Soft drink freebies for summer

Forget the recent reports on soft drinks' contributions to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. It's summer!

The Magic Springs amusement park in Hot Springs, AR, has announced that visitors will be able to drink all the soft drinks they want at the park for free this summer.

As a nod to good health, they'll also be offered free sunscreen creams and free use of riding tubes in the Crystal Falls waterpark.

Arkansas amusement parks, theme parks, waterparks and zoos
• U.S. amusement parks


NY dairy develops wine ice creams

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says her favorite ice cream is made by a central New York dairy named Mercer's.

With all the ice creams made in the state she represents, I've always wondered why Mercer's. Now I have an idea. The Boonville company has come up with wine-flavored ice creams.

It took two years of experimentation, but Mercer's Dairy has created Ala Port Wine, Peachy White Zinfandel and Red Raspberry Chardonnay ice cream flavors. Cool stuff, and already being purchased by trendy New York City restaurants.

This ice cream, by the way, is not kid stuff. It has an alcohol content of 5% and will not be sold to minors.

Mercer's, which makes about 40 other flavors, purchases a lot of its milk from various New York state prisons that maintain dairy herds.

Village of Boonville
Oneida County Convention & Visitors Bureau


Newest NY Indian casino set to debut

The Seneca Allegany Casino, located in the western New York city of Salamanca, will hold its official grand opening at noon Friday, March 30.

That's just 18 months after the groundbreaking for the $160 million project that includes a 212-room resort hotel with three new restaurants, a spa and salon, indoor swimming pool and a 68,300-square-foot casino housing 40 table games and 2,235 slot machines. It success the Seneca Allegany Casino which opened as a temporary facility on May 1, 2004.

Officially, the facility is located on the Seneca Nation of Indians' Allegany Territory in the city of Salamanca. The 6,100-resident city is the only one in the United States built entirely on an Indian reservation. It once was an important railroad center, serving as the junction for four railroads -- the Erie, Atlantic & Great Wester, the Pennsylvania, the Rochester & Pittsburgh, and the Buffalo.

"This is one of the most significant developments in this region since railroad engines first rolled into Salamanca," said Brian Hansberry, president and CEO of the Seneca Gaming Corp.

The Seneca Nation of Indians, through its wholly-owned Seneca Gaming Corp., also operates the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls, NY.
The Seneca Nation of Indians
City of Salamanca
Allegany State Paerk
Western New York Railroad Archive
Western New York Travel Guide


Myanmar winery a drop in the tourist bucket

It once was Burma. Now it is Myanmar.

It once had no vineyards. Now it has one.

The southeast Asian nation's first such enterprise, started by a German entrepreneur in 2004, now is producing reds, whites and roses at the Aythaya estate. That in itself is news since foreign investment in the military-governed nation is rare. And, when such an enterprise takes hold and even has the potential to lure tourists, even a mere handful, it is even bigger news.

Bert Morsbach, interviewed by the Associated Press, said, "Had I not been convinced that we can make a quality wine up in our mountains, I would not have started the project. ... That was a gamble, I must admit, but so far the government has been very cooperative and it looks as if this is going to stay that way."

Morsbach imported vines from France, Germany and Italy and planted them in the hills, seen above, above Inle Lake of in eastern Myanmar. He and chief winemaker Hans Leiendecker say growing conditions on their 23.5-acre vineyard are excellent, with the limestone soil similar to that of Tuscany and southern France and a climate similar to California's wine country.

"A huge asset in our favor: 150 days of sunshine," Morsbach said.

Their wines have been getting positive reviews, the best of them for a rose made from the Italian Moscato grape, which is the winery's top seller.

Production was a mere 20,000 bottles as recently as 2004, most of which have been snapped up by tourists as a curiosity, but has been ramped up to 100,000 bottles this year. Additional grapes will be grown by contract farmers.

Morsbach, 69, who plans to retire in Myanmar, said he and some investors have put $1.5 million into the project, are expanding tourist facilities at the winery which already includes five guest rooms, a restaurant and swimming pool, and have rebuilt an abandoned Buddhist orphanage adjacent to the vineyard and are supporting more than 80 orphans there.

CIA World Factbook: Myanmar
An Introduction to Myanmar
Official Government Web Site

Learn a New Language: Rosetta Stone

Milwaukee moves a piece of history

Perhaps no other American city is as closely linked to beer as Milwaukee.

Thus, even though it no longer is used to produce the white beer for which it once was known, when the city's oldest surviving brewery building gets re-located, it's news.

