6 Things You Learn at Your First Local Blogger Bash + A GIVEAWAY!

Sure, I’m a travel blogger, sailor and writer, but I’m staying put for the moment as I plan my next adventure. So I was delighted at the chance to see what’s going on close to home, by heading down to Union Depot in St. Paul for the first annual Minnesota Blogger Bash sponsored by Lowertown Pop. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first local blog event. Here’s what I learned:


  1. There are so many local makers I didn’t know about! From vodka made from sugar beets to designers offering versatile apparel for travelers, people in Minnesota are kicking ass with their entrepreneurial spirit.
  2. From fitness to parenthood to travel to fashion, the Twin Cities is a haven for bloggers looking to collaborate. I only wish I could have stuck around long enough to meet more of them.
  3. Getting there early pays! The first 50 bloggers in the door received a goodie bag to pack with free stuff from every maker, and of course I wanted to be one of them.
  4. Food! Crave Catering showed up with a table full of treats.
  5. Don’t be shy. Striking up conversations is how you get tips and collaborations. (Believe me, as an ambivert, I’m still working on this myself).
  6.  You can win prizes!!

Wait, actually you don’t have to go anywhere to win prizes. You can win them right here. I have 2 tickets (normally a $30 value) to give away to the inaugural Lowertown Pop, an even bigger, bolder version of the bash, happening April 15 at Union Depot. Here’s the details:

 “A Minnesota Maker market featuring local artisans and craftspeople including brewers, bakers, distillers, artists and musicians. The annual market will be held on Saturday, April 15th, 2017 in the Waiting Room at Union Depot and will benefit River’s Edge Academy, a non-profit organization challenging students to discover their greatness by learning through experience in a small, supportive community. Lowertown Pop is a crowdfunding market, meaning 50 percent of ticket sales will be donated to River’s Edge Academy and 50 percent will be given to one lucky Minnesota Maker.”

So what do you have to do win these tickets? Leave me a message in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (“I want those tickets,” Gimme the tickets,” etc. etc.) I’ll choose a winner at random Monday, April 10.


Guest Post: Why 2017 Should Be the Year You Choose a Barge Cruise

By Marie Nieves


Venice,  Jace Grandinetti, Unsplash

The more unusual your travel is, the more authentic experience you’ll have, so break away from your ordinary ways, and discover the charms of the meandering European canals that will take you through most enchanting landscapes. Imagine slowly flowing down a river, passing through the very hearts of Europe’s most beautiful cities or savoring a glass of fine wine while observing the flickering reflection of moonlight in the water. This sounds like any traveler’s dream, and a barge cruise is where it becomes a reality. Cruising along most magnificent manmade canals allows you to admire breathtaking scenery, taste the finest of European cuisine and get to know its diverse culture in a relaxing ambiance.

The Rustic Beauty of England

While meandering along England’s longest river Thames, you will have an opportunity to explore English picturesque countryside of charming villages and the elegance of English royalty. Henry VIII’s Court Palace in Hampton will draw in all antique lovers, tennis aficionados will be able to enjoy this sport in style at the private Lensbury Club, fans of the royal family can take a glimpse at their lifestyle at the Windsor Castle, while children can have their day of fun in Legoland. If you’ve always wanted to explore England’s diverse culture and its elegant old style, there’s no better way to do it than by following the flows of its iconic river.


London, Arkadiusz Radek,  Unsplash

France for Inspiration

As one of the oldest canals in Europe, Canal du Midi is among the top choices for a barge cruise. The beauty of the scenic landscape will inspire any artist or art lover, while the unique atmosphere of medieval towns will take you back in time. If you’re a wine aficionado, you won’t be able to resist the charms of the Champagne region and its vineyards – beware, no wine will ever taste the same.

Francophiles can learn about French history in Picardy or Loire Valley, or admire the country’s unique architecture in Alsace. Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of Paris from another perspective and cruise along the Seine River.


Paris, Jace Grandinetti,  Unsplash

Life is Beautiful in Italy

Being one of the birthplaces of the Western culture, Italy is home to many historic attractions and World Heritage sites. A barge cruise is the perfect way to explore the sinking city of Venice and beauties of the Venetian lagoon. Opera lovers will have a unique opportunity to enjoy Puccini’s Madam Butterfly at the Arena di Verona and many tours of the opera houses. Of course, a journey to Italy wouldn’t be complete without wine tasting in charming cities of Mazzorbo, Chioggia and Adria – after all, Italian wines are among the finest.


