Archive for the ‘Road travel’ Category

Bicycling just beyond New York City

July 12, 2014

Thanks to Adventure Cycling’s “Bike Bits,” an electronic newsletter filled with tidbits for folks who love bicycle touring and sightseeing-oriented riding, I learned about a couple starting up overnight bike/camping tours from New York City. The three-day outings are geared toward city-dwellers, but anyone can participate. They make things as easy as possible for newbies, which I think is key. If I hadn’t had my pal Alice Charkes, a long-time Adventure Cycling leader, showing me the ropes almost 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have tried bike touring. Thank you, Al!

I thought Gotham Bicycle Tours would be a great item for In Transit, the New York Times online and print travel feature I regularly contribute to. My editor agreed, and here’s my little item, which ran in June:

By Diane Daniel

Lukas Herbert takes a break during a bike ride through the Harlem Valley. The route is now part of the the Hudson Valley tour. (NOTE: this was taken a few years ago before the tours). Photo by Eric Wilson

Lukas Herbert takes a break during a bike ride through Harlem Valley, part of the Hudson Valley tour. Photo by Eric Wilson

As passionate cyclists and campers, Bronx residents Lukas Herbert and Laura Willis have introduced friends to their avocation and hope to see their fellow city riders discover the joys of multiple-day bicycle touring. But they know an impediment exists.

“While bike riding is becoming hugely popular here, a lot of people do not have access to personal vehicles, which poses a major obstacle for doing a bike tour,” Mr. Herbert said in an email.

Enter Gotham Bicycle Tours, which the couple started this spring to offer three-day, two-night bike tours just outside the New York City metro region.

“Fortunately, we have a mass transit system that permits bikes, so we are setting up these tours with 100 percent access to mass transit,” said Mr. Herbert, an urban planner with Westchester County, specializing in bicycle and pedestrian work.

“The idea is to remove as many barriers as possible to get people out on a bike overnight,” he said. “Then, if they do our tours, maybe they’ll graduate to a bigger, longer tour or strike out on their own. Regardless, the goal is to increase bike traveling, which is a good thing.”

Some of the cycling will be on car-free paths, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Photo by Lukas Herbert

Some of the cycling will be on car-free paths, including the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Photo by Lukas Herbert

Four tours are scheduled, two that traverse the Hudson Valley ($275 a person) and two along eastern Long Island and out to Montauk ($295 a person). The trips start at commuter rail stops outside the city.

Aside from not doing the actual pedaling, Gotham is making the outing as easy as possible for travelers by mapping scenic routes, planning meals and arranging accommodations (bed-and-breakfast options are sometimes available for noncampers).

Gotham staff will shuttle riders’ gear and even the cyclists themselves if they get too tired. Technical assistance is available for everything from a flat tire to tent setup (tent rentals are available too).

What if you try it but you still don’t like it? Push the “panic button” and Gotham promises to put you back on a train or bus to return home.

The dish on visiting Replacements in NC

May 24, 2014

I’d always wanted to do a story on Replacements, but had no idea it would be sooooo much fun! Here’s my article, which originally ran in the Washington Post on April 27, 2014, and has since been reprinted in several other newspapers. Details for visiting are below the story. The kicker: I was cleaning out the basement after this ran and discovered yet another box of inherited crystal, worth enough money to warrant a return visit. This time I’m making a point of meeting owner Bob Page. Can’t wait!

By Diane Daniel

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

When Laurie Oliver, running the sellers’ counter at Replacements, Ltd., said that it might take 90 minutes to process my six plastic tubs of china, silver and crystal, my first thought was, I’m pretty sure I’ll need more time than that.

For years, I’d driven past the gigantic showroom and warehouse (“the size of eight football fields!” according to the Web site), visible along Interstate 85 just east of Greensboro, N.C., thinking that I wanted to drop in. Not because I like to shop (I don’t), but because the scale and mission of the place fascinate me. The aptly named company maintains the world’s largest inventory of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles – some 12 million pieces representing more than 400,000 patterns. Broke your Margarete Bridal Rose salad plate? Look no further. Want some cash for your Spiegelau Aida water goblet? Step right up.

