Friday, June 24, 2011

Bixi bikes - walk up, pedal away

With nothing but pedal power needed, biking is the greenest mode of transportation in big cities.  But what if you are only visiting the city center? Bike rentals have been around for years, but recently, rentals are addressing the need for short, intermittent bike trips. One of the leaders in this movement is BIXI.

Strategically placed throughout various major cities are bike racks with a dozen or so bikes, locked in place. Using cash, credit cards or your Bixi key, you can obtain a rental code that will unlock a bike waiting near you.

When you are done riding, simply return the bike to the same or another BIXI bike rack and your rental is complete. Need it later in the day to get back to your hotel?  Just repeat the procedure and peddle back. 
Watch the video to get a better idea of the system in operation.

Presently, you’ll find BIXI bikes in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, London, Minneapolis  and Washington, DC.  Many more cities are on the drawing board. The bikes are available 24/7 from May to November. To make them even more convenient for the users, there are a couple apps that will allow you to check bikes before you even leave your door.

BIXOU and it’s little brother BIXOU LITE are indispensable for hunting down a bike and figuring how long it will take to get you there. Some of BIXOU’s features include:
  • Real time information on the status of all BIXI™ stations, including number of bikes and spaces.
  • Distance and estimated walk/cycle-time to any station, based on your current location.
  • Integrated mapping: See yourself and all surrounding stations on the map.
  • View options: Visualize stations in either Classic or Scaled mode
  • Search function: Finds stations by name and intersection.
  • Favorites tab: Keeps your bookmarked stations close at hand.
  • iPod Touch compatibility: Get real-time data over WiFi. Plus station data is saved locally so it can be viewed later, even offline.
You can contact the app’s software developer at or find the apps on the Internet at the iTunes store. Contact Public Bike System at for more information on the Bixi system.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

South Bass Island – getaway for a day, a week or a month

Escaping to the islands has such a romantic sound, and yet it’s such an easy and inexpensive thing to do for those in the Midwest and central Canada. The Lake Erie Islands, roughly half-way between Cleveland and Detroit/Windsor offer something for vacationers of every stripe.

To list all the attractions and activities available would require a book, which incidentally is available for free from Lake Erie Shores and  Islands website.  But, for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on just one of the islands – South Bass Island, also commonly referred to as Put-in-Bay. Even focusing on just one of the nine islands, it will still be impossible to list everything there is to do in this one article, but we’ll hit some of the highlights.

Getting there

A twenty minute ferry ride from Catawba Island, Ohio will get you there, via the Miller Ferry. A single adult fare is only $6.50 and you can take your own bike for $2 or your car for only $15. Miller Ferry has been transporting visitors and residents to the islands since the early 1900’s. You can go online and get island coupons or purchase Playcation packages from their website.  

Once on the island, do as many locals do and rent a golf cart when you get off the boat. Two rental companies are immediately adjacent to the Miller dock when you land, and there are many more rentals located around the island. Last time I was there, I rented from E’s Golf Carts, just to the right as you leave the ferry.  Rest assured you’ll get a great rate from this family-run business, whether you opt for a 2, 4, 6, or 8 seater.

If you drive your car and find a parking spot downtown, chances are you’ll want to leave it parked. In that case, look for the bright yellow Poe’s Pedicabs. These bicycle-powered versions of the rickshaw cruise around the downtown area, and are a great way to get around. The super comfy carriages can hold three passengers, and the drivers are well-versed with interesting info about the Put-in-Bay area. You’ll get unobstructed views and door-to-door service. If you’re lucky, you might even get local school superintendent Steve Poe as your driver. You can connect with Poe’s Pedicabs via Facebook or email.


Fascinated by lighthouses? Make a hard left as you leave the ferry and in a quarter mile you can see the South Bass Island Lighthouse. Operated from 1897 until 1962, the property is now owned by Ohio State University.  Its giant fourth order Fresnel lens is now on display at the Lake Erie Historical Society Museum (definitely worth a visit.)

Even taller than the lighthouse is the iconic symbol of Put-in-Bay, the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.  A Doric column, rising 352 feet above Lake Erie, it’s the first landmark you’ll notice approaching the island from any direction. Presently, the monument is cloaked with scaffolding at the uppermost elevation while it is being refurbished for the coming bi-centennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Inside and outside the visitor’s center, park rangers put on a wealth of interesting programs to help you grasp the role this area played during the war.

