Sunday, December 29, 2013

Travel Mistletoe for Any Season: Five spots to steal a kiss

This piece appeared in the December, 2013 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

Whether you are a legendary lothario or unlucky in love, stealing a kiss at the right moment can go a long way towards wooing your sweetheart. But the right moment has just as much to do with location as it does with romance. Sometimes snagging a quick snog starts by picking the right spot.  

During holiday season, tradition has thrown the bumbling lover a helpful assist in the form of mistletoe, those little sprigs of foliage tacked to doorjambs that demand passers-by stop for a smooch. Perhaps there aren’t too many single people finding their soulmate by getting ambushed by lip-locks anymore. Mistletoe for most may be relegated to polite, slightly embarrassing pecks on the cheek from acquaintances at holiday parties.

But that does not mean spontaneous romance is dead. On the contrary, it exists in abundance in special locations around the globe; not in a weed nailed to a doorjamb, but at fairytale castles, in aromatic gardens and atop stunning vantage points.

These are travel’s own version of mistletoe – those unexpectedly romantic spots that set the mood with inherent romanticism. And the best part is, they work all year round. Watching a sunset from a car riding on the highway is a traffic nuisance. But step onto a secluded beach, hand in hand with your significant other, and that sunset becomes the universe’s most powerful aphrodisiac.

The tradition of mistletoe began in Europe, with several origin stories bouncing around history and mythology. Fitting, then, are the countless spots around Europe that carry on this tradition of romance twelve months a year. 

It is no secret that Europe is home to some of the most romantic cities in the world. They pay homage to love in one way or another, from ruined temples dedicated to the god of love to padlocks adorning bridges in a symbol of devotion. Romance is equated with a gondola ride along a Venice canal, or a moonlight stroll along the banks of the Seine.

The clichés of love abound in Europe. But the best spots are the unexpected ones. Your significant other should be just as surprised by the place’s romantic atmosphere as he or she is with your ability to harness it.

Whether you’re looking to pop the question, spice up your honeymoon or just surprise your sweetheart, finding the perfect place is easy to do in Europe, if you know where to look. These five European destinations are a good start.


Verona, Italy is home to the most famous tale of star-crossed lovers ever written: Romeo and Juliet. The city has embraced the love by promoting several tourist locations with connections to the tale. The most well known is Juliet’s famed balcony from which she listened to Romeo sing her praises.

To get to Juliet’s balcony you squeeze through a crowded tunnel covered with love notes, mostly to the eponymous maiden. What looks like graffiti at first glance, begins to set the mood at closer look.

In the far corner of the connecting courtyard, a statue of Juliet stares demurely at the passers by, many of them copping a feel of her breast (they say it is supposed to be good luck). The petite statue stands underneath the famous balcony.

But it’s not until you enter the home and ascend the stairs toward the balcony that the scene becomes more surreal. Standing out on the balcony affords you the opportunity to recite a few poorly remembered lines from William Shakespeare’s play and spend a special, yet fleeting, moment with your special someone. But the moment is torn away after a quick snapshot and the next couple replaces you.

The real romantic spot is back before you arrived at the actual balcony. As you make your way through the house, find the windows that look down upon the courtyard and the balcony. Perhaps a touch voyeuristic, the real whimsy of this place opens up from this vantage point. Couple after couple will appear on the balcony, smiling arm in arm. From here, you can’t help but feel the love.


The village of Fussen, Germany is home to one of the world’s most famous castles, but you may not know it. Walt Disney modeled his Cinderella Castle after the masterpiece that is Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig’s summer residence is perched high up on a rocky outcrop overlooking the stunning Bavarian countryside.

Everyone dreams of a castle like this when they are young. We all wonder what it would be like to be the valiant prince or beautiful princess, living in extravagance with the royals.

But as charming as the castle itself is, with spires and towers just begging for a damsel in distress, it is not the most romantic spot in the area. As you climb up the path to the castle, keep on going right by it and trek farther to Mary’s Bridge. This skinny walkway traverses the massive gorge cutting behind the castle. From high above Neuschwanstein, the entire castle soaks up the panorama. From here, the fairytale becomes as real as it ever could, evoking your own personal “happily ever after.”


To put Paris, a city synonymous with romance, on a list of unexpectedly romantic spots would seem trite. But don’t underestimate the City of Light. Paris can still turn a few tricks, and not just at Moulin Rouge.
The Rodin Museum, dedicated to the works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin, is home to some of the most stunning and famous pieces of artwork in history. Rodin’s Gates of Hell and The Thinker rest outside in an exquisite garden. At first glance, the writhing figures on pieces like the Gates of Hell do not elicit a romantic feeling. But let the garden draw you in, with bursts of color from flowers and roses offsetting the dulled bronze worked by Rodin’s hands.

