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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Top 5 Travels of 2010, Biking Along the Canals in Hertfordshire, England

Instead of rushing straight from London to Heathrow Airport this summer, my family and I wisely chose to spend one day in the countryside at a hotel in Hertfordshire, less than an hour’s drive from the city. Called The Grove, the resort was once the country estate of the Earls of Clarendon. Today, it’s best known for its golf course, which Tiger Woods called one of the finest in the country. It’s also a family favorite. Walk inside a walled-in garden and you’ll find a heated outdoor pool, beach volleyball, and the oh-so civilized sports of croquet and lawn tennis. Yet, nothing quite compared to renting bikes and finding a path along a serpentine canal that formed the perimeter of the property. Shaded by thick trees and rolling under centuries-old bridges, you were immediately transported to another time. Narrowboats were slowly navigating through the locks past the local anglers and lounging swans, adding to the allure. Afterwards, we headed back to Grove for our last fish and chips before the trans-Atlantic flight home.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/06/11 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Top 5 Travels of 2010, Visiting the Maasai at Shompole, Kenya

When visiting another country and booking a room, I always seek out local travel writers or outfitters who know every decent hotel in their country and have a basis for comparison. I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars, only to leave the important decision of where to stay to some stranger commenting on TripAdvisor. More than likely, it’s his first time in this country and it’s all bliss. But I know Africa too well and realize there are hotels that cater primarily to large tour companies from Asia and Europe, delivering the Disneyesque version of being on safari. So I asked Jane and Felix Pinto, owners of the Nairobi-based Micato Safaris, known for their boutique, small group outings, to find me the real thing, an authentic travel experience in the bush. They pointed the way to Shompole.

Less than an hour flight from Nairobi, you land in a grassy valley that feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Giraffes and warthogs greet you, along with Maasai villagers dressed in their colorful garb. You look around and find no signs of civilization except for rocky outcroppings that look like rooms nestled into the hillside. On closer inspection, these rooms, less than a dozen, are suites with their own private plunge pools. There are no walls. You’re simply immersed in nature, sleeping in king-sized bed under a mosquito net. You awake to the sounds of tropical birds and the sights of baboons walking across the valley floor.

During the day, Maasai villagers take you on nature walks to show you the natural remedies they use to cure their ailments. I’m sure pharmaceutical companies have sent teams to visit the Maasai to hopefully recreate these cures in pill form at a much more exorbitant price. We also were guests in their small homes and took bush drives to spot lions, Cape buffalo, and pink flamingoes that stand in the shallow waters of Lake Natron, the volcanic slopes of Tanzania seen in the distance. Unlike the Masai Mara, there are no other Jeeps taking people on drives, because there are no other travelers within a 50-mile radius! One night at twilight, the local villagers performed a dance with Mount Shompole looming in the background. Unlike hokey Hawaiian luau dancers that I’m used to seeing, this felt genuine. See for yourself.

Watch the video below, or if you do not see it view it on YouTube.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/05/11 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Top 5 Travels of 2010, Biking Shark Valley, The Everglades, Florida

Another great day ride, this one an hour outside of Miami. Drive west on the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) and you’ll reach the Shark Valley Visitor Center at the northern tip of Everglades National Park. Rent bikes from the rangers and get ready for one of the most exhilarating 15-mile loops of your life. More than likely, it will take you an hour to bike that first mile. That’s because you’ll want to stop every 20 yards or so to get another photograph of an alligator sleeping in the tall grass, large turtles sunbathing on rocks, and the extraordinary amount of birdlife that call the canal next to the bike trail home. Anhingas dry their wings on the branches of the gumbo limbo tree, wood storks, white whooping cranes, and the long-legged great blue heron stand tall in the shallow water, while pink roseate spoonbills fly over the royal palms. This ride is ideal for any budding wildlife photographer.

(Photo credit: Lisa Leavitt)
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/04/11 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, January 03, 2011

Top 5 Travels of 2010, Biking to Giverny, France

I can think of no better way to start 2011 than to look back at my year of travels in 2010 and see which experiences surpassed all expectations. Last July, I took the family to Paris. We climbed up the Eiffel Tower, viewed the monumental works of art at the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Pompidou museums, shopped in the Marais, celebrated my brother’s birthday with a lavish spread at a friend's home in the 16th arrondissement, and toured an overlooked museum devoted to French innovation, Musee des Arts et Metiers. The highlight for me, however, was our one day away from Paris on a bike tour to Giverny, the home of Claude Monet. Run by Fat Tire Bike Tours, we took a short train ride to the village of Vernon. As soon as we arrived, we were handed our bikes and visited an outdoor market to stock up on creamy Reblochon cheese, tasty Rosette de Lyon sausage, and hot-out-of-the-oven baguettes from the nearby boulangerie. We had our picnic lunch in a park overlooking swans swimming in the Seine, and then headed out on a bike trail that connects Vernon with Giverny. We entered the picturesque hamlet and were soon walking over that Japanese bridge seen in many of Monet’s works. The whole trip took about 8 hours and cost 65 Euros per biker, a perfect day trip for our family of four.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/03/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Choice Music Cuts of 2010

Most people think the life of a travel writer is glamorous. Realistically, I’m only on the road a quarter of the year. The rest of my time is spent chained to a desk cranking out stories on my third-floor home office in solitude. To overcome my hermetic existence, I crank up the tunes. In fact, I savor music far more than literature, with most of my day listening to iTunes and Pandora. One of my favorite times of the year is when the Boston Globe music critics put out their list of top CDs. In the past, I found favorites like Passion Pit and Jamie Lidell on this list. This year, there are some strong Jazz songs like young trumpeter Erik Telford and his smoking groove, “Kinetic.” Also good is the live sax playing of the Sherman Irby Quarter. Check out the tune “Bohemia After Dark.” R&B and Electronica were pretty weak this year, though I did like “Locked Inside” from Janelle Monae’s first CD and “Low Shoulders” from the chillhouse sounds of Toro y Moi.

The strongest genre by far was hip-hop. Forgot about all the airplay Eminem, Kanye, and Drake receive. Listen to “Famous” by Curren$y, “Leaders” by Nas and Damian Marley, “Angels” from Diddy’s surprisingly good “Last Train to Paris” release, and Big Boi’s “Night Night.” However, my choice for album of the year goes to Rick Ross and his “Teflon Don.” Listen to the symphonic “Maybach Music III,” featuring my girl Erykah Badu, and just wait for Ross to come in at the end with that take-no-prisoners voice. Oh yeah, I’m ready to kick some ass.

As always, thanks for checking in. I’ll be back with my “Top 5 Adventures in 2010” on January 3rd.  Wishing You a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous 2011!

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/23/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Now’s the Time to Visit Zion National Park

With winter daytime temperatures in the mid-50s, Utah's Zion National Park is a coveted off-season secret with hikers. The red and amber canyon walls that form a tower of massive rock is usually blanketed by snow at higher elevations (7,000 to 9,000 feet). Down at the 4,000-foot high Park Headquarters, however, all you’ll need is a decent pair of boots. Flurries rarely make it to these lower heights. A good warm-up near headquarters is the 2-mile round-trip Watchman Trail. Climbing to a plateau near the base of a twisted monolith, the trail offers views of lower Zion Canyon, the Towers of the Virgin, and West Temple formations. Far more impressive is a hike in the Narrows where you walk in the Virgin River through a 1,000-foot-deep-chasm that’s a mere 20 feet wide. You’ll need a wet suit and booties because of the cool water temperatures, but that’s a small price to pay to have this monster slot to yourself. If you have your heart set on cross-country skiing, head to the rarely visited Kolob section of Zion. Pinnacles project out of the high mesa floor that, at 7,000 feet, is covered with snow.  


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/22/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Free Transportation Within 200 Miles of The Balsams in New Hampshire

Eyes widen and mouths gape as soon as you spot Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, and catch your first glimpse of The Balsams Hotel. The excitement builds on the long driveway up to this immense white edifice, created in an era when grand hotels were as common as one-room schoolhouses in the White Mountains. It’s a multi-tiered wedding cake topped with scarlet frosting and ringed by granite peaks. Turning 145 in 2011, the Balsams prides itself as one of the last beacons of civility in a world that spins far too fast on its axis. Come winter, the resort offers 95 km of cross-country trails and 15 downhill trails with a vertical of 1,000 feet. Expect a small ski area that’s ideal for young families or those who clamor for ego-boosting intermediate terrain.

To get new visitors to experience the Balsams, the hotel is offering to pick you up at your house if you’re within 200 miles of the resort. The offer is only available for first-time guests who stay at least five nights. For $149 per person, per night, guests receive free transportation, skiing each day, a ski lesson, equipment rental, lodging, breakfast and dinner.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/21/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Globetrotter’s Get-Gorgeous Guide

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Debbi Karpowicz Kickham for more than decade. She worked as travel editor at Robb Report before having an illustrious freelance career that has taken her on cruises around the world, with multi-month stopovers at her favorite haunt, Hawaii. Now Kickham is sharing her insights on how to look good while traveling in new book titled “THE GLOBETROTTER’S GET-GORGEOUS GUIDE: Diet and Beauty Secrets of Travel and Beauty Pros, Traveling Executives, and Celebrity Travelers.” She notes that it’s the world’s first beauty book for traveling women. The book is filled with tips from flight attendants to road-warrior CEOS and executives, on everything from beauty products to luggage.  There’s a chapter on cruising, another chapter on beauty products from around the world made with local indigenous ingredients, and a special bonus section about buying bargains throughout Paris and France. Samantha Brown of The Travel Channel wrote the Foreword, and Kickham completed interviews with Joan Lunden, Cheryl Tiegs, Ivana Trump, and other well-known names. So if you haven’t yet found that perfect Christmas gift for your loved one, this might do the trick.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/20/10 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Horseback Riding in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains

A mere hour east of Phoenix, suburban sprawl fades and you reach the rugged terrain of the Superstition Mountains. With elevations ranging from 2,000 feet to more than 6,000 feet in the eastern uplands, the Superstitions are ringed with steep-walled cliffs, thorny cacti, and deeply eroded canyons. The best way to pierce this harsh interior is in the saddle of a strong quarterhorse. Numerous trails weave through large stretches of ponderosa pines and tall saguaros, some as high as sixty feet. Then there are the stump-like barrel cacti, which grows a whopping 10-12 inches a century and the most commonly consumed cacti, the prickly pear.  Keep your eyes glued and you might see the javenlina, a three-foot long desert pig with a long snout and husks. You should also be on the lookout for the usual desert crew of rattlers, gila monsters, and scorpions. Don Donnelly Horseback Stables, located in the foothills of the Superstitions, will take you on a 7-hour day ride or an overnight. Horses, camping equipment and a hearty steak dinner are included in the price. 
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/17/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Family-Friendly Rafting Trips on the Salmon River

Western River Expeditions will celebrate its 50th year in 2011. Founded by Colorado River rafting pioneer, Jack Currey, the outfitter quickly expanded beyond the Grand Canyon to the other great rivers in the West, heading north into Utah and Idaho. Next summer, the company will unveil a new adventure for families with children as young as five. Called the Salmon River Canyons Family Magic Trip, the five-day, four-night jaunt will include a River Jester, whose sole duty is to keep the kids happy, leading nature-oriented games and activities for the kids, cooking a separate kids dinner at night, and telling stories and singing songs around the campfire. The Class II-IV rapids are mostly on the mild side, well-suited for the youngins. Trips meet and end in Lewiston, Idaho, and cost $1,435 for adults, $1,245 for children ages 5 to 15.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/16/10 at 02:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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