Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Franz Joseph Glacier Hiking: Not just for kids anymore

Anticipation of a Franz Josef Glacier hike along ominous crevasses woke me up early this morning. Rather than make the usual instant oatmeal in my New Zealand hostel, I slid out of my bunkbed deciding the glacial adventure called for a splurge: a restaurant breakfast, or “breakie,” in Kiwi terminology. Restaurant forays have become an indulgence because New Zealand food costs are shockingly higher than in the US.

This journey began with a business trip to Auckland. After four days in five star hotels, I shed business attire and donned my fleece hiking wardrobe. It’s November, but in the southern hemisphere, the season is late spring – cool and rainy. I flew to the South Island to backpack the famous Milford Track and lesser known but more beautiful Routeburn Track. Today I am in Franz Josef New Zealand, a small town named after one of the blue New Zealand glaciers that cling from giant Alp-ish mountains on the rainy west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The glacier, in turn, was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by a German explorer in 1865.

Franz Josef Glacier Tours

I make my way to the Franz Josef Glacier Guides office with a skip in my 56-year-old step: this is going to be an adventure of a lifetime. Yesterday I was hefting my 40-pound backpack along Robert’s Point Track that overlooks parts of Franz Josef Glacier, but today I will be light as a bird – without my pack – walking on the ice.


The only way to get on the glacier is to hire a mountaineering guide and get outfitted with crampons – those sharp, metal cleats that buckle to the bottoms of your hiking boots. At the staging area, I ask excitedly, “Where do I get my crampons and gear?”
“First we need to go over this checklist and sign the waiver,” says the young woman who, acting as a Safety Nazi for the Franz Josef glacier tours, brandishes her clipboard in my face. And speaking of young, I’ve already noticed that most of the other clients signing waivers and receiving their crampons ahead of me are twenty-somethings.
“Hey, aren’t there any oldsters trekking the glacier today?” I think to myself.

The medical history checklist of the Franz Josef glacier walk reads:
Do you have problems with:
  • Knees? Yes No
  • ACL? Yes No
  • Joint pain? Yes No
  • Headaches? Yes No
  • Dizziness? Yes No
  • Are you taking medicine for high blood pressure? Yes No
  • Are you pregnant? Yes No
I have a sinking feeling. The checklist reminds me that I forgot to bring my orthopedic knee brace – for the torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my left knee. The prescription device is lying under the bunk back at my Franz Josef accommodation, the Glow Worm Cottages Backpackers Hostel.

Joint pain? Oh, buggers, I forgot to take ibuprofen as a prophylactic for the knee pain always brought on by hiking or skiing.

Headaches? Well, I haven’t had a migraine for three months. Or has it been two?

Next box: Dizziness. My blood pressure meds do make me somewhat dizzy, if I stand up fast. Maybe I can remember to not stand up too fast after I crawl out of that ice tunnel promised in the color brochures of all the Franz Josef glacier tours. Fortunately, I didn’t take my blood pressure medicine today because it’s a diuretic, and I didn’t think there would be many toilets on the 7.7-square-mile snowfield.

A sinking feeling is bringing me down like the Titanic 

A sinking feeling is bringing me down like the Titanic. What if I admit to all my afflictions? Will they let this old lady on the expedition? I didn’t train, come this far, and carb up with an expensive breakie to be turned down now. Looking down the list, I think, “Well, at least I’m not pregnant.” I quickly check all the “No” boxes and sign the form. Nazi girl has disappeared so I take the clipboard and stand in line behind the kids, who are waiting in que to get outfitted for the Franz Josef glacier walk.

I’m not pregnant

But now I am feeling REALLY bad. Lying is just wrong. I can’t believe that I lied on the form, not once but six times. “You’re not pregnant,” I try to reassure myself again as I get to the front of the crampon line.
“Did you sign your form?” the cute mountaineering gear guy asks.
Like a wounded child, I ask, “If I have one of these conditions, can I still go on the trek?”
“It depends,” he answers, snatching away the clipboard and form. “Whatcha got?”
“I have an ACL problem. I blew out my ACL but it was 20 years ago and I am really careful, that is why I brought my hiking poles,” I babble like an idiot, lifting my poles above the counter to show him. He scratches off the “No” and checks “Yes” in the knees box.
“You’ll have to wait over here,” he points to the corner.

The first person over thirty that I'd seen 

In a few minutes the first person over thirty that I had seen since I’ve been inside the Franz Josef Glacier Guides office walks over.
“So, you damaged your ACL over twenty years ago?” the man dressed in Search and Rescue regalia asks. “Ever have surgery?”
“No, I didn’t go under the knife, but I keep the muscles around my knees well-exercised – it holds it all together pretty well. I’m an avid hiker,” I add holding up my poles again as if they were health certificates. He makes some notes on my form. I hold my breath. I really want to go on the Franz Josef glacier hike.

