Mangia! Mangia! Part II

If you aren’t already dreaming of Italy from last week’s post, you will be after today.  After a full 3 days in Venice, we hopped our first train to Vernazza, Italy, with a quick stop over in Florence.  Florence had been on our list of contenders, but we had settled on Venice and the Cinque Terre. Since it’s located conveniently in between, we thought we’d take advantage of the train transfer and grab lunch and stretch our legs. We had a lunch recommendation from a friend, Osteria Santo Spirito, and were not disappointed with some of the best gnocchi we’ve ever had. It was our first “hot” day that we had and lugging 20 pound backpacks around took care of that pasta real fast! We set out to find Piazzale Michaelangelo, where we were assured to find the best view of Florence.  What we didn’t put together was the best view = the most steps…hundreds of them… but we made it, sweating and out of breath to one of the best views of our trip.

We grabbed the next train to one of the highlights of our trip – the Cinque Terre. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, it’s probably because what you’re seeing and what you’ve heard are different… Cinque Terre is pronounced (Chink-wa Tair-a). This cliffside string of five towns located on the coast of the Riviera and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Try Googling it – you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.  Before tourists discovered the Cinque Terre, these little villages were connected by walking paths.  Now, all of them allow at least delivery trucks into the town centers, but they’re still just as magical.  We decided to stay in the town of Vernazza which we much preferred over the bustling main tourist stop of Monterosso.  We got off the train in the evening and thought for sure Google Maps could find our inn – it could not. This is when we knew we had found the holy grail of off-road adventures.  We called our host who said he would pick us up.  Good thing because we followed him along winding paths up the hillside to find our little room at Camere Giuliano Basso, tucked away off the main (pedestrian) drag.  Our room was perfect and hand built by Giuliano himself.  After sharing with Giuliano that we were starving he suggested we follow him down to his family’s restaurant where we had one of our other top pasta meals of the trip.  The Cinque Terre is known for its pesto.  Served over handmade pasta with a little cheese – that’s really all a girl needs.

The next day we strapped on our tennis shoes and hiking gear – we followed Rick Steve’s suggested itinerary for tackling the Cinque Terre.  We caught the train to the first town, Riomaggiore where we learned our first lesson of travel. Don’t count on the accuracy of a travel book over a year old. Intending to catch the picturesque, coastal trail Via dell’Amore (trail of love) between Riomaggiore and the neighboring town of Manarola, we were told by a local shopkeeper it had closed do to landslides.  She pointed us towards an alternate path, warning us it would take almost two hours to traverse (compared to a 25min paved path we were planning for).  But guys, we’re fit, we’re young, and we had bellies full of pasta – so we set off towards the trail. We should have listened. This was a local farmer/winekeeper trail that steeply ran up the side of a mountain and definitely wouldn’t have passed any US safety codes. At its peak, however, we were rewarded with beautiful sweeping

We started at the ocean…

views of the ocean and a steady downhill descent. Seeking a much needed break, we caught the train from Manarola to the third town of Corniglia where we found ourselves a fantastic seafood lunch at A Cantina de Mananan.  The restaurant was quaint and we’re guessing a family owned joint.  It was just what we needed after that hike!  We set off for the next town, our basecamp, Vernazza. We read that this was one of the best trails and we weren’t disappointed.  Along this path we came across metal tracks running up and down the mountains.  We later learned these are for farmers to transport goods in little boxes up and down the mountainside – genius! Once arriving in Vernazza, we decided to tackle the last town, Monterosso, by train. Monterosso used to be the only place you could stay if visiting the Cinque Terre. A larger town than the others by far, it attracts those with large suitcases and a need for vehicular transport.  Between you and me, we were glad we weren’t staying there! On our final morning, we set off for one final exploration – the Belforte Tower of the ruined Doria castle.  From here, we captured the best picture of the trip. Enjoy!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

Mangia! Mangia! Part I

TJ and I have been married for one year (already! Which means InnLove is closing in on its first year of travel posts!!) and we decided to mark the occasion with a trip to Europe, a first for both of us. The hardest part was deciding where to go. We had so many opinions, some good, some bad. Finally, we decided – one week in Italy and one week in France. Let the planning begin!

After a few reads by Rick Steves I knew we had three goals – hike the Cinque Terre, eat a lot and don’t pack too much in. A wise man (my dad) once said, travel like you plan to return. So we did. Join us on our first stop… Venice, Italy.

After a very long day of planes, trains and auto… vaporettos, we finally made it to the island of Lido, where we checked in to our amazing hotel the Grand Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria. This place is like taking a fabulous step back in time. Lido is the beach vacation island of Venice, so had you been visiting this hotel in August, it would be packed with beach-goers. For us, it was quiet and perfect.

