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Focus: Breaking Travel News investigates: Urban Cowboy Lodge in the Catskills

The Urban Cowboy Lodge is situated in the centre of the 68-acre Big Indian Wilderness, a nature preserve that boasts numerous trails and watering holes, all set to the backdrop of a haunting, mountainous landscape.

Due to its isolated and rural location, it is strongly advised that you travel to the property, which opened in spring last year, by car. As you find yourself driving down the highway and deeper into nature, there is a beautiful moment when your cell loses service and the breath-taking Catskill mountains suddenly come into view. Your GPS will stop working too, so be sure to download a map and directions in advance, as well as the curated Spotify playlist that the property will send you to accompany your journey.

Prior to my trip, the staff at the lodge were extremely communicative, their tone was chatty and familiar, ensuring I was fully prepared for my stay. Right from the off, the standard of service was set high, which left me feeling I was going to be well looked after during my two-night visit. They did not fail to deliver on arrival, when I was welcomed with a choice of bubbles or bourbon at check-in. When I was shown to my room, there was also a hand written note welcoming me on my bed.


Now, about my room. No doubt the focal point of the Alpine Bathing Suite was the bright copper bathtub in the centre, with great views overlooking the Catskill Mountains. The décor takes on a maximalist feel, with a campy and yet considered approach to anything and everything woodsy – it felt like a Wes Anderson take on Twin Peaks. Every texture and print mismatched and no surface is left plain. But instead of this feeling overwhelming, the combination works. It felt inviting and cosy, from the plaid curtains, patterned woollen blankets and oversized wooden panel headboard. The colours are rich and warm, contrasting the pink cooper bathtub with deep greens and mustards. I felt immediately at home and at ease.


Further comforts in the room included a functioning cast iron stove, heated floors and a large leather armchair. The ‘keeping it American’ theme is found in the mini bar, with its locally sourced candy, chips, beer and ales from a nearby brewery. There are also ready-made cocktails, crafted in house. The toiletries – provided by Khus & Khus and Detox Babe – are all botanical-forward brands using organic ingredients. To top it all off, a rubber ducky dressed as a cowboy was my companion during my multiple baths. 


As the day came to a close over the Catskill mountains, I headed over to dine at the main cabin, which is where you can also find the bar, games room (aka ‘the Den’) and a private cinema (to be booked out in advance). Since the restaurant opened earlier this year, it has been thriving. It is evident that they have worked to create a menu as unique as their space. Sustainable-meets-simple-yet-delicious, seems to be the main theme of the menu, with a vegetable-heavy focus and an intentional use of proteins. This was evident with their pork dish, for which the restaurant buys an entire quarter back of a pig, with the cuts evolving through the night as they serve. Cooked and plated with a caramel and fish sauce, it was sticky and sweet with complex flavours.

I paired my meal with the locally baked Wilson’s bread (which only needed pickles and butter to complement its taste) and the beer battered shiitakes, a fun take on bar food. But the unsuspecting show stopper was the 18-hour slow cooked cabbage, which has been on the menu since opening. Cooked overnight, the dish was meaty enough to satisfy any carnivore, the charcoaled exterior crispy, with the inside soft and chewy. Served with parsnip and packed full of flavours such as apple and mustard, it was hearty and extremely satisfying.

As dusk settled in and I enjoyed my dinner, I admired the handpicked wild flowers on my table (a decorative touch seen throughout the Urban Cowboy Lodge). I watched the fire flies dance upon the vast green lawn, and I felt at peace.

The next morning, coffee was delivered to my room in thermos flask big enough for two, along with my choice of milk and breakfast. I chose to enjoy my coffee on the balcony, to admire the view of the mountains once more. Another sight that caught my eye as I sat back absorbing the view was the number of other guests doing just the same (all suites come with a balcony). All of us, in our jade green Pendleton robes, soaking up the morning. It was a vibe.

The room also comes with a guide to local activities within the Catskills area, as well as onsite events that the property hosts. The team at the lodge will meet weekly to discuss and keep the guide current as well as weather relevant. It is comprehensive to say the least, but I still had some further questions, so decided to head back to find out more. After a few words of advice, I hiked up Giants Ledge for stunning views, visited a local brewery with a pop-up food fair and swam in a waterfall. Following another conversation with the onsite bar-tender about the origins of their cocktail ‘Mahogany Ridge,’ I was also able to discover a local bar which housed a retro wooden ten pin bowling alley.

All of these unique experiences helped to make my stay so memorable and special. It is no wonder that so many of the lodge’s guests (despite being open for just over a year) are returning. I learned that the grand piano in the Den was actually a gift from a local who dines regularly, wanting to give it to a home where it would be loved. Talking to the staff it is clear that they are passionate about their place of work and its future plans, with an Estonian sauna due to open in a matter of weeks.

The finale of my stay was a trip along the recently cut ‘Jesses Trail,’ an onsite 20-minute stroll scattered with wild flowers, daisies and buttercups. On completion of the trail, there is the option to indulge in nature swim in the Esopus creek. While it certainly was cold, it will invigorate you more than any morning coffee and I highly recommend.

After staying at the Urban Cowboy, their tag line “arrive as strangers leave as friends” makes perfect sense to me. At the time of my stay, the lodge was fully occupied, so I encourage to book while you can and make yourself a part of the Urban Cowboy family.

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An easy escape from NYC, the Catskills are the perfect getaway for effortless social-distancing, offering a plethora of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, stunning views and excellent accommodations.

Urban Cowboy Lodge is only 2.5 hours from New York City and offers rustic luxury accommodations, dating back to 1898, that have been artfully revived by Lyon Porter’s signature design style of bold patterns, repurposed structures, and hand-picked Americana antiques with a commitment to elemental experiences inspired by the power of nature.

Find out more on the official website.

Words: Emily Clark

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This post originally posted here Breaking Travel News

Can Removing Urban Highways Improve the Health of US Cities?

Mandela Parkway, a four-lane boulevard enhanced by a median with trees and a curving footpath, stretches along a 24-block section of West Oakland. It’s the fruit of a grassroots neighborhood campaign to block reconstruction of an elevated freeway leveled by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and reimagine the thoroughfare to replace it.

Since the parkway’s 2005 completion, 168 units of affordable housing have sprung up along its route. The air is measurably freer of pollutants than it was when the Cypress Freeway ran through the area.

A federal report heralded the project as the type of socially minded renovation that can make appropriate, if partial, amends for the devastation wrought on low-income neighborhoods by the freeway-building boom of earlier decades.

“Community involvement was a very important part of the rebuilding process,” said the report, which concluded, “West Oakland residents got what they wanted.”

Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case.

Although the 1.3-mile strip of land that Mandela Parkway passes through has cleaner air and better amenities than when it was a freeway spur, many of the neighborhood’s original residents are no longer there to enjoy it, forced out by rising rents and housing costs. And West Oakland more broadly, bordered by the massive Port of Oakland, is still crisscrossed by elevated freeways where cars and heavy trucks spew hundreds of tons of pollutants every year.

Mandela Parkway in Oakland, California, with I-880, I-580, and I-80 in the distance.

The successes and failures of the Mandela Parkway are emblematic of the challenges faced by a new urban renewal movement that seeks to replace dozens of stretches of elevated urban freeways built in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s across the United States. These highways bisected cities, displacing residents and businesses in what were frequently lower-income, working-class, non-white neighborhoods. Pollution and noise plague the health of those who continue to live nearby.

Today, as many of these roadways near or pass the end of their intended lifespans, policymakers, social justice advocates and urban planners have called for them to come down.

President Joe Biden’s administration agrees. His infrastructure plan calls for highway removal to right historical injustices and improve the health of people who live nearby. At least four bills in Congress would fund such efforts, though none is assured passage.

But the Cypress Freeway conversion shows how complicated it is to accomplish highway removal in a way that improves the health and well-being of the longtime residents wronged by the roadways’ legacy. The effects of neighborhood “greening” can be paradoxical, leading to “green gentrification.”

