Tag Archive: Travel


Germany

There are so many places to visit in Germany. While Berlin is a must stop of course, places like Dresden, Aachen, Cologne, and Dusseldorf have their own unique personalities as well.

This is the really time to visit this European destination from the Windy City. There are now nonstop flights offered from Chicago on Germany’s second largest airline airberlin.

Without a first class, business class was a treat to experience with perks like massage seats that flatten out for complete relaxation. It was much like having your own private room with many of the comforts of home. The time literally flew by. I found myself trying to stay awake not to miss anything from champagne toasts (just say Prost) to a gourmet menu.

Upon landing it was a short trip to downtown Berlin. This is the largest city in Germany and the capital. It is full of museums and contains over 1,000 events to choose from every day. Art collections, food festivals and theaters are just the beginning.

While there are many in the world, The Intercontinental contains one of the best pools and spas in Berlin. The rooms use darker decor making them look very modern with bright views of the city.

Head out on the town starting at The Brandenburg Gate, actually a former city gate rebuilt in the late 18th century. What a photo op spot it makes today.

Just down the street is the Berlin Zoological Garden the most visited zoo in Europe with about three million people stopping by every year. Close to 20,000 species of animals makes the high price worth it for a chance to gawk at them.

Take in bits of the Berlin wall with a nearby museum depicting the holocaust. In the park there is a memorial to the murdered Jews with a special separate monument for gay visitors across the street.

Nightlife is a major part of visiting Berlin. Begin the night singing with the sports crowd at Tucholsky or visit the newly opened Hamburger Mary’s attached to the LGBT AXEL Hotel for specialty drinks and kitsch.

Look for a furry covered lounge to mix and mingle at Heile Welt or only a block away two for one drinks are offered at Tom’s Bar. Tourists will be transported back in time with a strict door policy and darkroom in the back. Watch your wallet and use common sense while having a good time in the neighborhood.

Public transportation was a snap in the city with the Berlin WelcomeCard and can be used for discounts with 200 partners. This made traveling easy and affordable to the diverse neighborhoods in the area.

While traveling to different areas in Germany each region had its own character and charm, such as Dresden near the Czech border.

For starters the boutique Innside Dresden has 180 modern sleek rooms making it a must stop. Upstairs Twist bar mixes up custom made cocktails complete with a nice view. Ven, the in house restaurant had some of the best food of the entire trip. The breakfast buffet brilliantly served churros alongside chocolate covered pancakes making dessert a part of starting off the day. Many hotels offered wellness rooms where travelers may just lay down on a lounge chair in their robe and listen to soothing tunes. Saunas and exercise rooms came standard with many hotels but were never taken for granted after walking all day.

Dresden, known for music and opera, will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birthplace of Richard Strauss in 2014. This is a strong area for dance performance and plans are afoot for special art collections for next year including one covering Egypt.

Take a peek into the Historic Green Vault that has an interesting mechanism to keep jewelry thieves from running out the door or if you are hungry head to Sophienkeller, there’s even a carousel inside the restaurant to accompany traditional heavy German food.

There is a night walk tour where spectators can take a behind the scenes look at the artist community then sample drinks that are popular with the locals in the nearby 140 bars and pubs.

Close by is Cologne offering an incredible gay nightlife that surrounding towns cannot rival. It has a 2,000-year history making it the oldest major city in Germany. There are 12 cathedrals right in the center of the city.

Take boat ride on the Rhine and stop at The Chocolate Museum or the Farina Fragrance Museum for the samples alone. You will learn how cocoa grows or leave smelling like a rose.

The Cologne Pride festival kicks up its heels in July with countless events and street parties.

The Hilton Dusseldorf is a fine place to stay even if it is a little off the beaten path or just hop over to the Breidenbacher Hof in the Konigsallee district. This five star hotel is where many celebrities stay when they are in town including Beyonce and Pink, who cooked a thanksgiving turkey in their kitchen while on tour.

