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Vacations, Day Trips and Getaways

Vacations, Day Trips and Getaways



Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Odysseus Redux PDF Print Email

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By Adrienne Smith


Dec. 14, 2016:  When last I wrote, I was eagerly anticipating my eastern Mediterranean cruise.

The day had now arrived. After a quick flight across the Atlantic and a glorious 24 hours in Barcelona, it was time for me to board my cheap cruise. What awaited me?

I completed the pre-board formalities in a trice, passing up the frightening are-we-about-to-have-the-time-of-our-lives gangway photo. Then up, up, up onto my craft and a quick ride on the elevator to my floor. 
At first, it appeared that I had no cabin at all, as I couldn't make sense of the number. Don't tell me, an Airbnb scam! With help from a crew member, I approached and entered my cabin. Not half bad. A good size. The "windowlessness" concealed by a scenic mural. But, on closer inspection, the rug was stained, the lone chair slightly tattered.

However, my morale was lifted by the presence of the already-promised glistening chocolate-covered strawberries, which I wolfed down.

After a few minutes in the room, I noted the smell of several dead mice, perhaps rats, emanating from the bathroom. Oh, dear! I summoned my cabin attendant, who, using every abrasive cleanser known to man and to environmental activists, was able to reduce the offensiveness level by about 50%. Perhaps I could live with this. Perhaps not.

An exploration of the boat was next on my list. I checked out water slides that would never come in contact with my rump, bars and entertainment sites that did not conform with my lifestyle, and sundry restaurants in which I could dine by paying a premium. The latter seemed to be worth the tiny supplement that would allow me to live the life, so I hastily signed up for French bistro and steakhouse dining on multiple nights.

As I wandered the ship, I noted that most of my fellow passengers were in the twilight of their years, on the 18th hole of life, nearing that appointment in Samara. Brimming with schadenfreude, I skipped joyfully around the decks, stopping only, and frequently, to catch my breath. What fools we mortals be!

The ship sailed at 6:00 pm, and, in what seemed like a nanosecond, but more like 12 hours, we arrived in Toulon. Here, in what was to be repeated on multiple occasions, I disembarked for a rushed shore leave--this time to Aix-en-Provence. Between gathering passengers on the bus, traveling to Aix, and returning to the ship, we had a total of, perhaps, 1-1/2 hours of actual time touring the city, including a guided walk of 30 minutes and a mad, individual dash through the shopping area. Not very satisfying.

Back aboard ship, I was knocked out again by my cabin smell, so I presented myself at the service desk and was soon taken on a tour of other rooms I might move to. The first, although "unodiferous," was more ragged than my own. The second, with an actual port hole, had a pole running through the middle of the cabin. Since my pole-dancing days are but a distant memory, that arrangement seemed less than ideal. A third room looked pretty good, but my escorts kept making reference to possible unidentified "engine" noise, so I returned to my original room with a secret weapon I had obtained in Aix, a fragrance candle.

Almost every day brought us to a new port, most of which were located at significant distances from the glamorous city we yearned for. And given that the ship never docked for more than 12 hours, visits were a blur, to such a point that I wondered why I bothered. 

After arriving at Civitavecchia and busing for almost two hours, we toured Rome, including a stop at the Colosseum, where, given the usual time constraints, we didn't have time to queue to enter it. Going rogue near the Spanish Steps, I lunched, raced around the chi chi shopping area at its base, and then literally dashed back to the bus waiting for us a mile away. Come on. This was crazy.

Mercifully, our ship landed right next to a few lovely spots. Mykonos, with its charming whitewashed walls, was a dream. Dubrovnik equally so.

As for the rest of the cruise, I ate extremely well, lost at Bingo, watched, near senseless, ever-repeated sci-fi movies on my television, and, sad to say, determined that the next time I took to the seas, it would be on a nonstop ship going, say, from New York to Southampton, where I could relax, read, and have the time to discover the meaning of life. 

Pictured here:  Bed with Teddy, on board ship.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

 
Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Cruising on the Cheap PDF Print Email

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By Adrienne Smith 


Nov. 30, 2016:  You may well wonder whether the Constant Traveler has been living up to her name recently.

