Known around the world as a shopping paradise, Singapore has one of the broadest ranges of products of any city, with almost limitless retail options.
From street markets to avant-garde boutiques to luxury brands, it’s all in Singapore. There are places that dazzle, hipster spots, and emporiums that overflow with character and charm. Where to start? We’ll start where most shopping expeditions begin in Singapore – on the legendary Orchard Road.
With 2.2 kilometers of department stores, malls, and shops filled with merchandise catering to every budget and desire, Orchard Road is the retail hub of Singapore. The world’s finest designer boutiques sit alongside small, unique shops in this diverse shopping haven. Pace yourself and allow some time to explore the 20+ shopping malls and department stores that call Orchard Road home.
When you do need a break from all that retail bliss, indulge in some fabulous food. Be sure to check out the flying noodles at Hana and the swing over to Lady M for dessert. We fit both in, then indulged in a bit of relaxation with a fish spa pedicure.
Popular in Asia and mostly banned in the U.S. for hygiene reasons, the Garra Rufa fish from Turkey eat the dead skin from your feet and legs. Something I’d always wanted to try, I found it a bit ticklish at first, but quite relaxing once you get used to it.
A spectacular shopping destination that over 270 premium retailers and restaurants call home, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands is a luxury shopping experience in the heart of Singapore’s business district. Retail brands range from Prada to Tom Ford and, if hunger pangs strike while gathering treasures, you can stop in at one of the 10 celebrity chef restaurants located in the facility.
While visiting the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, be sure to check out the beautiful lotus pond near the ArtScience Museum, take a ride on a sampan boat on the canal inside the shopping center, and stop by the Rain Oculous, the large whirlpool in the center of the mall where water falls two stories into the pool below.
Roaming the tiny stalls and cramped shophouses of Chinatown is a fascinating cultural experience. From 3 for $10 souvenirs to cashmere Pashminas to custom-made suits, strolling and bargaining for goods in Chinatown is an experience not to be missed.
In addition to uncovering unique finds, be sure to drop by Tong Heng’s for egg tarts and other pastries, stop in at the Chinatown Heritage Center to learn about the district and its history and visit both the gorgeous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and beautiful the Sri Mariamman Temple.
Hidden away in the Kapong Glam district is a trendy little street that attracts in-the-know shoppers from around the globe. Rumor has it that Gwen Stefani dropped by when she was in town. A hipsters paradise, Haji Lane is a little shopping and dining enclave filled with vintage shops, avant-garde boutiques, coffee shops, bakeries, and galleries. The street art is fabulous and the district’s artistic feel will leave you feeling creative and upbeat.
Singapore’s largest mall, VivoCity at HarborFront has it all. Its 1.5 million square feet includes retail stores, multiple food courts, spas, restaurants, a gym, Singapore’s largest cinema, a promenade, sky park, amphitheater, a wading pool, a massive toy store and a children’s play court. The Food Republic at VivoCity is exceptional, offering a vast array of options. On the third floor, visitors can catch the monorail, Sentosa Express, to the island of Sentosa.
VivoCity is also home to multiple art installations including a 6-meter tall spherical bouquet of flowers by Korean artist, Choi Jeong-Hwa, a bright red rocket by Marc Ruygrok of the Netherlands and two installations by Inges Idee of Germany, a giant snowflake and a towering snowman.
Little India is open 24 hours a day for shopping, so it’s the perfect place to head for dinner followed by some after-dinner retail recreation. The stalls along Serangoon Road, Little India’s central street, are an incredible display of color, texture, and fragrances. Look for deals on jewelry, fruit, flower garlands, fabrics, brass items and decorative wares. As the night grows later, the shopping doesn’t stop – just head over Mustafa Centre, which is open 24 hours and offers everything from electronics to groceries to sari stores.
I love great airports. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time in them, but airports that have great amenities are so appreciated. Changi Airport is fabulous and a great place to do some last minute shopping on the way out of Singapore. Bally, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Hermès, Longchamp – they are all there, along with hundreds of other shops and restaurants. So, save a bit of your money, head to the airport early and enjoy.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
They had us at “exploring machine.” That’s what the email we received from Volkswagen called the new Golf Alltrack being introduced in the U.S. for 2017. Exploring machine – what an appropriate name for a car for us.
We’ve driven a Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited for the last four years and most of the miles we’ve logged were spent exploring. From coast to coast, through deserts, mountains, cities and the countryside, the car has hauled us and our loads of gear to ski, hike, bike, photograph and explore much of America.
Earlier in the year, we’d decided to check out buying a new vehicle, but couldn’t find something new that matched our lifestyle and performance needs. So, when we heard about Volkswagen’s new U.S. entry into the outdoor market, we wanted to see more.
Which is how we ended up in Seattle for a weekend to learn about the Volkswagen Alltrack and, ultimately, on Bainbridge Island, where we’d test drive the car along with taking in a bit of hiking and photography – all against a gorgeous Washington backdrop, complete with Mt. Rainier in the distance.
A Volkswagen Weekend in Seattle
The Pacific Northwest, commonly shortened to PNW, is an amazing place. A photography and outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, the PNW is home to some of the most majestic scenery in North America, with mountain ranges, rocky shorelines, and breathtaking views around each bend. In addition to fabulous outdoor activities, the area is home to cities with character, charm, and much to do. The largest city in the region, Seattle, was our base for this visit to the PNW and where we’d be introduced to the new Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.
Arriving in Seattle on a Thursday afternoon, we were whisked away from Sea-Tac airport by a gentleman driving a beautiful blue Passat and taken to our hotel for the weekend, the Kimpton Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle.
After dropping our bags in the room, we headed down to our first activity of the weekend, a walking tour of Pike Place Market, located just a couple of blocks from the hotel.
