London Unveils Europe’s Largest Building (For Now)



The Shard, Europe‘s tallest building, has recently finished external completion. Located in London, the building is 1,016 feet in height, and is being promoted as an icon for the city. While visitors won’t officially be able to go to the top of The View from The Shard, the building’s viewing platform, until February 1, 2013, tickets have gone on sale.

With 95 stories, 44 elevators, 206 flights of stairs, 600,000 square feat of office space and 11,000 panes of glass that will be angled to reflect the sky and change with the weather, the building is impressive. It will feature apartments selling for about £50 million pounds, office spaces, restaurants, a five-star hotel and the viewing platform. Plans for The Shard were approved in 2003. While some believe the building is a disgrace to London’s heritage, creation of the project moved forward.

Later this year, the building will have to change its title to tallest building in Western Europe, as the Mercury City Tower in the Moscow International Building Center will be completed, at 1,089 feet.

On July 5, a laser light show was held to celebrate the building’s external completion, which can be seen in the video above.

Quirky Hospitality In Ouray, Colorado

There are many interesting cities to visit during a trip through Colorado. While Denver has excellent artisanal shops, you can find the world’s highest distillery in Breckenridge. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, the little known town of Ouray offers various ways to receive quirky hospitality.

Quirky Restaurant: The Outlaw

Located at 610 Main Street, The Outlaw is the oldest operating restaurant in Ouray, open since early 1969 with the same sign still hanging. It has a very “Old West” feel, with a pianist playing upbeat tunes in the corner, walls of cowboy hats and a dimly lit room littered with wooden tables. While the steaks are delicious and the cocktails strong, the biggest draw to this place is the fact you can wear one of John Wayne’s hats. It’s the one located behind the bar, above the beers. During the shooting for a film, Wayne was staying in Ouray. One day, he called up The Outlaw to order some food for pickup. The owner’s wife answered, and when he said it was John Wayne calling, she responded by saying “yea right” and hung up the phone. Wayne became so enamored with her crassness; he ended up eating there everyday during the entire movie shoot.Quirky Dessert Shop: Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee

Not only does Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee have unusual chocolate flavors like bacon clusters with Chardonnay salt and coconut bark with pumpkin and sunflower, it’s also home of the locally-loved Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates for the day, the staff takes the scraps and add them to their family recipe cookie batter. When customers order a Scrap Cookie, they won’t know what they’re getting until they take a bite. One thing is for sure, though, it’ll be delicious. Local tip: Buy two Scrap Cookies and have them make an ice-cream sandwich for you. While they’ll often say they don’t do it, tell them a local told you about it, and they most likely will.

Quirky Brewery: Ourayle House

Also known as the “Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company,” the Ourayle House is a bizarre experience. It resides in the garage of the cranky owner, Hutch, who takes pride in making snarky comments to customers. The place looks like it’s made of scrap wood – mainly because most of it is – and old and broken sports equipment and dirty board games litter the space. If you leave your business card you can expect a rude comment to be written on the back, and if you’re a beer snob you can expect any diva-esque quotes to be written on the board behind the bar. For example, when I was there, one customer made the mistake of saying, “I only drink IPAs and Coors Light.” Of course, this was quickly noted for all to see. Hutch even has a countdown for how many “days without a beer Madonna” have passed. It’s also fun to read the unfriendly and weird signs that adorn the walls, reading things like “Welcome to Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company Cheers! ‘Welcome’ being a relative term,” and “It has always been out policy to accept game meat for beer, from good hunters and careless drivers.” Hutch makes all his beer on site, and rotates his drafts to keep things interesting. You can even order based on a brew’s “sq,” meaning “slamability quotient.”

Quirky Accommodation: The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast Inn

While most B&Bs have a certain unusual charm to them, Ouray’s The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast Inn is another animal. The old Victorian home has been around since 1889, although it officially became a bed and breakfast in 1998. For those who have read “The Painted Ladies,” the property was featured in the book. It’s a very quirky accommodation, as it’s Christmas all year long here. Along with the outside and common rooms being decorated with festive decor, each guest room features a Christmas tree with seasonal accents. Along with yuletide cheer, rooms also have saunas, Jacuzzis and cable television.

