Photo Of The Day: Williamsburg Bridge


We often forget that Manhattan is an island. That is, until we remember the number of bridges crisscrossing the skyline to connect the New York City borough with the rest of America.

Most people are familiar with the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge. But my personal favorite is the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I have spent many a late night in a cab over that bridge, and the view of the Manhattan skyline when crossing over from the Brooklyn side never fails to leave me breathless. This view, taken by Flickr user Skylar Grant from the East River waterfront, isn’t too shabby either.

Do you have any beautiful bridge photos? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Skylar Grant]

Six new Virginia tourist attractions to visit in 2012

Demonstrations by skilled artisans, Civil War attractions, an amazing new treehouse, and a historic home that will make you feel (or at least sing) “crazy;” visitors to Virginia in 2012 will find several new vacation experiences. Throughout the next year, here are some of the new reasons to travel to the state.

Heartwood
Abingdon, Virginia
Billed as “Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway,” this new facility adjacent to I-81 is home to regional artisans working in music, crafts, food and wine. There are also galleries and interactive exhibits, a shop, restaurant, and coffee/wine bar.
Winchester, Virginia
If Patsy Cline makes you “fall to pieces,” then this new historical site is worth the trip. The modest white house that the music legend lived in from ages 16 to 21 is now open to the public. Furnished with period pieces and some originals, it has been revamped to look almost exactly as it did when Patsy Cline lived there. Guided tours are available for those who want to know all the details on where Patsy Cline lived while beginning her music career.
Hampton, Virginia
After more than 150 years as an army post, the largest stone fort ever built in the United States officially became part of the National Park System on November 1, 2011. Nicknamed “Freedom’s Fortress,” the fort provided a safe haven for hundreds or runaway slaves during the Civil War. In 2012, walking tours of the fort will be available during the summer.

Appomatox, Virginia
The buzz surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War brought new opportunities for the Museum and White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, which will expand its presence with a secon facility in Appomattox set to open in Spring 2012. The $7.5 million museum will focus on the end of the Civil War, the surender at Appomattox, and the reunification of the country.

Williamsburg, Virginia
Known simply as “the Pottery,” Williamsburg Pottery has been a shopping destination since 1938. This April, the site will be reborn with a half-mile of new buildings–including a new cafe, restaurant, and bakery.

Meadows of Dan, Virginia
One of the world’s top treehouse architectural firms has designed a new, unique lodging experience at Primland Resort. Built on the boughs of one of the resort’s oldest and most beautiful red cedar trees (without the intrusion of a single nail), the treehouse overlooks the Dan River Gorge. Inside is a king bed, enormous deck, and other luxurious amentities.
The state will also host several new exhibits, including welcoming the Space Shuttle Discovery at the National Air & Space Museum in Chantilly and hosting a show of Andy Warhol Portraits at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach.

Virginia hosts ’100 Miles of Lights’ this holiday season

A Beach CVB. Courtesy www.virginia.org, Virginia Tourism Corporation

It might not even be Thanksgiving yet, but holiday travel planning is well underway. If you’re looking to be razzle dazzled this holiday season, the state of Virginia offers a festival of lights that has been bringing visitors back year after year. The 100 Miles of Lights celebration is a series of world-class light displays spread across six cities: Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. While exploring the glitzy trail, visitors will find drive-through light displays, twinkling cityscapes, and other sparkling spectacles.

The whole shebang kicks off in Norfolk this Saturday with the Grand Illumination Parade, an event that sets downtown Norfolk ablaze in lights and is followed by a parade featuring festive floats, marching bands, giant balloons, dancers and more. Nearby, the Virginia Beach boardwalk will also be shimmering with Holiday Lights at the Beach (pictured above), which is expected to draw 30,000 cars to the boardwalk before the new year begins.Jeffrey Greenberg. Courtesy Virginia Tourism Corporation.

Newport News Regional Park will become home to Celebration of Lights (picture above), a two-mile drive of 750,000 lights and 200 displays, including the animated “Winter Wonderland” and “Santa’s Enchanted Kingdom.” Over in Richmond, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden will features more than half a million lights, botanical decorations and trains for GardenFest of Lights. New this year, the “Virginia is for Lovers” LOVE artwork will be on display, allowing families and couples to take holiday photos.

Besides these long-running events, Colonial Williamsburg will host a Grand Illumination on December 4, while Hampton will host the Holly Days Parade on December 11.

If getting the whole family to go to Virginia seems like a Christmas miracle, you may be in luck: The Virginia Tourism Corporation also just announced the “Virginia Snowmotion Sweepstakes.” The grand prize includes a free ski or snowboard lesson, complimentary equipment rental and lift tickets, a $200 gift card for dining, and a three-night, four-day stay at Wintergreen Resort for a family of four. Also included in the promotion is round-trip airfare and car rental to explore the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. To enter, visit www.virginia.org/sweeps.

