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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Favorite Travel Days 2011, Biking Along the Chicago Lakefront and Dining at Next

Chicagoans take full advantage of the warm weather to hit the shoreline of Lake Michigan and celebrate summer with a slew of festivals. This was certainly true in late June, when my wife and I arrived in city to grab a slice of Lou Malnati’s pizza at the big food festival, Taste of Chicago, and then wandered over to Navy Pier to rent bikes. Instead of heading north to Oak Street Beach, we pedaled south along Lake Michigan, passing Shedd Aquarium and the Soldiers Field. When we turned around, we had a glorious vista of the Chicago skyline, the City of Broad Shoulders gleaming under the cloudless sky. That night we dined at Next, the latest dining option from James Beard-award winning chef, Grant Achatz. Achatz changes the menu every three months and we were fortunate enough to dine on a prix-fixe menu that featured the specialties of Paris, 1906. Even more revolutionary is that the clientele at Next pay for their meal, drinks, tip, and tax in advance, like buying tickets for the theater or a concert. Demand is so great that ticket scalping for a table at Next had already become prevalent by the time we arrived. One taste of Achatz’s innovative fare and you understand the allure.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/10/12 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Vermont Bike and Brew Tour with Sojourn Bicycling Vacations

Biking outfitters have pounced on Vermont like miners on a vein of gold. And why not?  The state’s terrain is ideally suited to the sport. Lightly traveled backcountry roads are rarely used outside of a handful of dairy farmers who live and work there. Around every bend, there’s another meadow greener than the last, another anonymous mountain standing tall in the distance, another quintessential New England village where a freshly painted white steeple pierces the clouds overhead. This idyllic scenery is meant to be seen at a slow pace.

Now Sojourn Bicycling, already known for their intriguing bike trips like the one through the Texas Hill Country, is taking Vermont biking to a higher level, so to speak, with the introduction of their Vermont Bike & Brew Tour. Based in Vermont, owner Susan Rand knows this landscape intimately, including the close to two dozen microbrewers in the state. You’ll earn that pint after biking, on average, some 55 miles a day on this six-day jaunt that ventures to some of my favorite places to stay in Vermont, including Trapp Family Lodge and the Inn at Mountain View Farm. An added bonus is the chance to try some of the mountain biking trails Sam von Trapp has been designing in his backyard that are supposed to be stellar. Sojourn has two trips going out next July and August. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/01/11 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Favorite Fall Foliage Travels—Biking the Confederation Trail, Prince Edward Island

In September 2004, I was happy to get an assignment to head to Prince Edward Island in their quiet season and write about the Confederation Trail for Canadian Geographic. The Canadian Pacific railroad that once connected Prince Edward Island’s small villages last roared through the interior in 1989, leaving in its wake hundreds of kilometers of track. By 2000, the tracks were pulled and the line replaced with a surface of finely crushed gravel, creating a biking and walking thoroughfare called the Confederation Trail. Crossing the entire island, the trail starts in Tignish in the west and rolls 279 kilometers to the eastern terminus in Elmira. One of the most scenic stretches starts in Mt. Stewart in King’s County along the sinuous Hillsborough River. You’ll soon reach St. Peter’s Bay, a large inlet dotted with mussel farms and lobster traps. After crossing a bridge that rewards you with glimpses of the island’s fabled red cliffs, you’ll arrive at the rolling Greenwich Dunes.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/15/11 at 02:08 PM
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Biking Around Stanley Park, Vancouver

This past month, I had the good fortune to bike along the Lake Michigan waterfront in Chicago, alongside the Charles River in Boston and Cambridge, by the shores of the Bow River in Calgary, and around Stanley Park in Vancouver. I loved that all of these scenic rides were on bike trails, not having to worry about car traffic. Sure, I savor pastoral rides on the backcountry roads of Vermont, cruising on two wheels through the rainforest of Costa Rica, or biking past the coffee plantations on the Big Island of Hawaii. But I also enjoy riding in cities. The chance to pedal over the Brooklyn Bridge, with views of the Statue of Liberty in the background. Or heading north towards Navy Pier with the majestic Chicago skyline creating the perfect panorama It’s hard not to be impressed.

