Sunday, October 15, 2017

Citizen M Announces Expansion Plans


Coming to a City Near You!

Good news for fellow road warriors.

Over the past few years most major hotel chains have been very busy tweaking their products. So much so that the Marriott chain alone offers a mind boggling 29 different hotels brands. By comparison Hilton offers 14 different hotel brands. 

Clearly, they are committed to serving the unique needs of a very wide spectrum of travelers by developing customized products that cover every market niche possible. But their smaller, more affordable, offerings all seem like variations of each other to me.

There is one little upstart hotel chain however that (in my humble opinion) has developed a totally unique product: Citizen M. 

My first experience with a Citizen M was at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I just needed a room for a quick overnight stay before flying on early the next morning. With its practicality, very affordable price, XL king sized beds and "walk to the terminal" convenience I opted to try it. 

For a single traveler it turned out to be great.

My first experience at Citizen M may be found here: Roadboy's Review Citizen M Hotel - Paris - CDG

Since then, I have hoped to see the chain expand to North American markets I travel to most frequently. 

Today, I received an e-mail announcing that there are locations now under development in:

California: 
• Los Angeles - Hollywood Boulevard
• San Francisco - Union Square

Massachusetts: 
• Boston - North Station

New York: 
• New York City - Bowery (joining their present Times Square location)

Washington: 
• Seattle - South Lake Union

Washington DC: 
• National Mall / L'Enfant Plaza

For quick affordable high tech luxury this is all good news!

There were other global locations announced as well: Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur, Paris Center, and Shanghai.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017


Friday, October 13, 2017

Bicycling The Low Country: Part 2

Days 5-6: Savannah
The Bonaventure Cemetery, Wormsloe Plantation and Ebenezer Creek


After four days exploring the Sea Isles of South Carolina, we began Day 5 with a shuttle from Beaufort to Savannah, Georgia.

Upon arrival in Savannah we took a walking tour of its historic district admiring its many squares and architecture.

After the walk we were free to explore the city on our own before reconvening to check into our new hotel: The Andaz.

Some of us had signed up for an eco-kayak tour of the black waters of Ebenezer Creek just north of Savannah.

The kayak trip quickly became one of the highlights of the trip. After a shuttle to Ebenezer Creek, we met our guides and selected either 1 or 2 person kayaks, paddles and life vests. After a brief lesson on paddling we set off gliding through tea colored water shaded by towering cypress and tupelo trees.

The still, mostly shallow, creek was very quiet and somehow felt otherworldly.

City Hall Savannah

Kayaking on Ebenezer Creek

Gliding Among the Cypress and Tupelo

Water Lines on the Trees Identify Testify to Recent Storm Surges

Complete Bliss

Upon return to the Andaz, it was time to shower and seek dinner. Anticipating fine dining the next day, we opted for the creative menu served up at Savannah's own Treylor Park. We were early enough to avoid their frequent hour plus wait. Drinks were ordered as we reviewed its one-of-a-kind menu.

Our server proudly informed us that the crazier a menu item sounded, the better it would taste.  We began with a mountain of waffle fry nachos and plates of deep fried avocados.

Waffle Fry Nachos at Treylor Park

The last day (Friday) began with a ride through some beautiful neighborhoods including Bluff Drive.

A Stately Bluff Drive Residence

The View from Bluff Drive

From Bluff Drive we made our way to the Wormsloe Plantation with its mile long canopy tree drive.

Wormsloe

Wormsloe's Canopy of Trees

We stopped for a terrific Bar-B-Que lunch at Savannah's Sandfly and then peddaled on to the Bonaventure Cemetery. This is the place where the "Bird Girl" statue from the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" used to reside. Due to some vandalism Bird Girl now resides in a Savannah Museum.

Although I'd visited this cemetery before, I'd never had the chance to really explore it. So this trip I found myself reading epitaphs, admiring the sculpture and marveling at the stories the place holds. This is the final resting place for many of Savannah's most elite residents, including songwriter Johnny Mercer. His family plot includes a bench engraved with his most famous songs (including many Academy Award® winners).

Elaborate Sculptures

 Some Beautiful, Some Creepy

 Johnny Mercer

From Angels to Cats

 Cat Eternally on Guard

After the ride we turned in our bikes for the last time and went off to shower and change for our farewell dinner at The Pink House. I slipped in a visit to the Savannah Bee Shop for some noney tasting (sourwood, sage and tupelo were my favorites). 

Now it was time for dinner. There were toasts, laughs, trading of e-mail addresses and a round of Happy Birthday. And then, officially, the trip was over.