Looking for tons of good family fun? Head over to Perry’s Cave on Catawba Avenue. From the “War of 18 Holes” miniature golf, to the rock climbing wall to sifting for gems, there’s lots to do outdoors. Inside, be sure to see the Butterfly House with hundreds of lively beauties before descending into the fascinating Perry’s Cave. The cave is a whopping 208 feet long by 165 feet wide with an underground lake. See their website for  money-saving package deals.

For more attractions like the world’s largest geode and a captivating wintertime display, continue reading into the wineries section (even if you are traveling with children.)

Winery tours

Two excellent winery tours offer something for everyone. Besides being able to sample some of the best Lake Erie wines, these two offer other attractions to interest the younger members of your family.

Right across the street from Perry’s Cave is the Heineman Winery & Crystal Cave. The Crystal Cave is just that – a descent into a cave with walls, ceiling and floor lined with beautiful blue crystals. It’s acknowledged as the world’s largest geode and was discovered in 1897. The crystals range from 8 to 18 inches in length.

Upstairs, Heineman’s Winery offers a tasting bar, a shaded wine garden, winery tour and a gift shop. The winery was founded in 1888 and today it’s run by third and fourth generation Heineman’s. During prohibition, Heineman’s survived, while 17 other wineries folded, by producing grape juice and by giving tours of their Crystal Cave. Today, they control 50 acres of grapes on South Bass Island and continue to produce an excellent selection of Lake Erie’s finest wines.  Shipping only to addresses in Ohio, they still manage to crush, bottle and ship 40,000 gallons of their award-winning wines to people state-wide.

Back in the downtown area, you’ll want to devote a couple hours to take the Doller Estate and Put-in-Bay Winery tour.  The historic DollerHouse is a victorian, Italianate mansion built on a beautiful estate overlooking the lake and Gibraltar island. On the first floor, you’ll find Put-in- Bay Winery. Whether you choose to sample your wines on the front lawn or in the wonderful garden out back, you’re sure to enjoy your time there. The winery has only been open since 2009, but they feature a rich, warm and inviting tasting room along with wine- themed gifts for sale.

A tour of the DollerHouse also includes a tour of the superbly done Island Life  Museum. You’ll be able to actually go inside the last remaining ice house on the island and see how ice could be cut from Lake Erie in winter, and actually stored inside for up to two years. Amazing.  Their winter life section also includes an original ice-sail boat that would whisk across Lake Erie’s smooth ice at speeds over 100 m.p.h.  That’s insane; but, truth-be-told, I’d have loved to try it.

DollerHouse is also the site of a great many catered corporate and private parties.

Stopping to eat

All those fresh air activities are sure to work up an appetite. Luckily, if there’s anything Put-in-Bay is lacking, it’s not great restaurants. If you drive to Put-in-Bay, you’re sure to see the billboards advertising The Boardwalk  and their “Ohio’s best” lobster bisque.  Not just marketing hype, this is a signature dish of hearty bisque with full size pieces of lobster meat. If the weather is pleasant, sit outside on the picnic benches and enjoy all the action of the marina.

 Right across the street, also in the downtown area, is Mossback’s Island Bar & Grill with great perch and walleye dinners, cool drinks and a great air-conditioned view of the waterfront.  A block away is Tipper’s Seafood and Steak House, a really large restaurant & buffet where  I loved their half-pound basket of Walleye Bites. Attached to Tipper’s is the Beer Barrel Saloon. The “Barrel” holds the Guinness World Record for longest permanent bar in the world at 405’ 10” long.  With 160 bar stools and 56 beer taps, this place quenches a lot of thirsts each week.

For a quieter meal, just down Delaware Street, you’ll find Pasquale’s CafĂ©. Stop here for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner from their large menu. I’d recommend their tomato, spinach & bacon omelette for breakfast. Yummy!

If you are mid-island, around Heineman’s or Perry’s Cave, proceed just a little further and try Goat Soup and Whiskey. Their claim to fame is “home of the original perch taco.” Whether for lunch or dinner, if you like Lake Erie Perch, you’ve got to try these. You can order the perch either fried or grilled and the special “pali-wali secret sauce” makes this a gourmet treat. Downstairs you’ll find the Chocolate Cafe & Museum for coffees, ice cream, gelato, and oh yeah, chocolate candies.

