Wednesday, July 17, 2019

New York City: 8 Great Ways To Sightsee by Boat

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Pioneer (photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)
Here’s a sampling of some boat rides with terrific views that will help you experience the city in a whole new light, along with some fantastic sightings of Lady Liberty!

FREE (& ALMOST FREE) BOAT RIDES WITH GREAT VIEWS
Staten Island Ferry
Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 4 South St.; www.siferry.com; Free, year-round
(photo: Staten Island Ferry)
Think of this pleasant 25-minute ride as a mini-cruise with some of the world’s best views--the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and lower Manhattan. On Staten Island, get out and explore all the wonderful sights such as the Alice Austen House Museum (www.aliceausten.org) showcasing photography in a lovely setting, the Tibetan Museum (www.tibetanmuseum.org), and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Garden (www.Snug-Harbor.org).

Governors Island Ferry
Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St.; www.govisland.com
May thru Oct; Free, Sat & Sun before noon. Otherwise, $3
Gov Island (photo: J.Carnegie)
This 7-minute ferry ride whisks you from Manhattan (& Brooklyn on the weekends) to a little bit of nature with spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. After 200 years as a military base, Governors Island is now a lovely public park. The former barracks, for the US Army and Coast Guard, make it look a bit austere, but all the new recreational features are fun to discover and, almost every weekend, there are entertaining activities, concerts, and events. 

IKEA Brooklyn Ferry
Pier 11, Gouverneur Lane & the East River; https://bit.ly/2JXavDC; Free, Saturdays & Sundays
From Pier 11 (a short walk from the South Street Seaport) take the IKEA ferry to Red Hook, Brooklyn. The store is right in front of the pier on Beard St. Shop if you must, or take a lovely stroll along the waterfront, then head to the nearby Fairway Market (480-500 Van Brunt St.; www.fairwaymarket.com). On weekends, pick up something to eat at the salad bar or deli counter, then head to the dining patio with great views of Lady Liberty and New York Harbor.

NYC Ferry
https://www.ferry.nyc
(photo: NYC Ferry)
For just the price of a subway ride ($2.75) you can travel on the East River between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx--even to Rockaway beach. Get off and explore the offerings at specific stops or just stay on and enjoy the ride. From the 17th to the 19th century, ferries traversed the city's waterways but, as bridges and tunnels were built, the ferries were fazed out. Now, they're back in full-force and a thrill to ride. The major hubs in Manhattan are at East 34th Street and Pier 11 near Wall Street & the So St Seaport.

FREE BOAT RIDES, PLUS EXERCISE
These kayaking and rowing options are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there early. (You must know how to swim.)
Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse; downtownboathouse.org; May-Oct; Free, Weekends & Tues/Wed/Thurs evenings (Pier 26, North Moore); Saturdays (Pier 101, Governors Island) 
On the weekends and certain weeknights, The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the scenic Hudson River at two locations. The equipment—boats, paddles, life jacketsand instructions are free. Wear shorts or a swimsuit.
Kayaking in Brooklyn: Pier 2, Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
(photo: Downtown Boathouse)
May-Aug; Free, Weekends & Wed/Thurs evenings 

Row Your Boat – Manhattan
Village Community Boathouse, Pier 40, Hudson River Park, at W. Houston St.; www.villagecommunityboathouse.org
April-Nov; Free, every Sunday at noon & Tues, 5:30pm

The Village Community Boathouse offers free, group rowing sessions. The aim is to provide safe, public access to the city’s fantastic waterways and to introduce people, especially kids, to the joys of rowing, sailing and boatbuilding. 

NOT FREE BUT STILL WORTH IT BOAT RIDES
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy dealt a blow to the South Street Seaport Museum. While there are currently only a few small exhibits on view, the museum offers wonderful boat rides:
W.O. Decker - Tugboat
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16; https://bit.ly/2JMFwaX; May thru Oct; Sat & Sun; Fee, Museum Admission + boat ride
(photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)
                             
We think of tugboats as the "worker bees" of the waterways. This one (refit with a diesel engine) was built in 1930 when steam tugs were a common sight in New York Harbor. Today, enjoy a bit of history on a truly-enjoyable, 45-minute ride on the W.O. Decker, the last-surviving, New York-built, wooden tugboat. Delight in stunning views of the lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Pioneer - Schooner Sail
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16
www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org; May thru Oct; Weekends & Wed/Thurs/Fri evenings; Fee, Boat ride with/or without Museum Admission (2- or 3-hour cruises)

Enjoy an afternoon or sunset sail on this historic vessel, first launched in 1885. Bring a picnic lunch or dinner and revel in the sights of New York Harbor.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

5 Great Day Trips from Brussels, Belgium

By Jacquelin Carnegie 
(photo: VisitBrussels)
Brussels is a lovely little city to explore with over 100 museums, plenty of wonderful restaurants, and the delightful Dansaert shopping district. Famous for its food and beer, comics and artists, you'll have a great time. But, Belgium is a small country—it doesn’t take more than an hour by train to visit most of the major highlights—so plan your trip to take advantage of all the country has to offer. It's easy to get around by train, bus or rental car.
Belgium has two regions: Wallonia, which is French-speaking, and Flanders where Flemish (like Dutch) is spoken. Don’t fret; many people also speak English.