Walk outside the door to shopping in every direction. From upscale retail stores to resale shops there is something for everyone. This shopping district almost had an H&M on every corner. Look for Gucci, Burberry, and Chanel.

If the is out of your price range then get a piece of the past by visiting The Alstadt or Old Town section of the city. There are microbrews for the sipping and art collections for the viewing while in the part of town.

A trip to Aachen showed us the inside of the cathedral where Charlemagne resided. The narrow streets led to the best gingerbread in Germany along with creatively sculpted fountains in this quaint neck of the woods. Even in the smaller towns locals seemed to have no trouble with English as long as you speak slowly and have patience.

It was difficult to say auf Wiedersehen but it was finally time to leave. American Airlines flew us home on only the third direct flight ever from Dusseldorf to Chicago. The staff and service were both top notch making the jet lag manageable after a quick nap in the reclining seats.

A week later my system got used to the five-hour time change back to Central time but the memories will never be left behind.

With direct flights, historic sights, and hearty bites, a return trip sounds right!

For more information on planning your next adventure to Germany check out www.visitBerlin.com.

Sunny San Diego

As the seasons change in Chicago sometimes it is just nice to get away to a place where temperatures are more consistent. San Diego offers sun, and tons of fun to the West Coast visitor.

California runs the gamut from kooky people to the snobbish rich Hollywood elite but this region seemed to have none of that. There was a down to earth feeling from locals that rivaled the Midwest in terms of realness and friendliness.

It’s really not a bad flight from Illinois and under four hours thanks to American Airlines riding the clouds on a good day. Car rentals weren’t mandatory but probably a good idea even though many of the attractions were within walking distance of accommodations at Inn at the Park. This centrally located boutique hotel is currently being renovated and updated. The beautiful suite where I stayed was a cozy purple color with retro yet modern furnishings including electronic window coverings and full kitchen. On the top seventh floor is a weekly LGBT happy hour where new friends view the entire city and mingle to music.

Gay nightlife is incredibly vibrant in San Diego. Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill got a sex change when new owner took over the Hamburger Mary’s chain and is now a “hetero friendly restaurant.” This turns into a big dance party that is packed until closing. Guests then head over to Rich’s dance club where go-go boys shake their moneymakers to the beat of DJs manning the turntables. Other more tranquil spots in the gayborhood include Martini’s Above Fourth for an older crowd or Flicks for sports and videos.

Balboa Park is dubbed the “Smithsonian of the West” with 15 major museums included on the grounds. It was almost overwhelming there are so many tourist attractions. Start first with the Museum of Man or Museum of Art before heading over to the San Diego Zoo. Taking a bus tour around the animal playground then head back to your favorite spots by foot. The panda exhibit was adorable as crowds lined up to see the little bear eat some bamboo.

It may be difficult to compete with the rich theater world in New York or Chicago but San Diego makes a strong statement with offerings at the Old Globe. Audiences in the past have been treated to the likes of Chita Rivera and Kathy Najimy in this historic venue. This time out it was Star Trek’s George Takei, Miss Saigon’s Lea Salonga, and Glee’s Telly Leung forming a trio in the Broadway bound production of Allegiance. The Globe is in the heart of the park putting on top-notch shows that are not to be missed.

The Hillcrest Brewing Company was a lively place to dine that evening being the first gay brewery in the world. The craft beers complimented the pizza and salad contributing to the overall friendly staff and spot on service.

A short two-mile drive the next morning landed me on Coronado Island. The legendary Hotel del Coronado is the property to stay at there. It is a huge complex with restaurants located inside such as 1500 Ocean. Amazing food and sangria add to an elegant experience in this signature restaurant that uses fresh ingredients from its herb garden. The award winning brunch on Sundays is a must with action stations ranging from breakfast to seafood and desserts. After letting all that food settle try surf lessons or rent a bike to explore more of the island. Nearby is the Lamb’s Players Theatre to take in a show on Orange Avenue. Across the street is homemade ice cream and one of the best restaurants around called Leroy’s Kitchen. Stone smoked porter short ribs are just one of the delicacies that make up a menu of locally sourced eclectic food. Staff members were not only knowledgeable but made diners feel at home with a laid back attitude that was in keeping many San Diego folks.

