Astoria, Oregon, with its beautiful rolling hill, sandy beaches and picturesque Victorian architecture—it is not just a weekend destination like any other—it’s a town filled with American history and home to a flourishing LGBTQ lifestyle.Read More
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Throughout the country, college and university towns have become ideal hubs for travel destinations, because they are progressive in nature: places where people come together to explore and share ideas. Welcome to Bloomington, a small town with a bold history, and where the University of Indiana (IU) is home to a long-standing LGBTQ community.Read More
Originally Published April 25, 2017 on Prowdr.com
On my journeys I tend to seek out destinations that are unique, open minded and have an inclusive attitude. Standing somewhere and thinking to myself: “How could this place have ever happened?” is one of the things I enjoy most about travelling. It’s the randomness of things that become memorable and only seem to happen when we travel outside the usual or familiar spots. And what could be more random than a town of in the middle of the high desert of far West Texas, filled with minimalist art? The tiny town of Marfa is exactly that.
Marfa, Texas is as off the beaten path as you can get. It’s in the middle of the high plains of the Chihuahua Desert, two and a half hours from the nearest airport. If you’ve ever seen the movie Giant (shot in Marfa, by the way), you’ll remember the scene where Elizabeth Taylor’s character finally arrives in Texas and opens the curtain in her train car to see…nothing but endless sky. That’s West Texas. Or more recently, Jill Soloway’s pilot on Amazon Prime, I Love Dickstarring Kevin Bacon was shot in Marfa. Marfa is a place rich with texture, a true picture of the American dream (cowboy boots and jeans), tumbleweeds rolling by the scruffy desert, dreamy early morning light, jaw dropping sunsets.
Modern day Marfa is like nowhere else on Earth – with incredible art installations, an open and accepting culture, the unexplained phenomena called The Marfa Lights, eclectic lodgings, historic architecture, and delicious food.
Marfa was founded in the end of the 1800’s as a waterstop, where steam trains would take on water to continue their journey. For most of its history, it was an insular society consisting of Hispanics and Anglo Cattle Ranchers who had co-existed for generations. It was all very small, rural and closed off from the rest of the world. By the mid 20th Century, most of the cattle industry had bottomed out and many of the buildings in downtown were sitting open and vacant. It looked like Marfa’s fate would be the same as many other towns in that area.
Then, in the 1970’s something miraculous occurred: the leading international exponent of minimalism, Donald Judd, arrived in town. He moved to Marfa from New York City and bought up many of the vacant buildings in town. As Marfa resident and Executive Director of the Marfa Chamber of Commerce,Kaki Scott describes it, “Here was this man, an Anglo like we’d never seen before in his black turtleneck, arriving in town with an entourage consisting mostly of beautiful women. It was certainly a culture clash.”
Donald Judd may have seemed a fish out of water, but he was actually a visionary. He saw the big open buildings as an opportunity to house a permanent collection of large-scale minimalist sculptures. Judd bought what has become known as the Block, right in the center of Marfa. The complex had originally been two large armament buildings left over from a military base. It became his living space, his studio, and his workspace. He also bought an old adobe-style motor court in the middle of town and used the materials to build a huge wall around the Block, where he had frequent bonfires.
Of course, the Block happens to be right across the highway from the Catholic Church, so (as you might guess) some of the people at the church became convinced that he was a devil worshipper. “When he came out from NYC, he really bore the brunt of changes,“ Scott explains, “When he moved out here, Marfa was pretty desolate.” He was given a hard time in the community because he was so different. Eventually, the new wore off of him and he became a member of the community. Judd lived In Marfa for the next 20 years, until his death in 1994.
After he passed away, lots of people started to flood into town, filling the empty spaces with galleries, restaurants, theaters and cafes. Since the culture clash had already occurred, Marfa developed a reputation as open and accommodating to all types of people. “If a guy who is worshipping Satan can call this home, then anyone can be accepted,” Scott adds jokingly.
Kaki Scott remembers when the first openly gay couple came to town in the 1990’s and bought her parents home. One of them was a painter, who gifted a painting to her father after they bought the house. “At first the painting looks like it may be a landscape, but the more you look at it, you realize it’s a horse’s ass,” she laughs. “My dad thought that was so clever and so charming that it’s still sitting on his desk.” Even as a child, she remembers Marfa as a place to come and be part of the community, no matter who you were. “Marfa had a gradual introduction to lifestyles other than what they were accustomed to and it made for a softer landing,” she adds. Today, “the artsy fartsies” are just as much a part of the community as everyone else.
