Aspen Times Weekly: The Great (Offseason) Escape

Perfect tropical island paradise beach
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FOR MANY ASPENITES, offseason is a reason to escape the mountains — for the beach, to the city, on an adventure. In honor of this annual pilgrimage, we’re reminiscing about the places we’ve been, are going or want to be in the coming weeks. Bon Voyage!

Napa and Walla Walla for harvest last month; New Orleans and Boston this month for Cowboys versus Saints and Broncos versus Patriots. Sports and wine.

– Kelly J. Hayes

Any place by or in the
water, where one could
have tons of sunshine,
warm weather and eat
lobster, shrimp, clams,
oysters and the like.
— Dottie Wolcott

Last fall offseason, I went to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for 10 days during the Day of the Dead festivities. I attended a writing workshop with Laura Fraser, an author I met at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Summer Words conference just months before. San Miguel is a high-altitude (7,000-feet) artistic community with rich history and a laid-back vibe —sort of like Aspen. What’s really bizarre is that while I was down there, I met a bunch of American ex-pats at a margarita competition (where I won a bottle of mezcal and found my photo in the local newspaper soon after). They invited me to a party at their home high in the hills overlooking the city — and about half of them had lived in Aspen at some point. Small world!

— Amanda Rae

Yellowstone National Park is always busy, but some times are more tolerable than others.

As much as I love the park, I wouldn’t be caught dead there from late June through Labor Day weekend because of the crowds. I planned a trip for mid-September nine months in advance thinking it would be a good time to travel since families would be weeded out with the resumption of school. It was still busy with retirees and foreign visitors, but very manageable.

As with any time at Yellowstone, when you wander away from the roadside attractions — of which there are many and most are spectacular — you are rewarded. We hiked through landscapes as varied as thousands of charred tree trunks left over from the 1988 fire to dense, healthy forest that made you walk with your finger on the trigger of the bear spray. We watched geysers, marveled at mud pots and got light-headed from hanging too closure to stinky sulphur springs.

My favorite time was walking off trail in Hayden Valley, finding a grassy knoll and observing with powerful binoculars. We found ourselves in the middle of a triangle, with three buffalo herds of 30 to 60 bison each, forming the three points. They are magnificent creatures and a symbol of American resilience.

— Scott Condon

I had the pleasure of spending my final three credits of college in Sydney, Australia. If you ever get the chance to make the 20-hour flight (15 from Los Angeles), take it. Enjoy a pint at Fortune of War, the oldest pub in town, where London’s ex-convicts and outcasts quenched their thirsts in the late 1800s. Check out wine country in the Blue Mountains (about an hour’s drive from Sydney), where you can hike to the famed Three Sisters rock formation. Finally, take the bus to Sydney Harbour and view the Sydney Opera House, an architectural triumph and staple of Australian identity. A great time to visit is January, during the Sydney Arts Festival.

— Karl Herchenroeder

I grew up a few miles from New York City, which I understood then to mean Manhattan. There were sporting events in the outer boroughs, but Queens and the Bronx were not a place to linger. You saw the game, then made a beeline for the real city — Midtown, Greenwich Village, Chinatown. Manhattan neighborhoods all.

I’m spending Thanksgiving week Back East, which will inevitably mean a few precious moments in New York — small, funky, great restaurants near my sister’s Soho loft, hopefully a visit to Broadway to see “The Book of Mormon.”

But these days, if I had time and my druthers, I’d spend my NYC time on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the 21 years since I moved from the area, Brooklyn has emerged. I’d pass on Times Square for a show at the Brooklyn Academy, check out a concert at Brooklyn Bowl and a Nets game at the Barclays Center, stroll the hip neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Park Slope. I’d tear myself away from the Carnegie Deli in favor of pizza places like Di Fara and Franny’s.

Oddly, Brooklyn has become what I think of when I think of New York.

— Stewart Oksenhorn

Though I am no longer a resident of uptown New Orleans, every year or so I go back and play the role of “tourist on a budget.” There’s a lot to do there and it doesn’t always cost a lot of money. Plus, November is an excellent time, weather-wise, to visit the normally hot and balmy Crescent City. It’s typically sunny, dry and mild.

For starters, there is an excellent lunch at The Bulldog, a popular beer tavern in the 3200 block of Magazine Street. Robert Wayne Remington, the head chef, provides scrumptious meals for a great price. Some of it is standard bar fare — Rem’s cheeseburgers will blow your mind. But the waffle cheese fries and crawfish banditos present a unique offering. Add to that a vast array of draught beers (more than 50) and outdoor seating, and one can see how the Bulldog is a great way to kick off the day.

In the same area of Magazine Street, there is a vast array of antique and consignment shops representing prime window-shopping. Several other restaurants and bars line a four-block area. The Rendezvous Tavern, Joey K’s restaurant and The Balcony Bar are popular and affordable stops.

At night, live music is king. Le Bon Temps Roule, farther up Magazine Street in the 4800 block, has regular offerings of brass and roots-rock bands, usually for a nominal cover charge ($5). The Maple Leaf club, a short cab ride away on Oak Street (at the western end of St. Charles Avenue), provides live music more frequently and usually of a higher caliber, with emphasis on down-home funk. If it’s crowded, prepare to sweat quite a bit at both clubs while shaking it up on the dance floor, no matter what time of year. A cover charge at The Maple Leaf typically runs about $10 to $20, depending on the band.

Lodging in the uptown area can be cheap or moderately priced. My suggestion is to check the website Air B&B for the best deals. Last year I was able to get five nights in a two-bed condo on the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar line for about $400.

