by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
Everyone needs a summer break, even during COVID-19. Having seen gorgeous photos of Watkins Glen State Park, it’s been on my hiking bucket list, so we loaded up the car on a Sunday morning and headed to the Finger Lakes.
Traveling midweek instead of weekends means fewer crowds, better hotel prices and less traffic on the roads. Our first destination was Mount Morris, NY, where we checked into the Allegiance Bed & Breakfast, a 46-room Greek Revival mansion. Each of eight guest rooms is named for a local historian from the 1800s. The Allegiance B&B itself is named in honor of Francis Bellamy, a neighbor, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. Owners Steve and Glenda Luick are transplants from Los Angeles who dreamed of living their retirement years running a B&B where they could enjoy four distinct seasons and lots of country comfort. When they saw the building, they knew instantly that this was their place. What they didn’t know until after they moved in was that their home would ultimately develop a reputation as one of the most haunted houses in the world. The spirits are friendly and make themselves known only occasionally, but never to intentionally frighten anyone.
Steve greeted us, wearing his COVID-safe mask, making sure we were wearing ours, and showed us around before taking us up to our room on the second floor.
This is a great location for hikers who want to spend a day at Letchworth State Park. The B&B is located one mile from the park’s north entrance. There’s not a whole lot to do in the area, especially during COVID times when so much is closed. That’s okay, though. The B&B oozes laidback elegance, and after a short walk into town for a casual dinner, we found that sipping a glass of wine on the front porch was the perfect way to unwind before heading up for a comfy snooze.
Letchworth State Park received the 2015 USA Today Readers’ Choice Award for Best State Park in the United States. It runs about 17 miles from top to bottom on either side of the Genesee River. Aside from the north entrance in Mt. Morris, you can enter the park from the south (Portageville) and west (Castile – the most popular gateway). With 14,000 acres and 66 miles of hiking trails, the Upper and Middle Falls are most popular, and most crowded, so arrive early to enjoy walking while remaining socially distant.
The water level in the Genesee River, due to a hot, dry August, was relatively low. I imagine that in spring after the snowmelt, the park’s 30 waterfalls would be magnificent; autumn’s foliage would be simply breathtaking.
Letchworth State Park is called the mini Grand Canyon of the East. The Genesee River has created a deep gorge bound on either side by cliffs higher than 500 feet in spots. White water rafting through Adventure Calls Outfitters was closed, possibly due to COVID-19 or possibly the fact that the water level was pretty low. Class 1 and 2 rapids make this a perfect activity for families with children or first-time rafters.
You can find overnight accommodations inside the park at the Glen Iris Inn and its affiliated properties, with everything from motel-type cabins to balcony suites overlooking the Middle Falls. Make reservations early because the convenient location attracts tourists. Campsites can be reserved through the park.
Letchworth State Park and Watkins Glen State Park both offer free admission this summer, with a modest parking fee for a full day. Both parks prohibit swimming in the gorges, partly due to safety concerns. Hiking is on well-defined trails high above the waterline. However, both parks have big, clean, family-friendly swimming pools.
Aside from hiking, farming and incredibly bucolic scenery, the Finger Lakes are known for their vineyards, so off we went to explore the wine trail. Canadaigua Lake may have the most well-known wineries. There’s also a wine trail around Cayuga Lake. We headed for Seneca Lake, which has more wineries, almost 70, than any other lake in NY State. We started at the top in Geneva, with plenty of time to hit up three vineyards along the lake on our way down to the village of Watkins Glen at the bottom.
First Stop on the wine trail… Belhurst Castle Winery, Inn and Restaurant (They also produce craft beers) overlooking the lake in Geneva. I was wondering how COVID-safe the tasting would be, but when I walked over to the tasting bar and picked up the menu, I was quickly scolded for not checking in with the host, and reminded that they’d now need to re-sanitize those two seating areas for someone waiting their turn. Oops. OK, no worries. I was happy to see the standard of cleanliness.
Second Stop… Keuka Spring Vineyards in Penn Yan, proud to share their unoaked Seyval Chardonnay, Riesling and ice wines. The Finger Lakes are known for sweet whites, although the dry Riesling was quite nice. Jim at the bar was happy to tell us about the ice wine process. He collected our names and phone numbers for contact tracing, “just in case we need to notify you,” he said. That was reassuring. It was clear that extra space had been added to keep tasting parties (of two) distanced from each other.
Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee was next, with a restaurant and modernish accommodations overlooking the lake. We were just about 10 meandering minutes away from our destination – Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel at the bottom of Seneca Lake. If you want to stay on the water, this seems like the only choice for Watkins Glen. Because of the state park, there’s a demand for modest motels and camping. The park has 54 electric and 241 non-electric campsites. A few B&Bs seem interesting. This is the only large hotel with a dock for transient boats and indoor/outdoor waterfront dining.