The 1853 Gipfel Union Brewery building, which was part of the city's old Brewery Row but ceased turning out beer in the 1890s, was relocated this week to a site one block away. The brick structure will be renovated as a restaurant in a new condominium development.

In 1998, the city blocked the owner's plans to demolish the landmarked building. The move was financed by a grant from the Wisconsin Historical Society and two developers, the Bradley Center Sports & Entertainment Corp., which has owned the building since 1999, and Ruvin Development, which will incorporate the landmark into its new $160 million retail-office complex.

"(Moving the Gipfel) actually did a better job of approximating its historical context than it was sitting in the parking lot surrounded by the Bradley Center," says Matt Jarosz, former chairman of preservation commission and director of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee's historic preservation program. "Only a block and a half away — that seemed as sensitive a move as one can think of. This is an important icon in the brewing capital of the country, so it seemed like a reasonable request."

Visit Milwaukee
Beer Capital of the World
Milwaukee Beer Festival
Museum of Beer & Brewing


Taking the tour de burger

Alan Richman is a well-traveled food writer and essayist. He estimates he traveled 23,750 miles and consumed more than 150,000 calories while taking the measure of 162 burgers across the country so he could come up with a list for GQ magazine of the 20 best burgers in America.

Of course, such lists are great for conversation starters but they're fraught with fraught. In a nation of 230 million people, it's likely there will be at least 220 million different lists. I discount 10 million people right off the bat to account for vegetarians,, infants and ne'er-do-wells. Plus, Richman often stirs a lot of criticism, most recently for his comments about New Orleans cuisine.

Nevertheless, Richman is an amusing guy who doesn't stint on his research. So, here's his list. You may want to print it out to keep on hand during your travels:

(1.) Sirloin Burger, Le Tub, Hollywood, FL.
(2.) Luger Burger, Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn, NY.
(3.) Not Just a Burger, Spiced Pear Restaurant at the Chanler Hotel, Newport, RI.
(4.) Rouge Burger, Rouge, Philadelphia, PA.
(5.) Kobe Sliders, Barclay Prime, Philadelphia, PA.

The others:

(6.) California Burger, Houston's, Santa Monica, CA.
(7.) Buckhorn Burger, Buckhorn, San Antonio, NM.
(8.) Hamburger, Miller's Bar, Dearborn, MI.
(9.) Cheeseburger, Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien Hotel, New York, NY.
(10.) Number Five, Keller's Drive-in, Dallas, TX.
(11.) Grilled Bistro Burger, Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa, CA.
(12.) Hamburger, Bobcat Bite, Sante Fe, NM.
(13.) Cheeseburger, White Manna, Hackensack, NJ.
(14.) Hamburger, J.G. Melon, New York, NY.
(15.) Build Your Own Burger, The Counter, Santa Monica, CA.
(16.) Hamburger & Fries, Burger Joint, San Francisco, CA.
(17.) Double Bacon Deluxe with Cheese, Red Mill Burgers, Seattle, WA.
(18.) Hamburger, Poag Mahone's Carvery and Ale House, Chicago, IL.
(19.) Our Famous Burger, Sidetrack Bar & Grill, Ypsilanti, MI.
(20.) Hamburger Sandwich, Louis' Lunch, New Haven, CT.

Flying Dog adds to its litter

One of the great things about a craft brewery is that you can fool around with lots of experiments and not worry about disrupting a gigantic manufacturing operation.

Take the Flying Dog Brewery in Denver. The city's largest craft brewer -- and Colorado's second largest -- is set to release a new beer aged in whiskey barrels and packaged in 750ml champagne bottles.

It's called Gonzo Imperial Porter, the latest addition to the brewery's "Wild Dog Series."

After brewing, this porter was put into charred white American oak barrels from the neighboring Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey distillery, and aged for three months. It then was hand bottled, corked, labeled and conditioned for another six weeks before being shipped.

The taste? Says Matt Brophy, the head brewer, it will "remind you of sweet chocolate, dry oak and smooth whiskey. The barrel's distinctive characteristics will compliment the Imperial Porter's already robust, full-bodied flavor."

The Brewery is located at 2401 Blake Street, two blocks north of the baseball stadium. Tours are given weekdays at 4 p.m. and Saturdays at 1 and 3 p.m. Hunter S. Thompson, the infamous gonzo journalist, had a hand in the brewery's development, and the beers are easily spotted thanks to gonzo artist Ralph Steadman, the packaging designer.

Only 5,000 bottles of the whiskey barrel-aged brew will be packaged. Of those, Flying Dog also is offering 500 Limited Edition Wild Dog gift box sets. Each will contain a 750ml bottle of the brew, a Wild Dog glass, collector's button and an authentic piece of the wood barrel used in the aging process.