The bulk of the company’s dealings, both buying and selling, occur online, on the phone, and through parcel delivery. But for more than 55,000 annual visitors, Replacements transforms into much more than a center of commerce. I experienced it as a dog park, a gay rights center, an inventory-handling machine, a tableware museum and a place of worship – or at least profound appreciation – for benevolent leader Bob Page.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

I started my unofficial tour in the back parking lot (non-selling visitors typically use the front door). I’d dutifully made the recommended sellers’ appointment and had identified my inherited china patterns. But I’d also brought a hodgepodge of indeterminate crystal and items that I hoped were actually silver. (Prices are based on supply and demand.)

The first thing I noticed was the tall pole holding two flapping flags – one stamped with the Replacements logo and the other covered in rainbow stripes, the universal gay symbol. Owner Page, once closeted, is now known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide, a bold proclamation for a mainstream business owner in these parts.

As I was unloading my boxes onto a cart, two employees passed by, one walking a black Lab and the other a Pomeranian, lending truth to the sign on the door that reads, “Well-behaved pets welcome.” Staffers told me that though dogs rule, visitors have also brought cats on leashes and even a pot-bellied pig.

After Oliver explained the drill, she cut me loose to play. I followed the yellow tape on the floor down a long corridor in a warehouse toward the retail showroom, passing row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with china, crystal and some collectibles. (Hummels, anyone?)

(more…)

Paradise found at Florida park

February 2, 2014

I wrote this article, which ran on Feb. 2 in the Boston Globe, after a summer visit to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida’s Panhandle. It’s a super-special place and while it’s not really a secret, it kind of still is because it’s out-of-the-way location keeps the number of visitors down. Read on…

By Diane Daniel

The State Park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

The state park includes 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes

CAPE SAN BLAS, Fla. — Initially, Youngra Hardwick appeared eager to share her wisdom. She had succeeded where I’d failed by snagging a waterfront cabin at T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, and I wanted in on the secret.

“There are some tricks to it. Every day different spots come open. So you have to get up really early in the morning.” Just as she was advising me about opening several internet browsers, she stopped.

“Wait! I don’t even want to talk to you about it,” she said. She was laughing, but she meant it.

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

View of St. Joseph Bay from the Maritime Hammock Trail

Hardwick, who traveled here from Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters, first stumbled upon the park, in Florida’s Panhandle and about 105 miles southwest of Tallahassee, while searching online for budget-friendly coastal stays.

“I look for places that are remote and isolated, and this sounded like paradise,” she said. “I was right.”

Many visitors, it seems, treat their time at St. Joseph as if it involved password-protected admission. During my three-day stay, several people asked how I had discovered the park. Check online travel forums and you can find users jokingly trying to dissuade others from visiting.

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

The real treats are the eight furnished cabins with a view of St. Joseph Bay

It’s not surprising that folks want to keep this spot along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” to themselves. St. Joseph’s natural amenities include an unheard of (at least in Florida) 10 miles of untamed coast and 35-foot-high sand dunes, along with maritime forests and wildlife. The park’s 119 tent and RV camping sites are fairly standard, but the beach is just a short walk away over the dunes. The real treats are the eight furnished “cabins,” which look more like resort condominiums minus the television. And who needs TV when your back yard looks out onto the wide expanse of St. Joseph Bay?

Luckily for the non cabin-dwellers, water views are everywhere in this 2,716-acre playground. It sits at the tip of narrow Cape San Blas and is flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and the bay, giving visitors the opportunity to see sunrises and sunsets — only a few yards apart in some spots. Although the park has been anointed a “best of” by “Dr. Beach” and is frequently mentioned in national publications, its out-of-the-way location keeps traffic relatively low.

