Blog | Globetrotter Dogma
The Best Place to Heal in the World?
Baltimore is a legendary brick empire that redefines urban renewal. After sliding from a manufacturing stronghold into a depression of near irrelevance, the port cities’ grand factory landscape has been reinvented into an industrial-chic hotspot. Being from this storied metropolis means being somehow connected to the water—whether it be intrepid boating, prying open seafood, or wearing nautical-inspired clothing even in winter. Locals also don’t pronounce the ‘t’ in Baltimore. A relaxed gap between north and south, the hometown of Frank Zappa and John Waters has a history as remarkable as Boston’s, and a future that won’t quit.
Downtown Baltimore’s U-shape frames a harbor that’s a showcase for colonial and modern architecture, likeable tourist attractions, including one of the most beloved aquariums in the world, and classic people watching. Water taxis ply these waters, quickly delivering passengers to various neighborhoods, all with their own trademark charm. Baltimore’s resurgence from a once grim industrial city into trendy factory ritziness reminds me of the similarly amazing metropolitan turnaround achieved in Manchester, England.
Baltimore has also always been a great place to heal. Johns Hopkins is rated as one of the best hospitals in the world, and the University of Maryland’s Trauma Center isn’t far behind. Because of these cutting-edge institutions, a significant number of international patients, and their families, visit here long term and dig in for a cure. But illness is certainly not the only reason to schedule a visit. A few suggestions…
*Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum is the official national museum for self-taught, intuitive artistry. Three renovated buildings that are themselves works of art showcase masterpieces created by artists—ranging from the homeless to neurosurgeons—who were never taught not what to do in the making of their art. Many spent decades of intense devotion to create just one work they saw as a fulfillment of a spiritual mission or personal devotion. If you crave a bit of the untamed and wild, visit avam.org.
*Wit & Wisdom, a harbor-side ultra-modern American tavern on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, has an open-air wood-fired kitchen and a hand-pulley operated grill designed by Thomas Jefferson. Its specialty is comfort food with a contemporary Eastern Seaboard twist. The upscale, roomy space—no two diners will ever bang elbows—has high ceilings and flawless service. The staff, including your waiter, gets a ‘cheat’ for each customer sharing their profile, preferences, and tendencies revealed during earlier visits. Even without a cheat-sheet, you won’t have to beg for refills of any of their hand-crafted cocktails. witandwisdombaltimore.com
*Another impressively spacious dining spot is Pazo (Galician for ‘grand house’) in Harbor East. This renovated 19th-century iron-works factory has a 65-foot ceiling, its original hulking-wood crossbeams, and huge booths that resemble two posh high-back couches facing each other. This liberating environment—rustic but plush—was once open at one end to accept backed-in freight trains that hauled out bullets and other munitions. The candlelit-style wrought-iron chandeliers and wraparound balcony adds to the wide-open but warm atmosphere. And, oh yeah, prepare for the most indulgent Euro-Mediterranean food and wine in town. pazorestaurant.com
*Aldo’s in Little Italy is fine dining without the pomp or attitude. Calm, professional servers ply an old-school parlor setting. Chef Aldo Vitale, originally a cabinet maker, spun his handiness into building the lavishly appointed dining rooms—and crafts classic southern Italian dishes. This sets the bar for Maryland’s Italian cuisine. aldositaly.com
*Baltimore’s Four Season Hotel’s (fourseasons.com/Baltimore) international ambiance is partially kindled by relatives of patients being treated at Johns Hopkins; seems Arab royalty puts this hospital high on its list. There are also guests from every corner of the world mixing with rooted East Coasters. The swankest digs in town, every detail—from the harbor view from your bed to a beguiling staff-to-guest ratio—make luxury seem natural. The hotel also has an incredible spa, whose world-class masseuses leave you wet-noodle limp. The Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore houses the largest hotel art collection in the city. Check it out here here
*Baltimore Soundstage (baltimoresoundstage.com) is a classic mid-sized downtown music venue attracting nationally touring acts; another example of a defunct factory that now rocks, literally. Right next door, PowerPlant Live! also rocks live entertainment at five bars, Rams Head Live!, and a summertime outdoor concert series.
