Author Archives: vegetariantourist

A New View Of Chicago

Having lived in Chicago for so long now, I was pretty sure I’d seen Chicago from all angles and modes of transportation. Flying over the city many times from both O’hare and Midway airports, from all the trains including the El, Metra and even Amtrak, from boats, buses, cars, taxis, ubers, horse drawn carriages and on foot. I think that exhausts the entire list of options.

Except for one. There was one elusive, bucket-list mode of transportation that I had yet to view the skyline from. And, now I can officially cross this off my list and say I’ve experienced it.

I finally went on my first helicopter ride over Chicago and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve done in a long time! Chicago Helicopter Experience is an awesome way to see the city from a new view and it’s such an exhilarating ride.

Chicago Helicopter Experience

Chicago Helicopter Experience

Gotta Take A Selfie

Gotta Take A Selfie

I thought it would be similar to flying over the city in a plane, but it’s such a different experience. You are so much closer to the city and buildings and almost feel like you are a part of them. It’s so much more intimate than you will ever feel in a commercial airplane and I can’t recommend it enough if you are looking for something different and unique to do. A helicopter ride is great for a special event like a birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc. or just a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list thing to do.

Shortly After Leaving The Heliport

Shortly After Leaving The Heliport

Views Over Northerly Island

Views Over Northerly Island

Sitting Right Behind The Pilot

Sitting Right Behind The Pilot

Love The Shadows!

Love The Shadows!

Many friends asked me if I was scared and what it felt like to be in a helicopter. I wasn’t even the least bit worried about it and it was such a smooth ride. The helicopter may sway a little during takeoff and landing, but nothing that made me worried in the least. I actually felt the whole process was smoother than an airplane and because of that, now I wish I could travel everywhere by helicopter…ha ha. I mean, the up close and personal views alone are worth every second of it.

One Of My Favorite Views From The Helicopter

One Of My Favorite Views From The Helicopter

Gorgeous Day Chicago!

Gorgeous Day Chicago!

Up Close And Personal

Up Close And Personal

Flying Over Navy Pier With Cool Shadows Of Lake Point Tower

Flying Over Navy Pier With Cool Shadows Of Lake Point Tower

If you are in Chicago or plan to visit, definitely check out Chicago Helicopter Experience for what will be a memorable and fun way to see the city, while getting the best aerial views. I promise you will love it.

 

Please Note: While I experienced the helicopter ride at a media event, all opinions are my own.

Cuba, The Place That Stole My Heart

Oh Cuba, you mysterious neighbor to the United States (just 90 miles from Florida as a matter of fact).

I knew I was not alone in my lack of knowledge of much of the history of this Caribbean nation and what the Cuban people have endured, but also what it is really like to travel to Cuba. With newly enforced travel restrictions as of November 2017 and lots of conflicting information on the interwebs on actually trying to travel to this beautiful country, I’m here to tell you that Cuba should definitely be on your list of places to visit. And, it’s not as hard to travel there as you may think (or better phrased, as the US government makes it seem).

I can’t predict how the rules will change by the time you expect to visit, but know that it is possible and not difficult to visit Cuba as a US citizen. And you should go. NOW! Check out this article published on Conde Nast Traveler right before I left for my trip, ‘Yes, You Can Still Visit Cuba Legally – and It’s Safe.’

My trip to Cuba was more than just a vacation and another stamp in my passport; it was a culturally enriching, eye-opening and soul awakening trip that has changed me forever. Definitely for the better! I was so lucky to attend and participate in a one week yoga retreat at Mhai Yoga, about 20 minutes outside of Havana along the beautiful beaches of Playas del Este.