Pike Place Market
The iconic Pike Place Market dates back to 1907 and is one of the longest running farmers markets in the United States. Each year over 10 million people visit the year-round market, which is home to over 500 small businesses that include bakeries, fishmongers, produce vendors, craftspeople, specialty food stores, restaurants, and shops.
From flowers to yogurt to fish to spices, Pike Place Market has been satisfying Seattle’s affinity for fresh, local goods since its inception. Around the turn of the 20th century, middlemen were drastically marking up prices on farm products sold to the consumer, with the farmers making little to no money and buyers overpaying. To counteract the situation, farmers began appearing near the waterfront, selling their products from wagons – the beginning of the Public Market in 1907. Eventually, buildings were built and over the next century, Pikes Place Market transformed into the top attraction in Seattle.
Following our walking tour of the Market, we took some time to roam the streets of downtown Seattle. The vibrant, eclectic city is home to a wide range of attractions, museums, shops, and restaurants. But, simply strolling the streets taking in the urban landscape, exploring Seattle’s unique atmosphere and quirkiness, can be a perfect way to spend an hour or an afternoon – with stops of course along the way at one of the coffee shops located on every block.
Introducing the Golf Alltrack
Upon our return to the hotel, the group gathered for an introduction to the star of the weekend, the Golf Alltrack.
So, what exactly is an Alltrack? The vehicle is based on the existing Volkswagen SportWagen, has a higher ground clearance, a more rugged exterior, and an Alltrak specific interior. Our initial impression that the Alltrack could be a suitable alternative for the Subaru Outback appeared to be on target, as the second slide of the presentation jumped straight in with a feature comparison between the two go-anywhere vehicles.
Comparing the Volkswagen Alltrack and the Subaru Outback
The standard engine in a Subaru Outback is a 2.5L naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine, although we opted for the 6-cylinder for our Outback. Comparably, the Volkswagen Alltrack comes with an EA888 1.8L direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cylinder TSI engine.
Size & cargo space
The Outback is slightly bigger than the Alltrack. The Alltrack has a roof rack height of 59.7 inches, while the Outback sits at 66 inches. With the rear seats in place, the Alltrack has 30.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The 2017 Subaru’s cargo capacity is 35.5 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded, there are 66.5 cubic feet of luggage space in the Alltrack versus 73.3 cubic feet in the Outback.
In the areas of style and comfort, the Alltrack excels in standard features.
The Alltrack includes Standard Car-Net App-Connect with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink on all model levels. The 2017 Subaru Outback has a similar package called Subaru Starlink™ on its models.
The Outback has a standard-sized sunroof available. The Alltrack has a huge tilt-and-slide panoramic sunroof available on the SE & SEL models that have more than twice the area of Outback’s.
Leatherette is standard on all Alltrack models. Cloth is standard on the Subaru, with leather optional and only available on the upper-level models.
Heated seats, mirror-integrated turn signals, cooled glove box, fog lights, and leather steering wheel & shifter are all standard on the Alltrack, while optional on the Outback.
Things that make you go “wow”
Both the Outback and the Alltrack have options that increase the comfort and up the wow factor. On the Alltrack, aside from that unbelievable optional sunroof, cool options include features such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning & Autonomous Emergency Braking and, for all those that still have nightmare flashbacks to parallel parking in driver’s ed class, Park Pilot and Park Assist.
Models and Pricing
The Volkswagen Golf Alltrack comes in three models, the S model which starts at $26,950, the SE beginning at $30,530 and the SEL that starts at $32,890. The Subaru Outback comes in 6 levels ranging from the entry-level 2.5i at $25,645 to the top line 3.6R Touring which starts at $38,195.
Dinner and late evening Lego fun
Following the Alltrack introduction presentation, we walked back to the Atrium Kitchen at Pikes Place Market for a reception and dinner. The Atrium is a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen available to in the heart of Pike Place Market available to local chefs for hands-on cooking classes, cooking demonstrations, tastings and private events.
The group enjoyed a wonderful feast of local specialties prepared from fresh ingredients from the market while socializing and sending a few shots of the delicious dining offerings and the event out on social, #VWGolfAlltrack or #VW2017. After dinner, some late night Lego fun was on tap back at the hotel before retiring for the evening.
The ferry to Bainbridge Island
A trip across Puget Sound on the ferry to Bainbridge Island is a must for any visit to Seattle. The 35-minute ride provides spectacular Seattle skyline and Mt. Rainier views and provides transport to beautiful Bainbridge, a 28 square mile island that is a great place to explore and the location of our Alltrack test drive.
After passengers and vehicles boarded the boat, the Alltrack made its entrance, sporting a bright green canoe. We quickly made our way to the vehicle deck to capture some shots of the car as we departed Seattle.
Time to test drive the Alltrack
We spend a lot of time outdoors. We ski, we hike, we bike…and getting there often means winding our way around back roads and through the countryside, so we planned to put the Alltrack to the test, checking out its performance, handling and fun-to-drive factor.
For our first test drive of the day, we selected a red Alltrack S model, wanting to start with the entry-level to see what the base model would deliver. The Volkswagen crew provided a detailed itinerary and overview, with three destinations around the island.
We took turns driving and we both enjoyed piloting the Alltrack. It was very responsive and handled well, taking turns with authority. The engine was energetic and the overall feel was both comfortable and sporty. After stopping for a short hike at Scenic Beach State Park, we headed for Port Gamble, our lunch spot for the day and the point where we would swap cars and try the SE model.
As expected, the comfort and gadget level increased with SE model. The SE added keyless entry, a premium audio system, the above-mentioned driver’s assistance package, and that mind-blowing sunroof, which alone would be our reason to upgrade.