“Go get your crampons,” he says after giving me special instructions on how to take care of my knees while walking with crampons.
I am now issued a Gore-Tex glacier jacket, wool hat and mittens as well as the crampons, and I join the twenty-somethings on the bus. We’re shuttled to a trail where we walk over a mile to the terminus of Franz Josef Glacier. Crossing a rope stretched across the trail that keeps out the “unescorted” riffraff, we begin our climb over the rocky moraine towards the ice.

As soon as we reach the ice, we sit down and put on our crampons. Michael Rooke, our mountain guide gives detailed instructions on how to put on the metal “claws.”

Franz Josef glacier hike

Later, he warns us to stand back as ice chips fly off his hammer as he cuts steps into the glacier. We move slowly up the Franz Josef Glacier in our cumbersome new footwear, but the sun is shining on our smiling faces. Small winds, cooled by the ice field, move around us from time to time. The crisp mountain air is heavenly.

“When was the last time you had a sunny day like this?” I ask looking at the turquoise skies.
“Oh, about a week ago. But in two days we’re having Biblical rain,” Rooke answers. This is a rainy part of the world and the river flowing from beneath the glacier rises and falls with those torrential rains.
Photo by Joel To
Photo by Joel To

Exiting the ice tunnel, I give no thought to standing up fast or not. No problem with dizziness today. The blue ice is mesmerizing and I am experiencing this world as I never have before. Eventually we reach a height of 620 meters (6674 feet) on our Franz Josef glacier walk and sit to eat our lunch. I drink in the magnificence of one of the most beautiful of all New Zealand glaciers. “Don’t forget to relax in the Glacier Hot Springs tonight – it’s included in your guide fee,” reminds Rooke.

On the shuttle ride back to town, while exchanging email addresses with new friends from Taiwan, Germany and New Zealand, I think, “This is one of the best days of my life – my knees are fine and I’m not pregnant! That might not be true for all of the twenty-somethings on this bus.”
_____
"UNSTOPPABLE STACEY" Wittig is a middle-aged adventure travel writer. Only one week after she returned from New Zealand, two twenty-somethings were killed while hiking without a guide at Franz Josef Glacier.

For Franz Josef glacier hikes and Franz Josef heli hikes:
Franz Josef Glacier Guides
Franz Josef New Zealand
www.franzjosefglacier.com

Glacier Hot Pools
Franz Josef New Zealand
www.glacierhotpools.co.nz

My Franz Josef accommodation:
Glow Worm Cottages Backpackers Hostel
Franz Josef New Zealand
www.glowwormcottages.co.nz

To search other Franz Josef accommodation click here and you’ll be directed to Booking.com.

New Zealand Department of Conservation (national hiking trails)
www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation

New Zealand glaciers that cover over ten hectares (25 acres)

Here is a list of New Zealand glaciers that cover over ten hectares (25 acres) each:
Fox Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier
Hooker Glacier
Mueller Glacier
Murchison Glacier
Tasman Glacier
Volta Glacier

This article was first published in Lake Erie Lifestyle magazine after a trip in November/December 2011. Some facts may have aged including the fact that Franz Josef Glacier and other New Zealand glaciers have retreated so much since then that you must now take a helicopter tour to the glacier. You may book Franz Josef heli hike tours from www.franzjosefglacier.com and Fox Glacier heli hike tours from Fox Glacier Guiding at www.foxguides.co.nz. Please call ahead to verify information.

Disclosure: The travel writer paid for her Franz Josef glacier tours and Franz Josef accommodation. The article contains affiliate links and if you make a purchase, UNSTOPPABLE STACEY will get a small commission to help pay for publication of this blog. Thank you in advance.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Escape Adventures Electric Bike Tours

Last month Escape Adventures invited me to join an electric bike tour of the area around Bryce and Zion National Parks. Until then, I thought I was done with cycling. At age 63, it had been almost twenty years since my mountain biking days.* But I’d never been on an electric bike, so I thought I would give it a go, even at my ripe old age and sketchy skill level.

I have to confess that after I agreed to participate in one of the Escape Adventures E-Bike tours, I was a little worried about my abilities. The electric bicycle tour was billed as an “Electric Pedal Assist Road Bike Tour,” and I was concerned that I would be uncomfortable riding on the road. You see, my previous cycling was done on backcountry trails. I would find out soon enough how my nerves would fare on roadways around Bryce National Park and Zion National Park.

My other trepidation for the electric road bike tour was that my bottom side was not in shape. Would I be in butt agony after the first 25-mile day? I packed my cycling pants. Then there was the shoe quandary. Should I bring my old cleated, clip-in bike shoes or use the toe cages that typically come with rental bikes? I hesitantly left my cycling shoes at home.
Shadows look like otherworldly petrogylphs on the canyon walls as we climb to Cedar Breaks NM

Well, I’m here to tell you that none of my fears came to fruition. I fell head over heels in love with my ebike, whom I nicknamed ‘Mr. Green.’ He took me all over the Bryce and Zion area in Southern Utah, making sure that I had a smile on my face the whole way. Escape Adventures provided the equipment, guides and service that helped put me at ease and get my inner child jazzed.

