Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Next Stop: Rueda and Ribera Del Duero, Spain

Fall represents harvest time in many countries. I'm thrilled to return to Spain  this week to witness the famous grape harvests of Rueda and Ribera Del Duero.  I will be hosted by the Tourism Office of Spain and I'll be exploring the provinces of Burgos and Valladolid and the region of Castile-Leon. My itinerary features vineyards, castles and lots of restaurants! Spanish wine country holds a lot of history and cultural traditions that I will be  highlighting so please look out for posts and lots of wine pix!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Switzerland's Lake Views

Images of Switzerland always seem to involve mountains and alpine scenery, which does make up a lot of the country's distinctive beauty but that's not all you'll see. I was ecstatic to visit the Lake Geneva region, where I got to revel in the aquatic vistas of Switzerland.  Walking along the shoreline in Montreux, I discovered exactly why it's called the Swiss Riviera.  Crystalline blue water framed by mountains served as a stunning backdrop for sidewalk cafes, live concerts and sculptures rising up from the water. The mermaid raiding a seahorse was my absolute favorite, especially with children splashing around it.

This abstract piece looks like dolphins diving out of the water. Although the sculpture wasn't actually in the water, it gave the illusion from a distance. The fork sticking up from the lake was the silliest piece to me but it's also the most popular, as you can gather from the chair posted in front of it for the perfect Instagram selfie. These are just a few of the artful lake scenes that I enjoyed in the region. It's easy to glimpse mountains wherever you are in Switzerland, which is why I think the lake views are even more special.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Next Stop: Switzerland

Switzerland is one of those places that everyone loves. When I visited Lucerne years ago, I was astounded that the mountains and lakes, the medieval squares, were as charming and pristine as all the photos that show Switzerland as this kind of outdoor paradise. Even the Swiss cows, responsible for that life essential, Swiss chocolate, looked pretty as they delicately munched impossibly green grass. So it goes without saying that I'm excited to return to Switzerland, courtesy of  Swiss Tourism, this time to the famous Lake Geneva region.  I'll be visiting Mt. Santis, and the folkloric village of Appenzell , the textile center of St. Gallen and lovely Lausanne. But what I'm really stirred up about is attending the Fete des Vignerons. Never heard of it you say?  That's because this viticultural celebration of the regions wine making traditions happens only once in a generation. There's even a rule that it can not  take place more than five times in a century! It's the first living Swiss tradition recognized by UNESCO and I'll witness a performance commemorating the history of winegrowers as well as the coronation of the winegrowers. Of course, I might also sample a bottle of wine or two. Please look out for posts, photos and videos!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Grenada Waterfalls

The natural beauty of Grenada extends well beyond lovely beaches, lush rain forests and verdant mountains, this small island is also dotted with waterfalls! Grenada hosts dozens of waterfalls to explore and I was lucky to visit two of them. Rolling along the island's hills, you will discover a waterfall for every taste.

The most accessible waterfall is Annandale Falls, located just outside the capital of  St. George. Surrounded by a garden of ferns and trees, you just walk down a clear path  and you're rewarded with a cascade of water ending in a small pool. It's a great spot for a dip on a hot day although the water was icy cold from the recent rainfall when I visited.

Concorde Waterfalls requires a little more effort to reach. Sitting on the edge of a rain forest on the western side of the island, these falls stretch high over a mountain. This region of Grenada is filled with wildlife, I saw monkeys, lizards, rabbits and a few posing cats. There are actually three waterfalls located in this area and they are all striking, with crystalline water pouring over rocks and ferns. Local men jump off the falls for fun and if you offer a small tip, they''ll perform flips and spins. Check out my video of a thrilling Concorde Waterfall leap below.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Next Stop: Grenada

The beauty and culture of the storied Spice Isle also known as Grenada has been on my radar for years. This Southern Caribbean paradise is famous for lush topography, including beaches and waterfalls, as well as the production of nutmeg and mace, supplying some of the largest exports of these spices in the world. I will be exploring the natural beauty of Grenada this week, hopping on a dune buggy tour, a waterfall walk (Seven Sisters Waterfall is shown above) and a river tubing experience. I'll of course, also take in the island's history and notable foodie culture with a visit to St. George's spice market and  House of Chocolate. I'm especially excited to discover the history of revolutionary and Caribbean hero Maurice Bishop, who was the second prime minister of Grenada and was able to transform an oppressed society with a mass literacy program and developing the island's infrastructure and agricultural programs for self- sufficiency. Please stay tuned for posts and videos!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Good and The Guavaberry in St. Maarten

I like rum. The smooth, spicy flavor enhances anything it touches, from cakes to cola. Now, I'm not an expert rum connoisseur like my friend Steve at Uncommon Caribbean, but I know my way around most of the Caribbean's rums. So I was surprised that I had never tasted St. Maarten's signature guavaberry rum.  Wandering into the main Guavaberry emporium in Philipsburg, I sipped a sample and immediately fell in love with this sweetly potent folk liquor that hold the title of National Liqueur of Dutch and French St. Martin.

