Category Archives: Claudia’s Trips

A (Wee) Taste of Edinburgh.

IMG_3086

If anyone had told me that my first meal in Scotland would be porridge, I’d probably have said, “Yeah, right.” But after a night flight from Newark, I needed some comfort. The June solstice may have been looming but that early Edinburgh morning greeted me with raw and rainy weather. I suppose that was my first Scottish experience.

History, fishing, golf, hiking the Highlands, pubs, whisky, kilts, haggis, Outlander. All of these things—and much more—are part of the Scottish experience. I didn’t particularly have one in mind when I arrived but it was so nice to see tourism alive and kicking here. If you’re looking for a large helping of history and culture, with a generous side of fresh air, wonderful hospitality, good grub and beautiful scenery—Edinburgh has it.

After taking the tram into the city center (and spying all the motorway traffic from my comfy £5 seat), I dumped my bags at the hotel and went in search of breakfast. I didn’t have to look far. A few steps from the hotel a sidewalk chalkboard beckoned me the message, “I would walk 500 miles for CAKE.” Warm and welcoming, Pep and Fodder serves up fresh-baked goods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A cluster of croissants and other assorted goodies flirted with my attention but when I saw porridge with honey and cinnamon on the menu board, I just went for it.

You know when something is downright delicious? Well this was it, pure comfort food perfection. As my spoon swirled around to catch every creamy bit it struck me that on some future cold and crummy day I’ll be saying, “I could murder a bowl of Pep and Fodder porridge.” So that was my first tasty Scottish experience.

Edinburgh Castle, the jewel in the city's crown.

Edinburgh Castle, the jewel in the city’s crown.

The majesty of Edinburgh is striking. From my tram seat I saw the giant rock of Edinburgh Castle. Staying in the New Town area, it was an easy 15-minute walk to the city’s most famous and glorious attraction. I’d hooked up with a friend from Ireland and our visit coincided with the setup of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual extravaganza of historical ceremony and entertainment. Scaffolding and bleachers were underway with the castle serving as the backdrop to the grand celebrations that will unfold in August.

After paying an entrance fee, we opted for the do-it-yourself castle tour. The majesty of this fortress, which dates back to the 12th-century, happens outside as much as inside its walls. Entering through a clock tower door, we joined a moving stream of visitors gazing upon the Crown Jewels. America doesn’t have this kind of history. After hearing the term used as an expression for so long it was a wonder to see the real deal gleaming, the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles.

Secrets of the Royal Mile, a small group walking tour with Mercat Tours, provided a fun intro to Edinburgh’s history. Led by a cheeky historian who accented our route with tales of crime and culture, this 90-minute journey offered a bit of a workout as we navigated through the Old Town’s steep stairs and hills. For commitment phobic travelers, it’s an easy way to dive into history without blowing your day.

Sweet songs on a summer night from Daniel Docherty.  (Photo: C. Reilly)

Sweet songs on a summer night from Daniel Docherty. (Photo: C. Reilly)

The ancient cobblestone streets call for walking shoes, my ankles were glad I’d worn mine.  This road runs the length of the Old Town that surrounds the castle and bustles with pedestrian, buskers and souvenirs. It’s very “ye olde” and close alleys tease your curiosity. Chasing history down the tiny lanes wedged between buildings that squeeze out the light is a good way to explore the area. Colorful candy shops draw you in and liquor store windows blaze with beautiful bottles of whisky of all ages. Along all the main drags, stores market a massive offering of cashmere sweaters, kilts and tartan.  It’s a wonder there’s any wool left.

With its incredible architecture and heritage, Edinburgh invites walking. It has world-class museums and the badge of honor for being the “world festival capital” so you don’t have to go far to indulge yourself. Relaxing in a sidewalk pub is great for people watching. Old world meets new as bridal parties proudly don kilts.

Get me to the church on time. (Photo: C. Reilly)

Get me to the church on time. (Photo: C. Reilly)

But what would a visit to Scotland be without a pot of tea? It’s kind of a must for a first timer. Whether you’re looking for an elegant or shabby chic atmosphere, Edinburgh is stocked with teahouses offering freshly baked cakes and sandwiches. Clarinda’s kitschy tearoom on Canongate, where I made quick work of a slice of orange cake, suited me just fine. With an abundance of cafes, pubs and restaurants refueling is easy.

