NEW HAMPSHIRE—Presidential Primaries, Sightseeing, Skiing, and Summer Fun

by Judith Fein

When I was a child, living in New York City, my family loaded themselves and their belongings into a car every August and headed for New Hampshire. There was never any question about going somewhere else; we had allergies and Bethlehem, New Hampshire had no pollen. In a fit of hopeless nostalgia, I decided to go back this past summer, to see if I could find the locus of the sneeze-free bungalow colony where we stayed. And, being a travel addict, I decided to check out what else there is to see in New Hampshire with 10 days, a car, and a desire for culture, charm, a foodie infusion, local attractions, art, nature, and quirk. 


I discovered that New Hampshire is a year-round destination: Fall foliage viewing, skiing, and Presidential primary candidate viewing that starts in the Winter, and touring and hiking in the Summer. 

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12 SURPRISING THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT SLAVERY IN LOUISIANA

by Judith Fein

Around the world, viewers and readers are transfixed by the racism dialogue that has transformed from a whisper to a scream in America. It took atrocities, murders, abuse to reach the point where black Americans are being heard. They are refusing to take it any more.

And in my heart, I think the roots of this racism are in slavery. I thought I had a basic grasp of the subject until I went to Louisiana and discovered 12 surprising—sometimes shocking--things I learned that I wanted to share with you.  

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What’s Adventure Travel Anyway?

by Judith Fein.

Photography by Paul Ross

Not too long ago, I was sitting in the waiting area of a hair salon, indulging in a guilty pleasure—reading trashy magazines. I skipped over the plunging necklines of movie stars I’ve never heard of,  bounced over an article or two about how to hook your man like a flounder, and my eyes settled on a pop quiz: how is your fitness level?

Treadmill? Yes, ma’am. 

Do you go to the gym twice or more a week? Check.

Is walking part of your daily routine? You bet. I walk at least 75 minutes a day in the hills and arroyos (river beds) around my home. 

Swim? Uh huh.

Hula hoop? Love it.

Tai chi? I’m there.

Yoga? Kundalini style. 

Biking? Nope. Hurts my butt.

Hiking? Well, if I can go really slowly on ascent.

Mountain climbing? Next life.

White water rafting? Sure, if it’s class 2 or under. 

Paragliding? I like to watch it. Does that count? 

I stopped the quiz and scrolled down to the results, which informed me that I am probably fit, but not an adventurer.

So, I wondered, does that mean I’m unqualified for adventure travel? And then my always-active mind skipped to: what is adventure travel anyway? 

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Tunisia: Beyond the Revolution

 

The Arab spring has sprung, and now it's the Arab summer. In country after country, people buoyed by bravery and relentless in their quest for freedom are taking to the streets. No clubs, bullets, camels, water cannons, machine guns, tanks, helicopter gunships, grenades or missiles can stop them. They want governments that are responsive to them, jobs, opportunities, unfettered speech.

I had seen images of them in the media but I wanted to rub elbows with the courageous, and listen to what they had to say. I got on a plane and flew to Tunisia, where the revolution was victorious, the ruthless dictator Ben Ali was overthrown, and the population is engaged in a remarkable experience in democracy. Come with me to north Africa, and get a glimpse into the little country that could.

 

Read the full story in my recent article, Revolutionary Travel, on the Huffington Post. 

photo by Paul Ross.  

 

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TUNISIA: How I Dipped A Toe In The Revolution

by Judith Fein

 

The last time Americans were riveted to a foreign square, it was Tiananmen, and the year was 1989. Anti-government demonstrators –mostly students and intellectuals--wanting more democracy and less autocracy filled the square in Bejing.  Other protests erupted around the People’s Republic of China. In a show of force the T.V. audience will never forget, government tanks rolled into the square and gunned down thousands of demonstrators. Tiananmen Square went silent, and the subject of the massacre is still taboo in China.

This time, all eyes were on Egypt and Tahrir Square. Once again, young protestors defiantly showed their opposition to the government and demanded that Hosni Mubarak pack up his toys of dictatorship and leave Egypt. But Mubarak played by his own rules, and when his trifling concessions were rejected, when even his offer not to run again was scorned, he pulled a Tiananmen—sending in his heavy guns to shoot indiscriminately into the crowd.

photo by Peta-de-Aztlan via flickr common license

The protestors refused to buckle, and the Egyptian nation mourned its innocent dead who were assassinated for demanding freedom. The world watched and wept and then rejoiced with them.

