Tuesday, June 18, 2024

5 Free Fabulous Summertime Things To Do in New York City

By Jacquelin Carnegie
In the summertime, many cities around the world empty out and all cultural activities come to a halt. But, during the dog days of summer, New York lives up to its reputation as "The City That Never Sleeps." Cool cultural and fun events never stop! Here's a sampling of not-to-be-missed happenings: 

Battery Dance Festival
Battery Park City - Rockefeller Park 
batterydance.org (Aug) 
Battery Dance Fest, Trainor Dance (photo: Steven Pisano)
Every August, this festival gives dance lovers a reason to rejoice. Wonderful international dance companies are showcased in the most beautiful setting in New York City! But, even if you know nothing about dance, it's worth checking out this festival as each night a selection of five dance troupes performs giving you the chance to discover that you're really a dance fan after all. Plus, the Statue of Liberty is in the background!

Summer Concert 
(photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera)
All throughout the summer there are wonderful, free outdoor concerts featuring all kinds of music, but these last until Fall: 
(www.summerstage.org; June thru Oct) This music fest has expanded beyond Rumsey Playfield in Central Park to 18 parks in all five boroughs. You'll hear cutting-edge music--everything from Indie to Afrobeat, Latin to Soul, Reggae to Fado, etc.--plus you'll see contemporary dance. All performances are free, except for benefit concerts. For jazz fans, there's the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (Aug). 
(photo: Courtesy Bryant Park)
Bryant Park – Picnic Performances (https://tinyurl.com/3vafee34; June-Sept) – In this beautiful setting—the lawn behind the stunning main NY Public Library—you can enjoy fab, free performances of jazz, classical music, opera, pop as well as dance & theater. Bring your own picnic or garb some tasty goodies at the food tents. Bryant Park will even provide the picnic blanket!

Hudson Classical’s Shakespeare in Riverside Park
In the summertime in New York City, Shakespeare is king! The best-known offering is The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park (July thru Aug) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (During the theater's renovation, enjoy performances throughout the 5 boroughs by the Mobile Unit, on Film & online.) There are also some lesser-known productions such as Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, Shakespeare in Riverside Park & Shakespeare Downtown.

Have a drive-in experience without a car! Check out all the lovely outdoor locations to watch movies under the stars in the middle of the city from Coney Island Flicks to Rooftop Films

Governors Island
New York Harbor, www.govisland.com
Open: Daily, year-round; Ferry fee, but free on the weekends before noon.

Governors Island (photo: JCarnegie)
This glorious getaway, just 5 minutes from Manhattan Island by ferry, was for many years a base for the US Army and Coast Guard. But, the Island has been transformed into an artsy recreational area with lots of interesting events. One of the wonderful ways to get away while staying right in the city. (Here are some other great options to stay cool while sightseeing:

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

New York City: 8 Great Ways To Sightsee by Boat

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Pioneer sunset cruise (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!

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
Open Daily, year-round; Ferry: Free, Sat & Sun before noon. Otherwise, $5, except seniors, kids, military
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. 

NYC Ferry
(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 & soon to Coney Island. 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.

These kayaking and rowing options are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, but you need to reserve them in advance, so sign up early. (You also must know how to swim.)
Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse; downtownboathouse.org; May-Oct; Free, Weekends (Pier 26, North Moore) & (Pier 101, Governors Island, but currently closed due to construction) 
On the weekends, The Downtown Boathouse offers free kayaking on the scenic Hudson River. The equipment—boats, paddles, life jacketsand instructions are free. Wear shorts or a swimsuit.
Kayaking in Brooklyn: Pier 2Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse
(photo: Downtown Boathouse)
June-Sept; Free, Sat & Sun, afternoons; 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 & Wednesdays, 6pm

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 and boatbuilding. 

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; May - Oct; Sat & Sun; Fee, 
Boat ride Museum Admission 
(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, 75-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.
(photo: SoStSeaportMuseum)

Pioneer - Schooner Sail
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; Pier 16; May - Oct; Sat-Sun Daytime Sail & Wed-Sat Sunset Sail; Fee, Boat ride with/or without Museum Admission (2-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.

