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Urban Adventure

Great activities in cities around the world.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Cheer in Toronto—First Up, Shopping

I’m back in one of my favorite cities in North America, Toronto. If I don’t get my yearly dose, I go through withdrawal. There’s so much energy in this city right now, it’s electric. As my taxi driver noted, he’s seen more construction in the Toronto in the past two years than he’s seen in the past 20 years. That’s due to the large influx of immigrants, close to 100,000 annually, helping to push the population of the region to over 6 million people. 
The result is a boom in noteworthy architecture, which I described in The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine on my last visit. Lately, the city has unveiled a slew of luxury properties which I’ll visit this week and innovative North American cuisine that rivals the best of any city in North America. I’m particularly stoked about visiting Keriwa Café, where the chef and owner, a descendant of the Siksika tribe, brings First Nation cooking to new heights. 
Yet, since my arrival yesterday coincided with the last day of all the Black Friday specials, my first order of business was to shop at one of Ontario’s largest malls, Square One in suburban Mississauga (which is not so suburban when you consider their population exceeds 800,000). If the long lines to the fitting rooms at H&M, the Gap, and Tommy Hilfiger were any indication, this is going to be a banner Holiday season for retailers. This morning, which I’m hoping is much more laid back since it’s a Monday, I’m visiting the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in downtown Toronto. This month, they just completed a $220 million expansion, debuting 40 new stores like Ted Baker London, Kate Spade, and North Face. If lines aren’t too long, I’m going to sit on Santa’s lap. Just kidding. But I do hope to put a dent into the Holiday shopping. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/26/12 at 12:00 PM
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Connecticut in Autumn, The Mark Twain House in Hartford

Twain, aka Samuel Clemens would publish his greatest works, including The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn while living in a three-story red-brick home in Hartford from 1874 to 1891. Many scholars believe, however, that the bulk of his writing was done in a small cottage in Elmira, New York, since his wife, Livy, hated the smell of his cigars in the house. That didn’t stop Twain from having fun in his Hartford abode. If you watch the Ken Burns documentary on Twain before touring his home, you’ll learn that he would use the same props on the mantelpiece to tell a different story to his three young daughters every evening. Enter the house with a guide and you’ll see his billiard room on the third floor, where he would entertain guests long after his usual four-course dinner was finished. The interior was designed by none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany and many objects like Twain’s bedpost from Venice, where carved angels sit atop the headboard, are the writer’s original purchases.
Even if I was zipping through Hartford on my way to New York with no intention whatsoever of stopping at Twain’s House, three blocks away, I would get off I-84 at Exit 46 and make a beeline to Mo’s Midtown (25 Whitney Street, 860-236-7741). The Polish owners are known for their large, fluffy potato latkes and crispy hash browns, but I’ll order their buttermilk pancakes every time. Take a seat at the counter or one of the booths and dive into a short stack of blueberry pancakes. One bite of this heavenly creation, chockful of wild blueberries, and you’ll be stopping in Hartford far more often than you think.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/25/12 at 12:00 PM
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Friday, May 11, 2012

A Highly Recommended Private Guide In Barcelona

When I mentioned to a friend that my husband and I were going to Barcelona, she recommended a private guide company, Hi This Is Barcelona. I could tell right away from their personalized email reply to my inquiry that this was a classy boutique organization. My husband and I took two of their ½-day tours. Seeing Barcelona through their guide was like shopping for a novel at an independent bookstore versus going to a chain store. Our guide had so much knowledge and passion about his adopted city and he was genuinely committed to sharing as much as possible. 
He met us at our hotel the first morning and gave us an overview of the Gothic area, geographically, culturally and historically. That introduction, which he elaborated on during our walk, gave us a full perspective on what we’d be seeing. During the tour, we had time to hear stories and anecdotes that weren’t in any of the guidebooks or websites we’d checked out before our trip. 
My husband wanted to photograph the city from various perspectives. During the Modernist tour, our guide brought us to rooftop locations with aerial views, and we always got there at prime time for best lighting conditions. He navigated us to the least crowded areas with the most interesting mix of architectural styles and shared insight about the lives of the architects, their relationships which each other and what was going on around them that was influential at the time.
After our tours, our guide recommended restaurants, specific shops, and day trips outside the city that catered to our interests. Compared to the places our hotel concierge suggested, our guide’s picks were places where we felt like insiders instead of tourists. We chose Barcelona as a destination because we needed to feed our souls with culture, history and great food and Hi This Is Barcelona made it all happen for us in a uniquely relaxing and stimulating way. I highly recommend it!
Posted by Guest Blogger, Robin Regensburg, co-founder of RainCastle Communications, a web design and marketing firm in Boston

