Monday, July 22, 2013

My Travel First-Aid Kit Organizer That Can Save Your Trip

 What's the biggest thing that can ruin a trip? An illness or injury probably tops the list. Consider these scenarios:

● A woman travels with her husband to rural China. In the middle of the night, she awakens with major discomfort indicating a vaginal infection. A remedy was no where to be found for days. (Clearly, she didn't carry Monistat or the equivalent in her first-aid kit.) Imagine how this messed up this couple's travels.

● A family goes mountain biking in Idaho and one of the kids falls, knocking out a tooth. If the tooth is properly preserved in the correct solution -- found with the product Save-A-Tooth -- it could be reimplanted. The family only had water bottles and a standard first-aid kit. Result: the tooth dies!

● A man is hiking in Italy's Dolomite mountains when he falls on a sharp rock, lacerating his leg. Doesn't sound like such a big deal, right? Just a few band-aids should be fine. This man was taking anti-clotting medications. He didn't carry a special gauze pad that enhances blood clotting. The result: unexpected blood loss.

● A woman is camping in a national forest in northern Florida. Sitting near the camp fire, she gets some debris in her eye. She tries sprinkling some water in her eye, to no avail. It becomes so irritating over a period of hours that she's forced to drive to the emergency room. If only she carried a saline eye wash and some lubricating eye drops. 

The solution to all these scenarios and more: Doc-in-a-Bag  

I was just interviewed by the online magazine, The Cultureist, on this product that I just developed. Find out how it can save your next trip, whether you're traveling domestically or to a far-flung locale.

You can buy Doc-in-a-Baghere. And also from Amazon

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Easyjet vs. Ryanair - Which Airline Do I Prefer?

Sure, we all want a good deal. But money-saving experiences shouldn't be accompanied by unpleasantness. My recent European journey where I relied on the budget airlines easyjet and Ryanair (for flights to and from Lisbon, Madrid and Budapest) was a lesson in contrasts. Read on to find out which airline came out on top.

If you're not carrying an EU passport, despite your online boarding pass, you can't proceed directly to security unless you have your boarding pass stamped after showing your passport to Ryanair personnel. This resulted in up to an hour of wasted time. In some airports there's a dedicated line for this and in other airports you have to get in a line (or a disorganized crowd) of people who are also checking luggage -- which I'm not.  Once the Ryanair counter opened, it was a stampede.

Carry-on luggage can't weigh more than 22 pounds and it has to fit into what I consider a small metal template measuring 21.6" x 15.7" x 7.8". (I saw many a savvy traveler trying to stuff their already-slim bag into this sizer at the gate.) This wasn't a problem for me with my ultra petite backpack. (Just remember that with both Ryanair and easyjet, a purse or laptop bag counts as your one piece of luggage.)

Since there's no assigned seating, chaos reigns once you get on board, with passengers saving multiple seats -- it's like going to a movie in Manhattan the night a blockbuster opens -- and the rest rushing to get either the desired window or aisle. On one flight, this left five children in a family separated from each other and from their parents. The flight attendants finally took pity and relocated them together just as we were about to taxi down the runway.

The flight attendants, who didn't seem like a happy bunch, didn't budge to help anyone around me place their slim bags in the overhead bin. In fact, they looked like they had all run out of anti-depressants a month ago.

The interior of the plane is garishly blanketed with ads. It's like you're flying a billboard.

Don't expect any seat pocket to place your book or other items you'd like to have easy access to.

After checking in online and printing my boarding pass, I went directly to the gate at the airport. (I had no luggage to check and easyjet doesn't have any of this boarding pass stamping nonsense.)

easyjet doesn't dictate the weight limit for carry-ons. It also subscribes to the more standard dimensions for cabin luggage, which is 22" x 17.7" x 9.8". And they just announced their guaranteed cabin bag dimensions (19.7" x 15.7" x 7.9") which means if the overhead bin fills up and the flight attendants have to start remove bags that will have to be checked, yours won't be one of 'em.

easyjet has seat pockets with their informative magazine and the interior is not all about ads.

The flight attendants were ultra pleasant, going out of their way to help passengers with bags and other matters.

