Ernest Hemingway Writers Retreat at Walloon Lake this March

 Dream of getting away to write? What could be better than Hotel Walloon. After all, if it was good enough for Ernest (Hemingway that is), then it should work for anyone who wants to hone their writing skills and just needs to find inspiration, stimulation, ideas, and time away.

Hemingway, after all, is Walloon Lake’s most famous summer resident–his family still has a cottage on this beautiful lake in northwestern Michigan. And even better, Hotel Walloon has invited Hemingway’s great granddaughter Cristen Hemingway Jaynes to to lead the writers’ workshops and activities during the Walloon Lake Writer’s Retreat this March 4-6.

Jaynes is the the author of Ernest’s Way: An International Journey Through Hemingway’s Life which is a guide and literary exploration of the cities where Hemingway visited or lived. In the book, published by Pegasus Books, Jaynes shows us theses destination both as they were when the author of such best sellers as For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and Farewell to Arms, was there as well as now.

The Walloon Writers Retreat begins Friday evening and runs until Sunday early afternoon.  Participants can enjoy both collaborative and solo writing sessions during the weekend.  Packages start at $350.00 and includes a hotel room, retreat costs, an autographed copy of Cristen Hemingway Jaynes’s book, a Hemingway Tour hosted by the Michigan Hemingway Society, and visits to distinctive locations around this quaint Village that will help write and foster inspiration.

Hotel Walloon on the Shores of Walloon Lake Where the Hemingway Family Summered


Hotel Walloon is located in Northern Michigan and is a privately-owned AAA Four Diamond property.  Hotel Walloon is a luxury boutique hotel that hosts 32 unique guest rooms.  Amenities include complimentary valet service, a private bar exclusively for hotel guests and four complimentary food offerings during the day including; a continental breakfast, fresh snacks, and an assortment of hors d’oeuvres in the evening, followed by a dessert display. 

Places for Inspiration

There are lots of cozy nooks for writers as well as comfortable lounges near large fireplace. Guests can avail themselves of the billiards room, 24-hour fitness facility, and outdoor heated spa whirlpool.  Within a short walk are the Barrel Back Restaurant as well as lovely Walloon Lake Inn.

Up North Michigan

Hotel Walloon is part of the Up North experience is located between three great Northern Michigan cities known for their vibrant downtowns, lovely historic areas, and beautiful waterfronts–Charlevoix, Boyne City, and Petoskey. 
 

Hemingway as a very young writer at Walloon Lake

Holmes County: Back to the Past

          The road to Charm—population 65– takes me deep into the heart of Holmes County, Ohio, the second largest Amish region in the United States. It’s all buggies and horses, mares and their foals nuzzling in fields and girls in bonnets and boys in black hats riding in carts pulled by ponies as I make my way south along the winding narrow road. My destination is Amish Country Riding Stables, where the horses are already saddled and ready for our hour long trail ride through the woods and fields of Doughty Valley, an expansive stretch of land surrounded by tree-covered hills. 

          The stables are located at Guggisberg Swiss Inn & Winery and afterwards, of course, sampling their award winning wines is a must. I’m admiring the scene—a large gazebo overlooking a pond when I feel a gentle nudge. I turn and am eye-to-eye with one of the horses from our ride. Allowed to free range throughout the grounds, the equines like to join the party, softly prodding an arm or a shoulder in order to get the attention—and the petting—they think they deserve.

          This is one of the delights of Holmes County, a patchwork of villages, small towns and side roads that lead to new discoveries.

Sugarcreek

          If you were ever wondering what the world’s largest cuckoo clock looks like, travel no further than Sugarcreek, a small village with Alpine facades and a 23-feet tall and 24-feet wide clock in the center of it all. On the half hour, a cuckoo pops out followed by a polka band and twirling dancers. To get the full Swiss experience, consider attending the Ohio Swiss Festival, held the fourth weekend after Labor Day each year. It’s a chance to indulge in all things Swiss including steinstossen (competitive rock throwing) and a yodeling contest. No wonder Sugarcreek is known as the Little Switzerland of Ohio.