With temperate weather, a soothing attitude, and overall warm feeling to the area, this is the perfect time to head out West for a break from the cold.

Book a hot getaway today with more information at www.sandiego.org.

Located in the Northeastern part of the United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania makes a nice getaway from Chicago without the high price of New York or the long flight to Los Angeles. American Airlines jetted over to Philly in a little over an hour making the trek through the security almost a bigger ordeal than the travel time.

Upon landing there were several options to reach downtown. There is the Airport Express train, a van shuttle called Lady Liberty, or a taxi of course. With parking being difficult and most attractions being in walking distance there is no need to rent a car.

There are many great options for places to stay from the small boutique Alexander Inn to the immense 585-room Loews Philadelphia Hotel. The view from the immense hotel looked out over the whole city with a gorgeous view from the 26th floor.  Start off the day downstairs at the SoleFood Restaurant with a breakfast of Philly cheesesteak and eggs.

Visitors will need a full stomach to walk up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where museums and galleries are within blocks of each other. Late art collector Albert Barnes has a gallery as it was originally laid out in the new Barnes Foundation building holding the world’s largest collection of Impressionist and Modern paintings in the world. Next door is the Rodin Museum with huge sculptures such as The Thinker and others displayed inside and out in the courtyard.

Run up the steps from the Rocky movie to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where an Asian exhibit runs currently filling room after room.

If you don’t mind kids The Franklin Institute is hands-on for everyone or the Please Touch Museum continues that example with the Walking Piano from the movie Big.

The liberty bell might surprise some with its small size but big historical value at the Liberty Bell Center and the nearby park holds special event sometimes such as an opera presentation while I was there.

For lunch check out the Reading Terminal Market with Amish delicacies and Philly cheesesteaks made with Cheese Wiz.

Afterwards dive into history with the U.S. Constitution museum at the National Convention Center or the Free Library celebrating the 200th birthday of English writer Charles Dickens.

For dinner don’t even think about missing El Vez the Mexican-American restaurant that combines kitsch with excellent food from a variety of guacamoles to carne asada over a creamed corn  tomatillo escabeche. You will say “¡Olé!” after a pitcher of flaquita margaritas. Agave nectar is the way to go!

This establishment puts a traveler in the perfect location to check out the gay bars afterwards. Entitled the “Gayborhood” by locals this area gets hopping after 10 p.m. Woody’s has country line dancing upstairs with mix and mingling downstairs with music videos in the background. Tavern on Camac brings back cabaret entertainment and a dance floor upstairs for later in the evening.  Sisters is not only a restaurant but a dance club for lesbian ladies on the go. Bike Stop has a four level leather scene to tease you with. Many like the old school Shampoo or for the younger crowd head to Icandy to get your groove on.

Associated with National Coming Out Day but debuting a few days before is OutFest Philadelphia. This massive street fair takes place between noon and 6 p.m. in the heart of the Gayborhood stretching from Walnut to Spruce Streets for three blocks.

Drawing more than 40,000 people each year this festival brings new attention to local businesses thanks to over 140 sponsors.

Highlights from 2012 include appearances by Gilbert Baker, who created the rainbow flag an

d Mimi Imfurst from RuPaul’s All Star Drag Race on the main stage at 13th and Locust.

The Midtown Village Festival packed the streets also the same weekend with a booths selling clothing such as Project Runway winner Jay McCarroll and food grilled out by local restaurants.

If you are around in October do not miss the Pennhurst Asylum full of surprises and scares. Originally a state school and hospital it has been turned into a haunted house with crowds lining up down the block. Some say the spirits of the people who died at the institution are still around today.