*I usually avoid what can be deemed as tourist traps, but was presently surprised at Baltimore’s harbor-side Ripley’s Believe It or Not! I now appreciate founder Robert Ripley (1890-1949) as a world-traveling pioneer (201 countries) and ‘amateur’ anthropologist. A groundbreaking travel writer on a par with Mark Twain, his museums celebrate (way) out of the ordinary oddities, trivia, unsung heroes, and touchable interactive displays—a tribute to his dedication to collecting mind-bending news and show-and-tells from every edge of the globe. ripleys.com/baltimore
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*For more information, visit baltimore.org.
*Amtrak lands near the heart of downtown Baltimore, which is easily accessible along the northeast corridor. Once there, your feet, or inexpensive ferries (or the free Charm City Circulator) can take you pretty much everywhere. Take advantage of a special 30-percent off companion fare discount from Amtrak to save on traveling here. baltimore.org/amtrak
Ps, National Bohemian Beer, colloquially “Natty Boh,” was first brewed in Baltimore in 1885. This Bohemian-style beer’s slogan has long been “From the Land of Pleasant Living,” a tribute to the Chesapeake Bay. Ninety percent of National Bohemian sales are still in Baltimore, where it’s not uncommon to find cans served in many bars for $2. National’s president once also owned the Baltimore Orioles, making Natty Boh the “official” brew served at the ballpark in the 1960s—similar to Schaefer Beer proudly sponsoring the New York Mets in the 1970s.
The World’s Most Determined Vigilante
An Interview with Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton is the kind of guy you want around when the sh*t hits the fan—wherever that may be. I first met him when we served as contributors to the adventure travel magazine Blue, which launched in 1997. I’ve built a career as a storyteller but gladly zip it when a master like Pelton lets it rip. The feathers in his cap include finding “American Taliban” member John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan in November 2001, and his continuously updated bestselling book The World’s Most Dangerous Places. However, they only hint at this unflappable Canadian-born Californian’s lifelong mission to report about, stare down and battle the world’s evil…on the ground and face to face.
An author of seven books, as well as an extreme journalist, documentary filmmaker, show host, and raconteur, Pelton focuses on reporting conflict and interviewing military, insurgent, and political figures in war zones. His career and reputation are built on a history of entering forbidden, deadly, and otherwise no-go environments—and stirring the pot. There is no denying that Pelton is also one of the ballsiest of travel writers, sharing practical and survival information for people who work and travel in high-risk zones. He’s no stranger to humor, either.
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Q. What do hot places, while figuratively on fire, like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Liberia, Mogadishu, Iraq, and Uganda (where Pelton survived an assassination attempt) have in common?
A. They are usually unrecovered from a previous political cataclysm that might have occurred a decade or more earlier. Many of these places are so fragile that less than a dozen armed men can plunge the region into chaos.
Q. What five things should any traveler never forget to pack?
A. A passport, money, comfortable pants, Mr DP stickers and hot sauce—makes lousy food palatable, even the worst refugee camp food and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).
Q. What made you want to track down African fugitive Joseph Kony, and what do you think your chances are of finding him?
A. I have spent twenty years tracking down rebel leaders, wanted men, Jihadis and other people who didn’t want to be found. My chances are good simply because my singular goal is to locate Kony. Many of the other large programs have tangential goals and limited resources.
Q. Where is the most beautiful war or conflict zone you’ve visited?
A. Bougainville. A small island north of the Solomons where there is a smoking volcano, white beaches and beautiful people. I remember sitting on the top of the mountain, helping the late rebel leader Francis Ona try to write the national anthem. It was hard to find anything that rhymed with “Mekamui” or the holy land as they called their island. Bougainville is now open for tourists, by the way.
