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Beer Here! Craft Breweries Las Vegas

When you think of adult beverages in Las Vegas you probably think of those large souvenir glasses full of blended fruity margaritas. Those are delicious, believe me, but don’t neglect the chance to try some of the homegrown product: beer! There are six craft breweries that call Sin City home and four more in the adjacent town of Henderson.  Mum and I didn’t get a chance to try all them, but we did sample  few.
Banger Brewing  – is a much needed oasis from overstimulating Freemont Street.  Set off behind the Slotzilla (giant slot machine where people fly out regularly on zip-lines), you might miss it if you didn’t know to look. They had the best variety and tastes of all the places we got to sample. My personal favorite was the “Wet Hop” IPA and mum’s was the “Unforgiven Bourbon Barrel” Stout.  With the added bonus of having a Groupon, we took a growler of “Gary D’Weet” Hefe back to the condo for the next day.
Sin City Brewing Co – has four locations on the strip (the Venetian, Bally’s, Planet Hollywood, and Harmon Corner) so you’re never far from a fresh pint.  They have five signature brews that cover all preferences from weiss to stout. My personal choice was the “Ale with a Tale” IPA.  A big bonus is that Sin City also has cans and bottles from other local breweries available like Crafthaus Brewery (Henderson) and Lovelady Brewing (Henderson). Mum greatly enjoyed the Lovelady “Paleo Porter”

If you don’t want to venture too far from a slot machine two casinos have their own in-house microbreweries:  Ellis Island Casino’s brewery of the same name and Mainstreet Station Casino’s Triple 7 Restaurant and Brewery.  We didn’t make it here, but do let us know if you get to sample their wares!

 
Ok, its not a brewery, but beer fans can’t miss the happy hour deal at Margaritaville. Every day from 5pm to 6pm the “5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar” offers 5¢ Miller Lite and $5 drafts of Landshark Lager. Fins up, Parrot heads!
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Saving Money in Las Vegas with Groupon

The cost of travel can add up fast and Mum and I are always on the lookout for ways to save money on the road. In Las Vegas we used Groupon* (combined with Ebates*cash back) for food, drinks, and activities we would never had known about. In no particular order, here’s how our experience broke down:

Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off $28 for one full day, $47 value (2x bought): This was probably the most touristy thing we did the whole week. The buses picked up and dropped off at locations ranging from northern Fremont Street to the welcome sign in the south. The guides on each bus offered their own commentary and color (shout out to Big Bus Bruce!) to the open-top double-decker photo-rich experience.

Sangria Festival $100 value for $30, admission and sangria tastings for two: This ended up being one of the top highlights of our trip.  The festival in nearby Henderson was full of local residents with proceeds going to local charities. There were generous samples of a variety of sangria flavors, beer, and some cocktails along with live music and flamenco dancing.

Hexx Chocolate bean-to-bar education for 2 people, $44 value for $22 : located in front of the Paris hotel and casino, this candy shop is more than meets the eye. The education was a short talk about their own chocolate making process and a tasting of 12 samples by country of cocoa bean origin. In the end we were excited to learn that the cost included 4 bars of chocolate to take home, with a discount on additional purchases.

Banger Brewing $26 for $50 value, beer experience for two : on upper Freemont Street, this brewery was a relaxing treat to the over-stimulus outside. The tasting included a flight of 4 tastes, two full pints, and a 32oz filled growler to take home. The growler was a nice treat a few days later when we had a day relaxing at the condo.

 

 

Hexx kitchen + bar $35 for bottle of wine and cheese plate for 2, $69 value : next to the chocolate shop of the same name at the Paris hotel, we enjoyed this wine and cheese plate as dinner before a show across the street at Ceaser’s Palace. There were three choices for the wine, and we opted for the house red. The cheese plate was quite large and included three varieties plus three meats, fruit, and toasted baguette.

 

SEA: Thai Experience  $46 dinner for two, up to $78 value : located inside Bally’s Casino, we would never have known this restaurant existed. Two appetizers and two dinners were included in the price, with drinks and other ala carte items additional. The food was fresh and flavorful and the setting peaceful and friendly.

 

 

 

La Bella Napoli Pizzaria $15 for $25 worth of food and drinks : tucked away in a shopping center south of the airport, this was definitely a non-tourist establishment. The pizza was cooked to order in their wood fire oven and the scallop gnocchi with saffron sauce was something mum will remember and try to re-create at home.

