Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Saturday, August 27, 2016

New Green Spaces on New York's Governor's Island

What if I told you that a five-minute ferry ride from Manhattan allows you to climb landscaped hills for scenic views, relax in hammocks set amid wild brush, zoom down an almost 60-foot slide, and rent bicycles to a waterfront picnic spot? This is what visitors find on Governor's Island that sits off the southern tip of Manhattan. And, yet, so many New Yorkers never make it to these green, placid shores. The island recently opened up a newly-landscaped, 10-acre sector with a cluster of four hills, proving awe-inspiring views of the lower Manhattan skyline as well as art and entertainment options: think the slide quadruplets, and sculptural installations. The photo collage below is what I found on Governor's Island on my most recent visit where, of course, I criss-crossed the island on bicycle. There's no excuse for not hopping on board the ferry for an afternoon or a day away from the city's chaotic streets.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Fargo, North Dakota in Pictures

When someone mentions Fargo, North Dakota, what do you think of? If you're like just about everyone I spoke with, it's Fargo, the movie or the award-winning black comedy series on the FX network. And the image that comes to mind is, of course, the infamous wood chipper that figured prominently in the Coen Brothers' movie. But the Fargo I experienced was a fresh, savvy, creative one with a bustling main street, myriad art galleries and coffee shops, large swaths of bikable green spaces, and a community spirit bubbling with youth and entrepreneurship. This short YouTube video slideshow provides a tiny window into my Fargo experience. (And, North Dakota makes the 50th state I've visited.)

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Central Park's Newly Opened Garden

Central Park’s Southeast corner sees its share of crowds. In fact, with the Zoo, Wollman Rink and The Pond all located in that sector, it might very well be the busiest spot in the  park. And yet, for decades, since the early 1930s, a four-acre plot of wilderness remained truly a hidden treasure, sealed off as an inaccessible (to the public) bird sanctuary where nature was allowed to take over. Hidden, that is, until last month when it reopened with limited hours. It’s well worth visiting the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, a wee, wild landscape with rustic wooden gates, benches and overlook balustrades -- all constructed of black locust wood -- that reminded me of features I might’ve seen in The Hobbit. The skyscrapers around Columbus Circle are all visible through the dense foliage and yet this crowded part of the park may be one of the most serene. I recently took a guided tour -- though I don’t recommend the tour which I found lacking in terms of providing much in the way of informative bird and botanical information -- and fell in love with this small parcel of land with its curvy wood-chipped paths, and schist outcrops. (This is the rock that’s the bedrock of Manhattan.) Even on a day when the mercury hit over 90 degrees with muggy humidity, my visit was saturated with shade, the scent of fresh foliage and the sounds of birds. The Central Park Conservancy thinned out many of the invasive plant species, such as black cherry trees, as well as the Norway maple that the Asian longhorn beetle attacks. As I roamed about, we spotted hoary mountain mint, native grasses, pokeweed, tulip trees, mayapples, and strawberry bushes. The conservancy planted trees that are wind resistant, such as the hackberry. One lovely specimen sits at the center of a wraparound wooden bench perfectly positioned beside a scenic overlook, and my favorite part of this garden that feels like a micro Manhattan oasis. 

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Coastal Southern Maine + New Hampshire in Pictures

As small towns go, downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a favorite of mine, fitting all my criteria: waterfront location -- it’s on the Piscataqua River; numerous independent coffee shops, bookstores and wine bars; sense of history: the town dates to the early 17th century and numerous centuries-old buildings can still be found. But, most importantly, it’s got a walkable downtown. (The only downside: on Friday and Saturday nights in the summer, the town becomes party central.) While visiting a friend who lives nearby on the border with Maine, we decided to focus our daytime activities around little visited walking trails -- all a short drive from Portsmouth -- rather than joining the crowds flocking to the most popular sandy beaches. Here’s what we found:

The Urban Forestry Center, a two-mile walk from Downtown Portsmouth seems little used during the week when I spent a couple of hours on a web of shaded paths that weaved in and out of the forest and beside the tidal marsh of Sagamore Creek.

Despite all the tourist traffic in York, Maine, I strolled strolled first through Steedman Woods and then along first Fisherman's Walk and then the Cliff Walk in York Harbor.  My friend and I were the only ones on this trail that offered access to sandy bays and wide rocky surfaces, perfect for sunning.

Owned by the elite boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire, the Phillips Exeter Academy Woods has several one-mile-plus loops through the woods that, at times, border the Exeter River.

Rogers Park is located in Kittery, Maine on land that was originally settled in the 17th century by a member of the Rogers family that came over on the Mayflower. It’s set along Spruce Creek with flat trails skirting the water only to head back into the sun-speckled woodland.

Bird watching opportunities abound in the Heron Point Sanctuary in downtown Newmarket, New Hampshire where great blue herons, cormorants and other water and wading birds can be spotted on trails that skirt the Lamprey River.

Trails parallel the Great Bay’s tidal coast in the Adams Point Wildlife Management Area, a property in Durham, New Hampshire once owned by the prominent Adams Family. Also in Durham, at Wagon Hill, a former family farm, trails now wander around community gardens, into dense woods and along a calm shoreline

In Rye, New Hampshire, Odiorne Point State Park has something for everyone, pebbly beaches, historic military bunkers, dense forestland cut by numerous paths and even a small aquarium at the Seacoast Science Center.

This short YouTube video slideshow provides a window into my coastal Maine/New Hampshire travels. 