(more…)

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ heats Atlanta

November 15, 2013
Guests on the Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours visit Atlanta film locations, including The Swan House, staged at Presidents Snow’s Mansion. Photo credit: Courtesy Atlanta History Center

The Swan House served as Presidents Snow’s Mansion. Photo courtesy Atlanta History Center

All eyes are back on Katniss and Peeta as the sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” comes out on Nov 22. A week later, Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours launches Catching Fire Tours in Atlanta, where the sequel was filmed. The same group led outstanding theme trips and tours in North Carolina, where the first “Hunger Games” was filmed. This time they’re partnering with Atlanta Movie Tours to present immersive fan tours highlighting locations used in Catching Fire.

Learn archery while touring Hunger Games sites in Atlanta, such as The Swan House, staged at Presidents Snow’s Mansion.  Photo credit: Hunger GamesTM Unofficial Fan Tours

Learn archery while touring Hunger Games sites. Photo credit: Hunger GamesTM Unofficial Fan Tours

The one-day tour costs $94 and includes location tour, transportation, lunch, and hands-on activities. Locations include: Presidents Snow’s Mansion (The Swan House at the Atlanta History Center), District 12, The Victory Tour, and the beginning of the Games – tick tock! A series of weekend experiences is planning as well. Those, costing $549, include lodging, meals, transportation to filming locations, tour guides and mentors, and hands-on activities like archery, food that your favorite characters would have experienced, and a Gala Banquet. You’ll use your newly learned survival skills to compete in your own games simulation.

To make reservations, go to www.hungergamesunofficialfantours.com or call 855-668-4332.

Fans of family entertainment flock to Branson

May 20, 2013

I was surprised by how many of my East Coast friends had never heard of Branson, Missouri, one of the country’s top tourism draws. I described it to them as “G-rated Vegas without the gambling,” but now that I’ve been, I need to amend that add “with a generous scoop of Christianity and patriotism.”

Photo ExploreBranson.com

A walkway runs along Lake Taneycomo in Branson [Photo ExploreBranson.com]

If you like family-friendly variety shows and if you don’t need a drink during said show, and if you are Christian and patriotic, you’ll love Branson. I was there for a travel writers’ conference last weekend and toured around a bit. Truthfully, I felt a bit like a donkey out of water, so to speak. But that’s OK. I appreciated Branson for what it offered its fans, of which there are many. (The fairly remote Ozark Mountains town of just 10,500 hosts more than 7.5 million tourists a year and generates nearly $3 billion in annual tourism revenue. Wow.) And I admired its resilience after a tornado destroyed many buildings just last year, including the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, where I stayed. There was nary a sign of distress at the Hilton, one of the nicest I’ve stayed in.

Branson Airport

Branson Airport

The two-room Branson Airport, serviced by Southwest, is totally cute, with hillbilly décor befitting its locale. Tourists visit two areas – “the strip,” Highway 76, where the show theaters are, and downtown. In town, Main and Commercial streets are home to several “flea market” type shops and the famous Dick’s 5 and 10 (loved the linoleum and the merchandise). A block away on the waterfront is the newish Branson Landing development, an outdoor mall anchored by Bass Pro Shops White River Outpost. A walkway runs along Lake Taneycomo (which connects to Table Rock Lake), and the view is lovely. The main fountain area is a favorite gathering place for visitors. I also recommend Waxy O’Shea’s, where I had a most delicious Mother’s IPA, brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

Mother’s IPA is brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

Mother’s IPA is brewed up the road in Springfield, Mo.

The tourism folks took my group on a few side trips, including to Silver Dollar City, a longtime amusement park now boasting a giant wooden roller coaster called Outlaw Run. Also wild is the Powder Keg coaster, which launches passengers from zero to 53 miles-per-hour in 2.8 seconds. I had no idea that was its “thing,” and when I watched it from standing still to screaming speed, my jaw dropped.

