#travelthursday

Travel Thursday: Scottsdale, Arizona Stimulates And Satisfies Us This Summer.

When in Scottsdale, Arizona, do as the locals do.

We recently enjoyed an exciting long weekend in one of the top Spa / Resort cities in the country.  Scottsdale, Arizona offers not only great beauty, but great resorts, as well as outdoor activities.  Yes!  Enjoyable outdoor activities in the desert. The highlight of our trip was staying at the Andaz.

Andaz – Scottsdale Resort & Spa

Our picturesque Arizona nights were spent at the Andaz - Scottsdale Resort & Spa, a "World of Hyatt" resort that I had only heard great things about from friends out west.  Driving up to the resort, walking to my Saarinen Bungalow, I could see why they loved the Andaz brand so much.

The bungalows bare the name of Finnish American architect and interior designer Eero Saarinen, designer of Washington Dulles International Airport and the St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.  The largest bungalows the resort offers are 485 sq ft, with one king bed, spacious mid-century modern interiors, an oversized dual-fixture shower that could fit nine people comfortably, a banco terrace, as well as a private patio with luxurious outdoor lounge seating. The comfort and design of the bungalows made it hard to depart any of its 7 amazing spaces: the shower, the separate multiple sitting area inside and out, the bed, and even the walk-through closet/changing area wowed us.

Once we were able to gain the internal strength to leave our beautiful bungalow, the rest of the resort did not disappoint.  Any resort in Arizona needs a pool and the Andaz has three. The Turquoise Pool is the central pool of the resort where cabanas can be rented and bar food and drinks enjoyed.  The Palo Verde Spa & Apothecary pool was a pleasant surprise to find after our spa treatment.  The views from every part of the resort were breathtaking, but the spa pool kept us in awe for some time.  The third pool, the Retreat Pool, is a little more private as it is among a cluster of private cabanas and only useable by those guests.

The main building housed reception as well as Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen, where we had most of our meals, unless it was the phenomenal room service.  Two recommendations – get room service to bring you breakfast one day as it is epically wonderful – and – get the dirty hash when you go to Weft & Warp.  Most of the menu is breakfast items that you can order throughout the day, but the dirty hash danced all over my taste buds, especially when I added the homemade hot sauces.

Living in Florida, I know heat and humidity.  I had not been to Arizona in well over a decade and I could not remember what the dry heat felt like.  It did worry me knowing that temperatures would easily reach triple digits, but as a heavier set man that sweats at the drop of a hat, as long as there was some shade, the Arizona dry heat was so much easier to handle than the Florida humid heat.

And not knowing how that heat was going to be, I was rethinking a couple of my planned activities in Scottsdale. I went forward with them anyway and I am so happy I did.

Kayaking the Lower Salt River with Arizona Outback Adventures

A water adventure in Arizona? Why not? We were picked up at the Andaz for the simple van ride out to the Lower Salt River.  The plan was to float down the relaxing, class-1 Lower Salt River surrounded by spectacular and unobstructed views of four different mountain ranges. But there is enough water in Arizona to make this happen? Flowing from the mountains in Northern Arizona, the Salt River is captured by four dams and released for use by Phoenicians and farmers.

The paddling was more like floating and pointing on that day and we didn’t mind one bit. Some of us had never kayaked before and this was an easy and great first experience for them. We saw many different birds, like the great blue heron, as well as many wild horses. I would take anyone on this kayaking journey again. Wear a bathing suit and a light shirt and a hat and you’ll have to wear shoes so bring some water shoes or sandals and they will provide you with a life jacket.   www.aoa-adventures.com/daytours/half-day_kayak_tours.html

A Balloon Experience by Hot Air Expedition, Inc.

So, yeah.  I did that.  We left the Andaz at 4:30 AM for yet another short van ride to go and experience something I cannot wait to do again.  If you’ve ever been on a plane, this is 1,000 times easier.  If you’re afraid of heights, don’t worry.  By the time you realize you are off the ground, you’re smiling from ear-to-ear.  Just don’t look straight straight down.  The view from the balloon’s handcrafted wicker basket is virtually unobstructed during your approximate hour-long flight.

We did partake in the morning flight, but afternoon flights occur, too.  Both provide magnificent views of desert terrain and towering mountain ranges, as well as the opportunity to spot local plant life and wildlife – all from up to 5,000 feet.  We could not tell what some of the animals were as they ran around, but once the shadows were elongated, we could tell most were rabbits.  Breakfast/evening hors d’oeuvres are provided immediately following the balloon ride. You are welcomed back to earth in the traditional manner with flutes of champagne and delectable gourmet cuisine, a custom dating back more than 100 years.

 

 

It is recommended that you wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and closed-toed shoes. The temperature in the air is the same as on the ground, so dress for the day’s anticipated temperatures. We would also recommend wearing a hat and a thin long-sleeved shirt as the heat from the balloon’s fire is intense so any way to block that direct heat from your skin is advised.

Other Places To Stay

The Andaz Resort & Spa was a great place to call home for a couple of nights and the summer rates are quite exciting.  Definitely check out the summer deals as some are great discounts, many waive resort fees, and others provide some free adult libations, and some do all three and more!  We learned that in the summer, when rates are lower at hotels, resorts, and spas, the locals will find these great deals and have staycations or pampering days.  We met many wonderful locals enjoying the summer pricing.

We desired to check a couple of other places to stay while in town.

The Scott

The Scott Resort & Spa was a refreshing palate for this Floridian’s eyes.  The mix of natural wood and elegance gave this downtown Scottsdale resort a feeling of warmth and comfort.

Both The Canal Club Restaurant and The Canal Club Poolside helped us fill up on amazing food and drinks our first night in Scottsdale.  We also checked out the two pool areas the next day, with one being a sandy beach pool, where sand castles are definitely encouraged. 

The Spa was not as large as others in the area, but for the amenities it offers, it ranks a respectable 7th best spa in Scottsdale, a town of resorts and spas.  If I had more time, I would work in another stay at The Scott.

Hotel Adeline

This simple yet well designed hotel was my last place to stay for the evening.  When I arrived at Hotel Adeline, the pool was hopping with a great young and attractive crowd enjoying a live dj.  I was told that I had a great room overlooking the pool and one of the more perfect spots to enjoy the live music later that evening.  I was worried that the hotel would be hopping all night long, but the bustling crowd must have been out and about in Scottsdale as Hotel Adeline was a quiet place to lay my head. 

Places to Eat

Besides the amazing room service and the Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen at Andaz, we tried out a couple of other places. 

FnB

Tucked inside the charming and historic Craftsman Court in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, FnB, short for Food and Beverage, owes its praise and passion to its owners, Chef Charleen Badman and Front of House Manager and Beverage Director Pavle Milic.

As chef and co-owner of the award-winning FnB restaurant in Scottsdale, Charleen Badman is one of Arizona’s most celebrated chefs. A four-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef of the Southwest, Charleen is known as the “veggie whisperer” for her ability to coax the very best flavor out of locally grown vegetables, which are featured prominently – although not exclusively – on the FnB menu. Her unfussy, yet boldly flavored menu changes seasonally, and sometimes even week-to-week with tweaks based on what’s currently available from local farmers.

We ate family style at the restaurant.  I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but the way that Chef Badman worked her magic with a large variety of vegetables (and meats), I was a fan and will be a fan of her work.  Others are fans, too - “Best Chef Southwest Nominee 2014 + 2015 + 2016 + 2017” by the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Culinary Dropout

This chain restaurant was one I had never heard of when in Maine or Florida so when my friend from Tempe recommended it, I was up for something different.  We were well taken care of by the polite staff and our server Sarah. Muscles for an appetizer as well as a brussell sprouts dish kept us going until the main dishes came out.  We would recommend Culinary Dropout and basically anything on the menu.

If you find yourself passing through Arizona and cannot decide on which part to prop your feet up in, our vote is for Scottsdale.  The over all feel of the area, the artistry, the welcoming and happy people, as well as the views and opportunities to go hiking, kayaking, ballooning, and other outdoor activities make this part of the desert a beacon for travelers, adventurers, and those seeking relaxation.


Here are some other pictures from our trip.

Travel Thursday: Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, All-Inclusive, All Friendly, All Fun

For my first trip to Mexico, I wanted an environment that I knew would have the quality, safety, and resort like amenities.  I also desired to be able to experience the culture and the history of the region.  My choice was Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya.