Mhai Yoga Retreat

Mhai Yoga Retreat

Mhai Yoga Mural

Mhai Yoga Mural

Yoga Shala Where We Practiced Yoga

Yoga Shala Where We Practiced Yoga

Yoga Class Underway

Yoga Class Underway

Beautiful Beaches of Playas del Este

Beautiful Beaches of Playas del Este

The yoga and mediation portion of the retreat, led by Eduardo Pimental (nicknamed the founder of yoga in Cuba) was introspective, calming and just what this city girl needed to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It was the perfect way to disconnect and reconnect with myself in a beautiful setting with minimal distractions. Mhai Yoga is co-founded by Christine (aka Coco) who is an integral part of the week-long experience with her insight on yoga and the Cuban way of life. What I really appreciated about Mhai Yoga is that you have structured time of yoga, meals and included excursions, but then enough free time for your own leisure activities like taking a stroll along the beach or going kite surfing (which I didn’t get a chance to do on this trip…next time!). Lastly, what I absolutely LOVED about Mhai Yoga is that it is all vegetarian (fish is offered at a few meals for those who choose to have it)! Talk about a dream come true, where I did not have to worry about finding vegetarian options while at the retreat. The food was absolutely delicious and Chef Ernesto and his team are rock stars. Since I’ve been back home in Chicago, I’ve been seriously craving their amazing cuisine.

Yoga Class Led by Eduardo Pimental

Yoga Class Led by Eduardo Pimental

Mhai Yoga Co-Founder Coco

Mhai Yoga Co-Founder Coco

Our Group With Eduardo

Our Group With Eduardo

Morning Cup of Cuban Coffee For a Stroll On the Beach

Morning Cup of Cuban Coffee For a Stroll On the Beach

Guava Chia Pudding Jars For Breakfast

Guava Chia Pudding Jars For Breakfast

Organic Buddha Bowls For Dinner

Organic Buddha Bowls For Dinner

Outside of the yoga retreat itself, the rest of the week was spent exploring Havana and an area about 3 hours outside of Havana called Vinales. Here are some highlights from each destination (trust me, it was tough to narrow this section down because we did SO much!):

Havana– My immediate reaction to Havana was one of being completely in love. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint what exactly it was, but I know for sure one part was seeing all of those beautiful vintage cars against the stunning backdrop of colonial buildings lined with cobblestone roads. The architecture and the city’s presence along the ocean give way to a gorgeous backdrop at each corner. Havana is truly a photographer’s paradise! Even within Havana itself are neighborhoods with unique character and finds, like Fusterlandia, the neighborhood covered in mosaic tile art of Jose Fuster, that is just so fun and wacky. Another example is that of the beautiful parks in Havana like the Bosque de Almendares, where we went for a sunset drive in pink convertibles. In all honestly, I could have spent another week just roaming around Havana, enjoying all the sights, sounds (there is music on practically every corner) and just taking another million pictures! Oh, and definitely drinking a few more of the best mojitos I’ve ever had in my life from El Dandy.

Beautiful Havana

Beautiful Havana

Loved The Colorful Streets and Old Cars

Loved The Colorful Streets and Old Cars

Colonial Architecture of Havana

Colonial Architecture of Havana

Vivid Colors of Havana

Vivid Colors of Havana

Sunset Along The Malecon

Sunset Along The Malecon

Never Got Tired Of These Colors

Never Got Tired Of These Colors

Live Cuban Music Everywhere

Live Cuban Music Everywhere

Had To Get A Shot In A Covertible

Had To Get A Shot In A Covertible

Mosaic Tile Art Work at Fusterlandia

Mosaic Tile Art Work at Fusterlandia

Viva Cuba!

Viva Cuba!

Lunch Views

Lunch Views

Sunset Drive Through Bosque de Almendares

Sunset Drive Through Bosque de Almendares

Best Mojitos of My Life at El Dandy

Best Mojitos of My Life at El Dandy

Vinales– Set against beautiful limestone hills, Vinales is known for it’s laid back vibe and lush tobacco and coffee plantations. While visiting here, not only we did we go horseback riding through these plantations, we got demonstrations on how coffee beans are picked and roasted as well as how the infamous Cuban cigar is made. We enjoyed some very large family-style meals on two separate organic farms with a true sampling of Cuban delicacies like plantain chips, tostones, fresh organic vegetable salad, black beans and rice (congris), taro root with garlic sauce, eggplant casserole and so much more (these were just the vegetarian options). One morning we rose early and started our hike in the dark at 5:30am to reach the top of a mountain in time for the sunrise and a morning meditation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. And, like a true tourist, I found the local market in the cute little downtown area to scope out some souvenirs for family and friends back home. Vinales being the rustic, chill town that it is, brought about a nice contrast to the big city life of Havana, and I’m so glad we had a chance to visit this lush valley area.