The bottom line: I hope to never fly Ryanair again, unless I'm desperate. (And maybe not even then.)
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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Art and the Wild Side of NYC's High Line

Art intersects nature in the third and last unopened section of New York City's High Line located between West 34th and West 30th St. The other two-thirds of this elevated park gets all the city's attention with wine bars, gourmet ice pop stands, chaise chairs where freelancers spend most of the day sunning and tapping on iPads, the quasi amphitheater with its wooden risers that attracts a broad swath of New Yorkers and tourists alike, and landscaped lawns that beckon bare feet. In other words, it's a hipster haven quite unlike the untouched, wild section that's been the dominion of weeds and brush swirling around the tracks since the freight trains stopped running in the 1980s. 

Now the old wooden railroad ties sit cracked and rutted on a platform worn by the elements. What a perfect environment to view the outdoor art installation of Swiss-born -- she now lives in Brooklyn -- Carol Bove. (In fact it's her first public U.S. commission.) "Caterpillar" consists of seven sculptures of steel, bronze and a combination of brass and concrete that punctuate the wild scape along some 300 yards of this crumbling path. (It's so debris strewn that you have to sign a waiver to enter.)

The sculptures are integrated into the environment, citing the masses of trains parked in the rail yard far below the High Line, as well as everything from the big (the buildings towering in the distance) to the small (the stones and detritus littering the rail bed). Some compare this exhibition to an urban Zen garden with the pieces sitting like ancient treasures in the thickets of the weeds.

The Bove's sculptures reference the railway itself, using steel industrial tubes and I-beams welded together. The first piece along the path is a giant white curlicue named "Prudence." Then it's steel "14" that's created from oxidized I-beams. A thick slab of bronze, "Monel" with the water damage from Hurricane Sandy on full display as well as another welded steal beamed structure, "A Glyph." "Celeste" is another curlicue that resembles a whitewashed worm doing somersaults.
I recently signed up for one of the free nature walks along this untouched stretch of the High Line that will have "Caterpillar" on display through May 2014, when this parkland will open to the public, after being cleaned up and landscaped while retaining the wildness factor. Check out the website of Friends of the High Line for more information and to reserve a spot on one of these tours. 

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Monday, July 1, 2013

20 Lesser Known Sights in Croatia

Celebrating the fact that Croatia finally has entered the European Union, I've prepared a list of some of my favorite attractions -- a few are well known but most are under the radar --  in this country that's most well known for its picturesque Dalmatian coast. Bordered by the Adriatic Sea, Croatia that consists of more than 1,000 islands is most visited by cruise ship or ferry. But the landscape is also dotted with dense woodlands as well as Medieval hilltop villages and national parks, including several that are UNESCO World Heritage sites. And, of course, you don't want to miss the vibrant capital, Zagreb.

1. Dubrovnik’s old synagogue dates from the 15th century. It’s now a museum but it’s also a functional synagogue, though services are infrequent. It’s still an unexpected venue on a side street and worth checking out. They’ve got a lot of interesting religious artifacts, including a 13th century Torah.

2. Art aficionados in Zagreb shouldn’t miss the Modern Gallery that displays contemporary art as well as the expansive Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters with the works of European masters dating from the 14th century.

3. In Varazdin, the Herzer Palace houses an Entomological Museum with a fascinating display of insects big and small from tiny ants to giant beetles and also some rare species.

4. Visit the hilltop town of Groznjan, an arts & music center, in the summer — there are almost daily music concerts — and plan to spend the day strolling the car-free cobbled lanes and browsing in the many stone dwellings that are now home to a wide array of art galleries and studios displaying everything from textile work to hand-painted silk scarves.

5. Alpine-like Samobor, a mere 15 minutes from Zagreb, is a small old town sliced by a trout stream and nestled against the forested mountainous slopes. Most people stop here to sample their famous samoborska kremsnita, a vanilla custard cake in phyllo dough. Even if that’s the sole reason for a visit, don’t miss the steep, short hike to the 13th century fortress ruins

6.Plitvice Lakes National Park, once occupied by Serbs during the war in the 1990s, is a magical land of tumbling waterfalls and placid turquoise lakes. To fully appreciate this UNESCO World Heritage Site, plan on spending at least four hours strolling the boardwalks that traverse the cascading waters
7. In Rovinj, don’t miss the small Batana House Museum that’s dedicated to this 18-foot-long wooden flat-bottom boat that’s long been rowed on the op

8. Kastav is a hilltop town that’s so quiet, when I visited I was the only one walking the streets one afternoon. The ruins of the unfinished 18th century Jesuit Church is transformed every summer into an open air theater and concert venue. This is the venue for the annual Guitar Festival and the Kastav Summer of Culture with its theater productions. July and August is also the time to see multiple art exhibits.

