Tuesday, April 26, 2016

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com

The Golden Gate Bridge, Hearst Castle, Yosemite: these iconic California locations are also reminders of major events in the state's history. For nearly 30 years after its construction, the Golden Gate Bridge was the world's longest suspension bridge, Hearst Castle was the home of newspaper magnet (and the man behind the yellow journalism of the Spanish-American War, William Randolph Hearst, and Yosemite was the first land put aside for public use (though it wasn't the first national park--Yellowstone holds that title).

Even if you've never set foot in California, you've heard of these three places, which speaks to just how important they are.

But, California is a huge state--the third largest after Alaska and Texas--and that much area has more history that those three aforementioned iconic places can offer!

If you're a history buff like me, make sure to add these lesser known, but still incredible, historical sites to your next California itinerary. Not only will you get to see various part of California, but you'll also come away with a much more comprehensive view of the state's rich history.

1) Mission San Diego de Alcalá

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr user prayitno | creative commons}
Before California became a state, it was visited by English and Spanish explorers and later claimed by Mexico. Head over to San Diego to see the first Spanish mission site (established in 1769) and to learn more about this early period in California's history. Here, you can discover how the earliest Spanish missionaries worked to convert the Native Americans living in the area (and the conflict that arose from this) and the sicknesses and hardships that those settlers endured in the name of their religion.

2) Hollywood Heritage Museum

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr user Holly Hayes | creative commons}
When looking at the state's history and sites, you can't mention California without talking about the film industry, too. If the earliest days of American movies interests you, don't miss out on a visit to this iconic building. Although it looks quite simplistic from the outside, this museum, located in the Lasky-Demille Barn, was where the first full length western was produced in 1914. Although the company had outgrown the barn as an office by 1926, the company retained the building as a gym. Over the years, the building has been moved several times; it was placed in its current location in the early 1980s.

3) Beringer Winery

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr user Guy Huntley | creative commons}
Napa Valley currently boasts over 400 wineries, which can make selecting one quite a task. If you'd like a side of history along with your wine tasting, you might want to head to the Beringer Winery, which is the oldest continually running winery in the Valley. You can learn about the company's 140 years of winemaking and the construction of the 1884 Beringer Mansion.

4) Fort Ross

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr user Dennis Jarvis | creative commons}
Although most people know about California's Spanish and Mexican ties, the fact that Russia held a large swatch of land here in the 1800s usually comes as a surprise. Fort Ross, located in Sonoma County, was once the southern tip of Russia's holdings in North America. Today, it's a state historical park with a campground, an ongoing ecology program for children, surfing, and hiking. Tours of the historic Russian compound are held daily.

5) Marshall Gold Discovery State Park

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr user Nick Ares | creative commons}
No other era has changed the population and topography of California like the Gold Rush did. From 1848 to 1855, more than 300,000 people moved to the state to search for the elusive nuggets that could change their fate. Today, visitors can see the spot inside the state park where the James Marshall found the first gold flakes at Sutter's Mill, explore the ghost town at Coloma, and learn about the gold rush through the onsite exhibits.

6) John Steinbeck House

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr user Steve Brown | creative commons}
Of all of the writers who have tried to capture life in this state, few have stood the test of time  like John Steinbeck and his works. Known for his works Of Mice and Men and East of Eden, it was his novel The Grapes of Wrath that won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for its stark depiction of a family traveling from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl. Fans of Steinbeck can visit this property to see where he was born and where he lived until he left for Stanford University in 1919. Tours are given during the summer, but the house is open as a restaurant year-round.

Whether you're a native Californian taking a long weekend trip or a first time visitor from Europe, adding one (or all!) of these sites to your itinerary will help you get a better understanding of California's rich history.

What's your favorite off-the-beaten-path attraction in California?

6 Lesser-known (but Still Incredible) Historical Sites in California | CosmosMariners.com
______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Blogging Break (Just a Short One!)

A Blogging Break (Just a Short One!) | CosmosMariners.com

There's seriously SO much going on right now in my life, which is equally exhausting and exhilarating.

This week, my sister (and only sibling and BFF) is getting married--and yours truly is the matron of honor! Since I definitely don't want anything to get in the way of her perfect day, I've decided to focus on that this week instead of stressing about what needs to be posted on the blog and my social media channels.

And, because my life isn't crazy enough, my husband and I decided to take a quick trip with our daughter after the wedding. Hello, fun weekend trip! The trip is going to be a big thank you to my daughter for doing well during the ceremony, as she's the flower girl and we really want her to do her best. (Hey, bribe material can work wonders with a toddler.)

