One of my favorite inns in New England, the Wildflower Inn, is perched atop glorious Darling Hill Road in Lyndonville, Vermont, with expansive views of meadows, mountains, and rivers. I’ve brought the children here a handful of times and we’ve always had an unforgettable stay as we sled, downhill and cross-country skied, took horse-drawn sleigh rides, and pet the sheep, cows, and resident donkeys in the big barn. Now the inn is doing their best to get families outdoors by hosting a season long contest called Project Snowman 2010. Simply build a snowman and send the photo to the inn and you could win a 7-night stay, dining, skiing at nearby Burke Mountain, and more prizes. Owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly hope to get shots of 10,000 snow or sandmen sent from across America.
I’m taking a 2-week hiatus to enjoy time with my family and ski Stowe this upcoming week. Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous 2010!
I just received this promo from the Netherlands Board of Tourism. Starting a week from today, February 4th, you can click on www.holland.com and enter to win such prizes as a monthly delivery of fresh tulips for a year, a Dutch bicycle, an iconic piece of Dutch furniture, even a diamond made in Amsterdam. The biggest prize is two round trip, KLM business class tickets to Amsterdam, given to the person who sends in the most creative photograph under the heading “Just be. In Holland.” While there, take that Dutch bicycle on the country’s increasingly popular biking and barge trips. The beauty of these bike trips is that unlike a typical inn-to-inn biking trip, you don’t have to pack your bags every morning to check in at the new night’s lodging. The barge follows you along the route, so you’ll be staying in the same berth the entire trip.
Combine marionettes with live music composed by the Kronos Quartet and you get a smaller-than-life reenactment of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 trans-Antarctic expedition. Called 69 Degrees South: The Shackleton Project, the play is created by the puppet theater company, Phantom Limb, and will be shown at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts on Saturday, March 13 at 8 pm. It will attempt to recreate the true story of Shackleton and his brave men trapped in an ice floe for 497 days, a remarkable story of survival that lends itself well to an intriguing night with puppets.
There was a time when Kim Mance was behind the scenes, working as a travel columnist for Marie Claire magazine. But ever since she launched her Galavanting travel show on the web in 2008, she’s been front and center, bringing us around the world as host. Together with her fashion-conscious cohort Maren Hogan, they venture everywhere from Roatan, Honduras, to Hokkaido Island in Japan, trying the food, sampling the clubs, and, most enjoyable, experiencing the adventure. In Costa Rica, they go rappelling down a waterfall and in an upcoming webisode on Colorado, you can find Kim ice climbing. “I thought I was going to hit myself in the head with the ice pick. But thankfully those crampons are more stable than you think they’ll be,” Manse says with a chuckle. The show has been a surprise hit on the web, with Manse currently in talks to bring Galavanting to one of the networks. Take a glance at Manse hiking deep in the rainforest of Costa Rica and you quickly understand why viewers find the active lifestyle so appealing.
Over the years, I’ve given travel advice to friends, family, neighbors, editors, strangers, you name it. Once people know you’re a travel writer, the questions quickly follow. And believe me, I’m happy to point folks in the right direction. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I was stunned and delighted to get the following email:
Hello Steve, hope you don't mind me contacting you. I am a US Army soldier currently serving in Iraq, and hope to be home in 2 months after being gone for 8. I would love to take my very hard working wife (also active duty US Army) and 3 young daughters (7,4,2) on a warm beach vacation somewhat near our suburban Maryland home. I read your great review, and the only caveat is that my wife has a security clearance that makes it difficult to plan travel out of the US on short notice. I was thinking the US VI or possibly Puerto Rico and wondered what you thought. We have taken one cruise, Disney out of Canaveral and absolutely loved it. We all love water and beaches, so thought that something all-inclusive in a warm destination that didn't require passports would be ideal. We lived in Hawaii for 3 years before the children, and even though my wife thinks the 12 hour flight is doable, I think something in our local area w/ less flight time would be better. Thanks so much.
To which I responded:
Thanks for being in touch! I'm happy to be of assistance. I would scratch Hawaii--too far a trek for the 2 and 4-year old. And let's be real. Do you really want to go to Hawaii with the kids? I love St. John in the USVI. See if you can a good rate at the Westin, http://www.westinresortstjohn.com. Do you know of any military discounts at hotels? That might help. Disney Cruises are always a safe bet for your kids. So is Royal Caribbean. But make sure your wife can get off at the Caribbean islands. Otherwise it's not worth it. Also, don't blow off Florida. If you're thinking about taking your vacation in April, Florida is warm that time of year. I love Sanibel Island, outside of Fort Myers. Another favorite trip when our kids were your age was San Diego. You can hit Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, maybe even cruise up to Anaheim to go to Disneyland, and hit the beaches in Coronado and Pacific Beach.
He liked my San Diego idea and I was happy to help. So much so that I’m offering free travel advice to any military personnel going on leave!
My brother once had his passport stolen in Turkey and was forced to spend the next month in the country before he was handed a new passport and could leave. He ended up having the time of his life and making lifelong friends, but that’s beside the point. A lost or stolen passport can cause a lot of stress. Just ask my wife who lost her passport on a train behind communist lines in the old East Germany. She was booted off the train and, unlike my brother, did not make any lifelong friends. Now entering the travel world is accessMYID.com, a new website that stores all pertinent travel information like a copy of that passport, travel visas, health insurance cards, and necessary prescriptions. Much like my beloved Carbonite backs up my hard drive, this website will store all travel info for a yearly fee that’s as low as twenty bucks a year. That seems like a low price to pay to offset a potential heart attack.
