Do People Really Like Going on Vacation? Yes, Yes, They Do
Published on November 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about how much I love vacation, and how sad it is when vacations end and transport you back to the real world.

Here's an excerpt:

"Nobody gloats about going on vacation as much as I do.

'Guess what?' I’ll gleefully announce to all the poor souls without vacations to look forward to. 'I’m going on vacation.'

I start gloating about my vacations at least one month before they’re scheduled to begin, and the gloating tends to get louder and more obnoxious as the vacation draws closer. Before my most recent vacation, the woman who sits across from me would try to head me off at the pass. Instead of waiting for me to start gloating, she would sit down and say, 'OK, let’s hear it. How many days left until your vacation?'

If her query was an attempt to get me to show a little restraint, well, it didn’t work.

Instead, I started gabbing away about all the fun things I planned to do on my trip to the British Virgin Islands. By the time I finished talking, I’d made it sound like I was gearing up for the greatest experience of my life."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Here are my other posts on my vacation: Food and Drink of the Caribbean and Do People Really Like Going on Vacation? 

Scenes from the Caribbean
Published on November 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Here are some scenes from my trip to the British Virgin Islands.


I stayed with my friend Susanna and her husband Amarro, who live on the island of Tortola in a house located on a steep, forested hillside. The picture above is one of the views from the guest room where I stayed. 


Susanna and I went on a day sail, which involved swimming, snorkeling and drinking cocktails. One of our stops was Sandy Spit (above), a small island that looked like something out of a cartoon. The water was a little rough, but we saw a beautiful school of Blue Tang, and a lot of other pretty little fish.


Food and Drink of the Caribbean
Published on November 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some of the things I ate and drank on my lovely vacation in the British Virgin Islands, which came to an unfortunate end yesterday afternoon when I flew back to the states.

Here's an excerpt:

"I just got back from a trip to the British Virgin Islands, where my friend Susanna lives on the lovely island of Tortola. One thing I noticed during my stay is that food is a much bigger area of interest for me than it used to be. Now, I’ve always liked food, and eating. But these days I’m much more intent on having good meals, and eating good local cuisine, than ever before. In my mind, this meant that I should eat a lot of fish and seafood during my time in the BVI And since I love fish and seafood, I was pretty excited.

Susanna warned me against high expectations. She explained that visitors to the BVI are likely to experience at least one mediocre meal during their trip. 'I don’t know why it is,' she said, 'but sometimes the food here just isn’t that good.' My theory, which I made up on the spot, is that the food movement that’s taken hold in the U.S. hasn’t quite trickled down to the Caribbean. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to report that I didn’t have a single disappointing meal in the British Virgin Islands. This is partly because most of my meals were prepared by Susanna, who is an excellent cook. We had swordfish with some sort of lemony marinade the night I arrived, and I doubt I could have gotten a better entree in a restaurant. 'This is delicious,' I said."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Also, I talk a little about rum in the post, and today The Awl features a piece titled "Cooking with Rum, the American Spirit." Click here to read it.

The Hassles of Air Travel
Published on November 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

I read with horror the recent news story about the poor passengers who were trapped on the tarmac in Hartford, Conn., for more than seven hours. This is not the kind of story you want to read when you're gearing up for a flight, as I am.

The article included some great tidbits of information, such as: "'The toilets were backed up. When you flushed, nothing would happen,' said Andrew Carter, a reporter for the Sun Sentinel of Florida, who was traveling to cover the Miami Dolphins game against the New York Giants." Word to the wise: If you don't want horrible details like this getting out, don't strand a reporter on the tarmac for hours on end.

The article also inspired some good-natured Facebook banter. A friend wrote, "This harrowing story is a good reminder of the importance of bringing at least seven hours' worth of knitting in one's carry-on." To which I replied, "Or seven hours' worth of beer." Funny, right? But if this were to actually happen to me, I might end up murdering everyone on the plane.


