The Things I Carry . . .

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 | Category: Travel Tips

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 . . . with apologies to Tim O’Brien. His book, The Things They Carried, is one of my top five books of all time and has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m about to write.

 

It’s trip planning season again. At least that’s what all my travel blog colleagues are writing about in their columns lately. This is the time of year, they say, when people start to plan for their annual holiday, especially if that holiday involves crossing oceans. To help potential travelers in their search, all kinds of lists are appearing to promote the top 10 beach destinations, the best European bargain spots, “undiscovered” this or that, and what you should or shouldn’t pack on said trip.

To which I have two replies.

(1)  If you still need a place to go, I still have four spots available on my Umbria trip this year. We leave May 30 and stay just outside of Assisi for a week. Think about it — it’s a great deal and will be a fabulous time.

(2)  I might as well weigh in on what I bring when I travel — especially when crossing oceans. After more than a dozen years of serious traveling, I’ve learned a thing or two and offer my list up as to whoever’s interested. Use what you want and throw away the rest. And tell me what things you carry when you travel; I’d love to share more good ideas!

 

My Secret Weapon

My Secret Weapon

Things to carry/Things to do/Packing suggestions:

(1)  Make a copy of your passport and carry it with you. Keep your actual passport someplace secure (like in a hotel safe).

(2)  Make a copy of the front and back sides of every credit card or bank card you bring with you. Keep it someplace safe.

(3)  Make a copy of your airline tickets, hotel reservations, car rental documents, etc. and keep them in a safe place.

(4)  Call your smartphone provider and see what kind of package you’ll need while you’re abroad. Think carefully about how many minutes, how much data, and how much internet time you’ll really need when you’re away. Most providers will let you increase it when you’re on the road.

(5)  Be sure to call your bank before you leave and tell them the dates you’ll be traveling, where you’ll be traveling, and which debit or credit cards you’ll be using while you’re away.

(6)  If you’re an American citizen going anywhere the slightest bit dodgy, register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program before you go. I even do this when I travel to Western Europe.

(7)  Bring a few reclosable plastic bags in all sizes. You’ll need them to get through security with your small liquids, but they’re also good for laundry, damp clothes, wine, olive oil, perfume, loose change . . . you’ll find new uses for them on every trip! Likewise, foldable shopping bags, especially if you’re “living like a local” on your holiday — some places have banned plastic grocery bags entirely or else charge for bags.

(8)  When you pack, think one or two colors only. I’ve become a nut for black and white, with a few scarves or other accessories for color. Bring clothes that can do double duty. Respect the local conventions, though: don’t show up in shorts or anything sleeveless and expect to be allowed into a major cathedral.

(9)  Comfortable shoes are a must! Most vacations require a good deal of walking, and this is no time to break in new shoes or try a new style. So . . . one or two pairs of good walking shoes and, if you think you’ll need them, one pair of dressier shoes. Lightweight is key. But please, keep your shiny white sneakers at home.

(10) If you want to look like an American, wear a fanny pack. But please don’t.

(11) Even when you think you’re being smart about shoes, your feet can rebel. Bring bandages, blister pads, anti-rubbing goo, orthotics or anything else that helps you walk comfortably. Bad feet = bad vacation.

(12) If I feel a scratchy throat coming on, I bring lozenges and plenty of vitamin C and zinc compounds like Airborne or Emergen-C. I have been known to plead with my doctor for a Z-Pack just in case I need an antibiotic while I’m abroad. I hate to take them and have never had to, but it makes me feel better knowing that I won’t have to face that language barrier when I feel like crap.

(13) Everybody has a secret weapon on a trip and here’s mine: Clove Oil. Yep. You buy it in tiny little bottles and it can make all the difference. Its antiseptic, antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties make it a natural for treating a variety of ailments, including toothaches, indigestion, cough, asthma, headache, and stress. My husband put it on a nasty blister when we were in Paris recently and he was better overnight. And it’s helped both of us with wildly painful dental problems. So buy some and pack it. It’s a miracle in a bottle.

(14) About travel insurance: I don’t always buy it, but I do recommend it when traveling abroad. A $100 policy that you never have to use is not nearly as painful as a $20,000 expense if something goes wrong in a foreign country. If you’re traveling on a tour, chances are the tour operator will suggest (or require) that you buy travel insurance and will have some provider names handy. I generally use Travel Guard, but you can learn more about travel/trip insurance and compare policies here.

What’s your travel packing secret? What’s your pre-travel routine? Use the comment feature on this blog and share them with other readers. And don’t forget those four spots left in my trip to Umbria— we’re going to have a blast!

 

Bon viaggio!

Pennsylvania Station: Lost and Found

Friday, January 3, 2014 | Category: Travel Writing

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Ed. note: Shortly after moving to Virginia, I discovered the Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop at Hollins University down near Roanoke. I applied for a spot in the Creative Non-Fiction genre and got in. Here’s a piece that I workshopped there and that has always had special meaning for me as a New Yorker. Hope you like it as my lead-off piece for 2014. Happy New Year, everybody! Stay found, okay?

Credit: www.jaredthenyctourguide.com

Credit: www.jaredthenyctourguide.com

James loves the sound of the trains. He loves the rocking back and forth of the trains. The big, shiny, toy car feel of the trains.

He came by train from the Carolinas years ago. He came here by train to work, to be near the trains, to hear the sounds, and to be rocked by them. James came alone, leaving his wife and daughter behind.

When I met him he was leaning over the railing, leaning into the afternoon, looking down to where the trains would come, looking down to where the people would rise up out of the hole in the ground, looking down.

He was in the station in winter, in a light spring jacket, and it was cold. But James was smiling and leaning, just happy to be near the trains. He sidled up to a young woman and, smiling, asked her to smile.

I have never liked this strategy of old men, who never knew what kind of day I was having and whether I had a reason to smile, but this is what he did that day. And the young woman did smile, very briefly, then moved away, a little afraid of this gray-haired, soft-voiced exuberant black man who no doubt had once smelled a whole lot better. And then he came over to me.

He didn’t ask me to smile. He just stood next to me for a while, both of us looking down into the hole, waiting for the people to come up. I knew if they came up, then I could go down. He just liked to watch them come up, fresh from their experiences with the train.

Finally, he spoke.

For a few minutes he told me stories about his life, about how an old southern man survives on the streets in a big northern city. About the kindness of strangers. About how the police let him stay in the station on cold nights because he never causes any trouble and never would. He told me how much he would love to go and see his daughter again, but how that might not be such a good idea after all these years.

James talked. I listened. And the people started coming up the stairs, up from that hole in the ground, up from their experiences with the train. Some of them probably hadn’t even noticed. For some, it was an everyday occurrence, just a way to get from here to there. James couldn’t understand that. Trains were his temple, Pennsylvania Station his sacred place.

