Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: New York's Hudson Valley

If I were forced to pick one area in New York that I would have to visit again and again, it definitely would be the Hudson Valley. Stretching 150 miles from the northern reaches of New York City to Albany, this area is dotted with numerous quaint villages that ooze history and are peppered with contemporary art galleries, and placid green spaces that are perfect for walking, hiking or cycling. I've written several blog posts about the Hudson Valley, here, here and here. 
Now I received a beautiful, and enticing coffee table book focusing in on this region: Hudson Valley Reflections by Michael Adamovic. It's divided by seasons of the year and is replete with close-up images of the flora and fauna as well as historic features, and panoramas of the bucolic landscape anyone who has visited the Hudson Valley may be familiar with but will still delight in seeing these again. And, anyone who has never visited or not heard of the Hudson Valley, this will tempt you to get on Metro North, one of the ways of conveniently visiting many of the villages, and stop in Beacon, Cold Spring -- two of my favorites -- and others. Though the cover of the book refers to it as an "Illustrated Travel and Field Guide," I would've loved to have seen more information that was travel focused. Though the very back of the book includes 44 spots with natural, historical and architectural features as well as other venues that you should put on your "list" as well as an accompanying map indicating their location.

continue reading "Book Review: New York's Hudson Valley"

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Spa Hiking in Vermont

Many of us associate the word "spa" with pampering in the form of water treatments, facials, body wraps, hot stone massages and other pleasant, but sedentary, activities. What I love about the New Life Hiking Spa in Vermont -- and there's much to love -- is that its got my idea of pampering via fitness. Sure, they've got those typical spa treatments we've all come to expect. But I don't go to New Life for a body exfoliation -- though they offered a relaxing one using Chinese herbs, creams and oils. I went to indulge my joy in being fit. And New Life is the right place for fitness. Every day after breakfast they offer hikes for all levels: nature walks, intermediate treks from low-grade to more strenuous, and advanced hikes where you'll be scaling peaks. But the fitness starts before breakfast with a stretch class.

The hikes couldn't have been more idyllic. My friend and I chose an advanced intermediate hike every morning, not because we weren't fit enough for the advanced jaunt but because I don't like precipices nor navigating over scree or boulder fields, something that's always a possibility when summiting. On the intermediate journeys we tackled, we hiked through dense pine forests with the most energizing aromas, strolled beside crystal clear ponds and lakes, and enjoyed numerous scenic panoramas over the state's generous green spaces.

The afternoon was also fitness oriented, with different classes offered every hour, from 2PM through 5PM. Qi Gong, different sorts of yoga practices, outdoor fitness, and circuit training are just a few of the many offerings that change daily and are taught by a cadre of professional, personable and skilled trainers. (Characteristics of the hiking guides as well.) My favorite activities included the latter two classes. Rather than relying on machines (not fun for me), circuit training used Bosu balls for balance, mats to do a plank, sit ups or other exercises, and exercise bands of all sorts for strength training. In the outdoor fitness, we took advantage of the pleasant weather, heading to a spacious lawn for a fun boot camp of sorts. It included high-kneed skipping, tossing medicine-type balls, negotiating an agility ladder and engaging in some of the side-to-side motion typically used to train football players. We felt like children and that is what fitness should all be about.

The New Life Hiking Spa is only open part of the year, using the spaces at Killington's Cortina Inn and Resort. Expect an informal, a bit rustic and completely unpretentious environment. In other words, leave the glittery evening clothes and pearls at home. In speaking with the array of guests who have a wide range of ages, many have returned time and again sometimes for 11+ years, for many reasons, including the camaraderie and the hiking.  New Life has been around for almost 40 years. They obviously have the recipe for success. After all, one of the best ways to help people lose the weight they desire is to just get them moving in fun activities. I can't think of anything more fun than hiking in forest land.

continue reading "Spa Hiking in Vermont"