DISCOVER WALLONIA
Art in the Park
(photo: Folon Foundation)

Fondation Folon
Ferme du Château de La Hulpe, Drève de la Ramée 6 A, La Hulpe; www.fondationfolon.be
Jean-Michel Folon was a fabulous, 20th-century, Belgian painter, illustrator and sculptor. While not as well known as his compatriot, the surrealist painter René Magritte, both liked to paint men in hats. Folon's celebrated work--beautiful watercolors, posters on behalf of important causes, and whimsical sculptures--is displayed in Château de La Hulp’s ancient farmhouse in Solvay Park, about a half-hour from Brussels. After you’ve viewed the collection, enjoy lunch at the adjacent café, Taverne de L’Homme Bleu, and take a stroll through the magnificent park.
Getting There: TEC Bus: #366 from Ixelles: Etangs d'Ixelles on Ave. du General de Gaulle in Brussels to La Hulpe Etang Solvay, about an hour. (TEC Bus info only in French.) In the park, follow the path that leads to your left, signage to the Fondation is limited. I’m a firm believer in public transportation, but this trip is easier by car (about 30 minutes) and you could combine it with a visit to Waterloo, ten minutes away.


Living History: A Bad Day for Napoleon
Waterloo Battlefield
Route du Lion 315, Waterloo; www.waterloo1815.be
(photo: Waterloo Battlefield)
It’s always thrilling to be in a spot where world history was made. The Battle of Waterloo was one of the most important in European history. It marked the fall of Napoleon and paved the way for a new era of peace in Europe. On June 18, 1815, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Field-Marshal Blücher and 350,000 soldiers met on this battlefield, which has been preserved in its original state. You can take a tour, see reenactments, and learn more about the events leading up to the battle. But, you don’t have to be a military history buff to enjoy a visit to this beautiful and fascinating sight.
Getting There: Train: From Brussels Midi train station to Braine L’Alleud about 20 minutes. Then, walk or taxi to the Waterloo Battlefield Visitors’ Center. TEC Bus: #365a or W outside Brussels Midi station to Route de Nivelles, not Waterloo stop, about 45 minutes. (This trip by car is about 30 minutes from Brussels.)


DISCOVER FLANDERS
A Passion for Fashion
Antwerp
(photo: Dries van Norten)
Antwerp is a hidden gem. Known for diamonds, which are just dull stones until cut and polished, this city became famous for the "Antwerp cut," said to give diamonds more sparkle. Browse the diamond district near the beautifully-restored Central Station, but purchase only from a reputable shop in the Diamond Jewelers Association (www.adja.be). Antwerp is also a fashion center thanks to the now-famous “Antwerp Six,” a group of avant-garde fashion designers (Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee) who burst onto the scene about 30 years ago and put Antwerp on the fashion map. Shop-till-you-drop in the lovely Sint-Andries neighborhood. Even better, go with a personal shopper. You'll want to stay longer than a day.
Shops: Louis (Lombardenstraat 2) - The store that launched the Sixers’ careers; Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) - Dries van Noten’s flagship store; Coccodrillo (Schuttershofstraat 9A) - Sells the Antwerp designers’ hip footwear.
Personal Shopper: Go with style consultant Tanguy Ottomer (Beroepsbelg; Tel: +32(0)3 430 23 30; http://beroepsbelg.be; half & full day rates)
Dine: Het Pomphuis (Siberiastraat z/n) - Delicious meals in a spectacular setting. De Lokeend (General Belliardstraat 11) - A unique dining experience for groups of 20+; diners in a fabulous, private home.
Stay: Lots of options from nice hotels to campsites. Park Inn (Koningin Astridplein 14) - Hip & conveniently-located.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Antwerp, about 30 minutes.