Missing the Charms of Chatham
Published on October 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent day trip to the charming town of Chatham, and some of the things I wished I'd done. Such as: visit Chatham Brewing.

Here's an excerpt:

Saturday marked my first trip to the Columbia County town of Chatham.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was catching the film 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' at the Chatham Film Festival, which I wrote about yesterday (click here). But the trip also served as an introduction to the charms of Chatham.

Unfortunately, my timing was off, and I kept missing out on Chatham’s various charms.

For instance: I’ve long wanted to visit Chatham Brewing, which is literally down an alley and is only open on Saturdays. I first read about the brewery on All Over Albany, and was immediately intrigued: a semi-secret brewery that fills growlers out of a space about the size of a two-car garage sounded like a place I absolutely had to visit. Chatham Brewing is typically open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, but last weekend they appeared to have expanded their hours to accommodate the film festival crowd, and had even placed a sign out on the sidewalk directing people down the alley. As soon as I saw the sign I thought, 'I wish I brought my growler.' And because I was rushing to a movie, I didn’t have time to stop at the brewery, which was closed by the time I emerged from the theater. So I will have to go back to Chatham.

However, I did have a chance to try Chatham Brewing’s I.P.A. at the Peint O Gwrw, a pub in downtown Chatham, and it was pretty good.

Peint O Gwrw was also an interesting stop, because in addition to a fine beer menu, they also serve three kinds of absinthe. I’ve only tried one kind of absinthe, the French-made Lucid, and thought it would be interesting to sample the other two kinds available at Peint O Gwrw. There was some discussion of having an absinthe nightcap, but I decided that drinking absinthe at night when I planned to drive back to Albany was a bad idea. So, again, my timing was off, and I am going to have to return to Chatham to visit the brewery and drink absinthe.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Interesting Travel Writing
Published on October 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Recently the DG ran a travel piece on Libya, and I joked, "Oh, yeah, I'm definitely going to take my next vacation in Libya." (I am taking my next vacation in the British Virgin Islands, if you're curious.) I'm sure Libya has a lot of cool stuff to see, but are people really clamoring to travel to a war zone? Of course, you never know. I felt sorry for the American hikers who were arrested and imprisoned by Iran for hiking near the Iranian border, but I also wondered why were hiking there in the first place. There are a lot of places to hike. Why pick one of the most volatile places on earth? Why not go to the Andes, or the Himalayas,  or the Rockies?

But I digress.

Anyway, this week I stumbled upon an interesting piece in Guernica, in which the writer Kate Grace Thomas describes traveling to Libya to write a travel guide for Lonely Planet, only to run smack dab into a revolution. So maybe people do go to Libya on vacation, after all. Here's an excerpt from her piece:

"As a freelancer, I was pleased that editors wanted my stories. They wanted soundbites from press conferences with the rebels’ National Transitional Council. They wanted analysis on Qaddafi’s most prominent son and heir apparent, Saif Al-Islam, and his now-curtailed plans for modernizing Libya. He had been close to modernizing his father’s regime when the revolution began. There had been talk of small gains towards political reform, of releasing some prisoners, of serving alcohol in some tourist hotels. But the moment he moved closer to the gearstick, wrapping his palm around his father’s like a kid learning to drive, the sandstorm began and trapped them behind a valance of dust. The editors wanted to understand why this began. They wanted to know when this would end. I wrote and sent them the stories. Days passed in a haze of smoke, adrenaline, deadlines.

But war was never my beat and my Libya stories were not supposed to be about it.

In December, before the revolution began, I had driven through the western gate of Ajdabiya looking for honey. Farmers sat in deck chairs by the side of the road, chewing on warm cigarettes and selling large amber jars of the stuff. Honey season was over, but the bees that fed on the shmari berry—a tart, orange fruit that grows up and down the Libyan coast—still produce liquid gold.


Driving Home
Published on October 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my weekend drive through New Hampshire and Vermont, and why I'm so fond of this particular drive.

