Archive for the ‘ST Destinations’ Category

Mama told me not to come. To be fair, so did the US State Department, two New York City cab drivers, and several coworkers, who employed various tactics to reiterate their warnings. At once, and again almost every day before my husband and I left for Colombia, I was made to feel that I was volunteering to board a cheap speedboat to my doom. Had I said I was visiting another South American country (just about…any other country), I don’t believe I would’ve met the same response. Yet somehow I maintained a reasonable skepticism about it all. As a freelance writer from New England, my only natural fears were a.) sharks and b.) April 15th. But with so many different people bending my ear about this Colombia thing, I began to wonder if maybe I was the one missing something.

This was the winter of 2010, fast-approaching 2011. Was it a mild, xenophobic hangover from the Escobar Days that plagued so many of us, even still when we thought of Colombia, the travel destination? The purpose of my visit was a honeymoon, but also to meet several in-laws for the first time. Colombia was going to be a part of my life from now on. There was never really a question; I was going. No, the question others drilled with a carpenter’s precision into my skull was: just how foolish was I? So I decided to crunch the numbers.

Visiting multiple “stat sites” on kidnappings, murders, and muggings of foreign visitors, I found that I was more likely to be kidnapped in Mexico, Venezuela, or Ecuador (where I would also later go) than in Colombia. The chances of my being killed or mugged were no greater than in several U.S. cities. Yet the US State Department still listed Colombia as the ONLY South American country on its shortlist of international Travel Warnings, which included – in contrast – nations who were currently at war, exercised state-sponsored terrorism, and possibly hosted Osama Bin Laden. So where was the evidence to support this categorization?

Thankfully, I ignored my critics’ urgings and went to both Bogotá and Medellin as planned. I enjoyed the fresh energy, beauty, and hospitality of Medellin. (Not to mention a fantastic transit system and incredible food.) And I enjoyed the Colonial quiet of the Candelaria, the swanky Zona Rosa, and the straightforward urban middle of Bogotá – especially the library and a certain German bakery that had the finest baked goods I’ve ever tasted anywhere.  Instead of getting mugged – as I often feel after so many overpriced-yet-mediocre dinners in New York City, where my husband and I now live – I came home with a wallet that hadn’t suffered our adventure much at all. Memorable meals, cab rides, sights and diversions had all been had very cheaply. At one point I even got a terrific haircut from a guy with braces in Bogotá that cost me $5. It felt so wrong I ended up tipping him more than the cost of the cut itself. So I’d say to you, if you were looking to take an affordable vacation – somewhere you could experience a vibrant culture, diverse climate, and natural beauty in the extreme, find yourself a ticket to Colombia. (And tell the US State Department webmaster they seem to have a stowaway from last decade.)


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The Shy Traveler’s beloved cohort, travel and arts writer, Jeffrey James Keyes, is heading off to London Town next week. Having been to London twice, I’m trying to piece the city together in my memory after about a seven years away. It gets pretty impressionistic pretty quickly in my mind but I always have a great feeling when I think about it. My first trip to London was a snap of the fingers; I was dating a Brit who was at Hertford College at the time and I fell head-over-heels for Oxford. In all fairness to London, I got more intimate with Oxford. Anywhere you spend time in student housing and with a “native” is bound to be a more intimate experience. In London, my friend managed to pack in a trip that rivaled the tupperware school lunch your mom made. It was compact, well-rounded, and left me wanting more. We did the “Look! It’s Big Ben! That’s Houses of Parliament! The Thames! I’m American, and I see a red phone booth! That’s whimsical!” He was a sport. Then we caught a National Gallery exhibit, did dinner and a West End play. There was absolutely no way he could have crammed anything more into the jaunt. He was a perfect tour guide.london_thames_2

My second trip to London was with a friend. From the anxiety-pill-champagne-emergency-landing flight to the last night rolling on the floor of my friend’s temporary home in Earls Court, bellies full of wine and bags full of department store shoes and vintage bathing suits, it was a very different trip.  When you’re in London with no itinerary you can get into all kinds of good trouble. The liquor store employee on the corner knew us by name toward the end of my stay. We managed to navigate the city on foot without any trouble, exploring by neighborhood and wandering out a bit further each day. My first impression of the food was No decent coffee, no decent pizza. I’m not someone who travels outside of my city and expects the same comforts of home everywhere I go, but good coffee is key. We did find one place called Balans that served French press coffee and fluffy eggs. We were sold. We went back again and again. We stumbled up some uneven stairs and had great curry, saw the darker side of Chelsea at night, sprinted through the Tate Modern just before closing, wandered into little boutiques and chatted up store owners, and gave the local pharmacy guy developing our photos quite an eyeful. Why is it that British editions of books have much cooler cover art? Is it just me? Mind the gap in my pitiful memory. Nah, I’ll wait for Jeffrey’s report. And eventally I’ll just have to go back.

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If you’re living in a Northeast city*, Fall is a time when the harvest comes to you, much like Netflix. It comes in the form of farmer’s market orchard apples, mini pumpkins, gourds, and corn unloaded onto city pavement by the truckful. It’s sweater weather once again and leaves in the parks are beginning to change, but despite that familiar, exuberant feeling spreading through your body, in your bones you know that under that pile of gold and amber leaves is probably a family of rats. It’s time to slip out the back door to do some real leaf peeping in small town New England.

shy traveler mini pumpkins

shy traveler mini pumpkins

Shelburne, Vermont is only a twenty minute drive from Burlington airport, which is easily accessed from Logan, JFK, and several other major Northeast airports. (JetBlue flies from JFK to BTV in under an hour.) This tiny town is packed with autumnal attractions. Shelburne Museum, not far from the town square, is an outdoor museum boasting acres of historic buildings and artifacts, a turn-of-the-century steamboat, folk art, and original works by Monet, Manet, Degas and Cassatt.  Shelburne Farms, a nice walk, bike ride, or short drive from the center of town, has a 19th century inn with lodging, fine dining, a working farm, and tours of the grounds. No rats here, but you might catch a glimpse of some whitetail deer along the path in addition to all of the animals they have in their barns. Shelburne Farms also hosts moonlit wagon rides, concerts, and poetry readings.

Shelburne also has a couple of great places to grab a bite, including The Bearded Frog, a French-owned eatery in the restored Shelburne Inn, where you can sit by a fire and enjoy amazing wine or hearty beer, and a fantastic meal. I don’t know what they put in the Waldorf salad but I can never have another without longing for The Bearded Frog’s.

Village Wine and Coffee is where to grab your morning cup in Shelburne, or your bottle of [insert something impressive from South Africa] for a Fall picnic.

To grab a sandwich, nothing fancy, in the middle of the day, Harrington’s is directly across from The Shelburne Museum on Route 7. All of the ingredients are fresh and they have an impressive selection of baked goods to go along with your BLT. And Shelburne has plenty of small town shopping from antiques and crafts to clothes and home goods.

Don’t fret; if the town begins to feel like it’s shrinking by day three, downtown Burlington is just fifteen minutes by car with more shopping, restaurants, theaters and live music venues.

*I’m originally from New England, and here I’ve done a piece on leaf peeping. If there is a secret committee to hunt down exiled New Englanders and revoke their New Englander status, I would appeal to them that I am only trying to stimulate the local economy.

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Tien Yihen once said, “Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world.”

Alices Chapter 1

Alice’s Chapter 1

New York City has plenty of din, (siren) and (honk) for (dog) those (baby) weary (cabbie expletive) travelers (jackhammer) looking to (car subwoofer) forget over freshly-baked scones and a delicious pot of tea (whew!), Alice’s Teacup provides the right kind of shelter. Located on residential blocks on the Upper West and Upper East Sides, Alice’s is furnished and decorated to make the curious feel as though they’re stepping directly into the pages of Lewis Carroll’s classic books. In addition to an extensive list of teas, Alice’s also offers up light fare from scones and other baked goods to sandwiches, soups, and salads.  Not a fan of children? You may want to make the trek down to Tea and Sympathy. Alice’s waiting area is teeming with little tykes flipping through Edward Gorey books and mothers buying their daughters vials of pink glitter. Within walking distance of Alice’s Upper West Side (aka Chapter 1) location are: AMC Loews Lincoln Square, La Belle Epoque vintage poster store, and Verve handbag and jewelry store, all great pairings with an Alice’s luncheon.

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I once asked a couple from rural Canada what they thought of their stay in New York City so far. They each took a polite Canadian minute to compose their responses and said “We’re a bit overwhelmed.” I asked them where they’d been and they proceeded to rattle off the typical tourist destinations: Times Square, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, Broadway show, Ground Zero. I recognized the early warning signs of “I Don’t Heart NY”, so as any good New Yorker would do, I reflexively got out a pen and paper and began furiously listing all of my favorite restaurants, parks, museums and shops in the City away from the crowds, the noise and unidentifiable smells so often associated with tourist attractions. I knew exactly how this couple felt, and I also knew that if they ended up exploring even part of my handwritten guide, they stood a very good chance of leaving the City with an entirely different appreciation for it. One of the biggest challenges with convincing tourists to explore lesser-known areas of the City is that Manhattan itself gives the illusion of being large when in fact, it’s only 22.96 square miles. Transportation can be a bit daunting and taxis expensive, but if you plan your days according to neighborhood, you can see quite a lot – just like a native New Yorker – without feeling so much like Hummels at a rave.

This is New York City

"Hey! YOU! This is New York City!"

"Psst...{this is also New York City}..."

"Pssst...{this is also New York City}"

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