Guavaberries grow high in the hills of St. Maarten and are related to clove. No, the berries don't taste anything like guavas but when they are aged for the liquor, they taste spicy and woodsy. The Guavaberry company makes lots of flavored rums like passionfruit and lime but I prefer the guavaberry classic, especially in the form of a guavaberry colada.

If you haven't downed a bottle of Guavaberry rum, you haven't really traveled to St. Maarten. Sipping this smooth libation will warm you like the hot St. Maarten sun and remind you that paradise is only a sip away.

The Fragrance of the French Caribbean

Some of my favorite scents are the lush tropical fruits and flowers of the Caribbean. The smell of fresh coconut, sugar apple, hibiscus and bougainvillea always conjure up beautiful memories. My sensory memory of St. Martin will remain vivid, thanks to the olfactory wonders of Tijon Perfumerie.

The idea of a personalized perfume is really appealing to me because I'm sensitive to loud, synthetic smells.  I'm really particular about fragrance and I like natural scents. Stepping into Tijon is like entering a  French Caribbean perfume paradise. Hundreds of extracts and essences line the lab and there are also ready made perfumes, colognes scented candles and skin products available. But creating your own perfume with a perfume class is the essential reason to visit Tijon. John, the owner and master perfumer, gave us lab coats and explained the basics of perfume making, which is not as simple as you'd think.

I sniffed dozens of extracts and oils, many smelled a lot different in their natural form than the commercial versions. We had to measure several of our favorite scents in test tubes and mix them in preservatives. We even had workbooks to record our scents and measurements so that we can order them again.

After dabbling through a lot of essences, I settled on amber, sunflower and musk. I call my perfume "St. Martin Magic," the light aroma reminds me of the small boutiques that are scattered around Grand Case. Visiting Tijon Perfumerie is an exceptional experience and one of St. Martin's ultimate excursions. Even if you're not into fragrances, creating your own hand-crafted scent will definitely change your mind.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Plane Spotting on St. Maarten's Maho Beach

Visiting St. Maarten beaches supplies a lot of sunny highlights. This 37 square-mile, two nation island boasts 37 beaches for every mile, offering countless chances to sink your toes into soft, pearly sand and turquoise waves. All of the beaches have their own individual charm but only one is known around the globe for something other than sandy beauty.

Maho Beach is the famous beach  on the Dutch side of the island where the airplane runway almost meets the sand. I've seen countless photos and videos of planes swooping over the beach (There's even a Beach Cam to monitor the landings) and I was excited to grab a firsthand experience. Maho Beach is perched at the end of Maho Bay and the water glistened with crystalline waves when I waded in. Within 10 minutes, the sound of a jet rumbled  in the sky and a plane flew over my head as I splashed in the water. It's a crazy experience that adds to the excitement of being on a Caribbean beach. I visited Maho four times while I was on St. Maarten and seeing the planes never got old. What did get old was fumbling for a phone to take a pic if I was on the sand.  I never managed to be prepared so these pix don't capture the full drama of a plane flying just a few feet over your head as you lounge on a beach. It's not a tranquil beach, to say the least but it's definitely a bucket list-worthy activity.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Next Stop: St. Martin/St. Maarten

This week, I'm off to the bi-cultural island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. I'll be attending the St. Martin/St.Maarten Annual Regional Trade Show (SMART) where I'll be meeting with reps and leaning more about the island. St. Martin/St. Maarten is famous for Maho Beach, which is located at the end of Princess Juliana International Airport, shown above, as well as being the smallest parcel of land shared by two counties, France and the Netherlands. I'll be checking out the sand -hovering planes on Maho Beach as well as  exploring the French side and Dutch side of the island. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

South African Music and Dance

South Africa is an exciting country. No matter where you are, in a big city like Johannesburg, or a rural village, there's always music, dance or art incorporated into the environment, usually all three. African culture does not separate art and culture from everyday living but I was still taken aback by the exuberant sounds and dance I witnessed everywhere I traveled in South Africa. I love African music and dance, it connects on a deeper level than anything  I've seen in the West. So experiencing the varied rhythms, movements and emotions of live South African music and dance was a joyful treat. Check out a few of my faves from Durban, Isithumba and Cape Town, in the videos below.

