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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nova Scotia Week, A Walk Through History in Lunenburg

One hour south of Halifax, the seaside community of Lunenburg is one of only two cities in North America dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the other being Quebec City). What UNESCO found fascinating was the fact that Lunenburg was a perfectly planned British colonial settlement, a 48-block grid designed in London and plopped down on the coast of Nova Scotia in 1753. They were also obviously impressed with the preservation because Lunenburg remains one of the most charming towns on the Atlantic coast. The British were successful in recruiting some 1400-plus people to Lunenburg, mostly of German and Swiss descendant, including the ancestors of my Lunenburg Walking Tours guide, Ashlee Feener, an 8th-generation descendent. We started our hour-long stroll through town at the highest point in Lunenburg, the former site of the citadel and now home to the castle-like Lunenburg Academy.  No longer a public school, the Second Empire structure built in 1895 is now an international music academy attracting students from across the globe, the first hint that this storied fishing community has transformed into a cultural destination. 

Those first descendants thought they were coming to Canada to farm but their shovels and ploughs soon hit rock. They looked to the sea and by the late 1800s, Lunenburg had become the fishing capital of Canada, with large schooners heading to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and often returning after a summer with 100,000 to 300,000 pounds of cod. Ashlee led us down York Street to view a Victorian home with a Widow’s Watch, a cupola with bay windows that overlooked the sea, where a ship captain’s wife could hopefully her husband returning home. Next door was one of the oldest homes in Lunenburg, a gabled one-bedroom Cape Cod-style home currently on the market for $287,000. On Fox Street, the red Georgian-style Lennox Inn was built in 1791 and is the oldest continuously operating inn in North America. Another highlight of the tour was the stunning St. John’s Anglican Church, one of five churches in town. Walk inside to see the ribbed wooden roof that could only be built by shipbuilders who knew their way around the ribs of a hull. We walked past the multi-colored façade and gingerbread trim of the Mariner King Inn, where I’m happily spending the night. Our tour ended on the docks next to the recently resorted schooner, Bluenose II, Nova Scotia’s ambassador of the sea, a fitting tribute to Lunenburg’s past. 
The ebullient Ashlee and her business partner, Shelah Allen, a mere 7th-generation descendent also offer haunted tours of Lunenburg and its many scary-looking Victorian homes at night. Go on either tour and you’ll be happy I sent you. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/11/15 at 03:50 AM
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Friday, June 05, 2015

Headed Back to Nova Scotia

Next week, I’ll be blogging live from Nova Scotia. So please check in and also follow my Tweets @ActiveTravels. This will be my third trip in the past five years, but my first since I was middle-school student that I’ll be taking the ferry from Portland, Maine. I was excited to learn that the ferry started up again last summer, making it much easier for New Englanders and other northeasterners to make their way to the province. Nova Star Cruises now leaves Portland each evening at 8 pm EST and arrives in Yarmouth at 7 am AST the next morning. The ship departs two hours later and arrives back in Portland at 5 pm local time. I’ll be driving the southern loop on this trip, staring in Yarmouth and heading north to the picturesque seaside town of Lunenburg, the farming and growing wine region of Wolfville, then down to Digby to try those scallops. I’m also going to take full advantage of the favorable exchange rate with Canada, now $1.22 Canadian to the US Dollar. Look forward to describing the highlights of the trip next week! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/05/15 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Headed to the National Parks This Summer? Download the Just Ahead App

If you want the feel of having your own personal park ranger by your side as you drive through America’s most spectacular scenery, then do yourself a favor and download the Just Ahead audio guide. Just Ahead utilizes GPS technology to know exactly where drivers are on the road, and delivers stories and maps relevant to their exact location. The app points out not-to-miss features while also helping drivers avoid getting lost by providing suggested directions. It works without an Internet connection or cell phone service. Simply turn it on and enjoy a narrated tour that describes the history, geography, and wildlife of each national park. 