In a sea of small towns in West Texas, Marfa is unique. “Marfa is more well-known in New York City, than it is two hours away,” says Scott. Thanks to Donald Judd’s foresight, Marfa is now a pilgrimage center for art lovers all over the world. “I could not have imagined when I was growing up that on any given Saturday, you can sit in a café and hear someone speaking German and someone else speaking Japanese and know that they all came from the far corners of the Earth to see what’s going on in our town.”
“The best thing about living in Marfa,” says Scott, “you don’t need to leave this tiny town of 2000 people to see cultures from all around the world.”
What To Do:
- As a center for minimalist art, Marfa’s downtown is dotted with galleries, artisan shops and modern art installments
- Since Donald Judd’s death in 1994, two foundations have worked to maintain his legacy:
- The Chinati Foundation is a museum system that occupies more than 10 buildings at the site and has on permanent exhibit work by artists such as Ingólfur Arnarson, Dan Flavin, and Claes Oldenburg. Every year the Chinati Foundation holds an open house event where artists, collectors, and enthusiasts from around the world come to visit Marfa’s art.
- The Judd Foundation offers two different guided visits of properties in downtown Marfa, The Block (La Mansana de Chinati), and The Studios. “What you see when you tour this facility are his slippers where he left them on the day he died, you see the dishes that he used, it’s a very personal look at his life,” says Scott.
Other Art and Cultural Destinations:
- Building 98 at Fort D.A. Russell is a former Officer’s Club that has been converted to the headquarters for the International Woman’s Foundation. The building contains two rooms of oil-on-plaster murals painted by German prisoners of war, who were interned at the camp between 1943 and 1945.
- Prada Marfa, a pop culture landmark designed by artists Elmgreen and Dragset to look like a Prada retail store. It’s 36 miles northwest of Marfa.
- Ballroom Marfa is a multi-use space that shows art films, hosts musical performances, and exhibits art installations.
- Crowley Theatre is a local theatre that holds cultural events, musical performances and live theatre, including the annual One-Act Plays where the community comes together with teams of writers, set designers and actors and over a 24-hour period creates, designs and performs short plays.
- The Big Bend National Park, located about 120 miles from Marfa. Sites include a desert wildlife reserve, the Santa Elena Canyon, carved by the Rio Grande and Langford Hot Springs with pictographs and the remains of an old bathhouse.
- Davis Mountain State Park located about 20 miles from Marfa offers miles of trails and beautiful views of the desert sky at night.
- Marfa Lights: Bizarre and mysterious phenomena have been recorded just outside of Marfa since the 19th century. Witnesses claim to see random lights dancing on the horizon southeast of town, in an unpopulated and rugged region. The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, towards Alpine.
Where to Eat:
- Marfa Burritos serves authentic and delicious Mexican fare. Don’t be shocked to see stars like Matthew McConaughey waiting in line for their renowned food.
- Mando’s Restaurant serves regional Tex-Mex. In fact, it claims to have invented Tex Mex cuisine.
- Jett’s Grille: In the beautiful Paisano Hotel (see below), serves local flair, including mainstays like the pistachio-crusted sirloin steak and the Black Angus Giant Burger. Lighter far is always available
Where to Stay:
- El Paisano Hotel is an historic hotel that opened in 1930. For film lovers, it was the lodging for the cast and crew of the film Giant. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hotel was recently renovated and features 33 rooms and suites for guests.
- El Cosmico: This is a hotel that’s a destination onto itself. You can just go there and never go anywhere else. This 21-acre hotel and campground features renovated vintage trailers, safari and scout tents, tepees, yurts and tent campsites. They have a communal kitchen for use. It also hosts music festivals, free movie nights, and cultural events throughout the year. As their website notes: El Cosmico provides temporary liberation from the built world.
How To Get There:
- The closest airports to Marfa are either the El Paso International Airport or the Midland International Air and Space Port. It’s about a 2½-hour drive from either airport. Make sure to rent a car at the airport, since there are no rental car agencies in Marfa proper.