The Vinales Valley

The Vinales Valley

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Plantations

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Plantations

Cigar Rolling Demonstration By The Cutest Abuelo (Grandpa)

Cigar Rolling Demonstration By The Cutest Abuelo (Grandpa)

Vegetarian Feast At An Organic Farm

Vegetarian Feast At An Organic Farm

Loved The Cute Houses of Vinales

Loved The Cute Houses of Vinales

Organic Farm in Vinales Valley

Organic Farm in Vinales Valley

Sunrise Hike Views

Sunrise Hike Views

Another Day, Another Fantastic Cuban Coffee

Another Day, Another Fantastic Cuban Coffee

Group Yoga Shot

Group Yoga Shot

Always Love Shopping In The Markets

Always Love Shopping In The Markets

In all honesty, it’s tough to sum up what my week-long adventure was truly like in Cuba and at Mhai Yoga. I’ve listed through words and pictures some highlights, but there is so much that is not captured and indescribable. In the end, I really think it boils down to the Cuban people and the wonderful community at Mhai Yoga. It is their collective compassion, openness and genuine affection that truly touched me. For as much as I have traveled all over the world, I have never felt such a connection to the people as I did in Cuba. The most telling moment for me was when I was leaving the Mhai Yoga retreat with tears in my eyes. I just simply could not believe that in such a short amount of time, I felt so taken care of and so special, by a group of people who I had never met before. Whenever I think of Cuba, it is that feeling of connection that will always come back to me first, and will always bring a smile to my face. Cuba, I heart you and can’t wait to come back again soon!

Tears In My Eyes Saying Goodbye To This Amazing Group

Tears In My Eyes Saying Goodbye To This Amazing Group

Not Ready To Leave, But Cuba, I'll Be Back For You!

Not Ready To Leave, But Cuba, I’ll Be Back For You!

Please Note: This post is in collaboration with Mhai Yoga. All opinions are my own.

A Visit To Yellowstone National Park

Having finally visited one of my dream destinations, Yellowstone National Park, I won’t claim to be any sort of expert. But, I will say that I have a better grasp of the geography and the sheer vastness of this remarkable gift from Mother Nature.

Visiting Yellowstone National Park

Visiting Yellowstone National Park

If I can give you just one piece of advice, it would be to hire a private tour guide for at least the first day of your trip through the park. We were so incredibly lucky to have the absolutely brilliant and knowledgeable MacNeil from Yellowstone Insight as our guide. I can’t even begin to describe what a difference it made to have an expert drive us through the park, educate us on the wildlife and geothermal features all while showing us firsthand things I would have NEVER seen or found on my own.

MacNeil of Yellowstone Insight

MacNeil of Yellowstone Insight

It seems pointless to say, but Yellowstone is a very large park and as a newbie, there’s just too much to navigate on your own. MacNeil asked us pretty much first thing after he picked us up from Elk River Art Lodge at 6am, what our individual goals and interests were for our one day tour together. Can you guess what my answer was? “I want to see everything…ALL the animals and ALL the geothermal features.” #typical…ha ha. I mean, not so helpful to MacNeil, but he did a fantastic job showing us both the wildlife and some amazing landscapes and geology among many other things.

MacNeil will tailor each tour as the patrons want, which is great if you really want to just go on a wildlife safari for the day and learn about the migration patterns of the wolves. Or, if you’d rather learn about how geysers form and what temperature the mud pots are at, he can do that too. That’s what is so great about MacNeil; he’s so incredibly linked in to what seems like everything about the park, he will make your time and money beyond worth it.

