Trips Travel Agency

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Hidden Gems: State Lines

Last month we gave you a hidden gem we found on our trip to Bordeaux this month we will continue with the theme. I’m going to let this cat out of the bag but I know I’ll be kicking myself next year should this event become really popular as I hate divulging best kept secrets but when I do it’s only because it’s an exceptional experience .

Ready for the secret?

There’s a cocktail festival in Boston called Thirst Boston. Apparently this event happens every year with proceeds supporting a non profit. This year it was Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a hunger relief organziation in Boston.

As you check in you’re given a bracelet with pull off tabs that you can use for tastings. You also get a tasting wine glass which I found odd for an event not serving wine but it did make it easy for you to swoosh water in it after each tasting. Lastly you get a token to try a cocktail.

Bees Knees from Bar Hill

Bees Knees from Bar Hill

The tastings were easy as there were about 20 different vendors that offered tastings. I wish they had explained the cocktail option better though as I didn’t realize there were 4 different stations for cocktails which were located along the walls. Still I tried the Bees Knees which was made of raw honey, lemon juice and Bar Hill gin from Vermont.

In addition to the tastings some vendors had games such as ring toss, hook a ring, basket ball toss, match the duckies, and more where you could win prizes. All of this was held at the Innovation and Design Building in Boston’s seaport district. The experience was a fun indoor fair for the over 21 crowd with everyone imbibing in a responsbile manner.

Lastly for such an affordable event ( tickets were only $37) it’s amazing more people didn’t attend. Oh well their loss is our gain!

Think about going next year if you’re in town as you’re bound to have a good time!

Until then here’s a rundown of the samples we tasted.

Tequila Fortaleza - I hate tequila but this tequila went down smooth, it wasn’t until 1 minute after drinking it did I feel the burn.

Bimini- I was drawn to this brand because I wanted to know why something named after a Bahamian island would be located in Maine. I never found that out but the gin was delicious! Their original gin version was smooth and didn’t have an overpowering taste of junipers. The overproof version was bit of a kick, it is overproof after all.

Koval- Who knew they were making gin and whiskey in Chicago? You’d think the Cranberry Gin liqueur would taste like a christmas tree, but it didn’t. You taste the cranberry but it’s not overpowering.

Honeymaker - A maker of meads had a variety of meads for the tastings. I quite expected that the meads would be as sweet as honey wine from Ethiopia but it wasn’t. They were lightly sweetened, clean and refreshing.

Broken Shed- Purportedly voted the best vodka worldwide, it was a very good tasting and smooth.

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Mad River - Probably my favorite stop. The Maple Cask had a sweetness to it because they’re aged in casks previously used to store maple.

iichiko- This shochu tasted like water and had a nice clean taste from start to finish. You’ll drink the whole bottle without knowing it.


Hidden Gems: Madame Pang

I’ll be honest when I looked up Madame Pang online I had zero hope for this place. I love Asian cusine in general and I don’t eat nearly enough dim sum as I should. Also Madame Pang was the only restaurant opened really late at night and I figured it was best to get something light for dinner before heading off to bed.

I boarded the tram and disembarked at St. Catherine’s station, figuring out Google Maps and meandering down the long barely lit lantern lit streets. On my way there I’d stop at about five different restaurants asking when they closed. Twenty minutes said the hostess at the first restaurant with olive green walls and wooden tables bathed in natural light. This was the perfect spot to have my last meal in Bordeaux I thought, but it was not meant to be.

Sulkenly, I made my way to the the corner of Rue du Pas St Georges and Rue de Devise looking out at the closed ice cream parlor. I stared down the side street which really looked like alleyways trying to figure out where this place could be located. There were no neon lights pointing to the location, nor any huge signs with the restaurant’s name on it. I decided to take a right, down the alleyway of Rue de Devise intent on asking the woman I saw waiting to enter a house for help on finding this place. When I approached the woman for help I realized she was part of this oddly out of place tight group of people sitting on a porch enjoying their cigarettes, drinks and having an overall great time. Stll unsure if this was Madame Pang’s or not I was drawn to the atmosphere of this place and wanted to go inside but I knew I had to find Madam Pang’s as well because I was hungry, I couldn’t face the disappointment of another restaurant closing up soon. So I asked “ou est Madame Pang?” and to my delight they all pointed to the door behind them.