The 9 km ride around the Seawall of Stanley Park can be done in less than an hour. Yet, by the time you stop at the world-class aquarium, see the selection of totem poles, and dine on sablefish (a tender and rich Northwestern whitefish) at the classic Teahouse for lunch, the day is over. Riding under towering Douglas firs and along the rocky shoreline, you’ll also stop numerous times to take pictures of the bay. On my last ride around Stanley Park two weeks ago, we spent a good chunk of time being entertained by the sea otters at the Vancouver Aquarium. Less than 15 minutes later, we were watching river otters in the wild dining on crabs along the Seawall. Another unexpected find in a city of unexpected finds, the reason why I return to Vancouver as often as I can.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/15/11 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, July 08, 2011

Bike Chicago

Last week, I had the chance to catch up with renowned Chicago biker, Fran Leavitt. Fran has taken at least one international bike trip a year for the past 20 years. These include jaunts on the Garden Route to Capetown, South Africa, on the winding backcountry roads that lead to the chateaus of Loire Valley, France, and along the Moselle River on a barge trip in Germany. Yet, it’s the maze of paved pathways in and around Chicago she knows best. For a stunning introduction to the city skyline, she first took me south on the Chicago Lakefront Bike Path. Starting at Navy Pier, we passed the flowing waters of Buckingham Fountain, the Shedd Aquarium, and Soldier’s Field, home to the Chicago Bears. However, it’s the jaw-dropping vista of the skyscrapers on our return trip that had me reaching for my camera. Next up was a trip she does every Saturday during the summer with her main squeeze, Saul. Starting from the Old Orchard street parking lot, we headed north through the Forest Preserve past lagoons filled with kayakers, eventually reaching the Chicago Botanic Garden. Talk about the perfect place to stop for bikers! The grounds were overflowing with flowers in bloom, you can dine al fresco on freshly made salads and sandwiches, and then fill up your water bottle with both ice and cool water. For my next warm-weather outing to Chicago, Saul wants to take me on the Fox River Trail, another one of his favorite bike paths. Staring at a Chicago bike map, where trails lead off in every direction like the spokes of a bike, the choices seem limitless.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/08/11 at 12:00 PM
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Bike the Illinois Prairie Path, Chicago

Once home to the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railroad, this former line would still be collecting dust if it wasn’t for a forward-thinking teacher who pictured it as a gateway for recreation. Now the 62-mile trail in suburban Chicago is one of the longest paved trails in the rail-to-trail network. Snaking through Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties, the most scenic stretch is the 14-mile Elgin Spur. Heading southeast from Elgin to Wheaton, the trail snakes through forest, wetlands and an equestrian center.

I’ll be heading to Chicago next week to bike part of this trail and along the lakefront. I’ll be back on July 5th. Have a great July 4th Weekend!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/24/11 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bike the East Bay Bicycle Path, Rhode Island

All it takes is several miles on a paved path to leave a highly industrialized section of Providence and reach the sheltered coastline of Narragansett Bay. No wonder, locals would rather bike to the beach than deal with car traffic. The 14.5-mile long East Bay Bicycle Path, originally part of the Providence/Worcester line, heads southeast from Providence along the scenic shores of the Bay to the town of Bristol. Less than two miles into the ride, fishing trawlers and sailboats start to appear on the right and small inlets and wetlands can be seen on the left. In the warmer months, you’re likely to see locals clamming for littlenecks in the shallow waters along the route. That’s quite a contrast from the view of the Providence skyline that lurks behind you. 