"The wood will still hold the great aromas from the whiskey and beer that aged in it," said Neal Stewart, Flying Dog's marketing director.

Flying Dog's "litter of ales" includes nine everyday brands and four seasonals. The Wild Dog Series started in 2004 with the release of a Double Pale Ale then continued with a Weisenbock in 2005 and last year's Colorado Saison. The brewery is planning to release another Wild Dog this coming October. The line is available in 45 states.

Wynkoop: Denver's First Brew Pub
Denver Breweries and Brew Pubs
Denver Tourism Guide


The Battle for Coney Island

Not everyone may agree that New York's historic Coney Island is in danger of being relegated to the scrap heap of history, but there are enough to battle an impending deal with a developer.

O.L. Robau, a Brooklyn, NY, resident who identifies himself as a "New York Real Estate Broker/Filmmaker," has a blog called "Kinetic Carnival" that is devoted to "musings, past and current events as well as the future that is the legendary Coney Island."

Robau and others are frightened by the ongoing plans of Thor Equities, a company that has spent nearly $100 million buying up a huge chunk of Coney Island from various owners en route to converting the iconical old amusement park and beach part of Brooklyn into a a glittering resort. Something New York magazine back in 2005 headlined "The Incredibly Bold, Audaciously Cheesy, Jaw-Droppingly Vegasified, Billion-Dollar Glam-Rock Makeover of Coney Island."

Kinetic Carnival is mounting a petition drive to oppose Thor's plans. There also is a My Space site, complete with raucous, annoying background music, working to "save" Coney Island, a legendary place that has been a drawing card for young and old, and mostly middle- and lower-income, visitors since the 1860s.

While the forces of Good and Evil -- you take your pick over which sides wear which labels -- are waging war, you still can see what remains of the old Coney Island and its neighborhood. With spring not far away, we're nearing the area's most magical time of the year and its historic boardwalk, beaches and bistros attract visitors and locals alike.
Welcome to Coney Island.com
• Astroland Amusement Park
The American Experience: Coney Island
New York Aquarium
Coney Island Beach & Boardwalk
Coney Island History


French high-speed rail line expanding

While the idea of high-speed rail service remains an elusive thing in the U.S., other nations continue to pull away by creating or expanding such services.

In France, for example, the new Eastern-European TGV line is set for completion and implementation by June 10.

The new high-speed train, expected to hit an averaage speed of 200 mph, will whisk passengers between Strasbourg, in the French province of Alsace, and the tiny country of Luxembourg to the northwest in less than 2 1/2 hours.

If you're planning on traveling in that area this year -- and I highly recommend the historic and picturesque slice of Europe, TGV is offering deep ticket discounts via its Web site for the summer months, with tickets going on sale April 10.

TGV, in operation for 25 years, links numerous French cities at average speeds of 186 mph. It is regarded as the cornerstone of the European high-speed rail network connecting France to London, Brussels, Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Torino, Milan, and more.

Luxembourg Profile & History
Strasbourg Tourist Office
• How to Travel in Europe by Rail

Learn a New Language: Rosetta Stone

Hong Kong home for first Heineken airport bar

Heineken International is creating a chain of branded bars in airports worldwide.

The Dutch brewer debuted its beer bar in the Hong Kong International Airport, complete with Heineken-branded equipment, T-shirts and consumables. Its own beer is the only one available on tap, but it will sell bottled versions of other brands.

According to several industry research reports, beer is the No. 2 most popular drink in airports, behind only coffee.

Erik van de Ven, manager Duty Free & Travel Retail Heineken International, commented: “In a highly cosmopolitan environment like a major airport, there are clear commercial benefits to using the only truly international premium beer brand, Heineken, as the unique attraction for travellers. Experience demonstrates that branded bars in local markets attract more consumers and are substantially more profitable than unbranded bars. In an airport environment we expect even better results.”

The first Heineken Bar has a seating capacity of 70. It sells a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. The bar also broadcasts Heineken-sponsored international sport, film and music events.

Discover Hong Kong
CIA World Factbook
Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices in the U.S.

Learn a New Language: Rosetta Stone


Cancun erosion on the move

Erosion in the aftermath of last year's Hurricane Wilma is endangering parts of the resort of CancĂșn, Mexico.

"Erosion has shrunk its beaches to the point that waves at high tide lap against the verandas of some of the newly renovated hotels," reported The Guardian of London.