First of all, the seat on the Specialized® Turbo Como was très comfy. “These are state of the art and designed for comfort,” said Troy, one of our Escape Adventures guides, as he answered my questions before our first ride at Snow Canyon State Park outside of St. George, Utah.  Mr. Green sported a cruising seat, or saddle in bicycling terms, which was extra wide for support and cradled my ‘sit bones’ perfectly. The top of the ergonomic saddle had a V-groove that is said to increase blood flow and I guess that it did since I didn’t get saddle-sore on the three-day electric bike tour.

Mr. Green in all his electric bike glory.

The frame of the Specialized® Turbo Como is designed for comfort as well. Mr. Green’s top tube was positioned lower for easy get-on and get-offs. Not as low as a “girls’” bike, but not as high as the top bar on my old “men’s” mountain bike. I could quickly put my foot down when we came to a stop sign. The handle bars were positioned for sitting upright so that I could pedal in a more relaxed position than on a traditional road bike.

Arizona Travel Writer Stacey Wittig in Snow Canyon, UT
Photo by Meghan Young of  www.missmeghanyoung.com

The Secret Sauce

I loved the pedal assist electric bikes, which made each stroke of the pedal feel like a natural pedal, but with just enough added power to help you reach the top of the hill or keep up with the others. The added assist is not “on” all the time like a gas-powered bicycle would be. The battery-powered motor reacts to the amount of force you apply to the pedals. It is only “on” when you pedal – it is off when you coast. The more force I applied to my pedal, the more power the motor put out. It was a real natural, not mechanical, feel. Escape Adventures’ e-bikes made my ride more leisurely and the hilly terrain easier to climb.

Paved biking and hing path at Snow Canyon State Park
Additionally, my new love Mr. Green, unlike my husband, had a control device where I could choose the amount of help that I needed from him. I could breeze along under my own power, shifting my rear derailleur when necessary and then, as I approached a hill, press a button for “the secret sauce” – the motor power. There were three power settings from which to choose from a device near the grip on the left handle bar. By the way, the electric assist bike had no front derailleur which actually made the e-bike a little easier for this old brain to use. The ebike’s 9-speed shifter on the right handle bar gave me plenty of options.

Sticky Pedals

I made a good choice of leaving my cycling shoes behind. Mr. Green came with the latest in bicycle pedals – and, thank God, not the unsightly and embarrassing toe cage pedals. He was quite the fashion plate wearing low profile commuter pedals with grip tape and reflectors. My feet stuck like glue and never slipped off the pedal surface.

With the extra power from the integrated Specialized motor, a heartier brake system was necessary, and so Specialized outfitted Mr. Green with hydraulic disc brakes. Wow! My feathering finger braking technique came right back from my old days of riding, so I didn’t have any problems with converting to the new technology of the electric bike.

Escape Adventures downloading at Snow Canyon Overlook
The engine on our electric assisted bikes was almost invisible to the untrained eye. The body of the e-bike is slightly wider to house the motor and the battery. Of course that makes the ebike heavier than a standard bicycle, so our guides, Merrick and Troy really got a workout lifting the electric bikes on and off the bicycle rack positioned high on the roof of our Escape Adventures luxury travel van.

The Specialized battery in Mr. Green’s frame was lockable and easily removable for ease of charging. I didn’t experience charging the batteries as that was done every night by our Escape Adventures guides. Each morning when we pushed the on button, our electric bikes showed a complete charge on the digital LCD display. Another benefit to going on an electric bike tour rather than trying to do it on your own.

Lunch spread after Bryce Canyon NP hike

Benefits of organized cycling tours

Having someone else charge our electric bike batteries at night is an excellent segue into the benefits of choosing a tour when going cross-country on electric bikes. My experience was with Escape Adventures, and this is what I found to be the advantages of touring with them.

1.) Provides Up-to-Date Equipment

Escape Adventures provided the latest in e bikes, the Specialized ® Turbo Como 2.0 650b. And you can tell from what I have said above that I really enjoyed riding new, state-of-the-art electric bikes. If I were to buy this electric bicycle for myself, it would cost around $2,850. Escape Adventures also provided helmets, complimentary water bottle, seatpack and gloves. I didn’t have to pay extra to ship my electric bike or carry any of that gear on the airplane.

2.) Reduces Planning

I loved that our guides knew the national park rules and regs and had all the appropriate fees ready when we drove to the Bryce and Zion National Park gates. We hiked when electric assist bike riding was not allowed, and I didn’t have to read all the confusing government websites to plan the trip. Further, all our lunches were preplanned, and a great lunch spread was waiting for us when we returned from our ride or hike. The Bryce and Zion eBike tours included accommodations at casual inns that were vetted and reserved by Escape Adventures. I didn’t have to worry about making reservations months in advance like you typically have to do at destinations located near national parks.

3.) Saves Time

Not only does an organized tour save time during the planning stage, but it also saves time when your boots are on the ground at your destination. Having the lunches made and waiting saved us the time that we would have to stand in line with the hordes at a national park concessionaire. Furthermore, we didn’t waste time looking for our accommodations as our guides chauffeured us right to the front door.