Another restaurant to check out nearby the scary place is London. It was packed with a massive drink list and full of comfort food for those that like to partake.

For brunch don’t hesitate to stop at Valanni with a bloody mary spiced rub garnished with shrimp and a Kobe beef brunch burger that made the whole room jealous.

Philadelphia is truly a city with art, food, and entertainment for everyone. It is a place where history and bustling tourism thrives, while remaining safe for LGBT folk in a big city and that is how the City of Brotherly Love treats their family. Start planning a trip today at wwww.visitphilly.com.

Vermont

Vermont may be known for being the leading producer of maple syrup but there is a lot more going on around there than watching tree sap drip.

Lying in the New England region in the northeast of the United States, “The Green Mountain State” is centrally located for tourism and travel.

The state is so well acclimated into the LGBT community that every bar has the possibility to be a gay bar. While some of the population is conservative most here were found to be very open-minded and liberal. Civil unions were passed back in 2000 way ahead of the United States curve as the first state to recognize it and Vermont was fourth in line to legalize gay marriage.

Flying jetblue was breeze with snacks and drinks for the short hop from Chicago to JFK to Vermont where I lost an hour with Eastern Time. Car renting right out of the airport was convenient and necessary in this part of the world where things are spread out on a scenic highway with foliage at every turn.

We drove to our lodging at the Moose Meadow Lodge tucked onto the side of a mountain. This homey bed and breakfast was full of taxidermied wildlife and paintings. We stayed in the cozy creel room dedicated to fly fishing complete with a private steam room and balcony overlooking the forest. The only thing that was missing was a fish smell and that was okay by me.

The gay owners continue to expand with a tree house chalet in the works overlooking a pond. Don’t miss a glorious uphill hike to see the mountains from an overhang pavilion that is not for the faint of heart.

Before dinner we visited the Grunberg Haus with its strong Austrian style that is owned by past straight member of the LGBT Tourism Board, Jeff Connor and his wife Linda. Over ten rooms along with separate outside cabins provide suites for guests. A bird feeder watch from their living room never got boring.

The Cider House BBQ & Pub had some of the best pulled pork I have ever tried but bring a bib for those messy tasty ribs. Don’t forget to spread some bourbon sauce on any morsel in sight and ask for Bubbles the server who will show you one of a kind service.

For lunch there is probably not a better hot spot than Simon Pearce’s The Loft named after the famous Irish glass blower. Located over a historic woolen mill diners can watch the hydroelectric turbine and waterfalls while consuming calamari salads or a delicious shepherd’s pie. The lamb burger was a treat after fans demanded its return to the menu but watch out for the juice!

Downstairs tourists can not only shop from the massive gift shop, but also watch a glass blowing demonstration. After a devastating flooding from Hurricane Irene, this place bounced back after only three weeks to maintain it’s historic look.

There are so many welcoming places for LGBT visitors to stay in Vermont including all green gay owned Deer Brook Inn in Woodstock. A moose even felt right at home there recently when he charged across the property to surprise guests. Where was that moose crossing sign when they needed it?

Just a two-minute drive from there was the Farmhouse Inn where 31 hens ran out to greet us upon arrival. A huge barn was turned into a party room projecting movies on the wall and hosting local bands to entertain folks that stay there. With bees and trees, honey and syrup are served fresh for breakfast for visitors staying in their seven rooms. Remove your shoes upon entering and no pets please, there are enough on the farm!

Speaking of parties, Killington was the place to be for drinking and carousing. The Killington Resort has the complete getaway package for any taste. Stretching across six mountains, these snowmakers extend the amount of ski time on their 3,000 acres thanks to secluded sun escaped areas. Jam packed with activities, the Winter Pride Slide has revelers in a downhill parade and competing in a costume contest after hitting the slopes from February 1 through the weekend. Stay in The Grand Resort Hotel to enjoy spa treatments and a spacious golf course while you are there.