It might be the flowers, it might be the thoughtfulness of The Thinker, or it might be the entangled (mostly naked) bodies in the other sculptures, but the garden here certainly has the potential for temptation, and the opportunity for you to create your own romantic masterpiece.


Classical music pours from every window in Salzburg, Austria, giving everyone in the city a giddy step. Utilizing that bit of extra energy is necessary to explore this mountain town, its rows of churches, courtyards and gardens, and the looming ridge that runs like a backbone behind the old town.

Up along the ridge, the Hohensalzburg Fortress sits every bit the patriarch, hulking over the cliffside. The fortress is a symbol of strength, fortitude and stability; virtues any lover would want to embody. Not to mention, the view from up there is extraordinary. The only problem is, you can’t see the fortress itself.

A short walk along the ridge brings you to the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art, which sits just as high. The museum has a wide patio right along the cliff affording views of the river, the shining spires and, of course, the fortress off in the distance. At dusk, the sun glints off the river and ridge, imbuing the rooftops, the green turrets and the steely spires with deep amber orange. It’s enough to make you burst into you favorite Sound of Music song. A better option, though, is to steal a kiss and enjoy the breathtaking vista.

Cliffs of Moher

Danger gets the juices flowing. One step towards the edge of Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher on the western side of the country, will get your blood pumping with excitement. The thumps continue from the exquisite natural beauty before you. Emerald green grass runs to the very edge and spills over into oblivion, nothing but air between it and the sea spray crashing against the cliffs below.

Your stomach lurches as you peer over the edge; reminiscent of a similar feeling of falling – into love, perhaps? Wind gusts sling across the top of the cliffs like arrows from Cupid’s bow. The scene naturally drives people towards each other.

There is something powerful about the Cliffs of Moher, something almost mythological. Throw in the unavoidable fact that as visitors to the Emerald Isle, there’s a good chance you’ve been imbibing in a few pints of Guinness, and inhibitions may be thrown in the wind. It all adds up to a perfect and unexpected opportunity to pull your lover back from the edge and hold on tight.

The truth is, travel mistletoe can be anywhere in any season, if you take advantage of the opportunity. Many of us travel to get closer to other people around the world. Nobody ever said the person you get closest to, can’t be the one you brought with you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Provincetown year-round

The malasadas are reason enough to drive out to Provincetown. But these warm hunks of sugary, fried dough at the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery disappear when the store shuts down for the off-season.

Fortunately, there are many reasons to visit this seaside destination that don’t rely on the summer season, making a road trip to the tip of Cape Cod a sweet proposition any time of year. 

Like many beach towns, Provincetown’s vibrant, eclectic and active summer atmosphere cools off with the weather. The town stays busy enough, but is noticeably calmer and with fewer crowds than during peak season. This translates into little waiting at the best restaurants, vacancy at inns and hotels, and a meditative peace permeating the beach dunes. Even the drive out along Cape Cod, which many people dread during summer months due to traffic, becomes a leisurely ride through classic seaside towns.

In the midst of holiday season stress and New England winter woes, it is easy to see why Provincetown is a relaxing haven.

Even before you reach Provincetown proper, several nearby treasures set the stage for leisure and romance.

Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod, about ten minutes away from Provincetown, is one such place. Truro offers wine tastings and tours at its vineyard location but will close for the winter on Monday, December 16. Until then, the vineyard makes for a nice stop en route to, or away from your weekend getaway. This local, family-owned and operated company produces quality wines, such as the crisp and refreshing Diamond White. Reminiscent of summer, a few glasses can warm even the chilliest of winter evenings.

After the winery closes for the season, Truro’s wines can be found in stores throughout the region and also ordered online ( Adding a little whimsy and local flare to their stock, Truro features several vintages in a lighthouse-shaped bottle, in both clear and blue-colored glass.

One of the top reasons to visit Provincetown in any season is its classic New England beachfront.

Race Point Beach is part of the larger Cape Cod National Seashore, which is run by the National Park Service. Accessible right off of Route 6, Race Point Road is the scenic two-mile drive through a beach forest, complete with windswept oak and beech trees, dunes and foliage. It connects to other scenic roads or ends at a parking lot from which you can walk to the sand.

On crisp days there is a unique beauty in the dunes and widespread flats of Race Point Beach. Located opposite downtown on the other side of the peninsula, this classic, sprawling Cape Cod beach transforms into a barren, naked lunarscape when the summer sun tanners have gone. Only waves, seabirds or a frosty ocean breeze break the silence here. An occasional strolling couple will stop to sit on an oversized piece of driftwood, perhaps waiting for the early sunset or weighty winter moon to bathe the tableau in ethereal lights and colors.

Closer to downtown, where the curvature of the Cape Cod tip curls in towards Provincetown Harbor, is the Breakwater Walk or Provincetown Causeway. The straight shot of massive stones that make up the breakwater traverses the harbor, connecting the corner of town to an outermost spit of scimitar-shaped land. Summer visitors scramble along the boulders, inches from the harbor, getting sprayed by seawater until they reach the other side where two lighthouses stand sentinel.