Monday, May 20, 2024

10 Great Reasons To Explore 3 Fab Islands Near Cancun, Mexico: Holbox, Isla Mujeres & Cozumel

By Jacquelin Carnegie
Isla Mujeres (photo: Quintana Roo Tourism)

Cancun is a fantastic destination that’s easy to get to from almost anywhere. It’s on the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo which also includes the magnificent islands of Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and Cozumel—all worth exploring as part of your vacation experience. 

On Holbox, there is something magical in the air. Once you arrive, you will absolutely not want to leave. Situated at the northeast corner of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Holbox is a 26-mile-long island separated from the mainland by the Yalahau lagoon. Holbox (pronounded Hol-bosh) is a Maya word meaning “black hole,” referring to the lagoon’s dark water, which you cross in a 30-minute ferry ride to the island from the tiny town of Chiquilá, 2-hours north of Cancun.
Holbox (photo: JCarnegie)
 Holbox is located in a unique oceanic spot: where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea converge. So, the surrounding waters are teeming with marine life—turtles, dolphins, whale sharks--in addition to some 500 bird species that nest in the area. Hence, the Island is part of the protected Yum Balam Nature Reserve. Originally a fishing village, the picturesque town on Holbox has colorful, wooden houses, a smattering of little shops, bars, restaurants, a pizza & ice-cream parlor—plus, lots of street art. Isla Holbox is a laid-back place with only sandy, dirt roads and no cars; just golf carts and 4x4 taxis to get around. With friendly locals and magnificent beaches, you’ll soon discover that Holbox is a true paradise on earth.
Unique To Dos
Blue Waves Holbox
Tours offers several cool ways to experience the island:
Bioluminescence Tour – This is done at night to see the phytoplankton’s luminescent effect in the ocean around Holbox that looks like fireflies underwater. Wade in the water, swim in it or kayak around to experience this beautiful, natural phenomenon.
Three Islands Tour - Isla Pájaros: See bird species such as white ibis, egrets, pelicans, spoonbills, herons & flamingos. Isla Pasión: Climb up the observation tower on this little, deserted island with a beach awash in seashells. Yalahau parque ecoturistico: Swim in a crystal-clear “cenote.”

Where To Stay: From basic to luxurious, there’s lots of accommodation choices from rustic bungalows to hostels to lovely boutique hotels such as Hotel Villas Caracol - Great beach location, super-friendly staff, nice rooms & pretty pool, plus delicious meals in their Las Hamacas restaurant & beach club.
Getting Around on Holbox: No cars, just golf carts to rent and 4x4 taxis—yellow ones waiting at the ferry.
Holbox town (photo: Quintana Roo Tourism)
Getting There: Holbox is a 2-hour drive north of Cancun, plus a ½ hour ferry ride from Chiquilá to Isla Holbox—worth every minute. From Cancun Airport or downtown Cancun to Chiquilá (87 miles/140 km) there are several options (but I wouldn’t recommend renting a car as none are allowed on Isla Holbox); prices in Mexican $: Shared or Private Shuttle

Cancun Airport–Chiquila Port (Holbox ferry); ADO bus: Cancun airport/downtown-Chiquilá, Quintana Roo, Mexico (the cheapest option); Ferry: Holbox Express

Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is only 5-miles-long and half-a-mile wide, but it’s a vacation wonderland known for beautiful, white-sand beaches and aquamarine water. You can be as active or relaxed as you’d like.
Go snorkeling, scuba-diving, kayaking, or biking around the island. Or, just chill-out at a lovely beach club. Playa Norte is the most famous beach, also known for great sunsets. In ancient times, Isla Mujeres was a sanctuary for the Maya goddess Ixchel. At Punta Sur, you can explore this history and see splendid sunrises. Other activities include: exploring the island by golf-cart, swimming with whale sharks, or boating to the nearby Isla Contoy National Park. For shopping, entertainment, bars and restaurants, stroll along Isla Mujeres’ main drag, Avenida Hidalgo. In the evenings, there’s live music and dancing in the street.
One thing to keep in mind: Isla Mujeres is an extremely popular destination. If possible, consider a visit during off-season, May-October. Otherwise, there are an enormous number of tourists, not only those staying on the island, but also many day-trippers as it’s so close to Cancun.
Punta Sur (photo: JCarnegie)

