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Thursday, March 01, 2018

A Must-Stop at the East Side Gallery in Berlin

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Another of my main areas of interest when I was in Berlin in January was to experience first-hand the “East divided from West” Years. The separation of Berlin began in 1945, and, in 1961, East Germany built the Berlin Wall, circling West Berlin, to prevent its residents from migrating. My husband Josh and I landed at Schoenefeld Airport (the airport in the former Soviet quarter of East Berlin and formerly the main airport of East Germany), and thus began this aspect of the adventure. 
 
In my two days of touring, we criss-crossed Berlin constantly, from what was West Berlin to what was East Berlin, without distinction. There are certainly many memorials to a city divided, and to understanding that history, but none as interesting to me as the East Side Gallery. Once it was the Berlin Wall. Now it’s the longest open-air gallery in the world. Almost a mile long, one section of the Berlin Wall was not demolished and instead became a living canvas for paintings about change, happiness, hope, and freedom Beginning in 1990, 118 artists from 21 countries painted pictures on the wall. They are vibrant, interesting, and, frankly genuine (this is all outside, not hidden from the weather). I would have loved to stop and photograph each one. In fact, I bought a book of Wall paintings to bring home. Of course “progress” is always a challenge: a section of the East Side Gallery was removed a few years ago to make room for luxury condos along the River Spree. 
 
There are many other areas of Berlin which I visited related to the “East divided from West” Years, including: the Berlin Wall Memorial (with tunnels underneath marked); the gigantic Soviet War Memorial for the 22,000 who died taking Berlin in WWII; the TV Tower (famously built VERY tall, tallest in Germany, by the East Germans, intended as a symbol of communist power); and Checkpoint Charlie, which was silly and not even in the right place (one of the actors playing a soldier was a Syrian refugee, and the other had a second job at Chippendale’s). 
 
If Berlin (or Germany in general) interests you, let ActiveTravels assist with your journey.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/01/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Visit to Berlin with Kensington Tours

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

In January, I joined by husband Josh on a business trip to Berlin. The CEOs of the 12 largest natural history museums in the world were gathering to discuss museum trends and approaches to some of the most pressing environmental problems today. We stayed near the Museum für Naturkunde, and I explored the City with my tour guide Nadav, supplied by our colleagues at Kensington Tours.
 
Nadav is an Israeli who moved to Berlin 17 years ago for his PhD studies. All of his grandparents were from Germany. His father’s family went to Palestine in 1928 from the Northeast “poor” district of Berlin, and his mother’s family went in the 1930s, from a “well to do” Southwest district of Berlin. By virtue of having a knowledgeable guide, I definitely saw parts of the city I would not have alone (i.e., not in the guidebooks). 
 
Berlin is not a particularly beautiful city, especially in the middle of winter, but it is a fascinating one. Of course, there is plenty of old German history to absorb, and plenty of modern diverse life, too. There are 12 boroughs or districts in Berlin, each with its own commercial center. During our two days of touring, we crossed these boroughs constantly going from the former West Berlin to East Berlin, without distinction. Our hotel and the Nature Museum are, for example, in the former East Berlin, and Mitte (the middle borough).
 
Most of the buildings you see in Berlin are either new or rebuilt after WWII. The photo above is of Charlottenburg Palace (present day, with “just after WWII” juxtaposed in front), where Obama was hosted for dinner in 2013. Another mix of old and new is The Victory Column (from the 1870s, now 220 feet tall, with several German military wins commemorated one above the other, in layers). Nadav said the column is used today as a symbol of the LGBTQ community in Berlin (on the annual St. Christopher Street Day, when covered by a giant condom). Of course, I also saw the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building (Parliament), the Ku’damm (Berlin’s answer to the Champs-Elysées), and The Jewish Museum (opened in 2001, reflecting on Jewish history and culture in Germany, designed by Daniel Liebskind, who also designed an expansion at the museum Josh leads in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum). If Berlin (or Germany in general) interests you, let ActiveTravels and Kensington Tours assist with your journey.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/28/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Worthy Stop at Farm Sanctuary in Acton, California

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches

My daughter Sophie and I have done many road trips together, and she is quite used to stopping in unusual places along the way (often with the assistance of ActiveTravels resources). On a sunny Friday in Southern California, we shared another such adventure. Visiting her for Parents’ Weekend at the Claremont Colleges, but this year wanting to spend time away from the crowds, we set out for Acton, California, with the explicit goal of visiting Farm Sanctuary.
 
