Shermanstravel Blog

Jim’s Journal

Palm Springs Aerial TramwayBefore my recent trip, I hadn’t been to Palm Springs in over 20 years. Now, I wonder what took me so long to return. It’s a wonderful vacation destination for short stays of four nights or for longer stays of a week. Palm Springs is desert beauty – pure and simple.

The soaring, rocky mountains, barren as they are, remind me of certain Greek islands in the Aegean but without the surrounding sea. In the canyon sits Palm Springs with its charming main street, Palm Canyon Drive, filled with boutiques. Check out the cute shop Pawz for wonderful dog items, for your own pets or for gifts. There’s also a lovely hidden courtyard in back of the shop where you will find people sitting, reading, and sipping coffee, with beautiful gardens and a view of the mountains. Further along the street, a number of restaurants offer outdoor dining.

Palm Springs is known for golfing so if you like golf, this is paradise. I’m not a golfer but I love hiking and walking. For an unforgettable outdoor experience, take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pictured above) for the 10-minute ride up to Mount San Jacinto State Park. There is a large, almost magical alpine forest up top, with trees, rambling creeks, and even snow! Tip: Bring a jacket or sweater – it’s 30 degrees cooler up there! There are dozens of trails and hiking them (for one hour, a half day, or all day) is extremely relaxing and puts one close to nature. The views of Palm Springs and the surrounding mountains are breathtaking. The San Jacinto forest is one of the most unique experiences in the U.S., I feel.

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AspenI’ve been to Aspen once before and I am pleased to say the charming Western town in Colorado continues to lead as America’s premier glitz and glamour ski destination. I’m not sure which is more impressive – the natural beauty of Aspen’s mountain ranges or the not-so-natural plastic surgeries of its many patrons! Of course, one comes to Aspen to ski the four mountains, and my favorite continues to be Snowmass, followed by Ajax and Highlands. (I have not tried Buttermilk.) Snowmass is 25 minutes from Aspen and there are regular shuttle buses from the center of town.

I found a wonderful lunch spot, Lynn Britt Cabin, at mid-mountain of Snowmass. It’s a charming restaurant, with linen covered table tops, that features some hearty goulash, bison stew, and an extensive wine list. Like Cloud 9 restaurant on Highlands Mountain, Lynn Britt is one of the more special places to stop for a bite after a good morning of ski runs.

I was lucky this trip in that snow had fallen the week before and so the mountains had excellent powder. The light snow of Colorado is unique; Europe, California, and the U.S. Northeast can’t compare. The busiest and best month to come is March; days are longer than in January or February, the temperature begins to get a bit warmer, and there is usually a good snow base.

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What’s New in Miami

January 6th, 2012 by

The Raleigh HotelLiving in New York means that quick hops to Miami during the cold winter months are easy and worthwhile. I spent five days in ever chic South Beach this New Year’s. It seemed like half of New York was there with me, as others had the same good idea to escape the North’s cold.

What I really love about Miami is its international vibe. It draws travelers from not only across the U.S. but heavily from Central and South America (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico) and Europe (UK, France, Italy, Spain, Russia). It can feel, at times, like a trip abroad but without the jet lag.

I stayed this time at the Raleigh Hotel. I’ve often said in prior posts that no Miami hotel is perfect; each has a flaw or two. The Raleigh, though, is one of my favorites. It is known for its history, dating to its heyday in the Art Deco ‘20s and ‘30s; walking through and relaxing in the lobby and nearby bar is a walk through time (just view the Hollywood celebrity photos that adorn the walls). In addition to the historic lobby, a standout feature is the lovely and grand hotel pool. This is one of the best on the beach strip and it’s also just steps away from the beach, where there’s hotel service too.

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Scalini FedeliWhen a friend suggested dinner in Manhattan’s Tribeca, the first thing I thought was that it would be a relatively long taxi ride downtown. The second thing I thought was that a Tribeca dining spot would be a somewhat pretentious, loud, trendy restaurant with so-so food (and high prices). Well, I could not have been further off the mark than with Scalini Fedeli on Duane Street. This super charming, refined, but not too formal, restaurant wins on all counts.

Scalini Fedeli’s entrance has baskets of fresh fruit, which help set the tone that, while upscale, this is a quite approachable restaurant with maybe 15 tables. The main dining room is elegant and relaxed, with burning candles tableside (rare in Manhattan). The vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows reminded me a bit of a church and I wondered if it may have been one in days past. Be that as it may, the ambiance was entirely warm and comfortable; it’s not as formal as Bouley just down the street and the food is every bit as good.

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I am not into “sceney” restaurants – that is, eateries where the crowd appears to be trying too hard to be fashionable, is usually too loud and young (with a hefty helping of bankers), and is always reaching for a new trendy martini a la Sex and the City. The food, décor, and service are my priorities when eating out. What I care most about when eating out is the food, the décor, and service.

Given that disclaimer, if those criteria are met, I am happy to patronize an establishment that also happens to be chic, trendy, and full of celebrities. Few restaurants manage this, but The Lion, which opened in New York’s Greenwich Village about a year ago, certainly does.

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I was in San Francisco for a business trip in September and managed to check out a terrific smart luxury hotel. For your next visit, consider staying at the Mandarin Oriental in downtown San Francisco, and select a junior suite if available.

The hotel’s design is classic old world with Asian touches – think lots of gold, wood, and marble. It’s very comfortable and elegant. The rooms’ views, however, are the most noteworthy. The hotel occupies floors 35 and up, and the outlooks are stellar – particularly given that San Francisco boasts a gorgeous skyline, twinkling bridges, and boats in its bay. Waking up to and going to bed with vistas like this is a treat in an urban hotel.

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Ok, I said it – and yes, it sounds pretentious – rent a boat in Capri. The truth is that, appearances aside, it’s quite doable to rent an affordable luxury speed boat to tour the storied isle.

I did this recently through Capri Boats. For about 800 Euros (around $1,150) you can rent a motor boat with a driver-guide for up to eight hours and plan out a unique tour of this famous island off Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The cushy speed boat comfortably accommodates four people, with room for as many as eight passengers. With friends, it’s possible to split the cost and each pay as little as 100 euros (about $140) per day. Public wooden boats (you’ll see them in Capri’s marina) provide a less glamorous, more practical way to explore by water, but the private option is quite affordable and the most flexible.

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I’ve posted before about the Greek islands, but I’m always looking to pass along new tips and advice on these ever-changing isles. A few bits of wisdom I’ve accumulated recently:

Visit Folegandros: I met locals who suggested a trip to Folegandros, an undeveloped, very beautiful island that draws in-the-know travelers. I suggest spending a few quiet days here before heading to livelier Mykonos or Santorini.

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On my last two days in town, I decided to check out one of Toronto’s museums. The Gehry-desigend Art Gallery of Ontario is a stand-out, and there happened to be an exhibit of abstract expressionist paintings from New York’s MOMA. Unlike in New York City, I didn’t have to fight for space to view the special collection of artists such as Pollack, Rothko, and de Koenig.

Later, I met up with my friend for brunch at chic and trendy Sassafraz in Yorkville. The food is outstanding – as is the people- and car-watching. (Canadians love to drive their Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Lotuses around that particular corner!) Yorkville also has many high-end boutiques, and it’s nice to stroll around the neighborhood; larger stores are on nearby Bloor Street.

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More sightseeing was on our agenda for day two. We ate a late breakfast at Le Germaine, and I must say the hotel’s one flaw might be that breakfast can be quite hearty.

Speaking of on-site food, I should add that I ate dinner at restaurant E11even in Maple Leaf Square, and it was outstanding. It’s a quiet lounge-like setting in front of the modern bar, and the menu is an eclectic mix of Italian, some Asian, and American. I tried the Dim Sum appetizer and the pasta main course; both were super.

Earlier that day we began our tour by walking east along Front Street through the Old Town neighborhood, stopped in at the St. Lawrence Market (I wish New York had a meat and seafood market like this!), meandered into several furniture and design stores along King Street in what is the design district, and then walked south down Parliament Street to the Distillery.