Originally Published April 18, 2017 on Prowdr.com
Of Course Our Comfort Zone is The Capital of The World
Thoughts of Rome conjure up images of ancient ruins, baroque architecture, intoxicating cuisine, Bernini, fashionistas on mopeds and Italian cinema. It’s a vacationer’s dream and one of the most romantic and historic cities on the planet. Wouldn’t it be perfect for a get away with your better half?
What if your better half happens to include a couple of young ones whose idea of a dream vacation involves something with mouse ears and a magic kingdom? Well then, here are three reasons why Rome, The Eternal City, is the perfect family vacation.
It’s like crossing a huge living room on your tiptoes. You can easily immerse yourself in Italian art and culture by simply walking the streets of a city that is a living, breathing museum. You will stumble upon the works of famous artists, painters, sculptors and architects who made Rome the center of their activity, creating masterpieces throughout the city. You will find yourself eating the most delicious gelato sitting next to a Bernini in the middle of a piazza. Don’t be surprised if a fashion show pops up. Afterall, major luxury fashion houses and jewellery designers, such as Valentino, Bulgari, Fendi, and Laura Biagiottiare headquartered or were founded in this city. Also, other designers, such as Chanel, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Versace have luxury boutiques primarily along the prestigious and upscale Via dei Condotti.
You will feel at home amongst a culture that exudes an enormous amount of passion for life and love (they wear it on their sleeve). They have always been known for PDA’s and a great deal of public embracing when you simply greet someone. The Italians want to teach you about their culture and will look you in the eye with great intensity when they speak to you. They are the most animated storytellers of all time. It’s infectious and you just might bring home a new skill.
For kids who have never been to Europe, Rome is one city you can introduce them to where they can grasp the ins and outs of one culture in a short span of time. Rome becomes a magical backdrop where they play among the ruins, spend hours fantasizing at the Colosseum about gladiator contests, famous battles, executions and perform scenes based on Classical mythology. They can immerse themselves in history and won’t even realize how much they are learning.
No “E” ticket needed (have I just dated myself?) and no lines to wait on, unless you are spending a day at the Vatican, in which case the lines are well worth it.
Thanks to our friends at Ovation Vacations, Rome has plenty of activities for the whole family to engage in.
Start your travels by staying at the luxurious and very family friendly Hotel De Russie, With kids-style bedding (think cartoons and fun stuff), milk and cookies, a book and a basket of candy…your children will have kids night with all the trimmings.
If you are looking to stay somewhere a little more budget friendly, try Rome Cavalieri. While not in the city center, it does have a pool…and what kid doesn’t love a pool?
Wherever your interests lie, Rome is a city that merges history like no other place on Earth. Ovation Vacations has found the perfect way to discover the city with private guided tours by Rome Private Guides. Licensed guides will tailor a well-planned and carefully crafted itinerary specifically for your entire family. Whether you prefer a walking tour, riding on Rome’s iconic Vespas, sailing on the famous Tiber River, racing on a Chariot through the streets, or enjoying a scavenger hunt, you will not be disappointed. Plus, your personal guide will not only show you the well-known tourist attractions and iconic landmarks, they’ll help you discover the city’s fascinating secrets and hidden gems.
You would be missing a lot though, if you only stuck to the surface, so to speak. Just thirty feet underground, lays a fascinating world of ancient wonders called the Catacombs. During a four-hour tour, you’ll be taken on a journey through time beneath modern day Rome. You’ll wander through an underground maze of tunnels filled with stuccos, magnificent frescoes, burial chambers, and the remains of three pagan temples. This is a tour no kid will want to miss!
While you might not be a family of early risers at home, why not use your jet lag to its advantage by taking an early morning tour of Vatican City? While the rest of Rome is still sleeping, you’ll be introduced to the grandeur of this tiny nation-state, the center of the Catholic Church. You and your family will discover Saint Peter’s Square, the Basilica and the Sistine Chapel with its masterpieces by Michelangelo. This is a truly memorable experience.
Moving away from tours, Rome still has a full list of activities for your family to enjoy. Do you like movies about Gladiators? If so, Rome offers the Little Gladiator. In this unique experience, you and your children are trained to be Gladiators, wearing traditional costumes and learning swordplay in a safe and fun way. Plus, it’s educational: there’s a history lesson about Ancient Rome, which includes details of the daily lives of these brave fighters.