One of my favorite locations to visit was the Red Clover Inn. The farm-to-table dinner menu looked delicious with butternut squash soup for starters and garlic Portuguese steak to satisfy. The rooms were named after past owners and were just the right taste of modern mixed with historic architecture.

Later in the day we drove to the most populated part of the state, Burlington, for Gay Pride Weekend or Northern Decadence as some called it. Within walking distance of our centrally located Marriot Hotel accommodations we found the VGSA Pride Cruise on Lake Champlain.

The Ferry left the harbor with attendees covered in Hawaiian leis setting sail on the Love Boat or more appropriately titled Gilligan’s Island since it was a three-hour tour. The drag queens joked that there was a Ginger, and Mrs. Howell, but no one wanted to be Mary Ann. Maybe she was too innocent for the partygoers?

Patrons ate a light buffet after boarding complete with an anniversary cake. A DJ played tunes that got people dancing and a live singing drag show provided more entertainment for the evening. One unlucky fellow tossed his cookies overboard either from being seasick or having too many cocktails at the bar.

Saturday after the Vermont Pride Parade kicked off on Church Street. There were no barricades or stumbling drunkards on the street for this short but sweet celebration. Afterwards many walked to Battery Park to show their true colors with tents full of rainbow merchandise, clubs to join and square dancing. Performers sang from a local production of Rent after drag queens lip-synched with gusto in the pavilion. Former Governor Madeleine Kunin spoke of equality and changes in the government while Adam Bouska took NOH8 photos close by. Some rain sprinkled down to cloud up the festivities but that didn’t stop the after party called Farm Fresh with a southern theme that lasted until the break of dawn.

On the way up Route 100 visit Ben & Jerry’s factory where the company not only has incredible ice cream but they are active politically and in the gay community having a presence at the aforementioned festivities. Lake Champlain Chocolates and the Cabot Cheese Annex have enough samples on the highway to fill anyone up including a busload of tourists when I was there. Also, make a pit stop at the Hollow Cider Mill for a drink of cider along with apple doughnuts and soaked hot dogs.

There are so many places to stay such as the Commodores or Timberholm Inn but tourists simply must trust the only gay owned B&B in Stowe at the Arbor Inn. Renovated and adorable, this place was prepared for the upcoming Foliage Week with a new porch.

Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa supplied a relaxing reprieve with a total immersion into a world of massage and luxury that worked out the aches and pains of driving.

For the musical lover head uphill in Stowe where the family Von Trapp still remains to this day running the Trapp Family Lodge. The hills were alive with the Sound of Music as the great grandchildren keep their Austrian past alive with 96 rooms styled in classic yet modern looks. From the exercise room, pool, outdoor sports, to the restaurant, everything is within reach and was top notch for families with no need to leave a fireplace and balcony in their rooms.

It is fairly inexpensive to live in this region but gas prices were on par to Chicago. The population appears to be growing in leaps and bounds. After talking to some locals, many have moved here for a better way of life and the legalization of gay marriage. With ceremonies and honeymoon opportunities at every turn in Vermont, when are the other states hopping on this economic stimulating train and getting with the program?

Visit www.vermontgaytourism.com for details on planning a trip today!

Dollywood or Bust

Located in the heart of Tennessee, Pigeon Forge to be exact, just a hop, skip and a jump from Nashville, lies a theme park with one bigger than life theme. Dollywood opened in 1986 while I was still in high school in a suburb of Nashville. I tell you what, I would have been intimidated with my interview of Dolly Parton last year had I visited the park first. It was a mix of my first job at Opryland and my recent visit to Six Flags Great America.

The roots of the place trace back to the Rebel Railroad, the location that the park is built on top of. The Smoky Mountains surround Dollywood with Gatlinburg’s its neighbor and tons of shopping and attractions to keep any tourist busy. There are campgrounds and Dolly has her own cabins on the property to pop a squat in.

