Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Cemetery in Marbella: A Photo Essay

Some folks get creeped out by the thought of a cemetery. Not me. Raised across the street from Green-Wood Cemetery, one of the most famous in the US, as a kid I would slip through the bars on a wintry day and make snow angels among the beautiful tombstones. In summer, it’s still magic watching millions of fireflies dance the night away. Here’s a nice photo essay from The Daily Norm whose cemetery visits inspire travel.

The Daily Norm

There’s something inherently beautiful about a cemetery. It’s not just the peace and quiet, which is of course an inevitable feature of every cemetery or graveyard, but the tangible demonstration of human emotion shown by the care taken by those living for the memories of their beloved dead. This can be seen through the wording of a grave, through the flowers carefully laid alongside it, and through the regular cleaning of the stone with as much care as would be taken for a feature of a living household. There is also something innately civilised about caring for the dead and paying homage to the past, not least because it can make us more appreciative of our life and the lives of others still around us.

While I do like an English graveyard, headstones tilting in all directions and covered in moss and decay, my favourite type of cemetery is a…

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Eight things I learned from travel

The recent post by Life After Liquidity, 8 things I learned from travel, is too good not to reblog. For anyone who’s been on the fence about getting up and going, here’s a good kick…enjoy!

Life After Liquidity

Travel Cover

As I write this post I am sitting in the Caltrain, passing through various suburbs of the San Francisco Bay peninsula on my way to the city. It’s comforting to be surrounded by so many familiar sites once again.

My wife and I have had quite a journey: 17 countries, dozens of cities, and countless airports/train stations/bus stations. We’ve witnessed both staggeringly beautiful phenomena (Northern Lights in the Yukon Territories) and horrifying moments (a mob beating up some dude in the streets of Istanbul) along the way. Fortunately, my wife and I came out the other end of our trip completely safe and with a lifetime of memories.

I’ve delayed writing this post as long as I could; it’s been taking me a while to process what I’ve learned from this trip. The short answer is: a lot.

I may not be able to cover all the lessons I’ve learned…

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Hood Canal—The Greatest Show On Earth.

Hood Canal, WA, photo credit Claudia SantinoPicking my way along a beachhead of oysters, the water beckoned. You can’t walk this Washington beach at Hood Canal barefoot unless you want your feet cut to ribbons. Water shoes were my salvation. It was 86 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and with barely a breeze the air felt like a furnace, and I was pretty crispy. Just as I was about to step in a shiny head popped up out of the water.

Eyes like a lab and a whiskered snout kept a sharp eye on me. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I waved, whistled and called to it, only to hear my sister say, “It’s not a dog.” It’s not every day I get to swim that close to a seal and as they say, you can take the girl out of Brooklyn but…

Visiting family can be a wild experience—the best of the best or the worst of the worst. When it’s good, it’s golden and if you’re blessed to have siblings who live in interesting places, spending time with them is a double incentive. I’d be in Bellevue with my sister and her husband. It’s the suburb Microsoft calls home and a stone’s throw, or two, from Seattle depending on traffic.

Seattle is the big draw for many travelers who visit Washington, and rightly so, but I was here on a backyard vacation. I appreciate the delights of the Emerald City but visiting family doesn’t always give you access to your own personal itinerary and that’s okay by me. With the lack of humidity in the summer, there is no finer place to be in this rainy part of the state when the sun takes its hat off. Our ultimate destination was Hood Canal, a hamlet in Union, Washington.

A pretty blue palate seen aboard the Washington State Ferries.  (Photo:  Claudia Santino)

A pretty blue palate seen aboard the Washington State Ferries. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Located two hours west of Seattle, Hood Canal is one of the state’s jewels and a retreat into one of nature’s most pristine shorelines. It’s a natural saltwater fjord that splits the Kitsap and Olympic peninsula and where locals go to chill out and wish they didn’t have to make the trip back to the daily grind. You can easily drive to this stretch of paradise but parking your wheels on one of the Washington State Ferries is a nicer way to break up the trip, decompressing you into vacation mode a lot faster.

On a clear day, one of the biggest treats is feasting your eyes on the soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone perfection of Mount Rainier.

