Dispatches from Darya Mead

We drove through Yosemite a few weekends ago. It was packed with summer travelers and waterfall gawkers. The major falls are glorious, and fuller than they have been in years. New, smaller falls have even appeared much to the delight of park goers.

As we drove through the park, out past Mono Lake, we were stunned by the high water levels and snowy peaks in early July. We laughed, thinking that we could even cross-country ski in some spots above 7000 feet.

Record snowfalls this winter and heavy unseasonable rain in summer have made conditions epic for nature lovers but also hazardous.

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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Budget Travel, California, Canoe/Kayak, Cross Country Skiing, Cruises, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Food, Hike/Backpack, Lake Tahoe, Mountain Biking, Northern California, Travel Safety, Yosemite, wildlife

Summer is finally and officially here!

Sand between my toes, melting popsicles, chlorine-y or salty hair, ripe tomatoes, fresh corn, eating outdoors, thunderstorms and fireflies—a few of my East Coast childhood summer memories. The idea of fireflies, or lightning bugs, as they are sometimes called, is just so charming, and in some ways a symbol of a simpler time. No iPhones or email, no TiVo or Internet, just a bug catcher and a jar….

Fireflies are everywhere this June. My kids listen to about 10 songs, as much as I try to curate their musical tastes, they’ll have to discover their own style. One of their favorites right now is Fireflies by Owl City. It’s a sweet song and the lyrics are very uncontroversial. My husband is also hooked on an old TV series called Firefly dubbed an America Space Western, by those in the know. Add to that, a great little restaurant, Firefly, in San Francisco, that we love…and then I came across this New York Times article about fireflies drawing hordes of tourists in Tennessee. This was the antidote to fast-paced modern life I needed to read about.

Apparently, there is a light show every night at this time of year in Elkmont, Tennessee near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Folks gather at a trail head with camping chairs and wait for the Mother Nature’s ritual performance. Called “mind-blowing,” “a silent symphony” and likened to the aurora borealis or a solar eclipse, this is no small show. Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Budget Travel, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, wildlife

Both sets of my grandparents, one set Jewish, the other WASP-y, were avid golfers. They lived in Florida, traveled to Arizona and Scotland and belonged to various clubs in the ’60s and ’70s, when middle class folks could actually retire and spend their time golfing.

On a recent trip back to NYC, my mom dug out a pair of chiffon yellow Bermuda golf shorts with my grandma’s initials embroidered on them and gave them to me. Thanks Mom, maybe I can wear them in some hipster renaissance outfit somewhere in SF.

My mom pulls crazy things out of boxes and storage places in her small Greenwich Village apartment; like hordes of clowns coming out of a circus car, the treasures just keep coming. These were pristine and had probably been cloistered away for more than 30 years. Suffice to say I am NOT a golfer, save the mini golf experiences with my kids. I get the appeal though, and can perhaps imagine, that some day it might be of interest to me.

Golf, however, is a huge part of the travel market and I have written about golf courses and destinations for years. Two recent stories got me thinking about the symbolism of golf in today’s world. The New York Times story: Revolutionary Cuba Now Lays Sand Traps for the Bourgeoisie and the NPR story charting the golf course casualties of the recession, seem to encapsulate so many of the changes rocking our country, the global economy and the geopolitical shifts in the world.

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1 Comment | Filed Under Cuba, Golf, Luxury Travel, Venezuela

When we think of Brazil, we think of soccer, over the top Carnival celebrations, samba dance, Bossa Nova music, and unfortunately, lots of crime. The 21st century, however,  has brought many changes to this giant of Latin American countries. These days, Brazilians are preparing for two huge international sporting events…The 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The motto for the Olympics is “live your passion.”

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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Brazil, Culture, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Films, Music, Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, Soccer, South America, Sports

Tulips and daffodils, cherry blossoms and birds galore, the charmingly decrepit Central Park of my youth is now ancient history, as I learned on a recent trip. Defunct buildings are now sparkling hotspots like the Boathouse, refashioned and refurbished as a posh eatery with 19th-century Parisian charm.

Civilized cafes have sprouted up and scary bathrooms are well lit and clean, even the carousel seems perkier. Just a few years ago I took my kids on it, and an ex-con type was running the controls. The merry-go-round went so fast I feared my toddler son would fly off. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Birdwatching, Manhattan, New York, Urban Parks, wildlife

Tonight, my seven-year-old made origami cranes for the children of Japan. Tomorrow, at school is a bagel breakfast to raise money for those in need, following the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

It is also cherry blossom season, here in San Francisco, in our nation’s capital and of course in Japan, a rite of spring and a life-affirming, annual natural event. As I wheeze through the days full of blooms and pollen I stop to think about the brutality and generosity of what we call Mother Nature.

