Category Archives: travel

it’s always snowy in Vermont

Or at least it’s always snowy at Christmastime in Vermont. We crossed the border from New York State last Wednesday around 2PM and as soon as we got into the mountains we were greeted with a snowstorm. It snowed 6″ overnight in north/central Vermont but the roads were dry by the time we made it to southern Vermont the next morning.

A few days later and we were hit with the Christmas blizzard: we woke up on Monday morning to 16″ of snow on the ground and and estimated 3-7″ to fall before 4PM.  Hans got to practice his snow blowing skills while my mom and sister got out the old snow shovels. My nephew, Chase, and I tromped through the snow and took turns lying in the deep powder.

Everyone inside for hot chocolate!

living on a boat is hard…

sometimes. Particularly during the month of October. Particularly on the east coast of the US, just a stone’s throw from the ICW. It’s that time of year. Snowbirds are heading south to Florida and the Bahamas, and sailboats are setting out directly for the Virgins with the Caribbean 1500.

boats go south down the Dismal Swamp

Our dock lines remain tied to the cleats. Our yellow electric cords are plugged in. Our water hose is fixed to the boat. The leaves turn. The morning air is chilly. The marina ducks have gone south. And we stay.

October would be easier if we were living in an apartment. Living on a boat, it’s just too easy to imagine throwing loose the dock lines and firing up the engines to motor south down the ICW. We’d stop off in Annapolis to get some crab cakes at Davis’s Pub; then on to Solomon’s Island to get even better crab cakes; friends to visit in Deltaville and Norfolk; the locks of the Dismal Swamp; friendly Elizabeth City; the inner banks of North Carolina; etc. I have such great memories of cruising down the ICW on Whisper four years ago that it’s hard not to get nostalgic this time of year. Especially when we’re living on a boat. Boats are meant to travel. To take you to the horizon! See the far shores! Get salt water on the decks!

For now, we’ll remember the journey on Whisper, look through photographs, and, like all sailors, dream about what is beyond the horizon and when we’ll set out next.

Harvest Fest 2010!

Hans and I went on a mini-roadtrip this weekend to Hunt Country Vineyards’ 21st Annual Harvest Festival. Hunt Country Vineyards and Winery is owned and operated by my friend Suzanne Hunt‘s family. I haven’t been up the farm since the summer of 2006–over 4 years ago. The visit was long overdue. We had a fantastic time–great food, amazing music by Suzanne’s band The Stick Mob, wine tastings, hay rides, grape stomping, cooking demonstrations, craft tents and more.  Most of all, it was great to spend some time with Suzanne and her family and meet the new additions: Hedi, the Bernese Mountain Dog and Molly, the Great Dane. We left with a case of wine, a box of heirloom apples picked direct from the trees, and a big chrysanthemum. Fall is in the air!

Niagara

The passenger standing next to me on the Maid of the Mist boat tour put it best when she exclaimed–as we were floating in the churning water underneath the Horseshoe Falls–“they got the name wrong for the boat, this isn’t Maid of the Mist, this is Maid of the Monsoon.”  Indeed.

Friends Tom & Alex run a tour company out of a Wildwood, New Jersey geared toward international students working on the boardwalk during the summer season. They saved me a seat on their last tour to Niagara Falls–I was picked up in Philly on Monday at 7AM and dropped off on Tuesday at 9:30PM.  To call it a whirlwind tour is a gentle description. We were on the road for 20 hours and in Niagara Falls for 20 hours, including 8 hours of sleeping. It was a fun trip and fun to watch Tom & Alex keep a group of 26 18-23 year olds under control. Russia, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Macedonia, Romania and Kazakhstan were a few of the countries represented on the trip.

Megabus = megabad

Five days ago, Saturday, September 11 a Megabus traveling from Toronto to Philadelphia took a wrong turn and attempted to drive under a bridge that did not provide enough clearance for the double-decker bus. The top front of the bus was razed, killing 4 passengers and injuring many others. The grisly details are here.