"After Wilma, the Mexican government spent $19 million to dredge the ocean floor and rebuild eight miles of beach with 2.7 million cubic meters of sand. After the dredging was completed last spring, the beaches were nearly double their pre-hurricane size and tourists returned in droves. Just a year later, the beaches have shrunk again, to less than 20 metres (65 feet) at mid-tide in the tourist zone, and swimmers are forced to clamber down meter-high ledges of sand to reach the water."

An artificial reef off the coast is being planned to help contain the sand. In the meantime, however, sections of the beaches are lined with sandbags.

All About Cancun
Travel Yucatan
Advantage Mexico

Learn a New Language: Rosetta Stone

Idaho gets its first formal wine region

Click on maps to enlarge

Wine historians will circle April 9 on their calendars. That's the day Idaho gets its first American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has designated Idaho's Snake River Valley as an AVA. That distinction brands the southern portion of the state, extending along the Snake River east to west from the Twin Falls area into Oregon as the 236th AVA in the nation.

"There's a lot of different soil types, there's different micro climates and a lot of opportunities for growing a lot of different types of grapes," said Brad Pintler, president of the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission, and general manager of Sawtooth Winery.

"This AVA is over 5.3 million acres and right now we have a little under 2,000 planted, so there's a lot of valleys that have a huge amount of potential and I think we will see a lot of new investors and a lot of new wineries," he added.

• Guide to America's Wine Trails
Idaho Wine Country
Idaho Tourist Attractions
Idaho Travel & Tourism Guide
Experience North Idaho
Visit South Central Idaho
Southwestern Idaho Tourism
Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau
Idaho State University
University of Idaho
Boise State University
Lewis-Clark State College


Giant-burger-record entry hits 123 lbs.

The latest excessive entry in the ongoing battle to hold the title of World's Largest Hamburger comes this time from central Pennyslvania.

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield last weekend cooked up a 123-pound burger, which would be 18 pounds bigger than the current holder of the Guinness Book of World Records entry.

The sandwich, called the "Beer Barrel Main Event Charity Burger," sells for $379. It consists of 80 pounds of ground beef, 160 slices of cheese and a 30-pound bun. It's shown here with its creators, the Leigey family.

Denny's is known for generous servings -- 23-ounce beers, multi-pound Alaskan crab leg dinners and so on, so the burger seems like a natural result.

Clearfield Profile
Hotel/Motel Guide
Lock Haven University (Clearfield campus)
GANT Daily (online news service)
Clearfield Progress (newspaper)

NY may get a second wine center

A scene at the Benmarl vineyards in Marlboro, part of the Shawangunk Wine Trail in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.

When the New York Wine & Culinary Center opened on the shore of Canandaigua Lake last summer, it was to mixed emotions.

Most people in the Finger Lakes area were happy the tourism and educational facility was there, promoted as a "gateway" to New York's wine country.

Some people in other parts of the state pointed out that a rural, western New York "gateway" might have been a bit misleading, considering how many wineries are located north of New York City in the Hudson Valley and east of the city on Long Island.

Now, some of that irritation may be soothed with word that the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, headquarted in the Canandaigua facility, has received a $44,500 Empire State Development Grant to explore the feasibility of building a similar wine and culinary center in the Hudson Valley although “I don’t think it would be as elaborate as the one here,” said Jim Trezise, Wine & Grape Foundation president.

Phyllis Feder, co-owner of Clinton Vineyards in Dutchess County with husband Ben (both shown here), is head of the steering committee for the project. She says that once a firm is contracted, the study should be completed in about 90 days.

“It is a project that holds great potential, especially since we are so close to the New York City market,” she said.

The working title of the project is the Hudson River Valley Wine & Culinary Center.
Dutchess Wine Trail
Shawangunk Wine Trail
• Hamptons Wineries
North Fork Wine Trail


Casinos aplenty without the Catskills

Grand Pequot Tower lobby at Foxwoods in Ledyard, CT.

Every so often, the question of casino gambling in the Catskill Mountains pops up, as it has done once again.

The Catskills were the "Borscht Belt" of show business and resorts in the post-World War II era when whole families, predominantly Jewish but by no means exclusively so, headed out of New York City and environs to escape the summer heat by spending time in one of the numersous resorts that dotted the mountains just northwest of the metropolis.

Kutscher's, Grossinger's, Brown's .... the names went on an on. Many show biz stars such as Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Shelly Berman and others made their marks there as seasonal entertainers. But, as these things do, the era eventually faded and one by one the great resorts closed down, fell into disrepair and most were sold off to would-be developers.

The Catskills never have rebounded except for a few ski centers such as Windham, named for the village that is home to it. But the idea of permitting legal gambling so close to such a major population concentration is a tempting one and plans for an Indian casino have been unveiled and are currently being hotly debated. Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynne, a native of Upstate New York, has even stuck his toe in the water.