4.) Offers Convenience

Having someone drive me around beautiful landscapes seems like such a luxury for me. I love to drive, but it was so convenient to have drivers who can keep their eyes on the road while I snapped pictures or ogled at views that I would miss if I were doing the driving. As I mentioned earlier, it was very convenient for me at age 63 to have someone lift my bike off the roof rack, charge Mr. G’s battery at night, and – not previously stated – repair or change flat tires.

5.) Creates a Tribe of Like-minded Individuals 

I had previously met only one of the others on the Escape Adventures ebike tour. But we all bonded on the first day and were sad to say goodbye by the end of the electric bike tour. I think that was because we all shared the same challenges and adventures which drew like-minded individuals and that the guides were skilled at getting the group to interact.

UNSTOPPABLE STACEY at Cedar Ridge National Monument 

The Specialized electric bicycle gave me just the boost and confidence that I needed to ride 24.3 miles the first day at Snow Canyon. I loved our later stop at Cedar Ridge National Monument where we took the most Instagrammable pictures and got our first glimpse of Southern Utah’s hoodoos. Since the park is at 10,000 feet, we experienced snow (in October) and the dark blue skies only seen at high altitude.

Plenty of time to stop and take photos at Dixie National Forest

The next morning we rode on separate, paved pathways through Dixie National Forest to Bryce Canyon National Park, ditched the e bikes and hiked the amazing Navajo Loop Trail to Queen’s Garden. Merreck said that although he’s trekked and cycled with Escape Adventures all over the world, this was his favorite hike. It had been over twenty years since I visited Bryce Canyon and I was once again blown away by the hoodoo rock formations.

Bryce Canyon National Park overlook on Navajo Loop Trail

On Day Three, we rode along Utah State Highway 9 from Mount Carmel Junction to near Zion National Park. That was the only section of our ride that had me nervous about the traffic, but I had a grand sense of accomplishment once we ended the leg at the park sign.

Strangers became friends on this Escape Adventures eBike Tour

On this electric bicycle tour, I learned a lot about myself:

  • I have the strength and endurance to accomplish a cross-country road bike trip (with a little bit of help from Mr. G.),
  • It’s easy to travel as a single woman with a tour group, which offers a way to make new friends, and 
  • I wasn’t “done” with cycling, and I’m not too old to ride. 

It all came back – just like riding a bike.

This tour is perfect for families, couples or groups with different levels of riding skills. Learn more about the Utah Bryce and Zion Backcountry Electric Pedal Assist Road Bike Tour at:
https://escapeadventures.com/tour/cycling-bryce-and-zion-ebike-2 

Escape Adventures
10575 Discovery Dr
Las Vegas, NV 89135
800-596-2953
https://escapeadventures.com 

*I have to admit that I was quite an experienced mountain biker … twenty years ago. I rode twice a week with my boyfriend (now my husband Dan) and another couple Mark and Lisa. When Mark’s friends from back East would join us on Flagstaff’s rugged trails, they ended up with chipped teeth, bloody legs or broken arms. Us girls would just keep pedaling.

"Unstoppable Stacey" Wittig is a travel writer based in Flagstaff. The Arizona travel writer was hosted by Escape Adventures, and although that does not affect her opinions, she believes in full disclosure.
Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park


Friday, October 19, 2018

Five Things to do in Finger Lakes Wine Country for the Outdoorsy

I love wine country. And I love drinking wine. I just don't want to do it all day. I'm more the outdoorsy sort, so when I am in wine country, if I can mix wine tasting with some outdoor adventure, then that's what I'd call a perfect weekend. On my recent trip to Finger Lakes Wine Country, I explored the area and found the five best things to do in Finger Lakes for outdoorsy people like me.

#1 Best things to do in Finger Lakes: Kayak to Painted Rocks

Morning is a beautiful time to kayak the waters of the Finger Lakes. The air was still and the light was subdued on the morning that I shoved my kayak into Seneca Lake. Mark Moskal, owner of Summit to Stream Adventures and fishing guide extraordinaire gave our group some great instructions -- he is a Captain in the US Coast Guard, btw, so he's got all the safety measures down. 

For this outdoor adventure, we kayaked to Painted Rocks which were said to be painted by Native Americans but historians today believe that they were created around the turn of the century as tourist attractions. The rock paintings were a fun and easy paddle across Seneca Lake from the Village of Watkins Glen and the picturesque Watkins Glen Harbor.

#2 Best things to do in Finger Lakes: Horseback Ride into Deep Forests


Another of the best things to do in Finger Lakes is to get into the woods on horseback. I felt like I was in the movie, Last of the Mohicans when we rode into the deep forests of northern New York. The leaves filtered the sun and we headed into a dark, but calming woods. Now this is what I call being outdoors! My horse, Bandit, was well-trained and responsive. I highly recommend Painted Bar Stables where horse whisperer and owner Erica Eckstrom takes pride in matching your personality to a specific horse's personality. Yes, she is a human whisperer as well as an equine expert. She put me on Bandit, I wonder what that says about me...