Q. In the heavens and hells on our globe, is there a human trait that remains constant?
A. People are curious. Ultimately they want affirmation. And they have held their fire when they see a 6’ 4” white man bound across their front lines.
Q. Can you recommend three destinations—once no-go zones—to visit that are now safe for ordinary travelers?
A. The country of Georgia has the creative and architectural aura of 1920s Paris with spectacular mountains and international intrigue thrown in. Sierra Leone in West Africa has amazing jungles in the north…and even Somaliland. Afghanistan (Bamiyan Valley) and Iraq (Kurdistan) have beautiful and safe places to explore.
Q. In order to gain access, you’ve spent an unusual amount of time living with, traveling with and documenting some of the world’s best known rebel, Jihadi, and insurgent groups in dozens of countries. From a traveling perspective, which group was the most and least entertaining?
A. The most interesting were the Chechen rebels during the 1999 war. Mostly for their bravery and unusual fighting tactics. My least favorite were the FARC rebels in Colombia who seemed to view Marxism as a way to get rich—and have sexy female bodyguards.
Q. When you were kidnapped in Colombia’s Darien Gap by AUC death squads, was your first thought: Fight, flight, or, my daughters are going to kill me?
A. My first thought was to ensure the safety of the two people who were with me. The second was that my wife is going to be pissed.
Q. I enjoyed your Men’s Journal article, “How to Stage a Coup”: You’ve met, interviewed, fought or worked with many intriguing and polarizing world figures, such as Steve Jobs, pirates, mercenaries, prisoners and high-profile killers and fugitives. What makes famous and infamous people tick?
A. Famous people are driven by a need to prove something. It’s probably something buried in their youth. Steve Jobs was an adopted kid who had to prove authority figures wrong. A very angry, unhappy man until he realized that he was one of those authority figures. Rebels are very similar on the intellectual level. I can’t tell you how many tedious, pretentious conversations I have had about revolution, Jihad, and Marxism in jungles with the overeducated and angry sons of affluent people. Whether it’s John Walker Lindh or Erik Prince, they view themselves as being above the rules of survival. It’s the same narcissist profile that the CIA and al Qaeda seeks out.
Q. What is DPx Gear?
A. I have had many people ask why I don’t make “survival gear,” so finally in 2008, I designed a survival knife called the “Hostile Environment Survival Tool” and we have never looked back. I used to be a product designer and marketing specialist, so I suppose it was inevitable. The key is: I develop our products in combat zones and design for a very narrow group of special operations, expedition, and hard use professionals.
Q. What’s next, and why?
A. Well, finding Kony is going to suck up some of my time, including a book and a film on the project. General Dostum has asked for help in getting elected in Afghanistan, and I have a new graphic novel out called Roll Hard about a month I spent in Iraq with an ill-fated Blackwater crew. I just launched a new knife design called the DPx HEAT, and I have my first fictional book called Raven (about a boy who gets lost in the Pacific Northwest and learns to survive). …And, I’m rewriting The World’s Most Dangerous Places. So, never a dull moment.
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*Pelton’s comment on the title of this story: I don’t know that I am a vigilante since I am working within legal framework on the hunt for Kony.
Wisconsin’s Bridge to Original Rock
A Steel Bridge Songfest in Wisconsin’s Vacationland?
I’m sitting on a main street barstool enjoying the regional counterculture, wedged between a long-haired musician, an organic farmer, and a baseball cap-wearing Korean War veteran. “What brings you here?” the elder vet asks. “I’m here to save the old draw-bridge,” I answer.
“This is still a working waterfront, sir,” the vet notes, adding, “We all do our part.” Obviously the joint’s Sturgeon General, he went back to his beer and I heard the sound of rock and roll that was thumping across town. Strolling toward Door County’s Steel Bridge Songfest, a crusade against callous demolition, the local organic farmer caught up with me and testified, “All food is organic until otherwise tainted—so when it remains organic that shouldn’t be big news. Inorganic foods should simply be labeled as Not Organic.” Pure Wisconsin, here I come.