The people who came up were making room on the train for me by their leaving. I was going back to Boston. Going back on the train, because I, too, loved the train. I knew what James meant. The swaying back and forth of it, the darks and lights of it, the leather seats of it, the amniotic hum of it, even the dirty windows of it. Life passes you by. You pass through life. Whatever. It’s magical on a train. You’re connected to something on a train.

I don’t know why exactly, but I reached into my purse and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and held it out for him. James had never asked me for a penny. I just offered it to him. He refused, and folded my hand around the bill, gently pushing it toward me. I insisted he take it. For a second or two, we just looked hard into each other’s eyes, him holding my bill-encrusted fist. I saw his years, the yellow in his eyes where the white once was. I saw his longing. I did not see unhappiness, however. He was stronger than I, and I knew it at that moment.  I wondered what he saw in my eyes.

Finally I forced the bill upon him and said I had to go to catch my train. Out of words then, we hugged each other like old friends, James and I. I had been seen off on my journey. I would go down into that hole and find a seat on that train and I would sit and think about this for hours as the train rumbled north. I would think about James and that dirty, pungent-smelling life-saving hug for a long time. I would hear the crackle of his nylon jacket as we held on to each other for a second, for an eternity. Two strangers looking for home, finding a home, lost and found in Pennsylvania Station.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

2014 WINTER LECTURE SERIES AT THE PICKERING HOUSE

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 | Category: Travel Tips

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PH_Racket

Second Sunday Chowder & Lectures

at Salem’s Oldest House

Ed. note: I’m crossing over right now, folks, from my job as travel writer to my job as Executive Director of the Pickering Foundation in Salem, Massachusetts. I’m so pleased about the lunch and lecture series that we’ve put together for the Winter 2014 season, that I want to share it with all of you. If you think you’re going to be anywhere  near #Salem on the Second Sundays of January – April, please call and make a reservation to be here. You won’t be sorry!

 

The Pickering House, located at 18 Broad Street in Salem, is hosting a four-part lecture series beginning in January 2014. The new “Second Sunday Chowder & Lecture Series” promises to provide a fine way to shake off those winter blues and gain new insights into the history of one of Salem’s most accomplished families.

An informal chowder lunch will begin at 12:30 and our speakers will kick-off at 1:00. The fee is $20 per lecture for members of the Pickering Foundation and $25 for non-members. All are welcome and encouraged to come and see the newly refreshed home. Reservations are required; attendees should either call (978) 744-4777 or send an e-mail to .

Here’s the line-up of speakers, topics, and speaker bios:

January 12

Jim McAllister: Salem in the Mid 17th Century  

We’ll start our series with a profile of Salem life at the time the Pickerings were settling into their new home in the Broad Fields. Jim’s talk will look specifically at the layout and topography of the town, and land use. Also to be covered will be the political and religious landscape, and important current events

February 9

Charles Newhall: Becoming “Native” American:  John Pickering, Lexicography, and the New Republic

John Pickering VI (1777-1846) learned to read and spell using Noah Webster’s The American Spelling Book (also know as the Blue-Backed Speller) and quickly took to philology. After time spent at Harvard and then at the Court of St. James, he entered into the law and politics as the New Republic was testing political factions. In his spare time (!) pursued lexicographical work with precision and passion. That avocational career brought publication of numerous books on words and led him to the presidency of both the American Oriental Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His intellectual journey provides us with a window into the life of the mind of a post-Revolutionary American, a second generation United States citizen, and a sixth generation Pickering hard at work becoming “native.”

 

March 9

Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell: The Other Renaissance Minister in 18th Century Salem: The Rev. John Prince

While the Rev. William Bentley often receives a great deal of attention because of his famous diaries that chronicled life here in Salem during the 18th and early 19th centuries, there were other sophisticated “divines” roaming these parts.  John Prince was the Minister of the First Church in Salem, a Patriot during the Revolutionary War, and an amateur scientist and astronomer.  Some of his instruments are now owned by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

 

April 13

Linda Dini Jenkins: Pickering Poets — A Celebration of National Poetry Month

Henry Pickering (1781 – 1838), son of Colonel Timothy, was a failed banker, an art connoisseur and a poet whose works appeared in the Evening Post and Good Housekeeping, among others. And his niece, Mary Orne Pickering (daughter of John VI) — in addition to being a devoted journalist and historian and the author of The Life of John Pickering — was also a poet. Let’s look at some of their work and then hear from you. Bring a poem to share — yours or someone else’s.

Speaker Biographies

Jim McAllister

Since founding Derby Square Tours in 1983, Jim McAllister has conducted countless tours of, and lectured extensively about, the history of Salem and Boston’s North Shore. Through the international Elderhostel program Jim has taught more than 250 courses on local history, architecture and art. He has also served as an historic consultant to many local organizations and institutions.

A now retired local history columnist for the Salem News from (1999-2013), Jim has written or co-written two books about Salem. The Morristown, New Jersey native has appeared on Chronicle, The History Channel, Home and Garden TV, National Public Radio, and many other media outlets. In 2008 he was the recipient of both the Essex National Heritage Commission’s first ever Heritage Hero Award and the regional Storyteller Award given by the North of Boston Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Charlie Newhall

Charles L. Newhall is a history teacher at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, MA, and a historian of the Early National Republic.  His current project focuses on the relationship between New Englanders and Liberia.

Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell

Jeff Barz-Snell is the current minister of the First Church in Salem and a local writer and activist. He has been studying Salem’s “Great Age of Sail” for several years and some of the personalities that made this period in Salem’s history so fascinating.  He has masters degrees from Boston University School of Theology and Tufts University School of Urban and Environmental Planning.

Linda Dini Jenkins

An avid poetry nut and travel writer, Linda is the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband (named by journeywoman.com as one of the “Ten travel books I’d give my girlfriends”) and Journey of a Returning Christian: Writing into God. Her poetry has appeared in Tampa Review, South Florida Poetry Review, Peregrine, Bay Windows, Vermont Voices and Poeti italo-americani. Her travel writing has appeared in Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dream of Italy, AAA’s Home & Away, and Healthcare Traveler. She blogs at www.travelthewriteway.com and is Executive Director of the Pickering Foundation.

 

The Pickering Foundation cultivates an appreciation of one family’s role in the American experience, which is manifested in the preservation of the historic home for the enrichment and enjoyment of the community. The Pickering House is open to the public on Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm from June through November. For more information, visit www.thepickeringhouse.org.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

A SKI INTERLUDE GUEST POST: Madonna Di Campiglio

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 | Category: GUEST POSTS

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Milano on the Mountain

 

Ed. Note: Martin Nolan is a travel enthusiast who likes to spend his winters on a mountain carving tracks and his summers on a beach sipping cocktails. He loves all things travel and travel related, and you can follow him and his views on Twitter at @martinnolan7. Read as he comes face to face with la bella figura on a recent ski trip . . ..

