Category Archives: Where to Go Next

Experience Sonoma Like a Local

A late afternoon stroll in our Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

You know the refrain: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Rare is the place that is equally precious to visit and reside. Fortunately, our family has decided to reside in such a place, and I get to visit: Sonoma, California.

Just 43 miles northeast of San Francisco, Sonoma has long been a retreat for urban dwellers, offering a “healthier” climate.  

Sonoma is the perfect combination of man and nature, as the vineyards attest, and residents today are obsessive about preserving that balance. In fact, the Sonoma County Tourism, as part of its continued commitment to encourage responsible stewardship from visitors and residents, has just joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

The historic plaza is the centerpiece of Sonoma © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is my second visit to Sonoma and while my family works, I get to explore like a local, hopping on a bike to ride the delightful paved recreation trail that goes right into the exquisitely quaint, historic village center and out to the vineyards. On my first trip, we biked, visited wineries, and hiked the spectacular Pacific coast. This trip, I focus on Sonoma’s history, heritage and the fascinating people who shaped it. What is more surprising is how contemporary the history feels – truly, history repeats.

Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma’s historic village plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It starts at the village plaza – utterly charming today with lovely restaurants, wine tasting rooms and boutiques – but dotted with really important historic sites that are part of Sonoma State Historic Park, a collection of six sites located throughout the community.

Sonoma’s City Hall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start at the Barracks, a military post of Mexican soldiers established in 1834 to serve as a buffer to Russian expansion from Fort Ross (!!!). The Russians had come in 1812 to produce crops and trap furs to supply their Alaskan settlement. (The Russians ultimately moved out, ironically, just before gold was discovered.) You can see a room furnished as if the soldiers were still there. It is interesting to learn that they had to supply their own uniforms, horse and supplies, and basically buy them back from the Commandante. The barracks turns out to be the best place to start my journey because it offers an excellent video that encapsulates the history of this place, and puts everything into context.

The Barracks in Sonoma’s historic plaza © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From 1834-1846, it was the headquarters for General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the Commandant of the Frontera del Norte – the northern Mexico provincial frontier – who built it, as well as the Plaza. More than 100 military expeditions set out from Sonoma to subdue rebellious Wappo and Cainameros or Satisyomis native tribes trying to overthrow Mexican domination. For ten years, until 1844, the Presidial company of Sonoma was considered the most powerful military force in California. During the short-lived California Republic, the barracks housed Republic followers until July 9, 1846, when the Stars and Stripes flag was first raised at Sonoma. It then served as an army post.  In 1860, Vallejo remodeled the barracks to serve as a winery. (Vallejo’s story, I learn, underpins just about everything in Sonoma.)

Mission San Francisco Solano was founded in 1823 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Across the street from the Barracks is Mission San Francisco Solano – the last of 21 missions established in California. It was founded in 1823 to convert Native Americans to Christianity – often forcibly. Indians would come to the mission first out of hunger –since the colonists introduced disease, technology and livestock which depleted the corn that was their mainstay. The Indians’ had their own culture, religion, lifestyle which “was contrary to the colonists” and so, had to be eradicated. Under the mission system, families were split up, children taken for indoctrination. Indians revolted and tried to escape the mission and the soldiers would hunt the “fugitives” down and bring them back. I learn in the video in the Barracks. (There is a display, “Collision of Cultures,” which acknowledges the tribes’ experience.)

“The Sonoma mission’s sphere of influence reached its peak around 1832, with nearly 1,000 Native California Indians in residence and 10,000 acres of land used to raise crops and livestock.” In 1834, the Mexican government secularized all the missions into parish churches – which was General Vallejo’s task.

The dining room at Mission San Francisco Solano now exhibits watercolors created between1903-5 by Chris Jorgensen depicting the 21 missions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dining room today houses a marvelous exhibit of watercolors created between 1903-5 by Chris Jorgensen depicting the 21 missions that remained. His watercolors helped generate interest in preserving the missions. It is most interesting to see his watercolor of this mission as it stood.

Mission San Francisco Solano, as captured by Chris Jorgensen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The small adobe chapel on the west side of the Padres’ Quarters, built and furnished by General Vallejo in 1840, replaced the original mission church.

The small adobe chapel on the west side of the Padres’ Quarters, built and furnished by General Vallejo in 1840, replaced the original mission church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is here in the mission that I meet Ranger April Farnham. When I ask if she is a native Californian, she tells me of her great great great aunt, Eliza Farnham, born in Rensselaerville, NY in 1815, who came to northern California in 1849 with her two sons (her husband, Thomas Farnham, was apparently a rogue). What a character! Wikipedia describes Farnham as a novelist, feminist, abolitionist and activist for prison reform (she worked as the matron of Sing Sing prison’s women’s ward). She returned to New York in 1856 and  in 1859, organized a society to assist destitute women find homes in the West. She returned to California, but died in New York City, at the age of 49, of consumption.

(I’m so intrigued about her, I look up her publications: Life in the Prairie Land, 1846 – An account of life on the Illinois prairie near Pekin between 1836 and 1840; California, In-doors and Out, 1856 – A chronicle of her experiences and observations on California; My Early Days, 1859 – An autobiographical novel; Woman and Her Era, 1864 – “Organic, religious, esthetic, and historical” arguments for woman’s inherent superiority’ and The Ideal Attained, 1865 – The heroine molds the hero into a worthy mate.)

General Vallejo’s Home

“Lachryma Montis,” the “Yankee Home” of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, provides a window into Sonoma’s fascinating founder ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get back on my bike to visit General Vallejo’s home, Lachryma Montis, a 20-acre site (out of his original 500 acres) just along the path about a mile from the mission. Here you appreciate what a visionary – even progressive – Vallejo was, and how instrumental he was to the founding and nurturing of Sonoma through its multiple transitions. By the time he was 40, he had lived under four flags – Spanish, Mexican, the Bear Revolution and then the United States.

Born in 1807 to an upper class Spanish family, his career paths were limited to the military, politics or church. He chose the military. At the age of 25, a lieutenant, he commanded Presidio de San Francisco, the “director of colonization.” In 1826, he was ordered to secularize the missions and transfer power from the church to civil authorities.

The Mexican government fell into chaos; there were frequent changes of governor in his district. Vallejo got no assistance from Mexico and had to pay his soldiers out of his own pocket. The settlers became Mexican citizens, learned Spanish but were different from the “Yankees” who began to come through.

After Mexican Governor Jose Castro proclaimed that the purchase or acquisition of land by foreigners who had not been naturalized as Mexicans “will be null and void, and they will be subject (if they do not retire involuntary from the country) to be expelled whenever the country might find it convenient.” 33 Yankees lead the Bear Flag Revolt against Mexican authorities. They attacked Sonoma, took Vallejo prisoner, imprisoning him at Sutter’s Fort for two months, where he contracted malaria and was a dath’s door before being released. “His imprisonment lasted longer than the Republic” (communication was slow). At the time of the Bear Flag Revolt, (June–July 1846), there were 500 Americans living in California, compared with between 8,000 and 12,000 Mexicans.

Despite the Treaty of Guadeloupe that ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) assuring the Mexicans their property ownership would be respected, the Yankees claimed the property belonged to them “by right of conquest”.  Mexicans, including Vallejo, had to fight in court to prove title and that often put them in debt. His holdings were reduced from 500 acres to 20 acres, but he kept his vineyards.

Vallejo family photos on view in a small museum in the visitors center of his home, part of the Sonoma State Historic Park, give insight into Sonoma’s founder and visionary ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, Vallejo also had a hand in developing wine-making in Sonoma. His two older daughters married sons of Count Agoston Haraszthy, who began the first vineyards (you can learn this part of the history at Haraszthy’s Buena Vista winery).

Ever adapting, Vallejo went on to be elected state senator for Sonoma, serving until 1853.

“Lachryma Montis,” the “Yankee Home” of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, provides a window into Sonoma’s fascinating founder ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is striking about Vallejo’s home is that it looks like it was deposited here from New England. Vallejo referred to his dwelling as the “Yankee Home” or “Boston House,” departing from traditional adobe style. That was deliberate on his part, to symbolize change (and acceptance) of becoming part of the United States.

You start your visit in the Chalet, a Tudor-style structure which originally was a storage house and granary, now a visitor center that houses a museum with family photos and personal artifacts of Vallejo and his family (he had 16 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood), as well as their magnificent carriage. The furnishings in the main house, too, are mainly from the family.

Seeing the home as if the Vallejo family still lived there ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You visit the parlor, which Vallejo furnished with items from around the world, the master bedroom, his daughter, Maria’s, bedroom, the nursery. You visit the bedroom of Luisa, his 15th child, who was born here, married here and, after being widowed, raised her three children in the house; she cared for her elderly parents and inherited the estate where she lived until her death in 1943 at 87. She sold the estate to the state of California in 1933 and served as its curator from 1933-1943.

The picturesque stone and masonry reservoir supplied the Vallejo home with water from natural artesian springs ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are several other interesting buildings and structures: the picturesque stone and masonry reservoir was constructed in the 1850s to collect water from natural artesian springs; a tiny cottage, the Hermitage, or “Napoleon’s Cottage” at the top of a winding stone staircase above the reservoir, where Vallejo’s youngest son, Napoleon, moved in 1865 at the age of 15, and kept 14 dogs, two monkeys, three cats and one parrot.  

A monument to the Bear Flag Rebellion, which briefly established the California Republic ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sonoma’s Plaza itself – the birthplace of the state’s Bear Flag – is picturesque. You can see a monument to where rebels raised their new, homemade flag and declare their own republic, June 14, 1846. (The Bear Flag Republic lasted just 24 days; then the United States took over).

There is also City Hall, a pavilion for outdoor events, and across the way, a lovely old-timey movie theater.

The Sonoma State Historic Park (363 Third Street W, Sonoma CA 95476, 707-938-1519). includes six sites – in addition to the Mission, the Barracks and Lachryma Montis, it also includes Casa Grande (Vallejo’s home on the plaza), the beautiful Blue Wing Inn (built to house soldiers it later accommodated such famous visitors as US Army officer Ulysses S. Grant); and Toscana Hotel. For a schedule of docent-led tours, visit www.parks.ca.gov or call 707-938-9560. (The $3 admission includes same-day visit to the Barracks and General Vallejo’s Home (363 3rd St. West) and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park (3325 Adobe Road, Petaluma).

The Buena Vista Winery. Count Agoston Haraszthy planted the first vineyards in Sonoma; Vallejo’s two daughters married his sons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My biking takes me into the vineyards that completely ring the village. I return to the Buena Vista Winery, founded by Count Agoston Haraszthy, who came from Hungary initially in pursuit of gold but in 1857, decided instead to build a stone winery on the property. He introduced cuttings from Europe’s best vineyards to California and basically proved that California could produce wine. Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 800-926-1266, tastingroom@buenavistawinery.com, www.buenavistawinery.com.

There are about 90 vineyards and wineries you can explore, see Sonoma.com.

I also come upon a wonderful local community garden, Sonoma Garden Park, which is a working farm, education center and “vibrant gathering place” where I encounter a gardener who comes up from San Francisco and learn about sustainable gardening in this drought-plagued place (Seventh St. East & MacArthur).

Jack London State Park

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another marvelous example of this merging of man and nature is the Jack London State Park in nearby Glen Ellen, where we go for a hike and discover a most intriguing history.  I was expecting to hike in the woods, but the historic and biographical features blew me away.

I always associated Jack London with San Francisco and Alaska. It was a complete surprise to learn that Glen Ellen was home to the writer/adventurer from 1905 until his untimely death in 1916, at age 40, of gastrointestinal uremic poisoning. London pioneered new agricultural techniques here at his 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch.

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“London was well ahead in the real estate game in 1905 when he began buying up what was then exhausted farmland around Glen Ellen,” writes Kenneth Brandt, The Short, Frantic, Rags-to-Riches Life of Jack London,” in Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/short-heroic-rags-riches-life-jack-london-180961200). “His intention was to restore the land by using innovative farming methods such as terracing and organic fertilizers… ‘I see my farm,’ he declared, ‘in terms of the world and the world in terms of my farm.’ Today, docents lead tours showcasing London’s progressive ranching and sustainable agricultural practices.”

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We wander through the ruins of his old stone winery and see a stone barn. You can visit the magnificent ruins of London’s 15,000-square-foot Wolf House mansion, built out of native volcanic rock and unstrapped redwoods, that would have had 26 rooms and nine fireplaces, a library measuring 19 x 40 feet, a two-story high living room, a wine cellar and – befitting a forward looking innovator – electric lighting and built-in vacuum cleaning system. It cost $75,000 ($1.9 million today) to build, but burned to the ground a month before completion.

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Built out of native volcanic rock and unstripped redwoods, it was to be the rustic capstone of Beauty Ranch and architectural avatar Jack London himself. He was devastated over the fire but vowed to rebuild. He would never get the chance,” Brandt writes.

I learn how contemporary London actually was, his writings and outlook remarkably prescient (or else you realize things don’t actually change but only repeat) – he could have been writing today. “He also remained politically engaged,” Brandt writes, quoting London from a 1914 letter: “If, just by wishing I could change America and Americans in one way. I would change the economic organization of America so that true equality of opportunity would obtain; and service, instead of profits, would be the idea, the ideal and the ambition animating every citizen.”

We set out on our hike (there are 20 miles of trails) through lush forest, majestic redwood groves, and meadows (a scenic six-mile trail leads to the top of Sonoma Mountain; you also can explore by horseback or bike), passing by a gorgeous vineyard to get to the trail. (We note the sign warning about rattlesnakes as we enter.)

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must return to visit the museum housed in “The House of Happy Walls” where there are displays of London’s books along with artifacts London and his second wife, Charmian, brought back from their 27-month sailing adventure among unexplored South Seas islands. (Volunteer pianists play on Charmian’s 1901 Steinway grand piano in the cottage where she lived from 1934 until she died in 1955.)

Jack London State Historic Park© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The park is very popular with locals in the know about all there is to do here – including concerts, performances, lectures, piano recitals; year-round there are free docent-guided tours, docent-led Sunday morning hikes, and other park events. Download a park map.

(Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 707-938-5216, jacklondonpark.com).

You can pick up picnic supplies, as we did, at the superb Glen Ellen Village Market or croissants, mini-sandwiches and other baked goods at Les Pascals bakery.

