Dispatches from Darya Mead

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.

Continue reading »

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

Triporati has recently added a number of African National Parks, reserves and safari spots to our growing list of dream destinations. Working on launching these new destination gems, I have been researching and sifting through tons of images. This has been incredibly tantalizing. To see these amazing creatures up close is definitely on my travel bucket list.

In my research I discovered a new web-based citizen science project in the Serengeti where you too can contribute to the growing knowledge of African animal life. The project, launched this month, is called Snapshot Serengeti. Hundreds of camera traps in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania are providing a powerful new window into the dynamics of Africa’s most elusive wildlife species. The project needs your help to classify all the different animals caught in millions of camera trap images. The camera snaps a few shots anytime something moves in front of it. The photos often come as a sequence of two or three, called a “capture.” You may discover intimate moments, such as porcupines mating or a triptych of hyenas attacking the camera.

Check it out. I just identified a wildebeest!

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Birdwatching, Photography, national park, wildlife

Katniss from The Hunger Games, Hawkeye from The Avengers and London’s 2012 Olympic Archery Competition have all given the ancient sport of archery a jolt. Kids and adults across the country are smitten with the idea of using a bow to shoot an arrow.

A recent New York Times Fashion & Style article explores the trajectory of the sport given the cultural craze. From Staten Island to San Francisco, sales of kid-size recurve bows have more than quadrupled this year!

Whether you have a Robin Hood fan, a small Cossack (a kid into ancient weaponry) or you just love fun, free, urban family activities, you’ve got to check out the Golden Gate Park Archery Range in San Francisco when you’re visiting the city. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained piece of park real estate, near the beach. It’s easy to park and accessible by public transportation. It’s always open for folks with their own archery equipment. If you’re looking to try it out as an activity, you can swing by the nearby Archery Pro Shop, where you can sign up for lessons, rent or buy bows or investigate other equipment. You can also buy bows and arrows on-line. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Budget Travel, California, Camping, Family Travel, Olympic Peninsula, Olympics, San Francisco, Urban Parks, Yosemite

From foot splinters to entire stretches IN splinters, the boardwalks of the Jersey, Long Island and much of the East Coast shores are in shambles post hurricane Sandy.

I have so many summer memories of family boardwalk strolls, noshing on knishes in Brighton Beach, soft serve, sand between the toes and sweat mixed with sunscreen dripping in my eyes.

The boardwalks of my childhood were the bar, the town square, and the place where young and old, beach bunnies and schmata wearing grannies, could congregate. There were rides, games, sweet and savory treats and no sense of time. AND yes, I always got splinters, because I never wore my flip-flops (as my parents suggested) and sadly, more often than not, I returned home with a sunburn that I regret today.

It is that intangible sense of freedom, community and unvarnished leisure time that the boardwalk connotes that will be resurrected, despite rising seas and superstorms!

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Brooklyn, Culture, Family Travel, Food, Jersey Shore, New Jersey, Romance, Theme Parks

San Francisco is known world wide for stunning views and hilly terrain. Some streets are so steep that more than 300 stairways exist throughout the city, providing access and shortcuts to areas difficult to reach otherwise.

There are the famous routes to Coit Tower where one can catch a glimpse of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and the now famous Mosaic Stairs in Golden Gate Heights. Although not as crowded as say, Lombard (the crookedest street in the west), these top stairwalks can be bustling.

Instead, grab Adah Bakalinsky’s stairwalk bible, now in it’s 20th edition, and explore some of the more quirky areas. The book offers up the popular routes, but many of the stairways highlighted are tranquil spots, used only by locals and known only to a handful of people. Most walks take no more than an hour and string a number of staircases in a neighborhood together, with informative descriptions of the history, architecture and flora and fauna of the area.

Together, families can explore the nooks and crannies of this great city. My family often decides on a route and picks a restaurant or café in the area to make our ultimate destination. Avid hikers, we love to take our boys on treks outside the city, often inspiring them with treats or the prospect of counting banana slugs. Some days however, we just can’t get out of town, but want an outdoor activity that feels like a hike. Then we reach for our stairwalk book and pack a few snacks and layers of clothing. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Budget Travel, California, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, San Francisco, Urban Parks, wildlife

Since before the economic meltdown we have been planning a trip to Spain to explore my husband’s roots and revel in all that is Spanish soccer. I know a number of people who have traveled recently to debt-stricken European countries including Spain, Greece, Ireland and Iceland. Prices are still high, but most raved about their trips and Spain has stood out as a fabulous place to visit despite the nearly 25% unemployment rate. Food in particular has been a big draw for many, fueled in part by  Anthony Bourdain and other shows on the Travel Channel.

Clearly, visiting struggling countries helps to boost their economy. For a place like Greece, it might well be how they can dig out of such a deep hole, promoting all that is so appealing when life for locals is so hard. So, when I read a recent New York Times article entitled “The Country Beckons Spaniards as Jobs in Cities Grow Scarce,” it was interesting to think about how long periods of strife can dramatically change the travel landscape.

I remember rolling in to sleepy Spanish villages, practically drunk on olives and olive oil and even sleeping under an olive tree one hot day. The small towns, just awakening from years under Franco, were still very old world, so authentic and charming. Spain of course has modernized quickly over the last 20 or so years, but much of the growth was isolated in the big cities and towns.

Continue reading »

3 Comments | Filed Under Barcelona, Culture, Food, Iceland, Museums, Restaurants, Soccer, Spain, Sports, shopping

Are social media and the Internet responsible for the demise of the picture postcard? An article in a Scottish newspaper says just one in six Britons send a postcard while on their vacation, according to online and market research company One Poll.

Granted, Americans, in general, partake in way less “holiday time” than our European counterparts, but is it really true that smartphones and instant gratification through technology are wiping out such a colorful and beloved tradition?

On a recent trip to Bodie State Historic Park, my camera battery died. Such a picturesque place, I was kicking myself, but luckily I had gotten a few shots and still had my non-smartphone, phone camera.

We went into the gift shop and postcards were 45 cents. I decided to get a few, I usually have my kids send them to grandparents and perhaps their own friends, part writing exercise, part ritual. This time I wanted to send one to a family whose dog, (named Bodie, after a ’90s trip together to Bodie) had just passed away. We had created a laminated memorial to leave at the cemetery as a tribute. I thought it would be nice to also send them a postcard. Continue reading »

5 Comments | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, California, Desert Travel, Driving Trips, Family Travel, Gold Country, Northern California, State Parks

A college reunion took me back to Connecticut for a few steamy summer days recently. I hopped a train from New York’s Grand Central Station to meet a classmate, for a ride from Tarrytown. We were to stop at his family’s coastal cottage in Westbrook for a BBQ, before heading to the campus for three days of festivities.

Westbrook is a quaint shoreline community snug on the banks of Long Island Sound between New London and New Haven, right next door to the better-known Old Saybrook. I didn’t know the classmate too well and was thrust back into the college mode of ride-negotiating and flexible travel plans, as the friend I was traveling with was his old friend. Nonetheless, the plan was appealing, and a nice way to glide into the unknown of a big college reunion. Having lived in California for many years, I do often crave that New England spirit and style. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Connecticut, Food, New England, Train Travel