Venice, Jace Grandinetti, Unsplash

The Medieval Charms of Belgium

As a country of mixed influences, Belgium is rich in culture and history. Satisfy your thirst for knowledge and visit battlefield sites, memorials and museums, or spark your artistic side by visiting Ruben’s home in Antwerp. Explore the medieval city of Ghent by taking a break from cruising and joining a walking tour. If you’re travelling with your loved one, the romantic atmosphere of Bruges will be perfect for an intimate dinner under the stars.


Belgium, roya ann miller, Unsplash

The Colors of Holland

Instead of admiring the idyllic landscape of colourful tulips and lovely windmills only in pictures, explore the unique Dutch atmosphere by cruising along the Amstel River. The country is one of the most popular destinations for canal cruises due to the authentic experience it offers. The village of Zaanse Schans will delight any architecture aficionado with its houses constructed in Dutch style in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. You can have a taste of Dutch cheese at a local cheese farm in Gouda, or discover the unique character of the city of Leiden.


Amsterdam, Jace Grandinetti, Unsplash

Barge cruising is an authentic way to explore the finest European attractions in style. The charms and romance of the European rivers will enchant you the moment you set off on your cruise.

About the author

Marie Nieves is a lifestyle blogger who loves unusual trips, gadgets and creative ideas. On her travels she likes to read poetry and prose and to surf the Internet. Her favourite writer is Tracy Chevalier and she always carries one of her books in her bag. Most of her free time at home she spends walking her Labrador Retriever named Max. She is an avid lover of photography who loves to talk about her experiences. You can find Marie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

8 things you learn sailing on General Patton’s yacht

This past Sunday, I was delighted to make my debut in my other hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing about my journey from Marquette to Duluth aboard the When and If, the yacht belonging to General George S. Patton. Click here to see the PDF and get all the history on this amazing boat, the oldest and most authentic to visit Tall Ships Duluth.

1. Making friends is easier when your boat is famous. Everywhere we went, from, people wanted to ask about the boat, talk about old Blood ‘n’ Guts, find out where we’d been, and learn our stories.

2. It helps to have a professional photographer on board. I wish I could have Emma Louise Wyn-Jones with me all the time! Check out more of her amazing photos on her Facebook page.

3. Even in August, swimming in the middle of Lake Superior is colder than you could possibly imagine, even when you’re diving headfirst from the legendary Black Rocks in the Upper Peninsula capital of Marquette.

4. A boat is the only way to get around the wild, unspoiled, and gorgeous Apostle Islands (which, despite living mere hours away, I had never visited before this summer).

5. Being a crewmember (even a guest one) at a Tall Ships Festival is like being a gorilla in a zoo (and I mean that in the best possible way). Luckily, we had intern Ben Shaiman (Official Blogger of Tall Ships America) onboard to show us the way.

7. Lake Superior is not to be taken for granted. The Edmund Fitzgerald is just for starters of shipwrecks.

8. Pasties are delicious for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

6 times the ocean left me speechless

Happy World Oceans Day! As a Mermaid-American, I have been drawn to the ocean for as long as I can remember, and the more I travel, whether by sail or by land, the more I realize how much it means to me. Here are 6 times in my travels the ocean left me speechless. Let’s preserve our oceans so generations to come can experience its power and beauty.



Diving off the pier into the phosphorescent harbor of Ascension Island and feeling the blackfish nibble my feet.


Snorkeling (and kissing!) friendly wild stingrays off the reef in the Cayman Islands.


Climbing the mast of the Oosterschelde after 30 days at sea and seeing the entire Atlantic spread out before me like a shimmering blue carpet. I felt like time had stopped we now lived in a flooded world.


Releasing a baby sea turtle into the ocean off Baja, California at sunset, watching it crawl down the beach and get swept up by the waves, to happily live the rest of its life at sea.


The first time I stood in the bow of a schooner in rough weather, and felt the boat lift off the surface of the water. When I jumped, it was like leaving the earth for a while.


Racing a pod of joyful pod of hourglass dolphins off the Falkland Islands.


What’s your all-time favorite ocean experience?

