Monday, January 30, 2012

A Little Bit of Portugal - in Westchester, NY

As many of you know, Portugal is one of my specialties. So when I found out about gourmet Portuguese cuisine being prepared by the teaming of an American chef with Portuguese roots, Anthony Goncalves, and a well-respected guest chefs from Portugal, including Marco Gomez, I jumped on the next train to Westchester.

I never thought of Westchester, let alone the Ritz Carlton Hotel, as a bastion of well-crafted Portuguese gastronomy. But that's what I recently found and wrote about for the Huffington Post.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Radio Show: The Romania You Never Knew

After reporting about my travels in Romania for the Huffington Post, I was more than a little surprised to receive dozens and dozens and dozens of comments on my article where I looked at some of the less visited venues in this Eastern European country. Some liked my take on Romania. Others definitely did not, thinking I didn't do justice to this wonderful country and its people. But it certainly stirred quite a bit of controversy.

You can listen (below) to my recent interview with Rod McLaughlin at KPAM 860 radio in Portland, Oregon where I explain why Romania seems to get a bad wrap travel-wise and what two sights made the most impression on me.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Biking Ireland's Placid Western and Southern Coasts

Biking for several weeks from Galway down to Cork took me through a rugged land of moorelands and mountains, with plenty of vistas of tumbling seas and serene lakes. Sure, my cycling partner and I passed through cities laden with tourists. But we always managed to stay in touch with nature. These are some of my favorite stops on the trip:

1. The Burren
It's no wonder this remote landscape in County Clare is often likened to a moonscape. It's a waterless limestone expanse that's peppered with dolmens and other prehistoric ruins, and networked with caves. This land is said to have seemed so desolate to Oliver Cromwell when he launched his invasion of Ireland in the mid-1600s that he complained that there wasn't even any soil to bury a man, no tree to hang 'em, and no water to drawn 'em. Dramatic, yes. But it's certainly curious that, despite the stony surface, some fairly rare plants thrive here, including colorful bee orchid, Irish orchid, rock rose and spring gentian.

2. Connemara

 The luminous colors of the sky and sea in Connemara in County Galway have long inspired artists and writers, such as the painter Paul Henry and Tim Robinson who penned "Stones of Aran", and other books. With its swaths of sandy beaches, soaring cliffs and rolling hills -- as well as one of the most noteworthy features, the Twelve Pins, which are mini mountains, of sorts -- Connemara is a magical land that captures the attention of all who set foot on her shores and ramble about as I did. Though it may be the most visited locale in Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, a19th century estate which more than resembles a castle, is worth exploring more for the Victorian Walled Gardens than for anything else. Here I found meticulously landscaped grounds with greenhouses, blooming flowers, ferns and even herbs, fruits and vegetables that are used in some of the restaurant's dishes.

3. Killarney National Park

Sure, Killarney, in Ireland's southwest corner, is a key tourist spot. No wonder, considering the Ring of Kerry offers dramatic vistas of coves fringed with sand, rugged headlands and turbulent seascapes. But a few of Killarney's lakes that mirror different shades of blue are in the national park that's strung with several scenic nature trails. For example, the one mile Mossy Woods trails wanders along low cliffs with great views of Muckross Lake. Along the two mile Arthur Young's trail, you may spy the small Sika deer as you stroll through oak woodlands and past old copper mines.

4. Aran Islands

Visiting the Aran Islands is like stepping  through a time portal to another era. We took a very turbulent ferry ride from the mainland and landed on the largest of the three, Inishmore, where the locals can be found wearing traditional garb: the men dressed in homespun jackets and the women in long colorful wool skirts. On this stony isle, we biked through Kilronan, the island's main and vibrant fishing village, and headed to one of  Inishmore's most well-known features: Dun Aengus, a circular low stone-walled fort that sits several hundred feet above the sea. Scientists debate as to its age, but it may date from 4,000 BC. The island also offers some dramatic cliff walks that start from Kilronan and wander through a lone woodland to the clifftops where you have views of sandy Kilmurvery Beach.
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