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So, for my birthday/Valentine’s Day/President’s Day Weekend, we are on a mission: we want to visit EVERY visitable microbrewery in the state of New Hampshire. It looks like there are 20 or so scattered throughout the state. This isn’t counting the several breweries that we can’t go visit, places like Prodigal Brewing, which bottles its brews only and isn’t open to the public.

We have lists from Brew News, New Hampshire Magazine, and the tourism board of New Hampshire. None of them are comprehensive, and new breweries seem to pop up at least once a week. We visited a good handful of places we’d heard of only through other breweries (it’s good to know there is some camaraderie between the brewers and that they all promote one another!).

I’m also amazed at the difference in microbrewery culture between New Hampshire and states like Maine and Wyoming. Here in Maine or in my old home state of Wyoming, breweries pop up in pubs or at least large bars. They offer good grub in addition to good suds or they are, at least, willing to help you order food from a place next door. In New Hampshire, whether for local law compliance or personal preference or what (I don’t know), a lot of breweries tend to be situated in what look like overgrown storage units or warehouse garages. They offer tastes or half pours and, beyond that, beers-to-go in growlers, bottles, or kegs. The set-ups are always incredible and in open view of the tasting area, and when they are open, they are always packed with locals enjoying different flavors. So whatever the reason or whatever the business model, it seems to work for New Hampshire micros.

So the next 20 or so entries will chronicle our journey through this gorgeous state as we attempt to have a drink at each brewery and find of weirdest brews NH has to offer. Stay tuned!

Bored with New Orleans? Been to Bourbon Street and done that?

Take a trip across the Muddy Mississippi to Algiers, Louisiana’s answer to what N’Awlins was 100 years ago. It’s sleepy, it’s full of classic Old Louisiana architecture, it’s quiet, and jazz, booze and good people are still ubiquitous, only without the hustlers and bustlers. There is one wine bar–the highly recommended Vine & Dine–and three *bar* bars on this side of the river: Dry Dock Bar (open most of the day and serving decent pub food), Crown and Anchor English Pub (open at 4, much to our mid-day dismay, though we’ve heard only great things), and the Old Point Bar, our personal favorite. It’s low-key and local, dog friendly and people friendly, a favorite hangout of the neighborhood roller derby team, and well-behaved pups are welcome to join their owners for a drink at the  bar. So really, a win-win-win.

What's your poison, pup?

They also have a brand-new dart board, decent darts, and an OK pool table. And brass bands randomly stop by for entertainment. Because New Orleans.

At the Old Point Bar

Random Brass Band

Don’t let the bar tenders and patrons intimidate you; just smile and be patient, and you’ll be a local in no time, and it’s worth it.

At the Old Point Bar

Playing Darts at the Old Point Bar

The neighborhoods are worth a walk, especially if you love the homes in the Garden District but hate the pretentiousness. Take the regular, quick, and very free ferry from the foot of Canal Street (right next to the Aquarium of the Americas) and watch the skyline of New Orleans unfold before you. A great point to watch the New Year’s Ever fireworks or any other sky-bound event in the Crescent City. Keep in mind that ferries BACK TO the city end after rush hour, and while there is a bridge across the Mississippi, it adds an extra 45 minutes and taxi drivers can be hesitant to make the journey, especially during tourist seasons.

At the Old Point Bar

At the Old Point Bar

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When we left Wyoming to move to Maine, everyone said something along the lines of, “Well, I guess you’re trading in mountains for ocean!”

Millinocket Lake Camping Trip

Looking Up to Katahdin from Lake Millinocket

But judging from what I’ve seen, I traded in mountains for more mountains AND an ocean! And some lakes and rain and trees and fog and rolling hills and lobstah…

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Exploring Valley of the Gods in search of the elusive Airwolf:

Valley of the Gods

The Vibe Helping us in our Search

Valley of the Gods

That's No Super-Powered Helicopter!

Valley of the Gods

Do You See It?

Valley of the Gods

Looking Over the Valley...

Valley of the Gods

Road Trippin' Through Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

Out into Monument Valley

Valley of the Gods

Moo? Moo!

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From One Valley to Another

Valley of the Gods

Still No Sign of the Ultra-Secret Airwolf...

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Who here has ever heard of Pavillion, Wyoming? No one? Right.

So it stands to reason that no one has ever heard of Miss Ginny’s Roost Steakhouse, either, right?