Sunday, July 30, 2017

French Guadeloupe Islands in Pictures

Curious, for sure, that so many of my savvy travel friends had never heard of the French Guadeloupe Islands. Too bad, because this archipelago offers something for all stripes of travelers, whether those who want to spend their time on black or golden sand beaches or those, like me, who prefer hiking in the rain forest or above the arid, surf-pounded coast. One of my favorite destinations here is tiny Les Saintes that consists of several islets, including Terre-de-Haut, which is as low key as a destination can be. It's basically a fisherman's island where I dined at many restaurants that were literally set on the sands and ate fish fresh off the boats that were anchored off shore. Another highlight was staying in an elegant tree house at the Tendacayou Ecolodge and Spa. Every one of the accommodations is decorated differently but all maintain a rustic, arboreal feel. And the spa revolves waterfalls, a mini stream/river, and a sundeck with views of the Caribbean Sea in the distance. This YouTube video slideshow offers a window into my adventure.

continue reading "French Guadeloupe Islands in Pictures"

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Travel Health Misunderstandings

I thought most travelers know at least some of the basics of how to stay healthy when traveling to developing countries. (This is a nice infographic on the topic from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention -- CDC.) But after a few recent international trips, I realized that some travelers have their own interpretation of well-established guidelines, interpretations that leave them open to coming down with a food-borne illness. Here's what I recently observed:

1- When a hot dish arrives on a plate with cold garnishes, such as tomatoes and lettuce, is it OK to eat the produce? The people on my trip all thought so but the correct answer would be "no,." All food you consume should be hot. Just because it's a garnish doesn't mean it's safe to eat it cold.

2- When fruit arrives already peeled in your bowl for breakfast, do you eat it? Apparently many people thought that eating peeled fruit is exactly what you should be doing. But the misinterpretation is that you're supposed to peel the fruit, not someone in the kitchen, where you don't know how the fruit or the knives were washed, nor the hygiene of the kitchen staff or the kitchen.

3- Is it a good idea to drink juice at breakfast? Everyone but me thought this was a good idea. In fact, it's risky unless you know 100% that the juice was not diluted with unsafe water.

4- What about undercooked fried eggs where the yolk is runny; is it safe? Most everyone at my table ate the runny yolk but this isn't the safest strategy. Eggs should not be undercooked.

5- How about a cold sandwich for a picnic lunch made with lettuce, avocado, onions and other cold fixings? Absolutely not. But, then, I was one of the only people who prepared my own sandwiches, relying on peanut butter that I brought with me.

6- Cheese must be safe, right? Not necessarily. Soft cheeses, even in developed countries including in the U.S. and Canada, have been linked with food-borne illness, specifically contamination with a bacteria called Listeria; and if cheese is not properly refrigerated or made from unpasteurized milk, it should also be off limits. Yet, this didn't stop many of the travelers I met from spontaneously ordering cheese sandwiches or buying cheese from small road-side shops with potentially questionable refrigeration conditions.

continue reading "Travel Health Misunderstandings"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What to Pack for Travel in Developing Countries

Having just returned from Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, I knew to be prepared, for tap water that may or may not be contaminated, for medical care that may be hours away, for a lack of feminine hygiene products as well as other hygiene issues as I bicycled for two weeks, often picnicking on the road side.  Below is what I carry in the small backpack when I travel to developing countries. The Pepto-Bismol is to prevent traveler's diarrhea; Imodium (or, in a worse case scenario, Zithromax) in case that didn't work. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the best way of disinfecting surfaces, including your hands, which you should do when you touch anything -- especially the paper currency -- and then intend on touching your mouth. Baby wipes are especially useful when the toilet facilities are lacking. Alcohol swabs for wiping down a can of soda just in case. Cups that I found in hotel rooms and other places may or may not be clean so I brought my own. Utensils for my picnics where I enjoyed peanut butter sandwiches -- a high protein source which, along with carbs, is needed when cycling intensely. SteriPen -- it easily slips in your pocket --  to take care of all the potential microbes in questionable water sources