I Got Zika While Traveling: Here’s What No One Told Me

Did you know I got zika on my latest trip through Central American and the Caribbean? I knew it was a risk when I left, but I went anyway. I tried to spray myself with DEET as much as possible, but what most people don’t know is that in the tropics, it’s virtually impossible to protect yourself 24/7. The symptoms first kicked in in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, and followed me into Belize. It put me out of commission for a week, but I still wouldn’t trade my trip for anything. For me, it’s just part of being a traveler, but not everyone feels the same. My latest piece for Oyster explains everything: IMG_20160319_101644009

Why Do I Sail? New Essay in Misadventures Magazine

I’m thrilled that my new essay–parsing out the whys (and why the hells) of why I sail, is featured in the new online edition of Misadventures Magazine, inspired by my recent pilgrimage through the Caribbean on wind power.

Misadventures is wonderful new print and online publication that seeks to cover adventure travel from a woman’s perspective, something that’s desperately needed in the current media landscape. Please check it out and subscribe!



Sponsored Post: Rethinking the Travel Souvenir

It’s no secret that I don’t have a lot of souvenirs from my travels. When I travel by boat, there’s usually not a lot of storage space, but even when I’m on land, I pack light–and I mean LIGHT. “Is that it?” people would ask me on my last three-month trip, pointing to my school-sized backpack and tote bag. As if hauling around your entire house on your back (as friends of mine have done) is something to aspire to?

I like traveling this way for many reasons, and I don’t plan to change. Besides, the most important things to hold onto are the memories, right?

But this also means I don’t have a lot of room for extras or souvenirs, and when I do find something small that I can hold onto or give to someone else, I value it all the more.

For instance, the matching initial necklaces that my mother gave me right before I left on my last trip. Personalization says, “No matter where I go in the world, no matter who I meet, I am still me. This is where I come from.” That’s a powerful statement, especially for a traveler.

Uncommon Goods also “travels light.” Despite being a catalog company, they don’t clog my mailbox with paper, and they work with small artists and suppliers whose names and faces appear on every product page, so you know exactly where every item is coming from. Committed to keeping this planet green for future travelers, they carry only products made from natural, recyclable, non-animal components.

Plus, when it comes to the small things, Uncommon Goods has some of my favorites. Not only can you personalize these gifts based on where you’ve been (such as maps and GPS coordinates), but where you’re going. In a world that seems bigger and smaller all at once, these items both serve as a physical token of your memories and a talisman to protect you on your travels to come. And when you order online, they’ll be waiting when you get home! Here are some of my favorites:


Hand-Engraved Compass Necklace


I’ll tell you a secret about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s gotten me in trouble while traveling too many times to count, up to and including missing flights! But these sterling-silver necklaces will always point me the right way.

Latitude Longitude Pendant


Personalize this pendant with any latitude and longitude for a memory that’s meaningful to you–even if it’s the middle of the ocean. For me, it’s Ascension Island–a place of sea turtles, lava rocks, and one magic night in the South Atlantic, onboard the tall ship Oosterschelde.

Custom Latitude Longitude Keychain



Not surprisingly, I’m a sucker for nautical-inspired jewelry. Shackles, lines, and rigging get my salty soul excited. That’s why I’m crazy about this customizable keychain. The whipped shock cord holding this keychain together makes me want to close my eyes and feel the spray on my face.

Custom Sand Bijoux Bracelet


I’ve fallen in love with a lot of beaches in my time, and I wish I could take them all home with me. Cayman, Port Antonio, Tulum, Ascension, Scheveningen. But what can you do with a bottle of sand? If you wear this bracelet, you can carry it with you wherever you go–even on the New York subway. Just send in your favorite sand using the custom mailer. Don’t have any? Designer Holly Daniels Christensen has a Sand Bank of hundreds of beaches from all over the world.

Custom Map Pillow

Travel feeds my soul–but so does arriving home after a long journey and laying my head down in my own bed. With these customizable map pillows, you can choose a nautical chart or land map from anywhere in the U.S. on which to curl up and dream of your next adventure.

Thanks to Uncommon Goods for sponsoring this post. As always, my opinions are my own!

Happy #Cinco de Mayo! Here are 5 reasons you’ll wish you were spending it in Yucatan

Ole! Today, communities all over the country are celebrating the historic Cinco de Mayo battle by guzzling cheap tequila and wearing oversized novelty sombreros. But on my recent trip to Yucatan, I experienced the natural beauty and rich Mayan culture that represent the more authentic side of Mexico–and I can’t wait to go back. If you think Yucatan is just the beaches of Cancun, you couldn’t be more wrong. The capital city, Merida, is a destination in its own right, complete with boutique hotels like Luz en Yucatan. Here are 5 other reasons to go to Yucatan and experience “The real Mexico:”


There are no aboveground lakes or rivers in Yucatan or Quintana Roo, as the locals will remind you. What they do have are cenotes–underground caverns that were sacred to the Mayans, and it’s easy to see why. Some are above ground, some are in caves, and every one is different.