Dollywood brings in about two million visitors annually. I kept thinking, “Where is Cher World or Madonna’s Monastery?” No one has had a successful park about themselves. Why didn’t Michael Jackson opens his to the general public. You would think Ms. Parton has the biggest ego in the world but after meeting her I don’t think so. She has managed to stay down home and friendly. So was the service here at every turn. Country is not even the word for the staff here. Everyone drops what they are doing to answer a question.

Upon arrival I headed to the tour bus to take a gander of how Dolly lived on the road for so many years. There was even an early wig to gawk at and surprisingly very small compared to nowadays. Dolly’s Closet is right across the street from it with but nothing scandalous was inside like I hoped for.

After a quick bite at the diner it was time to ride some roller coasters. New this year is the Wild Eagle. It is a double wing coaster much like X-Flight at Great American but it has it’s own unique style and the most thrilling ride at the park. Unfortunately the Mystery Mine was closed for the day but the Tennessee Tornado was a hoot and very fast. Thunderhead really shook me up but lasted a good long time.

There are lots of water rides such as the Mountain Sidewinder where I thought we might flip upside down since it is basically a mat on a water slide. The Smoky Mountain Rive Rampage guaranteed people to get wet on a hot day.

There were shows throughout the day with even members of Dolly’s family singing and performing. Her museum was really spectacular tons of pictures with celebrities (see I’m not the only one that likes a picture with Carol Burnett) and an attic full of relics and memorabilia to check out.

It was easy to spend a day strolling around and that is not even hitting her Splash Country water park next door. Book your trip at www.dollywood.com. Now when are we having a gay day there? Bring your own wig!

Don’t miss Out in the Park at Six Flags on September 8 to benefit TPAN. Tickets are $35 with details at www.GaySixFlagsChicago.com.

Toronto

Toronto is the capitol of Ontario and means meeting place from an aboriginal word. Only an hour away from and founded at the same time as Chicago this area split from America in 1776. Both cities were considered gateways to the west. Being the largest city in Canada it is expansive and has a personality all on its own. While nice to visit, Toronto not cheap to live in as it was the highest ranked this year for cost of living.

Flying there is a breeze as Porter Airlines leaves from Midway airport daily where the snacks and drinks are flowing on the designer jet and the unlimited free Starbucks in the private lounge on return flights were a hit. A short ferry ride across the pond upon arrival and then you are on your way. Traffic can be tight though so plan on being patient. Getting around the city is very easy with railway buses, cabs and trains it’s a snap.

There are several Marriotts located in Toronto but the Eaton Center location offers a closed in walkway to start that shopping. Bars and attractions are nearby along with an excellent breakfast buffet to start the day off right.

The Royal Ontario Museum is currently presenting Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World that shows past civilizations alongside dinosaur bones.

Take a walk on the high side at the CN Tower. Over 1,000 feet in the air, Chef Peter George serves up a cuisine that keeps diners spinning on a rotating platform at the restaurant inside the tower with a 360-degree view. After having the chocolate tower for dessert head to Edge Walk where you can be buckled in for a stroll on the outside ledge. This gives sightseeing a whole new meaning and was lit up red to honor World AIDS Day when I was there.

The St. Lawrence Market has something for everyone who loves to cook, from meat to cheeses. Don’t skip breakfast with a traditional peameal Canadian bacon sandwich at the Carousel Bakery.

Many people travel to see celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival every year and now have a new place to eat with Luma located in the TIFF Lightbox. As you walk up the steps don’t miss the encased Oscar from the winner The Barbarian Invasions donated by the director.

The Grace Kelly exhibit runs in the same building displaying her rise to fame and the incredible outfits that she knew how to work.

Missing the comedy of Chicago? Take in an early show with this sister act from the same name of Second City presenting holiday themed shows throughout the year.

Another recent Chicago touring show was Mary Poppins landing at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Fighting a foot fetish? Step over to the Bata Show Museum where founder Sonja Bata first started collecting footwear in the 1940’s. Now with over 13,000 artifacts including shoes from Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, this place really has sole with the biggest boot ever from Mexico.