9. Visitors who flock to Makarska do so for its long pebble beach backed by pines and adjacent to a wide promenade. For a more off-the-beaten-track activity, drive a few minutes from the town to the ancient village of Kotisina where you’ll find a curious and very informal botanical garden set on a steep terraced slope. The wild array of plants, native to this arid region, includes pear, rosemary and asparagus. Towering above this area is the mountainous Biokovo Nature Park that’s noted for its rigorous hiking trails.

10. In Opatija, the seven-mile, tree-shaded promenade referred to as the Lungomare sees plenty of foot traffic. But few walk in either direction to the end of the road to either Lovran to the south or the fishing village of Voloska to the north. Along the way are Belle Époque mansions and villas, pebbly beaches and rocky boulders to lay a beach towel.

11. In Hvar, the old town of Stari Grad sits on a horseshoe-shaped bay where no waves penetrate. Here, you can spend the afternoon wandering placid streets and checking out the summer palace of noted Croatian poet, Peter Hektorovic.

12. On Mljet Island, you’ll pedal past fig trees and into the national park that makes up a large part of this wooded island. The isle’s signature are the two interconnected saltwater lakes encircled by pines. Sitting in the middle of the larger of the two is an islet that’s home to a 12th century monastery.

13. The farthest of the Adriatic islands, Vis, is home to U. Stiniva, a beach protected in a narrow cove and one that’s said to be one of the prettiest places in Croatia. Also Vinoteka where the family has been making wine for 200 years. Their restaurant set in a centuries-old building serves sheep cheese, anchovies and prosciutto either inside or in the courtyard that’s shaded by an old mulberry tree. From the courtyard, we saw them pressing Trebiano grapes and cooking octopus in an old cast iron crock-type pot

14. Krka National Park is lush and wet with waterfalls aplenty. Water gushes and tumbles through a canyon. There are many ways to view this watery paradise, but it’s best seen by walking the trails and boardwalks through forests dense with pine, juniper and ash. It’s easy to spend the day swimming just below one of the seven major cascades, exploring the historic artifacts, including an 18th century church made unusually of dripstone, a museum displaying a typical one-room stone house, and an old laundry building that uses the rushing river waters. There are also numerous excursions to an islet that’s home to a Franciscan monastery or go farther up the canyon to additional waterfalls.

15. Take a ferry to Uglijan Island that’s referred to as the “Garden of Zadar” for good reason. As you wander about, you’ll see that lush gardens producing an array of fruits and vegetables, from citrus and olive trees to tomatoes and grapes. The paved promenade is perfect for a stroll along the waterfront to swimming spots or to the Miramar Lounge where you can sit in a sofa swing by the seaside and sip kiwi martinis.

16. In Motovun, visit in the fall and you’ll be treated to the annual Truffle Days, a festival where you can attend a truffle auction, a feast of white truffles and sparkling wine, a truffle exhibition and agricultural fairs where, of course, truffles are sold. In the late summer, it’s the Film Festival.

17. The Brijuni National Park, Tito’s summer residence, consists of 14 lush islands, though the largest, Veli Brijuni, is the main tourist focus. It presents an unusual opportunity where you can rent a bicycle and peddle a car-free island. You’ll have the place mostly to yourself since the majority of tourists take a tourist train to the prerequisite sights. Pedal along allees of cedar, oak and cypress and then walk through the seaside ruins of a Roman villa and a Byzantine fortress.

18. Porec’s hallmark feature is the Euphrasias Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Elaborate wall mosaics, an ornate Bishop’s Palace and remnants of what may have been a secret Christian sanctuary are all on display. You can climb a 115-foot-tall bell tower with its huge bells to get panoramic views of the town.

19. Once the haven for Dubrovnik’s rich, unspoiled Sipan Island is covered by thick pine and cypress forests. The island’s coves and woods also hide old chapels, a pre-Romanesque church, and fortresses. One bay is where Pompey’s fleet is said to have battled with Julius Cesar’s ships.

20. In Dubrovnik, the Museum of Modern Art is outside the city walls and located in a Renaissance-style villa. During my visit, three series of Picasso’s graphics (Suite Vollard, La Tauromaquia and Suite 156) hung on the walls. And the only other visitors were a small school group.
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