Bound for Baltic nations for 10 days

Latvia

Not unlike George Costanza, the character in the sitcom Seinfeld, played by Jason Alexander, who cheated on his Latvian conversion test, I too am cramming to learn everything I can about Latvia (including Latvian Orthodox) sans using the palms of my hands as cheat sheets.

For the next 10 days, I’ll be on a press trip throughout Estonia and Latvia, two of three Baltic states in Northern Europe that border the eastern coast of the Baltic sea. The third is Lithuania. To admit that I’m excited for this trip is a bit of an understatement. Maybe I’m catching the “kavorka!”

While Latvia brought you the Minox camera, Estonia’s claim to popular fame is the computer software SKYPE, an invaluable tool for communicating with family and friends and avoiding expensive roaming charges.

An exciting discovery is that both democratic countries are part of the European Union and use the Euro currency. That should make travel easier for nearly the next two weeks.

Quickly, (my flight is boarding) my itinerary includes a helium filled balloon ride over Tallinn, a marzipan workshop, Art museums, ghost tours, visiting Medievel UNESCO heritage islands with churches dating back to the early 18th century and refreshing spa treatments. The trip wraps in Estonia with a visit to the Soomaa Nature Center, a pristine area of bogs and marshes and species-rich meadows, then days later, I board my flight from Riga, Latvia with fond memories of the ‘Versailles of Latvia’ or Rundāle Palace.

The black travel niche

Keep Calm Travel ON

The Sunday New York Times magazine penned a short but inspiring article entitled Joy of a Black Planet addressing a travel category that’s not exactly new to the industry but seriously under-represented: black tourism. It’s a brand that caters to globe-trotting travelers looking for vacation ideas to countries that are friendly, welcoming and safe for the black community.

Can I get an Amen?

One of many digital platforms spearheading this movement is a website called Travel Noire. Since 2013, owner and former Glamour Magazine award-winning entrepreneur, Zim Ugochukwu hand selects travel experts from across the African diaspora to share stories of culture, exploration and discovery through personal experiences. But she’s not the only one.

There’s a whole proliferation of digital websites and blogs worth reading for those imbued with a browner (dare I say more beautiful) complexion: soulofamerica.com, ugogirl.com, imblacknitravel.com and campingincolor.blogspot.com to name a few.

Maybe it’s because of or as a result of the national conversation about race that black travel is finally gaining serious momentum. Why drop coin in areas that aren’t tolerant or respectful of diversity, even if you’re white?

It doesn’t happen often but there are moments when African-Americans experience racist prejudices in countries that have diverse populations (Spain and Greece). And, contrary to that, there are those who receive warm hospitality in countries with deplorable human rights records (China and Russia).

This Friday I leave for Latvia and Estonia, Baltic states in northern Europe that rank high on the human decency and tolerance meter and that’s a good thing to know before promoting their hotels, restaurants, museums and public transportation.

I recall a quote from social rights activist and Nobel Peace Price winner Desmond Tutu while traveling the Atlantic ocean to South Africa in 2005 on a documentary assignment: We inhabit a universe that is characterized by diversity.

Amen.

Moose sighting near the Cherry Plain State Park

Moose Cherry Plain State Park

During an afternoon deluge on Wednesday, I watched a young, curious moose wander the head of Miller Road on the periphery of Cherry Plain State Park in the Taconic Valley.

Moose at Capital District Wildlife Management Area

The irony is I hike quietly in the backwoods of the Catskills and Adirondacks for hours on end and rarely do I see another living creature. Hiking was what I was doing in the Capital District Wildlife Management Area of Cherry Plain. But the minute I get back in a noisy car that’s when I spot deer skirting the side of the road, hawks flying overhead, and this tall, dark, twig-like silhouette which I initially mistook for an elk until I got closer and realized it was a moose.

From behind the wheel I slowed to a crawl so I could take photos through a blistering deluge. Mutti helped operate the windshield wipers. Mutti insisted it was a calf moose. For the size, it looked more like a female cow moose.

Do moose increase their movement when it rains? Maybe the weather washed out her normal place of shelter in the woods? Whatever the reason, it lumbered about on the shoulder of Miller Road in front of a residence for about a minute or two before my car spooked it back into the dense cover.

What a treat to see. The sighting trumped the plunging waterfalls, the wild mushrooms, the orange newts and the beautiful beach at the Cherry Plain State Park campground.