With a simple two-hour $200 roundtrip direct plane ticket on Southwest, I was on my way from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Cancun, Mexico. Before boarding the plane at FLL, I had heard some college kids obtaining a shuttle for $25 per person.  I thought about finding a cheaper shuttle than the Hard Rock recommended $60 roundtrip resort shuttle service, but my choice to stick with the higher resort recommended shuttle was reaffirmed when we landed in Cancun and I saw the kids pile into a mini minivan with 7 other people and all their bags.  My ride to the hotel was a great start to the trip as our 8-passenger luxury SUV whisked us three away, me and a Canadian couple to the Hard Rock.  I think I always meet wonderful Canadians when I travel.  This wonderful couple from Alberta had been to this resort before, once before and once after it was rebranded as the Hard Rock.  The couple gave me some great pointers and our conversation reassured me that I made the right choice with the Hard Rock.

Located just off the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya offers the ultimate vacation for guests of all ages with both the adults-only and family friendly resort experiences. With a combined 1,264 ultra-posh and lavishly appointed guestrooms boasting balcony, terrace views or new, expansive sky terrace options with picturesque views, hydro tubs in each room, world-class shopping and endless style and the largest celebrity-branded Rock Star Suite in the Hard Rock International collection designed by legendary singer Bret Michaels, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is nothing short of the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Complete with expansive outdoor pools and private beach, this all-inclusive escape offers nine world-class restaurants, eight bars and lounges, in addition to 88,915 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting and event space ideal for elegant banquets, themed parties, weddings, concerts and more. Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya offers several youth-friendly components including the brand-new Woodward Riviera Maya action-sports facility, The Cavern — a teens lounge, snorkeling and kayaking for an unparalleled adventure and more. In addition, the “resort within the resort,” adults-only section Heaven, includes the Hard Rock signature Rock Spa® with 75 treatment rooms, four restaurants and three sophisticated bars and lounges, including a premium service nightclub.

Margaritas where at the ready when I arrived at Heaven, yes, Heaven, the lobby was the opulent plush oasis I was seeking.  Booking a stay at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya, one can choose Heaven (Adults Only) or Hacienda (Adults & Kids).  More about that later. Guest services gave me my liquid libation while the front desk provided me with the bracelet (key) to my Rock Royalty – Deluxe Premium room. Some of the perks of the level of room I booked were:

  • Rock Royalty Personal Assistant
  • Personal Assistance with reservations (on and off property)
  • Balcony with hammock in most rooms
  • Premium Liquor Dispenser – Absolut, Bacardi White, Johnny Walker Black Label, Jose Cuervo Especial
  • Mini bar with soda, bottled water, juice, domestic beer and snacks
  • Free wireless internet

What I grew to love was the personal assistant.  If I had any need, the personal assistant team of Antonio and Abraham met and exceeded my expectations.  The ability to contact them through WhatsApp made it even more convenient, especially when I was returning from the excursion they helped me coordinate.  I had reservations for 8, but the bus was still 40 minutes away at 7:30. They were there to alter the reservation and when I arrived at the restaurant, Antonio was actually there to say hello.  Antonio and Abraham, thanks again for helping me truly enjoy my time at the Hard Rock.

What I also enjoyed was even though the resort was massive, it did not seem so.  The adult and family sections, restaurants, and pools were well divided. I did stroll around the entire resort and even had breakfast on the family side.  Besides seeing some hot daddies, I was happy I was staying on the adult only side.

 

You never can plan the weather, even in paradise. One afternoon, I found myself grabbing a drink at the Eden Bar and then the rain came. I lost track of how long it rained as well as how many drinks I had, but the company of both the other guests and the bar staff were great.  When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, rum punches, daiquiris, tequila, and some other drinks I cannot remember the name of.  Another great benefit of staying on a resort is that you can stumble home, even if you don’t remember it.  If I had not been at the Hard Rock, I would not have been able to splurge as much, especially since I was traveling alone.

As mentioned, Antonio and Abraham assisted me in arranging a day long excursion to Chichen Itza and Cenote.  The trip took off around 7:30 am, included admission to all parks and a lunch buffet at a Cenote restaurant, and I was dropped off at about 8:15 PM.  The day was such a great experience, I would do it all again and the price was rather reasonable for all it included. I actually ended up misplacing my ticket for the day, but since the excursion company had service desks at the resort, it was easy to have another ticket printed in time to catch my transport.

 

My trip to the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya was a little too short for I did not have enough time to over eat, I mean try out all the restaurants. The ones I had a chance to sample are worth writing about.

Le Petit Cochon - Serving remarkable dishes à la carte, Le Petit Cochon features the finest ingredients for a delicious taste of the rustic French countryside.

 

My WhatsApp Personal Assistant Team high recommended Le Petit Cochon and I went with it.  Sitting down to the table and seeing the menu for the first time, I knew I was in for a treat as there was so much that were my favorites. From foie gras, to French onion soup to, a scallop dish that was creamy, spicy, and heavenly.  Can I get the recipe?  While enjoying my morsels of heaven, I overheard one table telling another that this was their third time eating at Le Petit Cochon.

 

Toro was the other restaurant I had time to enjoy.  Le Petit Cochon was for adults only, but Toro was open to all.  My reservations were always for later in the evening so I never saw kids in there.  Instead, I saw some great cuts of meat and multiple glasses of wine being consumed at my table.

Toro - The good life deserves a great steak. Step inside and enjoy premium cuts of the finest steak and a menu of lavish dishes served à la carte.

As I mentioned, I desired more time at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.  This is a resort and a brand I will give my business to in the future.

 What I liked about this large resort was that it still had a small feel to it.  The video below shows the size of the property, but you still had intimacy and privacy as well as you were able to find where the parties were. With it's size, they can offer such great amenities, but still know who you are as an individual and help you keep that individual feel by giving you the chance to customize your escapes, your own personal sound track, to help you make your room truly your oasis, and everything else imaginable.

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION Visit www.hrhrivieramaya.com or www.hrhallinclusive.com or call 888.762.5002.  And consider the rock royalty as I did and enjoyed.

 

 

 

As an added side note … I do have multiple friends that are looking for destination wedding venues so I do take it upon myself to do some research on the topic when I travel. I had the chance to ask Carilis Felipe, Director of Weddings North America, AIC Hotel Group, some questions about same-sex couples (SSCs) and their experiences at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Do you offer anything different or special for the SSCs than you do heterosexual couples? Apart from offering SSCs the option of having either two bouquets or two boutonnieres, the wedding process and amenities are the same for all couples. This also includes the same benefits and inclusions. Our weddings are customizable, so all couples can add a personal touch and have the wedding they’ve always envisioned. Additionally, all our weddings are handled by our event consultants, who are certified by 14 Stories and TAG approved.

What is the most common request from SSCs? Different than heterosexual couples?
The most common request we receive from LGBTQ+ couples is for their ceremony or wedding events to be held in private locations. While we offer SSCs and heterosexual couples the same location options, most of our SSCs do not want to be placed in locations where other hotel guests have access to walk by, as they prefer to opt for a much more intimate setting.

Carilis Felipe elaborated that last year, 3% of the weddings were SSCs, with it being split 50/50 between male and female couples. The most popular type of ceremony the couples choose is a symbolic ceremony, which is non-legally binding and performed by a non-denominational officiant, giving the couple flexibility to incorporate religious aspects into their ceremonies such as scripture, readings, or candle ceremonies. Carilis stated that this type of ceremony is popular because it is free of charge, and couples typically prefer to be legally married in their hometown. They are also able to perform same-sex civil ceremonies at the Hard Rock properties in Mexico, as same-sex marriage became legal in Mexico a few years ago.

Out of all the weddings, SSC or straight, what has been the oddest request? The most fun request?
Many couples look for different ways to make a special entrance on their big day. At Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, one of our same-sex bride’s family was unable to travel and attend the wedding. So, to do something special, we helped her fiancée (soon-to-be- wife) arrange for the bride to arrive at the beach ceremony on a white horse covered in flowers.

Do you see small or large parties attending the weddings or does it vary?
Our average size wedding parties are between 40-60 guests. However, we occasionally have small weddings of just two people. Our Wedding Group Benefits vary from as little as 5 rooms, to as large as 100+ rooms so it helps cater to all types of weddings.

What makes you confident that you are providing the best wedding/services to SSCs that come to the Hard Rock?
The feedback we receive from our SSCs once they begin working with us, versus the information they received from other hotels during the shopping process clearly outlines that our wedding services are unmatched. We also have travel agents who specialize in LGBTQ+ travel who are continuously recommending our hotels to their couples.

