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Urban Adventure

Great activities in cities around the world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Luang Prabang: City of the Royal Buddha

The host of Tha Heua Me Guesthouse greets me with a smile on the porch and points to the simple meal prepared on the teak table beside her: sticky rice in a woven bamboo basket. I nod to her in ‘thanks’ – neither of us speaking the others’ language – take the rice, slip on my shoes, and begin my walk towards Sakkaline Road. The first rays of sunlight seep through the thick morning fog as I pass stately brick buildings adorned with plaited bamboo panels and balconies, the architectural vestiges of France’s colonial rule over Laos. Upon arriving at Luang Prabang’s main avenue, I am met by a long procession of barefoot monks in plain orange garb making their way through throngs of locals and tourists, all gathered at the crack of dawn to partake in a tradition that stretches back centuries. I kneel at the curbside with rice in hand waiting for an empty-handed monk to accept my offering. A few moments later, I am locking eyes with a young bareheaded man; his expression is at once one of gratitude and of poise. This will be the only meal he eats all day.
 
Later in the day, my college buddy and I, en route to one of Luang Prabang’s French bistros, stop by Wat Xieng Thong, a glittering monument honoring the twin pillars of ancient Lao society: the King and the Buddha. Upon wresting power from the French in 1945, the victorious communist party moved Laos’ political capitol to Vientiane. Nonetheless, Luang Prabang remains the spiritual beating heart of the nation. Though the princes of Laos languish in exile, the royal family may be consoled that the memory of their ancestors endures in the gilded funeral urns of the stupa inside this splendid monument. It is not just Wat Xieng Thong that dazzles. On each cobblestone corner of town, another enigmatic Wat awaits discovery. No sign of the communist regime. It’s as if this Buddhist kingdom never left its royal capital. 
 
Guest Post by Ted Shabecoff 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/14/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 03, 2017

Head to Quebec’s Winter Carnival This Week

Now that Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, it’s time to savor those next 6 weeks of winter. To get the party started right, head to the best winter carnival in North America in Quebec City. Quebec’s Winter Carnival (which runs through February 12) is the largest in the world, attracting more than one million people. I was one of the lucky people to arrive in this fortified city on the first day of the 2015 Winter Carnival. I spent the morning sledding down an ice chute, viewing the impressive ice castle, made from 1600 blocks of ice, eating maple syrup on snow, and playing a human game of foosball. Top DJs from Montreal and Toronto played a mesmerizing mix of hip-hop and electronica, while locals carried cane-like red sticks filled with a potent drink called Caribou, made of whiskey, red wine, and maple syrup, adding to the dancing frenzy. When Bonhomme, the popular snowman and revered host of the festivities started to boogie, the crowd went wild. For those of us who choose to embrace winter in all its snowy charm, there’s no better event than a Winter Carnival.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/03/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, September 30, 2016

Last Thoughts on Cape Town

I could easily fill this column with content from Africa over the next two weeks, but you’ll have to read my magazine articles to see more. It’s time to move on to other regions of the world, like fall foliage in my native New England. Before I leave the continent, I want to touch on some of the highlights from Cape Town that I have not yet discussed. Loved the small plates at Pot Luck Club atop a former silo in the trendy neighborhood of Woodstock. Tea at Belmond Mount Nelson is a must. It takes you back to the Teddy Roosevelt era. Three locals all suggested the best biltong in the city is at Continental Butchery on Kloof Street and who am I to disagree. I wish I was digging into a bag of this chewy beef right now. The protea in bloom at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden was amazing as were the grounds. Enjoyed visiting the 19th-century synagogue on the Company's Garden and the gift shop afterwards, which merges African beadwork with Judaica. If you’re fortunate to be in Cape Town during First Thursday Art Walk, take full advantage of this opportunity to see the galleries with a glass of Stellenbosch pinotage in hand.
 
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence, so if you see a Botswana flag flying from our house, you know what we’re celebrating. 
 