— Andre Salvail

Dream trip: A return visit to the Timbers Castello di Casole in Tuscany during November truffle season. I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting there once before, but not since the hotel was completed. Stunning views. Incredible food. Near Florence and surrounded by a nature preserve. Not to mention, it is a Carbondale-based Timbers Resort property.

— Amiee White Beazley

Giving globally: Explore, and Give Back, with Donor Travel

Why do we travel? It’s a question with so many answers that it almost seems unanswerable. To see, to explore, to immerse, to submerge, to recreate. The need to step beyond one’s own borders is different for every traveler. For some, the need to travel is to connect, with different people that perhaps they as of yet have no connection; for others, it is a desire to meet, see and experience the world with people with whom the connection has already been made.

And now, there is a new kind of travel happening beyond volunteerism and educational travel — philanthropic or donor travel. Donor travel is a way to let those who support a cause see firsthand how their efforts benefit the communities that they support.

Elevate Destinations specializes in donor travel. They partner with organizations to customize travel itineraries for nonprofit clients addressing global initiatives. Elevate was started eight years ago by Dominique Callimanopulos, whose desire was to be able to contribute to the world by allowing people to see it in a sustainable, responsible and impactful way, according to Elevate’s director of program development, Andrea Atkinson.

The donor travel program has evolved out of the successful eco-tourism and volunteer travel programs that Elevate also offers. For donor travel, Elevate provides its services to nonprofits at no cost. They help plan the donor’s journeys and often lead them, with hopes the success of the trip will turn into dollars for the nonprofit host.

“Donors to nonprofits like to visit sites in different places around the world that they work in,” Atkinson explains. “It becomes an extra opportunity to create impact for donors, and creates lasting relationships within the groups, and connections to the locations and the people they are serving.”

Atkinson tells of an all-women’s trip to Colombia with Global Fund for Women. Elevate took 12 of the fund’s donors and explored projects from Cartagena up into the Guajira region into small cities and towns.

“It was eye-opening for a lot of the people on the trip,” Atkinson says. “They were able to meet people who they provide funding for, and see that their money was being invested in real, tangible work, and that the work being done was affecting someone. Having those connections makes it feel real.”

In turn, these donor trips often bring more funding to the project thanks to that firsthand connection to those communities. And perhaps more important, five percent of the net costs of all trips also go to nonprofit partners in the destinations visited.

“Donors are always looking for a return on their investment in the form of impact — there’s nothing better than that,” she says. “To go there and to see what is really there, what is really happening, is invaluable.”

“At Elevate the big thing for us is awareness and generating understanding and conversations between cultures,” says Atkinson. “What is this ‘travel’ thing that we do? At the end of the day it is about connecting with the world and the people in it, understanding who the ‘other’ is and discovering this world is that we’re all a part of. We want to get people to have conversations and collaborations and come together and see for themselves some of the amazing things that come out of that.”

– Amiee White Beazley

Youth Movement: Aspen Sister Cities creates cultural connections for middle-schoolers

BACK IN THE DAY, OFFSEASONS were a time for road trips — Moab, Mammoth, Baja. Just last fall, we were lucky enough to spend nearly two weeks in Maui, Hawaii…a true slice of paradise. But this offseason was different; I traveled vicariously, as my daughter — and a handful of other Aspen eighth-graders — hopped on a plane for two weeks abroad.

Indeed, their tales of travel are as spectacular as any trip I’ve ever taken. Looking at Hannah’s pictures, I can taste the gelato, hear the accents, smell the Tuscan air, see The Duomo and Michelangelo’s David.

The experience was part of the Aspen Sister Cities Exchange Program. This year, Aspen students will travel to four far-flung mountain locales: Abetone, Italy; Shimukappu, Japan; Chamonix, France; and Bariloche, Argentina. Students from those towns will in turn visit Aspen; a group from Bariloche has already come and gone.

My daughter was one of eight students from Aspen Middle School, Aspen Community School and Aspen Country Day School on the inaugural trip to Abetone, Italy. Once there (after a plane trip unlike any most of the kids had every taken), they attended school; toured places like Florence and Pisa; and lived with an Italian family. In January, the Aspen students and their families will play host to the Italian students.

The Aspen Sister Cities website says the program’s mission is to “share ideas and cultures;” it continues on to stay that the student exchange component has made “life changing differences” for the kids and formed “lifelong friendships.”

If these first few weeks back home are any indication, they’ve hit the nail on the head.

Travel, I know from my own experiences, teaches you in a way no textbook or teacher ever can. I recognize this in my daughter as she tells and re-tells stories from her trip. It is amazing to live in her shoes for a moment.

So while I did not get the pleasure of an offseason escape this fall, I feel like I have had the experience of a lifetime. Sometimes, traveling to another world can happen without even leaving Aspen.

But don’t get me wrong — next year, my passport is getting stamped, too.

– Jeanne McGovern

Times Travel

So where do folks who toil at The Aspen Times plan to spend these final weeks of offseason — or, perhaps more accurately, where do we dream of traveling? A completely unscientific poll turned up these destinations, both close to home and far, far away. You guess which ones fall into the “dream” category.

• Nicaragua for surfing

• Livingston, Mont.

• San Francisco

• Fort Lauderdale

• Turkey

• Canyonlands

• Glenwood Hot Springs Pool

• Mexico

• Fruita

• Grand Junction

• Moab

• Sanabelle and Captiva Islands

• Maui

• Denver

• Paris