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Where The Road Ends

Where The Road Ends is a documentary in development on by one of my high school friends, Zeb Smith. Growing up, I had always heard stories of his fathers adventures but never had a chance to see anything first hand. It seems after decades of watching his father on the front lines, it was time for Zeb to step up and help support his mission of documenting and protecting the natural world. Admirable and inspiring, but he needs our help.

Watch the trailer above to learn more about what Zeb and his father are doing to protect one of the last truly wild, natural and diverse places in the world.

In southeastern Panama, the world’s longest road comes to an abrupt halt as it crashes up against North America’s last untouched tropical rainforest. As industrialists, land barons, and drug cartels battle to raze the last hundred miles to Columbia, the jungle and all of its inhabitants are treated as collateral damage as the road is pushed on through. Since those without a voice cannot speak, and those without an audience cannot be heard, we must travel beyond that road and inside that jungle to learn the voices of the indigenous tribes and species within.

Check it out and do your best to support the project- with 27 days to go, they’re $2,615 towards the $43,000 goal.

Tobira Onsen Myojinkan

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Nestled away above Matusumoto city in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan, Tobira Onsen Myojinkan, or Myojinkan for short is one of the most unique Ryokan experiences I’ve had in Japan.

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Sitting high up in the “Alps of Japan” as many call them, the Nagano mountains provide a cooler climate for summer Onsen visits, and gorgeous scenery out of every window on the entire property– not to mention one of the most gorgeous settings and views for an bath I’ve ever seen.

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I took this picture above hiking through the deep and cool forests that surround the Ryokan. The tall pines and moss made for such a peaceful place to reflect.

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One unique attribute of Myojinkan is the variety of Onsen experiences you can experience during your stay. Some rooms have a private Onsen, but it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t visit the numerous different bath types throughout the property. My favorite bath by far was the unusual Standing Bath pictured throughout this article in a couple of different images. This bath allows you to stand submerged in hot healing water and view the landscape out of an almost postcard-like windowframe. From this vantage point you could hear the rushing water of the river below, smell the forest which was almost close enough to touch, and fully relax. Total bliss.

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Another beautiful shot of the standing bath, with its clear as glass water. Piping hot.

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The property shares boundaries with Japanese National Forest land– which I made sure to hike in and around. This forest-as-a-neighbor creates even cleaner water and air surrounding the property. Pictured above is the fully outdoor bath, great for star or moon gazing.

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Out of every window beautiful colors!

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A small figurine I found walking through the woods behind the Ryokan.

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Another bath, this time an indoor modern onsen.

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The living room inside a standard guest room.  Good for a cup of tea, or hours reading a book.

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Like other traditional Japanese Ryokan’s, you sleep on a simple futon over tatami mats.  My favorite! However if you prefer a Western style bed, they offer that as well.

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Cherry Blossom season right up against the cedar baths. Magical.

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How about that view during dinner?

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A picture I took of the rushing water under the Ryokan. It was so clean and clear. No wonder the baths felt so cleansing.

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Owned by the Saito family for generations, this 45 room Royokan did one thing better than any Ryokan I have ever visited, and it’s an important one: The food was stunning. Generally, a ryokan’s food is simply traditional Japanese Kaiseki served in your room. While this is always delicious, after a meal or two it starts to feel a bit repetitive. Myojinkan however boasts three different kitchens serving Kaiseki, Modern Japanese and an Organic Macrobiotic French. All are served in their own incredible spaces (rather than in your own room), by master chefs Mr. Masahiro Tanabe (Executive Chef of the French Macrobiotic Cuisine) and Mr. Manabu Kanda (Japanese Cuisine, Modern and Kaiseki).

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Taking food photos was a lot more difficult given the darker setting of the restaurants, but I did my best where I could below.