I’m off Monday for Rosh Hashanah. L’shanah tovah! May this year be filled with joy, health, and prosperity! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/30/16 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Boston’s Emerging Seaport District

Peering at the sailboats slicing through the harbor from the sixth-floor roof-deck bar of the new Envoy Hotel, it finally dawns on you that, yes, Boston really does rest on the shores of the Atlantic. For some silly reason, Boston has never taken proper advantage of its ocean setting. When the Institute of Contemporary Art opened in a gem of a building on the edge of the harbor in December 2006, publicists started to dub the evolving neighborhood the Seaport District. Yet, five years after the ICA opening, not much changed. A sea of parking lots continued to surround the ICA and wharves still lined the harbor of this industrial port.

Then, in 2013, Vertex Pharmaceuticals made the bold initiative to move the company’s global headquarters to twin 18-story buildings featuring 1.1 million square feet of research labs and office space. Other companies joined them, including Manulife Financial, Fidelity Investments, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. At last, the late Mayor Menino’s dream of a burgeoning Seaport District has taken root. Everywhere you look along the waterfront today, new condominiums and office buildings are being constructed. 
 
To read more about visiting the Boston Waterfront, including my hotel and restaurant picks, check out my latest story for Global Traveler
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/25/16 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Warsaw Rebuilds And Reclaims Its Former Glory

“Before World War II, Warsaw was more beautiful than Prague, than Budapest,” said Joanna Maria Olejek, a translator living in the heart of the city. But then, of course, the Nazis came in and destroyed 85 percent of the city, pinpointing the most important cultural attractions. Stalin swiftly followed Hitler to clean up the mess and give the city a nice communist sheen. Look at the expanse of multistoried apartments, sprinkled with high-rise hotels, and you yearn for a more compelling skyline.

 
Seeing the city with my brother, Jim, last April after he had screened his latest movie at a film festival, I quickly learned the vitality of this city is best found at street level. Classy restaurants and bars beckon the growing number of international visitors who come to the city to make a buck. Property development looms everywhere, as evidenced by the number of cranes perching above high-rise condos and office buildings, some designed by world-class architects like Norman Foster and Daniel Libeskind. Best of all, Poland still uses the local currency, the zloty, and won’t change over to the euro anytime soon. So Warsaw remains far more affordable for Americans than Paris and other cities in the Eurozone.
 
To read my latest story for Global Traveler, please click here
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/12/15 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Designer of New York’s High Line Hired to Create Miami’s Underline

Last week it was announced that James Corner Field Operations, the firm known for designing the popular High Line linear park in Manhattan, as the master planner for Miami’s proposed Underline. The Underline would be a 10-mile corridor underneath the Metrorail from the Miami River to Dadeland South. It would have space for pedestrians and bike riders. It’s a wonderful concept. Many of these elevated railways and roadways severed communities and split up cities. Instead of paying for a decade-long billion-dollar project like the Big Dig here in Boston to convert the roadway underground, simply make the space underneath usable. If successful, be on the lookout for more Underlines in the future. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/11/15 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Salt Lake City’s Urban Renewal

Not unlike many cities in North America, the wide streets of downtown Salt Lake City were practically deserted once the business day ended. Workers might stay late to catch a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or have a business dinner at Christopher’s Prime Steakhouse, but there were relatively few options to lure you to the downtown corridor. 
 
Fast forward two decades later and Salt Lake City has become one of the most desirable cities to live in the country, a low-key version of Denver surrounded by similar majestic peaks. With its proximity to Alta, Snowbird, and Park City and the promise of a healthy lifestyle, Salt Lake City has seen a population explosion spurred on by folks yearning for a better quality of life. No longer is the city, home to the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lacking in diversity. In fact, the latest figures show that almost half of the population of 170,000 is not Mormon. An ethnic population hovering around 35 percent has led to an explosion of indigenous fare and a growing reputation as a foodie destination. Even a thriving bar scene has started to emerge downtown.
 