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/11/12 at 12:00 PM
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

San Antonio Week—Strolling Through San Antonio Botanical Garden

It reached 90 degrees yesterday in San Antonio, but I kept nice and cool for part of the afternoon on the East Texas Pineywoods path at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Shaded by tall sycamores and cedars, you loop around a pond, staring on the opposite shores at a circa-1850 log cabin straight out of East Texas. The 38-acre botanical garden is a placid retreat anytime of year, but it’s hard to top the springtime when roses in the Rose Garden, cactus flowers in the Cactus and Succulent Garden and the wine cup, a purple wildflower, on the Hill Country trail are all in bloom. And don’t get even get me started on the sweet-smelling jasmine at Watersaver Lane. I took a big whiff and had a natural high for the rest of the afternoon. A Japanese maple’s leaves were a tad crimson inside the bamboo walls of Japanese Garden. What got my attention, however, was a turtle sunbathing atop a rock formation that resembled a turtle. An architectural highlight was the glass-coned conservatory rooms that house rare palm trees, like the prickly bark of the Zambia palm, lush ferns, desert cacti, even an indoor waterfall. San Antonio offers a slew of intriguing sites, from the Alamo and other missions to the San Antonio Museum of Art, but don’t make the mistake of missing the botanical garden. It’s a gem.  

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/25/12 at 12:00 PM
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Monday, April 23, 2012

San Antonio Week—It’s Fiesta Time

In 1891, the city of San Antonio held a single parade to honor Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and the other heroes of the Alamo and the battle of San Jacinto. Fiesta has since grown to an 11-day event in late April that features live music, art fairs, and a slew of parades including The Texas Cavaliers River Parade, which I’m headed to tonight. As soon as my flight landed yesterday in San Antonio, I took a taxi to Market Square, the largest mercado north of Mexico to take in the festivities with the crowds. There were bands playing, churros and funnel cakes cooking, and a frenzied crowd dancing and drinking margaritas and cervezas under the hot sun. I made my way to Mi Tierra, a beloved Mexican restaurant on the square since 1941. The line was an hour long, but since I was traveling solo, the woman at the desk told me to try and get a seat at the back counter. I found the last seat next to the mariachi band on break and ordered enchiladas with a sweet and spicy mole sauce. One bite and I was happy to be back in town. 

I’ll be blogging, tweeting, YouTubing, and Facebooking all week from San Antonio, introducing readers to everything happening in the city. So stick around and we’ll have a fiesta together! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/23/12 at 12:00 PM
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

May is the Month to Visit Ottawa

If you never had the chance to visit Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, then you’ve missed out on seeing North America’s only version of the Changing of the Guard ceremony, the morning ritual where dozens of red-coated soldiers with bearskin hats parade down city streets to the lawn of Parliament Hill. The best month to visit the city is in May during the Canadian Tulip Festival. From May 4-21, over three million tulips bloom in Ottawa. Visitors can sample food and entertainment from around the world at the International Pavilion, located near Commissioners Park, where 300,000 tulips bloom alone. Later in the month, Dutch tulips give way to a Dutch painter named Vincent Van Gogh. From May 25 to September 3, the National Gallery of Canada will present Van Gogh: Up Close, which explores the artist’s representation of nature. Visitors can marvel at 45 of Van Gogh’s paintings, including The Iris. Afterwards, reenergize with a BeaverTail. This wholewheat pastry, cooked in canola oil, and topped with a variety of savory toppings like chocolate, jam, pie filling, or cinnamon, is available year-round in Ottawa’s ByWard Market neighborhood. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/19/12 at 12:00 PM
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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Louisville’s Remarkable Amount of Parkland