The Kaiseki style meal started with a small glass of wild grape wine– no doubt from a local farm only miles (or less) from Myojinkan. Appetizers followed, a jellied seasonal vegetable concoction with young corn, lotus root, green soybeans, small onions, tomatoes, prawn, graded pumpkin and egg yolk. An interesting and light star to what turned out to be a total feast. (Pictured below)

Other assorted seasonal appetizers included an eel sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves, amber egg, corned bean curd, asparagus, octopus and pot steamed cold egg custard with boiled sweet potato and lemon sauce.

For soup, I enjoyed a delicate mix of sea eel, been curd, mitsuba, Japanese citrus and plum pulp from an umeboshi plum. On my menu, I scribbled the words ‘what an inspiration‘, as I had never tasted or tried anything like this in my life.

Raw fish was served, Shinsu salmon, carp with yam, prawn and squid.

That evenings grilled dish was salted and grilled sweet fish (caught in the river just below the property), followed by a seasonal vegetable stew of mushrooms including winter melon, taro stemp, gumbo, small potato, zucchini and local green onions.  Sweet fish is so popular they actually even offer bait, tackle and rods to guests if you are up for the sport of catching your own dinner!

As with every Kaiseki meal, we ended with rice, miso soup and japanese pickles. The rice was incredible– and included sixteen kinds of grain!

Desert (with hardly any room left in my stomach) was tofu tube cake and rice flour dumplings, insides included bean jam and pieces of fruit.

What follows are a selection of some of my favorite dishes from each meal I experienced  over three nights at Myojinkan.

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Uni Ikura in broth from the Modern Japanese menu.

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Delicious!

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Tastes of different local flavors at Modern Japanese.

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Flash fried river crab over local corn.

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Most Ryokan’s kick you out during the lunch hour, telling you to basically ‘go fend for yourself‘ at lunch time.  Because Myojinkan is 30 minutes from Matsumoto city, and there are literally no possible places to walk to, they offer a basic soba or udon lunch set if you decide to stay in for the day.

It’s worth staying in for the day, I promise.

This local Nagano soba was one of the most delicious cold soba lunches I’ve ever had.

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Fresh cooked squash, mushrooms, baby corn.

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Local wasabi, daikon and scallion (every cold soba lovers perfect compliment).

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Fresh daikon radish cut, grilled and served with fresh lemon.

Finally, when you visit Myojinkan, be sure to spend an afternoon in Matsumoto and visit Matsumoto Castle, some of the local Apple or Grape farms, and try the local Nagano grown soba noodles. I fell in love with the local artisan cuisine here and can’t wait to visit again.

Myojinkan is 2.5 hours by train from Tokyo. It’s best to arrange transportation directly with the front desk at the Ryokan. They run a daily shuttle service to and from Matsumoto station or surrounding airports.

It’s easy to book Myojinkan through our friends at The Ryokan Collection. Tell them we sent you and enjoy!

 

Introducing Valet

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Well, the cat is out of the bag. I decided to start another company called Valet back in January, and this past week we told a couple of friends, who told a couple of their friends, who told the whole world that it was now live. We had an overwhelming response. Completely blown away.

The concept is pretty simple. As readers of this site know I spent the last few years traveling around the world living in and out of hotels in more than 20 countries. I noticed two things that I wanted to turn into a product I could sell.

The first was that most great hotels were willing to part with some of their normal rate and give me a break as a creative professional, an online influencer, a writer, and an entrepreneur. I thought, wow, would they do that for other people like me?  I found inspiration within other businesses I saw that were exploring this model and breaking away from the standard online travel agent business.

The second part was that in all these new cities I went to, I found finding basic intel about where the design-centric crowd gets their coffee or spends their time incredibly tricky. There are a myriad of sites you can search, but most of the time I’d end up on Twitter asking who has tips for XYZ foreign city. So, I started to tap my local friends and influential types in different places to see if they would be willing to share their favorites with a closed group of people– and the answer was an overwhelming yes.