Turns out behind the doors was this speakeasy sort of bar space with relaxed seating for you and your friends to enjoy dim sum. The entire space was decked out with Asian art or motifs and in the background hip hop hits from the 90s early 2000s softly filled the room. Everyone from the raucous group of friends near the front door to the couple enjoying a night out at the bar was enjoying themsleves in the cozy restaurant.

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I found my own corner and proceeded to order what I considered would be small filling portions to only have 2 heaping portions of Ar Gou and Char Siu Bao arrive to my table freshly made and piping hot. I should know because I burned my tounge on the Ar Gous. The Char Siu Bao’s were my favorites. The bao was very fluffy and the pork filling left you wanting to fill up on more, they were that addictive.

Thai Punch

I also ordered the Thai Punch drink simply becuase it was spicy. If you don’t like spicy foods do yourself a favor and don’t drop the hot pepper in the drink. If you love spicy drop it and crush it ( slightly) into the drink your senses will come alive.

Great food, atmosphere and open late in a city that shuts down at 10pm Madame Pang is a can’t miss stop on your next trip to Bordeaux. I’m glad everywhere else was closed or I wouldn’t have been able to experience this place. I’m sad I was only able to go there once but I will return on my next trip to Bordeaux and enjoy this hidden gem once more.

As always Happy Travels and Eat Well!

KJ

New Year! New Adventures!

As we start 2019 we wanted to take a look back at where we’ve been and what we’re looking to do in the new year.

In 2018 we sent clients off to their first trip to Morocco on a group tour. Another client followed their team around Russia during the World Cup. Our honeymoon couple ventured to Thailand for their first international trip as a married couple. While another group of friends treked through Scandinavia and France for their annual get together. These are just a few of the clients we helped trek around the world.

Taking a break on the sand dunes in Morocco

Taking a break on the sand dunes in Morocco

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We also partnered on some great collaborations, first and foremost with Laurelle of AR images who had the top blog post of the year on our page. If you didn’t read it here’s your chance to catch up on Creating Great Vacation Photos. Secondly we collaborated with Brianne from the blog A Traveling Life on our 5 Favorite Places to Dine in Bogota, because you know we just can’t stop talking about Colombia. If you haven’t been, now is the time to sign up for more information on our group trip in June.

Last but not least we took you on some of our own amazing advenutres. Last year we traveled to Japan and chowed on some Okiminyaki, Medellin, Colombia, Mexico and went on an Elewana Skysafari in Kenya. All four destinations had their own charm and interesting details about them, click on the links to revisit them.

Elephant seen on safari

Elephant seen on safari

What’s next?

We still love to travel and are looking towards new destinations and emerging destinations to highlight. Do you have a place you’d like to see highlighted on your blog? Leave a note in the comments and we’ll work it into our 2019 blog schedule.

Not to mention we are still creating our new tour in June to Colombia, it will be the first time that we’ve introduced a tour in June for this destination, so if you want to know more sign up for our email blast or send us an email.

As Always Happy Travels

KJ

The Safari Wildlife

There were so many animals to see on this trip, so we posted a few pictures and turned it into a video.

If you’re looking to go on safari in the future, note that your camera phone will not cut it. The pictures come out great and the video looks great on your phone but it won’t, more like doesn’t look great in a bigger format.

Still the experience is ingrained in my memory forever. I was intrigued how the animals were not bothered by humans in their space. I was more freaked out and worried than they were. Lastly I did not get to see the elusive leopard but I did see the lions, elephants and cheethas.

Without further ado I present to you the stars of the Safari; the wildlife.

Safari- SkySafari Edition

If you’ve been following our social media this week, you know that we are on a safari in Kenya, the home of the original safari.

But we are not on just any safari we are on a SkySafari visitng several Elewana Collection properties including Elsa’s Kopje, Elephant Pepper Camp and Loisaba.