These Zulu women mesmerized me with the power of their harmonies and the emotions bursting through the song. I don't understand Zulu but I felt every single verse of this tune.

Full of high spirits and excitement, these dancers in Isithumba cultural village called up the power of traditional Zulu dance. They pulled me into it at the end and throwing my leg up that high was not quite as effortless as it looks, lol.

This group supplied high energy singing and dancing on Cape Town's waterfront. It felt like a church revival mixed with a turn up attitude.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Next Stop: South Africa!

Photo by Lina Loos

During the coming weeks, I will be exploring the landscape, people and culture of South Africa. I can't even begin to explain the level of excitement I feel for this opportunity to dive into the complex and dynamic history and traditions of South Africa I've been invited by South Africa tourism to attend Africa's Travel Indaba 2019, which is the continent's largest travel show.  I'll learn about tourism initiatives from countries all over the continent  (including many sustainable ones) and then visiting Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg.  My itinerary is packed with too many activities to name them all but highlights include a visit to a Zulu Village, Table Mountain, shown above, Cape Town wineries and a Big 5 safari. I'll also be investigating the conditions and changes of South African citizens 25 years after the end of apartheid, as well as relief efforts after the devastating floods in Durban last week.  Please stay tuned for photos, videos and posts!

Friday, April 19, 2019

African American History in Accra

The year 2019 has ushered in a lot of political and social turmoil for African Americans. The foundation of the U.S. is crumbling and it's revealing the ugly underbelly that has informed many things about how this country operates. Knowing and understanding history is always crucial but especially now. 2019 marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans left the shores of Ghana and arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.  Ghana is commemorating this history with The Year of Return 2019, a celebration of concerts, performances, symposiums and events to welcome back the Diaspora. I was honored to join the inaugural Year of Return journey with The Adinkra Group  last August. Besides supplying a tangible re-connection with my heritage, I was able to explore the rich Pan African history of African Americans in Ghana.

The first thing I ever learned about Pan Africanism was that African American scholar and activist W.E.B. Dubois was a leading advocate and was also a delegate at the first Pan African Congress . I knew that he had lived in Ghana but I didn't realize that he spent the last decades of his life in Ghana, writing the Encyclopedia Africana at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah. Today, Dubois' Accra home houses the W.E.B. DuBois Centre for Pan African Culture. I roamed through the museum, taking in his books, academic robes lined in Kente cloth and photos.

The center also features a guesthouse with rooms named for famous Pan Africanists like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Dubois and his wife Shirley are buried on the grounds, surrounded by a garden. Nearby, the African American Association of Ghana and the Diaspora African Forum hold regular meetings.

Ghana is surrounded by eerie "slave forts," a reminder of the brutal Trans Atlantic Slavery history. One of the most famous is Cape Coast Castle, which thousands passed through to be caged and shipped to the Americas. It is an important pilgrimage for Africans in the Diaspora to return to these places where our ancestors were ripped from their homes. I entered the dungeons and cells of Cape Coast and cried throughout the experience. I walked through the infamous "Door of No Return" but I felt spiritually uplifted when I turned around and went  back through. I did return and I felt my ancestors rejoice.

On the side of the women's dungeon, a plaque commemorates the visit of President Obama and First Lady Michelle. It felt comforting to know that my fellow Chicagoans had made this important journey as well.

The door of return opens to the shores of the Atlantic, with traditional fishing boats sitting on the sand. A couple of hundred years ago, there was a different kind of boat waiting.

Another major landmark is Black Star Square. This stadium hold 30,000 seats and is the largest in Africa. The Black Star references the star on Ghana's flag, which was inspired by Marcus Garvey's Black Star Line. The Black Star Line was a steamship corporation that transported goods to members of the African Diaspora. But the line is most famous for  transporting African Americans, tired of the racism, violence and inequity of the U.S, back to the Motherland. Over 100 years ago, the idea of returning to Africa was new and appealing. Today, the idea is not so new but the appeal is growing even more. I met dozens of African Americans who have moved to Accra and Kumasi, happy and secure in a country that treats them respectfully and offers lots of economic opportunities. Ghana reminded me why it's important to remember your history and also that we have the power to reject repeating history and to create new experiences.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Live Reggae in Jamaica

Music is one art form that transcends language, culture and location. If you want to understand a destination better, listen to the local music, preferably live. Jamaica is famous for reggae music and there's is absolutely no better place than the island's lively streets, beaches and clubs to hear the genre live. The breezy melodies and thumping rhythms of reggae jump to life in Jamaica. I was fortunate to hear legends like Mykal Rose, Beenie Man and Marcia Griffiths during VP Records 40th anniversary of classic reggae music.  You can check out my brief videos of the shows below but they don't even come close to the magic of hearing it live. I can't even describe the feeling of listening to live reggae in Jamaica. It's an integral part of the culture that dives right into your soul.  Jamaicans love their native music and you will always hear them singing along to live performances with as much passion as the singers. It's like a family reunion/neighborhood sing along/ with a stage and gracious and gifted musicians. As they say in Jamaica, "no vibes sweeter."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Winter Remedy: Montego Bay's Doctor's Cave Beach