When you can see it, Mount Rainier is a perfect site to behold. (Photo: C. Santino)

When you can see it, Mount Rainier is a perfect site to behold. (Photo: C. Santino)

“Relax, you’re at the cabin” reads the welcome mat and I do, immediately melting into Hood Canal’s south side. East and west ends of this shoreline are chock-a-block with an architectural assortment of seaside residences. Some breathtaking, some kitschy, some over the top, but all lucky because of the knock-your-socks-off view of the majestic Olympic Mountains. Behind these homes, it’s pretty much all forest.

Hood Canal is a quiet haven and for old-timers and newcomers that is one of its draws. It’s a simple times kind of place to sit and behold nature day or night. Sure, you’ll hear a speedboat or the peal of laughter from a water-skier ring across the water but for the most part it’s the silence and serenity that becomes its most obvious gift.

Spring, summer, fall or winter, if you appreciate the great outdoors and are looking to disconnect, it’s a pearl of a place.

Douglas fir, cedar and redwood trees loom high above this little cabin like sentinel giants. The cool air they provide carries their woodsy perfume and the canopy of these shady guards seems to double as a concert hall for all manner of birds. In the twilight a large, winged, dark shadow passed above my head like a death starship. It was kind of eerie but then wings pulled in and long graceful legs descended to alight on a nearby dock. It was a great blue heron, coming in for last call on sunset happy hour.  A moment later its partner stationed itself on an adjacent dock.

A great blue heron settles into a Hood Canal happy hour.  (Photo: Claudia Santino)

A great blue heron settles into a Hood Canal happy hour. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Seeing them again the following evening as they made their way towards their nest was another sight to behold as these large seabirds folded themselves towards branches, navigating them like tightrope walkers.  Sibling kingfishers dove out of a tall maple tree, skimming the canal for a fresh evening meal and providing additional entertainment.

Speaking of food, locals are used to fishing it right out of Hood Canal or off its beach. Crabbing, clamming, trout, salmon—it’s all there. And then there are Hood Canal oysters. These sweet bivalves have made their way from this once sleepy hamlet all the way to New York City menus.

No matter the season, the local town of Belfair has pretty much anything you need to get your provisions, hunker down, and escape mankind. Our car was locked and loaded with food from home. More importantly, we’d bought lots of peaches for pie. Silence may be golden but it doesn’t get much better than sitting on a deck in summer enjoying homemade peach pie.

With its small town vibe, nearby Shelton seems like the town that time forgot. Located southwest of Hood Canal, it’s a lazy pace place but with a downtown area that has lots of cool and quirky shops, bars and restaurants. Vintage stores and second-hand shops draw locals and tourists and a good starting place for anyone who likes this kind of treasure hunting is Garage Sale Maniacs. It’s the kind of place that has something for everyone, with its top quality furniture and furnishings, books, jewelry, vintage photos, as well as all the bric-a-brac that goes with a second-hand shop.

If you’re not into buying someone else’s stuff, contemporary design and home furnishing shops are happy to take your disposable income and you’ll be lucky if you can get out of Lynch Creek Florist without busting your wallet open because they don’t just do flowers.

Let’s put it this way—if I owned a cabin on Hood Canal, this home decor and gift shop on W. Railroad Avenue would be my go to and I’d be in big trouble.

Just a few steps away, Nita’s Coffee Shop, in business since 1962, drew me like steel to a magnet. Spotting an authentic diner is like recognizing a first crush. It’s a good way to meet the locals and any place that has homemade pie on the menu gets a star in my book. Spending the day in Shelton is a perfect way to extend your feel of the area and revisit the type of town that is disappearing in this country.

A local hangout in Shelton, WA. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

A local hangout in Shelton, WA. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

At one time Hood Canal was a best-kept secret but no more. Over the years it’s welcomed a new demographic of visitors. In 2004 the redesigned Alderbrook Resort & Spa had the light shining brighter on this neck of the Great Northwest.

Since then, the hotel has been racking up awards for its accommodations and four-star spa.

In business since 1913, Alderbrook has served as a getaway for vacationing Washington families. It changed hands over the decades and the major facelift it got in 2001 dovetails with Hood Canal’s natural environment. Today’s design is simple and welcoming with a 30-foot stone and wood fireplace as the lobby’s centerpiece. Huge windows look out on the canal and the resort’s garden. With a mix of hotel rooms and cottages, Alderbrook’s friendly room rates are one of its most welcoming features and the 18-hole PGA golf course is a draw for locals and visitors.

Alderbrook Resort & Spa provides a nice welcome for visitors and locals.

Alderbrook Resort & Spa provides a nice welcome for visitors and locals.