The ignition key to revolution was turned on by tiny Tunisia, in North Africa. The protestors upended the 23-year reign of autocrat Ben Ali, drove him into exile and exacted the dissolution of his corrupt RCD party. In a rapid move toward democracy, Ben Ali’s minions were fired or resigned, and the young people exulted in what, for many, was the first freedom they had known in their lives.

The cost of this revolution was high: as many as two hundred young lives were snuffed out. And, in a country of 10 million, everyone was affected by this horrible loss of life. There is mass mourning for the deaths, and the victims are considered martyrs to the cause of freedom.

Tunisia is one of my favorite countries in the world. I have been there seven times, lived there for 6 months when I was making two films with my husband, and have a deep and abiding affection for the gentle, kind, extremely generous Tunisians.

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TUNISIA AFTER THE REVOLUTION: Why you will want to go

words by Judith Feinphotography by Paul Ross

 

I am  in love...with Tunisia. When I close my eyes and think about the kindness, hospitality and open-heartedness of the Tunisian people, I want to jump on a plane and go back. I've been to Tunisia seven times, lived there for six months, made two films about the country. But I hardly expected what has happened over the last week: there has been a grass-roots revolution.  The Tunisian people have risen up against their tyrannical leader, and said no to repression. They have risked their lives in their fight for freedom. 

In my lifetime, the Solidarity movement in Poland catapulted to power. The Berlin wall fell. The Soviet Union fell apart. And now, in a small Arab Muslim nation in North Africa, a despot has been deposed and the people are demanding democracy. 

READ why I think the revolution and the country should be on your radar in my RECENT ARTICLE FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST

And maybe, this year, if the stars are aligned correctly, you'll JOIN ME FOR A TRIP to the new Tunisia.  If you're game, drop me an email

 

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Pledge of Peace

by Judith Fein

 

There’s this organ in the middle of my chest that obliges me every second of every day by beating. It can be wounded, disarmed and stunned, but it keeps on doing its job. And it only asks me for one thing in return: “stay open,” it whispers. “Just stay open.”

photo by wiccked via flickr common licenseMaybe at one point in time it was a real effort. I think I recall suspicions I harbored and some swirling fears. But, over the years, my heart does its job and I do mine. It beats, I stay open. Not all the time—because there are hurts that catch me off guard and cause me to recoil—but, as a rule, I stay exposed in life.

The risk, as you can imagine, is pain. The reward is pleasure, connection, and the ability to feel freely. I have weighed risk and reward and come down on the side of the latter.

My heart and I have traveled widely, and when someone asks me what my favorite country is I generally answer, “the last one I visited.” I am moved by the generosity, quirkiness and depth of the people I meet on the road. I love their cultures and customs and the unique way they navigate life.

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Searching for Vikings in Norway

by Judith Fein

I wish I could climb into a time machine and be catapulted back to the Viking period between 793 and 1066 A.D. I don’t care for the raiding and pillaging but I have been to L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland twice (the only authenticated Viking site in North America), I have held my breath as I read the Iceland sagas, and I know these hunting and planting people were resilient, artistic and resourceful; the women had power and prestige, and their governance was of the democratic variety. They wrote on rune stones, were brilliant ship builders and goldsmiths. They drank mead from horns, braved the cold and produced mighty sorcerers.

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

Last month, I went to Norway on the trail of the Vikings; actually, I felt as though I were in Viking school.  At the archeological museum in Stavanger, I learned that the Vikings probably practiced a form of yoga and that diverse elements in nature like swimming birds and halibut were thought to help the sun on its daily journey. They believed in night ships that went into the water and the dark earth at night, and day ships that came up again in daytime.

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Powerpointless

by Judith Fein

 

I have just figured out how to save a lot of money: I will never again knowingly drive, fly, train, boat, bicycle or walk to a conference or talk where the speaker uses Powerpoint.

illustration by Austin Kleon via Flickr (commons license)I don’t know the origin of Powerpoint, and I could goggle it if I wished to, but I don’t care. This is how I think it began: some decades ago, teachers used transparency gels with factoids and bullet points. They were projected onto a screen and the teacher read the words aloud to students who promptly became comatose. One of my friends blames those gels for his dropping out of college. Years later, someone read a lot of studies, or maybe one key, antiquated study, that dealt with how people learn. The bottom line, according to said study, was that people learn, absorb and retain information through repetition. Furthermore, I imagine, the process is enhanced if the same information is imparted to the learner simultaneously through different delivery systems.

