Monthly Archives: August 2013

Gimme Shelter.

Shelter Island jewels. (Photo by author)

Shelter Island jewels. (Photo by author)

Anyone who’s visited the beaches of Long Island knows how lovely they are. Over the years I’ve clocked time in the gorgeous towns of East and South Hampton, the hamlet of Amagansett, and one of my favorite places in the world, Montauk, affectionately known as The End. But in all that time, I’d never been to Shelter Island. Always passed on the way out to the eastern end of Long Island, I’d look at the ferry sign and think that one day I’d visit. Anyone I know who’s been always spoke of how gorgeous it is. This past weekend I got to see its beauty.

I’m leaving on a…quick ferry ride. (Photo credit: Tim Kelly)

Nestled between the North and South Forks of Long Island, the island really is sheltered. I was heading there for a wedding, and took the first morning train on the Long Island Railroad out to Greenport. The three-hour journey is the first step in getting that “away” feeling and gives you time to read, nap, or catch up on whatever needs catching up. By the time the train arrives, decompression is nicely underway. A few steps later you’re at the ferry, excited with the anticipation of being so close to your destination. It’s a quick seven-minute zip across Shelter Island Sound but enough time to make me feel like I was a million miles from New York City.
Visiting Shelter Island is like being in a time capsule. With its lack of noise and overall hustle and bustle, white picket fences, gabled homes, wrap around porches, rolling hills, boats bobbing in the harbor, and lush land, it feels like Mayberry RFD. Its natural beauty is startling. Just to give you an idea, The Nature Conservancy owns one-third of the island. This keeps it real and keeps it wild. No one was walking around with head’s down staring at their cell phone; in fact I didn’t see one person on their phone the entire time I was there.

Dering Harbor.

Dering Harbor.

There’s no such thing as perfect but to this visitor the pristine beauty of Shelter Island was almost overwhelming. To boot, the weather was bright sunshine, no humidity and clear skies. From the moment I checked into the Chequit Inn, the wedding couple spoiled me (and all their other guests) rotten with goodies and meals. Sure, I was there to celebrate their union but being there gave me—and the rest of the crowd—an opportunity for a little vacation. A mode that everyone seemed to take to immediately.

The added bonus was reuniting with friends who don’t live in the US anymore, and making new ones. A gang of us rented bikes and spent Saturday exploring. It’s probably the best way to see Shelter Island, you can stop and start back up when you like. We rolled through the roads of Dering Harbor and gaped at the off the hook homes that look like something out of The Great Gatsby. We made a pit stop on a wide-arced, sandy white beach, empty except for a sole person in a deck chair reading; a turquoise umbrella sheltered her. Aside from the gentle lapping of water on the shoreline, all was quiet. She had the world at her feet and heaven around her.

A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

We swam in Coecles Harbor, near the Ram’s Head Inn, where I found my new favorite sport—paddle boarding. We could have lolled seaside all day but we had to head back to our hotel to get spiffed up for the night’s festivities. Cycling home along the shoreline the breeze carried the sweet smell of grass and clover mixed with salty air, creating the sort of moment that only summer can bring. The sort of feeling you had as kid, when you didn’t have a care in the world. When a minute seemed like an hour, and before sound became noise. The feeling that you didn’t want the day to end, wishing you could capture it forever. Magic.

Sunset ceremony sky over Coecles Harbor.  (Photo credit:  Lawrence J. Winston)

Sunset ceremony sky over Coecles Harbor. (Photo credit: Lawrence J. Winston)

We returned to the Ram’s Head for the outdoor wedding ceremony during that golden hour where the sun blazed over the rolling lawn that overlooks the harbor. As it set, it cast a lingering gift of neon orange glow over the dinner party. Then this brilliant fireball slowly dipped into the sea. Delicious food, good times, no one wanted the glamorous night to end but we eventually had to call it quits.

Show me to my table.  (Photo credit:  D. Powell)

Show me to my table. (Photo credit: D. Powell)

The following day the celebration continued with lunch on a secluded private beach. More food, more drink, more laughs, more swimming. We combed for seashells and found a treasure of mermaid’s toenails, scallop, spindle and snail shells. My sun hat became a bucket for my bounty. So many shells, so much sunshine, so much summer.

Someone asked me what time I was leaving, I said never.

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Happy As A High Tide Clam.

Ahoy matey, see you at the Wall.