Arriving at Watkins Glen State Park before 8 am the next morning gave us sample time for hiking and photos before the crowds started rolling in around 9:30. For coronavirus safety, the famous Gorge Trail, with 19 waterfalls, is one-way up and then one-way down on the Indian Trail. It’s a good idea. All together it only takes about an hour and a half so we drove the two-minute ride to the other side of the river and hiked the South Rim as well… still getting back to the hotel in time for lunch. (Normally there’s a shuttle that runs between the park’s three entrances, but it’s not operating during COVID-time.) We discovered a small casual restaurant down on the waterfront, the Village Marina, that seems to be a favorite spot for locals. They have sandwiches and salads, plus a full page of local wines by the glass.
Two miles from the hotel is Castel Grisch Winery. Their COVID-safe tasting flight is pre-poured, and you take the five samples outside where there’s plenty of space. Filling out contact tracing forms was required.
All in all, we packed a lot into a four-night getaway, but it never seemed too busy. Driving around on quiet back roads was a real flashback to less complicated times, and just the break I needed to ease the anxieties of the never-ending coronavirus era.
Other places to visit in Watkins Glen:
Schooner True Love –for sailing experiences such as Sails & Ales and Wine & Winds on the Water. Unfortunately, they are not operating this summer due to COVID-19, but you can still buy a T-shirt online to show your support.
Seneca Cheese Company – for artisan cheese, charcuterie, locally crafted wines and beers
Watkins Glen International speedway – “The Glen” is closed for racing this summer due to COVID, but hoping to open to host the October 30 Finger Lakes Beer Festival featuring over 40 New York State breweries, distilleries and cideries.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, is a travel advisor, travel writer and publicist. She plans small group and independent journeys as owner of Friendly Group Travel. During COVID-19, she shares safety information and updates. Visit friendlygrouptravel.com or connect at facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel
by Marcia Simon, CTA
After five months of diligent self-protection against the coronavirus and pining for travel, it was time to get away, but where?
From the Connecticut shoreline, it’s a two and a half hour drive to Cape Cod, adding another hour for the forty-mile ride to the tip. This is Provincetown, the Mayflower’s first landing in the New World in 1620 (Yes, the Pilgrims stopped here for five weeks before sailing on to Plymouth. Or so it’s told.)
P-town, as it’s known, is a welcoming haven for artists and the LGBTQ community. Here you can be yourself and feel free… as long as you wear your face mask. Signs are posted regarding the mandate to wear a face covering on Commercial Street, the main tourist strip lined with restaurants, ice cream shops, t-shirt and souvenir stores… as well as colorful nightlife in “normal” times.
As of mid-July, for the most part, bars, night clubs and cabaret shows are closed, although the Crown and Anchor’s popular cabaret show premiered its reopening this month with scaled-down outdoor seating. Numerous art galleries and restaurants are open – with limitations. Curbside take-out is available as well as limited indoor and outdoor dining. Provincetown offers lots of safe-looking restaurant choices that provide ocean views or a clear shot of the activity along Commercial Street. Enjoy patio dining with some of the freshest fish and lobster you’ll find anywhere, or walk up to a take-out stand and grab a comfortable spot on the beach overlooking Mac Millan Public Pier, the meeting place for ferries, fishing boats, and whale-watching tours to Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary. Provincetown is one of the world’s natural deep water harbors ~ attracting boats of all sizes. Whale watching, fishing and sailboat trips were operating – limited to 50% occupancy as of mid-July 2020. The Pilgrim Monument and Museum, one of the most popular tourist stops offering a magnificent bird’s-eye view – with 116 narrow steps taking you to the top of the tallest all-granite structure in the United States – was closed during my July visit. So was the adjacent Provincetown Museum. Visitor Centers in town and at the National Park were closed as well. However, public restrooms were open and clean.
Because the bars are closed, night life fades early, with many restaurant kitchens closed by 9 pm. Phase 3-Step 1 reopening requires no more than six people at a table in restaurants, so large parties and family groups will be split up. To cut back on surface contamination, most restaurants ask you to scan a QR code either at the hostess station or at your table to download the menu to your phone. If your server sees that you’re sadly tech-deficient, you’ll be offered a paper menu, but shared surfaces in general are out. Ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper are served in single portion packets.
