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Pancake-Making Machine

Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 in Travel | 0 comments

I read this story a few months ago about a fight breaking out over a breakfast buffet waffle that ended with 30 people getting kicked out of the hotel.

While I wasn’t able to verify the story, the point is that things can get messy around those self-serve hotel waffle makers. And I don’t just mean the dripping batter.


So I thought the Holiday Inn Express had an interesting solution to promote breakfast buffet peace: a patented machine that makes pancakes in a minute. I got to try one out and see the super secret inner workings. It’s pretty neat. You push a button and the batter inside the machine gets squished out and heated through, and in 60 seconds a pancake pops out on to your plate.

While the pancake machines (aka “Stack Stations”) are already in most Holiday Inn Express Hotels, they wanted more people to try them out. So they sent a blue truck out with a handful of pancake machines and something not available in hotels – a special laser etcher that puts your photo on a pancake.


So that is how I ended up, not with pancake on my face but with my face on a pancake.


If you would also like your face on a pancake, here’s the schedule:

  • Tempe Marketplace (today’s the last day!) – Sept. 14, 1-6pm
  • San Diego – Sept. 17-19
  • Long Beach – Sept. 21-22
  • Los Angeles – Sept. 24-27
  • San Francisco – Oct. 2-3
  • Oakland – Oct. 5-6
  • Sacramento – Oct. 9-11


Also, rumor has it that if you signup for IHG rewards at the pancake truck, they give you 500 extra points and enter you in a drawing for more points and/or shwag. I get nothing from this, but I’m generally a fan of hotel rewards programs (I signed up for IHG’s awhile ago) and a bigger fan of free points, so I thought you’d want to know.


Finally, here are Tammy and Jordyn. They were so excited about their pancake selfie, I just had to get a photo of them with it.


Not really a disclosure: While I occasionally work with IHG, I didn’t get any special compensation for this post. The selfie pancakes are free for everyone. I just thought it was fun and that you might want to give it a try.

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Flavor souvenirs

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015 in Travel | 8 comments

“When I travel, I often try to mark the trip with a certain ingredient or smell. Usually it’s more than one, as I’m incredibly inspired when I travel. By setting these tastes and smells in my head, I can travel to these places once again…”

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In an interview with VSCO’s Journal, Not Without Salt blogger Ashley Rodriguez goes on to cite Moroccan preserved lemons, Italy’s sweet and grassy olive oil, and “chocolate sprinkles over buttered raisin bread” from the Netherlands as flavors that stayed with her after she was home again, like sensory souvenirs.

Elsewhere, I’ve read that research has shown that our sense of smell is the best at bringing back memories, so this is a brilliant strategy.


While I’ve done this a bit, unintentionally (with sangria, for example), her perspective inspires me to make it a conscious practice.

What tastes and smells transport you back to another place? Have you ever tried to capture them or re-create them when you returned home?



It’s microblog Monday! Read more tasty little morsels over at Stirrup Queens.

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Pinterest boards for travelers

Posted by on Nov 17, 2014 in Travel | 2 comments

I’ve started a Pinterest place board with a map of sights and cities I’ve shared about here called Travelcraft Journal: explore. It’s kind of like a geography-based index to the blog.


While you’re perusing Pinterest, here are my other travel-related boards you might like to check out too:


Some of these boards overlap a little, because I wanted each one to be able to stand alone. Looking at the map I realize I still have a lot of ground to cover. :)


Microblog Mondays: A weekly roundup of short posts on the Stirrup Queens blog.

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Short visit sightseeing: One day in Seattle

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Travel | 4 comments

There’s a lot to see and do in Seattle. But if you don’t have much time, it’s actually a great place for a short trip too. Many of the main attractions are close together, so it’s easy to see the sights (and then move on if you want to see more local spots).


On a recent, all-too-short trip to Seattle, I set out to see some of the city’s highlights in one day.

Originally, we had planned to spend most of the day downtown. I won’t bore you with the details, but things came up, plans shifted, schedules changed, and that didn’t happen. But it was still a fabulous day in Seattle.

Tip one: Have a plan…and be ready for it to change.

If you want to see as much as you can in a short amount of time, you don’t want to leave it totally to chance. Having a plan as a starting point will also help when things inevitably change.

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Morning: Fremont

Coffee is a great way to start a day in Seattle. Okay, coffee is a great way to start the day anywhere. Seattle does have an exceptional range of options, though, including dozens of independent shops and locally-based chains.

I met a friend at Milstead & Co., which shares outdoor seating with History House of Greater Seattle, a museum of Seattle’s neighborhoods and sculpture garden. It’s located in the Fremont neighborhood, which is known for its Sunday market, public art (including the eponymous Troll), and supposed position at the center of the universe.

Tip two: Think geographically. Group sightseeing by neighborhood. Remember to allow for transit time and traffic.


Midday: International District

Midday, we headed downtown. I needed to stop by the Visit Seattle office to pick up my press kit and CityPasses. That placed us conveniently near the International District (a.k.a. Seattle’s Chinatown) at lunch time.

The International District has tons of great food options. My brother and sister-in-law wanted to introduce me to dim sum, so we went to their favorite place, Jade Garden. As far as I can tell, the better the dim sum, the worse the parking. It works out, though. What goes down is that cart after cart filled with steaming hot, hard-to-turn-down dumplings and assorted goodies wheels up to your table, you try lots of delicious things that you may or may not be able to identify, pay the bill, and waddle out. At this point, you probably realize a longer walk to your parking spot is a good idea.

You can grab some boba tea before heading to your next stop. While you’re in the neighborhood, look for dragons climbing telephone poles, the Chinatown Gate, and a giant chessboard in Hing Hay Park.