Maybe you’ve had enough of living history and want to do something really cool like learning to make creamy, delicious Gelato? Your children can learn how to make gelato with an experienced and knowledgeable professional at one of the oldest and most famous Gelaterias in Rome. They will learn to make this delicious Italian dessert themselves, choose their favorite ingredients, and discover the steps to make this scrumptious treat. Then, they get to devour their own gelato concoctions. Who knows? This may be the start of their culinary career.
For the craft-loving family, why not learn a skill that the Ancient Romans were famous for: mosaics. At the Mosaic School for Kids, there are interactive courses for children to learn to make their own mosaic art pieces. With small classes and a fun, relaxed atmosphere your youngsters can explore this timeless art form and develop their own individual creativity. Children gain hands-on experience and explore the wide variety of mosaic materials in this class, including colored ceramic tile, stained glass, glue and found objects.
You will leave this great city saying the famous words Julius Ceasar once said, “veni, vidi, vici.” – I came, I saw, I conquered.
PROWDR TIP: The Church of Gays and Lesbians can marry you in Rome, so if that’s what you’re thinking, let’s start planning your Prowdr wedding.
Originally Published April 11, 2017 on Prowdr.com
America has bountiful natural beauty and an abundance of unique destinations to choose from. Yet for some of us in the LGBT community, domestic tourism has become very black and white…or rather red and blue.
Aside from major urban centers like Dallas, Atlanta or Charleston; Red States have been characterized as risky destinations for LGBT visitors. This is a great misconception. Progressive enclaves exist throughout the US, embracing diversity no matter where they’re situated. A perfect example of this is Eureka Springs, located in the Ozarksof northwestern Arkansas.
Eureka Springs is a picturesque town surrounded by pristine wilderness. Beautiful Victorian buildings line the historic downtown area many of which were built using local stone. Its streets are steep and winding, curving around the five-mile loop of town without a single ninety degree intersection. Many of the buildings have street level entrances on different floors. “I think Eureka Springs rolling topography makes it like a small San Francisco in some respects,” says Mike Maloney, the Executive Director of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission. In fact, it’s lovingly nicknamed, “The Stairstep Town.”
This is a town about 2000 people. Yet, since the late 1800’s, its economy has been built around tourism when the local springs were thought to have medicinal properties. Maloney points out, “on any given weekend, the population can swell to 10,000 or more.”
While the Victorian charm would be enough to attract many, Eureka Springs stands out for LGBT travellers because of its inclusive culture. It is one of the few cities in the state of Arkansas to pass a sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance, called Act 2223. “It’s a fairly substantial piece of legislation,” says Maloney. “Act 2223 let everyone know that there is a place for you in this community, no matter who you love or what you look like.”
Three times a year (in April, August and October), Eureka Springs hosts LGBT centered Diversity Weekends, which attracts people from a fairly broad area. “It’s not so much that there are grandiose parades or celebrations – it’s more of a gathering place for people to come, to feel more comfortable being themselves than they can in their own worlds,” says Maloney.
Over the course of the weekends, there are drag shows, a PDA kiss-in (the largest PDA event in the Midwest), shopping and dining specials, and Diversity in the Park, a “show of love” event with performances and exhibitor booths at Basin Spring Park.
“Mostly,” Maloney adds, “it’s people getting away and coming to a town where they don’t have to worry about holding hands on the street. That’s the nature of what happens in Eureka Springs – people can do what they want and be who they want without issues. It’s a good community.”
Eureka Springs’ location in the Ozarks makes it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. It has two rivers, two lakes, and plenty of trails for hiking and camping. For bicyclists and motorcyclists, there are miles of curves to test your skills and enjoy the natural beauty.
A giant component of the Eureka Springs community is its art scene, which culminates every year in the May Festival of the Arts. This is a month-long celebration with tons of events including Gallery strolls, artist receptions, the ArtRageous Parade and the Taste of Art hosted at local restaurants.
There are about 200 different lodging opportunities in Eureka Springs, including historic hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, rental cottages and lakefront properties. It’s also a culinary destination, with over seventy restaurants. The Eureka Springs website, has a full list of accommodations and restaurants To explore.
How to get there
Eureka Springs is a drive-to destination, attracting people from Kansas City, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Little Rock, and the St. Louis Area. If you plan to fly, you‘ll need to rent a car. The closest airport is NorthWest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA), a little over an hours drive. It has fourteen direct flights daily.