          A mega shopper destination, the Village of Berlin goes from large—the 20,000-square-foot, multi-level Berlin Village Gift Shop, once a dairy barn and now packed with clothing, jewelry, handbags, home décor, garden accessories and quilts. Even larger, are the 26-000-square-foot Berlin Village Antique Mall and the supersized Holmes County Flea Market, a 55,00- square-foot building with 350 spaces featuring more than 60 vendors.

          So many goodies, so little time. Dating back almost 60 years, Troyer Country Market in Berlin carries an amazing array of foods including small batch, naturally-made jar goods ranging from the typical (but yummy) apple butters, salsas and  pickles to such intriguing food items as hot pickled asparagus, brandied peaches, Bluegoose jam (a mixture of blueberries and gooseberries) and candied jalapenos as well as their own house-made sausages.

          Just a mile north of Berlin, take a tour at Heini’s Cheese Chalet founded by Swiss immigrant Hans Dauwalder in the 1920s. The family-owned business sends its cheeses all over the country but continues to operate as it did all those years ago with early morning deliveries of old fashioned metal cans filled with fresh milk from Amish farmers. Back in the 1970s, the family also developed their Original Yogurt Cheese, a big seller as is their unique and tasty cheese fudge. Visitors can watch cheese and fudge making as well as taste before they buy, choosing from samples of over 50 varieties of cheese, meat, jams, and fudge.

          Across the road, Kauffman’s Country Bakery offers a large assortment of breads, rolls, cookies, pies and cakes at. During the holidays they make 500 different varieties of fruitcakes and their signature German Stollen Bread.  Other items include seasonal breads– Sauerkraut Rye, Irish Soda, Kolachi Poppyseed and Braided Challah and sweets like Pumpkin or Mint Whoopie Pies. Smoothies, ice cream and sandwiches are available at the café.

Mt. Hope

          Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen, north of Berlin in Mount Hope, doesn’t show up on my GPS. I ask a young Amish boy leading a big draft horse for directions and he points down the road.  Go past Miller’s Buggy Repair, he says, and turn left—it’s right across the street from Mount Hope Livestock Auction. I expect something small but it’s a big, modern restaurant with a full parking lot, hitching posts for horse and buggies and an old fashioned Amish menu– think fried chicken, beef and noodles, mashed potatoes and great pies.

Millersburg

          Hotel Millersburg opened its doors in 1847 in downtown Millersburg, the county seat, making it among the state’s oldest hostelries. Located in the Millersburg National Historic District, the hotel has a courtyard, full-service restaurant and tavern. In keeping with local history, they also offer one of the largest quilting retreat centers in the region, equipped with cutting tables and ironing tables, all handicapped accessible.

          There’s more than handcrafted beer at Millersburg Brewing Company, a cool combination of historic façade and urban element interior.  The menu is eclectic and offers a great variety including such sandwiches as their Shrimp Po Boys– cornmeal breaded shrimp and chipotle slaw served on a warm bun and Boss Hog BBQ. Savor the food and the beer while enjoying live entertainment.

          19th century time travel starts at Yoder’s Amish Home in Millersburg with horse and buggy tours, tours of their schoolhouse and 1885 barn where in the spring newborn animals including, in the spring, newborn animals—think lambs, colts, bunnies and Beagles.  Yoder’s is an Old Order Amish heirloom farm and owners Eli and Gloria Yoder are dedicated to the preservation and education about Amish culture and lifestyle. On site, there’s a petting zoo, gift shop, covered picnic area and a bakery.

Loudonville

          Nicknamed the “Canoe Capital of Ohio” because of the many liveries offering access to the beautiful Mohican River, Loudonville has other attractions as well such as the Ugly Bunny Winery featuring wines ranging from sweet to dry and bourbon barrel-aged and live music.

          Also in Loudonville, Landoll’s Mohican Castle surely is one of America’s most unique lodging and dining venues, just as they advertise. The castle, a bold mix of cobblestone paths, cupolas, balconies, spires, pitched rooftops and wrought iron railings, surrounded by lushly landscaped gardens. Gordon Ramsey stayed here, filming an episode of his “Hotel Hell” series here. Gordon’s no longer there but you can enjoy the show’s menu he created at the hotel’s Copper Mug Bar & Grille.