#3 Best things to do in Finger Lakes: Hike Watkins Glen State Park

Cascade Falls by (c) Lisa Morales Photography
You don't have to hike far to find a waterfall at Watkins Glen State Park. You'll walk up a gorge that sports 19 waterfalls, including Cascade Falls pictured here, within two short miles. Rain or shine the photo ops are spectacular during this outdoor adventure. Another reason that this is one of the best things to do in Finger Lakes is that a trail shuttle takes you up and down the gorge before or after your hike. The shuttle runs on weekends throughout the year and also during the week in summer (June 23-Labor Day.)

Check the park schedule at https://parks.ny.gov

Love this photo? You may purchase fine art prints by clicking here. Browse more of Lisa's waterfall images at LisaMorales.smugmug.com/Waterfalls


#4 Best things to do in Finger Lakes: Drive an historic Grand Prix Course

There's nothing like putting the pedal to the metal on curvy, hilly country roads with the wind in your face! Yes, turn off the A/C and open your driver's window, people! On this outdoor adventure, you can follow the historic Grand Prix course (the first post-WWII road race in the US) that sticks to the public roads and get a nice tour of the area. To find your way along this one of the best things to do in Finger Lakes, download a map at the Watkins Glen Chamber site by clicking here.

#5 Best things to do in Finger Lakes: Taste the Wine

Tasting in Hazlitt 1852's vineyards while overlooking Seneca Lake.
As I said earlier, I love drinking wine and Finger Lakes Wine Country affords many opportunities to do just that. With over 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries, you'll probably never be able to visit them all. I suggest that you take the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, one of three distinct Finger Lakes wine trails, and head straight to Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. I tasted their flagship Red Cat Cellars wine and others while standing in mature vineyards overlooking Seneca Lake. 
Vinifera Winemaker Michael Reidy talks with our group of travel bloggers.
Although it may not be a typical setting for guests, as a travel writer I was able to talk with winemaker Michael Reidy as we stood outdoors next to rows of Merlot vines. Michael was a great host and really knows his stuff - as well he should after earning a Bachelor of Science in Enology and Viticulture from Cornell University and working at Hazlitt since 2006.

I truly enjoyed my time exploring the five best things to do in Finger Lakes Wine Country, and I think you will, too. If you have other favorites, please leave your recommendations in the comments below. Cheers!

"UNSTOPPABLE STACEY" Wittig is an Arizona travel writer based near Flagstaff. Follow her adventures by adding your email to the box in the right-hand column. As is typical in the travel industry, she was hosted by the businesses mentioned, but her thoughts and opinions are always her own.

Need a place to stay? On my next trip to Finger Lakes Wine Country, I want to stay at Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. Book that hotel now on my favorite site: Booking.com.




Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Scouting out the Hyatt Regency Rochester

View of the Genesee River from my Hyatt Regency hotel room.
Last week I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Rochester in New York, and while exploring the city uncovered more amazing cultural and historical attractions than I expected to find. Rochester, I knew, was home of Eastman Kodak and that huge film and camera empire, and I was familiar with the George Eastman Museum, the world’s oldest photography museum. But I didn’t realize the abundance of other attractions, and that a river flows through the city (duh, the Erie Canal moved by in days before the Iron Horse!)

High Falls from Genesse Brew House
 The picturesque High Falls on the Genesee River is a dynamic part of the urban landscape. Revitalization of the city has concentrated on river walks and an abundance of pleasant green zones.

Early city fathers laid groundwork for Rochester’s grand park system and early city mothers were arrested for voting in neighborhoods near the greenways. Yes, Rochester is home of Susan B. Anthony who rallied America’s ladies to fight for the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in park near Anthony's home where she was arrested for voting.
You can visit the social activist’s home – and I did – as well as the home of George Eastman, the philanthropic industrialist who put affordable photographic equipment into the hands of nearly everyone. (Have you heard of the Brownie Camera?)

Another unexpected find was the Hyatt Regency Rochester which has just undergone an $18 million renovation. I hadn’t anticipated seeing such a large investment in a city that experienced large-scale deindustrialization in the past. Yet throughout my whole visit I saw a bright and vibrant city, which told me that Rochester has successfully ridden the tides of economic and social change.

Rooftop bar, high views of the captivating city scape, upscale dining and convenient central location make this hotel a Rochester must-stay. While there, I participated in a fun scavenger hunt sponsored by the Hyatt Regency team. The attentive staff, proud of the new digs, wanted us to experience all the upgraded features and so created an intriguing quest. I thought it would be fun to take you along on the scavenger hunt with me. Here are our clues:

What is the smallest of the Great Lakes?


