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Recharge in Woodstock, Va.

From parks to wineries, this bend in the river has much to offer

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Sip local wines and enjoy stunning views at Muse Vineyards. (Photo courtesy Muse)

When I think of a relaxing weekend getaway, I generally think of a quaint beach town (Rehoboth), or some fabulous scenery to really get lost in (Lost River). I’ve already been to those places, to ALL of those places, so I wanted to see what else was in my backyard. On many a trip west, I’ve often wondered what lies between my D.C. apartment and my usual destination, so I decided to find out. I’m so glad I did!

About 90 minutes west of D.C., just about where 66 ends and you head south on 81, I found a charming little town called Woodstock (not that one, but the Virginia version). I’ve often pulled off the road here to load up on some provisions before continuing my journey, but this time I made this my destination.

The winery, Muse Vineyards, where I used to pop in, grab some bottles to go and order some paté for the road was always a place where I’d spend a little time, but I didn’t realize that what I thought was an oasis was just the tip of the iceberg. In chatting with Sally, the owner and tasting room hostess extraordinaire (also a D.C. transplant, although to say she’s from D.C. when her storied career as an ambassador and much more has taken her all over the globe, is rather limiting), she shared some of her favorite places to go when not in the tasting room and all of them were dog friendly.

I’ve crossed this river countless times in traversing to this place but really had no idea how accessible this area was. With a fantastic and brand new state park just next door, this little bend in the river has so much to offer. I headed out from Muse to Seven Bends State Park, just a two-minute drive away. I wasn’t necessarily ready to go on an epic adventure, but a few miles of level terrain, meandering along the river were just what I needed to unwind and my pup was thrilled to stretch his legs and be out of the car. After having loaded my trunk with Muse wine, not just bottles but also some cans of their absolutely marvelous rosé, getting my steps in at the park and filling my lungs with fresh air I decided it was time to grab a bite to eat.

I followed Sally’s advice and headed just a few short miles away to downtown Woodstock. It could be out of central casting, the street is even named Main Street (you can’t make this stuff up). I wasn’t in my Sunday best, had my pup in tow, and, having just logged a few miles, I decided I would sit outside, so I found myself at The Woodstock Brewhouse.

Having hiked at Seven Bends State park, their Seven Bender IPA called my name. I sat on their gorgeous outdoor deck, feasted on a Bavarian pretzel and sipped my beer in the sunshine— a perfect setting. As I sat there, a few locals filled me in on some of the other wonderful shops and dining options around town. Apparently, another D.C. transplant is churning out some wonderful dishes with locally grown produce and ingredients, the notion of farm to table is truly a way of life here, not a gimmick on the menu.

Since this was somewhat of an impromptu adventure and I started my day at the winery, followed by a hike, and now at a brewery, I thought making my day trip an overnight stay would be best. Though I’d generally look for the charm of a B&B, this was a spur of the moment adventure, I stumbled upon the perfect fit for my night’s rest. The Hampton Inn here in Woodstock is locally owned and has some lovely personal touches, from showcasing a revolving cadre of local art to carrying wonderful local products. The cleanliness was what you’d expect from a major brand, and the location was truly perfect. All in all, it was the ideal spot to recharge.

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Palm Springs remains an ideal outdoor getaway

Safe fun with hiking and other socially distanced activities

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The Indian Canyons hike is just one of many options for safe, outdoor fun in Palm Springs. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Palm Springs, Calif., is a perfect vacation destination when you feel safe to travel again. With outdoor hiking and adventures, there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the desert and mountain scenery. The LGBTQ life is back open (socially distanced, outdoor dining and drinking, masks required). The LGBTQ scene includes a vibrant downtown street, Arenas, where most (but not all) of the bars are located.

The city is nestled against the dramatic San Jacinto Mountains. The often-snow-capped peaks tower over the desert community, which is arguably the most LGBTQ friendly in the country. Palm Springs is one of seven or so cities in the Coachella Valley.

