists of all levels to get around Mallora, and its luxurious Vespasian Spa offers treatments and trainers tailored for cyclists looking to wind down after a day out.

Read the story in Rhapsody.

Ancient and Modern Meet in Istanbul

May 28th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Istanbul Grand BazaarIstanbul may be a world away in both geography and culture, but New Yorkers who visit will feel right at home.

The Turkish metropolis, which straddles the Bosphorus Strait dividing Europe and Asia, has seen a population explosion, now with more than 14 million people living in the city, coming from all corners of the country and world.

This influx of people not only makes Istanbul a bustling destination (with a vibrant art and film scene, as well as sidewalks packed with pedestrians, just like Gotham), but has led to rapid development and great new attractions in previously overlooked areas.

A number of new hotels have opened recently, with others slated for completion in coming months. Among the most notable is the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center. When it opened in January, the 34-story tower atop a hill in the once-sleepy Sisli district became the city’s largest hotel and conference center, with 829 rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling windows and cutting-edge in-room technology.

Among the cool conveniences: The surround-sound system connects directly to your MP3 player, and you can activate the “Do Not Disturb” alert with the push of a bedside button.

But while the hotel exudes modernity, what sets it apart is how it simultaneously embraces Istanbul’s past. The Hilton’s Eforea spa, in addition to a full menu of treatments drawing on health research, provides a traditionalhamam , in which the guest lies on a marble slab while being soaped and rinsed by an attendant. The Globe restaurant downstairs provides high-end dining in the evenings and traditional Turkish fare throughout the day.

But the most significant connection to the past is where the hotel gets its name from — the Bomonti Beer Factory, which adjoins the property. The 125-year old structure had for a century produced one of the country’s favorite beverages but it fell into disuse. It’s now in the process of being converted into a massive restaurant, shopping and entertainment complex that will maintain the factory’s original structure and incorporate its history into the new bars, stores and venues slated to open this August.

This balance of old and new is reflective of Istanbul as a whole. The city’s history of art, innovation and transformation dates back millennia and is central to the destination’s identity today.

Take the astounding Hagia Sophia, the grand church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, which captures in one structure the seismic changes the area has experienced. It sits where a Byzantine temple to Greek gods and goddesses stood until A.D. 360, when it became a Christian place of worship, expanded in 532 to become the largest church in the world. It stood for 916 years, until Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city, it became part of the Ottoman Empire, and he plastered over the Sophia’s Christian iconography, converting it into the largest mosque in the world. Five centuries later, Turkey declared its independence, Constantinople became Istanbul, and the structure became the museum it is today, where artifacts and architectural elements tell the story of this varied past.

Read the rest at New York Daily News.

Choose Your Own Publishing Adventure

May 26th, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

BEA uPublishUThe self-publishing industry has enjoyed explosive growth over the past few years. Bowker’s annual self-publishing statistics found that the number of self-published titles released in 2012 jumped more than 422% over the previous five years, bringing an ever-more diverse base of authors into the self-publishing industry.

This rapid growth has also meant a broader definition of what it means to be an indie author, with increasing diversity in self-publishing approaches, styles, and experience levels. This changing makeup of the self-publishing industry has led the organizers of uPublishU—the self-publishing arm of BookExpo America—to expand their offerings at this year’s conference, rolling out programming that will appeal to authors at all different spots along the publishing path.

Taking place at the Javits Center in New York City on Saturday, May 31, uPublishU’s program draws on extensive surveys taken from attendees at last year’s conference.

“We really dig deep into the surveys and are so glad people fill them out, since it helps enhance the program each year,” says Sally Dedecker, conference director of uPublishU. She directly credits these surveys with the creation of sessions like “Creative Content Opportunities,” which puts a special focus on spoken-word audio publishing as an extension of book promotions.

In many ways, the conference is a continuation of last year’s, which emphasized the identity of the author as “basically running your own business,” as Dedecker puts it. “You are out there buying services, you are engaging and hiring people to assist in developing your ‘product’—or book—and you are making marketing, pricing, and promotion decisions.”

While the self-publisher is, of course, still an author, that is now just one role of many, according to Dedecker. That interpretation of self-publishing is spotlighted right at the start of uPublishU’s program, with an opening session titled “Congratulations, Author: You’re Promoted to CEO.” Featuring Amazon’s director of author and publishing relations Jon Fine, Logical Marketing Agency cofounder Peter McCarthy, and Nelson Literary Agency’s Kristin Nelson, the discussion will center on how much authors’ responsibilities have expanded in recent years—no longer are authors simply toiling away on a manuscript; there is now more management of a substantial organization.

“Once upon a time, authors outsourced much of the work beyond pure authorship to their agents and their publishers—everything from copy editing and publicity to sales of foreign and other subsidiary rights,” says Chris Kenneally, director of business development and author relations for the Copyright Clearance Center, who is moderating the panel. “[Today] they have to do much more of the work in the publishing kitchen.”

Read the rest of the story at Publishers Weekly.