The best places in the world to smoke a cigar

Smoking a cigar the correct way demands a critical mix of solitude, contemplation, and most important, awareness of surroundings. All other things become subservient to the act of observing and evaluating. With this game plan in play, the smoker’s post-ignition environs take on as much importance as the flavor, taste, and draw of the tobacco. Here is one man’s list of the top ten places in the world to smoke a cigar.

10. Right before the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Kailua Kona is usually a sleepy tourist town on the western side of the Big Island of Hawaii. But once a year, in late October, the best athletes in the world gather for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. The 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile marathon takes most competitors most of the day, so the gun goes off at 7 a.m. sharp as upwards of 2,000 swimmers turn “Dig Me” Beach into a feeding-frenzy of arms, legs, and splashes. Light up early, puff and marvel; let your cigar tell the crowd, “I’d rather die young that try something like this.”

9. Seated in the square before the Piazza Duomo in Florence, Italy.
Brunelleschi’s Duomo (1296) in so beautiful, so massive, so spiritual, that a visitor has to sit and puff and wonder: Could this masterwork actually have been created by man? Have a demitasse from one of the square’s little bistros, enjoy the soundtrack provided by the voices of passing Italians, and let your cigar smoke rise up and mix with the angels flying above the Dome.
8. Atop the Smoking Platform in Colchester, Vermont.
In the dooryard of an old farmhouse in northern Vermont stands a twenty foot granite cliff. Atop that cliff sits a chair and a small table holding an ashtray, a pack of wood matches, and bug spray. The owner of the house climbs the cliff once a week to enjoy a solitary smoke. “You’re such a child,” the smoker’s wife tells him, “You’ve built a fort up there, just like a little kid would.” “Rather,” he informs her, “it is a Gentleman’s Smoking Platform.”

7. At the gaming tables in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It might be changing, but the casinos have remained one of the few public places in America where cigar smoking is not only permitted, but encouraged. Try apologizing for your smoke as you lean over the Caribbean Stud table, and the lovely lady at your right might actually tell you she’s been enjoying the aroma. Plus: Cigar smokers always look like winners, even when they’re not.

6. On the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Katrina delivered a near-deadly body blow to the city, but its soul survived and is reinvigorated. Smell the Cajun cooking and listen to the muted jazz lifting up from the street. The still air and pressing humidity combine to make blowing smoke rings as effortless as breathing.

5. At the rail of Saratoga Racetrack, Saratoga, New York.
The oldest continually operating track in the country, and still one of the stateliest. Faux southern belles mix with true-life losers. Dixieland bands and picnic tables. Three bucks to get in. Everyone has a system and everyone has just won big. Continue the tradition started by Red Aurebach of the Boston Celtics-after one of your “wins,” light up a victory cigar to celebrate, and to let the crowd know that you know how to pick ’em.

4. Halfway up Pioneer Peek, outside of Anchorage, Alaska.
The city is closeted by the Chugach Mountains, with so many massive peaks that some don’t even have names. Drive just a few miles up the highway towards Fairbanks, pull off and park, and start hiking/climbing up a peak that maybe nobody has ever climbed before. Before too long eagles will be flying by at eye level; airplanes will actually be lower than you. Sit. Marvel. Ignite.

3. After sundown in the early springtime of Phoenix, Arizona.
How many tourist destinations can list March as one of its best months to visit? The dessert really does cool down after dark. Step out among the Saguaro Cactus and light up. Pretend you’re a daredevil and the flame at the end of your cigar is warding off the coyotes and the rattlers.

2. On the street of Duck Alley, New York (or in whatever town you grew up).
There, you can use the cigar as your time machine, transporting you back to your first smoke, your oldest pal, your first love.