Here's an excerpt:

"Over the weekend I visited friends in New Hampshire, and so I spent a fair amount of time driving on scenic roads that brought me over hills and mountains, past farmland, woods, covered bridges, ponds and rivers. This is a drive I’ve always enjoyed, because so little of it involves the interstate, and because it really is quite pretty — the sort of drive leaf-peeping tourists take for fun. (Because it was raining and overcast for most of my trip, I saw very few leaf-peeping tourists wandering around with cameras and snapping foliage photos.) I enjoy looking at the pretty leaves as much as anyone, but I’ve always gotten a kick out of leaf-peepers, who approach the natural changing of the seasons with the sort of anthropological curiosity I might reserve for a trip overseas.

This particular drive to New England was a little more interesting than usual, because it brought me over roads that were recently submerged by flood waters and offered an up-close glimpse of flood damage. I saw foundations where entire homes once stood, and homes that were still standing, but so badly damaged they will have to be rebuilt or demolished. The rivers had changed, too. They were wider, and some had carved new channels. There were new sandbars, and piles of debris were still visible on the shore. The water was a brown, chocolaty color that will be familiar to anyone who has taken a good look at the Mohawk or the Hudson recently, and it moved swiftly, as if in a hurry."

Visiting Las Vegas
Published on October 4, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about her recent trip to Las Vegas in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"The week it was flooding around here, I was in the driest part of the country, visiting my sister in Las Vegas.

People get a funny look in their eyes when you tell them you’re going to Las Vegas for a week. They make a lot of assumptions about why you’re going and what you’ll be doing. And so I found myself over-explaining my trip before I left: 'I’m visiting my sister because she’s been ill,' I’d say, when a well wisher would wish me a diverting holiday. 'A friend gave me a free plane ticket with her frequent flyer miles,' I’d add, for no particular reason. 'And I haven’t seen my niece and nephews in seven years.'

Like you need an excuse to spend time with family.

But then, it was Las Vegas, and I rarely travel anywhere, and never by myself. And so when I got back, and friends kept saying 'I HAVE to hear about your trip!' I just started to make things up. 'Yeah, I had an affair and lost $10,000 at blackjack,' I’d say, and for some reason no one believed me.

So just for the record, on my wild west trip I read books and played ninja stuffed animals with the youngest nephew, the 4-year-old I’d never met before. I walked the middle-schooler to school, watched his martial arts class, and talked to him about my son, who is one week younger than he is. I went grocery shopping and cooked dinner with my sister, took the kids swimming and generally did the things you do when hanging out with family — laughed, told stories, baked cookies.

All in a climate as dissimilar as possible to the one I’m used to. I may as well have been on the moon.

The day after the Mohawk River and Schoharie Creek overran their banks, moving trees, roads and buildings out of the way, I was flying away. From the air I could see the chocolate brown water, spreading out into all the wrong places. But soon enough I was over midwestern farm land, over Great Lakes that look like oceans, over the western expanses.

Flying into Nevada was an eye-opener. I had not expected those desert mountains, all dust brown and craggy, that surround Las Vegas, or the huge lakes created by the Hoover Dam. Or the blast of heat when I stepped out of the airport into 108 degree air.

'It was 111 earlier today,' my sister told me. 'And it’s 6 percent humidity.'

You Should Go To Iceland
Published on September 28, 2011 by guest author: Beka Smith

I went to Iceland on vacation and loved it. Here are five cool things I saw.

5. The Blue Lagoon: Icelanders get most of their power through geothermal plants. One of the byproducts is a pool of milky blue liquid that’s surprisingly beautiful and good for your skin. It’s like going to a spa on Venus or Mars.

4. The mid-Atlantic rift at Þingvellir National Park: You can literally walk along the crack between the Earth’s plates, which tower far above your head. The park also has lovely waterfalls, which are so common they're almost not worth mentioning.