Wisconsin’s geographic left-thumb is a peninsula in Lake Michigan called Door County. This pastoral vacationland—so close but so far from Milwaukee—is home to 11 historic lighthouses, the state’s trending edge for leisure, fine dining and scenery options, Green Bay Packer lore, a music festival that’s hell-bent on saving a big old bridge…and people who are actually curious when they ask, “How are you today?”
Door County’s hub, Sturgeon Bay, has a long history of boatbuilding, including being an unrivaled shipbuilding powerhouse during WWII. Named by freshwater boaters who called one if its narrow channels “death’s door,” the region still boasts two active shipyards, but is also a haven for cuisine, swank accommodation, water sports, and a taking a break from the rat race. The namesake bottom-feeding sturgeon fish may have been scared away by the building of a transit canal, but Wisconsin’s caring tastemakers are holding steady. Sturgeon Bay’s peaceful main street purrs archetypal Americana, with iconic bargain items peddled by storytellers and brews wrought by wisecrackers.
The sensibility of moving forward by honoring the way things used to be done started here in 2005, thanks to assistance from the National Trust For Historic Preservation and funds raised through the Songfest. As a result, Sturgeon Bay’s Michigan Street Bridge has been protected as a national treasure, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Her 82nd birthday was celebrated in the summer of 2013. The bridge got a long awaited rehab, including an all-new coat of paint in 2011. Since the bridge is now officially “saved,” the Songfest maintains the enduring mission to honor it as a symbol of preservation and creativity thriving together—literally. Not only is the bridge a community builder drawing greater beauty and vitality to its surroundings, it’s also a time to dance in the streets.
The Songfest’s main stage, charmingly, is perched above the parking lot of an early 1950s retro hotel—one that has as many as three recording studios. The bands performing at the Holiday Music Motel (holidaymusicmotel.com) are a musical spin-the-bottle ranging from death metal to Navajo-inspired drum-and-bass to boy bands to North Florida Swamp Blues. It gets better. A frequent festival headliner is Jackson Brown. All this in a small town?
To keep the party moving along, interim bands also perform from a balcony on the second floor of the motel. This four-day outdoor and indoor fest, where several bars and other venues thrive as music venues, seems like an unlikely music destination…but it makes festival-going easy. When the sun sets, bars in town feature motivated bands that rock into the night.
A canon of this festival is that you’ll hear only all original music. What started as a grassroots group called “the SOBs” (Save Our Bridge) 14 years ago, organized to save the historic bridge from a scheduled wrecking ball and later became Citizens for Our Bridge (CFOB), a non-profit to build public appreciation for the historic structure. The week-long celebration is now held every June in and around The Holiday Music Motel. Hundreds of songwriters and musicians from around the world, including Jackson Browne, Jane Wiedlin (Go-Go’s), local hero pat mAcdonald (Songfest creator, author of “The Future’s So Bright, I’ve Gotta Wear Shades”) and others have come to this community, written their songs, and donated their efforts. A seven-disc collection of original songs (Steel Bridge Songs, Vols.1-9) serves double-duty as a testament and a celebration.
For anyone tuned into the 1970s, you couldn’t help enjoying Jackson Browne’s musical soul taking over FM rock from coast-to-coast. Closing the festival, Browne fused his patient storytelling with a few of his telling hits to rouse the crowd, and assure us all that cozy Sturgeon Bay’s legacy of nurturing original music is moving forward, one song at a time.
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*The 2014 Steel Bridge Song Fest is June 12-15, 2014. For performance schedules and other arts-oriented information visit sbsf5.com.
*For more information on “exploring the door” visit doorcounty.com.