Soon the trail becomes more scenic as cliffs line the bayside, home to pelicans, egrets, and the occasional swan. South of Riverside, East Bay feels more secluded as you head through forest. Prior to mile 6, you reach Haines Park, your first choice of beaches along the route. The trail then swerves inland through the town of Barrington and crosses two wooden bridges before reaching Warren. Just past the 10-mile mark, Warren is the best place to stock up on food and drink. South of Warren, the trail hugs the shoreline of Narragansett once again as the bay widens before reaching the ocean waters. Soon you’ll reach Colt State Park and Bristol Town Beach, the finest spot for sunbathing along the route. The trail ends in Bristol at Independence Park, near a handful of seafood restaurant choices that sell those freshly caught littleneck clams.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/23/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bike the Greenbrier River Trail, West Virginia

Easily one of the finest rural runs in America, this 78-mile delight borders the Greenbrier River as it weaves its way through thick forests, open fields, and two tunnels. Deep in the heart of West Virginia, the hard-packed gravel route introduces you to such relics of railroad history as restored depots and vintage mile markers from the old C & O Railroad that used the line to haul timber. It’s not unusual in these parts to spot ospreys, bobcats, even black bears in the woods.

Start at the northern trailhead in Cass for a good downhill cruise and plan on bringing lots of water and food, since there are few places to stop on the trail. Near Marlington, you’ll ride through Sharp’s Tunnel, a 500-foot-long passage hollowed out from stone in 1900, and emerge onto a wood-slatted bridge that hovers some 30 feet above the rushing river.  Stop in town to see the historic railroad depot (built in 1901) and the bright red caboose before pushing on to Watoga State Park, the trail’s halfway point. You can camp here overnight, go swimming, or fish on the river for trout and small mouth bass. South of the park, you coast through Droop Mountain Tunnel, riding along a remote river and its dramatic red shale cliffs. The final 34 miles from Rennick to Caldwall is a peaceful jaunt through deep woods and open fields, stopping to swim or picnic whenever you feel the need. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/22/11 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bike the Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle

Known as the BG, this 14-mile (one-way) trail is the top destination for cyclists in a city that’s pegged by biking magazines as the best metropolitan area to ride in the nation. Skirting the blue waters of Lake Washington, the BG slices through residential neighborhoods just outside of downtown. At its northern end, you can hook up with the Sammamish River Trail that leads to the wide-open horse pastures of Redmond. But many bikers never make it that far, happy to stop for lunch at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/21/11 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail

The small strip of pavement forms a straight line into the horizon like an express route to freedom. Astride my bike, I zip over bridges and through tunnels, past large ponds, salt marshes and cranberry bogs, all while breathing in the sweet smell of spring wildflowers and the far more potent brine of the sea. The hum of traffic is gone, replaced by the call of the red-winged blackbird and the yellow warbler. The only obstacles before me are runners, clumsy rollerbladers and other leisurely bikers. In the Cape Cod town of Orleans, I hop off my bike for a few minutes and take that quintessential New England snapshot of fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Soon after, I’m in the shade of Nickerson State Park, pedaling straight through Brewster to a series of swimming holes that reward bikers with a refreshing dip.

Such is a ride on the 25-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail on a corridor that, until 1937, was used to ship cranberries the Cape to Boston aboard the Old Colony Railroad. Today, the relatively level rail trail is a placid retreat that has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in the Northeast for biking, hiking, strolling, jogging and in-line skating.

Like so many of these paths proliferating across the US—from the 225-mile Katy Trail that stretches across most of Missouri to the 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path that snakes through the heart of Chicago’s suburbs—the Cape Cod Rail Trail was for many decades an abandoned railroad line. Far away from maddening congestion on city streets and the noise of rural highways, rail trails are beloved by outdoor enthusiasts and a focal point of renewal across the country. From 1965 to 1985, only 1,000 miles of trail were opened. Today, there are currently more than 15,000 miles of rail trails open across the country.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail takes you through the interior of the Cape from South Dennis to Wellfleet, or vice-versa. The salty air is a pleasant reminder that the Cape Cod National Seashore and its 40-mile stretch of pounding Atlantic surf is never far away. At the visitors’ center in Eastham, you can veer off the CCRT for two miles on a separate trail to lounge on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. Continue on to Brewster to cool off in a series of kettle ponds (swimming holes). Nearby, a favorite picnic spot, the Pleasant Lake General Store in Harwich, was once a popular stop on the Old Colony Railroad Line.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/20/11 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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