1. In the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn/Manhattan, New York.
The verdict is in: The Brooklyn Bridge is the most beautiful edifice ever created by man. When the Roeblings, father and son, designed and built the bridge in the 1870’s and 80’s, it was roughly equivalent to someone building a bridge to the moon. The Bridge’s combination of engineering and artistry has never been equaled. Walk the foot path halfway across the East River, sit on a bench and gaze at the cathedral-like towers. Iron cables will cut squares and trapezoids above your head in the sky. Smoke there, and think about what man has wrought. Look over your shoulder at the Twin Towers site only if you want to be reminded that the work of man isn’t always this magnificent.

Jim DeFilippi is a crime novelist and cigar maker living in northern Vermont. His recent novels include The Family Farm and Duck Alley. Read his blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | alexbrn; Monica Arellano-Ongpin; bobistraveling; valentinapowers]

Pianos being installed at NYC landmarks

Those who love to tickle the ivories will now be able to spread that love in a much more public way thanks to the “Play Me, I’m Yours” project. Sing for Hope has coordinated a public art project which is installing 60 pianos at New York City landmarks. Each instrument was decorated uniquely by local artists. The pianos are located in parks streets and public areas across the city and are open to the anyone from today until July 5th. Maps are available online for those wishing to visit the pianos.

The public will be allowed to play the pianos from 9 AM until 10 PM each day at iconic spots such as Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. An attendant has been assigned to keep an eye on each instrument and cover them with a tarp in case of inclement weather.

British artist Luke Jerram conceptualized the idea. Before New York, he brought his idea to other cities around the globe such as Sao Paulo and London. In an interview Jerram said, “There’s going to be a huge amount of talent here. The piano’s actually a blank canvas for everyone’s creativity, really, so I just hope that the city enjoys it.”

Flickr’s New York: A tale of two cities

Tourists photograph Midtown and Lower Manhattan, while locals click their cameras in the East Village and Chinatown. So, it’s clear: tourists and locals don’t mix in New York.

Eric Fischer, a computer program, used geotagging data from Flickr and Picasa to plot maps of New York and 71 other cities, using a system he created for determining which shutterbugs are locals and which are from out of town.

Using this system, we can divine the following:

  • Tourists shoot Yankee games, while there are more locals snapping away when the Mets are playing at home
  • Locals prefer the Manhattan Bridge, and tourists flock to the Brooklyn Bridge … yet Brooklyn itself is packed with local photogs
  • Nobody goes to the Upper West Side (unless he or she lives there)
  • Governors Island is about as tourist-free a place as you’ll find in New York

20 great bike rides

For many travelers, the default mode of transport is a plane or a car, but they’re certainly not the only options. Have you ever considered adding a bicycle ride to your next trip? Riding a bike has a number of advantages over other forms of transportation. You’ll move slower, no doubt, but with that slowness comes an increased awareness of your surroundings, a chance to get some fresh air and exercise and the sense of accomplishment that comes with a great ride. Whether you’re looking to ride across the USA or simply take a leisurely pedal around a nearby town, Gadling has compiled the following list of 20 great bike rides. Take a look below!

Mackinac Island, Michigan
Straddling the divide between Lake Huron and Michigan, Mackinac Island transports bikers to the simpler days where horse drawn carriages and bicycles were the main modes of transportation. Not having to worry about sharing the road with motorized vehicles, with the exception of emergency and service vehicles, this island is a cyclist’s haven. With 3 bike rental outfits to choose from, anyone can enjoy this National Historic Landmark filled with Victorian charm on 2 wheels and after a visit here, you will not want to return to the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century.

Newport, Rhode Island
It is understandable that images of the renowned Newport Mansions are the first to come to mind when you hear “Newport, Rhode Island.” Admittedly grand on the inside, riding by these mansions from the outside and through the surrounding parts of town are just as breathtaking. Take the path passing by the Newport Harbor, Brenton Cove, Ocean Ave, and of course Bellevue Ave where you get a feast for the eyes with the famed Marble House, The Elms, and Chateau sur Mer, among other grand homes and before long, you can understand why the rich chose this location as their summer playground.