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Art is Everywhere in Beacon, New York

A mere one-and-a-half hours from Manhattan via Metro North, the town of Beacon, New York is a bastion of creativity and calm, that is, if you visit during the weekday. (Weekends are ultra hectic.) I recently started the day perusing the contemporary paintings and sculptures at the Dia Art Foundation, a sun-streaked space that’s surrounded by placid gardens that change with the seasons. Downtown is within easy walking distance where, because of the sweltering weather, I made Zora Dora Paleteria my next stop. It’s a very informal space where you can find an array of inventive, handcrafted ice pops, including some that pack plenty of heat from chilies and flavor from mint and other herbs and spices.  You can sit inside, though it's much more atmospheric to sit and people watch at the single table right along the sidewalk out front. My favorite place for lunch not only for the the cuisine (including the scrumptious baked goods) often made with locally-sourced ingredients, but also the serene garden in the rear is Homespun Foods. You can’t go wrong with their cheddar and chutney sandwich on whole grain bread, or the vegetarian cheese and nut loaf served with tomato chutney. Then it was time to work off all the calories by walking lengthy Main Street all the way to -- would you believe -- a waterfall that’s at the end of downtown. In between, stop and look up and about and all around, dropping into the numerous galleries and emporia. You’ll find boldly hued art just about everywhere.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Portugal's Schist Villages in Pictures

After visiting Portugal almost a dozen times, I continue to find hidden lands, networked by a tangle of old trails that wander through cork forests, and beside threads of rushing water. Lands with once abandoned villages that rose from stone and are now seeing a new life as artist residences, contemporary inns, quaint restaurants, and shops displaying artisan crafts. These lands in the center of Portugal, referred to as the Centro region, are home to the charming Schist Villages or Aldeia do Xisto, such as Casal de Sao Simao, Ferraria de Sao Joao, and Candal. Check out my YouTube video slideshow of my magical journal.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gear Review: A Practical, Portable Travel Chair

Given that I never check luggage, toting around a portable chair is out of the question. Or is it? I had no need for such an item until I signed up recently to sell my products at several flea and designer markets in New York City. Each market required me to be at my booth for six hours. I didn't want the added expense of renting a chair each time, and I didn't relish standing for six hour stretches. I searched for the perfect chair: it had to be lightweight, small, easy to carry, and stable. The Slacker model of the TravelChair -- it's really a very comfortable stool -- fits these qualifiers and more. It comes with a shoulder strap, weighs under 2 pounds and is not much bigger than an umbrella. And, though I'm underweight, this chair will hold up to 275 pounds! I haven't tried it yet at the beach but it's supposed to be stable on sand and soft ground. And, if I ever had the need to travel with a portable chair, whether for jaunts to the beach, a picnic or a concert, this would be the item I'd select.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Loving the National Parks - A Book Review

When I travel around the world, I’m often asked what should a first-time visitor to the United States not miss. And I give the same answer to everyone: the national parks. I believe it’s these varied lands -- in about seven weeks the National Park System turns 100 years old -- that is one of the very best treasures in the country. So it was with great delight that I read Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods. It’s his year-long journey visiting 15 parks -- I’ve traveled to 13 of them -- that’s an ode to these great places of beauty as well as an inquiry into whether and how they can be preserved for future generations. But it’s also a tale about family, since he spent many summers as a boy in the national parks, and intended to take his mother to one park she had never visited. But, everything changed when his mother became gravely ill, succumbing to cancer. The book is a reflection on how visiting the national parks boils down to a life of utter simplicity, providing a sense of comfort and a healing energy. While in the Grand Canyon, Woods daydreamed, “...something that came naturally when we were children...I watched the clouds and listened to the vast stillness. The great loneliness.” In our everyday lives where we are uniformly tied to our devices, this is almost an alien experience. And, yet, the national parks wait patiently for us to experience them, embracing us once we do. Woods contemplates their future and the many challenges the parks face. In his last chapter on Haleakala National Park -- and the book's title derives from a lovely Native American legend centering on Haleakala's home, Maui -- Woods reflects how he hardly saw many sunsets in a given year. But, his year in the national parks was different. “In this year, even when I wasn’t watching one, I was aware of the light changing and another day turning to night.” This is a book both for those who, like me, adore the outdoors, especially the national parks, and for those who rarely take their eyes off their iPhone. I’m hoping reading this book (on a device) will seduce those latter people to set foot in a national park where they’ll find their senses tingling with simple delight, as if they were a child again.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Gear Review: Ultra Light, Quick-Drying Pants

My criteria  for clothing that almost always makes it into my small carry-on bag -- I never check luggage -- is that it has to be light, relatively wrinkle resistant and perform well. My new favorite item that I packed in my backpack this morning for my trip to Portugal is Ex Officio’s Dig’r Capri. I had tested it out in the Caribbean recently where I got caught in a downpour or two. And it dried so quickly that, by the time the taxi picked me up at the trailhead to drop me off at my B&B, it was completely dry. On another day, after trekking along a muddy path, I washed it in cold water in the sink that night and it was ready to wear in no time. The mostly nylon fabric is lightweight and breathable with a high Sun  Guard factor. Plus it’s capri-length, which is perfect for sweltering weather. There’s a small “secret” zippered pocket that’s useful for stashing cash or credit cards. And the pants legs roll up in case I decide to hang out at the beach. 

Dig'r Capri

Sun Guard 50+

Water resistant

Quick Drying

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