Not able to make it to Virginia? Check out more of the best Christmas light displays in the United States.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg announces Verbolten for 2012


Last weekend, Busch Gardens Williamsburg confirmed their new 2012 roller coaster Verbolten. The multi-launch steel roller coaster will be built on the former site of the Big Bad Wolf. And, like that classic coaster, Verbolten will use the park’s beautiful and hilly terrain. During its 2,835-foot course, the ride will dive to the Rhine River. The Zierer-designed roller coaster will include two launches, lap bars instead of over-the-shoulder restraints, and a top speed of 53 mph.

In a departure from fabled creatures from European folklore like the Loch Ness Monster and Griffon, Verbolten’s theme will be more modern. The ride will feature what look to be trains themed as sports cars. Based on what little is known about the ride, we do know that it will include an exciting car ride through Germany’s Black Forest that goes wrong. It’s an appropriate theme considering it’ll be in the park’s recently revitalized Oktoberfest area in the Germany section. The most intriguing part of Verbolten may occur inside a building during the indoor portion of its layout. This indoor section is said to hold some surprises as it will incorporate darkness and changes in weather. Aside from these details, not much else is known as the park did not release a full animated POV or off-ride videos like parks do with most new ride announcements.

In what appears to be a new trend, Verbolten will be another launch coaster from SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment that’s more along the lines of a family-friendly joy ride than a white knuckle, g-force intensive thrill ride. Reviews of Busch Gardens Tampa’s Cheetah Hunt reflected its somewhat less than intense ride and the park chain announced another somewhat similar launch coaster (Manta at SeaWorld San Diego) earlier this year.

I’m looking forward to Verbolten, even though it may not be create an insane adrenaline rush. I’m confident that it’ll be impressive from a theming and overall quality stand point like almost all of this park’s roller coasters have been in the past. Here’s a teaser video for Verbolten at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Summer travel: best U.S. cities for localized food lovers

best cities food loversWhat’s that you say? Summer’s half over? Those of us living here in the Pacific Northwest had no idea, given the lack of sun in these parts. But even if you’re getting slapped by the mother of all heat waves, it’s still early in the season for the best produce summer has to offer. As for where to get great food featuring locally-sourced ingredients? Allow me.

Some cities are inextricably linked with food; they’re destinations unto themselves if you’re the type who plans trips around meals. I do. Museums are great and all, but personally, I’d rather eat.

As a longtime proponent of sustainable agriculture, I want to support local growers as well as get a sense of place when I take a trip (that the food be good is still number one). That’s why a city like Santa Fe is so intriguing to me. The cuisine is rooted in the state’s history, indigenous peoples, and native foods, and there’s a fantastic farmers market. The fact that Santa Fe is beautiful in its own right seals the deal.

If you also let your appetite guide your vacation-planning, I’ve listed my favorite U.S. cities in which to stuff my face, based upon repeat visits or previous/present residency. It’s like choosing a favorite child, but someone had to do it.

Seattle
I currently reside in Seattle, and work at a cheese shop in the 14-month-old Melrose Market in Capitol Hill. So perhaps I’m a bit biased when I say that Melrose rocks. But really, I don’t think I am. It’s the best thing to happen to Seattle since Pike Place opened in 1907 and became the model for public markets nationwide. But Melrose isn’t a tourist trap, and you won’t find anyone hawking crappy t-shirts. It’s housed in two adjacent, restored historic automotive shops built entirely of reclaimed materials; there’s a soaring cathedral ceiling, and lots of exposed brick.

[Photo credit: Flickr user La Grande Farmers' Market]

The Benefits of Buying Eco-Friendly Local Foodbest cities food loversAlthough home to just four dedicated retail spaces and a wine bar, sandwich shop, and restaurant, Melrose has garnered lots of national media attention. The Calf & Kid (aka My Day Job) is a European-style fromagerie, while Marigold & Mint is a lovely little nook full of antique apothecary jars and cut flowers and produce from the owner’s organic farm. At Rainshadow Meats, without question one of the finest local/sustainable butcher shops in the nation, there are hard-to-find cuts like pork cheeks, and excellent housemade charcuterie.

There’s also Bar Ferd’nand, a miniscule wine and tapas bar, Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop, and the jewel in the crown, Sitka & Spruce. Chef/owner Matt Dillon’s farmhouse mod space features an open hearth, room-length communal farm table, and rustic but refined, hyper-localized cuisine–this time of year look for foraged mushrooms, local goat cheeses, halibut, and Juan de Fuca spot prawns. Do.not.miss. Next door, Taylor Shellfish Farms–one of Washington State’s most beloved growers of oysters and Manila and geoduck clams–just opened a retail shop where you can scoop live shellfish from tanks, or puchase live Dungeness crab or housemade geoduck chowder.