For more information, Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau, 330-674-3975; holmescountychamber.com  or visitamishcountry.com

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‘Tis the Time for Cuffing Season

“We all know what makes a perfect date location: privacy, ambience and good drinks,” my friend Victoria Cohen tells me. “With cuffing season in full swing – the infamous New York City dating scene is back and better than ever. From fun and flirty – to sultry and classic, the location of a romantic night can make or break your experience. “

For those who don’t know, according to Merriam-Webster, cuffing season refers to a period of time where single people begin looking for short term partnerships to pass the colder months of the year. Cuffing season usually begins in October and lasts until just after Valentines Day. Since we’re already more than a month behind, we’ve better get cuffing.

And, of course, Victoria has suggestions on where to go.

The Crown

Snuggle up with a first (or forever) date atop Hotel 50 Bowery at The Crown. With lo-fi hip hop and cozy couches – enjoy seasonal and classic cocktails with stunning views of Downtown Manhattan, impressive for any date. With light Asian-inspired bites and chic yet calming décor – this hot-spot is the place to be.

The Campbell

Privately tucked into Grand Central StationThe Campbell transports you and your date back to the 1920’s – complete with classic décor, ambient lighting and live jazz on Saturday nights.

The sultry velvet tufted lounge offers delectable appetizers to complement their thoughtfully curated timeless cocktails. Listen to live jazz on Saturday nights or stop in for an after-work happy hour – The Campbell is the perfect spot to get to know someone special. 

Mr. Purple

This it-spot of the lower east side is the perfect place to impress your date or spice things up in your relationship. This winter you can cozy up under the fur-lined blankets in the Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet pop-up at Mr. Purple. Step into a larger-than-life heated snow globe atop the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo complete with chalet décor, a custom Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, and ambient lighting – this once-in-a-lifetime experience is sure to impress. 

Nearly Ninth

With signature and seasonal cocktails, great food, smooth live jazz performed weekly by Bobby Katz Trio and cozy lounges, Nearly Ninth located inside the Arlo Midtown offers a sophisticated date spot, perfect for a first-meet. 

The clean and classic décor is city-chic while the comfortable couches let guests relax and enjoy private conversations in any of their three spaces: the side-walk level bar, private lounge, and rooftop space.

A Holiday Must: The Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet at Mr. Purple

         Mr. Purple, a swank rooftop restaurant and bar on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo in New York’s Lower East Side, is again hosting Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet.

         As my friend Victoria Collins describes this special pop-up event, it’s a funky apres-ski lodge in the sky with fur-lined seating, ambient lighting and a custom Veuve Clicquot champagne bar inside a magically lit igloo–think the ultimate snow globe experience–one with drinks and food.

         Sip this classic Champagne and nibble on the limited-time menu featuring such foods as a rich cheese fondue as well as other sweet and savory fondues, short rib empanadas, tempura baby zucchini, and pretzel bites while enjoying the all-encompassing views of the city and locally sourced foods as well as the vibrant feel of the pulse of New York.

         Operated by the Gerber Group, the hospitality industry powerhouse, Mr. Purple has garnered high praise from Thrillist and Gotham and is definitely the place to be this holiday season.

         While sipping Veuve Clicquot, give a toast to the Widow Clicquot who after her husband’s death took over his business and ensured that it would become, in time, an international company. The word veuve is French for widow and Barbe-Nicole was only 27 when her husband died in 1805. It was a time where there were few if any French businesswomen and none were allowed to even have a bank account. Yes, we have come a long way.

         But Widow Veuve was audacious and bold. To encourage Napoleon’s Officers to protect her property she gave them bottles of her Champagne and plenty of it. Of course, being on horseback meant the officers couldn’t hold both bottles and glasses. So they jettisoned the glasses and used their swords to cut through the necks of the bottles, a practice now known as sabering according to Tilar J. Mazzeo who described this incident in his book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It.   Needless to say, you shouldn ‘t try this either at home or on a horse. Just pop the cork instead please.

