Warning: Highly Addictive

16 02 2009

During a recent catch-up brunch with Tiffany, she reported back, that her California trip was fantastic (no surprise) and, much to my delight (and envy), that the visit to Ano Nuevo State Beach was the major highlight. As I mentioned back when she was planning this trip, the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, just outside San Francisco, have long been an obsession of mine, though I’ve yet to make it to see them myself.

Tiff’s visit, during which she saw a very long fight between two males and a live birth (according to her naturalist guide, a very rare sighting) only made me more angry that I never went while living there, though my mother has since informed me that we did in fact visit the beach once, but that, alas, there was only one seal there when we did. The fact that I have no recollection of this is shocking, given my current obsession with them and the fact that I generally remember almost everything. Anyhow, my dear mother has brought the elephant seals to me, or, rather, the California park system (and a very generous donor) have.

I recently received in the mail this clipping from our local newspaper, sent by my mother and announcing that the seals are now eligible to become worldwide stars (or simply the subjects of mass voyeurism). Regardless, Ano Nuevo has installed a high definition webcam, the first of its kind in any California State Park and worth a whopping $20,000. The camera covers the entire nine acre island and allows nature lovers all over the world to witness the fighting, mating and general life practices of the fascinating elephant seals. I’ve finally seen my first (in memory) elephant seal, and have left the player up on my desktop. Not only are the nature sounds sort of soothing, but a quick visit to the beach is a great escape from a cold New York work day. As I type this post, all is bathed in a rosy glow as the sun rises in California. Check it out for yourself, but be warned: you won’t be able to pull yourself away. I myself and waiting to catch that elusive live birth…





Keeps Getting Better

13 01 2009

I continue my obsession with the California Academy of Sciences…

Not only is it sustainable and amazing, it also offers fantastic travel opportunities. Academy members gain free admission, special hours, free admission to lectures, and much more, including access to the travel program, which sends small group tours all over the world with specially trained guides for a close glimpse at some of the greatest nature has to offer. Coming up Feb. 9-18: “Galapagos in the Year of Darwin,” celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday with a return to where it all began. The cruise will island-hop, and an academy leader plus an additional expert will provide education on the topography and vast wildlife to be seen. Oh, and the option extension is none other than Machu Picchu. If only I had $7,000…

The American Museum of Natural History has a similar travel program, AMNH Expeditions for visits to cultural sites and unmatched educational experiences.





Park-ing

9 01 2009

There is something about having a major, beautiful park that makes a city fantastic. If Central Park is the epitome of this, Golden Gate Park is a close second (though I think perhaps it is on par, and getting better all the time).

Some things to do in Golden Gate Park:

  1. Stop and smell the roses (or other flower of your choice): The stunning glass-domed building, just as amazing as when it first opened in 1979, is just the beginning. Inside the Conservatory of Flowers are nearly 2,000 species of plants, each more amazing and beautiful than the next.
  2. Take Tea: The Japanese Tea Garden is one of the most-visited sights in San Francisco, and for good reason. It is a tranquil oasis within the city, for relaxation, meditation, or just a nice long stroll. All the rest is so amazing, you just have to see for yourself.
  3. Look at Art: After tea in the garden stop in the nearby de Young Fine Arts Museum. In its new modern (and eco-friendly) building since 2005, the museum still houses elements of the original 1921 museum, including the Pool of Enchantment, sphinx sculptures, and the initial palm trees,  ferns, redwood. Plus, of course, a whole lot of beautiful art.
  4. Commune with Nature: Though I’ve not yet been the newly re-opened California Academy of Sciences is a recent obsession. Here a four-story rain forest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all reside under one living roof. That’s right, the entire building is sustainable, from its radiant sub-floor heating to the tippy-top of its (literally) green roof, created of native vegetation that will capture rainwater and serve as a habitat for wildlife. Incredible just doesn’t seem enough here.
  5. Eat. After all that exploring, head to the historic Beach Chalet, which combines yummy food with lovely views, both inside, where WPA frescoes capture a 1930s San Francisco, and outside, where the Pacific waves crash against Ocean Beach.




New Year (Vicarious) Trip

5 01 2009

One year ago today I was frantically racing around New York buying important things (like shoes I would wear once and bandaids that would mend my feet from the damage caused by said shoes), saying countless telephone goodbyes and, giant Squirrel on my back, boarding a plane for the long journey to Buenos Aires, full of excitement and nervous jitters.  This year I am parked at a coffee shop near Union Square typing away and dreaming of the Argentine summer. Sigh.