Which is really too bad. This place is classic.

Pavillion is a town of fewer than 300 hearty residents and no less than 150 miles from any major road. In the middle of nowhere, this place looks up at the Wind River Mountains, down into the Wind River Indian Reservation, and over at the endless high planes of Wyoming. For most of us, there is no reason to ever go to the town; I’ve lived in the same county for four years and had never been there until this weekend. There is no way you would find yourself accidentally passing through. It boasts a post office in a double wide, a general store with a “Basketeria” sign out front, and a bar. And most importantly, The Roost.

Image courtesy of County 10

The owner, Ginny Warren, came to Wyoming after Katrina when she had finally had enough of the hurricanes. Why she chose the little cattle ranching community of Pavillion, I don’t know, but she brought with her a love of crawfish, Cajun spices, and the NOLA dining experience. I’ve seen it described on places like Trip Advisor as a “typical” cowboy steakhouse or saloon, and it’s really not, unless you’re talking just about the Old West façade out front. The building itself looks like something out of Tombstone. But inside, there is very little that screams “Wyoming” except maybe the prevalence of cowboy hats among the clientele. In fact, the interior looks more like something you’d find in rural Louisiana: pink flamingo décor, faded wood accents, perpetual Christmas lights, checkered tablecloths, plenty of kitsch to go around.

And last weekend, thanks to a random Facebook post and a brilliant idea, we found ourselves making the 40-minute trek from Lander, WY, to Pavillion (even compared to a town in the middle of nowhere, this place is in the middle of nowhere) for a New Orleans Easter Sunday Brunch. Like most of the seatings, The Roost features a multi-course, prix fix menu with your choice of Cajun or Creole or otherwise New Orleans main course.

Be forewarned: the service can be a bit (a lot) slow. Partially due to the New Orleans culture—which generally encourages sitting and enjoying and sitting and enjoying some more—and partially due to the small town and limited availability of servers. So come prepared to spend time hanging out and socializing; trust me, it’s worth it.

Our brunch looked something like this:

Starter: beignets (of course)

Second Course: three shooters of delicious soups, including carrot bisque, sausage gumbo (of which I could eat many, many more shots!), and mock turtle

Third Course: shrimp rémoulade

Salad: baby spinach, berry, goat cheese, and candied walnuts

Main Course: between the two of us, we tried the cowboy eggs Benedict, with medium-rare, locally-raised steak medallions instead of Canadian bacon; and sautéed shrimp and baked cheesy grits with a homemade, whole wheat biscuit

Dessert:  we had the lemon cloud (basically a lemon custard with a graham cracker crust) and the dreamsickle cheesecake, which tasted just like an orange creamsickle (I mean, JUST like!)

And drinks: a standard mimosa; a brandy milk punch with brandy, milk, sugar, and nutmeg; an Easter egg basket of (very adult!) cheery vodka, triple sec, cream, grenadine, a coconut rim, and a peep for posterity; and a Louisiana Purchase, made with Grand Marnier, grapefruit juice, and…. Other stuff? Honestly, by that point, who cared? It was dry, crisp, and refreshing!

Me, Enjoying my Easter Egg Basket

I would just like to say that everything was delicious. The beignets were bite-sized and made a wonderful introduction to the meal.  The gumbo was nothing short of amazing, and apparently Ginny serves it as a main course for dinner. The rémoulade was light and just a little spicy. My sautéed shrimp was flavorful but not spicy, but several shakes of hot sauce fixed that, and the grits were perfect. And steak instead of Canadian bacon?!?!? Holy cow! And the desserts were generous and refreshing and rich. Other main courses included a pain au chocolate, grillades (apparently akin to a chicken fried steak) with baked jalapeno grits, crawfish frittata, and biscuits and gravy. Not really vegetarian friendly, but what is in Wyoming? (Answer: absolutely nothing; this IS cattle country, after all)

The menu changes every day that they are open, and Ginny tries to emphasize ingredients that are seasonal or seasonally festive, and each dish is handpicked by the diligent, if a bit scatterbrained, owner. Currently, The Roost is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 5:00 pm. Sometimes she gives Sunday brunches a whirl, and she often does special meals for holidays. Keep up with (often last minute) updates on Facebook or give her a call at (307) 857-6019 and leave a message. Reservations are often recommended just so Ginny knows how much of each course to prepare.