The key to the greatest views? The keycard to Room 2509, the Lake Ontario Suite had been given to me along with the key to my guest room on the 20th floor. Hmmm…what could be out of the windows of the Lake Ontario Suite? I grabbed the keycard and took the elevator up investigate. I wasn’t sure what I would find.
Inside the Lake Ontario Suite: large enough for your family or Board of Directors
Outside on the deck of the Lake Ontario Suite


What is the name of the internationally renowned artists residing in Rochester? 


Take a picture of his sculpture on display in the Hyatt Regency’s lobby.
This is me admiring the piece by Gregory Johnson. One art expert says
“Suggestive of the pathways of life . . . the forces of nature . . . human emotion . . . those abstract concepts that are so familiar yet so intangible, like the warmth of sunlight or the crashing of a wave."
Gregory Johnson's contemporary metal pieces are collected by museums, corporations and public organizations from all over the country. I was blessed to see one of his pieces up close and personal.

What is the name of the tallest building in view from the Center City?

That was an easy one to solve. While sipping cocktails on the rooftop bar, I simply asked our Hyatt Regency Rochester host, “What’s the name of that building right there?” “The Cosmopolitan,” she answered and all my colleagues laughed and accused me of cheating. Hey, I’m a journalist – I ask the direct questions.

Make a splash in our renovated pool area! Take a pic of you lounging in our aquatic oasis.

I got up early to snag some Instagram shots by the Hyatt Regency Rochester pool, so there was not a soul around when I entered the renovated pool area. I was so impressed by the city views out the expansive picture window and the outdoor sun deck. Since I wasn’t about to take the overused Instagram shot of thong bikini-clad travel writer with head wrapped in towel (hey, you wouldn’t want to see that shot of me either,) I envisioned a shot of my feet up on a chaise, the Rochester cityscape reflecting in the pool in the background and my coffee in the foreground. The aquatic sanctuary was quiet as I snapped my first test shot. Not enough exposure.
I re-posed for a second attempt when the tranquility of the soothing waters was interrupted. The door across the natatorium slammed open and in popped a fellow photographer. He had been walking into my shots for the past three days and it looked like this morning would be no better. It was quite evident that I was shooting at my pointed toes, and sure enough if he didn’t find the exact spot on the other side of the pool to stop and stand. Really? There was plenty of room for a crew of paparazzi in this large pool area. I guess all is fair in love and scavenger hunts.

Can you find the mermaid? Take a picture of her, she considers herself a wall flower at our fave place to get caffeinated.


“Clever deduction, Sherlock,” I said to myself as I headed on down to the street level where the Starbucks was conveniently located for locals as well as hotel guests. The on-site Starbucks is part of the Hyatt Regency Rochester and a great place to pick up coffee, tea, smoothies, light breakfast items or snacks when you are in the go.

Can you find the water feature? Take a picture of it! Hint: It’s the best place to get a draft beer.

I followed the clues to the bar, but the mysterious water feature was not so easy to find. I did not see it, but when I stopped to listen, I could hear the tinkling of water. I finally traced the sound to the bar’s sign behind the beer taps. The unique sign is a wall fountain with water pouring over the face of it.


Why wait? Plan your getaway to Rochester now. Book your Hyatt Regency Rochester room here. Check out room rates at the Best Hotels Rochester at Booking.com.

Hyatt Regency Rochester
125 East Main Street, Rochester, New York, United States, 14604
Tel: +1 585 546 1234

Unstoppable Stacey Wittig is a an Arizona travel writer who writes from her home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Although she was hosted for her getaway to Rochester, NY, her opinions, as always are her own.

#DiscoverHyattRoc @hyattregencyrochester

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How to Harvest and Prepare Prickly Pear Fruit

Ever since I saw Billy Crystal in the movie, City Slickers, I’ve wanted to experience a real-life dude ranch. The comedy flick also made me aspire to run with the bulls in Pamplona, but that will wait for another story.

Last weekend I lived out my dude ranch dream at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, where I rode well-trained horses, ate gourmet cowboy grub and harvested the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Late summer is prickly pear harvest season and I thought I’d share some tips about foraging the colorful fruit that you can use in cocktails, desserts or even BBQ sauces.
At Tanque Verde Ranch, we used long, stainless steel utility tongs that you would find in the kitchen. They helped us reach across the prickly pear plant and avoid the menacing needles. I searched for the fruit – also called tuna – that had a deep, dark magenta color with no green remaining. The color indicates that the prickly pears are sweet and ready for harvest.

Prickly pear cactus grows throughout the Tanque Verde Ranch, but you’ll see more vibrant color on the prickly pear fruit on the grounds near the front lawn and surrounding buildings. That’s because those plants get more water.
The fruit grows on the highest paddles (or nopales) of the prickly pear and these were the size of small kiwi fruit. White spots on the prickly pear look like fungus, but it’s actually the residue of a small bug that burrows into the green cactus paddles. A natural dye is made from the tunneling insects and is used in textiles, pharmaceuticals and other products. The bug dye produces crimson and scarlet colors. We had to be careful not to touch the fruit in an effort to avoid the annoying cactus spikes, but also to dodge staining our fingers with deep reddish purple.

