Spring is in the air, and the thoughts of the editors at Frommer's guides have turned to the great outdoors. Now's the perfect time to emerge from hibernation and enjoy all things al fresco. From an expedition in Antarctica to hoisting a drink closer to home in Queens, we've had our share of memorable outdoor experiences. Here are a few of our personal favorites:
Take to the Water in Boston
I've snorkeled in Belize, skied in California, and ridden an elephant in Thailand, but when asked to pick my favorite adventure activity, I immediately thought of someplace closer to home: Boston. It may not be the most obvious adventure destination, but I guarantee that if you travel to this New England city, you'll find there are a lot more ways to work out than simply walking the Freedom Trail.
For the best adventures, head to the Charles River. Years ago, I took a sailing class through my university and still consider the times I steered my rowboat through the harbor to be a highlight of my undergrad years. Not only did these trips provide a perfect vantage point to take in the cityscape in a way I never had before, it was amazing to row along such a storied crew spot. (The Head of the Charles Regatta, the largest rowing competition in the world, is held along the Charles River each October.)
You don't need to be a college student to get out on the Charles River, though. From the spring through the fall, you can canoe or kayak down the river through various operators. I recommend Charles River Canoe & Kayak (tel. 617/965-5110; www.paddleboston.com/main.php), which offers an affordable range of guided tours and individual trips, including lessons that come with a free barbecue dinner. And if concerns about Boston's dirty rivers make you hesitate before jumping in, know that the city has made a concerted effort to improve the quality of the water in recent years. Conditions have improved so much, you might even spot porpoises and seals if you make it out to the inner harbor. Why would you even consider going on an average Duck Tour instead? -- Jen Reilly
Soak in the Sun Outside Prague
Sure, the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square have their charms, but my favorite place in Prague lies outside the city itself. Divoka Sarka is an area of gorgeous parkland and greenery, only a half-hour from the hubbub of the city. The name (meaning "Wild Sarka") comes from a Romeo-and-Juliet story of sorts, but far predating it -- predating the city of Prague, in fact. According to the ancient myth, a woman named Sarka fell in love with a man from a rival tribe. Doomed to be apart, she jumped off the cliffs which still frame the region.
Morbid story aside, the area is truly lovely. Walking trails take you though streams, forests, waterfalls, and up to the cliffs, offering an expansive view of the Sarka valley extending to the city. Grassy open fields provide the perfect spot for a picnic. There's also a natural reservoir for swimming, which has a pub for enjoying a cold beer and snacks. Two natural pools have cabanas and games like ping-pong, and the adjacent hills are ideal for sunbathing. The pools are a popular spot for locals, and I never encountered a tourist in my many, many visits there. When I used to live in Prague, I never failed to take visitors to Divoka Sarka, and their reaction was always the same -- comparing the area to heaven or Eden.
If you're visiting Prague and want to experience Divoka Sarka yourself, it's an easy trip: From the Dejvice metro A stop, take the 20 or 26 tram (en route to Ruzyne airport) about 20 minutes until you pass the big McDonalds (don't let that sway you from visiting -- just avert your eyes and walk straight ahead). For more information, check out the website www.prague.net/divoka-sarka or the Divoka Sarka page on www.allpraha.com. -- Jamie Ehrlich
Row, Row, Row Your Boat in Belize
When I tell people I went spelunking in San Ignacio, Belize, I see their eyes widen with excitement -- which tells me they have no idea that spelunking is just a fancy word for cave exploration, or that I explored Barton Creek Cave from the middle of a canoe, not by wading waist-deep in water or clinging to nubs of rock with my fingers. While my physical feat wasn't impressive, the experience certainly was.
We pushed along the muddy water and ducked our heads so that we could avoid being hit in the face by dangling leaves. We approached the mouth of the cave, which reminded me of the entrance to a scary amusement park ride, and within minutes, the sunlight from outside had been swallowed behind us.
Flood lights in hand and screeching bats above, we were careful not to touch any of the stalagmites or stalactites, whose intricate crevices hold thousands of years of history. Our guide from Yute Expeditions (tel. 501/824-2076; www.inlandbelize.com) explained that the Maya saw caves as their connection to the underworld, and pointed out artifacts such as skeletons and pottery that held stories of sacrifice.
After almost an hour in the cave, we were on our way out when our guide told us to turn off our lights. As we inched along in the pitch black, a tiny circle of light appeared in front of us, growing larger with each moment. The sunlight had made its way back into the cave and welcomed us back to the land of the living. -- Anuja Madar
Biking the Province Lands Rail Trail in Cape Cod
In my book, taking a bike ride is one of the best ways to spend time on a vacation. On two wheels you can see a lot and get the lay of the land in a way you might not if you were only on foot or in a car. Biking also allows you to get off the streets of a place and out into nature.