Accommodations for the night

By now you should be well-fed, well- tired and ready for a place to spend the night.  Hope you planned early. Accommodations can fill up months in advance, so it never hurts to think ahead.  Your opportunities run the gamut on Put-in-Bay from a state run campground, to B&B’s, motels, resorts and private homes.
If you’ve got a group coming together for a reunion or possibly a corporate retreat, you seriously should consider renting a home for a week. Many wonderful homes and cottages are available at more than competitive rates.

I had the opportunity to stay at Casual Cape & Guest House on Mikes Drive in the East Point section of the island. A welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area, this beautifully decorated home is in a quiet and private neighborhood setting. Here, the only singing you’ll hear will be from the birds who call Put-in-Bay home.  A quick, under 10 minute bike or golf cart ride and you can be back downtown.

Casual Cape is an unusual home with two master bedrooms upstairs, each with its own private bath. Downstairs are another two bedrooms and another bath.  Two screened porches complement the nautical themed kitchen and living room. The place is fully air-conditioned and comes complete with a well-equipped kitchen as well as a handy washer and dryer.  The entire 1,800 sq.ft. home, which sleeps 12, is  located on an acre of well-maintained lawn with off-street parking available .

Reading through their Guest Book, it’s evident that this has been the site of many wonderful family get-togethers as well as many quiet getaways. Owner’s David and Jill Warga, take great pride in this property and if you have a need for a large, comfortable home, this would be a wonderful choice. Click here for a photo tour of the home and the guest house.

Need more ideas or assistance?

For help locating accommodations, attractions or events, check out or stop by one of the two Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Centers. The two centers are located at 4424 Milan Rd., Suite A (US 250), Sandusky, OH 44870 (phone  800-255-3743) and 770 SE Catawba Rd. (SR 53), Port Clinton, OH 43452 (phone 800-441-1271.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Japan: three months after the quakez

Great series of before and after pictures from Japan. Amazing to see all that they have accomplished. Japan: three months after the quake - The Big Picture -

iMainGo: X and iMainGo: 2 – product reviews

You say you want audio? You say you want your volume BIG, but you want your package small? iMainGo has you covered. The two iMainGo audio units are essentially a protective clamshell that has bold sounding audio speakers  and a padded compartment to hold your iPod, iPhone or iTouch. A clear, touch-sensitive window allows control of your device even when the shell is zipped closed.

Not an Apple fan? No problem, both units will work with a host of MP3 players as well. With its gold tipped 3.5mm stereo plug, just about anything with a headphone jack will work. (That means you could use it with your iPad, although a special model for the iPad is coming this year.)


You like your music because it sounds good, and loudspeakers aren’t what you want if they distort the music or audio broadcast you’re listening to. No problem here. The two titanium speakers and two tuned bass ports put out sweet sound no matter what genre you choose. Good bass is hard to come by in small packages and these are about as good as life gets. I and everyone I’ve shown them to have been amazed at the quality.

There are two models to choose from.  The iMainGo: X has its own internal rechargeable battery pack and comes with a medium-sized wall wart plug to recharge or for extended sessions. One full recharge lasts a good long time. The iMainGo: 2 uses 4 conventional AAA batteries obtainable anywhere for up to 30 hours of playtime.


Rarely does anything this compact put out the huge sound of these two units. Literally, you’ll be able to hear these units over 50’ away. Want more distance? Daisy chain two units together and get twice the power. (This only applies to the iMainGo: X model, which comes with two headphone jacks as well as a microphone input jack.)  As cool as that is, I doubt you’ll ever need it. 

Now you can watch your iPod videos and actually enjoy the audio without headphones. You won’t miss a thing with these speakers.

iMainGo products are sold online at their website or you can also find them at Target, Amazon, REI, EMS or MacHelper (Canada) and Amazon UK. Try them, I know you’ll be blown away.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Star Clipper unveils 2012 schedule

Today, Star Clippers released their 2012 schedule for their northern European cruises and they are offering a host of new destinations and experiences starting in May 2012. 

You'll recall from a couple earlier posts that I had one of my most memorable vacations on a seven-day, seven-port cruise on the Royal Clipper. Without repeating the entire previous article, I must say it was the most luxurious, yet at the same time casual cruise I've ever seen. Food, staff, ship, destinations...none could have possibly been any better. 


In addition to all the aforementioned reasons to like the Star Clipper fleet, it's great to know they are a truly green operation with a commitment to sustainability all across their organization.