I’m in the midst of writing a feature story on Colorado Adventure for Air Tran’s inflight magazine, covering mountain biking, hiking, and white water kayaking. I just got off the phone with Boulder-based Brad Ludden, a world champion freestyle kayaker who had the chutzpah to kayak down more than 100 rivers that have never been paddled on before. This includes a recent a four-day first descent down a river in Madagascar, where he came very close to losing his best friend in a huge rapid. Now 29, when Brad was 18, he started a charity organization named First Descents that helps empower 18 to 39-year olds who are battling cancer. So far, more than 600 people have done the program which, like Outward Bound, helps folks gain confidence through outdoor adventure like white water kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. The program has succeeded far better than Brad ever imagined, with more than 400 people now on the waiting list. As he mentioned to me, “Mother Nature doesn’t really care if you have cancer or not. We’re all on an even playing field.” All of the adventures are offered for free, thanks to the support of donations by the public at First Descents.
Maybe it’s the lure of Italian cooking, the chance to finally see the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican in Rome, biking through the countryside of Tuscany, or driving along the spectacular Amalfi coastline, that has made Italy such a hot destination in 2010. I just received a call from Go Ahead Tours in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who noted that bookings are up a remarkable 55% on trips to Italy compared to last year. So much, in fact, that they decided to host an event on April 10th called “A Taste of Tuscany in Boston.” On hand will be best-selling author Frances Mayes, who’s releasing her new book, “Every Day in Tuscany.” Italian food and wine will also be presented. Join in the festivities at the EF Center on 1 Education Street in Cambridge from 2-5 pm. Save a spot by remembering to RSVP.
More and more of my travel writing buddies are entering into the world of iPhone apps, simply utilizing their expertise in another medium. Take my friend, Alistair Wearmouth, a writer and editor at Away.com who happens to be a parent living in the Washington, DC area. Few know the region better than him, so it makes perfect sense that he’s just come out with an app on the DC area for families. It includes more than 125 listings for the best places to sleep, eat, play, and visit, slideshows of over 1,000 photographs, and recommendations relative to your current GPS locale. Since Alistair has a love of the outdoors, many of the sites have an active component, like places to bring the kids to bike, paddle, and stroll in parks. Cost is a measly $1.99.
As if the Great Barrier Reef didn’t have enough problems! Dr. Charlie Veron, the former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, recently warned that the Great Barrier Reef will be “in tatters” by 2030, the result of global warming and rising sea temperatures. In fact, the Zoological Society of London feels the future of coral reefs is so bleak, they recently announced a plan to freeze samples in liquid nitrogen. Now comes news that a Chinese oil tanker slammed into the reef at top speed on April 3rd. The tanker has already leaked about two tons of oil, resulting in a three kilometer slick that could take years to clean up. Marine conservationists are particularly worried about turtles since it’s hatching season. What a way to be born into the world. Australian authorities have charged the captain for veering out of the shipping lane and running into the reef, but the damage is already done.
The Old Tavern at Grafton, one of my favorite places to x-c ski in the winter and mountain bike in the warm weather (see my top 10 places to mountain bike in New England in The Boston Globe) is now offering a cheese tour. This makes perfect sense since their sister company is the award-winning Grafton Village Cheese Company just down the road. Priced at $725 per couple, you receive a welcome wine and cheese reception, visit three other acclaimed cheese makers in southern Vermont, three nights lodging at the Old Tavern, and daily breakfast and dinner. Dates are June 7-10, July 12-15, August 9-12, and September 13-16.
Vancouver’s Sarah Doherty, 50, has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, skied competitively, and lit the Olympic torch. All with one leg! At the age of 13, while biking around her neighborhood in eastern Massachusetts, a drunk driver hit her, crushing her right leg. The accident might have altered her life, but it didn’t change her desire to keep active. In fact, she has devoted herself to getting people back on the trail, working as an occupational therapist. Her most recent contribution is SideStix, a shock-absorbent crutch that can withstand any rock-littered, root studded trail. Let’s just call it the mountain bike version of a crutch. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and with Sarah Doherty, there’s a strong desire to picnic on summits.
Last year, 285 million people visited a National Park in America. So there’s a very good chance you’ll be headed to one in 2010. Before you go, check out the new website the National Park Service just created to help visitors plan their trip. There are easy links to park highlights, lodging, ranger-led outdoor activities, and events scheduled during the dates you’ll be there. That way, you chart your course before you arrive and won’t be overwhelmed by the crowds and information.
Travelers with a good sense of humor should submit a photo of themselves to a new contest hosted by Hotels.com. If you can somehow get others to vote for you "desperately needing a summer vacation," earning top vote getter, you’ll win an all-expenses paid, five-night getaway with roundtrip airfare and $1000 cash FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS! Hotels.com is also giving away FLIP camcorders daily.
I started writing this blog a little over a year ago, with readership and interest steadily growing. I know you have lots of options to read travel content on the web, so I want to personally pat you on the back and say thank you! My goal the next several months is to expand ActiveTravels to include much more of my travel content in the Go Play section, to be used as a reference. But that will have to wait until early August. I’m on assignment the next 22 of 31 days, traveling to Cape Cod, Maine, New Brunswick, Paris, and the UK. I’m gone so much that I’ve decided to give myself time off next week. So enjoy the 4th of July holiday and come back the week of July 12th when I’ll be divulging my Top 5 Wallet-Friendly Ways to Get Wet and Wild.
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.
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.
In an effort to attract more folks to their recently revised website, the Appalachian Mountain Club is giving away prizes to people who sign up for their monthly and bi-weekly e-newsletters. The grand prize winner will receive a 2-night stay at one of their huts in New Hampshire, Maine, or New Jersey. Other prizes include $110 gift certificates for Merrells, and a free Aria jacket.