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Urban Adventure

Great activities in cities around the world.

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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Friday, January 26, 2018

Look Out for the Vessel Later This Year in Manhattan

When it opens in the fall of 2018, Vessel will be a spectacular climbable installation in the middle of the new Hudson Yards development, which is set to regenerate the city’s Far West Side (previously an industrial zone). The glinting copper structure will be the centerpiece of the Public Square and Gardens and will comprise 154 interconnecting flights of stairs in a geometric pattern. Visitors can ascend the 148-feet high structure via the mile-long network of pathways, with each staircase providing a slightly different perspective on the revitalized neighborhood below.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/26/18 at 06:00 AM
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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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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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