Chocolates & Canals 
Bruges
(photo: @mgdlnvlgr)
Famed for its medieval city center and canals, Bruges is now more popular than ever. The downside is hoards of tourists and local shops turned into tourist traps. To experience Bruges’ true beauty, rise early and/or stay up late to stroll the cobblestone streets free of the maddening crowds. But, nothing can spoil chocolate—there are some 40 shops to choose from. Start at the Chocolatier Van Oost (Wollestraat 11).
Dine: Cafedraal (Zilverstraat 38) - Delicious regional and seasonal dishes.
Stay: Plenty of lovely hotels and B&Bs to choose from. Pand Hotel (Pandreitje 16) - For a splurge, try this fashionably-decorated spot.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Bruges, about an hour.


Beauty Beyond Measure
Ghent
(photo: Nataša Pavlović)
If you have time for only one day trip from Brussels, let it be this one. Ghent is the real deal. It has everything Bruges has--canals, unbelievable architecture--just on a slightly larger scale with fewer tourists. Take a boat ride on the canals. Admire the cityscape of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical architecture. Marvel at the magnificent, 13th- to 17th-century guildhalls along the banks of the canals. Wander around, then relax at any number of lovely, sidewalk cafés, taverns or brasseries. But, be sure to stay for nightfall when all the buildings and monuments are illuminated.
Dine: Mosquito Coast (Hoogpoort 28) - Inexpensive & in a great location overlooking the canal; Korenlei Twee (Korenlei 2 ) - A bit more stylish; Café Theatre (Schouwburgstraat 7) - Elegant, right next to the opera house; known for its Moëlleux, a cake with melted chocolate inside.
Stay: Several splendid places to choose from. Ghent Marriott (Korenlei 10) - An historic building with a hi-tech interior, right in the heart of it all.
Getting There: Train from Brussels Centrale station to Ghent (Sint-Pieters station), about 35 minutes. Then, Tram #1 into the center city, 7 mins.


Transportation Options in Belgium
Train/Bus: Brussels has three train stations (Brussels Centrale, Brussels Midi, Brussels Nord). The trains you’ll need for most of these trips leave from Brussels Centrale; the trains are frequent and inexpensive. Schedules & fares: SNCB or Rail Europe. The TEC Bus is also very convenient. Car Rental: All the major rental car companies are in the Arrivals Hall at Brussels Airport and, in the city center, at the Brussels Midi train station: Avis, Hertz, Europcar, etc. Travel in style: Hire a car and driver from Fun Cars or Modern Car
Magritte, La Décalcomanie
Making Your Trip Easier: City Cards give access to museums, public transport, special discounts, etc. They are useful if you plan to cram in a lot of sightseeing, but are less beneficial if you intend a more leisurely trip: BrusselsCard, Antwerp CityCardCityCard GhentBeroepsBelg - Offers all kinds of interesting tours in several Belgian cities.
Getting to Belgium: Brussels Airlines has just upgraded its fleet to offer more transatlantic comfort. 
Bon Voyage! 
[Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on Frommers.com]

Sunday, May 5, 2019

5 Artsy Day Trips an Hour from PARIS

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Monet, Train to Jeufosse

If you’re an art lover, this itinerary is for you. It was the development of train travel in the late 1800s in France that enabled artists to easily reach the Parisian outskirts to paint landscapes, giving rise to the en plein air ("in the open air") painting style. These treks into the countryside led artists to consider moving to the picturesque suburbs. Today, follow in their footsteps by hopping on a train. All of these lovely places are within an hour of Paris either by RER (light rail), SNCF (train) or TGV (fast train).

MORNINGS WITH MONET
Fondation Claude Monet
84 Rue Claude Monet, Giverny
fondation-monet.com; (Open: March-Nov) 

Monet, The Artist's Garden at Giverny
Monet noticed the village of Giverny while passing by on a train; in 1883, he moved his family here. His presence attracted other artists, from the famous to the unknown. (On Nov. 28, 1894, both Rodin and Cézanne visited!) It’s easy to visit Monet’s house and gardens without taking an overpriced bus tour. Get here on your own—by train, of course. Take an early one to arrive just as the gates open at the Claude Monet Foundation. The garden is beautiful, but smaller than imagined. And, the famed Japanese water garden is now on the other side of a busy main road. However, the house has been lovingly restored and the town is worth a visit. Have a meal or a look-see at the famed artists’ hangout, the restaurant Hôtel Baudy (open March-Nov), and don’t miss the Musée des Impressionnismes, just down the road.

Getting There: From Paris' Gare St. Lazare station, take a SNCF train to Vernon-Giverny. At Vernon, the train is met by a shuttle bus to the Claude Monet Foundation. Taxis and bikes are also available.