New York City residents aren't exactly hurting for casino gambling venues, however. Not with Atlantic City, NJ, so close and some huge Indian casinos in nearby Connecticut. The next largest population center that would be a natural customer for a Catskills casino would be the state capital area of Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs an hour or so north.

But that area also is anything but bereft of gambling venues. There are 20 within an easy 200-mile driving radius, ranging from small "racino" establishments -- raceways that also offer video gaming machines -- to fullfledged resort casinos.

New York has a mix of Indian casinos and racinos. Among its neighboring states, Pennsylvania has the same, New Hampshire and Rhode Island have casino gambling at their greyhound tracks, Massachusetts is home to several casino cruise boats, and two casino resorts in Connecticut that are within the 200-mile driving radius – Foxwoods, already the largest casino in North America, and the sprawling Mohegan Sun -- both are undergoing huge expansion programs.

Only Vermont lacks casino gambling of any sort.

The closest casino venue for Capital Region residents is Saratoga Gaming & Raceway, the refreshed version of a harness racing track founded in 1941 that had long existed in the shadow of the international renowned thoroughbred meeting at the Saratoga Race Course.

Financially, the racino mix obviously is well accepted by the public. Prior to adding video gaming three years ago, the highest total racing purses were $3.1 million dollars, according to track officials. Last year that rose to $12 million, and the handle increased last year to a record $64 million.

The complex, which was the state’s first video gaming venue, is adding room for 431 more video machines, which will bring the total to 1,700 by spring. The new gaming floor area also will include a high limit area with games played in denominations up to $25, and a new 300-seat restaurant and two-tiered nightclub are being added.

Here's a rundown on each of the 20 venues in order of driving distance from downtown Albany. Gaming hours vary, particularly for bingo sessions, so it is advisable to call ahead to check specific hours.

Crescent Avenue
Saratoga Springs
Distance: 34 miles
Gaming: 1,700 video slots when current expansion is complete. Games range from penny to $10 bets. Wagering on harness racing at the pari-mutuel windows.
Notes: Dining ranges from pizza joint to grill to upscale fare in the multi-tiered Fortunes restaurant with a view of the track. As noted, additional facilities are in the works.

688 Brattleboro Road
Hinsdale, N.H.
(603) 336-5382
Distance: 84 miles
Gaming: 10 poker tables, greyhound racing.
Notes: Dining room serves basic dinners plus full lunch menu.

204 Route 17B
(866) 777-4263
Distance: 103 miles
Gaming: More than 1,500 video machines ranging from penny to $10 slots. Harness racing.
Notes: Commonly known as “The Mighty M.” … Food court and buffet dining. … Live lounge entertainment.

5218 Patrick Road
(800) 771-7711
Distance: 114 miles
Gaming: 80 tables, 2,400 machines, bingo, keno lounge.
Notes: This resort complex includes a trio of 18-hole golf courses, 10 restaurants, a spa and lodging ranging from an RV park to a four-diamond lodge, along with live entertainment shows in an 800-seat theater.

at Vernon Downs
4229 Stuhlman Road
(877) 888-3766
Distance: 115 miles
Gaming: 777 video machines plus pari-mutuel wagering.
Notes: 175-room hotel on premises. Pools, lounge entertainment, fitness center. … Dining ranges from deli to pub restaurant to several buffets.

at Yonkers Raceway
810 Yonkers Avenue
(914) 968-4200
Distance: 143 miles
Gaming: More than 4,000 video gaming machines taking bets from a penny to $10. Live harness racing.
Notes: The name comes from the original name of the race track. … Dining includes a buffet, the full-service Lillian Russell CafĂ©, with the new 1899 Tavern Steakhouse and a food court opening this spring.

1 Mohegan Sun Boulevard
Uncasville, Conn.
(888) 226-7711
Distance: 157 miles
Gaming: Three gaming venues covering 300,000 square feet, with more under construction. The
Casino of the Earth features more than 3,600 slot machines and 206 gaming tables as well as a fully-enclosed non-smoking room, the Hall of the Lost Tribes, with 600 slots machines plus video poker. The Casino of the Sky has several thousand more slots as well as a dance floor, a lounge and non-smoking gaming areas. The Race Book, which has more than 300 television screens and 222 self-wagering carrels, offers viewing of live horseracing (including Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct) and greyhound racing events as well as professional jai alai
Notes: This already huge complex is being expanded, with phased-in projects scheduled for completion by 2008 (a third casino), 2009 (four more restaurants plus increased retail space) and 2010 (1,000 more guest rooms and an additional spa). Right now, the 11-year-old complex has a 10,000-seat performance arena, a 350-seat cabaret theater, a 300-seat live band performance space, professional sports events (boxing, basketball, bowling, etc.), 30 restaurants and beverage outlets, a 34-story, 1,200-room hotel tower, and 130,000-square-foot
retail shopping area.