Unique To Dos
Beach Clubs - Hanging out at a Beach Club is a very popular way to spend the day on Isla Mujeres. Most offer food & drinks, the use of sunbeds, loungers, palapas, hammocks, toilets & showers. Some even have sports activities & swimming pools. Depending on the club, there’s either an all-inclusive entrance fee or free entrance with a food/drink purchase. (Some popular ones: Guru, Zama, Amazona)
Amazing Seafood - Mar-Bella Fish Market Raw Bar & Grill restaurant - From the ocean to your plate. An incredible seafood selection served in a lovely, beachfront location. (The Amazona Beach Club in right next door.)
Punta Sur & Sculpture Park (entrance fee) - Punta Sur is a stunning, cliffside location with incredible views. It’s also the site of Templo Ixchel ruins, thought to have also been a Mayan lighthouse. And, the Punta Sur Sculpture Garden. Mexican and international artists have created sculptures that represent the spirit of Maya civilization. Take a stroll around this beautiful site, also renowned for sunrise-watching.
Swim with Whale Sharks - Whale Sharks congregate near Isla Mujeres (June-Sept), go for a memorable dip with them.
Baby Turtle Release - During the Sea Turtle nesting season in the Mexican Caribbean (May-Nov), there’s a release program (ask where at your hotel as the Tortugranja Turtle Farm is currently closed for renovation).

Where To Stay: North end of the island - to be in the middle of the action or South end - a quieter location. There are options for every budget from hostels and Bed & Breakfasts, to boutique hotels, private villas, and deluxe, all-inclusive resorts. For day-trippers, Hotel Riu Caribe in Cancun is a really nice, all-inclusive, near all the ferry ports.
Getting Around on Isla Mujeres: 
Ferry Cancun to Isla Mujeres (photo: JCarnegie)
Rent a golf cart (carrito de golf) bike or motorcycle on Rueda Medina right across the street from the ferry. Taxis at the ferry.
Getting There: From Cancun, it’s a 30-minute ferry trip. There are several ferry ports, easily-reachable by local taxi: Puerto Juárez, El Embarcadero, Playa Tortugas or Playa Caracol. Ferry: Ultramar

Cozumel is a terrific vacation destination about a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, an hour south of Cancun. Cozumel is a bit larger than the other islands, some 30-miles-long and 10-miles-wide, with spectacular coral reefs perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling, amazing beaches, water sports, and a history of Maya culture.
On Cozumel, 75% of the land is a federally-protected, natural reserve as are its’ famous arrecifes (reefs), Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, which are part of the Mesoamerican system, the largest barrier reef in the Western hemisphere. In fact, the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau declared Cozumel one of the most beautiful scuba-diving areas in the world.
Cozumel Punta Sur (photo: JCarnegie)
 While Cozumel may be a diver’s paradise, there are many other things to do on this beautiful island. It’s a very popular stop on Caribbean cruises. The town of San Miguel has great shopping and dining, and the not-to-be-missed Cozumel Museum has incredible exhibits on the fascinating history, culture, geography, and ecosystems of the island.
Unique To Dos
Pueblo del Maiz (entrance fee) - Experience the ancestral heritage of the Maya culture in this recreated, ancient Mayan village. Learn about the goddess Ixchel, the importance of corn, and the origin of chewing gum. Make authentic tamales and chocolate from cocoa beans. Find out how the Maya respected the natural world, made thread for textiles from plants, and let nothing go to waste.
Punta Sur – Eco Beach Park (entrance fee) - Punta Sur is an ecological park at the southern end of the island; a nature preserve with beautiful beaches. Experience Cozumel’s incredible natural habitat as well as go for a swim & soak up some rays. Take a boat ride on the lagoons through the mangrove marshlands to see crocodiles and birds, then hang out at one of Punta Sur’s snack bar/beach clubs. Before leaving, climb to the top of the lighthouse for great views.
Chankanaab Park (entrance fee) - Located inside Cozumel’s National Reef Marine Park, this adventure park has something for everyone: picturesque grounds with gardens and nature trails; diving and snorkeling tours on the Chankanaab Reef; a sea lion show for the kids and tequila tastings for the adults. There’s a lovely beach area, spa, and restaurants.

