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Friday, November 02, 2018

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Newfoundland

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches

Here's an interesting idea: check the UNESCO World Heritage Site List before you travel. As of today, there are 1092 sites noted, and you never know what you will find. To be included on the UNESCO List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of ten selection criteria, which range from exhibiting human creative genius, or unique cultural tradition, or outstanding architecture, or exceptional natural beauty, and more. Certainly, the locations I've visited, including three recently in Newfoundland, when traveling with Adventure Canada, provide great insights into history, culture and the environment. 

First, near the northern tip of Newfoundland, I saw L'Anse aux Meadows, the remains of an 11th Century Viking settlement, evidence of the first European presence in North America. The archaeological remains found in 1960 date to approximately 1000 AD. Amazingly, the location was first established by a close reading of the Viking sagas. Adventure Canada travelers learned from Parks Canada interpreters about Norse expansion and how L'Anse aux Meadows' excavations informed the world about Norse travels, trade, and encampments. 

Second, just over the Strait of Belle Isle from northern Newfoundland lies the town of Red Bay, Labrador, home to the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station. Beginning in the 1500s, Basque whalers operated out of Red Bay harbor, at one time the largest whaling station in the world, and the best-preserved testimony of early European whaling tradition. In the mid-1970s, research uncovered this chapter in Canadian history, and thus helped to explain why some 7,000 Canadians claim Basque ancestry. Here, we hiked around the whaling grounds on Saddle Island, but my favorite memories of Red Bay are eating delicious fresh fish chowder at the local Whalers Restaurant (cod, halibut, salmon, scallops!), while Alan Doyle sang to the waitstaff.

Lastly, situated on the west coast of Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park provides proof of continental drift and plate tectonics. "The rocks of Gros Morne National Park collectively present an internationally significant illustration of the process of continental drift along the eastern coast of North America and contribute greatly to the body of knowledge and understanding of plate tectonics and the geological evolution of ancient mountain belts," according to UNESCO. The former Parks Canada superintendent of Gros Morne traveled onboard with us, and we hiked in the park with him and other guides. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/02/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Visiting Newfoundland’s Small, Remote Villages with Adventure Canada

Guest Post and Photos by Amy Perry Basseches

One of the best parts of my Expedition Cruise with Adventure Canada around Newfoundland was the opportunity to visit many small, remote villages and interact with local residents. In 1992, the Canadian government declared a necessary moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery which had shaped Newfoundland's way of life for 500 years. It was devastating for many communities and impacted Newfoundland profoundly. 35,000 fishermen and plant workers from over 400 coastal communities became unemployed, and thus the province experienced a dramatic restructuring, including considerable emigration. But there are the folks who wanted to stay, no matter what, and who adore their home. 

Here are some of the special places I visited:
 
Elliston: Population 308 in 2016. On the eastern coast of Newfoundland, Elliston is the "Root Cellar Capital of the World," due to having more than 130 documented root cellars. Up until the mid-1900s, it was hard to purchase vegetables here, so most families had a vegetable garden from which they ate all winter, thanks to root cellar storage. 
 
Bonavista: Near Elliston. Built in 1843, the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista is one of the few in the world where you can still climb the stone tower and see the same oil- fueled light that was used in the 1800s.  
 
Little Bay Islands: Population 71 in 2016. On the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, Little Bay Islands was the birthplace of two of Adventure Canada's on-board Resource Staff, so we got extra inside information about what the town looked like in the 1960s and 1970s when cod still thrived. Now in the process of government resettlement, because the remote location is difficult to provide with services, Little Bay Islands once had 11 stores, three dockyards, three churches, a doctor and a school. 
 
Trout River: Population 552 in 2016. Another small, rural fishing village, Trout River is on the western coast of Newfoundland. It was of great interest to me because a rare blue whale carcass washed ashore there in 2014, which was then preserved by researchers at the museum my husband Josh directs, Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. The Trout River blue whale measured 76.5 feet in length and weighed 150 tons. The ROM worked closely with local townspeople to remove and salvage the whale; later, a huge exhibit at the ROM was created. In the harbor at Trout River today, a community display tells the fascinating story of this blue whale. 
 
Francois: Population 89 in 2016. Pronounced Fran-SWAY, located on the southern coast of Newfoundland, this town has no roads, and thus can only be accessed by boat and helicopter. It considered and rejected resettlement in 2013. However, Adventure Canada has a special relationship here: every year, when the ship comes into Francois Bay, the locals cook and bake up a storm, and host Adventure Canada passengers at a "Kitchen Party" in the Community Hall. Much music, dancing, drinking, mingling, and eating ensued -- all good-natured and fun. Local Darren Durnford plays the accordion, guitar, and fiddle, all by ear! 
 