Should you make it over to the Scandinavian-flavored Ballard neighborhood, be sure to dine at La Carta de Oaxaca (get there early or be prepared for a very long wait). Seattle can’t do Mexican food to save its life (I speak as a native Californian), with the exception of this Oaxacan treasure, where everything is made the slow, traditional way. Best of all, two of you can fill up–including beers–for under 30 dollars. For a more upscale treat, hit Bastille, a truly beautiful bistro featuring produce and honey from its rooftop garden.
best cities food lovers
Portland, Oregon
Portland has a vastly different vibe from easy-going Seattle. And while the attitude may be a bit much at times (do not raise the ire of a barista), it’s also got a phenomenal food and mixology scene (and yes, better coffee than Seattle). There’s no one neighborhood with all the great eats; they’re scatted throughout the city: Southeast, Pearl District, Alberta Arts District

Carnivores won’t want to miss Beast or Olympic Provisions (which also makes its own charcuterie for retail). There’s Cheese Bar, which specializes in beer parings, six glorious farmers markets, distilleries, artisan ice cream, and new favorites Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty (wood-fired pizza in the former–and much-missed–Lovely Hula Hands space) and Little Bird Bistro, the sister restaurant from former Food & Wine Best New Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon.

If street food is your thing, Portland is swarming with food trucks, carts, and stands: Mississippi Avenue and downtown are both hot spots; check out Food Carts Portland for the inside scoop. If you feel the need to work off some calories in between food cart visits, (this is one of the best cities for outdoorsy types, after all), sign up for the Grub on the Go bike tour with Portland Urban Adventures.

Santa Barbara
I grew up near Santa Barbara, and have lived there a couple of times. It’s truly one of the most picturesque cities in the world, and over the course of 30-plus years, I’ve watched it evolve from sleepy small town to L.A. North. Spendy boutiques aside, Santa Barbara really didn’t start turning into a sophisticated dining destination until about five years ago.

The original hidden gems focused on locality–Bouchon, and the venerable Wine Cask (which recently changed hands and is now co-owned by the very genial owner of Bouchon) are still going strong. The executive chefs at both restaurants now lead farmers market tours, which I highly recommend. Both the Saturday and Tuesday farmers markets are major community events, and the sheer breadth of offerings–dozens of varieties of citrus, tropical fruit, olive and walnut oil, goat meat–is dazzling. Seafood lovers won’t want to miss the Saturday Fisherman’s Market, held at the Harbor.

The Hungry Cat
is my favorite restaurant in town (it also has a raw bar), followed by the superbly fresh Arigato sushi. Milk & Honey makes fantastic cocktails (and the small bites aren’t bad, either), as does Blue Agave. My true addictions, however, are Lilly’s Taqueria–a downtown hole-in-the-wall where for under five dollars, you can stuff yourself senseless on the best street tacos this side of the border. I also never fail to get an adovado or carnitas burrito at Taqueria Rincon Alteño. The same guys have been running the place for at least ten years, and it always feels like coming home.
best cities food lovers
Oakland, California
Nearly a decade of living in Berkeley, on the Oakland border, has enabled me to see this much-maligned city grow up, both aesthetically and culinarily (it’s always had a great Chinatown and taco trucks). In the gentrified Temescal neighborhood, you can literally hit a different restaurant every night of the week on the block between 51st St. and 49th St. on Telegraph Avenue. There’s Asmara for Ethiopian, Chez Panisse alum eateries Bakesale Betty and Pizzaiolo; Doña Tomas, and the new outpost of San Francisco’s wildly popular Burma Superstar (delicious). On 44th, late night chef’s haunt Koryo has great, cheap Korean bbq. Just around the corner: the wonderful Sunday Temescal Farmers Market.

Nearby, on 51st and Shattuck is the new Scared Wheel Cheese Shop, while down on Grand Avenue, by Lake Merritt, is Boot and Shoe Service (sister to Pizzaiolo), Camino (chef/owner is longtime former Chez Panisse chef Russ Moore). Don’t miss Market Hall Foods in nearby trendy Rockridge.

Brooklyn
I admittedly don’t know Brooklyn well; I couldn’t tell you how to get from Point A to Point B. But I know that some of the best food in New York lies within this dynamic borough. In Williamsburg, keep an eye out for Leeuwen Ice Cream’s roving, butter-colored truck–after you enjoy the heavenly pizza at Fornino. I also love the Brook Farm Genbest cities food loverseral Store, which has all manner of lovely vintage and vintage-inspired items for the kitchen and dining room. Bedford Cheese Shop and Stinky Bklyn (in Cobble Hill) are two of the country’s finest cheese shops, full of esoteric domestic and imported selections.

Over in Bushwick at Roberta’s, chef Carlo Mirachi, a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef winner, fires up pizza and other treats in his wood-burning oven, and utilizes produce from his rooftop garden. If you’re still hungry, other tasty stops: Fatty Cue or Fette Sau (both in Williamsburg) for barbecue, Saltie for crazy-good sandwiches, (Williamsburg), and the oddest ice cream flavors ever at Sky Ice (Park Slope). Be sure not to miss the various weekend Brooklyn Flea markets, where you’ll find all manner of good-to-eat treats, artisan beverages from Brooklyn Soda, and retro kitchen equipment. Note: every Saturday is the Flea’s new dedicated food market, Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg.

My other top picks for great food, made with local ingredients:
Chicago
Denver/Boulder
Santa Fe
Portland, ME
Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to give you some tips on where to get your feed on!

[Photo credits: Portland, Flickr user qousqous; courthouse, Flickr user Silverslr; Vietnamese food, Laurel Miller; pizza, Flickr user h-bomb]