A Note About Lobster Rolls
New Englanders know all about lobster roll preferences. In Connecticut, for instance, a perfect lobster roll is served hot, on a buttered, toasted (or grilled) hot dog bun with a portion of melted butter on the side for dipping. However, in Provincetown, if you don’t specifically ask for a hot lobster roll, you will most likely get a cold lobster salad, very little mayonnaise, and usually with a leaf of lettuce on a hot dog bun. And if you order it hot, there’s a good chance your bun won’t be toasted. Just sayin’.
Exploring the coastline
Parking in P-town can be tight. Walking lets you meander, and offers lots of opportunities to take photos you might otherwise miss. Bicycling is popular, with ample inventory at the local bike shops in and around the town. Because the terrain is basically flat, cycling is easy, and what’s better than bicycling along a long stretch of coastline? The Cape Cod National Seashore has bike paths ideal for families with young children; these are generally protected by the shade of the forest canopy.
The National Seashore is a pristine 40-mile stretch of beautiful sand, dunes and pitch pine forests. We hiked one of the park trails in nearby Wellfleet. The 8.8 mile-loop zig zagged between shady pine-needled forest and sandy beach. While pets are welcome in the park, there are stretches along the beach where the habitat is protected for piping plovers and other endangered species of birds. These are no-pet zones (because dogs tend to scare the birds and disturb their natural environment.)
1. While some of the trails run through a shaded forest, parts take you onto the beach, which is gorgeous, but the sand can be very hot on bare feet, and the sun can feel scorching.
2. It’s easy to access Jeremy’s Point and sandbars during low tide, but the tide comes back in quickly, making for a wet walk back. If you can catch a morning low tide, it would be a great time for a summer hike. This area would be magnificent in autumn’s cooler weather.
We encountered very few people along the hiking trails and, for the most part, were able to keep our face masks in our pockets. Race Point Beach was uncrowded enough to allow for easy social distancing. Walking from the parking lot to the stretch of beach along the narrow sandy path was a bit more trafficked, so masks are recommended for that, but once you’ve staked out your spot, the mask is not necessary if you are comfortable with the safety of your travel companions.
Accessing many hiking trails in the park is free. But if you want to park to access the beach, the fee is $25 per car. We spent a half day at the National Seashore’s Race Point Beach. Umbrellas are highly recommended to protect you from the intense summer sun even when the ocean breeze is blowing. And the water is cold. Very refreshing, but cold.
To Go or Not to Go? Assessing Your Personal Risk
Whether to venture out or stay home is a personal decision, based on your risk factors, overall health and immune system, others in your household who may be high risk, and how careful you will realistically be with safety, masks, sanitizing and social distancing when you're out and about.
Overall, Provincetown seems surprisingly quiet this summer. Even the ride over the Bourne and Sagamore Bridges that cross the Cape Cod Canal from the mainland were delay-free, which is a true rarity. Crowds will likely build through the rest of the summer. Midweek is always less crowded, and lodging less expensive, than weekends.
This was a fun 3-night getaway. Just what I needed to renew my energy. I felt safe – because I was very proactive about my personal safety, social distancing, sanitizing, and wearing a mask in public places. Visitors, residents and people who work in the Provincetown community embrace masks. In fact, the souvenir shops have some pretty unique and fun mask designs. (The t-shirts are great, too.) If you are part of the anti-mask culture, do not go to P-town. Stay away. This is a community that is doing its best to stay safe; if you do not support that, you shouldn’t be there.
If you love long walks on the beach, early mornings on the water, sunsets over the horizon, lobster and an open-minded, nonjudgmental vibe, go and support the economy of a town that relies heavily on tourism.
One waiter, concerned about his own safety while being engaged with customers all evening, summed it up nicely: “Of course we want people to come here. That’s how we make our living. On the other hand, we really don’t want people to come if it increases our risk for coronavirus.”
So wear your mask. Bring sanitizer. It’s a matter of your personal safety and respect for people around you – making your getaway enjoyable and safe. For more information about Provincetown and COVID-19 travel updates, visit:
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, is a journalist, publicist and travel advisor who gets around as much as possible, and plans small group and independent journeys as owner of Friendly Group Travel. Connect at facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, twitter @friendsgotravel and Instagram @friendgrouptravel.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
A European river cruise is a bucket list trip for a lot of people and, once hooked, making multiple journeys is quite common. If you’re exploring a river cruise for the first time, there’s a lot of nitty-gritty information that river cruise companies don’t tell you upfront. Working with a travel advisor can save you a lot of time, money and aggravation in the long run.
First of all, there is no “one size fits all” best river cruise company. Some are true luxury, which is fabulous for those who can afford it, but are beyond the budget of most people who travel as a lifestyle. Some river cruises cater to older (aka retired) travelers while others direct their activities to active adults and multigenerational families. There’s also at least one river cruise company that designs the ship, cuisine and itineraries for younger (under 40) travelers who want to hang with people in their millennial age range. So, make sure you choose a cruise directed to your personal interests and demographic.