We writers broke up into groups and toured different spots. I checked out Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, developed by the Bass Pro folks. This is nature lite, and quite manufactured at that, but it’s well done and I’m guessing introduces people to the great outdoors who might not otherwise venture out. Visitors can explore the 6-mile paved loop by foot, bike or guided tram, and only the tram will take you to the Elk and Bison pasture. I cycled, and it was quite pleasant. The chapel was particularly nice – I’m sure many people get married there.

Cycling at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Cycling at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

Some of my writer friends on that trip went on to the Branson Zipline, which they described as soft adventure, but any zipline is too much for me, so I passed. Others went fishing with the Bass Pro folks. That sounded cool, but, again, not my thing. I wish I’d had time to kayak. Folks at Kayak Branson told me they were considering a kayak station right from Branson Landing, which would be wonderfully convenient. Another writer friend loved her tour of Christian-focused College of the Ozarks, aka “Hard Work U.,” where students work instead of pay tuition. They make their own everything, including clothing, furniture, and butter, and even run a hotel. Interesting! I wish I’d had the chance to see it. All the writers toured the Titanic Museum Attraction, fascinating in that inside the half-scale replica you feel you’re on the Titanic.

After my visit, I’m now very curious to see “We Always Lie to Strangers,” a new documentary billed as “a story of family, community, music and tradition set against the backdrop of Branson.” The film also explores how conservative Branson will change (or not) as the country becomes more socially liberal. Interesting points to ponder about this  intriguing place to visit.

Southport: A ‘Safe Haven’ for ‘Under the Dome’

May 12, 2013

One of the loveliest waterfront towns on the entire East Coast is Southport, North  Carolina. It’s also a popular place for shooting films. One, “Safe Haven,” just came out on DVD. Another, the TV series “Under the Dome,” debuts this summer. Here’s a story I wrote about Southport, which ran May 12 in “The Boston Globe.” 

By Diane Daniel

The Southport Yacht Basin, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is home to several seafood restaurants

The Southport Yacht Basin is home to several seafood restaurants

With maps in hand, Nina Walsh and Mary Koehler gazed up at Moore Street Market, a popular cafe housed in a historic wood-frame building in picture-perfect Southport, N.C., on the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

“When we saw the movie, there it was, and I thought, hey, I ate lunch at that store!” Koehler said. The friends, both living in nearby Leland, with Walsh a recent transplant from Swampscott, Mass., had made a return trip to Southport after seeing the romantic thriller “Safe Haven,” based on the book of the same name by syrupy scribe Nicholas Sparks.

“They told us about this tour in the Visitor’s Center,” said Walsh, waving a “Safe Haven Filming Locations” pamphlet. “Everyone walking in the door was asking about the movie.”

The river pilots' tower has been redone to look like Station WYBS for the filming of "Under the Dome"

The river pilots’ tower is “Station WYBS” for the filming of “Under the Dome”

Because nearby Wilmington houses the largest film production facility east of Los Angeles, Hollywood is old hat in these parts. Southport’s credits include the 1986 film “Crimes of the Heart,” the TV series “Matlock,” and the just-out HBO movie “Mary and Martha.” The highest-profile show to be filmed here is still in production — the Stephen King science-fiction series “Under the Dome,” set to premiere on CBS June 24.

Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River, is a popular spot for relaxing

Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River, is a popular spot for relaxing

But “Safe Haven,” released May 7 on DVD, stands out as the one anointed for red-carpet treatment because the town itself plays a leading role. If you’ve seen the sentimental film, in which “Katie” (Julianne Hough) winds up on the Carolina coast after fleeing a dangerous Boston cop and then falls for local shop owner “Alex” (Josh Duhamel), you’ll likely agree that Southport steals the show. With a few exceptions, everything depicted in “Safe Haven” exists — a picturesque harbor, small retail shops dotting a lively downtown, streets lined with Victorian homes, stately oaks draped with Spanish moss, and bustling waterfront seafood restaurants. And, yes, the town of 2,900 residents really does host an exuberant July 4th parade — officially the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival — which attracts upwards of 50,000 visitors. Last year’s parade was even reenacted a month later for the filming, using townspeople as extras.