Our first day in Venice we went on a tour, but not just any tour… I was a not raised in a tour-goer family, so this was a little strange for me. I stumbled upon a company called Urban Adventures, which specializes in off-the-beaten-path “locals” tours. This particular one was ranked among the best of the best of tours around the world and we found out why. We joined our small group (very important) of fellow tourists and we set off, discovering Venice with the eyes of “locals” lead by our fearless guide, Claire. We rode a gondola, but the Venician kind – standing, packed in like sardines, crossing the canal. We tasted 6 glasses of wine, paired with 6 cicchetti (Italian tapas) at small tucked away locals pubs around the city. After our tour, Claire spent some time with us discussing what we wanted to do with the rest of our time in Venice, which I’m glad we did because she led us to one of my favorite parts of our entire trip…

The next day, TJ and I set off for Burano. No, no. Not Murano…where they make some of the worlds most beautiful glass. BURANO, Murano’s neighboring island. I cannot give this island justice through words. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. The colors of the buildings are enough, but that mixed with the little boats moored to the door steps, the hand made lace (the islands specialty) fluttering in the breeze out of windows and on store displays….it’s almost too much to handle. I could have spent my entire day there, despite the island being fairly small. Per Claire’s suggestion, we headed straight to the Gatto Nero to make a lunch reservation… another choice we couldn’t have been more thankful for. We eventually settled in for one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. ENTIRE trip, people. Venice is not known for its food. Keep in mind we were heading to Paris… Michelin territory. This little foodie oasis in Burano was the opposite of everything one might have expected. The service was on point, the wine affordable and delicious, but the seafood risotto… OUT OF THIS WORLD. Truly a meal that will never be forgotten.

We did a lot of touristy things in Venice too – went to Harry’s Bar (where the Bellini was invented), visited St. Mark’s Square, etc. but those things were not what made this trip one for which we would return to Venice. I’ll give myself credit for two things – finding our hotel (booked as a member of TravelZoo) and finding our tour with Claire. Everything else, I give Claire full credit for. And in the end, isn’t that more than a city could ask for? A local that impacts a tourist so much they want to return? And for all of you day dreamers and visual learners, don’t forget to check out the 2017 Visual Adventure Gallery, because combined we took 800 pictures… I narrowed them down for you, but there is so much more I couldn’t squeeze into this post.

Until next time, Venice…

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

New York, New York

As you know, TJ and I recently embarked on our first European adventure – my first time to Europe and TJ’s first time crossing the pond, we were definitely in for the ride of our lives.  Before we set our sights on Venice, Italy, our first stop on our trip, we spent two full days in New York City, exploring and eating our way around Manhattan.  I love NYC.  I know many people who say they tried it and didn’t like it or even crazier people who say they have no interest in going.  I find that sad, because NYC really is a great place to visit and each time I go, I find something new to discover.  A few years ago, I took TJ to NYC for his birthday – his first trip to the Big Apple.  And he fell inn love.  Of our entire itinerary for our anniversary trip – he only had one request, “can we spend time in New York?” If you haven’t been or you are planning to go soon, take some of our tips here- from hotels, to food (!) to Broadway.

On our first day in NYC, we had an early morning goal in mind – get to DO.  I certainly hope you know what I’m talking about, but I suppose there is a chance you don’t…if you’ve been living under a rock!  NYC recently acquired a new store that has all the bloggers, news channels and TV stations talking. DO is a raw cookie dough store located in Chelsea.  I’ve been keeping my eye on DO for a while, because one of my college classmates is its founder.  We arrived in Chelsea and were confronted with quite a line.  Sadly, it was topping out at 18 degrees and this line was certainly 30 minutes long.  But that’s OK, because I love dessert and I’m only in NYC every few years!  The line moved pretty quickly despite the chill in the morning air and we were rewarded by a fabulous prize – heaping scoops of edible, safe raw cookie dough in all kinds of flavors.  The store itself is BEAUTIFUL – full of bright colors, smiling faces and the sweet sweet smell of sugar. I tried the Cookie DO Sandwich – raw cookie dough packed tight with ice cream. TJ went old school with cake batter dough Both were out of this world and both products were fit for travel, so we took our DO out the door and headed to South Street Seaport. We were destined for the Tkts Tkts booth to find a pair of tickets for TJ’s first Broadway show where we scooped up two tickets to School of Rock.  We rounded out the trip of Manhattan with a quick self-guided tour of the World Trade Center memorial.  Every time I’ve been, it’s been in different stages of completion, so it was nice to finally see the nearly finished product.

You know one of the best things about NYC?  Your step count.  After hours of walking and miles of steps, we finally were ready for dinner.  Last time we visited NYC, we literally stumbled upon a restaurant called the Bluebell Cafe.  I remember it was pouring, pouring down rain and we quickly ducked into the first place we found.  Fortunately for us, it became one of our favorite NYC restaurants. We had a fantastic dinner and finished it off with a signature dessert- Red Velvet cake.

The next day we were set on two things – great brunch and Broadway.  We found a fantastic breakfast place called Meme.  The menu offers up Mediterranean breakfast specialties including a breakfast taco which was one of our favorites. With full bellies – we were ready for TJ’s Broadway debut.  We found our way to the Winter Theater and settled in for the best Broadway show I’ve seen. If you haven’t seen School of Rock, I don’t care how old you are, it is one of the best shows you will ever see. The music is lively and makes you want to dance and the talent of the children is inspiring. After the show, we made our way to one more meal before we headed to the airport. We specifically searched for best NYC burgers (the list was endless) and found a great spot called Dutch Fred’s.  I had a lavender (!) beer and a bison burger and TJ went with the traditional beef.  For a Sunday night, late, this place was hopping!

