Visiting Grand Rapids: Beer, Art, Beer, Repeat

Tell people you’re visiting Grand Rapids and you’re likely to get a confused look. This city of 200,000, located in Western Michigan, is still an under the radar travel destination, but it won’t be for long. It’s easy to navigate, features a premier art destination, and has a lively craft beer scene. It’s easy to sample during a quick weekend getaway, but, once you get a taste, you’ll want to return for a second helping.

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The dominant sculpture in the garden is American Horse by Nina Akamu. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase LLC

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What’s Shutter Speed Got to Do With It? How to Take Better Photos.

Want to take better photos? The key is practice, practice, practice. And, if you get the chance to practice in the company of a pro, do it! Taking a photo tour with a legit photographer gives you the chance to ask all kinds of dumb questions and to correct one or two things that will immediately improve your shots.

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Wandering around the Donaldson Farm, I kept waiting for the big tractors to talk to me as if I was in a Disney cartoon. Photo: The Open Suitcase LLC

Getting the chance to bum around with a professional photographer with an all access pass is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And you don’t have to have tons of equipment or years of experience to have a great time and to learn to take better photos. I self-identify as a beginner-intermediate when it comes to using my DSLR camera, meaning I still have to think really, really hard about whether the aperture needs to be big or small to get a crisply focused background. Continue reading

Nun for a Weekend: Quebec City’s Le Monastere des Augustines

Looking for a hotel in Quebec City for a weekend getaway? Traditional options abound but if you want a unique experience, consider a stay at Le Monastere des Augustines, a renovated historical monastery with a wellness mission. I embraced its quiet elegance, artfully designed to soothe the mind and ignite the soul.

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The renovation of Le Monastere thoughtfully combined the old with the new. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase LLC

Fear of the Unknown

I didn’t know what to expect when I checked into a monastery for a weekend getaway in Quebec City. Would a gaggle of nuns circle me in the lobby and start singing, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Cathy?” as in the Sound of Music. Or, worse, would I be stripped naked and escorted to my room in a shameful walk of atonement like Cersei in Game of Thrones? Continue reading

The Mackenzie-Childs Farmhouse: Design Inspiration in the Finger Lakes

“Where’s Tim Burton?”

That was my first question for tour guide Patricia, as she opened the front door to the Mackenzie-Childs farmhouse and asked us to slip on paper booties.

From the exterior, the late 1800’s farmhouse looks like any other that you’d find on a field in Smalltown, USA. But inside? The design inspiration comes from a zany riot of color, shape, pattern, and texture. If asked to assign a name to the style, I’d go with “Tasteful Psychedelic.”mackenzie-childs-farmhouse-aurora-finger-lakes Continue reading

The Aurora Inn: A Genteel Boutique Hotel in the Finger Lakes

adirondack-chairs-aurora-innLooking for the perfect place to stay to explore New York’s Finger Lakes? Consider the Aurora Inn, an historic 10-room property located on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake. It’s an elegant boutique destination resort owned by Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl doll company who once said her goal was to “…allow little girls to be little girls for a little longer.” At the Aurora Inn, I felt like I could be a princess…forever. Continue reading