Friday, May 22, 2015

Iceland - A Country Where Writers Are Revered

Do you consider yourself a writer? Maybe you have a brilliant idea for a book and you've been jotting down notes on Post-Its and hiding them from family members for fear they'll laugh at you. Or you secretly write poems, scribbling them on napkins and jamming them in your bag, hoping they won't fly out when you're on a date. You're not a writer, after all, because you didn't get a degree in creative writing or you've never published anything, right? And if you attended a cocktail party and told anyone you're a writer, would they ask you what you're working on, or would they ask what's your day job?

In Iceland, if you asked a crowd of citizens "Who's a writer?" or "Who's a poet?" you could expect a dozens and dozens of hands to go up. In this wild, wonderful country, most everyone wants to be a writer. Iceland also has more writers per capita than any other country in the world.

What better way to become inspired (as a writer) than attending a writers retreat, not a pretentious one where you feel stifled because of the competition, but a warm, welcoming, inclusive one. I just published an article for the Huffington Post on Iceland's vast literary tradition that goes back to its founding, and the most inspiring of writers retreats: the Iceland Writers Retreat held in Reykjavik. This is the writers retreat for you because, even if no one has ever seen what you've penned, you are a writer.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Gear Review: Fun Travel Notebook

Wreck This Journal is the journal for the non-journal writer. The traveler who wants to record their experiences and impressions, but becomes anxious when confronted with the blank page. The person who maybe takes themself a little too seriously. Who thinks that their days of being inquisitive and spontaneous are in the distant past. This is the book that will inspire you to be playfully creative like you were when you were a child. And, instead of valuing the book as a revered tome where dog-earing or, heaven forbid, adding margin notes would be sacrilegious, here you're encouraged (and prompted) to punch holes in the page, scribble notes with anything you have on hand, rip out pages, paste items of significance, or just go all out drawing without a care in the world. This is your book to treasure because each page is your creation, taking you back to the long ago time when you didn't wonder what anyone thought of your sketch or your poem. Each page has inherent value because you made it. 

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Travel Photo Greeting Cards For Every Occasion

To some of us, sending a greeting card seems so 19th century. Oh sure, you send a greeting card for the end-of-the-year holidays, maybe. But for the other occasions that touch those around us -- birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, a promotion, sickness, death and more -- we resort to showing a sense of intimacy or connectedness by what we have at hand: text message or e-card. What if, instead, you sent a friend or relative a physical card, one that exuded specialness because of the dramatic image on the cover as well as the message you handwrote inside? Try it sometime and see what reaction you get. I'll bet they'll recognize the time and energy it took to pick the card and write the message and then, of all time-intensive activities, actually address it and bring it to the mail box or post office.

I've been selling my line of all-occasion landscape and travel photo greeting cards. The time to think about recognizing those you love is throughout the year, not just around the end-of-the-year holidays, and not with an impersonal e-card. The stock of each of these cards is high-quality; the inside is blank, providing plenty of room to compose your greeting. And each of the 12 cards features a different photo from one of my many trips: the two below represent first Japan and then Bangkok. You can purchase them singly or the entire dozen. Hopefully we'll find that sending physical greeting cards isn't an extinct activity.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gear Review: Wind-Proof Travel Umbrella

I'm not an umbrella person, especially when I travel. It's just one more thing to carry and, most likely, lose. Since I don't check luggage, an umbrella has never made it into my bag, that is, until I went to Southeast Asia during the rainy season. I had thought that a breathable but rain resistant jacket would be the best way to deal with the drenching rains that I anticipated. But, realizing the humidity would be upwards of 80%, I knew that even the most breathable jacket would turn me into a soggy mess. Hence, the umbrella. I needed one that would be small, sturdy, and able to deal with blasts of winds that I also anticipated. The umbrella that made it into my bag is the REI Travel Umbrella.

What's unique about it -- aside from the hefty price tag -- is that it has a vented canopy. During some heavy downpours with blustery winds in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the umbrella was quite wind resistant: it never turned inside out. But the umbrella is  small -- don't even think of squeezing two people under it. I'm pretty petite yet, when I carried a shoulder bag, the umbrella barely kept my torso and bag dry. It's also heavy: weighing in at one pound. The open-close button is relatively smooth, though it opens easier than it closes.

All that being said, I now take this umbrella on any non-hiking trip when I anticipate a lot of rain. I'll be walking the Nantes-Brest Canal in Brittany in a month and will be carrying it on that journey.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Gear Review: Shoes So Comfortable They Feel Like Clouds

 My friends joke about how I describe my ideal pancake: it should resemble a cloud and literally feel like it's floating off the plate. And I was reminded of my cloud analogy when testing out these new Chaco OutCross Evo 2 shoes that the company just provided. I tried them out for a week and they are so cloud-like, I sometimes have to look down at my feet to wonder if I've walked out of the house with just my socks. Extremely comfortable? You bet. Though they come in a rainbow of colors, being a New Yorker I chose black, of course. They're billed as a performance shoe -- one that goes from water sports to the beach to the trail -- but I also wore them in the city with skirts, pants and leggings and got plenty of compliments on their low profile style.