(more…)

Charleston, SC: Living time capsule, thriving city

March 3, 2013

I wrote a “36 Hours in Charleston” feature for the Boston Globe than ran on Feb. 24, timed to the first nonstop flights from Boston to Charleston, SC (Jet Blue). But any time is a good time to visit this vibrant city. Well, maybe not August. Start packing, and feel free to follow my lead.

By Diane Daniel

People stroll on the Battery, a landmark promenade along the Charleston peninsula

People stroll on the Battery, a landmark promenade along the Charleston peninsula

CHARLESTON — A visit to the Holy City, so named for its historic houses of worship, pulls you back in time. Horse-drawn carriages transport tourists along cobblestone streets flanked by centuries-old, beautifully preserved, and impeccably manicured gardens and homes, many open to the public. From land, you can gaze across the harbor to Fort Sumter, where Union soldiers suffered the first hit in the Civil War. But Charleston comes with a fast-forward button, too. Lowcountry cuisine keeps raising the bar, and a new wave of boutiques and bars buoy several neighborhoods. Mix it all together for heavenly results.

DAY ONE

Martha Lou's Kitchen has been dishing up soul food since 1983

Martha Lou’s Kitchen has been dishing up soul food since 1983

1:30 p.m. Meet Martha: Before you hit the highfalutin eateries, start simply and soulfully at Martha Lou’s Kitchen (1068 Morrison Drive, 843-577-9583), operating since 1983. Inside the pink cinder block building, savor a hearty, homemade Southern meal. Daily dishes ($8.50) might include fried chicken, lima beans, mac and cheese, and collards.

2:30 p.m. Uncivil acts: On April 12, 1861, the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, turning decades of conflict into what became the Civil War. You can trace the war’s path there and at Fort Moultrie, both part of Fort Sumter National Monument. Sumter can be reached only by boat — a scenic 30-minute ferry ride from Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center (340 Concord St., 843-883-3123, ferry $11-$18), while you can drive to Moultrie (1214 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island, 843-883-3123, $1-$3). While there, visit “A Bench by the Road,” a memorial placed by the Toni Morrison Society in memory of the estimated 300,000 Africans brought to the barrier island on their way to being sold into slavery.

Jlinsnider owner Jamie Lin Snider carries quality vintage clothing and her own fashion line

Jlinsnider owner Jamie Lin Snider carries quality vintage clothing and her own fashion line

5 p.m. King’s crown: Recently arrived independent shops, bars, and restaurants are transforming Upper King Street, above Marion Square. At Jlinsnider (539 King St., 843-751-6075) Jamie Lin Snider carries quality vintage clothing and her own fashion line. A block away, ethereal bridal wear creator Rachel Gordon hosts a range of designers at her One Boutique collective (478 King St., 843-259-8066). When it’s time for a refreshment, try tricked-out diner The Rarebit (474 King St., 843-974-5483) or Closed for Business (453 King St., 843-853-8466), sporting the city’s largest selection of craft beer on tap.

7 p.m. Anything but ordinary: Late last year, celebrity chef Mike Lata of FIG fame opened The Ordinary (544 King St., 843-414-7060), a locally sourced oyster bar and seafood restaurant housed in a former historic bank building. The massive vault door divides the raw bar from the kitchen. Start with New England Style Fish Chowder ($12), where meaty pieces of the daily catch take center stage in a perfectly seasoned broth.

9 p.m. Avondale after dark: Grab a pint at Oak Barrel Tavern (825 Savannah Highway, 843-789-3686), a cozy, laid-back bar with specialty drafts in hopping Avondale Point, 4 miles west of downtown. The reinvigorated shopping and eating destination includes a wildly designed Mellow Mushroom (19 Magnolia Road, 843-747-4992) housed in an old theater, and the boisterous Triangle Char & Bar (828 Savannah Highway, 843-377-1300), specializing in grass-fed burgers ($9-$15).