Off-season, the hordes have disappeared, the walk becomes a bit more daring and the seawater sprays just a bit icier. But the view of the Provincetown skyline – mainly marina buildings, small shops and the towering Pilgrim Monument – is unrivaled. So is the serenity and surrealism that comes from standing on a boulder surrounded by the ocean.  Even on ill-weather days, peering out at the stone causeway affords glimpses of the lighthouse through the fog: a confident symbol of the gritty dependability at the foundation of New England culture.

Culture is alive and well in the year-round restaurants and other establishments.

One of the town’s top spots, Mews Restaurants and Café, is open 363 days a year. Besides its exquisite setting, the award-winning Mews serves up delectable dishes, many which put a local twist on foreign-inspired dishes. Or sip a cocktail and fine-dine at The Pointe Restaurant with views of the Pilgrim Monument, which resembles the medieval Tuscan towers in Italy. Find a more casual and classic Cape Cod seafood meal, as well as spectacular oceanfront panoramas at Fanizzi’s by the Sea.

The benefit of a compact, walkable downtown, especially during winter, is the easy accessibility to the diverse array of open restaurants, shops and art galleries. The Provincetown Chamber of Commerce website ( makes it easy to determine year-round establishments – and there are many – by labeling them with a blue snowflake.

In a town that claims the title of Birthplace of Modern American Drama, entertainment is never in short supply, especially over the holidays.

“Oliver!,” the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, is running at the Provincetown Theater in December. And while there remain many of the artists and art galleries that contribute to this town’s effervescent vibe, wintertime creativity is at its best out on the streets.

Locals gather annually to build a Christmas tree made out of lobster pots; lit, decorated and topped with fishing accoutrement. The result is strikingly beautiful and like the town itself, is an artful blend of imagination and iconic New England. The same goes for the lights strung from the ground to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, effectively creating a towering Christmas tree.

Whatever reason spurs your visit, Provincetown is an attractive getaway option this winter. An off-season stay gives you the best of Cape Cod without the normal fusses.

And if you stay long enough, you can catch the first batch of malasadas when the Portuguese Bakery reopens come springtime.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Holiday charm in seaside St. Michaels

St. Michaels, Maryland is just about halfway between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Key West, Florida, in every possible way.

This waterfront vacation town situated on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay mingles the Florida Keys’ laid back vibe with the Cape’s sailboats and seersucker shorts. Art galleries, wine shops and boutique restaurants lounge beside souvenir stores and old-time ice cream parlors. Tiki bar bartenders sling fruity rum cocktails to partying tourists, while at the same time a couple exchanges vows in a quaint, waterfront wedding ceremony at the upscale resort across the harbor. 

Located about an hour and a half drive from either Baltimore or Washington, D.C., St. Michaels is a go-to destination for regional vacationers. The look and feel resembles a tropical version of a New England coastal town, seamlessly melding together aspects of both locales into a mid-Atlantic waterfront respite.

For Cape and Keys frequenters, the similarities begin before you even arrive. Weekend traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge would make anyone who has ever crossed onto Cape Cod – or any other beach destination – shudder. The sheer size of the bridge makes it as much a modern engineering marvel as the Seven Mile Bridge the traverses the Florida Keys.

In culinary terms, Maryland is known for crabs in the same way that New England is for lobster and the Florida Keys are for fresh fish. There is no better way to get a flare for the Eastern Shore than to partake in a crab feast along the water, and there is no shortage of quality establishments. For years St. Michaels Crab Claw restaurant and St. Michaels Crab and Steak House – located directly across the harbor from one another – have been serving up local seafood and the hallmark Maryland blue crabs.

For the uninitiated, a crab feast is similar to a lobster bake in that work is involved. One typically begins with a table wrapped in paper, which is promptly covered with the cooked crustaceans. Steamed and covered in mounds of Old Bay seasoning, they are simply prepared. A small mallet, paring knife and placemat instructions will get you to the best bits. The sweet, familiar shellfish flavor skews unique with the abundance of salty seasoning.

Like many typically summer destinations, St. Michaels’ crowds clear in the off-season. But tasty wood-fired pizzas at Ava’s (409 South Talbot Street), and the perfectly executed entrees at 208 Talbot (208 Talbot Street), mean food is plentiful and high quality any time of year here.

With an annual oyster festival and holiday events throughout the season, the town will impress curious visitors looking for a November or December getaway. On December 7 the town shops open late for “Midnight Madness,” drawing locals and visitors alike out into the streets to enjoy snacks, singers, prizes and of course, sales. December 13 – 15 marks the annual “Christmas in St. Michaels” festival, featuring parades, music and tours of some of this historic town's antique homes (for more info visit

Where St. Michaels hovers in between its northern and southern cousins, it ascertains one aspect of seaside living that sets it apart – the sunset.