7 Factors to Consider When Exploring a River Cruise Vacation:
The best way to get great deals on river cruises is to take advantage of early bird and last-minute deals, off-season schedules, and bargaining power of travel advisors who work with a consortium that brings high-volume special perks. Travel advisors keep their radar up for what clients want.
7 Great Things About River Cruising:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, and an IATA-accredited travel advisor. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, Instagram @friendgrouptravel or email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
Amsterdam, the capital city in the Netherlands, is known for its canals, bicycle culture and love for the arts. After all, this is home to Van Gogh, Vermeer and Rembrandt. And Heineken.
Amsterdam’s tourist season begins in April when tulips generally reach their peak in Holland, which covers two provinces in the Netherlands. Summers are very busy, and August 2020 will be no exception with Sail Amsterdam, a once-every-five-year event that features tall ships from around the world accompanied by street food and entertainment, and also August’s annual 10-day Grachtenfestival for classical music, jazz, and music from other cultures.
Off-season, on November 2, 2020 to be exact, the annual Amsterdam Museum Night gives you access to museums city-wide that stay open until 2 am. One wristband gets you in to all 50 participating museums. November also brings the Super-Sonic Jazz Festival to the city.
For canal tours, the "best" time is April through October. Summers, of course, are warmest and also the most crowded.
No matter what time of year you go, here are 10 Ways to Feel the Groove of Amsterdam, Holland:
Getting to Amsterdam is easy with flights arriving at the city’s Schipol Airport from around the world. A taxi from downtown Amsterdam will cost about 60 euros, while the train from the airport to Centraal Station runs every 10 minutes for 6 euros a ticket. The kiosks to purchase train tickets are located just after you pass the baggage carousels both inside the baggage claim area and outside once you clear customs. Trains and buses from Amsterdam take you throughout Europe.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, and an IATA-accredited travel advisor. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, Instagram @friendgrouptravel or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
Copenhagen is a fabulous walking city.
Do NOT walk in the bike lanes.
Unlike the United States, where cyclists are often forced to share roads with motor vehicles and pedestrians, bicycling in Denmark is a serious mode of transportation with designated lanes and traffic lights in urban areas. In Copenhagen, where more than half of all employees bike to work, wandering tourists walking into bike lanes can lead to injury, so pay attention to the bike lanes and stay clear. The train and bus systems make it very easy to get around Copenhagen without a car.
Whatever your mode of transportation, here are 7 things to do in Copenhagen:
Leading the Way for Sustainability
Denmark is a world leader in bringing sustainability to life, affirming the importance of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, 30 percent of all Denmark’s energy comes from renewable sources, including bioenergy, followed by wind, solar and geothermal energy, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark. The country’s public and private sectors are both committed to achieving an energy system without fossil fuels by 2050. The enthusiastic Danish Society of Engineers, IDA, and is ahead of schedule on the project, and has a roadmap to implement the goal of a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2035.
Playing On a Heap of Trash
One of the steps towards Copenhagen’s goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral capital includes the opening of Amager Bakke, or CopenHill, planned as the new epicenter for urban mountain sport, offering year-round skiing and snowboarding on artificial snow. It includes the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall, running and hiking trails, and a café – all surrounded by a sprawling recreation area with water sports, soccer fields, and even a go-kart track.
The clincher? CopenHill is built on top of the city’s new waste management and energy plant. Amager Bakke is considered the most efficient waste-burning and energy-generating plant in the world, and is expected to power and heat 160,000 households across Copenhagen.
Getting Away From the City
As beautiful as Copenhagen is with its waterways and happy vibe, seeing the outlying countryside is part of the Danish experience. Whether you travel by bicycle, car, train or bus, here are 5 day-trips that take you outside Copenhagen’s city center:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner, and an IATA-accredited travel advisor at FriendlyGroupTravel.com. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, Instagram @friendgrouptravel or email@example.com
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
You’ve got to love New York. Where else do they decide to build a new neighborhood and in couple of years come up with Hudson Yards, aptly named because it’s on the Hudson River overlooking the West Side Yard where Long Island Rail Road trains are stored between shuttles back and forth between “The Island” and Penn Station.
The new neighborhood is billed as “a triumph of culture, commerce and cuisine – a place to live, work, and play.” Skyscrapers housing apartments, high-end retail shops, restaurants and a new luxury hotel are all in the works. Oh, they added a subway stop at Hudson Yards to accommodate the traffic. And if people aren’t flooding in yet to shop, visitors are surely interested in The Vessel.