Vince Niel’s Tatuado $26 for two 44oz Margaritas worth $50 : because a large alcoholic drink in a souvenir cup is a necessity in Las Vegas, we went to this restaurant inside Circus Circus. The drinks were large but contained proportionally little tequila. While we hadn’t originally planned on it, we ended up eating an underwhelming meal here. All in all, this was the one Groupon flop of the trip.

 

Total savings value:  $254

There were a couple of things we learned: in Vegas you still pay sales tax on the item after the Groupon cost has been deducted and as a general rule we ended up spending additional money at a location. Overall we will definitely check Groupon again for possible savings on future travel and for discovering things we might not have known we could do.

*Note: We were not paid by Groupon, Ebates, or any other entity for this post. It is entirely our opinions and experiences.

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Beer Here! Craft Breweries in Decatur, GA

If it isn’t already, the city of Decatur should be on your list of places to visit in Georgia. Within the perimeter of Interstate 285 and along the MARTA subway line, its as easy to get to as it is charming. Enjoy the restaurants and maybe a stroll around the square before trying  one of the three local craft breweries.

Three Taverns Brewery – the largest in the immediate area with an intimate tasting room and outside picnic space. They specialize in sours, so get ready to pucker on any available Sour Asylum option and calm it down with the ubiquitous Night on Ponce IPA. They’re quite popular, so be prepared to wait in line for your next taster.

BlueTarp Brewing Co – small brewery with local distribution. The tap room is open for tasting and tours with a dog-friendly outdoor space. They specialize in IPAs and we definitely recommend the Tropic Thunder. (Pro-Tip: check Groupon for their regularly available special)

Wild Heaven Beer – technically located in next-door Avondale, this brewery is a low-key hangout. Mum’s favorite is the Funkenrach smoked wild ale and I go for the White Blackbird Saison. There are special events every weekend and dogs are always welcome both inside and on the large outdoor patio.

Also check out…

Independent Distilling – ok, they don’t do beer, but they do have some sweet southern corn whiskey that’s worth a stop. They also make a delicious bourbon and rum, so make a tiny detour, enjoy the short tour and get ready to take a bottle home!

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Beer Here! Craft Breweries in Harrisonburg, VA

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is known for both the beauty of the mountains and its many wineries.

Fans of hops don’t despair, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail runs along nearly the same route and offers a variety of craft breweries for any palate. One spot along the way with a concentration of stops is the city of Harrisonburg, VA. There are four breweries within walking distance of each other, allowing for a full day of touring the tastes in the historic downtown area. The big bonus for my visit was that all of these options had outdoor dog-friendly patios!

Three Notch’d Brewingone of three tap room locations of the Charlottesville based brewery. The Minute Man IPA was smooth and citrusy and the Watermelon Gose was refreshing, salty, and sweet. They also had dog biscuits available for purchase made from the grain left after the brewing process!

Brothers Craft Brewing – probably the most well known brewery in the area. The seasonal Hallelujah IPA has a mid-level bitterness and citrus note, but my personal favorite is the Hoptimization. If you can’t make it to the tap room, a number of local restaurants offer their brews on draft.

Pale Fire Brewing Co. – known for their IPAs, they also have a good variety of other styles. I personally loved the Salad Days Saison and the Electric Sheep Belgian Amber.

Wolfe Street Brewing – located in an old garage, this is the smallest and most intimate tap room location. They tend toward more ambers and stouts, but definitely try the Citra Tonic Pale.

 

If you’re more of a cider person, try nearby Old Hill Hard Cider in Timberville. Located at the Showalter Orchard, Old Hill offers tastings made from 10 varieties of apples grown specifically for cider making. Try their special mead blend and whisky barrel aged options for unique flavors (I bought a bottle for home).

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Eating Around the World in Atlanta

Atlanta tends to be associated with zombies, southern belles, and pig-on-a-spit but the city is so much more. As headquarters for a number of international companies, people from around the world have moved here to start a new life, bringing with them their culture and cuisine. No matter what you have a taste for, you can find it somewhere in Atlanta area.