Since I’ve used up money and work days on holiday travel and have no trip in sight of my own, I’ve decided to focus my wanderlust on Tiffany and her trip to California. Yesterday during brunch I frantically scribbled down thoughts of things she must do, and today I have even more to add. So, I hereby dub this week “California Week” and will offer up Tiffany’s trip (or my vision of her trip) as the one I will be dreaming of while I stay here in frigid New York.

Today’s highlight stays true to the New Year Trip theme: Ano Nuevo State Beach. I must say that when Tiff’s boyfriend Mark told me they’d be seeing the elephant seals I turned a little green. I’ve wanted to visit for years and never got around to it (though my mother informed me today that we went when I was small but saw no seals).

This rocky point, named Punta Ano Nuevo because it was first sighted by Spanish explorers on New Year’s Day 1603, is best known as the site of the largest mainland breeding ground (in the world) for the massive and amazing northern elephant seal. Though I have yet to see them for myself, this I know: that elephant seals are enormous (males stretch from 14 to 16 feet long and weigh up to 2 1/2 tons), mean (males fight to determine the alpha male, who will do most of the breeding), and were hunted for their oil and nearly wiped out until protected in 1922. And, of course, that they head to Ano Nuevo, just south of San Francisco, to mate.

Things to know for planning a visit

To protect the seals and minimize disturbance to their routine, visitation is regulated year-round, and regulations vary based on the seasons. During breeding season (December 15-March 31) visits are limited to naturalist guided walks that must be booked in advance. From April to August, visitors may head out on self-guided hikes after obtaining a Visitor’s Permit. For full visiting details, hours, fees, etc, here.

To further enhance the experience, stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel. Not only is it a certified green business, its cozy, affordable, and, well, a lighthouse, one of America’s tallest lighthouses at that. Oh, and did I mention the oceanside hot tub that is perfect for pelican and whale watching? Maybe I’ll be finding a way to get another vacay in after all…





Holidays offManhattan

21 12 2008

Ok, this may be cheating a little bit, but I’m going to do it anyway. In keeping with my holiday obsession of late, I spent some time on Friday writing about holiday festivities off the island of Manhattan for none other than offManhattan.com, a travel guide for New York that promotes green living by writing about places to visit outside Manhattan that are reachable by public transportation.

I had so much fun researching and writing this that I may have gotten a little carried away, but since most of these are things I want to do and see, I had to share them a second time here. Check it out.





Holiday Gifting

16 12 2008

Christmas is next week and this morning, as I walked through Union Square and watched vendors setting up the Christmas Market, I realized that I have yet to even think about holiday shopping. Yes, I am that girl. But, since most people I know procrastinate too (with the exception of my crazy sister who has had her shopping done and cards out since December 1), I guess I’m ahead of the game. At least I have this list of unique ideas to inspire other procrastinators like myself:

  • Green Christmas: Since I’m going to Colorado, where my family only recently (due to much pestering by yours truly) started recycling, I’m thinking green, and so is Sistemas Forestales Ecológicos, a company based in Mexico. For a mere $14 you can give the gift of ecology, in form of a Treesmas Tree. It’s the gift that keeps on giving: for 20 years the tree you adopt for a loved one will be cared for and protected from illegal logging. If that weren’t enough, once the tree is harvested, your recipient will receive a return on your investment (the value of the volume of their tree). Perhaps a long time for turn-around, but better than a bunch of stationery.
  • Deliciousness: If you have a foodie on your list, or even if you don’t, this is an amazing gift. Nudo is an olive grove in Tuscany that lets you adopt an olive tree. Your recipient gets an adoption certificate and tree information booklet (instant gratification), followed by a spring shipment of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and then a fall shipment of flavor-infused oil. Warning: the stuff is too good to cook with—bread-dipping only. You can even choose the grove from which your tree will come. (Choose wisely; if you’re really an amazing gift-giver, your birthday gift to said recipient could be a visit to the tree itself.) And if you can’t afford the $100 (in GBP, plus shipping)  the Nudo Shop sells an array of food items separately, so you can still give the gift of a refined palate. (I’m a little obsessed.)
  • Sabon= Soap: Trees may not be your thing (though clearly they are mine), but don’t go the route of bath products unless they are truly superior. Sabon is a New York-based soap company that sells a myriad of bath and home products in luscious scents. The best part is that all hail from Israel and most are made from the vital minerals and salts of the Dead Sea. You’ve never experienced hand cream until you’ve experienced Sabon Body Butter ($11.75), a magical, melts at body temperature substance that leaves skin softer than you imagine. But my personal favorite is the Body Scrubs ($24-30), which are made with those magic salts from the Dead Sea to make your skin silky smooth. And they look pretty too.
  • Here’s to the Wanderers: If you’re a New Yorker or visiting New York before Christmas, give the gift of travel. Idlewild Books, a.k.a. my new favorite place, is a travel book store, that is not only beautiful but sells all things travel, a go-to place to pick up the guidebook along with the literature of a particular place. Or better yet: if you can’t decide, tell the smart folks there about your giftee and their trip, and they’ll take care of the rest, with a customized gift pack (hint: mention DailyCandy before 12/29 and get 25% off a pack of three or more).

