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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Checking Out Cartagena and the Rosario Islands on My College Break

Guest Post and Photo by Sophie Basseches 
A few weeks ago, during my 5-day fall break from college, I was lucky enough to go on an adventure. I journeyed all the way to Colombia to visit my brother who is teaching English at a school there. I know, it seems kind of crazy to go so far for such a short period of time, but it was amazing! 
My brother is stationed in Barranquilla. One look at the city and you can tell it’s not an ideal tourist destination. Instead, my brother, his two friends, and I took a 2-hour bus ride over to the old walled city of Cartagena. From $5 dollar vegan brunches to 4 am salsa dancing, this city has everything a newbie to the country could want. Cartagena is the perfect mix of beauty and culture, quite appealing to a college student like myself. 
Cartagena is also not too far from some other interesting destinations. On our second day in the city we headed 35 miles southeast to San Basilio de Palenque. We went there expecting a tiny drum festival but were in for a huge treat. After a bumpy and cramped bus ride, we landed in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere and had to take motorcycles down the 5-mile dirt road to the city. Once we got there, what we experienced was anything but dull. There were hundreds of people, amazing food, quality beer, and stunning singing and dance performances done by citizens of all ages, each of them more talented than the next. The drum festival isn’t the only unique aspect of Palenque. Many Africans escaped from the slave ship port of Cartagena and set up Palenque de San Basilio. In 1691, the Spanish Government guaranteed freedom to the Palenque de San Basilio Africans. They were, in fact, the first free Africans in the Americas, and as a result, Palenque was named a UNESCO world heritage site. 
I know you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot to do in just five days but there were more adventures to come! Cartagena is on the coast and we had to take advantage of the ideal location. We took a small boat out to the Islas del Rosario (Rosario Islands), a group of approximately 30 islands, all of them beautiful with crystal blue water, white sand, and exquisite sunsets. On the islands there are numerous trails to hike or bike, perfect snorkeling spots, and for those lazy/tired like myself, hundreds of picturesque beaches to nap on. This trip to Colombia was my first time in South America, but after my amazing experience, I know it won’t be my last. 
(Photo caption: Sophie and her brother, Jake, in San Basilio de Palenque)


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/02/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Aman New York to Open in 2020

Fans of the ultra-sybaritic Aman brand will be happy to know about its latest undertaking, the refurbishment of the iconic Crown Building overlooking Central Park in Manhattan. Set to debut in 2020, the property will feature 83 guest rooms and 20 residences in the circa-1921 Beaux-Arts building, once the original home of the Museum of Modern Art. This will be Aman’s third hotel in the US and only the second in a major city, after Tokyo. Located on 5th Avenue and 57th Street, Aman New York will feature an Aman Spa that will span 22,000 square feet on the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors and include an 80-foot indoor swimming pool surrounded by daybeds. The wraparound Garden Terrace, located on the 10th floor, will offer guests a panoramic view of Central Park, a restaurant, and a cigar bar. The hotel also plans to open a piano bar in the Sky Lobby, Wine Library for tastings and events, and a subterranean Jazz Club. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/01/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Quick Escape to Portsmouth

While the crowds were in Salem this past weekend to celebrate Halloween, we headed a little father up the road to Portsmouth. Stores, restaurants, and the historic streets were all decorated for today’s festivities, which includes a parade. We dropped our bags off at one of the 10 rooms at the conveniently located Ale House Inn, one of the first Lark Hotels properties to debut (they also manage the Hotel Portsmouth on the other end of town). Then took a short walk over to the Portsmouth Brewery for a pint of their pumpkin ale, rimmed with cinnamon sugar. It went down so smoothly I had to sample another one of their signature brews, the Surrender to the Flow IPA. Afterwards, we headed over to Franklin Oyster House for a selection of New Hampshire oysters, harissa-rubbed grilled shrimp, and fries cooked in duckfat. Saturday was a glorious day of sunshine and seasonally warm temps, so we walked all over town, checking out the piers at Prescott Park, the 17th-century homes at Strawberry Banke, the farmers market at City Hall (snagged the last empire apples of the season), and then strolled across Memorial Bridge into Maine for most likely our last lobster roll of the year at Warren’s (outstanding salad bar to boot). Portsmouth Restaurant Week starts November 2nd, so go check out Franklin Oyster, Portsmouth Brewery, and the James-Beard nominated Black Trumpet at a discount. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/31/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 30, 2017

Nova Scotia Ferry Numbers Up Summer 2017

Happy to hear that ridership was up on the Portland-Yarmouth Ferry this summer. According to the Portland Press Herald, The Cat transported some 41,000 people, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. My sister and I took the ferry over to Nova Scotia in 2016 and it was an easy to get to the Atlantic Maritimes from New England. Just 6 ½ hours one way, it’s the ideal way to start your loop of the Maritimes, continuing on to Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. You can visit Acadia National Park and the Maine coast on your drive back to Portland. Only a 30-minute drive from the ferry port in Yarmouth is one of my favorite stopovers, the Ye Olde Argyler Lodge. Start your tour of the Maritimes the right way with a guided sea kayaking tour of massive Lobster Bay and a lobster bake at sunset on the beach. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/30/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 27, 2017

Caribbean Update, Kauai Resorts, and Maine’s Cliff House in October ActiveTravels Newsletter

In the October ActiveTravels Newsletter, we discuss the Caribbean locales that weren’t affected by the hurricanes, pick our favorite hotels in Kauai, talk about how Amazon can help you in a pinch, and introduce you to one of the finest new resorts in Maine, the Cliff House. Please have a look! 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/27/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Emergence of Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor

I was back in my boyhood stomping grounds this weekend for a high school reunion and was pleasantly surprised at how good the city looked. Much of the change is due to an influx of investment from the new Rivers Casino & Resort. We stayed at the casino’s Landing Hotel, boasting a stylish lounge bar, outdoor tables around fire pits, and a paved walking path along the Mohawk River. I’ve never seen so much action on the river. Peering out at the water from our hotel room, we spotted fishing boats, jet skis, and countless crew teams skimming the water’s surface. I learned at the reunion that the Niskayuna crew team is one of the best in New York, with many alums being awarded D-1 scholarships at some of the finest college crew teams in the country. 
Rivers Casino is building up the whole waterfront in a neighborhood called Mohawk Harbor. We strolled down the path to find a spanking new apartment building and Courtyard by Marriott. Soon to make its debut in retail space at the bottom of the apartment building is the Shaker & Vine wine bar. Also opening nearby is a restaurant and microbrewery, Druthers Brewing. Before meeting friends at two bars owned by former classmates, Katie O’Byrnes and Cappocia Wine Lounge, we had to stop at my favorite Italian restaurant in town, Cornells, to dine on a dreamy eggplant parmesan. There’s a scene in the movie, Ratatouille, where the food critic is immediately transported back to his youth thanks to the perfect rendering of the dish. That’s what eggplant parmesan at Cornells does to me. One bite and I'm 11 years old surrounded by my family, my mother in her thick Bronx accent asking if I need more fresh baked bread to swipe up the heavenly red sauce. 
Things are looking up in Schenectady. If you’re passing through on a college tour or hitting the track at Saratoga next summer, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend a night or two at Mohawk Harbor. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/26/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New Zealand Top Choice for North American Adventure Travelers

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) just completed a study with Outside Magazine on how adventure travel trends have changed in the last decade. The top 5 desired destinations for the intrepid today are New Zealand, Australia, South America, South Pacific, and Western Europe. North America and the Middle East, both in the top 5 in 2006, slipped down to number 7 and 16, respectively. Hiking, backpacking, and sea kayaking were the top activities in 2016, replacing more hardcore sports a decade ago like rock climbing. I was surprised that biking and mountain biking weren’t taken into consideration. I would think that the popularity of both sports would be near the top today, judging from the increasing number of our clients who want to join a biking trip. The multisport trip, where you sample a different activity every day, also remains strong, especially with families. But I didn’t see it mentioned in this report. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/25/17 at 05:59 AM
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

New England Foliage Without the Crowds

 It’s still relatively warm in the region for the remainder of October and the foliage is peaking at least a week or two later than normal. So take advantage of the good weather to do one of these off-the-beaten-track activities in New England. My latest story for Yankee Magazine

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/24/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, October 23, 2017

Dining and Lodging in Las Cruces, New Mexico

For authentic Mexican fare at an affordable price, it’s hard to top the restaurants in Las Cruces. I loved the ambience and history of dining at La Posta de Mesilla while sipping a house margarita and soaking it all in. Tacos al pastor was the signature dish at nearby Andele, perfectly charred meat topped with homemade salsa from their salsa bar. The huevos rancheros were so good at the homey La Nueva Casita I went there twice. Other highlights include the overstuffed lava burger, washed down with a refreshing pecan ale at the Pecan Grill and Brewery; fish tacos at the spanking new Dragonfly on Main Street (perfectly located for the Saturday Farmers Market); a tasty Greek salad with grilled chicken at Tiffany’s; and the frozen custard hot fudge sundae, topped with local salted pecans, at Caliche’s. I stayed at the Hotel Encanto, an easy drive to all the restaurants and sights in Las Cruces. After a long day of sightseeing and writing, it was great to unwind at their long pool shaded by tall palms and overflowing with monarch butterflies. A little bit of paradise in the desert. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/23/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, October 20, 2017

Adventures in Las Cruces Week—Hiking at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

After peering up at the 9,000-foot high Organ Mountains all week, it was great to finally see it up close. Brenda Gallegos from the Friends of Organ Mountains was my guide for the morning as we first made our way to the trailhead for the 3-mile (round-trip) Bar Canyon trail that leads to the junction of two canyons, Bar and Soledad. Brenda just finished her master’s thesis on the southwestern quail, spending 3 years in west Texas doing research. We climbed a rocky path past numerous sotol plants—yucca-like with a large stem shooting out of the center almost as tall as a saguaro. A peaceful stillness enveloped us as we looked up at the jagged peaks. Soon we were inside a canyon passing prickly pear and cholla cacti. We stopped to see a waterfall trickle down the wall of rock next to level ground that was probably used for sacred ceremonies at one point in time. On our return trip, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead as we looked down at Las Cruces in the valley below. As an encore, Brenda took me on the Dripping Springs Trail to visit La Cuevo, a cave where a hermit once lived in the mid-1800s. About to leave the park, a covey of silver blue scaled quail flew overhead, much to the delight of Brenda. “That made my day,” she said. 

It’s been a wonderful week in Las Cruces, and to be perfectly honest, I hate to leave. I want to thank Chris Faivre at Visit Las Cruces and Peggy Bendel for designing the perfect itinerary. I’ll be back on Monday with my favorite restaurant picks in Las Cruces. In the meantime, I have a high school reunion to attend in Schenectady, New York. Have a great weekend! 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/20/17 at 06:00 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

Adventure Travel Trade Association