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Friday, January 27, 2017

Arizona Week—Our Fair Share of Excellent Mexican Food

We didn’t skimp on Mexican fare during out time in Arizona. Our first guacamole was made with tender chunks of ribeye at the Mexican-Asian influenced SumoMaya in Scottsdale. The rock shrimp tempura roll and ahi tuna tostada were also big hits at our table. Elote Café in Sedona was our favorite meal of the trip. We arrived when the restaurant opened at 5 pm and already there was a line out the door. A sublime carne asada, topped with a square of blue cheese and served with black beans and rice, was washed down with a perfectly concocted margarita on the rocks. Adding to our bliss was a riveting sunset that enlightened the red rock canyons outside the window. Swanky Café Poca Cosa in Tucson served the finest chicken mole of the trip. We ended the trip at supposedly the oldest Mexican restaurant in America, El Charro Café, which originally opened in Tucson in 1922. We sampled their signature dish, the carne seca. Dried in the Sonoran Desert sun, angus beef is shredded and grilled with green chile, tomatoes, and onions. I’ll be thinking about that hot spicy flavor all winter long in Boston. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/27/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Arizona Week—Biking Tucson

Once a kayaking guide on Lake Powell, Jimmy Bultman exchanged paddles for pedals and followed his sweetheart to the southern part of Arizona to open Tucson Bike Tours. The compact size and level terrain of the city lends itself well to biking and Jimmy, a history buff, is the ideal guide to give you an overview on a 2-hour ride. We cruised past the restaurants and bars on 4th Avenue to the University of Arizona campus, where Jimmy pointed out the new memorial dedicated to the men who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Arizona. We biked across Rattlesnake Bridge, a bridge that looks like a rattler, and then made our way to Hotel Congress, the hotel where bank robber, John Dillinger, was captured in 1934. There was a jazz festival going on so after the ride, we strolled back to the hotel’s excellent restaurant, Cup Café, to grab lunch and listen to live music. Jimmy next led us to the colorful houses of the historic neighborhood of the Presidio, past Tucson Museum of Art and near the last standing wall of an 18th-century fort built by the Spanish. Outside the home of Lalo Guerrero, the Chicano music legend, Jimmy used a small speaker to play Lalo’s well-known song about the old neighborhood, “Barrio Viejo.” He’s a guide who goes the extra mile to share his passion about the city. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/26/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Arizona Week—Enchanting Enchantment

It’s not until you leave the town of Sedona and make the 15-minute drive to Enchantment that you realize the resort is smack dab in the middle of one of the most spectacular settings in America. Nestled against the red rock walls of Boynton Canyon without any other signs of civilization beyond the property, this is the quintessential Arizona landscape one dreams about when booking a trip to the southwest. Tall, serrated mountain ledges, once home to a Native American population is now an ideal playground to hike, bike, and unwind at the world class destination spa, Mii Amo. I was last here a decade ago to pen a story on Sedona for The Boston Globe. Lounging in the hot tub after a morning of hiking in the canyon and not passing any other hikers, I can’t understand what took me so long to return. The free-standing casitas are spacious, furnished with an adobe-style fireplaces and balconies to savor the vista every morning as the hot Arizona sun illuminates the rock. At night after dinner, everyone heads outside to look at the stars while sitting around the fire pit. The pools and children's program attracts families, the destination spa attracts women on a spa package, and the junior suites are ideal for honeymooners. This is one place worth the splurge. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/25/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Arizona Week—The Impressive Musical Instrument Museum

When Lisa mentioned to me that there was a museum devoted to music in the northern outskirts of Phoenix, I initially scoffed at the idea, having already been to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Seattle. Thankfully, she persuaded me to visit the Musical Instrument Museum since it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t have nearly enough time to view the entire collection in this large building (give yourself at least 2 hours, preferably 3 hours). We went upstairs first to see the exhibitions devoted to music around the world. In the European galleries, display cases are arranged by country. Simply walk up to the Belarus video and your headset will automatically play the indigenous folk music of that country. In fact, the headset was amazing, immediately picking up the music in front of you without having to input numbers. In the United States/Canada gallery, I loved seeing the old clips of Coltrane and Miles in the jazz section, Natalie MacMaster work her fiddle in the Cape Breton display, and Lalo Guerrero singing about his native Barrio Viejo in Tucson, which we had just visited the day prior. Downstairs in the Artist Gallery, you’ll find the piano John Lennon used to write “Imagine,” Stevie Ray Vaughn’s signature guitar which he jams on in a video clip, and wardrobes worn by Johnny Cash, Elvis, and Taylor Swift. Nearby is the Experience Gallery, where you can pound the drums, try the xylophone, and other bizarre metal instruments that seemed better suited for Tibetan monks. A whole lot of fun that’s highly recommended when you’re next in Phoenix. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/24/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 23, 2017

Arizona Week—Hiking Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak

I always bring hiking boots when traveling to Phoenix, because it’s arguably the best city in the country for day hikes. There are some 200 miles of trails in the Phoenix park system including short summits like Piestewa that are ideally suited for a 2-hour lunch break. We started our climb around 11 am and we were back at the trailhead at 12:45 pm. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thigh-burner, especially the last part of the trail which steeply ascends the craggy 2,608-foot peak (total elevation gain is 1190 feet). Even on a weekday, the trail was crowded as we made our way up the dirt and rock path past every type of cacti imaginable—tall saguaro, barrel, hedgehog, pincushion, jumping cholla, and prickly pear. Vistas of the Phoenix skyline opened up below us as we passed an ironwood tree. Soon we were up on the summit, eating lunch while enjoying the views of the surrounding ridges and the valley below. I once penned a series of stories for Health Magazine on Urban Adventures, the best workouts outside the gym in cities across America. Climbing Piestewa Peak would be a good option.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/23/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Kennebunkport Paints the Town Red This February

