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Thursday, August 12, 2010

London Walks

It’s impossible for a parent to teach his kids a British history lesson, without Junior blurting out in the middle of the Anne Boleyn beheading story, “Oh yeah, that’s cool. Can we go to the London Eye now?” So I was relieved to find an outfitter aptly called London Walks that for a mere 8 pounds per person (children under 15 are free) can educate, entertain, and keep my family walking for two hours. We took two tours with them last week, Westminster and West End and the Tower of London.  We were fortunate to have Tom Hooper as our guide on both walks. A former barrister, Hooper knows the history of the British Empire like the back of his hand. It also helps that Hooper is a wonderful orator with a booming voice and a penchant for digging into the sordid details. Like the beheading of Anne Boleyn, the beheading of King Charles the First, the beheading of Oliver Cromwell, after he died, no less. On the West End walk, we strolled from the Houses of Parliament to Westminster Abbey, all the way to Buckingham Palace, ending near Trafalgar Square. And my kids, ages 14 and 12, didn’t complain once. I quizzed them afterwards on how much they retained, asking them the names of the current prime minister and queen, and by God, they knew the answers. For that, Tom Hooper deserved to be knighted!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/12/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Biking Along the Canals in Hertfordshire

After spending 10 days in the cities of Paris and London, we wisely chose to book our last night of travel in the UK at The Grove, a country manor less than an hour’s drive from London and Heathrow. Perched on a hillside with rolling grounds, the place is best known for its golf course. But it’s also a wonderful family retreat, complete with outdoor and indoor pools, beach volleyball, lawn tennis, croquet, and a gluttonous feast at the breakfast and dinner buffet. Yet, our favorite activity was renting bikes and finding a canal that borders the perimeter of the property. Narrowboats were riding through the locks, on their way north to Northampton or south to London. This web of waterways has been traveled for centuries.  Indeed, these canals were Britain’s first business superhighway, transporting goods around the country. Once the railroads were built, they were abandoned, only to emerge in the last 30 years as recreational areas. It was fun to see these long slender boats, many rented for a week holiday, making their way through the forested shoreline under bridges and past families of swans and local anglers. We pedaled alongside the canal for some time on a dirt path before returning to the resort and having fish and chips, washed down with a pint of lager, at their casual pub, the Stables.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/11/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strolling Hampstead Heath

There’s an excellent exhibition currently on display at the Morgan Library in New York on the Romantic Movement’s influence on landscape design. One of the mottos of the movement came from a line in a 1731 Alexander Pope poem, “Consult the genius of the place.” Translation: Preserve the wild, unadulterated beauty of the grounds and don’t overmanicure. I though about that line while walking last week in London’s Hampstead Heath with my family, friend Claire, and her adorable daughter, Evie. The rolling hillside is rich with old growth forest, shaded trails, long stretches of lawn, and streams, where we wound up feeding ducks and coots. After a week of fighting crowds at the National Gallery, Covent Garden, and the Tower of London, it was wonderful to spend the afternoon at arguably London’s best attraction, one of its many exquisite parks. On a weekday, Hampstead Heath was relatively quiet and off the beaten track enough to savor the serenity with locals. Only a few miles north of the city hubbub, it’s the perfect oasis.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/10/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, August 09, 2010

Biking to Giverny

The past six weeks, I’ve been home less than six days, traveling on assignment to Newport, Cape Cod, Maine, New Brunswick, Paris, and London. Thankfully, I’ll be on my back deck most of August writing stories based on these trips. This week, I want to delve into some of the highlights of these recent excursions.

Those of you with a love of art history know Giverny as the home of Claude Monet. Less than an hour by train from Paris, you can make the pilgrimage to Monet’s home and his spectacular Japanese water garden inundated with day lilies, the inspiration for many of the works that hang on the walls of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and other impressive collections of Impressionism around the globe. Fat Tire Bike Tours escorts riders from Paris’ St. Lazare train station to the quaint village of Vernon. Once you arrive, you head to an outdoor market to stock up on picnic food--soft, creamy Reblochon cheese, slices of yummy Rosette de Lyon sausage, duck liver pate, warm baguettes from the neighborhood boulangerie, juicy strawberries and apricots, and a bottle of wine to wash it down. After passing out bikes, our guide Andrew led us to the banks of the Seine River where we watched a family of swans swim as we dug into our goodies. Then we were off on an easy 5km bike trail that connects Vernon with Giverny. We entered the picturesque hamlet and were soon walking over that Japanese bridge seen in many of Monet’s works. The whole trip took from Paris took about 8 hours and cost 65 Euros per biker, a perfect day trip for our family of four.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/09/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Cemetery Hopping in Boston