Practically every municipality in Yucatan has at least one or two, some nearly undiscovered  (at least by tourists). Two of my favorites I visited were Casa Cenote, an above-ground oasis (perfect for claustrophobes) where the mangrove roots seems to sparkle under the water, and the Cenote Zaci a colossal cavern smack in the center of Valladolid that Batman would be proud of.



Most people go to Yucatan to relax and beach out, but they forget to take time out to visit the best art museums in Mexico. These include the MACAY museum in Merida, which features works by abstract painter Fernando García Ponce and muralist Fernando Castro Pacheco, and the utterly charming Casa de los Venados in Valladolid, the single biggest collection of Mexican folk art in private hands, including the most colorful examples of Day of the Dead Catrina art and Oaxacan alibrijes (fantastical animals) I’ve seen. The colonial architecture in Merida and the surrounding towns, including the Palacio Municipal (below) and the Casa de Montejo, built from recycled Mayan temples, is not to be missed.




The sleepy fishing village of Rio Lagartos, a few hours north of Merida, offers guided boat tours through the mangroves where you can spot flocks of flamingos up close, then have a refreshing natural spa day bathing in the same clay that makes the flamingos pink. Celestun and Progreso are other coastal areas off the tourist path, popular with vacationing Mexicans, where you can observe eagles, pelicans, crocodiles and other critters.




Stale tortilla chips and guac can’t compare to the traditional Mayan specialties of Yucatan sopa de lima from La Chaya Maya, salbutes and panuchos from the Merida central market, or the delectable oddity known as marquesitas, a confection made like a rolled-up waffle and with the texture of a thin potato chip, filled with Nutella and cheese, sold at every event.


At night, Yucatecans love to get outdoors and have fun–and usually it’s for free! Every weekend, streets close to traffic and you can stroll up and down the avenues listening to Yucatecan Serenade, traditional big band music that Mexican old-timers will come out for and dance salsa all night long



Or you can see traditional Mayan athletes strain human endurance by playing pok ta pok, the traditional Mayan ballgame that involves hitting a ball through a stone ring using only their torsos. It’s not for weaklings!


Luz en Yucatan: Redefining the Urban Retreat in Merida, Mexico

I have a confession: I’d never heard of Merida, Mexico before I was invited to go there as a guest of Donard and Tom, the cheeky proprietors of Luz en Yucatan, who claim to rent rooms “by the day or by the moment.” How was it possible that I’d never heard of Merida? I mean, come on! It’s the capital of Yucatan state! But part of the wonder of travel by sea is that you end up in the last places you expect, and after having spent two wonderful days at this hotel, using it as a basis to discover this charming, safe, and delightful city, I’m going to tell everyone I know to visit Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state and the epicenter of Mayan culture.


Located across from the 16th-century Santa Lucia chapel and just a few blocks away from the city’s Grand Plaza, the hotel is ideally located, within walking distance of the historical cathedrals and museums of downtown, as well as the grandiose architecture and nightlife of the Paseo Montejo just to the north, a king-sized, mansion-lined avenue that’s been called Mexico’s answer to the Champs-Elysees. After locating the small sign, backlit and almost mysterious against the facade, I rang the bell and entered the wrought-iron gate, already feeling like I was being ushered into a special hideaway, or some quaint turn-of-the century home that dates to when the henequen (sisal) barons of Merida were at their peak. In fact, the house was formerly part of the chapel, and it shows–the mood is plainly contemplative. Maybe it’s the buttery light filtering through the stained glass in every room–there’s a reason they call it Luz.