Tip three: Make food and beverages part of your experience of a place, rather than an afterthought.


Afternoon: Seattle Center

Seattle Center is home to a number of attractions, fountains, gardens — and free wifi!


Space Needle

The iconic Space Needle is obviously a super popular destination. Fortunately, whoever’s in charge there is pretty efficient. There are separate lines for people purchasing tickets, with general admission, with a scheduled a time to go up, and for CityPass holders.

The CityPass really does save a lot of time, so, even if your trip is too short to see all the sights, it may be worth it for the quicker access.

Even the elevator ride is maximized, with the operator spouting facts about the Space Needle on the ride up. I was concerned it might be a bit nerve wracking to watch out the windows as we ascended, but it wasn’t. It takes about 45 seconds to get to the top, and it feels a bit like you’re just slowly floating up there.



You step out of the elevator into a room that wraps around the building. There is a huge interactive display that a crowd of people could check out at once (the “Skypad”), souvenirs for sale, and a restaurant with wine specials. I’m thinking the next time I’ll plan to just go up, find a table next to the window, and sip on merlot. We even noticed a few outlets in case you drain your phone taking photos.



Outside is the observation deck with viewing telescopes and a few benches. You can walk around the whole building and see for miles – Puget Sound, the downtown skyscrapers, the roofs of museums, a swimming pool or two, and far off residential neighborhoods. There was a nice breeze at the top. Despite the fact that it was a busy day, it wasn’t hard to find spots next to the rail to look off in the distance, and it actually felt peaceful up there.

At the bottom of the Space Needle is a large gift shop inside and the Chihuly Garden outside.



Pacific Science Center

We, unfortunately, ran out of time for the espionage exhibit at Pacific Science Center, but we did have a look around. There were animatronic dinosaurs and models of the solar system and even small animals in aquariums (including axolotls, the salamander-like object of the narrator’s obsession in Julio Cortázar’s short story. I’d wanted to see one since reading it in a Spanish lit class.) We visited the Tropical Butterfly House and smiled that this large butterfly had attached itself to one man’s pant leg and was apparently never leaving. My two-year-old niece and 10-month-old nephew enjoyed playing in the water at the stream table. Everyone with the museum was super nice and helpful.

Also near Seattle Center/Waterfront

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Evening: West Seattle

We walked through the lovely Seacrest Park at sunset and took in the view of downtown and with a minature Space Needle across the water. For a longer walk, Alki Beach is nearby.

We went to the fusion restaurant Marination Ma Kai, which got its start as a food truck and now boasts several locations around Seattle. The day we were there it was packed with uniformed high school band kids for some reason. There must have been an event or competition that day. Anyway, they provided some free entertainment while we waited in line.

Tip four: Savor the moment. Whether you’re ascending a tower or simply watching ripples across the water, do your best to enjoy the view.

Alternate plans:

  • Pike Place Market is near Seattle Center, and you could start there instead of Fremont. Go early for fresh produce and fish or later for retailers, bars, and buskers.
  • Some people with a tight schedule skip the top of the Space Needle for more time in museums or seeing other sights.
  • If you’re not interested in the big attractions, you could also spend less of your day downtown and more at local hangouts.
  • Check out Visit Seattle’s one-day itinerary and day trip list for other alternatives.


Bringing a Bit of Seattle to You

If you can’t head to Seattle just yet (or if you want to keep your trip fresh in your mind), here are a few ideas to make the Emerald City feel a little closer:

A big thank you to Visit Seattle for providing information and CityPasses and to Ian Smith and Christine Smith of Four Windows, who acted as my city guides and assisted with this series of Seattle posts! Congrats on the launch of Four Windows Books!

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Seattle like a local

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Travel | 0 comments

Jennifer asked via Instagram where she could go in Seattle to get away from the tourist areas and get a more local feel.


Finding Local Flavor Wherever You Travel

One key to doing this anywhere is simply finding the touristy part(s) of town and then removing yourself from there. If you’re still seeing postcard stands on the streets, cutesy building facades, and/or things to pose next to for photos, keep going.

Once you start to see grocery stores, permanent residences, and/or less picturesque streets, you’ve probably crossed over to the local zone.


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Seattle’s Local Flavor

In Seattle, a lot of the top attractions are grouped together, which makes it easy to see the sights – and then to escape them. Get out of downtown and away from the University District (which locals call the “U District”), and you’re likely to find yourself where locals live, work, run errands, relax, and drink coffee. (Coffee gets its own category because we’re talking about Seattle here.)

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The timing of Jennifer’s question was great, since my Seattle experts happened to be in town. So we brainstormed and came up with a few suggestions of where to go for Seattle’s local flavor:

  • The photo that prompted the question was from Pike Place Market, which I recently wrote about as being a place you’ll find both tourists and locals. There are tons of places to eat, drink, shop, and explore.
  • I’ve also mentioned the Fremont Sunday Market, which is a great local thing to do if you happen to be in town on a Sunday.
  • Starbucks is not Seattle’s only homegrown coffee shop, so you may want to branch out and try something that isn’t available in your hometown. There are tons of locally-based alternatives. I enjoyed drinking Medicis (orange mochas) from Caffe Ladro, a 14-location, Washington-only chain. 
  • Full Tilt has all-natural ice cream, local art, and pinball. Yep. Pinball.
  • Hang out at Golden Gardens Park.
  • During the summer (and even this week), there are outdoor movies and concerts.

Finally, I’ll mention again my friend Luz’s post on things to do in Seattle, since she includes a lot of great ideas beyond the typical touristy fare.

How do you like to go local when you travel?

Thanks to Ian Smith and Christine Smith for help on this post!

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