Sophie has been an ardent vegetarian since the age of 7, and spent many hours in her youth as a member of the Sunnyrock 4H Sheep Club in Sharon, Massachusetts. She’s just always loved animals, and a wide range of them too. So, when I heard about Farm Sanctuary from an ActiveTravels member last fall, I knew I had to visit with her.
 
Farm Sanctuary is a national non-profit whose goal is to end farm animal abuse. They have 3 locations where they rescue, rehabilitate, and provide long-term care to farm animals who have previously been in factory farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses. Of course, the staff at Farm Sanctuary also educates the public and advocates for policy reform. The 26-acre Acton Shelter is located on a hacienda ranch northeast of Los Angeles, in the Sierra Pelona Mountains. The town has a rural western theme, which can be seen in its homes, commercial buildings, and historical buildings, some of which date back to the late 1800s.
 
A little early for our 1 pm tour, we had lunch at Wences Bistro, a small restaurant in town serving “Italian, Chinese, American, & Mexican” cuisine. Then we met our group for the tour. Let’s just say that Sophie had to cover her eyes for the short video which depicted various terrible conditions at factory farms. But then we met Jumper the 700-pound pig, various cows, goats, sheep, chickens, roosters, and horses…and we were smitten.
 
A vegetarian or vegan lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but there is no doubt that factory farming is problematic on a number of levels (even if you aren’t too concerned about animal care, they are usually polluters of the surrounding environment). We appreciated the work that Farm Sanctuary does and the chance to learn more. If you ever find yourself on a road trip from point A to point B, please ask ActiveTravels if there is anything interesting to do on your route. We’d be glad to help!
 
(Photo by Sophie Basseches) 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/27/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 26, 2018

An Update on Santa Barbara, the American Riviera

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Thanks to the generosity of a long-time friend, I recently spent a weekend at his lovely home, dating back to the 1920s, high in the hills above Santa Barbara. At ActiveTravels, we often get asked about the impact of recent fires and mudslides on Southern California travel plans, so I was grateful for the chance to check things out first-hand.
 
The Santa Barbara area is called the American Riviera, and, as far as I could tell, the joint was jumping. We were graced with glorious sunshine and warm (but not hot) temperatures. We journeyed into the waters off Santa Barbara aboard the Sunset Kidd, looking for migrating whales, but instead were treated to dozens of dolphins swimming and jumping right alongside us. We ate wonderful meals at Opal and at Blackbird. The latter is part of the newly opened Hotel Californian, very near the beach in the “Funk Zone” neighborhood (more on that later). The hotel features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and modern Moorish themed interior décor, and incorporates the façade of the original 1925 Hotel Californian. To relax at the rooftop pool, or in the Turkish-inspired spa, would be amazing. After having a tour around with the Catering Manager Inga Winkler, I would not hesitate to reserve rooms there for ActiveTravels members (note: the chef at Blackbird whipped up an original vegetarian dish for my daughter, which was much appreciated). 
 
The “Funk Zone” near the hotel has enjoyed a renaissance. Formerly “the railroad track neighborhood,” it is now full of boutique tasting rooms, cafes, galleries, and shops that cater to Santa Barbara’s contemporary side. Converted warehouses and buildings decorated with graffiti murals and art pieces set the tone. 
 