Where To Stay: Lots of options from budget to boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Try some place unique such as Ventanas al Mar an eco-friendly, oceanfront hotel on Cozumel’s unspoiled East Coast.
Getting Around on Cozumel: Car Rental – It’s a big island with lots to see. 
Other options: Rent a jeep or bikes, take taxis or just go on a selection of island tours.
Yucatan, Quintana Roo map

Getting There: The 45-minute ferry ride to Cozumel leaves from Playa del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun. Getting from Cancun to Playa del Carmen: ADO bus: Cancun Airport–Playa del Carmen (Once in Playa, the ferry terminal is just a short walk from the bus station.) Shared or 
Private Shuttle: Cancun Airport–Playa del Carmen; Ferry from Playa del Carmen: Ultramar (Blue/Yellow) or Winjet (Orange). Onboard the ferries, there’s great live-music that makes the trip fun. Fly: Cozumel has an airport (CZM) with direct flights from many destinations.

KEEP IN MIND: All major airlines fly into Cancun. Quintana Roo is taking steps to protect its cultural and natural heritage. Please use biodegradable sunscreen & bug spray; while swimming in a cenote or diving on the reefs, no sunscreen is allowed at all. Please help keep this natural wonderland as pristine as possible & have a terrific time on the Mexican Caribbean!

Monday, April 15, 2024

Discover France’s La Vendée Region: Part II: Le Bocage – A Bucolic Landscape of History & Gastronomy!

By Jacquelin Carnegie

La Chabotterie (photo: Alexandre Lamoureux)

La Vendée is a wonderful area to explore in the Pays de la Loire region on France’s western coast. It’s known for its’ lovely, beach towns such as Les Sables-d'Olonne and its’ bucolic countryside, Le Bocage Vendéen. The French and other Europeans like to come here on vacation, and you will too. There’s great food, plenty to see and do, and La Vendée has some of the friendliest locals you’re likely to meet in France!
Le Bocage Vendéen is the countryside, originally covered by small fields, enclosed by hedges and groves of trees. Today, it’s also an area with lots of interesting activities for the whole family. The fascinating history of this region is brought to life in lots of entertaining, informative ways.
Learn About The Region’s History In Beautiful Settings
Revolutionary 18th Century - Vendée War (1793-96)

In 1789, the French Revolution established a new government and a new social order, but the aftermath such as the Reign of Terror, forced conscription into the French Revolutionary army, and religious persecution caused the very-devout Vendeans to rebel, forming their own Catholic and Royal Army. Even after their army’s defeat, the Vendean resistance continued, led by General Charette. While the Vendée rebellion is sometimes viewed as a Royalist sympathizing, it was more a rebellion against an attack on their way of life.
Logis de la Chabotterie
Saint Sulpice le Verdon, Montréverd; logis-de-la-chabotterie
This is not only a beautiful place to visit, it’s also an important site of the Vendée War. On March 23, 1796, General Charette, nicknamed the “King of Vendée,” who led the Vendée resistance, was captured here in the woods of the Domaine de La Chabotterie. The Visitors Center has a fascinating exhibition about the war and all the major participants.
Logis de la Chabotterie (photo: Julien Gazeau)

The Logis (mansion) is a beautiful example of regional architecture, built at the end of the 14th century. Several rooms can be visited that have period furniture and decor from the end of the 18th century, reflecting the gentry’s country lifestyle. The grounds are also magnificent: there’s a French-style garden with medicinal plants, a kitchen garden with traditional vegetables, and an ornamental garden with around 120 floral varieties. There’s also a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Chabotterie, led by chef Benjamin Patissier.