We also gave Volkswagen roadside assistance a quick test when I tried to open the sunroof and accidentally pressed the “call for help” button instead. A nice female quickly responded and after advising her it was simply a case of pilot error, she wished us a good day.
As Subaru Outback owners, what did we think?
We loved the Alltrack. It is fun to drive and has quite a few features that we felt make it a great option for those seeking an alternative to the Outback. The Alltrack seemed quieter and handled the road extremely well. While we obviously didn’t have the opportunity to test it out over any 12,000-foot mountain passes, the engine responded well and the steering was highly responsive, a necessity for zigging and zagging up and down switchbacks in the mountains.
While we have both bike and ski racks for our Outback, we rarely use them, opting to throw our gear in the back. We tested out loading a road bike in the back with the seats down, and the Alltrack handled it with ease. The Alltrack also has 60/40 rear split seats with a center pass-through, providing ski hauling options as well.
Overall, the Alltrack was fun to drive, performed well, is super comfortable and is definitely worth a test drive.
Learn more about the Volkswagen Alltrack
The 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack is available in the United States beginning in October 2016. Learn more and get the details on the Volkswagen website.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Volkswagen USA for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old my aunt took me fishing. We hauled all the gear out to a small, nearby lake and, upon arrival, she pulled out a can of worms and demonstrated how to put a worm on the hook. There was no possible way I was going to do such a thing, so she did it for me. About 10 minutes later, she explained to me that my constant talking was scaring the fish away. About 10 minutes after that, I’d eaten all of the snacks we’d brought. 10 more minutes – we loaded up the car and, as we headed back to town, she said she didn’t think I was going to be much of a fisherman.
If Eleanor could see me now.
Fishing with McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs Lake
In the land of 10,000 lakes, I think babies are born with fishing poles in their hands, so I’m not sure anyone in Minnesota really believed that I had never caught a fish. But, that was soon to change with the help of McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs Lake.
After stopping by Lundeen’s Tackle Castle for a fishing license, we headed over to McQuoid’s Inn for an afternoon of fishing on beautiful Lake Mille Lacs.
We knew we were going to be in good hands with McQuoid’s Inn, who has offered launch fishing on Mille Lacs Lake for over 70 years. Their boat captains are expert fisherman and McQuoid’s offers both private and public charters on their comfortable and super clean boats. We were joined by a family for the afternoon, and with that, out we headed to fish.
No worries with bait, tackle or equipment – everything is provided by McQuoid’s Inn. Our guide and boat captain, Mike, was terrific. He worked hard to find all the best spots where the fish hide and I never once had to touch the bait, which by the way were leeches – the things they used to stick on people to suck their blood under glass cups!
We listened to 70’s rock (Eleanor definitely would not have approved) while we waited for the fish to find us – and it didn’t take long!
The family that was with us caught a couple of Walleye, then I felt a tug on my line. Mike came running with his net and… Voila! I caught a 14″ Walleye!
How much fun was that! Mike told me how to hold it – it was rather wiggly – and we snapped the photos.
Walleye is a hugely popular fish in Minnesota and found on menus in nearly every restaurant in the state. We even had it for breakfast in a hash one day (it was amazing). However, for the 2016 season on Lake Mille Lacs, Walleye were classified as “catch and release” to rebuild the population at the lake. So, after Mike measured the little guy, off he went back into the water, and it was back to fishing for this now-experienced fisherwoman.
It wasn’t long before I felt another tug and Mike came running again with the net. This time – a 16″ Small Mouth Bass! With the first fish, in my excitement, I’d forgotten what I’d learned from our resident Minnesotan at lunch – when you take the photo, hold the fish out really far, close to the camera and it makes the fish look bigger. Got it the second time!
Speaking of our resident Minnesotan, Caitlin Rick, who had organized the event, was still fishless as the afternoon was drawing to a close. But, we were doubting too soon and it was as if the fish knew she couldn’t go home without a catch. Just before we turned back to shore, Caitlin too got her catch for the day!
What a fun afternoon! If you are in the Mille Lacs Lake area, contact McQuid’s Inn to reserve a spot on one of their charters. The boats are great, the guides are professional and fun, and the lake is beautiful!
Know before you go
McQuoid’s Inn provides the bait, tackle, and expert fishing advice.
You bring your fishing license, camera, food and beverage, and dress for the weather.
Private charters are available for groups of 5 to 85 guests. Bachelor and bachelorette party groups must privately charter launch trips.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, McQuid’s Inn and Mille Lacs Area Tourism for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
There was a period of time when we only went on beach vacations. Our work lives were crazy at the time, so we escaped to an island every couple of months, even if it were only for a few days. Consequently, we visited quite a few sun-kissed spots around the globe, and have continued to do so, even though our travel destinations are now a bit less one-dimensional.
Throughout our journeys to islands located in varying oceans and seas around the world, one has stood the test of time and travels for the top spot on our favorites list – St. Barths. Over the last two decades, we’ve visited the island countless times, from day trips to week-long excursions. We’ve arrived by plane, ferried over by boat, stayed in hotels, rented villas, and watched the sun set while sipping champagne on a boat – ok, it was a small yacht (stay long enough, and these things sometimes happen).
Saint-Barthélemy, typically shortened to St. Barts or St. Barths, is, of course, the tiny gem in the Caribbean known for its celebrity visitors and conspicuous consumption. Like the Côte d’Azur, Bora Bora or Aspen, there’s a reason certain places are frequented by those with ample funds seeking a quiet retreat with posh accommodations and a bit of pampering. Extraordinary resorts and villas, stunning natural beauty, fabulous dining and libations, and the best in shopping usually top the “needs” list for these destinations – and are easily fulfilled in St. Barths.