 

As much as it pains me to say this, stereotypes exist — whether they are offensive, inaccurate, colourful, funny or, dare we say it, true. Well, my stereotypical view of Italy is based on watching too many daytime cooking programmes. Almost every programme had an Italian chef. They may have been different shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of facial hair, but they all had one thing in common: they were massive extroverts. They passionately and flamboyantly waved their arms about as they cooked, as if they were conducting an intricate orchestra. They bellowed loudly after each sip, as if they had just tasted the nectar of life. Every movement they made, and every word they said was extroverted.  Maybe it wasn’t a true reflection of Italians, but it was the only one I had. So, when I picked up the phone and booked my ski trip to Italy with Crystal Ski, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Brenta, Dolomiti

Brenta, Dolomiti

Surely, it was going to be completely different? I mean, food defines Italy. Whereas skiing, well I thought skiing was pretty much unheard of. Actually, before I decided to book the trip, I probably couldn’t even name a single resort. It was only after a bit of research about the 3Tre that I knew about Madonna Di Campiglio. And it was only after I knew about Madonna Di Campiglio that I went skiing in Italy. So Italians can’t be as extroverted when skiing as they are when cooking, I thought. It is just not possible.

Well, I was wrong. But it wasn’t until the second day that I realised just how wrong I was.

The first day was spent admiring the resort. Exploring every curve of the mountain.  Slaloming my way from high runs in the mountains, down to the tree line. Carving track after track in the powder. Very few moments were spent even acknowledging what was around me. My goal was to enjoy the mountain, and the best way to enjoy the mountain was to go fast. Flying down the runs, while the Dolomites [in northeastern Italy] become blurry in my peripheral vision, was all that my mind was willing to take in.  It wasn’t until later that I even noticed that there was anybody else in the village. It was as I walked to dinner, having to slalom in and out of couples, who were slowly strolling along the path in expensive looking outfits.  It was the weekend, so I brushed it off. People always make more of an effort on the weekends. I ate, and then I went to bed, readying myself for the next day’s runs.

Your second day skiing is like the second time you kiss someone. There is less anxiety. You have

Piazza Madona Di Capiglio

Piazza Madona Di Campiglio

more time to realise what you’re doing and what’s around you. You’re basically much calmer. Your mind has more room to take in what’s around you. But it wasn’t the quaint village basking in the sunshine that caught my eye; it was the way people looked.  They were turned out immaculately, not a hair or stitch out of place. There was me, bedraggled looking, having eaten so much powder that my face resembled Jack Frost’s. Maybe they were just better skiers than I was? Maybe they just didn’t try to push their limits as much? Yeah, that was it, surely?

It wasn’t.

As soon as evening came, I realised that Madonna Di Campiglio is the Milano of the mountains. The fashion capital.  This town started life as a place for people crossing the Alps to settle at night, but now it is a trendy resort to see and be seen in. A place to strut your stuff, a place to promenade. (Ed. note: It’s the passeggiata of the peaks!)

Sunset at Madonna Di Campiglio

Sunset at Madonna Di Campiglio

Almost every evening before dinner, people set out in some of their finest clothes. Methodically walking along, each step well thought out, they meandered, in a slow purposeful manner, through the pedestrianised village, stopping at the boutiques and the stores selling hand-crafted goods. The point wasn’t to purchase anything; the point was to be seen. In true extrovert style, they wanted to be noticed, they wanted to make an impression. Their backs were straight and their heads held as high as a peacock’s. Maybe it isn’t done with the same fervent passion as the TV chefs, but the flamboyance was still there. Suddenly, it all made sense. It was as much about being in the resort as it was about the skiing.

That’s why their clothes were immaculate, and that’s why their faces were ice free. It wasn’t that they were better skiers. It wasn’t that they were more cautious. It was that they wanted to look better!

Madonna Di Campiglio was a place to be seen, and you wouldn’t want to be seen looking dishevelled, would you? As the days went on, I couldn’t even blame them. When the sun started to set and the lights went on, I also wanted to look good. It was almost like a cue to enter the stage. You started to feel that it was your duty to complement the sights around you. And with the views on offer from the surrounding Dolomites, it would be rude if you tarnished their photos with grotty clothes.

The slopes are great at Madonna Di Campiglio, with the 3Tre being a real highlight. But it is the views and the village that leave the biggest impact on you. It was enough to make this coy Englishman walk a little slower, dress a little smarter, and want to be seen. Not all stereotypes are bad and I was glad that a little of the Italian stereotype rubbed off on me. It made me an extroverted introvert. Well, at least for a week.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

Mohonk (and More) on the Hudson

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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I have an unusual relationship with the Hudson River Valley. As an adult living in New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s, the Hudson River formed the ever-present Western border of Manhattan. But even as a child living in the outskirts of New York City, the Hudson was still a presence. When life handed my mother more than she could handle, she piled me — and sometimes my grandmother — into the car and we’d drive all the way up to Bear Mountain State Park. That’s four hours, round trip, from Massapequa. We’d go for lunch or even just for a soda. Sometimes, in the summer, we’d ride on the T-bar lift, which I’m pretty sure is no longer there. We’d breathe some mountain air (or Mom would, at least — grandma and I were always a bit confused) — and then pile in the car and drive back home before rush hour.

 

Just 90 miles north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley lies the picturesque State University of New York college town of New Paltz. I know . . . they’re all quaint. They’re all picturesque. Back in the Stone Age, I attended another SUNY school, Oneonta State, and swore that I woke to a painted backdrop each morning, it was that gorgeous. And if you’re a native New Yorker like I am, you probably have a special relationship with the Hudson River too, even beyond Pete Seeger and his efforts to clean it up.  So when I had an opportunity to stay at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, tucked into the Shawangunk Mountains, I jumped at it.

I’d heard about the Mohonk Mountain House for years. My cousin Elissa, who attended SUNY New Paltz, never left the area after graduation, and she loves to go up and hike the grounds of Mohonk and visit the greenhouse and, if she can get a reservation, have lunch or tea in the dining room. So she planted the seed of wanting to experience this venerable institution, for which I am very grateful.

Cloud light on the Hudson

Cloud light on the Hudson

Tim and I made the trip from Salem, MA to New Paltz in early November, enjoying the nearly four-hour drive along the Mass Pike and then down the NYS Thruway. Fall was in an advanced state, but the trees still had some marvelous color on them and the air was crisp, but not terribly cold unless you were directly on or over the water. Which, at one point, we were. More on that later.