Decorated for the holidays was the castle Casa Loma, the previous estate of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt is the home of many movie sets including the X-men although Hugh Jackman was not to be found.

Every year the Historic Distillery District’s Christmas Market opens with wooden booths to shop at or just stroll around with a hot chocolate in hand. Barenaked Ladies front man Steven Page sang for the shoppers while Santa took care of the kiddies for the opening ceremony. Pure Spirits nearby always has a line outside for their swordfish steak and tiger shrimp angel hair pasta.

Off the beaten path is The Spa at the Old Mill Inn, which provides a getaway for travelers far and near. An indoor chapel for weddings, a 300-seat restaurant and luxurious spa conveniently means a couple never has to leave the premises.

Step back in time with the Black Creek Pioneer Village. Flaming pudding, yarn spinning, and history are all fun to witness while visiting a village founded in the 1800’s.

Speaking of blasts from the past, for fans of the Mildred Pierce movie Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is named after the film. This establishment made headlines this year when customers were encouraged to have bathroom sex on Valentine’s Day to celebrate. After your torrid toilette rendezvous return to your seat for a Makers Mark apple cider drink or the delicious gnocchi poutine.

After dinner the gay area is not too far where there are blocks of bars to try out such as world famous Woody’s, massive in size with room after room of activity. Zipperz has a piano bar and Fly is the place to be on the weekends to dance. Pride week in June is one of the biggest LGBT festivals in the world.

Take care of your sweet tooth with a Canadian baking class by Le Dolci where people of all ages learn to decorate cupcakes. All classes are two hours long and a can celebrate any special day or holiday.

Head to more shopping in the historic Yorkville area where upscale chains such as Roots and Club Monaco are all the rage. The Guild Shop featured local artists and was very reasonable with prices.

Sassafraz is a nice place for a lunch break right in the middle of this square and has a bar area to rest your feet.

For dinner located inside an upscale mall is La Societe with Parisian cuisine and a stained glass ceiling that shoppers must try.

After all this shopping, dining, and sight seeing it is only a quick trip back to Chicago.  For a nearby sister city that is among the world’s top tourist destinations there is no excuse not to experience Canada and Toronto for yourself.

For more information on many of the places mentioned above visit http://www.seetorontonow.com before your visit!

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is known as The Bay State and located in the New England region.

Boston is the capital and a good place to start the journey. The Inn @ St. Botolph makes a great home base for downtown Boston. The place is modern, masculine and maintained by the guest. It has a virtual check-in with a key code so no need to even see anyone at the front desk. It is basically like having a private apartment with living room instead of a hotel feel to it.

There is a huge mall around the corner or head over to the Bully Boy Distillery where founding members Will and Dave Willis make small limited run batches of rum, whiskey, and vodka. These farm boys gave up previous careers to make spirits for local restaurants and bars.

The Boston Railway and bus system was very easy to use and on par with Chicago. Take the green line over to Haymarket Square where the area is quite charming with restaurants and nightlife. Tucked away on the Waterfront is Aragosta. The Italian cuisine is prepared before your very eyes at the chef’s counter by chef David Daniels and literally melts in your mouth. Don’t miss signature drinks such as a s’more martini or the oak sage margarita.

After dinner try local karaoke or visit Club Café with a fun photo booth, music, and dancing. There was an appearance by RuPaul Drag Race star Pandora Boxx the night I was there.

Take the Reverse Walk Into History Tour with up to 16 historic sites such as Paul Revere’s house.

For lunch after the walk Bin 26 is a welcome change serving 200 wine selections. The cocoa tagliatelle with porcini mushroom is a must try at this Beacon Hill restaurant. If you still have you walking shoes on then continue down side streets to see the architecture and picture the history of this area.

Tourists love the Sam Adams Brewery as they sample award-winning beers and learn about the brewing process.

