Hamilton in Puerto Rico

The 58th GRAMMY Awards - Photo by Theo Wargo/Wire Image

Do not throw away your shot to see the musical Hamilton… while on a Caribbean vacation…while contributing to rebuilding Puerto Rico.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, knocking off power to the entire island, devastating homes and landscape, and creating a humanitarian disaster on the U.S. territory.

By August 2018, the death toll had risen to 2,975. (The number of casualties has since increased.)

But while the devastation was vast, Puerto Rico has been steadily rebuilding, reopening and reviving its tourism market. In an effort to continue his support for the island, Lin-Manuel Miranda will once again star in the title role of Hamilton, when the Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning musical plays San Juan from January 8 to 27, 2019.

As expected, general ticket sales (which went on sale November 10) quickly sold-out, but limited tickets are still available through trip packages offered by Discover Puerto Rico. Additionally, premium tickets sold for $5,000 each, will raise money for Miranda’s Flamboyan Arts Fund, dedicated to strengthening arts on the island.

Puerto Rico wants visitors to know they are open for business. Remember the S.O.S. photo that went viral immediately following Hurricane Maria? The plea has evolved into an invitation and a message that we are “Bienvenidos” on the island. Catch a glimpse of the progress in the touching video below: 

 

You can play a role in the rebuilding effort merely by visiting. Be in the room where it happens and let the theatricality of Hamilton affect you while effecting positive change in Puerto Rico.

…And Peggy!

*For additional travel information, visit DiscoverPuertoRico.com.

 

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A Tasting Tour of Astoria, Queens

AstoriaSubwayPhoto via flickr/Ed McGowan

New York is a city of immigrants, a place where diverse cultures co-exist, thrive, expand and blend. We are a mish-mash of transplants. And that mish-mash tastes real good.

Last month, I had the delicious joy of joining Cristina Lombardi, the insanely knowledgeable owner of Follow Me New York City Adventures on their “Taste of Queens Adventure.” This private, customizable walking tour focuses on the neighborhoods of Astoria or Flushing, depending on the interests of the guests. In fact, Follow Me NYC can customize pretty much any type of tour you’d like: from a tipsy tour through the city’s speakeasies to a sweet-tooth tasting of the city’s best candy and dessert spots. They also offer a la carte adventures exploring Times Square & Theater District, Wall Street & Financial District, Central Park and Greenwich Village.

On a sunny and blustery fall day, our small group set out to taste our way through Astoria, Queens. Queens is the most diverse borough of New York City and, depending on what survey you read, it is either in the top three or the most diverse county in the entire United States. According to the last U.S. census in 2010, 48.5% of the population of Queens is foreign-born.

We began our tour with a brief history lesson. We learned Astoria was named after the wealthiest man in America (at the time), John Jacob Astor, in the hopes he would invest in his namesake neighborhood. And though he could literally see it from his palatial home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it is rumored Mr. Astor never actually set foot in Astoria, nor invested any substantial money. Regardless, the name stuck and, through the years, Astoria became home for every wave of immigrants that landed on our shores.

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Galaktoboureko

Throughout the early to mid 1900’s it was primarily Irish, Italian and Jewish. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Greek immigrants began flocking to Astoria and creating one of the largest centers of Greek culture in the United States. So, it was fitting that our first stop was the family-owned Yaya’s Bakery for a taste of Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek phyllo dough pastry filled with warm custard and drizzled with a light syrup made from honey and lemon juice. Not only was it delicious, but it was a dessert I would have never thought of ordering had it not been for our guide, Cristina, who chose this pastry specifically for that reason.

With warmer bellies, we headed to La Cabaña Grocery for Tacos al Pastor (a pork taco with fresh cilantro, pineapple, chopped onion and a squeeze of  lime). The bodega sells traditional spices, authentic ingredients and beloved Mexican treats in a no-frills but all-taste setting.

