Monthly Archives: December 2013

So Long 2013—Taking The Polar Bear Plunge.

2012polarbearplunge
As you prepare to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I hope you can look back and see only good things behind you. And while the anticipation around this evening builds, I’ve come to relish New Year’s Day much more than the night before.

The reasons are obvious, of course—a new day, a new year. But the tradition of standing along the shoreline while close to 3,000 people hightail it towards the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean like they were being chased by the hounds of hell is a great metaphor for life. It’s resolution time. None of this sticking your toe in to test the icy waters of change—live bravely and dive right in.

New Year's Baby.

New Year’s Baby.

This year marks the 113th anniversary of the annual Coney Island Polar Bear Club Plunge and it’s a great reason not to sleep in.  For starters, it happens at the reasonable hour of 1:00pm, which gives you enough cushion to make yourself presentable or clear out a fuzzy head. Secondly, it gives you time to either knock up a killer breakfast or pop over to a local diner and start the year off right by treating your self to a good meal. But most importantly, it gets you outside in the salt sea air and deposits you in an energy field of kookiness and courage, with some folks dressed as mermaids, penguins, polar bears or big babies in diapers. Coney’s always let its freak flag fly and with temps forecast for the mid-20s on New Year’s Day, it seems fitting that this annual madness takes place there.

Polar bear plunges happen in Canada, the UK, Netherlands, and in a few more cities across the U.S. but I’m kind of proud of the one we’ve got here in Brooklyn. For starters, with almost every subway line throughout the boroughs barreling directly to Coney, or connecting to a train that does, it’s a destination that you can get to lickety-split. Once you arrive, just head towards the shoreline. You can’t miss it, or the massive crowd all bundled up and bracing themselves for what most folks consider sheer lunacy. People come from around the globe to take part in or witness the plunge.

Hubba-hubba -- The Father of Physical Culture.

Hubba-hubba — The Father of Physical Culture.

The club was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, also knows as “The Father of Physical Culture.” He believed a dip in the ocean during the winter could be a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity. Considered a bit of a kook himself, he was the kind of person who made things happen. He constantly reinvented himself and in the process became a millionaire. He was also a writer and when he couldn’t get published he started a publishing company. The guy went on to become the most successful publisher of magazines in history. He also inspired people around the world to live healthy. It’s among that kind of spirit, and with that type of energy, that makes it a great way to start the year.

Standing there, you’ll also have a massive smile plastered on your face while you probably think, “better those nuts than me” and hear the screams from what’s on the other end of that running leap. But I don’t think they’re so nuts. Most of us have to be pushed to do something bold or to change. Being around loads of people who brave the freezing water and take that icy plunge inspires me to live on the edge of my comfort zone and stokes the philosophy to “just do it.”

If you’re anywhere throughout the five boroughs on New Year’s Day, wrap up, pack a thermos of hot cocoa or a flash of whiskey and consider coming out to Coney Island. It’s one big love fest and after the plunge the party carries on with the rhythmic beats of a DJ on the boardwalk at Stillwell. And don’t forget your camera.

If you’re going, let me know and maybe I’ll see you there.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a safe and Happy New Year!

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In Jackson Hole, Sleigh Bells Ring.

Feel the call of the wild at Spring Creek Ranch, WY.

Feel the call of the wild at Spring Creek Ranch, WY.

The holidays are staycation time for me. Like most people, it gives me a chance to catch up with old friends  or check out festive things happening in and around the town.  It’s like a  “time out” of sorts to indulge and maybe even be a bit lazy but when I heard about Spring Creek Ranch, I found myself wishing I could jump on a plane with a few friends tonight.

Sign me up and giddy up. (Photo: Spring Creek Ranch)

Sign me up.  (Photo: Spring Creek Ranch)

Located just 10 minutes from Jackson Hole in Wyoming, conditions are cream of the crop when it comes to skiing. As someone who learned to ski on the black ice of Vermont’s Killington Mountain, being able to glide across fine, white powder is like dreaming on a goose down mattress after chasing sleep on a hardwood floor. Any opportunity to ski in those conditions is a gift but it’s their wildlife and natural history safaris that caught my attention.

Muledeer.  (Photo:  Spring Creek Ranch)

Muledeer. (Photo: Spring Creek Ranch)

Being smack in the middle of a winter wonderland on a horse-drawn sleigh surrounded by herds of elk sounds like a plan to me. Another ride takes you over to East Gros Ventre Butte, a mountain summit with one of the most spectacular views in the country. Afterwards, you can warm up with a hot toddy or a lovely meal at The Granary and marvel at the views of the Grand Tetons. A snowshoe hike will get your cardio going a bit while you follow tracks set by local wildlife. There’s dog-sledding, tubing, and ice-skating, too. If you’re into winter sports, Spring Creek Ranch offers unique experiences to enjoy these activities and absorb the stunning and natural environment that surrounds you. They even have a photo safari led by a professional photographer. For anyone who likes to bliss out behind a camera, this one’s for you.