One of the most visible signs on my cruise was Dr. Mariano Peruzzo, the resident marine biologist who sails on the Royal Clipper ship. From day one, you knew this was not some stuffy research scientist, but rather, an affable man who makes marine biology interesting to even the least initiated. His daily talks and afternoon dives easily made converts out of former skeptics. 

"If more people had had the chance to follow an ecology class in high school, the world might not be in the mess it is today" he said. "You have to believe it's possible to turn around the trends that you see on this planet and I think we can. But we need to get going."

New schedule

With the positioning of Star Flyer in the northern European region from May through August, the tall ship cruise operator expands its European offerings to stretch from the eastern Mediterranean up to Norway.

Star Flyer will sail a variety of itineraries with departures out of Southampton, England; Oslo, Norway; Hamburg, Kiel and Warnemuende (Rostock), Germany; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Ranging from three-night samplers to 11-night explorations, the ship not only calls at some of the Baltic's most popular capital cities, but also visits several smaller, charming, lesser-visited ports along the way.

"When we were developing the Baltic itineraries we knew we had to make them special and unique, which is why we included so many intimate ports that are going to leave a lasting impression on our guests," said Mark Carlson, director of marketing for Star Clippers Americas. "Our guests like adventure and they seek memorable experiences, and we expect the Baltic cruises to be among our most popular ever ... so guests should book early."

Additional destinations include: Sweden, Russia, Finland , Germany, Norway, Amsterdam, Belgium and Lithuania. 

One of the benefits of the Star Clipper fleet is that they are small (max. 229 passenger) ships. That also can be a disadvantage when cruises easily sell out to the most interesting destinations. Mark is probably correct in that you should book early if 2012 is the year you are going to finally join the Star Clipper family.

To request a brochure, call toll-free 800-442-0556 or e-mail brochures. To make a 2012 Baltic reservation, contact a travel professional. For information, call Star Clippers at 800-442-0551 or visit to view a video about the line or take a virtual tour of the Star Clippers ships.

Keep up to date on the latest Star Clippers news by visiting them on their blog, where you'll see some of my photos at,Facebook and Twitter.

Expandable/Foldable Tote – a product review

Sometimes the best products are the simplest ones. The concept is so simple, why has no one done this before?  Eco-Club by Travelers Club Luggage introduces the 17” expandable/foldable tote with exclusive EZ-Clip.

At the 2011 International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, this was one of my favorite selections for practicality, ease of use and sustainable practice. It’s a heavy duty, yet lightweight reusable grocery tote that comes with patent pending clips to slip over the sides of your grocery cart. The clips hold the bag open for easy shopping and packing.

On the outside of the bag, there is a zippered pocket which is a great place to store your coupons so you always have them when you arrive at the market. Heavy duty handles on either side are long enough to slip over your shoulder, which makes it easier to carry an overloaded bag.

The bags come in a choice of three colors; red, green or black. Before and after use they fold down into a compact flat bundle that makes it easy to always have with you. And don’t just think grocery shopping, they also work great for picnics and travel.

For more information, check their website at  Look for the EZ Clip-n-Shop.

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Remote Exposure - a book review

Some of the most dramatic landscape photos are those taken in the mountains. Since the majority of the population has never hiked or climbed to an actual mountaintop, those views are often the most compelling. If you are actually planning such a climb, you want to bring back the best images possible to actually portray the wonders you experienced.

Shooting from mountaintops is considerably different than shooting in Cleveland or most anywhere else you probably live, and that’s why Alexandre Buisse wrote this book, Remote Exposure – a guide to hiking and climbing photography.  It’s a great compendium of all sorts of practical advice in selecting what to bring and how to use it to its best advantage.

First Buisse describes the equipment needed and how to carry it (dropping equipment on a mountain side is usually disastrous.) Then he gives some great tips about avoiding condensation and dust on your LCD. I never realized that I could help avoid dust on my LCD by making sure the camera was turned off when changing lenses. Turns out that reduces static electricity, which creates the magnetic attraction of dust to the LCD itself.

An entire chapter is devoted to the “art” of composition because lots of uninteresting shots are never the measure of success. He then goes into the differences to be aware of in camping, hiking, technical climbing and mountaineering. A discussion of panoramic images, HDR and DSLR video rounds out the book.

This is one where just about anyone is bound to find some tips they hadn’t known or perhaps reminded about ones they’ve long forgotten. It’s available at  Borders and Amazon . The book is beautifully hardbound with a lay-flat design and is also available for the Kindle.