Touring With MacNeil From Yellowstone Insight

Touring With MacNeil From Yellowstone Insight

Here are just a few of the many, many pictures I took on our tour with Yellowstone Insight. I promise that these pictures do no justice to the absolutely stunning scenery that is forever etched in my mind. You really must go visit Yellowstone for yourself.

Out By 6am For Our Tour With Yellowstone Insight

Out By 6am For Our Tour With Yellowstone Insight

Stunning Sunrise Over Yellowstone National Park

Stunning Sunrise Over Yellowstone National Park

Our First Sighting, An Elk!!!

Our First Sighting, An Elk!!!

One Hour Later, Snow In The Mountains

One Hour Later, Snow In The Mountains

Then Sun And A Bison Sighting

Then Sun And A Bison Sighting

A Pitstop With Snacks Provided By MacNeil

A Pitstop With Snacks Provided By MacNeil

Beautiful Views Of The Yellowstone River

Beautiful Views Of The Yellowstone River

Mud Volcano At Yellowstone National Park

Mud Volcano At Yellowstone National Park

Beautiful Hot Springs

Beautiful Hot Springs

More From Yellowstone

More From Yellowstone

More Elk Sightings!

More Elk Sightings!

I can’t still can’t stress enough how beneficial it is have an expert take you through Yellowstone National Park. Also, you are just missing out if you don’t go on MacNeil’s tour with Yellowstone Insight. Just do it already! Oh, and make sure you book well in advance, because just like everything else in Yellowstone, things book up quickly. Enjoy 🙂

 

Please Note: This post is in collaboration with Yellowstone Country. All opinions are my own.

Being Vegetarian In Yellowstone Country

Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect either. I mean, when I think of Montana and Wyoming, fresh vegetables aren’t the first thing that pop to my mind. So, as a vegetarian, what could there possibly be for me to eat when I finally head to Yellowstone Country? The answer is A LOT!!!

Honestly, I was blown away by not only all the options available, but the blossoming culinary scene in places like Bozeman. I had so much great food on my entire trip and if you are considering traveling to this area and have a dietary restriction, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. With full disclosure, it is definitely easier to find more options in bigger cities like Bozeman, but it’s not to say that you won’t be able to find anything in smaller towns. Hopefully I can help steer you in the right direction if you happen to stop in the same places I visited. Here’s just a highlight of some of the awesome things I ate and drank while visiting Yellowstone Country:

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tostadas at Starky's in Bozeman

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tostadas at Starky’s in Bozeman

Huckleberry Vodka Cocktail At Bozeman Spirits Distillery

Huckleberry Vodka Cocktail At Bozeman Spirits Distillery

Breakfast Hash at Jam in Bozeman

Breakfast Hash at Jam in Bozeman

Hot Cinnamon Pecan Rolls at Jam in Bozeman

Hot Cinnamon Pecan Rolls at Jam in Bozeman

Pizza at Yellowstone Pizza Company in Gardiner, MT

Pizza at Yellowstone Pizza Company in Gardiner, MT

Greek Salad at Euro Cafe in West Yellowstone

Greek Salad at Euro Cafe in West Yellowstone

Homemade Vegetarian Burger at Backcountry Burger Bar in Bozeman

Homemade Vegetarian Burger at Backcountry Burger Bar in Bozeman

Visiting One Of The Many Breweries In Bozeman

Visiting One Of The Many Breweries In Bozeman

Best Vegetarian Huevos Rancheros at Lot G in Bozeman

Best Vegetarian Huevos Rancheros at Lot G in Bozeman

Cafe Latte at Lot G in Bozeman

Cafe Latte at Lot G in Bozeman

As you can see, you will not leave Yellowstone Country hungry, no matter what your dietary restriction. Now go on, plan your trip!

 

Please Note: This post is in partnership with Yellowstone Country. All opinions are my own.