*steelbridgeradio.com is a locally based internet radio station broadcasting original, collaboratively written music, live concerts, and exclusive interviews with artists, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The content of this innovative creation focuses on the collective music written and recorded during songwriting retreats and festivals held at the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay. Steel Bridge Radio not only plays the music from the compilation CD’s from the previous nine years of recordings, but also delves deep into the hundreds of archived tracks that have, until now, remained silent.
Ps, this is Miller High Life country: “Miller is made from corn; Bud is made from rice.” —more factoids from tavern-chatting baseball cap-wearing war vet.
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Door County Suggestions:
Dine at Parador!, a renovated lumber baron’s house, built in 1877 in Egg Harbor, serving tapas, sangria, and fine Spanish wines. paradorwisconsin.com
The Inn at Cedar Crossing is a crafted-from-scratch restaurant and nine-room B&B. The 1884 building has been a drug store, tailor shop, soda fountain paired with a shoe store, clothing store, and dentist’s office. Today, discerning tourists chat about its presence on facebook. innatcedarcrossing.com
The Door County Coffee & Tea Company doubles as a restaurant in a country store atmosphere. doorcountycoffee.com
Stay at the sprawling Landmark Resort, located atop a bluff with panoramic water views, thelandmarkresort.com
Visit the Door County Maritime Museum, which also has an active boatbuilding shop, where these guys are not posers on display, dcmm.org
Ps, You’ll likely fly in and out of Green Bay. During a private stadium tour, I was baptized by the Lambeau Field sprinklers—hailed as an American rite-of-passage. This American church, a really big one, is a haloed stadium that’s been sold out since the 1960’s. This tallest structure in Green Bay has the highest grossing pro-shop in pro sports and is the only professional sports franchise that has stockholders. Out for a stroll nearby, I saw the sun set behind the radiant stadium. Back-lit and illuminated at dusk, I felt the awe surrounding the shrine here in Packer-Land, and took another slice of Wisconsin with me to savor back in New York City, where a speeding cab would soon challenge me to cross an intersection. Visit greenbay.com.
A country whose history is discovered in its songs
Estonia lacks military might and has always been surrounded by much larger countries with intimidating armies. Russia, Germany, and Sweden all vied for its control, creating a tug of war that lasted centuries. Inspired by the fall of the Iron Curtain, Estonia symbolically overcame its latest suppressor, the U.S.S.R., when country-wide choir jam-bands launched their Singing Revolution. Here, choirs outrank sports as a national pastime—some attracting as many as 30,000 singers. Song festival fairgrounds, with their signature bandshell arches, are everywhere.
After 50 years of Soviet repression, in August, 1989, two million Baltic citizens, including people from neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, created an unbroken 350-mile human chain linking the countries in their call for freedom. The likeminded people held hands, and changed their destiny. Estonia, where medieval meets modern, sang themselves free. Their keynote battle-charge song, “My Fatherland is My Love,” has since become their unofficial national anthem.
While in Estonia, I asked several street-strolling locals to sing for me, and true to form, they obliged. One woman sang the entire unofficial anthem as we stood on an empty street. The Baltic Singing Revolution made me wonder, what would the U.S. choose if it needed a new anthem to sing its way out of a real jam? “Won’t Back Down,” “Born in the USA,” “American Woman,” “Highway to Hell,” “Don’t Stop Believin’?”
Estonia’s national bird is the barn swallow. It’s no pin-up like the bald eagle, nor a chart-busting singer—but, aptly, a humble survivor for all seasons. Healing conflict with music, now that’s a concept.
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“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” —Willy Wonka
New York’s Catskills
Sullivan County’s Take on the Good Life
Many people lump the Catskills into one big clichéd New Yorker getaway. But each county in the legendary mountainous haven has its own persona. Sullivan County, for instance, has no shortage of vacation-option diversity, earth-sensitive culture, or natural bliss. Here are a few options that might lure you into its quiet, or not so quiet, greenery.