GETTING THERE: I took Southwest Airlines, which has stared service from Oakland, Denver, and Phoenix, to the very handy Palm Springs Airport. To get downtown, walk across the street to the Civic Center bus (#2) to get to your hotel. I took American back through Phoenix. Service was top notch on my favorite legacy carrier, which had great in-flight entertainment and charging stations for your devices in the seat. You can also take Amtrak direct three times a week or do an Amtrak bus/train combo to get to Palm Springs. The Sunline system also runs a bus to Riverside to connect with the commuter rail system into Los Angeles.

WHAT TO DO: Hike the Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The desert oasis features the native Washington fan palm trees, which are the only palms actually native to the Golden State. Both Andreas and Murray Canyons are great for hiking. Palm Canyon runs along a river filled with palms and is an easy hike for all. Bring plenty of water as it can get hot on the trail.

Also hike the Henderson Trail as well or the trails at the end of Ramon Street. Both are free. Check out the modern mid-century architecture including north of downtown.

Don’t miss the LaQuinta Farmers Market on Sundays in Old Town LaQuinta (down the valley a bit). The LaQuinta Resort nearby was the destination for movie stars like Greta Garbo where you can still see her house. The beautiful grounds are worth a visit even if you don’t stay at this posh resort. Stop by Lulu’s Home and Fashion Accessories in Old Town La Quinta.

Visit the Lotus Garden Center in Palm Desert for art work and garden accessories. Take the Tram to the top of the mountain. Advance reservations are required.

Early risers may want to go for a walk or a run with the Palm Springs Front Runners/Walkers. Get the meeting times and locations at psfr.org. Work out at the World Gym. Day passes available.

WHERE TO EAT: The Public Greens Café has great juices. Enjoy the French pastries at Peninsula Pastries. Bouschet Wines also serves food in the parking lot on weekends. The creative bistro food is a must (www.boushet .com). You will find all three just south of downtown in the Sun Center strip mall. Nature’s Health Food (555 Sunrise) has great and healthy salads and other treats. Enjoy the take-out food at the park across the street.

Sherman’s Restaurant is great for New York-style deli food. You will find them downtown. The Native Food Café has a great meat free taco salad. Casa Mendoza’s Restaurant in La Quinta has great Mexican Food.

NIGHTLIFE: There’s a bar for everyone on Arenas Avenue downtown. Stacy’s has jazz and piano. Hunter’s is great for happy hour. You will find the leather crowd at the Eagle 501. Quad Z and Chill Bar are also fun as are Black Book Bar and Grill and Streetbar. Do some shopping at Gay Mart while you are in the neighborhood. All have set up outside seating to maintain social distancing and masks are required.

The Tool Shed at 600 E. Sunny Dunes Road is also fun. Enjoy a slice of pizza for $1. Farther out is the Barracks, which has a packed Sunday beer bust.

WHERE TO STAY: You cannot beat the value of the Motel 6 Downtown (660 S. Palm Canyon Drive). Just steps from Starbucks, the French Bakery, the Organic Restaurant, the Antiques District, and the Tool Shed Bar. Other options include the LGBTQ resorts, including those on Warm Sands Drive (just east of downtown). The Best Western downtown is also handy (and is right next to the Arenas area). I have also stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott. Also recommended is the Ace Hotel and Saguaro. You will find the LGBTQ resorts on Warm Sands and other locations. The Santiago resort is also very nice.

UPCOMING EVENTS: The Dinah Shore golf tournament has been moved to this fall. The Pride Parade may (or may not) be held in November.

TRAVEL TIPS: Summer is your value season as temps can be toasty. Also, you will need a reservation on weekends as the city is quite popular with the LA crowd. During the week is quieter.

Check current COVID-19 restrictions before any travel. When I was there, masks were required everywhere – inside and out including on hiking trails and sidewalks. Check COVID-19 travel recommendations from the CDC, the state of California, and Riverside County before booking your reservation to the area.

