A World of Peanuts in Santa Rosa, California

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The “Peanuts” movie was released in November and (good grief!) I have yet to see it. If I were from Santa Rosa, California that alone would be cause enough for criminal action.

You see, this beautiful hamlet, just fifty miles north of San Francisco, is where the greatest American cartoonists of all time penned the “Peanuts” comic strip for many, many decades – a comic strip read by 355 million people in over 75 countries. Schulz died in 2000 but during his lifetime drew more than 18,250 strips.

While on assignment in Sonoma County this week I found a few minutes to pop out of my car for photos of some of the 70 bronze Peanuts sculptures permanently installed around town: Wishy-washy Charlie, the unflappable beagle, Snoopy, the Beethoven virtuoso, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Lucy – they’re all here. The 5-foot-tall recreations are a lasting tribute to the Charles “Sparky” Schulz.

There’s an even larger collection of his prolific work on display at the Charles M. Schultz Museum.

I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.
Peanuts
Linus Van Pelt

Peanuts Characters

Snoopy

Living the Bohemian lifestyle in Sonoma County, California

Bohemians Newspaper Staycation Issue

I miss the Capital Region Metroland! While in Sonoma County, California, I was reminded of our long-lost liberal rag when I picked up Sonoma’s The Bohemian newsweekly. It too is an award-winning alternative paper regarded as the locals’ principal resource for coverage of news, arts, dining and entertainment.

The Bohemian first caught my eye while dropping by a Santa Rosa diner for lunch the other day. I grabbed it and leafed though it waiting for my avocado/cream cheese/tomato panini. Beyond it’s psychedelic cover, I skimmed the edgy writing and cleverly-written music reviews; see “Mental Illness Rocks!“.

I asked my producer more about this word “Bohemian” seen all over town – on highway signs, retail shops and alt weeklies. I regarded the word in terms of the starving artist living the peace, love and happiness subculture of Haight-Ashbury, then he told me about the Bohemian Club.

Founded in 1872, several all-male journalists, artists and musicians started a club so exclusive, so private, so difficult to get into that wanna-be members would have to wait until someone died before they could take their place.

It’s not much different today – kind of like the Skull and Bones alumni society based on status, fame and money. I was curious to learn more but all my producer could (or would) share is that the Bohemian retreat encampment wasn’t far from his house. Might my producer be a member?

“What I can tell you is that every summer the Bohemian Club hosts a two-week extravaganza for a select few, some of the most prominent men in the world, no doubt,” he said.

Hmmmm….. during my next assignment through the towering redwoods and serene pastures of the West Coast I aim to find this prohibitive, preferential club and find out more!

Winter Weekends at Frost Valley YMCA

Friendship House bedroom

Friendship House

Friendship House

As soon as news spread where Winter Weekend would be held, members of Catskill 3500 Club were quick to bid early for bedrooms at the Friendship House. Elizabeth and I were all over the idea of staying in the Japanese-style camp lodge with an authentic Japanese Tatami room, a handmade Japanese rock garden and traditional Japanese teaware. Oh sure, there were plenty of other accommodations to pick from: cabins, castles and yurts, but the Friendship House had a refreshing Japanese ofuro soaking tub!

I’d driven past the Frost Valley YMCA dozens of times and, not being a Y-member, I’ve always wondered what the campus looks like and offers. Upon checking in at registration, staff wasted no time inviting me to participate in group activities like arts & crafts, indoor climbing, snow tubing, sled building, snow shoe hikes and cross-country skiing.

“Sorry, I’d love to, but I’m going hiking all weekend!” Still, they insisted I wear a plastic yellow bracelet around my wrist while on premise.

There was no need for me to pack lunch meats or granola bars, the staff at Frost Valley were considerate enough to prep bag lunches for all the hikers – I haven’t had a CapriSun juice pouch in eons.

I’ll admit that the morning breakfast buffet selection left little to be desired but given how hungry I was in the evening, hot items of mushroom ravioli, slices of ham and chickpeas with assorted veggies was well received.

Friendship House

Dining Hall at YMCA

Blizzard, what blizzard? Not in the Catskill mountains

Hunter Mountain

This weekend’s blizzard battered everything but the Catskills. And not only did we miss out on the record-setting dump but the brownies as well. The above photo shows Elizabeth just a wee-bit soar that the shelter cabin atop the second highest mountain in the Catskills remains locked.

We hiked a 10 mile loop with temps hovering in the teens hoping for the promise of gooey, chewy “world-class brownies” at the top of Hunter mountain. My hiking companion wasn’t about to go home hungry. She desperately searched the rim of the door and front porch for a spare key. Her friend Jane, who we bumped into on our way up, did the same, all to no avail.

The understanding was that a member of the 3500 Club had keys to the cabin and tower cab and was offering comfort foods through Monday. But, the only signs of life we found were each other. We finally capitulated and huddled around an icy picnic table at the base of the fire tower sifting through backpacks of frozen sandwiches and stale pretzels.

To be honest, our dream of dessert were dashed a few miles earlier when a passing hiker said he had heard rumors that the overnight crew may have had an accident.

“I’m not sure how badly anyone was hurt but I think that one person was rescued with the help of the nearby Hunter Mountain ski lifts,” said snowshoe-wearing Neil.