In the late afternoon, we take a walk in the “neighborhood”:

A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Moon rise during our late afternoon stroll in the Sonoma “neighborhood” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

See also: WINE & ART: THE PERFECT PAIRING IN SONOMA, CALIFORNIA (https://goingplacesfarandnear.com/wine-art-the-perfect-pairing-in-sonoma-california/)

For excellent planning materials, visit Sonoma County Tourism, 800-576-6662, info@sonomacounty.comwww.sonomacounty.comwww.sonomacounty.com/things-to-do.                

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Travelers Navigate a Tricky Landscape in 2022

One of the historic Maine Windjammers, the Victory Chimes, is enveloped in fog. Big cruiseships may be a dubious proposition, but small ships – riverboats, barges – and even a self-piloted canalboat will be desirable ways to keep sailing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Where to go in 2022 is as much a question of “how to go” and “why to go”.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We can see just how important travel is in our lives – to our wellbeing, our growth, our connections to family and friends, and as literal ambassadors of peace, understanding and shared innovation.We know this from the huge surge that occurred during 2021, after the COVID-19 vaccine opened floodgates to travelers, by making it safe(r) to be out and about. Even during the worst of the pandemic, before a vaccine, people found a way to continue to embrace experiences, drawing upon the infinite possibilities to tailor something that felt right.

It may well be that the Omicron variant, by virtue of just how transmissible but less dangerous (at least for those who are vaccinated and use precautions like masking, social distancing) will help bring about the end of the global coronavirus pandemic, as more people develop immunity. Or not. It may well be that new variants will arise – perhaps progressively less dangerous. Or not. And it is more likely that some form of virus will be endemic and dealing with it will be part of the “new normal” of everyday life. And people will find a way to go on with their lives and have this in mind: life is precious and our time is finite, make the best of every day. And that includes sharing experiences with the ones you hold dear. And top of the list to achieve that is travel.

Where to go in 2022 is as much a question of “how to go” and “why to go”.

I’m thinking that many of the same trends of 2021 will hold in 2022 – a focus on outdoors activities, low-density destinations, open-spaces (national and state parks), bike trips, driveable destinations, RVs and camping.

Parks & Trails NY’s Cycle the Erie eight-day, 400-mile biking/camping trip will be back at full strength, 650 riders, July 10-17 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even if the Omicron variant of COVID-19 abates, as is expected, and is less dangerous than Delta, and travelers are much more likely (even required) to be vaccinated and show a negative test, people will be concerned about whether there is yet another variant around the corner that can break through, whether destinations will impose new restrictions, from mandated quarantines to capacity controls to shutting borders altogether (airlines, tour operators, hotels and the like must continue flexible cancellation policies if they want to stay in business at all). There likely will be the continued need for advance purchase of ticketing, and possibly a return to capacity controls, as well as requirements for masking and social distancing. This will define the new “normal” because the protocols won’t be going away any time soon – certainly not until there are months that go by without a coronavirus outbreak before anyone feels safe enough.

Taking a flight from Mexico just before the Christmas holiday rush and the onset of Omicron. There is increasing resolution that some form of COVID-19 will become endemic and become part of a “new normal” for travelers © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But because there is now widespread vaccinations, masking, and testing will be much more available (and free), people will continue to travel and live their lives. COVID will be “endemic” – embedded in how we live.

And the lure of travel – for all the benefits travel affords in terms of personal growth, renewal, bonding, discovery – will be very strong, even stronger. And where there is a will, there will be a way.

People will opt for travel that does not require a lot of connections (if taking air) or complicated itineraries, will many will seize opportunities to travel last minute because of the changeability of the situation. They will look for flexibility (and ability to cancel or change), and travel styles that give them more control.

Travel companies have already adapted: like G Adventures (gadventures.com), with a new “Travel with Confidence” policy; Moab Adventure Center (www.moabadventurecenter.com) and its parent, Western River Expeditions, which organize customized small-group trips.

Attractions like the Skunk Train railbike in Fort Bragg, California, will likely continue with COVID-19 protocols © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The innovations and adaptations – on airlines, at hotels and resorts, attractions, restaurants –  that have already been put into place will be continued, improved, enhanced. Many have actually been very popular improvements.

Indoor attractions may well continue capacity limits, advance purchase and online/touchless ticketing.

A concern for health and wellness will likely overhang travel planning. People should be monitoring CDC and WTO health reports and State department – not just on infection rates, but what destinations, travel suppliers, hotels, restaurants are doing to take COVID-19 health protocols seriously. Use your own protocols – the more protective N95 masks, hand-sanitizing. (New: Fend Wellness Sanitizing Hand Wipe Mitts are wearable hand mitt wipes that provide a protective liner between you and all surfaces that come in contact with your hands, available on Amazon and online, fendwellness.com).

For complicated, long-distance and expensive itineraries, use a travel advisor (www.travelsense.org, www.virtuoso.com, ustoa.com, and the new Reco from Tripadvisor (helloreco.com). Try to make plans with flexible cancellations or change policies; use respected and well established tour operators and travel companies which can adapt quickly on the ground and revise itineraries as necessary and even extract you if conditions warrant. If traveling abroad, purchase travel insurance that incorporates health coverage (your domestic health insurance does not provide much coverage; my go-to travel insurance company is worldnomads.com)

Check with State Department (travel.state.gov) and CDC.gov as to conditions. Make sure vaccinations (and cards) are in order (many countries are much more restrictive than the United States). Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP, Step.state.gov), which shares your contact information with the nearest U.S. embassy and sends travel alert notifications. The STEP app is worth downloading prior to traveling.

So high on our list for travel in 2022:

Letchworth State Park, New York, considered the “Grand Canyon of the East.” 2022 will still be a year of discovering fantastic attractions within driving distance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Road Trip!: Continue to discover destinations, experiences within driveable distance, or, for long-distance holidays, revert to the old-school “road trip” and string together destinations in an itinerary that make a loop. An excellent way to do that is to go to historichotels.org because each of these 300 member properties from 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, are destinations in their own right. Hotels and resorts are being scrupulous about cleaning and sanitizing and have installed procedures and technology. You can also create your own itineraries using hotels.com (which offers extremely flexible cancellation policy), booking.com, airbnb.com.

Major ski destinations, like Gore Mountain, in New York’s Adirondacks, are within driving distance of major metropolitan areas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ski/snowboarding/mountain resorts holidays – More people taking up skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, uphilling which are ideal outdoor activities during winter. Fortunately, there are many major ski areas within driving distance. Ski passes like Vail Resorts’ EpicPass and Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass, which provide access to dozens of destinations, let you really explore. And to help, Alterra just introduced the Ikon Pass Travel, a trip planning service (ikonpass.com/travel).

Renting a camper van, like this one from Moterra, to explore will continue to be a trend in 2022 © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Renting RVs/camper vans will continue – last year was a boom for camper van rental companies like Moterra (307-200-7220, gomoterra.com); Blacksford, offering an all-inclusive RV pricing with unlimited miles, 24-hour roadside assistance and a free annual pass to national parks (www.blacksford.com); and Tracks & Trails markets packaged national park RV vacations, 800-247-0970, www.tracks-trails.com). Another idea: pilot your own canalboat – like an RV on the water – on the Erie Canal (eriecanaladventures.com, 315-986-3011).

Pilot your own canalboat on the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And while big cruiseships may be a dubious proposition, small ships like Blount (blountsmallshipadventures.com, 800-556-7450) and riverboats like CroisiEurope (croisieurope.com, 800-768-7232), and historic sailboats like the Maine Windjammers (800-807-WIND,  www.sailmainecoast.com) will be desirable ways to keep sailing.

State parks like Watkins Glen in New York’s Finger Lakes will be a big draw in 2022 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Camping/glamping –Check out New York State campgrounds in state parks like Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Park; book at 800-456-CAMP,  newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com). Last year, New York expanded glamping/camping opportunities along its picturesque canals through Tentrr (tentrr.com/nysp). To find private campgrounds, visit Campground Owners of New York, 585-586-4360, campnewyork.com, and Kampgrounds of America (our favorite: Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, Herkimer, NY (315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com). If California is your destination, visit www.camp-california.com.

Our campsite at Watkins Glen State Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And nationally: Kampgrounds of America (koa.com); Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resorts with 75 locations  throughout North America (pools, water slides, splashgrounds, activities, www.jellystonepark.com); and, internationally, Glamping Hub, with 22,000 locations around the world, from safari tents, yurts, treehouses, to cabins (glampinghub.com); and Pitchup, which has 5344 campgrounds, glamping sites throughout the Americas, Europe (www.pitchup.com)

Bike tours, like Discovery Bicycle’s Maine Coast trip, afford the opportunity to get off the bike and enjoy the sights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike tours are among our favorite modes of travel – a perfect pace and immersion into surroundings with scenic and important heritage routes, that are offered as inn-to-inn, bike/boat tours, or as bike/camping trips, and as guided tours or self-guided. Among our favorite bike tour companies: Bike Tours (biketours.com), Wilderness Voyageurs (855-550-7705, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com), Discovery Bicycle Tours, which has a new Vermont Gravel biking/camping trip (800-257-2226, discoverybicycletours.com). Also, Parks & Trails NY is back with its 24th Cycle the Erie Canal,  eight-day, 400-mile biking/camping trip, from Buffalo to Albany, (July 10-17); registration has just opened (https://www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)

The Grand Prismatic, one of the most dramatic –and surreal – sights in Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visits to national and state parks will again be popular this year.  There are tour operators that have organized tours, and you can do what we did last year, go to AirBnB, hotels.com and booking.com to get availability, but there are two companies that dominate in-park lodging: Xanterra (xanterra.com) and Delaware North (delawarenorth.com)

Our own cabin at the Elkhorn Inn, West Jackson, just outside the entrance to Yellowstone Park, booked on hotels.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Delaware North last year implemented its Rest Assured Commitment to Care comprehensive health and safety program at the lodging properties it operates, including re-engineered operating procedures to minimize contact risk and bolstered hygiene protocols aligned with guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Delaware North Parks and Resorts operates lodging in and near many iconic national and state parks, including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Shenandoah, Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks and Niagara Falls State Park, as well as at cultural attractions such as Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (www.delawarenorth.com/divisions/parks). 

Book early if you want to visit the Grand Canyon National Park this year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection has operations in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra Travel Collection also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, and Country Walkers.

The historic Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wellness travel – There will be more interest in visiting resorts that cater to wellness (not the same thing as medical tourism), like Canyon Ranch or like the The Inn at Leola Village, Leola, PA, touting its Paid Time Off Wellness Package (theinnatleolavillage.com). The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness tourism as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing…an opportunity to maintain and improve our holistic health.” A helpful source is spafinders.com.

Wellness and glamping combine at Picocanoa Rodavento, an eco-lodge in Veracruz, Mexico where thrill seekers can explore the surrounding jungle-clad hills by whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing and even zipping across the canyon and colorful treetops. The glamping site offers traditional wellness treatments, including a traditional Mayan temazcal prehispanico steam bath, as well as an outdoor pool and bar surrounded by lush greenery, a campfire for enjoying traditional batucada drum parties and safari tents and cabins that travelers can book for $98/night on outdoor accommodation website.

Beachfront resort, Nayarit, Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Beach and golf resorts that afford lots of space, uncrowded, perhaps with own villas and beachfront will be in high demand. Many Caribbean and Mexican resorts, for example, are emphasizing their COVID-19 protocols and healthful ambiance. Club Med, a pioneer of the all-inclusive concept, for example, is touting its spacious low-density resorts surrounded by nature, spread across 50 acres, operating at a limited capacity, its enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, free onsite antigen testing, and free cancellation policy, as well as unlimited culinary options, and inclusive activities from skiing and snowboarding to standup paddle boarding and snorkeling and family activity programs (www.clubmed.us, 800-Club-Med)

A villa vacation in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Villa-style vacations, where you have a base to stay and go out from there, offer the advantage of being stand-alone. Many resorts offer villa accommodations, like Banyan Tree Mayakoba, an all-villa five-star eco resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya (banyantree.com); also the Altamer Resort, Anguilla (altamer.com). Sources include villasofdistinction.com, thetopvillas.com, vrbo.com, airbnb.com/villas, exclusiveresorts.com.

Dude Ranches check off all the items on our list for being outside, inclusive and pure fun. New York State has a surprising number of these delightful venues. Among our favorites: Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com); Ridin’ Hy (518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com); and the ever-popular Rocking Horse Ranch (877-605-6062, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

The Red Reflet Ranch, in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Dude and guest ranches are ideal venues for 2022 family vacations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Want the real West? Dude Ranch Association, with 100 members across the western United States and Canada, each entirely different from one another, can help you choose where to go (307-587-2339 duderanch.org); another source is the Colorado Dude Ranch Association (866-942-3472, coloradoranch.org).

More focus on experiential and purposeful travel – those bucketlist experiences that resonate at a fundamental level with one’s being, the experiences that are important enough to risk going outside one’s comfort zone. It could be anything: hiking/camping trip to Machu Picchu (alpacaexpeditions.com); wildlife safari in Kenya (EF Go Ahead experts navigate travel and health and safety guidelines and plan fully refundable trips with no change fees, 800, 590-1161, www.goaheadtours.com); a voyage to Antarctica (atlasoceanvoyages.com, 844-44-ATLAS) or a cooking class in Paris (cooknwithclass.com).

A wildlife safari in Kahna Tiger Preserve, India. Travelers will choose destinations and experiences with more intention and not put off what’s on their bucket-list © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A corollary of this is more focus on sustainable, responsible tourism and ecotourism. Even if much of society has become entrenched in “me-me-me” view, people who are travelers tend to have a more open, one-world sensibility, and are sensitive to the need to protect and appreciate environment, heritage, ecology. There is a lot more interest in seeking out travel experiences that immerse you in local cultures and use tourism to bolster local economies in order to sustain local communities and culture, and do as much good in the world as for oneself.

TRIPS by Culture Trip, is touting its “ extremely flexible and generous cancellation plan in place should Covid restrictions change your plans, including rebooking for free up to 48 hours before departure and if TRIPS by Culture Trip cannot change your booking dates, they will refund the booking (culturetrip.com/trips, 678-967-4965).

Even though you may want to hold out to survey the situation, you are best advised to book early because dates will fill, and take advantage of flexible cancellation or rebooking policies. National Plan for Vacation Day is January 25th.