My personal advice: get off the beaten path when traveling, and you will be rewarded. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/01/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Circumnavigating Newfoundland with Adventure Canada

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

I've taken three journeys on Expedition Cruises-aboard smaller ships where passengers spend loads of time in zodiacs going ashore to hike, kayak, observe flora/fauna, and visit towns. These trips all have been fantastic opportunities to see places one could never glimpse if traveling only by land. Often, experts from the region join these Expedition Cruises as short-term "staff" to add a special insider touch. This week, I'm sharing with ActiveTravels readers my most recent voyage, on Adventure Canada's Newfoundland Circumnavigation

Adventure Canada's staff for the trip included a dozen Newfoundland natives: musicians, singers, artists, authors, whale experts, historians, archaeologists, geologists, photographers, park rangers, and chefs. I can't say enough about how much their presence enhanced the experience. For example, the renowned Alan Doyle, a Member of the Order of Canada ("for his contributions to the musical traditions of his home province") toured with us, and what a treat! His music every day and night kept us smiling (see him in the US this November). 
 
We started and ended in the historic harbor of St. John's, Newfoundland. During the 9 days in between, I had a great time experiencing a lively culture with breathtaking scenery, and lots of time outdoors to explore. Upcoming blogs will discuss the UNESCO sites and communities we visited along the way, highlighting extremely special and authentic experiences.
 
Before boarding Adventure Canada's vessel in St. John's, one of North America's oldest European settlements, I walked to The Rooms, Newfoundland's largest public cultural space "where the province's most extensive collection of artifacts, art and historical records come together." There I learned an important fact that would emerge often during the trip: immigration from Ireland started early, in the late 1600s, and a large percentage of the province's current population has Irish roots. Newfoundland even has a Gaelic name, Talamh an Éisc. 
 
If expedition cruising sounds appealing to you, let ActiveTravels know. I am strongly considering roaming the "Heart of the Arctic" in the summer of 2020. Want to join me, along with local scientists, historians, Inuit artists, and culturalists? We'll see the province of Nunavut, Baffin Island, Nunavik (the Inuit homeland in Northern Quebec), Ungava Bay, and Greenland (including Nuuk, the capital). If it's similar to my journey around Newfoundland, I know it will inspire and create lasting memories. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/31/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ending our Trip to Italy in Comfort at Rome’s Hotel Eden

Clients sometimes tell us that they're not going to be in their hotel room that much, so you don't have to find a luxury property for us. The problem with that reasoning is that you're missing out on one of the finest travel experiences. Top-shelf properties provide the best service, comfort, food, and necessary down time you want especially after a long day of sightseeing. After walking miles around the large city of Rome, I can't tell you how delighted we were to go back to our spacious room at the Hotel Eden, grab the bottle of prosecco, open our balcony doors, and watch green parrots fly back and forth to the monastery in front of us. 
 
Hotel Eden is located in a quiet part of the city, not far from the Villa Borghese Park. There's so many superlatives about this property that I'm not sure where to start. The view from the 6th floor, where we had a gluttonous breakfast and dinner, had wraparound windows with glorious views of the city. I loved our waiters at breakfast, Marco and Francesco, who gave us a tour around the windows to all the sights below, before serving our perfectly poached eggs. They've been working together for 26 years at the hotel and love to tease each other. Our concierge, Anna, found us tickets at the nearby Borghese Gallery when they were sold out, and then reserved a table at an authentic lunch spot where there were no Americans, only Italian families that Sunday afternoon, dining on heavenly grilled artichokes and an antipasto plate overflowing with meats and creamy cheeses that I'll be dreaming about back home. The mattress was so comfortable it was hard to wake up for that Caravaggio walking tour. Most importantly, it was a special moment to share with my wife after memorable days walking around Rome, coming back to our room, having a drink, and standing on our small balcony to watch the city below. Yes, the place you stay is a very important part of the travel experience. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/30/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 29, 2018

Context Rome Tours Provide a Wealth of Knowledge

We took two tours with Context in Rome and both of our guides were not only exceptionally knowledgeable, they have been doing this exact tour for over 20 years. On a bright and early Saturday morning, we braved the crowds at the Vatican and met our docent, Cecilia, an art historian and a native Roman with a Master's degree in Medieval and Renaissance Art from the Sapienza University of Rome. Some 30,000 to 35,000 people visit the Vatican every day and today was no different. Cecilia was a marvel to watch as she weaved in an out of the people to wax lyrically on the long map hall, maps of Italy created in the 1500s, only open to the public in the 1700s. Outside, overlooking St. Peter's Basilica, she sat us down and went over all the panels we were going to see in the Sistine Chapel, a place where no one can talk. But first we would visit the dreamy Raphael rooms, most striking the first room depicting his portrayal of philosophy, religion, justice, and truth. Look closely and you can see both Raphael and Michelangelo, a great inspiration to Raphael, when remarkably they both were working at the Vatican at the same time, 1508. It's hard not to be blown away by Michelangelo's brilliance when peering up in the Sistine Chapel, only to end at Bernini's masterpiece, the largest church in the world, St. Peter's Basilica. Wowza. No wonder Cecilia's been doing this exact tour for over 2 decades. Everything else pales in comparison. 