Traditional custom this time of year in Japan is to picnic under the cherry blossoms with friends and family. Sake, poetry and karaoke often accompany a spread of bountiful treats. This year though, as the country mourns, many are avoiding conspicuous consumption and opting to forgo the annual ritual, or to tone it down considerably. The elderly mayor of Tokyo has erected signs to ask residents to avoid the spring fun as a show of solidarity for those suffering in the northeast of the country. Mother Nature, or the force in nature, whatever you want to call it, can be so cruel and so glorious. The cherry blossoms are beautiful, fleeting, and fragile…like life itself. There is poignancy this year, but certainly the pink blossoms offer a small glimmer of hope, that life goes on.

2 Comments | Filed Under Asia, Culture, Festivals, Japan, Urban Parks

The first time a friend suggested a trip to Sea Ranch, I had visions of seahorse cowboys and underwater rodeos. I soon discovered it to be anything but a SpongeBob SquarePants circus. It proved to be one of the most restful places I’ve ever been.

100 miles north of San Francisco, the drive takes a good three hours if you take time to gawk at the Oscar winning coastline. We often stop in Bodega Bay for a fish and chips or clam chowder lunch to break up the drive. This time, my seven-year-old discovered he gets carsick, and if you are prone to motion sickness this drive will surely bring it on.

Sea Ranch was a pioneering eco-community begun in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The connection between the landscape and the architecture is beautiful and certainly contributes to the serenity of the place. I dislike gated communities or housing developments in general, but this place really has captured the benefits of a uniform style with strong community ethos. The sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate wood-frame structures were inspired by the local ranches and are designed to cope with the weather and integrate well with the topography. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Food, Hike/Backpack, Mountain Biking, Northern California, Spa/ Resort, Yoga, wildlife

Snow is blanketing the country.

On a gloriously, sunny crisp clear day in SF, I started wading through our snow gear in preparation for a school snow trip to the Sierras. It must be mentioned that keeping snow gear up to date for growing kids is tricky, but I think I’ve got it all sorted and labeled. All this talk of snow and winter got me thinking about my own winter bucket list, winter adventures high on my “to do” agenda.

When most of the country is dreaming of beaches and sun, I’m dreaming of the white stuff. I love snow and all the fun one can have outdoors when the temperature drops and precipitation turns to flakes. Three unusual activities came to mind. One, visiting Sweden’s Ice Hotel, but I already posted about that one.

The second, skating Holland’s many canals has been a lifelong dream. Inspired by Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, skating the canals has become a rarity due to pollution and climate change. 2009 was a big year for canal skating and many Dutch citizens rediscovered their soul when they strapped on their skates two winters ago.

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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Family Travel, Food, Netherlands, Sports, Sweden, Winter Fun

Do you know the way to San Jose? That Dionne Warwick song from the late sixties was playing in my head as we packed the kids in the car for our overnight in the South Bay. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area nearly twenty years and I think I’ve been to San Jose three times.

I had been itching to take the kids to the Tech Museum and my husband and I were intrigued by the Art Museum, so we decided to book a hotel room overnight and make a festive trip out of it between Christmas and New Year’s.

It had been raining for nearly two weeks, so we also had visions of a great hike if the skies cleared up. I called a close Cuban-American friend who knows San Jose well and happens to be a foodie. He was on it, and within half an hour recommended three eateries in the area, so I felt ready to go. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Cuba, Culture, Driving Trips, Family Travel, Feature, Food, Museums, Restaurants, shopping

With arctic temperatures in London, and Paris brought to its knees by snow, New York City is looking like a good bet for Christmas this year. Ice skating in Rockefeller Center, the Fifth Avenue store windows, the Radio City Christmas Show or a ride around Central Park in a horse and carriage all rank high on the New York holiday must do list. If you add in a few snowflakes, the dream comes to life.

But for locals and people in the know, the way hipper attraction is far out in the bowels of Brooklyn. Dyker Heights draws more than 100,000 visitors each holiday season to ogle the over-the-top home decorations. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Brooklyn, Budget Travel, Driving Trips, Family Travel, New York, Nightlife, Winter Fun