Perching along the right Massachusetts inlet or cove will provide a spectacular view of the setting sun. In Key West there is an entire pavilion at the end of the town’s famed Duval Street dedicated to street performers celebrating the stunning sunset view each night. St. Michaels may just outdo them both.

A few minutes out of the town center, Wades Point Inn on the Bay ( guards the elbow of this L-shaped peninsula. A tree-lined gravel road opens into a sprawling green lawn stretching in almost all directions to the water’s edge. At the center stands a grand, whimsical 1819 Georgian-style manor house wrapped in multi-level porches. The main house offers three floors of quaint, bed and breakfast rooms while an adjacent building constructed in the 1990s has more family-friendly accommodations.

Waking up at Wades Point means homemade breakfast made from local ingredients, like scrapple or eggs from down the road. But day’s end is the Inn’s best selling point, and one of St. Michael’s best treasures.

The savvy visitor will have filled a hammock, staked out a lawn chair or a spot on the dock well before dusk, perhaps with a bottle of wine from the local St. Michael’s Winery (609 South Talbot Street). Wades Point staff will happily provide wine glasses and a corkscrew.

Any spot affords a breathtaking panorama of the bay. The sun sets straight on, sinking down behind a wisp of land across the Chesapeake just large enough to mark the split between sea and sky. It washes the entire yard in surreal colors: orange, pink and purple light, reflecting off the water and the manor house’s white exterior. Serenity and scenery are one in the same.

St. Michael’s may resemble the best of the Cape and the tropics, but it certainly has a charm all its own.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

San Francisco’s Gift to the World

This piece appeared in the November, 2013 issues of Destinations Travel Magazine

Offering up bridges and baseball, bay views and bread bowls, San Francisco certainly is one generous metropolis.

The City by the Bay gave the world the majestic and powerful sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and the sensation of Alcatraz Island, emerging from the sea foam with eerie history lapping against its jagged rocks. It gave the world the carnival sounds of Pier 39, pierced by laughter and the barking from the notorious sea lions. And the city’s smells are a gift unto themselves: fresh-baked sourdough bread dancing out from Boudin’s bakery, floating past the fresh seafood to mingle with a deep, rich chocolate aroma pouring out over Ghirardelli Square. Stunning photos, memorable stories, whimsical souvenirs and decadent chocolate – all swirled together for the taking.

San Francisco certainly has a lot to give.

But amidst a dazzling array of world-famous attractions, San Francisco’s greatest gift is one that nobody else has, and yet it is one that reaches around the world.

A quick walk away from the sea lions and souvenir shops is necessary for those seeking that special something. Right where Columbus Avenue makes its sweeping curve, before the famous beat poet hangout City Lights Bookstore, is a unique place where life converges in a way unaltered by preconceptions or prejudices. It is where cultures and countercultures collide head on at one San Francisco intersection.

Climb San Francisco’s Columbus Avenue and you’ve scaled North Beach, a predominantly Italian neighborhood rivaling Boston’s North End or New York’s Little Italy for number of salami-hung windows. Cafes line the streets, gelato on every corner and the sweet tang of mama’s sauce wafting from any one of the umpteen ristorantes.

At its edge, North Beach buffers the beat poet leftovers (including City Lights), Alan Ginsberg seemingly still stepping over sidewalk cracks. There’s even a museum dedicated to the art form, which looks like an old time movie theater with uplit marquee and all.

But that isn’t the only marquee at the intersection. Underneath blaring neon lights lifesize photos of barely clothed women smile lustfully at unsuspecting tourists who were told the area had good Italian food. This red light district flows seamlessly back and forth with the beat poet museum and enforce counterculture seediness without so much as batting a single, heavily mascara-covered eye.

Exploring this area strips one layer off of San Francisco after another. The general feel may come as confusing to an outsider. But when you see the traditions intermingled, the people coexisting in bustling harmony, you understand that this city is one that embraces the differences that make humanity so diverse. It is a tangible location that embodies San Francisco’s gift of understanding.

But not until you stand at this intersection and peer down Grant Street, which juts off the curve like a tiny piece of paper from an unopened fortune cookie, do you really get it.

I explored Grant Street by myself, admiring the zigzagging lanterns that decorated the main thoroughfare of San Francisco’s Chinatown. I stopped at the most curious stores, such as the market that smelled like the dry fish flakes. I guessed the briny smell came from the bins of dried shrimp and jars of dried shark fin. Nearby, a woman at the Wok Shop (you guessed it, woks only) explained in broken English which wok suited me best.