One of my favorite bike trails is the Province Lands Trail, just north of Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Maybe it's because it's the furthest point out on the cape, away from the throngs of cars moving slowly in traffic along Route 6, or maybe it's because it's the perfect place to burn off a few of those extra vacation calories. Whatever the reason, the Province Lands Trail is a great place to spend a couple of hours. This secluded trail, about 7 miles in its entirety, provides a variety of beachy landscapes -- from thick pines to steep dunes -- which change from one mile to the next throughout your ride. One moment you're peddling hard to make it up a semi-steep slope (or if you're lucky, you're already coasting down the far side) surrounded by dense woods or low-lying lily ponds. The next you may find yourself cruising around a curve only to find a pristine stretch of beach unfolding before you. Once you've worked up a sweat, you can head to the water. The trail allows access to both Race Point and Herring Cove beaches.
Bike rentals are available May-October at Gale Force Bikes (144 Bradford St., tel. 508/487-4849), in Provincetown. All that peddling can make you hungry, so pack a few snacks before heading out. The Beach Market, on-site at Gale Force Bikes, can provide delicious sandwiches, drinks, and other picnic fare for your ride. -- Cate Latting
Explore the Greek Isle of Thasos by Moped
On your trip to lush, honey-making Thasos (www.thassos-island.com) in the North Agean, you'll spend most of your waking hours outside in the sun. The port of Limenas, often referred to as Thassos Town (or Limin), is the largest town on the island; it's 45 minutes by ferry or hydrofoil from the mainland town of Kavala in Greece's Macedonian region. At 399 square kilometers (247 miles), the entire "emerald isle" is within striking distance from Limenas. An old tobacco factory, the Hotel Amfipolis (open AprilÂ?October; 18 Octovriou, tel. 003/2593023101-4; www.hotelamfipolis.gr) is a good choice for lodging, with 42 basic, comfortable rooms and a secluded pool surrounded by gardens -- it's also only a short walk from the town's beach. After a quick swim, take your breakfast (included in your stay, it features a bit more than the usual coffee and bread offered with most Greek accommodations) in the front garden. Rent a motorbike from one of the agencies on the central town square and skirt the island on the small, 110km (68 miles) coastal road that winds through fig and olive groves, dense forest, the heart of small towns, and farms of bees, sheep, or chickens. The many beaches and tavernas along the way are good places to stop for a swim, photo-op, or bite to eat (look for a sample of the catch of the day hanging out over the road in front of tavernas -- the local equivalent of a flashing neon sign). Chrysi Ammo (Golden Beach) is my favorite, with lounge chairs for hire, crystal waters, tide pools, and a nice rock out in the middle of the cove for jumping off into the sea. Back to Limenas for dinner and an ouzo nightcap -- both taken al fresco, of course. -- Alexia Travaglini
Enjoy a Pint at the Bohemian Beer Garden
Outdoors, you say? You mean that place without a roof? And people spend time there? What a novel idea. (Sorry. It's been a long winter). And yet even when the summer wind comes tumblin' in from across the sea, I'm not much for outdoor exercise. I certainly enjoy my walk to and from the subway, and I'm a big fan of a baseball game at an outdoor stadium, but no, I'll pass on the hiking and the waterskiing. I have my own favorite outdoor activities, which involve shade, good food and alcohol. In fact, I can find all three of those things, and a little live music, a few blocks from my home.
I am referring to the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, (29-19 24th Ave., Astoria, NY, tel. 718/274-4925; www.bohemianhall.com) which has been serving beer and kielbasa like my grandma used to make since 1910. In winter, when you walk by the garden, its gates are locked, its high walls look unscalable, the treetops show bare just beyond them. (Though you can still drink at the bar and eat inside). But come summer, when the days grow longer, all kinds of people, from members of the Bohemian Citizens Benevolent Society (which runs the place), to hipsters who know a good hang, head to the outdoor courtyard, lined with picnic tables and fringed by tall, leafy trees.