What makes this safari different?

When you book this safari Elewana flies you to each property in their own plane. This is a game changer in the fact that you don’t have land and take off several times as you drop other passengers off at their various safari destinations. This also means that you get to your game drives faster.

Our first stop on the trip is Elsa’s Kopje in Meru National Park. I liked this property because its rooms looked like we were in treetops and were very spacious. My room had a great view of the national park and was great to catch the morning sun.

I also liked the fact that many of the Elewana properties were one in nature with their locations. For instance Elsa’s Kopje takes advantage its mountinous location and carves its rooms around the rock formation. You’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the rocks everywhere you turn.

Additionally if you’re addicted to the Gram, Pinterest, Snap and Facebook or any new social media like I am, this property is outfitted with Wi-Fi throughout the property. However, keep in mind that it works well in the common areas not so much in your room depending on the location of your room.

Lastly if you can in between game drives grab a massage. You won’t regret the view.

Need more information on Elsa’s Kopje check out our video below.

Ready to book your Skysafari, email us to get started

Happy Travels!

KJ

Hotel Review: El Dorado Seaside Suites

Every so often I find a new gem of a hotel to love and this is it in the all inclusive category.

One thing to note is that while on this trip, all the beaches were filled with a quite invasive weed called Sargassum; read all about it here.

Needless to say all the hotels in the area tried to keep up with it but it seemed determined to take over all the beaches. This did not dampen the fun at the resort as there was the pool and of course my favorite hide out space on my balcony pool. I still had a fabulous time!

Hotel: El Dorado Seaside Suites by Karisma

Location: Riviera Maya, Mexico

Time of Visit: July 2018

Overview: Having visited the Cancun hotel zone many years ago  I much prefer the Rivieria Maya and Playa del Carmen area. It's more of a peaceful zone with lots of upscale all inclusive properties such as the Grand Velas, Banyan Tree Mayakoba and more. Additionally many of the attractions such as Tulum, Xcaret and Dolphinaris are all nearby. 

What I Loved: The swimout pools on your balcony were the best. They offer a peaceful oasis for swimming and a great  to view watch the morning sun. If you want something a bit more lively choose a room that has a swimup pool on the main level in the Infinity section. These pools are attached to the main activity pool, placing you right in the center of the action.  

You won't find the balcony swim out pools in the Palms section but many do offer the swim up pool attached to a lazy river. The Palms section is also just as nice and has the walkable and more swimable beach. 

Thinking about spending the day at the beach? Be sure to grab yourself a Bali bed and reserve it before breakfast. Don't forget to bring an empty beach bag to hold your bed so no one thinks it's empty. 

Accommodations: Very spacious rooms indeed. You won't feel cramped if you have 3 people in the room. Each room  comes with a whirlpool bathtub in the bathroom. 

In room whirlpool

In room whirlpool

Food: The buffets better known as the Gourmet Inclusive Experience were worth it. There was a variety of options everyday. If you want something other than the buffet try one of their a la carte restaurants. Although get there before 7pm as it can be a wait of 40 minutes or more for one of those restaurants. If you are looking to dine at 8pm or later choose one of the  buffets instead. 

Fun Fact: The produce is fresh because it's grown in the company's greenhouse year round. 

Appetizer from Mia Casa- an Italian a la carte restaurant

Appetizer from Mia Casa- an Italian a la carte restaurant

Spa: The resort has a very relaxing spa called the Naay Spa where you can go through the water theraphy. This was a series of body mud, followed by hot and cold steams before reaching the main pool and lastly the hot, warm and cold baths. Your spa butler will explain the purpose of each station and guide you along in the session. You should factor in an hour before your massage in order to enjoy the water theraphy.

Note: There are 2 spas one in Infinity section with no water therapy and one at the main building with the water therapy  

Things to Know: Leave the AC on in your room, no matter how cold it is especially  if you're in the Infinity section. If you don't the humidity will build up and cause you to have a very slippery floor.  Secondly, this hotel is an all-inclusvie adults only hotel, making it great for hotel for couples looking to rekindle their romance.  Lastly the walls are thin, I could the conversations in the next room. 