So, don't worry when you don't see anything new on Cosmos Mariners for the next week or so. I promise, I have plenty of new material lined up to share with you when I get back from this quick break.

What do you have going on this week and weekend? If you're a blogger, how often do you take blogging breaks?
______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Smarter, Easier Family Travel: Why You Should Add the gb Pockit Stroller to Your Must-Pack List {A Review}

Smarter, Easier Family Travel: Why You Should Add the gb Pockit Stroller to Your Must-Pack List {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com


This post was sponsored by @GBChildUsa as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central. I received the gb Pockit to facilitate my review.

By far, the most difficult part of traveling with a little one is the amount of stuff that we have to pack for her. While we've streamlined the process a bit over the last 2.5 years, I still find myself hauling around her travel cot, her toddler backpack and leash, our bulky stroller, and her beloved Frozen luggage.

Thanks to the gb Pockit stroller, I've found another way to get that pile of stuff even smaller. Before I received this stroller, we had three options when we were traveling: take her large but accommodating and easy to steer Graco stroller, her unwieldy but prepared-for-anything jogging stroller with all-terrain wheels, or the small but flimsy cheap umbrella stroller. It wasn't an easy choice, and it seemed as if my husband and I were never fully happy no matter which one was selected to come along for the ride.

Before I was chosen to work with gb Pockit for this campaign, I'd seen a video going around Facebook of this super cool stroller that was tiny when it was folded up. I remember thinking, "That's a cool concept, but I'm sure we'll never have one since it's probably a prototype." Imagine my surprise when that exact stroller showed up on my doorstep just a few weeks later--and in a box that was about the size of your standard boot box from the shoe store.

When my husband saw the box, he assumed that I had ordered some sort of stroller accessory since it was so small. When we opened the box and saw this impossibly configured stroller folded up, I think we were both wondering if this was for real.

Smarter, Easier Family Travel: Why You Should Add the gb Pockit Stroller to Your Must-Pack List {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
Who needs a stroller check when you can just fold it up and take it to the table with you?!

In the two weeks that I've had the gb Pockit, I've put this thing through the motions: we've traversed downtown Charleston (and all of the cobblestone streets and broken sidewalks that come with that territory), in the fishing village of McClellanville (where all of these photos were taken), the stadium at Clemson University and the fields around it for tailgating at the spring football game, and several of the parks here in South Carolina.

Here's what I've found after field testing it:

PROS

Smarter, Easier Family Travel: Why You Should Add the gb Pockit Stroller to Your Must-Pack List {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com

-The size. It really is so small when it's folded up! I've got a large backpack that I could put it into if we were out in a big city and wanted it out of the way.
-The weight. A stroller that folds up and stores into a backpack isn't much help if it's still heavy! Thankfully, the stroller is also very lightweight at 9.5 pounds.
-The handles. There is nothing more that I hate on a stroller than tiny handles that cause me to hunch over (ahem, I'm looking at you, umbrella stroller). These are nice and tall so that I never feel as if I'm having to do my best Hobbit impression in order to get a good grip on my stroller.
-The age range. Since it holds kids from 6 months to around 55 pounds, you could use this baby for a long time. My toddler weighs in around 35 pounds, so I can see us still getting many years of use out of it.
-The ease of movement. As I mentioned earlier, we did a bit of all-terrain pushing on this stroller in the time that we've had it, and it moves like a dream. You can choose to have the front wheels static or in swivel mode, which allows for more flexibility.

Smarter, Easier Family Travel: Why You Should Add the gb Pockit Stroller to Your Must-Pack List {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
Enjoying McClellanville's Jeremy Creek at sunset


CONS
-When we collapse the stroller, the back wheels sometimes don't stay where they're supposed to, which causes issues when we're trying to fold it down. It would be helpful to have a way to lock the wheels into the folding position to avoid this.
-The basket underneath isn't very big, but I don't feel like I can complain about this too much since it is such a compact stroller. Just know that you'll probably have to carry an extra bag if you need lots of extra clothes, diapers, etc.
-The sun shade is a great feature, but it seems like the fabric is a bit thin to hold up over time. After just two weeks of use, ours has two small holes in it.

All in all, this is now our go-to stroller for traveling (it's headed to Disney World with us later this month!), and it such a cool piece of engineering, too. We've had several people stop and ask us about it when they've seen us folding it up in public: it's definitely something that will start a conversation!

Smarter, Easier Family Travel: Why You Should Add the gb Pockit Stroller to Your Must-Pack List {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com

If you want to add one to your kid's must-pack list, the gb Pockit stroller is available at Babies R Us stores and online here.