Time sometimes passes so quickly. This week time flew by.


Roadboys Travels © 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bicycling The Low Country: Part 1

Days 1-4: Charleston and Beaufort South Carolina

Maintaining a positive outlook on life in 2017 has required extra focus on healthy activities to enrich my mind and regenerate my soul.

And, combining bicycling with travel is medicinal to me.

Last year I was cycling through Spain's Costa Brava. Last July I cycled through Acadia National Park in Maine. With the return of fall I embarked on 6 days of pedaling through the Sea Isles of South Carolina and Georgia.

Of course, this year it was all dependent on whether Hurricane Maria chose to veer east or west. Luckily, she veered east and stayed off the shore of South Carolina and Georgia.

This trip featured rides in and around Charleston, Beaufort (in SC it is pronounced "Bew-furt") and Savannah.

Getting Started
After all 20 of the riders arrived in Charleston and checked into to the lovely Ansonborough Inn, we met our Vermont Bike Tour hosts to be fitted for our Fuji hybrid or road bikes. After a short briefing we tested out our bikes and the GPS based directional systems during a warm-up ride along Charleston's waterfront and through some of its colorful neighborhoods.    

 The Ansonborough Inn

The Ansonborough is a lovingly re-purposed warehouse building near Charleston's Port. Rooms featured high ceilings and lots of heavy timbers. The Inn is loaded with artwork (many featuring canines).  

    Some of the Hotel Dogs        

The ride through Charleston included views of some of its most cherished waterfront real estate. Most of the City is carefully maintained to cherish its historically rich architecture.

Regal Homes Face Charleston's Waterfront.

A Modern Guest House 
Carefully Blended Among Historic Properties 

Similar to New Orleans and Savannah, Charleston is a bit quirky. Down every street there are pocket gardens,  mansions, narrow "shotgun" homes and lots of stories of ghosts. 

Don't Stick Your Bazooka Joe to a Light Pole in Charleston!
(Must be a story how a fine of $1092 came to be established)

Charleston is a one of those fascinating American City's with a turbulent history as a center of the American slave trade, hotbed of secessionist traitor's during the Civil War and now a fully gentrified center of tourism featuring some of the nation's finest restaurants.

A House Approximately 16' Wide
(Real Estate in Charleston's historic district is measured by the inch)

A Walkers Delight Day or Night

Charleston's in City Lake

After our warm-up ride we changed and enjoyed a welcome dinner in Charleston's French Quarter at 24 Queen.

Dinner for me began with a cup of some lusciously rich she-crab soup. Like many meals in this part of the world, it is advisable to have your cardiologist standing by.   


Day 2 Riding through Mount Pleasant, the Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island
Day 2 began with a ride over the elegant Arthur Ravenel Bridge which led to Mount Pleasant, The Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island. Along the was was a lunch stop and a visit to Fort Moultrie. 

The Bike Lane on the Ravanel Bridge

On the Isle of Palms we witnessed the effects of Hurricane Maria as it was passing just off shore. The ocean was filled with anger delivering waves that were chillingly close to many of the multi-million dollar homes lining the ocean's edge.

A Modern Beach Home
(Many are elevated a full story to anticipate for hurricane surges)

We had a beachfront lunch while surfers were out in abundance to ride Maria's enormous waves.

Our 29.7 mile ride continued to Fort Moultrie National Monument. This fort played roles from the War of Independence all the way through World War II. It keeps an eye on nearby Fort Sumter. 

Unlike the risky (reckless) oceanfront homes found on the Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island avoids beachfront development.

 
Day 3 The Angel Oak and Cycling Wadmalaw Island
After breakfast on day three we said goodbye to Charleston. We made a stop on St. John's Island to visit the enormous "Angel Oak" and then take a 16 mile ride on Wadmalaw Island. We then shuttled to a new hotel in Beaufort.
Off to Beaufort

 A Group Photo at the Angel Oak

The age of the Angel Oak is a source of much discussion but it is generally agreed to be at least 400 years old. The Oak's trunk measures 28 feet in circumference with canopy branches spanning 187 feet from end to end. The tree delivers shade to 17,200 square feet. 

From the Angel Oak we departed for the Charleston Tea Plantation. This is the only remaining tea plantation in production in North America. Initially developed by Lipton Tea (at a time when they feared access to China's tea might be in peril), it is now owned by the Bigelow Tea Company.

The plantation grows the American Classic tea served at the the White House.