Sister Resorts: This resort is part of the overall Karisma Hotel brand with several locations around the world including Croatia, Jamaica and Dominican Republic just to name a few. I visited its other Mexico resorts such as the Casitas Royale, the Eldorado Maroma Suites and the Azul Properties in the surrounding area. The one thing that each property had in common was their proximity to the beach. Unlike the behomth properties you don't have to walk far to get to the beach from your room.

Still each had their own nuances. For instance, the Maroma Suites has the Palofitos, which are the overwater bungalows. I orignally thought the water below them was deep but it isn't and allows for a soak in the crystal blue waters and to view the small fish that wade in the water. Meanwhile a stay at the Casitas will allow you access to 3 resorts, Generations Riviera Maya and El Dorado Royale and so on. 

There's so much more to say about these resorts but it's  best  to experience them yourself.

Looking for more of our first hand reviews check out the following posts!

Ready to go? Ask us how we can get you there by dropping us an email at info@tripstravelagency.com

Until next time, keep traveling!

KJ

Exploring Medellin

For many years I stayed away from Medellin. I stayed away because I thought it was too touristy. I like to travel off the beaten path so while I made stops to less touristic places in Colombia, like Viterbo and Santa Marta, I never ventured to Medellin.

While I loved Bogota I couldn’t help but feel that the expat and entrepreneur groups were lacking in Bogota. They rarely held activities and rarely made a peep on the Facebook groups. I figured it was due to the cold and rainy weather which kept everyone inside and to themselves. Yet the Medellin groups were very active both online and in real life, so off I went to find out why so many expats, entrepreneurs and digital nomads chose this city their homebase.

Once I checked into my hotel I was able to see why this city was so attractive. Thankfully I did myself a favor and booked a room on the high floor and caught a glimpse of the spectacular views of the area. In fact, everywhere I went in Medellin, the views of the mountains and the city were beautiful.

Next is the superb weather.  Moving from Bogota, which is known as the wintry city (ciudad de nevera) to  Medellin better known as the city of  eternal spring was like night and day.   One expat told me, " I love New York, but you can’t buy good weather". Medellin was always about 70 to 80 degrees, warm and breezy but not too humid.

As an expat or entrepreneur finding long term accommodation is always an issue. If you’re a first time visitor most people tend to start off and stay in the Poblado area. There you’ll find many hotels, restaurants and cafes. If you plan to stay in Poblado be prepared to spend top dollar for any apartment you rent. Many of the high- end apartments are the best of the best and command those prices. After a while those who plan to stay longer move out to other less expensive neighborhoods of Medellin like Belen, Laureles and Estadio, or they move to the suburbs such as Envigado or Sabaneta. While Medellin had great weather, I found Envigado much colder than its neighbor, so that can be a downside.

Once you’ve settled in then the next step is to find your office space. There literally is no shortage of coworking spaces in this city. I tested out Global Express and liked it as it had the basic amenities that I needed, but there are so many others.

A good way to connect with other entrepreneurs or expats is to check out Facebook groups, such as Medellin Entrepreneurs Society and Expat Women of Medellin. These are also great ways to find apartments around the city.  Need to keep a pulse on the city?  Sign up for Catalyst Weekly’s newsletter; highlighting daily events happening around the city. Also a good source to find the city's yoga studios. 

Ramen from Douraku

Ramen from Douraku

Lastly Medellin isn’t known for its gastronomy, for that you should go to Bogota. Still there are a few hidden gems.  First up is Douraku in Poblado. I stopped here because I was trying to get over a cold and needed something to warm my soul. I found that at the time, it was a newly opened Ramen shop. The ramen and noodles were cooked to perfection and weren’t bland, which is usually the case with most foreign cuisine in Colombia as they adjust the recipe for local tastes.

If you’re looking for traditional Colombian food you can’t go wrong with Mondongos. Mondongos is probably the best known place in Poblado; get there early as the line is pretty long on the weekends. They carry the famous tripe soup dish Mondongo, and Tipico Antiqueno which is more commonly known as Bandeja Paisa.

