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Review of Owamni, Minneapolis

Review of Owamni in Minneapolis with its clever subtitle
Review of Owamni in Minneapolis with its clever subtitle

I had the pleasure of dining at Owamni in Minneapolis earlier this year, before it received the James Beard Award for best new restaurant but after it had already received accolades. The unique concept ensures a menu that you’ve likely not encountered before: all ingredients must have been used by indigenous people prior to the colonization of the Americas. No dairy, no beef, no chicken, no egg. Non-vegetarians can order fish, bison, turkey, or elk. For the bulk of the menu, Owamni uses ingredients such as berries, corn, wild rice, beans, and maple syrup, making it largely vegan-friendly. Wines come from Mexico and Central America because of the regions’ use of non-European grapes.

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Street Art in Montreal

Street Art in Montréal: Mural by Vexx
Street Art in Montreal: Mural by Vexx

If you’re looking for something free to do in Montreal, consider seeking out the street art scattered throughout the city. With over 3,500 murals dotting the cityscape, you can find art on the sides of buildings everywhere. Add in sculptures and temporary installations, and you have an open-air museum to explore.

Urban art defines this city. The city’s beautification project, MU, has contributed hugely to the effort. In particular, the MURAL Festival, much like the one I detailed in La Jolla, celebrates the transformation of otherwise drab places in June of each year. Afterward, the murals remain until –– or if –– they are painted over. A parking lot becomes an art gallery, and a narrow alley beckons you to explore.

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Archives Restaurants Travel

Best Places to Eat in Anchorage

Best Places to Eat in Anchorage: Blinis with caviar at Marx Brothers Café
Best Places to Eat in Anchorage: Blinis with caviar at Marx Brothers Café

The best places to eat in Anchorage range from food trucks to fine dining restaurants. On our trip, I tried to sample it all. Of course, salmon is to Alaska the way lobster is to Maine, so if you arrive during salmon season, as most visitors do, do as the grizzlies and feast on it. Keep in mind that different kinds of salmon run at different times, with king salmon starting off the season and silver salmon finishing it off.

In addition to salmon, look for crab, oysters, steelhead trout, and halibut. Due to its price, king crab can be found mostly in more expensive restaurants. The listing of reindeer on a menu can give out-of-state visitors the willies, but perhaps not as much if you think of it as venison.

Due to the city’s outpost town vibe, even upscale dining does not require the dressiness that you might find in a major lower-48 city. When in doubt for dinner, adopt business casual.

I’ve divided the best places to eat into categories, so scroll down to find what you’re looking for. The sidebar contains only some of the restaurants I review below.

Best Upscale Restaurant: The Marx Brothers Café

Great For Pacific Rim Cuisine: Ginger

Excellent Full Breakfast: Snow City Café

Best Happy Hour Food: Sullivan’s Steakhouse

Cozy Small Plate Restaurant: Crush Bistro

Best View: The Crow’s Nest

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Archives Restaurants Travel

Top Restaurants on the Maine Coast

Top Restaurants on the Maine Coast: Lobster tasting menu at Natalie's
Top Restaurants on the Maine Coast: Lobster tasting menu at Natalie’s

As you plan for an upcoming visit to Maine, you’ll need to make your dinner reservations early if you want to eat at some of the top restaurants on the Maine coast. You will be well-rewarded if you do. Note that many coastal restaurants do not open for the season until mid-April or May and then shutter for the winter.

Although I’ve already detailed the best lobster rolls on the coast, I wanted to share here some of the best restaurants for dinner. As in many New England towns, the top restaurants are often associated with inns. On our trip, we stayed at B&B and inns that didn’t have their own kitchens, so we had to venture out and explore.

Best fine dining experience: Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn

Best lobster: The Reading Room

Most intimate space: Salt and Steel

Best view (tie): Ocean and The Reading Room

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The Haven on the Norwegian Joy: Review

The Haven on the Norwegian Joy: The pool and atrium in The Courtyard
The Haven on the Norwegian Joy: The pool and atrium in The Courtyard

For a recent cruise of the western Caribbean, I booked Norwegian Cruise Lines’ The Haven on the Norwegian Joy as a last minute substitute for a cancelled European trip.  NCL’s upscale “ship within a ship” concept in The Haven aims for a more exclusive cruise experience, with pricing to match.  Although I had previously cruised in many NCL ships, including The Joy, I had never before tried The Haven because of the cost.  But with fewer people traveling and The Joy being one of NCL’s mid-sized ships, the stateroom price was the lowest I’d seen for The Haven.  I jumped on it. 

Luxury — and pricing — of The Haven depends highly on the individual ship.  The smallest and oldest ships in Norwegian’s fleet don’t offer all the perks while the largest and newest ones go all out.  Probably because the Joy fits somewhere in the middle, some aspects of my experience disappointed me while others met, or even exceeded, my expectations.

Because each ship has a different lay-out, décor, and staff, this review refers only to the Norwegian Joy.

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Best Things to Do in Anchorage

Best Things to Do in Anchorage: Visitor’s Information in downtown

The list of best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska might be better described as the “best things to do from Anchorage,” since the city can be a jumping off point as well as a destination. As you plan your visit for the upcoming Alaska tourist season – generally described as May through August – keep in mind that you will want to leave the city to see the state’s natural wonders and wildlife. But not everything to see is outside the city.

Anchorage maintains its outpost town vibe while still offering modern conveniences. Despite being the most populous city in Alaska, you should not expect a lower-48 major city. Buildings are mostly low-lying and spread out. If you stay in the downtown area, as we did, you won’t be able to walk to a pharmacy, although you’ll find plenty of restaurants, art galleries, souvenir shops, and starting points for various activities.

