JetBlue to Offer JFK-Havana Service

FlagWeekly flights to start this summer.

I recently returned from Cuba, flying a Sun Country charter between Miami and Havana. Charter flights are something of a sham to get around the shrinking prohibitions against American travel to Cuba. Here’s another crack in the travel restrictions, and it’s great news. JetBlue has announced that it is inaugurating scheduled service between New York and Havana beginning on July 3. The new flight will be between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, departing New York each Friday at 12 noon and returning from Havana to at 4:30 p.m. Reservations need to be made through Cuba Travel Service. Back in the charter camp, Island Tours is offering itineraries from Miami, Tampa and starting in July, from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

First look at Cuba from the air.

First look at Cuba from the air.

This big break for independent travelers comes soon after Airbnb announced that it is now booking accommodations in Cuba. It started last month listing “only” about 1,000 properties, mostly in picturesque Old Havana. Budget-wise and people-to-people-wise, a stay in somebody’s home costs less than a hotel and also directly promotes travel in a way that that “won’t pave over Cuba’s unique character, forged by decades of isolation from its northern neighbor,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb cofounder and chief technology officer. Challenging Internet access and a separate tourist currency (the CUC) do not appear to be great hurdles to booking or staying.

He added that “the idea here is to support growth in travel that isn’t disruptive, that actually celebrates and preserves Cuba as a distinct destination. The Airbnb style of travel was already thriving.” Even before Airbnb appeared on the scene, the concept of staying in a casa particular was entrenched, and “Room for Rent” signs appear on many an Old Havana building.

Major Earthquake Hits Kathmandu

Nepal capital stricken by 7.9 quake.

Sometimes I feel as I am the only Boulder adult who has not been to Nepal. The epicenter is roughly 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu the capital. Hundreds are reported dead, and many older buildings have collapsed. Avalanches reported in the Everest region. The CNN report is devastating. Very tragic.

Homage to the Oklahoma City Bombing Victims

Twentieth anniversary of Murrah Building bombing.

MurrahMemorial-sealTwenty years ago today — before the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, assorted school shootings and other horrific acts of violence, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols set off a massive explosion next to the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City. The blast killed 168 people and injured 680 others, including children, and sent shockwaves through the nation. At first, makeshift memorials of plush toys, crucifixes, photographs, flags and other personal items were hung on the chainlink fence surrounding the site by grief-stricken citizens.


Chainlink fence remaining at the site honors the original makeshift memorial.

Then, plans were made for an official memorial. When the call went out, 624 entries from all 50 states and 23 countries were received. A commission narrowed them down to five finalists, and the selected design is by Butzer Design Partnership (then of Berlin, Germany, and later of Oklahoma City). Designers Hans and Torrey Butzer with Sven Berg created what is now the Oklahoma City National Memorial. 

Back in 2008, I was a speaker at a conference in Oklahoma City. I arrived in the evening and walked the few blocks from the historic Skirvin Hotel to the Murrah memorial. The sight of the memorial and its empty glass chairs atop illuminated glass pedestals at night was powerful. Being there by myself added to the sense of tragic loss of life.

First look at the Murrah Memorial was at night. The haunting sight of empty chairs atop lighted glass cubes remains with me.

First look at the Murrah Memorial was at night. The haunting sight of empty chairs atop lighted glass cubes remains with me.

Two days later, my speech out of the way, I returned to visit the museum. It was, of course, poignant too, with chronologically arranged curated photographs and artifacts from the explosion artfully displayed, multi-media displays and interactive exhibits too. At the Murrah site, the clock has permanently stopped at 9:03, the morning hour when the truck bomb went off two decades ago.

The museum is located at 620 N. Harvey Ave., Oklahoma City. The outdoor memorial is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year; entry is free. The museum is open daily. Admission is adults $15; senior (62+) $12; military (with ID) $12; student (6 to 17 or college student with current ID) $12 and child (5 years and under) free.

Estes Park Named Top Small Town to Visit

Prestigious selects its top 20.