Monterey Bay, California
California’s Monterey Bay is filled with many options for a scenic bike ride. The famous 17 mile drive meanders through Pebble Beach but those who prefer skipping the entrance fee can be rewarded with an equally scenic ride on what some dubbed the “Poor Man’s 17 Mile Drive”. Drive down to the Asilomar State Beach where parking can usually be found and ride along the coastline through the town of Pacific Groves where in the spring you may come upon the harbor seal pups lounging on the sand and frolicking in the ocean. Do not forget to bring binoculars for those otter sightings as you bike through Monterey and Cannery Row.

Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii
When one thinks of Maui, biking is probably not on the top of the list. However, they would be missing one of the best bird’s eye view experience. Although Haleakala National Park eliminated commercial downhill bike tour operations a few years back, bikes are still allowed. Those wishing to bike downhill from the summit can rent bikes from Haleakala Bike and experience unparalleled views of the island itself as they bike down. Two tips for riders: Have someone drop you off at the summit so you will not have to ride back up to pickup your car and wear layers that you can peel off as you descend from 40 degree temps at the top to 80s at the bottom.

Napa Valley Silverado Trail, California

Although not along a coast or body of water, the Napa Valley Wine Country is a beautiful place for a scenic bike ride. Start in picturesque Yountville and take the less crowded Silverado Trail that parallels CSR 29. You will find yourself surrounded by the yellow mustard fields in the spring and vineyards that stretch for miles that for a moment, you might think you were in Tuscany. You can not go wrong with a bike ride here any time of year. After an invigorating ride, you can enjoy a leisurely picnic and a wine tasting or two at a choice of wineries, including Duckhorn and Rutherford Hill.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

South of the famous Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming’s other gem, Grand Teton NP offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails but biking paths are harder to find. Since accessibility is limited in areas, joining their “Scenic Guided Bike Ride” would be the best and safest option. The bike tour will have you riding through open prairies, under the peaks of the Teton Mountain Range, and through sagebrush flats where you may spot where the buffalos roam.

Sausalito/San Francisco, California
Marin County’s Sausalito is reminiscent of a coastal Mediterranean town with its colorful houses clinging to the hillsides and houseboats along the north end of town. Riding through downtown will offer you views of the SF skyline and the bridge in the distance and those who are on a mission to chase that mirage can ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and back or through San Francisco and return by ferry.

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
New England’s Martha’s Vineyard south of Cape Cod is a popular spot for celebrities but knows how to retain its low key atmosphere. With over 44 miles of bike trails and roads available, there are options for beginners and advanced riders alike. The “down-Island” route is mainly flat, great for beginners and families while the “up-Island” route is for more experienced riders. Either way, you will get to experience the versatility of this place with its changing landscapes from the gorgeous waters and beaches to the meadows to the red Aquinnah Cliffs. Before long it will seem like everything is a vista point.

Lake Tahoe, California
Tahoe, known for its ski slopes and casinos may find that it may still be a hidden gem for mountain biking. Northstar Ski Resort opens up its lift access for downhill mountain biking adventures in the summer. Just purchase a lift pass and you can take the lift up and bike down. For those less adventurous, get a “pedaling only pass” to access the park and cross country ride for free from a choice of beginner to advance trails all with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and trees.

Coronado, California
San Diego County’s picturesque coastal community offers a village atmosphere with a downtown filled with shops, restaurant, and theaters. With many bike friendly areas to choose from, you are treated to ocean views, architecture, and history including the home of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum. He was so in love with Coronado, many erroneously thought his vision for the Emerald City must have stemmed from the Hotel del Coronado. Erroneous or not, anyone can see how a place like Coronado can be so inspirational.

— The above was written by Joyce Zee, Seed contributor.