What sets your services apart from others, may it be for straight couples or SSC? Why would I choose to get married at the Hard Rock over other places?
The main differentiator is the inclusions we offer, as well as the in-room amenities, resort credit, a complimentary wedding collection and wedding group benefits. The size of the group will qualify for the group benefits and entitles the couple to complimentary nights, room upgrades and private events.

We also offer a complimentary wedding collection for all ceremonies for up to 32 guests, so any couple travelling on their own would be able to enjoy all the package inclusions. We do not require the couple to book any specific room category or minimum length of stay in order to receive the complimentary wedding package.

Do you call in “more accepting” staff to assist with SSC weddings or is the same staff used for all weddings? We worry that we may not be accepted or not all employees would be open to seeing us getting married. How do you handle that? How do you counsel your staff?
The same staff is used for all weddings, and all our staff have past experience working with SSCs. At Hard Rock, “Love All, Serve All” is one of our mottos. Our staff is thoroughly vetted to ensure everyone on our team lives by this message, and delivers the same level of service and hospitality to all our guests and wedding couples – regardless of where they come from, whether or not they are a SSC, their age, etc.

For information on services, please refer to our weddings website:

https://allinclusivehotelweddings.com/same-sex-weddings/

Mark Your Calendars - Pride of the Americas in 2020 Planned for Fort Lauderdale

Wouldn't you want to come to paradise and celebrate Pride with beautiful men from all over the world? Well, how about from half the world? Get ready for Pride of the Americas 2020.

When I moved to Fort Lauderdale, my friends said I moved to paradise.  The beaches, the men, the weather, the inexpensive alcohol, and people coming from all over the world to visit throughout the year.  I agree, it is paradise, but what is great is that this paradise I call home gets better and better every single year.

From its position in southern Florida, Fort Lauderdale celebrates life and gayness like no other city. The year I graduated from college was the year this city took a leap to become a hub of LGBT travel and tourism. 

In 1995, Richard Gray proposed to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) a business plan for marketing Fort Lauderdale as a gay destination.  It was accepted and in 1996 with a $35,000 gay marketing initiative, Gray went to work promoting the city and what it had to offer tourists.  Within a half a decade the number of gay resorts in the area grew to 30.  His work and the work of others in the CVB has been so successful and the returns so great that his position of LGBT Managing Director for the Fort Lauderdale CVB was made fulltime 7 years ago and now has an annual budget of $1 million.  The budget is impressive, but what also needs to be mentioned is that Richard Gray is one of a kind as it is believed (as of 2014 when we first chatted at length) that there are no other Convention and Visitors Bureaus in North America or Internationally that Gray knows of with an employee whose sole responsibility is the LGBT market.

I've been fortunate to see some of the great progress The Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB has made to make the city and the area more and more inclusive and welcoming. 

The support the CVB gives to the LGBT community has made it much easier for Fort Lauderdale Pride to move forward with bettering what they have to offer the citizens of southern Florida.

My first interactions with Pride in the FTL area had been the Stonewall Prides held in June every year in Wilton Manors.  It's a great celebration that mirrors other pride celebrations across the country.  But it wasn't until last year in February of 2017 that I attended Fort Lauderdale's Pride celebration during its first year on the Fort Lauderdale beach.  It was one of the happiest, sexiest, down to earth, inviting events I had been to in the United States.  This year in 2018, the event was repeated but was even more glorious and was even called the Love Pride.

One thing I loved about Richard Gray's and the Greater Fort Lauderdale's CVB's vision is that they all love where we live and want to share it with as many people as they can. Pride Fort Lauderdale did desire to host the WorldPride in 2021, but it was awarded to Copenhagen.

Related Post: Travel Thursday: The Love Pride 2018 Hits Fort Lauderdale In 10 Days.

What to do when you don't get the bid?  Lemons, lemonade, lemon drop martinis, let's party!  Pride of the Americas sounds like a great consolation prize and one that is not only still in my front yard, but a year earlier!

And Fort Lauderdale is the ideal spot to launch one. Our area is not just a premiere tourist destination, it also boasts a particularly diverse and welcoming community, with one of the largest concentrations of LGBT households in the nation. Broward County is the most diverse county in Florida and the second most diverse in the nation (we’re coming for you, Queens, New York!). More than 58 percent of our population is minorities, 32 percent were born in another country, and approximately 79 percent of those foreign-born residents are from Latin America. - hotspotsmagazine

The news is fresh and exciting about this event.  When the dust settles, it may be clear which organization is sponsoring, in charge of, or fully organizing the event, but what is seen now is that the Fort Lauderdale community will be hosting this event. The partnership with Broward County, Fort Lauderdale CVB, and the Fort Lauderdale Pride organization will make this event grand!

Related Post: Travel Thursday: The Love Pride 2018 Hits Fort Lauderdale In 10 Days.

The writers over at HotSpots Magazine have shared these possible tid bits with us all as what may occur during this celebration:

  • Possible 350,000 LGBT celebrants from around the world.
  • A Sunday parade and beach festival, capped off with a spectacular fireworks show.
  • A full week of Pride festivities with opening ceremonies, an arts festival, a business expo
  • A human rights conference focused on LGBT rights in the Caribbean and Latin America
  • Daily sunset concerts, a beach party, and dance parties and other social activities at venues all over town.

Pride of the Americas is a little over a year and a half away (omg that's not too far away), so they have a little time to iron things out.  Fort Lauderdale Pride is usually in February, but the 2020 celebration may explode in February or April of that year.  Latest announcement is for April.  Will it take some of the umph out of Miami Pride which is usually the first weekend of April or will it be later in the month?  They're working on it and we will let you know more when we know more.

 

h/t: HotSpots Magazine

Travel Thursday: London, England - From Cursed Children to Gay Heavens

With the Royal Wedding just 2 weeks away, we thought it would be fitting to share this Travel Thursday piece on London, England.


A year ago, I decided to buy tickets to see the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This was both because of my being a major Harry Potter fan and also because right before that I had just had my first trip abroad. After realizing just how accessible the rest of the world really was, I was ready to explore it again.

And finally, earlier this month, the time to see the United Kingdom had come.


The Boroughs

First off, the boroughs of London, like any other city, are very different in feel to one another. These are the understandings I got from each section.

  • Waterloo is understood as a section with not much to offer due to it being by a major public transportation area, but it surprisingly has several restaurants and stores to choose from.
  • Kensington had a very polished look to it due to being the home of several museums and universities. In fact, at one point I got lost while looking for a place to eat and I walked by several expensive looking apartment buildings and windows revealing lectures in session.
  • Southwark is home to several restaurants and stores. This is due to it being very packed with foot traffic thanks to sights like the London Bridge, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and the Borough Markets.
  • Soho is the kind of East Village and Broadway mix of London. In it, you can find stores, restaurants, West End play productions, and many gay bars/clubs.

​The Museums

Once again, there are many MANY museums in London (most of which are free), but I’ll give you a run down of the ones I visited.

  • The V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum displays millions of decorative arts and designs for everyone to come see for free. This includes French clothing from Napoleon’s era to Roman sculptures, metalworking structures, and even David Bowey albums.

And, this museum is huge! I planned to spend 2.5 hours exploring it all but spent that much time just exploring the first floor.

  • The Natural Science Museum

While the V&A is full of beautiful and compelling works of design, the Natural History Museum is full of fun and scientific objects. This museum has a lot of fun interactive galleries about varying topics like the science of earthquakes, planetary science, dinosaurs, gems and stones, and much more.

Possibly my favorite section of the museums was the Japanese store model that you got to stand in as it went through an earthquake.

  • The British Museum

The British Museum is a classic history museum with galleries covering many cultures and time spans like Ancient Egypt and Nubia, ancient and modern Japan, Greek pottery and sculptures, and more. You get the idea.

Careful though, while a lot of this museum is free, some of its sections are pay for only.

  • The National Gallery

While the British Museum is an enlarged version of the classic history museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are large versions of the classic art museums.

Not only are the rooms large and spacious but many of the artwork displayed in said rooms are several feet tall!

  • The Photographers’ Gallery

While the National Gallery and British Museum are large and spacious, the photographers’ gallery is small and intimate.

That said, the two showing exhibitions were both interesting to me. When I was there, the exhibitions focused on photos from the first performance of 4 Saints in 3 Acts (a Gertrude Stein opera that was not only the first opera on Broadway but was also performed by an entirely black cast), and an exhibition of director Wim Weners’ personal polariods.

The gallery is free for all until noon and those two exhibitions will be running until February 2018, so check it out.

  • The Globe Theatre

Then, we have Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which, while also being a fully functioning theatre, also works as a gallery and tour spot.