Our docent for the tour titled Caravaggio's Mean Streets, Sara, was just as brilliant. Having earned her PhD in archaeology, she recently published a book about Caravaggio's paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, helping to add insight to the late 16th century, early 17th century painter that many consider one of the greatest of all time. Unlike the crowds we faced at the Vatican, there were relatively few people peering at Caravaggio's passionate works on St. Paul and St. Peter found on the side walls inside a chapel at the 15th century church, Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, best seen by the illuminated figure of St. Paul on the ground. Sara didn't delve into the juicy tidbits of Caravaggio's life, like the murder he committed resulting in his expulsion from Rome, focusing primarily on his art. We spent a good amount of time at her favorite topic, the Contarelli Chapel, located at the church of the French congregation in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi. It's here that you insert your 2 Euro coin to lighten up another one of his masterpieces, The Calling of Saint Matthew, depicting the moment at which Jesus Christ inspires Matthew to follow him. The painting was so magnificent that we asked if it was recently refurbished. "No, not in decades," said Sara. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/29/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 26, 2018

Wish We Had More Time in Lecce

Of all the stops on our 18-day visit to Italy, Lecce was the most surprising. I really didn't have any expectations beyond Lecce being the starting point of our 6-day bike ride through Puglia with DuVine Cycling. We arrived around 6 pm and walked from the train station to our hotel for the night, the wonderful Patria Palace. The 20-minute stroll was an eye-opening experience as we passed exquisite baroque churches, plaza after large plaza, and Roman and Ottoman Empire ruins, like an old amphitheater down a side street. It only got better on this Saturday night as thousands of locals swarmed the streets and walked arm and arm to dine and drink at the outdoor tables. Wow, was this place alive, and the people were a striking mix of Persian, North African, and Italian blood. There were also very few tourists. We went to a recommended seafood restaurant, Pescheria, where you see the fresh fish on ice and pick what looks enticing. We went with grilled dorado, mussels, prawns, and a heavenly pasta dish with hazelnuts, topped off with a lemon tiramisu. Fantastic! Then we strolled through the large plazas and cobblestone streets looking around every bend at the next architectural wonder. I'd happily return to Lecce to spend at least 3 more nights here. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/26/18 at 05:59 AM
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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Our Night at Winemaker Alberto Longo’s Masseria Celentano Relais

After a tour of Pompeii with our guide Georgio (a guide is highly recommended to get a much greater context of the ruins), we drove 3 hours to northern Puglia, a very rural part of the Italian peninsula, dotted with rolling vineyards, olive trees, and fields of cabbage. Soon we arrived at the charming Masseria Celentano Relais, a 400-year old farmhouse and plaza that felt like something out of the Spanish countryside, with red-tiled roofs and whitewashed stucco buildings. The Masseria has five rooms for rent, including a former chapel with high ceilings that Lisa and I slept in. Another family, including a couple getting married the next day, rented the remaining rooms. 

We met Alberto Longo, an award-winning winemaker of Primitivo and Negroamaro, the red wines best known in the Puglia region, at dinner that evening. He was joined by his wonderful parents, including his 91-year-old dad, dressed impeccably in a 3-piece suit and fedora, and whom he learned winemaking from. We dined on prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, fresh baked bread dipped in his own heavenly olive oil, sliced aubergine, orecchiette with escarole, and a tender rabbit skinned on premises. All washed down with his sparkling wine, rose's, and reds from the vineyard his father started in 1968. Another homemade treat was an after-dinner liqueur called Nocino that Alberto's mom makes from the walnuts found on property. Delicious! 
 
