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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whitewater Rafting Explorer, Richard Bangs, Leads a Trip to Bosnia

Sobek Expeditions, founded by Richard Bangs and John Yost in 1973, almost single handedly put the sport of whitewater rafting on the map. They were the first outfitter to descend Chile’s Bio Bio River and Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River, now considered classics.  In 1991, Sobek merged with Mountain Travel to form one of the premier adventure companies in the world. Yet, Bang, author of Rivergods, a collection of essays on thirteen first descents, refuses to rest on his laurels. He always seems to put together one kick-ass trip each summer and this year is no different. Joining forces with George Wendt, owner of O.A.R.S., Bangs is returning to Bosnia, which he calls the last great authentic place.

In his own words: “The Bosnia we know from images of the war—the bombed and bullet-ridden buildings, the scars from the 1,200-day siege of Sarajevo—has kept from view a Bosnia we don’t know, a place where nature has been bighearted with its gifts. The country hosts one of the two greatest tracks of primeval forests in Europe, unmatched biodiversity, daunting mountain faces yet to be climbed, deep gorges yet to be traversed, wild rivers with water so pure you can cup your hand to drink, some of the highest concentrations of wildlife, and perhaps the last highland tribes of semi-nomadic people on the continent. In many ways, Bosnia today has what the rest of the world has lost. We rafted there last summer—and what we discovered was a stitch of river stretches so unspoiled, so stunning, so exquisite and exciting, that we could not resist returning.” The date is August 25-September 1, 2011, and the price is $2990 per person. Call Carrie at 800-346-6277, ext. 4786 to reserve a space.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/12/11 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Big New York Sandwich Book

I’ve always cherished a good sandwich, from the grilled extra sharp cheddar cheese sandwiches I used to make in my college dorm room at 2 am to a pastrami and rye at Katz’s Deli for lunch. Lately, however, the sandwich has moved out of the midday slot and arrived on dinner menus, a nod to a daring chef’s innovative prowess. New York food writers, Sara Reistad-Long and Jean Tang, have reined in this trend and created a muffaletta of a cookbook, The Big New York Sandwich Book. Culling recipes from the city’s top chefs, Reistad-Long and Tang present such tantalizing fare as a “tartiflette” grilled cheese sandwich created by the Big Cheese himself, Artisanal Fromagerie’s Terrance Brennan. Brennan uses my favorite French cheese, Reblochon, slices of apple-smoked bacon, Yukon gold potatoes, and country bread to design a sandwich that’s not too hard to make, but will blow away my family at dinner time. Chicken of the sea? Throw it back in the water, especially after trying Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s hot and crispy tuna sandwich, served with fresh tuna dipped in extra virgin olive oil on crustless white bread. Daniel Boulud chimes in with his version of a croque monsieur, complete with his recipe of béchamel sauce. My perfect picnic award goes to the Tuscan pear, cheese, and prosciutto panini given to us by Cesare Casella, proprietor of Salumeria Rosi on the Upper West Side. I have a feeling I’ll be devouring this tasty combo sometime this spring next to a bed of tulips.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/11/11 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, April 01, 2011

Gamirasu Cave Hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey

    “Urgup?  You stop in Urgup?” I asked the bus driver slowly in English as I pointed to our ticket.
    “Yes, Urgup.  Coming.  Coming,” the man replied as he continued driving like a maniac. Something was seriously wrong. We had passed Goreme about an hour ago and, according to my trusty guidebook, Goreme is only five miles from Urgup in the heart of Turkey’s intriguing Cappadocia region. 
    “Urgup, we’re going to Urgup!” my wife repeated loudly, approaching the point of hysteria. The driver nodded in agreement and grinned.
    We eventually arrived in Urgup seven hours later, in the middle of the night. A pack of wild dogs howled as they followed us to our inn. There was nothing wrong with my guidebook. In a rush, the driver had sped past Urgup to the next city. He didn’t speak our language, we didn’t speak his. Insanely frustrated, we arrived at the bus station, only to learn that the bus back to Urgup didn’t leave for another five hours.
    When we awoke the following morning in our Urgup hotel room, the strange scenery surrounding us seemed more bizarre than the previous evening’s events. We were inside a 1,000-year-old Byzantine monastic retreat carved out of a cave, now an 18-room hotel called Gamirasu. When Mount Erciyes poured lava over this region thousands of years ago, the volcanic ash formed a surreal, lunar-like landscape consisting of cone-shaped monoliths and layers of soft volcanic rock called “tufa.” Early Christians found the pervious terrain ideal for escaping persecution by Romans and Arabs. When wet, the tufa could be easily carved like soap to make caves out of the pinnacles as well as underground cities descending hundreds of feet below the surface.
    The first Christians came to the valleys of Cappadocia in the 4th century, led by St. Basil. They formed communities within the caves building living areas, bakeries, and workshops. The people of Cappadocia continue to live in these caves. The rooms are cooled by volcanic rock, which helps protect the 8th-century frescoes seen on the hotel walls.

I'm off to New York on Monday, back on April 11th. Have a great week!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/01/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hotel Explora, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile is a twisted mass of monoliths and hoodoos that rise sharply from the dry Patagonian steppe, a stunning glacial landscape where guanacos (orange and white-colored members of the llama family), rheas (ostriches), and flamingos congregate near watering holes. This is where Town & Country Magazine sent me to check out the luxurious, yet intimate Hotel Explora. Its superior location is apparent upon entering the lobby. The resort has vistas of the park’s most dramatic formation, The Horns, a block of sweeping granite that pierces the clouds.  Almost all of the hotel’s thirty rooms, even the whirlpool-adorned bathrooms, afford the same mind-blowing view.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/31/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast, Yachats, Oregon

If you’ve managed to book one of the six rooms at the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast in Yachats, Oregon, you’re in for a visual and culinary treat. Just south of Cape Perpetua, where the 900-foot- high cliffs overlook the Pacific, this is arguably the most stunning locale on the entire Oregon coast. You’ll spend the night in a former assistant lightkeeper’s quarters, set on a grassy patch below the Heceta Head Lighthouse, a tall white edifice that stands atop a small spit of land. Below, breakers explode against the burgundy red cliffs that hem in a narrow beach filled with driftwood.  In the darkness, grab a flashlight from the inn and hike up to the lighthouse to watch it flash beacon after beacon across the rugged shoreline and then out to sea. Come morning, dine on a seven-course breakfast with the other guests. Afterwards, a stretch on the wraparound verandah is in order, where you might spot crab boats coming into the harbor from their night catch.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/30/11 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Royal Hotel in Levuka, Fiji

While there are more than 300 islands in Fiji, most visitors opt to stay on the main island of Viti Levu where the international airport and the country’s two largest cities, Nadi and Suva, are located. Knowing that intimate Fijian villages and remote islands are less than an hour boat ride away, it pains me to meet people who spend their entire trip on this one commercial isle. Stay a night or two on the Coral Coast, one hour south of Nadi, to relax after the 10-hour flight from Los Angeles. Then ferry over to the town of Levuka on the island of Ovalau. More than fifty stores and hotels built in the 1850s still stand in this former capital of Fiji. Walk past the ficus trees down Beach Street to the most prestigious establishment of all, The Royal Hotel. Continuously operating since Levuka’s heyday, this is the oldest hotel in the South Pacific. Walk around the lobby and you feel like you’re entering a novel by Somerset Maugham or Robert Louis Stevenson, who both spent at least a night here. Inside, you’ll find rattan chairs, ceiling fans, a large stained oak bar, and a 100-year-old snooker table. Thankfully, one doesn’t have to be an acclaimed man of letters to afford this lodging. Cost of a room starts at $32 a night, including toast and tea for breakfast. 
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/29/11 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Staying at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi

The death last week of 97-year-old blues great Pinetop Perkins reminded me of the night my brother and I spent at the Shack Up Inn, one of the most unique accommodations in the country. Set on the Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the mechanical cotton picker made its debut in 1941, owner Bill Talbot converted six former sharecropper shacks into his own version of a B&B (bed and beer). Each rambling shack pays tribute to a blues legend (Clarksdale is the birthplace of the blues), like the one we stayed in dedicated to boogie-woogie pianist Perkins, who once worked at this same plantation. As you would expect, this is no luxurious retreat. Yet, what it lacks in comfort—thin mattresses in the two bedrooms and rusted sinks in the bathroom—it more than makes up with personality. There’s a large mural of Pinetop at the piano, blues playing on the TV, a fridge stocked with beer, and beaten sofas on the front porch that overlook the cotton gin. The place has a loyal following of blues aficionados from around the globe, as evidenced by this quote in the guest book, “Pinetop, thank you for keeping me company on our long drives together.  I love and admire you.”

This week I’m going to delve into my most memorable night stays.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/28/11 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Paddling and Pinot Noir in Oregon

I love the pinot noirs coming out of Oregon, especially my favorite, Cristom, which I raved about in The Boston Globe. I also love whitewater rafting. So when I heard that Rogue Wilderness Adventures was offering a new trip for nature-loving wine enthusiasts, I had to spread the word. Raft 34 miles through the Wild & Scenic Rogue River corridor, then spend the nights in historic lodges where, at dinner, you’ll be treated to a pairing of some of Oregon’s finest wines with gourmet, locally inspired cuisine. The 3 days/2 nights jaunt costs $989 per person and departs on September 5th, 2011.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/25/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rekindling My Love for Cross-Country Skiing

The Northeast has received more than its fair share of snow this winter. In fact, Boston is set to receive another 2-4 inches this evening. I’ve taken this opportunity to x-c ski at three of my favorite spots in New England. In January, I celebrated my wife’s birthday by skiing in the Berkshires at a Trustees of Reservations property called Notchview. While researching my first book, Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England, I skied at Notchview and remembered it being one of the premier spots for the sport. Upon my return trip, it was even more magical, with a healthy dumping of fresh snow creating a winter wonderland of bent pine branches. This past weekend, my family stayed at the historic Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire. On Sunday, under clear blue skies, I took my daughter and nephew for a morning jaunt on the web of trails found at the Bretton Woods Nordic Center. Mount Washington and its broad-shouldered slopes and snowcapped peak could be seen in its entirety, not wrapped in any clouds, which is a rarity in these parts. It was another glorious outing smelling the pines while cruising along a stream. This coming weekend, we’re off to Stowe, Vermont, to cross-country ski at Trapp Family Lodge during the height of the maple sugar season (see the best trips of the month section to the right of this entry). I look forward to tackling the Parizo Trail once again and having my bowl of soup in the cozy cabin. For dessert, I’ll try the homemade maple taffy.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/24/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Watching the Spring Migration of Birds

It’s hard to focus on writing this morning, grabbing my binoculars every five minutes to view the red-tailed hawks flying by my window. They love to rest on the branches of the tall oak trees outside my third floor office. I love this time of year, when my feathered friends start to return north and their cacophony of voices wake me up at sunrise. It’s too early to spot my beloved warblers as they cruise the Atlantic Flyway to their summer retreats. I’ll be heading to Mount Auburn Cemetery, a favorite haunt of Boston birders in mid-April, to spot those beauties. Last spring, I pointed out a website, Westport Osprey, that was tracking the flight of ospreys as they were making their way north. So far in 2011, Hudson left his winter home of Venezuela and is already back in his nest on the Westport River in southeastern Massachusetts. As of March 15, Sanford was still hanging out in the Bahamas ordering another rum punch at the swim-up bar. Stay tuned to Westport Osprey to track his flight.  And make a plan to visit Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, run by Mass Audubon, to find the nesting Westport osprey, bald eagles, piping plovers and other shore birds.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/23/11 at 01:00 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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