Whew! A lot of word for four gift ideas. Now stop reading and get to shopping!





Election Day Chocolate

3 11 2008

Tomorrow is the big day, the day we’ve all been waiting for, and the day that could change the course of our country’s future. Dramatic, yes, but true nontheless. And I couldn’t be more excited. And more nervous. I have been frenetically checking FiveThirtyEight all weekend, and though it appears we have it in the bag, my stomach is in knots and I’m desperately afraid that something might happen to change it up at the last minute.

The upside to all this nerves is that I’ve made a new discovery. There is nothing better to calm the jitters than a little bit of chocolate, especially when it’s creamy, rich, eco-friendly and Fair Trade. The other day I stumbled into the Whole Foods chocolate aisle, which is a dangerous place to be if you love chocolate as I do. And there, on the shelf, was Alter Eco chocolate, all Fair Trade certified and made with natural ingredients. The bar I chose was made with cocoa harvested from the Bolvian Amazon, and my purchase directly supported “a better life for farming families through fair prices, direct trade, community development and environmental stewardship.”

And it was delicious to boot, honestly, the Dark Velvet Chocolate was the creamiest dark chocolate I’ve ever tasted, with a kick at the end. They have a great selection of interesting flavors and it turns out Alter Eco has a whole line of Fair Trade food items beyond the chocolate, from quinoa to coffee. But I’m still stuck on the chocolate, at least until victory time tomorrow. And if that doesn’t come, you can find me harvesting cocoa in the Bolivian Amazon…





Paying It Forward

16 07 2008

The fun thing about travel is, of course, the meeting of new people and the seeing of new things. That part’s a given. But an equally important part of travel (and the part that keeps us travel fiends going in between trips) is the sharing of the travel experience. Even better, sharing the travel experience when the experience itself is a new thing.

Let me explain. While at home in California I got to spend quality time with my young nieces from Colorado, who, at ages 12 and almost 11, are finally old enough to understand the magnitude of international travel and actually be interested in it. (As opposed to six years ago when the little Flamenco fans I brought from Spain were cool solely for the pretty designs on them.)

Now, these girls have had their fair share of travel in the course of their young lives, but somehow trips to California or even the all-inclusive resort in Mexico (while it of course has its merit) does not quite have the same effect. Getting their hair braided doesn’t count discovering a culture.

So the fact that Alyssa (the older sister)’s eyes lit up when I mentioned my trip to Peru was fantastic. When she enthusiastically told me she’d done a project on Peru this year, I wasted no time in whisking her away to my computer and pulling up photos from the trek (a feat not all that easy, given that the pictures—which I finally had all organized and ready to send out—were lost when my hard drive crashed).

There we sat for nearly an hour, flipping through photos of the trail, the houses, the people, and, wonder of wonders, Machu Picchu. To my delight, Alyssa was riveted, as was her sister Nicolette. They were fascinated by the scenery, the dress, the trek itself. And the fact that their aunty (who, admittedly, they know to be a bit of a priss) went five days without showering. And, for my part, I loved reliving the experiences and the stories, and watching their excitement.

But even better was the fact that they were experiencing the wonders of travel (albeit armchair travel) for the first time. While I’ll never know the exact impact it had, by the looks on their faces I’d guess that these girls figured out that there are wonders out there, and that it’s within their reach to see them.

But more importantly, I think it sparked a desire to see them, and it was educational too. Later that day, when Alyssa and I visited the store and I didn’t take a bag for our cans of condensed milk (a preview of my next post) we talked about doing little things for the environment. And when I told her that Salkantay, the glacier she saw in my photos, was melting rapidly because of global warming, her response was, “That would be terrible if I wanted to see it when I grow up and it wasn’t there.” Check and check. New generation of female travelers (and environmentalists) officially recruited.