3. The sheep: If you drive anywhere outside of Reykjavik you will see thousands of sheep wandering around unpenned. They look remarkably happy and fulfilled. They’ve mutated to fit the island’s climate, with what looks to be twice as much fur as normal. Their wool also has a water resistant property that makes warm Icelandic sweaters.



On Burning Man
Published on September 19, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at Slate, Seth Sevenson asks "Why would anyone go to Burning Man?"

This is not exactly one of the most urgent questions of our time, but it's something I've wondered about, especially after reading Charlie LeDuff's evisceration of the festival in his book "Us Guys."

LeDuff memorably wrote: "It is microwave-hot and people are stoned in the sun and in this false Mecca or Buddhist temple or Palace to the Absurd - I am not sure what I'm seeing. Is it a mirage? The only thing sure is that nothing really means anything. In the end, burn it. This is the mantra of the thing they call Burning Man. The philosophy is the emptiness of this generation we used to call X. Now we don't call ourselves anything. We meander through life without purpose, charting with a broken compass. It's all made up: our family, religion, tribe. Our answer is to build nonsense in a burning alkali flat just because we can. So much ingenuity my generation has, and no place to pput it. Life is a meaningless game. It is a mousetrap - a big, stupid, burning mousetrap."

LeDuff made Burning Man sound like an event to be avoided. How did Sevenson like it? Well, here's an excerpt:

"Out in the open desert, beyond the tents and cars, we encountered the most bizarre, most visually stimulating environment I've ever seen. A giant metal octopus rolling across the sand, with actual hot flames spewing out of its tentacles. A pirate ship blasting eardrum-crushing hip-hop music, with a slew of bare-chested women writhing atop its decks. A frigging full-scale Thunderdome, complete with shrieking spectators rattling in its rafters, and a pair of gladiators in animal costumes attacking each other with Nerf bats. Lasers careened across the sky. Choking dust storms howled into our eyes and noses. Everyone was in aviator goggles, and knee-high leather boots, and fur vests.

At a road-blocked intersection labeled 'Terminal City,' people started shouting at us with bullhorns. A half-naked woman demanded my identity papers. I stammered. 'We accept bribes,' she said with a wink. I gathered I was now supposed to engage in some sort of improvised scene—I should kiss her on the cheek, or recite a poem, or show her my wang. But I wasn't yet ready to be anything more than an observer."

OK, now Burning Man sounds vaguely appealing. But not quite appealing enough. I doubt I'll ever go.

Click here to read Sevenson's piece. And see pictures!


Virgin Islands Traveler
Published on September 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

My friend Susanna, who lives on the island of Tortolla in the British Virgin Islands, has started a travel blog for the Virgin Islands. Among other things, she addresses bike trips, sustainable and local food and hurricane season. Check it out here.

My 24-hour Solitary Camping Retreat
Published on September 7, 2011 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski

I spent a night camping alone on Cape Cod the other weekend, right before the hurricane hit.

I didn't stay long enough to have any good stories; no destruction, no heavy winds, no storm surge. For me, it was just an exhilarating swim in the glass-clear bay on a sunny Friday afternoon (during which I laughed like only a child or a crazy person can), putting up a tent by myself for the first time (someone should have taken a video and posted it on YouTube) and finally going to sleep to the deafening chorus of insects.

Since I was a child I've fantasized about living in the woods by myself and emerging a more self-sufficient person, and this is the closest I've gotten so far.

I decided to go after I got the itch to see the ocean, or at least, some big body of water. But I didn't want to make a big production of a trip to the beach, with a hotel room and vacation days. I just wanted to go and spend a few hours. By myself.


Though I decided to brave a little rain and possibly heavy traffic on the way out of the Cape, there were definitely signs that others had decided against doing so. The state forest campground where I stayed was surprisingly empty. The man at the front raised his eyebrows when I told him Friday afternoon that I was there to check in. For a second I feared he would turn me away right then.


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