You might also like to read my review of other Rocky Nook Books:

Tiffen Photo Contest

(from Tiffen)... 
Ready for another Tiffen Contest?  Our Great Outdoors Contest is in progress on our Facebook page and will end on July 6th at 5pm EST.  So, you have right through the July 4th weekend to upload that winning shot of the Great Outdoors. 
Our Great Outdoors contest will be judged by an outside independent agency. Decisions will be based on originality, uniqueness, composition, quality and that WOW factor. We know that you will not disappoint us!  
Dig out the old photo album.  Still don't have a photo?  Grab your camera and take one!  Going on vacation?  Don't forget the camera!  Don't own one?  Time to buy!  Don't care?  You might want to start - your image could be the one that's worth the first, second or third prize.
Our top 3 winners will be eligible to win one of these prizes:
  • Digital Essentials Filter Kit -- contains a UV Protection filter, Neutral Density .6, Circular Polarizer, and 4 pocket storage pouch - ideal for the great outdoors!
  • Domke Vest - Perfect for the PRO on the go.  18 pockets to carry your equipment and accessories!
  • Davis & Sanford Traverse w/BHQ8 Head Great tripod for travel - full size tripod that folds to a compact 16" and weighs only 3.3 lbs!
  • Post up to 5 of your best photos revolving around the theme of enjoying the great outdoors.
  • All photos must be property of person submitting - or been granted permission to use. By submitting images via either post or tweet, entrants agree to allow The Tiffen Company usage rights in any media.
  • An outside agency will determine best 3 photos submitted to the contest. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Zacman – Product review

Zacman stands for Zippered Accessory Case and cord MANager, and it does it mighty well.
Let’s face it, most electronics geeks have way too many cords, chargers, adapters, USB sticks, media cards, card readers, batteries… Well, you surely get the idea.

Before now, keeping them organized was usually a hit-or-miss proposition. Most knapsacks and briefcases with lots of pockets and pouches just never seemed to have enough.  Now, thanks to Alan Jones, inventor of the Zacman organizer, there’s a more elegant solution than that old ziplock baggie you are probably using.

The Zacman organizer looks like a zippered portfolio that might hold your medium-sized Daytimer, but when you open it, the similarity ends. 

On the inside of the left panel is a mesh pouch – large enough for an iPod, digital camera and a cell phone. Below it are two slots for notebooks, passports, or receipts, with two lower slots for business or credit cards. A pen loop is found on the hinged center panel.

Top right is a series of three parallel elastic straps that can hog tie all your miscellaneous cables. Lower right is another mesh pocket large enough to carry multiple chargers and all your other loose gadgets.
When the case is closed, there’s even an external sleeve just right for holding my Sony eBook reader or travel documents.

Check out their website at or watch this video from the 2011 Travel Goods show where Zacman makes a cameo appearance. 

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High Sierra Compass 3-in-1 Travel Pack – product review

The “3-in1” part is what should have caught your attention. With the Compass backpack all zipped together, you have almost 4,300 cubic inches of storage. The main pack by itself is a roomy 3,295 cubic inches and the daypack by itself is another 976 cubic inches. It comes with a detachable shoulder strap as well, so you could even perhaps call it a 4-in-1.

If you could only own one piece of travel luggage, the High Sierra TR103 Compass very well should be it. Versatility is its middle name Made from Duralite waffle-weave 1680-denier ballistic fabric, it comes with a limited lifetime warranty against defects of material or workmanship.

At 6.8 pounds, with an internal frame, this travel pack should appeal to every traveler looking for that perfect blend of large storage capacity and single, easy to manage luggage. If your travels take you off the pavement, you know you need a backpack. If you want to carry a lot of gear to and from your destination, but only want a small pack while at your destination, this is just perfect.

The daypack unzips easily, but while attached, the whole bundle only counts as one piece of luggage when you are checking in for your airline. Two compression straps on the main pack make sure it travels as one secure bundle and a concealed nylon cover pulls out to zipper close and tuck away the shoulder and waist straps while sending it though the airport check-in process.

The main compartment is divided into two main sections, with a front load zipper as well as a hinged opening zipper for the lower section. A zipped fabric panel separates the two and makes it easy to reach through when hunting for that one “other” thing that’s always in the other compartment. The adjustable aluminum frame bars are concealed in this section and can be bent to fit the contour of your back.

