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Urban Adventure

Great activities in cities around the world.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Quick Escape to Portsmouth

While the crowds were in Salem this past weekend to celebrate Halloween, we headed a little father up the road to Portsmouth. Stores, restaurants, and the historic streets were all decorated for today’s festivities, which includes a parade. We dropped our bags off at one of the 10 rooms at the conveniently located Ale House Inn, one of the first Lark Hotels properties to debut (they also manage the Hotel Portsmouth on the other end of town). Then took a short walk over to the Portsmouth Brewery for a pint of their pumpkin ale, rimmed with cinnamon sugar. It went down so smoothly I had to sample another one of their signature brews, the Surrender to the Flow IPA. Afterwards, we headed over to Franklin Oyster House for a selection of New Hampshire oysters, harissa-rubbed grilled shrimp, and fries cooked in duckfat. Saturday was a glorious day of sunshine and seasonally warm temps, so we walked all over town, checking out the piers at Prescott Park, the 17th-century homes at Strawberry Banke, the farmers market at City Hall (snagged the last empire apples of the season), and then strolled across Memorial Bridge into Maine for most likely our last lobster roll of the year at Warren’s (outstanding salad bar to boot). Portsmouth Restaurant Week starts November 2nd, so go check out Franklin Oyster, Portsmouth Brewery, and the James-Beard nominated Black Trumpet at a discount. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/31/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—A Stop or Two in Mesilla

Once a major stopover on the San Antonio to San Diego Butterfield Stagecoach route, Mesilla is now a valued historic district in Las Cruces. Go there in the daytime under the hot desert sun and the dusty streets around the plaza feel exactly like it did in the 1850s when Billy the Kid stood trial for murder in the town’s courtroom. Today, many of the classic adobes from yesteryear still stand and are now home to gift shops, bars, and the some of the finest dining in New Mexico. On weekends, you can often find live music at the bandstand in the plaza. Or start your night listening to the jukebox at a favorite local watering hole, El Patio, situated in one of those historic adobes. Once you build up an appetite, amble over to Andele for authentic Mexican fare. A hostess will escort you over to your table with a bowlful of homemade chips. Then make your way to the salsa bar to sample the tantalizing selections. The traditional salsa was so tasty that I bought a bottle for my son to try when I get home. Tacos al pastor is their specialty, with a heaping plate of charred pork, beef, or chicken, paired with spicy Mexican cole slaw and grilled onions to place in the piping hot corn or flour tortillas. La Posta de Mesilla is another Mexican restaurant locals rave about, set in the La Posta Compound, once home to the Corn Exchange Hotel on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. If you’re looking for authentic Mexican food in a sleepy town from the Wild West, Mesilla is the place. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/17/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Quick Visit to Colombia’s Caribbean Coast: Cartagena and Barranquilla

My son Jake has been in Colombia since early June, initially traveling all over, before heading to Barranquilla. Wanting to visit before his teaching contract ends in mid-November, my husband Josh and I are just back from a quick trip. While we loved our historic, formerly grand Barranquilla hotel (El Prado), seeing the school where Jake teaches, and meeting his friends there, I’m going to focus this post on Cartagena, which I know is of more interest to ActiveTravels members. Under Jake’s guidance, we took a bus from Barranquilla to Cartagena’s Old City, separated from the modern skyscraper city by a few miles. The bus ride itself was an experience, seeing lots of small villages along the way. 

 
In Cartagena we wandered for several hours through the outdoor plazas, Plaza de Bolívar and Plaza Santo Domingo, where you’ll find artwork by the great Colombian artist, Botero. We also visited the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Palacio de la Inquisición. We watched the sunset atop the walls of the Old City. A World Heritage Site founded in 1533, the colonial buildings are well protected by what are said to be the most complete set of fortifications in South America—las murallas, thick walls built to protect it against enemies. 
 
ActiveTravels would be happy to help you “wander” too, to Colombia, including a few days in Cartagena, and perhaps the nearby Rosario Islands. Also for your consideration, Jake loved Medellin (“vibrant, safe, and booming, blessed with year round spring weather and located scenically at the base of an impressive valley”), the towns of Guatape (“a beautiful lakeside town about 40 minutes outside of Medellín”), Bucaramanga, and more of Colombia's Caribbean coast (“Puerto Colombia, Santa Marta, Costeño Beach, Minco, and Palomino, each place more stunning than the last”). We work with a wonderful tour operator in Colombia who can package together lodging, transfers, activities, and all guides. Let ActiveTravels know if you are interested!
 
Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/12/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Don’t Overlook Bern When Traveling to Switzerland

We adored our three days in Bern so much that I’m going to write a much larger story on Switzerland’s capital city for Everett Potter’s Travel Report. You can easily spend 3 to 4 days in Bern. We went inside the famous Medieval Clock Tower to see how it works, spent a day on an electronic bike in neighboring Emmental Valley, visited the apartment Albert Einstein lived when proving his Theory of Relativity, and checked out the sinuous building Renzo Piano built to house the works of local talent Paul Klee. Our favorite activity, however, was swimming in the Aare River. Every afternoon, we would walk down the hillside from our wonderful hotel, the Bellevue Palace, to a park where hundreds of people lined the river catching rays. Then we would head down a paved path upriver with a long line of folks who dragged their tubes, rafts, and dry bags. Pick a spot to jump in the cool water and off you go with the strong current. The hardest part is finding a place on the shores to stop and pull yourself out. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/11/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Grabbing Drinks in Zurich West at Frau Gerolds Garten