Flashback: Summer at the Lake

10 07 2008

It seems somewhat odd to blog about my trip home in terms of “travel” but California is so chock full of beautiful places and fun things to do, how could one not? My trip home started in one of the prettiest places in California (and Nevada). The Russo clan headed up to Lake Tahoe for the 2008 family reunion. Thanks to vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), we took over a lovely (and massive) house, complete with hot tub and loft for the kids, and spent three relaxing days playing in the sun.

(Some) Russos in Tahoe

(Some) Russos in Tahoe

Which got me thinking about all the great times I’ve spent in Tahoe in the past. It really is an ideal getaway spot, especially since it’s a mere 4-5 hours from the Bay Area. This trip, we spent all our time at the beach, playing in the lake, kayaking, making sand animals (yes sand animals)…

But beyond the lake there is so much else to do. The former Olympic Village at Squaw Valley has a swimming lagoon (in case there’s not enough water in the lake), a spa, and a roller skating rink, not to mention the cable car that provides some pretty stellar views of the area. They even offer sunset and full moon hikes. Then there’s hiking, biking and horseback riding through the lush wooded areas. Even walking through the houses makes for a pretty workout.

Then there’s Emerald Bay, one of my favorite Tahoe spots. There is little that rivals Emerald Bay when it comes to pristine, intense natural beauty. As a child I joined our family friends at their cabin in Tahoe every summer, and the highlight of those trips was always the day Uncle Mike piled us into the boat and headed over to Emerald Bay, where it’s not just the striking green water that fascinates. Perhaps more fascinating is the craggy Fannette Island (the lake’s only island) atop which sits a mythical-looking miniature castle. Then there is Vikingsholm, the ornate Scandinavian mansion on the shore (which can of course be toured). Hiking around the bay affords some stunning views, but there is something about being on that rich green water and circling the island that excites.

The grown-up side of Tahoe has everything from casinos to great restaurants (my favorite being the classic, right-on-the-lake Sunnyside). But my adult Tahoe highlight centers around girl’s weekend, life vests, and the Truckee River. That would be river rafting, folks, because when it comes to fun in the sun (and fun with water) Tahoe has a little bit of everything.

Other Great things about Tahoe?

What do you get when you put my mom and her grandchildren on the beach? A Christmas card, of course.

What do you get when you put my mom and her grandchildren on the beach? A Christmas card, of course.

Some Tahoe resources:

Keep Tahoe Blue: In California “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers are about as prevalent as those that read “A village in Texas is missing its idiot.” But the former slogan is far more hopeful: it’s the battle cry of the Tahoe Improvement and Conservation Association, devoted to protecting the lake and its surrounds. Visit the site for history and to learn how to help.

tahoe.com: A trip planning tool with information on lodging, activities, food, and more.

Tahoe World: The latest in Tahoe entertainment, complete with a calendar of happenings.





Earth Day Musings

22 04 2008

They sure picked the right time for Earth Day. It’s definitely (finally) springtime in New York and there is something about the fresh smells in the air (and the warmth in the air that makes you want to actually be outdoors and able to smell it) and the new little blossoms on the trees that makes one love earth all the more. I am all about being pro-Earth and all, but I’d be far less inclined to be impressed by Earth Day fairs if they took place in frigid temps when the environment is nothing more than the wind whipping against my ears and causing my hands to sting.

Anyhow, rant over. It is spring and despite being a little foggy-headed from allergies, I am very much pro-environment and pro-doing what I can to help it. Last year at this time I sent an invective to my siblings who (living in Colorado of all places) didn’t recycle. They were annoyed, but a few months later I got a call from my nephew (to whom I assigned the task of bugging his parents about social responsibility) to inform me of the delivery of their recycling bins.

This year I have no siblings to enlighten but I will extend the plea to any and all other Coloradans who may come across my blog: PLEASE RECYCLE.

And now I have many other tasks to which I must attend (like Earth Day fairs) so I will end with a list of Earth friendly items, and pick up Earth Week again tomorrow:

  • Last year I posted about Earth Day friendly travel on EuroCheapo’s blog.
  • Totalbeauty.com has a list of Earth Day Discounts and Freebies for green chicks who refuse to sacrifice style for the Earth (or travel).
  • And because I love sweets, I want to turn everyone onto Travel Chocolate, the socially responsible chocolate bar (more to come).

Over and Out.