Rock Creek Park Trails, Washington DC (5-50 miles)
Suggested starts: N. Pitt St and Second St. in Alexandria or Dupont Circle in DC

There are so many great bike paths in the DC area, but this is one of my favorite rides, from Alexandria’s Old Town with its many federalist buildings, along the Potomac River, past Reagan National Airport and Arlington Cemetery, across the river at Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, and then into Rock Creek Park. There are a few tricky transitions, particularly around the Lincoln Memorial, and the path is very popular on weekends. Parts of the Rock Creek Park roads are bikes-only on weekends. You can take your bike on Metro for the return trip too.

Mississippi River trail to Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis Missouri (20 miles)
Suggested start: Commercial St. and Carr St., downtown St. Louis

St. Louis is my hometown now and this is a frequent route because it is relatively flat and has some great views both of the River and the industrial side of the city. You can see the Arch at many points along the river, as well as pass multiple levees and locks. It ends at a bridge that is closed to car traffic and figured prominently in the movie “Escape from New York”. There are links to other trails that cross the river and you can return on the Illinois side, for some variety. Few services along the way, bring lots of water.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City (5 miles)
Suggested start: Park Row and Centre Streets, New York City, across from City Hall

This is the one iconic ride in Manhattan that anyone can do, and while packed on the weekends (and you share the path with pedestrians), during the week it can be very enjoyable. It is a bit of a climb too. Finding the path on the Brooklyn side can be a challenge, and if you want more than the bridge ride you can travel across Chambers Street in Manhattan and connect with the path along the Hudson River along the West Side Highway.

Crater Lake Rim Road, Oregon (33 miles)
Suggested start: Rim Village parking lot

This road circles Crater Lake, a volcanic caldera that contains almost pure water of the most amazing color blue. The road is only open during July and August since at more than 7,000 feet it is snowed in the rest of the time. There is light auto traffic but the views are unparalleled of the lake and the surrounding mountains. If the 33-mile ride isn’t sufficient, you can hike down to the lake in one spot too. Only attempt this if you are in excellent shape and have ridden at altitude before.

St. Michaels to Easton, Maryland (36 miles)
Suggested Start: Courthouse on Washington St. in St. Michaels

This part of Maryland is completely flat and very picturesque. You will be near water and boats and biking on very rural (meaning little traffic but plenty of ruts) roads. There is even a short ferry to take across the Tred Avon River that runs frequently. There are numerous historic buildings that date from colonial times and dozens of B&Bs and restaurants to take advantage of when you are done biking. Some of the roads are in poor condition so better to use a heavier mountain or hybrid bike for this trip.

Shelter Island, New York (10-50 miles)
Suggested start: Greenport, NY ferry terminal/Long Island Railroad train station

Shelter Island is a small island that is nestled between the two forks of Long Island, and is a biking paradise. The roads are well maintained, there is hardly any traffic, and while it has hills, you are never far from water and great views of the Peconic Bay . You can do many trips in the area, including a circle one that takes in both ferries, but starting in Greenport is best for the variety of services, restaurants, and places to stay nearby. Plus, you can take your bike on the Long Island Rail Road to there too.

Saltspring Island, British Columbia, Canada (~30 miles)
Suggested start: Sydney, BC ferry terminal

This trip will take some planning but is worth it because you have virtually no traffic once the cars leave the ferry, have lots of interesting places to visit, and you’ll be biking through some of the most spectacular scenery in North America. There are dozens of small islands that are perfect for biking and BC Ferries and the ferry from Sydney is a good place to start. Saltspring Island is one of the bigger islands in between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and you can take other ferries to other islands as well as Vancouver Island to continue your exploration.

Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach, California (10-40 miles)

Suggested start: Dockweiler Beach State Park

The best beach bike path is very crowded in summer, but great the rest of the year. You visit the Venice Boardwalk, go around the Marina Del Rey’s many boat docks, underneath the flight path of LAX airport, and past many surfers to end up in trendy Manhattan Beach. Parking is difficult, and finding your way around the Marina can be a challenge.

