jump to navigation

Hot springs hideaway August 19, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Utah.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Kayaking the Great Salt Lake would have been adventure enough for some — particularly since our self-appointed wilderness guide had a bartending shift that began at 5 and ended at 10.

UTAH

But Anne De Long is no ordinary wilderness guide. She’s also a tango dancer, along with the rest of my group, which means that life really begins long after the sun goes down. And so I found myself at 1 a.m., pack strapped to my back, hoofing an hour upwards into the Uinta National Forest in the wake of a troupe of tango dancers.

I am reluctant to reveal the whereabouts of these hot springs. Let me just say that they were well worth the climb. (OK, I’ll give just one hint: its name is Diamond Fork. But don’t ask me how to get there. I couldn’t tell you, anyway – I was asleep!) By the time I’d huffed and puffed my way up the last switchback, Anne had set the scene with candles all around the secluded pool and Suan had set the “table” – a rock in the center of the pool – with olives and brie and crostini and red wine.

When we were sated from food, wine and laughter — among the many talents that Anne totes around in that backpack of hers is the persona of a slightly bawdy showgirl — she led us to the foot of the waterfall where we plunged into its icy torrents and shattered the peaceful night with screams of delight.

We soaked our cares away till nearly dawn, when we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept like the dead until the hot rays of the sun popped over the canyon wall and crept into our bags. Imagine our surprise to find a troupe of blonde, uniformed cheerleaders making their way into our open-air boudoir.

All good things must come to an end, as they say. Sigh.

Advertisements

Kayaking the Great Salt Lake August 15, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Adventure, Utah.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

I’d never have believed you could pack so much life into two days. Salt Lake City and the surrounding countryside offer so much to the traveler, it really deserves a week or two. Possibly even a lifetime.

Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake

Nonetheless, two days were what we had, and our friends worked overtime to show us some of the highlights: Kayaking on the Great Salt Lake; a twilight concert downtown with the originator of reggae; a midnight hike up a mountain to an unforgettable night under the stars at Diamond Fork Hot Springs; a vegetarian buffet at a Taj Mahal-like Krishna temple in the sagebrush-covered valley and a drive through the verdant aspen forests of Sundance and the Alpine Loop.

First was the kayaking expedition. Anne De Long, our guide, warned us that the brine flies might be out in force, but we decided to chance it. We were so glad we did. The spectacular vistas, the salty air and the strange sensation of bobbing effortlessly above the briny depths made for an unforgettable experience.

Here’s a little preview:

Mexico City offers tourists a healthy deal August 3, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Mexico.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Another good reason to visit Mexico: Mexico City, in an innovative move designed to combat fear of swine flu, is offering free health insurance to national and international travelers, the LA Times reported today.

Anyone staying in a Mexico City hotel will receive free hospitalization, prescription drugs, doctor’s care and even hotel accommodations during convalescence.

A total of 353 people have died of the virus worldwide since the so-called pandemic hit the news in April. Meanwhile, several hundred people die of regular flu each week, as CNN pointed out.

Mexico’s tourism industry, one of the country’s most important sources of income, has been battered by the wave of negative press coverage, first because of drug-related violence (virtually none of which has affected tourists) and then swine flu (ditto). Which is a shame, since Mexico is home to an enormous wealth of culture, history, cuisine and some of the friendliest people in the world – and it’s right next door.

As for me, I’ll be going to Mexico as soon and as often as possible. With or without free health insurance.

Marvelous Matagorda July 25, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Sustainability, Texas.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

East Bay at sunrise

Hundreds of miles of coastline stretch from Galveston to the Coastal Bend. I’d always wanted to explore that stretch in between where the Colorado River meets the sea. But aside from a state park on an island that is no longer accessible, nobody I spoke to could say much about what I might find there.

This only made me more curious. So one day I picked up the phone and started calling around. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags and headed for the coast.

What I found surprised me: spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, great food, a fascinating history, fishing to die for and friendly folks who will make you feel right at home.