But before we leave the States, what would an InnLove post be without the skinny on a fab NYC hotel?  Which let me just tell you, was one of my best NYC hotel experiences.  We were staying at the Algonquin, one of Manhattan’s oldest, most famous hotels. The Algonquin opened in 1902 and quickly became a writer’s haven.  Now, it is operated as an Autograph Collection by Marriott, but still has the boutique, artistic flare of a place frequented by the Algonquin Roundtable:

My favorite feature of the Algonquin is the resident cat – Matilda.  She finally came out for some pets on our way to the airport!

And with some final pets and the flash of that NYC Yellow Cab at the door, we were off to Europe. For two weeks of fun, food and wine…And, we’re off to Venice…

 

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

New Kid on the Block

Trendy New Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

Feeling Refined @ Hotel Covington

I’m back!  First a quick shout out to my fantastic guest bloggers – my very own parents, Jack & Linda, and fellow OHLAer, Christi.  When you surround yourself with other people that love travel, it’s never an issue finding people that want to share their experiences when you’re out discovering the world!  In the next few posts I’ll be scattering amazing photos and stories from our anniversary trip to Europe among posts from around our great state.  To kick off my return, I want to share with you one of my favorite new hotels.  Sadly, it isn’t in Ohio, but it’s so close you can smell the bourbon wafting from its bar, you can feel the luxurious furs adorning its lobby and rooms and you can see the sparkle across the river, glittering from the chandeliers…I present to you the fabulous Hotel Covington located just across the river, within Greater Cincinnati in the town of Covington, KY.

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater CincinnatiThe Hotel Covington is an example of my favorite type of hotel formula – historic space with luxury, modern amenities. If you haven’t been, downtown Covington,  has lots of great old buildings and the Hotel Covington is no exception. This building was the state’s first modern skyscraper and high-end department store.  If you didn’t know this going into the lobby you might have had an inkling – you’ll find touches of the past swept into the decor, including my favorite – a blinged-out manikin bust is the main focus of a floating wall full of fashion related knick-knacks, dividing the front desk area and the lounge.

If you’re like me, as soon as you’ve see sparkly things your eyes start to wonder, looking for more.  The public space is full of reminders of luxury – from the furs draping chairs and window seats to the immaculate lighting fixtures throughout the lobby and dining areas.  The bar sits dominantly in the center of the first floor, wrapped in dark woods with shining bottles of bourbon lining its shelves.  One of my favorite pieces on the entire first floor is the ode to our region, penned by Kentucky native, Jesse Stuart,

“If these United States are to be considered a body, then Ohio would be its Heart and Kentucky its Soul.”

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

 

 

So let’s step into the elevator and head upstairs, because the guestrooms are just as impressive.  I opened my door and the first thing I noticed was the floor. It’s not too often you’re greeted with

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

such fantastic entry flooring in a hotel room. The room was decorated in rich blues, grays and tans.  I was INN LOVE. At this point, it has been a very long day, and all I wanted to do was curl up in that amazing looking bed, but there were so many intricate details, I couldn’t close my eyes now!  The trash can was gold and looked like a

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

shopping bag; the shelves were lined with interesting local books and games; the hangers (!) had cute phrases like “simply lovely” and “hello handsome.”  I headed to the bathroom and was greeted by one of my favorite pieces of bathroom art (pictured below)- right up there with the wet dog photo at the Kimpton Schoefield in Cleveland. This piece is a picture of Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge and it reads, “Sorry, Brooklyn, I was first.” (John Roebling built Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge in 1866 making it the time’s longest suspension bridge, which came almost 20 years before his son built the nearly structurally identical Brooklyn Bridge.)

I wish on this particular trip I would’ve had more time to check out some of my favorites nearby Hotel Covington – the famous Mac n’ Cheese at Keystone Bar & Grill or a sip of that fine Kentucky spirit at the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. But I guess this just means… I’ll have to go back!

Trendy New Boutique Lodging in Greater Cincinnati

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

PNW is Love.

Seattle, Washington view from Space Needle

Guess who is back on InnLove? You guessed it! Christi!

This time we will be traveling to the West Coast, my favorite, but more specifically, the PNW! First stop, Seattle, Washington, a city filled with Ferry Boats, evergreens and rain. Let me just start off by saying this was my first time in Seattle and I had a HUGE list of things I wanted to see and do in the 1 day I had to spend there. NOT. ENOUGH. TIME. I will be going back to venture throughout Washington and the National Parks.

Things I recommend if you have never been to Seattle:gum wall at Pike Place Market Seattle Washington

WALK! I recommend this because you can hit up so many places you wouldn’t even see if driving. You should definitely take in the touristy areas: Pike Place Market (where you can find the Original Starbucks! Opened in 1971. Don’t tell anyone but I didn’t want to stand in line, I just went to the Starbucks across the street. You can also find a place called Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Go in! and eat the Mac and Cheese, even if you are lactose intolerant, just do it! Pike Place Market you can plan to spend hours at just taking it all in.), The Space Needle at Seattle Center (if you get the chance, eat at SkyCity Restaurant, if not, just head on up to the Observation Deck and take in the sights of Seattle from 520 feet up! It was windy for sure, but I captured picture after picture and even had a glass a wine at the top.) and the Seattle Great Wheel (for a different viewpoint of the city).