A few doors down I read a sign that said Asian Art Museum and, seeing nobody entering, decided to enter. The first floor opened onto a spiral ramp, in the middle of which gathered a group of older Chinese men, huddled around a table occupied by an even older Chinese man. The eldest was painting Chinese writing on beautiful scrolls in deep ebony ink. The crowd watched, applauded and even tried their hand a few times. I climbed the ramp and looked down on the scene. The experience was mesmerizing, watching the crackled old hands skillfully draw the brush barely over the scroll, whisping it at precisely the right moment for maximum letter beauty and showmanship.

The VitaLife Tea Shop drew me in, as well as a few others, with a sign promising a free tea tasting. But Kenny the tea master kept us all there by combining a flare for the dramatic with razor sharp comedic timing. We must’ve tried a dozen teas – green, red, black, some to give energy, some to calm the muscles, even one that smelled and tasted like soggy brocolli, guaranteed to soothe arthritis.

“Tea is not about what you want. It’s about what you need,” Kenny said, his ponytail bobbing with each nod.

Sweetener was forbidden and anyone that thought otherwise, like the British, Kenny had long ago decided was unworthy of the finest leaf.

He turned the entire affair into a one-man show, knowing full well that the dozen shelves of mammoth glass jars filled with tea were not going to sell themselves. Especially the one high up (apparently tea, like liquor, gets finer and more expensive the higher the shelf), that cost $800 per pound.

Kenny tossed out his life philosophies, which he insisted were garnered from the tealeaves. He followed that up by insisting that tea gives people a high, pointing out that the mother-daughter pair seated next to me was certainly feeling the effects.

After two hours, too much tea and a few tear-eyed laughs, I floated out of the teashop relaxed and happy.

I weaved randomly through Chinatown, falling off the beaten path and ultimately into a fortune cookie factory that allowed me to watch them bake, my spontaneity rewarded with a free cookie.

Ultimately I made it back to the top of Grant Street where it pierces Columbus Avenue. I stopped to take in the myriad cultures, from Italian to Chinese to beat poet.

I checked my backpack, which was now filled with some old books from City Lights, some Italian olive oil and a couple bags of rare tea. They were packed up next to the Ghirardelli chocolate I had already purchased, the funny souvenir I got on Alcatraz and my camera that held some stunning photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The eclectic collection of items in my bag became holiday gifts for my family and friends. The eclectic collection of sights, sounds, smells and cultures in San Francisco is a gift to everyone. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rewriting history in Jamestown, Virginia

Visiting the colonial village that birthed America and gave root to our national traditions would be an appropriate way to celebrate this holiday season. But Plimouth Plantation is the wrong destination, according to many in the Commonwealth – the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Guide Joe Dona began his tour at Virginia’s Historic Jamestowne by asking if anyone in the group came from Massachusetts. He tipped his cap to them and their state’s place in colonial history, but promptly cleared up a few common misconceptions.

In 1607 – thirteen years before the Pilgrims arrived off the coast of Cape Cod – Captain John Smith and his cadre of British settlers stepped onto Virginia soil and established Jamestown. Twenty miles up the river from Jamestown, at a settlement known as Berkeley Plantation, a religious ceremony was held for thanks and good fortune in 1619 – two years before the Pilgrims’ famed Thanksgiving feast.

But before controversy and competition pervaded his tour, Dona engaged the entire group by beginning the tale of Jamestown, set amongst the sun-drenched coastline of the James River and the ever-changing grounds of England’s first permanent settlement in America. Jamestown’s story, debated for four hundred years amidst purportedly lost evidence, became fodder for one of America’s most dynamic tourist attractions.

Similar to Massachusetts, the main attractions in this region of Virginia take advantage of the rich history. Within a few minutes drive of Jamestown is Colonial Williamsburg, a Revolutionary America village that recreates the days before independence was declared. Nearby Yorktown is the site of one of George Washington’s most famous battles.

Jamestown differs in that its history is still being written, and rewritten.

There are two main sites to choose from. Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum and settlement recreation, is reminiscent of Plimouth Plantation. It is a family-friendly stop filled with reenactments, demonstrations and recreations of the ships that transported the settlers across the Atlantic.

But it is the adjacent Historic Jamestowne, located on an island at the actual site where the original town and fort stood, that allows visitors to actually watch the unveiling of American history.

Run jointly by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia, Historic Jamestowne is a working archaeological dig site. Archaeologists dig most days, except Sunday. In winter, the park is open but work typically moves inside to examine the multitude of artifacts they continuously pull from Jamestown’s history-rich earth.

In the one-acre the park occupies, archaeologists have discovered more than two million artifacts. And visitors have access to the best of it.

Stroll the grounds here and walk past roped off but easily visible excavated plots where stratified dirt gives way to small purple flags marking recent discoveries. Working archaeologists will engage onlookers, eager to discuss their work.

The site’s archaeology tour, led by experts like Dona, is perhaps the best way to dig down into the fascinating story behind the Jamestown colony. The history of the actual settlement, which includes starvation, war with the native inhabitants and even cannibalism, is one of survival.