Havana In Seven Mojitos


“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in La Floridita,” wrote Ernest Hemingway of his infamous drinking exploits in Havana. “Ernesto,” as the Cubans call him, was a big fan of the rum, lime and mint-based cocktail, as evidenced by the slew of drinking holes throughout Cuba where he was reported to have drunk himself silly.

Indeed, sipping mojitos is a big part of the tourist experience in Cuba. And in a country where a glass of high-quality Havana Club Reserva costs significantly less than a bottle of purified water, there’s no reason not to partake in abundance. Cuba’s capital of Havana is flush with drinking establishments to help facilitate the cultural experience. Here are seven.

La Bodeguita del Medio
For tourists following the “Hemingway” trail, La Bodeguita del Medio is the Holy Grail – an atmospheric wood-paneled watering hole lined with photos and scribbled endorsements from Hemingway, as well as famous patrons like Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende. The place is often crammed with tourists herded in by the busload, who snap photos and clap their hands to a live band. The mojitos, however, are overpriced (CUC$4) and taste watered down.

El Patio
Situated smack in the middle of Havana’s Plaza Cathedral, El Patio certainly beats the competition in terms of location. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) are lightly sweetened and stuffed full with mint leaves, and live music plays long into the night. Stake out a spot on the ground floor for priceless people watching.

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Vinales

We were welcomed to Vinales with big smiles, handshakes and enthusiastic promises of music from Buena Vista Social Club. Our guard immediately went up; it was clear we were being solicited by a jinetero, a ubiquitous breed of Cuban hustler. Despite our protests, he called over the waitress and ordered us a round of mojitos, which were sugary sweet, with too much lime and too little mint. Sure enough, the bill confirmed our suspicions. At CUC$6 each, the mojitos were the most expensive we encountered in Havana, and it was clear our new friend had pocketed a portion of the “tip.”

Café Paris
Located on a busy corner in Old Havana, Café Paris is a popular spot for tourists seeking ceiling fans and a cool drink. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) were unmemorable, but the ambience provided the perfect midday respite from the Cuban heat.

Jazz Cafe
For a taste of Cuba’s most talented musicians, head to Jazz Cafe, a sleek 1950s diner-inspired spot above the Galerias del Paseo shopping mall in the neighborhood of Vedado. The CUC$10 cover includes the equivalent in food and drink, and the mojitos are a steal at CUC$2.50. Let the mind-blowing drum and saxophone solos distract you from the less-than-mind-blowing drinks, which were heavy on the sugar syrup.

Hotel Florida
The ground floor lounge at Hotel Florida is that rare nightlife spot that’s equally popular with locals and gringos. Compared to other music venues, entrance was cheap – CUC$5, including two drinks. The mojitos weren’t stellar, but they were strong – which really, was all we needed to wash away our inhibitions and hit the dance floor.

And the winner is … The Gallery Bar at Hotel Nacional
The mojito (CUC$4) at Havana’s most famous hotel bar strikes the sweet spot without being overpowering. The secret? Angostura bitters and a splash of dark rum. It’s no wonder that the bar’s former patrons include Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Nat King Cole. With the bar’s stash of high-grade Cuban cigars and dominos, you can easily while away an entire afternoon here – that is until it’s time to hit up the next bar.

Earth Day Travel: Recycled Sites From Around the United States

Recycling – with all of the environmental issues the world is facing as well as the upcoming Earth Day holiday – is a hot topic. However, while most people think of recycling in terms of paper, plastic and aluminum, there is another type of recycling that is becoming a growing trend across America: re-purposing travel destinations.

Imagine eating in a restaurant that was once a church, immersing you in an atmosphere of stained glass windows, an alter and Biblical murals. Or, what about sleeping in a hotel that not only housed foreign diplomats after Pearl Harbor and served as an Army Hospital for wounded soldiers, but also held a classified secret government bunker used by Congress? Instead of getting rid of history, these types of places are refurbishing them and allowing travelers to experience them in a new way.

To help celebrate Earth Day, we’ve put together a list of recycled travel sites from around the United States. For a visual idea of these unique places, check out the gallery below.

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[flickr image via mandiberg]

Relieve Your Tax Day Stress By Taking Advantage Of These Travel Deals And Events

Do you dread Tax Day? While you’ll still have to file your income tax returns, these leaders in hospitality are making April 17 more fun for travelers.