1- Baby Wipes

2- Tampons or sanitary pads

3- SteriPen

4- Pepto-Bismol chewable tabs

5- Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

6- Alcohol Swabs

7- Foldable Cup

8- Plastic (or bamboo) Utensils

9- One-dose Anti-Vaginitis Drug: Diflucan

10- One-dose Zithromax antibiotic

11- Imodium

12- Justin's Squeezable Peanut Butter Packs

continue reading "What to Pack for Travel in Developing Countries"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Madagascar In Pictures

I spent two weeks bicycling in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world. But one full of beauty, whether it's the local children in the tiniest of villages, or the lemurs springing from one tree to the next, or the expansive savannas where, as far as I could see, there was nothing but sky, clouds and tall grasses, or the lush rainforest that the locals call the dark forest where an array of chameleons can be spied at night, or the curiously hued rock formations surrounding steaming geysers. This YouTube video slideshow  provides a window into my journey.

continue reading "Madagascar In Pictures"

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Insect Repellant Clothing for Madagascar Travels

For the last many weeks, I’ve been traveling in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world but one with enormous beauty as well. (Most of us think lemurs when the country of Madagascar comes to mind.) It’s also a country that has a high risk of malaria, a reason why most of the clothing I packed was Insect Shield apparel. This meant my neck gaitor -- necessary because of the dusty, dirt roads -- hat, pants, t-shirts, long-sleeve tops and long-sleeve hoody had all been treated by the manufacturer with Permethrin, a chemical that repels not only mosquitoes, but also ticks, ants, and flies.

I’m all about clothing that looks good but also functions well. And these items (below) that I purchased online from ExOfficio as well as Insect Shield fit the bill. The ExOfficio clothing goes by the name Bugsaway. Their Kutula Tunic is a cotton shirt that’s breathable and dries quickly. Their Lumen hood is cool and airy, thanks to the mesh weave.  Insect Shield’s t-shirts -- I bought three in different bold colors -- are polyester but, again, very breathable and light. All Insect Shield items cannot be dry cleaned, a process that will remove the active ingredient. But they’re very washable, up to 70 times, which is considered the life of the product.

Most importantly, because all these items are so lightweight, I was able to travel for weeks with only a carry-on bag.

continue reading "Insect Repellant Clothing for Madagascar Travels"

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Gear Review: The Most Rugged Matches for Camping Trips

I’ve camped in all sorts of conditions, including in snowdrifts in the winter with gale-force winds. And, one of my biggest problems -- aside from staying warm -- is lighting my camp stove. Every match just kept fizzling out. Now I carry mega matches that are four-inches long, burn for up to 25 seconds and, even when they’re submerged in water, they’ll relight. These are meaty matches manufactured by UCO. The Titan Stormproof Match Kit packs a dozen of these matches in a floatable, waterproof case. The floatable spec could come in handy: Once when camping in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (The UP), I woke in the middle of the night to find every small item in my tent floating past my head as a vicious storm rolled through. Sadly, I didn't have the UCO matches.

continue reading "Gear Review: The Most Rugged Matches for Camping Trips"

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gear Review: Flashlight Turned Lantern

Whenever I go camping I find that my flashlight may be great when I’m trying to navigate to the restroom in the middle of the night but not so great when I am cooking or setting up my tent in the dark. Sure, I could also bring a lantern for those purposes but I’d rather not since, after all, I’m all about going ultra light. That’s why I like this product made by UCO: the Leschi LED Lantern.

It’s a flashlight that telescopes into a lightweight -- it barely weighs 2 ounces -- lantern. And, because it has a shock cord, I can hang it just about anywhere, whether a tent pole, tree branch, or strap. It’s super bright: 110 Lumens and projects its light almost 110 feet . And it’ll last for four hours -- all on one AA battery -- allowing plenty of time to set up the tent, cook, wash the dishes and read.  But it’s also got a strobe mode just in case I need to send Morse Code in an emergency. (Joking.)

continue reading "Gear Review: Flashlight Turned Lantern"