Contemporary urban designer Thomas Heatherwick created the bronzed steel and concrete Vessel just so people can climb the 2,500 steps of this 16-story recreational sculpture. It’s free to explore with a ticket you can get online or at one of the kiosks at Hudson Yards, although you may have to wait an hour or two for an available time since the number of people at one time is limited. There’s an elevator that makes the Vessel accessible for everyone.
The Vessel is located at the north end of New York’s popular High Line, a public park built on a historic rail line above the city’s west side streets. It runs from 34th Street near the Javits Center to Gansevoort Street, three blocks south of 14th Street. Along the way you can have a seat on one of several benches, or stop for coffee, a smoothie, ice cream or other snacks. Kids seem to like The High Line as much as adults.
For anyone who hasn’t walked the High Line recently, new “spurs” are being added as viewing areas and urban woodlands with a mix of grasses, perennial flowers and shrubs, all of which are native flora.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is a travel advisor, public relations practitioner and principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
We all feel, at times, the need to get away and shake up a monotonous routine.
Planning that perfect escape can be daunting as the potential price tag adds up in your head, but recharging your inner batteries doesn’t have to take you geographically far away. It doesn’t need to take more than a day or two, and doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Just one night away at a B&B gives you enough of a break to clear the garbles from your brain. Historic old homes lovingly turned into guest houses are scattered throughout New England, as an example, and getaways are surely within an easy three- or four-hour drive from your home, wherever you live.
I recently visited The Fan House in Barnard, Vermont. It’s a little off the beaten path, far enough from the Interstate, and close enough for lots of day trip destinations, like Quechee, Vermont, known for its annual hot air balloon festival and Simon Pearce glass blowers, and Hanover, New Hampshire with a great college vibe and plenty of neat restaurants because of Dartmouth. Suicide Six ski area is only six miles away, while larger Killington and Okemo ski areas are about 45 minutes away and offer trail biking, hiking, golf and summer activities as well as some of the best winter skiing in the Northeast.
On the way to the Fan House, I stopped at the Barnard General Store and indulged on a maple-cream-filled whoopie pie. After this I knew I was on a micro-vacation in Vermont. When I pulled into the Fan House driveway, Sara, the innkeeper, came out to greet me with her big friendly, shaggy dog Chappy, who neither jumped nor slobbered on me, but nuzzled up to my leg, wagged his tail and let me know I was welcome in his home. We walked around the yard and Sara showed me her country garden, filled with huge colorful poppies, foxglove, lupines, forget-me-nots and numerous other perennials that had not yet blossomed. The unmistakable fragrance of lilacs filled the air. I looked up to see a banner season for lilacs blooming along the property line by the main road.
It was still a little shy of cocktail hour, but Sara joined me for a glass of wine in the living room area anyway. It was comfortable, relaxing and a pleasure talking candidly with someone who obviously had the gift for gab, was well traveled and has met her fair share of interesting characters along life’s enchanting journey.
Just a couple of miles down the road, at the Barnard Inn restaurant, Max’s Tavern, a casual bistro, served up a cold crisp glass of pinot grigio to accompany a simple green salad tossed with maple Dijon vinaigrette and lightly topped with gorgonzola and candied walnuts. I must have needed my blue cheese fix, because my chosen entrée was house-made gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, which was delicious with mild roasted cloves of garlic, caramelized onions and baby spinach.
The first thought when I got ready for bed at the Fan House and realized there was no TV in my room was disappointment, but after about 10 seconds, I changed my mind. Being a news junkie and creature of habit who turns on the news before bedtime and upon wake-up, taking a break from the craziness was a blessing. In fact, it was a much-needed disconnect.
The bed had eight pillows – two as bolsters, four for indulgent sleep and two more for decoration, which made a perfect spot to prop my laptop as I checked email before going to bed. The Wi-Fi worked well. I drifted into a deep sleep, woke up without an alarm, and went for a short walk to Barnard’s Silver Lake, sat on a bench and felt the early morning sun on my face, then continued walking – past lots of kayaks on racks and watched people come and go from the general store carrying cups of coffee to jumpstart their rural morning commutes. I read the bulletin board and learned about upcoming concerts, theater productions and youth summer programs at Barnard’s BarnArts.org.
Having worked up an appetite for breakfast, which was included at my stay at the Fan House, I poured myself a cup of coffee and chatted it up with two guests visiting from Tennessee while Sara whipped up some blueberry pancakes and served them with warm maple syrup, along with fresh strawberries, granola and juice. At that moment, the pressures of the previous day’s workload were far from my mind. On the mid-morning car ride home I mentally prepared my “to do” list and the priorities seemed clear. I reminded myself to stay focused on those priorities and to let the other “urgencies” slide by if they weren’t aligned with my primary goals. I felt eager to tackle the workload, and not overwhelmed.