DAY TWO

Katie Wilson fills an order at Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts

Katie Wilson fills an order at Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts

8 a.m. Sugar fix: Energize your day with a sweet treat from Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts (481 King St., 843-577-5557), where you’ll find such delicacies as chai coconut, maple bacon, or plain glazed doughnuts ($1.50-$3).

8:30 a.m. To market: The historic Charleston City Market (188 Meeting St., 843-937-0920) reopened in 2011 after a $5.5 million makeover added wider walkways, skylights, and fans. Among the more than 100 vendors, you’ll find regional items including barbecue sauce, sweetgrass baskets, Gullah paintings, and framed ceiling tins. (more…)

Lincoln heads up new attractions in Washington

December 3, 2012

What’s new in DC? Funny you should ask.

201212_01c_Washington DC_Lincoln

The original pistol that John Wilkes Booth used to murder President Abraham Lincoln is on display in Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot (you can even see the gun!), has expanded just in time to keep up with the demand thanks to the new Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln.” The boringly named Center for Education and Leadership is actually an interesting exhibit across the street that covers the fallout after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. A highlight is the tower of tomes surrounded by a spiral staircase winding down to the gift shop.

Over at the Newseum, up through Jan. 27 is a fascinating exhibit called “Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press.” (And aren’t you glad ours is over for another four?) Highlights are the microphone from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” and Tina Fey’s “Sarah Palin” costume.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the newest feature on the Mall

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the newest feature on the Mall

Of course you know that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the newest feature on the Mall and our 395th national park. But you don’t have much longer to see the controversially truncated “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness” quote that remains in the stone. According to the park ranger I spoke with there, it’s due to be replaced with its unedited version by MLK Day 2013, which is Jan. 21.

At the National Zoo, “Elephant Trails,” is a breeding, education, and research program to help scientists care for elephants in zoos and save them in the wild that also is expanding visitors’ viewing opportunities.

In Columbia Heights,the renowned Howard Theatre reopened after a 32-year hiatus, featuring expanded seating, state-of-the-art acoustics,and a gleaming 1910 facade.

My iPhone took a trip without me

September 8, 2012

UPDATE: Never got news of phone, so replaced it with another 4s, though so tempted to get a 5! Every bit of my data was saved! Woo-hoo!

Well, my iPhone 4s went on a little adventure without me. I’d love to know the places it went and the people it saw. Siri, fill me in!

Frank and Sabrina, in a rare moment of calm here, agreed to accept partial blame in exchange for a treat

I traveled from Tampa, FL, to my home in Durham, NC, in a day, which is about 11 hours of driving, including the slowdowns during the notorious speed-trap zone along US 301 in Florida. I was operating on three hours sleep because my dang dogs were restless all night. In fact, I’m blaming the entire fiasco on them, because they distracted and exhausted me all day and because they’re dogs, so they can’t read this and disagree.

I stopped for gas near Florence, SC, and did the usual routine. Gas for the Honda, bathroom for me, bathroom and a walk for Frank and Sabrina, another bathroom stop for me, and then I decided to crack open a Dr Pepper to perk me up. Somewhere along the line I’d put my phone on the hood of the car. Uh-huh, you know where this is going.

Diane shows off her durable but not at all snazzy waterproof iPhone case

Accelerating back onto I-95, I heard a crack on my back windshield and saw an oddly shaped thing bouncing on the pavement. “Weird, I thought. That came out of nowhere.” A few miles later, I glanced to where I keep my phone. Empty. Not good. I fished around, realized I needed to go back, then remembered that unidentified flying object: my phone, of course. The good things were: I knew roughly where it fell and my phone is protected by a heavy-duty waterproof and shock-resistant case.