1600 Louisquisset Pike
Lincoln, R.I.
(800) 720-7275
Distance: 158 miles
Gaming: More than 2,000 video slot machines spread over a variety of smoking and non-smoking rooms. Greyhound racing and simulcasting.
Notes: The facility is undergoing a $125 million renovation and expansion project which will include refurbishing of current gaming areas and the addition of two new wings to accommodate an additional gaming area, a feature bar, a 350-seat buffet, several restaurants and a new 2,000 seat multipurpose room for live entertainment. … Current facilities include an Irish pub restaurant and a Catch A Rising Star comedy club.

39 Norwich-Westerly Road
Ledyard, Conn.
(800) 369-9663
Distance: 160 miles
Gaming: The largest casino in North America, with a staggering 7,400 slot machines and more than 380 gaming tables. Penny slots up to $100 bets, in six casinos. The newest addition is 300 new penny slots. There also are a race book and what is billed as the world's largest bingo hall.
Notes: The Tree House Arcade is non-gambling venue for kids that even has a flight simulator. … A huge expansion, the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, is scheduled for a spring 2008 completion. Earlier this month, a topping-off ceremony was held when the last steel beam was put in place. … Entertainment is a big component, with major headliners performing in the 1,400-seat Fox Theatre.

2384 West River Road
(888) 946-8464
Distance: 170 miles
Gaming: Harness racing and 750 video machines in a newly constructed 90,000 square foot casino.
Notes: Food served in buffet, sports bar and deli spots. … Live lounge entertainment.

361 Woodcleft Avenue (The Nautical Mile)
(516) 377-7400
Distance: 171 miles
Gaming: Slots and video poker plus blackjack, craps, roulette, Caribbean stud poker, poker tournaments. Call ahead to check on activities.
Notes: You must be 21 to board the Southern Elegance, a 160-footer with a 500-passenger capacity. … Cruise includes a buffet and all non-alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks are extra. … The port is about 35 miles east of Manhattan on the south shore of Long Island.

Route 106
Belmont, N.H.
(877) 872-2501
Distance: 173 miles
Gaming: Poker, greyhound racing on premises, simulcast horse racing. Poker tournaments every Thursday-Sunday.
Notes: A steakhouse, a buffet and Southern-themed blues club-restaurant take care of dining options. … Located six miles north of the New Hampshire International Speedway.

6 Rowe Square
Gloucester, Mass.
(800) 453-1179
Distance: 179 miles
Gaming: 125 video poker machines, 9 table games. Blackjack, craps, roulette.
Notes: Buffet meal. … Cruise is three miles offshore into international waters. … 450-passenger Vegas Express sails from Elliott's Wharf off Main Street. No one under 21 permitted to board.

76 Marine Boulevard
Lynn, Mass.
(877) 412-7700
Distance: 180 miles
Gaming: More than 100 video poker machines, 9 table games. Blackjack, craps, roulette.
Notes: Buffet meal. … Cruise is three miles offshore into international waters. … 500-passenger Horizon's Edge sails from marina off Lynnway. No one under 21 permitted to board.

271 Cayuga Street
Union Springs
Distance: 184 miles
Gaming: 85 electronic bingo seats.
Notes: Located on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. … Co-owned and operated by the same management as Lakeside Gaming in Seneca Falls.

2552 State Rt. 89
Seneca Falls
(315) 568-0994
Distance: 186 miles
Gaming: 30 slot machines.
Notes: Co-owned and operated by the same management as Lakeside Entertainment in Union Springs.

Rockingham Park Boulevard
Salem, N.H.
(603) 898-2311
Distance: 188 miles
Gaming: 50 poker tables, plus poker tournaments, bingo, harness racing.
Notes: New England’s oldest horse track, founded in 1906. … Texas Hold 'em tournaments began last September and Rockingham now has the second largest poker room in New England, behind Foxwoods.

at Pocono Downs
1280 Highway 315
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
(570) 831-2100
Distance: 193 miles
Gaming: 1,100 slot machines, with 300 of them in a no-smoking area of the two-floor facility. Horse racing on Pocono Downs track.
Notes: Five eateries, ranging from deli to full-service. … Affiliated with original Mohegan Sun resort casino in Connecticut.

