top of the world, ma

A year in the planning, I finally committed to hiking the highest peak in Africa.  It turned out to be far and away the most difficult challenge I’ve ever set myself. After a week of awesome, if exhausting, hiking, the sixteen hour night-into-day to the summit was overwhelming: I saw people with altitude sickness being led down on stretchers, bleeding, hikers turning back due to a crazy windstorm at the final brutal staging post plus, endured a hail storm, a busted iPhone, fire ants, a glorious full moon and many more times that I would care to admit questioning the limits of my physical and mental endurance.  And yet sixteen hours after we first set out, I was back in my tent. Wet, cold, annihilated and utterly elated.

If you’re curious about the poster I’m holding up, Frank is/was a friend of mine. You can discover a bit more about his integral part in my journey HERE.

 

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red, red rocks

IMG_1750Red Rocks, the famous concert venue outside of Denver, was the reason behind my Colorado excursion and the capstone to this trip. (Click the bottom image for greater, groovy, detail.) The natural sandstone amphitheater has long been on my bucket list of places I need to see – and to hear a concert, of course. As a sensory experience and a spectacle it more than lived up to expectations. Firstly, you don’t just show up at the theater to hear some music: you park in a dirt field and then you hike. You hike up. And up and up and up. Red Rocks is set within the confines of a state park – the better to preserve its mystical aloofness. But what makes it so special is also what happens to make it rather inconvenient. An afternoon of steady showers did not help matters. Yet the rain let up just as I laid out ten bucks for a bin liner poncho, and the overcast sky cracked open with beams of sunlight. While the opening band played, the sun began to set and the sheer walls of rock on either side of the seating bowl radiated its flare. Once the stage lights outweighed the ambient light, the sandstone, lit from below, glowed orange, red, and purple. The atmosphere ripened into something otherworldly, like a concert on Mars: the lights of downtown Denver visible on the horizon, a deep blue sky lit up by stars, and the jarring and perfect summer sound of Vampire Weekend pulsing through space.IMG_1737

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the sun and the moon and the pan-starrs

Comet Pan-STARRS Crescent Moon

Stargazers gearing up for this weekend’s close encounter with the comet Pan-STARRS may be able to get an even better view than they expected. A German travel company is taking 88 people to watch the comet from a plane, flying 36,000 feet above the Earth. Bonn-based Eclipse Travel has teamed up with Air Berlin to organize a Boeing 737-700 flight for its first-ever comet observation trip. The one-time flight will follow a zigzag flight plan to give everyone on board the best possible view. For anyone not wanting to share a window there’s an option to reserve two adjoining seats, or even an entire row. While sky watchers on the ground might have to endure a view through clouds and smog, the atmosphere at 8.6 miles up in the air is thinner and more transparent for a clearer perspective, says Eclipse’s website. NASA scientists predict Pan-STARRS’s dazzling tail of gas and dust could rival the stars of the Big Dipper in brightness as it passes 100 million miles from Earth. However, NASA scientists say the show could also be a bust if the comet crumbles under the heat and gravitational pull of the Sun. Already visible in the Southern Hemisphere, Pan-STARRS is the first of two comets to be visible to the naked eye this year. Tickets for the two-hour comet observation flight range from $470-$663 through the Eclipse website, though anyone short on funds might want to hold off until November. That’s when Comet ISON is expected to pass by Earth. Scientists are already predicting it will be one of the brightest comets ever seen and might even out-shine the moon.

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wishlist: singita

Consistently awarded top local and international honors, Singita Game Reserves has introduced an added value promotion that will move Africa to the top of your wish list: free nights at four of their low-impact, luxury African lodges in South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The Singita Ebony and Sweni combo package offers a complimentary flight between the two lodges as well as one free night when booking two nights at each lodge. Located in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, Ebony Lodge features superlative views plus suites with private swimming pools along the Sabi River. Just a short flight away, seductive Sweni Lodge is nestled within a riverine forest on a private concession in the game-rich Kruger National Park. Intimate and romantic, Sweni has dramatic floor-to-ceiling glass walls and private viewing decks.  Alternatively for anyone who wants to unpack and stay put for a few days, a free night offer is available at either the stylish Singita Lemombo, overlooking the N’wanetsi River, Singita Pamushana, perched high atop sandstone cliffs overlooking the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe, or Singita Grumeti Reserves, located in the vast landscape of Tanzania’s Serengeti plains. All of the lodges boast unmatched game viewing, haute cuisine, and high style – along with an uncompromising dedication to conservation and sustainability above all else. It’s enough to make me wish I had waited to book next week’s trip to Kenya. Yes, that’s right, dear readers: I’m off to Ireland next week, followed by Africa the week after. From a tent in the Masai Mara I’ll be watching the great migration of wildebeest across the plains. My postings, needless to say, might be a bit intermittent.