We launched with city guides in two cities, New York and Tokyo (I write this from Japan). More than 130 places in New York and 40 (and growing as I write this) in Japan. I tapped people from all different walks of life to be curators. We launched with about 80 hotel partners that gave 10-20% and sometimes much more off their normal rack rates to us. Some of the deals are exceptional, some of them are okay and will be getting much better. I knew I had to start somewhere.

I also knew this was a product I had to charge real money for, and keep gated behind an application process to protect the partnerships and the curators from too much exposure.

This is totally 1.0. Many more hotels are coming and many city guides will follow. Tread softly, be nice and send feedback.  We have big plans for exploring what the 21st century travel agent might look like.

This wouldn’t have been possible without my partner in crime Aaron Rutledge, the incredible design duo Ian Coyle and Duane King, and identity master Takashi Kusui, as well as a few other people who were working behind the scenes to get this going. You know who you are.

More reading here: Inside Valet on Cool Hunting, Skift News and Beta Beat.

If you signup, put down you’re a reader of my site in your ‘Facts’ and I’ll do my best to get you in faster.

Six Senses Zighy Bay

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On my last trip to Dubai, I had a few free days to check out some neighboring countries.  Top of my list this trip was Oman, mostly because I had heard such great things about their rich and interesting culture, but also because I was hearing rave reviews of Zighy Bay– a Six Senses resort that’s a paradise and oasis as far from civilization (and the malls of Dubai) as you can get.

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Getting to Oman was simple– about 120 minute drive from Dubai International Airport– and Zighy Bay was just over the border.  Getting to Zighy Bay was a little bit more dramatic than the normal resort arrival.  The property is placed smack dab against the side of dramatic rock mountains– mountains that look a lot more like the Fjords of Norway than anything else. Guests can drive down a couple dozen switch backs (thankfully it never snows here), or take a running jump and arrive by Paraglider (video), no kidding.   There’s also a 15 minute boat transfer available from a neighboring town if you’re in a rush.

I’m told until recently Paragliding or boat was the only way to get to the resort, as the road construction is very new.

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Accommodations at Zighy Bay are dreamy.  We had a one bedroom Pool Villa that had a traditional outdoor Majlis seating area in the wooden Oman-style, right by our own private pool. The decoration was simple, sophisticated and frankly very non-assuming. After so much glitz of neighboring Dubai it was refreshing to be somewhere simple and almost rustic.  Stone floors, very few lights, wood, natural materials and so on.

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The view into our home away from home.

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Our lounge chairs by the pool.

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The entire resort was ‘barefoot friendly’ as they say– and aside from the hot sand, it was totally doable.  Everything is accessible on foot and it’s perfectly acceptable to show up for dinner without shoes.  Who doesn’t love that?  We also made our way around on bicycles quite a bit– and they’re outfitted with pedal covers to make it barefoot-comfortable as well!

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The beach in the background, and public pool right next to it.

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It was very hot, but there was always a place to splash off, wash your feet and keep cool here.

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Delicious cold tuna tartar served by the pool.

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And a favorite dish, local shrimp salad with apples, nuts, and fresh lettuces grown in their very own garden.

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The 1.6KM stretch of beach was simple, and the water was a bath tub.

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It was a little bit hazy from the heat, but the rock cliffs went on for miles around the peninsula.

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Zighy Bay is best described as desert against the mountains on the beach.  It’s truly a spectacular landscape.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

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On the last day we took a boat out for a snorkeling trip around some of the cliffs– a highly recommended activity.  We saw loads of fish, squid, and a family of sea turtles. The water was calm our entire trip and almost serene.

If you’re visiting Dubai and considering a trip away for the weekend, look no further.  And if you’re considering a trip to the region, put this place on your list.  I’ll be back, that’s for sure!

Six Senses Zighy Bay
Zighy Bay, Musandam Peninsula Sultanate of Oman
GPS: Latitude North 25′ 42 mins 0.67sec
Longitude East 56′ 16 mins 0.17sec

Four Seasons Punta Mita: A Photo Journey

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I recently had the opportunity to spend a few nights at the fantastic Four Seasons Punta Mita during their second annual Gourmet and Golf Classic.