Beaches have always been a source of happiness for me. The tranquility and ease that transmits to me through the water instantly relaxes me. I have quite a few favorite beaches around the globe but Doctor's Cave is my go to spot whenever I'm in Montego Bay.  I was lucky to stay right on the beach at the new S Hotel Jamaica so I spent four days straight on this historic beach, soaking up the sun.

Doctor's Cave is a small beach with a busy cafe and a few other amenities. But my favorite things are the lush, almond and sea grape trees that dot the sand. I prefer to sit under one of these instead of using an umbrella.

The sand is fine and soft and the water is clear, with gentle aquamarine waves that lap around you. Week days when there are no cruise ships are the best because the beach is relatively quiet. The weekends are a whole other thing but as long as you arrive early, you can snag a spot on the shore.

The cafe sells lots of over-priced tropical cocktails but the best thing to drink under the hot Jamaican sun is fresh coconut water. Local vendors will slice a coconut open for you with a machete and then slice it some more after you drink all the water so that you can eat the jelly inside.  I can't think of a more perfect way to spend a winter day.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Next Stop: Land of Wood and Water

At this time exactly six years ago, I was headed to one of my favorite islands. The land of wood and water is the translation from the original Arawak word, Xaymaca. I 'm returning again to Sweet Jamaica and it has been entirely too long. My pic above shows the famous Doctor's Cave Beach in Montego Bay, which is where I will be staying at the brand new S Hotel. It's always special to visit Jamaica but I'm going for an extra special event, the 40th anniversary of iconic reggae label, VP Records. As a reggae fan, this is a huge deal. I'll be documenting the opening of a special Reggae Music Journey exhibit at Montego Bay's Sangster International Airport as well as a live concert in conjunction with the launch of the Strictly The Best compilation album.  I'll also be attending the opening of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism's Association's travel marketplace opening ceremony featuring Tarrus Riley and mento legends, The Jolly Boys. Look out for lots of videos and of course, more Doctor's Cave Beach pics!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Sanibel Island Scenes

When I first arrived on Sanibel Island, I was sitting at a Tiki Bar, waiting for my room to be ready when a couple asked me if I was from Alaska. I had on a light sweater, a scarf and jeans. I explained that their theory was pretty close (I live in Chiberia). The temps were in the low 70's and I wasn't hot at all but that's not the point. Sanibel is all about the beach, the sun and wearing tropical clothes, regardless of the weather. It's like a rule. So I explored Sanibel and Captiva beaches, nature reserves and bike paths as one of the only people in pants, lol. I loved delving into these natural spots, and they were always mostly deserted. Cayo Costa shown above, was my favorite beach. It was filled with piles of shells and a beautiful shoreline that I walked for two hours straight.

 Sanibel's beaches were scattered with striking sand sculptures like this mermaid.

On the Sanibel Heritage Trail, this sign warning of an alligator caught my eye, as well as the scenic backdrop.

At J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, I spotted this flock of birds included roseate spoonbills, which are the pink birds of Florida.

On Captiva, I was enchanted by the old school architecture and rainbow colored buildings. Sanibel and Captiva are really about the natural environment, especially beaches. I scooped up lots of shells and even learned that there is a seashell horoscope and mine is a thin, translucent shell called a jingle or mermaid's toenail.   I'm holding a Florida fighting conch below, which was given to me by a fellow shell collector on Cayo Costa.  Considered the best place to collect shells in North America, and boasting no street lights or stop lights, Sanibel and Captiva are the ultimate in laid back island lifestyle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Next Stop: Sanibel and Captiva Island

For years, I've wanted to explore the unusual barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva, located off the southwest coast of Florida.  Most islands have a north-south orientation but on Sanibel and Captiva, the layout is east-west, creating glorious sandy beaches and layers of shells. I'm excited to kick off my 2019 travels by exploring these under-the radar islands. I'll be biking the Sanibel Heritage Trail, hopping on a shelling cruise to Cayo Costa island, accessible only by boat, and hiking through the J.N,Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. ,where I hope to spot a few manatees. A stop by the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the only museum dedicated to shells in the U.S., is also a Sanibel requirement so hopefully I won't come home with pounds of shells to add to my collection!  Please follow along with my posts as I discover these intriguing islands.