Dispatches from Darya Mead

As we careen towards Christmas, I was experiencing a bit of S-A-O, Seasonal-Autumnal-Overload. Having already relented to a trip to a giant pumpkin patch, harvest day for my son’s school, Halloween preparations and the omnipresent pumpkinification of October, from coffee flavoring, to muffins to candles…I was done.

Alas, we had a fall getaway planned to the California Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills and I was looking for some fun things to do with the family that might diverge a bit from the frolicsome fall activities I had been enjoying. We have driven past Sonora on our way to the mountains, often heading that way in summer or winter. It was exciting to think about a weekend trip that didn’t involve preparing food, camping or ski gear and with an open itinerary I could craft. I had a secret hope to see some changing leaves. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, California, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Fall Foliage Tours, Family Travel, Food, Gold Country, Northern California, State Parks, Theme Park, Wine Tours, wine tasting

Last month the Rim fire, Burning Man and the closing of the Bay Bridge meant our planned Labor Day backpacking trip to the Sierras was in question. Finally, after much discussion we opted to head for the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area about 110 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Lake County.

Armed with outdated maps and hopes of some lake swimming, we hit the road ready for our adventure. Stopping at a ranger station, we got the skinny on the trails and hoped to hike to some small waterfalls. We were told the driving was rough to get to the trailhead, and included fording a river, which sounded exciting till we got to it and panicked.

We promptly set up camp and found a swell swimming hole, as we were to wait till the next morning when the other half of our party was to arrive. Once our big group was assembled,  we decided to spend the day at a big lake before attempting to ford the river again.

The driving was dusty, long and we made a few bad choices. Desperate to swim in a lake, we headed for Lake Pillsbury, which sounded enchanting, but was, alas, quite a depressing scene. Lake Pillsbury is a man-made lake in Northern California, situated an arduous 33 miles east of Ukiah in the Mendocino National Forest. Reviews were mixed, but as the the temperature climbed, we just wanted to cool off. What we found was a dried up, somewhat scungy car-camping scene, with campers and giant garbage bags full of empty beer and soda containers all smooshed together in the seedy campgrounds. The bathrooms, cute store and expensive gas were welcome, but this was not what we had in mind for our backpacking adventure; we didn’t even want to swim in the lake.

Finally we decided to return to the small menacing river and attempt to get past it with an all wheel drive Subaru Outback.
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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Budget Travel, California, Camping, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Northern California, wildlife

Have you ever stumbled upon a cultural gem while traveling? It’s such a great feeling of discovery and often, some of the best vacation experiences happen without planning.

We drove from my in-laws in Sequim to Bainbridge Island, Washington this summer, to catch the ferry to Seattle. We have done this trip a number of times, and although Bainbridge Island is adorable and full of lovely shops and art galleries, we’ve never stopped, except to have lunch or grab some food at the chic local market.

This time, we had planned a lunch downtown, but were nervous about leaving our car too far out of sight, packed to the gills with travel gear. As we drove down the main drag, clogged with tourists, we saw a new eco-building with a Grand Opening sign saying it was the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. After much protest from my two boys and with the promise of a Mexican meal after, we decided to check it out. Brand spankin’ new, the pristine green building in itself had appeal with its recycled materials, solar power, denim insulation, Zero Waste, living wall and environmentally friendly carpets and paint. It was FREE, thanks to sponsorships, memberships, and donations! Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Culture, Museum, Pacific Northwest, Photography, Washington

A man jumped off the dock into the crystal blue, glacially carved waters of Lake Crescent and when asked how the water was, he replied: “Like butter.”

Like butter on a croissant, Lake Crescent in the Olympic National Park, just 17 miles from Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula, is one of my most favorite spots on earth. Perhaps because of its brilliant blue waters and extraordinary clarity (caused by a lack of nitrogen in the water, which stunts the algae growth), perhaps because we make the ritual pilgrimage each time we visit my in-laws in Sequim, Washington. When we round the bend to the lake, my husband says in his best Inspector Clouseau accent “Lake Croissant!” Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Canoe/Kayak, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Northwest, Sequim, Washington, wildlife

On a day when the courageous Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai addressed the United Nations as an advocate for women’s education rights, I am once again reminded of the potential of the United Nations, despite all it’s quirks, to unite the world.

I have a long relationship with the UN and graduated from the General Assembly, an honor I hold dear. On a recent trip to New York for my high school reunion I finally took my younger son on a private tour of the United Nations, thanks to an old friend who works there. It was a walk down memory lane for me, and an educational experience for my son who had just completed a Global Village unit in his 3rd grade class.

A quick hot dog out front staved off impending hunger from my nine-year-old hobbit, and we made our way through the intense security system. The building is going through a much-needed retrofit. The passé style played into my fond memories of UN conferences and multiple visits as a student at a school connected to the organization. Once inside, you do feel as though you are no longer in NYC and really in an international zone as the lobby buzzes with international languages and national dress.

