Friday, July 31, 2015

Travel Security Tips for Women Traveling Alone

Traveling alone shouldn't mean sticking close to your hotel and ordering room service every night, or choosing an all-inclusive because you're afraid of going far afield by yourself. I travel all over the world sometimes with a friend, sometimes with a group but, more often, alone. Here are 11 of my top travel security tips for women traveling my themselves.

1. Make sure your accommodation's door as well as any sliding glass doors each have a dead bolt.

2. In case your door doesn't come with a dead bolt, hang a portable door alarm around the knob.

3. Try to get a room that's not on the first floor.

4. Before you approach your room, look around to see who is hanging around the hallway or is near the door to your accommodation.

5. Check the elevator before entering it.

6. It's best not to carry a purse. But if you decide to, make sure the purse strap is cross body and that the pockets cannot be easily opened.

7. Never drape your purse on the back of your chair or leave it on the floor, even if it's beneath the table or between your legs. Instead, put your leg through the strap so you'll feel the tug should anyone try to swipe it.

8. Think about wearing clothing, including pants, shorts, skirts, dresses, and shirts with zippered pockets to store your belongings.

9. Don't wear flashy jewelry or clothing that will bring unwanted attention to yourself.

10. When sitting at a bar, always keep your drink within eyesight and never leave it unattended.

11. Once you check into your accommodation, speak with local women business owners to find out if there are streets or neighborhoods with security issues. 
continue reading "Travel Security Tips for Women Traveling Alone"

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Greek Cuisine in Connecticut

Why in the world would I take the Metro North train more than an hour from Manhattan for lunch? Because I heard that a new, ultra creative Greek restaurant recently opened in Darien, Connecticut. And my two-hour-some round-trip commute was worth it.

Chef Themis Papadopoulos helms the kitchen at Lithos that eventually will have a lovely outdoor terrace on a quiet residential street. He trained in France and it shows. Now, first I have to confess that Greek cuisine isn't my favorite, only because I'm often not surprised by the options. That's not the case at Lithos, where the creamy tarama and xtipito appetizers were so light, they were like puffy cumulous clouds. Tarama, made with codfish eggs, didn't come with the typical heavy fish taste. And the feta cheese-based xtipito is unexpectedly flavored with smoked paprika, as well as green pepper and pine nuts. Octopus at many restaurants is hit or miss; mostly miss. But here it was amazingly tender and flavorful, first slow cooked for three hours in red vinegar, then cooked in canola oil and served with a fava bean spread. One of the biggest surprises were the aoilis: a dollop of beet aoili created by mixing the chopped beats with the tarama; and a mango aoili that contains lemongrass and olive oil -- I definitely did not expect to see lemongrass in a Greek restaurant. Something new on the menu is the sesame feta pie, which has phyllo sprinkled with sesame and honey imported from Greece. (This might be my favorite item on the menu: part sweet, but not cloyingly so, and part savory.) The main fish course, grilled dorade, was cooked with  capers, lemon and parsley with a side of blanched Swiss chard plus kale. (The veggies were cooked in a vegetable broth with garlic and olive oil.) And unlike the rest of the U.S. I'm no fan of kale but combining it with the Swiss chard and cooking it all with garlic provided enough flavor to offset the typical kale bitterness I detest.

I usually avoid Greek desserts which often drip with honey. Here the desserts had perfect balance. The galaktobourek wasn't soggy and overly sweet, as I've often found it in other restaurants. Here, the custard cream was wrapped in phyllo and drizzled with a mildly sweet syrup flavored with lemon. The kataifi was a crispy phyllo tart filled with Brie and topped with pistachios -- typically you wouldn't find pistachios and cheese in this dessert. Even the baklava is different: here the shape is round instead of triangular. Since I'm a chocoholic, the chocolate mille feuille -- something I never found in a Greek restaurant -- was a hit: milk chocolate mousse was sandwiched between chocolate phyllo, with a side of kumquats that had been cooked in rose water.

continue reading "Creative Greek Cuisine in Connecticut"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Best Urban Rails-to-Trails in the U.S.

As transit networks for human-powered activities, rails to trails are bringing together communities, linked by a shared interest in a safe way to commute and commune with nature, and, in the process, protecting natural resources while also revitalizing local businesses.

1. Illinois Prairie Path, Illinois

Nicknamed the Roarin' Elgin, the now retired Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railroad once carried commuters and freight between Chicago and its suburbs. Its legacy, the 62-mile Illinois Prairie Path (IPP), one of the country's oldest rails to trails, is perfect not only for the botanically inclined but also the committed commuter.

2. Ojai Valley and Venture River trails - California

Urban grittiness is evident along the six-mile Ventura River trail where rotating and decommissioned oil derricks are in plain sight. But art installations also dot this trail, such as a bronze of oranges, reflecting the produce the railroad once transported, and other Ventura themes.

3. Burke Gilman Trail - Washington

 Traced by a sandy beach, Golden Gardens as well as other parts of the trail offer views of the mighty Olympic Mountains, even snow-capped Mount Rainier, in the distance.

4. Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, Florida

The path -- it's dotted with aluminum sculptures as a nod to its railroad history -- allows bladers, walkers and cyclists to safely and scenically traverse the Gulf coast, tidal waterways, myriad leafy parks and quaint neighborhoods in a state that's hardly noted for its pedestrian-friendly clime.

5. Minuteman Bikeway - Massachusetts

Short but oh-so-sweet, the 10-mile-long Minuteman Bikeway wanders through the landscape touched by the Revolutionary War, paralleling the Battle Road, aka Massachusetts Avenue, the route taken by British soldiers that marched to Concord. Following the path of the Lexington & West Cambridge Railroad from Cambridge to Bedford, this rail-to-trail is heralded as a year-round commuter way, even in the dead of winter.

6. Washington & Old Dominion Trail - Virginia

Many cyclists, joggers and bladers escape D.C. or commute on this trail that compliments the capital's retinue of memorials and monuments with lessons in history that are blended with a sense of peace rarely found in the chaotic Beltway.

7. Silver Comet Trail - Georgia

For 22 years since 1947, passengers could board a luxury train that cruised over towering trestles and through tunnels bored into mountains as it made the trip from New York to Birmingham, Alabama. That storied corridor has been transformed into the 62-mile Silver Comet Trail that spans Smyrna, Georgia (on the outskirts of Atlanta) to the Georgia/Alabama border near Cedartown in a rural North Georgia corner that's a mix of hardwood forests and rolling fields.

Find out more about this these seven urban rails to trails in the article I wrote for NationalGeographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.
continue reading "The Best Urban Rails-to-Trails in the U.S."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Brittany, France in Pictures

When I told friends and colleagues that I was traveling to Brittany to walk the Nantes-Brest Canal, this declaration was met with stares. Not even the savviest among them heard of this 216-mile-long canal in Brittany's interior. Why wasn't I going to the coast? And when I told acquaintances in France, they wondered if I would get bored. After all, they said, the scenery is pretty much the same, mile after mile. Right? Wrong.

Over the course of six days, I walked  a 60+ mile portion of this waterway, stopping in villages for lunch and dinner where my friend and I overnighted. Every step in this bucolic landscape was full of discoveries, as the colors, sky, foliage, reflections in the water, continually changed. The bed and breakfasts varied from chateaus reminiscent of Downton Abbey to country houses in centuries-old slate hamlets.

This YouTube video will provide a window into my peaceful journey where I found previous treasures around every corner and where the placid waters acted as a canvas for the verdant scenes.

continue reading "Brittany, France in Pictures"