We wine tasted at Skyenna, a stone’s throw from the famous Stearns Wharf, which we had visited on a prior trip. There was also an outdoor art fair in Shoreline Park, shops to check out on State Street, the Old Mission to admire, burritos at the original Freebird in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara, sushi at Arigato, and authentic Mexican food at Super-Rica Taqueria. One place my friend had recommended we visit for fine dining was closed due to the mudslides, the San Ysidro Ranch, so it’s definitely still an issue for some businesses. But, if Santa Barbara interests you, ActiveTravels would be happy to help you enjoy the hills, beach, water, food, and wine.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/26/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Haugan Cruise to Galapagos Islands Receives Rave Reviews

Work out of your house and you often get pleasant surprises, like the time two women from Ecuador knocked on my door to discuss Haugan Cruises. We usually meet reps from travel companies at the local Starbucks, planned weeks in advance. But these two ladies caught me off guard so, of course, I let them in to do their spiel. I walked away impressed with both their presentation and the exquisite catamarans they owned to take clients on 4-day to 15-day trips around the Galapagos Islands. The yachts hold a maximum of 16 people in 9 cabins, with a crew of 11 that includes a Captain and naturalist. A year later, we give Haugan a try with two clients headed to the Galapagos. Both recently returned with rave reviews about the experience. “We strongly recommend Haugan! The Ocean Spray was wonderful. Our trip director and guide, Jose, was outstanding. The crew were all extremely helpful. Our chef was four star! We had three full meals a day, each one better than the next. Our state room was spacious with a private outside sitting area. Also large bathroom. All accommodations were very comfortable.”

The second client just returned this week. Here’s what she wrote: “The attention and service from Haugan tours was top notch. Galapagos was beyond words! I can’t tell you enough how much we appreciate all you did to set this up for us. Thank you, thank you!!!” 
 
Moral of story: feel free to knock on my door any time. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/22/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Florida Keys On the Rebound

Stroll down Duval Street in Key West and you wouldn’t know that the Florida Keys lost over 1700 homes and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Once again, folks flock to see Ernest Hemingway’s home before stopping for a mojito at the Green Parrot. Nearby, the Hyatt Centric Key West Resort offers 120 guest rooms overlooking the water in Old Town. The Lower Keys are also open for business as we continue to send clients to favorite properties like the Playa Largo Resort in Key Largo. The Middle Keys and Upper Keys, like Big Pine Key, is where Irma left the most devastation. But they’re also on the mend. Tranquility Bay in Marathon is open for business and Islamorada’s The Moorings Village, with 18 oceanfront cottages, reopened last month. We just received word that two classic Florida Keys properties, Hawks Cay Resort and Cheeca Lodge, will both reopen in March. So there’s still time to escape the cold and spend your important tourism dollars in a place that needs your business right now. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/21/18 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sail the BVIs

We had considered canceling our sailing trip to the BVIs earlier this month, but were grateful we pushed ahead. Classic sailing bars like Foxy’s (where we watched the Super Bowl), Soggy Dollar, Pirates on Norman Island, and Setting Point Reef Hotel on Anegada (known for their classic lobster dinner) were all open and grateful for our business. Taxi drivers, servers, and store owners all thanked us for coming so they can continue to work. Yet, everywhere you look, you find devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Upon arrival in Tortola, boats were capsized in the harbor, roofs were ripped off houses, and locals were driving cars with broken windows. The horrific aftermath of Irma would follow us throughout the trip—classic resorts like Bitter End and Peter Island in tatters, large tankers beached, homes destroyed wherever you looked. That’s why it’s important for sailors and boaters to return and thankfully they did. Over the next 2 years, it will be the sailors who can live aboard their boats that will greatly enhance the recovery of this classic cruising ground. 
 