Handing me a towel for the pool, the front-desk attendant asked me if I wanted a beer, like I’d been invited to a backyard carne asada. “It’s free at Luz!” he announced grandly. Heck, yes. And so is tequila–I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the bar cart with six different types of Mexican tequila, as well as a bottle of ruby-red sangrita to mix it with in the traditional local way, shot glasses aligned like little topaz jewels. Filing it away for later, I took a refreshing dip in the lagoon-like courtyard pool, then climbed up an outdoor staircase trimmed with climbing vines, feeling like Rapunzel on the way to a tower–one I actually wanted to be stuck in. Sinking into the pillow-top mattress of the king-size bed I noticed the flatscreen TV, cavernous tile shower and vessel sink, not to mention the strong WiFi signal in every area of the hotel for when the outside world calls. A brand-new remote-controlled air conditioner and a 10-gallon jug of drinking water helped keep me cool and refreshed as a fruit salad, even as I air dried.

Decorated in folk art and with creamy orange light filtering through the stained glass windows, I was in paradise, but what really took my breath away was when I stepped out onto the private terrace. There, I could relax in one of Yucatan’s ubiquitous hand-woven hammocks or sit and drink a beer at the built-in bar, and let the buzz of the city rooftops fill my ears, in the bustle and yet apart from it.


A lot of hotels tell you to “make yourself at home:” Luz takes it to dizzying extremes. For those not staying in the penthouse, downstairs, there’s a communal kitchen and a full dining room. My penthouse included a full outdoor kitchen, complete with refrigerator, microwave, and anything you could need to throw a gourmet bash. A longer-term traveler would choose Luz in a heartbeat, and I pondered extending my stay myself. Fantasies of making a new life in the most charming city in the Yucatan, cooking out on the patio, and strolling down the Paseo on Sundays started to flit through my head.

Oh, and in case you weren’t convinced, pricing at Luz is on a sliding scale, based on how successful you feel. A struggling artist? Pay as little as $54 for a ground-floor single. A jetsetting CEO? Snag the penthouse for $104 and stay awhile. And don’t worry: they have no cancellation penalty because “life is hard enough.” Isn’t that the truth? Well, not at Luz, at least.


Luz en Yucatan is located at Calle 55 #499 x 60 y 58, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Call 011-52-999-924-0035 (Mexico) for reservations or email info@luzenyucatan.com



Thanks to Luz en Yucatan for inviting me to experience the hotel. As always, my opinion is my own!

5 Best Places to Eat for Cheap in Caye Caulker, Belize

Belize is known as the most expensive country in Central America, but it doesn’t have to be if you know where to look for cheap eats. The food in Belize is exploding with Caribbean flavor, and it’s all made with love. During my week in Caye Caulker, I became a bit of an expert on finding the best, cheapest places to chow down. Here are the 5 best cheap places to eat in Caye Caulker, Belize:


  1. Southside Pizza

Photo courtesy CCToday.biz

Pizza is hit or miss in the Caribbean (weird processed cheese, ham toppings, oddly-textured crust). But not at Southside. Here, the gooey mozzarella cut into triangles is like the best of New York-style meets the best of Chicago-style. I wish the pizza in Minnesota was this good. You cannot eat just one of these slices. One tip: call ahead. This pizza takes a long time, but it’s so worth it.

  1. Belizean Flava

If you see a bunch of guys in the street standing next to a grill and yelling at you, you’ve come to the right place. Turn to your left, go up the stairs, find a hardworking Belizean lady leaning over a fiery-hot oven, and you’re there. You can get a plate of lip-smacking BBQ chicken (or jerk if you’re a spice lover) for $15 Belize ($7.50 US), which includes two sides (including salad, garlic mashed potatoes, rice, or fries) and two (count ‘em two! rum punches). It’s the best deal in town. This is also where I indulged and ordered lionfish for the first time (an invasive species in the Caribbean, and thankfully highly delicious when grilled in foil with peppers and tomatoes). I must have eaten here 4 times during my week in Caye Caulker, and my friends started going there too.

  1. Ice & Beans

Three words: Free Mini Donuts. And their French press Belizean coffee is the best in town. Even the guy from Best of the Fair–who gets his fill of fried foods daily–told me he goes here daily for his free mini donut and coffee fix.

  1. Errolyn’s House of Fryjacks

Have a fryjack, you’ll never go back (I came up with that). I’m officially obsessed with these puffy, deep-fried Belizean breakfast specialties. Personally, I can devour five of them plain in one sitting, but if you’re more adventurous, at Errolyn’s they come stuffed with ham, cheese, beans or any other breakfast food you can imagine.

  1. Best of the Fair

This is pure indulgence, but hey, you’re on holiday. As a dedicated goer to the Minnesota State Fair, I felt right at home eating the Tornado Potato, Bubble Waffles, and deep-fried corn dogs.