Seattle, Washington view from Space Needle

I hope you have more time than I did to take in all the unique and beautiful things that make Seattle great, but I was on to my next destination as quickly as I arrived. PORTLAND, OREGON. Now this is a place that has captured my heart.White Stag Sign - Portland, Oregon sign

Let me just start off by saying, I was like a little giggly girl on my drive from Seattle to Portland! WATERFALLS, MORE EVERGREENS, MOUNTAINS, OH MY! This girl was InnLove and the giggling did not stop until I arrived at the airport for my flight home… 5 days later. I just love Portland. This however was not my first time in Portland.

I picked up a friend (Lauren) at the airport and then we were off to explore! On this trip, we got a fill of all different types of hospitality. From the great customer service at the Courtyard Portland City Center, to the extra-large room and cookies at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Portland- Beaverton, and my all-time favorite, Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel!

The Caravan Tiny House Hotel Tandem Portland, Oregon

The Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel- Let me just start off by saying WOW. If you ever find yourself in Portland in the Alberta Arts District, find this place and stay in it! But you must book in advance because they are a popular commodity. If you don’t get the chance to stay, go take a tour! This is the COOLEST little community of 6 tiny houses! We stayed in The Tandem, a beautiful 160 sq. ft. tiny house with a homey, comfortable vibe and any amenity you may need for your stay! The other tiny houses are The Caboose, Pacifica, Rosebud, Skyline and Kangablue. All have their own unique look and design but from the outside, I found the Pacifica breathtaking with its stained glass and unique cedar-shingled exterior! I plan to return and try to stay in it or one of the others. They even had outside seating and a fire pit with a SMORE STATION. People, let me tell you, they thought of it all. Such a unique and memorable experience.

The Caravan Tiny House Hotel Portland, Oregon

While you’re in the Alberta Arts District, make sure to make your way to Pine State Biscuits (although there are multiple locations around Portland besides this one, but if you see a line don’t hesitate to wait! You won’t regret it.), Salt and Straw (which most likely will also have a line) or stop by The Bye and Bye and sit Pine State Biscuits- Portland, Oregonon the patio for a tasty cocktail and a comfortable vibe. While I love me some Portland in general, Alberta Arts District is a favorite for certain.

Kells Irish pub Portland, OregonDowntown is where you will find the newly renovated Courtyard Portland City Center where we spent two nights of our trip. The staff was exceptionally helpful, the décor and art fantastic, the beds cozy, and the location was in walking distance to everything. March 17… Some of you may know what this was this year, St. Patty’s Day! My friend Lauren loves St. Patty’s Day and wanted to get a traditional Portland St. Patrick’s Day experience, so we found our way to Kells Irish Pub! If you happen to find yourself in Portland, Oregon on St. Patty’s Day 2018, go to Kells. Luckily, we had insider scoop to go early and stake out a table because the place got PACKED. It was such an awesome atmosphere and there was no need to worry about having too much green on. The Irish in me came out when Beglan & Murray would play their traditional Irish songs (I find them fascinating) and I even got up for a quick dance with the Irish Dancers. The whole thing was an experience I won’t forget, I was even reunited with the same Kells’ Bagpipers 2 days later at my 15k Shamrock Run 15k Portland, OregonShamrock Run! (Of course I had to plan a trip around a race and this was a hell of a one to choose, we ran up a mountain. I honestly don’t know why I was surprised though.)

Nike campus Beaverton, Oregon

You may have guessed March 17, but I’m sure many of you don’t know what March 18 happened to be. I bet you won’t guess… National Corndog Day, which was started in 1992 in Oregon! We had the chance to experience firsthand an Oregon Corndog Day party with lots of March Madness and Nike galore. (speaking of Nike, if you ever get the chance to tour the “campus” it is spectacular! I mean what other company has a slide coming off of their second-floor parking garage, Nike does!)

Of course, I could go on and on. But I’ll leave you with a few of these other hits in and around Portland area: Voodoo Donuts! Powell’s City of Books! (If I were a store, I’d be Powell’s, 100%.) Tax Free Shopping! (So much shopping, but Boys’ Fort had a wide range of unique gifts.) Many, many parks and sights! (Forest Park, Mt. Tabor, Washington Park and Pittock Mansion were a few we took in. Those views though.) Golden Valley Brewery! (Of course, there are a bazillion in and around Portland but this is one of my favorites in Beaverton) Jim and Patty’s Coffee! (try the hipsters delight) Helvetia Tavern! (for a delicious burger and a beer) The bridges! The waterfront and waterfalls! And the White Stag Portland Sign!

Lastly, if you get the chance, drive out to the coast to Cannon Beach. If you are like me and love the outdoors, it is sure to be a trip you won’t forget! So beautiful.

View of Portland from Pittock Mansion, Portland, Oregon

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

 

Adult Spring Break!

Have you tried Florida without the usual mouse ears? This guest blogger likes to be off the grid just a bit and wear a floppy hat in search of treasures that are off the proverbial beaten path. Florida has some hidden gems that we have visited before and have been rewarded with a previous guest discount and very friendly front desk agents. Join me, Linda Runion (Halle’s mom!) and my husband Jack, as we discover a different kind of Florida!