We met up with my cousin and toured

Outside view of Cedar Grove

Outside view of Cedar Grove

two of the homes either owned or inhabited by master painters of the Hudson River School. The first, Cedar Grove, was the home of Thomas Cole, widely considered to be the founder of the Hudson River School. Cole visited and painted at Cedar Grove in the town of Catskill for nearly ten years, beginning in 1825, and stayed there on a permanent basis after marrying one of the owner’s nieces. The property itself is quite lovely and began with a land grant in 1684; in 1815 the Thomson family built the Federal-style main house that is there today. Nothing fancy here, but the orientation of the house, affording a western view of the Catskills, was no doubt the inspiration for many of Cole’s masterpieces. His studio — “where American art was born,” according to the website — gave me goosebumps.

In a nutshell, the theme of the Hudson River School is Paradise Lost, so the bust of Milton in the Coles house came as no surprise. It’s all about nature and the landscape — man is insignificant and more often than not a destructive force. These painters saw God and spirit in nature and preserved it on the canvas. It was the era of Manifest Destiny, Westward Ho! and all that. America was on the move and the Hudson River School was there to capture the advance. For me, while I can appreciate the exaggerated majesty of many of the works, I think most of them need a cow. But I digress . . .

One of Olana's tower views

One of Olana’s tower views

One of Cole’s students, Frederick Church, was a much better marketer of his work than Coles (who often resorted to painting portraits to earn extra money), and that is reflected in his opulent home in Hudson, New York called Olana. A Persian-inspired stone fortress overlooking the Hudson River, the Catskill Mountains and the Taconic Hills, Olana is a testament to Church’s ability to understand what the art buying public was interested in and giving it to them in spades. Widely traveled, he and his wife amassed collections of exotica and created a home that reflected their eclectic tastes. The grounds are spectacular and provide walking trails and inspiration around every turn.

That evening, we went into Kingston for dinner and  the remarkable cuisine at Le Canard Enchaine, a French Bistro that has been rated by Zagat as “the best French restaurant north of Manhattan.” I couldn’t agree more. An intimate atmosphere greeted us — along with the chef — and, after a stellar appetizer of an endive salad with Roquefort and a mustard vinaigrette, Tim and I each had the cassoulet.

My beautiful cassoulet

My beautiful cassoulet

Those who know me know that I am not a big meat eater, although some fowl has its place in my diet. This cassoulet was so good, so well flavored, with more duck in it than my cousin’s entire duck entrée . . . it bested the one we had in the Marais years ago which has been our gold standard for cassoulet.

Freezing on the Hudson

Freezing on the Hudson

The next day we decided to experience the Walkway Over the Hudson, cited as one of the “Top Ten Ways to See Fabulous Fall Foliage in the Hudson Valley.”  The Walkway extends 6,767 feet (1.28 miles) over the Hudson River, connecting Highland to Poughkeepsie, New York. It is the world’s longest pedestrian bridge and a Hudson State Historic Park. It was cold and windy out there that day, but the views were spectacular some 200+ feet above the river, and the autumn colors were gorgeous. The initiative was originally conceived as a way to turn an old abandoned railroad bridge into a pedestrian park; today it is a 501 ( c ) 3 working with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, and creates a truly memorable experience.

Finally, it was time to put our heads down for the evening. Mohonk? Not just yet. I wanted to

Welcome to your Minnewaska bedroom!

Welcome to your Minnewaska bedroom!

experience a more down-to-earth place before I went to Fantasyland. So we stayed at the 26-room Minnewaska Lodge in the town of Gardiner. Built in 2001, the independent Minnewaska is situated amid 25,000 acres of park preserve — the Minnewaska State Park, the Shawangunk Mountains and the Mohonk Preserve — and its well-appointed rooms with oak Mission-style furniture and Arts and Crafts décor create a wonderful mountain retreat atmosphere. Except on the coldest days, you can even relax outside year-round in the red Adirondack chairs placed around a big fire pit.

Minnewaska's grounds and fire pit

Minnewaska’s grounds and fire pit

If  you’re a hiker, rock climber or general outdoor enthusiast just looking for a comfortable place to stay, the Minnewaska Lodge is for you. It’s a no frills, no special programs, no meals (other than a decent continental breakfast that featured local apples that weekend) kind of place, where you can relax among nature’s bounties in all four seasons. Just 75 miles north of New York City, this is a great choice for a Hudson Valley retreat. And the staff was superb. Remember the world’s best cassoulet from the night before? Well, since neither of us could finish our portions, we brought them to the front desk and asked if we could use their microwave to heat them up. They did better than that: Krystal heated them for us and served them on real china with real flatware and sent us back to our room to enjoy a wonderful repast, just as good the second night.

Lake Mohonk and the Walkways from our window

Lake Mohonk and the Walkways from our window

The next morning, after a very good night’s sleep in Minnewaska’s comfortable beds, we headed over to New Paltz and the Mohonk Mountain House. I’ll admit, it was a little intimidating stopping at the gatehouse to give our name in order to gain entry. Twin Quaker brothers, Alfred and Albert Smiley, took over the hotel in 1869 (the Smiley family still runs the place today), and built it up to the point where it is now a National Historic Landmark Resort. And its eco-friendly 30,000-square foot spa wing, built in 2005, was named the #1 Resort Spa in the United States by Condé Nast Traveler this year. (If my 80-minute Mohonk Muscle Rescue is any indication of the rest of their services, they’ll be highly rated for years to come.)

On the porch, watching the world go by

On the porch, watching the world go by

The year-round resort, one of the Historic Hotels of America, runs on the Full American Plan, meaning that you get all three meals, plus afternoon tea and cookies, included in the room rate. So many activities are available (most of them free to overnight guests) that’s it’s hard to think about them all: there are 85 miles of hiking trails on the property, tennis courts, a golf course, swimming and boating, fishing, horseback riding, fitness classes and, of course, The Spa. Themed weekend programs are offered year-round — as they have been for over 100 years —and a regular array of evening lectures, movies, dances, musical events and storytelling is available. Kids are well cared for, too, through the Mohonk Kids’ Club for children ages 2 – 12.

The inviting Lake Lounge — come for tea!

The inviting Lake Lounge — come for tea!

The décor is unbeatable. Many of the Mohonk’s 259 rooms sport fireplaces and/or balconies and feature either Victorian, Edwardian or Craftsman styling. Mercifully, there are no TVs in the rooms, although they can be found in some of the public rooms. We were pleasantly surprised by the dining room, whose buffet breakfast and lunch were bountiful and whose dinner offerings were like those of a fine restaurant, with service to match. Despite the Quaker ownership, alcoholic beverages are now available in the dining room and also in the Carriage Lounge and Sunset Porch (in season) and our Alsatian Pinot Blanc was a real treat.