Dona’s tour captures it all, stopping at a recreated section of fort wall and barracks, the battlement and a flagpole sunk at the same spot where the original one stood. The tour also makes its way over a graveyard where settlers are still buried. As with many of the finds at Historic Jamestowne, diggers re-covered the graves after research was concluded, reverently marking the dead with simple black crosses. Only one body, a young boy, was exhumed and identified by connecting his arrow wound to seventeenth century documents.

The guide climbed into several active dig sites, including a subterranean cooking area. Here Dona explained several of the artifacts found and did not shy away from the most eerie one: human remains of a young girl that researchers believe was being used as a food source for the starving settlers. The skull and a bone fragment of “Jane,” as they have named her, can be seen in the park’s on-site museum called the Archaearium. A relatively recent discovery, she represents a dark portion of the fort’s past that raised more questions than answers.

Digging was halted at Jamestown for much of the Twentieth Century when experts believed erosion had long since washed away any remnants of John Smith’s original fort. However, as Dona discussed throughout his tour, that all changed when Dr. William M. Kelso took over the site in the early 1990s. Dr. Kelso unearthed a series of postholes that ultimately led to discovering the original fort, debunking the erosion claim and laying the foundation for the ongoing future discoveries, such as “Jane.”
Though the archaeology tour is confined to the original fort, worthwhile sites spread across the entire island.

Next to the original fort are a series of building remains running in rows. Well-placed information placards tell the story of how Jamestown survived near extinction to grow into a bustling river port.

A five-mile Island Loop Drive curves through forest and over marshland. The island even has its own working glasshouse, built in the style of the seventeenth century, near the ruins of an old glass furnace. Artisans in era garb demonstrate their craft for modern visitors, creating glass pieces reminiscent of those made 400 years ago.

The sites in and around Jamestown have evolved right along with their ever-changing history. Like its fellow early colonial settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Jamestown works daily to keep history alive and well.

But while some in the two Commonwealths still debate which colonial settlement holds more historical significance, Dona made sure to end his tour with one final fact. The body of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, a Jamestown settler who explored the Atlantic seaboard, was recently discovered at Historic Jamestowne. On his explorations, Gosnold gave Cape Cod its name and dubbed the island off its coast Martha’s Vineyard, after his own daughter Martha.

As Dona said, “you can’t get away from Virginia, folks.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Peru: Much more the Machu (Guest Blog)

The following is a guest blog from avid traveler, writer and down-home Southern girl, Kelly Cheeseman. Quite frankly, one of the coolest, most adventurous people I know, Kelly's indelible spark for life translates into her storytelling. After hearing about her recent trip to Peru, I asked if she was willing to put together a guest blog for Wherever It Takes to talk about this amazing destination. Kelly, of course, did not disappoint. Check out these great photos and her unforgettable experience in the mountains and jungle of Peru. Thanks Kelly!

By Kelly Cheeseman

Everyone goes to Peru to see Machu Pichu – and rightfully so. This lost Incan city sits among the clouds and tallest peaks in the Andes Mountains and offers some of the most breathtaking views your eyes will ever behold. But the most shocking part of my nine day Peruvian adventure wasn’t the beauty of Machu Pichu: It was how amazing the less-travelled parts of Peru were. So let me sell you on the less-than-glamorous locations that became the highlights of my trip in the hopes that if YOU ever make it there, you’ll peruse (see what I did there) more than just the touristy parts. But first, some general Peruvian advice:

•  Toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet. If you accidentally drop it in there, cross your fingers as you flush, and stealthily exit like you weren’t just caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

•  You can buy any part of an animal in a Peruvian market. Heads, hooves, fetuses. Peru is not for the faint of heart…or stomach.

•  Ignore any fashion sense you may have. You will be either hot (jungle) or cold (Lima) and dirty in Peru. Your luggage will probably be lost at one point during your trip. If you can’t roll with the punches, you won’t enjoy this awesome country. 

When Lima gives you lemons, make a pisco sour.
Lima is home to more than two-thirds of Peru’s population. It’s a bustling city with a business-focused feel and a heavy catholic influence. It’s also a city that most travelers to Peru never explore. When my three friends and I were planning our trip, our first big decision was whether or not to spend any time in Lima. Those who have been to Peru will tell you mixed things. For many, Lima is just an overnight stop on their way to Cuzco -- a temporary launching pad to the real start of their trip. We decided that Lima was worth two days and were pleasantly surprised at what there was to do there. 

1. See the churches. You don’t have to go into every church to get a feel for their beauty, but pop into two or three and be awed at their extravagance. We strolled around different neighborhoods and saw a monastery and the cathedral in the main square. They rivaled those in Europe, and in my opinion, surpassed them.