What I didn’t find was an overabundance of tourists. A couple from Fort Worth, a father and daughter from Houston, a family from Pearland and a handful of locals — but mostly, miles of white sand pounded by surf and backed by graceful dunes.

Last week I got to spend a couple of glorious days soaking up some of the best this region has to offer. On Aug. 9, the story will appear in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Meanwhile, here’s a preview.

SA hotels make “World’s Best” list July 17, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Food, San Antonio, Sustainability.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Recently I was in San Antonio to visit the new stretch of the famed River Walk, and to visit with chef John Brand, the culinary wizard behind the remake of two River Walk classics, Pesca and Las Canarias.

Brand has distinguished himself with a cuisine that is both cutting-edge and creative, while being an active adherent to farm-to-table and sustainable harvesting practices. Here’s an interview I did with Brand at Las Canarias after a memorable lunch in May.

Pesca and Las Canarias and their parent hotels, the Watermark Hotel and Spa and Omni’s La Mansion del Rio, have more to celebrate this month than a new stretch of the River Walk. Both hotels made Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Hotels” list — the only hotels in Texas to have received this honor.

Here’s the story in the San Antonio Business Journal.

Of course, it can’t hurt that they’ve got a world-class chef at the helm of their two restaurants. Congrats, y’all.

Cultural Safari in Tanzania July 1, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Africa, Food, Sustainability.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

When I told people I was planning a trip to Tanzania, the first question was: “Are you going on safari?”

Well, I didn’t see giraffes and elephants and lions. But since “safari” is the Swahili word for “journey,” I can honestly say I did!

Look for the full story in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News travel section, or just click here to read it online. Meanwhile, njema safari (happy travels)!

TANZANIAFor more stories from this incredible journey through the real Africa, from celebrating the election of Obama in hubub of Dar es Salaam to making new friends in the Bukoba countryside, see Tracy’s blog, Postcards from Tanzania.

BUWEA women thumbnailFor a story about the amazing group of women who drew me to this remote region, and how they are changing it, see From Texas to Tanzania: San Antonio network changes African lives.

Zanzibar thumbnailAnd for story and videos from an exotic little side trip to the legendary Spice Islands — a land of Omani towers, red colobus monkeys, sparkling white beaches and mahogany forests — see Hakuna Matata in Zanzibar.

Going Green, deliciously, in Great Britain June 21, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in England, Food.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Travel is an inherently messy business, something that produces a fair amount of ambivalence –angst, even, at times — in the eco-sensitive travel writer. So it’s particularly gratifying when I find a destination that makes it easy to reduce my impact along the way.

England is just such a destination, with recycling bins everywhere, a vibrant “Buy Local” campaign and public transport that aces ours in every way. EasyJet, the budget airline I booked for my side trip to Spain, made it easy to offset my carbon footprint by checking a box and paying a few extra dollars to plant trees or invest in renewables. Picturesque walking and cycling trails crisscross the nation, and people actually use them — a lot. And a couple of our destinations — Totnes and Dartington — I later learned are important innovators in a desperately needed transition movement toward a sustainable economy.

In London, we toured the Borough Market, a celebration of all things delicious, with a strong emphasis on locally sourced, sustainably grown food.  This market was pulsing with color, aroma and flavor when we arrive on a Thursday morning, with everything from artisanal cheeses and breads to fresh morels and artichokes to pig snouts and sausages vying for shoppers’ attention.

The Borough Market has been a key player in Britain’s food revolution in the past five years. “This Market is part of our new food story,” said Adrian Bevins, a London-based food writer who gave us a whirlwind market tour.

Enter Peter Gott, a hog farmer from Westmorland County. Dressed in plaid flannel, suspenders and bright red socks, he could have played the part of a British country gentleman farmer on TV, if such a role existed.

TANZANIA

Gott was among a handful of regional producers who brought this market back to life.  “Ten years ago, this place was derelict,” he recalls. “London was a desert as far as food was concerned.” A market stood on the South Thames since the Roman times, and in this very spot for the past 250 years, but industrial agriculture and the advent of the supermarket had reduced it to a few produce stands amid all the parking lots. “The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker were being taken over, pushed out by the factory farms.” 