EnjoyEstesParkEstes Park, the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is less than an hour from our door. Predictably, we visit frequently — to hike, to snowshoe, to show off to visitors. We love it for lots of reasons, but we take it a bit for granted because it is so close. In assembling its list of “The Best 20 Small Towns to Visit in 2015,” selected Estes Park as its top town. Here’s why:

“Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Estes Park has beckoned visitors since the 1860s, when an inspired Welshman named Griff Evans established a local dude ranch. Today the town serves as base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park, which marks 100 years of existence in 2015. A year of wilderness-themed art exhibits, classes, films and concerts celebrates the park’s highlights—which include some of the tallest mountains in the continental United States and more than 300 miles of hiking trails. The park’s sights and sounds are particularly stunning in the fall, when the leaves blaze with color and bull elks fill the air with haunting mating calls.

“While the town of Estes Park itself is relaxed (elk have been known to wander downtown streets), there are marked touches of class—notably the historic Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s book The Shining. This April, the hotel is adding a giant hedge maze, the result of an international design competition to create one honoring the maze in the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick, who actually filmed external shots at a lodge in Oregon and used a soundstage for internal shots. (Neither hotel ever had a maze until the Estes Park addition, confusing some horror fans). Visitors can also enjoy several new breweries and a new distillery, or just meander the scenic riverwalk alongside the Big Thompson River—but watch out for the elk.”

Actually, Estes Park is hardly in “the heart of the Rocky Mountains.” It is on the far eastern edge of the northern Colorado portion of the range. But it is still a neat little town. I overlook the tourist kitsch and instead enjoy the summer festivals in Bond Park and elsewhere in town and the great community spirit. If I had written this post, I might have noted that the Stanley Hotel is going to put in a maze on its broad, south-facing lawn

Estes Park was mightily impacted by the September 2013 floods. For a time, with all access routes from the east washed out, the only way into town was via Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake on the west side of the Continental Divide. Trail Ridge Road that links the two communities is the highest continuous paved road in the world. It is closed in the winter, due to deep snow and fierce winds. Visitors to Estes Park now see few scars from those floods. I would honor the town for its resilience too.


New Inkaterra Property in the Sacred Valley

Luxury + commitment to preserving and rescuing Peru’s geography, nature, customs and cultures.

Inkaterra-logoWhen I was in Peru recently with the Society of American Travel Writers Freelance Council, we made a brief detour to visit a new boutique lodging property, the lovely and luxurious Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Our group witnessed a shamanic ceremony, but I neither understood the symbolism of the solemn ritual nor prosaically, did I have a clear idea of when it was supposed to open. Now it has.

Shaman ceremony to inaugurate the new Hacienda Urubamba.

Shaman ceremony to inaugurate the new Hacienda Urubamba.

Set deep in the countryside up a dusty road (at least it was when I visited), it is set on about 100 acres overlooking a vast panorama of the Sacred Valley. The Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba opens with 12 rooms, including a three-room “Owners Suite,” all featuring views of the valley and surrounding mountains. Guests experience the expansiveness of open space, serenity and relaxing solitude.  At approximately 9,515 feet in elevation, the property offers some of the  best climate in the Cusco region. This summer (which might be next winter in the Northern Hemisphere), 24 stand-alone luxury casitas will be unveiled, set among the property’s native pepper trees, high grass, cactus and wildflowers.

The grand entrance to the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba.

The grand entrance to the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba.

With architecture and interiors inspired by the area’s cultural history, the contemporary hacienda-style hotel was designed by Denise Guislain-Koechlin, the talented wife of Inkaterra founder and CEO, Jose Koechlin. She was in charge of the hotel’s layout, surrounding gardens and all interior décor, which includes custom-made furniture and the use of rare pre-Columbian textiles that adorn the property’s high walls. The property, which is in an agricultural area, features a 10-acre organic plantation, where guests are welcome to pick their own produce.  Crops include red, black and brown quinoa, artichokes, a unique Urubamba giant corn, purple corn, colored potatoes, lima beans, onions, beans and broccoli. Traditional medicinal and culinary herbs are also farmed and include lemon balm, rosemary, sage, green grass, mint, chamomile, cilantro and anise, among others. All crops are completely “carbon-free” — that is, farmed with traditional hand tools and oxen as was done centuries ago.

Organic farming at the hacienda includes traditional agricultural methods.

Organic farming at the hacienda includes traditional agricultural methods.