For a taste of Ethiopia, we go to Desta Kitchen. Their authentic dishes are served in a modern presentation and there’s live music on weekend evenings. You can order everything ala carte, but I always get the vegetarian plate with plenty of injera.

Thai is available throughout the city, but our favorite is Panita Thai Kitchen in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood. The converted house is primarily open air and has an eclectic design which comes from 20 years of perfection. The food is layered, flavorful, and served in a presentation fit for a king.

If you’re craving authentic Italian pizza, Varuni Napoli is the only place to go. Classic combinations with no gimmicks are  prepared to-order in their wood fire ovens. Be sure to save room for a cannoli – trust me.

Buford Highway runs in the north east part of the city and is the place to go for authentic Mexican or South Korean food. El Taco Veloz has no-nonsense authentic tacos that take us right back to our trip to Cabo San Lucas. Sokongdong Tofu House offers classics with plenty of heat and even a few vegetarian options. Also, be sure to make a stop at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. The former shopping center is now one large grocery story with hard to find products from every  part of the world and a rather tasty tiny food court.

In the city of Decatur, a community of immigrants from India has brought flavors from all parts of the country. There are specialized markets, shops, and restaurants with unique dishes, but our favorite is Zyka. Order your dishes at the front counter, listen for your number to be called, then dig in to addicting veggie and halal dishes.

Of course there’s more, and each new trip in the city a chance to try something new!

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Charleston’s Dog-gone Charm

I’ve brought Hondo along on road trips to Charleston, South Carolina a number of times.  This beautiful, historic city is not only a great tourism spot, but also one of the most dog friendly places we’ve ever been. Everytime we go, there’s always a new dog friendly place to explore.

great view of Marion Square at Carolina Ale House
fully fenced in patio at Parson Jack’s

The downtown area is extremely walkable with great views of the harbor and historic houses. You can go from waterfront park, past the famous Rainbow Row, and all the way around the battery at the tip of the peninsula. The main shopping drag of King Street is lined with stores and restaurants, many of which have water bowls outside their doors for a thirsty pup. Many restaurants allow you and your little beast to on their outdoor patios. We recommend Kitchen 208, Taco Boy, Home Team BBQ, and 39 Rue De Jean.  Outside of the down town area check out White Duck Taco, Parson Jack’s Cafe, Triangle Char & Bar,  and The Dog and Duck.  For more, see the links at the bottom of this post.

 

vegetarian tacos at White Duck

 

Many of the craft breweries around the city allow pets on their outdoor patios.  We had an excellent time at Cooper River Brewing Company, sitting at one of the many picnic tables and listening to live music. Also check out Revelry Brewing Co, Ghost Monkey Brewery, and Frothy Beard Brewing. If you prefer wine or vodka, try Firefly Distillery (the original sweet tea vodka) and Deep Water Vineyard. Their dog friendly grounds and tasting room make a great afternoon on James Island. 
The beautiful beaches allow your pets with seasonal rules on acceptable hours and leash regulations. Hondo’s not a fan of the beach (he doesn’t like the evil water chasing him) but we do enjoy walking along the sand when we have a chance.

If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Monday in the summer, catch a Charleston Riverdogs baseball game. “Bark at the Park” nights are dog friendly and some offer special prizes if your pooch comes in costume!

 

For more dog friendly places in and around the Charleston area, check out these articles from Lowcountry Dog Magazine and Holy City Sinner.

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Navigating Your Travel Treasure Hunt

The very first stamp, on my very first passport, was earned in 1994 as I passed through Customs in London’s Heathrow Airport. I had ventured beyond the U.S. alone, on a three week long business trip and felt compelled to find a small, yet meaningful memento to take home. Although I do confess to owning a Milton Glaser I LOVE NY t-shirt, I prefer to find something more lasting. Today, regardless of their monetary value, my travel treasures are among my favorite things.  What do I look for? And where do I search for cool stuff?

International thrift stores contain unusual things. I discovered a fabulous vintage vase at a charity shop in England, wrapped it in layers of clothing, and prayed it would make the trip home. It did. But I learned a valuable lesson about my travel treasure-hunt habits. Today, bubble pack is on my Top Ten Must-Pack List.

Locally produced goods are among my favorite finds. I’ve picked up small blown glass items in factories in Bermuda and in Mexico. These objets d’art transport me to the place and time where glassblowers created their work as we watched on.