Do you like it smoky? That was the question the ginger-haired bartender at The Balmoral Hotel’s Scotch bar posed when I asked for a whisky recommendation. We’d just come from a deliciously memorable feast at The Witchery, an award-winning restaurant at the gates of Edinburgh Castle. This dining destination attracts visitors as much for its magical atmosphere as for its menu. I’m still thinking about the hot-smoked Loch Duart salmon that I tried to eat very slowly.

The evening began with cocktails at The Scotsman Hotel. Walking over the North Bridge around 9PM the solstice sun lit this Edinburgh institution up like golden ale, making it way too inviting to pass up. Its bar buzzed with locals and tourists and we found prime real estate at its brass rail.

Solstice sun warms The Scotsman. (Photo by author)

Solstice sun warms The Scotsman. (Photo by author)

By the end of the night I wasn’t going home without a proper whisky. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to whisky tasting in Edinburgh. Yet I couldn’t bypass the Balmoral Hotel. Its Scotch bar is known to have one of the largest collections of whisky in Edinburgh; it’s also a very comfy place to hang out. After chatting with me, the bartender unlocked a walled cabinet and carefully weighed the options before presenting me with his recommendations. I’m no expert but I did fall for the Glen Elgin 12-year and my nightcap turned into a night hat.

Warm and welcome whisky hospitality at Scotch. (Photo: C. Reilly)

Warm and welcome whisky hospitality at Scotch. (Photo: C. Reilly)

Strolling along Calton Hill the next morning rewarded us with stunning views of the city. We even saw hikers on Salisbury Crags. The city’s magic and majesty also lays in its proximity to the coastlines and mountains that surround it and which are easily reached by foot. Hiking boots I did not pack.

Cutting downhill through an old cemetery, we headed towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse where a long line of royalty reigned, including Mary, Queen of Scots. Today, Queen Elizabeth entertains there when she’s in residence. We lingered in the remains of its original foundation, an Augustinian abbey where it felt as if the history of the world was contained within its crumbling walls.

The Abby. (Photo: C. Reilly)

The Abby. (Photo by author)

That afternoon on a Virgin-Atlantic fast train to London, the Scottish countryside appeared like a never-ending painting of verdant green fields, with clusters of black-faced sheep and cows lazing around. Trees with tops flattened by the winds resembled acacia and bright yellow wildflowers popped from the fields. The train slowed through Berwick where the remnants of an old stonewall stood on the edge of a riverbed. Old stone cottages evoked house envy and a band of horses gathered on a hill appeared like a page from a storybook. Solstice sunlight pierced angry clouds as we barreled south. It was the longest day of the year and it was all part of my Scottish experience.

America’s Lost Treasures: The Plains Indians

Buffalo picture of tipi of Never Got Shot. Photo credit: Claudia Santino

Buffalo picture on teepee. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art transports you to another place and time. For anyone who’s been itching to pay New York City a visit, it’s a perfect reason. But it’s got a short run and will close on May 10, 2015, so start planning.

You don’t need to be an art critic to understand the value of this exhibit. It’s easy to fall under the spell and spirit of what the Plains Indians were all about. Some of the artistic forms on display go as far back as 2,000 years when migrating peoples contributed items into Plains Indian culture.   The bounty at the Met represents pieces from many Native American nations.

Man's vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Man’s vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The Great Plains of North America was once a vast open landscape of earth and sky, running from the base of Texas and heading north across the mid-west and into Canada. That idea alone made it easy to immerse myself in understanding how the moving canvas of their environment influenced Native American Indians.

We lost the treasures of our country’s earliest artists  a long time ago. The 130 items in this exhibit are on loan from museums in Europe and North America. This treasure chest of Native American art was tossed across the ocean ages ago when soldiers and other opportunistic eyes recognized their value and traded then off.

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Animal power and a reverence for nature was central to Native American culture and that relationship is on full display here in almost every piece. The pipe is also a significant item in the exhibit. It served as a sacred instrument used in prayer and other rituals. A symbol of friendship and trust, the peace pipe helped seal the pact.

For the Plains Indians these items served more than one purpose.  They were more than form and function. They were part and parcel to their way of life. A war club made of walnut wood is smooth and glossy and engraved with a constellation of four-pointed stars.