I spent a good 3 hours there looking through the gallery that talked not only about the rebuilt theatre but about England and the Bankside/Southwark area during Shakespeare’s time.

In addition, I was blessed by an informed and passionate tour guide who led us all over the wet (it was raining) Globe theatre and filled us in on its history.

  • Warner Bros./Harry Potter Studio Tour

Lastly, this tour wasn’t quite a museum in name but it works just like one. If you are a Harry Potter fan and in the London area, you should check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

It was just another brilliant money move from JK Rowling and Warner Bros. to make the old filming studio where the movies were made into a tour spot. The location now acts like a museum where several people pay a good amount (about 40-something pounds or approximately 50-something dollars) to stand where they (the cast and crew) once stood.

The tour is decked out with character costumes, information videos from cast and crew, and the original sets like the Gryffindor dorm room (sadly not the Slytherin dorm [Slytherin for life]), the Great Hall, and even the Forbidden Forest. Plus, plenty of moving machines like the spiders, the Weasley’s car, Buckbeak, and even broomsticks, keep the magic alive.

I think this tour is worth the ticket. Though, buy it ahead of time if you’re in a big group (and maybe a few weeks to a month ahead if you’re traveling alone like me).


The Entertainment

  • Cursed Child

As I said, the whole reason that I came to London was because I had Cursed Child tickets, and the show certainly didn’t disappoint.

While the writing won’t emotionally move you deeply, the script did triumph in giving the production ample room to explore and be creative with how to put magic on the stage.

The play was fun and exciting to watch, especially when (slight spoiler) a dementor came flying towards the audience. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, I highly recommend you go see Cursed Child in London (or maybe in New York City or Sydney when they get their own productions).

  • Romantics Anonymous

The indoor theatre at the Globe is very small and intimate. It’s shaped like a U with the stage being a square starting halfway inside that U and ending against the wall of the two prongs. I, unfortunately, ended up with possibly the worse seat in the house. I was against the wall on the right prong of the U, so half of the night I watched the actor’s sides or backs.

That said, I still absolutely enjoyed the musical Romantics Anonymous, which is about a girl in France who wants to make chocolate but has social anxiety. Through circumstances, she ends up working at a chocolate factory for a man who also has social anxiety. The two then sing and cook their way into each other’s hearts.

As romantic (and some would say disgusting) as that synopsis makes the musical out to be, it’s also a very hilarious story with a talented ensemble where everyone, but the two leads, plays a track of multiple characters. I highly recommend you see this show if you’re in the London area sometime before January.


The Food

Of course, there is lots of great food to eat in the city of London. You could either stop at popular markets like the Borough Market or the Camden market, you could research and plan for a place to each, or you can just walk around the city and stop at whatever place gets your interest.

If you want to know what kinds of food London’s serving up, I’ll leave pictures of some of the food I ate as well as the restaurant names and links to their websites.

Viet Pho in Soho

La Roma Bella in Soho

MotherMash in Soho

Balans Soho Society Cafe  (you guessed it) in Soho

Applebees Fish in Southwark

Masters Superfish in Waterloo


The Gay Spots

Lastly, we come to the gay spots. To save you time, I’ll briefly describe what the gay places that I visited are here, but if you want to read a more in-depth description of what my time was like at each place you can read that over at my GayPopBuzz article.

  • G-A-Y Bar/Late

It seems that there is a company that owns a group of bars and clubs in London’s Soho borough and they’ve tagged on the “G-A-Y” label on those spots. Each spot has a slightly different feel and serves a different purpose towards the kind of night you‘re looking to have.

G-A-Y Bar is the early night bar that you can hang out at with friends for drinks and dance. But, while G-A-Y Bar closes at midnight, G-A-Y Late stays open until 3 am. This club serves as a nice spot for dancing and enjoying the company of others while still being a relatively intimate setting (until possibly closer to closing time).

  • Heaven

Then we have Heaven which is within the G-A-Y label but also appears as an entirely different venue on its own. The space in heaven is pretty big with two large dance areas (one with two floors) and several bar areas.

This is one of those gay clubs that’s so popular that it no longer belongs to just gay men. While straight people are found in all three spots, this one feels the most like a club with a gay twist and not a “gay club.”

That said, this happens to be my favorite spot out of the all the gay spots I visited and I highly recommend you check it out if you visit London. Just expect a long wait if you’re getting in on a Saturday night (I waited an hour).

  • Pleasuredrome

Now, this last entry is for the mature audience out there. Younger readers be warned. You won’t (or shouldn’t) get in.

Pleasuredrome is a gay bathhouse with a mixed reputation. Some say it used to be great and isn’t any more while others say it’s at a “good enough” phase. I went in and thought it fit that latter description.

There’s nothing amazing about this bathhouse but it seemed relatively clean (despite a slight B.O. smell), the staff were either courteous or just working in the background, and the other men were alright (mostly of 30+ ages but there were a few men in their 20s when I went there).


Journey's End

I had a wonderful time in London. I could write so much more about my eight days in the UK and there's even plenty that I missed out on.

That said, if you’re looking for a fun time, good food, hot guys, and interesting stuff to see, London is a great city to explore.

I’ll have to visit again, even if it’s just to revisit said hot guys.

Travel Thursday: It Isn't Just The Chicken That's Hot In Nashville, Tennessee

When I visit a city, I usually know very soon if it's one that I'll want to spend my time and money in and even think about returning to see more. Our last visit to Nashville had us soaking up as much of Broadway and downtown as I could in the short 2 hours of daylight slotted to see the capital of Tennessee during a road trip across the south eastern United States.  In that amount of time, I knew I was going to be planning a return trip back to see more of NASH.

Before we dig into Nashville, I was surprised how inexpensive it all was.  The beauty of Nashville is that it is in the middle of just about everywhere, unless you're on the west coast.  But from Texas, New York, Chicago, and Florida, it is a quick hop to the home of country music.  And if you arenot a country music fan, there's a lot more to enjoy.

This time around to Nashville, I was fortunate enough to piggy back some pleasure at the tail end of a conference being held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a Marriott hotel just 6 miles from the airport as well as downtown Nashville.  The place was massive as it holds the position of 30th largest hotel in the world, and largest in the United States outside of Las Vegas. 

 

The section of the hotel I stayed in was the 4.5-acre Delta Atrium.  There was a quarter-mile-long indoor river with flatboats and there was an hourly water fountain show that was quite impressive.  The Cascades Atrium was where we spent a couple of nights and meals at The Falls bar and some regenerative food from the Wasabi restaurant. We were pleased with the stay and the convention space and were even more pleased with the VIP desk our last couple of nights there. 

They assisted with the shuttle service, making reservations in one of the many restaurants in the resort (I recommend Jack Daniels), and just being there when we needed them.  My friend joked that the place was like a biosphere and you had everything there you needed.  He was right.  For the nights of the conference, Tuesday through Friday morning, all our needs were met with flying colors.

We enjoyed a bourbon, burgers, and beer celebration on Thursday night at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, but had planned a quick hop into town that had some of us hurting the next day. It doesn’t matter where your Uber lands on Broadway in downtown Nashville.  As long as you are between 5th and the Cumberland River, you will step foot into a good time. 

 

We were doing the one and done routine, one drink at one bar and move onto the next.  Some of the haunts that you should hit are the Second Fiddle, Tootsies, Whiskey Row, and Nudies. I didn’t list the one we were asked to leave (we crashed a private party), but these were all giving us a great vibe and great music.  At the last bar, Nudies Honky Tonk, we found ourselves on the rooftop dancing to some ‘90s hip hop.  At that point, 3 or 4 sheets,  we were ready to bust a move on the dance floor. We had not aimed at going to any gay bars that evening, but we were in the company of some very attractive fun men, and some “family” members, too.

 

Knowing that we were going to Nashville, we did check out the Total Access Pass (info: http://www.visitmusiccity.com/visitors/discountsdeals/totalaccess ). It’s $75 pass that and gives you access to 4 attractions, plus several other things.

  • Admission into your choice of 4 attractions & tours from a list of 33.
  • Free admission to The Parthenon.
  • Free admission to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
  • 25% off any Gray Line of Tennessee Sightseeing Tour.
  • 10% off at the Music City Shop or Music City Marketplace.

It saves you around 54%!  If you can cut costs in half and get a good list of recommended spots, it’s worth it. 