Destination weddings are popular at Alderbrook but the vibe is so local that other guests don’t seem to mind the ceremony as they slurp down local shellfish and sip a chilly glass of Pinot Gris from the state’s Columbia Valley or a Spice of Life Bloody Mary served with a signature crab claw. Kayakers glide by and a red-sailed boat moves towards a sunset sail. It’s local meets luxury and it’s all very chill. The hotel’s location in Union is prime for hiking, fishing, or boating but I was happy to just enjoy the scenery.

It was only three miles west from where I was holed up but the view from Alderbrook took on an entirely different color. Situated on a wider point of the canal, my eyes absorbed more and the mountain range was cast in a watercolor palette of pale to indigo blue. A bald eagle in flight only enhanced the picture, as if someone said: “Cue the bird.” I couldn’t get enough of this wild stuff. Sunsets seem to go on forever here and as a crescent moon rose, the sky and water was cast in an amethyst hue that set the Olympic Mountains aglow. No acid required.

Mornings are an entirely different experience and it’s not unusual to wake to cloud cover. This summer has been golden for the Great Northwest and the sunrise lit up the Olympic Mountain range, Hood Canal’s west side view, clear as glass. Its spiny ridge is set in profile of a sleeping George Washington. A faint, wispy trail of snow formed the lining of his breast pocket. Playful swallows dipped and darted, skimming the water at a frenetic pace. Focusing solely on them I could almost feel their aerodynamic power.

Bumblebees get busy on deck flowers of hot pink-fringed gladioli, ballerina pink Japanese anemone, and orange flame crocosmia, disappearing into petals like women into a fitting room. They finally reappear, their theft of pollen hidden wherever bees stash that precious gold.

Going for the gold. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Going for the gold. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Bobbing in the water, I watched the seal watching me. I figured by now this was flirtation so “it” became “he.” I don’t get this at Coney Island and I was as transfixed by his otherness as he seemed to be by mine. But my perfect moment was shattered when a barking Jack Russell came charging down to the water raising hell.

In a flash, my Romeo slipped into the sea and his little torpedo body vanished.

That night as twilight set, the water was cast in ripples of indigo blue. I asked my brother-in-law if he ever saw seals at this time of the evening. Not really, he said. A moment later we heard a splash and out popped Romeo. He’d go under in a big dip, smack his tail against the water sending up a plume of water that echoed across the canal.

His splashing went on for hours and I was content to contemplate this creature, staying on that deck squinting for him as the light faded, listening to his act until the inkiness of the water blended with the rest of nature.

The darkness came and then the stillness. I couldn’t see anything anymore but it was still the greatest show on earth.

This article originally appeared in Communities Digital News.

Cold Spring, NY—A Perfect Getaway.

Photo credit: Claudia SantinoGet outta town!

For New York’s city dwellers without beach houses or country homes, escape is a thought that’s constantly simmering throughout the summer. For visitors, ditching Manhattan to explore greener pastures makes for a nice retreat. The trouble is that traveling to a destination that instills the feeling that you’ve escaped the city’s limits can take a few hours. Without a car, or the budget to rent one, finding the right place to accommodate you logistically can be a bit challenging.

Except for Cold Spring, New York.

Located just over an hour from Grand Central Station via the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson line, once you arrive Cold Spring it’s just a short stroll to Main Street where you’ll find a small village with lots of offerings. Especially its access to the great outdoors.

Located on the banks of widest part of the Hudson River, across the water the looming hills and plunging cliffs of West Point will have you feeling a world away from Manhattan’s hustle and bustle. Sailboats and paddleboats make their way along the same historic waterway Native Americans used in the 1600s and which later became a main hub for travel and transportation.

With its proximity to New York City, this charming and historic town is a welcome shock to the senses, making it an ideal getaway for day or weekend trips. Its easy navigation makes it equally accommodating to older travelers and families, many of whom can be seen strolling or relaxing along the water’s edge. A few local inns located just on or off Main Street and the nearby towns of Beacon and Garrison offer additional accommodations for visitors who come to explore the areas access to historical culture, art galleries, boating or cruising on the Hudson, and nature trails.

On a hot August morning, I was drawn to this easy getaway for a day of standup paddle boarding, or SUP as it’s known. Once off the train I easily made my way to Hudson River Expeditions, an outfitter specializing in all things paddling for the novice to the expert, including canoeing and kayaking.

All things paddling await you at Hudson River Expeditions.