For more information, Visit Palm Springs, the official tourism website, has all you need to plan your Palm Springs vacation (visitpalmsprings.com). Check out their LGBTQ guide which has all the information you need including on the variety of LGBTQ resorts.

 

Bill Malcolm is America’s only LGBTQ value travel writer. Based in Indianapolis, he has written more than 30 columns that have appeared in LGBTQ publications around the country. His opinions are his own. He is not recommending travel unless authorized by the CDC, the State of California, and Riverside County. Check current COVID travel recommendations and restrictions before deciding to travel.

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Essential tips for COVID-free travel

Be ready for a patchwork of confusing rules this summer

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés)

COVID-19 will make travel a bit more complicated this summer. Going to Europe? Taking a cruise? Visiting Hawaii, San Juan or St. Lucia? Or maybe you are planning a road trip? The rules for traveling responsibly during COVID vary greatly. Be ready to encounter a patchwork of confusing rules and requirements this summer.

Depending on what you choose to do for your well-earned escape, it is going to be necessary to educate yourself on what to expect; how to travel by the rules; and be ready to prove you have a negative COVID-19 test (and it may cost you to prove it). Trust, prepping for your trip in advance will pay off.

Your health, safety, peace of mind, and fun are an important part of the travel experience. Here are five essential tips for to ensure you have a fabulous summer getaway.

1. Research before booking your trip. Before you book your trip, be sure to understand how COVID-19 has changed the experience. Nearly everything about travel has changed due to COVID-19. Hotels, airplanes, trains, theme parks, destinations and resorts have all have modified safety precautions in place. The good news is that you will likely find fewer crowds, more space and enhanced cleaning. You may also find limited services such as curfews with bars and restaurants closing early. A driving trip within the U.S. likely will find fewer restrictions compared to an island trip.

2. Make reservations and buy tickets in-advance. Before leaving for your trip, you should book your restaurant reservations and reserve your tickets to a museum or attraction. While you might not like having to plan out your vacation in advance, you will likely find it hard to do all the things you want to do by waiting. COVID-19 means capacity restrictions, so there is limited availability especially on weekends and during peak periods. You can always make changes when you are there.

3. When flying give yourself extra time at the airport. Many stores and food establishments may still be closed or have limited service, so it will take longer to buy food and drink. Some airlines have also eliminated beverage and snack service in coach, so be ready to “Bring Your Own.” If you are used to flying first class, be ready for a curtailed (i.e. downgraded) experience as well.

4. Stay at a trusted hotel. Staying at a hotel is perhaps one of the most important travel decisions you will make. Most hotels have developed respected cleaning protocols to keep you and their employees safe. Among the hotel industry’s leaders is The Four Seasons. The Four Seasons has developed “Lead With Care” that includes both obvious hotel guest protocols and enhanced procedures behind-the-scenes including employee trainings. The Four Seasons also developed an app that provides guests with the high-standard customer service the luxury chain is known for while providing guests with privacy and limiting interactions with the team. COVID-19 has increased the costs for many hotels so it is important to stay with a trusted brand that you can count on to deliver on the safety measures promised.

5. Proof of a negative COVID test. The most complicated and expensive part of COVID-free travel will be meeting a requirement, if needed, to prove you have a negative COVID test. Hawaii, San Juan, cruise ships and other travel experiences are requiring that travelers prove they are COVID negative upon arrival at the destination or before starting your trip. Some destinations even require a mid-trip test to prove, again, that you are still COVID negative. Hawaii implemented a program that requires travelers to the islands to use a ‘trusted partner’ (so you can’t use any test and vaccinations are not accepted). You must create an account at travel.hawaii.gov, download an app, and submit results upon arrival from a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival from a trust partner. Coming from Philadelphia through Chicago, that means I had to order an expensive test from American Airlines that was sent to me by UPS, the test included a virtual call to prove my identity and a virtual assistant to show me how to properly take the nasal smear.

