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Travel Advice

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston

This weekend, I had the chance to see a wonderful rendition of the Tony Award-winning play, Red, at Boston Center for the Arts. Based on the life of abstract painter, Mark Rothko, I couldn’t help thinking of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, which I visited while doing a story for The Boston Globe on the art scene in the city. While many of Rothko’s earlier works displayed layers of vibrant colors such as the red in the title of the play, these later paintings were monochromatic where black and dark brown predominate. Rothko’s emotions tend to carry over to his canvases and these were painful to view. I remember the works vividly almost a decade after seeing them. Often in travel, we search for the stupendous landscapes and exotic wildlife, but it’s the misadventures or a poignant moment in an unusual chapel in Texas that we often remember with more clarity. Here’s what I originally wrote for The Boston Globe:
“My first stop was an octagonal-shaped yellow-brick building that looks like part of an elementary school from the 1950s. This is the Rothko Chapel. Prayer books from every religion line the wall of the entrance indicating that this place of sanctuary is non-denominational. Those familiar with Rothko’s vague rectangular color fields, painted with gently toned hues, will be shocked to see the 14 large canvases that encircle the somber room. Rothko suffered from serious depression, which is evident in these late acrylics, primarily black in color with light tinges of blue. He would end up committing suicide a year before the chapel opened in 1971. Any soul who feels the least bit anguished should take a seat on one of the four benches and stare into these monumental abstracts, knowing that someone else shares your pain.”

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/31/12 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Scintillating St. Martin

On St. Martin, French and Dutch cultures merge to create one of the most cosmopolitan islands in the Caribbean. The two nationalities have been living in peaceful coexistence since 1648. After a breakfast of croissants and café au laits in Marigot, walk along the winding alleys behind the harbor and soon the seaside village starts to feel like a town on the French Riviera. Boutiques, restaurants, and small markets line the streets. On Rue de la Liberte, the latest French fashions can be found. A must stop for all foodies is the Gourmet Boutique on Rue de l’Anguille, to snack on Brie and Camembert cheeses, Godiva chocolates, fresh baguettes, and the tastiest jambon (ham).  
Blink and you might miss the fishing village of Grand Case at the northern tip of St. Martin. This is the St. Martin of yesteryear, where ramshackle houses intermingle with more than a dozen French seafood restaurants, many overlooking the bay. Ask for an ocean view table and watch the waves roll ashore as you’re served fresh lobster or red snapper Provencal under candlelight. Dutch Sint Maarten is where everyone goes to work off their French meals. The open-air dancefloor at Cheri’s Cafe is located in Maho Bay.  Next door is Casino Royale, one of the handful of casinos on this half of the island.  
The French Rivera flavor extends to the Orient Express resort, La Samanna. Walk out of your two-story whitewashed villa onto Baie Longue, home to some of the finest pearly white sands in the Caribbean. If you choose the right suite, you can sun bathe atop your terrace or around a private plunge pool. Perched on a hill overlooking the curve of the beach, the restaurant is known for its collection of over 10,000 bottles of wine. Also indulge in the new spa, nestled in a quiet courtyard of palms.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/11/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Pull of Puerto Rico

In 1493, on Columbus’s second trip to the Caribbean, he came upon the island of Puerto Rico. Along with Cuba and the Dominican Republic, it quickly became a Spanish stronghold in the Caribbean. Not only is Spanish the official language, but Spain’s influence on Puerto Rico is still seen today in churches and other historic buildings that date back to the 15th century.

Start on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, founded in 1509 by Ponce de Leon.  You can still see glimpses of the blue stone, adoquine, brought over in ballasts by Spanish ships. Walk the towers and ramparts of Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, otherwise known as El Morro, a fort that was originally built in 1540. Then wander over to the Historic District, undoubtedly the best preserved neighborhood in the Caribbean. More than 400 Spanish-colonial buildings dating from the 17th century have been restored around the outdoor cafes and restaurants. For a taste of Spanish food in San Juan, stop at Picoteo at the Hotel El Convento. Tapas and paella, chockful of fresh, local seafood, are washed down with tasty and strong sangria.

If you have time, take a day trip into the mountains to visit San Germán, a smaller version of San Juan without the congestion. Founded in 1512, the town is the second oldest on the island and its historic zone houses a wonderful collection of buildings, spacious plazas, and monuments.  

Once you’ve had your fair share of the city, head 45 minutes from San Juan to the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort. The 672-room resort takes full advantage of its ocean locale, offering scuba diving, sea kayaking, sailing, tennis, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, a 3-mile jogging route, or just plain beach lounging. Don’t miss the opportunity to snorkel and sea kayak in nearby Bioluminescent Bay, which emits a neon blue color from the microorganisms found in the water.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/10/11 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, November 07, 2011

Feeling Irie in Jamaica, Mon

This week I want to focus on some of my favorite Caribbean hideaways. Jamaica has always topped the list. Its mix of music, arts, and food is unparalleled in this region of the world. Some travelers are turned off by the haggling on the beach, but if you leave the tourists behind and head up into the hills to raft down one of its rivers or visit the birthplace of Bob Marley, you’ll meet a proud people who simply want to show off their lush country, not sell you a joint. Several weeks back, The Washington Post published an article of mine on an all-inclusive stay at the Riu Palace Tropical Bay Resort on the outskirts of Negril.  I’ve been to more than 20 all-inclusives and this is one of my favorites. The article sums up why I love Jamaica and its combination of Reggae music, jerk chicken, and warm ocean waters.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/07/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Follow Rue Mapp And Her Adventures in Big Sur