Originally Published April 4, 2017 on Prowdr.com
To highlight amazing destinations for our LGBTQ readers, Prowdr has begun an exciting new partnership with Ovation Vacations—a premiere luxury leisure travel company. Whether you’re looking for a once in a lifetime experience, a romantic getaway, a unique family vacation or a way to celebrate a milestone, Ovation can tailor the perfect trip for you. Case in point: They know all about hidden gems…
For many of us, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula evokes Cancún with images of college spring-breakers, mega resorts and lots of tequila. But just 90 minutes south, the savvy LGBT traveler will discover Tulum, an entirely different take on the Mayan Riviera.
Tulum is everything that Cancún is not: micro-boutique hotels tucked away among palm trees, a spectacular coastline and cliffside Mayan ruins. This is a destination for those looking for rustic luxury; so don’t expect air-conditioning or loads of amenities.
When you arrive at the town center, known as Tulum Pueblo, don’t get discouraged. It is on a highway, so it won’t necessarily strike you as a tropical paradise. While you may go there to find amenities like grocery stores, boutiques and coffeehouses, it isn’t the reason we call Tulum a hidden gem…
Just two kilometers from Tulum Pueblo, however, is the “hotel zone,” with over seventy boutique hotels right on Tulum’s beaches. Many of these are traditional Mayan-style cabañas with roofs made of thatched palm, but there are also some high-end hotels, if that’s more your style. Most accommodations remain rustic, because electricity in the “hotel zone” is either nonexistent or generated on-site. While some inexpensive cabañas can still be found, they have become more and more rare. If you’re looking for those, your best bet is in Tulum Pueblo.
Tulum’s large expat community has brought with it many new high-end restaurants, especially in the “hotel zone.” A number of them have received international attention. If cheap eats is more your preference, you’ll be sure to find them in the town center.
Without a doubt, Tulum’s greatest draw is its spectacular beaches, considered to be some of the top coastlines in Mexico. You can lap up its confectioner-sugar sands, jade-green water and balmy breezes for your entire trip and not feel like you’ve missed out on a single thing.
Should you want to break up your beach time, Tulum is within reach of the best of what the Mayan Riviera has to offer. For starters, there is the massive Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an, a designated Biosphere Reserve with thousands of species of flora and fauna. In fact, UNESCO declared Sian Ka’an to be a World Heritage site, and it remains the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.
For the intrepid traveler, explore some of the Yucatán’s famous cenotes, as well as grottos and cave systems with impressive vaulted caverns. All of these are available for different levels of adventure, from zip-line tours to cave diving to incredible photo opportunities.
The one thing you should not miss is the Tulum Ruins. In fact, Tulum, a Mayan word for “wall,” is thought to have been a major Mayan city during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, because of its role as a seaport (trading in turquoise and jade). It was the only Mayan city located on the shoreline. As you stroll among the cliffside ruins, you’ll discover the remnants of elaborate murals—once painted a vibrant red and blue over stark-white walls. What really makes it so unique, aside from its well-preserved ruins, is its beautiful beach. You can soak up history and the sun in the same afternoon.
If beaches, natural beauty and history aren’t enough for you, Tulum has become a popular destination for people seeking emersion programs to learn Spanish. Two of the more well known include Meztli Spanish Language Schooland Jardin Espanol.
Where to Stay:
Our friends at Ovation Vacations have provided several suggestions for your stay in Tulum:
Casa Malca–A Design Hotel and new to the scene. It marries art, nature and design on a private, southern stretch of beach
Mi Amor–A sexy option from El Colibri Hotels. There’s a slight hint of retro-1950’s glamour to their intimate bungalows.
Be Tulum–A sophisticated, stylish choice with all of the creature comforts–like 24-hour electricity and air-conditioning. Be aware: This resort does not permit children.
How to Get There:
While both a Tulum Airport and a high-speed transpeninsula train have been proposed, Cancun International Airport is still the only way for international travelers to get to the Yucatán Peninsula. Don’t worry, though, you won’t have to be there for long. Taxis or a pre-arranged car service can easily get you to Tulum. A bus (ADO Bus line) is also available, but it requires a transfer in Playa del Carmen.
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