______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

10 Things You'll Think after Becoming a Travel Blogger

10 Things You'll Think after Becoming a Travel Blogger | CosmosMariners.com

I've been blogging for over five years, and exclusively travel blogging for nearly two...and it has been one crazy, wonderful, magnificent experience.

Over the last 24 months, my relationship with my blog has gone from we're-just-aquaintances to my other child. I plan what I'm doing around my posts and what I need to do for it. And like, a small child that needs constant attention and nourishment, the blog has slowly grown and--dare I say?--started to thrive.

Also, like a child, the blog has caused me many, many days of stress and sleepless nights as I try to fix technical problems that are way beyond my comprehension, juggle social media marketing with hanging out with my family, and the overwhelming feeling that I will never, ever, ever get everything done on this thing that needs to be done.

If you're thinking about starting a travel blog, here's what to expect. Be prepared: it's one heck of a ride!  If you're the happy current owner of a travel blog, these blog phases are probably the story of your life, too.


10) Why didn't I think about doing this years ago?

I started my travel blog with starry eyes and a huge sense of what I was going to accomplish. After the first few weeks of just producing travel content, I realized that I had discovered something that combined all of my favorite things: writing, travel, and education. There couldn't possibly be a downside to this perfect thing that I'd stumbled upon. (Right!?)

9) Working for myself is so fantastic.

After being a teacher with certain lecture and office hours (and endless hours of grading), the idea of working for myself when I'm able to make time is so awesome. (The whole working-for-myself thing was perfect until the first week when my toddler got sick, and I couldn't stick to my usual posting schedule...and that's when I realized that working for yourself means that if you don't do it, no one will.)


8) So, when do I start making money off of this thing?

The newness wore off about four or five months into my professional blogging career: I had the hustle, I had the content, I was building my blog with new readers, but I had nothing in my (freshly minted) business account to show for it.

I've been at this travel blogging thing pretty seriously since late April/ early May 2014, and I've only just started to see my monetization efforts pay off within the last 6 months or so. If you're justing starting out in travel blogging (or any blogging niche), know that the money will come eventually, even if that seems impossible when you're first beginning.

7) I'm definitely a traveler...not a tourist.

After that honeymoon phase of travel blogging wears off, you'll remove the rose colored glasses and realize that there are a bunch of petty arguments that keep going around and around and around the travel blogging community. The most popular of these is the traveler vs. tourist mentality (though the argument about whether you're a "real" traveler because you travel quickly is a close second), which continues to make the rounds even though everyone is thoroughly sick of these meta-travel musings.

Yet, at that early stage in your travel blogging career, you will feel the need to take possession of some of these titles because all of the other cool kids are doing it, and you'll mull over whether you're a traveler or a tourist, a slow traveler or fast traveler, a budget backpacker or luxury globetrotter, and if you'll ever be a legit travel blogger because you don't ever want to couchsurf and you're not in your 20s.

6) Uh, who cares about labels anyway?

Ultimately, you'll break through to the other side of all of these labels and realize that you're just you and your quirky travel habits are what make you happy. Who care what everyone else is doing (or how they're doing it!) if your particular brand of travel is what keeps you going!


5) I hate traveling. Seriously, I'm never leaving the house again.

I won't lie: I have hit this stage in the last few months, mostly because I struggle to balance my normal non-traveling life schedule with the incredible amount of time that my blog needs and the necessary pitching and traveling that comes with my niche.

At some point in your travel blogging career, you will go through this phase and wonder why in the world you've chosen a job that requires you to keep going and going all of the time without any end in stop. I have felt a bit like a hamster on a wheel that keeps getting sped up as my blog grows and needs even more attention! Add into that fact that I have a toddler who requires just as much attention or she'll burn down the house, and my day-to-day life can be more than a bit overwhelming.

Of course, the depth and intensity of this phase probably has a lot to do with everything else you've got going on in your life: the stresses of young kids or ailing parents or your full-time job outside of travel blogging can definitely make it seem imperative that you travel less and stay home more.

My advice when you begin this phase is just to keep going--because it's going to get worse before it gets better.

4) I spend so much time on my blog that I don't feel as if I have time to actually travel anymore.

In part II of the travel-blog-disillusionment phase, you'll really hit that wall and realize that there's a balance out there between your traveling and your blogging (and thus, your source of money!), but you're not sure where it's hiding.

Now that this blog is my full time job, I have to plan SO much when I'm heading out of town for an extended period of time. When we went to Ireland earlier this year, my husband joked to me on the plane over there that it was the first time we'd talked in several weeks because I was working morning, noon, and night just to put my blog on autopilot for the two weeks we were gone.