Just Ahead guides are currently available for the following national parks: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Zion and Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands and Arches. Additional park guides are in production and are expected to roll out in time for the busy summer travel season. They include Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Badlands, Black Hills, Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde. The Just Ahead app is a free download, while guides range from $4.99 to $9.99.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/03/15 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, May 11, 2015

Spring Comes to Narragansett Bay

The parking lot at the Blithewold estate in Bristol is overflowing on this chilly day in late April. I walk around the pink blooms of the Japanese star-magnolia tree and under the signature Japanese cedar that stands guard in front of the massive stone mansion. That’s when I get my first glimpse of the soft yellow hues glowing from a vast garden, stemming from row after row of daffodils. Young girls dressed as fairies run down the aisles, butterfly wings attached to their backs and colorful ribbons in their hair flowing in the wind. I follow their cue and enter a pasture coated with morning dew to find countless families happily ensconced within the centuries-old stone walls. A harpist plays as kids create papier-mâché flowers, blow bubbles, and dance around a Maypole. I half-expect to see nymphs lounging in a nearby pond of water lilies.

To read the rest of my latest story for Yankee Magazine, please click here

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/11/15 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Self-Guided Driving Trips Around New Zealand

New Zealand is one of my favorite places to go on a road trip. The country is blessed with exquisite scenery around every corner, friendly and hospitable people and a plethora of activities to keep you busy. Lately, we’ve been working with an excellent ground operator, New Zealand Fine Touring, to create wonderful self-guided driving itineraries for our clients. If you're willing to drive (left side of the road), New Zealand Fine Touring will set you up with car rental, provide in-depth directions, and suggest great ideas for activities at each locale, like local hikes to stretch your legs along the way. They also arrange lodging at top-rated B&Bs and hotels. Take it from our clients; New Zealand Fine Touring is a real find. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/13/15 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 08, 2015

5 Favorite Travel Days in 2014, Driving the Golden Circle, Iceland

One-day bus tours aren’t my cup of tea. Especially when the guide has memorized an encyclopedia on Iceland and is blurting out everything she knows about the country into a microphone at the front of the bus. There was no pause, just a barrage of factoids that had nothing to do with the landscape we were looking at. At one point, I couldn’t stop laughing hysterically with a friend because this guide could not shut up and give it a rest. We decided to return home and create a “Boston Bullshit Tour” where we would hire stand-up comedians to adlib about Boston’s history, basically saying anything that comes to mind. 

Yet, it’s hard not to include the Golden Circle Tour into my list of favorite travel days because the scenery we saw that day was so striking. First stop was Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet. You walk on a narrow trail dwarfed by the rocky walls. Next up was the surging waters of the Gulfoss Waterfalls, cascading down the tiers of rock. We took a short hike to the lip of waterfalls, sprayed by the cool water of this massive falls. Last stop was Geysir, Iceland’s version of Yellowstone where hot pools churn and bubble and the Strokkur geyser erupts every 4 to 5 minutes.
When told that we would be making one last stop on our Golden Circle route, at a greenhouse, most of the people on our tour scoffed at the idea, simply wanting to get back to our hotel in Reykjavik. It sounded like some hokey add-on, like visiting a gift shop owned by the bus driver’s brother. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Friðheimar is no ordinary greenhouse but a massive year-round tomato and cucumber growing operation that yields close to a ton a day of crop thanks to the geothermal energy. I met the owner, Knútur Rafn Ármann, popped a tomato in my mouth (delicious), and then was treated to a sublime cup of tomato soup garnished with cucumber salsa and paired with fresh baked bread. It was probably the best dish I had in the country.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/08/15 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Luxury Train Travel to Debut in Ireland