But, can those not arriving to Gustavia harbor by yacht, still enjoy the 8 square miles of paradise without selling their house in advance to fund the adventure? Yes – it’s still not cheap, but there are a couple of ways to fit it into most travel budgets. Whether you sample the island on a day trip from St. Martin or visit during lower seasons when the hotel rates aren’t quite as outrageous, St. Barths deserves a place on your “where to visit list.”
When to visit St. Barths
As timing is closely linked to prices, your St. Barths’ dollars (yes, they accept U.S. currency) will go quite a bit further at certain times of the year. Of course, there are a few trade-offs for the lower prices – like the possibility of hurricanes.
Mid-November to March
The highest season (i.e., costliest) to visit St. Barths is mid-November to March. Most websites will say December, but in the last few years, it seems to be creeping back to mid-November or at least around Thanksgiving. The weather is perfect during this time, St. Barths is a gorgeous alternative to the cold, and the prices are off the charts.
If want to go around December holidays, plan on booking months in advance for hotels and restaurants and you better have a high limit on your credit card. That said, carnival is really fun in St. Barths. The harbor fills with yachts and the entire island shuts down for a parade.
Day trips are a good bet for saving costs during winter months. While prices are high on all islands when it’s snowing in the northern hemisphere, they are exorbitant in St. Barths. A day trip from nearby from St. Maarten can save thousands of dollars and accomplish many of the same activities – just with you sleeping on a different island.
April and May
April to May is a good time to visit – the rain is only occasional and hotel rates start to drop.
June to late November
Otherwise known in the Caribbean as hurricane season, prices are cheaper, but rain is more likely and your vacation could be interrupted by a hurricane. That said, historically, more hurricanes hit during August to October.
Days of the week
Most shops are closed in Gustavia on Sunday, so if shopping is on your agenda plan accordingly.
Getting to St. Barths
Typically, the first step in getting to St. Barths is to get to St. Martin / St. Maarten, which is about 15 miles away. Numerous flights arrive daily to at Princess Juliana airport (airport code: SXM) from the United States, Europe, South America and other Caribbean islands. Once in St. Maarten (the airport is on the Dutch side of the island), there are two primary methods of getting to St. Barths.
The first is by plane. Small commuter airlines deliver and return passengers daily via the short 10-minute ride between St. Maarten and St. Barths (Airport code: SBH). A little pricey and a bit precarious, the landing at St. Barths can be an adventure unto itself, as the landing strip is short and requires special training for pilots. A few commuter flights are also available from Antigua, St. Thomas and San Juan as well.
The other option is by water, with the most common being the Great Bay Express ferry that leaves from Philipsburg in St. Maarten. Far more economical, the trip takes about 45 minutes, and you don’t have the added time of security and waiting at the airport.
Luggage is no problem – it’s a common method of transportation for travelers between the islands. There are also a few other private charters and smaller ferries running from St. Martin / St. Maarten. For day trippers, the Great Bay Express has an option that leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, providing the option to explore St. Barths without paying the higher hotel rates found on St. Barths.
Upon arrival, whether by plane or boat, passengers must pass through customs. The airport is located at St. Jean and the ferries arrive in Gustavia. Taxis are available at both locations. Car rental locations are located at the airport, so those arriving by ferry and wanting to rent a car, need to cab over to the airport, which is about 5 or 10 minutes away. However, upon your return, most times the rental car company will transport you back to the ferry dock. For those staying on the island, the hotel will typically meet you at your point of arrival and provide transportation to the hotel.
When we first began going to St. Barths, Mini Mokes were prevalent on the island, followed by a period when Smart Cars were all the rage. Now though, everyone primarily gets around by regular cars and scooters.
Things to do in St. Barths
So, for the “Can I really afford St. Barths?” tally – the Great Bay Express is $80 RT from/to St. Maarten per person, a cab from the ferry port to the airport is about $10, and a one day car rental on St. Barths ran us $58 with tax. For our most recent experience, we did a day trip on a Sunday, so many businesses and shops were closed. Many day trippers don’t opt for the car rental – which I think is a mistake, unless you really can’t afford it. The only beach within easy walking distance from Gustavia is Shell Beach, which gets it name for the thousands of tiny shells that cover it. It’s small and nothing to write home about.
With a car, you can explore and, given it’s a tiny island, you can fit quite a bit into your day. Here are a few things that should be on your itinerary for the day….
Bask in the seclusion of Saline Beach
Saline is a stunningly beautiful, long, undeveloped beach with a laid-back, isolated atmosphere. The beach is deep, with plenty of room to find a spot far enough away from the water to not be bothered by those taking a stroll near the water’s edge.
While there is a parking lot at Saline, there are no facilities, so bring water and snacks. From the parking lot, it’s about a five-minute walk up and over the dunes to the beach. Although nudity is technically illegal in St. Barths, topless sunbathing is popular here and full nudity is common, especially on each end of the beach.
Languish over a luxurious lunch at St. Jean
After a morning of reading and relaxing on the pristine sands of Saline, you’ll wan to head to St. Jean for a bit of nourishment.
There are a variety of restaurants available in St. Jean, both across the street and along the beach. From pizza and casual fare to restaurants where the cuisine is only rivaled by the view, St. Jean has a fairly good selection of dining choices. We like to slip into French mode when on the island and enjoy a long, luxurious lunch – and decided to splurge on the experience. One of our long-time, go-to spots is Eden Rock.
A beautiful hotel, Eden Rock is perched on a rock overlooking the turquoise waters of St. Jean Bay. Constructed in the 1950’s, Eden Rock was the first hotel built on the island. Over the last 20 years, the hotel acquired adjacent properties and transformed into one of the most luxurious and diverse on the island with a variety of lodging types including standard rooms, cottages, suites, beach houses, and villas.