Although the micro spines that cover the fruit and paddles are extremely irritating, they will eventually work themselves out of your skin if you happen to get a few in your fingers, arms or legs while harvesting. Of course, long pants and sleeves would help protect you from the irritation. It is also wise to watch for snakes and bring water, a hat and sunscreen when going out to harvest prickly pear fruit.
We picked the ripe fruit by twisting the tuna slightly with the tongs to break it off the paddle. We picked one fruit at a time to fill our galvanized buckets that we carried with us as we meandered around the ranch situated in the Sonoran Desert.
In about one hour our buckets were full and heavy and we were ready to get out of the sun. Just before noon the other prickly pear foragers and I reconvened in one of the ranch’s commercial kitchens to help Executive Sous Chef Janet Hoogasian prepare the raw fruit pods.
Executive Sous Chef Janet Hoogasian 
“Here at the ranch, we’re well known for our Prickly Pear Margaritas, so we have to pick a lot of prickly pears,” said the chef. “It takes about 35 pods to get one-third of a cup,” she said. Only one to two ounces of prickly pear juice will give you the vibrant color a margaritas or other drink.
Chef Janet prepares the juice and sauces and freezes them for the rest of the year. Prickly pear's taste is slightly sweet and fruity, but sugars – agave, honey, or cane sugar – are typically added to sweeten the wild food that is high in vitamin B, iron, amino acids and magnesium.
First, we placed the prickly pear pods into a large colander and sprayed all the bugs off with water using the sprayer on the sink. Then we rinsed the fruit under the water faucet and repeatedly swirled the heavy batch to take off the micro spikes. The fruit knocking against each other in the colander helps to rub off those prickly micro fibers.
This process doesn’t remove all the spikes, so we donned leather gloves over the typical disposal food service gloves so we could handle the spiky fruit. On the cutting board, we sliced off the tips of the pods and then made a short incision into the tough skin to cut a slit from end to end. That allowed us to peel off the thick skin with the edge of the knife. Since the interior flesh is slippery, we had to take caution while extracting the juicy pulp.

Breaking down the fruit like this takes a lot of detailed knife work, but the end result is a ranch-made sauce or juice made without additives or preservatives. “You know exactly what went into it: time, effort and love,” smiled Chef Janet, who is part of the Gastronomic Union of Tucson.
The skinned fruit went into a large pot, where we added a little water and set it on low heat to simmer. Soon, the aroma of plums rose from the simmering concoction while Chef Janet skimmed off cactus spikes that floated to the surface and stuck to the sides of the pot with a strainer ladle.

Besides being used as an important ingredient for margaritas, prickly pear  juice is also used in the Tanque Verde Ranch’s BBQ sauce. “You can do all kinds of flavor profiles with prickly pear because of its mild flavor,” the chef explained. That day she added honey, a cinnamon stick and cloves to the cooking fruit to be used in the evening’s desert. “You can use it in shaved ice, a glaze for pork chops or an icing for a dessert that will have that awesome color. Prickly pear has a very light flavor, so you can add other things and take it up a notch.”

After simmering the fruit pulp, Chef Janet put it through a sieve and returned it to the pot to simmered some more. She repeated sieving several times to remove prickly pear needles and seeds. In the final stage, chef poured the reduction through cheese cloth. What she didn’t use for the evening’s desserts was frozen for later.
Tanque Verde Ranch's signature Prickly Pear Margarita
“We always think we have enough, but every year that I’ve been here, we run out by January,” laughed Denise, a banquet bartender who has worked at the ranch almost five years. Denise and another mixologist were demonstrating how to use prickly pear juice in cocktails in a session at the on-site Dog House Saloon after lunch. We sampled a Prickly Pear Mimosa, a Prickly Pear Whiskey Sour, a Cosmo that substituted the cranberry juice for what else, prickly pear, and of course the ranch’s signature Prickly Pear Margarita.

Take part in the second harvest happening August 23-26, 2018. Rates starting at $435/night includes:
Arizona accommodations with three hearty meals daily
specialty prickly pear menu items
harvest prickly pears
learn and partake in prickly pear processing
prickly pear cooking demos
prickly pear t-shirts for all guests
supervised children’s program (ages 4-11)
horseback trail riding and lessons
scheduled breakfast rides and cowboy cookouts
fishing, guided hikes, nature programs, mountain biking, bingo and many other family activities

For Tanque Verde Ranch's BBQ and margarita recipes go to www.tanqueverderanch.com/prickly-pear-recipes 

Have you used Prickly Pear in any of your recipes? Or have you tried Prickly Pear fruit, which is considered a super food? Has this article inspired you to go out and do some desert foraging? If so, leave you comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Tanque Verde Ranch 14301 East Speedway, Tucson, AZ; 800-234-3833
www.tanqueverderanch.com

Why wait? Check out room rates on Booking.com and book now by clicking here.