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The arrival of Europeans in the mid-1500s and onward had a significant impact on the Plains Indians, for good and bad. The goods they acquired from these new settlers entered into their artistic expression, with glass beads from Venice, cowrie shells from the Pacific Ocean, and brass buttons from England adorning their clothing and other materials. Battle gear, blankets, dresses, moccasins, shirts and headdresses, mix the natural and the New World and the items on display are a wonder. One very cool looking man’s coat of native tanned leather, porcupine quills, brilliant embroidery and metal hooks and eye fasteners was handcrafted by a Sioux-Metis woman, yet looks like something you’d see on London’s Carnaby Street.

Handcrafted man's coat. (Photo credit:  Claudia Santino)

Handcrafted man’s coat. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Traveling north from Mexico, the Spaniards introduced the horse. Native American Indians quickly harnessed its power, joining the spirit of this animal into their way of life and swiftly adapting to a more nomadic existence. If they were one with nature before, now they could ride alongside her changing seasons. They could hunt better and find the food and shelter necessary to sustain their way of life. Now on the move, they couldn’t afford to be materialistic. The creativity and craftsmanship around their evolving lifestyle is brilliant and inspiring.

The horse transferred the beast into an animal with sacred powers.

The mask transferred sacred powers. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A saddle blanket made of leather, glass beads and wool cloth was used for resting beneath a woman’s saddle and used on social occasions to convey wealth and power. A horse mask transferred this animal into one with sacred powers in warfare or during ritual. A crupper, a strap that secures a horse’s saddle, is beautifully crafted from rawhide, native tanned leather, wool cloth, silk, glass beads, porcupine quills and metal cones. A riding dress with a Morning Star motif signals the four cardinal directions.

Photo by Claudia Santino

A crupper. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

There are many standout items on display. One of them is a cradleboard. Passed down as family heirlooms, these baby carriers worn on the back were crafted by a woman’s family and featured elaborate designs. Thunderbirds accented this one, mythical creatures recognized as powerful guardian spirits. Tiny metal cones hang around the top of a framed strap, creating a tinkling sound to soothe a baby. The thoughtfulness of which stayed with me.

A cradleboard. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A cradleboard.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Something called the parfleche envelope blew me away. It was the Ziploc bag of its time, only a lot better and, clearly, a work of art. Made from buffalo rawhide by Great Plains women, this painted envelope functioned as a beautiful weather resistant container. Central to life on horseback, it was expandable, lightweight and unbreakable. I may only ride the iron horse to work every day but I like the idea of having one.

Headdresses made from raven feathers and other bird feathers and beads are majestic. Porcupine quillwork, an art form unique to Native American Indians, features strongly in their clothing and other adornments. Painted hides depict ceremonial battles, mythic birds and other forms of life and spirit, using every bit of canvas. They wasted nothing.

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

The Plains Indians spun materials from the natural world to evoke spiritual powers of animals and celebrate creation. A shield with a painted buffalo bull was passed down through five generations. A Cheyenne shield was used in war for almost 100 years. The animal depicted on their battle armor was the owner’s guardian spirit. The belief was that it was the image that would protect the warrior, not the shield.

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Sadly, in the end nothing could protect these Native Americans. Frontier settlers and the US government stripped them of their land and devastated the natural resources, mainly buffalo, that the Indians relied upon to sustain their way of life. The artwork here, from pre contact peoples to contemporary artists, are all of the elements used in their life which serves as a canvas to tell their story. In essence, they are America’s earliest experiential travelers and storytellers.

There’s a lot to marvel over in this collection. These in between days of spring when the weather toys with us are a good excuse to call in a mental health day or take vacation and play tourist for a day or two at one the city’s greatest cultural playgrounds. A chance to see what the Plains Indians contributed to American culture.

Come see this beautiful sight before it leaves town.

It’s New Year’s Eve—Have A Ball On The Boardwalk.

nyeve-2015-preview-coney-island
In case you haven’t heard, the #1 destination in the US for 2015 is Queens, New York. So say the folks over at Lonely Planet. Good for that borough.  Go explore it!

Nothing against Queens but after years of supersaturation in Brooklyn, I feel like my hometown could use a bit of rest. We were the center-of-the-universe before everyone came late to our party and now this borough is an actual brand.

If you had any doubts about that, you might want to turn your eyes towards Coney Island tonight where the first-ever New Year’s Eve Parachute Jump ball drop will go down. A side of fireworks will accompany this inaugural event and festivities also include sideshow performers, a rocking DJ (no Taylor Swift here!), and free hot chocolate. It’s meant to be frigid tonight but all of these things will warm you up fast.