We’ve stayed at Eden Rock and it is a beautiful resort in a fabulous location – but on this trip, we just opted for lunch, which set us back $135 + tip for two drinks and two sandwiches. Yep – a little on the insane side of pricing for a fish sandwich. But, we essentially had a few hours at a resort where standard rooms were going for over $1000 per night during the time we visited.
Another beachside dining and drinking option at St. Jean is the famous Nikki Beach. If you plan to go, make reservations ahead of time and anticipate a price tag similar to Eden Rock. If the party scene is your thing, you’ll love it.
Take a walk along St. Jean
All beaches on St. Barths are public and free, so a walk along St. Jean won’t cost you a dime.
Located next to the airport on the Baie de St. Jean, the white sand beach curves around the bay and is home to an array of water activities. Snorkel in the calm waters near the shoreline or head further out for wind-surfing or surfing.
Head over to Gouverneur
After all the activity at St. Jean, it’s good to finish the afternoon with some quiet time on Gouverneur Beach.
More remote, Gouverneur is a beautiful, serene beach with amazing views. Like Saline, Gouverneur can be reached by a paved road, has a parking lot, but does not have any facilities, so bring water, an umbrella and anything you wish to eat. Also like Saline, beach goers may opt for that full tan, going au natural.
The drive to and from Gouverneur also yields some of the most spectacular views from the island, with a photo opportunity around each turn.
Throw back a cold one at Le Select
After dropping off our car at the airport, they brought us back to Gustavia and we decided to take a stroll around town.
The story has it that Jimmy Buffet, a frequent patron of Le Select back in the 1970’s, cut a deal with the establishment’s owner, Marius Stakelborough. In exchange for rights to use the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” line from Buffet’s famous song, Buffet would have his tab covered at the establishment for life. Over the years, Buffet has returned to the corner where thousands have downed a beer and burger, for an impromptu concert or an anniversary party at the bar on the quay, which has been in operation over 60 years. A great spot for people watching and enjoying a cool drink under the shade trees, Le Select is open Monday – Saturday.
Shopping in Gustavia
A duty-free port, Gustavia is home to over 200 boutiques that line three streets in the quant village. While the names of luxury retailers range from Louis Vuitton and Bulgari to Cartier, Hermès and Chopard, many small shops offering beachwear, accessories, and t-shirts can be found as well. The shops are typically closed from noon to three but open again in the late afternoon until 7pm. Most high-end retailers are also closed on Sunday, but a few of the stores offering casual wear and t-shirt open in the late Sunday afternoon hours.
Grab a drink and watch the sun set over the harbor
There are quite a few fabulous places to watch the sun set while on St. Barths, but we are always a fan of grabbing a cocktail and watching the boats return to the harbor as the sky fills with amazing hues of orange and purple.
For those leaving the island, the ferry returns at dusk to whisk you back to St. Maarten. For those staying on, the island changes after sunset. The day trippers leave, the stores close and a quiet settles over the island as visitors enjoy casually elegant dinners, before retiring to their hotel or villa or opting for a little nightlife at one of the late night cocktail bars.
How much did that day in St. Barths cost?
Let’s tally up our one day in St. Barths. Even with our splurge lunch, we spent just over $400 for the two of us. If we had opted for a not-on-the beach pizza for lunch, we could have easily cut it to $300. On the other hand, as it was high-season, if we had stayed on the island even one night, it would have run well over $1000. So, for us, an enjoyable day on one of our favorite islands for a couple of hundred bucks a piece was well worth it.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
It’s not every day that you visit a town and, upon arriving, the mayor and the former mayor meet you and take you on a tour. But then, not every town is Dorset, Minnesota.
There’s a lot happening in this unique little town in north central Minnesota with a population of 22. The self-proclaimed “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset has a newspaper that is published once a year “whether there’s unbelievable news or not” and has elected a three-year old mayor – twice.
The Youngest Mayor in America
When James Tufts became mayor of Dorset in 2015 at the age of three, he stole the record as Dorset’s youngest mayor from his older brother. Two-term former mayor, Robert “Bobby” Tufts, was also elected at the age of three but, with his win, James edged him out as the youngest by two days.
How did a three-year old become mayor, you may ask? In unincorporated Dorset, the mayor is drawn from the ballots cast during the annual Taste of Dorset festival. It’s a buck a ballot and anyone can enter their selection during the process, with the proceeds going to charity.
During their time in office, the Tufts brothers have gained international fame, appearing on the Today Show and Good Morning America and having made headlines in the NY Daily News, the Daily Mirror and countless other news outlets.
After a tour through several of James’ favorite haunts around town, such as the toy section of a local store and the miniature golf course, we stopped to catch some words of wisdom from the pint-sized politician who is quick to dispense sage advice.
And, it appears we are in good company – well, at least famous company. According to the local paper, the Dorset Daily Bugle, all of the presidential candidates have sought the mayor’s advice. James, now at the wise old age of four, provided these words of wisdom, “Be nice and no poopy talk.”
Older brother Bobby, now a Dorset ambassador, seems happy to assist his younger sibling with his mayoral duties. But, if you think he’s completely retired from politics, you may want to think otherwise. It appears from his hat he’s already exploring a 2048 presidential bid.
Finishing up our time with the Tuft political dynasty, we moved on to investigate Dorset’s other claim to fame as the Restaurant Capital of the World.
The Restaurant Capital of the World
With five restaurants serving the 22 residents of Dorset, it does seem the tiny town is worthy of the title of Restaurant Capital of the World.
This actually follows a two-year period when the town was down to only three restaurants. In September 2014, Campaneros and the Dorset House were destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning. Both restaurants were rebuilt and reopened in 2016, restoring the town’s assortment of dining options to five. While in town, we dined at La Pasta, which in addition to a wide selection of Italian delicacies, has ridiculously good breadsticks.