I was in Louisville several weeks ago researching and writing a story for The Washington Post on the emerging neighborhood on East Market Street called NuLu. I dined on tasty southern fare like fried chicken livers doused in a bourbon sauce at Harvest, recently named one of the best new restaurants in America by the James Beard Foundation. I also spent at least three hours looking at old television footage at the Muhammad Ali Center and saw an intense drama at the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Yet, what really impressed me was the all the rolling green parkland and rivers Louisville is blessed with. Louisville has more parkland than Chicago or Denver. In fact the city has more green space than Baltimore, Boston, and
 Pittsburgh combined. And not just any ole park, but 18 parks and 6 parkways designed by the developer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted. With such an abundant wealth of parkland, it didn’t surprise me that so many residents were out biking and jogging on the parkways. 

Well, it looks like the rich are only going to get richer, because Louisville is in the midst of adding 4,000 acres of park in the southern and eastern part of the city, along Floyd Fort Creek. Called the Parklands, the city aims to add 100 miles of new trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and a 19-mile canoe trail in the creek. The Parklands will open in phases, beginning in 2013, with the entire system scheduled to be complete by 2015. The Parklands will be part of the Louisville Loop, a 100-mile shared-use path that will encircle the entire city. So far, 25 miles of the loop have been completed. When it’s done, I’ll be due for a return trip. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/04/12 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Introducing Manhattan’s Low Line Park

One of my favorite topics to write about the last couple years is how urban designers and landscape architects have recently created parks from contaminated settings, landfills, abandoned manufacturing plants, and no longer viable space such as an elevated train track on the lower West Side of Manhattan, now the popular High Line Park. Former brownfields like a 9-acre parcel of land on Puget Sound, once dotted with UNOCAL’s oil tanks, is now home to Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Landschaftspark in Duisburg-Nord, Germany, is a former coal and steel plant that now features a high ropes course. 

Time to add the Delancey Underground project, nicknamed the Low Line, into the mix. James Ramsey and Dan Barasch have already garnered public and political support to take a vacated trolley terminal in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and create a subterranean park. The rectangular space, about three blocks long, was the site where trolleys would turn around to cross the Williamsburg Bridge. Since 1948, it has laid dormant. Ramsey and Barasch not only want to take advantage of this wasted space, but use fiber optics to stimulate natural light and photosynthesis, where trees and plants can thrive. The pair has already started collecting funds on Kick Starter, if you’d like to support the project. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/20/12 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, January 30, 2012

Berlin Unveils New Airport and New Airport Park

The big news out of Berlin this year is the opening of the $3.4 billion Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport, set to make its debut on June 3rd. However, I’m more excited at what Berlin did with its former airport, Tempelhof, which is now the vast Tempelhofer Freiheit public park. Families come to bike and roller blade on the old runways and picnic on the grounds. Germany has always been at the forefront of reclaiming former industrial spaces and transforming them into parks. Landschaftspark in Duisburg-Nord is a former coal and steel plant that now features a high ropes course. It’s wonderful to see urban designers blurring the line between civilization and nature to create parks from former contaminated sites, landfills, abandoned manufacturing plants, and older airports.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/30/12 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, March 21, 2011

New York City Unveils $3.3 Billion Plan to Improve Waterfront

On a bike trip around Manhattan last summer, I was delighted to witness the improvements New York was making along its shoreline. Like many American cities, New York has reconnected with its waterfront setting over the past decade, converting dilapidated docks and toxic marsh along the rivers into manicured parkland. Biking near 170th Street under the steel arch High Bridge, we spotted recent additions to the Harlem River shoreline, most noticeably a new boathouse at Swindler Cove Park and an adjoining children’s garden. Now Mayor Bloomberg has announced a $3.3 billion plan for new parks and environmental improvements to its 578 miles of shoreline to help boost recreation and real estate. I look forward to experiencing the new parks and shoreline walks in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/21/11 at 01:00 PM
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about us
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. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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