That much work has made me second guess these long trips, which really is unfortunate since they are something I love to do. I travel to blog, but the ratrace that is the travel blogging industry sometimes makes me feel as if I blog to travel.

3) I'm tired. I'm tired of writing. I'm tired of blogging. I'm tired of social media. I'm tired of thinking about traveling. I'm tired of emails.

And this is where I am right now. My kid just had spring break from her preschool, so my precious hours of work twice a morning were snatched away. Add in the fact that we haven't been home for a weekend in nearly a month, a trend that will continue well into May, and you've got a melting pot of stress and non-blogging.

Sometimes, I think that if I have to schedule one more tweet, write one more word, or post one more time on Facebook, I will scream. On more than one occasion, I've told my husband: "I just want to go sit on a beach far, far away from my computer, and enjoy the sunshine."

His response: "You'd like that for a day, but then you'd probably try to blog about it." Seriously, travel blogging, I can't quit you.

2) This might be the worst decision I've ever made.

You will wonder many times why you decided to post that first blog post. You'll wonder why you spend so many hours getting little to no pay. You'll wonder why you care so darn much about how many people have liked that Instagram photo you posted of London. And you'll wonder if you should quit.

But you won't because one thing will keep running through your mind:


1) This might be the greatest thing I've ever done.

And it will be. Even with the late nights, the endless pitching emails, the sassy (and sometimes downright rude) comments, the never-ending posts and social media scheduling, travel blogging has been the most rewarding career that I've had yet.

There are days that I think about going back to teaching, but I realize that, now I've seen the world from this side of the computer, there's no going back. Despite those bad weeks and months, I love making new friends who love traveling as much as I do, inspiring others to see my favorite places, and being able to write about my passions each week.

To all of my old readers--and those new to Cosmos Mariners family--thank you for being a part of this journey. It's a wild ride, and I'm glad that you're here!

10 Things You'll Think after Becoming a Travel Blogger | CosmosMariners.com

______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

I will fully admit that my knowledge of world geography stinks. I'm okay with the biggies on each continent, but when you start getting into the smaller countries, I struggle a bit. So, with that in mind, don't make too much fun of me when I share this next tidbit of knowledge: I don't think that I could've found Luxembourg on a map if you'd paid me a million dollars prior to October of 2015.

One wonderful thing about traveling (and travel blogging) is that I am exposed to and read about many, many different countries, so--good news!--my geography is slowly improving every day. And, for an even bigger slice of that good news pie, I'm happy to report that some of these countries that I didn't have a clue about are actually well worth your and my time.

Case in point: Luxembourg. It's a tiny European duchy that's squished between France, Belgium, and Germany. This incredible Western European location makes it an excellent base as you discover both Luxembourg and the countries bordering it.

If you find yourself in western Germany, southern Belgium, or eastern France with a little bit of extra time on your hands, consider adding a few days in Luxembourg to your itinerary. We decided to linger at the end of our Germany road trip, and what we discovered there was the perfect bookend to our adventures.

To really get a feel for everything that Luxembourg has to offer, you need two days: one in the more cosmopolitan, modern Luxembourg City, and another enjoying the lush green countryside outside of the country's one major hub.

Day 1

For your first day in Luxembourg, strap on your walking shoes and head out into the city. Whenever possible, use public transportation to get to and from the city center as parking and driving can be extremely stressful--you can't miss the brightly colored Multiplicity buses. Once you're in the city center, most everything that you'd want to see is in pretty easy walking distance, and all of the major sites are signposted in French and German.

As you wander around, you'll notice that Luxembourg is a little French, a little German, and completely European. The city has a unique mixture of languages (there are three official: French, German, and Luxembourgish), cultures, and styles. It draws from the larger countries around it while still retaining its own identity, which can't be easy.