 

Two of the highlights of the weekend were Centennial Park and the Ryman Auditorium.  EVERYONE talks about the Ryman and rightfully so.  The history, the feel, and the presentation of the historical side of the auditorium was probably the best out of all the places we went in Nashville.  Definitely do the tour, watch the video first, and enjoy.  What made our trip extra special was about 30 high school kids that followed us.  Now, I used to teach high school, but if I don’t need to be around them any more, I’m happy.  But this group of kids was a chorus and they sang three songs while they were in the balcony and we walked around the rest of the auditorium.  The sound quality was perfect.

 

We didn’t plan it as such, but we Ubered out to Centennial park and found an Earth Day celebration going on with food trucks, earthy things, and a beer tent.  Our main draw to the park was to see the Parthenon and 60-foot statue of Athena.  There was a good amount of history and art in the museum at the base of the Parthenon, so spend the money or use the free pass from the Total Access Pass to go see it all.

 

Our pass was good for some other museums so, besides the Ryman, we also hit up the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum.  I enjoyed them, but if I was a true country music fan, I would have enjoyed them more.  I am more of a more modern day country music fan so some of the history was lost on me.  It was very interesting to see, but I did gravitate toward the Grammy Museum Gallery at the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum.

We had done Broadway already one night, hit Centennial Park and so many museums.  Nashville is a great city to go walking around in and just find something to do and look at.  One thing we started to notice was all the public art.  Just do a search for Nashville public art and you will be amazed at how much is out there.  We found a couple of web sites to help us find more art, but all you had to do was pay attention.  Walking around the Gulch, an up and coming hip (not hipster) neighborhood just a short walkable distance southwest of downtown, we kept finding more and more art, until we ended up back downtown and realized there were so many more pieces we had walked by just the previous day.

As for food in the city, we did eat a great amount at the Gaylord, but we were able to dive into a skillet of Sizzle Chips (kettle chips drizzled with mornay sauce, blue cheese, and tomatoes) from City Fire (on the edge of the Gulch), and a hefty helping of nachos from Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (on Broadway).  I do think the foodie items in Nashville, well for at least us, turned out to be mac and cheese, bacon mac and cheese, chicken mac and cheese, and of course Nashville hot chicken.  Check out Puckett's just up the hill from the Ryman auditorium for their great brunches and live music.

 

Nashville, thanks.  I did the quick 2-hour jab and I wanted more.  I did the 2 day walk everywhere and see everything trip and I’m still smiling. Next time, we’re gonna gay it up and see what kind of LGBT hospitality SMASH, NASH, Nashville has. 

As for a final statement, I’m not upset that I didn’t get to do they gay side of Nashville. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, I was back at the Gaylord with my shoes off, relaxing, and a smile on my face.  The capital of Tennessee showed me a good time and I’m content with that.  The fact that a gay man can have a great experience and a wonderful weekend in a Southern city in the United States while mixing it up with all the country western crowd and what not, I think that’s a great thing.

See you next time, Nashville!

 

Some of the Nashville public art web sites I found through a quick Google search.

https://nashvillepublicart.com/category/nashville-walls-project/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/greta-hollar/18-nashville-murals-you-h_b_9433128.html

https://www.camelsandchocolate.com/nashville-murals/

http://www.nashville.gov/Arts-Commission/Programs/Metro-Public-Art.aspx

       

Travel Thursday: Gadget Recommendations To Make Your Trip More Enjoyable.

I’ve had my fair share of travel.  I often find myself away from home at least once a month.  May it be for an Instinct Magazine trip, a college trip, a quick excursion with friends, a journey back to New England to see family, or a romantic getaway for me, myself, and I, my luggage gest some good use every year. 

What I’ve learned is you need to be comfortable when you travel.  For me, comfortable does include my favorite travel jacket with ample pockets for all my necessities, my headphones to block out those travelers that just don’t need to be listened to, and the slide on shoes that can slide right off once the seatbelt goes on. Those are the simple items.  Here are some other items I have added over the past couple of years that I could not imagine traveling without. It all starts off with luggage.


Luggage – Buy a pair of luggage that you do not mind waiting for.  I had hand-me-down luggage forever. It was bland, worn, faded, and just ugh. I hated waiting for my luggage. 

I more so hated trying to deal with everyone standing 1.3 inches away from the conveyor belt as if somehow, some magical bag fairy would bring their bags first before everyone else standing behind them.  People, if we all stood about 4 feet back, we could see all of our lovely bags come down the belt and we all could calmy approach when your correct bag arrived.  And if y’all stood back, you could see my beautiful bags come by and compliment me on the nice purchase. 

I’ve enjoyed packing, unpacking, the whole conveyor belt drama, and strolling from the car drop off to the check-in desk a lot more since I bought my new bags.  Thank you London Fog for my Navy/Brown Retro luggage. Yeah, they were an expense, but there are some great deals out there (actually found the set for cheaper than one at regular price). Shop around, be happy with your purchase, and remember, accessorize well.  Luggage is not a gadget, but it is a necessity.


Computer Protection – When taking out my laptop at TSA checks that don’t happen to have Pre-Check, I want my computer to be a little more protected than when I place it on my ottoman at home.

This goodie pack that I currently have dressing up my technology has been grand. Not only does the Smooth Soft-Touch Frosted Plastic Cover for MacBook Pro come with a hard case (in red, of course) for the top and bottom of the laptop, it also came with plugs for my holes, um, the ports on the side of the computer, as well as an additional protective bag that fits like spandex gym shorts. Red not your color? It comes in many many colors.  Eight out of the nine plugs stay in well, just keep an eye on them for they may fall out and bounce.


Cable Protection – I’ve been on too many trips and my mac laptop power cord gives out, mainly because it is frayed.  You wrap it around this and clip it onto that and it just doesn’t last too long going back and forth from destination to destination.   

They’re not cheap so I invested in the Fuse – Side Winder. It saves me from worrying if my cord will make it through the next trip.

Okay, I’m a nerd I guess, but I am so excited to use this while on vacation, but it also keeps the mac power cords organized while at home, too.


Phone Cords – break down and buy the extra cords!  It’s dumb for us to unplug the cords from home and throw them in the bag and unpack them and plug them back in again every time we travel. 

For just a couple bucks a piece, I ordered a set of three cords, 3 different lengths.  The 6 foot is by the bed at home, the 3 foot is in the car, and the 10 foot is my travel cord, because you know darn well, the plug will be behind the headboard or the dresser in the hotel room, and you’ll want to be surfing for that travel love while in bed.   

Just spend the extra money, leave a cord in your travel bag.  I even have a car adapter in my bag just in case the transportation from the airport to the final destination is more than an hour and you need that charge.


Power Pack – I’ve been to several conferences where some of the swag include the little rechargeable battery packs. Two have never worked, one made a loud pop and cracked when I plugged it in and three more are just odd and cumbersome and don’t hold a charge for long

I’m living for my DULLA M50000 Portable Power Bank 12000mAh External Battery Charger.  The advertisement I read before I bought it claimed that it held 4 full charges for an iPhone, but now more recent ads are saying 5. 

It comes with a powerful light and two USB ports which are great when your friend sees you pull it out and he wants some of the juice.


Toiletry Bag – Get organized with this L.L. Bean toiletry bag that is ready when you are.  Buy the extra deodorant, toothpaste, and other personal care products and leave them in this waterproof bag. 

I love the fact that it can hold so much and has a hanger for the back door or towel bar. 

Like I said, don’t just buy the bag, that’s half the battle.  Buy the extra supplies and keep it at the ready. 

You never know when you’ll want to pack before work for a great getaway to the Keys. There’s enough room for everything you need in here.

 


Personal Cleanser – You never know when you will need to get ready for whatever may happen and I had to include something a little adult-y.

One guy we met in a bar told us he just uses a water bottle to get ready for the party. 

Wanting to be a little more sure of things back there, the Ultra Douche is the right thing for the job.  I do not think there is an easier thing to use.  The best part, it breaks down into three nice parts that can fit in many different places within your L.L. Bean bag mentioned above.

I read some of the reviews before using.  They are pretty specific on best practices when using, so take note.


To make travel easier, invest in things that will keep travel simple.  Some may cost a little, but when it helps to lessen worries while traveling, the expense is worth it.  Those are just some of the items that keep my travels a little bit easier.  


What products do you like to travel with? 

What makes your journeys a little bit easier?


This list was compiled by yours truly and not Instinct Magazine as a whole.  These are my opinions and not the opinions of the magazine.

Travel Thursday: Where Do We Go To Get Our DRYNK On?

When it's Thirsty Thursday and you need a little boost to make it to Friday, where do you go?  Do you look for the hole in the wall venue?   Do you look for the perfect wine bar?  Here are some of our favorite stops from New England to New Orleans.


