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Sunday, 24 June 2012

My Personal Concrete Sanctuary

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Some people go to the beach or find a cabin in the woods, break out their fishing pole and a good book to unwind from life. While I have no objection to any of these ideas, when life gets too much for me, I’m in need of a great slice a pizza or homemade pasta, a cappuccino and the city life. There is only one place that offers me this with tranquility. The place is Arthur Ave. in the Bronx.  


I hop in my car, take Pelham Parkway, get off the Fordham exit and I’m there. I sit in my car for a moment, take a deep breath inhaling the city life of Italian food, its culture and the feeling of being in a place this country girl never thought she’d be.

Twenty years ago I never thought I’d be comfortable enough to go into the city alone, especially a well-known place like the Bronx. But I’ve come to understand its culture. Sure, there are areas I still wouldn’t travel but in the Belmont section I feel safe and able to be myself. 

I venture down streets going into the shops filled with crystal gifts and figurines. For the most delicious bread I’ve ever tasted I’ll go to Terranova bakery and get a few loaves. I’ve been known to freeze a few. Depending on my mood I’ll go to Full Moon for a slice of pizza or I’ll go to my favorite restaurant Roberto’s and order an eggplant appetizer. It is to die for. There are only male waiters who appear to be very attractive, though it could be the Italian accent, that wait on you. When the appetizer comes out they use a huge spoon and fork, cut it in two using only one hand and scoop it onto my plate. The cheese oozes everywhere, the smell is decadent and the taste is out of this world. If I’m lucky on their special of the day board they’ll have seafood risotto. Between the risotto, wine and eggplant I’m usually feeling like a whole new person but my trip isn’t over yet. 

I head to what has become my place of sanctuary. A cafe called Palumbo. I don’t usually drink espresso but when I go to the Bronx I have to have at least one. It isn’t just about the cappuccino and the pastries. The pastries while they are very good at Palumbo, aren’t my favorite, but I always have at least one. For me this place is about the atmosphere, the synergy. When I enter I see a group of gentlemen in the corner drinking espresso with suits on, talking about things I definitely don’t want to know about. A group of girls will be sitting at another table speaking in a foreign language. Almost everyone will be speaking Italian except me and the tourists that have come to visit. You can always spot them. The clothes aren’t quite right, the cameras are at the ready and they are always way too happy and polite. Here I can sit back in my chair and say nothing. I’ve often thought about finding a place in the area and coming here as a daily visit. I’ve been known to drive over an hour in the morning to Palumbo just for a croissant with raspberry jam spread on top. This is the place when the time is right, I want to come and write my book. Not about New York, Arthur Ave. or the next Goodfella’s, no just a book. Every writer has their place and this is mine. 

When it’s time to go I take one more stroll through the streets heading to my favorite pastry shops. I have a few. I take home a small cheesecake to eat on my ride back to wherever I have come from. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Ice Hotel

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      This year as summer approaches and I’m doing what every girl dreads, finding a bikini or a tankini to a one piece and ending with I don’t need to go to the beach after all. I’m planning my next adventure which has nothing to do with a hot sun, sand and skinny people eating nothing but water for the summer. It includes ice, snow and lots of clothes, the kind of clothes that will hide anything. Needs for the beach: suntan oil and a towel. Needs for my trip to Sweden: gloves, earmuffs and thermal underwear.
      In a place called Jukkasjärvi, Sweden there is a hotel made out of ice and snow. Architects from all over the world come once a year to construct this magnificent site. They will design a deluxe suite, art suites, group rooms and a bar area. In total there will be over forty rooms. Each will have its own art design on the walls, ice sculptures and ice chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
      The beds are made of ice and snow with reindeer skins layering the top. Before you head to your suite, you will make a detour to the “warm” building connected to the ICE HOTEL to gather your sleeping bag and sheets. They will also store your personal belongings as they would freeze over-night if you brought them to your ice room. As you wake in the morning, hot lingonberry juice will be waiting by your bedside. It tastes like apples, cranberries and raspberries mixed together. All of the bathrooms are located in the “warm” building; remember not to drink too much coffee or wine right before bed. This will not be a pleasant experience having to get bundled up again and trudge through the cold. After drinking your lingonberry juice a warm sauna will be awaiting your arrival for a morning wake up.
      Staying at the ICE HOTEL is not the only action in town. Depending when you decide to come, you can put on your snowshoes or cross-country skis and go for a day tour. For something a little more adventurous, hop on a snowmobile for the day. The main attraction I cannot wait to enjoy is dog sledding! There are many different tours you can choose from. A dogsled can pick up you up and transfer you from the ICE HOTEL to the airport or you can seat yourself on a sled and learn about the life of a husky. You can even choose to be a musher for a day. If you’re like me and really want the adventure you can book an over-night excursion in search of the Northern Lights. You will learn how to drive your own dog sled, stay at one of the wilderness camps and enjoy a visit to the kennel.
      The ICE HOTEL is not only known for its beauty, it is also known for its food and ICEBAR. The ICEBAR is open until one a.m. and you can stay for as long as you like. It has all kinds of specialty drinks as well as champagne and wine served in ice glasses. The floors are made of ice and snow where you can dance the night away.
      The restaurants are top notch and the food has been displayed in gourmet magazines. You can stay at the ICEHOTEL restaurant where your food will be served on plates and bowls made out of ice from the Thorne River or you can try the Old Homestead restaurant which has an a la carte menu. There is a dress code. It doesn’t have to be formal but it does have to be in good taste.
      I love the cold and can imagine staying at the ICEHOTEL. Can I stay for more than one or two nights in the freezing cold? Probably not, but the luxury is: there is an option of staying at the ICEHOTEL for a night or two and staying at a warm hotel in the area.  This is not for the person who is on a budget and looking for an inexpensive destination.
      For me the only question is, when do I book my flight? When they first open and I can still see them designing and building the hotel in the beginning of December or wait until everything is done and enjoy what has been created. Either way, I will be there. If not next year, very soon in the future.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Smaller Version of a Grand Idea