One of the major attractions in Luxembourg City is the subterranean tunnel system that winds its way under the city. The Bock Casements were carved in the 1600s by the Spanish who then ruled this area; they held troops, military supplies, and even horses. Today, much of the 23 miles of kilometers of tunnel are open to the public...though, if you luck up as we did, the tunnels will be under refurbishment and won't let you in. This was one of the biggest disappointments of our Luxembourg visit, and I will be back to wander through them on a future visit.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

Just around the corner from the entrance to the Casements is the beautiful Notre-Dame Cathedral, a towering structure tucked away between some government buildings. The stunning stained glass and the interior Gothic architecture is worth a peek inside.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

Stop for a while in the Place d'Arms and get a feel for what makes this city tick. As the main square of Luxembourg City, Place d'Arms is where you'll find shops and eateries, outdoor concerts and people lingering over their meals on nice days. This has been the heart of the city for centuries: it was first laid out as a central shopping area during the rebuilding efforts following a fire in the mid-1550s. In the 1670s, it was reworked as a military parade ground--hence the current name, Arms Square.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

One of the favorite pastimes in Luxembourg City is shopping. There are some incredible luxury stores, so grab some macarons from Laduree while you browse through the likes of the local Chanel, Lacoste, and Hèrmes stores.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

Although it wasn't open for tours while we were there, we did stand outside of the Grand Duchal Palace with the rest of the common folk and snap and picture or two. And, for what it's worth, we saw some ambassadors being escorted into the Palace while we were taking pictures.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

If you're visiting during the summer and want to see how Luxembourg's rulers live, there are daily tours (except for Wednesdays) from mid-July to early September.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

If you'd like to learn more about the Battle of the Bulge and the sacrifices that both the Luxembourgians and Americans made in World War II, a trip to the American Cemetery just outside of town is worth a few hours of your time. We made a visit since my great-uncle, who stepped on a land mine at the age of 19, is buried here, and the tour that we were given was personal, moving, and unforgettable. General George Patton, the controversial but influential World War II leader, is buried here alongside many of the men and women that he oversaw in battle.

Day 2

For your second day in Luxembourg, you'll want to head out into the countryside to see what the rest of the country is like: rolling, green, and lush. As you drive past tranquil farms and rivers, it's hard to imagine how badly Luxembourg was affected during World War II--and how it has managed to recover in the decades since.

When German forces overtook Luxembourg in 1940, the royal family (and many tens of thousands of Luxembourgian) fled to nearby countries. Those who were left under German occupation were forced to speak German instead of the French or Luxembourgish that was more common. The 12,000 Luxembourg men who were under occupation were all placed into military service, and a fourth of them died in battle. The Jewish population of Luxembourg was decimated during the war: only 36 of the nearly 1,000 Jewish Luxembourgians are known to have survived the war.

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com

Yet, in the years since the war, Luxembourg has put great value on restoring its history, culture, and people to their former places. An excellent example of this is Vianden Castle, a must-visit on your second day in the country. This imposing castle rests on a rock overhang and is magnificent when you first come around the curve in the road and spot it.

There's been a structure here since the Romans occupied this area 2,000 years ago, and a castle was slowly built upon over the years. In the 1800s, however, the castle fell into disrepair and locals began using it for a quarry. It was only a few years after World War II ended that the Duchy decided to refurbish it--and rebuilt it in places--so that it could welcome visitors again. (If you want to learn more about this amazing space, read my full post on it here!)

Have you visited Luxembourg? Which of the days would you rather do: city exploration or countryside adventures?

How to Spend 2 Days in Charming Luxembourg | CosmosMariners.com
______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review}

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | wording added to original | creative commons}
Within the last decade or so, Charleston has exploded (not literally, thankfully). Not only has my lovely hometown been named the number one travel destination in the world by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine for four years running, the Holy City has also come into its own with new restaurants, multiple James Beard-award winning chefs, and cutting edge menus.

If you're from elsewhere, figuring out where to eat while visiting might be a little intimidating. After all, Charleston has enough restaurants in the historic area that you could eat at a new one every day for nearly a year and a half. So, where do you start?

Even as a born and raised Charlestonian, it's tough for me to keep up with what's new and exciting on the culinary scene since there are SO many new restaurants that have opened recently. I decided to partner with Charleston Culinary Tours and play tourist for a day to see what new eats and treats were hiding downtown.

So, was the tour worth it? Could even a local learn a culinary trick or two?

Yes, and yes.

I went on the original Charleston Culinary Tour, which promised a visit to 3 or 4 restaurants on the historic peninsula. The exact restaurants that each tour visits aren't revealed until the start of your tour since the locations change daily based on availability and each restaurant's schedule. For our tour, we visited four places: HōM, R, Lana, and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, none of which I'd visited before (or even heard of before the tour!).

Getting Started

Before we started chowing down, Guilds Hollowell, a fellow Mount Pleasant native and our knowledgeable tour guide for the afternoon, greeted each of the 28 guests for the tour at the door and let us know this was a talk with food and history. He then explained that the larger group would be broken into 2 groups of 14; each would have their own personal tour guide. Our tour would leave from HōM restaurant and proceed over to Rutledge Avenue, while the other tour would go south after their tasting at HōM.