Let’s fly to Tampa and take the drive across the bay to Treasure Island and visit a few of our favorites spots there. The Thunderbird Beach Resort is right across the short causeway onto Treasure Island. This delightful retro hotel is a throwback to yesteryear with more of the amenities of today. We especially enjoyed sitting by the sprawling swimming pool, enjoying pina coladas or a bottle of wine, watching the sun set as the strains of pop and island music surround us from the musician at the adjacent tiki hut. The rooms here are clean and spacious with a small refrigerator and the television set to the webcam scene overlooking the shimmering pool with the ocean just beyond. Change the station only if you must!

Like our daughter, we love breakfast, and the best breakfast on the island can be found out at Shrimpy’s Blues Bistro. They serve breakfast starting at 9am and ordering a beverage whether it is a Bloody Mary or cup of coffee will get you a fresh beignet first thing in the morning. Try The Bourdain or the Beach Benny. If dinner is calling you, The Pearl, a family owned and operated restaurant is just across the street from Shrimpy’s and the food and service are excellent. If you have your dancing shoes on, Ricky T’s is within walking distance of the Thunderbird and live music is on tap every evening.

A bit of a drive north, Dunedin is a magical town full of music, arts, shops, food and the oldest brewery in Florida. The Dunedin Brewery serves lunch and dinner along with its craft beers. Do check out their live music schedule as it is the place to be in Dunedin in the evening. There is lovely outdoor market, the Dunedin Downtown Market, to check out on Fridays and Saturdays over the winter months where you will find produce, unique crafts and more.

We are repeat guests at The Palm Court Motel in Dunedin, an old style place to rest with retro chairs at each door, a swimming pool and an egret who walks door to door every morning. The Palm Court Motel has bicycles available for $5 for your stay that can be taken on the lovely Pinellas Trail out to Honeymoon Island State Park

Time for breakfast? Kelly’s has unique twists on Eggs Benedict and French Toast with enthusiastic servers. A final spot to visit nearby is the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary where you will be up close and personal with monkeys, orangutans and a television celebrity bird.

 

Safe travels! Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Birthday Fit for a Foodie

The Top - Columbus

The Top – Columbus

I love birthdays.  Ask anyone near and dear to my heart, I go over the top.  At least in my line of work, we’re about the customer and for my customers (hotels) we’re all about the guest. We’re in the service industry. We live to serve and we love to serve.  So you know what? When someone gets to have a day for it to be about them – they should enjoy it!  So, let’s just say my standards and expectations around birthdays are high, but the good news is, I’m easy to please.  This past week it was my birthday and my husband and family and friends had their work cut out for them. Good news, everyone! They showed up to the table – figuratively and literally. Let’s dive in. I hope you’re hungry…

My first birthday meal was at Hudson 29.  If you’ve lost track of all of the fabulous Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in Columbus, it’s OK, that’s what I’m here for – jot this one down.   This is a relatively new restaurant to Columbus, and if you haven’t checked out the Upper Arlington (or New Albany!) location yet, what are you waiting for?  I’ve been a few times, but it’s a great go-to for a work lunch or a nice dinner with friends.  There is free parking, a massive bar and delicious food. Even at a birthday lunch, if it’s during the work day, salad is my go-to.  Yes, it’s partially because I’m a health nut, but it’s more so that I don’t end up with my head on my desk by 2PM snoring away. I love their Arugula Salad (add chicken!!) and always order a side of shoestring fries. I convinced my lunch mates that my backup option is the Black Bean Burger and they should try it. Don’t worry readers, I LOVE BEEF.  But one time, a server here convinced me to try the Black Bean Burger and it was amazing. Definitely one of my top lunch meals, so I had to share the love. After we wrapped up lunch, we were easily convinced to try an order of the Pineapple Upside-Down Donuts. Good choice.

That evening, my sweet husband who admitted defeat early on in the baking department, lined up a fabulous cake from Piece of Cake in the Short North.  I have had cake from there before, but this one was sublime.  Loaded with fresh strawberries and a perfectly sweet icing, this was a favorite of our party guests!

What birthday wouldn’t be complete without days of delicious food?  First thing Saturday morning, we were off to try a new brunch spot.  Rockmill Brewery out of Lancaster, OH recently opened Rockmill Tavern in the Columbus Brewery District.  We have tried multiple times to get in for dinner to no avail, but apparently Columbus hasn’t discovered the brunch menu there yet and I am sooo glad!  We showed up with a group of 7 and they were able to accommodate us. Oh the choices!  I finally narrowed it down to the Egg in a Biscuit (half order) and the Parfait. My sister selected the Veggie Toast, which she kindly shared with me.  Everything we ordered was phenomenal and the prices were super reasonable.

After a full belly we headed to one of Columbus’ premier events the Arnold Sports Festival. Believe it or not, you get hungry just watching all of these athletes compete.  We headed over to one of our favorite Short North hangouts for a late lunch – Bakersfield.  Really, this birthday girl needed some guac – ASAP. If you haven’t been to Bakersfield you need to go.  It’s a Cincinnati restaurant, so I was already familiar with it when it finally made its way to Columbus.  They are most known for their tacos and chips and guac, but personally, I’m a huge fan of their Johnny salad with you guessed it! chicken.  I know, I know, salad AGAIN! But here’s the thing.  I knew what lied ahead for the evening and I needed to pace myself.

