Saturday, January 31, 2015

Europe's Five Best Bicycle Routes

Bicycling, one of my favorite means of traveling, isn't just a mode of transportation. More importantly, it's a way to get in touch with the land and its people. It's the ultimate way to stop and smell the roses, to use a cliche. I recently wrote about five great bicycle routes in Europe for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.

These are just a few of my endearing and surprising finds along those routes: 

• In Norway's Lofoten Islands, guests can overnight in the sometimes Spartan rorbuer or fishermans' cottages, and even cast a line through a hole punctured in the floor.

• A shock of pink may sweep across the Sinis Peninsula on Sardinia's West Coast as flocks of flamingos congregate.

• Those who island hop with their bicycle along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia will find that a large expanse of bucolic Mljet Island is taken up by a national park with a unique feature: a pair of saltwater lakes encircled by pines (a 12th century Benedictine monastery sits on an islet in the larger of the two.)

• When cycling in the northern Peloponnese peninsula in Greece, it's not unusual to zip down steep sections where a symphony of bells herald herds of goats and sheep crossing the road.

• Even novice cyclists can happily ride through the fairy-tale world of Germany's Black Forest because the southern route eliminates the heart-pounding ascents this sylvan landscape -- it includes some Ice Age-remnants and verdant nature reserves --  is noted for.
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

My New Product Line: JCreatures® - T-Shirts With Attitude

Anyone you follows me on Twitter or Instagram knows that my handle is JCreature Travel. But the JCreature is not just part of my social media presence. I'm very excited and happy to have found such as awesome actor,India Choquette for my photo shoot featuring my new product line: JCreatures® - T-Shirts With Attitude. These American Apparel silkscreened shirts are oh-so-soft (100% fine Jersey cotton), featuring different colors on each short-sleeve as well as a different colored pocket. Perfect as a Pajama-Tee or Beach Cover-up for kids or adults who are kids at heart. They are available in two color tones: pastel or vibrant + bold. (Notice that little pink creature? She will be go sale later in the year.)

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Travel Podcast: Finding Hidden Travel Treasures + Staying In Shape When Traveling

Do any of you still wonder how I manage to travel for more than a month to both warm and cold weather climes and not check luggage? Or what exercise gear I bring on all my travels so that I can stay fit? Or why I chose to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia and not visit its signature sight: Angkor Wat? Or how I actually find all those hidden treasures that I report on?

You'll get the answers to these and a lot of other questions -- including the clothing manufacturers I most adore -- by listening (below) to an interview I recently did with Daniel Parlegreco. He's the man behind The Traveling Dan Travel Podcast on iTunes.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Touring Gracie Mansion in New York City: Then and Now

A lot has changed since I visited Gracie Mansion just before Mayor Bill De Blasio took office. For one thing, there are no public tours on the schedule and when they'll return is anyone's guess. (They apparently have been suspended indefinitely.)

But, perhaps more importantly, New York  City's new mayor has taken to making some major design and architectural changes in and around this two-story landmark mansion that dates from the 18th century. Ringing part of the property now is a 10-foot-high
fence to improve the De Blasio family's security and privacy, presumably. (And that's in addition to the six-foot-tall wall that already surrounded the house.)

The first three images below represent the public spaces on the first floor. The fourth is the exterior beyond the barriers. The fifth shows the new security fence. And the last two are the newly-designed rooms on the family's second floor.

Photo credit: William Waldron

Photo credit: William Waldron.


Photo: Brigitte Stelzer

As far as the interior, on the last of the public tours, when we visited the living quarters on the second floor, I learned that, once a mayor is in residence, this floor becomes off limits. Of course, this mansion overlooking the East River stood vacant for 12 years, during the Bloomberg era. (Mike Bloomberg preferred to reside in his own mansion on East 79th Street.) But he spent millions of his own money, restoring and renovating this sun-filled Federal house where every room comes with a fireplace and is bedecked with a flourish of details. The oldest piece of furniture in the house dated from the 1600s; and a rare, five-leg, 200-year-old settee was found in a hallway. (Who knows if these antiques remain, though typically the public spaces can't be touched.) On the second floor at that time, a sunny suite has one of its two room is lined with floral wallpaper. This is where Nelson Mandela once stayed. A master bedroom was outfitted with an antique four-poster bed where wood pineapple carvings represent hospitality; and a guest bedroom contains faux bamboo (really maple) furniture.

Mayors make their own decisions as to how to decorate the second floor. And the De Blasio family clearly decided on a design path that is in complete contrast to the historic nature of the dwelling he and his family moved into. (Fiorello La Guardia -- one of New York City's airports is named for him -- was the first mayor to reside in Gracie Mansion where a mantle displays a Revolutionary War cannon ball found on the property.)  Interestingly, centuries ago, this part of the city was considered the country. The compass on the floor in an entryway refers to the shipping interests of Gracie, a Scottish fishing merchant. And one wall in the midnight blue room on the first floor is lined with a tall bookcase that comes apart in a half dozen pieces. (In fact, that's how it was moved into the room.)

The De Blasio's decided to go with a contemporary but hardly luxe design ethic, reminiscent of what one might find in a well appointed first apartment of a new university grad. Normally photography of the family quarters is banned but not in this case, most likely because West Elm in Brooklyn supplied the furnishings and are using this as a PR coupe. After seeing the pendant globe lights  and L-shaped purple couch with different colored throw pillows perhaps it's no great loss that the public won't be exploring the second floor.
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