That was when Powerpoint emerged from the womb of ideas, gave its first mewl, and started to develop and grow. It may have been cute as a baby and seductive as a teen, but it is boring and enervating as an adult. Now I metaphorically puke when I hear the word “Powerpoint.”

 

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The Spirit and Spirits of Portugal

by Judith Fein

[more from our SPOTLIGHT ON PORTUGAL series this week... ]

photo by erin-thérèse via flickr (common license)Do you believe in miracles? How else can you account for what happened in a field in central Portugal on May 13, 1917, when three shepherd children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary? Purportedly, she told the awe-struck kids that she would appear at the same spot on the l3th of the five following consecutive months. According to believers, up to 70,000 witnesses beheld a miraculous apparition on the 13th day of the last month. Go to Fatima yourself to see if you are uplifted, transported, or merely interested. It’s about one and a half hours from Lisbon by train. The three children are buried in the sanctuary, and in one outdoor area the faithful light long beeswax candles that intertwine as they melt and carry prayers to heaven. Be sure to visit the museum, where Marians from around the world—including Pope John Paul—have left objects that are precious and significant to them.  The latter even donated the bullet that was used by the man who tried to assassinate him. He believed that the Virgin of Fatima saved him.

Perhaps, while you’re in Portugal, you’ll want to find out about the secret Jews in the mountains of central Portugal who were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition.  After half a millennium of hiding their identity, they finally came out. In Belmonte, where a museum tells the story and shows the artifacts, you’ll be swept into a world where people clung to their religion in the face of great danger and, in the end, faith triumphed over oppression. There is also a synagogue, and you may be fortunate enough to meet some of the Belmonte Jews. When they decided to publicly claim their heritage and faith—about twenty years ago-- the story captivated people round the world, and now Belmonte is one of the top stops in the region for visitors of all religions.

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A Journey Through Hallowed Ground

by Judith Fein

Photos and slideshow by Paul Ross


When I was a kid, studying American history was about as appealing as a trip to the dentist. In school, we had to memorize names and dates and to this day, I still have PTSD (post teacher stress disorder) when I rattle off monikers like Black Jack Pershing, Old Hickory, The Rail Splitter, The Rough Rider and Old Buck.

A few weeks ago, I went on the newly-established Journey Through Hallowed Ground-- that spans Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, and extends roughly from Gettysburg to Monticello--and I learned more in 11 days and 180 miles than I did in all my schooling. Best of all, I have –for the first time in my life--retained what I learned. Ask me a question about Thomas Jefferson. Or James Madison. Or George C. Marshall. Go ahead. Ask me. (Disclosure: This is pretentious, authorial braggadocio.)

 

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

If you had told me that I, a pacifist, would be fascinated at Manassas (in the North, it’s known as Bull Run), where the first major battle of the Civil War took place, I would have keeled over in disbelief. But I was both horrified and fascinated.  It was everything that textbook learning wasn’t: alive, vital and real.  I learned that it took 6 horses to schlepp one canon onto the battlefield, and that the poor schleppers made inviting targets. Even more inviting were the soldiers themselves, who --in classic Napoleonic fashion-- lined up abreast in successive rows to advance, face-on, into close quarter cannon fire. Apparently, the guns weren’t very accurate, but still—marching towards the unforgiving maws of heavy artillery? There was a whole vocabulary around the weaponry—like “worm” (used for cleaning the bore and packing charges), “going into battery”(placing guns into firing position) and “sponge bucket” (which held water for wetting the sponge-rammer). 

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My Furry Valentine

by Judith Fein

 

As the holiday of hearts approaches, you’re probably thinking long-stemmed roses served on a breakfast tray in a 5-star hotel. Then, hmmm….snuggling, doing the love thang, champagne, chocolate, doing the love thang again, bundling up for a hand-holding stroll, dinner, a show and home again.  The odds are slim that your amorous thoughts turn to things that creep and crawl and fly.  But what if Cupid inspired you to do just that—think of animals for Valentine’s Day? One equatorial word immediately leaps to the lips: Galapagos.

So how, you wonder, can blue-footed boobies compete with bubbly and sinking your fork into a one-pound crustacean swimming in garlic butter on your plate?