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bucket list: 2010 – december

MIAMI:  A last-minute jaunt down to Miami ended the year in travel with a bang.  Yet again, it wasn’t nearly as warm as expected – a recurring theme this year, no? – but how can you complain when you’re walking around in shorts the week before Christmas and watching Micheal Jordan play golf outside your balcony?  The highlight:  catching up with old friends down in the Design District at Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez, where we wisely decided to let the captain order for us. Plate after plate of fresh tapas came out of the kitchen like a tasting menu gone wild – not that anyone’s taste buds complained. (Plus, it was good practice for next month’s upcoming trip to Madrid.) One menu item I’m determined to try at home come 2011:  crispy eggplant, drizzled with molasses and sea salt.  The delicate savory crunch, mixed with a dash of sweet and salt, was as addictive as … well, travel.

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bucket list: 2010 – november

ATLANTA/ARIZONA:  While I was mostly underwhelmed by the city during my first trip to Atlanta, the food there blew me away.  It wasn’t simple comfort food, as I’d anticipated; rather it was traditional Southern cooking done up with an interesting – and unpretentious – haute twist.  Call it fine dining comfort food, if you will. I didn’t have a single meal that was anything less than scrumptious. Plus, there’s not all that much to actually do in Atlanta, so it made a great excuse to spend a good deal of my time there eating.  And eating.  And eating some more.  Be on the lookout for more stories about the chefs and restaurants of Atlanta – I expect it to be on every foodies radar very soon, if not already.

Although there was copious food involved, natch, Arizona was an altogether different experience: hiking among the giant saguaro cactus outside Tucson, trail riding through the desert, and a thrilling afternoon of rock climbing north of Scottsdale.  The desert landscape of the American southwest is unlike anyplace on earth.  And even though I’ve now visited multiple times, I still find the scenery otherworldly and hypnotic. It wasn’t as warm as I had hoped, but then again Arizona in November is still a far cry from the blustery Northeast.

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bucket list: 2010 – october

IRELAND: I honestly didn’t expect to be able to get back to Ireland this year, so when the opportunity arose for a long weekend on the west coast with friends, I jumped at the chance.  County Clare, as typified by the sheer Cliffs of Moher and the otherworldly landscape of The Burren, is that vision of Ireland often enshrined on picture postcards:  wild and rugged, yet also starkly beautiful.  Secreted away at a house in Doonbeg, the eight of us cooked, drank, and spent a lot of time laughing by the fire. The absence of a typical Irish rain – and unseasonably mild weather, to boot –  made for lovely strolls out along the strand.

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bucket list: 2010 – september

SAN FRANCISCO/HERSHEY:  September drew me back to San Francisco in search of redwoods, which I found in abundance just over the Golden Gate Bridge at Muir Woods National Park.  For all of the times I’ve been to the city by the bay, it’s rather remarkable that I’d never made the short trip north to hike the primeval forest.  Nor had I indulged, it turns out, in many of the touristy attractions the city is famous for like dim sum in Chinatown, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, strolling the shelves of the City Lights bookstore and taking the boat to Alcatraz.  I  made sure to remedy that on this trip.

Another overlooked opportunity finally rectified this month was a visit to the historic Hotel Hershey and Hershey Park.  Having spent four years passing it back and forth during college, I was eager to one day stop and smell the chocolate.  It didn’t disappoint – especially when it came to designing my own chocolate bar and packaging.  And the roller coasters were pretty good, too.  Plus, the history of chocolate-pioneer Milton Hershey – and everything he did for the town founded to house his factory workers – satisfied my hunger for a real slice of Americana as all those faux patriots began their hysterical crusade toward the mid-term elections.

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bucket list: 2010 – august

UK: It’s a good thing I got all that rest in July, because I needed it once August rolled around.  My producing partner and I premiered a new musical we’ve been developing in London, later moving it lock, stock and barrel to Edinburgh as part of the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Many of you know about my theatrical background, but for those of you who don’t, I need to get you up to speed via an old theater joke:  if Hitler were alive today, his punishment should be to go out on the road with a new musical in trouble. (I just need to think that joke and it cracks me up every time.)  Of course, it wasn’t all that arduous – or punishing – but to start, it was being done across an ocean.  And while my partner and I are both old hands at this by now, we’ve also both invested a peculiarly personal part of ourselves in The Screams of Kitty Genovese, which only served to raise the stakes.

On top of it all, we were in two of my all-time favorite cities:  London and Edinburgh.  Yet we were working, working, working the whole time – and not in the lighthearted way travelers do but in the how do we fix this particular scene and how much is it going to cost us way that producers do.  I will say it gave me a different perspective of each city.  I may have been staying along Hyde Park but I spent the days working – or is it wandering? – the back streets of Hammersmith. Once we made it to Edinburgh, we were lucky enough to be staying together in posh digs at the Hotel Missoni, which was transformed into Kitty HQ.  A bee-line to the theater was quickly established, from which we rarely strayed.

The show – as I’m sure you’re dying to know – was an unqualified success.  A complete sell-out in London, it was equally well received in Edinburgh.  Plus it looks like it will be coming to New York in the very near future, so watch this space! It was an exhilarating experience, working overseas without any infrastructure in place or familiar resources at our disposal.  It made us get out into the streets on a very basic level, which went a long way towards making my romantic notions of two cities I’ve come to know extremely well over the years much more realistic.

