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Urban Adventure

Great activities in cities around the world.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Climbing the Duomo in Florence

We chose to stay at Hotel L'Orologio in Florence, an easy 5-minute walk from the train station and just as close to the Duomo. It's located at Santa Maria Novello, a quiet piazza overlooking the historic 14th-century picturesque church (worth a visit to see the wonderful cloisters in the back). We dropped our bags off in our spacious room and then walked over to the Duomo where the crowds were immense, even in October. There was a long line, at least an hour long to enter this grand building, the cornerstone of the city. Thankfully, we had already purchased timed tickets to climb to the top of the dome. I can't recommend this enough. Not only do you gain entrance to the Duomo by skipping the line, you climb the twisting stairs (463 steps) for an up-close view of Brunelleschi's crowning achievement, built between 1420 and 1436 and an architectural feat to this day. It's breathtaking to see the interior of the dome so close and to look at Giorgio Vasari's frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9), including many ghastly looking devils. An added bonus was the chance to walk outside and get a panoramic view of the entire city. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/19/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival Returns to Fredericton in September

Fredericton, New Brunswick has garnered a reputation as the Festival Capital of the Atlantic Maritimes. Last time I was in town, I caught up with David Seabrook, one of the founders of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, over a tasty Picaroons Yippee IPA at King Street Ale House, as he explained to me how he gets some of the bigger names in the music industry to play the festival every year. The line-up for the 28th annual festival (September 11-16) is one of the best yet, with Steve Earle, Mavis Staples, Sturgill Simpson, and The Blind Boys of Alabama among the 150 performers on hand for the 6-day event. When not listening to music, be sure to see the impressive collection of art at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, including works by Turner, Dali and Lucian Freud. Also try to plan your trip to Fredericton around the Fredericton Farmers Market, voted one of the "Top 10 Farmers Markets in the Country" by Canadian Geographic. The Market is open every Saturday from 6am to 1pm with over 200 vendors selling produce, home baked goods, meat, maple syrup, flowers, handcrafts, jewelry and much more.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/29/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, August 13, 2018

A Memorable Summer Day in Toronto

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

When my husband Josh left for two weeks in the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi), my Massachusetts-based friend Tamara came to visit. What fun we had! On a sunny Monday in late July, I enjoyed three new Toronto experiences. I walk frequently on the trails in the ravine by the Evergreen Brickworks and am always impressed by Toronto's re-use of historical industrial buildings for public purpose. In the 1880s, at this site, a brick factory was built which didn't close until 1984. Now the Brickworks consists of 16 heritage buildings and an adjacent public park that includes wetlands, hiking trails, and wildflower meadows. It's one of my favorite places to take visitors, an oasis in the middle of the city - complete with a view of the CN Tower from atop a trail - and is also home to food truck festivals, children's camps, artisan fairs, Farmers Markets, a bike rental shop, a cafe, and Canada's first large-scale community environmental centre. What was new to me on Monday was entering the Young Welcome Centre and understanding that everything about the Brickworks is designed to be a global showcase for green urban design. Two large heritage artifacts flank the sides of the Welcome Centre: a brick press and the Foreman's shed. It was very interesting to learn more, after working up a sweat at the former site of clay extraction for bricks. 
 
Later that day, Tamara and I took a ferry out to the Toronto Islands in Lake Ontario. There are 3 boat routes--one to Ward's Island (which we did), one to Centre Island (where families go, with a small amusement park, plus bike/canoe/kayak rentals), and one to Hanlan's Point (gasp--a clothing optional beach). Boats leave from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street and Queen's Quay, and there are actually 15 islands inter-connected by pathways and bridges. You can walk or bike from one end to the other (approximately 5 km from Ward's Island to Hanlan's Point). We enjoyed exploring, eating lunch at the Island Cafe, hitting the beach, and swimming. Two-plus years in Toronto, and I hadn't lazily floated in my bathing suit in Lake Ontario! Check that off. I later fantasized about living on one of the islands, but there is a 20-25 year waiting list for a cottage. 
 