The great Galapagean secret is that it’s no longer an either-or proposition. The entire crew of a ship can pamper you and your honey while you float toward the remote islands that young Charles Darwin visited in 1835. It’s no wonder it took him five years to collect his thoughts and formulate his theory of Evolution and survival of the fittest.  Poor Charley had to recover from his years on board the Beagle, where he suffered continually from the agony of sea-sickness. Although your cruise may not result in a great scientific breakthrough, your ship will be stabilized, you will not be tossing your petit fours, and you will be in the mood for unusual forms of aquatic and terrestrial love.

My husband, who is a thoroughbred romantic, booked us in a deluxe room on the l00-passenger Explorer II.  I had visions of walking single-file down a dark, narrow, creaking corridor and ducking into a stateroom with a metal floor and a Murphy bed.  Ah, how little I trusted my Valentine. The corridors were broader than some state roads, and the doors all shone with mahogany finishes.  Our room was carpeted, had real drapery, a huge bed, a video console, chocolates on our pillows, and—was I dreaming?—the room steward made up the room at least three times a day.  Before bed, he twisted  our yellow beach towels into the shapes of different Galapagos animals.  I think my fave was the turtle with mints for eyes.

I’ll concede that it’s not love-inducing to get up at 6:45 a.m. every morning, but you have to take a ponga (a motorized skiff) to shore to greet the fauna before they go food-hunting.  The upside is that there are several breaks during the day when you can slip off into your stateroom for a quickie, and everyone is too busy talking about the animals they’ve just seen to notice.

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Nightmare on Craig’s List

by Judith Fein

 

I love Craig’s List. I really do. It has transformed the way we advertise, buy, sell and think about transactions. It’s beautiful. It’s free. I have used it so many times that I refer to the founder as Craigie. But, like the little girl with the curl, when the list is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad…well, you know.

My Craigie episode started a few months ago when my husband and I decided we desperately needed a vacation. Truth be told, I am not sure we’ve ever taken a vacation. As travel journalists and photographers, we’re always writing, shooting, taking notes and stumbling over stories, even when we don’t mean to.

But this time it was different. We were burned out from having our eyeballs glued to our computers l5 hours a day, meeting deadlines, emailing, researching. We looked at each other, and, in that silent way we sometimes communicate when we are not yakking or yukking, we knew we had to stop. For a full month.

I went to Craigie, of course, and typed in the name of a beach community in California.

There it was: the little bungalow that was waiting for us, half a block from the ocean.

It was, according to the owner, small, clean, with a spacious backyard where we could hang, escape the winter, and drink margaritas. For me, it was a done deal.

It took several weeks to get a contract. Turns out the dude who advertised with Craigie wasn’t the owner, but the renter, and this was a sublease. Fine. Also, he was doing some mysterious work or traveling in Asia and was hard to contact. Okay. His friend was handling the rental. Fine. When you have the prospect of being half a block from the ocean, you’re willing to put up with a lot. At least I am.

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How to Survive a Family Visit

by Judith Fein

If you are one of those lucky people whose family gets along superbly, who looks forward to flying or driving to visit family on holidays or special occasions, who can’t wait until the family gets together again, who slid out of the birth canal into a functional family, then stop reading--this article is definitely not for you.

If, on the other hand, you start popping Valium, drinking vodka or meditating obsessively two weeks before you have to go home (or wherever your family convenes), then, by all means, read on. 

Let’s face it, there are only two ways to think about family. Either you are born into one as an accident of fate (God’s divine sense of humor), or you mystically “chose” the family you were to plop into so that you could learn spiritual lessons. There may actually be a third possibility—that you are paying back some awful karma for unspeakable acts committed in a prior lifetime.

Whatever the case, you have been exposed to some or all of the events below when you grew up with or visited your family as an adult.

 

1) Screaming that could revive the dead and make them long for the peace of the grave

2) Heart-rending sobbing that would cause Caligula to weep

3) Spouses or significant others who stare into their dinner plates to avoid getting sucked into the black hole of rehashed drama

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VACATIONS ARE A NECESSITY, NOT A LUXURY

by Judith Fein

Some people I know, when they are really stressed out, take an afternoon, evening or full day off. The next day, they are back to work. Others kick it for a weekend, and then dive back into the daily routine on Monday morning. I’m flipping through my mental rolodex of friends, associates and family and, to my horror, I realize that I don’t know anyone who really takes vacations.