While I’m not a huge golfing fan, getting to spend time with famous chefs like the famed Patricia Quintana, Andrew Ormsby and Four Seasons’ own Philippe Piel and Jose Salas Duarte was a real treat.

Punta Mita lies just 28 miles north of Puerto Vallarta Airport– and it’s down as the crown jewel of Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. A couple nights here and you’ll see why.

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Everyday you can choose to hang by the beach, or by the adult pool– as we did often pictured here. That is, if you don’t get engaged in dozens of activities from tennis to snorkeling to scuba diving right off the beach.

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Despite such a large resort, it always seemed to feel empty. There was always space, it was rarely loud or crowded. That meant service was always perfect and timely.

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A highlight of the trip was of course the fresh seafood in all the dishes the chefs prepared. Everyday you could order something on the menu as ‘catch of the day’, and actually walk down to the beach at 11am and see what the catch was! Lots of fresh tuna, red snapper, and much more.

Right there on the beach you reserve a piece for lunch or dinner– grilled, in fish tacos, or any other way you like it. So incredible.

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Great shot of a party being setup on the beach!

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Plantain chip, caramelized over flour less chocolate cake.

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Look at that fish! The kids loved it.

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It doesn’t get any fresher than this. Tuna, right out of the ocean a few minutes ago.

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As the sun set, it was time for the grand opening of the Golf and Gourmet Classic!

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Fireworks, and tastings from all the chefs involved. Highly recommend making a trip down there– and I can’t wait to see what they pull off for the event again next year!

Cocoa Island: Maldives

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The COMO Hotels and Resorts are quickly becoming one of my favorite hospitality groups around the world. After several great stays at The Halkin in London, I knew it was time to see how the resorts side of their business looked with a visit to the famed Cocoa Island in the Maldives.

The island (known locally as Makunufushi) is tucked around the southern part of Malé’s coral atolls– a quick 40-minute speedboat transfer from Malé’s international airport. On our visit to the island we had some inclement weather which made the transfer rather exciting!

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It’s hard not to get excited by the photographs of the island. When you arrive it’s as if you’re showing up to your own private island in paradise. There are only 33 suites and villas sprinkled and spidered across the water giving you total privacy– nearly all of them are fashioned to look like Dhoni’s (Maldives style fishing boats).

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The water underneath these villas at times was less than a foot deep. It was a great place to see rays and my favorite little reef sharks. They looked almost animatronic the way they swam around the shallow waters.  I kept wondering if one of them had frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.

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The design inside the villa was simple, chic, and totally comfortable. From the moment we arrived it felt like we were right at home. The resort allows you to have every meal inside the living room of your villa if you wish (looking out over the water), or at a small restaurant on the edge of the island. No request was too much for Cocoa Island–they were baking us gluten free bread daily, and accommodating to everything we could imagine needing on our trip.  The quality of the food on the island wins my highest praises.  Nothing was short of absolutely delicious.

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The beauty and serenity of the beaches were just amazing. Sandbars stretched hundreds of yards in several directions making for great strolls around with occasional dips into the bathtub like ocean, and snorkeling galore.

It was on Cocoa island I received my first Scuba Certification from a fantastic instructor named Takashi. We spent a good 30 minutes one afternoon following a sea turtle around the reefs of the island at only 10 meters. A moment I’ll never forget. I’m truly spoiled now!

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Last but not least, the spa can not be missed. Oh yes, the spa. COMO Shambhala knows exactly what they’re doing in this arena. The Ayurvedic style treatments and therapies were absolutely heavenly– as was a visit to their beautiful hydrotherapy pool before a treatment (and for a cool dip after a hot day in the sun).

If you’re considering a trip to The Maldives, I highly recommend putting Cocoa Island on your list. Heavenly.  I can’t wait to go back!