The list of best things to do in Anchorage, Alaska might be better described as the “best things to do from Anchorage,” since the city can be a jumping off point as well as a destination. As you plan your visit for the upcoming Alaska tourist season – generally described as May through August – keep in mind that you will want to leave the city to see the state’s natural wonders and wildlife. But not everything to see is outside the city.

Anchorage maintains its outpost town vibe while still offering modern conveniences. Despite being the most populous city in Alaska, you should not expect a lower-48 major city. Buildings are mostly low-lying and spread out. If you stay in the downtown area, as we did, you won’t be able to walk to a pharmacy, although you’ll find plenty of restaurants, art galleries, souvenir shops, and starting points for various activities.

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Archives Hotels Travel

Two Luxury Hotels in Waikiki

The Royal Hawaiian
The Royal Hawaiian
The Halepuna Waikiki
The Halepuna Waikiki

I recently stayed at two luxury hotels in Waikiki a mere month apart: The Royal Hawaiian and the Halepuna Waikiki. The two hotels, though located mere blocks apart, couldn’t be more different. The Royal Hawaiian, one of the oldest hotels on Waikiki Beach, evokes the elegant past, while the Halepuna, one of the newest hotels in Waikiki, has a contemporary Zen-like vibe. Both provide respite from the bustling sidewalks of Waikiki even though they sit just steps away from the crowds.

I cannot choose between the two as my favorite (the Moana Surfrider also competes) because much depends on my mood. I love the Polynesian decadence of the Royal Hawaiian, but I also love the contemporary décor and serenity of the Halepuna Waikiki. And, of course, neither is perfect.

If You Want to Stay Where Famous People Have: The Royal Hawaiian

Best For Modern Appointments: Halepuna Waikiki

Most Comfortable Bed: The Royal Hawaiian

For a Couples Retreat: Halepuna Waikiki

Best for Families: The Royal Hawaiian

Easiest Beach Access: The Royal Hawaiian

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Finger Lakes Wine Tour, Part Two

Finger Lakes Wine Tour, Part Two
Finger Lakes Wine Tour, Part Two

Because our first pandemic vacation in the Finger Lakes worked out so well, we decided to revisit the region over the summer for another Finger Lakes wine tour. We visited new wineries as well as some favorites from last time to see how things have changed. To our surprise, this time we discovered some wines that rivaled West Coast wines, particularly those from Washington State and Oregon. And, of course, the rieslings and gewurtztraminers from the Finger Lakes are some of the best produced in the United States.

Because the region’s wineries don’t command the same attention as those in California, Oregon, and Washington, tastings are downright cheap in comparison and far less formal. Expectedly, the quality of wines can vary immensely, so it pays to research in advance.

Because our first pandemic vacation in the Finger Lakes worked out so well, we decided to revisit the region over the summer for another Finger Lakes wine tour. We visited new wineries as well as some favorites from last time to see how things have changed. To our surprise, this time we discovered some wines that rivaled West Coast wines, particularly those from Washington State and Oregon. And, of course, the rieslings and gewurtztraminers from the Finger Lakes are some of the best produced in the United States.

Because the region’s wineries don’t command the same attention as those in California, Oregon, and Washington, tastings are downright cheap in comparison and far less formal. Expectedly, the quality of wines can vary immensely, so it pays to research in advance.

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Archives Hotels Travel

Three Top Romantic Maine Inns

Three Top Romantic Maine Inns: The porch at Yellow House Inn
Three Top Romantic Maine Inns: The porch at Yellow House Inn

On a trip this past summer to the New England coast, we found ourselves in some top romantic Maine inns with their friendly innkeepers, charming rooms, and comfortable spaces to kick back after a day’s exploring. These inns aren’t just for summer travel, however. Since crowds dissipate in the cooler months, readers might find them even more desirable during the off-season when these New England accommodations may require less advance notice when booking.

The following aren’t the only excellent romantic Maine inns, of course. Still, you cannot go wrong with any of them, especially for their cozy atmospheres, opportunity to chat (or not) with other guests, and comfortable rooms. And don’t forget to check out my blog on the best lobster rolls on the Maine coast when planning your vacation.

Best Breakfast: Captain Swift Inn

Most Ideally Located: Yellow House Inn

Inn That Best Reflects Colonial America: The Nathaniel Lord Mansion

Friendliest Innkeepers: Shelly and Jeff at the Captain Swift Inn

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Best Lobster Rolls on the Maine Coast

Best Lobster Rolls on the Maine Coast: Lunch at Thurston’s Lobster Pound

I can’t think of Maine without dreaming of a succulent lobster roll. Because I spent many of my childhood summers in New England, eating a lobster roll outside in the warm sun evokes carefree and seemingly endless days. But, of course, vacations do have endings. They seem especially short for an adult. So where to get your precious few lobster rolls? Lobster pound, lobster shack, or seafood restaurant? And which one, specifically? Even with the high 2021 prices for lobster, Maine teems with people eager to devour the ever-favorite sandwich, and that means you can stand in line for up to an hour waiting for yours. You want to make the wait worthwhile by knowing in advance where to find the best lobster rolls on the Maine coast.

Best Fresh-From-the-Ocean Taste: Thurston’s Lobster Pound

Most Unusual Lobster Roll: The High Roller

Best Lobster-and-a-Beer Place: The Barnacle

Best Roadside Eatery: Sprague’s Lobster

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