View from The Granary. (Photo:  Spring Creek Ranch)

View from The Granary. (Photo: Spring Creek Ranch)

People often associate the term “safari” with far off places but the truth is there are plenty of safari experiences to be had in the US. The ones Spring Creek Ranch offers are calling my name.

Named “2014’s Best Overall Resort In North America” by Ski Magazine, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers by far some of the best conditions on the planet for enjoying the white stuff.   If frolicking in the cold isn’t your idea of a good time, there are loads of activities in the spring and summer.  From horseback riding, to balloon rides, to white water rafting, it’s an adventure travelers dreamscape.  Even better, the airport, the only one located within a national park, has direct flights from most major cities in the US.

As I compile my list of where to go next year, it looks like this is falling within the top ten. So many places to go and so much to see.

It’s the holidays, I can dream, can’t I?

Wishing You Comfort & Joy

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder starornaments

Remember, travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.

Wherever you are in the world, peace on Earth and good will towards all living creatures.

In any language:Merry Christmas in multiple languages

Mousehole Memories.

The Mousehole Cat, Mousehole, Cornwall

Mousehole. (Illustration: Nicola Bayley)

One Christmas many years ago, I woke way too early and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I ended up watching British Christmas stories on Public Television. One stuck with me, The Mousehole Cat.

Tom & Mowzer. (Illustration:  Nicola Bayley)

Tom & Mowzer. (Illustration: Nicola Bayley)

It was the story of Mowzer, a cat, and of her fisherman, Tom. They lived in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole,  (pronounced Mowzal) named for its tiny harbor with a narrow mouth that hid the town’s small boats  safely behind the rock wall. The vivid illustration was eye-catching and the narrated story told the curious tale of these two soul mates that sailed the sea together to bring back a daily catch of hake, ling, launces and fairmaids. It portrayed a town life of community, animals, of sustenance from the sea, the cruelty of Mother Nature, and of love. At the end of the story the illustration dissolves into scenes of real life taking place in Mousehole during Christmas. It was inviting and if you’ve ever visited Cornwall, you’d appreciate everything you might think the season would look and feel like in this small, seaside town. I was hooked.

The following Christmas my boyfriend’s parents, who live in England, gave me the book, The Mousehole Cat. A year later he took me to Mousehole and I felt like I was in the book. It was just as picturesque, inviting, and charming as it appeared in the story. Mousehole is a hilly and curvy town with winding alleys and there were cats everywhere. Cats on cars, cat sitting all about the cobble-stoned lanes, cats in gardens, cats lounging in front of shops. We drove very slow. And there was also the mouse-hole shaped harbor, just like in the book.

The Mousehole Cat, Antonia Barber, Nicola Bayley

Mowzer’s & Tom’s daily catch. (Illustration: Nicola Bayley)

Such a safe and pretty harbor.

Such a safe and pretty harbor.

We booked into an inn that looked out over the harbor where colorful fishing boats bobbed about. Then we freshened up and strolled the town. Us Americans seem to fall easily for the quaintness of English culture and here I was surrounded by it. My guy, born and raised across the pond, seemed to get a kick out my enthusiasm.  Seeing as how he’d never been to this part of Cornwall, he gave into the magic of it all as well.

At a small café we enjoyed Cornish pasties and, even though I didn’t need them, afterwards I stuffed my face with fresh cream and scones. We popped into a few local art galleries and passed gardens exploding with flora and fauna typically seen in warmer zones.  Stone cottages with flower boxes overflowing with bright purple petunias, scarlet million bells, and host of other bright petals in various hues of blues and yellows were inviting.  The cliff walk welcomed us with briny air and a carpet of wildflowers. Mousehole is designated an “Area Of Outstanding National Beauty” by the British National Trust. With its natural beauty, charismatic culture and atmosphere, it easily earns that distinction. Because of its sheltered coast and mild climate, there’s a whole ecosystem going on here.

Mousehole, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, cats

Mousehole cats chilling out.

Back in the room I gazed out on the harbor, thinking about Mowzer and Tom. That night we enjoyed dinner in a local pub, The Ship Inn, surrounded by locals. Fisherman hugged the brass rail, drinking amber lager or ale with thick beards of foam. We had cider, shared a bowl of Cornish mussels and sopped up every drop of the garlicky, white wine sauce with granary bread. I ordered the John Dory but I really wanted star-gazy pie, a traditional Cornish dish made with pilchards, eggs and potatoes but it wasn’t on the menu that night. It’s baked in a pie dish, with fish heads and tails popping out the pastry crust, just like in the book.

Each year on December 23 Mousehole welcome locals and visitors to celebrate Tom Bawcock’s Eve. The festival is a celebration of this legendary Mousehole fisherman who risked his life during a severe storm to end the famine that had come to the town. The festivities include a lantern procession and lots of star-gazy pie. Antonia Barber, inspired by the legend and the tradition, made Tom more famous when she wrote The Mousehole Cat and partnered with Nicola Bayley who created the fine and imaginative illustration.