A trip to the grocery store is a must. From unusual flavors of Tang, to salsas, sauces, herbs and oils, take the opportunity to come home and allow your vacation to linger in your home until you’ve shared your treats with others. Among my

all-time favorites were several pounds of Costa Rican coffee, and the treasured bottle of Garzón Olive Oil reminiscent of my trip to the Garzón winery/orchard.

 

 

 

 

 

Local wines and spirits are yours to discover. The local Costa Ricans introduced Li and I  to Guaro. They laughed. We later learned why. Guaro is, in fact, GRAIN alcohol! For fun, I still brought home a couple of small bottles. The local Ron Barceló rum and Mamajuana I carried home from the Dominican Republic are still favorites for sipping my way into daydreams of coconut-filled wagons, a quiet beach, and the fresh whole fish we ate at sunset, toes embedded in the silky sand.

Never understimate the value of FREE.  Wine corks are integrated into my décor. The Bouza cork in my plant pot is from a memorable dinner with my extended Uruguayan family.

Shells, coral, and sea glass pieces washed ashore have found their way into a display cabinet. Each glass container, filled with shells, and labeled by location, generates lasting tranquility in my home. I can almost HEAR the crashing waves!

Individual Ziplock bags contain a menagerie of tickets, receipts, menus, business cards and phone numbers from each trip. As I blog, it’s easy to track down names and dates, and match photos to exact places and times. These invaluable “pinch me” keepsakes serve as reminders to be grateful for my amazing travel experiences.

Bring home art! I find interesting work in small, local galleries, or at street fairs. I take the time to meet the artist and share my appreciation for their work.  I selected Carol Joy Shannon’s hand-painted guitar during a visit to Myrtle Beach, SC.  The golden-haired child hanging next to it is a find from Key West, FL. And the ballerina was acquired from a  gallery in Costa Rica. While all are paintings, I’ve chosen work of other mediums, like the pastel nude, the encaustic wax bottles of colour, and the watercolor/pen and ink drawing of New York City.  I have a backlog of framing to do – to showcase artwork collected in Uruguay and Argentina. And, each piece carries meaning, a story, and a flood of memories.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Cooperstown, NY
Union Square, New York, NY
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Tannat’s Tasty Transport to Artesana

Li and I tend to explore local wine, beer or spirits when we travel. And at times we don’t have to venture far. Two weeks ago, I became a tourist near my own town, with Li in tow.

On a Friday, she’d met me at work, and we promptly escaped to explore the shelves of our favorite little wine bar in Summerville, South Carolina. With no agenda, I began scouring the shelves before asking one of the knowledgeable wine experts if they happened to have a Tannat. He said, “yes!”    My heartbeat shifted into overdrive. Yes!

One look at the label and I was immediately transported to the Artesana boutique vineyard I’d visited this summer in the Canelones region of Uruguay. I could not contain my excitement of finding this small production wine in little ole Summerville. I forced the wine dude to watch my video of my awesome winery visit, but not before he poured, I swirled, and I savored.

My AFS sister Merce has a great group of girlfriends who are wine aficionados. And even in the off-season, one new friend arranged for us to visit and enjoy a private tour and wine tasting at Artesana. An owner of this hand-farmed vineyard came in just for us, and we were treated to an amazing educational and tasting experience. And I fell in love with the International award winning Artesana Tannat. Which is simply not hard to do.

Dormant winter vines converged into the sunset. Majestic eagles circled, squawking warnings at the well-heeled vineyard intruders. Owls perched along posts watched wide-eyed.

In this case, photos tell the story better than I can. And only a glass of fabulous Tannat can provide you the perfect storybook ending. I urge you to discover the full flavor of a great Tannat like Artesana.

Not familiar with the Tannat grape? Read up at http://thatusefulwinesite.com/varietals/Tannat.php

Want to learn more about Uruguay’s famed Canelones wine region? Check out https://www.vivino.com/wine-regions/canelones.

Sisters.
Artesana’s winery.

Liquid gold, in my book.
All about vines and wines.

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Broken Spanish Over Japanese Tea

Montevideo from the top of the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel.

Last summer in Uruguay, my AFS sister, Merce, introduced me to her friend Meche, who introduced me to Silvia, who invited me to a tea presentation at the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel. I went. Alone.