150 Admiral Kalbfus Road
Newport, R.I.
(401) 849-5000
Distance: 196 miles
Gaming: 1,090 video slots, including line and reel games, poker, keno, & blackjack. Horse and greyhound race simulcasting.
Notes: Live entertainment at Club Royale. … Casual menu in the grill.

319 New Zealand Road, Route 107
Seabrook, N.H.
(603) 474-3065
Distance: 207 miles
Gaming: 40 poker tables, frequent tournaments. Greyhound and simulcast wagering.
Notes: Track-view dining room, bars and refreshment concessions.

The towers of the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT.

The Wizard of Abkhazia

I've prided myself since childhood on my knowledge of world geography. Imagine my chagrin, then, when I was perusing the BBC news headlines and thought a Harry Potter location had somehow broken into the Muggles world.

"Breakaway Abkhazia votes in poll," blared the headline.

Azkaban broke away from the world of wizards, I thought for just the briefest of brief moments. Then, just as quickly, I thought "What the hell is wrong with me?"

In the back of my mind I'm just like kids my grandchildren's ages -- and, truth be told, a lot of people my age and the ages of my grown children -- who are anxiously awaiting the final volume of Harry Potter's adventures to be released this summer. But, I really must get a grip and not let the mystical world rule my reality.

As any sane person knows, Azkaban is an eerie place that is located somewhere off the main British Isles, or not, and serves as the location for a high-security wizard prison in all the Harry Potter tales.

Abkhazia, on the other hand, is a region on the Black Sea that has been trying since a brief war in 1990 to secede from the Republic of Georgia. It now has held parliamentarian elections, much to the annoyance of the government of Georgia and the delight of the government of Russia which has been egging the Abkhazianerianites on because it has its own disagreements with Georgia.

Breakaway President Sergei Bagapsh, who seems to possess wizard-like powers since no one has shot him yet, said from the capital city of Sukhumki that elections being held in a state that has both an opposition party and a free press shows it's a self-reliant republic and not under anyone else's thumb.

No country recognizes Abkhazia's claims to independence but Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, another breakaway official with nine lives, said, "Our objective is to show everyone that we meet modern European standards."

Azkaban, of course, is not looking to break away from anyone. It just wants to avoid breakouts.

• CIA World Factbook on Georgia
World Atlas map and information page
• About Georgia
A guide to Azkaban


Big Apple's multi-faceted dining news

NEW YORK -- Brian Young, the Chinese-Canadian chef formerly of Le Bernardin and the now-closed Mainland, has been named executive chef of the sprawling icon known as Tavern on the Green (its Chestnut Room is seen here). Young, a native of Vancouver, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris.

The Tavern, which serves more than a half-million people a year, is located on the edge of Central Park at West 67th Street in midtown Manhattan.

On a more economical level, the burrito chain Qdoba Mexican Grill has opened a unit at 208 E. 34th St., between Second and Third avenues, its initial foray in the city. The menu includes a wide variety of burritos plus such items as tortilla soup and quesadillas.

On the other other hand, if you're just looking for a good cup of coffee, you're in luck.

McDonald's today began handing out free cups of coffee to anyone who requests one at any location. It's part of the celebratory doings over being judged by Consumer Reports as having the best coffee among fast food chains.

Then next Thursday, Starbucks will offer free 12-ounce cups between 10 a.m. and noon, part of its second annual such promotion. And on Wednesday, March 21, Dunkin' Donuts will celebrate the first day of spring with a free 16-ounce cup of iced coffee all day long.

Dunkin' Donuts


Field Museum goes really old school

"The Ancient Americas," a new permanent exhibition at The Field Museum in Chicago, is scheduled to open Friday.

It's a far-reaching project, "an exploration of the challenges that human beings everywhere have faced for millennia."

The exhibition is based on original research by Field Museum scientists and support staff, research the museum officials say "will shatter long-held preconceptions."

The timespan runs from the arrival on the continent of small groups of hunter-gatherers, to the empires of the Aztecs and the Incas that ruled as many as 10 million people.

Among the displays and activities are a recreation of what the Chicago area was like in the Ice Age circa 11,000 B.C., a re-creation of an 800-year-old pueblo dwelling, the earthworks of mound-building peoples, and depictions of the cities of Tenochtitlan and Cuzco, capitals of the Aztec and Inca empires. Interactive maps, dioramas, computer activities and video animation complement the exhibits.

Also included are artifacts from the museum's huge collection, such things as ceramic Peruvian vessels, hundreds of luxury and spiritual items from the Hopewell collection and 200 scarce gold objects left after conquistadors raided Colombia of its treasures.