         The widow’s bribe worked. The officers got to drink fine Champagne, riding away happy and the Widow Clicquot’s property was safe. The Widow also revolutionized the Champagne industry with her innovations including a way to produce a crystal-clear champagne free of sediments as well as creating the first blended rose champagne and the first registered vintage Champagne. Her dream all those years ago was stated by her plainly in 1831: “I would like my brand to be ranked first in both New York and St. Petersburg”

         We’d say her business plan worked out quite well. But what we really love is another of her famous quotes.

         “Lobster salad and champagne are the only things a woman should ever be seen eating.”

         We can drink to that.

         See you at Mr. Purple.

         Reservations for Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet, which begins November 15, can be made up to can be made 10 days in advance at https://www.mrpurplenyc.com/.

Celebrate Autumn with These Wonderful Libations

Now that we’ve finally come to terms that summer is definitely over, my friend Victoria Cohen advises to embrace fall with these amazing cocktails from some of the coolest restaurants around.

Nearly Ninth at Arlo Midtown – New York, NY   

Cocktail Name: The Applejack Sazerac 

It’s time to say goodbye to the days of rosé and warm up with the seasonal fall cocktails at Nearly Ninth at Arlo Midtown. Now available are the Cider-Car, Apple Cider Mimosa, Chai-Town, Hopscotch, Bourbon Smash and the gorgeous Applejack Sazerac (pictured below). The Applejack Sazerac is the ultimate autumnal cocktail, including Laird’s Applejack, Woodford Reserve, Honey, Peychaud Bitters and finished with Absinthe and a rinse of Allspice. 

Zuma Miami – Miami, FL 

Cocktail nameJapanese Old Fashioned 

A drink crafted to the warm the soul, Zuma’s Japanese Old Fashioned is garnished with a freshly cut orange slice and two berries and takes a new twist on a timely classic. Made with Toki Japanese Whisky, Hokuto sugar and bitters this rich, smooth and silky cocktail will leave you begging for another.  

 
Marker 92 Waterfront Bar & Bistro at The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village  


Cocktail name: Pumpkin Spice Martini 
Westin Cape Coral Resort’s restaurant, Marker 92 Waterfront Bar & Bistro, is serving up the delicious Pumpkin Spice Martini, made with Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Pumpkin Liquor. This festive drink is then topped with Whipped Cream, a dash of Cinnamon and Nutmeg. For those traveling to Cape Coral for Thanksgiving this fall, Marker 92 will be celebrating with a dedicated holiday dinner menu, as well as additional festive cocktails like their Apple Cider Mimosa, Cranberry Apple Sangria and Thanksgiving Punch. Price: $14 

The Irvington – New York, NY  

Cocktail Name: The Cider Car  

If you’re looking to shake off the chilly fall weather, look no further than The Irvington. Located in Union Square, the bartenders are now offering chic fall cocktails including the Bourbon Smash and our personal favorite, the Cider-Car (pictured center, below). Served in a coupe and topped with a dry apple chip, this Insta-worthy cocktail features Cognac, apple cider, lemon juice, apricot liquor and a hard cider float.  

The Bar at Deer Path Inn Lake Forest, Illinois   

Cocktail name: The Birds Poison Punch  

The English-inspired boutique hotel is renowned for its innovative (and oftentimes whimsical) cocktails, and someone who plays a large role in that recognition is its chief spirits officer, Jorge Centeno, who spearheads the property’s beverage program and mixes up some of the inn’s most popular, Instagram-worthy creations. Now, visitors to the inn can embrace spooky season all autumn long with Jorge’s fun play on Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy fall classic, The Birds, with The Birds Poison Punch cocktail – infused with mezcal and tequila, tepache, blue curaçao, lemon juice, mineral water and lavender smoke.  