Loews Hotels

This April, Loews Hotels, which features properties across the United States, is collaborating with mixologists Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay from Tippling Bros. to create a special menu for tax season. The hotel hopes to give guests a break during the stressful time by offering concoctions such as The Tax Audit, with American moonshine, simple syrup, club soda and fresh lemon juice, and The Tax Refund, which includes Woodford Reserve Bourbon, fresh lemon juice, honey syrup and shaken bitters strained over crushed ice with a cherry and orange garnish. The drinks will be available from April 2 to April 30.

Call 1-800-23-LOEWS or click here to book. Laguna Vista Lodge

Located in Eagle Nest, New Mexico, Laguna Vista Lodge immerses visitors in a beautiful mountain setting and allows them to relax in nature. To help relieve some of the stress associated with Tax Day, the hotel is offering a “Tax Day Special,” which allows guests to stay at the lodge for three nights, with April 15 costing only $10.40 plus tax.

Call 1-800-821-2093 or click here to book.

Inn at Riverbend

Inn at Riverbend is a charming bed and breakfast in Pearisburg, Virginia, located near the Appalachian Trail, the New River and Virginia Tech. This Tax Day, the property is offering a “Tax Day Refund” package. Guests who book a room for April 15 and then stay on Sunday and Monday will receive a $75 refund on the spot.

Enter promo code TAX DAY REFUND when making a reservation. Click here to book.

Travaasa Hãna

Located in the town of Hãna on Maui, Hawaii, the Travaasa Hãna is a luxury experiential property set right on Kaihalulu Bay. To help guests relax during the tax month, the hotel is offering special classes, programs and pricing. First, there is their Tax Relief Menu, which includes an array of $15 offerings like a 30-minute personal training session, a one-on-one yoga and nutrition workshop, an extension from a 50-minute massage to an 80-minute massage or a select bottle of wine. Moreover, Travaasa Hãna is featuring a 15-course tasting menu with wine pairing for $150 per person.

Call 855-868-7283 or click here to book.

Travaasa Austin

Travaasa Austin in Austin, Texas, is set near the beautiful Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and tries to get guests active in nature. Just like their sister property above, in honor of Tax Day they will be featuring a $15 experience menu and 15-course tasting menu and wine pairing for $150 per person.

Call 855-868-7283 or click here to book.

Americano Restaurant at Hotel Vitale

Hotel Vitale in San Francisco, California, is a luxury property set right on the water. In honor of Tax Day, their onsite Americano Restaurant will be offering a “Tax Relief Special.” From now until April 15, guests will be able to purchase bottles of wine for half price from Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The restaurant is famous for its delicious Italian cuisine, created using locally-sourced ingredients, which can be perfectly paired with their vino offerings.

Call 415-278-3777 or click here to make a reservation.

Grant Grill Lounge at the U.S. Grant Hotel

Located in downtown San Diego, California, the U.S. Grant Hotel has been a luxury property and city icon since 1910. This April 17, their onsite Zagat-winning restaurant, Grant Grill Lounge, is offering a specialty cocktail for only $4.17. To receive the discount, patrons must say the password, “DEDUCTION.” While sipping your libation, nibble on exquisite locally-sourced dishes like Jumbo Diver Scallops, California Sea Bass or Niman Ranch Pork Cheeks.

Call 619-744-2077 or click here to book.

New York Water Taxi

New York Water Taxi provides “entertaining, stimulating, and enlightening ways to see New York City’s dazzling skyline, celebrated bridges and lush waterfront parks while maintaining a community-conscious fleet that honors [New York’s] cherished waterways.” For those who can show proof of filing their taxes on April 15 and 16, they will receive a buy one, get one free ticket for the Statue of Liberty Express. This features a one-hour guided tour to see Lady Liberty as well as all day access to their Hop On Hop Off service.

Tickets can be purchased at either South Street Seaport, Pier 17, or West 44th Street, Pier 84.

Flat Creek Estate

Flat Creek Estate, located in Marble Falls, Texas, is an expansive vineyard and winery that regularly hosts festivals and events. To help people get their mind off Tax Day, the estate is hosting a Tax Day Festival on April 15, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Guests will get to relax in the country, stroll through beautiful wildflowers and take a complimentary vineyard tour. Furthermore, discounted food and wine will be available, including a glass of wine and flatbread pizza from their wood-fired oven for $15. There will also be $5 glasses of wine and $10 bottles.

Flat Creek Estate is located at 24912 Singleton Bend East. Call 512-267-6310 for more information.