Ahoy matey, see you at the Wall. (Photo credit: sailmanhattan.com)

Any plans to visit New York City anytime between now and October? If so, then you might want to think about fitting this into your itinerary. This goes for any locals who haven’t taken advantage of what’s bobbing in their own backyard.

The Honorable William Wall is a floating clubhouse in the midst of New York Harbor, courtesy of the Manhattan Sailing Club. For anyone who can’t get enough of the city skyline, or just any opportunity to be on the water, it’s a must.

Are we there yet? (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

Are we there yet? (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

Anchored from May through October, the clubhouse is open Tuesday through Saturday and getting there is a breeze. Just head to the North Cove Marina in Battery Park City and hop aboard the Admiral’s Launch. Club members sail for free, otherwise it’s $18 round-trip and worth every penny. Reservations get priority boarding so if you’re set on sailing, book an advance ticket.

Some folks visit this watering hole for the chance to see evening sailboat races, while most others probably head there to sip a few while the sun starts its slow dip and lights up the city’s skyline. With 360-degree views that include Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Jersey City, and Governors Island, there’s not a bad seat on this barge.

Not a bad sight.  (Photo credit: sailmanhattan.com)

Not a bad sight. (Photo credit: sailmanhattan.com)

Some friends and I visited this past Saturday. The sun was blazing and the weather was perfect as we bounced across the choppy water. About fifteen minutes later we disembarked, I looked up and a sign read “Welcome Aboard! Today’s special is “Bloody Floatin’ Mary’s.” My kind of place.

It was a Dark & Stormy night.  (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

It was a Dark & Stormy night. (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

The open-air, full service bar on the upper deck was bustling, and customers were ordering Dark and Stormy cocktails faster than the bartenders could mix them. There were smiles all around and everyone looked blissful in a way that only comes from being on the water. All of the tables and chairs were taken so we made our way to the lower deck and pitched our picnic atop a storage unit, unpacked some homemade snacks, made a toast, and enjoyed the view. On the tender back, the moon was rising.

The William Wall owes its sea legs to a Civil War congressman who was an ancestor of the club’s commodore, who runs this floating roadhouse. One of the draws is that you can bring your own grub. The clubhouse has some basic bar food, and you can even cater to the barge from an outside vendor, but all drinks must be ordered from the house. Not a bad deal in my book.

Far away, so close.  (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

Far away, so close. (Photo credit: Peter Vincent Acken)

These days it’s harder and harder to find a best kept secret in NYC but most folks I know haven’t heard of the Willy Wall. As far as new favorite things go, it’s made the list. I don’t have to travel far, get to be on the water, meet people, and appreciate my city from a different point of view.

Come visit. I’ll see you at the Wall!

What Do Wildlife and Travel Advisors Have In Common?

King of the Serengeti.

King of the Serengeti.

Tourism is the number one driver in the economy of many countries, especially in Africa. Millions of travelers visit countries on that continent each year to experience the one thing most people blow off as a dream—a safari. The jungle is teeming with all sorts of wildlife but most travelers go to see the Big Five—the Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Few things compare to the thrill of seeing them up close and personal. It’s humbling. Sadly, over the past decade more and more of these animals are on the endangered species list because of the profit made from the illegal wildlife trade. Most notably, the elephant, the rhino, and the lion. Worldwide and local conservation organizations are doing their best to prevent their extinction but the future of these creatures doesn’t look good.

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa.  (Photo by author.)

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa. (Photo by author.)

One of the reasons is that the money poachers earn from slaughtering these animals provides a massive source of income. In turn, some of these profits are funneled to fund terrorist groups. It’s amazing what you’ll find when you follow the money, and you can learn more about this in Killing Lions, Buying Bombs.  I’m not certain of what the solution is to deter poaching, it’s multidimensional for sure but I do know that education plays a huge role.

Another is for the travel industry to recognize the direct threat it poses to its livelihood. Knowledge is power and travel advisors who stay informed and educated about conservation bring value to its efforts by being part of the conversation and raising awareness. Tourism generates billions of dollars to the industry each year from travelers who set their sights set on a safari. What would be the draw if these animals didn’t exist? Travel advisors matter. Every voice and advocate who partners with conservation efforts, on any level, matters.

Chillin' at Chobe in Botswana.  (Photo by author.)

Chillin’ at Chobe in Botswana. (Photo by author.)

On the flip side, the communities within these countries need to be educated about what the loss of tourist dollars would mean to their economy and livelihood. The money generated by tourism in these countries not only pays the people directly connected to the travel industry, but indirectly as well. If managed right, this money goes back into the infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and the protection of wildlife and its natural habitat.