Pavillion, WY, is certainly not a place you would stumble on by happenstance, and because of the remote nature of the community, Miss Ginny’s Roost isn’t the kind of place you would just drive by and think, “Man, that looks interesting; let’s try it!” (though if you ever DID find yourself in town, it certainly would be the kind of place that would draw in random travelers) And though it’s off the beaten path, this unique, Cowboy Cajun hidaway is worth a stop, whether you’re passing through Wyoming on your way to Yellowstone or you’ve lived in Lander for years.

Roost on Urbanspoon

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Winter is a great time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park: you can drive the roads, normally closed to all traffic except shuttle buses, and have the scenery all to yourself. Camping might be a little chilly, but the campground is open for those brave enough for snow camping (or lucky enough to have an RV). Roads can be icy and will close during storms, but you can still meander around. Trails can also be icy, but the year-round visitor center sells studded grips for your shoes, recommended for safety. A lot of the restaurants and hotels in the very tiny gateway town of Tropic will be closed for the season, but the planned resort community of Bryce (just outside the park entrance) is cozy and convenient.

Despite the extra effort visiting Bryce Canyon in the winter might entail, it’s well worth it to have the whole park, the red rock and the dramatic vistas, all to yourself. Visit the park’s website for more information, and definitely pop into the visitor center; the rangers are often bored this time of year and will happily chat you up about current hiking conditions and snowshoeing opportunities!

Below are my stark, dramatic, contrasting vision of this brilliant gem in Utah’s Canyon County:

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

Bryce Canyon in the Snow

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Camping inside a national park can be a wonderful way to get to know a place. Many of the facilities are lovingly created to give visitors up-close encounters with what makes a particular park great: in Arches, you get to sleep in the nooks and crannies of slick rock and in the shadows of the arches; in Yellowstone, you sleep surrounded by elk and bison while listening to the lullabies of wolves; on Assateague Island, you can camp right on the beach. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Camping on the Beach in Hawaii

But I often hesitate to make a commitment to NPS campgrounds, not because of a fear of wildlife or poor facilities, but because of my fellow campers. When they leave home to embark on an adventure, even the most upstanding of people can sometimes forget that while on vacation, you still have to be respectful of those around you. Parents who would never let their children wreak havoc in a restaurant at home suddenly let their offspring run rampant and uncontrolled through a geyser basin. People who have the utmost respect for the wildlife in their backyard are suddenly throwing rocks and honking at bison to get their attention for a better photo. Homeowners with manicured, private, fenced-in yards back in New Jersey will wander right onto the back porch of a national park local just to see an elk or because “I can’t see the stars from my hotel room” (this actually happened to me when I worked in Yellowstone and lived in Gardiner, MT, and the guy was so upset that I didn’t seem to want him standing next to my back door).

And campgrounds are no exception. But here is a short list of No-Nos for those of us who want to stay inside a national park in the future, inspired by the incidents I have observed most often while traveling:

1) Don’t stay up all night drinking and loudly reminiscing about your Greek experience in college or that one hunting trip about which you remember nothing, which must mean it was epic, right? Nobody else in the campground wants to hear about your glory days. That’s what national forest campgrounds are for (I’m kidding. Sort of).

2) Don’t wash your dirty bowls in bathroom sinks, especially if there’s a GIANT SIGN on the door that says, “Please do not wash dirty dishes in the bathroom sinks.” As someone who has worked for both the National Park Service and a concessionaire, I can honestly say that this rule isn’t there to inconvenience you or somehow weed out the experienced traveler from the novice, who actually follows the rules. Simply, the plumbing in park bathrooms are inevitably old and/or cheap (for valid budgetary reasons), and getting in there to clear out even the smallest food bits is difficult and costly (parks are already severely underfunded), especially in the high season. They most often provide a whole dishwashing tub right around the corner just for you, but if you think it’s too cold or too inconvenient, eat at a restaurant next time.

Our Campsite in Arches

The Campground in Arches National Park

3) Don’t run your generator at 4 am. The rest of us are just as cold/hot/hungry/sleepless/bored as you are, so grow some stones and deal with it until quiet hours are over.

4) Don’t let your children sing songs in their tent all morning long. You might think it’s adorable and a way to distract them while you’re doing other things, but your neighbors resent you. Tents may provide some privacy, but they definitely are NOT soundproof.

5) Don’t leave your cars keys somewhere in your tent where you can roll over on them and accidentally set off your car alarm. Period.