Death Valley, California (10-100 miles)
Suggested start: Furnace Creek Visitor Center

There are no water views on this ride but you are traveling between two lovely mountain ranges with hardly any traffic. Skip the summer months, but this ride is great the rest of the year when temperatures are more moderate. You can go up to a century to Jubilee Pass (1300 foot) or more moderate distances. The road is a bit rough in spots and no shoulders.

Paradise, Mt. Rainer, Washington (40 miles)
Suggested Start: Nisqually Entrance of the park

This is another trip for very experienced cyclists. You are riding on narrow mountain roads with no shoulders and at altitude, and this route will rise more than 3,000 feet in the 20 miles it takes you to get to Paradise. The good news is that the return trip will take no time at all and it is a breeze. The best time to do this ride is in late August or September. Weekends can be crowded with cars. The views of the mountains are unparalleled.

— The above was written by David Strom, Seed contributor.

Need more inspiration to get outside? Keep reading!

Undiscovered New York: Under the bridge

The bridges of New York City serve as lifelines, connecting this vast city of islands to the people, places and goods that lie beyond. From the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to the majestic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, just about anywhere you look in New York, you’re bound to see one of these graceful structures dominating the city’s skyline and waterways. But for all the time we spend looking at and walking across New York bridges, did you ever think about what’s going on underneath them?

We tend to think of the space under bridges as a symbolic “no-go” zone, a place inhabited by phantom trolls and the darker side of our imagination. But in New York, a city that is among the most dense of any on earth, all that extra space is actually being put to good use. Since they were built, the undersides of New York City bridges have been used for everything from Cold War bunkers to massive art projects. In fact, rather than being areas of marginal interest, these spaces are among the most dynamic and intriguing in all of New York.

Ready to live it up in one of New York’s most elegant restaurants? How about a visit to a whimsical little lighthouse, located beneath a towering bridge? Or perhaps you’d like to hear the story of one of New York’s forgotten neighborhoods, hidden beneath the zooming path of millions of cars? This week, Undiscovered New York is going “under the bridge,” in search of attractions hidden from view under the city’s many bridges. Check it out after the jump.
Guastavino’s
Bridges provide a way to get past obstacles to travel elsewhere. But we might want to revise that assumption, especially when it comes to Guastavino’s a restaurant conveniently nestled beneath the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge. As you walk into this elegant restaurant on 59th Street, a frequent setting for banquets and weddings, you’re immediately confronted by the size of the cavernous space. Visitors can settle in with a nice cocktail, taking the time to gaze up in wonder at the series of vaulted ceilings supported by towering pillars of rock. It’s like stumbling into the grotto of some forgotten medieval castle, hidden in plain view.

The Little Red Lighthouse
The George Washington Bridge is another of New York’s busiest arteries, pumping Manhattan commuters back and forth on their way to New Jersey across the Hudson River. Those not intimidated by the bridge’s hustle and bustle might want to take a look down below, where they’ll be greeted by the strange sight of the Little Red Lighthouse. This iconic lighthouse was first built back in 1880, when it was installed along the banks of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. By 1921, it had been moved to its present location along the shores of the Hudson, where it helped sailors navigate their way up the river to points north. Today it has become the de facto symbol of Manhattan’s Fort Washington Park, where it now greets the area’s joggers and bikers on their daily routes.

DUMBO
Forget about the elephant in the Disney movie, New York has a DUMBO of its own. This neighborhood, whose name stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” is literally surrounded on all sides by bridges, with both the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge passing directly overhead. The result of this infrastructure decision is that DUMBO feels like a neighborhood kept under wraps, bursting with great bars, restaurants and shopping that most visitors pass right by as they drive overhead. Start your visit with an authentic taco at Hecho in Dumbo before taking a look at some of the area’s great stores like record store Halcyon, powerHouse Books or Japanese toy store Zakka. Finish your trip with a stop at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park.