For my official birthday dinner I had to go to the top of my list. No, seriously. THE TOP… Steak House! I love this place.  TJ and I recently discovered it during restaurant week and it’s quickly become a fave.  You can’t find an atmosphere like this anywhere else. Built in 1955, The Top sits on the invisible fence of Bexley & Whitehall.  Too many martinis and wandering outside, and you might find yourself next to some interesting people, but once you’re inside, it’s magical.  Most importantly, the food is incredible.  The steaks are always cooked to perfection and the service – top notch. On this particular night, the pianist must not have gotten the memo it was my birthday, because he didn’t show, but typically there is live music and an active bar scene.  Luckily, the waitress knew it was my birthday and made sure to finish the night with my favorite dessert – crème brûlée.

All in all, I’d say this was a very fulFILLING birthday.  Great food doesn’t usually pass me by, and I hope you don’t let it pass you by either.  Get to one of these places quick before everyone finds out our little secrets!

The Best Guacamole @ Bakersfield

The Best Guacamole @ Bakersfield

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

What’s in a Brand? Doubling Down

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

Have you ever thought to yourself while traveling – “ooohhh, this is a…{insert brand here} Hilton?!”  Sometimes I take for granted my vast and probably useless knowledge of hotel brands and families. If you’ve jumped on the brand loyalty programs, you probably have a better knowledge of the different brands within, say, Hilton, ChoiceIHG or Marriott (now includes Starwood!), but I’m surprised sometimes how little the consumer understands about a family of brands, so let’s talk about it!

In the past week(ish) I have spent 3 days in 2 DoubleTrees by Hilton.  It was in that time that I realized – these two hotels are both vastly different from each other. Don’t get me wrong, one of the benefits of a brand is the consistency a consumer can expect in service and quality. But it’s kind of cool when they’re unique, ya know?  Granted, that isn’t for everyone. I know some people that travel a lot like to feel like they’re “home” and the layout, rooms, etc., are identical from city to city. Don’t worry, Hilton has a brand for that too!

The first time I specifically realized I was at a DoubleTree I was a kid. This particular visit was in Nashville. The hotel there has a strange entrance.  If I remember correctly, you come in at street level, but need to go up a floor to get to the lobby. I walked up to the desk to check in with my dad.  After the check-in process, the front desk associate leaned over  and handed me a warm, delicious-smelling paper bag.  I was confused at first, but then it hit me! I looked at my dad and said, “Dad!  They do this at the Hotel Roanoke!” To which my dad, the wise traveler he is, said, “Yes sweetie, that’s because it’s a DoubleTree.”  This was my ah-ha moment whenI realized, at a young age, that not all hotels are equal. It didn’t look like the Hotel Roanoke, it didn’t feel like the Hotel Roanoke, but it sure smelled like the Hotel Roanoke – warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies at check-in – the signature DoubleTree move.

Fast forward to my life in the industry and now I understand a bit more about families of brands.  What I like about the DoubleTree brand is it used to be the solution for independent or unique properties that sought out a flagship.  And when it isn’t a branded, former independent hotel, they’re still unique. I learned recently that DoubleTree is the “conversion” brand for Hilton and this is why they are rarely alike.  Hilton will often convert and renovate a property and make it a DoubleTree. That explains a lot!

In Cleveland, I stayed at a massive DoubleTree with lots of event space.  There were standbys of the

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

SweatSesh @ DoubleTree CLE Beachwood

brand- nice gyms (my favorite treadmill made an appearance!) , the chocolate chip cookies and service Hilton stands behind.  But this hotel had a really cool copper (looking, at least) wall in the lobby dividing the lounge space from the hallways.  The restaurant, The Sanctuary, featured a fireplace and great, cozy seating. The following week, I spent two days back-to-back at a DoubleTree in Columbus.  The cookies and service were there, but not the copper wall! Instead, the wall separating the front desk from the atrium was a water feature.  This hotel lobby is enormously different

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

Bringing the Outside In @ DoubleTree Cbus Worthington

than the first, with a large elevated seating area in the middle of the hotel surrounded by big beautiful trees, making you feel like you’re outside. Both properties featured expansive courtyards, but on these particular days, I was avoiding a

typical Ohio-winter day.  These two properties had minor differences, despite the name, but some DoubleTrees have more noticeable uniqueness.

I wrote about the Hotel Roanoke a few months ago – it started as an independent, historic property and became a DoubleTree when I was a kid.  Eventually it dropped the DoubleTree flag, made a brief stint as an independent hotel again and eventually picked up the new Hilton boutique brand – Curio.  Some unique hotels, however, still rock the DoubleTree name, such as the historic Tudor Arms in Cleveland.  I haven’t had the chance yet to visit the Tudor Arms, but look forward to the opportunity – stay tuned!

If you’re still not sure what counts as a Hilton, check out their website to spot some of your favorites.  Here are some of mine: Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Hilton Garden Inn, & Curio, and I can’t wait to see the new Tapestry brand!