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       If you’re like me and don’t always get a chance to travel across the United States but want to see all its wonders, there is a place in Pennsylvania that will almost feel like you’re seeing the real thing. It’s called the Grand Canyon. Unlike the official Grand Canyon which is in the desert, Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon called The Pine Creek Gorge is set in the Tioga State park near Wellsboro. The canyon is over forty miles long with mountains, rivers and at some places is over 1,000 miles deep.
       I stumbled onto this place many years ago when my mother was getting married and wanted a place for a honeymoon; nothing too extravagant, just a place outdoors, to be with nature. There are many hotels you can stay in but if you’re more of the outdoorsy type there are cabins in the area you can rent. The rates are affordable and cabins can be for two or for a group. There are campgrounds where you can pull out your sleeping bag and stay the night. I personally like the comforts of a bed & breakfast which can be also be found here. Some will have such luxuries as Jacuzzis, fireplaces and swimming pools.
       Whether you’re an extreme sportsman or want a leisurely weekend you can do either here. The trails are not difficult, while some are a mile long.  Of course there are areas where if you’re looking for a work-out, can be found. One of the most popular trails is the Pine Creek Rail Trail. It starts in Ansonia and continues to the Jersey shore. There are over 57 miles of bike riding, hiking and an area for equestrian riding. It has been voted by USA Today as one of the “ten great places to take a bike tour.” Or you can try the West Rim Trail that was voted “best hike in Pennsylvania” by Outside Magazine. If you’re only looking to sight-see, there are horse-drawn wagon rides during the summer. In winter you can travel some of the trails by cross-country skiing or even snowboarding.
       As you make your way through the canyon, you will come across people who are backpacking or simply bird-watching. Many bird watchers come to this area to see the Bald Eagle. Fishermen will be here with their boats making a day of it. You want to make sure you visit the Vista views with camera in hand as it has extraordinary views of the canyon. The Vista views are Colt Point on the west rim and Leonard Harrison on the east rim. In Wellsboro there is an observation tower costing three dollars to climb and you get a magnificent view of the canyon.
       During the summer, Bluegrass festivals are held, some lasting up to two weeks. You can make your way to the many museums from art to glass making. In Morris, Pa. there is Oregon Hill Winery, where you can sample and purchase wine. As you venture into the surrounding towns you will find many places to dine and find antiques. Not only will you be able to shop at department stores but you will also have the luxury of shopping at quaint bookstores, hobby and quilt shops. If you forget any outdoor gear at home, you can purchase whatever you need. There are also places with bike rentals and shuttles to pick you up from your destination.

       Whether you’re looking for a weekend away with friends or a romantic getaway, Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon offers anything from outdoor sports to leisure walks with magnificent views of the scenery.

Sunday, 03 June 2012

The Green Dragon

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    Whenever I venture to my home state, I always try to make my way to Amish country. I’m originally from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, forty minutes from Lancaster County; a place where you can find anything from shoofly pie to antiques. Throughout the county there are stands selling fresh breads or just picked fruit but one place where everyone gathers on a Friday morning is The Green Dragon.

    The Green Dragon located in Ephrata, Pa. is a farmer’s market that spreads over twenty acres of land. It opens every Friday, rain or shine.  Around six a.m. you can smell coffee and baked donuts as the vendors set up for the day.  The Amish will pull in with their buggies, ready to sell their meats, pastries, and garments. Most of the market is set outside with stands side by side in a row. Anyone from a serious merchant to a part-time crafter can purchase a spot for the day.