North America's Only Tea Plantation

Before the tour I had no idea that Oolong, Black and Green Tea all come from the same plant. The difference is just in how long the tea leaves are dried.  Although I'm not a big tea drinker, I found the sample teas presented here to be pretty wonderful.
 
Butterflies Everywhere

Throughout the week of riding we were surrounding by butterflies of seemingly all colors and sizes. Nowhere were they in more profusion than on Wadmalaw.

We completed the day's ride at the Firefly Distillery / Deep Water Vineyard where samples were available for tasting.

After checking in at the lovely Beaufort Inn we dressed for an elegant dinner at Beaufort's wonderful Saltus restaurant. I loved this dinner. For me it began with steamed mussel's, moved on to a great steak and then finished off with panna cotta topped with peach puree. 

 
A View of Beaufort

Day 4 St. Helena Island and The Penn Center
On day four we left the hotel for a 35 mile ride beginning at the history rich Penn Center on St. Helena Island. This became sort of a home base for the day as we went on to ride a large loop and then return to the Penn Center for a picnic lunch.

At the time of the civil war there were some 1,300 whites and 14,000 enslaved individuals in and around Beaufort.

The region was brought under Union control in 1861. As plantation owners fled the region, abolitionist missionaries from Philadelphia founded the Penn Center as the first school in the Southern states to be specifically devoted to the education of African-Americans. 

Over the years the 47 acre center has played a vital role in education and preservation of the Gullah tradition and culture of the region. In the 1960's it hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for retreats and now offers a museum, conference and cultural center.

After checking in at the Penn Center we began our ride encircling St. Helena Island. First stop for me was the ruins of the 1740 era Anglican Chapel of Ease.
 
 The Chapel of Ease

Like much of the early architecture of the region the chapel is built of mixture of cement and oyster shells locally referred to as "tabby". The chapel itself was burned in a forest fire in 1886.

Tabby Construction

The quiet ride took us past vast marshes, an egret sanctuary and lots of farms.  

Rivers of Grass

The end of the day included a walking tour of Beaufort and dinner in a local pub.

The next post will include the final leg of the trip to Savannah and an afternoon kayaking on Ebenezer Creek.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at The Heard

Selections from the Gelman Collection


Jacques and Natasha Gelman were pretty exceptional. Natasha settled in Mexico City after escaping from Eastern Europe in 1939.  Natasha met Jacques (a Russian born Frenchman who was in Mexico City representing a French film company) when he saw her reading a French language newspaper in a hotel garden. They married in 1941 and took up residence in Acapulco. Jacques went on to become a renowned (and wealthy) filmmaker representing such stars as Cantinflas.

 Natasha Gelman
Diego Rivera 1943
The first Mexican work to enter the Gelman's art colleciton

The Gelman's wealth and fame allowed them to travel freely among the world's most famous celebrities and to assemble a remarkable art collection. In addition to numerous works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo their private collection included pieces by Joan Miro, Matisse and Picasso.

During a period of time when Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera had become a global art superstar the Gelman's developed a somewhat complex relationship between the Gelmans, Rivera and Frida Kahlo. At that time Frida's fame was mainly limited to Mexico. 

Of course over time the deeply personal work Kahlo produced during her short but prolific life has begun to eclipse the fame of Rivera.

Upon the Natasha's death in 1998 the Gelman collection which had been donated to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art became the subject of immense legal battles. During this time its conservator actually hid the collection for a period of time.  Happily, the collection has re-emerged and is once again being exhibited worldwide. 

Specific photographs and pieces in the collection by Diego Rivera and Kahlo were exhibited at Phoenix's Heard Museum from April through August.

So for those that missed it, here are a few highlights.

A Family Photo of a 20 Year Old Frida Kahlo
 Guillermo Kahlo 1928

Photograph of Frida Kahlo Age 23
Imogen Cunningham 1931

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Martin Munkasi 1934

Calla Lilly Vendor
Diego Rivera 1943

Self-Portrait With Monkeys
Frida Kahlo 1943

In 1943 Frida Kahlo was appointed professor at the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Printmaking. FOr Kahlo, who was self taught, this was a high honor. On this painting the four adoring monkeys are thought to represent a group of adoring students known as "Los Fridos".

The Bride Who Becomes Frightened When She Sees Life Opened
Frida Kahlo 1943

Frida Style Clothing


Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Travel in the Worlds Safest Countries

Spoiler Alert: The US is Not One of Them

Travel touches and instructs us in very profound ways.

At times it brings us to tears.

Nothing in my travels has touched me more deeply than Berlin's Solpersteine's or "stumble stones".