Obviously, most visitors come to the Restaurant Capital of the World to eat but, when visiting, be sure to allow some time in your schedule for shopping as well.
A stroll down Dorset’s main street is a must and will undoubtedly result in a few finds that must make their way home with you. From souvenirs, to home decor to antiques to yes, James’ favorite, candy and toys await.
Things to do near Dorset
Shop Downtown Park Rapids. Only 6 miles from Dorset, Park Rapids has a charming downtown area with numerous shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Visit Detroit Lakes. Only about an hour away from Dorset, Detroit Lakes is has a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining.
We loved visiting Dorset and applaud the 22 residents and the nearby town of Park Rapids for their creativity in promoting this unique little place on the planet. Thank you to everyone who came out to meet us, to La Pasta for hosting us for lunch, and to James and Bobby for our tour of the town.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When one of our favorite wineries, Rodney Strong, called a couple of months ago to see if we’d like to come out for a few days to learn more about the winery and attend a blending seminar, we only had one question – when? Whatever the date, we would clear our calendar to attend such a unique experience.
Our Master Blender experience was scheduled for the first week of February and when we received the final agenda the week before – wow! Amazing food, wine tastings, luxury accommodations, visits led by the winery’s viticulturist to locations few get a chance to ever see, sessions with Rodney Strong’s winemakers to learn about the winemaking process, and a blending seminar led by Rodney Strong’s head winemaker, Rick Sayre.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 1: Arrival and welcome dinner
We arrived early in the afternoon at the Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa where we would be staying during the event. A four-diamond luxury hotel, the Vintner’s Inn is the epitome of wine country elegance, with stately rooms, elegant gardens, and one of our favorite restaurants, John Ash & Co.
With such a beautiful Sonoma afternoon at our disposal, we set out for a hike on the two-mile trail around the property while a bottle of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay chilled in the fridge – the perfect post-hike refreshment upon our return!
Our welcome dinner was at John Ash & Co. with winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, Rodney Strong’s social media manager, Laura Perret Fontana, and the four additional event attendees, Marlynn Jayme Schotland, Jana Seitzer, Annabelle Pericin and Robert Larsen.
As we worked our way through savory courses accompanied by Rodney Strong wines, Justin provided the background and details on each of the wines. Originally from Colorado, Justin graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology and has been making wine in Sonoma county since 2005, and at Rodney Strong since 2010.
Off to a great beginning to a fascinating week, we were eager to explore the vineyards and learn more about the winemaking process.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 2: Vineyard tours, barrel tasting, and an abundance of spectacular food & wine
Winegrower relations manager, Ryan Decker, was our guide for vineyard tours for the morning of day two. Our first stop – Chalk Hill in Windsor.
As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast prepared by Rodney Strong Winery Chef Tara Watchel amidst the vines, Ryan explained the unique properties of the Chalk Hill area, where the soil appears “chalky” due to ash deposits from a long-past volcanic eruption.
An excellent start to the day – learning about the vines that produced the very Chardonnay that was in my hand just the afternoon before.
First released in 1974, Alexander’s Crown was Sonoma’s first single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, quickly gaining acclaim, including being named the highest rated Cabernet Sauvignon in Robert Parker’s first issue.
Situated on hills that rise 360 feet above the valley floor, 66 acres are planted at Alexander’s Crown, with Block 1 at the top of the hill producing the prime, most intensely flavored grapes. Listening to Ryan describe the meticulous grape growing processes, it became obvious there are no shortcuts in creating a spectacular bottle of wine.
Each detail is constantly analyzed in an effort to gain even a fraction of improvement. Grapes are picked in 1/2 ton sections to isolate the best blocks or sections of vines. Cross arms were added to the stakes a few years back to “add shade with dappled sunlight” as overexposure can result in too much tannin. And the list goes on, in pursuit of producing an even more perfect bottle of wine.
The Alexander’s Crown property is also the home of Rodney Strong’s owners, the Klein family, and the location of a former home of Rod and Charlotte Strong. Ryan explained that Charlotte bred Bull Mastifs and would frequently take the dogs down to play in an area between Alexander’s Crown and the Russian River. That same area, where she spent so much time, now produces a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, called Charlotte’s Home.
Rockaway at Rockaway
As we drove through the back roads of Sonoma County on our way from Alexander’s Crown to our next destination, Rockaway, Ryan would point out highlights along the way. Given that his family first settled in the Alexander Valley in 1858, it’s understandable that he knows the area like the back of his hand.
Along the way, Ryan explained that the Pine Flat vineyards next to Sausal Creek produced some of the best Merlot of all the vineyards and it was one of the few that could be dry farmed, meaning no supplemental water was required. Dry farming requires a high vigor, deep rooting stock.
Entering the Rockaway vineyards, we began to climb up through the rolling, vine-covered hills which rise to an elevation of 750 feet. Rodney Strong purchased the property, which grows mostly Bordeaux varietals, in 2003. It produces the grapes for the single vineyard Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
As we passed a few olive trees, just barely visible from the road, Ryan explained there were more – he’d found an olive orchard on the property. Following his discovery, he’d torn out the brush and pruned the trees and, in 2014, they produced their first batch of oil from the orchard.
Arriving near the top of the hill, we left the car and climbed to the summit, where sweeping views of the Sonoma Valley and a bottle of Rockaway awaited our arrival.
Such an appropriate ending to our morning vineyards tour – sipping an amazing wine at such an amazing place. Standing atop Rockaway, gazing out over the Alexander Valley with its many vineyards, farms and ranches, it re-emphasized the importance that Rodney Strong places on location in artisan winemaking.