I wish we could have stayed longer than just one night, but work called and we had to get back. Mohonk has hosted presidents and world leaders, and in 1895 began a tradition of hosting the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration, a slightly different take on “peace conferences,” which lasted (ironically) until the world was called into the first Great War in 1916. They were attended by the likes of President William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryant as well as dignitaries from China, Japan, the U.K. and Mexico. Andrew Carnegie claims that it was his association with the Smileys and their Mohonk conference that led to the founding of The Carnegie Foundation for International Peace; Albert Smiley was one of Carnegie’s original trustees.

So, there you have it: a long and colorful history, outdoor activities, indoor relaxation, stimulation for the mind, good food and comfy beds. What more could you want in a weekend getaway? Or a week-long vacation? If you’re in New York City, it’s an easy jump up to the Hudson River Valley — and the New Paltz area is just one of the Valley’s three regions. There’s so much more to explore. But start with the Mohonk if you can. Like many before, you may never leave.

Buon viaggio!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umbria 2014: Food, Wine and Words — Andiamo!

Thursday, November 14, 2013 | Category: Travel Stories

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It’s Finally Here!

Umbria: Food, Wine and Words

Eat, drink and find your voice in the green heart of Italy

May 23 – May 31 or May 30 – June 7, 2014

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Join acclaimed travel writer and blogger Linda Dini Jenkins (that’s me!) for a week-long adventure under the glorious skies of one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.

 

This small group adventure includes lodging at the spacious and inviting Villa Fattoria del Gelso in Cannara, in the shadow of historic Assisi.

Linda is the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband — praised as one of the “Ten travel books I’d give my girlfriends” by www.journeywoman.com — and is the creator of the entertaining and informative travel blog, Travel the Write Way (www.travelthewriteway.com). Her writing also appears in Dream of Italy, Richmond Times-Dispatch, HealthCare Traveler and AAA’s Home and Away.

During our week in the sun, Linda will share some of her secrets to effective travel journaling in a series of low-key optional writing workshops, using exercises that are sure to help participants capture their Umbrian experiences to the fullest.

Participants will travel to several of Umbria’s storied hill towns; will eat and drink well; will write sparkling journal entries; will experience L’Infiorata (Umbria’s incredible flower art festival); and will still have plenty of time for exploring and relaxation.

Barn_Close-upThis package includes seven nights in the fully restored 17th century Villa Fattoria Del Gelso, located on a 40-hectare working farm that is literally walking distance from colorful shops and restaurants and centrally located in the village of Cannara. The trip is designed for relaxed learning and sightseeing via foot, bicycle and van. Not every moment has been scheduled — if there are other things that you’d like to do, the possibility exists.

Fee includes villa accommodations, all breakfasts, welcome and farewellFattoriadelGelso dinners, pizza-making party and cooking class on premises, a winery tour with lunch and transportation to Assisi, Spello and Montefalco by private van. Both writers and non-writers are welcome. Bring your swimsuit, camera and journal. You’ll find your voice — and your smile — in Umbria. Andiamo!

Just the Facts . . .

 May 30 – June 7, 2014

Price per person: $2,300

Linda_and_SimonePackage includes:

  • seven nights in the private Villa Fattoria del Gelso
  • welcome and farewell dinners with wine
  • all breakfasts
  • daily Umbrian “aperitivo” with local wines, meats and cheeses
  • vineyard tour, wine tasting and private lunch in Montefalco, home to one of Italy’s great wines
  • private guided full-day walking tour of Assisi (including lunch) with Anne Robichaud
  • guided tour of Perugia, the chocolate capital of Italy
  • cooking class led by Simone Proietti-Pesci, chef-owner of Bevagna’s ristorante le Delizie del Borgo
  • half-day self-guided walking tour of Spello during the amazing festa L’Infiorata
  • pizza-making party at the villa
  • ground transportation throughout your stay
  • total of 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners and 7 relaxing Umbrian “aperitivi”

Package Details:

Package is for seven nights for two people sharing a double-occupancy room.

Pricing:

Price quoted is per person, double-occupancy sharing a double bedroom. A single room supplement of $400 will be charged to guests not wishing to share a room. Packages are land packages only. Air travel is not included. Transfers to and from La Fattoria del Gelso can be arranged for an additional fee.

Accommodations:

Accommodations are included in the package price. Guests will stay at the Villa Fattoria del Gelso, a private villa outside the village of Cannara in the Umbrian countryside. Most rooms have private baths, but several rooms will share a bath and we will fill these rooms last (a good incentive to book early, no?). For more information, including a photo tour of the villa, please visit the Experience Umbria website: www.experienceumbria.com. Inquiries about the villa can be directed to .

Meals:Buffet_Deruta

Meals include a welcome and farewell dinner, as well as daily continental breakfast served at La Fattoria del Gelso. The package also includes a pizza-making dinner party at the villa, a private vineyard tour and lunch, cooking class and a tour and lunch in Assisi. The villa also will provide a daily Umbrian aperitivo that will include local wines, meats and cheeses.

Transportation:

Ground transportation to and from events and excursions is included and will be provided by private coach. Tim and I will have a car. Free parking is available at the Villa, and you are welcome to provide your own transportation if you would like more flexibility to go off on your own.

Deposit:

A non-refundable deposit of $ 500.00 per person is required at the time of booking. The remaining balance is due by March 1, 2014.

To reserve your spot, e-mail your reservation

(specifying which week you’d like)  to

linda@travelthewriteway.com

by December 31, 2013

and I’ll tell you where to send the deposit check.

 

Proposed Itinerary

(subject to slight changes, as weather & availabilities dictate)

 

Friday, May 23/30

  • Fly from your home cities to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. Dinner onboard flight.

 Saturday, May 24/31

  • Arrive in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport (FCO) around 10:00 a.m.
  • Watch for details about sharing van costs to the villa as we get closer to the date.
  • Van cost is shared by guests and may include a stop in Rome or Orvieto on the way.
  • Otherwise, you can rent cars at FCO and drive to Cannara (about a two-hour drive) or take the train from FCO to Foligno and then get a taxi to the villa or rent a car from Foligno. Details to follow.
  • You can get into the villa at 4:00 and swim, relax or walk into town.
  • Enjoy your first Umbrian Aperitivo with introductions and welcome dinner around 6:00 p.m. (early because we’re all jet-lagged!)

Sunday, May 25/June 1

  • Breakfast served at the villa from 8:00 – 9:00.
  • Short optional writing instruction and daily exercise given, 9:15 – 10:15.
  • Take time to relax at the villa, swim, ride bikes, walk into town or visit the cemetery across the street. Yes: Italian cemeteries are amazing!
  • An optional self-guided bike ride to Bevagna can be arranged (and is encouraged!).
  • Enjoy lunch on your own in Cannara or Bevagna — we’ll make recommendations.
  • Special visit from Simone Proietti-Pesci, chef-owner of Bevagna’s ristorante le Delizie del Borgo, who will lead us in a cooking class starting around 3:00.
  • Aperitivi around 6:00.
  • Dinner will be what we cook in the class.
  • June 1: Optional walk into Cannara tonight to see the set-up for L’Infiorata (the flower festival) dell Corpus Domini.