6) Don’t answer your cell phone and proceed to stand next to another campsite because you don’t want to disturb the people at your own site. No one wants to hear your vapid conversation when you should be enjoying the natural beauty of our national parks.

7) Don’t leave food out. This is a big one that people never seen to grasp. It’s a serious danger in grizzly country (as in, people and bears both die). But it’s also dangerous to less aggressive wildlife in other parks, as well as being a general nuisance. You won’t think those magpies ravaging through your goods are quite as funny when a park ranger slaps you with a hefty ticket (and not paying it will result in a federal warrant issued for your arrest, so keep that time mind).

Glen Rosa Burning Tent

And please, don't burn down your tent in the morning; it's rude.

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With its efficient subway system and vast bus routes, Montreal is an easy enough city to get around on foot. Even if your destination is a mile away, the unique architecture and streets full of restaurants, bars, and stores will keep you distracted from the distance.

Mount Royal Park

The Montreal Skyline

There are a few musts in the city, including Parc du Mont Royal, the massive mound of extinct volcano that’s hard to miss in the center of town. It’s an all-season destination, full of runners, cyclists, and tourists in the non-snowy months and of sledders and skiers when the weather turns blustery.

Mount Royal Park

Mount Royal Chalet

The park is also famous for its Tam Tam Jams, groups of people of all ages and backgrounds that gather together at the George-Étienne Cartier Monument to drum from sunup to sundown and beyond throughout the summer.

Mount Royal Park

Mount Royal Chalet

Once you’re finished with the athletic pursuits, hop the Metro green line to Place-d’Armes and visit the historic and glamorous Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal).

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Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal

A 6 CAD “donation” (cover charge?) gets you inside, where you can explore the rows of stained glass and the intricate chapels tucked away within.

[Due to pretty glorious human error by yours truly, all photos I had of the interior are now lost to cyberspace… it’s one of my many superpowers]

Wandering around Old Montreal is a natural extension of a trip to the basilica, and stone-lined streets wind their way around cozy bars, French-style cafes, and views as close to European as you can get in North America.

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Vieux-Montréal

There are lots of weird things to see… head shops of all ilk, giant wooden phallic statues, and, of course, that fine line between flapper and storm trooper.

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Creeper Storm Trooper. Because of course.

If you’re in the mood for fresh fruits, veggies, bread, and even an eclectic selection of specialty beers, head over to the Atwater Market. This sprawling, art deco shopping center is close to downtown on the corner of Notre-Dame and Atwater; hop the green or orange metro line to the Lionel-Groulx station.

Atwater Market

Atwater Market

When you’ve done your shopping, get back on the green line to Pie-IX station, where you can take a stroll through the very Soviet-looking Olympic Park, home to many of the venues of the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Montreal Olympic Park

Parc olympique, Montreal

Attractions include the Biodome, the Montreal Botanical Garden and the Insectarium, as well as Olympic structures available to tour.

Soviet Flag

Hail the USSR!

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“All-Inclusive” is a term that too often conjures images of never-ending cheap booze, buffet lines that lead off into the sunset, and hoards of drunk spring breakers. People think of Cancun, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic. Places often billed as “too dangerous” for young independent travelers, places that cater to the patent non-traveler.

Occidental Grand Papagayo

A View of the Occidental Grand Papagayo

As an independent traveler, I had always overlooked all-inclusive resorts in favor of private rentals, small hotels, scrimping and saving and always looking for the most unique accommodations for the least amount of money. I have quickly perused websites like Apple Vacations and whimsically thought about endless buffets and bar tabs, but my experience with Occidental was the first time I took the plunge.

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The Grounds at the Grand Papagayo

One of my oldest friends decided on a destination wedding, and an all-inclusive option in Costa Rica seemed like the easiest solution to the ever-growing complications of modern American weddings. The wedding itself at the Occidental Grand Papagayo was wonderfully simple: the resort took care of the setting and set up, a fitting display of tropical flowers and flowing whites and purples, an ample champagne toast, a marimba band and delicious buffet dinner near the pool. The guests enjoyed bottomless, tropically-colored drinks and excellent service during the reception and ceremony. The resort provided anything we could need for the festivities.

Ahhh, l'amore, Tico style!