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

America’s Great Open Spaces Filling Up Fast

Hiking in Yosemite National Park. National and state parks are in high demand as families look forward to gathering together again after a year of separation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With more and more people – especially those over 65 years old and the most vulnerable – getting vaccinated, Americans are chomping at the bit to get out there and reconnect with family. For many, the ideal destinations are national and state parks, where there is space and enough outdoors, plus all the experiences being in nature affords, to bring the entire family together. Not surprisingly, bookings are already skyrocketing, with campsites, RV rentals, hotels nearest the parks, still operating with COVID19 restrictions, filling up. Those who are just emerging from an isolation mindset may have awakened to find space already booked.

In fact, Tracks & Trails, which specializes in packaging RV vacations to national parks in the western United States and Canada, citing unprecedented demand, is opening 2022 reservations on April 1.

RV Vacations, Novel Lodgings Surge

RV vacations skyrocketed in popularity over this past year, giving renewed focus on the “road trip,” because they offer the freedom and flexibility of touring the country in a fully-equipped and self-contained unit that has everything needed for a perfect vacation. “Picture it as your personal cabin on wheels going to scenic places where lodges or hotels often don’t exist,” said Dan Wulfman, founder and president of Tracks & Trails, whose specialty is packaging RV vacations to national Parks in the Western U.S. and Canada – not just renting the RV.

RV travel allows friends and families to be autonomous and as private as they please while enjoying the freedom of America’s open roads. Time for lunch? Just pull off at the next scenic turnout and open the fridge. Potty stop? Easy. End the day in the natural beauty of national park campsites chosen especially for Tracks & Trails travelers. 

Wulfman notes that the pandemic is turning millions of non-campers into aspiring RVers, and the trend is exploding. The RV Industry Association found that 20% of US residents surveyed are more interested in RV travel than in flying, tent camping, cruises, or rental stays amid coronavirus concerns.

“But getting in an RV and setting off without a plan can be daunting for a first-timer,” says Wulfman, who introduced the concept of packaged RV vacations in 1996. “That’s where the sage advice, travel tips, and insider knowledge of experts can make or break the experience. Because of COVID, choosing your dates 6 to 12 months in advance is now essential.”

Tracks & Trails is sold out for July and August of 2021, but trips in September and October may still be available. And due to unprecedented demand, the company will begin accepting reservations for 2022 trips on April 1, 2021. 

For those savvy enough to lock in their dates early, the hard part is done. The company’s team of expert planners handles all the arrangements that make it so challenging to organize a worry-free 7-14 day, multi-destination RV trip on your own. Travelers work with their T&T Trip Wizard to select one of the 20 carefully-crafted itineraries, decide on the right RV, and pick optional excursions that suit their tastes. The company takes care of the rest: reserving prime campsites, booking guided excursions with trusted outfitters, and preparing comprehensive documentation that ensures things go smoothly on the road.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of Tracks & Trails’ most popular itineraries is the 13-night Mighty 5: Utah & the Grand Canyon  beginning and ending in Las Vegas that visits all 5 of Utah’s national parks – Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches – and the Grand Canyon. Optional excursions that can be prearranged include canyoneering, rafting, ATV riding, horseback riding, and Jeep tours. The base trip cost, which includes up to 4 people, ranges from $8,000 to $10,000 and is available from May 15 to October 15 (sold out July-August 2021). (www.tracks-trails.cominquiries@tracks-trails.com, 800-247-0970)

Another source for RV vacations is Blacksford, a new recreational vehicle rental business with an all-inclusive pricing model that includes unlimited miles, no generator fees, bedding, bath and kitchen supplies, free Wi-Fi, free annual national park pass and 24-hour roadside assistance. Blacksford also curates road trip experiences by connecting travelers with vetted campsites, guides and other hand-picked attractions. https://www.blacksford.com.

Other sources for places to stay:

An oasis in Death Valley: The historic Inn at Death Valley, one of the Xanterra Travel Collection hotels in national parks © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xanterra Travel Collection (www.xanterra.com) is the management company that oversees lodgings – including the campsites, cabins and lodges – in many of the most popular national parks, including the most iconic hotels, like El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, the Inn at Death Valley, Zion Lodge and the historic hotels and lodges in Yellowstone. For information about what’s open, what services will be available, reservations as well as any travel guidelines in this post-quarantine world, go to https://www.xanterra.com/contact/national-parks/.

Other sources for lodging for DIYers: hotels.com, booking.com, koa.com, glampinghub.com, vrbo.com, airbnb.com,

Tour Companies Enhance Experience

In many instances, the best way to experience the national parks is through a tour program with an outfitter or company that specializes in hiking, wilderness, nature, or any number of specialties. Not only do they bring an extra measure of enjoyment, literally maximizing the experience, but also have access and expertise casual travelers do not have. Tour companies range from those that are laid back, sightseeing oriented – the classic bus tour like Tauck (tauck.com) and Collette Tours (gocollette.com); find more at Escorted National Parks Tours (escortednationalparkstours.com, 800-942-3301) – to active, adventure trips, even private expeditions.

Among them:

Grand Canyon, hiking the South Kaibab Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Backroads has trips to Yellowstone & Tetons, Glacier, Kenai, Olympic, Arches & Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion & Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Saguaro & Tucson, Hawaii, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, https://www.backroads.com/tours/national-park-vacations, 800-462-2848

Roadscholar, specializing in trips for seniors, offers 220 national parks trips in Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Sedona, Yellowstone, Banff, Appalachian Trail, Mt. Rushmore, Group or solo packages include lodging, meals, & expert-guided educational tours. (Roadscholar.org/parks)

Off the Beaten Path (www.offthebeatenpath.com), based in Bozeman, Montana, is an outdoor, active travel company offering guided small group adventures and private custom journeys across the globe, including national park experiences in the Rocky Mountains, Desert Southwest, and Alaska.

Natural Habitat Adventures expedition leaders guide exclusive small groups to the most remote parts of America’s famed nature sanctuaries. https://www.nathab.com/us-national-parks-tours/ 800-543-8917

REI Adventures offers hiking-oriented trips in Great Smoky Mountains, Utah, Alaska, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Big Bend, Yosemite, Grand Canyon national parks (https://www.rei.com/adventures/p/national-parks/a/hiking, 800-622-2236).

Sierra Club Outings, the Sierra Club’s tour operation, offers a variety of active experiences in national parks (content.sierraclub.org/outings, 415-977-5522)

Zion National Park, Utah © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

National Geographic Expeditions (www.nationalgeographic.com) has trips and private expeditions to Alaska; Denali to Kenai Fjords; American Southwest National Parks Private Expedition; Arches, Canyonlands & Mesa Verde National Parks Private Expedition;  Glacier National Park private expedition; Yosemite Private Expedition; Grand Canyon, Bryce & Zion; National Parks Family Journey: Yellowstone & Grand Teton, and Discover American Canyonlands, (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/destinations/north-america/national-parks/, 888-966-8687)

Country Walkers www.countrywalkers.com), renowned for well-crafted itineraries for guided walking and self-guided walking that highlight local cuisine, authentic accommodations, and immersive cultural experiences  has programs in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (www.countrywalkers.com/tours/wyoming-yellowstone-grand-teton/, 800-234-6900).

Escape Adventures (www.escapeadventures.com) operates adventure travel vacations catering to the full spectrum of active traveler, from road cyclist to mountain biker to electric biker, hiker, and multi-sport enthusiasts, and from first timer to friends and family groups of all ability levels, in the Grand Tetons & Yellowstone (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/grand-tetons-yellowstone-road-bike-tour/) and Zion and Bryce Canyon other national and state parks (800-596-2953).

Western River Expeditions operates rafting trips in Grand Canyon, Utah and Idaho,  866-904-1160 (Local: 801-942-6669) or visit http://www.westernriver.com/. Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. Annually from March through October it escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).

OARS (www.oars.com), famous for rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, has introduced a series of “Road to Whitewater” road trips: five itineraries that lead to at least one major rafting adventure, as well as incredible sites and experiences along the way. The itineraries are designed with Covid-19 protocols and precautions in place. Itineraries include: Colorado Rod Trip: Denver to Dino Loop in Northwest Colorado, Utah and Wyoming; the Scenic route to the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon from Portland Oregon; San Francisco to Southern Oregon to experience national parks, wild rapids, majestic redwoods and coastal vibes; Salt Lake City to Moab, an ultimate Utah national parks road trip; Los Angeles to Yosemite; and The Tahoe to Yosemite Loop (www.oars.com/road-trips, 800-346-6277).

Novel Ways to Experience The Outdoors

With sustainably built, LEED-certified “tiny house” cabins, Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole, is nestled in a wooded setting at the foot of the Teton Range, enabling guests to get back to nature while enjoying the intimacy of a boutique hotel and the ambiance of their own cozy residence. https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/

Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Wyoming.

Guests at the Red Reflet Ranch, a 28,000-acre luxury guest ranch in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, stay in fully-stocked private cabins and enjoy farm-to-table cuisine while participating in equestrian programs, cattle branding, hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, fly fishing, shooting, family-friendly activities and cooking classes. https://red-reflet-ranch.net/

A stay at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains, rivers and Yellowstone National Park. Go hiking through shaded forests and wildflower-filled alpine meadows, float or fly fish a clear, cool river, experience the adrenaline rush of lift-served mountain biking at Big Sky Resort, or tour the natural wonders and wildlife of Yellowstone. https://thewilsonhotel.com/

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© 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Driveable Summer Destinations: Cape Cod Welcomes Visitors

Ocean Edge beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cape Cod, MA  — If ever there was a time for a Cape Cod getaway, it is now, and with health numbers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts accommodating  the safe reopening of businesses and organizations, Cape Cod’s beaches, trails, golf offer well-deserved respite.

The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, regional tourism council for the entire Cape region, has provided guidance for visitors:

LODGING, DINING and WHAT’S NEXT

Cape-wide, lodging establishments, restaurants (indoor and outdoor dining), personal services (day spas, salons, etc.) are open. This month, bars, museums, fitness gyms and everything besides nightclubs and large venues were reopening under Phase III of Reopening Massachusetts.

BEACHES, LAKES, PONDS, RIVERS & WATERWAYS

Across the 70-mile peninsula Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds, Atlantic Ocean, Cape Cod and Buzzard Bays beaches are open — including Cape Cod National Seashore’s six dazzling beaches. Inland, hundreds of lakes and ponds, more than a dozen rivers and other waterways offer unique and refreshing ways to explore the Cape without the crowds. Kayak, SUP, canoe, sail, motorboat, Jet ski, water ski or swim the Cape’s pristine waterways. Windsurfer alert: Hyannis’ Kalmus Beach (at the end of Ocean Street, with a dedicated surfing area of the water) and West Dennis Beach (on the road of the same name) are favorite wind- and kite-surfing locations because of their favorable high winds. It’s also fun to watch from the beach.

Town Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

HIKING, WALKING and MOUNTAIN BIKING

Visitors who wish to get some exercise (or practice extreme social distancing), take a hike! Throughout Cape Cod’s 400 square miles there are miles of hiking, walking and mountain biking trails comprising Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries (no dogs please), Trustees of Reservations nature reservations, US Fish & Wildlife Service wildlife refuges, MA Wildlife Management Areas (Frances Crane in Falmouth and Hyannis Ponds in Hyannis), Barnstable Land Trust and 15 Town conservations trusts. Within these pristine land tracts, find peace and serenity, varied hiking, walking and mountain biking terrains from beginner to extreme, a wide variety of flora and fauna including more than 100 varieties of trees. One can also find the unique characteristic of coastal marshes offer superb opportunities to view wildlife and typical coastal wetlands biome, such as ferns, bulrushes, cattails, reeds, sedges, and rushes. These lands are ideal for plein air painting, photography, bird watching as well as more active pursuits.

In Provincetown, walk across Provincetown Harbor on the boulder-ed Breakwater to Long Point (about 1½ miles one way) to explore Long Point and see Long Point and Wood End Lighthouses up close. Walk back or take the Long Point Shuttle over or back (be aware, high tide is not a safe time to cross!).

CULTURE & HISTORY

Explore the Cape & Islands Bookstore Trail, a great way to get out and visit some new parts of the cape and score a great read. History and culture buffs can find much to enjoy along the Cape Cod Museum Trail featuring 80 museums, historical societies and other cultural locations. In the Town of Yarmouth, be one of the first to explore the Olde Cape Cod Discovery Trail, including the ever-popular Edward Gorey House, celebrating the life and work of this enigmatic American writer, illustrator, playwright and set designer who purchased this unassuming house in 1970 and lived here until his death in 2000. On this enchanting Trail, discover natural beauty and historic heritage in Yarmouth. While in Yarmouth, take a Town-wide tour of the 17 whimsical sand sculptures along the Town’s Sand Sculpture Trail using this downloadable map and perhaps win a prize by entering the annual Sand Sculpture Trail Photo Contest (details on the website).

Enjoying Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Heritage Museums & Gardens’ many gardens and nature trails are open for strolling, as is the Café, although its museums and collections remain shuttered for the present.

Along Hyannis Harbor, HyArts Artists Shanties are open daily (Hyannis Harbor Overlook shanties, just opposite at the end of the Walkway to the Sea, is opening). These small fishing shack-style structures provide Cape Cod artists and artisans space to work and sell at these “seaside studios.” Visitors can stroll, speak to artists and artisans, take pictures and enjoy the harborside location and nearby restaurants.

Old King’s Highway (also called Route 6A), runs 62 miles along the Cape’s northern coast through nearly all the Cape’s towns from Bourne to Provincetown. This meandering former Native American path was a principal east-west cart route for early Cape farmers and settlers. In the 17th century it evolved into an extension of Plymouth’s King’s Highway. Along the Highway, view four centuries of architecture (including former sea captains’ homes), centuries-old stone walls, and find shops, galleries, restaurants, scenic pullovers, museums, and Cape Playhouse (oldest summer theater in America). A Cape map with helpful markers and hyperlinks can be downloaded from Google here.

Nothing can be more evocative of Cape Cod than its treasure trove of more than a dozen lighthouses. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nothing can be more evocative of Cape Cod than its treasure trove of more than a dozen lighthouses. These maritime sentinels are nostalgic and, even in the 21st century, vital navigation guideposts for seamen. Most of the Cape’s lighthouses are accessible and some are even open for tours. This map can direct visitors to the Cape’s lighthouses and includes some background and hyperlinks to those that have websites. Many visitors enjoy taking a Cape ‘Lighthouse Tour’ to see how many they can visit while they are on Cape Cod.