AU REVOIR VAN GOGH
Auvers-sur-Oise
Van Gogh,
Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption

Auvers-sur-Oise is a really charming town where Vincent van Gogh sadly spent the last months of his life. He moved here in May 1890 and did some eighty paintings, including the only one sold during his lifetime, Portrait of Dr. Gachet. Markers throughout the town indicate Van Gogh-related points of interest and the sites he painted such as the church Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption and the City Hall. At the Château d'Auvers (the kitschiest museum you’ll ever visit), experience French life at the time of the Impressionists. Pay homage to Van Gogh at the room he occupied in the Auberge Ravoux. At the cemetery, weep over his grave and the sad irony of the penniless painter, now considered the most popular artist in the world.
Getting There: From Paris' Gare du Nord station, take the RER or SNCF train in the direction of Pontoise or Valmondois, with a transfer to Auvers-sur-Oise. (On Saturdays & Sundays, April to November, there’s a direct train, H line.)


RODIN’S COUNTRY HIDEAWAY
Musée Rodin - Meudon
Villa des Brillants
19 Avenue Auguste Rodin, Meudon; https://bit.ly/2WuI7uK
Rodin, The Thinker

The sculptor Auguste Rodin moved to Meudon Val Fleury in 1893. While he continued to go to his Parisian studio, he did a lot of creative work here. The museum is actually the villa where he lived and the studio where he worked, set in a beautiful park. Today, only a few rooms in the villa are open to the public, but the atelier is filled with spectacular casts of important pieces such as The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell. Out front, The Thinker fittingly presides over Rodin’s tomb. This lovely spot, perched on a hill overlooking the Parc de St. Cloud and the Seine, is the perfect setting for a picnic on a nice day.
Getting There: From Paris, take RER (C) in the direction of Versailles Rive Gauche to Meudon Val Fleury. Then, from the station, take bus #169 (Paul Bert stop). It’s a walk uphill from there.


RODIN'S MUSE FINALLY GETS HER DUE
Musée Camille Claudel
10 rue Gustave Flaubert, Nogent-sur-Seine
www.museecamilleclaudel.fr
 

Claudel, Femme Accroupie
This recently opened museum is the first in France to be dedicated to a woman artist. Recognition a long time in coming for an artist who spent most of her career trying to assert her own creativity and independence from Rodin. Certainly in the 19th-century, Camille Claudel was regarded more for being Rodin's student, studio assistant, collaborator, muse, model, and mistress--rather than a sculptor in her own right. But, it was in Nogent-sur-Seine as a young girl that her talent was first recognized and encouraged by the well-known sculptor Alfred Boucher. Boucher then asked Rodin to take her on as a student and the rest is history. As to the museum, works by other 19th-century sculptors who taught or influenced Claudel are displayed in the large first floor galleries in the modern section of the building. Oddly enough, Claudel's own works are relegated to the 2nd floor in the old section that was once the Claudels' family home.
Flaubert Fans: Flaubert's father's family was from Nogent-sur-Seine. His novel L'Éducation Sentimentale (Sentimental Education) is set here. At the tourist office (5 rue Saint Epoing)
, pick up a brochure with a map of highlights, "Sur Les Pas de Flaubert." 
Getting There: From Paris' Gare de l’Est station, take a SNCF train to Nogent-sur-Seine (about an hour). The museum is a 10-minute walk from the station.

DA VINCI SLEPT HERE
Château du Clos Lucé
2 Rue du Clos Lucé, Amboise, Val de Loire www.vinci-closluce.com
Da Vinci model at Clos Lucé
Long before any artist hopped on a train, the master of them all--Leonardo da Vinci--loaded his painting supplies and a few canvases onto a mule for the journey from Italy to France. Da Vinci came to the château at Amboise in the Loire Valley on the invitation of King François 1, a major fan. The king told Da Vinci he was "free to think, dream, and work." (It's the reason the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre.) You can visit the rooms where Da Vinci worked the last years of his life and view maquettes of his ingenious machines. The château is surrounded by a magnificent park with life-size models of many of Da Vinci's futuristic inventions that only became realities some 400 years later.
Getting There: From Paris' Gare Montparnasse station, take the TGV train to St Pierre des Corps. (An hour, plus a 20-minute taxi ride or local train connection to Amboise.) Or, take a 2-hour train, direct to Amboise from Paris' Gare Austerlitz.