Lastly, at night, Tamara and I headed to Casa Loma, another first for me. Sir Henry Pellat commissioned his tremendous castle or "House on the Hill" in 1911. Sitting 460 feet above sea level, it's quite a place: 98 rooms, 30 bathrooms, 25 fireplaces, 3 bowling alleys, a 50-metre (160-foot) shooting gallery, a temperature-controlled wine cellar capable of holding 1,700 bottles, an unfinished 18-metre (60-foot) long indoor swimming pool, and a 243-metre (800-foot) tunnel constructed 6 metres (20 feet) underground to the stables across the street. Sadly, financial troubles meant the Pellatts moved to their farm in 1924, and the City of Toronto is currently the sole owner of the site. On Monday evenings during the summer, Casa Loma hosts an award-winning singer and his seven-piece band for "Soul in the City." You get amazing views of the city, and access to the castle and beautiful gardens, while eating, drinking, and enjoying the music. By the second set, Tamara and I were able to get up close to the stage and dance until our feet hurt. "We're gonna have a good time tonight; Let's celebrate, it's all right."
 
If a trip to Toronto interests you, let ActiveTravels help!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/13/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Soothing Day Surrounded by Lavender on the Outskirts of Toronto

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 
 
I was intrigued when I read about a lavender farm right outside of Toronto, and, on a glorious summer afternoon, I visited Terre Bleu in Campbellville, Ontario. Talk about something lovely to look at...and it smells darn good too!! Owners Ian and Isabelle Baird moved from downtown Toronto with their young children when they were inspired to go back to their rural roots. They bought a hay and horse farm. Then, in 2011, they planted 10,000 lavender perennials. Today, the family runs the largest commercial lavender farm in Ontario, home to over 40,000 plants of eight varieties. Not only is there purple and green everywhere, but you wind through a short trail in a 200 year old cedar forest to see the back field. A musician was playing under a tent when I was there, and folks were lazing in Adirondack chairs listening, while sipping fresh lavender lemonade, or eating local lavender ice cream. Terre Bleu’s distillery for the production of premium essential oil uses traditional copper tools from Portugal and old European traditions. For sale at the farm are essential oils, lotions, soaps, dried bouquets, wreaths, shortbreads, cheese, macarons, and more. Naturally, I came away with some goodies. 
 
Peak time is from July to mid August. You can even take a yoga class right in the lavender field (10-11 am, most Saturdays and Sundays over the summer), which includes a “cooling face cloth scented with pure essential oil.” Isabelle Baird is a former Olympic Games competitor in the Triathlon. I wonder if she teaches the class? There’s also a “Zen Den” if you like to sit quietly in the woods with the scent of lavender in the air. Who wouldn’t?
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/11/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Pearl Neighborhood Celebrates San Antonio’s 300th Birthday with Olé, San Antonio

Home to the San Antonio branch of the Culinary Institute of America, James Beard award-winning restaurants, and a chic boutique hotel built from the remnants of the Pearl Brewery called Hotel Emma, the Pearl is my favorite neighborhood in the city. This summer, the Pearl will be home to Olé, San Antonio, a series of events highlighting music, dance, art, architecture, and food that will celebrate the city's tri-centennial and its Spanish Heritage. Hotel Emma is getting in on the action by hosting renowned chefs from Spain that will spotlight one particular product like tinned fish, Jamón (Spanish ham), and cheese. These so-called Monograph Sessions will conclude with dinner at the hotel's signature restaurant, Supper. Hotel Emma is also offering a special rate now through September 16. The special, 300 years, 300 dollars, features rates starting at $300, plus complimentary valet parking.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/05/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Allure of Cartagena