Belmond, formerly Orient-Express, announced last week that they would introduce luxury train travel to Ireland the summer of 2016. Called the Belmond Grand Hibernian, the sleeper will consist of 20 cabins with accommodations for up to 40 guests. The train will also feature four interconnecting suites to accommodate families, two restaurant cars, and an observation bar car. The Grand Hiberian will travel throughout the island offering two, four, and six-night rail stays that include stops at Dublin, Belfast, and Cork. Daily excursions include a round of golf at a world-class resort, a literary tour of Dublin, and stops at Ireland’s classic estates. Belmond already offers upscale train travel to Scotland on the Belmond Royal Scotsman, currently the UK’s only luxury sleeper train. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/11/14 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Find Peak Colors on the Drive from Asheville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The 80-mile stretch of roadway between Asheville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a joy anytime of year, but it’s hard to top this coming week when the leaves on red maples, dogwoods, and sassafras trees are at the height of their fall foliage. Spend your first night in the heart of downtown at the Renaissance Asheville. Then it’s time to hit the High Country, where the drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway reaches its highest elevation at 6,047 feet, surrounded by row after row of ridges like the flanks of Mount Pisgah and Cold Mountain, the setting for the best-selling novel. There are numerous opportunities to stretch your legs and stroll to lonely mountain streams and waterfalls amongst the 120 species of trees, the greatest variety in the US. A good place to start is the self-guided Harwood Cove Nature Trail that begins at the Chimneys Picnic Area.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/16/14 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Favoite Fall Foliage Drive—Keuka Lake, New York

Autumn in the Finger Lakes of western New York State is the time of year when leaves on the maples turn a tad crimson and the grapes on the vines are ready to be harvested for their award-winning Rieslings. Start on the northern tip of Keuka Lake in the town of Penn Yan. Head south on Route 54A and just outside of town, you’ll see signs for Apple Barrel Orchards, a third-generation U-pick apple orchard that makes homemade cider on the premises. Continue south along the shores of the 20-mile long lake to reach Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars. Founded in 1962 and now run by Dr. Frank’s grandson, Fred, Dr. Frank put the Finger Lakes on the wine lovers’ map with his award-winning dry and semi-dry Rieslings. Have lunch on an outdoor deck overlooking the narrow northern part of the lake at Heron Hill Winery. The Blue Heron café takes full advantage of its locale nestled amidst the farmland to offer local seasonal fruit over field greens and a caprese salad with large fresh tomatoes. A perfect place to stay in Hammondsport is the octagonal-shaped Black Sheep Inn, where the owner, a former caterer in Cleveland, creates innovative and tasty breakfasts. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/15/14 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, September 29, 2014

A Perfect Day in Lausanne

From the shores of Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman as the Swiss call it, to the forest and duck pond of Lac de Sauvabelin, the city of Lausanne climbs an impressive 800 feet. You climb uphill or downhill on an Escher-like maze of stairwells, narrow cobblestone streets, bridges, even elevators and escalators. Last night, I took an elevator close to my hotel, the Lausanne Palace, down to the former warehouse district of Flon, now a Tribeca-like neighborhood of hip restaurants like Le Nomade and popular dance clubs like Mars. It’s quite strange to take an elevator down to another neighborhood, but Lausanne is full of surprises, from the massive Gothic cathedral consecrated in 1275 to Jean Dubuffet’s fascinating Art Brut collection, created for the most part by people who are ingenious or simply insane (I’ll delve into this further tomorrow). 

The next day we started with a tower climb at Lac de Sauvabelin for magnificent views of the lake, snow-capped peaks of the Alps, and the Vallée de Joux, known for its communities of watchmakers. Then we walked downhill past century-old beech trees on the grounds of Fondation de l’Hermitage. Soon we were in the oldest part of the city, staring up in awe at the 15th-century Château Saint-Maire and the 13th-centutry Lausanne Cathedral. Definitely enter the cathedral to see the stained windows, including the Rose, where more than half the glass is original. Under a bridge in the charming Escaliers du Marché neighborhood, we found Le Barbare, known for its pudding-like hot chocolate. 
Saturday is the best day to visit Lausanne in the summer and fall, because its home to a thriving public market. We made it to the bustling center of town, packed with locals on a warm day picking at bins that overflowed with ripe tomatoes, plums, sunflowers, and a slew of other merchandise. One section was devoted to local butchers and cheesemakers. Another street, we tried chocolate truffles and a delectable wild mushroom dip. Near the market, we had lunch at Café du Grütli to sample a Swiss specialty this time of year, saucisse aux choux, sausage marinated with cabbage. Then we entered Globus, Lausanne’s version of Harrods, to purchase a raclette set for our son. Our last stop was Blondel, a beloved chocolate shop in town, where we purchased more souvenirs for the family. Geneva, a 45-minute train ride away might be the better-known city on Lake Geneva, but Lausanne easily entices. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/29/14 at 03:30 AM
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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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