Don’t miss the hip Island Creek Oyster Bar. Fresh oysters and seafood work in harmony with atmosphere with this newly opened restaurant that is packed on the weekends. The setting for the television show Cheers is nearby in this upscale neighborhood.

For a luxurious stay spend the night at the Hotel Marlowe. This Klimpton Hotel rates four stars and comes complete with a roommate, a fish named Francisco, to keep the weary traveler company.

Halloween is the perfect time to visit the bewitching city of Salem. The feeling of the Salem witch trails still hang in the air as tours go over the history of hysterical young girls in the summer of 1692 causing townspeople to be accused of witchcraft. Using life sized figures and narration viewers are sunk into a world where witch-hunts were commonplace. Afterwards take a walk through the history of witches to learn that maybe they aren’t all bad from the Wizard of Oz to current day Wiccans. TV Land even placed a statue of Samantha from Bewitched in the town square as an homage.

The House of the Seven Gables raises the roof on history with a large collection of antiques and architecture inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Shops are in walking distance ran by modern day witches selling fortunes and trinkets.

Finz Seafood & Grill serve a raw oyster bar right by the bay. The stoli-wasabi oysters are very popular with the locals and a must try.

Many people enjoy the Peabody Essex Museum including the Yin Yu Tang house inside that is over 200 years old. There are other collections housed inside from Asia to Africa.

Take a train to Gloucester, which is America’s oldest seaport and is still one of the busiest harbors on the Eastern seaboard today.

Not too far from the train station lies the Sleeper-McCann House is originally owned by gay designer Henry Davis Sleeper who created each room with a theme. The tour really emerges the viewer into the living quarters of one of the world’s first interior designers.

Family owned Ryan & Wood Distilleries makes vodka in large vats or try some from the Cape Ann Brewing Company with their long hall style seating to meet the neighbors.

For dinner be submerged under the ocean at Latitude 43 and nosh on fish & chips.

If you like modest accommodations and bright sun check out the Blue Shutters Beachside Inn that is just steps from the Ocean in Cape Ann.

It was women’s weekend in Provincetown and there are several ways to get there. The Bay State Cruise Company offers a high-speed ferry that was a bumpy ride on a windy day or Cape Air brings travelers across the great divide in about 30 minutes as opposed to the driving around the arm of Massachusetts for four hours.

The Sunset Dune Tour takes visitors by car through the sand to see where artists have lived with no electricity or running water ending with a clambake at sunset.

The Harbor Hotel at the tail end of the strip offers retro styled rooms and ocean views. There are many timeshares and bed & breakfasts along the road. Expect to pay big money for some but the views are breathtaking.

The Mews Restaurant was a bit of a walk from the hotel but well worth it. The service was top notch and on Bravo’s Tabatha’s Salon Takeover this hotspot was used as a lesson for customer service. Also featured on that reality show was Dougie Freeman’s salon and spa where celebrities drop in such as Anderson Cooper getting manicured privately a few years ago.

For women’s weekend there were performers up and down the strip from comedian Kate Clinton to rock group Betty. Fantasia week was the following week, which spotlights transgender people. Provincetown is a safe place for all LGBT folk to show affection without fear and to really cut loose. Gay bars were easy to find with Atlantic House (or commonly referred to as A-House) being the most popular to dance late night at. Also try Shipwreck with a cozy outdoor fire pit and friendly staff or Purgatory for the grittier tourist.

Located in the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is one of the safest and LGBT friendly areas in Massachusetts. Pilgrims actually landed in Provincetown making Plymouth the second settlement. Learn all about this and more by taking a trolley tour around town picking guests up at the town square.

The Bay State brings seafood, history, and distilleries to the northern traveler. With a quick flight visitors can be vacationing in no time. Recommended times to travel are anytime after April when this region springs to life with sunshine, tours and architecture not to be missed.

For more information on travel to Massachusetts, visit: www.massvacation.com.

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