When I wanted  to check out their performance, I ventured to Long Island's east end for a weekend of fishing, and beach walking. The speed lace system that Chaco is noted for makes it easy to slip these shoes on and off. When wet, the shoes dry rapidly. No worries about your feet overheating; these shoes are completely breathable. But, though I had hoped for great traction on wet rocks, that's not what I found. As we fished just off shore and I navigated across slick rocks of different sorts, I wasn't happy with the traction I got. And, walking across the beach brought plenty of sand into the shoes which I had to remove frequently during our walks to clear out the sand.

Then I checked out the shoes in Manhattan's wet streets during some spring rainstorms. Again, there were traction issues, this time if I crossed anything metallic -- it was like an ice skating rink. Of course, these shoes are not meant to be city walking shoes. So, this wasn't a fair test. (They are meant to have great traction on natural surfaces.)

Overall, I love these shoes for their comfort and their aesthetics -- two things for which the Chaco brand is noted. I'm packing two pair of Chacos on my next trip to Brittany where I will be walking the Nantes-Brest Canal. One of these I've written about these shoes before as well as the sandals - check out why I love 'em.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reykjavik in Pictures

Reykjavik is one of my favorite cities in the world: full of culture and striking views of mountains and sea, with an ever-present sense of the quirky. So it's a perfect venue for a writer to create and be inspired. No wonder it's the site of the second annual Iceland Writers Retreat that I participated in. Between workshops, receptions, meals, a literary walking tour, and lots of coffee and pastries, I roamed the wee downtown where there's beauty around every corner. 

This short YouTube video slideshow provides a small window into why I love Iceland's capital city. 

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Cool App To Frame Your Instagram Photos

Here today, gone tomorrow. That's what it sometimes feels like after uploading images to Instagram or Facebook. They  don't have any sense of permanence. My Instagram gallery includes many lovely, evocative images from my travels. And I've had people ask me if they could buy them framed to hang on their walls or to give as a gift to someone. There's an app for everything, right? Why not an app for getting your dreamy photos off your iPhone or iPad, have 'em framed to hang on your wall? Instantly Framed to the rescue.

chapel along the Camino de Santiago - credit: Jeanine Barone
This free app allows you to choose the image you want framed and one of several desired sizes (8x8, 6x6, 4x4, 4x6, 6x4) -- it recognizes the image quality, not allowing you to choose one larger than is reasonably possible, pixel-wise. Once you pay the $65, which includes free shipping, expect your beautifully framed -- it's handcrafted, sustainably-farmed walnut -- image in three business days. (The shipping in theh U.S. is free, too, except to Alaska and Hawaii. Your photo will be printed using archival inks on photo luster paper behind glass in a 12" by 12" frame.

The photo you see here now hangs on my wall and everyone who has seen it was impressed with the quality of the framing. It arrived in great condition and speedily. My only problem with the entire process was that that app kept on crashing because I'm on an older iPad. That being said, it was worth it and I would use the app again.

My readers will get $10 off their order by using the discount code: CITRAVELAUTHORITY10. It's valid through April 6. 

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Fave National Wildlife Refuges

Not much wildlife made it into "Wild," the Reese Witherspoon movie based on Cheryl Strayed's solo, thousand-some-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. That is, unless you count some of the shady people her character meets along the way. In real life, it's the four-legged, winged and finned creatures in our nation's wild places that provide treasured experiences for ourselves and our children -- whether it's prowling for owls, digging for crabs, learning to photograph flocks of cranes, or following the tracks of a bobcat. In America, wildlife links us with our past and provides a gift we can offer future generations. We can thank President Theodor Roosevelt for establishing the first national wildlife refuge -- Florida's Pelican Island -- in 1903. But the idea of protecting America's fish and wildlife, and the plants and waters they depend on dates to the mid-1800s, when reporters and explorers in the West documented how animals were being wiped out. The public came to the realization that America's heritage is intimately tied to its wildlife that require safe and healthy havens to thrive. Every U.S. state plus its territories has at least one refuge, all managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serve. I recently wrote about six stand-out national wildlife refuges for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel. 

credit: Ward Feurt/USFWS

credit: Colin Hackley

credit: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Anguilla In Pictures

Just 25-minutes from St. Maarten by ferry, Anguilla is blessed with some three dozen white sand beaches. I visited 20 of 'em, beaches for all personalities, whether you want nothing but utter solitude or prefer to wine and dine and socialize. And for all activities, whether you're a thrill seeker who wants to kite surf or you're eco oriented and interested in finding sea turtle nesting sites. With a low-key, intimate vibe; gourmet but unpretentious dining; and a sense of anonymity, if that's what you desire, Anguilla might very well be one of my favorite Caribbean islands. This should YouTube video slide show provides a window into my Anguilla experiences.

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