More than one million visitors take the public tours annually during weekdays and tickets can be purchased in advance online. Tickets are less than $20 and well worth it! There are also weekly children’s tours @ 4:15 every Thursday, this is a relatively new offering and tailored to the 5-12 set. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Culture, Family Travel, Films, Food, Manhattan, New York, art

The effects of climate change are everywhere. I just visited my beloved Coney Island only to find famous Nathan’s (among many other businesses and communities) still not back on their feet post Hurricane Sandy. Monster tornadoes in Oklahoma have swept through entire towns. The twister that hit near Oklahoma City May 31 was the widest ever recorded. Clearly we need to do what we can to make our lives more sustainable.

Solar power is perceived by some as a drop in the bucket, but it can really make a difference, particularly in remote places where sun is plentiful and power is expensive to import.

Turtle Island, set in the Yasawa Islands in the Republic of Fiji, and scene of the 1980 Blue Lagoon movie starring Brooke Shields, is an all-inclusive private island, a high-end resort with a long history of sustainability. This spring, the installation of 968 solar panels rendered the island nearly 100 percent self-sufficient, using the sun’s energy to power not only the resort but the surrounding community. The new solar project will save an estimated 85,000 liters of diesel fuel per year, or an estimated 220 tons of carbon emissions, significantly reducing the island’s carbon footprint and thus becoming one of the world’s most prestigious and socially conscious getaways for the pampered set. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Culture, Eco Friendly Travel, Fiji, Luxury Travel, Romance, South Pacific, Spa/ Resort

I just spent seven jam-packed days of nostalgia and appreciation of the ever-evolving city of New York. The weather was perfect, the spring blooms at their peak and that dazzling mix of old world and high tech chic on display everywhere.

I try to make it back to New York at least once a year, usually for events, this time my epic High School reunion. I often travel solo but this time my companion was my nine-year-old. There was so much I wanted to share with him and narrowing down our plans was painful…and true to how I roll, the best things happened serendipitously.

We walked by the West 4th Street Courts just a block from my mom’s apartment, a famous spot where Lew Alcindor played before becoming the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an iconic public court where legions of other basketball greats have shot hoops over the years. Tucked in the the back are handball courts — I had forgotten about the New York obsession with the game. A tiny pinky ball, perhaps a glove and a wall, that’s all that’s needed. The sport, now called “American Handball”, is a big draw for beach goers, but as I traveled the city I was surprised to see so many courts in every borough. My son was fascinated and wanted to play. A player at W. 4 Street let him on the court to give it a try and he was smitten. The guy even gave him a ball — I LOVE NY. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Amusement Park, Brooklyn, Family Travel, Food, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York, Restaurants, Russia, Sports, Urban Parks, shopping

As daffodils blossom and birds once again sing in the trees, spring has sprung in many parts of North America. Many folks have weathered a long snowy winter and crave warmth, sunshine on their bare arms and all the outdoor activities that forced hibernation kept from them over the last few months.

I, for one, can never get enough of winter fun. Living in San Francisco, a trip to the mountains is easy but requires some planning and often ice skating indoors has to satisfy my cravings.

In Ottawa, Ontario, workers and students can ice-skate commute (skammute?) on the Rideau Canal Skateway. The 4.8-mile-long, 26-foot-wide frozen canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Visitors can rent skates, and warm up spots, cafes and other amenities dot the route. It is of course a popular tourist attraction and the centerpiece of Winterlude, a three-week-long winter festival including ice sculptures, skate clinics and Snowflake Kingdom, a snowy playground wonderland. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Canada, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Festivals, Ontario, Ottawa, Sports, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Urban Parks

I remember being a student in Paris and having to wash my hair after a night out because of the ever-present smell of cigarette smoke. I got used to the constant odor and began to associate the particular smell of French tobacco with my splendid time as a student abroad. That has changed, as France has reduced smoking and banned it from many public spaces.

There is something quintessentially French, however, about lighting up in a cafe, and even though I haven’t smoked in years, I have to admit I’m tempted the minute I land in the country. Part of the reason smoking is mildly appealing in Paris is also the fact that cigarettes are inexpensive compared to the U.S.

In Russia, another European country with a strong smoking tradition, nearly 40% of the population has a nicotine habit, fueled in part by the less than $2.00 a pack cost. President Putin, a fitness freak and cheerleader for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, has just signed a law that bans smoking in all public places beginning in June of this year. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Air Travel, France, Olympics, Paris, Russia, health

Marseille is France’s biggest port, second largest city and the European Capital of Culture for 2013. This distinction is up there with being named Olympic host, and the rough and ready city on the Mediterranean is taking it seriously. The town known for shipping, crime, immigrant unrest and poverty is taking the opportunity to re-brand itself as an appealing seaside tourist spot.

Marseille is building on it’s southern ties to North Africa and is remaking  the harbor area into a car-free and pedestrian-friendly promenade. In classic French fashion, the city has designated ten new cultural sites, many located in renovated structures. A museum was once France’s Ellis Island, where immigrants were processed, and an abandoned tobacco factory is being refashioned as a Contemporary Arts Museum focusing on the Immigration theme. New buildings are popping up too, with public finance we Americans can only dream about. The desire to change the crime-ridden image to cultural hotspot is a tricky balancing act, paying homage to the immigrant culture without whitewashing the colonial past.

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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Culture, Europe, Festivals, Museums