Thursday, June 30, 2016

Gear Review: A Practical, Portable Travel Chair

Given that I never check luggage, toting around a portable chair is out of the question. Or is it? I had no need for such an item until I signed up recently to sell my products at several flea and designer markets in New York City. Each market required me to be at my booth for six hours. I didn't want the added expense of renting a chair each time, and I didn't relish standing for six hour stretches. I searched for the perfect chair: it had to be lightweight, small, easy to carry, and stable. The Slacker model of the TravelChair -- it's really a very comfortable stool -- fits these qualifiers and more. It comes with a shoulder strap, weighs under 2 pounds and is not much bigger than an umbrella. And, though I'm underweight, this chair will hold up to 275 pounds! I haven't tried it yet at the beach but it's supposed to be stable on sand and soft ground. And, if I ever had the need to travel with a portable chair, whether for jaunts to the beach, a picnic or a concert, this would be the item I'd select.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Loving the National Parks - A Book Review

When I travel around the world, I’m often asked what should a first-time visitor to the United States not miss. And I give the same answer to everyone: the national parks. I believe it’s these varied lands -- in about seven weeks the National Park System turns 100 years old -- that is one of the very best treasures in the country. So it was with great delight that I read Lassoing the Sun by Mark Woods. It’s his year-long journey visiting 15 parks -- I’ve traveled to 13 of them -- that’s an ode to these great places of beauty as well as an inquiry into whether and how they can be preserved for future generations. But it’s also a tale about family, since he spent many summers as a boy in the national parks, and intended to take his mother to one park she had never visited. But, everything changed when his mother became gravely ill, succumbing to cancer. The book is a reflection on how visiting the national parks boils down to a life of utter simplicity, providing a sense of comfort and a healing energy. While in the Grand Canyon, Woods daydreamed, “...something that came naturally when we were children...I watched the clouds and listened to the vast stillness. The great loneliness.” In our everyday lives where we are uniformly tied to our devices, this is almost an alien experience. And, yet, the national parks wait patiently for us to experience them, embracing us once we do. Woods contemplates their future and the many challenges the parks face. In his last chapter on Haleakala National Park -- and the book's title derives from a lovely Native American legend centering on Haleakala's home, Maui -- Woods reflects how he hardly saw many sunsets in a given year. But, his year in the national parks was different. “In this year, even when I wasn’t watching one, I was aware of the light changing and another day turning to night.” This is a book both for those who, like me, adore the outdoors, especially the national parks, and for those who rarely take their eyes off their iPhone. I’m hoping reading this book (on a device) will seduce those latter people to set foot in a national park where they’ll find their senses tingling with simple delight, as if they were a child again.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Gear Review: Ultra Light, Quick-Drying Pants

My criteria  for clothing that almost always makes it into my small carry-on bag -- I never check luggage -- is that it has to be light, relatively wrinkle resistant and perform well. My new favorite item that I packed in my backpack this morning for my trip to Portugal is Ex Officio’s Dig’r Capri. I had tested it out in the Caribbean recently where I got caught in a downpour or two. And it dried so quickly that, by the time the taxi picked me up at the trailhead to drop me off at my B&B, it was completely dry. On another day, after trekking along a muddy path, I washed it in cold water in the sink that night and it was ready to wear in no time. The mostly nylon fabric is lightweight and breathable with a high Sun  Guard factor. Plus it’s capri-length, which is perfect for sweltering weather. There’s a small “secret” zippered pocket that’s useful for stashing cash or credit cards. And the pants legs roll up in case I decide to hang out at the beach. 

Dig'r Capri

Sun Guard 50+

Water resistant

Quick Drying

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Fun + Informative Walking Tour of New York's Secret Gardens

As cities go, New York is a walker’s paradise. And, as a native New Yorker, I’ve signed up for a slew of walking tours of my home town to uncover its hidden side. Sadly, most  have fallen into two distinct categories: the uber informative that are lacking the fun factor, and what I call the slacker tour where you walk and eat but not only do you not come away any smarter, but some of the dining experiences are hardly appetizing or noteworthy. My experience with Local Expeditions that bills itself as a community-driven adventure company was completely different. My two-hour walk through secret gardens in Soho was smart, entertaining, and fun-filled, thanks to our social group of 13 people and, more importantly, Rebecca, the gregarious and affable host who’s a well-respected garden designer. (Rebecca has landscaped rooftop and other gardens all over the city, making her the perfect host.) If all their adventures are like this one, I’ll gladly sign up for another. (In fact, it might very well be one of the most fun expeditions around.)

Local Expeditions uses a sharing model whereby knowledgeable locals share what they know best with visitors and residents alike. They're paid for their efforts, with 5% of the total fee going to a local non-profit of the host’s choosing, making this company even more appealing.

We meet outside the luxe Soho Grand Hotel, at their gated Dog Park -- who knew? -- where Rebecca’s tells us that it once was the only hotel with a private dog park. No surprise this hotel is so dog friendly, considering the owner is Hartz, as in Hartz flea and tick collars. I’m hardly a connoisseur of dog parks but this is a beautifully landscaped park, for dogs and humans alike, in the style of an English garden melding with an urban aesthetic. The garden is designed around a rectangular swath of lawn, lined with benches (perfect for dogs and their humans), and clusters of bamboo, boxwood, euonymus, and cherry trees. Of course, no dog park is complete without a fire hydrant; this one has a pair: one yellow and the other red. (Rebecca informed us that it’s illegal to buy fire hydrants in New York.)

Walking to the south side of the Soho Grand, we turn onto an alley with a vibrant courtyard restaurant -- Gilligan’s -- that’s brimming with a tropical motif, so much so that it’s as if we've been transported to a Caribbean island. A pergola dripping with ferns that hang from rustic ropes hovers above the U-shaped bar. Behind the loungy whitewashed banquette is a lush backdrop of palms, crotons, rubber plants, and white bird-of-paradise. With the temperature high in the 80s, Rebecca gave us time to sip an icy watermelon margarita. Who wouldn't want to indulge in this botanical delight but more natural treasures await.

A short walk brings us to the boutique, art-centric James New York Hotel where Rebecca designed the roof garden that feels more like a park. Located on the second-floor rooftop, she reveals that she’s an advocate of green rooftops that are livable. In other words, not only does the green roof provide environmental benefits by improving air quality, and holding water as a storm management strategy, but it also gives both city dwellers and hotel guests access to an peaceful green space at the push of an elevator button. (One wonders why Manhattan, with its abundance of rooftops, doesn't indulge in more green roofs like this one.) The garden is multi-tiered with a section growing thyme, dill, cilantro and other herbs used in the David Burke restaurant. Boston ivy climbs beside a handrail as we climb a series of steps to a grassy patch where you could lounge with your dog and gaze at the river birch trees that easily bend with the wind. Another level is decorated with a massive chess board that’s laid out beside a dense swatch of birch. Even more surprising is that this urban oasis is open to the public.

As we wind up our walk, we wander to a couple of other venues, ending at Rebecca’s Soho apartment where she offers us a refreshing glass of crisp rose as we relax in her urban garden, a tranquil and petit oasis. It was hard to leave the placid venue and the convivial company. But I'm hoping to sign up for another expedition with Rebecca, one that focuses on Manhattan's Flower District, an area that seems difficult to grasp even for a native New Yorker.

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