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Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant

From one characteristically spicy cuisine to another, we next savored a vegetable Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant, which specializes in Northern Indian dishes. Don’t forget to dunk the potato, onion, pea and lentil-filled pastry in the mint chutney for the full flavor explosion.

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Spinach Burke

Our walk continued to Djerdan for a Spinach Burek, a Balkan staple and probably my favorite of the day. The crispy phyllo-dough pastry is filled with cheese and freshly sautéed spinach and shaped like a (very tasty!) cigar. Insider tip: In between trips to Astoria, you can order from their online store.

At our next stop, Zenon Taverna, a member of the family that owns the restaurant greeted us with a crash course in Cypriot cuisine, explaining “we use a lot of mint and cumin… we use all the spices that Greeks won’t.” He continued describing the flavors as a blending of traditional Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences, before serving us Trahana Soup. The traditional Cypriot soup is made with bulgur wheat, thickened in chicken stock, Greek yogurt, halloumi (a type of goat cheese) and finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

From the traditional to the trendy, our group headed to the very popular Queens Comfort, which had a line of folks waiting to enter. Inside, there was a DJ spinning for a brunch clientele that was equal parts multi-generational families and Millennial hipsters. Our takeaway was a taste of the Atomic Fire Balls–deep-fried, Siracha-infused mac ‘n cheese balls. If these spicy nuggets were indicative of the other menu options, I can easily understand the long line of eager diners.

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Atomic Fire Balls

Our final stop took us to Little Morocco for a taste of the Merguez sausage, a minced lamb sausage spiced with cumin, chili peppers, sumac and harissa. The area of Steinway Street, where the restaurant is located, is often called Little Egypt or Little Morocco, as Lebanese, Northern African and Middle Eastern immigrants have been steadily settling in the area since the 1980’s.

This tour through Astoria was a much-needed reminder that diversity makes New York City great—always! As a now seasoned New Yorker I too often stay within my own neighborhood out of habit and, well, laziness. But no one moves to New York to stay within his comfort level. Especially as politicians are using the topic of immigration to stoke unfounded fears, it’s important to remember that our diversity makes us stronger, makes us better, and makes our walks through Astoria all the more tasty.

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(The restaurants we visited on our tasting adventure; our fabulous guide, Cristina Lombardi, in center; Trahana Soup lower left.)

***To share in the experience, visit the “Astoria Tasting” highlighted story on the @travelingiq Instagram

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Sipping for a Cause

IMG_8685Want to fight LGBTQ discrimination? There’s a wine for that. Want to empower girls to grow into strong women? There’s a wine for that. Want to celebrate the women’s suffrage movement ahead of the mid-term elections? There’s a wine for that too.

Jim Obergefell, who in 2015 fought for the recognition of his marriage all the way to the Supreme Court–resulting in the landmark ruling Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage the law of the land–has continued his fight for equality.

And this time he’s getting a little help from the grapes.

In 2016, Mr. Obergefell partnered with Matt Grove to create Equality Vines, the world’s first cause wine portfolio dedicated to equality for all people. To date, Equality Vines has launched lines supporting LGBTQ causes, women’s empowerment and voting rights, donating a portion of sales to organizations associated with each cause.

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“Love Wins” Series

The inaugural “Love Wins” series is anchored by The Decision Pinot Noir (celebrating the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling) and Stonewall Zinfandel, with sales contributing to SAGE, an organization that tirelessly advocates for LGBTQ elders. As stated on their website, “SAGE stands proudly with the LGBT pioneers across the country who’ve been fighting for decades for their right to live with dignity and respect.” Earlier this year, the series launched two new sparkling wines: the Love Wins Blanc de Noirs and Love Wins Sparkling Rosé, benefitting the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations in the U.S. and one that (near to my heart) in 1965 protested Fidel Castro’s internment camps for homosexuals in Cuba. Today the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C. conducts archive activism, “identifying, conserving and interpreting the LGBT historical record.”