Celebrate Valentine’s Day on the Maine coast, where Kennebunkport is painting the town red for romance. Throughout the month of February, all businesses at Dock Square in downtown Kennebunkport will be decked out in red lights. Better yet, hotels, restaurants, galleries, and shops will welcome travelers with savings, from Red Plate dining specials to Five Shades of Red hotel packages, and Red Tag sales from retailers. The “Love KPT” lodging package includes a two-night stay for two people at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel (starting at $373) or the Kennebunkport Inn (starting at $405), arrival goodies of red wine and chocolate-covered strawberries, a three course dinner for two, and a late check-out at noon. To help curate the perfect romantic getaway, couples can call upon Kennebunkport Resort Collection’s Cupid Concierge, Tasha Harper. Her job is to enhance the romance and take care of all details, from planning a surprise engagement to placing a love note with rose petals on the pillow at turndown. The Cupid Concierge can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/20/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Finland Celebrates 100 Years of Independence in 2017

After 700 years of Swedish rule, the area known as Finland served as a battlefield for Russian-Swedish conflicts until it fell into Russian hands in 1809. As an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire, it was allowed to develop politically, eventually leading to independence during the turmoil surrounding the Russian Revolution in 1917. To celebrate its centennial, Finland kicked off a year of festivities this past week with fireworks over Helsinki. Throughout 2017 there will be hundreds of events in this Nordic nation of 5.5 million, from dance parties to joint performances by the Sibelius Academy and Juilliard, to activities linked to Finland’s renowned sauna tradition. The government has earmarked 19 million euros for the celebrations, including the debut of a new national park, the nation’s 40th, highlighting the Finns’ love of nature. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/19/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 09, 2017

Our Picks for The Top Hotel Openings, Events, and Cruises in 2017

The January newsletter of ActiveTravels is always a fun issue to research, scouring the top travel trade and consumer publications for the most exciting news on resort openings and events. We go through at least 20 different publications and more than 1,000 press releases to find our Top 10 New Hotel Picks, 2017 Happenings Not to Miss, and What’s New in Cruising. We hope you enjoy our selections as much as we do. 

We’re off to Arizona today for a much-needed vacation with our son, Jake, back on January 18th. Wishing You a Happy, Healthy, and Active 2017.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/09/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 06, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Biking with Wayne Curtis in New Orleans

Wayne Curtis is best known as author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails” (Crown, 2006) and as cocktail columnist for Atlantic Monthly. But my friendship with Wayne goes back at least a decade prior when we were both moaning about the egregious book contracts Frommer’s publisher forced upon us. Thankfully, those days are far behind us. I caught up with Wayne in 2008, when he had just moved to New Orleans. He brought my brother Jim and me to his favorite bars and bartenders and it resulted in this story for The Boston Globe. But I know that Wayne has a passion beyond cocktails, including architecture, urban renewal, jazz, and biking. All figured prominently in a 5-hour tour he designed for my family on our trip to Nola this past April.

We rented bikes at Michael’s on Frenchman Street and off we went to our first stop, Crescent Park, a brand new green space that hugs the Mississippi River for over a mile. Then we biked the streets of Bywater, one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city especially for young hipsters, where Wayne pointed out a massive church and convent that will soon open as a hotel. We pedaled through Louis Armstrong Park in the Tremé neighborhood and then ventured on the latest bike trail in town, the 2.6-mile Lafitte Greenway. We stopped at Parkway for the requisite roast beef and shrimp po’boys (please see my story on New Orleans dining in Virtuoso Traveler) before biking through the Tulane campus, glorious Audubon Park and its exquisite moss-covered Spanish oak trees, and past the homes of Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, and Archie Manning in the Garden District. A quick ride through the crowds in the French Quarter and we arrived back at our bike rental store 15 miles later. A perfect ride, especially since we ended with a set of live music and a beer across the street at The Spotted Cat
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/06/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Schooner Mary Day’s Maine Lobster Bake

Spending three days with my daughter in August before she left for her first semester of college is a gift I don’t take for granted. A lobster bake on a deserted Maine island after a day of sailing aboard a historic Maine windjammer is just the icing on the cake. Captain Barry of the Schooner Mary Day anchored near a quiet beach with no other boats in sight and proceeded to row us over to shore. The crew built a fire, and then placed two massive pots brimming over with lobsters, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, and a healthy top layer of seaweed. When ready, Captain Barry threw off the layer of seaweed and grabbed his tongs to place all the lobsters and fixins in a circular design. We each grabbed our lobster and found a spot on the beach to dine. 

The lobster opened easily without the need for crackers, as large pieces of tender claw meat was soon dipped into the butter, washed down with a nice, dry sauvignon blanc. Sublime. After polishing off the tail and leaving a puddle of water on my shirt and bathing suit, I could start all over again. See, the best part of a lobster bake aboard a Maine windjammer is that you can eat as many lobsters as you want. Captain Barry tells me that his record is a college student who devoured 13 lobsters in one sitting. Content with my big 2-pounder, I was happy to make the first of several s’mores over the hot wood. Quite sated, four of us decided to swim back to the schooner instead of rowing. A wise decision. The water was clean, cool, refreshing. The dinner far more memorable than all those James Beard-award winning restaurants I dined at last year.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/05/17 at 06:00 AM
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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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