One night away. To get unstuck. It’s well worth it.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is accredited as a travel advisor and public relations professional, and is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Visit www.friendlygrouptravel.com, www.facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel, friendgrouptravel on Instagram and FriendsGoTravel on Twitter, or email email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, APR, CTA
Heading overseas for your next vacation or business trip?
If you plan to use your phone – at all – for any reason – these tips and helpful apps will assure that your phone remains a valued and reliable companion when traveling internationally:
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA is a travel advisor and principal at friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. She writes about health, wellness and travel.
Connect: firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel,
@friendsgotravel on Twitter and friendgrouptravel on Instagram.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
Think about the ‘60s era of peace and love in America, and images of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood come to mind with tie-died shirts and girls wearing colorful flowers in their hair. On the other side of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, in Berkeley, another cultural phenomenon was stirring at that same time.
The Free Speech Movement of the 60s rapidly grew across college campuses nationwide. At first, outspoken college students focused on the struggle for civil rights; then when opposition to the Vietnam War developed, students at UC Berkeley ignited the spark that led to large scale protests and the nationwide Anti-War Movement.
UC Berkeley was a university campus that challenged the status quo back then, as it does now. The school serves as the flagship institution of 10 public research universities affiliated with the University of California system. It’s the anchor that allows the City of Berkeley to remain the free-spirited sanctuary where inclusion is second nature to a generation of open minded hipster intellectuals, and leftist baby boomers find contentment being surrounded by people who share their nonjudgmental approach to life.
The constant energy that seeps from academia is evident; serious discussions between professors and students can be overheard at local coffee shops; public events are scheduled frequently on a regular basis.
With more than 30,000 undergraduate students, about 70 percent of whom are from California, and more than 11,000 graduate students from around the world, UC Berkeley is a hub for thinking outside the lines in search of new and better ways to solve world problems. Its graduate engineering school is ranked #3 in the country (behind MIT and Stanford) by US News & World Report for 2020, luring some of the world’s brightest minds hoping to score a Silicon Valley dream job in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
Both technology and hippieism bubble beneath the surface of Berkeley’s social climate. The old and new seem to exist very well together. It’s a gentle yet edgy vibe amid the undertow of a bustling college community. The Greek Theater, an amphitheater located on the outskirts of campus, brings top name acts.
Telegraph Avenue, beginning at the south entrance to campus is lined with cafes, shops and music stores, and extends through the city and into Oakland. Shattuck Avenue is another of Berkeley’s main streets filled with shops and restaurants. For movies, you can enjoy current popular flicks on one of the big screens at the Regal Cinemas, or walk one more block to the Shattuck Cinemas for a thought-provoking indie film.
Fun for Foodies
Keep walking down Shattuck Avenue and you’ll smell your way right into the affectionately named Gourmet Ghetto with plenty of choices for any type of appetite. This is home to the legendary Chez Panisse, opened in 1971 by Alice Waters, whose organic, locally grown, seasonal ingredients sparked the term “California cuisine” way before the nation’s farm-to-table consciousness. Chez Panisse has maintained its status as one of the best restaurants in America, if not the world. Reservations are necessary – both for the main dining room and the lighter café. Reservations may be made up to one month before your preferred date.
Right across the street is The Cheese Board Collective, which is a bakery, a cheese shop, and a creative pizza restaurant where you can sit inside or out and get a dose of Berkeley’s local live music.
If you want to be seated and served at a restaurant, stick with Shattuck Avenue and places away from campus or one of the nearby hotel restaurants. Close to the school you’ll find an amazing variety of very affordable food choices, where you order at the counter and hope to find a place to sit before your meal arrives. From Chinese, Japanese and Thai to Korean barbecue, noodle bowls, pizza by the slice, hot dogs, burgers, salads, smoothies, two aromas permeate the air – Asian food and marijuana.
But Berkeley has its problems, too. The homeless rate is high. Maybe it’s because the weather’s decent, or there are plenty of places to eat for a low price, or that people are generally kind enough to occasionally spare some change. There seems to be a community among the down and out, and a feeling of compassion for people who have landed in this situation – war veterans, spaced out aging hippies, those who are estranged from families because of lifestyle or gender or those who have slipped between the cracks of the nation’s mental health system.