“This New Year’s Eve, you won’t want to miss our beachfront boardwalk blast in Brooklyn!” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Now that we have our very own seaside ball drop, why be squished like a sardine in Times Square when you can rejoice like royalty in the County of Kings!”

Where are you ringing in the New Year? If you happen to be in New York City, hop a train to Brooklyn (it’s a pretty fast ride) and be part of history.

Wherever you may be, have a very Happy New Year. All the best to you in 2015!!

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.

The Grand Canyon—Keeping It Real.

sunset-on-the-north-rim-of-the-grand-canyon-hdr-mark-greenawalt

Do we have to ruin everything?

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon, it was in the mid-90s. Some colleagues and I were in Phoenix for a company meeting and had 24 hours to kill before it kicked off. There were five of us, and one rental car, so we decided to head to Sedona. Once there we went horseback riding, bopped around the town, ate and contemplated the beauty of this destination. Over icy bottles of beer, we were feeling groovy and the last thing we wanted to do was return to Phoenix. I mentioned how I’d never seen the Grand Canyon.

The next thing, one of the guys from our group pulled a quarter from his pocket (obviously that’s when peopled carried cash) and gave us the directive, “Heads we head for the Grand Canyon, tails we’re back at the hotel.”

That night we found ourselves split up between 3 bunk beds in one room of a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was cheap and we were cheerful and all charged up for our renegade getaway from the claws of a corporate meeting. It felt like camp as our company of two women and three men giggled, whispering tales in the dark until we drifted off to sleep.

Early the next morning we hit the road, three in the back and two in the front. But one of our gang was itching and scratching. He’d had a bunk all to himself and was convinced he had bed bugs. Someone turned the radio up and when signs for the Grand Canyon began appearing, I forgot everyone.

With the exception of a few cars, the parking lot we pulled into was pretty empty. Which way to the canyon, I asked one of my travel companions who’d already been. “It’s right there,” he said pointing over my left shoulder. And he was right, it was right there.

How this glorious force of nature, so all-encompassing, so massive, so breathtakingly, incredibly, jaw-dropping, out-of-this-world, awesomely obvious natural work of art couldn’t have immediately captured my attention bewildered me. Looking back, it’s like being on safari when all of a sudden an elephant appears out of nowhere, without a sound. How is that possible?

We only had two hours and I sat on a rock ledge on the South Rim staring into the abyss of this natural wonder and the Colorado River that formed it. As the sun rose, the orangey-coral, multi-colored striations that paint the canyon walls changed. Birds flew through its corridor, soaring high and low and I envied their view.

One might river.

One mighty river.

The Grand Canyon is humbling. It is also compelling and I almost wanted to throw myself in. It is an all out force of nature and it truly is quite grand.

Every once in a while my eyes drifted and I saw visitors doing the same thing as me. Cameras came out but mostly people sat individually or as couples, losing themselves in the canyon’s vortex. There is no past or future when you are in a space like this, it is nature’s cathedral and she has your undivided attention.

Since then, I’ve revisited the Grand Canyon several times and it is always a unique experience. I’ve hiked down into it, staying overnight in the Havasupai Indian village (a bit depressing) and swam in Havasu Falls (gorgeous). The North Rim of the canyon is my preferred side. It’s less accessible which is probably why I like it, but no matter what vantage point you view it from there’s not a bad seat in the house. And there’s no sunset like a Grand Canyon sunset. New age and woo-woo stuff aside, it is most certainly a spiritual experience.

Bird's eye view of Havasu Falls.

Bird’s eye view of Havasu Falls.

So last week when I read A Cathedral Under Siege, it invoked the question for me—do we have to ruin everything? If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon than it’s a must read. If you’ve never visited this geological wilderness wonder, it may inspire you to experience it.

The article is written by Kevin Fedarko, whose book The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon, was featured on PortsAreCalling last year. As a guide in Grand Canyon National Park, this man knows more than a thing or two about this natural monument and the havoc that two development projects underway will wreak upon it.

One is the construction of a residential and community center just two miles from the South Rim’s entrance. Development requires water, which requires tapping into wells, which basically means tapping into the delicate balance of nature connected to the Grand Canyon. The other project is the proposed construction of a tramway that would descend into the canyon, as well as an elevated walkway, an amphitheater and a restaurant. The tramway would provide access to 4,000 plus visitors a day.