The full story on Salt Lake City’s urban renewal can be found in the November issue of Global Traveler magazine
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/30/14 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 24, 2014

A Guide to Men’s Fashion in Toronto

Every time I throw on that velvety smoking jacket I found at Cabaret on my last visit to Toronto, I thank Wendy Woods. Owner of The Refinery, Wendy’s business as personal style coach has evolved from meeting you in person to helping you online. Fill out a detailed questionnaire about body type and style, pay the $197 fee, and she’ll help design a new wardrobe solely from online stores. Now she can help clients in Australia, America, Germany, the UK and across the globe. Still, no one knows the Toronto fashion scene better than Wendy, so I persuaded her to accompany me once again. Last time I wrote about the wonderful men’s vintage clothing scene in town. This time I asked her to simply show me the top men’s boutique stores in town.
 
First stop was Ossington Village off Queen Street West to have a look at Philip Sparks’ latest designs. Known for his tailored shirts, bow ties, ankle boots, dress shoes, and chinos, you can quickly see whether you like his work or not. The shop is the size of a shoebox. Then it was off to The Junction, those pre-prohibition era buildings near High Park, where we happily lingered at Gerhard Supply. On display are the wares of many of the country’s top designers like Vancouver-based Ken Diamond, known for his leather belts and wallets; and Toronto’s own Outclass Attire, designers of bomber and casual jackets. You’ll also find a few Yanks thrown in for good measure, like California’s Broken Homme, maker of a brown boot that easily won us over. At the last stop, GotStyle on Bathurst, not far from the Thompson Hotel, I would have happily left my credit card on file and went crazy. Then I remembered that I was a travel writer, not an investment banker. That said, I tried on a sweet light blue sports jacket from Touch of Sweden that I would have happily parted with the $550 price if it fit me. Oh well, there’s always next time. 
 
Thank you Michelle Revuelta and Tourism Toronto for designing another stellar week in town. Always a treat! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/24/14 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Austin Rocks!

Just back from the three-day music festival, Austin City Limits. Even with Sunday’s postponement of the show due to heavy rains and flooding, it was still worth the effort to fly into town. With six stages on the edge of an expansive lawn, it never felt too crowded and we could easily see Muse, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, the new sisters trio, Haim, and Kendrick Lamar. Lamar could have easily headlined the event, attracting a massive crowd that was lining up all day at his stage. We were bummed to miss The National and Atoms for Peace shows on Sunday, but then in the late afternoon, sitting around watching football at a sports bar, we heard that Atoms for Peace was going to play an impromptu show at a 2750-seat theater several blocks from our hotel. We stood on line for several hours to snag one of the coveted wristbands that let us gain access to the venue. Around 10:30, I was standing center balcony with two college buddies when Atoms of Peace frontman Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame came out with bassist Flea from Red Hot Chile Peppers, wearing skirts and colorful high top sneakers. For the next 90 minutes, the 5-piece band treated the fortunate few to a mesmerizing set of pulsating percussion and funky bass lines, layered with keyboardist Nigel Godrich’s hypnotic electronica and Yorke’s ethereal voice. It was electrifying. No one was sitting. We were all dancing, feeding off the world beats and the energy of Flea skipping around the stage like a wild man. A memorable show I won’t soon forget. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/16/13 at 10:00 AM
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Monday, August 05, 2013

Adventures in Ecuador: Quito’s La Ronda Street

From Quito’s new international airport, it’s over an hour drive to the heart of the city (a $28 taxi fee). The Andean metropolis stands at an elevation over 9300 feet, ringed by volcanic ridges. It’s a sprawling city that fills up the valley, but once you reach its core, you’ll find impressive colonial squares and Spanish churches dating from the 1500s. We stayed on the oldest street in the city, La Ronda, that dates from Incan times in the late 1400s. It’s a narrow winding street lined with restaurants, cafes, and music clubs that once attracted the city’s noteworthy writers, poets, and musicians. Today, locals fill up the street on weekends to dine and listen to music. We stayed at a wonderful property smack dab in the middle of the street called La Casona de La Ronda. Rooms were spacious, designed with contemporary Ecuadorean art, overlooking an inner courtyard. Outside, La Ronda Street was a festive scene while inside this tranquil retreat welcomed us every time we flew back into Quito on our travels. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/05/13 at 11:00 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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