Getting to Berkeley
Crossing the Bay Bridge that leads from San Francisco to Oakland and neighboring Berkeley can take up to an hour by car if you’re stuck in daily rush hour traffic, or you can zip from San Fran to Berkeley in under 30 minutes when traffic is light. Locals don’t drive it at all. Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as the BART, is the San Francisco area’s underground metro system that takes you under the Bay into Oakland and Berkeley. It’s easy, clean, fast and the most affordable way to travel to Berkeley from both San Francisco and Oakland International airports.
If you happen to visit the Oakland and Berkeley area, consider a visit to the 34-acre UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens. It’s recommended to allow at least two hours to take it all in.
The landmark at UC Berkeley, which can be seen from across the bridge, is Sather Tower. Standing 300’ above sea level, the tower, or Campanile as it’s known, is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell and clock towers. For four dollars you get an adult ticket that takes you via elevator almost to the top, where you then 38 steps to the outdoor patio for a bird’s-eye view of the campus and San Francisco Bay. If you time it right or get lucky, you can hear a carillon performance at scheduled times each day. The carillon has 61 bells, weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds each.
And one more note… The Bay Bridge stretches across San Francisco Bay connecting San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley. The Golden Gate Bridge goes from San Francisco to Sausalito in Marin county. Both bridges lead to wine country.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is accredited as a travel advisor and public relations professional. She is principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com and MSE Public Relations. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or email@example.com.
by Marcia Simon, CTA, APR
If you’ve never been to Key West, you’ve got to go at least once. If you were there several years ago, telling yourself you want to return, be aware – it has changed.
Like many over-touristed areas, the Florida Keys have lost some of their laid back, off the grid groove. Many of the hotels and resorts that sustained major damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017 have rebuilt with a more durable, more modern, more expensive style. During peak season that lasts until Easter, the traffic from Key Largo to Key West is nonstop. There’s one way in and one way out.
And yet with the changes that come with time and a growing population, the rhythm of island life is still intoxicating – especially when you take time to chat with the locals, rediscovering the state of mind that brings Northerners down here for four or five months at a time as they begin to explore their retirement options. While Jimmy Buffet’s Parrothead following packs the upscale Margaritaville resort in Old Town Key West, some laid back snowbirds use their own network to secure off-the-radar seasonal rentals that come with burnt orange sunsets over the water while pelicans dive for fresh fish and thick doormats help to shake off the last grains of beach sand from between your toes.
Getting to Key West by plane is easier now with more airlines adding flights. The ride from Key West airport into Old Town is short, Uber and Lyft are both active, and the large hotel chains on North and South Roosevelt Avenues provide free shuttle service. There are paid shuttles from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports to Key West, with stops at some of the most popular keys along the way – Largo, Islamorada, Marathon among them.
Choosing to drive the Overseas Highway across the 113-mile string of coral and limestone islands (and crossing 42 bridges along the way), we spent two nights at Islamorada’s Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina. This area is known for deep sea and sport fishing (grouper, mahi mahi, snapper and more) or just a dose of chill time before tackling the crazy Key West scene. Still renovating after 2017‘s Hurricane Irma, one building of guest rooms is under reconstruction (as of February 2019), and the oceanfront bar/restaurant that was literally blown away in the storm is being rebuilt. Meanwhile the Tiki Bar is hopping with decent casual food and creative island drinks, including Ke Ke coladas and key lime pie martinis using Ke Ke Key Lime Pie Cream Liqueur. Yum. Within walking distance is Theater of the Sea, an all-ages day trip, where you can learn about marine life and swim with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays.
People who choose to live in Islamorada prefer their small community to the busy streets of Key Largo and Key West on either end of this island chain. You need a car to get around to the shops and restaurants. For beachfront lunch or dinner, try Lazy Days, known for fresh fried fish and seafood and their well-loved key lime butter sauce. The happy hour is a local favorite with half price drinks, 50 cent buffalo wings and conch fritters, and three-for-a-dollar peel-and-eat shrimp. Reservations are recommended for dinner.
Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar is another popular dinner spot, known more for its fantastic sunset views than the quality of food. It’s fun – and very crowded so arrive early to find a parking space.
Between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key is the famous Seven Mile Bridge, connecting the middle and lower keys. It’s a bucket list drive that humbles any soul. Marathon on Grassy Key is home to the Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit educational and rescue center open to the public and providing in-water interaction with the marine mammals.
Key West hot spots
Having been to Key West about 20 years ago, the first thing we did after parking the car and getting settled into our hotel was take a walk down Duval Street, lined with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Music starts up around noon and keeps going all day and night. Sloppy Joe’s still seems to be the hot spot for the beer-and-loud music-crowd. Apparently lots of people like that, or maybe it’s the craft beers and bar food. Nearby, Irish Kevin’s Bar offers much of the same, as does Hog’s Breath Saloon.