Rue Mapp simply wanted to share her love of the outdoors with other people in her demographic, an African American woman living in the inner city. So two years ago, the 40 year-old Oakland resident started a blog called Sharing her love of camping, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and rafting, she has accumulated quite a following, including the White House, who invited Mapp to participate in the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors. Now Mapp’s hitting the road again. From October 21st to the 23rd, she’ll be heading south with her family on Route 1 to hike in the Big Sur region. She plans to shoot video, tweet, and blog about her experience, so be sure to join in on the inspirational fun.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/13/11 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Buy a Turkish Carpet

Numerous vendors, most who speak excellent English, will approach you in Turkey, and invite you into their shop for cay (tea). Some shop owners will even offer lunch and introduce you to their families. By all means, except and enjoy their hospitality. After tea, they will throw down carpet after carpet, explaining in detail the point of origin, age, materials, and processes of weaving, knot-tying, and wool-dying techniques. Undoubtedly you will feel indebted to your new friend. The owner knows this, because that’s when he hooks you.
    “Which one do you like?”
    “I love the one in the corner,” you say while lunging for the prized possession.
    “Yes, you have a good eye. It is very fine workmanship. Over a hundred years old…How much are you willing to spend?”
You name a price and the owner shakes his head and laughs. He then looks at you and acts insulted. “I have to earn a profit. I have a family to feed.” Pangs of guilt emerge and before you know it, you’re walking out of the shop with a carpet you paid three or four time the normal price. This is the typical scenario and mistakes are plentiful. Here are some tips to assure that this won’t happen to you:

Never purchase a carpet in the first store you enter. By going into several stores before buying your carpet, you become knowledgeable about pricing and gain bargaining experience.

Act indifferent. If a shop owner realizes you love a carpet, he will overcharge you.

Make the owner quote the first price. Shop owners want you to say a price first. Don’t do it.

Test the age and quality. An older rug is usually more expensive than a new one. A slightly worn look can add to its charm.

Be patient. Bartering is time consuming. You might have to walk out of the store a number of times.

Never feel obligated to purchase a carpet. Since acting like a new friend is part of the shop owner’s sales tactic, this can be difficult. Never buy anything you don’t truly want.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/29/11 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Konya, Turkey, Still a Special Retreat

As you travel northeast form Kas to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, a worthwhile stopover is the city of Konya. In the 1200s, Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Empire and home to the whirling dervishes. Many important sites from this period remain, including the Mevlana Monastery, where the dervish leader, the great poet, Rumi, is buried. Overlooking the Monastery is the Hotel Rumi, where the $84 room rate includes a buffet breakfast. In addition to the dervishes, Konya is known for its food. Firnin kebab is roasted lamb. Etli ekmek is Turkish pizza topped with ground lamb. Both are delicious and can be sampled at Sifa Lokantasi (Mevlana Cadessi 30).

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/26/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Check Your Bank Account Even While Traveling

So there I was lounging on my patio at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge after a week of adventure in the Canadian Rockies. I’ll delve into many of my favorite locales from my trip to Western Canada next week. Any way, I was checking my email when I noticed that Bank of America contacted me, saying my funds were getting low. I had transferred money from my savings to checking account before I left, so I should have had more than enough money for the trip. When I went online at Bank of America, I saw three purchases from Stop & Shop and Exxon made in New York and New Jersey the same time I was hiking, rafting, and rock climbing my way through the Canadian Rockies! Obviously fraudulent, I called Bank of America immediately. They cancelled my Visa debit card and quickly refunded me the money that was taken by Mr. Identity Theft. Since I no longer had use of my ATM card, they also wired me money for the rest of the trip. Morale of story. Even though you’d like to leave your life behind on vacation. Sometimes it’s better to check in now and then to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/10/11 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Globetrotter’s Get-Gorgeous Guide

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Debbi Karpowicz Kickham for more than decade. She worked as travel editor at Robb Report before having an illustrious freelance career that has taken her on cruises around the world, with multi-month stopovers at her favorite haunt, Hawaii. Now Kickham is sharing her insights on how to look good while traveling in new book titled “THE GLOBETROTTER’S GET-GORGEOUS GUIDE: Diet and Beauty Secrets of Travel and Beauty Pros, Traveling Executives, and Celebrity Travelers.” She notes that it’s the world’s first beauty book for traveling women. The book is filled with tips from flight attendants to road-warrior CEOS and executives, on everything from beauty products to luggage.  There’s a chapter on cruising, another chapter on beauty products from around the world made with local indigenous ingredients, and a special bonus section about buying bargains throughout Paris and France. Samantha Brown of The Travel Channel wrote the Foreword, and Kickham completed interviews with Joan Lunden, Cheryl Tiegs, Ivana Trump, and other well-known names. So if you haven’t yet found that perfect Christmas gift for your loved one, this might do the trick.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/20/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New iPhone App Sends Postcards

Point. Snap. Postcard. World Nomads has just launched a Postcard App for the iPhone that makes sending postcards as easy as a push of the finger. Here’s how it works. Users download the free app from iTunes. Via PayPal, they purchase stamps (the cost of $2 per stamp works for delivery anywhere in the world). Users then snap a photo that is then turned into a postcard image. Type a message for the back. Add a delivery address and then submit everything electronically. The postcard is printed in the USA on real high-quality gloss paper, stamped and then sent to the address on the card anywhere in the world. When making stamp purchases there’s also an opportunity to donate to one of World Nomads’ Footprints Projects that funds community development projects and fights poverty worldwide.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/15/10 at 02:00 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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