Understanding the Hilton family of Brands - DoubleTrees & Ohio Lodging

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Jazzy Weekend in Dayton

Discovering Ohio - Lodging in Greater Dayton

I’m an Ohio girl, born and raised.  From the Cleveland area, went to school in Cincinnati and now live in Columbus.  I tell people I get around the state quite a bit, but I definitely have had my go-to entertainment districts and up until this weekend, Dayton was not one of them.  I’ll be honest, nearly every time I’ve gone to Dayton it’s been raining and there’s construction. But a few weeks ago I had a taste of something I wanted to sink my teeth into and I had to schedule a time to go back.  Our trip centered around one key adventure – the Blue Note Bistro & Lounge.  You probably haven’t heard of it, and I’m a bit nervous to divulge my secrets, but if you’re looking for something new to try – follow me…

Miamisburg, OH is about an hour and twenty minutes from Columbus. We decided it would be best to make an overnight out of our trip to the Blue Note. Word on the street? They’ve got great music and a wine cellar – ’nuff said.  This particular Saturday afternoon was unseasonably perfect and we didn’t want a minute of it to go to waste.  We thought the best bet would be to stop somewhere on the way that we could check out – walk around, see some shops, (for TJ) drink some beer – so we set our sights on Yellow Springs, OH. I had the chance to visit Yellow Springs a few months ago and wrote about its cool new hotel the Mills Park Hotel.  That time, I didn’t get a chance to explore the town which has a huge art scene, but I wanted to. It was too cute! There are little shops everywhere and musicians on the street.  Who would have thought?

Discovering Ohio - Yellow Springs

Feeling Funky – Yellow Springs

As we’re driving, TJ proclaims that he is pretty sure there is a brewery in Yellow Springs (he would know!).  After a quick Google search I confirm this and now he is interested.  Yellow Springs is situated on a bike path (or maybe the bike path is situated around Yellow Springs, but you get the picture!) and today, bicyclists were out in full force.  Despite the crowds, we found easy parking on the street (it’s free! for all you city slickers), just across from the Mills Park Hotel. We headed to find a latte for me – very important when the sun is setting and you’re window shopping.  We found the cutest store – Oats.  They sold all kinds of neat antique pieces for the home. You

Discovering Ohio - Yellow Springs

Feeling Funky – Yellow Springs

probably could guess that we left with an old metal BEER sign for our at-home bar. After that we wound our way to the Yellow Springs Brewery and Taproom, located a few blocks from downtown.  This place was happenin’. A food truck was parked outside and nearly every seat indoor and outdoor (in February!) was full. Something a bit different about this taproom is that there wasn’t a TV in sight.  The place was filled with artwork and there was a big cart of games for people to play. A startling idea – a bar not having TV’s, but instead you walked in to the sound of conversation, laughter and glasses clinking.  We decided to have a light appetizer because our dinner reservation was late.  The food truck parked outside, Smokin’ Bee-Bee-Q, was

dishing out Mac n’ Cheese Waffles with Pulled Pork & Slaw – so we split one!  Delicious!

With full bellies, we decided we should make our way to Miamisburg with a quick pit stop at our hotel.  We were so fortunate to have been graciously hosted by the team at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Dayton Mall/I-675.  The staff was super friendly and ready to make our night a memorable

Discovering Ohio - Lodging in Greater Dayton

Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Miamisburg

one.  Our room was beautiful!  I’ve said it before, but if you haven’t been in a new package Holiday Inn recently, make sure to check one out. Our suite was spacious and beautiful.  I loved the homey accents – rounded ottomans and small lamps.  This hotel had a pool (which we didn’t have time to use) and great fitness center and complimentary breakfast. Highly recommend it!

Even better, the hotel is a straight shot to downtown Miamisburg, where the Blue Note was located. We were running a bit ahead of schedule so we swung into A Taste of

Discovering Ohio - Miamisburg

I’ve Got That Feeling, Inside My Sole @ A Taste of Wine

Wine for a glass of vino.  We were pleasantly surprised to see a packed house and a live band. The staff selected fantastic wine for us and we spent an hour listening to the sounds of Mind Reels.  We were walking distance to our final stop, so parking and navigating was easy.  We arrived at Blue Note just before the next show started and were quickly seated at our stage side table.  There are so many amazing things about this venue, I can’t capture it all in one post.  To begin, this space is a converted bank building, so it’s unique and in a great location.  The high ceilings and beautiful archways are a fantastic backdrop for a live music venue.  The whole place is lit by blue lighting and portraits of famous jazz musicians.  The menus? They light up!  The food was delicious.  I started with the Blue Note Salad and had the Chicken La Poire. TJ also started with the Blue Note Salad and had the Tournedos Dumas.  We split a great bottle of wine with our company, sat back and relaxed.  On stage that night was The Satchmo Show featuring Dean Simms – a Louis Armstrong impersonator. They were amazing and kept the crowd engaged all evening. After an outstanding show, good food and great company, we tucked in for the evening, but not before grabbing donuts at Bear Creek Donuts for breakfast the following morning.

One of my favorite things is discovering new ways to enjoy the great state of Ohio.  No matter how much  I travel, or how many people I meet, there are surprises around every corner.  If you haven’t yet visited Yellow Springs or Miamisburg, you are missing out on some amazing experiences. So what are you waiting for?

Discovering Ohio - Miamisburg

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

Video

Season of Love – Step it Up!