I am happy to inform you that, yes, indeed, I have, despite some gargantuan obstacles, which I intend to describe forthwith.

Last spring, I contracted for a delightfully expensive cruise on the Crystal Line, which would take my husband and me on a delirious trip from Venice, down the coast of Italy, to Malta, around Sicily, and along the Croatian coast, ending in Rome.

Shortly thereafter, I made the inexcusable mistake of attending a meeting with our financial advisors, where I was confronted with graphs of our principal and income over time whose downward slope and resemblance to pictorial representations of the 1929 fiscal collapse suggested the need for more than a modicum of financial prudence.

So out went the cruise. That is, for 24 hours.

Surely there had to be a way to recreate the experience on a more modest level. In furtherance of this possibility, my husband intimated that he wasn't particularly eager to take on the ardors of the trip, although, as I was soon to find out, single travelers face a myriad of unfair pricing obstacles on cruise lines.

Determined to find a solution, I applied myself unflaggingly to travel ads in the newspaper, Google searches for "cheap Mediterranean cruises," adding "bargain" and "rock-bottom" in my desperation.

Finally, I located one Thomson Cruise Lines, operating reasonable cruises out of England, aimed at my formerly disparaged British pensioners. Undismayed even by the prospect of departing by air from Bristol, wherever that was, to meet my boat, I commenced a series of Skype calls to their representatives.

Alas, I received conflicting information about the availability of single cabins, was told that I could not use an American charge card to book, and was even unceremoniously hung up on by one agent. This was not going well.

Back I went to my Internet search and found an agency in Ft. Lauderdale that appeared to specialize in, oh dear, the cheap cruises for which I yearned. With nothing to lose, I called. The phone was answered by a gravelly voiced older woman, the sign of a real pro. Within the hour, this wonderful woman, whose commission was probably on the near side of $25, found me a trip, while not quite the one of my dreams, but pretty darn good. For a pittance, literally at a cost that was 15% of my initial booking, I was on my way, complete with unlimited wine and, I'm not kidding, chocolate-covered strawberries.

Tune in next time for a gripping and unforgettable description of my actual wine-infused, strawberry-smeared late September voyage.

Pictured here:  A cheap-trip ad. 

Photo by Adrienne Smith

 
Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Scientological Sortie PDF Print Email


By Adrienne Smith


Sep. 28, 2016:  A damp, cold day in Bruges. How was I to pass the time? Nothing like taking an online quiz. And hadn't I seen in recent browsing that Scientology's website offered the Oxford Capacity Analysis, which, it touts, can determine your traits, some of which "enable you to achieve great things in life," while others, alas, "can seem to hold you back and ultimately stifle your true potential"?

OK. I was game. Two hundred questions, requiring yes or no answers, and I was done. What, you may ask, were the queries?  I'll give you a sample of the more peculiar ones:

"Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?"

"Is your life a constant struggle for survival?"

"Are you a slow eater?"

"Does life seem rather vague and unreal to you?"

And my favorite, "Do you browse through railway timetables, directories, or dictionaries just for pleasure?"

To the last, I feel I perhaps misrepresented myself by answering "no," as, you see, I vastly enjoy perusing dictionaries, books of Latin phrases, and useless factoids while secreted away in the WC. Moreover, one of my principal delights is examining Waffle House menus to detect illogical charging, e.g., price of cheese as an inconstant amount when added to various different food items.

You may say that these disclosures imply that I need more help than Scientology can supply, and you may be right.

In any event, a prerequisite for taking the test was providing my name, email address, age, gender, and general geographical area. As a result, my test was instantly sent to Scientology cyberspace, after which, in a matter of days, I received an email urging me to come in for an evaluation.

As I was planning a visit to Florida's West Coast and, as Scientology is headquartered in Clearwater, FL, I thought that was the best place to receive my results.

Between that time and the actual date of my interview, I read up on the test and on Scientology itself. I discovered that, despite its Oxfordy name, the test has no nexus with that august institution. I also found that the test has not been well received by the psychiatric community.

As for Clearwater, I noted that non-Scientology-connected local government officials and residents have not been overly thrilled by the organization's buy-up of most of the central downtown area, together with the construction of numerous administrative buildings and renovation of an historic old hotel.