Mousehole, Cornall, Christmas, England, illuminations, Britian

Christmas time in Mousehole.

This year, Mousehole celebrates its 50th anniversary of Christmas illuminations. This little town puts on one of England’s most spectacular displays that lights up the harbor, raises money for charity and draw people far and wide. The celebrations kicked off this past Saturday and will run to January 4.

Tintagel Caste, Merlin's Cave, Cornwall, Cornish coast, England, United Kingdom, ruins

Tintagel Castle.

We traveled by car from London to Mousehole. The trip took about four hours and we stopped along the way for treats. I almost caused an accident when my guy said, “There’s Stonehenge” and in my excitement slammed on the breaks and asked where? But come on, it’s not every day you see a historic druid monument just off a motorway.  And I was driving on the wrong side of the road, on the road side of the car.  After Mousehole we tripped along the Cornish coastline, drove through pretty towns along single lane roads tunneled by hedges so high all you can see is the sky above you.  We passed through Land’s End and visited the ruins of  Tintagel Castle, where Merlin’s Cave is said to lay beneath along sparkling, cobalt blue water.

My visit was a treasure and as much as I’d like to be in Mousehole right now, I’m content with my own little tradition. I’ll curl up on the coach with a steaming cup of English tea and The Mousehole Cat. I may even take a crack at whipping up a star-gazy pie this year, although I may have to substitute the pilchards.

Ever been to Mousehole? If so, I’d love to hear your stories. If not, here’s a peek (but if you don’t see the link below then just click here):

Tis The Season…For Great Travel Books!

One of the very cool images from Safari: A Photicular Book.

One of the very cool images from Safari: A Photicular Book.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
–St. Augustine

It’s the Christmas season. It’s also a time when gift giving gets a bit stressful. But hey, why makes things hard on yourself? If you’ve got people in your life who love to travel—whether they’re friends or customers—there are plenty of goodies out there that’ll bring a smile to their face and give them fresh ideas. The best part is, you don’t have to go far to find them. They’re most probably right in your neighborhood or just a click away. Inspiration is everywhere but it’s especially nice when it comes gift-wrapped, so here are a few hints to make your life easer:

Published last year, Safari: A Photicular Book is stunning. I’d like one myself! It was created with something called Motion Viewer design that brings the images on the page to life. It’s an eye-catching book and a great educational tool for children or just about anyone who loves animals. It might even inspire safari travel and how cool would that be?

Anyone with a love for photography will lose themselves in the black and white imagery in Genesis. Sebastião Salgado’s eight-year photo project that he calls his “love letter to the planet.” From South America to the Sudan, he traveled to over 32 destinations, mostly by foot, to capture the most incredible images.  Within this book anyone can explore Earth’s untouched regions. A great escape.

I’ve got a friend who’s determined to visit every national park in the U.S. If you have one too, then you might want to put this on your gift list. America’s National Parks is a treasure that springs to life in your hands. This pop-up picture book is fun, beautiful and educational. Even better, a portion of the book’s proceeds go directly to the National Parks Conservation Association, so you’re really giving two gifts. Just looking at it will have you jonesing for an Airstream trailer.

Keeping in line with gifts that keep on giving, how about magazine subscriptions? For just twenty bucks or less, they also make a great stocking stuffer. Depending on which one you choose, they’re mailed monthly or quarterly which is a nice treat for the lucky recipient. My picks are AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, or Travel + Leisure. If these magazines don’t inspire travel, I don’t know what will!

Tis the season, so spread the wealth and please contribute any literary travel gift ideas you’ve got up your sleeve.

Let’s get people in the air, on the waves, road, rails, and trails.

Cheers!

It’s December—Deck The Halls…Or Someone Else’s.

Berlin Christmas Market.  (Photo credit:  Europas.dk)

Berlin Christmas Market. (Photo credit: Europas.dk)

“Next year, I’m going away for Christmas.”

I’ve been hearing this for years from a few Scrooges who are tired of decking the halls, wrangling a tree, and vacuuming up pine needles two months later. Honestly, I don’t get the fuss. I revel in opening up the Christmas storage box, getting everything out and firing up the lights. As far as decorations go–the more, the better.  It is Christmas, after all.   Albeit, I will admit to a few arguments about where the tree ornaments should hang.

Whatever you celebrate, whether you’ve got no commitments or just need to get away from it all with the family this year and looking to catch some spirit on someone else’s turf, there’s plenty of events happening all over the planet in December. Best of all, it’s wrapped and ready and waiting for you.

North, south, east or west, if you’re looking for inspiration,  Nat Geo’s Intelligent Travel has put together a nice stocking full of festivities with Event-o-Rama: 10 Must-Dos in December.

No travel plans?  What’s happening in your neck of the woods this month?