The 10 cm X 10 cm "stones" are actually concrete or brass ingots permanently embedded in sidewalks at the front doors of buildings throughout Berlin. The program has grown with stones actually now found in many cities.

The locations are frequently located at the front doors of the building (or where a building used to be).

Each stone lists the name(s), birth date(s), abduction date and (if known) the location and date of their murder by the Nazi's

These stones represent the souls of Jews, Sinti / Romani (gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, gays, African's, the developmentally or physically disabled, Freemasons, Communists, and the many Protestant / Catholic humanitarians who died in attempts to save others.

So as America reels from moral revulsion in the realization that there are those who freely claim racial superiority, embrace Nazi symbolism and now feel emboldened to openly march in our cities, all I could think of were those stones.

You see, I believe anyone with any human dignity at all visiting Berlin will come away unable to rationalize the moral obscenity of the Hitler / Nazi regime.

Yet, our daily underscores how our nation is (as one of my more astute friends noted recently) "tribalizing" under the influence of tell-me-only-what-I-want-to-hear media. Shouting and violence is replacing civil discourse as America convulses in a national nervous breakdown.

So what does this all have to do with travel?

Well, over the past couple of years many friends have told me they are limiting vacation options to the US citing the horrific attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Nice, Manchester and now Barcelona.

And, while I completely understand their fear, I question the basic assumption that we are safer limiting travel to the US.

So I researched how countries stack up when independently evaluated for safety and peacefulness. And, in doing so, I assumed (hoped) the US would rank somewhere toward the top of the list.

The most comprehensive evaluation I found was research conducted annually by international / independent think tanks that collectively issue a report entitled the Global Peace Index (GPI).

The GPI assesses crime rates, terrorist acts, violent demonstrations, relationships with neighboring countries, rates of militarization and overall political stability / effectiveness in 167 countries.

So in 2017 if you want to travel to the 25 safest and most peaceful nations in the world (according to the  GPI) you should consider visiting:

1. Iceland  
2. New Zealand
3. Portugal
4. Austria
5. Denmark
6. The Czech Republic
7. Slovenia
8. Canada
9. Switzerland 
10/11. Ireland and Japan (a tie)
12. Australia
13. Bhutan
14. Norway
15. Hungary
16. Germany
17. Finland
18. Sweden
19/20. Belgium and Netherlands (another tie)
21. Singapore
22. Mauritius
23. Spain 
24. Chile
25. Romania

Most of the rankings did not really surprise me.

Then, I looked down the list for other favorite destinations: Italy ranked 38, the UK 41 and France 51.

The US didn't make the top 25, 50, or even the top 100. It ranks 114 (out of 167).

So while there are awesome and amazing destinations to visit and cherish in the United States, there are safer and more peaceful places to visit.

So resist the temptation to dig a hole and climb in; go explore.

Be "of" the entire world. Be touched. Think on your own.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

E-Bikes!

Perfect Timing

When cycling in Spain last year, I noticed some cyclists from Germany riding a couple of amazingly sleek carbon fiber bikes. Despite panniers etc. their bikes looked like they were right out of Tron. Then, in chatting with them, I came to realize they were actually electric assist (or "E") bikes.
Although the riders were younger than me (and clearly fitter than me) they said they loved their E bikes. Although they could use them in full electric mode (which they said they never really did), they found them to be great "helping" on long hills.
Well this came on a day when I was really huffing up the hills and was starting to wonder if my cycle touring days were coming to a close. So, the prospect of riding a bike that could help level out a hill sounded pretty darned good! 

When I returned to Phoenix I began looking at electric bikes. I also had serious chats with my local bike shops. They all said E bikes have become a major part of their inventories. But they also said the technology was changing fast and they felt prices would likely start to come down.

So although I've decided I will buy one, I am going to wait a year. 

And, in the meantime, my favorite bicycle touring company VBT is now offering "E" bikes on its more challenging routes at no extra charge. So I've signed up for one on my 2018 trip to Croatia!

Some things in life just get better!


Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Roadboy Bikes Acadia - Days 5-6

Day 5 - Exploring Rockefeller's Carriage Trails

On Day 5 we left the busy park roads to pedal from Bar Harbor to Northeast Harbor (and our new hotel the Asticou Inn) using Acadia's famous 45 mile network of "carriage" trails.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. began building the carriage trails in 1913 with construction continuing for almost three decades. At is peak there were 300 skilled workman employed building the trails. 

The trails afford close up views of the park's lakes and ponds and climb to some of the highest points on Mount Desert Island. The trails safely cross over the park's busy auto roads that encircle the park giving hikers, equestrians and bicycle riders a safer and more spectacular way to experience the park.