It was with some trepidation that I appeared for my review, having no idea how grueling the whole affair would be. My reviewer, an attractive female of about my age, who had been in the organization for more than 30 years, engaged in perfectly pleasant small talk with me until I asked about the dreaded results. At that point, she produced a graph deconstructing my test answers. I'm happy to report that I came out quite well on Stable, Happy, Composed, Certainty, Active (apparently a little too much of a good thing there), and Aggressive (oh, well). I was less of a star on Responsible (Causative), my lowest score, Correct Estimation, Appreciative, and Communications Level.

Frankly, between my test results and analysis, I found the evaluation not that far off the mark. Whenever my reviewer felt it necessary to say anything even slightly negative, she prefaced it with telling me I was "very intelligent," "extremely bright," and other ego-massaging words.

But the import of the meeting was that I could be an even happier person if I could rid myself of some of my negatives, and that, of course, would involve taking Scientology classes to "get clear."

I settled for tottering out with three of L. Ron Hubbard's books.

While I was in the area, I took a spin through central Clearwater. It was kind of a cross-section between Disneyworld and Pyongyang. New, well-maintained but artificial buildings and empty streets, populated only by a few uniformed Sea Org members here and there. A little spooky.

So where does this leave me? I guess, my old irresponsible self.

Pictured here:  Personal and confidential?

Photo by Adrienne Smith

 
Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Wandering through Wyoming PDF Print Email


By Adrienne Smith


Sep. 7, 2016:  I just got back from a 4,000-mile swing through the North- and Southwest, driving through vistas of unbelievable beauty, while listening intently to audiobooks.

The majority of my time was spent in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, both of which I, as many of you, have visited on multiple occasions.

Despite ominous posted warnings, I never saw a bear on my hikes or drives, although I did spot moose and buffalo, keeping me ever alert to what might lie around the next corner.

But what I would like to focus on in this little piece is the wonderfulness that is Wyoming, citing factoids, primarily from Wikipedia.com, that make it so interesting.

First, for those of you who are New York Times crossword buffs, a recent clue asked for the only state in the USA that is square. You guessed it, Wyoming, whose borders are straight up and down and sideways as well.

Second, 54% of Wyoming's land is publicly owned, 48% by the federal government and 6% by the state. (As a comparison, the federal government owns a whopping 84% of Nevada and 64% of Utah.)

Third, various explorers in the Yellowstone area in the early 1800s came back with stories of steaming pits and geysers but were not believed. With the coming of the railroad and mining in the area, the narratives became acknowledged. As a result, Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world, was created in 1872.

Fourth, Wyoming justifies its state motto, "Equal Rights," because it was the first state in the nation to grant voting rights to women and the first to have a woman governor.

Fifth, Wyoming is the largest state producer of coal, second in natural gas, and fifth in crude oil.

Sixth, have you ever heard of trona? Well, it is used in the manufacturing of all sorts of products, including soap, paper, and water softeners. Wyoming is its biggest producer in the world, so amaze your friends with this knowledge.

Seventh, Wyoming's population is pretty non-diverse, as almost 91% of its residents are white. Its population is the smallest of any state and the District of Columbia, and its density is second only to Alaska.

Eighth, Wyoming is a tax heaven, or should I say, haven. It has no income tax, no estate tax. Perhaps it should, as it receives per capita federal aid twice the national average

Ninth, Wyoming is never going to tip a national election or important Congressional vote, as it has but three electoral votes and one Representative.

Tenth, and this is purely from personal observation and experience, never drive a normal vehicle on a Wyoming road in the rain with signage that states: "Dry Weather Road."

And on that note, I will leave you, hoping that you will consider an excursion in the near future to this quite remarkable state.

Pictured here:  A "dry weather road" in Wyoming.

Photo by Adrienne Smith

 
Westchester County Breaks Tourism Record Second Year in a Row PDF Print Email

 

By Ned McCormack, Communications Director, Westchester County


Aug. 31, 2016:  Building on a record-breaking 2014, Westchester County's tourism industry went even higher in 2015, with visitor spending increasing by $60 million to $1.8 billion.