From such a vast amount of potential spots to grow grapes, narrowed down to the very place where we stood, then artfully created into a spectacular wine that made its way back again to this spot to be enjoyed with this stunning view – Rockaway at Rockaway is not your average morning.
Lunch at Catelli’s in Geyserville, California
Lunch was just a few minutes down the road at Catelli’s in Geyserville. Originally opened by Santi and Virginia Catelli in 1936, the restaurant is now owned and operated by third generation Catellis and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, and specializes in local and organic creations served in the historic location.
A variety of appetizers, salads, and bottles of wine quickly appeared at the table, including our first sampling of a Davis Bynum wine. Rodney Strong acquired the Davis Bynum winery in 2007, and the commitment to preserving Bynum’s passion for quality winemaking is apparent throughout Rodney Strong.
Ryan recommended the kale salad with blood oranges, which was delectable, and then we selected the award winning 10-layer layer lasagna with the slightly spicy Domenica’s sauce. Pasta perfection. For dessert, Catelli’s delivered “grown up” root beer floats to the table. One taste and Annabelle exclaimed, “That will put chest on your hair!”
An afternoon wine tasting touring with Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld and Ron Washam
Arriving back at Rodney Strong Vineyards after lunch, it was time for a winery tour and some wine tasting. Our guide for the afternoon was Ron Washam, whose 35 years in the wine industry have included twice being named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers’ Association and who also judges at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Each step of winemaking at Rodney Strong is a combination of art and science, with industry-leading techniques deployed where appropriate to assist in crafting world-class wines. Meeting up with winemaker Justin Seidenfeld in the tank room, Justin walked us through the conversion process that brought square fermentation tanks to the winery.
The square tanks allow more wine to be stored in a given space as compared to traditional cylindrical tanks. The tanks can be monitored and controlled by an app on a smart phone or tablet, complete with alerts, from anywhere in the world.
Additionally, the interior surface of the square tanks is easier to clean, reducing water waste, which supports Rodney Strong Vineyard’s commitment to protecting the environment. Rodney Strong Vineyards operates the winery with a carbon impact of zero, making it the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma.
Next stop, the barrel rooms and barrel tasting of the Symmetry 2014 and the 2014 Rockaway. Barrel tasting is like getting to open a present before it’s actually your birthday. Sampling from a barrel provides a glimpse of the future wine – a glimpse in that the wine changes as it matures and the winemakers may adjust the blend as well. While the primary purpose of barrel tasting by the public is for purchasing futures, a private barrel tasting in the warehouse is an entirely different experience and a great chance to learn more about the winemaking process.
Following our barrel tasting, we headed to the tasting room to do some finished works sampling, which culminated with a side by side tasting of the three 2012 Rodney Strong single vineyards wines: Alexander’s Crown, Rockaway and Brothers.
With 2012 having been an excellent vintage for Sonoma County, all three are remarkable wines. Which was best? As head winemaker, Rick Sayre, would comment the next day – it’s about taste preference. Describing a side-by side tasting, he stated favorites were nearly always split 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.
Dinner at Jackson’s Bar and Oven with Winemaker Greg Morthole
After an hour’s rest at the hotel, our ride picked us up for a dinner at Jackson’s Bar in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.
Owned and operated by Chef Josh Silvers, Jackson’s is a casual, wine country eatery, serving comfort food crafted from seasonal, organic Sonoma ingredients. Our winemaker host for the evening was Greg Morthole, who oversees the Reserve and Single Vineyard wine making.
The evening was a wonderful blend of wine, food and conversation, ending with amazing beignets served with chocolate sauce, vanilla anglaise, and a fresh raspberry sauce.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 3: Blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre
Just when you think it wouldn’t be possible to eat or drink anything ever again, the next day dawns and breakfast sounded pretty good.
The group met at the Vintner’s Inn Café for a healthy start to the day, then it was off to the winery for a blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre, who joined Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1979 and Rachel Voorhees, director of education for the winery.
Morning blending seminar with head winemaker Rick Sayre and director of education Rachel Voorhees
Heading into the blending seminar, we had no idea what a cool morning we were going to experience. Rounding the corner to the room, each place was set with tasting glasses of each of the varietals used in the 2012 Symmetry, and a glass of the actual 2012 Symmetry. Historic vintages of wines lined the walls of the room, including some bottles with hand written labels by Rod Strong dating back to 1970.
Symmetry is a Meritage (pronounced like heritage), with the wine being crafted like a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A Meritage must not contain more than 90% of any one single grape type.
Rachel and Rick walked us through a brief overview of Rodney Strong Vineyards, the history of Meritage, and the properties each grape brings to the blend. Then it was time to blend some wine.
Armed with bottles of the varietals, beakers, and pipettes, we each set out to blend our own version of the wine. When finished, Rick tasted our creations, commenting on our blends, and awarded an overall winner.
I called mine “A Secret.” As in, “What are you drinking?” “It’s A Secret.” I went with the 80/20 rule, as in 80% Cab and 20% of the others (it donned on me later that I should have named it Pareto). My blend consisted of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot.
My blend ended up 2nd runner up, with Annabelle’s winning the day. The experience was fun, educational and truly a cool adventure!
Lunch prepared by Rodney Strong winery chef Tara Watchel with head winemaker Rick Sayre
Our time at Rodney Strong ended with a lunch with Rick Sayres in a dining room above the tasting room.
The lunch, prepared by winery chef, Tara Wachtel, was exquisite, served with perfect wines and some of the olive oil from the orchard Ryan had discovered at Rockaway. The group chatted about fishing in Alaska, Sonoma county, and Rodney Strong’s history, savoring the time remaining in our amazing visit.
Huge thanks to Laura Perret Fontana, Justin Seidenfeld, Ryan Decker, Greg Morthole, Ron Washam, Rachel Voorhees, Tara Wachtel, Rick Sayre and everyone at Rodney Strong Vineyards for such a wonderful experience.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Of all the major sporting events held each year, attending the World Series is near the top on most sports fans’ bucket lists.
The crisp autumn air, the red, white and blue bunting, the sea of color in the home team’s park – all make the century-old October tradition the ultimate baseball fan experience.
The first World Series
In 1903, modern baseball’s first annual championship was played between the Boston Americans and Pittsburg Pirates.
Held to bring the National League and the newly formed American League together, the first World Series was held with Boston coming out the victor, winning five games to three. The following year, the owner of the National League’s New York Giants refused to compete with the Boston Americans because he considered the American League and the Americans to be inferior.
Since that time, the World Series has occurred every year except 1994, when the post-season championship was canceled due to an ongoing strike by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
World Series 2014 Game 3: San Francisco vs. Kansas City
Following the first two games of the 2014 series in Kansas City, where the Giants picked up the game 1 win & Kansas City the 2nd, the teams moved west to San Francisco’s AT&T Park, which the San Francisco Giants have called home since 2000.
Located in the South Beach area of San Francisco next to the bay, AT&T Park is a beautiful ballpark with stunning views and a design that celebrates historic ball parks.
San Francisco, in their third World Series in five years, was ready and waiting for the Series and the world to pay a visit.
Hotels were packed, fans were decked out in orange, and restaurants held watch parties for those not lucky enough to score a ticket, as World Series fever permeated the city by the bay.
Speaking of tickets – we had two and the opportunity to capture a World Series game in all its glory.
Who goes to a World Series game?
Sure, the stars and the wealthy attend because it’s the place to be that night.
But, for the most part, it’s the diehard fans that are there to participate along with their teams in taking on the sole remaining opponent with hopes of bringing home the championship trophy.
Baseball fans are a passionate group. They are statistic-obsessed and will argue about even the smallest element of the game. They hold on to hope even when they are down at the bottom of the eighth because, in baseball, any team can make a comeback up to the very last out.
My biggest moment was winning the World Series because everyone in my town was able to feel he was a world champion.”
– Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to 1983, Member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame
AT&T Park sits next to the San Francisco bay, with the area just beyond the right-field wall referred to as McCovey Cove. Named after famed Giant first baseman, Wille McCovey, boaters and kayakers float in McCovey Cove during Giants games in hopes of nabbing a home run ball hit into the cove.
Better yet – procuring a splash hit – defined by the Giants as “home runs hit by the Giants that land in McCovey Cove on the fly without hitting the Arcade or Portwalk.” Splash hits are actually tracked on the Giants website (as if there was a baseball statistic that wasn’t tracked).
But, this was the big leagues – the potential of a World Series home run – brought a new level of excitement for those hopefuls in the Cove vying for a post-season souvenir.
Royals take game three 3-2 win to take World Series lead
Despite the best efforts of the Giants and the 43,020 fans in attendance (ok, maybe a few hundred were Royals fans), it wasn’t meant to be for San Francisco at game 3 with the Royals beating the Giants 3-2 to take a 2-1 World Series lead.
But, as Yogi Berra famously stated, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” The San Francisco Giants ultimately came back and won the 110th edition of the World Series in game 7 in Kansas City.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Three days in Aspen with 5,000 friends, enjoying 80+ cooking demonstrations & wine seminars and a Grand Tasting Pavilion with over 300 wines & luxury lifestyle brands. And, that was just the daytime activities.
Throw in evening and after-hour parties on nearly every corner (and quite a few houses), concerts, dinners, and a 5K charity run, and you have a weekend in Aspen like no other.
Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: Food
With a who’s who of top chefs gathered in Aspen, you never knew when you were going to wind up chatting with Bobby Flay or mingling with Gail Simmons.
The hottest chefs were in attendance – delivering their latest culinary creations, leading cooking demonstrations and seminars, signing cookbooks, and mixing and mingling with attendees – all making for a fabulous foodie experience.
The who’s who chef line up: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, Danny Meyer, Gail Simmons, Jacques Pépin, Michael Symon, Ming Tsai, Paul Qui, Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, Tim Love and more.
Exceptional wines from around the world, and at all price points, were on hand to be discovered, tasted and enjoyed at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Seminars with wine experts & sommeliers provided opportunities to explore and gain a greater appreciation of wines from different grape varieties and wine styles worldwide. A perfect chance to learn from the oh so entertaining Anthony Giglio or the evangelical guru of Rieslings, Paul Grieco, the seminars offered up-close, in-depth wine experiences with wines yet undiscovered by most wine-drinkers, but most likely to be acquired in the future.
The who’s who of wine experts: Bobby Stuckey, Josh Wesson, Steve Olson, Mark Oldman, Antonio Galloni, Paul Grieco, Anthony Giglio and more.
In addition to the seminars, hundreds of wines from winemakers spanning the globe awaited sampling at the Grand Tasting Pavillion
Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: Grand Tasting Pavilion
“Wow, that Doña Paula was good.”
“Chris Ford at Godiva is so cool and the ice cream truffles, divine.”
“My favorite was the crostini with cranberries, pesto and goat cheese.”
“That Malleolus was, to use a term learned in a wine seminar, yummy.”
“You have to get a Patron popsicle!”
And, the list of overhead exclamations goes on and on.
The Grand Tasting Pavilion, hosting five tastings throughout the weekend, featured over 300 wines and countless culinary delights, and served as the epicenter of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where attendees raved about the selection, creativity and vast selection to be savored.
Tickets go on sale in December for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2016 and will be available on the Food & Wine website, so mark you calendars for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2016 to be held June 17-19, 2016.
While you’re at it, mark down Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2017, to be held June 16-18, 2017.