Cartagena is one of those Spanish Colonial cities that seems to be built with the traveler in mind. Behind the fortress walls are narrow streets, large plazas, 17th-century churches, and row after of charming restaurants, boutique shops, and salsa dance clubs. The fortress reminded me of Old San Juan while the streets of Old Town Cartagena felt similar to the French Quarter of New Orleans. I loved strolling and taking photos of the colorful adobe-like homes and the lush tropical foliage like bougainvillea flowing from the terraces. An added bonus to Cartagena is the long stretch of beach and warm waters to swim. You can choose to stay in the Old Town at the historic Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara or the smaller boutique property, Movich Cartagena, with its glorious views of the city at night from its rooftop bar and pool. But I wanted to be right on the beach, so instead chose to stay at the Intercontinental Cartagena de Indias in the newer Bocagrande section of the city. I loved waking up to their breakfast buffet (juicy mangoes were in season when I was there in early June) and going to the outdoor terrace to look out over the expanse of water. It was also a joy to return to the hotel after a day of sightseeing (the Old Town is only a 5-minute Uber or Taxi) and sip mojitos in the infinity pool, with those same breathtaking views. The temperatures were much hotter and more humid than Medellin since you're back at sea level, ideal for a winter or late fall getaway. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Quick Escape: Williamsburg, Virginia

Hop on a 2-hour direct flight from Boston to Richmond and drive less than an hour to reach historic Williamsburg. Best known as a Colonial outpost and neighbor to Jamestown, America's first permanent settlement, Williamsburg now attracts music lovers, foodies, and active travelers. Local Bruce Hornsby is bringing back Funhouse Fest, the 2-day music festival that gathers award-winning artists on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, June 22-23. Outdoor lovers can rent bikes and hit the Colonial Parkway. This two-lane road transports you back to an earlier time connecting Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown over 23 miles. Most of the ride is flat and offers vistas of water and woods, of marshes and herons. For an alternative, check out the Historic Jamestown Bike Trail, a 5-mile loop on Island Drive that features 11 interpretive stops including a panoramic view of the James River, archaeological excavation sites, and the nests of bald eagles. Bay County Kayaking offers a range of guided 2 to 3-hour kayak eco tours including trips to Queen's Creek, a tidal creek that empties into the York River, where you might see otter, muskrat, crabs, and deer. You'll hear from your guide about its rich history in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. 

Crabs, oysters, shrimp, clams, mussels and a variety of fish, all pulled from local waters, make Williamsburg a seafood hot spot. Waypoint Seafood and Grill celebrates the Chesapeake Bay, featuring York River Oysters, local jumbo lump crabmeat, a fried oyster salad, and market fish of the day. Take a short drive along a country road out of town to Café Provencal, on the grounds of The Williamsburg Winery. The French-inspired cooking features local ingredients in an elegant yet relaxed setting, like a raw plate with marinated amberjack, seared scallops, soft shell crabs in season and roasted black bass. Be sure to ask ActiveTravels about our hotel pick in the area, including the Williamsburg Inn and the Kingsmill Resort.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/16/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A Perfect Day in Vancouver with Good Friends

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

In mid-April, I flew to Vancouver, British Columbia for a reunion with two of my dearest friends, women I've known since I was 21. Living in Toronto, people are often telling me, "when our kids go out to Vancouver, we never get them back," akin to what my peers in the US say about California. Now I know why. 
 
To explore the city, with the sun reflecting off snow-capped peaks, we set off on the efficient Vancouver SkyTrain system, transporting us from our accommodation in historic Fort Langley, an hour east of Downtown, to the Yaletown area. Yaletown was once the Western terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway, but the area's more recent reinvention dates to when it hosted many of the venues of the 1986 World's Fair. We were hungry -- we googled best food in Yaletown -- and we ended up at Manousheh, sampling three delicious varieties of the "national pie of Lebanon." I can definitely recommend all, especially zaatar, the original manousheh. 
 
From there, we walked to False Creek, hopped on one of Vancouver's ever-present small ferry tugboats, and jumped off at Granville Island. What a fun destination! In the early 1900s, Granville Island was home to factories, plants, and sawmills. Technically a sandspit and not an island, there's a Public Market (see Steve's story for The Boston Globe), as well as a cultural district with theatres, artisan workshops and craft studios. Among our purchases: a small handcrafted broom woven using Shaker methods, from the Granville Island Broom Co. 
 