“What?” you say. “I take vacations. I went white water rafting on the Snake River in Idaho for five days. And last year I spent six in Kauai, hiking and snorkeling.”

I am sorry, amigos, but five or six days are a break, an experience, a change of scene and pace, but not a real vacation.

A real vacation is at least two weeks. And even better is a month. This is a startling idea in the U.S.A., where most people are afraid to take off more than a long weekend because they may lose their jobs. This means we are certifiably nuts in the U.S.A.  Are we born to work, stress, eat, shop, have sex and then croak? Will we actually take our cell phones and laptops with us to the grave, so we can check the headlines on After Life News or shoot off one last post-mortem tweet?

Talk to people from Europe (they will call it “holidays” and not “vacation” in Britain, but I swear it means the same thing).  Ask folks from South America. They get time off from work. Off from work. Not a few days here and there where their nervous systems hardly have a chance for a good yawn, and certainly not a real rest.

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Trip Tips for Coming Home

by Judith Fein

The worst part of travel isn’t the security checkpoints with prison-issue wands, puffs of air blowing in your face or gloved agents pawing through your belongings. It’s not the airline seats with their lumbar supports that spear your spine or the $2.25 you pay for a small bottle of filtered tap water at airport restaurants.  It’s not the jetlag—which can be so brutal that your left foot doesn’t know where your right foot is walking—or the suitcase that vanished with the travel clothes, gadgets and gear you have spent half a decade assembling.

The worst part of travel is actually coming home. One day you are in Peru, gaping at Machu Picchu or in Quebec City, learning about why the English and the French both coveted the area. Maybe you’ve been cycling in Italy, trekking in Nepal, cruising down the Nile in Egypt, or sauna hopping in Finland. The next day, you open the door to your digs and…chaos.

The answering machine is blinking, there are hundreds or thousands of emails, the snail mail spills over the edge of a huge tub and stares at you from the floor.  There are bills to be paid, deadlines to be met, appointments to be kept. Your hair needs new highlights, your car is due for servicing, there’s a leak in your office, you forgot to send your sister-in-law a birthday gift. The exotic fades as you slip into the quotidian and start trouble-shooting, catching up, returning calls, and squirming in the dentist’s chair.  Hooray! You are home.

I have not yet figured out how to make homecoming a celebration.  But I have a few tips if you are as overwhelmed as I am when you step over your own welcome mat.

1) Even if you are committed to NOT being wired when you travel, try to check your email at least once before the big return.

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Look North, America

by Judith Fein

A few days ago, my husband Paul and I took a water taxi to Norris Point, in Newfoundland, and tried to get a cab to go to the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse, where a rug hooking class was taking place. The taxis were busy, the class was starting, and I asked a man who was walking toward his car if he could give us a lift. “Of course,” he beamed. He had four people in his small vehicle, and they all scrunched and squeezed to make room for us. Then they insisted on taking us to a lookout point before dropping us off at the lighthouse.

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

View in Photo Gallery

An isolated incident of kindness? Hardly. In Nova Scotia locals welcomed us into their houses. On the island of Quirpon, Newfoundland, the owner of the lighthouse handed me a book ten minutes after I mentioned that I was interested in a subject. On Moose Factory island, our Cree guide Phil invited us to his camp and cooked us dinner. In Toronto, our guide added two extra hours to a tour after we showed interest in the booming art scene. In Montreal, we were invited to tea at a woman’s home.  In an Inuit community, a woman asked if we wanted to see how she lived and visit her home.

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American ambassadors in Arab lands

 by Judith Fein

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

View in Photo Gallery

 

“What country you from?” two young men shouted at me from the stalls where they sold clothing.

“United States,” I answered.

“America! We love America!” they replied, grinning broadly.

The stalls were in the souk in Aleppo, and Aleppo, which has been inhabited by our species since the llth century B.C., is in northern Syria. Yes, an Arab country. Where cautious Americans are not supposed to go.

In Damascus, the capital, I was picking food from a sumptuous buffet and piling it on my china plate when the restaurant owner approached me.

“Where do you come from?” he asked.

“The United States,” I said. “And it’s my birthday today. This is my celebration.”

“Your birthday? Come with me, please.”

I followed him over to a large, standing, locked glass showcase which displayed jewelry and antiquities. He unlocked the case and withdrew a stone.

“Here, for you,” he said. “It’s a rock from the moon. May you have a wonderful day.”

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