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com

I really liked having a smaller group for this type of tour since it makes the experience seem more personal--and you don't have to jostle anyone while sampling the food. To bond us together a bit before setting out, Guilds had each member of our friendly group introduce themselves: our fellow foodies were from elsewhere inSouth Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio and Iowa.

Guilds also shared a bit about himself: over 5,000 people have walked with him along the streets of Upper King in the past four years.  When you consider that nine of Charleston's chefs have recently been nominated for the James Beard award, it's no wonder that the popularity of tours have exploded over our guide's tenure.

HōM

In the hands of our capable guide, we dove into our first tasting session at HōM Restaurant (pronounced "Home") Restaurant at 563 King Street.

HōM restaurant was named because the owners wanted their guests to feel as if they were dining out in their own houses. The owners are former chefs with extensive formal dining experience, but both felt they needed to provide the public with casual dining with food made with care and with locally sourced ingredients whenever available.

The specialties here are creative burgers with fun sides. Our first offering was calamari with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese. The calamari was so tender and delicious. The second dish was Dixie Flatbread. This bread was topped with pimento cheese, pork confit, caramelized onions, maple bacon and arugula. Even though I'm a person who is not usually a fan of pimento cheese, I ate every bit of my serving--it was a unique dish that I would definitely order again!

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
Dixie Flatbread anyone?
 The final offering at HoM was a menu item called the “Green Gobble’n," a freshly ground turkey topped with braised kale, Swiss cheese, green goddess aioli and green apple. The tangy apple balanced out the creamy cheese for another tasty combination.

And when you're finished with your meal, you can challenge your dining mates to a game of ping pong at the table in the back of the restaurant.

R Kitchen

Our group of 14 made our way down King Street, Cannon Street and on to Rutledge Avenue towards our second stop.

On the way, Guilds offered many comments about architectural contrasts in the old and new that co-exist in the same area. The vibrancy and life of this area is returning after many, many years, and the streets are alive with people. 

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
Guilds shares a bit of his knowledge about the revitalization of downtown Charleston.
After our quick architectural interlude, Guilds guided us into R Kitchen at 212 Rutledge Street. Each morning, the chefs at this restaurant begin their menu selections by stopping by the Vegetable Bin downtown for fresh items for their dishes.

By serving time that evening, they have prepared a five course dinner which is offered at $30 each. Dinner guests do not choose what they are served; instead the food is served at the bar in front of the chefs, so you will feel like you are in Mama’s kitchen eating dinner.

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
The architectural review board in downtown required that R Kitchen keep the original, historic facade, so the owners incorporated it into their decor!
There are three seatings each night- 6 PM, 7:30 PM, and 9 PM with room for 15 each time. This restaurant does not advertise, has no outside sign, but still managed to have a three week waiting period for a reservation.

Our tastings at this location consisted of Beef Wellington with mashed potatoes and a lamb lasagna. Both dishes were served on an eclectically decorated plate with a choice of wines (available at $5 per glass). Of the two dishes at R Kitchen, I preferred the extremely tender Beef Wellington to the lasagna--I'm a huge fan of spicy foods, but the latter dish was too spicy even for my taste buds.

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
R Kitchen's Beef Wellington (left) and the lamb lasagna
The best (and worst) part of R Kitchen would be that every night is a completely different dining experience: you have no idea what to expect from the chefs, which is half of the fun!

Lana


Our third stop was right next door to R Kitchen: Lana, a European-styled eatery, is located at 210 Rutledge Avenue.   Using Mediterranean-inspired recipes, Chef John Ondo has made this restaurant a Holy City favorite: as a fellow Charlestonian, Ondo has tried to marry his love of Italian and Spanish food with the charm of the Lowcountry.  The interior was tastefully decorated (and includes a wine rack that Ondo himself painstakingly stained and sealed), so you feel quite cozy in the space.  

At Lana, our group was presented with a squash carrot coconut curry soup followed by rabbit cacciatore. The curry soup was served cold (as it was supposed to be a light soup for the springtime!) and had a gorgeous orangey-red color. It was a bit on the spicy side, but, unlike the lamb lasagna at the previous restaurant, the spiciness in this dish complimented the flavors instead of overpowering them. 

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
Wonderfully spicy curry soup
The rabbit cacciatore came with a rich tomato sauce and linguini noodles. The noodles were a little hard to eat in the small bowls that we were given, but the struggle was worth the delicious flavors in this sample. 

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
Rabbit cacciatore
Neither of these dishes are on the current menu at Lana, so if you want to try them, you'll have to hope that they make an appearance on the every changing Chef's Choice Tasting Menu. 