In one corner, you might hear a band playing folk music, or a German oompah group. People share tables and chat, children run about, waitresses bring steins of European beers (Staropramen, Czechvar, Brouczech, Erdinger, Hoegaarden, Krusovice, Stella and Spaten), and platters of goulash, pierogies, and cucumber salad. As twilight deepens, the sound of traffic outside fades like a distant dream, and you can look up at the stars, a beer in one hand, a pierogi in the other, and enjoy Mother Nature just off the Triborough Bridge. -- Kathleen Warnock
Watch Turtles Hatch in Mexico
For decades, entire fishing communities along the coast of the Oaxacan state survived by killing and selling sea turtles. It wasn't until a federal law banned the practice in 1994 that the killing stopped, leaving many coastal villages without any means of monetary survival. However, with the law came the first glimmers of a grassroots conservation movement, and new opportunities in sustainable eco-tourism. The Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga (Mexican Center for the Turtle; Spanish only website, www.centromexicanodelatortuga.org, or www.tomzap.com/turtle.html), in the tiny town of Mazunte, is a turtle research base and a local employer.
The small museum protects and raises sick or injured turtles, with live specimens of five different species of sea turtle on display. For a mere 20 pesos ($1.80), and the some good timing, visitors can join an overnight expedition to Escobilla, a government protected beach, and wake at dawn to see newborn Gulfina sea turtles no larger than half of your palm scratch across the sand and into the sea. Or, just a short cab ride from Mazunte, or an hour from Puerto Escondido, you can visit the tourism cooperative at Ventanilla, run by the people of the village by the same name. This is an example of a community that once relied on turtle poaching for survival. Now, the people have created their own very small, government-certified conservation project that encompasses a nearby crocodile-filled lagoon, and the nests of turtles which choose to lay their eggs on this stretch of beach.
For 40 pesos ($3.60), you can take a boat ride to visit the crocodiles, and do some bird watching. Again, if your timing is right, you can participate in the release of hatchling turtles. Here, the turtles are released at sunset. You can only join expeditions with the researchers at the Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga during the prime turtle-hatching season of July to September, but turtles lay their eggs pretty much year-round. Ask the knowledgeable locals at Ventanilla, and they'll let you know when the next nest will hatch. Then you can plan your return. -- Melinda Quintero
Tango the Night Away in Buenos Aires
On a recent trip to Buenos Aires, I was lucky enough to experience a special treat -- an outdoor milonga. A milonga is the Argentine word for a tango hall, and in the summertime, tango is taken outdoors every night at various locations around the city. The one I attended was in Belgrano, a residential neighborhood. While far from a tango pro myself, I loved watching the locals of all ages dancing on the raised stage (the old men in particular were phenomenal dancers and a joy to observe). The piped-in music ranged from the traditional to modern, with breaks for the dancers to socialize. While the environment is more casual than a traditional milonga, the same rules of the tango apply (a woman invites a man to dance through eye contact, and the man nods his head to accept).
Even if you don't take to the dance floor, it's a perfect way to spend a night in Buenos Aires: eating alfajores, drinking mate, and enjoying warm weather while watching the most beloved of Argentine dances. One word to the wise, however: Buenos Aires has had a mosquito epidemic of late, so a bottle of bug-spray will make for a much more pleasant experience. Even if you're not heading south to Argentina anytime soon, many cities (such as New York, Toronto, and Chicago) host outdoor milongas of their own, so you can tango closer to home. -- Jamie Ehrlich
Be An Explorer in Antartica
Ernest Shackleton left South Georgia Island on December 5, 1914 in a bid to lead the first expedition across Antarctica. Things did not go well, to put it mildly -- his boat sank, and he and his men spent months trapped on the ice. In a last desperate attempt to save himself and his crew, he sailed 800 miles in a 22-foot lifeboat. It took 17 days, but they finally reached South Georgia. One problem: They landed on the wrong side of the island, with a mountain range separating them from the whaling settlement at Stromness Bay. They waited over a week before deciding they had no choice but head up the mountains through a blinding snowstorm. It took them 36 hours -- it took me and my fellow hikers just four hours to make the very same climb.
The way was rocky and steep, but since we weren't contending with 16 foot snows, it was hard to complain. Besides, the spectacular views from the hike's summit instantly erased any aches and pains. When Shackelton reached the same spot, on May 20, 1916, he allowed his men to stop for a rest, sure they'd lost their way. But just as he was about to give up hope, he heard, faintly, the sound of Stromness's morning wake-up call and followed it to safety. Our ship, an icebreaker taking us south to the Antarctic Peninsula, sailed around the island to meet us as we climbed. And as we started our descent to the now-abandoned whaling station, the ship blew its horn -- an eerie reminder of Shackleton's ordeal. The echo lingered briefly over the hills, but was long gone by the time we passed through the colony of gentoo penguins now living at Stromness. I lingered on the beach for as long as I could, trying to imagine the emotions Shackleton and his men must have felt, finding their way back to Stromness a year and half after they left, and long after they'd been presumed dead. I was hungry, cold and tired, but I'd never felt more lucky. Â?-Linda Barth
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