We chose to rent a 41-foot monohull from the Tortola sailing charter, Horizon Yacht Charters. We also made the wise move of hiring a Captain, “Boss,” a 51-year old grandfather of 4 who grew up on Tortola sailing boats and ferries for a living when he wasn’t tending to his goats and sheep. Boss exuded an heir of confidence and calm aboard Island Karma, even during 27-knot winds in the open sea, when the rain and swells left us soaked. We would spend the week sailing to Jost Von Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada, which was worth the long sail over. We savored the chance to dine barefoot on lobster and conch fritters and making our way to both beaches on the island, Cow Wreck and the equally enticing Loblolly, stopping to see a large flock of flamingoes in the distance. We ended with stops at Cooper Island and Peter Island, before one last Dark and Stormy on Norman Island. A memorable trip that we’re happy to recreate for ActiveTravels clients upon request. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/20/18 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Now’s the Time to Support San Juan

Lisa and I were pleasantly surprised when we touched down in San Juan to see how good the city looked. Yes, there were uprooted and twisted trees, but Old San Juan was as charming as ever. Obviously, a good portion of Puerto Rico is still recovering from the tragic impact of Hurricane Maria but I wouldn’t hesitate to spend 3 or 4 nights in San Juan for a quick getaway. Locals are incredibly grateful for any travelers headed their way during these trying times. We stayed at the stylish CasaBlanca Hotel in the heart of Old Town, dined on indigenous fare at Café Puerto Rico, then walked the boutique shop-laden streets down to the glorious green expanse that led to the historic fort of El Morro overlooking the pounding waves of the Atlantic. Afterwards, we strolled past the murals of the colorful neighborhood of La Perla, where they filmed the music video for the hit song, “Despacito.” Quenched our thirst with one of the local Ocean Lab Amber Ales at La Taberna Lupulo before we grabbed dinner at the rooftop deck of Punto de Vista. If you’re looking for a beach, the upscale Condado Vanderbilt is open and we just heard that the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar near El Yunque Rainforest will reopen March 1st. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/19/18 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 16, 2018

Trekking Annapurna with Indo Asia Tours

We recently had the pleasure of meeting Sunirmol Ghosh in Boston. Director of Indo Asia Tours, a highly respected travel company that designs custom-made tours to the Indian subcontinent since 1987, Ghosh was once a trekking guide in the lofty peaks of Afghanistan and adventure is still his true love. His company now designs walking tours of Bhutan, horseback riding trips outside of Jaipur, cycling in the Madikeri, fishing in Srinagar, scuba diving in the Andaman Islands, even golfing at the circa-1829 Royal Calcutta Golf Club. But it’s his guided treks to Everest Base Camp and the legendary Annapurna in Nepal that has me licking my lips with anticipation. If you want to do the Indian subcontinent with the pros, please contact ActiveTravels and we’ll find a trip that fits your passion.  

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/16/18 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

This Summer, Book a Maine Windjammer Sail

With early spring weather in Boston this week, I’m already thinking of booking another windjammer sail in Maine this summer. A question I’m always asked is where does a travel writer/advisor go for downtime? For me, I’ll jump on one of these historic schooners any chance I get. Two summers ago, I made the wise choice to sail on the Schooner Mary Day with my daughter, Melanie, before she left for her first year of college at Indiana University. We had a glorious trip dining on all the lobster we could stomach on a deserted island off the mid-Maine coast, spotting harbor porpoises, lonely lighthouses, and making new friends around the country as we hoisted sails and sucked in as much salty air as necessary. This comes on the heels of two memorable sails aboard the Grace Bailey with my dad and his wife Ginny. A memory I won’t soon forget is my father taking the wheel of the Grace Bailey and sailing for a good hour or two. 

 
Do yourself a favor and book a sail. It’s the best way to see the rugged shoreline and tall timbers of the Maine coast. New themed cruises include a watercolor workshop aboard the American Eagle and bar craft and cocktail making aboard Ladona. Back by popular demand: Beer and Bluegrass (Ladona), Foodie Cruises (Stephen Taber), Kayaking Tours (Lewis R. French), Wine Tasting (Stephen Taber, Angelique), and Knitting (Isaac H. Evans). Prices start at $525 for a 2-night cruise. 3-day trips range from $595 to $1,428; 6-day cruises from $935 to $1,938. Average price per night is $220 per person, including all meals, lodging, and activities like the signature all-you-can-eat lobster feast. For more information contact the Maine Windjammer Association
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/15/18 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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