For a dazzling look at one of Cape Cod’s most magnificent unexpected and edifices, take a free tour of Church of the Transfiguration at Rock Harbor in Orleans. The architecture, contemporary frescoes, mosaic tile floor and eye-popping apse are truly impressive. It recently built 10-bell 100-foot Bell Tower is topped by a bronze angel statue.  The Church also offers concerts of its E.M. Skinner Organ as well as its choir, Gloriæ Dei Cantores throughout the year.

Museums are scheduled to open during Phase III of Reopening Massachusetts, but dates are somewhat fluid, depending upon health metrics.

CYCLING

Cape Cod, one of the best biking destinations anywhere, offers 114 miles of cycling trails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cape Cod is one of the best destinations anywhere for cycling, with 114 miles of cycling trails from the Upper to the Outer Cape (on top of generally bike-friendly roads). Among our favorites: Cape Cod Canal’s Cycling Trails are 7.1 miles, paved and off-road, along each side of the Canal. Falmouth’s 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway rail trail is truly a coastal treasure hugging the Buzzards Bay coast from Woods Hole to North Falmouth past Sippewissett Marsh, cranberry bogs and overlooking Chapaquoit Beach. Cape Cod Rail Trail, now running from South Yarmouth to South Wellfleet is 25.7 miles end to end, including a new bridge over Bass River and other improvements.

Besides the larger, better known trails, there are several other cycling trails such as Chatham Loop (five-mile loop accessible from Chatham Fish Pier); Nauset Marsh Trail (3¼ miles roundtrip from Doane Rock picnic area to Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, intersecting with Cape Cod Rail trail); Head of the Meadow Trail (two miles; access in Truro at Head of the Meadow Beach parking area; its runs to Head of the Meadow Beach); Province Lands Trail (7½ miles; challenging paved loop through majestic dunes to Herring Cove and Race Point Beaches in Provincetown. This hilly loop starts from the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown).

Biking the Shining Sea Path, Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

WHALE WATCHES

One of Cape Cod’s most popular and exciting activities is whale watching, which run through October. Reports of many whales just offshore continue to arrive from fishing boats. Whale watches depart from Provincetown and Barnstable lasting approximately four hours. (Be sure to bring sunglasses, sunblock, sweatshirt and, of course, a camera.)

FISHING

Nothing like the thrill of reeling in a great striper of other fish. Whether at the Cape Cod Canal, taking a fishing charter, going out on a friend’s boat, surfcasting or shell fishing, Cape Cod is the place for anglers. Massachusetts does not require a license for recreational saltwater angling; here are MA saltwater fishing regulations. To clam for quahogs or oysters, a license required from Town where gathering will be done for anyone age 14+.

Fishing along the Cape Cod Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

GOLF

Cape Cod golf clubs are open, with restrictions such as shorter hours (contact the golf club for reservations).

DRIVE-IN THEATRES

Wellfleet Drive-In has been the Cape’s only drive-in since 1957. But this summer the following drive-ins will open, with limited space for distancing, but offering new movie viewing options.

West Yarmouth Drive-In | 669 Route 28, West Yarmouth (on Parker’s River); two screens.

Main Street, Hyannis Drive-In | Parking lot at corner Main Street & High School Road, 50 cars max; $20 /car; six consecutive Fridays starting 3 July 2020.

Heritage Drive-In | Route 130 Sandwich; admission $15, admission for military members, seniors, and children 11 and under is $12.

DINING

Cape Cod’s culinary scene runs the gamut from clam shacks to haute cuisine. Many Cape restaurants are renowned for decades with new eateries calling the Cape home as food trends and opportunities flourish. In addition, check out the Cape Cod Beverage Trail featuring craft beer and spirits. Finn’s Craft Brew Tap House opened in Hyannis! In Chatham, make a stop at the popular Chatham Fish Pier where visitors can watch the day’s catch be offloaded afternoons from the observation deck (there is also a fish market offering fresh fish and take away cooked seafood).

GETTING HERE and AROUND

Air carriers are flying, CapeFLYER’s weekend service between Boston South Station and the Cape with stops in Braintree, Brockton, Middleborough/Lakeville, Wareham Village, Buzzards Bay, Bourne and Hyannis runs through Labor Day. Plymouth & Brockton and Peter Pan Bus Lines offer transportation between Boston, Providence and Cape Cod (several locations). Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers Cape-wide transportation year-round. If traveling onward to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, air and ferry transportation (Steamship Authority, Hy Line Cruises, Freedom Boat Lines, Island Queen, Patriot Party Boats, Bay State Cruises, Boston Harbor Cruises and Ptown Fast Ferry) are running on schedule. 

For additional information about visiting Cape Cod call 888-33CAPECOD, visit www.capecodchamber.org. To download a digital copy or order a 2020 Cape Cod Travel Guide, follow hyperlinks. For additional information on reopening Cape Cod, visit the Chamber’s dedicated website at www.reopeningcapecod.org.

Ancient City of Petra is a Highlight of Global Scavenger Hunt in Jordan

Coming to The Treasury in Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the start of Leg 6 of the Global Scavenger Hunt in Amman, Jordan, only four of the original 10 teams competing are still in contention to win, so several of the teams can now join together, use their cell phones for planning and booking, get help from the hotel concierge, and be generally unrestricted by the rules but still enthralled by the challenges of the scavenges.

But for those competing, some of the mandatory challenges pose a difficult puzzle to achieve in terms of logistics and timing. The one that proves problematic requires the team to travel one way to or from Petra along the ancient Kings Highway – the problem is that the Jett Express Bus doesn’t take that route and the rules don’t allow a taxi from outside the city. Hearing how the two top teams surmount the challenge is quite interesting.

We arrive at our five-star hotel, the Amman W, have our meeting and get our booklet with the scavenges, and a bunch of us (no longer competing) pack into a taxi to visit an ancient Roman amphitheater built during the time of Antenios Pius in 138-161 AD. We cross the street to a local restaurant, where we enjoy a meal of rotisserie chicken served with rice, and get a sense of this ancient city.

The artful, chic Amman W Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whereas Abu Dhabi seemed unreal in many respects – a modern invention, manufactured even – Amman, the capital of Jordan, is very real and reflects its age as an early city. Jordan is where one of the largest Neolithic settlements (c. 6500 BC) ever discovered in the Middle East exists; Citadel Hill contains early Bronze Age tombs (3300-1200 BC). By the beginning of the Iron Age, Amman had become the capital of the Ammonites, referred to in the Bible as Rabbath-Ammon (“rabbath” means capital, or “king’s quarters”). We can look out from the high floors of the hotel to the hillsides crammed with houses and imagine what it might have looked like.

The ancient Roman amphitheater built during the time of Antenios Pius in 138-161 AD, in Amman, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All but one team is intent on going to Petra, but have chosen various means to get there. I find myself on the 6:35 a.m. Jett Express Bus with three of the teams, including one that is in second place in the Global Scavenger Hunt, only a point behind the leader. Five others (including my teammate) hired a car and driver (allowed because none of them were competing), and Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of GSH, Pamela and teenage son Luka are traveling separately. Each of us leaves at a different time by a different conveyance. But what a surprise! We all wind up at the same mid-way trading post at the same time. Hugs all around.

Struck for decades by the Frederic Church painting of Petra, and then by hearing a New York Times Travel Show talk about “Petra at Night,” I decide to arrange my own overnight stay so I don’t have to rush back. I learn that the Petra at night is only offered twice weekly and am lucky enough to be there for a Wednesday. I hastily consult hotels.com for a hotel – none available under $200/night. I check booking.com and find a hotel – more of a hostel, really – at a very affordable price, less than a mile from the entrance to Petra. “Only one room left” the site warns. And considering how so many of the hotels were booked, I take the leap and book it within seconds.

The concierge has reserved the seats on the Jett bus for the morning, with the return the next day (only one departure each way/daily), at 5 p.m.

Rose-Red Ancient City of Petra

We travel 240 km south from Amman (120 km north of the Red Sea city of Aqaba – the trip through the countryside is interesting – the vast emptiness, the sand, flocks of animals. Wind turbines!

Wind farm, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Road to Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The bus – which is an hour late in departing because the company has put on a second bus to accommodate all the passengers – arrives at the Petra bus station next door to the entrance to the archeological site at around 11 am.

I use our Jordan Pass (which Chalmers had obtained in advance, providing pre-paid admission to most archaeological sites, including two consecutive days at Petra, along with the visa) for the day’s admission and buy the ticket for Petra at Night ($25).

Musician, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While the others have to move hastily through Petra – in fact, they don’t even get as far as the Treasury (so what is the point of coming at all?), I am able to move as slowly and contemplatively as I want, immersing myself in the scenes and the details, knowing I will return in the evening and the next day.

Walking through The Siq, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am amazed by Petra. That now-iconic view of the Church painting (and Indiana Jones movie) that comes into focus as you walk through the cavern (known as the Siq) with the most beautiful striations and shapes, then the teaser of The Treasury through the opening. It is as wonderful as I had hoped. But the rest of Petra is a complete surprise – I had not realized how vast – an entire city, in fact – how much has been carved out of the rock (the Royal Tombs are not to be believed), and how much was built during the Roman era (The Great Temple where Brown University is doing archaeology and the Colonnade).

Waking through The Siq, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All around are fellows who hawk riding their camel, their horse, their donkey, or take the horse-drawn carriage (at fantastic speed considering the narrow walkway), to or from the entrance – it is a full mile walk from the entrance to The Treasury (an electric cart is available for those who have difficulty walking in addition to horse-carts).

Walking through The Siq, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is hot, but dry and the breeze is surprisingly comfortable. Besides exploring the archaeological structures, Petra turns out to be a hiking place – you can take trails that bring you up to fantastic views. One of the toughest is up to the Monastery – a mile each way up stairs and then back down again (and one of the challenges on the scavenger hunt – in fact, visiting early and doing the hike is worth 500 points).

The iconic view of The Treasury, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I decide to reserve that for the next day.

The city of Petra, aptly known as the Rose-Red City for the luscious color of the rock from which many of the city’s structures were carved, was the capital of the Nabataean Arabs, and is today one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites.

The Siq, the main road that leads to the city, starts from the Dam and ends at the Treasury. It is a rock canal 160 meters in length, 3 to 12 meters in width and reaches up to 80 meters in height. The main part of the Siq is created by natural rock formation and the rest is carved by the Nabataeans.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you look carefully, you can see a channel carved from the rock to capture and even filter water – the secret to how Petra was sustained. At the start of the Siq the original Nabataean dams are visible, and these prevented flooding in the Siq and collected water for use.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, through a narrow, curving break in the rock, you get your first teasing glimpse of The Treasury, just as Frederick Edwin Church painted it in 1874.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to the website, www.visitpetra.jo, it is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices (stalls sell the spices).
Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD. The earthquake, combined with changes in trade routes (and politics), eventually led to the city’s downfall.

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The city was pretty much abandoned by the middle of the 7th century and lost to all except local Bedouins,” according to the website, www.visitpetra.jo. “But in 1812, Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt set out to rediscover Petra. He dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city, and it began attracting visitors and continues to do so today.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches” the ruins of which we can explore.”

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I climb the path up to the Royal Tombs and go into cavernous rooms – I can’t tell if it is the rock’s own configuration or whether the surface has actually been painted or carved to expose swirls of different colors and textures, but they are exquisite.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Royal Tombs, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In addition to the magnificent remains of the Nabataean city, human settlement and land use for over 10,000 years can be traced in Petra, where great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features merge,” according to the website.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking back out through the Siq, you have to keep moving to the side to let pass the horse-drawn carriages which go through at quite a clip.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The park closes at about 6 p.m. and reopens at 8 pm for the 8:30-10:30 night program (it is operated separately and privately from Petra). I still have to get my pack, which I have left with the fellow at the CV Currency Exchange, just before you enter ($5 tip) and get to the hotel, which I had thought was within walking distance (0.7 mile), but turns out to be totally uphill. I take a taxi (negotiating the rate since I don’t have very much local currency).

Soldier reenactors guard the entrance to Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My el cheapo-supremo hotel (more of a hostel than a hotel), The Rose City Hotel, turns out to be exactly that – the nicest part is the name and the front entrance. When I am brought to my room, I think the fellow made a mistake and has brought me to a room under construction (or rather deconstruction) – plaster patches, exposed electrical outlet, rusting shower, cracked bathroom shelf, an “armoire” that is falling apart, only a small bed and a stool (not even a chair), slippers left for the bathroom that are too disgusting to contemplate putting on. Ah, adventure. But overall, clean and no bugs. So this will do for a night, I think, laughing to myself about my room at the five-star, ultra-hip, chic and luxurious W Hotel (which is like living in art, it is so creatively designed) I had left behind in Amman.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I head out just after 8 p.m., walking down the hill into the park again, where I join throngs of people making their way along the mile-long stony path illuminated by nothing more than lanterns and starlight, thinking how dramatic and wonderful. It turns out to be the best part of the evening.

Walking into Petra at Night, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After 45 minutes of walking (it is dark in the cavern), I arrive at The Treasury where there are perhaps 1,000 people sitting on carpets. I stuff myself into a place. I am keen to reproduce the photo I had seen of the event, but The Treasury at this point is barely lighted at all. There is some traditional music, then a fellow sings, talks for a few minutes, and then garish neon-colored lights are projected against The Treasury, completely destroying the mood. And then it is over at 9:30 pm (not 10:30 p.m.). People start leaving, and I am totally exhausted, so I leave, too. I hike back up the hill to the hotel getting lost so a fellow very nicely leads me to where I need to go. I fall asleep to the meowing of feral cats just outside the window.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Early Morning Solitude at Petra

My overnight adventure is redeemed the next morning when I am able to return to the archaeological park as early as 6 a.m. The hotel proprietor has packed my breakfast in a baggie in the refrigerator. I take my pack with me and find a nice man at one of the refreshment stalls at the bus station who offers to hold it for me for the day.

When I arrive at Petra, who should I come upon at 6:14 a.m. but the Lawyers Without Borders team! What are the odds! (Literally on the run, so not to lose time, Zoe tells me of their amazing adventure in a tented camp about two hours away where they could get their scavenger points being photographed on a camel, so they were up at 4 a.m. and had to organize a taxi to get here by 6 a.m.). Rainey and Zoe have to literally race through Petra and do the strenuous hike up to the Monastery in order to earn their 500 Global Scavenger Hunt points.