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams


Last but certainly not least was a trip to our dessert spot: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. We were led by Guilds back to King Street where we visited Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams which is the only recipient of the James Beard award for ice cream.  We were all given samples of our favorite flavor followed by either a cone or cup of excellent ice cream: I chose the black and white cookie ice cream, while my mom went for the chocolate chocolate chip. 

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com


This isn't your usual ice cream shop: there are some super creative flavors that you're not going to find anywhere else like Wildberry Lavender, Churro, Brambleberry Crisp, and Brown Butter Almond Crisp. The owner is always introducing new flavors, so you never know what you're going to see on the menu.

Normally, the ice creams are $5 for a scoop: it might seem like a lot, but the scoops are gigantic. We each were given a half scoop, which was nearly too much to eat alone. You could easily split the regular scoop for an inexpensive dessert idea. 

It was such a perfect end to a grand culinary delight of an afternoon!

What to Know before You Go

Tours are held rain or shine, so come prepared if the weather is threatening.

You'll be stuffed by the end of the tour! Do not attempt to eat beforehand or you'll be missing out on some tasty morsels. You'll get more than just a tiny sample at each place--the tour website does not lie when it promises that a tour can easily make a meal for most.

Wear comfy shoes. Downtown isn't the most forgiving of places for high heels (I've gotten my fair share of heels stuck in grates and in cracks in the sidewalks), so trade in the fancy shoes for something that will go the distance. You cover a decent distance on the tour, and your feet will thank you at the end.

There was a complimentary recipe book available for each guest. The paperback Signature Taste of Charleston by author, Steven W. Siler, is an awesome souvenir and has many of the recipes that we tasted on our tour in it. Be on the lookout for my versions of a few of these in upcoming posts of the Tasty Travels series!

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com

I received a complimentary tour for two from Charleston Culinary Tours in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own. 
______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

6 Smart Travel Items that Will Make Your Journeys Easier

6 Smart Travel Items that Will Make Your Journeys Easier | CosmosMariners.com

One of the thing I hear the most from readers about travel is how stressful the entire packing and preparation process is. Yet, with the amazing advancements in technology available, traveling has become easier and more fun than ever. 

From the perfect additions for our iPhones to protecting valuables, and from photography improvements to hammocks that cradle the body in the most comfortable of positions, check out these must-have travel items you need this year to make your journeys easier.

Your Phone Essentials

You’ll want to be sure you always are able to stay in contact with your loved ones, so don’t let a lack of charge prevent your communication. Grab an on-the-go charger from a company like Touch of Modern to ensure you can charge your phone even if you don’t have an outlet readily available to you. It’s basically a death wish for your phone to travel without a case. If you’re going to be on the water at all, consider a waterproof case, like the Overboard. Even in the pouring rain you’ll be able to text and call without worrying about irreparably damaging your phone. 


The Safest Wallet Around

On your travels, it’s important that you keep your important valuables close to the chest (my beloved travel scarf is a great way to do so); from your passport to your cash to your credit cards, keeping them all in one safe place is paramount. 

For those who don't want to wear a scarf, the Royce Freedom Wallet is the answer to your safety woes. Inside, this little wallet stores Bluetooth technology that can be tracked from an iPhone or Android, meaning if your wallet goes missing, you’ll be able to track it down immediately. It’s also created with RFID technology that prevents opportunistic thieves from accessing secure information. The wallet is big enough to hold your passport, money, and all of the other essentials you need with you on the daily. 

Headphones

Traveling on plane, train, or by foot usually means some down time, and if you don’t want to hear the snores of your neighbor or the screaming baby a few aisles down, you’ll need the right earphones. Over the ear headphones are your best bet in comparison to the in-ear earphones that don’t do much to block out noise. Onkyo H500BT headphones are wireless, allow you to switch between music and calls, and offer great sound quality. Plus, they come in a variety of colors so you can find something that matches your personal style. 

The OlloClip

If you’re an Instagrammer extraordinaire or your iPhone is your favorite way of capturing memories, then you absolutely need to grab an OlloClip before your next adventure. These lenses attach easily to your smartphone and give you a 3-in-1 or 4-in-1 lens experience that will make sure your shots are perfect, each time, every time. The varied lenses allow you to capture more of the scene in front of you in the picture, allowing for a more realistic and holistic image for your photography collection. 