Is that really necessary?

This kind of heavy traffic equals congestion, pollution, destruction, and ultimately desecration.

I ask again, do we have to ruin everything?

I’ll leave you with Fedarko’s thoughts:

“Conservationists often lament the inherent unfairness of fights like this. Whenever a developer is defeated, nothing prevents other developers from stepping forward, again and again. But for those who love wilderness, the loss of a single battle can mean the end of the war, because landscapes that fall to development will never return

If you care about places like the Grand Canyon, there’s something inherently wrong about that. But there may be something reaffirming about it, too, because these threats call upon us to reassert our conviction, as a nation, that although wilderness is an asset whose worth may be difficult if not impossible to quantify, without it, we would be immeasurably poorer.

Every 15 or 20 years, it seems, the canyon forces us to undergo a kind of national character exam. If we cannot muster the resources and the resolve to preserve this, perhaps our greatest natural treasure, what, if anything, are we willing to protect?”

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 6–Meet Me at the Station

IMG_2101It felt like a scene out of a Wes Andersen movie when all of a sudden a slight man in a conductor’s uniform came zipping around the bend on an Ecoped, making a quick stop on the gravel road. In his blue uniform, matching hat, pocket watch and welcome smile he seemed too good to be true. Owner of the Train Station Inn, Jimmie LeFresne is the real deal.

IMG_2078

Time well spent on the tracks, LeFresne turned his boyhood dream into reality.

A childhood spent playing in this Tatamagouche railroad station, one of the oldest in Canada, LeFresne turned his passion for trains into a hospitality reality. Back then the trains moved goods and services across the country; its stockyard was filled with pigs and cows. Times changed and it fell to ruin. To prevent its demolition, in 1974 LeFresne had the foresight, at 18, to purchase the station. In 1989 he opened the Train Station Inn, creating a love letter to a bygone era.

Uniquely appointed railway cars serve as accommodations: 2 boxcars, the rest 6 cabooses. The stationmaster’s house operates as a separate suite.

It’s not every night you get to sleep in a caboose; mine was bright orange with a small wooden patio added to one end. Investigating the authenticity of the existing apparatus within the car had me feeling like a kid.

IMG_2108

Boxcar Jane is a sweet home away from home

Staying in boutique and luxury hotels is a treat but the Train Station Inn is an entirely different experience, more like a bucket list experience. Its uniqueness would appeal to friends looking for a special getaway, multi-generational family travelers, honeymooners, or couples in search of a memorable wedding destination.

Lunch and dinner is served in the dining car, where some of the good food you’ll eat comes right out of the Inn’s garden and from local farms and fishmongers. Ambassadors for keeping things local, they serve up organic and fair trade coffee and the next morning at the Jitney Café, a brick house that was once the men’s waiting room back in the day, a cup of it and a yummy breakfast of Orange Acadian Toast with maple syrup had my name on it.

IMG_2141

Whet your whistle at the town’s newly opened brewery.

Situated along the Tatamagouche River, the Inn is walking distance to this community-driven town’s attractions. Travelers visit to experience its hospitality, museums, galleries, spiritual center, and an annual event like Oktoberfest. Located about 20 minutes from town, I popped into Jost Vineyards for one more taste of their fine Tidal Bay. It’s just one of the provinces many wineries.

Later, I stopped in Pugwash where I had a date for a game of disc golf. In the nearby town of Wallace, the Chip Ship  drew me in like bait and I pulled over to sample another tasty basket of fish and chips. Afterward, I slowly made my way back towards Halifax.

 

IMG_2203

All aboard the Chip Ship for some good eats!

When I asked EatLikeALocal guide Monica MacNeil what the most significant thing is about Nova Scotia, she spoke for herself and on behalf of Nova Scotia’s tourism organization. “It’s the people,” she said. “It’s the history of the early Europeans and first peoples that we can trace our roots and origins through to today. That’s what continues to shape our hospitality, spirit and friendships.”

She also mentioned never being further than 40 minutes from the ocean, no matter where you are in Nova Scotia.

I do believe that has something to do with it.

For more information on planning your own Nova Scotia road trip to one of the province’s many shorelines, click here.

This six-part Nova Scotia road trip series was originally featured in Mrs Robinson.