 

Mainestreet, Ogunquit, Maine

Put this bar and this cute little beach town on your map to visit as the snow melts and the bathing suits come on.  Maine summers are some of the best in the country and Ogunquit is one of the best little accepting beach towns out there.  Belly up to the main bar, show room bar, or the roof top deck bar and you'll get great service from any of the staff.  Can you please say hello to Heather and Eddie when you visit?  Much appreciated.  

May it be just enjoying a relaxing time in the fresh air and drink in hand after visiting one of the best beaches in the nation, dare I say world, or may it be getting ready to enjoy cutting up one of the two dance floors, make this a definite stop when you are in New England. 


Shipwreck Lounge, Provincetown, Massachusetts

So many watering holes, so little time in P-Town.  One of our musts when visiting is the Shipwreck Bar.  Every place feels like you are on vacation, but this place as less of the "who's checking me out here" mentality.  Relax inside or out, the shipwreck bar is where we go to just be with friends and maybe make new ones. If it's a cool summer night on the cape, get a seat by a fire pit or buy someone a drink and make a cuddle buddy. 


The Bike Stop, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dark, mysterious, open, and friendly.  We found this bar during a stay in Philadelphia one Thanksgiving weekend.  Now it is one of our desired spots to check out when coming back through the city.  We stumbled into the place, expecting to have a drink and stayed for more.

Here's a review from ZAGAT that we totally agree with:

No one is drawn to this long-running LGBT “dive” bar in Washington Square West for its decor (“there isn't any”), but that doesn't stop it from getting “packed” with the “bear, biker and leather” crowds, as well as anyone with an “adventurous side”; the vibe is “friendly”, and the multilevel space works as both a “chill spot to watch the ballgame” and a forum for fetish-friendly partiers.


Georgie's Alibi Monkey Bar, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Drinking on any night in Fort Lauderdale, one has 15 gay options within a small 7 blocks or so.  Stumble here, stumble, there, but if you're stumbling too much, you may have had too many of the $3 Long Islands served at Georgie's Alibi Monkey Bar Fort Lauderdale Provincetown Trinity Neptune Michaelangelo WhatsApp McMasters.  All kidding aside, well maybe not,  the long island is as long as the name of this place.  The 8 inch canning jar (size queens will be happy) can contain about 6 to 8 (we forget) different flavors of long islands.  I usually are told I need to come here after picking up my friends after they land at the airport at 11:30 PM.  No arm twisting needed for we always have a great time. 


DRYNK Fort Lauderdale, Florida

We're going to mention two in Fort Lauderdale since our managing editor lives there and samples the venues quite often.  DRYNK Bar & Lounge is one of the newest venues on the Drive in Wilton Manors and it is unlike any other. From the large steer head mounted on the wall to the textured wallpaper, this is definitely both bar and lounge and both highly enjoyed by all.  It's a small venue and fills up fast with a vibrant crowd.  Editor's note ... If my parents were not in town and non-drinkers, I would be there right after I publish this piece. Daddy needs some infused tequila. 


801 Bourbon Bar, Key West, Florida

Hands down, one of the best drag shows we've seen in a great long time. The girls do change and some are more up my alley when it comes to drag, but seriously, every single performer hits it out of the park.  With a rotation of girls that seems to involve NYC, you'll find a new favorite.  Drink upstairs while you enjoy the show or stay on the bottom floor and enjoy chatting with locals, tourists, or just watch the crowd go by.


Flip Side Bar & Patio Mobile, Alabama

Yes, I said Mobile, Alabama.  Actually, people were telling me it is pronounced Muh-Beel with the stress on the second syllable.  We stopped in here on the way from Florida to New Orleans.  To our surprise, we had an epic time, so much so that we looked for a hotel to stay the night.  The boys and clientele at Flip Side were so much fun, we were smiling from the moment we walked in the door.  Now it could have been just the night and just the right mix of sexy bartender and welcoming bar-goers, or it may be like this every night.  Mark our words, we will be back to see if we can repeat the great time we had in Muh-Beel. 


Cafe Lafitte in Exile New Orleans, Louisiana

There are hundreds of watering holes in New Orleans.  Not all of them need to be on Bourbon Street, but I will mention this one, Cafe Lafitte in Exile as one of our more consistent bars to have a simple and enjoyable time at. There are others off the strip, non-gay options that have our heart as well, but for a gay ol' time in the Big Easy, we will plop our buns down at this bar at least once during every trip. No go-go boys, no flair, and usually no cover are fine by us. The more tourist trap gay bars, we haven't set foot in them for years since they usually are charging a cover, too packed, too expensive, and too, just too much. When we are thirsty and want an easy and good time, Lafitte in Exile is a tried and true option.


We were hoping to mention the rest of the nation, but we think it's time to head out and enjoy a beverage or three.  We'll get to the other half of the country in a future post. 

Or do you have some recommendations for our readers on the rest of the nation? 

DId we overlook your favorite East Coast watering hole?  Let us know!

 

 

Travel Thursday: Resting Venice Beach Face

 

The alternate title for this piece would be "Travel Thursday: A Midwesterner's Guide To A Place He Feels Inferior To In Every Way But Still Braves Because It's Simply Sublime." While glossy, shimmery, shiny Los Angeles continues to make me feel like a potato, the sights, sounds, smells, and borderline frenetic energy that permeates the city makes it impossible to not feel alive when visiting.  

On my most recent trip I was actually pummeled by a rare L.A. rainstorm, but was still the happiest potato around, and I want to spread the good word for anyone considering taking a trip Los Angeles, and for the sake of this post, Venice Beach specifically. My husband and I stayed in Venice Beach and found the area to be a city within a city - an enclave with just the right balance of action and opportunities for reprieve. 

 

 

Venice Beach is an area of Los Angeles with a rich history, vintage curiosities, and gorgeous beaches. We settled on staying in Venice Beach for its fifteen-minute driving distance from the airport without traffic (a distance unfathomable to Chicagoans,) immediate proximity to beaches, and stunning Airbnb options available for a more palatable price tag than the houses in nearby hotspot Santa Monica. Navigating to other Los Angeles neighborhoods from Venice Beach is easy, but we decided to mainly explore this fascinating area.

 

 

So it’s raining in LA

A post shared by Nicholas Kania (@nickania) on

 

A millionaire named Abbot Kinney founded (yes, we're taking it back, but I swear it's interesting) Venice Beach - originally called the "Venice of America" - in 1905 as an oasis of culture and sophistication. His goal of replicating the splendor of Venice, Italy was foiled once the area was incorporated into Los Angeles County in the 20's and oil tycoons ravaged the land adjacent to the beach - turning Venice Beach into an unsightly oilfield. 

 

 

This led to the destruction of a lagoon as well as the Abbot Kinney Pier that once featured carnival rides and a circus. A commenter on LAist even recalls having to scrape the tar off her feet after exiting the ocean in the 60's. Yikes.

 

 

But Venice's most famous sight - the man-made canals - remain to this day, and a stroll around them while visiting is a must. Here you can peek into unique houses in a neighborhood that feels like it belongs somewhere between Epcot and Architectural Digest. Check out a guide for traversing the canals here

 

 

Venice Beach has been in the midst of gentrification for quite some time, and a walk, bike ride, or electric scooter ride along the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk will allow you to take in the old and the new. We stayed in the southern part of the area on 27th Street, and by following the Boardwalk north, you'll see quirky yet mammoth-priced houses abutting the path make way for the endless kitschy shops and throngs of people that many associate with the area.

 

 

I want palm trees in Chicago

A post shared by Nicholas Kania (@nickania) on

 

If showing off your hard work at the gym at the infamous Muscle Beach isn't your thing, I recommend you take in the action happening at the nearby skate park. These skaters come to impress, and you half expect Travis from Clueless to show up. 

Located directly between the skate park and the ocean is a designated gay section of Venice Beach made perfectly clear with its rainbow flag lifeguard stand. As you guys know I don't get to have fun, but if I was a swiper, I'd have swiped. And no visit would be complete without every Instagram user's Venice Beach pièce de résistance - the "Venice" sign hanging over Windward Avenue. This is a modern-day replica of the one originally installed by Kinney in 1905, showing that the visionary was truly ahead of his time. Readying the world for Instagram perfection over a century ago. 

Of course, all of this isn't even to mention the bazillion other activities to do while in Los Angeles, but for this Midwestern potato, Venice Beach offered more than enough to make me feel like I had a truly unique weekend getaway. Abbot Kinney's master plan may have been thwarted, but he at least made one gay writer's weekend.   