Gott read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” and decided to do something about it. He and a handful of other producers organized a monthly market that grew month by month. Soon it went biweekly, then weekly. Word about the “Farm to Fork” movement began to spread, and a snowball effect began. Big-name chefs like Jamie Oliver became regulars, sourcing their restaurants at the market and through its producers.

Randolph Hodgson, the founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy, was another founder. His company has been credited with saving the craft of English farmhouse cheesemaking in Britain from being driven into obscurity by the corporate cheese industry.  As I heard his story I sampled a savory Cheshire cheese and a Westcounty farmhouse cheddar, heritage cheeses that linger on in the tasting-room of my mind. But it was the crumbly Coolea Irish cheese that stopped me in my tracks and made me go back for more.

Here’s a quick tour of the Borough Market:

But the Borough Market was just the beginning. Nearly every restaurant showcased on our Visit Britain tour made a point of choosing locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients. Here are a few:

Alfie’s, the delightfully offbeat restaurant named for a dog at our pet-friendly hotel in London, the brand-new and trendy Bermondsey Square Hotel in Southeast London; 

Ottolenghi, an amazing experience packaged as a restaurant near Almeida Theater. The restaurant is described as Mediterranean which to me means hummus and falafel — which is fine with me — but the dishes I sampled here were something else entirely, and each was a work of art.

Rick Stein’s fabulous Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, which together with his other four local restaurants and cooking school have transformed this  picturesque Cornwall fishing village into a foodie’s paradise;

Jamie Oliver’s truly inspiring Fifteen Cornwall, a spectacular restaurant overlooking the surfers on Watergate Bay. This restaurant doesn’t stop with locally sourced ingredients; Oliver hand-picks 15 local Cornwall youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and teaches them to be socially conscious chefs.

Michael Caines Dining in medieval Exeter, Devon County, a hotel restaurant whose chef is so famous his restaurants need no other name;

Last but certainly not least, we dined right on the farm in rural Devon in an innovative “field kitchen” at Riverford Organic, winner of the London Observer’s 2009 Best Ethical Restaurant award. The establishment offers farm tours right along with your meal and markets tens of thousands of fresh “veg boxes” around the country.  This one was my personal favorite, and I’ve now got the cookbook to prove it.

A Bit of British Paradise: Cornwall and Devon June 16, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in England.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Medieval castles and cream teas I expected; surfers and zipcatters, tropical jungles and celebrity chefs I did not.

The Southwest of England has long been known as a holiday getaway for the British, but first-rate destinations such as Newquay, Exeter and Dartmoor don’t exactly trip off the tongues of the average U.S. traveler.

Here’s a peek at the spectacular and diverse countryside of Devon and Cornwall.

The Nature of the Beast June 13, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in England.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Whitechapel Gallery in East London, a century-old institution that has been among the first to discover artists like Picasso, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo, has just doubled in size with the conversion of the neighboring library into a gallery space.

A year-long exhibit called “The Nature of the Beast” provided a powerful glimpse into what much of the world sees with reference to the Iraq War.

A Little Venice in London June 9, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in England.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

London is a city of immigrants, and why not one from the largest of its former colonies? David Tucker is a self-described Cheesehead from Wisconsin who has dedicated the past three decades to harvesting quirky, strange and enlightening stories from this history-rich city and sharing them with passers-through.

Little Venice

Tucker and his wife, a British native who goes by the moniker of Mary Poppins, have taken over what they say might be the oldest walking tour company in the world: London Walks, which was established in the 1960s. He gave us a tour of Little Venice, a charming historic neighborhood that’s so far off the beaten trail that many residents don’t even know about it.  He’s packed a number of those quirky tales into his new book just released in the U.S., London Stories.

It’s attracted its share of fame, however; notables from Robert Browning to Richard Branson have made their homes here.

A little stroll through, and it’s easy to see why; here’s a peek: