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Urban Adventure

Great activities in cities around the world.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Learn Italian in Italy with Italianme

Guest Post and Photo by Dana Volman

Have you ever wanted to study abroad in college and never had the chance?  Or maybe you had this opportunity of a lifetime and you want to do it again? Well it's never too late and you don't have to be a junior in college to do so. I had the good fortune to enroll in an adult immersion program in Florence, Italy this Fall. I have been studying Italian at a slow pace, first at a Continuing Ed class that met weekly and eventually graduated to hiring a private teacher with 4 of my classmates that continued to meet on a weekly basis. We were ready for the next step to help accelerate our mastery of Italian - enroll in a language school in the heart of Florence geared for adults. This gem of a school is called Italianme. Their name stems from their belief in fostering a new you, a different you, an Italian you. Italianme is located in Via Tornabuoni, the high-end shopping district of Florence. The school is literally across the street from Ferragamo and only yards from the Gucci and Prada flagship stores.
 
The facility and staff at Italianme are some of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met.  My teacher was Francesca, one of the founders. Learning from her was so enjoyable, she is a true professional and passionate about her work. These same attributes can be used to describe the other teachers at the school. My friends were in Eduardo and Marina's classes. In fact, one of my friends was a returning student to Eduardo's class (she specifically requested him again, and boy has her proficiency in Italian improved).  Then there is Karina, the office manager. She was warm and friendly and extremely helpful when it came to restaurant recommendations. At Italianme there are quite a few classes offered based on your level and availability. Whether you enroll in an immersion class that is half day (9:30 am-1:00 pm) or full day or evening, there are plenty of options. In fact, I was fortunate enough to have a semi private class for the week since there was only 1 other student enrolled at my level. It had been many years since I've sat in a classroom for such a long period of time and not once did I look at my watch. The time flew.
 
In addition to a superb education, the school also runs some afternoon and evening activities. Whether it's a tour of Florence or a private cooking class, the staff is always at your disposal to give you the ultimate "local" experience. I know I will return to Italianme. It's just a matter of time before I book my next trip.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/16/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 29, 2018

Context Rome Tours Provide a Wealth of Knowledge

We took two tours with Context in Rome and both of our guides were not only exceptionally knowledgeable, they have been doing this exact tour for over 20 years. On a bright and early Saturday morning, we braved the crowds at the Vatican and met our docent, Cecilia, an art historian and a native Roman with a Master's degree in Medieval and Renaissance Art from the Sapienza University of Rome. Some 30,000 to 35,000 people visit the Vatican every day and today was no different. Cecilia was a marvel to watch as she weaved in an out of the people to wax lyrically on the long map hall, maps of Italy created in the 1500s, only open to the public in the 1700s. Outside, overlooking St. Peter's Basilica, she sat us down and went over all the panels we were going to see in the Sistine Chapel, a place where no one can talk. But first we would visit the dreamy Raphael rooms, most striking the first room depicting his portrayal of philosophy, religion, justice, and truth. Look closely and you can see both Raphael and Michelangelo, a great inspiration to Raphael, when remarkably they both were working at the Vatican at the same time, 1508. It's hard not to be blown away by Michelangelo's brilliance when peering up in the Sistine Chapel, only to end at Bernini's masterpiece, the largest church in the world, St. Peter's Basilica. Wowza. No wonder Cecilia's been doing this exact tour for over 2 decades. Everything else pales in comparison. 

Our docent for the tour titled Caravaggio's Mean Streets, Sara, was just as brilliant. Having earned her PhD in archaeology, she recently published a book about Caravaggio's paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, helping to add insight to the late 16th century, early 17th century painter that many consider one of the greatest of all time. Unlike the crowds we faced at the Vatican, there were relatively few people peering at Caravaggio's passionate works on St. Paul and St. Peter found on the side walls inside a chapel at the 15th century church, Santa Maria del Popolo. Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, best seen by the illuminated figure of St. Paul on the ground. Sara didn't delve into the juicy tidbits of Caravaggio's life, like the murder he committed resulting in his expulsion from Rome, focusing primarily on his art. We spent a good amount of time at her favorite topic, the Contarelli Chapel, located at the church of the French congregation in Rome, San Luigi dei Francesi. It's here that you insert your 2 Euro coin to lighten up another one of his masterpieces, The Calling of Saint Matthew, depicting the moment at which Jesus Christ inspires Matthew to follow him. The painting was so magnificent that we asked if it was recently refurbished. "No, not in decades," said Sara. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/29/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 26, 2018

Wish We Had More Time in Lecce

Of all the stops on our 18-day visit to Italy, Lecce was the most surprising. I really didn't have any expectations beyond Lecce being the starting point of our 6-day bike ride through Puglia with DuVine Cycling. We arrived around 6 pm and walked from the train station to our hotel for the night, the wonderful Patria Palace. The 20-minute stroll was an eye-opening experience as we passed exquisite baroque churches, plaza after large plaza, and Roman and Ottoman Empire ruins, like an old amphitheater down a side street. It only got better on this Saturday night as thousands of locals swarmed the streets and walked arm and arm to dine and drink at the outdoor tables. Wow, was this place alive, and the people were a striking mix of Persian, North African, and Italian blood. There were also very few tourists. We went to a recommended seafood restaurant, Pescheria, where you see the fresh fish on ice and pick what looks enticing. We went with grilled dorado, mussels, prawns, and a heavenly pasta dish with hazelnuts, topped off with a lemon tiramisu. Fantastic! Then we strolled through the large plazas and cobblestone streets looking around every bend at the next architectural wonder. I'd happily return to Lecce to spend at least 3 more nights here. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/26/18 at 05:59 AM
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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 OlĂ©, 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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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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