Museum of Science & Industry
Chicago Children's Museum
DuSable Museum of African American History
Chicago Athaneum
Chicago Museums List


Spa pampering goes underground in Napa

Imagine being pampered by body oils, massage, aromatherapy, waterfalls and gentle music.

At a resort in the heart of California wine country.

Actually, below the resort.

OK, it's in a cave.

That's Spa Terra, a new spa in an estate wine cave at The Meritage Resort in Napa, scheduled to open April 15. Developers are calling it the world's first such facility.

"We were originally skeptical of the idea of a spa in a cave," said Dan Fitzgerald, a sales and marketing official with parent company Pacific Hospitality Group. "After all, wine country visitors are well aware that caves are generally cool and often damp. Great for aging wine, but not an obvious choice for a massage."

Some of the same properties that make many caves good for aging wine worked in favor of the project.

"I never thought about it until this project came to our attention, but the cave environment is actually incredibly well-suited to spa design and construction for a number of reasons," said David Bury, whose firm specializes in spa design.

"It maintains a constant temperature, which makes it very energy efficient in terms of heating and cooling, it's quiet, and structurally it's incredibly stable. And, perhaps most exciting for us as architects, the client needed us to focus all of our energy on interior design elements -- since the exterior of this project was handled by Mother Nature."

The 9,000 square foot, $7.5 million project features such elements as hand-forged wrought-iron fixtures, water features and extensive custom tile work, including Mediterranean-inspired mosaics, plus an eart-tone color palette.

It includes 10 private treatment rooms, including two designed for couples; separate mens/womens steam saunas and soaking pools with water walls, and a spa menu and wine service.

The Meritage Resort, a Tuscan-inspired facility that opened last July, is located on an eight-acre private vineyard in the Carneros wine region, adjacent Vino Bello Resort.

Napa Valley Wineries
Napa Valley.com
Napa Valley Wine Train
Map of the region's wineries
Napa Valley Museum
• COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts


Highland fest to open up four distilleries

Left to right, distillers Eric Walker of Glen Ord, Graham Eunson of Glenmorangie, Andrew Scott of Dalmore and John MacDonald of Balblair.

Four distilleries are teaming up for the first Highland Whisky Festival, scheduled for June 2-3 in the Ross-shire area of Scotland.

The participants are Balblair at Edderton, Dalmore at Alness, Glenmorangie at Tain and Glen Ord at Muir of Ord. Each will host a series of “master classes” and work with local business to provide food sampling and coopers’ displays.

Each also will conduct guided tours. In the case of Balblair that's a change of procedure since the distillery usually is not open to the public.

Eric Walker, senior manager with the Glen Ord Group, said at a press conference announcing the project, “As a company, Diageo has a long association with the tourism industry across Scotland. I am delighted that we have been able to build on these links along with our whisky industry colleagues, to support the inaugural Highland Whisky Festival in this way.”

ScotlandWhisky, an industry umbrella group formed in 2003 to encourage tourism in the country, is working with each of the distilleries to prepare the festival. Chris Conway, of ScotlandWhisky, said:

“This is a fantastic opportunity to work with four leading Highland distilleries to bring together a prestigious event. It is especially encouraging that these great whisky brands have come together with the common objective to grow whisky tourism in the Highlands outwith the peak tourism season. This co-ordinated approach from distilleries has been highly successful in other areas of Scotland and there is clearly a demand for such events from the consumer.”

Ross-shire Online
A to Z of Scotch Whisky Information
Scottish Tourist Board


Chefs challenge looms in Finger Lakes

Top photo by William M. Dowd (who is seen below)

If you plan to be in the Finger Lakes next week, you may want to pop in at the New York Wine & Culinary Center in Canandaigua, just south of Rochester.

There, on Wednesday, March 7, the New York Beef Industry Council is sponsoring a free, public "Iron Chef"-style event whose outcome will be decided by a vote of visitors who get a chance to sample the chefs' work.

The event, called the "Veal Platinum Plate Competition," will result in a $1,000 people's choice award to one of seven competing chefs as well as a $2,000 award for the winner of the professional judges' thumbs-up.

The Wine & Culinary Center, which opened last summer on the shore of Canandaigua Lake at 800 South Main St., is a non-profit center for education concerning New York wines and foods. Details of the event are available by calling (585) 394-7070.

Having cooked in the huge kitchen last August (as seen here) as part of a team preparing the dinner for fellow judges and myself on the eve of the annual New York Wine & Food Classic, I can attest to the excellent facilities afforded the visiting chefs.

Welcome to the Finger Lakes
Friends of the Finger Lakes
• Finger Lakes Wine Country

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