 

Travel Thursday: My Big Gay Trip To Tokyo

 

When you contemplate what kind of culture Japan is at its heart, it can be rather awe-inspiring and almost shocking to witness gaggles of gays fawn over each other in fruitful attempts to copulate at the various LGBT nightclubs in Tokyo.

Upon entering the appropriately-called ‘gay district’ of Tokyo, I immediately perceived a sense of familiarity – like I had been there before. That’s because this gayborhood of bars reminded me exactly of the collection of LGBT bars back home, which were approximately 6,296 miles away from my then current position.

I’m from Chicago, the home of the famed (or infamous) Boystown. So therefore I’m very accustomed to living out my full gay life between two informal geographical boundaries that overlap with more officially-recognized neighborhoods. In this case, that being Lakeview East.

Another reason why this place felt so familiar to me was the true sense of community and pride that you can feel the moment you arrive. It’s so palpable and tangible that I could’ve poured it into my cocktail that night and consumed it like the perpetually-thirsty bear cub that I am. Like Boystown, there is a genuine sense of love, understanding, kindness, communication, and openness that you simply cannot resist within the similarly informal geographical boundaries that create the gay district of Tokyo.

One particular club, Dragon MEN, located in downtown Shinjuku, is a foreigner-friendly gay bar with kindly staff, moderately-priced drinks, and it was one of my favorite hotspots to visit during my adventures in Japan last year. It could’ve easily existed in Boystown itself or any other gay-friendly neighborhood. You had beautiful, beat-for-the-gods, Drag Queens dancing and lip-syncing for your life, his life, her life, all of our lives. There were, of course, the less-than-friendly ‘cliquey’ gays that were in the corner, judging you, and you had the uber-friendly hosts that were just so happy to greet you inside. Plus, as a bonus, all the handsome locals and expats love to meet and greet fish-out-of-water foreigners such as myself.

Dragon MEN is the definitely the popular bar. It seemed, at all times, the busiest with guests lined outside the club trying to get in. It does offer a lot of room to move around, dance, cruise, or sit down and just have an alcohol to yourself. For me, as I said, it was my favorite place to visit because I continuously met extremely nice people who offered to buy me drinks, donate cigarettes upon request, or exchange kind words of mere flirts with me. In fact, I made a great friend there who I still occasionally talk to on Facebook. I also hooked up with a gentleman from Paraguay there. It was a good night, overall. I expanded my ethnic horizons that day.

My next evening in the gay district did not involve the loud speakers and overly-enthusiastic dancegoers because eventually that can lose its appeal after awhile. So, I meandered on over to Bridge, which is a more atmospheric gay bar on Ni-chome and it’s reserved for those of us who want to enjoy a softer, less in-your-face gay experience whilst journeying through the dicks of Tokyo. Inside, you can relax and have thoughtful conversations while sipping on Sake. It’s a more ‘chill’ environment, so to speak. Ironically, I didn’t really talk to as many people as I did at Dragon MEN. Those I did speak to were again very outgoing and social, which speaks volumes when you consider again what country you’re visiting. There was no hooking up that night. Jesus wept.

Gold Finger is also another foreigner-friendly bar, but (and you guessed it), it’s definitely your go-to Karaoke bar. In Japan, Karaoke is a big cultural staple and you’ll find plenty of it wherever you end up. In the gay district, to find the best Karaoke bar is to find Gold Finger and it’s also the best lesbian bar as well, offering Saturdays as their women-only nights. Absolutely no men are allowed inside at all. And it’s home to a totally mixed grabbag of different genetic party favors. I met men and women from London, Uruguay, Switzerland, Florida – all manner of places. And even though I sang Staying Alive by the Bee Gees in English at a Japanese Karaoke bar, I still received much fanfare and applause from the audience. But that’s probably because everybody was either too drunk to care or just making fun of me. It didn’t matter. I still had a blast. What also made this experience such a highlight was watching people from places all around the world singing pop songs in their native languages. I felt cultured as fuck.

I could continue to shamelessly plug all these amazing bars that I visited, but that’s not really the point of why I’m writing this Thursday Travel blog. As familiar as the gay district of Tokyo is to me, at the same time, it’s different and inspiring for it’s own merits.  

Japan is a reserved country. As congested as the train stations of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are, you don’t hear too much talking. In fact, if it weren’t for the purposeful feet of those walking to their respective train platforms or the trains themselves, I’m convinced the stations would be nearly soundless. While walking up and down the busy streets of Akihabara, the electric town, I didn’t really see people inside or outside of stores talking to each other. And that’s because the people of Japan are quiet, shy, introverted, independent, and very solitary. They do communicate, but it’s very implied. Subtle hand gestures and facial expressions suggest enough meaning to one another to avoid any further vocalizations or even possible confrontations.

 And there’s nothing wrong with this at all. There’s a quiet dignity of the people of Japan and it’s highly respectable and warrants merit. But when you witness two gays inside of a dark nightclub desperately lusting after each other in a culture, in a country, that otherwise isn’t very vocal, isn’t very communicative, isn’t very confrontational, isn’t always that sexual, and whose people mostly keep to themselves, it can be very illuminating and downright inspiring to know that the same sense of pride and love that encompasses the LGBT community, one that I’ve always felt in Boystown, can be felt, heard, tasted, smelled, and seen even in the quietest, most solitary of all peoples and cultures. Such as the beautiful Japan.

There's More To Mexico Than Beaches & Tequila. Here's Our Time In The Amazing State Of Guanajuato.

Many times when you hear people vacationing in Mexico, the cities of Puerto Vallarta and Cancun seem to be the ones named.  The Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Pacific Ocean do call travelers to Mexico, but there's another region of Mexico that was calling us to visit. 

We recently traveled to the state of Guanajuato in Mexico for a friend’s destination wedding. While many people may imagine of sandy beaches or redwood forests when they think of the ideal destination weddings, Guanajuato, one of the most historic regions in Mexico, was one trip we simply could not miss.

 

Located in the Central region of Mexico, Guanajuato has always been on our bucket list of places to visit because of the richness in culture and history that we knew we would find. It offers incredible architecture, beautiful art, food that even now our mouths waters for, and so much to experience for the traveler who is looking for the authentic Mexican experience in a surreal and magical destination.

 

There was so much to see, do, eat, drink, and enjoy in Guanajuato that it is so hard to share it all. Although we were there with a larger group, we (my partner and I) had already put together an itinerary of things we had to hit on our journey. Not included everything here, we’ve given the MUST SEE/DO locations that will make your trip to Guanajuato a fulfilling one.


Guanajuato

Upon arriving to Guanajuato’s capital city, Guanajuato, we were immediately taken aback by the immense colors of homes sitting atop the hills of the town that grew larger as we approached. We drove into the city’s center via Guanajuato’s calles subterráneas (underground streets) that weave in and out of each other and magically transport you through its arteries of passage from one side of the city and opens into the heart of the city’s plaza. Like nothing we had ever seen before, these catacomb-style streets are one of the city’s most iconic sites and are nothing short of an eerie scene from a horror movie. But they’re amazing!

We checked into the Hotel Edelmira Boutique a beautiful hotel situated in Guanajuato’s main plaza that dates back to the nineteenth century. Our group enjoyed the historic architecture mixed with modernity of the hotel’s indoor pool, exposed brick, and incredible sites overlooking Guanajuato’s grandeur.

El Pípila

Located atop a hill overlooking the breathtaking site of all of Guanajuato, this giant statue of a miner who was one of the first heroes in the struggle for Independence. Standing at the foot of this statue really lets one take in the essence of Guanajuato with its rainbow of homes, churches, and tiny roads.

El Callejón del Beso (Kiss Alley)

Without a doubt Guanajuato tapped into our romantic side with its illustrious alleys and colorful streets. But quite possibly the most famous and legendary street in all of Mexico is a tiny alley where two buildings are just less than 5 feet apart from one another. Legend has it that two unfortunate lovers shared a romance that ended in death at the alley. Kissing on the third step of the callejón promises to bring a couple 15 more years of happiness and love. So of course…we had to!

Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (Mummy Museum of Guanajuato)

This oddity is one of the trip stops that is most popular on any visit to Guanajuato. As we entered this museum, we were immediately overcome by a morbid curiosity turned churning feeling in our stomachs. The dozens of bodies that are now preserved in the museum tell a historic tale of Guanajuato’s government and struggles with class. Spanning over 150 years since the first mummified body was extracted from the Santa Paula Pantheon, this museum will leave you wincing even though you won’t be able to look away.