 Monday, May 26/June 2

  • Breakfast served at the villa from 8:00 – 9:00.
  • Short writing instruction and daily exercise, 9:15 – 10:15.
  • We’ll be picked up for a trip to Montefalco (Sagrantino country) for our wine tour, tasting and lunch.
  • After lunch we’ll go into the classic hill town of Spello to see L’Infiorata (June 2 only) and have time to explore on our own.
  • Back to the villa for Aperitivi.
  • Dinner on your own in Cannara.

 Tuesday, May 27/June 3

  • Breakfast served at the villa from 8:00 – 9:00.
  • We’ll be picked up for our full-day trip to Assisi with American ex-pat guide Anne Robichaud.
  • Anne will arrange for lunch at a local eatery in Assisi (included).
  • Back to villa for Aperitivi.
  • Dinner on your own in Cannara if you’re still hungry and/or awake.

 Wednesday, May 28/June 4

  • Breakfast served at the villa from 8:00 – 9:00.
  • Short writing instruction and daily exercise given, 9:15 – 10:15.
  • Time to relax at the villa, swim, ride bikes, walk into town, visit the cemetery across the street.
  • An optional self-guided trip to Deruta (the ceramic capital of Italy) can be arranged and costs will be shared.
  • Lunch on your own in either Cannara or Deruta.
  • Assignment: bring something from Cannara or Deruta to share with the group for the potluck dinner tonight following the Aperitivo.
  • We’ll meet back at the villa in the afternoon for more relaxing and writing time.
  • Aperitivi & then Potluck Dinner.

Plates_at_Geribi

Thursday, May 29/June 5

  • Breakfast served at the villa from 8:00 – 9:00.
  • We’ll be picked up for a trip to Perugia, the chocolate capital of Italy. We’ll have a guided tour and then lunch on our own in this classic city that is also the capital of Umbria.
  • Back to the villa for Aperitivi.
  • Pizza-making party at the villa tonight.
  • Writers share their journal stories, observations or other stories about Italy during/after pizza time. All are encouraged to participate!

Friday, May 30/June 6

  • Breakfast served at the villa from 8:00 – 9:00.
  • Time to relax at the villa, swim, ride bikes, walk into town, visit the cemetery across the street.
  • Enjoy lunch on your own — last chance to walk into Cannara!
  • Time for packing, relaxing and preparing for departure tomorrow.
  • Aperitivi, farewell dinner and trip reflections will begin around 7:00 p.m.

 Saturday, May 31/June 7

  • Breakfast served at the villa, timing to be determined by your departure times.
  • The group leaves the villa in the morning as their flights require.
  • Villa must be vacated by 10:00 a.m. Boo-hoo.
  • Van to Fiumicino can be arranged at your own shared expense.
  • Memories begin . . .

 

Ci vediamo in Umbria!

A SPOOKY GUEST POST: Vancouver’s Haunted Gastown

Thursday, October 24, 2013 | Category: GUEST POSTS

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Ed. note: This is the way you get to be a guest blogger on this site! Write to me in good English with a relevant topic, prove that you’re experienced, and deliver what you say you will. I’m excited to share this bit of Halloween madness from a city other than Salem . . . I had no idea about Vancouver’s Gastown. Thanks, Abby!

 

Vancouver isn’t known as an exceptionally scary place (except perhaps to those with moderate to severe UGG boot and mustache phobias) but did you know it’s haunted? That’s right. A series of buildings in Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood are reputed to be hotbeds of paranormal activity.

Every year in October, supernatural enthusiasts, thrill seekers in the Halloween spirit, and couples looking to mix things up on date night all descend upon Vancouver’s historic Gastown. The five block brick-paved heritage area in the city’s core is ordinarily a tourism hot spot, but for a few weeks in October it plays venue for “haunted Gastown” walking tours, which one operator describes as visceral and dramatic – not your conventional walking tour.

Yet, on any good tour (and in any suspenseful ghost story), facts about local history are shared in abundance. Guides cite historical basis for the apparent hauntings in Gastown, which in the late 1800s was a violent frontier town soaked in whiskey and greed. In “Canada’s Wild West” a well-known showgirl was spurned, her heart broken by theatre mogul Alexander Pantages. There were hangings, fires that claimed lives, and unsolved murders.

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Flickr Photo By Kris Krug

And so, disincorporated spirits linger, and haunt the buildings.

Spooooooky. And historically interesting, too—tour operators share anecdotes about Gassy Jack, “Klondike Kate” Rockwell, and other infamous Vancouver figures from the late 19th century, and teach participants some local history.

For example, Gaoler’s Mews, one of Canada’s oldest civic buildings, is currently home to cafes, offices and trendy restaurants, but was once the site of Vancouver’s first jail. Numerous hangings took place there. Today, patrons and residents in the Mews occasionally report hearing ghostly whispers and screams…

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Flickr Photo By mayanais

Skeptical? Well, paranormal researchers are generally united in the belief that sites on which, at a previous point in history, strong emotions such as fear were common—mental institutions, jails, areas in which murders occurred, buildings where accidents claimed lives—paranormal activity is higher than expected.

Even when logic and reason steer us towards mundane explanations for difficult-to-explain happenings, such assertions pass the “head-nod test” for a lot of us; Well yes, if there were such thing as ghosts, surely they’d be someplace like this. Probably. You’d think. Hey, what was that noise…?

And the older an area, the greater its likelihood of having at least some sordid history.

For example, Vancouver’s “Blood Alley”, believed to be so-named for the many butcher shops once located there, was a common path for shipyard workers returning to hotels from the port, and also a convenient place for muggers to hold them up at knifepoint…

Here’s one a little less macabre, and a little tastier: The Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown is also claimed to be haunted. Seems ghosts, not only people, embrace the certainty and quality assurance that accompanies franchise dining. Or are they well-meaning ghosts, trying to haunt us into going to eat someplace more adventurous?

In any case, there is a decommissioned trolley car in The Old Spaghetti Factory’s Gastown dining room, and legend asserts that the ghost of a train conductor still roams the restaurant. Spaghetti Factory staff of today and yesterday corroborate general eerie vibes in the building.

Whether or not you’re a believer, haunted Gastown tours have proven entertaining and popular—demand has grown, and more than one operator now offers tours.

“The Ghostly Gastown tour”, which began in 2004, runs weekly until November 1, led by its founder, Mark Thompson.

“Forbidden Vancouver” employs several storyteller/guides, and runs several “Lost Souls of Gastown” tours per week, in addition to ghost-free Prohibition themed tours, “hidden history” jaunts and photo walks.

