Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Very Hidden Gem In Maine

It's so easy to bypass a simple roadside stand when you're driving country roads. Even at those low speeds, you miss the subtle markers in scenery that brims with items demanding your attention. If I were walking or taking in Maine's pristine scenery from the seat of my bicycle, I would not have almost missed it the first time. But the word "PIES" displayed in bright pink chalk on a small blackboard beside a single lane road somehow stuck with me.

My friend and I were in southern Maine for several days, not far from the New Hampshire border, when, one morning we had a craving for homemade pies. Where else to find 'em than Maine? Except we couldn't find any. Then I remembered the pink "PIES" sign on some road we passed the other day. My friend was skeptical. Did it really say "pies?" And, then I wondered if the pie would even be worth trying. With thoughts of blueberry, apple, apricot and rhubarb pies twirling in our heads, we set off to look for this sign. And, curiously, after leaving our accommodation in Biddeford Pool, I spotted the sign as we zoomed by. I cried out "Pies." But we were already long past it. Was it worth making that U-turn? Yes!

Beside the sign was a small driveway and a parking lot adjacent to a self-serve farm stand that was carefully decorated and stocked with homemade everything. Freshly baked pies were each stacked atop doilies and placed in a glass case. That day it was apple and blueberry. Shelves held jellies and jams, including several with habanero peppers. Lobster meat was stored in a cooler as was pesto sauce in little tupperware-type containers. There were chocolate chip cookies, just-cut flowers and so much more.

Everything was done with great care. (Even a laughing Buddha was positioned near the entry.) Colorful post-its lined one wall, each to be used under different circumstances, including when the pies would be out of the oven. I found out that this is the owner's first year managing her farm stand. Given the quality of your goods -- we ate the entire pie in almost one sitting -- and her thoughtfulness, I'm confident her venture will be a success.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Plenty of Culture on a Budget in Lisbon

For the budget minded, Lisbon is king. Here you can watch your pennies and do it in style, starting with staying at one of many design-focused hostels. And this week, starting today, you can gain entry to a score of venues that are usually either reserved for VIPs or are otherwise unavailable to the general public. Today starts Lisbon Week, an cultural open doors event, that allows you to enjoy history tours of rooms that are normally off limits. A biologist will lead you along the city's newest section of a peaceful greenway. And an art tour will highlight paintings, video installations and sculptures in unusual venues. You'll even be able to step into several embassies that will showcase their relationship with Portugal.

Find out about the art, architecture, history, green, music, gastronomy and other offerings during Lisbon Week in this article I just wrote for the Huffington Post.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lisbon's Urban Wilderness

If you had to pick an activity that would top your list of things to do in Lisbon, how high up would visiting a forest be? Would it even be on the list? Well, it should be. Lisbon is sprinkled with green spaces, including an expansive wilderness that's connected to downtown via a new pedestrian path. And, during Lisbon Week, a festival that starts on September 21st, you can take a free tour of this green way with a biologist. You can also sign up for history, art and architecture and other tours that will weave through some of the city's most unexpected venues.

I recently wrote about the Monsanto Green Corridor for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Adventures in Costa Rica

Most visitors only see the dense foliage of Braulio Carrillo National Park from the window of a tour bus that zips by. Instead, I chose to hire a private guide and explore on foot. This is the closest national park to San Jose, Costa Rica's capital. But Braulio Carrillo has few maintained trails and those that are navigable are steep, often muddy, and require a guide who'll lead you to refreshing streams and tumbling waterfalls and, most importantly, keep you at a distance from one of the most venomous snakes in the world, the fer-de-lance. (Luckily, I didn't see the latter.) But this tropical expanse is also a birdwatchers paradise, considering over 500 bird species can be found here, including the magnificent quetzal that I did spot. 

You certainly can't hike down the active Poas Volcano crater filled with teal-hued waters. But on the periphery trails wind through an otherworldly landscape of miniature bonsai-type trees and sizzling steam vents. In this crater-hugging cloud forest, one path wanders through a forest of twisted dwarf trees and leads to Laguna Botos, a lake formed from an extinct volcano where you may even see the fiery-throated hummingbird.

Puffy white masses meet the trees and the world becomes enveloped in mist. Welcome to the world of Costa Rica's cloud forests, include the most notable: the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Trails snake through a wilderness dominated by bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes, 200 types of ferns and hundreds of butterfly species. Birdwatchers who get up very early can spy the resplendent quetzal, a bird that's noted for its iridescent green and ruby red coloration. Dozens of hummingbird species are also a major draw.

A visit to Manuel Antonio National Park offers a cross-training adventure, where you could choose a different activity every day for a week. Among the options:

• horseback ride through the rainforest-coated interior.

• white water raft on the Sevengre River with its Class II and III rapids

• scuba dive where you're likely to spot giant manta rays and white tip reef sharks.

• ocean kayak along the coastline rimmed with white sand beaches or through the nearby mangrove forests around Damas Island where sloths, howler monkeys and anteaters can be seen

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