Mahina & Sun’s at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club – Honolulu, Hawaii  
Cocktail name: Cacao Muerte  
Name of bartender: Ian McKinney, Bartender at Mahina & Sun’s at The Surfjack Hotel  
Recipe:

1/2 oz SelvaRey Chocolate Rum  

1/2 oz Casamigos Anejo Tequila   

1/2 oz St George Nola Coffee Liqueur   

1/2 oz Campari  

3/4 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth   

Combine ingredients over ice & stir for 30 revolutions. Can be served up or on a large format Ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist.

What makes it unique: “For those chocolate lovers. A savory balance of incredible spirits that accentuate the beautiful dark chocolate flavor you crave. The orange & vanilla notes from the Anejo tequila pair deliciously with the bitter notes made famous by Campari. A wonderfully warm and cozy libation for the fall” – Ian McKinney 

MDRD atop the Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton – Grand Rapids 

Cocktail Name: Spanish Coffee 

With temperatures dropping as fall arrives, the newly opened, Spanish-inspired restaurant MDRD atop the historic Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, MI boasts flavorful twists on classic warm Spanish cocktails, including its cozy Spanish Coffee, which is crafted with rich overproof demerara rum and orange curacao flamed to perfection, both mixed into European roast coffee. The drink is then topped with whipped cream and a garnish of freshly grated nutmeg and gold leaf, satisfying imbibers’ taste, smell and sight on chilly autumn evenings.  

LIQS 

Our favorite fall vegetable is tequila. LIQS, the world’s first premixed cocktail shot, is bringing you all the fall flavors with their Tequila Cinnamon Orange shot. In European countries, it’s common to take a shot of tequila with a cinnamon-sprinkled orange slice instead of salt and lime; thus, LIQS’ version was born. This mind-blowing flavor combination will change the way you look at tequila for a sweeter, smoother shot. Portable, pre-packaged, and premixed, LIQS’ lightweight four-packs are perfect for taking on-the-go. The shots are low carb, low sugar, low cal and gluten free and available across the U.S. for $9.99 – find the Tequila Cinnamon Orange here on Total Wine

MILA Restaurant – Miami, FL  

Cocktail: Spice Market  

Price: $21  

Akin to a premium rum punch, the Spice Market is made from Plantation three-star rum and Plantation original dark rum, mixed with complimentary sweet, spicy and sour flavors: charred banana, Orgeat (a nutty floral syrup), aromatic fall spices, and lime. This autumn orange-colored cocktail is topped with smoked banana foam and garnished with a peony.  

Estiatorio Ornos – Miami, FL 

Cocktail: Smoke of Hephaestus  

Price: $16 

This deep orange cocktail is a more riveting spin on a classic margarita, using fresh ingredients from tropical environments and mezcal, giving it a smokier flavor. Garnished with a mint leaf and a tajin-crusted glass, this one puts a fall twist on a summer staple. 

The Bar at The Spectator Hotel – Charleston, SC 

An Apple a Day 

Channeling the refreshingly crisp autumn air that engulfs the Holy City, the “An Apple a Day” cocktail utilizes organic apple cider, apple brandy and vanilla liqueur to provide immediate refreshment and invoke memories of fall days spent at the orchard. Combined with bourbon, a spritz of fresh lemon juice, and house-made fall spice syrup, it’s the ideal drink to sip on after a beautiful fall day exploring Charleston. 

Grand Hyatt Baha Mar – Nassau, Bahamas 

Pumpkin Mojito 

This cocktail from T2, a sophisticated rum and cigar lounge at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, an expansive oceanfront luxury resort in the Bahamas, gives a kick to the classic Caribbean mojito combining rum and fresh mint leaves with house-made pumpkin syrup and pumpkin whipped cream, topped with a dash of soda. Guests can sip and savor as they take in the surrounding tunes of live Bahamian music and indulge in cigar pairing suggestions from in-house mixologists to create an all-encompassed experience. 

Fargo Bar & Grill at the Inns of Aurora – Aurora, NY 

Cocktail Name: Lost Moose 

The Inns of Aurora, a luxury lakeside boutique resort in the Finger Lakes, serves up the warming “Lost Moose” cocktail at their Fargo Bar & Grill, a tavern serving elevated eats and late-night drinks. Cozy up with hazelnut liqueur, Jack Daniels honey and apple juice, with a splash of ginger ale, in a mug – served hot. 