Staying at a Masseria or historic farmhouse is becoming more and more popular in Italy as travelers strive for an authentic Italian experience far away from the growing mass of tourists. It's hard to top the experience of staying at Alberto's home, one of the highlights of our trip. The next day, we got a chance to visit Alberto's vineyard, a 10-minute drive from his home, and onward to the historic city of Lucera, where Alberto has his own wine store. Here, people were lining up to fill their own bottles from several large tanks, not unlike filling your growler at a microbrew. Very cool. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/25/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Peaceful Stay on the Amalfi Coast at Ravello’s Villa Maria Hotel

Even in early October, the Amalfi Coast was swarming with people, especially the well-known coastal towns of Positano, Sorrento, and Amalfi. That's why I was happy to spend the days on the coast but my nights up in the serene hill town of Ravello. As soon as we hit those narrow cobblestone streets of Ravello, with far less foot traffic, I could breathe again. Our room at Villa Maria Hotel had a balcony with a glorious view of the mountains sloping down to the sea. Service and the food was excellent, especially the duck and lamb we had at dinner. In the day, we hired a driver with Amalfi Car Service, Pasquale, to show us the properties we like to book for our clients and also suggest some of his favorites. We went to Antiche Mura in Sorrento, perfectly located in the heart of the town, and Le Sirenuse in Positano, where people line up for hours to have a drink at their champagne bar, offering the best views of the coast. There were two surprise properties that we'd happily recommend, especially for quiet and romance. Il San Pietro di Positano, a Relais and Chateaux boutique resort on the outskirts of town, has its own dreamy beach, pool, and fantastic views of the coastline. Just north of Positano clinging to the hilltop is a former 17th-century monastery, now a luxury property called Monastero Santa Rosa. Their infinity pool is in the most dramatic locale I've ever seen, on the edge of the hillside overlooking the vast waters below. Tell ActiveTravels what type of vacation you want on the Amalfi Coast and we'll suggest one of these dreamy properties or others. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/24/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Stop in Naples for Pizza and Caravaggio

On the way down to Amalfi Coast, we stopped for an afternoon in Naples to wait for our friends to arrive at the train station. We left our bags in Left Luggage and walked straight to the pizza joint Elizabeth Gilbert went gaga over in "Eat, Pray, Love," L'antica Pizzeria da Michele Forcella. There's close to 1000 pizza places in Naples, often referred to as the birthplace of pizza, and Michele Forcella make's everyone's Top 10 list, from the Guardian to Yelp. We took a number, waited about 30 minutes with a mix of locals and travelers and then were squeezed into a long table in the last room. You have only two choices, margherita, with a fresh dollop of mozzarella or marinara, tomato sauce only with oregano and garlic. We ordered one of each (Gilbert ordered the double mozzarella in her book) and waited as the pizza come out of the wood-fired oven at breakneck speed. Each of the thin-crust pizzas, which come whole, not sliced, were delicious. But if I went back I'd go with Gilbert's order. The cheese was so fresh, it made each bite sublime. 

We had a couple hours to kill so we wandered the bustling streets of the city, walking past university students at a college before coming upon a handful of restaurants all with the artist Caravaggio in their names. I turned to Lisa and said there must be something by Caravaggio somewhere around here. Lisa went online and quickly realized that we were standing directly in front of a church, Pio Monte della Misericordia, that was home to one his seminal works, The Seven Works of Mercy (1607). We bought tickets and then went inside to see this impressive painting, one of his largest works. Caravaggio arrived in Naples in 1606, after fleeing Rome when he killed a man in a brawl. Luigi Carafa-Colonna, a nobleman who was a member of this congregation, protected the artist after he fled from Rome and then commissioned Caravaggio to execute what would be one of his great masterpieces. The painting depicts the seven works of corporal mercy to which the activities of Pio Monte were dedicated: give drink to the thirsty, bury the dead, house pilgrims, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry and comfort the sick. In Rome and Florence, we would see Caravaggio's best works with crowds of other admirers. Here in Naples, we had the place to ourselves. 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/23/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 22, 2018

Strolling Florence’s Oltrarno Neighborhood

To escape the crowds in Florence, all you have to do is cross over the Arno into the far more residential Oltrarno neighborhood. Walking the narrow streets, I spotted a child being picked up at school by her grandfather and scooped onto the front of his bike to ride home. We found a wonderful row of boutique shops just off the Palazzo Pitti on Sdrucciolo dei Pitti and then wandered into a massive church, Santo Spirito, where a crucifix created by Michelangelo at the age of 18 still hangs. The highlight was a stop Lisa vividly remembered from studying abroad in Florence over three decades ago, the Brancacci Chapel. Inside this off-the-beaten-track church is one of Western art's most important works, the fresco by artists Masaccio and Masolino (started in 1383), most importantly Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve. The figures in this work reflect light, giving them a sculptural presence as Masaccio was one of the first artists to use single-point perspective. We ended our day with dinner at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, a wonderful restaurant suggested by our friend, Nina. The bruschetta was overflowing with ripe tomatoes and garlic and my tender veal scaloppini was covered with eggplants and peppers, all washed down with good Sangiovese wine. Perfecto! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/22/18 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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