Mercardo Del Rio

Mercardo Del Rio

Since you’ll also need some fun Mercado del Rio is a great place to visit on the weekends.  It’s easy to grab drinks with friends but there are some good spots to eat as well such as Al Alma Coffee Roasters. I loved this spot for the all day breakfast everyday. Sinko bar is good for drinks while Enoteca del Rio for good wine. Look out for their special events such as the outdoor summer park.

In the end Bogota may be my favorite place but Medellin holds a close second in my heart. 

Need more ideas on what to do and where to go? Reach out to us to plan your trip!

Happy Travels!!

KJ

 

Still curious about Colombia? Check out the other posts in the series : Bogota & Cartagena

Guest Blogger Series: Creating Great Vacation Photos

This guest post was written by the talented Laurelle Farrell of AR Images

We can all travel and take a few snapshots, but what if you want to come home with artwork that stands the test of time? Here are my tips and tricks to capture images that will find a home among your walls and photo albums. Travel photography is a very deliberate art, so don’t forget to plan ahead of time.

Make the Time:

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Scheduling your day too tightly will lead to rushed photographs. If there is an area where you know you will want to stop, make sure your have time in between excursions or tours.

While planning landscape photos try to arrive early in the day or close to dusk. This will allow for the best lighting.

Communicate:

Your spouse or travel companions may not want to wait as you create artwork. Make sure they are aware of any time when you may be absorbed in your camera for a while. They just may choose to find a local coffee shop while you create your art.

Pack with Care:

You may have a whole arsenal of lenses and flashes at home, but do you want to carry it all? Pick one or two lenses to bring with you that will cover your bases. A wider pick such as a 17mm -55mm will have you covered for landscapes and cityscapes. A standard 80mm fixed lens will give you some zoom without being bulky. A 50mm 1.8 will give you speed and versatility within an extremely lightweight lens. Get to know your location. If you feel a longer zoom is needed a 70mm-200mm is a great versatile choice.

Murano Italy, Nikon D3S Nikon Zoom Nikor 177-55mm 2.8

Murano Italy, Nikon D3S Nikon Zoom Nikor 177-55mm 2.8

Keep it Safe:

Packing light will help you to not be overloaded as you may want to keep your gear on your person at all times. If you do leave gear behind be sure to lock it in your hotel room safe. Call ahead of your travel date to ensure that any items you wish to bring will fit in this space.

Mix it Up:

We are lucky enough to not be held back by fear of wasting film. Change your angle. Get higher and lower. Play with your focus points and depth of field. You won’t ever regret having too many photos, but you may regret wishing your composition was just slightly different.

Know your surroundings:

Headed to the beach? You won't want to take your removable lens off in any location with sand or high winds as you will risk damaging your camera’s sensor. Either stick to one lens or travel with a smaller point and shoot for days when a DSLR isn’t practical.

San Juan Puerto Rico Nikon D3S Nikon Nikor 50mm 1.8

San Juan Puerto Rico Nikon D3S Nikon Nikor 50mm 1.8

Break up with Auto Mode:

Burano Italy, Nikon D3S Nikon Zoom Nikor 17-55mm 2.8

Burano Italy, Nikon D3S Nikon Zoom Nikor 17-55mm 2.8

If you’re still using your camera's fully automatic functions you may want to consider a class as you prepare for your trip. Learning how to creatively control your aperture and shutter speed will give you the ability to create the images your desire.

Your camera’s auto mode is only looking to absorb the proper amount of light. Often times this leads to slower shutter speeds that you will not be able to hand hold. Not knowing how to control this could lead to blurred images that could otherwise have been avoided.

 Best of luck with your travel photography!


About Laurelle

Laurelle Farrell is owner and principal photographer at AR Images where she specializes in wedding and lifestyle portraiture with a strong emphasis on custom album design. In addtion to her photography work, Laurelle is co-owner and executive director of Timeless Bridal Creations, an alternative bouquet company offering individually handcrafted alternative bouquets. She teaches several photography courses throughout the Boston area and earned her certificate in professional photography from Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts