Acadia's Dark Sky Festival Is Calling All Photographers and Artists

By Robert Firpo-Capiello
January 12, 2022
A view of the night sky over Jordon Pond at Acadia National Park
Bob Thayer
We love this cool contest, which offers a chance for Acadia fans to show their love in the form of photography and visual art.

There are few places in the U.S. that enjoy a truly dark sky at night anymore, and the area in and around Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island on the part of the Maine coast that locals call Down East, is one of them. Each year, the Acadia region celebrates its awe-inspiring starlight nights with its Night Sky Festival.


The Acadia Night Sky Festival has grown over the past decade from a small local event to one that draws visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada and offers dozens of workshops and esteemed astronomy researchers. Participants can stargaze from the top of Cadillac Mountain, take evening cruises on Frenchman Bay, and sign up for telescope lessons.


The 10th annual Acadia Night Sky Festival ( will run from September 5 through 9 this year, but there’s an inspiring contest happening right now that might interest the photographers and visual artists in your life: The festival planning committee is soliciting entries for its festival poster now through March 16. “Art submissions should portray the night sky above Acadia and/or Down East Maine,” says Alf Anderson, co-chair of the Acadia Night Sky Festival marketing team.


The winning image will be featured on the festival’s posters, brochures, website, and other marketing platforms, and the winning photographer or visual artist will receive two round-trip tickets from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME (Acadia’s gateway community), courtesy of Cape Air. For contest rules, visit


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5 Reasons Why We (Sort of) Love NYC’s Public Transportation

Ah, the MTA. With subway stations that beg to be cleaned and bus and train service that often keeps commuters waiting (and increasingly infuriated, as in 2017's "summer of hell"), New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has, of course, earned its bad reputation with New Yorkers, right? But... From Monday to Friday, more than 8 million of us choose the MTA to commute to our destinations. Perhaps it's the 665 miles of track that allows us to go practically anywhere, or the (relatively) reasonable price of $2.75, but whatever it is, the MTA has remained our number-one travel resource. And while most of us have reason to curse NYC’s public transportation (and if you're reading this while waiting for a delayed train, maybe you're cursing it right now), here are five reasons to appreciate the maligned MTA. 1.  NYC HAS 24/7 PUBLIC TRANSIT In cities around the world, the midnight chimes signal the end of train service for the day. For the city that never sleeps, that is just unacceptable. Although the MTA’s service can be sparse after midnight, apps like Transit help commuters track the next bus or train, and I can always count on the MTA to get me home (in just about any kind of weather). So, dare I call the MTA “reliable”? Yes, but before New Yorkers raise their pitchforks at me, it is “reliable” in the sense that you can rely on it to get the baseline job done.   2. THE FARE IS REASONABLE Hear me out on this. NYC taxicabs start at $2.50, with a meter that hikes up unbelievably fast in traffic, and car services like Uber and Lyft are subject to price surges based on demand. The MTA is one of the few sources of transportation that offer unlimited-ride Metrocards, free transfers, and a one-fare subway zone. Cities like Singapore and Hong Kong charge you based on how far you go and transferring from line to line, making the MTA’s $2.75 price a pretty good deal. The MTA also rewards your spending: If you put $5.50 or more on your card, you get a 5 percent bonus, essentially earning free rides over time. 3. THE SYSTEM IS IMPROVING (REALLY!) Those fares go to good use. Free Wi-Fi, countdown clocks, and new and improved trains have made a positive impact on the commuting experience. By adding foldable chairs and removing tail-end seats on some trains, the MTA has made room for additional passengers. In addition, the MTA is considering installing platform doors, which would follow the lead of public transportation in some European and Asian countries, limiting train track litter and delays caused by passengers. The MTA will test this out during the (dreaded) L train shutdown in 2019. 4. THE SUBWAY IS A CITY INSIDE A CITY First, the people. We’ve all witnessed it: The red-carpet-ready riders, the hipsters, the business folks, and the rest of us ol’ regulars all ride together in the same subway car. From the far ends of four of the city’s five boroughs, we join together, at least for a few minutes, to ride the MTA. The result? A mini melting pot that is relatively rare in many cities around the U.S. and the world. 5. THERE’S A LOT OF GOOD THINGS TO SEE If you’re on a train that runs aboveground or on a bus, getting a view of the NYC skyline and iconic landmarks can be a much-needed reminder of why you’re putting up with all the other stuff. And for those of us who take the underground trains, the artwork that adorns some subway stations provides a taste of NYC culture, often carefully curated to suit the neighborhood and institutions served by that station. The classic West 81st station at the American Museum of Natural History welcomes visitors with playful mosaics that include dinosaurs and other fossils, while the new 2nd Avenue subway line's stations offer a series of portraits by Chuck Close to entertain passersby (


Hotel We Love: Windsor Boutique Hotel, Asheville, NC

With its cozy lobby arranged with old-timey furniture and antique décor and lighting, the Windsor Boutique Hotel, in Asheville, NC, does a terrific job at making you feel like you’re not actually entering a hotel at all. It feels more like the sitting room in a private home, and with the staffers helming a wide wood desk, it’s clear that all the formalities of check-in have been swapped for a laid-back personalized welcome.   THE STORY The Windsor opened as apartments in 1907, but over the years, downtown became quite unsavory, and many buildings, including this one, fell into disrepair. But an investment firm bought it and undertook an historical renovation, keeping as much of its architectural detail intact, down to the banisters on the staircases. It opened as a hotel in 2013, restored it to its former glory. And with 14 rooms set up like apartment suites, it’s a glorious accommodation indeed. THE QUARTERS Each of the 14 rooms has its own unique décor that includes playful antiques. This being an old building, that aesthetic perfectly suites the original design elements, like dark, textured wood floor panels, soaring ceilings, tall windows, and brick walls. Bed sizes vary, ranging from a king, queen, and double queen. Each suite has a rain showerhead in the spacious shower, a sleeper-sofa in the living room, a washer and dryer, and a complete modern kitchen with a full-size stove, fridge, and microwave. Most also have a dishwasher.   THE NEIGHBORHOOD  The Windsor is smack in the middle of downtown Asheville, on the same block as various cafes, a Thai restaurant, clothing boutiques, and local amenities aplenty, like a hair salon. Chocolate Gems, which offers decadent handmade chocolates and gelato, is a few storefronts away. The hotel does not have its own parking, but street parking is available and there are several city garages nearby, including a new one on the block. There are two more within two blocks. THE FOOD The Windsor does not have a restaurant of its own, but there’s a small fridge in the lobby with complimentary soda, water, and snacks as well as both a Keurig and N’Espresso machine. Asheville is a popular destination for weekend getaways because it’s within hours drive from Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and more. With guests’ ride home in mind, on Sunday mornings the hotel offers pastries from The Rhu, a bakery/café offshoot of Rhubarb, a celebrated locally minded restaurant from James Beard nominated chef John Fleer.   One of the many benefits of its downtown location is that you’re never more than a few footsteps from a great place to eat or drink. Across the street, for instance, is Social Lounge, which is known for its rooftop dining. It’s open until midnight during the week and 2PM on weekends. Just around the corner, about a four-minute walk away, Sovereign Remedies, which serves elevated comfort food (bone marrow tater tots, anyone) and mixes some of the best cocktails in the city, is open until 2AM nightly. With a kitchen open late, expect to find plenty of industry people there after midnight. ALL THE REST The hotel lobby is connected to Desirant, a boutique that sells all manner of Southern living essentials (and a number of non-essentials) in a vintage Parisian flea market setting. Browse jewelry and accessories, books, home goods, cards, clothes, local crafts, and a few antiques that the owners handpicked in France. Hotel guests get 10% off.  In a nice touch that gives the rooms a local flavor, each is stocked with a bag of freshly ground coffee from Dynamite Roasters a few miles away in Black Mountain.  RATES & DEETS Starting at $200. The Windsor Boutique Hotel  36 Broadway Asheville, NC 28801 (844) 494-6376 /


Couples Getaways That Actually Rock

The traditional "romantic getaway" is a bore, and we're here to put it out of its misery. These days, when you and yours hit the road, chances are you're not that interested in chocolates on your pillow or a complimentary bottle of bubbly. Adventure, self-improvement, and bragging rights to friends are higher on both of your to-do lists. From driving a race car to sleeping in a tree, from dabbling in legal weed to learning actual survival skills, here are the trips every couples should take. 1. NASCAR Fantasies (Walter Arce/Dreamstime) You can’t hurry love, they say, but adrenaline junkies already in love can experience speed in its own right at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia (, about 20 miles south of Atlanta. There’s a range of opportunities at this professional race track, from backseat ride-alongs with a pro in a NASCAR race car to doing a few high-velocity laps around the speedway on your own. Not to worry—plenty of instruction is provided. And the best part? Nobody has to fight about driving directions. 2. Treehouse Dreams (Courtesy Henry County Convention & Visitors Bureau) The landscapes of Georgia's state parks will take your breath away, for sure, but there are few better views than the ones from above, like you'll get from a vantage point the treetops. Yes, up in the branches. At Georgia's 100-acre Panola Mountain (, you can lock on your harness, climb up a tree, and settle in for the night in incredibly unique, secluded boat-like quarters with the ZZZs in the Trees program. If an overnight at high altitude is too much, daylong tree climbing lessons will get you back on the ground faster than you ascended. 3. Toke Up and Chill More and more states are passing laws to make marijuana legal, but few can compete with Colorado, an early adopter, when it comes to the variety of ways and places to go green. An influx of the cannabis curious has turned Denver's pot tourism is a budding industry, if you will. You can hire a livery service like THC Limo ( to get your trip started the moment you leave the airport or go high into the mountains with bud-friendly charter S.U.V.s ( You and your honey can take part in stoner painting classes ( Chefs at select restaurants will prepare cannabis-centric multicourse meals, or you can hone your own cooking skills at Stir Cooking Schools, where instructors include graduates of the prestigious Johnson & Wales culinary school. Apps like Weedmaps ( and Leafly ( can help you navigate the city’s many dispensaries. But it’s the dizzying array of activities offered on My 420’s three-day tours ( that get the highest ratings. A “cannabis concierge” will custom design an agenda that can include everything from cannabis oil massages to dinners to visits to growing labs to make sure you go home mellow. 4. Learn How to Survive With Each Other (Milosk50/Dreamstime) For tens of thousands of years before it was a blockbuster television series (for tens of thousands of years before there were televisions, in fact) you had to be a survivor just to, well, survive. At Boulder Outdoor Survival School (, you’ll get back to nature in gorgeous, remote southern Utah and learn how to make it work for you. BOSS’s website makes it explicitly clear that this is not a Rambo-style boot camp or a prepper’s course for the apocalypse, but nor is it for the faint of heart. Or the faint of will. You and yours will get schooled in the basics with living skills courses (7 or 14 days), which teach basic survival; a 14-day program called Desert Navigator that involves trekking with compasses and maps; and general field courses (7, 14, or 28 days) that set you free in nature without tents, sleeping bags, or technology. For the truly committed, there's the ultra-intense, 72-hour survival rescue course. Get through any of these together, and you know your relationship is ironclad. 5. Three-ring Circus for Beginners There are plenty of reasons to plan a trip to Santa Fe—the weather in the wintertime, the vibrant modern-meets-folk-arts scene, the epic margaritas, the knockout landscape. And, lest we forget, the circus school. Seriously. Wise Fool ( offers a variety of classes, with lessons in everything from handstands to juggling to aerial skills (care to swing in a hoop, anyone?) to soaring on a trapeze. Classes, which run about 90 minutes, are available throughout the year on a drop-in basis and cost $12 to $15 per session. (Pro tip: There’s typically more space in daytime than nighttime classes.) Couples can also schedule private lessons. Gift certificates are available. Just make sure that if it inspires you to run away and join the circus, the decision is mutual. 6. Carnivores' Delight Lots of foodies head to California for the wine, but those looking beyond the glass can test their mettle with farm life in Siskiyou, a tranquil county in the state’s northernmost region. Schedule a summertime escape at Belcampo Farms, where the three-day Meat Camp ( each June delivers a thorough education on grilling, butchery, and knife skills. But it’s not entirely rugged. You’ll retire to luxury tents to reboot for the next day. For even more committed aspiring butchers, old-world traditions and sustainable agriculture are the foundation of Camp Charcuterie (, a seven-day full-immersion experience in France where you'll learn farmstead charcuterie production, hands-on butchery, food-safety measures, and more from a roster of top-notch chefs and butchers. Those that can’t get up and disappear to the French countryside can learn at the workshops and classes offered at different culinary schools and markets around the U.S. The Chopping Block (, which has two locations in Chicago, holds day-long bootcamps that teach basic techniques like cutting, trimming, de-boning, and more, then wrap up with a meal participants cook themselves. Fleishers Craft Butchers ( has a busy calendar of intensive classes—both hands-on and demo-based—in New York City and Connecticut. 7. Drink Up American History (Volgariver/Dreamstime) Each year, hundreds of thousands of whiskey-lovers flock to Kentucky to indulge in the embarrassment of riches that is America’s bourbon heritage. While there is an official Bourbon Trail of distilleries as well as an Urban Bourbon Trail that guides you through Louisville’s various whiskey bars, you’re left on your own to explore. For a full guided experience, Louisville-based Mint Julep Tours ( offers more than just distillery visits, though each stop at one of the historic bourbon maker includes a tasting and even, if you're lucky, a chance to pull whiskey straight from the barrel, all of which makes the tour a worthwhile decision. You can customize your day to include particular distilleries as well as a visit to a local cooperage to watch barrels get raised and charred or a mixology class. They’ll take you from stop to stop (typically three to four in a day) in a posh SUV. 8. Take a Very Modern Look at an Ancient Roman City Pompeii, the ancient Roman city in southern Italy that was nearly wiped out by a volcano eruption in 79 AD, is a sweeping archaeological site regarded as one of the greatest snapshots of ancient life, what with it essentially frozen in time in the moment it was buried under ash. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it sees about 2.5 million visitors each year. Few, however, experience it in action, getting an intimate view of how it likely functioned thousands of years ago, the way you can with Flashback Journey to Pompeii ( Snap on a 3D virtual reality headset and you’ll be whisked back to the center of a bustling metropolis. You can join a small group or opt for a private tour. And with Pompeii situated near Naples and surrounded by small villas, there’s no reason not to plan a romantic Italian getaway while you’re at it.


Why I Jump in the North Atlantic on New Year's Day

It started, as most unlikely things do, with a great deal of hesitation. But it was the gut-instinct strain of hesitation, the kind that morphs into gusto, not the kind of reluctance that’s grounded in reason, which could make you think instead of act. It was four years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Brooklyn at my friend’s house, we’ll call her Celeste. Her friend, we’ll call her Gretta, went home early because she was meeting her Cross Fit group in the morning to go to Coney Island for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. She wasn’t going to jump. She was going to join the thousands of onlookers whose respect—or schadenfreude, depending on their sensibility—was enough to draw them out of bed and to the chilly shore of the Atlantic on the one day it’s acceptable, if not endorsed, to sleep until noon. The Coney Island Polar Bear Club meets once a week to go swimming in the ocean when the weather gets cold. It was founded in 1903, but their big day is January 1. I wanted in. Was it too late to join Gretta's Cross Fit team? Absolutely not, she said. She’d meet me there at noon. Immediately after midnight, I said my farewells, and headed home to excavate my bathing suit from one box or another. I bought fleece-lined leggings at the 24-hour CVS on the way. I have never skydived, run a marathon, or been within spitting distance of a wild animal on a safari. I have never ridden on a motorcycle, set off a firework, or attended a Black Friday sale. I eat kale, workout a great deal, and I cross to the other side of the street when I see a discarded mattress on the sidewalk. I don’t jaywalk. I make it a priority to keep my body out of harm’s way. But despite Celeste’s objections, throwing myself in 33-degree ocean water on a 24-degree day did not seem like a peril, it seemed like an inevitability. Any of my friends will tell you that I hate summer. No, really. Getting overheated just by walking two blocks or roasting in the sun while lying in sand as a sport is simply not my thing. Sand is just a classy version of dirt, the way I see it. If I must go to the beach, I’ve always enjoyed the chilly waters along Maine’s rocky coast to tepid, mellow Caribbean waves. I was born in November and I have a theory that people who take their first breath when it’s cold outside have a natural proclivity for winter. Vice versa for summer babies. Not sure if my theory is right across populations, but it’s true for me. At the launch of 2018, I’ll head to the beach at the southernmost point of Brooklyn and throw myself into the frigid Atlantic. For the fifth time. Please don’t tell my mother. A WINTER TRIP TO THE BEACH, VIA SUBWAY There are 45 stops on the F train, which runs from the center of Queens through the island of Manhattan and then on to the southern tip of Brooklyn, culminating at the Coney Island station. Each January 1, as the train rolls through Manhattan and its eastern borough, people with varying combinations of layers (ski parkas and shorts, wetsuits and sweaters, lycra pants and knitted sweaters) trickle onto each car. Most carry oversized bags filled with blankets and towels. Some tinker with their Go-Pro. People appear one of the following ways: eyes-down with controlled anxiety; visibly panicked; wide-eyed and grinning; blissed out and at one. Sometimes strangers talk to each other. (“How many is this for you?” a first-timer asked me last year. “My fourth.” “Does it hurt?”) Coney Island is everything you imagine it looks like in vintage imagery. The Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel, the spires of the old Luna Park are all visible as you approach. They are thrills on pause, as they’re all shuttered for the winter, reminders that Coney Island would be deserted any other winter day. The original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand is one of the first things you see when you hit the boardwalk. Rather, the line is the first thing you’ll see, as people wait on a final jolt of fortification. Several ambulances are positioned in the parking lot, which took me by surprise my first time. I choose to ignore them. And, for whatever it’s worth, I’ve never seen them in action during or after the plunge. Each year, as I make my way through the crowd to register, it’s a dependable mix of hipsters, jocks (typically in sports team garb), burly men speaking Slavic languages or Russian, septuagenarians and even a few octogenarians, petite Asian women, women in mermaid regalia or Playboy bunny costumes posing with the aforementioned jocks and burly dudes, and the leather-jacket-clad Staten Island chapter of Hell’s Angels. Stern cops stand on, looking jaded. The Polar Bear Plunge is a fundraiser, but the first time you do it, it will likely be a bit of a revelation to learn the extent to which it is a thoroughly organized event. In the past the fundraising has been for Camp Sunshine, a facility in Maine for sick children and their families, but the cause changes occasionally. You wait in line to give your money (at least $25 is suggested), sign a waiver just in case, get a colored bracelet, then move along to the T-shirt station where you shout out your shirt size. I’ve learned that you need to be slightly aggressive. And hope I’m there in time to get one of the mediums. While on line everyone chats with one another, largely to psych each other up. PLUNGERS, TAKE YOUR MARKS A large banner indicates the jump time of each of the five colored wristbands. They’re spaced in 15-minute blocks. As the beach fills up, groups stake out their turf, spread blankets, and cluster together. Flasks are passed around. People strip down to bathing suits and take a deep breath, feeling the frigid air inside and out. Jubilant announcements come over a loudspeaker. A bona fide club member welcomes us invited interlopers, rattles off safety measures, and calls the green bracelets, the first group. They line up a few hundred feet from the water, surrounded by onlookers on both sides, cameras ready. A horn sounds and everyone runs down the beach, stampede-style. Some dally and wade to their ankles, their knees, their thighs, some charge in. I am not one to understand thermodynamics, but the reason I tell people this isn’t as drastic as a cold shower is because your skin is already cold. The temperature differential is not as dramatic. There is truly nothing like the sensation of lining up with fellow revelers and waiting for the horn. Having done it several times, I know exactly what to expect: the initial clash of giddiness and wariness, a flash of will-I-or-won’t-I. Reason tries to intrude, but it’s hushed by the buzz of the crowd. Cue: the adreneline-fueled fight-or-flight sensation, it’s do-or-die. The horn blows. Showtime. I go in slowly: ankles, knees, hips, deep breath, dunk. My group is nearby but I don’t hear them. The cracking shock that takes hold of my body is like a glacier’s icy embrace. Everything is scrambled, until it isn’t. Survival mode kicks in, reality returns, every cell in my body is working overtime, and a feeling of invincibility washes over me. This is what it is to be alive. People rush out of the water faster than they ran in. Strangers high-five one another. It’s a team victory. It’s a personal triumph. And as I dry off, all of a sudden, every one of my better-living resolutions for the New Year seems like a cakewalk. If nothing else, the plunge makes you understand that perspective matters.