Visiting Yellowstone Country

For as long as I can remember, Yellowstone National Park has been a dream destination. Growing up seeing the world renown park featured in books and movies and even as the fictional setting as Jellystone Park for the cartoon character Yogi Bear, Yellowstone has been on my mind. It’s unfortunate it took me this long to make it there, but thankfully I can say I finally did! And, trust me, it was well worth the wait.

Finally Made It To Yellowstone National Park!

Finally Made It To Yellowstone National Park!

Yogi Bear And Jellystone National Park

Yogi Bear And Jellystone National Park

One of the main reasons I’d never made it to Yellowstone Country (the counties in south-central and southwest Montana surrounding and inclusive of Yellowstone National Park) was because I just didn’t know much about the area. I also didn’t know when to go and how much time I would need for such a trip. And truthfully, being vegetarian, I wasn’t quite sure what the heck there would be available for me to eat (let me just go ahead and debunk the myth that there are only bison burgers available, ha ha).

The good news is I have answers to all those questions and hopefully can help steer you in the right direction to plan your own trip if you have not been, or for your return trip if you have already visited. Because here’s the thing; Yellowstone Country has this sneaky power to touch your heart in a way that will inevitably bring you back again. It’s just not possible to visit Yellowstone Country and not fall in love with it. I’m already planning my return trip there.

In this post, I’m going to share about the areas surrounding Yellowstone Park in Montana (I’ll have a separate post on the Park itself, because it clearly warrants its own highlight). I thought it would be helpful to showcase some of the great things to see and do in the area before and after you make your way into Wyoming to see Yellowstone. Here are just a few of the many options:

Bozeman, Montana– Bozeman is the city most people fly into as they plan their Yellowstone adventure. The great news is that many airlines now fly direct from cities across the US (Chicago Friends; both United and American have direct flights into Bozeman, so you have no excuse). I absolutely adored Bozeman for many reasons; it is a college town home to Montana State University, has a charming downtown area and has many outdoor activity options in nearby communities. IT’s a place with lots of character, an active foodie scene, cute coffee shops and boutique shopping, so there really is something for everyone. Bozeman is also known for its many breweries, so if beer is your thing, you are in luck. We even visited a distillery and I tried huckleberry vodka for the first time, and loved it (huckleberry is a smaller, more tart version of a blueberry). What I loved most about Bozeman was the ability to travel less than half an hour outside the city in several different directions for great hiking trails to summits overlooking the area or breathtaking waterfalls. It’s truly paradise for any outdoor adventurer.

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana

Loved Charming Downtown Bozeman

Loved Charming Downtown Bozeman

Fall Has Arrived In Bozeman

Fall Has Arrived In Bozeman

Montana State University

Montana State University

Adorable Lobby Of The Hotel LARK In Bozeman

Adorable Lobby Of The Hotel LARK In Bozeman

A Visit To The Museum Of The Rockies

A Visit To The Museum Of The Rockies

Visiting One Of The Many Breweries In Bozeman

Visiting One Of The Many Breweries In Bozeman

Huckleberry Vodka Cocktail At Bozeman Spirits Distillery

Huckleberry Vodka Cocktail At Bozeman Spirits Distillery

Hike To Palisade Falls Outside Bozeman

Hike To Palisade Falls Outside Bozeman

Views From Hike At Drinking Horse Mountain

Views From Hike At Drinking Horse Mountain

Gardiner, Montana– About a two-hour drive from Bozeman through the stunning Paradise Valley, you’ll arrive into Gardiner. This tiny town lies right on the border of Wyoming along the Yellowstone River, literally looking into Yellowstone National Park. The town serves as one of the northern entrances into the Park, and for that, serves as a great home base for exploration into Yellowstone. We stayed two nights in Gardiner at the most unbelievable and unique place I’ve ever stayed; a 5 bedroom lodge that is also an art gallery. The owners built the Elk River Art Studio and Lodging on their own and as artists, use the lodge to showcase their beautiful artwork. Not only that, the property lies right on the Yellowstone River, looking across at the mountains of Yellowstone. It was one of the most unique and enchanting ways to experience the majesty of the Park, while enjoying the laid back vibe of Gardiner.

Gardiner, Montana

Gardiner, Montana

Elk River River Art Studio And Lodge

Elk River Art Studio And Lodge

Inside Elk River Art Studio And Lodge

Inside Elk River Art Studio And Lodge

My Room Right Along The Yellowstone River

My Room Right Along The Yellowstone River

Views From The Back Patio

Views From The Back Patio

A Visitor To The Back Porch

A Visitor To The Back Porch

Enjoying Wine At Sunset Looking Out Into Yellowstone National Park

Enjoying Wine At Sunset Looking Out Into Yellowstone National Park

West Yellowstone, Montana– West Yellowstone is probably the most popularly known spot to enter and exit Yellowstone National Park; it is the closest entrance to the famed Old Faithful geyser after all. You will definitely find more options of places to stay and things to do in West Yellowstone as it does cater to the higher volume of travelers coming through. I loved the ambiance almost mimicking the Wild West and enjoyed strolling through all the souvenir shops and seeing the wide array of restaurants. Another cool thing I did not realize is that West Yellowstone is only about a 10 mile drive from the Idaho border and the “continental divide” where Idaho, Montana and Wyoming all meet. Since I had never been to the area before, I was pretty excited to cross 3 states off my list (I only have 7 left to have visited all 50 states). At any rate, West Yellowstone also has a plethora of outdoor activities in the area like fly fishing, hiking and skiing (just to name a few), which makes it such a great destination to get out and be active.

West Yellowstone, Montana

West Yellowstone, Montana

A Visit To The Grizzly And Wolf Discovery Center

A Visit To The Grizzly And Wolf Discovery Center

The Continental Divide

The Continental Divide

Middle Of The Highway Looking Into Montana And The Mountains Of Yellowstone

Middle Of The Highway Looking Into Montana And The Mountains Of Yellowstone

Awesome New Boutique Hotel The 1872 Inn

Awesome New Boutique Hotel The 1872 Inn

My Room At The 1872 Inn

My Room At The 1872 Inn

To answer my own questions I listed at the beginning of this post for planning a trip to Yellowstone Country and Yellowstone National Park, here are a few of my tips:

When to go: I personally think the best time to visit is the fall. You miss the rush during the summer and will have a better chance to see what you want and stay where you want (but still make sure to plan out as far as you possibly can). Yellowstone Country will have areas with beautiful foliage and the perfect temperature for hikes. I’ll even go as far as recommending the last 3 weeks of September as an ideal time to visit since you’ll miss the Labor Day crowd and hopefully get into the area before the really cold temperatures and snow settle in (you just never know though, so be prepared).

How much time you need: Obviously this varies based on your interests and what you would like to see and do. Ideally, I would say give yourself at least one week to explore the area to not feel rushed. A rough outline (which I used on my trip) could be; fly into Bozeman, spend a day or two exploring that area, drive to Gardiner and stay 2-3 nights while you explore northern Yellowstone National Park (I recommend a minimum of 3 full days for Yellowstone…it’s simply not possible to even touch the surface in 1 or 2 days), stay one or two nights in West Yellowstone and explore western and southern Yellowstone National Park and head back to Bozeman for your return, with a stop in Big Sky, Montana on your way back.

Other tips: Pack layers! I can’t stress enough the unpredictability of the weather in that area. Coming from flat Chicago, I forget that the area of Yellowstone Country has many different elevations and landscapes, bringing with it a wide range of temperatures. You could be in sun and 50 degrees in the morning in one location and in a 20 degree white out blizzard a few hours later in another location. It’s best to be prepared. And the weather apps do very little in helping you prepare even a few days in advance, so just bring lots and lots of layers!

Hope this helps give you an idea of what to see and do in Yellowstone Country. Stay tuned because I have so much more to share, and trust me, you won’t want to miss it.

 

Please Note: This post is in collaboration with Yellowstone Country. All opinions are my own.