A Comfy Hammock

Every camper knows the joy that is a comfortable hammock and the respite it offers from sleeping on the cold, hard ground. If you’re looking for a cradling hammock, check out the award winning Blue Ridge Camping Hammock. With a tent that pops up over the top, you’ve never been more comfortable sleeping while strung between two majestic trees. Regardless of your planned climate or terrain, this lightweight hammock can be easily packed, simply set up, and quickly taken down. In contrast to the usual tent setup, you won’t need to carry around sleeping pads or tarps to lay on the ground, and you’ll wake up in the morning feeling well-rested and ready to begin your day. 

Home Security App

If you often have to leave home and worry about the goings on and whether your personal possessions are safe, you may benefit from a home security system that will allow you peace of mind. Make sure the dog sitter is coming over when necessary, be notified when there’s unexpected noise and entry, and stay informed even when you’re halfway across the world with the Nest Security System. It's definitely not what a traditional travel app, but it will give you plenty of peace of mind if you're a worrier while you travel.

Make 2016 the year of travel with these amazing adventure essentials that will make your journeys more pleasurable, safe, and practical than ever before. Look at your packing list again and see which of these items you need to include. 


What are your must-pack items when traveling?

6 Smart Travel Items that Will Make Your Journeys Easier | CosmosMariners.com
______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup

Monday, March 28, 2016

Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up | Vol. 13

Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up, Vol. 13 | CosmosMariners.com

After a crazy weekend, I'm back and ready to face the new week!

On Saturday, my husband took our daughter for a drive in the nearby forest, which is a weekend tradition that the two of them have. Normally, Landon and Britton have some great daddy-daughter bonding time looking at the swamps, finding birds, and seeing if they can spot a deer or two. This past Saturday, they went out as usual and drove the same dirt roads they've visited many times before...only this time, I got a call at 9:15 from Landon that they'd gotten stuck.

And not just stuck. The seemingly solid road disintegrated as Landon drove over it as a sink hole opened up and pulled our car down into a 5 or 6 foot deep chasm. Thankfully, Landon jumped out as the sink hole was opening up, and he was able to pull our daughter out of her car seat through the back window. Much of our Saturday was spent waiting for the tow truck (and then convincing the driver that the roads were solid!). I don't know how, but our car actually escaped with only a few scratches.

Sunday was a bit calmer and filled with some lots of amazing food at my family's Easter celebration. My stomach is still groaning from everything I sampled!

Now, onto this week's travel round-up items!

Visiting the Amazonian dream tribe // Firsttoknow.com 

Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up, Vol. 13 | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
This article recounts one man's journey into the Amazon to visit with the Achuar people and learn more about their way of life. The Achuar believe that their dreams are adventures that their souls have while they are asleep, which is such an incredible perspective on the dream state. Sadly, the Achuar people's environment is being encroached upon by developers, and their food sources have been compromised by pollution and oil spills.

The death and rebirth of the Nevada Shoe Tree // Travelocafe.com 
Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up, Vol. 13 | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
The Nevada shoe tree was one of those quirky we've-got-stop-and-take-a-picture tourist attractions along Highway 50. For 40 years, people would stop and throw their shoes into the tree's branches until it looked like an art installation piece. Sadly, the tree was chopped down about three years ago by some ne'er-do-well for reasons unknown. This story does have a happy ending: a nearby tree has taken up the mantle, so there's still a place for you to throw those old shoes when you're in town.

Tree house hotel in India // Green Magic Resort

Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up, Vol. 13 | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via}
If you ever wanted to live inside a tree (a la Tarzan or the Swiss Family Robinson), this is probably as close you're going to get. Guests are hoisted into the 90 foot high tree houses with the help of a hand-operated cane lift--so maybe pack lightly. The tree houses, which come with running water, a bedroom, and a full bathroom, run between and $187 and $225 (USD) per night.

World's happiest countries // CNN.com 

Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up, Vol. 13 | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
If you want to be happy, don't move to Berundi, according to a 2016 study of 156 countries. The report, done by the Sustainable Development Network for the United Nations, looked at social support systems, corruption rates, life expectancy, political stability, levels of generosity and more to compile the list. At the top? Denmark, which has won three of the four years the report has been issued. This icy country might not be your first thought for the world's happiest place, but tight social support systems and overall quality of life helped Denmark seize the top spot. (For my U.S. readers, we ranked just outside the top 10 at #13).

______________________________

How was your weekend? What fun travels do you have coming up?

Odds + (Week) Ends: A Travel Round-up, Vol. 13 | CosmosMariners.com

______________________________

Want even more travel goodness? Sign up for the newsletter and get the latest Cosmos Mariners updates, giveaways, and travel news right to your inbox!

Newsletter Signup Newsletter Signup