Ohio Date Ideas

All Smiles @ Cedar Point – Sandusky

I love holidays, particularly ones that give me an excuse to really wow someone – birthdays…Valentine’s Day. It’s the month of love, so I thought I’d step in to give you some ideas to really amp up your dating game or, your life experiences game. Whether you’re committed or single – these are some fun ways to get that extra mile out of love and life. Follow me as we try this, not that!

THAT – Buying chocolates

There are people in life who say, “don’t buy me flowers, they just die.” That’s depressing, but also true. Food isn’t just the way to a man’s heart – it’s the way to mine. But this time of year, stores roll out display after display of overpriced chocolates in heart shaped boxes. You could to that. Or, you could do…

THIS – (SAFE!) Raw Cookie Dough

Ohio Date Ideas

NomNomNom @ Cookie Dough Creamery

Good thing I surround myself with some pretty cool 11 year olds. I give full credit for this discovery to one of my favorite babysitees.  Next time you’re in the market for buying you’re loved one something sweet, stop by the Cookie Dough Creamery in Worthington, OH.  You can choose from containers of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (my favorite), Sugar Cookie Dough, Oreo Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough; Chocolate covered Oreos filled with cookie dough and all kinds of other delectable “raw” treats. In the event you’re worried about the safety of eating this raw dough (I certainly am not), this dough doesn’t contain eggs and they use heat treated flour.  GENIUS.

THAT – A Round of Golf

It’s OK, you can admit it.  You’re re-purposing some old Silent Auction item you won as a “super cool” gift.  Let me guess, it’s at a ritzy-titzy, exclusive course and perfect for 4!  If it’s so great, why haven’t you used it?  Because it isn’t so great. Wonder if you could recreate the golf experience in a private setting and when you’re ready to take a break from the links of Pinehurst, you can sit right down in your lounge seats, crack open a beer and enjoy a filet?  Next time, try…

THIS – Golf Simulator @ The Capital Club

What? Yes! You’ve totally been missing out. I had the chance to experience the Golf Simulator firsthand. Not just the golf simulator itself, but the opportunity to wow my Sig-O with an experience he didn’t even know existed.  We were escorted up to the Capital Club (by way of the DoubleTree Suites Columbus Downtown) to the Simulator room. We were able to select from over 20 courses.  We pre-ordered TJ’s favorite beer to the room (CBC Bodhi!) and you can even order food.  This is seriously one of the coolest dates I’ve been on. I’m pretty sure TJ has already lined up friends to join him next time. I’m thinking this would pretty cool for a Bachelor party too! Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a Capital Club member to take advantage of this place!

****Special for Followers!*** Just in time to polish those skills before golf season hits! Now through March 30, 2017, mention this blog post and receive 1 Hour of Golf & a Free Appetizer for $15! Contact Kyle to book.

Love sports but not in Columbus? Have you checked out TopGolf in West Chester, OH?  That’s next on my list! Or what about Canton’s own Pro Football Hall of Fame? Hall of Fame Village coming soon!

THAT – Wine Tasting

Don’t get me wrong, wine tasting is fun. I love wine!  There are a million great places to do a wine tasting in Ohio…but, that’s old school, what about….

Ohio Date Ideas

Bourbon Cocktails @ Buckeye Bourbon House

THIS – Bourbon Tasting

This week, I got to check out a super cool new place, the Buckeye Bourbon House. I love Bourbon. Believe it or not, this girl has been on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail (highly recommend eating breakfast before visiting Jim Beam). The new Buckeye Bourbon House located on Gay Street in Columbus has over 50 curated Bourbons and Whiskeys (they are not the same, people!).  If you stop by, you can try a tasting and they ‘guarantee’ they’ve got something you haven’t tried.

Want more Bourbon? Try the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington, KY! I haven’t been in a while, but last time I checked, it’s still happenin’!

THAT – Date Night

It’s OK. Date night dinners are still cool, but there is something a tiny bit cooler…

THIS – Date Morning

What about fantastic brunch?  Fortunately, Ohio has finally figured things out.  People like to eat all times of day! Lucky for you, cities across the state are

Ohio Date Ideas

Brunch Farrotto @ The Whitney House

seriously stepping up their breakfast game.  So no matter where you are, there are places to brunch. Some new faves:

Hoof Hearted Brewing – Columbus, OH (Hate the name, love the food <3)

TownHall Ohio City – Cleveland, OH (Patio is perfect!)

Taste of Belgium – Cincinnati, OH (It’s been around a while, but those waffles. They still do Chicken & Waffles the best)

Blue Note Bistro & Lounge – Miamisburg, OH (On the menu next week, have you tried it??)

The Whitney House – Worthington, OH (I sold my sole for the Brunch Farratto)

Cherry Street Pub – Lancaster, OH (Christi’s pick!)

 

THAT – Shores of the Atlantic

Don’t get me wrong, I hit the Atlantic coast every year and I count down until that vacation. But, let’s get real, when was the last time you checked out Ohio’s shores? Have you even tried…

THIS  Shores of Lake Erie

When was the last time you visited Sandusky? I am not just talking about Cedar Point (but go there too). Downtown Sandusky has had a revitalization.  One can now have a fantastic dinner, settle in for a cocktail at a local speakeasy and book a night at a trendy hotel, all within walking distance.  Go. Now. Check it out.

There are so many more cool ways to experience life with someone you care about – share your favorites from around the state!

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck