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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Miami’s Den of Tranquility

While we’re on the subject of Miami, I drove the family over to my favorite hideaway in the area last week, the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables. This lush oasis is a mix of ponds, palms, ferns, big birds, and whimsical sculpture. One step inside the serene environs and I’m staring at an anhinga drying its wings in the sun next to giant polka dotted pumpkins created by Japan’s Yayoi Kusama. One of Dale Chihuly’s colorful works of glass perfectly blends in with the orchids and big-leaf ferns in the conservatory. But it’s the serpentine trails that take you into a waterfall-laden rainforest shaded by vanilla trees, under the Spanish moss hanging from a southern live oak, and past the massive roots of a 70-year old baobab tree that keeps me coming back to this 83-acre gem. Add the large collection of herons and warblers that are fortunate to call the Fairchild home and you have the perfect rendezvous.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/09/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, March 08, 2010

Biking the 15-mile Shark Valley Loop, Everglades National Park, Florida

If you happen to be in Miami and crave an authentic outdoor experience away from the trendy restaurants and clubs in South Beach, take an hour-long drive on the Tamiami Trail (Route 41) to Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Try to get here on the early side (before 11 am), because the parking lot fills up quick, and bring water and sandwiches for lunch. Then rent a bike and head out on the 15-mile paved Shark Valley Loop. Far from the deafening noise of a propeller boat, a tourist magnet in these parts, you get to bike at your own pace along canals teeming with alligators, turtles, and an extraordinary amount of large birds. It took my family of four almost an hour to bike one mile because we had to stop every 50 yards to get a photo of that gator basking in the sun next to the bike trail. Don’t worry. They could care less about you and no one’s ever been attacked on the route. Usually near the alligator was an anhinga drying its wings on a branch and wood storks and white whooping cranes standing tall in the shallow water. There was every type of heron imaginable, from the stocky black-crowned night heron to the long-legged great blue heron. Another highlight were the pink roseate spoonbills resting in the dense sagebrush along the canal. Stop midway at the observation deck to get a good overview of the Everglades topography, a mix of sinuous waterways and tall swaying grass. This is also a good spot to have that sandwich or snack you brought before heading back.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/08/10 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, March 05, 2010

The Perfect Weekend to Hit the Slopes and Trails

March is my favorite time to ski. The days are longer and brighter, the snow softer, and with spring just around the corner, it’s time to get my last runs in before the season quickly comes to end. With a deluge of snowfall across America this past week, from two feet in Vermont to three feet in the Tahoe area, we have even more reason to hit the slopes. Hardcore athletes looking to work up a definite sweat this weekend should head to Pittsfield, Vermont, on Saturday. Called the Winter Brutality Weekend, the town will feature a marathon, half-marathon, and 6.5-miler race, all on snowshoes. For the truly insane, there’s a 100-mile Snowshoe Marathon! One of the leaders of this endurance test is Noel Hanna, who in December achieved his goal of climbing to the summit of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents and then running down. The last was Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. So whether you’re a bunny slope skier or serious athlete, you have no excuse not to get out there this weekend and go play.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/05/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Swim With Your Ipod

I like my tunes, especially when working out. Throw on my favorite R&B and electronica and I’m ripping through those 40 minutes on the elliptical or my free weight curls. That’s probably the main reason why I stopped doing laps in the pool. I hated listening to the sound of my breath wheezing for air. Well, now I can listen to my Ipod and still crank out the music thanks to H20 Audio’s waterproof cases and headphones that keeps all sizes of Ipods dry. Not surprisingly, Olympic swimming stars Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin are partnering with the company to help get the word out and fill up those lanes once again.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/04/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A New Five-Star Lodge Opens in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest

No one needs to be reminded of the brutal atrocities committed in Rwanda in the 90s, where over a span of several months more than a million people were murdered. Thankfully, old wounds can heal. The small central African country that borders Uganda to the north and Tanzania to the east has transformed from “Hotel Rwanda” to Nyungwe Forest Lodge, a five-star resort set to open next week. Set in the mountainous southwestern part of the country in Nyungwe National Park, the region is known for its ancient rainforest canopy with more than 200 different types of trees from the giant lobelia to the African mahogany. Take a walk with naturalists and you’ll also find 13 species of primates ranging from chimpanzees to acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkeys to the baboon-like Grey-cheeked Mangabeys. The lodge is managed by the Mantis Group, who run luxury boutique hotels through the game preserves of South Africa.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/03/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Playgrounds for Seniors

One of my favorite books to read to my children when they were young was the poignant “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, about a relationship a boy has with a tree over the course of his life. In the final pages, an older man returns, cane in hand. As Silverstein writes:

And after years the boy came back, both of them were old.
“I'm nothing but an old stump now. I'm sorry but I've nothing more to give.”
“I do not need very much now, just a quiet place to rest,”
The boy, he whispered, with a weary smile
“Well,” said the tree, “An old stump is still good for that.”

Well, so much for resting. Seniors these days are returning to their youth. London just announced it was building a playground in Hyde Park that caters not to kids or their parents, but aging baby boomers. “Every park has a children’s playground, very few have playgrounds for adults, and none have playgrounds for the elderly,” said Madeline Elsdon, head of a local residents’ association, in a recent AP article. Catered to the over-60 crowd, the playground will feature exercise equipment to help seniors with balance, flexibility, and muscle toning. I just hope they swing and ask their grandchildren for a push!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/02/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, March 01, 2010

Free Travel Advice to All Military Personnel on Leave

Over the years, I’ve given travel advice to friends, family, neighbors, editors, strangers, you name it. Once people know you’re a travel writer, the questions quickly follow. And believe me, I’m happy to point folks in the right direction. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I was stunned and delighted to get the following email:

Hello Steve, hope you don't mind me contacting you. I am a US Army soldier currently serving in Iraq, and hope to be home in 2 months after being gone for 8. I would love to take my very hard working wife (also active duty US Army) and 3 young daughters (7,4,2) on a warm beach vacation somewhat near our suburban Maryland home. I read your great review, and the only caveat is that my wife has a security clearance that makes it difficult to plan travel out of the US on short notice. I was thinking the US VI or possibly Puerto Rico and wondered what you thought. We have taken one cruise, Disney out of Canaveral and absolutely loved it. We all love water and beaches, so thought that something all-inclusive in a warm destination that didn't require passports would be ideal. We lived in Hawaii for 3 years before the children, and even though my wife thinks the 12 hour flight is doable, I think something in our local area w/ less flight time would be better. Thanks so much.

To which I responded:

Thanks for being in touch!  I'm happy to be of assistance. I would scratch Hawaii--too far a trek for the 2 and 4-year old. And let's be real. Do you really want to go to Hawaii with the kids? I love St. John in the USVI. See if you can a good rate at the Westin, http://www.westinresortstjohn.com. Do you know of any military discounts at hotels? That might help. Disney Cruises are always a safe bet for your kids. So is Royal Caribbean. But make sure your wife can get off at the Caribbean islands. Otherwise it's not worth it. Also, don't blow off Florida. If you're thinking about taking your vacation in April, Florida is warm that time of year. I love Sanibel Island, outside of Fort Myers. Another favorite trip when our kids were your age was San Diego. You can hit Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, maybe even cruise up to Anaheim to go to Disneyland, and hit the beaches in Coronado and Pacific Beach.

He liked my San Diego idea and I was happy to help. So much so that I’m offering free travel advice to any military personnel going on leave!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/01/10 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Disappointing America’s Cup

For those of you who caught that small short blurb in the middle of the sports section last week, smack dab between Winter Olympics, basketball, and spring training baseball coverage, the America’s Cup is finally returning to American soil for the first time in 15 years. Software billionaire Larry Ellison and his BMW Oracle Racing team easily crushed the Swiss in Valencia, Spain. But did you take a look at his boat, a space-age trimaran that’s all sail, little deck? This is what the greatest sailing race has been reduced to, creating the fastest object on the water? Call me a traditionalist but I yearn for my childhood where we would head to Newport and watch the likes of Ted Turner and Dennis Connor sail large mono-hulled sailboats that at least looked like sleek yachts, not something better suited for Star Wars. One of the greatest thrills I had was racing on the winning 1986 Stars and Stripes boat in St. Martin, now used as a tourist attraction, racing against other boats from that era. It’s a far better way to introduce people to the exhilaration of sailing races, at least compared to Ellison’s high-priced toy.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/26/10 at 01:59 PM
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Save Money on Rental Cars

Last week, I took the family to Miami Beach and Marco Island for Presidents Week vacation. Flying into Fort Lauderdale Airport, rental car prices were averaging a ridiculous $750 a week for a mid-sized vehicle. But if you picked up that same car down the road from my hotel in Miami Beach, the price was significantly reduced to a more affordable $300 a week. With a cost of taxi from Fort Lauderdale Airport to Miami Beach being a mere $35, I saved myself over $400 simply by not booking the rental car at the airport. It seems that rental car companies are intentionally jacking the prices at airports, assuming that travelers don’t want to hassle with picking up the car at a downtown location. But if you do the search like I did on the Dollar website, you’ll be happy with the savings of dollars!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/25/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bike the Indian Continent from Agra to Kanyakumari

Tour d’Afrique, the socially responsible bike touring company out of Toronto, doesn’t fool around when they create their dream bike trips. In 2003, they traversed the entire African continent in four months, from Cairo to Capetown. Then came the 50-day jaunt on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul, the 2752-mile Silk Route ramble from Istanbul to Samarkand, and 7500-mile Vuelta Sudamericana that traveled from Rio to Quito. Starting in January 2011, they will set their sites on India, cycling from the Taj Mahal to the southern tip of the country, passing though the desert cities of Rajasthan, the city of Mumbai, and the beaches of Goa. You can take the trip in its entirety (2050 miles) from January 29 to March 15, 2011 or split it up into sections. The $5200 cost includes guides, van support, and lodging. A much needed masseuse for those tired calves is extra.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/24/10 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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