 
DenimatThe Joseph, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Nashville 
Cocktail name:Life Is But a Dram 
Comfortable luxury, seasonally-inspired craft cocktails and an all-day menu of American and Italian favorites by Chef Tony Mantuano and team await at The Joseph Nashville’s rooftop bar, Denim. One of Denim’s signature cocktails perfect for Fall, Life Is But a Dram, is a spirited take on a Manhattan made with Heaven’s Door whiskey and The Joseph’s “Highway 61” whiskey blend, espresso-infused Carpano Antica, Angostura bitters and orange bitters.  

 Recipe

Life Is But a Dram // Heaven’s Door and The Joseph’s “Highway 61” whiskey blend, espresso-infused Carpano Antica, Angostura bitters, orange bitters Denim at The Joseph, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Nashville

1.5 oz Heaven’s Door Highway 61 The Joseph Blend whiskey 
1.5 oz espresso-infused Carpano Antica sweet vermouth 
2 dashes of Angostura bitters 
Orange twist or orange oil 
Dehydrated orange slice (optional) 
 
Add ingredients to mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 45 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass. Spray with orange oil or express oils from a fresh orange peel. Garnish with a dehydrated orange slice. 

Espresso-Infused Carpano Antica 
1L Carpano Antica sweet vermouth 
1/4 Cup whole espresso beans 

Add espresso beans to vermouth and allow to soak for 12 hours in the refrigerator. Strain out the espresso beans, and store infused vermouth in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

InterContinental New York Barclay – New York, NY 

Cocktail Name: Chili Mule  

Find the perfect fall respite within Manhattan at The Parlour Restaurant and Bar, where the Chili Mule is the perfect blend of classic fall spices. Made with premium Scottish Vodka, Arbikie infused with Chili, Ginger Beer, Fresh Lime Juice, and Rosemary Simple Syrup, it’s the perfect drink to enjoy on fall nights along with The Parlour’s Jazzy Wednesdays, featuring the Café Society.  

Brugal 1888  

Cocktail name: “East to West” Cocktail  

Cocktail enthusiasts looking for a drink to sip during the crisp fall months should try Brugal 1888’s “East to West” cocktail. This unique fall-themed recipe fuses the premium rum – produced in the Dominican Republic by the 5th generation Brugal family – with maple syrup and apricot liqueur, adding a sweet flavor with hints of fruity and citrus notes.   

 
Merriman’s Hawaii – Hawaiian Islands 

Cocktail name: Merriman’s Coconog  
Sip on Merriman’s Coconog this holiday season for a tropical twist on the classic eggnog cocktail. Highlighting tastes of coconut and cinnamon, Merriman’s Coconog uses an Old Forester Bourbon and Licor 43 base mixed with coconut milk and freshly ground nutmeg. Top it off with whipped cream and enjoy in paradise!   

Recipe:  

13.5 oz Coconut Milk  

6 oz Whole Milk  

3 whole eggs  

1/2 cup granulated sugar  

3/4 tsp freshly ground Nutmeg  

1/4 tsp Cinnamon  
 

Blend on high speed for a full minute.  

Whisk over double boiler until mixture reaches 160 F.  

Chill overnight.  
 

Shake 6 oz of chilled Eggnog Mix with:  

1/2 oz Licor 43  

1/2 oz Old Forester Bourbon  
 

Pour in carved Coconut  
Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground nutmeg.  

MR CHOW – Miami Beach 

Cocktail name: Lychee Martini

The Lychee Martini is one of MR CHOW’s most popular cocktails, featuring Absolut Elyx Vodka, lychee and a touch of ginger for a delicious twist. 