"Unstoppable" Stacey Wittig is a an Arizona travel writer who writes from her home in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Quebec: Adventures in Nature

Parc national Fjord-du-Saguenay, Rivière-Éternité (c)
Charles David Robitaille

Last week I was a very “happy camper” in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. The area is located in the woods north of Montreal and Quebec City known for the Saguenay Fjord, one of the ten longest fjords in the world. I have to admit that I didn’t actually camp in a tent. The adventure was more of a “glamping” experience where I engaged in camping-type adventures like hiking up the glacier-carved granite and gneiss hills, sailing down the salty waters of the fjord and zigzagging into gorges gouged into the rock by the huge ice flows of the Pleistocene Era. But instead of roughing it, this “glamper” had the luxury of dining at glamorous restaurants and sleeping in comfy chalets and hotels.

Adventures in Nature #1: Hiking

The challenging Statue Trail started near sea level on the shores of Saguenay Fjord. At dinner the night before, I’d learned that a fjord is a long, narrow glacial carved valley that is filled with salt water. After dinner, we attended the Saguenay Wine Festival, the largest international wine fest I’d ever experienced. I tasted Zonin Proseccos from Italy, French rosés and Spanish Riojas as well as Canadian wines, and rubbed elbows with Spanish wine maker, Roberto Alonso, who promised to show me around Bodegas Valdemar vineyards the next time I’m in Logrono, Spain.
Annual Saguenay Wine Festival in Chicoutimi, Quebec
Chicoutimi’s historic downtown is open to foot traffic only during for the annual street party. Vintners from across the globe, as well as spirit distillers, draw a cosmopolitan crowd made of locals and visitors from Montreal and Quebec City with over 40K people attending the three-day event.

Statue Trail at Saguenay Fjord National Park
 The next morning in the Saguenay Fjord National Park, I hiked up through the lush boreal forest past green spruce and white-barked birch up an enchanting pathway of rock stairways, redwood decks and glacier-polished bedrock. The many overlooks of the fjord disappearing below me tempted me to the edge of the fiords’ vertical cliffs. National Geographic named this trail network through Saguenay National Park as a “Top 10 Walks & Hiking Tours in 2010.” The trail is a three- to four-hour out-and-back trek up to a statue of the Madonna who overlooks the water.


The huge sculpture was financed by a Quebec City merchant, who went through the ice with his horse and load of merchandise on a sales trip to Chicoutimi in 1878. After praying to the Virgin, he pulled himself from the icy mire, vowing to give back to her. Years later after a series of further misfortunes, the statue was finally installed on the high Cape Trinité overlooking the Fiord.

Adventures in Nature #2: Boating


Because of the dangers associated with thirteen- to 20-foot fluctuating tides and the wind tunnel created by the high rock formations lining the fjord, canoes and river kayaks are not allowed on the big waters of Saguenay Fjord National Park. But a really convenient feature in the national park is the marine shuttle, Les Navettes maritimes du Fjord, which is a hop-on, hop-off water taxi that services trailheads to wilderness overnight backpacking trails, charming villages and marinas. I loved being on the water, that’s just who I am. I kept a lookout for beluga whales (even though I was told they did not come up this far in the fjord) as I enjoyed the storyteller who told tales of the north woods as we sailed to the remote village of L’Anse-St-Jean. Other experiences for water adventures include with Zodiac boat excursions, guided Fjord en Kayak sea kayak trips and sailboats.

That evening, we ate like foodies at Chez Montagner, a new restaurant by Quebec City restaurateur, Frédérick Montagner and slept like babies in the comfy Chalets du le Fjord motel.

Adventures in Nature #3: Via Ferrata

Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, Saint-Fulgence (c) Charles-David Robitaille
Tourisme Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
Via Ferrata is a course that aids people in climbing steep terrain with fixed cables, suspended walkways and inverted ladders embedded into cliffside walls. The term is Italian for “Iron Path,” and adventurers can take part in the adrenalin rush at Saguenay Fjord, but I opted for its kinder, gentler brother at Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Feé.
 
Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Feé
There I walked swinging suspension bridges over whitewater as it raged through a narrow canyon. I didn’t know whether to close my eyes or leave them open. I enjoyed the wooden walkways were bolted into the canyon walls but skipped the zipline.
Domaine Le Cageot winery 
In keeping with our glamping motif, we lunched at Domaine Le Cageot winery where we were led through a wine tasting during the outdoor le déjeuner. Later at Val Jalbert, a restored “company town” where we spent the night in upmarket, renovated townhouses, we experienced nature by riding a gondola along a powerful waterfall.

The river and falls, higher than the Niagara Falls generated hydraulic power that once ran the pulp mill. The pulp from this company town deep in the forest was shipped down the fjord to the St Lawrence Seaway to New York and London. Val Jalbert is now a living museum full of activities and fun for the whole family. Reenactors live out the days of old, autos are not allowed, but you can spend the night “in the museum.” Rooms are upscale and full of modern amenities. 

Make plans to for your own adventures in nature by going to www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en

"Unstoppable Stacey" Wittig is a travel writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Arizona travel writer was was hosted for her stay in Quebec, and although that does not affect her opinions, she believes in full disclosure.