After dropping our bags off at our boutique hotel, Marktgasse, in Old Town, we went on a wonderful walking tour of Zurich’s historic core before grabbing lunch at Kaiser’s Reblaube, a wood-paneled restaurant locaed in a house that dates from 1260. Both hotel and restaurant, I would highly recommend. We checked out the vast chocolate selection at the resplendant Globus food court before getting on a train to visit the burgeoning Zurich West neighborhood, a favorite local hangout after work. Nestled under the train tracks behind the container tower that is the corporate headquarters of Freitag bags, we found Frau Gerolds Garten, an oasis in a former industrial park. Craft shops, a restaurant, large outdoor beer garden, even a surfing pool, are now situated outside the confines of old factory buildings. We ordered mojitos and grabbed a seat at the picnic table, taking in the ambience. Then wandered over to Freitag to walk up the tower of shipping containers and see their innovative bags made of truck tarps, inner tubes and seat belts. A fun outing with the locals. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/09/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, July 10, 2017

Skywalk Saint John Set to Open This Month

While in New Brunswick several weeks back, I was fortunate to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the new skywalk set to make its debut this summer. Saint John will now be the third spot in North America to open a skywalk, in addition to the Grand Canyon and Jasper National Park. Unlike those two skywalks, which are designed as semi-circles, the Skywalk Saint John is more like a long plank extending more than 25 feet out from the building. Look down through the glass flooring and you get an exhilarating view of the cliffs, bridge, and a unique tidal shift called a reversing falls. A series of rapids in the Saint John River can be seen switching direction in the churning whirlpool below. A 10-minute film will explain this unique phenomenon caused by the tidal shifts on the nearby Bay of Fundy. Below the skywalk, the Reversing Falls restaurant offers those same glorious vistas thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. Expect freshly caught yellowfin tuna, halibut, lobster, oysters, and provisions from local farms once it opens. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/10/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Miami Transformed

Vertical gardens barricade the Perez Art Museum, providing much needed shade and heat absorption during Miami’s sweltering summers. The massive windows that line the exterior of the building are the largest hurricane resistant windows in the world. It’s as if current-day architects took a good look at the storied Vizcaya estate that edges the water in the southern part of the city and learned how a century of wear-and-tear transformed Tuscan idealism into tropical overgrowth. 
 
The arrival of the Perez Art Museum not only signals a shift in sustainability but also has put downtown Miami back on the map. Three decades after Miami Vice turned this city core into a bloody graveyard at night, museums, hotels, high-rise condominiums, and James Beard-nominated restaurants have arrived on the scene to lure the Miami Beach and Coral Gables crowd back to urbanity. Miami’s Design District and the surprising success of developer Tony Goldman’s vision of a graffiti-saturated Wynwood Walls helped build the foundation for a Miami resurrection. The Perez Art Museum pays homage to the local contemporary art scene by offering exhibitions on design, minimalist art, geometric abstraction, and works by artists of Latin descent. Yet, this is merely the forefront of the recent surge of development. In fact, everywhere you look along the shores of Biscayne Bay are tall cranes and construction.
 
My entire story on the gentrification of downtown Miami can be found in the latest issue of Everett Potter’s Travel Report
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/18/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Philadelphia Freedom

Washington, DC, garners its fair share of travel press this time of year because of soon-to-bud cherry blossoms. But don’t forget about that other East Coast history hot spot, Philadelphia. Home to one of two U.S. Mint facilities open to the public (Denver is the other; http://www.usmint.gov/mint_tours), families can take an hour-long self-guided tour of this money manufacturing plant. Unfortunately, they don’t give out freebies. Diagonally across the street is the home of the Liberty Bell, set in a $12.9 million glass pavilion. This tour is also self-guided and free, but guides are on hand to answer all of the children’s questions about that crack. Stay at the Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel and you can walk to other Old City attractions like Franklin Fountain, an early 20th-century soda shop that makes the best root beer float I ever had, and Shane Candies, the oldest continuously operating candy story in America. Save room for dinner at City Tavern.  A reconstruction of an 18th-century tavern where Ben Franklin and other Founding Fathers dined, waiters dress up in Colonial garb and serve recipes from that period. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/21/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

San Antonio Is a Great Option for Spring Break

While we dig out of the foot of snow in Boston from yesterday’s nor’easter, my thoughts turn to the warmth of San Antonio, where temperatures reach the low 80s the next 10 days. Lisa and I were actually thinking of renting an apartment in San Antonio this February/March and wished we followed through on our actions. The city offers two world class art museums, San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay, sublime dining which I’ve written about for The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, great neighborhoods to roam like King William and Pearl Brewery, and, of course, all the restaurants and bars that line the renowned River Walk.  But the reason I really love San Antonio is that it’s one of the best biking cities in America. Grab a bike from the B-cycle station (the city’s bike sharing program) at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center and pedal on the 10-mile long bike trail called the Mission Reach. It's not uncommon to find herons, egrets, families of ducks, and turtles lounging in the waters, and colorful wildflowers in full bloom. When the trail ends at Mission Road, you can turn right to visit Mission Concepcion or left to visit Mission San Jose. These early 18th-century Spanish colonial missions are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of a national historic park. I always bring my camera to poke around these impressive buildings and get great shots of the light and shadows reflecting off the walls. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/15/17 at 06:00 AM
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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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photo of Steve Jermanok
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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