Paris has six train stations, each serving specific regions. (There’s a rhyme and reason to it, but it often seems completely arbitrary!) However, you can do itinerary and timetable searches for all these trips before leaving the comfort of your home on Transilien or Rail Europe. Most of these lovely places, and 5 other artsy spots, are best visited in the spring and summer (some are only open from March to November), so book your flights to Paris now! 
Getting There: Norwegian Air - This low-cost carrier has several routes to Paris from the US: New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), & Ft. Lauderdale, FL (FLL), etc.
[Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on Frommers.com]

Friday, February 22, 2019

5 Great Reasons To Visit Heidelberg, Germany (Mark Twain Slept Here!)

By Jacquelin Carnegie
The picture-perfect town of Heidelberg sits on the banks of the Neckar River, about an hour from Frankfurt. With its' Baroque architecture, red gabled roofs, cobblestone streets, and stunning castle ruins, it's downright charming. Once the royal seat of power for German prince electors, the town dates back to 1196. While steeped in history, Heidelberg is not stuck in the past. As a university town, it’s bustling with activity. Hauptstrasse, the pedestrian-only, main shopping street, is lined with historic pubs and trendy boutiques. This blend of ancient and modern adds to Heidelberg's charm. There are many reasons to visit but, for anyone who loves literature, this one's at the top of the list--Mark Twain lived here!
MARK TWAIN IN HEIDELBERG
Mark Twain traveled a lot. Partly, for his own amusement, but mostly to earn a living—doing research for books or on
extensive lecture tours. In 1878, he spent several months in Heidelberg, Germany. His exploits here--real and imagined--are recounted with glee in A Tramp Abroad. No one is entirely sure why he chose Heidelberg: perhaps because its' university is the oldest in Germany (founded in 1386); maybe because the name comes from the German word "huckleberry mountain" and Twain was struggling to finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; or, possibly because it’s just such a pretty place.
Follow in Twain's Footsteps - Go On a Walking Tour
Since little has changed in Heidelberg, it’s easy to follow in Twain's footsteps in the vain hope that his wit and way-with-words will miraculously rub off. Retrace Twain’s sojourn here on your own or with a tour, “In the Footsteps of Mark Twain” (https://bit.ly/2O9B1I0
). 
Heidelberg Castle
Mark Twain Slept Here
Twain first stayed at the Hotel Schrieder, now a Crowne Plaza (Kurfürstenanlage 1). He looked out on a fancier hotel that is, today, the police headquarters. During the heat of summer, Twain moved to the Schloss Hotel (now a luxury condo) on the hill near the castle.
Mark Twain Hiked Here

The castle at the top of the hill has Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements. It was started in 1400 and burned by the French in 1689. Twain enjoyed hiking up to the ruins and watching the Castle Illuminations.
Now, you can ride the funicular up to the castle for a visit and stroll in the gardens. The Illuminations take place three times a year (June, July, September) with a concert beforehand in the Heiliggeistkirche
Heidelberg's largest and most important church (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played here)!
Mark Twain Hung Out Here
Student Jail (photo: J.Carnegie)
Twain liked to sit in on lectures at the university and got a kick out of visiting the student jail Studentenkarzer (Augustinergasse 2) in operation from 1778 to 1914. The students weren’t jailed for getting poor grades, but for pulling pranks on the locals. 
HeidelbergCard - With the card, you can check out the jail and the university in the Alstadt (old town), along with countless other attractions.
Mark Twain Was Inspired Here
In A Tramp Abroad, Twain recounts a fictional raft trip down the Neckar (the inspiration for Huck Finn’s later ride). Today, you can cruise the lovely river on the Neckarsonne, a solar-powered boat.
Mark Twain Eat Here

You can still eat some traditional German fare at places where Twain chowed down: Zum Roten Ochsen (Hauptstrasse 217; www.roterochsen.de) - The Red Ox has been a pub since 1703. Zum Güldenen Schaf (Hauptstrasse 115; www.schaf-heidelberg.de) - The Golden Sheep has been a restaurant since 1749.
Other Literati
Mark Twain isn’t the only writer to have enjoyed a stay in Heidelberg. There was Goethe, Victor Hugo, and Hemingway to name a few. Imagine a conversation between them, sipping a cold one at Hemingway's (Fahrtgasse 1). They’d certainly agree that, while the world has changed, Heidelberg’s charm prevails.
Neckar river (photo: J.Carnegie)
What's New: Visiting Heidelberg today, you can also enjoy plenty of year-round cultural events ranging from a Vampire Ball to music, art, and literary festivals.
Where To Stay: Hip-Hotel (www.hip-hotel.de) - Hip, indeed! Each room is decorated as a different country. (The Kischka family also owns the Zum Güldenen Schaf restaurant, right next door.)
Getting There: Fly into nearby Frankfurt then, directly from the airport, take a shuttle, bus, or train to Heidelberg.
[A version of this article first appeared on Frommers.com]