The Global Scavenger Hunt “Lazy Monday” team of Kathryn & Eric of California race to complete the scavenge challenge in Petra. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I could be more leisurely because I am not trying to earn points. Walking through the caverns (some of the most exquisite scenes) is unbelievably peaceful at this hour – I am even the only one at some points. There are no horse-drawn carriages rattling through, none of the hoards of people stopping and posing for selfies. And once inside, there is perfect peace also at The Treasury – the camels perfectly positioned to re-create the 19th century paintings of the scene.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As soon as you arrive, though, you are swooped upon by a legion of guides. One guide offers to lead me on a trail that would take me to the overview of The Treasury (ranked moderate), but I am not feeling 100 percent and hope I will be able to hike the Monastery Trail if I take it slow.

Nabataean and Roman ruins at Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A word about the guides – they try to convince you that they will take you places you can’t go yourself, which is highly dubious– but though I don’t hire any, what I observe is that they are very knowledgeable, very considerate of their guests (in fact, it is difficult to become a guide – you have to take a test, be accepted, and then trained). The people who provide the camels, the horses, the donkeys (you can ride donkeys up to the Monastery), and the carriages work very hard (the animals work even harder). Later, though, I see guides leading people up the Monastery Trail that spend their time on their cell phone coordinating their next gig.

Souvenir Stand improbably set on the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And all through are the souvenir stands (they actually look pretty good) – and you realize that Petra was a trading center, a stop along the vital caravan routes, and this is very likely what the scene would have looked like even then. And I am sure the experience was the same for the early European tourists 150 years ago, guides, merchants, donkeys, camels and all.

Hiking up the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
View from the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk through the park again, this time to hike the Monastery Trail at the other end of the park. I get some scouting information from people coming down and begin the steep ascent up stone steps. It is a very interesting hike not just because of the gorgeous stone contours and colors and the views back down, but because of the market stalls and refreshment stands set up along the way. (You can also take a donkey up, which means that hikers have to keep moving aside for the donkeys). I wish I had my hiking sticks with me (the hike reminds me of the Bright Angel trail up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon) – a fellow from Spain hiking with his mother, offers a hand when I trip (then we take a wrong turn and find ourselves scrambling over boulders, instead of climbing the stairs).

New friends from the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riding a donkey up the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riding donkey up the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Monastery proves to be a highlight – it is actually bigger than The Treasury – one of the largest structures carved out of a rock face (if I have that right). The hike is absolutely worth it and feels so satisfying when you make it to the top. There is a lovely rest stop at the top (as well as stalls improbably situated along the way and a refreshment stand picturesquely set about two-thirds up the trail with a stunning view).

The Monastery, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Refreshment stand on the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But back down, I am exhausted and have several hours before the Jett Bus back to Amman (I expect to arrive at the W Hotel after the 8 p.m. deadline for the Global Scavenger Hunt teams but have informed Bill that the bus likely won’t be back until after 9 p.m., and I won’t miss a flight to our next destination, will I?)

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have my plan: first I linger at the Basin Restaurant at the entrance to the Monastery Trail, a veritable oasis, where I sit outside under trees and have refreshment. I regain some strength and wander some more. At this point, I realize what a phenomenal experience I have had in the early morning when I had Petra to myself when I see coming at me some 2,000 passengers off the MSC ship, another 2,000 off a second MSC ship, and hundreds more off a Celebrity cruise that look like an invading army. Each group is led by a guide holding high a numbered sign (I spot the number 50) for their group.

The new Petra Museum, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My next plan is to stop into the Petra Guest House, which is located right at the entrance to the park. (This is the hotel I would recommend for those who want to come overnight in order to experience Petra in the early morning – it is very comfortable, pleasant and moderate price).

Some of the artifacts on display at the new Petra Museum, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have left an hour to visit the newly opened Petra Museum, sandwiched between the Visitor Center and the Bus Station (perfect!). It offers an outstanding exhibit (curiously Japan was a major contributor) – with some 250 artifacts and displays that explain extremely well how Petra developed, the Nabateans, how they grew to power first by controlling water through ingenious engineering and the main trade route, the King’s Highway, that linked three kingdoms. Artifacts including art as well as everyday materials going back to the Stone Age are on display; there are excellent videos, graphics, displays that are engaging and informative.

Petra was designated a World Heritage Site on Dec. 6, 1985 and Smithsonian Magazine named Petra one of the 28 places you should visit them before you die.

(More visitor information from Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority, www.visitpetra.jo)

I board the Jett Bus (it is the first-class bus geared to foreign tourists) for the three-hour trip back.

More information on visiting Jordan at the Jordan Tourist Board, http://in.visitjordan.com/.

By the time I get back to Amman, I’ve missed the meeting when Bill Chalmers tells us our next stop on our Global Scavenger Hunt and departure time. My teammate texts the answer: Athens.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
________
© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

We’re on Vacation! Great Ideas for Families to Get Out, Go & Do this Summer

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Travel ignites curiosity, lays the foundation for learning, opens minds and hearts, forges bonds and builds lifelong memories. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s officially the start of the summer family vacation season! Getting out and experiencing things first hand is the best way to cultivate learning, open minds and hearts. Travel experiences engage children, forge bonds and build lifelong memories. Here are some “get out there and do it” summer family vacation ideas:

Family Adventures

Looking for adventure, for discovery, for immersion in culture, heritage or the natural world? Many of the most respected ecotourism and adventure operators offer special itineraries tailored for families:

While on safari to see tigers, visiting a school in Kahna, India. “The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we take for granted.” Wildplanet has a family-focused program to India. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wild Planet Adventures has family-focused departures in Costa Rica, Africa, Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Laos, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Thailand and Zambia. “If your kid lives for Animal Planet, then their eyes will light up when you bring them to visit the same world famous Sloth Sanctuary they saw on the Discovery Channel, where baby sloths are being fed with an eye-dropper at their breakfast table. They’ll go crazy for our hands-on wildlife rescue center in Costa Rica, our treehouses, ziplines, tiger sanctuary and floating aqua-lodge in Thailand, the penguins and mating and courtship rituals of the wildlife in the Galapagos, and the cowboy adventure activities in Brazil’s Pantanal, culminating with sightings of jaguars. The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we take for granted.” Wild Planet customizes family departures with a minimum of 4 travelers and often puts families with similar age kids together on the same trip which means new friends for the kids. (800-990-4376, www.wildplanetadventures.com/family-trips)

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Austin Adventures is offering 40 family adventures across the globe, among them itineraries to the most popular national parks including Grand Canyon, Alaska-Kenai Fjords National Park, Bryce & Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Glacier, the Black Hills of South Dakota (Mount Rushmore), and Banff to Jasper national parks (austinadventures.com, 800-575-1540). To assist in vacation planning, Austin Adventures also offers a free Insider’s Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Adventure (www.austinadventures.com/free-family-travel-guide/).

National Geographic Family Journeys, in partnership with G Adventures, is a new line of small-group trips designed for adventurous, multigenerational families in search of a meaningful way to discover the world together. Each itinerary features interactive activities inspired by National Geographic’s expertise in photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, and history to encourage kids and adults alike to connect with the world around them. Among the destinations: Alaska, Costa Rica, National Parks, Japan, Southern Africa, Tanzania: A Serengeti Safari, France, Iceland, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam to Cambodia. (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/trip-types/family-journeys)

Gullfoss, Iceland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smithsonian Family Journeys by Perillo’s Learning Journeys has created a series of multi-generational itineraries, including Discover Japan (meet students of anime), Iceland Explorer, Exploring London and Paris (take a scavenger hunt through the Louvre) and Discover Ireland (learn to speak Gaelic). (Visit https://www.learningjourneys.com/family-journeys/smithsonian, 855-215-8691; Perillo’s Learning Journeys, www.learningjourneys.com, 888-884-8259; www.SmithsonianJourneys.org).

Thomson Family Adventures, Watertown, MA, has new family itineraries in Iceland, Scotland, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt and Vietnam (familyadventures.com, 800-262-6255).

Wildland Adventures, Seattle, WA, offers specially tailored family adventures to South America, Asia, Central America, Mediterranean, North America, as well as Africa family safaris (www.wildland.com/travel-styles/family-travel, 800-345-4453)

Bike Tours

Biketours.com, Chattanooga, TN which specializes in Europe, has recommended itineraries for families; I can personally recommend the Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, which I did with my sons – one of the best trips of my life. You can do it as a self-guided tour – it is very easy to follow, and that gives you more control over your schedule, as well as excellent value. BikeTours.com also offers an itinerary specially tailored for families with children (1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37377, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907, info@biketours.com, www.biketours.com/family-friendly).

The Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, is an ideal self-guided bike tour for a family with older children © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Backroads, Berkeley, CA, features active family adventures (biking, walking, hiking, multi-sport) by age category: Families with Older Teens & 20s (17+), Teens & Kids (9-19) or Younger Kids (8 and under).  (800-462-2848, www.backroads.com/award-winning-tours/all-family)

Trek Travel has family itineraries that include biking, hiking, kayaking and ziplining in places like Zion National Park, the San Juan Islands, Vermont and Prague-to-Vienna. (866.464.8735, https://trektravel.com/trip-type/family/)

Bicycle Adventures has a family biking trip to Mount Rushmore http://bicycleadventures.com/tours/family-bike-tours

Parks & Trails NY’s annual Cycle the Erie eight-day 400-mile Buffalo to Albany bike ride and camping trip on the Erie Canalway is ideal for families © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We  have also recommended outstanding biketours close to home that do good while giving everybody a fantastic experience: Parks & Trails NY offers its annual 8-day 400-mile Cycle the Erie camping and biking adventure (400 miles and 400 years of history!) that draws families of all configurations (grandparents with grandchildren, multi-generations, father-daughter, mother-son) and ages, some with tiny tots in tow, as well as self-pedalers as young as 10 years old. A major highlight is camping out at Fort Stanwix, Rome NY, an 18th century living-history experience. This year’s trip is July 7-14 (518-434-1583, www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)

Camping

Camping has really changed over time, frequently offering a range of experiences from rustic adventures to resort-style all in the same venue. Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, makes it easy to find camping resorts by destination, amenities and programming (www.koa.com/Campgrounds). We have a personal favorite: the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA is a true camping resort, set along a creek (tubing, fishing) and close by the Erie Canal (cruises, biking), and most unique of all, a chance to mine for Herkimer diamonds! The Herkimer KOA offers unbelievably delightful themed cabins (would you believe a cabin with its own star observatory?), fabulous activities. Choose a cabin, cottage or RV or tent site. (Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com.)

A family gathers around a campfire at Herkimer Diamond KOA, where the extraordinary amenities include mining for “diamonds”, cruising on the Erie Canal, and staying in a themed cabin with its own stars observatory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most intriguing in my book is the full-service Lion Country Safari’s award winning KOA campground located adjacent to the 320 acre drive through wild animal preserve and theme park, yet secluded enough for a restful campout (though you are apt to hear the lions roaring), offering RV sites, tent sites and rustic cabins (www.lioncountrysafari.com/koa/, 561-793-1084).

Dude Ranches

One of the best family experiences (a nonstop giggle) is on a dude ranch. New York State actually has several of them, such as Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, Hudson Valley, (845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com), which has been delighting generations of families with its all-inclusive fun (meals, entertainment, activities and riding). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (the new owners of the venerable Pinegrove Ranch), 30 Cherrytown Rd, Kerhonkson, NY 12446-2148, 866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com). Ridin’ Hy, an absolutely delightful guest ranch in the Adirondack State Park, near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com.

But if you want your cowboy hat to really mean something, go where you can be a cowpoke for a spell, here are other suggestions from Gene Kilgore, publisher of  www.top50ranches.comwww.ranchweb.com and www.ranchvacations.com.

Rankin Ranch, California.

In the Canadian Rockies, Three Bars Guest and Cattle Ranch (www.top50ranches.com/ranch-vacations/three-bars-ranch); California’s Rankin Ranch has run cattle at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range since 1863 (https://ranchweb.com/tour/bill-rankin/); Colorado’s Lost Valley Ranch in the front range of the Rockies (https://ranchweb.com/tour/lost-valley-ranch/); Montana’s Nine Quarter Circle Ranch  (https://ranchweb.com/?s=quarter+circle); Wyoming’s Paradise Ranch in the Big Horn Mountains has been a dude ranch since 1907 (https://www.top50ranches.com/ranch-vacations/paradise-ranch).

Check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association members (www.coloradoranch.com, 866-942-3472), like the luxurious C Lazy U Ranch which since 1919 has provided highest level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, first-class amenities, enriching children’s programs, gourmet meals and upscale accommodations; or the Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, which opened in 1912 and considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado, is also ideally located just southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park and nestled in a peaceful valley along the Colorado River.

Resorts with a Twist

Brothers bonding over marshmellows roasting over a campfire during a moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sebasco Harbor Resort, Mid-Coast, Maine: This resort (“Pure Maine”) manages to be a delightful cross between fine resort and a camp, with plenty of opportunity to be outdoors, while still enjoying such refinements as golf, full-service waterfront Fairwinds Spa, plus marvelous activities like kayaking (do the moonlight kayak trip, it is beyond fabulous), boating. Actually, you can imagine Sebasco being the kind of “camp” that the Gilded Age moguls would have for one of their holiday homes. Nestled among whispering pines on the rugged coast Sebasco spans 550 acres with breathtaking views and a wealth of activities the entire family can enjoy. We stayed in the converted Lighthouse for the most magical experience. Check out special deals. (Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Rd., Sebasco Estates, ME, 04565, 877-389-1161, www.sebasco.com).

Among our favorite grand, historic resorts for families for facilities, activities programs, destination, sense of heritage and “place,” and overall aahhh experience:

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., grand historic resort on the shore of Lake Champlain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont on 700 acres of Lake Champlain shoreline is about the best family-friendly luxury resort you can imagine. Just about every activity you would want is on hand: golf, hiking, biking, kayaking, cruises on Lake Champlain, fishing, watersports, tennis, outdoor pool children’s activities program (4800 Basin Harbor Road Vergennes, VT 05491 info@basinharbor.com, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com).

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, tucked in a Courier & Ives landscape in Chittenden, Vermont, near Killington, has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It offers just about every outdoors activity you can imagine, even an equestrian center, private lakeside beach, children’s adventure camp, tennis, disc golf, clay-bird shooting, and hiking, biking, golf nearby. (195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com)

A real novelty in historic hotels (and a fantastic city to visit) is the Choo Choo Train Hotel in Chattanooga, TN, where you actually stay in a historic train car (motel rooms also available), and the station is the restaurant and lobby. So fun! (1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 423-266-5000, 800-Track29, choochoo.com)

Mohonk Mountain House, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other favorites: Mohonk Mountain House (gorgeous setting, water sports, horseback riding, fantastic hiking, climbing, Victorian elegance); Equinox, Manchester, Vt. (all sports including falcon training, world-class spa,); The Sagamore, Bolton Landing on Lake George NY (Gilded Age ambiance); The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania (added benefit: proximity to Hershey theme park); Cranwell Resorts, Spa and Golf Club, Lenox, MA (proximity to all the culture of Lenox, including Tanglewood, plus historic sites like Melville’s home, Arrowwood);The Boulders, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania. (Many more ideas at historichotels.org, 800-678-8946.)