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19th Amendment Sauvignon Blanc

The first releases of the “Empowerment” series celebrate the women’s suffrage movement and are named after the constitutional amendment which gave women the right to vote, in 1920.  Sales of the 19thAmendment Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay benefit the League of Women Voters, the nonpartisan organization that believes in the “power of women to create a more perfect democracy.” Especially now, as the U.S. nears the November 6 elections, I will happily drink to that! Also of note, the 19thAmendment Sauvignon Blanc is handcrafted by Alison Doran-Green, one of the first female winemakers in the United States.

Respect Wine

“Respect” Series

To find out what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means to Equality Vines, look no further than their latest partnership with the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. Five dollars from every bottle sold of the “Respect” series ensures the YWCA can continue serving its community. “YWCA Metropolitan Chicago does great work to positively impact the lives of women and families, and Equality Vines is honored to partner with them on this wine to help fund their many services and advocacy work,” said Mr. Obergefell. “Women deserve equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunity and this new wine allows customers to participate in making that a reality.”

Now you can use your drinking for good and uncork your activism with your next wine purchase. Order the limited releases through the Equality Vines website (they can ship to 44 states as allowed by current shipping laws), sign up for the wine club or visit their California tasting room. Just this year, they’ve donated over $17,000 to some exceptionally worthy causes. And you can help, one sip at a time.

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All photos courtesy of Equality Vines

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Essentials for the Savvy Traveler

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(A version of this post was originally published in StageandScreen.us)

 

Life moves fast. Traveling IQ is here to help you travel smart, with favorite travel essentials to keep you on track for a smooth, comfortable journey.

NAP STYLISHLY
Rest comfortably while traveling and arrive refreshed at your destination. The Trtl Travel Pillow looks and packs like a scarf but is designed with the internal neck support needed to hold your head in a comfortable sleeping position. It is lightweight, soft on your skin, machine washable and half the size of the old-school U-shaped travel pillow. It’s the travel pillow designed for those who value looking smart and feeling awake.
Price: $29.99 at trtltravel.com

YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES
Life’s special moments are sweeter when shared. And more impressive when captured as stunning high-quality videos and professional grade photographs. The ANAFI is the first flying drone to offer a 4K HDR camera and the capability to tilt vertically with precise digital stabilization. It is also portable, easy to assemble and embedded with Artificial Intelligence and automated flight modes. From high above, the ANAFI will capture your special moments with cinema resolution videos and image rendering, even in dark or overexposed areas. Smile!
Price: $699.99 at parrot.com

BE BEACH READY
A beautiful beach is a terrible thing to waste. But who wants to carry a bulky towel on every adventure? The Dock and Bay Classic Travel Towels use a unique microfiber blend which is super-absorbent, quick-drying and sand-resistant. Most important, the towels are compact, lightweight and won’t collect musty smells. They come in different colors to suit your style and in a handy pouch for easy carry.
Price: $12 at dockandbay.com

A HAT FOR ADVENTURE
Fearless explorers can also maintain beautiful skin. The Alchemi Labs Expedition Hat blocks 99.8% of UVRays and reflects 80% of the sun’s heat waves. The hat’s moisture-wicking sweatband will keep you dry, while the dark olive green and khaki color-motif will keep you looking like an adventurous Indiana Jones…with a really good dermatologist.
Price: $39 at alchemilabs.com

AN EAR FOR MUSIC
It’s a noisy world out there. With the Bose QuietComfort 35 II wireless headphones, you can control the soundtrack of your journey. Their unique Acoustic Noise Cancelling technology constantly reacts to outside noise and cancels it with the opposite signal for the clearest sound around. And now the headphones are optimized with access to Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant, for full control of your entertainment and daily managing duties.
Price: $349.95 on bose.com or amazon.com

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Wakanda on Tour

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Photo from Black Panther film (Source: Heroes & Sheroes) 

The badass looks of Black Panther are bringing a blast of Wakanda to Pittsburgh, before embarking on a world tour.