2. Take an afternoon to drink pisco sours on a balcony. Just off the Plaza San Martin, we took a break from the overcast, chilly weather to drink Pisco sours at the Hotel Bolivar. The Peruvian pisco sour is made by mixing Peruvian pisco with lime or lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters. It’s one of those drinks that you sniff and feel drunk. In other words, it’s amazing. 

3. Catch the changing of the guard at the main square. My friends and I just happened to be walking by as it was going on. No offense England, but Peru’s changing of the guard was way better.

4. Go to the Barrancas neighborhood. Dip your toes in the Pacific. Find a restaurant along the coast to eat dinner. After your trip is complete, you’ll realize that the best food on your entire trip was the food you had in Lima. 

We left Lima after two days to do the whole Cuzco/Sacred Valley/Machu Pichu thing. Yes, it was awesome and yes, we pet a lot of llamas, and yes, you can probably read 1,000 other blog posts from people who did the same sacred valley tour as ours. So let’s just skip that and move on to what was by far the best part of the trip – three days and two nights in the jungle. As four ladies who had conquered the concrete jungles of New York and Chicago, we were ready to try our hand at the real thing. And to convince ourselves that we could still be outdoorsy without hiking the Inca trail. And to feel like badasses. 

Welcome to the Jungle.
We hopped a flight from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado. To say that Puerto Maldonado had an “airport” was a stretch (though at the time I didn’t realize that the single runway would be the last bit of pavement we would see for days). It was basically a small stretch of decaying roadway and an open air “terminal” with alerts posted of what the warning signs for malaria were.

Which brings me to the only rule in the jungle – don’t die. To do my best to follow that rule, I had to get inoculated from every disease you can think of that could cause a terrible 19th century-style death. Typhoid – check. Tetanus – ouch, but check! Hepatitis alphabet (A, B, etc) and yellow fever – check! Malaria pills (causing symptoms like hallucinations and intense paranoia) – yup, I took those too.

At the airport, we were met by representatives of our lodge – Posada Amazonas. We were told that we could take only what we could carry and that the rest of our luggage would be stored at a safe location to be claimed after the three days were up. Armed with DEET and light-weight clothing, we boarded the bus for a 40 minute ride on dirt roads to catch our boat to the lodge. Oh, didn’t I mention that the lodge was only accessible by boat? Yup, after the bus ride we had a 45 minute boat ride on the Madre de Rios where we were given lunch…inside a banana leaf. 

We pulled up to a sandbar (because there are no such things as docks in Puerto Maldonado) and had a 15 minute hike uphill to our lodge. It wasn’t until we reached the “lobby” of our lodge that I realized how far away we were from what I considered civilization. The entire lodge was open air – there was a roof to keep the rain off, but no walls in the main areas. Our rooms were also missing something important – a 4th wall! Yup, each room was completely open to the jungle. The rooms were equipped with whistles in case any wild animals wandered inside during the night (though my face would have likely been ripped off before I found the whistle in the dark).

All power was run through a generator that only worked from 8-9am and 5-9pm. After that, it was all candles and flashlights. While we all grumbled a bit about not being able to charge our phones/cameras/kindles whenever we wanted to, not having power ended up being the best thing for all of us. We really got to know the other travelers at the lodge. There was nothing to do in your room except sleep, so any free time was spent in the cafeteria/bar/lounge area drinking the way-too-strong drinks and telling travel stories by candle light, listening to the crazy animal sounds and trying to decipher if the sounds were from animals mating or sacrificing. (In my opinion, always animal sacrifice.) 

We had our choice of activities – from piranha fishing to jungle hikes to visiting a shaman to jumping into the Rio Madre de Dios and praying we weren’t bitten by leeches – and everything was awesome. All in all, my jungle experience was a perfect escape from my hyper-connected, technology-driven lifestyle. I went into it with no expectations and checked reality at the door cloth acting like a door. To all those looking for an adventure to tack on to your Machu Pichu trip, go to the jungle and keep the following in mind:

•  Drink what the shaman gives you. I explained in broken Spanish that I thought I was cursed, and I don’t know what was in the three shots I drank, but I do know that my life has been pretty awesome since then.

•  Be ok with the fact that you might accidentally touch a tarantula, snake, caiman, or bullet ant.  That’s what a medicine man is for, right?

•  It’s ok to be disgusting. It’s the jungle. You’re going to sweat. A lot. 

•  Do something simply because you might never have the chance to do it again – believe that the parachute will open. Because if you do, the view will be amazing.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Night moves: Travel photos after dark

My five favorite structures to photograph at night. 

Just because the sun goes down, doesn't mean your camera has to go away. Night time brings out colors, light, shadows and movements impossible to capture during the day. And with modern cameras, anyone can snap clear photos after dark. 

But given the propensity for action shots to blur in low light, I find static objects to be excellent evening subjects. Not to mention, some of the most beautiful things in the world are man-made structures. And as tourist attractions go, the most popular ones around the world more than likely have already perfected the art of nighttime mood lighting. 