Also, many of the mountain resorts known for skiing transform into summer destinations with mountain biking, hiking, ziplines, children’s activity programs and scores of outdoor pursuits, and significantly, typically offer great rates and package deals for summer: Smugglers Notch  is renowned for having the best children and family activities program anywhere, smuggs.com); Stowe, Vt. (stowe.com), famous for its Topnotch Resort (find specials at www.topnotchresort.com/packages-specials); Hunter Mountain (huntermtn.com); the Vail resorts (www.snow.com/info/lodging-sale.aspx).

Nighttime hike at Tenaya Lodge, a full-service luxury resort hotel in the wilderness just outside the entrance to Yosemite national Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you lucky enough to be visiting Yosemite National Park? You couldn’t ask for a more spectacular accommodation than Tenaya Lodge, a full-service luxury resort hotel, closest to entrance to the park, now offering guests to receive a free 7-Day Yosemite Park Pass and up to 25% off select activities at the time of booking. (My Yosemite Offer valid through Sept. 21, 2019, based on availability, 866-467-0874, use Promo Code: MYYOSEMITE, TenayaLodge.com).

Cruising

Cruising is always a great choice for families – a way to see lots of different places with minimal hassle. Best itineraries (and cruiselines that have best family programs) are to Alaska, the Galapagos (really a favorite for grandparents to take their grandkids). I would also suggest Bermuda as a fantastic cruising destination, easy to reach from the New York metro area, that is so rich in culture, history and nature (beaches!) (Royal Caribbean sails from Bayonne; Norwegian from New York)

For those who want a floating resort with rock walls, ropes course, ziplines, glitzy Broadway and Las Vegas-style entertainment and great supervised children’s activity programs, the most acclaimed lines are Royal Caribbean; Norwegian Cruise Line; Carnival Cruise Line; Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. (See more at www.cruisecritic.com; booking help at cruisecompete.com).

Helping hoist the sales on the Victory Chimes one of the historic Maine Windjammers fleet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But here is a novel choice: Maine Windjammer Cruises – these are historic sailing vessels repurposed for passengers, that ply the waters around Rockland and Camden, Maine in the Penobscot Bay. The experience is more rustic (part of the fun!), where passengers can help raise and lower sails, even steer, help serve and gather plates for meals served in the galley or on deck. You can even choose to sleep out under the stars instead of in the cabin, which is outfitted more like you would expect of summer camp, with bunk beds and shared bathroom facilities (hot showers are available). All the cruises typically include a lobster bake on a secluded beach.

Many of the cruises have special-interest themes, and some are very dramatic that include a Schooner Gam, where all the historic schooners gather in one place and tie up and passengers can go and visit; there is also an annual Schooner Race which is tremendous fun. Visit the Maine Windjammer Association for a list of the eight ships in the fleet and description of age-appropriate sailings (usually 10 years old) and themed cruises (music, storytelling, whaling, wellness, seamanship, among them). In the past, we have sailed on the Victory Chimes (the largest in the fleet) and the American Eagle (www.sailmainecoast.com, 800-807-9463).

One of the Mid-Lakes Navigation Canalboats, like a floating RV, affords a unique way to explore the canaltowns along the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Another novel experience is renting a canalboat on the Erie Canal (like a floating RV), tying up where whimsy takes you and exploring the canaltowns on foot and by bike on the tow-path that has been turned into a bikeway. It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, and terrific fun to go through the locks, and have the bridges lift just for you. Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles, has these specially designed Lockmaster canalboats that are easy to maneuver, very comfortable, and oh so charming. (800-545-4318, info@midlakesnav.com, midlakesnav.com).

Attractions with Living History, Immersive Experiences

Trying his hand at blacksmithing Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, NH, a living history museum that shows 400 years of village life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more living history (and theme parks and golf and spa to boot! Colonial Williamsburg (www.colonialwilliamsburg.com), with the option to stay at The Williamsburg Inn or Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses (historichotels.org); Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (historyisfun.org); Philadelphia (www.visitphilly.org); Newport, RI (www.discovernewport.org); Old Sturbridge Village, MA (www.osv.org), and Portsmouth, NH to experience the Strawbery Banke Museum (www.strawberybanke.org).

And what about immersing in today’s headlines?  One of the best family destinations in the world is the nation’s capital, Washington DC, where you can visit the Capital, the National Archives, Museums of the Smithsonian Institution (19 of them) including the National Air & Space Museum, Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution Building (the castle), the National Zoological Park (National Zoo); as well as private museums including the Newseum and International Spy Museum. Plan a visit at Washington.org.

A hands-on visit to a research institution like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not just life-enriching but can be life-changing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for theme parks, zoos, aquariums and research centers: consider different experiences that give insider access: Be a zookeeper for a day at Busch Gardens Tampa (which in addition to being a superb themepark is a fantastic zoo, https://buschgardens.com/tampa/tours/keeper-for-a-day/); go behind-the-scenes at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of “Dolphin’s Tale” (https://www.seewinter.com/visit/activities/behind-the-scenes/); have a sleepover (“Snore & Roar”) at the National Zoo, Washington DC (https://nationalzoo.si.edu/events/snore-roar-sleepovers-families) or the Palm Beach Zoo, which also offers camp programs.

Some of our favorite themeparks: DisneyWorld (Orlando), Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando), Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg, Hersheypark.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

From African Safaris to Chernobyl Nuclear Site, NYT Travel Show Showcases a World of Travel Experiences

Katoryna Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who has been leading tours to the Chernobyl nuclear site for years, at the New York Times Travel Show. Last year, 70,000 people toured Chernobyl, and the numbers have been increasing 30 percent a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show, which takes place each year at the Javits Center in New York City, is the largest consumer travel show in North America. Essentially, in the course of an afternoon, you can travel around the world on a single floor and 1000 steps.

The three-day showcase features global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts, travel seminars and special discounts and offers from 600 exhibitors.

Here are some highlights from our “tour” around the floor at this year’s show:

Chernobyl Tour, Ukraine

The world’s largest radiation catastrophe at a nuclear power plant took place at the now infamous Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. An area the size of a small state was abandoned. Today, it is a tourist attraction, visited on daytrips and multi-day trips.

I meet Katoryna Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who has been leading tours there for years, and asserts that visiting is absolutely safe.

Though people love to post selfies of a Geiger counter beeping when it hits 0.3, she notes that the level of radiation during the course of a full day tour is equivalent to what you experience on an hour-long airplane flight (she says that the flight from Ukraine to London showed 2.82; to NY 3.91); 160 times less than a chest x-ray; 3600 times less than a whole body CT scan. It is even safe for pregnant women. The only ones not allowed are people under the age of 18, mainly because they cannot be legally prosecuted if they break rules, take out any of the rocks or disturb the soil (that could unleash damaging material).

(You can order a personal dosimeter “it will make your experience more enjoyable and memorable by making the radiation level visible and show your exact radiation dose at the end of the trip.)

 “It is so easy to set up the mood, the perception that visiting Chernobyl is risky. There are some hot spots on the ground– the size of a coin or tennis ball and the closer you come to it, the higher the radiation. But it can’t influence health because it would need long term exposure. Even if you measure a hot spot in the radiation zone, no place is high enough to risk health. The only place that would be dangerous would be inside unit, which is covered (double-sealed).

What could be risky hypothetically is the radioactive dust  (that give off alpha rays) that is still in ground have particles  –“ if you would dig it up or ingest it, that would cause dangerous exposure – so it is prohibited to dig or plant there.”

There is no restriction for pregnant woman if not prohibited to fly.

To take the tour, you are picked up in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, at 8 am for the 1 ½ hour bus ride. Over the course of a full day (the bus returns about 8-9 pm), you visit several sites.

The first stop is the village of Zalissya, which was the biggest in the area. “We are trying to tell not only about the accident but how people lived.”

Next the town of Chernobyl, which is 18 km from the powerplant (and not the ghost city that is so frequently pictured). People still occupy Chernobyl – scientists and foresters – who live there for 15 days a month in dormitory. “It is a unique place for research.” Visitors who do the overnight tours stay in hotels in Chernobyl.

There also are “self-resettlers” here and in other villages in the contamination zone – people who were evacuated after the accident “but sneaked back into the houses in the zone. They were homesick or had no place else to go.”

The accident took place in 1986, and many believe it contributed to the collapse of Soviet Union. “People stopped trusting government and the economy collapsed.”

She notes, “Nobody knows how many affected by Chernobyl explosion – the Soviet government tried to hide.”

The tour visits Radar Duga-1, a secret Soviet base known as Chernobyl 2 –which would have launched nuclear weapons. It is the only remaining antenna.

This reminds me of a documentary, “The Man who Saved the World,” about a Russian Lt. Colonel, Stanislav E. Petrov, who on September 26, 1983, despite radar showing the United States had launched nuclear missiles against Russia, refused to give the order to launch Russia’s missiles, literally saving the world from nuclear holocaust (for which he was disgraced and lost everything). No one knew of him for 25 years, but she knows of him. “He was a hero but not appreciated.” In that moment, I had such a sense of connection with this young woman from the Ukraine through our mutual knowledge and appreciation of Petrov.

The tour continues on to Kopachi Village which was buried under ground because there was too much radiation, but there are still some buildings (that’s where the famous photo of a kindergarten is from). You come up to the side of the power plant – 300 meters from the accident (but still, she says, 4x lower radiation than on an airplane.” 

Then the Red Forest, famous because it was consumed by the cloud. “We don’t go inside, but measure radiation.”

Then on to the famous ghost city of Prypat. This is not just where people lived – it had a population of 50,000  – but was a model city of the Soviet Union. The average age was 26 – every third person was a child. They were employees of plant. It was supposed to be model of the great Soviet life, if Communism would have worked.”

Chernobyl was biggest nuclear accident ever, but what does the whole world know? That there was an explosion, people died, it can’t be inhabited. But it is also a story of victory – of the mitigated areas.

All of this in one day, but there are multi-day tours, as well.

Every year 30% more people come on the tour (which is offered year round). Last year 70,000 people came (there are at least five tour companies, of which Chernobyl Tour is the largest.) Most take the one-day tour $89 – includes insurance, transfer, guard, permissions (can book day before, but it costs more).

There are also tours inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and other limited access facilities; airplane and helicopter tours over the Chernobyl Zone and Ukraine; military tours to the shooting ranges, rides on armored vehicles and visits to a nuclear missile base; underground tours in the drainage systems, subway, tunnels and caves, and sightseeing tours in Ukraine.

Chernobyl-Tour.UA, 11 Andriivskyi descent, Kyiv, Ukraine, tel. 888-752-0336 (US), www.Chernobyl-tour.com.

Americans Continue to Visit Cuba

Travel from the US to Cuba is expected to rebound in 2019 after declining in 2018 after Trump renewed restrictions on travel and issued a State Department warning. That didn’t deter visits from Canada, Europe and Russia, and visits to the island nation increased. Cruise arrivals continued to increase in 2018, and were expected to exceed 850,000, with 70% of the cruisegoers coming from the US. Travel companies continue to offer tours that meet the Trump requirements, and all forms of “purposeful” travel authorized by the Obama Administration remain in place (heritage, family, journalists).

Independent travel by individuals, families and friends is largely unchanged but now falls under the rewritten license category of “Support for the Cuban People” instead of “People to People.” But Americans are cautioned not to stay or use facilities that support the regime; staying homes (Air BnB), is okay. “Keep your receipts for five years,” a woman who traveled independently through Cuba in 2017 tells me.

“I used Air BnB, stayed with beautiful families, visited schools, brought school supplies,” Shay Pantone of NY, who traveled to Cuba in 2017, tells me, adding “You need to speak Spanish if you are going to travel independently.”

Despite the Trump Administration’s branding Cuba with a Level 2 travel advisory (“Exercise Increased Caution”), the same status as 57 other countries including 12 in the Americas and 7 in western Europe, Cuba is judged by most as one of the safest destinations in the region with less crime and disease.

How to go? The Fund for Reconciliation and Development (www.ffrd.org), a group that has been advocating for opening travel and overturning sanctions against Cuba for years, advises:

  • Book nonstop to Havana on Jet Blue from JFK or on United from Newark; American, Delta and southwest have connecting flights. American or Jet Blue flies from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Holguin, Varadero, Carnaguey and Santiago (from May 3).
  • Select “Support for the Cuban People” as the appropriate license category from the airline menu.
  • Use Air BnB or Trip Advisor to reserve a room or apartment (casa particular) from a private owner.
  • East in private restaurant (paladar)
  • Buy handicrafts, art and clothing from self-employed craftspeople and creators (cuento propistos).
  • If you need a guide, hire privately (preferably in advance)
  • As much as possible, use private taxis (also available between cities)
  • “Whatever you do, wherever you go, be intentional and responsible that your goal is ‘a full time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people.. and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.’ (The judgment of what qualifies is yours.)”
  • Apportion recreational activities like concerts, dancing and the beach as in a normal work week.
  • Keep a journal or list of your ‘meaningful interactions’ for five years.
  • If you are on a cruise, exercise your right to explore independently or with a local guide.

More information:

Current US government regulations: tinyurl.com/regsnov2017

Essential information for independent travelers: tinyurl.com/Cubabasics

Fund for Reconciliation and Development is offering a fam trip May 3-10 to explore Santiago and Guantanamo; and for Carnival, July 20-28.

Fund For Reconciliation and Development, 917-859-9027, director @ffrd.org, www.ffrd.org.

Safaris with Social Benefit

Zulu Nyala promotes animal conservation in its six-day, six night safari packages using four-star lodges, in its own safari park the family has had for 35 years. “The owner was out with his family and stopped to look at a giraffe, saw a for-sale sign, and bought 15,000 acres.” The park accommodates up to 300 guests in three lodges (50-units, 56 suites, 48 safari tents). The all-inclusive program is hosted by a game ranger and offers two activities a day (walking or driving). (www.zulunyala.com).

The organization also offers the opportunity for organizations to use the $6,000 safaris as a charity fundraiser – for example, starting the auction at $2500 for two for a six-night stay, where the organization keeps 50 percent and gives the safari company 50%.