Floralies Internationales (Alex Segura Arana)
 Floralies Internationales 
comite-des-floralies.com) - The 13th edition of this fabulous, international flower & garden show took place at the Domaine de La Chabotterie. On over 100 resplendent acres (48 hectares), garden designers and landscape architects from 200 international exhibitors created concept gardens for a totally-unique, cultural experience. The theme: “Jeux de Fleurs” (Flower Games) for the Olympic Games held in France. The next Floralies is in 2029.

Revel in the Medieval Heritage: Castles, Damsels & Knights
There are numerous castles to visit in the region. Each site aims to bring the illustrious past to life through historical reenactments and impressive spectacles. There are also specially-designed activities for kids such as interactive games and workshops. (Most are open April–September.) Here are a few suggestions: 
Chateau de Tiffauges
Château de Tiffauges - Experience Middle Ages pageantry at this 12th-century castle. Château de Saint-Mesmin - Learn about medieval games at this 14th-century fortress. Puy du Fou® - Voted one of the world’s best theme parks, the experience offers a journey through time from Antiquity to the 20th century. Through a variety of imaginative and spectacular shows, with hundreds of actors and expertly-trained animals, French history is brought to life (www.puydufou.com).

Enjoy the Regional Gastronomy - Les Produits du Terroir
The rich soil of the region enhances the taste of all the fruits and vegetables grown here. Also, the area is renowned for its organic beef, poultry, pork, etc. Many products from Le Bocage Vendéen bear the Label Rouge (red label) signifying the highest quality. While La Vendée boasts nine Michelin-starred restaurants, some regional bocage specialties include: jambon grillé (grilled ham), mogettes (white beans), fromage de chèvre (goat cheese), préfou (garlic bread), & brioche vendéenne.
Le Pap

Enjoy the regional cuisine at any number of restaurants whether nouvelle cuisine
La Pap (1 Rue des Jardins, La Bernardière; www.lapaprestaurant.fr) - Chef Alexandre Papin began his apprenticeship at age 15, then traveled the world working at restaurants run by top chefs in England, Canada, Australia, South Korea & Japan. Now, he’s come home and opened this marvelous place with his wife Priscila offering “fusion cuisine” made with products from local, organic farmers.
Or local dishes: Restaurant La Digue (9 Rue des Abreuvoirs, Montaigu; https://www.resto-ladigue.com) - Expect a warm-welcome and a great meal of regional dishes made from fresh, local ingredients at this friendly, family-run place right on the river in Montaigu.

Get The Most Out of Your Visit: Download maps, brochures, or get a Pass Touristique (Tourist Pass for adults & an “Intrepid Club” for kids) and, of course, an App. Chemin de fer de la Vendée - Go for a ride on a steam-engine train from 1900 that crosses over three valleys on viaducts for a unique, local experience on the Vendée Railway

Le Bocage (photo: Alexandre Lamoureux)

Getting There & Getting Around: Train: No matter what direction you’re coming from, getting off at Montaigu is a good place to start your visit to Le Bocage Vendéen. But, you’ll need a car to best visit the region; rent one at: Europcar Montaigu (Centre Point S ZA de Mirville, Boufféré, Montaigu; Tel: +33 2 51 46 39 77) 
Where To Stay: All through Le Bocage there are wonderful places to stay from castles to campsites. Le Céladon (13 Place du Champ de Foire, Montaigu; https://www.le-celadon.fr/en) - If arriving in Montaigu in summertime, this family-owned Bed & Breakfast has a huge garden with a lovely, outdoor pool & jacuzzi.