DANCE LIKE A HIPPIE: Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is a beautiful concert pavilion built adjacent to the site of the 1969 Woodstock music festival that attracted half a million fans. Up to 16,000 fans can enjoy the shade under the pavilion or sprawl out on acres of grass surrounded by farms and hillsides. The onsite museum—The Museum at Bethel Woods—proves that this is still ground zero for peace and love by reincarnating the legacy of the Sixties with the Woodstock concert as its beacon. The first third of the magical mystery tour sets the historical stage for the era, while the rest of inspired space uses video, relics, fashion displays, iconic pictures, sit-down theaters, and even a magic bus to transport you into the freedom-loving hippie era. Museum curator and Woodstock expert Wade Lawrence noted that for the original festival “half a million fans couldn’t make it here, so they just parked on the highway and started their own parties.” This place is memorabilia heaven for any student of alternative American history. For indoor and outdoor concert schedules, a wide variety of year-round events, and a taste of the museum’s paraphernalia, visit bethelwoodscenter.org.
FEAST: The Dancing Cat Saloon, across the street from the Bethel Woods convert pavilion, is way more than a live music joint. Its hearty cuisine is interweaved with spirits distilled right next door with local grains at Catskill Distilling. Options include Mama’s “Wicked White” Meatloaf, infused with their handcrafted, unaged Wicked White Whiskey, and “Peace” Shrimp & Clams, which is spiced up with their award-winning Peace Vodka and with a hint of everything from pastry dough to cola. The antique bar was transported from a famed haunt in New Haven, CT, and the wood theme never sleeps as carvings—including a few dancing cats—enliven the warm space. dancingcatsaloon.com and catskilldistilling.com.
STAY: Cochecton’s inviting B&B (barn & breakfast) option is the Golden Guernsey, a two-story cabin with a first floor common room, including a reading area, full kitchen, and a supply of games, classic video tapes, and books. The cozy throwback bedroom has a VCR. Chickens and turkeys roam the otherwise quiet, wooded yard area while very few cars pass by each hour. A home-cooked vegetarian breakfast is served each morning and relaxing in-room massages are available. Very close to Bethel Woods. thegoldenguernsey.com.
Villa Roma is a classic, everyone-welcome Catskills resort with an all-inclusive camp atmosphere. The sprawling hotel and timeshare campus (near Callicoon) has something for everyone including nightly family night activities and live music options. The five-course meals served in a dressed-down banquet-like environment is further colored by the friendly international staff. villaroma.com
SPLASH: The Delaware River is the spine of the Catskills and a great place to tube, kayak, and canoe. Contact Lander’s River Trips, 800 252 3925 or landersrivertrips.com.
HIKE: Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor is the Catskills hiking and nature-loving nerve center. This informed hiking retailer takes environmental awareness and mountain climbing advice to another level. The top-shelf gear, clothing, and footwear is matched by an array of maps and guidebooks. Owner Lisa Lyons—“When in doubt, go out!”—should be appointed to our national conservation board. morgan-outdoors.com.
For more information on Sullivan County visit scva.net.
For city folks, consider taking the Shortline bus (coachusa.com) from the Port Authority to Liberty, NY and renting a car via Sam’s. samstowingworld.com (click to Hertz site).
Ps, Narrowsburg, a quaint Pennsylvania-bordering village has an annual Riverfest, featuring bands, local cuisine, and reminders that we all share this planet. artsaliancesite.org.
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My Catskills highlight: At the impressive concert pavilion in Bethel Woods, N.Y., on the site of the 1969 Woodstock music festival, I witnessed an overpowering Bad Company show. I managed a photo pit pass for the first four songs, and uh, sorta forgot to snap. Ten feet from singer Paul Rodgers and guitar legend Mick Ralphs, I couldn’t help but just rock it, dancing in the aisles as they say. The career concert photogs looked at me like I was a hack. I did manage a few pics (above). I also got curious looks from the band. I think they were thinking ‘who brought the dancing guy into the photo pit?’
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