The Vienna Opera House was one of the most extravagant buildings I had ever seen, naturally. In a city where music and architecture move together like two ballroom dancers, there are bound to be stunning sights around every corner. When the sunlight dims and the street lights buzz on, the whole city comes erupts into new life. The Opera House is just one of the more beautiful uplit structures, almost surreal in its effervescent glow.

Vienna is not alone in its knack for nighttime sights. Visit the Harp bridge in Dublin in between pubs or grab a gellato in front of Rome's Pantheon - two well-known tourist stops that take on a whole new light after dark. Two of the most well-known buildings in the world - the Eiffel Tower and the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. - are prime examples of the transformative power of nighttime.

So I say get out there at night and try out some of those strange settings on your point-and-shoot or your iPhone. The night belongs to the adventurous.

Below are five of my favorite spots to snap nighttime pictures.

Statsopera, Vienna, Austria

Harp Bridge, Dublin, Ireland

U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC

The Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Traveling for the People

Travel, for many, is about arrival at a chosen destination. Other people enjoy the souvenirs they acquire at various stops. For me, when it comes to travel I'm a people person. 

The focus of my most memorable travel stories always seems to revolve around a random conversation, a street performer or a chance encounter with a lovable local lunatic. Aside from tips on where to go, what to do and what to see, the people of the world, more often than not, offer perspective – a unique view that you just can’t get from a guidebook. At its root, that’s what travel is all about: interacting with people, places and things that we normally would not interact with. In the process, we exchange ideas in a sort of international lifestyle best-practices roundtable.

You don’t have to debate the meaning of life with every Frenchman along the Seine, or chitchat with a goofy street performer while he dances a jig on a sidewalk. Interacting and observing both provide an opportunity to appreciate the locals doing what they do best. It takes very little effort to enjoy the kindness of strangers abroad.

I have been astonished, embraced, intoxicated, amused, educated and inspired by locals the world over.

One evening in Munich I met Alex. He was a blonde bear of a man, large and wide with a shaggy beard and shaggier hair pulled back underneath a traditional, wide-brimmed German hat. We were at the city’s world-famous Hofbrauhaus when he slammed his stein down onto our table and dropped himself onto my bench. More than a few suds sloshed over onto his lederhosen and traditional Bavarian garb. But Alex didn’t care. In fact, I doubt Alex had a care in the world that night. We spent hour after hour drinking down steins and exchanging stories about our home, his home and everywhere in between. In the late hours of the evening Alex yanked me up by my shirt collar and taught me how to sing the traditional Bavarian drinking song, capped with a crash of the beer mugs.

Regardless of where you are, even if you don’t speak the language, it can never hurt to strike up a conversation while traveling. You may be ignored or scoffed at, or you may get the directions you needed or a good restaurant recommendation. At the very least, you will have made the attempt at indulging another culture.

Dublin, Ireland is another city itching to embrace its visitors. Enter almost any pub and raise a pint of Guinness with the locals at the bar. The Irish are happy to engage anyone in storytelling and if you have the time, they have the words to fill it.
On a recent trip to Dublin, I ditched the lines of tourists standing on cobblestones waiting to see the Book of Kells and instead popped into a nearby pub for some food and drink. Immediately upon entering, I was greeted by a wave of Dubliners cheering on their hometown Irish Football team, who happened to be playing a semi-final playoff match against Mayo. Over a few pints, the rowdy locals taught me the brutal rules of Irish Football and urged me to cheer along with them.
Learning about a location’s culture does not require a conversation, though. People watching can provide information and entertainment in any corner of the world.
Salzburg, Austria is a picturesque mountain town nestled amongst fortresses and fairytale buildings. Everything here is full of whimsy, including their board games. On a stunning sunny morning I stumbled upon a courtyard in the shadow of one of Salzburg’s beautiful churches. There, two men were engaged in a heated chess match with an oversized chess set, right in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by the city's soaring, gorgeous spires. A gentleman in orange was playing an older gentleman dressed in his Sunday best. They were a couple of Austrian pugilists doing battle in a checkered, concrete arena.

I lingered along with a few dozen other passers-by. When a horse-drawn carriage trotted by in the background, the whole scene gained a strange nostalgic ambiance. A few moves later, the man in the orange won the match to his foe's great dismay. Instead of sulk, the loser approached the winner and they shook hands politely. They immediately began setting up for a rematch.

To truly experience a place, you should get to know those who know it best. Most of us don’t have the time to do so very intimately, but it only takes a moment to say hello in a foreign language or sit on a bench to listen to a street musician. The locals can give you a more intricate perspective of the city or town they inhabit. If they’re lucky, they will gain a little perspective from your outsider’s view in return. Whether you travel for business or pleasure, at home or abroad, you should always travel for the people.