Tickets through either operator cost $22 per person. Small children are discouraged – things can get a little intense. For more information, visit ghostlygastowntours.com, or forbiddenvancouver.ca/home/the-lost-souls-of-gastown.

About the author: Abby Clark, is a an enthusiastic adventurer who loves exploring well known as well as remote little corners around the world. Abby also writes blogs and guest blogs for Best Quote Travel Insurance—a company which offers Super Visa Insurance for travel.

 

Buon viaggio!

 

 

A Dalmatian Guest Post — and the World’s Most Interesting Man

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 | Category: GUEST POSTS, Travel Stories

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Ed. note: I’ve known Diane for almost 20 years. When she and her husband, Kevin, announced they were going to Croatia for their summer vacation (with the kid) this year, they got a lot of baffled looks…

 

“Why did you pick Croatia?” some people asked.

“What’s so special about Croatia?” others wanted to know.

Before I go any further, a little back story is in order. My husband is British. I’m American. We met in 1986 in Canterbury, England, where I spent my junior year abroad. Travel is something we’re passionate about, and we share that passion with our 13-year-old son (or “the kid”, as he’s more commonly known in my frequent Facebook posts about him).

So…why Croatia?

Since two of our English friends and their children would be vacationing with us, our destination had to be close enough to London for them to get in and out for one week (Kevin, the kid, and I were going to stay for two weeks). We wanted to go somewhere that the four well-traveled adults had never visited. Oh, and wherever we chose had to be kid-friendly.

The waterfront in the sleepy town of Stari Grad on Hvar island

The waterfront in the sleepy town of Stari Grad on Hvar island

Croatia fit the bill perfectly. None of us had been there; heck, your average American has never even heard of it, let alone being able to find it on a map. The flight was less than two hours from London. And since Croatia is on the Adriatic coast, there would be plenty of beaches for the kid. Kevin and I planned an itinerary that included Trogir, Split, the Makarska Riviera, Dubrovnik and its surrounding countryside, plus stays on the islands of Hvar and Brac.

The second question – What’s so special about Croatia? – is a lot harder to answer. That’s because pretty much EVERYTHING about Croatia is special.

First, there are the people. Croats are unbelievably hospitable. During our stay, we were warmly welcomed everywhere, even in tourist-dominated Dubrovnik. Although English is widely spoken, we scored huge points with the locals by learning some kindergartner-level Croatian. Armed with about two dozen words and phrases, we got cheers of “bravo!”, high-fives, and even an invitation to knock back some homemade walnut grappa with the owner of a restaurant on the island of Brac because we said hvala (thank you), molim (please), and izvrsno (delicious).

While driving from Trogir to Dubrovnik, we stopped at a roadside farmstand near the Croatia-

Bosnia border to buy some fruit. It turned into an impromptu language lesson; I asked the

The rooftops of old Dubrovnik as seen from the 2-kilometer-long walkway atop its ancient walls. The island of Lokrum is in the background.

The rooftops of old Dubrovnik as seen from the 2-kilometer-long walkway atop its ancient walls. The island of Lokrum is in the background.

farmer to teach me the Croatian word for “apple”, and we were off and running. The kid even joined in the fun and announced that he wanted us to buy some shliva (plums).

Or how about this: one night in Brac, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. When the waiter appeared with the bill, we pulled out our credit card and were informed that they accepted cash only (we later learned this is quite a common policy at many smaller restaurants and hotels). Horrified, we realized we had only a few kuna (the local currency) in our pockets. To our amazement, the waiter laughed and said, “Just come back tomorrow and pay.” He didn’t even ask where we were staying or what our names were. As we ran to the nearest ATM, we half-joked that an American restaurant would’ve made the kid wash dishes in the kitchen while Kevin and I went to get the cash.

Diane, Kevin, and the Kid with the world's most interesting man

Diane, Kevin, and the Kid with the world’s most interesting man

And then there was Branko, the man who owned the villa we rented for a week outside Dubrovnik. He was hilarious, spoke six languages fluently, and had a life story that would make a blockbuster movie. You know the dude in the Dos Equis television ads who, according to the announcer, is “…the world’s most interesting man”? Well, he’s got nothing on Branko, who has been an underwater demolition expert, a hotel owner in Cambodia, a nightclub bouncer in Sweden (where he supervised a then-unknown Dolph Lundgren), an artist, and an antiques collector. The guy also happens to be a close friend of his fellow Croat Goran Visnjic, the actor who played hunky Doctor Kovac on the TV series ER. As far as the kid (and the rest of us) was concerned, Branko was a rock star.

When I mentioned that Kevin wanted to do some scuba diving, Branko arranged for a private diving trip with a boat-captain friend of his in the tiny seaside village of Molunat. When we asked Branko to recommend a good fish market, he turned up at the front door the next day with two kilos of fresh-off-the-boat fish. We looked forward to Branko’s visits and stories almost as much as we looked forward to our sightseeing excursions. We even invited him to have a barbecue dinner with us at the villa; it was one of the highlights of our vacation. When our week at the villa was over, saying goodbye to Branko was like saying goodbye to an old friend. You don’t get that kind of experience at a mega-hotel.

But the locals aren’t all we loved about Croatia. The scenery is spectacular, and we saw only a small part of it. The Dalmatian coast and its hundreds of islands are ruggedly stunning, with high, sheer, rocky cliffs that plunge into some of the clearest turquoise water I’ve ever seen. The hairpin turns on the roads at the tops of those cliffs reveal one jaw-dropping vista after another. There are countless small coves, beaches, and villages at the bottom of the cliffs. Some, like quiet Dubovica beach, are only accessible via a steep hike down from the highway. Others, like picture-perfect Cavtat with its waterfront restaurants and its harbor full of million-dollar yachts, are worthy of an entire week’s stay. And the panorama of terracotta roof tiles and church bell towers that we got from atop Dubrovnik’s medieval city walls was so beautiful it made me cry.

I once read somewhere that your sense of smell triggers the most powerful memories. If that’s true, then every time I smell oregano from now on, I’ll immediately be transported to the hiking path high up in Kuna Konavoska near the Bosnian border, where I stepped on a clump of wild oregano and asked Kevin and the kid, “Who could be cooking something so delicious in the middle of nowhere?” When I catch the fragrance of lavender, I’ll suddenly be back at the open-air market stalls on Hvar, where old men and women sell sachets, lotions, and oils made from the island’s most famous crop. And I won’t be able to smell a wood-fired barbecue without instantly remembering the Dalmatian coast’s konoba restaurants and the “lamb under the bell” dinner that is the region’s gastronomic celebrity.