After a traditional margarita to welcome myself back to Key West at a quieter outdoor spot with a street-facing bar for excellent people watching, it was time to head over to Mallory Square for the daily sunset ritual and street performers. Take off your Fitbit. This is a great place to unwind with a digital detox. If you walk around to take in everything Old Town has to offer, you’ll get all your steps in – and more.
The next morning started early with a walk to one of Key West’s most photographed locations –the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States. Tourists line up for selfies and photos. Especially early in the day, people were considerate of allowing others to get the classic shot that everyone wants, and took turns taking photos for each other.
Key West cuisine
Great food choices are plentiful in Key West; to assure a spot at your favorite restaurant, reservations are advised. Lots of places serve fish tacos, fish and chips, shrimp, wings, burgers and predictable selections of every kind. Key island specialties include conch fritters and chowder, grouper, smoked fish dip (often grouper, but can be wahoo, mahi mahi or any other smoked fish) that looks like a scoop of tuna salad surrounded by chips or crackers.
For something special, take the short ferry ride over to Latitudes on Sunset Key for breakfast, lunch or dinner – with a sunset to remember. Blue Heaven is a casual and funky outdoor spot known for breakfast, brunch and desserts as well as attentive lunch and dinner specials. For the ultimate dessert experience – try Better Than Sex, an adult-themed dessert-only restaurant, that serves wine in glasses dipped in soft chocolate and decadent desserts such as The Morning After (a grilled sandwich with Danish brie, dark Belgian chocolate dusted with cinnamon sugar. A strawberry champagne “soup” sits on the plate for dipping) or Man Flowers (a chocolate stout cake with tart dark chocolate frosting, chocolate stout ganache, Irish cream ice cream and salted caramel). You can also get shots and beer – all with soft chocolate or caramel clinging to the glass.
Key West is one of those towns that enjoys a good female-impersonator show. There are two on Duval Street. The less expensive show at Aqua is somewhat loud and raunchy, while the more upscale cabaret show sells out nightly at LaTeDa hotel and restaurant on the quiet end of Duval. LaTeDa also has a lovely piano bar for a mellow end to a full day in the sun.
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
This is a must-see for cat ladies. The Hemingway house is home to more than 50 cats, most believed to be descendants of Snow White, Hemingway’s first polydactyl (six-toed) cat. All the felines are meticulously cared for around the clock – and not a hint of cat smell anywhere! If you hear someone calling out for Humphrey Bogart or Audrey Hepburn while touring the grounds, it’s because Hemingway’s cats have always been named for famous people. In fact, The Hemingway House is now licensed as a zoo as well as a National Historic Literary Landmark, paying homage to Hemingway’s 10 years of writing from Key West and being influenced by its attitude and characters.
Ernest Hemingway’s earliest writing career was as a wartime journalist before penning novels, a few of which were turned into movies. Among these are The Old Man and the Sea, for which Hemingway was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature, and Farewell to Arms. Depression plagued the Hemingway family, claiming the life of Ernest as well as his famous granddaughter, supermodel Margaux. Today, Margaux’s sister Mariel Hemingway dedicates her life to raising awareness about mental health, depression and suicide that has taken several members of the Hemingway family.
Eco-friendly sun protection for every activity
Key West officials voted in early 2019 to ban the sale of sunscreens containing ingredients that are believed to be harmful to coral reefs and the ecosystems they support. The law banning oxybenzone and octinoxate, goes into effect January 1, 2021. Environmental researchers say these two ingredients accumulate in the water from swimmers and wastewater discharge, and can damage or kill coral reefs through bleaching and harming the corals’ DNA.
The Florida Keys make up the world’s third-largest barrier reef ecosystem, and is home to thousands of species of marine life, attracting divers and snorkelers from around the world.
The Florida Keys sun is strong even in morning; the trade winds can be strong at night. Whether you’re into bicycling, walking, kayaking, sailing, deep sea fishing, music, food or brew pubs, the Florida Keys are ready to feed your passion with year-round warm weather. There are so many places to stay in the Keys – from small B&Bs to historic inns, owner-operated boutique hotels and large chains. It’s best to book early to get what you want. It’s still a small area and bargain rates sell out quickly. To plan your Florida Keys vacation, call 860-399-0191 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Simon, APR, CTA, is an IATA-accredited travel advisor, a PRSA-accredited public relations practitioner and principal/owner of friendlygrouptravel.com. Connect through facebook.com/friendlygrouptravel or email@example.com.
Marcia Simon, CTA, APR, has been exploring new places since she was 17 years old and traveled around Europe on a Eurailpass with her best friend. Decades later, she still considers travel the best investment of time and money she's ever made for herself and her family.