Within a day of sending my test back via UPS, I had my results. I printed out my negative test, uploaded my results and also downloaded the QR code to my phone. Aloha! Are you negative? Mahalo.

 

Jeff Guaracino is the author of two books on LGBT travel, a syndicated travel columnist and a tourism executive with more than two decades in the industry.

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Post-pandemic international LGBTQ travel surge expected

EU poised to allow vaccinated Americans to return this summer

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Participants in an Italy Gay Travels tour. (Photo courtesy of Sergio Scardia/Italy Gay Travels)

The number of LGBTQ Americans who travel abroad is expected to increase sharply in the coming months as more of them are vaccinated and governments loosen pandemic restrictions.

A survey of 6,400 LGBTQ people the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association conducted between March 26-April 9 found 73 percent of respondents said they plan to go on vacation before the end of the year. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents said they made travel reservations within the past week.

“The temperature for traveling is so high,” IGLTA President John Tanzella told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview. “People are just ready to go.”

“We took a year off from it, a year off from life and everybody’s ready to get back and explore the world and see friends and go on holidays,” he added. “It’s a much better conversation than we had a year ago.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends Americans delay international travel until they are fully vaccinated.

The EU in the coming weeks is expected to announce that it will allow vaccinated Americans to travel to member countries this summer. Several airlines have already announced they plan to add flights to Israel other countries that have reopened their borders in anticipation of increased demand.

United Airlines last month announced it will begin to offer a non-stop flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Athens, Greece, in July. Delta Airlines has said it will begin to offer four non-stop flights a week from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Dubrovnik, Croatia, on July 2.

Tanzella noted Brazil is traditionally “a big destination for LGBT travel,” but the pandemic remains largely uncontrolled in the country. Tanzella told the Blade that interest in Mexico and the Caribbean remains high among LGBTQ travelers.

“What a difference a year makes,” he said. “We’re in a very different space at IGLTA than a year ago when we were battening down the hatches and not really knowing what was going to happen.”

The CDC notes Americans do not need to get a COVID test before leaving the U.S. “unless your destination requires it.”

There is no mandatory self-quarantine requirement for travelers once they arrive in the U.S., but anyone on a U.S.-bound flight must test negative for COVID no more than three days before their trip. This regulation applies to American citizens and people who are fully vaccinated.

Cruise ships are expected to begin to sail once again over the summer.

“They’re all starting to look at markets where they can get Americans to go to,” said Tanzella.

Donnya Piggott, an activist from Barbados, is the co-founder of Pink Coconuts, an online platform for LGBTQ travelers.

Piggott on Monday told the Blade that “LGBTQ people have already been some of the first to travel, often times we have the flexibility with less children and a greater need to seek out family and community.” Piggott acknowledged many LGBTQ people have lost their jobs during the pandemic, but they expect the LGBTQ travel industry will begin to rebound once travel restrictions are loosened.

“As the pandemic wanes, we expect the usual suspects to continue flex their economic muscles and travel again,” said Piggott. “On the other hand, there is still a great fear of traveling for many who may have the economic flexibility but are afraid to take risks.”

“We at Pink Coconuts are fairly hopeful and optimistic and know that despite the effects of the pandemic people in general are eager to break free and roam the Earth again,” added Piggott.

Sergio Scardia, co-founder of Italy Gay Travels, which organizes tours of Italy for small groups of gay men, shares Piggott’s optimism about post-pandemic travel.

Scardia on Tuesday noted during an interview from the Puglia region of southern Italy where he lives that upwards of 80 percent of his clients are from the U.S. Scardia told the Blade that Italy Gay Travels — founded in 2017 — was “doing very well” until the pandemic began in the country in February 2020.

“The coronavirus has been a big issue, but we are seeing a restart of interest in traveling,” said Scardia.

Scardia said he expects tourists will begin to return to Italy as soon as July.

“It all depends upon the recommendations,” he told the Blade. “We are confident that by July it will be similar to what it was before.”

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