Before we left for Croatia, some people asked Kevin and me if taking along a 13-year-old was going to cramp our sightseeing style. In fact, just the opposite happened: we got to see the country from the kid’s perspective and, to use one of his favorite words, that perspective was epic. Without him, how else would we have so quickly learned to say sladoled, the most important Croatian word of all? (It means “ice cream,” in case you’re wondering.) When we were sitting on jam-packed Donja Luka beach in Makarska, it was the kid who announced, “Hey, this is COOL. There are no other Americans here!” (He was right. We realized we were surrounded by Croats, Italians, Bosnians, French, Germans, and Russians.)

The League of Nations pick-up game

The League of Nations pick-up game

And finally, it was the kid who unwittingly created the most special vacation memory of all. We were at the beach in Mlini when he and our British friends’ son started kicking a soccer ball back and forth on a nearby patch of grass. Within minutes a Croat boy had joined them, followed quickly by some Bosnian and Danish boys. Suddenly, we had a League of Nations pickup match. There was no single common language to unite the spectators and players – just a love of soccer. At the end of the match, the boys grinned, shook hands, and gave each other the silent nod of the head that means “good game” in any language. Then everyone went and got sladoled.

When I first shared the soccer-game story on my Facebook wall, a college classmate of mine who is a minister commented, “Our children will lead the way if we let them.” Kevin and I hoped Croatia would be a fun experience for us as a family, of course, but we also hoped it would open the kid’s eyes and help him see that he’s part of a much bigger world. We knew the trip had been a success when he announced, “I love Croatia. It’s awesome – I could live here.” Hard to argue with that.

Sunset in Bol, on the island of Brac

Sunset in Bol, on the island of Brac

So grab your own kid – or your inner kid – and go to Croatia. Go soon. Go experience one of Europe’s truly authentic, friendly, and unspoiled places. Go see for yourself why the Croats love their country so much, and why lots of visitors like me do as well. But most of all, just go.

 

Diane Giombetti is a freelance business copywriter . She’s working on a book  which chronicles her many adventures during her gap year at Mount Holyoke. Among them? Meeting her husband, Kevin . . . She is also an independent stylist for Stella and Dot and can be reached at www.stelladot.com/dgiombetticlue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seen in Salem

Monday, October 14, 2013 | Category: Reflections

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Which witch shall I be . . .?

Which witch shall I be . . .?

 

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Here we go again . . .!

We’re just getting started!

Last week’s parade kicked off the month-long Haunted Happenings celebration in Salem, MA.

Here are a few shots of the scene on Essex Street on this beautiful Sunday.

Stop by for a spell, if you can . . .

Buon viaggio!

No need to go to Venice for your masks . . .

No need to go to Venice for your masks . . .

 

Boo!

Boo!

 

Should witches be this happy?!?
Should witches be this happy?!?

 

 

 

 

 

A good hat . . . it's not hard to find here in Salem!

A good hat . . . it’s not hard to find here in Salem!

From Sin City, UT to Unspeakable Danger

Thursday, September 26, 2013 | Category: Travel Writing

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Beneath Yellowstone Park a monstrous plume of hot rock is causing the earth to heave and tremble. Past volcanoes have erupted with a thousand times the power of Mount St. Helens. The future is anybody’s guess. — When Yellowstone Explodes, National Geographic, August 2009

It’s two days before we leave for an adventure trip to Jackson Hole and then on to Yellowstone. For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me assure you that I am not an adventure traveler. An old boyfriend once said that his idea of camping was a Holiday Inn. For me, it might be a Hyatt. So what do we do on this adventure trip? The very thought has been keeping me up at night.

Tubing? Nope. Horseback riding? Wouldn’t do that to a horse. White water rafting? Not on your life. Climbing? Hah! I saw ads in the mountain country guides for bungee trampolining and tandem paragliding. Won’t be doing either of those. Rope me a ranger tour and I’m yours. I’ll take an easy-to-moderate walking tour that lasts less than two hours — the approximate time it takes before my feet start to fall asleep (the perils of the wide-foot walker). Best of all, put me in a boat on a lake and I’m a happy girl.

I’ve have sought these activities out and hope I can convince my much-higher-risk-than-I husband and sister-in-law that these are the best options. Oh — and I am, under no circumstances, sleeping in a tent, no matter how quaint and authentic the propaganda makes that sound. Bears have claws, people, and bison can charge a tent at 35 m.p.h. and then we are lunch.

It’s paragraphs like this one in the guidebooks that make me want to stay in bed:

Wyoming’s wide open spaces offer limited opportunities to purchase food and fuel. Before starting out, consult a road map to plan your fuel and refreshment stops. Once on the road, fuel stops are often farther apart than travelers might realize. And watch for livestock and wildlife on the highways, particularly at dawn and dusk when many animals are most active.” — National Historic Trails: Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide Across Wyoming, NPS 2007

And my favorite, from the same source:

“Cell phone coverage is spotty all across Wyoming. If you choose to drive back roads, do not count on summoning help in case of emergency. Go prepared. Check your tires, carry a spare and a road map, leave pets at home, take food and water, and be ready to hike back to the highway, if necessary.”

Gentle readers, I do not want to have to gnaw off my arm a la James Franco, nor do I want to have a close encounter with a grizzly or a bison. Why the hell did I say yes to this trip? Because it will make for good copy if I survive? I guess. I survived Yosemite last year; maybe luck will be with me again this year. On the other hand, the biggest fear at Yosemite was that a rogue sequoia would fall on me. This time’s a little different, since this is the season when the animals come down from the higher elevations to fatten up for the upcoming winter hibernation. But not on me, I hope.

It’s times like this that I realize just what a city girl I really am. My sister-in-law says we have to go shopping tomorrow for food to keep in a cooler because food and drink opportunities are few and far between on the road, and the ones that do exist charge extortionate prices. Really? And she keeps talking about cute cabins that we can all share, some of which have indoor plumbing (I think she’s kidding about the plumbing). Again — really? Oh, and my ears haven’t stopped popping since Friday night. I’m not good above sea level and drink approximately 3,000 gallons of water a day to stay vertical.

Quaking Aspens outside of Park City (Sin City) Utah

Quaking Aspens outside of Park City (Sin City) Utah (me, too)

Tim and I have spent the past few days exploring the Park City-Salt Lake City area while his sister works. We tracked down the cemetery where their relatives are buried — the ones they didn’t even know they had five years ago — the first Jewish settlers to Utah (that will be a whole other post). And we found the Brooks Arcade, the building his great-great-uncle put up in 1891 in Salt Lake. We went to the Park Silly Market and bought delicious olive oil and salt bread, a red pepper spread and a silver necklace for me. We did some outlet shopping, where Tim got some great shoes. I got a few short-sleeved t-shirts because I seem to have packed for Iceland in February rather than Utah in September. Maybe it’s just unseasonably warm here this year, but I’m very happy with the outcome. It probably won’t hold out in Wyoming, but that will be the least of my worries, right?

I’ll be optimistic and say that I’ll tell you all about it in a few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed . . .

Buon viaggio!