Category North America

Five of the Best San Francisco Bookstores

two colour MFP City Lights

The book is alive and well in San Francisco, in spite of the fact that many of the Bay Area’s IT businesses appear to be hell-bent on destroying it. A quirky collection of fiercely independent bookstores have become lynchpins of the city’s diverse, walkable neighborhoods.

Here are five bookish hangouts worth checking out.

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Photo Friday: Rocky Mountaineer Train Vistas through the Canadian Rockies

This view of tranquil Lake Kamloops is just one of the many exquisite views from the Rocky Mountaineer train through Canada's Rocky Mountains

I took this picture for Photo Friday at Lake Kamloops while riding the spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver in British Columbia to Jasper in Alberta. This privately-owned, daylight-only train adventure offers sensational itineraries through the Canadian Rockies.

It comes from a proud pedigree of two great railways, the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Rail, which played a key role in the settlement of Canada.

The president of Canadian Pacific Rail believed tourism was vital to the railway’s success and he famously said back in the 1880s, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”

And import them they did with both companies developing grand hotels to entice travellers along their routes. More than 130 years later Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf guests still stay in spiffed-up, Victorian-era edifices like the Banff Springs Hotel, Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge, now all run by the esteemed Canadian hotelier Fairmont.

The be...

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New York City Boutique Hotels: Soho, Midtown, Upper East Side

New York Hotels MFP

The lobby of the Chatwal Hotel

New York City: so much to do and see, so little time. The general idea is find a good base and sally forth but that almost misses the point. Even though Manhattan is home to 1.6 million people, the island is tiny, just 21.6 kilometers long and 3.7 kilometers wide. But it is far from homogenous and is really a series of small villages that are completely distinctive.

A cool way to explore the city is to base yourself in three interesting boutique hotels that each define their particular neighborhood for three completely different Manhattan experiences. Here is my guide to Soho staying at the Crosby Street Hotel, Midtown staying at the Chatwal, and the Upper East Side staying at The Surrey.


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Esalen Institute: New Age Adventures on California’s Big Sur Coast

The Esalen Institute opens new horizons on ancient ground in California's Big Sur

Esalen’s Hot Springs are cantilevered over the Pacific in California’s Big Sur

The world’s best massage

It was the best massage I had ever experienced.  And let me set the record straight.  While I have enjoyed massages on four continents, I am no massage junkie.  I find too often that the promise and the pitch fall way short in reality…the touch is too tentative or too uneven, too rote or too rough.

I am also no great meditator.  My busy, restless mind wanders across the white noise of minutiae instead of stilling itself.

But here, now, lying on a table in an exquisitely minimal building wedged into a cliff, its huge sliding glass doors thrown open to the Pacific Ocean crashing onto the Californian coast, I am in the moment, naked except for a towel and a masseuse is kneading my back with long rhythmic strokes that mirror the rumble of the surf a few meters below.  A seagull rides the airwaves at eye level when I gaze for a moment at the sun’s rays...

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L.L. Bean: Super Store in a Shoe Store

Discover the Outdoors with LL step at a time
L.L. Bean’s famous boots

Pioneer American outdoors outfitter L. L. Bean has been a fixture on Main Street in Freeport Maine since its showroom opened in 1917. When Leon Leonwood Bean created the Bean Boot by combining lightweight leather tops with waterproof rubber bottoms, he offered a revolutionary 100-percent satisfaction guarantee.  To this day, customers can return any item for a complete refund, no questions asked.  In 1951, he also threw away the keys to keep the store open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Today L.L. Bean’s five stores (hunting and fishing; bike, boat and ski; retail apparel; kids; and factory store) make up an enterprising shopping campus, which has attracted more than 200 upscale discount outlets to this quaint coastal Maine village.

You could spend days meandering in this mecca to outdoor adventures. There is every conceivable item of clothing and outdoor gear for the hiker while the selection of bikes, canoes, skis, hunting and fishing gear leaves you speechless. I have never seen so many different types of flies, each one delicately copying an insect from the New England woods. In short, LL Bean offers an ode to all those classic New England outdoors pursuits.

But it...

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Hawaii’s Big Island Gourmet: chocolate, coffee, honey and more

Big Island Chocolate is the only bean to bar chocolate farm in the United States

The Big Island of Hawaii — with all that rich volcanic soil, a delicious diversity of environments from mountains to valleys, plus oodles of tropical sunshine and rain — grows some fabulous foods. I recently discovered some truly amazing local gourmet goodies such as chocolate, coffee and honey. Here are some suggestions for a great gourmet touring route.

Big Island Chocolate

I am wander...

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Discover Hawaii’s Ukulele Culture

Roy Sakuma in his Ukulele Studio

Roy Sakuma in his ukulele studio

Hawaii is the birthplace of the ukulele and there are so many places where you can discover the passion and the precision behind these islands’ love affair with the little stringed instrument that could!

It is Thursday afternoon at Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios in suburban Kaneohe, about 30 minutes and a million miles away from Waikiki’s tourist strip. I feel a palpable Hawaiian spirit upon entering the room jammed with kids, mums and dads, retirees and young ukulele instructors. A crazy quilt of photos and festival posters covers the walls. At the centre of it all is Roy himself, a smiling grey-haired man whose name has become synonymous with the Hawaiian ukulele.


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Photo Friday: California’s Big Sur coastline


Highway One, which snakes along the spectacular Big Sur coastline, is one of the world’s great drives offering splendid vistas of mountains plunging into the often mist-shrouded Pacific Ocean.

Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The Name ‘Big Sur’ is derived from the Spanish ‘el sur grande’ meaning ‘the big south’ referring to its location south of the Monterey Peninsula.

Because of its relative isolation and natural beauty, Big Sur has been a magnet for artists and writers including Henry Miller, Edward Weston, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac.

To check out one of Big Sur’s iconic institutions, read my post on The Esalen Institute, which focuses on alternative humanistic eduction. Often nicknamed ‘The New Age Harvard’, it is a spectacular retreat center and hot springs perched on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean...

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How to Shop Brimfield Antiques Market

Brimfield market is one of the biggest antique fairs and flea markets in North America

One of America’s largest outdoor antiques markets takes place three times a year at Brimfield in the heart of New England. This post will give you the lowdown on how to shop Brimfield like a pro.

There is something delightfully unpredictable and charming about tracking down second-hand treasures. You never know what you might find: an ancient map, a hand-embroidered pillow slip, a whale weather vane or a steamer trunk.  Three times a year, in May, July and September, the bucolic Massachusetts town of Brimfield is transformed into a sprawling circus of dealers and buyers who trade in the artifacts of times past.

The greatest antiques fair and flea market on earth

It ha...

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Photo Friday: Icy Bay in Alaska

Icy Bay in Southeast Alaska

I took this image for Photo Friday at Icy Bay, which is a remarkable landscape in Southeastern Alaska that is rarely visited because it is so inaccessible and remote.

I was lucky to fly there in a tiny three person Super Cub plane, courtesy of Ultima Thule Lodge, which is located deep inside Wrangell St. Elias National Park. We flew across the Bagley Ice Field, which is the largest non-polar ice field in North America and then flew out over Icy Bay to see hundreds of seals sunbaking on the small icebergs that dotted the bay.

Several glaciers spewed into the icy water from the ice field and their jagged blue cliff faces extended more than three kilometers across the bay. The landscape was eerily silent, except for the cries of a few large birds. That was until a chunk of ice, the size of a city skyscraper, broke off the glacier and crashed into the bay with the sound of an enormous explosion. Sensational.

If you would like to read more about my adventures in the world’s largest protect...

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