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On our first day in town, my friend and I walked for hours (Toronto is a good walking city, so bring comfortable shoes).

We started with a tour to the top of the nearby CN Tower. The views, especially of the waterfront, are spectacular. The bistro on top, 360 The Restaurant, slowly rotates to let diners take in the scenery. If you purchase an entrée, admission to the top of the tower is free (about a $25 value).

We continued on to the Rogers Centre, a sports stadium, where the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Phillies. Feeling spontaneous, my friend and I bought last-minute tickets from a scalper (we paid only a little more than face value) and watched our first Canadian baseball game.

If you visit the stadium, try the famous Canadian hot dogs, which are nothing like their American counterparts. These hot dogs are heartier and tastier, with a wide mix of toppings. The Phillies lost, by the way – though I have to admit I didn’t know Canadians even played baseball! I thought they only cared about hockey.

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I’ve been to several parts of Canada, including Montreal, Whistler, and Banff. But for no particular reason, I’ve never found my way to Toronto. I’m glad to say I finally planned a long weekend over our July 4th holiday, and I’m very happy I did.

Toronto is a well-balanced, medium-sized, cosmopolitan city on the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s clean and well-organized, and a long weekend provides just enough time to explore its varied neighborhoods and attractions. Additionally, visitors can’t help but notice the surprising ethnic mix of the city; it is as diverse as many U.S. cities, and this no doubt adds to the city’s energy and entertainment offerings.

Speaking of entertainment, my visit coincided with both Canada Day (when residents celebrate the 1867 union of its three British colonies into one country) and Toronto’s Gay Pride weekend. At customs, the official asked if I was visiting for the festivities. I asked, “What festivities?” Well, I was in for an unexpected treat.

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Hohenzollern CastleOver the years, I have traveled extensively in Germany to popular places such as Berlin, Munich, and Heidelberg, as well as less-touristy spots like Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden, and Bonn. Yet I had never visited the Black Forest region until last fall.

Bordering France and Switzerland, the Black Forest is a densely wooded area in the southwest corner of Germany, in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The region is known for its picturesque villages, rolling green hills, and intricately carved cuckoo clocks.

A leisurely way to reach the Black Forest is to fly into Frankfurt, rent a car, and drive an hour south to Heidelberg. Spend a couple of days there, then head southwest another hour to Baden-Baden. This postcard-perfect town sits just outside the Black Forest, making it an ideal starting point for exploring the area. Baden-Baden’s renown as a wellness destination dates back to the Belle Epoque of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when members of the French and Russian upper classes visited the region for weeks on end to relax and enjoy rejuvenating spa treatments.

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Like New York, London, and Rome, Paris has a plethora of hotel choices. The top end includes Le Meurice, Le Plaza Athénée, Four Seasons George V Paris, Le Bristol, and Le Crillon. The French certainly know old world classic style, and these properties won’t disappoint. Be sure, however, to ask for a recently renovated room; these larger hotels are always updating.  Alas, big city hotel rates have skyrocketed, and 5-star hotels in Paris regularly cost more than $900 dollars per night (as hard as that is to believe).

For a more modern experience, consider one of the city’s new contemporary luxury hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarinoriental.com/paris).

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I’ve been to Paris many times, but each visit puts a smile on my face. I enjoy exploring Paris like no other city in Europe. It’s eminently walkable, and each quartier has plenty of surprises.

Springtime in Paris is particularly beautiful (the weather was sunny and about 78 degrees on my trip in late April), and many tourists know this; expect the city to be busiest in May and June. It takes some work to find the quieter, non-touristy areas, but two of my favorites are Montparnasse and Montorgueil.

The Vélib bicycle rental system (you’ll see the pick-up and drop off parking spots around all the major neighborhoods) offers a new way to explore the city. The bikes are free for the first 30 minutes, and there’s a nominal fee after that. The only hitch is you’ll need to plan ahead: The on-site machines require European-style credit cards with built-in chips (most American cards only have magnetic strips), but you may purchase a one-day or seven-day rental online; you’ll receive a PIN to enter when you pick up and drop off your bike.

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