Hans and I were passengers on the inaugural Toronto-Philly route back on July 21, 2010 and when I heard about this fatal crash I was not surprised.  Our 10 hour trip was extended to 14 hours, the driver didn’t know how to put the bus into reverse, he veered onto the rumble strips numerous times, one of the luggage doors wasn’t operating properly (similar to a fender-bender that occurred this morning in Philly with Megabus and a SEPTA work truck. No injuries at least.), the driver didn’t know how to downshift to gain more power going uphill, and, like the fatal accident on Saturday, our driver’s GPS unit wasn’t working and different passengers had to help him with directions from Syracuse to Philadelphia. Directions which, at one point, led us through a residential neighborhood and caused the bus driver to attempt a u-turn in the middle of a 4-way intersection.  (This illegal u-turn stopped traffic for five minutes as he struggled to put the bus into reverse.)

On July 21, we arrived in Philadelphia safely, albeit 4 hours late. A group of college girls on the bus resorted to calling the police at one point because they were so scared. We were pulled over about 30 miles outside of Philadelphia. I assume the driver was given some hefty fines.

There is a disturbing pattern here, and one that should be addressed by Megabus: poorly trained drivers, inoperable equipment and little or no support from the Megabus switchboard.  Some fault, of course, lies with the drivers.  Please don’t drive a bus, risking the lives of all the passengers and other drivers on the roads, if you don’t have the proper training. Refuse to leave the station if standard safety equipment is inoperable. Megabus and the NTSB need to work together to ensure safety for customers.

I had a long conversation with a reporter from the Inquirer yesterday about our experience with Megabus. The writers at the Inquirer are not going to let this drop and are going to continue publishing stories addressing the structural flaws of the Megabus company and government regulation.

Stockholm: the golden standard

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden. Sunrise.

Over the last 13 years, I’ve been to Stockholm many times. I love it here every time.  When people comment that San Francisco is such a great city; that they love the Back Bay of Boston; and the pulse of New York City can’t be beat, I’m sure they truly believe that. But I invariably think to myself: ‘you’ve never been to Stockholm.’  Stockholm sets the bar for me.  I’m not a big city person, but I could easily, easily live here.  Not only is it clean, safe and friendly (all very important), but it is beautiful.  The city is made up of islands, all connected by bridges and tunnels. It has been dubbed the ‘Venice of the North’ by many travel writers. The architecture is a mix of modern and old. Very old. Walking is not only easy, but is a pleasure. Bike lanes are on almost every street throughout the city and most intersections have traffic lights strictly for cyclists. If you don’t like biking, walking or taking the t-bana (subway), ferries abound for nearly the same cost as the t-bana. Stockholm spoils me. What can I fault it for? I don’t know.

Chinatown to Chinatown

If you’ve driven on I-95 between New York and DC more than once, chances are you’ve seen a broken down bus on the side of the highway. And, more likely than not, it was a Chinatown bus. Oh, the charm of cheap travel! Philadelphia to DC costs around $14 one way and takes three hours. The buses are comfortable, clean and quiet. Reserve and pay for a ticket online, but show up at least 30 minutes in advance because you are not guaranteed a seat. What a deal! And if you do get a seat, make sure you bring water, snacks and fully charged cell phone and ipod because that bus just might need to stop on the side of the road for some repairs.

I took the Chinatown Bus from Philly to DC the first weekend in April. The trip south was easy and smooth. Coming back, however, I was glad Suzanne had packed me a goodie bag with water, chocolate, fruit and a granola bar. Just south of the Delaware border there was a loud CLUNK from the left side of the bus. The driver immediately swerved to the right and brought the bus to a stop on the shoulder. Although he spoke little English, he managed to convey that we had a flat and the roadside repair would be there in an hour.

This is the best part: no one complained. We couldn’t get off the bus for safety reasons; we had no idea how long we would be waiting; it was 8PM on a Sunday night. Everyone just settled in and continued reading, dozing, texting and listening to music. A woman in the front of the bus did not have the same amount of patience and tolerance as the rest of the bus–she called the bus company and when they did not give her a satisfactory answer, she called the police. Her loud complaints to deaf ears was merely a source of entertainment for the other passengers.

After three hours the driver climbed back aboard, declared the tire fixed and we started back along I-95 to Philadelphia. It was a great experience. Not one that I’d like to have again, but it could have been so much worse. Save for one woman, there was no grumbling, no complaining, no loud phone calls. It was just a few hours in my 24 hour day, but the inherent decency of humans really shone through. Or maybe all the passengers were seasoned Chinatown riders and half expected the breakdown.