Since 2009, the end of the Great Recession, visitor spending has soared 29%, an increase of more than $400 million. The total spending level hit $1.8 billion, according to County Executive Rob Astorino.

"These numbers show that Westchester County continues to be a leading destination for business and pleasure in the State of New York," said Astorino. "Year after year, Westchester attracts more visitors, and that's great news for the growth of our economy and county as a whole."

In 2015, visitor spending supported 24,036 jobs in Westchester, 5% of all jobs in the county. At the same time, tourism generated $216.9 million in tax revenue for state and local municipalities. This represents $633 for every household in the county.

Westchester's tourism industry, which ranks third in the state behind New York City and Long Island, represents 53% of all visitor spending in the Hudson Valley region.  

Natasha Caputo, director of Westchester County Tourism & Film, said the county's success as a tourism destination is the result of great industry partners who offer top-notch accommodations, restaurants, and cultural and entertainment attractions for every age and budget. 

To keep up with the demand, Westchester County's travel and tourism industry has continued to reinvest to guarantee the best product for the county's visitors. These projects include:

·         A $10.5 million renovation of the Westchester Marriott in White Plains.

·         A $6 million renovation of guest rooms, restaurants, event/meeting space, and outdoor pool area at the Holiday Inn in Mount Kisco. 

·         A $5.2 million renovation of the guest rooms, lobby, meeting space, restaurant, and fitness center at the Sheraton in Tarrytown. 

·         A $4 million renovation at the Doral Arrowwood Resort in Rye Brook, which includes new technology, refurbished guestrooms, and new meeting rooms in the Doral Executive Center.

·         A multi-million-dollar renovation of The Westchester Mall in White Plains, which includes interior redesign, improvements to the entrance and signage, and new luxury amenities, including upgraded valet facilities.

·         A $500 thousand entrance and lobby renovation of the Crowne Plaza in White Plains.

·         The construction of two new hotels:  the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Courtyard by Marriott, both in Yonkers.

Westchester's local municipalities are also stepping up to the plate and enhancing their own tourism products. To bolster tourism, the City of Peekskill's recent investments include almost $11 million to parks, museums, and trails. The city is also home to a variety of new restaurants.

Westchester County has also seen significant growth in the agri-tourism sector. The "Westchester-Grown" Farm Trail is a New York State-designated route, spanning 17 miles. The trail provides an opportunity for visitors to see and taste some of the county's freshest products and builds upon the county's historic agricultural roots and cultural richness.

Farms and farm stands along the trail include:

·         Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard, North Salem

·         Hemlock Hill Farm, Cortlandt

·         Hilltop Hanover Farm & Environmental Center, Yorktown Heights

·         Muscoot Farm, Katonah

·         Ryder Farm Cottage Industries, Brewster

·         Seedswell Vegetable Farm, Bedford

·         Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, Tarrytown

·         Stuart's Farm and Orchard, Granite Springs

·         The Farmer & The Fish, North Salem

·         The Meadows Farm, Yorktown Heights

·         Thompson's Cider Mill, Croton-On-Hudson

·         White Oak Farm, Yorktown Heights

·         Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm, Yorktown Heights

In order to complement this growing sector, Westchester County Tourism & Film has produced a revamped Farm-to-Table Guide. The new guide highlights restaurants that have embraced the farm-to-table movement and source products from Hudson Valley farms. This guide also highlights the county’' burgeoning craft beverage scene.

This segment continues to grow with the recent additions of South Salem Winery in South Salem and Hardscrabble Cider in North Salem.

At Hardscrabble Cider's tasting room, customers can sample different varieties while hearing about the special cider-making process. The room, located within the Harvest Moon farm store, was renovated in 2015 to create an old, farm-industrial vibe using brick and locally foraged, reclaimed barn wood. South Salem Winery is Westchester's first micro-winery. The winery, set amidst the grounds of the beautiful Gossett Bros. Nursery, has a tasting room and food bar adjacent to the greenhouse, offering a unique space for parties.

And of course there are the standbys: Captain Lawrence, Yonkers Brewing Company, Peekskill Brewery, and Broken Bow Brewery.

Pictured here:  Farmers’ Market in Bronxville, a fun destination for visitors in summer.

Photo by N. Bower

 
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