Texas Winter Lights at Marriott Marquis Houston 

Cocktail name: Spiced Apple Pie  

Marriott Marquis Houston’s completely reimagined holiday lights event, Texas Winter Lights, will be serving innovative, boozy fall cocktails for any crisp autumn day. High Dive (the rooftop restaurant & bar) curated an all-new hot “Spiced Apple Pie” drink inspired by the aroma and taste of a delicious homemade apple pie. With the smell of cinnamon and spiced apples, this cocktail is sure to put anyone in the fall mood.   Other fall cocktails will include a “Spiced Pear Martini,” a fruity seasonal punch with a crisp cranberry and orange finish, and a glow-in-the-dark “Starry Night” ginger mule (that even chan

Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) Now Helps Visitors Explore Chicago

The Tale of The Bean

Located in Chicago’s Millennium Park, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, a 110-ton elliptical sculpture made of brilliantly polished stainless-steel plates, now does more than just reflect the Chicago skyline and clouds above and the perfect Instagram backdrop for selfies on the ground. The sculpture, nicknamed The Bean because of its shape, now is also an AI powered chat bot capable of answering questions about the city.

It all began when Covid hit and the constant stream of visitors stopped. The Bean, which is decidedly not good at knitting or baking bread, became focused on moving beyond being the most beautiful gigantic drop of mercury-looking statuary–though we must say it did a great job at that. Eager to be a vital part of the visitor experience, The Bean worked hard at becoming a digital communicator—wanting to interact with the millions of visitors who come to Millennium Park each year.  

When my fans come back, thought The Bean, I want to be ready. There were a few bad moments particularly when The Bean learned about other non-Bean art and culture for humans to enjoy in the city. This was a tough realization at first and The Bean did have an existential crisis but thankfully it was quickly dealt with after a few counseling sessions. Another glitch was that The Bean learned more than The Bean really wanted to know about intense fan rivalry between the Cubs and the Sox and how it splits the city into two regions: North of The Bean and South of The Bean. Being wise, The Bean refuses to say which team it likes best and denies reports that it was seen in Wrigleyville wearing a Cubs hat.

“We were surprised, and quite frankly, a little alarmed, when The Bean came to us and asked if we would be open to this new idea, after all we did not know The Bean had become sentient,” said Scott Stewart, Executive Director of Millennium Park Foundation. “However, after talking with Choose Chicago, we realized that our friend, The Bean, could be a great help to all of the visitors to Chicago so we are happy to be part of this project.”

Call it The Bean Knows All. Want to know where to get your favorite style of pizza? What’s happening in the city? Head to explorewiththebean.com to ask The Bean about anything from neighborhood restaurants to what events are happening next weekend as well as the latest in child-friendly activities, things to do, museum exhibits, and more.

Turning this 66-feet long by 33-feet high sculpture, one of the largest of its kind in the world, into an AI powered chat bot called for team work. A partnership was developed between Choose Chicago and Northwestern University Medill School’s Knight Lab, a diverse, multi-disciplinary and multi-generational community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces says Glenn Eden, Board Chair of Choose Chicago, the official organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a global visitor and meetings destination.

“Our team of students was thrilled to have this opportunity to explore the design questions involved in making a conversational system that works well for visitors to Chicago,” said Joe Germuska, Executive Director of Knight Lab. “And if, in the future, The Bean needs us for new projects, we’re ready to help.”

The Bean Ups Its Game

Now that it’s also an AI powered chat bot, The Bean isn’t going to just sit back and relax. That’s not Bean-like. Instead, it wants to make even more friends and provide more information and so is continuously working to take its knowledge base to the next level. And by the way, The Bean loves when people take photos of it or pose with The Bean for selfies. But though The Bean thrives on attention, its goal is not to be The Bean-all when it comes to Chicago.

Instead, The Bean loves to share all that Chicago has to offer. All you have to do is ask.

Cloud Gate sits upon the AT&T Plaza, which was made possible by a gift from AT&T.

Millennium Park, located in the heart of downtown Chicago, is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the north and Monroe Street to the south.