All things paddling await you at Hudson River Expeditions.

Whether you’re looking for private instruction or just interested in renting for an hour or more, these folks are a full service operation. Their tours of the Hudson Highlands area includes such offerings as a leisurely paddle through the Audubon sanctuary of Constitution Marsh, an open river paddle through World’s End to West Point, or a journey to Pollepel Island to explore Bannerman Castle, to name a few.

Gearing up at Foundry Cove, which George Washington used as a strategic location against the British, a guide adjusted a paddle to my height. Reviewing the basics at the launch point, he said to imagine an imaginary buoy out on the Hudson and instructed me not to cross it because of recreational vessels. That wouldn’t be a problem, with its abundant wildlife Constitution Marsh held all the appeal.

It was late afternoon and he said the best part would be going out with the tide. “You’ll catch a free ride,” he added, waving me off with a big smile.

Unless you’re riding rapids, or doing it with your spouse, paddling is a meditative sport. Being on a board solo gets lets you dive into that state of mind a lot easier. Add a bit of chop from the wake of passing boats and your core muscles get a quick opportunity to kick into gear.

Paddling in the big pool of the Hudson River with a sapphire sky and a 360-degree view of forest is pure magic. In the distance, the majestic mountains of the Hudson Highlands on both sides of the river draws visitors to its prime hiking trails with Breakneck Ridge being one of the most popular. There’d be none of that on this trip but it was an incentive to return.

Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands.

Bird watching is popular in Cold Spring, with the colder months attracting visitors eager to see eagles set up camp here before heading back to their nesting areas in the spring. In Constitution Marsh on this perfect summer day, periwinkle blue dragonflies zoomed around and a family of ducks paddled about, the mum herding a renegade duckling back in line. Birds flew in and out of the tall marsh grasses and a quick eye was needed to identify them.

I believe it's a wren.

I believe it’s a wren.

Blazing sunlight glittered across the water as kayakers leisurely made their way through the marsh channels, snug in their cockpits they looked like muffins baking. When the heat is on another benefit of SUP is sliding off your board for a refreshing plunge.

In the late afternoon a kayaker glided out of a channel, warning me of the receding tide. When my paddle began hitting the sandy bottom, I headed back towards the river and the rushing water carried me out of the marsh, under a trestle and out into the Hudson. A free ride indeed.

After all that paddling, lunch was in order and on Main Street one was easily found. From one end to the other, it is chock-a-block with eateries from comfy cafes to restaurants. Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill serves Northern Italian fare and has café garden bursting with flowers. With its pretty front porch, Hudson Hill’s Café & Market is just the sort of place you expect to find in a small town like Cold Spring. Open for breakfast and lunch, their menu offers a nice selection of sandwiches, burgers, salads, and even fish tacos, and their portions are hearty. Thirst quenching refreshment came in the form of cider pressed in nearby Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery and it was especially nice over a pint glass filled with ice.

Lots of spots to eat on Main Street.

Lots of spots to eat on Main Street.

Weaving in and out of the local galleries, antique stores and vintage shops is a good way to walk it all off. But save room for ice cream because it’s just the sort of town that beckons this kind of summer treat.

Moo Moo’s Creamery can easily satisfy that craving and saying their portions are generous is an understatement. While it was yummy, the small cone of strawberry ice cream I ordered could easily have fed a family of four.

Cold Spring Film Society's spooky sunset feature

Cold Spring Film Society’s spooky sunset feature

This main thoroughfare slopes down to the Hudson River where people gravitate to simply enjoy the view of sailboats gliding by with a perfect backdrop of mountain. The Cold Spring Film Society plays free sunset movies a la fresco every Saturday throughout the summer. Local food and wine shops benefit from the outdoor movie picnics and are a good way for visitors and locals to mix. The sci-fi flick Alien was the feature during my visit and I could think of no better way to spend a splendid summer night than dockside scared out of my wits.

September 6 brings a double feature, American Tale followed by Dirty Dancing. A great way reason to visit Cold Spring and enjoy some of the last nights of the season.

With its low humidity, September often promises some of the best weather on the East Coast, providing a few more opportunities to enjoy summer in Cold Spring. The jewel tones of fall foliage will soon set the mountains surrounding this area ablaze, attracting leaf lovers.

All the sun and fun eventually catches up with you. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about hitting traffic on the way home. Settling into a window seat, dozing off was easy as the rhythm of the train rocked me all the way back to the big city.