A Quiet Pond Along Eagle Lake

 The View From Trail 36 
(After a Climb to 1191 Feet)

As an architect I appreciate how the design of the trails carefully align with the natural contours of the hills while offering gentle slopes to enable their use by horse drawn carriages. The engineering of the trails delivered trails that are able to survive harsh Maine winters through the use of multiple layers of crushed granite supported by a nearly invisible series of stone culverts and drains. The trails are lined with guardrails of irregularly spaced giant granite boulders and include a series of elegant stone bridges (that are actually reinforced concrete bridges clad structures clad in stone). Each bridge is different and many are built with gentle curves where trials meet streams and ravines.
   
 One of the Stone Bridges

 
A Scupper Drain Detail

Along the way we had snack stops where our hosts tempted us with a variety of fresh fruits, energy bars and chocolate. The route was perfectly timed for us to arrive at noon at the Jordan Pond House where we could enjoy a wonderful lunch at waters edge (complete with a chance to sample the local "popovers").

Our Host Tracey at a Snack Stop on the Way to Jordan Pond
 
From here we could choose a relatively flat 3 mile hike to the Asticou Inn or embark on a more challenging ride to the hotel involving a climb of 1191 feet. I opted for the longer bike ride. It rewarded me with sore legs and seemingly endless views along with lots and lots of wild blueberries. While a challenge, the ridgetop trail was clearly one of the highlights of my trip.

Of course the long ride up the mountain meant we had miles of wonderful downhill trial that eventually resulted in our arrival at the Asticou Inn.

The Asticou Inn at Northeast Harbor

Flowers at the Inn

The Asticou Inn built in 1883 is operated seasonally and survived the great fire of 1947. It offers 31 rooms in the main lodge (no two the same) as well and clay tennis courts a large heated swimming pool. If you are lucky enough to get a room facing the harbor (I was) the view is amazing. Happily, the rooms lack TV's or air conditioning (but lovely cool evening air is afforded just by opening the windows).  

 Room 134

    The View of Northeast Harbor From My Balcony


Day 6 - A Visit Little Cranberry Island

Day 6 was our only non-biking day. The weather forecast was for grey skies with a little rain.  We met at the dock at northeast harbor and boarded the Elizabeth T for Little Cranberry Island. Along the way we passed the lighthouse at Bear Island before arriving at Islesford dock to clib aboard a lobster boat and chat with a veteran lobsterwoman and her crew. 

Northeast Harbor
(The Asticou Inn is the grey building off in the distance)


 Lobstering 101 From Stephanie The Lobster Woman and Her Crew
 (Note the old style wooden lobster trap)


Measuring The Catch
(Too small they go back, too big they go back)

We then walked to a gravel beach for a picnic lunch followed by time to visit island artisans. The highlight was Storyteller Pavilion built to showcase the work of island artist Ashley Bryan whose work includes art glass panels using colorful sea glass and marionettes made from driftwood and found objects.

Ashley Bryan's Lyrical Puppets


The walk across the island included a trip to the National Park Service Museum on the island and the time to swat losquitos and admire the many flowers blooming Isleford. 

The Bees and Blooms

Kids, Mosquitos and Kids and Mosquitos

 Isleford's Wharf Displaying the Effects of the Time and Sea

After a full day we boarded our boat back to Northeast with a short stop to retrieve a Lobster Trap to see how they work.  The 3 section trap had 4 residents in its Kitchen, Pantry and Living Room.  All were too small to keep and went back into the water.

The evening concluded with a farewell dinner and a private and performance by remarkable fiddler Gus La Casse and guitarist Peter Lindquist. The pair performed regional music and original compositions. What was a bit amazing to me was that Gus is just 16 years old.

Peter Lindquist and Gus La Casse

Tomorrow we pack up our belongings and take a final ride along the Carriage trails back to Bar Harbor where we meet the shuttle back to Bangor to begin the journey home.

Once again I offer my praise Vermont Bicycle and Walking Tours (VBT) for the creation of this incredible experience. Everything was paced perfectly and designed to provide and immersive look into the people and culture of Maine and scenery of Acadia.

This was my third trip with VBT and the first in the US. It was also my first VBT trip utilizing their new GPS based turn-by-turn mapping. 

According to my GPS I rode about 100 miles and climbed 6,522 feet at an average speed of 8.5 miles per hour.  Despite that, with all the blueberry pie and lobster I consumed, I'm pretty confident I didn't drop any weight.


Roadboy's Travels © 2017