Leaving the Island, we ferried and then walked along the seawall into Stanley Park -- our vista filled the whole way with mountains and container ships, coming and going. The day started to wind down as we entered Coal Harbour, a former shipyard neighborhood now bursting with seaplanes, marinas, docks, and parks. Thirsty, you guessed it, we googled best pubs in Coal Harbour and found The Blind Sparrow, where we enjoyed craft beer, live music, and amazing fresh oysters. Ah, Vancouver, I'll definitely return. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/09/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Visit to Berlin with Kensington Tours

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

In January, I joined by husband Josh on a business trip to Berlin. The CEOs of the 12 largest natural history museums in the world were gathering to discuss museum trends and approaches to some of the most pressing environmental problems today. We stayed near the Museum für Naturkunde, and I explored the City with my tour guide Nadav, supplied by our colleagues at Kensington Tours.
 
Nadav is an Israeli who moved to Berlin 17 years ago for his PhD studies. All of his grandparents were from Germany. His father’s family went to Palestine in 1928 from the Northeast “poor” district of Berlin, and his mother’s family went in the 1930s, from a “well to do” Southwest district of Berlin. By virtue of having a knowledgeable guide, I definitely saw parts of the city I would not have alone (i.e., not in the guidebooks). 
 
Berlin is not a particularly beautiful city, especially in the middle of winter, but it is a fascinating one. Of course, there is plenty of old German history to absorb, and plenty of modern diverse life, too. There are 12 boroughs or districts in Berlin, each with its own commercial center. During our two days of touring, we crossed these boroughs constantly going from the former West Berlin to East Berlin, without distinction. Our hotel and the Nature Museum are, for example, in the former East Berlin, and Mitte (the middle borough).
 
Most of the buildings you see in Berlin are either new or rebuilt after WWII. The photo above is of Charlottenburg Palace (present day, with “just after WWII” juxtaposed in front), where Obama was hosted for dinner in 2013. Another mix of old and new is The Victory Column (from the 1870s, now 220 feet tall, with several German military wins commemorated one above the other, in layers). Nadav said the column is used today as a symbol of the LGBTQ community in Berlin (on the annual St. Christopher Street Day, when covered by a giant condom). Of course, I also saw the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building (Parliament), the Ku’damm (Berlin’s answer to the Champs-Elysées), and The Jewish Museum (opened in 2001, reflecting on Jewish history and culture in Germany, designed by Daniel Liebskind, who also designed an expansion at the museum Josh leads in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum). If Berlin (or Germany in general) interests you, let ActiveTravels and Kensington Tours assist with your journey.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/28/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Now’s the Time to Support San Juan

Lisa and I were pleasantly surprised when we touched down in San Juan to see how good the city looked. Yes, there were uprooted and twisted trees, but Old San Juan was as charming as ever. Obviously, a good portion of Puerto Rico is still recovering from the tragic impact of Hurricane Maria but I wouldn’t hesitate to spend 3 or 4 nights in San Juan for a quick getaway. Locals are incredibly grateful for any travelers headed their way during these trying times. We stayed at the stylish CasaBlanca Hotel in the heart of Old Town, dined on indigenous fare at Café Puerto Rico, then walked the boutique shop-laden streets down to the glorious green expanse that led to the historic fort of El Morro overlooking the pounding waves of the Atlantic. Afterwards, we strolled past the murals of the colorful neighborhood of La Perla, where they filmed the music video for the hit song, “Despacito.” Quenched our thirst with one of the local Ocean Lab Amber Ales at La Taberna Lupulo before we grabbed dinner at the rooftop deck of Punto de Vista. If you’re looking for a beach, the upscale Condado Vanderbilt is open and we just heard that the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar near El Yunque Rainforest will reopen March 1st. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/19/18 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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