The rising extinction of these animals is alarming, but the article Through The Eyes Of The Maasai is inspiring. For starters, it made me want to book a flight to Kenya. But what really got my attention is how the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people, through education and collaboration with local and international communities realize that to keep their culture they have to shift their way of thinking and living. The Maasai occupy large tracks of land near game parks in Kenya and in northern Tanzania, live under a communal land management and use seasonal rotation to manage their livestock. The Masai Mara National Reserve is a huge draw for tourists who visit to experience the bonanza of wildlife, especially the wildebeest migration and to see the big cats. The camps that offer accommodation, some on Maasai land, to these visitors benefit tremendously. For tourists, the value of the trip is usually immeasurable.

Dmitri Markine.com http://www.dmitrimarkine.co...

Masai Dance, Maasai Mara Reserve,Kenya. The higher you jump the more women you can marry.(Photo credit: Dmitri Markine Photography)

Whatever side of the tourism road you’re on, education is key to preserving not just the wildlife but the habitat and way of life within the countries most folks regard as “bucket list” destinations.

Everything—from the lion to the livestock herder—is connected.


The NSA, Edward Snowden, and the South of Italy.

Italy's Palinuro beach. (Photo credit: G. Nepi)

Italy’s Palinuro beach. (Photo credit: G. Nepi)

Fires, drought, tornadoes, and a relentless heat wave across much of the US.  July pretty much did us in. Now August is here and the government’s put a crimp in our travel plans.

Some people mark Labor Day as the end of summer, not me.  My friends are familiar with my mantra of “summer’s not over ‘til I say it is.”  September sometimes turns out to be the best month. The heavy heat is off your back and most days are clear blue skies. In which case—unless Mother Nature unleashes some more of her relentless wrath for messing with her ground work—by my count there are seven or eight perfect weekends left to get lost. If you can tack on a Friday and/or Monday, all the better.

If you’d planned on any Middle East travel…well, we know what happened to that itinerary. Talk about things getting hot. But let’s get back to August, the quintessential summer month. Now we’ve been told that we’ve got to watch our backs if we’re out there flying the friendly skies internationally. Seasoned travelers roll with these punches and tend not to get freaked out by this type of information. This is when flexibility comes in handy.

Summer in Moscow.

Summer in Moscow.

And then there’s Edward Snowden. For weeks I’ve wondered what the hell he’s been eating in that Netherland of the Moscow airport he’s been calling home. As a food snob, the thought that he’d been subsisting on processed airport cuisine made me cringe. But this young man has friends in high places, so I’m sure he was well-tended. He’s obviously not a traveler. For a man who did work for the folks who play in secrets and shadows, he should have read Ian Fleming in his spare time. Sure, Russia just granted him asylum but of all the places to hole up, he picked the birthplace of the KGB. Poor planning Mr. Snowden, you should have consulted with a travel agent.

Jumbo Rocks campground at Joshua Tree. (Photo credit: Nate2b)

Jumbo Rocks campground at Joshua Tree. (Photo credit: Nate2b)

There are plenty of weekend adventures out there waiting for you. It’s sometimes a little too easy to put a getaway—whether it’s camping, a beach house, or a quick flight—on the back burner.  If friends invite you somewhere, go!  There are always chores to do, especially if you’ve got kids, but you’ll never regret having made the trip. Besides, that’s what the cooler months are for. An Italian barber my guy goes to told him, “September? Phew, Italy in the South–it’s gorgeous!  It’s still hot enough to swim and everyone’s still going to the beach.”

Sounds like an excellent plan to me.

Toronto—From Good To Great.

Super Toronto's Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Super Toronto’s Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Travel is discovery and it’s a delight when you stumble upon a new favorite thing. Whether it’s music, dance, food, a cocktail, beach, park, campsite, a person, exceptional experience or an intimate moment. Large or small—it doesn’t have to work for anyone else—it just has to rock your world. I discovered my new favorite thing recently in Toronto. It’s Coco Café—coconut water with a kick of espresso, a hint of sugar, and dash of low-fat milk. I popped into a café for an iced coffee but walked out with an obsession. Crazy for anything coconut, the coffee buzz was a bonus. So there you have it, that’s my new favorite thing.cococafe

But obviously Canada’s largest city has lots more to discover than my new favorite drink. As it’s grown over the years, Toronto’s sprouted neighborhoods with a fantastic mix of ethnic cultures, food, arts and entertainment. Leslieville is a working and middle-class area, celebrated for its artistic vibe, retro shops and good eats. Chinatown and Kensington are the most multi-cultural hoods in Toronto. If you’re not adverse to a group tour, you may want to check out Urban Adventures. They offer small (no more than 12 people) guided tours. You’ll learn some history and get to experience some of what makes these heritage neighborhoods standout. Looking for another angle? The Planet D offers photography tours.