That sounded serious.

Our winter weekend had yielded two incredible days of hiking (sans snow) up four mountains in the Catskills: Giant Ledge, Panther, Southwest Hunter and Hunter. The record-setting massive blizzard that buried much of the lower Hudson Valley and NYC under 2 to 3 feet all but ignored us.

While we cavorted and caroused around the bent branches of snow-covered evergreens others cursed the white blanket. Magical for us, deadly for others.

That same epistemic luck carried through on Sunday when Mother Nature ignited the sky like an ocean. Unobstructed views from all sides of the fire tower stretched into a deep-blue horizon. Birds chirped, waterfalls gurgled and bears do what they do best, hibernate.

Speaking of sleeping, the 3500 Club retired to the bunks and beds at Frost Valley YMCA. Several of us stayed at the Japanese-themed Friendship House with tea cups and a zen-like soaking tub called an ofuro.

Our relaxing skinny dip will be happily rehashed in the next blog entry.

Ofuro Tub at Frost Valley YMCA

West Kill Waterfalls

Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Hunter Mountain Geiger Point

Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Putting travel risks in perspective

Burkina_Faso_Map

No sooner after kicking back with a fun little travel feature titled “The world’s 10 friendliest countries” my cell phone buzzed and a message appeared with news of (yet another) terror attack in the world.

My heart plummeted. Oh no, now where? I thought to myself, somberly. Then I realized it was the exact country I was reading about.

I went from reading the sentence: “West Africa’s Burkina Faso is small but there’s a burgeoning tourist industry…” to “Al-Qaida militants have sieged an upscale hotel and cafe in the capital of Ouagadougou killing at least 28 people.”

This was Friday evening.

Visions of stunning waterfalls, incredible wildlife and a rolling amber desert quickly faded into a red canvas of carnage and destruction. A fascinating West African culture turned inside out with gunfire, explosions and wounded hostages.

I felt powerless.

Escalating violence feels like the norm now so how is a traveler, especially a women traveling solo, suppose to see the world safely given this new reality? Fear, uncertainty and wresting with empathy are natural reactions that plaque every traveler.

Well, so says every website I read (I browse about a dozen a day), the answer is to keep traveling. Believe it or not, this advice is what every expert, professional and top blogger preaches. Some of the best advice I’ve read comes from former Condé Nast Traveler’s Director of Consumer News, Wendy Perrin.

In November, she wrote a wonderful perspective called “Take That, Terrorism! 7 Ways to Travel Without Fear” for Yahoo Travel. For every scary news story, Wendy makes a point of addressing the reality of the situation.

She writes, “According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. If you’re thinking home is safer, compare that number with the 3,030 killed in the U.S. by terrorism during the same period.”

Here now are many more helpful articles that will help keep your angst from manifesting into outright anxiety.

5 Reasons Not to Panic About the Worldwide Travel Alert

Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes When Deciding Where It’s Safe to Travel

Is it Safe to Travel to Turkey?

How to Stay Safe Traveling in Risky Countries

How to Get Help in an Emergency When Traveling Abroad

New York Times Travel Show review

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How’s your travel pulse this year? Does it beat for Mexico? Or maybe Malta or Mozambique? On the national stage, maybe you’re interested in visiting Grand Rapids, St. Louis, Park City, D.C. or, a city I never heard of, Marfa, Texas? These unique cultural crowns (and dozens more) made the New York Times judges top 50 destinations for 2016.

If travel tickles your fancy I hope you made it to the prestigious New York Times Travel Show this weekend. The well-attended annual event took place inside the soon-to-be upgraded, Javits Center. Using the barcode on my neck pass, I made sure to scan and register for every give-away, offer, deal and freebie found. With over 600 chances to win something, anything, those are much better odds than Powerball.

Being a scuba diver, I made a giant stride entry towards every booth and exhibit that displayed a sandy, sun-drenched beach photo. I’d like to think that the Philippines might win a spot in my logbook this year, but, if not, hiking the majestic coastline of Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador would work too. Tourism Specialist, Rodney Walsh, made witnessing humpbacks, icebergs, historic lighthouses and long forgotten fishing villages sound equally as exciting.

One-on-one discussions with travel authors like Arthur and Pauline Frommer, Ellie Krieger, Kelly Kewis and Matt Kepnes topped the book-signing agenda. And, GoNomad colleagues, editor Max Hartshorne and photographer, Paul Shoul were together again enlightening others on how to take brilliant photos and write better articles.

A last minute exchange with Marketing and Promotions guru, Wendy Gibson, New York State Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation, yielded some impressive stats for the Capital Region’s First Day Hike initiative.

“Yes, a whopping 170 participants came out to walk the nature trails at Schodack Island State Park this year!”

Home to bald eagles, cerulean warblers and blue herons, don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars to this beautiful park.

Photographer Paul Shoul 'makes a point' of being super generous with his insight and experience on how to take a better photo while traveling in foreign countries.  He and Max shared their wisdom for an hour during the New York Times Travel Show on Sunday.

Photographer Paul Shoul ‘makes a point’ of being super generous with his insight and experience on how to take a better photo while traveling in foreign countries. He and Max shared their wisdom for an hour during the New York Times Travel Show on Sunday.