I spent the past week checking out two local cemeteries in Boston, Mount Auburn and Forest Hills, for a story I’m writing around Halloween for American Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Surprising as it might sound, many folks venture to these cemeteries not to remember a loved one, but to stroll under the towering trees, jog, bike, and bird watch. Created in the first half of the 19th century, these are America’s first garden or rural cemeteries, built with a landscaping aesthetic in mind. They became incredibly popular with locals who came to breathe in the fresh air and picnic on the grounds. In essence, they were the first urban parks in America, created 40 to 50 years before Central Park in New York and the Emerald Necklace in Boston. Today, wandering into these two cemeteries is like taking a walk in a Victorian-era estate, down shady paths, under centuries-old oaks, cypress, and beech trees, next to lily-pad laden ponds. At Mount Auburn, climb the steps of the Washington Tower for panoramic vistas of the city.

The next two weeks, I’ll be traveling in France and the UK and will not be doing my daily blog. However, if I feel inspired, I might sporadically write from the road. Hope you’re enjoying the summer and staying active!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/23/10 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Support the Active Community Transportation Act of 2010

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I like to write about rail trails across North America. Discarded rail lines converted into biking and jogging routes are not only a great way to spend a morning or afternoon, but add necessary commerce and a sense of pride to small, often rural communities across the country. That’s why I’m happy to support the Active Community Transportation Act of 2010 introduced by Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. The Act would create a $2 billion program over five years to help hundreds of towns across the country improve their trails. Please encourage your representative to co-sponsor this significant legislation
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/22/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Caped Crusader of Birds, the Razorbill Auk

I was in Maine last week researching an article on birding for Yankee Magazine. My wife and I took a boat from a small fishing village in Down East Maine, Cutler, 10 miles off the coast to the southernmost nesting spot of the Atlantic puffin, Machias Seal Island. As soon as we arrived on the rocky shores, the plump black and white birds were whizzing over our heads finding herring to bring back to their young. We got close enough to the puffin to see its colorful beak, which was worth the ride over in the fog. However, we were also there to see another highlight, the black-hooded razorbill auk. A bright white line can be found under the bird’s eye. Contrasting with its sleek black head, the bird has the look of a superhero straight out of Marvel Comics. It was just as mesmerizing as the puffin to view. You can venture out to Machias Seal Island on a 4 to 5-hour jaunt with Captain Andy Patterson.
 

(Photo by Lisa Leavitt)


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/21/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

No Impact from BP Oil Spill on Sanibel and Captiva Island Beaches

If you’re thinking of heading to the beaches of Sanibel and Fort Myers this year, but are worried that your kids will be playing with tar balls in the sand, you can relax. Recent projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report the probability of the BP oil spill impacting the destination is less than 1 percent. That echoes the opinion of Kristie Anders, education director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. She says the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico follows the edge of the continental shelf, which runs parallel to the state’s coast and extends 150 miles offshore. Barring a major storm, it will steer the Loop Current away from the area and well offshore of Southwest Florida. So this could be the year Southwest Florida becomes a real bargain for people in the know.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/20/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, July 19, 2010

A New Hostel on Cape Cod

Sand and sea are the images that appear when we think of Cape Cod. Undulating dunes and long stretches of fine white beach serve as a soft welcome mat for the surf that rolls ashore. Yet, you’re going to have to pay a hefty price to grab accommodations near one of those Cape Cod beaches this time of year. Thankfully, Hostelling International has just opened its third hostel on the Cape, the Angeline Crocker Hinckley Hostel. With 40 beds, a full kitchen, and free continental breakfast starting at $29 a night, going to those dunes on Cape Cod National Seashore has never been this affordable. The hostel is located on Ocean Street, across from the ferry docks in Hyannis.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/19/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Sail Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

Founded in 1982 in Newport, Rhode Island, J World has since added teaching facilities in San Diego, Annapolis, the Keys, and Sweden. The Annapolis-based franchise is owned by Jahn Tihansky, a former sailmaker and instructor with US Sailing. Tihansky’s philosophy of “more time on the water, less time in the classroom” will turn any landlubber into a sailing aficionado. You’ll learn how to set the sails, practice your knots, stop and start under sail, tack, jibe (controlled, of course), and anchor. More advanced courses will teach salty dogs how to put up a spinnaker, navigate, and moor. Learn to Sail 5-day courses cost $995 per person.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/16/10 at 01:00 PM
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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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