Museo Casa Diego Rivera

For the art-lovers out there, the home of Mexican painter Diego Rivera is located not far from Guanajuato’s central plaza. We toured Rivera’s childhood home and experienced lots of his early works that were undoubtedly inspired by his hometown.

Eat & Drink

Food and drink was plentiful so to recount my gastronomical escapades would be eternal. But we will share one or two spots per destination where you can feed your taste buds and wet your whistle.

La Clave Azul – Here we found some of the greatest mezcal we have tasted outside of the state of Oaxaca. This hidden gem in Guanajuato is at the end of an alley that becomes a three-story cantina decorated by eclectic artifacts and memorabilia. We drank here until the wee hours of the morning and even closed down the bar ... right before wandering off to the Callejón del Beso.

Enchiladas Mineras (miner enchiladas) – This street food will make you utterly happy! After a long day of touring (or a night of drinking) this twist on regular enchiladas is something typical of Guanajuato and whose name comes from the many silver mines located in the state. Enchiladas smothered in sauce, queso fresco, potatoes, carrots and served with a side of equally delicious chicken. You are bound to find these anywhere while you are in Guanajuato—but the best places are called fondas, which is a restaurant right out of people’s homes. Don’t be afraid! This is some of the best food around and at a very small fraction of what you would pay at a regular restaurant. If you can get some recommendations from locals or your hotel, take them up on their suggestions. You’ll be dreaming about those enchiladas for months to come.


Dolores Hidalgo

On a day trip toward San Miguel de Allende, we stopped at the town of Dolores Hidalgo which is known to be the town where the battle for Mexican independence was born. Here is where the famous Mexican cry for independence was first shouted by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla—a shout that is often heard in regional music from Mexico.

Tumba de José Alfredo Jimenez (Resting Place of José Alfredo Jimenez)

Prior to reaching the town’s plaza, we arrived at resting place of José Alfredo Jimenez, the godfather of Mariachi music. Hundreds of people gathered near the colorful sarape mosaic to pay their respects to the man who gave birth to a Mexico’s most popular genre of music. Believe us, it’s like what Graceland is for Elvis fans.

Plaza Principal – Jardín del Grande Hidalgo (Main Plaza)

Dolores Hidalgo is one of Mexico’s primary producers of ceramics, which we saw in every single storefront.

Eat & Drink

Nieves (Ice Cream) – Anywhere around the main plaza in Dolores Hidalgo you will find these vendedores de nieves (ice cream vendors) where you will have your pick some obscure ice cream flavors, such as butter, cactus, beer, tequila, avocado, shrimp cocktail and more--this definitely is not your typical Baskin Robbins. This is the livelihood of these vendors and they take pride in making visitors smile. Take advantage of the endless samples they provide and try yours in a cup or in a cone.


San Miguel de Allende

A great appeal to traveling to Guanajuato for me was the possibility of visiting San Miguel de Allende. This colonial-era city is known for its vibrant cobblestoned plaza, baroque Spanish architecture, colorful artwork, lush parks and some of the finest dining in Mexico. in 2017, San Miguel de Allende was voted the Best City in the World by Travel + Leisure. But before all the hype, this city had been on our bucket list because of the bohemian lifestyle that ex-patriots find endearing. Many foreigners travel to San Miguel de Allende and decide never to leave because they fall in love with the city’s charm. While there are many foreigners inhabiting San Miguel de Allende and essentially gentrifying neighborhoods and businesses, one needs to venture out into the city to see the magic and witness the surrealism of the architecture.

Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

This hauntingly stunning baroque-style cathedral is the focal point of San Miguel de Allende as it broods before the city’s central plaza. The pink hues church’s towers are iconic around the world. A must see stop on a trip to San Miguel de Allende, this church dates back to the late 19th century. Whether from afar or close up, the neo-gothic parroquia makes for a perfect backdrop for your travel photo album or Instagram (no filters needed – cuz if it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it!)

Biblioteca Pública (Public Library)

None of our trips feel complete without visiting at least ONE library—what can we say? One of is a librarian and it’s a librarian’s dream! After walking around for over an hour hitting itinerary spots, we couldn’t help making a B-line for the Biblioteca Pública. The library is located at the converted 18th Century Convent of Santa Ana (even cooler!) and has incredible reading rooms with murals touching every inch of the ceilings. The library has a café and bookstore and serves as a community center for the foreigners who have become residents of San Miguel de Allende. The library was started in 1954 by a Canadian, Helen Wale, who wanted to bring books and literacy to the children of San Miguel de Allende…and over six decades later one of us got to geek out in all its glory.

La Esquina: Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano (The Corner: Museum of Popular Mexican Toys)

Located on a converted building on a corner (for which it gets its name) is a museum dedicated to the traditional toys of Mexico. From masks from the turn of the century to the modern-day curiosities, La Esquina provides a historical and beautifully artistic look at the craft of toy-making. Each gallery space is setup to feature toys by theme which include toys around the regions of Mexico, friendship, play kitchens, playing house, fairs and carnivals and more. This was a quick stop on our trip to San Miguel de Allende, but we both quickly reverted to 8-year-old versions of ourselves when we saw the life-sized luchadores (wrestlers) taking up a corner of the museum. La Esquina is just another aspect of the whimsy that you will find in San Miguel de Allende.

Eat & Drink

San Agustín Chocolates & Churros (Do we need to translate this one?!) – If you’re looking to fill that sweet tooth, this café specializes in churros and other confections. It’s a great sign when you see a long line out the door—don’t run away! It's worth the 10-15 minute wait. When you’re ready to order, we suggest you try their combination order and try a churro filled with chocolate, cajeta (caramel), or condensed milk. You’ll thank us later!


León

After a full week of incredible adventures exploring the romance, mystery, magic and surrealism of Guanajuato, we arrived in the city of León, the state’s largest city. León, whose name means ‘Lion’, is the the most populous city in the state as well as the state’s (and possibly the country’s) largest producer of leather goods. This leg of the trip to León resulted in a different experience. We checked into the Hotel NH Collection León Expo, a recently constructed, modern hotel full of amenities that our group really enjoyed—including breakfast every morning, a spa, and a pool that we're sure we would have enjoyed had it been completed. While we had spent a great deal of time exploring rural and traditional areas of the state of Guanajuato, León provided a more urban, bustling, and thriving city.

Plaza de Armas (Plaza of Arms)

Like many of the plazas you will find around Mexican towns, the Plaza de Armas in León is the watering hole experience. Couples, families, and people of all ages gather to enjoy ice cream, food, and entertainment. The Plaza de Armas is located right before Municipal Presidency Hall of León, where outside of its front doors clown performers entertain children and laughter ensues in the afternoons.

Arco Triunfal de la Calzada de los Héroes (Triumphant Arch of the Heroes)

Constructed in 1883, this arch symbolizes the pride of the people of León. It is dedicated to the heroes of the Mexican independence. Atop the arch is the statue of a mighty lion which welcomes all who visit the arch to the zona centro, the city’s downtown area. The arch, reminiscent of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe is a focal point of the city and the most visited location in León. Fountains and a tree-lined promenade make for memorable pictures and Instagram posts.

Zona Piel (Leather Zone)

No, it’s not what you think! While León is the highest producer of leather items in Mexico, you won’t find EVERYTHING leather there—but you can find just about everything. From shoes to wallets to bags to hats and jackets—everything is crafted in the state of Guanajuato and is way more affordable than anything in the states. We spent an afternoon browsing around shops and ended up picking up some gifts—haggling is pretty fun!

Eat & Drink

Panteón Taurino (Taurus Cemetery) - If you eat ANYWHERE in the city of León you have to try Panteón Taurino. This restaurant resembles a bull ring where the images of deceased bullfighters decorate the walls, bullfighting is on the televisions, and the tables are tombstones with the names of bullfighters. While you wait for your beer or parrillada (personal barbecue) you will witness the servers jump on the bar and simulate a bullfight that commands audience applause and participation. This restaurant is a staple in the city of León and located just outside of the zona centro.


Like we mentioned—there is so much we could have included here about travel to Guanajuato, but from what we have shared are some of our favorite moments and places from this trip. The greatest thing about this trip, however, was that we went with a group of people who were easy going, fun, and up for exploring. We met some great people on this trip that we would like to travel with again. Without those memories, Guanajuato would have not been the same. So find yourself a group of friends who are up for some city exploration and take yourselves to the city of magic, legends, and mummies and we dare you to not fall in love.