 

It was a formal Japanese tea ceremony presentation, in Spanish. I know minimal Spanish. Silvia knows little English. And the only fluent English speakers at the event were the Japanese presenter and an Iranian woman. I was able to chat with the beautiful Iranian, and I was grateful to learn about her interesting life. It did not escape me that I was enveloped in an amazingly unusual International experience.

But I wasn’t there to speak English. I was dedicated to struggling through my poor Spanish for a few weeks in hopes of a slight gain towards proficiency. Knowing nothing about Japanese tea ceremonies, I found the evening extremely interesting. I was proud of my ability to understand most of the presentation, but only because I am able to read Spanish better than I can speak it. That evening,PowerPoint was my special gift.

Gorgeous antique tea cups placed on the tables generated both a grin and ping of warmth in my heart for that fleeting moment, as I remembered my grandmother and wished I’d inherited her amazing china cup and saucer collection.

Silvia and new friends enjoy a selection of teas and pastries.

Following the presentation, guests took turns introducing themselves. They nearly skipped me, when I stood I up and smiled.

“Mi nombre es Shari. Soy visitor de Charleston, Carolina Sur. Soy un 6 millas de mi hogar es el primero té plantaciónen el nos,” I read off my phone, slowly and poorly. What happened to US, I don’t know, but somewhere I KNEW the translation should have included the word “estadios.”

While we were sipping tea, and eating the most amazing plate of goodies, I’d used my handy-dandy Google translator to determine how to tell them that I was from Charleston, South Carolina, where I live about six miles from the first tea plantation in the US. Although the room erupted into hearty laughter over my broken Spanish, the crowd seemed to understand what I’d said, and it was clear my effort was most certainly appreciated.

Our tour of the Alma Historica Hotel was enlightening. Each room is named after successful artists like poets, singers, and actors. Individual room themes depict the celebrity’s art with distinct decor,

fine antiques and beautiful linens. When I return to Montivideo, Uruguay, I must indulge and enjoy a stay at the Alma Historica. And sip tea.

Many thanks to my new friend, Silvia, for the gift of a truly memorable evening. Come to think of it, I’d made a mental note to host a formal tea party in Charleston. Now seems the perfect time to plan it!

Learn more about Japanese tea ceremonies at http://japanese-tea-ceremony.net.

 

 

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Uruguay’s Mate (mah-tay) Tradition

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This guy was eager to pose with his mate cup and thermos.
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The mysterious mate case holds a thermos of hot water, a mate cup, and a straw.

Mate is an experience. Mate is a ritual. Mate is an all-natural herb. And a mate is a hollow gourd that serves as a cup. When in Uruguay, if invited, you must accept the opportunity to share this ritual of friendship and embrace the mate experience. It took me nearly three weeks to finally cave in and partake, and I now regret that I didn’t make mate a daily habit throughout my stay.

The centuries-old drink is known as the “drink of the lords.” To me, this national drink of Uruguay is downright bitter. I cheated. Just a bit of sweetener helped my palate adjust. Considering mate is known to relieve migraine headaches, neuralgia, and insomnia, and is recommended for weight loss, mate is likely a good habit to form. When I learned of the medicinal benefits, I realized that if I lived locally, I’d  work on acquiring a taste and ditching my coffee.

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Mate cups and straws at the street market.

Dried, chopped leaves, highly caffeinated,  are packed into a dried calabash gourd  “cup.” The straw, traditionally made of silver, is called a bombilla. The straws I saw at the market were made of nickel silver (called alpaca) stainless steel, or hollow-stemmed cane.

Hot water is poured from a thermos into a mate of dry yerba (pronounced sherba) leaves, and left to steep for a few minutes. As the cup is passed and shared, each person drinks until the liquid makes that slurp sound we Americans are urged to avoid. This ensures that backwash has not contaminated the mate cup, and that the straw is clear for the next in line. Each time the cup is passed a fresh batch of hot water is added to the leaves, and a new “slurper” downs their drink.

I observed mate on the streets, mate in parks, and mate cases inundating  a college campus. So I had to step up and finally act like a local. I could not leave the country without embracing the customary ritual of Uruguay– sipping mate with my extended family.

My experience was just plain fun in the kitchen!

Read more about mate at http://trentarthur.ca/mate-uruguays-national-drink/.