There’s abundant evidence that living near highways is bad for human health: Research has linked it to higher rates of hypertension, heart attack, neurological illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, worse birth outcomes, and asthma, especially in kids.

But the evidence is shakier on whether transforming the roadways reverses these problems, said Regan Patterson, a transportation equity research fellow for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

A 2019 study conducted by Patterson and Robert Harley of the University of California-Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering showed that rerouting the Cypress Freeway — Interstate 880 — and building the Mandela Parkway cut nitrogen oxides by an annual average of 38%, and soot by 25%, along the parkway. But West Oakland in general is still heavily polluted by the rerouted I-880, as well as I-580 and I-980.

“You cannot talk about Mandela Parkway if you don’t talk about the impact of all three highways,” said Margaret Gordon, 74, a founding member of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an environmental justice organization.

And the very upgrade of the area along Mandela Parkway — coupled with the arrival of Big Tech company offices in the area — has contributed to property values spiking and longtime residents leaving. Black residents, who made up 73% of the population around the expressway in 1990, accounted for only 45% in 2010, according to Patterson’s research. Median home values along the parkway jumped by $ 261,059 in that time frame.

“Green gentrification” is a paradoxical effect of projects intended to support healthier communities, said Jennifer Wolch, a professor of city and regional planning at UC-Berkeley. Her research, focused on the overall public health effects of urban greening, shows that rising housing costs and displacement of longtime residents can also damage their health. Other research has found that residents from marginalized groups reported a lower sense of community after “greening” transformations.

Longtime Latino residents, for example, reported avoiding segments of Chicago’s 606 pedestrian trail that run through mostly white neighborhoods because of concerns of discrimination. Well-off white residents were more likely than Black residents to use the Atlanta BeltLine, a 33-mile network of trails and parks.

None of these problems seal an argument against highway removal, say urban activists. The Congress for the New Urbanism, a nonprofit focused on sustainable urban development, has identified 15 highways in major U.S. cities that are ripe for removal in its 2021 “Freeways Without Futures” report.

The lesson, instead, is to pay attention to the wishes of longtime community members in planning these infrastructure projects, said Jonathan Fearn, a member of the Oakland Planning Commission and a founder of ConnectOakland, an advocacy group involved in plans to tear down 2-mile-long I-980 and redesign the area.

Highway removal and neighborhood renewal should focus on making communities less car-dependent, and adding affordable housing and other amenities, said Dr. Richard Jackson, professor emeritus at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA and former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, creating community land trusts — nonprofits that buy vacant lots in communities and sell them back to residents at reduced rates — can help ensure affordable housing and rent stability.

Some of the congressional bills under consideration have provisions that would require anti-displacement strategies. But the $ 1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework put forward by the Biden administration, which includes funding for a $ 1 billion “reconnecting communities” program, offers few details about ameliorating displacement.

If the projects get done, conversations about whom they benefit should happen early on, said Ben Crowther, program manager for the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Highways to Boulevards program. But it’s “very encouraging,” he said, that federal bills to fund the remakes include strategies for making sure current residents benefit.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation

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This post originally posted here Medscape Medical News

Google Maps Street View: Sinister substance caught taking over urban road – what is it?

Google Maps Street View image are taken by the tech giant’s cameras mounted on cars. The vehicles track the globe photographing their environs for all to see from the comfort of their own devices. Sometimes, though, strange scenes are captured.
A bizarre purple substance seems to be staining the stone.

It creeps up the exterior of the houses as though invading the properties.

In some places, it morphs into a sickly yellow,

In fact, it’s rather like something out of a horror film.


The unusual staining seems to mainly avoid the doors and windows, but it’s unclear why this is.

No people can be seen in the shot which lends an even more haunted feel to the chilling sight.

However, while the image might seem unnerving at first glance, it’s much or likely that there is a rational explanation behind it.

The unusual effect is most probably due to a technological glitch with Google Maps Street View.

In the foreground, is a most unusual sight.

A man can be seen dressed all in black but there seems to be something very wrong with him indeed.

He appears to have two sets of legs and a distorted torso.

He also seems to be missing an arm.