Tag Archives: vacation

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.

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Got Vacation?

Posada Margherita, Tulum.  Photo by Claudia SantinoThe US Labor Department recently released findings that one out of every seven workers does NOT take paid vacation.

If you think that’s crazy, that’s because it is.

There was a time when vacation was the silver lining of working for the man but, apparently, no more. This once sacred cow of an employee’s time has morphed into busyness as a badge of honor. Like a scene out of Network, I keep excepting people to throw open windows and scream, “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE.” but the silence is deafening.

Network, the film whose famous line could be a rallying call for folks to take their paid time off.

Network, the film whose famous line could be a rallying call for folks to take their paid time off.

Say what you will but this all started with laptops and cellphones. The insidious lamb to the slaughter takeover of our lives from “smart” devices and constantly being plugged in got in the way of real living. It obliterated the separation between church and state. We’re in a wired world where we are constantly “on.” Once out of the office, some folks have a hard time disconnecting and some managers and office cultures expect a live line at all hours.  These days it’s not uncommon to hear coworkers who do go on vacation tell the office that they’ll have their phone with them.

What the sound of the ocean isn’t entertaining enough for you, you must have your cell phone?

The Employee Confidence Survey, conducted by the transparent career community site Glassdoor, is a window into why employees are leaving paid vacation time on the table. Anyone interested in all the details can read the report but here’s a bird’s eye view on their results:VacationBreakdown-Q1-14

Why would employees entitled to paid time off not take it?

For some, it’s a case clear case of climbing the corporate ladder, company dedication, being a good worker bee, and getting the gold star.  Some are so freaked out by the amount of work they have that the thought of taking vacation is stressful.  For others it’s guilt (about what I have not idea), or fear of losing their job, or being afraid of the boss.

Speaking of bosses, is there nothing worse than a boss who calls you while he or she is on vacation? Vacation for you is vacation for me. The operative part of that word is “vacate.” It’s like the boss who goes on maternity leave but doesn’t leave—it’s sheer craziness.

And here’s the really sad part. A 2013 survey by Oxford Economics found that 13% of managers are more likely to promote workers who don’t take vacation days. That’s real nice.  Another side effect of not taking vacation: heart problems, poor morale, and most likely not that fun to live with or be with.

Not surprisingly, the study found that employees who do use their vacation time are more productive and less stressed out. So why would you want to promote someone who is overworked and stressed out? The benefits of taking vacation benefits everyone.

And here’s where the travel agency and industry has a shot. Everyone knows the Got Milk ad campaign. Why not…Got Vacation? There won’t be white moustaches but the creativity around that tagline is endless and could wrap itself around the planet several times over.

When it comes to people who can’t disengage from work, a friend of mine says, “No one ever spent their last breath saying, ‘I should have spent more time at the office’.” On that note, no one should end up on a hospital bed saying, “I should have taken my vacation days,” but that’s what’s going to happen because it’s turned into the American way. Can’t we take a page out Europe’s book on this one?

It’s August and if you haven’t used any of your vacation or holiday time yet, do yourself a favor and take it. Summer’s not going anywhere but hopefully you are. And that goes for the rest of the year. Use it or lose it because that’s probably your company’s policy anyway.

If you need any more encouragement, this might give you the push needed to call a travel agent, take a staycation, get out the roadmap, or get off the grid.  Whether or not he’s your cup of tea, his humorous take on taking vacation is spot on.  Click here and fast forward past New Rules to the closing monologue.

Enjoy your vacation!

 

 

 

 

Return of the Travel Agent.

Ienno-Guio-Dia, friend of travelers. (Photo credit: Nicholas Roerich)

Ienno-Guio-Dia, friend of travelers. (Photo credit: Nicholas Roerich)

Last week’s wintery weather got a lot of play in the news and across the blogosphere. As mentioned in the last post, while the weather wreaked a lot of havoc, travel agents also grabbed some limelight as they came to the rescue of customers stranded in the deep freeze at airports or in places they were trying to make their way to or home from.

On the heels of their success in dealing with the upset caused by the weather disruptions, travel agents are getting another boost. It seems like self-booking online is beginning to drop like those cold temperatures, which has travelers looking towards travel agents for their expertise. For more details around this, check out Travel Agents Back In Demand.

For some folks, getting away from booking online is like weaning yourself off caffeine. We’ve become so addicted to living life through online channels, it’s a hard attachment to walk away from…but it can be done. The same way you bonded to your smartphone, you can bond with a travel agent.

If you’re accustomed to navigating your life through online activity, you probably cringe at the idea of someone else handling your travel. I get it, you like the self-drive aspect. It’s a control thing, especially if you’re good at it.

Most people flock to the web with the goal of finding affordable travel, forgetting that time is money. And while it’s unlikely that millennials will start using travel agents anytime soon, for anyone who has ever been burned by an online travel “deal” or whose online booking has been derailed, there’s security in knowing there’s someone who’s got your back, who’ll go to bat for you, and who acts as a lifeline of sorts. Plus, they’re real and won’t run out of batteries.

After taking a hit from all of the online competition, it’s good to see travel agents on the rise. There’s plenty of great travel booking options to suit every need, let’s not forget that they’re one of them.

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? 

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.