I had to go 12 miles back to the exit. Just as I was exiting off the highway I saw that a man had pulled over right where I think my phone bounced. It appeared he had just picked something up in the street and was getting back into his pickup truck. I pulled over. I honked. I screamed. But there was no chance he could hear me over six lanes of rushing traffic and a highway median. Do I know he got my phone? Nope. Coulda been a coincidence. I went to the scene of the crime and saw nothing. Maybe it bounced into tall grass? Maybe the guy had it? I have my contact info on the back of my phone, but no one has called. I took another exit and a nice hotel clerk let me use the phone. I called my lovely Lina, who went through the iCloud system and blocked data access. Later I called AT&T and deactivated my number. I did try the phone location service, but it said the phone was “off line” even though it rang.

Things I did right: Block access as soon as possible. Subscribed to iCloud from the beginning. My contacts are all updated online and I can load them onto a new phone. Most of my photos had been downloaded by Lina. Still I lost some. Put ID on my phone, not that it helped this time.

Things I did wrong: That’s easy — leaving my phone on the car roof! And maybe that I didn’t get insurance, but iPhone prices are falling very soon with a new model coming out, so that’s a silver lining!

What to do in Charlotte, NC? Plenty these days

August 26, 2012

My story on Charlotte ran in the Boston Globe on Aug. 19, 2012, and I’ve reprinted it below.  Read how the Queen City surprised me — in a good way! And here’s my list of where to stay and eat, along with museum details.

By Diane Daniel

Charlotte skyline [photo Wikipedia]

My home state’s largest metropolitan area (1.7 million and counting), Charlotte, has long been saddled with a reputation as the Wonder Bread, vanilla-flavored center of North Carolina. To wit, last year someone launched a Facebook page called “Keep Charlotte Boring,” a play on the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. And just as Austin has become more mainstream, Charlotte has livened things up.

I made this delightful discovery during two recent visits to the so-called Queen City, whose metropolis appears in the midst of a transformation. From morning to night, downtown — or rather uptown, as it’s officially called — hums with energy. Innovative art museums anchor a city block, lively neighborhoods ring the center, and dining and drinking options abound. A bicycle-sharing system, that now-familiar creative-class lure, even launched earlier this month.

These changes, along with the county’s rocketing population growth, and North Carolina’s status as a swing state (President Obama squeaked through in 2008) informed the Democratic Party’s decision to tag Charlotte to host its convention, Sept. 3-6.

The Charlotte Visitor Center in uptown is stocked with Democratic National Convention-themed merchandise

Whether you’re among the expected 35,000 convention attendees or you’re planning an independent trip, you won’t lack for action. The Dems will gather uptown at the Charlotte Convention Center, these days a draw unto itself, at least among teenage girls. The complex was used in the filming of “The Hunger Games,” specifically the tributes’ chariot rides, where Katniss made her blazing entrance as “The Girl on Fire.” (The first frame of the movie was filmed a block away at the John S. and James L. Knight Theater, scene of the tribute interviews.)

And maybe this isn’t saying much, but the latest “Bachelorette,” hometown gal Emily Maynard, not only insisted the show be filmed in Charlotte, her winning fiance, entrepreneur Jef Holm, is relocating from Salt Lake City.

Not that Charlotte is a stretch for a businessperson. The area remains the country’s largest financial center behind New York and houses seven Fortune 500 headquarters, including Family Dollar and Bank of America. Charlotte’s status as a financial hub is one of the reasons Northeastern University chose it as the site of its first regional campus last year.

Charlotte’s solidly Southern days, when the dominant population was Caucasian and conservative, are no more. Thanks to an influx of newcomers, you’ll be hard-pressed to detect a drawl. Last year, an African-American woman became the city’s first openly gay City Council member and this year Mecklenburg County was among a small minority voting against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. As for the state dish — North Carolina barbecue — the one downtown joint, the new Queen City Q, decorates its interior with Texas emblems and scrambles regional styles.

A recreated textile mill is among exhibits at the Levine Museum of the New South

The best place to acquaint yourself with the Queen City (so called because it was named for Charlotte Sophia, the wife of George III, and from the German principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz) is at the nearby Levine Museum of the New South. Its permanent exhibit, “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers,” offers a fascinating and candid examination of the region’s transition from agriculture to textile manufacturing to banking.

(more…)