    The farmers come with their livestock to auction as well as hay and household goods. There are small butcher shops throughout the indoor buildings ranging from poultry, seafood and meats. A variety of lunchmeats can be found including Lebanon bologna (sweat but delicious) named after the town a few miles from Lancaster. Or you might find items like stripe or pickled pig’s feet.

    The Amish sell quilts, quillows (a smaller version of a quilt) or quilted key chains for sale. If you’re looking for Amish food, they have homemade apple dumplings, pies, cakes, breads and sweet rolls. What I always eat when I go is a whoopee pie. It looks like an Oreo cookie but made out of chocolate cake on either side and the inside is cream. The cream is usually vanilla or chocolate but it has evolved over time to include other flavors such as pumpkin and peanut butter. I have tried other whoopee pies but none taste quite as good as the ones from Lancaster County.

    You will find crafters selling their candles, soaps and country decor. During the winter months all sorts of holiday items are made and sold. There is a wide assortment of clothes ranging from shirts, hats, scarves and mittens that are either designer or hand crafted. I have even seen on occasion a Victoria’s Secret stand. If you’re a fan of sports, baseball cards will line a stand or plaques of players on another. Candy filled with raisons or nuts can be found or if you have a fetish for a wide variety of nuts, The Green Dragon will have it.

    As you spend your day looking at what each vender has brought for the day, you can nibble on BBQ chicken, hard or soft ice cream, soft pretzels or Zerbe’s potato chips.  You can even try freshly squeezed lemonade and eat a pumpkin funnel cake. If you really want a treat, Beulah’s candy shop is located in the indoor market. It has four stands ranging from nuts, gummi candy, fudge, even sugar free candy. Anything you can imagine – they have it.

       There are many places in Lancaster County to visit if you want to learn how to live as a farmer or see how the Amish live day by day, but if you’re looking to buy something unique or have never experienced Pennsylvania Dutch food before, this is the place to go. You will be impressed with the size and the items you won’t find anywhere else. 

      The world is a big place with wonderful sites but not many cities have the wonderment and magic as New York City. Whether it’s the history of the buildings, the Italian food to die for or the fashion, it is a city not to be missed. When I received the invitation to participate in a scavenger hunt throughout its streets I couldn’t resist.
      Eataly, an Italian marketplace, was hosting the event. Located at 200 and 5th, the stunning market boasts some of the best gelato you will ever have. You can purchase imported Italian chocolate, tea, meats, pasta of all kinds and fresh bread. It has many different restaurants each specializing in a main dish from pizza to fish. My favorite is situated in the middle of Eataly and has high top tables without seats. You can order a wide variety of cheeses, wines and other appetizers. There is something about being part of a group, holding a glass of wine and dipping bread into olive oil over enlightened conversation that keeps me captivated.
      As soon as I read the email for the scavenger hunt, I saved the date, signed up and prepared to have a wonderful experience. When I arrived the day of the event I was given an Italian picnic basket complete with a book of questions for the scavenger hunt, water, chips, a token for a mozzarella and tomato sandwich, gelato and espresso. Before I started my adventure I couldn’t resist but try the sandwich. It was smothered in olive oil and sea salt. Every bite was better than the last one. While I wanted to stay at Eataly all day I was ready to see the city.
      The scavenger hunt was made up of twenty questions, most of the clues answers’ could be found within a in a ten block radius. I ventured into Madison Square Park where I had to find statues and count buttons on the coats all the while making sure I wasn’t impeding on the movie that was being shot on the opposite street. Or making sure I didn’t bump into people who were waiting in line for the Shake Shack. A place that sells, according to the locals, the best burger you will ever eat. Leaving the park I walked past a museum that has everything and anything you’d want to know about sex. It wasn’t part of my quest but I did take a slight detour.  I proceeded on with my adventure finding a plaque on the side of a building for Washington Irving only to keep going to the Armory to solve more clues.
      The other part of the hunt took place in midtown Manhattan where I searched Radio City Music Hall for a dog in one of the gold sculptures; then counted the squares above the Barrymore theatre. The hunt ended at one of the greatest tourist attractions, The Empire State Building. I have never been inside but the quest sparked a new interest in me to not only know about the attractions but to see them. Like many people who have lived in the city, I have yet to venture to the places tourists go thinking this makes me an elitist, when in reality I am missing the highlights of New York.
      The scavenger hunt lasted six hours as I traveled through the city. I took a break midway through the day and went to Lombardi’s for some of the best margherita pizza New York has to offer. Afterwards, I walked to a nearby pastry shop and had a marshmallow chocolate cupcake before finishing the hunt. I could have opted for the full nine hour forty question hunt which I know I would have enjoyed but this way I still have the map. I didn’t use my token for gelato and espresso. This only means, I will have to go back and do it all over again. I can’t think of a better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than finding new places to visit in one of the most magical cities in the world.


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