Studio Velo

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Local bike shops (LBS) are the life-line of the cycling world. When you find a good one, you will have both a resource and a community. Unfortunately, in my experience, a visit to the LBS is something I often dread, rather than look forward to. That’s why I am continually impressed every time I hear about Northern Californian bike shop Studio Velo. I’ve come across the name in various cycling blogs, but only recently sat down and took a good look at SV and what sets them apart.

Studio Velo has humble beginnings as a mobile repair shop nearly 10 years ago. Scott Penzarella offered mobile bike repair and fittings to cyclists around the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. He drew on his experience in Spain as a premier cycling retailer and injected that European flair into the retail operations once the Mill Valley location opened up. SV is first and foremost a premier cycling shop. It specializes in high-end bikes for demanding clientèle, running the gamut from road to touring bikes. Scott wanted to replicate the European experience where slow and steady and craftsman ship wins the day. SV carries Time and Cyfac, two European companies that hand-make their frames. Similarly, you’ll see Chris King, White Industries, and Paul Components on the shelves; all American companies that represents the best parts and accessories in cycling. On the service side, you’ll often find the employees sipping coffee or even going on lunch rides with customers, rather than rushing them out the door.

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The service doesn’t stop once you purchase your frame and gruppo. A good bike is one that fits. Bike fitting has always been more “feel” than science, so I was impressed and surprised to learn that SV employs the Retül fit system to achieve what every cyclist wants – the gray line between performance and comfort. I know first hand how an improper fit can make riding uncomfortable and, frankly, dangerous.

Not content with their incredible brand partnerships and specialized building and fitting services, Studio Velo started offer cycling tours. The SV: Travel arm was formed three years ago and takes clients on adventures all over the world including scenic destinations such as Spain and Italy. Last, but not least, Studio Velo has an entire stand-alone store dedicated to their women clients. called SV: Women. I know many women cyclists and because of their unique physiology, the proper fit on the bike and in cycling attire is often a challenge. SV: Women carries the largest selection of women-specific clothing in the industry and is operated and managed by women. They offer specific clinics for women, catering to their needs.

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We all should be supporting our local bike shops but when you have a bad experience, it gives you pause. I have always heard great things about Studio Velo and when I had the chance to interview Scott, I jumped at it. It’s great to see a store that gives the attention and focus that the sport of cycling deserves and to act as a true one-stop-shop for Bay Area cyclists. Next time you are in the area, be sure to check them out.

Four Seasons Jackson Hole

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French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte once said a picture is worth a thousand words. But not even a thousand pictures could give you the feeling of spending time in Jackson Hole, WY at the Four Seasons. The views, the clean air, the incredible hospitality. Pictures will never do it justice– but until they invent virtual reality glasses for blogs, they will have to do.  Here we go!

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This past New Years I had the absolute pleasure of staying for a few days in this resort-paradise– skiing the hills, taking in the vistas and relaxing around the hotel lounges, pools, and restaurants.

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The resort is nestled up against the Jackson Hole Resort mountain, inside the challenging and famed Grand Teton Mountains. The best way to describe skiing or riding Jackson Hole is simple: Not for beginners. It’s exhilaratingly steep, boasting some of the most insane terrain I’ve seen on piste anywhere, let alone heli-skiing in British Columbia.

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Pools and hot tubs galore, with great service for hot chocolate or other drinks while you’re relaxing in the hot tub.  And my favorite touch was easy– they kept your towel and robe in a heated closet so it was warm when you stepped out.  It’s always the simple things that complete the luxury experience.

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We spent most of our downtime in the Lobby Lounge seen here playing chess and enjoying Sushi.  They actually had a great selection of sashimi, nigiri and some only in Wyoming rolls!  A great way to unwind with a glass of wine from the day before you checked in for the night.  I will definitely be back. Highly recommended if you’re considering a getaway in summer or winter.

Photos from their website and Greta Eagan.

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