Continue reading “New Inkaterra Property in the Sacred Valley”

Highlights of the Eastern Four Corners

Southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico sites worth seeing.

My son has lived in Durango since he went there for college in 2001, and I’ve been there often. I’ve driven by the Chimney Rock ancient site (now a National Monument), and my husband and I hiked up on a splendid fall day some years ago and explored the site, I’ve driven past the signs on US Highway 160 pointing to Ignacio but never turned off the highway. I knew about the Aztec Ruins National Monument just outside of Farmington, New Mexico, but hadn’t been there, and I’d driven past Shiprock to the west. My husband and I recently went to the Four Corners area to see my son and also our friend, Mary, who had just moved to Bayfield from Seattle. We did several day trips, both to introduce Mary to her new turf and to revisit it ourselves. Some highlights of what I think of as the eastern half of the Four Corners — that is, southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico but not Arizona or Utah.

Downtown Bayfield

A cute little town that still maintains its rural flavor, though now there’s a brew pub and a couple of cute restaurants.

An appliance store with a sense-of-humor front yard display.

A main street Laundromat with a sense-of-humor front yard display.

Weminuche Wilderness

At 488,210 acres, this is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. It is just 15 miles from Durango. The nearest access is from a campground just north of Vallecito Lake, a lake  surrounded by cottages, resorts, outfitters and other small commercial businesses. This area was devastated during the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. It also made headlines a couple of years ago when young Dylan Redwine disappeared while visiting his father a decade later; his remains were eventually found. The area is considerably more tranquil in early spring, when few visitors are around. We started up a trail from a seasonally closed campground and hiked a short distance up Vallecito Creek. Looks like a promising hike later in the year.


Aspens tall and straight as lodgepoles.

Aspens tall and straight as lodgepoles.

Vallecito Creek.

Vallecito Creek.

Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum

Ignacio, the main town on the Southern Ute Reservation, has an obligatory casino that I’d never bother with and the excellent Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. The dramatic building encompasses includes many symbols of Native life in the Southwest, and the exhibition inside calmly and poignantly documents the history of the Four Corners’ people. No photos inside.

The main entrance recalls a teepee shape within the kiva-inspired circle.

The main entrance recalls a teepee shape within the kiva-inspired circle.

Soaring entrance lobby.

Soaring entrance lobby.

Continue reading “Highlights of the Eastern Four Corners”

‘Western’ Ideas for Colorado Visitors

The West of visitors’ expectations easy to find in Colorado.
ColoradoFlagSpring has arrived, and with it, the customary communications from distant friends asking what there is to do in Colorado that brings the Old West to modern life. I get such requests for suggestions every year (more and more from people planning to bring their grandkids), and thanks to a press release I just received on behalf of Colorado Tourism, I can just refer my friends to this blog post. There’s plenty more around the state, of course, but this is a good start.
Dude and Guest Ranches
Across the state more than 30 dude and guest ranches offer the grit and adventure of the old west, mingled with modern charm and comfort. From luxury family ranch vacations that include riding programs, mountain biking, hiking, fly-fishing, kid and teen programs, cooking classes, wine tasting, rock climbing and more, to working ranch vacations including calving, branding nights filled with county western music, square dancing and just plain ole’ conversation, these ranches provide the best in Western hospitality and genuine authentic experiences. If your vacation time is limited, several ranches offer “dude ranch lite” stays of 3 to 5 days.
Cowboy Craftsmen
The rugged ways of the old west resulted in some crafty trades and traditions; try your hand at blacksmithing at The Fort in Morrison, leather working at Smith Fork Ranch or taste chuck wagon and Dutch oven cooking at Doc Jones’ Cookoff. For leather crafting, admire a saddle from world-renowned craftsman, Rusty May, who has been refining saddle and leather accessory techniques for more than 40 years. Learn to paint or master your technique in a horse painting class at Zapata Ranch.
Museums: History, Horses and Heroes
Museums attest to Colorado’s proud cowboy heritage. The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame for foundation stallions recognizes Hayden, Colorado as the home of the Quarter Horse sire bloodlines of Old Fred and Peter McCue. In the Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley, visit historic schoolhouses and rail yards at the Gunnison Pioneer Museum and the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum, originally a blacksmith shop, for a glimpse of what life was like in the early days. Outside La Junta, visit Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, a reconstructed 1840s adobe fur trading post on the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail.  In Denver, History Colorado Center is a must see for locals and visitors who want to experience early life on the prairie dustbowl and across the state.