“There’s no money or risk on the part of the organization; we’ve been doing it for 15 years, and supported hundreds of American organizations.” (Contact Debbie Bosman, African Safari Donations, 800-595-5810, www.safarisforcharity.com, bosman@zulunyala.com).

Off Season Adventures: The idea here is to safari in Tanzania and Zanzibar off-season, when there are fewer people, it is less expensive, while also supporting local communities. The company reserve 5% of clients’ total package cost to invest in the communities and wildlife through a 501(c)(3) public charity Second Look Worldwide.  “These community and environmental investments are tangible projects which our clients can see during their trip. All projects are determined by the communities and dependent on their most direct needs, however, we are focusing on projects that support water management solutions. Our goal is to become a sustainable, net-positive travel company by replacing and building up all resources used by our clients during their tours.”

The company’s first community initiative, the Kakoi Water Project , is a project that will provide a year-round source of water to the village of Kakoi and its surrounding communities, which include three other villages, two schools, and a dispensary. “By supporting these local communities that border Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, we contribute to their well-being and encourage them to make an extra effort to protect animals in the area.”  The tours include an excursion to the Kakoi Water Project. Visitors get to visit a relative of theirs – go into hut, gather honey, seeds, roots, experience how live.

Off Season Adventures not only times its safaris in Tanzania and Zanzibar in the off-season when there are fewer people, it is less expensive and less stressful for villagers and wildlife, but also allocates 5% of tour price to support local community; this year, supporting the Kakoi Water Project to provide a year-round source of water for the 1000 people of the Kakoi Village and surrounding villages, and brings its guests to see it.

The tour company also offsets all carbon emissions through a partnership with Carbon Tanzania, which conserves huge tracks of forested land in Tanzania, a more productive way of offsetting carbon.  “To date, we have offset 83.84 metric tons of CO2 and protected 69 trees by helping Carbon Tanzania preserve 35,000ha of forest in the Yaeda Valley, an area that the Hadzabe tribe have called home for thousands of years. This way of offsetting not only has a positive environmental impact, but also has a positive impact on the local population of the Hadzabe.”

“Travel has the power to transform not only the traveler, but also our world. This belief forms the foundation of our business. We have a deep commitment to protecting and preserving the destinations we visit, and building a better world through sustainable travel.

“We believe in integrating sustainability into all components of our business. We are committed to providing experiences that have a positive impact on the environment, community, and economy of each destination visited. We work closely with our local partners to ensure that travelers are respectfully visiting in a way that showcases authentic experiences.”

(Off-Season Adventures, 100 Marshall Street #416, Hoboken, NJ 07030, 619-971-0823, offseasonadventures.com). 

Tours by Locals

Tours by Locals has now grown to a network of 3100 independent-contractor guides. The company facilitates the trend toward independent, “authentic,” experiential travel. The company marked a milestone: 10 years and 1 million travelers. You can find a guide for Vietnam ($50 US for 8 hours private, with car; less if walking or cycling city). The most northerly guide in the registry now is in Svalbord, Norway (where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located); the newest is in Mogadishu, Somalia (the guide comes with security); and there is an uptick in requests for guides in Cuba.

Israel for Foodies

I found it intriguing that Israel was the sponsor of the Taste of Travel section for the second year. Israel, after all, is not top-of-mind for cuisine. 

“Israel has wonderfully diverse gastronomic. We have James Beard Award-winning chefs,” Chad Martin, Northeast Region Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.israel.travel), says. “Israel is 70 years old- we now have fourth and fifth generation Israelis. Israel is a pot that hasn’t melted – In Israel, you might have four grandparents from different ends of the earth: Argentina, Morocco, Russia, East Asia – all Jewish and intermarrying. They borrow the best recipes from every grandparent, the spices mix together

What is Israeli food? “Israeli food is a mix of 70 cultures. The combination of cultures and innovation together – Israel, after all, is the Innovation Nation with the most start-ups.- it has a culture of creativity and that manifests in the food. We invented the cherry tomato. We’ve made numerous innovations in agriculture – we made the desert bloom, and there, things grow sweeter.

“The Israeli food scene is based around fresh ingredients. We are the size of New Jersey but have our own vegetables.”

At the New York Times Travel Show, Israel shows off its diversified offerings for travelers beyond heritage and pilgrimage experiences, from culinary to adventuring © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Culinary experience is just one of the ways Israel is reaching out beyond the most traditional sources of visitors- Jewish Heritage and Christian Pilgrimage. For the first time, Israel surpassed 1 million visitors from the North America, posting 42% growth over a two-year period. People are coming for food and wine experiences, meetings and incentives, even adventure and outdoors travel – mountain biking in the Negev where the country’s first Six Senses resort is opening and a new airport is opening in Eilat. Hikers can travel Trail Israel – it takes a month – and kayak in the grottoes of Rosh HaNikra, a geologic formation on the border between Israel and Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea coast in the Western Galilee.

“40% of our visitors are returnees, but not just for heritage, but because they realize that can’t really ‘do Israel’ in one trip. The ‘sophisticated travel’ segment has skyrocketed.”

The New York Times Travel Show brings culture from around the world to entice travelers to discover © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show, now in its 16th year, is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, hosting 10,000 travel professionals during a Travel Industry Conference, and some 22,000 travelers at Consumer Seminars, Meet The Experts Pavilion and an interactive Exhibition with more than 600 exhibitors representing travel to all seven continents, positioned within 16 pavilions (including Adventure, Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, Caribbean, Cruise, Europe, Family, Global, Latin America, L.G.B.T.Q., Mexico, River Cruise, Travel Products, and U.S.A. Pavilions). In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provides educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals and couples and seniors.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

NYT Travel Show: ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die’ Author Shares 20 Favorites for 2019

Iceland, Land of the Midnight Sun, offers other-worldly scenery and is on “1000 Places” Author Patricia Schultz list of recommended places for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Patricia Schultz, author of the New York Times best-seller, “1000 Places to See Before You Die” offered up some 20 of her favorites to consider for 2019 in her talk, “Global Travel Experiences” at the New York Times Travel Show.

In writing her book, though, she said, “I started off with 100 drop-dead places” but was encouraged to increase the number to 1000. It took 8 years to write the book.

 “I did all the homework. Are these your favorite 1000? Probably not. You may ask, ‘How will I ever see all 1000?’ But it’s not about seeing all 1000, it’s having those places that resonate, talk to you, realize that this is place you’ve always heard about, or never knew existed.”

Despite skepticism of how the book would be received, within days of publication, the book shot up to #1 on the New York Times best seller list. “And to prove I am still alive, I gave myself the gift of travel. I don’t need a special occasion.” But she notes that it was a landmark birthday, “so with a friend I went to Machu Picchu.”

Machu Picchu – You fly from Lima to Cuzco to see the Lost City, 11,000 ft above sea level. The risk here is altitude sickness. “I was cocky. All that mata de coca stuff in the lobby didn’t work. So I’m sitting with an oxygen mask in the lobby, and  engaged in conversation with a woman from Newark celebrating her 90th birthday with her first passport stamp. She spoke of having dropped out of school at age 11 during the Great Depression, put four children through university as a washerwoman – one became an attorney, another a gynecologist. As a gift for her 90th she told me, ‘Perhaps you heard of it, 1000 Places.’ They gave me a magic marker to highlight any place and they would send me.’”  Edith with her husband of 70 years gave me two wonderful quotes: ‘Your knees have expiration dates’ (and she was on her second set of replacements, titanium); and ‘You need to do the difficult places first.’”

Scotland: Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides Islands– brooding, romantic, often misty, green (it rains a lot). Of the islands off Scotland’s west coast, one is connected by bridge. Skye is only 50 miles north to south – incredible to hike. There’s a whisky trail (The Scots love whisky); a castle trail. Edinburgh. Take the train from London– wild, unexpectedly beautiful. Edinburgh has one of best performing arts festivals in world, Edinburgh Arts Festival. Part of it is the Military Tattoo –tickets are hard to come by – there are drummers, bagpipers from all over the Commonwealth around the world, who perform at night in front of Edinburgh Castle.

Iceland’s main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe with just 125,000 people but that’s still about half the entire country’s population © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Iceland is only about 5 hours flight (about as long as it takes to drive out to the Hamptons on Long Island’s eastern shore from New York City- Icelandic Air has discounted fares – often you can stay days or a week in Iceland enroute to/from 20 cities in Europe.  The main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe, just 125,000 people but the entire country has a population of just 300,000, and most live in the southwest corner. Icelanders are unusual people, highly literate, cultured, well traveled, speak English. The scenery is other-worldly.

Iceland is probably best known for Northern Lights, a celestial spectacle, sublime and surreal. Vikings, Iceland’s indigenous people, always had an explanation for the spectacular display of lights that can last 5 minutes or 5 hours – green, blue – if you haven’t seen it, you have to. You can take Northern Lights packages – but stay at least 4 nights because they don’t happen all the time, you can’t guarantee.  In summer, you don’t see the Northern Lights; instead, you have the Midnight Sun.

(Hurtigruten offers a Northern Lights cruise through Norway – if you don’t see the Northern Lights, they reimburse you.)

St. Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the czars of Russia, St. Petersburg big port of call on Baltic cruises – second most popular European cruise (after Mediterranean and you don’t need to be 90) – visit Scandinavian cities, northern European – Taillin, Estonia, Gdansk in northern Poland – we sailed out of Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, sailed east then north up to St. Petersburg – so much to see, you get 5-8 hrs in ports, but in St. Petersburg, you overnight up to 3 days. The Winter Palace is grand – best known as the home of the Hermitage Art Collection (one of the three top art museums in the world, with Le Louvre in Paris and Metropolitan Museum in New York). The Heritage Museum, Russia’s Louvre, is one of world’s richest repositories of art. It holds the Guinness Book of Records for most paintings of any museum – most are stored in the basement . The crowds are crazy.

Bruges, Belgium is Brussels in miniature. Everyone goes to London, Paris, Berlin, fly into capital cities and sometimes that’s all you see – which gives you a distorted idea of a country. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a beautiful city but less than one hour by high-speed train (travel throughout Europe by train, makes Amtrak look medieval, embarrassing) from Brussels is Bruges. People go for a few hours, for lunch, the museums. It’s very picturesque.  Bruges was the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy in 15th century – the Venice of the north, a little Amsterdam also built on canals. Bruges is less than 2 hours from Amsterdam. Everything you experience in big cities like Brussels experience here.

Amsterdam: The canals in Amsterdam are 400 years old, a UNESCO World Heritage site. People think of cafes, marijuana, red light district. Amsterdam is so much more. I visited on an AMA Waterways river cruise that starts in Amsterdam, cruises on the Amstel River that connects with Rhine. The Christmas market season is magical. A walking tour of the Red Light District is fascinating; the district has changed generation to generation; there is much to be learned. 

Venice” taking advantage of nighttime hours to visit the Doge Palace in San Marco Square, you feel you have this extraordinary art, this spectacular space to yourself. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Venice, Italy – I took one of my first trips to Europe for ancestral purposes, to discover my roots – that’s a real thing, to explore your background, heritage, the reasons, traditions you grew up with. My mother was not from Venice, but from Puglia (on the heel of boot; Venice in northeast corner of ‘boot’ on a Peninsula). Venice was the seat of government; the Doge ruled this maritime republic that reached to Asia. San Marco was where the Doge lived and ruled; he built a cathedral to house St Mark’s bones, “borrowed” during the Crusades from the Holy Land. The Basilica of St. Mark was built over 1000 years ago – it’s not the oldest church in Italy but one of the most magnificent. It looks Byzantine, Arabesque because it was fashioned after Sophia in Constantinople. 

Istanbul, Turkey – rising above the chaos, where East meets West. There are other bi-continental countries (Russia), but Istanbul is the only city in the world that is bi-continental with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. Istanbul was a prime, super important hub on the Silk Road for millennia –merchants came with goods from China on their way to the Mediterranean and Venice – then loaded up European treasures to bring back. Over time, this commerce between East and West also resulted in an exchange of religion, ideology, DNA, cuisine, language, culture, everything imaginable. Built in the 6th century to spread Christianity (what was America was doing then?), Hagia Sophia was the inspiration for the Basilica St Marks in Venice. Today, it is no longer a cathedral or basilica; Ottomans stripped it of its Christian-ness and converted it into a mosque. The Muslims plastered the Christian frescoes over but did not destroy them, so some have been restored, so today, you can still see the fresco of Virgin Mary. Ataturk (who founded Turkey) made it into a museum, but it is still imbued with a spirituality; Muslims and Christians still pray here. Turkey has an incredible food scene, both traditional and contemporary. 

In Morocco, ride a camel at sunset into the Sahara desert where you overnight in a tented camp © David Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marrakesh, Morocco is an everyday carnival at the heart of the Medina – Morocco is so much fun, offering Islamic welcome and history. Most Americans believe Morocco is in the Middle East, but in fact is in North Africa. One of the best food markets, Jenna el Fna Square, happens in the evening in Marrakesh (overly loved by tourists); from 5-6 pm, they set up the stalls – a lot of vendors sell the same secret ingredient specialty, 6 generations. You can smell bbq, couscous for miles. Atlas Mountains and Sahara – you travel like Bedouins by camels and can spend the night in a tented camp. One night is fine in the desert under the stars. 

Lalibela, Ethiopia –Ethiopia is known for coffee, who knew Ethiopia was Christian? St George, one of the most photographed and best known, is one of 11 medieval churches in Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, built underground. You go down 3 flights of stairs to the entrance –columns, vaulted ceilings, each column different, all one piece of stone, dating from the 11-12th century. How were they built? They say it was built by a legion of angels. This is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ethiopia. You will also find some of nicest people. Coffee regions are lush – beautiful countryside – thought would be dusty scenes – but large parts lush. Very mountainous – Simien Mountains are among the highest in Africa; Simien National Park in Northern Ethiopia is a World Heritage Center site (simienpark.org)

Most go to Africa for the safari experience (“safari” is the Swahili word for “journey” ) – the big 5 Safari Countries: Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia.

In the Botswana’s Okavango Delta, you can go safari by mocoro canoe © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Okavango Delta, Botswana –is an incomparable wildlife oasis, one of the best places for safari– irresistible for many reasons, especially wildlife – Okavango Delta is the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site – people danced in the streets when it was designated 3-4 yrs ago. You go into the Delta – a territory the size of Switzerland –in  dugout canoes the locals make. This is the only place in Africa where you can go safari by canoe or walking with armed guard and trackers (most places go by open top jeep). If you see 10% of what sees you, it’s a good day.