Currently on display at the Heinz History Center, “Heroes & Sheroes: The Art and Influence of Ruth E. Carter in Black Cinema” showcases the costumes, career and inspiration behind Academy Award and Emmy-nominated costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, the woman who helped create the cinematic worlds of Malcolm X, The Butler, Selma, Amistad and Black Panther, among others. “The exhibition is a celebration of film culture, Black culture, African culture, American culture,” said Carter.

The multi-media exhibit uses sketches, stills, behind-the-scenes media and (of course) costumes to celebrate a thirty-year career, while tackling the complicated ways in which underrepresented communities are displayed in film. “I will have to rethink ever dressing a young African-American man in a hoodie in a film ever again,” Carter said after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Heroes & Sheroes” will be on exhibit in Pittsburgh until December 2, before touring to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Paris, with additional cities planned.

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Dominican Republic Celebrates Caribbean Pride

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Is the Dominican Republic ready for its gay close-up? It’s a slow zoom, increasingly coming into focus.

Last month, the CHIC Punta Cana, the all-inclusive resort (or “all-exclusive” as the brand boasts) hosted the second annual Caribbean Pride. For one week, the expansive resort turns into an adult playground packed with pool parties, drag shows, culinary workshops, and a slew of fitness activities—all geared toward the LGBTQ traveler…

Learn more about Caribbean Pride and how the Dominican Republic is emerging as a gay travel destination, by reading the rest of my article, published in EDGE Media Network.

EDGE-Dominican Republic

 

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Travel News: September 2018

The world of travel moves fast! This month, IQ curated the highlights for Corporate Traveler.

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IQ Heading to Caribbean Pride

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Want to hang on to summer just a little bit longer? Pride Season is not yet over!

This weekend IQ is heading to the powdery-soft beaches of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, for the second-annual (my first) Caribbean Pride. Held at the luxury, adults-only, all-inclusive CHIC Punta Cana over seven days packed with pool parties, beach parties, foam parties (yes, that’s still a thing apparently) and whatever kind of party you can imagine.

There will also be shows from beloved Toronto queen, Miss Conception, culinary classes, cocktail samplings and even a broad range of fitness activities for those who… do fitness activities while on an all-inclusive gay vacation.

Follow @travelingiq on Instagram to share in the festivities.

And visit CaribbeanPride.com for photos, event schedule and booking info.

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Samana, Dominican Republic

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Aerial view of Los Haitises National Park in Samana, Dominican Republic

As your plane descends toward the Samana airport, you’ll see postcard-perfect views of a natural paradise: rolling hills of lush, green forests pressed against countless kilometres of pristine beaches. The Samana Peninsula, which juts from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, is about a four-hour direct flight from Toronto or Montreal, but a worlds-away tropical escape for the entire family.

Partly because of its geographical positioning, Samana has retained a unique identity from its resort-packed sister cities. Up until the Samana Highway was finished in 2009, the five-hour drive from Santo Domingo kept the province isolated even from other Dominicans. Now a 2½ hour drive from its capital and with increasing flight access to Canada, Samana is ready to welcome tourism to its unique topography and cultural history. Pack your swimsuits in the suitcase and your curiosity in the carry-on, and prepare for a combination of adventure and relaxation…

Click here to read the full article published in Family Fun Canada

(Photo Credit: Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism)

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Cleveland: A Cultural Center in the American Heartland

1-Photo courtesy of Destination ClevelandThis summer, the cultured traveler is looking beyond the coasts and discovering a contemporary art center in America’s heartland. With the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, the city of Cleveland has commissioned more than 100 local, national and international artists to join the city’s evolving transformation into a prominent cultural center. And everyone’s invited to the party. After all, in 2014 Cleveland hosted the Gay Games, an international sporting event for LGBTQ athletes and their allies, and in 2016 hosted the Republican National Convention that nominated Donald Trump. (For the record, Cleveland voted for Hillary Clinton by 66.1%). It is the rare city where everyone is welcome, and where the moxie of its people is on par with their midwestern charm…

Read the full article published in Travel Squire

ilthy, photo by Ivan Quintanilla

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