Photos are courtesy of Choose Chicago and The Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Igloos With a View: Enjoy a Finnish Lapland Journey with Stays in Glass-topped Igloo Cabins That Showcase the Aurora Borealis,

A new six-day tour opens up the skies for the ultimate views of the Aurora. The Stars of Scandinavia tour from Off the Map Travel takes visitors to Kilpisjärvi, Finland and Rovaniemi, Finland, known for their magnificent views of the Aurora. The six-day tour includes uniquely luxe overnight stays in igloo-style, glass-roofed cabins surrounded by the Finnish tundra.

Talk about user friendly. Guests can enjoy a comfy and warm experience luxuriating in queen-sized beds in rooms custom designed views of the night sky above. Special low-level red lighting aids viewers’ eyes in adjusting to the night sky.

The Stars of Scandinavia tour begins in Tromso, Norway and then first travels to Kilpisjärvi, Finland where the new two-story Wow House “igloo” cabins face North for optimal viewing of the Northern Lights. Just 30 miles from the Arctic Ocean, tiny Kilpisjärvi (population just over 100), has virtually no light pollution making it an ultimate aurora and star gazing destination.

Traveling south, second stop is in Rovaniemi, Finland, the capital of Lapland, located right on the Arctic Circle. As an aside Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus though we can’t promise you’ll meet him. The ecologically designed Lappish Kammi Suites combine both pristine viewing of the Aurora as well as sustainable accommodations. The igloo design encompasses full glass domes over the mezzanine level bedrooms for crystal clear night sky gazing.

But it isn’t only stars and dark nights. There’s plenty to do during the day such as quintessential Lapland adventures that shouldn’t be missed. Think dogsledding, fat bike tours over the frozen tundra, and snowmobiling journeys to the Norway-Finland-Sweden border to meet reindeer and indigenous people in an exploration of Sami culture.

The current starting price, based on double occupancy, for the six-day/five-night “Stars of Scandinavia” tour is $2454 USD per person includes some meals, all transfers, four-star accommodations in Tromso with four nights in luxury glass-roofed “igloos,” and all activities. Airfare is additional. The tour is available from December 2021 through March 2022.

Developed by travel experts at Off the Map Travel as a way for those wanting an exciting, sustainable, and socially distanced holiday, this trip has it all.

“With two top locations for viewing the Northern Lights, plus a range of outdoor activities, we can offer a trip that’s both fulfilling and safe,” notes Jonny Cooper, founder of Off the Map Travel. “The snowy magic of Lapland makes for a special winter experience.

Here is the full itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Tromso in northern Norway, often referred to as the “Paris of the North.” Guests are transferred to a harborside hotel with stunning views of the fjords evening. Next up is a nighttime adventure into the snow-covered wilderness on a husky dogsled looking for the Aurora in the sky above.

Day 2: After breakfast, transfer across the border to Finland. Tonight, after a 3-course dinner, you will sleep in a design-forward igloo cabin with the chance to see the Northern Lights from the comfort of your bed. With little light pollution, the region of Kilpisjärvi provides optimal viewing dark sky opportunities.

Day 3: Enjoy an exhilarating snowmobile experience to where the borders of Finland, Norway and Sweden meet. In the afternoon, fly across the snow and ice while on a fat bike tour. 

Day 4: Continue your Arctic adventure with a transfer south to Rovaniemi for a stay in an igloo-style suite for two nights. Enjoy dinner and sit back to watch the skies.

Day 5: Meet Lapland’s most iconic animal–the reindeer and enjoy a short reindeer sleigh ride. Learn about Sami way of life and enjoy a short reindeer sleigh ride. Hopefully, the Northern Lights will be out, creating the perfect ending for your journey. Enjoy the lights while staying warm and comfortable in your suite as you gaze upward through the sky-view, windowed dome.

Day 6: Check out after breakfast and transfer to airport. 

About Off the Map Travel

The team at Off the Map Travel creates experiences and destinations for guests to explore hidden wonders of our planet. Specializing in Soft Adventure, Off the Map Travel also curates tailor-made holiday itineraries that showcase authentic experiences not offered by many larger travel companies. For more information on Off the Map Travel itineraries visit www.offthemap.travel; call +44 (0) 800 566 8901; email info@offthemap.travel  or join in the conversation on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube or

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