K-to-5 Kids Free at Four Vail-Owned Resorts Next Winter

Keystone, Breck, Vail & Beaver Creek part of new Epic SchoolKids deal.

Vail-logoVail Resorts Inc. is the 800-pound gorilla of Colorado ski resorts, and it has raised the bar for parents of grade school children. If you are among them, as you contemplate which season pass to purchase for 2015-16, there’s a very good reason to go with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass. Epic SchoolKids is an awesome new program with free skiing and riding for all Colorado kindergartners through fifth graders next winter.

Family skiing at Vail -- one of four of Vail Resorts Inc.'s resorts offering free skiing to Colorado grade-schoolers next season.

Family skiing at Vail — one of four of Vail Resorts Inc.’s resorts offering free skiing to Colorado grade-schoolers next season.

Parents can already enroll their kids by visiting participating Colorado Ski & Golf locations or Boulder Ski Deals. The program provides four days of free skiing and riding at each Vail’s four resorts in their backyards – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. In addition, Epic SchoolKids also can get started at the ivy league of ski schools with a FREE full-day beginner lesson and equipment rentals at any of those resorts during the month of January, outside of holiday periods, as part of Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month. Parents, click here for details various adult season pass options to maximize family ski time; put $49 down and pay the remainder in fall.

In all likelihood, competing resorts — except perhaps those in Colorado’s southwestern corner — are brainstorming ways to come up with competitive offers, and Colorado families will be the beneficiaries. Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass offers are unbeatable, but other things are not such comparable bargains. At Breckenridge the other day, every single sunscreen product available at the rental shop carried a double-digit price tag, and a 1.4-ounce bag of SmartFoods popcorn was improbably priced at $3.79. I expect to pay more at a resort base with its captive audience, but these prices are over-the-top ridiculous. Moral of the story if you want not to overspend: never leave all your sunscreen at home, and stick some energy bars in your pocket or pack.


The ‘Isle’ of Mont St.-Michel

Supertide phenomenon covers causeway to French coastal community.


Once every 18 years, a supertide turns France’s famed Mont St.-Michel into an island — a visitor attraction that never gets old.  Very high tides are part of the reality along France’s entire northern  coast, the periodic supertide is especially dramatic. One such tide occurred yesterday. Legend has it that the supertide comes in the pace of a horse’s gallop. It briefly turns into an island, while the day’s low tide allows people to walk on the expansive flat seabed off the coast of Normandy. Mont St.-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some 30,000 people reportedly came to Mont St.-Michel to witness the first supertide of the 21st century.

Actually, the supertide effect is evident elsewhere as well, including the Bay of Fundy on the Atlantic Coast between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of South America, the northern coast of Australia and the Bristol Channel in Britain.

Road Trip on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Sixteen hundred miles around the Emerald Isle with a small adventurous group.

Ireland-mapI can’t possibly write about every group trip that I hear about, but St. Patrick’s Day seems to be the perfect day to write about a really interesting adventure-heavy trip to Ireland — especially since it is well priced and looks to be gorgeous. Turns out that Wild Atlantic Way is the longest defined coastal touring route in the world, embracing Ireland’s wild West Coast landscape, ancient monuments and historical sites.  This  stunning route twists and turns for 1,600 miles along an undulating coastline from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork. A route that long around a very small island seems quite remarkable in and of itself.

The Wild Atlantic Way is not just a driving route, it’s an invitation to adventure with sea kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and even surfing, Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland’s smartly planned multi-sport scheduled trips that take travelers to these authentic, off-the-beaten path areas along the route.  Utilizing custom-designed Land Rovers that take no more than 13 passengers, Vagabond trips explore the area in depth with daily adventures. One day it might be sea kayaking in sheltered waters off the coast of Cork, while another day might be horseback riding along a beach in Kerry. Nightly stays are in coastal villages and towns, in locally owned guesthouses and small hotels. Rates for a seven-day trip along the Wild Atlantic Way start at just $1,340 per person.