The padded shoulder harness is made of Vapel airflow mesh for moisture wicking and is fitted with their “Ergo-Fit” adjustment system. This enables you to adjust the height of the pack to be most comfortable based on your height and frame size. Load lifter straps offer even more adjustment by just simply giving them a pull until it feels right for you. The waist belt is also nicely padded with the same Vapel airflow mesh. Another outside large zipper reveals a shoe pocket at the lower end of the main compartment.

The removable daypack comes with padded shoulder straps, so it can handle a sizable load itself and still be comfortable. It can also be detached from the main bag and worn in front of you for additional security if the situation warrants it. Two convenient clips attach it to the main bag’s should harness.

The Compass’ daypack comes with a variety of organizational pockets. There’s one for your cellphone, while another zippered pocket handles your MP3 player with its headphone port. More sleeves and slots handle notebooks, pens and all your other miscellaneous.

For additional organization on the main pack, there’s another large zipper which reveals a shoe pocket at the bottom of the main compartment. There are additional straps strategically placed around the bag for lashing on additional gear or sleeping bag.. Also outside, a mesh pocket will take up to a 1,000ml water bottle. (Just make sure its empty when you got through the TSA inspection line.)

I spent an entire weekend recently, biking and hiking around Lake Erie’s islands while using this pack. I overloaded it with few clothes, but tons of photographic still and video gear. It easily swallowed my laptop, large travel tripod, two camera bags, a host of batteries and extra lenses as well as cellphone, GPS and MP3 player. I felt amazingly steady biking with such a large bag and it was easy to forget that I was even wearing it at times.

With the variety of load points, it was easy to stop and get out just the gear I needed without having to unload everything else in the bag. That was the main advantage I appreciated when comparing this to most other large “top-load” backpacks.

Check it out online at or at your local quality outdoor retailer. I think you’ll be impressed with all this bag offers for the price. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Green travel on a snowy white mountaintop

Dr. Peter Brandauer of Alpine Pearls accepts the 2011 World Travel 
& Tourism award for destination stewardship. Photo by Doug Bardwell

A mountaintop might be the last place you would expect to find traffic congestion, but if you lived in one of the six countries sharing the European Alps, that’s exactly what you were faced with. The countries of Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, Slovenia and Italy all share a network of highways connecting these alpine areas, and as they’ve gotten more and more popular, the traffic began to increase to annoying proportions.

A coordinated approach to the problem was the only way to improve the situation, but who would take the lead? With six separate countries involved, there was no nation stepping up to take the lead.

That’s when a small group of volunteers began to suggest some solutions. First in one city, then another, and then another; until people began to take notice that achievements were actually obtainable.  Eventually, all six countries agreed to take part in the initiatives to provide cleaner public transportation for the cities in the mountaintop network.

Alpine Pearls was formed as a non-political, transnational umbrella organization to coordinate the environment agenda along this mountainous region. Headquartered in Austria, they succeeded in setting up environmentally sensitive shuttle buses to transport people from one town to another. By providing buses, the numbers of vehicles were minimized and their carbon-footprint was greatly reduced.

In a later move, they purchased a fleet of bicycles which can be used for free by anyone who agrees to leave their cars parked while enjoying their holiday in the mountains. They now also offer electric two wheelers in the form of Segways and “Alpine Flyer” electric bicycles.  No matter how steep the ascent, with these powered electric vehicles, you arrive at the top with all your energy unspent.

While doing their part to protect the environment, Alpine Pearls also fosters the folklore and culture of the alpine communities they serve.  It was this multi-pronged approach that so impressed the judges in May 2011, who awarded Alpine Pearls first place in the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Travel for Tomorrow Award in the Destination Stewardship category.

Accepting the award, Karmen Mentil, managing director said, “I offer thanks to all 24 members – our pearls – who do an excellent job of mitigating our carbon footprint while offering fun- filled holidays, and at the same time, ensuring we leave something for future generations.”

To learn more about Alpine Pearls, see their website:

To read more about the other Travel for Tomorrow award winners, see

Monday, June 6, 2011

Captain Montague’s – perfect for your next getaway

Historic Huron home offers hospitality to North Shore visitors

Hidden in plain sight might be one way to describe this delightful B&B in downtown Huron, Ohio. Over the years, thousands of Clevelanders have passed Captain Montague’s on their way to Cedar Point, but most likely never knew what charm could be found beyond the white picket fence, past the impressive white pillars, and inside those stately white walls.

