Dispatches from Darya Mead

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

Beyond the sleek Silicon Valley exterior, there are many small towns with plenty to explore in this California region famous for technology.

If you’re looking for a getaway, outdoor fun, sun, and maybe some wine tasting, the small town of Los Gatos is a great choice. Set in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this affluent hamlet, with a Victorian downtown, is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of urban living. As you drive into town, you pass Netflix headquarters, and you realize, this is perhaps where the 1% live, a notion that was confirmed at the stylish Purple Onion Café, where at 10 a.m., the place was hopping with expensively clad moms chatting and nibbling, post workout. The Illy coffee and yummy breakfast items made with cage-free eggs, local produce, and freshly baked whole-grain breads were tantalizing.

For lunch, a traditional Irish pub with Americanized pub grub, was a more down home option. C.B. Hannegan’s was bustling with business folks and families; the outdoor garden was so pleasant and portions big enough to share. The beer choices were impressive and International, with 15 on draught. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under California, Camping, Europe, Family Travel, Food, Greece, Hike/Backpack, Luxury Travel, Mountain Biking, Northern California, Pubs, Restaurants, Santa Cruz, wine tasting

A travel pouch with a neck pillow, nasal spray, ear plugs, lip balm, an eye mask, eye drops, hand and face cream and lavender face hydration sits in my closet ready for a plane trip. These days I also make sure to bring a water bottle to refill once inside security.

Flying is hard on the skin and body and until now, I have tried to counteract the terrible jet lag, fatigue and muscle soreness by taking precautions, particularly on flights of more than just a few hours. I can often be found in the back of the plane doing yoga or stretching and amusing the passengers and crew.

So, it was not a huge surprise when on a cross-country flight this week, I happened to read a small article in the New York Times Science Section entitled, Really? Flying Can Cause Mountain Sickness. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Air Travel, Travel, Travel Safety, Travel Tips, Yoga, health

As a kid in NYC in the ’80s, the soundtrack to my youth was varied and evolving, but the Beastie Boys were marquee. The three band members were my peers, and as Rap and Hip Hop filled the clubs and airwaves, they were riding the wave of a whole new genre and creating their own sound, combining street rhythms and rhymes with punk ethos and energy.  Disco was waning, the punk scene morphing and it was pioneering for three white boys to be doing what they were doing.

I’m no music expert, most of my response to music is visceral and associative, but I do know that if the Beastie Boys had been a fad, they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have.

As I blasted their latest album with car windows open,  to pay homage to the fallen Beastie (Adam MCA Yauch) who passed away from cancer earlier this month, my kids cringed as Mom reminisced semi-publicly. I tend to hate when I pass another car with thumping music blaring, always muttering, “Yeah, I like that music so much” to myself. OK, so forgive me… Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Brooklyn, Budget Travel, Concert, Culture, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, Music, New York, Nightlife

It’s not that often news about Lebanon brings a smile to my face. Triporati has decided that peace and stability is tenuous enough in the country to warrant this editor’s note:
[Editor's note: In an October 12, 2011 travel warning the U.S. State Department said, "The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains," and it urged U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel there.]
I still yearn for the day this vibrant and rich country can welcome all travelers safely.
When I lived in France, I worked with a man from Beirut who told me stories of the glory days of Beirut with great gusto and pride. It’s a lively city and tourists are coming back following many difficult years. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Africa & Middle East, Culture, Desert Travel, Returning Home, Travel Safety, Wine Tours, olive groves

Having dinner with close friends who had returned from a week at Whistler, we were regaled with tales of zip lining over the snow, tubing, dog-sledding, skating, skiing and boarding (of course) and a turn on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic bobsled run!

My friend doesn’t do anything unless it is full throttle, so it didn’t surprise me that he had a hankering for extreme speed. It did, however, surprise me when he said his whole body was sore after the less than 2 minute, nearly $150 (Canadian Dollar) ride down the Olympic track. Kitted out, he was placed in the back seat and braced himself to fly down the mountain. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, British Columbia, Canada, Canada, Family Travel, North America, Olympics, Skiing, Snowboarding, Travel, Winter Fun

I don’t know about you, but unless you have a streamlined, super business traveler routine for trip preparation and packing, (a la George Clooney in the film Up in the Air) you often wind up at the airport with slight back spasms.

I always travel with my yoga mat and often head to the back of the plane in-flight to stretch out and realign. Now you can actually use all that post check-in extra time at the San Francisco Airport to center yourself and work out the travel kinks. The City by the Bay has opened a yoga room in terminal two. If you don’t carry your own mat, mats are provided in the 150-square-foot room.

So, rather than kicking back with a cocktail why not salute the sun or invert a bit before your long or short haul flight? Let’s hope it’s a trend that catches on.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Air Travel, California, California, Northern California, San Francisco, Travel, Travel Tips, Yoga