The Carver-Bonomini Wedding

The hotel itself has a comfortable, open-air lobby on top of the hill above the bay that catches the ocean breezes as they drift inland. The views are stunning, and the grounds are immaculately kept. You can chill out with wildlife — iguanas, coatimundi, capuchin and howler monkeys — from anywhere on the property; we even heard reports from some in our party that they had some early morning visitors on their patios and porches. As many reviews indicate, however, the guest rooms are tired and need some updating. In the tropical heat and humidity, it can be hard to keep the mildew, soft woods and crumbling corners at bay. The Royal Club rooms are definitely nicer and provide better views of the surrounding bay, and with some of the extra perks, it’s definitely worth the extra money. But the dark bathrooms and peeling paint in the regular rooms are really only an issue if you plan to spend time in your room, and let’s be honest: why? There are patios on each room with comfortable Adirondack-style chairs, ample porch space at and around the bar and swimming pool, a beautiful, Pacific beach that’s as private as you can get in Costa Rica, and a whole slew of excursions you can take advantage of (try heading down to the beach to find Johnny D. for better deals and more personal service). With so much to do, there’s no need to spend time fretting about the little things that don’t work in your room.

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Sunset at the Beach at Grand Papagayo

This all-inclusive resort also manages to skirt the Playboy stereotype, providing a calmer, more adult atmosphere. You won’t find all-night ragers or rooms full of drunken college kids. You’re more likely to find a friendly, late-night water volleyball game than 20-somethings doing shots. There is a disco, but it’s generally quite quiet. Mostly, guests mull around the romantic lobby sipping on cocktails (slip the bartender an extra couple of bucks for better drinks), talking and playing board games.

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Dancing in the Lobby

Food at the buffets is fine; many who have stayed at all-inclusive resorts said that it was pretty on par with other hotels. Meals include ample fresh fruits — perfect for days spent outside in the sweltering heat and humidity — as well as gallo pinto, American favorites and fresh seafood. The make-your-own Bloody Marys at breakfast are worth getting up for. There are also two a la carte restuarants at the resort. L’Oriental is an Asian fusion eatery, where the dishes are extremely flavorful but not very spicy-hot. The Italian is right next door and offers typical Italian fare, a step up from the buffet. In both restaurants, the romantic ambiance in the small spaces is a nice change from the buffet and snack bar, and the service is relaxed but attentive. Many people complained about the slow pace, but we found it to be delightfully unhurried. Our drinks were quietly refilled without asking, and finished dishes were swept away immediately. The pauses between courses were, we found, the perfect times to digest, sip our wine and talk. One of the great criticisms of the resort, however, is that both restaurants require reservations — made day of — and guests can only reserve one dinner for every three or four nights stayed (though we did hear of people finagling an extra reservation).

Occidental Grand Papagayo

Iguana!

The entire resort is decidedly un-rushed, and laying around enjoying the pool or the beach or the sun or your tropical drink seems to be the order of every day. The staff is extremely friendly and concerned that you have a good time there, despite some of the resort’s other shortcomings. Throwing in a little bit of Spanish, whatever you know, helps a lot, and though some of the employees are not native Spanish speakers, some don’t speak any English at all. Some appliances, notably light fixtures and air conditioners, are old and worn and could probably use replacing, but the staff answers complaints as quickly and quietly as they can. They tend not to refill your mini-fridge, but you can always head to the bar and get some drinks to go (or order in-room dining if you’ve upgraded to the Royal Club).

Occidental Grand Papagayo

View of the Bay from one part of the Resort

If you’re looking for an uncomplicated, worry-free vacation, the Occidental Grand Papagayo — starting at $230 a night, all-inclusive — offers a great deal (check out other resorts in the area, which start at around $230 per person, per night). This might be the perfect place to get to know your friends, your partner, or yourself just a little better. Don’t expect dance parties or drama; leave the spring breakers at home. What you can find here is calmness, a retreat from loud noises and constant action, something a little slower than you’re used to.

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Cheeky Magpie-Jay

Oh, and watch out for the magpie-jays, who will happily relieve you of your nachos, mojitos, or bathing suit top, the cheeky devils.

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And the sun sets on our first day on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica…

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Guanacaste Sunset

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Guanacaste Sunset

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Guanacaste Sunset

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Guanacaste Sunset

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Guanacaste Sunset

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Guanacaste Sunset

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Guanacaste Sunset

Is there anything more perfect than a sunset of tangerines and yellows, a fresh tropical drink and a relaxed, Tico-style meal on the beach?

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