Cherry Plain State Park Waterfalls

Monarch Butterfly Cherry Plain State Park

Wild Mushrooms

Beach Cherry Plain State Park Campground

Wild Mushrooms Capital District Wildlife Management Area

Waterfalls Trail Cherry Plain State Park

Wilco’s three day music festival in North Adams

Jeff Tweedy

Solid Sound Festival 2015

Solid Sound Music Festival 2015

Set against the relentless threat of heavy rain, the utopian vibe was alive and well at the 4th semi-annual Solid Sound Music and Arts Festival in North Adams, Massachusetts. Wilco is not a “radio band” but their popularity continues to climb – over 8,000 thousand fans bracing umbrellas were in attendance to see their idols rock out to raw favorites and new sounds this weekend.

The alt-country pioneers curate the festival with lead singer, Jeff Tweedy, inviting dozens of musically varied ensembles to play at the Mass MoCA venue.

For the uninitiated, Wilco didn’t hatch overnight. They’ve been around longer than most of their fans have been alive. Tweedy formed the pop-folk band in 1994 prior to playing with Uncle Tupelo since 1987. They have eight albums, a number of diverse and pastoral singles and, on occasion, Tweedy’s son Spencer filling the bill as drummer.

Before the show, I shot an interview between CBS correspondent and anchor, Anthony Mason and the Tweedy family. To see the rare news feature, be sure to watch the “CBS This Morning: Saturday” show, if not this weekend, in the coming weeks.

Bozen Kill Falls at Christman Sanctuary

Bozen Kill Stream

Bozen Kill Falls

Bozen Kill Stream

Christman Sanctuary Parking Lot

This is peak work season for freelance shooters. While juggling calls from network juggernauts and editing last-minute projects, I braved a short respite from the chaos at Christman Sanctuary in Duanesburg, NY.

I didn’t anticipate company on a rainy Monday afternoon but it turns out the beautiful Bozen Kill stream is most popular when the flows are strongest. Parking for four of five vehicles isn’t nearly enough.

The Bozen Kill is Dutch for “raging stream” and after so many days of rain, a series of small cascades flow turbulently. At the bottom of a steep 30-foot waterfall, normally a small trickle in the summer, bathers gather to indulge in a refreshing pool. The stream carries on through a corridor of steep slopes of sandstone and shale with easy trails dotting both sides.

The site is a Registered National Historic Landmark listed by the New York State Historic Trust and protected by the Nature Conservancy and local land trusts.

Thinking about survival odds in Franklin County

Dozens of satellite and microwave trucks gather near the tiny town of Owls Head, NY to cover the fugitive story.

Dozens of satellite and microwave trucks gather near the tiny town of Owls Head, NY to cover the fugitive story.

Patrolling the hot zone of Owls Head this week for CBS National, I got to thinking about survival odds in the Adirondacks. Having grown up in Massena, not far from where the fugitives are (supposedly) hiding, I can identify with every home having a gun mounted to the wall, every backyard having a vegetable garden and every lake being warm enough to swim in by mid-summer. Franklin County is the first place I ever skied (Titus) and I was introduced to backpacking low range mountains like Debar, St. Regis, Azure, Ampersand, Seward and Haystack.

If the fugitives aren’t caught soon, I can’t help but think that they’ll be able to easily feast on the land for weeks without needing to break into stocked camps.

Everybody knows that July yields a smorgasbord of favorites in North Country gardens. Red tomatoes, fresh cukes, sustaining potato tubers paired with bushes ripe with wild gooseberries, blueberries and raspberries are all options easily found on most homesteads. No need to eat wild mushrooms here. The prisoners could find themselves picnicking alongside bears and deer on safe fruit to survive. Or, they might follow the lead of rabbits who dine on edible ornamental and herbal flowers (marigolds, carnations, dandelions).

I also can’t help but think that if the prisoners were privy to survival, they would have stolen a quiet fishing pole (or anglers net) instead of a noisy gun from the Owls Head cabin. Whether a lure or a fly, the Adirondacks is rich with bass, trout and salmon and eating fish raw is generally safe (barring the mercury levels) and high in protein.

Frequent precipitation has also raised the water levels and currents of lakes, ponds and streams in Franklin County. I can’t help but think that swift-flowing rivers will soon be warm enough to float down without risking hyperthermia or heat loss. Find a log to drift behind and just let the currents do the work. This could easily throw off trailing dogs that rely on human scents that drift in the air.

Then again, the backcountry is seriously overpopulated with beaver so odds are good that untreated water sources carry pathogen-related threats like Giardia. Giardia results in extreme stomach suffering. If you own a pet, you already know this.

Menacing mosquitoes are like the size of birds in the deep woods! These little bloodsuckers are relentless and can drive a hiker insane. I learned early on that the best home remedies to repel insects are to bathe frequently, eat garlic and wear white. I really can’t confirm why they work but they do.