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

If you prefer not to run with a pack, the subway and streetcar system make navigating the city a breeze. Toronto’s easy to get around and you’ll be able to cover good ground, on foot as well, depending on the amount of time you have. From eating to exercising, here are some local, popular, and touristy things to see and do around the city.

Arts & Entertainment

Art Gallery of Toronto (AGO) – Culture vultures can get their art fix here at the one of the largest museums in North America. The AGO holds over 80,000 works in its collection and will soon premier the Ai WeiWei According To What? exhibit from August 17-October 27. The excitement this artist generates is drawing locals, and visitors from across the country and the border.

CN Tower – What would a visit to Toronto be without a peek inside of what the American Society of Engineers classified as One Of The Seven Wonders Of The Modern World? With a 360-degree view of city, the Tower also features a restaurant, entertainment, exhibitions and events.

The Toronto Islands – One of the city’s top attractions, these islands are just a 10-minute ferry ride from the city. Beaches, biking, canoeing, kayaking, festivals, picnicking—depending on how you like to hang, there’s something for you on one these islands. If you’ve got kids, there’s an amusement park and a petting zoo, too.

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Distillery – formerly a derelict zone of Victorian industrial buildings, in 2003 a group of creative developers transformed the area into an atmosphere that’s now heralded as one of Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment destinations. With one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, galleries, theatres, and cafes, it’s a great place to hang out—day or night.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – this town is overflowing with film festivals but it’s this one, held annually for ten days in September, that set’s the city on fire.  TIFF has established itself as the premier event in the industry and built up Toronto’s city cred. Cannes and Tribeca have nothing on it, and it’s the world’s largest public film festival.  If you have any plans to visit Toronto during September 5-15, act fast—get some tix, see some flicks and don’t forget the camera.
Yummy Stuff

St. Lawrence Market – one of my favorite, previously mentioned, haunts in Toronto, I’m hungry just thinking about it. Bring an empty stomach and leave very happy and probably with lots of good stuff. The quality and variety of fresh food offered at this market from fruits, veggies, fish, meat, spices, herbs—you name it—is nuts, so go there and go crazy.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

With no shortage of bars, cafes and restaurants, it’s challenging to list all the faves but here are a few standouts. For quality Italian fare, check out Buca. If you’re in The Danforth, pop into Mezes for authentic Greek cuisine served family style. Need a java jump? The Rooster Coffee House was voted one the best cafes by Toronto Life. With two locations, they make it easy for you to get your fix.

Exercise

Flemingdon Park Golf Club – This 9-hole public course is located in the Don Valley, just minutes from the city center. They rent clubs, carts, bags, and have a practice driving net.

Sunnybrook Stables – Like to ride? I do. These stables are in midtown Toronto but you’ll feel miles away. From beginner to advanced riders, the instructors—and the horses— are excellent.Horse play at Sunnybrook Stables. (Photo credit: Sunnybrook Stables.)

Sundara Yoga – When you stay in a hotel, it’s easy to just plod down to the gym. Break form, be adventurous and check out where the locals do it. Located in historic Cabbagetown, Angela Jervis-Read runs a yoga studio that’ll welcome you with open arms. Her specialty is Yin yoga and her instruction is encouraging without the woo-woo weirdness that can sometimes turn folks off to its benefits.

Sleepytime

There are loads of hotels all over the town. Depending on your budget, and the area you want to stay, here’s where a travel agent can cut your work in half. A few recs off the top of my head are The InterContinental on Bloor Street, which is well located; The Omni King Edward, in the financial district, and The Drake in the Queen Street West area.

Getting There

Depending on where you hail from, Toronto is easily accessed by rail, bus, or car, and of course…air.  If you’re flying, check out Porter Airlines. With this carrier’s excellent service, they’re at the top my list. The biggest plus is that they fly directly into Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, which will put you right smack in the city so you can hit the ground running.

Toronto is all grown up but its evolution is nowhere near over.  Been there? Share your story…and your new favorite thing.