Mountain Gorillas of Uganda – It’s not cheap, just to get there to see the mountain gorillas of Uganda. Daily permits cost $600. There are three neighborhing countries (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) where gorillas – who don’t know national borders – wander through, but pretty much stay put. The three countries together understand gorilla tourism is a big thing – accommodations are modest, fine – but it is about experience. For $600, you get a million dollar experience. The gorillas are not easy to find, but that’s what trackers do early in the morning, and report by walkie talkie or cellphone that they have found family x. The gorilla families are habituated to homo sapiens.  When they find a family is habituated enough, they allow you to sit with them for one hour. You sit and eat in the company of our closest relative (we share 98% of the same DNA). A Silverback can grow to be 500-600 pounds, they can be up to 6 ft tall. Males communicate with grunts and groans (but not us, lest we give the wrong signal or message). Uganda is spectacularly beautiful – Winston Churchill called it the  ‘Pearl of Africa’ and Ugandans even among Africans are known to be the friendliest.

The world’s three monotheistic faiths converge in Jerusalem © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Jerusalem, Israel – transcending time, place and faith. So many have been to Israel but if I had a dime for every time people ask, Isn’t it dangerous? We live in America – if you’ve looked at statistics of gun violence, worse off here than in Israel – all kinds of statistics that more likely to encounter risk in your bathroom – I just say go. World is big, wide, possibilities are endless, wonders are countless, and you won’t have the same experience if you just sit and watch beautiful documentaries. Get up, get out and do and visit the Holy Land. Regardless of your religion or inclination, the history is amazing –this is the only piece of real estate equally revered by three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. One of the most photographed sites in Israel is the Wailing Wall. Also the Church of Sepulcher, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified; the Golden Dome revered by Muslims. Israel is quite small (size of New Jersey); there is a new high speed train from Tel Aviv (like South Beach on the Mediterranean) to Jerusalem.

Petra, Jordan – the Pink City is half as old as time. Just across the border from Israel is another holy city, more and more visited in the last 10 years. Petra hit its stride during the Arab Spring, then tourism came to a standstill. Petra is mentioned in the Old Testament 2000 years ago. It was on the trade caravan route – and had water – so caravans laden with incense, frankincense, myrrh – spices found almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula, sold throughout Europe and worth its weight in gold – would stop in Petra and be taxed heavily by Nabataeans who were fabulously wealthy. Petra is actually 100 sq miles – you hike, go by mule (it’s 110 degrees), follow a mile-long sikh (natural alleyway) from 3-4 story high cliffs, that open up to reveal the Treasury. Most people visit for 2-3 hours and go back to Amman or Wadi Rum – like our Red Rock Country – and down to Aqaba (Lawrence of Arabia Country, center of Arab revolt). But if you stay overnight, you can go back in the evening, the place lit by votive candles, and hear Bedouin musicians perform.

Samarkabnd, Uzbekistan –another timeless caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road. Of the 5 “stans,” Uzbekistan is the best. Tashkent, the capital, is actually very modern in a Dubai way – crazy architecture, lots of money – but there are corners of the capital that are locked in time. Cities like Samarkand which were stops along the Silk Road, are some of the oldest inhabited cities – the tiles you see are remarkable – but what knocked us over was the hospitality of the people. They have been welcoming foreigners –  wide eyed and fascinated – for thousands of years. It’s an exciting time to visit and not just for all the architecture, but for the food and the exchange of culinary traditions over millennia.

Mongolia – across the Steppes in the path of Genghis Khan. There is one asphalt road. The people live in white tented gers (yurt), which they roll up to follow the herd to the next place. The nomadic herdsman culture goes back to Genghis Khan – they say one out of three Mongolians has Genghis Khan’s DNA (Genghis Khan now rock star reputation). Mongolia has eternal blue sky – Montana on steroids – countryside is open, untrammeled – people have very hard scrabble life – winters are harsh – snow, horrific sub-zero weather but still live in yurts.

Kerala India – backwater lagoons with highland plantations – India has 39 states –a big country with a population of 1 billion –  but most tourists confine their visit to Rajasthan (the Taj Mahal in Agra, Jaipur). But this time, I went to Kerala in the south – you have to go. Kerala has the highest rate of literacy in India – this corner of India is very cultured – feels different – very hot, humid, and looks like Sri Lanka (which is nearby) – the highest population of Christianity but predominantly Hindu – also has one of the oldest Jewish communities in Asia, in Cochin (the traditional account is that traders of Judea arrived in Cochin in 562 BCE and more came as exiles after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE). This place is what Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus were looking for when they were searching for a maritime route to India, what Henry Hudson was looking for when he wound up in Albany (de Gama found the route to India on his 1497-1499 voyage). Everything is wild here. The highlands have some of the largest tea and coffee plantations, and spices from here (black pepper was gold) made their way into the cuisine. They say there are 100 kinds of curries from coconut here. The backwaters offer hundreds of miles of lagoon labyrinth. You fly into Fort Cochin – we arrived in Tamil Nadu – on the triangular tip of southeast Asia.

Kyoto, Japan –It is surprisingly easy to get around Japan independently, but if you are concerned about language, go with a group.  But the independent experience is such a different thing. Especially in Japan, which is so safe.  We think New York City is big but it’s a village compared to Tokyo, with 33 million people, but one of safest, friendliest – if you like big cities you will love, Tokyo. But you get on the Bullet train to Kyoto, small by comparison – just 1 million people. Kyoto is a city of ancient temples and gardens amidst a modern cityscape – among the most important, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Everyone comes for shrines, temples (2000) – Inari, Shinto Shrine to saki, rice, business (mushed together) – magical – Kyoto also home to thriving geisha community, remarkable cuisine.

Sa Pa Vietnam – On the northernmost border with China – Yunan – over 30 ethnic hill tribes live in a concentration you don’t find in China.  

Ubud, Indonesia – of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, Bali is the most visited– Australians go to Bali like we go to the Jersey Shore – package deals, spring breaks, bachelor parties. But leave Bali behind and go to the interior, to Ubud – predominantly Hindu – beyond the beaches on the island of the gods.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

NYT Travel Show: Pauline Frommer’s Picks for Best Places to Go in 2019 – and They’re Not the Most Famous

The Douro River Valley in Portugal, one of the oldest wine regions, should be on travelers’ lists, travel expert Pauline Frommer  tells the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

What places will be really exciting in 2019, unusually inexpensive, or offering special celebrations – in other words, that should be on the list to travel in 2019?

At the New York Times Travel Show, renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer offered her picks – notably they are alternatives to the most heavily trafficked places that are top-of-mind these days:

Austral Islands, Tahiti: inexpensive to get there now – air fare is low thanks to the arrival of an upstart carrier, French Bee, going directly from California to Tahiti, driving down fares on  competitors.  But once you get to Tahiti, she advises, don’t go to the popular Moorea or Bora Bora, where you will spend $400-500/night for a hotel on the beach. Instead, go to Austral Islands –you fly into Papeete and most take a short hop, 45 minutes to Moorea or Bora Bora; instead, it takes 1 hr 15 for Austral Islands).

“You will see Tahiti as when [the artist Paul] Gauguin was there – totally undeveloped – there are not even hotels, you stay in a local guest house –a main house and a lot of bungalows on the beach where you pay $75-100/night, where there are incredible caves to explore, rich Tahitian culture – but you will pay 30-40% less than just a year ago.”

Matera, Italy: A city in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy, Matera is one of longest continually inhabited places on earth. People have been living in the caves here since 7000 BC. It looks as if it is from the Biblical era – which is why Mel Gibson filmed “Temptation of Christ” here, and other biblical tv and movies filmed here.

“It’s a real success story. In the 1950s, Matera represented everything that was going wrong with Italy. Carlo Levi wrote a famous memoir, “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” about the area, the deep poverty that the south of Italy was living in. In Matera, people lived in caves with no electricity, plumbing, their livestock in the caves. As a result, the Italian government intervened, pulled people out of caves, and created a new city for them. Then in the 1980s, entrepreneurs came in and repurposed the caves to boutique hotels. This year there will be even more visitors because Matera will be one of two European cities of culture – 1000 artists will descend on Matera to create site-specific operas, dance, music. It will be so exciting to get there.”

“The government was supposed to create high speed rail from Rome to Matera, but, this being Italy, they didn’t, so it is a little difficult to get there. But there you will find warm people, great food, and an art scene this year.”

Olympic National Park –there is overtourism elsewhere in America’s national treasures, our national parks, but Olympic National Park is under-touristed. “It’s the size of state of Rhode Island but 95% of it has no roads. You get to the edges of park. To go deeper, there will be in pristine wilderness, two hours from Seattle. You will find glacial covered peaks, 70 miles of undeveloped coastline (the most in lower US), primordial rainforests with thick sweaters of moss, trees 300 feet tall – you feel as if there should be a dinosaur clomping through – so under-touristed. Rain – they get 16 feet of rain per year – that’s how moss gets so thick – but you can stay close by, in Sequim, one of driest places in the US (its lavender farms make it the Provence of US, the air scented with lavender). If you go to Washington State, visit Olympic National Park.”

Pousada do Porto, Freixo Palace Hotel, in Porto © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Estrada Nacional 2 Portugal:  “This is Portugal’s Route 66. Portugal is on the rise, everyone wants to go there. It has the cheapest prices in Western Europe, restaurants and hotels, gorgeous things to see and do. Estrada Nacional 2 goes north to south through Portugal’s interior – you see less visited places like medieval villages in the mountains, where you can visit farmers – cheese, wool – and wolves howl at night; the Douro River Valley, one of oldest wine regions in Europe. Spend a night in a 15th century quinta (manor house); visit ancient gothic houses, university cities. In many places you will see places slathered with gold. This is because in the 17th century, Portugal was the most important on earth in wealth, bringing galleons of gold from the New World, so you see gold slathered all over churches. Then, in 1755, Portugal had bad luck – a major earthquake stopped development, then, in the 20th century, Portugal was under the control of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. It had the deepest poverty in Europe, the worst rate of infant death rate in 1950s-60s. Then, after 1968, Portugal emerged from cloud – but is still not as developed as other parts of Europe, so feels more preserved. Do this wonderful road trip.”

New York State: “New York State is one of best places to go in 2019. There are all the glorious nature sites – Finger Lakes; Lake George (free music festivals in September, fireworks Thursday, dino themepark opening); the state has the most ski resorts of any state in the nation. But the reason we picked it as a top place in 2019 is that there are so many new developments.”

The Nest, one of the new attractions (under construction and due to open in 2019), located near the popular Highline and Javits Convention Center, along with special celebrations in New York City and around the state make New York one of the top destinations for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In New York City, Hudson Yards, just across from the Javits Center in Manhattan, is a little controversial but will be catnip to tourists – in middle ‘The Nest’ – opening in April –you climb over it (which will likely be as popular as the fabulously popular Highline). There’s an arts center, The Shed, on wheels so artists can decide whether artwork should be seen inside or outside. Soon it will have going to have tallest observation deck in the hemisphere where you look down.

Jackie Robinson Museum, an 18,500 sq. ft museum at 75 Varick Street, in lower Manhattan, scheduled to open in spring2019.

2019 World Pride, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall uprising, taking place in June, is expected to draw millions of visitors to the city, and throughout the state. “There is a rumor Madonna will be performing; Niagara Falls will be decorated with rainbow colored lights. It will be amazing time.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, with two concerts, one by the original producers (not in the original place) and another in the original place with a mix of old/new artists.

Walt Whitman is turning 200, with exhibitions and commemorations, centered on “where it all began,” in Huntington, NY, with events throughout the year, but special birthday celebration on May 31: Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday! (246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746, www.waltwhitman.org).

Singapore is a huge movie star with “Crazy Rich Asians.” Singapore also has extraordinary cutting age architecture: “Super Trees” which are vertical gardens, with live plants growing along side and solar panels for energy. “People forget this is a culturally rich small nation, settled by people from Malaysia, China, India – a mix of cultures – little Indias, mosques, temples, museums to all the cultures, fabulous food (the only Michelin 4-star restaurant where you can get a meal for $1.50 – it’s actually a food stand in one of hawker centers). If you ever wanted to go to Singapore this is the year: commemorating milestones: Raffles, man who came and claimed Singapore, 200 years ago, exhibitions, in context of longer Singaporean history, culture.

Some trends that will shape travel in 2019:

Chinese New Year in Chinatown, New York City – the rise of 100 million travelers from China are changing the economics of travel around the Chinese New Year, no longer a “low season” for pricing, availability. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese tourism: Last year, 137 million Chinese travelers left China to venture to other parts of world. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimates their average spending double the international average, so the travel industry is bending over backwards to make Chinese tourists happy – hotels are replacing alcohol bars with tea bars, using feng shui design. This trend will affect Americans negatively by changing the seasons of travel: For example, January-February had been low season everywhere in the world (where you could expect low rates and few crowds), but that’s Chinese New Year, the time when Chinese go out to travel. That means  you will see spikes instead of dips in January-February around New Year, and around Golden Week, in September.

Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Travel experts like Pauline Frommer fear such places are being “over loved” – there were more Americans visiting Iceland than Icelanders – and suggest some alternatives to “overtourism. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overtourism is a significant problem. “There are places that are over-loved,” she says, offering suggestions for alternatives:

Instead of Barcelona, travel to Girona, Figueres, Roses

Faroe Islands instead of Iceland (last year, there were more Americans in Iceland than Icelanders)

Komodo instead of Bali

Similan Islands of Thailand instead of Maya Bay (made popular by Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, ‘The Beach,’ the government closed it to protect it from overtourism)

Choquequirao instead of Machu Picchu

Rovijn instead of Dubrovnik

Basilicat et Puglia instead of Cinque Terre et Amalfi Coast

“A lot of tour operators are working with this. They understand the problem”  that if a destination is overrun, the very thing that people are coming to experience will be destroyed, so are pushing clients to travel different times of year. “There are many more tours to Japan in the dead of winter – much of what there is to do is indoors, anyway, and it is wonderful to go to the baths in winter. (fyi: You won’t be able to use the baths if you have a tattoo, the mark of Mafia).”

The Frommers host a regular radio show, publish their famous guides and produce an outstanding travel site, Frommers.com.

See also: New York Times Travel Show: Pauline Frommer Offers Sage Advice to Satisfy Wanderlust

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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