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bucket list: 2010 – may

PROVINCETOWN:  How it’s taken me forty-plus years to get to P-town is beyond me but I’m glad I made that ferry across Boston Harbor this year. (Coincidentally it was while on the boat that I received a phone call informing me that hereafter my obit would need to read “award-winning writer,” thank you, thank you very much.) Prime season had yet to begin, which meant it was bit more like Montauk in December than The Pines in August and that suited me just fine.  The tip of Cape Cod is stunningly beautiful: the flowers were in bloom, the dunes pristine, and the  surprisingly clear water was unseasonably mild, meaning just this side of bracing and perfect for swimming.  As befits seemingly every Land’s End community, the vibe was not only eccentric and eclectic, but also addictive. And now I can honestly say that, yes, finally, I get the allure of Provincetown.

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bucket list: 2010 – april

ARGENTINA/NAPA:  Far from being the cruelest of months, April was a banquet of adventure.  My first foray to South America took me from the cultured urbanity of Buenos Aires to Bariloche’s lake district (and a near fatal expedition in search of condors) to the otherworldly glaciers of Patagonia.  The variety of experiences in Argentina whet my appetite for a return, while the Michelin stars dotting the Napa Valley whet an altogether different kind of appetite:  the all-you-can-eat hedonistic kind. Bardessono may have been a disappointment under the fussy hand of Sean O’Toole but Michel Chiarello’s convivial Bottega was extraordinary.  The high point:  a gastronomic pilgrimage to the altar of Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.

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bucket list: 2010 – march

ST. LUCIA:  I’ve long been a fan of this tiny Caribbean island’s utter lack of pretense – and gorgeously underpopulated beaches.  Which is probably why I’ve tended to spend any amount of time here within spitting distance of the water.  Escaping the end of the winter, however, I found myself bang between the Pitons at Ladera, the open-air hideaway perched a thousand feet up and flanked by the island’s two towering volcanoes.  The birds-eye views seemed to accentuate the great swathes of rainforest which cover the island and inspired me to trek north, into the deep of the jungle, for a nature lesson and zip-line adventure in the forest canopy.

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bucket list: 2010 – february

FRANCE:  I narrowly escaped a snowstorm which ultimately paralyzed the Northeast only to find myself landing in Paris in the middle of a – you guessed it – snowstorm.  But, of course, it’s Paris, so despite the aching cold it was also achingly beautiful. (Plus, a pair of newly-acquired woolly French long johns kept me from succumbing to the elements.)  I had cassoulet on the brain – I blame the cold – and it led me on a foraging expedition through a handful of my favorite shops in the 2nd arrondissement:  the mothership E. Dehillerin, La Bovida, G. Detou, Mora, and new favorite victualler, Comptoir de la Gastronomie, where I chanced upon both haricot Tarbais and duck confit, conveniently vacu-sealed as if awaiting a trans-Atlantic journey inside my luggage.  The foraging paid off handsomely.  Not only did I return home to concoct a splendid cassoulet, I also ultimately invented the “cassoulet cake,” a brilliant – if i do say so myself – use of leftover beans and duck.

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bucket list: 2010 – january

TURKS & CAICOS:  Sometimes it seems like it’s easier to fly down to Providenciales than it is to get across town during rush hour.  Which is perhaps why the islands of Turks & Caicos are so popular with the Northeast crowd.  And me, too.  There’s almost nothing to do on Provo, as the island capital is known, so there’s no residual guilt to be had about not seeing the sights;  you can thoroughly unwind, soaking up the sun on Grace Bay, one of the world’s great sandy beaches.

A trip down here in January is a tonic for the the harsh New York winter and this trip had the added benefit of a stay at the new Seven Stars.  As a New Yorker, it’s a particularly bittersweet pleasure to find a hotel room larger than your apartment.  At the oversized Seven Stars, the bedroom alone was larger than my apartment.  Naturally, I had to be dragged out kicking and screaming – least of all because the beach was right outside my sliding glass doors.

There’s a curiosity that made this trip memorable as well.  A culinary delicacy I’d heretofore been ignorant of despite my many trips to the Caribbean.  Never one to shy away from the local fare, I stepped up and swallowed it raw and whole, according to local tradition.  And what was this sublime aphrodisiac, you ask?  Conch penis.

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bucket list: 2010

Despite a little personal upheaval – and some surgery which kept me housebound for a while – 2010 has been another good year for travel.  I  revisited a number of old haunts and at times found myself amid familiar surroundings in a completely different context.  While I was able to get up to a few new adventures – and cross a few countries off the bucket list – the year, in retrospect, seems to have had an interesting theme: re-exploration.  Despite the number of return visits this year, I found myself seeing places as if for the first time.  I guess shifting perspectives will do that to you.  A little up-ending, it turns out, goes a long way towards reinforcing what it is I love about travel:  the adventure, chase, and sense of discovery.

In what is now officially an annual holiday tradition, I’ll be spending the next “Twelve days of Christmas” looking back.  So light the fire, grab your cocoa, and cuddle up to the year that was.

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