Just two blocks from Lake Erie, at the corner of Ohio St. and Center St. this majestic home is centrally located for northern Ohio recreational opportunities. Two blocks to the east and you’ll find the sparkling new Huron Boat Basin and Amphitheater. Consult the city’s website for a schedule of free outdoor entertainment here in the amphitheater. Two more blocks north and you’ll find yourself walking or biking out onto the mile-long fishing pier, crowned by the Huron Lighthouse at its northernmost tip.

As romantic as a walk along the lake might be, especially at sunset, the real romance can be found inside Captain Montague’s. Entering through a double-doored vestibule with ruby glass lites, you’ll find yourself transformed back into the historic past as you sign the guest book in the foyer. Look around and you’ll find a treasure trove of brochures sitting in an old treasure trunk. If you are looking for places to go and things to do, owners Judy and Mike Tann can be a marvelous source of information.

To start, and to orient yourselves, a relaxing walking or biking tour can be enjoyed all around the Old Plat District. An informative brochure can be downloaded which gives a map and identifies all the historic properties. (The Captain’s place is #23 on the map)

Architectural digs have confirmed that Huron had Indian inhabitants back in the 15th century, but it’s safe to say that it didn’t really catch on until the early 1800’s. After the war of 1812, and after Indian aggression ended, Huron started to boom, forming their original town plat in 1824. The Old Plat District saw many fabulous mansions built along the lakefront, but erosion claimed most of those by the early 1880’s.

Safely located two blocks from the water’s edge, this Victorian Italiante home on Center Street was built just before 1880 by John Wickham, a local master shipbuilder and owner of the local lumberyard. Having access to the best woods, he used solid black walnut for the two large fireplace mantels, as well as the beautiful, massive, open staircase to the second floor. Floors shine with red oak and mahogany planks.

In 1890, the home was acquired by Captain Charles Montague, who occupied this large home with wife Sarah and two children, Newton and Edith. Up until 1930, this was the scene of lavish receptions and parties, starting a heritage of hospitality for guests from near and far.

It was during this time (1913) that Cedar Point opened in nearby Sandusky. Cedar Point Road was actually one of the first concrete roads built in Ohio. Now, when you stay at Captain Montague’s, Judy will be happy to point out the best way to get to Cedar Point from their B&B. Using her directions, only one traffic light exists between the two, guaranteeing to shave a half-hour or more off your commute during weekend peak times.

Truth-be-known, a lot of folks probably plan a variety of day-trips while staying at the Captain’s place, but it can be hard to get up and leave. Starting with a delicious breakfast feast courtesy of Mike and Judy, it’s never a rush to get up and leave the table.  After I finished a serving of fresh strawberries and loaded French toast, I then sampled the best scones I’ve ever had in my life.

The night before, I slept on the second floor, in the southeast corner in the large “Edith’s Room” with a huge ensuite bath, complete with antique basin, full shower and whimsical picket fence wallpaper wainscoting. With comfortable chairs and a luxurious queen-sized brass bed, one really need not go anywhere else, but there is so much more to appreciate throughout the property.

On the first floor, the “cranberry parlor” is a wonderful sitting area for conversation or relaxation. The galley kitchen is open 24-7 for guest’s enjoyment with all kitchen appliances and a stocked refrigerator.

Outside, the grounds abound with fragrant flowers, crisp, clean fencing and a large gazebo.  A pool is open in warm weather. Two parking areas provide plenty of off-street parking.

Judy Tann said they feel “very privileged to have been stewards of this home for the past 18 years.” I think their guests are actually the ones most privileged – to have discovered such a marvelous home with such gracious hosts.

If you decide to go: It’s about 50 miles west along Route 2 and exactly one hour from Public Square in downtown Cleveland.

Contact Mike and Judy Tann via their website:, by email at or via phone at either 800-276-4756 or 419-433-4756.  Their address is 229 Center Street; Huron, Ohio 44839.

Dining: (If you are still hungry after that big breakfast) check out Berardi’s Restaurant just across the river, about a five or ten minute walk. Don’t miss the Seafood Bisque or their famous French Fries. 218 Cleveland Rd. E.; Huron, Ohio 44839, on the web at, or phone 419-433-4123

For more area activities and destinations to explore, stop by one of the two Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Centers or check them out online at The two centers are located at 4424 Milan Rd., Suite A (US 250), Sandusky, OH 44870 (phone  800-255-3743) and 770 SE Catawba Rd. (SR 53), Port Clinton, OH 43452 (phone 800-441-1271.)

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